Anthropology is the study of people, their behaviour, and their societies… and so is Paul Bergman’s album Anthropology. I swear its cover photo is from a tent meeting in Steinbach (one of many). I wasn’t yet born when these revival meetings were taking place, but I discovered a photo that’s nearly identical in the most recent issue of Preservings (in Ralph Friesen’s article on revivalism in Steinbach).
I live and work in Steinbach, but I have co-workers over in yantzied, and we talk. This is how I learned about the historic site of Neubergthal, Margruite Krahn’s paintings, and the concerts that occasionally happen at The Krahn Barn. When you hear it from someone that you know, someone whose taste you have respect for, you listen. When Deb told me that “the concerts there are pretty good” I sensed that she may have been understating the awesomeness of it all. I made it my mission to attend the very next Krahn Barn concert that I could.
I was hooked, and began following the Krahn Barn on Facebook. One day, a poster was released for another concert evening. It featured a friendly photo of legendary writer Armin Wiebe, and a somewhat strange photo of a fellow I’d never heard of: Paul Bergman.
Naturally, I liked that he was a Bergman. “But what’s with this weird picture?” I wondered. “This guy deliberately chose this odd picture… this is interesting.” My curiosity was piqued.
Before making yet another phone call to Margruite for yet another set of tickets, I needed to listen to his music. I found his bandcamp page, clicked the little “play” button, and soon the sounds of Creeping Charlie filled my ears, my mind, my imagination.
I found myself instantly captured by what is possibly one of the most breathtaking illustrations of the passage of time… a story that I relate to so deeply, it was startling.
“It’s where I was born // it’s probably where I’ll die // I just keep hanging around // I don’t know why” It’s like he’d read my mind… or rather, had read my entire life.
“The soil was fertile // and they took all they could // They thought they had God’s blessing // they thought God was good”
That was it. I picked up the phone, I called Margruite, I bought tickets. Andrew and I drove all the way out to Neubergthal for the concert. That evening, we were too shy to attempt conversing with Armin Wiebe, Paul Bergman, or Margruite Krahn. We quickly found seats at a little table in the centre of the loft. There was one chair still available at our table, and I was a little star-struck when Margruite herself sat next to me for a time.
That’s when Paul Bergman played Creeping Charlie…
Hearing this song live, in the midst of a crowd of jantzieders (wait I guess we were the jantzieders in this situation), in the twinkle-lit loft of the Krahn Barn in Neubergthal, a wayward tear slipped down my face; the captivating beauty and richness of those words in that time and place were just so deeply true.
Later, I found the video for Creeping Charlie on youtube, and was further entranced by all the love and detail has gone into this work. These archival photos enhance the tone and story and the truth of this song. We see scenes from the very earliest days of Gretna, and you get the sense that each image has been carefully chosen, deliberate.
Bergman sees the hat, abandoned by the barbed wire fence. He sees the twinkle in the young man’s eye. He sees that one choir member holding his head in his hands. He sees the self-congratulatory poses of the men threshing, building, accumulating… that look in their eyes, the tilt of their chins, the revivalism, the success, the “progress”.
The tone shifts, takes on a new edge. Foretelling…
“When it’s all creeping Charlie // and we have had our day // and all that’s left is the wind // what will it say?”
Now we see open caskets… grieving widowers… groups of old men… groups of children, looking questioningly back at us… now a child’s grave, with a doll resting on top… now four old women, wearing wistful looks… now three old men, debating under the trees… more caskets… then, a baby looks knowingly at us, from the depths of the past. We see five small open graves in a cemetery, awaiting their caskets… one man stands apart from the group, alone. A widower gazes at his deceased wife… and then a family looks tentatively at the camera. They’re tired. A young man’s eyes twinkle as he lays on the ground between friends, laughing… and then we see open prairie. The earth, the earth, the earth.
Thank-you, Paul Bergman, for creating this exquisite work of art.