It’s a risky (and therefore perhaps unwise) thing we’ve done this week, taking the last words of a person we did not personally know, adapting them and putting them to music. But when you’re writing a new song every single week you have to look for inspiration wherever you can get it, and Jack Layton’s letter to Canadians was inspiring to a great many people including us. Some took his words and put them on posters, made them their profile picture, or even got them tattooed on their body. Here’s our contribution to add to that collection.



CHRIS: I was away on vacation when Jack Layton died. Attempts to wax poetic would likely fail, so I’ll simply say the news made me very sad. I’d only met Jack a few times, but like many Canadians I felt like I knew him. Others have already written very touching and powerful tributes including Edward Keenan (who remembers “the only politician I ever campaigned for” as someone who “made believers out of cynics”), Ivor Tossell (who remembers Jack as a “downtown Canadian” and points out that “his success this spring came – perhaps not despite, but at least while being – exactly the kind of person who is not supposed to win elections in 2011”) and Tabatha Southey (who reminds us Jack supported gay rights and cycling before it was cool or safe to do so, and was “more passionate, compassionate, shrewder, tougher and smarter than most”). I’d encourage you to read those if you haven’t already.

After reading his final letter, a melody started working its way into my head, almost unconsciously. When I got home last Sunday night I had three hours to write and record a song (because Monday morning I was flying out to a business conference in Copenhagen, where I still am this morning) so I sat down with the letter open on my computer screen and a pen and paper in hand. I tried to use his exact words as much as possible (because they were so well chosen, and because I have no right to paraphrase), but also adapted as necessary to fit the words into the song’s phrasing and make them do that quasi-rhyming thing that songwriters can usually get away with. I recorded it a cappella because that seemed appropriate, and because I didn’t have much time, and because my guitar strings are still broken from song 31. In the end, the musical style of this piece owes a lot to Gulf War Song by Moxy Früvous.

I want to point out just one thing that occurred to me while working on the lyrics (though there were many, and getting to work with these words and understand them better was rewarding). Many have focused on the first three sentences of the final paragraph (“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”) as the most important part of the letter, as its thesis statement. But I think the next and final two sentences are even more important: “So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” Jack recognized that you have to start with the right values (love, hope, optimism) but that holding those values isn’t enough. You have to also put them into action, and it’s your actions that leave a positive impact.


First, to those who are like me
I say please don’t be discouraged
that my journey turned for the worst
you must not lose your own hope
Try to cherish every moment
with those you love who you’re home with
you can defeat your disease

Next, to those with whom I’ve worked
we have done remarkable things
and your hard work keeps on working
to create a better world
There will be those who say give up
recommit, keep our fire lit up
show them you’re ready to serve

And, to those who are still young
you’re inspiring and uplifting
your frustrations and your dreaming
your ideas for change
I believe you have the power
now and in the coming hours
days and months and years to come

I’ve asked a great deal of you
and now I must do so again
and I know that you’ll make me proud
make yourselves proud

Last, to those who are like me
value justice sharing fairness
we can help to save the world it’s
for our children for our old
love is better than anger
hope is better than fear your
optimism beats despair

Love is better than anger
hope is better than fear your
optimism beats despair

So let us be loving
hopeful and optimistic
and we’ll build a better world


Music: Chris Tindal
Words: Chris Tindal, adapted from Jack Layton’s letter to Canadians
Chris Tindal: Vocals
Steve Salt: is sure someone is cutting onions in this room
Claire Salloum: Illustration