Problem Bears references


"...Writing a song about Lake Memphremagog"

The town of Magog and it's adjacent lake are comfortably situated near the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec's idyllic Eastern Townships. "The townsite, originally an Indian camp, was a stopping place on the trail from the Connecticut River to the St. Lawrence. It was first settled about 1776 by loyalist refugees from the United States of America. Water-powered gristmills and sawmills were built in 1798, and a school was opened in 1818. Calico printing began in 1884. Originally called The Outlet of Lake Memphremagog. Because of its location where the Lake empties into the river, the settlement adopted an abbreviation of Memphremagog for its name in 1855, when it was incorporated as a town."

The area is a popular vacation destination for the elites of Montreal. It was famously home away from home for Mordecai Richler who immortalized the village in his novel "Solomon Gursky Was Here"

"...Shakespeare, you're a drunken savage
Well, you're a sober and green-eyed Voltaire"

Along with, in no particular order, the Second World War, literature, film, and Canadian history, William Shakespeare ranks among the most referenced person, place or thing in Gord Downie's early song writing. The Bard was given a break for a few albums, but returns in this 2002 bonus track. Info about him can be found in the entry for Cordelia. A photo of a puffy shirt can be found here:

Judging by his work, Gord is also a fan of those who seize the day. Men and women who make the most of their talents and limited time on earth. Folks like Terry Fox, Tom Thompson, Pierre Trudeau, Bill Barilko, John Gardner, Raymond Carver and Hugh Maclennan, people who for lack of a better term, used it up, and didn't save a thing for later. The latter three were also believers in an existential outlook on life. One of the pioneers of existential and 'make the most of what you've got' thinking, was Voltaire. A philosopher and author who lived and worked during the 18th century, Voltaire was at the time a radical reformer who believed in the ideas of Isaac Newton and the liberal philosophies of John Locke. He may be best known for his prescient quote: "those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

"In 1814 a group of "ultras" (right-wing religious fanatics who have links to the origins discussed in another IVL bonus track: Ultra Mundane) stole Voltaire's remains and dumped them in a garbage heap. No one was the wiser for some 50 years. His enormous sarcophagus was checked and the remains were gone. His heart, however, had been removed from his body, and now lies in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. His brain was also removed, but after a series of passings-on over 100 years, disappeared after an auction."

The lyric itself references Voltaire's famous opinion of Shakespeare, and his well-known distain for Britain and the New World. Voltaire once wrote that "Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada." John Mazerolle brought this to my attention with a now defunct website which chronicled the origins of the quote. Voltaire also wrote that New France was of no importance to his mother country, as it had no real value and was just "a few acres of snow." Calm down, he's already dead.

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