Finding the Humour in Desolation SoundGrant Lawrence threw up a lot as a kid. This is one of the first things you learn about the long-time CBC Radio 3 host and former lead singer of defunct Vancouver-based indie-rock band the Smugglers in his debut book, Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound. The no-holds-barred memoir details Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the titular enclave, a wild, secluded area of the Sunshine Coast where his family has spent their summers since his youth. Sitting in the sun at a picnic table in CBC Plaza, Lawrence spoke with WE about his first foray into writing.
WE: I’m a born-and-bred Vancouverite, yet your book is the first insight I’ve ever had into Desolation Sound.
Lawrence: That’s the weird thing about Desolation Sound. Very few people know anything about it, and its name is verboten! People don’t necessarily seek it out. There’s Clayoquot Sound or Nootka Sound or Howe Sound, and then there’s Desolation Sound. It sounds a bit frightening, and as you read in the book, there are frightening elements to it... It’s a bipolar place, which is fitting since it was never diagnosed, but it was possible that Captain Vancouver was bipolar, and a lot of the people up there are kind of bipolar. I swear, it’s like the island in Lost. (laughs)
So, the world’s possibly mentally compromised congregate there and find a home.
Yes, but to varying degrees of success. It could end in fiery suicide or years of summertime bliss.
Have you always written?
No, this is a new adventure. I’ve always wanted to be in the entertainment business, so I was in a band for a long time, and I do the radio thing. I always hoped I’d write a book someday, but I didn’t know what about or when I’d have the time. This one just kinda came out. It was part of the rediscovery of the place when I went back and thought, ‘How could I have ever hated this place? It’s really quite special.’ And once I started going up frequently as an adult, I realized that — I mean, there are characters everywhere in life, but the characters up there were so vibrant and on the edge on so many different levels, mentally and physically. I found all these stories on how everybody got to Desolation Sound, this bottleneck for those looking to escape or start over. I found all of that fascinating, and I just started writing.
That’s a good point about people looking to start fresh. Obviously, they have some pretty great stories to tell.
Yeah, and there’s kind of an outlaw vibe there; there is literally no authority. Every once in a while, a park ranger will come by because it’s a large marine park, the largest on the West Coast of Canada... Maybe once in a blue moon there’ll be a police officer down by the dock, the government wharf, but almost never. It’s interesting up there, where it’s kind of like ‘anything goes,’ and it’s a little bit Lord of the Flies, where there’s a tentative balance and everyone sort of has to behave and live by the rhythm of nature and not mess with each other’s shit.
Are you afraid of getting feedback from people whose stories you put down on paper?
A little bit. This is a fairly private place. I learned a lot about the words “truth” and “legend” and “myth” writing this book. There’s lots of history in the book as well, and I did tireless research. But when it came to writing anecdotes, whether it was the First Nations or just the local scallywag, everybody had a different version of what really happened. So, at a certain point, it just had to be — well, it’s my memoir, my memory. I guess I’m just picking the best version. There are some stories where I changed some elements, because this is an area I hold close to my heart, and as an artist I felt the need to profess my love for it. But I would hate that it [could have] any negative effect on anyone.
A release party for Adventures In Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound happens Thursday, Oct. 7 at the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut), 7pm. This free event features performances by singer-songwriter Jill Barber (Lawrence’s wife) and indie-rock band Said the Whale.