Spirit of the West is one of the most important bands in my own musical journey. They truly were the first band that I heard outside of the classic rock musical mainstream that had been so important to me, up until my mind was blown wide open in 1992 (or so.)
I still remember riding in a high school friend’s car at lunch time and hearing Labour Day for the first time. It had been out for years already by that point, but it was new to me, and it amazed me. I’d never really heard (or maybe just hadn’t paid any attention to) “folk” music before. I never knew that something from that tradition could be so powerful. But then I heard that album, and it opened the doors to bands who would influence the direction of my life from then on, The Lowest of the Low and Rheostatics.
But Spirit of the West was first, and was quickest to take hold. I think I became a superfan right then and there, and as you can see from the photo above, I set on a course to collect everything they’d done or ever would. (I actually have a bunch more stuff – shirts, posters, a CD or two that wasn’t handy for the shoot, and a bunch of cassettes.)
As much as I loved the albums, the live show is what really took my breath away. By then they’d moved on from the more acoustic, folky sounds of Labour Day, and became more of a rock band. That suited me just fine, because that was the tradition that I was more accustomed to. I began to see the band whenever and wherever I could, and I saw a lot of shows. They were among my favourites, and remain so.
So it was exciting to see the band again last Friday in Winnipeg. I’d become a little bit jaded after seeing too many childhood favourites seeming to languish on the oldies casino tour circuit, so I guess I had a bit of an attitude going in. Sure, I love those songs and remember great shows in the past, but it had become a bit routine for me.
And seeing John Mann reading lyrics from an iPad and turning over his guitar duties to a younger player kind of confirmed that bias for me. And so I said something dumb on Facebook, as I am known to frequently do.
I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, and was just looking for a cheap chuckle, I guess. In all honesty, I was kind of worried about the guy. I knew all about his previous battle with cancer, and had recently received a copy of his latest solo album, all about that struggle. I thought that maybe the battle had been rougher on him than I’d imagined.
Little did I know how rough it had been. I received enough information over the weekend to know that I was a bit out of line, so I deleted my dumb, insensitive post. And then this morning, I read this: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/alzheimer-diagnosis-takes-centre-stage/article20464625/
That guy who was bouncing around the stage like a madman just days before had gone public about his new diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. Wow.
That’s shocking for me on so many levels. He just seems way too young and full of life for something like that. I honestly didn’t know it was possible to come down with that terrible disease that young. Like most people, I assume, I always thought of that as “an old person’s disease.” I know how horrible it can be, and can’t imagine what it would be like to have that happen to me or someone close to me.
It must be especially difficult for someone in the public eye, someone who has to go about life in front of people like me, who are quick to judge or make a cheap joke. He must have had to struggle with this decision – either retreat from the public eye, or risk having people notice that something was wrong. He took the bravest and most amazing route of all – get it all out in the open.
And his strength and beauty continues, as he’s planning to keep working and keep playing for as long as he can. I’m just sorry that it won’t be longer.
I’m sad when I think that at some point, he won’t remember how great his music really was, and how much it impacted people like me. Hey may not remember, but I’ll never forget.
Stay strong, and thanks for the memories.