Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks

 Toronto, Ontario, CAN
SoloFolkSinger/Songwriter

"If my songs and purpose could be reduced to an 'Elevator Pitch' I'd have no songs or purpose."
2012, 2009, 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee: Songwriter of the Year, 2010 Kerrville NewFolk Winner.

Biography

"I write songs to calm those who've looked into, and seen, what is in their hearts. I also write songs to terrify those who have not." -- Jon Brooks

TESTIMONIALS:  "(Brooks) speaks and sings words that need to be spoken and sung and he does it beautifully, perfectly, and with absolute finesse." - Rod Kennedy, founder and producer of The Kerrville Folk Festival, Kerrville, TX

Brooks stands among an exalted few in the enduring Canadian song tradition Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Fred Eaglesmith, Bruce Cockburn as a lyricist, composer and performer with a fierce commitment to his craft and his vision. Greg Quill, The Toronto Star

Brooks follows the tradition of poking holes in accepted truths, a path blazed by the likes of Woody Guthrie and John Lennon. Penguin Eggs

"He is by turns metaphorical and metaphysical; at times he examines the small details of life, at others, he soars above human struggles seeking something higher; his gritty voice is infinitely kind and gentle. Mature, wise, and intrepid - somehow Jon Brooks sings a path to the mysterious and complex essence of the human condition. Julie Miller, CFLX 95,5 Sherbrooke, PQ

"Political songwriting is all too often assumed to be shouty simplistic protest, and all too often it is and therefore tends to be ignoredBrooks knows this and his songs are songs first and messages seconda powerful and at times brutally clear-sighted vision armed only with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and a gritty ragged voiceBrooks is a star in the making." Maverick Magazine, UK

"DELICATE CAGES is the most profound album of 2012." Robert McCourty, Vancouver Islands Folk Festival Artistic Director

AWARDS & NOMINATIONS:

- Nominated: 2012 Canadian Folk Music Award - 'English Songwriter of the Year'
- Winner: 2010 International Songwriting Competition
- Winner: 2010 Kerrville New Folk Contest
- 2010's People To Watch - The Toronto Star
- Nominated: 2009 Canadian Folk Music Award - 'English Songwriter of the Year'
- Winner: 2009 US National Public Radio's Mountain Stage New Song Contest, Canadian Region
- Nominated: 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award - 'English Songwriter of the Year'
- Winner: 2007 Ontario Council of Folk Festivals 'Songs From The Heart' Award
- Winner: 2006 Greenman Review's 'Songwriter of the Year'

BIOGRAPHY:

It was in 1997, at 28 years old, and at the end of a year of traveling throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and particularly, throughout war ruined Bosnia-Herzegovina - it was during this time when Jon discovered what kind of song he wanted to write. It was in 2005, 8 years later, he decided he was ready to write and sing that song.

No Mean City, released in 2006, was the first in a trilogy of albums of sparse instrumentation and densely layered poetry - a singular writing style characterized by paradox, understatement, overstatement, and by allusion to Western literary and folk traditions. It was followed by Ours and the Shepherds in 2007 and Moth Nor Rust in 2009. Each album is imprinted with a theme: architecture and homelessness of the modern urban soul; war; and all the things that neither moth nor rust may touch: love, hope, faith, memory, gratitude, trust, inspiration, and forgiveness.

Delicate Cages was initially released independently in November, 2011 but was formally re-released by Borealis Records in May 2012. The album earned Jon his third 'Songwriter of the Year' nomination in 5 years from The Canadian Folk Music Awards. Like its predecessors, the 11 songs on Delicate Cages were inter-woven to the larger common themes of love and fear; and freedom and imprisonment. The idea was inspired by the Robert Bly poem, Taking The Hands: 'Taking the hands of someone you love,/you see they are delicate cages.' Also consistent with Jon's albums, the song subjects were as wide ranging as they were topical and controversial: the Alberta tar sands (Fort McMurray); Bill 101 and Quebec's language laws (Hudson Girl); Palestinian suicide bombers (Son of Hamas); Bosnian child soldier turned Canadian mixed martial arts fighter (Cage Fighter); and so-called 'Honour Killing' (The Lonesome Death of Aqsa Parvez). Morally and politically ambiguous, Delicate Cages, offered what Jon has since called, "necessary and alternative understandings of 'hope' and 'grief' that are neither sanitized, dumbed down, nor cheapened or degraded by the modern lie of 'closure.'"


Lyrics

Kigali

Written By: Jon Brooks

Kigali

For Romeo Dallaire

Granddad was a Vandoo in ’25, left Groesbeek in ‘45
and Grandma was a Dutch girl and a war bride.
My dad, like his dad, came home quiet
to love us with few words.
To know him I had to become him.
I left Somalia for a new chapter 6 -
was discharged in ’94 from the Amahoro Barracks
but I don’t know the way, I don’t know the way
home from Kigali.

Does your heart know the way?
Does your heart know the way home from Kigali?

Ecstasy and Zoloft helped turn landmine rings back into cell phones
and Linda, back home to her parents.
Yeah, I tripped up the 12 Steps to fall back down,
I joined a prayer group,
but I know that I cannot be found.
One night I asked Jesus if he knew the way.
I was drunk at last call but I swore I heard him say,
‘I don’t know the way, I don’t know the way home from Kigali.’

Does your heart know the way?
Does your heart know the way home from Kigali?
Does your heart know the way?
Does your heart know the way home from Kigali?

In back rooms, in black light down Ste. Catherine
into that soft abyss, under the weight of a naked stranger.
Between dances she lies back on me,
I smell her hair, and her unknown skin I brush dry lips along.
Then she smiles that sad smile of all souls astray.
I think to ask her, though I know she’d say:
‘I don’t know the way, I don’t know the way home from Kigali.’

Does your heart know the way?
Does your heart know the way home from Kigali?
Does your heart know the way?
Does any heart here know the way home from Kigali?

‘Vandoo’ is the English corruption of "vingt deux" for Le Royal 22e Regiment, a French-Canadian Battalion formed in 1914.
‘Chapter 6.’ Classic peacekeeping, term used to describe United Nations Peacekeeping conducted under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter.
‘Amahoro barracks’ was the Amahoro Stadium in the east end of Kigali and the location of the UNAMIR headquarters. Amahor means peace in Kinyarwanda.

Mimico

Written By: Jon Brooks

Mimico


I grew up on the wide Lakeshore gas station strip.
Lone drivers and motels and coin laundries.
Hangin' out on Fridays at the end of Royal York Road,
smoking Player's Lights and talking like we'd know
anywhere other than Mimico.

And I left Humber College in vague hope to find
something new to like and then leave it behind.
I left this smug North of Rome's Latest Decline;
I left North of what may be wrong but alive.
I left Petawawa in August '03
for Kabul with the 3rd Battalion to see
anywhere other than Mimico.

And I never thought I'd ever say
I miss the gas station days in Mimico.
No, I never thought I'd ever say
I miss indifferent days in Mimico,
Mimico.

Patrolling the streets in this city of dust,
waving to orphans waving at us.
Then back to the barracks at Julien to dream
a smoky voiced woman who doesn't care to be
anywhere other than Mimico.

And I never thought I'd ever say
I miss the gas station days in Mimico.
No, I never thought I'd ever say
I miss indecision in Mimico,
And I never thought I'd ever say
I miss video store days in Mimico.
And I never thought I'd ever say
I miss indifferent days in Mimico,
Mimico.

If We Keep What's Within Us, What's Within Us Will Kill Us But If We Give What's Within Us, What's W

Written By: Jon Brooks

If We Keep What’s Within Us, What’s Within Us Will Kill Us
But If We Give What’s Within Us, What’s Within Us Will Save Us

'If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.'
- The Gospel Of Thomas, 70.

We are the artists sweeping the floors.
We are the poets sending out the Spam.
We’re the prophets doing all the dishes.
We are the misemployed and we’re working for The Man.

We are the bad backs doing all the heavy lifting,
the children mentoring the elders.
We’re the engineers wearing the nametags
and we are soldiers trained as welders.

We’re fishermen on the tar sands,
the night shift dragging into day.
We are the millwrights doing telemarketing
in a call centre still called Thunder Bay,
in a call centre still called Thunder Bay.

And if we keep what’s within us,
ah, if we keep what’s within us,
what’s within us will kill us
but if we give what’s within us,
ah, if we give what’s within us,
what’s within us will save us.

And we were nurses back home in Kingston
and now we’re cleaning ladies in Toronto tonight.
We’re the single moms shopping at Wal-Mart -
we can’t afford the luxury to do what’s right.

We’re pitchers at bat, goons on the power play,
we’re the fans that can’t afford a seat.
We are the dieticians serving up the All-Day Breakfast,
the vegans that are hanging up the near dead meat.

We’re lawyers but we are in business.
Yes, we’re corporate and we are individuals by law.
We’re the babysitters that are raising our kids
and we’re free to vote and be enslaved by it all,
yeah, we are free to vote and be enslaved by it all.

And if we keep what’s within us,
ah, if we keep what’s within us,
what’s within us will kill us
but if we give what’s within us,
ah, if we give what’s within us,
what’s within us will save us.

And we’re the actors teaching our kids at school.
We are the dancers waiting on the tables.
We’re the new and well-lettered illiterate
looking for a parking spot for the vocationally disabled.

We’re the service charge that used to be interest
and we’re the grifters that are managing the banks.
And we’re the academics hooking up the draught tank.
We are your hosts here: ‘We appreciate your business, thanks.’

We are the Shamans preaching the Gospel,
we’re the Christians arming for war.
We are the men, the women: The first children
living at the end of metaphor.

We’re administrators in the pulpit
and we’re decisively agnostic in the pews.
We’re the journalists working at The Second Cup.
And we’re the statisticians reading us the news.

We are the Marxists when there’s nothing on TV.
We live bourgeois - our debt is proletariat.
We bought a used copy of Solzhenitsyn once -
we haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet.

We’re farmers building the suburbs.
We’re enumerators telling us the hard truths.
We’re the contractors drawing up the town plans.
We’re the shy girls tonguing in the kissing booths.

We’re the plumbers getting rid of the knob and tube.
We’re wannabe models showing us our new home.
We’re MBA CAs, minimum wage BAs
and we’re Team Building but we’re all alone.

We are historians at the front desk.
And we’re the social workers counting up the till.
And we’re the crane operator with the English degree
and we know we got a book or two in us still.

We’re the copywriters doing the curating.
We are the doctors driving the cabs.
We are the specialists and we’re trying to change a tire.
We’re your union delegates working as scabs.

We’re anaesthetists, ah, but we’re faith healing.
We’re sportscasters with political views.
We are the snake handlers advising elites -
we do that downtown voodoo on the dollar for you.

We are the Folk Singers singing pop songs.
And we’re that ‘yo-sayin’-ho-playin’-wigga-wit-‘tude and no point of view -
we’re misogynists ‘wit da wall 2 wall totty –
gots G Cred, M-2-da-Y Space, too’.

We are retired but we are still working.
Yes, we’re linguists teaching business-speak.
We are the bards eulogizing tradition.
O, the time is up for you, Easy Irony.
The time is up for you, Easy Irony!

So, bring on a brand new shared suffering!
Bring on a brand new something heavy!
“Bring on the brand new Renaissance,” Gord,
‘Cause we know we’re ready.
Yeah, ‘cause we know we’re ready.

(optional live verse:

No, this is not the way it has to be!
No, this is not the End of History!
No, this is not the way it has to be!
No, this is not the End of History!)

And if we keep what’s within us,
if we keep what’s within us,
what’s within us will kill us
but if we give what’s within us,
Ah, if we give what’s within us,
what’s within us will save us.

War Resister

Written By: Jon Brooks

War Resister

Was born, Jeremy Hinzman, Rapid City.
South Dakota, I still miss you.
I bought war cards as a kid.
I never knew mom or why she did what she did.
I went to Fort Bragg, Benning, too -
yeah, we don’t know why we do what we do –
it’s just: ‘breathe, trigger, squeeze.’

And I was trained to kill – “Kill we will,
in the 82nd Airborne we exceed the
standard!” (of soldiering) -
and my hands they’d shake with adrenaline.
We’d shoot at the circles until they grew legs,
6 weeks later we’d be shooting at men –
just: ‘breathe, trigger, squeeze.’
Yeah, I could shoot 36 out of 40.
O but I’m not studying war no more,
no, I’m not going back to Rapid City.

We left Anzio Base Housing
with the dishes in the sink, Nga, and Liam.
I’m a bike courier in Toronto now,
I got a secret that I can’t tell.
My conscience is making me a criminal.
And my hands, they shake with the Peridol.
I asked Allah and I asked God’s Son:
‘What’s freedom worth if it’s bought with a gun?’
And: ‘breathe, trigger, squeeze,’
a voice inside of me
said, ‘I’m not studying war no more
no, I’m not going back to Rapid City.’

Was born, Jeremy Hinzman, Rapid City.
South Dakota, I still miss you.

When We Go

Written By: Jon Brooks

When We Go

No, we can’t take that old letter from our first lover.
No, we can’t take anything unto that Some Great Other.
Every lone sock and every diamond - we can’t prove it, ‘cause everybody knows:
If it’s not love we can’t take it when we go.

No, we can’t take it when we go, when we go, wherever we go.
If it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go
to that place where moth nor rust cannot touch us past this dust –
if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go.

(optional live verse:

But we can take that right time that we kept our mouths shut.
We can take all that which we will never know.
We brought all our frauds as facts unto our end, and so, ergo,
if it’s not love we can’t take it when we go.)

But we can take our ex-wives’ laughs, and our mothers’ worry lines.
We can take all that which we gave to those of whom we had to help,
and of whom that taught us most:
that if it’s not love we can’t take it when we go.

No, we can’t take it when we go, when we go, wherever we go.
If it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go
to that place where moth nor rust cannot touch us past this dust –
if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go.

And all our prizes and impulse buys: they will be fast appraised,
and into one bargain bin they’ll be casually thrown.
Until what’s favoured and/or forgotten
will delicately be told: ‘if you’re not love, we can’t take ya when we go.’

No, we can’t take it when we go, when we go, wherever we go.
If it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go
to that place where moth nor rust cannot touch us past this dust –
if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go.

(optional live verse:

We can’t take our bad tattoos or our good wedding rings.
Or that sad toy we found at that Parkdale dollar store.
Not the dishes in the sink, not the mattress on the floor –
if it’s not love, we can’t take it when we go.)

La da, la da, na na, na na, na na, na na na na na;
La da da da.

La da, la da, na na, na na, na na, na na na na na;
La da da da.

Small

Written By: Jon Brooks

Small

“My name’s Jamie, I’m a pretty good guy.
Y’ask me ‘how I’m doin’’ I'll tell you ‘I’m ‘doin’ alright’.
I got a job but I don’t like to go.
And I don’t tell you nothin’ you don’t know.
O and I wanted to be an astronaut,
I wanna do everything that I have not,
and I wish I could see how small we really are.

Yes, and I used to love her, I used to let her know
but I guess I let it slide a couple years ago.
Now it feels like we’re livin’ in a ring;
we fight about just about everything.
O and if I was an astronaut
me and the problems that I got –
I could see how small we really are.

How small we are!
How small and hardly at all we are!
How small we are!
How small and not really at all we are!
And if I was an astronaut me and the problems that I got -
I could see how small we really are.

How small we are!
How small we are!

We got a son in the middle and he just turned 4 -
he’s the only reason that we’re not divorced.
One night he asked, ‘why a couch was a bed?’
And so I sat him down and I said:
I said, ‘kid, if you were an astronaut,
you could see what I cannot
‘cause you could see how small we really are.’

How small we are!
How small and hardly at all we are!
How small we are!
How small and not really at all we are!
And if I was an astronaut me and the problems that I got -
I could see how small we really are.”

There is Only Love

Written By: Jon Brooks

There Is Only Love

We are the earth and we are its oil.
We are seeds; we are gifts to the soil.
We are hope’s blood and bone that we’re never alone –
that is to say, that there is only love.

We are the air that sings through the trees.
We are each other and we are on our knees.
We are the mystery and the wind in all beauty and suffering –
that is to say, that there is only love,
that is to say, that there is only love.

And we are fire and sometimes we are light.
We are passions that sometimes are right.
And we are brick, we are mortar, we’ll be ashes tomorrow –
that is to say, that there is only love,
that is to say, that there is only love.

We are water and we are the rain.
And we can know by only what we can name.
And we are salt, we are cane, and we’re never the same –
that is to say, that there is only love,
that is to say, that there is only love,
that is to say, that there is only love.

Mercy

Written By: Jon Brooks

Mercy

O, I used to admire most a melody
And what it could do with love and words.
And I used to admire most the poet who, with her pen
Untangle this world into verse.
O, I used to admire most what I thought was profound –
I’d plagiarize the prophets and the saints.
Ah, but now, now that I am older,
O, it’s mercy that I admire most.
O, it’s mercy that I admire most.

O, I waited out my low youth on a fallow spectacle
In lines snaking round Coliseums.
And I moshed in the drench under fame’s soft fist clenched -
And I paid all the scalpers just to see ‘em.
Ah, but now, now that I am older,
O, it’s mercy that I admire most.
O, it’s mercy that I admire most.

And I admire the pure of heart that will one thing.
And I admire the steady in their routine.
And I admire decision and the mind that endures it.
And those who speak though they be shamed.
And I admire all the reckless voices for the voiceless.
And the man standing in the path of tanks.
Ah, but now, now that I am older
O, it’s mercy that I admire most.
O, it’s mercy that I admire most
Mercy.

Because We're Free

Written By: Jon Broooks

I saw the earth open up under a satisfied sky.
I saw the homes not flooded shrivel up in fire.
I saw them loot all the corpses and rape all the wives.
I saw the cops shoot themselves; the law fall on its knives.

I saw an old man beaten as a young man watched
while the tourists of dread were takin’ pictures of it all.
I saw the prisons oozing out into a yellow-bodied street,
into the ecstatic justice of vigilantes.

Why didn’t God help, why didn’t He even try?
Why didn’t God help, why didn’t He even try?
Baby, why? Baby, why?
Baby, why? Baby, why?
Because, my dear, because we’re free.

I saw the luxury of anger; I saw the ease of revenge
I saw a little bit of grace when a man jumped instead
I saw pocked marked towns from the mortars above
I saw people choosing fear ‘cause they wouldn’t choose love

I saw the hills white with limestone around the city’s edge
The forests were littered with stolen shoes of the dead
I saw the cursed man climbing up his lonely olive tree
And when the last nail went in I saw three women scream:

Why didn’t God help, why didn’t He even try?
Why didn’t God help, why didn’t He even try?
Baby, why? Baby, why?
Baby, why? Baby, why?
Because, my dear, because we’re free.

O but there is hope for this world!
For this world there is hope!
O there is hope for this world!
For this world there is hope!
There is hope there is hope!
There is hope there is hope!
Because, my dear, because we’re free
Because, my dear, because we’re free.

Hudson Girl

Written By: Jon Brooks

Red hair, green eyes, shier than a first sung song
She wants 10 dogs and to raise some bees
She’s my Hudson girl

Her dad worked for an airline based out of Montreal
The company moved down to Toronto
So did my Hudson girl

They left Christmas of ’84; she had only turned 13
Her sister cried all the way to Etobicoke
So did my Hudson Girl

Merci loi cent une et la charte de la langue francais
I was lonely in Ontari-ario ‘til you sent her my way
Bill 101 down the 401
Brought me my Hudson girl

She was born on a Saints’ Day, Francis of Assisi
That’s why she wants 10 dogs and bees -
Least that’s what she tells me

She made a wish for the honeybee; she threw a penny in a well
I made a wish not to leave this world before my Hudson girl

When I asked her to marry me: ‘Marry me, my Hudson girl!’
She said: ‘Only if you take me back, take me back to Lake Of Two Mountains!’
We paid Rev. Kervin with a case of beer
Me and my Hudson girl

All my brothers on the outskirts; all you lonely guys
Take my word find a Hudson girl
You’ll never love another exile
Take my word find a Hudson girl
You’ll never love a better exile

Merci loi cent une et la charte de la langue francais
I was lonely in Ontari-ario ‘til you sent her my way
Bill 101 down the 401
Brought me my Hudson girl
She’s a Quebecker, not a Quebecois
She’s my Hudson Girl.
She cheers for The Leafs ‘til they play The Habs
She’s my Hudson girl
Bill 101 down the 401
Brought me my Hudson girl

Discography

No Mean City (January 2006/Self)
Ours And The Shepherds (May 2007/Self)
Moth Nor Rust (April 2009/Self)
Delicate Cages (March 2012/Borealis Records)

Set List

HOUSE CONCERTS: 40 - 45 minute set followed by a 20 - 25 minute set which always leaves room for a 10 minute encore set of 2 - 3 songs. These are intimate and unplugged events which may also involve Q & A sessions between or after sets.

HEADLINE SPOTS: 50 minutes with a 3 song encore.

OPENING SPOTS: 20 - 30 - 40 minutes.

WORKSHOP IDEAS:

• The Song as a Means to Greater Social Justice.
What is a song? How the song, as a unity of opposing rational word and irrational melody, works better than most other art forms at getting inside us. Great for high school students and adjustable.

• Pope, Orwell, Eliot, and Solzhenitsyn: Four requisite readings for the aspiring songwriter today.
An introductory look at how Essay On Criticism, Politics And The English Language, Tradition And The Individual Talent, and an excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago all inform what we do as songwriters.

• The Road—A practical discussion on 21st Century touring.
The hows and how nots to touri