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Copyright ©2014, John Wort Hannam.
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Sunday
Aug212016

OCT. 6th, 1994 – THE NIGHT GORD DOWNIE HELPED ME WOO MY FUTURE WIFE.

OCT. 6th, 1994 – THE NIGHT GORD DOWNIE HELPED ME WOO MY FUTURE WIFE.

I had been drinking. I was a little drunk. Maybe more than a little. 

The day began early with a long drive. Myself, my future wife Jenny and four other university friends departed Lethbridge, AB for Spokane, WA. We had tickets to see The Hip. We arrived early, hit the local bar, and headed to the venue. 

I had fallen in love with Jenny that year but being a guy who was never sure of himself and one that always felt awkward around women, I wasn’t sure how to let her know. It was during the second set, in my drunken stupor, up in the balcony of The Met that I decided a really great way to impress Jenny would be to get on stage and sing with the band. [Today, as a performer, I really hate that I did this. What a fool. I can only say that this was before I bought a guitar, before I had any aspirations of performing and before I knew how distracting and scary this kind of behavior is for anyone on stage. I blame it on too much booze, the giddiness of adoring someone new, my own insecurity, and trying way too fucking hard.]

Without saying a word to anyone I made my way to the ground floor of the theatre. I walked down the centre aisle. The band was rockin’. The crowd was on its feet. In front of the stage were four or five bouncers facing the audience. I would have to be swift. As I approached, a security guy eyed me. With a smile I pointed to front row centre, as if saying, “Don’t mind me, I’m just heading to my seat”. He fell for it. The moment he took his eye off me to look where I was pointing, I made my move. With the finesse of The Great One I head-bobbed right and deked left. Like a gazelle I bounded four feet onto the stage and made for a microphone.

Gord was singing “Courage”, one of my favourite songs. I went to guitarist Paul Langlois’s mic and started singing harmony. I only managed one line before being yanked back by a couple roadies. As they hustled me into the wings I heard Gord say. “Whoah, that guy scared me” and the crowd cheered. Back stage another guy in a blazer grabbed me by the scruff of the shirt. Like a dead man walking, the three of them escorted me down into the bowels of the theatre and just like in the movies, they used me to open the back doors and threw me out into the alley, right beside the dumpster.

I found my way back to the bar. I felt dumb. While my friends and the girl I was trying to impress were together celebrating the band and the end of a great day, I was sitting at a table in a strange bar drinking beer alone. 

After the show they found me there. I looked to Jenny. Somehow she knew I had done this “for her” but she was neither impressed nor unimpressed. She was the way Jenny always is. The way she has been since the day I met her. Constant. A constant, non-judgmental, kind, human being. She mentioned nothing about my stupid stunt but instead asked me if I was hurt and if I was okay. We married two years later.

As I watched the final show tonight I thought about that one line I got to sing with Gord - “Courage. It couldn’t come at a worst time” - and how very true it was for me that night in Spokane. But more so I thought of the irony of a frontman with terminal brain cancer singing that line, possibly for the last time in front of his hometown crowd, because right now, for Gord, courage couldn’t come at a better time. 

Thank you Gord. Thank you Tragically Hip for showing us such courage and for giving us fans one more taste of a truly Canadian experience.

Tuesday
May172016

THAT TIME GUY CLARK ASKED ME TO HIS NASHVILLE HOME TO WRITE A SONG AND I BLEW IT BY GETTING REALLY FUCKING HIGH.

In 2007 I saw one of my favourite songwriters perform – Guy Clark.  The next day I mentioned to an industry friend, Rosalie Goldstein, how Guy had thrilled me with so many of his iconic songs;  songs that inspired my own journey into the world of songwriting – Stuff That Works, Desperados Waiting For A Train, Boats To Build, L.A. Freeway.

Rosalie had seen him a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.  “I got his phone number”, she said, “Do you want me to see if he would co-write with you?” 

I laughed.  I’d only ever written alone and I knew full well one of my songwriting heros would have little interest in writing with a small time songwriter like me.  “Yeah, whatever.  Knock yourself out”’ I said,

She called me back the following day to say she’d spoken with Guy.  He would listen to my songs.  Send a CD to this Nashville address.

I did. It couldn’t hurt.  What’s that saying?  Shoot for the moon and you just might hit the stars.

Seven months later, touring in Nova Scotia, I noticed a missed call.  I didn't recognize the area code and had actually forgotten about the package I’d mailed to Tennessee.  Imagine my surprise when I retrieved my message:  “Hey John, it’s Guy Clark.  I like your songs.  Call me.”

I probably listened 15 times before dialing Nashville..  “Hi. Mr. Clark?  This is John Wort Hannam calling you back, I’m in Lunenburg, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, they have a great festival, you should play it, it's a little overcast here, what's the weather like in Nashville?.”  I was a bumbling idiot, speaking fast and filling any silence with drivel.

He was patient, let me finish then slowly replied,  “John, that Sweet Sweet Rose is a pretty good song.  You gonna be in Nashville anytime soon?”

I wasn’t.  But I also wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.  “Actually, I’m gonna be in Nashville next week Mr. Clark",  I lied.

“Why don’t you come over to my place for a couple days and write a song”, he said. 

HO-LY FUCK.  HOLY FUCK !!!!!!!

I booked my flight, a room at Nashville's Best Western and a rental car.  In six days I would be pulling into Guy Clark’s driveway.

Before leaving, I told a friend the news.  “Do you smoke pot?”, he asked.  “Not really, I mean, I have”, I said, “But it’s not my thing.  I’d rather have a glass of bourbon over a toke any day.” 

“I heard Guy smokes a lot of pot”, he said, “...you better start training.”

I spent the next week pulling bits and pieces of unfinished songs out of notebooks ready to present to Mr. Clark. 

I showed up at 10:00 am sharp; took a deep breath and rang the bell.  He opened the door wide and gestured me to enter without saying a word.  He seemed prickly but polite enough.  I immediately met Susanna. Being the muse of so many of Guy’s songs, I felt I already knew her;  kind of like finally meeting a character from a novel you've read a dozen times.  Guy showed me downstairs to his workshop.  He was an accomplished luthier.  The guitar I seen him play on stage only days before was one he’d made in the very shop I was now standing in.  There it was, hanging on the wall in front of me.

Within minutes I took my place on a stool opposite Guy.  There was a big portrait of Townes hanging on the wall.  When I asked him about it, he just looked me up and down and said,  “So, you wanna smoke some dope and maybe work up a personality?”  Oh shit.  I forgot to train.  Guy was on to me.  He knew I was a fake.  “He ain’t a songwriter, he just rhymes every second line”, I heard him thinking.

Trying to look as cool as my songwriting hero, I nodded. “Oh…..yeah man.  I’m...uh..usually baked by breakfast”, I went to say.  I stopped myself.  But I did want Guy to think I could be like him.  I took long deep drags to prove it.

“So, did you bring any hit songs?”, Guy asked.  I pulled out the pieces of paper I'd brought from home.  Twenty-five partial songs – ideas, bits of choruses, chunks of verses, opening lines.  I had ranked them in order of strength.

I presented my best song nugget first.  The corners of Guy’s mouth headed south.  “Nah.”, he said.  I placed the piece of paper aside.  I offered up Idea #2. “Nah.”, he said, "What else you got?”  Idea #3. “Nah”.   I soldiered on.  #4.  “Nah”.  #5. “Nah”.  By the fifteenth “Nah”, I started to sweat.  As the "Nah" pile grew larger and larger, I felt smaller and smaller.  I was literally shrinking in front of my songwriting hero.  I could barely see over the bench by the time he muttered his final, “Nah”.

My face felt hot. I could feel the THC coursing threw my veins.  I was high.  Really fucking high.  For hours I felt like I was drowning, right there beside Guy Clark.  “It’s probably time to call it a day, huh?”, I mumbled.  I checked my watch. It was 10:45 am

We looked through the ideas again and decided we would try and write around a phrase I'd heard an old farmer say:  “Life’s a whole lot simpler when you plow around the stump.”  We voiced a few ideas and threw some lines back and forth.  Guy would start each time by clearing his throat and then he would recite what he had just penned.  “Ahh, that’s great”, I would say, trying desperately to write the next line, wanting so badly to show Mr. Clark that I had something to offer.  But each time I’d throw a line his way he’d look at me and say, “....Hmmm.” 

Fucking Hell !!!

By 3:00 pm we had nothing that even closely resembled a song.  I had my eyes closed for most of the session, partly due to being really fucking high but also because I found it hard to look Guy in the face after feeling that I had failed him and myself so badly.  I was aware of how much Guy did not suffer fools and I felt like I was the biggest one he’d ever met.  I kept hoping I would open my eyes and be back at home, on my couch, sitting with my wife.

When I got back to my room I phoned her.  I knew Jenny would eagerly be awaiting an update.  She was so excited for me.  “Soooo?” she asked.  “It didn’t go well”, I said, “We smoked a joint and I got really high and Guy didn’t like any of my ideas and I think he thinks I’m an idiot and a fake.”  As always, in perfect Jenny-style, she gave her support in two stages.  Stage 1: “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way and doubting yourself.  There’s still tomorrow.  You are a good songwriter!”  Stage 2: “Don’t be stupid.  You know you can’t smoke dope.  Tomorrow, don’t smoke dope.  Promise?” 

I promised.

The next morning I found my seat across from Guy.  “You wanna get high?”  he asked.  “Don’t do it” I said to myself, “Be strong.  You're cool.  Just tell him that you work better with a clear head and that you came a long way and would like to have something to show for it.”

I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Yup”. 

ARRGGHHHH!!!  I could not do it.  I couldn’t tell Guy Clark that I couldn’t smoke pot with him.  How could I miss the opportunity to have that story.  The one about the time I got really high at Guy Clark’s house and we co-wrote that epic hit song that he went on to record and if you look right there on the CD liner it says, “Written by Guy Clark and John Wort Hannam.”  That’s some serious songwriting street cred.  What a dream and Jesus Christ, think of the fucking royalties!

In the end there would be no royalties.  There would be no song.  We spent most of the day, staring at the blank 8.5 X 11 pieces of paper sitting in front of each of us.  Around noon Guy asked if I was hungry.  “Starving”, I said.

He disappeared upstairs and returned with a box of saltine crackers, a plastic bottle of yellow hotdog mustard and a bag of pre-shredded marble cheese.  He placed a handful of crackers on each of our blank pieces of paper, squirted a shot of mustard on each cracker and sprinkled cheese over the whole lot.  He slid the paper toward me.  “Dig in”, he said.

We pretended to try for another hour or so then gave up. Guy seemed frustrated.  I was certainly deflated.  I knew I had blown it.  We mangled together a chorus from the few lines we had written and he told me to sing it into a tape machine and then he sent me on my way.

Back at the hotel, standing in front of the mirror, I could see the dried yellow mustard caked around the corners of my mouth.  This is the image Guy Clark would remember me by.  

When I heard Guy had died this morning, I thought about that unfinished song, still somewhere in his workshop. I dug out one of my old writing journals and found the piece of paper that doubled as a snack tray.  There are no words on it but the yellow mustard stains and cheesy grease spots certainly tell a story.

I learned some important lessons that day:  1.) If you have never co-written before, don’t start with one of your songwriting heros.  2.)  Don’t put your heros on pedestals.  I killed that writing session because I went in with the attitude that I couldn't possibly have anything to offer Guy Clark.  I didn't believe in myself or as Guy would say, "I didn't trust my cape".  Guy saw me as a collegue, worthy of a listen, worthy of a phone call, and worthy of an invitation.  I just saw myself as not worthy.  3.) People will eat almost anything when they’re high.

Guy Clark will be sadly missed in this house.  I will miss looking forward to his next record.  When the love of his life Susanna died a few years ago, I remember thinking, I bet Guy will follow soon.  They seemed like the kind of couple that couldn’t breathe without each other.

I wish I had gotten a song with Guy Clark but the story is pretty good.

 

 

Tuesday
Jan202015

In love....again

Not sure if you caught the tabloid headlines while standing in line at the check out recently but, me and running? Yeah…we’re back together. We’ve had an on-again-off-again thing for alot of years now. Talk about hot and cold. Well, in her defense, that’s probably not a fair statement. I’ve been the cold one, not returning calls, not forwarding new addresses, doing an about face when seeing her out on the town.

She has been constant. Always there on the sidelines with her hand stretched out for me. Waiting patiently for me to realize that the flavour of the week that I left her for so many times wasn’t all that after all. No lecture. Not one “I told you so”. She just picks me up off the couch and takes me back every time.

I would never say this to her face but initially she was a rebound. My previous girlfriend had dumped me and since I lived in my girlfriend’s apartment, I also found myself with nowhere to live. The very next day I was laid off. So in a 48-hour period I was hit by a triple whammy: unemployed, homeless, and jilted.

Temporarily I moved back into a windowless room in my parents’ basement. With no job, no friends (I had let those relationships wither to spend time with my girlfriend) and, worst of all, no purpose, the walls began closing in. I started walking just to get out of the house. Out of my head. There was no destination. There was only walking. And one day in July, on a city pathway in Calgary, I met her. 

We fell. At first we saw each other only every second day but soon we rendezvoused every single morning in the back woods, down a path a little ways into the trees. It always started with some heavy breathing but before long she’d have me panting like a black lab on a sunny deck. She taught my body to do things it hadn’t done before, ache in places it had never ached. One thing always led to another and before long we were doing it fast and hard. When we were finished she usually whispered in my ear, “Lets move it to the shower”. 

I want it to work this time, to last. She does too. We’re both optimistic. I think it will be different this go around. I know I’ve said that before but we’re old friends now and friends make the best lovers. Regardless we’re gonna take it slow, not think too far ahead and just take it one step at a time.

Wednesday
Aug202014

A songwriter's Canada

I was thrilled to be able to write this piece about touring Canada for Toque and Canoe (the best Canadian travel site out there, bar none).

A SONGWRITER'S CANADA

It was probably subtitled something like “Home and Native Land” or “From Sea to Sea to Sea,” but as far as I recall, atop a glossy photograph of the Canadian Rockies, there was only one word on the dust jacket: “Canada.”

It was a gift. Before emigrating from Jersey in the Channel Islands, my parents presented us kids with a large coffee-table book of photography with page after page of iconic Canadian people, places and events: the Calgary Stampede, Sir John A. MacDonald, Stanley Park, Bonhomme, the Bluenose, a Kainai jingle dancer, Parliament Hill. This was my introduction to my soon-to-be new home.

Fixated on images of the North—I was nine and had yet to see snow—I dreamt that night of... 

read the rest here

Thursday
Aug142014

would somebody please clear-cut this mother fucker

I’m in Northern Ontario, home of logging trucks, the Canadian Shield, Lund dealerships, 90 km/h, bait shops, the OPP and the place where you have to make two stops if you want both liquor and beer (This is wrong on so many levels). I’m driving the Kings Highway, commonly known as highway 11. At 1700 + kilometers it is the second longest highway in the province. 

This is a land of picturesque lakes and rocks. Much of it looks like a Group of Seven painting. It is clearly majestic, but this flatlander is feeling a wee bit claustrophobic. The horizon is something I’m used to viewing some 50 odd miles away. I live in a place where you can grab the laundry off the line and make sure the drain pipes are on long before the storm hits because you can see it rolling in your direction some 2-3 hours away. But here, except for the occasional vista that suddenly opens from the highway (and is gone again in an instant), I can’t see more than 40 feet in any direction before the forest begins. 

I need to pull over every now and then just to get out and breathe. All these trees make me feel like I’m under water. I swear I’ve been holding my breath the entire drive. Standing up out of the car feels the same as when my face breaks through the water’s surface. My head is reaching for the sky. For air. 

My wife coined a term on our first trip across Northern ON in 2001 – Tree Rage. The tight quarters of our shitty 1982, two-door Ford Escort didn’t help but it was the trees that did her in. Somewhere between Kenora and Thunder Bay, a woman who rarely swears, unleashed on the spruce, pine, and fir. “There are so many fucking trees,” she said, “I can’t see the sky. Would somebody please clear-cut this mother-fucker. I’m having total fucking tree rage.” The Boreal forest had broken her.

I’m on my way to Red Rock, ON to play the Live From The Rock Folk Festival (http://www.livefromtherockfolkfestival.com/) Aug 8-10. Along the way, I’m stopping tonight at Cornel Farms (http://www.cornellfarms.ca/ ), a fifth generation working farm. Owners Kim and Pat have taken the barn their great-grandfather built and turned it into a performance space that presents live original music. I know, right?!?! Like they don’t have anything else to do running a successful family farm, competing in today’s environment of ever expanding mega-agriculture.

I’m driving in the daylight. The roads are busier at this time but Northern Ontario is also the place where you can literally take your life into your own hands if you drive at night. It’s not out of the question for a wild version of Bullwinkle to magically appear in front of your 120 km/h speeding vehicle. Yeah, I know the sign says 90, but like I said, I’m from the prairies.