I've been a big Stan Rogers fan since my sophomore year in college. I'd never heard of him growing up, but my undergraduate adviser had a tape of a Stan Rogers album he played once on a field trip. For some reason I became hooked. This was 1995, and after fruitlessly searching the record stores in Madison AND Berkeley (the two hippest places I visited that year), eventually found and bought my first Stan Rogers album (Between the Breaks, Live!) using some early online version of a music store. I forget the name, but I remember printing off an order form, mailing off a check, and then 3 weeks later getting two copies in the mail (one as a present for my brother.) I played and replayed this album hundreds of times; on field trips, in my dorm room, on the plane flights back to California to visit family, everywhere. After college, I found a few more Stan Rogers albums at Amoeba Music (Home in Halifax and From Fresh Water), and then later in grad school got a hold of Northwest Passage. Stan died long before I was aware of his music, when I was 7 actually, but I am still catching up with his catalog. Part of this has been the relative difficulty of finding his albums in the U.S., and always being on a budget entirely incompatible with buying import CD's. I've slowly accumulated albums, and a biography, but have never had a chance to see the CBC documentary about his life. Most of the facts in the documentary are things I knew, but what really fired me up was the live footage of him singing, especially the chorus to Northwest Passage. My two favorite albums of his are live albums (Between the Breaks, Live and Home in Halifax), but I'd never seen him perform.
I like all kinds of music, but I can rarely explain why. Stan Rogers is no exception. I have no experience with the activities he sings about (sailing, fishing, farming, etc...), and I am not Canadian (although I have a definite wanna-be Canadian streak). For whatever reason though, his songs truly resonate with me. That actually makes sense, because Stan wasn't any of those things either, well, except Canadian. But somehow he was able to embody peoples lives in his songs, and the ideas and emotions he sings about are pretty universal. Truth is when the weather turns a little foul, there is nothing better than his music.
My favorite parts of this movie are:
1. Stan and friends sitting around a kitchen table stomping and singing his most famous and song, Barret's Privateers. Incidentally, this is perhaps my favorite song in the world to sing when I've had a few beers, although my baritone is slightly less impressive than Stan's. His description of the song starts at 29:46.
2. Footage of Stan singing the chorus to Northwest Passage. I had never heard this song until graduate school, when a Canadian friend played it for me. Now it is one of my favorites. I probably listened to it 30 times on the drive east from grad school. This is right at the beginning of the film.
3. And the best part, the last 5 minutes or so, with the concert footage of Stan singing The Mary Ellen Carter interlaced with footage of Bob Custick describing the wreck of the Marine Electric and how the refrain from the song helped him live through a freezing night in a lifeboat. Seriously, you can't make that up. It is itself the perfect story for a Stan Rogers song. The refrain from this song, and the last lyrics ("smiling bastards lying to you every where you go") has always been one of my favorites. This part starts at the 38:08 mark.
4. How striking bald men with beards are, truly a great look.
PS - Stan died of smoke inhalation in 1983, when the plane he was on (Air Canada 797) caught fire. It was this air disaster that led to the mandatory installment of floor lighting and other guides to help guide passengers in smoke-filled planes to exits. So, every time you fly and the staff are going over the safety features of the plane you are on, think of Stan.