Mike forgot his cap gun, the bar is called The Bank, and this city smells like it hasn’t changed its socks since KC was the youngest Irving. We just saw on TV that some place in Oklahoma got blown up. I wonder what’ll happen tomorrow. Acid, guns and little children…
“Guess who just got back today…” An oldies station is the best choice for the radio since the only cassette around is the StereoMCs and we don’t have any batteries for the CD player. Oh well, at least our van works. Change of Heart’s Winnebago is broke down and we’re trying to give it a boast but it’s not happening. “Good luck with the RV, boys. See ya later.” It’s time to eat. We’ll meet them in Fredericton this evening. They’ve been doing this kind of thing for a long time, surely they wouldn’t embark on such a journey with an unreliable vessel. Now if we can only convince Matt that we will find that Ponderosa we saw from the highway before we run out of gas.
Last night was pretty good. The seven dollar jugs of draft helped a lot. It was weird though, watching Scott and Tommy and Mike playing a bunch of new songs in some bar in New Brunswick, after sitting in the van all day. The new songs made for a really good show and the crowd liked it, especially the spontaneous Metallica request.
Most people who stayed to talk as the bar was closing wanted to buy a CD but had to wait until tomorrow when they could get that money back from whomever they’d lent it to, or borrow it from someone else.
So here we are sitting in the van, waiting for Matt and Mike and Scott to finish doing the business, and listening to someone who’s not Vicki Gabareau on the CBC. Hopefully they’ll get some batteries in there too.
“It’s taking them an awful long time. Isn’t Sam’s like, right there in the mall?”
“They must’ve brought some merchandise over to that independent place too.”
“We should get a coffee and have a smoke.”
We’d met this crazy guy last night. He came right up to Tommy and me and started freakin’ out about all the weed he’d smoked, all the beer he’d drunk, and how far he’d hitch-hiked into town. So we split a jug of draft with him and watched him freak out.
“We might as well wait for them to get back.”
Waiting is such a drag though. Of course, we’ve really got nothing to do once we get to Fredericton but wait until it’s time to play. We ate our fill at the Ponderosa. Nothing to do now but wait. And look out the window. This town seems to have a lot of little pubs (mostly sports bars) and vacant brick buildings and decrepit looking people—or maybe it’s just the part of town we’re in. “Hey is that a sex shop over there?”
Things could be worse I guess. After all, we are just hanging out in Saint John, New Brunswick, with nothing to do but listen to the radio. And Saint John is not an unattractive city. We got that crazy guy to show us around a bit last night during Change of Heart’s set. We had to get some air after being in the van most of the day and the bar most of the night. It was raining pretty hard and we were soaked by the time we got back in the bar, but it was refreshing… and the smell was gone. Saint John is a nice enough city, but the air ain’t so great. Remember seeing on Live At 5 about the report done by Chatelaine Magazine picking Saint John as the city having the best air quality in the Maritimes or whatever? Now I understand why this finding was deemed so newsworthy (or noseworthy). The air here stinks. That’s one good thing about there being no work at home, we don’t have to live with the heavy-duty industrial pollution that kind of industry produces. Now if we can only get rid of the waste that’s been piling up since the industrial revolution. Saint John and Sydney are similar in that they’re both port cities and both have the same grey weather, but Saint John is bigger and more industrial. I guess that’s because Irving knows business better than the government.
There’s this big old hospital set up on a huge rock right in the middle of town and it looks like the rest of the city was formed by erosion which left this rock and some concrete overpasses and bridges standing. The hospital is kinda like an old fortress or something, towering over the city. It’s deserted, the windows all smashed out, waiting for the tides to change. When we drove around it on the way into town yesterday Matt mentioned that, “It’d be great in the video!”
This guy had hitch-hiked from Moncton to see Change of Heart in Saint John and Fredericton ‘cause the show in Moncton was cancelled. I remember seeing him in the bar last night. A couple of times I thought he was Mike because he had the same kinda hair and Change of Heart shirt. Then I’d see Mike on stage playing the drums and remember that he shaved his head a while ago.
It’s time to move on. As we leave Saint John, the sun lights up the road and it turns out to be a pretty good day for a drive. Our hitch-hiker friend’s name is Matt and he’s getting a lift to UNB with us. He says he’s got some dope in his freezer at home, but none with him. Why would you leave it home if you were following a band around by thumb? At least it could be used to bargain for a drive or kill time if you were stuck. No matter. The drive doesn’t take too long. We got some new music to listen to, and some stuff to read from Saint John. It didn’t seem like a real musical town but a lot of the people at the show talked about playing in bands and stuff and they do have an independent music store. We wondered why there’s nothing like that at home and decided that when we got back, we’d get some stuff goin’ on. In some places, more than others, you just gotta do things on your own.
The day is feeling more spring-like since we’ve arrived on campus. It’s still windy, but you can see the water flowing from here, through here. There’s activity. Everybody’s busy returning books and checking on summer jobs and taking a last look around the place on their way back to whatever it was they were doing before school and winter got going. It’s turning into a good day to put your feet up and read about somewhere far away like the remote control; within reach, but only if you reach for it.
Scott and Tommy were playing hacky sack in the driveway of the Student Union Building and some guy stopped his car and told them that they should “…help someone out for a change and turn off the lights in that parked car back there.” Scott told him he should go fuck himself. A little later, I was on the rickety old ladder on the back of the Winnebago trying to help Scott get the hacky sack from atop its roof when Campus Security stopped by.
“You guys just passing through?!?”
No, we thought we’d move in here, set up a hemp farm.
“No, we’re playing here tonight.”
“Oh, OK. Well, have a good night.”
I’m sure he thought we were just gonna live on campus in the Winnebago and that probably scared him a little. Somewhere, Tom Waits is waiting for a train. The sun’s going down.
“Roll it ‘tween your fingers ‘n send it over my way.” We’ve made it back to our pseudo-posh motel room with a bag of beer and a couple of friends along for the ride. Change of Heart’s road manager Al comes by for a late night chat. As always, sooner or later conversation turns to smack. “Steve Earle too, eh?” Wow. So few junkies left.
When the beer ran out we had to resort to the free coffee in the hotel lobby so we ended up watching Law & Order without realizing that it was the 4am showing. It didn’t make any sense at all. But I was thinking about that bombing we saw in TV the night before. At the time, the news media was trying to connect the bombing in Oklahoma to the anniversary of Waco, Texas. I remembered Law & Order a week earlier. The show was about one of a religious cult who bombed a building using fertilizer and diesel fuel. Coincidence, synchronicity, or cause and effect?
“Redemption or bust” said the road sign. “Today is the day of Salvation” sang the CD player. But the music changes as the river drifts away from the highway and previous thoughts are transformed. Suddenly, a dinosaur of a bridge appears in the distance, rising up from the river valley. It’s the gateway to “Canada’s Model Town”. Yesterday we saw it from the other side. I would’ve liked to check this place out but we slept in and have to get to Halifax. Some other time I guess.
Halifax was a trip and a half. It was the first time we stayed in the same place two days in a row, other than the van, which was starting to stink after only three days on the road. Oh well, at least our van works. On the way into Halifax we’d spotted a cloud of smoke up ahead on the highway which turned out to be a by now familiar 1971 Winnebago. Having slept late and traveled the scenic route from Fredericton, which included a fix at the Moncton Ponderosa, we figured they should have been in Halifax long ago. They must have slept in again.
The shows at the Birdland will feature Halifax band Coyote playing in the slot between Sunfish and Change of Heart. Coyote is managed by Sydney River native and neighbour Shelley MacPhail and are expected to do big things. I managed to miss their set both nights. Ferguson showed up from Sydney for the weekend so we ended up in the van drinking the beer he’d brought with him while they played Friday night. It was pretty low-key. Nothing like Saturday would be.
Saturday morning we got a ride downtown with Stuart who’d let us crash at his place the night before, and then wandered around the city all day, visiting friends and having the occasional beer. We met up with Mercer after he got off work and headed to a party. By the time we left for Birdland, we were ready for anything. Or so we thought. Once we got in there it was a different story. There was a bunch more people from Sydney there than had been the night before and Sunfish ruled. All we could do was stand there and stand. After their set, I left with Ashley to check out Dwayne Cote’s gig at the Split Crow figuring we might run into Sampson. Things got a little crazy down there (those young fiddlers can really stir a place up) and we were told not to bother ordering any more beer if we couldn’t behave… OK, if I couldn’t behave. It wasn’t my fault though, it was Cote’s fusion of Buddy MacMaster and Paganini. We got back to Birdland just as Change of Heart was getting ready to take the stage. The doorman wouldn’t let Ashley and me back into the bar so we went to the van and found Scott and Tommy and Al and Ferguson and had a beer before going back to explain to the guys at the door why we had to get in. I don’t know what happened while I was gone but things were different when I got back.
“Am I hallucinating or is Matt smoking? Oh. He bought a package of cigarettes? Oh. Well… then, is that really a clown over there? It is, eh? … OK. Did you know that Ziggy Stardust is following us? And what’s with the plastic raincoats? Was that Dave MacIntyre?” It was “fear and loathing” all over again (check out Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
Change of Heart was incredible. It was the first time I really paid attention since the trip started. I never heard of them until they toured with Blue Rodeo, a few years ago, but we’d been listening to their tapes and CDs in the van. I remember a song about the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, but all I can remember about it is the sample of the captain’s distress call at the beginning of the song, Mike in the passenger seat with a big bottle of Evian, and the way the ongoing traffic disappeared whenever I clicked my brights off. I didn’t get much out of listening to their recordings, but man, once I saw them live I was hooked.
The rest of the night went by very quickly in a “rock’n’roll, roll’n’rock” kinda way and the morning found Mike and I crashed at Mercer’s who had breakfast ready by the time we got up. He also gave us the newly recorded Pornographic Funk Statsion demo to listen to on the rest of our journey.
We started walking to where Tommy and Matt were staying and ran into Stuart and John Allan on their way back from a breakfast meeting. Stu gave us a lift the rest of the way and wished us farewell. Tommy and Scott were in the van where we’d left them the night before and Matt was just coming across the street.
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Bob Seger RULES!… or NO?”
“What’re y’askin’ me for?”
“Is that a Wunderbar?”
“Where’djah get it?”
“Did you hear that they threw someone out of the van…while it was moving?”
“I heard it was Ferguson.”
In Halifax, the sun always rises on a Sunday. I don’t know what that means, but I believe it to be true. And I don’t know why. Ferguson had to fly home and we’re on our way to PEI, a day early. I think it’s best we leave Halifax just as we found it.
After a quick fix at Truro’s Ponderosa we headed to New Brunswick to catch the ferry to PEI. We’re out of smokes but Matt finds one and we share it just as we get to the ferry terminal. In Charlottetown, we meet up with Mark and Chris and go back to the place they share with Martinello for the best sleep of the trip. The next day we go to Bracklee Beach with a friend of Matt’s and then check out the provincial building in town. Its windows are boarded up because someone tried to blow it up. Mike goes skating and screws up his ankle, but somehow he manages to play. The gig is in a small bar called Apothecaries which is underneath a Subway. I was sitting at the bar when I heard this guy say, “Why would you even bother having a band that plays this kind of music? The music’s gone so much further than this.” The rest of the conversation was drowned out by Tommy. “Awright boys, let’s take these bastards outside.” Sunfish’s new songs are starting to make sense.
The next day Matt is sick so I have to drive back through New Brunswick to Antigonish. Once again we stop in Truro and introduce Change of Heart to Ponderosa’s all you can eat buffet. They’re traveling in a nice new rental van now, having left the Winnebago in Halifax.
Antigonish feels like home with Malcolm from Railroad Recording doing sound and some friends in the audience. Jodi and Jan show up for the show and Tommy and Mike get a ride home with them. The journey is becoming its own destination.
Back on the island via route 105. Matt’s gotta stop at his place on the way home to go to a rehearsal fro the Summertime Revue. Winnebago ’71 is exacting its revenge on Change of Heart for being left in Halifax and Al the manager and John the bass player had to go back to deal with it before coming to Sydney. To spare the others the unnecessary traveling, we’ve offered to take whoever wants to come with us. John the drummer, Ian the guitarist/vocalist, and Bernard the keyboard player take us up on the offer. It turns out they had an ulterior motive for traveling with us, for as soon as Matt goes into his house and I turn my back to play with his old dog Jesse, they gang up on Scott, wrestle him to the ground and drive the van back and forth over his fingers until his hand is nothing but a bloody stump. They claimed it was an accident. Sunfish will have to sit this night out, but Newfoundland is looming on the horizon.
After a night at the new Regional Hospital, Scott’s hand is good as new and we’re on the ferry to Newfoundland. Mike innocently accepts a challenge to play RISK with the boys from Upper Canada and systematically destroys each of them. “Try to sabotage MY BAND, eh?!!”, he screamed as he rolled three sixes.
When we docked in Port-aux-Basques, we discovered that it was still winter in Newfoundland and had to drive through a hail-storm and high winds. We stopped in Deer Lake for a Blue Star and a night’s sleep. In the morning, we set out for the east coast, of North America, and the city of St. John’s. When we got there, we were immediately given beer and a tour of the bar by Jon Whalen from Bung. Then we headed for our hotel The Battery, overlooking St. John’s harbour.
“We’re here. That’s all I know. Or no… We’re kinda hungry, kinda confused, kinda bruised but we’ve got an awesome view. We are in the land of an ungodly number of pubs. Mike just came in. He’s emptying a bag full of empty beer from the van. He’s wrecked a lamp and seems unimpressed by our day since he dropped us off at he hotel a few hours ago. He left to find Potmaster at the University but couldn’t. It turns out the show was across the street instead of across town.”
While Mike had been driving around, we were in the hotel ballroom drinking free beer with a beer rep and the Irish Descendants. The show that night was great. Bung played first, then Sunfish, then Change of Heart. The show the next night was even better. Sunday’s all ages show was a little different because we knew it was the last one and we’d have to tear down and load the van afterward, but the crowd was good. The bar is called The Loft and the pool tables there are rigged but the band room holds about twenty people and what comes around goes around. Louis Thomas, Bung and Potmaster showed us the sights during the days and put on the parties during and after the shows, Change of Heart proved why they are “the best live band in the world”, and Newfoundland is as much as and more than everyone says it is. It’s a hard go getting’ there bit it’s worth every mile.
. . . so there you have it, Saint John to St. John’s, Eastern Canada, four ferry rides, a Winnebago and three vans, four Ponderosas, and two casualties, in fourteen days.