Trans Canada Two

March 19th, 2006

This issue’s edition of “Song Stories” is a little on the heavier side, and I hope you’ll indulge me – I promise you that there’s a prize at the bottom of the box, but there are some Cracker Jacks to eat in the meantime, if you know what I mean.

In 2003, my wife and I took a vacation in Nova Scotia. We drove up to Bar Harbor and rode the catamaran over to Yarmouth, where we had dinner in a noisy bar and watched New York City in darkness on the TV. The blackout had hit while we were en route, and the ensuing logistical nightmare in Ontario laid waste to the fiction that the Canadians were any better at governing than we were. We had an absolutely lovely time, not being in Ontario and all, but I kept thinking about the significance of the blackout, and as we drove home through New Brunswick, I found myself turning over a whole bundle of conflicting and related emotions: my simultaneous relief and trepidation at returning home after a visit to our supposedly more civilized and enlightened sister to the north, the odd mix of greatness and spectacular stupidity that America exhibits, and the bitter fiction perpetrated by conservative jingoists that those of us who criticize this country can’t love it. Amazingly enough, I boiled it all down into a song: “Trans Canada Two”. I hardly ever play this song, not because it’s sad and angry but because it’s wordy and lacks a certain musical variety, but I nailed those lyrics: somehow, it manages to wrap a bow around every thought I was having on that drive home.

I think of this song story today because, three years later, far too many people still can’t figure out how to love this country well. On the right, the strategy to tar the critics as disloyal continues; on the left, far too many progressives can’t bring themselves to use the word, because too many people are homeless, or too many people are starving, or too many people are wrongfully imprisoned. Well, shame on you both: neither of you really knows about love or patriotism. We love our children because they’re ours, not because what they do or don’t do; parents which brooks no criticism of their child are no better than parents who can’t love their child if it does something wrong. And so it should be with this great country of ours: we should love it because it’s ours, and do our best to make it better.

So please accept my apologies for the sermon. Politics and music can be a dangerous combination when it comes from someone who tends to shun the politics. Perhaps, in the larger sense, the message is about love, not politics, and you can boil it down to a single sentence: if love demanded perfection, none of us would have any love at all.

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