After a long workweek, a couple of gigs on the weekend and a six-month-old baby who thinks he's Pavarotti at 5:30 in the morning, the last thing I want to do on a cold Sunday evening is, well, anything, least of all head down to the El Mocambo.
Past experiences this winter lead me to suspect that Scrooge himself guards the old bar's thermostat. I'd rather settle in on the couch, remote in hand, but with the Iraq war spinning ever more out of control and the ear-splitting silence that surrounds the kidnapping of Christian Peacemaker Teams' James Loney - screw it, I need something more.
I put on an extra sweater under my jacket and head out the door.
The main floor of the now neon-light-less Spadina stalwart is the unlikely venue for Peace And Release, a weekly Sunday-night teach-in/coffee house that's connecting the city's music scene with the anti-war crowd.
Organizers from a loose coalition of peace groups have done a good job getting musicians involved. Both Hawksley Workman and Jason Collett have dropped by to deliver intense acoustic sets, and when I arrive this Sunday I'm told that Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor is on the card.
Rebecca Johnson from Christian Peacemakers, tonight's host, job-shares with Jim Loney at CPT. She does the admin stuff and Loney the progam coordination.
"The detainee abuse issue is not an aberration. It is systemic and ongoing," she says, referring to the reality that many Iraqis are arrested and disappear into the semi-official gulag of U.S.-run prisons there.
To highlight the point during the information part of the evening, a hooded man in coveralls is led onto the dimly lit stage and placed standing on a stool as speakers read stark first-hand accounts gathered in Iraq.
There's the story of Ahila Amin al Azawi, a mother of five. Her husband was arrested late one evening when their home was raided by American troops. "He was a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war, and when he left the military he was a taxi driver," her testimony reads. "An informer told the U.S. military that my husband was a terrorist. He told them this just to get money."
In many ways Ahila was lucky. She was at least able to locate her husband, Sohaib, at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. However, the once able-bodied man had to be carried out to meet her. He couldn't walk due to the torture he'd withstood.
According to Johnson, detainee abuse is only one of many problems with the detention system. Many detainees are taken in violent midnight raids on homes. These "terrify and sometimes injure entire families, destroy property and detain multiple innocent persons along with the guilty," she says from the stage.
Most in the audience at the half-full club this night are peaceniks. (Keelor fans didn't know about his appearance.) Among them are a couple of deserters from the U.S. armed forces. Ivan Brobeck was in Iraq in 2004 as a U.S. Marine. When he learned he'd be shipped back to Iraq last March, he went AWOL.
"I got lucky in a way," he tells me. "I got away without killing anyone." Brobeck always wanted to be a Marine. He went straight to boot camp two weeks after he finished high school.
"There was a lot of killing of innocent children," he says matter-of-factly. "I became very angry at the unnecessary level of violence and disrespect for Iraqis." Brobeck and about 20 other U.S. military deserters are awaiting decisions on their refugee claims.
It has often been said that Jim Loney's kidnapping, if nothing else, offers those close to him a glimpse of what it must be like for the loved ones of the thousands of Iraqi detainees. So by the time Keelor hits the stage, I'm in a sombre mood. Luckily, he isn't. He rips through a half-dozen tunes with typical irreverence.
When the crowd gives him a rousing ovation for a Christian spiritual, he can't help himself. "That's an empty-netter with this crowd," he quips. "I've been thinking a lot about peace these days. It's a state of mind. It's like the promised land. And I like the promised land."
Amen to that. Peace And Release happens every Sunday through March 19, which marks the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.