A few weeks ago, I saw online that a band named Jr. Gone Wild was going to be coming to town, playing a tavern in Ottawa’s Byward Market. Junior, as they’re known to some fans, is an Edmonton band that started in the early eighties. They achieved some national success playing an early version of alt-country or cowpunk but they never became the stars some fans would have predicted.
I learned of them in the early nineties when one of my favourite local bands covered several of their songs. And an old bandmate of mine actually played with them for a time. When I heard of this show, I was excited. Not so much because I loved this band (I never owned any of their records but I did like a lot of their songs) but because I had a feeling that the gig would be akin to attending something of a reunion. In my head I could already picture some of the familiar faces.
When my wife moved to Ottawa from Toronto almost twenty-five years ago, we lived downtown, a block or so from a main street. When we would get groceries or go to a restaurant or pub, we would invariably cross paths with someone I knew. Someone from the neighbourhood. It always kind of surprised Valérie. She said she could walk the busy streets of downtown Toronto for weeks at a time and not run across someone she knew, let alone a friend. It was one of the first things she liked about Ottawa. And usually the people I said hello to were those I somehow knew through music. They may have been in bands I used to see regularly. They may have been fans of the same bands, who I would share tables or ashtrays with and we would nod to each other when our favourite songs were played. Maybe they were the bartenders or the waitresses or the doormen. Or the sound men or other musicians who just liked being around music and had an appreciation for how great and how hard live performance is.
I was kind of a performer for a while but I never really felt like I belonged. I was always more comfortable playing the role of the fan but being involved in the scene afforded me the opportunity to make friends with many talented people I may not have otherwise known.
But something funny happened when I turned forty and moved to the suburbs. I stopped walking around downtown the way I used to. I stopped playing live music and don’t really go to see it anymore. And I certainly have lost connection to those who play it still.
And when this happened, I stopped seeing my old friends. Just as when the school year ends or the sports season is over or when you change jobs, people just naturally fall away. The people you saw every day or every week for years. There’s no conscious decision to stop being friends. You just don’t see each other anymore.
I stopped seeing the crowd and staff at Irene’s for the Lonesome Paul shows that I loved so much. I stopped seeing the Lucky Ron show that always inspired a grin wider than I knew possible. I miss hanging out with the guys from Jimmy George at the Duke. I miss the Manx and the Slowpoke and Shaft show. I miss taking a cab to the Pit to see the Hammerheads, knowing I could always get in and wouldn’t be late because their singer sat beside me in the taxi. Zaphod’s, Barrymore’s, Furnace Face, Songbird Music, the Pisces parties. A downtown laundromat where I watched Punchbuggy shoot a video while I did a weekly chore.
No, I don’t walk down the street any longer and run into friends the way I used to. For months at a time.
So when I see Junior Gone Wild tomorrow night, I won’t be there solely for the music. I’ll be smiling because I’ll be standing among some old friends who I haven’t seen in a while.
You can’t go home again. But sometimes you can visit for a few hours.