Introducing LCDD's Cole Friesen, the secret weapon
And remembering my mom, Ann Pelly, 20 years after her death
October 2 was my mom’s birthday.
She died twenty years ago this year, so she would have been turning 77. She was 56 (it was lung cancer, fyi).
The first two years, maybe a few more, after her death I wrote dazzlingly heartfelt memorial notices that the family placed in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and a couple other places. Then I stopped. It had become too painful. My words weren’t bringing her back to life. They weren’t doing anything from stopping our family from disintegrating. For disintegrate is what we did almost immediately. The three of us did not spend a single Christmas together after she died. We attended a soccer game together in Edmonton in 2007 and it went so well that the three of us…never, ever got together again…not until dad died.
For myself, the last twenty years have been me lurching from one crisis to another.
“Stumbling from one disaster to another” as Blue Rodeo, genuinely talented Canadian songwriters, puts it.
I left home at age 11—against my will, as regular readers will recall. When my mom died, all of my hope that one day as an adult I would get to spend real time with my mom and really get to know her, died with her. It was a lot of unresolved pain to bear on my own for such a long time. Her death transformed me, and not for the better.
Things have changed a lot since the 1980s, when my mom and dad gave me away to the Alliance church, to be raised in a foreign institution. A general cultural reckoning has occurred on a scale that the 80s could not have envisioned. I tell myself sometimes that if she’d lived, she’d have apologized. If she saw the hurt and pain in me, and she saw that even the church that had made her do these things now had publicly admitted the policy was in error, she’d have asked forgiveness, wouldn’t she have?
Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving prime-minister (JustyTrudeau, our nation’s highest-ranking politician/bungee jumper, could get that record yet) talked to his dead mother. And I got taught that in school as a way of letting me know that Mackenzie King was a nutbar oddball. Obvious to all who know me—so am I. This year, I have been talking to Ann all the time. Whenever I run, it’s like my mom sees that as her sign to come join me.
Every time I’m running, there’s a point where my mind just clears and it’s the most normal natural thing in the world for me to start talking to my mom. She always knows. She’s still my mom. (I talk to my dad, too. I ask ghost-Dad, “Ghost-dad, what the hell were you thinking?” Ghost-dad, “Yeah, I don’t know.” ) Whatever happened has happened my mom said to me and I needed to accept the love that she had given me, flawed and insufficient as it was.
Anyway…one night, right near the beginning of Project Notebook (which I wrote about here), which was also Project Running And Talking To Dead People, two thoughts occurred to me simultaneously and with such force that there was no possibility of ignoring them. 1) I know how to sing. When I was 17 and in Ecuador I got on stage and sang, solo and unaccompanied, “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz to rave reviews on consecutive nights. Then, I got kicked out of the country and sent to foster care in Calgary…and never sang again on stage or for an audience…ever. I thought to myself that it was pathetic of me to have let a few mediocre, professional Christians from flyover country stop me from doing anything—let alone something as important to me as singing. 2) The second thing I thought was this, “Get up out of bed. Right now. And write Cole Friesen (my brother-in-law) an e-mail telling him that you want to make music with him.” So I did that. I was shaking and sweating and it was the wee hours of the morning and part of me hoped he would tell me we should just stick to talking about music, not making it.
He said he thought it was an excellent idea, and he’d been thinking along the same lines himself.
We booked some dates.
That freaked me out.
I had no songs and I didn’t know how to write songs.
I was so embarrassed at the thought of showing up my first day with Cole—who operates his own music studio in downtown Vancouver, who has gone on North American tours with namebrand bands, who has played with many, actual, professional singers and recorded several album worth of his own material already—empty-handed, that my mind, in pure panic, started writing songs. Something I’d never done before. Something I didn’t know I knew how to do. Fear is a good thing sometimes. It clarifies things. If you don’t put yourself under pressure, you never discover what you’re capable of.
Our first day in the studio, I showed up with ten songs which Cole cut down to two. I kept writing new songs. Cole started writing songs around my songs. To me, it was our physical, in-the-studio collaborations where the real connection happened between us. His ideas were like my ideas only better. We kept inspiring each other and the songs kept getting better. Cole felt my songs immediately, and the way he played guitar gave me confidence to lean into them more fully. The final version of “Nihilistic Anarchy” is close to being Cole and I’s first take. It was like the heavens opening up for us. We tried for weeks to make it better. But everything always came back to the original version. It had an indefinable something we could never recreate.
A long time ago, their honeymoon, Cole and his partner Clare flew to Manchester to see Radiohead. That’s a solid, unimpeachable choice that stands the test of time. Cole and I love Radiohead and two hundred other bands in common. Lieutenant-Colonel David Davis also knows that they are not going to be the next Radiohead. We made this record for the pure joy of creating music together.
Bandcamp Friday is this week (October 7th). LCDD has a Bandcamp page! On the off chance, you’d like to, perhaps, buy the album for a close friend or long-lost acquaintance, Bandcamp Friday, wow-hey is October 7th the Friday for you.
(This whole Substack post has the oldtimey feel of the prayer letters my missionary mom used to write and mail to the faithful all over the world. So, I may as well sign off like my mom used to
God bless you all,
Que dios te fucking bendiga,
Colin, of Lt.-Colonel David Davis)
P.S. Taylor McKnight, who drummed amazingly and kick-assedly on all tracks except Radish, is the son of Scottish Alliance missionaries formerly assigned to Vernon Alliance Church. The universe AMIRITE?