Friday, December 21, 2007

Darkest Day of the Year

20 years ago I got up while it was still dark, packed up my dad's Yamaha 6 channel amplified mixing board, speakers, a blank cassette (it wasn't actually blank - it had the Statler Brothers' Christmas on it, and I would pay for this mistake later in the weekend), and drove to Redcliff, a town just across the South Saskatchewan River from Medicine Hat, the city I grew up in. Having carefully navigated my way to the address on a piece of paper, I came to a house I'd never rang the doorbell at, to pick up Albert Hauck, a friend from my high school German class and the new drummer for my band.

My band. It was a pretentious thing to say, because I personally had no musical ability outside being a tone deaf singer and 2 years of piano, neither Royal Conservatory grade years. I just loved music, and had played my first live show two months earlier at a church in rural Saskatchewan with a group of friends I'd met at camp. It had given me a taste of what it would be like to really perform. And I wanted more.

Albert and I loaded up the drums, and drove to Temple Baptist church, where we met up with Craig Learmont, who I'd known since we appeared as the bad boys in our elementary school production of "Pinocchio." There's an irony to Craig and I playing bad boys together, as we were anything but growing up together, although Craig's dad was convinced I was a bad influence on his son. Craig played keyboards, and guitar, and pretty much anything he had a week to mess around on musically. I was there because I owned the recording equipment, and had that charismatic aspect that garnered comments like "Mike is a natural leader" on my report cards since Grade 2.

It was December 21, the Winter solstice. The Darkest Day of the Year, though I didn't know it that day. It remains the brightest day of 1987, the day I can remember with greater clarity than any other day that year. It was spent writing some songs and recording them. 3 versions of one song, "Modern Day Pharisee," which has no surviving recording to attest it ever existed, though I'm pretty sure Craig and I could force it out of our memory banks and into the air if forced to at gunpoint. The quality was terrible, but I didn't much care. We were recording music, creating something together as a band. And that's all I cared about.

It was the first step in a 20 year journey that isn't complete. In those 20 years, I learned to sing, to play both bass and 6 string guitar (both acoustic and electric), and boned up on my keyboarding skills enough to write my own compositions on piano which were impressive enough that my piano teacher in college had me perform a piece at our recital. I wrote music for 3 musicals, played in 7 different musical groups, recorded 2 cassettes, 7 CD's and an odd assortment of unreleased tunes.

Since that Darkest Day of the Year in 1987, music has been a huge part of my life. And I want to commemorate those 20 years somehow. In an interesting moment of synchronicity, Unlimited Magazine had me write a feature article on my experiences as a rock musician and a pastor for the upcoming January/February issue, so in one way there is already something to mark the 20 years by. But I'd been planning something else since this year began. Each month of the next year, I'll be posting one memoir of these 20 years of music. 20 years of the Green Rabbit, but that's another story.

For today, I'll let a tune suffice. One song from "Through a Glass Darkly," the first CD I recorded in 1994 with the band Craig and Albert would help form and then leave, Athan Asia. It's a song I wrote in 1993 about the a figurative Darkest Day in 1987, and then the literal one in December of that year, when "3 live corpses walked into the cellar."

Did you hear the voices singing about the Kingdom of Heaven?


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