Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reader's Diary #1187- Shane Koyczan: To This Day

This summer Shane Koyczan and his band the Short Story Long played at Yellowknife's annual Folk on the Rocks Festival. There were some relatively well known artists playing (Tanya Tagaq, Corb Lund, Leela Gilday, for example) but even then, by most accounts, Koyczan stood out. Enthralling.

I can't imagine how such a success and such praise is interpreted by Koyczan. He's not, I wouldn't think, unaccustomed to such positive recognition. He's performed at the Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver; at festivals, tv shows, and radios around the world; and had videos of his work go viral—always to critical acclaim. Not bad for a spoken word poet.

But Yellowknife... Yellowknife is where Koyczan was born and raised and if you've followed his work at all, you know he went through a lot of bullying in his youth. I can't imagine what returning, and returning as such a success,  must do to a person's psyche. Is there pride? Bitterness? Showing the bullies they were wrong? I have no idea and I don't know that I'm in the right to psycho-analyze him.

From his poetry, however, it would seem that Koyczan is strong enough for whatever came his way and that his work, his art, has made him so. To This Day provides a clue as to where this stems. What first got major recognition as a video animated by over 80 animators is likewise turned into a picture book with over 30 illustrators from around the world. You might think that such a large smattering of interpretations would make for a disjointed project. You'd be wrong. Koyczan's words— and not just the words but the rhythm and emotion— find such a resonance that all those artists seemed to relate and to understand their beauty, adding their own beauty into a cohesive mix. Usually when something has universal appeal it conjures up ideas of Top 40 style pandering, but oh man, not Koyczan. He holds us all in warm, non-threatening embrace and we connect on the cerebral. Even when the volume of his words fades away like so many songs.


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