August 15, 2013

My Life With the F-Word

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 8

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By Ra McGuire

I’m the singer for Trooper, a well-known and successful Canadian rock band. (Canadian readers will forgive me, I hope, for leaving out the word “classic” before “rock”; the distinction annoys me.) Trooper still tours relentlessly back and forth across Canada, as we have for many years. We’ve played every kind of show you could imagine—from a 65,000-seater in New Orleans (with Jeff Beck, Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top) to a backyard barbecue in Ontario cottage country (for a wealthy RIM executive who has probably since had to sell the beautiful waterfront property where that intimate shindig took place). There were more than 30,000 people at our 2013 Canada Day show. As the singer for the band, I’m also nominally the MC. The Master of Ceremonies. What a dated and out-of-fashion term that has become, but nonetheless, in a performance of any kind, it’s good to have someone who can talk to the audience. That’s me.

I was in a band by the time I was 12. I wasn’t a big kid—5-foot-8-inches, 118 pounds. By reaching one arm higher than the other and twisting my shoulders as vertically as they would go, I could fit a large tambourine down past my head, over those shoulders and, unbelievably to me now, over my hips. That first band, The Citations, was a welcome escape from the grade-seven realities I endured pre-band. I was small, skinny and, since I’d skipped grade six, both younger and—as an additional unintended insult to those more powerful than me—smart. Lucky for me, it turned out I could sing.

The Hammond organ player for The Citations hooked me up with a nine-piece R&B band that he played with, and suddenly I was 12 years old and fronting a band of 20-somethings deeply invested in the musical religion of James Brown, Lee Dorsey and Wilson Picket. These guys swore like motherf–kers. I was delighted.

Although onstage, swearing was still strictly taboo on virtually any stage, I learned the power of a well-placed F-word in casual communication. It could have the conversational effect of cocking a rifle mid-argument or revealing the hilt of a blade hidden under your shirt. It gave me a social edge. Formerly dismissive cool kids began to overlook my physical and intellectual shortcomings, which in turn helped me to not give a f–k about what those people thought about me. In a small but important way, the word empowered me.

In 1973, I said “f–k” through a PA system for the first time. My bandmates giggled like girls and flushed with a combination of shame and concern. We were rehearsing, in the afternoon, at the Reef Tavern in Point Roberts, Washington. There was no one else in the room.

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