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Grant Lawrence: After three tries, a Canadian indie band’s tour diaries finally yielded a book


(Raeanne Holoboff)

Why now? It’s a question I’ve been asked several times about my new book, Dirty Windshields: The Best and The Worst of the Smugglers Tour Diaries. Why publish a memoir of 16 sordid years spent in an indie rock ’n’ roll band that sputtered to a stop way back in 2004? Is 2017 a special anniversary year for the band? Is it the birthday of your best album, or your biggest hit single? Well, the Smugglers never had a hit single, so that answers that. We formed in back in 1988, and no one really celebrates their 29th anniversary. The real reason is I just couldn’t get it done for a very, very long time. It took 12 years in fact, with more stops, starts, stalls, and breakdowns than our crappy Volkswagen tour van.

From the Smugglers’s very first gig, back at the Chicago Pizza Works in Vancouver (now a Royal Bank), I began keeping a diary of every show and tour. At first, like any diary, my notes were just for me to look back upon, keeping track of what songs we played and what bands we played with, and anything notable that may have happened – like, say, the club catching on fire, or flooding, or the patrons rioting.

When zines became popular, I printed out a few of our tour diaries and sold them at our merchandise table. They sold surprisingly well, and I began to receive encouragement from music writers and journalists who interviewed us. The most complimentary among them kindly suggested I try to compile the diaries into a book. I was flattered, but I didn’t want to do so until the story was done.

When the Internet came along, I posted the diaries and soon began to field a startling amount of comments, compliments, and questions about the road stories from fans. I took that as a good sign.

In 2004, after a rollicking DIY rock ’n’ roll adventure that spanned three decades and four continents, the Smugglers wound down like an old dog. It was an uncharacteristically quiet ending to a bombastic 16 years on the road. The one upside to the breakup was that, besides finally giving ourselves a prolonged chance to get rid of the body lice once and for all, our story was finally over. I could try and publish the Smugglers’s saga.

But when I sifted through my 16 years of diary entries, I didn’t know where to start. Many of the earliest pieces made me cringe with embarrassment. I knew I wanted to write about a life experience, but it took me a while to realize I was totally burnt out on rock ’n’ roll. That’s why my first book became Adventures in Solitude, a family memoir set in the wilderness of Desolation Sound, B.C. – about as far away as you can get from the indie club circuit of black-painted, windowless rooms that stink like urinal pucks.

Attempt number two at the rock ’n’ roll book morphed into The Lonely End of the Rink, another memoir, this time about beer-league hockey and my continued attempts to overcome a lifelong, love-hate relationship with hockey and other sports. Then, on the third try, well over a decade after the first shot, I was able to complete the Smugglers book. In the end, I started at the beginning. Those terribly embarrassing early diary entries became the backbone from which the rest of the narrative grew. I surprised myself by having a lot of fun writing Dirty Windshields, because I was reminded how glorious the open road can be. I hope that readers also have fun jumping in the van with us for the ride. Finally.

Author and broadcaster Grant Lawrence was the lead singer of the Smugglers. Dirty Windshields is published by Douglas & McIntyre.