I thought I would break from my usual and write about something I truly was currently reading but it was such a quick and easy read and I write so slowly, once again, I’m talking about a book I’ve finished.
I have seen this title around since its publication last October. I couldn’t miss it because Doyle’s band, Great Big Sea, is near and dear to me for so many reasons and I was mildly intrigued because he is from “my neck of the woods” yet a region so different from where I grew up.
More recently, I finally added it to my list of books to read and requested it from the library after learning from a Terry Fallis blog post that his co-nominee for the 2015 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour was Alan Doyle’s Where I Belong. Way to go for a first-time author and I was instantly rooting for him to win! (He didn’t. Terry Fallis picked up his second Stephen Leacock Award and I listened to his reading of No Relation and it was very funny.)
I spent 22 years in Halifax, a 90-minute flight from St. John’s but I guess I only lived there for five years where I was post secondary school and would dream of traveling alone. In that time, I passed up visiting a friend when she was temporarily placed in Deer Lake (the other end of the island from St. John’s) and I would finally visit The Rock for the first time only last year. I spent 30 hours in St. John’s and would definitely return because there is the Cape to Cabot run that is calling me to accomplish!
Now that I have been to St. John’s, hiked up Signal Hill, glimpsed Cape Spear and enjoyed a night out on famous George Street, I can believe the magic of the island. Isolation from the rest of any country Newfoundland has been a part of has an interesting effect.
While it is hardly a blip on my playlists (which are usually created for running), I lay claim anyhow as a native Nova Scotian to East Coast/Celtic/folk music as “my music”. I’m not a die-hard GBS fan but I gotta represent and I love their big anthemic tunes more than the next person. I will gladly share the genre with Newfoundlanders. The music is the defining characteristic of our bars and used to replicate the down-to-earth friendly atmosphere in other venues. And not only did I meet a musician on my night out in St. John’s, but a fiddler with a Christian and folk background. So we could both really enjoy the live bands at O’Reilley’s Pub and Shamrock City Pub and then pop music at Christian’s Bar and that club (name escapes me now). The night ingrains in me the link between St. John’s/Newfoundland and music.
The book title comes from the questions that nagged Doyle in life although it would seem he now has it all. He was raised Catholic back when in small town Petty Harbour, Catholics and Protestants went to separate stores and school. Yet he couldn’t really tell why there should be a divide. Did he live in Newfoundland or Canada, for people like his grandfather were adamant they lived in the former. Was he a Baymen or Townie, for Doyles often worked in town and weren’t fishermen like most Baymen were. He came from a musical family but what style of music was his? He was groomed to love the Red Wings but the Canadiens had captured his loyalty. All he knew was he was through and through a Petty Harbour Dog who belongs in Petty Harbour but would he grow up to be a rock star or a goalie?
I enjoyed the stories about growing up with little, four kids in one family, but never thinking they were poor. Instead, they were resourceful with their materials and imaginations. “We had no microphone stand, so we jammed a hockey stick into a bucket of rocks and duct-taped the mic to the blade.” His mother’s voice is so distinct, complete with Newfie dialect and intelligent and no-nonsense.
The book is a whirlwind tour of small town Newfoundland culture. My favourite parts were the stories of his summers cod tongue cutting and his first experiences gigging. I loved how he had to include explanations for things so natural to him but unknown to us, “I recall speaking with a tourist couple down behind the Bidgood’s lobster pound. (Note for Mainlanders: a lobster pound is an onshore holding tank for lobsters, where sea water is pumped in to keep the creatures alive and kicking until they’re sold and move. I was shocked when my editor told me I had to explain this.)”
Doyle didn’t veer often into exaggeration for the purpose of humour which was a relief. I also found it fun when he described pictures of himself and included how he felt at the time. Often it surrounds how cool he thought he was and some fashion accessory would be a girl magnet. :P I’ve been toiling through a couple other non-fiction that seem endlessly long so breezing through Where I Belong was a breath of fresh air and a pleasure.
I’m surprised to be so excited to read this now > Alan Doyle’s “Where I Belong” http://t.co/ICG12jTbx9
— wyn (@whoiswyn) May 12, 2015