We left Moncton on Friday, August 16th 1985.
My aunt Claire’s birthday.
We flew into Edmonton and from there we caught the Greyhound to make the three hour milk run to Bonnyville.
We pulled into town around 10:30 that night.
Bonnyville was an oil town in an oil boom.
It was the polar opposite of Moncton.
It felt like the Wild West and I guess, in some ways, it was.
When we stepped off the bus the first thing I saw was a grain elevator.
I remember the smell of wheat fields.
Exhausted, we checked into a hotel on the outskirts of town called the Lakelander.
The next morning we moved in to our new home.
A trailer in a trailer park, is how we’d begin our new life in Alberta.
Other than a couple of suitcases, my bike was only thing that made trip across the country with us.
Everything else was being shipped.
Even my guitar.
After I unpacked my suitcase, I hopped on my bike and went for a spin around my new hometown.
The sun was shining.
The sky was blue and seemed to stretch out forever.
Again, I noticed the smell of wheat fields.
As I was pedalling around, I noticed that my back tire was low on air.
About a minute later, I rolled in to the first gas station that I saw.
There was a heavy set kid working behind the counter.
He was eating a sandwich.
“Do you mind if I use your tire pump?”
“Go for it.”
“Nice bike” he said, with a mouth full of food.
“You know Justin?”
“He rides a bike like that.”
“Oh yeah, cool.”
“Yeah, have you been to the BMX track out behind the rink?”
“No, man, I just moved to town.”
“Oh yeah, cool. Where from?”
“Moncton, New Brunswick.”
And then, for no real good reason, maybe just to fill the awkward silence, I said,
“Yeah, so ahh, I’m looking to start a band”.
“No kidding! Cool. What do you play?”
“I play guitar. I sing a little too.”
For as long as I live I’ll never know what made me say that I was a singer.
The thought of being a frontman had never even crossed my mind.
I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen not David Lee Roth.
But I sure liked the way “looking to start a band” rolled off the tongue.
I felt like a musician.
More importantly, I felt like he thought I was a musician.
Looking back now, I can see that I had started to reinvent myself that day at the gas station.
“Have you met Keith Johnson yet?”
“He’s a really good guitar player.”
“Oh yeah, cool.”
After a little more small talk, I asked him where the local hang out was.
“Fantasy Arcade. Just head that way towards the lake and hang a left. It’s across the street from Notre Dame High School. Right next door to the Catholic church, you can’t miss it.”
“Cool, thanks man, see you around.”
“Yeah, see you around.”
I pedalled towards the lake and hung a left.
Ten minutes later, I walked in the front door of Fantasy Arcade.
The jukebox was playing “Highway To Hell”.
I bought a bottle of coke and a bag of chips.
I stood at the counter and looked around.
There were a bunch of guys my age playing pinball.
There wasn’t anyone in the place over 20 years old.
I was standing there watching a couple guys play pool when one of them, while waiting for his shot, walked over to me, and said, “Where you from?”
“Moncton, New Brunswick.”
“Cool. When’d you move to town?”
“No kidding. Wow. Last night, eh? Cool, man! Welcome to town, man, I’m Floyd.”
“Hey, I’m Mike, nice to meet you.”
We made small talk.
“Smoking In The Boys Room”, by Motley Crüe came on the jukebox.
Man, did I love that song.
Floyd played a little air guitar on his pool cue.
“Do you play?” he said as he eyed up his next shot.
“Yeah, I play a little guitar…”
“Have you met Keith Johnson yet?”
I remember thinking how good it felt to say that I was a guitar player.
Then Floyd turned around and called a couple of guys over who were playing foosball.
“Hey guys, this is Mike, he’s a guitar player from New Brunswick. He just moved to town last night. This is my brother Stan and this here is Rob.”
“Hey guys, nice to meet you.” I said.
“Yeah, same here.” said Rob. “You play guitar?”
“Yeah, you bet… ” I said, trying to be cool.
“You met Keith Johnson yet?”
“No, but I’ve heard he’s good.”
“Fuck yeah. Is he ever. The best around. Hey, do you play football?”
“Yeah, I played in New Brunswick a couple of years ago.”
“Well, fuck, this is our first season and tryouts are in a couple of weeks. We could use someone with some experience.”
“Cool, yeah, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Actually, if you’re not doing nothing, a bunch of us are gonna go throw the football around. Maybe get a game going. You in?”
“Sure, yeah. Sounds good to me” I said.
About ten minutes later, Rob, Floyd, Stan, another kid from the arcade named Glen, and I all started making our way to the field.
“Hut 2, Hut Hut!!!”
“Go deep! Go deep!”
“Oh fuck, you should’ve dove for that!”
“We’re on the fuckin’ street, man!!!”
“Fuck, yeah on the fuckin’ street! Don’t be a fuckin’ pussy. Dive for the fuckin’ thing”
“Fuck you and throw me the fuckin’ ball”
I laughed to myself as I rode along side my new friends.
I found it hard to believe how, a little over 24 hours earlier, I was at the airport in Moncton saying goodbye to everyone I’d every known.
I’d never thought I’d ever have friends again.
We got to the park and we all took turns tossing the football around.
Pretty soon we had about a dozen guys splitting up in to teams.
“Alright let’s fuckin’ play some fuckin’ football, for fuck sakes!”
Just then, a guy came riding up on a BMX bike.
A candy apple red, SE Racing Quadangle, no less.
He had long hair kinda like me.
He rode over to where my bike was leaning against a park bench.
He was wearing checkerboard slip on Vans.
I walked over to him.
“Nice bike” he said.
“Thanks, man, yers too.”
“My name’s Mike.”
“This is the guy that the guy from the gas station told me about.” I thought to myself.
We played football for a couple hours and then the game broke up.
Floyd, Rob and Stan headed back to the arcade.
Glen went home.
And Justin and I took off on our bikes.
We went to his place around the corner to get something to drink.
He had a fucking guitar.
It was painted like Eddie Van Halen’s and had a whammy bar.
It was like we were separated at birth.
We played riffs for each other.
“Stairway To Heaven”
“Walk This Way”
He taught me how to play “Old Man Down The Road”.
It was like we’d been friends for a hundred years.
The only problem was that Justin was going away to school for the year.
Our friendship would have to wait.
The next day I was back at the arcade.
Floyd was there.
“Hey Mike, I wanna introduce you to a couple guys. They have a band. Maybe you could jam with them sometime.”
Rick Fersovich and Mike Kennedy.
These guys looked cooler than cool.
Everything about them screamed “Rock Star”.
Rick was the singer and Mike played lead guitar.
I can’t remember what the name of the band was but, I do remember them telling me that the album cover for their first record was going to be handcuffed hands folded in prayer.
This was the greatest idea I’d ever heard.
“We should go jam?” Rick said.
“Sure! Sounds great!” I said.
So we left the arcade, went back to Mike’s place and down to the basement.
He plugged in his guitar, tuned up and played “Diary Of A Madman” by Ozzy Osborn.
It was one of my favourite songs.
I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t think that anyone other than Randy Rhodes could actually play that song.
It scared me to death.
I’d never heard anything like it.
Then Rick sang the first verse.
“Screaming at the window, watch me die another day…”
Then they mentioned that they were looking for a bass player and they wanted to know if I’d be interested.
I was insulted.
At that point in my life as a “musician”, I had yet to figure out just how cool the bass guitar was.
Nowadays, it’s probably my favourite instrument.
But, back then?
As a bass player?
That was NOT going to happen.
Today, if someone asked me to play bass in a band, I’d jump at the chance.
And then, as quick as they came into my life, they were gone just as fast.
Both, Rick and Mike had already quit school, and so as soon as school started our circles rarely overlapped.
I seem to run in to Rick at one of my gigs every ten years or so.
I last saw Mike in the late 80’s early 90’s.
He was working at an HMV in West Edmonton Mall.
I heard he since went on to become an accountant.
Sometimes I wish I’d heeded the advice that was also given to him.
Anyway, on Thursday, September 5th, 1985, I walked into Bonnyville Centralized High School for my first day of classes.
I walked in the front door and went straight to the office to get my schedule.
A bunch of kids were standing around waiting for their schedules too.
There were four guys in front of me laughing and joking with each other.
They seemed to be having a great time.
I got the feeling they’d known each other forever.
It was my seventh different school since January of 1981 and by this time I was pretty sick of always being the new guy.
One of them backed into me.
He turned around and with a big smile on his face, said “Oh, hey, sorry, man.”
“No problem, man.”
“Hey, yer new here. Where’re you from?”
“Cool, I’m Kelly Turzanski, this is Al Mercier, this here is Jamie Girard and this fucking guy is my neighbour, Pedro Garcia.”
“Hey, I’m Mike.”
“Nice to meet you!”
“Nice to meet you guys too…”
They went back to their joking and carrying on
A couple hours later, I was on my way to class, when Kelly walked up to me and said, “Hey, man, we’re all going for lunch, if yer not busy, you wanna join us?”
I did not see that coming.
“Who are these guys? The Welcome Wagon?” I thought to myself.
“Yeah, sure! Sounds good!”
At noon, I met Kelly in the parking lot, and as we were pulling out of the school, we had a mild fender bender with another student driving a boat of a car.
Laughs all the way around.
After making sure everything was ok with the vehicles, we met Al, Jamie and Pedro for a plate of fries and gravy.
I laughed like I’d never laughed before.
These guys were crazy.
Especially Jamie and Pedro.
After lunch we jumped in Kelly’s car and instead of going to school, I cut my very first lap.
My first of probably a million laps.
School in Bonnyville, Alberta in 1985 was certainly interesting, that’s for sure.
Not the classes, but the students.
Kids would just come and go as they pleased.
It seemed like in every class, someone would just stand up and walk out the door.
They wouldn’t ask the teacher.
They’d just walk out.
Half an hour later, they’d stroll back into class smelling like cigarettes and sucking on a Slurpee from the Red Rooster.
I’d never seen anything like it.
Another thing that happened routinely, that I’d never experienced before was the “bomb threat”.
A bomb threat?
A bomb threat.
At first I thought, “Well who would want to blow up a school in Bonnyville?”
I soon came to figure out what the deal was with these “bomb threats”.
In fact, I even came to enjoy them.
It was a way to get out of school.
A way to postpone an assignment.
If someone had a report due or a test that they weren’t ready for, they’d call in a “bomb threat”.
School would be cancelled for the remainder of the day and we all went home happy.
Can you imagine?
Man, you’d be on CNN in a minute, not too mention locked up, if you tried something like that nowadays.
Tryouts for the Bonnyville Voyageurs football team were immediately after school.
It was big news.
People were excited.
It seemed like the whole town was there at the football field behind the Notre Dame High School.
I saw Floyd on the sidelines talking to a really big guy.
I mean, a really big guy.
He was about six feet tall but he weighed an easy 300 pounds.
They waved and I waved back.
Then the big guy started walking towards me.
“Are you Mike?”
“Yeah man, sure am.”
“I hear yer quite the guitar player and that yer lookin’ to start a band.”
I couldn’t believe that he’d heard I was “quite the guitar player”.
Deep down I knew it was bullshit.
I knew that either he was lying or that Floyd had lied to him.
“I’m Keith.” he said as he stuck out his right hand.
I couldn’t believe that this was the guy everyone had been talking about.
He was not what I expected a “Guitar God” to look like.
Keith was so big that he couldn’t find football equipment to fit him.
So he wore a helmet, shoulder pads, a jersey and sweat pants all season.
He was a tough dude.
He still is.
”We should get together and jam sometime.” he said.
“Cool, yeah. That sounds fun.”
“What are you doing on Saturday?”
“I don’t know. Nothing.”
“Cool, I’ll pick you up Saturday morning, around 11.”
“Great. That sounds great.”
“In fact, you see the guy over there handing out the football equipment, he plays drums. I’ll get him to join us.”
I walked over and stood in line to get some football equipment for the tryouts.
When I got to the front of the line there was this guy handing out the equipment.
He was a little shorter than me and maybe a couple of years younger.
I told him the sizes I needed.
He turned around and dug thru the piles of equipment.
After a minute or so he turned around and handed me my gear.
“Hey man, are you the guy who plays drums with Keith Johnson?” I asked.
“Yeah, man.” he said.
“Well, cool, yeah, man, hey, I think we’re gonna get together tomorrow and jam.”
“Yeah, man, cool…” he said.
“What’s yer name, man?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry man, my name’s Ernie.”
Rob, Stan and Glen all made the team.
Me? Yep, you bet.
Ernie? not so lucky.
But, he was only 14.
The heavy set kid at the gas station?
Yeah, sure did, he made the team, too.
He was a big guy and we needed him.
I think he was on offensive line with Keith.
Once on a road trip to a game in Lloydminster we stopped at a McDonalds and we bet him a dollar that he couldn’t eat an entire Big Mac in one bite.
We lost the bet and the lady at the table beside him lost her lunch.
Our coaches were less than impressed and we all ran laps the next day.
His name was Shane and he was one of those guys who would drink an entire Slurpee as fast as he could just to get one of those Slurpee headaches.
You know the kind.
The Bonnyville Voyagers lost every game that season.
But more importantly, I was gonna be in a rock and roll band.