The school was all but empty.
The fake Christmas tree was sitting in the corner.
Its lights blinking randomly.
There were just a couple of stragglers milling around.
I had nothing to do but sit and wait until I was needed to help move our gear out to our vehicles.
My first tear down.
My first load out.
I couldn’t believe it.
After our stuff was all packed up and loaded out, we stood around in the student parking lot and talked about the gig.
Curt said, “Fuck, man, what the hell were you thinking when you did that scissor kick at the start of ‘Johnny B. Goode’?”
Everyone howled with laughter.
I had completely forgotten about the scissor kick.
I guess that in all the excitement, one of my jumps resulted in a fucking flying scissor kick.
I’d never done one before.
I probably got that move from Eddie Van Halen.
In fact, I’m sure I did…
The laughs continued as we all went around in a circle pointing out funny moments that happened during our two song set.
Seeing that It was Friday night and the first official day of the Christmas Holidays, I asked what everyone else was doing later on that night.
Al said that he had to go to work and with that he jumped in his truck, threw ‘er in drive and pulled out of the parking lot.
With a grin and a wave, he was gone.
Ernie said he wasn’t sure what he was doing but, he thought he might have to work a shift with his parents at the Steak and Pizza.
Keith said he was thinking of going to the Bonnyville Bee’s hockey game.
That was music to my ears.
“I’m in, man! Let’s go! Curt, wha’ d’ya say… you in?”
Curt had just gotten his drivers license earlier that month and was all about getting behind the wheel whenever he could.
“Sure, sounds like a plan.” he said.
“I’ll swing by around 6 and pick you up, Mike. Cool?
“Yeah, that’ll work!!!”
“Alright boys, see you later…” he said as he hopped in his little Toyota and drove away.
A little fishtail and a puff of snow as he pulled out of the parking lot.
Now it was just Keith, Ernie and me standing there in a pretty much empty parking lot.
It had started to snow.
Then Keith said, “Wha’ d’ya boys say we drop off the gear at my place and then maybe cut a couple laps…?”
And so that’s just what we did.
In that order…
We dumped the gear…
And then we cut some laps.
We cut laps for about 3 hours.
Oh you laugh, but we weren’t the only ones.
Not by a long shot.
Back then, in Bonnyville, cutting laps played a major part in everyone’s life.
It probably still does.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that as I type this and as you read it, someone is cutting laps right now.
But, back then, I remember dozens of vehicles with high school kids piled into each one.
Up and down the main drag of Bonnyville, Alberta.
Back and forth…
Just cutting laps…
It was like going to the roller rink but on a drastically larger scale.
Every car had a different song blasting out of it.
Those were good times.
Waving to cars that you just waved to three minutes earlier when you were heading east and they were heading west.
A nod of the head or a two finger lift off the steering wheel was all that was needed to say hello.
If you were cutting laps in a pickup truck with two of your buddies, inevitably, the guy sitting by the passenger side door would duck beneath the dash to make it look like the poor bastard in the middle was snuggling up to the driver.
Lots of laughs…
Sometimes, for the hell of it, you’d swerve towards an oncoming car that was loaded with friends from school.
We’d all laugh and wave.
Then we’d scrape together a couple bucks to throw in the tank.
Maybe buy a Slurpee with what was left over.
It was a right of passage for anyone coming of age on prairies of Alberta.
It probably is everywhere but, Bonnyville is where I cut my teeth cutting laps.
Everyday after school, we’d cut laps.
We’d cut laps before hockey games and then again immediately after.
Every Friday and Saturday night we’d cut laps before heading to the eventual house party.
Those were some good times.
If you were there, you know what I’m talking about.
I’d love to go back to the fall of 1985 and cut laps for one more Friday night.
FasGas to the Steak and Pizza… Steak and Pizza back to the FasGas…
“Turn up the radio… I need to hear it, won’t you give me more…”
Anyway, back to the story…
After a couple hours of cutting laps, we dropped Ernie off at the Steak and Pizza.
Then Keith dropped me off at home.
“See you at the game, buddy…”
“See you there, man, thanks for the lift…”
“No problem, buddy…”
I ran into the house.
I kicked off my boots and pitched my coat in the corner.
I poured a glass of milk and sat down at the kitchen table.
I leafed through the Motley Crue tour booklet again…
I went to my room and laid on my bed.
I couldn’t believe I’d just played my first gig!
I looked at my guitar leaning up against my amp.
I couldn’t have been happier.
Three hours later, Curt honked his horn.
I grabbed my coat from where I’d pitched it.
Pulled on my boots and ran out the door.
We cut a couple laps first and off we went to the rink to watch the game.
Everyone was there.
There was a cut in my strut that wasn’t there 12 hours earlier.
We sat there in the stands eating french fries and socializing with everyone.
We laughed and talked to the girls.
My first night on the town as a singer in a band.
This was rock and roll, baby.
Keith walked in during the first period with Floyd Finley.
They joined us in the stands along with loads of classmates.
During the first intermission, we all ducked out to Keith’s vehicle and had a pull of Cherry Whiskey.
Or was it Malibu?
It doesn’t matter, because as far as I was concerned I was living the dream.
And as I write this now…
I realize that I was.
After the game, we cut laps for an hour or so and then went to a house party.
There must’ve been 75 of us there…
At one point someone yelled “Cops!!! The fucking Cops are here!!!”
It ended up just being a red and blue flashing light from a Christmas decoration in the yard.
I sat in the kitchen and air guitar’d with a bunch of drunk classmates…
“Out there is a fortune waiting to be had, If you think I’ll let it go you’re mad,
You got another thing coming…
(You got another thing coming)
Keith dropped me off at home around 2AM. “Hey, good singing, buddy…”
“Thanks Keith… Goodnight, man…”
“See you later, buddy…”
I had no problem going to sleep that night.
I woke up at noon the next day feeling like I’d just won the lottery.
I now knew, without a doubt, what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I was going to be a musician and that’s all there was to it.
I wished that I had a show to play that night.
I wanted to play every night from then on.
I was envious of bands on the road and how they got to play every night.
“What a life that must be…”, I thought to myself.
(18 months later I’d find out exactly what it was like…)
I walked out to the kitchen with my Motley Crue tour book under my arm, grabbed a bowl of cereal and a jug of milk and joined my Mom at the table.
She was drinking a cup of coffee.
“I got a lot of phone calls last night and this morning about your show at school yesterday. They said you were good, Mike! They said you were jumping around like you’d been on stage for years…”
I was embarrassed beyond words yet proud at the same time. I think my Mom was experiencing both emotions as well.
On Christmas morning, under the tree (actually standing beside the tree) was a microphone on a mic stand.
The perfect gift!
I couldn’t have been happier.
Not too mention, but now, I didn’t have to use my brush to lip sync around my bedroom anymore.
I had the real thing set up right there beside my guitar and amp.
I could just lay in my room and daydream about my next gig…
While I waited for that next gig, I played hockey.
Hockey was my first love.
I was good too…
Until tenth grade, that is…
I wrenched my knee being a jack ass on my bike.
And though it wasn’t a serious injury by any stretch, it still took me the better part of a year to fully get full strength and confidence back in my knee.
The only lasting effect my knee injury had was that it made me more than a little cautious when I played hockey.
I wouldn’t go into the corners like I used to.
Anyway, so when I first moved to Bonnyville, and desperate to fit in, I decided that I’d try out for the Junior B hockey team.
What the hell?
Around the end of October I got cut from the roster.
“It’s not gonna work out this year…”
“Okay, well that’s for letting me try out, anyway…”
“Why don’t you go down and play in the “House League” and if we need you, we’ll call you…”
“Sure thing! Thanks!”
I guess they lost my number.
So I went down and started playing “House League”…
It was a blast!
It was really good hockey.
Just not nearly as intense or as popular as the Junior Bees were.
Curt and I were teammates.
Anyway, at some point during Christmas vacation, our team traveled to St. Paul to play a game against their boys…
About halfway through the third period one of our guys, Pierre Croteau, got in a fight with one of the Saint Paul thugs.
As is tradition everyone on the ice grabs a dance partner and stands around watching the fight.
Everyone keeping an eye on everyone else…
Just to be sure…
All of a sudden, one of St. Paul players decided to jump in and help his teammate who was getting pummeled by Croteau…
I didn’t think.
I didn’t weigh my options.
I just stepped in to stop the “third man in”.
I didn’t want to fight, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Not even close.
But I just figured I’d hold him back and let the two guys who were fighting, literally hammer it out.
That was a good idea on paper.
Anyway, it was at this point that my “dance partner” wheeled around and punched me in the head.
And, as usual, I didn’t have my chin strap properly fastened.
I would always leave it dangling so it could just kinda blow in the breeze as I skated down the ice…
I thought it looked cool.
Again, a good idea on paper…
So predictably, when this St. Paul lughead hit me with a roundhouse, my helmet went flying through the air.
Here we go!!!
We both dropped our gloves and went to work.
He had his helmet properly fastened and didn’t bother to take it off.
So while he punched me in the head 20 or 30 times, I taught his helmet and his wire cage face mask a thing or two with my bare hands.
I beat the shit out of my right hand, got thrown out of the game and earned a two game suspension.
It’s funny now…
It was even funny then…
I can remember laying on my back on the ice as this dude beat me senseless.
I kept saying, “Take yer fuckin’ helmet off ya fuckin’ pussy!!!!”
I remember my left hand holding on tight to his face mask while, with my right hand, I attempted to “start the lawn mower” from my back.
Fist to helmet…
Fist to helmet…
Fist to helmet…
After the game, as we attempted to leave the rink, it seemed like the whole town of St. Paul had gathered around our bus and were ready to finish what had been started inside the arena…
It wasn’t the first or last time that we would need a police escort out of town…
Hockey out in rural Alberta in the mid 80’s was hardcore.
Later, as our bus rolled towards Bonnyville, our goaltender, Jim Dietrich, said,
“Hey Mike! Man, you really hit that guy’s fist hard with your face a couple times.”
Thanks Jim… What a prick!
On New Years Eve, Keith and Floyd Finley picked me up around 9PM.
We cut a couple laps to get primed up before the evening really kicked into high gear. There was a massive house party out on Moose Lake and everyone was going.
So we went too…
There were cars parked everywhere.
We had to park about a hundred yards down the road.
The snow crunched as we walked toward the front door.
Keith and Floyd were each carrying a case of beer.
I had a bottle of Malibu in one hand and a bottle of Cherry Whiskey in the other.
Fireworks were already being shot off across the lake.
I remember the sound of voices.
Hundreds of voices, it seemed.
Bursts of laughter.
Loud music rumbling and thumping through the walls
It was easily 20 below zero.
The air was still.
The sky was clear.
It seemed like every star in the sky was determined to make an appearance on New Years Eve.
I remember seeing my moon shadow.
We walked up to the front door.
“Sorry, guys… private party…”
I glanced in the door. I knew everybody in there.
“Yer kidding… right…?”
“No, I’m sorry guys. I gotta draw the line somewhere…”
“Yeah, but, come on man, it’s New Years Eve! We played football together, man… We’re on the same hockey team…”
“Yeah, I know, but… sorry guys…“
He closed the door.
Keith, Floyd and I started walking back to the car.
It seemed colder than it did 5 minutes earlier.
Walking towards the party, arm in arm with her boyfriend, was a girl that I’d dated when I first moved to town four months earlier.
This was the very definition of an awkward situation.
Her boyfriend was a tough customer and made no bones about the fact that he had no use for me.
Everyone in town knew that I was a dead man.
You see, she was “going out” with him when I first moved to town.
Then they broke up.
About an hour later, I was introduced to her at a party.
Then we started dating.
Then he found out about me.
Then I found out about him.
Then I started shopping for a coffin.
Then she dumped me.
Then she started dating him again.
I kept looking for the perfect coffin.
For some reason, the fact that I was alive did not sit well with him.
For some reason, the fact that he was the enforcer on the Bonnyville Bee’s hockey team did not sit well with me.
We were teammates for two months and never said a word to each other.
Being teammates was probably the only thing that kept me from getting shit kicked.
For road games, I sat at the front of the bus and could feel him leering at me from the back.
Talking loud and laughing louder.
Subtle verbal jabs that everyone knew was aimed at me.
The coach knew it too.
On the day I got cut from the team I figured my luck had run out.
The next afternoon, the phone rang at my house. I answered it.
“Guess who… The next time I see you, yer fuckin’ dead.”
Click… dial tone…
I had no reason not to believe him.
Why would he lie about such a thing that would obviously bring him such joy?
Everywhere I went, he made his presence known.
One afternoon, after I was cut from the Bee’s hockey team, I was in the dressing room with the rest of my “House League” teammates getting ready for a practice.
Everyone was talking and laughing, swearing and belching, bragging and lying about chicks they’d hooked up with.
The music was turned up to ten.
All of a sudden the music was turned off mid song.
Everyone stopped talking.
I figured it was the coach coming in to give us shit for losing the game night before.
I had my head down as I laced up my skates.
The silence was unnerving.
I looked up and there was Death himself looking a lot like the Bonnyville Bee enforcer who I’d come to have nightmares about.
There he was standing right in front of me.
Everyone knew what he wanted to do.
Everyone knew what he was about to do.
No one said anything.
Not a fucking word.
They were all as scared as I was.
Everyone looked down and pretended to be busy.
But, out of the corner of their eyes, they could see what was coming.
We all waited for the inevitable.
“This is it.”, I thought to myself. “I’m gonna get my head kicked in. I wonder if I should put on my helmet? Nope, fuck it, get it over with… ”
I just sat there with my head down and tried to pay no attention.
I finished tying my skates.
I looked in my hockey bag pretending to look for a roll of tape.
Then he walked out the door.
He didn’t say a word.
I think I pissed myself…
We all continued to suit up in silence.
Then the coach finally came in and gave us shit about losing the game the night before.
“Now let’s get out there and have good practice… Let’s get out there and fuckin’ skate for fuck sakes!!!”
We stood up as a team and made our way out to the ice.
I was at the very back of the line.
I knew he was going to be waiting for me.
I just fucking knew it.
It was all I could do to leave the dressing room.
I let the team walk out ahead of me.
I was going to put my helmet but decided not to.
“Fuck it, Plume, get it over with. Once he’s kicked your head in he’ll leave you alone…”
I’m sure my stupidity confused him.
I walked out alone.
There he was.
Leaning against the wall.
I had to walk past him to get to the ice.
“Hey man…” I said, as I nodded and walked past.
He didn’t say a word.
He didn’t have to.
He was already in my head. I could hear everything he was thinking.
I walked past him and out to the ice. I put on my helmet and jumped over the boards, my legs shaking the whole time.
I think the fact that he did not beat me senseless messed with my head more than had he actually rearranged my face.
By never kicking my head in and only threatening to, he won the battle between my ears.
I could never relax.
I was always looking over my shoulder.
Trust me, it was no picnic being voted “The Fucking Goof Most Likely To Get His Ass Kicked By The Entire Hockey Team”.
It was tough being the most unpopular person among the most popular crowd.
But now, here we were…
New Years Eve.
And the Beauty and the Beast are walking towards me.
They’re on their way to a party that they were certainly invited to.
It was all I could do not to run.
I wanted to go back to New Brunswick.
I looked down as we passed.
“Hey Keith… Floyd… Nice to you see you boys… Happy New Year…”
“Hey buddy, you too…” said Keith.
We kept walking.
The snow crunched.
We got back to Keith’s car and cracked open the bottle of Malibu.
I took a swig and said, “Jesus Christ, it’s a good thing we didn’t go to that party after all. That fuckin’ guy would’ve kicked my ass for his New Years resolution…”
“He wouldn’t have touched you, buddy…” said Keith.
I looked out the window.
I didn’t say anything.
I wanted to cry.
Keith fired up his car and we drove back to town.
Ten minutes later, we were at Keith’s place and the three of us were drinking beer and smoking Colts and having a good time listening to music.
Keith’s sister had gotten a CD player for Christmas, which at that time was on the serious cutting edge of technology.
She had one CD.
Bon Jovi’s first album.
I had never heard of Bon Jovi, I figured they were a French band…
I’d also never seen a CD before.
Needless to say, I was blown away by both.
We must’ve played the first song 20 times that night.
(I’m listening to it right now as I type this…)
The song made my hair stand on end.
The keyboards at the beginning killed me.
Then the shots, Dah Dum.
Then the harmonic whammy bar dive bomb…
“On the streets where you live, girls talk about their social lives…” What an opening!!! And then the chorus! Are you kidding me?
“Ohhhhh, she’s a little runaway… Daddy’s girl learned fast now, now she works the night away…”
“We gotta do this fucking song, man…” I said.
“Ya figure?” said Keith…
“Yeah, I figure… what d’ya think, Floyd?”
“Yeah, man, I think so… that’d be wicked man, fuckin’ wicked…”
“Yeah, me too, man, fuck yeah… Cheers!”
I woke up on January 1st,1986 and did the same thing I’d been doing for the last month and a half. I walked out to the kitchen with the Motley Crue tour book under my arm, grabbed a bowl of cereal and sat at the kitchen table with my Mom as she drank her morning coffee.
Sometime in mid January, someone asked us if we’d play a song at the talent show in February.
“Are you kidding me??? This is Big Time!!!”
I couldn’t believe it!
I was pumped!
I couldn’t wait for the show.
Even if it was only one song…
I didn’t care.
I just wanted to be on stage.
We’d been rehearsing a bunch.
We had worked in some new songs…
“One More Time” by Streetheart.
“Talking In Your Sleep” by the Romantics.
“Walk Of Life” by Dire Straits.
“Life Is Life” by Opus.
Finally, the week of the show had arrived.
I could barely stand anymore!
We kept working on new material.
Getting it tighter and tighter.
Though for the show, we played our “hit”…
“Johnny B. Goode”
On the night before the Talent Show, there was a dance being put on by the high school at the community centre in town called the Agriplex.
As usual on Friday nights, we cut laps until probably 10 o’clock.
Then everyone made their way to the dance.
I wasn’t much of a dancer so I just stood around and listened to the music.
At some point during the evening we all went out to Keith’s car and chugged some Cherry Whiskey.
With a bit of a buzz on we all went back inside.
The music was loud.
The DJ played “She Sells Sanctuary”.
What a guitar lick!!!
Air guitar heaven!
I loved that song.
I still do.
“Keith!!! Keith, man… We should learn this fuckin’ song, man!!!”
“Yeah, okay buddy… You figure you can sing it man?”
“Oh fuck, yeah, man…”
One gig under my belt and I had the confidence of Robert Plant.
I’d been on stage for 2 songs.
Maybe 6 minutes and I’m thinking like maybe we could pull this shit off.
I’d come crashing back to earth pretty quick about a month later…
But I’ll get into that in the next chapter…
Speaking of Robert Plant, the next song the DJ played was “Rockin’ At Midnight” by the Honeydrippers.
That’s all it took for me.
“Alright! Lets go! I fuckin’ love this song!!!”
I went crazy!
I still go crazy whenever I hear “Rockin’ At Midnight”.
I was having the time of my life playing air guitar with the boys.
“Hey Keith we should learn this song too…”
“Ya figure…? Yeah, we could probably give a shot anyway…”
Just then, a girl I knew from school asked me if I’d like to dance with her.
Having never really danced before, I was horrified.
I wanted to say no but I didn’t feel like yelling over the music my reasons for not dancing.
“Sure okay!!!” I yelled.
We stepped out on to the floor and for the first time in my life I was dancing!
For some reason, I seem to recall that I was dancing like Springsteen in the “Dancing In The Dark” video.
I think he was the only white guy I’d ever seen dance!
And I certainly wasn’t gonna bust out the “Michael Jackson at the Motown 25th Anniversary” moves…
I saved those moves for my living room when my Mom and my brother were out grocery shopping.
“Rockin’ At Midnight” was still playing when some dude from the Saddle Lake beat the living fuck out of me.
At first, I thought it was my pal from the Bonnyville Bee’s making good on his promise to kill me.
But nope, no such luck.
Just a couple guys from Saddle Lake, who’d come to town to kick some ass on a Friday night.
And boy did they ever.
The whole thing only lasted probably 20 seconds.
But it sure felt longer while lying at the bottom of a pile drunks with a bloody nose and a fat lip.
This time it was Pierre Croteau who came to my rescue.
He jumped in pile and opened a can of whoop ass on the boys from Saddle Lake.
Someone pulled me from the carnage but I don’t remember who…
It was probably Keith.
He always seemed to be there for me in times like that…
What a brawl!
I had only seen this sort of thing in movies.
I just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Keith dropped me off at home again around 2 in the morning.
“Get some sleep, buddy… We got a show tomorrow…”
“Thanks for the lift, Keith…”
“No problem, buddy…”
I felt like a Rocker.
Bloody nose. Busted lip.
Blood down the front of my shirt.
Pounding headache from the 20 or so punches I took to the noggin.
Oh yeah, this is Rock and Roll, baby…
I had no problem going to sleep that night.
Around noon the next day, I got up and walked into the kitchen.
As usual my Mom was sitting at the table drinking a coffee and smoking a Benson and Hedges cigarette.
“What the hell happened to you?!?”
“Oh Jesus, Mom, I fuckin’ got beat up…”
“No it wasn’t him… It was another guy… a drunk guy from Saddle Lake…
She was pissed.
I was pissed too.
I had a show that afternoon and here I was with a fat lip.
Keith picked me up around two and we made our way to the gig.
We were the last act on the bill.
My first Headliner slot.
I walked around the backstage area.
I hung around in the dressing room and pretended I was sitting backstage in some arena somewhere.
Thousands of people waiting to see the show.
Rock and Roll.
Hey Ho Let’s Go.
Every once in a while I’d peak through the curtains to look at the crowd.
I saw my Mom about 4 rows from the back, stage right…
She waved back.
The next thing I knew, we were being introduced to the Saturday afternoon crowd.
“Ok, here they are, our last act of the day…
Please give a warm welcome to… “Diamonds In The Rough!!!”
Keith launched into “Johnny B. Goode”.
Ernie came in with the snare drum shot on the fourth beat.
Again, I shot straight up into the air.
Again, with the scissor kick.
This time I think I yelped into the microphone.
The performance was a blur.
But I do remember kids in the front covering their ears.
The next thing I knew, the song was over.
Then there was applause.
Then the load out.
Then we stood around in the parking lot and talked about the gig.
This shit was getting to be old hat now.
Twenty minutes later, we were cutting laps.
(In January of 2003, I was going through a pile of old tapes that I had laying around, when I stumbled onto an old cassette tape…
I put the tape in the tape deck and pressed play.
Then I heard someone playing the guitar…
It was me!
It was me playing the guitar back in early 1986!!!
I couldn’t believe it!
I felt like I was listening to someone play guitar through a window.
Now that I think about it, I guess I was…
I played all the hits.
“New Girl Now”
“Diary Of A Madman”
“Stairway To Heaven”
As the last notes of “Stairway” faded away, I started to sift through the other tapes.
I didn’t bother turning off the tape deck.
I just let it play.
Nothing but tape hiss…
About five or ten minutes later this guitar lick came tearing out of the speakers.
It caught me off guard.
What the hell is that?
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was so familiar sounding.
It couldn’t be…
Then it dawned on me…
It was Keith!
It was Keith Johnson playing “Johnny B. Goode”!!!
It was the show from February of 1986!!!
My Mom had taped the show!
I had no idea!
I couldn’t believe it!
I’d never heard this before.
All those years, that tape was just sitting there, waiting to be played.
It’s not that the performance is anything great.
Because it’s not.
And the sound quality is even worse.
But there it is, the audio equivalent to black and white.
Keith, Curt, Al, Ernie and me.
“Diamonds In The Rough”
February 15, 1986
I just stared at the tape deck.
I couldn’t believe my ears.
It was like time traveling.
“Chuck, Chuck… This is your cousin, Marvin Berry…”
The first two verses come and go as they should.
Exactly the way we’ve all heard the song a million times.
Then its the guitar solo.
In true Rock and Roll fashion, I yelled “Take it, Keith!!!” as he dove head first into the guitar solo.
After the solo came the third and final verse…
“His mama told him someday you’re gonna be a man and you will be the leader in a big old band…”
At that point, my Mom starts talking to the person beside her in the theatre.
I hit the stop button.
My hair stood on end.
I rewound the tape back a bit.
I couldn’t believe it.
It was her.
At that point in time, I hadn’t heard her voice in almost 11 years.
But that’s my Mom, that’s her voice right there on that tape, as clear as day.
I’m not sure I can ever express how much I cherish that tape.
Its the only recording I have of her.
I have no other audio.
I have no video.
I have nothing.
I only have 3 seconds of her voice in the middle of “Johnny B. Goode”.
And if I live to be 200 years old, I’m not sure anything will ever top that feeling I had when I heard her voice all those years later.)