Winston interviews Jowi Taylor
As veteran CBC broadcaster Jowi Taylor gets ready to launch the chronicle of his Six String Nation project next Tuesday at the Gladstone, he takes a moment to trade a few riffs with Winston.
W: People usually put historical artifacts in museums. Why did you want to turn them into a guitar?
J: There are all kinds of things museums are doing these days to make museums more "interactive" but the ultimate interaction is tactile. And although I have received some criticism that the pieces in this guitar "should be in a museum", nothing gets people as genuinely excited about history as when they actually get to hold it in their hands. The reason that it's specifically a guitar is that the guitar is arguably the most democratic instrument in the world. It is crosses genres, cultures and social strata like few other instruments: it's portable, generally affordable and relatively easy to play. And those all factors when you bring together disparate pieces of history that reflect the contributions of all kinds of people from across the society - from Prime Ministers, painters, athletes and authors to hunters, cowboys, orphans and oyster shuckers
W: Of the 69 component artifacts, which one made you the most excited to acquire?
J: Well, while there's a lot to be said for trying on Maurice Richard's Stanley Cup ring but there's no question that obtaining the piece of the Golden Spruce was the most challenging and rewarding adventure of the process for so many reasons. For one thing, it meant going to Haida Gwaii, which is an extraordinary place and I'd encourage anyone to go there - and we met some equally extraordinary people there. But what was truly incredible was that it was a real challenge for the community to agree to let us take this piece and sparked a lot of debate and conversation within the community in the 18 months since we first proposed the idea. The fact that it was so controversial right up until days before we went in to the forest for the task, meant that ultimately that gift came from somewhere very deep and very profound within the community. And the depth of that gift makes me grateful every day.
W: Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, or scissors?
J: Books are made of paper, right? I think I'll go with paper.
W: You have taken the Voyageur guitar from coast to coast to coast. What was your strangest experience?
J: Hmmmm..... eating the muskox in Iqaluit was one and having one of the Manitoba Chiefs from a First Nations Conference in Vancouver play the guitar in the airport departure lounge was another but I think the killer would have to be the Ness Creek Festival. We've gotten used to being in all kinds of different accommodations across the country - from a rickety hotel in Dawson to the Super 8 in Carraquet to varioius billets to the luxurious Brooke St. in Ottawa. At Ness Creek, which takes place on a conservation area in Saskatchewan's near north, Doug and I were given a little bunk-cabin in the woods across from the main festival field. It was a little frame of 2X4's covered with a tarp. It pissed rain like you would not believe the first night and the tarp held up just fine but we didn't sleep much anyway - not because of the sound of the downpour but because there is no curfew in the middle of nowhere! The mainstage went until about 3 in the morning and we were at some kind of acoustic sweetspot where it was like they were playing super loud in the top bunk.
W: What books are currently on your bedside table?
J: Last several issues of Believer, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, On Some Faraway Beach, the Eno biography by David Sheppard and Brilliant Orange by David Winner. Yup, there they are on top of that pile, just waitin' to git read. Did I mention the size of this pile?
W: Do you remember your first guitar?
J: Now, you remember that I'm not a guitar-player, right Winston? So actually, THIS monstrously difficult, financially exhausting, emotionally trying project IS my first guitar. That's not counting the Spanish guitar that was just "around" when I was growing up (must have been mum's) or my friend Dave's Les Paul Sunburst that I loved to hold, even if I couldn't really play it.
W: If you could have any super-power, which one would you chose?
J: I thought there was only one super-power left!?!?
W: What will be the final resting place for the Voyageur guitar?
J: I'm kind of hoping it doesn't rest, if you know what I mean. That's just death for an instrument - then it's just an object or curiosity like any other. Ideally, I will donate it to a suitable institution that will give me a job building an apparatus around it that will allow people to access it for performances or education or who knows what long after I've come to rest myself.
W: Who is your favourite Sesame Street character? Why?
J: Grover. Because he always meant well. Sadly, I feel like he's been sort of passed over. I mean, what the hell is Elmo if not a little brat meant to twist a knife in Grover?
W: What five songs would you put on a mix-tape soundtrack for Six String Nation?
J: Sorry, did you say 500? It would kind of have to be. I mean, who the hell puts 5 songs on a mix-tape? In terms of the people who've already played "Voyageur" there are some standouts like Stephen Fearing doing "The Longest Road", Justin Rutledge doing "Jellybean", Mae Moore's rendition of "Snowbird", "There Has Been an Eruption" by Kryie Kristmanson and the untitled piece I commissioned from Don Ross. But that doesn't even scratch the surface. If you're talking about a mix to play FOR the guitar, I'll have to go with some advice Stephen Fearing gave me minutes after debuting the guitar on Parliament Hill on Canada Day 2006. He said: "It sounds great but to start opening it up you're going to want to take it home, put it on a guitar stand in front of your speakers and turn up some reggae really loud for about 8 hours."