Band on the Run: Train Crashes the Party

I have been thinking a lot about trains lately.

On August 4th in Prince George, BC, there was a head-on collision of two CN trains just on the edge of town. The resulting derailment created a huge fire that burned into the next day and threatened the nearby Fraser River with contamination from the small gasoline spill. One tanker was northbound carrying the oil product and the other was southbound carrying lumber. The reports say it didn’t cause any “significant” environmental damage.

Isn’t even a little bit of damage significant?

This story caught my attention because it seems to be in line with my life at the moment. I’m heading through beautiful Jasper National Park en route back to Edmonton towards a flight home and I’m thinking philosophically. The elegant mountains and the crystalline lakes, black bears (I’ve seen three!), elk and moose (two!) are all setting the scene for a little self-reflection. Nature does it to me every time.

Beautiful. Pristine. Not deserving of any damage, no matter how “minor” it is deemed to be.

I’ve come to a point in my life when I can see that it has so many possible courses – performance, touring, composition, recording or record production, teaching, writing, language study, activism, China – and I’m wondering at what point it will all collide, head on and messy. Somehow, this weekend’s train crash struck me awake with that inevitability.

(Why so foreboding, Ember? What happened to having a good time? Enjoy the party!)

I was in Prince George when that crash happened. I was there because it was Lyndell’s sister’s wedding and we were able to attend (despite its remote location) thanks to the Edmonton gig and the Wells gig that framed it perfectly.

Anyway, it was the morning of the wedding day when we saw smoke in the sky across town. That cloud hung there all day long and into the night (the fire was visible for miles) and the commotion shut down a couple of roads and was all over the radio and television. Detours were put into place and life for Prince George carried on without much fuss. The bride and all of the wedding party were nonplussed about it all and the ceremony and celebration went off without a hitch.

(Well, except for them getting hitched of course – har, har!)

Still, it was on my mind.

I remember an incident in high school when two students – one rushing east down one hallway, the other heading south along another – collided head on and emptied classrooms with their yelling. Both were hurrying, head bent, towards their single-minded destinations. At that hallway juncture, both hugged the corner as tightly as possible for ultimate speed and efficiency and they arrived at the point of collision at the exact same moment with the exact same impossible angle to see the other or to swerve around and avoid the impact. One got a mild concussion and the other a giant goose egg but nothing terribly serious. It was forgotten the next day.

“Two Students Rushing Towards Their Futures Collide: No Significant Damage.”

I thought of all this when I was reading the online headlines about the CN crash. One talks about it being a result of “management error,” which (now that I’m gratefully back being self-managed) got me thinking about my renewed active role in all this coordination. Responsibility.

It’s so much easier to blame someone else, isn’t it?

As an artist/musician, I have been five months without management and I couldn’t be happier to no longer be in that working relationship. To say it was toxic is an understatement and saying goodbye to that bad energy in my life and career was one of the best decisions I’ve made in awhile. Of course, I learned a lot – plenty – and will always be grateful for that learning, but two and a half years of working with management does not make me an advocate of hiring a manager when asked by other artists. Quite the opposite, actually.

The trouble is, since I “broke up” with my management company, I’ve realized that I don’t really want to do it either. So much paperwork and responsibility all the time and it makes me want to reverse this locomotive and ship myself back to China where my career wasn’t in my face needing maintenance, needing management.

So, “management error” sounds quite right to me, because there were a lot of those in my two and a half years of having one. But, I’m ashamed to have become accustomed to the deflection of responsibility that having the management of your career in someone else’s hands offers.

I guess it’s like letting someone else drive the train, so-to-speak.

Deep breath.

This time in my life reminds of the end of high school, a time when it was all about options and the anxiety that they presented. Because options are choice – equal levers on the train tracks leading to new lines that are just as easy and hard to navigate as the old ones were. And these new lines lead into other landscapes that are no less beautiful than the ones I’m writing this in. Everything is possible.

I guess we’re all just as liable to be on a crash course with our futures as we are to be leading ourselves safely down the tracks. The trick is making it all work together without the collisions, like a symphony, like a network of trains, like a marriage.

So, throughout the wedding, the train crash haunted me – a day to witness a couple’s significant choice: two people coming together in lifetime union.

Sounds like a soft collision to me.

Maybe not all collisions are unsafe and cause damage.


I’m just going to choose to believe that and stop worrying. Enjoy the party, kick back and laugh more. After all, no mistake is going to be intentional and it all leads to learning, no matter how messy it becomes. And this natural world — this gorgeous country — is just too beautiful to not enjoy while we still can.

[It was at that conclusion that I rolled down the windows of the car and started taking pictures.]