Toronto. Let us give praise.
Never thought playing in a band was going to make me rich enough to buy my parents a yacht, but I did buy into the promise of the big adventure. If that's what they were selling, I was buying and for better or worse, that's what I got. Still hovering over steaming manholes. Still trying to clear the static and find meaning it. Still on the run. Sometimes away from it, other times towards it. Hard to tell. Other than the fact that I'm carrying about 40 pounds more around these days, it's the shame shit/different decade. It beats hanging drywall, beats folding underwear at Mervin's. I still can't believe I occasionally get paid to do this nonsense.
I went from San Francisco to London for a Green On Red show that we rescheduled from 18 years ago. I followed that with 17 one night stand solo gigs in as many European towns. I brought everything I could carry on my back; a Harmony Guitar and a Roland 808.
Running to get to the train on time. Pouring over my inner dialogue. Losing my self in the isolation, making myself sick, getting on my own nerves, taking refuge in the gig, swinging against the four on the floor 808 kicks.
Then back to the USA, touring with Aimee Mann. Anne Arbor date cancelled. Aimee to fly back to LA to attend the funeral of her brother in law, Chris Penn.
I head up to Toronto for a jump start on my precious day off. An extended delay at Canadian customs, my four door Chevy Malibu rent-a-car flapping it's appendages in the breeze of some gnarly snow flurries with the glove compartment, all four doors and the trunk spread eagle. A gaggle of customs officials root around inside. Since when did laptops became fair game, I wonder to myself when one guard pulls it out of my backpack and attempts to boot it up. "Sir, tell me now if you have any illicit material in your computer?" "Sir, can you tell me what's inside this folder on your desktop?" "Well, let's see, here's pictures of me by the van, and that's my wife Stephanie, she's really great, plays keyboards, sings like a bird." "Okay sir, you can be on your way. Enjoy your stay in Canada."
I guess I've been waiting around for nothing to happen. It's the mundane I lay in wait for—it's the big nothing that puts the flame to the juicy raw hamburger meat. Always found it hard to get those maybe-you-had-to-be there moments melted down. Need to get to that place of no distractions—of no action, where the psychic hard drive can spin down, down, down. I've arrived at the place and it's called Toronto.
Super Bowl Sunday, Toronto
I navigate the black ice and make it safely to my Toronto Hotel—check in, fall asleep early, wake up late. Sleep the sleep of the mildly depressed. Barricaded. Myself and these four walls. Here in room 218 with the pre-game show buzzing off the screen, the memories rush in. It's too cold to go out and do anything but soak in it Marge. I dig around my bag for the Australian chocolates my Dutch cronies, Josie and Mart, bestowed on me in Holland. I'd almost forgotten that I'd stashed the 100% legal, mood enhancing, confections until the border guards dug them deep out of my suitcase, held them up and examined them. I warned them, "I'll have you know, I counted those." They sniffed the air and looked away un-amused.
Eventually hunger gets the better of me so I head out to brace the bitter February cold and sprint across the parking lot to Apple-bees to treat myself to a Super Bowl Steak. It's my party and I'll do what I want to. Feeling edgy, indifferent to food, I nearly fall into a nod over the breadsticks. Nevertheless I am up for watching the Super Bowl—the Stones are playing halftime and earlier Mick Jagger hinted that Aretha Franklin might strip. If that's not enough noise and entertainment, there's always the commercials. Hey kids! Did you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers only have their logo on one side of their helmets because their equipment manager petered out after painting the logo on that one side? It became a novelty, and is a tradition to this day. (Lil Mike, the unparalleled guru of trivia, told me that.)
I can't begin to imagine the clusterfuck of security at the Big Game today. I think I just caught the diamond light flashing off the muzzle of a rooftop sniper. There it is -- plain as day -- on the TV. Break to commercial.
I give praise to Canada? Let us give thanks to Lightening Gordfoot! Joey Shithead, Chuck Biscuits and Randy Rampage! To Leonard Cohen! Joni and Neil, the New Pornographers and The Arcade Fire. And if there's a Dead Sea's worth of Seagram's out there, give that up too. Someday our northern brothers in arms, stewing in their second banana blues, might get worked up enough to invade our homeland. I doubt it, but wouldn't that be something? I for one wouldn't put up a fight. I might even be willing to learn a little French.
The rent-a-car car radio blasts it's Can Con (Canadian Content) and I fall in love with Anne Murray all over again. Not that we ever really fell out. Is Ms. Murray like the northern soul sister of Downey's own Karen Carpenter or what? Anne's singing put your hand in the hand of the man that sailed the waters/ put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea. How I wish the man from Galilee would come down here right now and still my waters. Better yet, wish he'd tackle my four weeks worth of laundry.
Cruising the boulevard with both eyes peeled out for the Mod Club, I can't help but notice that Toronto's one little shop after another; watch repairmen, butchers, dry cleaners, hardware stores, pharmacists, boutiques, tobacconists, bric-a-brac. Not a Wal-Mart in sight. It's kind of old world, it's kind of new world, it's kind of the shit. Downright cinematic- they don't call it Hollywood North for nothing. The streets are buzzing. Toronto, I learn, is home to more than 100 cultures, its denizens twist their tongues in over 100 languages or dialects while mixing it up in a population that is 42% non-Caucasian. Memories are made of this. My first tour of duty—my first taste of the road was Canada bound—straight out of High-school—a two week engagement in downtown Calgary, Alberta, back in the year of nineteen hundred and eighty something. Naturally, I jumped at the first chance to sign on for those extended education classes of a misspent youth. Summer camp in bars. Night school for underachievers. For this acne ridden teenager looking for love, it was Route 66 meets the Beatles at the Star Club. It was sweaty rock and roll, four sets a night, six days a week—less of a feat when you consider the last set was always a thirty minute version of Roadrunner with the band often trading instruments—fried food, open bar tabs, hookers, one bonafide street fight (I'll come back to that) and hours of hung-over boredom. It was heaven. I cleaned my plate and cried out for more. I've been strung out chasing the thrill of the first hit ever since.
Returned home from that first trip to Canada one month later,countl ess brain cells lighter, to buy time with the Four Years of Financial Aid called College. The inevitable path of the middle class roots rocking white boy. Never really saw it through-heart wasn't in it I guess. Ended up joining a group of inspired knuckleheads with something to say called Green on Red to embark on a journey of suspended adolescence. In spite of everything still floating along suspended on invisible steel wires cranked up to 440. Still struggling to keep the powder dry, still holding out for a guitar that plays in tune, still working on being a little less of an asshole, still very much nut-sack religious for all of it.
The scars on my hand, prove I'm an alligator man. A real live street fight? Yes. Somebody looked at somebody wrong and in a flash, right there in the middle of a busy downtown Calgary intersection, my band-mate and drummer par excellence, Derek Richey and I got into that broad daylight street fight. Derek -- the closest thing I ever had to a big brother -- threw the first punch, the next punch landed him in the slushy February gutter rolling around with some kid in purple leg warmers (it was a long time ago, leg warmers were all the rage). I wanted to bolt from the blaring chorus of honking horns, but was faced off in a shoving match with Purple Leg Warmer's maple leafed sidekick. Like most fights, as soon as it started, it was over. Derek and I hi tailed it back to the hotel—Derek laughing, me hyperventilating, scared as hell, twisting my neck around to look back every ten seconds.
We rarely strayed too far from our Hotel after the episode, incident, affray. We fought the cabin fever days by getting our Wayne Gretzky fantasies out in the hallways of the flophouse with hockey sticks purchased from the Big 5 and duct tape pucks. Like so many things, hotel shenanigans are a progressive illness. First it's hockey in the halls, then you find yourself pulling fire alarms just to see how long it takes for the fire trucks to show up. Next thing you know you're calling down to reception asking if they can recommend the best way to remove goat blood from the carpet, or stripping nude, covering yourself from head to toe in shaving cream and taking the elevator to the lobby, marching up to the front desk asking if they have a razor. Those were less complicated times when we were easily amused. Derek was a bad-ass -- still is -- and he could effortlessly play a snare drum press roll smooth as a rat pissing on cotton. He could play a fill so fast it would spin in reverse like a wagon wheel in an old episode of Bonanza. Not sure what those other guys are doing now. Derek's still out there fighting the good fight and keeping time behind some well knowns and lesser knowns. I recently ran into him in LA where he's relocated and his English accent has come back three fold. Not sure he ever really had one to begin with, but to be fair, his parents were Scottish. I couldn't help but comment, "So. Derek." "Yeah, mate." "Can't help but notice you've affected a kind of English accent since you moved down here. Is that helping you to ah, ah, get any pussy?" Derek said, "Prophet, you're such an asshole."
Anyways. Anyways. Tomorrow is Montréal and Aimee has invited me on her bus. Life is good.
Be true to your school.