I went a tribute concert last night for Stan Rogers, a Canadian singer-songwriter who died from smoke inhalation on a plane in 1983. As the brochure said, “Stan Rogers touched the lives of countless people.”
Stan wrote about ordinary Canadians … fishermen, farmers, factory workers, lovers, explorers, displaced East coasters who went west to work in oil refineries. He told the story of an aging housewife, gazing at the wrinkles in her mirror but dreaming of “Friday at the Legion when she’s dancing with her man”.
Five passionate musicians stood in front of me, recreating Stan’s stories with their mouths and fingers. And we in London’s Aeolian Hall responded with our voices held high, blasting out the choruses so the walls trembled.
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea
And then it was over. Time to leave. Or perhaps not just yet. Do I say hi to the performers or let them have their space? “Be a decent person, Bruce.” But really, what does that mean? As Jack singer and guitarist walked off the stage and started down the aisle where I stood, I knew this moment’s version of decency. I smiled. He smiled. I shook his hand. “I enjoyed your music.” Contact, of the most lovely kind.
Further down the aisle, Brad singer and guitarist was talking to an audience member. To brush past or to linger? I’m sure you know. Brad had enchanted me with his singing of one of Stan’s lesser known tunes – “White Squall”.
But I tell these kids a hundred times “Don’t take the Lakes for granted
They go from calm to a hundred knots so fast they seem enchanted”
But tonight some red-eyed Wiarton girl lies staring at the wall
And her lover’s gone into a white squall
“I loved your singing, especially on ‘White Squall’. Thank you.” Two smiles.
The concert hall was three flights of stairs up from the street. A narrow stairway. So it was a very slow process having all of us move towards the outside world. Just before I reached the top of the stairs, I saw a little room on the right, with a snack bar. Leaning against the counter was Paul singer and guitarist, waiting to be served. There was no thought, just an abrupt change of direction.
Bruce: “Thank you for your music.”
(Smile in return)
Paul: “It’s Stan’s music.”
Bruce: “Yes, but really it belongs to all of us.”
Down the stairs. Off into the night. Happy.