The Crime of Having No Dough

I sat on the arena steps with Peter Timmins. Peter is the drummer for the Cowboy Junkies. I know him from music but I also know him from hockey. We both grew up in Etobicoke– he was South Kingsway; I was Kipling and Dixon– and we both started hacking around music at about the same time (I’ll never forget meeting bassist Allan Anton on the Cabana Room landing after they’d just come back from New York City. He was skinny, weird and cool; much cooler than me. His band had the word ‘junkie’ in the name and it made me think they were darker and more serious than us, which, at the time, they probably were). Sitting on the steps, we kicked around the nature of our bands and our lives, and after sharing stories about how different it is now– how, in 1991, most of us were able to buy a house in downtown Toronto even though we were in alternative bands– we decided that we were mostly lucky to have happened when we did. Maybe, in some ways, it would be better to start a band now– teeming thousands more are curious about strange Canadian music than existed in our time, when listeners still clung to a soundalike, cover-band, major label idea of local rock and roll– but, then again, you could afford buy a small house, and build a little family, for 200, 000 dollars or less. It’s funny how music and art is about where you land on the carousel, and whether you can stay on the horse. Me and Peter talked about that. but we mostly talked about fate, and it’s almost always what I think of when I think of The Band, especially this song, which I found on 45 at the record show in Toronto last weekend. Despite the raging joy of rock and roll bands, there is a sea despair in the life, and it’s the theme of this piece as it is for so many of The Band’s best compositions. Part of the despair comes from the struggle to make art and survive, but part of it comes after you realize that you will only ever be what you will be. In the end, you have to embrace the shape you’re in, and decide whether that’s ok, or not. Both Peter and I talked about the career swings– he was waiting for the next Cowboy Junkies’ tour, I was waiting to decide what to do next (besides playing Castros’ on April 16, mind the plug)–  and if we could sit there feeling okay because it all, more or less, worked out, it hasn’t been the case for others, and it certainly wasn’t the case for The Band, who lost two members tragically, and Levon to old age and illness a few years ago. Peter was playing in the Summit of the Arts hockey tourney and so was I, and, that night, our hockey team band played a “Sergeant Pepper” set at the Horseshoe Tavern. It was super fun, and so were the rehearsals. After a jams, one of our guitar players, who is an amateur musician, said: “Now I know why people ruin their lives to do this.” Or, as Richard Manuel sings in “The Shape I’m In”: “Save your neck or save your brother. Looks like it’s one of the other.”

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3 thoughts on “The Crime of Having No Dough

  1. Not trying to be a nerd, but Richard Manuel sings Shape I’m In. Nice entry, by the way. The bit about reaching a point in life where you have to face your limits is hitting a bit too close to home for me, at the moment. I always wanted to be so much more than the dweeb who points out factual errors in someone else’s blog entry.

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  2. The Band. how is it one of the coolest, and most influential rock groups of all time be 4/5ths canadian? also the coolest living rocker today is also canadian.
    if we weren’t such a stupid, apathetic country you’d think we had great potential. like the kind we showed during our centennial and at our world’s fair at Expo, in 67.
    but The Band, wow, during the height of psychedelia, which happened to coincide with this country’s great 100th birthday celebration, they were just a-floating against the stream, singing songs about family and neighbours and dressing like small town folk on a sunday.
    i had a chance to meet The Band (well 4/5ths) when they played the very first show of their 1983 comeback. it was at Place Des Arts in montreal and during the show rick danko, who was just a boppin’ gleeful kid up there announced how great it was to see us all again and let’s all meet in the foyer after the show! and that they did and i got to meet them all and had my programme signed. i recall how richard manuel’s hand shook as he struggled to scratch his name all tiny for me. in three years he’d be gone, by his own hands, hung himself in a motel room while out on tour. levon who was with him just earlier in the evening said something i can still hear him saying to the effect of ‘I don’t know what got cross-wise in his mind after we said goodnight that night.’
    at a vancouver premiere for the movie Festival Express (great film about legendary cross-canada by rail rock tour featuring the Band, Dead, Burittos and others) at the end of richard manuel’s performance of I Shall be Released we all stood up and applauded. in a cinema.
    Eric Clapton was a good mate, wrote a song about him, as did Robbie Robertson. in 1989 Clapton said: “I was madly in love with Richard because we were going through a lot of the same difficulties… screwing around with drugs and drink… getting pretty crazy down deep…. He was finding it difficult to cope with his talent. I just identified so strongly with him. For me, he was the one I thought was the light of The Band…. There was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that falsetto, the hair on my neck would stand up on end. Not many people can do that.”
    And the song Whispering Pines is probably my favourite Band song.
    on a side note, peter timmins and i grew up not far from each other around the same time, in TMR in montreal. his sister Margo and i were both great friends of Karen Dussault who lived on Wicksteed street. we both wonder where she is now.

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