Years ago, when I was new to Canada, one day I was watching a concert on television. It was new to me, and I was interested in learning about the music of the new country. The singer was a lady standing in the middle of a group of men who dressed like miners. I was taken by the scene, but it was when she sang the following lyrics that my heart missed a few beats:
And I swear to God, if I ever see the sun, Or for any length of time, I can hold in my mind, I never again will go down underground.
The song was about miners, people whom I had never met, and, to this day, I have never met. In fact, I have never seen a mine. I don’t know how it looks like; I might have driven by it somewhere, and I would not have known it. But the song affected me so deeply with the lives of these men who spend a great deal of their lives underground. I cannot imagine how that must feel. To me, it feels unbearable. They must be super humans. The song managed to take me out of my world and situate me in the middle of life of other human beings. Those whose lives had never crossed my mind suddenly were right in front of me telling me about it.
The singer was Rita Mac Neil. I listened to many more of her songs, but this one never left me. Years later, when studying Canadian literature, I became familiar with the work of Alistair Macleod, the great Canadian writer. He wrote about miners and in his amazingly musical, biblical-contemporary language, these strong men of the deep down turned into medieval knights.
Last night, after twenty-something years, I finally listened to Rita Mac Neil live. She was amazing. At the age of 66, she sang beautifully. I also got to know Frank Mills; I didn’t know him. He played his Music Box Dancer, a tune influenced by his view of cherry blossoms in Japan, and much more. It was an amazing night.