I was getting set to write a very personal and uplifting entry today and I will get to that in a minute. I got interrupted with a phone call from a booking agency regarding an upcoming speaking engagement. The agent was connecting after a client who already contracted me voiced concerns about my blog. I won’t give details but a delegate attending the convention this Fall saw my name as a keynote speaker and seemingly unfamiliar with me, went to my website, then to my blog and read something they didn’t like. They contacted the conference chair no less to alert them to potential offensive comments based on opinions stated in one particular blog. Now I have to have a conference call with the chair and probably others to assure them I won’t offend anybody from the stage. Seriously? Ironically, at the beginning of this offensive entry, I state categorically that my blog is a completely seperate entity from my on stage persona. That doesn’t mean that I am schizophrenic…oops, don’t want to offend schizophrenics! That doesn’t mean I am a fake on stage. I have been a professional speaker since 1981 and I continue to be one of the busiest in our business for reasons I can only imagine may have something to do with my reputation. Do you honestly believe I would purposefully damage that? So I write a blog that I unofficially call “My Rant Zone”. It clearly states in every entry but particularly the politically sensitive material that I mean no offense and nothing personal but write what I am passionate about and guess what, not everyone agrees. I clearly disagree with lots of issues and my blog is specifically for that. It is intended to provoke discussion and perhaps even provoke some change in personal behaviour when it is possibly required. Again ironically, this offensive entry included an admission of my own flawed viewpoint as a 21 year old and how someone blatantly calling me on it, and indeed offending me at first, made me re-evaluate a perpective, which I chose to shift and grow better as a result. We have become so politically correct that one person’s complaint can railroad entire issues where the voice of the majority is muted. See`my recent blog about that!
HERE IT IS IN BOLD!!! I CALL MY BLOG MY RANT ZONE AND MEAN NO OFFENSE TO ANYONE. I ENCOURAGE THOSE WHO DISAGREE TO DO JUST THAT AND THAT IS WHAT MAKES LIVING IN CANADA SUCH AN HONOUR. WE CAN SAY WHAT WE FEEL AND HOPEFULLY RESPECT OTHERS OPINIONS EVEN WHEN THEY MAY NOT BE THE SAME AS OURS!
So, back to what I started to write about. I want to tell you the end of the story first. On Wednesday, July 24th, my 27 year old son, Vance and I went to see Canadian legends and recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, Rush play a concert in Red Deer. It was supposed to be in Calgary but after major flooding to both the city and the original venue, Calgary Saddledome, the event looked in peril but not only did the Centrium in Red Deer, home to the WHL team the Rebels, come through as an alternate site but all proceeds and I mean ALL went to Calgary Flood Relief. Ironically, I wasn’t going to even attend because my wife and I are out at our cottage for a vacation 11 hours from home and as awesome as Rush is, it takes something pretty serious to pull me from paradise. Trouble is, I was invited! I was actually supposed to see them in Edmonton last year but the date conflicted with my own gig so I graciously declined. What transpired to have me invited to see Rush?
Two years, maybe more, ago, I was speaking in Niagara Falls for the Ontario Student Leadership Convention. My youth talks are pretty consistent when it comes to school assemblies but my leadership programs step it up a bit as their attendence is most often connected to their leadership roles in their own schools like student president or prime minister. On this particular day, and it seems in the last few years, I had to address bullying issues and my personal journey through bullying was significant but I survived and much of the catalyst for my growth was music, especially drums. In the recent documentary about the band, “Rush…Beyond The Lighted Stage”, drummer, Neil Peart talks about his own troubles as a teen and in one of life’s great ironies, he says in an inerview in the show that “Drums became his instrument of self-esteem”. The man is a genius and I am a great admirer of his playing but more so the person. So I talk about that admiration on my own stage and in this gig, and I don’t have a history of saying this but it is still a truth that playing drums in my basement in Yorkton Saskatchewan and trying to play as well as drummers like Neil Peart grew my confidence in such monumental proportion, it may have saved my life! So somewhere in the 2,500 students present, one of them used their phone to video record the segment and post it on You Tube. It doesn’t go viral but it gets out there. Fast forward a few weeks and I speak at a school in Ontario where one of the administrators hears my Rush reference, happens to be childhood friends with one of the Rush management team who she then shares my story with. She tells the band, they look at the video and the next thing, I am invited to the concert.
I have to add a bit that may strike you as an odd point but I vividly recall getting in my SUV for the three hour trip to Regina airport to fly to Calgary and drive to Red Deer and I was in such a weird funk. I was actually pouting about leaving the cottage and sheer hassle of the next three days, not to mention the simple fear of the unknown. Even though I was invited, I had to buy the tickets as being a benefit, there were no comp seats. I didn’t mind paying but had to get them from “will-call” and had no details of where in the arena we would be. Plus, and here’s the kicker, the tickets included a “meet and greet” with the band. They are usually after the show and as weird as this may sound, the show was due to end at 11:00 at night and Calgary is ninety minutes drive so who knows when we would get back. I had an early flight back to Regina the next morning and then a three hour drive back. Isn’t it bizarre that these thoughts were actually in my head? So I literally gave my head a shake and reminded myself to “Live In The Moment” something I learned from my wife and others who challenged my old-school-at-times point of view, and from there on the trip was great. It would turn out to be one of the most memorable events of my life!
The next thing I know, the meet and greet is before the show which was scheduled to start at 8:00 so we’d get to meet the band around 6:30…woohoo! Please understand that I am not a “celebrity hound” but this was so much more. I wanted to meet them, of course, but more important, I wanted to thank them sincerely, especially Neil Peart, for the role they played in my development as a muscian but more important, as a person. There was only one minor glitch (at first); there were close to 20 people for the meet and greet so each pair (all were in pairs) had literally ten seconds to meet, pose for a photo and move on. No chit chat, no autographs…no kidding. Then the next downer; Neil Peart would not appear! He is famously shy and never does the fan stuff and quite frankly, I get that. Even in my small-fame game, I get peopled out. Oh well, definitely a moment for “It is what it is”. Vance and I met Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee and truthfully, I was pretty thrilled when Geddy said, “Oh Yeah, you’re the drummer we saw on video…cool man” Geddy Lee called me cool! Wow. So we got the photo, moved away and the great gal who is the administrator’s friend (I like them to remain anonomous), arranged all of this for me and I got to meet before the show apologized for Neil’s no show and assured me it wasn’t personal. She made a passing comment about trying to get some souvenir but no promises. And then she gave Vance and I a big surprise. She swapped the two tickets we bought for two front row seats that were dead centre. They were literally “the best seats in the house”. So, just like kids, we found our seats which were maybe six feet from the stage and just sat there. I am 53 years old and this was a first! About five minutes later at around 7:45, a big guy in a crew shirt came to us on the stage side of the barrier and asked if I was Alvin Law, the drummer? I replied curiously and he produced a pair of drumsticks. He said, “I am Neil’s drum tech and he asked me to bring these to you with his compliments. He used them to play in the last concert and hoped they would be a suitable replacement for not getting to meet”. Is there any words you might suggest to explain the feeling I got cause I coudn’t find any…and I’m a speaker! Five minutes later, a guy we briefly met at the meet and greet showed up in the same spot as the drum tech. He introduced himself as the band’s personal security manager and minded if he told me something (he will also remain anonomous). To paraphrase he basically said this: Mr. Law. I wanted to come down and thank you and make sure you got the gift from Neil. He really did feel bad but he is who he is and trust me, he doesn’t give out such gifts very often so you should know that. I tried to interrupt but he cut me off. He said he came down to tell me he heard me speak at his school in small-town Saskatchewan back in the 80’s. He said he was a bit of a runt and got picked on a lot (we didn’t call it bullying) so he felt sorry for himself quite often…until the day he heard me. He said it changed his life. He talked with his parents, decided to join the military. He worked out, bulked up and embraced the military life mostly for his desire to serve his country and stick up for the “little guy”. He served his time, got out and started working in private security eventually starting his own firm which led him to being hired by celebrities from movie and tv stars to rock bands, which led him to Rush whch led him to Red Deer which led him to the meet and greet which prompted him to find me and come down to say that there were excellent odds that had he not heard`me speak, he probably would not be where he is today and wanted to thank me profoundly. I tried to be humble and deflect a bit but my son, of all people interrupted me and said to this man, “He tries to downplay it all the time but my dad touches people all the time and that’s why we are here tonight”. Yikes. I got pretty emotional so I got up on my feet, took a step and the guy shook my foot, gave me his card and told me to keep in touch. He them made me promise to take it all in from the best view of Rush there is and that I deserved everything I got for all I have done. Amazing. What is truly bizarre is the school he referred to from 1981 was in Canora, Saskatchewan which is 15 minutes from our cottage!
So, what could one section of this blog have to do with the other and what is my point? My amazing father was what some may call a lowly mechanic but he was a truly great man and where my Mom taught me most of my skills having no arms, my Dad was more a life lesson guy. I hesitate to call it “philosophy” just because that wasn’t Dad. For example, Dad used to take me golfing even though I couldn’t play and we’d walk the course and chat. I was mostly his spotter and would track his golf ball finding it when it went out of bounds. He’d occasionally go in the woods and I’d usually find the ball and one time I suggested just throwing it back on the fairway. He said, that would be cheating. I said there was nobody playing along with us, just him and I, no tournament…how could it be cheating? He said, because he would know. He then gave me one of his great life-lessons. He said, “Son, think of life like a game of golf. You may think you are competing against the other players but the truth is you are competing against the golf course and ultimately, you are competing against yourself. To cheat is to cheat yourself but if you think nobody will know, think again. The Golf gods will know and they are always watching…always”. Frankly, that has been one of my guiding principles of my entire life.
But add one more component; I am never forgotten! That’s isn’t meant to sound arrogant, it is a fact. People never forget the “guy without arms playing the drums with his feet”, or other iterations. Just buying gas gets me noticed and remembered. How I present myself is always on my mind and more important, I am completely aware of what happens when I have a moment of human weakness. Just a few weeks ago, a guy came up behind me in a play ground zone in our neighborhood in Calgary. The speed limit is 30 km/hr and he was probably doing 60 to 70 when he cane up on my bumper, very close I might add. So I gently braked…he honked so I slowed down even more. He didn’t like that. We live on a corner of a busy intersection so for safety, we back into our garage from the street so we don’t have to back onto it. Therefore, we stop in the curb lane and wait for traffic to clear so as I approached the house with this idiot still on my butt, as I stopped, he stopped next to me and rolled his passenger window down and started shouting obscentities at me so I gave it back reminding him that it was a playground zone where children are present and he was speeding so I slowed him down reminding him I could easily write down his license and call 911 for being threatening. He told me F off and sped away. Problem was, my wife was with me. She got very upset which led to an uncomfortable argument. Several weeks later, this incident came up and still caused tension until she reminded me of something somewhat melodramatic but disturbingly true…he could have had a gun! And besides, not only am I not a cop, but who kmows who he was, why he was in a hurry (maybe his wife was in labour, etc.) but more to the point, who he was. What if he happened to be in the audience for my talk someday and all the good work I do is tainted by an immature outburst? I knew I married her for more than her good looks.
When I got back from the mind hollowing experience that was three hours of musician and showmanship that is unmatched by any band in the world, I sent my school admin lady a big thank you for mentioning me to her Rush management pal and in essence, starting the ball rolling. She replied, “No thanks required Alvin. The afternoon after you spoke in our school, a seventh grade girl who’d attempted suicide came to my office looking for someone to thank for bringing Mr. Law to her school. She was so inspired by my “real life story” she vowed to stop thinking about just herself, feeling sorry for herself and be a better person”. That was a couple of years ago and she is turning into a model student.
So who is Alvin Law really? I am pretty sure there are infinite descriptions but there will always be a few who for whatever reason decide they don’t like me or my opinion. That’s okay. It is theoretically impossible to please everyone (read my two truths entry for more on that) and once in a while, let my guard down and hurt someone’s sensibiities but I will say that what drives me is very simple. I have dedicated my life to honesty, integrity and the pursuit of truth…my truth. I’d rather ruffle a few feathers in the process than idly sit back stewing, moaning and complaining about how unfair life is. It can be unfair, and it is definitely not easy but it can be incredibly sweet!