From January to September, the light lasts a little longer each day.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
When you're a kid, the world seems huge. Backyards are like unfettered and holy meadows - waiting to be grazed within, danced through and played upon. Sandboxes are beaches of eternity.
Growing older, I've noticed that everything seems to shrink. The roads. The buildings. Sometimes even the skies look like fake blue particle board with cotton stapled on top.
I like the speedy carousel moments, where everything is a flourish of light and sight and sound and people and whimsy - but I also like the moments where the clock sticks and the inner gears seem to spite me. I become impatient. I twitch. I fiddle. But I learn. I learn to wait, and I learn to not rush ahead and to be okay with the anxious moments.
How do we ever know what love looks like? Because for one person, it can seem so right. They see something desirable in the eyes of another that makes them sick and tired and happy and hurt all over - but is it actually love when it's unreturned?
I think growing up is about waiting, and understanding, and knowing that love moves far beyond a moment. It waits. It yearns. It burns. It builds. It adapts. Sometimes, it's gone. Sometimes, it comes back. But when it's the real deal, it can't be mistaken for any other plastic impostor.
The tides are turning. The weather is warming slightly, and the wheels are pushing the meter of the road rhythm, and I find myself a little gasped at how it's all flying by. Yesterday, it was Christmas. Today, it's nearly April. What do we do with the time?
I've been busy, and I've got some bodies of work I can lay out there, but I'm also looking forward to a slower summer. I long for some down time at lakes. With friends. Fires. Workshopping songs. BBQ's. Ball games. Good hugs. Deep water plunges. Thunder storms.
As I finish another day of sitting at a desk and cranking numbers out into a database, I have to wonder what it all means.
Something in me wants to stop production. I hear the beckoning of creativity, but the grinds and gears of the world make me want to go to sleep and watch TV and let the night come. I want to lay on my bed and relax and just 'brush it off'.
Writing is a slog. It's a bone-rattling practice. I push everything away, from the shelves of my mind, and I put the pen to paper and I make sure it's real.
I'm sick of a lot of things. I'm sick of people not being able to grow the fuck up and deal with their problems. I'm tired of adults who act like children. I'm sick of people who are so keyed into their own psyches that they don't listen and they don't hear. They sift through your words, and they take what they want to take, and they bend the lens of life back to themselves. So you said some bad things. So you hurt someone else.
So what. The world goes on despite you and me. Stand up, deliver and deal with your childish bullshit. Be a real human being and say you're sorry because we all know that you are.
Sleep time. And once again, I give in. I beckon. I wane.
yourself. you will be put again and again into nearly impossible situations. they will attempt again and again through subterfuge, guise and force to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly inside.
nobody can save you but yourself and it will be easy enough to fail so very easily but don’t, don’t, don’t. just watch them. listen to them. do you want to be like that? a faceless, mindless, heartless being? do you want to experience death before death?
nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. it’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it.
I wish we could say the things we want in this life. But we hold back. I've held back. I've played the cool and laid back card so many times instead of thrusting myself into the winds of passion. Nothing lasting or worthy happens in this life if we don't first take the Indiana Jones blind step of faith.
Sometimes, I don't know what I'm doing. I feel a little like I'm driving a charter bus at breakneck speed down a Pennsylvania turnpike with my eyes closed. But somehow, I think that suits me - much more than it does to be a 9 to 5 government suit and tie guy.
Money is overrated. Needed - but overrated. Acceptance is the purest drug any of us could ever ask for.
The slow suicide of January and February have seemed to have passed, at an even quicker rate than usual, and now March is ripping by at bullet-train speed. The world careens on towards whatever it is careening to, and we are passengers on the ship. Waiting. Figuring. Calculating. Biding time. Taking risks. Watching netflix. Eating bananas. Crying. Laughing.
But it all happens with healthy doses of grace and beauty mixed in there, and we need to soak those moments into our bones.
I've been playing a ton of music - and not just my own. Through the Branch, I've been able to connect with a lot of hidden musical gems of the greater Valley region. I want to become a better side player and support guitarist and vocalist and bassist or whatever-ist to my friends projects. If I want survive in music, diversity is the only way to go.
Last night, I had the chance to play some guitar with Ali McCormick. She's got some serious songwriting chops and though her style is different than mine, it was nice to be in another musical headspace and fire out some licks. We practiced in Almonte at a music store owned by a cool, talented fella named George. I hadn't been to the 'Monte for probably 20 years since my old friend Brad 'Bardlye' Huskins left town. We used to gut ourselves about the Valley accent, and yell 'GIDDAY LAD' as loudly and obnoxiously as possible when we saw each other. Many spring and summer nights, Brad and I spent our mid-teen years playing NBA jam in his basement and dunking on his adjustable hoop in his backyard.
These days, I'm spending a lot of hours behind a finicky PC laptop that clicks and clacks and sometimes freezes, while I try and input people's data into a T1 database that allows them to spend another year with no Sauron-gaze from the evil regime that is Revenue Canada. I drink coffee once a day. I try to go running and stay health conscious and active. I'm looking forward to the coming months and seeing what I can manage on my plate.
I had some tough nights, and sought out some heavenly lights.
I thought I knew the answers, but I missed the music and passed the dancers.
I headed straight for salvation street, without skipping a holy beat.
And all the while in my heart, I was wandering into a chapel of untouched art.
Majestic mosaics and unearthed treasure troves.
The truth reigned down in canvas covered droves.
So instead of wandering and talking and constantly waiting,
I grabbed and brush, dipped it in the world muck and started painting.
Guelph was a storied time for me. I feel like I started to come into my own, dig into the community around me and I made some golden friends. Mark Wallace was in my wedding party, and he remains a great friend to this day. Mark and I could talk about movies and John Cusack until the cows came home. Many Sundays after church, we would spend lounging on cushion-covered floor in his bunker apartment, watch 80's flicks and eat stale popcorn.
Sometimes, the stars line up and the galaxies light a path that's almost too bright. Something sparkles and tears in the inner wall of our human fabric, and we are privy to a shining moment of golden greatness.
Last night, I experienced something while playing live at the Branch. I've played many times at the Branch - and in fact, it's become a second home to me. The owner and head chef Bruce has taken me into the fold and has started to accept me as part of the scenery. I work there. I play there. And I've become familiar to that little, enchanting haunt. It's a part of me.
But last night, I had the chance to open for multi JUNO nominee and ECMA winner Dave Gunning. I'd met Dave before at the Shelter Valley Folk Fest a few years ago, and we instantly connected and began shit-shooting about some of our mutual friends from the eastern lands of this great country. And within minutes, I got along with this slightly sheepish but consummate pro of a musical player. I remember hearing hearing his voice and seeing his fingers move, and equating it to an old thunderous man with a shotgun of hilarious, raspy passionate wisdom to extend outward.
Skip forward two and a bit years to last night - and my friend Ben and I are lugging in and setting up our gear on stage to open for him in the tiny town of Kemptville. Immediately, the tall, snap-brim hatted blue-eyed figure emerged from the bar, and he approached me and offered the use of his mic or any of his gear and his pedals.
We talked about a few of our mutual friends and a tragedy that happened to one named Jay Smith. Jay was a man that died too young. A brilliant songwriter and phenom guitar player, I only met him over the course of three days while shooting videos for Matt Mays. Jay played guitar for Matt and died four days after I left the band. Two years later, we still both felt sad just talking about it.
The show went on, and something about it had a different feel. It was all a bit magical, and ethereal. A packed crowd was huddled in and ready to listen. Bang. I made a few jokes, and felt like the banter was strong out of the gate. My words were hung on. Gunning's mic was pro and there was a slight cathedral reverb that cascaded through the room. You could have dropped a pin between songs, and it would have echoed. They were hanging on my every jargon-esque word. I even played a song about Jay, and barely got through it. Ben joined me halfway through my set and lit up his powder blue custom SG, and I lost grip of my pick for a second, but Ben kept the rhythm and I made an adjustment, and we kept going. We had a chemistry, and the vibe was light and kind. After our 9 songs, we were greeted by two new listeners and appreciators who were into the Graven feel. Many people said many kind things.
Before Dave took the stage, he had his guitars saddled to his person and he approached me and said some very kind and genuine things. He said that he dug my tunes and that I have some very strong songs, and that anytime I was playing, he would happily come and listen. I was floored. He also said he loved the song about Jay and the even hearing him talked about made him feel comforted in a strange way. He then took the stage and blew the minds of everyone in attendance. His gravely voice, otherworldly picking skill and distinct and poignant stories were on point.
I sat with my friends Jill and Christian and breathed in the moment. People were grateful. My old camp friend Azura showed up and brought me a piece of cake. My parents came with their friends the Rourkes and loved what they heard (but they always say that). My new friend Adria brought a friend and said some kind things. My friends Brad, Polly and Carey told me it was one of my best shows ever. I was fully in it. It's a night I won't soon forget. Nights like these make the struggle worth it.
At 20 years of age, I dated a girl named Sarah. She was 16. It didn't work out as I moved to Guelph for school and she stayed in Ottawa. Although I rarely see her, she has remained a good friend throughout the years, and she got married to another friend of mine.
Don't ever let anyone talk you out of following a dream. The embers of our nights and days ash out on to the table cloth of reality, and then they are in the wind. Gone. Poof. Do what you can while you can.
Nobody knows what is around the corner. Injury. Sickness. Heartbreak.
In my many winding roads of bumping into bizarre, crafty musical folks, who float down nymph-like vapour trails into darkened forests of self-discovery and illusive artistry, I have nary met a soul as bright or as wild or as mad or as powerful as Steve Poltz.
I only spent chunks of two days with Steve in 2012 when I was shooting some social media videos for Joel Plaskett and his crew at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. In the five-night stint, Poltz was the opener for the first two nights, and I had never seen him live. I had only heard of his wild, untamed musical mane and his manic but beautiful and tender delivery.
When I first shook hands with him, he was sitting at the back of the Horseshoe staring into his phone with the screenlight reflecting back on his black-rimmed glasses. I was a bit intimidated, as I'd heard many larger than life stories about his mythical persona, but he was warm and inviting and chatty from the get-go and asked me about my connection to Joel. Later that night, before the show, we ventured next door to the Rivoli and ate dinner with Joel. I barely wanted to speak, as these two well-traveled and deep storied performers traded tall tales and insider tips. Their riffing was otherworldly, as Poltz used his words like weapons. They were bombs of consciousness exploding in the ether above our dark dinner table.
With a furious acoustic style and a voice that sounds like a rugged, raspy cowboy who's been drenched in a cold Kentucky rainstorm for weeks, he's a living legend. He can talk like nobody's business, and he can create rhythmic, hilarious and mentally twisted strings of rhymes for days on end.
In one of his first sets at the Shoe, he paused between one of his songs and said laughingly and with naked honesty '...I've been sober for eight years and I'm basically a massive fuck-up'. Sometimes, he would make the lady computer voice on his phone say perverted things to the audience, and just laugh his ass off on stage. I immediately adored this guy.
He is part comedian. Part troubadour. Part nomad. Part disgustingly skilled songwriter and singer. Part classical guitarist. Part surfer. Part cowboy. Part beast. Part spirit. Part wild light energy purveyor.
But in a weird way, I understood him. He is who he is, and he makes no apologies, and he has been a solid musical inspiration to me since we met. His songs are transparent, clever and catchy.
Before his first show, I asked him on camera if he had any pre-show rituals - and he merely clasped his hands together, in a prayer motion, closed his eyes, nodded and smiled politely at me. He could have been saying 'please don't talk to me - I'm meditating' or 'I don't talk before shows' or 'silence is my ritual' or all of those things, or none of those things - but all at once, I got it. On the second night, with Snicks the sound man and Matt the lighting guy, we made a joke about hipsters and 'whisper rock', and it still makes me chuckle to this day.
This was the first song of his first set, and it blew my mind from the first chunky Drop C strum-pick. It's called Spirit Hands, and I didn't even know the title of it (until I sent him a text yesterday and asked if he remembered, and he wrote me the answer within seconds):
I haven't seen Steve since 2012, and I know he's had a few recent health blips on his spiritual and physical radar, but we exchange two or three word texts every few months - and it's always nice to know that he's out there. Doing his thing. Laughing. Touring. Jumping. Twisting and bending minds. And never stopping. I look forward to the day where I can see him grace a dark stage again.
There's something about today. People are particularly snippy, and there's an underlying theme of white hot rage in the actions of a few folks I've encountered. And in return, I've lashed out in response with equal heaps of fury.
What we do with anger? How do we channel it? It fucks us all up. Makes your hands shake. Emotion blends in, and tears cloud our vision. Words come out faster than bullet trains. Before we know it, the knives have been thrown and the damage is done.
Anger can be dignified and absolutely necessary - but what if it is a pattern and a surface-cracker of other things?
And what if it is embraced for too long? What then? How long until the fire-breathing dragon you keep in your bedroom slays you?
"Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead." -Bukowski
I had a conversation last night that cut through the cotton core of the usual chit-chat, banter and everything else that we come across in our usual tepid talk-lives. In this conversation, fears were addressed and self-admitted insecurities, worries and failures surfaced, and deep-wrought tears of support and release were exchanged. Although we can often spend time talking about nothing and laughing about feral cat noises, once in a while, Mand and I will cut through to the core of something deeper. She has become a spiritual mainstay in my life, and I am truly thankful for her presence. Even though she is much younger than I, and physically many leagues and miles away, we are fairly well connected - and it is a conversation I won't soon forget.
So often, even with the people we would consider our closest friends, we are afraid to be vulnerable. It's a shame. We've been taught to think that crying is a step backwards - toward childhood - when it is actually a needed impasse to vault over to get to the next zenith. We need that release, but we fight against it. We are afraid to get emotional, and just let our regrets and our worries and our silly self-inflictions fly out into the air - because once they are out there, there is no retraction. No one wants to look stupid - we humans have this tendency to want to appear completely together. We are afraid that our shit will, in fact, stink.
Well here's the truth - we are all stupid. Nobody knows what the fuck they want - there are just many people out there who are better at faking it than others.
But when entering down the road of honesty, and cut-the-shit openness, we will often find many fellow journeyers to tag along with us. We have believed the lie that we are alone in our struggles, and that we must, at all costs, just keep on truckin' with a smile on our faces and a spring in our steps.
I'm thankful for best and close friends, and emotion, and honesty. I'm thankful for Mand. May you find release today in the company of a loved one. They'll probably understand more than you know.
The last few weeks have been strange. I've experienced one of those passages of time where it feels like much and nothing are happening all at the same time. I've worked. I've had time off. I've spent a lot of time in quiet car rides reflecting, and I've been loud with friends at the same time. I've written. I've worked on my fretboard fingering. It's been bitterly cold, but there have also been moments of a slight thaw - where you feel like the seasons are finally working towards your favour. Sleeps feel a little more sound in your bones and core.
I had the chance to spend a few hours at the lake with Joel and Jill on Friday. As a winter project, Joel, Steve, Spencer, Jill and myself put some hours into a run-down shack that sits upon old Otter. Since its inception, one would think that fish would come out of a magical hole in the frosty centre of the shack, but that has not been the case. Instead, it seems to be a place of gathering and communion and fluid-filled fellowship. Secretly, I think all of us longed for a secret winter, tree-fort and that is what it has turned into - a place of togetherness and childish laughter.
The days are stretching out a little longer, and the dusklight glow seems to linger. People are becoming a tad more ambitious. Mud and dirt starts to show. Streets glisten at midday with actual water, and not just frozen, snow-caked asphalt.
It's all opening up.
I'm still at a bit of an impasse, in terms of longview life goals, but I'm making do with what I have and putting the golden-goose gifts to use. When I slack on my writing, I find ways to pick it back up. When I leave the blog for a few days, I get back into it. When I get cluttered in my mind, I do my best to clean things up. I had the chance to take a few naps this weekend (which is unheard of in my current rigamarole), and so I felt my batteries begin to recharge.
While house setting for some friends in North Grenville this week, I've spent a few days caring for some dogs - Rufus and Maui. With very different personalities, these two dogs have been interesting companions. They are not big barkers, but they pay attention and having never owned a dog, I appreciate the immediacy they bring to a home. At first, it can be a tad unsettling to have someone pay so much attention to your every movement, but unlike us, they are less secretive about their sizing-up process. They sniff and they lick and they will stare without ceasing. On the other hand, and very much like us, at the end of the day, they just want to be tended to, fed, watered, and cared for - and that is a centering feeling.
Some of us try to wait out the change. Instead of adapting with the world, we wait for the world to adapt to us. Obviously, the latter never happens and it can be a battle to shuffle off the winter coil.
You may be done with the past, but the past is not done with you.
The immediacy of writing is important. It needs to be gripped and cold-shock sending to the inner fibers of your soul-tether. All good things come with some kind of stress and anxiety. That feeling of being completely zen on a beach with a citrusy, tropical drink in one hand and a covergirl model sitting on your lap are illusive. They are frag grenades created by a possession driven world.
Whenever you need to say something important, there will always be a tiny voice telling you to keep it inside. Don't say the words. Talk about it tomorrow. Put it off. Get some sleep.
But we must fight the tiny voice, and stand and deliver the words, and follow those words with actions, or we are robots.
As the spring comes on, we must change with it. Projects will take our focus and sharpen it accordingly.
Sometimes in life, you get stuck. You need some help to get going. You can spin your wheels and make the dirt and snow fly as much as you want, but you just ain't movin'.
The above photo was taken at Otter Lake. Joel got stuck in his driveway (of all places) and had to get a tow from his uncle. A 2X4 versus a 4X4 - which one do you think won the battle? Before his uncle showed, Joel and I tried many a method to free the red beast. We tried wood planks. Digging. Salt. Carpets. Nothing happened. Wheels spun. Ice formed. Ruts deepened.
With a little help from a friend, he was out in seconds.
There's a valid point, there. Today, I met with someone to discuss a situation that had been built up. It seemed like nothing was being made out of something, and of course, in the modern age of text messages and emails and toneless words, things were misinterpreted. Thoughts fumed and plumed. We met over coffee and addressed the things that needed addressing. What could have been weeks and months of fuming was quashed in a moment of caffeine and face to face.
It's important to run. The people who never go through a phase in life where they run away, and head for the hills, will spend their lives wondering what it's like to set sail. Their windows will always be gazed through, and they will burn with an unfulfilled desire - an unscratchable itch within the soul.
Even if it's only for a short season, it's important to stick your thumb out on the hawk-wind highway of adventure. Everyone needs that adrenaline shot to the central nervous system of putting the chips on the table, and letting it all hang out there. No one knows exactly what they are going to get - or even what they want - but running is part of the process.
"Figure it out as you go along", they say. "You'll get there when ya get there," they'll nudge.
Well in an annoying way, all of those cliched colloquialisms are true.
When I was 19, I knew I needed to get out of Ottawa, but my high school marks weren't the greatest. I decided to go to the furthest school that accepted me - and that was Laurentian in Sudbury. A smelt town of ore and a gigantic nickel, the rocks and trees looked barren. The town was a severed artery from the school campus, and there was no way to walk anywhere. You immediately became a shut-in who drank too much to escape a hellish, dry-cold winter that instantly made your nostrils feel like Hoth.
I had some dark times in my first year of university, but I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that I had a real penchant for writing. I learned that the Smashing Pumpkins could pull me through in a land of Cro Magnon jocks. I played guitar live and sang in front of people for the first time at the pub down under, and it went well.
But I also learned that sometimes the thing or town or person you run away from is that which you love the most.
There's something about the beginning of spring that makes me long for campfires, gatherings of friends, lingering/resonant chords and Jim Cuddy's voice drifting in the ether of the background. Blue Rodeo's older (and some newer catalogue) have this haunting attachment to season for me. It's the beginning of something special, and the movement to a new time that comes alive in his straight-ahead twang-cut melodies and his somber, relational lyrics.
I had the chance to interview him last year, and it was definitely one of my favourites to date. His answers were never what I expected, and he is obviously someone who puts a lot of thought into every response. As someone who has heard a lot of stock answers, it was nice to hear someone get so deep and honest and thoughtful in a phone interview. You can read the whole interview here - but there's a great snippet where he goes into detail about the band almost breaking up during the Five Days In July album (which is, without a doubt, one of BR's all-time greats).
May Cuddy croon you onward towards meadowlarks and lighter nights.
All of the thoughts are already out there. We just need to harness their jelly-like mass and put the words into their proper plates of traction.
So much of us spend so much time on negative energy. Like a stubborn running back, we continue to accept negative progress instead of changing up the play. We fume about the past. We curse out someone's actions over and over again in our minds-eye, on a treadmill of regret. We would have. We could have. We should have.
It all amounts to gas energy and a lack of hope - and a circular pattern of doom.
I've been pretty lucky in this life to get sneak peeks into private rooms - stepping on ground where most don't dare to tread.
I think since I was a kid, I have always had a desire to get into the places that hung signs that have clearly said 'keep out'. I always wanted to see what was behind the curtain.
In the fall of 2011, while being a Journalism student, I had a life-altering opportunity to travel around Atlantic Canada with a Manitoba-based country band called Doc Walker. Over the course of that tour, I got to see some things. I saw some beautiful theatres - like the Savoy in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. When you look up at that ceiling, you know that the hands of many dreamers made something special in that tiny Cape town. I saw George Street in St. Johns, Newfoundland - one of my favourite digs on this planet. I saw dreams become work. But best of all, I saw some people pull together make the best of it in tight circumstances on a metal tube barreling down a jagged-cut highway.
When I first met these guys, I filled in as a tour driver for a friend and drove them around Northern Ontario a few years earlier. Sudury. Orillia. All the awesome parts of Canada. I immediately wanted to spend more time with all of them. They were loud, laugh-obsessed, hilarious, coarse, fart-obsessed, totally uncorked and the kind of dudes who continually strove to make everyone around them laugh. They had all these strange slang terms that I'd never heard of before, but that I instantly adopted - words like 'hangsy' or 'dangsy' and 'reet'.
One night at a sleepy East Side Mario's near Casino-Rama, Steve (the drummer) kept pretending to incorrectly pronounce completely normal/known-to-everyone words like 'salad' and 'pasta'. He would hold the A and say it like 'pay-sta' or 'say-lad' to our middle-aged female server. The best part was watching her not know how to respond, and seeing Steve pull off this feat with a totally razor-straight face while all of us gutted ourselves in silent pain.
As the years passed, I stayed in touch with their manager and pitched the idea of doing some video for different tours. After a few tries, the mathematical combinations finally aligned and I found myself on a plane to St Johns, NFLD all by my lonesome to meet the band. The clouds danced across a glassy November sea, and I felt like I was in a movie.
I remember walking around Nepean, in my mid-twenties, listening to Stephen Malkmus' first solo record - and I felt like I had broken the surface of a different headphonic plane of existence. He followed no method. It was like indie rock, stream of consciousness beat-poetry with a lot of 4/4 timing. He would talk about friends and enemies and passengers and everything that came to him.
Although he had moments of rage, he had those beautiful sonic tapestries that would haunt and catch you wonderfully off guard. Church On White is one of those pieces of beauty. It's feel gets a bit wild and swirly, but the essence of a great ballad is all there. The wet suburbian streets shone up at me, even as I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I accepted my asphalt reflection, and I walked on.
I spent a lot of early mid twenties in a bit of a holding pattern. I think I didn't really get going or making any sort of philosophical waves until I was into my 3.0 years. If you had told me, at that time of my life, that that was the way it was going to be, I probably would have beed mad - but I'm not mad now.
Like Malkmus, I take the different path - the rugged, dark road of the creative forest.