Have you ever had your life fall apart, or felt you were on the verge of oblivion and wonder if there were any glimmers of hope ahead? If you're human, it's likely that has happened to you at least once. During those times, it may seem like nothing good will ever come your way again.
John Goodale felt that way. In his memoir, Johnny Gora, Goodale tells how he watched his entire life crumble. His story begins with growing up in a middle-class home and then embarking on a life of self-delusion, booze and rock n roll in a vain attempt to become a rock star. As that dream died, John found himself in a failed marriage that tore his whole life apart. But when life was at its lowest, he met a new woman-his future wife-and embarked on a humorous crash course in a culture and tradition he grew up around but never really understood.
Johnny Gora shows that humor can be found even when things seem the darkest. It may be difficult to see at the time, but as Goodale shows, distance can provide insight into all life's experiences.
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By John Goodale
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 John Goodale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Back Story
In December of 1968 I arrived in the world much like many others who arrived the same day, I couldn't tell you how many other showed up the same day as I did but I'm fairly sure it was a lot. And in arriving I popped into a seemingly ordinary middle class Anglo-Saxon life, much the same as my brother did when he later checked in.
We camped, went to school, joined Boy Scouts, took music lesson and visited family. I grew up and hung out with almost all white kids except for 1 East Indian boy I knew for a time when I was about 9. They were different than any other family I had ever known, but at the time I didn't know why. They looked different, dressed different and when they spoke to one another it was unlike any language I had ever heard in my life.
But other than that my family and I did exactly what millions of other white families did every day all across the world. However it wasn't any picture perfect made for television family, in fact as I grew up it rather sucked being in that house.
There was always some overblown drama that stemmed from some silly ideal of how we should live, or some piece of junk that was supposedly valuable with boxes and boxes of 'valuables' crammed in every nook and cranny and those same boxes never being opened. Then there was always some oddball new rule that replaced whatever new rule had been brought in two weeks prior. In fact there were so many rules that it got confusing as to what was right and what was wrong.
And the endless bickering and fighting that made every one of the many endless trips to family member homes, and vacations a nightmare.
Add to this the fact that I was diagnosed as being 'hyper active' and shuttled from one specialist to another and put on whatever mind numbing drug would supposedly help.
Don't get me wrong my parents did provide a lot of stuff for us. We had a decent home, vehicles in the drive way, food in the cupboard, went on trips, and received new clothes and all sorts of things along those lines. Stuff I was always told I should be grateful for because so many other kids didn't have what we had.
The one thing my parents weren't too great at was stability. We seemed to move endlessly from house to house, city to city in some never ending quest for happiness. And my brother and I always heard the same things and it was usually stuff that made no sense to us such as "We moved to keep you kids out of trouble". Not that my brother and I were bad kids we just hated sitting around being the quiet little lawn gnomes we were supposed to be. We wanted to explore and play with everything we saw, we were curious kids. But because some neighbor or family member's kids were perfectly happy to sit and not say a word this somehow made my brother and I the root of all evil.
But no matter where we moved to we always brought the baggage that made us unhappy with us. No matter how hard we ran we always wound up in the exact same spot.
And as we grew older my parent's relationship deteriorated badly. Or maybe it was always deteriorated and I just noticed it more as I grew up and saw how other families got along as opposed to the madness I saw in my own home.
My parents split up a number of times and every single time they would get back together. When I was around 10 my parents split up for a few years and my father, brother and I moved in with my grandparents. But my father's work was over an hour away and the endless travel got to him so a few years later we moved closer to his work. In the fall of 1981 we moved to Brampton Ontario. For the most part it was a large industrial town on the outskirts of Toronto. I was told that it was the divorce capital of Canada. I guess because of how close it was to Toronto and the fact that there was a lot of easy to get jobs and lower rent it made it ideal for people to start over again.
It was also an ideal place for immigrants to move to for the very same reasons.
Brampton at first was largely a lot of white and Italian families, (partial families in the case of the white folks anyway) with a growing Caribbean community.
It stayed like that for many years and then a lot of Indian and Pakistani families started moving into the area. Having grown up in a household where clothing was generally a solid colour except for t-shirt prints and our idea of spice was salt and pepper the Indian/Pakistani community was a curiosity to me indeed.
The clothing was something I had only seen in movies and comic books and the spices used were as foreign to me as a walk on the moon. I was curious about them but they kept to themselves and seemed to prefer that we did the same.
Naturally my parents got back together and as usual the whole thing spiraled downhill.
Eventually,(and thankfully) my parents divorced with my brother moving with my mother and I with my father. They say 'opposites attract', but I've always felt there's two kinds of opposites: complimentary and conflicting.
My parents were type # 2, and quite honestly I felt that divorce was the best thing to happen to their marriage at that point.
Although I'm sure my parents won't be entirely happy with what I've written there,(and they may even be a little hurt) however I'm not saying anything that they haven't already said at some point or aren't aware of. And to be quite honest I've always felt that this early experience of living in a situation where nothing was as it seemed left me with the opinion to never fully believe that what you're seeing is the whole story or the entire truth.
The old 'Don't judge a book by its cover' adage I suppose would be a great way to sum it up.
My father and I moved into an apartment and a year later I was sent off to a boarding school which proved to be more expensive than my father could manage at the time and I was only there for about a year and half. During this time my father was fortunate enough to meet the lady that he would wind up spending his life with, and after dating for a while they decided to take a plunge and move in together along with her three daughters. Unfortunately she was also in the process of a divorce and the financial strain was incredible on both of them.
Naturally the wise thing to do was to remove me from boarding school. Years later as I look back on that time I really have to applaud my father for sticking his neck out at such a dicey time in his life to try and get a good education for me and I can only imagine how he felt when he had to make the decision to pull me out of school.
I left school and joined my father, his new lady and her three daughters in the three bedroom apartment they lived in, it was tight and personal space was definitely at a premium but we managed to survive.
One of the things I noticed when I moved back was the significant increase in the Indian/Pakistani community, and that racial tensions seemed to be growing in the area.
Although I wasn't necessarily a bad person I was somewhat selfish and arrogant, (but what 16 year old isn't) and given all that my father and his girlfriend had been through in the past few years added to the cramped conditions it was a problem waiting to happen. Now I must say that throughout my life I've always had a talent for attracting the wrong type of person to me. If they were mouthy, trouble or bullies we'd find each other.
I did meet some really good people throughout my life but always managed to push them aside for an asshole, strange sort of talent really.
Now given my odd talent and mindset plus the circumstances we found ourselves in it was a natural recipe for disaster, and it was decided that after I graduated high school I would leave the home and go off on my own moving into a small furnished room in a boarding house with just my clothes, guitar and a small television I had been given for my birthday.
I took a series of jobs washing dishes and working as a short order cook while playing in various bars and bands around town. Like so many other teenagers I was convinced I was going to be famous. I also dabbled with art and writing and fell in love with video games. I had wanted to be a chef while going through high school but gave up the idea a few years afterwards in the hope of becoming a famous rock star.
Even though I barely had much money I felt like I was free to do whatever I wanted, how, and whenever I wanted. I had to survive on peanut butter sandwiches and oatmeal for a couple of weeks once because I had so little money, but I figured it was all part of paying my dues and eventually would become famous.
Now despite the fact that I never became famous in any way I did have a lot of fun along the way. If you take irresponsible people, add a dash of wanting to have fun and a hearty serving of alcohol and mix well you're going to have endless incidents and hilarious moments.
Quite often the places you wind up playing in when you're not an 'A' listed (or top billed) musician are rather ... 'questionable' to say the least. Usually these dodgy places are run by equally dodgy owners and are frequented by some of the most colourful denizens a city or area has to offer. Let's be realistic here folks you're not going to find a pack of foul mouthed rowdy knuckle draggers sitting around a piano bar sipping cognac and discussing Tolstoy. Instead you'll find them in whatever watering hole will tolerate their behavior.
The bars are all the same and I imagine they're all the same across the world. It was usually a small rectangular room with a large chest level bar being the biggest piece of furniture in there behind which was stacked a wide variety of liquor bottles. The more unusual the liquor the more dust was on the bottle. Behind the bottles was a smudged mirror illuminated by some style of yellowish light. The lighting overhead in the bar was a ceiling of cracked, sagging and stained tiles often with a series of small light pots that barely illuminated the floor below and often had burned out bulbs. The walls were decorated with a variety of signs and memorabilia usually with no pattern or direction, and quite often signs were placed over other older damaged signs in a vain attempt to maintain and upgrade the decorations. The main area was full of loosely matching tables that wobbled with ripped partly rusted chairs pushed up to them. The air was a mix of stale beer, urine and the lingering of cigarette smoke.
The bar owners and managers were often as faded and past their glory days as their establishments and like their establishments these people often tried to hide that with make-up, perfume a poorly tailored shirt or archaic hair style that did nothing more than highlight the fact that their time of being cool or attractive had long passed.
And quite often these places have live bands. Equally often is the desire to interact with the band once the patrons have had a few glasses of cheer and want to look cool hanging with the band. Unless of course the band sucks in which case it's a near raffle to see who gets to beat their brains in first.
It was during this time that I met the lady that would later become my first wife. One night the primary band I was in were celebrating the end of a long series of shows when the drummer's girlfriend and I began discussing my being single. She said she had a friend I could meet that weekend if I wanted, I didn't have anything planned so I agreed. Turns out that the girl in question had said the same thing and on a blind date because neither of us had anything to do we met and began dating soon after. She would come out to the odd show, but as I mentioned I didn't play the greatest of places so she generally avoided most of the performances. After being single for so long I was happy to be with someone again and looked past many things that I now know should have been warning signs for both of us that we weren't the best match for one and other.
I was hitting a wall not getting anywhere in the music field and worked a dead end job in a small guitar store. She also worked a dead end job and hated living at home. We talked quite a bit about how we didn't enjoy our circumstances and our solution was to move 2 hours away to live with my mother in London Ontario. Don't ask me how that makes any sense but somehow to us at the time it did.
No savings or job lined up, just show up and hope things worked out well. Naturally they didn't and within 9 months we moved back and lived with her parents for 3 months while we got ourselves settled into jobs and saved some money. Right after I got back into town I looked up some of the guys I used to play with and within a short amount of time was back playing the bars. Back to spending time in the good old dodgy bars with the dodgy clientele and dodgy owners to try and make a few extra bucks.
One night a band I was in was playing in a place that went beyond the usual scummy surroundings that these types of bars usually have. This place was everything I had described but looked as though the owner had moved his sleazy bar into an old garage that he hadn't bother to clean first before turning it into a bar. I double checked the songs we had coming up next to play, (most bands write their songs down on a piece of paper called a 'set list'). We had just finished playing a song that the guitar player had written for his girlfriend, (and trust me it was so sweet I swear we gave half the audience cavities) when I hear a voice behind me. "That song you just played, what's it called?" I turned and saw a huge rough looking guy, complete with studded leather jacket and "F.T.W.", (or Fuck The World. Not exactly the sort of thing you would want to see on your surgeon) inked across the back of one hand. I told him the name expecting my life to come to a sudden and abrupt halt. He repeated the song name, leaned back and said "That's really pretty." I just stood there with my mouth opening and closing trying to say something but only managed to squeak out "Um, thanks" I laugh at it now but man o man did I ever fill my shorts at that moment. The upside was that playing these places gave us the money to move into our own apartment sooner, which we did a few weeks after this incident.
I would play with any and all bands that would ask me. Jazz, rock, blues, country anything to make a few bucks playing. It didn't matter to me if it was 5 people listening or 500 I'd play it. But I wasn't completely clueless and did learn after a while what places to avoid and what places would actually pay me and I gradually started playing better places. It was nice to get away from the dodgy bars with their equally dodgy owners. I didn't miss arguing with someone at two in the morning about why they should pay me while they tried to focus on my face through a drug induced stupor.
I've been asked a number of times over the years if drugs were a huge problem, since the image of music and drugs go hand in hand. People were always curious as to whether bands get spoon fed drugs on a regular basis.
At the level I was at, not so much. Drugs are expensive so people didn't want to waste their stash on a bunch of nobodies. Now booze on the other hand flowed like water. Especially since we were always in bars and quite often the people we associated with were half in the bag themselves. Not to say that we didn't constantly run into cases where drug use caused problems.
One such incident happened in a neighborhood brew pub I would play in. The band I played with for that venue was a side project for a couple of us that played in other groups and would get together to make some extra money when we didn't have anything booked with our primary bands.
I had been out late playing a show the night before and met the rest of the guys for a quick lunch and to go practice the songs before the show that night. One of us got the bright idea to have a couple of rounds of drinks before we went to practice, then a few more while we practiced. Needless to say that before long our 'couple of drinks' resulted in an all out drink fest and by 5 o'clock that afternoon we were all quite pleasantly oiled up. Not to outdo our previously great idea, (the' just a couple of drinks' bit) we drank black coffee and ran through a cold shower.
I'm here to tell you now folks, these are myths. They do bugger all to sober you up.
So still half drunk we loaded up the trucks and went down to the bar to set up and do a quick sound check. After sound check we were sitting around having a drink before we were to start playing. Needless to say a lack of sleep, very little food and a steady stream of booze and bitter black coffee left me feeling like hell. Although I never asked why I knew the band leader always kept several bottles of pills on him so I asked if he had anything that would pick me up. He reached into a pocket and handed me some pills which, without question I promptly swallowed with the rest of my beer.
Excerpted from Johnny Gora by John Goodale Copyright © 2012 by John Goodale. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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