Sunday, June 2, 2013

Missing Stan.

The first time I heard "Northwest Passage" I stopped in my tracks.  I instantly loved the song, and the singer's rich baritone voice and narrative style which is reminiscent of a mixture of Celtic and folk.  It was 1986 and I had recently "discovered" CBC Radio, and a whole world of Canadian music had opened up to me.  The song about the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic, brought to life the struggle of many early Canadian explorers.

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage 

To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea; 
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage 
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea. 

Stan Rogers wrote songs of ordinary people: farmers who eked out a living on the land, and fishers,  who in hard times were forced to leave their coves and harbours, for the dusty oil fields of Alberta.

But rather than being songs about loss, they were songs about resiliance and the will to survive.

Born in Ontario, to ex- Maritime parents, who had moved there in search of work, Stan often spent summers in Nova Scotia.   It is to his credit that various provinces celebrate his work and claim him as their own.

"Barrett's Priveteers" is a song about about a young man who sets off in 1778 to loot American ships.  During wartime governments would give ships a "letter of marque" allowing them to attack and loot foreign ships: legalized piracy !   The song begins:

Oh, the year was 1778, HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOW! 

A letter of marque come from the king, 

To the scummiest vessel I'd ever seen, 
God damn them all! 
I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns-shed no tears
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett's Privateers.
Oh, Elcid Barrett cried the town, HOW I WISH I WAS IN SHERBROOKE NOW!

It's a rowsing bar song, sung with great enthusiasm and much foot stomping.

Have you ever discovered someone who touched your soul, only to find you were too late?  I found Stan Rogers in 1986.  Sadly, I was soon to learn that he died on this day in 1983.  He'd been touring in the U.S.   His Air Canada flight was returning from Texas to Toronto, was forced to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati when smoke began to fill the cabin.   A short time after the emergency chutes were deployed oxygen rushed into the plane causing a flash fire.  Stan was one of the 23 passengers who perished on the plane.  He was 33 years old.

I miss him.

The Mary Ellen Carter is his song about a sunken fishing vessel.  The owner has written off the boat and taken the insurance money.  The crew has other feelings.  They feel the boat deserves another chance and decide to help her "rise again".  The song is a metaphor ...

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all you strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again -- though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

I love his songs.  His passion.  His talent for story telling and the way he encouraged us to sing along...

Thank you Stan.


  1. I am a fan of Stan, and could listen to his songs all day. I really like Barrett's Privateers. Thanks for the tribute.

    1. You're welcome Bonnie. Have you ever been to "Stan Fest" in Canso ?

  2. Some tears for Stan, thinking how terrible it would be to lose one's life in that way. Especially a talented songwriter sharing stories of resilience.

    1. Some of the notes I read indicated that the fire started in the damn bathroom. Somehow that makes it more senseless.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to Stan Rogers - enjoyed listening to the video you included. Such a tragedy to have lost him when he was so young. I can see why you miss him so much. There is a special place in my heart for troubadours who write songs and sing stories about the lives of ordinary people.

    1. Thanks Barbara. I wish I'd known him.


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