Les Cowboys Fringants: Les Antipodes

Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Listening Post 261. In physics, politics and romance, poles apart tend to come together. Les Cowboys Fringants are not the only musicians who explore humanity’s darker reaches with comedy and cynicism, let alone with harmony and dance-provoking chords, but they’ve been doing it exceptionally well since 1997. On their tenth album, the neo-trad folk-country ensemble offers a rousing tour of Les Antipodes—hope and despair, shadow and light, celebration and struggle, the mirage of abundance versus serenity in simplicity. Today a pillar of Quebec’s cultural scene, the Cowboys began prosaically when singer Karl Tremblay and guitarist Jean-François Pauzé met while playing on the same hockey team; with multi-instrumentalist (originally classical violinist) Marie-Annick Lépine and bassist Jérôme Dupras, they built a band renowned for electrifying shows and socio-political advocacy. Opening their newest collection, the road song L’Amérique pleure (America Is Crying), stars a trucker shuttling between Florida and Quebec, imagining overconsumption and inequality behind beautiful landscapes, and ultimately turning his sharp commentary inward (video 1). Fragility and tenacity run through the melancholy Sur Mon Épaule (On My Shoulder, video 2), about love sustained on the fumes of memory; and Ici-bas (Down Here, video 3), a tale of optimism amid ruin. There’s a rich cargo—history, whiskey and an ancestor’s ordeal—in La traversée de l’Atlantique en 1774 (The Atlantic Crossing of 1774, video 4). But the heart of the band’s polarization treatise is D’une tristesse (With Sadness, video 5), a cri de coeur against corruption, hedonism and environmental disaster. Amid the travels and travails are some of the Cowboys’ emblematic characters—the overachieving free spirit Suzie Prudhomme, the screw-up Johnny Pou, and Mononc’ André, a bar owner who is his own best customer. Les Antipodes add up to a deep-light variety show with drink and food for thought, between physics and flesh, at the corner of Bitter and Sweet. (La Tribu)

Les Cowboys Fringants*: Les Antipodes
Karl Tremblay: Lead vocals, backing vocals, mouth harp
J.F. Pauzé: Acoustic guitar,  harmonica, backing vocals, percussion
Marie-Annick Lépine: Fiddle, violin, cello, accordion, mandolin autoharp, guitalele, backing vocals
Jérôme Dupras: Bass, backing vocals

Pierre Fortin: Drums, percussion, metallophone
Jérôme Dupuis-Cloutier: Trumpet, piano
Daniel Lacoste: Banjo, mandolin
Werner F: Electric and acoustic guitars
Gus van Go: Percussion, backing vocals
Renau Gratton: Trombone
Philippe Bouffard: Saxophone
Philippe Legault: Tuba
Liam O’Neil: Piano
Lévy Bourbonnais: Harmonica
Marc-André Brazeau: Backing vocals
Louis-Philippe Quesnel: Backing vocals

*Les Cowboys Fringants = The Dashing (or Spirited) Cowboys

 

L’Amérique Pleure / America Is Crying
Lyrics & Music: J.F. Pauzé

(From the French lyrics)
One more day to get up/The same time as the sun
Face still a little pallid/From four hours of sleep (yeah!)
A few puffs from a cig/Job done for vitamins
Good cup of dishwater coffee/Just to get my color back

I take the Florida Turnpike/Tomorrow night in Montmagny
No trucker, it’s not quite the Klondike/But you see the country (yeah!)
Above all it makes you realize/That behind the beautiful landscapes
There are so many inequalities/And suffering on the faces

The question I ask myself all the time?How do all these people manage
To still believe in life/In this hypocrisy?
It’s so sad that sometimes/When I get home and park my old truck
I see all America crying/In my rearview mirror …

In my trailer I pull/All the excesses of our time
The frozen glut/Doped, overpacked (yeah!)
While wishful thinking goes down the drain/And our carelessness is sated
In the bottom of containers/That the surpluses will rot

The question I ask myself all the time/Is what will our children do
When there is nothing left/But ruins and hunger?
It’s so sad that sometimes/When I get home and park my old truck
I see all America crying/In my rearview mirror …

On Interstate 95/All dreams go up in smoke
A burning car on the shoulder of the road/A fatal accident (yeah!)
And in the middle of the traffic/No respect for death
Each in turn blows his horn/So eager to go nowhere

The question I ask myself all the time/Where are all these people going?
So many cars everywhere/The world is going crazy
It’s so sad that sometimes/When I get home and park my old truck
I see all America crying/In my rearview mirror …

Another highway truck stop/Giving in to eat crap
It’s true that in the soup of the day/There could have been more love (yeah!)
We’ve killed human warmth/With chain service
On TV another nutjob/Just unleashed a mass shooting

The question I ask myself all the time/How do these poor people manage
To cross the whole course/Of life without love?
It’s so sad that sometimes/When I get home and park my old truck
I see all America crying/In my rearview mirror …

But still, me too/When I drive alone in the night
I sometimes ask myself what I’m doing/Stuck in the boondocks (yeah!)
I think about everything I’ve missed/With Mimi and the two girls
And I have this f&cking feeling/Of being a stranger in my family

The question I ask myself all the time/Why work so much
Far from those I love?/All this to play the game
It’s so sad that sometimes/When I’m far from home, sitting in my old truck
I have all America crying/Somewhere in the bottom of my heart

 

Sur Mon Épaule / On My Shoulder
Lyrics & Music: J.F. Pauzé

You remember the time/When life seemed sweeter
It’s been a while/Sometimes we lose the beat
When by chance you had thirty cents/And happiness in your pocket
All was well before you understood that everything/Is held together by a thread

Put your head on my shoulder/So that my love touches you
We need it so much/It’s been ten years running on empty
And now we face the winter wind/Together we fear nothing
Tell yourself that tonight, my girl/You are not alone in the world

Here below, when we’re struggling/It looks like we learn from suffering
It’s probably nothing but pop-psych/Basically nothing makes sense
But tonight, I saw it/The handkerchief of tears in your pocket
I don’t like knowing that you/Are held together by a thread

Put your head on my shoulder/So that my love touches you
We need it so much/It’s been ten years running on empty
And now we face the winter wind/Together we fear nothing
Tell yourself that tonight, my girl/You are not alone in the world

We get older, the years go by/And each of us does our best
We run, we fall, we pick ourselves up/We try to be happy
A lifetime of patching holes/Time running through our pockets
In a world that everywhere/Is held together by a thread

Put your head on my shoulder/So that my love touches you
We need it so much/It’s been ten years running on empty
And now we face the winter wind/Together we fear nothing
Tell yourself that tonight, my girl/You are not alone in the world

 

Ici-bas / Down Here
Lyrics & Music: J.F. Pauzé

Even though our lives get overloaded in these crazy times
And nonsense diverts us from the simple present moment/As it all flies away with time
Other than death, that makes us cry/Or sooner or later will cut us down
I’m hanging on by my feet
Down here

In the face of love, that gives us hope/That sometimes hurts so much when you’re on the threshold
Of a story too short/Without wanting it
Despite the hatred that often leaves us flat on our face/And the cellars brimming with sad spit
I’m hanging on by my feet, down here

As long as my eyes are open/I’ll search the horizon
For the breach that opens on my ruins/The glow in the darkest days
As long as my feet can walk/I’ll keep going like a fool
With hope in every step/Until my last breath, down here

Despite the shit, the setbacks, the good things that elude us/The torments great and small, the mistakes along the way
And everything that forces us/Into detours
Despite the boredom, the traffic, the unfinished dreams/The routine, the cynicism, the endless winter
I’m hanging on by my feet
Down here, down here

As long as my eyes are open/I’ll search the horizon
For the breach that opens on my ruin/The glow in the darkest days
As long as my feet can walk/I’ll keep going like a fool
With hope in every step/And until my last breath, down here

 

La Traversée (de l’Atlantique en 1774) / The Crossing (of the Atlantic in 1774)
Lyrics & Music: J.F. Pauzé

Standing on the deck of the ship/My ancestor who feared the worst
Looking at the ocean, shouted: “We need wind!”
WoHoHo!
The barely moving ship/No advance for weeks
Drinking water teeming with maggots/It stinks to high heaven in the barrels
WoHoHo!

Smallpox hit hard/Throwing bodies overboard
Still far from the St. Lawrence/“We need wind!”
WoHoHo!
But though they were stranded/My ancestor wasn’t sick
There’s nothing he hated more than water/He would rather warm his throat a little
WoHoHo!

WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?/WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Fresh water makes you sick
WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?/WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Bottoms up! To Quebec!

Between the dying bodies/Covered with pustules and blood
The living dead spit their teeth/“We need wind!”
WoHoHo!
In the wintercress the smell of crap/Have the rats been prowling?
Our berths are full of lice/The scratching drives us crazy
My ancestor was well alive/But I can’t say he was dashing
Because a baby is born with bones/For navigating a tomb
WoHoHo!

WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?/WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Fresh water makes you sick
WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Bottoms up! To Quebec!

After three months at sea/Finally a shout of “LAND!”
But to sail up the St. Lawrence/“We need wind!”
WoHoHo!
Entering the port of Quebec/My ancestor was almost dry
To the point of peeling/So dehydrated he was

But today it’s thanks to him/And the warmth of whiskey
If I sing this song to you/And I like the drink a little too much
WoHoHo!

WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?/WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Fresh water makes you sick
WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?/WHISKEY! WHERE’S THE WHISKEY?
Bottoms up! To Quebec!

 

D’une Tristesse / With sadness
Lyrics & Music: J.F. Pauzé

First there are the pathetic riddles of hate/Where Mister Everyman pours out his bad breath
Human 2.0 searches for slime like a fly/Clashes at the antipodes, everywhere the wires touch
It’s not pleasant smell/In the public square

Then there are those we demonize, make people fools/Because of their beliefs or the color of their skin
Even though we all have the same red blood in our veins/We spread it endlessly on the human mosaic
Oh! Let’s stand hand in hand/Let’s sing this happy refrain

The world is sad and humans are miserable/Behind beautiful screens there is no joy
In the chaos and indifference of the crowd/You can’t hear the sound of a falling tear

The hairy hand of cash holds us by the balls/The Golden Calf of trademark to which we kneel
Sociopaths at the top of the ladder/Mutilate us, while laughing and pulling the strings
Oh! Do you see it in the distance/The wall that’s coming?

The world is sad and humans are miserable/Behind beautiful screens, there is no joy
In the chaos and indifference of the crowd/You can’t hear the sound of a falling tear

To make a long story short, there is all we forget/Consciously or not, that we sweep under the carpet
The archaic, short-term and frozen system/That sets the world ablaze, literally and figuratively

And the brotherly love that slowly dissolves/In this acid contempt that hovers over us
Oh! Let’s stand hand in hand/Let’s sing this happy refrain

The world is sad and humans are miserable/Behind beautiful screens, there is no joy
In the chaos and indifference of the crowd/You can’t hear the sound of a falling tear

 


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