I used to be a farmer, and I made a living fine,
I had a little stretch of land along the CP line
But times were hard and though I tried, the money wasn’t there
And the bankers came and took my land and told me “fair is fair”
I looked for every kind of job, the answer always no
“Hire you now?” they’d always laugh, “we just let 20 go!”
The government, the promised me a measly little sum
But I’ve got too much pride to end up just another bum.
Then I thought, who gives a damn if all the jobs are gone?
I’m gonna be a PIRATE on the river Saskatchewan!
And it’s a heave-ho, hi-ho, comin’ down the plains
Stealin’ wheat and barley and all the other grains
It’s a ho-hey, hi-hey farmers bar yer doors
When ya see the Jolly Roger on Regina’s mighty shores
Well, you’d think the local farmers would know that I’m at large
But just the other day I found an unprotected barge
I snuck up right behind them and they were none the wiser,
I rammed their ship and sank it and I stole their fertilizer!
A bridge outside of Moose Jaw spans a mighty river
Farmers cross in so much fear their stomachs are a’quiver
Cause they know that Tractor Jack is hidin’ in the bay
I’ll jump the bridge and knock them cold and sail off with their hay!
Well, Mountie Bob he chased me, he was always at my throat
He followed on the shoreline cause he didn’t own a boat
But cutbacks were a’coming and the Mountie lost his job
So now he’s sailing with us, and we call him Salty Bob!
A swingin’ sword, a skull and bones and pleasant company
I never pay my income tax and screw the GST (SCREW IT!!)
Sailin down to Saskatoon, the terror of the seas
If you wanna reach the co-op, boy, you gotta get by me!
Well, Pirate life’s appealing but you just don’t find it here,
I hear in North Alberta there’s a band of buccaneers
They roam the Athabaska from Smith to Fort McKay
And you’re gonna lose your Stetson if you have to pass their way!
Well, winter is a’comin’ and a chill is in the breeze
My Pirate days are over once the river starts to freeze
I’ll be back in springtime but now I have to go
I hear there’s lots of plunderin’ down in New Mexico!
To say this past weekend was surreal would be an overstatement, but it was a little bit odd. Here in Saskatoon there was a writing conference with keynotes from across the country. That in itself is not particularly unusual, but what was strange was the fact that one of the keynotes was a musician. Again, this was not overly strange — he’s a touring musician, but he has also written a book of strange fairy tales, a satiric self-help book, and a comic novel.
The strange part about it was that in this case, the musician was Trevor Strong, a member of the Arrogant Worms, which was two of my good friends’ favourite band in high school. I knew half their songs by heart just from hearing these friends sing them. Their love for this comedy band was a major part of their identity in our younger years of high school — it had got them through some rather rough times. It had become a major part of my experience, as well.
So it felt a bit odd on that Saturday night to be having a beer with this musician talking about writing and music as if we were just, you know, two writers having a beer and talking about writing and music. I kept this façade up for a good chunk of the night, but eventually I cracked. I told him about how their song I Am Cow had been a major fixture of my high school years, and I knew all the words, and we used to wave lighters around outside listening to it. I told him I was sorry if it made it a bit awkward, now.
He was gracious, and said it didn’t make it awkward at all, which was awfully nice of him. That seemed to have inspired some others at the table, and suddenly everyone was telling stories about Arrogant Worms songs. The most exciting was probably from a guy who was asked to sing a “song of his culture” at an exchange in Malaysia, and ended up playing the Last Saskatchewan Pirate. It had gone well, he said, but the meaning was lost; no one else spoke English.
This inspired a second round of stories about that song in particular. It’s a bit of an institution. I’ve been at events in different parts of the country where it came on, and if you hadn’t known who they were already, it would be very easy to spot the people from Saskatchewan because they’d all jumped to their feet. My sister’s fiancé had to learn to like this song upon his arrival in the province. She sent it to him in advance just to make sure. I don’t know if I’ve been to a wedding in this province where that song didn’t come on at some point. Of course, it’s often the Captain Tractor version, but I left that part out.
This was all news to Mr. Strong, who actually seemed a little shocked. I’m guessing it’s got to be a bit of a head trip to know that a song of yours has become so ingrained into the fabric of a culture that it’s a standard at weddings. That’s likely unique to Saskatchewan, mind you — when you hear the song with people who are from away, they look perplexed for about half of it, and inevitably someone from Saskatchewan will say, “this is hilarious if you’re from here.”
Now, the whole “beers with my friends’ hero” thing was part of what made all this odd. The other part that made it strange was that after hearing so many stories about the song, Mr. Strong told us they’d never been to Saskatchewan when they wrote it. They just thought it would be funny to write a song about pirate ships in a landlocked province, and remembered something about us having a lot of Co-ops from a geography class.
Now, it’s not that anyone was disappointed by this, or anything. The interesting thing about it was that though they’d never been here and had not had much of an idea about the province, the band had really captured significant aspects of Saskatchewan identity. There are a lot of stereotypes about Saskatchewan in the country (flat, boring, rural, wheat, prejudiced), but I didn’t know that our actual identity was strong enough for anyone to capture it with any accuracy if they weren’t familiar with it personally. I didn’t know there were things that made it obvious we were from here.
I thought everyone had co-ops and credit unions. But perhaps that just means I’m really from Saskatchewan.