HOW TO BE A TROUBADOUR
How did February sneak up on us like this? It seems like only yesterday I was maxing out credit cards to help finance yuletide logs, books, socks, wine, whiskey and fancy two-for-one gifts like concert DVD’s and assorted ‘sleep wear’ for a girl who shall remain nameless. Oh this living on the road! I need Dionysus riding shotgun to help me forget the nameless girl. “Love me tender baby, I’m only passing through”. Sounds pretty cool in fiction, but what happens when reality strikes? My married buddies all opine about freedom. They distill my troubadour living down to the fantasy of a Steinbeck or Kerouac novel. (Not that dust bowl farmers and beatniks have a lot in common with modern day troubadours – well they kind of do!) Yes, my married pals assume this freedom is worth every second of loneliness. The sense of adventure outweighs domestic bliss! Deep down – hidden beneath those grandiose sentiments – we both share in the lie. We both understand that perceived freedom (whether one is running from, running too, or just running) is a fallacy. The Holy Grail will always and forever be – real love. I believe John Lennon said it best in one of my favourite songs of all time – God. “I JUST BELIEVE IN ME – YOKO AND ME – THAT’S REALITY” I’ve been loneliest at times in broken relationships. I’ve felt free in those rare moments of bliss, when I knew it was real love. Then, as so often is the case, the muse – that crazed, inexplicable spark – would catch into a flame, and that beautiful ‘castle made of sand – would melt into the sea – eventually!’ Thanks Jimmy. Yeah, I just looked at my Christmas credit card bills and it reminded me that only two months ago I was buying gifts for a girl I fell deeply for. Now, I’m heading in the opposite direction for another tour. Far away from the Holy Grail – but I know it exists. “To believe in this living is such a hard way to go.” Thanks JP.
Imagine how Willie Nelson must have felt about this concept? How many marriages? How many unbelievable songs? You’d morph into a Rasta too if you had the blessing and curse of a soul like that. You’d also believe in reincarnation if you had a soul like that! (Which I’ve heard he believes in). Yes, I recall reading this line about Willie once: “How do you kill Willie Nelson? Take him off the road!” (Waylon Jennings). I understand this all too well. I empathize with you Willie. Just when you feel like you’ve found your ‘real love’ the muse takes over and you need to run off with the circus again. You need to respond to the muses desires. The songs need to be written – fleshed out – performed. The inspiration needs to be rekindled with unfamiliar faces, conversation, wandering, daydreaming, watching, and engaging. The muse will have it no other way. Yes, I believe Willie must look back on the chapters of his life through the women he loved. I get that now. I won’t bore you with the sordid details of my previous loves – but suffice to say – there have been a few women who’ve competed strongly with the muse over the years. They are still my friends as for some reason; they’ve forgiven for always bringing the muse into the relationship. This doesn’t mean I can waltz back into their lives and assume previous relationship benefits – I don’t think I could love a woman like that (er…well maybe). What am I trying to say?
I just looked at a credit card bill which reminded me that only a mere sixty days ago, I was John with Yoko and now I’m Willie again.
I just finished a new CD entitled OVERTIME. It was produced by David Baxter who also played guitar and mandolin on the record. Baxter is a huge Willie fan as well and his album Red Headed Stranger came up a lot in our conversations during the recording. In fact, David has a fantastic song from his CD – Day and Age about how one may look back on their lives through the relationships they were in – much like chapters in a book. If I Could See the Future . Hell it’s all been written eh? While we’re at it, one of my all-time favourite songs about the internal conflict of an artist was written by Treasa Levasseur on her latest CD – Broad – Let Me Sleep On It. Oh yeah…I was blessed to have Treasa play on my latest CD as well. Hear that sparse piano on the song Monterey? That’s her. But wow, do I love these two songs. Likely what drew me to having them along for this recent ride? I don’t say this lightly. The only song that I feel bests this one (for pure emotion) is Cohen’s – Tower of Song.
When it came time to discuss what songs were to be on this CD, David simply asked me to record the roughs from the road and we’d go through them and decide which ones fit the overall theme. I woke up terribly hung-over in the Kennedy Inn (Saint Andrews by-the-Sea) and was experimenting with my new ipod. I had just finished a great show the night before, was invited to an after party and as such had the day to sleep in before my night time show started up again. (Gotta love those two-day engagements!) So I hit – MEMO – RECORD and voila – over the next three hours I recorded these eighteen new songs in that tiny little room. (A dear elderly woman would flag me down in the lobby the next day to thank me for providing her with dinner music – as she was my unsuspecting neighbour.) A gentle knock on my door from the staff at 8:00 pm from the reminded me that it was show time. (Remember how Coleridge said someone woke him from an opium induced dream during the writing of Kubla Khan? I believe it was his neighbour returning a shovel. If not for that interruption, Kubla Khan would have been a complete poem. I’m just sayin’ no knock from the staff and we could have had a few more gems to work with). So I dragged a comb across my hair and stumbled down the stairs to greet the —- er stage’. The days that followed found me heading toward the Bay of Fundy for a few more shows. Then is when I met her. Oh yeah, remember the girl from three paragraphs ago?
It all started innocently enough. We shared stories throughout the night. I trusted her judgement to listen to these songs and help me choose which ones were worthy and which ones were unfinished. She wanted nothing more than to hear all of my songs. I wanted nothing more than to play them for her. Her judgement was in full alignment with my gut feelings. Feeling confident with my song selections I sent over ten of the rough cut ipod recordings to Baxter. He in turn learned them along with Lucas Gadke (bass) and Laura Bates (fiddle) and the seeds were set for OVERTIME. It was with her – the Fundy Maiden – in those hours, the darkness descending on nowhere – the talking – the laughing – the retelling of our lives – that I wrote the song Monterey. A song about our neighbourhood back in Sault Ste. Marie. We spent hours sharing stories of our formative years. Three days later the song appeared quickly as the good ones always do. In no more than twenty minutes, it wrote itself. I saved it for the final day of recording in studio kept it sparse. I thank her for this. Somehow we feel like an incomplete chapter – one which hasn’t been fully written. Who knows? It was during these informal discussions of song selections, we decided that a song I wrote for an acquaintance was worthy of making the album. ‘I’ll Leave When I’m Ready to Go’ was a song I wrote about Andy Frank who was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer. Heavy? Real? Hell I barely even knew the guy! You’d better believe it. I was actually against it in my heart of hearts.
I always think about living and dying in these terms. That we can be defiant in the face of death.
‘HEY LIFE…YEAH I’M TALKING TO YOU!“
Life looks up with a De Niro smirk…”YOU TALKIN’ TO ME?” “Yeah I’m talking to you! You think you’re gonna dictate when I’m leaving this world? Fuck you! I’ll leave when I’m ready to go!” If life were only like that. If we could truly choose our time. Then again – that’s what fiction is for. That’s the power of the imagination. That can be the power of a song. So, I decided to record it.
Andy (who along with David Newland run Roots Music Canada) is well entrenched in the Canadian folk roots music scene as a writer, reviewer, videographer, deejay…you name it. I found out about his cancer from an email sent through his blog. He was forthright and candid about all of it from the outset. Brave? I can’t even imagine. I followed his journey on his blog – and for some unknown reason I empathized with him to the point of true sadness. For a moment, I inhabited his being and told his story as though I was him through song. It was much too personal a song to record. At best I would perform it live for him at his fundraiser. I did. He liked it. We became real friends. I recorded it. Then in an old-school good karma kind of way, he took his video camera along and caught snippets of my life over the course of a few months and put it into this nice video: An Honest Journeyman of Music. All of the characters I’ve been talking about are here. He caught a window – a piece of time – and he did it brilliantly. Thanks amigo. Glad you’re feeling better.
As of recently, he’s free and clear. For now! And to think – I began my ramblings with my minor little worries. Doesn’t that go to show you? Yup, I sat down this morning, opened up my credit card statement and saw my December purchases. These purchases reminded me of Fundy girl and how a significant moment can change ones perspective.
I look out the window and see falling snow. I have a show in an Irish Pub this Saturday night (Dora Keogh) which I’m really excited about. It’s not the type of venue where they pay to come in and listen. It’s the type of venue where you have to fight to capture the crowd’s attention. For one who writes story based folk songs – that can be a challenge winning over these types of audiences. Call me crazy but I always love these types of gigs for some reason. For ‘some’ of my hard-core fans who enjoy hearing the words – I apologize – but for the unknown entity that just happens to stumble in from the cold – I’ll play you some songs of mine, some from my heroes and we’ll all have a party. I don’t mind it one bit. Hell, I have lined up over one hundred shows for this spring / summer already and there will be plenty of time to take myself seriously! Besides I don’t mind being a populist at times. The show will end and I’ll wake up to Super Sunday.The 11 minutes of action surrounded by corporate America will end as well. I will make the long journey north to be with my folks before hitting the trail again. That crazy muse on one shoulder and the Bay of Fundy Maiden on the other! Just let me sleep on it.
Another highway – another chapter – more conversations – more campfires – more songs and this time I’m going to capture it in a new survival guide. Let’s call it a How-To manual. Hmm…I’ll call it “How to be a Troubadour” (A pocket guide). The cover will be red and yellow with a hammer and sickle subversively hidden inside the shape of a guitar. The chapters will read like a manifesto paraphrasing everyone from Marx, to Susanna Moodie to Woody Guthrie. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. ‘How to be a Troubadour’. I like it.
So now it’s off to visit the most important part of my team….Leo -my mechanic!