(June 13, 2002, Gazette)
not that you dont know nothin.
Its just that you dont know that you dont know nothin
That statement from a pioneer in the resurgence of traditional song in
the musical community may very well describe my state of mind and awareness
of my surroundings in 67 when I left Ferryland and came to St. Johns
to enter Memorial University.
Suffice to say I tumbled head first into MUN without a clue as to why
I was doing so, or what the end result would be. I would later come to
realize that Id come to university simply because thats what
everyone else in the grade 11 class from St. Josephs Central High
was doing, as were hundreds of students from numerous central highs
all over the province.
Ferryland in those days had not yet built Baltimore Regional High. There
was not yet any notion of starting an archeological dig or an annual folk
festival celebrating life on the Irish Loop, and Gerry Squires was still
a few years away from a life of artistic solitude as artist in residence
at the Ferryland lighthouse.
But somewhere amongst the cross purposes of NHL hockey and Bob Dylan,
Holy Trinity Church and the Beach Boys, The Fermeuse Fish plant and Johnny
Cash, and the rift between those who saw Bonanza and those who saw the
Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I had developed a wonderful obsession with original
song and with the elusive realm one had to reach to create good song.
And what is that? A good song!
Our songs have colored the fabric of our lives in the province of Newfoundland
for some four hundred years, and our very existence as a people has been
written down by singers and bards and poets long gone. But their songs
survived. And why? Because they were good songs. Because they touched
us on some level that spoke to us of who we were, and of what we loved,
Once back in 76 I thought Id written a good song so I sent
it off together with a cheque for $25 to the American Song Contest. I
received the tape back some time later with a critique on side B from
an industry professional. I really like this song, he said. Good melody.
Good lyrics. But theres something missing. Further he advised listening
to radio more to determine what was contained within those songs that
was obviously missing in mine.
Im happy to say I ignored the professional advice and that same
song with the simple melody and even simpler lyric called Sonnys
Dream would eventually pay the interest on a long overdue student loan
as well as sell several million copies around the world. Who knew? In
those days there was only a rumor of industry where good songs had tremendous
financial worth. This new era of creative endeavor finds our songwriters
at the forefront of the countrys musical landscape, touring, recording,
cowriting with industry professionals, participating in songwriting workshops
and conferences that focus the writers intent toward creating songs that
will have success in the universal music industry.
And as unavoidable as it was that we would come to that point, let us
hope that we never lose sight of the desire to still write of ourselves
and the land and the people who nurture and encourage us. And if you do
get a hit song along the way, well more power to you. The truth as Ive
learned it dictates that you have to base your work in what you know,
and not in what you think you know. If the intent of your creation is
the industry award, or the shot at media stardom in an unforgiving and
extremely forgetful arena, you will fall short in the long run. And the
work will not last. And thats about as preaching as Im willing
to get here today except to say just this.
All songs eventually become the property of the people. The people need
to feel a sense of themselves in what we strive to create. They need to
feel pride in what we do create. They deserve the right of disappointment
if we dont always measure up. And we wont always measure up.
But at the end of a sunny day on any shore in any part of the province,
the people now and then just need to hear a good song.
I want to thank the university for its kind recognition of my work
and I hope to be able to deliver the odd "good song" for a long
time to come.
My congratulations to all the graduates here today and I wish you all
a world of success and achievement and only the best of life.