On January 20, 1983, four friends and I were arrested on Highway 99 near Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. We were members of an armed revolutionary group called Direct Action, which had carried out a number of acts of sabotage with the ultimate aim of stopping the destruction of the environment and ending the nuclear arms race. After a lengthy trial, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison and my girlfriend at the time, Julie Belmas, was sentenced to 20 years. I was sent to Matsqui federal prison in Abbotsford BC and Julie was sent to Kingston Prison for Women in Kingston, ON.
Prior to becoming involved in Direct Action, I had been the bass player in a Vancouver punk-rock band called the Subhumans. After leaving the Subhumans in 1981, I began to write songs on acoustic guitar in a decidedly more folk vein. While locked up in Matsqui, I wrote some more songs and recorded a cassette tape on a portable 4–track cassette recorder. The tape, titled Songs From Underground, was eventually released on the outside in 1985.
Due to the limited resources I had while in prison in terms of instrumentation, recording and production capabilities, I had always hoped that I might someday be able to re-record the songs. As a result, 7 of the 14 songs that appear on Coming Home originally appeared on Songs From Underground. Of the remaining 7 songs, a few of them were written during the last few years of my imprisonment and the rest were written since my release.
In a way, the songs on Coming Home represent an emotional history for me: a snapshot of how I was feeling and what I was thinking back then and to a lesser extent, since then as well. In an effort to share with the listener a glimpse into this place where these songs came from and to provide some context for them, I am including a short explanation for each song.
I wrote this song after being lectured by a parole officer on how I needed to quit being a political activist and start living a “normal” middle-class life. In our society, the loudest voice is often the voice that’s heard, but not necessarily the best voice to listen to. Authority figures would like us to believe that their authority rests on experience, knowledge and leadership skills. Sometimes that’s true, but more often it seems to me that authority is dished out based on expedience and ambition. I’ve always had a hard time with that kind of authority.
I had to somehow convince myself that I was strong enough to make it through ten years of prison even though, deep down inside, I doubted I was. Music and lyrics had often come to my rescue and got me through difficult times in the past and with this song, I wrote the story I desperately needed to hear.
When you don’t feel good about yourself, you look for your validation from others and you tend to ignore your own true feelings. Even when you know deep down inside that something isn’t right for you, fear of rejection, or abandonment, can push you on down the wrong road. Unfortunately, this was a recurring theme in my intimate relationships, both before and after prison.
I’ve heard it argued a few times that awareness and particularly, political awareness, can be a curse. It follows the old adage “ignorance is bliss”. While it’s true that knowing what’s going on and acting on it can lead to a lot of self sacrifice and pain, I can’t imagine living in a world where no one ever stood up for truth and justice out of fear. That seems like anything but bliss.
As pornography becomes ever more accessible, more of a crucial element in the entertainment world and more of a driving force in advertising, the lines between love and sexual objectification can become blurred. This song explores the potential problems with that.
This is the song that Julie Belmas apparently felt that I wrote about her after she made misleading statements in court during a sentencing appeal. The statements she made implied that she would have left Direct Action long before the arrest, but she was afraid that someone in the group might harm her if she tried to. I was shocked that she had become willing to portray her friends as thugs in order to save her own skin and I ended what was left of our relationship at that point.
Ironically, the song was actually about a group of prisoners that I used to sit with in the Matsqui cafeteria at meal times, who took great pleasure in mocking my belief that Julie and I would somehow pull through the prison experience with our relationship intact. They were total cynics who had come to believe that humans were only motivated by the most base desires. Consequently, they were nasty and dismissive towards ideas about love and political change.
Fear is the oppressor’s most powerful weapon. It is numbing, crippling and usually very difficult to overcome. Yet to surrender to it’s manipulative power leads to even greater horrors in the long run. The good thing that can be said about fear is that unlike bullets, bombs and missiles, the power to defeat this weapon lies within each one of us.
What can I say? I guess I tend to be a pessimist. I didn’t think the long term prospects looked too good for the human race back when I was in prison and honestly, I don’t think they look too good for us now either. Having said that, I still think it’s important to work to make things better and to be relentless in exposing the truth when and wherever possible. But I don’t believe in sugar coating reality; that just makes people think they have more time to do nothing.
It’s amazing to really be in love with someone, look in their eyes and feel that strength that comes from knowing that at least at that moment, you’re not alone anymore. Two people have become one and for a time, everything seems natural and easy.
This is the song that I did actually write about Julie describing her betrayal of her friends at her sentencing appeal and the effect it had on her and everyone else. While her actions made me very angry, it was impossible for me to not feel pity toward her at the same time. I knew that she had felt trapped in a situation she couldn’t face and that she had been pressured by the authorities into doing what she did. Of all the things that happened to me as a result of being in Direct Action, watching helplessly as my partner became someone I didn’t know anymore was the hardest thing to deal with.
For some reason every powerful empire in the history of the world seems to lack the ability to see that they too will one day crumble and fall. No matter how evolved and invincible they think they are, their day in the sun will eventually fade to dusk. Even though history has numerous examples of empires believing in their own immortality only to collapse under the weight of their arrogance, seceding ones persist in these foolish beliefs.
Another pretty pessimistic song I’m afraid. This is the first song I wrote after leaving the Subhumans in 1981. I wrote it just after quitting a horrible job working for a tyrant of a boss in Jasper, Alberta. Julie and I had moved there thinking that it would be great to live in the mountains that we loved, but we came back to Vancouver a few months later with our tails between our legs having had a very bad experience there. We were both pretty depressed and disillusioned with mainstream society at that point. Six months later, we had joined Direct Action.
The highway leading out of the city and into the country has always represented the route to sanctuary for me; the road home. I feel the same way about being out in vast natural landscapes as I imagine the pious feel about being in church. The land speaks a spiritual language to me and my heart understands it and responds.
In prison you had to put your name on a list if you wanted to place a phone call to the outside world. Only so many prisoners could call each night and the list was drawn up on a first come first served basis. Needless to say, there were many nights when one felt the desperate need to speak to someone on the outside, but it just wasn’t going to happen. At times like that, it could seem like the outside world didn’t even exist, just the netherworld of fear, hopelessness and longing that you were trapped in.
David Macanulty on tracks 1, 3, 6, 9, 11 and 12
Lorne Campbell on tracks 4, 5, 8, 13 and 14
Geoff Eyre on tracks 2, 7 and 10
Dave Glendinning on tracks 1, 3, 6, 9, 11 and 12
Richard Todd on tracks 8 and 13
Gerry Hannah on tracks 2, 4, 5, 7, 10 and 14
Brad Gordon on tracks 2, 5, 8 and 13
Mike Graham on tracks 7, 11 and14
Mark Campbell on tracks 1, 3, 4, 6 and 10
Jenny Bice on tracks 2 and 13
Rick Barker on tracks 4 and 7
Geoff Eyre on tracks 4 and 5
Gerry Hannah on tracks 7 and 11
Tracks 1,3, 6, 9, 11 and 12 recorded at Profile Studios, Vancouver, BC. – Engineer: Cecil English
Tracks 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13 and 14 recorded at Tractorgrease Studios, Chilliwack, BC. – Engineer: Jeff Bonner
Remixed by Cecil English
Mastered by Marc L’Esperance
Composed, arranged and produced by Gerry Hannah
Pressed, printed and packaged at Precision Disc, Surrey, BC
Cover design and layout by Rose Creative, Chilliwack, BC
Front cover photo, disc photo and back cover photo by Gerry Hannah. Inside photo by Michelle Tisza
Thanks to all the many musicians who played on this recording for their great work and for putting up with my idiosyncrasies and fussiness. Thanks to Daryl Rose for generously donating his time and hard work putting the graphics together. Special thanks to Jeff Bonner, Cecil English and Marc L’Esperance for their patience and incredibly helpful advice during the recording, mixing and mastering process. And a big huge thank-you to my wonderful wife Michelle for encouraging me, believing in me and loving me while I worked on this project.