Getting there

Getting there

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stan and The Rocky Road to Dublin

In 1990, at the age of  24, I fell in love with Stan Rogers. Stan was an incredibly talented man, with the most amazing voice and presence. Sadly in 1990 Stan had already been dead for 7 years, killed in a tragic airplane fire in Cincinnati. He was 33 years old when he died, far too young and far too soon to be taken. What Stan left, though, was a musical legacy that I came to love with a passion.

Stan had been born in Ontario but spent a good deal of his life in the Maritimes where he was exposed to east coast musical styles. He was able to take this music and make it accessible to a wider Canadian audience who hadn't really heard it before and who had little exposure to folk music of a Canadian bent. As time went on my passion for Stan cooled a bit and I moved on to other musical styles as people often do, but there was always a soft spot for Stan in my heart, and I still recalled the words to many of his songs.

When I was in Ireland recently I became enchanted with Irish folk music. Initially I didn't understand exactly why it touched me so deeply. I thought perhaps it reminded me of my musically-gifted father and his family, but their musical tastes ran more to "You Are my Sunshine" and "Okie from Muskogee" as opposed to true folk music. It wasn't until my last night in Dublin that I connected it with Stan Rogers and realized that the reason it touched me was because it was, without a doubt, the genesis of the folk music he had loved and performed. I'd always known that the music of the Canadian east coast had it's roots in the music of Ireland and Scotland but it wasn't until I heard it played live that the similarities struck me. This music is such a deep part of the culture in Ireland that it is tightly woven into the fabric of their world. You enter a traditional pub and everyone from the very oldest to the very youngest knows the words and the melodies. It's remarkable, and even more so when you consider that this is quite unusual in Canadian culture, except perhaps on the east coast. The content of the songs differ - the songs of Ireland are often about oppression, poverty, struggle, or cheating wives, while on the east coast the songs are more often about the sea and a seafaring culture. The feelings the songs evoke, though, are almost exactly the same - nostalgia, longing for a simpler time, and a sense of kinship.

Since I returned from Ireland I've been listening to a lot of Irish music. I've been delighted that while many of the songs have been recorded by traditional acts like The Dubliners they've also been performed by groups like The Pogues and individuals like Damien Dempsey. It seems that at times even the younger people of Ireland have embraced these traditional songs and made them their own, just as Stan did here in Canada. Sadly, though, just as Canadian east coast music has very few who still try to bring this traditional musical genre to the forefront I suspect that the same is true in Ireland. I'm sure that many look on this music as antiquated and perhaps even boring - except that this music is perhaps the truest reflection of these cultures and thus has an important place in our history. I'm not Irish, and I'm not from the Canadian east coast - but I have a deep appreciation for the music from both these places, and wish that more people were able to hear it and, more importantly, feel it. Once you listen to this music - truly listen to it - I think you start to get a sense of the heart of the people who performed it, and a glimpse into the soul of a culture.

Stan Rogers - Barrett's Privateers

The Dubliners - Black Velvet Band

The Pogues - Dirty Old Town

Damien Dempsey - Rocky Road to Dublin

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