Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wandering Into a Happier Time...

The last entry was one of great sadness, of the death of a friend. This one is of great Joy and Happiness. In slightly over two weeks, my best friend is getting married.

I have known Michael since around 1991 or 1992. He was a student of the piano teacher who was teaching in the same building I was. On occasion, I would drop in to use the piano teacher's photocopier and eventually met most of his students. One evening, I recognized Mike at a coffee shop and sat with him for a coffee and cigarette. A couple of years later, Mike was in University and he and his classmates would all be at the coffee shop during the evenings when I'd stop in on my way home from teaching.

Mike's interests were far beyond the 'normal' university student, and his maturity, knowledge and wisdom exceeded even most of his professors! Having many of the same interests, our friendship deepened, even though I am closer in age to his parents.

From 1994 to 1999 we were almost always off hiking, camping, or chilling in a coffee shop together. In '97, he became musical director for the University's theatrical production of "The Wizard of Oz" and asked me to play drums in the band. I know now what a big step that was for him. I had been a 'professional' musician since he was an infant and he hadn't yet begun to play professionally. I accepted since I had been mostly teaching for a number of years and thought it would be interesting to perform again. The added bonus of being beneath the stage and therefore out of sight from the audience made it even more fun. That summer we worked together in a dinner theater production that lasted three months total, rehearsals included. Our afternoon coffees at a local cafe' kept us both sane.

In 1998, I was asked to work in a local band with national aspirations, and when asked if I knew a piano player, quickly suggested Mike.

Mike and I worked well together onstage and spent much time together exploring the towns in which we were playing. After one rather demanding tour in the summer of 1999, Mike began to think of returning to University to continue his education and by the beginning of the year 2000, he had moved to Ottawa and began studying as well as working as a choir director and sales manager in a music store.

I did not see Mike much after that. We kept in touch via e-mail and whenever he was home for a visit in the summer, we'd get together and spend a few hours, maybe even a couple of days together.

Then, one magical beautiful day he introduced me to Claire. She was more lovely than an ocean sunrise, more radiant than the Northern Lights in autumn, and oh, her smile!

And HIS smile!

My dearest friend had found his true love. Not many years passed until one day he arrived at my door to spend some time. The lovely Claire had chosen to stay with his parents, to allow two old friends some time alone. In my back yard with our coffee, he turned serious and said, almost reverently,

"Jones, I'm going to ask Claire to marry me."

I wept.

I had seen Mike through at least four relationships, maybe more, since we'd met. Some were disastrous, others just didn't work out. But this relationship... This time it was special. I knew when I met Claire that she, if anyone, would be the one to bring my friend Ultimate Happiness.

Michael and Claire will be married in her hometown, Paris France, on May the 16th 2009. I will be unable to attend as time and budget have both conspired to keep me in Canada. However, my heart will be with them both as they openly and publicly state their commitment to share their lives together forever.

Michael and Claire, you are two very wonderful people who are both VERY important to me. Look after each other, and come visit when you're back in this part of the world.

I love you both.

Still wandering...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wandering into Loss.

Just a few hours ago, I got the news that an old friend and band-mate has passed away.

How can I put four years of our mutual lives into words? We shared much more than a stage, hotel rooms, and bad restaurant food.

There were the endless hours of traveling from gig to gig, often through the night. Stephen made those endless drives bearable with his stories and jokes.

Stephen’s love of the sea was well documented, not only in his Coast Guard record, but in song as well. “Silver Sea” on the Garrison Brothers ‘Songs and Stories’ album was testament to this. Once when on tour in Southern Ontario, we found ourselves on the banks of the Welland Canal as a huge ship was passing through. Stephen stood silently, watching. Then, without changing expression, he asked, “You know how most young men hear the train whistle and get the urge to jump aboard?” He nodded to the ship. “That’s my train.”

As in all situations where many personalities are involved, the Garrison Brothers had their share of conflicts. Stephen was the one we all turned to for guidance and support. His life experience made him capable of wise council and he was able to quickly defuse a troubled situation.

Stephen could see the humour and often the absurdity in every situation. Just as things began to go wrong, there would be a chuckle from Stephen and within a minute he’d have us all laughing and adding our own jokes. The hours, and the miles, passed quickly when Stephen was around. At social gatherings, Stephen was a prolific storyteller, silencing the whole room with his tales. We were never able to tell if his stories were true or fabricated, but always he told them with the conviction of reality.

But it was onstage where Stephen really shone; not as a bass player or singer (although he had his moments of glory) but as the band’s spokesperson. Stephen was comfortable in front of an audience, and could calmly tell a joke while a guitar player changed a broken string or a sound tech tracked down a faulty cable. Stephen took on the role of “MC” with ease, introducing the upcoming song, often with the history of its origin and some insight of the author’s thoughts. He never missed an opportunity to poke fun at his bandmates, and hecklers in the audience had no chance against his sharp tongue and razor-sharp wit.

In the twenty-five years since we worked together, I have thought of Stephen often. I have missed him in life as much as I shall miss him in death. Stephen’s number one priority was first and foremost to see that the audience was entertained. He was well loved and will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace Stephen, dear friend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wandering into Zen-like silence

There is a peaceful magic to the late night; when the voice of the world is hushed to a whisper… After the bars have closed, the revelers have gone to their homes, the homeless have found their nightly sanctuary, the cars with their loud stereo systems and exhaust fumes are parked until tomorrow, when the rural countrysides and communities are silent…

It’s a certain Zen-like quality I experience at such times; I can hear no other sounds but my breathing, see nothing but the streetlights and perhaps the taillights of a solitary car off in the distance. If I am listening to music, it’s usually light classical or smooth Jazz, played very low, barely audible. This is the time I love to meditate.

When I was still actively playing music for a living, it was at this magic Zen time that I would be returning from the performance, often alone. I would invariably seek silence since I’d had enough noise pollution at the show. The headlights on the road, and the dash lights in my vehicle would sometimes be the only illumination for miles… On a clear night, I’d find a straight stretch of road and stop, shut off the lights and engine, and get out and watch the stars in the sky. With no streetlights to interfere, the stars were bright enough to see the time on my watch, and oh, the multitudes of them I could see! In cities and even small communities, the man-made lights overpower the stars and it’s easy to forget they are there in such profusion. Not so in the dark, quiet places of our world. The stars reclaim their rightful place as Heaven’s sentries. Occasionally, the Northern Lights would dance among their Heavenly companions.

I remember once, working on a recording project in a rural studio. As the producer, engineer and I stepped from the building into the night air after completing the day’s tasks, we all looked upward. It was late autumn and the night was crisp and cool, the sky seemingly darker and the stars seemingly brighter than normal. Looking upward, the engineer commented on the surrealness of it all. He pensively commented that it seemed magical to him, and that he often wondered what our early ancestors must have thought as they looked skyward. I replied that they probably had the same thoughts we were having at that moment, and that those stars had witnessed all that had come before us, and will witness all that will come after us.

Still, silent, unconcerned, non-judgmental… The stars look down upon us and give us hope: hope that someday we will look back from a quiet planet, a planet without wars, hatred, fear, and greed. A planet that has come to terms with itself and its near insignificance in the vast gulf of space.

We are all one…

~Still Wandering…

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wandering In The Post Love Wasteland Part III

Following the 'Summer of Love,' and the 'Spring of Death,' 1969 was the triumphant apex of the Hippie generation. By this time, the war in Viet Nam had reached an all-time low in the popularity ratings, Richard Nixon was showing his true colours, Canada was enthralled with Trudeaumania, and the Beatles announced their break-up.

The summer saw hippies, flower children, and many others all heading to upstate New York, in August to attend a 3 day celebration of music and love on a farm owned by Max Yasgur. The event was to become known as "Woodstock," because it was originally scheduled to happen in that town, near the rehearsal home of The Band, formerly Bob Dylan's back-up musicians. Woodstock was the most epitomizing event of the '60s... 500,000 people showed up and tuned in together... Dropping acid, smoking marijuana, grooving to the sounds of their favourite bands and single artists, as well as many new acts. Crosby, Stills and Nash made their second public appearance at Woodstock.
Despite the over-crowding, bad weather,traffic jams, and in some cases, claustrophobia, the event was unparalleled. There were no fights, no stabbings, shootings, nor vandalism. Only two deaths were reported.... One reported drug overdose, and one as a result of one of the clean-up tractors running over a young man who was sleeping on the ground, muddy and inside a dirty sleeping bag. There were also a couple of births... Undoubtedly there were MANY births a few months later! :-)

For me, 1969 was the beginning of my musical career and a time when the music I loved was expressing itself in a way my senses could not even begin to comprehend. Led Zeppelin, Cream, Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and oh, so many more, many of whom had appeared at Woodstock were also flooding the radio waves with their fiery assault on the world. I listened enraptured as song after song left me weak and speechless with its spell. It was to be several years before I could begin to realize how pivotal this time really was. But I spent that year in the greatest of euphoria. I had my music, my freedom (in a relative sense) and my youth was still unspent. I can remember the smells of the rural countryside, feel the heat of a summer sun, I can still see the smiles on the faces of my friends as we gathered at the local hang-outs or swimming holes. The world had yet to play its jokes on us or to deal its tragic cards to those who played a little too recklessly.

In my opinion, 1969 was the greatest year of my life. I was fourteen years old; ready to fall in love and to experience the rest of my life from an adult perspective. High school was just a year away as that summer ended and with it, real life was about to close in and teach us all some very nasty lessons.

~Still Wandering...