What you are about to hear is... is, uh... it's definitely something.
I'm hesitant to try and spring it on you too quickly; I would describe this as an item that one should prepare oneself for, mentally. So let's you and I ease into it together, while I do my best to explain what we have on our hands here.
You may recall I've previously made a point of warning that not all entries in the Slurpees and Murder Record Club will be, shall we say, flawless masterworks. This will sometimes be owing to the natural degredation of an item's original format, but in other cases I will have made the decision that historical significance or local interest are enough to trump my considerations of the relative artistic merit or standalone quote-unquote "quality" of a work. (If you remember this post, you are aware that the situation isn't a hypothetical one.) So let me preface this entire post with the following caveat, a caveat I should employ more often than I do: everybody involved meant well. I believe that is a fair starting point. And, as with our last two episodes, the historical connotations of today's entry tie seamlessly into our modern local times.
Hey, you want a news update? Everything is terrible. THERE'S YOUR LOCAL NEWS. (I'll have a column about such matters in this week's Uptown Magazine, incidentally, so you can expect a current affairs post here on Thursday or Friday to accompany it. Brand synergy, son!) And lurking beneath the chaotic forefront of our misbehaving police staff and corpse-stuffed car trunks and punchy, rape-apologist judges is the continued, underlying, comparatively subtle reminder that we're all going to be underwater as soon as the snow starts melting.
If average weather conditions hold, we can expect water levels slightly higher than the flood we had in 2009; if we accrue sixty centimetres more than that average between now and the spring ice break, hear tell is that the flood will be equal to or greater than the 1997 Flood of the Century. So if you haven't yet trained your pets and small children to wear water wings, I would recommend you get that sorted out sooner rather than later. And there's a reasonable chance that, at some point in the last fourteen years, you have absentmindedly put something valuable in the basement -- so get down there and start carrying stuff up to higher ground, before it decides to float up to come find you.
It's all quite messy, really, this whole flooding business. (This is our own stupid fault for building a mid-sized city around the intersection of two major rivers, but OH WELL.) How did we as a city and as a province ever get through that 1997 flood, back in the day? It wasn't just by the community banding together to stave off the oncoming tides, the influx of support from the Canadian Forces, or the solitary sandbag our Prime Minister choppered in and threw at us before choppering back the hell out again. No, what ultimately united us as one and carried us to salvation through our darkest times was, of course... the music.
What's that? You don't believe me? Well, perhaps you'll believe this:
This, friend, is the cover I saw on a cassette tape in a Salvation Army last week. I had no idea what it was, when I found it, except for the obvious bits about it being A) local and B) flood-related. The information on the inside and back was a bit more revealing, at least for its origins, but left me still clueless as to the length or style of the item.
Though you get certain preconceptions about the nature of a thing when it mentions the sponsorship of the local Harley Davidson three times or greater, don't you? Particularly when "Harley Davidson" is also handlettered, much larger than everything else except the title, at the bottom of the external cover. I further contend that this information almost -- not quite, but allllmost -- explains why everybody in the artwork is wearing sunglasses. (And I'll admit that I didn't even notice that part until the second or third time I took a good look at the cover. Wait, what is this?) You can keep this bit of information in mind if you want, although it'll only make the whole thing more confusing if you do.
So, I found this kicking around in a thrift store, and -- except for what you see above -- I had really no idea what it was. But I am nothing if not inquisitive! The cassette cost me twenty-five cents plus tax, which I just want to note before you hear this music is twenty-five cents plus tax that I will not be getting back.
The content turns out to be identical on both sides A and B, and that content turns out to be a single song, and that single song is about to repel our oncoming aquatic disaster simply by sheer force of will. What you are about to hear might very well end up being your personal favourite flood relief anthem, so set your speakers to 'stun' and behold as I beheld:
Paul DePourcq - We can all hold back the River (1997)
[artist bio... blog, sort of? | no myspace or artist store or anything, alas | if anyone still sells copies of this or any similar works, I can't find 'em]
I am not going to lie to you: the first time that this came through my speakers in its entirety, I cracked up laughing no fewer than five times. Don't get me wrong, I felt really bad about laughing -- but not enough that it actually kept me from it, because oh, wow, what is this.
What starts me down that path of no return is the dramatic contrast, in style and volume, between the space-noises of the spoken word intro and then the sudden flying leap into the most earnestly heartfelt ballad vocals possible. The synthesized piano track is what carries the instrumentation of the piece from here, although 'piano' may be exaggerating the plausibility of the equipment somewhat.
This is topped immediately after that by the introduction of a female vocalist to share the piece, selling the delivery like a champion, including admirable commitment of the lyric "Mother Nature, we can stop her / won't surrender to the River / almost all the sandbags are in place". Then more vocalists join in, a veritable choir carrying us back into the chorus.
WE--CAN--ALL HOLD BACK THE RIVER
IF WE ALL WORRRRK TO-GE-ETHH-ERRRRRRR
NO--MAT--TER, WHAT TIME OR WEAA-THERRR--
(my goodness but the bass notes on that keyboard are chunky, aren't they just)
--WE CAN ALL HOLD BAAACK THE RIII-IIII-II-VEEE-EE-RRRRRR
And then. And then, two minutes and eighteen seconds in -- gods help us -- this guitar solo drops clean out of nowhere.
I make no exaggerations when I promise you that this solo section is the absolute most amazing part of these four minutes, the spectacle and glory and madness when a keyboard inexorably glued to its synthiest ragtime tones collides headlong with an electric guitar played in the key of holy shit. And then everybody involved loses the beat halfway through it, the guitar throwing the keyboard completely off its feed and the keyboard then responding with a dramatic tempo increase that sends the remainder of the song careening into insanity.
The chorus returns amidst this fever pitch for one more majestic refrain, even louder than before, concluding with the joyous declaration that "WEEE--CAN--ALLLLL HO~LD BACK! THE RIII-VER!" and then SPACE NOISE SPACE NOISE SPACE NOISE SPACE NOISE CRYSTALLY BITS THE END.
This song... wow, right? Just... yeah, wow. Again, everybody involved meant well, and that is what counts.
So, having listened to the song in its entirety, wouldn't you agree that the Harley Davidson connection is magnificent? If you weren't combining this stirring piece with your best mental image of two burly biker guys high-fiving in slow-motion in front of two Harleys and a completed wall of sandbags, then my friend, you need to go back and listen to the song right this time.
And yet! And yet. You and I can probably both agree that the instrumentation is somewhat less than ideal, yes, and that the actual performance of the work explodes off the rails in a cinematic fireball during the solo (that solo!). But deep down, don't you seriously just want to admit that the chorus is adorable? WE CAN ALL HOLD BACK THE RIVER. IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER. You may think you can walk away from this without incident, but an hour or two from now you will be hearing the chorus ringing strong in your head regardless of what you say or do or want or expect. WE. CAN. ALL HOLD BACK THE RIVER. If we could just
trick bribe cajole blackmail entice a new generation of local musicians into covering this song for a modern age, why, I dare say we would be well prepared for the soggy spring apocalypse that awaits us this year.
But these will be concerns for the springtime, of course. It seems our local notables already have the winter booked solid for madness and calamity -- so join me later this week, won't you? Hopefully we can make it a few days in a row without anything else going haywire.