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A Canadian Legend
November 29, 2008 3:59 PM   Subscribe

On this date in 1949, a Canadian music legend was born. Stanley Allison "Stan" Rogers chronicled Canadian life. He wrote his own sea shanty after a song session with the Friends of Fiddler's Green , and the song he came up with, Barrett's Privateers, is still sung today by members of the Canadian navy as they march. Many of his songs were of tragedy or hard times or the loss of a way of life. On June 2nd, 1983, an in-flight fire aboard an Air Canada flight forced the plane to make an emergency landing at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. Survivors spoke of a large man with a booming voice who helped others to safety, only to perish himself of smoke inhalation. It was believed, though not confirmed, that Stan Rogers was the hero. His music has also saved at least one life. The song "The Mary Ellen Carter" speaks of perseverance and rising to any challenge, and is a fitting legacy to a Canadian legend who died at the age of 33. His son Nathan carries on his musical tradition, as does Stan's brother Garnet Rogers, who also performed on Stan's albums.
posted by newfers (44 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
More about Stan Rogers' last flight..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ck5F-zU35w&feature=related
posted by newfers at 4:02 PM on November 29, 2008


Stan Rogers and Barrett's Privateers: giving drunk Maritimers something to yell at cover bands in bars since 1976. Thanks, bud.
posted by 1UP at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2008


"Many of his songs were of tragedy or hard times..."

I've only been listening to Stan Rogers for the past few months, when I bought 'Fogarty's Cove' and 'From Coffee House...' over the summer. But contrary to the above statement, I've always found Rogers' music to be relentlessly positive. A song like "The Puddler's Tale" (lyrics) can be a grim depiction of working class life, but even there Rogers promotes family and friends as the antidote, as he does on other songs like "Pharisee" and "Forty-Five Years". Similarly, I have a hard time imagining a modern songwriter singing "It All Fades Away" (lyrics) without somehow cynically undercutting the optimism in the message about time healing all wounds. Indeed Rogers’ persona is so confident and homespun that he sounds almost alien at times. Or is this just common in folk music? (I come from a punk/alt-metal background, so I honestly wouldn't know.)
posted by spoobnooble at 4:41 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Stan Rogers and Barrett's Privateers: giving drunk Maritimers something to yell at cover bands in bars since 1976. Thanks, bud.

Northwest Passage is pure Western Canada, bud.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2008


You-oo kno-ohh wha-ut's fun?
Talking lie-ike how Rogers
Sa-ang his saw-ongs
Fo-or the ho-ole day.

Ih-it won't win you frie-ends
And will annoy-oy co-workers
But it's fuh-un to ta-alk
Like how Sta-an Rogers
Sang.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


Good Lord. A few weeks ago I was in a bar in Boston where a huge group of Canadian rugby players were also gathered, and suddenly the nice stream of jangly & socially conscious 80s British singer-songwriter rock was interrupted by a blitzkrieg of the Stan, which sent everyone (Canadian) furiously rocking back and forth and howling along, including my girlfriend, who knows the lyrics to no song (except, it seems, The Northwest Passage) To my ears, it sounded terribly Irish, and for a second I thought I was in an "wake" ep of the Wire. But no.
posted by theefixedstars at 5:12 PM on November 29, 2008


I love, love, love Stan Rogers, and was crushed as a 12 year old fangirl to find out he was dead - and so young! Thanks for filling in the details.
posted by Biblio at 5:22 PM on November 29, 2008


Oh, man. It's too long a story to go into, but Stan Rogers and his songs are linked with some of the best stuff in my life, ever, and this post made my night and just thank you :) More people should know about him.


(Also, his brother Garnet Rogers, who makes beautiful music too.)
posted by kalimac at 5:25 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always feel conflicted when I'm back home in Victoria and my displaced Cape Breton friends and I are singing Barrett's Privateers while a somewhat confused bar looks on. I've never wished to be in Sherbrooke, I wasn't alive in 1778, I'm not broken and we're never standing on a Halifax pier. To this day I have no idea what staggers and jags are (don't ruin it for me). I didn't sail again on the 96th day...geez. Nobody did. Why do people cling to that song?
posted by jimmythefish at 5:33 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Newfers: nice FPP. The only thing I might have added is that Stan's stepson David Rogers is a fine musician as well, and in my limited experience a helluva nice guy (I played alongside him in the orchestra of a production of Threepenny Opera once upon a time).

1UP: Barrett's serves a valuable function among folk musicians: it signals that a jam/ceilidh is officially Out Of Ideas. When a bunch of folk musicians have played an impromptu session together long enough that nobody can think of any more songs, you will know it by the words, "Oh, the year was 1778..." Then you can put your instrument back in the case and go home. Sort of like rock players and Johnny B. Goode.

biblio: it is worse for me. I grew up a few miles from where Stan lived and he used to be a fixture at Hamilton's annual "Festival of Friends" every August, which I attended every year. Stan perished in 1983, roughly ten years before I became a fan. I have no doubt I walked right past him playing at the bandshell numerous times, and probably walked past him in the crowd in the park dozens more times. Argh.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:39 PM on November 29, 2008


I think what makes Barrett's Privateers so enduring is that it embodies a certain form of engagement with our neighbours to the south, full of assurances that nobody will get hurt, and of course a massive fuck up ensues. It captures a certain spirit of the times and an essence of the relationship between Canada and the US. Plus you can belt it out at the top of your lungs and it's just infectious, and any Nova Scotian within 100 miles of you will buy you a beer, which is what happened to me most recently in a resort in the desert near Phoenix (Thanks Mick, whereever you are!).

There is a very good parody of Barrett's Privateers written by Ian Robb, another Friend of Fiddler's Green called Garnet's Homemade Beer, which speaks to the staggering impact of a glass of brother Garnet's brew.
posted by salishsea at 5:43 PM on November 29, 2008


1UP: Barrett's serves a valuable function among folk musicians: it signals that a jam/ceilidh is officially Out Of Ideas. When a bunch of folk musicians have played an impromptu session together long enough that nobody can think of any more songs, you will know it by the words, "Oh, the year was 1778..."

Yeah...that pretty much sums it up. It reminds me of sore guitar fingers. Also, the end of anything, really.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:44 PM on November 29, 2008


To this day I have no idea what staggers and jags are (don't ruin it for me).

Then you better not read Barrett's Privateers Explored, which explains the song line by line.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:57 PM on November 29, 2008


Nice. I didn't realize it was possible to favourite your own post.
posted by gman at 6:06 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


My mother knew Stan Rogers when she was a kid (and so was he), and my whole family are fans. I was only 6 when he died, but I remember the day we found out about his death. My mother was leaning on the bookshelf beside our big old fashioned radio, and crying as the news came in from the CBC. This is my first memory of him or his music, so it has always had a slight bittersweet quality to me - I love it, but I also mourn all the songs he would have written had he had more time.
posted by jb at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


To this day I have no idea what staggers and jags are (don't ruin it for me).

Then you better not read Barrett's Privateers Explored, which explains the song line by line.


Actually, feel free: the line in question has "scuppers" explained, but is silent on staggers and jags. I thought the general meaning was intuitively obvious from the context, m'self.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:42 PM on November 29, 2008


Stan Rogers! Shoo!
posted by OutlawedYeomen at 6:42 PM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another fan of Stan Rogers here, saying thanks for the post. His ballads are some of my favorites for singing while I do boring work around the house (house chanteys, I guess). I'm surprised that Barrett's Privateers is used as a marching song in the Canadian Navy - it doesn't have a driving rhythm for marching and the poor guy ends up completely screwed, so it seems like it would be kind of a buzzkill for the sailors.

Spoobnooble, I find a lot of Rogers' songs about life on the prairies quite sad. "The Idiot" and "The Field Behind the Plow" are defiant, maybe, but I don't hear any relentlessly positive optimism there, just guys trying to hang on by the skin of their teeth. His songs about life at sea and in the Maritime Provinces, on the other hand, are more optimistic. I always figured Rogers was nodding to the age-old tradition of upbeat, happy, even humorous sea chanteys (e.g., "Blow the Man Down") and lonesome, mournful cowboy ballads (e.g.,"Red River Valley").
posted by Quietgal at 6:57 PM on November 29, 2008


Quietgal, there's a spectrum between the two: "Free in the Harbour" makes the leap explicitly from Newfoundland to the prairies, with down-on-their-luck fishermen from the east uprooted and scrabbling out a new life in Alberta. I find the lines about "Calgary roughnecks from Hermitage Bay" and "In the taverns of Edmonton, fishermen shout" to be compelling images of a way of life ending and its survivors facing an uncertain future far from their homes.

Incidentally, for those as are interested in Rogersiana, the weirdly compelling minor-key narrative Harris and the Mare was once turned into a radio play by the CBC.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2008


I wasn't lucky enough to have heard of Stan Rogers when he was alive, and even if I had, I wasn't lucky enough to be old enough to go to a show. Still, I love his music. I love storytellers and that's ultimately what Stan Rogers was. I too think his songs were frequently about defiance in the face of hard times, more than optimism.

A few weeks ago I went to a Stan Rogers Tribute concert at Hugh's Room in Toronto. The show was great. After, the concert I stopped to ask Nathan Rogers who had been one of the performers to tell me more about "The Song of the Candle," which I've always found to be sad and haunting and gripping.

My reading (hearing?) of the song is this: The narrator feels lost and empty and he turns to a bunch of different people looking for comfort. But each of the people he turns to basically tells him to just go through the motions. More importantly, they give him this unlikely-to-be-effective advice because they're all feeling lost and empty themselves. So they tell him to go through the motions, but each in a way that validates what they do themselves: The old woman (who I always pictures as one of those old women selling candles outside cathedrals in certain parts of the world) tells him to buy a candle. The waitress tells him to have another cup of coffee. The priest tells him to light a candle and cross himself. They're lost themselves, and if buying a candle or a cup of coffee or crossing himself can actually help, then what they do matters. They're looking to reassure themselves as much as him.

So I asked Nathan Rogers about this song after the tribute concert and the information I got was decidedly more prosaic. He said that the old woman was Stan Rogers' mother. The priest was a real live priest who married Stan and Ariel Rogers and that this priest had some wierd mannerisms including clearing his throat a lot. The waitress was Laura Smith (who does a great cover of this song, available on this tribute CD). He said he doesn't think that she knows that she's the waitress, though.

This was a bit of a letdown given all the meaning I'd read into the song, but I talked to jb's husband about this and he convinced me that no good can come from hearing artists' interpretation of their own work.

Also, I should add that in addition to "Harris and the Mare", Stan Rogers performed on another CBC radio play, called "The Sisters." The play is a tragedy in the classic sense and is as haunting as his best non-radio-play songs. Both radio plays are available on the "Poetic Justice" CD.

One more thing, in addition to all the wonderful songs Stan Rogers wrote, their are a number of songs about him.

Night Drive by Garnet Rogers
Stan's Tune by Bruce Guthro (Typo-filled lyrics, sorry)
That's How Legends are Made by John Gorka
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Stan Rogers and Barrett's Privateers: giving drunk Maritimers something to yell at cover bands in bars since 1976."

Exactly. My favorite bar in Seoul is owned by a Canadian, and now I finally know that that "weird pirate music" is that comes on when it's close to last call and all the Canucks start to lose their shit.
posted by bardic at 9:52 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Mary Ellen Carter: What strikes me about it is that the song does not have a happy ending. The ship is not raised, but maybe it will be tomorrow. The crew's plan is half crazy, depending on ramshackle machinery to somehow hold together and get them through with hard work and a lot of luck.

The whole song is an extremely obvious overt metaphor about recovery from loss, but it's not trying to tell you how everything will be alright someday. I think that what makes it therapeutic is that the song's about the joy of feeling hopeful.

I think what makes Barrett's Privateers so enduring is that it embodies a certain form of engagement...

"Engagement," that's a delicate word for it. Somewhere deep in the heart of every Canadian man, woman and child is the desire to get smashingly drunk, travel south by any means available, and smash things up just for the hell of it. Don't ask us why. You can never trust the quiet ones.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:01 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Staggers and Jags - Spoiler Alert

It's when you've got "the shakes" when you're hung over.
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:44 PM on November 29, 2008


"But contrary to the above statement, I've always found Rogers' music to be relentlessly positive."

Well, I don't know about it being RELENTLESSLY positive... not with songs like The Jeannie C or Make and Break Harbour and Oh No, Not I - but I take your point! I rushed this post to take advantage of Stan's birthday, and was not as rested and alert as I wanted to be, so I apologize for any misrepresentation of the man and his music!

I'm so glad to hear other people tell stories about his music though - honestly, I wasn't sure there'd even be 2 comments to my post.
posted by newfers at 1:17 AM on November 30, 2008


"Stan's stepson David Rogers is a fine musician as well"

I knew that another of Stan's offspring was a musician but was unable to find his name last night when I was finishing this post, and, having been awake since 4am, I just had to call it quite. Wish I could edit my post now and add info regarding David Rogers..
posted by newfers at 1:20 AM on November 30, 2008


"Nice. I didn't realize it was possible to favourite your own post."

I didn't realize this myself until last night!
posted by newfers at 1:21 AM on November 30, 2008


Quietgal, newfers: Fair points all. I've only listened to two of his albums, so many of the songs you refer to are unknown to me. And I forgot about the last track on 'Fogarty's Cove' where Stan re-enacts his parents leaving Nova Scotia to find work.

The positive vibe I'm getting stems mainly from Stan's persona, evident on many of the tracks collected on 'From Coffee House...' He sounds like a man who is confident in his place in the world and who sees family and community as the solution to all of life's hardships. In comparison, a large number of popular artists either come across as professional whiners (Linkin Park and other emo rockers) or real-life train-wrecks (Amy Winehouse). In comparison, stepping into a Stan Rogers album feels like stepping into a warm house with supper cooking in the kitchen and a well-stocked beer cellar.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to re-heat this plate of beans I've been over-thinking for the past few hours...
posted by spoobnooble at 6:14 AM on November 30, 2008


In 1979 I was sitting at a bonfire at a beach and somebody sang "Barrett's Privateers". It was the only time I ever heard it, but I've never forgotten it, and now you've told me who wrote it. Thank you.
posted by acrasis at 7:56 AM on November 30, 2008


I met Stan at the Winnipeg Folk Fest a couple years before his death; despite rumours of a foul temper he was approachable and answered my fan questions with good humour. I was devastated to hear of his passing.

Airliners.net has an image of the aircraft on the runway that has always had sad resonance for me...
posted by sporb at 9:14 AM on November 30, 2008


As good a place as any to ask I suppose: I've always wanted to know what stuns'ld bones (or boom?) are (or is) and sound (or sounds) like.

Thank you (or youse).
posted by ~ at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2008


"In 1979 I was sitting at a bonfire at a beach and somebody sang "Barrett's Privateers". It was the only time I ever heard it, but I've never forgotten it, and now you've told me who wrote it. Thank you."

Wow, acrasis, that is exciting! I urge you to seek out the Fogarty's Cove album at the very least - it's wonderful from beginning to end!
posted by newfers at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2008


I just went into the kitchen and sang the opening lines of "Barrett's Privateers" to my Canadian girlfriend.

She threw a spoon at me.

Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:23 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thank you so much for this post. I first heard of Stan Rogers from a guy who'd started a (long defunct) Irish/folk group years ago, and managed to get my husband hooked on the music via Barrett's Privateers. I wish I'd had the chance to see him in person; I love the in-between bits on the live albums as much as the songs.

I'm not sure I'd side with either the "relentlessly cheerful" or the "tragedy and hard times" crowd. My opinion is that Stan just didn't do anything halfway, so his songs are laugh out loud funny, or cry your eyes out depressing, or classic sea shanty, etc.
posted by booksherpa at 12:05 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've spent most of my life telling people, upon meeting them and telling them my name, "No, I'm not named for the Stan Rogers song..." (It was released three years after I was born, I think.)
posted by sarcasticah at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2008


Stan Rogers's music has been a part of my life for a long time. I used to work for a folk / comedy / show-tunes radio program called The Midnight Special, which has aired every Saturday night on WFMT in Chicago for over 50 years now. "Barrett's Privateers" was one of the most often requested songs we'd get in for New Year's Eve (the annual all-request show)--I think mostly because everyone can sing (or shout) along--even though the subject isn't happy, the rhythm and tune are perfect for enthusiastic unison singing, which is one of the things we folkies thrive on.

On September 15, 2001, the playlist was a mix of songs of mourning, songs of tragedy, faith, hubris, community--songs of the human spirit. The last song to play that night, before the weekly closing theme, was "The Mary Ellen Carter". A beautiful, tragic, yet cathartic and hopeful end to a perfectly-crafted playlist.
posted by tzikeh at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


as an aside, Tam Kearney of FoFG, is the best person ever. When me and ms scruss were new Canadian, he let us stay in his house for a month until we found a place to live. Grit Laskin, also of FoFG, makes the most beautiful guitars.
posted by scruss at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2008



"I've spent most of my life telling people, upon meeting them and telling them my name, "No, I'm not named for the Stan Rogers song..."

So your name is Mary Ellen, but is your last name Carter? I see that it apparently begins in a "c", so I am hopeful!
posted by newfers at 3:03 PM on November 30, 2008


"I've spent most of my life telling people, upon meeting them and telling them my name, "No, I'm not named for the Stan Rogers song..." (It was released three years after I was born, I think.)"

His/her name might be Elcid Barrett as well. Didn't he used to play with the Floyd? :=)
posted by salishsea at 6:06 PM on November 30, 2008


In 1989 I was working as a concert reviewer for The Peterborough Examiner, northeast of Toronto. Garnet came through one night as part of a very fine folk series and I got a chance to sit with him and talk a little about Sunsets I've Galloped Into, the album he had just made with Archie Fisher. So powerful was Stan's influence, and so tragic was his death that even six years after the fact people still spoke of Garnet as "the brother of Stan Rogers" even though the two had played together as partners and collaborators since near the beginning of Stan's career. I always thought that it was an unasked-for curse that Garnet's talents went unnoticed, hidden in the glare of his brother's songwriting. And so even though I was a huge fan of Stan's, I vowed that my review and the conversation would be only about Garnet.

Being in Peterbourough where Stan had attended Trent University, Garnet started talking about Stan a little, how much he had loved living in a little cottage on the Otonabee River even though he was rusticated from Trent Univeristy in Peterborough back in 1969 or thereabouts. Garnet said that Stan's recokoning with academia had forced him to stay in the cabin for another nine months or so writing songs, some of which led to his first record deal with RCA. Garnet said that getting kicked out of Trent was the best thing that ever happened to Stan.

For my part, I kept my vow and wrote what I believe was first ever review of a Garnet Rogers show that didn't mention Stan. As a result, that little piece of Stan Rogers/Peterbourough trivia was never published until now, 20 odd years later.

Thanks for the post and the chance to remember this little story.


.
posted by salishsea at 6:36 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


His music has also saved at least one life.

No doubt you are referring to the song "The Mary Ellen Carter" and C/M Bob Cusick's account of the sinking of the Marine Electric in 1983.

My brother-in-law was one of the crew who weren't as lucky as Cusick that night.

Should never have happened.
posted by Herodios at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


One more note on The Mary Ellen Carter.. While on a tour of the harbour and surrounding area in St. John's Newfoundland, the boat that did the tour hired a guy to play the guitar and sing folk songs and shanties during the tour. The guy sang the Mary Ellen Carter, but before he sang it he mentioned that someone had once told him that they had a theory: The Mary Ellen Carter isn't really about a boat. It's about an aging and heavy prostitute who falls while walking down the street in the rain.

It doesn't work for every single word in the song, but it does give new meaning to "the groan she gave as she went down."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lol, I love the Mary Ellen Carter Aging Prostitute Theory!
posted by newfers at 4:55 PM on December 1, 2008


Light a torch, bring a bottle, and build the fire bright!
posted by mjewkes at 1:46 AM on December 2, 2008


I grew up listening to my dad's Stan Rogers albums (and tapes, which he kept in the car...he liked to listen to "The Rawdon Hills" as we drove over the Rawdon Hills) and fell in love with the music. After high school I attended Dalhousie University, and it took me about a year to figure out why the corner of University and LeMarchant looked so familiar: it's where Stan is standing on the cover of Fogarty's Cove.

If you're a fan and find yourself in Halifax, go stand on the spot. Smile. Strike the pose. Grow one of those wicked-ass beards. And hum "The Wreck of the Athens Queen."
posted by ltdan at 8:12 AM on December 2, 2008


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