An Appreciation of Vancouver's Apollo Ghosts
Personally, it should elicit no embarrassment at all to readily admit to being completely bowled over by - or indeed in love with - the work your friends make, but in this case it's taken me an eternity to even attempt to express the very special feelings elicited by this one very, very special band in Vancouver.
For the past three years I've been listening, dancing, watching and basking in the glorious tuneage that Adrian, Amanda, Jay and now Jarrett collectively generate as Apollo Ghosts. They have been, without a doubt, my favourite band to watch in Vancouver.
This morning, I ported 'Day of Glory' through my headset on my way to the first, cherished coffee of the day. By the time I reached the intersect of 4th and Commercial, my head was discernibly (as it always does) bopping (along with an imaginary crowd), and I defy anyone to resist doing the same by song's end.
I first met and saw the Ghosts at Little Mountain Studios (now Gallery) in the days (how strange to write that!) when it was under E C Salazar's stewardship. I was serving bar and just generally hanging out, as I often did those days. On the calendar was the album release for 'Mount Benson'.
Once in a while you catch something that in your life was hitherto unseen, unheard, maybe-heard-about, but you later remember that act as one of the pivotal turnings in a life. Apollo Ghosts was one of those acts.
|'Mount Benson' release at Little Mountain Gallery. Photo by Steve Louie, I think|
I saw tons of bands, intimate soiree solo acts, noise collectives and such stream through the gracious doors of Little Mountain. That night, the crowd was jammed to the rafters, sweaty, jubilant, ignited, and very much rocking. Short, sometimes staccato-length songs enticed smiles and hips to swing, and a constantly revolving row of bodies (both audience and band) to crowdsurf. Shirts came off, sweat poured...it was, in short, a glorious night (pictures of that unforgettable event, care of Steve Louie, here)...the first time I saw Chris-a-riffic, shook hands with Adrian, and maybe even smiled at Amanda (Cassidy, but also maybe Panda too). I carried the tunes in my head all the bike ride home, and also some unknown future friendships on the way.
A couple of months later, I found myself on the steps of the Mansion to see Adrian play a solo set, fundraising for Jeff Johnson so he could record his next OK Vancouver OK record.
I bought Mount Benson on vinyl, and it became the soundtrack of that summer for not just myself, but a number of friends and people in my orbit.
That record really resonated with me. That year, my dad had just died, in January, a slow and difficult death from pneumonia, after complications stemming from an affliction (Parkinson's Disease) he had borne for fifteen years. My mom, my family, my self, were all reeling from the loss. I'd gone through a major depression, following several years (since relocating to Vancouver from Montreal) that were - in short - difficult, heart-breaking and painful.
Once in a while, you find and spend time with songs that will forever stand as a record of your experience. Some of these songs connect back to another place in time, and some of them pin you specifically to that very moment of first listen.
That 'function' of song - as the signpost of a lived (or still living) experience - will forever merge itself with your particular path, your specific fact of being. And maybe this is where songs really matter, on that intensely personalized axis where the song (and maybe the songwriter) intersects with the listener (or the life of the listener). Its magic derives from being experienced as singular but understood as universal at the same time. And the fact that no two people will necessarily like the same song in the same way in no way detracts from this magic.
I will never board a westcoast ferry again without hearing the internal refrain of 'Snow On Mount Benson' (an ode to the Queen of New Westminster ferry). I've found myself listening to that self-same song on that self-same boat to Nanaimo (the town that Adrian and Amanda hail from). Or I've found myself on a boat remembering other rides on other boats, when I was experiencing being 'that other man, I know you'll put him in my place'.
I rode a lot of ferries in 2007, while my heart was breaking or aspiring to something (or someone), and I still ride them a lot now. Alternately, whenever I re-admit that song to my ear today, it summons up the most vivid, visceral and relived experience of gazing towards, or from, some landmass while strolling the decks, whether rain-swept or sun-poured, in brightest day or receding night. I can even smell the slick, bright, enamel paint shining in its grit-specked coat of grey, and am entranced once again by the spiralling sea-tracks foaming in the ferry's wake.
That night, my first time on the front doorsteps of the Mansion, was to connect to many other nights and days on the same steps, and I can trace routes both leading to and from that stoop, and the house and the persons attached to it.
The staircase was a collaged map of significant addresses and a volcano specially papier-mached by Jeff and company for that night's performance. That night, actually, was the first time I met Jeff, and invited him for vegetarian curry at my place the following night. I also met the Caron sisters and Sasha and Anita (Greenbelt), and later Chris-a-riffic, and Harrison and Enzio (of Half Chinese) and Claire and Erin and Dan and Kevin. That was the Mansion. (At least then, it still exists!)
That night, Adrian played Apollo Ghosts songs quietly and with great gentleness. He had the gathered assembly sit down to 'Hub City', which transformed magically into a hypnotic, undersea swell and group sing-a-long (the colored lights and shadow theatre helped).
He played 'From Brown To Grey', an ode to his parents from the album (one of the most touching portraits of aging in a relationship that I can think of), after telling us that his father had just been tested for Alzheimer's that week. And I think everyone in that room prayed most fervently that the tests would come back negative.
When we spoke later, I gave him the address to the website I had made for my dad, with his poems, excerpts from his stories, and a page of tributes from friends and family I had assembled shortly after he passed. I loved my dad dearly, and we had that rare type of father-son relationship which was remarkably free of guile, resistance or embitterment between us.
These are just a few among many memories of Apollo Ghosts, of the effect their songs have had... upon myself, and a whole community of people who love them here in Vancouver.
Their words, their music, and most importantly the heart inside their music are what bind so many listeners in affectionate allegiance to their songs. What often happens is that we feel we are within their songs.
Apollo Ghosts sing odes to places we recognize (East Van, Hastings Sunrise, Nanaimo, Wakesiah Bay). They sing about people we know ('To A Friend Who Has Been Through A War' might be written to a common friend, but I find myself brought back to thinking about the woman from Sarajevo I loved and lived with for seven years). They sing about what we think ('it's all in your head!'). They sing about what it's like to be terrifyingly shy in the company of your own friends, the heartlessness of capitalism, and things we go through.
So yes, they have been my (and many of my friends') favourite band for the past few years.
And, it's been a pleasure to know them.
In truth I can't actually claim to know any of the Ghosts intimately, and it's strange to have such an intimate sense anyway of what 'happens' inside the Ghosts by listening to their music. I've exchanged books with Adrian (his own chapbook for one of my dad's collected poems), shared pizza and booze, and am always glad to see him. And Amanda and Jay and Jarrett are in constant circulation among the same places and many shared friends, where the mood is always genial, and generous, and friendly, and everyone takes the time to say 'hello', hug, and share their lives.
And now, after a few years of 'doing the best with what they had', the Apollo Ghosts are calling it quits.
I can't really think of this as an 'ending', and while I'm sad to see them go, they aren't really going away, but onto other great, awesome and remarkable things (I suspect).
So, tonight I'll be sweating it out, chorusing and shaking at the Rickshaw to one of the greatest bands this town has ever seen, without any regrets. I hope I'll see you there :)