Paint Every Insignificance a Sign
by Emma
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


The Weakerthans - "Aside"
The Weakerthans - "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute"
The Weakerthans - "Reunion Tour"

The Weakerthans are finished. Maybe it seems a little lopsided to mourn the passing of a band whose last album came out in 2007, whose members all have solo/other projects, are out in the world making things still. But this band was important, and important to me, so let me do this for a second.

Their third album, Reconstruction Site, came out in 2003, and in the sense that loneliness can kill the kindest parts of you, it saved my life. I was a very weird kid and an even weirder teenager and though I've learned now (as you do) to spin that strangeness into a few edgeless, charming origin stories, things were pretty rough there for a second. Do you remember what it felt like to be alive, a human being walking around and thinking and feeling in the world, before you'd met any of the art that now defines your borders? The word alone's barely a start. The year Reconstruction Site came out I was in the seventh grade, bookish and anxious and depressed and insomniac; I loved Nancy Mitford and the CBC and old punk records and my mom and none of it was charming or coherent; I was awkward and precocious and thin-skinned and flinchy and terrified of everyone. Most of all I was very, very, very sad, and as afraid as I was convinced that I would never be less so.

I don't remember exactly how I found Reconstruction Site - I think I heard something on the radio, or caught the cover art in the record store? - but I do remember bringing the CD home, hearing the joyous thump and blast of "(Manifest)" for the first time, and going wait a minute, is this a sonnet? And the ground shifting under my feet.

Over the course of their career, the Weakerthans put out four albums - Fallow, Left and Leaving, Reconstruction Site and Reunion Tour - each of them gorgeous and bookish and sad and hilarious and anxious and strange and completely unique. Do you remember what it felt like to find the first piece of art that spoke your language, before you even knew what that language was? The first thing people talk about when they talk about this band are John K. Samson's lyrics, and with good reason - they're singularly beautiful, real poems and not just lyrics-that-sound-like, always honest and ringing and true and backlit by a generous sense of humour - but it's not just the words. There are plenty of bands with "literary sensibilities" that still reach too far, try too hard, haven't ever figured out the balance the way the Weakerthans seemed to breathe it. In the wrong hands, a song like "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute" (a prose poem from the perspective of a housecat with a depressed owner that contains my favourite lines on earth, of all time) would be a clattering, cringey overreach. Instead it's an anthem that lifts you out of your fucking shoes with its soaring line, its sympathy. (There are lots of songs about depression out there, in the world, but few that can pull off the phrase "tinny blood" and mean it.)

There's influence, and then there's influence. The Weakerthans wrote songs about cats and curling and bus drivers and Bigfoot-spotters and confused explorers having dinner with Foucault; they had songs that were prose poems and songs that were sonnet sequences, songs where time went backwards and songs that ran in backwards time. They quoted poets like Catherine Hunter and Patrick Friesen and used art by Marcel Dzama and I didn't know who any of those people were when I was thirteen, and it didn't matter. They loved Winnipeg, a place no one was supposed to love, and taken together their body of work forms a complex, layered lesson in origins and enthusiasm and honesty and frustration and love and familiarity and community that I think I am still learning even now.

This music matters to me, still - but when I was younger, when I first found it, it showed me a way that things might be, and the first art that does that for you is the art to which you owe your life. The way the Weakerthans were - sweet and brave and shy and sad and hopeful, unafraid to love the things they loved, to push around and yelp a little in that feeling - gave me a glimpse of who I might be if I ever had the courage and the patience to become myself. They were not the first band I ever liked, but they were the first to ever make me feel truly un-alone, and for that I owe them, forever.

[buy all of their albums // image]

Posted by Emma at July 18, 2015 11:10 PM

Maybe it seems a little lopsided to mourn the passing of a band whose last album came out in 2007, but you're not the only one feeling like a little boy under a table with cake in his hair right now.

The fan-band relationship lives on a different frequency than others. Eight years of absence can seem like a momentary lapse, after how close we were, and how easily they pop into our life and remind of us the wonderful past, even if we aren't forming new memories together. And for those of us who got to experience the Weakerthans as we were growing up ourselves, they quickly became something much greater than good melodies and lines.

They're like high school best friends that we've lost touch with, but would still drop entire lives for. They maintained a social philosophy throughout their poems, which provided insights and understanding to anyone who listened -- about how we can interact with friends and strangers and the entire world in better ways, and how we can find solace in each other, and that lonely people talk too loud. They shaped everything we love about life and ourselves. They introduced us to so many other friends, like Christine Fellows and Gramophone blogs from Canada and a world of musical appreciation that changed how we hear every ringing note. Because they were doing more than making music. They were living life in front of us all, for our benefit.

Wish I had a socket-set to dismantle this morning. At least, unlike people, we've got such a great record of this relationship that we can relive when we need it.

Oh, protect our secret handshake once more, with feeling. Thanks Emma, for providing one last story to hold onto.

Posted by Christopher at July 19, 2015 3:20 AM

100% agreed. Thank you so much.

Posted by Danica at July 23, 2015 9:41 PM

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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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