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Chapter 16

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago

Chapter 16

 

Steve Renshaw stands outside the North Vancouver Court House that Dave had visited all too frequently, waiting to hear the verdict in Dave's latest case - the bands future hinged on it.

 

The next morning I felt ghastly. I went next door to the biker Gary Free’s house for advice on how to conduct myself in a break and enter trial, which was new to me. Gary was still in bed, but his ample wife Joy Free made me green tea.

 

“This is the end,” I brooded. “The cops have me dead to rights. The rock. The cut on my hand from the broken window. They picked me up across the street from the crime scene for God’s sake.”

 

“You don’t look so good. Your face looks grey.”

 

“I was out very late. I feel terrible.”

 

“I don’t know much about the law but I know how to get you ready to face it.” She broke out a lump of cocaine and started cutting lines. “This stuff is good. Not too speedy. Gary and I did a bunch last night and played a game of gin rummy to four million” It was rather like having restorative dope administered by a druggy Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show. She fussed around, bringing me a joint and some pills. In no time my outlook brightened. Then she gave me a final toot and sent me up the road to the courthouse.

 

When I got there my eyes were blazing. I felt giddily optimistic despite the fact everything was stacked against me. I met my legal aid lawyer, who was tall, fit, aloof and very well dressed. With no preparation we went into the courtroom and the trial opened. The clerk read the charge and the judge called the first witness, the cop who’d arrested me.

 

“I found the accused hitch hiking with a bleeding hand toward the hospital,” the cop testified. “He was very near to where the rock was thrown through the window. There was blood on the glass.”

 

“Was it his blood?”

 

“I don’t know, but he was the only one with a bleeding hand.”

 

“I see. So you didn’t actually see him throw the rock.”

 

“No.”

 

“Did he admit to throwing the rock?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

“No further questions.”

 

I suppressed a feeling of elation. I had been through so many drug trials where the police had lied but now they were being forced to tell the truth. Then the prosecutor called a surprise witness. He was a dumpy, do-right citizen who said he lived in the apartment building across from the furniture store. An eye witness. He glared at me, furious that I had committed such a crime and determined to put me away. He really had a personal stake in it. My spirits plunged again.

 

“Did you see the accused throw the rock?” my lawyer asked.

 

“No, but I heard the crash. Then I went to my window and saw him staggering around in front of the window and clutching his hand.”

 

“I see. Did at any time he turn and face you, or was his back to you the whole time?”

 

“His back was to me but he was staggering around and I got a good look. It was him all right,” he pointed. “I saw the whole thing.”

 

“Based on what you saw can you identify that person in this court today?”

 

“Yeah,” he pointed at me again. “Him. He did it.”

 

“But if his back was turned how can you identify him?”

 

“I know what I saw! He was wearing a yellow shirt.” Yellow, by the way, is the most visible color at night.

 

At that moment everything, my life and future, seemed to hang in the balance. On one hand I could have my probation revoked and go to jail, while on the other I could actually get an income and perhaps prolong the life of the band.

 

“I call for a recess,” my lawyer said suddenly.

 

“Ten minutes,” the judge grumbled.

 

I followed him out of the courtroom. I expected him to speak to me or at least acknowledge my presence but instead he did a remarkable thing. He withdrew an immense cigar from his suit jacket, fat, expensive and seven inches long. In 1971 no one would dream of uttering a peep if a lawyer lit up a cigar in a court house. It was expected. He then fired it up and contemplatively puffed clouds of aromatic smoke into the air. As he did this he had a look of utter detachment, like he was in a distant place, weighing his thoughts. Then he appeared to have reached a decision. After only a few puffs of his huge, expensive cigar he thrust it into the sand of an ashtray, where it stood erect, unsmoked and wasted, like it meant nothing. It was the most superbly understated display of self confidence I’ve ever seen. Then he walked back into the courtroom.

 

“Your honor,” he addressed the judge. “No one can identify my client. I move that this case be dismissed.”

 

“Case dismissed,” the judge pounded the gavel.

 

I gasped. This caught me completely by surprise. The cop was disgusted. The eye witness was so furious I thought he was going to have a stroke. I remained in my seat, ripped on cocaine, guilty as sin and barely had the presence of mind to shake the lawyer’s hand before he vanished through the courtroom doors like Shane. I didn’t even have his business card. I’d paid thousands of dollars for buffoonish lawyers at my drug trials only to end up with a criminal record, and this guy had got me off for free.

 

The next morning I hitch hiked to my first day at work at the City in a driving rain. It was nearing Christmas. During the holiday season the City assigned its workers to clear brush in overgrown places out of the public eye. This was because there was no real work to do. A bonfire was started to burn the brush. As soon as the foreman left the workers downed tools and gathered around it, idly poking at it with long sticks. Nearby a muddy creek roared with rainwater. As I stood with seven other workers a discussion was started on the nature of time. I was encouraged. I hadn’t realized City workers were so intellectually inquisitive. Perhaps this job would be stimulating after all. It soon became clear that each worker had his own unique view on the subject, yet lacked the mental equipment to communicate it to the others. There were misunderstandings. Arguments broke out. Soon everyone became bad tempered and walked off to sulk by himself. I could see what I was in for.

 

That night at practice I broke the news to the band. “Larry fired us. We’re no longer playing at the O.”

 

There was resigned silence. “It had to happen eventually,” Al sighed after a moment.

 

“Larry is a blockhead,” said Rod. “He’s killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”

 

Tim shrugged. “I was getting sick of that dive anyway.”

 

Steve delivered a stern warning. “This puts a huge strain on Burner Finance.”

 

I tried to lighten the funereal atmosphere. “I started my job today so you don’t have to pay me anymore. I’m sure more gigs will come along. Besides, we’ve got this studio and there’s a new song to learn.”

 

It was true. Just when things were at their darkest we were at the top of our performing skill and Al and I were writing more new songs than ever. We had just finished a song called What Did I Do Wrong? I was a melodic up-tempo pop love song with a George Harrison feel and some Eastern drum influences. It had some real sadness to it.

 

Listen to "What Did I Do Wrong". This was a demo performed by Alan Hovden in 1972. The original track is lost and this was reconstructed from a poor copy. (see copyright restrictions below)

 

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

 

What Did I Do Wrong?

 

Morning breaking I was giving

Making you my song

What did I do wrong?

 

You were taking for a living

Leaving it so long

What did I do wrong?

 

Oh I did not want to see

Blind men wait so patiently

Waiting, wanting

For the one thing

It would take to make you love

 

You are leaving me this evening

Never letting on

What did I do wrong?

 

Can you see me disbelieving

Standing in the dawn

What did do wrong?

 

Trying to think of what to say

Ask you for another day

Leaving me can’t be so easy

I can’t see what I forgot to be

 

Through my window thunder breaking

All across the dawn

What did I do wrong?

 

Waiting for you I’m mistaking

All who come along

What did I do wrong?

 

Certain ones I pull aside

See them hiding their surprise

Of my past I always ask them

If at last that I could know

Ah please

What could it be?

What did I do wrong?

 

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

 

Dean Dryhurst - the Burner Boys' latest... and last... manager.

 

It was clear what we needed a manager who would pitch us to booking agents and dig up business. We were approached by Dean Dryhurst, an electrician who can best be described as a walking sexual gland. Although he was married he frequently seduced his female clients. Whenever he was driving and had to slow down to pass a construction site he handed out his phone number to rough looking flag women and got more sex that way. Much later, after twenty years of this behavior his wife finally divorced him. Incredibly he was surprised – like someone who has set fires all their life then is shocked to be arrested as a pyromaniac. I had no doubt his motivation was less to get us work than to sit in the audience at our gigs and use his manager’s title to pick up women. The fact that we accepted him shows how desperate we had become. He never got us a single gig.

 

Although I said nothing I was gravely concerned. The Burner Boys were on the verge of being pulled off life support. When does a band cease to exist? When it stops performing? When its members no longer believe in it? We were now surviving on faith. As I stood in the rain each day cutting brush I had plenty of time to brood. Finally I came up with an ambitious idea. I had money. I’d throw a huge Christmas dinner party at my shanty and invite everyone I could think of to come and boost the band’s sagging morale. It would also give me a chance to pay back beer debts for the past two years. I threw myself into the project, even stealing lumber from building sites so I could hammer together a long trestle table in the living room. I got a turkey the size of a Volkswagen bug. Then I had an inspiration and figured out a terrific surprise for the end of the party which would leave everyone in high spirits. I could only hope it would boost the band’s diminishing life force.

 

In the snowy slumber of that Christmas it must have been surprising for my slum dwelling neighbors to observe car after car pull up outside my shanty. Young women in long party dresses picked their way up the dilapidated stairs. My kitchen resembled the galley of a large ship where everything – bowls of whipped potatoes, huge boats of gravy, vegetables, fresh bread, pickles, cranberry sauce and loads of condiments were laid out. The bath tub was filled with snow, beer, and bottles of wine. It was the kind of party Chuck Berry might have written about in one of his songs. For once I was giving instead of receiving. There was enough to feed around twenty-five people who were shoe horned into the long trestle table I’d built. When they’d finished getting second helpings I stood and addressed them.

 

“The Burner Boys thank you for your support,” I raised my glass. I felt like a jolly character in a Dickens novel that has finally discovered the secret of Christmas. “And now I have a Christmas present for everyone. For dessert we’re going to have a pie eating contest.”

 

As I said this two helpers quickly placed a custard pie between each couple. The logistics for setting this up had been immense. I’d got a friend, who drove a pie truck to order twenty five pasty shells, then made a huge vat of banana custard and filled each one. Then I’d hidden them in a box under the kitchen table in a Chiquita Banana box. The pies now receded down the long table in perfect perspective. Over each peered a pair of eager faces, all watching me intently.

 

“What you have to do,” I continued, “is cut each pie down the middle.” I held up mine indicating an imaginary line down the center of my pie with my index finger. “And each couple must eat half. The prize is a 26’er of whisky and a lid of weed.”

 

The row of intent faces soaked up the rules. There were also several people clustered around me as if I held a pie eating book of rules in my hand.

 

“And in conclusion, I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas –“

 

Only I didn’t say all of ‘Christmas.’ I only got the first syllable out, ‘Christ’.

 

Where the second syllable had been there was only a wet, custardy wop as I put the pie neatly into the face of a nearsighted friend whose nose was hanging over my shoulder. I didn’t even have to turn around to do it. I knew exactly where his face was and it was just a matter of placing the pie in a pre-selected spot. The guy took a half step back with the pie stuck to his face wearing a blank expression, so to speak, while the general idea caught on.

 

What I had in mind was one of those beautifully choreographed pie fights from the 1930’s. In fact I had studied early Three Stooges movies to learn pie fight dynamics. Whenever Moe got a pie in the face he resisted the urge for immediate revenge. Instead he stood stock still, went into a slow burn, and then carefully cleared out two eye holes in the whipped cream mask on his face. Next he slowly turned to the offending stooge, either Larry or Curly, and planted a pie in his face. This measured, deliberate tit for tat continued until a pie missed and invariably landed in the face of a matronly socialite who started hollering blue murder. Even so when the pie fight escalated to include the stooges’ entire dinner party the pies wafted back and forth in slow arcs like dignified anti aircraft fire.

 

“PIE FIGHT!” I hurled another pie.

 

The effect was instant. In the next moment it became clear that pie fight logistics had changed some since the 1930’s. The first reaction came from those trapped between the solid trestle table and the wall. They all grabbed immediately for the pie they’d been meant to eat, realizing that if they couldn’t escape they’d best arm themselves. Their partners across the table either fought tooth and nail for the pie or tried to squirm out of the line of fire. At this point I hurried back out into the kitchen to load up on pies again. As I did about 15 pies launched into a salvo across the table. There were screams of horror. Worse, I had made the pies with banana cream instead of whipped cream, and a banana cream pie can cause far more damage. Christmas dresses were ruined.

 

Then the whole thing departed from what would be your strictly normal pie fight. Half a dozen pie crazed guests ran back into the kitchen for new and more varied ammo. The food. It began to rain peas. Those pinned in by the solid, nailed down trestle table shrieked as an arabesque of potato salad splattered the wall behind them. Dangerous Brussels sprouts whizzed through the air like small, internally heated comets.

 

In the bedroom doorway I saw Terry Salo, another former manager leaning leering over Robyn, our red headed diehard fan. In his arms was a bowl of the iciest cranberry sauce. Instead of attempting to flee she stood her ground and gave the Salo a tongue lashing.

 

“This is a Christmas party and I have a new dress on and if you try anything –“

 

The tirade caught short in her throat as the freezing berries and sauce oozed down her cleavage.

 

By now the war had spread to the kitchen and turned dirty. A whole boat of turkey gravy was dumped over Steve’s head. It took him a week to wash out of his hair using repeated doses of Windex. I was hit in the chest by a sheet of toilet water as three rugby players had formed a bailing line from toilet bowl to kitchen. One fat guy was reaching behind him, grabbing food out of any bowl on the kitchen table when he stuck his hand into a cauldron of hot steamed rice. This caused him to loose his footing on the super slick floor and guests started playing spin the bottle with him. Then they remembered the booze. That is, they sprayed one another with beer and a dozen women barricaded themselves in the washroom and shrieked.

 

Then, as suddenly as it had started it was over. It struck swift and violent like a tornado. Now dripping guests stood in silence and regarded the devastation. My shanty had been rendered a ruin. Food splattered every wall. The floor was awash with stale beer, toilet water and floating bits of stuffing and mashed potatoes. As the enormity of what I had perpetrated dawned on me the rest of the guests slipped out to change clothes then meet at The Big O. I was right behind them. I simply couldn’t face what my Christmas party had become – a spectacular disaster.

 

The next morning a few friends showed up to help in the clean up. They brought their dog, which immediately began devouring food stuck to the walls. Just about the time the dog was being ill on the front porch my landlady arrived. Somehow through the slum grapevine word had reached her about the trashing of her property. She pounded on the door.

 

I opened it a crack. “Yes?”

 

“I want to inspect your house.”

 

“No,” I pushed the door shut.

 

“It’s my property,” she pushed it open.

 

“No,” I shoved it shut again.

 

“Let me in!” she put her shoulder into the door and forced it open.

 

“I’m not ready. Make an appointment.” I threw my weight against the door. It slammed shut.

 

“I’ll have you evicted!” she pushed the door open. Each time she poked her head in she got a better look at the devastation within. Each time her eyes grew wider with horror. There was no way I could let her in. Aside from the moldering food plastered everywhere the walls were splintered and cracked from where I had hammered the trestle table and benches directly in with four inch spikes. Even with some of the food cleaned up it still smelled like someone had vomited in every room. The house, I realized, was uninhabitable.

 

“You can’t evict me!. I’m moving!” gave the door a hard kick shut and locked it.

 

“I’ll be back!”

 

“I want my damage deposit back!” I shouted, wanting the last word.

 

Thus it was set. I had forced myself out of my own home and on short notice moved in with an Irishman named Paul Walsh in a slightly better slum called the Boscobel, which in Italian meant 'beautiful bush'. Painted a cheap turquoise, it was an eight apartment tenement that stood on the corner of 8th Street and Chesterfield. It was an edifice to hedonism. It had been built as a bordello between the wars for drunken shipyard workers and sailors to stagger up the hill and get laid. Each suite was served by a dumbwaiter originating in the now dilapidated office on the ground floor. Each apartment consisted of four equally sized rooms originally used as bedrooms plus a kitchen.

 

As a child walking home from school I had passed it and felt sorry for the poor people who must have lived there. I sadly imagined them having to eat tins of beans every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was remarkably prescient. When I moved in I discovered my new room mate was psychotically cheap, so much so he’d earned himself the nickname The Shamrock Weasel. He had emigrated from Galway, Ireland, a place so poor he had never seen playgrounds until he came to Canada where he was mystified by swings and teeter-totters. Although he worked as a plumber his standard dinner was a can of beans dumped onto a mound of mashed potatoes. When he ate he guarded his plate with his arms as if ready to fight off hungry siblings. He was slim, dark haired and a thought himself a ladies man but his efforts were constantly sabotaged by his closeness with a dollar. Shortly after I moved in I walked into the kitchen where he had a pretty young woman seated. Presumably they had gone out for a movie and now this was dinner. He slapped a plate of beans on toast in front of her.

 

“Wow, shit on a shingle,” I exclaimed, not believing at what I was seeing. “Can I get you guys a candle?”

 

“No, don’t worry about it,” he waved me off, while the poor woman sat mortified at what was happening to her.

 

Al Hovden, Pete Sinclair and Dave Jenneson - writing songs like never before.

 

The snows of January bit in, and Paul Walsh’s heating policy bit with it. He believed you should keep a home at around fifty degrees and wear sweaters. I worked in the rain and snow all day and froze at night in the apartment. The only time I was really warm was during band practices. I didn’t know how long we could keep practicing without paying gigs. Our faith was being stretched beyond the breaking point. Peter Sinclair had returned from Montreal and was now writing with us again. It was exasperating that just as we were hitting our creative stride and the band was learning ever better original songs there was no one to hear us. Peter and I wrote a song called Traveling With My Creole Belle, inspired by the blues song My Creole Belle by Mississippi John Hurt.

 

 

Listen to "Traveling with My Creole Belle" as recorded by The Witz Kids with Al Harlowe singing sometime in 1974. (see copyright restrictions below)

 

 

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

 

Traveling with My Creole Belle

 

I got two good hands

And I do believe I trust the Lord

I love this land

And I also own a four door Ford

 

So I swung her into gear

Man you should have seen the gravel spray

When I passed a lady standing

With a sign reading San Jose

 

And she said,

Slow down son,

You know your traveling’s just begun

Traveling with my Creole Belle

Traveling with my Creole Belle

 

Pulled into Kansas

While we were high on wine

Her head fell on my shoulder

So I put her little hand in mine

 

She said,

Slow down son

You know you’re traveling’s just begun

Traveling with my Creole Belle

Traveling with my Creole Belle

 

Downtown St. Louis

We were sitting at a light

I said don’t those big hotels seem nice?

She said Slow down

 

I said ‘Let’s go to Newport’

We highballed all of the way

I was hoping that the music’s gonna

Drive my blues away

 

And she said

Come on son,

You know this traveling can be fun

Traveling with my Creole Belle

Traveling with my Creole Belle

I was traveling with my Creole Belle

Traveling with my Creole Belle.

 

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

 

 

When it seemed the band would simply peter out we got news just in time to renew our hopes.

 

We have a gig,” Steve announced at practice. “It’s in Whistler”

 

“The highway of death,” Rod raised his eyebrows.

 

“Exactly. There’s no guarantee the van will make it.”

 

“Isn’t Whistler full of rich skiers?” I asked.

 

“Hardly,” Rod sniffed. “I’ve been up there. It’s full of broke ski bums.”

 

Steve gave a bleak sigh. “We’d better vote on it.”

 

Slowly, and with some drama each Burner raised his hand like volunteers for a doomed mission. With the van in the advanced stages of breakdown each gig now involved not only a long trip in a rolling deep freeze but personal danger. Highway 99, The Sea to Sky Highway was also well named as the highway of death. The twisting, hilly two lane road clung to the steep sides of Howe Sound where it was constantly victim to rock slides. Dozens of cars swerved over the white line into head on collisions each year. The culprits were ski bums not wanting to miss a moment on Whistler’s slopes who were speeding, passing on curves and slamming into more placid southbound traffic. The death toll each year was impressive.

 

We hit snow almost immediately and had to put on the chains, which by now were worn out. The bungee cords tethering them to the wheels were either stretched or broken. When we pulled back onto the highway the loose chains flailed at the wheel wells. If we went over ten miles an hour it sounded like someone was hammering on the sides of the van with a steel pipe. It felt like traveling in an army vehicle with its tracks blown off. We clung to the shoulder of the highway at a painful rate of speed while skiers and semi trailers roared passed us with horns wailing. Soon there is a flashing light behind us.

 

“What’s the problem here?” the cop poked his head in the window.

 

“Oh, no problem,” Tim coughed nervously. “I just like to be cautious in the snow.”

 

“You are driving on the shoulder under the posted speed limit. Is there something wrong with this vehicle?”

 

“The chains are a bit iffy.”

 

The cop inspected the chains and returned. “Those things are useless. I’m ordering you to stop at Britannia Beach and get new ones. If I see you driving in this condition again I will take your vehicle off the road.”

 

We continued our miserable inching progress until we reached Britannia Beach where, instead of stopping Tim actually sped up. Buying new chains was out of the question. If we’d done so we almost certainly would not have returned home in profit. Tim’s solution was to increase speed by degrees. When we got used to a certain noise level he poured on speed until the noise was deafening. When we got used to that he sped up again. When we finally pulled into the parking lot of a Whistler hotel our heads were ringing.

 

We were barely out of the van when our ears were assaulted by the blast of a slide trombone from a Nordic looking man. Next to us a bus was parked. The sign on it read: Sons of Norway, Seattle, Washington. It now disgorged a stream of extremely drunk blond haired men. They faced off with us across the parking lot for a moment like two hostile tribes. They were thirty of them, five of us. They looked like they were wondering what drunken horror show they would pull off next – possibly with us as victims.

 

“We’re the Burner Boys,” I announced to the trombone player by way of a peace gambit. “We’re playing at the Ski Boot tonight.”

 

Silence. We eyed each other through the falling snow.

 

“And he’s Norwegian!” I pointed to Al and pushed him forward.

 

“Ja, JA! Norsk! NORSK!” they broke ranks and flooded toward us. Suddenly, due to having a full blooded Norwegian among us we were part of the tribe. They offered us shots of aquavit from pocket flasks. I wondered if it had been this easy to turn aside a boat full of marauding Vikings in the tenth century. They swept us into their midst and hurried us up the stairs to the Keg & Cleaver bar.

 

“Your money is no good here,” said the trombone player.

 

“That’s cool,” I said. “Because there’s a hole in our bucket and it won’t carry no beer,” I alluded to our destitute state in a hip bluesy patois I thought worthy of a big city band. It sailed completely over his head. It was the beginning of a chain reaction of misunderstandings that would almost result in an international incident.

 

Er De gal? Bucket? No bucket. BOTTLE!” he pounded a dark green Tuborg on the table.

 

“We’ll let you in free to our gig tonight,” I lied, knowing it was impossible. There followed a lot of rounds of expensive imported Turborgs and shooters. It went on and on. Soon we were joining with them endlessly singing their drinking anthem.

 

The working class can kiss my ass

I've got the foreman's job at last

We'll rob the rich and rape the poor

Make every working girl a whore

Do you really, really think

(Pause "clink")

We should have another drink

 

Being guests of The Sons of Norway was like being afloat in an ice cold sea of imported Tuborg. After a couple of hours this stopped being fun and became a liability. Once again the band was drunk on empty stomachs. I felt light headed. The ground shifted beneath my feet. We still had a gig to play and I was already very drunk. Just as we were got up to sneak away the trombone player rose.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“We have to play tonight,” my legs wobbled.

 

“Ja, Ja, Ja. But first you come with us. VE EAT!”

 

With that they dragged us upstairs to a dining room where long tables were laid with white tablecloths and place settings. The wives and girlfriends were already seated, having gone skiing or shopping while their husbands drank like fiends. The women looked painfully sober. It was clear they expected a civilized dinner so the Sons of Norway had to tone down their act.

 

“God aften damer!” the trombone player greeted the women. The men sat down with as much decorum as they could muster. The Sons of Norway may have been drunks but they were well dressed drunks. By contrast, seated at the white table cloth the Burners looked like road kill. The wives didn’t like it. Flasks were produced from coat pockets and men surreptitiously shared snorts of aquavit, a yellowish potato whisky with a 40% alcohol kick. Bottles of wine had been placed down the center of the table for guests to share. Not wanting to miss out, I grabbed the nearest bottle of red wine and emptied nearly the entire contents into an empty pint beer glass. This simultaneously lowered the tone and raised the hostility level.

 

The trombone player broke the tension. “Here’s to our guests,” he raised his glass. “En stykke ristet brød til Burner Boys!

 

Thankfully waiters materialized to take our orders. Since this was obviously free I ordered the biggest and most expensive thing I could find – a rack of ribs the size of a Flying Wing. The food seemed to create a temporary truce, a no man’s land across the table between the wives and the Burners. Finally I stood, my pint glass sloshing red wine.

 

“Here’s to the Son’s of Norway!” I raised my glass, spilling some on myself. “We thank you. We have to play in an hour so we expect to see you all at The Ski Boot.”

 

This elicited a large, drunken cheer. On my way out I palmed a bottle of aquavit and stuffed it in my coat. By the time we reached the parking lot I realized how truly drunk we were. There was a good chance we might be pulled over by the police so I decided to err on the side of caution and thrust the bottle four feet into a snow bank. There it presumably rests to this day, waiting to be discovered by a wealthy Japanese skier who, with any luck, will make himself ill on it.

 

Today Whistler will host the 2010 Winter Olympics. It consists of big, criminally expensive hotels and an ersatz ‘Alpine Village.’ The village, with its twisting cobblestone streets is so bland and devoid of character it looks like it was designed by Wal-Mart. It is not like a village at all, but rather a movie set of a village where every door leads to laughably overpriced luxury boutiques, bars and restaurants. Meanwhile housing is so expensive the employees of these clip joints are sometimes forced to rent clothes closets in communal homes to sleep. All this is surrounded by ranks of massive, three story log chateaus worth millions each where the very rich abide a few months of the year. They are monuments to excess and rather disgusting. Developers are now selling million dollar plus building lots so remote they are accessible only by private tram. Research recently revealed that 95% of the world’s wealth is now owned by 1% of the population. As an Olympics venue Whistler is now a global destination. They are playing to that top 1%. Nothing else matters. Many of its visitors are those who can afford to fly from Tokyo, New York or Munich for a few days skiing. Nevertheless, no matter how many billionaire investors pour money into the place the fact remains that spending a weekend or even a day there leaves you feeling like you have been trying to fill up on cotton candy.

 

But in 1970 Whistler was a real place full of real people - a scattered collection of hotels, bars and shanties spread among three lakes. In between there were long stretches of dark, unmarked wilderness roads. Down these the Burner van now wandered.

 

“We’re lost,” Tim yelled above the flailing chains.

 

“Let’s pull over and rest,” I begged.

 

“We have to play in half an hour.”

 

“Just a little wolf nap.”

 

“There it is.”

 

We were a band of drunks playing in some obscure remote venue hardly able to fake our way through our own material...

 

The rest of the band moaned. We had drunk from noon until eight on empty stomachs then eaten huge slabs of meat. By the time we got on stage at the Ski Boot it was like everyone had been tagged by a tranquilizer gun. I tried to be bright and witty as I introduced the band but I had the intelligence of a wall stapler. We lurched into the first set but trying to perform was like walking through porridge. As I staggered around the stage I was dogged by maudlin thoughts. So it had come to this. We were a band of drunks playing in some obscure remote venue hardly able to fake our way through our own material. Our playing was turgid and sloppy. It was a new low in the annals of the performing arts. The one saving grace was that the audience had never heard us before so didn’t know to expect better. With great relief we finished the first set and rushed over to the bar, where, for the first and only time in our history we gulped cup after cup strong black coffee. Amazingly it worked. By the time we took the stage again we felt half human.

 

“Welcome back friends,” I announced. It was nice to be able to form a coherent sentence again. “Now The Burner Boys are going to lay down some big time energy on the dance floor.”

 

This got a large cheer from the crowd of party animal ski bums and their women. It gave me hope. We had blown the first set but now we could salvage the gig. We were just hitting the groove halfway through the second set when I noticed a crowd of Sons of Norway members at the entrance led by the trombone player. I waved them in and when the song finished had the audience cheer them.

 

“I want everyone to welcome our friends The Sons of Norway. Let’s give them a big hand!”

 

Another big cheer. This didn’t seem to impress The Sons of Norway who looked sulky and hostile.

 

“HELVETE!” the trombone player pointed at us. “ARREST THEM!”

 

I now saw two RCMP officers emerge and walk toward us, followed by The Sons of Norway. “Dot’s him!” the trombone player pointed at me. “The ringleader!”

 

The audience went silent. I was speechless.

 

The cops walked up to me. “These men allege you stole five meals from them at the Keg ‘n Cleaver Restaurant earlier tonight. Is that true?”

 

“No way.”

 

“Did you pay for your meals?”

 

“We were guests.”

 

“Not according to them.”

 

“But they invited us.”

 

“Did they say it was a free dinner?”

 

“No, we just assumed. Who wouldn’t?”

 

“Do me a favor. Don’t assume.”

 

“I’m sorry but I flunked mind reading in school.”

 

“You think this is funny? You owe them a hundred and five dollars. You’d better pay them now.”

 

“We’re broke.”

 

“Have it your way. You’re all under arrest for theft.”

 

“You can’t be serious.”

 

“I’ll show you how serious it is, wise guy. You and your friends are going to spend the weekend in jail.”

 

“We can’t. We’re playing.”

 

“Not any more.”

 

I looked around at the band in disbelief. I have never felt so helpless.

 

“Couldn’t you just let us finish our gig?”

 

“No. I’m not coming back here and you sure as hell aren’t going to turn yourselves in.”

 

I had to admit the cop was right. When I had committed crimes previously I had always been aware I was doing so but this was unique. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Furious, I pointed a finger at the trombone player.

 

“You can have us arrested now but I guarantee you when the papers find out about this The Sons of Norway’s name will be mud on both sides of the border. I’ll personally make sure of it. Trust me, I’ve done it before.”

 

He glowered back at me with mute Norwegian pig headedness.

 

Defeated, I looked back at the band and was about to tell them to shut down when I heard someone from the crowd surrounding the stage.

 

“I vill pay,” said a sad voice.

 

I turned around, not believing my ears. A well dressed man emerged from the Sons of Norway ranks.

 

“Who are you?” asked the cop.

 

“I am the Consul General from the Norwegian Consulate in Seattle. Ve do not want trouble.” He was an older man who looked long suffering.

 

“Then do it,” said the cop. “I want this resolved.”

 

Clearly the Consul General had been in similar fixes with his errant tribe and had heard my threats to smear them in the media. Obviously he didn’t want Norwegian nationals, and by extension the Norwegian Government to get a black eye by being illegally lickered up in foreign country and inviting errant rock bands to dine with them then arresting them for the outstanding bill. I’m sure he felt he was preventing an international incident.

 

“Thank you,” I shook his hand. “You realize we are quite innocent.”

 

“Ve must do what ve must do,” he replied diplomatically.

 

“And you,” I pointed to the trombone player. “Bugger off. You’re persona non gratis in this dance hall. Beat it.”

 

He slunk off, a dark Norse figure whose treachery I will never understand. Perhaps The Sons of Norway had been so scolded by their wives they had come up with this strange retribution to retrieve their manhood.

 

Nothing quite takes the momentum out of a gig like having uniformed police try and publicly arrest the band on stage for theft. The mikes had been live during the whole conflict and broadcast it to the audience. I walked up and addressed the crowd.

 

“WE WON!” I shouted and thrust my fist into the air.

 

The audience gave us a huge cheer. They had heard everything and apparently had been pulling for us all along. We had emerged from the catastrophe as heroes. From then on we could do no wrong. Things went so well that by the end of the second set we switched from black coffee back to the beer standard. We were like embryos suspended in an embolic fluid of beer –we drank it, swam in it, lived in it, were nourished by it, and it was unwise to be away from it for more than a few hours at a time.

 

By the beginning of the third set we felt well enough to do a first time performance of a new song. I had written it while standing in a freezing rain pruning leafless bushes for the City. The title popped into my head shortly after eight o’clock in the morning and by ten I had the first two verses written in my head. At coffee break I wrote them down. By noon I had the next two verses and the chorus written in my head and jotted them down at lunch break. By quitting time the song was finished. I don’t know why I chose to write it on such a gloomy wet day except the work was so boring and cold it may have been in self defence. I presented it to the band and Al did a superb job co-writing and arranging it.

 

Listen to "A Band Is A Beautiful Thing". This demo was recorded in UIC Studio in Lynn Valley in 1972. The song was later used as the opening for the Burner Revival gig. This is the only recording that features the original Burner Boy band that has survived. The sax player and female backup vocalists were added to the line up. (see copyright restrictions below)

 

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

 

A Band is a Beautiful Thing

 

I got sick of all the noise

In the record shop and on the Real Mc Coys

So I went out and got myself a brand new toy

And now I’m a Burner Boy

 

The old cash box goes ding a ling

Come along you want to hear the jail bird sing

Ain’t nothing feels better than to spread your wings

And a band is a beautiful thing

 

Every cat I’ve met so far

Has a big M. Hohner or a new guitar

And he’s getting it together or he’s gonna be a star

Depending on who you are

 

I jumped my chance up I did spring

No I never could be happy only hanging in the wings

And you’d better make it snappy if you’re going to be the king

And a band is a beautiful thing.

 

A band is a beautiful thing

I told all the people I meant to bring

There’s a knock on the door

The telephone rings

And a band is a beautiful thing.

 

I always knew I would survive

If I made it new and I played it live

And soon my sugar daddy-o will arrive

And say ‘You’re gonna make a 45!’

 

I sure do like that Carol King

And what she does with the words she sings

And Elton John forgot one thing

And a band is a beautiful thing

 

A band is a beautiful thing

I told all the people I meant to bring

There’s a knock on the door

The telephone rings

And a band is a beautiful thing.

 

Saw John and Paul in ‘64

And I saw the crowd and I heard the roar

And I said Oh Boy I’m gonna be a star

But now I little more

 

The jukebox bounced through a burning ring

I’m hanging from the ceiling and swinging from a swing

Everybody’s here and everybody sing

And a band is a beautiful thing.

 

A band is a beautiful thing

I told all the people I meant to bring

There’s a knock on the door

The telephone rings

And a band is a beautiful

Band is a beautiful

Band is a beautiful thing.

 

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

 

 

The crowd went crazy for it and demanded to hear it three times more before we shut down at one in the morning. I sat down at the bar, amazed at our bums-to-heroes recovery when a diminutive ski bum approached me. He seemed overly excited.

 

“Hey man, you guys were really cool. Where can I buy your records?”

 

“Sadly,” I said, ‘we are to date unrecorded.”

 

“You mean you’ve never even heard what you sound like?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

“Well Jeeze man, I’ve got good news for you. I recorded your whole first set,” he thrust out a small cassette tape recorder.

 

“Really? No one’s ever done that before. How does it sound?”

 

“Fuckin’ A, man.”

 

Now I was excited. No one had ever recorded the Burners before, live or in studio. Perhaps we could make copies of this and send it around to agents. It might be a whole new start. I quickly called the rest of the band over.

 

“Go ahead, play it,” I urged him.

 

He snapped on the machine. A grinding, plodding version of Fishing Blues filled the air. He had it cranked up to full volume which made it even more unpleasant.

 

“There’s something wrong with your machine,” said Al. “The batteries are dying.”

 

“No way. They’re fresh today.”

 

Our faces fell. The realization set in – we had been so drunk we were playing at less than half tempo, a remarkable feat when you consider we’d performed the songs hundreds of times before. Yet we’d been in such a brain dead mental slump no one noticed for a full 45 minutes. It sounded like sludge.

 

I reached over and clicked the machine off. “Do me a favor. If you run into anyone from the music industry don’t play this.”

 

“I get it,” he gave me a crafty wink. “You don’t want to get your songs ripped off. Right?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

“Hey, I’ve got a party to go to. Do you think I could catch a ride?”

 

Considering his diehard enthusiasm it was an unrefusable request. We piled him into the back with the equipment and, after a complex set of instructions, dumped him at the party. He gave an equally complex set of instructions to get back and predictably, soon we were lost. Tim was watching for street signs along a dark gravel road when he missed a turn. There was a roller coaster swerve as the Burner van left the road. The speakers shifted with a lurch and the van plunged into a snow filled ditch. We climbed out to inspect the damage.

 

“God dammit, we’ll need a tow truck,” Tim announced angrily. “Will this day never end?”

 

“I’ll go,” I volunteered before anyone else could. I always felt that going for help beat sitting for hours in a cold dead van.

 

“What about the rest of us?” asked Rod. “We’ll freeze out here.”

 

“Keep the engine running.”

 

“We’ll die of Burner dioxide poisoning,” Steve worried.

 

I left them to sort out their own survival and started walking toward where I perceived the town site to be. Traffic was sparse. I tried hitch hiking for about twenty minutes but it was hopeless. I gave up and just stood in the middle of the road waving my arms. Finally a car full of drunken ski bums pulled up.

 

“We went into the ditch back there,” I wedged myself into the back seat. “We need a tow truck. I’m in a band,” I added, hoping it would lend me stature.

 

“Did you guys play at the Ski Boot tonight?” a voice from the darkness.

 

“Yeah, The Burner Boys.”

 

“Cool. I heard you guys rocked. We’re going to a party. Why don’t you come in and say hello to everyone? Then we’ll get you a tow truck.”

 

I weighed the consequences in my mind. Surely it would take only fifteen minutes to make the rounds at the party. Then I would be back to the rescue with a tow truck. Unfortunately this is not what happened. The celebrity starved Whistler residents treated me like a hero. Many had been at the Ski Boot and were now Burner fans. I was showered with praise. Beers were pressed into my hand. Women surrounded me and asked what it was like to be a songwriter and rock star. I didn’t have to exaggerate my own importance as everyone else did it for me. All these elements worked to erode my character. I kept putting off going for a tow truck. Finally time got away on me altogether - suddenly it was four in the morning. The tow truck people had gone. There were only a few guests left in the living room and I was very drunk and very tired. Yet the host, conscious of my elevated status as a Burner Boy, had reserved a bed for me. I went upstairs where the top floor of the large A Frame had been made into rows of bunk beds separated by a passageway. I fell on the last remaining bed and instantly passed out.

 

An hour later I woke up downstairs, sitting on the couch in only my jeans. The host, a good natured grease ball, was sitting opposite with a beer in his hand. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, trying to get my bearings when I heard a voice from the landing above.

 

“That’s him! He’s the one who did it!”

 

I looked up to see a woman with blond bobbed hair. She was pointing down at me, outraged.

 

“Did what?” I hollered back at her.

 

“You know what I mean, you pig. You went to the bathroom on me!”

 

“You’re out of your mind,” I shot back. Then I thought about it. Yes, I did seem to have a hazy memory of getting out of bed upstairs to look for the washroom – of walking up and down between the rows of bunks frustrated until I spotted a white, round shape on the bed next to me which in my somnambulant I state took to be a toilet bowl. Then the relief as I let fly…

 

“I want you to call the police for assault!” she shouted at the host.

 

“Ah, piss off back to bed,” he told her, apparently unwilling to have his honored guest insulted.

 

I awoke the next morning with a second heartbeat in my head, so loud it was actually annoying the person in the next bed. Beer vapor seeped from every pore. When I stood up I felt dizzy. I had lost the ability to generate saliva so my tongue was suffocating me. I got a ride back to the motel with the host where I received an ultra icy reception.

 

“I’m sorry,” I pleaded. “I was an utter asshole. I got swept away at the party. People were being so nice to me.”

 

More silence. The chill continued for several hours on the trip home. Finally it emerged that the band had sat freezing for several hours until they flagged down a passing pick up and were dragged from the ditch by tow rope. Thirty years later the Burners are still mad at me for abandoning them and rightly so. It was an unconscionable breaking of the Burner code. We unloaded the equipment into the studio without speaking. The van was a ruin.

 

“When is the next practice?” I asked tiredly.

 

“Let’s give it a rest for a week or so,” Al sighed, equally as tired.

 

We did this. A week turned into two. No one, it seemed, had the heart to call another practice for what was clearly a lost cause where the enchantment had died. By unspoken mutual consent no one called for a practice while the concept of the Burner Boys, removed from life support, suffered a lingering lonely death. At some point – no one knows exactly when - the Burner flame guttered and died. A wisp of smoke rose in a dark Lynn Valley basement.

 

We waited an extra month to make sure the Burner Boys were good and dead and the body had been removed. We had formed a band based on a musical ideal – we would only perform original songs – as skillful and with as much potential as any on commercial radio now or then - based on the life and times of our audience. Ultimately the poverty, adversity and reversals of fortune had been too much for even a die hard group of five Burners to endure. It was an artistic quest, and we paid the price. At the same time we'd had literally thousands of people dancing in the street to our music, which is surely some measure of success. One thing is certain - no one would have traded it for anything.

 

Slowly, as we faded from view, people began to ask when we were playing next. They were told the band was dead. They refused to believe it. Ironically this fueled a myth that the Burner Boys were alive and well and perfecting new songs in a secret basement studio, preparing for a fabulous, phoenix-like come back. This legend persists in some quarters today.

 

We denied it all. We had to let the Burner Boys die. It was only then that we could begin creating and recording the best songs we had ever written.

 

 

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