Ian Tamblyn has written more than 1,500 songs over his lifetime and released more than 30 albums, earning a Juno nomination and a Canadian Folk Music Award in the process. So we were thrilled here at Roots Music Canada when he offered to share some of his wisdom with us. Ian has reflected on and written about many facets of artistic life over the years, and we’ll be publishing some of those writings in the coming weeks. Thank you, Ian!
There was a time when I possessed a very large collection of moose and Mountie memorabilia. I had postcards – volumes and volumes of moose and Mountie postcards. I had everything, and it was all very kitschy indeed. I had stuffed moose of all descriptions, beer trays, ashtrays, antlers, and ceramic liquor bottles, Mounties with their hats as the corks. I owned a large collection of moose sweaters and cardigans. I won’t go into the details of why I had this collection. Let’s just say now that it had something to do with deficiencies in my character. One day, I brought home an ash tray that had been affixed to the left hind leg of a former moose, and this marked the end of the collection. For some reason, my partner found this item in particular ascetically offensive, and the next day, I found the entire collection on the front lawn.
Several years later, the summer of 1989, I was playing croquet on the front lawn when I got a call from someone at CBS Records. I dropped my mallet and raced for the phone. My ship had finally come in. I was being discovered, and it was John Hammond Sr. wanting to sign me up. Such were my thoughts as I picked up the receiver.
“Hi, you don’t know me, but my name is blah blah, and I am with CBS, and the Cyndi Lauper tour, who is in town tonight.” On he went about who he was and how he had heard of me, always liked my records and blah blah. But I was hearing something entirely different. I was making some other, serious connections in my synapses that had nothing to do with reality. As soon as I heard Cyndi Lauper’s name, I was thinking about Rob Hyman, the writer who had written the brilliant song “Time After Time” with Cyndi. Later, he and his band-mate, Eric Bazilian, would co-write Joan Osborne’s tune “(What if God Was)One of Us.” Hyman and Brazilian had once been in a group called The Hooters, who were signed to Columbia. It was all making sense to me. In the early 80s, I was a fan of this band. I really liked their writing and their use of mandolin and accordion in what was a pretty tough rock band. In my mind, I thought they sounded a bit like my band at the time. This was also probably delusional, but through some twist of fate, my album fell into the hands of Rob Hyman (I sent it to him), and he wrote back a kind note, and we exchanged a few letters. As I was not listening to this guy on the phone, I made the connection that Rob Hyman had spoken to Cyndi about my work, and now my good friend Cyndi had come to town, and this guy from CBS was calling me up to discuss my wonderful songs when I heard him say, “Ian, I was just talking to a friend on the crew here, and he tells me you have a large moose and Mountie collection. I was wondering if you would happen to have a Mountie hat?”
I beg your pardon. What has my former collection got to do with my newfound friendship with Cyndi Lauper and me signing with CBS?
But I didn’t say that. I just said “What!?”
“If you do have one, we would like to make you an offer for it, cuz Cyndi had a great idea on the bus that she would like to wear a Mountie hat in the show and then in the middle of ‘Girls,’ toss it out into the audience like a frizbee! Great idea don’t you think?”
I was thinking more on the lines that my ship had come in alright – and sunk in the harbour.
But what I said was, “I think I have two.”
“You have two Mountie hats? Man, that’s great. Then if you’d be willing to part with one, how much would it cost?”
But I was thinking, what an idiot I am! Of course Cyndi Lauper wouldn’t know I was a songwriter, and Rob Hyman never spoke to her about me. She wouldn’t know me from Adam, even though I had once taken a vocal workshop from her vocal coach! What an idiot!
But what I said was, “I think they’re in the garage. If I can find one, she can have it.”
“Man, really? That would be just great. I’ll tell you what: if you can get it to us by seven, I’ll leave you two all-access passes, which means you might get to meet Cyndi after the show. You’ve heard of Cyndi Lauper right?”
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I said.
“Well Ian, you gotta meet her. She’s a great gal! And she does like to have fun!”
“I’m sure she does,” I conceded.
“Well Ian, thanks so much man. I’m sure this will make the show! See you at seven.”
The croquet game had morphed into GnTs by the time I got off the phone, and when they asked who was on the phone with, I simply replied, “Cyndi Lauper. Have you seen where I put my Mountie hats?”
There were no further questions.
That night, I took my hat to the Cyndi Lauper concert. I was met at the gate by Blah Blah, and he took the hat and gave me two all-access passes and said he would see me after the show. Cyndi was great, and she did like to have fun. The guitar player had a bit of trouble with the opening figure of “Time after Time,” but then there she was, riding atop the keyboard player’s shoulders. He was dancing around the stage, she, waving my Mountie hat high above her head. And then, there it was, tossed, arcing like a frizbee, out, out into the audience, complete with a spotlight!
At the end of the show, I wandered over to the backstage area. There were all kinds of people clamoring to be by Cyndi’s side, including two teenage girls who not only wanted to have fun; they looked like they needed to have fun. I looked at my all-access passes and gave them to the two girls. I then walked into the summer’s night with “Time after Time” still in my head. What a great song.