Jocelyne and I finally split up and put our common law marriage out of its misery. I had moved in with my business manager Lorne and had everything I owned crammed into one room in his palatial house in Riverdale (a very pleasant neighborhood in Toronto). I was looking out my window one morning and wondering where my life had gone. My Blue Boy record had not come out yet and I was sort of in limbo while my management searched for an enthusiastic label.
I never wanted to be the father who walks out on his family so I had hung around waiting to be kicked out which is probably worse. With "Former Glory" I was mostly thinking of my daughter Evelyne who sort of got the short end of the stick in terms of having her dad around. I started being away from home a lot when she was just 6 and now she was 11 and her Mom and I had split up. I wish I could say we handled the situation well but we really didn't. We should of sat everybody down and explained what was going on but instead, one day I was there and the next... well, I was living someplace else.
My mind was wracked with guilt but at the same time I felt it was ultimately for the best. One of my favorite Toronto songwriters, Bob Snider, once wrote a lyric that says it all: "Feeling equal parts of lonely and of just being free." (I wish I wrote that.) With all this on my mind, I wrote "Former Glory" one grey morning for myself, for Jocelyne and Christopher too, but to be honest it was mainly for Evelyne.
Around the time Blue Boy came out, the horrible events of 911 took place. I was on tour with Lucinda Williams playing these highly charged and emotional shows around the USA. I started performing "Former Glory" then even though it would be a full year before it would come out, because it seemed to fit the times perfectly as it was a hopeful and reassuring song.
It was such a simple song to write that I was amazed that it hadn't already been written by somebody else! I was never all that happy with the recording of it though, something about the vocal sound wasn't quite right and the drums had a scratchy sound that took me a while to get used to but I love when the strings come in. It's one of my favorite songs to play though, and it felt good to sing it for Evelyne at Massey Hall a few years back.
Every now and then I'll write a song for somebody else to sing. I wrote "Foolproof" for Diana Krall and I wrote this one for Shea Segar. "Shea who?" you might ask... she made only one record and disappeared. I saw her recently though and I think she's working on something new.
At any rate, I was without a deal and was wondering if anyone would ever sign me again and all I could think of to do was to try and write potential hits for other people. Shea was making a record with my friend Martin Terefe and so they had me come in one evening and sing on a song called "Always."
It was then that I got the idea to ask Martin to do my next record. I'd known him since the mid '90s (we have the same manager) but for some reason I didn't quite understand what he did for a living. Around that time, David Gray's career had taken off with an album that was very contemporary sounding, with loops and electronic noises and I felt that my albums in contrast were perhaps too old fashioned sounding and so I wondered if it was time to try and update my sound too.
Martin Terefe seemed to understand modern recording techniques and I was hoping that he was the man to make sense of my little folk tunes. Most of the instruments you hear on Cobblestone Runway were recorded in my absence because I had finally released Blue Boy and was in the middle of a truly hectic tour schedule. I had gone in the studio for a few days and played most of the songs to a click track and then basically let Martin have his way with them.
When I first heard "These Days," he had added all these "doo, doo doo's" at the top of the song and at the end f the choruses. Well, let it now be known that I never liked the "doo, doo, doo's." I just felt they sounded too much like "Walk On The Wild Side" by Lou Reed and that they made an already fluffy song seem fluffier.
Lyrically, it was inspired all these Boy Band songs that seemed so insincere to me. You know, those songs that say unrealistic stuff like "I'll be there whenever you need me" etc. These sort of songs would always bring out the cynic in me and so, while trying to write an antidote to the pop music of the day, I wrote this tune with some lines I wouldn't normally use such as "Just keep it real" which I'm still a little embarrassed by, because I was hoping Shea or somebody else for that matter, would record it. As it turned out Martin thought it might be a hit for me and that I should save it which is what I did, obviously.
It's not my favorite song but people seem to like it and the video wasn't half bad.
THE LEAST THAT I CAN DO
You're probably seeing a pattern here, but "The Least That I Can Do" was written for Anne Murray to sing. I absolutely and un-ironically love Anne Murray's voice. So pure and soulful and especially nowadays when so many singers sound contrived or heavily auto-tuned, I miss it more than ever.
I had seen Anne on a TV show called "By Request" where she sang all her hits and so afterwards I went online, found her website and sent her an email just saying how much I enjoyed the show and that I'd been a fan forever etc. I wasn't expecting to get a reply but she emailed me the very next day thanking me for the kind words. In my next email, I told her that I'd written a song for her and asked if I could send it her way. Again she responded with an address and so I mailed Cobblestone Runway to her home address.
Anyway, it felt like I had a new email buddy for awhile - she wrote back saying she loved the song but had no plans of making anymore records. She asked me though if I would get together with her daughter and help her write some tunes (which I did). Who knows, maybe she'll will record this one day!
Cobblestone Runway was my first attempt at writing songs that were hopeful and spiritual. I had been pegged as a bit of a sad sack and wanted to change my image and also because I was down in the dumps, many of these songs were written selfishly to lift my own spirits. Martin added a gospel choir to this song; I wish I could've been there to see that.
GOD LOVES EVERYONE
The murder of young Matthew Shepard was, to me, almost as big of a story as September 11th. It revealed a hideous side of humanity that I probably knew existed but didn't want to believe that it did. It also seemed to shine a light on the cultural divide in America between the left and the right, the ignorant and the enlightened as well as a deep rooted sense of hatred and homophobia that's just below the surface.
Even more shocking and cruel was the reaction to the murder by religious extremists such as the Westboro Baptist church who picketed Matthew's funeral with signs that said "God Hates Fags" and other disgusting proclamations. I was so upset about the whole situation that I wrote the lyrics down in one sitting as if my soul was writing it. I wasn't even sure if it was a song or a poem or if I'd even be able to sing it.
It says pretty much everything I would want to say though on the subject of God and religion and typically because it is such a touchy subject with people I got a lot of angry emails about it and one time in Chicago a woman came back stage and said she wanted to pray for me because I was likely going to hell for writing it.
It's almost funny that a song about unconditional love would get so many people riled up. I also got a lot of mail from people thanking me for the song and telling me that it was played at so and so's funeral or wedding and there have even been some pastors who've read it out loud during their sermons and a Swedish children's choir has recorded it!
Strangely enough, it's become one of my most covered songs... most recently Tom Jones did it for his spiritual album but it didn't make the final cut. (They probably thought it was too risque'.)
Anyway, I'm proud of the song and the response that it has received. I just got word that a Gay Man's choir in the UK have just done too... amazing!
Some people thought "Former Glory" was about NYC and the whole 911 thing. It wasn't, but this song on the other hand was in a roundabout way.
I was just thinking about how sometimes there are things that we expect will always be there, like the Twin Towers but in a little more than an hour they were gone. As the towers fell, it created a dividing line in history and suddenly things would never be quite the same. That got me thinking about my life and how fast it was going by. One minute I was a child saying "Look Ma no hands" then all of sudden I'm a man with children of his own, touring America after one of the worst days in its history.
I was actually in the air during 911. I had played the Canadian Country Music Awards the night before in Calgary Alberta as a part of a tribute segment to Gordon Lightfoot. (Anne Murray and Ian Tyson played as well.) The next day, I was to start my tour with Lucinda Williams in Portland, Maine (where the hijackers had begun their day) and I had the itinerary from hell.
It was a midnight flight from Calgary to Ottawa, Ottawa to Montreal and then lastly, Montreal to Portland, leaving at around 8:30 on the morning of September 11th (I kept my ticket!).
During the final leg of my journey I was on a small plane with just one other passenger and back then you may recall, that the pilots used to keep their door open so you could see the back of their heads during the flight. At one eerie moment, they both turned around at the same time to look at us. I figure someone must have told them to have a look at their passengers or something. Anyway, we landed safely but I still didn't know what was going on until I got to the hotel where my band was already waiting and watching the horrible story unfold on TV. Both of the towers were still standing when I got there, but not for long. Needless to say, the first show of the tour was cancelled but the next night in Burlington, Vermont we hit the stage because after all, the show must go on.
FOR A MOMENT THERE
I believe this to be one of the best songs on the record.
Melodically and lyrically, I think I got it right and I love Martin's arrangement too. It sounded the way I was hoping it would when I enlisted him to make the record in the first place. The song finds me ruminating on how far I'd come from my teenage bedroom where I was learning the guitar and dreaming away and it also deals with that spiritual element of seeing eternity in a blade of grass and reconnecting with what is true and important after losing ourselves to superficial things that we all worry about.
It's about the bigger picture I guess you could say.
There's that chord from "It Never Fails" again which I think I put to better use this time around. I don't know what else needs to be said about it. Like "Seem To Recall," I believe it's up there.
GOLD IN THEM HILLS
When I was staying at my business manager Lorne's house, my good friend Don Kerr arranged to have a piano sent over for me to practice on. It belonged to a fellow named Peter Murray who played bass on one of my tours and it was a beautiful old player piano from the early 1900's.
The situation at Lorne's place was great for me. I had the whole house to myself most days because he was at work and on the weekends, he'd go up to his cottage (and my kids would come over then.)
My piano playing was in its infancy back then... it's a toddler now! But I'd wake every morning, make myself a coffee and I'd play the opening riff from "Gold In Them Hills" over and over because it's all I had. At some point the words "Gold In Them Hills" came to me and I would sing that over top, all the time thinking I would come up with something better one day. The more I thought about it though, I figured the words had come to me for a reason and I started to write lyrics based on that theme.
I soon realized that what I was writing was one of those depression era ballads that Bing Crosby sang so well. Only this wasn't the "Great Depression" but my own little one.
When I finally got to Kensaltown studios in London England,I had a bit of trouble recording the piano and singing it at the same time so I had to put down my vocals later in the day. I was still writing the words to the bridge and so the ones you hear now are the only ones I was able to come up with on such short notice I think they're pretty good but sometimes I wish I would've worked harder on them because I think the verses are really strong.
Martin Terefe had been working with a wonderful string arranger in Nashville named David Davidson and I was excited to hear my song with strings, for just like Kami Lyle's trumpet on "Foolproof," I knew it would make my piano playing sound ten times better... and it did.
Sometime later I was in Austria doing some shows (I never seem to get there anymore) and I got a call from Martin saying that he was in LA mixing the record and that Chris Martin wanted to come down and hear it. Half jokingly I said "Why don't get him to re-do my piano part?" A few weeks later, I'm back at home when a CD arrives by FedEx saying "Gold In Them Hills" remix. So anyway, I put it in my stereo and at first, everything sounded the same until the second verse where a voice I didn't recognize started singing. I had forgotten all about Chris Martin being there for the mixing in LA and I didn't know who it was! I got really upset and made a flurry of calls to everyone and finally got the low down. Apparently Chris thought my piano playing was fine so he kindly offered to sing on it instead. Now because I was overseas, nobody could reach me to run it by me in time.
The other dilemma I had now though was, because Chris was on my record, I knew that the label folks would want to milk that and this always makes me uncomfortable. I'm not a fan of cameo appearances and duet records, but I didn't want to deflate anyone's enthusiasm either. So I got the idea, (just like the Daniel Lanois version of "There's A Rhythm") we could put it on at the end like a bonus track and I could still have my version and keep the integrity of my record. (Does that make sense?)
I don't know if Chris knew what he was getting himself into but the next thing I knew, we were on tour with Coldplay and he was singing it with me almost every night, And then he got roped into doing a video too... but that's a whole other story.
I don't really have any "hit" records to be honest but this song has become sort of a hit for me. The video went to number one in Canada and it's one of those songs like "Secret Heart" that I'm expected to play most nights... and that's okay with me.
I was at coffee shop near Lorne's place when a woman named Helen Lee approached me and asked if I'd be interested in writing some music for her movie. I was kind of intrigued and I asked to see the script. The film was called "Art Of Woo," a sort of romantic comedy with an extremely low budget. I told her that I had no experience doing that kind of work but perhaps I could write a few songs and an instrumental or two.
Anyway, she sent me the script a few days later and I got to work writing "Heart's Desire" immediately after reading it. I thought it was a fairly decent song and that it had a pretty nice vibe over all.
I then enlisted the help of my friend Kurt Swinghammer (who has worked on a few sound tracks) to help me record it along with the two other songs I had come up with ("Love Is Free To Go" and an instrumental called "Art Of Woo") and to actually edit the songs into the movie which was a huge, because I didn't know how to do that and there was certainly no money to speak of.
The film starred artist and radio personality Sook Yin Lee was not so great to be honest but It was fun to hear my songs in a film and I actually won the Genie (the Canadian Oscar) for best original song "Love Is Free To Go." And I didn't even know I'd been nominated until the day after I won!
I don't remember why I chose to re-record it for Cobblestone Runway but I'm glad we did because I love this version much more than the movie version. I especially love the "freak out" jam ending where I got to play a fuzz rock guitar solo - I'm a frustrated lead guitarist at heart in case you didn't know.
DRAGONFLY ON BAY STREET
When I was a tree planter back in '84, the black flies took to me like a flesh buffet. I even won "Most Ravaged Face Award" by the other tree planters. (There's a photo of me from that time where I look like Charles Bronson!) The only friends I had in the woods were the dragonflies. They would come to my rescue and eat as many black flies as they could.
When I was a kid, there was a field in back of my house with trees, a pond and even a spooky boarded up old house in the corner that we thought was haunted of course. I remember the dragonfly being a constant companion back then as we played whatever game we were playing, usually involving someone getting tied to a tree.
Fast forward to the late '80s and I'm running all over Toronto's downtown core delivering packages when a dragonfly appeared from out of nowhere and followed me around for a block or two. I've always believed in signs and wondered if this was supposed to be telling me something. Probably not but it did seem odd that a dragonfly would be buzzing around in the heart of the business district.
Anyway, I stored it in the back of mind somewhere and years later I was in Japan and I came across a restaurant that had an enormous Dragonfly shaped sign out front and so it got me thinking about that day on Bay Street so long ago.
As always, I had my note book with me, so I went and sat in one of those beautiful parks in Tokyo, where large black crows watch your every move, and I jotted down the words to "Dragonfly On Bay Street".
The recording of it was probably the biggest surprise for me on any record I've ever done. I had written it like a straight ahead Kinks-influenced rock song but when I heard the disco version, I really didn't know what to think.
Ultimately though, I think it captures the pulse of the city and as far as disco songs go, at least it's saying something more substantial than "Let's party and dance the night away"
THE LESS I KNOW
I don't think I've ever sung much better than on this song.
One of my biggest musical heroes would have to be Bill Withers and I believe I was trying to write something in that vein. When I was a boy on Galbraith Street, my best friend was a kid named Terry Venus who pretty much raised himself as far as I could see, as his mother wasn't around and his dad battled with the bottle. In my case, my mom was around but my dad wasn't. Anyway, we'd spend time in his bedroom listening to 45's like "Lean On Me" by Bill Withers or "I'm A Believer" by The Monkees, just talking and looking out the window. Music seemed to have these magical healing powers that made everything alright and took the heaviness away. "The Less I Know" reminds me of a song from that era like "Precious And Few" by Climax. Do you remember that one?
I think that David Davidson outdid himself on the string arrangement and I also like the '80s synth solo that sounds like something from an Olivia Newton-John track. Hopefully somebody like Michael Buble will record this one day if they're hurting for songs.
UP THE ROAD
In the early '80s I dated a girl for a brief period named Bev Hotchkiss. She had one of the prettiest faces I had ever seen and I couldn't believe my luck. Anyway, my own self doubt started to sabotage the relationship and before I knew. I started to unintentionally creep her out by getting all nervous around her.
I remember one day in April, we had one of the biggest snow storms ever and I trudged through the snow to her house in attempts to talk to her before she went off to work. What normally would've taken me just a half an hour to walk took me almost an hour and a half as the snow came up past my knees and the chill factor was bitterly cold.
When I finally knocked on her door looking like someone from the Greely Expedition, her roommate Anna Karpinski answered and invited me in to wait while Bev who was upstairs getting ready. I guess being her roommate, Anna was privy to Bev's quickly fading interest in me as a boyfriend and so she must have felt a little sorry for me as she poured me a glass of orange juice. I never forgot her kindness on that day and years later, I happened to run into Anna at the Cameron House in Toronto.
I was still with Jocelyne but things were going badly and so I secretly arranged to meet with her for a coffee to chat and get caught up etc. As it turned out, Anna was a photographer now and had taken some amazing photos while in India and Mongolia and so feeling like a bit of a rock star, I offered to fly her down to Nashville to take photos of the Blue Boy sessions. (She took all the ones on the inside booklet.)
Anna was with somebody at the time but I was developing a serious crush on her and it seemed like it might be mutual. Every morning in Nashville, I would meet her halfway between my hotel and hers and we'd go for breakfast and then to the studio. When she went home after a few days, I realized that I missed her and began writing this song.
As it turned out we would date for just a brief period. Now she's happily married with kids and I still think about her from time to time. She was a really good friend and I miss mostly having coffee with her.
I don't what else to say about the song, other than I've always enjoyed playing this type of picking style song and I think the bridge melody is pretty ambitious. I always liked the line "When out to paint the weather grey, lo and behold."
Definitely the shortest song I've ever written.
I started writing it around the time of Whereabouts but couldn't think of a second verse. Eventually, I realized that it didn't need one and that I had said everything I wanted to say. Having kids can surprise you. I'm a pretty laid back person but I found that your kids really know how to get under your skin and push your buttons. I'd find myself getting really angry sometimes if they wouldn't go to bed or if they were fighting or some other small matter and I'd blow up and surprise myself.
I think on one such occasion I had gotten mad at my son and had hurt his feelings. Nothing feels worse than that and so I wrote this song for him because he really was my best friend back then, my pride and joy as they say. And unlike the documentary Love Shines would suggest, we're still very close. After a record of weird electronic noises and a disco song, we thought it would be nice to end it with just me and guitar.