Rural Melodies: part 1

Microphone with blurry lights in the background.

Rural areas and isolated towns in North America have struggled in the past 75 years. Music from those areas often have themes of struggling farms, loss of population, and lonely elderly residents. One artist whose early songs exemplified these difficulties was Fred Eaglesmith. From a large family and raised in rural southern Ontario, Eaglesmith’s songs are relevant to all parts of North America.

gas station sign that says "white rose"

Economic promise, disappointment, and abandonment are the themes of White Rose. This was a gas station sign frequently seen in parts of Canada in the 1950s and later. This YouTube live version provides a monologue  about Eaglesmith’s upbringing and the events leading to this song.

An excerpt from the lyrics of White Rose:

And we’d shine those cars bright as bright
We’d go park underneath that light
Stare out at the prairie sky
There was nothing else to do

And the girls would spend a couple of bucks
Just to meet the boys working at the pumps
And they’d grow up and fall in love
And they all moved away

Strangers used to stop and ask
How far they’ve driven off the map
And then they built that overpass
And now they stay out on the highway

And that neon sign was the heart and soul
Of this old one horse town
And it’s like it lost its will to live
The day they shut it down

There’s a couple of cars half out of the ground
And that old sign still spins ’round ‘n ’round
I guess the White Rose filling station is just a memory now
Yea that old White Rose filling station’s just a memory now


A failed family farm, anger, and ultimately resignation about one’s life situation are poignantly described in Go Out and Plough.Album cover for Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels

An excerpt from the lyrics of Go Out and Plough:

There’s a little envelope on the table unopened
He already knows what it says
He’s known it for years
Still his hands shook with fear

When he picked it up in town yesterday
It ain’t like it seems
You can’t run a farm on dreams
Still he thought they might let him carry on
Carry on ’till the dream was even gone

And he’d go out and plough
But the tractor is broken down
The day is almost spent, anyway
He pours himself a drink
Sets on the porch to think
Whatever are the neighbors going to say
Drinking don’t take the place
The banker does with an empty face
He tells you ’bout a job up the road
Leave the keys in the mailbox when you go

There’s a patch on the north side
It’s early and it’s dry
It’s probably the best there is around
But when they sell it off
They won’t even bring it up
Hell, who cares anymore about the ground
Some sour face city kid’s lawyer puts in the bid
For a run down, tax sheltered hobby farm
Who’s to blame anybody, anymore

It’s a good thing she ain’t here
To see the bitter tears
Spill down his coveralls on to the floor
It’s a good thing she ain’t alive
To see how they’ve taken his pride
And turned it like a crop beneath the soil
God bless this house the kitchen says
And even when the bills aren’t paid
Be thankful for the things that you have
Even just the shirts upon your backs

Rural areas have long suffered greater loss of loved ones to wars than cities and suburbs. These themes are shown in The Rocket.Photo cover for Fred Eaglesmith's almub, "Balin"

An excerpt from the lyrics of The Rocket:

Son, could you help me on this platform
I’m not so good at climbing stairs
I brought me a drink and some sandwiches
I wanted to just sit and watch the trains

No. 47, she’s a good one
No. 63 sings like a bird
No. 29, that’s the one they call ‘The Rocket’
Hey that’s the saddest train I ever heard

Son, I’m a decorated veteran
I fought in what they called ‘The Great War’
I used to believe in everything it stood for
I don’t believe in much anymore

Son, you look just like my boy
He stood here almost 40 years today
He looked so good in that brand new soldier’s uniform
But that Rocket never brought him back again

Music is inherently subjective, and Eaglesmith’s songs are not for everyone, even if his subjects, voice, and melodies capture and interpret conditions that few of us can. Some of his early music is more upbeat, although his most popular early song, Just Dreamin’ certainly is not.

In a future blog, different rural themes will be showcased through the voices and lyrics of Texas artists.


Posted on

February 7, 2020

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