Mad Mad World turns 25 this year. The album that reached Diamond-certified status four years after its release, that propelled Tom Cochrane to international stardom, and the album that produced the huge hit, “Life Is A Highway” has entered into mythical status.
In honour of the album and the man behind it, the National Music Centre (NMC), in collaboration with the EMI Music Canada Archive at the University of Calgary, has created an exhibition in their Showcase room that opens the door on this storyteller of the Canadian landscape. Cochrane has loaned two guitars and a number of awards to the exhibit along with the MMW Diamond-certified award, a few other rewards, and his leather and jeans outfit from the video shoot for “Life Is A Highway,” where we remember him dancing in an Alberta sunset.
A video plays in one corner of the room, a smoothly edited video of Cochrane discussing his life, the relationship with his Red Rider cohorts, and a few pivotal moments in his life, including his state of mind when he wrote “Life Is A Highway.” Returning from Africa from a World Vision tour he found himself in a depressed state. The story is also told in the liner notes of the re-released album, part of which is printed on one wall of the exhibit room:
“I walked into my cold little studio turned on the equipment, sat down with my mic in front of me and wrote and finished the lyrics and vocal in a half hour to a song that I needed to pull me out of that funk, a pep talk to myself really. 14 months later it would become a pep talk to a lot of people. That was 25 years ago, that was Life Is A Highway.”
The handwritten two-page letter is on display in the NMC lobby for all to read—you don’t even need to pay admission to read it.
Cochrane discusses his initial attraction to artists who were proudly cultural, including Canada’s The Band. That attraction molded his own sensibilities to songwriting as evident in so many of his songs and which continues to move him through his life. He sees “Big League” as a distinctly Canadian song since hockey is so engrained in the Canadian psyche. He felt compelled to tell the story told to him by the father of hockey player who was headed for the NHL, a truly Canadian story.
When asked whether he had a plan for his career he chuckles and simply states that he put “one foot ahead of the other…” He muses on having integrity and being able to stand by that integrity when others may be telling you to stand down, and realizing that sometimes you “need to upset the apple cart” to affect people the most.
After opening the exhibit, Cochrane and Kenny Greer (guitars, pedal steel, piano, and vocals), Jeff Jones (bass and vocal), and Davide Direnzo (drums and vocals) played an intense set in the refurbished King Eddy, just next door to the fabled Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.
Early in the set Cochrane quipped, “It’s been a long time since we played the King Eddy.” Set on a tiny stage barely the height of a stair step, the band played with a natural intensity of the kind one would see at a house party. The invited guests surrounded the stage and occasionally had to move when Cochrane stepped off to wander into the smiling faces. When your audience is within touching distance, barriers fall and the performance becomes communal, a joining of hearts and minds. This intimate set included “No Regrets’ and “Sinking Like A Sunset” from MMW, and a heartfelt and brilliant acoustic rendition of “Ocean Blue.”
The night was billed as a celebration, but it turned into a shared moment of nostalgia and potential for the human spirit. Even Calgary’s rockin’ Mayor Nenshi was on hand and doing a little dancing. And of course the show ended with a raucous version of “Life Is A Highway,” the story that started it all.
Cochrane and bandmates will be conducting an extensive tour in 2017, playing Mad Mad World in its entirety and looking for new roads to ‘place one foot in front of the other.’
Keep abreast of Tom Cochrane musings @TomCochraneMUS and follow the album/tour with #MMW25.
Brian Stanko w/ photo’s by Charles Hope