December 2009

780 KMPH

I have been remiss.

Iíve used that line before, Iím well aware of that.

If I was to try and define the last year using only a few words, the first that I would reach for would probably be ďa stunning lack of timeĒ. I remember when I was a kid, my elders always used to warn me that as I got older time would only move faster and faster.

Being a kid, I had no idea that they meant this fast.

It sounds like a cop out, but without exaggerating I can comfortably say that for the last six months, the idea of finding a few consecutive hours with which I could actually find some time to put down some thoughts has been nothing short of laughable.

Except without the funny.

The reality is that for the last half a year or so, Iíve taken on more time consuming ventures than ever, and the vast majority of them I feel more than a little obligated to try and fulfill to the best of my somewhat limited abilities. As in triage, the least critical things are the first to not get attention, and the reality is that this little indulgence of mine isnít exactly at the top of the list.

Time is a rare commodity these days.

The reality is that as I write this I am on an international flight that is scheduled to take the better part of six hours. Once again, it is December, and once again I am trying to get a Reprisal done up on my way home from Cuba.

Hard life, I know.

Hard to take seriously someoneís complaints about their lack of time as they are on a return flight from a tropical paradise, Iím well aware, but this vacation represents the first serious chunk of free time Iíve seen in a while, and after the last few months, I wanted to spend the first part of it sleeping followed by time in the sun with my wife.

But now dear reader, as I sit more than a little cramped in a tennis ball can with wings, I can finally turn my attention back to this, my little indulgence.

So with that said, Iíll start off with a the standard pontificating followed by a little vitriol and if my battery lasts and Iím not distracted by the airline food or the latest creative offering of the in flight movie, Iíll maybe recap some of the more entertaining adventures of this particular tropical expedition.

The King And I

There are special places in the world.

Some of them are closer to the equator than others. That by no makes the ones further from the equator any lesser, just typically a little bit colder.

One of these colder special places is a little bar in my hometown that goes by the name of ďKing Henry The VIIIthĒ. I first found the Henry years ago when I was looking for places to play as a solo acoustic artist. This was back before when the years still started with the numbers 19... I remember walking in and seeing this odd little newfie with mutton chops that went on forever at the back of the bar playing great big sea songs.

I donít drink there. At least not anymore, but a quick visit to the ďshowsĒ section of this particular website will testify that I do spend a great deal of my time there playing music.

Hereís what you need to know about King Henry.

It is, without a doubt, a dive bar. It is not for the faint of heart by any stretch of the imagination. It is a bar of quiet desperation, and with the closure of the Cecil (which, historic landmark that it was, was a good and necessary thing) it is probably on the same rung of the social ladder that is shared by only the Shamrock in Calgary. The Henry boasts what I can only call a working class clientele, but the reality is that many of the Henryís patrons are also patrons of several of the homeless shelters in Calgary as well.

It is certainly one of the older bars in the city, and it shows its wear with a quiet dignity. The food is much better than one would expect. The prices are fair.

What separates the Henry from many, if not most, of the bars in the city are the people. Both those that work there and those that drink there. If you have spent any time on what some would call ďthe wrong side of the tracksĒ, you know the many subtleties of people, how they work and how to best avoid trouble. The staff and patrons are all experts in this art. The staff knows trouble from a mile away and will tolerate a fair amount with a remarkable amount of grace. The patrons know this about the staff and typically respect the boundaries. This is not to say that there is never any trouble, there often is, but when there is trouble the staff and regulars deal with it quickly. Iíve seen many a fight at the Henry, but never one that lasted particularly long inside the bar.

The biggest thing that I love about King Henry?

Walk into most other bars and thereís almost always a palpable sense of bullshit. People talk bigger games than they play and everyone has something that they need to try and prove.

This is not the case at the Henry.

Thereís no bullshit at the Henry. It is what it is and you either like it, deal with it, or get out. Same with the people there. Sometimes it gets crazy, and sometimes it doesnít but itís always straight up.

Which is not to say that it doesnít get a little weird from time to time.

The last show I played there, there was enough weird to go around for the whole room.

I loved it.

Highlights?

Take your pickÖ

When I play, I sweat. Typically a lot. Usually I will soak through both of the shirts I wear. When we hit the acoustic set, I dry a little and this leaves white lines of salt running across my black shirts. When we played there last, I was turned around to talk to Mike and a very large, very intoxicated man darted up on stage and licked my back.

I can only assume that he had just done a shot of tequila.

God only knows what he did for the lime.

Shortly after we finished the acoustic set and started back up with the loud rock stuff a man who I had a conversation with in the bathroom (which is a whole other thing unto itself, the bathrooms at the Henry must be seen to be understood) about the quality of the band and whether they were any good (he had no idea who I was, he might have been drinking a little) started doing what I can only describe as interpretative tai chi on and off of the stage. To the best of my guessing, and based on the accounts of a few other people who saw it, he was doing his best to channel energy of some sort to me.

Which, I have to admit, was a quite generous gesture.

Literally.

There was also the three men out back doing there best to throttle each other whilst I loaded my car, but they were all very careful of not getting anywhere near me or my gear.

Thatís just how things are done down at the Henry.

Also, I can say in full confidence that other than the Shamrock, the Henry is the only bar in the city that I can say that I have played at semi regularly over the course of the last ten years.

To explain the significance of that, let me make a bit of a metaphorÖ

I have it on good authority that one human year equals roughly seven dog years depending on the breed. This is based on a comparison of expected life spans for dogs and people. With that in mind, if one was to try and come up with an equivalent sort of comparison with bars, I would have to say that one human year is the equivalent of roughly 40 or so bar years. I base this on the fact that the lifespan of your average bar or pub is normally only about 2-3 years at the most. Then they are either remodeled or renamed, but they do indeed die.

Which makes King Henry pretty damn old.

And pretty damn awesome. I can not name another bar in the city that has stayed open for that long and actively supported live original music.

There might be one, but I sure donít know about it.

In short?

The Henry is one of the safest unsafe places Iíve ever been, and after all these years, I still think itís an honour to play there.

Nuff said.

The Shit List

(another pseudo monthly segment I will in all likelihood forget about after a few installments).

5) Fauxhawks. If you canít man up enough for the whole haircut, donít try and go halfway. Itís only halfway and itís obvious. I know that you want to be badass, but youíre not and advertising the fact that youíre too much of a coward to follow through with the cut only underscores that point. I donít put a lot of stock in appearances or fashion, but youíve made it about that by choosing to do things that way, so itís well within my rights to call you out on it.

4) Wannabe Faux Punks with designer backpacks. I shouldnít have to explain this, but Iíll try and make it simple. You canít buy individuality, and if you could it sure as hell wouldnít come with a $300 logo that costs so much because itís popular and in demand.

3) The Nobel Peace Prize committee. Yeah I know Iím coming to this party a little late, but there was a part of me that kinda though the he would never actually have the audacity to accept the thing. While itís been stated that he will donate the 1.4 million dollar cash prize, I canít help but wonder to what charity he will donate it to. Wanna bet it didnít go to aiding refugees or victims of US military action abroad? I would also be curious I he will also donate the same amount that he will get as a tax break from making that donation. I bet not.

2) I canít think of a number 2. Thatís what I get for being out of the news cycle for a week. Letís go with anyone involved in any way with the making of ďMama MiaĒ the movie. You should never have put credits at the end of that film because I know who all of you are nowÖ

1) Avril Lavigne. In the immortal words of Bill Hicks, once you do an product endorsement commercial for anything other than a tool of your trade, youíre off the artistic role call for keeps. Good thing for her she was never really on it.

Look At The Birdie

About two months ago I bought a book.

I had been looking forward to this book for the better part of 6 months before it came out and I bought it.

Why?

Because it was the last Kurt Vonnegut book. A collection of unpublished short stories that had been found after his death. Like 9/11, the challenger explosion and a few select other historic events, I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news. In my car pulling into a strip mall parking lot.

I could easily add another 5 pages talking about how much Kurt Vonneguts writing has influenced not only my writing, but my general philosophy, but thatís another story for another day. Iíll just say that for me, the world got a little darker when he died.

So the final collection of short stories was certainly something to get my anticipation going.

When I first started reading, I tore through the first 50 pages in my standard ďIím reading a new Vonnegut bookĒ fashion, which means I probably went through them in the first hour. I realized though, that being the last Vonnegut book, I wanted it to last a little, so I slowed down and kept myself to one story a day.

And then I turned the page to the last story.

And I didnít want to read it. I didnít want to have no more new material. I re-read what I had read so far again from the beginning.

After some deliberation, I decided that certain things require celebration, and perhaps even a little bit of drama.

So last week, I brought the book with me to the shores of Cuba, knowing I only had less that a dozen pages of Vonnegutian goodness left to read. I took that book down to a beautiful beach where the water was like glass, I wore my best tourist hat and I read the story ďThe Good ExplainerĒ.

Which was, an excellent story and vintage Vonnegut.

I figure, if your going to experience a moment like that, where youíre reading the last short story from your favourite author, you should do damn well to make sure that another story comes of it.

Looking forward to the new year, I wish you all the best.

Iíll perhaps do some Cuba stories next month. Until then...

You know where to find me

Nate@natepike.com