This new blog is being written Thursday, August 26, 2021. I don’t typically time stamp my blogs but the exception is noted because I’m about to become famous…in Japan!
I wanted to show the day before my life will enter yet another path I never anticipated or could have ever predicted. It seems like the story of my life…literally.
I want to keep this brief because it could be a very long tale. In fact, that is the problem. Where to start? Well, how about this. Let’s start at the end. From today, the 26th, through to the 31st, I’m going to be part of a group of musicians being profiled on prime time National television in Japan. I only found out yesterday, but I’ve known about the project for a while. I was asked to keep a lid on it. Not sure why but I did what I was asked. So, I drove to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the day back in June. The program’s producers wanted me to have someone film me, almost “Tik Tok” style, playing the drums, driving, eating, etc., but also do an interview with pre-written questions from Japan. My friend, colleague and tech genius, Robert Hubbs did the filming with iPhones, GoPros and other assorted geek gear, digitized it and sent it to Fuji TV in Tokyo. To be candid, we have experienced a few communication challenges so still a bit confused about whether it’s one long show or several shorter ones. I haven’t received a pre-release copy for some reason so not even sure what it’s going to look and sound like. Apparently, it’s in Japanese only and not sure about captions or interpreting. The point is, this kind of stuff doesn’t always sit well with a “control enthusiast” like me. But none of this really matters because I am going to be famous in Japan! That is so cool…and so weird, isn’t it? How could this have happened?
Back to an attempt at brevity. It appears as though a bit of a nemesis of mine, the internet, is the direct reason why. If I didn’t have social media, my website and YouTube in particular, I wouldn’t be writing this. So to get deep for a moment, it’s a bit like the “chicken & egg” discussion. The internet wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t happen to play the drums…without arms, of course. Obvious, but quite important to the story. I wouldn’t be a drummer, if a band director in my hometown of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, wouldn’t have invented a way to have a chair, some metal rods and clamps hold a trombone I would learn to play and master using my right foot to move the slide. Playing the trombone led to band and it was there I would meet a young drumming phenom from Yorkton, Eric Nikiforoff, who taught me to play a snare drum. And then, being into jazz trombone, I went to summer Jazz Camp in Fort San, Saskatchewan, where the lead percussion instructor, Jack Mouse, taught me how to adapt to playing a drum set…with my feet.
That led to my becoming a celebrity in Saskatchewan (easy to do) after I played the drums with a band on a telethon called “Telemiracle” in 1977 that an estimated 600,000 people watched. In fact, I could take this all the way back to being adopted by my remarkable parents who supported my journey100%.
In fact, my dream was to literally be a “Rock Star”! My guidance counsellor in high school, Ken Sherwin, was a great guy but poo-pooed that plan suggesting Broadcasting at Mount Royal College in Calgary. That led to being a disc jockey on FM Radio in Regina, Saskatchewan which would ultimately lead to my becoming a speaker…forty years ago.
I would ultimately choose a full time career as a professional speaker in 1988. I was considered to be one of the best student leadership speakers in Canada but my business skills lacked, to say the least. So after meeting Darlene in 1991 and becoming a couple later that year, she took over the office and we became business partners. If there was no Darlene, there wouldn’t be this blog because it was likely I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the highly competitive world of speaking.
Time out! So much for brevity. I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued by the seemingly disconnected events that lead to a story like this.
My life is full of them, and so is yours. Of course, retrospect is 20/20, right? One might even argue, it’s easy to see how this decision led to that decision, that led to a triumph or a tragedy. We could also interject regret. “If only I’d…blah, blah! Folks that are serious about their faith, and I mean nothing but respect, will often say, “It’s God’s Plan”! That one never worked for me. It started to sound odd during my adolescence because I struggled with self esteem and confidence so God was a better one to blame that praise. But what I did grab on to was my own brand of faith that I believe has shaped my life. I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice and “trust my gut”!
What’s happening in Japan is powerful proof. Let’s get to the conclusion, okay?
In 2015, I got a somewhat bizarre request on social media. It was from an executive producer with Channel 4 in London, England. “Would I be interested in playing drums for a promotional video for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio”? It wasn’t the same as the Nigerian money scam, but it smelled a bit funny. “I’m a speaker. Want me to speak?”
No, all she could tell me was the production was slated for the Spring in London. Folks, you need to know how careful I am to not be a modern version of the “circus side shows”, one of most degrading elements of our human history. Yet, I am a world class drummer. So, I trusted my gut, used my form of faith and in May of 2016, Darlene and I flew to London. We still had very little information. All we knew was a wardrobe specialist would be coming to the hotel to fit my stage clothes and we would be picked up by a private car service early the next morning and taken to a sound stage where the filming would occur. We were asked to stay for ten days. It was bizarre. Why would filming me drumming take so long. Then came a hint. I met two separate individuals who knew I was a drummer from my website and they were both handicapped musicians. It seemed there would be a band! Indeed, there was. We dubbed ourselves the “Yes I Can” Band and the music video was called “The Real Superhumans”! There’s a great picture of me behind the kit in my half tuxedo that started showing up on billboards around London. I was on the front page of The Guardian newspaper. I work as a speaker in England quite a bit so a colleague texts me this message…”Heh Alvin. About to watch the new Bourne movie in a theatre in London and all of a sudden I see you…all 60 feet of you on the big screen playing the drums! How cool”! Indeed. How cool? We even recorded the soundtrack at the famous Abbey Road Studios. Our entire band would be described as “Disabled”! Really? Precisely the point. This was to promote the Paralympics, not the Special Olympics, with due respect. They weren’t trying to sell a cheap gimmick item. The objective was to prove to the world abilities outweigh disabilities. A few executives at Channel 4 were apparently nervous about how the video would be received. Well, it won a gold medal at the Cannes Film Festival for, and I quote; “Creating content that challenges our misplaced notions of people with disabilities and celebrating their achievements with a truly global impact”!
Yes I Can – Even When Everyone Thinks They Can’t
I also found out the director was insisting I be the drummer. Why? Well, just like everyone else in the band. Because we were all world class musicians, not “disabled ones”! He had seen my website and watched a video where I play a drum riff without a band. He wanted me to kick off his video with that riff! How could a video from 1995 play such a huge role in another in 2016?
The same way that it led to my being invited to be in a new video for the Japan based “True Colors Festival” in Tokyo. With the Paralympics coming to Japan, Channel 4 were debating what to do this time. Frankly, it would have been a real challenge to improve on The Real Superhumans. There was a discussion about bringing the band back together but that lacked originality. They even tried to get a sponsor, the Nippon Foundation, to underwrite bringing everyone from the Yes I Can Band to Tokyo for the opening ceremonies of the Paralympics! The real problem was two-fold. Logistics would have been a nightmare. But, more importantly, it needed to be a Japanese production. It was a “no go”. Too bad. That would have been cool too.
But, bring on that “faith” again. In 2006, “The True Colors Festival” was born. Sponsored by the; wait for it…The Nippon Foundation, it was created to spotlight performers with special needs and happened in Laos and Vietnam. To be absolutely blunt, countries across Asia have struggled with inclusion and diversity so this project was aimed at chipping away at the lack of awareness. The key was these performers needed to be really good, to emphasize the point. So, in 2019, this same foundation was planning a huge concert to coincide with the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. That was when I first heard about my possible involvement in this show. It was going to be huge and public support for donations to the Foundation was essential so it was decided to produce a music video with handicapped performers, just like the True Colors Festival, to encourage support.
The concert was to be held in a new, 12,000 seat venue, featuring dozens of performers, broadcasting live on television streaming to over a billion people. The headliner was going to be Katy Perry. And they wanted me to be one of the drummers! We even negotiated a very generous fee and two tickets to Tokyo for my wife and I. Truthfully, I was actually conflicted because that would mean leaving the cottage in August! A proverbial smack from Darlene reminded me of this incredible opportunity.
Then Covid! Everything was put on hold, including the promotional video. This is the essence of “testing our faith”. It’s why it’s called “faith”, by the way. Quick fast forward to Christmas 2020, one of the types nobody, and I mean “nobody” could have predicted or experienced ever in human history. The project was back on. The music video needed to be produced but had to be done in each musicians own environment as Japan was closed!
Enter the scene, the aforementioned Robert Hubbs, who is definitely a geek genius, who brings over a bunch of stuff and we recorded my drum part for this new band, with musicians from all over the planet and none of us together in the same room. We’d never even met, with the exception of Jonathan from Brazil, who played the piano in the Yes I Can Band. He plays the guitar in this video.
Robert digitized all of recorded material and sent it to the producers in Singapore. The song is “Ya Gotta Be” and it exceeded expectations. It was to be released a bit earlier but then came more bad news. The huge concert was off. Covid strikes again. By the way, it has been tentatively scheduled for November of 2022.
At least this excellent video was released in early summer and then came the next amazing element of this story. With no concert planned during the Paralympics, how about a prime time television special featuring key members of this new video? It seemed crazy to believe this could happen. But it did. And it is. And it has reminded me that the way to get through all of our lives is to practise our own personal brand of belief.
One of my favourite “Laws” in my best selling book, “Alvin’s Laws of Life” is…”Never Give Up”! That’s also an act of faith! Keep that in mind the next time you have a cynical or angry moment in your life. You just never know what coming around the next bend in the road.