When Lorne decided to sell his house in Riverdale, Colleen and I (who had only been dating a short while) decided to move in together. It was a big step.
We looked at a few places and decided on a 3 bedroom apartment on the top floor of a tri-plex. It had a skylight and a balcony that overlooked a little wooded area. It almost felt like our own little treehouse.
At one point Colleen, who at that time was still playing with By Divine Right (Canadian Indie rock band), was toying with the idea of making a solo record and asked me if I would write her some songs. I looked at it as a fun exercise in songwriting and I came up with "Listen" and "You've Been Waiting," both originally intended for Colleen to sing. (She would end up meeting a fellow named Paul Linklater and co-writing an albums worth of songs with him.) Colleen is a very big-hearted and affectionate person and so I tried to write a song that captured her personality or at least my impression of it.
"Listen" gave me very little trouble - I basically wrote it in an afternoon. I was playing my guitar on our "treehouse balcony" and a robin landed on a nearby branch. I started singing "Listen to that robin sing" and I sort of took it from there. It almost felt like something Anne Murray might have recorded. It's a bit corny and flowery but, as I said before, I like writing those kinds of songs. There's more than enough darkness in the world.
After Retriever came out, we hit the road and I started playing these leftover songs for Don Kerr while riding on our tour bus. Don was really getting into the tenor guitar at the time and I started thinking it would be nice to make a close harmony record with him. We were both big fans of the Louvin Brothers and we'd been singing together for years. It seemed like a no-brainer.
All of a sudden I knew exactly what to do with these country-tinged orphans and when we finally got off the road, Destination Unknown started to come together.
ONE LESS SHADOW
The apartment that Colleen and I were renting was just around the corner from where I used to live with my family. It was on Gainsborough Road which I thought was pretty coincidental because of Blue Boy and all.
My front window overlooked the local grocery store and one day as I was looking out, I saw Jocelyne coming out with a buggy full of groceries as she waited for a cab. Anyway, it kind of made me sad, thinking of how I used to do the groceries with her and help her lug them home and now she was on her own.
The line "one less shadow on the road back home" came to me and I thought there was something compelling about it and so I started kicking it around in my mind. Moving back into my old neighborhood seem to re-open the wound a little bit and the guilt was never far away. Sometimes I felt like it was all my fault while other times it all seemed it pre-destined. Maybe both? I don't know, but I felt useless to do anything about it which gave me that line "This broom without a floor."
Like Cobblestone Runway, I recorded all the songs by myself on guitar and let Don add everything (and everybody else) after I was gone (although I did go back one day to over-dub some keyboards on a few songs). Despite being a pretty sad song, I always liked this one. I think it might be the best thing on Destination Unknown.
It's a testament to Don's drumming skills, that he was able to add drums to this song, after the fact... especially when I didn't originally record it to a click track. In case you don't know what a click track is, it's a pulse that the drummer hears in his headphones to avoid speeding up or slowing down (so I guess it must mean my timing isn't so bad either.)
I got the idea for the song simply enough, when I came upon a couple of kids selling lemonade out in front of their house one afternoon as I walked around. I just started thinking how the lemonade stand had become such an iconic symbol of childhood (even I did it once or twice) and that there was something essentially good about it, and I guess that's what I tried to convey.
When I was in LA working on my "Time Being" record, Mitchell and I got invited to Elvis Costello's birthday party at a restaurant somewhere in Hollywood. We were one of the first guests to arrive (Springsteen showed up later!!) and so as we walked in, I was greeted by Elvis and his new wife Diana Krall. One of the first things she said to me was that she and Elvis had been really enjoying Destination Unknown, especially "Lemonade Stand." I told her that I had actually written "Your Guess Is As Good As Mine" for her but to this day she hasn't done either one. Oh well, can't win 'em all.
This was a fun song to write and record though and the lyrics are some the cleverest I've ever managed to pen.
Here's another one that was originally recorded during those Nashville demos back in 1996, very much influenced by the Louvin Brothers recordings of the '50s and so it seemed to fit in perfectly with this batch of country tinged songs.
As I recall, it was written for my old guitar which had sat in its case for well over a year when I was off the road. Back when I was still with Jocelyne, I used to mainly play her nylon string guitar around the house and in fact, I have written the majority of my early songs on that. (It's still one of the things I miss the most.)
So I was sitting in a hotel room in Somewhere USA and was getting reacquainted with my old guitar which I had been taking for granted so to speak. I always thought the bridge was a bit clunky but I do like the verses and I think it's a pretty fair attempt at a classic country song.
I was at my friend and keyboardist Dave Matheson's house one time for a dinner party. On his piano he had a book of Stephen Foster songs which I was curious about. Stephen Foster wrote some of the most popular songs from the 1800s and the big ones are still quite well known to this day, such as Camptown Races, Oh Susannah, Home On The Range, Swanee River, Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair, Hard Times Come Again No More and Beautiful Dreamer to name a few....
I found it fascinating that all these songs could live on today, even though Stephen Foster himself probably never lived to hear a recording of them or to see a single penny, for he died alcoholic and broke.
We sat around the piano after dinner and flipped through the book singing all these timeless songs and I felt strangely encouraged or comforted just by doing so. It struck me that songwriting was a kind of stab at immortality. Just the thought that maybe after I'm dead and gone, somebody somewhere might be singing one of my songs or listening to a record I made gave me the feeling that what I was doing might be worthwhile after all.
Although I'm pretty sure that whatever happens in the afterlife, the last thing we'll be concerned about is whether anybody remembers us or not. As I walked home that night, I started writing "Chasing Forever" in my head.
I thought about how my priorities had shifted from when I was a kid with dreams of being a rock star to a man just trying to be a good songwriter. These days I don't really care if I'm remembered at all but at the time I wrote this, I was a little insecure about my place in the world and I was trying to forget about stardom and other frivolous things and instead to concentrate on the real work at hand.
Don Kerr wrote a real haunting string arrangement for this and I'm quite proud of the chords now that I think about it. Oh, and now my piano at home has the same Stephen Foster book on it!!
COUNTING ON TIME
I don't think any other songwriter in the world has written so many songs with the word "time" in the title but then, I could be wrong.
Another guilt-ridden song I suppose, I wrote it for my daughter Evelyne. It's pretty straight forward lyrically. I was sort of pining for the days when I was around and there was time to take her to the wading pool or to watch her ice skate. I was also feeling that for all the touring I'd done and all the records I'd made, that I had nothing much to show for it all. I was still very broke and now the home was broken too.
We played this a bit when the record first came out, but I don't know if it has held up too well under the light. I played some pretty questionable keyboards on it though... that's what I always listen for at least. They sound pretty funny to me.
One night as Colleen and I were sleeping in our apartment on Gainsborough, she woke up screaming that there was someone standing at the foot of our bed.
I sat up in a confused panic and naturally didn't see anybody there but Colleen was convinced that she saw a little curly haired boy (or girl) staring at us. When it comes to ghosts, I really don't know what to believe to be honest, but in that apartment for some reason, we both experienced some spooky things. My kids even spoke of hearing voices and that somebody kept rattling their bedroom door knobs at night.
One evening I was playing my guitar in the living room when all of a sudden, I felt like someone was staring at me from behind. I turned to look and saw what appeared to be a curly haired boy (or girl) peeking around the corner at me.
I stood up and said "Can I help you?" and then I turned white as a sheet. I called to Colleen in the next room......"What did you say that ghost looked like again??" It seems we both saw the same ghost but at different times.
Back then Colleen was touring a fair bit herself with the band By Divine Right and so I would spend much of the time alone in that spooky apartment. I was always hearing strange noises which in turn gave me the following lines "I heard a sound, I turned to see, the wind it must have been, for at home there's only me."
Anyway, what started out as a song about feeling a bit scared turned into a sort of Everly Brothers influenced song about trying hard to not blow a good thing and about resisting temptation (which is always a little scary)
Don sings some lovely lead on the bridge as I recall. He's a very talented man that Don Kerr.
YOU'VE BEEN WAITING
Here's another one that was originally intended for the Colleen album that never came to be. Colleen is a very sweet and romantic person and so like "Listen" (the other song I wrote for her), it's a little bit corny but in my own defense, I wrote it in less than a half an hour.
When I was thinking of songs to record with Don, this one seemed to fit the whole Louvin Brothers thing we were going for. It's a song though, that has more to do with craft than anything else, so it's never been one of my favorites to play.
Recently at a folk festival on Vancouver Island, a girl from the audience came up and sang it with me, so obviously it means something to her. It's nice when that happens.
I don't know what else to say about it but there is some fine mandolin playing by Tim Bovaconti.
RAINDROPS IN MY COFFEE
Bob Snider, like Kyp Harness, was a big influence on my writing in the beginning and here's a song that was written back when I was still a regular at all those open stages when I trying to get off the ground.
Bob Snider was the best at writing what I would call little "dittys." He had some beautiful love songs too which were always my favorite ones but then he'd have these humorous observational numbers that would crack everybody up. I always saw him as a kind of Mark Twain figure... funny and wise.
So this was me trying to write one of those dittys ala Bob Snider but not coming very close to be honest.
I wrote it one day while working as a courier and as I write this now, I'm having a flashback where I'm standing on the corner of Adelaide and York in the pouring rain, trying to drink a coffee out of a Styrofoam cup and feeling like one of those silent film era comics.
Some of you may know by now that I'm a bit of a coffee-holic and back then, I never had any money in my pocket and so sometimes I'd slip into this bank (at Adelaide and York) that was handing out free coffee to its customers and I'd sneak one for myself. I haven't thought about that in years!
Truthfully, I wouldn't call this a great song but it occurred to me around the time we were making the record that it was probably the only home I'd ever find for it. And as well, it was a perfect opportunity to try a little Crosby crooning, which I'm always up for, and it's funny that of all the songs I've ever written, this is the one that Bob Dylan played on his radio show. (He did play "Secret Heart" one time too.)
I'VE BEEN AWAY
A bit of a spiritual story song that came to me as I walked around my home town of St Catharines Ontario one morning. I was feeling a little like a ghost in a ghost town when I took a stroll down memory lane to see what was still there and to do some soul searching I guess.
In the last verse, the man in the song has an encounter with someone who might be his saviour but it's not clear ultimately which one says "Can I walk beside you now, I've been away." I liked the vagueness of it. I've often heard of people who've been "saved" or had religion come into their lives and wondered if that would or could ever happen to me. There's a part of me that hopes it doesn't though, because I've always been attracted to the turmoil and restlessness of the human spirit and I worry that if I was at peace in my soul, I might not ever write anything again. Sometimes though, I think it would be nice to experience it.
I do believe in God, but not so much in a religious way. It's hard to talk about it without sounding like a freak of nature.
I always liked this song though and Don even told me once that it was his favorite from Destination Unknown - and he doesn't usually say things like that to me.
I was staying in some awful hotel in Krefeld Germany one time when I heard that Diana Sweets (my favorite home town soda shoppe) had closed down. It was practically an institution on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines Ontario.
A flood of memories came back to me as I looked out my hotel window on that grim and grey German morning. I had fractured my ankle once when I was about 5 or 6. It was on "Firecracker Day" as we used to call it, and I was carrying a lit firecracker down the back steps at my Grandparents house. I meant to throw it but didn't throw it in time and so it blew up in my hand which sent me tumbling down the stairs.
Anyway, I was rushed to the hospital and a cast was put on my leg which frightened me... mostly because I didn't know how they were going to take it off and thought maybe I'd lose my leg in the process or something irrational like that.
My Great Uncle George was around at the time; he used to drive up from Florida every summer to visit the family and he was always my favorite uncle. Anyway, he told me that if I was a brave little boy, when it came time to take the cast off he would take me to Diana Sweets for a soda as my just reward. Well needless to say, I didn't cry when they removed the cast with a frightening electric saw and so, true to his word, later that afternoon I was sitting in a booth with my Uncle George drinking a "Cherry Cooler" at Diana Sweets.
Still a very fond memory as you can see.
Years later I worked at the local newspaper in the mail room, and I would go to Diana Sweets on my lunch break and I'd always order the "Cherry Cooler" and think of my Uncle George.
So with all this on my mind, I worked up a very ambitious, Kinks-influenced song about my old childhood haunt and when Martin Terefe passed on it for the Retriever album, I took the opportunity and I made a nice home for it on Destination Unknown.
YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE
As I mentioned in an earlier "Sleeve Note," I wrote this walking home from my son's basketball game with Diana Krall in mind. It was an exercise in word play I guess you might say.
When writing a song like this, it's almost as if another side of the brain switches on and the craft of song writing becomes front and center. It had been collecting dust since before Blue Boy and I thought it seemed to fit in with the rest of these stray dogs.
It may sound like I was singing about my personal life but it wasn't personal at all and it was a good feeling to know that I had the ability to create a song from scratch if need be, although I much prefer songs that are more inspired.
A few years ago, John McDermott recorded an interesting version of this song that was more elegant and less Tin Pan Alley sounding than mine. Maybe if Diana heard his version, she might give it a try.
TREE LINED STREET
It's funny, but I wrote this song about Craven Road where I lived when my kids were small. But it's not a tree lined street in the slightest! I guess maybe I was painting a more idyllic memory for my own peace of mind.
It's one of the better songs on the record though and I'm thinking it was probably influenced by Randy Newman who I have so much admiration for. (I can almost hear him singing it!) Anyhow, It's up there with those other flowery songs like "Fallen" and "Listen" where I find myself singing about the seasons and children and innocent things in general.
There's also a trace of sadness in it, the whole not knowing where it's all leading to and the fact that every moment could be our last, something I'm keenly aware of at all times. It's also the song that provided the title for the entire record, Destination Unknown. It's the first time that I ever used a specific lyric in the title of an album (although most recently. theres "Late Bloomer" from Long Player Late Bloomer).
Normally I've tried to avoid this. It's always a fun exercise for me coming up with an album title and I think I've come up with some real good ones over the years. Destination Unknown, I thought worked well with the childhood photo of me on the cover - I'm in a peddle car with no clue where my life will take me. It's still amazing to me now how I managed to get in the door of the record industry and have a body of work... and for that matter, to be able to write about all these songs and actually have people who are interested in reading about them to whom I'm eternally grateful!
Destination Unknown is the most nostalgic record I've ever made, it almost reminds me of a home movie on super eight film and I believe this song was the perfect way to end an imperfect album.