What would Fred Eaglesmith do?

My pal Francis came over to my place the other night, distraught and looking haggard. He told me he’d been feeling low and mean of late, and had gotten into some bad business involving thugs and property damage while out of his mind on the “dumb dust.” He said he felt like he’d hit a new low, and was looking for something or someone to save his ass and get him out of the darkness.

“I need some help,” Francis told me. “You know, what would Jesus do, man?”

I knew the shit was serious. Francis is a hard-line atheist, and the fact that he even said ol’ JC’s name without spitting on the floor in derision was revealing of his personal plight.

“Snap out of it!” I told him, hammering my fist into the coffee table between us. “Listen to yourself,” I said, and, borrowing a line from Jason Isbell, told Francis he “might as well ask what John Grady Cole would do?”

Indeed, after reading a recent tweet of Isbell’s regarding Cole, I’d been thinking a lot about the similarities between our buddy Jesus and Cormac McCarthy’s fictional hero. Both are doomed young romantic good ol’ boys with hearts of gold that confront evil head on, and die for their naïve belief that it can be conquered by love. Both fall for whores named Magdelena. However, where JC fed the masses with bread and fish, John Grady kicked ass and punched cows. Where JC turned the other cheek, John Grady wasn’t afraid to shank a motherfucker.

Despite their merits as superbly crafted archetypes of goodness, both remain just that: crafted. The blood both shed remains firmly in the realm of fantasy, not unlike that of Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk. Entertaining and enlightening to spend time with, sure, but the basis for one’s life choices? Hardly.

“Forget about Jesus and John Grady,” I told Francis, who was sucking back a Bud and looking furtively about my dark apartment, far from consoled, as though his enemies would bust through the window at any moment to whip him raw. “If you want guidance, look to someone who’s real.”

Certainly, in a world of seven billion living persons, with billions more having lived and left some record of their doings upon the earth, there are better examples of how to comport oneself while on earth than story book characters, however well contrived or inspired they may be.

You want to be an amazing golfer and cheat on your spouse with impunity? Study Tiger Woods. You want to make kick ass perogies and raise a brood of children with some success? Spend some time with your grandma. You want to act tough, join the military and end up in a body bag for no good reason before your 30th birthday? Take Don Cherry’s ranting to heart every Saturday evening.

Personally, I’ve always wanted to make my living doing what I love most — telling stories and singing songs about real people in real situations. As such, the people I choose to study in this life of mine do just that. By studying and gaining inspiration from artists who tell it like it is, who have no fear of honestly expressing their opinions publicly, it is my hope to spend these earthly hours doing good work for good work’s sake, and not in exchange for a house of gold in space when I croak.

Knowing that Francis is somewhat of a kindred spirit, I figured I’d share this perspective with him in hopes of lightening the dark cloud that was hanging over him.

“Look to someone who’s real for inspiration,” I repeated, taking a slam of my own beer. “What would Fred Eaglesmith do?”

Francis froze when I spoke those words, and — slowly — I could see a light turn on in his head. The twinkle returned to his eyes and he grinned. If I’d known what was to come, I might never have said anything and let Francis stumble to Jesus. But then again, I’ve never been one to pull punches, and such is not the way of our world.

“You’re goddamn right,” said Francis, standing up from the sofa and making for the door. “It’s time to get a gun!”

Sheldon Birnie is the Comment Editor at the Manitoban.

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