The Weakerthans are the only band that I ended up using two tracks from on this CD. There’s so many great groups out there, why repeat? Well, because there was a moment when I was strongly tempted to just send you a copy of Reunion Tour and consider my CD-swapping job well done.
The Weakerthans are from Winnipeg–the city I where I grew up. My father has a coffee mug that his co-workers gave him as a going away gift when we moved to Atlanta. It’s got a picture of a really big Tyrannosaurus Rex standing next to a really small collection of buildings, looking kind of confused, and says ‘Where the hell is Winnipeg?’
It’s in the middle. North of North Dakota. Biggest city in Manitoba, not that there’s much competition. There are rivers there, and there’s the railway, but otherwise, it’s prairie as far as the eye can see–which is pretty far, considering how flat everything is. (In spite of this, I really did love that city–but it’s the love that people have for cities that they realise can never be explained to someone who hasn’t lived there, cloaked in verbal irony.)
I once read–I probably still have a copy in storage–an essay by Alain de Botton called ‘In Praise of Boring Places’ (it was printed in one of the Pocket Penguin 70th Anniversary books). I don’t even remember the content that clearly; it’s the title that stuck with me. His example of a boring place, if I recall correctly, was Zurich, which sounded terribly exotic to me as I read it–I mentally substituted Winnipeg, and the essay made much more sense. My extremely fuzzy recollection is that he was arguing that boring places, places devoid of noise and night life and distractions offer better scope for the work of philosophy: sitting and thinking very hard about seemingly insignificant details.
That’s the benefit of life on the prairie… or in the desert, where I’ve also spent a bit of time. A flat or monochromatic landscape tunes the eye to visual subtlety; the quiet teaches you to notice things that you wouldn’t have time to otherwise. The Weakerthans are the ultimate Winnipeg band, poets of the mundane:
the moonlight makes
our faces shine
like over-ironed polyester
There’s a quietness at the centre of even their most boisterous songs, an attention to detail–like in the two (two!) song cycle about a cat named Virtute (from the Winnipeg city motto, ‘Unum cum virtute multorum’–one with the strength of many), which is at once a meditation on the layers of emotional projection involved in the complex relationship between person and housepet, and a fascinating revision of the break-up song genre.
Right, I’ll shut up now. There’s lots more music by The Weakerthans available on the CBC Radio 3 webpage.