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November 17, 2008

Everyone needs a Compadre

On the weekend I talked to a musician named James Keelaghan. I'm supposed to write something in advance of a concert he and his compadre Oscar Lopez are having here on November 26th.

He lives in Winnipeg after spending most of his life in Calgary because as he wrote in his song Gathering Storm, "A long hard ramble and endless roam by a twisted road I came back home/But the town I loved was there no more,gone now the things that were there before/The hills I roamed when I was small, covered with houses and shopping malls/All the talk was of buy and sell, they thought living high was living well.../

Turns out that James Keelaghan has a history degree from the University of Calgary but he started playing his guitar and singing in coffeehouses in Calgary in the early 1980s. In 1983 another well known folk musician, Garnet Rogers (Stan Rogers' brother), heard him, and actually bought him a much better Grit Laskin guitar named after the guy who makes them and urged him to consider becoming a full-time musician. He did.

Ten albums later, one Juno, several Juno nominations and a collaboration with a guy named Oscar Lopez (also a Juno-award winner who I actually had heard of) and they are on a tour of Western Canada including Salt Spring. They call themselves Compadres which they are, on and off stage.

Now, the interesting part of the story is why they named their second collaborative CD, Buddy Where You Been? Where they been is not where any of us want to go - personally. But, come to think of it, I actually have been there. Different story. Same type of caged pain.

Oscar Lopez suffered a debilitating depression that began in 2001 after struggles to get his managers to see eye to eye on his approach to an album. Then, a divorce and poof, life as he knew it, gone. For more than 3 years he was professionally and personally paralyzed. He could barely leave his apartment. He couldn't get near a stage without having a panic attack. He barely picked up his guitar. And when you hear him play, you really get what a tragedy that was.
James Keelaghan was having his own lesser struggles with his managers and his creative muse. He was set to perform in Australia and New Zealand. He decided to buy Oscar a ticket to come with him. Thought it would be good for him to have a change of scenery. He didn't have to perform. He just had to hang out is what Keelaghan said. And, so he did. But the interesting part is that without the pressure of performing in front of people who knew him where he could totally destroy what he had built in terms of reputation, he was freed to just get up and play. And he did. And he found his way back to his performing self and found a reason to stay with us.

Now, doing that for a friend is more than friendship, it's love. And, it's really great to talk to someone, male, who has that kind of frienship with another guy. Because it seems like men are in two camps. They either have that or they have a wife and have somehow not managed to cultivate those type of connections with another guy or guys and I think men need that as much as woman do.

How many of us would invite a friend who hasn't been able to function and/or work in three years on a long trip? I mean let's face it, depressed people aren't exactly the number one choice in travelling companion. I've been there and I don't like being around depression. It's a drag.

When I interview someone on the phone, I always get a sense of who they are and whether they're nice or they're self centered or aggressive or their genuine. This guy was NICE with a capital N. I mean, after all these years of touring, he probably enjoys talking to "reporters" as much as most of us enjoy going to the dentist.

I'm looking forward to seeing them in concert next week.


Susanna said...

Just found this years after you wrote it -- was looking for a particular Keelaghan lyric. The first album these guys did, Compadres, is one of my all-time favorites. The chemistry between them is just awesome, and I love the story behind it. Thank you.

Gayle Mavor said...

Thanks Susanna for commenting. I will now have to re-read this blog post to see what I said. I think I have that album around my place somewhere still. Cheers.