Special to the News
Editor’s Note: This column is an excerpt from Paul Lucas’ new book, A Guitar Player on the Yukon Border. Lucas has lived in Atlin since 1979. This chapter is part of a 10-part series to run in the Yukon News every Wednesday this summer. Lucas’ book is available for purchase at Mac’s Fireweed Books in Whitehorse.
The following excerpt contains mature subject matter.
Atlin, September 1999
I dropped my bag of cables, swung my guitar case further back on my shoulder, inserted the key and turned till it snicked. The door swung open into the tiny lobby with its little ticket alcove off to the right. Pushing open the double doors, I stopped and looked into the house – the rows of theatre seats, the old movie posters on the wall, and the little stage with its ramp and stairs. We were playing once again at the Globe Theatre and I was looking forward to it.
There are places that musicians love to play. They stand in stark contrast to the countless strange venues we find ourselves performing in over the span of a career. The Globe is one of my favourite performance spaces, and there are reasons for that.
But before we go there, let’s take a trip to the darker side, and look at several of the colourful, peculiar, and occasionally soul destroying playing situations that I, along with the rest of my musical brothers and sisters in arms, have found myself in over the years. Colourful is a good place to start.
The Vancouver of my youth provided colour in abundance. Vancouver is a port town, and in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, it was as rough and ready as any port in North America. The music scene was alive and well. There were places to play no matter what style you chose. Primarily, though, it was a Rhythm and Blues/Jazz town.
Jazz and R+B have always found a home in the honky tonks of the world, and the clubs of Vancouver were no exception. The venues ranged from the strangest dives you can imagine to the more upscale joints like Oil Can Harry’s, the Penthouse, Isy’s and The Cave. They all sold the same goods though. The ticket price was just a little higher uptown.
Now for a young man new to the world of vice, my early playing days were an education in double time. That line from the Three Dog Night song, “I seen so many things I ain’t never seen before,” pretty well says it all. The club scene in Vancouver was a free for all.
One good downtown example was the New Delhi. After a gig, my pal Billy Taylor and I would often head down to the Delhi and sit in with the band. Nothing really started ‘til midnight, so musicians would often wander in after hours and hang out. It was all pretty loose.
There was nothing that wasn’t going on in that club. Musicians ended up being tossed into the mix with the strippers, hookers and dealers. It was one big fleshy carnival.
We often found ourselves stowing instruments and doffing clothes with the strippers in the back – just one of the carnies, one of the crew. We treated each other with a wary respect, and there was a certain “us and them” feeling about the whole business.
It could be dangerous though. Looking back, I realize that survival largely depended on not being a dick. Losing your shit, being obnoxious, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time was bad behaviour – behaviour that could easily be life threatening. Musicians, if they didn’t rock the boat, generally got a pass. We were more or less in the same business after all, our salaries and social status seemingly reflecting that to everyone’s satisfaction.
I do remember having to introduce a stripper or two during my tenure downtown. One in particular sticks in my mind. She billed herself as the “Twin Engine Bomber,” the shtick being that she had a tassel on each tit, and she could twirl … well, you get the idea. Her skill was to get those props to turn clockwise, anti-clockwise or, best of all, one in one direction and one in the other. The talent was breathtaking.
I also remember wandering into the Smiling Buddha one night just in time to see a heated exchange between fellow guitar player Kenny Ward and two strippers who flanked him on either side of the stage. They were insulting each other with language that, although I would love to repeat it here, would not allow this tome to see the light of day.
Incredibly, the girls were not missing a beat during the exchange, their epithets managing to spew between glued on smiles both efficiently and effortlessly. Meanwhile, Ken was holding his own. With head twisting from side to side, he was responding like a carnival barker selling a two headed pig while, at the same time, wending his way through the music, cues and all, without a hitch. True professionals these folks, true professionals.
But back to the topic at hand.
The Globe Theatre was built in 1917, and was a venue for movies, concerts and dances through the 20’s and 30’s. With the decline in the economy, it closed its doors somewhere in the 1940’s. I would often walk by the old building, gradually sinking into the ground as it was, and wonder what it would take to bring it back to life.
Well, in 1995, the Historical Society got funding to do just that, and the town set to work on the renovation. It was a long process because serious attention was payed to it being historically correct. As it turned out, all that attention ended up being worth it, because the result was pure magic.
On Aug. 1, 1998, I found myself playing on a little outdoor stage in front of the theatre, with Atlin mountain as a backdrop, as part of the opening ceremony for the newly renovated building. B.C.’s lieutenant governor was there along with Mounties in dress uniform. It was a memorable day for everyone.
Performances and venues are joined at the hip. Performances can be inspired by the buildings that hold them, and buildings can soak up the essence of the performances that take place within their walls. The whole thing is wonderfully symbiotic.