Local musician Heather Gemmell has written a song with some potent lyrics that share her reaction to the arsons that have rocked Kimberley this winter.
The song is called North Star Burning, and its lyrics are as follows:
“Was a cold night in a mountain town, darkness fell as the snow floats down. The devil was waiting in between the trees, with a matchbook and some gasoline.
The world’s divided into right and left, the bystanders and the anarchists. No angels left here to stand on guard, while evil rips through the faint of heart.
Chorus: Mountain is burning, through the wind and snow. Hidden billows of smoke rise, town sleeping below. Northstar on fire, Flames light up the sky. Heartbeat of the town flickers out by the pale moonlight. Town morale doesn’t ease our pain, while the arsonist doesn’t have a name. Run him out on a rail so he can take his turn, set fire to his house he can watch it burn.”
Gemmell is a folk and bluegrass musician and explains that while these lyrics are extreme, they are written to convey an emotion of anger but are not meant to be taken literally. She includes a disclaimer at the end of the video saying she does not advocate for violence or vigilante justice.
“I play a lot of murder ballads for instance. In my old-time and bluegrass genre there’s quite a few murder ballads out there,” Gemmell told the Bulletin. “And they’re story songs. I made sure to let people know that it’s just a song and I’m going to be playing it for years to come and it doesn’t need to be taken literally.
“I’ve got a song called ‘Kill Him Twice’ and I’m not actually a murderer, I’m not actually going to kill somebody. These lyrics are purely meant to convey emotion. This is how I portray ‘Northstar Burning.’ Also the “Star burning” is a bit of a play on words.”
Throughout her many years as a musician, she’s written about countless difficult subjects including climate change, women’s rights in male-dominated workplaces, the Trump administration and the Bush administration years before that and white collar crime.
“Covering those big topics just kind of comes with the territory of my genre,” she said, adding she takes a lot of inspiration from Bob Dylan and Neil Young’s early years.
“I didn’t want to sugar-coat it or make it a light, fluffy piece. If you want warm and fuzzy, have a listen to my song ‘One Light Town.’
“I just wanted it to be a visceral emotion and wanted it to be portrayed like that. Maybe I’ll write another song down the line where ‘we all came together as a community and we got through it together,’ but I thought the emotion of pure anger was what was needed at this point.”
Gemmell remembers when she first heard about the fire at Kimberley Alpine Resort, she prayed it was due to an accident, but when she found out that it was intentionally set, she described it as heartbreaking.
She highlighted the trickle down effect the fire has had on the town and all its businesses, speaking as an artist who plays in the towns restaurants and knowing they’ve seen a drop in business as the bookings at the resort are down.
She also commended the efforts of RCR and KAR to keep people skiing and how they still have musicians playing up at the Stemwinder, somewhere she’s played for years.
“The ski hill is a big part of me, I’ve been playing there for years, it’s just unthinkable what happened,” she said.
She also talked about not wanting to downplay the devastating arson that took out the Gymnastics Club just prior to the KAR fire. She described being in a fairly isolated bubble for the past two years, as she’s had not one, but two babies during the pandemic. She and her husband work from home, and being away from the “rumour mill” as she put it, she needed a way to vent how she was feeling.
This is the first song Gemmell has written in some time, as she’s been more focused lately on recording tracks for her new album which should be released this summer. “North Star Burning” will be the thirteenth song on the album.
She added that while this track is anything but “fluffy” she’s got several heart-warming tunes on that album, some of which you can hear on her website heathergemmellmusic.com or on her YouTube channel.
She has no gigs in the immediate future as she still has a newborn at home, but will be back to playing gigs as soon as she can, at places like Stonefire or the Stemwinder.
“As a call to action, I encourage people to come to Kimberly Alpine resort, book nights at our hotel rooms and eat in our restaurants, to help us offset any drop in our little town’s tourist economy,” Gemmell said. “Don’t skip the trip to Kimberley because of the fire, come to Kimberley in spite of the fire.”
The investigation into the fire at KAR is still ongoing. Anyone with information that could aid the RCMP in apprehending a suspect should contact the Kimberley Detachment at 250-427-4811.