Last Wednesday night, Regina author Dianne Warren was the featured guest at the latest Incite event, the Vancouver International Writers Festival‘s biweekly “exploration of books and ideas”. Warren, whose debut novel Cool Water won the 2010 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction (or, the GG), spoke at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, just one block from Saskatchewan sculptor Joe Fafard‘s “Royal Sweet Diamond” (pictured) at the corner of Richards and Georgia. I only noticed because I had to walk up Richards from my bus stop. If I’d taken the SkyTrain, I wouldn’t have passed it, and I might not have gone into the event with such a strong sense of the persistent presence of Saskatchewan creative artists swimming around in my head.
I thought of Fafard and Warren, and I thought of Lee Henderson–my onetime doppelganger of Cordova Street (I grew a beard; who needs the competition?), a fellow former student of Saskatoon’s Evan Hardy Collegiate, winner of the 2009 BC Book Prize for his 2008 debut novel The Man Game, a book so much of Vancouver it could only have been written by a transplant. I thought about the Brodie brothers, Daniel with his unspeakable art and Shaun with his unspeakable trumpet. I think about how everyone always wants to talk to me about my green and yellow U of R Cougars hoodie (was my brother’s), and then they tell me a story about the one time they were in Regina, and it invariably features either shuffleboard or the Copper Kettle. I think about the diaspora, the Saskaspora. I may have been the last to leave, a little over a year before Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party was found to be less unpalatable than the other guys, the Riders won the Grey Cup again and Saskatchewan’s lifestyle became so fine it needed its own magazine. Basically, things really turned around after I left. I get it, I’ve made peace with it.
But we’re out here, and we carry home with us. I’m constantly drawn into misadventure and awkward conversations because I grew up in a place where you make eye contact with people on the street. I’m always surprised to look north and see mountains. I worry about earthquakes and the rain gets me down. One of the reasons I decided Vancouver might not be an intolerable place to live in 2006 was that the wonderful musician Roger Dean Young lived here. A prairie refugee himself, he’s since roamed even further west, over to the Island.
Roger’s music was never far from my mind last fall when I first read Cool Water. Roger grew up in Lacombe, Alberta, just north of Red Deer and carries it with him. He writes songs about these Central Alberta towns like Red Willow, Bentley and Stettler. He sings with a gentle voice and he chooses his metaphors well. If he walked into a Dianne Warren story, he’d fit right in.
Down in the basement of the Vancouver Public Library, after poems inspired by taxidermy and poems inspired by leaky condos, John Burns, editor of Vancouver Magazine (it’s like the New Yorker, only with more sushi and Doug Coupland instead of David Sedaris), is interviewing Dianne Warren onstage. She tells him about growing up with the myths of the Old West and Zane Grey novels. I think of Roger and the tiny cowboy hat he wears when he plays. It’s a working cowboy’s hat, not a Saturday night cowboy hat. I’m sure it has a special name, and I bet Dianne knows it. Dianne says she worried, as she was writing Cool Water, that a story about a small town in Saskatchewan “might only be interesting to me” and I think to myself that’s the only way to do it. As if I know.
A few days later, I’m thinking about how to resolve this issue, this conflation of Roger and Dianne, or at least of their respective works. So I email Roger, whose wife has very recently given birth to their second child, to ask permission to post a song from his last album on the Dog Blog.
“As things have been pretty wound down here,” he wrote back, “I kind of feel like I’m making music for about 5 people so if you’re into it, I’ll keep strumming.” And so I think to myself, that’s the only way to do it. As if I know.
Down Easy was released on Copperspine Records last November. You can get your own copy right here.
mp3: “Down Easy” by Roger Dean Young & the Tin Cup
Emmet Matheson is a hunter/gatherer of bad ideas & Mexican detective novels who blogs at A Bulldozer With a Wrecking Ball Attached. You can e-mail him at: bulldozerDOTwreckingballATgmailDOTcom