I wrote this a long time ago, but I had occasion to be in the Toronto underground today, and this song, as it always does down there, sprang to mind. This cold, grey November afternoon seemed an apt time to re-post it.
Toronto has a vast underground mall that sprawls across the whole downtown, snaking its way under all the major buildings, hotels and shopping areas. It’s called the “Path” (a name borrowed from a similar set of tunnels in New York), and it’s the biggest complex of its kind in the world. Every time I’m down there, especially when it’s crowded, I think of One Great City, and its line about a thousand sharpened elbows in the underground. The people in the Path hustle along with their heads down, buried in their phones. Those looking straight ahead are grim-faced and frowning like they’re on their way to get a root canal, which, in a way, they are. They’ll walk right over you like you’re invisible. And everywhere, the hollow, hurried sound of feet on polished floor.
One Great City is about Winnipeg, but it could be about any Canadian city mired in the depths of winter, when the first sign of sunset is a darker grey breaking through the lighter one. I find this song to be almost perfect, with nary a wasted note or pointless lyric. It’s the sort of song that can change your mood, with its subtle chord shifts, its melodicism, and its graceful, tidy ending (I can’t think of song that comes to a more skillful, satisfying conclusion). There’s a wistfulness, an air of sadness and ongoing loss that hovers over its wry sentiments. It’s populated with people we recognize and understand, the weary clerk counting loonies in the dollar store, the frustrated commuter travelling the same route every day, the restless riders on the bus. It’s us.