My hometown is a small mining community in northern Ontario. Long before my careers in the nutrition and music world, my main job description was ‘Hating My Hometown’. I spent a good deal of my youth being angry at its small town short-sightedness and bitching about its oppressive values to anyone who would listen that there was a bigger and better world out there. I rarely paint such a derogatory picture of it now, my hometown has the same problems every small place does: annoying gossip, substance abuse frequently stemming from boredom and rampant xenophobia. For someone like me who craved anonymity and vibrant diversity, it was just not a good fit. I spent years planning my escape route, when I could finally leave for some magical city that valued art, music and progression, somewhere where I could have conversations with interesting people that didn’t revolve around who was dating who or who recently shot a good sized moose.
The irony of course, is that whenever I need to talk to someone, I mean really talk, I usually call one of my friends from home. Small town claustrophobia and perspective aside, some of my greatest, wisest friends are still there. In an article by Mary Smitch that was later turned into the infamous ‘Everybody’s Free’ song by Baz Lurhmann, she said ‘The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young’. I never realized how true that line was until I found myself in my hometown last week, listening to one of my favorite songs called The Trapeze Swinger.
It’s a song by a great folk artist that goes by the moniker Iron & Wine, and it’s so elegant and lovely that it hasn’t left my top 25 most played on my iTunes for at least 5 years. Lyrically, it has no traditional verse/chorus/break layout, but instead starts every stanza with ‘Please, remember me’, and goes on to use ‘happily, fondly, at halloween, mistakenly, as in the dream, my misery, seldomly and finally’ to finish the sentence in its many gorgeous verses.
Just off the highway, about 5 minutes from my old house, there’s a place called Gull Lake. It’s a pull-off picnic spot popular with families in the day and teenagers looking for a place to make out at night. A few years ago I found myself parked there in the middle of the night with one of those old hometown friends. I was going through a rough time and he had found out that night that the girl he was with was not who he thought she was and was beyond devastated. We laid out by that lake and I held his head in my lap and stroked his hair as we told each other how unhappy we were with the current state of our lives. When this song came on my stereo, I put my lips near his ear and whispered the entire song to him, eventually singing along with ‘please, remember me, my misery, and how it lost me all I wanted….’ Neither of us said it out loud, but I remember us exhaling audibly when I sang that part; we both knew those foreboding lyrics were our heed to not be miserable for long.
The sun was starting to wake up by the time the album had finished, and we left that lake a little healed by that song. And when I drove by that exact spot last week I put that song on and was brought back to that night. A night where two small-town kids that used to be close helped each other through a rough time. Beyond making an indelible mark on a specific place or time, one of the very best things about music is that it knows no prejudice. Music doesn’t care where you’re from. It doesn’t give a sh*t if you live in a small town or a big city or what you look like or who you love. Brave people put it out into the world and then it finds you when you need it the most, sometimes on radio airwaves or in movie soundtracks and sometimes on the stereo in the back of a beat-up SUV parked in front of a lake.
So please find below my magical song, and another by the same great artist if you like what you hear. I hope you love them, and I hope that no matter how far you are from where you started, that you too have a song that will always help you, heal you and bring you back home.