Oct. 10, 2012 - Issue #886: Typhoon Judy
A darker homecoming
Rodney DeCroo revisits a bleak past on Allegheny
For much of his adult life, Rodney DeCroo tried not to think about his childhood. He's still never been back to Allegheny, the small coal town he was born in, though its lasting effects—a very self-destructive 20s—followed him well beyond its borders. DeCroo eventually managed to surpass the demons: he got sober, picked up a guitar and developed a better life for himself, rooted in acclaimed folk music and poetry. But it was, in fact, his art that's now brought him back to Allegheny.
"For a lot of my life I've resisted thinking about it, and then suddenly I found myself writing some songs and some poems that were about that time in my life, and then it started happening more and more, and I realized I want to do this," Decroo explains over the phone from his BC home. "I want to get this stuff out and see what I can make out of it, rather than have it be bad memories I refuse to look at. And in the process of doing that, I think what happened is I've created something that hopefully allows me to reach people in terms of art, but it's kind of allowed me not to be making all that effort to keep it at bay."
The yield of unearthing his past is the two-pronged Allegheny: a printed poetry collection and an album that sets a selection of those poems to buzzing, hypnotic soundscapes, Decroo's usual high, melodic voice lowered into a deeper, storyteller register to craft the proper mood.
It's not a verbatim history, he notes, but together, the book and album develop a composite image of the places DeCroo is from and the troubled youth he went through in Allegheny, in middle-of-nowhere BC, and as a young man in Vancouver, trying to recover from it all.
DeCroo notes that the process of arranging his past on the page revealed some new layers to those days.
"I was surprised, while I was writing it—like in the "Oil Drum" poem for example—I have us standing around this oil drum, quietly looking down into the fire. We're these young teenagers whose future basically holds things like treatment centres and jail and not very good prospects. And we're transitioning out of what little security we've known, of our maybe destructive but nonetheless family lives, and we're gonna go into the adult world soon and we're poorly equipped to meet it and our prospects don't look very good," he says. "And I don't even know how conscious we were of that, but what I realized by the end of it, things were happening so quickly and our world was collapsing, and on an unconsciousness level we knew that, but none of us would've explained it that way. And I also realized I had a deep affection for these guys—affection's such a trite word, actually. I realized we shared a real troubled intimacy. We had a camraderie between us that allowed us to get past ... "
He pauses. "I don't know how to explain it. We needed each other, and I didn't realize the extent to which that was true until I wrote the poems because I hadn't talked to those guys in years."
That sort of sharing, new to DeCroo in its scope—he'd started probing his past on 2006's War Torn Man—stands out for an abrasive beauty. Plenty of artists have dug into troubled pasts, but none of the darkness feels like artifice here; even the scores, developed by former Edmontonion Rob Malowany, tailor each individual poem seamlessly in mood, lifting his tales of Allegheny toward a darkly beautiful catharsis.
"I could see people going, 'Wow, why would you want to write about some of this stuff. Aren't you kind of hesitant to reveal some of this, or to revisit it?'" DeCroo says. "And I could see people having that response or asking that question. I think it's a legitimate question, right? I think that I've always been drawn to art that visits difficult places, and, in so doing, I like to think art can transform those experiences and universalize them in a way that can find significance in them and even meaning. And, for lack of a better expression, sort of insist on a defiant beauty, despite that."
Tue, Oct 16 (8 pm)
With Mark Haney
The Artery, $10
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