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Canadian author Paul Quarrington, pictured in his home on May 21, 2004. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Canadian author Paul Quarrington, pictured in his home on May 21, 2004. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Essay (with music)

It's Not Dark Yet: A final song from Paul Quarrington Add to ...

Note to readers: Paul Quarrington died of lung cancer a year ago today, on Jan. 21, 2010. To mark the anniversary of his death, his former bandmate Martin Worthy sent the Globe this story and a prophetic song that they recorded together in 2008 with their band, Porkbelly Futures.

In September 2008, Chas Elliott and I wended our way up to Chas's cottage in the Kawarthas. Chas is the resident "bon vivant" in our band Porkbelly Futures and, apart from playing the bass, he advises on all the finer things in life. Specifically, food and drink. The menu had been planned, so the talk on the way up was about wine. We were the advance team for the rest of the Porkbellys, who were due to arrive the next day.

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Adjacent to his cottage is a storage shed. It may have once been a garage of some kind but now it's where they store the sort of things one finds put aside at a lakeside cottage. Children's-size cross-country ski's, a weightlifting bench with various weights, a rug, two slabs of drywall, a slalom water ski, a chainsaw and couple of old tires, an odd number of snow shoes and a table saw. We emptied out the shed and put its contents outside under the trees and covered it all with tarps and plastic sheets.

Inside the now empty shed, we rolled out the carpet and proceeded to set up my drums, his bass gear and our portable recording equipment. Mics, stands, computers and cables were all connected. We did some level checks and waited for everyone to arrive.

The next day Paul Quarrington, Rebecca Campbell and Stuart Laughton rolled in with instruments, groceries and just the right amount of wine. You know how much that is....

For the next four days we would be playing, writing, recording and experimenting. These recordings were going to be for our ears only. No one but ourselves would hear them, and with that in mind we could truly let our guard down and be as bad or as brilliant as providence would allow. Not much thought was given to what we'd actually play on each song, although often there was at least a short discussion about song structure. I guess you could say that these sessions could be called "pre-production" sessions that would eventually lead to a new record. But truthfully we were just hoping to have some fun, find out more about each other musically and perhaps take Porkbelly Futures to places we didn't think were possible.

We had done this a few times before and each time we had discovered something remarkable.

On this occasion we had an assemblage of new songs, half-finished songs and a notion to try a couple of cover tunes. We had talked before about doing some covers, and it seemed to make sense that we should do at least one Dylan tune. Paul had chosen It's Not Dark Yet.

At the end of the recording, as the strains of the final chord faded, I remember looking up and into the eyes of my bandmates. It felt, as the spell melted away, like we were slowly surfacing from some deep immersion. I can clearly recall turning and looking out the window to my left, through the trees and out onto the lake. There was a sense of calm and gratitude for the privilege of sharing such a moment with these gifted musicians and friends.

Dylan's lyric, "It's not dark yet...but it's getting there," hung in the air. And as Paul had sung those words, no one in that shed was aware that he was already ill.

Eight months later our dear friend would be given a fatal cancer diagnosis. Inspired by his courage and lust for life, we would climb aboard his bandwagon and go careening through the next eight months, at an ever-more frenzied pace. Straight at the precipice that lay ahead - January 21, 2010 - without letting up.

I believe there was only one take of this song. There's only one on the hard drive and I think that if we had done another, we would have at least fashioned a proper ending for it. Oh well....

When I listen to this, I am transported back to that precious moment and, at the same time, I find myself looking ahead. Looking ahead wistfully to what might have been. But also looking forward, as Paul would've done, to what might be. Oh the possibilities! But most of all, I feel love and gratitude.

So as you listen to this, if you find yourself dwelling on the past, cherish it. And if your eye sets upon the future, run headlong into it.

And if you're near someone you care for, tell them you love them.

Paul Quarrington was a multi-talented, award-winning artist musician, filmmaker, screenwriter, author, journalist and teacher. He died of lung cancer on January 21, 2010. For more information, visit www.paulquarrington.org

Martin Worthy is Paul's oldest closest friend and continuing member of the band Porkbelly Futures. He and Paul played, wrote and toured together for decades, the last 10 years in the band Porkbelly Futures. The band released a CD dedicated to their colleague called The Crooked Road, which has a number of tunes the two wrote together. Martin also heads up the Quarrington Arts Society; for more information visit www.quarringtonartsociety.ca.

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