An ode to one great Winnipeg band

Weakerthans' songs told truths about the city they loved


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Call it denial.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/07/2015 (2758 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Call it denial.

When Weakerthans guitarist Stephen Carroll told me back in early 2014 that the band was not active and “there’s no foreseeable activity planned,” he wasn’t really giving me any new or particularly shocking information. The band hadn’t released anything since 2007’s Reunion Tour.

That was eight years ago. Has it really been that long? And yet, I held out hope. For a new album, for a tour, for something. I held out hope the same way my friend Andy Gish held out hope. She’s the Georgia woman who braved a Winnipeg December in 2010 to see the Weakerthans perform each of their records in various venues around the city.

Submitted Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson's Winnipeg- specific lyrics resonated with fans around the world.

I interviewed Andy for a story. At the time, I was surprised John K. Samson’s Winnipeg-specific lyrics could resonate so deeply with a woman from Atlanta that she’d be willing to make such a journey — and purchase a parka — in order to hear them live, but I could certainly understand a fan’s dedication to her favourite band.

We’ve kept in touch, and she’d ask me about the Weakerthans from time to time. “Any news on a new album?” “So I hear (drummer) Jason Tait moved back to Winnipeg — that’s a sign of something good, maybe.” There was never any news to report, good or bad.

And on Tuesday, came the Tweet. Along with a link to John Coltrane & Thelonious Monk Septet’s Abide with Me, Tait wrote: “Word is getting out that the Weakerthans are done. Here’s the song we used to take the stage to for years. Bye bye.”

The statement is vague and the band isn’t commenting at the moment, but many people took it as an official announcement, with music blogs and national media outlets alike running short stories with variations of the same headline: the Weakerthans are done.

Has kind of an unceremonious finality to it, doesn’t it?

It seems wrong to eulogize a band that may or may not be “done” — like I said, call it denial — but I get the grief many are feeling. Like many Winnipeggers, the Weakerthans meant a lot to me.

I chose to stay in Winnipeg. The Weakerthans chose to stay here, too. And Samson, Carroll, Tait and Greg Smith created songs that articulated the beauty and the grit of this place, the love-hate relationship most of us have with it. Samson sang of a city that’s “still breathing (but barely it’s true) through buildings gone missing like teeth.” He sang about our golden business boy, leaning into the sky, who will watch the North End die. He sang about Confusion Corner commuters cursing the cold away, and a Dollar Store clerk trying not to say, “I hate Winnipeg.” He sang about the strangers whose faces we know and the streets that will never take us anywhere but here.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised that a woman from Atlanta would find so much in Weakerthans songs. They are hyper-specific in the details but they are universal in their themes. Everyone has a hometown.

In my parents’ house, there used to be a plaque that read, “I Yell Because I Care.” That’s ostensibly a joke about moms, but I often think of it when my frustrations with our city are met with a defensive “If you don’t like it, why don’t you move?”

The Weakerthans were critical of this city because they wanted better for it. They weren’t interested in rah-rah sloganeering; they were interested in telling truths about this town. They cared about it. Just like I care about it, and maybe you care about it.

Even if the band is no more, I am thankful for the songs that remind me why I am among those who are left, and not among those who are leaving.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.


Updated on Friday, July 17, 2015 6:36 AM CDT: Changes image.

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