“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” ~ Muhammad Ali
"If you have the truth, you know what reality is like. If you don't, you're ignorant of reality and I felt it was important to explain why reality is important - we live in the real world. We depend upon it. We need it. We need to know about it. We need to be able to find our way around in it, and if we don't have the truth, then we can't do those things. We don't really need bullshit. In fact bullshit, I find, is very offensive. It's insulting. It is offered to me as though it were an attempt to convey the truth but it's not, it's a substitute for the truth - and I don't want substitutes, I want the real thing as I think all of us should - all of us must. And that's why I think we should be on our guard against it and resist it and reject it, wherever we find it."
"I think a world without bullshit would be more interesting. It would be a world in which we would lack the creative flair of the bullshitter, but in which we would have the fascination and wonderment of reality. And in that way, I think the world would be much better off."
- Harry Frankfurt
It was pouring rain, and dark. There was a gap in the driver's side wiper blade that messed the windshield in a way that forced me to squint a bit. Larry Carlton's "Room 335" was blasting on the car stereo - the perfect driving song in the early eighties. It was around nine, on a weeknight and I was on my way to play a club in the valley. There were no cars ahead of me on the freeway. There hadn't been for a while. No tail lights to follow through the downpour.
As I rounded a corner I saw moving lights in the sky up ahead. They were above an upcoming overpass - off to the side, not over the freeway. I slowed and saw that the lights seemed to be connected in a line and ... I pulled over.
I got out of the car and stood in the rain, staring.
When I was eleven years old I was the editor of a newsletter called "The UFOEO Reporter". It was printed on the mimeograph machine at James Douglas Elementary school, thanks to Mr. Capon, the kind-hearted principal there. UFOEO stood for "Unidentified Flying Objects Enthusiasts Organization". There were about 15 members of the group, and none of them were in Vancouver, where I lived. They were also UFO enthusiasts, from places all around the world, and most of them had newsletters of their own. The idea was to report UFO activity in our locals and share the accumulated news through the mail by way of these hand-made publications.
I was also the youngest member of the "Vancouver Area Flying Saucer Club". My Mom and Dad took turns driving me to meetings in Kits, and I was warmly welcomed by an eccentric group of truth-seekers who thought I was just the cutest thing - until the night I stood up and mockingly questioned a presentation about two Australian boys and their suspicious close encounter of the third kind.
I was a curious kid and often drawn to themes that called from the fringes of accepted science. UFOs played a large role, but if the topic could be found in FATE Magazine (used copies of which were available at Ted's Book Bin, on nearby Fraser street) I was determined to remain open-minded about it. Open-mindedness was a badge of honour for me in those days.
The string of lights seemed to be circling around something, or to be attached to something that was circling around. The object floated, or "hovered" as UFO folks used to say, above the overpass - occasionally lilting slightly, as though suspended from a string. There was no sound. The rain soaked through my coat as I stood on the highway shoulder watching the lights going around, and the UFO going nowhere. It was about the size of a quarter held at arms length, but I couldn't sort out a dependable sense of scale. The rain didn't help.
Despite my youthful immersion in UFO culture, my first thoughts focused on a terrestrial explanation. I tried to imagine a balloon with lights tracing around it, and how big it would have to be if it was tethered to, or controlled from, the overpass. I was surprised to realize that the theoretical balloon would be roughly the width of a car. If this was an elaborate prank involving a very large prop, I thought, why pull it on a night like this? It was past nine on a weeknight, there was no traffic to speak of and it was raining hard.
Fate Magazine was a small format pulp magazine that dealt with UFOs, psychic abilities, ghosts and hauntings, cryptozoology, alternative medicine, life after death, mental telepathy, ancient astronauts, and, as Wikipedia goes on to say; "other paranormal topics". I was into all of that. My open mind was often strained, as it was at that final "Vancouver Area Flying Saucer Club" meeting (I'm sorry Mrs. Beaton), but I valiantly attempted to know the unknown and stay abreast of, or even a few steps beyond, an unfolding future.
A car pulled to the shoulder behind me and the driver got out.
"What is that?" he called to me.
I grinned in the dark at the idea that he expected a useful answer. I had been thinking, when he arrived, that if it wasn't right above the overpass and actually further away, it was very large. If it was a mile away, it was huge.
"A UFO, I guess." I called back.
The object began to move. Slowly it moved off to the south and, although it was hard to be sure, away from us. Soon it disappeared beyond the tree-line - either descending or getting further away - it's lights still tracing at the same speed.
As the night seemed to darken, buddy laughed awkwardly, said goodnight and got back into his car. He pulled away. Maybe it lasted five minutes all together. Maybe longer, I don't know.
Music began to overtake my interest in the paranormal. Alternate realities, real or unreal, were becoming increasingly inconsistent with the world I needed to live in. Also, some of it was starting to scare the shit out of me. I sold my paranormal library for $30. I bought forty-fives with the money. I started singing in a band.
I always believed that in exploring the unknown and otherworldly, I was learning about unfolding truths that would soon become self-evident to the world at large, and that much of what was called fringe science would be proven out over time and become real science. In the sixties, I was sure that proof of the existence of UFOs would arrive soon, and that we'd find out what they were and where they came from. Science would connect the dots and track down the facts.
But it never happened. The evidence failed to arrive.
So my trust shifted over time. Eventually, I came to agree with Marcello Truzzi, the founding co-chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, who said:
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Or, put another way by the inimitable Christopher Hitchens; “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
I believe I still have an open mind. Where the truth is concerned, it's not over till it's over.
I also believe I saw something hovering above a freeway overpass, out in the valley, one dark and rainy night many years ago. I'll just never be able to tell anyone, for sure, what it was. Which is OK with me. One last quote. My all-time hero; scientist, teacher, raconteur and musician Richard Feynman said this:
"I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong."
* I did not take a photo of the UFO. What I saw was similar to the internet-procured (and altered) shot above - only further away. About the size of a quarter, held at arm's length.
It was an honour and a privilege. Connor and I were sitting so close - in the front row. He was so "there" in the room and so clearly creating as we watched. So completely connected to his instrument. I had expected to see the amazing keyboard player that we'd seen playing with Snarky Puppy last June, but I was not expecting the complete musical experience that Cory Henry and his two compatriots - Andreas Kapsalis and Oketo - brought to VCC last night.
And he sang!
"It brings a tear ..." were the first words out of his mouth and I swear a tear appeared in my eye.
I don't think he realizes what a great singer he is. He only sang three or four songs. But there was nothing missing from the rest of the set. He played his ass off. He was soulful, or funky, or CHURCH, or funny or just damn charming ... I don't think I've ever seen a more accomplished musician in person. Victor Wooten came to mind, but I still haven't seen him.
In a Youtube video I watched today, he dropped the fact that he rehearsed 8 hours a day. Like Victor. You can see it. The keys jump up to his fingers. It seems like his hands sometimes go places that are a surprise to him - but you can also see that he trusts them completely.
The band was over an hour late arriving for the show because of trouble crossing the border - but it was so worth the wait. It was one of the four or five best music shows I've ever seen.
It's all about time and place. And state-of-mind ... and whether or not you have the time, or the willingness, to spare the bit of your heart that's needed for moments like these. It's a tender balance sometimes. When it's not the right time and place, my instincts usually know when something is good enough to keep around - and that's why I was able to listen to the John Moreland album last night.
It was late. I'd finished all my "business", such as that is these days. The plan was to listen to a newish Keb' Mo' album while I sorted through the files still littering my desktop. When the Keb' was done I double-clicked the 'High On Tulsa Heat' cover, remembering the minor chord it struck in me the only time I'd listened to it.
'Hang Me In the Tulsa County Stars' dropped comfortably into the melancholy back room of my consciousness. Sadness ignored is still sadness. I have a lamp with a red shade. The other lights were off. Moreland is emotional. I try to decide if it's *too* emotional and haven't before the next song; 'Heart's Too Heavy' kicks in. This feels like a new record by an old favourite. I think Steve Earle, then not really. I piss myself off noticing the Springsteen in his voice. Because this is not that. Although the commitment and honesty is there, there is not the slightest whiff of self-consciousness in theses songs, this singing. It's dark, the lights are low and Mr Moreland has my number.
Halfway through the third song I haven't heard or felt a cliche. The playing is deft, the arrangements sound like they are creating themselves, around the words in realtime, as they come. And the words are right up my alley at this time and in this place. From 'Cherokee":
And don't I hear you speakin' in the noises in this house
Airplanes flyin' over, shakin' all my secrets out
Darlin' tell me somethin' that I don't already know
I'm aware of where to find ya, it hurts too bad to go
And the music stops somewhere in the "I'm aware ..." in that last line. And my heart quivers a little. Or the chorus for 'Losing Sleep Tonight':
Are you busy serving sentences
To prodigals and priests
Drowning in the sea of tears you're crying
Are you worried that you're happier At war than at peace
Baby are you losing sleep tonight like I am
Oh are you losing sleep tonight like I am
It's all about time and place. And state-of-mind ... and whether or not you have the time, or the willingness, to spare the bit of your heart that's needed for moments like these.
"On a whim, she sent a letter to a land she'd imagined as a child. Countless thankful denizens replied, begging her not to forget them again."
"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck" he shouts, and the band snaps silent on the one.
A cheer goes up in the crowd. A tension releases and a connection sparks. This is what they'd hoped for. Not that they would say - but like a selfie with a passing comet this is the story they were hoping to be able to tell.
On stage, time stops and hands suspend. Fingers, picks and drumsticks poised, players watching and waiting in that open moment - the split-second shared acknowledgement of an imminent unknown. With a silent tempo still counting off they've all defaulted faithfully to rule number one: the singer is always right. They watch.
His left arm churns an explosion of dust particles in the spotlit blackness around his silhouette. What had begun as choreography has sped up and broken time and is now the only movement of his otherwise motionless body. Sweat drips down the side of his neck, tracing the in-ear wire under his shirt and down his back. Is the arm slowing or is awareness simply heightening? This down beat could drop. Or not. No one onstage has taken a breath.
Ten thousand people are now quiet. All but a very few at the far fringes are focused expectantly on one of two large screens. The face framed there is impossible to read, but most see what they need to see; a man lost in a powerful moment and deep in a reverie far beyond their understanding. He is in a place they would like to be. A place they are willing themselves to be with him. They watch.
The arm slows. The sound of an amplified breath.
"And the gatekeeper calls out your name"
And on "name" the band drops hard. The crowd roars. The face on the screens flushes with release. A guitar screams.
I think blogging is done. Not just my blog, but blogging generally. It's probably been done for at least a couple years but I was so damned busy with other things I didn't notice. My own fascination with personal blogs ended several years ago. I lost interest as the people I followed re-invented their online focus or just stopped publishing. I understand. Hosting a one-man/woman online salon, where you're expected to share the things that delight or confound you with some regularity, can easily become less an adventure and more a burden.
Especially in view of the alternatives. Twitter (up until a week ago) will only let you you share 140 characters or less. Instagram only requires #hashtags. Sharing a Facebook post that mirrors your views has a similar effect to writing down and publishing those views yourself - but is accomplished by a single click of the share button. And, of course, a picture is worth thousand words.
But there's still no shortage of words these days. Differentiating useful "content" in the midst of a digital avalanche has become a part-time job for those of us who care about knowledge, facts and truth. Looking back, I can see that I was more and more reluctant to add to that overloaded public discourse with anything less than a well considered contribution. Or maybe that was just an excuse - because writing is hard.
I am still a big fan of this future we get to live in, and I still want to have a home in this online world. I'm looking around out there, trying to imagine the next version of this blog/site/thing. I have some ideas. And I think it should be called an "Album", not a Blog.
It's been a year since I participated in SA4QE - the international conspiracy that celebrates the naming day of the brilliant Russell Hoban by leaving pieces of yellow paper - presenting quotes from his books - in odd places all over the world. Its also appears to have been a year since I updated this blog/site/thing. So much has changed. I may or may not get to that. In the meantime, here’s what I sent in to the excellent Russell Hoban site (where you should check out the other yellow papers) this year:
The weather here on the west coast of Canada was once again inclement on Russell Hoban's naming day. I arrived at a grey and windy White Rock Beach with my yellow paper, some tape and a pocket full of tacks. I had a location planned - at a tourist lookout above the beach and pier - but when I arrived at the beach, the first thing I saw was a silent and still man with a briefcase, standing in front of the old train station, contemplating the bay in front of him.
The bronze sculpture is called "Passenger", but I knew right away that it was the Gom Yawmcher man - and I knew also that he was considering something similar if not identical to the subject of my yellow paper; "If you could even jus see 1 thing clear ..."
As I walked toward him, the sun came out. Once I had affixed the paper to his briefcase, it went back behind the clouds.
"If you cud even jus see 1 thing clear the woal of whats in it you cud see every thing clear. But you never wil get to see the woal of any thing youre all ways in the middl of it living it or moving thru it."
~ Riddley Walker (p. 186)
As I have done for several years now, I participated today in an international conspiracy - called, mysteriously, SA4QE - to celebrate the naming day of the brilliant author, Russell Hoban. All around the world, pieces of yellow paper, bearing quotes from Hoban books, have been left in public places – cafe tables, bookshops, park benches, telephone booths, train stations or anywhere my fellow participants deemed appropriate. Russell Hoban remains one of the most original writers of the twentieth century and one of my very favourites.
Here’s this year's submission:
Russell Hoban's naming day was cold and rainy here in White Rock BC, Canada. The pier was mostly deserted. I walked to the very end and attached this year's quote to the railing that looks out to the American San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands.
As I walked back, a small smile of a rare kind took over my cold and wet face.
Happy Birthday Russ, and thank you.
"Perhaps this world that's in us, this world that we're in, was never meant to be fixed and permanent; perhaps it's only one of a continuous succession of world-ideas passing through the world-mind. And we are, all of us, the passing and impermanent perceivers of it."
Russell Hoban ~ From the Novel ‘Fremder'
You can check out other submissions as they come in, and learn more about Russell Hoban and SA4QE here.
I was looking through some collected Russell Hoban quotes, getting ready for SA4QE on Wednesday, and this one hit me - only, for some reason, not for a yellow paper on the pier. So this must be where it was supposed to go.
"If you cud even jus see 1 thing clear the woal of whats in it you cud see every thing clear. But you never wil get to see the woal of any thing youre all ways in the middl of it living it or moving thru it."
Russell Hoban ~ From the Novel ‘Ridley Walker'
My mom, Norma Grace McGuire, passed away on January 8th 2015. She was 91. Her endless curiosity and intelligence, relentless tenacity, unwavering loyalty and unconditional love were an inspiration to me, her family, and everyone she met. She taught me and my two brothers to dream fearlessly, to question unflinchingly, and to always try to do the right thing - and to fight for that right thing when necessary.
As well as being an inspirational parent, she was an artist, genealogist, author, blogger, craftsperson, seamstress, activist, photographer, computer enthusiast, scrap-booker, knitter, and quilter. Despite those many activities, the majority of her life was devoted to serving and caring for her family. And despite all of her accomplishments, there was nothing she was more proud of than her husband and her three boys and their families. For all of her tenacity, curiosity, and sense of justice there was nothing that motivated her more than love.
I will continue to love her. She has left behind an empty space that can't be filled.
All of our shows are dramatically different these days. This is a rough account of a random show - random only in the sense that it was the one for which I found myself with the requisite coincidence of time and inclination to write about. • It was grey and raining. For the first time in what seemed like months. It had been and endless summer in White Rock.
I was waiting a few more minutes before heading out for the Surrey Sheraton where I’d park my bags and then meet my Trooper brothers in the lobby for a 2:10 lobby call - to be then driven from there to the venue to sound check.
We were playing the Mayor's Charity Ball. I googled the show and there was no mention of it online at all. Which lead me to think that ours might be a surprise appearance. Maybe it's because I don't like surprises, but I prefer people to know we're coming and to be ready for us when we walk out onto the stage. It's a whole different animal when you're trying to put the party together from scratch.
My plan was to sleep over at the Sheraton despite the fact that it's only an hour, if that, from home. It's a luxury, I suppose, but the room was mine for 24 hours and I was considering stopping by a nearby bike shop in the morning to check out e-bikes - a notion that overtook me after reading my friend Peter Cheney's story in the Globe and Mail about riding one in downtown Toronto.
We are like a band of brothers in most senses. We hug when we meet and catch up quickly in bursts of abbreviated prose and sentence-finishing. Nods and winks and eye-rolls. We pile into the bus or van still talking and laughing. Our driver was Rick. He drove us to Whistler when we played there a few years ago with Loverboy. Smitty remembered him and he seemed pleased. We bonded. Rick told us an unflattering story about a band he wouldn't name.
Backstage Paul showed us our nice dressing room and our not nice dressing room. The nice dressing room was lit dramatically and contained white retro sofas and sparkly highlights. The other room had unfinished walls and broom closet decor. It was also much smaller. There is a plan in place to use the nice one before the show and the drywalled one after - at which point the good one will be used for our meet-and-greet.
Paul took me aside. The organizer had asked if we could sing a song called Diane, to "surprise" Mayor Diane Watts - who will be celebrating her last Charity Ball as Mayor of Surrey. He told the organizer that we wouldn't know the song she requested but would probably know the similarly named Ryan Adams song. I told Paul I didn't know it. He said I must have heard it, and in any case it was easy; Steve had figured it out on guitar in just a few minutes. So I had to say no. I was not going to learn and sing a song I'd never heard to surprise someone. Even if it was a Mayor. Sometimes I hate being that guy.
Out on the stage we faced a purple-tinged, overwrought Marie-Antoinette themed ballroom with flowers and cut glass and flowing fabric hanging from delicately decorated trusses - all balanced precariously at the iffy edge of good taste. Black and white clad staff hustled from table to table tweaking or adding to the already crowded displays. Sound check was just a loud interference for most of them. There were some printed lyrics - probably to a song called Diane - on Smitty’s Marshall.
I eat delivered Beef and Broccoli ( and Beef and Guy Lon if they have it) for dinner just about every night I’m on the road. Sonny’s Noodle House had Guy Lon. I watched the first half of the movie Poetry on my laptop while I ate.
The Mayor’s Ball was a charity event. Our pre-show dressing room - the purple one - was separated from the wealthy Surrey-ites in attendance by only black drapery, so the repetitive drone of the auctioneer couldn’t be ignored. The auction went on and on - well past our starting time. We were dressed for stage, wired up with our in-ear monitors and waiting. It’s a credit to our team that the vibe remained chill and good humoured in the purple room.
The show was a private event, so I’ll limit details of that part of my day to avoid intruding on the partier’s privacy. I will say that her worship the Mayor - and a large coterie of her friends and family - joined us onstage for rousing and crowded versions of Raise a Little Hell and We’re Here For a Good Time. The entire stage, ball gown-clad women and Trooper men, posed for photos, onstage, at the end - rather than our usual bow. After changing clothes and unwiring our in-ears in the dressing room we joined the wealthy and famous VIP guests in the purple room for photos and small talk. All of the people there were very nice and we enjoyed the meet and greet more than we usually might.
On the ride back to the Sheraton we discussed the show. It turns out that, during Raise a Little Hell some of the onstage ladies were attempting conversations with the guys in the band - while they played.
“I’m British you know” “I can tell by your accent” “No, really, I’m British”
And my favourite one, from Gogo;
“Will you teach me how to play piano?”
He said it’s the strangest thing anyone has ever said to him on stage.
I'm back at the hotel with my heartburn medicine and my bug juice. I didn't know I needed the bug juice until I was on my walk to get the Gaviscon. The heartburn is a longer story.
We arrived in Tisdale Saskatchewan Last night around nine. I called the only Chinese food place in town to order my traditional beef and brocolli - but they'd already been closed for an hour. The nice lady there told me all the restaurants in town closed at the same time. I called the front desk to confirm that and Crystal told me there was one place still open. A hotel that made pizzas. So I called.
"Hi, I'd like to order for delivery" "Sorry, the taxi driver's not answering his phone" " ... "
I was hungry so I thought I could walk into town to pick up - so I asked:
"I'm at the Canalta Hotel can you tell me where you are from here?" "We're just down past the Subway" " ..."
The girl I was talking to seemed to be losing patience with our call. I could hear how busy the bar was. I thanked her and called back down to the front desk in a now desperate bid for some eleventh hour local restaurant knowledge.
"Oh, I can get Debbie to run over and get that Pizza for ya"
As it turned out, Debbie picked up three pizzas and a 24 of beer for us. You gotta love a small town.
The pizza was delicious, but I should have stopped eating when the heartburn started. My restless night in Tisdale was my own fault. This morning though, I headed out on foot to the Pharmasave on the main drag there. Just down past the Subway.
Trying to find a good book to read is annoying me. And, for reasons unknown to me, that annoyance makes me want to write. I can't figure it out. I'm not going to try. But I am writing. Something.
Encapsulating the months that have passed since last I wrote is the impossibility that has impeded me. There is no way. I've considered sneaking up on an account of it from several different directions - maybe a general metaphoric discussion of the over-riding emotional landscape, for instance. Bullshit and who cares. Maybe some short illuminating scenes that might suggest the general story - No. No one thing, or two things or three is the nub of it. It can neither be distilled nor generalized, and too many people I love are prominent characters in the story arc and I have no right to share their parts, and I won't.
And I haven't been unhappy, or sad in a daily way - I've had some great times - a lot of them - but I've been overwhelmed. There's just been too much. There's been too much and it's come too fast and much of it is part of a new paradigm that I haven't had the time or energy to get on top of. I badly want (and need) an attitude that covers this new reality, but all my efforts to engineer one have so far failed. Which is, well, a failure ... and I'm not fond of those.
So rather than chronicle that inability to make peace with the difficult parts of what I just now realize has been the first four years of "my sixties", I've clammed up. And although I tell myself it's the recent subscribers to ramcguire.com - people requesting an alert in the unlikely event that something new happens here - that have embarrassed me into stepping up, the truth is I miss it.
So in the spirit of my original blog, I'll try once again to overcome the inertia of myself while imagining the three or four of you as forgiving and open-minded friends who don't give a shit what I write but are still encouraging me to do so.
It's November 28th and we're heading off to Hawaii in a couple days, so ... Merry Christmas to all of you. See you in the new year!