Two things happened in this past week that were a big deal for Raymond and me here at the Manse. And as it happens, they kind of connected with each other. In chronological order, they were:
One: Guy Clark, a matchless American/Americana songwriter and performer, died, and you can read a well-done obituary and appreciation here. The year 2016 has been one of tough losses in the music world, what with David Bowie and Glenn Frey and Prince all moving on from this particular plane; and though Guy had been in poor health for some time and his death was not unexpected, his departure leaves yet another big gap.
Two: We said a final goodbye to our life in Outremont, Montreal, Quebec. This past Friday we packed up the very last of the stuff that was kicking around the condo we had owned there for the past 11 years, signed the papers that will turn ownership of it over to another family as of Tuesday, May 24 (when you’re probably reading this), and – with both red Ford Ranger truck and grey Toyota Corolla loaded to the gills – headed west on Highways 401 and then 7 one last time, to permanent full-time residence at the Manse in Queensborough. I have irrevocably returned to the house and community I grew up in. My dear Raymond has, uncomplainingly and endlessly supportively, come along for the ride.
As we packed the red truck in Montreal under a hot sun on Friday morning, with the help of our upstairs neighbours and dear friends (and fantastic musicians) Bill and Sue, I couldn’t help thinking of one of Guy Clark’s best-known songs, the first track on his first album (Old No. 1) released way back in 1975. (The very year, as it happens, that my family moved away from Queensborough after my happy childhood there.) It’s called L.A. Freeway, and it’s about moving from huge Los Angeles to a very much smaller and more rural place.
“Pack up all your dishes,” Guy counsels his beautiful artist/songwriter wife Susanna at the start of the song. “Make note of all good wishes … Throw out them LA papers, and that mouldy box of vanilla wafers.
Adios to all this concrete.
Gonna get me some dirt road back street – ”
And then he goes into the well-known chorus, which also resonated with me, given that Montreal, for all its wonderful attributes, has (as I learned on the very first day I drove in to live there, way back in summer 1997), horribly designed and downright terrifying highways. I couldn’t get the words out of my head as I drove the packed-up, non-air-conditioned red truck west out of the city one last time:
If I can just get off of this L.A. [Montreal] freeway without getting killed or caught
I’ll be down the road in a cloud of smoke to some land that I ain’t bought…
Well, Raymond and I in 2016 weren’t quite like Guy and Susanna in 1975; we had bought land, or at least a house – our Manse – on “some dirt road back street,” and we had already built a life there, and we were on that day bringing the last remnants of our old city life to it. And here are the kinds of things we saw and appreciated once we were home on this gorgeous holiday weekend:
As you can probably guess, I am happy to be in Queensborough.
But let’s close off by listening to Guy Clark’s gorgeous song about leaving the city behind for a better, simpler life. This video shows the cover of that great first album, Old No. 1, and the painting on it of Guy’s denim shirt by Susanna. Those two were a wondrous creative pair. Guy’s words to her in the song ring so true: “Oh Susanna, don’t you cry, babe; love’s a gift that’s surely handmade. We’ve got something to believe in. Don’t you think it’s time we’re leaving…” Adiós, Guy, and thanks for everything – including the inspiration.