20 Questions: Luke Doucet

Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist Luke Doucet sits down for an epic 20 Questions, where he expounds on the virtues of Facebook, the White Album, and pomegranates (yum!)

Luke Doucet is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. The Toronto Star has described him as "the best young guitarist" in Canada, and in 2006, he was nominated for a Juno Award for his album, Broken (And Other Rogue States). His newest LP, Steel City Trawler, was recently released to critical acclaim.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The Kids Are All Right. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg obviously set out to write a depiction of the tribulations faced by a two-mommy family. Given that this film is in the theaters (I saw it in suburban Maryland) it is obviously intended for mainstream audiences and thus one would expect the emphasis to be on the “gayness” of the characters and subject matter.

What makes this film so moving is the fact that between Cholodenko’s direction and the brilliant interpretations by Julianne Moore & Annette Bening, by the end of the film, I was oblivious to the fact that this was anything but an ordinary All-American family. Softball and the Indigo Girls could easily have dominated the emotional landscape, but the relationships in this family were treated seriously, and given more subtlety and candor than most of the endlessly tedious “straight” films that drive Hollywood.

The film’s emotional depth easily eclipses any of the boutique, designer family cheap points that this movie could easily have scored—especially with dyed in the wool social-liberals like me. Never did I feel condescended to in the name of “selling” the merits of a non-traditional family. And in the age of Sharon Angle, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and all their xenophobic/homophobic friends, such superficialities would be excused. This film will enrage many of their ilk. Yay…

2. The fictional character most like you?

I was born in ’73 and my middle name is Luke (there is a tradition in our family of being called by our second names), so when both Luke Skywalker (1977) and Luke Duke (1979) entered the pop culture lexicon, I was pretty thrilled with my parents’ prescience. And while it may seem juvenile to be clinging to the facile fascinations of one’s prepubescent self, there may be more to my childish obsession than childish obsession.

Luke Skywalker ultimately always did good, even against the lure of the dark side -- especially difficult when your father is the dark lord -- so while this seems obvious enough to feel a kinship of this kind, it carries more meaning than I might otherwise admit, and it is not always flattering. Do-gooders are annoying, self-righteous and often in the way of actually doing good. Skywalker’s impatience and earnestness, at least in up until Return of the Jedi, often got him in trouble.

As for Luke Duke, his appeal may have been more about fast cars, country music and cousin Daisy than actually trying to save the world, but I have never ceased dreaming of the day when my car door is accidentally frozen shut and I have no choice but to climb in through the window in my tight jeans. See? I come by my skinny jeans honestly, and not just because I weigh 143 lbs. Blame the Duke boys and Dwight Yoakam.

3. The greatest album, ever?

The Beatles -- White Album. This is the sound of the greatest band ever in the midst of disintegration. And while critics often deride it as a disjointed and fractious effort, I find it to be the most emotionally rich compilation of songs ever put to vinyl. All the elements are represented. The rock & roll of John’s "Revolution" and Paul’s

"Helter Skelter" rank among their most powerful post Dylan-said-we-sing-about-nothing era, while John’s "Dear Prudence" and George’s "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (complete with Clapton’s divine touch that even the most ardent "blooze" haters can’t deny) are love songs on the surface while their underbelly belies an existentialism that had been hinted at since Rubber Soul but only really came to fruition on this record. This album was played more than any other in my life, making it the most important to me if not the world’s greatest.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars. The hot girls are actually human. The music is epic thanks to John Williams, who then, in what must have been a gag, reproduced it almost verbatim in the Superman film the following year (1978). Sarcasm was practically introduced to pop culture via the facetious smarm of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Chewbacca was as truly huggable as Darth Vader was fearsome. George Lucas also managed to imbue the epic tale with some subtle yet undeniable social commentary in the sense that there were, in all episodes, differing races/species of creatures that ultimately had to (and did) find common ground against their habitual instincts. Wookies, Droids, Ewoks, 800-year-old Jedi Masters, etc… all co-existing. For the '70s, this was forward thinking stuff.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Ok… brace yourselves.

Facebook (!)

In the last year or so, I’ve tailored my Facebook presence to represent something more than eavesdropping into the narcissistic minutiae of every person I’ve ever “met". Every morning, I log on to greet a collection of the above but on most days I am also treated to discoveries by some bright people who have unearthed any great number of political diatribes, speeches, factoids, opinion pieces and thought provoking asides that, given my OCD, I can’t help but engage in. This is not what I expected when I first signed on the Facebook. I expected to snoop into personal lives of ex-girlfriends, guitar heroes and high school archnemeses but it did not occur to me that I might be fed a constant diet of “best-ofs" by Paul Krugman, Eric Margolis, Christopher Hitchens, and the like. What separates this experience from hunting the same pieces down in the Huffington Post or is that people like my father, Roland, have already done the research and they just drop it into my world in the event that I choose to participate.

Some of the most thought provoking debates (sans raised voices) have come to pass. Unlike real time debates, where one gets excited and often fails to calmly get one’s point across, the Facebook world is one where most people take a moment to (quietly) compose themselves and formulate a (not always rational) reply that actually reflects their thoughts. I can’t think of a forum pre-Facebook that would have encouraged the average person to engage in meaningful and important discourse with a group of people whenever they so choose, without having to be the A-type debate team sort (politician??) in high school. In a world increasingly littered with misinformation and armchair experts, more discussion is essential. The downside of the democratization of thought via the internet is that anyone can post any litany of bullshit and there will always be a few takers. The upside of Facebook is that if you so desire, you can surround yourself with a group of people who may choose to disagree in a civilized way, greatly increasing the odds that truth may triumph. I believe this is a new phenomenon among commoners like me.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I have recently become a distance runner. Due to my insomnia, I have had to take progressive measures to increase the weight of my eyelids. It turns out that running 45 miles a week is a very effective way of knocking yourself out. It also promotes a healthier lifestyle off the road. I drink less, eat healthier, drink more water and am kinder to my wife. This may sound like garden variety mid-life crisis but I am still in my 30s. Don’t tell me “it’s not very rock and roll”. Mick Jagger runs five miles a day too; I do seven.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

I am a father, a husband, a record producer, a singer-songwriter, a session guitarist and a long distance runner. I value all of these things a great deal and some of them will outlive me. However, I’m not so concerned about how I’m remembered. Legacy is not so important to me as a person. Like any artist, I just want to be part of the conversation that art is. I’d like my work to affect people and affect the trajectory of rock and roll. If I accomplish that, I don’t mind being personally forgotten. Those who obsess about legacy are probably caught up in the wishful-thinking fallacy of surviving one’s own death. I’m pretty content to make the most of being here now.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Django Reinhardt had two functional digits on his left (fretting) hand and yet has remained unparalleled in the realm of acoustic (or any other) guitar. He stands as a testament to determination and willpower.

The world of rock music (as different from the almost dead art of rock and roll—completely different) suffers from a deficit of craft, as articulated by Stevie Van Zandt (Little Steven) in the following article:

I’m not one to espouse the much bandied about complaint that “things were much better back when” but it certainly does seem that today’s artists are more interested in being clever than being skilled. It is the ultimate style over substance era that we inhabit.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I find cities to be the most remarkable artistic (and engineering, social, political) experiments of our existence. They represent our greatest socializing ingredient, what with hundreds, thousands or millions of us all navigating through the same labyrinth. And Venice is all of this floating in the Adriatic.

I loathe being a tourist. 18 years of being on the road has made me so weary of fanny packs, sun visors and Hawaiian shirts that I’d rather be indicted on charges of bestial pornography than to be a common tourist. I know this is elitist but it is not of my choosing. It is simply an innate reaction. This is why Venice has such a special place in my heart. There is no way around the fact that Venice is a haven of tourists, all peering down the same alleyways towards each other, as if the vision of another fanny pack is worthy of a mention in the next Mill Valley-bound post card. What makes Venice the great creative masterpiece it is, is the fact that it is so unusually spectacular and unlikely that all the tourists vanish. It may be the only place in the world where I am perfectly happy to not attempt to blend in with the locals.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

I can drive a stick shift in the UK—in London to be specific. The learning curve was excruciating and tearjerking to be sure, but now I am quite comfortable renting a car at King’s Cross and making my way through central London to the various towns throughout the city or out towards Heathrow, Gatwick or beyond. Most real rock stars will never develop this skill because they always have people doing this for them… this is not really a hidden talent. I will tell anyone. It was too hard fought a victory to conceal.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

My father told me that if I wanted to play music that I had his blessings but that I would need to work much harder than I thought. Some people are very talented. Some people are not quite so much. My mother told me that I was free to “suck latex” as long as I enjoyed it and was good at it. There it is again -- “good at it”. The notion that one should have a craft was impressed upon me from the very earliest days of my life. It’s all fine and good to be talented but only a craft will guarantee that you will eat. I took this advice to heart… and I eat. Daily.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I stole a Foreigner cassette from the local music store in Winnipeg, Manitoba when I was 11. It remains the only thing I’ve ever stolen and not returned (hung over the next day). What made it so significant was that it was a really shitty record. I learned then that I should only have things I knew I would really want, and I should always pay for them, which only makes you value the thing even more. My friend Rob used to shoplift from the HMV in the mall. He called it “HM Free”. Truth be told I was mostly just chicken shit to steal. Probably a good thing.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Levis. Armani is too expensive and I’d rather spend my money on guitars. I enjoy dressing well on occasion but dressing up regularly makes one a target for wandering eyes. It’s like volunteering yourself to the perils of fame, namely being looked at. It’s like when famous people (or wannabes) wear sunglasses in the airport. They do it for one reason; so people will stare at them to figure out who they are (God forbid nobody cares). “Fame is not good for artists, as to be an artist is to observe, and one can’t observe when one is constantly being observed." I thought this was Ken Kesey but I can’t find the source. Either way, I like it. So yeah, it’s Levis over Armani, as a rule.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

My sister always maintains that Tom Waits will one day come to dinner and have soup at my mother’s table. I find this unlikely, even as a fantasy. No manner of easy talk and pretending not to really be a fan will change the fact that one is dying to make an impression, a condition that necessarily undermines real discourse -- the Achilles heel of meeting one’s heroes. However, if one were to bring him to the Ritz, there would be no pretense of normalcy. The food would be exquisite, the service painfully stuffy, and the Manhattans perfect. If one were a journalist of repute and Mr. Waits had a film to promote, there might be a chance to chat him up. He wouldn’t indulge in a cocktail, as he’s been sober for 20 years -- but I would.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

300 years into the future (Where??? That is irrelevant. It is TIME travel.) Because the future is unknown and yet it would appear we are heading for big changes. War, population growth, global warming and its side effects (i.e.; more war) could very well produce a Mad Max-like post apocalypse that I would have a morbid fascination to witness.

Even more fascinating would be if the future holds more of the best of what we currently have in only the best parts of the world. Perhaps the Right is right and we will all benefit from the increased wealth of the top 3 percent as they benevolently distribute the benefits of their wealth in the form of good paying jobs to all the world’s working people; perhaps global warming is a hoax, perhaps our empire building in the Middle East will only bring peace, perhaps we will colonize the moon and Mars, perhaps gay marriage will be kept at bay, sparing us all the downfall of modern civilization… perhaps Sarah Palin will be President and set everything RIGHT. Yay. That, I want to see.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Stress management for me come is the form of five 10 km runs and one 20 km run per week with maybe a day on my bike or an hour at the pool. As I said before, these may be the hallmarks of a good midlife crisis (or a good mid rift crisis) but as a career insomniac & a mood swing connoisseur, I can safely say that sweating it out is more effective than the hit man or the Prozac (I do like a few beers though…). As for the spa vacation; always a good time but still too controlled for me. I like my stress management to be a solitary venture, with nobody even suggesting when to act.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

While beer and wine are the most ubiquitous vice in my life, it would be silly to call them essential, so I nominate the pomegranate. Not only are they good for you (anti-oxidant perfection), but they are also fun to dissect.

Fill a large bowl (or small sink) with cold water. Chop the top and bottom 1/2 inch off of the pomegranate so it will sit on a flat surface without rolling and make four small incisions in the corners (I know there aren’t really corners but indulge me), remaining careful not to cut too deep so as to avoid breaking too many of the seeds. Once you have four small incisions on the top and bottom of the pomegranate, hold the fruit in both hands and twist it to break it in half. The small cuts should make it just pliable enough that it will break, with almost no casualties among the succulent blood-red jewels.

Submerge the two halves in the cold water and slowly (patiently!) remove the seeds from the outer peel, discarding the white skins found on the inside. Once you have removed all the seeds and they are clean and excess water has been strained… eat the seeds by the handful. Pure perfection.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I am a city boy and I always have been. While it is true that the clean air and quiet skies of the country replenish one’s reserves in ways no city can, once my reserves are full I am always more comfortable in the crowded streets of Toronto, Chicago, Copenhagen or Halifax than I am the vast fields of Saskatchewan or the mountains of Colorado. I suspect that this may change as I get older.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

The leader of my country has an agenda to make Canada unrecognizable to those who have known and loved it thus far. “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it,” is what he said. He aims to make us more like our neighbors to the south. We are already so much like them by virtue of our proximity and that is fine. It may be one of the factors that make us great, but the other one is how different we are from the world’s last superpower.

We are more polite. We are more patient. We are more lenient. We are more socialized. We are more educated. We live longer. We have fewer guns. We are less likely to be obese. We are more tolerant. We play hockey better. These things are good and we must protect them from the encroaching culture from the south. That is what I would say to our Prime Minister.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I am working on promoting the new Luke Doucet and the White Falcon album, titled Steel City Trawler, named after my new(est) home town of Hamilton, Ontario.

Between tour dates I will play shows with the Sarah McLachlan band and finish recording an album of duets with my wife Melissa McClelland.

I am also in the process of reading Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

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