Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — From Calgary to Saskatoon

NOVEMBER 14 — CALGARY, DAY OFF

Some members of The Winning Team began their first full day in Calgary visiting an electronics store to pick out some choice goods necessary for equipment maintenance. I purchased a snap-in electrical socket, and some in-line fuse holders to facilitate my modification of Javier’s spare Princeton. It requires a taxi to the place and a taxi back and in that time, I took no notes to remind me of anything interesting or specific about the ten-minute journeys.

It is not particularly cold; the temperature hovers above zero celsius. What is noticeable is the snow; it’s only November and this snow bears the look of snow that’s been around for a while. It’s grey, brown, and in patches, it has been melted enough by the sun to become dark ice. The salt used to keep the roadways clear has already left its wavy stains on the pavement. Summing, it already looks like February to my eyes.

The lack of humidity is uncomfortable; it feels as if every time I open my eyes, their glaze is sucked into the thirsty air. I feel there is a difference between Montréal, Toronto, and Calgary winters, but facts escape me, only hazy memories remain. There is a chance that living in Larne for a few years has re-tempered me to a more humid climate and I am missing greatly the milder swings of temperature and relatively little snow an Irish winter provides.

I spent some time today writing the novel. It’s slow going, but rewarding when things begin to line up. But I’m at a bit of a crossroads with the plot at the minute. I guess apart from the beginning and the end, every story’s middle is a collection of crossroads and each path begins with a feeling of trepidation until things start to make sense. Sometimes things don’t make sense; in these cases, I have found the DELETE button to work wonders.

The area in which our hotel sits is greatly purposeful. Building names set beside a red maple leaf twixt two red bars adorn many signs — the federal government occupies a good portion of floorspace by the looks of things. Widening my ocular scope further, it also looks like the federal government is not a fan of things to do.

All is not too dull in Calgary though; my aunt Jenny lives here with her husband Gord, and their daughters, my cousins, whom I have never met until today. Jen picked me up at the hotel, took me to their place, fed me some vegan enchiladas and beer, allowed me to use their laundry facilities and took me back ‘home’ again. It was a great night, and I was glad of meeting my cousins, two great young ladies.

NOVEMBER 15 — CALGARY, DAY OFF

From my bed I parted myself intentionally early so as not to fall into a routine of sloth prior to a work day. There is a well-known coffee establishment in the lobby of the hotel and from there I was furnished with a hot tea and a fabulous bran muffin. The method of heating cupped water in my room is, according to my taste, crap. It is a small coffee maker, styled as one might expect in the mid to late Nineteen-Eighties, and the water it provides is, at a guess, in the early to mid eighties celsius.

After writing (or attempting to write) for a couple of hours, I met again with Jen who graciously took me to lunch at a veggie and vegan-friendly restaurant. From there, we went for a look around the Inglewood area, which reminds me slightly of Toronto’s Queen Street. Jen informed me that Calgary is currently experiencing a ‘chinook’, which is a warm wind blowing from the Rocky Mountains — otherwise, it would be a little colder in Calgary. Purchasing nothing from Inglewood but a hot drink as an excuse to use an establishment’s loo, Jen dropped me back at the hotel and I spent the evening writing.

After readying my stuff, packing it away and reducing my morning’s faffery ahead of time, I got into bed and had what could be described as a bit of a shit sleep.

NOVEMBER 16 — CALGARY, SHOW DAY

Waking up this morning was a difficult task. Thankfully, eventually, I was able to shake off the grogginess after a cup of black coffee in the home of the Calgary Flames, the Scotiabank Saddledome. When I was a kid, we always called it the Saddledome. The building’s roof is shaped somewhat like a horse’s saddle, but there is a distinct wanting of a dome. I feel cheated. At any rate, why would you call it a horse’s saddle? The horse probably doesn’t want it.

Moving along, I was able to fit my new fuse assembly into Javier’s spare Princeton, and we are back to one hundred per cent awesomeness. To the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation I still say this: grrr.

The vibe today is much more chilled than of late. There is less rushing from project to job, from pillbox to trench, from something to something else, ad infinitum. Truth be told, my notes only say it was chilled. I’m guessing that means time was spent efficiently,  with periods of calm between each project. Perhaps (wait for this) ‘days off — pays off.’ I keep up with the coffee and my itchy, puffy face calms to a mundane hideous.

It seems we have a casualty of the dry, biting air. A crack has appeared in Javier’s archilaud, a nice, thumbnail-wide groove near the bridge. (Yes yes, that’s how the light gets in, go on say it.) There’s nothing we can do about it — certainly not me anyway. As King of Backline, and in the words of Aragorn — it is beyond my healing skills. There is a difference between a guitar technician and a luthier. While ‘phoning an instrument repair establishment in Edmonton (because it is too late in the day here in Calgary to even dream of accomplishing a fix) we are informed  by a friendly gentleman that without even seeing the damage, it would be at least a forty-eight hour wait.

Tonight’s show is another delayed start, which goes pretty much by the book in the first half, but come the second, all bets are off as to which song LC’s going to call next. Once the song Heart With No Companion rolls around, we establish a comfortable print-to-reality ratio and he takes us past the curfew to a whopping 11.47pm.

The Winning Team are on a winning streak. It was a blinding-fast load-out at under fifty minutes. Being a short drive to Edmonton, the bus will not leave the Saddledome until 6am, at which time I will just be going to bed after a solid session of x-box and the movie Ted which I enjoyed. I might also mention the wodka and ice. I enjoyed those too.

NOVEMBER 17 — EDMONTON, DAY OFF

I’m beginning to think that if it weren’t for Canada’s federal government, some places wouldn’t exist. Where we are staying in Edmonton, the streets are empty and the building designs are born of an economically streamlined purpose. You could shoot a film here, in which society’s fabric has turmoiled into a post-apocalyptic urban daymare. That is to say, the story would be set immediately after the event, as it is very clean here. (Yes, I just ‘verbified’ turmoil; what are you going to do about it? And what are you going to do about ‘verbified’? WTF does that even mean!?)

At a quarter past nine, after around three hours of sleep, we step out into the air which hovers below freezing — crisp and dry, like breathing gin. A lady from the hotel instructs the two bus drivers that they will have to move the buses along very soon; those who are peacefully asleep shan’t stay so for long. She informs us that ‘the majority of rooms are ready,’ and I begin my prayers to the gods that I am a lucky benefactor of clean linen.

Being on The Winning Team has its advantages, a direct line to Jesus’ desk being one of them. Just like all my usual prayers, they are answered by 10am — my room is ready and before I know it, I am cleaned up and ready for the trek to the music shop.

Mickey and I grab a taxi at 10.30am to the place in which the friendly man of yesterday spoke to us by telephone. Javier’s archilaud was inspected briefly and we were informed this type of damage might require the owner to wait up to two weeks before hoping to see the instrument again. As we are in no position to leave it for that length of time, we opt for a little humidifying gadget and wait a ridiculous amount of time before a taxi shows up to whisk us back to the hotel.

Around noon we return and the rest of the day is for leisure. I spent some time writing my novel — you know, I really don’t know how to explain it in twenty-five words or less yet. There’s a kingdom, a commons, and a country (all islands) and due to imperial lust, a commons is invaded, a kingdom begins to split, heading towards civil war, and a religion begins to fall apart. There are people, murders, and battles involving fictitious war machines.

Anyway, after writing in that vein, it was time for dinner. I found a vegan-friendly café-type of place and I figure it kinda compared (going by imagination) to a modern-day beatnik joint. Gone are the smoky dens in which bearded poets in flared jeans snap fingers and jam rhythmic utterances together. Here, kids older than their years discuss the merits of Facebook conversations and various puns related to the Occupy movement. The laptops have replaced the spiralled notebooks and paper money comes as a surprise to the young man accepting it. With a zipped jacket I devour some samosas, and piping hot chana masala served in a plastic tub at my request, should I wish to take some home.

NOVEMBER 18 — EDMONTON, SHOW DAY

I can’t recall if I’ve explained in the past what I mean by a ‘compressed’ day. It’s when the workload stays the same, but the time in which you have to complete it shrinks. I am finding that an earlier start makes a big impact on the day. The usual time for The Winning Team to leave the hotel has been of late, 10.45am, but I have elected to come in with a couple of other earlierbirds at 9.30. In that seventy-five minute jump, I might only get thirty minutes of work done, but it’s helpful all the same.

My work world has different paths I must tread every day, and each needs attention. There is Guitar World (or Santa’s Workshop if you will) and there is the stage. Both areas need to be set up, and with the lighting truss still requiring time to be completed, the stage is off limits for The Winning Team. So I devote that half-hour of actual usefulness into assembling Guitar World;  with the help of a forklift man, the stage-left wing is alive with guitars and workboxes, ensuring the stage setup is all the more timely, thus allowing (The Man They Call) Pants and Monitor Engineer Russ to complete their jobs a little earlier, furthermore thusly ergo meanwhile and then easing the compression of their days.

As the spotlight shines is tungsten eye on LC skipping onto the stage, the crowd stand in ovation. After the opening number Dance Me, he thanks the audience for coming, and shares that he would like to continue touring until at least the age of eighty, when he plans to ‘start smoking again.’ But, should the situation not arise, as ever, tonight, he’ll give them everything he’s got.

Tomorrow we reach Saskatoon, a place I don’t think I’ve ever visited. I’ve heard two things about it — ‘there’s nothing there,’ and ‘it’s a pretty little city.’ We’ll see.

NOVEMBER 19 — ARRIVE SASKATOON

Apart from the groggy, sugary headache no doubt caused by raspberry cider (I know) it’s a pleasant morning. The air is bracing, like a freshly tendered bank note, the snow and ice have invaded the sidewalks and our muthafuggin’ rooms are ready! My first observation of the crescent shaped street is a pleasant one; I feel like I’m in Europe. One biased man in our group, who hails from the Prairies of Canada, cocks an eyebrow and infers; ‘You mean Eastern Europe?’

Okay, perhaps Saskatoon reminds me of a rebuilt Europe, but there is a distinctness here. Leave a brother be, yo; I’ve only just got off the bus. In little time I am indulging in the pleasantry of my room and comfortably working on some background content of the novel.

With heavy eyes I decide to allow a nap into my life and for the first time, I listened, via the internet, to BBC’s 6Music. I very much enjoyed the content as I drifted out and in of awake.

For dinner, I planned to visit one of two Indian Restaurants, both of which I found to be closed. Along the way I notice, flying above a rooftop, the green and yellow flag of Saskatchewan, which reminds me instantly of the blue and yellow banner of Ukrainian. The colours of the Saskatchewan flag represent the forests of the north and the grain fields of the south. In Ukraine, the colours symbolise a blue sky over grain fields. In the top left-hand corner of the Saskatchewan standard, the coat of arms shows the three English lions, and sheaves of grain, representing an agricultural contribution. It is worth noting that Ukraine has been called the breadbasket of Europe. Also of note, the prairie provinces are said to be where many Ukrainians first settled in Canada. We shan’t speak of Canada’s internment of Ukrainians during the first World War here. Much.

Still on the hunt for din-dins, as I look behind me on Second Avenue I see a tall wide white building in the distance, beneath a pink sky. The moon hangs in the pale sky and says, ‘Hey hungry man, do you remember me from Edmonton? Yeah, I’m a little bigger, a little fatter, why don’t ya git y’ass into that Burmese restaurant over there?’

Inside the warm Burmese restaurant, a happy, friendly man greets me. He brings me a pile, yes a pile, of tempura mushrooms, followed by a dish of tofu and asparagus, and some noodles. It looked delicious, however it tasted a little fishy. I should really ask about these things. I ate all the tasty mushrooms and what I could of the rest, avoiding the sea’s flavour and smiled — it’s no one’s fault but my own that I am a bleeding-heart vegetarian.

I note on the walk back ‘home’ that the neighbourhood (if you call vast places like these such) reminds me of Montréal and Toronto, with the old wooden posts serving as electric wire carriers. Saskatoon to me seems more established than Edmonton and Calgary — not as new and clinically purposeful. A man asks me for fifty cents, and changes his mind, saying he’s a short a dollar. Two loonies doesn’t buy me the gratitude five dollars did in Portland but it’s colder here; perhaps there’s a minimum donation scheme in effect; what would I know, I’m just a blow-in.

NOVEMBER 20 — SASKATOON, SHOW DAY

Life on the road, to the average nine-to-fiver must seem like a blast. We get to see new places all the time, eat in different restaurants and generally behave badly at work, dressing how we like, swearing most of the time, talking shit and generally living above the laws that, according to our ignorant view of office life, govern the lives of clock-punchers.

What might come as a surprise to the clock-puncher is that we too live a life of politics and drama which have the power to stifle and make sour the happy-go-lucky circus life. I find myself embroiled in a feud, the origins of which I am embarrassed, dear reader, to share at this time. The petty, childish, yet stressful conditions of the evening occupied my mind such that I was prevented from note-taking today. Going from memory and some scribbles set down the following day, I can say the day went much the same, except the set-up was slow, for reasons known to the lighting crew. Sometimes you get a local crew that aren’t very experienced and things just take longer to get into the air.

The show started ten minutes after post-time, and there were no big shakes regarding the concert itself. In the second half, however, word began to spread that LC was informed he could play as long as he liked. As we are in no hurry to go anywhere tonight (owing to an early flight in the morning) the prospect of a mega-extended show fills us on stage left only with speculation as to what songs the boss is going to pull out of the hat. After all the dice-rolling and guesswork, LC sticks to the script and we are surprised to find we are done before 11.40pm.

My straits are similar to those of San Jose, when I didn’t get a jump on the load-out, so it took me a little extra time to get my stuff packed up. With the threat of an ‘anything can happen’ scenario, one does not want to begin packing away guitars which may be required; because you just never know.

Rather than ride the buses to Chicago, we are flying there, as it would be a pretty long journey. I’m guessing Saskatoon is not considered a hub when it comes to air travel, as our options of getting to Chi-Town are limited to a 6.56am flight. In fact, some of the crew had to get on a different pair of flights, as the 6.56 used a small aircraft, and was booked solid. Regardless of those trifles, we are getting dumped off at the airport at 5am.

In the next heart-stopping episode of Who Cares, we’ll get out of Canada, into Chicago, give thanks, head to Detroit rock city, and my place of birth, Montréal.

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2 Responses to Leonard Cohen Tour Diary — From Calgary to Saskatoon

  1. gmbuzz says:

    Leif – Being Ukrainian myself, you hit it right on the head with the interpretation of the Ukie flag – blue on top to signify the sky, yellow on the bottom to signify wheat, the staple of Ukraine. Thank you for getting it right

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