Heyden Inn

Sep 14

 I was asked to perform at the Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, Ontario. Someone from BC told me great things about The Trout Forest Music Festival in Ear Falls, and that I should do it because it is great and because it must be close to my home since I live in Ontario. I wanted to do lots of close-to-home shows this summer so this seemed to fit my plans perfectly. Had I actually looked at a map, and had I actually considered the breadth and girth of this Europe-sized province, I might have reconsidered. Though, I have an aversion to thinking deeply and carefully about logistics so I probably wouldn’t have reconsidered. Due to my particular neurology, neither map-looking nor decision-thinking are things I am likely to do, and if you catch me doing either of these things, please reinforce the behaviour with positive attention or sweets. Ear Falls is a 22 hour drive from Hamilton. When I noticed this, it was too late to snag a cheap flight, and even if I had snagged a cheap flight, the nearest airport is at least a five hour drive from the festival. I opted to drive straight from home for a grueling multi-day road trip. 


These long runs have never kill me much. They always kill me a little, but not much, and they also make me less dead in some incredible ways — or they make me generally more birthed. Same thing. I kick into a fast-forward survival mode on the long drives. The hours pass in a haze of prog records and AM radio rock, off-copyright audio books and self-help podcasts. I eat little. I sleep less. The highway 17 runs the bafflingly long and shockingly beautiful span north of lake superior. Along this stretch there are many opportunities for swim stops, for tent-pitching and for secluded-forest-turn-off-nap-taking. 


The 17 is also pocked with dank and mysterious roadside abominations; there are any number of long-abandoned hotels, half-collapsed houses and derelict industrial spaces. Each ideal for a zero-budget zombie film; each begging to be explored by reckless city kids, bears and wayward grownups — especially those kids, bears and grownups neurologically inclined towards ill-considered decisions. I have developed this bad habit of stopping to photograph such structures — usually gas stations and motels that have been abandoned, overgrown with weeds, windows smashed, graffiti-tagged. I find these buildings enticing and repulsive; they hint at some past utility. They decay until identified by civic grumblings as a hazard — used for nefarious purposes until a portion of roof collapses, injuring or killing. They are bulldozed and buried. Each one, a tantalizing universe of danger and decline, fueling my apocalyptic nightmares. They make a mockery of civilization. They are the real zombies. 


On my way north to the Trout Forest, I stopped at one such abandoned motel — the Heyden Inn, about 20 kilometers beyond Sudbury. I photographed a few of the suites through the smashed, forward facing windows. I walked carefully around back along a trail edged with poison oak. I could see that a rear door was open. Two boards had been lain over a gap where the floor had collapsed into the disgusting, litter-strewn basement. It seemed safe enough. I stepped across the creaky, makeshift bridge and into the main hallway. I trod lightly on the scummy, paisley-patterned carpet through the Motel’s main foyer, photographing and catching short video clips. I creeped towards the rooms that I had seen into from the outside. I avoided another section of the main floor that had collapsed into a nonsensical abyss of refuse and splintered wood. After photographing a few of the noxious suites from within, I decided to return to a staircase off of the main lobby in order to explore the second floor. As I approached, I noticed the creaking of the floor and walls; I became aware of my trespassing and of the various risks to my well being. Sections of the second floor loomed low and mouldy above me, threatening to collapse at some point in the coming months or moments. 


It took me two and a half days to finally reach Ear Falls. Trout Fest is a long running, modest but deeply loved yearly gathering of devoted folk music aficionados from around Northen Ontario and Manitoba, as well as many local residents looking for a wholesome good time and good singsong.  It’s known for its musician hospitality, tasty home-cooked meals, keen ears and world-class, largely traditional folk, roots and country music. One certainly doesn’t attend Trout Fest looking for, or expecting anything weird, upsetting or outside of one’s comfort zone.

I arrived in the early afternoon on Friday — the first of the three-day event — and pitched my enormous, brand new, 10-person Canadian tire tent on the artists’ grounds in a spot I gauged to be well-shaded from the morning sun. I bought this ten person tent because it was 70% off. Once erected, I saw it could have easily fit fourteen persons. I don’t have ten, let alone 14 friends, so again, ill-considered decision. For this and all foreseeable festival weekends, the tent will be occupied by a lone, scatterbrained, hasty-decision maker. I made myself as comfortable as I could with some coloured scarves that I bought from a festival vendor. I hung them around my gigantic tent because I had seen nature-type people do that with their oversized tents at the big hippy festivals out west. I opened some gross strawberry wine and eased into the festival experience. 


Trout Forest was absolutely wonderful. But I felt like a stranger, as I always do at these things, partly because I’m secretly an asshole, but mostly because I get a lot of social anxiety. It’s not the convenient sort of social anxiety that forces me to hide from people. Instead, it makes me seek out complex interactions until I do something flamboyant, subtly-aggravating or conversationally disruptive. For a while I can walk a wire-thin line, molding myself to nearly fit such situations — always almost but never quite. On stage I dress hobo stylish; I can play passable renditions of some of Woody Guthrie’s weirder songs and one or two Gordon Lightfoot tunes to endear myself to the folk ‘n roots set, but in time my nefarious motives are inevitably revealed.  My tangential interactions betray me — my confrontational on-stage shenanigans, mercurial musical phrasings and subtle polyrhythms seal the deal: I am a threat. I upset convention. The balloons come out. They burst. Something is burnt, broken or worse. By the end of my show, in spite of my sincerest conviviality, I push the psychological limits of unsuspecting folk crowds with my dank themes and spiritual trickery.

We all leave uncomfortable… but oddly soothed — as if released from shackles we didn’t know had bound us.  We spiritually convulse, ever so slightly, at having our worldview shifted a bit. We can’t speak of what has happened because there aren’t appropriate descriptors. We carry a kind of joyous nausea with us for days — a joy like friendly, swirling, parasites in our solar plexuses — a villainous joy that threatens to taint all of our interactions, everyone and every corner of our lives.


I have to believe that there are some greater purposes to what I do. I said once that when I perform I’m seeking to make a very specific, inexpressible dint in the firmament. When I hit this, sometimes it makes everyone uncomfortable and silent; other times there is blistering, raucous joy. Both are celebrations. When a show goes well and one of these two outcomes occur, waves of pride, contentment and terror wash over me and make me feel like a person again. I like to believe that I’m somehow speaking for those too anxious, too awkward and neurological divergent to be out among the discerning masses. If culture is a mind, I am giving voice to its dreams — the restless, free-associative meanderers who would be shunned or avoided at all costs by the waking, working state. 


Other times I believe I am an abomination — that I am so oblivious to convention that I have constructed a catalogue of song and manner to semi-unintentionally blaspheme all over everyones’ sensitivities and norms — simply out of spite at my not fitting in. I speak no coherent social language, so I rage against ALL social languages, entertaining only myself and the few neurologically kindred in the crowd. My spewing, swaggering verbiage and my honed but childish sense of melody dissolve perfectly functional delusions of normalcy, undermine collective senses of self and shatter communities. I should be quarantined. I have no right to impose my idiosyncrasies on these unsuspecting folksters. I compulsively assault the collective unconscious and corrupt our traditions. I do this to satisfy some inverted narcisism. I bring good, earnest folks out of their comfort zones and set them adrift into a strange, invisible ether of senseless dream associations, destroying their (now more than ever) all-too-necessary illusion of comfortable middle-of-the-road middle classlessness. 


These festivals are different when I am done with them. Festivals should offer a time away from time. Our experiences here should rip us from everything. Our comforts and our cares. These are spaces for conceptual liberation and selfless fluidity of experience. We need this now. To hit the reset button on the zeitgeist so we can find a way forward — a way towards that wide and looming brightness hanging above the midnight water, in an imagined sky. Rising only with your resting mind. It’s not the sun. If it’s the sun, far past warming; if it’s the sun, it’s far past bright. 

On the way home I stopped again at the dilapidated Heyden Motel. A transport truck was parked out front, driver napping in the cab. Something had happened while I was gone. The ground floor had all but entirely collapsed. It was just a spindly skeleton of rotting, intersecting boards now. There was a washer/drier combo — all kinds of trash, shit and piss thrust into the hellish basement, visible through the collapsed sections of the main floor. But the two-by-fours I had crossed before were still bridging the much widened void. No. These were longer and newer boards, but they were reaching out to what seemed a structurally sound path in the middle of the space. This rickety path spanned the foyer and led to the still-intact staircase. Again I entered, photographing the calamity, treading lightly until I reached the stairs. This time I climbed the musty, half-collapsed stairway up to the second floor for a better view; this time I stayed for good.