Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

One Great City! by The Weakerthans

The Guess Who suck
The Jets were lousy anyway
The same route every day
"First Blizzard of Winter"<br>(thanks, Ryan Schultz)"First Blizzard of Winter"
(thanks, Ryan Schultz)
Winnipeg is, by many accounts, one of the coldest places in North America, and the bleakness of a near perpetual winter permeates every facet of the music released by Canadian indie rock band The Weakerthans. Their ode to their home city, where the band remains to this day, "One Great City!" is colored with the isolation of a cold world and evocative of the endless commutes to nowhere in particular, the minutiae of work, and the anger of the modern world, themes that recur time and again in The Weakerthans' catalogue. The simple repeated notes of "One Great City!" let us focus on the cadence of the rhymed lines and singer John K. Samson's loving lyrical destruction of his city as the chorus turns from character to character singing the halted words: "I hate Winnipeg."

The song, for all its repetition of the line "I hate Winnipeg," paints an almost nostalgic musical landscape, saying more about the people and the individual's resentment for what they have built rather than the city itself. John K. Samson is practically a master fiction writer in his ability to establish place and cut to the heart of every moment, with characters invented and abandoned in single lines. Each of the three verses of "One Great City!" present the listener with a different character observing the city around them from their unique place within it. A dollar store clerk closes up shop, a man driving a bus, a businessman standing atop his empire accompanied by a wrecking ball that does the talking for him; these are the people whose stories are told in the song and each reaches the same conclusion: "I hate Winnipeg." The song belongs to the characters it invents, not to the city. It is about the veiled sadness that creeps into the edges of our daily lives that is so easily projected onto where we are, rather than what we have allowed ourselves to be and become, and the city seems to echo back our feelings through gas prices, construction, and customers. It is a place and a song built around the lens through which it is seen.

The dollar store clerk observes the city changing colors as an early dusk settles over the landscape - "a darker gray... breaking through a lighter one" - and listens to the same dulled sounds of the traffic through the store, waiting for the customers to leave so he can close up. In six lines, the monotony of working a minimum wage job and the death of another day soaks the simple music and Samson's lulling voice, singing an angry lullaby to the city. Moving out of the dollar store door and into the street in the second verse, we are with a faceless bus driver (and bus drivers are frequently the subject of Samson's work) going through the motions of checking the mirror, changing lanes, watching traffic, and tracking the price of gas. Here the story shifts and allows the city to sing with the characters, the bus driver "hears the price of gas repeat his phrase / I hate Winnipeg." In the last verse the perspective shifts completely, and we are transported to a skyscraper reaching toward the Canadian sky, and a businessman standing atop his empire "watching the north end die / and sing[ing] 'I love this town'" as he destroys it. The only joy in Winnipeg is watching its old self die, and so the agent of its death - the wrecking ball - slowly sings, "I hate Winnipeg." And so the song is arrested in its movement and comes full circle, from the people on the ground to those in the skyscraper, the only saving grace is movement and reinvention for this place, and by virtue of being there, the same is true for the characters.
~ Maggie Grimason

Comments: 5

  • Me from Winnipeg I think that too Al.
  • Zhivko from Somewhere Over The RainbowRobyn, really nice said. Have you ever thought of engaging in writing?
  • Al from WinnipegThe "Golden Boy" is actually a giant statue on the legislative building which faces the "North End", a very large neighborhood once a hub but now the poorest area in the city. I assume the song is about one character. The first verse is about getting off work and walking through Winnipeg Square, an underground mall in the centre of downtown. The second verse is about driving through rush hour traffic. The third verse being of course about the statue. How John K puts it all together is quite special. I hate Winnipeg is quite possibly the most common expressions used by Winnipeggers living in Winnipeg. Winnipeggers living outside of town quickly change to I love or I miss Winnipeg. "One Great City" refers to the slogan which was on all the welcome signs coming into Winnipeg up until just a couple years ago.
  • Robyn Klingerman from South Bend, InAlthough I have never been through the cold depths of Manitoba to gather any opinions of Winnipeg, I too can relate to the singer/songwriter's begrudging reverie of a place called home. I've grown to hate and love my hometown. Often times when I express my disdain for being in this place, I've come to realize that it is not the place at all. But rather it is I who has been caught up in a banal, mundane existence and have chosen this cynical view as my lens in which to view my hometown. I have often used this town as an excuse, blaming it for my unhappiness. The repetitive line is not so much about an ode or anti-ode to Winnipeg but as the writer of this article states, "It is about the veiled sadness that creeps into the edges of our daily lives that is so easily projected onto where we are, rather than what we have allowed ourselves to be and become...". I am constantly reminding myself of this lesson to try and not focus on my life situation, no matter how dire I perceive it to be, because I have each moment to reinvent myself, to accept who I am, and know who I want to become, irregardless of place. Once I was able to recognize that it was not the place that kept me trapped, but instead my own mindset, I was finally able to appreciate the small things that are so beautiful about this place called home. And then I find peace of mind in the cycles of love, hate, disillusionment and scream I hate South Bend all over again, but this time with a different feeling behind it. Thanks Mags. Beautiful article.
  • Bonnie Sttrycker from South Bend, Indianagreat article. Very informative and I loved the description.
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