Ramblings

Me and the Boss (Part 2) - On the Road with Bruce Springsteen 

It was the fall of 1984. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” had been released that summer and it was already well on its way to becoming a humongous, smash record. (It sold 15 million copies that year, making it the top selling album of the year, eventually selling over 30 million copies worldwide.) “Dancing In The Dark” was all over the radio and MTV. 

I’ve written previously that, when I was a kid, Bruce Springsteen was my favorite songwriter and a big inspiration for me as a young musician. I’d heard that his live concerts were legendary so when the radio announced that Springsteen and the E-Street Band would be coming to the Vancouver Coliseum, I knew that I absolutely had to be there. 

But there was a small problem. Tickets were going on sale immediately and were only being sold in person at the Coliseum. No phone orders. (And of course, no internet in 1984.) I was just starting my sophomore year at the University of British Columbia, which happened to be on the complete opposite side of town from the Coliseum. Miles away. It literally couldn’t have been farther away and still be in the same city. And to make things worse, there was a bus strike on in Vancouver, and I didn’t have a car. What could I do? I started walking and hitch-hiking. 

By the time I got there, a couple of hours later, there was already a reallllllly long line of people snaking its way through the fairgrounds where the Coliseum is located, and it was immediately clear that the vast majority of the people waiting in the queue were going to be out of luck. As I got closer, I saw Marvin, a guy from my high school graduating class, standing in line, wearing the uniform of our small town: jean jacket with brown corduroy collar, blue jeans and black boots. He was a good guy, Marvin, but he wasn’t gonna get any tickets. 

I’m not proud of what I did next, but on the other hand I can’t say I have any regrets about it either. I worked my way into the back side of a some bushes close to the box office, crawled through the underbrush until I came out the other side – where I was now a whole lot closer to the front of the line. 

Despite limiting tickets to 4 per person, by the time I reached the ticket window the show was almost sold out. I bought 4 tickets in the nose bleeds with cash I’d earned playing in a top 40 band that summer. A few minutes later, they closed the box office - the show was sold out. But I had tickets and I was going to see the Boss! 

It was an epic 4-hour show, the kind that Springsteen had become famous for. The encore itself lasted for 90 minutes, in itself as long as many other concerts. Every single person in the building was on their feet the entire time, dancing, singing, rejoicing. 

Memory flashes: the roar of the crowd as the lights went down and the band took the stage. A bone shaking backbeat from mighty Max Weinberg to kick things off followed by the anthemic guitar riff from “Born In The USA’. Chilling cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped”. Bruce sliding across the stage on his knees to finish Tenth Avenue Freezeout in an embrace with Clarence. Nils Lofgren on a trampoline attempting a flip during his guitar solo. Unsuccessfully! Ending with the Detroit Medley, Travelling Band, Twist and Shout, and, even though it was just October, finally wrapping up with “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”. 

After that concert I had the very romantic idea that I was going to follow the tour around and see as many shows as I could. I’d heard about fans who’d seen hundreds of shows. I was a teenager and didn’t have a whole lot of cash, but I’d read “On The Road”, so I thought I’d take a page from Kerouac and hitch-hike between cities, sleep rough to save money and see how far I could go. 

A day or two later I found myself in Tacoma, Washington where the E-Street Band was scheduled to do a couple of back-to-back shows. After taking care to hide my backpack in the brush beneath a freeway overpass, I went down the hill to the Tacoma Dome to haggle with the scalpers. 

It was another great show, the set list much the same as Vancouver, but it felt a lot different being there alone, a kid with not much travel experience in a strange city and another country. Even surrounded by 15,000 people, I was aware of how alone I was. 

After another 4-hour show I made my way back to the overpass and found that I’d hidden my backpack a little too well. The bushes I’d noted as landmarks looked remarkably similar to all the other bushes now that it was pitch black. I searched for half an hour becoming more and more panicky until, with relief, I finally found my stuff. I crawled into my sleeping bag, shoved a black toque like the one Jack Nicholson wore in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” on my head, and, there on the hill, looking down on the Tacoma Dome, to the sound of trucks and cars hauling ass down the I5, I fell asleep.    

I awoke the next morning to some unwelcome news: scrolling across the electronic billboard in front of the Tacoma Dome was the announcement that the next show had been postponed. (I found out later that Bruce had come down food poisoning.) So I had some time to kill. I bummed around Tacoma for a bit, took the ferry to Vashon Island, where I sprung for a youth hostel as the nights were getting colder and colder. 

The rescheduled date arrived and while getting my ticket from the scalpers, I overheard them talking about the next tour date. There were quite a few professional scalpers following the tour as well, and I think they were making pretty good bank. Next up on the itinerary was Oakland and word among the scalpers was that a lot of them were giving that one a pass. I got the strong impression that Oakland (at that time) wasn’t the safest place. 

I decided that was enough for me. I was running out of money and I’d already missed a week of school. I was tired, I was lonely. I loved the music, but I missed my baby. So with a silent apology to Jack Kerouac, I spent the rest of my money on a Greyhound Bus ticket and beat it back to Vancouver. Maybe the road wasn’t for me.

Me and the Boss (Part 1) 

I was 13 when I found the first love of my life. My parents had given me a little transistor radio, black, about 10 inches in size, that I think probably came from Radio Shack. It was a ticket to another world. Music was always playing in our house – my dad had the radio constantly tuned to CBC FM, which played classical music non-stop during the day, and the opera from the Metropolitan in New York on Saturdays. But once I had my own radio, I could explore the airwaves and discover what became my first true passion: pop songs, rock songs, the music that would inspire me, and ultimately lead me to spend my life making music. 

I listened to that little radio night and day. I also had a small portable cassette recorder that I would put next to the radio speaker so that when a song came on that I liked, I could quickly press record and tape the song (complete with DJ intro) to listen to over and over. The fidelity was terrible. The passion was off the charts. 

I started with AM radio. In Canada, the radio stations are mandated to play a certain percentage of Canadian artists, so I was introduced to the Canadian tradition of singer-songwriters: Gordon Lightfoot told of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”, Bruce Cockburn was “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, Dan Hill moved me with “Sometimes When We Touch”. But after hearing “Brass In Pocket” by the Pretenders for the umpteenth time in the same day (it was in heavy, heavy rotation!) in desperation I flipped the switch to FM and found the FOX. 

CFOX-FM out of Vancouver, Canada had the slogan “The Fox Rocks!” Their schtick at the time was to play the first part of a disco song and then rip it off the turntable to the sound of machine gun fire. And it was on the FOX that I first heard this singer, his songs were powerful and passionate, he had a unique mumbling way of singing, his band featured the piano (my first instrument) prominently, and his lyrics were intelligent and emotional. Every time I’d hear one of his songs, I’d wait until the end of the set for the DJ to come on and tell me the name of the band, but I’d never seemed to be able to catch who it was.  I’d try and sing the songs for my friends at school, imitating his style, asking “who the heck is this”? 

That singer that so captured my imagination was Bruce Springsteen. At that time the radio was mostly spinning tracks from his latest record, “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”, songs like “Bad Lands”, “Prove It All Night”, “Candy’s Room”, “The Promised Land”. I loved it. And I’ve continued to love it ever since. When it comes to love, you never forget the first. 

If you read or listen to many interviews with rock musicians, there’s one story that comes up more often than any other. There are variations on this theme, but it usually goes something like this: “I was a teenager when I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, and that’s when I knew I had to be in a rock band.” I was too young to have seen The Beatles on Ed Sullivan (although I loved the Beatles and my first band played nothing but Beatles songs. But that’s another story…) but I know exactly how they felt. Because when I was 15, one fateful night I saw a TV show called “The Legends Of Rock ‘n Roll”. It featured all sorts of live clips starting in the 50’s with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, and of course Elvis. And as the show progressed forward in time, towards the end of the program was a clip of Bruce and the E-Street Band doing a live version of “Rosalita”. What a performance! Bruce was electric, all over the stage, stunningly charismatic, the band was rocking, the Professor, Roy Bittan, played the hell out of a real grand piano, Clarence was growling on the tenor sax. THAT was when I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of MY life. I stayed up for hours that evening banging away on our old, out of tune upright piano, trying to express that same energy and sheer joy of living. The trajectory of my life was forever changed.

I Get It Now 

I wrote “I Get It Now” with my friend Les Hauge. Les lives in Sarasota, Florida and I was in Santa Cruz, California, so like many songwriters during the pandemic, we were trying to write a song over Zoom. For some reason I got talking about how as a parent myself now, I had so much more appreciation for the people who had tried to teach me and help me as a young man. “Man, I just didn’t get it then, but I get it now”, I said. And then I think we both thought at the same time - that could be a great idea for a song! 

The first lines for the chorus came almost immediately: “I was young, I was dumb, and I knew everything”. Was that too harsh an indictment, I asked? No, Les replied, that’s pretty much on the money for most of us, and we were off. 

As we started talking more about the story it became clear to me that I really wanted to write about the person who had been the biggest influence during my teenage years, my high school basketball coach, Mr. Jim Dudley. Or as we all affectionately called him, Mr. D. 

Mr D. was a big man, 6 foot 5, at least 275 pounds, incredibly strong, and as quick as a snake on the basketball court. He had a huge laugh, an outsized personality, and a big curly red beard. He had been MVP on his high school team, most inspirational player in college, and he ended up teaching and coaching in my hometown of Maple Ridge, BC, a small, blue-collar mill town along the Fraser River. He was a competitor and hated to lose. I only beat him at one on one a few times, and I remember how he fouled me like crazy when he realized he might lose.

I have a lot of memories of his kindnesses but I'll just mention one. My basketball shoes had been stolen from the locker room during gym class. And I think he knew how hard up my family was. So as a birthday present, he bought me a new pair and had everyone on the team sign the birthday card. (I still have that card.)

Around the time we were finishing mixing the record I heard that Mr. D. had passed away. He was such an incredible force of nature it’s hard for me to imagine him gone. 

Perhaps my favorite line in the whole song is, “You saw the good in me that no one else could find.” It’s one of those lines that just came out of my mouth while I was singing without any conscious thought. But it rings true in such a deep way for me. That was his super power. He cared about people, he saw the good in them, their potential. He gave his time, love and support. And he tried to guide me. I didn’t always get it then, oh but how… 

I get it now.

 

I Get It Now 

I was shooting hoops with my boy last night in the driveway 
When I caught myself saying what you’d always say
Coaching the team down at the high school gym 
And I thought, I sound just like you did  

Coach, your lesson was waiting there 
Till I could finally hear      

[Chorus]
I was young, I was dumb, and I knew everything 
Though you tried, I had my mistakes to make 
Like rain on the windshield those words washed away 
If I’d listened then lord knows what heartache I coulda saved 
I didn’t get it then 
Oh but how 
I get it now 

I had a chip on my shoulder almost all the time 
But you saw the good in me no one else could find 
You said, if you run with those Johnson boys, there’ll be hell to pay 
Then we crashed that car and I was lucky to walk away 

You were there for me that night 
Now I see you changed my life 

[Repeat Chorus] 

This life is a mystery - we see pieces of the plan 
Hope I’ll always be learnin’ and sayin’ when I look back 
I didn’t get it then 
Oh but how 
I get it now 

Oh I get it now 
Yeah I get it now

A Song Waiting To Be Sung 

(Listen to "A Song Waiting To Be Sung")

Jan 22, 2006 was a stormy, blustery night in Vancouver, Canada. I remember it vividly, as it was the night my son, Keith, was born. The rain was bucketing down and the night couldn’t have been blacker as we made our way to the hospital at 2 AM. 

As a first-time father, I was so overjoyed and transformed by the arrival of this beautiful baby boy that over the next week, I wrote “A Song Waiting To Be Sung” to try and capture some of that magical feeling of love and connection.

Then I blinked and 15 years had gone by.  

For many years I had been focused on playing music and writing songs. But now, with a new baby, family and other things in life took center stage. “Just for now”, I thought to myself. But this song stuck with me, kept resurfacing, demanding my attention, wanting to be sung. And thus it became one of the catalysts that eventually brought me back to songwriting a decade later. 

Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve written a lot of new songs. Some of which I love so much I wanted to record them so I could share them with the world. A selection of them make up the rest of the tracks on the new album. But it was “A Song Waiting To Be Sung” that provided the original impetus and so I decided it would only be appropriate to use that as the album title as well.

The song is structured as Verse, Verse, Verse, Verse, with a repeated refrain line at the end of every verse: “You’re a song that’s waiting to be sung”. That’s a traditional form used a lot in folk music and one that Bob Dylan used so often in his songs like “Tangled Up in Blue”, “A Simple Twist of Fate”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. I always wanted to write a song using that form, and it seemed appropriate for this song, with its somewhat artsy lyrics.

We recorded it in Ocean Way studio in Nashville. The musicians were Evan Hutchings (drums), Brian Allen (bass), Pat McGrath (acoustic guitar), Justin Ostrander (electric guitar), Russ Pahl (pedal steel), Dane Bryant (piano and B3), Matt Dame (background vocals) with Zach Allen engineering and producing. 

This is a song of love. It has been waiting for 15 years to be sung, and after all that time, I’m so happy to finally share it with you all. 

(To the right is a picture of Keith today. At the top, is a picture of what he looked like at a few weeks old when this song was written.)

 

A Song Waiting To Be Sung

You’re an empty canvas ready for the paint 
A breath away from what is and what ain’t 
And we wait, through the longest night for you to come 
Take the stage, and turn up the lights, the first act’s begun 
A perfect creation 
You’re a song that’s waiting to be sung 

The cry of life is a holy cry of pain 
Beauty born from a deep and endless ache 
We never leave our searching for the place where we came from 
I finally see the reason for everything I’ve done 
A wondrous undertaking 
You’re a song that’s waiting to be sung 

The dawn is breaking, I’m the world’s most lucky man 
I’ve heard the secret and now I understand 
I watch you breathe, your quiet dreaming of happy days to come 
I wanna be a better man than I’ve become 
A lesson in the making 
You’re a song that’s waiting to be sung 

These old hands have played a song or two 
I look at yours and wonder what they’ll do 
My simple dream is lying in my arms – a tiny son 
The bigger scheme enfolds us in the mystery that has come 
A circle culminating 
You’re a song that’s waiting to be sung