Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On Guard For Thee: Crispian St. Peters: "You Were On My Mind"

"...a country with a rich heritage of identity crises and inferiority complexes, enough open space for everyone to co-exist in a state of complete aloneness, cold and snow and long winters to ensure cyclical depression for up to ten months a year, an endless supply of trees that could be cut down and fashioned into acoustic instruments of many varieties, and a shared sense of what it's like to grow up under the influence of The Tommy Hunter Show, Don Messer's Jubilee, The Friendly Giant and other TV fare with strong singer-songwriter content..."

Phil Dellio & Scott Woods, I Wanna Be Sedated

It is rare to have a look-in on Canada in this blog, and as you might expect whenever this does happen, there's an awful lot behind just the one song. As Phil & Scott write, there's a lot of time, space and wood in Canada, which adds up to a ton of music, sometimes cheery, sometimes, not. "You Were On My Mind" is as ambivalent a song as has been written about in this blog, in that - no matter who sings it - here it's St. Peters - just what is preying on the mind of the singer is never made clear. Is it the Other, who has dumped him/her? Or is it something more sinister?

In the world of folk (which is undoubtedly where we are - St. Peters is out in a field miming in a way that suggests he is lost in thought and the words are near-emanating from his heart) it can be both; "you" is somehow inescapable, maybe even a sign of something bigger that is hopeful and yet - that word again - ambivalent. I don't know if Sylvia Tyson wrote this about the end of a relationship or not, but the blues in her shoes and her worries seem to be competing with the persistence of this Other, and to me this Other seems to be winning out. Or could it be that no matter what her worries are, the Other is on her mind anyway and there hasn't been a break-up at all, just relationship difficulties?

As usual it's hard to listen to this and point to what is specifically Canadian about it, but that it's a far more complex song than usual, and it has an openness that strays into solitude...a normal condition, but here the Other is part of that large space that is in the back of all Canadian imaginations (certainly Glenn Gould will tackle this in his own way in his Solitude Trilogy) in that it is ALWAYS there, representing whatever freedom or aloneness means to the person beholding it. This may seem a big claim, but Canadian music differs from American at this point - "Four Strong Winds" (which was voted the top Canadian song of all time by CBC listeners) is full of romantic longing, grounded in the brutal realities of the profoundly Canadian. St. Peters does a cool version of it, getting its urgency, the ambiguity that makes it as haunting as it is, but I cannot help but prefer the acidity of Tyson's voice. The aching emotions of '66 begin right here, teetering between wanting to forget and holding on to the memory in defence of something else even bigger...

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