I was nine years old.
It was a summer day in Shediac, New Brunswick.
We were driving in the car.
My mom, my brother Chris and me.
We were on our way to my aunt Claire’s house.
It was her birthday.
We were listening to the radio.
A song came on that I’d never heard before, but, I recognized the voice.
“Is this Elvis?” I asked.
“Yeah, it is! Good ear! It’s his new song.”
The song was called “Way Down”.
I liked it.
I really liked the deep voice at the end singing, “Way on down, way on down…”
After the song, the DJ came on and said that Elvis Presley had died in Memphis, Tennessee.
He was 42 years old.
“Oh my God!” said my Mom.
My Mom was usually calm and cool about everything.
But, this was different.
I felt like we were in a vacuum.
Like time was standing still.
We drove the rest of the way in silence.
My brother in the backseat.
Me in front seat, staring out the window.
My Mom was driving with one hand on the wheel and one over her mouth.
It was the first time that I’d ever seen my mother cry.
It was August 16th, 1977.
I was twelve years old.
It was winter day in Havelock, New Brunswick.
We were getting ready for school.
My mom, my brother and me.
My mom was making lunches.
My brother was at the kitchen table having breakfast.
I was standing at the sink in the bathroom brushing my teeth.
As usual, the radio was playing in the background.
I wasn’t really paying any attention but there was a Beatles song playing.
“All you need is love, love. Love is all you need…”
After the song, the DJ came on and said that John Lennon had been shot and killed the night before in New York City.
He was 40 years old.
“Oh my God!” said my Mom.
We stood there and stared at the radio.
For the second time in my life I felt like we were in a vacuum.
Like time was standing still.
It was the second time that I’d ever seen my Mom cry.
It was December 9th, 1980.
I was 23 years old.
It was spring day in Edmonton, Alberta.
Chris and I were staying at a friend’s place.
The phone rang.
It was my Dad.
“Well, yer a tough guy to track down. You know, it wouldn’t kill you to call once in a while.”
“Where are you?
“The Cancer Clinic.”
“Yer in Edmonton?”
“Well, Jesus Christ, Michael, I couldn’t get a hold of you or yer brother and you’d never think to call me, so I flew out here.”
“Have you been in to see Mom?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Ten minutes later I pulled up to the hospital.
My Dad was sitting on the front steps smoking a cigarette.
We took the elevator up to my Mom’s room.
I went to her bedside and held her hand.
My Dad stood in the doorway.
For whatever reason he didn’t come any further into the room.
I motioned for him to come in, but he shook his head no.
He just looked at her.
She was dying.
“Look who’s here!” I said to her.
She looked in the doorway, lifted her head and squinted.
She looked back towards me and whispered, “Who is it?”
I don’t know why, but I never told her who was standing in the doorway.
Somehow, I think, she knew.
She died the next morning.
For the third time in my life I felt like I was in a vacuum,
Like time was standing still.
It was the first time I ever saw my Dad cry.
It was the first time I really cried.
It was April 24th, 1992.
In early January of 1985, my brother and I went to see Bryan Adams on the second night of his “Reckless” tour.
The Moncton Coliseum was packed to the rafters.
Animal seating, so we were right down in front.
The band was loud.
The band was rocking.
“EVERYWHERE I GO…” Adams sang.
“THE KIDS WANNA ROCK!” we all yelled back.
There was a guy standing beside us.
He had his girlfriend on his shoulders.
She was beautiful.
At one point during the show she lifted her shirt and flashed Bryan Adams.
I wonder whatever happened to her.
A couple months later, my Mom invited some friends over to celebrate her 40th birthday.
Like all good house parties in the Maritimes, someone brought a guitar.
Then next morning the guitar was still there.
Now that I think about it, alcohol was probably the major reason in the guitar being left behind.
The next week just so happened to be March Break.
We were always too broke to ever go anywhere fun and so by Monday afternoon, I was bored to tears.
With nothing else to do, and for no other reason than the hell of it, I cracked open the guitar case.
Inside was a Washburn acoustic guitar and a Beatles song book.
I didn’t know the first thing about guitars, but this one sure looked good to me.
It looked like a cowboy guitar.
I loved the way the strings squeaked when I would drag my fingers across them.
For the first couple of hours that was all I did with it.
For some reason, even the sound of plucking an open string was music to my ears.
I remember the feel of fretting a string for the first time.
I remember the pain of fretting a string for the first time.
I remember thinking to that my fingers would fall off long before I would ever learn to play the guitar.
I opened up the songbook.
Thankfully, there were pictures of each chord that I would need to know to play the song.
The very first song I attempted to play was “She Loves You”.
I’m sure it sounded awful, but I enjoyed it.
The guitar ended up staying at our place for a month.
When the guitar was returned to it’s rightful owner, I was heartbroken.
I went a month without having a guitar of my own.
I dreamed about guitars.
I drew pictures of guitars all over my notebooks.
I had pictures of guitars on my bedroom wall.
I was a chronic air guitarist.
All I wanted was a guitar like Eddie Van Halen’s.
All I wanted was to be Eddie Van Halen.
Was it too much to ask?
But I’d never be cool enough.
My hair would never be long enough.
At about this time, what little interest I had in high school was gone.
Being a guitar player was all I wanted to be.
Of course, I kept this idea under my hat.
Every morning, my Mom would drop me off at the front door of Harrison Trimble High School.
“Ok Mike, have a good day at school.”
I’d stand on the curb and watch her drive away.
When she was out of sight,
I’d walk in the front door, down the hall, pass my locker, and out the back door.
From there, it was a thirty minute walk to Moncton Music.
I’d spend 3 or 4 hours there everyday drooling over guitars.
Sometimes I’d take one down and play it.
I’d never plug it in to an amplifier because I didn’t want anyone to know that I couldn’t play.
“It’s better to not play a note and be thought a bad guitarist than it is to play a single note and eliminate all doubt.”
Every Monday morning, I’d watch the bands come in to return the P.A. systems, lighting rigs and other gear that they’d rented for their weekend gigs.
They looked like they’d been up all night.
They all smelled like stale beer and cigarettes.
As far as I was concerned, these guys were rock stars.
In early May of ’85, I hopped on my bike and rode down to Moncton Music.
I walked in and, for $150.00, bought a Peavey T-15 electric guitar.
It was the colour of chocolate milk.
The colour of mud.
Just a flat coloured brown.
The salesman put on a fresh set of strings and tuned it up for me.
Just to make sure it was working fine, he played the “Hot For Teacher” guitar lick note for note.
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
I put the guitar back in its case, and pedalled home as fast as I could.
I ran up to my room and closed the door.
I opened the case and just stared at that guitar.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I finally took it out of its case.
I sat on the edge of my bed and played “Stairway To Heaven”.
Then came the moment of truth.
With the guitar hanging just so off my left shoulder and slung low on my right thigh.
I stood in front of the mirror.
To this day I have never been happier than I was that day in May of 1985.
A few weeks later and with a couple hundred dollars in my pocket, I hopped on my bike and made my way down to Moncton Music.
Behind the counter, playing scales lightning fast, was the guy who sold me my guitar a month earlier.
“What’s up, man? How’s yer guitar treating ya?”
“What can I do for ya?”
“I need an amp.”
Ten minutes later, I was the proud owner of a Peavey Backstage Plus.
About a minute after that, I was outside trying to balance the amplifier on my handlebars.
The door opened.
It was the salesman.
“Hey man, we’re playing an outdoor gig on Friday night just up the street on St. George. If you’re not doing anything, you should come on down and check us out.”
Oh man, I couldn’t believe it. I was being invited to a gig!
“Ok, yeah, I’ll be there. What time?” I said, trying to act cool.
“Cool, yeah, nine bells, I’ll see you there.”
When I got home, I ran upstairs and plugged my amp into the wall and my guitar into the amp.
I am sure it sounded like,
a) a car accident.
b) a train grinding to a halt.
c) nails on a chalkboard or
d) all of the above.
But to me, with the reverb and the distortion cranked full bore, nothing else mattered.
Friday finally rolled around.
We were having supper and making small talk.
My mom, my brother and me.
“What are you up to tonight, Mike?”
“Going to a gig.”
It was the first time I’d ever said the word “gig”.
It felt as good as the first time I’d ever said the word “fuck”.
“Well, ok then, have fun at the… gig.”
I hopped on my bike and headed to the show.
I rolled up around seven.
It was a hive of activity.
I was wide eyed.
Everything about it was exciting to me.
The P.A. system.
The lighting rig.
Hanging the lights.
Focusing the lights.
Firing up the fog machine.
The Marshall stacks.
Setting up the drums.
Stacking the road cases.
The inside jokes going on on between band members while they set up.
“Come in on 4. Not 4 and…
I had no idea what they were talking about, but it sounded cool to me.
Check Check Check.
Ear splitting feedback.
The band was called LYXX.
I mean, could you have a cooler name?
They walked on stage around 9 and rocked.
I was in awe.
I couldn’t believe how loud they were.
They all looked so cool.
Everything they played was note for note.
The singer nailed Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation”.
Ratt’s “Round and Round” was bang on.
They played almost everything off Van Halen’s “1984” album note for fucking note.
“Drop Dead Legs”
They even played “Hot For Teacher”.
On their set break, I went over and talked to the guitarist by the side of the stage.
He was sitting on some road cases.
He was having a beer and a cigarette.
“You guys sound great, man!”
“Thanks, man. You want a beer?”
“No thanks, man.”
Guitar cases and road cases stacked up all over the place.
Guitar cables, mic cables snaking all over the stage.
Squashed cigarette butts on the stage.
“I need to do this”, I thought to myself.
I noticed the keyboard player was standing behind the stage smoking a cigarette.
He looked younger than the rest of the band.
I went over and said hello to him.
We talked for a couple of minutes, like a couple of seasoned musicians.
“You guys sound wicked, man.?”
“Hey thanks, man, I appreciate it. Do you play?”
“Yeah, I play guitar.” I said.
“Oh yeah? Cool. What kinda guitar ya got, man?”
I’d never seen him around Moncton Music, I wondered where he was from.
“Are you from Moncton?”
“No, man, I’m from Saskatchewan.”
“No kidding. I’m moving out to Alberta next month.”
“A town called Bonnyville”.
“Oh yeah, cool. Well, we gotta go back on stage pretty quick. See you later, man.”
“Yeah, see you later, man.”
The next month my Mom, my brother and I moved to Bonnyville, Alberta.
Forty-five hundred kms from everyone and everything I’d ever known.
I’ve never been back to Moncton Music.