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Missing our LOD friends

10 March 2022

I was on my way to work and doing okay, until I heard the first chords of Racing in the Street. I’m not sure why it was that song at that time, but suddenly I was fighting an overwhelming urge to ditch the day job and head to the Shore. By the time Bruce started singing about his ’69 Chevy with a 396, I desperately wanted to turn around. I wanted to call Ginette and tell her to put her make up on and fix her hair up pretty. I wanted to coax that red Rogue south towards I-81. To be honest, I don’t think the car would’ve needed much convincing. I swear it could find its way to Asbury Park without anything more than the occasional combination of accelerator and brake and a stop or two at a toll booth along the way.

I stared up at the traffic lights forever. Beyond them, the four-lane blacktop was beckoning. An impatient driver behind me shattered my daydream with his horn. I took one last look up towards the 401, shook it off, finished my coffee and resumed my commute.

Missing the Light of Day Foundation’s annual fundraising weekend in Asbury Park would be so much easier if it was just about the music. We’ve missed concerts before. Hell, we’ve even missed surprise appearances by Bruce Springsteen before. It’s disappointing but it’s nowhere near the sense of detachment we’re both feeling since we decided not to attend Light of Day for the first time since 2008. For 14 years, Ginette and I have driven that dusty road from Kingston to Asbury to hear some great music and raise money for Parkinson’s research. It was one of the first things I wanted her to experience when we met. I talked endlessly about how I’d been along for the ride since the beginning when music manager Bob Benjamin, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 38, decided to have a birthday party and instead of asking for presents he threw a party and asked for donations to Parkinson’s research. I talked about my friendship with Joe D’Urso; one of the few musicians who’s been at every single Light of Day show. Mostly I talked about being surrounded by a sense of community and purpose; all set to a Jersey Shore soundtrack. For that first trip, I put together a Jersey road trip playlist that included not just Bruce but Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky, John Eddie and Willie Nile. Springsteen – who so often jumped onstage with his buddy Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers - didn’t show up that first year but Ginette was hooked anyway. From that point forward, Light of Day in Asbury Park was permanently etched into our calendar. A few years later, we went to Light of Day Canada in Niagara Falls. Meeting Dave Rotella changed everything. His enthusiasm for the cause and his passionate love of music made it easy to say yes to volunteering. That weekend, we drove emcee Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos to Toronto for a TV interview. Over the next 48 hours, Vinnie became our friend and our “agent”. He told the powers that be in Jersey, “You have to bring Gord and Ginette down to Asbury”. With Vinnie’s endorsement we ended up working at the legendary Stone Pony. That added a different perspective to the weekend. We were volunteer stage managers. We lined up performers, made sure each band got on and got off at the assigned times and generally pitched in wherever we could. We started at 6pm and finished at 1am and never sat down for a minute but we loved it. Over the next few years, we put in the work and drank in the love. We had breakfast with Joel Plaskett, dinner with Dave Hodge and late-night drinks with Jamie, Danny, Peter, Joe, Hans, Willie, Jenn, Johnny, Jorgen, and Billy. By now, the weekend had morphed into four days but as the event grew, so did the connections. Charles and Kathy, Jake, Michele, Big Dee, J.R. – all people I now consider friends. And each year, that sense of community flourished. We were raising money and awareness and eventually we were going to beat Parkinson’s. In the words of the great Willie Nile, “Once we’re done with Parkinson’s we’ll move on to the next cause and we’ll kick ITS ass.”

After several years of this, it only made sense that we’d try running a Light of Day right here in our hometown. So, we did. Supported by our friends and artists like Joe D’Urso, Willie Nile, Miss Emily, Kent Nicholson, Steve Earle and Southside Johnny, we hosted Light of Day Kingston for five consecutive years. Laura and Candy came from Maryland and Florida, Frankie drove from Niagara, Tony and Bob came up from LOD headquarters in New Jersey, Bill came from Ottawa and Sammy came from Toronto. Vincent Pastore even made the trip up from NYC to host in our second year. I can close my eyes right now and access a looping film clip memory of Vinnie coming across the street from his hotel to the venue, walking through the doors of the BLUMartini and saying, “Gord, what a beautiful hotel! I opened the curtains and bam, I’m looking out at freakin’ Lake Ontario.” It still makes me laugh.

In January of 2020 we went back to Jersey for the 13th time as a couple. It felt familiar and fresh, new and comforting all at the same time. The world was whispering in the background about some strange virus but we were focused on using the power of music to end an incurable, progressive disease. As ever, the drive home was filled with new music, new stories and old love. We had no idea that the 2020 show would be a reference point for the next two years.
“I haven’t seen a concert since Light of Day,” became a refrain as we ZOOMED or livestreamed or Facetimed. We talked about how good it would feel once we could finally get together again and we hoped for a break in the COVID isolation. And then it happened. Sort of.  We could travel again. Kind of.
In early September I booked the Berkeley Hotel for January and I crossed my fingers, but Omicron moved Light of Day to March and moved the potential of a soul-saving trip to the Shore from an almost sure thing to a near impossible thing.

Knowing the very distinct possibility that a positive test could either strand us in Watertown or cost us a border-imposed fine of $5,000 each, we pulled the plug.
Since then, we’ve gone about our daily routines and we’ve waited for spring and we’ve tried to ignore the impending sense of missing out; until Racing in the Street.

I guess I do know why it was that song at that time after all. Road trips are what Ginette and I do best and of all the road trips we’ve taken, 401 to 81 to 380 to 80 to the Garden State Parkway feels almost like the road home. From the minute we pull up to the hotel, to the minute we leave, we’re surrounded by people we love and people who love us. We can walk into the Stone Pony or the Wonderbar or Asbury Roastery or McCloone’s and see as many smiling, familiar faces as we can in downtown Kingston. That feeling is irreplaceable and this weekend, that feeling will be temporarily missing.
For those of you that do make it to the Shore, have a Jameson’s at the back bar in the Pony for us and take a minute or two to remember just how Goddamned lucky we are to be part of this community.  Where else can you be surrounded by people who travel hundreds or thousands of miles to sing arm-in-arm and put a little money in the kitty for a good cause?
To paraphrase that guy from Jersey:
Tonight, tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way, mister, you best keep
'Cause Light of Day’s here and the time is right
For racin' in the street.



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Home for a rest in Asbury Park

9 January 2022

Originally written Jan. 9, 2018. Updated Jan. 9, 2022

I'm a sap for the most part. It doesn’t take much to start the waterworks; sometimes it’s just a few words, sometimes it’s a perfectly written letter and sometimes it’s a song. This song took a few replays but eventually the all-star version of “Home for a Rest” had me smiling around the tracks of my tears.

But maybe not for the reason you’d think.

John Mann, was the lead singer and one of the songwriters for Spirit of the West. He co-wrote “Home for a Rest.” In 2013, John was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. He died on November 20, 2019 at 57. Whenever I watch the documentary about his journey called “Spirit Unforgettable” I'm a puddle. It culminates with John’s final concert, recorded at Massey Hall. Throughout the film, we watch mournfully as John’s memories – his life – are erased by this horrible disease. Despite that, you can’t help but see the positive and poignant effect that playing and singing music had on him.

In 2017, when Alan Doyle posted a video of “Home for a Rest” on social media, I knew it would be difficult to watch. The video was from a benefit concert for John at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver and it included many of John’s musical friends singing his signature song. I remember, when I sat down to watch this, I was prepared to be sad but surprisingly, I didn't cry right away. Instead, I found myself smiling and as soon as it finished, I teed it up again; still no tears. Something was compelling me to watch it again and again and as I did, I was bombarded by memories. It took me all the way back to May 1, 1985 and my short time at Kingston radio station, CKLC.  I can vividly recall the palpable anticipation in the station as we awaited the delivery of “Tears Are Not Enough”, the all star Canadian answer to "We are the World". I was working production that day and it was my job to transfer the record to a “cart” – essentially an 8-track tape that we used to broadcast music in those days. I put the song on the cart and ran it into the studio for Jim Elyot who introduced the song and played it for the rest of Kingston. It was the first time I remember feeling as if I was part of something that would help someone in need and help them through music.

Since those days, I’ve given a lot of my time to Light of Day, a cause that uses music to raise money and awareness about Parkinson's disease. Ginette and I are proud to be a small part of helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for people suffering with this progressive and incurable illness. Along the way, we’ve gained a second family of like-minded souls. Normally at this time of year, we'd be getting ready to return to Asbury Park for Light of Day's Winterfest. It's a time for us to hang out with hundreds of very cool people, see dozens of bands, sing until we're hoarse and renew ourselves with a sense that together, as a group we’re making a difference with music.

Watching “Home for a Rest” reminded me once again that music can do more than excite or motivate, it can engage and involve and it at its best, it can even help to heal the hatred and division that has raged across North America over the last few years.

In case you are still uncertain about humanity after watching this video can I suggest a couple of solutions? Watch it again and if that doesn't work, watch it again. I guarantee that you’ll eventually notice several things. First of all, it’s a great song full of some of Canada’s brightest musical lights. Then you’ll see that the Spirit of music is alive and well in so many familiar faces and voices. Finally, if you’re like me, you’ll watch John Mann in his billowy white shirt and see that he’s not just dancing. He’s feeling something bigger than himself; something bigger than the crowd of musicians or the sold out audience. He's absorbing thousands of voices that are singing with him and to him and he’s translating that into pure, unadulterated joy.

Ultimately, that was what brought me to tears and probably will the next 30 times I watch it. I hope you cry too and then I hope you donate to something. Help the Baycrest Foundation, an organization that John and his wife Jill supported. Help Light of Day an organization that's been hit hard by COVID. Help the local band that's lost all their bookings but who are still striving to raise some dough and sell a record. Help others to feel the music and feel the Spirit. In the end, you'll be helping yourself to feel the strength, the soul, and ultimately, the power within the music.

WATCH "HOME FOR A REST"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wY3DfQ2EUk

 

 
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The cost we pay for love

5 January 2022
Originally written January 5, 2020
 
It’s a strange kind of notion, to measure life by those we’ve lost but it’s a path I’ve had to travel in recent years. I’ve often said that I'm a lucky man. I found love when I was sure I didn’t deserve it. I found health when I thought hadn’t earned it. I found success amidst failure, stability after turmoil and ultimately I put it all down to luck.

It wasn’t really; or it might have been. I honestly don’t really know. So much of our journey is based on chance. You could be sitting at home, feeling desperate and alone and somebody offers you a concert ticket. You’re pretty certain it’s a bad idea. You can think of six reasons why you shouldn’t go, but you go anyway. You meet your future wife and you meet your future life. It’s chance. It’s choice. And yes, it’s luck.

Lately, I haven’t felt so lucky. I lost my mom on September 6, 2019 and then; I lost the father of a great friend, a childhood hockey buddy, a musical brother and a woman who, with her husband, set a benchmark for love and parenting that I couldn’t quite grasp but a benchmark I always tried to reach. Vicky Mahwinney was the quiet, loving, beating heart of a family I’ve known since 2001. Vicky opened her home to Joe D'Urso and I at the insistence of her daughter, Lisa. Vicky had never met us. Lisa had never met us. Yet, when we showed up on her doorstep - on the Fife side of the Firth of Forth - she hugged us and suddenly we were home.

Home for a few days in the middle of a tour.

Home for my first birthday in my ancestral home of Scotland.

Home with cake and heavy cream and whisky and Sunday Roast on a Monday night. That’s what Vicky did – she gave you home. She did it for her beloved Billy. She did it for her three daughters and one son. She did it for her 11 grandkids. Vicky died two years ago after suffering a stroke.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve been welcomed into hearth and home in Fife, Ayrshire, Park Ridge, Mexico City, Sweden, Wakefield, Warwickshire, Bristol, Farnham, Ireland, and Amsterdam and a dozen other places. So yeah – I’ve felt lucky.

Then, after all of this loss, I didn’t.

But here’s the thing. I AM lucky. I’m lucky that I have people I love and people who love me in Canada, the US, Mexico, Scotland, England, Sweden, and Australia. That’s more luck and love than I could have ever imagined; certainly more than I deserve and it means the network of people I care about has grown exponentially. When you increase your circle of loved ones, you increase the chances that you’ll lose someone you love.

I’m sad today and if I’m honest, I’ve been sad more than happy for the last couple of years but I’ve come to a realization. Death can knock you down to your knees and just as you get up, it can knock you down again.

And again.

And again.

Each loss hurts like hell. Each loss staggers your belief and your faith. But somewhere under the pain, under the seething anger and heartache is an understanding that anything of value comes with a price.

Sadly, grief is the cost you pay for love.

Ginette and I are sending our love to the Mawhinney family and all of those who knew Vicky including - the D'Urso’s, Emily Fennell Taylor, William Crawford, Micky Kemp, El Dubya and so many other lucky people.

 

 

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