Canada, The 1970s.

Burton Cummings. Musical legend. In Canada, an untouchable icon. Like Elizabeth II. Sure, there’s a host of cringeworthy things associated with the individual: people they worked with, their family. But still, one tends to compartmentalize history to keep notable work untarnished.

There are a few reasons why this singer-songwriter retains VIP status among my fanboy elite. One being that he hails from the same town as my dad. Winnipeg. North America’s heart, a swath of glacial rock known as the Laurentian Shield. This continental hub, the centre of my country, sits between lakes, bordered in rivers, exceedingly rich in history. Indigenous Nations and Europe. Bison, beaver, a throughway to spices and gold. Yet despite an onslaught of prospectors, shuffling west years ago, the mother lode was yet to be found. A prodigy whose mother made him play piano. At the age of three, he learned a song called Happy Farmer.

As he practiced one day, the boy called to his mom, who was in the next room.

“Listen to this, mommy,” he said. “I call it Sad Farmer.”

And he played the same song, which he’d transposed to a minor key. Leaving us to imagine just what his mom made of this.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, the boy now a young man, and he jams with a friend after school. His friend’s name is Randy. Randy plays the guitar. And the two write a tune they call These Eyes. Chords, by the way, not unlike those of Sad Farmer. And with that, The Guess Who have their first hit. A big one. And, as Burton likes to say, “Life changed forever.”

I listened to the song on my sister’s car stereo. Eight-track cassette. A far cry from the Belafonte and Humperdinck that played in our home, spinning from mom and dad’s vinyl. I heard Cummings’ song on the radio too. Again and again. It never grew tired. A hook, an edge, and an ache.

Then, magic transpired. Dad bought a Burton Cummings cassette, for himself! Obliterating music’s generational gap. In much the same way the mid-continent glacier retreated, scraping land clean as it made its way north, so too was a musical rift stripped bare, leaving nothing but the wonder of song, written well, performed with a care that equates to perfection.

Dad’s first Burton Cummings album was Dream of a Child. Mine was My Own Way to Rock. Although mine was a record and dad’s was a tape, there was no mistaking a shift in the axis that staked our two worlds. Or rather, a removal of that very axis. Leaving only one world. No more yours and mine. Only ours. As though we were no longer father and son. Simply friends, enjoying our favourite artist.

Later, Dad and I hit the road, a few thousand kilometres to the centre of our common world. To Winnipeg. Where he showed me his home. Then we went to the spot where These Eyes had been written. It was, in every sense of the word, a pilgrimage. Going there, going back, we lis