Chapter 2

Posted on: June 3rd, 2018 by wrayadmin No Comments

The Radio Hotel, Kapuskasing. 1979

I was brand new to Rainbow Wind. (I was brand new to everything.) Luckily for me, being a good bassist was secondary. The guys knew I couldn’t play bass, but I was pretty good on guitar and could sing. Since I was willing to learn, I got the gig. It was on-the-job training. After I joined, the band was able to travel farther afield. Suddenly, the whole province became open to Rainbow Wind. And as much as the other guys tried to play the roles of the experienced “older brothers”, we were all just a bunch of big kids on the road for the first time. The oldest among us was 23.

We would do many northern tours, usually in the winter. I felt strangely giddy being squished into the van and pointing it north. This was no luxury travel. Terry drove. Laurie rode shotgun. Jeremy and I had a Traynor PA column with a folded sleeping bag for a seat. I lived in a tiny cubbyhole behind the driver's seat. That's where I would read, chat, sleep, and basically call "home" for the next 2 years. As we headed north, with each fill-up, the snow got deeper and the temperatures fell.

The Radio Hotel and the Commercial Hotel were enemies that sat across the street from each other. The Radio was our destination. It seemed a bit less run-down than the old Commercial but we would soon find out that the Commercial got the better crowds. However, the place your really wanted to play in The Kap was The Jack Pine Room – a huge bar where the “rock shows” took more time setting up their pyrotechnics than we took setting up our whole stage. Our “show” consisted mainly of the silliness Laurie provided in between songs. Laurie was a short, red-bearded fellow who women, to our unceasing amazement, found irresistible.  

The Radio Hotel was a small, but bustling family-run business. We quickly got to know the family members because we’d see them every day. The daughter cleaned the hotel rooms. The mother worked the day shift in the bar. Dad kept his patrons in line after it got dark. (You’d have to be pretty big, or extremely stupid, to want to tangle with dad.) There was also a teenage son named Kevin who was a wonderful kid. We met him on Monday and he helped us haul in our gear. Kevin was always friendly and helpful. A budding guitar player, he wanted to know all about Laurie’s effects pedals...What each pedal did, why Laurie used this brand and not some other. But, almost immediately, dad would bark out an order for Kevin and he'd have to run off. On one occasion, the old man handed him a shovel and told him to go clear the hotel parking lot. I thought he must be kidding – there was a three-foot blanket of fresh snow and their parking lot was vast. But, he was deadly serious. Kevin did what he was told and shoveled out the parking lot, by hand, until long after dark.

One winter night, coming back from our post-gig 2 a.m. breakfast at John’s Grill (I had French toast with bacon), we noticed a ladder leaning up against the hotel with someone at the top, trying to pry open a second floor window. Suspecting foul play, we surrounded the ladder and made him come down and identify himself. It was Kevin. He explained that his folks had taken away his key and on this particular night, he’d missed his curfew and had no way to get in...until we came along. We shook our heads and agreed the kid had it pretty rough, but headed upstairs to have our usual nightcap before turning in.

The men’s room of the Radio Hotel was located directly under the stairs to the second floor hotel rooms. The reason I mention it is because that's where I was when a huge commotion erupted on the stairs just over my head. It sounded like a battalion in a full-out charge going upstairs. I thought it might be a raid as we’d seen that before in Belleville and Windsor. I stuck my head out and looked up the stairwell. Police and paramedics were milling around outside our rooms. I alerted Laurie who, after a brief word with an officer, came back with shattering news: Kevin shot himself. He's dead.

I was dumbfounded. I couldn't piece anything together. None of this made sense. The bar was immediately closed for the night and after answering a few questions from the police, we were left in the deserted hotel. I went up to my room, sat down on the bed and looked out at the closed door across the hall. The silence was deafening. Here we were, four kids on the road for the first time in a late-70s free-for-all. What had just happened in that room brought our whirling little party to a jarring halt. Tough internal questions began. Why didn’t I do something? Was there somehow I could have prevented it? I still don't know.

We never went back to The Radio Hotel. We accepted an offer to play at The Commercial instead and The Radio eventually burned down. Today, Kevin would probably be a grandfather. So much has happened in the world since the late seventies but he missed out on all of it. He ended his life before it really began. That was too heavy to process at 20 so I put that life-changing event in a box and didn't open it again for decades. But, whenever life throws me a nasty curve and I wonder how I'm ever going to get through it, I remember Kevin...and keep going.

Kevin (in his room across from mine)

 

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