I’m going to see The Weakerthans in concert this weekend for the third time. It will be the first concert I’ve been to in awhile, and probably will be the last I’ll go to for awhile, so to get the full experience, I decided to pick my top five songs from their four album catalogue. The group’s greatest strength is easily John K. Samson’s poet laureate-level lyrics, which strike a perfect balance between playful cleverness and emotional connection. But another thing I really appreciate about The Weakerthans’ music is how overwhelmingly Canadian it is.
A problem we Canadians often have is defining what is unique about our culture, and what is mere adaptation of either our neighbours to the South or our old colonial masters. One of the reasons this is a problem is that those that should be our cultural arbiters and touchstones — our artists, musicians, and writers — often relinquish their role in culture-building for the understandably pragmatic reasons of wanting to reach a larger audience than our population can support. So Douglas Coupland sets his early novels in American cities, and Neil Young becomes an icon of American Southern rock. But not The Weakerthans, who litter their songs with references to Canadian subjects like curling, loonies, the GST, hockey, and of course, their hometown of Winnipeg. They’re like sort of like a less famous version of The Tragically Hip in that way, only they don’t suck (yeah, I said it).
And with that, on to the list…