Sometimes, after chasing something for a very long time, you think you’ve managed to catch up to it and dig your fingers into its shoulder blades. Then you press down a little harder and notice what you thought were shoulders are your own kneecaps, and you’re not wearing any pants.
This is one of those times.
Pretty much nothing I thought was going to be on that stack of 8mm tapes was there. That’s both good and bad.
As I was expecting, there’s footage here I never knew existed. What I thought was going to be a party at Gord’s from 2002 is instead a triple-header of a house show from late 2001, with a set from punk band Kanada sitting right in the middle of the musical sandwich. It always felt like they were kind of given short shrift in the music scene, so it was a great surprise to stumble onto some video of them doing their thing back when we were all skinny teenagers.
A tape I thought was going to have random high school footage on it instead has some moments from the night of our graduation. Another tape I was positive would be a recording of a bar show is instead a ton of footage of SEED OF HATE being recorded at the old Walker Power Building. I remember a camera being there, but I only ever saw about two minutes of video and assumed not much more than that was filmed.
There’s enough raw footage to put together a grimy documentary about the making of the album from start to finish, if I wanted to do a thing like that (and I did, about a year after writing this post). There are a lot of fun moments in there, including the revelation that recording the guitar and bass tracks direct instead of mic’ing up the amps wasn’t the plan all along. I’ve been remembering that wrong all these years. Instead, it was a last-minute move made to counteract too much bleed and not enough microphones. And the band didn’t record piecemeal, but together as a unit, live-off-the floor, with the exception of the vocals and some guitar overdubs that were added later. I’ve been remembering that wrong too.
But then there’s this: none of those Papa Ghostface performances are included in any of the eight hours of footage culled from these tapes. There are some pretty amusing bits from me, with some non-sequiturs I don’t remember ever dishing out, but there’s almost no footage of me playing music in any capacity. For the most part I’m only recording it, or sitting in the audience watching it happen.
I say “almost” because one of the surprise finds on these tapes is a casual little jam session with me and Tyson running through bits and pieces of about half a dozen different GWD songs. It isn’t true band footage. Gord is filming instead of playing bass, and what little singing I do is not trying very hard to be serious. Still, I was pretty sure this stuff was filmed on Tyson’s camera and I’d never get to see it again. I’m happy to be proven wrong, and ecstatic to have another small piece of video documentation from that musical period fall into my lap.
After the fifteen-year chase and the money I spent having the tapes transferred, finding out the things I most wanted to see weren’t there was a bit of a kick in the teeth. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for what I’ve got here. There’s some great archival material I never thought I’d get my hands on, a lot of it looks and sounds better than I thought it would, and I’ll be able to do some fun things with it. But it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.
To Amanda’s credit, she’s said she’ll take another look at her collection of tapes and see if there are any others she thinks I might be on. So it isn’t an “all hope is lost” situation yet. There’s still a chance.
Whatever happens, I can’t thank her enough for opening up the archives and allowing me to travel back in time about sixteen years. Thank Jack Russell Terriers she was either around for these adventures or willing to let someone borrow her camera so they could be documented. Some of this stuff is absolute gold.
In the meantime, please enjoy Kanada testing the limits of how much volume a camcorder’s built-in microphone is capable of handling while raising your glass of ginger ale to my clean-shaven bandana-wearing cameo and a black-haired, near-unrecognizable Joey Desroches on drums.
Wherever you are now, Christine Kowala, I want you to know I still love you and your Batman shirt.
Another bittersweet hindsight moment here: everyone who was in my band at the time was at this show. We wrapped up the last full band recording session for GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE earlier that same day. We could have easily played a set and made the house show a quadruple-header.
While our music might not have fit in with the punk, metal, and hardcore grind, I’m pretty sure the people we were hanging out with would have been open-minded enough to give what we were doing a fair shake. And then we’d have a full GWD live set on video, with me doing more than just reacting to some guitar feedback during someone else’s soundcheck.
Failing that, I could have at least recorded some of these shows. My rig was pretty portable in those days and more than adequate for capturing loud live music. Then I’d be able to sync this video, and others like it, with some high quality audio.
The idea never entered my mind.
I’ve had about all the smelly not-to-be potpourri I can handle lately. I need a time machine already, so I can confront some of these oversights, punch ’em in the mouth, and give ’em overbites.
Since my brain moves in strange ways, when I was navigating the initial disappointment of realizing the footage I most wanted to see wasn’t on these tapes, I thought I’d really wallow in it by revisiting some past disappointment. Double your displeasure, double your pun.
In the late summer of 2011, I played a set at the Shores of Erie Wine Festival. To date, it’s the last time I’ve played a solo show. It was such a horrible experience it kind of made me never want to do it again.
Everything that could have gone wrong that day did go wrong. I found out the sustain pedal for my rented keyboard was dead minutes before my set started. The one person I knew who had a sustain pedal I might be able to borrow was also playing that day, but she’d just made it pretty clear she didn’t care about me at all when I thought we’d spent the better part of that summer becoming close friends.
You could say there was some tension there. And I wasn’t about to try and break it by asking for a favour.
If that wasn’t enough to set an ominous tone, I wasn’t used to playing on a stage that big, cut off from the audience to the point that it barely felt like they were there. I couldn’t hear any of their applause. It didn’t feel like I could interact with them. Not that there were many people to interact with anyway. There wasn’t much of a turnout that early in the day. But losing anything that resembled a feeling of intimacy threw me off.
Add to that the people shovelling mulch in front of the stage while we played (I thought it was manure at first) and the feeling that it was too early for my voice or my fingers to be awake enough to cooperate with me, and it was a recipe for a bad time all the way around.
The worst part was having to perform without a sustain pedal. I had no idea how integral that little thing was to the way I played piano until it wasn’t there anymore. As it was, playing a digital piano live when I’d been spoiled by the grand piano at Mackenzie Hall and my upright at home was a little uninspiring, with all the sensitivity I was losing. But I could have dealt with that just fine if I had a working sustain pedal. Without it, I had to rethink every song on the fly. Everything I’d rehearsed went out the window, and my piano-playing became more of a reluctant intellectual exercise than anything, testing what I could and couldn’t do with no margin for error.
It was one of those shows where nothing feels like it’s working, you don’t enjoy being up there, and when it’s over you’re glad you forgot to tell the audience what your name was, because it would be embarrassing if anyone thought what they heard was an accurate representation of what you sound like when things are going well.
There’s video of the whole performance. I ignored it for years, not wanting to relive the experience. Almost six years later, when I was feeling low about the lack of 8mm Papa Ghostface glory, I decided to subject myself to it for the first time.
I listened to the audio on its own so I wouldn’t have to see the mulch flying around. I didn’t cringe. In some places, against all the odds, I found myself thinking, “For feeling on the day like my singing and playing was garbage, this isn’t all that bad.”
Then I got to the last song of the set.
I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but after being pretty positive the Mackenzie Hall performance of “A Fine Line Between Friendship and Baked Goods” from earlier the same summer was always going to be the definitive version of the song, I think this one might give it a run for its money.
It’s a little more far-reaching, with bits of “Here Comes the Rain Again”, “Out of Touch”, and “State Trooper” getting tossed into the blender, along with a brief callback to the “I Put a Spell on You” section first improvised at Mackenzie Hall (only the first of these musical inserts was rehearsed; the rest were spontaneous). Some of the melodic ideas from the long improv section in that version are revisited here, including another quote from “Rondo Alla Turca”. There’s also a whole lot of improvised stuff unique to this performance that I don’t remember ever playing. And the line I forgot to sing in the first verse at Mackenzie Hall doesn’t get dropped this time.
All I know is, I’m liking it, when I never thought I would — never thought I’d even want to hear it again. If for whatever reason I don’t end up ever playing another solo gig, I don’t think this was such a bad note to end on after all.
Out of great disappointment a mound of focaccia bread sometimes rises, I guess is what I’m trying to say here.