Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon

Moose Jaw, saw a few, Moosomin too,
Runnin’ back to Saskatoon
Red Deer, Terrace, and a Medicine Hat
Sing another prairie tune

– The Guess Who, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon”, 1972

Once upon a time, the Craven Hermit found himself living in the city of Calgary.  Circumstances at work dictated that I relocate for awhile to southern Alberta’s principal city to make a living.  It wasn’t a 100% positive experience, and I eventually returned to the central Albertan hinterland to ply my trade. But long ago I vowed to try to find the silver lining in everything I do, so I made the best of the experience.

While in Cowtown in the summer of 2000, I took the opportunity to see the reunited Guess Who put on a concert at the Saddledome.  Going to a show by yourself is kind of lame, but one of the advantages to buying single tickets to gigs is that sometimes you can score a seat right up at the front.  For the Guess Who gig, I was second row centre.  I was close enough to exchange banter with the band between songs.  “You the MAN, Randy!”, and so on.  It was pretty cool.

I had reasonably low expectations for the show.  You never know what you’re going to get with an ‘oldies’ act.  Sometimes it’s great, but other times it’s a band that is content to coast on former glories, collecting a cheque for delivering a warmed-over slice of musical nostalgia.  Or (god help us) it’s a band that was big in the ‘70s or ‘80s that comes out and plays the entirety of their shitty, tuneless new album instead of something the audience actually came to hear.

But on that sunny evening in July 2000, the reconstituted Guess Who defied my expectations and put on a great show.  I’m sure it was aided and abetted by the inimitable presence of Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.  Despite their well-publicized falling out in 1970, Cummings and Bachman have continued to make their separate livings in the music business.  Cummings kept the Guess Who moniker going for years before going solo, while Bachman re-established himself as the principal songwriter of Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  Both gentlemen are seasoned professionals, and this came across on stage during the 2000 reunion tour.  Ready access to a cache of great songs didn’t hurt, either.

As I recall, the staging was relatively simple.  No lasers, no confetti cannons, no massive projection screens.  When the band took the stage, they looked more like the 30-year-service-award recipients at a bus driver’s convention than a rock ‘n’ roll outfit.  The focus that night was on the songs, pure & simple, and it suited the blue-collar ethic of the subject matter.  “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonite / New Mother Nature”, “Let It Ride”, “Takin’ Care of Business”, and especially “American Woman” have become staples of the classic rock radio lexicon.  These songs formed the core of the 2000 victory lap across Canada, which in a way was the long-overdue American Woman tour that never really happened. Bachman’s conversion to Mormonism was at odds with the drinking & partying attitude of the rest of the band circa 1970.  Thirty years on, the band had finally reunited to bring their ‘wheatfield soul’ anthems to the common man.

All these memories came flooding back to me as jumped aboard the Heel-Toe Express for my weekly ‘long’ walk around town today.  Over 3.5 hours and 20.5 kilometres, a laundry list of songs came up on my iPod, including the Guess Who’s “Undun” and “Guns, Guns, Guns”.  Meanwhile, I noticed that the Saskatoon bushes in my neighbourhood were finally ripe for the picking.

Our weather was cool and moist in June, followed by hot and humid weather in July.  This has apparently transpired to deliver huge yields of larger than normal Saskatoon berries.  The wild bushes near the wetlands are coming along fine, but the hybridized Saskatoon bushes that were planted around my neighbourhood are practically drooping from their ripening bounty.  The purple berries are nearly the size of blueberries this year.  It behooves me to set out tomorrow morning, before the muggy oppressive heat of the day sets in, and collect a margarine tub of berries.  That would be a nice Monday morning treat for my ass-kicking team of engineers down at the office.

A few other songs in the rotation grabbed my attention today.  I hadn’t heard the title track from Wye Oak’s album Civilian in awhile, but it is still as majestic as ever.  Johnny Cash’s reading of Nick Cave’s murder ballad “The Mercy Seat” may be the best cover song the Man in Black recorded among all his heralded American Recordings with Rick Rubin.

I’m a little late to the party, but last year’s Summer of Lust album by Saskatchewan band Library Voices is really hitting home these days.  This album exists in that glorious Boolean intersection of the New Pornographers’ brisk energy and Jellyfish’s effortless melodicism, with a side order of Katrina & the Waves’ sun-kissed pop.  I certainly enjoyed this album over the past winter, but now that the sun is high in the sky I’ve fallen ass-over-teakettle in love with it.  It contains 10 tracks of pure unadulterated fun, but the stand-out song for me is If Raymond Carver Was Born In The 90s.  You simply cannot go wrong with paired couplets like these, wrapped up in a melody that was seemingly distilled from pure liquid sunshine:

All my friends are buying diamonds for their girls
And bringing children into this world
Signing their names to a home on land they captured
Me? I’m still writing songs I’m scared you’ll hear someday

A pretty insightful thing for someone so young to say.

Epilogue:  Had a big thunderstorm on Sunday, and got busy on Monday.  But I made it back to my secret stash of Saskatoons tonight, and hit the motherlode.  I made it home covered in spiders and mosquitos and maybe a wild rose scrape or two, but not without an overflowing two-pound margarine tub full of purple goodies!


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