TONITE: John K. Samson At Union Transfer

BY MIKE WALSH Here’s a hypothetical: let’s say you’re up late. Very late. It’s quiet, you’re alone, and you’re stuck on the world wide interweb watching Maru videos. You have to get up early for work, but you just can’t stop watching that fat furry little fucker being insufferably cute. And you’re telling yourself that this is ridiculous, you are pathetic, just go to bed, and then you notice a music video titled “Plea from a Cat Named Virtute” from a band you’ve never heard of—the Weakerthans.

You click the link, and it’s not an actual video, just the song and the cover of Reconstruction Site, the album it comes from,  and the artwork has a Henry Darger thing going on — dead cartoon people and bears — which is overdone, but you always had a soft spot for deranged folk art and even faux deranged folk art. The song opens with crunchy Bob Stinson-esque bar chords leading to the song’s undeniable hooks and clever rhymes. It’s like thousands of other indie rock songs, with the loud-soft thing and adenoidal vocals (from singer/songwriter John K. Samson), but the lyrics are from the cat’s POV, and Virtute’s unsentimental outlook on his caretaker’s depression just slays you.

All you ever want to do is drink and watch TV
Frankly that thing doesn’t really interest me
I swear I’m going to bite you hard
And taste your tinny blood
If you don’t stop the self-defeating lies you’ve been repeating
Since the day you brought me home

By the end, the band is slamming, because they mean it, and you understand because you feel how they feel. And that quickly, you have become a fan of Samson and the Weakerthans of Winnipeg, Canada.Then you listen to the follow-up, “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure,” which YouTube has conveniently found for you. It’s softer, slower, and mournful and just as unforgettable. Virtute gets outside and stays in an abandoned house, but she remembers her caretaker even though she “can’t remember the sound you made for me”— i.e. her name. Samson sings that line over and over at the end of the song, and you realize that Virtute can’t possibly survive the Winnipeg winter, and this hits you hard.

You think about the pets you have lost, and the friends and family you have lost and will loose, and you cannot accept any of that. Your eyes fill, and you know you are a sucker. You’ve been manipulated by a pop song, for cripe’s sake. You are grieving for a cat you’ve never met, a cat that probably never existed. Damn that John K. Samson!

The next day, you can’t get those songs out of your head, and you download Weakerthans records, and you read about Samson’s new solo record, which is inspired by the roads around Winnipeg. You also read about the small publishing company that he helped create, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, and that is all good and noble, and he’s obviously a cool dude, but you can’t get a certain feline and the songs about her out of your head.

Then you learn that John K. Samson — yes, the very same John K. Samson — is playing in your home town. Soon. You are stunned. There is no question – you must attend. You look at the set list of his older live shows, and you see that he has been playing the Virtute songs for years. And you hope that Samson will play them just one more time this Sunday night, even if he can barely stand those songs because he’s played them so many times before, even it will take all of his energy to wring emotion from them again. For some reason that you don’t understand, you need to hear him play those songs because, maybe, it will help. And you’ll be able to move on. And stop obsessing. And let Virtute rest. But like I said — this is all just hypothetical.


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