Samson’s One Great City! marked the love-hate relationship that Winnipeg residents endured with
Randy Bachman and Neil Young sang about the unbearable
coldness of that same place, with their Prairie Town. And Guess
Who went Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.
It’s the same as Samson’s Cruise Night, from Provincial. It’s set on Portage Avenue,
but all of us had (or have) our own strips. We drove a while in one direction, and
then turned around.
Samson could draw you a map to his song locales – it would take a couple of days
to hit them all by car. But that’s not the idea. “Most people aren’t going to make
that trip,” says Samson. “As a songwriter, you’re taking them places. And travel
gives you a new perspective, on where you’re from and who you are.”
The Weakerthans, One Great City, has the wonderful line "I hate
Winnipeg" but the imagery in the lines that precede it are wonderful
- the description of mundane parts of our lives that get us all to say
we hate a place when we really are hating the time and place
because we wished we were doing something else.
John K. Samson, lead singer of The Weakerthansand 2011 Manitoba Cultural
Ambassador, may be best known for writing the ironic anthem "One Great City!"
which features the refrain "I hate Winnipeg."
But if you listen to John K Samson's lyrics and read his poetry, you know that this
just isn't true, as here is a man who wears his hometown on his sleeve.
With a new solo album titled Provincial and a book of lyrics and poems (aptly
titled Lyrics and Poems 1997-2012) that are both being released today, January
24, John K. Samson again has entered our cultural landscape.
But there is more to the man than meets the eye.
Lyrics and Poems is published by Samson's own publishing company Albeiter
Ring Publishing (ARP), which he co-founded in 1996 with writer/editor Todd
Scarth. And while the book brings together all of Samson's lyrics and a selection
of his poems from the last fifteen years, the solo album Provincial literally takes
its inspiration from several Manitoba roads, making for an album that again spins
stories from the our landscape.
"I started with the idea that I wanted to explore three different roads in Manitoba"
said Samson in an recent interview with CBC's Ismaila Alfa onThe Weekend
Morning Show. "I got obsessed with this idea that, if someone had a couple days of free time, I could take them to the exact site of each song."
For Samson, geography based storytelling is one of his biggest draws to the
written word. And yet, his own use of Manitoba as a setting makes him uneasy
with being viewed as Winnipeg's cultural ambassador.
"I think that I'm really attracted to regional writers -- to people who kind of distort
the place they are from, or live in, in a way that makes us hear it in a way we
haven't heard before" said Samson. "And that is kind of what I'm inspired to do.
But I'm also inspired by the voices that are totally unlike mine, and this city is so
full of that -- it is just such an expressive and varied place."
"I don't think I represent Manitoba or Winnipeg in any broad way" Samson
The book itself, which is sold separately from the new album (it retails for
$14.99), still works very much as a companion to Provincial. For Samson, the
idea behind Lyrics and Poems 1997-2012 was based on what now seems like a
romantic notion from a foregone era; that of musicians supplying their fans with a
printed lyrical accompaniment to their music.
Know for his empathetic lyrics, this publishing of Samson's work comes at a time
that only makes sense for one of Canada's premier songwriters.
But despite being at the helm of a publishing company, harbouring a childhood
ambition to be a fiction writer, and having just published his own book, fans
shouldn't expect Samson to hang up the guitar and set himself exclusively to
"I've never been able to stretch anything out longer than a three minute pop
song" said Samson. "But I think I've kind of channeled all those desires into
"Pop music is a really lovely form because it has all these -- some people would
call them derivative -- these frameworks for you to use, a verse and a chorus...
It's kind of something to hang up the words on. Which I find kind of lovely."
You can catch John K. Samson performing material from his first full-length solo
album Provincial, this Friday, January 27 at 7 p.m. for free at Music Trader on
ARTICLE: Weakerthans indie-rock frontman John K. Samson is mad about Manitoba
I hate Winnipeg,” sings John K. Samson—lead singer of the Canadian indie rock band
The Weakerthans—as he channels a fed-up dollar store clerk, a driver stuck in traffic,
and The Golden Boy statue atop the Manitoba Legislative Building, on the sarcastically
titled track “One Great City!” off the 2003 album, Reconstruction Site.
Samson’s hostility towards the capital city of Manitoba, Canada, is infectious—at least
until the song ends with a final strum of guitar. After all, there must be a reason why
Samson has chosen to live in the prairie town for his entire life.
“I definitely think about moving, but there’s lots of things that keep me here … it’s the
place I write about the most,” he explains. According to Samson, “being incredibly
familiar with a place can be good and bad”—the latter resulting in the aforementioned
track, plus several others within The Weakerthans’ decade-long discography.
With Samson’s latest endeavor, Provincial, released this January, it is finally obvious
how dear Winnipeg is to Samson, whom some know as the ex-bassist of popular punk
outfit Propagandhi. Although the 12-track LP is unaffiliated with The Weakerthans,
Samson’s solo album is just as raw and rock ’n’ roll as ever, allowing for an even more
intimate invitation into his life, with the addition of string, brass and woodwind
“This project sort of started from me wanting an excuse to drive around the province I
live in,” he admits. “I obsessed over this idea where if you wanted to, I could take you to
the site of every song.”
Four major Manitoba highways wind through the album—a concept present within the
lyrics and album artwork. Each song is represented by one of four symbols, except the
final duet, entitled “Taps Reversed,” featuring Samson’s wife, Christine