Thursday, October 4, 2012

North Country

I just got back from a road trip to Quebec, spending three days in the friendly Old Quebec section of Quebec City, followed by time in the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions before returning via New Hampshire to points south.  Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Old Quebec is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It took its name from an Algonquin word kébec for "where the river narrows" (here, the Saint Lawrence River).

Quebecois Meat Pie
My wife and friends Bill and Debbie were with me.  Arresting fall colors and crisp air kept us company, and we enjoyed fine conversations with one another and with strangers, and we laughed a lot.  I never found a CD store in Old Quebec but I had meat pie, beef-and-vegetable stew, and learned the phrase à la prochaine ("see you later").

An intrepid band, we left beaten paths; and as a result of singular navigation we shared a scenic, if prolonged, departure from Quebec back through New Hampshire.  During which time our GPS went mad –– seemingly at sea, repeating herself, pausing, finally lapsing into silence.  I was reminded of the decompensating HAL computer in Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: Space Odyssey, the point at which HAL says to astronaut Dave Bowman:

     I'm afraid.  I'm afraid, Dave.  Dave, my mind is going.  I can
     feel it.  There is no question about it.  I can feel it.  I can feel it.
     I can feel it.  I'm a...fraid.  Good afternoon, gentlemen.  I am a
     HAL 9000 computer.  I became operational at the H.A.L. plant
     in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January, 1992.  My instructor
     was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song.  If you'd like
     to hear it I can sing it for you.

In our return through New Hampshire, I bought a pink recyled-metal flying pig with yellow wings, green ears, red toenails.  But that is not the main thing, or even close to the main thing.

Here is the main thing.  I feel fortunate for such a combination of agreeable companions and autumnal northlands, and I've converted my satisfaction into an annotated north-country playlist.  The songs and tunes attempt to elaborate, with some exceptions, an autumn-up-north theme:

1. "L'hymne Au Printemps," Félix Leclerc (1964/1990): This is a later version by Félix Leclerc of a song he wrote and recorded in 1951.  Leclerc was a writer, radio host, actor, and singer-songwriter famous in Quebec and France.  His 1950 Paris debut occurred on the same stage as Edith Piaf and Les Compagnons De La Chanson.  The song celebrates springtime and is unrelated to anything autumnal.

2. "Les Troix Cloches," Edith Piaf & Les Compagnons De La Chanson (1946): Leclerc's connection to Les Compagnons De La Chanson took me to this song.  It is the original version of "The Three Bells," a song covered in the United States by The Browns in 1959.  This 1946 version is less saccharine than the 1959 cover.  As with Leclerc's song, it has nothing to do with autumnal northlands but it seemed to fit this playlist.

3. "North Country Jukebox," Michael Jerling (1998): Finally, a north-country song.  It is perfect.

4. "Girl From The North Country," Stephen Stills (2008): A ragged cover by Stills of this Bob Dylan song from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), an album released when Dylan was 22.  Stills, born January 3, 1945, was crowding 64 at this October 11, 2008 concert.

5. "Retenir Le Printemps," Fred Pellerin (2011): I heard this Québécois singer while eating lunch in Quebec City; the waiter wrote down Pellerin's name for me.  As with "L'hmne Au Printemps," it is about spring, not fall; specifically, about wishing for the return of a love's springtime.

6. "Vermont Is Afire In The Autumn," Bill Lauf, Jr./Lui Collins (1978/1985): This song is off Lui Collins' first album, Made In New England, and hers is the background vocal.  A graceful touch, I think, for Collins to have given Bill Lauf, Jr. his own track on the album.  A write-up on Lauf, Jr. can be found on Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network.

7. "September Grass," James Taylor (2002): A song about memory and the present.  While the setting is indeterminate, I am going to assume it takes place in New England and hence is playlist-worthy.

8. "Violette," Nicolas Pellerin et Les Grands Hurleurs (2009): Nicolas Pellerin is Fred Pellerin's younger brother.  They collaborated on a 2007 CD, Disques Tempêtes, and I discovered Nicolas when I was exploring Fred's music.  "Les Grands Hurleurs" translates to something like "The Great Howlers."

9. "Northern Lights," Lennie Gallant (1994/2007): This Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter's music went aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 2009, a choice of Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.  This particular song was used in an episode of the TV series Dawson's Creek.

10. "When Fall Comes To New England," Cheryl Wheeler (1993/2002): Not much to add here about this artist.  If Wheeler is new to you, you might check out Different Stripe, a solid 2002 compilation of her work.

11. "October Song," Incredible String Band (1966): A song with interesting lyrics and memorable melody.  It covers a lot of ground (time, politics, imagination), and I still like it decades after first hearing it.  It is about autumn even if it probably takes place in Scotland, not New England or Eastern Canada.  Robin Williamson wrote it and does the vocal.

12. "Roland," Fred Pellerin (2011): Another one by this artist.

13. "Oktober County," Neal Hellman (1987): Here again, I'm assuming that this tune could be a northerly sort of tune.  It is at least nominally autumnal and feels that way.  I don't know why Oktober is spelled this way.  Perhaps Hellman was visiting Germany or just feeling Teutonic.

14. "Moonlight In Vermont," Johnny Hartman (1955): This standard, first recorded in 1944 by Margaret Whiting, has numerous versions. This 1955 version by the mellow Johnny Harman is included despite or because of its divergence from the mostly folky sound of the other songs.  The trumpet interlude is by Howard McGhee, an early bebop jazz trumpeter.

15. "Marches Du Palais," Nicolas Pellerin (2009): Another one by this artist and his Great Howlers.

16. "October," North Texas Wind Symphony (2005): A classical piece composed by Eric Whitacre.  It feels like October.

17. "Ce Matin-Là," Félix Leclerc (1957): But of course, another Leclerc song, the first of two different versions from the same year.  This version has a clean studio-recording sound.

18. "Ce Matin-Là," Félix Leclerc (1957): A second version of this song. It has a scratchier vinyl-recording sound and features a back-up singer.

19. "North Country Waltz," The Bluegrass Album Band (1996): In all likelihood, "north country" here refers to Tennessee or thereabouts, but for my purposes it's further north.  Doyle Lawson, the composer of this tune and mandolinist in this bluegrass supergroup, he probably knows.

I-35 (in red)

20. "Northbound 35," Jeffrey Foucault (2004): A bleak song by Foucault with sharp lyrics.  Interstate 35 is the second longest North-South U.S. highway and goes from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minnesota.

21. "True North," Meg Hutchinson (2001, Live): Meg Hutchinson is a New England singer and this reflective song about her true north perhaps takes place up north.

Maybe it is an open question as to where or what north is.  I think I know north best in autumn when green goes away, when deciduous trees show their colors to tell us that things are further along than they were, that the year has aged and so have we.  In this way autumn and north make their joint annual statement about time and change.  We might grow reflective over this, even melancholy about yellowing leaves and lengthening shadows.  Then again we might ride jauntily into it, enjoying the scenery, getting lost, laughing all the way.

Hope you liked the music.  À la prochaine!


MCKY said...

This was fun Kit. Never knew about the Stills cover of Girl from the North Country, but will seek it out.

See you at the music party, I hope.


Anonymous said...

Tried but failed. Can't repeat it all, except to say that "le nord" is more a state of mind than a geographic direction. --Bill

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