On Saturday night of Easter weekend about 25 people in Sooke ~ mostly members of the Sooke
Folk Music Society ~ experienced an intimate concert with Canadian singer-songwriter Jon Brooks. An essayist and master of his ‘pet’ guitar, Brooks profiles himself as a thinker, writer, traveller and ‘armchair theologian’ turned full-time songwriter (in 2010). He is already touring all over North America to small audiences of 20, mid-size of 200 (though he calls that big), and “5,000 might be the biggest crowd I’ll play to on any regular basis and that’s a festival stage,” he said following the show that was held at Sooke Baptist Church. “I never thought I’d be playing in a Baptist church,” he quipped during this part-talk, much-sung performance that with a short intermission lasted about two hours, and then expounded on the irony and hypocrisy of a myriad Christian denominations and the ‘scarring’ of people raised Catholic to which at least one gasp was elicited from someone in the back. Brooks believes in telling ‘the rude truth’ (a phrase coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson). For him, songwriting is an art form that – if it tells the harshest truths with melodic accompaniment – will hit home some important realizations about today’s modern world. He quotes Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free but it’ll piss you off first.” Brooks is a sharp observer of what he calls the “alleys” of life. Hear his lyric “…and in the alleys and in love there is the truth” a few times and it will sear deep. And so: “I’d like to start with your newspaper – the underground press is the last bastion of journalism today and also, in and of itself, a kind of ‘alley’. Like used bookstores, cemeteries, independent coffee shops and art galleries – the soul of a place may be found faster in such shadowy corners,” he pontificated later on. “Something about ‘youngest average age’ on Vancouver Island and yet no evidence of economic growth in Sooke (Sooke VoiceNews, Mar.29). That’s a bad marriage – at the very least, it’s a daunting first impression and a song could easily grow out of that fertile little statistic.” So Sooke Voice News asks: “What is society’s sliding edge nowadays?” and the singer-songwriter replies: “There is a blindness to others that is more pronounced.” Sooke has a “mythic quality” that is “crucial for a song setting”, says the Ontario-born idea weaver. Thinking runs deep: “That there is truth in love is impossible to prove and therefore (is) self-evident.” And his commitment to his craft is strong: “The greater the obviousness of the truth, the more it needs to be sung! I can feel people’s cathartic reaction pulsing along with me during certain songs. A songwriter is only afforded so many opportunities to sing ‘the rude truth’. An audience that laughs with you will follow you anywhere … but not until you’ve ingratiated yourself to them through humour.” Son of a one-time professional drummer , Jon Brooks is his own ‘one man band’. There’s a warm, melodic, full sound right from the opening beat. It’s amazing to watch and hear melody, harmony and self styled percussion emerge from one guitar (he usually plays his 1995 Taylor 615 Jumbo made of spruce and maple, now obedient to his every variant touch). Occasionally he pops the harmonica around his neck to add that tonality by which to repeat a melodic line while the audience absorbs the impact of his searing lyrics. There’s the song about a war resister who dismays that he was trained to kill, or the single mother shopping in WalMart who “cannot not afford to do what’s right”, or a song in which he laments how people may discover too late how small their problems were in the big scheme of things. An observer of personal strife and a social critic, the 44-year-old seasoned performer tosses out zingers between his songs that sit with you a while longer: “The lies, they hurt us. They lie by omitting the real truth.” or ”Our heart has a dark side; there is no darker place to hide than the beautiful countryside.” And there is sweetness and surrender: “Now that I’m older it’s mercy that I admire most,” he concludes in one line. In conversation he will tell you something that is best taken in the context of aiming for a healthy psyche and more balanced society: “Kids are too muchthe centre of everyone’s limited attention – the world
is too fascinated in an unhealthy way toward kids.” Many of the song titles are terse and fierce: Cage Fighter,Safer Days, and The Crying of the Times but his CD’s wrap up with positive tunes: There is Only Love and Because We’re Free. All of them performed at much the same hypnotic pace. CD sales after the show were brisk but autographs in CD covers were written after pause to comeup with a thoughtful annotation, to each new fan. The tatooed artist is optimistic about a world
that could be better than it is. His lyrics are intended to inspire calmness and hope in those who’ve seen evil and to terrify those who have not.” The www.jonbrooks.ca website which is heavily laden with reviews, commentaries and lists of
awards (at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in October 2012 Brooks received his third nomination in fiveyears for Songwriter of the Year), is headed up with one of Jon’s most signature lyrics: “How can we hear the stories of the people and yet we can’t hear the crying of the times?”
Kudos to the Sooke Folk Music Society for organizing this concert.