One of the gifts of discovering a deep and abiding love of music right around the time a necessary transition to adulthood looms is the sudden access to a dazzling universe of sonic art that can provide a vocabulary of self, set to a fierce backbeat and slashing guitar chords. When I was still struggling to articulate who I was at my spinning core, I could find songs that resided close enough to my internal self that they were like displaced autobiographies. When I played them—especially as part of a radio playlist—they were declarations of identity.
As my journey of existential restiveness progressed from the urgency of youth to the shrugging casualness of middle age (presumably soon to the panicky regrets connected to looming mortality in old age), I found less need for songs that mirrored my state of mind. That’s a good thing, especially since there aren’t that many rock ‘n’ roll songs about what a pain in the ass it is to refinance a mortgage. But I can readily place myself back in the eddy of teen (and post-teen) angst when the right song comes along. “Tournament of Hearts,” by the Weakerthans, is the right song.
The emotional crescendo of the lyrics involves climbing atop a table scattered with empty beer bottles to yell out a lament of personal inadequacy. While that blast of could have been enough, the song is spotted with details that were poignantly familiar from my time growing up in the Upper Midwest: the 50/50 raffle, the gathering hall filled with farmers, the thought of trekking home on snowy roads. (The Weakerthans were Canadian rather than, say, Wisconsinites, but, hey, they’re basically the same.) Even the bit about peeling away at the label on a beer bottle is spot-on.
Released in 2007, this song wasn’t there when it spoke directly to who I was. But I remember well enough to make “Tournament of Hearts” resound.
Listen or download –> The Weakerthans, “Tournament of Hearts”
(Disclaimer: Unlike other entries in this series, I believe the album that houses this song, Reunion Tour, is available for purchase from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner than compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. So let the sharing of this mp3 be encouragement to go out and buy the full release rather than encouragement to be a cheapskate about it. And buy a few more records while you’re at it. Your soul will glow a little brighter. Although I believe this humble act of sharing should fall under the tragically eroding concept of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)