Thursday, December 23, 2004

Speaking of the other Stan....

A number of bloggers, including Volker, Ned and Rocky have recently mentioned Google's new Suggestion service. I tried my name, just to see what would come up. Although I saw myself cited and published in a whole bunch of places I wasn't aware of (mostly repostings and translations of comments I've made in the developerWorks fora by people who've mistaken me for an expert, several in commercial newsletters and not-so-free Domino advice sites that really ought to pay for what they take — or at least ask permission), the search was much as I expected. There are just under a hundred thousand results pointing to this Stan Rogers either directly or obliquely; the remaining 1.2 million or so refer to a folk singer who died tragically and far too young in an airplane fire at Chicago's O'Hare airport in 1983.

I've been listening to Stan quite a bit lately. Not for any particular reason; I'm just in a period where homey, honest music is what suits my tastes best. There's a bit of being at home in folk music, at least for me. I come from a family that sang the old songs around the kitchen table whenever there was anyone over for company. I don't know how well the "kitchen party" translates into your culture(s), but it is, or rather, was, a way of life in a large part of Canada. It's probably a Celtic thing, since it applies to the Normans and Bretons of Northern Ontario, Quebec and l'Acadie as much as it does to the Scots of Nova Scotia, the Irish of Newfoundland and the Welsh, Cornish and Geordie of any mining town. It's sad to see all of that being wiped away by cable TV, the internet and Nintendo. Not to mention the modern insistance that the kitchen and dining room be separate places in the house.

(When I buy a house, the first thing I plan to do is renovate to make the kitchen the communal area it ought to be. I don't care what it does to the property value; there are other values more important in life. The chef in me still wants a kitchen full of toys, but if it doesn't have a big ol' table, enough chairs and rickety old stools to seat half the town and direct access from the back door, it ain't a proper kitchen. Oh, and the company that comes in the front door is not the same bunch as the friends who come in the back. That may be small-town of me, but that's the way I've always felt. Where I grew up, salesmen, strangers, and maybe the boss came through the front door. The people you wanted to see knew that the welcome mat and the kitchen were around back.)

I really can't imagine a life without music. Not as background radiation, but as something that I actively listen to and participate in. Nor can I imagine knowing a little of what life was like for people in times gone by without having their songs to tell me who they were, what they did, and what they felt. You can't know the old colliery if you can't feel the grit on your skin or the black in your lungs; you'll never know the old fishing grounds if all you know are pleasure craft and modern trawlers. Somehow, the old songs make me feel like I've had a taste of the real thing. Stan was only twelve years older than me, and a young 34 when he was taken from us, but there was something undefinably ancient in his words. It was as though he had lived through the times he sang about, the days of wind and sail. Even his modern "moment in a life" songs had an air of poignant reflection you wouldn't expect to find in someone so young.

I've actually met people who don't sing. Ever. I know young people who don't know a single non-national-anthem song all the way through. There's something horribly wrong with that. You would think, no matter what your opinion of modern popular music (whenever modern happens to be), that there must be at least one song that resonates with every one of us. A lyric with special meaning, or a melody that pulls at the heart in just the right way. Something.

I freely admit to being a child of the sixties. I lived through the height of folk music's popularity, and I heard a lot of music that went out of its way to be meaningful. (Some of that meaning was so forced as to be cheesy, but at least people were trying.) So did a lot of people who see music as background noise to keep the quiet at bay. It wasn't what was on the radio that made the difference for me, it was what was in the kitchen.

By the way, if we ever get together, you and I, feel free to ask me to sing a few of Stan's songs. For many of you, it's the only way you'd ever be able to tell your friends that you actually heard Stan Rogers himself sing "Barrett's Privateers" or "The Mary Ellen Carter" live — maybe even in your kitchen.


Damien said...

Count me as one of those people who don't sing. Well, thats not strictly true, I'll sing when the music is turned way up and I can't hear myself, sometimes I'll even feel like I'm good. But then I turn the music down a bit and I hear how bad I am and I'm like "whoa, thats pretty bad!", then I turn it back up and pretend I don't suck.

The weird thing is my mother used to be a rock singer. I guess I rebelled by becoming an engineer.

Jess said...

Matt and I are fortunate in that our house has an open floor plan, meaning the kitchen, dining room and living room are one REALLY big room. I just boxed them out with couches and strategic furniture placement. I love having lots of guests over, because everyone can be comfortable, but still able to talk quite easily no matter where you are.
Singing rocks! Pun very much intended. I'm still looking for a band to join, but it's hard when you don't know where to look. I have had dreams of starting my own band, complete with a delightfully geekily referenced name. Lazlo Hollyfeld, Checksum, etc. :-)

We actually went caroling with a group of friends on Wednesday, and got a great reception. Apparently, the art is coming back - I was told of four other groups of friends doing the same thing in other neighborhoods. The best part? Having to sing an encore at one house because a baby cried when we finished and got ready to leave!

Heather said...

I'm sure you're great, but the other Stan was amazing! I've grown up listening to his music because my mother loved it, and it's rubbed off. She was a gret teacher when it came to me wanting to know more about him because she grew up in Ontario and actually played in the same coffee houses as he did. What an experience that had to have been.. The world lost a great man the day Stan Rogers died. He was a true Canadian hero if ever there was one.
(By the way, I liked what you said about folk music, and im definately not one of those people who never sings!)

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