Gordon Pinsent’s got hastily-scrawled lyrics on bits of paper stuffed in drawers; poems scribbled on crumpled napkins shoved in boxes here and there and forgotten about.
The best part of life is the stuff you have to go and dig out, he says.
When Travis Good of The Sadies came calling, Pinsent wasn’t shy about digging out some of his writings — leading him on a new career twist he says wasn’t at all expected.
It was during the filming of producer Barbara Doran’s documentary “Gordon Pinsent: Still Rowdy After All These Years” that cinematographer Mike Bolland caught Pinsent launch into a lyric he had written called “She’s Gone Again.”
It was no big deal, Pinsent insists, just something he sometimes does, but Bolland was interested.
“He said, ‘Have you ever done anything with that?’ and I said no, not really, I just throw them in a box from time to time,” Pinsent, 81, explains. “He brought over Travis Good and I gave him one of these and then I gave him another and we sat there and we drank a lot of beer. Before he left, he had eight of them that I sort of rounded up from somewhere.”
Good shared Pinsent’s lyrics with friend Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, and the pair turned the writings into songs.
“The first one I looked at, it just sort of wrote itself,” Keelor explains. “He’s got such a good sense of beat, and within an hour we had our first song. His first song had a grittiness to it that I wouldn’t have expected from Gordon Pinsent. It’s called ‘Night Light’ and it’s sort of an urban song. This one was very Toronto-centric and I sort of understood it very well. I think it’s an older poem for him, and it’s a poem dealing with him first coming to Toronto and hanging out with the sort of hipster crowd in Toronto at the time.”
Keelor and Good brought their compositions back to Pinsent, who says he “jumped up and down” with excitement over them, and gave the musicians a few more poems — 11 in total.
The resulting songs make up “Down and Out in Upalong,” a collaborative album by the trio, recorded in Keelor’s home studio with Keelor and Good performing the music and Pinsent reciting. The original plan was to get Pinsent in to read a couple of the poems to be added on the record as bonus tracks; his recitations were so enthralling, however, that he was made an equal part of the album. The first half of the record is music; the second half is Pinsent performing spoken word.
Pinsent’s content is varied: there are lyrics devoted to Newfoundland, telling stories of friends and adventure, and of love.
I hear her through the morning
Riding waves of music’s ocean
Breakfasting with my emotion
Mindful of the tune she plays
Upon my heart, into my day
To swell my world, to cool my way
To teach love’s majesty again
Make distant all existing harm
I praise the miracle of Charm.
“Charm” is Charmion King, Pinsent’s wife of 44 years, who passed away in 2007.
“There’s a great one that I love called ‘Seagrass’— it’s a dead fisherman singing to his wife, Clara. He’s sitting on the bottom of the ocean, singing to his beloved. I love that song,” says Keelor. “Then there’s the song called ‘Peter Easton,’ the last of the North American pirates.
“‘Easy Ridge’ is about (Pinsent), Marlon Brando and Wally Cox going for a hike in the canyons around Hollywood. He’s got this great story about him and Wally and Marlon and he had a sort of ongoing relationship with Marlon. They were buddies. It’s quite a trio.”
Pinsent, Keelor and Good have been doing a smattering of live shows to accompany the record, and will perform together at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre June 25.
Pinsent — who has seen a sort of career resurgence in the past few years, appearing in the film “Away From Her” as well as on TV series such as CBC’s “Republic of Doyle,” and who has an autobiography coming out in the fall — says he’s treating “Down and Out in Upalong” as a kind of novelty, for now. Neither he nor Keelor nor Good has any idea where it will all lead, he says.
“For me, it’s always been, ‘What’s next? Where am I taking this?’” Pinsent told The Telegram. “Especially at this time of life now, I’m looking for material and looking to be in things that are a little different than other things that I’ve done. I’ve always treated it like the best ideas can happen tomorrow. It’s important to think that way, and I see nothing wrong with it.”
Record or not, Pinsent has absolutely no intention of retiring. Ever.
“I’ve always thought that if, in fact, there are better things, and things out there to create, why stop? I’m very keen on that,” he explains. “I’ve been quite often asked my favourite thing, and I have honestly said what’s been said by many people — my next thing is my most favourite thing. If I see something start to light up, then I’ll be there.”
Pinsent says he’s game for doing a followup record with Keelor and Good, if all goes well.
Keelor’s up for it, too.
“If Christopher Plummer doesn’t get to us first,” he says, laughing.
Tickets for Pinsent, Keelor and Good’s “Down and Out in Upalong” show in St. John’s are $35 (including tax and surcharge) and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900 or online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.