Tag Archives: Riaz

Happy Little Accidents

I used to question the theory that every moment in a person’s life has led them to the moment they are experiencing right now. I mean, how many throwaway moments have there been? Certainly a lot. We’re not living a fictitious life within the pages of a best-selling novel. Not everything that happens moves the plot forward or develops our character. Sometimes the tip of your pencil breaking is inconsequential, and then sometimes a sequence of events gets strung together over twenty-five years to culminate in an experience never to be forgotten.

Like this one.

Back in my first year of university, I met a few people that, even at that early stage, I knew were special. My buddy Riaz, my friend-girlfriend-not friend-friend-girlfriend-fiancee-wife, Jodi, and my friend-lab partner-roommate-colleague-boss-friend, Jason.

Riaz introduced me to Jodi. I met her properly in his room across the hall from mine. She was playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and he and I were listening to music, playing Ultima Underworld on his computer, and burning incense. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Jodi and Riaz introduced me to this band called The Watchmen. Jodi pushing their first album, Maclaren Furnace Room, and Riaz in love with their second one, In The Trees. Ri and I would take in as many of their shows as we could over the years and have more than a few stories to tell about those times.

Jay was a friend of some friends and lived on a rival floor in residence, and later became my lab partner and my go-to friend for a game or ten of pool, often played at the on-campus bar where this one album with the strange name, Shakespeare My Butt, by this obscure band called Lowest of the Low seemed to play on an endless loop.

Life was grand. Responsibilities were minimal. Parental supervision was non-existent. Our relationships were rooted in amazing Canadian music; the less mainstream stuff like Watchmen and Lowest of the Low, as well as the national heroes The Tragically Hip. Then, things started to change. Not overnight, though looking back it does feel like it was, but in slow motion over the span of years and decades.

Jodi and I married and a year later Jay married this wonderful woman, Tamara. Riaz moved back out West. Jay and Jodi stopped going to Watchmen concerts with me, but Tam was a big fan and stepped up and started being my “date” for shows. There was this one concert that all four of us went to one day. I think it was before kids were in the picture and we could all be out on a Friday night in Toronto (about an hour away from where we lived) without feeling guilty or tired. We saw Lowest of the Low open for Billy Bragg. Jodi’s a huge Billy Bragg fan and we were all in love with Lowest of the Low from our days hanging out in the on-campus bar.

For me, though, it was The Watchmen that held my attention. In the early days of me falling in love with Jodi, they were there. We’d argue over which of their first two albums was better. I could pull a lyric from any song and relate it to something about us. Strangely enough, on a couple occasions Danny, the lead singer from the band, would sing a Billy Bragg song as his signature a cappella song during their concerts.

In 2011 I decided I would do something special for my anniversary. I took some singing lessons and got a band together, with Jay on guitar, and I surprised her with an a cappella Billy Bragg song (sadly, not a romantic one but the one Danny sang at his shows) and a rendition of The Watchmen song, All Uncovered, the chords and lyrics for which were really hard to come by. Enter in Facebook and the super talented and one hell of a nice guy bassist for The Watchmen and solo artist, Ken Tizzard. I sent Ken a message asking for help with the song and he sent me back, within a couple hours I might add, some photos of their songbook that was no longer in print. It was an awesome gesture and was the reason the performance went off without a hitch (or well enough, all things considered).

While this was going on I was working on my writing and meeting a lot of really cool creative types on the internet. One of them was this fellow by the name of Alex Kimmell. He writes creepy, mind-bending horror now but he used to be a musician until MS decided to send him a swift kick to the nards and take that away. Back in the day, he was a drummer for this grunge outfit Out Vile Jelly.  Korn opened for them at one point. It was then, through a connection at a record label that he was introduced and got into the music of The Watchmen. Alas, when I met him the MS prohibited extended travel and they weren’t touring anymore, only playing gigs in Toronto and occasional other Canadian cities. That’s when I got the idea that whenever I would go to a show, I would record his favourite Watchmen song for him so he’d get to experience the experience a little bit.

In the middle of all of that, like a gut punch from out of nowhere, we lost Riaz. It was sudden, it hurt like a sonofabitch, and it left a big hole. In the intro to my video tribute to him, there was Watchmen playing in the background. Hearing their music would never be the same. Every song would be bittersweet and carry a deeper meaning than I ever thought possible (more on Riaz in this blog post).

You might be thinking that this is all fine and dandy but what does it have to do with my opening paragraph? Well, that’s where Friday night comes in. All of what I just described (though it happened in much greater detail in real life) came together to give me the greatest concert experience I will likely ever have.

It actually started Thursday night when I got the last-minute idea to message Ken once again asking for a favour. I thought it would be cool if, before they played Alex’s favourite song, they tossed out a dedication to him. So, I asked. Ken got back to me in rapid fashion again and had some bad news. They were swapping out that song for something else for this show. He did say he’d discuss it with the guys though. I thanked him for even considering it and wished them a good show.

Friday comes and Tam agrees to drive into the city and we arrive at the venue ten minutes before the opener hits the stage. Because we’re old we got seats up in the balcony this time and were able to sit down for the show. It felt weird at first, having never seen the band from a chair before, but my aching bones would thank me later. The opening act? A fella by the name of Ron Hawkins. No, not the one from Arkansas currently in the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Someone better. The Ron Hawkins who happens to play guitar and sing for the Lowest of the Low.

Ron opened the night with a close-to-45-minute set that included some solo stuff, some Lowest of the Low, some Rusty Nails, and a few snippets of some cover tunes just for shits and giggles. He even brought the LotL guitarist, Steve, on stage to do a couple of their classic tunes. It was a lot of fun, and the place was already close to capacity. The mood was set for more good times, and oh boy, were they delivered – in spades.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOcSOB2JiYk]

Due to curfew rules for the venue, The Watchmen came on at 9:02. Early by concert standards but to come on stage so soon after such a good opener turned out to be a great idea. Everyone was excited and feeling good, including the band, and from the very first chord, it showed.

Now, because I wasn’t sure if they’d play Alex’s song or not, at the end of each song I’d get my phone ready to record. It wasn’t a big deal because I was sitting down. I just put my phone in my lap with my camera app open and clapped and cheered like everyone else while we waited for the next tune. Then, the band did something different. The bassist grabbed an acoustic guitar and the drummer grabbed some bongos. Sensing something special coming I started recording, and Danny gave a little intro and they kicked into a cover of a Tragically Hip song. It was emotional as hell.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPjAT_CUwSQ]

For those who don’t know, The Hip (as they are affectionately known) lost their lead singer, Gord Downie, a couple years ago (about a year after I lost Riaz). The nation mourned (I wrote about that, too), but Friday night when The Watchmen played one of their tunes, it was a celebration. I, along with every other person in the joint, was close to tears, but it was a celebration and a damn fine tribute.

Then, the band played my favourite Watchmen tune acoustic-style. It’s the one I learned to play for my anniversary.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itWajwu7F-0]

That was followed up by Danny’s a cappella. It wasn’t Billy Bragg this time, but it sounded like gold. His voice was like butter and while no live performance will ever be executed perfectly, it was perfect.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLdcikOt3h8]

The whole show was fantastic. Every song was tight, the sound was clean, the audience was into it, and the band looked like they were having a blast. Toward the end of the show, they called out Ron to do a song: Billy Bragg’s A New England. It was off the charts fantastic and because I was at-the-ready with my phone I captured it.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afCjkdoyHEY]

I didn’t record every emotional moment I had, though. I started recording one of my favourite songs toward the end of the show but it was too much. It was one of Riaz’s favourite songs as well and he would often quote the opening lyric to me randomly on facebook or via email. As soon as they played it I put the phone down and just sat and watched, and listened, and immersed myself in the moment. Even now, the emotions are overwhelming.

With the show coming to a close and one encore set already done it was clear that I had just experienced something truly special. Then, the guys go and outdo themselves yet again. There was a bit of a discussion on stage amongst the band and then Danny informs us that they’re “calling an audible” and instead of only getting one more song to end the night that we’re going to get two. Camera at the ready, I started recording and then I heard the telltale opening drums of Alex’s favourite song, Say Something.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_4O8pOlSNk]

They played the last song after that, just Danny and the guitarist Joey, and the lights came up. Tam and I looked at each other and agreed that it was probably the best show of theirs we’d ever seen. We bypassed the main stairwell and headed down the side steps that led directly outside. Two paces to the right outside on the sidewalk I see a friend from high school that I interact with regularly on Facebook. I haven’t seen him face-to-face in probably twenty-five years. He hadn’t been at the show. He had been out with friends and was waiting for an Uber. He’s a hell of a guy and a wonderful blogger, and it was the perfect random encounter to cap off the perfect evening, all made possible by a quarter of a century of seemingly random and inconsequential events. Bob Ross would have called them happy little accidents, and after Friday night I’d be inclined to agree.

~ Andrew

The 30-Day Song Challenge – Days 4-10

June 6 – Day 4 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that makes me sad

Ugh. I’m a very emotional guy (hello, Pisces!) and I feel things quite deeply. There are TV commercials that make me cry, retelling the story of my daughter’s successful spinal surgery makes me cry, and yes, when I hear certain songs an overwhelming sense of melancholy comes over me. Some songs are simply sad. Some have sad events associated with them. Others just happened to be playing when I was sad about something completely unrelated. This song, however, always seems to make me sad when I hear it. It’s a song about loss and how you can avoid the pain of it but only at the cost of not experiencing what you loved in the first place.

“Our lives
Are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss
The dance”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpwdwbO1uvM]


June 7 – Day 5 of the  30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of someone

The piss from the cow struck the windshield of the convertible and shot up, hitting Vern square in the face. The fact that he was in the middle of belting out “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at the time made it all the more unbelievable. Nonetheless, it happened, and that cow could not have picked a better target; not because he deserved to get a face full of cow urine, but because of the way Vern handled it. He managed to keep his dad’s blue Miata on the road and he laughed about it afterwards. Heck, he laughed out loud and proud every time he told the story.

That’s the opening paragraph to the short story “Losing Vern”, my first publication and part of the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology. Vern, in this exaggerated and creative non-fiction piece is actually by brother-in-law, Ryan, and the opening paragraph is true. The rest of the story goes on to explain the unfortunate and bizarre events that followed his unexpected and tragic death.


I can’t hear John Denver without thinking about him and I especially can’t hear “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” without breaking out in a smile and shedding a tear at the same time. I miss you, Ryan. We all do.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRuCPS_-_IA]


June 8 – Day 6 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of somewhere

I could probably name a hundred songs that remind me of somewhere. There is one that takes me back to two somewheres and I didn’t even know it had this power until I heard it played by the person I was with where these somewheres were. Thinking back, I suppose it could have been any number of tunes that took me back to those spots but this song is familiar to me and it has always been a favourite of mine, from the first time I heard it in the John Hughes flick The Breakfast Club.

Yup, it’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds and the man playing it is none other than my dearly departed friend, Riaz. Ri played a cover of this tune sometime in 2012, I think, and his friend posted it to YouTube. When I first heard him playing it I was immediately transported back to my first-year university residence in 1993 and Riaz’s basement of the house he shared with some mutual friends in 1994 and 1995. These are places for which my memories are vivid and fond and they involve Riaz with his guitar and me sitting in awe of what he could do with the instrument and me sloppily singing along and undoubtedly fucking up the words to every song he played, including this one, I’m sure.

Whenever I hear the song now, I hear Riaz’s cover and I’m right back in residence in 1993 with a pack of Du Maurier Lights, long blonde bangs, my future wife on one side of me and Riaz on the other, smiling and in love with whatever music he decided to bring to life in that moment.
Don’t worry, Ri, we don’t forget about you.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHds-D9N688]


June 9 – Day 7 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song that reminds me of an event

As with most of these song challenge categories there are quite a few songs for each one that I could pick. A song that reminds me of an event, for me, has dozens upon dozens to choose from. I figure that since I’ve spent ¼ of the first 8 days talking about death that I would take this opportunity to reminisce in the other direction.

It was May 19, 2006, and it was the Friday of the Victoria Day long weekend. Jodi and I had our friends Trevor & Iza and their two kids over for the weekend and Jodi was ten days from her due date. I was working on the other side of the city and a good 45 minute drive from home.

Sometime around 10 am Jodi called me. “I need you to get home now,” she said. I hopped in my car and began the drive home. Fortunately any rush hour traffic had abated and I was able to treat the speed limit as more of a guideline. As I came within 5 minutes of my house the song “The Adventure” by Angels and Airwaves came on the radio. 

The chorus starts like this: “Hey oh, here I am, and here we go, life’s waiting to begin.”

Indeed it was.

I drove my wife to the hospital where I got the paperwork done around 11:30 am. Less than fifteen minutes later our second child was born, all ten pounds nine ounces of him. We were home by 2:30 pm (and that was only because I installed the car seat wrong and then got stuck behind someone who couldn’t work the paid parking machine). We had pizza for dinner and Trevor and Iza spent the weekend with us and our bouncing baby sumo wrestler of a newborn.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMl8cQjBfqk]


June 10 – Day 8 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I know all the words to

This one is kind of funny because I am TERRIBLE at knowing the words to stuff. I live inside the melody and can tell you how they go for hundreds and hundreds of songs but remembering words has never been my strong suit, which is ironic because I was in a little coffee shop band for a bit and was responsible for, you know, actually singing the words.

So I’m going to take a song out of our repertoire and use that for this category, because I know all the words and enjoy the song 🙂  This also happens to be a song by a band that my “big” sister, Kari, introduced me to way back in the 80’s. She always had good taste in music and even accompanied me to a Rush concert back in the early 90’s. I am pretty sure she was the one girl in the audience.

Anyway, back to the song. Crowded House singing “Better Be Home Soon” (their version, not the Argyle Speedo one).
 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQOlwMKpmvQ]


June 11 – Day 9 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

A song I can dance to

So here’s the thing: I don’t dance. It’s not something I, what’s the word? Do. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. I have danced before, and on every occasion it hasn’t been pretty. It’s barely been observable as actual dancing. My go-to move is The Sprinkler. That pretty much says it all. Oh, I also almost broke a leg trying to “thread the needle”. Look it up on YouTube and imagine a six foot two inch gangling string bean of a white dude trying to pull that one off in front of the TV watching music videos.

All of that said, there is a song that when played I just have to groove to it. It’s the beat that I love and I can’t stop my toes from tapping whenever I hear it. The original, with its rapey lyrics, pisses me off to no end and I feel super guilty about “grooving to it” so I am glad “Weird Al” Yankovic did a parody with a  set of lyrics that speaks to me and denizens of my friends.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc]


June 12 – Day 10 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that makes me fall asleep

When I was in university I used to put on music before bed to help me fall asleep. University residence was very loud and I’ve never been the best sleeper and sometimes when you close your eyes and relax a little Pink Floyd is just what the moment calls for. When I started sharing a bed regularly with Jodi, whether it was in one of our apartments or in our bedroom when we first moved in together, we would always have music on to go to bed. There was LOTS of Sarah McLachlan and Counting Crows. So much Counting Crows. It was a lot of Counting Crows. I don’t think I can understate how much Counting Crows we listened to.

When it was just me in bed though, I would often look to something a little more instrumental, a little more transcendental, and a little less Counting Crowsy. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D was always a good one, as was anything from Orbital or the aforementioned Pink Floyd, but one of the first albums I used to listen to at bedtime was the Jurassic Park soundtrack. I’m sure I would still fall asleep in an instant if I lay down and listened to it today.

Here’s the Piano Guys playing the title track originally written by John Williams.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pvci1hwAx8]

~ Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sound of Music – My Top Five Albums Of All Time. 

Think of this as a “deserted island” list of albums I’d want to have with me if I were stranded and these were the only albums I had on my iPod at the time (assume a solar charger and necessary waterproofing).

As a reminder, I present my main decision-making criteria:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (how does listening to it make me feel?)

In no particular order thus far we have:

Today we will add a fourth album to the list:

Source: Wikipedia

Released 1973
Track Listing:

  1. “Speak to Me” – (Intro-Instrumental)
  2. Breathe” (8/10)
  3. “On the Run” (Instrumental, 8/10)
  4. “Time” (8/10)
  5. “The Great Gig in the Sky” (“Instrumental”, 9/10)
  6. “Money” (8/10)
  7. “Us and Them” (8/10)
  8. “Any Colour You Like” (Instrumental, 8/10)
  9. “Brain Damage” (9/10)
  10. “Eclipse” (9/10)

While the sixties were a time of peace, love, music, and marijuana (and acid, and whatever else those crazy kids could get their hands on). If they were giving out awards for whose fans were the highest it’s no secret that Pink Floyd was likely the first band to hold the title across the Atlantic. With the Grateful Dead having formed around the same time they were leading the way by a country mile in the United States.

The only track I’ll skip on this album is the opening instrumental intro. Quite frankly, the composition is nothing short of perfection. Opening with a psychedelic instrumental reminiscent of something Monty Python would have written, the album sets the tone with “Breathe” and then moves seamlessly into an instrumental that finishes with a resounding “boom” before we get a jolt of surprise with the sounding of dozens of alarm clocks in “Time”, one of many instances where Floyd makes use of samples to augment their musical stylings. “The Great Gig in the Sky” was the first song where I noticed and really began to understand that a person’s voice was an instrument. The woman singing on this track doesn’t use a single word from the dictionary as she winds her voice up and down with “ooooohhhhhhh” and “ahhhhhhhhh” and “ooooooooooo” and it’s positively hypnotic. “Money” brings more distinctive sound bites and “Us and Them” sits in a natural spot as track seven, leading into another instrumental. The final two tracks, especially when played back to back without interruption, might be the greatest ending of all the albums in my library.

This album cover is probably one of the most iconic pieces of musical artwork ever created. Every kid who has heard of this album has tried to recreate this effect the first time they got their hands on a prism in science class.

For years growing up in Thornhill, I would drive past the “Becker’s” convenience store on Aileen Road and there was this big green electrical box with the Dark Side of the Moon album cover spray painted in white on the side. The box has long since been replaced and is now obscured by a collection of overgrown trees but thanks to the fine folks at Google Maps and Microsoft Paint I’ve been able to recreate the image forever burned into my memory (that graffiti stayed on the side of that electrical box for years):

Aileen Road Electrical Box with Modified Graffiti Courtesy of Andrew


In 1994, I was fortunate enough to see Pink Floyd play at Exhibition Place with a lifelong friend, Jon, as well as a newly formed friend, Riaz (and a bunch of his buddies). As part of their Division Bell tour, Floyd played the entire Dark Side of the Moon album and to this day that remains one of my most memorable live concert performances. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OR-iZXNjlSo]


How does hearing this album make me feel? Nostalgic, calm, peaceful, relaxed, poetic, introspective, and blissful. Which, I suspect, is just what Pink Floyd was going for. 

Hey, since you’ve read this far if you’re looking to learn how to play guitar like one of the greats, I came across this website that gives you some free tips and tricks. They happen to have a section on none other than David Gilmour. Check it out over at Beginner Guitar HQ.

~ Andrew


Coming Soon: 
The fifth addition to round out the list and then a post where I put them in order, explain why, and list a bunch of honourable mentions.

The Sound of Music – Part 3

My wife has got a wide range of musical tastes and only occasionally will I hear something playing in her car that I don’t enjoy. Certainly, without her extensive pallat of auditory awesomeness  I would not have been exposed to this song by the Magnetic Fields:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf_l3EGQvL8]

Or this cover of a Magnetic Fields song – and one of my favourite covers of all time – by The Airborne Toxic Event (whom we also saw play live in Toronto a few years ago):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQUZBi-P6Jw]

Or even this:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeTPNjPiyJM]

So, whenever she and I enter into a discussion about which album from a band is better than one of their others, it’s common for me to disagree and then after some listening, acquiesce to my wife’s better judgement. Case and point, The Tragically Hip’s Up To Here versus Road Apples. I was always on the side of Up To Here and her on the side of Road Apples, but after a couple listens in the car on the way to work I have flipped sides.

Such is not the case for The Watchmen and their first two albums. McLaren Furnace Room is their first album and is Jodi’s favourite from the band and for a long time I was in agreement with her on it. It’s a killer album and to this day I’m left to wonder why it didn’t vault the band into more rarified air. However, after many, many, many listens of McLaren and their second album, In The Trees, I’ve changed my tune.

Welcome to the third installment of the Sound of Music – My Top Five Albums Of All Time:

In The Trees by The Watchmen

Released 1994

Track Listing:
  1. “34 Dead St.” (9/10)
  2. “Boneyard Tree” (8/10)
  3. “Lusitana” (9/10)
  4. “Wiser” (9/10)
  5. “Calm” (9/10)
  6. “All Uncovered” (10/10)
  7. “In My Mind” (9/10)
  8. “Laugher” (8/10)
  9. “The South” (8/10)
  10. “Born Afire” (8/10)
  11. “Vovo Diva” (7/10)
  12. “Middle East” (9/10)
As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Looking at my album evaluation criteria seeing this album in my top five shouldn’t come as a surprise. I might occasionally skip over Boneyard Tree and Vovo Diva but even as my least favourite songs on the album I’ll find myself singing along. When listened to end-to-end I find the arrangement of the album to be just about perfect, from the first chords of the hard and heavy 34 Dead St. to the perfect solo bass note played by Ken Tizzard that echoes in your head to end the album, In The Trees, takes me on a journey I never want to end. 

The memories invoked when I hear any song off this album vary, but all begin in first-year university, where in 1993 my friend Riaz introduced me to the band. Naturally, I have oodles and oodles of memories ranging from listening in Riaz’s room to seeing the band play at various clubs and bars around town. Probably the best one, though, is the time Riaz drove me into Toronto to go see them play at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

Legen… wait for it… dary.

If you’ve never been to The Horseshoe, you’re truly missing out on a piece of Toronto history. Renowned for being a bit of a dive, it has been home to some of the most amazing musical talents ever known and their walls are adorned with posters, news articles and ticket stubs from all the acts.

The stage at The Horseshoe all decked out for their 60th-anniversary celebrations

This one particular night Ri and I were there early, he liked to make sure he had a spot right up front by the guitarist, Joey Serlin, but after enjoying a few beverages waiting for the show to start we found ourself in need of relieving ourselves. Downstairs to the basement washroom we went. Now if you’ve never been to The Horseshoe you’re missing out, but if you’ve never been to the men’s room at The Horseshoe you’re not missing a thing.

Washroom wall wisdom Probably the nicest part of the washroom

We walked into the john and who would we find zipping up just as we were heading in? Danny. Thinking the pisser wasn’t the best place to drum up a conversation we did our business and then wandered out into the hallway, peering into a stairwell on the off chance we could sneak up backstage. Danny was sitting in the stairwell having a smoke. A smoke! (Sorry if I’m exposing a dark secret, Danny). Riaz asked if it was cool if we joined him for a cig, and he said he didn’t mind, so we spent the next cigarette’s worth of time shooting the shit and just enjoying a subdued moment. Three guys having a smoke in a stairwell.

The stairwell. No Danny this time. 

Butting out and stomping on what remained of his Du Maurier, Danny said, “Sorry guys but I gotta get into the moment here before I head out.” Riaz and I nodded and thanked him for the chat and wished him a good show. “Thanks guys. Nice meeting you,” he said as Ri and I headed back upstairs to a now packed floor with a couple hundred folks unaware that we had just had the coolest and most surreal experience of our brief music-loving lives.

The emotional impact of this album is probably stronger than any other. I met my wife sitting in Riaz’s room back in 1993 and even took voice lessons and put a band together to play a Watchmen tune for her for our anniversary a few years ago. I feel so much joy when I hear one of their songs on my iPod (which is often because I have a TON of WM music). On the other end of the spectum, Riaz introduced me to both my wife and The Watchmen’s music and he’s gone now, so hearing many of their songs, even the happy ones, makes me sad. If you listen carefully you can hear In My Mind playing in the background at the beginning of my memorial speech and reading.

So there you have it, the third (in no particular order, yet) of my Top Five Albums of All Time along with some of the reasons why. A dozen great tracks invoking myriad emotions and half a lifetime of memories.

You can find The Watchmen music for sale on iTunes here along with some live show downloads here and some FREE tracks / shows for download here.

~ Andrew

Beneath the Willow Trees and Beside the Hill



Update: 
October 24, 2015

I am unable to attend the memorial for Riaz out in B.C. (if you knew him, please sign the guest book), so I decided to go back to the spot that inspired the poem and do a reading of it. Afterwards, I nailed the poem along with a picture of Riaz and a quote to the tree, then recorded a little introduction.

“The fields are green and through blue skies I soar.” – The Watchmen

You can take a look here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ujVkZdxs4w]


Update: 
September 22, 2015

I woke up this morning to find out that the friend for whom this poem was written had passed away. I’m in shock. I hadn’t emailed him in a while, but the last contact I had came in the form of a short note asking him if he was doing okay. He didn’t reply. The world has lost part of its soul and music will never sound the same. Riaz, I hope you have found peace. Namaste.


I wrote this sometime in the late months of 1994 or the early months of 1995, I’m not quite sure.  I know it was really cold.  It’s about a series of times, moments, and memories back in first year University (1993-1994) that I spent with a good friend.

I would just like to say for the record that this has been re-written at least a dozen times, and before publishing this post it was edited again.  The only time I thought it didn’t completely suck was in the 15 minutes immediately following the original draft.


Beneath The Willow Trees

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill where two friends go to light a fire and escape the day, if only for a minute. To forget about why and not think twice about standing by the lake and watching the sun set at noon.

Beneath the willow trees and beside the hill mysterious clouds blow in the wind upstream from strangers oblivious to everyone and everything. The clouds fade to become insignificant wisps just as the sounds of nature break the silence to reveal a world which is not ours and never has been.
The ducks on the lake swim near but don’t give us the time of day, because in this world beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, time is overpowered by life, and the clock of life does not keep track of such things as hollow measures of time.

One solitary event may capture your heart in an instant, yet the time with which it passes goes unnoticed forever. Strangers in a not-so-foreign land, beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, contemplate the beauty and essence of the imagination, only to find it is time to rekindle the fire so they can wander through the darkness while the sun is still shining.

Prisoners behind walls of freedom laugh and cry but little do they know there is more to life than those walls have to offer. To be at one with your existence, you must do more than just live. You must inhale life and let it fill your lungs with the beauty that surrounds you beneath the willow trees and beside the hill.

There’s a place beneath the willow trees and beside the hill, where two friends once debated the meaning of life and the meaning of friendship, but ended up rediscovering the illusion of happiness. For them time stood still and reality was forgotten, until they extinguished the fire, closed their eyes and walked away in silence as the moon shone brightly at the crack of dawn.

Miss You, Miss You

As you may have seen in my last post (re-post, actually) I recently lost a friend. He was probably the second or third guy I met when I arrived at the University of Waterloo and it was in his dorm room on North A in Village 2 that my wife and I were first properly introduced. That was pretty darn close to 22 years ago to the day that a heart attack took him from this world for whatever is beyond.

Riaz, our daughter, and me. Breakfast at a diner in Toronto – 2005(?)

Obviously, this came as a total shock to my wife and I and everyone who knew him. I’m still kind of dumbfounded and in a daze over it. Someone I’ve known since first or second grade sent me a message of condolence and asked me to tell her a story about him. One, she said, that would make me smile. So, I did, and it made me feel a little less depressed about his passing and a little more focused on the good times we had together – and there were quite a few. I shared the story with his brother and a few coworkers, and in one of my writers’ groups, and every time I did I managed a smile instead of a tear.

So now I’m sharing it with you.

***

Riaz and I spent a lot of time together in our first year of university. We were both a couple of physics geeks with impeccable musical taste (the principal difference being he could actually play and I even suck at air guitar). Now, just a few minutes from our dorm was the upper year dorm, Village 1, and within it a glorious variety store / food place called “The Village Grill”. Staffed by upper year kids it was the go-to place for starving students and guys like Riaz and I looking for a snack. There was this one girl that worked there that Riaz was in love with. All I remember is that she was ridiculously cute and Ri was infatuated with her. I swear he burned through more of his meal plan at The Grill over everywhere else combined just because she worked there.

Riaz (center) jamming with Scott (right) and some other dude, 1993.
A rare shot without his “P-Man” sweatshirt on. His Canucks jersey was a close second 

One snowy night Riaz and I finished our homework (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and a bunch of us were going cafeteria tray sledding at the hill across the road. It was then (after we finished our homework), that I got this brilliant idea to saw a cafeteria tray in half and crazy glue the pieces to the bottom of my boots. After tray-boggoning, or tray-skiing in my case, the plan was to have Riaz pull me around the parking lot as I held on to the back bumper of his car (genius, I know).

Right about when we were all ready to go we got a hankering for some chips and we decided to head to The Grill to take care of the craving. The only problem was I had these damn pieces of fibreglass stuck to my feet. Screw it, we wanted chips, nay, we needed chips. So, off we went. We had no coats, no hats, and no gloves. We were just two guys in blue jeans and flannel shirts (this was 1993 after all) walking to the store to get some food – one of them with two halves of a lunch tray glued to his boots.

Everything was fine until I slipped off the path.

It wasn’t a big slope, but when all you’ve got is the smooth underside of a tray to walk on, any slope at all sends you in a downward direction. I slid off the path and down a small hill. No word of a lie it was only 12 feet down and had a maximum grade of about 5 degrees. Still, down I went. I tried to walk “herringbone” style up the hill but could not.

I was trapped.

Meanwhile, Riaz was giggling uncontrollably at the top of this “hill”. After letting me flounder for a few minutes while he regained his composure, he came down to give me a hand. The only problem was he couldn’t get me up the hill either. Being the physics geniuses that we were we tried quite a few things with the successful approach being I would lie on my side and he would roll me uphill like a log. To this day, I have no explanation as to why I didn’t just get on my hands and knees and crawl up the stupid hill. For certain, at the time the idea never crossed either of our minds. What should have been a 4 or 5-minute stroll ended up taking around half an hour.

We get to The Grill and we’re laughing so hard tears are running down our cheeks and freezing in the cold air. My hair (I used to have long floppy bangs) was frozen up in this crazy spike, we were soaked head to toe from all the rolling around in the snow, our eyes were red and swollen from all the laugh-crying, and I still had two halves of a cafeteria tray crazy glued to my boots.

Party in Riaz’s Room – 1993 (that’s me on top)

We opened the door and the only person in the place is the cute girl behind the counter. We just stood there scratching our heads and staring at our feet while she took a good long look at us. After a few seconds, we look up and she’s shaking her head. “Chips are over there,” she said pointing to a rack in the corner. Then, she turned around to pretend to clean something. I could see her shoulders bobbing up and down as she laughed into her dish towel. We stepped up to the counter to pay and she’s still stifling laughter. “Have a nice night, boys,” she said as we exited the store. I can still hear her laughter as the door shut.

Riaz in one of his pensive moments, 1993

After a minute, Riaz looks to me and, with his face full of Cool Ranch Doritos says, “Well, shit. What do you think my chances are now?” Without hesitation I replied, “Pretty bad, man, but I have a feeling they are way better than mine.” Riaz just nodded and we both started to laugh uncontrollably for the second time in half an hour. We walked back to our dorm without speaking, but the laughter didn’t stop for several hours.

Epilogue:
Tray-skiing was a complete failure. I spent an hour falling down a hill for real and never managed so much as one decent run. Cafeteria tray parking lot bumper hitching, on the other hand, was an incredible success (except for having to saw off a layer of my boot soles to get the cafeteria trays off).

Rest in peace, brother.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIhw267pU4Y]
http://riaz.ca/musicvideo.html

Me, Sven, and Riaz at a Kegger he threw back in 1994

Riaz completely done-in at EdgeFest, 1996