Last Friday I was preparing to take the stage with The Art of Time Ensemble which included Andrew Burashko, Stephen Sitarski, Drew Jurecka, Rachel Mercer, Joe Phillips, Mark Mariash, Doug Perry, Rob Piltch, special guest noise maker Don Rooke, author/poet Michael Ondaatje, and actor Rick Roberts. Other vocalists on the shows were Andy Maize, Tom Wilson, and Suzie Ungerlieder.
Some of these folk I have known for some time now, and a couple I am lucky enough to consider close friends. I don’t get out much, and I’ve never been a social creature. I failed spectacularly at being part of any scene. I was pacing back and forth behind backstage thinking how funny it was that these AoT gigs are the one place I get to spend time with artists I’ve only orbited around…Tom, Andy, for intance…or meet for the first time: Suzie, for instance, this time out. The thing about these gigs is…for some of us more, um, roots/pop inclined singers or musicians… is that we are in strange waters, or fish out of water altogether and it sort of levels a playing field we aren’t even aware exists and we get to see each other make peace with performing things that stretch our own understanding of ourselves. That sounds a lot more lame than it is. Put another way, there is not a lot of ego on these shows and that is as refreshing as refreshing gets.
It was the second time I got to work along side of Michael Ondaatje and I finally got the chance (and nerve) to tell him how Coming Through Slaughter has danced on the fringes of my creative consciousness since the day I turned the last page on it. A couple years ago I got to work with Margaret Atwood and that led to a weird and wonderful night at the opera with her and her family (a shitty version of Don Giovanni, I was told…I wouldn’t have known because I was just happy to there and was kind of geeking out).
Renowned dance company David Earle Dance did an inspiring piece on a show I was on, and it introduced me to the world of modern dance, a world I hadn’t paid much attention to. Out of our mutual admiration from those nights grew dance pieces to two songs of mine that members of the company, Suzette Sherman and Georgia Simms, choreographed and performed.
Most of my performances with the Art of Time have had me singing at least one arrangement done by Jon Goldsmith. Jon produced my first two recordings for True North and we have been friends since. He also arranged strings for me on the live concert recording we did almost 10 years ago called Pleasure & Relief (a couple years before I met Burashko and started singing with the AoT). I admire many of the arrangers whose songs I get to swim in when I sing with the AoT, but none more than Jon and getting to sing a chart of his makes me want to try and make my own songs more…well, more.
I met Don Rooke…inventor, soundologist, and progenitor of Tornto cult faves The Henrys…on an Art of Time gig not so long ago and that led to me singing on The Henrys last recording, 2015’s Quiet Industry, a collection of songs I would urge everyone to check out without reservation.
I’ve learned a great deal watching members of the Art of Time negotiate the rehearsals, speaking in, what is to me, a foreign tongue, having never learned how to read music myself. I have a great respect for Burashko and his carving out a career in the arts. This is no small feat.
And nowhere else could I practice pacing the stage guitar-less, singing words that are not mine, trying to figure out who I am in the thing while I’m doing the thing, and all the while wearing a hat and a wee bit of bling. Thank you , Art of Time Ensemble: I hardly recognize me.
A great band featuring my friend Don Rooke (of The Henrys and Quiet Industry fame) on lap steel etc for the evening. I sing four songs: four American God, American Way, America Lost, American Love songs. It is a lot of America for this singer. I’m a fairly linear guy and not much of a lyric “interpreter”, so when I sing “I expect to touch His hand”, I know the intention and can’t pretend otherwise. Likewise a bit of a thing to sing any line with the words “our forefathers”. I’m having a good time finding my way through these songs, though, and I know the shows will be great. A ton of talent under the roof.
In a few weeks I leave for a whirlwind run of dates with Stephen in the U.K. This will be third continent to which we’ve been able to bring these unassuming nights of sorrow and wonder. For tickets, go to https://orphanwisdom.com/events/
A few thoughts on the recently completed Nights of Grief & Mystery Oceania Tour 2017.
First off, a flurry of thank you’s to the intrepid people who organized the thing on the ground in Australia and New Zealand. It is no small thing welcoming a small band of tired men into your busy lives for a few days, tending to all the details that need tending to, sending us on our way, and rejoining the regular broadcast that was your life before signing on to promote one of these gigs. It is my hope is that some echo of your efforts comes to your ears every now and again…something good. Things are felt for such a short while it seems these days.
The land was beautiful, there were good people met (there were some challenging folk, too), and there was the rare empty seat in all the halls we played…something astounding to me considering the night can detonate a kind of sorrow that makes ovations unlikely but, still, there were always those who hung back to connect, struggling to find the words to acknowledge the night and our part in it.
Here’s the thing: what I wasn’t prepared for (besides the vicious jet lag on my return home) was feeling like the alien from that postulated theory “what would an alien say if it landed here”. So much of what I saw and heard felt foreign under the skin but nothing more so than the phrase “No worries.” Even typing it gives me the shivers. At one point, I thought my head would explode if I heard those two words together on more time. Mysteriously chosen to replace “you’re welcome” in the English language, the phrase found itself concluding almost every single transaction one might have in Australia. To utter “thank you” guaranteed a “no worries”. Really? None? I gave you $10 for a $4 coffee, you give me $6 change like you are supposed to, I say “thank you”, and you tell me I shouldn’t worry about it. About what, exactly? All the trouble you went to in getting me the correct change or my Long Black (an Americano down there)? The impact on the environment of the cup? The carbon footprint of my plane ride to and from the country and the 10 or so in-country flights we took? The shady trade practices that makes a good cup of coffee so easy to find down here? The exploitation of baristas and the worse treatment of 7-11 employees? The quiet despair that is crushing the developed world? The harsh awakening from the dream that whatever we want we can manifest? No worries about dying, either? Not the after part we aren’t around for, but the actual doing of the thing…no worries about that?
My niece tried to tell me the French (in Canada) have the same kind of phrase with “de rien” which is roughly translated to “it’s nothing”. However, there is also “bienvenue” which is widely and respectfully used and means, quite literally, “welcome”.
Australia, there are worries: small, niggly little worries and HUGE FUCKING BADASS WORRIES that should keep you up nights. You would be well advised to carve out some time to carve some worry sticks because sometimes worrying about something can sometimes lead to some kind of action. I’ll admit I’m being pretty vague there, given the fact that worriers are more likely to be seen as ineffective lumps of worthless worry, but worrying could be the first step in changing something. Your political landscape, for instance.
I think that—without you knowing it—the phrase “No Worries” has become your national motto. Deeper than just a phrase uttered at every cash register in the land, it just might have been spoken aloud soooooo many times that it has become a real cornerstone of the colonial Australian culture. I’d definitely worry about that.
It’s hard to describe what the nights we call “Illuminate Me” are like, so this video goes a little way towards that. Essentially, I sing and Tina Newlove paints on a canvas that has a camera trained on it and the feed is projected over me on to a large screen behind me. The night starts under the stark glare of the white projector light and ends drowned in colour.
As to the “why” of it…well, why not? There is no plan when we begin and often a quiet collective “Huh,” at the end as the echoes of a night of song die away and we all look at a huge painting where there was none 90 minutes before. It’s a rare way to watch the collision of two art disciplines and experience the chaos of making something from nothing.
December 1 and 2, The Pearl Company Theatre, Hamilton, ON. Tickets
For a complete list of dates and how to get tickets, go to the Tour page.