I remember the day I released my first album. It was October 12th, 2000. I lived in Halifax’s
south end with a happy crew of architecture students who were friendly enough to let me stick
around, wayward yet insistent.
I had spent the summer sitting in cafe’s and writing plays. Undignified enough to make the
pretension palatable. Us in our early twenties. Nothing to fight for because nothing was paying
us any mind. Our rebellious instincts wasted on the Bush years yet to come.
It was Jude Pelley who made those early records happen. I participated. We spent a year
singing and drinking between Halifax and Wolfville, spent an entire student loan in a month on
the education - not the one it was intended for - but an education, of a kind, to be sure.
It was in the soft early mornings, living room populated with the summer bodies of doped and
wired youth, where I fell in love with the invention and the repetition of song. It was easy. My
fingers were full of melody, and music made people like me. And to that end, I needed music far
more - universes more - than music needed me. I chased after it when it ran too fast. Stayed
awake with it on disturbing nights when it could not sleep. And when it was too shy, too
insecure to go on, I gave it my name.
A lot happened. Friends came and went. Money came and went. Lifetimes.
When I look at the past I see dominoes. The precarious balance, impressive swath. Sections
that are long since knocked over and some that miraculously still stand. Black and white toy
soldiers, rocking on their heels, waiting for the breeze of a bad memory.
That map of dominoes is dotted, here and there, with Release Days. Little flags of
accomplishment, before the hurricane, after the hurricane, and during, the breeze yelling and
coughing and raging but those pieces are unmoved. All that you’ve done that cannot be
undone, a saucy little salute from the person you used to be, or the ones you thought you were.
But the future is a fog. Glimmers of ideas or ideals, swooping through like a lighthouse beam.
Whether it is seeking or evading, is difficult to say. It is possible I have played all my dominoes.
Anyway. This Release Day is landing on me, not unlike a round numbered birthday. The ones
where you can see the road but have long since lost the map. Corners, coming. But who
knows when, or what kind. I liked the dominoes. But I like the fog better. Whispers of earth,
ghosts of calamity. The fresh and unmeasured breathing of a blind horizon.
Happy Release Day. It is called Watershed.
All the pennies may be gone but even the four year old across the street knows the taste of them. The lingering scent of copper, the way tin dust makes your hands softer. Pennies are still around in forgotten tea cups left to dry in bookshelf corners. Behind doors where the carpet has lifted and frayed. Under the cupboard liners, sticky with kitchen soot, making their unheard operas alongside paper clips and broccoli elastics.
Things that do not get thrown away. Flotsam of house wifery. Jetsam of urban hibernation. They came with the house, immigrated, or never left. Everything you are aware of is a stranger among the things that you do not see.
I fumble over this in my mind as I’m rolling coins. (Because we get into the music business for the coin.) Three eye hooks and a button and a dollar and eighty cents occupying the inside of what can only be called a decorative goblet. I went a little mad over it. These things haven’t collected around me, I moved in with them. Angry archaeologicals, waiting for me to finish my blink of existence. So. So they can carry on popping into being, undisturbed, so.
Objects of residue, that’s all. But never garbage. Never gone.
This year – the year that was and will never be again – this year was a eulogy, start to oncoming finish line. 2017 will be a kind of hangover for a while, as we recall the names of our strange new bedfellows, how we got home, where we left our credit card. And launch into ignoring the things we are ashamed of, but only a fraction as well as we ignore the things that do not happen to us.
There will be residue. And residue, though inoffensive and far past the corner of one’s eye, is discoverable.
There are very few moments in the time of women and men when one thing does not, in fact, lead to another. I find I am hoping for some of those moments these coming days.
This year was hard. Let’s be careful in leaving it. Any part of it could linger, pennies in a decorative cup. And even the four year old across the street will remember the taste of pennies.
SUMMER 2016 (A RECORD & A MOVIE)
SEPTEMBER 15, 2016
Summer 2016 was the close heat of Toronto sticking to your skin like flypaper. I lived for the weekly evening thunder showers that spurred the grown ups of Roxton Road to race out of doors like the recess bell had rung.
By day, the streetcar. A rusty mammoth clinking its hourly migration, tired old thing complaining audibly on the detours down to King Street. Up to Queen, east to Parliament, and flit like a damselfly into the air conditioning. And one by one heat mopped day, we made a record.
By night, two electric fans. Seated on the floor because the couch fabric is too warm and bakes your underside. Online hours, where productivity is instantly gratifying in the way of a ping pong return, forgetting the job will be yours again by morning. With this pattern, by some miracle of patch and quilt and fray, we made a documentary.
I wanted to think of it like an alter ego. Recording artist by day, filmmaker by night. But truthfully it’s more like I put my shirt on inside out and backwards and insisted to myself it was a new shirt. I tricked myself into intense productivity. (And it worked.)
A finished project is like the furthest displacement of a pendulum where, against all nature, it appears to pause. Like on a swing set, at the top of the arc, when you thought you might be flung off into outer space. And your body rises from the seat more softly than it seems it should. And you are weightless, and a little scared, for a moment so brief you cannot be sure it occurred.
In art, it is the time between pride of completion and outside comment. That pause. Brief, weightless, and frightening. But artists have exhaustingly delicate mental constitutions.
So I’ll put it to you like this. In St. John’s, I can see the ocean from my house. I have to go upstairs and into the spare room. (Which isn’t so much a spare room as the room I don’t happen to sleep in and is therefore distributed with things that have no other home to go to. Boxes of unsold cds and a desk that will never move again because I would have to take it apart to get it out the door and threaded down the hall, and then where would it go.) Let me start again.
I can see the ocean from my house. I have to go upstairs and into the spare room. I have to bring a kitchen chair to stand on. And in the top right corner of the window there, I can see the ocean from my house. I could just as easily walk to the ocean and see much more of it. But this part is on the mortgage. No one else has exactly this view. And it changes daily. And the afternoon is different from the morning, is different from the evening, is vastly outdone by the night.
I cannot see what you will see.
(Gone airs in Newfoundland & Labrador Saturday September 17th 8:30pm on CBC Television. National air date TBA.)
JULY 26, 2016
We gaze on the mountain. We gather, the four of us, typical band in typical formation, quickly testing the sounds. Check, one, two. Thumbs up. It works, I can hear you. Now play.
In summer, it is all outdoors. Cross the field to the main stage, past the playground to the office trailer. Supper is in the tent, we eat and drink like happy vikings in some Disney cartoon. We confirm the perils of one another’s travel stories. Lost luggage, delays, cancellations. Someone’s banjo has been following them across the prairies for days and still hasn’t caught up. I’ve heard there are vehicles that have gone over that cliff road, and were never retrieved. They rust on the rocks like barnacles, trees in the wheel wells.
They mean the hill. That’s what the locals call it. The hill into Bella Coola, British Columbia. Highway 20, which runs 21 kilometres of turns and switchbacks, 9 kilometres of which is reportedly at an 18% grade of narrow dirt road. Off we go then.
We drove the mountain in presumptive silence. We leaned into the turns like cyclists and out of them like confused bees in a breeze. We hovered, a tense meditation, a telepathic support from passengers to driver, you can do this, you’re great, you’re doing great. We pressed our feet firm into the car floor until it tingled, some kind of polite camaraderie with physics. We made soft jokes. Little lambs ears of comedy. We dared not to say, how breathtaking.
There are things we are lucky to have experienced. Music is a passport. But it isn’t the job. The job is in the getting there, the moving about. The road and all the time it takes.
With little exception, my first thought to myself upon waking, is “give it a moment”. It has been years since I knew exactly where I was. I am aligned with ghosts of where the bedroom window should be, but rarely is.
Two days later we take the plane out of Bella Coola Valley. Four bands, sixteen bandmates not mentioning the Big Bopper. We bury our faces into the windows and for a while there is the drone of the propellers and a few inhaling “wow”’s, and we all sink into our private minds again. Our telepathic support has ended and we are going home.
I saw water and ice that looked like spilled paint. A scale and age of things I cannot comprehend. The worn cartilage of earth.
Back at the airport, we trudge, carrying our lives, pared down to thirty seven pounds of gear and a change of clothes. We are scolded by the flight crew, who do not wish to see us approaching. Musicians are so demanding. They travel in packs, clinging to their figure eights of luggage, and they smell like smoke and lavender and the nineteen eighties.
Music isn’t the job. Do you see. It is the reward.
You could put that stage anywhere at all and we’ll get to it. And we pull ourselves onto the rigging and squint into the mist. And up over your heads and past the peaks of the carnival tents. And above the baseball field lights and the sharp fingertips of spruce and fir, above the evening whispers of cloud and the thin veils of snow that never lift. And all because sometimes, the mountain looks back at us.