Two days ago Jon Landry of The Stanfields was contacted by the CBC regarding a comment that had been phoned in by a listener. The comment came after the station had aired ‘A Free Country’ – a song from The Stanfields 2013 album ‘For King And Country’ – one the listener deemed offensively xenophobic.
Landry agreed to be interviewed on the subject, during which the original call was also aired. What Landry had not been made aware of prior to the interview was that the complaint came from Gerry Mills, Executive Director for ISANS – the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.
“There are many songs that are racist, sexist, or violent in content – and I wouldn’t normally respond – but somehow when it’s a band based in Halifax, and it gets played by the CBC in the morning […] it gets to be more personal. When we looked at the content of, ‘I don’t think much of strangers, much of you or your kind, you best fit in or you’re free to find a better place to be’. We did play it at a meeting of probably ten people in the office and there was silence in the room when they heard these words. Complete silence, and so it was shocking to hear. I’m hoping that’s supposed to be sarcastic, that it’s supposed to be taken in a different way, but I don’t think it is.
I absolutely support the right to free speech, free song, but with that comes the right, and sometimes the obligation for people to respond when you think it’s hurtful. In this case – never doubt- it’s hurtful, it’s really hurtful.
The reality is words are usually taken at their face value, and people in the public domain, and that includes bands, they have to understand that words can be weapons and they can hurt.”
-Gerry Mills, ISANS Executive Director
Landry says that he’s glad that ‘A Free Country’ sparked the very dialogue that he had hoped to have when it was released four years ago, but also that was he was a bit ‘gobsmacked’ at the ISANS response, not to mention the on-air ambush.
“I don’t know how Gerry Mills and her brain trust at ISANS came to the conclusion about the song that they did,” says Landry. “I wasn’t in the room nor did they ask me about it- but I can imagine these people have to default to a defensive stance as policy more often than not, given that immigration is such a polarizing issue. I’ve come to realize that the song in fact did the job it was designed to do – facilitate conversation… four years after it was released.”
The song does contain the lyrics Mills references, but taken out of the context of the rest of the song. Landry, though both lyricist and performer, takes on the role of the ironic gluttonous buffoon who lauds the liberties of his free country – libertarianism taken to the extremes of hypocrisy – all at the expense of the environment, his fellow man, his virtue, and the very liberties he values. It brings to mind the grade ten reading comprehension test in which we’re asked if Jonathan Swift really wants us to eat Irish babies.
“[It was] a tremendous learning experience regarding the roles of satire, communication, compassion and censorship in both the creation of music and the interpretation of it.”
Jon Landry will be appearing on The Sheldon MacLeod Show on New 95.7 this afternoon where they will be fielding calls on the subject.