Three Pistols references


"...Tom Thomson came paddling past
I'm pretty sure it was him
And he spoke so softly in accordance
With the growing of the dim."

Tom Thomson was a painter and inspiration for the Group of Seven. His work began an impressionistic revolution in Canada. He painted Algonquin Park and the Canadian landscape, places so beautiful, that only a surrealist approach could capture their inherit power, vastness and unique esthetic. Despite being an experienced outdoorsman, he was mysteriously found dead in Canoe Lake near his Algonquin Park cabin. His death was caused by accidental drowning, but has long been shrouded in conspiracy theories. Shortly after his tragic and unexpected passing, and continuing to this day, people reported seeing Thomson's ghostly figure on the waters where he used to paint and sketch.

"...He said, "Bring on the brand new renaissance
Cause I think I'm ready
I've been shaking all night long
But my hands are steady."

Thomson was known to be a compulsive painter, someone who felt the urge to create art and had to comply. He would escape to Algonquin Park from his 9-5 life as a commercial artist in Toronto, and once stood outside in the snow in order to capture a storm in progress. One of his friends, Mark Robinson, recounted a similar incident where Thomson warmed his painting hand with a fire while the rest of his body shook from the cold. The story, along with some other now famous Robinson recollections, are otherwise unverified.

As with all of the Hipís work, Three Pistols is open to a myriad of interpretation. The songís Old West feel, of a man prepared to face a duel at dawn, may have a link to Thomson. There is a popular, unsubstantiated, myth which places Thomson in a fight or confrontation around the time of his death.

This lyric also evokes the image of an Eastwood-esque gunner whose nerves are shot but believes his hands are steady enough to find his target when the time comes. Another Thomson story, perhaps apocryphal, states that Tom Thomson himself was about to be handed a gun just before his death. Due to the First World War, a shortage of park rangers existed in Algonquin Park. Thomson had agreed to become one of the armed rangers so that he could at least contribute in uniform at home. He was eager and nervous about the job. Thomson was put at ease by the fact that the parks two other pistols, Mark Godin and Mark Robinson, were his closest friends.

"..Little girls come on Remembrance Day
Placing flowers on his grave"

Remembrance Day is observed across Canada every November 11th, honouring the nation's war dead. One of Thomson's artistic contemporaries, John McCrae, was an enlisted doctor during the First World War and wrote the legendary poem "In Flanders Fields." The day, as with most war memorial days observed in the Western world, was initially selected because the Armistice to end the First World War was signed at 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Some claim that Thomson tried three different times to enlist with the Canadian military during World War I. William Little wrote that Tom was refused three times on account of his flat feet. There is however little evidence regarding Thomson's feelings about the war or that he ever attempted to enlist.

"...She waits in the shadows 'til after dark
To sweep them all away"

"...Well he found his little lonely love
His bride of the northern woods"

The bride is likely a reference to Winnie Trainor, Tom's friend/lover/mother of his child depending on who you believe. She lived near Tom's cottage on Canoe Lake and dealt with her loss by maintaining Tom's supposed grave (see Exhibit) by "sweeping away" trinkets left by admirers.

No telling of Thomson tales can be complete without mentioning Gregory Klages extraordinary 2016 book "The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson." Klages takes the time to carefully investigate all of the rumours and conspiracy theories about Thomson's death. He even delves into their impression on pop culture, and devotes some coverage to The Hip. The book is great, you should read it, and it definitively debunks many of the common myths and misconceptions about Thomson's life and death. Much is written about Winnie Trainor. There is no evidence to support any of the rumours that Tom was about to make her his "bride."

"...Shakespeare's bent to touch
She never had any time for me
Cause I didn't protest enough"

Considered the world's greatest playwright, Billy Shakespeare has penned some pretty well known plays and sonnets.

One of his masterpieces, Hamlet, contains the "doth protest too much line" and centres around a man, who like Thomson in the popular ghost story, has returned from beyond to urge those still living to avenge his death.

Trois-Pistoles, Quebec: Rob Baker confirmed via the twitter that the song's title is indeed derived from the small Quebec town of the same name. The CBC suggested it here. Rob confirmed it on Dec 4, 2016 by tweeting in reply to my question. I asked "is there any connection between Trois-Pistoles, Quebec and Three Pistols? As simple as a thing Gord jotted down in notebook?" Rob replied, "yes, just that. A road sign while touring."

Play Song

Read the full Three Pistols exhibit here.