aPRIL ON THE GROUND - JUSTIN HINES
one would have to have the rarest recipe for melancholy to not find, on any given night in toronto, a live musical performance that is both cheerful and profound---or at least cheerful. this is the best place to be in canada on either side of the microphone. one of the musicians for me that’s passed through this city and left an impression, of the cheerful and profound kind, is justin hines. born in newmarket ontario and despite a rare genetic condition called larsen’s syndrome, he’s made a name for himself on the local music scene, the profits of which help to sponsor a generous charity in his name. it’s not his vocal range that’s remarkable but the depth of it, the weight of it: the lyrics seem written in shade and have the early morning light and half-light as their natural setting, but his voice drags them out into daylight, sunshine, into april.
there’s a song by him called april on the ground around which i’ve developed a 5-year long routine: it's a chummy little ritual that i want to put away this year. on the first of april of every year since 2013 i’ve biked first thing in the morning to the panera bread at yonge and dundas, ordered a hazelnut coffee, bagel w/ cream cheese and watched the music video for this song.
there’s a seat upstairs that provides a narrow aisle of view to the spot at dundas square where the video was shot. in the video a man is standing in the middle of the square with a sign that reads SPRING and he begins handing out daisies. torontonians, as is our character, shy away at first only to warm up to him with an endearing rapidity. i think it’s my favourite music video. few joys are as organic, simple and perennial as that joy for spring. yes, the first day of spring was in march, but no one makes too much of that; there can be no serious dispute that spring begins proper in april.
panera bread stepped up when everyone else didn’t. i was 18 and living at a homeless shelter just up the street at covenant house, at that same time i was working at the just opened loblaws at the maple leafs garden. part of my task at the end of the shift was to join the garbage crew throwing out hillocks of baked goods and produce no one bought. i nodoubt snuck a handful back home with me, but how much better served we would all have been if food that was still very edible found its way to a youth shelter where the quality of food was veritable shite (despite the best efforts of the kitchen staff, thank you, eternally). the excuse, which might still be in circulation, was that it’s easier to deal with throwing it all out that with the potential lawsuits if contaminated food was donated to a shelter. one night, however, some first time manager at panera decided to give no fucks about company policy. i came home to the kitchenette table covered in boxes of pastries—(to which a fellow homelessman sarcastically exclaimed: we eatin’ good tonight).
some things just stick in your mind.
in the meantime, it’s april. like a flipped switch, that instinct for the most conservative expenditure of energy that we adopt from the last day of november onwards, is reversed, and one gets the first intimations of an altogether different, faster, metabolism. i try to keep a wide berth from dundas square, but if by road closures or a missed turns i find myself there in the middle of january, even my least sentimental self can’t help but imagine a glimpse of that same man, with his signage and daisies (are those daisies?) and i might mutter to myself ‘it’s a fine time for april on the ground—i’ve never been one for the cold.'