Saturday, May 31, 2014

Winnipeg, the Dummies, and a place of the mind

I first heard about the Crash Test Dummies through a friend from drum and bugle corps days, Andy, who let me borrow a copy of their bestselling sophomore album God Shuffled His Feet, which has their only major hit song,  "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm". I heard this some time in early 1998, a good five years after the release of this album. I always associate my interest in the Dummies to my time spent in Antigo, WI, from 1998-2000, and my growing interest in hiking and backpacking.

A song from that album, "In the Days of the Caveman," even mentions camping.

"When you go on camping trips you're stuck right out in nature"

Often, in the many nights camping in the rain, I sing a later stanza from the same song:

"Sometimes when I lie awake I hear the rainfall on my tent fly
I think of all the insects that are sleeping
And wonder if the animals are dreaming"

God Shuffled His Feet deals with issues of mortality, humanity's connection to nature, the artistic journey, childhood memory, and is full of quirky lines and characters. There is a mix of offbeat humor and wistfulness. Every time I listen to the album in its entirety I am transported in my mind to a sparse room in the piney north woods, and it is a rainy and timeless sort of day in midsummer. There is a buzz of bugs outside and the threat of the unknown somewhere out there in the deep and seemingly never ending woods.

According to the AllMusic, the album's Moods are:

I particularly agree with Reflective, Sad, Searching, and Autumnal. Damn the Internet for so neatly pinning down such a personal experience.

My interest in the Crash Test Dummies has inspired me to someday take a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, from which they came. A few years ago I met a fellow English teacher at Elgin High School who lived in Winnipeg during the Dummies' heyday and said he actually partied with members of the band in the early 90s.

The Winnipeg connection also got me interested in the comic book, Alpha Flight, published by Marvel Comics and featuring, in its first 28 issues, the art work of John Byrne, one of my favorite comic artists. His work on the X-Men in the 70s and The Fantastic Four in the 80s are considered some of the best eras for those venerable series. The expense of the back issues is a testament to their popularity. Alas, Alpha Flight never quite achieved that level of acclaim, even though the fictional superheroes hailed from Winnipeg.

Another Winnipeg connection involves the films of auteur filmmaker Guy Maddin, including his 2007 documentary of his hometown,  My Winnipeg. When I watched this film, a lot of the same emotions evoked by God Shuffled His Feet came back, including a sense of loneliness, the great north woods, catharsis, and memory. Director Maddin explores Winnipeg through the lens of childhood memory, and often recreates scenes from his childhood. It is a quirky film, but definitely worth the effort. It is not as fact-centered as one would expect from a documentary. It is done in the style of films from the silent era, even though there is voiceover dialogue.

Read some Alpha Flight, listen to God Shuffled His Feet, and then watch My Winnipeg. Wrap yourself in a blanket and prepare to be transported to a cool, harsh landscape.

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