I lived on the corner of 3rd St NW and 5th Ave NW in Medicine Hat, Alberta with two sisters from Coronach, Saskatchewan. Courtney and Pisser. Pisser wasn’t her real name. Courtney was. I was fortunate around all the difficulty to have a nice roof over my head. Courtney worked hard and cared about furniture. Living in a band house is difficult in your early twenties – appreciation for order doesn’t necessarily get shared among tenants. Dirty dishes and pissy toilet seats really affect me. Courtney valued order. I moved in with her and her sister the spring of 2009. Living with two sisters, tangled in a torn heart love interest and wanting to marry a woman six hundred kilometers away. Enough to mess up any lizard’s brain.
Courtney never said anything about the boxes of unopened albums lining the walls of the house. She took out a loan to purchase furniture and art, I donated the cardboard end-tables.
I was walking up the neighbours driveway in an act of desperation. Five albums in hand. An album that cost $2000 to make. The band donated their time. I had nine-hundred copies in stock and no visible way to have them sold conventionally. I was working full time with The New Weapon – drummer Derek, still couldn’t understand why I needed to have another “band”. I could see where he was coming from. It did look like a lack of commitment to everything we built. I knocked on the door and stumbled through an introduction. Face to face was its own beast. I could convince any venue owner to book my group through a cold call introduction over the phone but to have someone buy my record having no idea who I am seemed impossible. Zero flow, a cracking voice, sweaty palms and no real confidence in the throw-together project. They bit. My first introduction had my neighbours offering the ten bucks. I moved on.
House number two. Another neighbourly guilt purchase. Twenty dollars in under three minutes. House number three. Sale. Thirty dollars. Unbelievable. I felt like I accidentally made a fortune, mind you I was only a hundred feet from my house and obviously couldn’t determine whether the sales were due to vicinity of residence or ability to sell. It was soon proven. The fact purchasers could see my house, aided in the sale. House four, decline. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, declines. The remaining south side of 3rd St NW up to St. Patrick’s Parish on 2nd Ave NE was a hit and miss of unanswered doors, yappy dogs, demeaning responses, laughs, and shut-downs. They could care less that I was from Medicine Hat, let alone living on the same street as them. I tried to overshadow disappointment by appreciating the thirty dollars but the door-to-door tactic was a flop. ‘Hi, I’m Blake, I recorded an album, its good, would you like to buy it?’
I skipped the returning side of the street and walked directly home. Eight-hundred and ninety five records sit against the wall. I put the remaining two back in the opened box. Eight-hundred and ninety seven.
It was a Thursday night. I bothered people during supper. I had an unrehearsed pitch. I was borderline unpresentable. No confidence. Loser. I hopped in my mustang and spent the thirty dollars on a case of beer and a few groceries.
Friday had me still thinking of the previous evening’s attempt. Courtney and Pisser laughed but encouraged me to give it another shot. What could be different, what could stay the same? Introduction and residency was key. I needed to amplify my excitement in being at a stranger’s door. A once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase my first solo record, right? I needed to up its worth – I’d pre-sign the albums. I’d smile. I needed to make a complete stranger feel like if they turn this down it would be a regret.
Saturday at 11 am, I took the cellophane off of thirty albums, removed the inserts and Sharpied my John Hancock in the bottom left corner, large. Threw the discs into my side-satchel and swapped out cowboy boots for an old pair of runners. Comfort would keep my mind on the goal. I committed to staying out for five hours. Lofty and ambitious timeline but it would force me to experiment, not let refusals bring me down. That’s what this was, an experiment. Again selling a couple albums to houses which could see my front door, I took a side street, 5th Ave NW to 4th St NW. Nobody could see my house from here.
Shoulders back and shirt tucked in. Clean jeans and belt. Three albums in hand and the remaining twenty-something in satchel. I knocked and introduced myself with excitement. I showed gusto, ambition. I used gestures and handed a record to the stranger as I was talking. I included ‘only ten dollars’ instead of ‘ten dollars please’. They were sparked.
“What’s it sound like?”
The conversation developed and was personal. I would ask who they listen to and connect through a style of artist that had influenced my writing. Mapping the pitch was spotty but at least I felt confident. I quickly pinned the four encounters I would have. The supportive with no sale, The supportive with a sale, The irritated with no sale, and the irritated with a sale. The second being ideal, the last being dumbfounding. But a sale was a sale. Regardless of the outcome I saw myself as a sewer of seeds. Confidence propelled the sales of all thirty albums that Saturday afternoon. Thirty became every Saturday’s goal. Sometimes achieved in three hours, sometimes in six. I finished the city of Medicine Hat, keeping track of every street hit by blacking it out on a city map I kept in my satchel.
I ordered another thousand copies and redesigned the artwork to include a message on the inside paralleling my door-to-door efforts. My cheapest pressing options would make for less overhead. I’d put a hundred copies of the record in the trunk of my mustang, pack an overnight bag and head to my buddy J.R.’s place in Lethbridge. I met him working at a golf course in The Hat, he was taking New Media at the University of Lethbridge and offered his couch. I’d arrive Thursday night and be on the streets by noon on Friday. Working each street and marking it off. Going door-to-door until 9 pm. It wasn’t about selling thirty a day anymore it was about selling a hundred a weekend. This was usually achieved by supper time Sunday. I’d drive back to The Hat.
My relationship with Rachel came to a climax where the feelings constituted infidelity. It was an abrupt and ugly end. Karma hunted me down like a Blood Meridian Apache and Savanna ruthlessly broke me with a phone call. With no room for discussion, she ended our five year courtship. I was devastated. Remnants of the heartache still exist. The hurt hung around strong for years. My life was defined by pre-Savanna break-up and post-Savanna break-up. I quit sleeping in my bed, would just fall to the floor for the night.
I called Rachel to fix it. I moved out of Courtney’s and moved in with Rachel. No healing process allowed.
Jealousy ensued. Either of us looking in the wrong direction resulted in a fight. The fights were physical. Rennebohm was living with us, caught in the middle as a referee. Broken dishes and door hinges. He was trying to clean up his own shit in and around mine. For as separated as Rennebohm and I had become through the music we were connecting as support systems in a volatile environment. I begged Rachel to stay but she disappeared. I began dating a blonde news anchor. I suspected her of sleeping with her camera guy, caught them out together one night, tore him out of his vehicle, he wasn’t quick enough locking the door. Started making an example of the guy in the parking lot of The Silver Buckle, pulled off by Rennebohm. I woke up to the bumper of my mustang smashed in.
I quit booking The New Weapon. If a gig would come in we’d take it but I wasn’t chasing that dream any longer. Rennebohm and I were on different pages and we all stalled in the writing. It almost came to another parking lot fisticuffs with management after my bassist was accused of trying to bang my his girlfriend. The dynamic was changing for everybody. Rennebohm chose going to a Stone Temple Pilots concert over playing a show with us, that was the icing on the cake for the break-up. He recognized a dire drinking issue and committed to leaving The Weapon and turning things around. I couldn’t fault him for it. He disappeared for a year.
I was in a worse place emotionally than before starting to sell records door-to-door. But I least now I had cash. With nothing to stick around for and my house up for sale. I moved into my van. Two failed bands, both on the cusp of national success, as heartbreaking as my love life.
Now I had nothing.