Mass. St. muse
Cross Canadian Ragweed is the latest national act to write and release a song inspired by Lawrence
‘Lawrence’ by Cross Canadian Ragweed
December it’s usually a little colder
That’s something that I’ll learn as I get older
People walkin’ by staring at the ground
Most of them walk on by some throw their paper down
Mama’s tambourine ‘Yellow Submarine’
My daddy sings and then there’s me
Christmas I guess it’s gonna miss us
For all that I know it’s just another day
Can you spare the time for me and mine
If you’re down on your luck now’s your turn to shine
For daddy’s guitar strings ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
My mama sings and then there’s me
Am I the only one I wish I could ask someone
Well I just stare at the sky like there’s nothing wrong
As that December wind starts to get strong
As I hum along to my people’s song
What is it good for come you ‘Masters of War’
My people sing mama’s tambourine daddy’s guitar strings
And then there’s me and then there’s me
Cody Canada was consumed by “Masters of War.”
The singer-songwriter of the Texas band Cross Canadian Ragweed had been obsessively listening to Bob Dylan’s early classic while passing time between tour stops last December.
“I’d kind of rediscovered that song, and I was going back and forth between that and Pearl Jam’s live version,” Canada recalls.
“I kid you not, the next day we were in Lawrence walking down (Mass. St.), and I heard somebody singing ‘Masters of War’ on the corner. I saw this homeless family – and I say homeless although I don’t actually know if they’re homeless, but their job was playing and singing for tips. They didn’t look like they had much to their name.”
The dad was strumming guitar, the mother held a tambourine, and a 1-year-old boy sat happily in a stroller.
“My boy was about the same age as him. It struck me hard,” Canada says. “The kid was dirty, and luckily it wasn’t as cold as it usually is that time of year up in Kansas. He was just hummin’ along while his dad was singing ‘Masters of War.'”
Canada’s ensuing song about the encounter – simply named “Lawrence” – has found its way onto his band’s latest album, “Mission California.” The record debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard country charts.
“I really wanted to write it that day, but it just wasn’t happenin’,” Canada remembers. “Then I got home and got a royalty check in the mail for a couple of songs that were on the radio. Man, I felt really guilty. … It was right before Christmas, and I was looking at that check, and it hit me like a hammer. I went upstairs and didn’t come out until I had that thing written.”
Musically, “Lawrence” is an emotional country tune that builds from Canada’s lone voice over an acoustic guitar into a full-band anthem. The song benefits greatly from rich harmonies by Grammy-winning country artist Lee Ann Womack.
“I’m not sure how I would describe it,” says Canada, calling from the band’s base in New Braunfels, Texas, before heading to a “semi-celebrity” bowling tournament to benefit Toys for Tots.
“It’s not an ’80s rock ballad, I know that. It’s not Winger. I guess it’s got a folky thing about it – Americana, maybe.”
Canada admits not everybody understands that the song is written from the child’s point of view.
“I’ve had people ask me about that. I never really say how old he was in the song, but in real life he was a year old,” he says.
The musician says that the majority of his song topics are drawn from life on the road.
“Whether it’s something I see or I’m actually going through, that’s mainly where most of them come from,” he says.
Other ‘Lawrence’ artists
Cross Canadian Ragweed is not the only modern act to have derived both lyrical and titular inspiration from Lawrence.
Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter released a track called “Lawrence, KS” on his 2001 disc “Golden Age of Radio.”
Dirt roads and dryland farming might be the death of me
But I can’t leave this world behind
Debts are not like prison where there’s hope of getting free
And I can’t leave this world behind
I’ve been from here to Lawrence, Kansas
Trying to leave my state of mind
Trying to leave this awful sadness
But I can’t leave this world behind
“Sometimes flying above the farmland fields in winter you get the idea that all those big white squares are paper where stories are getting written by the people that live there,” says Ritter, who is spending this week touring in Ireland.
“I’d never been to Lawrence at the time I wrote the song, but the name suggested a story in the same way that those big white fields did.”
The Moscow, Idaho, native is well-regarded for his contemporary spin on folk tunes. Like Cross Canadian Ragweed, his material is heavily influenced by Bob Dylan.
So is Ritter constantly accosted by Lawrence natives because of his musical ode?
“All the time,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to meet people all over the world from Kansas who started listening to me because of my song. It’s always a great moment.”
Cross Canadian Ragweed – which is composed of Canada, guitarist Grady Cross, drummer Randy Ragsdale and bassist Jeremy Plato – developed its sound in the early ’90s while based in Stillwater, Okla. Six years ago the members relocated to Texas. Since then the band has developed a rabid following, due in part to its extensive touring.
After so many years on the road, one might expect most cities end up looking the same to Canada.
“Ninety percent of them have their own thing. But when we do those runs where we open for somebody, and do those arenas or half-stadium things, then it starts looking the same. But every town we play we’ve got our area where we look forward to hanging out,” the 31-year-old Canada says.
That applies to Lawrence, he confirms. Now the band has a connection to the city special enough to immortalize in song.
“I really want to open the show in Lawrence with the song ‘Lawrence,'” Canada says. “But we’re not really known for that. We’re usually known for walking out there and doing something fast and loud. We’ll see how the mood strikes me when we get there.”