Talk about the great disappearing act? After extolling the virtues of blogging and my promise to keep you up on my road stories, I’ve allowed my true colours to surface. Just another non-committal fraudulent artist making vast claims – OR – (as my mom would say) “Sounding brass and tinkling cymbal’.
I do, however, have a great excuse for my absence which, if you are any friend or fan at all, will believe with great conviction and give me an immediate pass for my behaviour. Agreed? Well, if not – screw off! Who needs you anyway. I own one loyal guitar and a new batch of songs…that’s all I need! What a rich life eh?
The end of the year is closing in on us and I’ve officially hit about 130 shows with about twenty more to go before the year is out. I started in March and pointed the Camry west until I hit Gabriola Island, BC. I didn’t quite make it to Salt Spring Island to meet Valdy, but I did just open for him a few weeks ago in Thessalon, ON. Let’s see, the western swing was eventful. I returned to many of the same venues, ditched the dogs and found some new gems. I had a miraculous three days in a motel where I wrote four songs which I’ve just recorded for the new CD. This happened in southern Alberta and I’m sure it has something to do with the beautiful foothills. There are some amazing places in Canada, and yeah ‘the wind sure does blow cold way out there’ but it’s as picturesque as it gets. Friendly folks too.
One of the songs came to me after reading about so many returning US Iraqi war vets and their struggles to re-adapt. PTSD, many injured , some confined to a life in a wheelchair, some leaving their families, the stories are plentiful and it seems most of them feel resentment for the ill treatment they receive by their own government upon returning home. Upon hearing these stories I found it fostered a dialogue with strangers, which lead to late night campfires with yet more ‘real life’ stories about friends and relatives who’ve gone through similar situations. Whether that be WW2 (my dad), Vietnam (see: Sam Stone – John Prine…see earlier blog) or Iraq (see my new song: Precious War). Trust me, it’s always the campfires at 3:00am where you have time to listen. It’s a sacred setting for a reason and the truth always surfaces around the glowing embers. Anyway, there I was near Pincher Creek Alberta, digesting these stories when this particular song came through me. It wrote itself quickly and with a strong anti-oil message as well. I thought I would wait to perform it on a TV interview the following week in Calgary! Perfect place for it – the heart of oil country. I did too. To my amazement, I was fortunate to receive some insightful hate mail from the Joe Q anonymous oil embracing public. Guess I must be doing something right. Interestingly enough, about five months later I was finishing my tour in Tatamagouche at a very intimate club and performed the song with a disclaimer that ‘one can decry the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq’ but can support the brevity of the soldiers caught up in it (fictitious as I may believe it is). When the song was finished, a couple at a shadowy table began quietly heckling for the next four songs. Distracting and simultaneously engaging, I was eager to let them go at it. I busted out in a quiet love song ‘Rock On’ and let them get louder and louder as I continuously performed softer and softer. I backed away from the mic and played so soft, they found the spotlight of condemnation on them as the proprietor politely asked them to stop it, or leave. Ah the power of a good political song. I was satisfied. Or was I?
The club owners approached me at the end of the night to show me the signed guest book with comments on the show. She highlighted the half-page rant against me from the heckling couple. There it was. A defence of her husbands spirited war efforts – a hero in her eyes, followed by a scathing attack on the soulless folk singer. They offered me the guest book for my John Henry – “Love is the answer” I scribbled. There – another great moment inspired by art. So, the song has already been quite good to me and who would have thought it was inspired by a campfire, internet reading, touring west and lengthy discussions with the likes of Mitch Podolak about what makes a good protest song. Mission accomplished.
From Pincher Creek I made my way into Golden, BC (blog: See You on the Dark-Side of the Super Moon) and ultimately into BC. What a wild ride. I was able to meet up with a ton of musician friends on this leg of the journey and it was here I started two more songs. One of them is my anti-technology tale ‘Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop By’ which was inspired by a day stuck in Toronto traffic. I looked out of my window at the pedestrian traffic at Yonge and Dundas and saw what looked like ‘Attack of the Hoodie Drones’ all staring down at glowing devices seemingly attached to their hands. Resembling a prehistoric form of communication, one soon realized they walked in small packs and were using these devices to aggrandize themselves for one other. I remember hearing about a not-so-distant past where people were known to have ‘talked’ to one another. One of the subversives in the ranks slipped me a copy of National Geographic magazine – circa 1961. Yeah, that was what they called it – a magazine. A glossy text used to disseminate information pertaining to ones interests. National Geographic contributed to peoples understanding of rain forests and such, while simultaneously destroying them by its mere existence in print. I wonder if they ever did a feature article on ’conundrums’. Yup, you can still find folks who remember those over sized pamphlets. They were outnumbered by their daily counterparts called Newspapers.
These were basically political rags owned by the ruling class to disseminate their information en mass. They employed the standard fear tactics of false information like war efforts abroad, economic upturns and downturns, impending weather disasters, global politics (usually just more fear tactics – but for the educated class). They often reserved heart felt, feel good stories for the local section to give the illusion that these were not simply propaganda tools. You know the story, “One armed blind baby climbs Mount Everest to raise money for the Ladies Auxiliary”. Stuff like that. They even had an entire section dedicated to sport. The real opiate of the masses in the twentieth century. (I guess, that gladiator stuff has always been around to kill time and build national pride.) Yup, entire sections dedicated to overgrown, drug-induced, mutli-millionaires at play. This section was always well read and often included an elaborate page of numbers, much like the financial section, but for the impoverished, uneducated gambler. The Financial section was reserved for the real fools. You could often find an ‘Arts’ section as well, which would highlight superficial commercial exploits of the day. Most of what was considered ‘art’ in these rags has been long relegated to the ‘forgotten’ pile only filling land waste sites or echoing into the ether for future generations to avoid. The words of the prophets truly ARE written on the subway walls and tenement halls.
Ooops…I did it again. Where was I? Oh yeah…my song Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop By. A play on Timothy Leary, a slag against modern technology (my bass player Lucas calls it my ‘grouchy old man song’) and too much overexposure. Again, my mother is so wise. Last year she opined that ‘No one visits anymore! Back in the old days we used to go visiting every Sunday. It was formal. One never stayed long and you always brought a little something and then they’d come and visit you soon afterwards. It was nice. No one comes around anymore!”
You’re right mom. Guess all I could do was write a song about it. Then again, I’m full of malarky (that’s for Joe Biden) because about a month after writing the song I went to Wal Mart and purchased an Ipod. Now I’m one of the fucking drones!
The point? I now had six new songs and was halfway through my tour.
I made it home to Ontario (currently my 390,000 km Camry IS home but family abounds in The Soo and Toronto so I call those cities HOME as well) for some down-time at our camp on St. Joe’s Island. Yeah, we call it a camp in Northern ON. In the prairies it’s called a cabin / BC : cabin, cottage / Northern ON: camp, Southern ON: cottage / Quebec: cottage or chalet / the Maritimes: cabin and cottage / Van – Calgary – Toronto – Montreal – Halifax wealthy class: Monaco / songwriters – provincial parks – you get the drift. Oh and in case you were unaware as I was, in the west they ‘winter’ in Arizona while in the east they ‘winter’ in Florida.
I hit the trail again and made my way east. Through eastern Ontario, Montreal, southern Quebec toward our friendly neighbours to the south. I figured it would be nice way to shave off some time en route to the Maritimes and explore Boston and the surrounding area. I was really hoping to run into Tom Rush but alas our paths didn’t cross. So I pulled up to the US Customs to cross onto Hwy 91 in the Good Ole US of A. As timed by my exploding kidney, I waited a paltry forty-five minutes while replaying over and over again my pitch to the border security officer. You see, I’m awful at being honest. I get into these situations and some deep seeded Catholic guilt kicks in and before you know it, I’m singing like a canary about a potential joint in the glove box that some reckless musician may have left behind. I was nervous with the recollection of my previous trip to the US en route to Memphis. I arrived that morning from Windsor at 7:00 am to a very angry and tired agent: “Citizenship?”
“Where do you live?”
“Uh…Toronto right now I guess”
“Well I’m a touring songwriter.”
“We’re going to have to ask you to pull over sir.”
It really was that quick.
They detained me for two hours. I was sequestered to an area with the poor huddled masses and reminded at least five times to ‘take my hands out of my pockets’ (every warning was ‘their last warning’) I remember putting my thumbs into my pockets to hang my hands at rest, as my silent, subversive protest. They didn’t catch on. A few hours of grilling about how I wouldn’t be working, selling CD”s, performing anywhere and they let me through. It was soooo Alice’s Restaurant.
So it was with these nerve wracking memories I hit my new border crossing in south Quebec,
“Nature of your visit.”
“Just passing through to the Maritimes.”
“Songwriter.” (Oh shit Aymar – you meant to say musician)
“Songwriter? That’s a new one. Those your guitars in the back seat.”
(Oh hell here we go again) “Yes those are mine.”
“You have CD’s in the trunk too?”
“Yes but they’re for sale only when I get back to Canada in two days.”
“What kind of guitars are those?”
“A Larivee and a Takimine.” I responded.
“Hmmm…nothing made in the USA. That’s a shame! You a flattop picker or a strummer?
“Just a strummer.”
“What kind of stuff do you write?”
“Tom T. Hall, John Prine type stuff.”
“Have a good one. I’m glad you didn’t say Bob Dylan! Enjoy the U.S. son!”
I whistled through to my New Brunswick destination and found myself performing another twenty shows in over the next thirty days. Outdoor spa’s, to Inn’s, a small theatre, a folk festival in Halifax, a saloon in Shelburne. This was the best tour yet.
On my final day near Tatamagouche (remember the hecklers?) I was asked to open up for Valdy in Thessalon, ON. Well, my next venue in Sussex had just burnt to the ground and now I had the ability to do a bullet shot home. So I did it. I drove for three straight days (I drove through Ottawa to find out my buddy and his girl are having a new baby!). I hit Thessalon to meet Valdy with minutes to spare. When I wheeled up to the hall, my starter stopped working. After almost 400K my reliable house on wheels demanded $350 from me. Ouch. Oh well, it got it fixed and we rolled on back into Sault Ste. Marie to visit mom and dad and celebrated dad’s 91st birthday, Thanksgiving and the fact that mom is doing so well.
The songs were written and rehearsed and now I was driving back down to Toronto to make my sixth record with Toronto producer, player all around music legend David Baxter. He’s made such amazingly soulful roots records over the past few years in Canada. His sound is distinct and his virtuosity is abundant. I had to use him for these new songs. I did. We just came out of the studio and the songs sound basically done. Very excited about how these turned out so far. That’s it for now.
You have exercised extreme patience reading this gibberish and I applaud you. Really – I don’t care what people have been saying about you behind your back – I think you’re just swell. See you on the great Canadian trail soon enough and don’t forget: Keep on pluckin and let yer rubber roll.