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Chapter 15

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 11 months ago

Chapter 15

 

The Hope Princeton Highway was a dangerouse place to drive in the winter time - but the Burner Boys had no choice.

 

Inexplicably, as the weeks inched by after the Gastown Party our phone went as dead as if the line had been cut. Soon it became evident we had become a mote of dust someone had flicked off the musical radar screen. Weeks turned into months and the months turned hum drum. The air chilled. The sky clouded down to grey as we struggled to keep our heads above water. Diabolically at the very moment we had got the ideal fifth Burner in Rod Dirk and were playing our tightest and best the work dried up altogether. It was as if the Burners had taken some terrible detour and ended up in the desolate bone white valleys of the moon.

 

All we had to sustain us were our weekly gigs at the Big O. Worse, our nemesis, the Ambleside Blues Band started cutting our grass. They convinced Larry he needed a counterpoint to our regular performances. Predictably, Larry agreed. Thus our income was cut by half. There was nothing we could do about it except sit and watch Ambleside’s bland, boring performances as they dined off the huge following we had worked months to build.

 

Now our income was not even covering our equipment and van payments. Desperate for money I found someone to share the rent of my welfare shanty. His real name was Wallace Cross but he was widely known as Bugsy. Of slight build, he had a dandelion sphere of frizzy blond hair and a wispy moustache that looked like a day old sneeze. His rather large nose had a slight ball at the end and his voice sounded like a quacking duck. Hardly a prize catch, he was one of those rare individuals who seem to have nothing going for them yet, against all reason, have the annoying habit of attracting only the most stunning women. He drove me mad by coming home with some beauty who seemed to be utterly devoted to him while I looked on like I had a bad poker hand.

 

Bugsy was an artist fond of drawing vast, intricate psychedelic posters of naked maidens with stars in their hair being threatened by fantastic, big eared dragons. Yet he was also resourceful. Shortly after he moved in he made a surprising announcement.

 

“I got a job today,” he quacked happily. “You want one?”

 

“I’ll take anything. Where is it?”

 

“At the end of the next block. Freddy’s hiring.”

 

“And Freddy is?”

 

“He’s building the apartment. We’re doing clean up.”

 

It was an unrefusable offer. I went there the next day and met Freddy, a tough, bald headed Austrian who may or may not have been in the Waffen S.S. He immediately set us to work hauling and shoveling cement. Soon I realized we were the only two workers on the site.

 

“Where’s the rest of the crew?” I asked Bugsy.

 

“Freddy’s a little short on money right now. We’re all he can afford.”

 

The basement was filled with mounds of mud and puddles of pooling crap – like shell holes in No Man’s Land. It smelled like every construction worker in the past thirty days had shit or pissed here. Freddy arrived again and called Bugsy off to the side for a conference. Then they left together. I soon realized that Bugsy had actually replaced me in his old job as grunt laborer and in doing so promoted himself to executive assistant. I unearthed the most evil crap imaginable from the puddles which pitted the basement – old batteries, empty oil drums, and hauled them off in a leaking wheelbarrow. Nowadays emergency response workers in HAZMAT suits would have been swarming over the site and the apartment would probably be dynamited as a toxic waste dump. In 1970 it was business as usual. No one knew enough to call in pollution control because no such organization existed. I have no doubt the people living in Freddy’s building today are surprised to discover they’ve occasionally grown an extra finger, toe or tumor.

 

Meanwhile Bugsy and Freddy drove around apparently discussing future projects. As I labored in the polluted slime I imagined Freddy building some fantastic new apartment complex using Bugsy’s superior knowledge of psychedelic posters and naming it‘Purple Haze Court’ or ‘ Blueberry Brain Buster Manor.’ Finally at two o’clock they returned.

 

“Bugsy, what’s all this crap in the basement?” I asked. “It smells like piss and shit but it bubbles up green and yellow like transmission fluid and antifreeze.”

 

“Better not to ask,” Bugsy shrugged happily. He didn’t have a care in the world.

 

“When’s lunch time?” I hadn’t eaten all day and was broke.

 

“Freddy and I just had roast oxtail in Chinatown,” he quacked.

 

“Do you think you could see your way clear to asking him for an advance on my behalf?”

 

“I’ll try but he won’t like it.”

 

In a few minutes Bugsy returned with a crumpled brown two dollar bill, still Canadian currency in 1970. “Here. Make it last.”

 

“How much am I getting paid?”

 

“Two bucks an hour.”

 

I could only imagine the stratospheric sum Bugsy was making after his recent promotion. He’d discovered he could make more money riding around in a truck than cleaning up toxic waste. I took my two dollar bill and purchased a milkshake at the nearby Dairy Queen. I survived thus through a spell of hard work and starvation – living on milkshakes as Freddy forwarded niggling advances through his go-to guy, Bugsy. It was like being in one of those awful work camps run by the Germans in World War II where Freddy was commandant, Bugsy his capo and I was the only prisoner. Finally after two weeks he paid me out and immediately laid me off. With my miserable rate of pay minus advances it amounted to almost nothing. Bugsy, however, remained on the payroll for some time in his capacity as psychedelic consultant and corporate aide.

 

Back at the shanty I almost immediately ran out of money and so fell to desperate measures. Out of ideas I sat down at my old Underwood typewriter and launched a letter writing campaign. Like any good lobbyist I started at the top. I wrote a personal letter to Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, who in 1970 was widely regarded as left leaning, pro youth and a culture hound. He had just introduced his policy of multiculturalism. Officially it meant that the country would no longer have a single WASP culture into which immigrants must assimilate, but a mosaic of distinct cultures, each of which would be supported by the government. It was a high minded concept for 1970, introduced by a powdered fop from the ruling class of the Eastern Canadian Establishment who had never worked a day in his life.

 

In 1970 people were too naïve to realize this. It ended up making Canada the free lunch counter for the world. People poured in from the poorest countries and quickly figured out how to beat the system. They could get government money for anything from acquiring more to live than native born, poverty stricken Canadian citizens to securing hefty government grants for organizations such as The Iranian Women’s Conference on Rug Beating. Tens of millions were wasted and continue to be to the present. However, in 1970 this was an ordeal that still awaited the nation.

 

I appealed to Prime Minister Trudeau on a personal basis telling him The Burner Boys were in essence a cultural organization dedicated to genuinely reflecting the current Canadian pop culture in our songs. In essence this was true. I didn’t ask for some massive government grant, but simply that the Ministry of Multiculturalism pay off our debts so we could survive and continue to promote Canadian culture. It was a rooty and compelling argument. Nevertheless it met a wall of silence. Presumably we were reflecting the one culture that was out of fashion and remains so to this day – our own.

 

Unaware that by default the Burners were bearing the cross of political incorrectness I waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming I wrote to British Columbia Premier W.A.C. ‘Wacky’ Bennett putting forth the same argument. I didn’t hold out much hope. Where Trudeau held himself out as a cultivated intellectual, Wacky Bennett didn’t even attempt such a posture. He was a congenital industrialist. With his double chins and big self satisfied grin he resembled one of those monocoled, top-hatted, cigar smoking pigs depicting capitalists in political cartoons from the 1930’s. If he had ever read my letter he would have briefly admired my nerve and enterprise then torn it up while enjoying a loud belly laugh.

 

When that failed I wrote to Phil Gaglardi, Bennett’s Minister of Welfare. Gaglardi had earned the nickname ‘Flying Phil’ for getting pinched with more speeding and impaired driving charges than any other B.C. Cabinet Minister in history to this day. Mountains of evidence pointed to him being corrupt yet at the same time he was a Pentecostal preacher and almost hysterically self righteous. In retrospect he was probably a little insane.

 

Clearly I was running out of ideas. As a last ditch effort I wrote a long letter to Mickey Excell, Superintendent of Public Works for the City of North Vancouver, explaining my situation and begging for a job.

 

In the meantime we got a small break – a chance to move our band practices to a remarkable location. Steve’s room mate, Bob Burns, was a musician and music lover with a high paying job. In 1971 being a graphic and photo engraver could make you wealthy, yet the job is now extinct. He’d built an entire recording studio in the basement of Steve’s Viney Road house. This he had completely wired, then built a control booth any rich hippy would be proud of. The walls were cedar shingled inside and out, with a thick glass window and it was sealed by a massive, insulated airtight door that made your ears pop when you closed it. The rest of the studio walls he painstakingly covered with cardboard egg cartons for their sound absorbing qualities. Over time he had begged hundreds of them from friends, family, neighbors and even stolen them from garbage cans. It was a labor of love.

 

The result was a sound dead room – so devoid of echo or resonance you could hear a moth fart. Carpeted, dimly lit and with a low ceiling it was a cozily ideal place to practice and record if we’d been able to afford a mixing board or tape recorder. It was for this reason nearly all of the Burner songs written while the band was performing were never recorded. In this way we remained rigid medievalists – passing down music and myth of the culture in a strictly oral tradition.

 

We sat in our new studio twice as broke as before as we were still on half rations from the Big O since The Ambleside Blues Band had poached half our gigs.

 

“I’m getting pressure to quit,” Tim confessed.

 

“Your wife?” I asked.

 

“For starters.”

 

“Maybe you could tell her about poor Tommy Moore.”

 

Tim gave me a suspicious glance. “Who’s he?”

 

“An early drummer for the Beatles. In 1960 Moore’s new wife forbade him to play with the Beatles and made him get a horrible job at a glass factory called Gaston Bottle Works. The rest, as you well know, is history. Is Gerri after you to get a job?”

 

“At an arch factory.”

 

“You see the parallel.”

 

“It’s two against one. Her mother wants me to get one too.”

 

“What are they saying?”

 

“Not much, but let me tell you its hanging heavy in the air.”

 

“Still, you see the danger. There’s a good chance you could become the next Tommy Moore. Wasting your unused talent would eat you up for the rest of your life.”

 

The band lamely nodded in agreement. Tim rolled his eyes. It was ironic having such a depressing conversation in such a perfectly engineered sound environment. The lack of any echo made every word sound subdued yet startlingly clear, giving them an official BBC sounding finality. We had just acquired Rod Dirk, easily the most ideal fifth Burner since the band had started but now we were in danger of losing our drummer.

 

“We do,” Steve broke the gloomy silence after a moment, “have another gig. I haven’t accepted yet.”

 

“Why not?” I cried in disbelief.

 

“It’s in Invermere. That’s nearly in Alberta. I’m not sure the van will make it. And we can’t afford to fix it. We could have some sort of accident in the snow. And if they don’t pay us on the spot, we can’t afford the gas to drive home.”

 

“And your point is?”

 

“We could end up having to leave the van and equipment in Invermere and hitch hike home. Five of us hitch hiking back across B.C. in winter could take a week, if we’d make it at all. It’s a definite possibility.”

 

Sitting there in the dimly lit studio it was like Steve was proposing, with his slight English accent, one of those terrible expeditions undertaken by British Victorian adventurers to the arctic where the explorers went mad, no one returned and the frozen bodies were found 150 years later.

 

“We can’t afford to say no,” said Al. Being of Norwegian extraction, perhaps he was less afraid of the cold.

 

But Al was right. With the clock ticking down on losing Tim as our drummer we had to take the risk. Invermere was a small resort town on Lake Windemere in the Columbia Valley. That we elected to drive nearly 500 miles in winter for a $300 gig shows how desperate we had become. Even though we were scheduled to play Saturday night, prudence forced us to leave on Friday night to be sure of making it. It wasn’t the smartest way to break in Rod Dirk to his first road trip. Good natured as he was, considering the dozens of things likely go wrong at any moment he could well just quit in the middle of the trip and leave forever.

 

We started onto the snow packed Hope Princeton Highway, in 1970 one of the most perilous links in the B.C. highway system. With its steep hills and sudden turns it was similar to traveling through the Khyber Pass in Pakistan. The only difference was the Khyber Pass had the mournful headstones of British Regiments who had fought and died there carved into solid rock along the highway and painted oil drums to mark dangerous spots. The Hope Princeton too had memorials set along the way to dead motorists in the form of wrecked cars a hundred feet below. The most hazardous spots were defended by flimsy dented guard rails. We were all too aware that we could go skidding off a straight drop at the first wrong move. We approached the worst part of the highway, where a steep decline led to a blind curve and then, immediately, back up a hill. The result was traffic from both directions hurtled down to a hairpin turn overlooking a sheer cliff.

 

I chose this moment to try and lighten Rod’s spirits. “It’s good to be back on the road again,” I shouted back at him from my spot in the passenger seat.

 

“What?” he cried over the roar of the engine. His teeth were chattering.

 

“I say it’s good to be back on the road again!”

 

“I can’t hear you!” he hollered back.

 

The engine was really howling now. I turned to Tim. We hurtled down the hill. “Slow down!”

 

“I can’t!”

 

“Quit screwing around!”

 

“The gas pedal is stuck!”

 

It was true. His foot was off the accelerator and the van was bounding down the snowy hill barely under control.

 

“DO SOMETHING!”

 

With an anguished cry Tim plowed the van into a snow bank. It stalled dead. Rattled, we climbed out of the van to inspect the damage. Tim and Al fiddled with the accelerator and pronounced it unfixable. “We’ll have to get a mechanic,” Tim announced.

 

Tim and I volunteered to hitch hike to find a mechanic. I always found it preferable to strike out for help from a breakdown rather than sit and freeze in the van on the assumption that I in doing so would always be warm and dry before anyone else.

 

Tim Francis on the road, wearing a leather vest on his head for warmth. Hitchhiking in the middle of nowhere became commonplace as the Burner van broke down on a regular basis from lack of maintenance.

 

Princeton is one of those places where someone needed to add an extra pin prick on a highway map between two real towns. It sits in foothills of the Cascade Mountains at the confluence of the Tulameen and Similkameen rivers. After the silver mines failed, the only reason for Princeton’s existence was the Greyhound bus station and a hamburger stand where miserable hitch hikers huddled. Tim and I were dropped at this forlorn spot. Through the sleety night we could just make out a run down white clap board garage. We approached and found a frail, grey haired woman in the front office.

 

“Our van broke down,” said Tim.

 

“Oh dear,” the woman seemed to shrink back at hearing this. She swallowed nervously. “Well, I guess I’ll have to let him know.” She opened the door to the garage. “Earle,” she said in a quavering voice, “there’s been a breakdown –“

 

“God Dammit!” a voice roared.

 

The woman cowered at this. “Maybe you’d better talk to him yourself,” she let us through. Earle was immense. Nearly 6’ 4” and close to 300 pounds, he wore coveralls that looked like they’d been cut from yards of sail canvas and a grease stained white beard. He was working on an old Fargo pick up.

 

“Our van broke down on the Hope Princeton –“I began.

 

“GOD DAMMIT!!!” roared Earle. At this moment it was impossible to tell where he was directing his fury – at the truck he was working on or Tim and I for being the bearers of bad tidings. He turned on us. “Who’s the driver?”

 

“Him” I quickly pointed to Tim and stepped back out of the way of Earle’s wrath.

 

Tim cleared his throat and began to explain, “The accelerator seems to be stuck –“

 

Earle suddenly spun on him and pointed an accusing finger like a prosecuting attorney at the most dramatic moment of his cross examination, “You bin ridin’ that clutch?”

 

“Why, er … no,” Tim said, caught off guard.

 

“Don’t shit me, boy!”

 

“I’ve been driving a standard for a long time. I ought to know –“

 

“AH FUCK IT!” Earle hurled a large wrench on the floor with a clatter. He stalked out through the office, past his shrinking wife and slammed the front door so hard he nearly broke it. We meekly followed him to his truck. Obviously he had some sort of contractual obligation with the Highways Department to aid stranded motorists and now was angrily fulfilling it. As we drove back to the van it became evident Earle was one of the angriest men who ever lived. He was one of those rare individuals who are one hundred percent pissed off one hundred percent of the time. It was clear that he had been boiling with anger for his entire time on earth. I could imagine him kicking and cursing and spitting tobacco juice as a newborn and that it had only got worse since then. No wonder his wife acted like a terrified bird. Tim and I remained rigidly silent for the ride but Earle muttered darkly, making himself madder. “Trucks just don’t break down, boy. You sure you ain’t been ridin’ that clutch?”

 

We arrived to find the freezing Burners huddled inside the van with the engine running. With a flashlight Earle looked at the accelerator, traced the problem back into the engine and fiddled with the carburetor. “Piece of shit!” he whacked the engine mount. “Linkage is gone. I can’t fix it with these tools. It’s going to cost you at least a hundred anyway. I’ll haywire a coat hanger to the carburetor. It’ll get you where you’re going but two of you have to drive. That’ll be forty bucks.”

 

We climbed back into the van. The engine cowl between the two front seats had to remain permanently open, letting in a freezing rush of road air. For the next three hundred miles through the night we buttoned our coats and froze in the back on the van as Tim and Steve drove peering through the snowy beams of the headlights. Tim steered and operated the clutch and brake. Steve sat in the passenger seat and worked the throttle with the coat hanger. We truly came to know what it must have been like for a WWII bomber crew coming home on a wing and a prayer. From our cramped frigid spaces back in the fuselage we could hear them giving each other orders and bickering.

 

“There’s a curve. Slow down.”

 

“I see the curve.”

 

“Try going into second.”

 

“No, there’s a hill coming up. I’m staying in third. More gas!”

 

The engine roared.

 

“Not that much!”

 

“What’s that smell?”

 

“What smell?”

 

“Are you riding the clutch?”

 

“I KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A STANDARD!”

 

So it went until we nodded off into our own private interior lives where the hopes and dreams of the Burners were being stretched to the breaking point. As Steve and Tim’s voices droned on in the darkness hour after hour I wondered how, with all the work we had put in, we had almost ended up worse off than when we’d started. This reminded me of the the most odious aspects of our dreadful Prince Rupert tour of a year before. The only comfort I found was that this was Rod’s first road trip so he didn’t know any better and thought this was normal. Earle’s forty dollar fee had eaten up our food money so we simply drove all night until we found Invermere.

 

As we drove into the town blinking at the daylight I speculated that if we were going to go broke, this was a spectacular place to do it. Located in the Columbia Valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains to the East, Purcell Mountains to the west and nestled beside the shores of Lake Windermere, it was like entering one of those turn of the century Canadian Pacific Railway posters showing sweeping vistas of the Rocky Mountains designed to lure tourists west. One almost expected to see Nelson Eddy step out in a red Mountie uniform with Jeanette McDonald on his arm singing ‘Canadian Sunset’ I thought we were going to find our hotel and sleep on empty stomachs and was resigned to it.

 

“Pull in here,” Steve said suddenly to Tim.

 

We pulled into a primitive Safeway. Steve turned around. He looked exhausted and short tempered from his night operating the coat hanger. “We can’t afford food,” he said tersely. “So who’s got money?”

 

There was the usual ritual of band members uncomfortably clearing their throats and making a show of loudly slapping empty pockets.

 

“I didn’t bring any money,” said Rod.

 

“I’m broke,” I held up my empty wallet.

 

“Me too,” said Tim.

 

“I’ve got fifty five cents,” said Al.

 

“You guys,” said Steve in a clipped voice, “are a bunch of assholes.”

 

With that he got out and walked into the Safeway. We all followed, thinking he had some secret reserve stash of food money. Steve went to the meat counter and perused the selection. He turned to Rod.

 

“What do you feel like Rod? Ham?”

 

“Sure,” Rod shrugged.

 

With that slipped a large cooked ham steak under his coat. “Come to think of it,” said Steve, “I feel like ham too.” In went another one. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was totally out of character for the reserved and cautious Steve, who normally planned things down to the last detail. He must have been fed up beyond belief.

 

Rod didn’t know make of this development. I, on the other hand, having robbed my way across Canada and back hitch hiking to Expo 67, got the drift immediately. I walked down to the smoked meats section and stuffed a large garlic sausage down my front of my pants. Then I got a pound of butter and large square of cheddar and put it down the back of my pants. I looked up the aisle and Tim was calmly slipping a jar of Cheeze Whiz into his coat pocket, followed by mayonnaise and a round of bologna. Steve asked Rod what kind of mustard he preferred and palmed that. Then he stuffed a jar of strawberry jam down the back of his pants. Tim drifted off to steal pickles.

 

This was all done with the utter calm that can only come from a group of people who have not slept or eaten and have nothing left to lose. Store employees roamed freely up and down the aisles among us but we didn’t have the energy to be furtive and attract attention. I now fell back on past experience and removed my coat. I took a large loaf of bread and inserted it down my right sleeve, and a two quart container of milk and slipped it down the left, then hung the coat over my shoulder gripping both items with one hand. Then, remembering myself, I went back and secured a package of plastic cutlery and dropped it down the front of my shirt, plus a turkey loaf I’d spied. We all assembled at the check out.

 

Al, who hadn’t stolen so much as a tea biscuit, stood at the front of the line. All he needed to do was nod politely at the check out girl, walk out, and the rest of us would follow scott free.

 

“We’re in a band,” Al informed the check out girl.

 

“Cool!”

 

“Yeah,” Al stretched and yawned like a man on a cruise contemplating a nap. “We’re playing here tonight. The Burner Boys. Have you heard of us?”

 

“Are you from Vancouver?”

 

“Just got into town. Looking for the hotel.”

 

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The rest of us were stuck in line behind him. We clinked and clanked and groaned like overloaded grocery carts. I could feel the large garlic sausage I’d stuffed down my crotch slipping down the inside of my pants. In no time at all it would peep out my left pant leg, really giving the checkout girl something to talk about. In fact, if Al took any longer the groceries would start dropping everywhere.

 

“Move it,” I hissed at him.

 

“Can I get you anything?” the checkout girl asked Al sweetly.

 

“Yeah. Maybe I’ll get some cigarettes.” He slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his last fifty-five cents. “What will this buy me?”

 

“What kind do you like?”

 

“Hmmm. Let me think.”

 

A groan rose from the suffering Burners stuck behind him. I was in quiet agony. The stolen bread and milk slowly but surely slipping from my fingers. inside my coat sleeves. At any moment our survival shopping trip would end in a state of grotesque collapse.

 

Al stood and pondered, hand on chin. “Let’s see. I usually smoke DuMaurier but maybe I’ll get Players Filter. Sound good?”

 

“Okay! Players Filter it is!”

 

Al handed her his fifty-five cents. “There you go. See you at the dance tonight.”

 

“Cool. This town’s pretty wild. Cowboys and Indians. The hotel’s just down at the end of the block. My name’s Sally.”

 

“Sally. That’s a cool name. I’m Al. I’ll see you later,” he winked casually. With that he slowly sauntered out of the supermarket. The rest of the Burners followed stooped double like hunchbacks to keep the slipping sliding groceries from dumping into the ground. We threw ourselves into the back of the van and let the food spill out.

 

Al lit a cigarette with a self satisfied air. “Thank God at least one of us had the sense to create a diversion.” His sense of distortion in delivering this remark left us speechless. We drove the block down to the hotel and parked. The store clerk had been right. It was cowboys and Indians. There were hitching posts outside the hotel. People who stayed here drove horses.

 

Al viewed the hitching posts. “This is a bad sign,” he stubbed out his cigarette.

 

We devoured the stolen groceries then slept like fat dogs. The walls of the 1890’s style hotel rooms were paper thin but apparently most of the people who stayed here slept during the day because there was no noise. Al and I were bunked together like cowhands and woke up about four in the afternoon. I looked out the window. In the slackening Saturday afternoon sunlight there were a lot of genuine cowboys walking the thoroughfare below. Occasionally some 1948 pickup truck would disgorge a cargo of Indians. There was even the odd horse passing through the streetscape like an extra sent in by a movie director to make the scene authentic. As in Williams Lake, neither side was even acknowledging the other’s presence. It was like a carefully planned ritual before a battle. There was going to be violence.

 

“I don’t like the look of this,” I said to Al as I peered between the curtains. I felt like Wyatt Earp addressing a disheveled Doc Holliday. “How much country do we have on the menu?”

 

“Not much.”

 

“Maybe we should write something.”

 

Al joined me at the window. “It can’t be too white bread or the Indians will hate it.”

 

“It can’t be too deep or the cowboys will hate it.”

 

“If we make it dumb enough then they’ll both like it,” Al picked up his guitar.

 

“And if we make it funny there’s nothing for them to fight about.”

 

“But it has to be really stupid. Something only one dope would say to another.”

 

“My point exactly.”

 

For the next hour we sat down on beds opposite. Al picked through chords and I came up with a title and wrote lyrics. Finally we had it done. We felt like peacemakers in the Old West. We went back into Steve’s room to make massive turkey loaf and butter sandwiches from the left over groceries to sustain us thought the night.

 

The town hall was crowded when we got there an hour before the gig. We went in, set up, and learned the new song on stage as the people poured in. Sure enough, it was strictly divided along racial lines – cowboys on the left, Indians on the right, and a lot town and farm girls lining the back wall waiting to see what would happen when the first fight started.

 

The best thing about it was the band had a real urge to play. We hadn’t performed in weeks and had been practicing non stop with Rod. We were at the top of our form. We were ready to give them the show of their lives. We opened with Old Fashioned Blues, the song that had lit a fire under the twenty thousand at the Gastown Party. No response. Next we hit them with I Deliver Chicken, the song that had nearly caused a riot at the Pender Auditorium. Still they remained in their seats. When we finished I saw a lone empty beer bottle roll across the dance floor from the cowboy side to the Indian side, a first insult. The gauntlet had been thrown.

 

Rod Dirk manning the Fender Rhodes piano.

 

I walked up to the mike. “Let me tell you people,” I said, as Rod played a bluesly gospel piano in the background. “that the Burner Boys came here from Vancouver for one reason.” Tim put in a drumbeat. “We know you love to dance. But do you want to dance to boogie?”

 

I turned around to Al. “SAY NO!” I hissed.

 

“No!” Al yelled into his mike.

 

:”Let me hear that again!” I motioned to the audience.

 

“No, No NO!” the band cried. The audience followed.

 

“And we came up here thinking you might want to dance to the big city rockin’ blues, but you don’t want to dance to the rockin’ blues?” I shook my head sadly.“No! No NO!” I cried, along with the band. “No rockin’ blues. Let me hear it!”

 

“No NO NO!” the audience cried.

 

“No smartass boogie!”

 

“NO!”

 

“No big city rockin’ blues!”

 

“NO!”

 

“So let’s get on board for country!”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Are YOU on board for country?”

 

“YES!”

 

I turned around to the band and told them to start the new country song we’d just written, which had a fast clackety clack train beat. I now preached to them like a Southern Baptist Minister.

 

“Get on board for country, because the train is leaving the station.”

 

“Yeah!!” the crowd answered.

 

“Conductor’s calling ALL ABOARD!”

 

“Yeah!”

 

“Do you hear him?”

 

“Yeah!”

 

“All aboard!”

 

“YES!”

 

I walked over at the Cowboy side of the stage and pointed at them. “Do you want to get left behind? On the train to country? You’re on the platform. The conductor’s calling. Can you hear him, boy? All aboard! Board! Let me hear it!”

 

“Board!” they yelled.

 

“All aboard!” I hollered at the Indian side.

 

“Board!” they yelled back.

 

“All aboard!” I yelled back at the cowboys.

 

“BOARD!:” they roared.

 

...the train is pulling out so GET ON BOARD!

 

Now both sides were rocking in their seats and cheering wildly. “Who’s coming with me? I appealed. “I can’t go alone. This is a song we wrote for Invermere. But the train is pulling out so GET ON BOARD!” With that, we hit it with our new country song.

 

********************************************

 

You Fucked Me in the Asshole of My Heart

 

Last night I had cause to think about you

Talking to a dear old friend of mine

He said how now since I’ve been seen without you

I seemed to have lost some of my former shine.

 

There wasn’t really much that I could tell him

Wasn’t much I really could explain

I didn’t want to say how I had fell in

To your little pleasure pot of pain

 

And then I thought how much that I did love you

Thought about the day that we did part

I know I’ll always have that picture of you

Smiling while you fucked me in the asshole of my heart

 

In the asshole of my heart

That’s where all the trouble starts

You turned me right around

And I went down down down

In the asshole of my heart

You just let me play my part

Smiling while you fucked me in the asshole of my heart

 

And then I thought how much that I did love you

Thought about the day that we did part

I know I’ll always have that picture of you

Grinning while you fucked me in the asshole of my heart

 

In the asshole of my heart

That’s where all the trouble starts

You turned me right around

And I went down down down

In the asshole of my heart

You just let me play my part

Smiling while you fucked me in the asshole of my heart

 

****************************************

 

When we finished the song the dance floor was full and no one wanted to sit down. Amazingly, everyone had mixed so all racial lines had blurred and the young women hanging along the back wall had joined in. Everyone seemed so jocular that, not wanting to disappoint, the band took a deep bow and played the song again in an unrequested encore. Again it could not fail but to satisfy. This time we cut the final chorus to half speed which turned it into an anthem. All sides in the Cowboy/Indian dispute had locked arms and were singing.

 

In the asshole of my heart,

That’s where all the trouble starts.

 

Clearly we had written a song which had broken down the barriers of two hostile factions, each as dumb and violent as the other. In retrospect it makes me wonder if the Burners should not get back together and tour internationally to see if it has the same pacifying and uniting effect on Palestinians and Israelis, Sunni and Shiite, Moslem and Hindu. The song is amazingly simple to translate and play and I’m sure would connect with the universal experience of having the asshole of one’s heart fucked in many cultures, especially the Middle Eastern. The Burners could tour as peace ambassadors and perhaps for once earn a living wage.

 

At any rate, after we played it at Invermere the effect was terrific - there was instant harmony and afterward we were free to play what we wanted. We treated them to the best versions of all our original songs. They got a great show. If things got dicey on the dance floor, where a cowboy wanted to kick the shit out of an Indian or visa versa, quite often a delegate from one side or the other would emerge and ask us to play You Fucked Me in the Asshole of My Heart again. This solved everything like a balm. They seemed to especially like locking arms and singing the chorus together, as if it expressed some universal human condition in emotionally rectal terms.

 

When it was over we were glad there had been no blood on the floor. We collected our gate, a wad of one and two dollar bills. We bought beer off the promoter and went back to the hotel, where life had picked up since the quiet afternoon. Now there were rumblings and thumpings in the hallway too loud to ignore. Al and I sat in our room, swallowed beer and dined on stolen food, wishing we had remembered to steal sweet gherkins and cherry tomatoes. Soon the noise in the hall became too loud to ignore. We went out. A six foot cowboy in a denim jacket introduced himself.

 

“Bob,” he said. “Folks call me Cowboy Bob.”

 

Next to him was an native Indian of slightly smaller size. He was struggling to stand up straight, as if he had suffered a powerful blow.

 

“Now Jim,” Cowboy Bob addressed the native Indian in a kindly voice. “Jim. I’m trying to help you here. Jim. Jim, don’t do that.”

 

Jim had barely struggled to his feet and was trying to raise his fists.

 

“Jim,” Cowboy Bob drawled kindly. “I’m here to help you. Don’t be like this.”

 

Thud.

 

Thud!

 

Thud!

 

THUD!

 

WHAM!

 

Cowboy Bob threw five fast violent punches into Jim’s stomach and solar plexus that doubled him over. He sank to his knees in the hallway. “Jim wants to fight,” explained Cowboy Bob amiably. “But he don’t know how and he’ll just get himself hurt.”

 

Jim staggered to his feet again. He weaved in front of Cowboy Bob and put his dukes up.

 

“Now Jim, we talked about this before.” He sounded like a concerned country doctor. “Don’t make me do this.”

 

Wham.

 

Wham.

 

Thud.

 

Whack!

 

WHACK!

 

He let fly with a flurry of vicious body blows, the last of which cracked across Jim’s skull. Jim went down in a heap in the hallway.

 

“You fellas in the band?” asked Cowboy Bob. “I play a little harmonica myself.”

 

“I occasionally play the kazoo,” I said, rattled by the brutal spectacle.

 

Jim was now moaning on the carpet. He used the wall to pull himself to a standing position and square off against Cowboy Bob again. Weaving, he faced him with bloody toothless fury.

 

“Aw, come on Jim,” Cowboy Bob pleaded. “You’re just gonna hurt yourself if you keep on this way.”

 

Smack

 

Whack!

 

CRACK!

 

Cowboy Bob laced him three more times – once across each eye and then a hard right to the jaw. Jim went down like a house of cards. He lay in a heap in front of us. Cowboy Bob prodded Jim’s head with the toe of his cowboy boot. It lolled lifelessly. A bloody drool came out of his mouth.

 

“It’s for his own good,” Cowboy Bob informed us. “Now I’ll just take him down to his room where he won’t bother you folks.”

 

His night’s work done, having beaten a helpless drunken native Indian within an inch of his life, he dragged Jim into the room next to ours, tipped his hat and said goodnight. Shaken, we retired to our room and went to bed. Half an hour later the indestructible Jim had apparently regained consciousness and was indeed entertaining guests. A tremendous racket now came from his room. Then there was the sound of heavy footsteps in the hallway and a hammering on Jim’s door.

 

“It’s the manager! Open up! I’ve got the police with me!”

 

There was a hurried scrambling in the room as Jim’s native Indian guests packed themselves into the clothes closet. We could hear whispering and grunting through the thin walls as they tried to make themselves small. I wondered how good a hiding place a closet could be in a single small hotel room. It occurred to me they hadn’t thought it through. Sure enough, the manager and police burst in, threw open the closet door and they all tumbled out onto the floor. The whole lot were thrown out into the wintry streets, including the long suffering Jim, who I am sure had had better nights. Al and I finally fell asleep, more than happy to be returning to civilization in the morning.

 

The next morning we climbed into the van and began the risky trip back to Vancouver. It had been decided the night before that, strictly for morale purposes the band should be paid rather than getting the van fixed so we still used two drivers and a coat hanger to navigate the snow packed roads. We’d just boarded a ferry crossing Lake Windemere when I decided I would treat myself to counting my share of the loot. I felt my back pocket for my wallet. Gone.

 

“My wallet’s been stolen!” I cried. It had contained a huge wad of small bills, more money that I’d seen in months.

 

There was a disappointing lack of concern from the rest of the Burners. “Are you sure?” Tim eyed me. “You weren’t around anyone who’d steal it.”

 

“Wait a minute. Let me think.” My mind worked furiously. Tim was right. Then with a sickening feeling I realized what I had done. At the end of the night I’d utilized good old fashioned cowboy security and craftily stuck my wallet under my mattress.

 

“It’s under my mattress at the hotel, We’ve got to go back.”

 

“No,” said Tim flatly.

 

“It’s so full of cash the next person who sleeps there will fall off the bed.”

 

“No one will find it. You can phone them from Vancouver. They’ll send it.”

 

I looked around to the other Burners for support but they all had suddenly found something else to look at and gazed off in different directions. It was Burner justice, swift and hard. Sacrifice one for the many. There was no appeal. Thus I spent a miserable trip home, anguishing over Jim or one of his friends finding my nest egg and buying beer for a whole reserve full of Jims. We arrived home in the early hours of Monday morning exhausted.

 

There was no food in the house nor any oil for the stove so I awoke the next morning hungry, cold and broke. My erstwhile room mate, Bugsy, was nowhere to be seen. Lately he had all but decamped to his new girlfriend’s house, a petite, splendidly endowed woman named Irene. Bugsy had never officially moved out, but now he paid no rent, food or heat and only materialized once every two or three days to change his clothes. When I asked him if he still lived here he was slippery and evasive.

 

Wearing my coat I sat at the kitchen table and made a very expensive long distance call to Invermere and got the hotel manager to promise to send the wallet down by insured double registered express post using my money to pay postal expenses. I hung up and shivered.

 

Then I got two phone calls.

 

The first was from The City of North Vancouver’s public works department. They informed me I had had a job. Against all odds my letter to the Micky Excell, superintendent of public works had worked. But it hardly made sense. I knew from previous experience that City employees considered Mickey Excell to be evil incarnate. He would show up on a job site and the Italians would cross themselves. He had a bad cast in one eye so they always seemed to be looking in different directions. This drove terrified foremen crazy because they could never tell who Mickey was mad at when he frequently blew his top, or worse, if he was mad at two people at once. But the man must have had a heart because he hired me. They told me to come in that same day and sign the papers and I could start tomorrow.

 

I was elated when I hung up the phone. This was the best thing I could remember happening to me for years. Tension drained from my body. Money. I could almost smell the steak and eggs sizzling on the stove. Then the phone rang again.

 

“This is Peter Lindsay. I’ve been appointed your legal aid council for your charge of breaking and entering the Buy Rite Furniture Mart on 3rd Street. Be at the courthouse at eleven tomorrow.”

 

I hung up the phone. My mouth went dry. I had completely forgotten about my hurling the boulder through the furniture store window the past summer. The crows had come home to roost. First I had to phone back the City and beg a day off from my first day of work. Then I really started to worry. If I were found guilty it would be a breach of probation and I could be sent to jail. I could kiss my new job and the band goodbye. I sat and fretted. By late afternoon I had myself so tied in knots I went down to the Big O where I hit a lucky run of free beer that lasted into the wee hours. Just when I was starting to feel like there might be hope, Larry, the owner walked up.

 

“You guys aren’t playing here any more.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“We got a fresh band. Good Times.”

 

“Good Times?”

 

“We’re going to try them out.”

 

“What shower of idiots would call themselves Good Times? They must be terrible.”

 

“Give me a call in a month or so. Maybe we can fit you back in.”

 

It felt like a mortal blow. As the bar closed I felt the suck tide running harder and harder against the Burners.

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