(I wrote this last night, but due to tech trauma, was unable to post until this morning – good thing SOMEONE in this household knows a thing or 2 about a thing or 2)
This past weekend, our campus/community radio station, CJSW, celebrated 25 years on the FM dial. To mark the occasion, they invited all kinds of local bands past and present to come and play a massive music fest in MacEwan Hall on campus. 25 bands, 25 bucks, 4 stages. One of my old bands was asked to perform, but sadly, we couldn’t make it happen as James is busy making a new record with his current band out in Vancouver.
There was a fairly sizable part of me that was sad that I was gonna miss playing the party at Mac Hall. I have never known our city without CJSW in it, and as a local musician, the station has been a huge source of inspiration, resources and support. I remember distinctly the first time they played Fire Engine Red – we pulled over to the side of the road and listened to the whole song, grinning from ear to ear, excited as little kids on Christmas. Our song was on the radio!! An unbelievable feeling, lemme tellya.
The best thing, though, about CJSW was the community it reared and fostered over the last quarter century. There are so many dear friends and memories I have that I can directly trace back to being a part of our scene, I could write a book. Bands break up, people move on, new bands form, the circle is endless – but I can safely say I would not be who I am today without the amazing music in our city and the personal relationships it has given me.
One band that means a great deal to me is Wagbeard, a loud, visceral punk rock combo that raised the bar for rock bands in Calgary. Smart, hooky and tight – they were the band that dudes loved ‘cuz their music would kick you in the face and make your ears bleed, and chicks loved ‘cuz you could dance all night and sing along to the choruses. I still don’t think Chris Temple, Steve Elaschuk, Pat Andrews and Trevor MacGregor (and Chris Faulkner before Trevor) know what kind of influence they had on the kids who went to their shows and on the bands that shared the stage with them. There was time when if you were on 17th Ave and had to make a right turn every time you saw a kid wearing a Wagbeard “77” t-shirt, you’d spend all day walking in a very tight circle. I got to know those guys pretty well over the years and I gotta say, you will never find a more stand-up bunch than them. Really, truly great human beings, all of ’em – which is why I was humbled when Chris Temple asked me a while back if I would get up and sing “TNT” with them at the CJSW party. I was floored. Wagbeard’s gonna play! Unbelievable! “Too Easy” and “Worth” and “Darwin Bonaparte” – live, one more time, and on top of that, Temple wanted me to get up and sing a tune. Of course I would, I said. Of course…
Except I wasn’t gonna be there. I had a gig as a sideman, helping to release John Rutherford’s album, one that I produced, and one that I am very proud of. As I do with terrible regularity, I neglected to check a calendar. Turns out John’s record release shows (Friday in Edmonton, Saturday in Calgary) were on the same weekend. In a way, it was serendipitous that FER was unable to get back together and I could do the right thing and play the gigs that I had committed to with John.
I can’t lie. As the date grew closer and the hype about the big show at UofC grew, I was pretty bummed about missing out. Not only would I miss the festivities, but I would miss my chance to sing a tune with one of my all-time favorite bands. This was on my mind all week, and on Wednesday as I was thinking of what tune to do for the Covers Project I thought it natural to pay tribute to the ‘Beard. “TNT” was a natural pick, not only because Chris had asked me to perform it with them, but because of the line in the chorus, “All I wanted was a friend to guide me through these turbulent times”. The ’90s were a very turbulent time for me, and Wagbeard as a musical force and as a group of friends most definitely helped me through it, although they never knew it, I don’t imagine.
The one aspect of the band that never got enough respect, I think, was Chris’ lyrics. They were always intelligent (if sometimes unintelligible), poetic, occasionally really funny and always thoughtful. There was never a throwaway line. Not to me, anyway, and his way of putting things was unlike any other’s. It still is today – check out this lyric from his new band, The Great Evil, as quoted in this month’s Beatroute–
“Well lately I’m so downhearted. These changes really changed me up, they nearly did me in, I nearly bought the drugs. Who would have thought my body would be so kind to her and so mean to me… ”
And so, last Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning), I made a recording of “TNT”, a great song with a great lyric.
Anyway, this past Friday night, I was gigging in Edmonton with John, and when we arrived, I found out through a friend of mine up there that Wagbeard was playing a show at a local bar, a tune-up for the show in Calgary the following night. As it happened, my gig was done early, and I was able to race across town to catch what turned out to be the last 5 songs of their set. Pat saw me in the crowd and said “Hey Lorrie – you know this one… get up here!”, and so I got up and sang “TNT” with the boys. It probably wasn’t very good (Wagbeard songs are hard to sing, believe me), but whatever. I got to do it after all. It felt so good, i can’t describe it. After the show, it was great fun to hang out and have a few drinks and catch up with everyone, and then head to a pizza by the slice joint to fill up on doughy late-night goodness, and to act like a bunch of idiots like it was 1994 again. It really meant a lot to me, and I am not ashamed to say that I shed a couple tears of joy before going to sleep, re-hashing the night’s events in my mind.
The last thing Pat and Chris said to me before parting ways on the snowy street at 3 AM in Edmonton was this, “After your gig tomorrow night, get in a cab and get up to the University. We’ll save “TNT” for the end, and if you make it, we’ll get you up.”
The gig with John last night was awesome. The crowd was great, the rest of the band was great, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly (I’m new at this sideman thing). It was done at midnight, and Wagbeard was scheduled to go onstage at the Mac Hall Ballroom at 12:30. I raced up there, and caught the whole set, which sounded like they hadn’t missed a beat in the intervening 12 years. Again, Pat saw me in the crowd and I was asked up to sing. I think I did a marginally better job the 2nd time around, but really, it doesn’t matter. I got off the stage and they cranked into “Helluva Way to Die”. If I had died right then (and believe me, I almost killed myself screaming the words to “TNT”), it would have been a hell of a way to die, for sure.
In the version here, of course, I screwed the lyrics up – those of you that are Wagbeard freaks, I know the acronym in the first verse is “RPG” and not “RGB”, but I sang it wrong. So there… (another reason why Chris’ lyrics are so great – “RPG” could mean “rocket-propelled grenade” or “role-playing game”, both of which would make sense in the context of the tune. I have it on fairly good author
ity that it is the former, but who knows for sure – Temple ain’t talking).
There’s no way I could replicate the awesome power of the band, so I thought I’d strip it down to a bare-bones acoustic version. I listen to it now, 4 nights later, and it sounds more melancholic than necessary, but considering my mood at the time, I hope it’s understandable. I realize that I may sound like a bit of a sentimental fool in this post, but if that’s the case, I’m 100% OK with that.
(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)