More Smoke 

I’ve been sitting here for half an hour wanting to write something positive, or joyful, or up lifting. 

Oh well…who knows…maybe such a mood will evolve as we go along. 

This year has become all about the fires, the smoke, the beach vendors going broke, burnt out lives, and millions of creatures who could never run fast enough or far enough, now just ash on the forest floor. 

We’ve had three almost smoke free days and it has been wonderful. It’s strange but as soon as the air clears it’s as if the smoke was never here; there are no lingering effects. It’s like waking from a bad dream. 

And maybe that’s the reason for the funk today…the smoke is thickening again and with the very first whiff all the dread rises again. 

I’ve been reading about the fires. They have now surpassed last year to make this the most devastating fire season ever…and there is no end in sight. This is the worst drought ever, even in the normally damp northern forests. There are concerns that water sources for the firefighters will dry up…some already have. 

I’ve heard people on the radio saying that they will stay and fight the fire on their own…they have too much at stake to leave…many have farms or ranches and large herds of animals to protect. 

But there is no protection, especially not if the water dries up. 

What is amazing is that, so far, no one has died. 

I saw a graph of annual fire damage from 1955 to the present…the worst previous fire season was about one third the size of last year… and now, even that huge leap in destroyed acreage has dropped to second place. 

So it’s got me wondering what the cycles will be. 

How many parched, smokey seasons must we endure before we get a damp, clear one?… three?… four?… forever more? 

And what about the sunny, hot, all around gorgeous summers the Okanagan is famous for? 

Sigh! 

OK, well…the smoke is not getting anywhere near the density of last week so that’s a blessing…or the absence of a curse anyway. 

And we are still only victims of smoke…and we are still in our homes… 

And we gotta keep the faith. If you love a place you have to stick by it…plan for the best…believe that there will be a lot of snow in the mountains this winter and an ‘old times’ normal summer. 

It would be nice to see boats on the lake again…and people having fun.

Smoke 

August is grinding to a close here in paradise. One generally doesn’t speak of glorious summer as ‘grinding’ in any way. Summer is free, fun and fabulous…generally. But this is no glorious summer. People have been cancelling vacation reservations, pulling their boats out of the water and clearing the hardware stores of hepa filters and dust masks. 

It’s all about the smoke. The endless layer of thick, acrid smoke that has blanketed this beautiful province for the last month and shows no sign of letting up. And yet we remain grateful; we must contend with only the smoke; the fire has, so far anyway, left us alone. 

As I write I am watching the mountain across the lake gradually slip from view. Last evening cleared up a bit. Not so much that we could open windows or step out for a longed for breath of clean, fresh air. No, not that much. But at least the moon was yellow instead of the deep orange shadow of the past week; at least the mountain was visible as a silhouette against the lights of Vernon on the other side. 

But the wind has changed direction, as the song goes, and the heaviness of the atmosphere is again intensifying. I’ve learned that you never can tell just how dense it will get. Last years fires, even though some were much closer to us than this years batch, never produced the kind of blanket that these have. I have read that the high atmospheric air is too hot to allow the smoke to rise and so it is forced it to stay low and thick…a heat inversion. 

It makes me think of what a nuclear winter might be like. You know, the post apocalyptic story of how the earth would freeze to death because no heat could reach the surface after a nuclear holocaust. It’s been a hot summer, mid to high thirties, but during the dense smokey periods it’s ten degrees cooler. That’s a relief in a way because hot smokey air would be even less breathable than cool but you get the point…if the smoke lasted for years all life would choke, plants would die, everything would be contaminated. 

My mind does wander into some depressing corners as I watch the mountain fade to a grey outline. One feels like a prisoner. For many people that is actually the case. It’s not worth going outside if you suffer from any kind of lung condition. Even if you don’t currently have issues it becomes readily apparent that you soon will if you spend much time breathing cinder-filled air. 

But hey, let me lighten up a bit. 

I just read that there’s a strong wind blowing in from the Pacific Ocean…the entire province could be smoke free for a couple of days as early as the weekend. Enough time, perhaps, to freshen up the house and clear out stuffy lungs before the calm brings a return to the reality of the massive, still uncontained fire to the north-west, and the hundreds of smaller ones that surround us in all directions. There is rain in the forecast as well…glorious rain… which we have seen none of this summer. It will not be the Monsoon necessary to drench the fires into submission but even a little will surely help. 

This is not good news for Albertans, Saskatchewanians and all folks to the east who will be receiving this unwelcome gift from BC. 

Sorry. 

Oh well… 

There goes the mountain. 

It’s all just grey again… 

Light black from pole to pole.

The Times They Are A'Changin' 

Well, I’ve officially entered a new phase of my life… the ‘old’ phase. I recall many years ago a man who was a decade or so older than me but younger than I am now, bemoan what he called the ‘graceless slide into decrepitude’. I remember thinking at the time, “Well, it doesn’t have to be graceless.” 

Hmmm?? 

Maybe not…the jury is still out on that one…but there is no doubt about the decrepitude part…I suppose we can still choose the attitude in which we live out the gradual breakdown of our bodies, but there are going to be grouchy days no matter how stoic and ‘mature’ we attempt to be. 

I’m a bit grouchy today. Can you tell? 

I played a gig last weekend with an extremely sore and swollen right foot. I just woke up with it one morning…as my foot hit the floor a howling pain shot through it all the way to my knee. WTF! OW OW! 

Right away a couple of big questions flashed on my screen: first- OMG I’ve got a flight in 20 hours and a gig in 48…I can barely walk to my chair…how am I going to get around the airport?  Secondly, even if I make it to the stage how in hell am I going to stand the pain of stomping on my bass drum for 90 minutes? 

THIS IS SERIOUS! Over my fifty plus year career I have performed on no sleep, with the flu, with a screaming headache and any number of scrapes, scratches, cramps and contusions but I really didn’t know if I could take this pain. I hit the bass drum a thousand times over the course of a show (give or take a few hundred) and given the state of my foot, each hit would feel like a stomp on a rusty four inch spike. 

What to do? Any thought of cancelling and foregoing the loot is forbidden entrance to my consciousness so I never considered it. What I thought was, “How do I get some serious pain meds?” Years ago my drummer friend Gibby had broken his big toe by ramming it into a door jamb on a midnight ramble through his apartment. He got some percodan and grinned his way through an entire evening of stomping on four inch spikes. “That’s what I need,” I thought. Now, I don’t actually know any licensed drug dispensers… let alone possessing one of my very own…so off to the hobble-in clinic I go, all the while preparing my story so they won’t think I’m just another addict looking for a legal fix. I think I’ve got it down; they can find my picture online, look up the tour schedule…in other words my story is totally verifiable…and I only want a couple of these precious little babies. 

OK, seems reasonable. 

But the first thing I see upon entering the waiting room is a large sign telling me that under NO circumstances are the doctors permitted to prescribe opioids or any ‘narcotic’ drug. Once again WTF. I know anything less than serious narcotic is not going to reduce the four inch spikes to anything resembling a manageable level. Still, I’ve hobbled across the parking lot and up the stairs and obtained a seven-of-spades playing card ( Hole-punched through the centre with a ‘Property of Casino Vernon” stamp) which indicated that I was seventh in the queue and could be face to face with a Dr. person within the hour. I decided that to limp away would be lame indeed so I settled in beside an exhausted looking young woman with a crying baby and a bored three year old. 

I left with a prescription for some Tylenol 3’s (talk about a poor man’s opioid), some antibiotic (I apparently had some infection) and a requisition for some blood-work. 

Oh Well. 

Alright…so now it’s time to head for the airport. Lori insisted on driving me (sweet thing) and she even rushed into Superstore to buy me a cheap cane to keep me from toppling once I was on my own. Making my way the the airplane was indeed painful and I had to hobble-run through the Calgary airport in a rush to my connection. I did use the cane…kinda…it was awkward, competent cane-ing takes some practice. It was more of a showpiece really but it worked to get me in with the pre-boards when the flight was called. 

I made it to the hotel, discussed the very real possibility that there would be no bass drumming for the pending show, holed up in my room with an ice bucket and ordered room service. I iced my foot off and on until it was time to head for the venue. By morning the swelling was down by half and with the help of some Tylenol 3’s and a big reduction in the pressure I played with I survived the set. But it wasn’t until I actually got through the first few songs that I felt I would probably make it to the end. 

Rich and Ronnie were sympathetic, God knows they’ve got their ‘old guy’ issues too. But that’s the thing; I’ve always been the strong one, the guy who can carry their guitars when needed, the backbeat that doesn’t wimp out, the one who could run. 

But the times they are a’changin’. 

It’s all question of balance…and attitude…and acceptance…I guess.

On the Road Again 

Well I’m back home after ten days on the road. Ten days bookended by Stampeder dates in Sault Ste. Marie and Burin Newfoundland with three a half days in between spent working with my longtime friend and collaborator Gary MacArthur at his studio in Brighton Ontario. I had hoped to have some new music to post along with this blog but we got hung up changing parts and making guitars into pianos etc. etc. etc. The bottom line being we’re still not quite ready for an unveiling of all this music. There are at least a dozen tracks…I haven’t actually stopped to count. It’s going to be a fascinating collection as some of the initial recordings date back to the late eighties and were recorded on an eight track Fostex machine, quite archaic by todays standards. Through the magic of new tech and much study Gary has been able to transform these into cool tracks…and, of course, there is much more recent stuff including some of the work David Knight and I have produced over the past while. 

But enough on the new music. I know I have been threatening to post some for so long it’s beginning to sound as if it’s all just a figment of my imagination and doesn’t actually exist. Kinda like the Mueller investigation down south. So no more talk…I’ll just pop one up when I do I guess. 

The trip itself was quite enjoyable for the most part; sadly, the unenjoyable time was that spent onstage. It’s always a drag when that happens and it is almost always the result of badly designed stages which cause the sound to roll around making playing a real chore. Both stages on this trip qualified as horrible. Both were shell shaped and the monitoring just couldn’t cut through the mess; so what you end up with is a super loud, ear-ringing din where it seems the guitar and bass are perpetually behind the beat. This is not happening in actuality and folks out front said it was good but for the musicians it’s an exhausting struggle. 

In the end though, what counts is what the audience gets and it seems that was acceptable to both. Whew! 

As much as I love living in central BC I admit that it’s not a great place to fly in and out of. My trip from Kelowna to ‘the Sault’ was via Vancouver and Toronto and saw me arriving at midnight, an eleven hour sojourn. Now the Sault Ste Marie airport was at least a thirty minute drive from my hotel and when I when I walked outside to grab a taxi and head for bed there was not a one in sight. ‘Oh no! I’ve got to call for one which will take thirty minutes just to get to me and another thirty to get me home (Oh yes, hotels become instant home when you’re on the road). Arghh! ‘ 

But suddenly, out of nowhere, I see a man taking a woman's bag and directing her to, you guessed it, a TAXI! I immediately fell on my knees and began begging to share the ride. No, said the driver, he could take only the person who called. Thankfully this lovely lady took pity on me and allowed me to ride along. The uncertain driver had to check with his dispatcher who said “ No problem, just charge double”, which I was more than happy to pay. Over the course of the long ride in we all began to chat and I told them what I was in town to do and discovered they where both Stampeder fans and quite thrilled to have me in the car. So now I had been pegged as a rock star and, as such, felt obliged to leave an extra large tip. And so it goes. 

Gig day was rainy…it was outdoors of course…it is summer after all. People came with umbrellas and a good time was had by all. (excepting, of course, the three of us struggling to hear what we were doing) 

I rented a car in Toronto and drove the hour and a half to Gary’s. We worked at least ten hours a day and ate from a food truck that makes the world’s best burger. It was great! 

Then a drive back to Richard’s house, an evening with some old friends and a few bottles of wine and an early morning flight to St. Johns. 

The three plus hour drive from St. Johns down the Burin Peninsula was a magical one. I had done it once before a few years ago and another time in the seventies. That part of the NFLD landscape is like no other I have ever seen. Beautiful and mysterious, windblown so that the dwarf trees all lean away from the wind at ten or fifteen degrees, large rocky formations that appear as mountains but are only a hundred or so feet high, endless ponds and moss and treeless hills…a moor…to be sure. And the weather was pure Newfoundland; a Scottish mist with foggy patches and then a beautiful evening sun slipping in underneath it all. Like I said…magical. 

The gig would have been great fun, save for the shitty sounding stage. Newfoundlanders are Canada’s party people. They have a great love of music and will let you know when they like you with endless offers of free beer. Fabulous folks. I can see NFLD becoming a solid tourist destination once word gets out to the world. There are not many places like it still around and it’s traditional fishing industry is, very sadly, no longer able to sustain the people as it has for centuries. 

Bottom line…if you’ve never been to NFLD…go. You probably won’t need your swimming suit but bring hiking boots and a good water resistant jacket. St. Johns is a one-of-a-kind city and the food is great. 

I do find it amazing that I can get from one end of this vast country to the other in a single day…which is about what it took to see me home on Sunday night…or, rather, Monday morning. Eighteen hours in transit… I was twenty pages short of finishing a novel I started on the St.Johns-Toronto leg. 

It’s good to be home.

Summer 

Summer has landed. A week of steady heat, raw sunshine, beer, water, friends, music. 

Ah yes…I’ll take it. The days have been in the mid to high thirties, the breeze barely enough to rustle the leaves. It’s great summer weather if you’re able to be by a lake where you can dip freely into the cool wetness…which, as it happens, is exactly where we are. And the evenings cool down beautifully here in the Okanagan. You can usually turn off the A/C and open the windows around eight. 

Last evening though, we had a fairly rare experience. A hot, dry wind blew in from the south turning the lake into a froth of white-caps and filling the air with all manner of fly-away plant matter. There was thunder and a fabulous lightning display…fabulous because it all seemed to release from cloud to cloud… sparing us any new fires. 

Nothing more than a few drops of rain fell and it was all over in twenty minutes but what followed the storm was something different. A mass of humid air rolled in…unusual in these parts… which served to keep the night hot and bring out legions of bugs followed by a half dozen bats which took to swooping past our noses in a frenzy as they vacuumed up the night blood-raiders. They gorged themselves I’m sure, but didn’t make so much as a dent in the swarming invisibles. Nor did the citronella candles keep them away. We scratched and swatted for awhile and then retreated to the house where we kept the A/C running through the night. 

A little bit of Ontario… or maybe Louisiana in our usually dry valley. 

On another subject…I’ll be back on the road in a couple of days. The Stamps are gigging in Sault Ste. Marie this weekend and in Newfoundland the next. 

I’m going to hole up in Ontario with Gary Mac for a few days in between.  Our plan is to finish up work on a dozen or so tracks that have been in progress for the last year. So, barring catastrophe, I should be able to post some new music within the next couple of weeks. 

I’m looking forward to getting feedback. You get to a place, when you’re working on the same stuff for months, where you lose perspective and start going in circles. The beauty of all the new tech is that we can always claw back a song and change it if everybody hates it…which is, of course, our worst nightmare…but you will let me know if you hate stuff…right? Nightmare notwithstanding. 

So… no blog next week. I’ll be too busy and I’m not into lugging a laptop anymore. I like to fly light. I boast that I could go around the world with a carry-on and I believe it’s true…especially in summer. 

Newfoundland can be tricky however, so I best dig out my windbreaker that folds down into a fanny-pac. 

But then again, it will be summer in NFLD too…official summer no less…which, in case you didn’t know, encompasses the last week in July and the first week in August. 

So I probably don’t need the windbreaker. 

Maybe I’m being too cautious? 

I’ll sleep on it. 

Cheers!

In a Funk 

OK… It’s one of those days when I have nothing going on that inspires me to write. It’s not that my mind is a blank or that I couldn’t just wax on…again…about the majesty of the natural world… or how cool it is that I can spend an entire Wednesday morning scribbling notions on my laptop, but I may as well just re-publish an old blog then, right? 

No…don’t wanna do that. 

Here’s the story. 

I woke up early this morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Stuff on my mind, you know? Nothing major…no life or death, no impending disaster. Just small nuisance stuff. Annoying more than anything. But it put me in a funk. My first thought was, ‘Oh shit…that’s still going on isn’t it? I didn’t dream it away…it’s still here.’ Bummer. 

Now, some days, I just want to get up and get busy at fixing whatever the problem is but other days…say like today…there is a part of me that just seems to want to wallow in the funk…to pout and be moody and sullen…to nurse the jerk and spread petty, pity vibes, like a contagion, all around me. 

A perfect recipe for a shitty day. 

Maybe it’s my old age or maybe it’s some tiny thread of enlightenment but somewhere in the middle of my second coffee another voice pipes up through the murk…a saner, quieter voice that says, ‘Really? After all this time you’re still ok with blowing a potentially great day?…look, the sun’s shining, it’s summer for Christ’s sake…you live by a lake…smarten up!’ 

Ok. Now that makes sense and I am a sensible guy and I know I will soon heed my better angel and smarten up. But what is it, I wonder, that creates the unwelcome, unwanted, unfriendly funkiness upon waking? 

But, of course, I know the answer to that too. I went to bed with bullshit on my mind. I fell asleep upset and woke up in exactly the same state… except with the added dimension of disappointment that naturally comes with waking up miserable. 

Good. 

So the moral of the story is, ‘Always go to sleep on a happy thought.’ 

Awww. Would that it were so simple. 

Getting rid of trouble-in-mind before nodding off is indeed one of life's most perplexing conundrums. It’s like trying to convince yourself that you believe in something you know you don’t believe in (I’m a millionaire, I’m a millionaire, I’m a millionaire). 

I think the Buddhist monks were on to something when they began meditating on a skull…yes, a human skull. What could be a more definitive reminder of the truth of earthly existence? I’ve also heard that some enlightened folks like to envision themselves in their coffin…same thing. 

Ultimately, Nothing Matters! 

All is Temporary! 

Ashes to Ashes 

Funk to Funky 

(We know Major Tom’s a junky) 

Hmmm…. 

Well, whatever… 

I feel fine. 

You folks are great listeners. 

Thanks

Can't Talk to the Taxman 

Aargh! 

I’m trying to get a call through to the CRA. Yes, the Canada Revenue Agency. It seems they do not want to accept my GST/HST filing for this past year. My accountant tried to file electronically, which is how we’ve been doing it for years, but it bounced back…with no explanation. So, not wanting to run afoul of the government,  I put it in an envelope and mailed it. Last week I got a response…they tell me they cannot accept my filing …quote…“we cannot process this return because we are not expecting a return for this period.” Hmmm?? In the next sentence they ask that I, “Please file a new GST/HST return for the appropriate period as soon as possible.” Wha?…what IS the appropriate period? Did I fail to file last year? And if so why have I not heard from them? 

Just to be sure I dug into my 2016 return and found my confirmation of filing  and all relevant info. So…nothing left but to call and speak to someone and find out what to do…hence my frustration. No one answers the number provided. No one answers because it does not ring through. The service is overloaded. 

Nothing to do but try, try again…and again, and again. 

Aargh! 

I recently read that the CRA has failed to collect over 40 billion dollars in owed taxes, about half of that is business tax and the rest is owed by regular folks. 

Forty billion! 

That’s enough to build a wall along our entire border with the U.S. Imagine if we beat them to the punch. What a piss-off for Donaldo, the great wall-maker… talk about a make work project… and we will need to make work for a lot of people now that we are at war with America. Well ok…so it’s only a trade war…but still, we’ll have lots of excess steel to unload and all kinds of unemployed manufacturers just itching for a project. And, seeing as how we are at war, we might want to take a few of those dollars to buy some used American fighter planes from the Australians (who, I assume, are buying new fighter planes from the Americans so they, too, can have a war with them). 

The lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum…again. 

Oh well…’scuse me…I have to redial the CRA. After all, if I can’t file I can’t pay… and the grand total of unpaid tax becomes 40,000,000,000 plus me…and I don’t want to be part of any G'damn wall. 

They’re coming to take me away hehe, hoho, haha!

Birthday 

My birthday is coming up…next week. It’s a zero year. And we all know (for reasons that make absolutely no sense) that zero years are definitely the most significant. It’s as though they usher in new eras of our lives. 

I remember looking so forward to achieving 10 years old. Wow that was a biggie. To finally escape the single digits of childhood seemed an immense achievement. I felt so much closer to that coveted state of grown-up-ness. Sure I was still a kid, but in just three painfully long years I would be a teenager…a teenager…that magical time when the rules of kid-dom would expire and new freedoms would be extended me. It took such a long time to get there. 

Twenty was fabulous. I was a grown-up at twenty. Newly wed, living in my own flat in the biggest city in the land thousands of miles from parents and siblings, doing the work I dreamed of and looking eagerly to a future I was sure would be filled with success and travel and fame. 

By my thirtieth birthday I was the father of two beautiful little girls… but the ‘fame and fortune’ that actually did occur in my twenties was on shaky ground…and my marriage was shaking down with it. My thirties were dirty…the worst decade of my life, filled with struggle and failure and heartbreak and darkness. But still, as they wound down my life began to swing back up. I had a new wife and a baby boy. I could look hopefully forward again. 

Then there was forty. Forty…when the firm realization that you have already lived half of your life first casts a serious shadow. What have I achieved? What am I doing? Who am I? What am I?How did I get here? 

Why didn’t I think about all of this sooner? 

(you were a musician dimwit…the idea was NOT to think about it.) 

Ah well. 

At forty there were no cop outs; responsibility was all mine. But  even though I had a few grey hairs, I still had lots of time, I reckoned. So I dreamed my dreams and filled my days working to support my kids…and waiting. In my late forties my career came back to life…you never can tell. 

Fifty. One more kick at the can! Yes I can Yes I can can! Busy busy busy. Gigging again, working, writing. And, oh yes, another marriage bites the dust. 

Sixty. This will be my decade I think. Still healthy, lots of energy. I have a new love, kids are grown. Time to travel, screw it all, we’re off to Mexico…two and a half years of ‘no fixed address’, no possessions. Wanna move?…just load the car and drop off the key. Freedom…or as close as it gets. 

A change of location…a re-settling…it was my most creative and productive time. 

And here I am, one week left in which to be sixty-something. I’m not sure if it means anything but over the course of writing this blog my entire life has flashed before me. (insert ominous note here) 

It’s not given to us to know just where we are on the road of life. I still have desires and plans…but fewer expectations, I think. I’m more interested in just seeing what happens. I do intend to continue being the cause of some of those ‘happenings’ of course…what fun would it be otherwise. But beyond that, things will carry on as they are…until they change…which is as inevitable as the sunrise. Should I stumble across any pearls of wisdom along the way perhaps I will share them. Then again, you’ve got to recognize a truth when you see it…and there's the rub…don’t you think? 

So here come the seventies. 

Strike up the band.

On and On 

I'm writing this morning from Calgary. Lori and I are staying with my sister for a few days. We made the trip over the mountains this time in order to be present for two family memorials, one for my little brother, who passed a year ago and the other for Lyle, who I have written about and who was a relative by marriage to Lori. Lyle was 99, Preston was just shy of his sixty-first birthday. 

Preston’s anniversary was yesterday and family and friends gathered at what is now his wife’s home, as we had done so many times over the years, to eat, drink, make some music and party. There were toasts and memories… he would have loved it. 

It all sets me to wondering…yet again…about the oldest of questions…What are we all doing here?…why are some lives only moments long and others 100 years?…do we get do-overs?…would we even want such a thing?…and, of course, 

is this all there is?…which is indeed a ridiculous question. I ask myself, ’How can I even think such a thing? How can I pose such a dumb question?  How can everything not be enough?’ 

It’s all so subjective though, so contingent upon what we think of as ‘enough’. Have I had enough love, enough pleasure, enough pain, enough money, travel, sex, friendship,  struggle, recognition, affirmation, fear, fortune…ah fuck it!…maybe it’s all just TOO MUCH! 

My living has led me to the conclusion that basically nothing matters. While I find it hard to believe that the essence of life ends with physical death I am absolutely ok with folks who can’t see any other possibility…I just think it doesn’t make any sense. It seems that I have, for reasons unknown to me, structured my life to allow for lots of contemplative time, lots of hours spent in my personal church which is the natural world…the forest, the water, the vast open spaces…and the creatures that live there. I have watched all manner of life change from living to so-called dead and then watched as new life sprang from it. An endless recycling of energy. And if this energy… material life energy… continues to transform and exist and remain alive, then how is it possible that the much faster, infinitely more sublime energy of consciousness could vanish without a trace? 

It’s simply not. 

I think it was in grade five science class that I learned that energy could be neither created nor destroyed (which is a pretty bold statement given our limited perspective). But if that is in fact the case, then the statement must apply to energies too fast for our current technology to detect…and there is no doubt that they exist. 

Perhaps one day science will offer proof of life beyond the physical…a world beyond the material…but I am doubtful that we shall ever get to the end of the rainbow…to an understanding of the mystery. The more we learn the more fantastic it all becomes. But perhaps we have a deep knowing already. Perhaps that’s why we can accept our condition and carry on even when the proof of our own physical mortality pops up undeniably right under our noses. People disappear… the dead are celebrated and cherished…for awhile. 

Then life goes on…and on and on.

1968 

I watched a very interesting show on tv the other night. It was a CNN look-back on the year 1968. Sixty-eight was, of course, 50 years ago and it was indeed an extraordinarily  tumultuous year for the United States and the entire world. The effects of all the trauma were under our noses here in Canada just as they were for Americans thanks to the ability of tv signals to skip borders. 

Those were the days of constant enmity between the Americans and the Russians, of daily news film, uncensored in those days, graphically showing the horrors of the hugely divisive war in Vietnam, the race riots, the assassinations and the brutality of the Chicago police clubbing and beating young demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention, of brawls and physical violence inside the walls of that very convention hall among warring factions of that same party. 

Flailing police batons, bleeding heads, tear gas, water cannons and fire…lots and lots of fire. It seemed all America was ablaze. 

Wow! 

Makes todays shenanigans seem truly tame. 

I turned twenty right smack in the middle of that mad, mad year. I didn’t really understand just how nuts it all was but the sense of impending danger was everywhere. My interest in world affairs and politics was beginning to emerge, but at that age, making sense of my own immediate life and situation occupied the vast majority of my energy, mental and otherwise. 

By July of 1968 I had been on the road for two full years. The band was based in Toronto but we spent most of our time living in low-end hotel rooms and playing in bars, downstairs or down the street, in towns and cities all over Ontario and Quebec. We played for the young and the broken and the drunk; we backed up the topless dancers and were backlit by the oily lava-lamplight projected through a smoke haze so thick that it poured out the open doors like an inverted waterfall and saturated the night air with the reckless abandon of the young and possibly doomed. 

And I was a newlywed to boot…just to complicate things…Georgia and I had gotten hitched in April. 

The thing that did strike me, and I think most other young people that year, was that it seemed everything was about us. It was college students who led the demonstrations and sit-ins and building occupations. They marched in gigantic parades carrying placards decrying the War, Nixon, and the Draft. Young women burned bras, young men burned draft cards. 

I met American draft dodgers in the same bars where I met Canadians who had gone to enlist in the US army so they could go fight in Vietnam. Some were going back for second and third tours, they were excited and high on adrenalin; some others just sat in dark corners and drank. 

And this was Canada. I can only imagine what American bars were like in those days. 

It was all fascinating to me and I wondered what I would have done if I had been born there…in the USA. Would I have actually gone into the army? I don’t think so. When I was a kid I loved all things military but by high school I had begun cultivating a fairly powerful anti-authority stance in keeping with the trend of my generation, and killing people or being killed by them was just nowhere in my life plan. But then again, I hadn’t been raised in that jingoistic, uber-patriotic, love-it-or-leave-it brainwash that so appealed to so many young men on both sides of the border. 

Back then it was all just the way it was. We had all grown up waiting for the bomb to drop in our backyards so a little more existential anxiety was nothing to write home about. I played my drums and dreamed of being a star and planned my life in spite of all the noise. I could tune it out, I guess, just like so many are doing now. And the times changed and life went on. 

And we’re all still here…most of us anyway…and I guess that’s the point that emerges most powerfully from watching a re-play of that harrowing time. 

If the world could survive that (and it truly was a year when all bets were off when it came to war, democracy and personal freedom) then surely we can all get our shit together and get past the current avalanche of dung being hurled from high towers the world over. 

Once again I’m betting on the young…fresh legs are needed. Reminders of past struggles are needed too…and experience and memory and perhaps even a snippet of wisdom. 

We do go round and round…we humans. We repeat past mistakes and create deeper grooves with each pass. But like a wheel we are all moving forward even as we go round and round…it just takes a little correction this way or that to avoid the ruts. 

ps. 

I remember watching a Beatles press conference in the United States back in those times.  A reporter asked, “Ringo, how do you feel about the draft?” To which the smart-ass Beatle replied,  “It’s a little much, would you close the window.”