Ian Tyson’s passing reminds me of how much my dear old dad loved “Four Strong Winds”

By Steve Newton

It’s been a rough Thursday in the worlds of sports, fashion, and music.

Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, British fashion rebel Vivienne Westwood, and Canadian country-folk singer-songwriter Ian Tyson all left us today. And to make matters worse, yesterday brought the awful news that Vancouver journalist Tom Harrison, a cherished fixture on the local rock scene for decades, had died from a stroke he suffered on Christmas day.

If there’s an appropriately melancholic soundtrack for all of these talented and beloved people passing on, maybe it would be Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”, which has been described as the greatest Canadian song of all time.

That claim may well be true, but all I know is that it was one of my dear old dad’s favourite songs. I think he was attracted to the wistful vibe of that tune, and the lyrical beauty of its chorus:

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change come what may
But our good times are all gone
And I’m bound for movin’ on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

“Four Strong Winds” was the title track of a 1963 album by Ian & Sylvia, the duo composed of Tyson and his soon-to-be wife Sylvia. But I’m pretty sure my dad didn’t fall under its melodic spell until it was recorded by Neil Young on his 1978 Comes a Time album, with those gorgeous harmonies from Nicolette Larson.

The only other song that I knew was among my dad’s faves had a similar theme of someone close departing. Maybe it was the yearning he felt for his own parents, who left him way too soon, but he once told me that he really liked the song “Ships”.

We walked to the sea, just my father and meAnd the dogs played around on the sandWinter cold cut the air, hangin’ still everywhereDressed in gray, did he say, “Hold my hand”

That tune was written by one of my ’70s rock heroes, Ian Hunter, but it wasn’t as if my dad got hip to it while Hunter’s You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic album blasted from my bedroom back in ’79. I’m pretty sure he only became aware of it when Barry Manilow recorded his own hit version of the song that same year.

It always hurts when special people pass away, whether you know them personally or not–especially at this time of year. But heartfelt songs like “Four Strong Winds” and “Ships” might be able to soothe that pain just a little bit.

I’m sure my dear old dad would agree. And perhaps good Mr. Harrison would as well.

Rest in peace one and all.

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