PT 3: CHEERS! Where everybody knows your shame!

PART 3
(from Part 2) I knew something was up because Zoran was always much too busy to actually sit and break the bread during a Saturday dinner rush. “Jay, tonight’s a special night as my parents are visiting. They have friends and relatives coming in from the old country. We’re going to reserve these tables in the back and have a traditional meal prepared for them. It’s my mother’s birthday! I know it’s going to get busy in here in a few hours and the Newfies…well you know what I mean…the Newfies will get a little crazy. They’re going to want you to drink on stage and play those dirty songs. Now you know I like that normally uh? Right? You know I like what you do, but just for tonight I need you to calm down. Just take it easy. You can still have some drinks but don’t play those songs. Especially that’a song about “It’s forty below and I don’t giva fuck! OK? Just wanted you to know!”
“You got it Zoran. Gonna be a fun night man.”
Famous last words.

Flash forward to 9pm.

I find myself on stage with the usual Saturday night glow. The joint was jumping. Suddenly, in walks Zoran in a white suit accompanied by his wife in a long sequined black dress and an entourage of Euro-chic relatives and friends adorned in silk and fur. It was like a NOLA  Mardi Gras procession, only the revelers weren’t jazz fans – they were Stompin Tom fans – and I wasn’t Dr. John,  I was “Dr. J ” master of disguises. As they made their way to the reserved table, the place was overcome with an audible hush. There became the implicit understanding that Zoran had special guests in the house, and even the Newfies were obliged to calm down (a feat akin to the Apollo landing).

Midnight. The hour in any bar when “ALL BETS ARE OFF AND NO ONE IS FAITHFUL”. (I want to credit this line and philosophy to an Irish Public House owner from Dublin who I met while in Athens Greece. He’d just retired from inheriting the business from his family after having started in the bar at the age of twelve. “Fifty five fucking years later son and I finally sold it! There isn’t a story I haven’t heard or thing about human nature I haven’t observed! I know one thing for sure ” Give people a few drinks and by the time it hits midnight ALL BETS ARE OFF AND NO IS FAITHFUL!” I never forgot that.)

Midnight. The crowd had become seemingly restless with my lack of antics they’d come to know and love. They slowly started demanding pure nonsense:  “Bud the Spud! I’ve Seen Pubic Hair!” The tension grew palpable and suddenly the rising din of beer bottles being slammed on the table to the tune of RODEO SONG – RO – DE – O – SONG….clang clang clang. It was medieval. It was enticing. It was something I just couldn’t do.
Suddenly Zoran, as if in slow motion, stood up from the back of the room, glowing in his white suit, made a gesture with his hand across his throat as if to say “DO NOT PLAY THAT SONG – PLEASE? AS WE DISCUSSED EARLIER” and stared directly into my blood-shot soul.

That split second felt as though it was an eternity. If I’d have played the song, who knows what Zoran would have done? Would he throw me out on the spot for this amazing betrayal? If I didn’t play the song, my legions of lowest common denominator fans would have surely staged a mutiny.  How could I live with devalued street cred (at least until the after party kicked in).
Then I had a thought. It’s the kind of boozed soaked thought that can only come when you get off on walking the tight rope of social decorum.  Zoran and his family represented about ten people. The revelers represented ten times that. Simple math? Besides, it was not like Zoran and myself had ever shared more than a five minute conversation in the two years I’d been there. But the fans…MAN. The fans! They’d become my friends. I thought, if I appease them I can’t go wrong.  Zoran will forgive me once he sees the bar receipts and I’ll retain all street cred.  So, without further adieu I took the soldiers stance…I put my hands in the G chord position, slowly raised my fresh pint of draft and toasted the bar, toasted Zoran’s mother – sang happy birthday and spoke into the mic.  “Zoran, please forgive me, but it’s cold outside and I have to go start my truck because we’re heading to the rodeo tonight.”
“Well it’s forty below
And I don’t give a fuck
Got a heater in my truck
And I’m off to the rodeo
It’s an allamande left
And allamande right
C’mon you fuckin’ dummy
Get your right step right
Get offstage you goddamn goof
Y’know you piss me off
You fucking jerk
Get on my nerves”….

The place erupted like Manchester United scoring the go ahead goal with a second to go. It felt like an over-reaction. It seemed too obvious – as though the bar levied an insult directly to Zoran and his unsuspecting family.  I saw the white flash of  his suit crumble into his chair. Disgraced and humiliated in his own bar. A man too gracious to make a scene in front of his family he let the show go on and rode out the night. I continued to play well past 1am and as they paraded out of the bar Zoran leaned in to me and quietly whispered “It was a good run! Come by for breakfast tomorrow.”

The morning after hangover depression only heightened how bad I felt for my behaviour the night before. But then again, I was used to that feeling. Nothing a few days of sobriety and hard work wouldn’t cure. That filthy need to be loved – the great ego stroke –  fucking hubris  – booze – weed – it all took over and in one moment I’d betrayed Caesar when he was at his most vulnerable. A guy who’d been nothing other than fair to me. Maybe that girl who’d left that message on my phone a few hours earlier was right. I truly WAS an asshole. I could only hope Zoran would understand that it was all just a blur of good times with some poor choices made along the way.

“Jay, I don’t know what to say about what happened here last night man. I know things get out of control and I guess I am partially to blame for letting it happen. It’s not all your fault!” (Are you kidding me? What a guy!)
“Well, Zoran, I was caught up in the moment and really didn’t want to offend YOU, I was just playing into the crowd. I’m really sorry man!”

It was during breakfast that we had our longest conversation. I learned even more about his family back home and his current family in Canada.  He told the story of why he bought the bar and all of his future plans. He couldn’t believe I had a university degree and that I’d been playing other shows as a songwriter. It was a great way to end things. He was ready for a change and so was I. It was meant to happen. But before I left, he told me a story that really taught me a lesson.
“Jay, do you remember six months ago you were playing Saturday afternoon matinees? Performing your own songs?”
“Yeah for sure. It was OK but it wasn’t too profitable for either of us as I recall.”
“Well, there was that elderly Jewish man sitting at the bar with a friend who was paying a lot of attention to your songs. Remember him?”
“Yes I do. He wrote down his first name and phone number on a piece of paper beside the word DIRECTOR but I just thought it all seemed too weird. I remember him saying he worked in film and really liked the song I wrote about my mom. Why?”
“Well, he really is a highly respected Canadian director you know. He came back in here a few months ago and told me how disappointed he was that you didn’t follow up with a phone call. He was going to give you a break. You didn’t take it seriously man. He really was upset!”
“Oh wow, Zoran. You’re killing me. I guess my cynicism is my worst trait.”
“No, Jay….you just have to start believing in yourself a bit more.’
I’ll never forget that conversation with Zoran. He was setting me straight.
(Having saved the number I actually called the director the following week – who must remain nameless – and apologized for not following up right away. He scolded me and talked about missed opportunities and professionalism and kindly asked that I not contact him again. Ouch.)

I would walk by the bar a few more times over the next couple of years and it seemed awfully quiet. It always filled me with mixed emotions. Finally, one night I was out on a first date and she said “Hey, that bar has Karaoke! Let’s go try it out!”
Without even getting into it, I let her lead me back into Cheers. I couldn’t believe what was going on. It was the first time I’d ever seen my replacement. The stage had been moved to the right. There was a new sound system with some random dude inviting everyone to come up  to sing and dance while they read the words on a TV screen. After watching a steady stream of folks hit the stage to butcher Patsy Cline’s Crazy, I decided to kick it old school and give them an ironic version of American Pie. For eight glorious minutes I sang about The Big Bopper, Elvis, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly and Chevrolet’s and some good old boys drinking whiskey and rye. Karaoke. The day the music died – INDEED!

I didn’t recognize a single person in the place. I walked up to the bar and asked “Hey is Zoran here tonight?”
“Zoran? Oh god no. He sold this place over a year ago. Who are you?”
“Oh I used to play here on weekends a while ago!”
“YOU’RE JAY? People come in here and ask about you all the time. They want to know where you’re playing these days?”
“Oh that’s nice…mostly just taking a break.”
“Cool. Hey are you the guy that played that Rodeo song one night?”

I smirked and walked away knowing that the story and the legendary night had lived on. If you’re gonna go out…you may as well go out in a great ball of fire like Jerry Lee Lewis. (Mind you – it’s not like I married my thirteen year old cousin or anything.)

Oh and the Buick LeSabre Estate Station Wagon with wood grained paneling? It caught fire in my driveway. The neighbour saved our house by putting it out with a fire extinguisher. I sold it for parts for $200.

“Well it’s forty below and I really give a fuck cuz I don’t have a truck and I’m off to the rodeo!”

Cheers!

PT 2 – CHEERS! Where everybody knows your shame.

PART 2
(from Part 1) I was playing my guitar regularly by then and had written a bunch of self-indulgent songs about hitch-hiking, kings and castles, fish in the ocean. They were all shit. A few of them found their way into a CBC contest and they made a little demo of my stuff. I was even playing a few folk festivals on weekends and opening for established artists like Fred Eaglesmith and Willie P. Bennett. I didn’t take it seriously at all.
Why would I? I had a great job selling water door to door. A pimped out station wagon and a Hondo Flying V electric guitar, fender amp, and a Samick acoustic for late night hangs. All I really wanted was a place to drink for free on weekends. I had a master plan….

I figured if I could learn another fifty of the standard sing-along songs (Brown Eye Girl, American Pie) I could cold call my way into a deal with some local bar owner and see what we could work out. I’d already had several hundred of them blazed into my memory. How? I don’t quite know how. That little miracle just happens to me. A strange memory for songs I like.
My roommates were more than happy to be rolling with the liberal arts dude now. They could make real money during the week, but the true currency would be with the party happening back at our house after the gig when the bar was invited over.

So, I did my walkabout and after several unsuccessful attempts I stumbled into a bar called Cheers. (Back when the sitcom CHEERS was a mainstay in North American culture, every uncreative, copyright infringing trust fund baby from the Greatest Generation decided he would invent his own version of the bar ‘as seen on TV’!) Now in my quest to find a suitable partner for my pending venture, I thought, ‘hmmmm – anyone who’d be willing to stake their life savings on ripping off a TV sitcom theme for their bar is likely going to an easy sell!”
Cheers, was just as you’d think it should be. A typical wood and brass interior with a pool table in the back, a long narrow bar along one side, a stage in front of the window. Patrons were greeted with that familiar odour of fried chicken wing – meets carpet freshener – meets stale draft and cigarette smoke. A notch above the basement lounge of the Waverly.

“Hi I’m looking for the owner!”
“I’m the owner. How can I help you?”
“Hey…my name is Jay Aymar a singer songwriter guy who just moved into the neighbourhood. I’m looking to find a place to play my guitar and sing songs every weekend. I’m just making some cold calls as I live around the corner.”
“My name is Zoran. Nice to meet you. Interesting you say that. We were JUST talking about mixing things up in here and recently bought a new PA. What did you have in mind?”
“Well, I don’t know really. Make me an offer?”
“Well, how about you come in this Saturday night and we’ll see how it goes. I’ll offer you $300 and all you can drink!” (Ahh the good old days – try to find a place in TO that’ll give an upstart solo sing-along ACT more than $100. Wait a minute! The solo singalong thing barely exists anymore (outside of el tourista patios down in Margaritaville . Guess they pay DJ’s a lot more than that now).
“Sounds good to me Zoran! See you Saturday.”

With that, I raced home and told the gang the great news. We were  now hooked up to a three second stumble from our home at the place where ‘everybody should at least know our names’ in short order!
It was going to be epic.

The first gig was quiet save for one group of Northern Secondary High grads in the back room playing pool. They were seemingly on the boarder of being of age but it struck me very quickly that Cheers was not looking too closely at the fake ID’s. The two servers had been working with Zoran since it opened a few years prior, and they were not only TO beauties, they loved to have fun and encouraged rowdy behaviour at every step. We got to know them all so well as they would come back to the after party ritual every weekend. So during my first break, I met Jim, the kid who was the biggest music fan of them all. “Hey buddy, that was great stuff. Are you going to play here every weekend? If so, we’ll get everyone form the neighbourhood to come out!”
“Yeah, it’s a test run tonight but if it goes we’ll we’re going to keep going every weekend.”

Oh so it was. Jim and his crew told everyone in the hood and before too long the tables started filling up. Let me state again – this was in no way a professional gig. I would stand on the stage and play for four hours straight – singing, drinking, smoking, telling jokes, bringing up people for some stupid human tricks. You name it.

One time a bra-less peroxided blonde with huge 90’s hair jumped up on stage, took her top off and began to grind me and the mic stand! Mid song! (I’m sure I protested loudly! lol). Now you’d think someone would have found this inappropriate behaviour? Not so. Everyone laughed and cheered until finally Jim ran up onto the stage and raised both of our arms like we’d just finished a prize fight and battled it to a draw! I can’t make this shit up! She fumbled around for her Iggy Pop t-shirt, put it back on and resumed drinking. I recall seeing her at our party later on that night.

One night, Jim brought in about five tables of his friends and some relatives who must have been from the east coast. These guys kept requesting Stompin Tom Connors and McLean and McLean! I knew about two Stompin Tom songs but hadn’t really learned any McLean and McLean. For those of you who don’t know the difference between the two? Well, it’s very slim. One sings funny songs about Canada and the others sings funny songs about Canada – only one is peppered with filthy words. McLean and McLean’s biggest hit was a cover called The Rodeo Song “It’s forty below and I don’t give a fuck gotta heater in my truck and I’m off to the rodeo!”

Things got so ridiculous that these guys were walking up on to the stage with weed crammed into their cigarettes (cleverly disguised – NOT) and placing it LIT – into the ashtray next to me, while the crowd challenged me to a chugging contest. Yes this all happened. The strange thing was, it didn’t matter how many pints I downed, I could always remember the words to every song and many said they enjoyed my really intoxicated show better than my semi-intoxicated show.  I believe they were right.

Jim’s east coast relatives who showed up must have felt right at home when I started singing Stompin Tom and The Rodeo Song. The place erupted. I mean ERUPTED. That night about forty of us piled into our house for the after party and played as many songs as I could. That week I immediately learned ten more Stompin Tom songs and a few more McLean and Mcleans with the promise to see them all again the following Saturday for round two.

The one thing you have to know about Maritimers  (especially Newfoundlanders) , when they find something they like, they’re loyal as hell. I swear the have their version of an underground railroad and secret telegraph and when they want to show their support – the ‘put the word out’ and BOY do they come out of the woodwork.

The next week I showed up and the place was filled. Suddenly, I was the draw. The main event. I was barely ready for this. I mean emotionally. It meant continuing this charade of playing the big drinker, loud , obnoxious, pot smoking humourist with a guitar singing bawdy songs for drunks. How would my liver manage? How could my psyche manage? I was still trying to be a respected songwriter in completely different circles? I don’t quite know how I embraced it all …but somehow I managed.

I stood up that night and drank my way through the proceedings.  The server told me she’d served more draft that night then any night previous. “Jay, I think you should renegotiate your deal with Zoran! You should go for a higher percentage of the bar sales!”
“No Joanne, a deals a deal. Zoran’s been good to me and he lets me drink and eat for free. I’m good with this arrangement (if I only knew then what I know now! Geeeshhh).
The weekly Saturday engagement turned into a lot of doubled up dates. (Fridays and Saturdays) .Saturday’s often had capacity line-ups and suddenly I was the one responsible for drawing every Newfie from parts unknown into the Yonge and Eglinton area . It was bound to blow up. it had to! Nothing this crazy can last forever. Right? It carried on for 20 months like this and there was no end in sight. I’d dated every girl who worked at the place and my liver was now about as efficient as a colander.

One Saturday I arrived a few hours early in the dead of winter for some pre-show dinner and drinks. I used to eat, read and drink on my own in the back booth by the pool table with occasional interruptions from the staff. It was my happy place. It was always the same questions “Do we need someone to pick up beer for your party afterwards? Is there a party afterwards? I have hash. Do you have vodka?”
Suddenly, that night, Zoran decided to pull up a seat and have a beer and talk about life. I learned a lot about him and his family that night. The heir to a Yogurt fortune from a wealthy European family.
“Jay my friend. How’s the beer and food? Zoran’s treating you right – right? You’re happy here?”
“Oh yeah man. It’s been great. What’s up?”
I knew something was up because Zoran was always much too busy to actually sit and break the bread during a Saturday dinner rush. “Jay, tonight’s a special night as my parents are visiting. They have friends and relatives coming in from the old country. We’re going to reserve these tables in the back and have a traditional meal prepared for them. It’s my mother’s birthday! I know it’s going to get busy in here in a few hours and those crazy fans of yours…well you know what I mean…the Newfies will get a little crazy. They’re going to want you to drink on stage and play those funny songs. Now you know I like that normally? Right? You know I like what you do, but just for tonight I need you to calm down. Just take it easy. You can still have some drinks but don’t play those songs. Especially that one about “It’s forty below and I don’t giva fuck! OK? Just wanted you to know!”
“You got it Zoran. I’ve got you covered.”
Famous last words….
(to be continued)…

Cheers…Where everybody knows your shame

A few days ago I wrote a letter to my friends, fans and family across Canada with the hopes of cheering a few folks up, appeasing my conscience and basically offering some holiday goodwill. I even mentioned three times throughout the diatribe that I was very sorry for anyone I’d left out as it would be impossible to remember everyone (obviously) and that it was all written quickly over a few pints of Guinness. So, as good fortune would have it, many of you wrote to me personal emails wishing me the best of the season! That’s the spirit! Thank you. And as human nature would dictate, a few of you decided that no good deed would go unpunished and you’d rain on my Christmas tree with choice comments of “Thanks for the mention pal!” or “Are you for real?”
But hey…I expected that.
Rock n’ Roll’s a dangerous game kids.
You gotta have skin like leather if you want to survive in this business
(enter you’re own cliche here:)

Which brings me to this last email from: justin201@—–“
“Hey Jay, thanks for the vid and the letter. I remember we used to go to a bar called Cheers in North Toronto at Yonge and Eglinton. I think the guy that played every weekend was you? I really do! You mentioned McLean and McLean in your email and I remember a guy on the guitar singing the Rodeo song. Was that you or am I making this up?”

Wow! The internet. Full circle. “Justin, you’re not dreaming buddy. it WAS me.”

It was the mid-nineties and I was indeed playing McLean and Mclean’s Rodeo song (written by the pride of Medicine Hat:: Garry Lee and the Showdown – tks Clayton Berg) - at bar called Cheers at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. The crazy part is, I think Justin is referring to the night I sang that song and all hell broke loose. I’ll get  to that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

I’d just graduated from Carleton bluffing my way through a BA (and I truly mean bluffing!)  How I managed to fumble my way through that WAS and still IS a mystery. I loved a few things about it though. I could write essays. I loved writing essays. I was good at it. I love reading the assigned texts. From the Romantics to Canadian lit, American lit , Shakespeare, Absurdist Theatre and Modern Poetry et al. It was really great. The only problem is, I have a memory like a sieve for most things and by the time it was all done, I was qualified for teaching, songwriting or Jeopardy. I wasn’t accepted into teachers college as my marks were too low and my experience was zilch. I obviously hadn’t made strides to move into that direction. Jeopardy? I’d already made my mind up I was a Wheel of Fortune kind of guy. Songwriting? Well….that sounds interesting.

I moved to Toronto with my flashy new B.A. and a $27,000 student loan debt ready to tackle the world. My sister knew a family friend who was the sales manager of a spring water company. They offered me a job in sales. As the sales manager said, “We stick a mirror under your nose and if it fogs up…you’re hired!” I was hired to sell water cooler units and bottles of water – door to door to businesses around the GTA. Most reps lasted a week. I last two years. Hunger and debt does strange things to a psyche.

After I was hired, the manager said “Well, what are you driving?” I said “ I just got my license last week and I don’t have a car!” “Well, you’d better get on that. You’re going to need to load up water coolers and bottles everyday so you should likely go for a small van!”

The next morning I perused the back of the Toronto Star and found an ad for a station wagon in Markham, ON. The woman who answered the phone assured me the station wagon was ‘top notch’ as it was her husband’s corporate ride for many years. Recently retired they only need two cars, not three! (Must be nice)
As I took the bus over to the address, I noticed the houses getting larger and larger. Two car garages, wide streets, yet postage stamp backyards where the houses all looked somewhat the same. Just add water subdivisions – I once heard some refer to them as. I knocked on the door and the nice woman invited me into her completely white kitchen, with white walls, white furniture and a small white poodle. She showed me her backyard pool and bemoaned the fact that they could only use it three months out of the year.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“We live in Florida for six months and travel the rest of the time.”
A part me cringed for every living soul struggling in the ghetto. (Then again, something tells me those struggling souls were  having more fun – in an unknowing kind of way).

As we kept talking I really connected with this woman. I could tell she loved my story about coming from Northern Ontario, and how I’d recently moved to Toronto trying to get into sales.
“My husband was in sales his entire life. He did very well. Insurance. Have you ever thought about insurance?”
I’d only ever heard from others that insurance, although lucrative, would be one of those things that would leave you friendless after about five years. You find yourself showing up to the mens rec hockey league and guys are leap-frogging for the exits “Oh shit, here comes Aymar…gonna hit me up for some life insurance again!” And that’s no disrespect to life insurance sales reps! In fact, my father bought some for me when I as a baby (to help out a friend) and lo and behoild…I’m now worth more DEAD than alive!

So when she found out I was a Carleton U alumni with a B.A. she really opened up. “My god, that’s where my daughter went and she’s likely close to your age.”
When she told me her name, I was relieved to not know her. Who knows how we may have met in that blur of a party they call higher education? (If you know what I’m saying).
She called her husband and immediately asked if he could offer a better deal on the vehicle.
We eventually made it out to the garage and there it was.
A 1985 Buick Estate Station Wagon – fully loaded – complete with faux wood grain paneling ala Plains,Trains and Automobiles / Uncle Buck. In fact my nieces and nephews (who were quite young then) dubbed me Uncle Buck or UB for short – because of this ride. It was purely ridiculous. A tank. People got out of the way when I barreled down the highway.
Anyway, her husband agreed to a better deal and the next day I showed up with a cheque for $1500 and drove away in my new ride. Nothing says “Single styling salesman in his mid-twenties, like a wood grain paneled station wagon!”

For the next two years it was so grossly mishandled and weighed down with water coolers and bottles, the shocks gave way….the rust set in…and eventually it was spewing out blue exhaust enough to make David Suzuki put me on the fucking green party hit list.

It was during these years that I was sharing a house at near Yonge and Eglinton with some university buddies who’d also come to Toronto. (Albeit business grads where were much more interested in starting real careers at Bay and King).

I was playing my guitar regularly by then and had written a bunch of self-indulgent songs about hitch-hiking, kings and queens and fish in the ocean. They were all shit. A few of them found their way into a CBC contest and they made a little demo of my stuff. I was even playing a few folk festivals on weekends and opening for established artists like Fred Eaglesmith and Willie P. Bennett. I didn’t take it seriously at all.

Why would I? I had a great job selling water door to door. A pimped out station wagon and a Hondo Flying V electric guitar, fender amp, and a Samick acoustic for late night hangs. All I really wanted was a place to drink for free on weekends. I had a master plan. What happened next is something you really won’t believe (unless you happened to be there!)
…to be continued

One of These Days, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Write a Long Letter

I suggest you watch this video first. It’s my postcard to Canada and ALL OF YOU! THANK YOU!
I sincerely wish you all a HAPPY HOLIDAYS. For the million people I simply didn’t mention in this letter – please forgive me – it was all stream of conscious writing and I couldn’t deal with revising it over and over. It would never end. You’re in there – even if you’re not in there.
Watch it then come back read on…

“The Beaufort Sea (French: mer de Beaufort) is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, west of Canada’s Arctic islands. The sea is named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort. The major Mackenzie River empties into the Canadian part of the sea, west of Tuktoyaktuk, which is one of the few permanent settlements on the sea shores.
The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently due to climate change in the Arctic the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged.” Wikipedia

Seba holding number 19
So what do the Beaufort Sea and this kid – Sebastian have to do with anything? Well, on my tour last year a lot of people tracked me down to perform house concerts and quite often, I’d oblige once we figure out our route and schedules etc… “Set it up like a theatre, tell everyone it’s a concert – not a party – try to get 60 people at $20 each and we’ll do it during the week!” (Kind of response). They represented about 20% of my touring shows last year (during weekdays) and they’re all artistically rewarding. A big part of the scene was that there were always kids at the concerts. Whether it be the hosts children or just people who wanted to expose their kids to this antiquated art form known as ‘trad music?” lol
So I decided I’d better have some Dollarama gifts in my trunk for the kids I was meeting and singing “Apple Pickin” to.

There I was, in Beausejour Manitoba, fresh off touring with Burton Cummings old pal, Donnie Zueff. Donnie, god bless him is a saint. Not only a premiere fiddle player but a guy that’ll pick you up the train station (after waiting four hours) then drive you to his home where his wife has prepared an amazing home cooked meal. That’s Donne. He lives in Beausejour (about 40 minutes north of Manitoba) with his family. I had a free day to wander the streets of this small town and hit their local Dollar Tree. (Which is misleading because most of the imported plastic junk was $1.25 or more). It took no more than two minutes for me to get that plastic resin headache that’s become all too familiar when shopping at these junk stores. “Excuse me miss, do you sell gas masks for a buck? No? Oh ok…I’ll try the lemon fresh spray in aisle 143!” As I wandered lonely as a cloud – through the card section I came across the toy isle. That’s when I saw it. A small cartoon-like puzzle of Canada with pictures of Cowgirls and Mounties and Whales. I knew within a split second that this would be the only gift I’d give to kids across Canada. The one that would have them looking at the places I’ve been to. Sharing with them the amazing greatness that is our country. It really IS that great – and yes – I’ve been around this globe.
So I loaded up on the same puzzle. I think they only had about twenty in stock but that would be perfect.
I came back to Donnie’s place and showed him my amazing score while we rehearsed my song Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop By on banjo.
Just before I crashed out that night I had a eureka moment. I’d make a game out of the puzzle for all the kids in Canada to play. I’d number the back of every single puzzle piece in order. Every kid got a puzzle with numbers on the back. I would take two puzzles and write the identical number on the backs of the same piece – while the others were random. I would not know who had the corresponding puzzle. As the tour wound down, I informed the parents that I was going to draw my puzzle piece. I pulled out from my hat, The Beaufort Sea – #19. The kid in the pic – Sebastion (they call him Seba) WON. What did he win? Well, I guess he’s been made the distinct guest of honour of this major annual Christmas card. (oh and he already has a Dollar Tree puzzle of Canada from Beausejour Manitoba. Not a bad haul Seba!

You see, that’s the kind of life it turns into when you’re playing this much. A million and one stories all crammed into a week. Too many fall by the wayside (into the potholes on memory lane – as Randy Newman so eloquently puts it). Seba’s parents have been hosting my dog and pony show in their home for four years now. Every single year it’s an honour, a laugh, a swim, a feast – all of that. And to think I met Seba’s mother in another lifetime while at Carleton University. She was a gem then and is only getting more polished and precious over the years. Her husband Steve just happens to be a volleyball coach for the Kelowna Heat (and a national champ!). He’s likely one of the best volleyball coaches in the country! Imagine that…a coaster makes good. Anyway, Sebastian buddy, I hope you have a great Christmas, and I just wanted to take this time to thank everyone across the country with this little video tribute to Canada.

We recorded my song Overtime in my brother-in-laws amazing basement bar (how Canadian is the basement bar?) and this goes out to everyone who’s helped keep that Voyageur trail tended. The organizers of the shows, the roots radio folks, the musicians, the AD’s, the reviewers, the volunteers, the cooks, sound crew, the friends we made. By the time I’d hit Calgary, I’d had reunited with my Toronto-based fiddle player Sahra Featherstone. She flew out to tour with me for three weeks and was then going to meet her boyfriend Dale Sood (amazing videographer Arts and Rec) to rock clime Big Chief in Squamish, BC,  She would play the harp and violin with me for the rest of the tour which brought us all the way to Cortes Island. And when I thought I couldn’t possibly laugh any harder than I had with Zueff, Sahra came along and had my stomach muscles in need of therapy after the first 48 hours. Another story for another day. The day we left Cortes I started this song based on a couple we’d met who just moved there to reinvent themselves:
“Oh my love, all we need
is a little bit of dirt and a single seed
Natural light, H2O we’ll plant our love and watch it grow – oh –oh……..
There’s evidence of life here”
but again…I digress.

So to compliment this video here is my long (stamp saving) Christmas card to all of you amazing souls out there who’ve supported my live music over these past years and I want you to know that there’s never possibly enough gratitude in the world to show you for this. Let’s just say, you keep the tending the trail, and we’ll keep walking it – portaging it with our canoe full of songs.

So in no particular order:
Mom and Dad in the Soo. 88 and 93. Still going strong. I’ll be home for Boxing Day. The first year I’ve ever missed Christmas Day. The countdown begins. I love you more than life itself.

My brother Bob, Nicolene, Steve and Sarah (Liv), Matt, Phil, I want you to know I found Chuck Norris’s MIA 3 and we’ll be having a marathon in 2015. Count on it. Thank you for the critical insights on my work Bob. That’s all a brother could ever ask for. Honesty. You’re the best in the business.
Jeanne and Tom, Steph, Kato, Ali , Mary and Tom, Beck , Kel and Jack (charity starts at home and wow aint’ that the truth – my home away from home off the road and so close there’s nothing I can really say here), My brother Dave (only Dave and I know this – but we are the unheralded Canadian comic duo. No one can make the other person laugh harder! Period. McLean and Mclean? Maybe! Close. Bowser and Blue? Lightweight. Cheech and Chong? Beyond our reach. The Smothers Brothers? Mom always liked you best man.) Tom and Sharon, Jamie, Brendan, Mark and John (strength and wisdom and pure kindness and a lot of fried chicken – that is the answer. And Tom, you’re Colonel Parker and Saunders rolled into one. The best motivator, critic and coach a songwriter could have. I wish every songwriter had you in their corner man!) , Bill Aymar (work hard, party hard, a great Toronto host to out of towners, a great friend and best chef I know – your herbs are mind blowing), Phil Aymar (we’re one in the same – except you’re just better– my conscience, my confidant and proof that being humble is a virtue), all of my cousins (Theriaultville) who are the biggest best family I know. To Tom and Mary-Lou the wedding of Mary-Anne and the Professor and my first myspace friend. To my cousin Jeff – for the brightness you brought to the world. To Lynne and Kip for the spare room and Jeff and Hannah for the late night hangs…to Lorrie and Joe and Matt and Steve for the concerts and laughs. To Mike – thanks for cleaning my teeth after losing my dentist…Oh shit… to Leo’s Auto on Doncaster in Thorhill (Leo is the best, most honest mechanic in the universe – he doesn’t’ need your business but go there anyway!) To Dr. Sam Leitenberg you are going to be missed! You were more than a doctor. You were a friend. (Anyone know of a good doctor in the GTA theriaulvilleout there?) I can’t begin to go down this rabbit hole – we’d be here until New Year’s Eve. lol

To my original buddies and all of the crew of Monterey Gardens. The long lasting friendship that’s about a tight and good as any guys have ever had it. It’s unbreakable. To Mel, Andy, Ters, Humphry, Greengras, Burnsy, Deli 1 and 2, Saints..the memory of our buddy Bo and the Bolan family….oh hell the list goes on and on. See you in a few weeks.
Here’s a few of us “Catching Rainbows in the Falls” before the Batchewana sauna.
The crew

My musical acquaintances in Toronto over the years. Those I’ve played with and toured with and as a friend once said “They’re all the most creative, honest and talented people you’ll ever meet.” That’s true!
Some know this story – some don’t. I was contacted by Ian Tyson six years ago. He wanted to record my song. Great honour indeed. I was selling wine and grossly unhappy. I was a ‘lazy bastard living in a suit” to quote Cohen. I left the girl. The apartment. My belongings.
The first call I received after meeting Tyson was from SOCAN. “Jay, Richard Flohil wants to know if he can contact you?” “Who’s that?” I said.
“You’re in the Toronto music scene and you don’t know who Richard Flohil is?”
“Well I said, I’m not IN the Toronto music scene. I’ve been out of music for fifteen years. I’m quitting real life and getting back into the music scene!”
“Well, can we give Richard your number and have him call you?”
“Of course” I responded with great anticipation.

One day later a superb British accent snuck through my phone “Hello, is this Jay Aymar?”
“Yes…this must be Richard!”
“Yes mate. Listen, I’ve just heard a song you’ve written about Don Cherry covered by Ian Tyson. I’m just wondering – WHO ARE YOU?”
Flash forward six years later and FLO (as we all referred to him) has graciously introduced me to many of the great souls inhabiting this list. There’s not enough hours in a day to cover his story, but if you’re at all interested, just head out to any roots music haunt on any given night in TO and look for the guy with a bevy of beauties flanking him. He’ll be wearing a long white scarf and sometimes closing his eyes to get a cat-nap mid rock n roll show. Don’t take offense. It’s just how he rolls.

So who are you? Well, you range from all of the musicians who’ve played in my CD’s over the years to the engineers and creative designers. Like my first and most loyal engineer Chris Hess. He worked for so many years without asking for a dime. I don’t even know how one could start to thank someone for that. He’s the biggest Kris Kringle of them all folks.
David Baxter for consistently offering up warm, rootsy gems for this world to hear. (He’s a helluva writer and performer in his own right – and you should RUN to the Cameron House in Toronto if you ever have the chance to catch him.) He plays often with another songwriter named Corin Raymond who is also a cool talent on the scene. Oh and the Cameron House gang of constants – like Peter Barnard. Thanks for always promoting my blogs. Thanks to Heather Hase, Dave Reigate and his dad and the Antonacci’s for coming to so many shows this year too.
There’s no way to thank the insanely talented girls on the scene that I’ve been privileged to meet. The easiest way to is have you look up the collective known as the Ladies in Waiting and you’ll see them all right there (Oh and if you live in Toronto or know of anyone in Toronto they should go to their Christmas show Thursday Dec. 18th at the Hugh’s Room.
liw2
Google these names and check them out. All of this outstanding creative energy will be in one room. Andrea Ramolo, Faye Blaise (sounds so nice you want to say it twice), Melanie Brulee, Sarah Burton, Cindy Doire (all the way in from the Maple Leaf Tavern!), Sahra Featherstone (my trusty sidekick from this year’s tour and an inspiring human being!), Kristin Sweetland (check out her photography), Tricia Foster (check out her pipes) , Anique Granger, Treasa Levasseur (find her song “Let Me Sleep on It”), Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar (opening for the Blind Boys of Alabama at Massey – yes that’s happening) , Sophia Perlman, PerlHaze, Karyn Ellis (amazingly, off-beat funky folk songs and one who’s gonna help me organize the annual Roots Music Bowlerama for charity) and Marina Marina. Oh and Jen Squires (photographer) for these pics and my last album cover. You’re incredible. And Chung Wong – for being the biggest music fan this scene has ever met (minus Flohil).
While we’re speaking of female artists this year: To Roxanne Potvin for being a brave, beautiful artist (and gracing my Hugh’s Room show with her presence and amazing band!) Alejandra Ribera for knocking me out with La Boca (wow), Shakura S’Aida for bidding on my sorry ass at a charity auction a few years ago and to our pending coffee date at Targette (and for your earth shattering performances), to Jadea Kelly for answering the call to lend your vocals to my old timey duets and for creating Clover. To Allen Wells who’s brilliantly executed your vision. To Laura, Bonita, Patricia, Joe and Paula, Dave and Kerry for keeping the eastern Ontario fires burning, to John and Lia and Jennifer – may we party soon and have a Cuban feast! And to the great Cullen crew who’ve thrown us some amazing concerts and keeping the London fires burning bright. And of course Frank Loreto for his amazing site “Ears to the Ground” and his great house concert hosting skills!
To David Farrell, Kerry Doole, Bob Mersereau, Eric Thom, Mike Regenstrief (to name a very small few) for writing about it all. And to Gail Comfort, Steve Fruitman, Julie Miller, Jan Vanderhorst, Allison Brock, Tom Power, Jim Marino, Brenda Tacik, Fish Grikowski, Peter North, Gerry Goodfriend (I wish I was born with that handle) Andy Frank, Jeff Robson, Jan Hall, Daryl Sterdan, Jeanna Khan, Marc Campbell, Eden Monro, Roddy Campbell of Penguin Eggs (top notch magazine!), Barry Hammond, Shelagh Rogers, Danny Gaisin, Brian Kelly,Tom Murray, Heath McCoy, Stuart McLean, Jerome Clarke (Rambles Magazine – You want to read in depth reviews – check out Jerome Clarke – he goes deep!) Brian Johnson, Doug Swanson, John Apice of No Depression, Larry Leblanc, Tom Coxworth, and Steve Clark (rest his perfect soul)  Oh hell….I’m leaving out a million more. It’s gonna get ugly by the omissions. That’s it. Well save, Twisty, Shelley Marshall, John Scoles and your door crasher specials, to Mitch, Tim, Ava, Selena for keeping Pete’s dream intact, JD Edwards (finally caught a full show in Brandon) and band, Sean Burns, Tim Hus, Dave Gunning, Tamara Kater (introducing me to super writers: Sam Baker, Jordie Lane, and Del Barber) To the Canada Gold suite in Kansas for introducing me to Stephanie Nilles. I want to say that again – thank you for introducing me to Stephanie Nilles. Singularly the very best performance that has resonated with me – maybe ever. To the heirs of her throne, Arianna Gillis, Jenie Thai, David Newberry, and Ann Vriend. To Jodie Peck for being a badass butcher, northern girl and stone cold rock and roll! To Peterbuilt Pete for settling down and having a baby (and loving Hogans Heroes). To Kaia Kater, Craig (just say Currie) Cairns, Emma Jane, Sarah Erickson and your awesome parents for pointing out Steak and Lube (an actual restaurant in bumble-fuck USA) , to Chip Taylor for imparting so much wisdom into my songwriter soul and a big thank you for singing FUCK ALL THE PERFECT PEOPLE to me at ten paces away, Newland and Frank (the comedy team behind RMC), The Folk Music Ontario crew perfect cultivation , to Alex Sinclair and the Borealis crew for so much of the fabric – Fiddlers Green, Grit Laskin, Paul Mills, Bill Garrett, every living soul connected to Stan Rogers, Linda Truro, Derek Andrews, Jennifer Drysdale (amazing artist) Joanne Crabtree, Laura Smith and Tannis Slimmon for bringing such pure beauty into this world, Nicole Colbeck, Jennifer Ellis, Scott Merrifield, The CFMA’s…oh gosh… and Gadke for teaching me about centre earth, Thor, metal and general merriment. To Steve and Sue Tenant for just about everything Folk and goodwill. To their awesome ‘sound-guy’ son! To Aengus Finnan and Dayna Manning (who I met through my part-time fiddler Laura – laugh-a minute-Bates) as people I barely know you given me hope that true love is always just around the corner – amazing really. To Fitzy and Scott for having a baby. To Greg Cockerill and Kurt Nielson for learning my stuff on the fly and nailing the Hugh’s show (go Blue Jays) , to Jane Harbury, Suzie Vinnick, Emily Mitchell, The Mills, The Tivoli and Auerbach Houses, to Taylor Mitchell for remaining my guardian angel (I know this to be true), to the guy who fixed my Camry and the eagle that followed me on the highway, to the deceased deer, to Rocky the native artist who made me the Buffalo tooth after hearing the song Crow. To my buddy Chief and the loss of his old man Simon this year. To all of the folks at the Happy Horsheshoe Campground, The family of Gordie (who passed away too young and taught me about truck driving, being High and Lonesome with Bill Munroe and just how big Bluegrass is in Japan), to the original boys from the Cashing in on Peace CD years – Kevin Quain, Tom Parker, Tony Benattar and your amazing Liberty Boots ( I still remember that one day recording session). The Folks at the Sandy Lake Hotel – Judy and the gang “Al MacDonald had a farm…ei ei o”) To finally hearing Kim Begg’s stuff and realizing how awesome she is. To Meg Lederrer for being a cool camper and booking me every year. To Shawna Caspi for writing great tunes and slaying them in Richard Landing; Sarah Jane Scouten for making me howl two weeks ago; Alanna Martineau for finally making the pilgrimage to TO (good on ya!) to Kev Corbett for always telling me the most interesting stories at every conference then slaying me with his sweet sounds, to Jon Brooks for doing the hard honest work, to Longevity John for inviting us to your festival and kind words and unique form of payment, to Diggin Roots – what a great show!, to Sue and Dwight constantly making me laugh every morning with your street level insights, Paul Corby and your excellent Orbital sounds. To Sheila in Thunder Bay (get well soon), to Hanna Hunzinger at Fables (we’re all missing Chuck and feeling for ya!) To my east coast relatives Marie, Neil, Gus and Rose, Ruth and Harold and all the kids…to James and George Aymar and the Acadian village of Saulnierville (the documentary they’re making of James!) to his son Marcel Aymar (my cousin) of the incredible band CANO – to the south shore and the Twins, and all my friends at the Sea Dog Saloon: Allen and Tim and the kitchen kaleigh crew that mind scarred me and Manitoba Hal who imparted sober wisdom to me one night, and to Dave and Dianne from Burlington who have become friends – not fans – and true believers. Merry Christmas to you too!
Wrycraft and Bronwin Parks for creating amazing designs for everyone, Fancy Pants Lance Lorree and The Alien Rebels, Carolyn Marks and NQ and your gang of misfits, for Jeni and Phil and all of the folks at the Theatre in the park and of South Country Fair – , Scott Cook (the reincarnation of Woody) and on and on and on.

If I read this list and realized I was not on it – I’d feel hurt, then pissed off then likely laugh because there’d be no way the dude could remember everyone! Forgive me – but thank me for trying. Oh and Ian Tyson and his daughter for hosting Sahra and I on his ranch and then mailing me money! I love ya man and NO I don’t ride fucking horses. Only once when I was drunk – and I fell off immediately.
Ina and Piet and Ye Old Jar Bar. Jay and Tracey – two great individual Medicine Hat artists who put me up for four days (you rock) for Clint and crew who continue to support me and teach me things about the Law I just never new, to CKUA, the CBC, PBS, Vinyl Café. Ewen and Jane MacKenxzie and kids (for housing 5000 albums, getting married, introducing me to scotch!)  For Stew Crookes and Michael Timmins and Josh Finlayson for dissecting my songs and advising me on production. For Joe Ernewein for finding my songs and wanting to produce them. To my Cameron family residents of this past while – Vivienne Wilder who continues to amaze me with her prodigiousness and Kesley McNulty for your tasteful playing every time I see and hear you, to Justin for stealing my records (lol) and all of the Boxcar Boys, Ozere, Slocan Ramblers….oh man….I’m rambling again. I guess you’re the next generation. I explode with happiness when I hear your talent.
Michael Louderoute for holding that umbrella over my head during the downpour and offering me some shelter from the storm. To Todd Snider, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Carol King, Dylan, Guthrie, Sachmo, Beethoven , Shel Silverstein, Cash, Kinky Friedman, and Lucille Ball, and anything that Neil Simon ever created. And I’ll even give a Merry Christmas shout out to the not one Artistic Director of any folk festival who’s never come out to see any of my shows after being apprised of their whereabouts well in advance – that’s over 700 shows in six years and counting – I’ll even wish YOU a Merry Christmas because that’s the kind of guy I am.
And speaking of “That’s the kind of guy I am” I’ll wish Pat, and Donna and Andy Garreau a happy holidays. And in the memory of Mikey and Wes and all that’s holy and good in this world. And to Donald P. Bertrand where you may roam. To the entire town of Bruno! (Can you start my tomato for me?)  And to Jess (a beautiful muse and artist) and Nikky and Frank and new friends and old friends and all that’s to come and everything under the sun isn’t real…but the sun is eclipsed by the Super Moon in Revelstoke.
To Up North Terry and Val and your old pal Tom Wilson who told me your nickname – who also told me Paul Reddick’s nickname (The High Priest – another one of my complete favourites. A full-fledged artist in his prime!) Thank you Terry and Val for the place to crash and write last winter. Thanks to Bob and Cathy Hodgeson for buying a bunch of my merch and bringing huge crews to my shows! Thanks to Shawn McGuire for supporting me with buying t-shirts and mailing an old fashioned letter, thanks to Andrew Charles for shoveling me out of the snow last year and filming so many of my shows without asking for anything, (humbling man), for Nick the Greek and your awesome family, and Nathalie the super cool sales dynamo, and the other Nathalie, the super cool sales dynamo aka Daisy wherever the hell you are; to Nathalie in BC for traveling to Europe and inspiring Rock On (a song that’s requested all the time), for Chloe Charles who is going to win a Polaris Prize someday – for being my friend, an inspiration, using a bit of my song ‘Rock On’ in her song ‘Business’ and opening for Sixto Rodriguez! Are you kidding me? To Donna Callison who’s bar got wiped out in the rising tides two years ago: I hope you live to rebuild your High River dreams.
To Spider for introducing me to a great bar with Lance in Cowtown. To the Dummer in Red Rear. Thanks for hosting us a great party. To Doug and Liz Champagne and friends for one of my favourite concerts of the entire year! You guys amaze me – you’re now family along with Gary and Anne Holmes and the entire set of Vancouver Islands. To Valdy for having me open for you (something I’ll never do again! Talk about a master of the solo set).

Finally to the late great John Lennon who taught me to NEVER EVER IDOLIZE people. He said so in his song GOD. That’s why I idolize him. He also said in that song “I just believe in me…Yoko and me….and that’s reality!” So I thought, hmmm….he at least believes in one other person outside of himself – YOKO! That’s quite a revelation. I’ve steadfastly refused to settle for anything less than my version of YOKO ONO. (For whatever that’s worth). The real deal. So I’ve been close a few times. Recently, I believe I held her but I screwed it up. Sometimes that happens. There’s an entire new batch of songs written and inspired by her though. That’s the cool thing. Guess it’s back to eating Swanson’s TV Turkey Dinners in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special again. Can you give me a collective ‘awwwww’…..thank you! It really does help!

What else can I say? You may think this crazy letter to you was a gigantic ass-kiss of tremendous proportions and some of that might just be true. It’s also been a letter I’ve been meaning to write for a few years. It came back to me after watching Neil Young’s Prairie Wind concert and he sings the song ‘One of These Days”. “One of these days, I’m gonna sit down a write a long letter to all the good friends I’ve known!” I thought, yeah….me too. Then I went to buy stamps and cards and thought I’d buy few pints of Guinness and do this instead.
Feliz Navidad! Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays? Happy Festivus!
See you on the trail amigos.

Shuffle those sticks, assemble your lines

In Memory of Jean Beliveau
For those of you who’ve been my shows you’ll already know about my parents Madeline and John who are still going strong at 88 and 93 up in the Soo. You’ll also know that they had 8 children who are all in some way or another ‘a bunch of hams’ who really like to party and have fun (that goes for our extended Theriault family of course.) So you’d know from my shows that they had me much later in life – mid-to-late 40’s and so I was ‘taught and brought up to – the laws to abide – and that the country I come from had Jean Beliveau on it’s side!’. Yeah that’s right – see the puck my dad is holding in this picture? It almost didn’t survive as the family heirloom it surely is.
One random snowy night in Monterey, we shuffled the sticks and assembled our lines at the outdoor rink across the street at Clergue school. A few slapshots later and our random Canadian Tire puck was tipped over the boards and buried in the snow – LOST.
cropped pic of dad mom and me puck

I raced home and begged dad to borrow the family heirloom puck as “we were in a real pinch!”
“Ok son, but you know the story of this puck! I was with your mother at the Forum in 1953 on our honeymoon and I caught that puck after it was tipped off of Jean Beliveau’s stick! Don’t lose it – whatever you do!”
“You got it dad!”
Upon returning to the rink a few new neighbourhood kids had shown up to play. Well…truth be told they were the neighbourhood bad-asses. A few of them fresh out of juvy and likely already selling weed to their grade seven cohorts.
It took a nano-second for one of them to realize it was an official Montreal Canadians puck. He bent down – picked it up and said “Hey guys…this is real NHL puck. Thanks for the gift man!”
“Hey give that back! That’s my dads puck!” I said, shaking in my Bauer Supremes.
“What’re you gonna do about it kid!”
Normally I would have hung around a bit longer to attempt rink-rat diplomacy ultimately leading to getting the shit kicked out of my skinny ass – but I decided to race home immediately as desperate times called for extremely desperate measures. “Hey dad, these crazy bully guys saw your puck and took it! They won’t give it back! Dad? Dad!”
Road-runner cloud!! Poof!!  He appeared at the rink in front of the thieving bullies.
“You guys don’t want to know the story behind the puck in your pocket and why you’re gonna give it back to me right now!”
“Uh…yes sir. Sorry sir. We were just joking around.”
BAM. They left the rink in great shame and we finished the game with the standard frozen orange plastic ball. A real downgrade if there ever was one. Some poor bastard always took one in the crown jewels and we inevitably had to scrape him off the ice and into the rink shack to curl up for twenty minutes.
So god bless Jean Beliveau! The guy they said was the best ambassador our national sport ever saw (not it’s not Lacrosse).
As fate would have it, I wound up a long suffering Leaf fan. And ironically, the Aymar name was traced back to being French Huguenots in France – kicked out – made their way to NYC in the late 1700’s, came up to southern Nova Scotia and became Catholics…kicked out…some went to New Orleans…some stayed…some moved to Sault Ste. Marie and married, had eight kids and forever coveted the puck caught off the stick of Jean Beliveau. Why? Easy. It had to have been the very best week of his life. Celebrating his honeymoon in Montreal. His time served overseas must have seemed like a long gone memory….
RIP Mr Beliveau. Or as you would have said “Just call me Jean!”

The Bells of Retribution (A story and video/song for my father)

I wrote this song for my father – John Aymar who served the entirety of WW2. We spoke this afternoon and he told me a few things about those years overseas.
He did his basic training in Halifax and then applied to be in the air force. They put him through the educational tests, the balance and eye sight test then into a cockpit and passed him. The day he was accepted into the air force he was told it was too late – they’d called him into action and he went as infantry. In retrospect he said “I was lucky! The pilots didn’t have a long life expectancy.”
During the latter part of the war they sent a letter home to his mother saying he’d been killed in action. This ‘clerical error’ was not resolved for two weeks, leaving his mother heart-broken, then obviously elated to hear he was alive.
Upon coming back to Nova Scotia he attended University for a year but soon felt it was time to head for Toronto. Along with his cousin, they drove to Toronto and worked odd jobs here for a while, eventually landing a position in sales with Imperial Tobacco (back when smoking was cool). They soon transferred him up to “this English city with a French sounding name!” Sault Ste. Marie, ON.

Before too long he met my mother fresh out of nursing college (Madeline Theriault – who BTW has just turned 89 ) and they soon married.
Eight kids later (I was the bonus baby #8 – THANK YOU POPE PAUL VI) and I’m happy to report they’re still going strong.

Here’s a song I wrote for my dad and for all of the veterans. The most memorable time performing this was a few years ago in front of approximately one hundred and fifty vets at a Legion Hall in Kingston ON. They gave it a standing O and I certainly shed a tear afterwards. I stayed for the stories and few beers and never forgot that day with those men. The power of stories – the power of songs!

So here you go dad, a song I wrote just for you.

Love ya man!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSQQB529yaQ&feature=youtu.be

Prostitutes and Politicians

A musical acquaintance of nearly twenty years ago friend requested me today. It was the strangest thing as for some reason, only a few days ago I was reminiscing about a studio session he’d helped me with. I’m glad he’s survived the battle – that raging battle to live clean. He was (and thankfully still is) a brilliant harmonica player and I’m glad to know he’s still traversing the planet making music somewhere.
So here’s one from the 1996 release “Howling at the Moon” written in Ottawa / recorded in Toronto.
A long forgotten CD that I recorded with my long time engineer/producer friend, sax player extraordinaire Chris Hess.
We recorded fifteen songs on this CD on a digital 8 track mixer in his apartment above a pizzeria at Yonge and Steeles in Toronto. He was a full time Long and McQuade employee then and they allowed us to set up shop in the retail outlet at night to utilize a vast array of instruments to record whatever-whenever-however we wanted. We were just rookies.
I was going through my Astral Weeks phase and Chris was exploring world music sounds well beyond my comprehension.
In fact, shortly after recording this record he would find himself as a founding member of Punjabi by Nature – soon to be playing festivals of 60,000 people grooving along to the blend of Ska, hip hop and Punjabi music. Bruce Cockburn famously sat in the wings watching the show, only to tell Chris that his band “F’n rocked!”
It was only a short period of time before this, we were meddling around with sounds and exploring ways to put my lyrics to folk music. It always amazes me how things go.
Chris and myself went on to produce four more albums together and I don’t think we’re done yet.

Over the years, I toured with several bands and played many folk festivals and opened for quite a few notable artists. I never quite got the memo about taking it all too seriously. If I only knew then what I know now. These days, I feel much more artistically alive and stronger yet my cache for festival appearances seems all too diminished. I guess that’s the way it goes. I was once the youngen given a break too.

PROSTITUES AND POLITICIANS is the song most requested and played from the album Howling at the Moon. An album which I’ve pressed to the tune of 5000 units. I was reluctant to start posting these songs for some reason. I guess I wanted them to fade into the distance…but this old harmonica blowing buddy reminded me of a time when I was creating – uninhibited – exploring – leaving in the rough spots and often overproducing. So I thought “What the hell?”

The song was inspired by some stellar street scenes from my Byward Market apartment window in the nations capital. To the southern skyline were the green tinged peaks of the Parliament buildings, while directly below me, ladies of the night worked their magic, soliciting the suit brigade of government workers stumbling home from a night of lonely revelry.
Yeah, it all played out like that.

I remember starting this song in the apartment then walking down to one of the many seedy bars below me for a libation. I eventually made it home (safely alone) with the words scribbled onto my pocket notepad. (Pocket notepads? Those were the days.)
I haven’t heard this song in literally fifteen years. I can’t tell if it’s too long gone, overdrawn, right-on or still lost in the 90’s. Ain’t it funny how time slips away…

“Prostitutes and politicians
I guess I’m somewhere in between
Dollar bills and places offering cheap thrills
And countless pictures of Jimmy Dean
Countless pictures of James Dean”

Hey Dick Clark er Casey Kasum,er Ryan Seacrest…I dedicate this one to ELIOT SPITZER.

I’m over the Super Moon

I stared out my window last night to see the super moon. There it was, climbing above Big Chief –  the mountain face looming over us in this quiet little neighbourhood in Squamish BC.
The air is very still here. There are no bugs. There is great party happening two houses down.
I can hear Amy Winehouse blaring out of the speakers and young revelers laughing and dancing.
The last time I witnessed a super moon I was in Golden BC around a campfire at 1am  two years ago.
Our little patio holds a small Mac with external speakers playing the same song over and over again. It’s a song with Caribbean flavour I’ve never heard before. I’ve counted sixteen repeat plays and have not mentioned anything as I’ve been dissecting the rhythm and structure of the song. Twenty people surround me – mostly rock climbers – discussing the routes on Big Chief in the distance.
Someone points out the super moon and then we notice a few flickers of light from the side of the mountain face.
“Those are some dedicated climbers up there. They’ll sleep on the mountain tonight!”
“That’s unbelievable” I respond. “That’s dedication!”

I realize that this endeavour is unlike many others in this world. Scaling a mountain. Dangling by by a rope. My vertigo would not allow for this. My fear of heights would cripple me.

All conversation moves toward The Legend: Fred Beckey (google him please) . The 93 year old they met on the mountain earlier in the day.
“He has more routes named after him then anyone in the world. He was the first up most of the routes.”
They passed around the iphone and showed us a picture of the legend. Ninety-three and still willing himself up Big Chief. It’s ludicrous and beautiful.

Sahra Featherstone (violin and harp) has been accompanying me on this tour and has recently taken up this noble pursuit under the tutelage of her boyfriend Dale Sood who is an advanced climber. We were offered the opportunity to hang in Squamish for a few days and I thought it would be a great break from this relentless tour. I worry about her fingers but she assures me it’s therapeutic and safe.

This is the perfect day. It’s sunny and comfortable. I feel songs coming on. I just received a nice email from Ian Tyson. Sometimes life feels like a super moon.

I’m thinking about so many things today. My publicist is backing away from the workaday grind of his duties. Mom and dad are at home waiting for the family to arrive en masse for the big reunion.
I need to finish this book. Five songs are totally complete and seven more are showing signs of life. My calendar after October looks empty. That scares me. I’ve been contacted by someone in the UK about a min-tour and that encourages me.
I have four distinct producers to choose from for this project. I still can’t decide which one to choose.  Both Sahra and Tamara are convinced I should seek out Chris Bartos. I love it when people feel strongly about things.

So now we have to pack up and hit the trail. Vancouver tonight. The islands this week. Homeward bound next week. Well…it will take two more weeks to arrive safely home. Just fifteen more gigs to go and I’ll be home again. Still overtime. Not out of tune. You gave me a sign….
I’m over the super moon.

WESTERN CANADA SUMMER TOUR DATES

Hi friends,
this is a few weeks late in coming but I’ve attached our Western Canada Summer Tour dates.

The TUNE OUT, TURN OFF, DROP BY tour (we have t-shirts to prove it!) will be rolling through Alberta and BC over the next four weeks. Please pass this along to your friends. It helps.

I’ll be accompanied by Sahra Featherston on fiddle and harp.  Check her out here: http://vimeo.com/83997164 Cool eh?

We still have a few dates open (not many) but if you or a friend would like to host a house concert we might be into it. It requires gathering about 50 of your friends and folk music enthusiasts, have them throw $20 in the hat (or pwyc) etc…and we come in and give you concert right in your home. It’s generally great for us and I must admit – I beginning to like them a lot.

Hope your summer is amazing. Our has started with great concert attendances a lot of singing and merriment. (I’ll blog about it all soon when I have some proper time).

Here you go. Please spread the word.
Jay Aymar Western Canada Tour  2014

YOU TELL ME: Episode 3 w/ Paul Mills (20/04/14)

I sat down with Paul Mills ‘The man on the other side of  the glass’.

We discussed his engineering days, his lifelong commitment to music as an accomplished ‘Travis Style’ guitar picker,  producer, engineer and overall champion of the Canadian folk music scene. Beneath his humble nature and soft-spoken demenour lies a fierce passion for his craft and personal relationships.

The conversation covers such varying topics as:
Lemon Fresh Joy, Ian Thomas, CBC Toronto, Jazz Canadiana, Moe Kaufman, Oscar Peterson, Phil Nimmons, Guido Basso,
Stan Rogers, Fraser and Debolt, Laura Smith, CBC Radio program: Touch the Earth with Sylvia Tyson, Leon Redbone, Pete Seeger, Valdy, CBC show: Scales of Justice, Peter Paul and Mary (Take Me in Your Car Car), Stan Rogers, Willie P. Bennett, Danny Lanois, Mitch Podolak, Garnet Rogers, Grit Laskin, Ron Hynes, Sharon Lois and Bram, Eric Nagler, Bill Garret, The Mama’s and Papa’s, Commander Chris Hadfield, Jowi Taylor, (The Wire, The Nerve), ISS, Music Mondays, Ed Robertson, BNL, The Coalition for Music Education (Music Monday) and even the Wexford Collegiate Choir!

Unfortunately, we were out of time before I was able to discuss his latest project with Joanne Crabtree entitled Crabtree and Mills.
You can often find them playing live around Ontario and I strongly suggest you check them out.

Paul shows no sign of slowing down and I’m sure we can expect many more years of creative output from his soon to be home studio in London, ON.

As for my fledgling podcasting career, I have to stop saying “RIGHT” “UH HUH” “WOW” “THAT’S INTERESTING” after every interesting line. There’s got to be a better way!

Check it out: http://www.spreaker.com/user/7217165/you-tell-me-w-paul-mills-02-04-20

 

 

YOU TELL ME: EPISODE #2 w/ Richard Flohil (02/04/2014)

Welcome to the second installment of “YOU TELL ME”. I assured you some interesting stories and this one really delivers.
My friend and publicist Richard Flohil graciously agreed to discuss his life in the Canadian music industry. We sat down for a few hours in his Toronto home and discussed everything from early trad jazz to the power of folk festivals to the current state of the music industry.
If you’re interested in any of the following topics you should really free up some time and give this a listen.
Topics covered include:
Muddy Waters, Chicago, Howlin Wolf, English boarding schools, Peter Sellers, The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (yeah…that’s right!), Buddy Guy, BB King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (and how to quit smoking), Sleepy John Estes, Bobo Jenkins, Jimmy Reed, Phil Ochs (Changes), Guy Clark (Driskill Hotel), John Prine (The Missing Years), Leon Redbone (card shark), Townes Van Zandt (miserable), Murray Mclauchlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Solomon Burke (The King of Rock and Soul), Amos Garrett, Mitch Podolak, Koko Taylor, The Rolling Stones, Downchild Blues Band, Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers, KD Lang, Loreena Mckennitt, The Matador…
and a few stories left on the cutting room floor. Why leave those stories out? Well, there’s a forthcoming book and I wouldn’t want to be accused of spoiling you! You’ll just have to wait for it’s arrival. (For some of you that will mean buying it directly from my merch table in a year or so).
The tentative title:
“Louis Armstrong’s Laxative and A Hundred Other (Mostly) True Stories from a Life in the Music Business.”What can I say about a guy who’s still rocking after all these years. When I asked him what he thought about this years Juno Awards show he replied “I was at the Dakota watching a band. I missed them!”
I should have known.
Rock On Flo.

YOU TELL ME – Podcast #1: Jay Aymar interviewed by Andy Frank

Hello friends,
last year I had a wave of inspiration as I did the twelve hour drive eastbound along the north shore of Lake Superior, likely humming Homeward Bound. I realized that we were in danger of losing so many stories I’d heard on my recent tour. Your stories. You: the artist, musician, venue owner, author, bricklayer, lawyer, athlete, singer…whatever! So, I decided I would someday get you to tell your stories to me and put them up as a podcast.
A group of musical colleagues have agreed to share their stories to help me get started.  Who knows where this will go? Who cares. I find it interesting. I’m hoping you will too.

For the first podcast, Andy Frank of Roots Music Canada suggested he interview me to let some of you know who I am and why I’m doing this.
I grappled with whether this would all sound too pretentious…too self-absorbed. I’m still grappling with it. Regardless, I’ve jumped in and with Andy’s help, we’ve put together the first one hour episode

Here’s the first episode: http://www.spreaker.com/user/7217165/you-tell-me-episode-1-26-03-2014

YOU TELL ME: Jay Aymar and Friends
Episode #1: Andy Frank interviews Jay Aymar
(Live at the Painted Lady in Toronto, ON. March 26, 2014)

 

Rabbits are Sexy

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.

Sunshine Go Away Today, I Don’t Feel Much Like Dancing

It never ceases to amaze me where we can find time to squeeze in our little creative ramblings. I’m writing to you from my dermatologists waiting room in the heart of Scarborough, ON.  Just to reinforce the Rob Ford stereotypes of our great city, upon arriving at Dr. Adams office I was greeted by six police cars taping off the main entrance into the building. All in a day’s work for the GTA’s finest. This was so far removed from the Pogues song I had blasting on the drive in: “And the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay…and the bells were ringing out on Christmas Day.” No, unfortunately the boys were busy sharing a Timmies lunch and directing traffic away from the action. A quick hike up the side door entrance stairwell and into room #310 and voila…I’m visiting the doc.

“Hello I’m Jay Aymar, here to see Dr. Adams.”
“Do you have your health card? What’s your address? Phone number? Year of birth?”
“Do you want my mother’s maiden name too?” I said with a half-cocked smile.
“I beg your pardon? You mother’s maiden name? We don’t need that! Wait time one to two hours! We’re not that busy today.”

The joys of universal healthcare. In Canada time isn’t money. Still, I’m proudly socialist at heart.
I write this as a poster peeks over my shoulder reading “Government cuts put Health Care at RISK!”
I don’t know anymore. Too many messages not enough brain capacity to decipher the truth of it all.

I’m just hoping my second most precious organ (my skin) is going to withstand the three times I’ve suffered heat stroke.  I’m sure I’ll be fine.  The first time was unlike anything you could ever imagine. Let’s a take quick detour shall we? Consider this a PSA on what not to do in the sun – ever! First you’re going to have to sit through the back story. It’s worth it.

— The Year: 1992 — Location: Wheeling West Virginia – Jamboree in the Hills —

That summer I was one year away from finishing my B.A. at Carleton. Let’s just say I took the long way home on that one. My childhood buddy, Andy was finishing his Masters at The University of Toronto in Entymology. His thesis was on the white pine weevil and its effect on jack pine plantations in Northern On. (You know – that old chestnut!)  Specifically, something called an ‘emergence’ study. The weevil would fly around at about six feet and plant its larva into the top node of a young pine tree then fall onto the ground, burrow it’s way under the earth for one full winter. The effect of those larva in the trees would eventually (30+ years down the road) devalue the timber when it came time to harvesting the trees. At the time EB Eddy (match sticks and toilet paper) had purchased the massive amounts of land off of KVP (all north of Sudbury ON and south of Timmins – near HWY 144/560.) EB Eddy had some semi-operational logging camps still going and they contacted the University of Toronto Forestry program to see if they could run a study on this pesky white pine weevil that was devaluing their crops. If some students could come up and find out exactly when the weevil would re-emerge from the frozen tundra then they would know the exact time to aerial spray, killing them dead while they were in their most susceptible state. (That’s my best interpretation of the science behind it all – Bill Nye I ain’t). Andy was naturally selective of who he had to work with for two full summers and convinced his professor that I was a good fit with a science background (Political Science was indeed my minor! lol).

So there we were, building weevil traps, tracking them, dissecting nodes, partying with tree planters, meeting mad-trappers and basically having more fun than two-humans ever should. All the while I was playing songs and writing new ones feverishly.

Of the locals we met, one of them owned the Watershed Restaurant. Jim had bought the truck-stop along with his father-in-law after winning 100K from a dream house lottery ticket he bought at a Legion dinner one night. He and his father-in-law chipped in and as he claims “I was so pissed, I totally forgot I had bought the ticket. Three months later, someone calls me to say they that my name was pulled and I need my half of the ticket to claim the prize. I had one month. I turned my house upside down. I couldn’t find it. Didn’t remember buying it. I gave up. With only two days to spare, I found the ticket behind my dresser in the baseboards! We sold the house and with the money we made bought this truck-stop!”

Jim, noticing my passion for playing the guitar with the old-timers every weekend invited me to a yearly ritual of driving down to Wheeling West Virginia to The Jamboree in the Hills. Essentially a Woodstock for country music fans. Wheeling WV boasting the first country music station, now hosted this four day extravaganza of country music from traditional to modern. The year I went it was everyone from Tanya Tucker, Pam Tillis, Marty Stuart, Callme Twitty, Brooks and Dunn and about forty other artists I despised. (With the exception of Willie Nelson.)

“Jay, you gotta come along to this. We have a friend in Orillia, Gary, who owns a big bus with a gigantic loon painted on the side of it and we pack in about thirty of us and head down as the Crazy Canucks. We stay in a Super 8 near the jamboree. It’s four days of hot sun, hot country girls, great music, tons of party supplies. You have to come!”  Jim looked up only to find a Road Runner cloud where I was standing. I was already on the bus.

As we drove down,  I was seated next to guy named Dale Rolfe. He was the brother-in-law to Gary who owned the bus. Dale was now a plumber living in the Muskokas (originally from Timmins, ON), who’d once played in the NHL for about seven years as an Original 6 defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings then the New York Rangers. He was big man who by his own admission had more penalty minutes than points. (A lot more). In fact, it was the era of these underground hockey fight tapes (long before the internet) and Dale had made a few of the ‘classic fights!’ I said, “Hey Dale I believe I saw you on this fight tape going up against Dave Shultz?  Did you ever see that?”
“Well kid, I saw it once…once was enough!”
What an answer! That’s when I knew this guy was going to be the best road companion an inquisitive songwriter could ever ask for.
Our discussion let to my passion for folk music. Much to my surprise, an old ex-warrior original six  NHL’er shared the same passion. Not only the same love of folk music, but the same artists.
“Aymar, I’m not big on this new country stuff, I’m just going along because my brother-in-law likes it. It’s a great party! I like guys like John Prine.”
“What You Talking Bout Willis? He’s one of my favourites!”
This was right when Prine had released his comeback album The Missing Years and suddenly Dale Rolfe and I could be heard at the back of the bus screaming “Jesus was a good guy, he didn’t need this shit, so he took a pill with some Coca Cola and he swallowed it!” Just one of many classic lines pilfered from the latest Prine collection. We hung together for the rest of the trip.

I learned more about the original six hockey teams over the course of the next four days simply through sitting at the Super 8 drinking weird vodka drinks talking until the wee hours. I’ll put it to you this way – he dedicated his life to making the bigs and he was one of the very fortunate and talented few who actually did! When I met him, he had just retired from being a plumber. You get what I’m saying? These days a kid signs a one year contract and is set for life. He was big on the topic of Eddy Shack going after the pension money. I believe that was finally resolved – hopefully to Dale’s benefit.

We hit the jamboree for three solid days of music in the sun. It would start at noon and go until about 11pm at night. It was literally a bowl shaped grass stadium with people everywhere. At least 30,000 people were there each day. It was crazy. I simply remember staying up till 3:00am every morning partying in the Super 8, completely overrun with revelers coming back from the jamboree. The hotel was encouraging the party. Then, it was up at noon to hit the scorching hot West Virginia heat to listen to the midday sounds of The Oak Ridge Boys cajoling thousands of rednecks into singing “Giddy-up Giddy-up Giddy-up a mow-wow.high-ho Silver away..my heart’s on fire – ELVIRA!” Ouch! Just pretend I’m Old Yeller and bring me behind the barn and pump lead into my hungover carcass. Elvira and hangovers don’t mesh.

Now on the second night, I’d busted out my favourite t-shirt of the summer. A shirt that was given to me for my birthday from my good buddy BO (who tragically passed away last year). It was a play on the Nike advertisement: Just Do It. The shirt read “JUST DO ME” in big block letters.
Well, some random American beauty met me stumbling in the hallways of the Super 8 at 3am, and with a move I’ll never forget she pulled out a bottle of tequila, took a shot, gave me a shot and pointing at my shirt said “OK!”
I woke up the next morning to Dale Rolfe hauling me out her room. He was there to get me on the morning bus to catch DAY 3. A day of musical acts I didn’t care about. I really should have just stayed in bed.

As we did every day at the jamboree site, we slowly made our way off of the bus to the back of the hills atop the bowl. Our area offered great site lines, close to the outdoor speakers. On this particular day, I knew I would find a big shady spot and keep my ball cap on and find a place to sleep off the hangover that had produced a cotton plantation in my mouth and the Sahara in my bones. As we settled in, the heat warning came across the loud speakers: “Get your free  sunscreen and water over at the medic tent! It’s going to be dangerously hot today. Please visit the medic tent for free SUNSCREEN AND WATER!”

I decided to make my way over the tent for the water. It was to be a  long journey for sure, and as I disembarked for my life changing voyage one of the sensible women of our party offered me her umbrella for safety.  I staggered my way through the masses, through the heat, when suddenly I noticed a throng of Harley Davidson’s  blocking off a quadrant of land. Patched bikers had staked their claim in an area not far from the medic tent. They had erected a large sign which read `Show us your hooters for a free beer!’ Well, that’s one way to get a girls attention! WTF? What is this? In my haze of my mid-day heat-induced water run, I found myself defenseless to this carnival sideshow pleasantly unfolding. A long haired grizzly looking redneck biker sitting next to a black coffin (yes a real coffin) filled with ice-cold Budweiser. Fifty or so bikers (men and women) were cheering every country girl  who came by and flashed them for a free beer. It was, for lack of a better term: hillbilly paradise. So ludicrous were these events, I made sure I analyzed them in great detail. The circus only wasted an hour of my limitless time.
Suddenly a woman who resembled a 1985 version of Joan Jett tapped me on the shoulder “Hey man, that’s one fucking great t-shirt! Just Do Me! I’d say that’s worth a free Bud! Hey Rocky, throw this dude a beer!  Hey…nice catch!”
“Absolutely, I’m Canadian. Wouldn’t miss that catch for the world.”
And so the magic of the shirt worked again.
I downed the beer and then Rocky threw me another one. As they laughed at the skinny Canadian kid with the tacky t-shirt shot-gunning beers, I suddenly realized I had somehow infiltrated the inner circle of the biker gang.
Then without warning, the hangover had disappeared and I felt as though I was on top of the world. In the background some low rent country newbie was on stage singing about pickup trucks while country girls were baring their breasts for fun, and there I was… slowly drifting into an alcoholic haze amidst the safety and creepy comfort of a patched biker gang.
Just then, all hell broke loose and two bikers got into a serious tussle. Joan Jett tapped me on the shoulder and said “You should split man!” “You don’t have to tell me twice. Thanks for the beers!”

By now I’d forgotten that my original mission was to hit the medic tent for water. I walked ten minutes back up the hill to the middle of nowhere, stuck my umbrella into the ground and proceeded to pass out amongst the thousands of people obliviously walking around me.

In a scene which would have called for an Ennio Morricone score, I awoke to strange sounds, blurred vision and a young girl with her mother standing over me.
“Hey, wake up. Wake up. You don’t look well. Your face is badly burned. You need medical attention.”
“What? Where am I? Who are you? Whaaaaa?”
I proceeded to wipe the sweat off of my forehead and let go a howl as I wiped off the burnt skin.
“What happened to you? How long have you been here they said?”
“I don’t know. I laid down here with my umbrella for shade at 1pm. Where’s my umbrella and hat?”
“Oh my GOD, it’s 4pm and no one stopped to wake you up? Your umbrella must have blown away!”

So, they walked me to the medic tent, to put gauze on my forehead. They found my concerned friends who’d put out an APB for me and my friend Jim took me to the bus and delivered my burnt noodle back to the Super 8. Here I laid with severe burns and heat stroke until the following day when the bus headed home for Canada. Somehow in all of that, I lost my Billy-Bobs Subs (Home of the Belly-Buster) Trucker hat, my new sandals, an umbrella, my JUST DO ME t-shirt and every ounce of my dignity. I arrived back to the white pine weevil study with quite the story to tell and heaps of new found respect for the sun. That became my first of three heat stroke episodes and soon afterwards my first meeting with the dermatologist Dr. Adams.

—- How was that for a diversion? —-

 The best part of these visits is Dr. Adams himself, who could be the younger brother of Mel Brooks. I imagine if Mel had gone the route of using his brother as a comic foil in the great tradition of brother-comics (i.e. The Smothers Brothers, McLean and McLean, Bob and Doug MacKenzie/Bob and Doug Ford) he would have surely resembled Dr. Adams. His dry, quick witted delivery and intense interest in my mini-show business life always equals a great visit.

“So you married yet  Jay?”
“No not yet!”
“Geez you must be having a lot of fun out there!”
“Oh yeah, it’s BabesRus 24/7. You gotta see the folk trail, it’s insane!” lol
“Well remember, be careful out there. It’s a crazy these day.”
“Roger that. That goes for roger too!”

And these quick interchanges have been going back and forth for many, many years now all in the name of monitoring the scarring and potential damage done by my lackadaisical summer outings. Left untreated, I would certainly go the route of looking even more ruggedly handsome than I currently do. So these visits have become the norm in my life as I fear my weathered skin will soon be resembling a Rawling’s catcher’s mitt in the not too distant future. Here I sit, waiting for my next round of treatments. I thought, what a great place to bring my laptop and write my end-of-year Road Stories blog….and what a year it’s been.

(Dr. Adams told me to stay out of the sun. It’s a contributing factor to my vertigo – a severe loss of balance that I’ve lived with for over ten years. He said, my skin is ok for now. “You need vitamin D? Just stick your hand in the sun for 10 minutes – it’ll pour in through your hand and that’s all you need!” That’s really what he said. A quick tip for all of you sun worshipers out there.)

— I’m home now. Well if you want to call it home. I’m back at my sisters and brother-in-laws house where they’ve been graciously allowing me to hang my hat when not on tour. I don’t even know where to start with that conversation. A million thanks wouldn’t cover it. It’s deeper than that. —-

The Year That Was:

I toured for well over seven months of the year and found myself meeting new friends, artists, fans, luthiers, artistic directors, music industry folks, pot-smoking-crack-head-junkies (unelected officials at least) , white-collared criminals, the criminally insane and the lowest of the low: concert promoters .
I had so many kind letters about my latest creation “OVERTIME”. I put my heart and soul into every word and note on that record. I wonder at times if it was too heavy on the thought provocation and too light on the toe tapping. (Artistic insecurity alert!) The reviews were all stellar. I really was humbled. My closest friends and family reserved their praise. Family will always (rightfully) cut to the bone. “It needs a beat. It sounds too country. You should have rewritten that part. You didn’t take enough time with the cover art or the packaging. Why didn’t you make it sound contemporary?” I find it much more reassuring  when the false praise comes from fellow musicians.

So that’s it. Thanks for reading the ramblings. I love you all. Have a great Festivus with family and friends and I’ll do the same. As for Facebook and social media etc…I will officially be Tuned Out and Turned Off. If you absolutely need to get in touch with me you can  drop me an email  to info@jayaymar.com and I’ll get back to you within the week.

Roger that? You copy?

How you gonna miss me if I won’t go away?   Stay thirsty my friends.

I’ll See You Soon at Christmas…A Happy Holiday

Hi friends,
this is not your typical ROAD STORIES BLOG. This is my first sales come-on out of 65+ blogs (so please forgive me – lol)

Just a quick reminder that if you’re planning on giving the gift of music over the holidays, why not support an independent musician? Aymar could use the love, and hell it’s better than a Slap Chop or a Chia Pet.

A few folks have already sent me email orders which have become the impetus for this idea. Australia, Spain, Alaska, UK….you name it! ROAD STORIES readers from afar! Amazing eh? I thought, why not ASK people if they are interested? You know, folks who’ve actually seen me perform?

So I’ve just mailed out the CD’s and accepted e-transfers (very easy) and cheques.

That means that if you’re on this list you are one of the following: a fan / a friend / (both) / a retail establishment (cafe / winery / book store etc…)

Here’s the deal. Just email me what you want and I’ll get them in the mail ASAP!
 

HALFWAY HOME / PASSING THROUGH CD’s have been put into a DOUBLE DISC PACKAGE - $30
Inline image 2  Inline image 3


OVERTIME CD  – $20

Inline image 4


Buy all three for $40

T-shirts – $20
Inline image 1

—-

IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE RETAIL OUTLETS ON THE LIST (YOU MAY HAVE ORDERED LAST YEAR) MINIMUM ORDERS APPLY.
PLEASE CONTACT ME TO ARRANGE A PHONE CONVERSATION FOR LARGER PURCHASES AND DISPLAY OPTIONS.

—-

That’s it. Welcome to your new home shopping network!

Cheers,


4716 Yonge St. #2220

Toronto, ON.
M2N 6V1

I WALKED WITH AN OJIBWE MAN

Where do Crows fly?
I don’t know, go ask Crow.

I’m always flummoxed at how the songs that took the least time to write have become the most requested and popular ones in my catalogue.
After writing the song ‘Crow’ in approximately thirty minutes, I quickly performed it live and it made its way onto a long lost live compilation of songs from Dean Verger’s now defunct Rasputin’s folk club in Ottawa. It was a cool place where I beat the Carleton U blues to get my folk fix back in the day.
Inspired by a father and son I’d met from a first nations reservation in Northern ON.
Crow, in this song, is the son. His hard living took him down. It’s the story of his life which leaves us with the question of where our spirits go (if anywhere) in the afterlife.

So, you may or may not have read my previous two-part story here called “Oh Deer Me” about hitting the deer this summer. It was the one close shave with mortality that still revisits me in my dreams. It really was terrifying and I still can’t believe I walked away unscathed.   Today (for some strange reason) I realized that I’d left a small part of that story untold.

You see, my song CROW made it onto my CD Halfway Home as a complete afterthought. I needed one more track and it was down to the witching hour. It was suggested I add this song. I sang it quickly in one take and it made it onto the final work: unvarnished .
It slowly and steadily flew higher and higher until it was my #1 most downloaded song on Itunes.  Always strange how this happens.
The song seemed to be connecting with a few First Nations folks across the country. It created an entirely new discovery for me. I began seeking out discussions and learning and reading about the good the bad and ugly of this very complex history. My knowledge and understanding came from amazing in depth conversations after shows from aboriginal artists  with whom I’ve come to admire.
Soon afterwards I wrote another song entitled “I Really Don’t Remember”. The title suggests the collective amnesia of ‘THE WHITE MAN’ as relating to the indiscretions of our past.

I can hoImagenestly say I began writing that song at the age of ten, when I first drove past the train bridge on the Garden River reservation on Hwy 17 – that read “THIS IS INDIAN LAND”.
So intrigued by that defiance I found myself drawn to the story.  Some thirty years later I found myself struggling over some of the terminology used in the song which in turn initiated a great dialogue with some of the band leaders and they helped structure a few of the words. (Many thanks for this Phil)
These two songs,  Crow and I Really Don’t Remember have become staples in my shows and have led to an entire new understanding of Aboriginal Affairs.

A few years ago Rocky Barstad, an aboriginal artist in High River Alberta, offered me a Buffalo tooth designed by him. A great guy who’d spent his entire life supporting his art through other means, only to dive in full time later in life – then to find out he had a Parkinson’s in his mid-fifties. It was a complete shocker to him. We quickly bonded over our shared experiences ( me arriving late to the full time artistic arena) and his amazing story. We talked about Crow, the significance of the buffalo tooth (safe passage for my travels) and Rocky set me up with some amazing prints of his art work. As I have been living on the road I thought those prints would find a great home in my nieces new place – which is where they are. I traded him back a copy of Halfway Home and retold the story of the Crow. I’ve since heard his gallery “Two Feathers” has been closed. I made a t-shirt to honour an artistic soul I briefly met who gave me encouragement without even knowing it.

Tune Out Turn Off Drop By

Tune Out Turn Off Drop By

I wore that buffalo tooth with great pride to the point of feeling superstitious about it all. The necklace portion eventually became worn out and I removed it from my jacket to rework another piece of leather into it. I had it off for only ONE DAY- and yeah – that’s when I hit the deer. Safe passage no more.  But as stated, I survived.  So will Rockies art. So will the memory of Crow. So will the words on the bridge. As will Anishnaabe Chief Shingwauk’s spirit live on. I was thinking about all of this today as I saw the leaves fall on the crisp autumn ground. How beautiful  and cruel mother nature can be. It’s an amazing mystery.

I once heard it best from Simon, my friends aboriginal father:

‘Seems like the white man is only trying to get to where we once were.’

I get it. I really do.

Rocky Barstad video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8P9nly5TSQ

And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away

“I was conceived in the summer of love
a little bundle of joy sent down from above
and while a half a million hippies left Yasgur with some trash
I was rockin’ in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash”

This is from my song ‘Seriously Delirious’ which I put out in 2011 on the CD ‘Passing Through’.
It’s 100% autobiographical and was written as a result of meeting the legendary John Prine.
My girlfriend at the time bought some tickets to Massey Hall to see John perform and somehow managed to get us backstage to meet him. Was it George Bernard Shaw who suggested being wary of meeting ones idols for fear that it will only lead to future disappointment for the fan? I believe it was.

We lined up backstage to acquire autographs, one by one. He signed my copy of Fair and Square – ‘All the best  Jay’ … John Prine.  All the Best – being a song from his comeback album The Missing Years. Still one of my favourite CD’s of all time. I rank it next to Graceland for the surprise comeback and enjoyment factor.
(well maybe that’s a stretch but it’s one hell of a piece of work).
While we posed for photos with him and the band we were encouraged to stick around for some food and to simply hang out. Wow! What a nice gesture. I believe my level of knowledge about his catalogue and back story was enough to ingratiate ourselves into this party for an extended hang.
Then I was afforded some time to just sit and talk with John himself.  After our conversation (during which he had learned that he was a major influence on me as a writer) he shouted out to the band “Bring these two out for a few drinks tonight and tell them some lies about us!”
“I can’t go out drinking right now but these guys could be into it Jay.”
At which point, his guitar player Jason Wilbur said he was obligated to call his wife for a long chat and couldn’t go out, however, Dave – his double bass player said “Sure…sounds like fun!”
So we went out to a local martini bar and discussed the Nashville music scene with Dave for about three hours.

So much of what happens to us in life is by sheer coincidence or luck. Dave mentioned that the go-to bass player for a few shows in Nashville (where Prine lives) was unavailable and he ran into a guy on the street that same night who tipped him off and suggested he might be able to get him in as a filler. Long story short, he’s been touring with John ever since. That’s going back about ten years now. I believe Dave’s married with children and finally taking deep breaths knowing the financial ‘wolf is finally from the door’.
At the end of the evening, he’d likely heard my girlfriend going on about my songwriting and John’s influence to the point where he took some pity on us and offered us to come along for the next show in London. Wow! What a guy.
“Just show up at the theatre tomorrow and pick up your backstage passes at the window and come join us after the show!”
Done.

We arrived in London (ON) the following day and were escorted to the fifth row from the front of the stage. Remarkable seats. I took it all in and sat transfixed like a kid in a candy store drooling over the embarrassment of riches. From ‘Hello in There’ to ‘Lake Marie’ (Dylan’s favourite Prine song) to ‘Grandpa was a Carpenter’ and on and on.

We reconnected again after the show and another great visit. It was during this conversation where the discussion of autobiographical writing came up. Writing a song specifically about oneself. The idea being that if you write a few of those songs ‘specifically’ about yourself, then you won’t have to waste precious time explaining to folks after the show exactly who you are – what your purpose is – what you’re all about…essentially.

I went home and started the song Seriously Delirious.

Verse 2
“My old man engineered that train
Like a streak bolt of lightning right through the rain
He said keep your head steady son and don’t look back
and that’s how you keep the train on the track”

After my dad (John Delbert Aymar) returned home from serving the entirety of WW2, he wanted to explore the world away from his village near Saulnierville, NS.  Still in his early twenties, he decided to head into Toronto with his cousin. The point being, whenever anyone of us has leaned on him for advice or felt down about things, he’s always said “The past is the past. Look forward. You can’t change the past. If I were to have dwelled upon the events of that war then how could have I managed to move on?”

It always seemed like such a dial-in answer for many years, but as always, these types of sentiments as simple as they appear, hold powerful truths for a reason.  I often saw my dad as the engineer of his train. He was pulling eight box cars and mom holding down the Caboose and keeping it all together. (Perhaps it’s the female spirit that looks back and keeps our history into perspective – I’m not sure, but I do know my mom was amazing at grounding us in family tradition.) So, I wrote those words about my Dad as a train engineer and made the “rockin in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash” reference quite deliberately – as a bit of an inside joke within the family .

You see, my dad has this old Hawaiian guitar he picked up from a guy he visited in prison. As the story goes, he visited an old acquaintance in the Comeauville jail.  During the visit, the guy wanted five bucks for his cheap guitar (evidently for a carton of cigarettes). The transaction went down and this was ultimately become the first guitar I would see in my life.
It had painted palm trees and various birds and a Hawaiian sunset on the front of it. It was a Spanish guitar with nylon strings. It seemed more of a prop or a toy then a real guitar. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad popping his collar, pretending to play that guitar while gyrating his hips like Elvis – screaming ‘YOU AIN’T NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG’  in front of all of us. I was transfixed. 

I remember the very, very first record player was a small stand alone player with just a few records in the rack below it.
Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits sat amongst the few gems. I believe it was of his early Sun recordings and it was incredible.

For the longest time, it all just made sense to me. The cheap guitar from a guy in prison – was that Folsom Prison? The train songs the rockabilly beat. The joy it brought. It taught me so much.
That said, our family was not even remotely into country music.
My dad’s true passion was swing jazz and crooners. At 92 he can still sing Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa and send the shiver up the spine of anyone who’d care to listen. The only reason that album ever made it into our house was through my brother Dave (likely) or Bob (also likely).

So as time marched on, I learned that it was all connected. Everything. Prine was influenced by Cash. Cash didn’t really do time in prison other than for a few public intoxication’s. Our family guitar was from a guy in prison. I eventually discovered the epic “Live from Folsom’ and ‘ Live from San Quinton’ Cash albums. I eventually discovered the entire world of fiction based on these themes – from Voltaire’s Candide to  Crime and Punishment …oh hell…it goes on and on. From learning about Mandela to watching movies like Cool Hand Luke. 
It can seem like a romantic notion in some ways to think that Johnny Cash performed for the incarcerated. A selfless gesture indeed. Those live recordings capture the palpable energy of a man in his prime, singing to those without a lot of hope.  What could that be like? Wow…only Cash could have pulled that off.  Until it was asked of me. I said ‘ABSOLUTELY YES!’
Wait…what? Really? What just happened?

Early last week I received an email from Jill Zmud, a talented folk songwriter, community activist and all around cool girl from Ottawa, ON. She coordinates a program called Art Beat which connects folk musicians with local schools and hospitals (for starters). During a previous conference, for example, I volunteered to discuss ‘FOLK MUSIC’ and ‘SONGWRITING’ and ‘LIFE ON THE ROAD’ to about 60 grade 7-8 students at a southern Ontario elementary school. It was amazing! As always, these gestures always pay us back ten-fold. The discussion with the kids slowly turned into me talking about how folk music has always represented the underdog.
“You kids want change? How we gonna do that? Folk music?”
and the kids screamed out “YEAH!”
“OK… I propose we have big speakers playing music during lunch break in the cafeteria! Why don’t we have music playing during lunch?” Who wants music?”
Repeat after me “WE WANT MUSIC…WE WANT MUSIC!”

“LOUDER…STOMP YOUR FEET…I WANT YOU TO ALL STOMP YOUR FEET AND SCREAM SO LOUD THAT THE PRINCIPLE WILL COME UP HERE AND FINALLY LISTEN TO US!”
And they did. And the principle arrived at the door a few minutes later. Strapped with my guitar, I whispered to him in the hallway, ‘Just play along, I’m teaching them how to protest!”
And he was brilliant. He stormed into the classroom to become a perfect foil.
“What’s all this about?”
“We want music in the cafeteria during lunch hour!”
The kids laughed, the teacher laughed, I laughed and I had them sing my one and only children’s song ‘Apple Pickin’ and we all walked away richer for the experience. I’ve often thought if I were to retire from music, teaching would be such a noble profession.
Art Beat had worked it’s magic. Everyone benefited from the experience.

Now this time, Jill’s Art Beat email was a bit different. “Jay, we’ve been trying to have a correctional facility sign up for Art Beat for many years…and it finally happened! They’ve agreed to let a performer come in and sing! We thought of you immediately.”

“Why did you think of me Jill? Have you been looking through my past? lol…”
“No we were just discussing your record and …”
“My RECORD! How did I know it was illegal to smoke weed in Cuba?”
“No Jay, your latest record – OVERTIME”
“Oh yeah…of course – Overtime!” (Thank you Tommy Chong)

I guess word had spread a bit about my Johnny Cash fixation. Playing tributes on occasion and singing Cash songs long – long before he was cool again. In fact I remember singing his songs during the late 80’s and early 90’s when people would grimace. Yes, there was a time for a while when he was dismissed and this always seemed strange to me.

Regardless, I agreed to perform in the Brampton Correctional Facility last Thursday as a part of Art Beat.
Without thinking about it too much, I simply romanticized the task at hand and embraced the concept.
Hey Aymar (I said to myself), you’ve been singing about this stuff for so long, now it’s time to embrace the fact that the river has led you here. This amazing journey has actually brought you to this place. Ok here we go.

I arrived at the front desk on Thursday at 1pm. Without giving this any thought whatsoever I mentioned my name and purpose and they led me to the recreation room. In came the men who sat in a circular format in front of me. Several guards were on hand to brief me in a room prior to the concert.
They introduced me as a Canadian songwriter who tours ‘all around the world’ and ‘has just finished a 120 show tour’ which was all true, but it seemed to really give the guys (perhaps) a sense that I WAS Johnny Cash as someone immediately screamed out “CASH!”
As I prepared for the first song, the warden leaned into my ear and whispered “You’ll be fine son…they’re an appreciative audience!”

As I was about to hit the first chord, I looked up and saw the crowd. Something happened when I looked into the faces of the guys staring at me. I was grief stricken. Can’t explain it. I began to tremble on the inside. This wasn’t a nervousness or fear, but in fact a deep, deep feeling of empathy. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t prepared for this. After thousands of shows in my life, I’d never felt this stuck. This feeling became overwhelming. This wasn’t a fucking joke – nothing about this was like Johnny Cash in Folsom….my dad buying a guitar from a guy in prison…Cool Hand Luke. Those fantasy images were just that. Fantasy! This was reality – I was in the middle of it – and I was suddenly grief stricken by the stark realness of it all.

Behind the men was a booth where two guards watched the proceedings from above everyone. It was all cool and controlled. I played my first original song then quickly got back to the CASH request. I said ‘Who was requesting Johnny Cash?”
Someone from the back raised his hand. I said “Ok man, how about A Boy Named Sue!”
And off it went. During that Silverstein classic is a verse where the father ‘took out a knife and cut off a piece of my ear” …at which point everyone laughed out loud and FINALLY the tension was cut.
I was beyond relieved.
I looked up into the tower and saw two of the guards clapping and dancing a bit which eased my mind a bit more.
Then I asked if there were any guitar players in the crowd. Someone yelled out “Honky-Tonk!”
“Where’s Honky-Tonk?”
And he was right there off to the side. Humbly raising his hand.
“You feel like playing a song for everyone Honky-Tonk? Who wants to hear Honky-Tonk?” The place erupted and much like the elementary kids pretending to protest,  the guys began chanting “Honky-Tonk! Honky-Tonk!”

It was just then that I realized I may have been breaking protocol but they allowed Honky-Tonk to come and join me for the rest of the show. He was escorted to a room where his guitar awaited and arrived ready for showtime. He was a great player and was happy to sit back and simply accompany me with some picking on the songs.
Then, as though time evaporated, I looked up at the clock to realize the concert was over and my John Henry was required for a few pieces of paper.

Before I left, the staff and I had a brief conversation about ‘simple gestures of kindness’ in this type of environment. On how there may be an outside chance that ONE inmate may have seen light in all of this…a seed may have been planted in some soul…enough to hold on to…HOPE. I welled up.

I finally made it out to my car – shaking. I sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes , closed my eyes and said some prayers to the great universe asking for my own redemption. “Save those souls and give them hope. Thank you for bringing me into this world with all of the advantages of love. Thanks for allowing me to have the opportunity, strength and gift to do this.”

Then I thought about my own dad. Not the guy from “A Boy Named Sue” but the guy who stood up in front of me with his Hawaiian guitar, shaking his hips, screaming “HOUND DOG!” That guy. The same guy who said “Never look back – you can’t change the past”, the guy who provided for his eight children day in a day out without ever complaining. The loyal husband and father who kept us all on the straight and narrow. The same guy who bought the record player for his family (when we didn’t have a lot of extra money)  so he could play his trad jazz and we could play our rock and roll. 

I left the parking lot and drove to the four day conference where like-minded folkies had converged on a hotel in  Mississauga.  Remember: GIVING BACK – PAYING IT FORWARD -this is all run of the mill kind of stuff for people in this community. It’s all part of the tradition. It’s part of the spirit. I felt safe here amongst this tribe. There were times over the weekend though that I couldn’t ‘shake’ the feeling of what had transformed me during that prison concert. In fact, there were times when I couldn’t stop smiling about it – and times when I couldn’t hide my grief. Never have I carried around so many mixed emotions from one incident.

Upon my arrival home the first person to call me up was my dad.
“Good morning son, I just wanted to know how the concert in the prison worked out?” I gave him detailed account of the events and asked “Dad, I’m not sure why I have these mixed emotions about it all? It’s like I don’t understand how I feel about what happened? Strange isn’t it?”

“It’s not strange at all. I really did expect this. Sometimes we don’t have answers for how we feel.  Just move on. It’s over!”

Just like the song:
‘Keep your head steady and don’t look back
That’s how you keep the train on the track’

In a few short months, I’ll be back at home sharing Christmas with the family. We’ll enjoy music and laughter once again.
As always I’ll be performing a local show, only this year I’ll have a new song to be added to my repertoire:
John Prine’s Christmas in Prison. Dedicated to my Dad, Prine and his band, Cash, the Brampton Correctional Facilty, Art Beat , Folk Music Ontario and the great healing power of music.

Next stop…

FURTHER DOWN THE LINE.

I Never Drink in the Afternoon (Well Sometimes I Drink in the Afternoon)

Yesterday was one of those very rare Sunday’s where we sat and watched an all-day YouTube movie marathon. A beautiful sunny afternoon in Windsor Ontario was met with a plethora of options. Sure we could hit Balloonapalooza down on the waterfront but you know how that goes: overpriced water, long line-ups, too many frustrated parents, and those annoying hot-air balloon enthusiasts who all look like they just rolled out of a Jimmy Buffett concert. Yeah, I’ve seen a version of Balloonapalooza before and the attendees adequately passed for less affluent Parrot-heads. Let’s just say I noticed a lot of waxed tipped mustaches of the Colonel Sanders variety fashioned into spiraling masterpieces enough to make any Shriner extremely proud.. The only thing seemingly missing were the clown shoes and prospectors hat. In fact, I believe I heard one gentleman use the word “hornswaggled” to his wife upon learning that his 500 ml bottle of Nestle Pure Life Water was a paltry four dollars.
“Oh hell baby…we’re getting hornswaggled! First they want ten bucks to get in, seven bucks for a hot dog and four bucks for a thimble full of water! We should have stayed a Miss Kitty’s Saloon dagnabbit!” Ok….that’s not what I heard exactly, however, it was what I imagined this character to be saying. All of this to say that while Remax and Royal Lepage hot-air  Balloons were floating around down at the carney grounds, my brother and I decided to ‘kick it old school’ to an all day movie marathon. Oh the joy of being single and without kids! To have a complete day of rest and recovery from a party weekend is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Before we embarked on the marathon we had to cover the key essentials.
Snacks: We’d start with some afternoon stove top Orville Redenbacher, Coca-Cola on ice, and some Twix Candy bars. We’d interrupt the proceedings at five o’clock for some spaghetti and meatballs. Easy – done. Now we had to pick a movie genre (not so easily done when you’re rivaling Tarantino in the b-movie viewing department.)

“What do you think Jay? 70’s Action? Western? I’ve been getting into John Wayne’s back catalogue lately and loving his stuff from the 40’s.”

“Yeah that’s cool but I’m thinking more along the lines of Blaxploitation today. Maybe that or some hillbilly cabin in the woods type of thing?”

You see, my brother and I have long been on the hunt for the ‘worst (best) movie ever made’. It started with the collection of VHS Tapes acquired while we were collecting records.. The collection has some incredible hard to find gems in all genres and it was well used until the internet came along and blew the doors off the entire concept.Suddenly we could find any movie we wanted – read the reviews and ultimately find it streamed somewhere for free. YouTube has been an incredible source for this. Cue it up – attach our Dollarama cable to the big flat screen and viola – who needs Balloonapalooza anymore? (And we wonder why the new generation of kids aren’t flocking to live concerts these days? Except of course my concerts, which boast sold-out crowds every single night with the core demographic being that coveted 16-30 year old female CD buying market who really dig middle-aged folk songwriters! But then again, I’m one in a million!)

Yep so our previewing conversation went like this:
“How about the old college graduates get away for a weekend in the woods and become tormented by some twisted hillbillies? You know, that old chestnut!”

“Hmmm…I don’t know if I’m feelin that one today. We’ll stick with American for sure. How about some good old Blaxplotation from the mid-seventies. Breadbasket kind of stuff. I’m kind of feeling that after speaking with Fred Sr. yesterday.”

“That’s a good call amigo. You enjoyed meeting Fred yesterday eh? Helluva a nice guy. He’s 80 years old you know. He’s had a wild life.”

“I know,” I said, “We spent about an hour talking after you went in for dinner yesterday. It was mind blowing brother!”

You see, during Saturday afternoon we decided to slow cook some ribs in the back yard with a new (used) smoker my brother had picked up in his travels. An incredible amount of prep time and research went into learning how to use the cooker – the chips – how to prepare the ribs etc…We started them early and after about an hour we gave up. The smoker fire would not stay lit and the chips were not really smoking. We quickly moved them over the gas BBQ and slowly but surely neighbors drifted by and suddenly we were having an impromptu backyard party. A rum and coke here, a beer there…and before you know it, there’s about ten people sitting around a table generally all talking at once.

I was introduced to an eighty year old man name Fred Sr. Fred has been living here in this nice working class neighborhood for over forty years. He lost his wife to cancer when she was a mere twenty-eight years old. She gave him an adequate brood before she passed on and he had a few more down the line with the second love of his life. (I believe 7 or 8 in total)

“So Fred, I hear you do a little salvage work these days?”

“Yeah they jokingly call us Sanford and Son! If you need it we just might have it!”

“How long have you been doing that?” I asked.

“Oh, we’ve always been doing that on and off.”

“So what was your stock and trade growing up?”

Just then, my brother joined us at the table and I stood up to riff on some Red Foxx. (I couldn’t help myself) With hand over heart, gazing to the sun I screamed out “I’m coming to join you Elizabeth!” It was a subtle way of letting Fred know that I was dialed into his world – if only in a pop culture kind of way.

And with that, we continued on with a conversation that took us all the way back to the early 1930’s when Fred was born. He walked me through his childhood in foster homes, the sadness, the fear, the rebelliousness that comes along with that empty feeling. How he continuously ran away. How at fourteen years of age he ran away for good and found himself doing just about any job to stay alive.

“I picked a lot of tomatoes near Leamington. I was sure good at picking those tomatoes for a while. Tobacco in Tillsonburg. Did a lot of that too. That road was endless. I always said that no matter what happens to me in the end, I would never ever allow my children to be taken away from me. They would not have to live in foster homes! After my wife passed away, it was hard for a few years but I always took care of my children! It wasn’t easy for us back then either. Always being accused for things we didn’t do because of our skin colour.”

And with that we had a simple conversation about the way it was. There wasn’t a whiff of discussion about Obama or MLK yet just true to life stories about how it actually was.

Our conversation led to Fred asking me about my music and influences. After exhausting my list of influences (many of which he loved as well – from Ray Charles to Hank Sr. to Leadbelly to Mavis Staples etc…)

“You know my first wife was a gospel singer son? We sang a lot of gospel in our house!”

And with that, my brother appeared with another rum and coke for me, some more beer for the table and  a guitar. Now you know the way it goes. After about 100 shows in the past five months, sometimes looking at a guitar reminds me of work on these weekends. I am one of those artists that require a complete break from the creative endeavor at hand. I need to shift into reading, writing, conversation mode. The beauty of visiting two of my brothers now residing in Windsor (and family in general) is that I can decompress in the comfort of family without having to worry about performing, driving, meeting strangers with my ‘game face on’, finding my next meal, my next bed and so on. Needless to say, the guitar can interrupt the flow of these occasions. More often than not, I find when the conversation is rolling along nicely, a musical interlude is not warranted. I mean, who want’s to interrupt what Socrates claimed are the best moments of the human experience “When engaged in meaningful conversation!” Yet for some reason, in the hot sun under a canopy of grapes, with the smell of slow cooking ribs in the background talking to my new buddy Fred, his son, his buddies, my brothers, some other neighbors…playing some songs not only felt right…I really felt like doing it. Not to mention, I wasn’t shackled to my own songs here. Now I could search my memory bank for those songs I’ve always wanted to play for just this occasion.

Yeah, I would tailor a set just for Fred Sr. For the underdogs. For all of us. So without giving it much thought, I ran through these songs:
Busted (Ray Charles version), Sail Away (Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee version), That’s Alright Mama ( “Big Boy”Crudup… well Elvis I guess) I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister (Pete Seeger version), That Lucky Old Son (any version – Fred remembered it as Sachmo’s song) and on and on until I finished off the concert with ‘The Midnight Special’ for everyone to sing-along to. It was with this song that I noticed Fred tear up a bit.

The prison song popularized by Leadbelly was being sung well over one hundred years after it’s creation by a bunch of guys sitting around a table on a hot sunny afternoon – free to do so on our own accord. Think of that! Freedom is a concept we can’t truly appreciate until it’s taken away from us. Sing a song like the Midnight Special to a man who’s had his freedoms restricted, and you might even learn to understand just a fraction of what real pain is. I could feel it.

We continued on the backyard for much longer than Fred was likely intending. He kept up the pace with us – what an unbelievable trooper. Relaxing in the shade with this cane, we kept the cold beer coming until the ribs and salads made their way onto the table. It was at this point that Fred leaned in and told me about the time the ‘law’ had brought him downtown with a very big accusation. Without getting into the details of the story, let’s just say it was heartbreaking. There was not one ounce of exaggeration detected in Fred’s tale and it simply highlighted how far we have truly come in respect to racial divisions in North America. He ended it with him saying how great it was to have me singing these old songs for him. I assured him it was my privilege.

“Hey Fred, don’t forget, my own father is 91 years old now. Makes you look like a spring chicken. I was the youngest of eight kids you know. He had me in his late forties which makes me a rarity I guess! One of kind buddy! Oh and I’m humble too …lol. But that said, my dad loved all of the old standards. The swing era Jazz from Louis to Nat King Cole. He had great taste. It was my oldest brother Bob who came along and picked up on Miles Davis and Coltrane. Then it was all guys like Bob Dylan taking old the old stuff and reworking it. The Beatles reworking Chuck Berry! You know what I’m saying! Elvis copping Crudup – that kind off stuff! I guess you could say The Beatles brought me in, Dylan made me think differently about it – he introduced me to Pete and Woody and they introduced me to guys like Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. I moved forward from there into Chess and Atlantic stuff.  Full circle stuff man.”

And with that, we went back and forth discussing our collective experiences. For good measure I told him one of my all-time favourite ‘racial-divide’ stories which caught the attention of the entire table. On how my publicist and friend, Richard Flohil eventually made his way Chicago to a bar called Smitty’s (?) to catch Muddy Waters and how he would eventually become a promoter and publicist for so many international blues acts. A story I could not do proper justice to, however, enjoyed by all just the same.

After hearing this story, Fred said “Hey play one of YOUR favourite songs before I go!”

“Well Fred, here’s one that seems to be at the top of my list these days. It’s an old song by Kris Kristofferson called ‘To Beat the Devil’. It hits home because I’m often singing singing songs I wrote to people who might be talking. I think, what’s the point of even doing this if no one’s really listening? Anyway here’s the song.”

“If you waste your time a-talking to the people who don’t listen to the things that your are saying who do you thinks gonna hear!” (To Beat The Devil (The story behind the song)

That was that. It was an afternoon for the ages. Fred left me a few final words of wisdom.

“Hey son, no matter what you do in this life, don’t let them drag you into one of those nursing homes. I was in one on and off for four years and it almost killed me. One day I just walked out. What were they gonna do? Been taking care of myself ever since! Take care of yourself son – nobody else is going to!”

“Yup…paddle your own canoe Fred! I get ya man. It was a real pleasure meeting to you!”

And with that Fred was driven home and the rest of us sat out back to watch the dusk descend upon the city. “Hey,” I said, “You know guys…I  play music across this damn country about five nights a week and I never ever get the chance to go listen to some live music! Let’s say we hit the town and find some live music and single girls. What are we doing here? Let’s go be somebody!”

And so we did. The night went late but the laughs were loud. I woke up the next morning vaguely remembering a half-hearted promise to a girl and her friends that we might meet them down at Balloonapalooze at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Easy come easy go. She likely forgot all about it and besides we had a full day of movies ahead of us.

It started with Trick Baby and ended with Nightmare in Badham County. Interestingly, both of these movies explore the black meets white buddy concept in very distinct ways. There I was, laughing a bit on the inside as I watched these movies through the eyes of Fred. They were fantastic in a great low-budget B-movie kind of way.

I woke up this morning and walked over to the record collection  (can you say 5000 records to chose from – and this is half of our collection). Morning coffee in hand, I reached in to pull out a record and as god is my witness out came Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys. From “Rednecks – to Rollin” I enjoyed that 1974 breakthrough over my cup of java like no man.

Nothing more beautiful than the company of old and new friends, a hot cup of coffee and beautiful music. Every once in awhile, the events seem to be more than coincidence. They seem to have a purpose. From the south-side of Chicago through to the deep south. From the eyes of Huddie Ledbetter and Fred Sr. in Windsor ON to my father’s music and the movies of my own generation. Occasionally it all comes together and within a split second everything you’ve thought about crystallizes into one perfect vision. You know, the simple things like: We’re all created equal; we all bleed red; and singing along to “Birmingham” on a beautiful Monday morning.

Got a wife got a family

Earn my livin’ with my hand

I’m a roller in a steel mill

In downtown Birmingham

My daddy was a barber

And a most unsightly man

He was born in Tuscaloosa

But he died right here in Birmingham

Birmingham Birmingham

The greatest city in Alabam’

You can travel ‘cross this entire land

But there’s no place like Birmingham

got a wife named Mary

But she’s called Marie

We live in a three room house

With a pepper tree

And I work all day in the factory

That’s alright with me

Got a big black dog

And his name is Dan

Who lives in my backyard in Birmingham

He is the meanest dog in Alabam’

Get ‘em Dan

WHEAT KINGS AND PRETTY THINGS

Canada Day and Bruno and the Sisters of Ursuline became a quick fading memory. It all went off without a hitch and they want to bring me back next year. Hmmm Canada Day in Bruno every year? We’ll see how it goes. Great folks to be sure. As they do every year a parade of  horses came down the main drag with riders in full regalia which prompted one of “Citizens’ to exclaim, “See I told you this wasn’t a one horse town! It’s a six horse town!” The afternoon ended with some visiting and a BBQ and some terrific stories from longstanding Bruno residents. I awoke to realize it was time for the long haul home. A few shows this week but some massive driving.

Got up at 6:00 am and randomly punched in the city BRANDON MANITOBA into my GPS. A paltry six hour drive and a day of rest awaited me. About three hours into the drive I realized I had broken a promise to a girl I’d recently met in Brandon on my way through. Yes, on my tour west a few months ago I had stayed at  the www.westernmotel.ca in Brandon and it was just a few days after the deer hit. The car still mangled, my nerves still fried, I needed some luck and as you know I found plenty of it (See “Oh Deer Me Parts One and Two).  In the story I reference five angels that appeared along the trail to help out just when all seemed quite dire. Yes…I forgot to mention one of them and in driving back to Brandon today it reminded me of my folly.

I drove my jalopy into the front office of the Western Motel in Brandon in the early morning of Sunday, May 12. The day before was a bit of gong show as I’d performed for a six hours on and off at two locations, closing the night very, very late with a group of folks at a bar called the Double Decker Pub. The Double Decker is a pub show, which I will rarely perform these days, however, the afternoon gig called for my attention and the Double Decker was going to ‘fit the bill’ for the evening. A lot of these shows for me are dial-ins in the the sense that I can put it into auto-pilot, sing some Cash covers, get well fed and watered and usually stumble home. Over the years, I realized that some places treated you better than others and this place was always first class – top notch. One of the owners who booked me was a girl by the name of Kim Hooker, who was the illusive owner behind the email who always got back to you right away, always had your payment waiting for you, your posters up, the staff well informed of your deal – etc…The interesting this is that I’d never met Kim in person. Just another disembodied email contact.

The gig was a late one. I shut it down at 5:00 am after a very late party night with many in the venue. I woke up at the Bed and Breakfast  at 11:00 am, completely fried from  the night’s shenanigans and thought I’d better get a motel room and figure out my plan of action for the week. I knew the ‘deer hit’ was playing on my mental state. My car, still in ruins, I felt it had become a metaphor for the way my songwriting career was going. (You can think some strange things after a night of potent potables with not a real friend to talk to.)

I’d literally stayed in all of the cheap motels in Brandon over these past years. Tried them all. I had been down to staying at crazy place on the highway with tin roofs calling itself The Little Chalet. Nice people, but a few ownership changes along the way and they suddenly priced me out of the touring musician market. I shouldn’t have been driving the next morning as I likely smelled like a brewery. I hauled my unshaven, wrinkled carcass of a mess into my shit-box and began cruising the blinding bright streets of Brandon high-density Sunday morning church-going traffic.

“Ah…I’ll try that one!” I said to myself. A small sign tucked between The Keg and million other signs along the busy street. Not expecting much, I came in and begged for mercy. Every ‘beg for mercy’ exchange in this situation is one that I learned from this great little Ukranian woman who owned a nice motel in BC. She told me that her husband and her had owned the motel for 20 years and that she always appreciated musicians (as her son was a concert pianist!) She said “You can take’a diss advice for what it’s worth. You go into da motel with a $50 dollar bill in your hand ana say “I’m a musician without a lot of money and I need room for tonight. I don’ta wan any service. I don’ta want any noise. I just wanna room and all I have is dis $50. Yes or No?” Then she continued “All they canna do is say yes or no? You a big boy – you canna handle rejection! I always say yes to da musicians!”

I must confess, it takes some getting used to, the grovelling component and the red-faced feeling when the 70% of motel owners laugh at you, however, it has worked time and time again and MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, the rooms I walk into are full of great character, a fridge, a microwave and TV, a clean bathroom and great bed. Most even have a little bbq for some cooking if you’re so inclined. Naturally, the beds are always a gamble but the small motels always seem to take pride in new mattresses.  I know, I know, the  illusion of security and cleanliness of a Best Western is hard to beat, but I’m talking about a songwriters budget. Let’s keep it real. Normally, I’d be on someone’s couch or in a hostel. This is ridin’ high.

So there I was at the front desk waving my $50 around but this time not ready to walk. I was too burnt out and not willing to chance anymore driving – especially with a car that screamed “Here I am cops! Over here!”

The girl behind the counter offered me a quiet room in the back building for $60 all-in which was a fair deal all in all. As I walked through the lobby, I noticed a great display of muffins, fresh eggs, full on continental breakfast. Wow this is unexpected. “Do you mind if I help myself?” “Go right ahead” she said.
I spent the remainder of the day using their high-speed internet – scouring the country for a 2003 Camry hood – a replacement which I simply was unable to find. (Every colour other than black).  The next morning I joined the travelers in the lobby, congregating to discuss the Leaf game and the enjoy the free breakfast.

It was at this moment I approached the front desk to talk about renegotiating for another night’s stay. I’d enjoyed the room so much I thought it would be nice to give these fine folks the business. First class.
This time it was a new girl. “Sure we can fix you up. What’s your name?” “Jay Aymar,” I replied. “Jay? The musician from Double Deckers! I’m Kim Hooker!”
After all of this time I’d finally met Kim who’d once booked me at her pub and was now here?
“I sold the Decker and now own this motel!”
“Wow Kim that’s amazing. I must say you have the MIDAS touch because I was just thinking this morning that whoever owns this motel is really trying to turn it into something special. First class all the way!”
“Yeah, we’re renovating the rooms slowly but surely. Flat screens and new floors and beds are making their way into the rooms!”
“Well, I’ve stayed in hundreds over the years and can surely put this one top of my list. I mean that!” I replied.

We began to chat about our lives and talk about the twists and turns on this crazy river and eventually I shared a mini-version of the deer story. Still reeling, her semi-familiarity to me became a ear to lean on about my recent troubles. “Oh wow Jay, that’s a crazy story. I know how hard you musicians have it too. I used to see so many kids come through who just didn’t have any money, or clean clothes, unshaven, hungry. I don’t know how you all do it?”
“Well Kim, I am a bit further along in my career than that, however, some days I can feel that same Devil nippin at my heals!” I responded. “Hey” she replied “why don’t you take this nice executive suite for a few days at no charge. It’s newly renovated and not rented and let me do that for you. Just a friendly gesture.”
“Are you kidding me Kim? I am so low right now…I won’t say no. I won’t even pretend to argue with you!”

And with that, she set me up into this amazing suite inside of the motel unit. It even had a full-on kitchen, queen sized bed, dining room table and extra large flat-screen. I’d died and gone to heaven just when I needed it the most. My final nerve was counting on it and this angel appeared with this gesture at the exact moment I needed her too.

Upon leaving I made a promise to Kim that I would give her new Motel a shout on on my blog. One good deed deserves another. Somehow, the next few days slipped away into months and selfishly the notion slipped my mind – until this morning at 9am. I thought ” Aymar…you asshole…you promised that girl you were going to blog about her motel and you forgot!” Knowing that I was en route to the motel for the evening I was fulyl prepared to do this when I got in (which is where I’m at right now). I approached the front desk a few hours ago anticipating my explanation to Kim and was met by another girl checking me in. “Oh is Kim here?” “No, sorry she is off until tomorrow!” she replied.
“Oh, I’m a friend and you should have my name on file – I’d like to stay tonight. I’m a musician that used to play for her at the Decker.”

“Oh yeah, she mentioned you. How was your tour? I think she mentioned you were going to write a review about our place on your blog!”

……I hate it when someone beats me to it. lol

That’s the story folks. A great girl working her ass off to build a nice family business in the heart of Brandon MB. The Western Motel. I’ll vouch for this cozy little spot and it’s owner all day long. Don’t even think of staying anywhere else!

After all, what’s better than Wheat Kings and pretty things? Gotta love ya Brandon.

OH THE SISTERS OF MERCY THEY ARE NOT DEPARTED OR GONE

As I write this, I’m staring at a small plastic crucifix affixed to a concrete wall at the end of my single bed. To the left of me, the other single bed is occupied by my two guitars and one gym bag. To the right of my bed is a white concrete wall with a water-colour painting of two women sitting on the rocks, overlooking the ocean. Next to the crucifix is a picture of Mother Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. It’s a small picture but placed as the centerpiece of the room as it’s up high above the adjoining closed doors. Across from the small crucifix is a statue of Mother Mary with baby Jesus hanging on the wall. It looks very authentic, as though someone may have hand crafted this small piece of other-worldliness. Over on the far left wall is a large picture of Jesus as a man, surrounded by his flock of sheep. It’s a very tranquil painting. Upon looking above me at the back wall, I see two brass heads looking down over either bed. One of Jesus and one of Mary. I have my window open just a crack….enough to let the air into my tiny room. I just heard the train go by. There is only a small sink in the corner and the bathroom is down the dark hall somewhere in the abyss. I certainly hope I don’t get disoriented, lest I’d have to say “The answer my friend is blowin in the wind…the answer is pissin in the sink!” Then again, how could I let down the Sisters of Saint Therese? I couldn’t. I would ‘stumble and stagger down the snakes and up the ladders to the towers where the blessed bathroom lies’ – all in an effort to redeem myself in the eyes of the Lord.

Yes sir, through a miracle of sorts, the Ursuline Sisters – now St. Therese School (or in this case a young Catholic girl preparing for her big wedding day next weekend) allowed this wandering troubadour a place to rest for the evening. Nice of her for sure. The Sisters have long moved on, and like most convents it has run headfirst into twenty-first century atheism. What’s amazing to me as I sit here is the beautiful silence. In fact there are signs everywhere throughout the convent saying “Silence – how can you hear anything if you’re not listening!” I love that. It feels strangely comfortable for a disenfranchised Catholic like me.

I made it back to Bruno Saskatchewan today in advance of  the Canada Day Celebrations. A promise I made to the town a few years ago has come to fruition. I said I would return for our nations birthday and here I am. Bruno can’t be anymore than five-hundred folks (if that) and it was musically put on the map by a guy named Tyler who simply rolled into the ‘middle of nowhere’ with a girlfriend and a dream. He thought ‘If I build it, they will come.” He created a small cafe, a small stage and the people in town started attending the shows. The musicians heard about it and put it on their tour routes. Voila! It happened. Bruno was suddenly talked about from Victoria to Saint John. Musicians immediately discussed the tiny town jail the size of a wood shed right on the main drag. It’s just one of those landmarks you never forget.

In a few hours I’ll be on a flatbed trailer singing to the town as they watch from the their Maple Leaf lawn chairs in that exact park. I’m looking forward to this day for a variety of reasons. For starters, I’ve learned to love this country beyond my expectations so to celebrate it’s birthday is a true joy. I know, I know (according to the bard) “Patriotism is the last refuge…to each a scoundrel clings.” That’s not it. It’s not about lines on the map per se, it’s just about the people I’ve met and our amazing geography. Or as my buddy Andy says “Aymar, 95% of this country is rugged rocks and trees…the rest is just about the people!” Very true buddy….very true.

I wasn’t supposed to be in Bruno this year for Canada Day but fate dealt me a strange hand. I was booked to perform at a private festival from an individual who saw me perform last year in Moose Jaw. Unfortunately the festival organizer became very ill  and he was much too sick to continue on. (God bless you my friend and I hope you pull through). I made some quick alternate arrangements and found myself leaving the pick-up band behind and heading north to Nokomis, Humbolt and now Bruno SK. But making new plans has become run of the mill on this tour. Let’s just say, I may be the curse or the cure – I’m not quite sure – but every single stop along the way has been marred by natural disaster. Let me back it up.
The first month out went relatively smoothly but it wasn’t until I hit Stony Plain Alberta to perform at the Early Stage Saloon that I was hit with the bad news. The waitress whom I’ve met over these past four years, lost all of the contents of her apartment to a fire. The fire ravaged the entire building and unfortunately she was without proper insurance. I decided to donate the sale of my CD profits to her for the one night I was there (Bravo Aymar – we love you…awww gee it was nothing). I left Stony Plain and slowly made my way over to Golden, Kelowna, then Pentiction, back to Revelstoke, Calgary, Red Deer, High River, Nanton, Twin Butte then Medicine Hat (or as someone mentioned Canadian songwriter Stephen Fearings explanation of how he toured Alberta calling it “The Star of David Tour!” lol…thanks Stephen…consider that one stolen). It seems that I was the bad boogie-woogie weather-maker. Everywhere I went, a few days later they would be hit by heavy rains. It greatly effected most of my shows. Many were cancelled and many were in the middle of such bad weather that only a handful braved the elements to come out.

It’s obviously such a double edged sword this crazy sociable life of playing and touring like this. You meet so many incredible people that it’s actually dizzying. The downside is often when those same people are affected by tragedies, you run low on the empathy scale as there are so many new friends to grieve for. I like to think that my heart is big enough to appropriately grieve for the victims of these horrific floods but I’m not sure. It’s burning me out a bit. My friends in Calgary have lost so much – the same area I had been walking in days before – now gone. History, wiped out in an instant. High River, and their funky little music venue Gitters, run by a friend Donna – gone. Medicine Hat – spared the ugliness of massive ruin, yet still badly bruised. I saw the pain only briefly in the eyes of the folks at the evacuation shelter. The volunteers sure shoulder a burden during these times. You want to meet amazing people…really salt of the earth people….volunteer. It’s going to be my new mission. If any good came of this, it was that epiphany.

As I too had lost many anchor shows I was kindly offered the amazing charity of some great artists and tenders of the trail in The Hat. Traci and Jay and Piet and Ina and the list goes on. (I predict a great well-spring of art out their combined movement in Medicine Hat – I’m good at calling winners too!)  It was with this heavy hearted feeling for the folks of Alberta, I finally made it onto dry prairie land and Big Sky opened up. It became a heat wave (although they’d had the torrential rains during seeding just a few weeks ago. Gonna hurt the crops I’m sure).

After a few solid gigs and a chance to be on my own again, I wound up with a Sunday to myself in a town I love in a small room inside an empty convent in the middle of Saskatchewan only now waking up to Canada Day (which is like Christmas to me – I’ll leave it to your imagination how good it all feels). I look up from my bed and “Mother Mary’s watching me…speaking words of wisdom…let it be!” Or as the Muppet Show band used to sing “Letter B..Letter B”. I’m reminded of the time when in my early thirties, I lived in a chapel. Should I let this story be? Oh hell…
Yup, I lived in a convent in Ottawa for two full years. My kitchen had a floor to ceiling cruxific (it was the alter) and stain glassed windows ran along the perimeter of my living room. My bedroom closet was a confessional. Had two bars installed to hold my clothes. I can’t tell you how many times I’d bring a date home only to have her either completely weirded out or strangely turned on by the proceedings. Do know how creepy it is for life-long Catholic guy like me to be sharing some wine (not sacramental – sorry) with a random girl and suddenly start making out with the big guy perched on a twelve foot high crucifix looking at me in pure judgement. With every stroke of her hair I could hear him whispering “You are in the Lords house and you bring great shame to this sanctimonious space! You will burn in Hell for these impure thoughts…these impure deeds!” Meanwhile the only thing burning was the doobie and our loins. Things would always progress to making fun of these symbols to ease the absurdity of the moment. Quite often, I remember stumbling into to the confessional (er clothes closet) to play “tell me your secrets” as though I was Reverend Aymar. It wasn’t quite fair as the queen sized bed was the first welcoming site outside of the confessional. Strange days indeed! Most peculiar mama.

The convent was up for sale, as most are these days, and the nuns had all amalgamated and were down to one last convent in Orleans, ON. My friend Jim bought the convent and asked if I would stay in the newly renovated bachelor pad (the old chapel) and keep an eye on the students he was renting it to. (An amazing world class Cordon Blue cooking school was beside us – meaning every night I was the recipient of amazing roast duck dinners!) The Cordon Blue students were all cool and one took to calling me Reverend Ferley. A name which derived from my love of the sitcom Three’s Company (Don Knotts appeared as Mr. Ferley after the Ropers left…anyone? lol…don’t ask). Yep so there was swinging bachelor Rev. Ferley selling wine by day – living in a convent by night! Although it was a cool spot, I was kind of happy to move into a sterile apartment after that. Believe me, the ghosts of my past came to life in that space. The constant reminder of how I was once a firm believer – and five year tenure as an altar boy – then only to became a disenfranchised youth (for a few years) – to wind up in a Catholic Youth Encounter as my folks thought I was slipping off the rails for a while. Ok…I’ll have to back it up even further.
In fact, I was just doing what every other kid in high school was doing (beer, a tiny bit of weed et al) but as my parents were so much older when they had me, they were still buying into “Refer Madness” as gospel. Now how mixed up is it for a kid like me when you have your own father railing against this new generation and the acceptance of weed…but simultaneously encouraging me to recite Cheech and Chong skits at the dinner table. Who was more about weed than Cheech and Chong? (or as dad still calls them ‘Cheek and Chong! ha ha). As Archie and Edith sang….”Those were the days!” So yeah, in the summer of my seventeenth year, I was called to the court of the family living room to face Judges Johnny and Mad.
“We think you need to get away from your friends for a while. We’ve found out about this Junior Rangers program and your signed up to go to Tweed ON for the summer.”
“But wait, why? What did I do?”
“We think it will be a good experience for you. Oh….Are you smoking marijuana?”
“Well…I won’t lie I’ve tried it but..Hey I don’t want to go to the bush for two months!”

And with this crazy teenage angst all teens go through, I railed against it until my mother said “Or there’s Option B.”
Come on option B – be a good one. Come on mom please spare me – show me mercy. “What’s option B?” I replied.
“Well in two weeks there’s a Catholic Youth Encounter at the Catholic Youth Centre. It’s three nights and four days and if you choose to do that, then you won’t have to go to the Junior Rangers in Tweed.”
I remember thinking – hmmmm….two months in the bush with a bunch of boring budding geologists and some recovering reprobates or a four day stint in old Catholic Stony Mountain!
“I’ll take option B!” I said semi-enthusiastically.

Two weeks came fast. I remember my friends threw me a substantial party in this gully we used to call The Zone. Bush party extraordinaire. It was behind our old elementary school and had long been the bush party spot for several generations of bored Northern Ontario teens. We went as far as to build benches and put up a sign – Welcome to The Zone. (That’s another story for another day). I can still remember celebratory beers and laughter as I was marching off to ‘do my time’ in a few short days. “Thanks guys. I’ll get this over with and see you right back here the weekend after next!”

I arrived to the Catholic Youth Centre and actually recognized some familiar faces from my past. Guys  I’d played hockey with, or just random people from school. One girl I knew from my classroom became the girl they seated me beside. The first thing they wanted us to do was to assemble at the front of this gymnasium floor to give us instructions for the weekend.

“You’ll be sleeping over there – please remove watches as we don’t need to know the time – the windows are covered as well – this is when you’ll be eating etc…”  Geesh…where the Maharishi?

The first night began with us having to share the reason why we had come to this encounter. Many were there on their on volition. Wanting to become closer to Christ. Many were there because it likely enhanced their chances to meet some friends as I found many to be socially awkward. A very few, like myself, were there (technically against our own will) for going a little sideways in life for a while.

The priest (Now there were many great priests I’ve met along the way (two uncles in fact) – trust me – most of them were spectacular people) gave an opening speech and somehow managed to weird out everyone in the assembly. Everyone said it as the weekend went on. You can be a teen and still have the senses of an old man. It’s true.
We were asked to come up to the podium and one by one tell the others what brought us to the encounter. We were sworn to secrecy for what was shared by the other kids that day so I can’t really get into it. Needless to say, after hearing that one guy was addicted to chocolate covered coffee beans and staying up late to listen to Wican Radio…I realized I might be okay after-all. “Hi my name is Jay Aymar. I came here because my parents thought I was partying too hard. Smoking weed and stuff. Guess that’s why I’m here. Thank you and GOOD-night!” About sixty other kids came up and recited their reasons for wanting to jump with Jesus.

As this part wound down, I was so surprised to see one of my closest friends older sister and her husband assisting with the weekend. She was a beauty. Always sang “Ava Maria” during Easter and had a spectacular voice. I think I was in love with her as a child. She was there with a guitar and her husband kept encouraging me to play. I had been playing for about a year then and had learned my very first three songs: Rocky Racoon, Moonshadow and American Pie. She asked me to perform them in front of everyone.
Now trust me teenagers – really listen up here – you don’t think your brain is susceptible to being washed? Transformed quickly? It happens. This is how it happens.

The validation I had from the crowd of people clapping for those songs was the very first form of validation I’d had on a large scale for anything (Hockey didn’t seem to count). I’d had some validation prior to that for my writing but never for music – my true passion. (I’ve always believed in the power of simple song over five hundred pages of Crime and Punishment.) Anyway, there I was feeling the rush of idolatry, hubris, pure joy….all without any chemical enhancement. Imagine that? When I was done, I left the stage and walked through the gymnasium floor to my table where I was seated beside two girls. Lisa and Cindy. Lisa was a girl I knew from high-school but was hardly into. Cindy on the other hand was a real beauty. Sandy blonde hair, big blue eyes. I couldn’t stop fixating on her. We really hit it off too and just as we were getting lost in the moment, the priest came along and partnered me up with Lisa.

Lisa ended up being cool in her own right. We both took delight in tearing down the proceedings of the weekend. We were pretending to be tough misfits. She knew my gang all too well and knew we weren’t bad guys – just lifelong friends who were partying like everyone else (only difference was the Catholic connection which made it more strict in our households – or so I’ve come to conclude). We had to sing a spiritual song to each other and do something called sharing “Palanka” which was a gift with the other person. It meant opening up to the other individual. I’ll never forget how over the course of those two days, my opening up to this random girl in these circumstances began to feel very real. I listened to her she listened to me and then suddenly you want to tell her everything. You are telling her everything. She’s telling you everything. Then it’s break time and you’re hungry and overtired and you don’t know what time it is and then you’re back to listening to stories about Christ. Then it’s more sharing – more playing the guitar – and WHAMO – you’re suddenly wanting to be with this girl. How could this happen? Was it divine intervention? I wasn’t into her at all 48 hours ago and now I’m some love struck fool!
Oh to be seventeen again. The weekend went on and as fate would have it, my slow disregard for Cindy made her more open to my friendship. Whatever was happening with Lisa all went away when I looked at Cindy (likely a metaphor for my future bachelorhood existence – ‘My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble” – thanks Wilcox). That taught me something. If you really want a girls attention – ignore her.

The weekend ended with all sixty of us kids on Sunday evening holding hands and running in a big circle facing each other in the gym – singing a religious song. As we were doing this, the curtains at the half of the gym opened up to all of the parents seated in folding chairs watching us. It was surreal.
One by one, we were asked to go to the podium to reveal to audience ‘how we met Jesus’. By this time, my brain was so doused in liquid Sunlight and scrubbed clean with blessed SOS pads that I walked up to the mic and gave Jesus some mighty high praise for saving my bacon. I mean, I was a hair away from turning into Faldwell or Baker (minus the hookers, blow and embezzlement). Yep, I was now a Catholic Youth (isn’t that cadence a little scary? Sound familiar?) It wasn’t until about a year later that my mom said she regretted the entire Option B plan. Even mom, who is to this day a faithful Catholic and perhaps one of the kindest souls on the planet, said she had reservations after she heard my speech that day.
I came out of this confinement to the golden dusk of a Sunday evening coming down.  Sporting an extra large wooden crucifix around my neck and feeling pure and pumped up about this new girl I’d met. Cindy too had given me her phone number and asked me to join her at a PCP Party they were having in a few weeks with all of the kids from the retreat.
“A PCP party? Cindy, that doesn’t sound right?”
“It stands for pop, chips and parents silly! You want to come?”
“Sure, I’d love to come along!”

For my lifelong friends to see me walk up to the lunch table on Monday wearing a gigantic wooden crucifix on the outside of my shirt must have been akin to seeing a alien life form walking the hallways of our school. “Alien High” Starring ….Reverend Ferley!
Yup, as they tell me, the gang was sitting around the lunch table using high-school vernacular pretending to be Jr. Sopranos.
“Yeah so that fuckin guy went over and did some of that shit…and holy fuck…shit…mother…who wants to go for a smoke?” etc…
“Excuse me guys”, I righteously exclaimed, ” would you please refrain from swearing?”
To which the entire table laughed hysterically as I turtled into my new uber-Catholic persona. I only found comfort in Lisa – the one girl in highschool who could relate to this new found reality. We went together for a year. It felt real at the time but looking back it was simply ‘another brick in the wall’. Looking back we were both just lucky to be dodging bullets. If anything came of it, two of my very best friends have been married ever since those days and are still going stronger then ever!!!
The holy-roller stuff officially ended with me screwing around with the crucifix chain on the back of my neck until it slipped off. I went to pick it up and accidentally dropped it into the sewer directly in front of my house. YES – THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED – IRONY ALERT!!! It wasn’t before too long I was back to throwing roaches and cig butts back in that same sewer. Oh and by the way, I went to the PCP party right around the time the brainwashing was fading and found that Cindy was simply a nice straight-laced Catholic girl and her friends were very conservative. Likely she would have been the one to pursue – nothing wrong with pure goodness. I was always the chump going for the first one that chose me. lol
So, here I am, writing this entire diatribe on floods, fires, females, hanging crosses, crosses to bare and songs to sing – all while resting in a deathly quiet room once inhabited by two nuns. What did they talk about? Did they share secrets the way I did at the retreat? Who were they? How many came through this room?  Can you imagine dedicating your life to a concept? It truly amazes me. Oh wait…that’s what I’m doing.  Songwriting – Nice.

I felt a very warm calm come over me when I landed here yesterday. It was like I was meant to be here to reflect on these past few months and the hardships folks have suffered.

The great side of religion and faith is that it does offer some hope to the hopeless. What’s wrong with that? You can keep the dogma and institutionalized lunacy (from my humble perspective). What I think is cool is that these beautiful sentiments passed along from all world religions, our little superstitions give us something to hold on to in dark times – well…just maybe they aren’t all that bad either. I called home today to tell mom and dad that I was sleeping in a convent. My mom said “Well…it’s Sunday Jamie…did you go to church today?”
“Mom, you ever heard of Tom T. Hall? He wrote a song I love called ‘Me and Jesus Got our Own Thing Going”.
“No I’ve never heard of it but I guess that’s an okay way to look at it!”
“Thanks for the free pass ma!”
“Just try to be good son.”

Halfway Home
we were brought into this we had no choice
taught to repent we learn to rejoice
and I fear this god might be all in our mind
our way of easing the passing of time
but what if these fables all come to pass
or the answer exists in one blade of grass
maybe we’re all just molecular mass
compounds of solids, liquids and gas
and it’s all I know is I know nothing at all
a picture of Darwin appears in my hall
and outside the leaves start to fall

OH…DEER ME! (PART 2)

I’m a firm believer that you can adapt to anything over time and slowly begin to accept it. I’ve been whittling my paltry fortunes down to the proverbial ‘hanky on a stick’. It started with the decision to jump back into music full steam ahead. “Hey dad, you need to buy a flat screen?” “Hey Ewen, you feel like buying those leather couches back?” This delicate dance resulted in shaking the landlords hand in my funky Toronto apartment – dropping the key into his hand, hoping this would be that last time in a long time I had to rent a space to keep my head dry and my bones restful. I would now complete the mission of “Aymar NFA – Troubadour”. It took a while to climb down from that modest perch and into the abyss. The unknown can at first be terrifying. Thank god for ‘sisters’ is all I can say. Between my two sisters, I would have been unable to continue on this path as I have. Their generosity and belief is unparallelled and the times when I’ve staggered or been wiped out from the notion of having given up stability (as meager as it was) they’ve been there to motivate me back onto the running track. (As for my brother-in-laws having to witness my shadowy being on occasion I don’t even know where to start – I promise someday when my ship comes in – I’ll bring us all on a beautiful cruise sludge boat in the Med! ha ha).

So, all of this to say that my newly minted deer mangled Camry slowly grew on me. Something like a bad rash. Over the course of the next few days I grew accustomed to its look and in some manner, I took pride that my ego was not injured with this new appearance. Yep, the crumpled hood, the rickety headlights, the hole in the bumper…very Troubadour Chic. More street cred fo-sho! I looked up from my grime filled windshield, took another bite out of my day old raisin bran muffin, washed it down with some cold coffee to see the city rising out of the prairie sky….here it comes….like a phoenix….grain elevators….tall buildings…WELCOME TO REGINA! Home of ‘something or other I’m sure!”

As we’ve discovered, the troubadour quite often lives a paradoxical life. Yes, I likely finished a Putters Light just before I hit the gym. I’ve brought the ‘everything in moderation’ line to the next level. Perhaps the only recreational smoker who uses a treadmill at least five times a week. Welcome to The Goodlife Fitness Centres of Canada where I’ve been a member for most of my adult life. A pair of sneakers and some gym shorts get me into a one hour moment of zen and I can safely say that my alter ego life of debauchery would have me looking well beyond my years instead of just a little bit beyond my years if not for the joy of working out. Yep so I wheeled the junkbox into the Goodlife, got my sweat on then drove over to the venue for the nights sound check. Here I was introduced to my billet, the folk club volunteers, sound techs etc….I call them ‘tenders of the trail’ as that’s exactly what they are. Always providing a safe place to land for the musicians – providing a room to play in – some good attendance – a nice listening room – and some great conversation pre and post show – usually about other crazy folkies living this exact style of life! (It’s reassuring – usually). We made a b-line to my new two-day abode and shared a nice home cooked pasta dinner to prep for the pending show.

As I slowly tailed my billet home his van was nearly side-swiped by some jackass speeding up to make a yellow light. This was the equivalent of an estranged deer arriving out of nowhere. It was a  close shave as my billet was almost t-boned into oblivion. Again, as these things go, the tires squealed, everyone swerved and somehow a major accident was avoided. “Jesus Aymar…you’re becoming a fucking  curse! Where’s Rocky’s Buffalo tooth? Ok I’m wearing it! Good!” Yep that’s what I said to myself (more on that later).

As we pulled into the funky, rough, artsy, newly gentrified area of Regina, I was reminded of the Dundas – Ossington area of Toronto. The originals of the hood were now sitting on some pricey real-estate. I  love to hear when the working class have caught a break over time. (Mind you – many would tell you they don’t see it that way at all). It’s their neighbourhood and quite often the gentrification leads to an infestation of urban hipsters. These critters kill local flavour with Starbucks franchises and drive out working artists, working culture. (You know the story – let’s leave it alone).

What I did notice was the amazing site of the front yards all well manicured and totally functional. Nothing over the top. I decided to drive through some of the alleys and found that attached to almost every house was a working garage. One could literally hear buzz saws and drills ringing through the streets as part time craftsmen, woodworkers, mechanics, fabricators and the like came home to hit the garage. Amazing what a strong economy can do for the working class spirit. You may have your opinions on fracking, but the trickle down effect sure had some happy residents in this part of Regina. (The contents in most of the alleys reminded me of this Philly folkie Chuck Brodsky’s song Take It Out Back.)

After dinner we made it back to the Folk Club for the gig. During the mid-way point I sat down to speak with a table in attendance. One guy kept coming back at me with the state of my car. “Hey man, that’s one helluva bang up job. What happened?” Readers Digest version of  ‘Oh…Deer Me!’ ensued and then he was off on a five minute non-sequitur tirade about vehicle collisions and repairs and friends in the industry. My first inclination was to accept his condolences for the loss of my vehicle and move on, but something told me he was truly empathetic to my cause. As I would soon learn – the fourth angel had arrived.

By his own admission, John had taken too many tire-irons and pieces of re-bar to the head and as a result he had a permanently shocked looked about him. His eyes were unfocused and they appeared to stuck while simultaneously looking at me and through me. He had a bit of the Einstein look and way about him. A nutty professor of sorts – yet his demeanour suggested that he may have been living quite a rough life. I simply couldn’t get a read on him other than to say, he was overly concerned about my car and the state of my well being in said car.

“Hey man, I know a lot of people in the car business…it’s a long story but let me see if I can at least track down a hood for you tomorrow before you hit the trail.”
“Sure, that would be great John” I replied. “I’ve put the word out to the auto-wreckers and they’re all on one system across the country and if you can believe it, between here and Vancouver they are showing twenty-three Camry hoods which will work for my car and not one of them is black. I’d have to go aftermarket and paint the hood which would bring the cost up to about $1000 at least.”
“Yeah, that’ the problem” he said, “the black hoods are going to be tricky. You don’t want to get your insurance involved but like I said, let me see what I can do. I know your billet so I’ll call over tomorrow.” And with that, I left the concert, crashed out and woke up to John calling over to say he might have had some luck.

“Hey man, I was laying there last night telling my girlfriend how much it would suck to be a travelling musician with a car that’s broken down. I used to be in a rock band for six years on the road in the 70’s so I know what it’s all about. Anyway I woke up last night at about 2am an scoured the internet for 2003 Black Camry hoods. I found lead on one in town here. I called the guy this morning and he may be able to have it into his yard by 2pm today. Can you hang tight one extra day? If possible, I’ll take the day off from my general duties – I’m a property owner around town and do a lot of general contracting etc…”

“Wow man, are you sure?” I couldn’t believe it. What would possess someone to follow through in this regard. I soon realized that he had the healthy mixture of empathy, love of cars, love of music, automotive connections, the garage workshop and the flexibility to take the day off to help.
“Absolutely, I have today free and we’re good to go!”

And with that, my journey with this unique character began. We jumped in his well used work truck and headed over to the wreckers to check out the hood. On the way over John began telling me in earnest about his life.

“You see that big empty space over there? That’s where they bulldozed over a city landmark. Good Time Charlies one of our oldest taverns. (I knew the story and have been enjoying The Deep Dark Woods song ever since they submitted it for CBC’s Great Canadian song quest:: Charlie’s (Is Comin Down)

“Jay, I spent every single day in that place for years and years. I’m living proof that a man can drink a case of beer every day and burn it off! I did that! I would finish work and head there and buy round upon round and it cost me….cost me so much. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now. I quit drinking several years ago and I’ve been doing well.”

Something which I couldn’t help notice was the manic way in which John kept grabbing pieces of conversation from all over the place, as though randomly connecting bits of ideas and slamming them into phrases which at first didn’t make a lot of sense. Now, I’ve been accused of having this same problem at times (you’ll notice it right here in my writing) and often only the occasional girlfriend will tell me it frustrates them – AT FIRST. Then, over time they catch on to the dialect and the rhythm and the bullshit poetry of it all to learn that I usually have a point. It just might take an hour or a week to crystallize. All of this to say, that even I found John’s  frenetic A-D-D style of ramblings hard to follow and I was beginning to question whether this was all just smoke and mirrors.

“Over there Jay, that’s one of the buildings I own. That house there is rental property of mine. You see, I did what you did for many years on the road in a rock band. Playing Black Oak Arkansas type of stuff. You remember them?”
“Sure do, my buddy Harrelstone used to blast them in his white Rabbit when we cruised Queen St. back in the day in the Soo!”

“Well, that’s what we played – Black Oak Arkansas type of stuff and we even toured through the Soo.’

“Let me guess John – The Eastgate?”

“Yeah that was it…great bar for rock bands! That’s back when we’d be booked for three or four nights in one bar! Back when people went to see live music. It was a wild ride but you know the story. Too much of this too much of that and we all wound up broke and burnt out. Anyway, when I gave it up, I decided to get to work doing manual labour stuff around town. Contracting mainly. I saved up my cash and bought a little fixer upper. Worked on it – still working on it – and over time leveraged that into a bunch of rental properties. You can do that too man! When you get tired of the road. It’s not a bad way to go.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence in my Holmes on Homes abilities John, but the truth is I don’t even own a fucking tool box. My dad used to tell me when I was a kid that I had the naturally ability to be a carpenter and we used to build things together out of wood at our camp. I’m the proud owner of a wooden dartboard case and about three rotting bird houses scattered around the property.”

“Hey man,” he replied “if you have the patience and the aptitude for it – you can do anything. Hey look at these peppers!” (That’s the way the convo went. Mid-stride he would change the subject and hold up a bag of peppers.) “Grew these myself right in my own back-yard. I could detect that the the auto-wrecker guy was from the middle-east somewhere and I’m hoping he likes the gesture. Hope he’s not offended!”

As the tour around Regina progressed I realized John was a likely a very misunderstood fella. I know many like him and I’m sure over the course of the many years of drinking and hard living he’d have racked up his share of haters. Yet, as I was listening to his story, and reading between the lines, I saw a person digging deep for redemption. Yes, I realized that in helping me fix my car he was helping rebuild his own soul in the process. Call it therapy – call it penance. It dawned on me what was happening and when stuff like this happens I simply say “Thank you” to the great spirits for making it happen. We’re all benefiting from the experience and that’s kind of miraculous when you think about it.

We hit the wreckers and John introduced us to the owner who couldn’t have been more overjoyed with the hot peppers. He immediately walked over to his assistant to show him the bag and take a nibble.

“We have the hood and we’ve even found a new light for the driver side,” he said.
And with that, John spent the next twenty minutes speaking on my behalf – giving the old ‘poor musician’ story to the wrecker. When we left, we had a hood in better condition than my previous one, a brand new light and some some extra lights for good measure. all in the back of John’s pickup and all for $380!!!! (to think every wrecker in Canada had quoted me at least $600 minimum for a damaged wrong coloured hood…I was contemplating getting an orange hood and driving around as the Voice Of Fire…but again…I’m a folkie in need of grant support and as such, I shouldn’t draw attention to such matters.)

“Hey John, I can’t thank you enough for your help with this buddy. You’re really saving my bacon. It’s unbelievable really. I mean, I was almost ready to pack in the tour a few days ago. It’s been draining – not to mention the psychological effects of nearly expiring on the highway!”

“Yeah man, damn lucky you didn’t hit a moose!”

I didn’t say a word.

As we drove back towards his garage I told him the story of the Buffalo tooth which I’d told briefly the night before on stage at the concert.

“You see, I wrote this song Crow a few years back about a first nations guy and his father. In the song the son, Crow passes away from years of hard living – too much drinking – living on the streets. His dad suffered from alcoholism and used to hit Crow. It just keeps getting passed down you know? Anyway, the song starts with Crow’s girlfriend finding him dead at the local Mission…only to tell everyone Crow’s story. Funny thing John, I wrote that song based on someone giving me the line “WHERE DO CROWS FLY?” and asking me to write a song about that line. I wrote it in about an hour one morning after having coffee in my apartment and never thought anything about it. We recorded it on my acoustic as it was just to save it. When it came time to release my Halfway Home album, my publicist asked if I had anymore songs. I begrudgingly gave him this rough demo and he suggested I put it on the album ‘as is’. I did. It’s become my most downloaded song on Itunes and most highly requested song whenever I perform. So, when I was touring through High River Alberta last year, Rocky Barstad an aboriginal artist, had read about my appearance, had  heard the song and we met. After meeting we exchanged art for art. I gave him some CD’s and he gave me this buffalo tooth on a necklace and some reproductions of his beautiful paintings. I came to learn the significance of the buffalo tooth as “Safe Passage”. Much like an inukshuk along the highway. Well, the soft hide leather chain portion had worn down from constant wear and I took it apart to put a new one on it. I had been wearing it pinned to my jacket for the longest time but now it was off. As god is my witness, I took it off my jacket exactly one day before I hit the deer. It was in my glove box. You tell me man! You tell me!”

“I am really into native culture Jay. We’d have so much to talk about when we get back to the shop. And here we are….”

We were now in the back alley looking at John’s garage. Just enough room to wheel a car into it. You want to talk about nutty professors garage? For a joke I started humming the first few bars of Quincy Jones’ Sandford and Son theme song intro. He immediately lit up and got the reference which showed me I could raz him and let him know that as long as he razzed me, we were going to have a very productive and enjoyable day.

As I’ve mentioned before, my knowledge of automobiles is technically nil. I do, however, enjoy hanging out and using my left brain whenever possible and just getting into the task at hand and best of all – learning! What I witnessed from this point on was nothing short of pure genius. I mean that. Sure John had that ‘shocked’ look about him, and I can guarantee that most folks would not have had patience for his tragic tales of yesterday…but I did. Why? Because they were amazing. An amazing tale of survival and repentance.

So here we were – this guy slowly reminding me of everything I read in Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Some of us drive down the highway (as I do) in this zen-like state, living in the moment, yet oblivious to the finer details. Some like John, live in a zen like state as well, yet drill down to the finer points, constantly wanting to know how things truly work. How to fix them and maintain them. It’s something I wished I had more of. I remember (in the novel) there are two types of mechanics Pirsig refers to. Mechanic A has every tool neatly organized and will lose his shit if you misplace one wrench and don’t put it back where it belongs. Mechanic B has his stuff strewn about in pure chaos, and if you remove one screwdriver from below the pile of scrap metal under the wooden boxes dangling off the shelves, he’ll lose his shit. John, quite obviously was Mechanic B. The interesting thing about Mechanic B is that what they may lack in x’s and o’s they make up for in creativity. What happened over the next six hours was nothing short of watching a master at work.

It really was like watching a Maestro conduct his symphony of metal parts. One minute sparks are flying as he’s grinding a new pieces for the hood. Next, he’s pumping pressure on a stuck seal – non stop – all day – new pieces and old pieces being torn out and put back in until some of the parts lay scattered around the garage.

“Hey Jay, hope you don’t mind but I like working to the radio!”

“Good call John,” fully expecting him to crank some mid-seventies Molly Hatchet (she’s alright lol)
“Yeah, I really like this Jazz station. It’s mostly modern jazz which is cool but I like the older stuff too. I was really into this stuff when I was a mechanical engineering student in university.”

Can you say never, ever judge a book by it’s cover. I never will again.
“Oh, hold on, it’s almost 4pm, and time for the Aboriginal Word of the Day on this other station. I try to learn a new word everyday. I couldn’t learn the one yesterday. It was too damned hard!”
And with this type of back and forth banter I learned about the guys true history. The rise and the fall. The promise. The destruction. I watched him drink a can of ‘O’Douls’ (non-alcoholic beer) almost every thirty minutes. A self-proclaimed costly habit, yet a far less costly one than the alternatives.

Now, according to the Maestro that day, my mechanical aptitude was ‘excellent’. He claimed with some time, inclination and training, I could easily be maintaining my own automobile while on the road. In fact, he really enjoyed this adventure as well. It was day of pure joy for me. Can’t explain it. I was finally happy to be drilling down below the zen-like surface of my voyage to dig deep into the working parts and practicality of my chariot – or in this case my car. At this point, I think I blew away the professor with the the line “Just hit it with a bigger hammer!”
(Stolen from the cult classic car movie ‘Dirty Mary – Crazy Larry’ – a movie introduced to me by my brother Dave who has been on a forty year search for the worst movie ever made and has the 5000 cult classic VHS tapes to prove it – and yes – we’ve watched them all together and loved every minute of all of them. My brother is so good now, he can watch a Terrantino flick tell you exactly what scene he is paying homage to (or stealing from) the original – but I digress).

Upon hearing that line…John put the hammer aside for a minute and looked up from under the hood and gave me a smile and a knowing nod. Just a way of saying “yeah we both know where that’s from and god-dammit isn’t this fun!” It was getting past 7pm and his final bit of construction was welding  a new piece of metal for the hood latch. “And VOILA! Now, let’s put a wax job on it and take a few pictures and we’re out of here!”

I pulled the car out into the dimming prairie sun in the back alley and looked at it. Naturally people came around. It looked better than it had ever looked.
“Well done John. Now call up your girlfriend cuz I bought a bunch of streaks back at the billet’s house and we’re running late.”

We had a great round up dinner and everyone kept looking at the car simply shaking their heads. I shared the full “Buffalo tooth – Crow – Rocky” story over dinner in minute detail. That’s my version of working on a car – telling the microscopic details of a story. Just as dinner was wrapping up, John looked at me and said, “Hey…before we leave…check this out.” And he pulled out a tiny wrench from his back pocket and said “You remember what this if for?” To his amazement, I remembered what we had forgotten to do “It’s to tighten the bolts down on the hood!” lol…

Yep, after all that, we didn’t tighten the hood into place. A good clip on the highway at about 100K and there would have been a strong chance I’d be Nascaring my hood all over the Trans-Canada. “Let’s ‘gitter done!’ Now I’d morphed into Larry the Cable Guy. Six hours in a garage, a few glasses of vino and some fake shop talk I was a real blue collar comedy specialist.

As John was leaving house, he said he had to find some time to work on his own vehicle when he had the time. Wow. What a guy. He did all of this without wanting anything – although I  insisted. “Hey buddy,’ he said, “good luck on the trail….drive safe and hit’er with a bigger hammer!”
He winked and strolled out the door. A more interesting character in this world I have rarely met.

The next morning I jumped in my newly polished Camry and looked around to see if it was all real as I spoke to myself: “Buffalo tooth on? Check!” With that I pointed the car west to continue on with my never-ending-Willie Nelson-style tour. I hit BIG SKY country once again and put it in cruise control. “Ok let’s try this again…” I hit play and blasted the Tom Russell CD about as loud as it could go. I grinned to myself knowing I’d been guided by musical angels who’d come along when I needed them most. I looked up from my windshield to find an extremely large and beautiful hawk, flying above my car down the empty highway about fifty feet in front of me. The hawk stayed with me for at least five minutes. It was otherworldly. Then as it drifted away from my vision I killed the radio and drove in silence.

Finally the song came to me:

You came upon me in a flash

Blood and bone upon my dash

Sent to set your spirit free

A piece of you now lives in me

Once you tell people you’ve ‘hit a deer’ they inevitably give you two separate responses. This is not a matter of simple deduction but a long drawn out poll – an assessment of sorts – over the course of three weeks since the incident occurred. Yes, upon mention that this hair raising, life threatening incident actually happened to me, Joe Q public’s top ranking response is “Well, at least it wasn’t a moose!” I’ve concluded that this response comes from individuals who have hit many deer, moose, elk, bear, assorted fowl (or perhaps clipped marathon runners, cyclists and hitchikers) in their travels. They are politely saying “At least you survived buddy – don’t worry about your 2003 Camry!” I have become appreciative of those who answer with the moose insight. My original loathing of the gas guzzling monster Truckasouras tanks barreling through quiet country roads, manned by the camouflaged set en route to the local convenience store for another fill up and take-out family dinner…well let’s just say I’ve come to understand why they drive them. I certainly don’t understand why they have the half-ton pickup portion in the back as I’ve yet to see one filled with anything of substance. I do, however, understand the front, complete with gigantic grills designed to stop moose in their tracks. I finally get it. Safety first. Tiny todger complex second. (sorry Mick – thanks Keith)

And now for the next response – Camp 2 – of which I fall into. These are the same self-absorbed pricks that argue with their local barista over the fair trade certification at their local Rocket Fuel Cafe. They usually have that ‘Tour de France’ look – some strange euro-cycling-wanna-be hybrid of Canadiana meets Joe Fresh. They may even be a strung out middle-aged delusional folk songwriter for all I care, but that said, they give the same heartless response when learning of a deer hit. “Oh wow, that’s awful.  Does your insurance cover that?” (We’ll get to that later!) Yes, I was always a Camp 2 responder in these situations – feigning interest in others tragedies. “Jay, I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer and the doctor’s given me two months to live.” “Oh wow, that’s awful. Do you have life insurance?” Well ok, not that detached but you get my point. We can never fully empathize with anothers troubles – until those troubles become ours. Maybe that’s cynical, but at the end of the day, who really cared that I almost lost my life on the highway. My mom and dad? I’m sure a few ex-girlfriends would have cared – but likely not for the positive outcome. So yeah…I hit a deer.

 

It started off like any other morning on the great Canadian trail. I’d finished a house concert the night before just west of Fort Frances in an area called Bear Pass. The name says it all. A northern Ontario wildlife sanctuary of sorts. I was beaming that morning as the sun shone down on my freshly painted Camry.  I was embarking on another one of my mid-life-crazies tour.

AYMAR MEETS CANADA – ROUND 4 – THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL!

I remember my concert host laughing at amazement that morning at how great my 2003 Black Camry with 397,000 km looked. “Oh Dave, she’s been with me for years and my mechanic Leo says she’ll likely roll along for another few Canadian tours.” (Yeah, don’t ask me why we start referring to inanimate objects as ‘she’ when we kick tires and talk like this. I’m the worst offender as I know nothing about automobiles and toss around ‘she’ thinking it’s giving me some shop talk cred.) “Look at that nice touch up paint job I did Dave. Put some anti-rust sealant under there. Fixed that spot over there. She’s riding like a champ. Never had an ounce of trouble with her!”

“Hey Jay, you’re doing well with this one. Is it a four or a six? What’s she get on the highway? What’s she got in the mill?”

“Oh Dave, you know she’s great on the highway…er…I gotta get rolling.” Somehow I’ve convinced myself this tactic will not reveal my complete and utter ignorance when it comes to all things automotive. I was really in the zone when talking about my touch up paint  – but ‘the mill’?

“Jay, make sure you take it slow on this stretch of highway. The black flies are driving the deer out on the road so just be careful.”

“Will do Dave! Adios amigo and thanks again for putting some cash in my jeans.”

And with that, I drove over the Bear Pass bridge and put Camry into cruise at 95 km /hr in a 90 zone. Blasting a new Tom Russell CD and focusing in on the beautiful sunny drive. I noticed a white service truck driving a safe distance behind me, obviously content to let me take the lead as we passed the sign which read – Fort Frances 20 km. Then, in a complete blink of an eye, Bambi arrived in full trot, all timed to perfection. A split second swerve to the left meant nothing and suddenly the impact – the head smashing into the passenger side windshield – the body rolling over the hood – and getting flung into the ditch. One single second. I angled the car to the gravel, put my hazards on, parked it and shut ‘her’ down. Upon first glance I thought my windshield was cracked beyond repair. I soon realized that the illusion was simply deer hair mixed with blood on the windshield. What a relief! (I guess?) It didn’t crash through the glass. Whew.
I noticed the service truck stopped about fifty feet behind me and pulled over as well.
I stepped out of my car to find the deer about ten feet away in the ditch. I watched it lay twitching with its one eye fixated on me. I ambled over to the service vehicle where coincidentally the woman worked with the Ontario Ministry. It was miraculous really. “You ok?”
“I think so.” I replied.
“Good” she said, matter of factly. I’ve just radioed in the hit and they’ll be out to euthanize the deer right away. I’ve also contacted the OPP and you should wait for them to arrive and make an accident report which you’ll need for your insurance.”

“Ok, what a break that you were behind me! I don’t use a cell phone and I would have been stuck here for a while, “ I responded.
“Alrighty then, glad to hear you’re ok. I got get back to work. Take care.”

She was so matter of fact – so stealth in her response – she may have been an angel. But as you will find out, she was one of many angels who surfaced on this journey.

I am not really a smoker. I will, on occasion, partake in recreational smoking after a few liquid libations or when my nerves are completely frazzled (ergo: I’m up to three packs a day!  an old Dangerfield joke).  I keep a few cartons of rez smokes in my car for these long tours. I go for Putters Lights. Nothing quite says emphysema like Putters Lights. At $23 a cartoon, I pretend I’m Metis and waltz out of the rez store with a bag of loosely rolled card-board shavings and a free Daisy Duke lighter for my troubles. This time around I lucked out as my warning label was “Smoking may harm unborn child” showing a picture of a mother with quintuplets ready to drop – inhaling a smoke as she grimaces with her yellow photo-shopped  teeth. “Guess these packs won’t be affecting me! BAM!”

Why don’t they just screw the free lighter and give you a gun. Oh…right…they still need your money…yet they want you to live in agony…or do they?…Or do they want you to be a drain on the health care system in end..you know, for more employment? Can you say circle-jerk?  So they allow the working poor (like us folk musicians) to buy semi-legal rez smokes without cards…but the surgeon general doesn’t quite think it’s cool…and apparently the rest of the world (save France and Quebec) think it’s disgusting…we’re the only society in the world that creates laws to eliminate freedoms…oh…then you happen to run into the surgeon general one day buying his case of scotch on his way to the casino….er…sorry…where was I – oh yeah – the deer.

Yes, I fumbled around my trunk, found my cigarettes and lit one to steady my nerves. Perhaps the very best smoke I’ve ever inhaled. I slowly walked around to the front of the car to assess the damage. The hood was crumpled into an accordion. The two headlights we hanging out loosely on either side. The front grill below the hood was smashed and covered with blood and hair. The bumper below was cracked in three places. I walked over to the deer again and perched over the area to say a few silent prayers. Now this may sound like ‘new age hooey’ but during this moment I sensed a strange calming spirit surround me. I was worried I was unable to feel or grieve anymore. Worried the road had deadened my spirits and calloused me to real feeling. Was this true? While on that rock, the strangest thought occurred to me. If someone close to me were to suddenly die, would I be capable of true grief? Have I lost a part of my emotional state somehow? Why am I not FEELING the effects of this deer hit? I should be nervous and shaky and feeling something – anything! Instead, I’m feeling this strange calming mystical feeling. Like the spirit of the deer has passed through me and is saying goodbye to this world. Freaky stuff for sure.
Then, as to be reassured that I am in fact a normal human being capable of real emotion…I broke out into the shakes about twenty minutes later. I was reassured later by a good friend that I was indeed in shock.

The OPP, obviously still working on ‘The Case of the Missing Doughnut’, did not arrive. I felt my forty-five minute wait was long enough and after seeing some rad fluid trickling onto the gravel, I decided to fire up the engine and roll down the hill into the Can-Op station, luckily within site. (They informed me the MNR safely ‘put down’ the deer).

The gas station attendants, truckers, hunters, tourists and their children gathered around to see the carnage that was my car. “At least you didn’t hit a moose!” Heard it about five times at this pit stop. One gear-head realized that since my hood would not open and after crawling under my car noticed the rad fluid was leaking fast, suggested I go directly to his selected dealership as he could highly recommend their efficiency and honesty. “Ok. Thanks for the tip. Good call!” And with that I paraded my junk-mobile through the main drag of Fort Frances. Interestingly enough, no one seemed to bat an eyelash at the dangling headlights and a ridiculously crumpled hood. I could envision Mr. and Mrs. Johnson passing by en route the to the mid-day Legion meat draw “Poor fella…must have hit a deer! If it was a moose dear…he wouldn’t be here!” Yeah, at least that’s how I felt the whispers were going. I was now THAT GUY. That poor bastard who just couldn’t afford to get his car fixed. Driving around town without shame. Can you say – Ricky in Trailer Park Boys?

I wheeled into the dealership which had a very busy garage on the go. I was met by young mechanic who took one quick look at the car and shook his head. “Wow…what happened?”

“Hit a deer! At least it wasn’t a moose.” (By now I was a trained professional in my response.)
“Well,” he said, “let’s try to pry the hood off and see what’s going on! My guess is that the rad is cracked, there will be frame damage and your insurance company is going to write it off. What year is this and how many K are on it?”
“2003 – about 400K” I responded.
“Yeah they’re going to deem in unsafe to drive and you’ll have rent a car for a while you shop around for a new vehicle. Have you driven a Ford lately?” Ha!
“Hmmm…well that’s not possible. I need my car. I’m a touring musician and have about 70 shows in my immediate future. I have show tonight, tomorrow night…”
I was beginning to feel a real sense of desperation. I can’t afford a new car. What can I buy for the $2000 they’re going to give me from the insurance company.  For some reason I laughed out loud in front of the mechanic. You know the kind of stressed induced laugh brought on by the confluence of absurd events.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Oh, I was just thinking of that scene from the movie Trains, Planes and Automobiles when Steve Martin looks desperately at John Candy and says “So what are the odds of us catching a plane out of Wichita tonight? Candy replies “We have a better chance of playing Pick-Up Sticks with our butt cheeks than we have catching a plane out of Wichita tonight!”
“Yeah I loved that movie too!” he said. “Hey, use this office phone and call your insurance company and they’ll likely send an appraiser over tomorrow. I’ll call some car rental places for you. You’re going to be in town for while. Better start cancelling your gigs.”
I worked the phones. Insurance company will call back in three hours. The car rental agency…the venue owner to cancel my gig.
“Oh, before you guys drag the car in, I’d better take my guitars out of the heat. Mind if I put them in this office?”
“Sure go ahead. Just leave them right here. They’ll be safe.”

I sat in the showroom watching CTV Newsworld only to learn that my first world problems were just that – nothing major. The Syrian Conflict, the senate scandal, bad weather in Manitoba…and to think Mike Duffy used to be reporting this stuff!
Suddenly, I overhear someone in the background asking about my guitars.
It was the service manager. “Hey boys, who’s guitars are these in my office?”
“Oh that guy over there in the waiting room – he hit a deer – he’s a musician on tour.”
And this is when the third musical angel arrived. Sent down from nowhere to ensure that the good Canadian people get to hear more of my gen-x folk ramblings…allowing the show to go on.
“He must be a pro! Only a pro would take their guitars out of the car like that!”
I immediately stood up and walked toward this inviting conversation.
“Hi there, yeah those are my guitars!”
“So are you a professional musician?” he asked.
“Well, yeah…yes I am!” It felt good to admit that to myself. I pay taxes. I earn a living at my music. I’m a pro. (Legend in my spare time if I don’t mind saying so.)

“Amazing. I have so much respect for you guys. What type of music are you into?”
“I’m a folk songwriter” I replied. “Touring across Canada right now and this could not have happened at a worse time!” I replied. “I’ve just started the tour and will be out here for three months and now…my car is done.”
“Follow me Jay. I want to show you something.”
He brought me into his office and cued up some video footage of his son who had recently declared music was to be his life. Not what every parent wishes to hear, but after the shock…and the acceptance…and hope that it’s a passing fad…they reconcile it with “as long as he’s happy!” (At least he didn’t hit a moose).
“You might know his band. They’re out of Vancouver. Check this out.”
And voila – there they were with fiddles and banjos and mandolins…right up my alley.

“Well,” I said “never heard of them but they sure sound great!” They really did too!
He said “Oh god, my son had an accident when they were on tour and they were screwed. Come to think of it…you can’t afford to be off the road. We got resolve this or you’re gonna lose a lot of business!”
I couldn’t believe what happened next. Acts of pure kindness never fail to amaze me. He stood up…took off his suit jacket and walked me over to the garage.
“Boys, let’s get that Camry in here ASAP”. The mechanics all gathered around and focused on the task at hand. They pried open the mangled hood and began assessing the internal damage.

“Oh boy…the rad frame is bent. She’s leaking bad. But then again…we might be able to straighten her out and find the leak…solder it up. Bang out the hood so it fits…take some wire and tie those lights into place. Ok boys, let’s see what we can do. Jay, go for a burger and come back in a few hours!”
“You betcha! See you at 4pm!”

I came back to the startling good news. “We’ve fixed the leak in the rad. Keep an eye on it…if she’s overheating hit it with the water. The lights are working (not your high beams) and we’ve banged the hood into place and tied it down. This will get you down the road until you have a break to get it professionally fixed. Call off the insurance company for now. They’ll have a $700 deductible and then try to write it off anyway. Just find a used hood and some lights and keep your eye on that rad.”
“Wow, I am at a loss for words! I can’t believe this. How much do I owe you! You guys just did six hours of work!”
“Jay, consider this my way of paying it forward…don’t worry about it!”
“No I have to give you something. How about $200 and a round of CD’s for everyone here.”
“Deal!”
And off I went down the road in my ghetto-fabulous wreck of a car all held together with baling wire, super glue, solder and whole lotta love!

I drove around the corner and remembered a resort I’d once played at in town many years ago. “Hmmm….wonder if they want a gig for a room deal?”
I walked up to the resort desk and made my pitch. The fourth angel arrived.
“We don’t have a need for a gig tonight as the hockey game is on in the lounge, but believe me, I hit a deer last year and was in shock for a long time. You shouldn’t drive tonight. Why don’t you just take the night off and have a room and come to the lounge for a few pints.”
“Oh,” I said, “but your rooms are $120 a night and a little out of my snack bracket.”

“Just give me $50 and take this suite. You’re not allowed to say no!”
Shaking my head at the generosity and good fortune of the second half of my day, I walked into a BEAUTIFUL suite unlike anything I rarely see. Walk out veranda et al. I laid back on the bed and shut my eyes only to wake up from my coma at 10:30pm. Too tired to do much else, I tried to write a song about the deer hit. It was awful. I scrapped it and went to bed.

 

 

 

(part 2 to follow shortly)

OH… DEER ME!

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Today, I am reminded of how fortunate and blessed we are living in Canada during peaceful times. Today is International Holocaust Day today and we should all give pause and prayers. I was fourteen years old when I discovered my oldest brothers University text books in our basement bedroom bookshelf. Wedged between Aristotle and Plato – I found a tiny little paperback entitled ‘Night’ by Eli Wiesel. Likely too young to be reading this book without explanation or emotional preparation, it forever changed my life. For years I was terrified by the images, the stories, and graphic depiction laid out in this novel. This powerful narrative of a boy and his father in the Auschwitz concentration camps in Nazi Germany…it left a mark so deep that I knew I would forever be a pacifist. After studying the great political philosophers, I stumbled into a course entitled WAR in my 3rd year – taught by the amazing Professor John Sigler. He emphasized the first line of the text (paraphrasing) – “Ask yourself this one question: Do you believe that mankind is intrinsically good or evil?” Part of the analysis of this answer involved the Holocaust. How could this be possible? How could humanity allow this? What are we capable of? I cannot express how it makes me feel but I will simply say that today I will say a few prayers to that great ? in the sky hoping that we’ll all figure how to coexist peacefully. I believe that we are intrinsically good in spite of contradictory evidence. Last night I had the strangest dream….

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 4: I was their Che Guevara and didn’t even know it

If you missed the first three chapters of THE SLUDGE BOAT – get caught up here:

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 1 

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 2

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 3

A small file of passenger reports on my behaviour were read aloud to me.
It went like this:
* The entertainer used the word ‘asshole’ in a song.
* He was drinking alcohol while performing
* He was fraternizing with the patrons
* Smoking on stage in between songs
* Playing original songs we had never heard of
* It was too crowded with people dancing and singing too loudly (yup…a real complaint!)

Now for the Big Brother files:
*’Spotted’ on camera entering cabin 1483 ‘several times’ with a female guest
* was informed by a member of the entertainment dance team he was found ‘making out’ with said female guest on the LIDO deck.
* did not attend a single mandatory ship drill
* did not register with the purser
and on and on and on

The tirade came to an end and as is the case in these situations I just allowed myself to go numb and try to convince myself things would be ok. I knew they would not be ok and I was truthfully ready to have a meltdown. I mean, it was already a very tough head-space. I hadn’t really met anyone to befriend – being a solo artist. I was still in a post jet-lagged fog – suffering separation anxiety after losing a strong connection with Sandy – drinking and sleeping too much – adjusting to playing four hours of songs on and off seven nights a week – my vertigo (which I kept on the down-lo) in overdrive from the constant rocking of the ship. No, this tirade just left me feeling lifeless. I was actually ready to accept Roberto’s misunderstanding with me and just leave quietly.

“Mr. Aymar, how can you sit there and play innocent? How can you feel you’ve done nothing wrong? My god, what cruise line did you work with before  – Carnival?” he asked.
“No sir, this is my first time trying this.” I replied.

“Your first time trying what?” he said.

“Working a cruise ship. I generally perform my own songs back in Canada and I thought this might be a great opportunity to see the Mediterranean.” I said.

Roberto seemed highly perplexed. “Wait a minute, where did you come in from again?”
“Canada! Just two weeks ago.” I said emphatically. “Why didn’t you know that?”
“Hmmm…it appears there has been some miscommunication here” he said. And with that, Roberto asked me to sit tight as he left me waiting in the office for twenty minutes. I could sense the balance of power had shifted back into my favour but I wasn’t quite sure what it was all about. The best I could hope for at this point was to have them cover my plane ticket back to Toronto and we’d mutually ‘call it a day’.  He arrived back in the office with a resigned look on his face.

“When you arrived in Barcelona you were asked to pick up your information at the registration desk. It appears our head office in Miami may have assumed you were a previous employer with us. Did you pick up the handbook on our codes of conduct while working for us?”

“Roberto, with all due respect…I showed up jet-lagged out of my mind and began playing…” I went on to tell him the exact truth of what I went through over the past twelve days. He was seemingly in shock. What perplexed him was that NOT ONE entertainer had come to introduce themselves over this time. I explained that I was sleepwalking for the most part. Back and forth to my room to the stage and then basically hanging out with Sandy and her friends at night. Again, he asked me to remain in the office until he returned. I knew somebody somewhere was going to be in a world of hurt – again I was just hoping it was going to lead to them covering my plane ticket home ASAP.

Roberto was a slight man. I assumed he was of Puerto Rican descent. He wore tiny round specs of the John Lennon variety. He was constantly sweating and very high strung. A fast talker and often speaking too close for a comfort (a real space invader). In fact, there was a strange odor in this tiny office which was hard to identify. It had the whiff of Old Spice and cheap whiskey. Something you might find at the end of a tavern bar next to the jar of pickled eggs. His suit was a getting a little shiny from one too many days at sea. It was likely an  inexpensive linen suit picked up in Naples with some breath-ability yet unfortunately for poor Roberto it displayed every low-rent wrinkle. All of this to say that the  fellow was neither fooling me nor intimidating me. I’d already been through the grinder with real life sharks in the corporate world and this two-bit ass-covering routine was very see through.

“Well Mr. Aymar, it appears you have a second life. This has never happened in my years of working as an entertainment director. We are going to allow you to plead ignorance this one time. We’ve scheduled a private one-off information session with Admiral Papadopoulos first thing in the morning. I must tell you now so you’ve heard it here first: We encourage you to engage your audience in between your sets. Absolutely NO FRATERNIZING with the patrons. Your role is unique in that you’re allowed to converse and dine with them but you are forbidden to socialize beyond that. Under no circumstances can you enter a passengers cabin! This is grounds for immediate dismissal! Secondly, we are a family friendly cruise line and off-colour language and adult themed material is forbidden.  Your role is to play quietly in the background while guests enjoy sailing out of port etc… We do not want big crowds attending any one area of the ship at any given time. We want them to traverse the ship constantly. We like to have that CASINO busy!”

Then the penny dropped. That is where the built in mediocrity with cruise ship entertainment came into play. The more mediocre the entertainment, the more likely the guests will move around – eventually walking through the strategically placed money generating Casino in the dead centre of the main floor. It was easy to see the role laid out for me. Do your job quietly and efficiently. Give it 60% every night. Be pleasant with the guests but don’t engage them too much. Party all you want with the staff but make sure you’re presentable every day – seven days a week for the next six months.
“Oh two more questions Jay” said Roberto. “Why did you not attend ship roll call?”

“Oh well you see Roberto, I kind of thought it was like frosh week back in University. You know, someone knocking loudly on your door –  just pulling a prank and trying to get to me participate in a drinking game! You know?”
“Interesting…fair enough!” he responded.
Then as though he completely changed his tune with me he said “Now I’ve been informed from our Miami office that you’re an artist with your own material. They claim you’ve put together a CD for sale during your shows?”
“Well, yes I went through a long detailed process with that” I said. “They said I could sell my own CD’s but wanted to approve the songs and cover art so we went back and forth until I had a CD made up just for this purpose. They asked for an 8×10 glossy black and white photo for the cover with a white shirt and black tie. Of the titles suggested – Memories – Jay Aymar – was the chosen title. It’s really a compilation of my songs decided upon by your company.  They had full control but I went along with it. They were shipped to your head office etc…”

Roberto was very impressed with this level of due diligence and now sought to help me out with this. “Ok Jay, we’ll have them when we arrive in Barcelona and you can sell them at the gift shop for $15 each.”

“Yup, that’s in the contract,” I replied. “I get $10 of that, and you guys get $5! Anyway, sounds good Roberto. I’ll be at the meeting tomorrow morning and this will hopefully clear things up for me.” And with that, I left his office a free man.

Ignorance was bliss but now I could feel that stunning light of reality burning my retina. I had to face the simple fact that I was a caged animal. Devoid of thought, free-will, artistic expression – simply but a cog in their great wheel – dehumanized. You ever think about those poor souls living in communist regimes or under corrupt dictators?  I’ll hang with Rousseau any day and bask in the beauty of  free will under a social contract. Don’t get me wrong, a noble-dictator would be ideal – it’s just that they’re oh so hard to find! Roberto? He was like most of them – likely on the take and scrambling to cover his ass at every given moment. He gave me a stay of execution and for that I temporarily gave him the benefit of the doubt. This cozy relationship would last a short while until the inevitable would happen. You hide a protest singer in tux for too long. Somehow the truth will fuse with anger and turn into action. Well, you’ll be happy to know, I learned how to break every rule in the handbook and get away with it.

As I walked out of the office, a free man, I ran into one of the headlining comedians all the way from northern London. He immediately said in his thick British accent “I’ve heard the story! I’ll be at your show tomorrow night at 6pm. Meet me up at the bar and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
“Wow…thanks man. I don’t know what’s going on but I appreciate it that you’re going to tell me what’s going on.”
“One other thing. It’s been noted that you haven’t left the ship yet during the day when we’re in port. This is unhealthy. I know you’re tired but you have to get off of here during the days. We’ll be in Barcelona soon so I’ll give you a ten cent tour.”

“Geez” thanks Mike. I knew he was right. I’d been treating this gig like my personal vacation. It was time to see how the other entertainers were living. What were the real rules? What were the real perks to this?

I made my way back to my cabin to change into my stage clothes. When I arrived back at Pedro’s Palace I was greeted by Dave the sound man. “Hey man. I got a directive from head office that you need to use the stool. We’ve got this wireless headset for a microphone you have to wear too. I’ve been instructed to turn up your reverb” he said.

“What the fuck is this? Now I’m a cross between Perry Como and Madonna!”
I sat down and began to perform the lamest, dialed in set of my career. Long instrumental breaks and repeated verses – stretching songs into eight minute vanilla pabulum pieces – everything suddenly sounded like America’s Greatest Hits. I switched from beer to coffee to keep myself awake from my own mediocrity. My Romanian bar-tending buddies turned on me. The German waitress was still writing me weird love letters. There were suddenly Greek Admirals coming the back to sit and spy er… watch my show. The interesting part is that the new ‘guests’ that arrived, assumed this was my persona. Europeans would stop by, sit for an hour, give polite applause then make their way back to the Casino. All according to Hoyle.

I just kept repeating to myself – ‘be a team player Aymar – be a team player – you’ll get through this!’

I finished my show and felt it would be good to take the comedians advice and meet some of my fellow co-workers so I meandered into the staff bar for some buck-a-beer shenanigans and was suddenly mind scarred by what was really going on in the belly of the beast.

“Hey, who are those girls dancing half-naked on that table?” I asked to a random bar-fly.
“This your first cruise?” he said.

“Sure is. I’m Jay the Canadian singer on the tenth deck covering Pedro’s old spot” I replied.
“Are you kidding me? Dude…you’re a hero,” he said.

And with that he lead me over to a table of female dancers from England.
“This is Jay – he’s the Canadian guitar player covering for Pedro! No shit! This is him.”

I turned around and my new buddy was at the bar buying a tray of beer for all of us. The cigarette smoke was thicker than pea soup. Gangster rap was blasting at ear crushing decibels.
The next thing I remember…a phone is ringing in my ear…hmmm…I’m fully clothed lying on my bed…pick up the phone “Hello Jay? This is Admiral Papadopoulos – I’m running a bit late and wanted you to know that I’ll be at the meeting room in five minutes!”

Wow! What a break! This was a gift from heaven. My one responsibility for the day ahead and I was going to sleep through it. As it was I would be intoxicated for this session. Suddenly I heard a soft voice beside me “Who was that?” she said.
“Who are you” I said?

“You’re kidding me right?” she responded.
“Oh wow, I gotta stop drinking! You have to go – and I have to go. Leave your room number for me and I’ll see you later…”

She was cool and understood completely how things had played out. This life was all about easy come easy go. We actually shared a mutual admiration for Neil Young of all people. She would become an ally.
I gave myself a ten second make over and shuffled my way into the admiral’s office where he stood in full regalia in front of a white board and a projection screen. Luckily there were two other convicts next to me so I was out of the limelight.

“Welcome to your training session. I’m Admiral …..and on and on”…until the training video began.
I was crying with laugher on the inside. I mean, this thing ran like some work safety video with approximately twenty different case scenarios acted out. What NOT to DO – followed by WHAT TO DO. It was like the failed models network – bad acting – a bad script and a semi-autocratic overtone to the entire one-hour waste of time. Yes indeed – I had inadvertently broken almost every rule put in place. Then as I sat remembering the details of the previous night – I remember, how I had inadvertently become a cult hero for my authoritative resistance. It seems word had spread about the crazy-as-fuck Canadian guy who was drinking and swearing on stage and blatantly walking into guests rooms and making out with a passenger on the Lido deck.  They didn’t want to be seen in my company but loved me from afar. I was their Che Guevara and didn’t even know it.

“Are there any questions?” the admiral asked.
“Yes I have a question. Does the ship’s nursing station supply us with free Tylenol?”

I left with my new certificate and manual and promised myself it was time to turn a new leaf. Hell if I couldn’t have any fun on the ship, I may as well discover the great cities of the world.
…and believe it or not…I did!

to be continued…

The Sludge Boat – Chapter 3 “Sandy…The Basilica is Rising Behind Us”

If you missed the first two chapters of THE SLUDGE BOAT – get caught up here:

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 1 

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER 2

——

There are many things about coming from a huge family in northern Ontario that I’m grateful for – one of them is knowing you must have a  commitment to your word.  Big families will ensure that you mean what you say, say what you mean and follow through! If you don’t – you’re gonna hear about. Now, I won’t boast having a noble track record with women, the tax man, most employers, my closest friends and family, my bookie and mail carrier, but for the most part I’m pretty straight up.  I thought to myself, what would the folks back home think if I just turned tail and ran at the first sign of discomfort? So what if this crazy cruise line hasn’t cleaned my room yet. So what if I have to perform right away? Who am I to think the world owes me a damn thing. So, armed with my new resilient attitude, I crammed my gelatinous frame into the phone-booth shower mechanism and began to wash away the sins of my past while psyching myself up for the task a hand: Join Jay Aymar – Tonight on the 10th deck for ‘Sail Away’.

With renewed energy and a spring in my penny loafers, I found my way up to the performance space. The first of the cruise passengers were scouting things out as was I. The long half moon-shaped bar, which held approximately fifteen anchored wooden swivel stools, faced the back of the ship overlooking the port we’d be sailing away from. In this case it was Barcelona.  Round anchored tables with retractable umbrellas were littered about the area with moveable wooden chairs. The stage area which I called Pedro’s Palace was tiny three foot circular area consisting of a stool and mic set-up. Everything was hard wired into the overhead speakers and there were no monitors to speak of. I was immediately greeted by a sound-man who  strangely enough was about the nicest crew-member I’d met for the entire duration. He extended his hand and said “I’m Dave. I’ll be your main sound guy for the next month while I’m on this cruise. You will meet the entire sound crew eventually but page me at any time if you have problems. The system is a little out-dated but I’ll make you sound good!” Famous last words.

“That’s great Dave. Say, you sound Canadian…where are you form originally?”

“I’m from Toronto. You’ll find a big contingent of Canadians working this cruise for the next month. We hang out in the staff bar every night so come down and I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

“Thanks Dave. I’m still getting my bearings here. What is the format for these shows?”

He responded quickly and with an eye-roll as if to tip me off that this monolithic floating institution was SO grandiose and disorganized that there was no real format for my show. I read between the dropped the subject.

I asked him “Dave, so where in Toronto did you grow up? West ender? East ender?” which has always been my way of pretending that I know a thing or two about Hog Town.
“Westender…near Etobicoke. Eventually graduated from Trebbis for sound engineering after feeling my band was stagnating.”
“Oh really” I replied, “What was the name of your band?”
“Burt Reynolds Moustache” he said, as we both laughed a hearty chuckle knowing we’d get along just fine.

I took my position in Pedro’s Palace, sat on the stool and proceeded to perform some ‘easy listening’ songs for passengers (oops – sorry ‘guests’) who came to the back of the boat (oops – sorry ‘ship’). You know, stuff like James Taylor’s Greatest Hits: Fire and Rain, Shower the People You Love with Love, You’ve Got a Friend…then morph into side one of Cat Steven’s Tea for the Tillerman: Where do the Children Play, Father and Son, Sad Lisa, Wild World…then some syrupy Clapton: Tears in Heaven or Lay Down Sally, then slowly spiral out of MOR control into Eagles territory — free falling into Brown Eyed Girl and American Pie without a shred of artistic dignity left. That is about how it happened. With every syllable that left my mouth, with every strum, I was left feeling red faced and fraudulent. There was no denying the feeling. If I was going to be here for six months there were going to be some big changes.

My new buddy Dave came back at 11pm to see how my four hours of playing went down with the passengers and how I liked the sound.
“Hey Dave, I am so overtired at this point I can’t even see straight. I can tell you a few things though. For starters, I may need an umbrella over my head from the hours of 6-8pm as the sun is giving me third degree burns and I’m starting to look like a David Allan Coe song! Secondly, it seems that 70% of the passengers are non-English speaking, and thirdly – I hate sitting down when I play – can we correct this?”

“Oh man, I hear ya. Let me ask the entertainment director if we can allow you to stand tomorrow!”

“Really? You have to ask about these types of things?” I responded.

“Oh buddy, everything is finely tuned and regimented here. We can get things done to your advantage, you just have to know how to go about it. Oh and how was your sound?”

“Actually, the reverb on the vocals was very big. I’m not Julio Iglasias for Pete sakes!” I said jokingly. “The sound system crackled quite a bit too so you may have a dusty board…oh and the ‘no monitor’ thing…is that going to be corrected?”

“Yeah I’ll see what I can do. The new gear is all in use for the Coco Band and the dance lounge. They don’t worry about us back here. You’re pretty much on your own to work it out as you please.”

Let me repeat that. “YOU ARE PRETTY MUCH ON YOUR OWN TO WORK IT OUT AS YOU PLEASE!” That is what he said, and in my overtired, lounge lizardy kind of way, I took that to mean “It’s your show so stop asking questions about stools, monitors or even song content – just do it and see what happens!

It was midnight when I arrived back to my shoebox and I was surprised to see that things were spic and span.  No trace of Pedro, although I still had these horrific mental images of him and Maria (Remember? The Chanteuse of Belgrade) sipping cheap Chianti on said mattress while singing Guantanamera in beautiful harmony. Oh the games people play (thanks Joe South).  Yes, this single bed was awaiting me with new linen and a fresh start.  Without wasting any time, I dove into my new catacomb and giggled myself to sleep, knowing I was off the clock until 5:00pm the following day.
“I think I’ll sleep in until 4pm. Yeah, sixteen hours of sleep should get old Aymar up and running like a top.” I slipped into a rem state so deep, I had another one of my crazy lucid flying dreams (another long story for another day).

Suddenly after eight short hours I was interrupted with an authoritative knock on my cabin door. You know those kind of knocks? The type of knock where you want to find the asshole who is hammering so loudly and rapidly without fear of impunity. I believe a knock should consist of three light-to-medium taps with the knuckles and the ‘knocker’ should have the courtesy to wait at least thirty seconds for a response. (At least in this situation). No – not this asshole. This guy was knocking as though the Titanic was sinking. My lack of response led to his fist pounding the door and screaming “wake up – wake up – boat drill – boat drill”.
I thought that putting a pillow over my head would make it all go away. I lay still for twenty minutes while I heard his calls slowly fade down the hallway. I heard doors opening around me and people mumbling as they wandered past my door. Could I have successfully dodged whatever reprehensible ‘team meeting’ they had planned for me at this ungodly hour? YES! I did it. A mini-victory for the protest singer. I stuck it to the man! I closed my eyes and woke up at 4pm, still jet-lagged and wobbly but a little less blurry eyed.

I remember this pattern lasted for about five days.  Wake up – shower – walk to the stage – play on and off for six hours – come back to my room – sleep – avoid the occasional morning knock on the door – go back to sleep. Wake up – repeat.
It wasn’t until the sixth day that my eyes really opened up and I felt adjusted, rested and comfortable enough to scout my surroundings and meet my new world. I walked up to my next stage area where I noticed a new microphone, the removed stool, an umbrella for shade and a small monitor at my feet. Things were looking up.
I started noticing everything. The clouds had parted and there I was near Monaco – sailing away – playing songs I truly loved as a child. It wasn’t that bad I thought to myself. Wow, look at the ocean! Amazing! What are those kids looking at over there – Whales! My god – cool. Look at that table of single girls over there! Wonder where they’re from? They MUST have come back just to see me! My delusional self kept up with the positive thoughts until a tall, slender German waitress walked over and introduced herself. “Hi Jay, I’m Olga. Pleased to me you! The guys behind the bar are all friends from Romania and we’ve been working this cruise for six months. Pedro was really flashy when he played his Spanish guitar. He would get people dancing and that really helped us with tips! Feel free to get the crowd going if you want!”
“Hey Olga, I appreciate that. I haven’t really had the chance to speak with anyone about procedures here. I’ve been sleeping all week and am just coming around now. Hey I’d really like a beer is that cool?”

“Well, Pedro used to have an occasional wine on stage so I think we can arrange that for you!” she said.

And within a nanosecond of that first Heineken hitting my lips, I was off on a musical journey which would forever change the way the staff and patrons saw “Sail Away – with Jay Aymar”.
I broke into long diatribes on my lack of sleep. The lingerie model on the way over. My background from Sault Ste. Marie in Canada. You name it I was talking about it. I sang my fair share of Canadiana to expose these poor lyrically deprived people to proper songs from Stan Rogers to Cohen to Stompin’ Tom. (God rest his soul). The more I performed this unique full on Canadiana show, the more word spread with the North American English speaking passengers who suddenly took over the place. By the end of the week (100% true) with one day left on the first full cruise, I walked up to my new stage area with a Tuxedo on (as it was formal night ya know!) under my shaded umbrella where a cold Heineken sat chilled on a small table beside me, greeting my new ‘acquaintance’  Sandy from Miami Beach Florida.

Sandy, was a typical Floridian girl: bright, full of life and energy. Naturally blond hair and a big bright white smile. (That may have been the only thing natural about Sandy). Everything about her radiated fun and freewheeling good times. I’d been having such a great time with her for the past two nights hanging out with her after my show. I’m not sure what her real life was like back in Miami but she sure seemed like a truly beautiful soul. We hit it off immediately. She had slowly spread the word about this crazy Canadian guy hosting an evening outdoor singalong party on the tenth deck. Suddenly, I’m arriving to my little sail away performance spot, and the Romanian bartenders have taken it upon themselves to move in an extra ten tables with chairs. One of the waiters came up and said “We were worried about you at first as no one understands your language. Now you have every North American spending money back here. Keep it up and we will keep you in free beer. We are making more money in tips than we did with Pedro.”
“Absolutely brother, just keep the beer flowing!” I responded.
And so it was. I was waltzing around with a Heineken in hand and a douchey Wayne Newton smile plastered on my face. A pocket full of breath mints, American cigarettes, imitation Ray Bans, a bad liver, a three day girlfriend, an out-dated catalogue of songs, new Romanian friends, a German waitress who kept slipping me insane love letters (another story) and a very, very badly burned neck.
It was a full week of debauchery and good times. I realized with my new north American fan base I could start peddling my own songs with the accompanying CD’s I made up for the trip. Yes sir – I played them all from my sentimental ballads to my alter ego raunchy songs – “I’m an instant asshole just add booze!” and the crowd would laugh hysterically. I hadn’t seen my own bed in days and then I realized that Sandy and I  had to say good-bye. We spent our last night together overlooking Venice, sailing away with the Basilica drifting off in the background while I played her Jimmy Buffett’s ‘A Pirate Looks at Forty.’ Her favourite song.

I finally made it back to my room feeling like a world class Matador who’d just conquered every bull in every ring across Europe. I was en route back to Spain to collect my spoils from the King!  Hemmingway would have been proud. Take no prisoners and forge on with a steady heart. This time I laid down to sleep with glorious images in my mind. As I drifted off, I could hear the steady pounding of the waves crashing in the distance…I started humming Jim Morrison “The cars hiss by my window like the waves down on the beach I got this girl beside me but she’s so far out of reach.”
I woke up in the morning and noticed the tiny cabin phone hidden under the bed side table. I hadn’t seen it there before. It was flashing a red light. I picked up the phone and it immediately told me to enter my room number to access the code. I did.

‘You have THREE new messages.
Message one – “On behalf of the cruise lines we would like to welcome you to our bla bla bla automated welcome aboard message”  – DELETE

Message two – “Hey Jay…it’s Sandy…we’re all partying in the disco! Feel like meeting us here?” Hmmm…obviously she left that message four days ago. DELETE.

Message three – “Mr. Aymar, this is the entertainment director Roberto. Please report to my office as soon as you receive this message.”

‘Hmm…this was sent yesterday so that’s good,’ I thought to myself. I vaguely remembered being introduced to Roberto on my first day at the registration desk but it was a very foggy memory.

I woke up, sauntered over to the all you can eat breakfast buffet to meet Sandy and bid her adieu. (As a solo entertainer I was allowed to dine with guests – not so for the poor 98% of the other employees).

I slowly made my way into Roberto’s office for what I assumed was to be our formal introduction and his glowing praise of my standing room only performances every night during ‘sail away’. Word had it my shows were the talk of the ship, so it was to my great dismay that when I walked into his office, he asked me to close the door and sit down in a stern unaffected way. Something felt amiss.

“How are you today Roberto?” I said with my newly minted Vegas smile.

“Just who in the HELL do you think you are?   AND where in the FUCK do you think you are? Are you kidding me? We’ve arranged for your immediate dismissal when we return to Barcelona and you can count yourself lucky that that’s all we’re going to do. You can find your own way home from there!”

“Whaaaaa? What’dya mean? I think you have me confused with someone Roberto?”

It was at this moment, he stood up out of his chair and pulled out a dossier on yours truly and slammed it down on the desk in front of me.

“Read it” he exclaimed.

Like a shamed schoolboy I flipped through these top secret files detailing my past twelve days – complete with conversations, testimonials and camera stills.

“So what – did I do something wrong?”

“Did you do something wrong? Christ almighty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To be continued…

THE SLUDGE BOAT – CHAPTER ONE: I’D NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN

Watching the Sludge Boat arrive in Mobile, Alabama and CNN’s incessant coverage of this event, I felt compelled to share some of my distant memories with you. These tax free havens – these Sodom and Gomorrah safe havens– these two tiered societies – they represent everything wrong with the world today – EVERYTHING!!!
Ok, maybe I’m overstating things just a little bit. I’ve had to break this story into several chapters as we all know our collective attention spans have dwindled. So, here goes nothing.

CHAPTER 1 – I’d Never Been to Spain

It was almost nine years ago that fate took me to the Mediterranean Sea, where I truly came to appreciate Picasso, Venetian gondola builders, Hemmingway, bullfighting, pizza from Napoli, Florence, Olympia, Spanish women, French women, the Acropolis, Pisa, Maltese architecture The Sopranos and regrettably Wayne Newton.

It all started innocently enough at my friend Chris’s recording studio back in Toronto. We were deep into an extensive project of recording every song I had ever written at that stage of my illustrious song-writing career. They were just simple vocal and guitar tracks of approximately fifty songs – many overworked – many underworked – and some just right. I arrived at the studio at 9pm on a cool Friday night in September and waited for a younger artist to finish up his session with Chris. He was a very gifted singer and player who showed much promised beyond his years. (He’s currently an established new country artist who shall remain nameless – I really should send him a few my anti-new-country-folk-protest songs someday…fortunately I avoid songs that rhyme everything with Pick-Up Truck!) After his session, he stayed on and assisted with some of the engineering duties with Chris. He informed me that he had spent a few seasons making big money working for Disney, singing outdoors throughout the summer, and working on a cruise ship throughout the winter months. After my session, we all sat around and jammed out some of the great American songbook. I pulled out my laminated master song list adding up to approximately three hundred songs – from ABBA to ZAPPA as the saying goes!
“Hey, how did you learn all of these tunes man?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. Guess it was the long, cold northern Ontario winters.” I responded.
“You ever thought of playing on a cruise ship? Big money for solo performers and I could likely get you hired,” he said.

This caught me off guard. “Why, I’m an artiste” I thought. “How dare he make this assumption?” Of course we’ve all heard the standard jokes about cruise ship entertainment: The Glue Factory for Aging Artists; The Black Hole of Never-Rans; The Mecca of Mediocrity – Simon Cowell likely has hundreds more! I quietly smirked at this egregious offer and respectfully stated that this course of action felt misaligned with my master plan of world folk song writing domination. I did, however, accept a business card (remember those?) of the cruise line entertainment booker based in Miami. We finished the jam and I drove home to prepare for my workweek ahead.

I wish I could tell you what I was doing at that stage of my life. I believe I was running my own company Wings Rite. (Another blog for another day)  I was not at a stage in my life to yet have the confidence to jump headfirst into a bohemian, artistic lifestyle. This would happen further on down the road, but through these years I struggled immensely with this concept. I was badly out of shape; smoking like a chimney; drinking like a fish; eating like a horse; a two-bit Cassanova on weekends and a fraudulent participant in the 9-5 chase for that pie in the sky.  Hangover depression made Mondays easy and Tuesday’s deplorable – hump day would see the clouds part just enough to feel stable enough to nibble again on Thursdays which led to an all out eagle flying on Fridays and Saturdays, while naturally Sundays…well…Sundays I got down on my knees and prayed. Yes, as my central purpose was misaligned, so was my life and it was during one of these binges that I stumbled into my apartment to finish off my last six-pack at 3:00am.

I’ll never forget this moment. I looked up at my computer monitor where for some unknown reason I had taped the cruise ship booking agents card. It was bright neon yellow card with really awful looking stock graphics. In fact, it seemed so bush-league I assumed that the company and the dude behind it must have vanished into the great cruise ship sunset. I decided to jump on the new fangled internet highway and dial up some info on Cruise Ship entertainers: Inspector Clousseau style – (see 1960s Pink Panther for the under 30 set).  After a few more Lucky Lagers, I found my contact, still surviving in Miami with a flash animated DIY website and links to other low rent sites displaying America’s dimmest also-rans: Sergio – The Illustrated Illusionist! Maria -The Chanteuse of Belgrade! Comedian – Mr. Goodless – Britain’s Other Dame Edna! South African Sommelier – Winston Harrington III, The Rockin’ Robins – Jerseys Finest Acapella Group. Intrigued, I found the contact link and sent over a one line misspelled question at 4:00 am: “I mite be in’erested in doin’ this…who do I talk to?”
In what should have been my next clue, I awoke the following afternoon to find a reply showing considerable interest. As such, the die was cast. This was still when hard copy CD’s reigned supreme and I sent over one of my original CD’s for their consideration. They contacted me two weeks later with an offer:
“We would like to offer you a spot on our Mediterranean cruise – it’s the jewel in our fleet with twelve day cruises which start in Barcelona and finish in Venice. You will be playing solo on the tenth deck each night – seven nights a week for a six-month contract. Fifty percent of the patrons are non-English speaking and as such we’ve only ever had a flamenco guitar player for this slot. Pedro our tenured entertainer is in need of some time off and we’d love to try you out Jay! We think the standard North American songs would be a nice change of pace for this cruise. As a solo entertainer, you receive your OWN cabin, and you’ll make a premium wage with many privileges other staff members are not entitled to. It will be an experience of a lifetime. Please read the contract thoroughly and if we’re good to go, supply us with a copy of your passport and a signed physician’s copy of the attached medical form.”

I stayed inebriated for the next two weeks as I went through the process. My doctor was quite concerned about my decision to hit the high seas as I’d been living with Vertigo for the entire year. He felt my symptoms were far too severe to chance living on a ship. I assured him it would likely be ok. (Boy was I wrong! If you’ve suffered from real Vertigo before you’d understand. Living with this loss of balance has still been a nightmare).

To be honest I failed the first evaluation with my doctor – yet he informed me – much like an automobile emissions test, if I simply laid off the potent potables for a few weeks and ran around the block several times – I’d burn the toxins out of my system and pass the test. I took his advice and a mere thirty days later I received an “Approved” letter from the cruise line followed by a one way plane ticket to Barcelona. I was in.
I left my job. I called my family and friends and we had a ‘Bon Voyage’ party on a cold Friday night in February and forty-eight hours later I found myself sitting next to a beautiful Romanian lingerie model on a flight heading toward Barcelona, Spain. (Yes that happened – see similar Seinfeld episode!) We both ordered a glass of cabernet and I did what any lucky bastard in this situation would do: I listened, laughed and eventually exchanged phone numbers. (BTW we DID go for a coffee when I returned to Toronto, however, the rose coloured glasses were firmly off as her external beauty was greatly diminished by her incessant narcissism. Oh and she was seeing one of the Crazy Canucks who owned five GTA ski shops – So you’re saying I have a chance!) We touched down in Frankfurt, said goodbye, and then I awaited my connector into Barcelona.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that cold Canadian winter I’d just left behind. I kept grinning and singing Hoyt Axton’s gem over and over again “Well, I’ve never been to Spain…but I really dig their music…they say the ladies are insane there…and they sure now how to use it!”
Yes, for the first time in a while, I felt my world was crystallizing into a beautiful oneness. I walked off the airplane in Barcelona with my guitar feeling like the Fab Four entering America en route the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Get ready Europe – Aymar’s in the house.

—-to be continued

The Sludge Boat – Chapter 2: “Among the Garbage and the Flowers”

     As the bus meandered its way through the streets of Barcelona, the inherent beauty of the architecture immediately struck me. The buildings, the cars, the people, the colour…THE SUN! That Lucky Old Sun with nothing to do but roll around BARTHELONA all day! That’s when I first laid eyes on the monstrosity. It appeared to be five…no…ten…no… twenty five Holiday Inn’s smashed together into the form of one gigantic floating hotel. It was impressive, daunting, haunting…an engineering marvel of raw Capitalism. As impressive as it seemed, it immediately disgusted me. My heart sank. The actualities of my choices were confronting me. There it stood, hovering above the Barcelona landscape in its white metal glory. A floating Orwellian dystopia whose sole purpose was to offer the middle classes the illusion of freedom. (Ok maybe that’s a little drastic). I know one thing for sure; it was blocking the sun and shadowing the colour that was.

Suddenly, crackling out over the bus intercom we were jolted into reality by our Algerian Ralph Kramden navigator, “Ok, everyone off of a da bus. We are at da sheep. Don forget a ting. Everyone off a da bus!”

‘With suitcase and guitar in hand, every stop was neatly planned for this conquistador and his one-man band.’ Before I could let the romance of the moment sink in, I was tapped on the shoulder by a large, inked up American girl who led me off the bus and toward the registration desk inside the ship. Not exactly the historical moment I was looking for.

“My name is Carrie. I am filling in for Lorraine who usually registers the entertainers for this cruise. Please register at that desk over there and don’t forget your ship manual. Now, here’s the key to your room. Oh I see you have a single room! Lucky guy. Those are coveted ya know. So, once you register, just go down the hall to the right, walk down two flights of stairs and find room 3004 at the bow on the starboard side. Oh and I see you’re in Pedro’s old room. I’m not sure if it’s ready to go but I’m sure they’ll have it cleaned up before you finish your show. We sail away at 6pm tonight. You will be starting at 5:45 and playing on and off until about 11pm.”

“Wait a minute Carrie. You mean I have to play tonight? I didn’t realize this? I’ve been travelling for the past day and really haven’t slept?” (Damn lingerie models!)

 

“Nice one Jay. You’ll be fine. I’ll be around if you need my help. Now go over there and register! I gotta run.”

It happened that quickly. Suddenly I was traversing the underbelly of this grey dark institution with my room key, guitar and suitcase.

Oh – you may wonder how I could pack for six months with one midsized suitcase?

Contents:

two pair of khaki pants;

seven pair of black Fruit of the Looms;

one Eddie Kahana flowered Hawaiin shirt;

two Jimmy Buffett Parrot Head t’s;

two horrendously preppy golf shirts;

two white long sleeve dress shirts;

sneakers; socks and sandals (don’t worry – never worn together);

wind breaker;

and believe it or not…a fucking TUX!

 

Yes, as part of the contract it was mandatory that I wear a TUXEDO for two nights of every twelve day cruise during FORMAL nights. I rolled this ‘borrowed’ piece of apparel into one tightly knit ball of hatred, and stuffed it firmly into the bottom of the suitcase. The glossy wingtip shoes served to hold my bow tie and cumber-bun. Yikes! Donkashane Carrie…Donk-A-Shane!

I walked around the bowels of this ship for at least forty-five minutes looking for my cubicle. Like some rat sniffing about for the feeding trough, scurrying around this warped maze I fumbled and stumbled, dragged and rested, nodded and smiled, asked questions, directions, washed, rinsed and repeated. I was at the twelfth station of the cross when I stumbled for the last time and some random Simon Peter came to assist me.

“Hey buddy, I’ve seen you walk by me three times now. You lost?”

“Yup, sure am,” I responded with a look of ambiguous acceptance.

“Ok, go down to the end of the hall…left right left right left left left…” he said.

“Yeah thanks, I got it Sergeant Carter.”

The steady swaying of the ship had already kicked my vertigo into overdrive. Dizzy, tired, lost, confused…It felt like the first time I’d smoked a joint back in Monterey. Eventually I found it. Room 3004. It was choirs of angels singing out to me. My oasis! My humble abode for the next six months. What excitement!

I opened the door and stood in utter amazement at what confronted me. I was shell-shocked. My knees began to tremble and my anger melted away into disgust. In one short hour, my life had turned upside down and knowing I could not turn back, I closed my eyes and made a wish.

“Please give me the strength to rise above the things I cannot change.” It didn’t work. I lost it.

 

The first and most glaring of the indecencies were the several condom wrappers strewn about this six-by-twelve coffin. The beer cans – the nylon guitar strings (Clousseau deduced that 65 year old Pedro’s was indeed getting some action – which in some ways gave me a tiny ray of hope for my future lot in life) – the miniature tequila and beer bottles – the stained mattress – the soiled linen. Now TRUST ME on this one: I’ve stayed at The Ritz and I’ve stayed at The Pits and really don’t care about the pretenses of either. All that I hope for are moderately sanitary conditions. I mean, this was beyond the pits. This made the back of my Buick Estate wood grain panelled station wagon look like the honeymoon suite at The Royal York! The anger subsided to resentment, which evaporated into disappointment, then acceptance as I fought the overwhelming urge to break down and sob like lost child. THIS was my Ed Sullivan moment?

I’d made a string of bad calls in life but HOLY SHIT! “You’ve really outdone yourself this time Aymar.”

 

In desperation, I pulled out my contract and began the process of due diligence. I sat amidst the garbage and the flowers in my room and re-read my contract until I found the caveat that reduced me to rubble: “Should you quit, or be terminated for any reason, you will responsible for all travel expenses home – including – and not excluding – and double speak – and old English – and bla bla bla circle jerk nonsense which was some Miami asshole lawyers ass-covering way of saying: You’re fucked amigo!

And so I was. No one to blame but yourself buddy. You made your bed – now lie in it! I dare ya!

to be continued…

 

RIP Dr. Stompin Tom Conners

(I have so much to write about this morning but simply don’t have the time as I’m on tour. Expect a mini War and Peace on Stompin Tom on Wednesday when I return. By then, the dust will have settled and those who are genuinely interested will be rewarded my top five stories of how Stompin’ Toms songs saved my life.  As for now, please accept this quick update and a free mp3 of Overtime. Come Wednesday, set aside some time for lengthy reading.)

I’m watching, listening and reading the obituaries coming in for Stompin’ this morning.  It feels similar to the day I heard John Candy died. If feels personal, yet, it’s all making me feel so conflicted. Sadness coupled with anger must be a natural emotion. To all of those journalists who are repeatedly saying there are no troubadours writing songs about Canada. Saying we are not bringing it to your doorsteps? Where are YOU? You’re obviously not in the world I’m in.  I see us every night – across this land. We’re in the clubs, taverns, theatres, kitchens, campfires, Legion Halls, cafes, street corners. We are all around you.  Please drop me a line and I’ll get you started with great list of names, many of them personal friends of mine.  Now, for the journalists who are actually ON the scene (and you know who you are)  BRAVO! Keep relaying the message. Every little bit helps.

Of the highest order, however, I would ask that you seek out Albertan Tim Hus, who Tom ‘passed the torch’ to. Tim toured and opened for Tom several times and has some terrific stories. Seek out Tim’s songs – they are one-of-a-kind and as Canadian as you can get.

If you happen to be in Ottawa this Saturday, go down to the Chateau Lafayette in the market – 4pm Saturday afternoon and catch my old friend Lucky Ron.  He’ll be playing a massive tribute to Stompin’ and it’s going to be packed! He’s an institution. He’s been keeping Stompin alive and well for 30 consecutive years. Trust me – go see Ron this Saturday and get there early. I know things.

Lastly, when I wrote the song Overtime, I must confess I was writing my Stompin Tom opus. I was looking for a song that would encapsulate my non-stop travels across this nation. The people; the places;  the small towns the big cities. My CD was released just a few weeks ago, but I feel the need to give you this song today. Please do me the favour of sharing it and explaining it to your children, your friends, new Canadians, old Canadians. Tell them what the song is saying. Email me (info@jayaymar.com) if you get stuck on the symbols. (Funny example:  my brother heard the line “I gave a pint of blood in Winnipeg” and assumed that I was so broke that I had to go to the Red Cross to donate blood for food money. I explained that although that works on one level, the line really refers to performing an outdoor show in my shorts during mosquito season in Manitoba. As you may know, they are vicious in that province). Questions about the Rock, The Yellow Door, The Red Rocket, Shel Silverstein, ‘across the ditch’,  Regina shut me out, Cowboy Poets  and the Kite Festival in Pincher Creek, draft dodgers in BC, hippies on Salt Spring Island? Ask me.

God love Stompin Tom, Tim Hus, Lucky Ron and Canada.  God love the people of Canada. Let’s all take a deep breath and raise a glass to this beautiful country. Go fish out your Gord and Rita and Neil and Joni and Wilf and Stompin and on and on and on. Tell your children about all of it. Play them the songs this weekend and realize how fortunate we are.  Go to a Legion Hall and buy a beer for a veteran. They’re few and far between. Thank them.

I can’t seem to shake this sadness that is creeping in today. I’m currently rewriting my set list for the four shows we play this weekend. I’m dusting off the Canadian flag to hang on stage and my copy of Live at the Horseshoe is cued up for the band to dig into en route to London ON for tonight’s show.
These shows are for you Tom. Thank you for breaking trail. We’ll do our best to maintain it.

FREE MP3 of OVERTIME.

 http://www.yousendit.com/download/UVJqaXRORkViV3kwYjhUQw

Overtime 

Don’t feel much like leaving you don’t want me to go
But all your Tamarack’s are needling your beauty in this snow
( a big shout out to Tamarack – the legendary Canadian band and Tamarack’s are the only tree to shed their winter needles)
And I’ll see you soon at Christmas a happy holiday
Oh how you gonna miss me if I won’t go away
(an expression often used by my Uncle Brendon – geez I loved that guy!)
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

Drinkin’ doubles on the rock I washed up on the shore
(Drunk in Newfoundland I woke up on a large vessel en route to Labrador)
They shoved me off the dock for a show in Labrador
I’m sitting in this province down the corridor
(I was supposed to sings “La Belle Provence” however it was done live and this is what came out)
I made it into Montreal to play the Yellow Door
(The Yellow Door – the iconic folk club – home of Jessie Winchester and just about everyone else)
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

I know sometimes you love me sometimes you love me not
Trying to keep my cool but baby you’re so hot
I’ll see you soon at Christmas I love that holiday
Oh how you gonna miss me if I won’t go away
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

Well I know I’m late in calling babe I was caught out in the rain
Stuck behind a bus I was waiting for a train
I’m riding on this rocket down at Bloor and Jane
(The infamous TTC skedattler)
I got one more show to go now and I’ll be home again
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

Cash and Silverstein were close but it’s not really true
(Shel Silverstein wrote ‘A Boy Named Sue’ for Johnny Cash. My hometown is aka The Soo)
I think life is easy for a town named Soo
Take a Batchewana sauna catch a rainbow in the falls
(Batchewana Bay is our cottage country. Heavily populated by Finnish folks. Sauna’s are everywhere! Also, the mouth of the Chippewa river is close by and springtime is a perfect time to go Riainbow fishing here. It’s still my favourite fish to catch and my favourite place to catch them.)
I’m heading across the ditch I’m playing nine hold my calls
(The Soo is a boarder town to Soo Michigan. We call going across the St. Mary’s River on the International Bridge – going ‘across the ditch’ – usually to bar hop after a golf game.)
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

I know sometimes you love me sometimes you love me not
I’m trying to keep my cool but baby you’re so hot
I’ll see you soon at Christmas I love that holiday
Oh how you gonna miss me if I won’t go away
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

I gave a pint of blood in Winnipeg Regina shut me out
(the legendary Monster-sized Manitoba mosquito’s almost killed me at an outdoor gig two years ago. Regina – the infamous “City that rhymes with fun!” Well, yes…I was shut out in Regina…she’s another story for another time.)
So I headed west to figure out what four strong winds was all about
(I was en route to meet Ian Tyson after he’d recorded my song)
In Pincher Creek Alberta I was higher than a kite
(Pincher Creek – always windy in the foothills – host a kite flying tournament and is home to one of a few Cowboy Poetry Festivals in Canada – you want to talk about something to see!)
And I wound up at a round up with cowboy poets that same night
I’m overtime I’m in demand give me a sign I’ll be your man

Oh from the Rockies up to Yellowknife then back among the trees
I met some dodgers driving Westy’s eating Vietnamese
(Westfalia’s (VW’s microbuses) are everywhere. Filled with Hippies old and young. Our Rockies still host so many brave US draft dodgers from the Vietnam war. Their stories are incredible).
Then down among the island where some hippies got me stoned
(Did you know Valdy lives on Salt Spring Island? lol)
I can see Japan from my front door I’m pale’n coming home
(What’s a song about Canada without rippin on Sarah Palin?)
I’m triple time I’m out of tune give me a sign baby I’ll be over the moon

I don’t feel much like leaving you don’t want me to go
But all your evergreens are needling your beauty in this snow
And I’ll see you soon at Christmas a happy holiday
Oh how you gonna miss me if I won’t go away

SCHMOOZAPALOOZA

It was one song into their set and I realized that my union card stating I was a member of the American Federation of Musicians was invalid. Me? A musician? After watching the Slocan Ramblers lay down some unbelievable bluegrass on Thursday night, I concluded the ‘Musician’ part of the equation be left for guys like this. They rambled through a set of such high caliber material, I was left drooling like some slack-jawed yokel – just the way a bluegrass outfit wants it. Welded to the couch in the back of this tiny dimly lit hotel suite, I sat with a radio DJ friend and we witnessed history: maybe not the making of history per se, but the reimagining of a musical genre, which suddenly sounded fresh again.

To watch these folks pick and grin with such precision, one could wrongly assume mathematicians were in the house.  Had they over-polished their scales to the point of glossy refinement? No rough edges? No heart or humanity? You see, when done right, this traditional country jazz can be transcendent. Bill Munroe recordings still resonate in Japan (but then again so did Chilliwack so what does that really mean?) Bluegrass when performed wrong falls apart horribly. So often, it’s too mechanical and lifeless as the plethora of trust fund Berkley wannabee kids attempt to be the next Doc Watson. Some ultimately get the luxury of dismissing requests for Wagon Wheel as they progress beyond covers and into new artistic territory, while the majority go back to carpentry and meet in Tottenham once a year to play around their respective campfires. But hey, that’s just one guys opinion of how things work.
These guys breathed real life into every note. Now, maybe it was the whiskey speaking but they sure connected. Remember this name – The Slocan Ramblers. Much like their contemporaries, New Country Rehab, they’ll all be playing for larger crowds somewhere down the line – many years after the dust has settled. But that’s just one of thousands of moments shared by hundreds of us at The Delta Chelsea in Toronto this past weekend.

It was four days of the International Folk Alliance, usually held in the good ol’ USofA, and Toronto was awarded the grand prize this year.  Folkies from around the world descended on this hotel like homegrown to a Zig-Zag, and sang, danced, fiddled, picked, plucked, talked, listened, imbibed, inhaled, wrote, read, attended lectures, jammed in stairwells until daybreak…you name it. You want to know where the musical zeitgeist of the here and now exists?  I truly believe a lot of it was on display at this conference. Now, I ain’t no ethnomusicologist and I’d never want to be accused of embellishing tales as I’m want to do, but we all know there is likely a tribal ritual happening in the Congo – right now – which would alter our perception what real folk music is! I can hear the drums and see the dance, and something tells me they didn’t graduate from Humber. For the purposes of this discussion, however, we are talking a little bit about where art meets commerce, so it brings in immediate questions about intent and authenticity. Ya dig?

My good friend suggested I volunteer this year as I navigate my way through the maze that is this monolithic structure of the conference.(and save about $360 in conference registration fees – ok DONE) I arrived on Monday to help put up banners and move furniture along with some other volunteers. Part of that day’s volunteering duty was to alphabetize every name badge of every conference delegate  for  the registration desk. A team of eight of us worked in a circle, and suddenly I realized two things: the male brain does not work well at such tasks, and after an hour of sorting through the C’s, I looked up to see the girl-team well ahead. Luckily I was called away to shuffle around some empty boxes so I was relieved of this inhumanity. The second point: There were approximately two-thousand delegates attending! Two-thousand? I was seeing how tiny and potentially irrelevant my middle-aged one man troubadour narrative story telling dog and pony show actually IS in the whole scheme of things.

Then I thought about the undiscovered musicians and how they must feel. Then I thought about the other side of things with the bookers and management companies etc…the folks here to gauge the talent. So much of it? Where to start?  How can an artist truly capture a ‘moment’ in a four song thirty minute set? How is it possible for this to resonate with anyone in this setting? For my money, it doesn’t work too well. I realize people do their best with what they’ve got but it feels like a broken system that is beyond repair. Why?  Because there has yet to be an adequate solution to the main issue:  Festival bookers, presenters, club owners etc….do not want to book artists sight unseen and would like to see them in some capacity – quickly and efficiently.

The artists can perform to the AD’s one at a time and a bingo! Problem solved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. It’s music. It’s like someone asking you to retell that joke. “Hey come on Aymar, tell everyone that story about that one time at band camp. You know, you had everyone in stitches when you told it last time!” The statement “it had everyone in stitches before” just killed the retelling of the story. Expectations are now high and the listener is guarded. You know it yourself when someone asks you do repeat something you’re good at. It feels like a setup and nine times out of ten, it backfires. Musical moments unfold over an evening. I know when I’m performing, I often don’t hit stride until about four songs in…like finding the wave…you gotta paddle out for a while, swim with the tide, wait for the moment then find your balance. Once you’re cruising, there’s no feeling like it and everyone can feel it with you. So with the structure of a thirty minute pitch set, coupled with preconceived expectations, the whole thing becomes a tough one. The idea for these Official Showcases, is that the bookers can see top quality artists in a controlled environment.

PART TWO – Unofficial Showcases

The artists who don’t get an official showcase can pay money to get involved with unofficial showcases. Three floors of the hotel are converted by willing participants (usually artists / or small management teams) into tiny makeshift stages: the idea being that everyone will have the opportunity to perform to the AD’s if the artists are willing to find and pay for a private showcase.  The individual rooms on these floors are all converted into stages with a few chair strewn about. A trip to Dollarama – a few White Christmas lights, some banners, flyers galore – spam, door posters, cards, CD’s… shrapnel! (Where’s Holmes Hook reciting ‘Plant a Tree” when you need him!) The three floors take on a carnavelesque feel. I don’t think they do much to get the artist hired. (Maybe the occasional booking comes from them.) They likely make a few bucks for the conference organizers which is good for the bottom line of the conference I guess. It’s really about the party.

Tell me what did you see my blue eyed son:

I saw a guy with a top hat playing a flattop

I saw a girl with an accordion accompanying her sister

I saw a guy running around with a hockey stick banjo

I saw a million old friends made a million new ones

I went to some lectures and learned about touring

I wrote a good song at four in the morning

I had my first bottle of new coffee vodka

I learned to appreciate hard working assistants

I found a new Scottish friend living in south France

I broke down and ate some two-day-old pizza

And I landed some gigs outta this crazy weekend

And it’s a hard, hard rain…

Oh…you know the drill.

So there I was, yet again, lost in the three floor madness of it all. “It was late in the evening….and we stepped outside to smoke ourselves a jay”.

Anyway, I left my room to go on a walkabout through the Big Top and then…woosh…it hit me hard. It was all I could do to prop myself up against a door and look inside and watch some a cool band that for the life of me I cannot remember. As I stood there, I noticed a beautiful short brunette girl standing beside me writing in her note pad. Yep, Mr. Charming decided it was time to lay down some questions and do some ice breaking. (We stepped into the hall so we wouldn’t upset the performance underway.)  As we chatted, I deduced she was of European decent judging from her accent. Thanks Columbo! (The following  is from shoddy memory so forgive me but it’s all I can piece together):

“So are you a journalist?” I asked.
“No, I am just writing down random thoughts!”
“Wow, my kind of girl.” I responded.
“Why is that?” she said.
“Oh, because I’m a songwriter first, musician second. Writers intrigue me the most!”

And then I did something I never do. I went on to tell her I’d just busted up with my girlfriend and wondered if she’d be up for a coffee in the morning?  Usually I’m never this aggressive but that damn giggle-stick  gave me some strange paranoid game. Lol
To my inebriated amazement she said “Yes, but on one condition!”
“Sure, what’s that?” I responded.
“You tell me my name right now. Come on now, I just told you a minute ago.” Laughing as she said it.
I made the awkward conference gesture of having to look down at a woman’s chest to read her lanyard name badge to notice she had it turned it around. I was stumped. I threw out “Mary” for some reason and she laughed, complimenting me on the effort.
“I must go to bed, but I’ll be down in the lobby having a Starbucks tomorrow at 10:30am”.  A quick hug and off she wandered into the sea of minstrels.  It may have been the sweetest brush off of Aymar infamy (likely) OR she was a serious writer who trusted that deep down I was authentic too.
Things got a little blurry from there but the next three hours were filled with some amazing musical moments of jamming ecstasy. One by one, we played songs for each other – accompanied each other and dug deep.

This is where it’s at for me. Always has been. (100% better to be clean when it’s going down but often LIFE doesn’t let it happen without that fuel – just the way it is). Finally, the jam was over and the banjo player looked at me and said “Brother – I can tell you believe in peace. That’s cool!” For some reason I remember that!

I woke up the next morning…er…afternoon at 1pm and made my way back to the hallway and the room I was hanging in for the week. I was speaking with my friends about the day ahead and just across the way, I noticed her familiar face.
“Oh God. Aymar, you promised to meet her at 10:30. You idiot! She’s cute too!”
I waved in her direction. She waved back.
“Good sign” I thought to myself.
I walked over and just spilled the beans.
“Hey I’m really sorry about not making it this morning. I was a little intoxicated last night and I know we said we’d meet for coffee at 10:30 but I slept in.”
She looked at me with her beautiful green eyes, auburn hair, and spoke said with her delicate little Irish accent: “Pardon me? I don’t think I know you? You must have me confused with someone else?”
Flummoxed and red-faced I apologized and thought ‘hmmm…now what Aymar?’

I looked at her straight faced and said, “That’s too bad, because you seem like a great girl and I really need a coffee!” She quietly, discreetly pointed to a room door which her boyfriend was exiting and winked. I smiled and whispered ‘oops..thanks’. Again, it was either another sweet brush-off or it was truly her boyfriend walking our way. In both cases, I’ve convinced myself that these two women wished to run away with me for my next tour, however, it was just bad timing! Lol

Volunteering duties awaited me until I could finally go home and collapse. My commitment to the conference was a full five days. Monday morning to Friday night. I spent Saturday decompressing  in my  bed finishing Keith Richard’s autobiography LIFE. It made me feel a lot better about myself.

So, now back to the reality of existing on a folk troubadour’s wage. Two rehearsals this week followed by five shows over the next ten days. A fiddle, upright bass, guitar, vocals, songs, stories…what more does one soul need? I ask you?

On that note I’ll leave you with this one from Kris Kristofferson.  (TO BEAT THE DEVIL)

“If you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who don’t listen,
“To the things that you are sayin’, who do you think’s gonna hear.
“And if you should die explainin’ how the things that they complain about,
“Are things they could be changin’, who do you think’s gonna care?”

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
‘Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.

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