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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.