This is the second installment of DD Fraser & The Stormy Clovers, the personal narrative by David Fougere,1 who, then known as DD Fraser, was the band’s bass player in the sixties.2 While my personal interest in the Stormy Clovers was initially predicated on their role as the first professionals to perform Leonard Cohen’s songs, I have since become convinced that the band’s brief history is significant both in its own right and for what it tells us about an important era in the evolution of pop music.
DD Fraser & The Stormy Clovers – Part 2 deals with the poignant story of what happened to Susan Jains, the radiant, charismatic, talented, and ambitious vocalist who was the centerpiece of the Stormy Clovers, after her musical career faded. Viewers unfamiliar with the Stormy Clovers and Susan Jains may find it useful to orient themselves by reading yesterday’s post, The Stormy Clovers aka Susan Jains and the “guys in their early 20s”,
DD Fraser & The Stormy Clovers – Part 2
Intermission: Take a break, Have a smoke
(smoke 292,000 cigarettes),
Get married, Get divorced. .. 32 years pass
I heard from drummer Richard Patterson that he had seen Susan on the move carrying all her possessions and looking as though she had fallen upon hard times.
From a friend In Montreal I learned that she had settled in Halifax. We began to exchange letters. I wanted to see for myself how Susan was living. I had an old Dodge van with lots of room to sleep in the back. The gas mileage was terrible but at 75 cents a litre it was still cheaper than renting motel rooms. It took me three days to drive the 1200 miles to Nova Scotia.
I found her on the street in downtown Halifax. She was wearing a headband as though it was still 1967. She showed me her favourite places around the harbour.
We shared the best fish and chip dinner I’ve ever had. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture in her apartment, just the couch she used for a bed. She hadn’t been there very long. We sat on the floor with our feet almost touching. It felt like sitting around a campfire. I stayed for three days sleeping on the floor in the bedroom.
Back when I was in the band she often said that somebody should start a pension fund for entertainers.
“We won’t have anything in our old age” she predicted.
She refused to talk about her family. (I was relieved to learn later that, in fact, she did have family, and was receiving monthly support payments.)
She was sometimes on the rails and sometimes off. If you got too close you were in danger of becoming the enemy.
She was deeply concerned about civility and fairness. She said she had been robbed twice. An older woman, alone, on foot, leaving the bank at the end of the month makes an easy target. The thieves know when it’s payday. She borrowed $500 from me and repaid it in full a year or so later.
She smoked the strongest cigarettes that money could buy. Her teeth were black stumps but she had decided that dentists were evil. She wouldn’t go near one.
They’d made her really sick the last time. She had gone through a hellish period and was forced out of Kingston, running from her demons. She heard Leonard Cohen’s ‘Future’ album playing from a neighbouring apartment. In a fearsome fugue state she banished Leonard to the far side of the moon along with all the dentists.
Susan had written me many letters over the years. Most of the time I could not understand what she was saying. Sometimes though, it was as if a cloud moved away from the sun, and her old self shone through. Once she asked for an address so she could write to Ray’s mother to thank her for her generosity to the band. But she soon took offense at something Mildred said by return mail so Mildred was sent to join Leonard and all those dentists on the far side of the moon.
Susan showed me a scratch and win ticket that appeared to be a winner. The catch was that you were asked to phone a long distance number to claim your prize. It looked like it could be a scam where they made their money on the phone call. There was another option to claim the prize – an address with a box number in Kitchener. I said I would check it out when I got back to Ontario. The address turned out to be a mailbox rental store. There was no chance of talking to anyone from the company. To confirm my suspicions I called the police to ask if the contest was fraudulent.
“Yes we’ve heard of that one” they told me.
“It’s a scam for sure. We didn’t know they were operating in this area”
I sent the ticket back to Susan with the information I’d gotten from the Kitchener Police Department.
Her reply was very angry.
“What kind of a person would CALL THE POLICE?” she demanded.
I felt myself being swept away to the far side of the moon. Leonard was there. And Ray’s mother. And a bunch of guys who looked like dentists.
I wrote to Leonard to talk about these things – not that there was anything we could do – I just wanted to talk to someone about it. I got a wonderful reply from Kelly Lynch saying that Leonard had been travelling in Japan with the Roshi but he sent his love and said to let him know if there was anything he could do to help Susan Jains.
My next letter got no reply.
Kelly was busy working on something else, I guess.
I was in Halifax looking for Susan in August, 2010. I hadn’t seen her in ten years and she had not been answering letters I sent to her.
This time there was no answer at the door.
I walked around to the back parking lot. There I met a man and a woman and I asked them about Susan. The man was the building superintendent and he had evicted her more than a year before.
I gather she was not easy to get along with. He said: “She assaulted me.”
He thought that she was living in the same neighbourhood, that she could be found along the bus route on Herring Cove Road, wearing a brightly coloured headband.
He and his partner had a litany of complaints and nothing good to say about her.
I went to my car and came back with an old Stormy Clovers poster. I showed them the picture of Susan, smiling in 1966.
They gave me doubtful looks.
It could be they thought I was crazy.
I drove up and down Herring Cove Road for the rest of the afternoon, looking at all the bus stops for the woman in the colorful headband but I couldn’t find her.
I was thinking of ‘Diamonds’, a song she had written with Ray.
I’ve been staring out my window
as the velvet black of morning
forms a blanket for the city lights spread out before me.
With effortless enchantment my imagination’s soaring
don’t speak to me of day dreaming or cold reality
and it’s not bare like bulbs from curtainless windows
Nor Cadillac headlights with payments still due
No signs selling Heaven to those who can’t buy it
They’re diamonds, they’re diamonds
don’t say it’s not true
I left for Pictou where my cousin Joe Hawes is the mayor. He put me up in his spare room while I was in Nova Scotia. I had no money for motels – slept in the car mostly. I’m not complaining. I like doing that sometimes.
I was driving back to Ontario when my cell phone rang. I pulled off the highway.
“DD this is Marc. Marc Ranger.”
“Holy shit! Marc! I’ve thought about you many times. I didn’t know where to find you.
I’ve just been in Halifax looking for Susan” I said.
“DD. I’ve got some bad news.
That’s why I tracked you down.
She died in June. It was in the Globe and Mail.”
Saturday July 10, 2010
SUSAN JANE GEMMELL 1941-2010
Susan Gemmell, or Poppy as she was known to some, died on June 19th, 2010 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was 68 years old. Susan, by any measure, was a colourful personality. She was born, raised and educated in Toronto at both Havergal College and later Oakwood Collegiate Institute. She attended Queen’s University, but graduated from the University of Toronto. The early Sixties were Susan’s salad days. She wrote, sang songs, and entertained in the coffee houses of Yorkville, dressed in the zany fashions of the day, and was among those to articulate the counter-culture ideas of the era. Sadly, as youth gave way to mid-life, Sue fell victim to the torment and confusion of mental illness. She lived a vagabond existence, travelling and living between Kingston and Halifax. She eventually settled in Halifax, where, she believed, the world was populated with kinder, more gentle people. She was right. For those who survive Susan it is comforting to learn that there she had a community of friends and people who cared and looked out for her. God bless them all. On the morning of the 19th, Susan said to Yvonne, one of the many kind and caring nurses and medical staff, that she was, ‘feeling a little under the weather’. She died that evening. Understated to the end. Susan leaves a brother, Andrew, her cherished niece Kirstie and nephew Matthew, along with grand nephew and nieces, Evan, Lauren and Sydney. She is buried in the family plot beside her late parents Jim and Amber Gemmell – – in peace at last.
Credit Due Department: The photo of Susan Jains wearing glasses and standing with the Halifax City Police was taken backstage at Dalhousie University on Feb 1967 and found at the Stormy Clovers Facebook Page. The photo of Susan Jains wearing a hat was also found at the Stormy Clovers Facebook Page. The photo at the beginning of the narrative, “Stormy Clovers on the set of CBC’s Take 30,” and the photo at the bottom of the post, “The Stormy Clovers in Yorkville,” were contributed to the Stormy Clovers Facebook Page by Nicholas Jennings.
Next: The third and final installment of DD Fraser & The Stormy Clovers begins with these lines:
We first met Leonard Cohen on a sidewalk in Montreal. Leonard and Marianne were radiant together. I was just a kid from Galt, 21 years old. I had no idea there were people like that in the world.
The Heck Of A Guy Stormy Clovers Page: All material relating to the Stormy Clovers, including the “DD Fraser & The Stormy Clovers” narrative, can be accessed through Heck Of A Guy – Stormy Clovers.