LUKE DOUCET performing (at 3:50 pm) as part of TASTE OF THE DANFORTH along with EXODUS (1:30 pm), KAT GOLDMAN (2:40 pm), First Generation (5 pm) and the Backstabbers (6:30 pm), at Logan and Danforth, Sunday (August 11). Free. www.tasteofthedanforth.com Rating: NNNNN
How many musicians can boast that they got shit-faced with with a rock 'n' roll legend before turning 16? Picture this. It's just before Christmas in New Mexico when a wide-eyed Canuck kid walks into a bar with his mom, sister and stepdad in tow. There's nowhere to sit except a big round table where two crusty-lookin' dudes are holding court. One, a portly guy sporting a massive beard and hat, beckons the happy family over.
"We figured, hey, when in Rome," reminisces Canrock cowboy Luke Doucet 10 years later, itching to get to the punchline. "They got us completely wasted, and it turns out the dude's none other than Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top! I asked him if he was into jamming with the country bar band, but he said his management would kick his ass.
"After reading obsessively about the world of guitars, I learned that Gibbons really did have some agreement with his management that he wouldn't jam in public. Something about maintaining the rock-star mystique."
It's not your typical Rockwell family Christmas photo. But then again, Doucet's not your typical musician.
The Manitoba-bred ex-Vancouverite's hard to pin down. On the one hand, you've got the swaggering rocker who rips with those jagged electric guitar riffs and visceral howls in Veal, the West Coast psych-rock trio who are about to put out their grittiest, garagiest work yet.
But then there's Doucet the lone rider. His solo disc, 2000's Aloha Manitoba, paints a picture of a broken-hearted, road-weary troubadour. The album's a kind of aural diary, a collection of bittersweet snapshots and quirky character sketches that cast Doucet as a Canadian Tom Waits -- with Waits's whisky rasp replaced by a melancholy voice tempered by truck-stop exhaust.
It's the indie cowboy who appears at this weekend's Taste Of The Danforth street party (for performers and set times, see live music listings, page 37) before heading out on tour with his rock 'n' roll band. So how does Doucet balance the two divergent pursuits?
"I'm a Gemini!" he roars over a beer on a scorching Queen West patio. "Being consistent is not my job. I thought Veal was done a year and a half ago. Then I decided to make a rock 'n' roll solo record and realized I already had a rock 'n' roll band I liked. To define rock via the sum of its musical parts is missing the point. The relationships transcend those definitions.
"Sure, it'd be strange for Luke Doucet to make a rock 'n' roll record, but I write from a different perspective with the band. It's easy to be self-absorbed and self-indulgent when you're writing from a sensitive folkie perspective. With Veal, I have to represent the other guys as well. If they say, "Dude -- that shit's lame, take it away,' then it's gone."
Doucet sometimes wonders if what he's doing is too trivial. In a parallel universe, the 20-something songwriter would be writing op-ed pieces slamming Margaret Wente in the Globe, or sitting on the UN.
After what he dubs a mid-life crisis at 15, the cowboy abandoned his international law aspirations in favour of becoming a professional guitarist, practising eight hours a day for five years. He approached music as a trade, making his name as a working-class musician -- but that had drawbacks.
"It's very easy to lose credibility. Indie rock and working-class music, ironically, don't go together. You'd think they would, because the indie rock world probably fancies itself being a leftist art world. But there's a lot of disdain for plying your trade."
What's clear is that as much as he cultivates his outlaw persona, Doucet seems relatively grounded. As the songs on Aloha Manitoba suggest, he's drawn to the nomadic lifestyle, but at the end of the day he's got to be accountable to his six-year-old daughter Chloe, who lives in Vancouver and is staying with Doucet for six weeks at the time of our interview.
For the record, Chloe digs her dad's tunes, although she doesn't always understand what they mean. Doucet filters out his "juvenile delinquent" material with little white lies.
Unlike Billy Gibbons, Doucet doesn't have to worry about maintaining his rock-star mystique. He's probably still best known for being the man behind the curtain on other people's stuff.
Over the last few years, his guitar playing's been featured on more Canadian albums than he can count. Check out Chantal Kreviazuk's Colour Moving And Still, Oh Susanna's Sleepy Little Sailor, Delerium's Poem and Sarah McLachlan's Freedom Sessions, for starters. He also did time as a member of McLachlan's touring band for years, something he says "still plagues" him.
"It's been eight years since I left," says Doucet shaking his head, "and it still comes up."
His work-for-hire material's snagged him the most recognition. When Doucet walked away from the 2001 West Coast Music Awards with musician-of-the-year accolades, you can bet it wasn't for any of his own material. He didn't take it too seriously.
"That award doesn't mean a fuckin' thing. It's just industry people having a fiesta to congratulate themselves on their work. I think my name came up 'cause I'd played on a whole bunch of Nettwerk records that year. It's not like I got together in a room with all the best musicians in Vancouver and played faster than them."
Doucet shudders. His discomfort is characteristic. You get the sense that part of the appeal of the outlaw mentality is his desire not to play the music-biz games.
And who can blame him? It's gotta be rough getting more props for being the second banana than the main attraction.
"It gets to me 'cause I thought I'd be the next Neil Young," he sighs. "There are times when I think, "Fuck -- what if that never happens? What if I end up 50 years old, hanging out at the Blue Note Café in Winnipeg, doing blow and complaining about the state of the music industry?
"But the more I do, the more I become aware of all the things I haven't done yet. That drives me more than being the rock star I thought I was gonna be when I was 15, jumping on my bed in my underwear waving my arms around like Pete Townshend."email@example.com