When I was in CÉGEP, my look was a pair of a jeans and an oversized tweed jacket with a torn elbow, and a lapel festooned with rock-band pins and a Guinness bottle cap taped to a safety pin. I was much thinner back then, and the jackets came courtesy of my dad, a cab driver with a habit of leaning his left elbow against the open window when he drove, thus wearing them out at that one spot and achieve that coveted tattered look that I thought so fashionable at the time.
Now in my forties, I’ve gone back to that look, at least partially. The jacket is back–no longer tweed but corduroy. The buttons, which are pictured above, have also made a return, as has the connection to my dad. Now rest assured, I grew up and stopped raiding my father’s closet for his off-cast rags, but I acquired the top two buttons the week he died.
It was May 26th of last year, two days after he’d passed away. I’d driven to Montreal from Toronto four days earlier. I’d kept vigil with my mom, but I hadn’t been there when he took his last breath on Sunday. Tensions were running high that Tuesday. I’d exploded at my mother and had words with my brother the day before. It hadn’t mattered that we’d known for months that the end was near, or that we’d watched his steady decline over a period of years: I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t deal with it. And I lost my cool.
I couldn’t face my family. I couldn’t deal with the stream of people we were expecting at the funeral parlour later that afternoon. I needed a distraction, and I headed to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with my partner John, which is where I got those buttons. Unbeknownst to us, that day was the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famed Bed-In for Peace at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and the museum was abuzz with activity in conjunction with an exhibit entitled Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John and Yoko. It was exactly what I needed. I sat down at a replica of the famed white piano at the Dakota and banged out what I remembered of Imagine. Then I marveled at the original lyrics of the song, handwritten on a piece of hotel stationery. At the end of it, I inscribed a hope for peace on a paper tag and tied to a wishing tree that was part of an interactive art work by Yoko Ono. It was the kind of serendipity that I needed that day.
As I write this, I’m about to head out to see singer Jon Anderson give a solo concert at the Danforth Music Hall. The legendary voice of the rock group Yes sings the refrain, “give peace a chance” during the Your Move section of that band’s All Good People. And of course, Alan White, formerly of the Plastic Ono Band, has been drumming for Yes since 1972.
A lot of the music that I loved in my teens and twenties still moves me after all these years and as I prepare to leave for tonight’s show, I’m can’t help but think about that music and about my dad. Two events in particular come to mind: The first was the night he came home and told us that he’d picked up David Bowie in his cab, completely blowing our minds, and the second is the night I brought home my first electric guitar. I expected a verbal drubbing on that particular evening and I got one from my mother, but my father asked me to open up my guitar case, looked down at my newly purchased instrument and simply said, “Gibson. They make good guitars.” And that is one of my fondest memories of my dad.