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No video online; lyrics available here.

Want to know more about Gump Worsley than you can get from the song? Watch this video.

In my last post, I said that I tend to construct mixed CDs as travel narratives, which probably makes a spoken-word piece about a hockey player look like an odd starting point. It’s here for a few reasons.

1) When I was putting together this mix, I had a hard time choosing exactly which song from this album should go into it–in the end, I chose two, because I listened to the album about five times and remembered that every time I listen to it I’m convinced that it is somewhere on the short list of greatest albums ever made. I ended up deciding where in the flow of the mix The Weakerthans should go, and then plugging each song I was considering in to see which sounded best, and that was Night Windows. But I couldn’t get this piece out of my head, so I tossed it back into the mix playlist, and iTunes stuck it at the very beginning, and I hit play, and it just worked, so there it stayed.

2) I was born in Montreal, to an American mother and a Canadian father; I spent a quarter of a century moving back and forth across North America before moving to the UK. I grew up very much without a stable national identity–as a dual citizen, I belonged everywhere and nowhere; I was always a citizen of the country in which I dwelt, but also always an immigrant. Without actually possessing this very basic component of selfhood that most people take for granted, I found myself having to construct it. I spent my middle school and high school years in the Deep South; there wasn’t much chance of me somehow disguising myself as someone who belonged there, so instead, I (eventually) learned to play up my outsider-ness. In my youthful, fumbling way, I caricatured Canadian-ness. I drank beer until I learned to like it; I pretended to care about hockey, mostly to get out of having to care about baseball (this was back when the Atlanta Braves were winning lots of World Series)–until, some years later, I discovered that the masquerade had morphed into reality, and I really truly did enjoy the game.

Of course, being originally from Montreal, I played up the exotic French persona, even though I could–and can–barely speak more than I learned in elementary school in Manitoba (I read more fluently, mind); even though my father’s family were Anglophones for at least the last three generations, and probably much further back than that. And my hockey team was–and remains–the Montreal Canadiens. Not necessarily the Canadiens of the mid-90s, who were at the very beginning of what has become the longest slump in the team’s history, but the long, sweeping history of the Canadiens, the legend of the team deeply entwined, for better and for worse, with the history of the city where I was born. I still struggle to remember who’s currently on the roster, but I can rattle off a long list of the hall-of-famers who have worn the jersey.

Around the same time, I also learned about–and embraced–Canadian music as another way of owning the separation from the culture I was surrounded by but not a part of. I owe that mainly to the 1995 release of Jagged Little Pill–Alanis Morissette’s voice was distinctive, familiar, not exactly like mine but closer than the voices I heard every day, and for awhile, she was actually cool in an angry, rebellious teenaged kind of way–but once I realised that, hey, there Canadians who make music and aren’t The Band or Neil Young or Gordon Lightfoot (perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that those were the groups from my parents’ generation that made up most of my listening before Jagged Little Pill signalled my entry–years behind that of my peers–into the world of My Own Music), I made a point to find more of it. The internet eventually became my ally, and I slowly, deliberately, re-shaped my listening habits to connect me to the part of myself that I felt both most at home with and most distant from.

So, this song is (to me) about nostalgia, about identity constructed in hindsight, the idea that ‘My face is my mask’–and, if I wear it long enough, my mask becomes my face.

It seemed like an appropriate place to begin.

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