Just after Christmas, Rick, a man I see once in a while socially, told me that he had been working at Winter Wheat before it had unfortunately lost most of its buildings in a fire. I asked Rick what he had been doing there and he said, “Whatever they need. Mostly welding on some of their sculptures and chainsaw carvings.”
Well. I knew Rick as an avid hunter on the young side of seniorhood, a man who had very little filter when it came to making other people laugh and a guy who could do almost anything with his hands. But from welding sculptures to chainsaw carvings is quite a range. To be social, I told him about my admiration for competitive chainsaw carving in the Dawson Creek area of British Columbia, although being a senior, I couldn’t remember the name of the town – since googled … it’s Chetwynd.
Rick said he’s not working at that level. He doesn’t carve amazing feathers and detailed eagles. He does basic chainsaw carvings, cruder figures that are perhaps painted and embellished with metal or other objects. To me, his disclaimer echoes gunslinger effect. Readers from my era will recall the following mantra from westerns: No matter how fast you are, there will always be someone who’s faster. Leonard Cohen incorporates this effect into the Tower of Song:
I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
Oh, a hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song
Old Hank is credited with writing 167 songs before the age of 29 when he died (some of them co-written), some of them great songs in the genre we now call classic country. He influenced the direction of the genre by incorporating some of the blues he heard in his youth. It’s also true that some of those 167 songs are barely more listenable than the whining of a chainsaw making folk art.
Cohen penned by my count slightly fewer than William’s number by the time he passed away at 82. They had such vastly different writing styles that it’s hard to compare the two. Cohen would take up to a year to polish a poem that might become a song lyric, while Hanks could scribble one on the back of a napkin in one take. Some people defend the following lyric on the basis of Cohen’s well-known playfulness, and I will grant them the fact that getting phrases to rhyme with Hallelujah must be about a tricking as finding an aural pairing for the word Saskatchewan, but I have trouble defending the following as a publishable stanza:
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
Final disclosure: Both songwriters are easily 200 floors above someone like me in the Tower of Song. I’ve never written a publishable song, but I’ve met one St. Thomas woman who’s written several songs, and we have not a bad local music scene with people like Denis Gauthier and Dennis Kalichuk writing and recording all the time. Those of us between sixty and death shouldn’t spend a lot of time comparing ourselves with others. Get on with chainsaw carvings or song writing or whatever you have a hankering to do, because as Johnny Cash sang, “You can run on for a long time … Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”