Pigeon Camera references


"...This house it has it politics;
over there that's my room
and that's my sister's.
And that's my sister,
With something we could no longer contain

It's boring,
I'm embarrassed,
I don't endorse that;
I didn't want this,
it's horrific
I'm embarrassed"

Rob Bertrand and Oren Bick, two very early online decipherers of Gord's work, wrote this of Pigeon Camera long ago: "Pigeon Camera developed out of a monologue Gord performed during the Hengelo show. The concert fell on road manager Dave Powell's birthday. Gord sang an impromptu song about Dave's childhood in Thunder Bay. Though none of the lyrics were retained, the themes of the impromptu song were spying and incest. -- two unlikely themes which would come back later in Pigeon Camera." Those two themes are likely reflected in the lyrics above.

The theme of incest is supported by Gord's references to such from the stage before and during live performances of Pigeon Camera as far back as 1992. Perhaps unrelated, but interesting none the less, is the fact that on the original album version, there is an audio illusion created as Gord sings "I don't endorse that." Paul adds his backing lyric, "slammed in my face." The timing and layering create the sound of "door slammed in my face."

While the song may deal with incest, the literal reference is far more fun to write about, so let's go there:

"...Where's our Pigeon Camera
By now he could be anywhere"

While touring the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Gord learned of Second World War pigeon cameras. It was also on this trip, according to Michael Barclay, that Gord spotted a "fifty-mission cap" for the first time.

The camera exhibit explained that pigeons, being easy to train and eager to return to their nests after long journey's, were first used as spies during World War II. Yep, forget about James Bond and shoe phones, that pesky visitor to your balcony each morning may just be what a real "company man" looks like. With small camera's strapped to their chests, Pigeons were perfect for reconnaissance work... well, except for their unreliable and unpredictable work ethic, total dumb luck photography style and constant AWOL'ing to go statue sitting in Paris and Bucharest.  

The United States recently declassified some of their Pigeon Camera work which included missions during the Vietnam War. From a USA Today story about a new CIA museum: "the exhibits include a robotic catfish, a remote-controlled dragonfly and a camera strapped to the chests of pigeons and released over enemy targets in the 1970s. The secret gadgets currently used by CIA are left to the imagination of visitors. The pigeons' missions remain classified, made possible only after the CIA secretly developed a camera weighing only as much as a few coins. An earlier test with a heavier camera in the skies over Washington failed after two days when the overburdened pigeon was forced to walk home.

"People don't think of a pigeon as being anything more than a rodent on top of a building," said Pat Avery of Newalla, Okla., who runs the National Pigeon Association and loves to recount decades-old exploits by famous military pigeons such as "Spike" and "Big Tom."

But as surveillance technology improved, the need for CIA pigeons diminished. "They're pretty passé now," she said."

"...it’s like we burn our boots
with no contingency plan"

On Canada Day 1990, Gord famously lit his boots on fire during a huge holiday concert at Barrie’s Molson Park. When the band returned to play the final Edgefest in Molson Park some thirteen years later, Gord confessed that it was in fact his brothers boots which he’d torched those many years ago. Gord told the assembled mass that his brother didn't quite see the humour in it.


During the shooting of "Long Time Running," on the 2016 Man Machine Poem tour, Jennifer Baichwal caught Gord singing, "burn our boats with no contingency plan" in London, Ontario. The (perhaps apocryphal) tale of Hernan Cortes telling his conquistadors to burn their boats upon arrival in a new land, so as to make failure or retreat impossible, was popular among football coaches and motivational speakers at the time. Ala, "we burned our boats, so there's no turning back now boys!" The analogy was used by Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly during an episode of the Showtime series "A Season With." It picked up a little pop-culture steam that summer.

Whether Gord was referencing his own situation, hinting at Cortes, riffing on the popular phrase, or just misreading the lyric off the prompter, we will never know. Yet it was one last instance where Gord had me heading to the history books and broadening my horizons because of something he had said on stage. The man's music bettered me.