Stephen Harper’s ace in the hole, whenever he wants to win over the already sympathetic hearts and minds in any room, is his band, Herringbone. Only a month after the Prime Minister played to a bunch of partisans in Calgary, he and his friends took the stage at the sprawling Negev Dinner, an annual fundraiser spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund of Toronto. A smiling crowd was a guarantee, given that the 4,000 attendees were there last night to pay tribute to the PM.
Herringbone played a set of harmless classic rock, the kind of garden-variety covers of British bands of yore that might echo around any sleepy pub on any sleepy Tuesday evening. Controversial is not this Prime Minister’s cup of tea when he’s playing piano.
But there’s something hinting at subversive about Harper’s adoration of the British Invasion. Herringbone opened with a cover of The Who’s The Seeker, which songwriter Pete Townshend once told Rolling Stone was about a man who was “fantastically tough and ruthlessly nasty and he’s being incredibly selfish and he’s hurting people.” The song includes the lines: I learned how to raise my voice in anger / Yeah, but look at my face, ain’t this a smile? / I’m happy when life’s good and when it’s bad I cry / I’ve got values, but I don’t know how or why.
Maybe when the Prime Minister sings that song, he’s just having a good time. Maybe he just likes the song. But it sure sounds like he’s stickin’ it to the man—where The Man, in this case, is his collective political opposition. Harper’s giving voice to a character that, he knows, resembles his critics’ image of him. He’s doing it awkwardly, as would any middle-aged dad with precious little stage presence. But, hey, screw it. Rock n’ roll, baby.
This morning, as the convention centre in downtown Toronto recovers from Herringbone’s set, The Globe and Mail ran a small note on A2 about a very special anniversary: On Dec. 2, 1973, The Who were jailed in Montreal for trashing their hotel room. Such are Harper’s rock idols. The Prime Minister is a law-and-order leader, usually standing behind a podium in a suit and glasses, but with a soft spot for rule breakers: his own little act of rebellion.
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