Monthly Archives: December 2015

Simani Deserves More Respect and Recognition

The recent passing of Ron Hynes triggered a well-deserved outpouring sadness and appreciation for one of the greatest songwriters and musicians this province has ever known. Though he wrote and performed many wonderful songs, Sonny’s Dream is widely considered his crowning achievement as it both one of the most beloved songs in Atlantic Canada and has been covered by the likes of Emmy Lou Harris among others.

The Ron Hynes coverage coincided with the start of the Christmas music season on the radio and I remember listening to the Mummer’s Song right after hearing about the importance of Sonny’s Dream and I couldn’t help but think that Simani has not gotten nearly enough recognition and appreciation. Regardless of whether you like Newfoundland folk music, there are two songs by Simani that you have undoubtedly heard many times; the Mummer’s Song and Saltwater Cowboys.

I love Sonny’s Dream, and as someone who spent a lot of time away from home it has always resonated with me, but the song in not particularly specific to Newfoundland. Relatively few Newfoundlanders have lived on a true farm or have been sailors who never come home. Newfoundlanders were mostly fisherman, not sailors, and they were home all the time. Though almost everyone outside of St. John’s grew vegetables, full time farmers were a distinct minority. By contrast, both the Mummer’s Song and Saltwater Cowboys are quintessentially Newfoundland songs. A Nashville recording artist could never cover one of those songs.

The Mummer’s Song was about the dying tradition of mummering in Newfoundland, but instead of just being a lament for a lost tradition, it actually managed to preserve and revive it. Simani and its most famous song legitimately deserves the bulk of the credit for the tradition of mummering still existing in this province today.

Mummering was not invented in Newfoundland. We brought it with us from the British Isles. It also existed in 19th Century Russia. There is actually a section in War and Peace where some of the main characters go mummering, yet the practice has long since disappeared from Russian culture. The only place on earth where a large majority of the population have ever heard of mummering is Newfoundland and Labrador and that is due in large part to a great song by Simani.

Saltwater Cowboys is not as popular, nor has it had the same kind of cultural impact as the Mummer’s Song, but it is the most culturally relevant, both when it was first released almost 35 years ago and today. The song, which is about Newfoundlanders going to Alberta to work in the oil industry and coming back home looking and talking differently could just as well have been released last week as in 1981.

In some ways it is understandable that Simani does not get much attention these days. They gave up performing 18 years ago and half of the duo, Sim Savoury, passed away in 2010. Bud Davidge, who wrote and sang all of the songs is still alive and well, and it would be nice to see him get some of the recognition that he so rightly deserves while he was still with us.

Hyper-Partisanship is a Form of Mental Illness

Few things are as wearisome as a rabid political hyper-partisan. Many people like to heap scorn on these people for the ludicrous and predictable things that they say, but before you join in the piling on, you might want to consider whether these people are actually suffering from a type of mental illness.

When I talk about hyper-partisans, I am not talking about actual politicians. Their form of partisanship is entirely rational and understandable. When you are a member of a political party you generally have to support your party’s policies publicly, and work behind the scenes to try and modify them. You may disagree with that, but it is at least logical. I am also not talking about ideologues. Reasonable people can have radically different ideological views that will cause them to stridently disagree with one another. One person may believe in lower taxes and smaller government while another person might want higher taxes and more government spending. Those people will likely always be dependable voters for whichever party shares that view, though they are in actuality just loyal to a policy, not a party.

What I am talking about is people who have sworn an allegiance to a political party and will defend everything that party does and attack everything the other party does, regardless of where it falls on a political or ideological spectrum. Someone who is driven by ideology will abandon a party if he or she believes its policies no longer match up with their ideology. This is what happened in Western Canada when right wing voters abandoned the federal Progressive Conservative Party. A hyper-partisan will passionately support a party no matter what changes it makes to its policies.

This phenomenon is particularly obvious in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the only two parties who ever hold power have little, if any, differences in ideology. There isn’t a single ideological issue that would cause a voter to be fanatically devoted to one of the parties. With taxes, both parties have raised and lowered taxes at one time or another. Social issues like abortion and gay rights never come up in elections in this province. Yet despite the lack of clear ideological divide there appear to be just as many hyper-partisan voters here as there are in the US, where parties have a markedly different positions on polarizing issues like abortion, immigration, taxes, and gay marriage.

What is striking is that many of these hyper-partisans have nothing to gain from their strident partisanship. They don’t work for the party and nobody in the party would ever consider putting them in any kind of position of authority. Their lives probably won’t materially change no matter the party in power, yet every day they call open line shows, rant on social media and fill up the online comments section of the CBC website.

If they had a direct material interest in one party’s success I would say it was an act, but most of these people are completely honest and sincere. They really believe what they are saying. When their party loses they truly believe the media was out to get them. When they win they think the other party’s partisans are being a bunch of sooks for blaming the media. If you are a Liberal hyper-partisan and someone from the PC Premier’s security staff shoots someone you believe it was an assassination. If you are a PC hyper-partisan then anyone who wants an inquiry is playing politics over someone’s unfortunate death. If a party leader said that sky was green there would be hyper-partisans calling open line to agree with them and say that people only think it is blue because they have been brainwashed by the media.

Hyper-partisans are essentially like people who are hallucinating and seeing visions; they see things that are not there. It is time to stop looking at hyper-partisanship as an annoyance and recognize that it is a type of mental illness. Instead of looking down on hyper-partisans and mocking them, we should try to get them the help that they need.