Where do Crows fly?
I don’t know, go ask Crow.
I’m always flummoxed at how the songs that took the least time to write have become the most requested and popular ones in my catalogue.
After writing the song ‘Crow’ in approximately thirty minutes, I quickly performed it live and it made its way onto a long lost live compilation of songs from Dean Verger’s now defunct Rasputin’s folk club in Ottawa. It was a cool place where I beat the Carleton U blues to get my folk fix back in the day.
Inspired by a father and son I’d met from a first nations reservation in Northern ON.
Crow, in this song, is the son. His hard living took him down. It’s the story of his life which leaves us with the question of where our spirits go (if anywhere) in the afterlife.
So, you may or may not have read my previous two-part story here called “Oh Deer Me” about hitting the deer this summer. It was the one close shave with mortality that still revisits me in my dreams. It really was terrifying and I still can’t believe I walked away unscathed. Today (for some strange reason) I realized that I’d left a small part of that story untold.
You see, my song CROW made it onto my CD Halfway Home as a complete afterthought. I needed one more track and it was down to the witching hour. It was suggested I add this song. I sang it quickly in one take and it made it onto the final work: unvarnished .
It slowly and steadily flew higher and higher until it was my #1 most downloaded song on Itunes. Always strange how this happens.
The song seemed to be connecting with a few First Nations folks across the country. It created an entirely new discovery for me. I began seeking out discussions and learning and reading about the good the bad and ugly of this very complex history. My knowledge and understanding came from amazing in depth conversations after shows from aboriginal artists with whom I’ve come to admire.
Soon afterwards I wrote another song entitled “I Really Don’t Remember”. The title suggests the collective amnesia of ‘THE WHITE MAN’ as relating to the indiscretions of our past.
I can honestly say I began writing that song at the age of ten, when I first drove past the train bridge on the Garden River reservation on Hwy 17 – that read “THIS IS INDIAN LAND”.
So intrigued by that defiance I found myself drawn to the story. Some thirty years later I found myself struggling over some of the terminology used in the song which in turn initiated a great dialogue with some of the band leaders and they helped structure a few of the words. (Many thanks for this Phil)
These two songs, Crow and I Really Don’t Remember have become staples in my shows and have led to an entire new understanding of Aboriginal Affairs.
A few years ago Rocky Barstad, an aboriginal artist in High River Alberta, offered me a Buffalo tooth designed by him. A great guy who’d spent his entire life supporting his art through other means, only to dive in full time later in life – then to find out he had a Parkinson’s in his mid-fifties. It was a complete shocker to him. We quickly bonded over our shared experiences ( me arriving late to the full time artistic arena) and his amazing story. We talked about Crow, the significance of the buffalo tooth (safe passage for my travels) and Rocky set me up with some amazing prints of his art work. As I have been living on the road I thought those prints would find a great home in my nieces new place – which is where they are. I traded him back a copy of Halfway Home and retold the story of the Crow. I’ve since heard his gallery “Two Feathers” has been closed. I made a t-shirt to honour an artistic soul I briefly met who gave me encouragement without even knowing it.
I wore that buffalo tooth with great pride to the point of feeling superstitious about it all. The necklace portion eventually became worn out and I removed it from my jacket to rework another piece of leather into it. I had it off for only ONE DAY- and yeah – that’s when I hit the deer. Safe passage no more. But as stated, I survived. So will Rockies art. So will the memory of Crow. So will the words on the bridge. As will Anishnaabe Chief Shingwauk’s spirit live on. I was thinking about all of this today as I saw the leaves fall on the crisp autumn ground. How beautiful and cruel mother nature can be. It’s an amazing mystery.
I once heard it best from Simon, my friends aboriginal father:
‘Seems like the white man is only trying to get to where we once were.’
I get it. I really do.
Rocky Barstad video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8P9nly5TSQ