In early March, winter still
ruled the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. The snow was often
at its deepest in that month, piling up through the blizzards
of January and February until it covered the ground up to your
waist. The plowed snow made ten-foot walls along the little
country roads, and around my house, making it feel cozy and
day I picked up Alex and Geddy at the local airport was sunny,
but near freezing, and the three of us hugged each other through
masses of coats, scarves, and gloves. All bundled-up like .
. . Canadians in winter.
their overnight bags in the back of my new winter “hot
rod” an Audi S-4 Avant, with a 4.2-liter V8 crammed
into a tight little all-wheel-drive sports wagon and
I drove us to my house on the lake, sometimes playing Finnish
rally driver on the snow-covered roads. Along the way, we passed
near the village of Morin Heights, where we had shared so many
good times, recording at Le Studio now closed and abandoned.
The number of albums we had made there stretched from Permanent
Waves in 1979 to Counterparts in 1994. Those long
stays at Le Studio’s comfortable guest house had been
for the purpose of recording, yes but also playing volleyball,
pedal-boating, cross-country skiing, watching movies, dining
on fabulous French-Canadian food, and having some of those
kinds of nights you’re glad you only half-remember.
winter, when the three of us were making plans for our meeting
in Quebec, I had been jokingly calling it our “corporate
retreat.” And indeed, we do have some “business” to
discuss, but first we eat and drink.
Alex had been the chef among us, going right back to the early
years. We would be away songwriting in a cottage or farmhouse,
with no catering or nearby restaurants, and Alex would cook
for us. Over the years, I have had so many amazing meals from
the kitchen of “Papa Paisano” (pounding his chest
with one fist and declaring, “I will cook for
you!)”), and it was Alex who taught me why a person
might spend all day cooking food for other people it
was an act of love.
I was a little intimidated cooking for “Papa Paisano,” as
well as for Geddy, an internationally schooled and sophisticated
connoisseur of food and drink an experienced winer-and-diner.
a bad cold with him, unfortunately, and was feeling poorly,
and Alex was just getting over the same winter malaise. I always
notice that when I’m in Quebec for a month or so in winter,
I never get sick unless someone visits from the city bringing
all the “latest germs.” That was the case this
time, for the next day, I started to get the cough and aching,
Geddy also brought some choice wines from his well-stocked
cellar, and we started by uncorking a fine burgundy to accompany
a lunch of mushroom ravioli (from a batch prepared by my friend
Brutus, on his visit the previous week, when we noticed that
we seemed to spend most of our days in the kitchen cooking
together how evolved we men are these days!).
I sautéed the ravioli with olive oil, garlic, orange
zest, and plum tomatoes.
of us stayed gathered around the kitchen island, music playing
while I rolled out the pastry for a blueberry pie, and got
it put together and in the oven. (It was only my second attempt
at a pastry-type pie, and it wasn’t very pretty the
crust uneven and patched up a little crudely but I was
hopeful it would taste good.)
in my previous news report, back in January I had sent Alex
and Geddy some lyrics. I knew they had been working with some
of them, but I hadn’t heard anything yet. That day in
my kitchen, we had a momentary panic when Alex went searching
through his bags and couldn’t find the CD frantically
calling his son Adrian in Toronto to try to have it sent up,
or to be uploaded somehow to the Internet so we could download
it there (the extremities of modern technology). Adrian reported
that he couldn’t find the CD in Alex’s studio either.
Alex had another look in the part of his bag where “he
would never put it,” and walked back into the kitchen
holding the clear plastic case, shaking his head.
gathered before the fire in the living room and started listening.
As the songs played out, the response we all shared was a sense
of clarity for Alex and Geddy, playing the songs
for me that first time threw their strengths and weaknesses
into sharp contrast, and they kept saying things like, “I
know what we have to do here.” Same for me, lyrically I
was very gratified to hear parts that worked, saying “Yeah” when
I heard Geddy sing a line just perfectly, while also knowing
right away what I could improve upon.
five song sketches guitar, vocals, and drum machine and
I liked them all. I also noticed those songs already seemed
to have a sort of unity, a stylistic approach of chord
structures, rhythms, and vocal delivery that I could only describe
as “spiritual.” I’ll say no more about that
aspect until we get farther into it, but it was wonderful that
after thirty years of working together, we could still find
different paths to explore together.
Then it was
time for dinner. Back in the kitchen, we nibbled on pâté de
foie gras with a bottle of Sauterne that had been aging in
my wine closet for many years waiting for such an occasion and
a couple of fine Quebec cheeses. I prepared the appetizer:
scallops sautéed in garlic and butter with avocado vinaigrette
(my California influence brought north), then I dished out
the main course: fillets of fresh pickerel baked with cherry
tomatoes, asparagus tips, dill, and chopped onion; jasmine
rice; grilled red, green, yellow, and orange peppers in olive
oil; snow peas, baby carrots, and yellow beans.
was all very colorful, that’s for sure, and the
secret for me is all in the timing. A few years ago,
when I was first starting to learn how to cook, I said to Geddy
that I couldn’t believe I could actually do it,
after years of thinking cooking was “magic” or
Geddy replied, “Of
course you can cook you can play drums!”
funny, and incisive, for there were indeed some relations there counting
down the rhythmic intervals of the different ingredients until
everything arrives at the perfect “doneness,” at
the perfect time.
a delicate Meursault to accompany that main course, and finally,
we dived into that warm blueberry pie (I called it “ugly
when I brought it out of the oven, all lopsided and bubbling
over with purple goo, but I had to admit it tasted amazingly
good) with ice cream and coffee.
Geddy had decanted a bottle of vintage Bordeaux, but we decided
the perfect coda for that symphony was Calvados. (Sadly, when
the guys flew back to Toronto the following day, I had to drink
that Bordeaux all by myself.)
had been a good meal, a great day, and I was exhausted. Geddy
went off to the guest house to get some rest and nurse his
cold, while I lay on the sofa in front of the fire, and Alex
cleaned up the entire kitchen.
you ask me, that’s an act of love!
. . .
So now I’m
going to spend the month of May in Toronto, where we have rented
a small studio. It will be great to have the opportunity to
work together on those songs, and hopefully some new ones,
too. For me, after spending more than a year working on my
book, Roadshow, it will be nice to take off the “author” hat
(BMW Motorcycles baseball cap) and put on my “lyricist” hat
(the old cowboy special, given to me by a fan in Dallas, that
I always think helps keep my versifying down-to-earth) and
my “drummer” hat (African prayer cap).
I like all
of those hats, and all of those jobs, but it’s especially
the drumming I’m looking forward to right now.
Lately I’ve been getting all inspired about “hitting
things with sticks,” driving around listening to Steve
Smith’s recorded work (to keep me humble) and enjoying
a couple of sessions of “drum duets” with my friends
Chris Stankee and Gregg Bissonette (another humbling, but inspiring
in early April, I went to a Hollywood jazz club, Catalina’s,
with my drum teacher, Freddie Gruber (now seventy-nine-years-young),
and a couple of his other “students” though
all of us were in our fifties. I’ve compared Freddie
before to a tennis coach, and with him, once you’re a
student, you’re always a student. One evening
that same week, he and I were sitting around his living room,
listening to great old songs on the radio and talking about
everything in the world. Out of nowhere, Freddie picked up
a pair of drumsticks from the coffee table and started demonstrating
something on a handy practice pad. Our companions at Catalina’s
were Jim Keltner and Ian Wallace, both master drummers with
long resumés, and we were there to see and hear one
of the all-time great drummers, Roy Haynes.
was eighty-one, yet played with a mastery, artistry, and musicality that
made the four of us turn to each other and smile, and lit another
fire of inspiration for me. Between shows, we went back to
say hello to Roy, meeting another great drummer, Ndugu Chancler,
and we all sat in the little dressing room and listened to
Freddie and Roy tell stories about the 1940s jazz scene on
52nd Street in New York.
drummer used to play with that band, and sit in after hours
at this club that was just down from that club, across the
street from that other club, you know, where those two young
actors shared the apartment upstairs.” Their stories
revealed those two actors to be Marlon Brando and Wally Cox,
and name after name spilled out in Freddie and Roy’s
conversation sax players, drummers, actors, poets, painters,
hustlers, and hookers, a whole magical time and place brought
to life through the memories of those two forever-young characters.
second show, our table was joined by another drummer, Joey
Heredia. Freddie and I had gone to see Joey play the previous
year, when Freddie had assured me, in his dry manner, “It
will be . . . of interest.”
was Joey was a stunning young Latin drummer, with that
angular, syncopated time sense that seemed so powerful, so
exotic, so impossible to me. Again, I felt inspired by
a style of drumming that I hadn’t heard before, and couldn’t
play myself (but I’m working on it).
at Catalina’s was quite a “drum summit” for
me to be part of, and perfectly timed, as I began to feel myself
swept up into the world of rhythm once again.
I wrote earlier
that when I first heard the new songs from Alex and Geddy,
the word that occurred to me was “spiritual.” I
wonder if there’s such a thing as “spiritual drumming?”
working on it.