Supper on a six-string. Photo: Jen Squires
Supper on a six-string. Photo: Jen Squires

Living the Dream In Castles Made Of Sand

Canadian songwriter Jay Aymar responds to a fan's inquiry about ‘Living the Dream”

One of my fans wrote to me last week with this question:
“Hi Jay, how’s the road treating you? We miss you up here in Prince Rupert! I guess I’m writing more about my son who is planning to hit the road with his band next summer. They’ve been getting a great local following and now they want to book some shows across Canada. Any advice you can share with him about living the dream?”

Living the dream. That’s such a loaded expression.

What dream? There is no such thing. It’s a war, not a dream. You set out to build the best sandcastle you can build with the sole intention of taking delight in kicking it down only to start a new one. That’s the creation game. If you are in it to live in a self-constructed fantasy, you’re not focusing on your art. It’s more or less about creating timeless art to satiate your messy id. The rest of the so-called dream is just a pedestrian lifestyle filled with rugged, dangerous obstacles.

Occasionally, you’ll have some reprieve from the struggle via late-night revelry or pelvic connections, but generally everything other than creation and performance is contrary to your artistic mission.

Now what kind of dream killer would I be if I wrote these harrowing insights back to this fan? Not a very responsible artist. The conceit of the lifestyle must remain fully intact for those starting on their journey. Why? Because when you’re starting, it’s not a conceit at all. It helps fuel the art. Pressure makes diamonds and all that jazz!

Oh, sure, I could have shared the realities of the broken music industry paradigm, so eloquently written about and discussed by pundits worldwide. The medium is the message ran us headlong into Spotify leaving listeners with information overload and artists with megaphones in the desert.

I could have told him about the time we were playing a small outdoor festival on Vancouver  Island when suddenly a gang of ten young teens rushed the stage to check us out. At least I thought they were checking us out until I realized they were holding phones in the air playing Pokeman Go. They collected their imaginary coins and vanished as fast as they appeared. Huh?

Or the time we were performing at the University of New Brunswick when a table of four students sat in front of the stage, each with earbuds in listening to their own curated playlists after paying twenty bucks each to get in. The humanity!

It was all best described to me by a chance meeting with Scott Wilson – son of Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys. (Dennis was the Beach Boy who befriended Charles Manson and eventually spiralled into a life of alcohol and drug abuse dying at the age of 39.)

I had just finished a string of shows in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia and was on my way through West Virginia when I stopped for some gasoline and noticed a guy filling up beside me - dressed in full Civil War garb. His jeep was plastered with Batman stickers, and he had a bit of wild-eyed stare on his face.

“Is there a Civil War re-enactment happening today?” I asked.

“You got it, bud! We do this every weekend for a few bucks and some fun.”

He pointed to four other guys dressed in a similar fashion. There was something comical watching General Grant slam back a diet coke against the Vote Trump placard in the gas station window.

“Wow, that’s cool. Where I can see that?”

“We’re all done for the day, so now we’re just going to hang out. Hey, you sound Canadian? What are you doing down here, man?”

“Oh, I’m a touring songwriter, and my US agent booked me a string of solo shows in the southern US. I have a show tonight nearby.

“No shit! Hey man, I’m Scott Wilson. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys was my dad. Nice to meet you.”

At that point, we pulled our cars around to the side of the gas bar where I met his friends. Scott was writing a book about his father and their mutual addictions and was eager to hear my music. I left him with a CD and a few great stories. As I was pulling away, he ran toward my car and knocked on the window: “Hey remember man, we’re all just Civil War reenactors!”

It hit me immediately. He was right. If he was playing General Lee, who I was I trying to be? Dylan? Lennon? Who knows?  It was an innocent observation that would be forever branded into my psyche.

Once you have an epiphany, it’s hard to put that genie back into the bottle. So how could write my fan back in good faith about his sons pending journey? I simply wrote, “The journey is the reward and cream eventually rises!” (insert your own cliché here).

You see, in the minor leagues it goes like this:

Wake up at 10:30 am in the Costa-Lessa Motel. Call the front desk to beg for an extended hour before check-out. Brew up stale coffee and eat a three-day-old banana. Discuss with your bandmates who wants to make the run to the motel office to raid some oatmeal packs and war surplus apples. Load up the gear into the vehicle, punch in the next address and hit the highway. Drive anywhere for one hour to five hours stopping along the way for more sodium infused snacks and tepid gas station coffee. Car rides are dotted with a lot of silence where we all retreat into our private worlds. A sanctuary of beautiful thoughts awaits us there. We think about our loved ones back home, our loved ones last night, or what may become of the day ahead. This constant living in the moment is such an engaged feeling that often days slip into years without realizing that the time has evaporated so quickly. We argue a lot about the state of the music business nation.

“Did we play that venue two years ago or just last year?”

“Well, according to my calendar it says we played Cowtown last year! We started early and ended early. The entire thing was a non-event! That’s why I thought it was two years ago.”

Time - the great equalizer. It all seems to make sense somehow: this crazy journey of self-discovery and artistic creation. These grand inventions, reinventions and reenactments. Living the dream.

I finished my response to the Prince Rupert fan:

“Hey, with any luck he’ll find himself in West Virginia with enough money to buy gas to make it to the next show. He may even run into the son of Beach Boy and have a revelation or two. That’s only if he’s lucky.”

“Alexa,” play I Get Around, by The Beach Boys.

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