Where Do We Go When We Die?

Where do we go when we die?
Some people completely disappear never to be again.
Others return for tea and advise in dreams and vision.
Some few remain a constant, eternal entity, in every thing.
Bugs. Reptiles. Flying creatures. Hot rod cars. And of course, Music.

Five years ago I was In a beautiful little town in Ontario, situated on an elbow of the Mississippi River. I was recording my last record album. In the company of friends old and new.  In my memory, it was a cosmic week. Intense work, creation and a sparing match with expectation (but that is a story for another time). Somewhere in the middle of the sessions, late, late in the evening after the band had gone home, I was laying on my futon mattress that was my bed for the week. The futon was on the floor of one of the four isolation/tracking rooms. In the daytime it doubled as a damper for guitar amps. I was enjoying the light show that the cheap disco ball device was providing and, well, scrolling. As one does. 

That’s where I first read the words “David Bowie has died”
Of course reading words like that sent me on a click and search marathon to trial truth and determine details. What had become of the Thin White Duke? 

As it turns out, Bowie was also susceptible to human disease. Cancer had taken our Starman. It was devastating news for me. I had recently become a bit of an obsessive fan and was hopeful I’d be seeing him live. Alas, it would not be. Now, I confess, I wasn’t as big a fan as others I know but still… I was very upset by the news. Lying there alone on the floor of a recording studio, I wept. After messaging the folks I knew, needed to know, I fell asleep.I spent the next two days wanting and trying desperately to be able to sing like Bowie on a couple of songs. But of course, I could only manage to sound like me. 

I’ve spent the last few days enjoying the fruits of Bowie’s labour. Last night I stayed up WAY too late with my bubble friend, watching the Bowie celebration. And here, now, at my kitchen table, listening to Blackstar, I have come to realize, that, for me, Bowie has not gone anywhere. As a fan, He is as ever present in my life. Perhaps even more so. I can go listen to Bowie any time I choose. His estate is regularly,  releasing records from his recorded career. I can find his movies and television appearances in the endless, eternal internet. It’s comforting. I must note that I am sure it is not this way for all and I don’t mean to take away from anyone else’s disparity from the gap loved ones leave when they’re gone. 

All of this has left me asking, “what happens when we die?”
I suppose it’s different for every individual on every side of the experience.
But it appears, that perhaps, so long as they’re in your “mind”…
They can live forever?

“You’re never who you think you are” – Bowie

david-bowie-060416_1604485846_crop_550x393                                                                                           Photo by: Jimmy King

Might as well Jump.

Winter 1984. I’m not yet ten years old. It’s dark as coal and cold. Not cold enough to be dangerous but certainly cold enough to make your nose run. The location is as Canadian as it gets. Small town, outdoor, skate rink. The rink is bathed in a tired yellow light. The boards have weathered their share of hits and been hit by their share of weather. My memory *thinks* there is a chilly chain link fence fattened with frost. In the north west corner of the rink there is a shack. In my mind it’s about ten by sixteen. Long, splintery benches run wall to wall. The lightbulb hums along with the stereo. I also have a strong memory of hot chocolate in this room. Even then I didn’t have the patience required to enjoy Hot Chocolate without first raising the tastebuds on the tip of my tongue from the scalding heat. Hot indeed. It’s still delicious and warms the body on a cold night. I lace up my bauers as tight as I can by myself, which is never tight enough. I wobble across that shack floor and bust out the rickety door to take those fumbling first steps onto the ice. I glide straight out and down, headed in that counter clockwise circle. The wind nips at my lashes and reddens my cheeks. Sharp and cold, but still refreshing. The ice isn’t perfect here. Even though I know someone has painstakingly flooded and re-flooded the rink over and over to try and achieve that smoothest surface possible to allow others to effortlessly sail the  smooth surface, there are still a few bumps here and there. (Could probably write another post about the metaphor for life that is frozen in that last line). I’ve just completed my first lap and I round the corner where the door is. Above the door is some sort of speaker. This is ’84 so I can’t imagine what sort of speaker would be fixed to the outside of a skate shack but there it was In all it’s glory. And from it, suddenly, the weirdest sound. I thought, that is strange music? Is it music? Maybe? After one minute and eight seconds of counter clockwise continuance, the sound changes. Obvious keyboards and certainly musical to my 9 year old ear. Then a scream. Not like, in pain, or joy or anger exactly. But more like a “HEY, OVER HERE!” sorta scream. Then the band comes in. What is going on I thought. This is something. Mr. freezing outdoor speaker had my full attention now.  I didn’t want to Jump, like the band was repeatedly insisting, but I DID want to hear more. The guitar was awesome. The keyboards were hypnotic. And then came the guitar solo. What. Was. THAT?!? For four full minutes I floated around the rink. No more could I hear the pain o the ice as I carved over it ruthlessly. Now I was only listening to the song.  Then it was over. A couple seconds of silence gave me time to consider what I had just heard. But before I could figure it all out in my nine year old brain, the guitar and drums started again. And once again, it was AWESOME. I was skating in circles looking at this old speaker with these THINGS jumping out of it. The singer came in hard with attitude. Panama? Isn’t that a place? Where is it even? Weird name for a song I thought. But the GUITAR! I crashed into the little corral toward the shack door. I had to get a look at the cassette cover. I stagger into the warmth of the shack, which for some reason in my mind is empty. Just me. (I’m SURE this isn’t accurate but that’s the scene in my memory. In fact in my memory there isn’t anyone else there skating either. I KNOW that isn’t right. But that’s my image) I’m looking at the cover and it’s also captivating. Is that a CHILD smoking a cigarette? Do they have wings on?!Why would they? Who would allow that? And at the same time…VERY COOL! By this time the bridge of Panama has hit and I’ve tuned back  in to what I’m hearing. I recall feeling awkward. Maybe even a little embarrassed for some reason. The adult word I would choose would be titillated. I was under the spell of rocknroll. In less than ten minutes Van Halen’s 1984 had checked all the boxes for me. I don’t have another single memory I can recall from that skating rink. Or that album. But I vividly recall, or have created, the memory of the first time I heard the first ten minutes of that record.

I would be a life long Van Halen fan yet, only owned a few albums. This very day I own NO Van Halen albums. I loved both eras of the band and view them as almost separate entities. Both line ups provided me with so much information about what Rock music could and should be. As a kid, I was always drawn to the shredder guitarists even though I couldn’t play that stuff. I didn’t have the mental fortitude for practice that the style required. Serious discipline. I still don’t. But that’s sort of how it’s always been for me. I’ve been chronically influenced by people I wanted to emulate yet simply did not have the tools in my bag to do so. Eddie. Steve Vai. Gregg Allman. Dr. John. Howlin’ Wolf. Yet somehow, all these artists live deeply in my psyche. I have listened to SO much of them that, even without being able to play their art note for note, I still managed to glean a glorious amount of influence from them all. If you asked me ten years ago if EVH was one of my big influences I’d say absolutely not. But listening now, as an adult and an unabashed music fanatic that does not believe in guilty pleasures,   I can say without hesitation that yes, there is 100% a large EVH influence. There are a few tricks in my bag that I know grew out of listening to Eddie. Certainly not the tapping and shredding but there is LOTS of other things to learn from in the Ocean that is Eddie’s playing. Somehow my brain collected those tones, notes, licks and songs and fashioned them into useable influence. One of the biggest things I took home from Eddie was the melding of styles. Blues, Rock, Pop. It’s all in there and can mingle together into a pretty tasty musical cocktail.

It’s clear Eddie was absolutely  astonishing on account of his guitar style. But he was so much more than a guitarist. He certainly revolutionized that instrument, but he was also a fantastic keyboardist, songwriter, singer, riff monster and groove master. He was a fantastic musician. As high end as any of the greats who have come and gone. He left an undeniable scratch on the earth and ch84785_0_wide_ver1547647298.jpg@642anged rock music forevr.  I’ll forever be embarrassed about not having seen him live but I will be forever grateful that Whenever I hear Panama, I’ll always be that nine year old in that small town skate shack.For the record, I still think the bridge is titillating.

Building Bridges

Almost one year ago my job was, *ahem*, “bugging” me so badly that I quit. On the spot. Only the second time in my life I’ve done that. Under the circumstances, it was an easy decision. It was also a decision that would propel me into a deep, deep season of change. That incident, coupled with a book recommendation from a customer, sent me on an inward journey. A journey that certainly wasn’t easy and is still ongoing. The fall found me job hopping from part time to part time gig. I trained for delivery work at Canada Post and applied at nearly every restaurant in town (All of which turned me down despite extensive experience). As a result, my journey of discovery and self betterment was also balanced by a serious challenge to my self worth.  Not to mention financial hardship. All of this, typically, would be the perfect storm to propel me into a deep dark depression. And I will confess, there was a day or two here and there. But unusually, I was positive. Calm. Happy and felt (and feel) great peace. Through literature and endless podcasts I became aware of a lot of self limiting issues I was carrying with me. In many cases I was even allowing them, unknowingly,  to direct my life. I set about to reprogram my brain and closely examine some things I had been carrying around for a long time. And most importantly, put the final stranglehold on my ego. 

I employed so many exercises and tools to help accelerate my transformation. Meditation, gratitude, exercise and most importantly, challenging myself to do something that sucks everyday so that when I have to do really hard things there is less resistance from my brain. During this time I came to finally understand what it means when people say “you are not your thoughts”. This felt like the final stage (although it may be the first?!) of a long season of change that I began in 2015. I was finally discovering who I am/was. And why I am/was that way. I’ve learned so much. Much of it has been difficult but extremely rewarding work. 

7 or 8 months into this journey, I managed to find a job I love at a restaurant that is run by people I respect, who seems to give a shit about their product and its quality. Finally, I was gainfully employed again and could begin chipping away at my seven months of unemployment debt.  The fact that the restaurant’s name translates to “to cultivate or grow”, is/was not lost on me. I don’t think it is a coincidence that they were, literally, the only place that would hire me and a place I would find comfort and happiness. After all, I had just spent the winter Odla’ing my self! 77F58666-C913-4FF9-B3AF-538A6EBC43D6

This morning I ran the two bridges in my hood like I do every week. The Broadway and Victoria bridges. As I was crossing the Victoria I thought about how long it took them to rebuild that old, closed down, bridge, how beautiful it is now, how often I use it and that every time I cross it I just love that it’s there. Maybe that seems a little odd, but i appreciate the new old Victoria bridge and it’s place in history. Today I stopped to snap a quick photo on each because I realized that I’ve put a lot of work in building a bridge to my self. It took a long time to get the rust off of it. To stabilize and make sure it was safe. To smooth out the surface and fill in some holes. To make it a useful part of my life again. As of today, I’ve been around the sun 45 times. This morning I woke up with my amazing wife Lisa (YUGE shoutout to Lise because without her support, I wouldn’t be the person I am!). My incredible son, Holden. We laughed and played. Hugged and kissed. Shared smiles. Coffee and “waga”. Had some snacks. Later today I’ll head out to work and enjoy every minute of it. I’ll bring some happiness to the lives of people who, I now know, look forward to seeing me when they decide to go out to spend their hard earned money. In between, I’ll be standing on that bridge I built. Grateful for it. Trying to appreciate it and keep up my maintenance on it. If you’re reading this, I wish you the best of luck in finding whatever you are searching for.

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Let’s Celebrate!!!

image1-2Life can be scary. Sometimes you wake up and look around and can’t see a goddamned thing that makes sense to you. Your job. Your home. Maybe even your partner. Sometimes you look in the mirror and think, who WAS I before I became this version of myself? Sometimes there is a feeling so deep down inside you that it cannot be stopped. It cannot be satisfied with a pat on the head or a swig of whiskey. It cannot be quieted with a shushing finger on the lips. It slaps that hand away from your own face and comes galloping out of your guts and right up into that place that doesn’t consult your brain before strumming your vocal chords. These moments are pivotal. Gouging a line into the wooden table of life and asking you very slowly with a hard locked, deep eye stare, “WHICH SIDE DO YOU WANT TO STAY ON?!”.

I’ve been there a couple times in my life. And there are only two choices. Stay and continue your journey into a numb insanity or step over to the other side and get your ticket punched as you get on the ride of a lifetime. Things that are worth doing are nearly always buried in hard work. The hard stuff is where we grow. Where we rip open the cocoon and try as hard as we can to finally stretch our wings out. To desperately get a little air underneath there and get a bit of elevation. This is where the real growth is. It hangs near the top of the tree. The place that you scrap your back on to arrive at. And when finally you stretch your arm out maybe, just maybe you graze the skin with your fingertips. This can be what success feels like. Not holding the fruit and gnashing your teeth into it, no. But ever so gently being able to rock that precious morsel on the vine. Yet as you do so, it is like a start button for the tree and BOOM! It’s shoots up into the sky again and off we go. Climbing and climbing and climbing. This is what chasing a dream can be like. This is what running your own business can be like. It is HARD work. To survive for any length of time is a near miraculous feat and deserves celebration. 

I moved here nearly three years ago. One of the first places my amazing partner took me to was 9 Mile nano brewery. I tried a few of the usual suspects and while they all excelled at their personalities, it was the 9 Mile Ale that really poured itself into the cockles of my heart. The staff were a friendly bunch. Courteous and keen. The combination of all these things won me over and I decided this was the place for me. The spot where I would buy my “Fav local” beer and also the place where I would try all kinds of new-to-me beers. Three years later, they make one of my all time fav beers (OC Collab) and I still find myself learning many new things about beer and life, with every visit I make.  Because of all this, I am supremely grateful to be included as a part of their four year anniversary celebrations. This weekend they will throw a party for us, their customers. Who does that?! Aren’t WE supposed to throw a party for THEM?! Well that’s just the sort of folks they are. So all we have to do is show up, drink the best beer in town and enjoy the company of good people. Sounds easy enough?! Sounds like just about every time I’ve darkened the doors at 9Mile. This Friday I will perform a couple sets of music in the taproom. Starting sometime after 7pm. There will be no admission charge. There will be lots of Saskatchewan micro brews on tap. There will be nice people. Families. Maybe even a dog or two?! I would suggest that you round up a couple of your best buds and stroll on down to Riversdale. Pull up a chair at the community table, order a fresh pint and sit back and relax, as you do so, we’ll celebrate the amazing feat of Shawn, Garret and their incredible TEAM. Four years! Here’s to four hundred more. See you Friday at 9 Mile.

 

 

Bob Dylan, Sasktel Centre, July 14 2017

image1-2I’m still trying to process this show. Bob Dylan. American icon. Artist. Musician. Lyricist. Modern renaissance man. Bon vivant. No doubt. I understand Bob is not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not here to persuade you otherwise. I think last Friday was my 7 or 8th time seeing Bob. I’ve enjoyed him every time. This time was exceptional and I’m glad I convinced myself to go. I wasn’t going to. Then I saw some footage from his recent tour. It was killer. Then I realized they’ve been doing the same set all tour. To me, that meant the band should and would be tight. And they were. As the lights went down and the band walked on stage the vibe was immense. And then…there he was. Bob fucking Dylan. That old familiar feeling washed over me…”I’m in the same room as Bob Dylan”. A privilege. For the next little while the band tore through a variety of Bob’s catalogue. From early numbers like Don’t think Twice, to tunes from the “Time” series of albums, to his re-working of the old classics like Stormy Weather to the swinging blues of the album Tempest. It was all displayed and played expertly. Bob’s voice (again, I’m not here to convince you to like it, but I do) was sounding great. He sang the song book tunes with confidence and swagger. Nailing them. Standing confidently with his hand on his hip as his band became an orchestra. Simply as badass as one can be at 76 and clearly aware of it. All night he seemed to clearly be having a good time. Rocking his baby grand, chatting with band mates. He even addressed the audience with a little fist bump to the heart before they left the stage. Something I’ve never seen him do even once before.

The entire night has been replaying in my head over and over since the show ended. Like a good film I’ve been revisiting each scene. Trying to figure out what it all means. I had a number of moments during the show where things seemed to make sense to me. A vision of the timeline of American music. Blues. Jazz. Swing. Torch. Singer songwriters. And of course, RocknRoll. Bob was/is there amidst all of it. It occurred to me that night, there in that room, that Bob is as important a musical figure as anyone. It must have been a similar feeling to be in the room watching Muddy Waters or Howlin Wolf. Sinatra or Miles Davis. Just the knowing that American Music was being made. Real and true. And all night, whether Bob was at his piano or standing impishly with his hand in his hip, it was as if he was saying to me “I know where I fit in music history. You can put me beside Muddy. Frank. Springsteen. ANYONE, and it will all make sense. I am American music.” Thank god I went one more time because Who knows how much longer we’ll get to keep Bob on this sphere.

I always sort of feel bad for the folks I talk to leading up to and after the show. The folks who went to hear knocking’ on Heaven’s Door or Mr Tambourine man, performed as recorded. Of course Bob doesn’t do that. Not, ever, just rarely. You don’t necessarily get what you want at a Dylan show. You always get what you need though. Whether you realize it or not. One thing I have learned for sure in my few decades on this earthly realm, is that when you enter a situation projecting your own expectations, knowingly or unknowingly, you are nearly always met with disappointment and frustration. This is a common human trait. We seem to expect others to behave or deliver what WE want. What WE desire. As if they would even know what that is. That is not how life works. We are individuals. Unique. Singular. It requires great amounts of communication to understand what another human wants or expects. Until that conversation happens we typically just project our own desires onto a situation or someone.  image2

In a conversation about the show with my must friend, Sean Burns, we came to the conclusion that to enjoy his Bobness live now, you can’t just be a “Like A Rolling Stone Fan”, you can’t just be a “Mr. Tambourine fan”, you can’t just be a “Oh Mercy” Fan. You have to be a BOB DYLAN fan. That means loving him and more importantly, accepting him, through all facets of his journey and the all encompassing weirdness that is Bob Dylan.