Sunday, October 16, 2005

An anthem worth singing



I cringed when a couple of years ago the Alberta government announced a contest for musicians to write the province's official song. Aside from the paltry sum of $2,005 (oh so cleverly coinciding with the 2005 Centennial) for the winning submission, these types of contests seem to promote mediocrity.

The 13-member jury was stacked with MLAs, ensuring their selection would be politically correct and crammed with platitudes about Alberta. And indeed, the lyrics for the winning song could have come straight from a travel brochure:
"Flatlands, rollin’ plains
Clear blue skies, prairie rains
A tapestry of colours in the fall
Snow covered mountain tops
Wheat fields, canola crops
Alberta has it all"
The best Alberta songs were written before the contest was even announced. One's from a living legend. The other is from someone well on his way to becoming one. Both Ian Tyson's Alberta's Child and Corb Lund's Short Native Grasses (Prairies of Alberta) do a lot more to inspire a sense of location, pride and belonging.

Take this example from Alberta's Child:
"Dumb stuff like chores when it's twenty below
They're the things that a country boy hates
Too much damn wind and not enough whiskey
Drives them ol' northern boys flat wild"
And the chorus of Short Native Grasses:
"The prairies of Alberta, they ain't never hearda
The things that are keepin' you down
And the short native grasses don't care that the ashes
Of your dreams match their dry shade of brown"
The songs evoke emotion and experience; they aren't just checklists of Alberta's geography and culture. Lund's song, in particular, resonates with listeners because it's about failed expectations and the fact that really, they aren't that significant out on the grand prairie. During his surprise Sidetrack performance Friday, a sell-out crowd sang along during the chorus. At the end of the song, Corb held his hat to his chest.

That's inspiring.

(By the way, Corb is in the running for Entertainer of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. Drop by the web site to vote for him.)

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