Against All Odds – Lyrics
I didn’t know her very well.
It was my mother who would crank her up while driving
in the car to Manitoulin.
And as I listened from the sidelines
I decided all her magic was reserved for only people from the east coast.
But my mother would describe how she told stories of the miners
how my grandpa had survived although his lungs were filled with slivers.
And the voice that told the stories somehow made it all more bearable.
Memories of the past now filled with love…
Against all odds.
And so it happened some time later
I was driving in Mom’s car.
Rita’s tape had gotten stuck inside the player
and although I could’ve switched it to the radio,
I decided just to listen to the angel voice I’d heard so long ago.
And when it came to workin’ man I felt a pressure in my chest.
I pulled into a station just to listen to the rest
and then I cried…
at the willingness of someone to survive…
Against all odds.
When I think of what a legend is, I see a woman on a stage.
An angel voice surviving in this age.
Against all odds.
(Rita’s MacNeil’s song lyrics)
It’s a workin’ man I am
and I’ve been down underground.
And I swear to god if I ever see the sun.
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind.
I never again will go down underground.
“And when you know the wings you ride can keep you in the sky,
there isn’t anyone holding back you.
First you stumble, then you fall, you reach out and you fly.
There isn’t anything that you can’t do.”
~ Rita MacNeil
(from the song: Flying on Your Own)
I liken the art of chasing dreams to that of a cat chasing a red pen light. She is intrigued by the light on the floor across the room, she hunches down with anticipation, then leaps across the floor running madly towards the red dot, and finally… POUNCE! She has caught it! Then, turning over her paws, she checks to see what exactly she has caught. She looks again, but her paws are empty. Nothing is there. Although the red dot is sitting right on her paw, she can’t feel it, move it, or eat it. Eventually, she realizes that the red dot doesn’t deliver any lasting, tangible satisfaction and from that point on, she understands the game. She will still chase the red dot, but once she “catches” it, she looks forward to where it might go next so she can playfully chase it again.
Against all Odds is about Rita MacNeil, a woman who allowed herself to chase her dreams. And in doing so, she overcame many obstacles, changed stereotypes, paved a path for equal rights, and inspired many others to chase their dreams too.
I didn’t really care for Rita’s music when I was younger. I only knew of Rita MacNeil because one of her tapes got stuck inside the tape deck of my mom’s car for YEARS! That tape played continually. Every single time we got in the car, Rita was there. And every single time, my mom would say: “It’s a great tape to be stuck in the tape deck!”
Years later, I borrowed my mom’s car and the song “Working Man” came on for the millionth time. I could have switched to the radio but I decided to listen to the angel voice I’d heard so long ago. This time, for whatever reason, I paid attention to her words. I heard the song “Working Man” like I’d never heard it before. It touched me deeply. I got so overwhelmed that I had to pull over to listen…and cry. What a voice! What a song! What a story!
Despite this cathartic experience, I still didn’t care to know more about Rita’s story. She had written a great song and I left it at that.
A few years later, in 2013, I was living in Toronto and had joined the Phoenix Toastmasters Club in Etobicoke. I wanted to learn how to speak with confidence, not realizing how important this skill was going to be later on in my life. One of my first assignments was to write and deliver an informative speech. I’d recently heard news about Rita MacNeil’s passing so I decided to write my speech about her. During the process, I found out that Rita MacNeil was from Big Pond, Cape Breton and had quite an impressive career!
Rita MacNeil received 5 honorary degrees, released 24 albums, won 3 Juno Awards, a SOCAN National Achievement Award, 4 Canadian Country Music Awards, and 11 ECMA awards. She was named to the Order of Nova Scotia and to the Order of Canada, and was also inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame after she died.
Of course, all of this information was easily accessible online and would make for a pretty boring speech. I needed to know more. But, as I tried to dig deeper into Rita’s personal life, what mostly came up were websites dedicated to mocking her appearance. I had never considered this side of her life. Rita was a heavy-set woman born with a cleft lip and palate. I had no idea how much criticism and ridicule she had endured because of this. To my horror, I suddenly remembered being a young girl and laughing at a joke about Rita MacNeil with my friends. Sadly, it all seemed acceptable at the time.
The more I researched, the more I started to wonder how a person manages to persevere in situations and environments that expose them to even more bullying and blatant criticism. I would think they’d want to shut down or hide, but fame is not a place to hide from the cruel arrows of an immature and insensitive society. Unfortunately, the bullying was only a tiny part of what Rita had to overcome in her life. I learned from her autobiography titled: “On a Personal Note” that she had suffered trauma and sexual abuse from an early age. She grew up with parents who struggled with depression and alcohol addiction. She underwent many painful surgeries to correct her cleft palate. She became pregnant out of wedlock at 21 which was considered a terrible thing at the time. Rita’s twenties were laced with depression, alcohol abuse, and weight problems. Her life had been infused with financial insecurity and she never actually experienced any kind of stability or conventional success until she was 42 years old. On top of all of this, she also struggled with chronic health issues throughout her life which became more prominent just as her career started to take off.
So, how does a person like Rita, who seemingly has the odds stacked so heavily against her, end up becoming so successful?
I believe Rita succeeded because she was a tenacious dreamer. Like the cat chasing that red dot, she eventually figured out it was all a game, and she chose to keep playing it anyway. Of course, Rita was talented, but she also had enthusiasm, curiosity, and compassion. This combination of attributes resonated with people around the world, and to this day, her legacy continues to echo through generations.
Based on all of the awards she accumulated throughout her life, it would appear as though all of Rita’s dreams were focused on music. But, that was not the case. She had a dream of owning a café where people could come and chat over tea. She dreamed of forming strong and loving relationships with her children. She dreamed of having freedom within the music industry so she could have control over her own career. She even dreamed of owning her own clothing line which catered to plus-size women. Some of these dreams came true. Others did not. It didn’t matter. It was all a game to be played to the fullest.
I’ve come to understand that we all have a red dot dancing around the floor across the room. Whether we chase it or not is up to us. If and when we decide to go after our red dot, rest assured, it will create excitement! This is what Rita MacNeil had mastered. Her excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. It was so contagious that it inspired people to stand up for themselves, to make changes in their own lives, to chase their own dreams, and to persevere against all odds.