On The Cover: Singer-songwriter and front man of the great Canadian band Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle is also a lyrical storyteller and a creative force. In Where I Belong, Alan paints a vivid, raucous and heartwarming portrait of a curious young lad born into the small coastal fishing community of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, and destined to become a renowned musician who carried the musical tradition of generations before him and brought his signature sound to the world. He tells of a childhood surrounded by larger-than-life characters who made an indelible impression on his music and work; of his first job on the wharf cutting out cod tongues for fishermen; of growing up in a family of five in a two-bedroom house with a beef-bucket as a toilet, yet lacking nothing; of learning at his father’s knee how to sing the story of a song and learning from his mother how to simply “be good”; and finally, of how everything he ever learned as a kid prepared him for that pivotal moment when he became part of Great Big Sea and sailed away on what would be the greatest musical adventure of his life.
Filled with the lore and traditions of the East Coast and told in a voice that is at once captivating and refreshingly candid, this is a narrative journey about small-town life, curiosity and creative fulfillment, and finally, about leaving everything you know behind only to learn that no matter where you go, home will always be with you.
Why I Chose It: As a Great Big Sea fan I was immediately curious about Doyle’s memoir and the tales of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland.
In the “Author’s Note” Doyle begins by saying “I am from Newfoundland. Therefore, I am a bit of a story-teller.” (p xiii) By far that is the strength of this book. The style of writing is incredibly easy to read. It seems to flow naturally off of the page, and seems almost elegant. Yet each story remains interesting and funny and entertaining. While not quite linear, the book does make its way from the childhood of Doyle to the creation of Great Big Sea. It is almost as if this book contains many short stories, yet collectively they create the young life of Alan Doyle, and it’s a really enjoyable story.
There is a really great amount of culture held within this book. As the story surrounds a Canadian, but more importantly a Newfoundlander, Doyle properly represents that heritage in his stories. There were many different aspects of life in Petty Harbour, such as working with the fishermen on the wharf, the religious culture, and of course the singing parties. There were also really great pictures capturing the heart of each story. I want to call this book quaint, simply because I felt immersed in the culture of the coastal Newfoundland town and it was a highly enjoyable experience.
This story focuses on Doyle’s life before Great Big Sea. Doyle joined the band when he was 24, so appropriately this memoir really is about his childhood growing up in Petty Harbour. I really enjoyed the window into Doyle’s childhood, though there were perhaps a few too many stories of a young boy’s curiosity about girls and sex. While I wish there had been more stories about Doyle’s teen life or his involvement in Great Big Sea, I do like how the theme of this book stayed focused on the coastal town, and it was really great hearing about how he learned to sing and play guitar. I would be really interested if Doyle wrote more memoirs about the band or his later years. Definitely check this one out if you’re a fan of Great Big Sea or interested in the cultural life of Atlantic Canada.
Rating: 4 / 5
“We wondered what this man could possibly be doing there in one spot for so long, not lifting or hauling or building anything. He held a long paintbrush in one hand and a flat piece of board in the other, which was dotted with reds and blues and greens. His longer than local hair lifted and fell gently in the spring breeze. As we often did when a new person showed up in town, we came to an unspoken yet unanimous decision that we should throw rocks at him and run up behind the church when he chased us.” p 26
“(Note for Mainlanders: a lobster pound is an onshore holding tank for lobsters, where sea water is pumped in to keep the creatures alive and kicking until they’re sold and moved. I was shocked when my editor told me I had to explain this.)” p 29
“Every now and again, I’d see Sean or his bandmate Darrell Power lurking in the back of one of my gigs, listening to a song or two. Even then, they were pretty well known, so it was hard for them to hide. Bob tells me of how in the dying days of Rankin Street, in 1992, Sean returned to their packed house at Nautical Nellies and whispered to Bob, ‘I just saw the guy we need for our new band. He’s a Doyle from Petty Harbour.'” p 278