The sensational Alan Doyle shares some of his less sensational moments with one purpose in mind: to lighten the heavy load many carry during pandemic times
Alan Doyle very succinctly conveys the purpose of his third book this way: “Please don’t expect that this is a collection of my greatest triumphs.”
While All Together Now: A Newfoundlander’s Light Tales for Heavy Times is certainly entertaining – from tales of growing up in Petty Harbour to yarns shared from exploits experienced while on the road – Doyle’s collection of what he calls “light tales for heavy times” also provide touching insight into the soul of one beloved and treasured musical icon.
‘The vinegar thing’
When reminded of one chapter that – not to give too much away because the book is worth reading for this tidbit alone – mentions a sit down he’d love to have with what we’ll call “the vinegar dude from The Bible,” Doyle laughs.
“I’m so glad you said that. Oh, my God. You know, the vinegar thing has always fascinated me. Being a kid on the altar, it’s pretty horrible to hear that. When the priest mentioned this dude one day, my response was; Wait. What?! Did anyone else hear that? Buddy, walk me through how this day went down. I got to – no. I need to know more about this.”
Around 11 at the time, Doyle was hooked. “When the priest would do a homily, I tended to listen. When I heard the offering Jesus the vinegar bit, my attention was grabbed. Whenever I’m asked in interviews; who would you like to have dinner with from history, it’s kind of a gag, but it’s also serious. It would be amazing to sit and talk to (the vinegar guy) for an hour. Can you walk me through what your life was like? What did you do when you got up in the morning? What led to this first of all? And is this true?! Then, did you do it all the time? To all the people being crucified or wa?”
There’s so many other stories he shares where the opportunity to laugh with – or at– Doyle’s innocent yet hilarious follies are presented.
“I think the book shows how I handled worldly situations, or rather – how I handled them poorly.”
Doyle admits that he never really fully lost his small town view of the large world he was later exposed to from his musical or movie pursuits.
“I didn’t think about this until after but in retrospect, a lot of the stories in the book, probably 80 per cent, are about how a fellow from a very small town, very early in his life, was introduced to some very worldly situations. Of course, I guess it was to be expected that I would not know exactly how to handle them. I mean, the first real plane ride I ever took in my life was to London; to Trafalgar Square. The only city I had ever seen in my life before that was St. John’s.”
Doyle offers that so many situations that followed were much “bigger” than he was and he simply “tried his best.”
Where I belong
Doyle is no slouch when it comes to writing, and All Together Now follows Where I Belong and A Newfoundlander in Canada.
While he takes it all in stride, he admits to being a little shocked that he has become a published author.
“I never, ever thought I’d be writing books for a living. And I’m still not sure I should be at it. But I enjoy having books to my name, though I’d be lying to you if I said it suited me; to sit in one place and write for five hours.”
Truth be told, and Doyle is nothing if not candid, he’d rather be writing a song.
“Songs. For sure. I mean, a song; if it’s good, bad or indifferent, you can have it done in a day. Sit down with a couple of people and in an hour from then you’ve written a song. Sometimes it’s shitty, sometimes it’s good. And every now and again you strike gold and you got a good one. But the focus and the direction of a book project like this, and this one I did in a month, is still a long time to hold my attention about anything. I’m like a cat on the Internet chasing one of those red lights around the floor, you know? But I’ll do whatever the day wants done, you know? So I’d be lying if I said writing suited me.”
‘Dad’s just a rock star’
What does suit him it seems is taking life’s little moments, capturing them, and then sharing them for the enjoyment of others.
Touching tales of growing up that are sprinkled with WTF?! moments. And endearing anecdotes of fatherhood.
There’s a ‘dad’s just a rock star’ story that’s precious, for instance. Doyle laughs. “What good is that to a six year old? Like, you’re no Bob the Builder, so you are no good to me. I need someone in Bobcat right now.”
Doyle admits that even he is learning things about himself as these writings continue. “Digging out that friggin’ basement and moving friggin’ wood and getting up early – growing up on The Rock in Petty Harbor, I had no idea until I put some of these stories together how lucky I was. The lessons I was so lucky to learn; form cutting out cod tongues as an 11 year-old in a town of 500 on the coast of an island in the middle of the friggin’ ocean. Who’d have known that those lessons would serve you well as an adult in the music business? That knowing how to work hard would be so timeless and so valuable a lesson.”
There’s a glimpse of melancholy too in this book as he compares his son’s upbringing to his own.
“I think we can only ever parent in the time that is given to us. We can’t try to make a life in 2020 be like a life in 1978. It’s just not the same. And I think everyone romanticizes their own childhood to a certain degree, perhaps in a good way or in a bad way or whatever. But, yeah, I do think sometimes that back when I was 10 years-old or 12 years-old that we had so much fun. Back then being a kid was so disorganized and growing up in the 1980s in Petty Harbour; for a place that was so behind the times in some ways, we ended up so far ahead of everyone else in other ways.”
‘The big city’
Doyle knew how to do hard work. He had paid income. He was in a band; all by the time he was in grade eight.
When he finally went “to the big city of St. John’s” for high school, he was surprised to learn that his small town ways actually served him well.
“To my mind, we were going to a bigger place and the kids knew more than us and were ahead of us. But, of course, in my adult life I see how my young life was a blessing in so many ways.”
As Doyle parents, he reflects often.
“Being a parent now, everything is super organized and you’re umbrella parenting everything and everything is organized and scheduled. Oh my God, the schedule is just crazy. But it’s expected. You know where your kids will be each day of the week from Monday to Sunday night. I don’t know if it’s unique to our times, but I get a little melancholy about what was and what is, and I do at least worry a little about how this generation will do.”
We ask if he has a favourite tale he’s shared. Not really, he offers. This book is basically tales he’d tell in a pub on a night of fun times.
“The kind of night of talking where you look around at your circle of 20 friends and everyone shares something. That’s my favourite kind of night. And then in the morning after someone might say to you; that was funny what you said about such-and-such, and you have no memory of it. You have no memory of telling that story, but you kind of know what they’re talking about.” Doyle laughs.
Values & lessons
There are tales that are more ‘dear’ than others. Like digging out the basement of the family’s Petty Harbour home with his brother and father.
“Digging out the basement after our house was built. You know, there’s this kind of coming of age thing. Things that I thought was horrible, in retrospect, were great things to do, and so that’s kind of meaningful to me in a way. But then again, there’s also the fact that I almost died at the hands of a Polish man in a Scottish hotel room … I found that the greatest values and lessons I’ve learned in my life are actually quite funny stories.”
There’s certainly stories left to be told, too, Doyle shares.
“That’s just the ones I wrote down now. You know, it’s funny. I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about my foray into the movie business with the biggest Hollywood stars in the world and this is just a short little story about me being a very novice actor surrounded by the greatest movie makers in the world. And I made practically every novice mistake that any young, inexperienced person would. Again, these are not stories of my greatest victories but stories of the mistakes I made and how I just dealt with it.”
Doyle has long been an inspiration to others. Whether it’s through his decades with Great Big Sea or his solo career or his volunteerism. The message he wants to get out? He’s human.
“I made my mistakes on a grand scale, but, man, we’ve all said stupid things. We’ve all done dumb things. I’ll tell you right now, one of the things you see on a T-shirt that puzzles me the most is; no regrets, I look at that and I go, no regrets? Like, holy s**t! I got nine today already, and it’s like quarter to fu**in’ eleven! And like I got nine!! Like what kind of sanitized life have you lived that you have no regrets?! You have no idea, man! I get like 300 a week!”
For more, visit Alandoyle.ca or Penguin Random House Canada