Songs of our New Home
Remembering Stan Rogers
The story, probably apocryphal, is that Stan Rogers found himself at a folk festival somewhere, and realized that he had been booked to be part of a workshop on sea shanties. The problem was, he didn’t know any sea shanties.
So, according to legend, Stan sat down under a shady tree, and over the course of twenty minutes, or an hour (depending on who’s telling the story), wrote one one the most popular and most recorded sea shanties that you’ll ever encounter.
I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me thirty years to bother to find out just what “A letter of marque came from the king” means….
In moving to Nova Scotia it was inevitable that I’d start listen to Stan again. Stan wasn’t a native of the Maritimes. He was raised in my old stomping grounds of Hamilton, Ontario, from Maritime parents who moved from the fishing villages in Nova Scotia to work in the big industrial factories of Ontario.
That exodus is often the subject of Stan’s songs, talking both of the sadness of missing home and family, and the pride of taking a job you don’t like instead of the dole.
So I bid farewell to the Eastern town I never more will see
But work I must so I eat this dust
And breathe refinery
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams
And I don’t like cowboy clothes
But I like being free and that makes me
An idiot, I suppose.
Stan died at age 33 after some asshole decided he HAD to have cigarette on an Air Canada flight. Many escaped when the plane landed, but Stan was not one of those who survived the flash fire that started in the airplane washroom.
For the most part Stan’s songs still stir my soul, and give me pause to think about things beyond the everyday, and to remind me that yes, some people write songs about farmers and ordinary working people. And every time that I hear Stan’s “The Field Behind the Plow” I am once again appalled that Murray Mclauchlan horrible “Farmer's Song” still exists, and gets airplay. From the very opening Stan captures farming in way that no-one else has managed:
Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows
Feel the trickle in your clothes, blow the dusk cake from your nose
And hear the tractor’s steady roar, O you can’t stop now
There’s a quarter section more or less to go
THAT is what Mclauchlan was trying to write, but wound up with:
Straw hats and old dirty hankies
Moppin' a face like a shoe
Still, sometimes even Stan doesn’t age quite so well. “Northwest Passage” is surely still an anthem, but when listened to in 2022 it feels less celebratory of our country. Instead it’s a song that celebrates the colonial adventurers who took over North America from the indigenous people who had lived here for centuries.
I guess that a positive sign that ,at least in my eyes, that song has a much different meaning than it did when I first heard it some 30 odd years ago.