This article was originally published on April 13, 1985.
No one has spoken for more than an hour as the brand-new blue Econoline van, nose pointed east, two fresh cracks in the windshield from highway stones, hums along across Saskatchewan. Tour manager Neil MacGonigill is behind the wheel, with Ted Borowiecki next to him; Dennis Marcenko sits in the next row of seats; Gord Mathews is asleep on a mattress in the middle of the van floor. Behind him, Kathy (K.D.) Lang is sitting with her head back against the seat, eyes closed, while drummer Dave Bjarnason, frowning in concentration, is massaging the back of her neck; she wrenched it by accident while whipping her head about a little too energetically at the band's gig the night before in Saskatoon.
Flat red-brown fields extend as far as the horizon in all directions, occasionally relieved by clusters of cattle and splashes of red, green and yellow farm machinery. One lump of ground has a small white house on top: "If you get a hill, that's a status symbol," says Dennis, who grew up in Saskatchewan. "If you get a hill and a tree, that's a double status symbol." We stare ahead at the horizon, vigilant for houses with trees and hills, and start talking about the opening night of K.D. Lang and The Reclines' tour the previous evening. The tour - which leads from Saskatoon, to Kenora, to Thunder Bay, on through Sudbury, Ottawa, Cambridge and Toronto, and possibly Halifax - was scheduled to start in the band's hometown, Edmonton, with a concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, to be broadcast nationally by the CBC. Because of promotional problems, though, the symphony concert has been postponed until November.
Neither Gord nor Dennis managed to sleep the night before the Saskatoon date. Gord worried about how the band would work out, whether people would remember their arrangements. Dennis wondered if he had remembered to pay all his bills for the next six weeks. Also, he didn't like leaving his girl friend so recently after they'd set up house together.
The concert was at a building called The Western Development Museum, which features pioneer artifacts. It's illegal to advertise privately promoted concerts where liquor is served in Saskatchewan, so the 500 people who showed up at the gymnasium-shaped hall had to sign up as members of an "art appreciation society." If beer is served, food must be served, too: long tables were set up around the room and popcorn and sandwiches were sold.
Saskatoon was a hit. In the first set, one batch of speakers was accidentally not turned on and, though no one but Grant the soundman noticed, he was mortified. The audience whistled, whooped and clapped enthusiastically from the start.
By the end of the night, the spirit was of an all-out revival meeting. The crowd covering the dance floor spontaneously threw their hands into the air as K.D. sang the religious rave-up boogie number, Saved. It starts off with a country version of Amazing Grace, moves into "I used to smoke. I used to drink. I used to smoke and drink, and dance the hootchie-koo," and climaxes with a series of proclamations that "I'm saved]" They loved the Nancy Sinatra impression (where K.D. takes the tail from the hobby- horse that hangs above the stage, and dons it as a wig) and Neil said he thought the dance contest for The Mashed Potato was the most successful yet. Eight people jumped up on the stage, each trying to win the audience's approval as the best potato masher. When K.D. asked the winner if he had anything to say, he answered unexpectedly: "It's ploughing time again," so K.D. led the crowd in singing the line to the tune of the country standard, Crying Time Again. Then she said to the Mashed Potato champion, "Get out of here, I love you." Later, in the van, she says, "You know, when I asked him what his name was onstage, he said 'John,' but I've met him before and his name is Mark. It's funny - people always lie about their names onstage." She has two names, too: offstage, she is generally called Kathy (her middle name is Dawn, thus K.D.). Onstage, she is K.D., a mad hybrid between Olive Oyl and Elvis Costello, with lots of Patsy Cline and even Elvis Presley thrown in.
Offstage, Kathy appears solemn, with almond-shaped blue eyes, and a manner that is more private and guarded than the musicians'. At other times, she can be spontaneously affectionate, wrapping a protective arm around one or another of her band member's shoulders, punching and poking them, playing the tomboy.
Between sets, dressed in her costume, with her glasses and her cut-off boots, she sits in a corner by herself, and usually doesn't talk or even smile. Everyone seems pleased with how the two new musicians, keyboard player Ted and bassist Dennis, are fitting in. But there's a bit of an aftershock from the firing in mid-March of their predecessors. Gord, the guitarist, who has been with the band almost since its inception, explains that the personnel change took place just two weeks before the tour started: "You know, everyone was doing their job," he says. "But I guess not everyone was really giving it something extra and offering new ideas. Kathy was looking for something more zany than she was getting." Both the new players do session work around town. Ted plays piano, synthesizers and accordion, and he's rated by the others as the most advanced musician in the group. Ted considers jazz his main musical interest. "The deal I have is that I'm committed for this tour. Then, if I still like it, I'll stay and, if I don't, I'll leave. I'm looking for something like this, though. It gets tough freelancing after a while." Dennis estimates he's probably played in more than 30 bands, including an early version of Loverboy with Paul Dean, which he didn't want to join because he was making good money as a stockbroker, driving his own Porsche, and enjoying his life in Alberta. When the recession hit, he went back to music for a living. He's anxious to fit into the new band. "I know my bass lines, and I know which ones I have to work on. What I'm worried about who I'm supposed to be out there." he says. "Everyone knows who Gord is, and everyone certainly knows who Kathy is - playing with her is like having 220 watts of energy blasting away beside you. Dave does his thing on drums, and Teddy's like this pillar over by the side of the stage. But who am I supposed to be?" Dennis works hard to make himself indispensable. He announces K.D. on and off the stage, and does a dance with her holding onto either end of his bass. The day after the gig, Kathy and Gord bestow the two new guys with nicknames: Ted Borowiecki becomes Ted Beer-and-whisky and Dennis Marcenko becomes Dennis More- Drink-O.
The important thing is to get the sound as tight as possible before they reach Toronto, site of their first major triumph last November. "In Calgary and Edmonton, people dance to us. In Vancouver, it's a trendier thing - a kind of K.D. mania," says Kathy. "Toronto was the climax - the media attention, the line-ups, everything. It was surprising, but in a way we were ready for it. After Vancouver, we were pretty sure Toronto would go for it. I think New York will, too, because we're not trying to put anything over on people. Places that have seen it all can understand right away that our music is basic and heartfelt." After the Toronto dates, Canadian record companies sent word to their head offices in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, and head offices said they wanted to see her live, but not in Alberta. "Nobody in those cities seemed to know where Edmonton was," explained Larry Wanagas, K.D.'s manager, on the phone from Edmonton. "I'd say, 'We're in Edmonton; you know, north of Billings, Montana?' And they'd say, 'Billings? You've got the wrong department - let me transfer you.' And I'd say, 'No, Edmonton - you know, as in Wayne Gretzky?' When they said, 'Who?' I knew we were in trouble. So we decided to go back to Toronto. Everyone had heard of the Blue Jays."