Mon, 28 Jun 2004
Jenn & Kurt initially invited the band to play only at their reception. Having nothing better to do, we agreed. A few weeks later, Jenn approached me to see if I’d like to sing at the actual wedding ceremony, too.
“That’s very flattering,” I said. “But I’d hate to wreck your wedding by dripping sarcasm all over it.”
“No, no, I don’t want you to sing one of your own songs,” she said. “I’ve got some Hawksley Workman tunes I want you to sing.”
So I set about teaching Andrew how to play “Sweet Hallelujah” and “Safe and Sound”. Meanwhile, Jenn and Kurt (mostly Jenn) were trawling the internet for a third song to play during the ceremony. Something Jesus-y, so that the priest would permit it, but not too Jesus-y, so that Kurt could stomach it. I suggested a fado, or Portuguese folk song, but I was defeated by the poor selection of Portuguese folk music at the local library. Then I had the brainstorm of translating a classic pop tune – what we now call a “standard” – into Portuguese. But Jenn couldn’t decide what song she liked best, and anyway I’m not sure if Father Remi would’ve gone for it.
Finally, with about three weeks remaining, and all our ideas exhausted, I gave up and wrote an entirely new song, which may be what Jenn was angling for all along. The lyrics are sufficiently ambiguous that Jenn was able to convince the priest that my intent was godly. In fact, at the wedding rehearsal, he seemed to be under the delusion that we were some kind of Christian rock outfit. After Warren completed his reading from I Corinthians, Father Remi turned to us and said, “Could I get a ‘Hallelujah’ at this point?”
“Sorry?” I said.
“Could I get you to sing a ‘Hallelujah’ here?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
He demonstrated a ‘Hallelujah’ for us. “Uh, we’ll work on it,” I said.
After the rehearsal, when everyone else had gone, Father Remi spoke to us privately. He seemed to have caught on that we weren’t Catholic, but he was still under the impression that we had a little bit of the Lord in us. “I assume your background is Scripture,” he said.
“Er?” said Dean.
“Ah?” said Andrew.
“Well, actually, we’re just playing the songs Jenn requested,” I told him. “But we can repeat the chorus from ‘Sweet Hallelujah’ after Warren finishes reading.”
“That will be fine,” said Father Remi. He was very nice.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The song we wrote for Jenn & Kurt is called The ballad of J and K. The premise is, Jenn has lived a good Catholic life and gets into heaven. But Kurt, the stubborn bastard, refuses to admit that he might have made a mistake. So he’s forced to stand outside St. Peter’s gate, while Jenn sits inside, listening to the angels chirping. So Jenn watches the gate, waiting for Kurt to finally accept Jesus and join her inside. It’s romantic. I rather like it.
On a visit to Calgary in May, I brought my guitar and tried the songs with Dean playing along on charrango (for “Sweet Hallelujah”) and banjo (for “Safe and Sound”). Dean was nervous cos he kept accidentally bending the strings on the banjo, making horrible thwonking sounds. He wanted to do both songs on charrango. I told him to keep his mouth shut and stay in line. When Dean got to Saskatoon, three days before the wedding, he was still nervous about the thwonking banjo. But when the three of us played together, everything fit together beautifully. Even the intermittent banjo thwonks weren’t that distracting.
On the afternoon before the wedding, we dragged all our rock-n-roll equipment over to the church hall to check our levels. We arranged ourselves in what seemed like a logical configuration – drums in the middle, guitar and bass amps on either side, PA speakers up front. We plugged in and played a couple verses of “Bride of Bellamy”, with Andrew listening from in front of the stage.
“I can’t hear the guitar and the vocals are too loud.”
So we turned up the guitar and turned down the vocals. We tried again.
“I still can’t hear the guitar and the vocals are still too loud.”
“Now the guitar is too loud for me and I can’t hear the vocals,” I said. “Can we move the guitar amp to the front and turn the PA speakers toward the back?”
So we tried that. The levels were better from the audience, but now Dean and I couldn’t hear the guitar at all. Dean drummed randomly, trying to take cues from my singing. It sounded like hell.
By this time, everyone was in a terrible mood. Andrew stalked around muttering under his breath. “I don’t know why we’re wasting our fucking time,” he said. “I should just give up music.” Dean, meanwhile, looked like he was about to drift into a coma. I tried to be positive. “Don’t give up on me now,” I yelled, as our run-through of “Teenage sex bomb” disintegrated into random drum-bashing. We moved the guitar amp nearer the drums, which seemed to improve things, but by then it was too late to salvage our spirits.
As we packed up, I asked Dean and Andrew if they really wanted to go through with this. “I’m sure Jenn & Kurt would understand if we just called it off,” I said. “I’m not sure they really wanted us to play that badly in the first place.”
“Ah, we’ve gone to all this trouble already,” said Andrew. “We dragged all our shit over here. We might as well play.”
“How about this, then. We were gonna do eight songs. Instead, we’ll just do four. After three songs, if anyone is still paying attention, we’ll keep going. If not, we’ll just ram through ‘Teen Wolf’ and get the hell outta here.”
As it happens, we did wind up playing eight songs, including “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, which wasn’t originally on the set list, but it felt like we needed to throw a slow-dancing song in there. The sound was pretty crappy, but no-one really cared. We had a small but enthusiastic cluster of dancers in front of the stage, and they clapped along to Teen Wolf and some of them even attempted to two-step to “Brian Zerff and Brian Gash”.
Overall it was a good day for the band. We thought we might wreck both the ceremony and the reception, and we wound up doing neither. Plus, I got to hang out with Jay and his girlfriend, and Scott and Jackie, and Elmo and Anita, and all sorts of other people I never ever see any more. I wish Jenn and Kurt would get married every year.