Harmony in a Box – 02-01

The disk whirled and stopped, signaling that it had loaded. The thick typeset words appeared on the screen of Johnny’s laptop. The transcriber had the foresight to set the text in storybook style. Johnny knew how particular Jamus was in everything he did, how important all the small details were to this incredibly gifted musician, it would be quite a story. What the hell had happened to Jamus and why? Johnny felt his stomach lurch in anticipation. Read on, he thought, buddy the answer is right in front of you:

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The first song I recollect hearing was Burning Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. I remember hearing it through a transistor radio filling in the time as I stared within the bars of my crib at patterns on the ceiling. I am a strong believer in sound, music, vibration. Somehow I have always felt that music could change the world. If everybody would just sing and dance together we could have peace and love. From childhood to present most of my memories are associated with music.

I came from a lower middle class family working family. Back in 1968 live music was vibrant. Many paid performance opportunities existed for musicians – school dances, weddings, coffee houses, anywhere you needed music you needed musicians. There is nothing like the incentive of money to get one interested in music. At 14, I performed my first paying gig. My friends were making four or five dollars a day at the grocery store. I was making ten bucks a night getting paid to have fun, sharing the limelight, partying underage. Unlike my father, music seemed a viable pursuit to make a living as opposed to watching the steel rust on the graveyard shift down at the steel-mill. That was before the DJ’s got introduced with their pre-recorded situation music (canned music) making opportunities for untrained musicians, taking it away from the real deal.

I had minimal formal music training, basic literacy. I learned what I wanted in the basements and garages of any house that would let my band rehearse. In high school I struggled with music but managed to get a passing level. My music teacher Mr. Rectall once told me, ”Jamus your head’s like platinum, worth a lot of money, but no good for music.” I somehow survived the slam but never forgot it. It made me strive harder towards my musical goals. I received a partial music scholarship at York University. I studied composition because I wasn’t formally trained on any instrument at university standard. I received my degree in music and history.

I am now 45 years old. I have a problem with always backing the wrong horse. I’ve played some big venues: Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg; but sustained success has always eluded me. Personal or management problems seem to plague my career. I am happiest substituting for absentee musicians in established bands. I especially enjoyed playing with some downeast Newfie bands that played some reels and jigs. Ironically, some of my most content musical experiences came from hearing heartfelt laments about the east coasters and their hardships, joys, and tales of the ocean. My story starts when I had been with Psychic Blue for about nine months. This was the first band that I felt good with.

Harmony in a Box – #01-11

This is how the story appeared in newspapers across the country compiled and released by the Associated Press:

St. John’s NFLD – The situation for the missing passengers from the small sightseeing craft Angelica looks bleak. Despite all efforts there have been no sightings of the Angelica or its four passengers that left late Saturday night on a sightseeing excursion.   During a severe and unexpected storm, the Portuguese trawler DaSilva spotted the lights of the small craft Angelica fade out of sight in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Labrador at approximately 4:00 am on Sunday morning. The DaSilva attempted to make radio contact but there was no response from the Angelica. Local authorities fear the worst due to storm conditions and frigid waters. Rescue efforts started early Sunday morning and, for the third day in a row, search and rescue teams have been battling high winds and rough seas. The bodies of Captain Reginald Wiggins and crewman Len Waites were retrieved from the watery depths on Monday afternoon. Missing and presumed drowned are Jamus Wales, guitar player for band Psychic Blue, Neville Jittery, manager for Psychic Blue, Virginia Bliss, concert promoter and environmental awareness activist, and Herb Taylor, businessman.”

Harmony in a Box – #01-10

Gigs stopped here, a dramatic pause to see Johnny’s reaction to his last statement, to get his approval of sincerity before proceeding with the story. Then suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of the telephone. Johnny grabbed it, and a voice informed him, “”This is your wake-up call.” Quickly Johnny looked at the time: 7:30 am. “Your taxi will be here in fifteen minutes.” Shaking his head Johnny looked frantically around the room for what he couldn’t say. Half trying to get his head in gear to leave, another to figure out how to hear the rest of the story. “I can’t believe it’s time to go!” Johnny uttered to himself. “Well what happened?”

“Sorry John, there’s not enough time to tell the story,” Gigs eased onto the bed crossing his outstretched legs.

“How am I going to get the rest of the story?” Johnny asked, knowing that if he didn’t get it now, he may never get the opportunity again.

Gigs dug into his travelling bag and pulled out a disk. ”You got a computer or laptop? I had the tapes transcribed and put onto a disk. I happen to have one with me I can always make another. Do you want one?”

A smile came across Johnny’s face, “You’re the man Gigs, always prepared.”  Gigs handed him the disk, and they exchanged a handshake and a hug. Wished each other well, convinced themselves that they would keep in touch. They exchanged e-mail and website addresses for communication, then Johnny turned to go. Gigs remained in the room as Johnny made his way to the taxi headed for the airport. On the plane Johnny quickly set his computer up, slid in the disk and waited for the story to unfold on the screen.

Harmony in a Box – #01-09

“He wanted to tell his story but I had to leave to do the show. I gave him some writing paper. Then I gave him my hand held tape recorder, showed him how to use it, and left him some blank tapes. I told him to use it to recount his story if he didn’t feel like writing it. Leaving, I left him some money in case he needed something and told him I would be back in a few hours.”

Gigs looked at Johnny as he moved towards the bar to top up his drink. Johnny sat there motionless not knowing what to say. “My God, this is unbelievable,” Johnny finally managed to muster some type of response.

“That was just a tip of the iceberg,” Gigs replied.

“What happened?” Johnny asked like a child hearing a fairy tale when the reader stops to rest.

Gigs topped up his drink and refreshed Johnny’s, pacing the room as he continued with the story. “The show and tear down went longer than anticipated. When I got back to the hotel room all the tapes were used up and numbered but Jamus was not in bed.”

Listening to Gigs, Johnny remembered how meticulous Jamus was in organizing and keeping track of things in the band Psychic Blue, a carry over from his university days he once said.

Gigs continued, “I assumed he was with the others for some reason and anyway I wasn’t going to go door knocking at 3:00 am in the morning. I started to listen to the tapes and must have fallen asleep. Next thing I knew it’s daylight and there’s someone knocking at the door, I rolled out of bed hoping to see Jamus. To my surprise it was the lady doctor from the restaurant. She asked if Jamus was with me. I told her I thought he was with her. She informed me Jamus had told her that he would be sleeping in my room. I told her I would assist her with her search and quickly excused myself to get dressed. We searched various areas in the hotel and asked some questions at the front desk. The night clerk said someone, possibly Jamus, left around midnight. We informed the police, what else could we do? We exchanged regrets and good-byes. I never saw her or Jamus again. After they left I went back to my room. In all the commotion I had completely forgotten about the tapes. What I am about to tell you now is beyond your wildest imagination. I swear it is all true according to the tapes. I won’t alter a word. After you hear it you will think me mad for believing it, but I can’t help thinking he spoke the truth to the best of his recollection.”

Harmony in a Box – #01-08

“The house performer who had joined us at our table during the performance shook Jamus’s hand in a vigorous and appreciative motion and asked him, “Where did you learn that ending I’ve never heard it before?” Jamus closed his eyes then slowly responded it was a piece by the American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The house performer inquired, “I studied North American composers in the York University Music program and I don’t recall seeing or hearing that piece.” Jamus’s eyes seemed to slightly shift and look into nowhere then came his reply, “Now I remember, it was taught to me from ear by one of his students recently. Usually Gottschalk played “Hail Columbia” and “Yankee Doodle” as a show closer, but when he played in Canada he closed the show with “Allouetta”, and “Camptown Races”, he meant to notate it but never got around to it.” 

“Puzzled but intrigued the performer continued. “The year is presently 2001, Gottschalk lived 1829-1869, even if the student was taking lessons at one year old, which is impossible, the student would be one hundred and thirty years old! Are you sure?” At this point Jamus seemed to get quite agitated and asked him “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No, not at all, just trying to make sense of it. I would be very interested in notating the song, maybe we can get together later and do it. It wouldn’t hurt me academically to stumble onto an unpublished work by Gottschalk.” The performer shook Jamus’s hand again, got up from the table, bade us farewell, and proceeded to the stage, becoming our sonic wallpaper. Saying nothing to each other, the lady doctor and I sat at the table basically openmouthed at the incredible and bizarre scene that had played before our eyes. “I need to lay down.” Jamus insisted rubbing his forehead with his hand. I told Jamus that I had a spare bed in my room. It’s Room 212. I had to get back to the festival set-up soon but he was welcome to use my room in the meantime for some R&R. The room was just down the hall from a couple of guys in my crew. Feeling it might do Jamus some good the couple he was with agreed to my suggestion and said they would check on him later. As I was walking Jamus back to my room he looked at me exhausted and said “It’s all coming back bit by bit. It is like some kind of incredible dream or nightmare, I’m not sure which.” When we got to the room he laid down on one of the double beds. “How long have I been gone?” Jamus asked me. I told him about a year and a half. He mentioned some names that were not familiar to me. I felt his hopelessness of me not being able to help him and the helplessness of not being able to help himself.”