Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white.
And in between the moon and you, the angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.
I walk in the air between the rain, through myself and back again, where, I don’t know.
Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying, why, I don’t know.
There’s an episode of Seinfeld, where Elaine is dating a guy who instantly falls into a trance-like state whenever he hears the song Desperado by The Eagles. So moved by this song, so instantly transported to another time and place, for him in that moment, nothing else mattered.
There’s just something about music, about certain songs that get under our skin, get right in there and bring us back to a very specific period in our lives. And no matter where we are, what we’re doing or whom we’re with, we hear it and boom, we’re back. For me, it’s almost every track on the album August and Everything After by the Counting Crows.
When I first heard the song Round Here, I thought Oh my God, these lyrics! Who the hell wrote these lyrics? Then I saw the video with Adam Duritz in his dreadlocked, combat-booted glory, an alt-rock poet wandering along train tracks, offering up his fucking soul with these words that just shattered me.
Yes, I’m being dramatic. Yes, this song is, without question, one of those songs that will always prompt me to declare, “OH MY GOD! I LOVE THIS SONG!!!” and writhe around in tortured bliss. This is my Desperado.
My encounter with this song, this album, coincided with an amazing dance gig that turned out to be an unforgettable highlight in my career. In 1994, three Canadian companies – Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Toronto’s Dancemakers and Montreal’s Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault – joined forces to perform and tour choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault’s signature work JOE. In a nutshell, JOE is an epic production that explores the human condition, conformity and individuality. Comprised of 32 dancers dressed in overcoats, fedoras and steel-toed army boots, and a steep, amplified ramp that spans the entire length of the stage, we average JOEs shuffled, jumped, danced, climbed, launched our bodies and ran our out-of-breath asses off for 75 minutes. Without music. It was the largest and most ambitious version of JOE to date.
Jean-Pierre Perreault was a brilliant and, at times, intimidating, presence. The energy of the room noticeably changed when he entered – eyes darted, muscles tensed, volume lowered. From the first day of rehearsal, we always dressed in our full JOE costumes, costumes that Jean-Pierre meticulously fine-tuned and approved. After weeks of donning these clothes, it struck me that I’d never looked at myself in the mirror with my full outfit on. I kind of liked that it added to my anonymity, my average JOE-ness. Jean-Pierre’s vision for every single aspect of the work was astonishing. And just when I thought he couldn’t possibly know my name or even notice me among the 32 dancers, he’d address me directly with specific notes. The best notes of my life!
For me, JOE was more than an artistic highlight. With a gobsmacking collection of some of this country’s best dancers; exhausting rehearsals; almost nightly 5 à 7 (happy hour); a boisterous and blurry national tour; multiple curtain calls that I’d never experienced before (or since); and a film shoot of the entire work in steamy summery Montreal, JOE was a fucking party man!
August and Everything After was my soundtrack during that time. I was 27; I was working in glorious Montreal on a piece that impacted me; I made a tough decision to leave my company job in Winnipeg for an indie career in Toronto; I liked a couple of boys; I was pining for another boy in New York; and I was having the time of my life.
This coming November, I’ll be dancing in JOE again, 20 years after my last time performing it. It’s a project between Moonhorse Dance Theatre and Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault, giving amateurs the unique opportunity to experience this quintessential Canadian work, alongside a few of us professional JOEs. Sadly, Jean-Pierre passed away in 2002, but his presence will undoubtedly be felt. I will be assisting in the re-mount of the work, a tremendous honour indeed. Thankfully for my 49 year-old body and lungs, it’ll just be a 15-minute excerpt. It will also be the first time I’ve been on stage in a long time, but I’ve been itching to get back so huzzah for me!
And how’s this for timing: several months ago I saw that the Counting Crows were coming to Toronto this summer, 22 years after I first saw them in concert. I hemmed and hawed for a minute then thought, What the fuck? I passed on seeing Prince earlier this year, and he died suddenly weeks later. I mean, chances go as quickly as they come and sure, seeing a concert may not be a life-changing event, but it sort of can be, can’t it? Because what’s better than gathering with tens of thousands of people on a hot summer night, and belting out the killer lyrics to songs that mean something to us, that get under our skin, that instantly remind us of our stories and crushes and heartaches and who we were then and big decisions that changed us and the time of our lives.
Funny how things happen.