St. Patrick’s Day

Have you ever kissed a dead body? Neither had I. I did on March 17th, 2002.

I had just seen my father the night before. I had hugged him good-bye then, a warm and real embrace, not knowing it was to be our last hug. The drive back to Montreal was a good one. Visiting my parents in the Laurentian mountains was almost always that way. My girls received lots of grandparental attention, and my parents had both been sympathetic to some of the crises I was experiencing in my life, and were loving and reassuring to me. They told me everything was going to be alright. Just what I needed. We were happy. I was safe.

I always loved St. Patrick’s day in Montreal. We always went to the parade which was usually a display of what was great about the city. No tensions, no politics, just joie de vivre and some silly public drunkenness. People letting off some steam after the brutal winter.  Some floats were very creatively done, some were just lame. The usual “celebrities” (local newscasters and the odd sports figure). The marching bands were always fun to watch. Pub bands on floats with green beer, etc. 

We usually stood near the start of the parade on Fort St. and the fingers of the musicians were not yet numbed by the March weather. Some years the sun shone and you knew Spring was not far away. Some years were less accommodating, and the revellers drank more.  

The parade does not usually fall exactly on the 17th. It did this year, and it did in 2002. If I had savant skills I could tell you which other ones did, but I don’t have that particular gift. The weather in 2002 was cold. Hovering around the zero mark. Today is a bit colder, but not by much. In contrast with last Friday which saw major melting and breaking up of ice, today is very cold. 

I remember returning from the parade with the girls and going down in the basement  to play the guitar when my former wife called down with a note of urgency in her voice and told me I had to drive up north immediately. My dad was en route to the hospital in Ste. Agathe. I shot out to the car and drove like a maniac out of the city praying and hoping that my father was holding on. I still believed in prayer then. I still believed that hoping was good enough. Everything was going to be all right. My parents always were able to convince me that “this too shall pass”. 

My gas light came on about 15 km out of the city, and I realized that I needed to fill up if I was going to make it. I cursed myself for not being what I had promised to do so many times in Boy Scouts and Wolf Cubs. I was not living up to the “Be Prepared” motto. It is not that I am a slow learner (or maybe I am, as I have run out of gas at very inopportune moments), I have been known to procrastinate.

The time to fill up was excruciatingly slow. The pump seemed to be coughing up spurts of gas rather than a steady stream. I know how fluid time can be.The minute it took seemed like an hour. The drive after that seemed like a second. 

I parked next to the hospital and scaled a snowbank as a shortcut to get to the emergency and immediately looked around and inquired where my father “David Hanchet” might be? The nurse gestured without speaking, and I knew that the door she pointed toward held the news of a day I never wanted to face. I opened the door and my mum immediately lit up and rushed to hug me with tears in her eyes and said that “Dad never regained consciousness and they stopped trying to revive him an hour earlier.” 

I looked over to the gurney where my father was supposed to be, and there was a dead body there. It sort of resembled my dad, but it was clear from first glance that my dad was not there. I went over to the body and planted a kiss on his forehead. I am not in the habit of being comfortable in hospitals and around illness or suffering. I am most definitely not in the habit of kissing dead bodies. This was the exception. The love pouring out of my heart at this moment for a man who I now knew was a mortal being was like protective armour and even though the inanimate matter that had been home to my father could not feel it, it gave me a form of closure. It was time to grow up. 

I was 46. My dad was a month shy of 82. I had some papers to sign and to find a way to coax my mother to come with me back to their condo. She was so disoriented. We drove back to Morin Heights and I started the task of informing my relatives. I first contacted my own nuclear family. Told them that “Panda” was gone. “What do you mean, gone?” He was dead.

I tried to call my older brother first, as he was teasingly called “heartbeat” by my dad, obliquely meaning that Guy was a heartbeat away from being the head of the  family. Guy was not home, and a message was not appropriate. I felt very alone. The burden of carrying the news of my father’s death was too much for one person. Next in line was my sister, who miraculously picked up (because she was entertaining guests at the time). I told her the news and the bond of our mutual grief is the closest I have ever felt to anybody. I knew exactly what she was feeling and she, I. I don’t remember if I called my younger brother, or if I asked Elaine to do the rest of the calling while I attended to my mother. 

My dad had started the day like any other Sunday. He went to church and sang in the “choir” and attended to the duties of one of the offices he held at the church. He was sometimes an alderman, sometimes treasurer, sometimes server. My mum did not often attend that church, as her choice of worship was more evangelical than my father. He came home and made lunch for himself and my mum. He broiled two hot dogs split down the centre and covered in barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese just on the verge of turning darker orange. They then sat out on the terrace on their “chaises longue” and soak up some rays of the mid day sun surrounded by chickadees and Blue Jays. My mum asked him if he might “consider going to Stratford this year?” My dad did not respond. He just stopped. Everything stopped.

I don’t like to think of the efforts to revive him when the Urgences Santé paramedics arrived. My mum thought there was still a chance. She called my home (Of her four children, I lived closest). I am glad I was there for her. I stayed the night, and then commuted as my siblings arrived on the scene over the next few days.

 I have not attended the parade since then. It has now been 17 years. I am not sure if I would have stopped anyways as my girls got older. I have mixed feelings about the day.

I remember my brother saying at the time how funny and ironic it was that dad died on St. Paddy’s Day. One story that my dad used to tell was when an inebriated reveller came up to him on a St. Paddy’s Day and asked him what he “thought of the Irish?”. My dad, without skipping a beat and highly unlikely to give spare change to someone drunk said: “why, I think they are the scum of the earth!” I am pretty sure my dad was joking (although I come from a long line of British superiorists). The man retorted “I hope yaz findz yer razor!” Best put down retort. My dad’s “beard” at the time was best described as pathetic. 

“Everything will be alright” is a lie. 

This passage by Bob Dylan:

“Everything passes

Everything changes

Just do what you think you should do

And someday maybe

Who knows, baby

I’ll come and be cryin’ to you” is not.

Second Printing

second printing.

Sharon and I are pleased to announce that the second printing of our CD Tumbleweed is ready to go. We can now fill orders that we were unable to fill because we sold out in the rush to reach our charity goal before Christmas. If you would like a copy, send me your address and send an e-transfer to boyblueian@gmail.com. Most people paid $20.00 plus two bucks to cover Canadian postage, but paying it forward is also part of the deal, pay what you can. We will be putting the money aside in order to contribute to the St. James Drop In Centre again when we have amassed a good round number. One of the men who benefits from the services of St. James Drop-in centre bought a copy. He is homeless, does not even have a CD player, but insisted on supporting this project. Be yourself, but be like him.

Guitarlove

I have a friend who happens to be a “world class” luthier. Every time we talk, we exhibit our passion for music and guitars and tone and, quite frankly, a plethora of diverse subjects that one would expect between friends. Time spent together is always a joy.

One day I visited him in the “wood nest” as he affectionately calls his workshop and we were hanging out talking and drinking espresso coffee with the sun streaming through the panoramic windows of this loft space and I spotted a guitar that was fully built and stringed up and ready to go. Michael (almost) never has one of his guitars “hanging around” because all of his guitars are all pre-ordered two years in advance. Michael had to make a phone call and had to excuse himself for a bit. I asked if I could play the guitar that I was admiring while he was on the phone. He nodded and I entered a new world.

Like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia, this guitar opened up into areas of creativity that were new to me. I played some single note melodies that I had been struggling with, and the lines were seamless. A particular chord sequence that usually required concentration and a shift in my arm and torso to play, just fell out of this guitar effortlessly. I played some Jazz Standards on it, my own compositions on it, and  then put it through the paces of songs I’d always wanted to play, but there was some technical aspect that I was not consistent. All of my limitations and barriers seemed to slip away as I sat playing. It was sublime.

Apparently Michael re-entered the room after his phone call, apologizing for how long it took, but if I heard him, it was not apparent. Some time later, I re-emerged from the trance and looked at Michael and said “I wish I hadn’t done that!” to which he responded “Why not? It sounded great and you were obviously enjoying it.” To which I explained: “I’m a teacher and a musician!” Neither income streams are huge. Michael’s guitars are handcrafted, performance level instruments and priced accordingly. “There is no way I could afford it.” He said “You’d be surprised! We’re friends, right?” I nodded. “It takes two years. Plenty of time for you to plan and save.”

I went home conflicted. I told Sharon of the experience and that Michael offered to build me a guitar. I was convinced that it is “too much guitar” for me and anyways I’d be 63 by the time it was made and blah, blah, blah. All of this negative stuff coming out of  my mouth. “I don’t deserve it!”

Of course, Sharon negated all of these arguments and got me to thinking about what another old friend told me about his Martin guitar. He said that it took him a few years to pay off the debt, but he said if you look at it as 50 cents a day to own an instrument that brings you joy and advances your art, why not?

A few months passed and I forgot about the whole thing until I opened an envelope on Christmas day 2016. The envelope had pictures Sharon had taken in the workshop printed on a paper with the news that she had made a downpayment on a new guitar from Michael. My heart nearly stopped,and my eyes welled up.

All photos by
Sharon Cheema

I went back to visit Michael and we agreed on the materials used and other details of the guitar that are standard options like Cutaway or no cutaway?

I started to save. I took on some extra work and co-incidentally with the ending of my car payments, it was not as hard as I had feared. A year passed. I was on track for my goal when I got another envelope from Sharon. Another instalment. Rare to have a partner that is so supportive of my art. I love her anyway, but this is an endearing quality for sure.

I started to get little notes from Michael in my e-mail with details of it’s progress. “Wood is selected for your guitar” and “body is glued” and “waiting for another coat” etc.

The build up mounting like a tantric encounter. Wait…not…yet…

how cool is that?

One of the last ones was: “she is built! She is a (strong word that rhymes with “trucking”) monster!” I phoned and asked what exactly that meant? “Even better than the one you played!” was his response. Nuances that only musicians or luthiers might notice.

It used to be that two years actually took two years. Not anymore! Like my trip to Narnia, time seems to have become fluid. Some years drag on and others flash by. Like Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” I want to drag my feet to slow the circles down.

Yesterday I received my guitar. She is beautiful. She feels just right, but hadn’t been played. I activated the molecules by playing her and she is continuing to be “broken in’ with every hour I play her. She will settle in in about two weeks as I get to know her and she, me.

First minutes with my new Greenfield.

I am so thankful to Michael and to my wife, Sharon for this beautiful instrument.

Bye for now, I have strings to play.

A great film about Michael Greenfield

Charming And Trusting

As I lay sleeping just now 
A tiny force of life
Snuggled up beside me

His warmth And comfort
Charming and trusting
Brought forth
A visceral memory
Of contrast

My beloved Stardust
Charming and trusting
With the loving hands
Of my little family
On her thick black coat

The warmth of our love
Our hands, our streaming tears
To no avail

As she assumed
The temperature
of the now icy room

Who are you? Who? Who?

Have you ever met someone who knows you, and you probably should know them because you are Facebook friends? I do this more and more these days. Someone about whom I know a little, but who I know visually only through a profile picture the size of a postage stamp. The profile picture is often “dated” that is…you don’t really look like a skinny 12 year old on skis, or batman or a golden retriever anymore (lol).

I am easy to pick out of a crowd because I am big, my hair is long and I have a big beard and if I’m in a good mood, a big personality (in a bad mood I’m a sarcastic SOB). I am easier to tag than a Cardinal in a murder of crows. As a performer and a teacher, I am outnumbered by people who know what I look like better than I know what they look like. I recently had a young man come up to me and refer to me as Mr. Hanchet. He had been a student of mine 18 years ago WHEN HE WAS IN GRADE 2!!!!! Hadn’t changed a bit…..lol.

I am about to have this experience of disadvantage “in spades”. For the next 4 days this boy is going to be hanging with the “folk police” at the Folk Alliance International conference which happens to be in Montreal this year. I really hope there are name tags….. Please introduce yourself to me!


It is starting on a day where we just got a dump of enough snow to cancel school (YAY…for the safety of the kids…for sure ;)…not like we teachers need a rest…)

Apple/Tree

Today as I tuned my guitar in front of a grade two class, preparing to play them a song, I noticed some of the kids furtively holding pieces of paper. When I started to play, they held up the pieces of paper in the air. It took me a second, but I realized they were copying adult behaviour with their “I-phones”. It struck me how this could never have happened at the start of my career.

“confiscated” cell phones.

I instructed them that it was OK to film me, but they had to be very quiet as the “microphones” pick up all noise. Then I confiscated them all…..heh heh heh…never trust “The Man”….. Of course I gave them back after the photo. I wish I could show you the earnestness and accuracy that these kids showed while imitating the adults around them, but the period was ending and I was not sure if the kids had an OK for internet images.

Apples indeed do not fall far from the tree.

Guild D40 Bluegrass Jubilee

I have always had an eye out for Guild guitars. Ritchie Havens played one and Ralph Towner as well. These are both artists that have ringing open sounds and chords that are not easily analyzed. Ritchie used an unusual technique with his enormous fingers and Ralph had a more intellectual approach to the guitar having switched from being a concert pianist. Two disparate and unlikely influences of two sides of my musical personality. and repertoire as well.

photo by Sharon Cheema

This “Bluegrass Jubilee” was hanging in the store on consignment, and I gave her a whirl. I was exploring alternate tunings around this time and had written a half dozen or so songs in DADGAD and/or DADF#AD tuning. I needed a second guitarIn concert this poses a problem. Either you play all of your dropped tuning songs one after the other and then retune the guitar, or you balance your setlist and retune each time you need to. Or you buy another guitar. 

Photo by Sharon Cheema

The D40 (built between 2003 and 2005) has a lovely ring to it despite it not coming from the “golden age” of Guild Guitars, but crafted in Corona, California. I like the antique sunburst and the Mahogany back and sides give her a sweet and rounded tone. Perfect for my songs. A handy partner to the loudness and clarity of my Martin.

When I get my Greenfield, this guitar may be the “one too many” I have heard tell about. I am pretty sure I will play it less and use it less, so I may put it back on the market. 

photo by Sharon Cheema