He Can Capture a Moment . . .
But He Can't Capture Time

by Mary-Lynn McEwen

As Blue Rodeo singer/songerwriter/guitarist Jim Cuddy sits in the Concorde and sips on a coffee that signifies the end of his meal, it is surprising to learn that his memory of the band's first visit to Calgary is an extremely clear one. Eleven years after the tour to promote their debut album, Outskirts, he still reminisces about the fact that the staff at Murphy's Pub were snotty to the band, that they refused to allow them to move tables to create a dancefloor, and that the band had to stay across the street at the dubious digs that were the York Hotel in it's prime of hookers, drug addicts and seediness.

I tell him that my first experience with his now well known and well loved group was as a member of a band that played at the same Murphy's one week after Blue Rodeo had and the waitresses, without exception, sported Blue Rodeo T-shirts. I learned to hate Blue Rodeo to the core because no matter what kind of stops my band tried to pull out, the staff there could not stop raving about Blue Rodeo and how godlike they were. He laughs and adds a few tidbits to his story.

That kind of memory for detail and that kind of clarity in expressing a moment are the same qualities that have strengthened Cuddy's songwriting through the years. There is something about the way Cuddy and Blue Rodeo singwriting partner Greg Keelor write that captures universal snapshots in time and emotion. "We sang the national anthem at a baseball game in Ontario with President Bush and Brian Mulroney there, and we sang half the anthem in French, and there was a lot of booing. The next day Mulroney commented on it in the House of Commons, and some political journalists interviewed us because of the scandal, very serious and at the end he talked about, I can't remember what song of ours it was, but he said it described his breakup with his wife, it was really connected with him," the blue-eyed Cuddy recalls.

With the release of All in Time, Cuddy's first solo album, the tradition of songs that captures an essence continues. He is at no loss to explain why many of his songs center on relationships as a hall of mirrors in which one can never be sure about what one is really viewing.

"I think the thing that happens is there's always a moment when you think things are going great and then there is a revealing moment, and you can clearly remember it later. It's like the New Years Eve song on the new album, I come down all happy and then I realize that there's something terribly wrong that I'm missing. A lot of those are about when the bottom falls out, those moments when you realize how inadequate your tools are for withstanding and understanding, and you can never be too confident that you have a grasp on it," Cuddy says.

"I mean, I've been married for 14 years, but we go through those moments and you wonder if it's going to work. Greg and I go through those moments. We've been together for 25 years, and you know a bond of friendship is a form of love as well. It can be intense and you grapple with it."

Some of that intensity became apparent last year when Keelor decided to put out his own solo album. "I don't think I would have done a solo album if Greg hadn't decided to do one. It opnened up the time and it also opened up the possibility, and inside that door was the fear of breaking up, would we break up if we did stuff outside the band?"

With seven albums behind them and a loyal following that turns out at every concert hall and folk fest in herds to support the band, the idea of a breakup seemed absurd. Not so, Cuddy admits.

"There was the longest time when we were just sustained by being a new band, then all of a sudden our drummer leaves and it's like 'What are you leaving for? We're in this together.' Then Bobby (Wiseman, the band's first and most eclectic keyboard player) leaves and you start to realize a band is a very fragile entity." But the solo albums, it turns out, helped strengthen Blue Rodeo as a unit, not dissolve it. "I think the solo records were because we don't really discuss things a lot. Greg and I always walk together and we always seem to turn the same way. So we had to sort of discuss the idea that this has a shell-life and I think the solo records were a way of introducing the subject while still doing something different." The upshot was a new clarity and appreciation of Blue Rodeo and it's talents. "We had to acknowledge that there was a certain sadness that we weren't working together. Then, all of a sudden the landscape was clear again and we could start thinking about this live record and our next record - what should we do, where should we go?" In the meantime, Cuddy's stint with his band will bring him to smaller gigs across the country, including Calgary. Bet the waitress won't be snotty to this Canadian icon, and that the tables respectfully be pushed off the dancefloor long in advance.