NOT  THERE

Lyrics & Commentary

The title track was written as a vehicle for many voices. Here, twelve different artists express my lyrics in their own unique way. I am honoured that they have given their time and talents to this song and this benefit compilation.

Sam Turton

Lyrics

Not There

Down at the crossroads at 6&7 (Sam Turton)
Sacred land this side of heaven (Ken Brown)
Two buryin' grounds for reflection (Norman Liota)
Garden of the Jesuits for redemption (Tannis Slimmon)

After generations have come and gone (Sam Turton)
Along came Walton from Arkansas (Andrew McPherson)
He got golden calves by the truckload (Craig Norris)
He wanna build a big box at the crossroads (Nonie Crete)

World is round, box is square (Nonie Crete)
Stick it in the south, we don't care (Nonie Crete)
At 6&7 don't you dare (James Gordon)
No, no, no, not there (Sandy Horne)
No, no, no, not there (Sandy Horne)

The people stood up and the city said no (Dave Teichroeb)
But the Walton boys just wouldn't let go (Sandy Horne)
For ten long years they laid their siege (Norman Liota)
But they met their match with the RSD (Craig Norris)

World is round, box is square (Jim Slansky)
Stick it in the south, we don't care (Jim Slansky)
At 6&7 don't you dare (Dave Teichroeb)
No, no, no, not there (Andrew McPherson)
No, no, no, not there (Andrew McPherson)

But council turned right and sold their souls (James Gordon)
So the people joined hands at that old crossroads (Ken Brown)
For the dead and the living gonna take it to the judge (Jim Slansky)
Gonna hold our ground in the name of love (Winston Cole)

World is round, box is square (Winston Cole)
Stick it in the south, we don't care (Winston Cole)
At 6&7 don't you dare (Tannis Slimmon)
No, no, no, not there (Sam Turton)
No, no, no, not there (Nonie Crete)


Words and music © 2004 Sam Turton/Dogsnest Music (SOCAN)

Commentary

Background

I moved to Guelph in 2000 because it is a unique Canadian community. Progressive elements in the arts, music, culture, health, ecology, agriculture, and politics are active and in abundance. The downtown is a good place for family business and a showcase of historic stone architecture. The city is surrounded by rolling farmland, fed by two rivers, and graced with old neighbourhoods dotted with parks and protected by mature trees. When I arrived, both the mayor and the majority on city council were champions of social and environmental justice. I could hardly believe it. This was the first place since childhood where I felt at home.

City council and a number of groups, including Residents for Sustainable Development (RSD), were opposing Wal-Mart's blind drive to erect a mega store and big box development between the two cemeteries and the Ignatius Jesuit retreat centre and organic farm. This site, on the northern rural boundary of Guelph, was a ludicrous location for a major commercial development. Wal-Mart's position was so uncompromising, so mercenary, so anti-community, anti-spirit, and anti-life that I felt sure the opposition would prevail.

Then in the fall of 2003, the unthinkable happened. In an election poisoned by slanderous
misinformation, the mayor and most of the progressive councillors were replaced by pro-development candidates. On May 25, 2004, council switched sides and backed Wal-Mart's application. At that council meeting, 37 of the 42 citizen delegations urged council to continue opposing Wal-Mart. It was the first city council meeting I had ever spoken at, and the opposition arguments were so rational, compelling, and well documented that I felt certain the councillors would vote for the prevailing view.

The pro-developement councillors, however, were silent during discussion period and quickly voted as a block in favour of the Wal-Mart application, fueling suspicions of a behind-the-scenes fait accompli.

I was furious. I had moved to Guelph, bought a house, and started a business because of community qualities these people were intent on destroying. At that moment I became involved with RSD as media consultant, writing news releases and getting the word out locally, nationally and internationally.

The Song

In 2004, "Not There" was the phrase used for RSD communications (and website) to indicate the essential concept - location. Whether you like Wal-Mart or not, that location is a terrible, destructive choice for a massive commercial development.

As a songwriter, I began to feel the need to express myself in music. While fuming over the Wal-Mart situation one day, in my mind I heard an entire gospel choir singing the phrase "No, no, no, not there. " By the end of the day the song was done.

I am most inspired by folk blues and African-flavoured gospel, which are the original influences of rock, R&B, and pop. This earthy tribal music was created as a family and community expression - not the ego-centred commercial product that music is today. The song is usually a story with a strong rhythm and strong emotion, with a vocal call-and-response to keep individual singers and the entire community connected. In contrast to the self-centreed complexity and performer/audience separation of modern music, this simple traditional music nurtures equal expression and community togetherness. These are the same values RSD is fighting for in Guelph. It is the ideal music - in form and meaning - for "Not There."

The music completed itself first and is a vocal call-and-response with a simple blues melody that allows for the singer's personal variations. This tradition encourages each person to take "ownership" and make an individual statement, and in the recording, the singers found their own interpretations of the basic melody.

The Lyrics

The lyrics focus on historic themes - the earth, the sacred, and the villagers who defend themselves against the invasion of a ruthless tyrant. "Crossroads" is a repeated image, referring in part to the classic 1936 recording of "Crossroads Blues" by the seminal blues man Robert Johnson. Legend has it that Johnson went to a country crossroads and sold his soul to the devil. In that interpretation, the crossroads stood for a decision between good and evil. In my reading of the song, it is a heart-wrenching plea for assistance by a person in the throes of personal and material oppression and depression.

In "Not There," the crossroads are both metaphor and reality. The crossroads of Woodlawn Road and Woolwich Street at the rural northern boundary of Guelph is the piece of ground at issue. A number of years ago this was also the intersection of Highways 6 & 7, hence the phrase "Down at the crossroads at 6 & 7."

The first verse sets up the historic, mystic atmosphere of the location with its cemeteries, religious retreat, and organic farm. The second verse throws us into the present day struggle. To evade the faceless "happy face" trickery of modern corporations, I refer to Wal-Mart as a gang of real people - which they are - with Robson Walton, son of Sam, as the outlaw gang leader.

"He got golden calves by the truckload," is a biblical reference to the worshipping of idols, which I believe rampant consumerism is. To me, this is not a metaphor. We sell our souls - our connections to the earth, the spirit and each other - when we grasp and grovel for objects in places like Wal-Mart. In buying these things, we create resource depletion, environmental pollution, human labour abuse, and the destruction of our own family community businesses.

"World is round, box is square" is a significant image to me. Nature generally creates things that are curved and round, and the earth is the prime example. There are no square planets! Humans, in their most disconnected state, however, build things that are straight and square. Nature, and those in alignment with it, creates curving rivers, round trees, undulating lakes, curving paths, circular nests, and domed lodges. In contrast, "civilized" humans build straight canals, square beams, rectangular pools, straight roads, square cages in zoos, and square houses. The big box - by its very design - is contrary to the ways of nature. It is, in my opinion, an aberration, a symptom of the broad socio-emotional illness of disconnection.

"Stick it in the south, we don't care," is saying both, "take it back to Arkansas," and place it in the south end of Guelph. Regardless of my opinions about Wal-Mart, this is essentially a location issue - to build things where they will do the most good and the least harm. The south end of Guelph is a rapidly developing area with a population more interested in commercial outlets such as Wal-Mart. It's placement there, in an appropriately zoned commercial location, could be a workable compromise.

"The people stood up and the city said no," refers to the first public and official response to Wal-Mart. In response, Wal-Mart did what it almost always does - appeal to a government planning body, in this case, the Ontario Municipal Board. To me, this is criminal, and should be outlawed. A billion-dollar company, in this case the richest company in the world, should not be allowed to challenge the decision of a democratically elected municipal government - and then suck the blood out of a working community in a torturous legal battle that taxpayers cannot afford. This battle has gone on for 10 years and cost taxpayers $1,000,000.00. If not for RSD and its thousands of citizen supporters, a handful of Wal-Mart executives in Arkansas would be controlling the lives of 110,000 Guelph citizens.

Unfortunately, in 2003, the corporate developers regained control through many new city councillors - " But council turned right and sold their souls." To me, the political "right" is essentially advocating a system controlled by wealthy business interests at the expense of peace, community, democracy, justice, health, and clean earth, air, and water. The "right" usually mask this mercenary, anti-life agenda with the word "free" - free enterprise, free markets, free development. But when "freedom" for one means the oppression of others, it isn't freedom. And when elected representatives turn their backs on the community to feed corporate greed, I believe they have lost their feeling connection - in a way, they have lost their souls. Thank goodness a few members of Guelph City Council are dedicated to the community and still have their "souls" intact!

"So the people joined hands at that old crossroads," refers to the moment when many of us realized we had to take action. Of the many community actions taken, one was a "silent walk," where people held hands at the site, in silence and solidarity with the dead in the cemeteries and those living now and in future generations.

"Gonna hold our ground in the name of love," says it all. Holding our ground means standing strong in protection against violation - for the love of our community, our children, our sacred spaces, and the earth who sustains us. Native people have shown me that we come from this earth, we are fed by this earth, we return to this earth - and we can love her as a true mother. Love is a word for deep connection, and that is what fuels our resistance. We will hold our ground because we love.

Sam Turton
June 15, 2005

 

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