May 1, 2012 3 Comments
And now for something completely different…
If we are to believe Roch Carrier’s assertion that “hockey is life in Canada” (and that’s a big if), then it only makes sense that we explore how the game materializes in art and culture. In my last post in this space (co-written with the illustrious Marty Clark), we discussed Goon (2012) and investigated how the film perpetuates hockey’s tried and true (i.e. tired) discourses of honour and retaliatory violence. But if you recall, one of things I actually liked about Goon was how the filmmakers sprinkled in a number of classic songs by legendary artists from the Canadian rock canon (from Rush to Sloan to Chilliwack). The ease with which these songs coalesced with the film’s narrative speaks to the longstanding relationship between hockey and Canadian music.
Popular music, like sport, is a way that we, as a nation, tell stories about ourselves. In the melodies, rhythms and lyrics of songs by Canadian artists, we expect to hear about experiences of Canadian life that are not much different from our own. Given the cultural prominence of Canada’s “national sport,” it is not surprising that hockey has been a fruitful source of inspiration for many Canadian musicians: Stompin’ Tom Connors assured us that it was “the best game you can name” (“The Hockey Song”), while The Tragically Hip brought Bill Barilko’s story to a new generation (“50 Mission Cap”), and used the Summit Series and a goaltender’s solitude as metaphors for emotional anguish (“Fireworks” and “The Loneliest End of the Rink”). Nineties rockers The Pursuit of Happiness paid tribute to the Great One (“Gretzky Rocks!”) and the Rheostatics helped us reminisce about watching our favourite player on Hockey Night in Canada (“The Ballad of Wendel Clark, Pt. I and II”). From Jane Siberry and Kathleen Edwards to the Shuffle Demons and the aptly named Hanson Brothers, the list of Canadian artists with well-known “hockey songs” ends up being quite extensive; even yours truly has penned a couple hockey-themed songs in his day (none of which are [thankfully] on the internet).
One of the more recent songwriters to provide musical representations of “Canada’s game” is John K. Samson of Winnipeg folk-rockers, The Weakerthans. Samson’s declaration that “the Guess Who suck, the Jets were lousy anyway” from “One Great City!” has become some of the most widely cited lyrics in Canadian music. The Weakerthans’ last (and hopefully not final!) album featured “Elegy for Gump Worsley,” a poetic homage that followed the death of the Hall of Fame goaltender. Most recently, Samson’s solo record Provincial (2012) offers “www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle;” the song’s bizarre title referring to its lyrical source: an online petition written by Samson advocating for the induction of former Philadelphia Flyers sniper Reggie Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame. After the jump, I’ll explore some of the ways in which this song taps into the political potential of sport…but first, have a listen: