It’s winter and time for a ride. Enjoy this short bit of downhill excitement with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Darren Fung’s “Toboggan!”
Sometimes as we discover the most amazing things we discover that we could have, should have known them long ago.
Canadian rock and roll icons The Tragically Hip released the song “Bobcaygeon” way back in 1998. I heard it from time to time without knowing the name of the song. It wasn’t that long ago that I managed to place the sound of the title “Bob Cajun” to the tune, but I never bothered to listen closely.
Perhaps it’s because I was old enough, and busy enough with raising a family in 1998 that I simply didn’t pay attention. Or maybe I wasn’t ready, and knew somewhere in the back of my mind that patience would be rewarded.
Just this week I learned that Bobcaygeon is a small community in cottage country north and west of Toronto. And when I learned that, I decided to give the song a closer listen. And was rewarded by a delight hidden in plain view.
The tune I’ve always found catchy. But the lyric!
The song touches a deep place in the Canadian heart. The latter half of the 20th century saw Canadians abandon the rural life and move to the cities. Yet part of our hearts, part of our imagination of ourselves is in the country. No, most of us will never leave the city, but our mythological universe sees us in canoes under the dancing auroras.
Bobcaygeon encourages a look into our rural hearts from our urban realities. Makes us yearn for the quiet solitude that makes us whole. The city is simultaneously homogenizing and dividing. We yearn for freedom, but also for order. And we are torn.
Gordon Downie / Johnny Fay / Joseph Paul Langlois / Robert Baker / Robert Gordon Sinclair
I left your house this morning,
‘Bout a quarter after nine.
Coulda been the Willie Nelson,
Coulda been the wine
When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time
Drove back to town this morning,
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quittin’,
Thought of leavin’ it behind
Went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pullin’ down the blind,
Yeah, the sky was dull and hypothetical
And fallin’ one cloud at a time
That night in Toronto,
With its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback,
And keeping order restored,
Til The Men They Couldn’t Hang,
Stepped to the mic and sang,
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
I got to your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot,
Couldn’t get you off my mind
So, I’m at your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
‘Cause, it was in Bobcaygeon
Where I saw the constellations reveal themselves
One star at time
And as the constellations revealed themselves one star at a time, I found the video for the song.
It’s hard not to see Bobcaygeon in the context of today’s continuing struggle with race, with exclusion, the tensions between civil order and freedom.
Been enjoying some memories of the early 80s lately.
In 81 or 82 I made the trip into Edmonton to catch Iggy Pop at the Dinwoodie Lounge on the University of Alberta campus. The opening act caught me completely by surprise: Nash the Slash.
Nash was a Toronto-based violinist/mandolinist. He played looping tracks on his keyboards and drum machine, and just let it rip. His show was electrifying. I had never seen or heard anything like it.
Apparently Nash started performing wrapped in white bandages as a commentary during the 3-Mile Island disaster.
Anyway, has Nash floated in and out of my consciousness since that first show. He was never a big star, but he always made an impression and maintained a loyal following. Nash was fabulous because he understood that popular music is theatre. Everything about his show hit hard and deep.
Nash the Slash–aka Jeff Plewman–died in 2014 at age 66.
Here’s a fabulous TV performance from the early 80s. Nash is dressed as I remember him on that tour so long ago.
RIP Nash and thanks for the music.
Stuart McLean is Canada’s storyteller. He tours the country with his show “The Vinyl Cafe”. The show is broadcast weekly on the CBC.
Perhaps Stuart’s funniest story is “Dave Cooks the Turkey”. I found a copy on Soundcloud.
Grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up and enjoy a great story, well told.
This week, I’ll give a few thoughts about Christmas in Canada. Today it’s Roch Carrier’s fabulous story “The Hockey Sweater” (“Le chandail de hockey”). The story was published in French in 1979 as “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” (An Abominable Maple Leaf on Ice).
Let me give some background to the story. The story is set, presumably, in Carrier’s childhood. At that time there were only two NHL teams in Canada. The Montréal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens had a monopoly on the best francophone players from Québec. Their sweaters were Liberal Red. And they were the greatest team in hockey. The Maple Leafs were essentially an anglophone team, wearing Tory blue. The formula was simple: the French Liberals cheered for Montréal; the English Conservatives cheered for Toronto. And Montréal won. Repeatedly.
More deeply, the story was published just three years after the first separatist government was elected in Québec, and one year before the first referendum on sovereignty. It was a time for Québec francophones to reflect on past injustices and their implications for the future.
On one hand, the story is nationalistic. On the other, it is a gentle and funny story about childhood, dreams and inclusion.
Here is a lovely short animated feature by the National Film Board of Canada. The Sweater.