March 26, 2010


One late winter day, about a year ago, I was standing talking to my neighbour, Todd. He is a farmer. We couldn’t help but notice that we were getting killed by a strong, cold wind, coming hard off the lake. ‘That’s an east wind,’ Todd remarked, ‘the laziest wind’.

‘The laziest wind?’ I asked.

‘Yea,’ he said, ‘it doesn’t go around you, it goes right through you.” There was a long pause then he said, ‘you can use that.’
The summer before that, I first met Chris Walla backstage at a festival in Pemberton. Chris is a gem. We talked easily for an hour or so, about what is funny about peace, love and understanding; about making music of our language for no other reason than to hear the sound again. We compared mythologies and talked about Obama. Yes, girls. Chris is a Democrat.

One lazy afternoon, when I was a kid, I was reading ‘The Cariboo Horses’ by Al Purdy. Everybody knows it. One poem in particular, ‘Necropsy Of Love’ stuck out and stayed with me;

‘No I do not love you/hate the word/the private tyranny inside/a public sound’.

Today, when I sing these lines, I’m trying to be ample and grateful to the memory of Al Purdy, to the way he spoke. Speaking of which, some people are trying to preserve the A-Frame Al built with his own two hands in Ameliasburgh, trying to make it a place for poets to go and make music of our language, to write the things we all can use.

One afternoon, a few months after Pemberton, I was in the driveway, listening until the end of his ‘Narrow Stairs’. I was reading the liner notes. I said to no one, ‘I’m going to make a record with this guy.’ I went into the house, made a coffee and called Chris Walla. “I’m just gonna say it,” I said, ‘I have this hunch, that you’re going to make a record with me.’

Walla said, ‘Sure.’

Silence, then I said, “Sure…as in you don’t believe I have a hunch? Or, ‘sure’ as in, you’ll do it?”

I’ve watched ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’, directed in 1943 by William Wellman, many many times. (Along with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, it is one of my favourite films). It stars a young Henry Fonda. And, aside from Wellman’s fascinating choices, the story offers a chillingly timeless glimpse into the dim mind of the mob and the will of the conscience.

It was only a year ago, when I first read the ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ by Walter von Tilburg Clark. This story is no mere Western. Clark was challenging, unswervingly, the idea of ‘Frontier’, its prevailing and convenient histories, its dewy-eyed notions of honour, justice, moral cowardice.

‘Night is like a room, it makes the little things in your head too important’.

The East Wind. It doesn’t go around you. It goes right through.

Pulled from The Gulag Archipelago and named-so by Dale Morningstar, The Country Of Miracles; Julie Doiron, Dave Clark, Josh Finlayson, John Press and Morningstar, came out of those gloriously fraught Coke Machine Glow days. Just ahead of the wrecking ball swinging outside the window of Dale’s Old Gas Station Studio and just after the last of the artists had left the building – their doors hanging open, their studios charred – The Country of Miracles was born. We were the last session there – ever – we had to work fast. It cemented us.

I thought that Chris might like working with these guys and they him. I thought this would be the best way to serve the songs. These were some of the hunches that brought us together for two weeks last August, Me and Chris and the Country Of Miracles.

Months before that, I was downtown with my kids one night, to watch Kidd Pivot founder and choreographer, Crystal Pite’s ‘Lost Action’. I was reading the program booklet before the performance and there was a quote from Crystal describing what it is the dancers are doing:

“Dance disappears almost at the moment of its manifestation. It is an extreme
expression of the present, a perfect metaphor for life. Dancers sculpt space in real time,
working inside a form that is constantly in a state of vanishing. We have no artifacts.
I find it strangely beautiful to be creating something that is made of us – made of our breath and blood and bones and minds. Something that is made of the space we occupy and made of the space between us. We embody both the dance and its disappearance.”

– Crystal Pite                           

Dancers say the coolest things.

Now, Chris only had to drive across the continent for The Grand Bounce to begin. He drove it like he stole it; to the north shore of Ontario from Portland, Oregon and that impressed everyone.

We jumped right into the notwork and lot-talk some call, ‘Recording’. The windows of the big house by the big lake were wide open to catch the night air and the sweet afternoon breezes, letting in the sound of the cicadas, a red-winged blackbird, a lonely far-off jet-ski.

We played everything a lot until it felt right to everyone, until everyone had an emotional response. Some things came quicker than others. We were all crammed up together in that front room of the Bathouse, the one with the tuned-out tack piano and the wall of misfit books. We stood, headphone-alone and glancing distance away from one another and played through afternoon silhouette and soft late glow. We played and played and played, shooting invisible ropes to one another with invisible bows-and-arrows. We connected. We kept the best and fixed the rest

I remember some people were wearing shorts.

Happy days collapsed into sunken evenings. We recorded and swam, had some laughs and raised our glasses, ‘To the Chef! To Happy Jack! If this record’s any good at all, it’s because of the food!’

It was August in Eastern Ontario and generous about it.

The May before that, Clattenburg was describing to me this thing he was working on, ‘It’s HARD Canadian and dope’ he said. ‘Who, how? What, now?’ my mind was saying. It wouldn’t leave me alone. He knew I would write a song called, the Hard Canadian. In a hotel room in Detroit staring down the river at the Ambassador Bridge

After we said our goodbyes on the driveway, Chris spent the winter mixing this record. He didn’t rush it. ‘As your Attorney, I advise you not to,’ – Chris said before leaving – ‘take rough mixes, you’ll listen to them too much.’ So I didn’t. I lived on the glow.

‘The Grand Bounce’ means desertion. I came across it reading, ‘Son Of The Morning Star’, Evan S. Connell’s epic book about Custer and The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Time passed, I would start to forget what the songs sounded like, what they were called, and then a mix would arrive, out of nowhere, always in the small hours. Those were Christmas mornings to me, opening my laptop to the newest secret, groggy headphones throbbing with a breathtaking gift.

So, here I am grateful. Grateful for the words, for expression. Grateful to the band and to Chris and to my family. Grateful for the chance to try for an emotional event that unfolds gradually, elegantly, beautifully. This is the dream we all dream. ‘Love is gratitude for being’. These are real tears.

Gord Downie

Mar 26th, 2010




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