The Telegram, December 18, 2005

The Changing of the Guard

Young faces and a familiar one -- both shared the Newfoundland imagination this past week.  The young belonged to Brad Gushue's rink, which earned the right to represent Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics when they won the Olympic curling trials in Halifax last Sunday.

Setting aside the more-wrinkled mug of ringer Russ Howard, the lads were the picture of youthful vigour: feisty, this and -- with Jamie Korab's dyed "do" -- funky.

They were also the face of a confident Newfoundland and Labrador, proud of where they're from and the past that created their culture, and eager to take on the larger world, traveling far beyond the Cabot Strait.

As the team readies itself to travel to Turin in February, the province couldn't ask for a better group of ambassadors: smart, skilled and young -- just the image Newfoundland and Labrador wants to project to the world.

It was a sad coincidence that within hours of the Brad Gushue team's triumphant arrival in St. John's, the province lost one of its best-known earlier ambassadors with the death of Dick Nolan.

Nolan died overnight Dec. 12 at the Carbonear hospital after suffering a stroke at the age of 66.

And if the Gushue rink introduced a new generation of mainlanders to Newfoundland, it was Nolan who gave the young crowd's parents their first taste of the province in the form of some 40 albums in a career that began in the 1950s.

Among the best selling of those was 1972's Fisherman's Boy, which included the hit Aunt Martha's Sheep.  It was a comic tune about a crew of lads who steal a sheep, only to be discovered soon afterward by a Mountie who finds them having a feed with the deceased beast on their plates.

Despite being caught red-handed they avoid arrest by convincing the copper they're actually eating moose meat, a story he buys hook, line and leg bone.

From the thick-headed cop to the b'ys chug-a-luggin' Dominion, the song played to stereotypes -- not least among them to the mainland notion of the happy Newfoundlander.

No doubt there's more than one academic paper that could be writtten about effects of such songs, both good and bad, on the provincial and national psyche.

But in the week after his death, any criticism of Nolan's picture of Newfoundland was lost in a groundswell of genuine affection -- affection for a man whose deep baritone voice dominated the airwaves through the late 1960s and '70s, and appreciation for a singer who made a living through music alone, at a time when few musicians from this province could dream of such a thing.

Nominated for a Juno, and with a platinum and two gold records to his credit, he was a success at home and on the mainland, where he spent much of his life, singing and playing in Ontario.

Wherever his boots happened to be, his heart was in Newfoundland, something made clear in the songs he chose to sing and the emotion he brought to the lyrics.

Whether he was playing in Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern or cutting an LP in a studio, Nolan's goal was to put on a good show that left the crowd satisfied, and a bit more aware of the place Newfoundlanders call home.

No doubt brad Gushue and crew will be doing something similar this winter in Turin, even if their tools are different and the times have changed.

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