DECEMBER 1, TRAVEL TO QUEBEC
Uncle Sean remains in a coma and my stepfather Davy will likely worsen. As planned I took the train to Quebec City, sombrely reflective of the previous day’s events. From my comfortable seat I watch the stern countryside reel by, thin sheets of snow lying in fields of clod, resulting in a salt-and-pepper landscape. Thin, irregular patches of ice lay on rivers under the procrastinating air.
Being in a virtual nowhere, torn between blood and work, helpless to aid the sick and the dying, there comes a time when you just want to get off the train and go wandering in the woods.
Arriving in Québec City, the most European city you’re going to get in this wide country, my comedic spirits lift me, triggered by my zealous taxi driver. While driving up a narrow street of sharp incline, we are met with a car travelling in the opposite direction. My perturbed driver rolls down his window and exclaims to his uncaring foe that it is a one-way street. When his enemy does not give him the light of day under the darkening mantle of Québec, my knight in armour sallies forth with a hearty, ‘Fuck you.’
I get into my room and stay there, my clothes smelling of Montréal cigarettes.
DECEMBER 2, QUEBEC SHOW
It is a slow load-in at the Colisée Pepsi. There are not enough riggers to enable the efficient hanging of lights and PA from the asymmetrical roof space, but we all manage to save the day and deliver soundcheck at the usual, or perhaps only slightly late, time.
The cold has cracked the finish in Mitch’s Fender Telecaster. Like a once-pure sheet of thick ice, the sustained hammerblows of cold have cracked the façade of the guitar in a few places. The wood itself is fine, the damage at this point is superficial. It was a brand new guitar and although no guitarist wants to see their equipment damaged, Mitch is grown-up enough to say ‘It’s just a chunk of wood,’ a reassuring reminder that the man is all right in my books.
Pete Townshend once intimated that he was not attached to his guitars and that he ‘just play[s] the fucking thing.’ Frank Zappa talks about the ‘stink’ of an electric guitar. These are war machines — not as delicate as some pretend — designed for battle. There will arise, at a time, in the mind of every accomplished and road-wise musician that if you love your instrument with all your heart, you will leave it at home; because there’s a crack in everything. That is, they say, how photons stream into things.
With it being a Sunday in Québec City, there is little chance of getting laundry done, so my expanding laundry bag must be crammed with today’s dainties and await their chance for redemption in Toronto.
DECEMBER 3, ARRIVE TORONTO
Oh, laundry — you really are such a pretty thing. But I see you’ve gone and changed your name again. You escape me because unlike most of my touring days, I have a life to live. The air here is warmer and more humid than Montréal and Québec, and I guess that’s because of Lake Ontario.
I have two social requisites today and the first is meeting with a woman I had not seen in over thirty years, an ex-girlfriend of my father’s. Meeting with her was like connecting dots of history and over a tea and a walk through the growing human traffic of Toronto’s rush hour, we parted. She went home while I raced to a nearby coffee house to jot down some of the new history which if left unchecked, would dissolve from my memory.
It became time to meet two friends with whom Elaine and I used to hang out in Montreal, and then Toronto. We had not seen one another since they visited us in Larne a couple of years ago. The vegetarian restaurant was great, as was the time spent in the bar down Queen Street. Being a school night for both parties, they walked me to the hotel and from there, around 11pm, I went inside — to find various members of the UHTC family already comfortably numb. Well, I joined them and before I knew it, the bar was closing and it really was time for bed.
DECEMBER 4, TORONTO SHOW No.1
It’s the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a hockey team which has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Hockey lovers in the city lust for parade day, the time when the cup shall grace Yonge Street, flanked by masses of victorious supporters — but that will not be this year. The NHL lockout has seized play in the top league and places like this and the Bell Centre in Montreal, where the Canadiens play, are seeing a little less action.
Through the halls backstage, a host of pictures give the viewer a taste of Toronto’s hockey history. A grid of framed faces catches my study, directors of the old Maple Leaf Gardens. The grid is arranged somewhat chronologically and inspecting the faces dating back to the 1930s, every fashionable stereotype can be seen, from the Al Capones to the Gregory Pecks and Jimmy Cagney, to the Don Johnsons and beyond. Only when coming across very recent times, when the board becomes Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, does the onlooker see the faces of women in its ranks.
I find myself pining to revisit the inside of Maple Leaf Gardens, the old home of the Leafs, or simply to walk its outer perimeter, wondering, as always, what purpose the boarded-up doorway on Church Street served. When Elaine, Lars and I lived on Alexander Street, the big Blue Leaf on the roof of the Gardens greeted us every morning, unless it was covered in snow.
But now, the gardens is this.
It is true — nothing remains the same.