My Favorite Chords: Looking Back On The Weakerthans

It was anything but love at first sight.

Discovering the Weakerthans was a long, slow journey that started with a mix CD in 2008. “Aside” was one of twenty or so songs that Molly put together for me, probably because my ribs really do show through my t-shirts and I am actually terrified of knives. I liked it well enough, but it took almost two years for me to dig any deeper.

In January of 2010, The Wonder Years released The Upsides. This is a monumental album in my life for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Weakerthans reference in the second verse of “Everything I Own Fits In This Backpack.” It’s a quick line (“Nothing made me feel further away than Left and Leaving through a blown car stereo”) in a fast song, but it piqued my interest, so I downloaded the album.

I did not enjoy it. I already knew and liked “Aside,” and I think “Watermark” was an early favorite, but the rest of the album was not at all what I was expecting. It was too slow, too methodical to have been a major influence on the urgency and anxiety of The Upsides. Even so, I kept coming back, like I knew there was something I was missing. Slowly, almost one song at a time, Left and Leaving revealed itself. I’d catch a lyric or a guitar line, and an entire song would make sense and become a necessary part of the album’s journey.

The rest of the discography worked its way into my life in much the same way. Nothing was immediate, but the songs started attaching themselves inextricably to moments and places and people. I think that’s a product of the way John K. Samson writes. His songs aren’t grand proclamations. They are quiet, vulnerable moments in the lives of people on the fringes of society. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Reunion Tour, the band’s last record and of my personal favorite albums. Each song addresses a different facet of Canadian life, and each subject is lost and broken in their own way. The songs tend to capture them at their lowest moments, but together they form a picture of a nation “proud and strange and so hopelessly hopeful.”

It was apt that the Weakerthans confirmed their breakup this week through a simple, passive tweet from drummer Jason Tait that simply said, “Word is getting out that the Weakerthans are done.” The band had little fanfare in life and even less in death, and while I think they deserved much more, in a way it’s okay. It allows their four albums to stand alone as monuments at the crossroads of punk and poetry. If you find yourself there, I hope you listen.

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