Here’s a clip featuring Canadian national treasure and songwriting savant from St. Catharines Ontario Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Nowhere To Go”, the opening track to this year’s Forever Endeavour, the follow up to his career-high success in 2011’s Long Player Late Bloomer.
This song is something of a bridge between the two records, in that it explores territory that Sexsmith took on head-first while working up that earlier record. It was during that earlier period that his hopes to be heard by more people, while struggling with the feeling that he wasn’t really getting anywhere, were at their strongest. Discouragement had been nipping at his artistic heels.
It’s not like Sexsmith was an unknown at the time. It’s not as if he is now unaware of how loyal his “Ronhead” fans have been through out his career, nor is he unaware that his own peers, and a great many of his heroes too, hold him in high esteem. During Sexsmith’s efforts at building a body of work, the fame game had become an even more complicated treacherous labyrinth than it ever was. Raw talent and artistry had become something very often sidelined in favour of other more measurable (read: more immediately marketable) forces. And it started out to be predatory in this way to begin with, not suffering fools or introverts gladly.
So, where is this song coming from in the light of that?
I got to interview Ron Sexsmith around the time that Sexsmith documentary Love Shines and Long Player Late Bloomer were released. It wasn’t riches and fame he was after then. I don’t think it is now, either. The key to success for him was to get a sense that the act of writing songs, and putting out albums designed to be singular artistic entities actually has an impact on a growing pool of listeners. Fame as a thing to achieve as an end goal wasn’t the point. He wanted to connect, and make records that people could identify with.
And it certainly worked out well for him the last time around. Long Player Late Bloomer was a big success, and more and more people became aware of him as hoped.
On the surface, “Nowhere To Go” seems like a pretty pessimistic tune in the face of that result, and this from a guy known for writing songs filled with hope enough to call his follow-up record Forever Endeavour in the first place. But, it must be understood that this song was written when he was still holding his breath in anticipation of that result, wondering if the fruit of his ambitious and expensive gambit with big-name producer Bob Rock was even going to get a release on a major label. It was touch and go for a while there, apparently.
Life is unpredictable. So, Sexsmith as an artist known for his honesty writes about how things can turn for the worse sometimes, with the act of writing about it being a way to redeem it for the betterment of writer and listeners alike. This is true of many of his songs, rightly acknowledging that shit happens often, and we rarely know why. Communicating that cold reality in a balanced, eloquent, and (above all!) tuneful way, and making it an act of catharsis in the process has always been one of his strengths.
Of course before that act of catharsis comes the doubt and uncertainty that you find in the song’s lyrics.”Nowhere To Go” is a song emerging from a time of great doubt in the career and life of Ron Sexsmith, with thoughts of early retirement not far from the songwriter’s mind. This song was written in the light of what he felt was becoming an act of Sisyphusian futility in putting out pop records in the age of American Idol, blinkered thinking on the part of the music industry, and the dreaded random shuffle that stands in opposition to his beloved album format.
But, perhaps what makes this tune so effective is that he’s still doing what he does best here despite the forces pressing down on him at the time. He’s still writing honestly from his own point of view, but not shorting out the connection to his audience who he knows will naturally imprint their own experiences and struggles onto his work as they listen. After all, we’ve all heard the thunder and braced for the rain at one time or other. And we’ve all felt helpless as the heavens opened up on us from a great and mysterious height.
Creating material that connects universally while always sounding totally honest and upfront is an act that is as seemingly natural to Ron Sexsmith as breathing. In this, Sexsmith’s thoughts on his own career success and his personal circumstances while writing are otherwise secondary to his art. When it comes to artistic success, perhaps this is the best measurement there is.
In this song, life is often inscrutable, harsh, frustrating, and even frightening at times. But, the gentleness of spirit in which he delivers those ideas here proves that even if suffering cannot be avoided or ignored, it doesn’t have to be the whole picture so long we all know that we’re not the first or the last to face it. In this “Nowhere To Go” doesn’t point downward at all. It points toward a destination that we recognize once we’ve pushed through more barren regions of experience; to hope, connection, wisdom, and (to quote another songwriter) to getting better all the time.
Since the record was released this past February, you might want to check out RonSexsmith.com to see the latest design facelift that site has received in line with the new record art. Be sure to check out the expanding video section as well.
Speaking of which, if you’re looking to learn more about this song and what motivated it, Ron himself sheds a bit of light on it before performing a solo acoustic version of “Nowhere To Go”.