Juno-nominated singer/songwriter J.P. Cormier has heard from “hundreds of thousands,” of emotionally scarred soldiers since writing the song Hometown Battlefield about post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Some of them told me, ‘I heard your song and decided not to shoot myself.’ That’s huge … I have to try to be worthy of all that,” said Cormier, who performs on Wednesday, April 15, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer.
The Nova Scotia-based multi-instrumentalist maintains he never had advocacy in mind when he wrote Hometown Battlefield. The lyrics came to him after hearing a radio report about three Canadian soldiers committing suicide in one month.
“It was preying on me,” said Cormier.
The 46-year-old went through his own life-changing experience while entertaining troops in Afghanistan in 2007.
The plane carrying him came under enemy fire while flying over mountains toward the Canada Forces base in Kandahar. Cormier recalled Taliban fighters were also firing rockets and grenades at the base during his performance for the troops.
“You hoped for the best but they were actually shooting things over the walls.”
A military photographer who Cormier had flown in with, Master Corporal Darrell Priede, 30, did not live to board the return flight home. He was killed with six others on May 30, 2007, when a Chinook helicopter was shot down by the Taliban.
Priede’s camera was found among the debris. His digital images were later aired by the CBC, “and the last three pictures were of me,” said Cormier.
“It was not a real pleasant time,” responded the singer when asked how he coped with this experience.
“Suffice it to say I saw a lot of stuff I was not prepared for. .. ”
He wrote the song Afghanistan after his return to Canada, but its poetic lyrics didn’t resonate as strongly with soldiers as those of Hometown Battlefield, a song about not staying silent about PTSD symptoms.
About 20 per cent of the messages Cormier receives about the tune are from Canadian soldiers. But the bulk, by far, he said are from U.S. Vietnam vets. “They got (tossed aside) pretty bad.”
Not only did these veterans have to deal with political fallout from being on the losing side of an unpopular war, they also returned with symptoms no one had any names for. “People thought they were nuts,” said Cormier.
“They went 40 years before anyone had a name for what they had, and before they realized there were people they could talk to about this.”
Although Hometown Battlefield was recorded last year and gained an international following after being posted on his Facebook page, it is included in the singer’s just-released album, The Chance.
The title pays homage to the first song Cormier ever wrote at the age of 13, when his formidable musical talents were recognized and he became a regular on the East Coast TV show Up Home Tonight. “It’s the idea I’ve come full circle,” he said, but also summarizes new songs he’s written about the randomness of life.
For instance, lyrics of The Unfinished Song were taken from a chance encounter that Cormier had with the father of an old flame.
The man had a few regretful things to say to him “about the way things went down,” said Cormier. Although the father wasn’t a poet, the words he chose were so heartfelt and true, the singer practically transcribed them for the song.
So does he think turning life experiences into music is a good way to make sense of things?
“I think art may be the only way to make sense of life,” said Cormier, who played with country music legends Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe while living in Nashville in the early 1990s.
“When you think about it, even people who aren’t artists turn to art, books or music — especially music — to make sense of life,” he added. “We use music as a crutch, or for healing, or as an expression of our own emotions. … We’d be lost without it. People don’t realize how much they (need) music every single day.”
Show time is 8:30 p.m. A $10 entertainment charge will be added to bills if you stay for the show. Phone 403-356-0033 for reservations.