Debate: RIVERS OF NIHIL vs DEVIN TOWNSEND on “Home”

Although one can often find profound or illuminating ideas within the lyrics of progressive metal songs, occasionally one will encounter two opposing philosophies that cannot coexist. Not all of our favorite song writers have the same perspective on every issue, and some ideas are simply mutually exclusive.

I recently noticed such incompatible truth claims with the advent of Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name. In 2001, Devin Townsend made a declarative statement in the lyrics of the track “Canada” off the album Terria, the opening lines of which clearly state “The road; it’s home.” Now, in an apparent direct refutation of this sentiment, RoN state “you can never call this a home,” “this” seemingly referring to “the road” for a traveling musician. As these are both respected artists within the community, it behooves me to analyse and conclude on which writer is correct.

Firstly, we must address any question as to whether “A Home” is actually alluding to “the road” as the thing which can never be referred to as “a home.” The lyrics, laid out below, are somewhat abstract, often referring to the self as being alone within a sanctuary of skin, implying the human body as the home which shall not be named. However, looking through a meta lens, it’s easy to assume the writer is referring to his own experiences constantly traveling to shows and being away from his traditional home, and the loneliness that comes along with that. Most conclusively, in the making of WOKMN, the writer agrees that the lyrics are indeed about being on the road, perhaps to his own surprise. Personally, I would have interpreted the lyrics as being a rebuke of someone abandoning his/her family, but we will proceed taking the word of the writer.

To RoN’s credit, Dictionary.com defines home as “a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household” or “the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.” I would argue that the literal road is not the usual residence of a person, especially given its complete lack of shelter. Now, if we allow that “the road” includes any vehicles or hotels one might utilize while traveling, something like a tour bus might qualify, but given the loneliness described in the song, it’s likely not the place in which his domestic affections are centered.

On the other hand, who’s to say that the road is not such a place for Devin Townsend. He doesn’t say in the song that it’s home forever, but rather qualifies that it’s home “at least for now,” implying a plastic quality to what he considers home. Perhaps Towsend’s bandmates at the time commanded stronger “domestic affections” than did any blood or married relative.

Similarly, Webster’s defines “home” as “one’s place of residence,” or “the social unit formed by a family living together.” How long must one live in a bus before it’s a “residence?” Might Townsend’s bandmates be considered family if they are a social unit living together for months on end?

Working off these definitions, we can only conclude that only the individual can decide what “home” is. Most definitions require a person physically dwell in a place in order for it to qualify, but certainly the road (and the vehicles atop it) are more of a dwelling while they travel than anywhere else.

Furthermore, we must remember the difference between the speaker and the writer of any piece. We are assuming the voices within these two songs represent the writer directly when they may simply be an exercise in alternative perspectives, capturing the views of fictional characters. The lyrics of “Canada” certainly apply to Townsend’s own experiences, but that doesn’t mean they definitively reflect his literal perspective. “A Home” is even more open to interpretation.

Ultimately, Townsend’s declaration that “the road is home” has more value than RoN’s declaration that “you can never call [the road] a home.” Because it is up to the individual to determine what is “home,” there is no proving that one can’t conclude the road as being such. Additionally, did Townsend not already disprove RoN’s truth claim by literally calling the road home? Can I not simply call an apple an orange, whether it’s true or not? You know what, I’m starting to think this whole debate is a waste of time.

CANADA

The road
It’s home
At least for now, the river’s low

Wake me, please wake me
It’s cold and warm on the prairie freeway

All the time I needed your approval to be me
All that time spent waiting for the jury duty…
More than ever I needed Mora
More than Mora means…
Be whatever you must be to get by

(Get by, get by, get by, get by) It’s oil, It’s wheat, It’s soil, It’s meat
It’s beef!

The road, it’s home, the mountain high, river low…
Wake me, please wake me
When it’s my turn to drive
Only the lonely (and maybe John Denver) know the Canadian freeway

A HOME

The day, the day that you left here
A crown was placed upon me
I was the king of nothing
Inside this cell of skin

Thoughts like ice against the wall
In a home where lies taught us all
Relax into that place deep within
Deep in the skin, you know where you’ve been
Why don’t you sing to me a song of sanctuary?

You could have all you wanted
Sing
You could build it all from nothing
Sing to me
You can live a life alone
Sanctuary
But you can never call this

A home that’s beneath us
Somewhere the light won’t reach us
The sky and the earth that birthed you
Just another burden that hurts, too
Much to say, just separate from all
These faces you cannot recall
I’d do the same, and leave just how I came

King for today
But a fool forever
Relax, and come on home

You could have all you wanted
Sing
You could build it all from nothing
Sing to me
You can live a life alone
Sanctuary
But you can never call this home

You can never call this home
Relax deep within
Inside this cell of skin
You can never call this home

King today
Fool forever

You could have all you wanted
You could build it all from nothing
You can live a life alone
But you can never call this home

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