I woke up on the morning of October 31st, 2009 in Thunder Bay.
The tour with Corb Lund and Hurtin’ Albertans had finished the night before and for whatever reason I was up early.
The guys in the band were still sleeping off the roaring bender from the night before.
I went out for coffee at the Starbucks in the local Chapters bookstore.
I sat there for a couple of hours.
Just before noon, I made my way back to the hotel.
The guys were slowly coming back to life.
We checked out of the hotel and went for breakfast across the street at the
Steak and eggs.
There really is nothing better.
Ben, Ernie and I all ordered coffee.
Jackson as usual had a pint of Keith’s.
I noticed that the lounge at the BP looked just like the one that I played in Bridgewater Nova Scotia two weeks earlier.
It felt like a lifetime ago.
So much had happened in the first two weeks that I was having trouble keeping it all straight.
I’ve always believed that one day on the road is equal to one week at home.
So much happens in a 24 hour period on the road that it can leave you speechless.
It’s information overload.
Everything on the road is times ten.
And that includes boredom, loneliness and exhaustion.
Anyway, after breakfast, we gassed up the van and started heading west towards the inevitable prairies.
About an hour east of Kenora, in Western Ontario, is a little town along the TransCanada Highway called Dryden.
Back in the day, we’d play there on our way to Toronto and then again, six weeks later, on our way back to Edmonton.
We played at a place called the Drifter’s Claim.
It was the scene of countless epic MPB gigs.
Anyway, when we noticed that our schedule had a 4 day hole in it in early November, so we decided to kick back in Dryden, visit some old friends and maybe even play a show.
I’m a big fan of just sitting in one spot.
Always have been and always will be.
In fact, as much as I love being on the move, I love NOT moving twice as much.
I’ve always figured I’d be okay with being placed under house arrest.
“Mr. Plume you are hereby ordered to serve a life sentence, with no chance of parole, in your neighbourhood…”
“Fuckin’ eh, yer Honour, come on over on Sunday to watch the football game… Jenny’s making chili!!!”
We checked into a hotel in Dryden and didn’t move for four days.
We hung around town and did little more than laundry.
I bought new boots and that was about the extent of my excitement.
Ben was very proud of the fact that he was the only guy in the band who had a cell phone that got any service in Northern Ontario.
“Fuck can you believe it guys? I got cell service up here! Incredible! I mean, fuck man, really, it’s incredible!!! Which reminds me, I gotta call home…”
And with that he called home to his girlfriend Nathalie.
I listened to him tell her about how he had lost 200 bucks playing poker with Corb the night before.
For some reason, though, Nathalie didn’t see the charm in the story.
Chicks, eh… no sense of haha…
I, on the other hand, found the whole thing quite funny.
Anyway, whatever, we had a great show and a great turnout.
We had piles of fun visiting with all our old friends.
When we walked off stage after the show I saw our friend Jackie sitting there by herself.
Her husband Al was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh he fell over in the bathroom and smacked his head on the urinal. He’s at the hospital right now getting stitches. He said he’ll try to come back if he doesn’t have to wait too long.”
There must’ve been a lineup in the ER, because he didn’t make it back before the end of the show.
The next evening we had dinner with Jackie and Al and had a good laugh over what had happened the night before.
On Tuesday night, our last night in town, we went out to our friend Peter’s place on the outskirts of town for a home cooked meal.
Along with Pete and his girlfriend Maria, our friends Randy and Carrie also joined us for dinner.
Earlier that afternoon it had started to snow.
It was first snowfall of the tour.
And man did it snow.
Lake effect snow.
As we drove out to Pete’s place the roads were already a mess and I was in a foul mood.
I did not want to go for dinner, but Peter is a stubborn prick and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
This whole snowfall business was really pissing me off.
The tour had really just started and we still had a long way to go and the thought of white knuckle driving for the next 6 weeks did not appeal to me at all.
Anyway, we were in the middle of it now.
What are you going to do?
It’s like being halfway across the ocean when the weather turns grim…
What d’ya do?
Turn around or keep trucking?
Regardless, winter had arrived and there was nothing I could do about that.
We were also going to Peter’s for dinner and there was nothing I could do about that either.
Let me tell you a bit about Peter.
Well, for starters, he’s crazy.
He has a heart of gold and is always good for a laugh but he’s fucking crazy.
Nuttier than squirrel shit.
Tall and lanky, with his ball cap cocked off to one side.
Always with a smile on his face.
He always reminded me of Pea Eye Parker from Lonesome Dove.
Way back when, we’d stumble out of the Drifters Claim at three in morning and by 7AM the phone would be ringing in our hotel room.
If we didn’t pick up the phone, which we never did, ten minutes later, Peter would be banging on our door.
“Peter, what the fuck are doing here? We just left you two hours ago…”
“Yeah, not quite man, more like 4 hours ago… Come on man, wake up. I got us a boat, let’s go fishing…”
“You got us a boat? You bought a boat?”
“Well, yeah, no, not really… but just don’t tell the wife…”
“Wha’ d’ya mean don’t tell yer… when did you buy the… did you buy the boat this morning?”
“Well kinda, now come lets go fishing… fuck man, sun’s up already…”
Another time when we were in town, Derek, Dave, Ernie and I all decided to go for an early morning round of golf.
We had a 7AM Tee time.
There is nothing better than an early morning round of golf… except for maybe a mid afternoon round followed closely by an after dinner round…
Preferably all on the same day.
Anyway, so there we are walking towards our approach shots on the 9th fairway when I see a lone figure walking towards us up the middle of the fairway.
Tall and lanky, hat cocked off to one side…
“What the fuck are you guys golfing for? I mean, Jesus Christ we should be fishing… Yer up here in God’s Country… There’s lakes everywhere and you numb nuts go golfing!”
That is Peter in a nutshell.
Now, Randy is an absolute original.
A man’s man.
The Marlboro Man.
He too is right out of Lonesome Dove.
A perfect combination of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call.
A top shelf individual.
It doesn’t matter what your problem is, Randy has got to be your first call.
He has to be.
He’s just that fucking cool.
Anyway, we had a great dinner.
We made small talk, watched a bit of the hockey game and had an all around nice evening.
After a couple of hours, I suggested that we start making our way back to town.
I figured I’d be in the hotel by nine, asleep by ten and be rolling west by eight the next morning.
“Well boys, wha’d’ya say we start heading back to the hotel.” I said.
“Yeah, I guess we should get back to town.” said Ernie.
“Yep, long drive tomorrow.” said Ben.
“I’ll go start the van and let ‘er warm up.” I said.
Then Randy said, “Oh come on now, you don’t have to leave yet. You just got here. We gotta have bonfire. Let’s have a bonfire. What d’ya say, Pete? You in?”
“Absolutely. Fuckin’ eh. There’s nothing better. Come on boys, how often do we get to do this? It’ll be good for you.”
“Yeah, right.” I thought.
A bonfire in the middle of a snowstorm was the last thing I felt like doing that night.
For some reason, as miserable as I was, I figured, “Oh, what the hell, we don’t see these guys very often…”
“Alright Pete, you win, toss me a beer…”
It was a decision I’ll never regret.
Jesus, what a fire!
We had the bonfire to end all bonfires.
I’m sure it was the 8th Wonder of the World!
I’m sure they could see it from the Space Station.
I’ll never forget it for as long as I live.
There we were huddled around a massive fire.
Not a lick of wind.
Massive snowflakes coming down in a hurry.
The fire crackled and spit with every snow covered log thrown on.
Randy said, “Take a deep breath, Mike.
It’s good for you. It cleanses you.
It gets rid of all the shit inside of you.
All the toxins you breath in every day, it just kills it all off.
It burns out any colds and diseases and all that kinda stuff. It’s what the Indians used to do.”
You know what?
I think he’s right.
It was the most amazing thing!
I felt like a million bucks.
I could feel all the grime from last two weeks in my system melt away with the first deep breath.
It was intense.
The roaring fire was warm and soothing on my face.
I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep standing there.
I felt at peace for the first time in weeks.
I could feel the snowflakes melting on my cheeks and eyelashes.
I was so warm I could’ve taken my coat off.
With every deep breath I could feel my worries melt away.
The bottle of Bacardi Rum being passed around also helped the cause, I’m sure.
Yet, all the while, the snow was piling up on top of my toque and behind me I could feel the cold Northern Ontario night tapping me on the shoulder.
At 11PM, we said goodbye and all piled in the van.
The snow was coming down steady.
Still no wind.
Almost no sound.
I rolled down the window to say goodbye and the snow fell in on me.
“Alright guys, we’ll see you next time. Alright. Pete, thanks for a dinner. Take care, man, and if I don’t see you before, Merry Christmas!”
“Yeah, you guys too and don’t stay away so long this time. Jesus Christ, ten years is too long.”
“You got a deal a Peter.”
“See you, Randy, take care, man and thanks for everything…”
“See you Mike. Ernie, take care buddy. Ben, nice to meet you. Jackson, you too.”
As we pulled out of the driveway, I could see Peter and Randy in my rearview mirror glowing red from my taillights.
I honked the horn and they waved.
Ten minutes later we were back at the hotel.
(8 months later in July of 2010, Randy called me out of the blue.
“Mike, we lost Peter last night. Cancer.”
Of all the things I am thankful for, going to Peter’s that night for dinner is right up at the top of the list.
You just never know.
Take care Peter and save me a seat at the bar.)
The next morning, we hit the road for Winnipeg.
We had the day off, but I had an “on air” interview to do in Brandon, Manitoba.
I dropped the guys off at a Super 8 hotel on the outskirts of the Peg and then made the two and a half hour drive to Brandon.
I drove to the radio station, walked in, did a five minute interview, turned around and left.
Twelve minutes after I walked in the station I was back on the highway and headed back towards Winnipeg.
Whoever booked that radio interview had never driven from Winnipeg to Brandon or even looked at the map for that matter.
“Oh yeah, Mike will drive 5 hours for a 5 minute interview. No problem.”
But that is typical when you are on the road.
One time back in 2000 we were booked to play New York City on Thursday.
On Friday we drove 450 miles to Cleveland.
That’s good routing, if you’re on your way to Chicago.
But on Saturday night, we were back in New York City.
But sadly, predictable.
Anyway, I got back to Winnipeg around dinner time.
We had a nice quiet evening.
The next morning I went across the street to Tim Horton’s to get a cup of coffee.
When I walked back into my hotel room I found Ernie laying on the floor in tears.
“Oh Jesus, what the fuck?!?”
Ernie had wrenched his back a couple of months earlier and had been in serious pain for the whole tour.
It was just a matter of time before it finally gave out.
I knew this was coming.
He did too.
I guess sitting in a van for 15 hours at a time did little for his well being.
Most nights he couldn’t even pack up his drums let alone help load the van.
Jackson was having an awful time with his knees, so he would pack up his guitar and amp and go sit at the bar.
Usually it was just Ben and I packing up the gear.
Jesus Christ, how old are we?
The Rolling Stones don’t have these kind of physical ailments.
It reminded me of the scene at the end of Walk Hard (The Dewey Cox Story) where they’re all hobbling towards the stage…
Anyway, this was serious shit.
Ernie couldn’t get up off the floor without screaming.
We had to do something.
We had to get him to a doctor.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to finish the tour and we’d have to become a folk trio for the remainder of the tour.
The thought made me ill.
Ben and I went down to the front desk looking for a wheelchair so we could get Ernie to the van and then get him to a doctor.
They didn’t have a wheelchair but the guy behind the desk lent us his office chair with the four little rolling wheels.
We rolled the chair up to the room.
For some reason I can’t remember how we got Ernie downstairs to the van.
We may have used the chair.
We may have carried him.
I don’t remember.
I guess I must’ve I blocked it.
I don’t know which funnier, the image of us carrying Ernie through the lobby to the van or wheeling him by the front desk on some stupid office chair.
Good God, the shit Ernie and I have been through.
Anyway, we took Ern to the doctor and 10 minutes later he was a new man.
The chiropractor cracked and popped him back into place and Ernie was the old EB Boy I’d known since the 80’s.
It was amazing!
Sadly, the rest of the tour is just a haze.
A never ending parade of brutal snow covered mountain passes, icy roads, extreme winter conditions, chiropractor bills, mechanic bills, mammoth bar tabs, hotel rooms, sound checks, laundromat’s and gigs.
There were very few high points on that leg of the tour.
The last month of that tour almost killed me.
Of all the tours I’d done over the years, the back half the “8:30 NEWFOUNDLAND CROSS CANADA TOUR” was the worst.
And I’ve been on some doozies.
For starters, the weather had me questioning every decision I’ve made since my 19th birthday.
Every drive seemed to be an epic 8 to 10 hour white knuckle drive.
To make matters worse, I was losing my shirt.
It was a financial kick in the nuts.
What’s more, I realized that the tour was not only breaking me financially, but it was breaking me emotionally, too.
I missed my family desperately.
But the most surprising part of the whole tour was when I realized that Jackson Langley and I couldn’t play in a band together.
I don’t know what it was but our personalities clashed on a massive level.
I’d never experienced that before.
Though there were red flags everywhere, I didn’t believe it.
I found myself in screaming matches with Jackson.
I hated the entire situation
I’m sure Jackson wasn’t thrilled with the way things were turning out either.
I guess, we just pushed each other’s buttons.
I knew we were doomed and so did he.
In all my years of touring with Ernie, Derek and Dave there was never a harsh word.
Seriously, not one.
We just laughed all the time.
From one gig to the next.
From Edmonton to New York City.
From Dublin to Dawson City.
From San Francisco to Houston.
It’s really the only way to make it out there otherwise why bother.
But anyway, this situation with Jackson bothered me every minute of the day.
It was almost all I thought about, even while on stage.
It had a dramatic and negative effect on me and the shows.
My head was not in it.
My heart was not in it.
I felt like I phoned it in every night.
It was pathetic.
It was unfair to everyone.
Especially to the people who came to the shows.
People who had been waiting almost ten years for us to roll back in to town.
People who paid hard earned money to see us play.
People who, after paying for babysitters, parking, dinner, drinks and tickets to the show, probably dropped 200 bucks per couple just to see us play.
And that’s being conservative.
Can you imagine?
What a pisser!
We finished up our Western Canada run by doing two shows at a Casino in Whitecourt, Alberta.
My buddy Gord Collins and his wife Janet were the only two people who came to either show.
Two people in the crowd and they came with us.
I’m not even sure you can call two people a crowd.
Three people is a crowd, of course, but we all know that.
But two? No, if memory serves me correctly, that’s company.
Like I said, they came with us.
They were on our guest list.
They were our company.
Everyone else sat on the other side of the Casino and gambled.
I couldn’t help but think of the gamble I took on my future when I was 19.
There’s a sucker born every minute.
This was to be the tour that put us back on the map.
All it did was make me get out the map to see where in the hell we were.
Here I am.
Well let me tell you what…
We still had two more shows left on the tour.
One in Toronto and one Wakefield, Quebec.
Which meant we had to deadhead it clear across the country… again.
Jackson said he needed to fly back to Vancouver to take care of some business.
That may be but I think the thought of a four day drive across the country in the dead of winter didn’t appeal to him.
I can’t say I blame him.
It’s probably a safe bet to assume he needed to get away from me for a while.
Again, I can’t say I blame him.
Anyway, early Monday morning I went to the Canadian Tire near my brother’s place on the north side of Edmonton for an oil change and new bearings in the front end of the van.
By noon, Ernie, Ben and I were headed east towards Toronto.
We’d hoped to get to the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border by midnight.
A tall order to be sure, but it can be done.
It was smooth sailing all the way to Saskatoon.
Then a few snowflakes.
Then the apocalypse.
An hour later we were stranded in Davidson, Saskatchewan.
Viciously snowed in.
There was one hotel room left in town and thank Christ, we got it.
The next morning we were on the road by 6AM.
The roads were no better than they were the night before.
Brutal road conditions.
Arctic like temperatures.
Howling winds and blowing snow all the way to Ontario.
As soon as we hit the Ontario border the weather became much more tolerable.
It felt almost balmy by comparison.
We stayed in Dryden that night but we didn’t let anyone know we were in town.
By 6AM, we were standing in line at the Tim Horton’s along the TransCanada on the way out of town
We drove for 13 hours and stopped in Sault Ste. Marie.
The next day we drove the last 10 hours in to Toronto.
In Sudbury, Ernie hopped on a Greyhound bus for Ottawa and Ben and I continued on to the Big Smoke.
We rolled onto the 401 around six o’clock Thursday evening.
Ben went home and I stayed at Jenny’s mom’s place.
We had a week and a day before the next show and I was laying low.
I did all my Christmas shopping.
I bought the Anvil DVD and cried through the whole thing.
We played the Dakota Tavern on Friday night.
It was a good time.
Well played, well attended.
What else can you ask for?
Saturday we drove up to Wakefield to play the Black Sheep.
As usual, Wakefied was a dream.
It was pure magic.
Heaven is a local call, I can assure you.
It was a winter wonderland outside as we played a 3 hour monster set.
It was like a purge.
It was the first show that I enjoyed myself since the first week of the tour nine weeks earlier.
The set flowed beautifully and our dynamics were second to none.
It was almost like the old days.
Ben, Ernie and I were on point.
Didn’t miss a beat or cue.
But Jackson Langley was on fire.
He played like he had Hellhounds on his trail.
I think he knew it was the end of the line.
After the show, as the rest of us had a “Last Gig Of The Tour” drink, Jackson was on stage packing up his gear.
He had an earlier than early flight to Vancouver, so he wanted to get to his uncle’s place in Ottawa for a least a little sleep.
I walked up to him.
We shook hands.
We made small talk.
“Good gig, man. You played great! It’s a good way to wrap up the tour here in Wakefield, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, Boss. We were coming in hot.”
“Yeah, ship it…”
He looked the way I felt.
“Alright, Jackson, take care, man, Merry Christmas. I’ll see you when I see you.”
“You too, Boss.”
The snow was coming down like a Rockwell painting.
It seemed that every car in the parking lot was warming up for the wintry drive home.
Jackson’s uncle was out there brushing the snow off his.
I watched him hobble out the door and across the parking lot, his knees all shot to hell.
They jumped in the car, honked and waved as they pulled out on to the road.
I watched their tail lights disappear down in a cloud of snow.
I went back to the bar and had drink.
The next morning, a bunch of us went for breakfast.
The tour was over and I was going home.
Around noon, Ben and I said goodbye to Ernie.
We jumped in the van and headed towards Toronto as it started to snow again.
Six hours later, we rolled into Toronto.
I dropped off Gord at the train station, Ben and Nathalie at their apartment and then went to Jen’s mom’s apartment.
I was sound asleep by 9PM.
At 8 the next morning I made my way south towards Tennessee.
At 11 o’clock that evening I pulled up to the curb in front of my house in Nashville.
I had just driven 15,000 miles or 24,000 kilometers in the last 2 months.
The front porch light was on.
The house was dark.
I sat there in my van and didn’t move for probably ten minutes.
My ears were ringing.
I locked up the van and made my way in to the house.
The Christmas Tree was up and decorated.
Our dog, Annie was sleeping on top of the couch like Snoopy on his doghouse.
Ruby and Jenny were both sound asleep in our bed.
I crawled in beside them and that’s the last thing I remember.
I slept like the dead.
The next morning, I was up and enjoying my first cup of coffee at home in two months.
I couldn’t have been happier.
It almost felt like the entire tour was a dream.
NPR was on the radio.
I could’ve cried just watching my little family get ready for their day.
“Look at what I’ve missed…”, I thought to myself.
Jenny and I dropped Ruby off at school and then went for a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop.
Life was good again.
Everything was in order.
Everything was back in place.
But not for long.
In early January 2010, I slipped in to a funk that lasted until the end of May.
Something about that tour broke me.
It was no one thing in particular but a combination of everything in general.
Whatever attracted me to the road when I was 19 was gone.
I swore that I would never do another tour like that again.
But, in October of 2010, I was packing my suitcase to do it all over again.
“But maybe this time it’ll be different…” I thought to myself.
And you know what?
It was night and day.
We did the tour as a three piece.
Me, Ernie and Ben.
We had a lot of fun.
We played great.
And we laughed the whole time.
I did, however, take a financial kick in the balls again.
Two of our key markets (Saskatoon and Winnipeg) only wanted us if we could play on a weekend.
Sadly, because of scheduling, we couldn’t honour those requests.
So both cities decided they’d rather not have us at all than have us play mid week.
That’s a tough pill to swallow.
Nothing says your career is in the tank more than not being able to get a mid week gig in a town you used to be able to sell out.
It’s a big old slice of humble pie with a heaping scoop of humility on the side.
There has to be a better way.
There just has to be.
In early December 2010, almost a year to the day, I pulled in front of my house again.
The front porch light was on but the rest of the house was dark.
Again, the Christmas Tree was up and decorated.
Our dog Annie was, as usual, sound asleep on top of the couch.
Also par for the course, was Ruby sleeping in our bed with Jenny
And like a year earlier, I crawled into bed and went to sleep with my ears ringing.
On February 12th, 2011, the van that I bought on eBay 15 months earlier for three thousand dollars called it a day.
Ruby and I were on our way to her hockey practice when…
“Daddy, what’s that sound?”
“Daddy, what’s that smell?”
It was going to cost more to repair than what the van was actually worth.
It didn’t take long to come to a conclusion.
So I sold it to the junkyard for 300 bucks.
A couple of hours later, with 15 crisp new 20 dollar bills in my pocket; I stood in the parking lot, drinking a cup of coffee and watched as they hauled my van away.
Sometimes I think that my van wasn’t the only thing that was hauled away on that crisp February morning.
And you know what?
I’m okay with that.
I’m more than okay with that.
This “tale” took me two years to put down on “paper”.
I’d work at it for a couple days here and there and then stop for a month.
Something just didn’t feel right.
I didn’t want to get into it.
I didn’t want to revisit that chapter of my life just yet.
I had to put the whole thing behind me before I could really move forward and look at it for what it was.
Now that I look at it, it wasn’t that bad.
It wasn’t that bad at all.
It was tough sledding to be sure but it wasn’t that bad.
I’m just not a kid anymore.
I don’t find it as easy to dust myself as I once did.
It took me a long time to wrap my head around the fact that my “window” of opportunity had closed by an easy ten years.
I had to get to the point where I was okay with that.
I arrived there in July of 2004 when Ruby was born.
But when I wrote “8:30 Newfoundland” a spark was sparked that hadn’t been sparked in a long long time.
So I dove back in thinking that flash in the pan was a nugget of gold.
The jury’s still out as to whether or not it was fools gold.
Time will tell.
Now all of this doesn’t mean that I’ll quit writing and recording and playing the odd run of shows.
In fact, far from it.
It just means that I probably won’t reach the success that I once thought I was bound for.
The same destination everyone dreams of as a kid when they first pick up the guitar.
“The Toppermost of Poppermost”, to quote John Lennon.
No one ever recorded an album in hopes of selling 500 copies.
They want to make that album that everyone needs to have in their collection.
Born To Run
I like writing and recording more than ever.
Touring not so much but what are you going to do?
Nowadays, I feel like an old pitcher who has only a limited number innings left in his arm.
Just how many innings no one knows for sure.
I still believe I have a lot of movement on my curveball, but for how long?
Twenty-eight hundred shows may have taken their toll.
It has certainly done a number to my hearing.
Somebody answer that phone.
I still enjoy playing music immensely.
In fact, I may like music more now than I ever have.
But, I just don’t feel the need or burning desire to sing in front of an audience anymore.
I love it when I’m doing it but getting to the gig is a struggle for me now.
Back in the day though, it was all I lived for.
I used to enjoy it more than anything in the world.
It’s just I don’t like the other 22 hours of every day on the road.
If you don’t have vices you’ll find one pretty quick out there.
The boredom is excruciating.
The thought of playing a show nowadays almost never crosses my mind.
In 2011 I have played 3 shows.
All in Wakefield.
For some reason it feels like that’s more than enough.
Every once in a while I’ll write a song and think, “Oh man this would be great live…”
But then the logistics kick in.
“Let’s see… it’s gonna cost me this much for that, and that much for this, and how much for what? Oh to hell with it, what’s on TV?”
Back in the day, all I had to live for was out on the road and just around the bend.
Now, all I want to live for and everything I need is at home in the next room.
Maybe someday I’ll be bit by the wanderlust bug again.
But I’m not holding my breath.