I was in the middle of my great Walden Pond experiment when I looked out the cabin window and saw a rabbit bouncing around in the snow. I could see my reflection in the frost covered window while the pot belly stove crackled away in the background. My mind wandered into the great unknown areas as it often does. I started thinking about building rabbit snares, making rabbit stew, using a rabbit foot for a key chain and the fur to fashion mittens. These things, of course, I cannot do as I have no knowledge of living this way. My Jeremiah Johnson experiment was only a week in and I was already jonesing for some concrete jungle activity. Wine, women, song, neon, noise, art, exhaust, frenzied energy….
My mind burrowed further down the rabbit hole as I watched it hop around on the hard packed snow.
The rabbit. Bugs Bunny so informed my comic timing. My friend drove a Rabbit automobile – the exact same car where I’d first heard Black Oak Arkansas – a group I’m sure would have a history of snaring and preparing rabbits. Then I began thinking about the group of us kids hanging around the incinerator in Poplar Park where we found our first weather beaten Playboy Magazine lying amidst the ashes. The front cover proudly displaying the insignia of a rabbit’s ears and naked women dressed up as bunnies. As we huddled around the magazine, just eight year old boys, everyone leafed through those pictures as though they’d discovered PLUTONIUM. I felt I’d better not look for some deep seeded fear of going blind. Yep. That’s the Catholic church for you. I decided it would be too impure and that it could mean eternal damnation for a glimpse a Betty’s perfectly shaped Oklahoma breasts. Someone blurted out…”You’re a virgin!” Of course, no one knew what that meant but it seemed to sting. For that entire summer I believed a virgin was someone who wouldn’t look at dirty magazines.
By the end of the summer I walked back over to the incinerator where the magazine was perfectly restored and hidden, and leafed through it on my own. I was amazed to find that after three minutes, my vision was perfectly intact and the incinerator did not mysteriously fire up and engulf me in satanic flames. No, I was simply enjoying meeting Betty in all of her perfect beauty. It seems that my southern hemisphere was too! From that day on, the significance of the rabbit has been deep seeded.
So, while watching this furry creature take my imagination on a two minute diversion from reality, I suddenly found myself talking aloud. “Rabbits are sexy!” I said.
The scary part about being in seclusion is when you NOTICE yourself talking out loud. It’s ‘one flew over’ type of stuff.
“Geez Aymar, you just said RABBITS are SEXY out loud to your own image in the frost covered window. It might be time to get out of here.” And so I did. I was moderately happy with my creative output but to be honest, I wouldn’t make a habit of running off to seclusion again. Maybe a nice small apartment above a shop in Chinatown will do the trick. We’ll see.
I arrived back in Toronto to prepare for a trip to Kansas City. Every year we have the International Folk Alliance Conference in which folkies, industry, legends, upstarts, etc…meet and play for each other, find work, give a group hug etc… So it’s shine up your Birkenstocks and pack up the granola we’re heading to the conference to hug a few trees. Well not really. In fact, for group of forward thinking environmentalists I was shocked to see how many trees we all used to paper the walls of the hotel to aggrandize our ego’s. (Al Gore was on hand to offer up more inconvenient truths about our savagery to this big blue marble – using a large screen and images culled from the internet which he…er….helped usher in). So, fresh out of isolation mode of the woods, I went directly into a van with my friends and hit the trail for the two day drive to Kansas City. We didn’t sing Kansas City here we come. We didn’t make any OZ references. We certainly didn’t play any TOTO. We did however laugh ourselves silly.
The cast of this travelling caravan included my publicist and friend Richard Flohil. His assistant Melanie (friend and artist), Sarah (new friend – assistant) and Craig (new friend – crazy Scotsman going down to see his banjo playing girlfriend). As road trips go this assortment of sensibilities created the perfect match of wit, cynicism, intelligence, self-deprecation, eating habits, laid back demeanours etc…
The satellite radio station gave us an nice assortment of playlists as did the random iPhone selections. As we rolled into our first border crossing, we did the quick change, whereby I let Melanie bat her eyelashes at the border patrol and explain that we were simply ‘folkies’ going to a conference in Kansas City. Even the charms of Aphrodite couldn’t melt this guys starred and striped coal of a soul.
We were brought in, questioned and told to sit in the principal’s office for twenty minutes while the swat team descended on the van to unleash Snots the Drug Sniffing Dog to work on ‘The Case of the Missing Roach’. Of course all they could come up with was a case of CD’s of Appalachian banjo ditties – the Scotsman’s pride and joy. While Richard begged with the stone faced border guard to stamp his newly minted passport (to no avail) we made it back into the van, now covered with muddy dog prints, and drove toward our Red Roof Inn destination in Joliet.
Somehow in the morning as we rolled along toward Kansas City, someone pointed out a restaurant in distance – Steak and Lube!
“Fuck-off! That did not just say that!”
We googled it. It truly existed as a auto body shop prior to becoming a steak house. Only in AMERICA.
” I’ll have the fillet minion, rare, with a side order of mashed potatoes and biscuits with white gravy. Oh and give me a side order of deep fried cheese and a cup of Crisco to wash it down with! And as for the lube..what are we talking about here? KY or an oil change? Is that on a separate menu?” What the fuck!
Finally we rolled into the conference. Picture entering a cruise ship where every passenger looks ats though they are on the Magical Mystery Tour. “Roll up…..roll up to the Mystery Tour!”
The only time I left the compound was to hit the front lobby for some fresh air (and that was usually tarnished by inhaling anything but fresh air. Smokin’ OP’s. Smok’em if you gottem. Don’t Bogart that joint my friend…pass it over to me! – Not me for doobies….paranoia self-destroya!)
Here’s how it went down:
There’s a main lobby where everyone converges. The next level up is where you register. There are gigantic ballrooms which host the large showcases. The chosen ones play in these large showcase rooms to the buyers, other musicians, radio folks, house concerts hosts, mothers, sons and daughters. There are volunteers stations. Wet bars. People with hats, long coats and striped pants holding fiddles, banjos, guitars, bass’s, flutes, noise makers. There is a constant hum of perpetual crowd noise and bit of music playing the background. Random applauses coming from distant corridors. Its swirls and drifts and people are waving, hugging, stopping to chat, leaving to find another familiar face. Over the four days I had three separate people look at me and burst out into tears. It was a song they heard. It was the overwhelming nature of it all. The limitless talent creating self-doubt. The showcase they ROCKED in. The lack of sleep. The love found and love lost. All crammed into this floating spacecraft for a weekend of folk music. The brightest, most sensitive, creative, caring people on the planet – here for one reason or another to collectively huddle around this gigantic tribal fire we call Roots music. To say “We believe in social justice, we believe in bringing you a better world through music, we believe in each other.
The group hug shifted smaller tighter rooms upstairs as the night descended.
Three floors of the hotel were used for private showcases. Beds used as stages and seating and creatively designed rooms made to feel like mini-concert halls. The walls (unfortunately) plastered with random images of artists (mine included) in what looked like a spectacular art installation. Dionysius hovered above the masses as songs poured out of every room and the love train circled throughout the hallways.
On my second night, I found myself in front of the elevator doors with approximately one hundred other artists singing “Oh darling….if you leave me…I’ll never make it alone…believe me when I tell you…I’ll never make it alone!”
Until that point I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol since New Year’s Eve. Suddenly, after thinking about a girl I missed, I loved…I sang the lyrics in unison and reached for a glass of rum. I turned to a new friend (a brilliant writer from OZ – Jordie Lane) and said “I think this is something!”
“Yep…this floats mate!” We laughed and continued to chat.
Winds up I was to do a writers round in a few days with him and Sam Baker from Austin and Del Barber from Canada. It was a great casual meeting. It was a singular pleasure of the week for me to hear such great songwriters from the same stage. I could tell you about every song but alas there is not enough time.
So Jordie introduced me to his girl and we snuck away from the happening to play each other some newly minted songs. It was a highlight. Two days later I found myself at 3:00a.m. telling them both about the ways of love. Naturally, my drunken verbosity was at its loudest, most fiendish and embarrassing height! It couldn’t have been all that bad as they attempted to have me meet Steve Poltz, another terrific writer I’d met last year at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival we were a part of. It went on like this for days. Fun, tiredness, catching this artist here and that artist there.
I won’t begin to tell you who I loved and who inspired. The list is too long and the quality was too spectacular. I will tell you that Chip Taylor (please Google him) was the pinnacle of all pinnacles. It’s another story entirely. “Fuck all the perfect people!” Indeed Chip.
So, on occasion I would run into my travelling companions who were running another room and sleeping in another room. I had my own room which was a beautiful break. On the last night, I was just navigating my way back to my room when I ran into a guy I’ve been meaning to meet for a long while. Dave Gunning. An east-coaster who’s a terrific writer. We talked about these crazy things we have in common and then all roads led to his Stompin Tom stories. He was on the road with Stompin for a long time I kept asking questions and he kept delivering.
By the time it was done, I’d learned how to impersonate Stompin Tom via Dave – “Squint one eye, fake a drag off of a cigarette, pretend to pull down your cowboy hat, lean in and speak with a nasally accent and say – YOU AIN’T ONE OF THEM FALSY DOWNSY DRINKERS ARE YA?”
(which by the way is the title of Kev Corbett’s wife’s book which I intend to buy pronto).
So we talked about a million things and somehow we drifted and before you know it I was stumbling down the hallway, a self-proclaimed victim of the rum, Stompin Tom and my alter ego. Somehow I found my way to bed to sleep it off and prepare for the journey home.
We left the hotel in the distance and our new driver Sarah graciously agreed to navigate us toward the Paris of the north – Decatur Illinois. Words cannot describe my gratitude for this amazing gesture. My vertigo at an all time high, she was perfect. I fretted when we started hitting enormous potholes in Decatur as I was primarily insured but alas, she pulled through. I won’t sully the story with the Wasteland that was Decatur. A soy plant provided the employment for the city. Vast empty fields dotted with torn down factories and billowing smoke and one way streets and rampant nothingness. We settled on a Blob Evans to dine but 9pm on a Sunday found it well closed. We would find our beer and grease elsewhere. I would have settled for a Steak and Lube by then.
We made it back to the absurdly run down motel. I love the smell of carpet freshener in the morning! (Not to mention that one of the male contingents snuck into the room to destroy the can prior to our arrival – my god – I’ve seen the smell of death). The night finally winding down we flicked on the TV for our last taste of Americana and laughed ourselves to sleep watching the new Jim and Tammy Faye Baker sell their bullshit version of God.
It had something to do with miracle water sold by a guy who looked like he’d fallen asleep in tanning bed for an extra day and had to have some plastic grafted on to his melted chin. His capped teeth beamed as he spoke in that loud whisper (as most TV evangelistic con artists do) suggesting to the poor unemployed soy factory workers from Decatur that they should buy their way into heaven with a ‘simple tithe’ for ‘miracle water’ and the chance to meet Jebus at end times. Now here’s the kicker (you can’t make this shit up) his name? PETER POPPOFF….I’m just going to leave it at that.
The shenanigans just kept rolling along until we made it back to TO. The music, the happy tired, the new friendships, the craziness of it all.
I found myself on a subway two days later reading a hilarious book of fiction about the music industry. It was the perfect end to a week that saw me laughing out loud too many times.
I looked up as though I’d just said “Rabbits are sexy!” on the northbound subway to Finch. A woman was smiling at me. I realize what I had done. I had just laughed out loud after reading the first chapter of this book…I believe I startled everyone on that particular car.
She looked at me asked “It must be a good book?”
Resisting the urge to blurt out “Rabbits are sexy!” I quietly whispered, “Oh wow…you have no idea.”
I put down my book and pulled out my pen and paper and wrote:
IN THE MORNING I’M LEAVING RICHMOND
UPON THE NORTHBOUND TRAIN
HEADING TO MY CROSSROADS
WESTBOUND TO JANE
…..I was home.