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The Weakerthans: Curlers, Bigfoot-Spotters Unite

Why can't I draw right up to what I want to say? / Why can't I ever stop when I want to stay? / I slide right through the days / I'm always throwing hack-weight.

Once called Canada's "bona-fide rock 'n' roll poet laureates," The Weakerthans' members have built their careers around introspective, punk-tinged pop-rock. The new Reunion Tour, their fourth album, is full of songs that serve as short stories about bus drivers in Winnipeg, men in curling clubs, Bigfoot spotters and Edward Hopper paintings.

John K. Samson, the band's primary songwriter and singer, comes from a punk background, having played bass in the highly political Propagandhi. While he may have traded in fast power chords for melodic figures, his political ethos stays the same, even if it's now funneled into how he looks at his surroundings. Most immediately, those surroundings are in Winnipeg, Canada.

"It's just the place that I understand best and the place that infuriates me, interests me and delights me," Samson says. "I think of myself as a regional writer. I think that, perhaps, I have more in common with a writer from Fargo than I do with a writer from Toronto. I know there is a Canadian character to my writing, but I like to think of it more as a regional character."

Canadian culture has long been a fixation of Samson's lyrics, sometimes as an implied background and others as a biting love affair. "Tournament of Hearts" looks at the curling obsession and the "regular" people who play it. In Winnipeg alone, there are 17 curling rinks compared to one in Chicago, which gives an idea of its place in the capital of Manitoba.

"Curling, specifically, is one of those last sports where I see the professional curlers and I recognize myself in them," Samson says. "I recognize the people that I know. They're slightly overweight, sometimes more than slightly. They have real jobs. They're accountants, schoolteachers. They speak like me, they look like me. I can relate to them in a really super-direct way. I think a lot of Prairie Canadians feel the same way about this."

But more than looking at his homeland, Samson finds characters that reveal something more than just regional pride or confusion. "Bigfoot!" looks at a real person who's come in contact with one of the country's greatest mythologies and how it both ruins and empowers him.

"A friend of mine made a documentary here in Canada about a man in Norway House, Manitoba, which is pretty far north," Samson says. "He saw Bigfoot. And then he was taken advantage of by everyone that could take advantage of him. His own community made fun of him, and Current Affair, the American tabloid television show, flew in a bunch of people just to make fun of him. No matter what actually happened, he genuinely believed he saw this creature. He was terrified.

"I think in the end, it doesn't really matter to him what other people believe. He believes, and I think he believes, that these creatures see him as well and are a part of his life — and in a way validate who he is."

Samson admits to always having been a thwarted fiction writer. His stories have instead become two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. But on Reunion Tour, he set himself a goal to write from perspectives other than his own, perhaps to see Canada and himself in another light.

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As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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