Started from the bottom

Great Big Sea member describes modest Newfoundland youth in new memoir

Alan Doyle went from handling cod tongues to fronting Canadian folk-rock legends Great Big Sea, a journey he details in Where I Belong. Doyle has previously written some blogs on the Great Big Sea website, which caught the attention of Random House Canada. The publishing company later suggested he write a book about his life growing up.

“I didn’t really have anything planned out,” Doyle says. “The hardest thing for me was learning how to write clearly because there’s a big difference between telling these stories in the pub and then actually writing them down.”

Twelve chapters break up Where I Belong, with four sections also helping to divide the content into a discussion on the town of Petty Harbour and his family, how he got into music, different places he worked and how the Catholic religion has impacted his world view.

“I just wrote and in the end I discovered that my whole young life led me to be a really good candidate for the role of Great Big Sea singer, which became the theme for the book” he says.

Doyle was born in 1969, but it often seems like he was born much earlier. He talks about how his family never owned a vehicle, how his father built their house from the ground up and how they had to use a beef bucket as a toilet until he was seven years old because they didn’t have running water. Before he hit his teens he spent his summers cutting out cod tongues and selling them for as much money as he could barter.

“We never had cable TV or the Internet or a library so I never really knew what I was supposed to be doing,” he says. “I didn’t even know just how rich or poor we really were. I didn’t have any way to compare my life to other people’s so I never did, and that’s probably one of the best lessons I learned.”

The town of Petty Harbour’s one of the real main characters in Where I Belong: Doyle seems to be committed to encouraging everyone to visit this quirky, mostly unknown little place. He does a great job of introducing readers to a cranky corner store owner named Maureen and an old fisherman named Frank - two of the many residents that bring the town to life.

“I definitely wanted this to be like a love letter to my hometown and a valentine to my parents,” he says. “My favourite thing about Newfoundland
is Newfoundlanders.”

Great Big Sea fans might be disappointed this book isn’t about the band, though Doyle adds in the odd anecdote near the end of some chapters. One of them explains how the popular song “Ordinary Day” came to be.

“I originally assumed I would write up until present day,” he says. “I’d be open to writing those stories too, but I’d be lying if I told you I had it planned. At this point I’m just curious to see if people even like this one.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 12, 2014)

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