Wednesday, 4 June 2014

George Canyon- Country Music, Warm Smiles, Warmer Blankets

Canadian Stories is an independently operated blog by 19 year old Cody Groat, in preparation for the upcoming Canadian Stories book (also by Cody), which details his adventure meeting some of Canada's coolest people- from Prime Minister Paul Martin, to astronaut Marc Garneau, television star Kenny Hotz (Kenny vs Spenny) and even Paulette Bourgeois, creator of Franklin the Turtle!
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     I looked at my phone to check the time and rushed to my car, jamming the key in the ignition. The pride I had for myself for finally remembering an interview time, and knowing I wouldn't be late for my upcoming phone call from famed country/ western singer George Canyon, was fading away faster than it had initially came. George would be phoning in ten minutes, and I still had to get home.
     After red light followed by red light, I finally turned onto my street (maybe faster than I should have), and rushed into my driveway. After the cliche movie key fiasco, trying to find which one fit in my back door, I grabbed my iPod from my dresser in my bedroom and got it prepared to record the upcoming conversation and all the singer had to say. I mean, saying I was excited was an understatement. Saying this interview had been a long time coming was an understatement as well. It had all started at work one day, when I was checking Twitter on my phone...

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     I looked down and noticed something political, which always sparked my interest.
     “Oh cool, hey Diana”, I said to my boss, in preparation to tell her something that she probably wouldn't find all that interesting, “you know country singer George Canyon? He's going to try running in the 2015 Canadian Federal election!”
     “Oh”, was her reply.
      Well. I thought it was cool, Diana.
      I decided to send George an email, hoping that he could be my breakout interview in regards to Canadian musicians, as I had trouble gaining momentum in that regards. Athletes and musicians, take my word, they're hard to reach. Needless to say, I was surprised when I had received a reply from his personal assistant, Karen. At this point, she wouldn't confirm an interview, wanting to see some of my other work first, but I was glad I had a foot in the door.
     I sent Karen the links to my interviews with famed sex educator Sue Johanson, and with Thomas Cardinal Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto. Very different ends of the personality spectrum, but hey, both great people I had been able to meet along the way of my journey.
     A few days later, Karen approved an interview. I would get 15 minutes with George Canyon.
So began the scheduling, which always turns out to be much for difficult for both sides than some may think. There's George, with life as a musician and media figure, constantly being asked for some of his time (while also trying to have a personal life), and myself, still in school with a bombardment of other interviews to plan, and work on top. Our date was finally decided, when I received an email from Karen the night before.
     The power was completely out on George's ranch, and they had no idea when it would come back. Our interview was to be postponed.
     Okay, not the end of the world. We began re-planning, and in that time Karen forwarded me a statement that George had released, stating that for a few personal reasons, he would longer be attempting to run for public office in 2015.
     With a new date to talk on the horizon, and new questions to write, I blasted me some George Canyon  music and prepared for our chat.
     The day arrived, and deep breaths were taken. I had sped down the road and sped to my couch. The minute hand was ticking away, and any second now the phone would ring.
     Then, it did.
     As always, my heart was racing, as it does when I expect a phone call from someone for Canadian Stories. I pushed “record” on my iPod, and answered the phone with the speakers on, so I could listen back to our chat later. As soon as I answered, the voice on the other end spoke...
     “CONGRATULATIONS! You've won a cruise!”
     Admittedly, I then said some choice words very loud. I slammed the hang up button, proceeding to then end my recording. Stupid telemarketing robocalls getting my hopes up for nothing. When all of a sudden, about ten seconds later, the phone rang again. Twice I was put through the heart racing excitement, and this time I hoped that it was actually the call I anticipated.
     I answered the phone, and anxiously said “Hello? How are you?”, to none other than George Canyon himself.

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     “Hey! I'm doing great,” George said, “it's been a very busy morning but I'm glad I can finally talk to you, how have you been?”
     I was great, but I felt bad. It was 11:05 for me, so I knew it was 9:05 for him, pretty early for an interview I thought. When I brought it up though, he told me he had been up since six that morning. Well, I felt a bit better then.
     “It's already been like, a crazy morning and it's only nine!”
    After both agreeing that time wasn't on our hands, we decided to go from small talk to some questions. It sounded almost as if George was driving somewhere, and I was on speaker on his other end, just as he was on speaker for me. Looking down at some notes I had jotted, I knew which question stood out as all the all encompassing one, so I asked the famed singer “sitting at your dining room table at night, or in your living room, and looking back at the incredible career you've had, how would you describe it in a few shorts words?”
     For George, it only took one.

     For him, no artists really stood out as his inspirations. Growing up, he was just like me, listening to a little bit of this and that. A few songs here and there by certain artists allowed him to look at life in an abundance of ways, from the works of Johnny Cash to Randy Travis, and Bon Jovi to White Lion. But, there was more. Just like every lyric could hold an insurmountable amount of meaning, so did the lives of every person he had the chance to meet growing up. Their stories, together with the stories from his favourite singers, began to shape his outlook on life.
     Just like an entrepreneur, he told me, he began trying to sell a product from a very young age. But for George, that was his voice.
     “You try and create the best music you can, and then just try to get your voice heard. Back in the day, that was grabbing your guitar and going to play anywhere, and everywhere. Sometimes you were playing for 50 bucks a night, sometimes your were playing for nothing. It's a very strange business that way. It's not like you go to school, get a degree, get a job and make a salary. In this business, you're really just giving it.”
     As he told me, getting heard proved to be one of the greatest early challenges.
     I sat on my couch, listening to his answers, and contemplating how hard that must have been. Establishment after establishment, some days being asked to perform, some days asking to play. Now, we have YouTube to post our videos on, which may spread like wildfire or go nowhere. Same battle, different weapons, I guess.
      “What kept you going when times got tough?”
      I asked, knowing that I myself sometimes find it hard with my writing. Wondering most days if I'm ever making progress. George had a clear answering, knowing perfectly well what helped him.
     “My faith,” he began, “I'm a very strong Christian with a very strong faith. It's lifted me up, held onto me, and continued to do that to today.”
      He wishes that his faith was around stronger back then though, so he could of leaned on it harder and seen all that could of become of his journey.

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     When he looks at it, it all comes back to the one word answer he gave explaining his career, 'blessed'.
     “I'd say that's my life in general. Yes I've had my ups and downs, and yes I've been a spoiled little brat in not getting my own way or not getting a certain record deal, getting frustrated sometimes too easily. Regardless, my life and career wrapped up in one word would be blessed.”
      That feeling doesn't just come from one moment though, but it's all-encompassing in his life. Standing on stage, looking down at all of his fans who have come out to support him, singing along to his songs, gives him a certain feeling he has never been able to truly explain.
     With a laugh, George told me “seeing them, hearing them, it's like a warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold winter night.”
     “It's the greatest feeling ever, and it never gets old. I'm always grateful.”
      What makes George even more grateful though, would be that (in his eyes), this warm blanket isn't just   extended to him. It's all of Canada wrapping it around each other, and around the world.
      “That's why I love living here, raising my family here, and having my career here. We're like the medics of the world, always there to put down what we're doing and helping those who may need it the most.”
      He told me of his home town of High River, Alberta, and the floods they faced only last year.
     “Everyone came out to help where ever they could, cleaning basements or smiling at their neighbors. Everyone helped out, however they could.”
      But that's the thing about George Canyon, he's one of those incredible people who takes his time to help those who may need it, too. He's never too busy to speak with an aspiring 19 year old writer, or to strum his guitar for a child who needs a smile.
     In my life outside of writing, I've been honoured to work as an autism support worker for two teenagers who are diagnosed as non-verbal, and recently I've been working towards advocacy for my young cousin, Aidan, and his life with cerebral palsy. When you have the chance to do some of the work I do, you realize that even those who may not be able to talk or move the same way you do can smile with their mouth or with their whole body and truly change your life forever.
      Or as George put it in one last story, they can give you a smile that puts your whole life into perspective.
      From the seat of his car, George told me of a time he traveled to a place down in Alabama started by one of his friends, which aids children and adults with cerebral palsy and autism. Youth and adults don't reside there, but have the chance to come and learn practical employment skills and find meaningful, fulfilling careers.
      “One of the most amazing things working with them came one day when I was playing for a small crowd there. There was this boy with severe cerebral palsy, who could only move his eyes, and slightly move his mouth. He laid his hands on my guitar while I began to play, and this young boy grinned the largest smile I had ever seen. Then he began making noises that I could tell were ecstatic". 
       He could hear and see the excitement coming from this boys' whole body, and for George, that put everything into perspective. His family, his country, his singing... it was for moments like this that made him realize it was all worthwhile. that everything was going to be okay.
     Hearing that story, and realizing how much I could relate, made me realize something too. Hearing stories like the ones George Canyon told me, from overcoming challenges to working for that smile, are the reasons I continue reaching out to people, too. At least, I think so.

     I looked down at my clock, and realized I had to let him go. We said our goodbyes, and I thanked him for letting me speak with him. He told me it was his pleasure, and continued on his way.

     Me? I sat there realizing that George was so much more than a musician. He's one of those people that's truly just good to the bone. A person that cares as much about how you're doing than how they are. It's hard to explain what I mean, but if I had to try, I'd say he's almost like a warm blanket on a cold winter night, if you know what I mean.

     I got off my couch, locked up my house, and got back on the road. 
     Knowing that three Provinces away, George Canyon was doing the same thing.

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