Friday, June 29, 2007

Year one: A retrospective, in song

As today marks the day Amynah and I cleared customs and were sent into our new lives with a “bon courage” from the police officer in Charles de Gaulle Airport, I’ve been thinking a lot about home and where it actually is (I don't where a chapeau, so it isn't where I lay my hat). After a year here, the looming spire of Strasbourg’s cathedral now feels comfortable to me, even if it is not comforting like the potholes of Montreal or the salt air of Halifax are.

I have a lot of thoughts on life here, and how we’re adapting to it, but as today is the first day Amynah and I have had alone together in a couple of weeks, we’re spending it bumming. Maybe I’ll dazzle you with my self-regarding philosophizing some other time. Today, you will have to be satisfied with my very short list of songs is on the theme of my various hometowns.

I’ll work back in time and start with Strasbourg by the Rakes, a song I discovered while trying to learn about this mysterious town through Wikipedia. That worthy web-site describes it as “art punk,” take that as you will. It’s a little droning, but amusing and entirely un-evocative of the city: like many, the band seems to believe it’s in Germany. The song is about Cold War espionage. It makes me smile, once I learned to overlook the geographical errors.

Montreal, -40 Malajube: Now, I’m sure that some people I’d have picked Blue Rodeo’s Montreal, seeing as how that is what Amynah and I danced to at our wedding. Well, much as I like that tune, it actually isn’t on my iTunes. What I do have is this tune, which has a number of advantages over Blue Rodeo’s version in that it is more energetic, less goopily sentimental, French, and about something specifically Montreal, namely the freaking temperature’s of death. Plus, it was given to me by an actual Montrealer (thanks Tara!). It’s one of those songs that would be insanely catchy, if I could only force my way through the impenetrable Quebecois accent.

Suzanne, Leonard Cohen: It’s a bit obvious, but it captures what I, as a wannabe beatnik teenager wanted to believe Montreal actually was: meaningless hook-ups made memorable by poetry: “The sun pours down like honey, on our lady of the harbour.”

Fisherman’s Wharf, Stan Rogers: Barrett’s Privateers is a little more obvious, since it actually mentions the city in the refrain (“Now I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett’s Privateers”) but it is about a guy with an anachronistic longing for Sherbrooke, a city that had yet to be founded in the year the song was set (Stan was an Ontario boy, we’ll forgive him). Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those nostagia encrusted “time’s are changin’ and I don’t like it” kind of folk songs that Maritimers have perfected, but Stan does a good job sketching out the city, even if he and I disagree on which way it’s heading.

Hello City, Barenaked Ladies: Off their first album, the Barenaked Ladies evidently really, really, didn’t like playing Halifax (“I wish this seaside beerhall would sink into the bay,”) but they did it so catchily it’s hard to hold it against them. Plus, loth as I am to admit it, they do capture one of Halifax's less attractive undersides quite well.

City of Lakes, Matt Mays: My sister is a big Matt Mays fan, so I figured I’d give him a try and so “acquired” this country-rock tune. Now, back when I was in a band, my friend Tim and I tried to write a song about Dartmouth, where we both grew up. We only got as far as the ferry terminal, and then (lyrically speaking) immediately crossed the harbour to Halifax. That pretty much says it all about Dartmouth, so I applaud Mays’ attempt. On the other hand, this song bores me to tears (maybe evocative of Dartmouth after all?) and the lyrics make me wince, as he’s trying WAY too hard to sound like a world-weary troubadour.

So, in return, dear readers: what songs do you like about your hometowns? What songs make you think of your hometowns? And, given that I’m completely flummoxed on songs about Ottawa, where I was born, does anyone have any suggestions?


Travis said...

The Flashing Lights song "Gone Are the Good Times" always makes me think of Dartmouth, horrible as that sounds. It's a slightly nostalgic, slightly sentimental song about moving on and the inevitability of having to move on.

I think.

There may very well be explicit reference to Dartmouth landmarks in the lyrics. I only remember a few lines of the chorus, and this general impression.

Travis said...

I suggest simply adopting all the works of the band Ottawan - especially those containing laser blast sounds - as your theme music for your town of birth. The band apparently just liked the sound of the name and had never actually been there. All told, it seems about equivalent to your connection at this late date.

Anonymous said...

travis' suggest about Ottawan may be the best. I asked around at work and talked to friends. No one could think of a song about Ottawa. Oh well. - Jon