Dark Road Diary: Sine Wave

Tel Aviv, Israel.

It shouldn’t have worked.

A last-minute venue change the day before the gig to a theatre situated in a movie cinema complex absolutely dressed up like a theme park, complete with life-size characters from the blockbusters of the last 40 years; an unfamiliar format for the evening that included an onstage interview with a prominent broadcaster, followed by a 45-minute set of a Night of Grief and Mystery— a window, open then shut; language barriers; jet lag; and the usual challenges that attend any live event production. Plus, we haven’t been on stage together in 7 months, so it was just a fist bump then “Go!”

It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

My own understanding of what this thing is that I do with Jenkinson travels along a sine wave: I know what it is, then I don’t know what it is. I’m currently in the “I don’t know” phase. Strangely, it has a calming effect backstage. Fewer expectations, maybe. With room for only one song in the shortened set, we choose a brand new one I’ve never sung all the way through let alone in front of anyone. We decide to forgo a translator or have translated lyrics and text projected beside us, and so there is a gnawing, low-grade worry of not being understood—kind of like, “Is this mic on…?”

Afterwards: private, intimate, mostly silent exchanges with some who have stayed on; gestures in place of words, usually a hand to the heart; long moments of locking eyes; tender hand clasping, the kind that linger softly.

These things are enough for me to know it worked, whatever “it” is. Something worked. And that’s plenty enough to get me to the next gig in Tel Aviv in a few days’ time.


Dark Road Diary, Part 41: Cincinnati, Ohio

The Tired is coming on, and it doubles down on us because The Cold is coming, too…the temperature kind, not the viral kind. It was a mercifully short-ish drive from Louisville and we are earlier than our load-in, so we kill time on the Main Street the theatre is on. Charlie finds a place to grab himself a bite, SJ and I find a sliver of sun to stand in. Not many words pass between us: we are likely both thinking of the next day’s mountain of swapping vans, picking up my car in Columbus, sending Charlie on his way home with gear we don’t need for the next leg, keeping gear that we do, and then beginning the drive clear across America.

After the set up, we quietly ascend the stairs to a “not a room” green room…a part of a balcony that we can draw a drape on. The one wall is lined with a bank of padded benches. There is a bathroom that is ours, an that’s a small blessing. We deposit our bags and each take a place on a bench and silently let ourselves tip over. We don’t sleep, per se, but we invite it.

With no walls around us, we hear the doors open, the crowd start to gather, the murmuring grow. We assemble ourselves, walk down the back stairs to the stage door, our In Ears activated and the crowd noise amplified. We walk out on stage, bringing with us the silence that has kept us company most of the day, and we bring it out with us into the Night. We pour more than we have into the Night over the next two hours, keep up our end of the bargain. Afterwards, we hear a bit what it meant from some of the good-sized crowd that had attended.

Seized by hunger pangs that often appear after we’ve loaded out, we make way to a pizza joint a couple minutes away, the mood in the van in direct contrast to what it was eight hours earlier, until, that is, I realize with a panic that I’ve left my coat in the front row seating. We leave Charlie to wait for the pie, and I race back to the theatre, praying someone is still there. I throw flashers on, leave SJ in the van, pound on the door.

It’s opened by someone who is pulling on their jacket to leave. I explain I’d forgotten mine there, that I didn’t do an idiot check, and I retrieve it from the front row. I’m relieved.

“It’s a good thing. It’s getting cold,” the guy says.

“Yeah, true thing,” I say. “Everything’ll be fine now.”

Plus, there’s pizza. And a mountain after that.


Dark Road Diary, Part 40: Louisville, Kentucky

She appears backstage, looking out of place in this big, brightly lit loading dock of the college-affiliated theatre we’ve just finished playing outside of Louisville, Kentucky.

She is old…a little older than old. She is tiny. Her hair is pure white. Her eyes are reddened. She is clutching a wine bottle, and she is looking around for somewhere to set it down or someone to give it to, so she comes off as a bit lost. Until she sees me, and sees me seeing her. We walk towards each other.

I look down at her, she looks up at me. I’m easily a foot and a half taller.

“You broke my heart,” she says, allowing a slight tremble in her throat and some new moisture to her eyes. “And it feels so good.”

I put my arms around her…all of her fits under my chin and she disappears into my chest. I hold her for a bit. She’s so small…like a bird: hollow-boned and nearly weightless.

I hold on a little too long, maybe…I miss my mother.


Dark Road Diary, Part 38: Roanoke, Virginia

A week or so after playing in a beautifully kitted out theatre in Roanoke, for people eager to listen (most of whom had made the 1.5 hour journey down the mountain from Floyd), a note arrives to me by email.

It begins by saying they had attended the Night in Roanoke, had heard good things about the tour (“meaningful”; “soul stirring”), but were sadly disappointed. Deeply disappointed was the term used, actually. 

The root of the disappointment was the “dissonance of the drums and other guitar behaviour” given by members who seemed “more wrapped up in their performance than in giving meaning to process. It felt terribly disrespectful,” the note said. It concluded with describing emerging from the theatre “feeling scrambled and confused. I had no idea what message you were trying to convey,” and that other people in their party shared in the disappointment.

I read the note to Jenkinson while waiting for service at an interstate highway food joint.
“You going to respond?” he asks.
Pffftt…nah…no. I mean, no point, right?” I say.
“What would you say, though, if you did?” he asks me.

I try on a few weak and inelegant retorts and I am surprised to discover I’m actually a little hurt by the email, so my righteousness peters out, air out of a sad balloon. I’ve since let it roll around in me a bit, and here’s what I would have said at the diner counter, and maybe to the author of the note.

Dear Person,

  1. Most terms used to describe what we do are not ones that we would endorse. The Night has consequence, is what we would say…and it’s mostly a warning, not a description.
  2. Having expectations might be the best way to be disappointed.
  3. There’s no process on stage. There is a ton of listening, though.
  4. I can’t imagine a group of people more committed to getting out of the way than those who travel with me.
  5. I can’t imagine a guitarist more disinclined to “perform” than yours truly.
  6. I can’t imagine a singer/guitarist who has more respect for those who would leave their home on any given evening and put their hard earned money on something called a Night of Grief and Mystery.
  7. Scrambled and confused seems pretty much a spot-on way to feel after A Night of Grief and Mystery.
  8. We have no message to convey, so you can feel ok about not understanding what wasn’t there.

Respectfully, The Guitarist


Dark Road Diary, Part 37: Washington, DC

About a mile and a half up from the Whitehouse, Harvard Street is lined with formidable old churches, temples, lodges…this particular territory staked out by the religiously inclined about the same time they were painting the house down the street white. These things look like they were laser carved out of granite. And there are columns…lots of columns. Nothing says “I’m dead serious” like granite columns. It is in one of these buildings that we put on a Night.

The band hasn’t joined us in a month, and they are on the back end of a 9-hour drive down from Toronto, so the proceedings are a little rough around the edges which, honestly, is how I prefer it.

I look around occasionally, wondering what the people are making of what we do. We are strangers in a strange town. They are strangers in a strange town. We have that in common: this is a strange town.

Here’s what I recall of the ending of the night: I slide the guitar strap over my head and off my shoulder, turning my back to the crowd while I put the guitar down, and when I turn back around, Jenkinson has lunged past his mic, heading into the outstretched arms of an older Black woman in the front row.

“What was that all about?” I ask later on.
“She was giving me face all night long!” he says. “It just had to be done.”

As we pack up, there is a regular flow of interruptions, people who want to respond to what they just took part in. I’ve learned to lead people past “I can’t really find the words…” with this simple directive: “Try,” I say.

I come to realize that in Washington, DC, we have brought something that makes no promises, breaks no promises, has no end game, no design to alleviate, no design to punish; no design to sell; we do something that draws on no book, no constitution, but on the work of living and the work of ending.

We have no agenda in a town dripping with agenda, drooling with agenda, drowning in agenda. That’s what people were trying to say, I think.


Photo by Drake Sorey

Dark Road Diary, Part 36: Massey Hall

What happens when you finally get to do something you’ve long wanted to do?

A few weeks ago, somewhere in coastal Washington State, I received an email from Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden asking me if I’d like to sing a song with the Art of Time Ensemble at a benefit concert called Dream Serenade. The concert — held annually for almost 15 years — was returning to Massey Hall. That’s the Carnegie Hall of Canada. It’s also a place I’ve never sang in. Always wanted to, never been asked. Until the email from Hayden.

Schedules rejigged (it turns out the date fell on a day we were on tour but it was a travel day, making it possible for me to get to Toronto, do the gig, turn around and rejoin the tour in Washington), I get to the newly renovated Citadel of Dreams. On the backstage walls are beautiful photographs of a Who’s Who of the western music world playing on the stage. This is the allure of the hall: the people who have played here before you. This might also be the reason to get very nervous.

It was only one song. It wasn’t even my song. Officially, I will never say I’ve “done” Massey Hall. I will say, “I’ve sung in Massey Hall.” 

In the minutes leading up to my tune I had the worst dry mouth I’ve ever had that mercifully relinquished its’ grip on me 30 seconds before walking out onto stage. I was fatefully introduced as one of the other singers on the bill (admittedly, a 4-hour concert is a tough gig for any pair of MC’s to navigate) so my first official words on that stage were “My name is Sarah Slean.”

It’s not for me to say how well I did or didn’t do. I can tell you this, though: as I moved off the mic after my last note, that’s when I really realized I was in Massey Hall, and I commanded my brain to drink in the last nanoseconds of my voice ringing off the walls, the sound of the audience’s response, to tattoo the memory somewhere deep inside me, like you might do when having a last swim in a warm lake in the late, late summer, knowing it will seem like forever until you get to feel it like this again. Or, maybe, you never get to feel it again.

No guarantees: the great equalizer.

I sleep a couple hours at my daughters’ in Toronto, have an airport limo take me to Pearson International at 5:30 am (it was a full on Escalade, tinted windows and the whole nine yards. I felt like Drake). Took my seat in Business Class, which for some reason was cheaper for me to book with points than Economy, got picked up in DC, and was at the venue two hours before the rest of the band and 12 hours after I’d been singing in Massey Hall.

Jenkinson asks, “So? Worth it?”

I pause. I don’t know what to say.

“It’s that thing about doing something you’ve always wanted to do. What do you do with the done-ness of it? The other side of the imaginary mountain?”

Thank you, Hayden, for the chance for me to find out.


Dark Road Diary, Part 35: The Stranger Silence Between

Why do we say silence ‘falls’,
like it’s some kind of cloud lurking in the rafters just waiting to descend uninvited,
when it is The Host that welcomes us in to an empty space in the first place,
there before we arrive and there after we leave?

A man walks alone, from pool of light to pool of light along the walkway that hugs the theatre on Vashon Island, WA. He is tall and thin, older and masked up, and he spots me lingering in the shadows of the recycling bins trying to quell post-gig anxiety that can pop up now and then. Jenkinson is signing books, and I’ve changed into my ratty road uniform of jeans, scarf, and coat, hoping the night air helps to ground me. Having deduced I was one of the two men on stage, he quietly thanks me for the evening and I acknowledge him with a small smile and a head nod. He stops, and with a demeanour that asks If you don’t mind…? he turns to step into the shadow with me. With a gesture of my own that says Not at all, I take a step forward and meet him in the penumbra. (Penumbra: the area between shadow and light…I had to look that up. Ed)

Quiet and well spoken, he tells me he hesitates to characterize the evening at the risk of over simplifying. I watch him finger his way along the beads of possible words, landing at profound, but he’s not quite satisfied with it.
Then he looks puzzled, a bit pained, almost apologetic.
“I didn’t know what to do between pieces. No one did, it seems,” he says.

I smile. He’s referring to the silence that can fall over a room when we finish a poem or song. It differs from night to night, depending on the Crowd Mind, but it is almost always there in some fashion. “That’s ok. I had to learn over the years what those intervals could mean and occasionally I need to relearn it.”
He lowers his mask beneath his nose. 
“It didn’t seem right to clap—and it was uncomfortable not to—but it was something like reverence there after a poem or song, and applauding would have broken it. It was confusing.”
“Yeah. It can be that way” I say. “The quiet can detonate certainty. Applause can be easy, seductive, maybe even addictive…on both sides of the microphone. Silence takes work.”

He pulls his mask all the way down now. “And it would feel too much like theatre. This was definitely not theatre.” 
That distinction, unprompted, surprises me. 
“Definitely not theatre,” I agree. “Matter of fact, when we talk about this—and we talk about it a lot—that is at the very top of the ‘What We Know This Is NOT’ list.” (Performance, show, entertainment, distraction, concert, and genre specific would be next…the list of what we know it’s not is longer than the list of what we know it is. Ed)
“Plus,” I add, “audiences are deeply trained organisms, and the training is useless on a Night like this.”

The gentleman makes a couple charitable comparisons to Cohen and hunts for a few more summary adjectives before the attempt dissolves into the mysteries and we shake hands, parting ways, wishing each other safe travels on the dark roads of this little island in the Pacific. It’s a completely moonless night.

I know that in a few minutes, after the book signing is done, SJ and I will convene in the greenroom, and we’ll dissect the silence that was with us on stage, and I’ll be able to tell him about the conversation I had in the shadows, one more marker on the map of a night of grief and mystery, should we feel a bit lost in the quiet.


Dark Road Diary, Part 34: I Close My Eyes

I close my eyes when I sing. I always have.

As far as I can tell, it’s not to exclude the watching crowd, or the band with me on stage. It’s to include the words.

I get distracted easily, interpreting people’s postures and facial expressions, and a full-on conversation starts in my head while I’m trying to wring whatever I can from the words and the silences between them.

At a show in Denver, I’m packing my gear and an elderly woman approaches the stage in the now empty theatre. In a clear Irish lilt (she’s from the Old Country), she lets me know how thankful she was for the Night, and her impressions of my voice and songs.

“You can sing,” she says.

“I try, “ I say, and feel compelled to apologize for closing my eyes all the time, explaining that I’m afraid I’ll lose my way, the connection to the words being fragile sometimes.

“Ach…nonsense, “ she says, “they’re your words! You need to do what you need to do to get them out.”

“And there is no guarantee in the moment that I know how to do that,” I say, expecting her to not understand.

But she does. Turns out she has spent her life in the theatre, and she tells me the story of Sir Laurence Olivier disappearing after a performance of Lear one night, despite the audience screaming for a curtain call. He’s found cowering in a corner by the director who asks why he is hiding and tells him it was the most sublime performance he’d ever seen. Larry says, “I know! But I don’t know how I did it!”

We agreed closing eyes on stage in an attempt to get somewhere you’ve never been is worth the possible misconception that you are somehow “apart” from the crowd.

“There was a song you did in particular…about the arrow…knocked my knickers off!” she said as she turned to leave.

I decided to keep closing my eyes.

Dark Road Diary, Part 33: John of the Laundromat

John of The Laundromat

It’s hard to know what an audience at A Night is thinking…or feeling. For one, they aren’t really an audience, they’re unintentional allies in a ceremony. They don’t seem to know it, but we do. Beyond the applause and standing O’s, there is the ever foggy sense of “are they with us?” as we spin the kind of glass that we do. No suspension of disbelief is required for this kind of evening. The deal we are trying to make with them is a different one altogether. If there is good will in the building, we can generally pick up on it, but it’s not always clear.

The morning after the Moab Night in front of a full house – which was a free event sponsored by a local hospice organization – I’m doing laundry in the local laundromat. As I finish emptying the dryer, I turn to find an older gentleman a foot away, staring at me.

“I saw you last night,” he says. “It was a wonderful event. I have a few questions for you, if you have the time.”

Always an iffy proposition, and more SJ’s territory than mine, but I’m curious so I figure, what the hell.


He asks about why we don’t have an intermission, about the set list, a couple other things, and I do my best to answer as I fold my laundry.

Then he asks, “What did you think of the audience?”

That was a stumper. Besides the cell phones going off despite the plea to have them silenced and the full-blown conversation from a deep-voiced individual during the first 10 minutes (dealt with A LOT more grace by SJ than I am capable of), there was the ever present aforementioned foggy sense of just whose side they were on.

I relay this as best as I can, he listens thoughtfully, and almost like a plea he says, “I thought they were with you the whole night, attentive and completely riveted.”

Huh. “Well, I’m glad to hear that,” I manage. He gives me a few tips on what to see around the area before I leave for Colorado (which I took him up on…thanks, John), we say our polite goodbyes and I head out the door into the Moab heat with my folded laundry. 

If you ever find yourself walking a tight rope in front of a crowd that no one has asked you to walk, go to a laundromat the next morning. You might find out how you did. No matter what you thought at the time.

Sept 19, 2022, Boulder, Colorado.

Dark Road Diary, Part 31: Older

I am 53 years old.

Somewhere on the Australian coast in 2017, SJ and I sit watching a group of young people cavorting on the beach we share. I look down at my bloated self and complain about the passage of time, yearning for the form and function of youth.

“That shit is gone,” SJ says, “and it ain’t coming back.” Spoken like a man who knows.

I am 56 years old.

During a 60 Second Answer session I remind SJ of the beach, of the gone-ness of youth.

“What takes its’ place, then?” I ask.

“If you’re lucky, nothing at all,” he tells me. “If you work your ass off, nothing takes its place. It’s a BIG thing in life: Going, going, gone…but not everything goes at once, so you’ve no obligation to scramble to try to reassemble all the parts you started with. You’ve got fewer, you’re lucky. It’s less to carry around. The room for manoeuvering increases the less you’re bound to of the stuff you used to understand yourself to be.”

I am 58 years old.

Every night on stage on this tour is a chance for me to be fully that age, but it’s not granted as a guarantee. Often, the first notes I play are like a key that unlocks the door behind which is every self-immolating thought, every failure I’ve stored away during the run up to the gig, and they pour through. And there I am, taking a public shower under a torrent of insecurity. It’s a precarious moment, and one would think, at my age and with as much time in as I’ve had in the scenario, I’d have a sure fire way of handling it. 

I don’t. I throw myself on the mercy of the moment. Hardly a sure fire way of doing anything, a kind of reactivity of a 15 year old.

We talk about this on the drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah, where we will play tonight. As we talk, the landscape starts to be accompanied by the red sandstone monoliths the area is renowned for. Older is in the truck with me, and older is surrounding me outside.

Would that I have all I need to remind me to manoeuvre tonight.


Darr Road Diary, Part 32: Plugged Out

The first thing we do after walking on to stage is plug into our in-ears monitors. The price of being able to hear ourselves in glorious clarity is not being able to hear the gathered crowd, or us talking to each other off-mic. By plugging into the system, we unplug from the world. The irony is not lost.

“Blame Bowman,” SJ says.  It’s true…it’s all drummer Adam Bowman’s fault. It was a sure fire way to make the stage experience more musical for us, he said. It cut way down on sound check time, and it meant we didn’t have to carry expensive and heavy wedges around. All true and we are grateful for his expertise.

But the isolation is utterly complete. It’s a weird first move to make on stage. And, as with any added bit of tech, it’s another thing that can go awry, as happened in Boise. Stephen’s in-ears feed completely disappeared somewhere between soundcheck and the downbeat of the Night.

“I’ve got nothing…” Stephen managed to tell me. Under the gaze of the watching crowd, I tried twisting a few virtual knobs and buttons, still nothing. Unable to fix the problem, I basically threw him under the bus. 

“Looks like you’re going old, old school, man,” I said on mic.

And he did, the whole Night long. He rose…he more than rose…to the challenge. As one person wrote in the next day, “Tears filled my eyes many times and overflowed …such an enlightening and soul touching evening…”

Ah, adversity: the faithful companion of every Night.


Photo Credit:

Dark Road Diary, Part 30: “If my car was clean, I could come and get you.”

What kind of a world is it when… is a phrase often invoked in the face of a once-and-supposed good thing gone bad, the corruption of a formally (seemingly) innocent act, a kindness that gets dissected to see what cancer really lays beneath, or a eulogy for choices once easy now hamstrung by doubt.

Waiting out a layover in Chicago’s O’Hare airport en route to Boise, Idaho, I thought it’d prudent to call ahead to the hotel to let them know we’d be checking in late. The conversation with Jane the Hotel Clerk was standard front desk fare, but it veered suddenly when I inquired about an airport shuttle and was informed the hotel had none.

“If my car was clean, I could come and get you,” says the young voice on the other end of the line. I stumble a bit and asked her to repeat, stammering that it was a kind offer but way out of the line of duty “and, anyway, we are musicians with a lot of gear.”

“We’ll work it out,” she says and I find myself on the receiving end of a plan that includes a shift ending, a car cleaning, a co-worker, a plea not to tell anybody about the offer, and an exchange of cell numbers.

Should I have been so thrown? It was a small-town kindness, but is Boise a small town? Is it kind? One stranger offers another stranger a ride—there’s  something glorious there, and some shadowy thing right behind the glory. Optics, optics, optics is all I can think about. That and, this young woman shouldn’t be offering strange men a lift anywhere these days. “Let me talk this over with my partner,” I say, and beneath our masks Stephen and I whisper back-and-forth.

Let’s just say it: nobody knows the rules anymore.

“Could be a good caper,” SJ says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.
“Could be the Gods offering a little help in the face of adversity,” he says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.

What kind of world is it when you have to second-guess every surprising thing that floats your way? The answer: a world that demands you make the right choice – every time – and sometimes you have to choose for everyone.

In the end gently refused the offer, and in order to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thanks’ in the same move, I let her know that we would set aside a couple of tickets in her name at the door to this thing we’ve come to town to do, something called A Night of Grief & Mystery.
“Google it,” I texted.
“OMG… tysm!” she texted back. 

It took me a few seconds to figure out what the jumble of letters meant and I signed off as any good father would:
“Make good choices, Jane.”

Boise, Idaho, Sept. 13, 2:00am

Dark Road Diary, Part 29: Gig Mechanics

Waiting side stage, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, Ireland. Photo: Adam Bowman

The arrow doesn’t know
The target or the bow
It’s born in air
Dangerously unaware.

It flies a faithful arc
Through skies light and dark
No promise it finds its’ mark
But it flies anyway.

From “Arrow” ©2022, Gregory Hoskins

Let’s say you have a good notion of what you’re supposed to be doing with your life — some use the term “a calling”, I don’t — and let’s say that you’re lucky enough to have been supported in a myriad of mysterious ways to do that thing. Fine. Now let’s say that because it has the thumbprint of a certain kind of meant-to-be-ness, you find yourself with one foot in the ethereal world of assignment and the other in the more recognizable grind of keeping up your end of the day-to-day deal: a collection indescribable tasks I’ve come to call the Gig Mechanics, the tending to the invisible parts of the machine that allows the Gig to exist.

How you relate to the Gig Mechanics is a choice, somewhat based on your natural inclinations towards detail. Personally, I see it as a dance. Thing is, I’m not a very good dancer. I often end up looking like someone in a dance marathon who has hung in to the bitter end, like a barely-there shell of a person, a ghost leaning on an unfortunate partner. It isn’t pretty.

Get close to someone who is in the thick and thrall of such an endeavour and you are certain to see someone with all the beauty scrubbed away, all the elegance, grace, and assuredness so readily seen from a distance now burned or bleached off of them. Recently, I passed through UK Customs in Heathrow and caught a glimpse of myself in the photo that is snapped as you pass through an e-gate. It was shocking. I looked like I’d been dragged behind the plane across the Atlantic, the toll of the pandemic years’ worth of record making and film making and finally prepping for our tour in the UK and Ireland as the world lurched awkwardly out of plague mode resulting in a mountain of worrying and second-guessing every plan…all of it in plain view in that official photo. I’m not complaining (as my friend SJ says) I’m remembering.

But it was a rewarding tour, by most accounts. No one got Covid; the response from the intrepid folk who helped and /or attended confirmed that there is still a place for something called a Night of Grief & Mystery; and we sold out 8 of our 10 Nights. Mind you, we did those 10 Nights in 11 days, thus this post you are reading. Here are a few things I learned:

  1. 10 gigs in 11 nights isn’t heroic or quixotic. It’s stupid.
  2. Booking a venue based on a picture from the internet is playing sonic russian roulette.
  3. You can lean on people, but lean too hard and they will understandably crack.
  4. Weather systems in a van are like those on the coast: they change every five minutes.
  5. Eating a burger in a gas station parking lot after midnight can be a life affirming thing.
  6. While the previous statement is true, having nutritious food at the gig would be nothing less than an act of love. I seem to have forgotten this.
  7. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you are part of a ceremony, not a concert performance.
  8. It could be that The Hands that guide these things occasionally see your blind spots and provide a Justin Bonnet (road wrangler) or a Charlie Scaife (sound man) to help smooth the way.

To the band – Lisa Hodgson, Colleen Hodgson, Adam Bowman – and to my compañero SJ, a thousand apologies for the pace, a deep bow for being unwitting but willing partners in the awkward dance with the Gig Mechanics, and a thousand thanks for the glimpse into the possibilities. 

This could be good.



It’s possible, I suppose, that a song can be about something, but the song doesn’t have to be that thing. This song, for instance, Take a Little Walk: It’s a song about a lifelong fear of the dark, about a night I spent in the woods behind our farm in an attempt to quell that fear when I was about 30. It made it onto a recording called Surgery in 1996 and then it sort of refused to be performed until it began a concert broadcast/recording I did for the CBC in 2007 called Pleasure & Relief: A Live Concert Recording, this version with a string arrangement. Eight years later, Stephen Jenkinson reluctantly peeled the cellophane from a copy of that recording, put the disc in a crappy boom box, pressed play, heard the string prelude, then the song. All the Songs of Love is an account of what happened for him next.

The first tour we did together in 2015 was to be our last. We had no designs on a long-term thing, and he said as much from every stage as we went along. An old theatre in Austin, Texas, is the first time he performed All The Songs of Love, though that’s not what he called it. It came out of his mouth as he was introducing me midway through the night, and it completely caught me off guard. Maybe him, too. On that old stage my song took on a new life, transubstantiated into a meditation on dying, leaving only the appearances of the original song intact.

The song for me now is both these things: my account of taking 
…a little walk through them fields
Gonna carry me gently for my heart to heal

Gonna find me a demon in a dark, dark wood
You can’t come with me, though I wish you could.

and Stephen’s poetic response to that chorus, which to him was
the sound of how, 
on bended knee, with knitted brow, 
you can approach that little pile of regrets that mark you,
the altar of stones which is the ending of days.



From the film Dead Starling Session. A still from All the Songs of Love. That’s Adam Bowman on drums, Colleen Hodgson on bass. Not pictured here is Lisa Hodgson on keys and vocals.

The Dark Road Diary, Part 28: 60 Seconds to Come Undone

As it happens from time to time, we head down a path towards something we are certain of only to arrive uncertain of who we are, where we landed, and why we left our locked-down inevitability in the first place. This is the 60 Second Answers to me. 

The whole thing was my idea, meant to be quick, artful, honest, and immediate— just SJ and I in the stale air of Dead Starling studio. On the cusp of releasing two new recordings, it was a creative response making peace with the internet’s demand for content (a reality if you set up shop on the thing). It was part potshot at the short attention span of internet culture and part experiment to see what would happen if we clamped a ridiculous time limit on addressing big questions of a personal nature. And privately, it was going to be a place I could flex a new-found/hard-won conviction that I “knew a thing or two”, the byproduct of a truce with my otherwise unmoored mind while I was mixing DARK ROADS and ROUGH GODS in the late summer.

It backfired. It became painfully obvious—even as the first round of questions were being shot— that I was not who I thought I was, not capable of what I thought I was, didn’t know what I thought I knew. I wasn’t prepared for the storm in the eye of the question, and the videos are a record of a man slowly coming to terms with a panic that obliterates. The other man in the videos –SJ– has the unenviable task of repeatedly watching that sun come up on the man, the dawning of understanding “there are a lot of things we are not going to get to be”.

At 56 years old, I’m coming to recognize the consequence of knowing and the despair of not knowing. This is a weighty thing in a time where that despair can easily become a wildfire. The fuel is uninhibited access to that kind of ‘information’ that is mostly opinion, parading as fact. Neither of those is a story. And that’s what we’re yearning for, I think: stories. Not certainties. And they’re in short supply. Right now the story includes me developing the skill of being gracefully uncertain of things, making friends with NOT knowing.

There’s the storm in the eye of the question. And it might be that NOT knowing is the calm in the eye of that storm.


The Dark Road Diary, Part 27: A Few Of My Favourite (Coveted) Things

Welcome to that plea for all your unsuspected kin,
Travelling that lost nation road even now.
We are modern, we are homeless, and we are confused by freedom.
And so we’ve left them to themselves, or to each other, or to their god,
As we ourselves seem now to have been left.*

*From Invocation, by Stephen Jenkinson, from ROUGH GODS

Lisa Hodgson and Stephen Jenkinson, Dead Starling Studio, August, 2020.

You know the cliche: the songwriter hears a great line and mutters to no one, “Damn…wish I’d written that.”  It’s a private moment, not a proud one. There aren’t many words or lyrics that I’ve wished I’ve written, not because there haven’t been a great many lines I wish I’d written (there have!), but because I understood early on that it was a waste of a good wish. Instead, I figured out how to get inspired….try to locate something in my own learning that gave me the same response as the thing I coveted…or at least aim at it.

We are modern, we are homeless, and we are confused by freedom is one of those coveted lines. I wish it was mine. I really do. It’s perceptive, elegant, simple, dead true, heartbreaking and comforting all at the same time. It’s a keen summation of the current world. The line explains a lot about why things are the way they are but doesn’t have to explain itself. It promises no change, offers no hope, is not yet another call to yet another toothless revolution. It’s a scathing indictment and as gentle and non-judgmental as a thing could be. On stage, making things up as we went along, I came to always wrap that line in something different from the rest of the Invocation. It became something we aimed at, that line did. A gathering point, and a turning point.

I’ve been absolutely wary of trying to turn any of SJ’s stuff into a song. The alchemy of “prose into song” is dangerous and there isn’t a word that has been written that can withstand any mishandling. When we decided to make an “echo” version of the Invocation for ROUGH GODS, we began with the idea of having it read by another voice. We tried me reading it, and I was awful. Then came the notion of having it intoned, and then, finally, sung. We first settled on Lisa reading and then the question: what if she sang it? I was resistant to the whole notion, but applied myself to the situation.

Wariness aside, I’d long privately thought that were I to try turn some of SJ’s text into song, I would aim at My Favourite Coveted Line so, naturally, it was the first thing to emerge as promising. Through twists and turns in different arrangements, it became what you hear …an R&B inflected lament to the way things are. All the other melodies that came to be for the other sections of The Exegesis owe their existence to the fact that this section made itself known to be worthy of the rest of the effort. Recording is rarely easy, in my experience, and Lisa and I had to try a few different approaches to the singing of all the sections in The Exegesis over the months, with Stephen chiming in from afar. When she sang this verse, though, we all knew it had found itself and no tinkering was needed, and the challenge became having everything else sound as at home with itself. I think we found our way through pretty well.

Having the coveted thing is rarely as satisfying as the coveting would promise. Be it a lyric, a haircut, a cool brown leather jacket from Germany that your producer was given by someone famous, or (and this is important) knowledge or wisdom from someone who maybe has seen more life than you: something earned is better. It will take you further and will be more valuable to those to whom you will eventually leave it. But the coveted thing might be something to aim at, a clue as to where to rummage around in your own life for something you’ve missed noticing. Careful, though: might not be what you expected. Or wanted. Or wished for. Another classic cliche.

Listen to an excerpt from Exegesis, a couple of the sections leading up to the Coveted Line.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 26


Listen to Come The Romans now. Recorded live in Los Angeles, Nov 21, 2019.

We sat on the side of the road somewhere in a car, me making an ineloquent case for turning a massive chunk of writing into a morsel for NOGM, him politely listening.

My case was this: Part of my dismay at living in the modern world stems from not having a relationship to the story of how things got to be this way. We act like a people that knows something is wrong, but we can’t quite put our finger on it, and we’d rather not see what lurks behind the myth we’ve created of “us”, a myth created to ease the nagging discomfort of our homelessness. When the shit keeps hitting the fan, this dislocation cripples any chance of a graceful response to difficult times. In a free fall, every move is a flailing, desperate one and in daily life, that thrashing translates into cruelty, injustice, intolerance, entitlement…arguable hallmarks of western civilization.

My job in the NOGM enterprise can be described as creating a temporary container for SJ’s text. Initially, I set the words against a slow chord progression based on a song I’d been trying to write since 2014, What The Masters Have. I think we tried it a few times but found it to be a slog. So, I ditched the chord cycle in favour of a two-chord riff, traded the ballad tempo for a “slinky-assed” groove, and made room to be able to invent vocal parts on the fly depending on how the text was unfurling on any given Night. What The Masters Have was retooled and inserted as an interlude between Come The Romans and it’s conclusion, Come The West, and appears that way on DARK ROADS.

There is so much that is good and sane in this track. This excavation of the wreckage of cultural shame is, in its’ own way, comforting in that “Well, now I can at least see the monsters coming“ kind-of-way. Once you catch a glimpse the bigger picture, you can start living your end of things more responsibly. Anything else is just yelling at the storm.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 25

Implode. explode. unload. reload.

Most of the last 200 days or so, I’ve ridden the bike to this door and contended with making a record. Two records, actually.  Its a computer based thing these days, recording is, and the Mac says that so far there are 10,551 separate files that make up these records. I’m not sure if that is too many or too few, but each of those files was created by a keystroke that was in turn created by a decision that came from a kind of formula like this: Implode. Explode. Unload. Reload.

To begin, you set charges at the foundation of what is comforting and comfortable in your understanding of what you have built in the past. Lean on the detonator. The idea needs to come down so that something new can take its place. That is, if you want to make something you haven’t already made.

You take that rubble and apply an unearthly force to it so that all the pieces are suspended, and more importantly all the spaces between those pieces can be wholly accessed.

A kind of editing…convinced you are right, you go fully down one road, get lost for a time, refuse directions if they are offered, and finally return to start again.  You let go of more than  you keep, hoping that you’ve discovered what is useful.

Reassemble the pieces. This may be the hardest part: Agree to repeat the above steps until enough is burned away and what is left is something that is recognizable by you as the idea you didn’t know you had. 

Making something that isn’t being asked for is like looking for something that you don’t know you’ve lost yet. Its only when you find it that you know you didn’t have it.

Equally, it’s like waiting to be found by something that doesn’t know it is looking for you. Either way, it won’t feel like you have much say in the matter, so if power is your thing, this formula of mine won’t be for you. The work of it is making yourself available to find or be found.

To pre-order the recordings, go here:

The Dark Road Diary: Part 24

part laboratory, part stage, and part sanctuary: Not a safe place, either. Sane doesn’t always equal safe.

Modest modern recording: a couple thousand square feet in an old factory beside a river and 10 meters from railway tracks; black mould on the walls and an asbestos covered boiler furnace in the back ; electricity flows in—feeding thoroughly modern computers, digital audio interfaces, and accelerators that form the core of the studio tech—through a transformer that sits on the ground in front of the electrical panel and manages to keep itself from a puddle that regularly appears when the rain comes. 

None of this is sexy. 

But the act of creating ‘something from nothing’ is, so the space and the cold machinery become beautiful by some strange alchemy and weave themselves into the DNA of the recordings made here. It is most fitting that a recording like Dark Roads, Rough Gods is being made at the intersection of High-Tech and Dilapidated. The irony of wrestling something human from all the silicon chips, copper wire, neoprene, alternating current, and random access memory in the belly of a soon-to-be condo that was the love-child of hubris and 20th century manufacturing…is not lost on me. 

I’ve always thought Nights of Grief & Mystery was a thoroughly urban creation, contending as it does with the dying of what we thought was a good idea: us, our ways, our crowning achievements, our mastery over the mysteries. This is the right place to be to try to make a record no one is asking for, that can at least converse with the times it is being born in to.

Recording is no replacement for playing live, but things being as they are, this place has become part laboratory, part stage, and part sanctuary. Not an escape, mind you, but a sanctified sane place. Not a safe place, either. Sane doesn’t always equal safe.

I am grateful for it all.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 23

Wherein I wander the roads of the Heintzman grand .

Not Every Dark Road Is Outside Your Door or How I Got Used To Not Knowing.

Part of the interior landscape of the Heintzman grand piano, snapped while working on a track for the new NOGM recording.

Not every dark road is outside your door. 

Years of chasing songs through an entirely interior landscape has taught me that.  It’s a deal at the crossroads every time, and every song feels like it is the last thing I’ll ever write.  

Every song begins with what you can see, what you are sure of, and then inevitably slips into the darkness of what you don’t know. The fringe benefit of this kind of contract—one that you willingly enter into over and over— is that you get used to being in the condition of not knowing, used to not being so sure about everything. But it can also clarify and fortify what you do know. And you’re not writing fiction, so you can’t just make shit up and have it stand in for something like the truth…the ‘truth’ here being the actual road, you see. 

You stray from the road, you stray from the truth.  

Now, you might say that there is something to be gained by straying from the road, and you might be right, but that’s not the deal I made.  You stray from the truth and you are, by definition, lying.  And what’s to be gained by lying?  Usually, it’s power.  Sometimes it’s self-preservation. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

So, you strike the deal, stick to the road and not every song is useful, not every song is a gem, but every covenant is kept and that is saying something.  The promise to keep going, to keep looking, though you don’t know what you’ll see, if you’ll see, or where you might end up, and all for no guarantee of any return on the investment…that’s a skill that will serve you.  In the light and in the dark.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 22

Wherein I wander the chronically unfamiliar .

Estranjero: Not Unlike This Recording

The invitation sounded exotic: bring some gear to a beautiful house in the foothills of the central valley of Oaxaca, Mexico, for a few weeks, work on the new NOGM record, get some back-end tour business done, maybe get some writing time in.  I assembled a substantial recording rig meticulously packed in foam for flying and arranged to rent what I couldn’t bring.  The kit bag contained instruments I’ve not really used before but was eager to explore…synths and the like.  We got down to work quickly, establishing an unnatural rhythm of 12-14 hours a day in a self-imposed quasi-monastic setting with one daily meal.

Along with the promise of focussed work time were sun and warmth, birdsong, the absence of crunching snow underfoot, a view of greenery outside the window and mountains in the distance, and a taste of cultural life away from the tourist centre.  All of that appeared, all of it good, all of it exotic.  And all of it alienating. 

I am a stranger here in Mexico as much as I am a stranger in the landscape of this new record.  Mexico seems to me like a wild place, a fever dream version of what I know. There are features that are recognizable but those bits are embedded in the chronically unfamiliar.  Not unlike this new recording. 

The unfamiliarities shred my ego.  Not unlike this recording. 

There is green, true, and the occasional explosion of colour from some adventurous blossoms, but much of the landscape is dormant brown, waiting for the rains.  Not unlike this recording.

I crossed the border willingly, paid the dues, became the estranjero, and have felt exposed ever since.  Not unlike this recording.

We didn’t need to come here to do this, and maybe home would have had its advantages.  I hate to admit that I’m a bit undone by how out of phase I have felt down here.  But there is an up-side: when you are a stranger in a strange place, you are offered the chance to employ a part of you that gets dulled by comfort and familiarity.  Humility becomes a valuable communication tool, as does the ability to be kind, and your ears tune into clues and cadences in noises that sound foreign and this helps discern the way forward.  You adapt. Not unlike this recording. 

And maybe you discover you don’t need a lot of what you thought you needed, and you clarify what is necessary.  And you make something good out of all that apprehension and unease.

Not unlike this recording.


Photo: gh, Oxaca, March 1, 2020

The Dark Road Diary: Part 21, The Last Post

Wherein we end the Nights of Grief & Mystery 2019 Tour.

A packed house. Amongst friends. A good end…or pause, as the case may be.

Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto, Nov 28, 2019

To my companeros on the road: Adam Bowman, drums; Colleen Hodgson, bass; Lisa Hodgson, keys/vox; Emily Adam and Ana Elia Ramon-Hidalgo AKA “The Choir”; Charlie Scaife, FOH Sound Engineer; Gabe Jenkinson, Justin Bonnet, and Keshira haLev Fife, supreme guides and wranglers on the road and in the venues; and of course Stephen Jenkinson, the “why” of the thing.

One would be hard pressed to find better people with whom to travel a good chunk of the western hemisphere. Thank you for commitment to every Night we played, for your care of the vision, and your patience while being chewed up by the machinery of the tour.

The last thanks (and maybe the most thanks) goes to the least seen: James Nowak, Lead Organizer of NOGM. A mind-numbing mountain of detail, a soul-crushing numbers crunch-fest, an impossible balancing act of pragmatism and dreaming, you were a joy to behold when you crowed with pride at finding mistake after mistake during reconciliations with venues, van rental companies, lighting companies, sound companies, insurance companies, US government agencies, hotel chains (aided immensely by Ana Elia in that task), airlines…the list is endless…and you were an equal joy to behold when a mistake was ours and with humility and grace you owned it and repaired what could be and moved ever forward.

Nothing of what has happened these last 12 months could have happened without you, James. We all are in your debt as much as we were in your care everyday.

With love for you all,

Photo: A. Burashko, from the cheap seats, end of The Night.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 20

Somewhere in California or Arizona. People of The Tarmac.

The Black Mamba II, 70’s style.

Four of us drove from Santa Fe to L.A. over two days while the other five flew. A strange snow/ice storm in Flagstaff on Day 1 was the only taxing part of the trip, and this day had us under blue skies mostly, which was a great way to see this desert for my first time. I was happy to not be in airports and planes and in fine company in the van. “People of The Tarmac” is what we called ourselves.

I neglected to gas up in Needles (where we spent the night) and had to find gas between towns. Enter: this gas station. Just off the interstate on the old and famous/infamous Route 66. Paid DOUBLE for the pleasure of filling up here. That would be $6.49 USD/gallon.

This photo made it all worth it, though. It looks like I’ve been painted into the van, 70’s style, minus the scantily clad, sword-wielding, huge-breasted sci-fi woman.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 19

Vancouver, BC. Crammed in a tiny, gas-guzzling, shitty U-Haul with an uncertain transmission and careening down Interstate 5, I thought, You’re 55, man. What in the hell are you doing?

A bittersweet reality check.

This image was taken about 24 hours after walking off a stage in Portland (and a sublime Night it was…just the two of us on stage, the first time in a few years). The last US show. The intervening hours went something like this:

Van 1 (The Black Mamba II) returned and a U-Haul picked up in Portland;
The gear moved from one truck to the other;
A 6.5 hour solo drive to Vancouver, BC. (a piece of cake after the 10, 12, and 16 hour odysseys undertaken during the tour);
The rented gear accounted for and returned to the backline place;
Extra stuff packed and shipped;
A hotel found;
Another hour drive to the hotel;
Arif The Concierge employed to bring a couple weeks worth of tour tailings up to the room while the U-Haul is dropped off;
U-Haul dropped off a with minutes to spare;
Cab back to hotel;
Grab a chicken club with side salad from hotel bar;
Eat it in the room;
The remaining gear re-distributed in a delicate operation involving 4 pieces of luggage and a luggage weigh scale, which I won’t fly without;
A mound of travel receipts compiled and recorded and tallied, numbers sent to headquarters.

This image is what the end of that 24 hours looks like.

I admit I reserved these tasks for myself and did much the same at the front and back ends of all the legs of this 2019 tour—which, by the way, is kind of turning into a world tour if things keep going like they have been: 2020 is already starting to shape up into something we hadn’t foreseen. I did so not out of a twisted messianic/masochistic inclination but with good intentions: to pull my weight, to be a team player, to ease the way for the others on the road with me…and because I think I may have a touch of the Control Freak in me. I think I may have inherited my mother’s mild OCD.

This last 24-hour chunk brought with it some clarity, though. A bittersweet reality check: I am no longer 32 years old and can no longer operate as though I am. Crammed in a tiny gas guzzling shitty U-Haul with an uncertain transmission and careening down Interstate 5, I thought, You’re 55, man. What in the hell are you doing? These shitty seats are made for young people moving their lives across the country, excited for what lies ahead. Not old men running on fumes, in over their head, and trying to tie up loose ends to get home for another show. Time to get elegant.

Graceful, is what I probably meant. I had more than my share of clunky, graceless moments on tour (just ask those that were in the van when I hit a parked car after the concert in L.A.). I’ve been trying to attend to these tours in a more graceful fashion. I do believe I’ve been getting better at it since we began over 4 years ago, but I’m aiming at a version…a vision…of myself: something like Gene Kelly tiptoeing amidst puddles, or Fred Astaire putting fires out, nimble and graceful.

A man can dream.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 18

Portland, OR, wherein I contemplate the price of “a beautiful drive”.

How to love a place.

One of our hosts here in Portland, OR, calls this “Tank City” and it is the reason they will be moving soon. It is directly across the river, just waiting for an earthquake to have it’s way with whatever mystery is contained in those tanks.

Beautiful shot, though, right?

No, of course it isn’t.

We’ve covered over 4000 miles on this leg, through the Rockies, along the ocean, through the Mojave dessert, through wind storms and snow storms and rain, under blue skies and by the cover of night, under full moons and through inky dark air. All of it “beautiful” except for the tortured sections of that very ground that allowed for our travel and participation in the concerts: the asphalt, the pipelines, the power generation stations and their feeder lines strung up on towers as far as the eye could see, the gas stations, the lakes of California forlornly and shockingly low still allowing recreational boating and surrounded by drought afflicted hills covered with dried trees, planted firewood now, just waiting for a spark. Begging for it, maybe, to put them out of their misery.

Yeah…I understand better now: if you really love a place on this planet, the best way to love it is by staying away.

That we–the band and I–are complicit in this is not lost on me. I don’t know what to do about that. Is it enough that The Nights  are my shot at redemption? Probably not.

I’m guessing I will have a lot to answer to when the time comes. Meanwhile, there is a crow yelling at me from the tree I’m sitting under. I’ll try to explain myself, beginning with him…or her.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 17

Santa Fe, NM, wherein I finally play solo trumpet in front of people. Only took 23 years.

The Terrified Trumpeteer.

When I was 32 years old, I came across a wrecked trumpet in a shed. I wrestled a decent note from it and slowly fell in love with the idea of being able to play it. I always thought trumpet was cool…cooler than me, cooler than guitar…and I wanted to be cool. I though maybe learning how to play would help my musicality as I’d always been afraid of playing single note lines on the guitar and the trumpet is notoriously single note-ey. I quickly learned it was a crummy horn and bought a student model. I carried the horn everywhere with me in the car, playing when I could, and made a deal with myself that I’d play in front of people by the time I was 35. Then 40. Then 45. Then 50. I snuck it on a few recordings, into a few shows in places I could hide it.

Last night in Santa Fe, we decided to add a piece of SJ’s at the top of the Night and I came up with the foolish idea I would open the piece with solo horn. This was before we knew the house was standing room only I. A rather large theatre. In the dressing room, I explained my idea to SJ and attempted to play what I had in mind, bleating and squeaking all over the place, a comical sound. We broke up laughing and I said, “Maybe this is a bad idea…”

After the laughter died down, Stephen said, “No man, I think it’s great! It’s brave.”

I counted my blessings to be working with a man that valued that kind of bravery at the risk of a very awkward couple of minutes in front of a packed house and the derailment of a good story the trumpet was trying to set up. Yes, I counted my blessings and privately to rued the day I ever thought I could play in front of people. When you get nervous singing, you can still breathe through it. When you get nervous playing guitar, you can still breathe through it. When you get nervous playing trumpet, well…you are too busy breathing through the trumpet and there is no place to calm your breath. To boot, your nervousness shows up in your lips (embouchure, it is called) and your lips are doing almost all the work. Trumpet is risky business.

This photo was snapped by drummer Adam Bowman minutes before going on stage. What you see here is a terrified non-trumpet playing man going over in his mind how he will communicate to Stephen on stage he is bailing from playing trumpet.

In the end, I didn’t bail. It wasn’t perfect (like it is when I play alone in the car or studio) but it was brave, I guess. Maybe next time it’ll be perfect. If there is a next time.

The Dark Road Diary: Part 16.2

Denver, CO: wherein I find shelter from the shitstorm when I meet McKaylee, The Strong Trouperette.

The Strong Trouperette.

Screwed Sometimes Addendum: Later that same day…

More gods throwing more marbles on the ground…almost literally. Charlie twists his knee getting out of the van at the venue; the van at the venue is parked a considerable distance from the venue itself; word from the venue is we can’t bring our truck up to the load-in door; local sound crew/gear and band  loading in at same time, not quite enough people to ease the burden of moving a mountain of gear; I’m not sure whether to be angry or grateful when I see McKaylee—the slight 11 year-old daughter of our Denver host—rolling massive, heavy amp racks and speaker stacks up a frustrating incline on a pedestrian-only walkway; the wrangling knee braces and ice, food, lighting, electricity, another @#%!! follow spot that needed pampering; and lastly, due to a glitch at the home office, our greenroom was more of a greenhouse, surrounded as it was by windows onto a part of the lobby and the aforementioned pedestrian walkway. All this—plus the previous 24 hours—in the face of the full house the Denver team manifested, much to our good fortune, and a testament to their hard work.

It seems that this dark Road Diary is a litany of challenges. Maybe the Dark Road is lined with challenges, or paved with them. It certainly seems to be that way. Still, that’s just one side of the endeavour…the challenges often pop up in the mechanics of the  proceedings. Even in the SNAFU’d course of the day, this can happen:

Upon seeing McKaylee trying to carry a big side table for the stage plus 2 paper bags full of greenroom stuff, I intercept her and finally introduce myself.

ME: Hey. I’m Gregory. What’s your name?


ME : It’s nice to meet you, McKaylee.

MCKAYLEE: It’s nice to meet you, too, Gregory.

Just those words of welcome, her young voice embroidered with kindness and respect—It’s nice to meet you, too, Gregory—was like coming across a calm eddy in a torrent of adult-onset bullshit. 

We redistribute her armload of stuff, put one of the bags and the table atop the last rolling amp rack, and begin the ascent to the venue door. Obviously, cups are falling, the table is falling, the drawer from the table is falling, and eventually I’m swearing.

ME: Sorry for swearing so much, I said.  I shouldn’t be swearing.

MCKAYLEE: It’s ok. I hang out with the Grade Eights. They always swear.

Great, I think to myself. I have the temperament of an American schoolchild when I’m under pressure.

I didn’t get to hang out much with McKaylee after that, but I did see her flit about sporting a tour tee shirt. I hope she keeps it for a long time, along with the memory of that day she helped a band stand on its feet and deliver what it had promised to her hometown after a long and trying day. 

Our brief meeting sliced open a vein of yearning to hear the voices of my own kids. I’ll be calling them as soon as the van stops rolling. Somewhere in New Mexico, I think.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 16

Salt Lake City, UT, and Denver, CO: wherein we undertake repairs to the van, a show that day, a night drive through the mountains, more driving through a windstorm the next day, a storm of a different sort at the venue etc etc etc…

Screwed Sometimes.

Imagine that you are travelling through the world, that you are floored with good intent, that you are proceeding as you imagine your ancestors might have done before the times of indenture and servitude, obeying the nap of the world, certain that real tinkers and gypsies would recognize you at once from across the fields and claim you as their errant kin, faithful to the fluster and wild sorrow of your days, faithful to the star chart conjured and cast on the wind blown night of your birth.

These days, that would make of you, among a fistful of other things, a – forgive this technical term from the road warrior lexicon – shit magnet. Do something that raises neither the hackles nor the ire of the regime, you’ll probably cruise through unscathed, no harm meant, no harm done. But call your outfit, oh, Night of Grief andMystery, and a couple of likelihoods might gather. 

You might be haunted across three states by a slow leak in a tire, be unnerved by it enough to go to three fix-it places on gig day and flirt with load-in disaster, only to be thwarted by the service sector and then be taken into the slip stream of human kindness by Andy, who does the job for free because you’re so far from home and because the necessary paperwork for it would mess with his joy at getting off work at noon, who with a princely flourish presents you with the culprit, the sheared-off business end of a wood screw.

Or you might pull into a service centre to give the band a pee stop and seek shelter from 60 MPH winds that are prompting the automated road signs to warn you off the road for the next 65 miles for fear of being blown over, and bring your choice of nutritionally questionable snacks to the counter for payment, where Flo is waiting to serve you in a head scarf and a breathing mask, both signs of someone with a wickedly compromised immune system courtesy of chemo or radiation, who in her irrepressible lilt asks where you’re heading (Denver) and why (a show) and for what kind of show (music) and what kind of music (hard to describe, as usual) and is it Dick Clark music or Johnny Cash music? That’s when it hits you that Flo has figured it out from the likely cliff edge of her life, that this gig is a kind of Man-in-Black thing that you can dance to.


The Dark Road Diary: Part 15

Spokane, WA: wherein we wake up in one country, almost don’t get into the next country, and prevail in a 105 year old theatre in a town we’ve never played.

The Night that almost wasn’t.

Resilience. I know…if you’ve been reading any of these Dark Road things, you’ll know that word has popped up a lot. 

It’s amazing to me that we wake up in the morning (assuming you do wake up) staring down the barrel of the day and have no idea whatsoever what is gunning for us or who will love us on the way to getting on the other side of the next gig, which is all I want to do: just let me get on the other side of the next gig, please.

Yesterday, a simple clerical error on Charlie’s visa had us detained at the border crossing with the likelihood of having to leave him behind…a heart-breaking prospect…and the rest of us being held until he was back in Canada. This is what I learned: mountains are immovable, that is true, but mountains are scalable. Once you get over the shock of the immovability of the thing, you can set yourself to climbing. Sometimes you reach for a handhold you know is there, sometimes you’re hoping your hand and foot finds a purchase. Sometimes you choose the wrong path and have to double back. There is a lot of swearing, apparently (though I wasn’t aware that I was dropping F-bombs all over the tiny waiting room of Border and Customs.) You pause, breathe, and make your next move in the general direction of “up”. 

In this case, the “next move up” was a gentle suggestion they contact the office responsible for the error. US border and customs people aren’t really into taking suggestions, but this person did…a little reluctantly, maybe…so all the more credit to that person. All breaths held as we danced delicately around ignoring our companeros in a second car pulling up not 5 feet from the little room the rest of us were in, involved in their own mountain drama, and finally an exhale watching them pull ahead and disappear down the road. 

It was never guaranteed we would get to the top of the mountain, but we did. Charlie got a new visa. We were all quiet in the van until SJ spoke about the consequence of words, of speaking aloud, and the root of the word “fate”. We pulled into a weird casino/ rest stop to gather ourselves and grab a bit of food, late for the load-in now. Someone yelled to me as we were walking out of the place: in his hand an envelope of cash I’d left in the bathroom. I looked at his hand, looked at his face, and back to his hand as it dawned on me what he was holding out to me. I took the envelope, held his eyes, shook his hand slowly, and assumed he knew how grateful I was. Didn’t say a word…neither of us.

The gig in Spokane had its challenges from the very beginning, and narrowly avoided being cancelled altogether.  No one could have seen what was gunning for us, nor could we see how we would be loved through to the other side. But we were. The venue was great, the people who wrangled the gig on the ground there were great, the pinch-hitter host brought in at the 11th hour was great, even the hotel was great. And the crowd was great, dancing in the aisles and with us all the way.

We were pretty good, too.