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Chapter 17

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago

Chapter 17 Afterburner

!

 

The Burner Revival gig

 

 

 

Almost every product is stamped with an expiry date. Bands are the same. They grow stale. Green spots of mold appear on the song list. Enthusiasm slackens, their sound withers and the thrill is gone. The Burners were different. They were best after their expiry date.

 

 

There was one more ironic twist. Maddeningly, at the precise moment the Burners broke down we had just paid off our equipment. Had the band kept going, we actually would have been in profit for the first time. With nothing better to do with the paid-off guitars and amps they were stored in the Lynn Valley basement studio. The P.A. board was lodged in the sound booth as a primitive mixing board. To musicians and songwriters the place was as irresistible as a fully-stocked wine cellar would be to a gang of winos.

 

We abandoned the Big O as it was now too depressing. Bands like Good Times and The Ambleside Blues Band had reduced that one time showplace of creativity to a threadbare venue of dull cover songs and talent-less, twenty-minute blues jams. Crowds were already thinning. It was tragic seeing the tremendous head of steam we’d built up vanishing like air from a leaking tire. It slowly declined back to its tawdry roots. Eventually live music petered out altogether. Once again The Club 140 became a dark and haunted place. In the late 1970’s The Big O was wiped from the landscape along with the St. Alice hotel a block away to make room for condos. Although both hotels could have been construed as being artifacts of community heritage not a single voice was raised in protest.

 

Instead we decamped to the Avalon, a more upscale beer barn two miles to the west. It was a vast, windowless cavern the size of a football field but the air was so shrouded in a tobacco haze you couldn’t see to the far end. It was always packed. The noise was deafening. The Avalon was superior to the Big O in many aspects. If you picked up a woman there was less of a chance she would be sick on you, try and steal your wallet or give you the clap. And they had superb chairs. They were big, handsomely padded things with sturdy wooden arms that quickly became the article of choice for customers wanting to furnish apartments and basement suites. This became a thriving industry. The trick was to linger at a table near one of the doors then when no one was looking grab a chair, dash out and hurl it into the bushes where it would be retrieved later. The Avalon’s excellent feng shiu allowed this to go on largely undetected. I have no doubt that 35 years later there are dozens of them still rotting in the bushes where drunken thieves forgot them. I became a prolific practitioner of the craft until one night I literally ran into the arms of a waiting cop as I dashed out the door with a chair. I was duly charged and got another court date.

 

To add to the Avalon’s difficulties the government suddenly dropped the drinking age. People who’d been forced to sneak in underage for years became furious that the age was reduced just as they became legal. Fake I.D’s were burned like draft cards in small ashtray fires. A brawl ensued, turning into a riot. The police were everywhere.

 

This caused no problem at the Big O where the waiters were too lazy to check for I.D. and a twelve-year old could have drunk himself sick as long as he’d brought enough pennies from home. Where Big O waiters wore old pants and a soiled white shirt, the Avalon’s waiters were forced to be smartly liveried in red jack shirts with the Avalon logo. Today a fifty-something man waiting beer on tables is viewed to be down on his luck and possibly suffering from a spot of trouble. In 1970 it was a respectable job. The Avalon waiters were of Italian and Greek extraction and sharp operators, constantly short-changing drunken customers. As the Burners sat around a table one night a few months after the break up, Al made a magnanimous gesture.

 

“Here John,” he tipped John the Greek a nickel. “Buy some ice cream for the kids.”

 

John the Greek was a bad short changer and had to be constantly watched. He balefully regarded Al’s tip, dropped it on his tray as if it were a mouse turd and stalked off.

 

“That’s how I keep John the Greek honest,” Al advised us with a sly wink. “I tip him every once in awhile and that way he doesn’t rip me off.”

 

We privately rolled our eyes, yet in 1972 a nickel tip wasn’t that outrageous an insult. The monetary system barely resembled that of today where a full blown night in the bar can burn up a hundred dollars. In that distant era one could go down with two dollars and still expect to close the place. Yet there was no reason for Al to go light with the tips. Like soldiers who have been cashiered out of some terrible army servitude we all now had decent civilian jobs. I was digging ditches for the City, Steve worked at an arch factory, Peter worked for the railroad, and Rod got a job at Woolworth’s where he was forced to wear a bow tie. Al was loading semi-trailers and Tim had received a fat student loan to go to art school.

 

A few minutes after Al’s dubious tip, John the Greek returned unbidden and dropped an unordered round on our table. This was one of his patented moves for gaining extra profit.

 

“Hold it,” Tim said. “We didn’t order this.”

 

“It’s from heem,” John pointed.

 

Several tables away Martin O’Brian sat with his entourage, he too having abandoned the Big O. “Let’s get it on!” he shouted and gave us a thumbs up. “When’s your next gig?”

 

“Any day now!” I shouted back.

 

It was of course a lie. The dead Burners were becoming an increasing liability. We had started out telling people we’d split up but that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. More and more, fans hungry for another Burner show would buy us rounds and in return demand to know about the next performance. It was like we had killed someone but were doing a bad job of hiding the body. The more we accepted free rounds the more we mortgaged the Burner legacy, compounding the interest with accumulating beer guilt. Our collective weakness of character ensured we would continue to accept these bribes on false pretenses.

 

“This can’t go on,” I said. “Once they find out we’re gone for good they’ll lynch us.”

 

“Maybe we could tell them we’re making an album,” suggested Al.

 

It wasn’t such a dumb idea. He and Peter had both purchased big Sony TC630 reel-to-reel tape recorders. I personally had gone into deep glooms contemplating the loss of our songs to posterity. It was tragic to let that catchy, carefully crafted music fade from living memory so quickly. Now I was excited.

 

“Recording the songs,” Steve guiltily sipped his free beer, “will at least give people something to chew on.”

 

The rest of the band nodded in agreement.

 

“Let’s start with A Band is a Beautiful Thing,” I said quickly before enthusiasm could waver. “We can do it tonight. It’s still early.”

 

 

 

Peter Campbell, while travelling through Europe as a young man

was discovered and cast as a giant in Frederico Felllini's

classic Italian movie Satyricon

 

Just then Peter Campbell, the six foot seven giant who’d been fond of eating menus at the Big O coffee shop appeared at our table. He’d had a brief confinement in the hospital after he’d alarmed authorities trying to knock buses over by shouting at them. Now he was apparently cured because had a job as a bouncer at the Avalon, a vocation for which he was ideally suited. He was walking intimidation. He stood menacingly over Al.

 

“Let’s see some ID.”

 

“Me?” Al pointed at himself in surprise.

 

“Do you see me talking to anyone else?”

 

“Come on Peter,” Al tried to laugh it off. “It’s me. Al. The Burner Boys.”

 

“I know who you are. I want to check your age. It’s my job. You have to be nineteen.”

 

“I’m twenty-four. Look at me. I’m old.”

 

“Then prove it.”

 

“What about the rest of the band?”

 

“I’m talking to you,” Peter Campbell jabbed a large, thick finger into Al’s face. His patience grew short. Tension rose.

 

“I can’t believe you’re serious.”

 

“Believe it. Show me some ID. NOW!.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Al hurriedly reached into his pocket, produced his wallet and handed Peter Campbell his ID.

 

“Oh, MAAAAAAN!” Peter Campbell roared and looked at the ceiling in disgust as if Al had missed some tremendous cosmic joke. He didn’t even glance at the I.D. Instead he lumbered off shaking his head and muttering at Al’s gullibility. For his part Al was left humbled and feeling a twit for falling victim to Peter’s capricious sense of humor. After that he had Al’s number and gave him no peace. It became a source of entertainment. Pitted against Peter Campbell’s rapier quick mind it was like watching Al engaged in unarmed combat.

 

“Let’s go and record,” Al said sullenly, having lost his all his ha ha and wanting to get on with something serious. We got up to leave.

 

Just then a spectacular figure entered. It was Horowitz, the sometime-glam rock Burner Boy who had suffered with us through the withering gigs of Williams Lake and Zeballos. He was back playing for the Seeds of Tyme and he too had deserted the Big O, making the Avalon his new headquarters. He wore a sweeping embroidered coat, red crushed velvet hot pants and snakeskin platform boots. Glittering like a pawnshop diamond he swept through the bar to the profound displeasure of tables full of dry wall workers and roofers who jeered and hooted as he passed. Horowitz, ever the rock blueblood, ignored them like the swine they were. They more infuriated because he had a beautiful woman on his arm and another in tow.

 

“You’re leaving early?” he asked us, ever cheerful.

 

“Going to record,” I said. “If anyone asks, we’re hiding out doing an album.”

 

“Cool. Can I come too? I’ve got some new tunes.”

 

This was the last thing we expected, but Horowitz, despite his somewhat intimidating rock star persona, was always cheerfully up for anything. We bought beer and drove off in the Burner van with Horowitz following.

 

“I see a problem tonight,” Al said beside me on the front seat. “A Band is a Beautiful Thing needs a retro feel, and for that we need a sax. Anyone know a sax player?”

 

There was silence. The Burners were notoriously bad networkers with other musicians and no one knew anybody. At that moment we passed a bus stop. Leaning on the pole was a slight, bedraggled figure clutching a saxophone like it was his last possession on earth. I told Tim to pull over.

 

“Hey you!” I rolled down the window. “Where are you going right now?”

 

“Gong home,” he eyed us suspiciously.

 

“Not anymore. We need a sax player. Get in.”

 

Amazingly he complied. It looked like life had beaten him up and all he had left was music.

 

“We’re recording tonight. Can you play that thing?”

 

“Progressive jazz,” he replied a little defensively.

 

“We’ll make do,” said Al.

 

We hauled the poor little bastard down to the basement studio and played him A Band is a Beautiful Thing. He was mystified. It was like he was hearing moon music. Progressive jazz, with its complex chords, lead/vocal stylings, frequent syncopations, off-beat and multiple rhythms is about as far away as you can get from retro rock and still be on the same planet. Nevertheless, hounded on all sides, he doggedly hung in for hours and learned the song perfectly. Most progressive jazz players are superior musicians and he was better than all of us combined. But when it came to the solo he was stumped. It was like trying to get Thelonius Monk to riff off a solo on Teenager In Love.

 

It got so late we were all exhausted and we finally just let him have his way. He let fly with a crazed and tortured progressive jazz solo that was wildly out of context with the song. This is possibly the only time such an experiment has been attempted in the history of recorded music, and for good reason. Yet he played it flawlessly. Exhausted, we all slumped on stools in the dim basement studio, glad the ordeal was over.

 

Then Peter picked up a guitar. He began strumming something to himself and mouthing tentative lyrics. Soon everyone in the room recognized it for what it was – the beginning of a great rock ballad.

 

“I’ll write the lyrics and we can record this tomorrow night,” I said immediately When I began writing it was one of those rare songs where the storyline and ending quickly became obvious and inevitable. It almost wrote itself. We recorded it the next night with Peter singing and playing acoustic guitar.

 

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

 

Six Feet Under Water

 

I don’t know if I can hold it inside any longer

I don’t know if this feeling can get any stronger

Its like the kind of a death

Where you’re right out of breath

Six feet

Six feet under water.

 

You know she’s cruel, uh huh

And I will never, never rise up again

You know she’s cruel, uh huh

And I will never, never rise up again

 

I’ve been told that I’d never be able to keep her

Tried to hold her but she only keeps pulling me deeper

It’s like my pride is a crown

And it’s driving me down

Six feet

Six feet under water

 

You know she’s cruel, uh huh

And I will never, never rise up again

You know she’s cruel, uh huh

And I will never, never rise up again

 

 

In a note I told her meet me down by the river

If she showed it was only to stand there and shiver

Because the chances are small

She heard me at all

Six feet

Six feet under water

 

 

You know she’s cruel, uh huh

And I will never, never rise up again

You know she’s cruel

And I will never, never rise up again

 

 

By now Peter, Al and I had cut a three-way deal where any song written by any of us would be credited to all three when it was registered with PROCAN, the music royalty organization. That meant if any song was published and received air play we would each collect one third of the royalties. It was an inspired move. It eliminated petty bickering about who had done what on a particular song and which songs would be recorded. It also motivated all three of us to go out and hustle all the songs as it was in everyone’s best interest.

 

As an officially defunct band The Burners had no hope of ever releasing a song under their own name. There were, however, bands out there with recording contracts that needed songs. We had the genuine article. Such was the case with Six Feet Under Water. We shopped it around and finally the Hans Staymer Band, in need of a hit single, took it. We were delighted. Our system was working.

 

That’s when we ran into the first hazard of writing songs for other artists. Six Feet Under Water was catchy, driving, haunted with feeling and had a rare simple elegance. All they had to do was walk into the studio and play it. It was like found money. Instead, they did what I can only describe as over-interpret it. It seemed they had twisted themselves into contortions trying to apply their personal stamp. In doing so they rearranged it so drastically it lost its brooding tragic essence and catchy riff, and instead became just another second rate rock song.

 

We were shattered. It was like being robbed. Despite this it started receiving more and more airplay. At one point I was talking to the A&R man from London Records, the label under which it had been released. It was his job to track airplay across the country and monitor the success of the song.

 

“You boys,” he announced confidently, “are going to be able to buy small Cadillacs.”

 

By even a cautious estimate that meant at least $10,000 each. Only then did we allow ourselves to become excited. In fact we became like kids waiting for a candy store to open, pestering the PROCAN staff mercilessly about the arrival of our royalty checks. In private moments, each speculated on the fat, rich afternoon of writing songs for a living. With such a promising start it surely couldn’t be far off. Finally we were advised that the checks were waiting for us to pick them up at the office on Pender Street.

 

Al and I drove over on a Friday afternoon, expecting that within a few hours we would be buying rounds for the house in the nearest bar. Peter was standing at the curb as we pulled up, looking like he had received a lump of coal in his stocking. He shook his head sourly as we hurried past him to collect our windfall. We tore opened our envelopes right at the front desk. Both contained checks for $12.50. Too proud to cry in front of the office staff we joined Peter outside where we went back to the Avalon, determined to spend these insulting sums before we got home.

 

Yet this was nothing to the horror shows which were to follow.

 

“Forget it, it’s only one song,” Peter later waved off the pittances. “Maybe there will be bigger checks later. Besides, I heard a country band named Jigger Pine is doing an album on the Yukon Territory’s hundredth anniversary. The whole project is government financed.”

 

“Good,” I said. “That will give some bottom to it. The government always pays its bills.”

 

“They need songs. All we have to do is write something about the Yukon. It’s Canadian content so the radio stations have to play it. Maybe then we’ll get some decent royalty checks.”

 

“Let’s do it,” Al agreed. “That will prove to them we can write about anything and still pull off a great song. We’ll become known as our own little Tin Pan Alley.”

 

With this new plan in mind we set to work. Peter couldn’t properly bend his talent to the subject matter and produced a forgettable country rock song called Way Up in the Yukon which I co-wrote but there was no saving it. Al on the other hand came through with a bright pop ballad with an Elton John feel called Golden Lady. Within a week I’d finished the lyrics and we recorded it.

 

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

 

Golden Lady

 

Come down the Yukon River

I was running for the coast

It was in the spring of ’98

I wanted gold the most

I killed a man in Dawson

Shot him for his claim

The Northwest Mounted found

In his own blood he’d scrawled my name.

 

I’ll be all right in Eagle

But they’re watching Forty Mile

For a very special passenger

They’ll know him by his smile

There is a girl in Dawson

Waiting at the Quay

Wondering if the Klondike

Will be taking her away.

 

Oh golden lady

I only wanted you to hold

A handful of your golden hair

Worth more than any share

Of this blood dust and gold.

 

The boat drew into Dawson

And my fears all fell away

I saw me and my Golden Lady

In the U.S.A.

I ran along the levy

Calling out her name

A Northwest Mounted smiled

And drew his gun and did the same.

 

Oh golden lady

I only wanted you to hold

A handful of your golden hair

Worth more than any share

Of this blood dust and gold.

 

 

 

We dropped the demos off to Vancouver’s Studio 3. A week later we got a phone call. Sure enough, they were going to publish and record Golden Lady. Compared to the other songs on the album – dorky tunes penned by the band like Sourdough Hoedown and Gold Digger’s LamentGolden Lady was in a class by itself. With its graceful, catchy melody there was every chance it would become the single off the album thus producing a sheaf of fat royalty checks. Again our plan was working.

 

A week later we were setting up to record yet another new song in our own studio. I was on pins and needles waiting to see how Golden Lady would turn out. “After what happened last time,” I worried to Al and Peter, “I’ve got this nagging feeling we should have asked to be in the studio when they recorded Golden Lady. In case something goes wrong.”

 

“Forget it,” Al advised. “Bands hate having the writers in the studio when they record. They think writers get in the way of their creativity. It’s just not done.”

 

This seemed like a stupid rule to me. Common sense said the writer should be a coveted presence in a recording studio. After all, who would have a better grasp on a song’s essence, spirit and feel than the person who created it? Just then the phone rang upstairs and someone shouted down for Al. A few minutes later he came down looking like his dog had died.

 

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

 

“That was the studio. They just finished recording Golden Lady.”

 

“That’s good. Isn’t it?”

 

He sighed, preparing himself to spill out the news. “The singer couldn’t figure out how to sing it. So he talked it.”

 

I was incredulous. “How could he not know how to sing it?” I raged. “What’s to know? It was right there on the tape! I could sing it. A kid off the street could sing it. HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE A FUCKING SINGER!!!”

 

“That’s all they told me,” Al shook his head sadly.

 

No explanation was ever provided other than the obvious – the mystifying incompetence of the singer and perhaps the whole band. When the album was released Golden Lady had lost everything we’d worked so hard to invest it with. The melody was gone and in its place the overwrought reading of the lyrics by the singer sounded like a student rendering a soliloquy in a high school play. It was so unfortunate we never really talked about it again. Although I didn’t think that was possible when the royalty checks finally arrived they were even smaller than before. Mine was for $8.04.

 

The Burner curse appeared to have picked up our scent and followed us into the studio.

 

Yet being on such a creative roll was intoxicating. Who knew what might be written next? Despite the setbacks we wrote and recorded even more. Songs like Lady Be, I Just Came to Help with the Revival, I Never Really Knew, I Need You, Get On the Right Side of Love, Baby Louise, A Woman, It Ain’t Like Me and You,and many more (see next chapter). With four songwriters – Al, Peter, myself and occasionally Horwitz– having full access to a basement studio the original Burner Boys stage songs now stood no chance of ever being recorded. New songs were being brought to the studio so fast and fresh they still smelled of earth.

 

Then suddenly – just when we were in the dawn of our creative golden age there was a real threat a dark curtain would come crashing down. Steve, who lived upstairs, flew in his girlfriend Lindy from England. Then he decided to marry her. Everyone knew a new British bride wouldn’t put up with a recording band thumping away in her basement night after night. We would be turfed out before we had a chance to make our private fortunes as songwriters. The crisis came to a head the night of Steve’s stag at the Avalon. We sat at a big table and toasted Steve for the proper young Englishman he was.

 

“Does Lindy like music?” I approached the subject crablike, on an angle. The rest of the band listened with concern.

 

“Sure,” Steve shrugged. “Who doesn’t?”

 

“Well thank God for that. Then I guess she could see her way clear to let us keep recording in the basement.”

 

“Hmmm,” Steve’s brows knit.

 

“Is there a problem?”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“I thought she was supposed to give you unconditional love. Doesn’t that include letting us record?”

 

“Hardly.”

 

Just then another free round plunked down. Danny Carlson, an early Burner tryout for piano player, walked up. “That’s on me. When are you boys playing next? People want to get it on. Next week? Next month? Give me a date”

 

The odium of all that free beer had become too much. I had to tell him something. “We’re doing a Burner Revival,” I blurted. “Any time now. Watch for it.”

 

“Yes!” Carlson punched the air. “I’ll spread the word.” He happily walked off to do this.

 

“That was smart,” said Tim. “Now we’ll have to follow through. We owe them. Otherwise we won’t be able to show our faces in public.”

 

“I guess that kind of settles it,” Al sighed and looked at Steve. “We’ll have to use the studio now. We need a place to practice for the gig.”

 

Steve, clearly rooked, sat and said nothing, but it was obvious that preserving the Burner’s high social status in the bar meant his new wife was going to have to do a little suffering. There was relief all around. I tipped my cap to him in silent thanks. Just then, feeling droll, Al grabbed it and placed it on his own head. It was a fashion error. The floppy wool checked cap went so badly with his red plaid shirt it looked ridiculous. In an instant Peter Campbell, the six-foot-seven bouncer swooped down on him.

 

“Take that hat off, man.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I said take it off!”

 

“I was just kidding around.”

 

“TAKE OFF THE HAT!”

 

“Okay, okay, I’m taking it off. What’s the problem?”

 

“I’m the bouncer and it’s my job to prevent clashes.”

 

Burned a second time by Peter Campbell’s bizarre sense of humor Al, feeling reduced, suggested we move the stag on to the next location – a motel cottage we had rented. Out of character with the reserved and conservative Steve, his stag ended in a spectacle of grotesque chaos. Eventually the police were called and the dozens of revelers fled. When a woman cop walked in on the last two remaining occupants – a naked one-legged man standing with his arm around a naked hooker in a sea of bottles - she told them they were disgusting.

 

By now a year had passed since our last gig. Intensive practice was needed to get the old and still unrecorded stage songs tight again. Knowing this would probably be our last appearance ever we wanted to leave a sweet taste in the collective memory of our fans. Al and I wrote a new song for the occasion. It had a Beatles feel and flew in the face of everything every record producer had told us. Their first piece of advice to us or any songwriter was 'never judge the hit potential of a song by playing it for the people around you. Friends will invariably tell you it’s a wonderful song because they are being polite and in any case are not experts'. Play It For Your Friends joyfully contradicted this mean-spirited rule and is ultimately about the pleasure of writing and sharing songs for their own sake. By some measure it showed we had come full circle – gone through the minefield of the recording industry and returned to what we loved most and did best.

 

Not content with that, I wrote a Burner Revival Introduction and talked my Probation Officer, who had a radio background, into recording it over the emotional soundtrack of The King and I. It worked out remarkably well. It is difficult to believe we actually managed the logistics of booking a hall, doing the publicity, sub-contracting the liquor license and organizing the gate. It ultimately proved that if we had been doing this all along instead of waiting for gigs from third parties the band might have survived. The small hall near Deep Cove could comfortably hold a hundred people. Over three hundred showed up. When we came out on stage complete with three backup singers the crowd was literally shoulder-to-shoulder. Our sound mixer let the intro roll and then we kicked in with Play it For Your Friends.

 

 

Ah yes, there was laughter, gaiety and frenzied dancing on those hot summer nights many ballrooms ago, as we all now drift back together to one of those glittering, blue-green evenings along the old promenade of East 2and Street, one block down from the Omar Kayam Restaurant on East 3rd Street, and two blocks up from smooth and glassy Burrard Inlet, on the West Coast of the continent. Here amid the tangled tangos and oolging boogaloos the hotel provides a free linen bed check service, 9 AM and 11 AM for the lovely ladies as they wait on the exquisitely ornamented pea green, yellow, orange, red and blue tiled lobby floor for their escorts, also provided free of charge by the Hotel Olympic.

 

And now five young boys risen from common working class origins all this side of the lovely Seymour River arrive late - as the ladies swoon. Mr.Teddy Rogers is your master of ceremonies tonight, presenting in its entirety the three part revolving stage, continuous entertainment with Papa Jenneson and His Midnight Bachelors, 9 PM to 2 AM.

 

The ladies cried, and no one could believe it. These five youngsters from lower east Lonsdale stepped onto the stage and played as a band has never played before, giving their souls nightly to the audience. They pushed their way through the smoky screaming world of rock ‘n roll to deliver up a kind of music never neither before nor since, Amen. A wild living jug rock musical concept that drove crowds far past the screaming point of frenzy. With such classics as Greaseball Heaven and I Deliver Chicken they captured the heart of a generation.

 

Critics scoffed. They’ll never get anywhere. And were they right? Your damn right they were right. But they had a thousand dreams that will never come true. They had a thousand nights where they only tried to please you.

 

But sometimes when the smoke gets thick and the beer piles up you can still hear far away a ghostly orange Econoline flying over the deserted country roads where the moon is full, the motor roaring in its eerie whine. They’re getting closer and suddenly you know. They’re coming back. Yeah, they’re coming back! And we’re all going back to that grand old ballroom of the Big O - 9 PM! The Burners are returning. Volcanoes erupt and to the East the sky lights up. The good times are upon us again. And let us raise up our hands and give thanks. The Burners return. They’ve come back!

 

And now I would ask for your complete attention. For the last time, at any place on the entire planet, you have, I have, we all have, The Burner Boys!

 

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

 

Play it For Your Friends

 

I’ve been writing such inviting

Songs for all these years

For yellow birds and cheating words I’d

Cry a million tears

How do you tell if it will be a million seller

If it really casts a spell and this is it?

 

 

Play it for your friends

And if they really say they like it

If your friends say they like it

This is it

Play it for your friends

And if they really get the feeling

If your friends say they like it

It’s a hit.

 

They won’t hide it if they like it

Although your future’s all a dream

Of laughing ladies and they say he’s

Best songwriter’s ever been

Though your own guitar

Has taken you about as far

About as far as you’re concerned you’d like to quit

 

Play it for your friends

And if they really say they like it

If your friends say they like it

This is it

Play it for your friends

And if they really get the feeling

If your friends say they like it

It’s a hit.

 

Hey L.A., you seem so far away

And pity ain’t a New York City game

It seems like fortune’s wheel

Can spin without you, just the same

If your friends say they like it it’s a hit.

 

If you’re new and kind of blue at

Looking up the road that leads to fame

Look around you’ve maybe found you’ve

Got no cause to live in shame

When you find yourself with friends

And the song you’re playing ends

And you’ve somehow made them happy just to sit

 

You’ve played it for your friends

And if they really say they like it

If your friends say they like it

This is it

Play it for your friends

And if they really get the feeling

If your friends say they like it

It’s a hit.

 

 

It caused a sensation, which built to a crescendo over three hours. It was probably the best gig we ever played. There was magic in the room. For an encore we played You Fucked Me In the Asshole of My Heart while hundreds of people, locked arm in arm, swayed to the music and sang along with repeated choruses at the top of their lungs. After it was over everyone in the band was deeply moved. No one had anticipated such warm and overwhelming support. It made us seriously question the wisdom of breaking up, but by now lives had changed. There was no going back.

 

The world was changing too. People still had long hair but now it was salon cut and styled. Everyone had jobs and liked the money after years of being broke. Real hippies were ever more thin on the ground. Sadly, instead of being viewed as icons of peace and love idealism they were now sneered at as air-headed drug burnouts and bums who had failed to turn the corner with the times, a cross they shoulder to this day.

 

After the Burner Revival we kept using the studio, assuming that Steve’s wife had put up with it long enough that she was used to the racket. Peter arrived one night with some unexpected news.

 

“Rod’s got a new job,” he informed Al and I. “No more wearing a bow tie at Woolworth’s. He’s assistant sound engineer at a new studio called Stoney Productions down on Pemberton Avenue.”

 

It took only an instant for me to determine the correct course of action. “Then I feel it’s our responsibility as songwriters to go down and weasel some free recording time.”

 

“Think of what we could do,” Al said dreamily, imagining being in a real recording studio for the first time in his life.

 

We went down on the pretext of visiting Rod and in doing so met the head recording engineer. Ed Jurak was a bubbly, slightly goofy three-hundred pounder whose entire life was wrapped up in recording and nothing else. It was impossible to tell how old he was because he never did anything bad – neither smoked, drank, nor ran around with woman late at night. His idea of hard partying was to go down to the beach on the weekend and eat a big plate of French fries. A lifetime of innocent clean living gave him the look of an ageless, round faced cherub.

 

“We’re songwriters,” I let it slip to him after a few minutes had passed. “We happen to have some with us. You want to hear a few?”

 

“Why sure,” Ed bubbled, always up for anything that involved recording.

 

We played the tapes. After about twenty minutes of toe tapping it was evident he was hooked. “This stuff rocks,” he waved his fleshy arms, pale white from years spent, mole-like, inside a darkened control room. “We only have one songwriter here and that’s our producer, Don Marsh. When we worked together at the radio station in Prince Rupert he wrote a song for The Chamber of Commerce called Prince Rupert Welcome Me. We went down to the beach one Saturday and a stray dog lay down beside us. It stayed for half an hour and didn’t want to leave. Then Prince Rupert Welcome Me came on the radio. The dog bolted up and tore off full speed straight down the beach. We never saw it again. I’d say you have his songs beat all to hell.”

 

It was clear Don Marsh would be the next stumbling block After four or five more visits we maneuvered Ed Jurak into an introduction. He fussed us into the producer’s office like a big mother hen. Don Marsh sat at a metal desk a small plain room. In his powder blue leisure suit he looked every inch the small fish in the small pond. Worse, beneath his comb-over there was a large, disturbing, mollusk-like tumor growing on the top of his head which seemed ready to pick up and migrate across his skull at any moment.

 

“What can I do for you boys?” he leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head as if he’d just signed Elvis and The Beatles. The obvious answer was nothing. It was clear he was a self-impressed sap

 

“We have songs,” I said, trying not to look at the growth on his pate. I wondered if it were life-threatening and would eventually bud into a second head and water down his thinking processes, which did not seem promising to start. He listened to our tapes for about twenty minutes, nodding wisely every so often as if possessing some tremendous inner knowledge.

 

“I have to admit its commercial material,” he finally passed his verdict. “It has radio play potential. But we don’t need any songs here. Our bands write their own and it’s pretty specialized.”

 

By that he meant religious music. The truth was all of the bands the studio had signed played nothing but hymns set to a beat. This accounted for the joyless pall that pervaded the place. We’d hit a sudden, solid roadblock, and it had been Don Marsh’s job to put it there. The unspoken rule was any music not of divine origin lacked the moral bottom to pass muster. Then we drew our ace.

 

“No Don, you don’t understand,” I said. “We want to record ourselves. We’ve discovered a new singer named Valerie Lord. She’s terrific. We even wrote a new song for her.”

 

It was true. Valerie Lord had been one of our back up singers at the Burner Revival. She was short and somewhat squarely built and had a bluegrass background but could sing anything. Her voice had a uniquely marketable quality. It was powerful enough to knock over a truck yet still retained a girlish quality – a teenaged Connie Francis on steroids. Al and I were so convinced of her potential we’d written a special song to showcase her voice. Happy To Say I Do was a commercial pop rocker with a four-in-the-floor bassline that give it a disco sound, although disco was still a decade away. We played it for a skeptical Don Marsh, who seemed to be listening only out of politeness before he kicked us out of his office.

 

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

 

Happy to Say I Do

 

Time and time and time and time again he

Tries to find if I depend on

Every time he moves

Sometimes he’s so resigned you’ll find that

Men are so behind the times

They end up missing all the news

 

I wish he knew

I’m happy to say that I do

I love him too

And if he knew

My wishes finally would come true

I’m happy to say

Happy to say I do.

 

Sometimes I see a sign he’s changed his mind

And finally found the kind of friend

He’s never gonna loose

And when his eyes meet mine, oooh oooh, oooh oooh,

Well ten times out of nine

He ends up looking at his shoes

 

I wish he knew

I’m happy to say that I do

I love him too

And if he knew

My wishes finally would come true

I’m happy to say

Happy to say I do.

 

Got yourself a loving

Kissing and a hugging

Who’s he gonna choose to be his honey loving honey?

Got yourself a loving

Kissing and a hugging

Who you gonna choose be your honey loving man?

Got to, you got to

You’ve got to love him more than money

Got to, you got to

Hey I only want to hold his hand

 

I wish he knew

I’m happy to say that I do

I love him too

And if he knew

My wishes finally would come true

I’m happy to say

Happy to say I do.

 

 

Although he made every effort to show bland disinterest, Don Marsh was blown away. Happy To Say I Do had hit written all over it. To turn it down, even for a theologically correct studio like Stoney was like throwing away a check in the mail.

 

“You boys may have something here,” he said coolly. “Of course you’ll have to convince the owner. Nothing gets done around here without his blessing.” He almost laughed when he said this, as though no one convinced John Rodney of anything and fools tried at their peril.

 

I could see why when we bowed and scraped into Rodney’s office a few days later. He was a trim, fit man of about sixty with a severe grey crew cut and about as much smile as a turnip. It was clear in an instant that the high moral Christian tone of the studio’s music originated from him. Beneath his icy exterior he seemed to be constantly tormented by personal religious conflicts that would be forever unresolved. I would not have been surprised to see a framed plaque hanging on his wall reading The End is Near. He did not seem happy to see us.

 

“We came to talk to you about recording,” I started out.

 

“So I’m told,” he replied coldly.

 

“The thing is,” said Al, “we’ve found this great new singer and we’ve written a song that’s perfect for her. Very commercial and catchy. Can we play it for you?”

 

“Please yourself.”

 

We played him Happy To Say I Do. He remained unmoved.

 

“That’s it?” he seemed ready to dismiss us.

 

“Ed and Don both love it,” I said quickly. “They’re behind it one hundred percent.”

 

“Is that so?” his face darkened. “So you’ve done an end run on me and talked to the studio’s two minority partners. Now it looks like I’m outvoted and I’ll have to go along with it to keep the peace. Why didn’t you come to me first? Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”

 

“No one told us,” I shrugged.

 

He pulled out a contract and froze us with a chilling look. “One hit Charlies.”

 

“Thank you very much,” I said quickly before he could change his mind. He filled out the contract and pushed it across the desk. Al, Peter and I quickly signed.

 

“One hit Charlies,” he said again sourly as he signed it himself and gave us a copy. It was clear the last thing on earth he wanted to do was shake hands.

 

“Thank you again for this opportunity, John,” Peter gave him his best shit-eating grin as we left. “You won’t regret it.”

 

“One hit Charlies,” he repeated his curse, seeming to hate us more with each passing moment. He scowled us out the door.

 

I have never seen a man so unhappy to sign a document. It is still a mystery why he did it when he could have used his executive privilege to kill the whole deal. Perhaps he wanted to reconfirm his troubled belief that faithless sinners like us were doomed to failure by a wrathful God. Despite this shaky start we were elated. After years of paying our dues we had our first recording contract.

 

In his wisdom Don Marsh decreed we would release Happy To Say I Do as the A side of the single with Play It For Your Friends as the B side, both sung by Valerie Lord. Over the next few weeks the Burners worked like fiends getting the songs tight and doing endless takes in the studio until they sounded right. Then we collared extra musicians like Al Horowitz and drummer Rocket Norton from the Seeds of Tyme and backup singers to work for free, adding extra tracks and filling out the arrangements.

 

When it came time for the vocals Valerie Lord did a superb job on Happy To Say I Do but when she tried to sing Play It For Your Friends she couldn’t do it. In the rush to record and not use up too much studio time Al had neglected to change the key of the song from the original demo version he had sung. That meant it was perfect for his vocal range but impossible for hers. In light of what followed she never forgave him.

 

With free studio time ticking away and John Rodney’s menacing eye on the clock we started mixing. Play It For Your Friends was relatively straightforward but Happy To Say I Do was a nightmare. Working with Ed Jurak it took what seemed like days just to get the proper brassy sound on the guitars. The arrangement was so diabolically complex we finally realized it would take three people operating in teamwork in the control room to pull it off. Late one night Ed Jurak, Al and I were on our knees in front of the mixing board like exhausted linemen in a goal line stand. We thought we had a final mix but were too tired to trust our own judgment.

 

Al and I trudged the few blocks to the Avalon for a nightcap. When we entered we saw our nemesis, The Ambleside Blues Band who had poached our gig at the Big O and now were lapping up the goodwill that came with it. As we approached, their lead guitarist, Luther, greeted us.

 

“I was just saying to everyone that there aren’t two guys I’d rather see more right now than Dave Jenneson and Al Hovden,” he offered us seats.

 

We were so tired we just sat and absorbed our beer for a few minutes, coming down from the jangle of the studio.

 

“What are you doing later?” Luther leaned forward. He seemed conspiratorial.

 

“Going home,” I blinked tiredly. “Why?”

 

“What if I were to tell you I knew of a party that is just kicking off at midnight after the bars close? Up in the Highlands. Ten percent men, ninety percent women. Student nurses,” he winked.

 

My eyes lit up. Student nurses seemed the perfect reward after a long day and a night in the studio. “I heard nurses are horny,” I said.

 

“Can you blame them? They never get to be around men.”

 

“I’m in. Let’s go!”

 

“It’s not that simple,” Luther continued.. “I’ve got a girlfriend so I can’t go. But you guys buy me a couple of beer and not only will I tell you where it is, I’ll take you there.”

 

To Al and I it was an unrefusable offer. We had martyred ourselves in the recording studio and it now, like deserving Moslems, we should enter The Gates of Paradise.. Who knew how many student nurses we could impress as recording artists? What might develop from there? It was freighted with possibilities. We dug into our pockets and bought Luther beer until closing time.

 

“It’s time to go,” Luther informed me. “You and Al better run and buy some beer to take to the party.”

 

Al and I scurried up and bought a six pack each. We jumped into Luther’s car and he took us on a long drive deep into the Capilano Highlands. This is a hilly upper-middle class suburb that sprawls for miles in all directions. Full of dead ends and winding avenues that go nowhere, it is easy to get lost. Finally in the middle of the block on a poorly lit street Luther located the party.

 

“There,” he pointed to the rear of the house where lights were on in the basement suite. “Just be cool when you go in and don’t say I sent you.”

 

Al and I jumped out carrying our six packs. We were pumped. As we hurried to the rear of the house Luther honked and drove off giving us a thumbs up. Al and I stole across the wet lawn but found the rear of the house curiously dead. We knocked on the basement door, peering into a deserted laundry room with no sign of any student nurses. The louder we knocked, the more we realized we shouldn’t be knocking at all. This was the house of a straight, square family. I could visualize the father chasing us from the yard waving a campstool.

 

We scurried back to the street. We were miles from any bus route, not that it mattered since they had long stopped running. Lugging our sad six-packs we walked for seven miles on a cold winter night, getting home exhausted at 4 AM. I have never felt an ounce of animosity toward Luther for doing this, but rather give him an abiding respect. My only regret is that I didn’t think of it first.

 

The next day, after almost no sleep, we were summoned to Don Marsh’s office. “I’ve decided on a change of strategy, boys. We’re going to lead with Play It For Your Friends first and on the strength of that, follow with Happy To Say I Do.”

 

“You can’t be serious,” I said raggedly. “Happy To Say I Do is the better song. That’s why we started this. We’re almost finished mixing it.”

 

“Play It For Your Friends is already mixed. It’s ready to go. A bird in the hand, boys, a bird in the hand.”

 

“We have to re-record it in the right key so Valerie can sing it,” Al protested.

 

“No Al,” Don Marsh gave him a corporate look. “You’re going to sing it.”

 

“But the whole idea was to showcase Valerie Lord. My voice sucks.”

 

“Trust me. I know what I’m doing. Side A will be the song in mono and side B in stereo.”

 

In light of this decision I wondered if the growth on his head might be giving him trouble. Miserably we went into the studio. With Don Marsh supervising Al sang the melody and harmony tracks on first take. “Now I want everyone out of the building,” he spread his arms, maestro-like.. “I will do the final mix alone. Leave me in peace.”

 

The next time we heard the song it was not only mixed but pressed into 45’s. For some mystifying reason Don Marsh had not listed the band on the label as The Burner Boys, but as Stony Plain. He played it proudly for us. It sounded off. We took it home and played it over and over trying to figure out the problem.

 

“My God,” Al suddenly smacked his forehead. “I know what he’s done. He’s used the dummy vocal.”

 

A dummy vocal is a quick throwaway vocal track put down at the beginning of a recording session simply to give musicians a feel for the melody. It is usually off key and badly sung. It is only after the band tracks are complete that the final vocal and harmony tracks are added – much more carefully. Don Marsh had dumped the polished final vocal tracks and put on the crappy, out of tune dummy vocal so the song sounded terrible. Then, with no promotion, he shipped it off to a few dozen local radio stations. Under the name of a fictional, unknown band and with no follow up, the results were predictable.

 

Several weeks later he called us into his office. “Well boys,” he leaned back in his chair, “your record’s stiffing.” He said this with evident pleasure as if that had been the intention all along. .

 

It was then we gave up. There was no point flogging a dead horse when Don Marsh kept shooting it in the head. With him working so hard to fulfill John Rodney’s gloomy One Hit Charlie prediction Happy To Say I Do was never released.

 

Shortly after this Peter and I placed a song with Vancouver’s The Northwest Company called If Heartaches Could Kill Me. It was a weak, trivial little song with little to say for itself and I could never figure out why they chose to release it as a single when we had so much better material to offer. As expected, little came of it. Royalty checks remained in the single digits.

 

At a loss as to where to turn next, I decided to impose myself on my last remaining contact in the music industry. When still in high school I’d taken guitar lessons from Terry Jacks, who went on to form The Poppy Family from 1968 to 1972 with his wife Susan Pesklevits. It was during this time Al and I had visited him. We’d approached the garish pink apartment tower on West Vancouver’s waterfront with nervous optimism, believing that with all our songs he would surely pick one as Poppy Family material. We tried to keep things laid back but discovered there is no such thing as a casual meeting with Terry Jacks. High strung, impatient, nervous and easily upset, he deals with even the smallest things in life with almost hysterical intensity.

 

Although it is hard to relax with Terry in the room I introduced the first song as calmly as I could, trying not to agitate his high-pitched state. “This first song suits the Poppy family style,” I began.

 

“Fuck you, Terry!” Susan Pesklevits shouted from the kitchen.

 

“Fuck you, Susan!” he hollered back.

 

There was an ugly pause.

 

“Ahrem,” I quietly cleared my throat. “As I was saying, this song suits the Poppy Family style –“

 

Susan Pesklevits walked into the living room. “I said fuck you, Terry!”

 

“Fuck you too and fuck off!”

 

I forged ahead. “In fact, Al and I wrote this song with you in mind –“

 

“No. Fuck you and fuck off and die, Terry!”

 

“NO SUSAN! FUCK YOU AND FUCK OFF AND DIE! I SAID IT FIRST!”

 

Although Terry tried to pretend he was still in control of himself, the air was so electrified with acrimony it disrupted his finely-tuned radar to pick out commercial pop hits. It also upset his delicate equilibrium, never stable at the best of times. He didn’t give a shit about the public display of private hostility. Instead he was furious about being distracted from the songs. It didn’t matter. As we sat in the crossfire of the escalating battle a little bird told me writing for The Poppy Family might not have a promising future. We packed up and left them to each other.

 

Since then Jacks had thankfully divorced and started recording as a single artist. In 1973 he released Seasons In The Sun. It became the top selling song in Canadian history and earned him three Juno Awards. It went on to become the top ranked song in the world, probably the most disliked number one global hit in history but it made him world famous. It also made him rich, although as the son of a wealthy doctor he had always been well off. After that he released questionable songs he’d written himself like Concrete Sea and Rock ‘n Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life. They didn’t make the nut. As he slowly faded from view it must have been unbearable for him. By the early 1980’s he was anxious for a comeback. That’s when I contacted him for the second time. We had a whole new generation of songs on tape complete with arrangements, far superior to our earlier material. Surprisingly he was receptive and invited us out to his new house.

 

He now lived in a multi-million dollar cliffside home in West Vancouver’s wealthy Whytecliffe area. We had been told to watch for two matching white Mercedes Benz convertible coups in the driveway and finally found them. With three new songs under our arm we nervously we opened the gate and descended the stairs to the house. There we confronted Terry Jacks, standing with his dick hanging out carrying a watering can.

 

“Oh, hi guys,” he waved. “I’m just watering my plants. They love it when I’m naked. Go on inside. I’ll be there soon.”

 

Fortunately the house was so concealed in the cliff side Terry’s neighbors couldn’t see him running around nude. As Al, Peter and I discreetly moved toward the door he had another thought. Turning toward the house he hollered at his wife like Fred Flintstone. “Maggie! MAGGIE! MAAAAAGIE!!! DAVE AND AL AND PETER ARE HERE! GET THEM SOME WINE!”

 

We went inside and met Maggie, Terry’s new wife. She looked long-suffering. I immediately felt sorry for her having to spend 24 hours a day enduring Terry’s exhausting craziness. The poor woman led us downstairs and placed a bottle of white wine in front of us. Then Terry emerged wearing a blue bathrobe and looking refreshed as only a man can when his balls have just had a good airing out. I hate drinking in the early afternoon but swallowed my wine to be part of what was going on and to curb the anxiety I felt from Terry’s presence. His high-pitched intensity was enough to make the pictures fly off the walls.

 

He knocked back his wine in a few quick swallows and yelled at Maggie for another bottle. I wasn’t worried. No booze on earth could dull his edge. We played the first song for him, one Al and I had written. Without Susan Pesklevits telling him to fuck off every two minutes he was able to focus. The song was a breathless, haunting, pop rock tune about an admirer passionately imagining the woman he secretly loves.

 

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

 

Laura Dreams

 

Laura dreams of things at night

Puts down her book

Clicks off the light

Closes her eyes

Picturing some scenes of holding tight

 

Laura dreams how it will be

Late at night she’s needing me

Whispering words of wanting

Softly in the night

 

Every time that I dream

Every time that I dream

Every time that I dream

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

 

Laura dreams me to her door

I’ve never been to her before

Holding her breath

She waits until the fantasy is right

And that’s all right

 

Laura dreams she feels my hand

Touching her

She knows I can

I can be with Laura

Dreaming Laura dreams tonight

 

Every time that I dream

Every time that I dream

Every time that I dream

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

I dream Laura dreams

 

 

Terry jumped on it in an instant. He immediately demanded to hear the next song. With his legendary reputation for spotting hits we were excited. Peter put on an album filler song he had written called Television and he took that too. This was too good to be believed. We were two for two. Hoping for a hat trick we rolled the third song. Voice of America was a pop anthem with a big, memorable chorus about a refugee who had escaped the Soviet Union. He was now sending a message of freedom over Voice of America radio back to loved ones still trapped behind the Iron Curtain, which at that time still existed.

 

 

Voice of America

 

Voice of America

Shining and steady

My free world coming to you

Via Radio VOA

 

Hello, it’s me,

It’s been such a long time

Since I’ve seen you

It feels like a lifetime

I know your borders closed to me

But I can still sing to you

Here on the waves of VOA

I’m sending all my love to you.

 

Old friends

And all those places remembered

I long for home

But it’s gone forever

Please understand I couldn’t stay

I had to run away from you

Here on the waves of VOA

I can send this message

 

Voice of America

Shining and steady

My free world coming to you

Via Radio VOA

Voice of America

Is your radio ready?

The next sound that you will hear

Will come to you VOA

 

So far away

It goes on forever

The tears we cried

Will keep us together

But more than love I’m free to say

The words they took away from you

Here on the waves of VOA

I can send this message.

 

Voice of America

Shining and steady

My free world coming to you

Via Radio VOA

Voice of America

Is your radio ready?

The next sound that you will hear

Will come to you VOA

 

 

Without a second thought Terry took Voice of America too. I wanted to pinch myself. We celebrated with another glass of wine as he told us how far our writing had come. It had been a remarkable afternoon. When we left we had been elevated to another world. We had just placed three songs on an album that would be released across the country by an internationally known artist. We dared to believe that after over twenty years of keeping the faith we had finally turned the corner.

 

The album, called Pulse, went into production. Two months later we got to preview the finished product. We were crestfallen. The arrangements and production were so wimpy and gutless that Terry fired the producer as soon as the album was finished. He decided to release Voice of America as the single from the album which I warned was an error. The storyline was too obscure and not easily understood. Laura Dreams, although it had lost much of its haunted passion, was far more accessible. The day Pulse was released with Voice of America as the single, President Ronald Regan invaded Grenada. This unpopular move, widely criticized as bullying U.S. Imperialism, unleashed a national tide of anti-American hostility that made Voice of America’s flag-waving message fatally unpopular. It was wiped from the map. I made $44 in royalties off the whole album.

 

The Burner Curse, it seemed, still had our scent and was tracking us like a bloodhound.

 

Nine months later we got a surprise call from Terry. Writing off Pulse as a bad experience he was not going down without a fight. For the first time in our lives an artist was actually requesting our songs without us having to pester him, which made us feel like professional insiders. We drove out to his cliff side mansion and he broke out the white wine. This time however he seemed on a grim edge, like it was his last roll of the dice. Luckily we were ready. We had just finished one of the catchiest songs we had ever written. Just Like That was fast and riffy reggae rock with an insistent melody that stuck with you.

 

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

 

Just Like That

 

My eyes

Touched you with fascination

Your eyes

Returned the invitation

Just like that.

 

Now it begins

Falling again

End over end

 

Come on, come on

Is this imagination?

I’ve waited so long

Now the moment’s coming fast

Just like that.

 

And I

Had not anticipated

That you would

Be easily persuaded

Just like that

 

My head’s in a spin

Out on a limb

Falling again

 

You can’t stop it once it once it starts

It reaches out and grabs you by the heart

Just like that that.

 

Come on, come on

Is this imagination?

I’ve waited so long

Now the moment’s coming fast

Just like that.

Just like that

Just like that.

 

 

Then he took three more songs with strong melodies – Minimum Motion, Land of the Northern Lights and Traitors to the Heart (see following chapter). The next step was to work out the arrangements on guitar with Terry. That’s when I began discreetly ducking out. As I am not really a musician and I used the excuse that I couldn’t be of much help. This was a lie. The fact was Terry was so off the hook I could no longer hack the stress of working with him. Instead Al had to go out day after day and endure it, which he dreaded.

 

Meanwhile, in an effort to regain his lost glory, Terry had finished a video movie of Seasons In the Sun. In it he plays a singer with a terminal disease. The climax of the plot is an extended long shot of Terry walking alone down the beach carrying a bottle of wine, mooning over his mortality. It might be one of the most unfortunate films ever made. During one of Al’s visits Terry ushered him into the living room. Like a kid with a new toy he showed him the video.

 

“What do you think?” Terry asked breathlessly when it was over.

 

“It’s all right I guess,” Al shrugged as diplomatically as he could.

 

Terry flipped out. “MAGGIE! MAAAGIE! MAAAAAAGIE! AL DOESN’T LIKE MY VIDEO!”

 

He had more disappointments in store. When the album, titled Just Like That, was finished Just Like That was also chosen to be the single. The producers had slowed the song’s tempo to nearly half speed so it lost its joyful urgency and exciting appeal. It now lumbered forward into melodrama, the hooky riffs obscured. It was one more case of a song being over-produced and over-interpreted to the point where it was mortally wounded. It was duly released but by now Terry’s star had fallen too far below the horizon. It died on the charts. I received another forty-dollar royalty check.

 

Down but still not out, he tried one last kick at the can. In 1985 he released an album and single called Tough Guys Don't Dance. This was a Doug Edwards song which borrowed it's title from the questionable Norman Mailer novel of the name. Going for broke, Terry even created a music video to promote the song. He manuevered this by talking two young film makers into producing it for next to nothing and promising them $10,000 when the song became a hit. He then rented Vancouver's Richard's on Richards nightclub for a night The video opened with Terry entering the club wearing a skin tight black leather jump duit and being told to check his guitar at the door as if he were Wild Bill Hickock being made to check his pistol. The assumption one can draw from this is that Terry's guitar was a danger to public safety which by now it well might have been. He walks into the club which is strangely empty because he was too cheap to hire extras. On stage a band is playing with a female vocalist mouthing the lyrics to Tough Guys Don't Dance. The next shot is from behind the vocalist, showing her ass and the vista between her legs. Terry slowly approaches. Soon his face fills the shot as he gapes up at the singer's crotch, mouth hanging open, like a wandering half wit who has been let into the club by mistake and is now bothering the singer. This he duly shipped off to Much Music who curtly refused to play it. Needless to say, Tough Guys Don't Dance was a flop. It is not known if the film makers ever recieved their $10,000.

 

The flop of his last album was too much for him. Unable to bear being ignored any longer he gave up recording for good. Instead he reinvented himself into a bad boy environmentalist. He happily basked in constant media coverage and became such a pest authorities finally retaliated, raiding his home and charging him with illegal storage of a firearm. At one point he informed me he was making far more money as an environmentalist than he ever had singing and recording, and that is saying something.

 

The last time I saw Terry Jacks he didn’t see me. I was waiting in line at the service counter of a large drug store when I heard an agitated voice next to me butting in and harassing the clerk.

 

“I’ve got a very difficult beard. I’ve heard you have a special kind of shaving cream for it.”

 

“I don’t know sir. The shaving items are in Aisle D. Why don’t you go and have a look?”

 

“No no no. You don’t understand. This is a special shaving cream but I don’t remember the name. My beard grows in all different directions on my face. It’s a terrible problem! I need it RIGHT NOW!”

 

“Do you want me to call a store clerk?”

 

“Can he help? Yes. Get him right now. Do you want me to go and find him?”

 

“No sir. You wait here. He’ll come to you.”

 

“Get him immediately because I need it right now and this is really REALLY IMPORTANT!”

 

Finally I couldn’t resist turning around to see the source of the crisis. I expected some poor bastard with a wildly freakish beard twisting from his face in all directions, but no. There stood Terry Jacks, clean-shaven and fidgeting peevishly, buying a simple can of shaving cream with the panic and hysteria most people would reserve for a nuclear attack.

 

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

 

The scene is a wedding, seven years after the Burner Boys last performed on stage. Steve’s older brother, Mike, was marrying Sharon, his high school sweetheart. The Burners were invited guests and joined about a hundred people packed at long tables in a reception hall. By now there were no hippies left, certainly not here where everyone had morphed into Yuppies. I was married, working for a newspaper and buying a house. I could even to afford a new suit for the wedding. I may not have been satisfied with life, but I at least felt secure, the poverty of the Burner days a forgotten memory.

 

As we lapped up the free wine and food the band stepped on stage. With guitar, drums, keyboards, bass and a lead singer it was exactly the make-up of the Burners. Here the resemblance ended. One after another they churned out bland cover versions of Top 40 radio songs, exactly what The Burners had sworn never to do. As the mediocrity dragged on the dance floor stayed painfully empty. I watched from my seat and actually felt a little sorry for them. Like so many bands they’d missed the whole point – why start a band unless you are going to write and perform your own songs? It was the founding concept behind the Burners and is as valid now as it was then. I was contemplating this lofty ideal when I heard a voice.

 

“David.”

 

“Huh? Yes?”

 

“DAVID!”

 

I looked across the table. It was Sharon, the bride, leaning toward me with some intensity. “I hate this band. I want The Burner Boys to play.”

 

“Sharon, we can’t do that.”

 

“Why?”

 

“We’ll piss off the wedding band. They’ll never let us use their instruments.”

 

“I hate the wedding band. I don’t care if they’re pissed off. We’re paying them anyway.”

 

“But we haven’t played in years. We probably can’t even remember the songs.”

 

Sharon narrowed her eyes into a flinty look. “Look David. I’m the bride. This is the only wedding I’ll have in my whole life. I WANT YOU TO PLAY!” Like most people she believed that the Burner songs had been genetically imprinted and we could play them instantly, any time and anywhere, for the rest our lives.

 

It was clear she would brook no refusal. When the wedding band took its first break the Burners drifted toward the stage. I approached the lead singer. He looked a little smug for their barely adequate performance.

 

“We’re a band,” I began. “The bride wants us to do a guest set. But we need to use your instruments.”

 

He gave me the once over. “I don’t think so. I’m not going to let a bunch of drunks like you near our equipment.”

 

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Tim stepped forward. “We’re musicians. I’ve got a set of Pearle drums I play all the time.”

 

“Oh yeah?’

 

“Yeah,” said Al. “I play an Epiphone guitar. Steve plays a Rickenbacker bass. Rod has a Fender Rhodes. We know how to handle instruments.”

 

“So what?” the lead singer sniffed. “You’re amateurs. We’re professionals.”

 

“Look pal,” I said. “The bride is already mad as hell. If she doesn’t get what she wants you deal with her.”

 

The singer glanced over at Sharon. She shot him a fierce look. “Okay, but only a few songs. This is our gig.”

 

“And you can keep it,” I said as we climbed the stage and strapped on.

 

Then a remarkable thing happened. After seven years everything came back to us. We opened with Old Fashioned Blues and within sixty seconds the dance floor was packed solid. It just got better from there. We played song after original song off the old Burner stage list as if it had been yesterday. The partying only increased. The bride’s mother rocked her ass off. Grandparents danced with grandchildren. Meanwhile the wedding band watched, thunderstruck.

 

We finished our first set and walked off stage dripping with sweat, glad to be finished. The wedding band returned but were booed and hooted off before they could play a note. We were forced to return and play a second and third set, finishing their gig for them and rocking the house down all night long. The wedding band could only sit at a table and stare with stunned expressions. If they’d only known it they were getting a lesson in how bands lacking the proper intellectual rigor are taught the law.

 

It was a fitting end to the Burner story. Reappearing after seven years’ mysterious absence and wiping the floor with a professional dance band only added to the urban myth. Even today there are people in some quarters who believe the Burner Boys still exist and are hiding out in a basement studio, writing new songs and preparing for a final fabulous comeback. Thirty-five years after our last public stage performance I am still occasionally asked how the band is doing and when we will be playing again.

 

But the Burner Boys belong in what now has become a distant time. Life was simpler. People were happier. Sit at a bus bench and soon there were lively exchanges among strangers about music, drugs, politics and how The Man was going down. The air crackled with excitement about a better future which surely must be just around the corner. It didn’t happen. Today people sit at the same bus bench gloomily isolated, hunched forward and staring down into the well of unsatisfying and shallow lives. It is a pity they can’t go back, however briefly, to when life was one long party and The Burner Boys were the entertainment.

 

**************************************************************
Thirty-seven years later the Burners remain in regular contact and get together as often as we can. Here is a brief look at what we did with their lives after the band broke up.

 

Tim and Janice Francis

 

Tim Francis went to art school, drove cab and worked at a local newspaper where he became advertising director. He eventually bought his own newspaper which he developed then sold some years later in Barrier, a small town outside Kamloops, BC. During this time he kept painting fine art in the Canadian Realism style and his work has been displayed in prominent galleries. He currently lives in Kamloops, BC with Janice, his wife of 25 years and is the regional representative for the British Columbia Business Council. He continues to drum with local bands. Shortly after The Burner Boys broke up he began going bald and is now as hairless as a cheese.

 

 

 

Steve and Lindy Renshaw

 

Steve Renshaw married his current wife, Lindy, and drove cab. Forced by family responsibilities to find a better job he got his diving license and began working in the profitable abalone and geoduck fishery off the BC coast. He eventually bought several fishing licenses and boats of his own and worked the fishery for the next twenty-five years. It made him fabulously wealthy. Steve, also bald, is a now millionaire and lives in a restored Victorian mansion in Victoria, BC. As the former head of Burner Finance, he is now by far the richest Burner and spends his time diving and managing his wealth. They have two children, Luke and Annica. In 2007 Luke’s band, called Jets Overhead, was nominated for a Juno Award.

 

 

Peter Sinclair worked for BC Rail before he married his wife, Rona. He then got a job driving delivery trucks for the Post Office and continues to this day. He spends his spare time writing and recording songs and playing in bands with some of the best musicians in BC. He and Rona have one daughter, Sara. They own two homes, one on Bowen Island and the other near Vancouver’s artsy Commercial Drive.

 

 

 

Al Hovden

 

After the breakup of the Burner Boys, Al Hovden went to Capilano College and studied music for a year. He then worked as a waiter at a local steakhouse and again pursued a songwriting career, co-writing mostly with either David Jenneson or Peter Sinclair. In 1979 he started in the Media Resources Department at Capilano College and began developing computer skills. This led him to a position as a Web Application Developer where he created an award winning online Learning Management System. Now separated from his wife, he plays jazz guitar in a local swing band and continues to write and produce songs.

 

 

 

Rod Dirk worked in recording studios then moved into information technology. After marrying he taught at Simon Fraser University and became a forensic computer investigator, one of only three such highly skilled people in the entire country. Sadly, he died of cancer in 2007, leaving his wife, Bev, a daughter and grand daughter.

 

 

David Jenneson

 

David Jenneson married in 1975 and worked in the newspaper industry, winning national awards for both advertising and journalism. He eventually became Marketing Director for the B.C. Newspaper Group, a chain of 75 community newspapers throughout British Columbia. Now divorced, he has produced four novels and several screenplays. In 2005 he had two books published. But Seriously is a collection of his internationally published humorous columns and Night of the Realtors, a novel about a realtor who sells the White House. He continues to write full time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al and Dave in Dave's bedroom in 1966 - the beginning...

 

 

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