Okay, so understanding how rubbish I am at a) remembering to get selfies with important people that I happen to meet and b) keeping this blog reasonably updated, let me tell you about the celebrity I met and got a picture taken with this summer.
Yes, I know it is October. This happened in August, and I did have the presence of mind to use the damn phone and get the picture. In my defence, the wifi at Calgary Airport was terrible, and then I was back in Nanaimo with my parents, my brother, my good friends from high school. None of which I’d seen, save for my folks, in eight years. So I was maximising time. (And then I was back home with my family, whom I hadn’t seen in a week and a half. And then, and then…)
Who cares? You want to know the story. That is Bruce Cockburn next to me in the picture. Though I love Colin Linden, I have to confess that Bruce is a much bigger hero of mine, and I think Colin feels the same way, so we’re good. (Linden, for the uninitiated, has been a long-time mando and slide-guitar sideman for Bruce, besides producing many of his more recent records and even sliding the dials for him on tour from time to time.)
I was hovering in the little concrete bunker that Calgary’s state of the art airport reserves for regional hops with WestJet. Mine was to Nanaimo, and the next one over was to Regina. I leaned against a post, watched an adorable puppy make friends with two little kids as well as basically everybody in the vicinity. Then this guy shuffled past with a walking stick and the case for a small stringed instrument over his shoulder. From his profile, I was pretty sure I recognised him, but I thought, with absolutely no authority whatsoever, “Bruce Cockburn doesn’t walk with a cane.” This is a stupid thought: the man’s vital, sure, but he’s still ageing. And I’ve never really seen him walk anywhere besides back and forth on the stage to change guitars. So how would I know?
So, the cane? Probably no. Plus, there are billions of people on the planet, so the likelihood is it’s not Bruce Cockburn walking past my gate to another flight. But the profile, the instrument… What sealed it for me was that he was wearing all black. Just like those Toronto artsy types, right? So I walked over to the next gate and saw him sitting down and knew right away it was indeed Bruce Cockburn.
All the same, I very politely asked him, and when he said yes, I didn’t swear like I did for Colin Linden. I didn’t really have a chance, because he stuck out his hand and asked my name. (Sidebar: Canadians rock.)
I really pushed the boat out and commented how appropriate it was to see him at this particular gate, then sang, “I went to Regina, Red Sister…”
He chuckled a little and said, “Yes, and here I am again.” I asked why, and he said he was on his way to the Regina Folk Festival. Fantastic. He asked if I was going the same way, so I told him I was actually waiting for the Nanaimo flight to see my parents, and that I’d been living in Cardiff for a few years. He said he’ll be touring this way in the autumn – not Cardiff, unfortunately, though he listed a few other cities (London, sadly, seems the closest.) Edinburgh was among them, so I told him how my wife and I saw him there at the Queen’s Hall a few years ago – an immaculate gig in an intimate spot with cabaret seating.
I didn’t really want to take a bunch of his time. He’s waiting on a plane, and as I mumbled about not taking much of his time, he gestured that he should catch up on a few emails before boarding. (With Calgary Airport wifi? Good luck, Bruce!) But I asked if I could get a picture, and as you can see, he was happy to oblige. Pushing the boat out one last time, I asked whether it was a uke or a mando he had with him.
“Neither,” he said. “It’s a charango.”
And because I didn’t want to lose my cool, I didn’t tell him how I had a friend back during my undergrad at Carleton who had a housemate who had spent some time in Central America and had a charango on the wall and let me play it during a party just before we broke up for Christmas and how it had such a heavy headstock for a little instrument and it was wild that it was five doubled strings and I got the tuning, then later went home and put my guitar in the same tuning as the charango (doubling the bass note on the two bottom strings) and noodled around and tried the shapes for chords from a Pearl Jam song I was grooving on at the time and ended up with something really rather pretty which I then wrote some simple lyrics to, and a friend helped me figure out how to play it in standard tuning and it became a mainstay of shows and even landed on my first CD which I arranged string parts for, imagining the song with a quartet feel with violin, cello, guitar, and voice and it’s one I’m most proud of and you can hear it here on my Soundcloud.
Instead, I said, “Excellent!” and thanked him and returned to my gate.