With everything else you’ve accomplished, I see you’re also a practicing guitarist. I myself dabble in the craft, but I’m moreso interested in digging deep and finding out what other guitarists and other musicians are up to. And that’s why I’m excited to follow around indie rock supergroup Secret Connection, on the cusp of releasing their debut full-length Goo Log, who invited me to join them as they embark on their first cross-Canada tour. The band is enjoying moderate success in their hometown, but it is obviously a small pond, and they have bigger fish to fry. Their frontman Rajiv, the former Oh No Forest Fires and future Wolfgang Bang songwriter, has changed his name to Ray Thava in order to appeal to his hipper Canadian fans. Ray, who is also in charge of yelling at the sound guy along with crowd banter, has recently received a medical degree, as one might expect from the son of two people whose dreams were dreamed by a thousand sparrows. On bass is Hal-9000 creator and physics enthusiast, SP Callahan, who has clearly broken out of his robotic shell last seen with his former group, Halo. Keyboardist Robbie Brett is perhaps best known for his love of exotic nachos, but there is much more to the handsome Tom Green. Rounding out the group are lead guitarist Allan Byrne, son of David and brother of Brian, and drummist Chris Donnelly, who hits the sticks against the things fairly hard.
I meet the band in Victoria in Squish Squish Bolumbia, on the Friday after last Friday. The first show of the eastbound tour is at The Black Forest, a dual functioning music venue and ham emporium. While unloading and meticulously arranging their gear on the stage, Allan is the first to notice that the stool behind the keyboard remained empty. After a series of frantic phone calls, it is discovered that Robbie had missed his connecting flight out of Vinnipeg and has decided to quit music altogether in order to anchor his focus on the creation of a pasta-based statue of a dove cannibalizing a pygmy goat. The other members unite and agree they don’t really like the sound that a keyboard makes anyway, and so they persevere. However, SP seems unaware that a bass is played with more than two strings, and I am curious how detrimental this will be to the sound the band may be looking for. At long last, they play to a crowd of fourteen people, a number that includes themselves and a man who is either dead or approaching that state in the back corner of the bar, and nobody in attendance appears to enjoy any of the songs. They are clearly off to a slow start, and tensions begin to run high almost immediately after the questionable second encore. Allan is upset that Ray did so little in promoting the show, while Ray is upset that Allan is annoying him during his attempt at seducing a homely female who was not yet born at the 1995 release date of “Billy Madison”. Fortunately, SP changes his name to Pop Corn and begins to weep, allowing his band mates see the destruction their turmoil is causing. They proceed by hugging each other and venturing forth, putting this city behind them and the future where it always is.
We become lost on the highway between Squam7sh and Vancouver when it’s discovered that Chris, this leg’s driver, had eaten a few staples to prove that they were also candy, something he thought he saw on the Discovery Channel but in reality did not see on the Discovery Channel or anywhere else. His stomach upset, he fails to notice the turnoff for the Couver and, partially due to the frozen ice between continents, we end up in Leningrad, USSR, in the November of 1989. The band decides to play a concert to honour the destruction of the Berlin Wall, but a pygmy incarnation of Karl Marx is chosen as their sound guy, and he persuades our heroes to instead play a benefit for what they believe to be surfing. Their opening ballad “Baby Lizard” unites the torn nation, as the show is streamed throughout the land, but as many of the non-sensical lyrics are deciphered by the audience, eleven new countries announce independence simultaneously.
The figurative snow melted, and the literal hats taken off, we head back east, to present-day Calgary, Alberta. As we cross the imagined line that divides the feuding black and grizzly bears, I silently observe that everyone is both inhaling and exhaling at a normal rate. Pop, who has been quiet other than the incessant tapping on his phone for the last six hours, finally utters, and his words speak volumes. “Guys, I’m done.” The eloquence and elaboration weren’t there, but we all knew what he meant: he was suffering from a neurological disorder that led him to believe his last name was Dunne, and it wouldn’t be long before he forgot the rest of his name as well as those of the entire Toronto Blue Jays 1992 championship line-up. We all knew it was a possibility, but nobody could have imagined his deterioration would be so abrupt.
Pop Corn’s set off a slew of few admissions, as almost immediately Allan and Chris hold hands and announce their recent engagement as well as their decision to leave the group and focus on their barbershop duet. Robbie emerges from the shadows holding a plate of spaghetti and a lifeless, half-eaten bird, smiling maniacally and declaring success in such a manner that made it unclear whether it was the bird or Robbie himself doing the smiling and declaring. And finally, a shadowy figure crawls out from under the back seat and declares that it is Josh Branmuffin, a teenager who had secretly been watching over the group in recent days and who at that moment elected to quit the band without ever first joining. Secret Connection’s demise now becoming a reality, unless a miracle could paradigm shift the prevailing train of thought, we would all soon be going our separate ways.
We pull the van over along the deserted highway, and everyone finds a personal rock on which to ponder his respective future in and out of music. Ray picks up his guitar and breaks the silence with a clumsy rendition of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl”. He sings the classic tune with inspired enthusiasm, unaware that the song was not his own and that it had existed before the supposed eureka moment he was currently experiencing. He states simply, “Guys, folks, this is it. We’re going to be rich. We’ll play for millions, and they’ll scream for this song. It’s our ticket out of here, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the lot of ye. And always remember, as long as we stay away from the sexy late eighties and avoid the brown M&Ms, we’re unstoppable. Friends forever.” He then sticks out his dominant right hand, palm down, hoping for a group consensus concerning what had just transpired.
However, his wish is not fulfilled. He scans his surroundings, and it is at this moment that he becomes aware that he is actually in a darkened room by himself, and that “Secret Connection” has never existed outside of the title of an early episode of William Bickley’s “Family Matters”. Ray’s realization forces him to admit he is lonely and alone, and with nowhere else to turn, he walks to the nearest airport and buys a one-way ticket to the Guatemalan seaside town of Chimaltenango. Before boarding, he is found dead in the bathroom, leaving behind an unfinished cigarette, an unfinished coffee table, and an unfinished dream.
[Editor’s October 15th note: The iSmith Birthdeath Effect™ has claimed another January celebrity. Rip in Peace, Paul.]