by Andrew DeCanniere
Ever since I heard about Grant Lawrence’s second book, The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie, I had been eagerly anticipating its release, and this summer, I finally had the opportunity to read it. Last week I spoke with Grant about his experiences with hockey, the (perhaps unexpected) intersection of art and sports and much more. Read on to see all he had to say...
UR Chicago: First of all, I just have to say that I really enjoyed your book. While I read your first one [Adventures in Solitude], I’m not really a sports-oriented person, so I was a little bit curious as to what it would be like, but it really is very relatable whether you’re a hockey fan or not.
Grant Lawrence: Right. Neither was I really, as you could read in there, for a large portion of my life. I’m hoping the book is relatable to people who are both not sports-oriented at all and people who are as well.
UR: That’s actually what I was getting at. Despite the fact I’m not a sports fan, I found the book interesting. I think it’s great.
GL: Yeah. A lot of it is trying to punch through and find the good side of sports, the friendly side of sports. The side that’s about camaraderie and fun and good times, as opposed to brutal violence, you know? That’s what makes hockey a rather fascinating game. It’s the only major sport — the only team sport — that allows fighting, for one thing. That’s so strange, if you analyze it. At the same time, because it’s on ice, the game can be incredibly fast and incredibly graceful. That’s the kind of conflict I’ve had with it for my entire life.
UR: Well, I can certainly see that it would be hard to reconcile the two.
UR: I also certainly found it to be relatable personally because, like a lot of people in grade school and high school, I had some similar experiences. Perhaps not all of mine were as violent as the run-ins you experienced with bullies in your school — like the run-ins you had with Buck, for example — but they were close enough.
GL: I think a lot of people can relate. There’s a lot of talk about bullying in school these days. Certainly when I was going to high school — which was in the 80s — if you were attacked or bullied or whatever you didn’t talk about it. I talk a lot in the book about ‘the code,’ like you can break ‘the code.’ I just don’t think teachers cared about it as much. It was just seen as survival. Darwinism. I named one of the chapters “How Darwinian,” after the Dan Mangan song. Life is about survival on many different levels. Mental. Physical. Elementary school and high school is really about figuring out ways to survive the experience. Some people breeze through it, and some people have a really difficult time. For the first part of my high school experience, it was unbelievably difficult, but at the same time I am able to recognize now, with empathy, that the “bully figures” — the jocks — were also going through the exact same process. They were trying to figure out ways to survive, and the way that they survived was by trying to climb to the top of the heap. The way they got to the top of the heap is they tried to knock off the weakest of the herd. I really think that’s an animalistic herding instinct, and looking back on it now, it makes sense to me. You just can’t be that weakest link, and if you are the weakest link, you have to figure out how to climb up that ladder just a little bit. That’s what I had to figure out how to do, and it was pretty difficult. The obstacle that seemed to be in my way at that period in my life was anyone wearing a hockey jacket.
UR: I guess that’s kind of one thing that a lot of people have in common, especially around that time of life, when everyone is sort of trying to find themselves, their place, those people that they fit in with. For some it happens earlier, for others somewhat later.
GL: Yeah, and as with everything I write, it’s written from a totally individualistic perspective, but my hope is that — my end goal is that people can relate, people can see themselves in the stories. They may be a little more violent than some people have experienced, or they may quite frankly be much tamer than some people have experienced. You know, there was some pretty wild behavior, but it was in a fairly nice suburb of Vancouver in Canada. It was a pretty clique-y, wasp-y suburban school. So everything is relative. My experience could be worse than some or better than some. I just hope, at the end of the day, people can relate to some of the stories.
UR: And it’s a pretty interesting story, too, with some pretty universal themes.
GL: Yeah. If there’s one universal theme in the book, I would say it’s probably survival. As I mentioned earlier: mental, physical. Just getting through it and hopefully getting out of it unscathed and maybe even winning. That of course can be a metaphor for hockey, as well. You’re put in this arena that’s walled, and you have a whole bunch of people banging and thrashing around. When I’m playing goal I am often hoping that I get through the period and I won’t get hurt. You know? Like, I hope I won’t take a puck off the knee, and hopefully we’ll be tied or a couple of goals ahead, and you can look at life that way as well. I make a lot of metaphors using hockey, and it’s similar. It’s about survival. I think that would be the most common theme in the book.
UR: What also surprised me is that there’s this part in your book where you are talking with someone and they basically compare hockey and music. They say there’s really not much difference between a hockey team and a band. That’s something I really didn’t see, and it seems that you didn’t really, either.
GL: That’s sort of a cornerstone paragraph in the book. That was when I was really still kind of anti-hockey and anti-jock culture. I was still sort of licking the wounds from high school. It was Johnny Hanson of the Hanson Brothers who said that. He was pointing up at the guys skating around on TV in some shitty bar and he said that what they’re doing up there and what we do each night is really not that different. We travel from town to town. We load in our gear and get into the dressing room. We take off our street clothes and put on our stage clothes, just like hockey uniforms, and we get on stage. The thing that really clicked with me was that a team has to be in-sync to have success, and obviously a band has to be very practiced and play in-sync to be successful. That was a really enlightening moment for me, because I thought they really are so similar. Even the positions, as Johnny Hanson outlined them, are similar. Like the drummer is just like the goalie, using all four limbs to keep the tempo of the game steady. The bassist is like the defenseman. The defenseman works with the goalie, just like the bassist works with the drummer, being the rhythm section. Then, the lead singer is like the center on a hockey team — usually the captain — and then the wingers are the guitarists who just kind of be creative and do whatever they want, in order to succeed. Like an end-to-end rush in hockey — going from one end of the ice to the other with the puck and scoring — would be like a really incredible guitar solo. So, that moment has obviously always stuck with me. That was in the 1990s when he told me that analogy, and it stuck with me all the way to the point where it was suggested to me to form a hockey team. I thought ‘Oh God, no. That is the last thing I’m going to do.’ Then I remember that conversation, and my band [The Smugglers] was winding down at the time. I thought this might be a good sort of substitute for the band. The same sort of camaraderie, the same sort of feeling of brotherhood, but just playing a sport instead of creating music. It’s been a lot of fun.
UR: You know, I certainly wouldn’t have equated the two, largely because the arts and sports seem to be on such opposite ends of the spectrum.
GL: No, and with most people at around age 13, 14 or around 17, 18 — those are the key ages where you kind of make a decision. In life you’re often made to make a decision of one route or the other. Certainly, from what I’ve noticed, you either decide to go into sports or to go into arts, or you decide to go into sciences or into the arts. Arts is always this left-hand turn that seems to be away from everything else. So I made my decision to go into the arts around age 14 or 15, and it became my life. For my brother-in-law, Matthew Barber, he stuck with hockey right up to around age 18 and did very, very well in it. That’s when he decided to go into the arts. That’s something else that has fascinated me. But that’s what life dictates at that age. One or the other. Which direction are you going? What I like about life is that once you go through your right-of-passage in arts or science or whatever-the-heck, you can always go back to things later in life, as long as your body allows it. Luckily, even with the rusty hinges that are my knees, they have allowed me to discover for the first time in my life — on a positive level — hockey and how great it can be, and how thrilling and exciting and fearful. I mean, as I detail in the book, I’m totally neurotic about the position of goaltending and think about it all the time, but I now have more confidence than I did that I can make saves. We play at a fairly high level now, and we win games. So, I never cease to be amazed where life will lead.
UR: And I think that’s good — especially after a negative relationship with the game — to have replaced some of that with a more positive attitude towards it.
GL: Exactly. Look for the positives in life, and so that’s pretty much where I find myself now, and it’s been a lot of fun. Along the road there’ve been these bumps — and who knows? Some of those bullies I detail in this book are probably still out there now, but they probably have families and they probably have normal lives now. I just hope that if they recognize themselves in the book — whether it really is them or they just behaved like that in school — I hope that they recognize themselves and won’t act like that when they are raising their kids or what have you.
UR: It would be kind of alarming if they continued on like that. Hopefully, as you say, it was just a sort of survival mechanism — albeit a very ill-advised one — and they’ve learned and they’ve grown and matured, as people can and do all the time, and wasn’t a sort of real, “permanent” personality.
GL: Well, life changes and times change, and hopefully that will be recognized as well. Bullying is definitely more on peoples lips — especially with social media. Social media has brought on this whole other level of bullying. Louis CK has a really great statement on this recently, where it’s actually more of a challenge face-to-face because you see your comments hurt people, and if you have any empathy you go, “Oh, okay. I just hurt that person.” But on social media you can say whatever you want and you never see the reaction. It’s a little bit more faceless. However, quite frankly, I grew up with bullies who clearly took pleasure in hurting, so I don’t know. It exists all the time, whether it’s cyber or face-to-face. It’s taken a little bit more seriously — or a lot more seriously — now, than it was when I was going to school where there was that code of not telling.
UR: With me there actually was one incident in which I was bullied by the principal’s kid, and so the staff took the kid’s side of things, even though it was immediately apparent to everyone that they were in the wrong.
GL: Certain kids are protected. If they’re the best athlete in the school, bullies are often protected because the school needs them to survive and excel on an athletic level. There are a lot of conflicting interests that exist as well.
UR: Speaking of bullying, an issue that figures quite prominently in your book — one that you write quite candidly about — what do you think schools can do to change the dynamic and prevent the sort of things that happened to you, and address the cyber-bullying as well.
GL: I think that schools are doing a lot more. I mean, every kid in high school is trying to find their own identity, but it’s important to try to neutralize the cliques and neutralize the forces that — I think anyone can see when a kid is being bullied. Once I got to grade 12, and I had a little bit more power in the school because I was now in a cool rock band, I could walk the halls and I could see who was being bullied and who wasn’t in the younger grades. I could see what was going on. If I could walk down the hall as a student as easily pick out the bullying, then teachers should be able to do it as well, and I think that if teachers and the people who are actually supposed to be in charge are more aware of it, it can be dealt with a little bit more easily. Everyone needs to be aware of it. Kids just can’t be left behind. Again, I think it’s a lot better now, but it still happens. It still happens all the time.
UR: Well, the good news is that it sounds like there are some pretty simple solutions that can be pretty easily implemented, as long as the schools are willing to put in a bit more time and effort, and the time and effort are well worth it.
Grant Lawrence is a music journalist and host with CBC Radio. He can be heard on CBC Radio 3 Podcast with Grant Lawrence, on his daily show on CBC Radio 3, and on various regional and network programs on CBC Radio One. Previously, Grant was the lead singer of the internationally acclaimed Vancouver band The Smugglers. Grant is also the goalie of the Vancouver arts- based beer league hockey team the Vancouver Flying Vees. He is married to Canadian singer Jill Barber and they live in Vancouver, BC, with their son Joshua. The Lonely End of the Rink is Grant’s second book.
The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie is out on October 26th, 2013 and is published by Douglas and McIntyre. To find out more about Grant and his new book, log onto www.grantlawrence.ca.
You can also see my 2011 interview with Grant Lawrence regarding his debut novel, Adventures in Solitude (Harbour Publishing, 2010), HERE.
Photo Credit: Christine McAvoy
This article originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine on October 23rd, 2013.