Winter Wheat and understanding inspiration

John K. Samson has got to be my favourite songwriter. Not only because he’s a brilliant lyricist and musician, but because of the way he draws from and shares inspiration from other art.

I’ve been listening to Samson’s new album Winter Wheat today and it’s beautiful, made all the more better by his commentary over at CBC Music. Here, Samson goes into the detail behind the inspiration for each track, whether it be documentaries, other music, literature or Canadian history. So often art comes from a place within ourselves, but using existing stories and applying them to our own situations can create something even more staggering and moving.

Knowing the story behind art doesn’t always enhance it, but it can lead you to new things. Featured on Samson’s former band The Weakerthans’ album, Reconstruction Site, is a song titled, “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucalt in Paris, 1961)” detailing a meeting between Ernest Shackleton and Michel Foucault. I had already been a dreamer and lover of Antarctica before hearing it, but listening to Samson as Shackleton lament about the polar beauty made me love it even more.

“I could show you the way shadows colonize snow
Ice breaking up on the bay off the Lassiter coast
Light failing over the pole as every longitude leads
Up to your frostbitten feet, oh, you’re very sweet”

I was spurred to learn more about Antarctica and Shackleton. Reading about his expeditions to the frozen continent and becoming even more enamoured by its icy landscapes. It has become a life dream to go there and I think a large part of this has been because of Samson’s lyrics.

Having spent today listening to Winter Wheat and reading Samson’s thoughts behind the album, I can tell I am ready to explore more of what makes him tick. When an artist is so open about their inspiration in both their work, and their public life, it’s hard as a fan not to make an extreme connection. This guy is just like me! He loves books and he writes about loving books!

The best songs aren’t always stories, but they can be. The best music doesn’t always have to come from within, that can just be part of it. Opening up and channeling history for the now can create something that’s unlike what it’s based on. It sounds obvious, but sometimes this side of art can be lost or devalued. Especially in guitar music. There’s more to the art than yourself.