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  • Writer's pictureChristian Anderson Smith

Lesson 22- Sometimes, Quitters Win

The Mayor at one of his last gigs. Photo by Renata Klasa

  A person who ended up being quite important to me the artist known as, Feist. I actually don’t know her that well but I have known her for a long time. Since 1994 to be exact. She coincidentally ended up being involved in some really important scenarios and profound decisions in my life. If she ever reads this, I'm sure she will be surprised.

  Our first encounter was at my band, Gorp's tape release. We had a big crowd at the local, all-ages, X-club in Hamilton and we got our two of our favourite local bands, Rainbow Butt Monkeys (who would become Finger Eleven) and Sianspheric to open up. At the last minute we were asked if a band from Calgary called, 'Placebo' (soon changed to Placebo 4) could open for us. The lead singer, Leslie Feist was the niece of local legend and all-around great guy, Junkhouse guitarist, Dan Aitken. We said we'd be happy to add them to the bill.

  The show went well. I smashed a guitar at the end and cut off all my long, blonde hair on stage. Real rock and roll stuff. It was the first album I had ever officially released and we were stoked to feel like stars in our little community.

  Through the years, Leslie and I would run into each other often. Being an awesome guitar player, she played with a lot of bands like Noah's Arkweld and By Divine Right. I seem to remember forgetting my harmonica holder and asking her to come up and hold it for me as I played. It was a bad idea that didn’t work. She also ended up bartending when not on tour, at the Rivoli.  Whenever I played there, which was often, we'd have a friendly chat.

  It was at the Rivoli that I had one of these profound moments that would eventually send me to England. Every Easter weekend it seems you can find a member of nearly every Canadian band playing ice hockey in the Exclaim Cup Hockey Summit. Basically, musicians and their friends come from all over the country to play in a tournament. Canadians, eh? Part of the competition is there is a gig every night, that each team had to perform at. All teams are required to play hockey and a gig. It’s pretty grand. I miss the sport and camaraderie.

  Though I ended up playing for the,  'Chartattack Hack' for my final season, this year, I was playing for the soon-to-be-banned, 'Sonic Unyon Pond Squad'. It was their last year in the tournament. We were kicked out of the league for being goons. (We were from the Hamilton. What do you expect?)

  It was decided that former Smoother-guitarist, Greg Bishop, Tristan Psionic-drummer Tim Poticic and I would perform at the gig. I would play keyboards. Greg and I went back to my place and got some ideas for hockey-based songs together and the three of us would improvise a set. It should be noted that at this point my favourite band was, 'The Dinner Is Ruined' who were known for wild stage show and never played a song the same way twice. For about two years, this was who I was trying to emulate.

  Most of the teams went on stage and did renditions of hockey classics like, 'The Hockey Game' by Stompin' Tom Connors or the theme song from Hockey Night In Canada. When we went on stage and improvised our set and I thought it went really well! There were no breaks between the songs, I did a long tap-dancing solo and it was really psychedelic. I remember one of the songs was called, “Use A Turd For A Hockey Puck." I was really quite pleased with myself until the very end when we stopped and the large crowd kind of clapped, unenthusiastically. The host came up on stage and introduced the next act.

  I normally would have taken this I stride but for some reason this really bothered me and got me down. As I packed my gear I thought, "This crowd is full of people who should be enjoying this. And if they can't understand me, then what am I doing here?”

  I really don’t know what came over me. It was just a perfect storm of feelings and situation that made the gig momentous as it's when I first decided to leave Canada.

  It was also in this moment that I got my only compliment for the night. My old pal, Leslie Feist came up and stated, "Mayor, that was awesome!"

  "Really? Gosh, I felt like nobody got it." I replied.

  "No, I get it, man. Organised-chaos. It was great.” Her compliment meant a lot to me.

  A musician friend of hers, who I really admire then came up, scowled at me in disapproval and suggested they leave. I was lifted and then brought right back down again.

  We would all hear a great deal about Feist in the years to come and unbenounced to her, I really felt a kinship with her. She moved to France and quickly seemed to become a really big deal. She made an amazing second album with Chilly Gonzales and Mocky, became the toast of Paris, collaborated with a bunch of amazing international acts and came home a national hero. There would be no more bartending at the Rivoli for her. I remember listening to her song, ‘Mushaboom’?on headphones for the first time, with it's panned, gated percussion and thinking, “Wow! She really has done something special, here!”

  Her success was one more inspiration for me to get on top of it and move to England. We were the same age and started at the same time and I really thought, if she can do it. Maybe I can too?

  Years later, while making my breakfast in Willesden Green, North London I got a call from my agent, Charlie who told me I would be opening for Feist on the UK dates of her tour. The dates included a night at my favourite, London venue, Sheppherd's Bush Empire. I literally jumped up and down. My flat mate, Carmel came into the room to find out what was going on and when I told her. it must have looked like we had been celebrating the end of a war.

  The Sheppherd's Bush Empire show was the final night I did wth Feist and her amazing band, many of whom I’d known or knew of, back in Canada. It was also the site of the final, profound moment with her in the periphery. It was a sold-out show and a good chunk of it was there when I played. The show went off as well as it possibly could have. The crowd went wild on cue and were quiet when I wanted them to be. It really couldn’t have gone better.  I packed up my gear and went upstairs to much dressing room where I found my entire rider: water, fruit, crisps, premium beer, hummus and whatever else I was asking for back then. That's when the overwhelming sense of loneliness and sorrow struck me.

  There I was in a venue I loved, opening for an artist who inspired me. I got everything I asked for that night and I just wanted someone to turn to and say, "Yeah guys! We did it!"

Not only that but I had really felt like I had achieved something I aimed for. When I suddenly realised that achieving these goals wouldn’t suddenly solve all of my problems, I was genuinely surprised.

   I sat in my room, and got so depressed. I went down to the venue and watched Feist's set. This was right before, ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ was released and itwas obvious that she was going to be a super-star but even that couldn't cheer me up. I was at a moment in my career that I should have been really pleased but I was miserable.

   I had a chat with Leslie after the show and thanked her for what she had done. She was super-gracious. When I told her that she had inspired me to move to England, she smiled and said, "There were people that inspired me to move, too. That's great. I saw your name on the list of potential openers and thought, ‘Mayor McCa? I love that guy!’

  On my way home I was reminded of what a mutual friend of ours, songwriter Hayden said to me when I started performing as a solo act: "Welcome to loneliness."

At the time it seemed really cryptic but that night, I understood what he meant.

  It took me about two years to finally put Mayor McCa to rest, without fanfare. That moment in April wasn't the reason for my retirement but it was then start.

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