We Are All Disabled - Part 6

Grant Wyatt and the Teenage Rock Gods... 

The guy in the picture with the blond hair looking off into space is Grant Wyatt.  Maybe Grant is just posing for the camera knowing somehow I would use his picture to tell a story. Grant was like that, he thought a lot about the future and didn't always like what he saw. I suppose that's why he lived so much in moment.

I'm the guy with the guitar, next to him wondering about what he is looking at. Grant was a cameraman who travelled the world telling stories you never forget. On this day, we were part of the crew shooting Heart of a Dragon.

It was August and really hot. Everybody was exhausted but for Grant it was an opportunity to have some fun - first take your shirt off and then tan in the oppressive heat that radiated out of the stone on the Great Wall. The Chinese crew loved him. The rest of us did too. He always made us laugh.

Back in Canada after the movie, Grant helped me put pictures to my music and then he disappeared. He fought and lost a difficult battle that robbed him of the optimism and beauty he so often saw through the lens.  

I admired the showman in Grant. I tried it once a long time ago in a band called Arsus Myth. There we were, bare-chested kids with black leather vests, rehearsing in a basement, trying so hard to figure out how a fog machine, a strobe light, fire, confetti, ping pong balls and shot guns could become our signature and a ticket to rock and roll fame.

Living in a small northern town, we had access to shot guns for hunting and the rest of the props were easy to come by.  We prepared our new act by replacing pellets in the shot gun shells with with confetti, then by soaking the ends of drum sticks in butane and adding ping pong balls and big hair. where required.

We didn't rehearse the act, figuring we needed an audience to see it right away. That was the first mistake.

The police arrived quickly, no one got hurt but that night was the end of the band and our chance to be rock gods while still teenagers.  We should have known confetti packed into the shells would catch fire from the gunpowder when we pulled the shot gun trigger and its impact on our fellow band members would not be pretty - when the flaming explosion blew them off the stage and left them smoking and mad.

Seeing Grant Wyatt without his shirt, basking in the scorching sun on the Great Wall was an act of an great talent and showman who lived and loved and laughed his way through life. And his storied career reminds me that before you take a show on the road, you need to rehearse and rehearse again and always have a fire extinguisher close by.  

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We Are All Disabled - Part 5

Queen Never Had a Bad Hair Day

I have a show in a few hours. The song list is set.  Guitars and amps are jammed into the tour bus which these days is a faded electric blue Ford hatchback. Clothes for tonights performance will be blue jeans - they are in the dryer as I write and a classic shirt from a vintage shop. The kind Eric Clapton looked so good in at the George Harrison memorial concert.

Then of course, there are my Roy Orbison glasses, which like Roy, I really need to wear. Finally, the hair. It's the same hair I use for everything. Wash it, comb it occasionally and hope the audience is there tonight for the sweet guitar and not just to see me light the drummer on fire - which you might recall reading about in an earlier post.

But back in the days I lived and breathed everything Queen, I fancied myself a bad ass metal boy and thought somehow it would propel our band into the big time, whatever that was.  Living in a small town and having a good imagination was as important as having an identity, even if you had to make it up.  Anyway hearing that Freddy Mercury was coming to Vancouver, the band pooled its money and somehow we bought tickets to the show that by the way, changed my life.

For those few hours at the concert, I was Freddy Mercury, then I was Brian May and then I was Freddy again . When the show ended,  I did something I'm sure at least a million other guys did but won't admit.  I went to a beauty salons and I had my hair permed to look just like Brian May's.  Sadly, my friend and I got styled on the cheap, our hair was burned not permed and it looked really, really bad. Almost like we wearing small animals on our heads

Back home in Williams Lake, the memory of the Queen concert faded away but our big hair didn't . For months we were known everywhere as the Poodle Twins which took its toll on our reputation as a bad ass metal boys.

Freddy Mercury was smart, he keep his hair short in the beginning and he wrote and sang songs that he believed in. That's a good enough reason for me do the same. But I will admit to looking in the mirror now and then and back at the Queen album   cover and wondering about how cool Freddy's moustache would look on me.

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We Are All Disabled - Part 4

The Girl Who Blinked... 

The bed bug bites from the cheap motel in LA are gone now but the memories of being in southern California, in the middle of music business and belonging, are still so strong.  

It’s raining outside and my shoulder, elbow and arm are really sore again. They just hurt. Before LA, I went to a clinic and had an MRI scan to figure out exactly why I was hurting. As if I didn’t already know that a lifetime of playing the guitar too much might one day have a cost. 

They put me inside the MRI machine on a kind of stretcher. What I mean is, they insert you into the machine. And the machine takes pictures with a noise that fills your head.  It’s so damn claustrophobic.  You have to stay completely still, just staring at a rounded metal tube inches from your face.

I began blinking every few seconds, and then panic set in.  In desperation, I kept my eyes closed with all my might and for some reason started hearing music that brought a calm over me.  It was a song I wrote for a girl named Diana who had been in a terrible accident and was completely parlayed from head to toe. The only thing Diana could do for the rest of her life was open her eyes and close them again.

Thinking about Diana allowed me to open my eyes without the panic that made me close them.  Soon, I was in a taxi headed for the airport and a trip to LA where I would play my guitar, free to follow the music wherever it took me. Diana would never have that chance but I knew  even in the simple act of blinking, she was free to imagine her own world, as freely as I live mine. And I understood for the first time just how disabled I have been by anxiety. 

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We Are All Disabled - Part 3

Fierce bed bugs, Ted’s electric guitar and a band called Rabbit…

I was bitten by bed bugs in a cheap motel in LA a few weeks ago on my way to play for the National Association of Music Manufacturers.

The event was not open to the public but somehow 90,000 people show up to talk and listen and learn everything new in the music business. Rock stars, lots of them, wander around. And yeah, I was there too getting my picture taken, playing my guitar and having fun because somewhere it's written, I’m the only guy to have won the top three international guitar competitions.

I worked hard to be that guy and to be in the company of the some of the best musicians in the world. They are my heroes and being among them, felt good. I was proud of myself and that felt good too, until the applause faded and I began thinking about the people in my life who believed in me when I had such a hard time believing in myself.

Ted Robertson was the first person ever to hear something in my music. He had a band called Rabbit, a 1963 Les Paul electric guitar and he was different from everybody else.  He didn’t care about how old I was, how shy I was, or how well I could play. He was the kind of friend you keep forever.

Ted took his life in the middle of being my hero. His father was my teacher in school and eventually I mustered up the courage to ask if I could buy Ted’s guitar. Mr. Robertson said yes, his son would have wanted me to have it.

As I sat there on a stage in LA all these years later with my guitar and my musical heroes close by, I thought about how lucky I’ve been and I thought about Ted Robertson who heard something in me that I’ve spent a life time trying to hear in myself.

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Don Alder is a musician and partner in a grand adventure - "Man In Motion" that forever changed the way we see disability. He lives alone in a basement suite over run by guitars, note books full of ideas for songs and everywhere, memories of going around the world with his best friend, Rick Hansen.