The Arch-Conservative Ballad: “The Idiot” by Stan Rogers

It’s not really crunchy-con, but it sure ain’t neo-con, nor is it of a piece with modern liberalism. It’s gritty, manly, Pat Buchanan-esque conservatism in ballad-form.

When I was little, I would listen to my mom and dad perform this song at the Old World Deli in Corvallis, Oregon. For awhile I thought that it was yet another of the songs that my dad had written, but later on I realized that my dad had never been a Canadian roughneck. This realization might have been coincident with listening to cassettes of Stan Rogers singing the song himself. Might have been. Anyway, it’s a song from my youth that I rediscovered in my college days. It remains one of my favorite songs, and Stan Rogers remains firmly ensconced as one of my favorite musicians, unable to be unseated by even the coolest new indie bands. He’s made of the Ur-stuff of North American folk music. Sadly, not even this constitution could save him from an untimely death in a plane crash. The coroner said that the cause of death was smoke-inhalation, not any trauma from the impact. A friend of mine from college memorializes Stan’s end in a poem, available here. He likes to imagine that the musician made the ultimate sacrifice, attempting to save the other passengers from the wreckage. I guess we’ll never know until all things are made new in the hereafter, but I’m not uncomfortable saying that I certainly hope it’s true, and that Stan’s virile baritone is among the voices in the throne room of God.


The Idiot

I often take these nightshift walks when the foreman’s not around.
I turn my back on the cooling stacks and make for open ground.
Far out beyond the tank-farm fence where the gas-flare makes no sound,
I forget the stink and I always think back to that Eastern town.

I remember back six years ago, this Western life I chose.
And every day, the news would say some factory’s going to close.
Well, I could have stayed to take the dole, but I’m not one of those.
I take nothing free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So I bid farewell to the Eastern town I never more will see;
But work I must, so I eat this dust and breathe refinery.
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams, and I don’t like cowboy clothes,
But I like being free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So come all you fine young fellows who’ve been beaten to the ground.
This western life’s no paradise, but it’s better than lying down.
Oh, the streets aren’t clean, and there’s nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown,
But the government dole will rot your soul back there in your home town.

So bid farewell to the Eastern town you never more will see.
There’s self-respect and a steady cheque in this refinery.
You will miss the green and the woods and streams and the dust will fill your nose.
But you’ll be free, and — just like me — an idiot, I suppose.




  1. Stan was one of the greats–it is a sad thing for the rest of us that we lost him on that runway in 1983. I only really discovered him after finding the old cassette tape of “Home in Halifax” hidden in a cabinet a few years ago, and it’s true: this song is the perfect conservative anthem (perhaps “Night Guard ” might be added, too? He worked for those cows!). Glad to find another admirer of this great Canadian song!

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