This week Canadian Idol contestant Mitch MacDonald sang a condensed version of Joel Plaskett’s “I Love This Town” on the show. I typically only catch the show in passing and promptly forget it, but this song stuck in my head. Being Joel Plaskett, I assumed it was a love song to Halifax, or some small Nova Scotia town.

Nobody cares how much money you have
If you’ve got enough to get in a cab
There’ll be drinks on the house if your house burns down
There’s a reason that I love this town

I saw your band in the early days
We all understand why you moved away
We’ll hold a grudge anyway

This is one of those frequent times, however, when the song takes on a much different meaning when listened to more carefully. A verse skipped in the Canadian Idol version was

I played a show in Kelowna last year
Said “Pick it up Joel, we’re dying in here”
Picture one hand clapping then picture half that sound
There’s a reason that I hate that town

So not only does the speaker love some still unnamed town, he loves it especially in comparison with Kelowna and their unreceptive audiences. The plot, as they say, thickens. But wait—immediately following the above passage we have the following:

If you saw my band in the early days
Then you understand why we moved away
But you’ll hold a grudge anyway

This mirrors the last three lines of the first passage quoted, but from the opposite point of view. It must be that somewhere between the two, without any change in singer, inflection, key, style, or melody, the narrator has changed. At the beginning of the song, somebody loves a town and holds a grudge against a band for moving away. (The song also suggests the grudge is good natured—as if the town is happy for the band’s success after leaving home, having known they couldn’t survive without leaving.) In the middle, the narration has switched to one of the members of the band, recalling how badly a particular show went, and implying that it was part of (or indicative of) of the reason they left. If you saw the show, you’d understand.

But then again, the bad show in Kelowna might be unrelated to the moving away—it might not even be the same town. It could certainly be argued that “last year” sounds much more recent than “the early days”. Nonetheless I can’t help but think that what happened in Kelowna must be related in some way to the band’s move.

Anyway, then the song finishes off with this:

Davey and me face down in our soup
Some French restaurant outside Riviere-du-Loup
Last night on a tour we burned the place to the ground
There’s a reason that I love this town

Now I just don’t know what to think. We have another more recent time frame, and another town. Is burning the place down metaphoric or literal? At the very least it’s a tad more dramatic than half a hand clapping. And we’re back to loving “this town”, not “that town”, not “Riviere-du-Loup”.

The town is still unnamed or ambiguous. The narrator changes without fanfare—or at least there are two different bands. The motives of anybody are unclear. What is this song about? To really like a song like this, I think you should be able to answer that question.

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