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Here Goes Nothing


The four of us had a superstition at the time that you could never clean the van until the tour was over, so by the time we’d sling-shotted around the Golden Horseshoe and crossed the border westward towards home, we were up to our necks in an ocean of garbage. It was the same in our minds as shaving your playoff beard. Stained blankets, liquor bottles, half-eaten bags of potato chips, old rotten food, filthy blankets, sleeping bags, and who knows what else, formed a cemented, solidified wall around your body as you sat in the seat.


Whenever we’d pull up to a venue, a river of beer cans and empty two-sixes would come rushing out of the shotgun side door as it opened, like a sacrilegious baptism. For every cardinal sin we’d commit before, during, or after a show, we’d have that sacred half-hour onstage every night to seek forgiveness. Despite the harrowing feeling of guilt deep inside me, for every poor, desperate gas station attendant running horizontal through the rain, I knew that there’d be countless times I’d be back in Ottawa, and all those cities that we’d passed through to get there, in no time, to be redeemed.


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Ted Templeman


What gave me pause about “Jump” was my instinctive sense of what defined the Van Halen sound. When I produce an artist, I get a feel for what will likely work -- and not work -- on an album, especially when you’ve done five with them.


To me, Van Halen wasn’t a pop group. Yes, they’d done “Dance the Night Away” and “Pretty Woman,” but that was as far afield from their raucous, primitive nature that I wanted them to go. “Jump” was way too pop to my ears. I wanted them to stay edgy and raw.


As I tried to explain to Ed and the guys, it wasn’t that I was “anti-keyboards.” Remember, I was completely fucking knocked out when Ed played me the piano riff for “Cradle” at Sunset Sound. Ed had played keyboards on “Dancing in the Street.” I know it sounds like an odd comparison, but the “Jump” riff didn’t sound like Ed’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” riff. That’s the stomping, powerful sound that I thought they should have kept pursuing. Even though Diver Down served its purposes, it was too pop for me. I liked the Fair Warning stuff better. I thought these guys should stay right in that pocket, and not go pop. To me, Van Halen doing “Jump” seemed analogous to Keith Richards pushing for the Stones to record something sappy like “You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits right after they’d done “Brown Sugar.”


The other point I tried to get across that day was about Ed’s guitar playing. I think Ed recalls this debate as Dave and I wanting to keep him locked into “guitar hero” mode for the sake of his image. I can’t speak for Dave, but that wasn’t where I was coming from. His image had nothing to do with my view. Here’s the thing. Ed’s a guitar genius. No one has ever played or ever will play the way that he did on electric guitar. You immediately knew it was him playing something, and he had profound things to say on the instrument. Guys tried to copy him, and none of them came close. He was like Charlie Parker or Errol Garner. Ed’s right in there with jazz guys like that; they are generational talents. But, to me, any competent keyboardist could have played that keyboard riff. You can’t say the same about anything he plays on guitar.


But Ed, to his credit, told me I was wrong about “Jump” not working for Van Halen. He said, “Ted, I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music and playing keyboards and this is what I came up with. I really like it.” He didn’t say it, but I also knew that Donn had been encouraging him to stretch out musically, to follow his muse, and write on keyboards.


I could see Ed had a big personal investment in the song, and had worked hard on it. So I said, “Okay, fine. It’s a start. That doesn’t really float my boat, but let’s see where we can go with it.” Again, this was Ed’s taste versus mine. He wanted to work on it, so I was game. What I didn’t say was: Let’s not do the song.


I left, went home, and went to bed. Then around three in the morning, the phone rang. I let it go to the answering machine, but the volume on it was up, so I could hear the message after the beep.


“Hey Ted!”


Ed and Al.


“Wake up! We’re still here. We’ve got something great for you to hear.”


They held the phone up. I could hear “Jump” playing.


They sounded jazzed, so I called right back. Ed said he’d come and get me at my place in Century City. 


If I'm not mistaken, Ed did in fact pick me up and took me up there to hear it.      


It turned out that Dave and Mike had gone home too, but Ed, Alex, and Donn had stayed up all night. They’d recorded basic tracks for three songs from 1984: “Jump,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Drop Dead Legs.”


Donn rolled tape on the newest version of “Jump.” He played it a few times. As I listened, it really put the hooks into me. He and Al had the riff and groove nailed down tight. It killed me. The keyboard parts Ed had down -- it wasn’t a complete song yet -- were very close to what ended up on 1984.


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Reflections on Malcolm Forsyth

Music was his breath He inhaled atmospheres around him exhaled landscapes across oceans bright with African and prairie sun white with blizzards dark with rattled gales —Carl Hare, Professor Emeritus of Drama, University of Alberta

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Beautiful Scars

Beautiful Scars

Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home
also available: Hardcover
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The War Amps Pool
Most of the social events Bunny and George dragged me to were held at assorted Legions, veterans clubs and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The War Amps on the mountain brow was the closest club to our rented house on East 36th Street. It’s where I would be taken to swim from time to time in the summer as a young boy, and at Christmas it’s where I’d go to get my presents from Santa.

Children of broken World War II veterans would gather for Remembrance Days, Easters, Christmas parties. These gatherings were a chance for the vets to drink and bitch and watch the Leafs and Ticat games together, and for the aging war brides to drink and complain and talk about what was happening on Coronation Street. As a young fella, I saw it as the best of times for all of them.

The War Amps club was an old house on the edge of the Hamilton escarpment at the end of East 34th Street, on land granted by the Queen to the boys who gave so much in the fight against “those nasty Germans.” It was a Garden of Eden for working-class war heroes, I suppose, a break in the action, a place to lay down the swords and join the family. The house was on a treed lawn bordered by a short stone wall. There was a parking lot, some picnic tables and a swimming pool.

Oh god . . . the swimming pool.

My first trip to the swimming pool was when I was six years old. Our family didn’t own a car, so Bunny and I walked down East 36th Street and over to the brow in the blistering afternoon heat. It was the sixties and everything I wore in the summer was polyester and came in Hot Wheels colours. Lime-green bathing suit, spectra-flame tank top, antifreeze sun hat. I looked like I had rolled right off the Mattel assembly line, a walking version of Big Daddy Roth’s Beatnik Bandit.

I remember Bunny giving me a little history lesson about the pool as we walked up the steps towards the smell of chlorine and cigarette smoke. “This is the pool that Harry Cockman’s crippled son committed suicide in by tying himself to his wheelchair and rolling his wheels towards the edge of the concrete bunker filled with water. He drowned and sank to the bottom until the grounds maintenance man found him the next morning. Poor wee fella.”

It’s also where blind veteran Dino Rocco stripped down and stumbled onto the diving board, then, running full speed off the board and into a dive, landed on the concrete at the bottom of the—yes—empty pool. Rocco broke his neck and died there. After surviving two years in a Japanese POW camp, tortured by his captors and nearly starved to death, Rocco met his end right there on the floor of the empty war-vets swimming pool. Needless to say, I was terrified as we approached my maiden swim at the pool. Bunny’s timing was always spot-on when it came to telling horror stories.

The most unthinkable stories she would save for supper time. She couldn’t help herself. Tales of train wrecks, body parts, mob hits, Hiroshima, Kennedy’s day in Dallas, priests and altar boys, white slavery, shotgun suicides—all got thrown out across my plate of meatloaf and boiled potatoes, the bloody condiment to otherwise boring meals.

I stood there in my lime-green bathing suit for a long, long time with the August sun beating down on me before I finally found the courage to jump in. As the cool water took hold of me, I could imagine poor Cockman’s wheelchair below me. I screamed underwater but no one heard me. I swam to the surface and saw Bunny poolside in a camp chair reading the Hamilton Spectator and smoking a Rothmans. I screamed again. She looked across the water at me for a moment and went back to the news.

Inside, the club was dark and dreary and filled with smoke and the smell of piss and beer and dried blood. Blind men and men missing arms or legs would gather to drink and often fight in the dimly lit room. Shuffleboard tables and pictures of Queen Elizabeth, Lester B. Pearson and King George hung on faded wallpaper. Nobody ever stopped to look at those pictures. Ever.

I was the youngest of the WWII kids, due to Bunny and George having become parents late in their lives. I was flung into a group of vets’ grandchildren, some orphans and assorted child amputees from around the region.

We’d be brought to the War Amps club to ring in the Christmas season in style. Santa was a guy named Jack Fairfax. He dressed in the well-worn Santa suit, strung the beard around his gin-blossomed cheeks and stuck a black glove on the stump of his left arm. He manoeuvred the gifts from a big bag with his one good arm and his only hand, while his assistant, Mrs. Fairfax, bellowed the names of the lucky children across the bar. Santa smoked Player’s and drank Molson Export stubbies.

What a mess. But the vets’ hearts were in the right place. They had come marching home from war a fraction of the men they were before they left. They continued to fight addictions and poverty and shitty jobs, and still every year they would pull together their version of a Christmas party for some kids with less than normal lives. Way to go, boys.

There was no money for a babysitter, so I accompanied Bunny and George to War Amps dinners at hotel ballrooms in Hamilton and Toronto. I would be dressed in bow tie and blazer and forced to sit through speeches and awards and beer and rye, and sometimes a band would play some old country classics or Vera Lynn tearjerker. “White Cliffs of Dover,” “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “Red River Valley,” etc., etc.

When I got a little older, around nine or ten years old, I was usually sat at a table with the annual “Timmy.” Timmy was a young person who, due to an unfortunate accident, had lost a limb, just like the big boys from WWII. He was put up on posters and dragged out to War Amps events and shopping centres and presented at schools as an example of what can happen if you fuck around and act like a careless daredevil.

The speakers and dignitaries at these dinners would sit at the head table at the front of the room. In front of that head table, exposed to the entire room, was a smaller one with just two chairs. As a spotlight shone down on him, Timmy would be paraded in and led to the little table.

“There he is folks—Timmy.” The wives applauded and the old men dragged their forks across their plates searching for a carrot or a pea, or sat back and poured whisky over their gums and banged their canes on the hardwood floor while Timmy limped by.

I would be brought over to Timmy’s table and introduced to him. The crowd would ooh and aah, and I would take my seat across from Timmy. We’d sit there in complete silence eating our roast beef and carrots and extra kid-helpings of dessert. We would both act like it was not happening. Like nothing was happening. Like the world had stopped and we were invisible.

Here are a few facts about the annual Timmy:

•  Timmy was an understandably miserable kid who had lost an arm or a leg doing some foolish shit like playing with blasting caps at a construction site or trying to hop on a moving train.

•  Timmy was, nine times out of ten, a peewee hockey star before his accident, although I had no way of proving this annoying fact. And because I was such a lousy skater myself, I never acted impressed by this potential NHLer’s poor luck. In fact, I was a bit pissed off that this kid threw away a chance to stickhandle and shoot a puck with amazing ease just so he could impress some girls or some buddies or, even worse, pick up on a dare from his so-called friends.

•  Every time, the train will take the leg.

•  Every time, the blasting caps will take the arm.

•  Every time, I prayed to God that no more kids would lose any more limbs, just so I didn’t have to sit and eat another meal in silence under a white spotlight in a ballroom full of tired old men and women eating roast beef.

I prayed that no more kids would have to be named Timmy and used as an example to show the world how unforgiving life can be to those whose luck runs out early. I prayed I would grow up fast and forget all this, but I guess my luck ran out.

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