March 25

Ron Sexsmith


Ron Sexsmith is perhaps well known, but that depends on your point of view. I suspect many people with mainstream tastes have never heard of him. He's older than I am - God praise him - and he's been performing since he was 17. His first album came in 1991; he's had twelve of his own, plus many contributions to other peoples'. He's Canadian - so right there, it would stand to reason that he's not well known in Canada.

Sexsmith is admired by Elton John, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, and many other blockbuster musicians. He's much more popular among accomplished musicians than with ordinary music fans. His lack of commercial success is something he jokes about.

So, just what is the story with Ron Sexsmith? Why is he not better known, given his famous admirers? Most people believe that to make it in the music business, you need connections. Well, he's definitely got those. Plus, he's been making albums for over twenty years.

I was introduced to Ron Sexsmith on a flight home from Ottawa. As I recall, we were given the option to listen to the radio, so I took it (I'm not a big movie fan). What I would find out was that I was listening to a recording of a radio broadcast. It was a program about Ron Sexsmith. This was over ten years ago now.

I forget if Ron was interviewed, but I remember the songs they played. The one I remember particularly is "Doomed" off the Whereabouts album. In "Doomed", Ron speculates on whether a love is "doomed from the start" - but of course, he's not giving up.

I confess I haven't listened to a lot of Ron's songs, but his music is unforgettable. I think I know one reason why: it's the conflict between the mood and the tone in some of his songs.

If I recall my literary terms correctly, the mood is the reader's feeling as he or she reads the story, whereas the tone is the feeling with which the author treats the story. Usually, they are the same: a scary story, for instance, is usually told from a worrying, uncertain point of view. Or, for another example: A football epic is usually told from an invested fan's point of view.

Occasionally, though, you'll get a story that's hopeless, but told from a hopeful point of view. That's exactly how I perceive some of Ron's songs. Not all are like that, but "Doomed" is, and so is "Gold in Them Hills" (off Cobblestone Runway).

I think Ron is an excellent song writer, but the songs I've heard have a powerful sense of doom in them, even if the lyrics are hopeful (which they're not always). His melodies and tone color leave me feeling that if I'm happy, I'm dreaming. But then again, a lot of Bob Dylan's songs have that same suggestion. Leonard Cohen's music, to me, carries the same feeling of doom.

Joanna mentioned wanting to interview Ron, but he hasn't replied - yet. However, Joanna is very patient. She drew a rather flattering portrait of him in the meantime.

Looking good, Ron.

Wikipedia was a source for this article - here, here, and here.

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