Selling Your Soul for 10 days: The Stampede Cover Band Experience 

It was the last day of Stampede and we looked like we had been on a forty-day cattle drive through the badlands. We were emotionally bankrupt, our fingers were scabbed and bloody, and I hadn’t shaved in ten days. You could carry your groceries with the bags under my eyes. 

I had been rotating between three, pearl buttoned cowboy shirts; paired with uncomfortable Wranglers and the Australian equivalent of a Stetson. I tied it all together with a vintage vest and a bandana tied loosely around my neck. My wardrobe was covered in stains of overpriced Budweiser and sweaty regret. 

Dylan looked no better. With a red shirt tucked into his jeans, a carelessly fastened bolo tie around his neck, his face sunburnt from playing hatless. His reddened skin was blotched by excess sodium intake and dehydration — both hazards of the countless hours spent standing on asphalt parking lots performing in the peak of the afternoon for careless corporate audiences. True grit indeed. 

I had gotten home from the previous nights gig after the bars closed. I picked up Dylan at 8 A.M. and we were now setting up for our morning Stampede gig. 

The days had all blurred together. Where was the gig? How much did it pay? How long did we have to play for? Are we background noise or a party band? We didn’t know the answers. 

On this particular day, they had us playing underneath a tent to block the sun. Unfortunately, it also blocked the breeze and it was 32 degrees C according to my phone. We would be playing from 10 A.M to 2 P.M. for the Salvation Army’s Stampede breakfast. During that four-hour period we would be bombarded with stupid requests, delusional staff members and well-intentioned but dimwitted attendees, who would try to engage in conversation while we were in the middle of a song, THE MIDDLE OF A SONG. 

Unbeknownst to me, the Salvation Army has a mascot, a Raggedy Ann-looking-redhead. We witnessed a lady suit-up in the costume and skip around the park in the blazing heat. Another lady approached the mascot and the two held hands and skipped together for the remainder of the afternoon. They looked blissfully content and we suspected this was most likely a closet homosexual relationship being publicly displayed for the first time under the guise of a costume. The Salvation Army was a notoriously brutal Christian organization and this may have been one of the few times to get away with such a stunt. We admired their courage in our state of dehydration and minor hallucination. 

We were approached by an older lady with an oxygen tank, who explained that every hour, on the hour, she would be leading a group through line-dance lessons and that she would need us to play an appropriate song. 

Bizarre requests like this didn’t even phase us anymore. We were used to this kind of disorganization. At 11’o clock, the oxygen-tank-lady came up and instructed us to stop playing. She then used her own microphone to announce, “Anyone who would like to learn to line-dance should come to the stage now.” 

Her microphone interfered with ours causing ear-piercing feedback and distortion — the type of sounds that musician nightmares are made of. She ignored this and continued to lead a group of people through an instructional dance lesson. 

Not being particularly mobile herself, most of her instruction seemed to come from memory, and her memory didn’t seem to be serving her that well. Twenty minutes went by and no one in the group was closer to learning how to line-dance. Finally, we were instructed to continue playing. 

I always pray for anonymity at these type of gigs. I hope that no friends or musician peers would ever see me. It felt like everyone I knew happened to be walking by on the street that day and recognized me. Some friends stayed and watched and some friends playfully mocked me via text. 

1:30 P.M. rolled around and we were out of songs. We couldn’t possibly think of anything else we could play. We had half an hour left to fulfill our contract and we needed to make something happen. 

By this point I couldn’t stomach any more Johnny Cash or Hank Williams or Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton. No more Shania Twain or Dolly Parton. We were in too low of a place for “Friends in Low Places” and “Dust on the Bottle” had been drank and smashed. We were sick of anything close to country. There was one song we were sick of more than any other….and it is the infamous Wagon Wheel, the most requested song of all-time. 

We sat in the between-song silence that seemed to last for an eternity. Between-song silence is something a good band never shows you. It is an amateur move. It is the awkwardness and poor planning of a group that doesn’t know what they are going to play next. I stood, spaced-out and possibly dealing with mild heatstroke as Bruce Springsteen’s pop masterpiece, “I’m on Fire” played in my head. It was pure and accessible. It was patient and understated...the opposite of bad country music. 

Despite the fact that neither of us had ever played this song before, I started to fumble my way through it, guessing at the chords and connecting the verses in the wrong order. We were both committed to the sonic bliss that is Bruce Springsteen. We started to jam and lose ourselves in the song. We found ourselves, lost ourselves, found god, lost god, found love and lost love. There were drum solos in the song, even though we didn’t even have a drummer. 

We ended up playing the song for 17 minutes, bringing us 12 minutes away from the end of our contract. We figured it was close enough and made an executive decision to walk away. We had another gig to get to at 3:30 and we still had to tear down all our gear and field a bunch of silly questions from the Salvation Army cult weirdos. 

We must have impressed someone because we were asked to perform again the following year. 

Being a Stampede cover band is much harder work having a real job. It’s exhausting, unpredictable and fuelled by alcohol. You could play one show as background noise for a corporate crowd and the next to drunken savages, hungry for sex and overpriced Coors Light. 

I had lost track of how many shows we had played during this year’s Stampede. I knew it was a new record for us. Corporate Stampede parties can begin the week prior to the 10-day affair. For a band like us, it can turn into a 17-day endeavour. We had played at least one show per-day, every day. Each typically consisted of three 45-minute sets. Some days we played three shows, totalling up to 405 minutes of music. 

Musicians migrate from everywhere and anywhere to perform during “The Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth”. Most Albertan musicians I know participate in the Stampede one-way-or-another. It’s almost hard not to. Every company seems to have a Stampede party and every bar in the inner city seems to be on a constant hunt for live entertainment to complete the ambiance. 

Most gigs fall into two categories: Corporate background noise or barroom party band. 

Being financial opportunists, we have come to realize that the corporate gigs require less finesse and preparation as a band. As long as you look the part, show up on time, and DON’T PLAY TOO LOUD (This is the most important detail of any band playing a corporate gig) then you’ll do well. 

Any corporate gig involves four or five people who believe they are in charge. Remember all their names and address them individually as if they are the only person you are taking direction from (think Office Space and the TPS Reports). 

Four years ago, I had left a great job to pursue my lofty and delusional goals of becoming an independent singer-songwriter. Somehow, it kind of worked and I haven’t had a straight job since. I rely on a heavy touring schedule, endless grant applications, and the financial support of aging Folkies who grew up on acoustic Bob Dylan but became doctors and lawyers when he went electric. Another way I subsidize my art, is by selling my soul and playing in a country cover band during Stampede. 

Stampede has become an important moneymaker for me and my bandmates — something we simultaneously despise and enjoy. When we ambivalently agreed to explore life as a ten-day country cover band, we collectively agreed on a mission statement: Don’t work too hard and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are just in it for the cash. 

We prioritize classic-country like Hank Williams over pop-country like Luke Bryan, because we can’t stomach the later, and because the classics are usually only three chords. We almost never practice and have determined a 65 per cent effort is the minimum requirement to keep our customers happy (Why shoot for perfection when you don’t have to?). We are all experienced performers and can often make it appear like we know what we are doing. Truth is, we don’t. 

When searching for a band name, we decided upon the tackiest one we could think of (I won’t divulge this information to protect our future employment opportunities but I will tell you that if you Google our name, you will find that we are the second search result, losing to a seniors walking club in Edmonton). 

Our band photo was purposely designed to look like the vinyl cover of a 70s AM country group. On our website, we claim to be four brothers from Nashville, TN, despite the fact that we look nothing alike. Apparently, this was good enough and we have been gainfully employed since 2013. 

Dylan and I quickly realized that we could get away with playing many of the corporate gigs as a duo, which significantly improved our net profits. We advertised as a band but never stated how many members. The White Stripes were a duo, why couldn’t we be from time-to-time? 

We made $1000 for this particular gig. $500 each, or, $125 per hour. Not bad money for any occupation. 

Dylan summed up this Calgary Stampede experience with sage advice, “The real animals aren’t at the rodeo grounds, they’re on the streets and in the bars.”

Catharsis: a process of transformation=The Banff Centre 

Last year I became completely burnt out with music. The non-stop hustle of the freelance, creative life had worn on me and I had very little left to offer. I stopped writing songs, practicing guitar and rehearsing new stories, and simply went on auto pilot. I pandered to audiences and relied on my pre-existing contacts that I had developed through constant gigging over the years.

Half-way through 2017 I got a job at a local brewery and got another gig hosting and producing an interview based podcast for some corporate whores. I had a huge part of my ego tied up in doing music full time and it was hard to give that up. For the later half of 2017 most of my income came from my other two jobs, rather than creative pursuits. 

The podcast job didn’t last long, and the program essentially lost funding by the end of the 2017. On the plus side, I inherited some awesome gear and learnt how to become a one-man, professional podcaster. It was a tough gig but I really enjoyed it. I was thrown under the bus for 6 months and forced to adapt to each situation and make it work. It was the greatest crash course in podcasting on the planet. I developed my abilities as an interviewer, my audio and technical skillsets and learnt how to arrange each episode in a compelling way. 

I still have my part time job at the brewery (which I love). I’ll be there until I die, they fire me, or until I relocate. (I work at Village Brewery in Calgary if you are wondering. Stop by for a beer sometime)

I applied for a number of full-time gigs when my podcasting job ended. I got a few interviews for high paying, impressive positions that I didn’t think I was qualified for, yet didn’t receive even an interview for some entry-level, non-profit jobs. I got a phone call to find out that I was the 2nd choice for a Finance Communication Analyst position in Edmonton. Life would have looked a lot different if I had been the first choice. 

During all this artistic and personal malaise, I was accepted to a 3-week Singer Songwriter Residency at the Banff Centre. I felt a little strange accepting this, as I really didn’t feel like a songwriter anymore. With no better options on the table, and having a romantic notion with the Banff Centre, I decided to pursue the opportunity…and I am sure glad I did. 

I spent three weeks with 30 of the most humble, interesting, compelling, empathetic and honest songwriters I have ever met. It was a deeply cathartic experience which ultimately led me to fall in love with songwriting again. I had lost myself somewhere on the road. I had stopped really listening to music and was almost exclusively listening to podcasts and talk radio. I had become cynical to the idea of music and was tainted by touring and playing too many bad shows. 

The Banff Centre changed all that. It made me excited to create, listen and collaborate. It made me feel good about the future and the beauty of creative pursuits. It made me realize that I like making art because it’s important and fun. That’s it. The program reminded me that I’m a music fan first and foremost. It reminded me of the beautiful innocence of music. 

We received some free recording time during the residency and we were encouraged to experiment. I did just that and ended up tracking a blistering punk/emo tune, a mystical country song that sounds like The Eagles and a duet I co-wrote with my friend Alix, that sounds like She and Him.

I was able to rediscover a new found joy in music, art and life during my time at the Banff Centre. I feel a sense of gratitude that I haven't had in a long time.

As of June 1st my lease is up on my East Village apartment. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds or where I will end up, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being pushed by some guiding force or intuition towards my creative endeavours. 

I don’t have a solid plan, but I will most likely be focussing on the following during the next six months: 

-Releasing my book, I Am The Lizard King, as a weekly audio book-podcast 
-Releasing an EP of songs (Painted Horses EP) that I recorded in Edmonton over the last 4 years 
-Freelance grant writing for friends 
-Pitching freelance articles to magazines and websites 
-Touring as a working musician 

It’s a hard life trying to make a living off one’s art, but it’s been a good life. I’m remaining open to possibility and trying to bury my ego. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’ll be sure to let you know. 


The Riv 

Some towns are just too small to have a town drunk, so people take turns. I suppose it was Fred’s turn, and I believe I inadvertently funded his night on the town. I met Fred while he was bartending at the local Legion and we got to talking. 

Most years, around this time, I get hired to play between three and six nights at a very expensive heli ski resort in a very small town in inland British Columbia. I book a few other shows and make a winter tour out of it. I always get treated well and I always get a few stories out of the trip. The money is just good enough to keep me afloat for the rest of the month. It’s not my favourite place to play but it’s the closest thing to a vacation I get these days. 

The heli ski resort is viciously expensive and draws in 1%-ers from a global market. Affluent Europeans, drunk Australians and a few fiscally conservative, morally bankrupt, Trump supporters from America, all gather around to ski fresh powder, drink quality scotch and potentially cheat on their wives with mediocre looking employees in their mid- 20’s. The punk rock spirit dies a little bit everytime I play this resort. 

On the first night of the three night stint, I was approached by a Californian male named Don. He bought me a $25 glass of scotch and chatted me up about drums. He knew what he was talking about and told me about a few of the jazz and blues bands he had played in over the years. At the end of the night he asked me if he could play drums with me. I was playing the shows with an accompanying guitar player and we had no drums in sight nor an interest to play with someone whom we had never rehearsed with. 99% of the time it’s a bad idea to play a show with someone you have never met before or played with. 

The next night Don approached me again and asked if I had found a drum set. The inner voice inside my head told Don to “shut the fuck up before I kick your fucking teeth in,” but my speaking voice simply replied with a humble “no.” 

After our set, the entire resort seemed to be heading to the Legion. Staff would be fraternizing with guests, and I knew things would be getting weird. I told my friend and accompanying guitar player that we better head down there for one drink just to see what chaos would ensue. 

When we got to the Legion, I felt out of place and decided to start chatting with the bartender. Legions across Canada are filled with my type of people. This is how I met Fred. I asked Fred if he knew where to find a drum kit. 

“Ya, I’m the only drummer in town and I’ve got a kit at home.” 

“Hmmm, some guy is on my ass about finding him a kit so he can jam with us,” I stated. 

“I hate loading gear, otherwise I would,” Fred echoed the thoughts of every musician in Canada. 

“Well I’m sure this rich dick would pay you an absorbent amount of money to use your drum kit,” I said. 

I’ve always had a Robin Hood complex and my desire to ‘take from the rich and give to the poor’ was far stronger after a couple beers. 

“See how much you can get,” said Fred with a laugh and a friendly demeanour. 

I found California Don playing pool and I approached him with my discovery. I explained that Fred had a kit but that it was going to need to be rented. I explained that Fred would need $400 for the use of the kit. Don didn’t have an issue with the price and paid $400 in U.S. dollars. 

“Wow, shit! I’ll deliver the kit for that price,” said Fred with a big smile. Legion brothers always look out for one another, and I was throwing Fred a bone. It would be the easiest $400 he ever made. 

The next day at 3 PM Fred showed up with the drums and a buddy to help him load them. That morning I had been secretly hoping that Fred wouldn’t show up. The whole idea seemed like a bad one after the buzz from the beers had worn off from the previous night. But here they were and I was going to have to deal with the situation. 

We got the drums setup and California Don sat down and jammed a song with us. I knew right away that we got lucky. He had great hands, could follow my lead and could fake his way through a song with grace. He was going to do just fine. 

It was a calming feeling to know that we would be able to get away with this. I headed back to my cabin to relax for the next three hours until the festivities took place. 

When I returned I couldn’t help but notice that Fred was still there. He was now mildly intoxicated and telling Don about how he used to play two straight hours of Led Zeppelin covers in the 80’s. 

This was a fancy event and the guests were starting to roll in. Everyone was dressed up for the banquet that would celebrate the end of a wonderful week of skiing overpriced powder. 

Fred was wearing grey sweat pants and old Nike pumps. He didn’t seem like he was going anywhere. He seemed like he was going to make himself at home and enjoy the party. 

You could hear a pin drop in the room when the owner of the heli ski resort took the stage and offered an awkward and heartfelt speech. He had the rooms full attention except for Fred - who was the only person still talking - his natural voice echoing louder than the speech coming from stage. I heard him proudly mention about “I used to do two hours straight of Zeppelin covers in the 80’s,” as the owner talked of the special week. 

Fred was still there when we manned the stage for our first set of the night. I heard someone yell, “Fucking rights boys,” and I’m damn certain it was Fred. 

The next time I noticed him, he was bringing in two new friends through the back door. They were equally as out of place as him. Next, I noticed him carrying a tray of drinks back to the table for his newly established posse. 

I realized then that Fred was going to spend the entire $400 on booze. I now realized that I didn’t help out anyone, I simply enabled a person who was a raging alcoholic. 

Towards the end of the night I saw Fred getting kicked out of the fancy lounge. Apparently Fred had passed out at the table he was sitting at. I heard the bar manager asking him who had even got him into the event. Fred tried to mumble “Tanner” but it came out more like “Tghsghsdhhhhhhrrrrrrrr” and wouldn’t hold up in the heli ski judicial system. 

The next day when we took off we noticed that the drum set was still sitting on the stage. 

I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of satisfaction. I pictured Fred banging out Zeppelin tunes just as drunk as John Bonham.

Old Man And The Sea 

My sister was in Cuba last week so she brought me back a Hemingway picture to place on my writing desk. I like the idea of always keeping an artist you respect close-by to watch over you. It keeps you accountable at the very least. It takes even more courage to find your own path with an onlooker like Hemingway, watching you through the process. 

My favourite piece of prose is from The Old Man And The Sea: 

“He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.” 

The world is filled with such a masculine presence, and I love how the old man refers to the sea as “la mar”. It’s such a romantic notion and shows a sign of respect. This wisdom is acquired from years of contemplation while fishing for marlin, something that may be a lost art one day. 

I try to imagine everything in nature to have a feminine spirit. 

I think about the Old Man often. I wonder if that was his last fishing trip? If he created a sufficient legacy to hang his hat on? Is he still following the Great DiMaggio?

For The People Kombucha 

Every time I hang up my coat in the front closet I get a whiff of fermentation. The smell has increased with the volume of the batches I’ve been brewing. It’s doesn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of feels like home, like the dog meeting you as you walk in the door. 

It smells like progress - life is happening. 

I borrowed a 25 gallon, stainless steel, brew kettle from a buddy. That’s a significant step up from the 5 gallon glass jar I was using before. 

I withdraw every book the Calgary Public Library has on the topics of “Kombucha” or “Fermentation”. 

In Japan it is often referred to as Kocha Kinoko (Red Tea Mushroom) - actually, I have no clue if that is true or not, I just jotted it down from a library book because I liked the way it sounded. 

Kombucha doesn’t involve mushrooms. It involves a SCOBY, which is the mushroom looking thing that freaks most people out. Symbiotic-Culture-of-Bacteria-and-Yeast. It is the life-force that many people are afraid to touch and is often kept in the fridge between batches (don’t ever do this). 

I started brewing Kombucha because I couldn’t afford to buy it. I can make 5 gallons for as little as $5. Some con-artists are charging up to $32 a growler at local Kombucha breweries. These people are criminals. I want to make Kombucha just to share it with people and make it accessible. I don’t want it to turn into a privileged, yuppie drink. 

One time I was dealing with the worst hangover of my life and crushed an $8 bottle of Kombucha and it made my body feel like it had a soul again. Small price to pay for getting your soul back. Love at first gulp. 

I’m going to have to throw a tasting party once this batch is done. I don’t have enough space to store 25 gallons worth of flavoured, refrigerated, Buch. 

Maybe I will start bottling it. My friend Curtis could make me a label design. “For The People” Kombucha. It will be cheap, maybe by-donation. I could drop-it off and teach people how to make it. It could have an illustration of Robin Hood on the label - Robin Hood during an acid trip, that would be cool. Something weird. Lavish colours exploding everywhere. Maybe I will deliver it by bike in the summer. Make it accessible for everyone. 

I can already picture the ridicule and criticism I would get if I posted something like that online. All the rednecks would be confused and therefore defensive. The anti-hipster-hipsters, that do too many drugs and hang out down town, would hate it, based on the principle that it’s healthy and they themselves are aging like dogs. Alas, this is the price you pay for putting yourself out there. I wish I was the type of person that didn’t care what people think. Those are the best kind of people. Rare gems. 

I’m a sensitive beast and I don’t take well to ridicule. I’m working on that though. 

Ginger is the easiest flavour to master. Rose hips and hibiscus are hot right now. Dry hopping is the next trend. 

If we aren’t connected to our food sources and we can’t take pride in our learned and acquired skills then what kind of people are we. I’m trying to get a black belt in Kombucha.

Artistic Realizations  

Artistic Realizations 

Sword In The Stone - 5 years old 
A young King Arthur is turned into a squirrel. He is pursued by a female squirrel. She grows attached to him, he is uncertain, he is turned back into a human. Female squirrel gives me my first indication of heartbreak. I feel sad for her. 

Cocktail starring Tom Cruise - 6 years old 
We move to town for a few years and during that period we inherit the Holy Grail…aka, the Super Channel. We have a TV downstairs and I have 3 blank VHS tapes. I can’t tape over Prancer cause mom loves those piece of shit, made-for-TV, Christmas movies. So that really leaves me with 2 tapes. I record Cocktail and can’t bring myself to tape over it for almost a year. I watch it once a week. I learn everything I know about women from Tom Cruise. I later learn that Tom Cruise probably isn’t the best role model for a 6 year old. 

Edward Scissorhands - 7 years old 
I’m sleeping over at Grandma’s. Uncle Ken rents this on VHS. Grandma gives me a glass of beer so I can be like Uncle Ken. I have one sip and hate it. She lets me keep the full glass near me anyhow. The movie scares me, then makes me laugh, then makes me angry, and finally sad. I never stop thinking about it. 

Brick by Ben Fold Five - 9 years old 
I hear this song on the easy-listening FM station. They play it a lot. I hear it while I’m waiting in the truck while my dad is shutting off the tractor. I hear all the words and know that I’m too young to make sense of it all. Years later I realize it’s about an abortion and I cry and cry. 

Pearl Jam’s Evolution - 11 years old 
We get a satellite dish back on the farm and the first thing I see is the music video for Pearl Jam’s scorcher, Evolution. Todd Mcfarlane animates it and it is absolutely gut wrenching. The guy that gets attacked by the computer makes me still hate computers. Burn them all!  

Of Mice and Men - 12 years old 
Mom lets me read whatever I want. I want Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. She says I won’t like them and I can only choose two. Lord of the Flies gets put off and has never been purchased or read to this day. Some sexual things in the novel go over my head but the maternal friendship makes it clear that it’s a rough and tumble world out there. 

Different Seasons (specifically Shawshank Redemption) - 13 years old 
I borrow Different Seasons from my friend Drew. Mom says I won’t like it. I realize she and I have very different taste in art. I read Shawshank Redemption. The ending is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. I can still quote it. I have full faith in everything when he says, “the Pacific is as blue as it was in my dreams.” Love it so much that I dig into Apt Pupil and Stand By Me. I discover all these movies because of this book. I never read the other story. I can’t even remember what it is. Was it Green Mile? Shit, if it was then I missed out. 

Final Fantasy 8 - 14 years old 
Everyone talks about Final Fantasy 7. I lie and say that I played it but never have the opportunity. My cousin has part 8 and I play it in instalments while visiting. The love story moves me. I want to be in love. 

Mrs. Potters Lullaby by Counting Crows - 15 years old 
“Step out the front door like a ghost, nobody notices the contrast of white on white.”  
“If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts.” 
“If you’ve never stared off into the distance then your life is a shame.” 

They play this song a lot on the easy-listening FM station. I can read between the lines and hear all the pain and loneliness in Adam Duritz voice. I don’t know that he’s talking about depression exactly, but I know that one day I’m going to understand what he’s talking about more than I ever care to admit. 

I would rather not hear the Counting Crows this way. I would rather just passively enjoy Mr. Jones like everybody else.  

Darryl’s Grocery Bag/ All Age concert - 15 years old 
I hear the Olds Alberta based, pop-punk band, Darryl’s Grocery Bag for the first time at an All-Age show in Lethbridge. That’s it, it’s all over for me that night. I know I’m going to play in a band one day and probably forever. “I’d rather be broke, and live on a stage, I’d rather pump gas for minimum wage, I’d rather be here than somewhere you are, do you like my van, cause I hate your car.” 

Left and Leaving by the Weakerthans - 16 years old 
Abby sends me this song over MSN messenger. I’m not even aware that you can send shit over MSN messenger. I instantly realize that he can’t really sing, but it’s perfect anyway. All my favourite singers can’t really sing, and it’s probably all because of this. He is a truly great writer. 

The Rocky Fortune - 18 years old 
Darryl’s Grocery Bag grow up and become a Folk Rock band. Don’t we all. 

Bukowski - 18 years old 
I hear about Bukowski in high school but mostly ignore his work. I get dumped by my first real girlfriend and Bukowski pours me a stiff drink and pats me on the back. 

Modest Mouse - 19 years old 
When my mother hears Modest Mouse she tells me that there is some underlying sense of evil. Tyler and I get so obsessed that we actually believe that Isaac Brock is sending us subliminal messages through the songs. 

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac - 20 years old 
On the Road has nothing on Dharma Bums. Plus, I’m living dangerously close to On the Road when I’m reading it. It hits too close to home. Dharma Bums ages a little better and is a little more deeply rooted in spirituality. It’s where I’m going, not where I’ve been. 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - 24 years old 
I have a nervous breakdown on a beach in Belize while reading this. It challenges my entire value system and makes me question my motives. It shakes me to the core. It’s a quality book about quality. 

The City Streets - 25 years old 
My friend Sam makes me listen to the City Streets. They are the best band to come out of Edmonton and maybe the best rock band in Canada. They are like the Constantines if the Constantines had narrative lyrics. I can’t figure out why people don’t love them like I do. I realize that art is not fair. Actually, art is always fair. I realize that the Canadian music industry favours the safe and the shitty. People will talk about them like they do the Replacements one day. As a legacy act. 


New Year's Resolutions 

My New Year’s resolution in 2017 was to build a treehouse in the woods. Yep, it was a very mature endeavour that would help me grow into a better person. My original resolution was to be more wild. I wanted to spend more time outside, being a feral child and swimming in lakes, climbing trees and getting dirt under my nails. I wanted to do more hiking, hunting, fishing, swimming and general chillin’ in the great outdoors. I thought the resolution had the right intentions but needed something more tangible to determine if it was a success or not. So hence the “build a treehouse in the woods” resolution. 

I planned to build the structure illegally in a National Park, in a location that was secret but not too difficult to hike to with supplies. 

I was more wild in 2017 and it was a great year for me. My family lives on a farm in southern Alberta and I spent most of my time at home, riding horses and spending time in the garden. My gardening skills improved significantly, it’s an apprenticeship that requires man hours. I put in a week hunting Bighorn sheep by horseback and sleeping in an outfitters tent in October. We produced 70 lbs of deer from field-to-table, doing every part on our own. Looking back, I definitely had a wild year. 

The only problem was I didn’t actually complete my resolution. I scoped out a spot and planned things out, but the actual labour of construction didn’t happen - so I chalk that up as a fail. 

So I’m moving last year’s resolution up to 2018 and pairing it with my New Year’s resolution which is to try standup comedy. 

Building a treehouse in the woods and doing stand-up comedy feel like a match made in heaven!

Turtle House 

As an independent singer-songwriter I often rely on the kindness of strangers. People offer to put me up for the evening and many times I accept these invitations. Musicians have been doing this for a long, long time, it comes with the territory. 

I’ve met many good friends doing this and stayed in many different homes with people from all walks of life. 

It’s almost always works out for the best. 

Except one time..... 

My pedal steel player, Dylan, and I had played a really nice show in a B.C. It felt like the entire town showed up and it was one of those nights when everything worked. People were buying what we were selling and we had the audience in the palm of our hands. Not every show goes that way and we have done this long enough to know to appreciate those moments when they come. 

This particular gig didn’t provide accommodations. We knew we could either pay out of pocket for a hotel room, sleep in the car, or try to find a place to stay. Each option comes with it’s own pros and cons. 

We began talking with a nice group of people and one of the guys offered us accommodations at his house. He said that he had just been divorced and had a large, empty house. His friends were really nice and it seemed normal enough. We decided to accept the offer. 

We followed the man to his house, in our car. He was driving strangely, going noticeably slow at times and swerving all over the road. We hadn’t noticed him drinking and started to question our decision. 

It was around midnight when we arrived. We parked in a very dark alley behind the house. We weren’t familiar with the town and had no idea where we were. 

There were koi ponds in the front yard and the house was a very old, two story home on a large property. He opened the door and we were greeted by a one-eyed cat named Jack. 

He brought us up the stairs and as we moved up the creaky, old, staircase, it seemed to shrink and become disproportionate. It made you feel like you were moving into a different dimension when you walked up the stairs. 

There were two rooms upstairs. The first room belonged to the man’s estranged ex-wife. It was her sewing room, and it was outfitted with a bookshelf of dated Japanese books, trinkets, and a beautiful old sewing machine. The room seemed to be covered in dust and things looked as if they hadn’t been touched or moved since she left.  It felt like “Great Expectations”, things were preserved in an unhealthy way. 

The other room had a large bear rug on the floor. “That’s where one of you can sleep, he said.” We both scanned his face to see if he was joking, but he couldn’t have been more sincere. 

He told us that the house was built on the side of a hill and was actually three stories on one side of the house. “Look out the window he said,” as he hung half his body out the window while hanging on with one hand. He encouraged us to do the same thing. I hesitantly stuck my head out and peered down the three stories. It was frightening. He encouraged me to hang my head out further. I had a strange feeling that he was going to push me the entire time. 

Next, he brought us back down the stairs and showed us the other guest room. It was a small room with a single bed in it. It was painted white with nothing on the walls. There were three turtle tanks in the room. Two were empty, while the third had a large turtle with nothing but water and a single block of wood for the turtle to sit on. The turtle snapped anytime you put your hand close to the glass, and I felt immensely sad for the creature. 

I weighed the odds in my head. My sleeping choices were sleeping on the floor on a bear rug, or sleeping in the turtle room. Neither seemed like good options. Actually, both were the worst options. I would much rather sleep in the car at this point. 

The rest of the house was filthy and had a very strange presence to it. He assured us that the house was haunted. 

The man then began to tell us a story about sport fisherman who he had caught poaching without a license. He explained how the fisherman would just rip the hooks out of the fishes mouths and violently chuck them back into the ocean. 

While he was telling us this story he became animated and violent. He looked at Dylan as if he was one of the fisherman. He seemed to be blurring the lines of reality and directing the entire story at Dylan. His voice became louder and louder. Fear and anxiety started to fill my stomach. I didn’t feel right about the situation. 

Veins in his forehead began to pop and he began to appear taller and taller. His presence grew and he felt like a giant, screaming and ranting about nothing. He was filled with anger and I began to plan an emergency course of action. 

I carefully calculated that I was going to punch him as hard as I could directly in the throat as soon as he crossed the threshold. I determined that I wasn’t going to second guess myself and was going to hit him with everything I had and ask questions later. I was starting to think in survival mode. He was huge and had the crazy factor working in his favour. 

Before I could throw a punch, I had another idea. I interrupted his story and told him that we had left our guitars in the car (which was true) and that we needed to grab them at once, as we never left them unattended. 

We put on our shoes and opened the door. As were were walking out he asked, “do you want some Delicio pizza?” 

We got to the car and realized we were parked in the smallest alley, directly in front of his house. I had to do a 9-point turn to get the car in the opposite direction and I frantically pictured the man smashing our windows open with an axe when he realized we were trying to escape. 

When we finally got the car turned around, we blew out onto the darkened, nameless street. 

We ended up sleeping in the car in a casino parking lot. I kept on waking up, expecting the man to be smashing in the window. I had dreams of turtles and Japanese trinkets and falling out of a window that night. 

That was the last we saw of the strange man. I hope he enjoyed the pizza.

The Library 

I’ve always loved libraries. They are proof that we’ve made some progress as a society. Free information for the general public, archives of history, literature for the masses. 

My friend Mandi says that “a library is the last place for an introvert.” 

When I first moved to Calgary, the library was my sanctuary. I would nestle into one of the comfy chairs in a suburban library, surrounded by mothers and young children scouring for picture books and movies. On the weekends I would take the train down to the Central library and surround myself with the homeless, the freaks and the leftover hippies. I would scour the shelves for CD’s from local bands, and the entire discography of every member of the band Uncle Tupelo. 

I still remember pulling Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 off-the-shelf, and realizing shortly into the book, that my life would never be the same. I think about finding Slaughterhouse-Five and being properly introduced to Kurt Vonnegut. I can’t forget going through Paul Newman’s filmography on DVD while being alienated and alone in a new city. 

(Ps, The Sting and Sometimes A Great Notion are underrated gems) 

The last 10 books I’ve read (from the Calgary library) *This list has not been updated*

Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following your Heart 

by Kamal Ravikant 

Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk 

by Sam Sutherland 

Get Started in Self-Publishing 

by Kevin McCann 

Comedy Writing Secrets 

by Mark Shatz 

Barney’s Version 

by Richler Mordecai 

On Writing 

by Charles Bukowski 

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia 

by Mohsin Hamid 

New Slow City 

by William Powers 


by Jonathan Franzen 

Undermajordomo Minor 

by Patrick deWitt

Lizard King Strikes Back 

I have 8 copies of I Am The Lizard King left.  

I still owe Laura a copy, she helped edit a few chapters so I feel bad for not getting her one sooner. We just keep missing each other, so I’ll send it by mail just to get the job done. 

That will leave me with 7 copies. 

I owe Rob a copy, (I forgot about that until right now, that should have been mailed out a week ago). 

6 copies remaining. 

I ran into Corb Lund the other night randomly and got chatting. He said he wants a copy. I should probably be proactive about that, southern Alberta respect! 

Books are dwindling, 5 copies in the lonely box. 

I should probably make a social media post right before Christmas (Yes, I still say Christmas) but I’m finding self-promotion harder and harder these days. 

No lawsuits yet, thank God. I’m still concerned about the title being close to copyright infringement. Oh well, at this point I could turn it into positive publicity. (I once saw a band from Calgary called Copyright, they opened for Matthew Good Band, third worst band I’ve ever seen) 

I need to place another order of books but I’m having a mild file management issue. I can’t remember which version is the most current. I can sort this out by emailing the printers, they’ll have it on file. I should have this written down. 

Went down to Owl’s Nest Books and did a reading for their monthly series that’s put on by the Alexandra Writers Centre Society. I read part of the first chapter and it slayed. I was hesitant due to the risky subject matter and the median age of the audience (old). It didn’t matter, they loved it.  

An old man made me cry with his poem he read about his wife. He showed me pictures after and told me stories about her. 

I signed up for the Calgary Public Library’s Author in Residence program. The man of the hour was Bruce Hunter. He was badass and I liked him right away. I wanted feedback on a new chapter but we just ended up having a great conversation. He said I was highly sensitive and empathetic. That’s pretty much exactly what I want to be as a writer and exactly what I don’t want to be as a person. I have viking lineage and I always feel like I should be out busting skulls and conquering, but my soul disagrees. 

I’ll be on the cover of WestWord magazine next month, that was nice of them. That should move some copies and spread the word. I talked way too much about punk rock and Josh Ritter in the article. 

I have a writing To Do List that reads: 
1) Check in with my friend and editor and see how she’s doing. 
2) Email my favourite living writer (Matt Love) and connect. 
3) Officially launch the website for Palooza Press (the micro-publishing press I am co-founding) 
4) Place another book order (this now moves up to priority number 1) 
5) Research arts funding for next book 

I didn’t touch alcohol in November. This saved me some time and money. I used that spare time to finish the first draft on a new novella. It’s mystical and ethereal, it’s like Walden Pond in Taber, Alberta. It’s an agrarian, meditation on life. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written but I don’t see a market for it, and I’m okay with that. I wrote it for me. I’ll shelf it for a few months before I start on the second draft. I’m seriously considering getting sober. My priorities in life have changed. I’m hardly drinking at all anyhow. 

My next order will be my third run of the novel. It’s nice to have a product that people actually want to buy. I’m really happy with this book. I love it. I don’t want it to die. I’m treating it like a living, breathing document. I might turn it into a podcast. The Lizard King won’t end here. I’ve created a myth, a legend, and these 142 pages are just the beginning.