— Douglas Adams
I love stories: reading, listening to, telling, in a book, on film, over a pint or around a campfire— whatever. I've heard some writers don't like being called storytellers, I have no problem with it. There's a long and rich tradition of storytelling that runs throughout human history. It's been shown that reading stories, especially fiction, can help deepen our empathy and compassion, which is an invaluable part of the human experience.
When nature turns sharply it's our empathy and imagination that allows us to adapt and survive. It's survival of the species after-all, not the television show Survivor, an individual can't win it all; not to give away the ending, but the reality is, on an individual basis, everybody dies. But that's a reality people tend to avoid, and stories can bring us face to face with it.
Stories bring people together, they offer us a shared experience, a common ground to pull together on when need be. The odd duck who spent all his/her time reading and listening to stories, perhaps, teaching them-self how to build a boat, isn't seen as an outcast when the waters start rising. I don't buy the notion that bigger and stronger is better . . . Neanderthals were bigger and stronger, look how it turned out for them. I'll bet they were shite at telling stories.
But what has this got to do with music? I like to hear stories being sung, also. Today I'm posting four Canadian Stories. Stories that allow us to share in, perhaps even learn from, the struggles of our fellow human beings.
The first I felt should be Stompin' Tom Connors, since he's a legendary Canadian storyteller. In this one he's singing about picking tobacco in the fields of Tillsonburg. I choose it since Jason Leighfield, who acted in my audio play, "An Ongoing Process" which you can hear this summer as part of Festival Players' 'Sounding Ground' series, is from Tillsonburg, has worked in the tobacco fields and used to, occasionally, sing parts of this song in college, "My back still aches when I hear that word . . . "
Barrett's Privateers, by Stan Rogers, is a sea shanty about an ill-fate sea voyage that set out from the east coast of Canada, toward Jamaica, in search of American merchantmen and their gold.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is another story of tragedy on the water. This time it was on the Great Lakes. The story is shared by the Americans. In fact, the story is more theirs, in a way, since the crew, that sadly perished, were Americans; many from Wisconsin, where most of my cousins live. But, Gordon Lightfoot (who was J's, in 'Just J', favourite singer/songwriter) is Canadian, and he tells the story, and does a crackin' job of it, capturing the listener so well you almost feel sea sick when you listen; and your heart aches with each of the 29 bell tolls; even though you never actually hear them. The story often ends up belonging to the one who tells it best.
Finally, I had to do a Hockey song. Though this isn't so much about hockey as a player and the story about his disappearance and discovery and how it tied into the Toronto Maple Leafs success on the ice. It's Bashin' Bill" Barilko's story, as told by Kingston, Ontario's Tragically Hip.