A Parenting Lesson & the Vic Chesnutt reissues…


It can be difficult to explain pain to people. Words wrapped in metaphors trying to communicate the signals of nerve endings setting your brain alight. Both physical and mental anguish causing a torment that it often seems no one can relate with. I’ve visited these worlds from time to time; laid in a hospital bed and stared at the ceiling with a morphine high; taken pain killers to merely dull the excruciating; ingested medications to keep you from being overwhelmed by the thoughts manufactured by the prescriptions given for the original injury. I was a fan of Vic Chesnutt before I really understood these things, but I found a whole new appreciation once a calcified disc had pierced my sciatic nerve.

Recovering, I spent a great deal of time with Chesnutt’s early catalogue. Hearing it as if for the first time. It had become a part of the soundtrack of that time in my life. Songs that could be depended upon to show up right when I needed a good cry or laugh. His songs had given my own screwed up existence a voice I could recognize.


Driving through the east coast of Canada over a three-week trip, Drunk, West of Rome, and Is The Actor Happy were in constant rotation. At one point, I had to stop the car in Fundy National Park as a porcupine had decided to point its quilled ass in my direction. Just as Chesnutt sang those ever so visual lyrics from “Dodge” … “I showed my behind so frequently, my dear old mother wouldn’t recognise me” the damn beast pulled its ‘pedestrian right of way’ bullshit, giving me its own version of the middle finger salute. A few seconds up the road a moose gives us a completely ambivalent look as if telling us that this particular occurrence happens everyday. A kind of “get over it” gaze of communication. Fuckin’ nature! Get over yourself!


Fast forward seventeen years and my first born says “you’ve had this band on a lot, who is it?”

“Artist. Vic Chesnutt.”

“You going to see him in concert?”

“No. That really isn’t possible anymore. He died around the same time as Grandma and Grumpa.”

“From cancer like them…”

Now, I’ll be honest with ya… I kinda suck at this whole parenting thing. My thirteen-year-old son is the most empathetic child I have ever met. Having worked with and around kids since I was one myself, I can say this without the interference of parental pride. He is a soul that feels things deeply, and this conversation can’t end well. So basically, I’m stuck. He’s thirteen. Old enough to find out about things on his own. Dilemma, do I use this as a teachable moment, or just let it pass. As I said, I do suck at this.


“A disease?”

“Are you sure you want to keep asking?”


Sigh. “This conversation could go to places you don’t like.”

“Was it a disease.”

How exactly do you answer this? I’m not a therapist. My own father wasn’t exactly the model of ‘after school special/ Dad of the year/ or ‘Dawson’s Creek’ perfectly scripted answers.

“Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“Then what?”

Not sure how long I stared at my toes before I replied. It felt like enough time to have studied and gotten a psychology degree, but as I looked up my son was still standing in front of me with polar bear pajamas and a determined look.

“He overdosed on prescribed medications. Most people believe he committed suicide.”


He teared up. I teared up. My nine-year-old walked down the stairs, looked at us, scoffed, went back up the stairs and started building his next Lego battle.


I began speaking. Or maybe it was stammering. Perhaps pleading. Somewhere in the mix of trying to find words I talked about depression, physical pain, Canadian vs US health care, debt and back to depression. You know what… not a bit of it sufficed.

“Isn’t it wrong to do that, you know, kill yourself?”

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”


“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”


“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“I understand that. But it would suck to need or ask for help. That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

He thought on it for a while.

“Doesn’t his music make you sad now?”

“Some of it always did. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me cringe, sometimes he can make me laugh and cry in the same song. But I’m not really answering your question, right.”


“Since grade one, you’ve had friends that have moved away.”


“When you think of them do you only think of the fact that they’re gone, or do you think of the fun you had when they were here?”

“The fun.”

“A person shouldn’t be defined by how they died, but by how they lived. Vic Chesnutt was an artist who I really appreciated. His music means a lot to me. Look, I’m not great at talking about this. It sucks that he died, especially how he died. But I still love the music he gave us to enjoy. I don’t hear his death, I hear his voice.”

That thought gets left hanging, and it just doesn’t feel like it should end on this note.

“You know, when I play my battered up old 12 string.”

“The one you bought from a weird old guy, and is difficult to tune because the neck was broken.”

“Yeah. I think of Chesnutt every time I play it.”

He catches me on this and calls me out. “You said the same thing about that guy in The Lemons and Wilco, and that lady Victoria.”

“Yeah. And it’s all true. I think about all those people. It’s just that they all have a unique voice. Not singing style. It is an overall, way of phrasing ideas that connects with me. I love that old piece of crap guitar because it doesn’t sound like any other guitar I’ve heard from anyone. Sometimes when I play it, I feel a whole range of emotions. All of them, coming from different places and all moments I wish I could bottle and stay in a little longer than is actually possible. The music ends, and even when I try to play it again, it just isn’t the same. The music that I keep playing, and paying for, it does that too. Those artists… Vic Chesnutt… they help me find moments that connect to … I don’t know… connect to living. To not being alone. Sometimes you can find moments like that on your own, but other times, it’s great artists that pull out those moments and share them.”

“You’re sounding all weird Dad.”

“I suppose I am.”

Anyway. The Vic Chesnutt reissues have caused a bit of a stir in the house. So far, the three that have arrived sound absolutely perfect. My complaint, has nothing to do with the quality, but rather the shipping costs. Despite much lower priced options available, most companies still choose methods that can nearly double the transaction price. For some of my favorite records I went and purchased the coloured vinyl. However, others will have to wait until they become available at my local record store before I can purchase them. Essentially, shipping is pricing me out of the market. Seeing the chat rooms, I’m not the only one.

P.S. West Of Rome will be out on Record Store Day 2017… next week folks.


Pan Am Adventure pt2: Beer & Pizza at Aquatic Centre… When the F%!K did Swimming Become So Cool?


One guy with his hand hanging out of an SUV raises his middle finger in salute to our high occupancy lane entitlement. We fly past; I smile and say to no one in particular “should’ve won those Edge interns from Fred & Mel dingus.”

My eleven year old Rowan asks “What Daddy?”


“Were you talking at other drivers again?”

“I would never dream of it!”

Walking through the gates at the Pan Am Aquatic Centre, I notice huge differences between the Ajax Ball Park, and this new state-of-the-art sports centre. Ajax had tents serving hot dogs and hamburgers, while Scarborough got hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and a tent devoted to shawarma. Dammit, I would’ve eaten here if I’d known I wasn’t limited to chip truck food.


Taking our seats, I see people walking by with beer and pizza in their hands. WTF – when I was a Speedo-wearing teenage swimmer we couldn’t get a frickin’ chocolate milk into the stands. When did swimming become cool? Could it be swimming is on par with… dare I say… curling. Here, I see smiling patrons walking up the stairs with their hops and barley delights stacked three cans high. That is, until they try to find their seats. The stickers on the metal stairs are small and one gentleman is already so confused he can’t figure out row numbers until I actually count them out for him… three times. Of course, this could be about the heat. The pool seems to be kept at hot tub temperatures, meaning the humidity is worse inside tonight than it was several days ago at the softball game in full afternoon sun.

The first race is the Women’s 400 Individual Medley. Seventeen year old Emily Overholt is taking Canada on a thrill ride. The crowd is going insane. You would swear it was a Stanley Cup playoff game, with fans on their feet screaming encouragement in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English simultaneously. For all of a minute it looked like we would be hearing our national anthem, until some official takes it upon themselves to change the soundtrack.


First in the women’s 400 IM and then in the men’s, the gold medal wasn’t decided in the pool, but by some overzealous officials in plastic chairs at each end of the pool who disqualified them. First Overholt and then Brazilian Thiago Pereira were stripped of places atop the podium for a non-simultaneous wall touch. This rule, that no one actually enforces, is very hard to catch and is pointless as it doesn’t give a swimmer any clear advantage. Boos rang out and later appeals by the teams were to no avail.

Still, Canadians were undeterred by officiating gaffs, putting in outstanding performances resulting in medals for every event. Sydney Pickrem was bumped up to silver in the Women’s 400 IM and Luke Reilly moved to silver in the men’s event. Noemie Thomas and Katerine Savard finished 2-3 in the Women’s 100 M Butterfly while Santo Condorelli finished with a bronze on the men’s side. Canadians finished the night with a bronze in the 4 x 200 M Women’s Freestyle Relay. By the night’s end Canada took home five medals, a great performance.

Without the familiar “O Canada”, my seven year old son had refused to stand during one medal ceremony, disappointed by hearing an unfamiliar anthem. After it finished playing, I leaned down for a chat.


“Evan, do you know why I stand and respect national anthems from other countries.”


“Well, it is because they are us! People come from all over the world to live in Canada, and every flag you see being raised is a part of our flag.”

“No it isn’t.”

Seeing his blank expression I realize a few things. He is seven, this isn’t a TV show life lesson and I’m not Kermit the Frog.

“Ok, here’s the deal. You stand or I can talk at you about trouble and punishment until you cover your ears and beg for mercy.”

In return I get the pouty look of wrath; Evan’s eyes promising that if he remembers this moment in ten years, he’ll make my life a living hell by becoming the teenage version of me.

Leaving the venue I look over at the Shawarma tent and envision athletes gathered around the table like Avengers. Voice over: “After a hard battle against tremendous odds, our heroes enjoy a quiet meal of tangy goodness. All is right again in the world.”

Pan Am Adventure pt1: This Episode – Put Your Shoes On Dude!


With empty water bottles and sunscreen packed I walk to the rusty old mini-van realizing I have forgotten a couple things…um… ah… oops. With empty water bottles, sunscreen, kids and tickets we jump into our family transport with every intention of pissing off hundreds by passing them in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle – 3 people or more needed) lanes. Of course, it is noon and there isn’t enough traffic for anyone to even notice the need for such things so I failed to catch so much as a dirty glance – damn.

Arriving at AJX/President’s Choice Pan Am Ballpark, I accidently drive into the field/parking lot for handicap spaces and get directed to the adjoining field/parking lot for other rusty mini-vans. Fortunately, the orange shirt volunteers stuck on parking duty are a good natured bunch who direct me to the appropriate place with patience and only snicker once I look in the rear-view mirror.

Sunscreen is applied and a short walk on temporary rubber sidewalks later brings us to the box-office. By this point, my second born Evan (7) is crying because, well, I must have accidently applied lotion to his eye. My first born Rowan (11) strikes up a conversation with a volunteer even as she offers me water to fix “the worst hurt ever.”

Disaster averted, I offer my extra ticket to a person walking alone toward the box office. After a minute of convincing him that I am neither a scalper or a crazed lunatic offering him an exploding piece of paper, he tentatively accepts, taking the ticket into his hand like a contagion. Yet another orange shirt having watched the conversation starts to laugh while telling me how awesome both I and the exchange were. I notice the lucky recipient of the free collectible bar code finally relax when he is allowed entrance into the park.

Gaining entry ourselves my kids are offered various freebies from even more smiling volunteers who take time to talk to both my kids in turn. Rowan tells each new orange shirt that they are “the nicest person I’ve met today.” Evan in an effort not to be left out explains that we’re going to see “Mexico play Argentina, and I want Mexico to win. It’s softball – not baseball.” Now wearing his new “VIVA PAN AM AJAX!” pin, Evan is all smiles as we take our general admission seats behind the Mexico dugout.


The crowd is sparse as the teams take the field, but the Mexican fans make up for low attendance with vocal enthusiasm and tambourines. Rowan starts to yell encouragement to Argentina and Evan starts an argument. “He’s bugging me by wanting Art-ina to win…” I ask them to stand by the first row for a picture as a distraction. After a couple clicks, I ask them to try again: “Act like you actually love each other.” A group of spectators start laughing as the ‘little brother’ attempts to push his ‘big brother’ further away.


Mexico gets on the board first in the third inning eventually scoring five runs by the bottom of the sixth. However, they lose two players to injury in the process. In both cases the players just kind of dropped while action was elsewhere. First the pitcher crumbled with a leg injury suffered as the ball left his hand, and later the short stop fell from what looked like heat-exhaustion. As we were waiting for play to resume on the second occasion, Evan asks me “what is that smell?” No sooner do the words escape than the odour of a dead animal left in a hockey bag comes wafting with the wind.

“I don’t know” I reply honestly.

“I’m standing down there” he informs me and walks away.

It is then that I turn around and notice that a gentleman three rows up has taken off his dock shoes to air out his tootsies. How do you politely say “put your shoes on Dude!”

At this point Argentina attempts a last inning rally. Our breath held I move down a couple rows… you know, um, to get closer to my escaping seven year old. Fortunately/unfortunately, depending on which child you ask, Mexico beat Argentina 5-3.

As we leave, Rowan personally thanks every volunteer he sees and ends each pat on the back with “hope I see you at the swimming events on Friday.”