The City Phenomenal

by Billy Cromb

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about

I've spent the last two years slowly learning more about recording, writing songs, and recording them in my living room. This album is the result. It's about my complicated relationship with my home city, Calgary, Alberta.

You can find more of my music at my homepage, billycromb.com

credits

released 10 November 2012
All songs by Billy Cromb, all instruments played or sequenced by Billy Cromb. Postcard in album art courtesy of Peel's Prairie Provinces (peel.library.ualberta.ca), a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.

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Track Name: Across The Prairies
We rented the cheapest, smallest U-haul that we could
We got it seven hours later than they said that we would
We loaded as much furniture, books and kitchen stuff as we could manage in
I left my old bicycle in the alleyway

We set off across the prairies the next morning
We made good time, our hearts were pumping in our chests
We smuggled our pet lizard into a motel room in Regina
Because we were scared they'd try to charge a pet deposit

When we arrived it was drizzling rain and our new landlord was on the highway
On his way home from his cottage at the lake
We grabbed dinner at the neighborhood pub and deli
You ordered grasshopper out of loyalty to home

By the time we got the keys to our new apartment, it was pouring
The place was buzzing with mosquitoes inside
We carried all of our belongings up the narrow Wolseley stairs
And collapsed into our mattress on the floor
Track Name: Home, Sick
I used to have this recurring fantasy
Every time I crossed the Glenmore dam
I wondered what would happen to someone like me
If I fell in, would I sink or swim?

Now I slow down my bike every time that I approach the thing
And pedal myself across so cautiously
My eyes take in every little crack in the pavement of the path
I don't look out I don't look down I don't look back

Now I get on and off of every wrong bus in Winnipeg
And walk around lost like I used to do, back home
Sometimes I end up far from where I started from
But some days it's just nice to be alone

There isn't that same terror living with no relief
I feel it maybe existentially
It's more metaphorical than real, you see
If winter doesn't, summer will kill me
Track Name: Palliser's Triangle
Don't you know I tried to call you
From the highway on my way home
But the cell tower
Reception isn't so good

Even when all the signal has
Is bald prairie to cross
There's a distance we can't bridge

I squint my eyes against the sunlight
And look out across the badlands
Scanning the horizon for a sign of life
Maybe somebody understands

The sun is high in a cloudless sky
The horizon is clear on all sides
There's a distance we can't bridge

Remembering back when I was so naive
I thought we'd all stay grounded in the same place
Now even with thousands of kilometers of highways and railways and infrastructure
Distance is a barrier that we can't break down, that we can't ignore

So yeah I tried to call you
From the highway on my way home
I was wondering if
You're gonna be in town this summer anytime

I crumble the dry, lifeless sand
Of Palliser's Triangle in my hand
There's a distance we can't bridge
Track Name: Darryl
When it gets cold, Darryl warms up in the plus-15s
He knows all the spots that the cameras can't quite see
And the security guards will sometimes drag him out to the cold streets but
They never get too rough where the lunchtime crowds might see

So he sleeps through the day
Oh, and he roams the city at night
He's scrounged enough change
For three small coffees at Tim Hortons

Those will get him through until the morning
And he's lucky tonight
They won't call the police or ask him to leave when it's this cold

And it's the same cat and mouse game with cops and with prospective employers
You know, they'll only pick a guy with a cell phone these days and some social worker told him that he couldn't afford one
He's exhausted waiting in line at the temp place
By ten AM it's apparent there will be no work today anyways

So he sleeps through the day
Oh, and he roams the city at night
He's scrounged enough change
For three small coffees at Tim Hortons

Those will get him through until the morning
And he's lucky tonight
They won't call the police or ask him to leave when it's this cold
Track Name: Overnight Lows
It's getting colder
I can see the ice fog
Off in the distance
Coming from the river, blown by the wind

It's getting dangerous
Outside, out there
I heard on the radio it takes an absurdly short time
To freeze exposed skin

And me, well I'm on
One of my worts overnight lows

Overnight lows and windchill warnings
Last night I dreamed the cops came and kicked my door in
Pulled me out of bed by the collar of my PJs
And left me to die in the snow

Overnight lows and windchill warnings
I could leave it all behind for a life that's boring
In a place warm and serene
Simple and predictable

I'm losing perspective
Or at least depth perception
Oh, who am I kidding I can't see a damn thing
My glasses are frosted over

It gets me paranoid
Looking over my shoulder
Straining my ears to hear anything
Over the howl of the wind
Track Name: Artificial Lake
You were trapped out in the middle
Of that artificial lake
You believed the ice was thick enough
But it could not hold your weight

They sent in the helicopters
They managed to resuscitate you

But you haven't been the same person since
The doctors said that you were dead for close to half a minute
The freezing water still holds some piece of you

Trapped out in the suburbs
Amidst all the banality
Far from home, now
Far from the life that you now lead
Alone in the winter
With empty recreational facilities
Warm and wanted in the summer months
Track Name: Intermission
A washed out green aurora illuminates the night
It's like a giant put a magnet next to a TV in the sky
Sometimes it is so magical just to see the northern lights, but it's as if
A shabby imitation took its place tonight

They're revving engines in the McDonald's parking lot
They're getting ready for 3 AM street races up and down Bow Bottom Trail
They're lining up just before close at the Liquor Barn
Ferrying last minute beer runs home to house parties in Deer Run

And If I wait long enough I'll be alone with the howl of the wind
And the hum of the streetlights on these sidewalks I call home
I imagine every darkened house as the set of some great tragedy
In intermission with these dim green houselights up

I walk along the ridge just taking in it all
I walk along the ridge just trying to recall
Did I ever have an identity that wasn't wrapped up in nostalgia
For experience I hated at the time?
Track Name: The Weather as a Metaphor
There's always a new chinook around the corner
Or another storm of golf ball sized hail
Hanging over your shoulder
Like a cartoon devil and angel

The weather as a metaphor
Or is it a school of sorts that made you this way?

The way that you live
The instincts you have
The trouble that you borrow
And refuse to give back

The fight that you put up
When the wolf is at the door
The absence of comfort
Always wanting more
The weather as a metaphor

There's a new war on in the middle east
And you know what that means for the price of oil
For some it'll mean an opportunity
But it'll mean tragedy for more
Track Name: I love the city
I love the city but it don't love me
I miss the way things used to be
Sometimes I just drive around
Remembering

Before
The bulldozers came
took away the landscape I knew

There's where the cafe was, a few years back
That was our friends place, but don't look back

It's an empty gravel lot inside the fence
Soon they'll put up something I won't comprehend
With this backwards-looking ball in my head

I want answers the city can't give me
I want a home that stays the same for just a little while

I love the city but it don't love me
We've got a complicated relationship you see
There's the city, the streets the buildings then there's me
We both expect the other to be something we can never really be
Track Name: Somebody owes Roy Rogers an apology
They sing happy trails to you, at the end of the thing every year
and it always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth
Is there a peaceful goodbye, for the folks that they put out of a home?
Is that new casino close to worth it at all?

And the teenage kids at the grandstand sing a rousing song
The fireworks will be starting soon
From scotsman's hill folks watch, with a sense of awe and wariness
As if it was a nuclear test

Brace yourselves
Until we meet again
Brace yourselves
Keep smiling until then

They sing happy trails to you, Even the rodeo clowns are waving goodbye, to you
Don't be fooled by their smiles, they're painted on
They need to conceal, their terror when they're in the muck
Being chased by angry livestock

But the message of the song is clear get into your cars if you're not too drunk
Or wait with the drunks at the train platform
Head on home and please don't come back till next year
You don't want to see what they've been doing with the neighbourhood

Brace yourselves
Until we meet again
Brace yourselves
Keep smiling until then

Well no ten gallon hat can hide the bald spots where they ripped it up
It's a parking lot now
I hope they're happy now, the heart of a heartless new west
Cutting off the head to spite the cowboy hadt

the teenage kids at the grandstand sing a rousing song
The fireworks will be starting soon
From scotsman's hill folks watch, with a sense of awe and wariness
As if it was a nuclear test

Brace yourselves
Until we meet again
Brace yourselves
Keep smiling until then
Track Name: Know by Now
I'm dissapointed my friend
You missed the point again
You should know by now
You should know by now that

There's no such thing at all in this world
As an easy way out

It's not on a highway sign
It's not on a railway line
You should know by now
You should know by now that

There's no such thing at all in this world
As an easy way out

There's all sorts of people that will try to sell you an escape
But honestly there is only one way
Just the hard work of living we do
The only way out is through

Look up at the stars in the sky
Under their pale light
You should know by now
You shuould know by now
Track Name: City Traffic
I love the city traffic
I know that everyone says they hate it, but
I love the way it passes
I love the rising dust

It's like an ocean crashing
It's like a hand of god
It gets my heartbeat racing
Where else can you get that danger today?

We're just like ancient sailors
We leave don't know when we'll come back
Your heart's a lump in your throat each time you pass
The wreck of a crash

What washes up on these shorelines
Ditches, highway medians
Bits of shredded tire, abandoned hubcaps
Shattered pieces of shatterproof glass

I love the city traffic