Saturday, February 25, 2006

Punk With Thesaurus

One of my favorite bands hails from the godforsaken wasteland of Winnipeg, Manitoba (home of The Guess Who). They are called The Weakerthans. They play loud, raucous rock 'n roll, and they have a lead singer/songwriter who consistently amazes me with his words. Behind the bluster and the attitude lies the heart of a romantic poet. His name is John Samson, and these are some of the things he writes about.

Measure me in metered lines, in one decisive stare,
The time it takes to get from here to there
My ribs that show through t-shirts and these shoes I got for free;
I'm unconsoled, I'm lonely
I am so much better than I used to be

Terrified of telephones and shopping malls and knives,
And drowning in the pools of other lives
Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony
Get clobbered on by courtesy, in love with love, and lousy poetry.

And I'm leaning on this broken fence between past and present tense.
And I'm losing all those stupid games that I swore I'd never play.
But it almost feels okay

Circumnavigate this body of wonder and uncertainty.
Armed with every precious failure, and amateur cartography,
I breathe in deep before I spread those maps out on my bedroom floor

And I'm leaning on this broken fence between past and present tense.
And I'm losing all those stupid games that I swore I'd never play
But it feels okay

And I'm leaving. Wave goodbye.
And I'm losing, but I'll try, with the last ways left, to remember
Sing my imperfect offering
-- "Aside"

late afternoon another day is nearly done
a darker grey is breaking through a lighter one
a thousand sharpened elbows in the underground
that hollow hurried sound of feet on polished floor
and in the dollar store the clerk is closing up
and counting loonies trying not to say
i hate winnipeg

the driver checks the mirror seven minutes late
crowded riders' restlessness enunciates
the guess who suck, the jets were lousy anyway
the same mood every day
and in the turning lane
someone's stalled again
he's talking to himself
and hears the price of gas repeat his phrase
i hate winnipeg

up above us all,
leaning into sky
our golden business boy
will watch the north end die
and sing 'i love this town'
then let his arching wrecking ball proclaim:
i hate winnipeg
-- "One Great City"

So the fields are stubble,
the garden is done where the scary scarecrow stands
and sees her holding up horizons with her hands.
She's so tired of reading Daddy's lips -- that essay on a frown.
Watch her memories of human voices drown.
Let horsey bray break between the thunder boom.
Make grasses swish meet the cricket's ring.
Let every sound consecrate our whispering words
that Betta never heard.

The backlanes tie the city down; a mess of dirty string.
Winter dies the same way every spring.
As the sky tries on its uniform of turned off t.v. grey,
and the way we watched her watch us walk away,
let every rain clatter down at groaning streets.
Make footsteps tick, talk to echoed walls.
Let every sound consecrate our whispering words
that Betta never heard.

Let every wind howl and creak the creaking doors
to rooms that too much has happened in.
Let every sound consecrate our whispering words
that Betta never heard.
-- "Elegy for Elsabet"


John McCollum said...

Wow. They're good. Seriously good. I hope I like the music as much as the words.

Andy Whitman said...

They are seriously good. And so is the music. It's your basic indie rock; influenced some by punk, but very melodic. In fact, that last song, "Elegy for Elsabet" is, well, downright elegiac, and sounds like it could be a hymn (with guitar feedback; the best kind of hymn).

Sorry I missed you last night. Kate's out of town, I'm working my butt off (hence the buttless body you may see in church tomorrow), and I'm dealing with a sick kid. But I'll try to catch up tomorrow.

John McCollum said...

Andy. You were missed. I'm glad to hear you were in earnest butt-reduction mode, and not just driving around the outerbelt reflecting on how badly it sucks to be a married bachelor. I've been known to do that, you know.

Doekt = a deerkt, a female deerkt.

Joel said...

"Hospital Vespers" is one of the most beautiful portrayals of faith I've ever heard in a song... "before the nurses came, took you away/ i stood there on a chair and watched you pray."
i've gotta dig deeper and write a long essay on this band. thanks for reminding me about them.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of John Gorka lyrics, only not as edited or organized. Note the similarity of the next to last verse from "Furniture":

...I walk through the land of sweet temptation
Where the women come up from underneath
What they offer's sweet as candy
But what they offer's no relief
It's really no relief, over or underneath
Yeah, I want to keep my teeth....

...I live in rooms where I'm a stranger
Young women here now call me sir
My friends are other lone arrangers
But you won't find us where we were
Oh no not where we were, that's just a fading blur
Oh yeah, they call me sir....

...Whatever caused this bad direction
This attitude where darkness thrives
Is it loneliness retained in sections
Or from undetected sharpened knives
Oh the sharpened knives from other people's lives
Is that why the darkness thrives?....

...Hope comes from the smallest places
From little rooms inside the heart
The furniture there bears the traces
Of every unsuccessful start....

John McCollum said...

Yeah. I downloaded a few of their songs. I like them. A lot.

Andy Whitman said...

Well, my own rhapsodizing convinced me to relisten to the albums, which I hadn't heard in a while, and I must say my memory was not faulty. :-)

There are only three of them -- one called Fallow, one called Left and Leaving, and one called Reconstruction Site. They are very, very good. I have a slight preference for Left and Leaving, but I'd say that all three pretty much define the pinnacle of intelligent indie rock in the new century.

Here are the lyrics to "Hospital Vespers," the song Joel mentioned in his comment. It's heartbreaking.

Doctors played your dosage like a card trick.
Scrabbled down the hallways yelling Yahtzee.
I brought books on Hopper, and the Arctic,
something called "The Politics Of Lonely,"
a toothbrush and a quick-pick with the plus.

You tried not to roll your sunken eyes and said
"Hey can you help me, I can't reach it."
Pointed at the camera in the ceiling.
I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn't see.
Turned to find you out of bed, and kneeling.
Before the nurses came, took you away,
I stood there on a chair and watched you pray.

mark said...

I've always loved them.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how I found this blog, but I had to say The Weakerthans are fantastic. Excellent live shows as well.
I went to school with a few of the band members, and do my best to see them as often as possible. Brilliant lyrics, and they write about what they know.
Definitely a favourite band of mine, one that is well loved by their hometown.