Like 100% Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup draped over a high stack of hot cakes, Canada is a hot mess. Blame Canada. Blame them for killing the Las Vegas showgirl with Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion. Blame their precious Prince Edward Island for every time a little girl cries for a dress with puffed sleeves after viewing the Anne of Green Gables saga for the thousandth time. Blame them for the trainwreck of visual torture/pleasure known as the TV Carnage series, blame them for making you afraid to utter the words "I don't know" lest you be drenched in green slime. Blame Canada for Alanis, Avril and Mike Myers: schwing! Happy Canada Day, everybody! While all us dumb 'Mericans below you scramble to prime our potato salads and 100% all beef patties for the Fourth of July celebration this weekend, I want to write a little something in honor of one of my favorite Canadians, a man I'd like to bless Canada for on this, her supposed "birthday", a man who inspired many in his time and continues to inspire those with burgeoning nautical fetishes and a preference for salty folk songs that spin irresistible yarns -- Mr. Stan Rogers.
A few years ago one of my outspoken, pro-Canada co-workers (the only one, in fact) approached me to talk about my sea chantey collection and ask me if I'd ever heard of a fellow called Stan Rogers. I hadn't. He then thrust a red CD with a goofy looking, mountain-of-a man on the cover at me and said something like, "you're welcome" before strutting proudly away. I have to admit that my life has changed for the better now that Stan Rogers is fully in it. I remember that initial listen of Rogers' 1976 debut Fogarty's Cove as one of the most enjoyable, guilty-pleasure-ish feelings I've had in ages. This was what I wanted so very desperately to hear when seeking to ease my longing for some sort of contemporary manifestation of maritime music in checking out the works of newer artists like Mt. Eerie/Microphones, Or, the Whale, Port O'Brien, Mt. Egypt and in Alela Diane's Pirate's Gospel --- very enjoyable all, but none of these could fully quench my thirst for the nautical but nice like the music of Stan Rogers. Most of all, none of the aforementioned artists had penned what I consider to be a true sea chantey; nothing compares to Rogers' stellar "I felt like writing a sea chantey and so I did" composition, "Barrett's Privateers."
Not only can he count an almost historically plausible (Halifax had not yet been founded in 1778, but what can you do) yet so amazing that no one hounds the accuracy of his sailor's work song/sea chantey to his credit, Stan Rogers has crafted in his lifetime heaps of songs that offer some of the very best dramatic narrative lyrical threads woven into catchy melodies full of impressive picking and heavy strumming that overflow with Canadian (and especially Maritime) historical influences and smolder with a decidedly traditional if somewhat celtic-sounding afterburn (which is probably due, in part, to his frequent use of DADGAD guitar tuning). While his ballad "Forty Five Years" is, like the sky he mentions in the lyrics, a painful blue that any woman, let alone Rogers' wife Ariel, would rejoice to have had written for and always dedicated to her, other songs, like "Mary Ellen Carter" for example, have served to save at least one sailor's life. In the clip below a chief mate introduces a live performance of the tune with an inspired recount of how he believes a strain of Rogers' song kept him alive through a shipwreck; check it out:
Sadly, Stan Rogers died at age 33 when he and 22 others perished aboard Air Canada Flight 797 during an emergency landing (due to fire) at the Greater Cincinnati Airport in June of 1983. Having left in his wake a deep and lasting influence on folk music, Canadian or otherwise, his music continues to inspire and educate others as to the daily lives of working people, especially those from the fishing villages of Canada's Maritime provinces as well as the farms of the Canadian prairies and Great Lakes region and the myths and legends of their ancestors buried there. If it weren't for Rogers and his way with words I wouldn't know who Morris Dancers are, what "Make and Break Harbour" is missing and why there's a pretty schooner portrayed on every Canadian dime, not to mention that I'd have never known her name. Below is a tribute to said vessel, the Bluenose, comprised of rare footage of that Queen of the Grand Banks set against a stirring live rendition of Stan Rogers' romantic song celebrating her life and legacy. Happy Canada Day, everyone!