Day 157 - Joe

Day 157 - Joe (1st person I approached)

June 06, 2014 - Joe was standing outside a coffee shop, looking to and fro when I first saw him. It looked to me like he might be waiting to meet someone. He was stood next to a table and chairs, but wasn’t sitting down. I moved around the table to get in front of him, I noticed he had a red handkerchief hanging out of his back pocket. Then I spotted a guitar case. And cowboy boots. As I told him what I was doing and asked him to chat with me, he didn’t say a single word. In my head, I wondered if he maybe didn’t speak English and that would be his ‘out.’ Of course I was was happy to be wrong, and we sat down and chatted for the next 45 minutes.


Joe was born and raised in Surrey, a onetime suburb of Vancouver, now one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.

“I’m the oldest of four kids. We grew up on a hobby farm, with chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs, horses and ponies. I had the usual chores around the house growing up, and helped out with the animals. My mother was young when she had me. There’s only about six years between me and the youngest, so I had to help out with looking after the kids as well. Growing up with horses meant I could grab a saddle and go horseback riding, or ride bareback,” said Joe. 


When Joe was about eight years old, he remembers his mother had a record, ‘Suspicious Minds’ by Elvis Presley.

“I would play that over and over. I had always liked music, but that one sticks with me. My Aunt Wendy had an old guitar that she would let me play with. She told me I could have the guitar if I agreed to take lessons. I went to lessons for a while. It was all about learning scales and chords. I’m not a very disciplined person. I liked to sit and play the guitar and pick away, rather than practise and learn through lessons. I stuck with it for a couple of years and then stopped taking lessons,” he said. Joe went to elementary and high school in Surrey.

“I’ve lived in Surrey all my life. It’s really changed and grown. It used to be more rural and now there are suburbs and developments being built all around where we lived. There’s all kinds of people from all over the world living in Surrey. Different than just the working class farmers that it was when I was a kid,” said Joe. When he went to junior high, his great Aunt bought him a new guitar.

“It had steel strings and I don’t have big hands. I was used to nylon strings on the other guitar,” Joe said.

“It was a lot harder for me to play because I couldn’t apply the right pressure for the notes. But I kept at it.” In high school, Joe started to play football, but not for long.

“Again, it was the whole practise thing that got to me. Being on a team wasn’t just about playing football. I liked to just go out and play football. But there was practise and drills and I didn’t last long. I just don’t have that kind of discipline,” he told me. 


After graduating from high school, Joe went to work full time.

“I had been working at a car wash during high school, evenings and weekends. When I finished high school if you weren’t going to college, you got a job. So I worked full time at the car wash. I liked that if it rained you worked inside and if it was nice you got outside. if you were hungover, it didn’t matter, it was always busy and the time flew by. I learned how to drive a stick shift. I didn’t have my license but I had a truck that I drove around in our field at home. I worked my way up the line and was the guy who wiped the cars down after they went through the wash. And then you would get in the car and drive it around to where the customer had left it off. That’s where the most tips were made,” said Joe. Over the next few years, Joe did different jobs and ended up working in construction.

“I was a labourer and worked in house construction. That led to me getting an apprenticeship and learning to be an electrician. I would go to school for ten weeks a year and then work for the rest of the time. It took about five years to become a qualified electrician,” he said.


Joe went on to become self-employed for the next ten years.

“I would do contract work, and stayed busy. Then I got tired of being self-employed, it’s more work and can be tougher to find the jobs. So I’m back working through a company that contracts out work. I’ve been fortunate though, I’ve had some great jobs that have been really beautiful,” said Joe. When he said this, his eyes lit up and he had a big grin on his face. I asked what it was that made a job beautiful to him. He smiled telling me,

“When I’m working with other people on a site that is only dealing with electrical work. I’ve just done two big jobs where I was working only with other electricians. No drywall, no carpenters, no plumbers. I find when I’m working with others who know exactly what we’re all doing, there’s a camaraderie about it. I can say what I mean in fewer words and everyone gets it. The sites are cleaner; they have to be, dust is combustible. Everyone has to work to the same high standards, and ensure things are done to exact specifications. Those are beautiful jobs. Far better than working on a site where the developer just wants things done fast.”


His guitar playing and love of music took Joe to a place he might not otherwise have gone.

“I got married and my wife’s church needed a bass guitar player. I always wanted to play bass guitar, so I volunteered to play for the church. I did that every Sunday for almost ten years. I always felt a little out go place. Nothing against the people who went to the church, I think that’s great, it just wasn’t somewhere that I’d go if I wasn’t playing guitar. We’d play the music at the start of the service, and then I’d sit through the sermon. I fell asleep almost every time. If I’m not active and moving around, that’s what happens. I felt bad, but it just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t fit in.” 


The music Joe likes to play is a mix of heavy metal, rock, and country with a folksy edge.

“I just did a clear out. I have so many songs that I’ve written that I had kept in binders. Some I don’t even remember writing. I’m trying to figure out a way to get my music into the hands of someone that can help me get to the next level. I could busk, sure, but I want to get some help with how to distribute my music. I video myself so I can work on things, but I’d like some professional help now. If someone that knows what they’re talking about told me ‘Joe, I’m sorry, but you’re never going to amount to anything,’ then I’d be okay to sit in my room and play guitar for myself. But until I hear that, I’m going to keep pursuing this,” he says.

“I like music that has depth. The problem with music today is there isn’t anyone like Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin any more. Musicians that can actually write and play their music. No one will remember One Direction in fifty years, because they’re not The Beatles,” he said. Joe has two teenage children, hence the pop music reference.


Contract work also means there is down time for Joe.

“I get laid off from work occasionally and that’s okay. I make sure to get ahead with things while I’m working and save some money. I use the down time to work on my music.” He tells me that earlier today he went to see a record company hoping they’d give him some time and advice.

“They told me everyone was in a meeting,” he says. Joe becomes the most animated when talking about his music. I mention to him that while he’s said he lacks discipline and doesn’t stick with things, his life-long passion for music is strong and clearly evident.

“It’s a gift. If I didn’t have music, then what would I have left? I’d have nothing like I have with music,” he says.

“Just like the light of the sun, the blue of the sky, the smell of the flowers. You pluck a string that is stretched tightly with just the right amount of tension, and in the right place at the right time with a certain tonality and combination of other instruments that come together and that is music. When you’re down music can lift you up, if you’re low on energy, music can boost you. It can make you sad when you’re happy. It can change the day, the atmosphere or the mood. It’s a gift. I have to pursue it.” #notastranger