June 7, 2012

The Last Mile of the Way



First of all, 'thank you' to anyone who has followed this blog and the creation of '3339'. 

I was struggling a bit with how to finish this project blog, not sure what to say exactly. The concert was amazing, and the people performing with me were incredible, it was all more than I could have hoped for.

But a review of the concert didn't seem like the best ending for this blog. The whole project became so much about my childhood, and the landscape of northern Ontario. The 9 months or so I spent on 3339 were about so much more than just the Terry Fox story or a piece of music.

At the same time as this project was ending, my next project was gearing up. Working with an idol (the cartoonist Seth) to create an intricate, multi-layered work is turning out to be an incredible experience. It felt somehow tied into 3339, but I couldn't put my finger on how.

Revisiting the works I was obsessed with at the end of childhood and the beginning of my teen years have helped it all makes sense; 'Aim for the Roses' and '3339' were warm-ups for (title subject to change) 'Omnis Temporalis'. The story-telling elements of both, the enveloping sonic world of the record and the theatricality of the live performance....it's time to combine them all. 

A record that tells a story and draws the listener into a new world; a live performance that exists somewhere between concert and theatre; a treasure hunt, just because it seems like a great idea.

The next 16 months will be very interesting.

March 31, 2012

The Home Stretch


When I started this blog, I wanted it to be kind of a diary so I could look back on the creative process of writing this piece....well, the 10 week gap since my last post is also when the bulk of the writing happened, so that didn't quite work out. I kept thinking I should post something, but it never felt right.

It turns out that it would be an inward process this time, more than anything I've done before; there were weeks where I barely left the apartment, and entire days spent sitting at the kitchen table thinking through the big picture over and over again.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always worked in my head a lot. I almost never had rough copies of essays or papers, I would have them planned to a high degree in my head and sort out the final details while it was being put on paper. Same with math.

OK, Terry Fox and Alex P. Keaton
were my childhood heroes.
I've thought about being a kid a lot latley, because writing this has become an awful lot about my own childhood. Terry was my childhood hero, the highways of northern Ontario were the geography of the first 13 years of my life. The Courage Highway was an almost yearly part of our lives; sitting in the back seat of my Dad's Buick, a gas station-bought compilation tape called 'This Is Rock' on constant repeat, the A&W in Wawa (and the goose!), Minelli's in the Sault, and a few hours later that final stretch of highway, past the monument and down the hill into Thunder Bay.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
But all things must change, and the size and simple-yet-intricate nature of this piece (now officially titled '3339') has meant making a lot of physical notes and sketches, a part of the process I've actually quite enjoyed. One of my reasons for taking on this project was to re-examine my methods and try to make my own habits more efficient, and forcing myself to keep track of things with pencil and paper has been a change for the better.

And now we're in the final stretch, less than 3 weeks until I should be giving people their parts. It's been going very, very well but I've been stuck for a few days. There are 2 mirrored sections that are only sketched out, and the melodic material just hasn't been coming. I've parked myself at the piano for a few days and accomplished pretty much nothing, and then.....well sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

I meant the bass, the cat is useless with melody (great with harmony, though).

One of the changes I had put myself through was getting away from my instrument for the writing. I had access to a piano, and I was worried that writing mainly on the bass again would limit me. So for months I've been working on 3339 without my partner in crime, my wingman, my Chewbacca, and now it's time to wrap this all up together.

The last day of recording on 'Aim for the Roses' was the day I improvised over the entire record 4 or 5 times; just me and my bass hanging out and playing. When I realized I could wrap this piece up in the exact same way I was honestly filled with joy. Until last night, it hadn't occurred to me to write the final parts on my bass, but that's what today is.

Today, me and my constant companion of 14 years are going to lock the door, turn off the phone, shut down the computer and take the last part of this journey together.

January 16, 2012

Under the Influences

"People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced."
-T.S. Eliot

I've written and rewritten this paragraph at least 20 times now because I'm finding it hard to write about people who: A- I'm friends with, B- may read this and C- I'm currently working with. But I can't ignore the fact that during the creation process for the Terry Fox-Hero's Journey piece I'm also working with two of my biggest influences.

For the last month I've been rehearsing 'The Idiot', a new stage adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel created by playwright/director James Fagan Tait and composer/musical director Joelysa Pankanea that opens this week as part of the PuSH Festival. I've been working with Jimmy (I've yet to hear anybody actually call him 'James') and Joelysa for almost 6 years, and when I listen to 'Aim for the Roses' I can clearly hear the massive influence both of them have had on my work.

In terms of narrative and storytelling, watching Jimmy over the course of 8 shows has been an education worth millions. Economy of storytelling, honesty, recognizing moments of real truth and the courage to cut away anything that isn't needed or isn't working properly (regardless of how much time and care have been lavished on it) are just some of the things I've taken from the experience.

Over the last month, as I've wrestled with the narrative for my piece, I've watched Jimmy take a massive story with a massive script (including several large ensemble music pieces) and shape and focus it into a work that is both massive and incredibly intimate. Simplicity and economy are the tools I see Jimmy use most often, and I think there's a lot to be learned from that.

And his influence extends beyond my sense of story and narrative; Jimmy's general aesthetic has been a part of my becoming borderline-obsessed with making things quiet. He's often said he'd rather have people sit forward to hear everything and be engaged than sit back and have everything blasted at them, and I can't agree more.

Rehearsing in the theatre this weekend, I was struck several times by the power of having 25 people sing together and how often that power is diminished by amplification. I've always appreciated that Jimmy and Joelysa don't use mics or amplification in their shows, even when we've done shows in venues where any musical is mic'ed and amped within an inch of it's life.

The influence Joelysa has had on me in pretty much incalculable. I've performed more with her than any other person in my career, we've spent literally hundreds of days in rehearsal together and I've played more original music by her than any other composer.

To list the areas that Joelysa has influenced me musically is to list what makes music: melody, harmony, rhythm, voicing, etc., etc. More than anything I think what I've learned is how the serve a story musically, something Joelysa is a master at. Being able to learn from her over the last 6 years has been an opportunity of a lifetime, and more than anything I've been struck by her ability to time and again create achingly beautiful, memorable melodies from lyrics that are often neutral observation or narrative.

Seriously, when you can make "In the morning a battalion of dressmakers descended upon her from St. Petersburg" a melodic phrase that sticks in people's heads for days, you have a gift.

Working with both of them again while writing the narrative and music for the Terry Fox piece at the same time has shone a bright light on the many ways they have both shaped me creatively and the great debt I owe them both.

Click here for Joelysa's website
Click here for more info on 'The Idiot'

January 8, 2012

One Foot In Front Of The Other

Lately, along with my own work on it,  I find I've been talking a lot about this piece of music. And thinking a lot about it, pretty much all the time. And while the music is coming into clearer and clearer focus everyday, I'm finding the story aspect continues to shift and change and is currently eluding me.

It seems like every time I know exactly what I want to say, another layer starts to come into focus and sends the whole thing in a new direction. As the narration becomes more and more conversational, the narrative keeps shifting as well (I'm now thinking part of the story is about growing up with the Terry Fox story).

I'm also having a hard time hearing the narration right now. I've always had different people vaguely in mind, and would hear them in my head while I worked on it, but then the other day at rehearsal someone asked "Does it have to be man?" and I (mentally) stopped dead in my tracks.

It's a question I hadn't even thought to ask myself, which bugs me. Obviously the narrator doesn't have to be a man at all. It makes me wonder what other aspects of the piece I should re-examine.

Work has begun in earnest on the actual writing of the music, although it's still mainly sketches, experiments, ideas and concepts. The great thing about having a number fixation as a composer is the moment where you hear a concept for the first time, and it rules. Nothing feels better.

The flip side is spending hours fiddling with an idea that isn't working, isn't going to work and wasn't that good to begin with. Sometimes my brain just wants an intricate bit of musical mathery to work so badly that I can lose sight of the big picture pretty quickly.

Sometimes I think my most important job is being my own editor. I find it can be hard to know when to stop chasing something down the rabbit's hole; identifying the point where too much time has been spent for a diminishing payoff is crucial to any creative project.

I'm also struggling a bit with time management...still trying to find a groove for working on this one. I've found the easiest way to ensure I spend some time with it everyday is to get up early and spend the first few hours of the day working (or writing a blog post because my brain is too tired to deal with much more).
Sunday morning, 6am

The mornings are pretty cool, I gotta say. The city is pretty quiet from 5:30-7:30 in the morning. It's easy to be productive because there isn't much else to do.

Of course the danger of this routine is that sometimes you need that time for sleep. Spending December playing The Sound of Music every night, and now spending January rehearsing and soon to be performing in The Idiot (Jan 20-29 at the PuSh Festival) has taken a bit of a toll on my morning routine.

With the concert set for May 11 at The Cultch and workshop date set for early March I'm enjoying the comfortable pressure of approaching deadlines, as well as finding a steady rhythm to the work.

December 14, 2011

Santa Comes Early

Tonight I finally had the moment I've been waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for with the Tery Fox/Hero's Journey piece...the moment when it all comes into view in my mind and I can see the entire piece. 


I've had this moment with everything I've ever created, and I clearly remember the morning when 'Aim for the Roses' finally crystallized in my mind. While I've been working steadily on the piece, I still hadn't had that happen.


I've been very preoccupied with it for the past month or so. It seemed to constantly take up a large percentage of my brain-power, and I kept feeling like I wasn't seeing it yet. The broad strokes were in place, but it felt like some vital architecture was eluding me. 


Today I got up around 7am and worked on the piece for a few hours before heading out to play 2 shows of 'The Sound of Music'. It was a frustrating morning, I could almost, almost but not quite.....something was bothering me about it but I couldn't figure it out.


And really, while I enjoy playing the show and the pit is full of good people, The Lonely Goatherd isn't exactly the inspiration I've been searching for (no offense, Mr.'s Rodgers and Hammerstein). However, the book of previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut that I finished when Captain Von Trapp was given his orders by the German Admiral this evening did remind me to follow my own voice and style. 


I got into bed around 12:30 and as soon as I put my head on the pillow, it all started to come into focus. The tone of the narration (exactly the opposite of what I've been putting together), the overall structure, a new idea for one aspect, the removal of a few ideas and a rethinking of another. 


A mathematical 'canvas' to paint the story on ('cuz I loves me the math!), a new concept on the pacing, and on and on.


Within 30 minutes, I could see it. At last I could see it. I was reasonably sure this day would come, but with an inflexible deadline heading my way (May 11 at the Cultch, btw) I was starting to lose faith (as evidenced in my previous post).


There's nothing better than having to get out of bed because inspiration has truly struck.

October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving - Hope Springs Eternal

I spent the last few weeks trying to get going on the piece, determined to actually put pencil to paper. I had the best of intentions, but it just hasn't happened.

I thought that after I figured out what I wanted to say with this piece of music things would fall into place. Oh, the folly.

No, instead I spent most of the past few weeks revising and rerevising the outline, thinking about the broader strokes of the work and generally not making much headway.

Accompanying this was a generous helping of self-doubt which came to visit with a big bag of (generally negative) self reflection. You know the type: What if I actually, truly suck? What if I'm a total hack? What if I can't really do this?

I was hoping that this weekend's trip to LA would ignite things a little. My thinking was: Since most of the work I've accomplished so far has been done while travelling, perhaps being out of town will be just the catalyst I need.

Sigh.

I started today with 12 free hours before the gig tonight, and after struggling and fighting with how to find a way in, here I am on my blog. Trying to figure it all out.

A large part of this is most likely a result of the number of conversations I've had recently with fellow performers that all fall under the umbrella of "I'm close to giving up hope."

Times are tough all over, and the arts are no exception. Many of us who are heading into 40 are starting to wonder if we can keep going. It isn't just the meager income, we're all quite adept at poverty, it's more that the future has gone from uncertain to kind of grim. So many of our friends and colleagues have packed it in that we can't help but wonder if we're obstinate or stupid for continuing.

So I guess it all fits together: There seem to be many of us in music who are on the verge of losing hope, and my project is about a hero who was trying to spread hope across Canada.

I'm glad I wrote this, it's given me clarity and, hopefully, the spark to put the pencil to paper and keep going.

Happy Thanksgiving.

September 16, 2011

My Missing Perspective

The new monument outside BC Place
For months now I've been trying to clarify my perspective on the Terry Fox story for the piece I'm writing. I've really been struggling with what, exactly, it is that I'm trying to say...and honestly, it's been stressing me out.

Before I can really get into writing the piece, I need to know what it is that I want to convey; it's the first step in a long process and as February inches closer I've been feeling the need to move the process along. Which, in my experience, is impossible. As frustrating as it can be, I know that discovering the heart, the message of what I'm working on is something I can't rush, it comes when it comes.

Today the new memorial by Douglas Coupland was unveiled at BC Place Stadium, and it all finally came together for me.

First off let me say that the statues are fantastic. There's 4 statues of Terry that replicate the stages of unique gait, and are sized to appear as if the figures are approaching. It's beautiful, and I'll be riding my bike there this weekend to look closer. And the statues, like probably every statue of Terry, are facing West, towards the Pacific....and a goal that wasn't reached.

This is the detail that brought it all into focus for me, and what I'm trying to say.

Most retellings of Terry's story are centred on the miles Terry didn't make, the poetic bookend of dipping his leg in the Atlantic and the sadness of not reaching the Pacific. The Tragedy of Terry Fox is something that touched the heart of almost any Canadian that was alive in 1980.

And that won't be my story. This story will be all about what he did, and the insane levels of courage and dedication involved. It's about the details; the frigid days in Newfoundland, the difficulty of New Brunswick, the hell of Quebec and the change of fortunes in Ontario. It's about a young man entering the public consciousness through what he accomplished, not what he missed.

According to Leslie Scrivener's book "Terry Fox: His Story" (without a doubt the definitive book about Terry), when Terry was running through Ontario he was very sensitive about people talking about him reaching the 'halfway point' when, by measure of miles, he was well past the halfway mark. Even today, most people think Terry made it 'almost halfway'.

The Hero's Journey won't be a requiem for a dream that was cut short, it will be a tribute to a remarkable accomplishment.

September 10, 2011

The Inner Road


A few weeks ago I was driving to Edmonton, and stopped at Mount Terry Fox just outside of Valemont. This was only a few days after my trans-Canada trek to research Terry's story, and seemed like a fitting coda to the the journey.

Dedicated only about 90 days after Terry died, Mount Terry Fox stands as one of the most remarkable tributes to Terry and his story. To put it mildly, not everyone gets a mountain named after them. The provincial park that bears Terry's name is beautiful, scenic and very quiet. Peaceful is a good adjective for it. Visiting Mount Terry Fox was an interesting way to connect with the legacy Terry left after his death.

It's been nice taking a few weeks away from Terry's story and the piece of music I'm writing it, but as fall approaches my mind is once again preoccupied with The Hero's Journey.

The Call to Adventure, Crossing the First Threshold, The Belly of the Whale, Supernatural Aid, The Ultimate Boon, The Road of Trials, Refusal of the Return Call, Outside Help, Crossing the Return Threshold and Master of Two Worlds: The 10 stages of the Hero's Journey that will (theoretically) be depicted in the music, with some narration connecting Terry's story to each stage.

Even though there won't be any more travelling for this work, I'm planning on keeping this blog going throughout the creative process. I'm often asked how, exactly, I'm planning on depicting Terry's hero's journey though music. While I have several rough ideas, a couple of themes and a basic form sketched out, it is now time to start actually writing.

One of the more esoteric aspect to the creative process this piece is taking, is that it seems to be linked intrinsically to my childhood. Terry died 30 years ago, and I remember watching his funeral on TV in the basement of our house in Espanola.

I remember many, many school reports and speeches about Terry Fox, and collecting pledges to run the Terry Fox Run.

My trip took me through the town I grew up in, the city I went to high school in and along the highway to Thunder Bay that I rode many times to see my grandparents.

This summer is also the first time in decades that I've been riding a bike regularly, which was a huge part  of my youth. I've also been swimming more this summer than in years, and this also seems very connected to my childhood.

I haven't quite put my finger on it yet, but something about the way I saw this story as a little boy is very important to the composition. Maybe I just need to be reminded what it's like to actually have a hero.

August 3, 2011

The Last Waltz


And by ‘waltz’ I mean ‘overnight hell-trip on the Greyhound’.
After spending the day walking Terry’s final stretch of highway, it’s onto the overnight to Winnipeg for a gig with Koralee and then back to Vancouver.
This has been an illuminating trip, no question. St. John’s had a much different feel than I was anticipating, as did the Thunder Bay region. If I had written down what I thought I would find before I left, it would have said that I expected St. John’s to be very warm and welcoming and Northern Ontario to be harsh and forbidding. Instead I found just the opposite.
Shows you how much I know.
As midnight approaches and the bus pulls out of Thunder Bay for Winnipeg, I find myself in a reflective mood.
Hardly surprising, I guess. I did spend last weekend with my oldest and closest friends, a rare activity that usually puts me in a reflective frame of mind. Add to that the fact that I passed through my teen/early adulthood home (Ottawa, well specifically Orleans), and barely recognized the area I lived in due to a massive invasion by chain stores. 
Entering the Orleans area from the East, after having not been there for almost a decade was a bit shocking. The undeveloped fields just east of where I spent 1988-94 are now a faceless strip-mall hell, undistinguishable from a million similar eyesores across the country.
There was also the brief stop in my childhood home, my ‘hometown’ as it were. It’s a little strange to have a place be your hometown, and know with 100% certainty that you will never live there again. It’s debatable if I’ll even be there again, which is also a bit strange.
See? Reflective.
Riding highway 17, a road intrinsically connected to my childhood, was an incredible pleasure. And once again, like a child, there was excitement as the blue ‘Courage Highway’ signs started appearing. Also exciting were the descent down Montreal River Hill (it totally looks like you’re going to end up in Lake Superior) and the appearance of the Sleeping Giant. 
Tonight involved time with my favourite Aunt (Only 12 years my senior, when I was young she drove an 80’s sports car with a T-top and listened to Bon Jovi. Loud.) and several glasses of wine, perhaps the best preparation for this bus journey.
Which reminds me, she also listened to Journey. Loud.
Mostly I’m reflecting on Terry Fox, and how his story fits into the stages of the mythical hero’s journey. 
And, more importantly, how to translate that into music.

August 2, 2011

3339

After 25 Greyhound hours (1 Greyhound hour = 4 normal hours it seems) and the time it took to organize a rental car and a hotel, I managed to get 2.5 hours of sleep before heading out at 4am to the mile 3339 marker. Apparently sleep deprivation is part of the creative process for this piece.

The simple marker for mile 3339
on the Trans Canada, with the 25th
anniversary plaque to the left.
The mile 3339 marker has many similarities to the mile 0 marker in St. John's. In both cases if you don't know it's there, you aren't going to find it. For both markers there are no signs, no indicators and no fanfare surrounding them.

In fact, the mile 3339 marker is just a simple wood post with a plastic plaque on the top. It was erected over 30 years ago by local resident Tim Pope, who has maintained the grass around it ever since.

Taking photos in the dark with a laptop (because I left my
camera in Montreal) is not as easy as it may seem.
Sadly, it may not be there much longer. The land it's on is about to be destroyed to twin a section of the highway, and the Ministry of Transportation doesn't have a plan for what to do about marking the end of Terry's run. They have been communicating with the Fox family, but as of now it's all up in the air.

Which is really a tragedy.

12km west you'll find the Terry Fox Memorial, a large bronze statue atop a marble base overlooking the lake and the city. It's gorgeous, no doubt, but I found the simple marker to be far more moving.

Granted, I was suffering from extreme lack of sleep when I was doing a field recording at the marker and this may well have effected my response. I did also spend some time at the big monument, and even though it's cornered the market on majesty and stellar views, it didn't have the quiet, raw power of the simple white post on the highway.

It really is a great view.
5am at the monument.









Once again the field recording didn't capture anything exceptional, except for the intangible feel of the place. And some transport trucks screaming by in the early morning.

There is a power to the simple marker, one of those intangibles that I like so much. There is absolutely nothing special about the spot where Terry stopped. It is pretty much exactly the same of most of the 800km before it, trees and rocks, trees and rocks.

Standing there, I tried to imagine the moment when Terry realized he had to stop. Earlier in the day he would have passed some service stations and convenience stores, places where he could sit and rest for a bit. Instead he kept running, and running, until he finally had to stop on this nondescript stretch of road.

A newer marker from the township
of Shuniah.
There is a second marker at the 3339 site, a plaque from the Township of Shuniah (where the marker sits) to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the run. It's nice enough, but seems incidental. Even though aesthetically it's miles beyond the 3339 marker, it just doesn't have the same gravitas.

Maybe part of it is the simple fact that the 3339 marker is the work of people in the community and not a government agency. For 30 years it has been maintained simply to hold the spot, geographically, where this amazing journey was cut short. Maybe it's because I had been at mile 0 a few days earlier, and I felt more resonance due to this.

I really hope the MTO keeps this simple wood post. It isn't a tourist destination, in fact there's hardly any room to stop at all. Terry's story isn't told there, there are no depictions of him and no fancy prose about the impact of his run (at the big monument there is no shortage of either, including an engraved passage about how Terry united the country with his run), it just marks the spot.

Maybe when it was first erected Mr. Pope hoped to see Terry back there some day, re-starting his run.

I know progress has to march on, and I'm sure there are a million benefits to the new highway, but it really will be tragic to lose this simple and dignified touchstone to one of the greatest Canadian stories of all time.

I would encourage anyone who agrees to email mtoinfo@ontario.ca and let the Ministry know that this simple wood post carries an importance that shouldn't be overlooked.

To end this trip, I'll be spending the day on the stretch of road leading to the marker, just feeling the land and looking at the views. I don't pretend for a second that walking the highway for a few hours in any way approximates what Terry did, but I think there's value in seeing the land from the shoulder of the highway (the Terry Fox Courage Highway), at a slow speed, alone with my thoughts.

August 1, 2011

One More From The Road

I think I’m finally getting the point of my geographical fixation with this piece. 
With certain stories, Terry Fox’s being one of them, you will often hear phrases like ‘united the country’....and in Terry’s case it’s totally true. In the late summer of 1980 the whole country was united, following the story.
This seemed like such a good idea
at the time.....
Here’s the thing: Canada is really, really big. Huge, in fact. Uniting all the disparate cultures across all the regions of this gigantic place is, in and of itself, a mythical accomplishment.
If the Greeks had a myth about a courageous young boy running across the land, he would have to have run from Greece to middle China to approach Terry’s accomplishment.
‘Running 2/3 of the way across Canada’ should really be ‘ran 1/4 of the way across the planet’.
As the Hound sets sail for the final stretch, and we ride the Terry Fox Courage Highway, I’m finding the environment to be the exact opposite of Newfoundland. The terrain here seems to be welcoming; with the placid lake constantly on the left,  the endless trees and the gentle swells of rock giving the land a rolling quality.
I’m also stunned by the lengths of time Terry would have been on his own. There can be no people for a couple hundred kilometers, or 4 or 5 days for Terry. Not a house, not a farm, just the trees and the lake.

So Sault Me

After 20 hours on the bus.

As we near the final stretch of Terry’s marathon I find my mind becoming more and more preoccupied with how I’m going to translate what I’d like to say into a piece of music.
My iPod was loaded in anticipation of this long ride and I’m taking the time to check in with some of my biggest influences, hoping for inspiration.
Gubaidulina, Part, Schnittke, Varese, Tchaikovsky, Adams, Copland, Meyer, Crumb and Ligeti are all along for the ride and provide an excellent soundtrack for an eternity on the Hound.
I know the piece will be in several short movements, each correlating to a stage of the mythical hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell, and I have a theme based on the numbers 3339 (the number of miles Terry ran), but I am starting to have anxiety over depicting what I want to say.
Of course, I’m not really clear yet about what exactly I’d like it to say. I think I was hoping it would all become clear as I rode the blacktop from the Sault to T-Bay.
And what a great strech of road it is. No divided highway here, no, it’s mostly 2 lane blacktop just like it was 30 years ago. There are some newer structures, to be sure, but a very high percentage of the houses and buildings would have been here in 1980 as well. 
I’d also forgotten how stunning Lake Superior is. Having grown up in lake country,  I’m finding a great deal of comfort being back in this area. I love living by the ocean in Vancouver, but the lake will always hold something special for me.
And now I have a sudden urge to put some Lightfoot on, and I think I’ll go with it.

The Canadian Shield


Monday, 10:30am EST
This is the part of highway I’ve been thinking about since I first decided to do this piece. 
The Canadian Shield area is beautiful and inspiring, but it had to have felt very isolating for Terry. After weeks in southern Ontario, where he was given a hero’s welcome in every city, this must have been a shock to the system.
There simply aren’t many people here. There are long distances between towns, and the towns themselves are often very small. As I wrote before, his run felt inclusive to those of us who were isolated in these small places. Just by running by on the highway, Terry made people feel like they were a part of his amazing journey.
This stretch of road is not as unforgiving as Newfoundland, and maybe it’s just because I grew up here but it seems a little more welcoming. There’s an openness to it, and in the sunlight it feels like nothing bad could happen here.
In all the hours of running he did here, I wonder what Terry was thinking as he went. I can’t help but think his mind had to have been on his lungs. When he stopped he had a tumor the size of a lemon in one and a golf ball in the other. Surely, as he ran past the great forests, dilapidated barns, lakes and rivers he had to have noticed something wasn’t quite right.
Of course it’s entirely possible he knew full well he was in trouble and took it as far as he could. 

The Aging Body

Monday, 7:30am EST

It’s not like I’m inexperienced in the fine art of sleeping on the Greyhound.
The year I played Principal Bass for the Kamloops Symphony I took the overnight bus back to Vancouver many, many times. With a double bass. And each time I managed to get some decent slumber.
Last night I learned that when the body is pushing 40 it no longer responds as well to being twisted into Tim Burton yoga poses in a vain attempt to rest.
On the plus side, it’s a beautiful Ontario morning as we head out of Sudbury. I’m looking forward to the brief stop in Espanola, crossing the Spanish River and seeing the dam at the Eddy mill.
I’m kind of looking forward to the whole ride. I’m tired enough that I’m in a state of near hallucination, so it should be interesting at the very least.
The first thing I saw as we entered Sudbury? Deluxe Hamburgers. Excellent.

Some Thoughts Gathered In The Middle Of The Night


Monday, 2:45am EST
Good bus karma! Due to the number of people taking the Hound this fine night, they had to call in a second coach, meaning I get two seats to myself and a shot at some sleep. As an added bonus, the other coach is going to make all the stops and we’re going directly to Sudbury.
I may even have time to get breakfast.
I’m kind of excited to see Sudbury. I spent a lot of time in Sudbury as a child; pretty much every Saturday until my family moved to Ottawa when I was in the 8th grade. We’d go there for groceries, swimming lessons, guitar lessons and, if we were lucky, hamburgers at Deluxe.
There were also the evenings of hillbilly magic when we’d join the other cars at the lookout and watch Inco pour slag down the hill. Good times.
Sudbury was also where you had to go to see any decent movie. They’d get to Espanola eventually, but sometimes you just couldn’t wait.
Like when Christian Cook’s Dad took us to Dragonslayer, or when my Dad took us to Return of the Jedi and Jamie Ramsay puked all over the back seat of his new Buick, marring it for all time.
Sudbury was the city. If you wanted to try the fast food you saw on TV, you had to get it there (or Toronto, if you were, you know, fancy), and most field trips centered there. I have been to the Big Nickel, Science North and the pool at Laurentian University more times than I can count.
This Northern childhood also informed how I see Terry’s story quite a bit. Nothing came to Espanola. Nothing. And while Terry didn’t stop there, he ran past it, and seriously, that’s enough when you live in a town like that. 
Listening to the radio for updates all the time, watching on TV, marveling that this bigger than life figure was running past things I knew. When Terry ran through Massey, he went right by Murray’s Barber Shop, where my Dad took me for haircuts. He ran by Pacey’s Texaco, where we got ice cream, over the bridge near McKerrow, past the sawmill at Nairn.
It was a big deal.
Typing it out, it sounds a little ridiculous. In my defense, I was not quite 6 years old yet.

July 31, 2011

Heading Up North

After a weekend with my oldest and closest friends in Quebec cottage country, it’s time for the second leg of my Terry Fox journey.
Sadly, this involves 25 hours on a Greyhound bus, from Montreal to Thunder Bay, something I’m not entirely convinced is a great idea at this point. 
‘At this point’, in this case, refers to sitting on the bus preparing to depart Montreal for Ottawa. 
Along with making a field recording at the Mile 3339 marker, I really wanted to spend some time on the stretch of highway that saw the end of the Marathon. This stretch of road is quite familiar to me, since I grew up in Espanola, Ontario (west of Sudbury) and all of my relatives lived in Thunder Bay.
The stretch from Sudbury to Thunder Bay makes me think of my childhood, and the many times I was in a car on that road. I also remember it being kind of exciting to be on the section that was re-named the Terry Fox Courage Highway. In about 20 hours we’ll see if it still holds the same excitement.
The possible fly in the ointment here is that the marker may not be there anymore. I read an article from the Thunder Bay paper about how construction on the highway is threatening to displace the simple, dignified marker at the end of Terry’s run.
Yes, the big monument just East of T-Bay is there, but the marker is something special. It’s right at the spot where Terry had to stop, and it’s been maintained not by a township or municipality, but by people who remember Terry and were moved by him.
I’m also glad I’ll get to ride the highway once more before it’s doubled, and the actual road Terry ran on is left unrecognizable.

On the lame side of things, it would appear I left my camera in Montreal, so the blog is going to be lacking in photos for a bit.

Also on the lame side, the meathead security at Ottawa Central Station is beyond lame. As they're searching people getting on the bus you can actually watch these lame rent-a-cops abusing the tiny little bit of authority at every chance.

And I mean tiny, their security station is a fold card table.

July 28, 2011

Getting Off the Rock

Hmmmm..... perhaps an unfortunate title.


When I woke up this morning, I was thinking it would be nice to stay for a few more days. With the thick fog blanketing St. John's right now it may well happen.

Yesterday was spent walking, for about 8 hours in a light rain. I started at St. John's City Hall where there was a ceremony for Terry on April 12, 1980 before he ran down New Gower St. and onwards to the Trans Canada Highway.

The 8 hours I spent walking through St. John's and onto the highway were very illuminating. If I thought the city was tough, the road is like Patrick Swayze in 'Roadhouse' tough.

Punishing hills, a feeling of desolation and a wind that seems to never stop. At least I didn't have snow, unlike Mr. Fox. The nice thing was that a lot of what I saw as I walked would have been pretty much the same 30 years ago. Sure, there are some new buildings, but they are vastly out-numbered.

After spending a day travelling, skipping a night's sleep and then walking all day, I was incredibly tired last night. Thanks to the glory of Google maps, I figure I walked about 15kms.

Which is about 28% of the distance Terry ran on the average day.

As a Canadian who was a child in the summer of 1980 I have always had certain impressions of Terry:

Brave, courageous, determined, generous........but until yesterday I never thought of him as tough.

To do what he did, and to start it all on this remote, unforgiving rock, I now think of him as very, very tough. Mentally and physically.

July 27, 2011

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There's Signs

Since I felt I was being industrious, I figured this sign didn't apply to me.
One of the main objectives of this trip was to do some field recordings.

Specifically, the place where the Marathon of Hope began, and where it ended (mile 3339). The idea was to do these recordings around 4:30am, which was when Terry started most days during the Marathon, and was also his favourite time to run when he was training back home.

So last night I went from the airport, to George St. to kill a bit of time, and then off to Port Authority land to find the Mile 0 memorial, and to record near the water.

You can find this in the parking lot of the
Port Authority building on Water St.
The marker was pretty easy to find, but it's surroundings leave much to be desired. It is literally in a parking lot, in a very industrial area, surrounded by fencing and heavy equipment. Thankfully, there are plans for a new memorial which will be in a garden and should be quite stunning.

On the other hand, it's kind of fitting.

Terry's run didn't start with a huge amount of fanfare. As much of an icon as he became, at the outset he was pretty much unknown. Not a whole lot of people thought he'd come anywhere near accomplishing what he set out to do, and it would be a few months of running 26 miles a day before the Marathon became a national phenomenon.

The big problem for me was that there was no way to get near the water right where the marker is. Luckily, another Port Authority lot right next to it had a fence without barbed wire on top, so just like Stallone I went over the top.

Introducing Canvas Bag Studios
To be honest, I don't even know why I think the field recordings are important. I'm trying to just follow my instincts with this whole project and not question things too much, and from day 1 I've had it in my head that these recordings were important.

So I spent a furtive hour, between 4 and 5am, recording the ambient soundtrack about 25 feet from where Terry dipped his foot in the Atlantic. Does it sound, in any way, specific to the place?

Not really.

But I'm a big believer in the intangible, and listening back to what was captured I think there's an unquantifiable 'vibe' to the whole thing. One thing that struck me, spending the early morning on the St. John's waterfront, is that this is a working place. Even around the port in Vancouver, I think the water still has a 'recreation' kind of feel to it. Not here. This harbour is for work, hard work. All around are signs and plaques telling the story of how the harbour was used in World War 2 (10,000 ships came through in 6 years, and some 600 were sunk very close by) which also gives it a bit of a bad-ass edge.

Self portrait/incrimination from the
field recording session.
And it seems really, really appropriate to Terry's story.

The beginning of the Marathon of Hope was not about public adoration and accolades, it was about hard work. Terry was not only running, but setting up his own press and fund raising events, on the phone every evening before and after whatever event he could get set up. Newfoundland was hard, constant work that really started to pay off in Port Aux Basques, almost a month later, where the town of 10,000 raised over $10,000 for the Marathon.

As I skulked around St. John's in the early morning hours, waiting for a coffee shop to open, there seemed to be reminders around every corner of how hard life can be here.

From the photos of the 4 great fires that essentially destroyed the city, to the memorial for the incredible number of war casualties and the giant, sprawling Anglican cemetery between the narrows and Quidi Vidi Lake that has rows and rows of old, rough-hewn crosses belonging to men who died 2 centuries ago (the scene of trespass/fence jump #2), St. John's seems to want to remind you at every turn that this is a place that means business.

Getting in touch with this aspect of St. John's, and Newfoundland in general, leaves me with even more admiration for Terry and the fierce determination that drove the early days of his journey.

Which, in and of itself, makes this trek worth the effort.

St. John's Harbour, looking at the narrows, 5:30am

Mr. Cab Driver


****Actual conversation between a nice Eastern European cabbie and myself, leaving the St. John's airport at 1:30am****

Cabbie: Where you going, sir?

Me: George St.

C: You need hotel?

M: No, just anywhere on George St.

C: Well, where are you going?

M: I'm not really sure....

C: Where are you staying?

M: Well, tonight I'm not really staying anywhere. In a few hours I'm going to do some recording down at  the water, and I'll figure out tomorrow......tomorrow.

C: You have no place to sleep?

M: I'm not sleeping tonight. I'm here to work on a piece of music, and I'll be working all night.

C: You don't know where you're staying?

M: I figure it'll all work out. Or not.

C: You're the boss.

-Awkward silence for the rest of the ride-

July 26, 2011

Some Thoughts Gathered While Hurtling Through the Air at High Speeds In a Large Tin Can



  • Just this morning there was an article in the Vancouver Sun about being more understanding of screaming babies on airplanes, and I’ve been trying to take it to heart. My regular intolerance is being displaced by the warm glow of human compassion.
However......
The screaming kid 2 rows up is clearly 3 or 4 years old, and thus does not qualify as a baby. No, it is just a snot-nosed brat who needs to stop blubbering.
The other 2 screaming kids get a pass, they’re actual babies.
  • It’s interesting that I’m surrounded by a triumvirate of aural terrorists (can I type terrorist while I’m on a plane?), I’m wondering if I’ll be encountering a lot of 3’s on this journey.
  • If you’re ever in an emergency and need all humour and laughter banished instantly, ‘Dinner For Schmucks’ will do the job. Guaranteed. Sheesh.
  • As I grow exhausted of being on this plane after only 4 hours, my mind turns to the 25 consecutive hours I’ll spend on the Hound in 5 days. I think I can safely file that plan under ‘Things That Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time’.
  • As the overgrown baby continues his reign of terror, I balance my annoyance with the pleasure I get from exchanging ‘Kill Me Now’ looks with my fellow victims.
  • Also pleasurable are the fake smiles everyone gives the Parents of the Year when they try to get down the aisle. The aisle being blocked by little Damien.