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Anyone looking to write a book about Zen and the art of music making
would do well to begin with the Cowboy Junkies. Nineteen years and nine
studio albums into their career, they have clearly reached a state of
enlightenment that most bands can only reach for by playing Free Tibet
concerts. Their effortlessly beautiful new disc, One Soul Now,
deals with some existential questions about life and love, but its title
says it all.
“I think it’s the TV show Friends,” opines his sister, singer Margo.
Openness to humour is important if one wishes to follow the Way to lasting rock stardom. After all, unlike most religious icons, the Buddha is often portrayed laughing. Another indispensable strategy is, paradoxically, to let go of one’s self.
Margo explains that the “amazing part of Mike” is “his
egolessness” in allowing her to interpret his lyrics as she sees
fit. “There are certainly songs that he’s written where
I have no clue what he’s try to get a, or what he’s talking
about, and I don’t even have a place to go. With those songs,
I just allow the music to take me someplace.”
Michael cuts in:”I constantly remind myself: ‘Don’t step in. Let it go.” ‘Cause [the music] is going to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have expected… and that, to me, is a very positive thing.”
Budding rock stars are also urges to remember that there are other levels of reality. Sure, you may be an American Idol on this plane, but what does this mean in the grand scheme of the universe? The album’s centerpiece, the uncharacteristically upbeat “Stars of Our Stars” prompts such questioning. Michael sees the title, which was dreamt up by his six-year-old daughter, as a “very simple, undefined expression of greatness, of things that are larger than us – that childhood perspective. It’s not just stars, which are intriguing and fantastical enough, but ‘stars of our stars,’ something way out there , that we can’t even define with our human existence.”
The Junkies, who’ve recently signed to indie label MapleMusic, have given up the majors’ greedy path and learned to accept the transience of material goods – there’s even a “bootlegs for swap” forum on their website, and they encourage tapers at their shows. “It’s a whole other level of loving music,” says Margo.
And as if further proof were needed of the band’s having reached nirvana, posters on their web board call themselves “lamas.” Or wait – how do they spell that again?
Michael explains: “When we started on the website, quite a few years ago, this guy was writing, ‘I was on the way out the door [of a show], and somebody was talking about Mike’s guitar playing: “He’s playing to tape, and he’s not actually making those sounds himself.” Is this true?’ And I wrote a response: ‘I have some pedals, and I can make pretty much any sound. If I want, I can make my guitar sound like a spitting llama.’
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