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Two weeks ago I arrived back in Hamilton, Ontario. After more than two months on the long road between my tropical home in Costa Rica and my northern nest in Canada, I was both relieved and overwhelmed. I had issues to deal with in my house, my backyard is, once again, a jungle, and I realize that the two months I plan on being here may not be sufficient time to accomplish the things I need to.
Sadly, my trusty little camera pretty much died on the journey, so except for the odd image from my files or pulled off the internet, there will be less pretty pictures until I break down and buy another camera. Anybody got a slightly used digital for sale?
Since getting here, my mind has been absorbed with various themes, but for the sake of writing, there are two big ones – the World Cup and the G8/G20 Summit. Both are internationally-based, one drawing the world’s attention to South Africa, the other bringing the world’s political leaders to Toronto, just down the road from where I live; one incited fever and fun, the other incited rage and frustration; one will result in a clear winner (even with the probability of controversial referee calls), the other has already left a smashed-up city in rage with many questions where it feels like everybody has lost.
I’ve been watching the soccer games each day, surprised at my own accumulated knowledge after twenty years of exposure to the beautiful game in Costa Rica. If you have the slightest capacity for watching sports, it is impossible to ignore this game when you live in a country where it is the only game. Here in North America, I think people suffer from sports fatigue – people follow baseball, football (American and Canadian), basketball, hockey, Nascar, golf, tennis – one season overlaps the next and there is never a break.
In Costa Rica there is only one season – futbol – and though it ebbs and flows throughout the year, in the end people are pretty much only watching this one sport. Men spend their Sundays on and around the “plaza”, which isn’t a mall but a soccer field, and by the end of the day their wives, children and parents are all there watching the game and visiting with each other.
In other countries there may also be rugby or cricket, huge sports outside of North America, but definitely futbol is the universal game that only requires a ball and a somewhat flat area to play in. It provides hope to youth living without privilege everywhere that if they are good enough, they can make their local team, then a national team, then be picked up to play in the big leagues overseas and one day possibly play in the World Cup. This year, there were more countries in contention to go to South Africa and represent their homeland’s team than there are countries in the United Nations. World Cup indeed!
We are now down to the elimination round and the South American teams are going forward. The big European leagues draw the most attention throughout the year – as their star players get paid massive sums of money (think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo) and take on the lives of celebrities (think the same boys again) – and the international media, the original celebrity gawkers, is paying attention to them. So the expectations have been that these are the best teams and Spain was crowned the favorite. Many of the great players that fill the European leagues are from South America and now they are back home and playing the poetic kind of futbol that they were raised on and it is carrying the Latinos to the top in South Africa.
Brasil is the perennial favorite but Argentina is putting on a huge show this year. Their star-player-gone-bad, Diego Maradona, is now their coach. He was the world’s best and then fell into scandal from too much fame and money, got fat then went on a diet, and has now come back as the coach of his country’s team. Although he is generally not considered a great coach, his team is winning. I love watching his passion sizzling at the side of the pitch – he looks like, with the blow of a ref’s whistle, he’d strip off his Italian designer suit, throw on a team shirt, run onto the field and take off down the field with the ball if he could get away with it.
So my prediction is this – I think that Holland will play Argentina (Brasil will unfortunately fall out of the competition a game before) and Argentina will win. Maradona will be re-crowned King of Argentina and his picture will show up next to their other chosen one, Che Guevera, on T-shirts and coffee mugs all over the world. I would prefer a Brasilian/Argentina game (so hope I’m wrong on my prediction) but would have a hard time watching either team lose.
Speaking of Che, I expect he’d have been a keen participant in the chaos known as the G8/G20 Summit that took place this last weekend in Toronto. These gatherings of political leaders have proven to attract all kinds of activists objecting to corporate political and economic control and the subsequent diminishing of human/environmental rights. I expect if he was alive today, Che would be fighting for the poor and the disenfranchised and to remove power from the ivory corporate towers. And no doubt, Che would’ve been arrested, probably punched and roughed up for being an insolent if innocent protester, and held under a secretly-instituted temporary (and apparently misleading) law that gave the police undemocratic and frightening short term powers.
Although blame is flying and everyone is under suspicion for who caused what and what was intentional as opposed to random, spot-provoked violence, one should look to the leaders who set up this expensive ($$ billion-plus) circus, erected a huge fence ($5.5 million) to make sure the division of power over people had a focus, built an $$ million-plus artificial lake to keep the international media in Toronto (instead of letting them know our beautiful natural lakes and countryside) close to what became out-of-control street destruction and great photo-ops, with an outrageous security bill (the bulk of the $$ billion-plus budget) that then seemed to be justified by what happened in the streets. If you build it, they will come.
What transpired in Toronto was a massive mess of provocation and power abuse. It also managed to move the focus away from the intelligent, important messages of the many thousands of peaceful protestors who had been assembling for days in Toronto. Throughout the week, while they held events concerning human and environmental rights, the fence was being erected. As the G8 leaders came into town and with a minimum of fanfare headed north to Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka for their meeting, more people poured into the downtown core of Toronto. By Saturday, when the G20 were gathering inside the downtown Toronto Convention Center, there had already been days of organized and peaceful gatherings according to the right that we have here in Canada to organize, gather and protest.
Then things started going wrong and this is where the onion gets really smelly and the layers pull back to suggest something much more deeply sinister. By all accounts, on Saturday there were up to 25,000 protestors who marched between the fence and the government buildings, continuously chanting their messages in a typically-Canadian orderly calm. At some point in the afternoon, several hundred protestors of a different kind – call them Black Bloq, call them anarchists, call them revolutionists, call them angry suburban youths given big sticks & free reign – started using tactics of a very different kind that resulted in burned out police cars and smashed storefronts. According to eye-witnesses and youtube images, the police did little to stop this wanton violence – in fact, it would appear that they brutally instigated much of the violence. While letting the destruction rage on on some streets, they formed lines in other areas that corralled groups of peaceful demonstrators and herded them, often with abusive language and physical violence, towards holding cells. They also raked in joggers, tourists, journalists, and protestors who remained peaceful and non-aggressive.
I have no doubt that among the anarchists who (whether I agree with their message and methods or not) have a very strong anti-corporate ideology, there were just youths raised on computer game violence and a desire for thrills, given the chance to trash the downtown – photos of marauders with expensive clothes have emerged. And I don’t think there is any question that there were also agitators – supplied by the police, the government or corporate interests – who helped get the destruction rolling. Photos of these undercover provocateurs have also come out. As these crimes are exposed, the Toronto Police and the RCMP will have much to answer to. I also don’t believe that all the police were acting inappropriately or with bad intention, though put into this kind of insanity, calm heads seldom prevail and adrenalin, power issues and a big stick can cause a lot of damage. Just as people have pointed out how many innocent bystanders were picked up in the huge sweeps that resulted in over 900 arrests, I expect that there were also non-aligned people who were happy to take part in a violent free-for-all. Growing up in a wealthy suburban city, Iwitnessed this early in my life – destruction for the fun of it - and I really don’t see why this circus atmosphere would be any different. Tigers living in cages will go nuts when the cage door is opened.
Amongst all this mayhem – eaten up and regurgitated by mainstream media which thrives on conflict and violent images – there were well-respected journalists who were close to the action and either twittered or blogged their observations. One of these is Steve Paikin, a journalist of 30 years and host of a very sane and intelligent public television show called The Agenda. Here is the link to an interview that he gave following what he saw as police provocation and brutality. I appreciate that someone I consider a relatively conservative journalist is speaking out. Perhaps his comments will be listened to by some of the middle class masses who look at it all in pure disgust but don’t know where to lay the blame.
If you want to see a huge selection of images from this fiasco, just go to youtube and look under G8/G20 Toronto. I couldn’t begin to tell all the stories that have been coming out, including wrongful midnight arrests of innocent citizens in their homes and gender-based trauma on the streets and in the holding cells.
The media discussions continue looking at the actions of the police – as they should – while more stories of abuses on the streets, during and following arrests, appear. I am a firm believer in peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience and although I can understand the anger of the more aggressive protestors, I don’t have any interest in joining in that kind of negativity. I don’t believe in war under any circumstance, and would rather see all this energy put towards finding peaceful resolutions. It is how I have approached more than thirty years of some kind of activism.
An inquiry has been called for – perhaps it will figure out who was behind the curtain. My outrage lies with our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who, against security experts’ advice, chose to set up this warzone in downtown Toronto. In the face of the experiences of past summits held in large cities inevitably leading to violence, arrests, and destruction (Quebec City, Seattle, London UK, etc.), he still decided to spend a phenomenal sum of money to create this circus, most of that money going to security. My outrage also lies with Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s Premier, who passed regulations under the cover of darkness that allowed police to use measures and harass, detain, and arrest people in ways that aren’t consistent with Canada’s constitution, democracy or freedom to gather.
If ever it felt like the Conservative government of Canada, very much advocates of corporate and multi-national economic power as opposed to a more national socialist view, was moving its agenda forward to empower police and to marginalize the voices of sanity and the rights of the poor, the environment, natives, workers, women, gays & lesbians, the time is now. The fiasco of Toronto has pushed people into corners. The extremists have new fodder to keep their agendas moving – they certainly aren’t going away. The middle-class may not like what the police did, but no doubt will blame “activists” who they think should just stay home and they will ultimately hold responsible for bringing this mayhem to their beautiful city (you just have to read Facebook posts and letters to the editor to know that many don’t agree with social activism taking to the streets). The hard-working, committed social activists who saw their messages lost in the barrage of burning police cars and broken store windows (and many traumatized by violent arrests) must be highly frustrated, angered and disillusioned by their sincere intentions for change getting so lost in the mess. And depending on what an inquiry says about how the police conducted themselves, the police forces involved will certainly be starting at square one in rebuilding their relationship with the citizenry of Toronto. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper goes off on a gentile tour with the Queen of England who is visiting Canada and leaves the fallout to the local and provincial politicians.
Once again, I believe strongly in the right to organize, gather and protest. I also believe strongly in peaceful protests, because it is a peaceful world I want to live in, and so, to me, every action must be intentionally non-violent (even when one’s anger and disgust prompts something different). If it weren’t for activists being willing to step up to the line, indeed crossing it, we would never advance human, civil and environmental rights throughout history and throughout the world. One has to be disgusted by what happened in Toronto. The problem is how the blame will be transferred and what will come out of this. I fear that Harper’s corporate/police state agenda will rise to the top as all the pawns on his chessboard spin around in anger, disbelief, self-righteousness and confusion. Harper should never have brought this circus to town and then released all the animals into the streets. I doubt that he will ever apologize for a poor decision or even enter into the discussion. I think he got exactly what he paid for and wanted.
It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit. I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.
Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.
There is a new music venue that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.
Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.
Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.
It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.
We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.
Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.
That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.
There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.
It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway. Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.
Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog:
GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON
Perhaps the title is a little melodramatic, yes, but life is truly a whirlwind for me right now and I feel like I need to come up for breath every once in awhile. I’m back home here in Hamilton Ontario. Thankfully the snow is long gone, the tulips and other spring bulbs are out of the ground, the weather is bouncing around between sunny, cloudy, windy, cool, and springtime warm, sort of like Monteverde was much of these last few months.
I have exactly two weeks today before I get in a car and travel to Maine – to speak to the Maine Audubon Society and to a class at Bowdoin College; to Philadelphia – to speak at Swarthmore College and Pendle Hill and maybe a public school or two; and to New York City! Me – Noo Yawk Noo Yawk ! On Sunday, April 26 I’ll be doing my book presentation at Marian Howard’s home in the Bronx. Marian is a long standing member of the Monteverde community and has been kind enough to offer me her home. We hope to see lots of faces that we recognize from over the years in Monteverde.
So I’m very excited about all that. I’ll also see my friend Manuel Monestel, a Costa Rican musician and very smart man, who is teaching at Cornell in Ithaca New York. I’ll spend time with my friends Cocky and Peter in Freeport Maine and my other friends in that area. I’ll have a visit with Carlos Guindon who is working on the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf. It will be an action-packed two weeks on the road, I’ll hopefully sell lotsa books and spread Wolf’s and Monteverde’s positive stories even further.
And it is a good thing that this is going on, as I return to Canada body and mind, but my heart remains on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica with Roberto. This long-distance stuff is both poignant and frustrating. Fortunately I have reason to return to Costa Rica in May and so it won’t be such a very long separation. In the meantime, I just have to keep my nose to the front and head that way.
I am preparing here for a presentation to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild, a radio spot with my friend Gord Pullar on CFMU, the university radio station, and to correct the few errors found in the first edition of Walking with Wolf. We will be going to print again here real soon. I’ll be back in Monteverde to help receive those books when they come in. I learned last time that the printer can ship at half the cost I can, so will be sending as many as we can store down to Costa Rica directly from the printer this time.
I am so low in books that I have to get my sister in Washington State, where a friend had dropped off some boxes of books for a western coast tour in July, to ship some boxes back to Maine so I have enough for this coming up tour. Less than one year later, we have almost sold out 2000 copies of Walking with Wolf.
Turid and Margaret
Last Sunday afternoon, before leaving Monteverde, a wonderful afternoon was spent in Margaret Adelman’s house. This is the kind of thing that Monteverde excels at – homemade quality music played in a beautiful setting to a friendly group of people.
As the sun shone in on us through the open doors (thank goodness the summer weather has finally come to Monteverde), the string quartet of Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse, Alan Masters, and Paul Smith, along with piano accompaniment by Turid Forsyth, soothed our souls.
Except for Paul, they have been playing together over the last year and had a very nice musical program (I particularly liked the English Bach’s Quartette). Paul is known for his many talents as a painter and musician but widely for the string instruments he makes. So the cello, and violins and viola were all made by him (well, Alan apparently worked on his with Paul).
That evening Roberto and I went up to spend Sunday dinner with the Guindon family – which now includes Alberto’s step-daughter Melody and her son Jayden who recently arrived from California, Annika and Heather and their sons and a friend – who will be leaving Monteverde soon when Annika’s two-year position as director of the Friends School is up in June, and a baby sloth.
Benito, baby & Melody, Wolf’s son and daughter
I really have seen more sloths this year (see recent posts about the Sloth Center in Cahuita) – and this particular one, maybe six months old, that Benito is caring for after a tyra killed the mother, was as soft and furry and slow-moving and gentle as the others. Watching it wrapped around Benito, taking feed from a baby’s bottle in Lucky’s lap, and stretching slowly to meet the hand of any inquisitive child, once again brought me a great sense of peace. I don’t know how long Benito will keep it and what it’s future will hold, but I know it was lucky to end up with the kind Guindon family. As was I.
I managed to get the contract with the Canadian Embassy signed along with Pax Ameghetti, a highly recommended computer artist in Monteverde who will use the money from the Embassy to do all the changes to the computer files, maps, cover and index, into Spanish. I am very appreciative to the Embassy, particularly Jose Luis Rodriguez and Stuart Hughes who helped me so much. I’m only sorry I’m not in Monteverde for when Pax gets the check and the fiesta is held.
I’m also in talks with an organization in Monteverde for a part time job as an information director. Between the translation, this position, receiving the books being shipped down, and Roberto, there is alot of reason to return to Costa Rica in May. I hope to find Mr. Guindon, sitting in his new rocking chair given to him by the Tropical Science Center, telling stories, drinking coffee, and happy to see me back in town.
Frankie Venom 1957-2008
Well, where does one start? I’ve just survived a week of music here in Hamilton, Ontario, where the king is (was) a punker and rock still rolls but there is room for everything. The Hamilton Music Awards is an event that stretches over four days and takes up the downtown of the city. This is my fourth year volunteering backstage and each year I’ve been turned on to more great music, met more talented and whacky musicians, and come away having walked and danced beyond what my feet are happy with.
The Hammies are the work of Jean Paul Gauthier, who grew up around his parents’ bar and the musicians who played there, then went on to establish the Hamilton Music Scene Festival in 1995 that has now grown into the music awards and festival. JP manages musicians, produces concerts with Daniel Lanois and has brought a variety of names to the awards – Lanois, Garth Hudson of The Band, Eugene Levy, Ronny Hawkins, U2(via satellite). The venue changes each year and this year the show took place in the Hamilton Place Studio Theatre, a very industrial mid-sized concert room – and the room was packed. This was the year of Teenage Head, one of the original punk bands, and they were being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. That honor was announced back in October the same day that their lead singer, Frankie Venom, died of throat cancer. So the weekend naturally became a memorial gig for Frankie. As was said in the local paper on Monday, this weekend was a punk love-fest. I have to say, there is something very sweet about a roomful of leather-clad hard-rock looking punkers with tears in their eyes. After eight years in this city, I’m quite sure that the music community here is about the tightest and proudest in the land – tribal, as one of them said to me. They may fight inwardly, but outwardly they’ll watch each other’s backs. And proudly declare their love of the Hammer. And grieve for the loss of their own together.
On Friday, the weekend kicked off with a music conference for high school students. I was out at the Thursday night opening reception and had gone to catch some of JP Reimens and Brian Griffith picking their guitars and singing sweet songs till late at night, but was up to help at the registration table for the conference. I agreed to come in just to have the chance to see the morning panel. It was on the future of the music album and was moderated by our east coast friend, Bob Mersereau. Bob lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick and is a long time arts reporter for CBC TV. Last year he authored the bestselling “Top 100 Canadian Albums” and now spends his time discussing his choices with people from across the country. I doubt that the conversation will ever stop.
Bob’s a great guy. I met him last year when he came here to be a presenter at the awards. JP had invited him since 16 albums on the list are from Hamilton. Bob loved it here and begged (as he says) to come back. He was joined on Friday’s panel by Graham Rockingham, who covers music for the Hamilton Spectator; Ric Taylor, all-round media music guy; Amy King, a music producer in Hamilton who also came from the east – Newfoundland; and Hamilton’s own Tom Wilson of Florida Razers, Junkhouse and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.
Although Jean Paul is in charge of keeping the embers glowing on all aspects of the production of this awards weekend, Tom is the flame that keeps things hot. I’ve talked about Tom before in this blog [see East Coast Pleasures] when he showed up on the hamilton365 website on Canada Day – I agreed that he would be my choice of Canadian songwriter who speaks to me of home and has an attitude I can identify with. Tom is a big guy – physically he towers over you, vocally he fills the room, and his presence is impossible to ignore. The best part of him to me, besides his musical genius, is his irreverency. He will say anything and he keeps things stirred up.
With two nights of award-giving, tele-prompted introductions and drawn out back-slapping amongst the musical community, it could get real dull if it weren’t for the fact that Tom throws out verbal darts that prick you awake every once in awhile. He is smart, experienced and very very funny. He has been engaged for a few years to a well known east coast (are you sensing a sub-theme here?) comedian, Cathy Jones, but made a point of announcing that that relationship was over. So whereas his little darts in past years had a bit of lovedust dulling them, this year they were definitely sharper. He sat at the outrageous end of the morning panel, he emceed both the music industry awards on Saturday and the big award show on Sunday (along with the very wonderful, very nice, very funny actor Patrick McKenna), he took his turn singing a few songs at both Teenage Head shows and did a set with his hot new band (musical collective he calls it), Lee Harvey Osmond, on Saturday night. And then he actually hung out on the dancefloor at the rap party on Sunday night when the young band, the Mississippi Kings, played. That’s a lot of energy - keep it rolling, Tommy – don’t ever let it stop.
Bob Mersereau says that after spending years going to musical events and gatherings all over Canada, he thinks that the best ones are the East Coast Music Awards, held in various locations in the Maritime provinces, and this weekend in the Hammer. I would guess that, beyond other reasons, it is because these are events that celebrate home grown music that rises out of the soul of the place - though there would definitely be a different tone and rhythm to the east coast than here in the industrial Hammer. I missed if the panel on Friday drew any conclusions about the future of the album, but I did see a room full of students saying they still buy CDs, not just download single songs; I heard alot of discussion around some of the incredible albums that have come from Canadian artists – The Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Willie P. Bennett, on and on and on – and I heard them all talk about the difference between the business aspect of the industry and the artistry of the musician. Real musicians/songwriters will probably always be inclined to make multi-song albums as complete reflections of the full collection of their creative work, despite what the industry might demand for sales. I had an interesting conversation a couple days later with my friend Dean Huyck who pointed out that the workshop aspect of weekend musical festivals is dying out along with the complete album – because of modern technology, today young musicians are able to produce single hit recordings in their home studios but aren’t necessarily experienced at jamming with other musicians or able to play beyond their own isolated basements. As the older musicians, more experienced with playing collectively, stop participating in the workshops, the music jam slowly disappears. High-quality albums filled with one brilliant song after another are getting harder to find. The industry demands commercial success more than musical ingenuity…aaargh, it goes round and round.
Over the weekend, there were many bands playing everywhere, but I can only talk about the shows I saw. On Friday night, I worked the door at the Pearl (my old friend, the Pearl Company) – where the Ron Palangio Jazz Sextet played a tight set of standards; followed by Shawn Trotter, a funny finger-picking guitarist with Scottish roots and great stories; and then the Lowest Lanes provided smooth harmonies to fill the lovely acoustics in the room. This little trio does nice covers and a few originals – they get their name because they all work at the Hamilton Spectator, our local daily newspaper (on a side note, I finally did an interview today about Walking with Wolf with Jeff Mahoney who writes a column in the Spec). Then Santucci and Doumas were going to be playing but I cut out to go and catch the Teenage Head show that was to be a tribute to the fallen Frankie Venom.
It was late when I walked into this sea of men with big frizzy hair, cloaked in black leather jackets (can there be a black cow left alive?), with many a blonde at their side, at Hamilton Place – fortunately, in true punk-style, the show was going to start real late so I didn’t miss anything (I knew I would miss Rackula and The Forgotten Rebels who played earlier). The remaining members of Teenage Head – Gord Lewis, Jack Pedlar and Steve Mahon - were accompanied on stage by two huge photographs of the late Frankie – as well as a line-up of local singers, each who covered a couple of songs – all aware that they couldn’t fill Frankie’s bottomless shotglass, that alone his stageman shoes. Tom Wilson, Tim Gibbons, Edgar Breau (who, in his nervousness, did this dance thing that I thought was brilliant - great seeing new moves Edgar!), Adam Castelli, Brad Germain of Marble Index, Jimmy Vapids, Chris Houston, the always colorful Mickey DeSadist and the raver, Dave-Rave, along with the Head musicians, rocked the house in Frankie’s memory.
Gord’s brother John came out and sang a beautiful Irish lament accompanied just by Gord’s guitar, a song that they had performed at Frankie’s funeral – sorry I don’t remember the name of it – but it was a somber sweet note amongst the otherwise kick-ass stuff.
As someone who wasn’t a Head fan when I was young (I was living in the northern bush in Quebec in the late seventies when the Head reared its ugly self listening to Harmonium) but came to love them when I was a little older – and who is pretty new in this community – it was very touching watching the emotion of the musicians and listening to the influence that Frankie and the band had on all these other musicians in the city. Gord Lewis talked alot over the weekend – on stage and while receiving awards – and spoke eloquently of his band brother Frankie. I think the most recurring theme was that he influenced them to write original songs – that it wasn’t good enough to be a cover band, and so as long as they were writing their own music, they would all support each other. That is a big reason why the Hammer is so smack full of original sound now – this town has its own distinct snarly voice. Frankie was a rebel, and a punk, and a growling showman and a great singer of songs. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like punk music or even rock n roll, but you have to appreciate someone who has a stage presence that ignites rooms and a manner that inspires others. That kind of charisma is a gift and the rest is talent. The night was magical, in a dark gruff steel-city kind of way and you had to be moved.
Saturday was the music industry awards that recognizes the work by media, promoters, album designers and music producers. The lovely Kim Koren won an award for Musical Event of the Year for the concert she organized and played at raising money for the SPCA. I caught her resting, reading, and guarding her Hammie in the Green Room. Kim and her husband Frank can be found contributing their talent to benefit concerts and needy organizations everywhere in the city. She deserved the award, not only for the quality of her work, but in appreciation of her big heart.
Following the awards, there were three concerts that followed: the first was by local blues man and guitarist, Alfie Smith – who is recovering from his house having been burned back in the summer. Then we were treated to a set by John Ellison, the man who wrote the song “She’s Some Kind of Wonderful” – originally recorded by his band the Soul Brothers Six and played on the black soul stations in the United States in the sixties, then made super famous on the white radio stations by Grand Funk Railroad. Apparently that song is one of the most covered songs in the world – and as John said, every time you hear it, be assured he is getting the royalties and still being supported by it. He and his drummer Dean put on a high energy soulful set of covers and originals, including that famous song. Although when they came into the Green Room earlier in the day most people didn’t know who they were (and Dean told me that though John lives closeby in Dundas, they mostly tour in Europe, and we were lucky to have him there that day), by the time they rocked out the awards ceremony on Sunday with Some Kind of Wonderful to a prolonged standing ovation, we all knew who he was - not just a great entertainer and songwriter but a real nice proud gorgeous man.
The last show on Friday night was by Steve Strongman – by now I was only dancing and the camera didn’t come out, but his show blew out the room. When all was said and done, two words came to mind with him – he was versatile in his guitar playing and song selection, and beautifully restrained in how he delivers both the vocals and the screaming guitar…as in it isn’t always screaming. And, having talked with him backstage a few times, a real nice guy. MY HEAD GOES HERE
We jumped into a taxi and tried to make it to see Lee Harvey Osmond at the Corktown, but walked on to the dancefloor just as the last chord hit – and despite a real appreciate crowd, the band didn’t return for an encore. We headed to my nearby pub, Fisher’s, to finish off the night with the Sugardaddies – always a great band for dancing.
So before I finish up on this lovefest of Hammer-music, I have to throw in a fashion statement. Last week I went to Blackbird Studios where the design duo of Buckshot (she of the Evelyn Dicks) and kiki (she of the Lorrainas) make their glam rock creations. It’s a beautiful space they have and a dramatic line of clothes. I bought this little number to wear to the awards show. There were at least four of us wearing their line – and I got a lot of comments all night on the dress – to which I replied – “kiki from Blackbird dahling”. Like at a real awards show! Very cool. Next year I’ll seek out a jewelry designer who will lend me a million dollar bauble to show off!
It was a long night but a musically-incestual hilarious celebration of the remarkable talent in this little city. There were many super performances by everyone from my old friends the Evelyn Dicks, to Rita Chiarelli, to Brian Melo (who won the big Canadian Idol contest last year and happens to be a Hammer boy), to Danny Lockwood – a session drummer who won at least three awards for his new big jazz album “A Few of my Favourite Grooves” and filled the stage with musicians and latin-beats (making me a little homesick for Costa Rica) - and finished off with another set by those never-say-quit Teenage Headers. It was a repeat of the concert on Friday night, but we all could have kept jumping with them for hours more. The after-party continued at the Corktown and I danced till the last chord was struck and the feet pleaded to take them home.
Whew – this blog is easily as long as the weekend was…I need Tom Wilson to step in hear and say something outrageous to keep you all going – but almost done…just a couple more things.
Monday I slept.
Tuesday I went up to Guelph to present Walking with Wolf in my old university town at the eBar. A good sized group of long-time friends, activists and many new faces came out to see the book show and hear the sweet sounds of The Regulars, who played before and after my little photo journey and readings. I sold a nice buncha books and have to thank my pal Lynda Lehman (who I met in Monteverde in 1990 when she was with her old boyfriend Emiliano – who I saw in Guelph for the first time in maybe 15 years). Lynda wrote a beautiful review of the book for the Bookshelf’s publication Off the Shelf and helped me put this evening together. I saw some of the folks who influenced me in my early years as an activist – Peter Cameron and Carole Milligan. What a privilege to share my book with them all these years later.
And the lovely Laurie Hollis-Walker and her husband David came up from their home an hour away to share in the celebration since they hadn’t made the launch at the Pearl back in September – and gave me the opportunity to embarrass her in front of a crowd, thanking her for her work on laying out the book. And I made a fistful of cashola!
Wednesday night I had free tickets to see Great Big Sea – a band from Newfoundland who’s been singing its shanty songs across the land for years. My friends, Cocky and Peter, in Maine had met them last year and because of that, I got comp tickets here in the Hammer so I took my friend Bob. We had real great seats but were barely in them as it was an on-your-feet Newfie kitchen party most of the night. My still recovering feet were not amused yet rose to the occasion but actually I found that it was more of an arm work-out with all the hand-clapping involved.
After all the east coast references through the awards weekend, it was funny to go see an east coast band a few days later. They played in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place to a very packed-to-the-rafters house. The strange thing was that they made many many comments on not being a punk band, generally to a swell of applause by the crowd – obviously many east-coasters. It was a great show and I thank Brit, the guitar tech who arranged for me to have the tickets. But after the punk lovefest that I had been a part of all weekend, and knowing that the Hammer is still mourning its king, Frankie, it seemed disrespectful. I’m not sure what was behind all the comments(they said they’d been watching a Sex Pistols video that day), but I felt like I was in a foreign land, well a stranger’s kitchen, and I felt a bit like a traitor to my tribe.
Then I thought about Wolf’s line in our book that people shouldn’t get too territorial about things – and shook off the strange feeling. Instead I appreciated the performance for what it was, put the tendency-to-drama backstage, and remain thankful that there is this thing called music that rocks our worlds and satisfies our souls.
If you’ve been reading this blog (and I know there are people faithfully reading – amazing but true!), you’ll know that I’ve been moving around a lot in the last few months. Since I started writing this little cyber-journal in April and then printed Walking with Wolf in May, I’ve written about my impressions and experiences while wandering through a bunch of places, selling a bunch of books. However, I don’t think I’ve written all that much about Hamilton Ontario, my birth place which I returned to after about twenty-five years of living in the northern bush and the tropical tangle.
In 2000 I came back here and bought a house with my ex-partner, Jim, in the fiercely proud north end of the city. Hamilton is a port and this is the oldest part of the city, close to the water. It was the only neighbourhood I was interested in living in, as it is bordered by the Hamilton Harbour and the Bayfront Park, giving me close access to the waterfront, as well as being a fifteen minute walk to downtown. Although I wouldn’t swim in the water here, there are places that I can go to sit on a park bench and look across the bay, and totally forget where I am which I find quite conducive to day-dreaming and creative-writing. As it says on the back of Walking with Wolf, I was born here but left, then came back rather unwillingly but stayed because I found this artistic renaissance happening here - and, always a grassroots person myself, I appreciated that the cultural revolution was swelling from the ground up.
Hamilton, once a raging steel-factory-dominated city, built by Italians and with deep working-class roots, has always been maligned. I grew up across the bay in Burlington, a suburban city - from there the body of water is called the Burlington Bay. From the big houses along the Burlington lakeshore you look east or south at the Hamilton skyline of smokestacks and shoreline of slagpiles. When the industrial barons built those big houses over in Burlington, they no doubt liked to look at the factories that were making them rich. That skyline was one of the things that sent me running to the northern bush as a teenager.
Now, from my vantage point on the Hamilton side of the bay, I don’t see the factories at all. I go a few minutes from my house and look north toward the tree-lined coast of Burlington, at the sailboats flying across the waves, the sun setting in the west, and the convoluted rocky Niagara Escarpment that adds a geographical uniqueness to the landscape.
I told Jim that I would stay here for two years and that was IT! I quickly found out that I could live here cheaper than in most places and that was reason to stay, since I was gone half of the year to Costa Rica. Jim had his work here and I began writing the book and didn’t want to uproot in the middle of that process. After a couple years, we bought the house directly across the street from where we were living - an indication of how much I liked the street and our neighbours. The neighbourhood changes constantly - people can actually afford to buy houses here and, even in a collapsed market, houses in this barrio sell quickly. About four years ago I gave up my vehicle, realizing that I didn’t need it to get around in this city, preferring to walk or ride my bike, and public transit can take me easily to Toronto and the airport. When Jim and I split up a few years ago, I stayed in the house which is perfect for one person, on this street where a number of single women live (a sign that it is a comfortable and safe neighbourhood to be in), and in this city, which slowly but surely seduced me with its dirty urban charms and incredible artistic community.
This is the appropriate time to focus on the gritty city (even our literary festival is called Grit Lit) because it is the week of the Hamilton Music Awards, when local fans and music industry folk get together to celebrate the Hammer’s musicians and the music. This is my fourth year working as a volunteer backstage. I do it simply to help JP Gauthier, whose brainchild this is, to honor the musicians, and to spend several nights feasting on the fine music here.
Although the classics in all fields are represented in Hamilton (there is a thriving Philharmonic Orchestra and an ever-growing jazz scene), the music that excites me the most is the stuff that feels like it was born on the streets. The musicians I’ve met and those I’ve watched perform have a voice and a sensibility here that is very different from the other musical communities I’ve been part of - Quebec and Costa Rica – which actually share many characteristics - or eastern and northern Ontario. I’m not sure how to describe the difference – beyond being urban - but it is definitely fed by gravelly-voiced irreverant singer/songwriters (Tom Wilson, Tim Gibbons), vixen songstresses (Lori Yates, Buckshot Bebee, Jude Johnson), smokin’ guitarists (Brian Griffith), flying keyboard fingers (Jesse O’Brien) and a whole slew of talented musicians, raunchy performers and hard-working producers. Uber-producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Neville Brothers, on and on) comes from here and returns regularly. The music community tends to be very supportive of each other. In this city of about half a million people, there is still a feeling of it being a town, a hard-rock over-sized village, but there have been enough imports and exports that there is a bit of a cosmic-politan air as well, even if that air is a little dirty.
Last Sunday afternoon, I set up a little Walking with Wolf table at the Mad Hatter’s Green Tea Party in Dundas (once its own town, now considered part of the larger Hamilton area unless, of course, you live there). After a week of balmy weather, it had turned cold and grey with frosty flakes drifting about. So it was pleasant to be in a cozy room with a number of greenish vendors, a silent auction, live music provided by locals Kim and Frank Koren, and a bonus to be set up right next door to the coffee and goodies. They were healthy ones and exceptional, especially a chocolate-covered mousse-filled biscotti….
Besides spending a very nice afternoon, I sold two books and traded another one for a stained glass peace dove and a glass bauble. I also bought a theatre ticket from a fast-talking man who I had met the night of my book launch at the Pearl Company [see A Pearl of a Night.] The play, “You Are What You Do” is actually at that same Pearl in December and now I’ll be going, thanks to this very good salesman (not that I mind at all-in fact look forward to it). The organizers of the tea party – including Peter Ormond, a local Green Party candidate, and Barbara Maccaroni, a raw food chef and soon to be house-sitter while I head south – did a great job, provided us with a pleasant time, and even made a fair chunk of change for the Green Party.
The rest of the week is about the music. It got started off in a great way as people gathered last night at the Bread and Roses Cafe to celebrate Jackie Washington’s 89th birthday. Jackie is a local legend, a great blues man but not just that - he is reputed to know more than 1200 songs off the popular charts. He is a very entertaining storyteller, his voice strong and clear even on the cusp of his ninetieth year. Jackie was born in Hamilton and has been singing songs since the age of five, first with his three brothers, and then as a regular well-loved participant in blues and folk festivals around the country. He’s played with Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee as well as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. He no doubt could have had a career in the United States but instead rode the rails in Canada working for Canadian Pacific to satisfy his restlessness and always lived his life in the Hammer - in the words of songwriter Colin Linden, in a song sung by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – “He never crossed over that American border, though he lived just a few miles away. He said ‘everything I need I can find right here – north of the USA’.”
A crowd of local musicians, fans and friends came out to honor him last night and listen to his stories of what the music business was like in Hamilton in the thirties, the sixties, the eighties – well, close to ninety years of tales and tunes. So very happy birthday, Mr. Washington – “long may your sweet song carry on”.
I was there with my pal, Lori Yates, and also bumped into guitarist extraordinaire, Brian Griffith. Brian is Jackie’s nephew – he has the incredible musical genes that have been passed through this family – these genes also have given them both the longest fingers in the land. He is another man happy to stay in the Hammer and as he says, will only go on the road if the opportunity is just too much to miss – as in when he toured with Willie Nelson for three years and played with Bonnie Raitt or was asked by Dan Lanois to sit in on recording sessions. He is Hamilton’s guitar idol and the sweetest man as well. That’s in his genes too.
So for the next four nights I will be out at musical events, taking tickets at the door (at the Pearl, once again), running around backstage first at the industry awards on Saturday and then the big celebrity-laden rockin’ Hammies on Sunday, each night followed by fun and frolicking in the Hammer-core. In the days, I’ll be re-working my power point presentation to present the book in Guelph at the eBar next Tuesday night as well as be connecting with the kind folks who are helping me set up book events next spring in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and Maine. Yaaaaawwww - excuse me -nnnnn…I’m getting tired just thinking of it.
Your roving reporter will be back in a few days with more musical tales from the Hammer.
It is the morning of the book launch day here in the Hammer. I don’t have a lot of time – in fact, I shouldn’t be spending the few hours remaining blog-writing, but I guess it is a good distraction and having just downloaded pictures to clear my camera for tonight, I thought I’d add a note.
One would think by reading my blog that all I do is travel around, visit friends, dance and party. Well, it has been a summer of great celebration, that is for sure, but also of book busyness. I’ve always had a way of balancing work and play, some would say I make it look easy. I think that is why the arrival of Walking with Wolf in a form that pleases people in Monteverde also surprised many. They thought I was just hanging around, going to the beach, dancing alot. When actually I was working on the book over all these years…yes, it was many years, but better slow and sure than fast and furious I say. The book became what it is from the years I spent getting to know Wolf, getting his stories out of him, and gaining trust from his family and the community. I think if I had managed to do that in a five or ten year period, it wouldn’t have been the same at all. So that is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
Since Kstock last week, once my sister and friends all left, I hunkered down and started preparing for tonight’s book launch. Over Labour Day weekend, even though I had the use of my friend Cocky’s car (who had gone west but has now returned), I didn’t even get into it between Thursday and Tuesday. Even as the sun shone brightly outside, and the days passed in end-of-summer glory, I was bent over my laptop, preparing the music and images for the book show. I did manage to sit outside with my laptop one day, and without even knowing what bit me, ended up with a great big fat lip from some amorous bug who obviously wanted to kiss me. I think that was Saturday and if I had any plans of going out that evening, my swollen face changed that, instead I got more sleep and got up and kept working.
Sunday night I did go out with my friend Jeff and some friends of his on their catamaran (nicely named My Mistress). The Burlington Bay (which we called it when I grew up on the other side over in Burlington) or the Hamilton Harbour (which is closer to home now), was a scary piece of water when I was a kid. The steel companies loomed over it and back in the day, they belched out pollution like a kettle making steam. From the Burlington side of the bay, you looked over at the shoreline of factories and for me it was some kind of purgatory. It was what sent me running to the wild north country as a teenager. I knew that I didn’t want to live in the shadow of the smokestacks all my life.
Now that I’m back and living in Hamilton, those factories are actually sitting in a way that I don’t see them from my home nor from the Bayfront Park that is moments away. When you go out in a boat on the water, they form an industrial backdrop, the truth being that the steel companies are only producing a fraction of what they used to and so they are starting to have a look of antiquity about them. The bay has always been a place for boaters, including the ice boats that take advantage in the years when the ice is thick and safe, and seeing flotillas of sailboats is a pleasant sight, even with the monolithic smokestacks rising behind them. When the smoke rises just right, it is almost reminiscent of a volcano and with great imagination, you can look at the smokestacks like old palm trees who have lost their leaves (big big imagination).
You can head out to the dark, deep, cold waters of Lake Ontario by passing under the Skyway Bridge when the lift bridge is raised. Once on the other side, you can continue as far as you like, I guess all the way to Africa if you really wanted to.
Something that I loved to do when I was a kid was fishing for smelts at the base of the lift bridge. I think it was in the spring (tho I’m not really sure) that my dad would get his net together and take Maggie and I out at night – we would join all the other people at the end of the pier in the dark with our lanterns. We’d put our net in and pull it out, the little silvery smelts wiggling in their woven trap - Maggie and I would free them, only to put them in the pail and take them home for a great fish fry. Maybe that’s why I had cancer many years later, having eaten all those little fish from the industrial lake. I wouldn’t touch anything from there now, but people still stand on the pier and fish, and I know some keep their catch, while others are flexing their fishing muscles or just loving the peaceful solitary activity of fishing.
Jeff has been a member of a local sailing club for most of his life and took me along on his friends’ boat for this beautiful evening sail which is really like a social club on pontoons. It reminded me of walking around the neighbourhood, stopping to visit the folks down the road, having a beer on the veranda, and then carrying on to visit the next neighbour. The boats raft up, talk boats, tell stories, discuss the details of the next upcoming race, and then move on until they come close to another friendly boat and then raft up again. Here is Mr. Jeff Glen, known amongst the sailors as El Commodore
Jeff and I originally thought that we may go on the boat but later jump ship on the Burlington side, where the annual ribfest was happening and there was great music playing. But it was too beautiful on the water, and in all honesty, the Burlington shoreline looked like an army had invaded, set up camp, and was burning down the city, the result of all those rib barbeques sending their exhaust in the air. It seemed much safer to stay on the boat and continue the floating social soiree.
We stayed out from 5 p.m. till midnight – it was a glorious night, thanks to Dirk and Kendra and their 3-month old baby, the owners of My Mistress, and all the other nice people we would raft up to. Sometime near the end of the night, as I was slowly being lulled into a floating dreamland, the boat we were tied to put on a Jimmy Buffet CD - it was all so cliche I had to laugh. The parrotheads are everywhere, and even with the steel companies leafless-palm tree stacks belching volcanic plumes behind us, it was somehow paradise.
Besides that evening, I have stayed close to home to get my work done, to be focused and in constant email contact with people concerning upcoming book-gigs. I did two radio shows – one, a rock n roll show on the Mohawk College radio station with Lou Molinaro, who is the husband of Lynn Beebe, one of the members of the Evelyn Dicks who are playing at the launch tonight. Along with Lynn and Lori Yates, also in the band, we plugged the book and the launch and the Dicks’ performance. Lori and Lynn played a song at the end, called Soiled Girl, but with a line about black widow spiders – nature in the city. It was a great half hour. I’ve found local media very difficult to get involved – some of it is that they are short staffed, but if you watch our local television and read the paper, so much is from the wires, American-based news and entertainment. Local musicians empathize with me, saying that getting local media to support homegrown art is difficult unless you are already well established. So I really appreciate when Lou, or any other local media folks, take a moment to plug the book and the launch.
I woke up yesterday morning to a phone call from Bob Bratina, my local municipal councilman who also does a very popular morning radio show on CHML. He asked if I could be near the phone in ten minutes and they’d call me and do a live plug for the book. Well, I hadn’t even had coffee, but I shook myself, poured a cup, and was ready. I don’t know what I said in response to the questions, but I did appreciate the enthusiasm for the book, Wolf’s work, and the promo for the launch that came from Bob and his cohost, Shiona Thompson. And I did receive an email last night from Connie Smith, a news anchor at CH, the local TV station, who said they couldn’t do anything before the launch but maybe we could put together something about the book soon. So I am happy with all that.
I am preparing for northern Ontario next weekend, three book-gigs, at the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, at the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, and at Hibou Boutique in North Bay. I drove half an hour up the road to Guelph on Tuesday and set up a book event at the Bookshelf, a very dynamic bookstore, actually a whole book community, that I frequented when I went to the University of Guelph back in the early eighties. I will be doing a book event at the Bookshelf on November 18 and am very excited about that, my friend Lynda Lehman helping me put that together.
I have my power point presentation ready, the projector that my sister and brother-in-law bought me is working just fine, and I am ready to go. Cocky just returned, we’ve been taking care of business and managing to get out to do a little dancing in the Hammer at night, but there will be dancing and celebrating going on tonight, once I’ve finished my work at the Pearl Company and can relax and enjoy the Evelyn Dicks as well as the Costa Rican music I have compiled for the event.
Just talking about it makes me antsy – I better get going and doing something about tonight. The next blog will be a report of the book launch. This last picture is an alleyway here in Hamilton, close to my home. I believe it is a Portuguese woman who puts the flowers there and has provided the colour to the walls. I appreciate that I have managed to find enough beauty in this funky little city to keep me happy, even though my heart tells me I should be living in the bush. Ah, the Hammer, urban jungle, my hometown.
I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there. And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not. It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.
I’ve been listening to Steve - songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist - for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves. When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless. When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid. Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee. And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in.
He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe. To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way, at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk. In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.
His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs. I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads. So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.
Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story. I was so moved to be able to give him the book. He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.
These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica. I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning. My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby.
Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore. I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me. I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.
Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control. The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees. But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.