The first time I ever heard The Weakerthans, I was riding in a car driven by one of my sister’s ex-boyfriends when the track “Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call” came on the stereo. This was almost a decade ago, so It’s kind of hard to piece together what drew me to the song mere moments after it started playing. Maybe it was the attractive guitar-picking intro, maybe it was the gentle swing of the tempo, or maybe it was John K. Samson’s first-person lyrics describing the fellowship of an Elk’s Lodge meeting. Whatever it was, the following lyric excerpt continues to make the poet in me swoon until this very day:
“With the traffic and our heartbeats beating in straight time.
Let our hatred and affection march in the same line.”
Recently, members of the band unceremoniously announced online operations have ceased, and The Weakerthans are no more.
This isn’t the only post paying due to the band, but rather than ignoring the news entirely and letting someone else speak in my place, I take it as honest proof that even in recent years of inactivity (the last studio album was 2007’s Reunion Tour) fans continued to romanticize over the band that enthralled Canada with their crafty representation of folk elements through alternative rock, and much like Virtute the cat, plead earnestly for a new record or tour which never came.
Now that it’s official, the band’s demise is metaphorical in a sense that fans are utterly devastated, yet simultaneously satisfied with a sense of closure. But what exactly made The Weakerthans so special? After all, the band’s style of empathetic rock was no breakthrough in Canadian music, especially after The Tragically Hip blazed that territory in the mid-90’s.
The Weakerthans were so adored because of their uncanny ability of channeling the organic poetry of various forms of culture – be it books, architecture or even the sport of curling, and crafting it in to clever 2 to 3 minute rock songs. All things considered, John K. Samson is regarded as one if the finest lyricists around. And rightly so. Samson has mastered the craft of expressing the first-person manifests of characters existing only in his songs. These devices are the everyday thoughts and ideas we struggle to express coherently to one another, and Samson seemed to put these down on paper and give life to them almost effortlessly.
Combined with the fact that they are just so damned Canadian, with tunes about hockey greats, urban winters, and their hometown of Winnipeg, it brings a certain kind of patriotic romanticism to their music. So that brings me to this. Why do The Weakerthans, of all bands that I’ve seen come and go, deserve a few parting words of praise? Truthfully, the reason is deeply rooted in a rather late appreciation of the band. Even though I gladly picked up a copy of Reunion Tour the week it was released, it failed to give me any kind of powerful initial impression. It wasn’t until they had finished what turned out to be their final headlining tour, that the album started to grow on me in retrospect, and I became absolutely engrossed in everything the band represented.
But as my admiration of the band grew stronger, the sense of something terminal also became more apparent. The band was ceasing any kind of online updates and activity. Samson had recorded his own wonderful record and was an adjunct professor at the University of BC. There was no talk of touring or playing together, aside from playing as backup band for Jim Bryson on his 2010 Falcon Lake Incident album and tour, and fans were asking question on the whereabouts of The Weakerthans. A split seemed imminent, and myself and everyone else knew it, but didn’t want to accept it.
Now that we’ve finally heard it from the band members themselves, we’ve come to terms. And it’s OK, there’s no devastation. In fact, it’s kind of a relief. Because the band as a collective has showcased an abundance of creative talent over the course of their existence, now was the perfect time to call it quits. The band went out while avoiding any lengthy periods of stagnant productivity, which is utterly incredible when you consider how much is demanded from the best musical talents in this day and age.
So as I begin these final paragraphs, Fallow has just finished playing in my Itunes, and the first few seconds of lonely guitar in “Everything Must Go” starts up. The title lives up to the demise of the band in every way. The band’s heyday is behind them, and there’s not much left to sell, so it’s best to pack it all up and move on.
So to Mr. Samson, Carroll, Tait and Smith: We don’t need a list of The Reasons, we just thank you for all the great tunes.
Chris Dowbiggin is a graduate of broadcast journalism at Sheridan College. Besides Ultimate Frisbee, his true passions lie in his musings on music and pop culture. You can follow him on twitter here.