Tuesday, August 4, 2009

letter to john henry

Dear John,
As I ride the ferry back to Vancouver, I am struck with the thought that you and I have been back and forth on this route countless times. Spending years between the trifecta of Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver, you could never decide which town to call home, preferring to live in whichever town suited you the most at any given time. And times change...
We met in 1993 in Port Hardy. The fish docks in Hardy Bay. I was shoveling ice out of a fish hold and you yelled to me from the wharf. You asked me if I knew of any fishermen who needed a deckhand. As it turned out, I did. I gave you the number of a skipper who I knew needed someone. I know you got the job because a few weeks later, your boat and mine crossed paths in the Queen Charlotte Islands and your skipper called me on the radio to thank me for sending such a good deckhand his way.
The following june, I ran into you again, this time in Maple Ridge. I was working for the father of the skipper you were working for. You arrived like a rock star, riding a motorcycle, carrying a guitar and stories of a recent trip to Australia. 
We had two weeks of work to do on the boats before we were to head North for the summer salmon season. During this time we became fast friends, realizing that we had a lot in common, both being from the North Island and not really fitting in with what life had to offer up there.
As our lives unfolded, we would come to form a nucleus of miscreants and misfits who still remain the core group of friends that are all still in touch today.
We had both already taken psychedelic drugs, travelled to foreign countries, discovered beat poetry, solitude and a healthy disdain for pick-up trucks, moustaches and America.
Years later, you would decide to forgive America and you rode your bicycle to the border, with a planned trip down the Oregon coast. The border guards turned you away for 'suspected vagrancy' and you probably muttered,"fuckin' hippies", as you rode away. I am not sure if you ever went there again after that.
In 1995, I moved to Nanaimo and decided I would take a stab at the collegiate life. I devised a plan to become a teacher but then soon realized I would never be able to conform to this life style, nor did I want to.
It was during this time that you taught me to play guitar. You lent me your guitar for the night and when I brought it back the next day, you said,"Did you feel cool carrying my guitar?
"Yes, I did."
"Well, you should get your own."
You were never someone to mince words. Even your best friends and family would have to withstand bombastic verbal assaults if you felt they deserved it. I think we all liked this because we could count on you for honesty, if nothing else.
You had the patience to teach me all the basics on guitar and now music is such a huge part of my life, I can't imagine my life without it. Thanks.
Eventually, we would rock Victoria with our bands. But that would come later. 
Listening to your songs and reading your words in those early days greatly inspired me to start living a creative life.
Our friendship was marked with fights and fallout but mostly, we each took from the other what we were lacking in ourselves. You, the extrovert, kicks-seeking, live dangerously, swashbuckler. 
And me, the introvert, more careful, peaceful thinker.
I liked that you could light a fire under my ass and you liked that I could calm your flames a bit. 
We both shared an affinity for philosophizing, doing drugs, politics, Arts and hating rednecks.
We shared more than most friends. I think we lived together at least a half a dozen times, went fishing on the same boats, worked in the cutblocks and logging camps, film schools.
When the requisite move to Vancouver came about, shortly after the completion of film school, we worked as production assistants on TV and movie sets.
We spent many long days and nights sharing stories, so I know more about all the people here than they might think I know...
Thanks for Heath, Melanie, Tim, Dan, Mike, Mike, Chris, Chris, Darren, Kevin O, Jay, Tom, Hans, Rob, Paula, Lisa, Herb, Cathy, your family. 
I would never have had the pleasure of meeting any of these people and countless others, if not for you.
I was constantly being introduced to the fringes of society by you. It was like,"Can we keep him?"
"Well, okay."
That sort of thing.
Your level of judgement toward people was so much lower than mine, you accepted people easily, shortcomings and all.
Which is why you may have accepted me as a friend, I guess?
But it was mutual. Things were hashed over until they were made right. You always made sure of that. Clarity was a strength. Along with stories, mixed tapes, smokes, beer, fire, brevity, laughter.
"John, let's go"
"Wait, wait, one more story"
"What time is it? We can't go yet!" 
You kept us all well informed of your life, told through aural history in bars, or at a fire.
So much passion, so little time.
Things were written and screamed into the night!
And dredged up to analyze and go over and again.
My friend. Goddamnit.
We were always listening 
And you were always telling
We rode our bikes around the province, without helmets, followed by a road trip to Edmonton in a smoking van. Then it was off to the Charlottes for a summer of salmon fishing on the Sun Dog with Heath.
There was some more fishing and when that got old, we went to work in the bush, doing silviculture.
This was not a good environment for you because it contained rednecks and beer.
After that, we went to film school to learn to make films.
Around this time, we all became very anti establishment. Who knew that hating everything could be so much fun?
As a group, we spent the next decade talking, learning, drinking and playing music together.
Float planes and zodiacs full of cheap beer and guitar cases. Carrying dog eared sheets of paper and exercise books full of rants and songs and lists of plans for the future.
The best laid plans were often laid out on a napkin at an all day breakfast place beside the highway.
There were road trips to Mexico, Manitoba, Port Alice, Seattle, Alberta, Quebec,the Charlottes, the Oregon Coast, Las Vegas, California and God knows where else...
We bought each other a lot of morning coffees and smokes.
Our sense of concern for the World turned to a sense of despair, a sense you felt keenly.
We made the trip to Seattle in 1999 to witness and take part in the protests against the corporate ruling class.
We witnessed a massive public outcry and a subsequent riot that lasted two days and seemed to change our lives forever.
Sometimes I feel like your whole life became a protest, lashing out at anyone who did not see things as you saw them.
Luckily, most of us saw it that way. 
As life wore on, some of us began to settle down and take on babies and mortgages, I know you hated that.
I also know that your friends made you intensely proud of them, always giving props to peoples' achievements in life.
And your family. Always speaking so highly of them. And how you worried that your actions would hurt them. 
So proud of Naomi and her work in her home and her community. So glowing about your parents' trips to South America and their property in Lund. All the trips up there. 
And there was a family reunion of sorts a couple of years ago, where you told me there was an impromptu jam amongst some family members. It made you so happy. You probably felt so normal. 
So hard to feel normal.
You couldn't stop the search for internal quiet. Your mind never shut off. Ever.
There were many mornings that you awoke, instantly got out of bed and in five seconds, you were halfway through a story already. You went from REM sleep to pacing around the apartment, raving about the government, or some new invention, smoking, smoking in less than a minute. Sometimes I think that sleep only got in the way of life for you. So you would get as little as possible. And if you weren't raving about the way of the World or the government, you were raving about your girlfriend. Your love and hate were expressed equally. Expectations of yourself were so high, how could anyone else ever live up to them? 
All some of us could do was run away to find peace. 
I know that bothered you because you wanted to dig your heels in and fight it out about whatever was on the agenda. Until it was solved. Or until someone conceded defeat. And that generally wasn't you. 
The expectations you put on yourself were crushing you. 
You were a musically gifted, artistic writer who was brilliant with logic, problem solving and critical thinking. You read or wrote when you should have been sleeping, compiling all sorts of data in that brain for God-knows-what. 
You have novels full of stories, books of songs, inventions, poems, letters, rants, paintings, musings.
I am glad you left us with so much to remember you by. You left us with volumes of information about your life and your struggle to make it through.
I understand your pain and could never blame you for what you have done. I have never had to walk a mile in your head and I only caught glimpses of what it must have been like. 
Much of the time, you were so deluged with your own chaotic thoughts, you didn't realize others were in trouble, too.
You are free of all this now and I hope you have found some semblance of peace. I wonder where you are now. There are signs everywhere I look, but I wonder if my mind is only trying to protect me from the horrible truth that I will never see you again. 
I want to say so much more and I will, but for now I leave you a list of all the things that remind me of you: 

Hyundai, Flaming Lips, ephedrine, pacific, wildcat, Cornelius, Kubrick, Simon and Luthier, Dr. Rhythm, Peter Jacksons, Mercury Rev, Rocky Mountain Equipe, Mixed tapes, journals, dreams, coffee, drunken tirades, the Sun Dog, the Charlottes, Malaspina, 928 Scotia st., Love, Dischord, the Abducted, the Termie, El Camino, Port Hardy, Port Alice, the Tercel, Youtube, Rants and Raves, Craigslist, johnycat19, VMPS, Flin Flon, Whitecourt, XL1, Kevin-O, the Panasonic ghetto blaster, Big Bad John's, Steamers, the Cambie, street art, Miss Lisa Loucks, Martha and Brian, the 10 million candle power flashlight that went through batteries in ten minutes, wood carvings, the dremel box, high vis vest, boats, bicycles, the miele re-build, the firm belief that one man's trash is, indeed, another man's treasure,     

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