The Pogues

On my way out of Northern Ontario after a string of three shows, first in Windsor where I was too well-received. A small room the Phog Lounge is but the energy was undeniable. I arrived in the late afternoon and was met by Paula, my couchsurfing host. She happens to live right above The Phog and right next door to the bus station making it very convenient to be there. She was too lovely and generous. She lives on the 11th floor of a high rise and has a lovely view of Windsor unfortunately the river overlooking Detroit on the US side of the water, and the other side of the building was not our view, but it was cool to see the town of Windsor covered in a canopy of trees, so many trees.

There is lots of unemployement here, lots of closed shops. It’s still a great little town though. Tom Lucier, the guy who runs the Phog Lounge is a very lively dude. He has a booklet he keeps behind the bar and quotes all the gems he hears from patrons and drunks. He’s got quite a few awesome quotes in there. I told him he should compile them to make a bathroom book and call it “Bar Talk”. I was invited that night to play two festivals from this show one is the Phog Phest and the second is the Media City Film Festival, now in its 12th year.

The next day, I caught the Greyhound to Sudbury, nine hours on the road with a bus switch at Yorkville, Ontario. The bus tends to make these rest stops in these kinds of restaurants like A&W. I went to for a veggie burger which cost me 10$ at a place called “Licks”.  The only thing that took a licking on that lunch was my wallet! They really screw you when it comes to food on the bus, they bring you to these little restaurants in themiddle of nowhere that are salmost twice the price as everywhere else so you best be prepared! I once saw a plastified sandwich for 10$!!!

In general, I always ere on the side of Tim Hortons when on tour in Canada. Their prices are reasonable all around, and I can get a sandwich, a doughnut, a tea and or soup for 5-6$ which is also a bit healthier than burgers and fries. Those, you can find en masse out here. I am eating quite healthy on this tour, vegetarian, with at least one fruit or veggie per day, plenty of water and two to three square meals. No coffee except on weekends and morning stretches and meditation to keep me in shape mentally and physically for those long travel and performance days. I drink no more than a beer or pint before the show and after I may indulge in one or two more. Of course there are some nights that catch you by surprise!

The bus dropped me off by the old water silo that says “Sudbury” on it. Sudbury is a pretty town set amid rolling hills and a big lake. It’s a town with quite the mining history. Vale, the biggest mining company of nickel and other hard metals, have a rock smelting plant there. It’s what drives the town’s core economy. Smelting is a process by which all minerals, all nutrients, all elements in the mined rock are extracted from the stones. It leaves a kind of completely dead rock called Slag. This rock has been akin to the same kind of stones you find on the moon, completely devoid of all life.  Sudbury has mountains and mountains of the stuff everywhere around a giant smokestack (the biggest in Canada), a grim erect giant which overlooks the city. NASA in the past had even done moonwalk training on these smelted mountains. Around there is where you also find the home of the giant nickel that is a beacon for this town, today, Sudbury is also an e-marketing hub and is considered one of the most polluted cities on earth believe it or not.

The Townhouse where I played was a slow night. The crowd was sparse but the atmosphere was good. It’s a real old school bar, with the soundman booth inside a cage, dirty stage and country style tables. Still it’s a cool place and bands from all genres and walks of life play there when they come through Sudbury.

I stayed with my friend and promoter’s brother Cameron. I surprised them at home by walking in on them about to start a jam at home with their band of brothers called The Birthday Cakes. It was awesome to see them play an entire set without stopping once, and in their living room too. It’s very creative prog rock with many different influences. They were opening for Mahogany Frog the next night and were working hard on preparing their show.

I left late the next day after doing some shopping around the Rainbow Mall, and hanging out at a Tim Hortons to kill some time. I caught the 6:30pm bus to Thunder Bay, which actually didn’t leave until 8:30pm. On the bus I had the unfortunate displeasure of sitting directly behind two of the chattiest older ladies I have ever encounter. If ever there was any such thing as nuclear-fueled conversation there it was! They were laughing up a storm and just talking about everything and nothing for hours and hours on end. Can you talk straight for fourteen hours? Well they sure can! And they did. It was very frustrating, how they had absolutely no regard for those around them, especially into the night, they might have taken an hour break throughout the whole trip to zip up and sleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of their jabber and took my earplugs off to tell them to keep it down when one of them fell to the ground. They are very expensive special musicians earplugs with filters. One of the filters made a break for it and slipped off my hand. It disappeared into the darkness of the bus floor at night. I panicked, and literally spent one hour on the floor of the bus feeling away to find my plug at 3am! It was not a pleasant or clean experience to say the least. One of the less fine moments of any Jon Cohen tour!

I finally just gave up after not finding it and annoying all those around me trying to get some sleep. I went back to sleep myself. I was angry and dissapointed. In a gesture of kindness, one of the annoying ladies did lend me her phone to use as a flashlight, which did not help find the plug. I didn’t end up telling them anything and they went right back to talking. Luckily, I found the plug the next morning on my way out of the bus in the light of day.

Jean Paul De Roover picked me up at the station and brought me to his place. I met his girlfriend Charlene who has a very 50’s decor kind of house, very cute and comfortable. We chilled that day and in the evening, headed into Lakehead University for our show at The Study, a university lounge. I had already played at The Outpost the bigger venue, in the days of playing with The Dears, so a lot of memories came flooding back from being in that place. I remember we had had a string of rough shows on a cross canada tour and on the way back, saddened and spirits low, we played the Outpost and it was magical, we were all so happy after that show which elevated us and the crowd to new heights. Sometimes you get amazing shows and sometimes the shows are total bombs. That’s just part of the learning experience. The idea is to take not let the great shows get to your head and to learn as much as you can from the bad ones, to improve on them.. I am learning to do this as the bad can really drag you down if you let it.

The show that night was awesome! Jean Paul was great and so was I! I had bought a few decors for my set for the fist time and on stage, it looked good. I am trying my hand at improving on my set design and this is the first step. We headed back for pizza after the show and just chatted about all our touring war stories. Then JP did the favor of introducing me to the Easy Star All Stars a band that covers the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and Radiohead amongst others in reggae/dub style. I got hooked. JP gave me all of their records and I’ve been listening ever since.

JP’s and my stories really got me thinking about life on the road, and all the stories and things that makes up the touring life of Canadian artists. From the struggling underground musician busking his way across the country, to the successful arena bands travelling in convoys and five-star hotels. There have been so many amazing people, places, stories and random encounters that form the backdrop of mine and his touring life amongst the undreds of others, that someone needs to capture some of it, I guess in some way that’s what Im attempting with this blog.

Windsor, Sudbury and Thunder bay, Kanora, Dryden, Brandon are working class towns. When I think of that Pogues song Dirty Ol’ Town, I think of places like these, not that they’re dirty, they are well kept and clean, but mostly because of the spirit of these towns, of hard working people, of honest people who are very different than you and I, they live in a very different existence, one that isn’t as fast paced and get-ahead crazy as the bogie megalopolises we live in. It’s this kind of place that inspires, its this kind of place that awakens something fast asleep in the heart. Neil Young, Bachman, Joni Mitchell, and countless others have all sung about these places in some way or another.  It’s this kind of place that makes me feel alive. Oh Canada!

Although some of these stories may be sometimes mundane or insane, successful or catastrophic, hilarious or sad, tame or wild, generous or cruel, they are still captivating stories of touring life. The touring life is like a vacuum. It isn’t real. It’s a very strange existence in many ways. Come to a city at light speed, stay for a night , play a show, leave ear;y the next morning. Of all the stuff around the music itself around the shows, these stories are fuelled by the most interesting characters in life, the fans, friends, promoters, bartenders, producers, technicians, hosts, record store managers, enemies, life-savers, merch people, managers, security guards, van drivers, crazies, drunks, bus drivers, random strangers, shit-disturbers, innocent bystanders and most of all, the average folk who have always supported the music scene especially the indies in which they believe.

I hope I’m bringing joy or something entertaining into their lives! I know it’s bringing me an immense sense of satisfaction that I’m doing this and actually getting paid and getting some recognition. I’m a staunch believer that in life, you only ever really love what you do, if you do what you love. I live by that Creedence.

Speak soon lovelies, in the meantime, here is an article by my buddy Nick Lyons who also has a great blog called  Milk and Honey. You besy checkkit!

Here is the article he wrote for Monday Mag on the JCEX.