The Kennedy Suite, an All-Canadian collaborative album written by Scott Garbe and produced and arranged by the Cowboy Junkies (Margo Timmins, Michael Timmins, Peter Timmins, and Alan Anton), as well as Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers, is an ambitious song cycle centred around the assassination of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. It chronicles the tragedy through the personal narratives of a number of interconnected characters all somehow implicated in the event through a combination of songs, excerpts of recorded news, and speech clips from the incident.
As the time-frame (in relation to the assassination) and the emotional tone of the songs shift throughout the album, so too does the musical style. Harlan Pepper’s “Secret Spy Decoder Ring” is a cheeky upbeat rock song told from the perspective of a young boy who accidentally witnesses Lee Harvey Oswald preparing his assassination rifle, but who is not taken seriously when he tries to tell authorities. “Disintegrating,” the only track featuring Margo Timmins’ iconic sleepy voice at the fore, is narrated as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, post-assassination, and takes on the Cowboy Junkies’ usual hauntingly beautiful tone. When the Skydiggers sing “every girl and boy can grow up to be the President/ Or grow up to be the President’s killer,” in the folk-rock ballad “The Truth About Us (The Ballad of Lee and Marina),” the mixed sense of hope and hopelessness is reflective of the album’s overall message.
The resulting effect is a diverse musical range, masterfully woven together throughout the narrative. In the album’s epilogue, Sarah Harmer sings with tender vitriol “World won’t change if he don’t look/ He’s got his hand over his heart/ And his head stuck up his hole;” we are forced to wonder if these words are not even more relevant to today’s population than they were in 1963.