by Ali Houston
I wrote an essay on The Band for my college application to US universities, and I got a few comments telling me to send it to The Band's site. So I thought I'd just send it to you on the off chance you like it! Thanks! --Ali Houston, October 2012
I'm getting a tattoo this summer. It's not tribal marks or a little lower back butterfly, and it's not to anger my parents. I've known I wanted it since December 26th, 2007, when I was thirteen years old: the day I first heard Acadian Driftwood. It was snowing, and I was in the car, headed north through the storm from Toronto up to Muskoka, where the lake had been frozen since late November. The song came on the radio, a scratchy folk station slightly out of our range, and my father turned the volume up.
I've grown up with The Band. Their music, for the first twelve years of my life, existed in cars, in family sing-alongs on the highway. When I was a baby, the Brown Album, on low, used to put me to sleep when no lullaby could. Suffice to say, my love for them was inherent, unavoidable. It grew with me, into my roots, fortifying them. So when Richard Manuel's voice came on, I had to listen.
I'm a tenth generation Canadian. My ancestors have been here for 200 years, living off the land for a good half of that time before retreating to the towns of Southern Ontario. I'm as Canadian as they come, something that, for the first twelve years of my life, I regarded as a deep character flaw. It seemed so boring, surrounded as I was by the Irish and Spanish and Jamaican and Chinese ancestries of my friends. What was so great about Canada? It was cold and big, and boasted four out of five members of The Band, and there ended its appeal.
It may seem odd to say that one six-minute song could irrevocably change a twelve-year-old's opinion of herself, her country and her roots. But it did.
Such a celebration of Canada I had never heard before, by anyone, even the annual Canada Day soliloquies of my aged relatives. It wasn't just the lyrics -- the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, a compelling tale I'd never heard before -- that so gorgeously captured the land outside my car window; it was the sound of it, the fiddle and piccolo, the acoustic guitar, the voices distinct and melting together at once, the wistfulness that pulled the essence of this vast cold half-empty place together in front of me.
I had once been one of those people who, when asked for her heritage, insisted upon vague internationalism, one Swedish ancestor far back on my mother's side giving me claim to "European". But through this vast piece of music, I uncovered parts of my country, of my history, I had never known. The landscape of this place is in my roots. And I will always return here, where my roots are, grounded deep under the snow. This tattoo will remind me, when I'm far from home, how to follow the directions The Band set for me and find my way back home. Set my compass north. I got winter in my blood.