Behind every good song there is usually a good story and/or source of inspiration. Upon listening to my song “Excuse Me” it’s pretty obvious on the surface what it’s about, but there was a real particular, focused source of inspiration for this that lays quietly behind the song. First off if you have not heard it then follow this direct link:
I had witnessed the travesty this is East Hastings a few times and of course found it disturbing each time. I certainly had my opinions and thoughts on what should be done but they never went further than that. It wasn’t until I watched an excellent documentary called “Through A Blue Lens” that I began to stir those thoughts and emotions to the surface of the pot. This is where the song was born.
I will confess that before I saw this film I had a lot of the same default idealisms about the homeless people on the streets. The Old: Drank and has lost their family, too bad. They’ve survived this long, I’m sure they’ve got it all down, they don’t need my help. The Young: They’re young, capable and there’s no excuse why they can’t operate a shovel or bag groceries, they’re lazy, no free rides. etc… But everyone of the people on the streets has a story. There is nobody on the streets that aspired to be there, they all have a damn good reason why they are there. There’s a lot of “normal” people who are one pay check away from being there and you better believe that. I always try to keep these thing in mind. I had help learning how to do this from a man named Randy Miller, one of the central figures in the documentary and whom my song is loosely based upon.
A brief bio about Randy:
Randy Miller was a star athlete in his teens. He had a strong talent for hockey and he was thought by many to be destined for the NHL. He had a difficult relationship with his Father and after one particular heated argument, Randy left home and things fell to the wayside. Randy started smoking pot as a youngster and eventually moved on to harder drugs. By the age of 17 he was living on the streets, followed by two years in prison for drug trafficking. After a clean period in his twenties, he took painkillers for an injured knee and got back into doing drugs. He eventually became a heroin addict, securing his drug supply by acting as a ‘middler’ – a bird dog – for a drug dealer. “I didn’t want to look in the mirror,” Randy remembers, “but the drugs meant I had no problems and no emotions. I didn’t have to deal with those things.”
He was well-known to police in the downtown east side but was not considered a threat to anyone, so he managed to stay out of jail. He appeared in the documentaryThrough a Blue Lens, filmed by a group of police officers called The Odd Squad, chronicling the lives of drug addicts. On the show, Randy saw himself writhing and screaming on the ground and “it scared the hell out of me,” he says.
Later, confined to hospital with pneumonia, he met members of his long-lost family and discovered, despite all odds, that he was not HIV-positive. “That was the turning point,” he says. Being given the opportunity to meet his young nephews for the first time motivated him to enter a recovery program, where he spent three years being weaned off methadone.
Shortly afterward, Randy reactivated his longshoreman’s ticket, started working, and met his current girlfriend. He also started speaking to teenagers in schools about his drug addiction, “not preaching, but educating,” he says. The students are genuinely interested in learning from Randy’s experiences as, “many times during my talk you can hear a pin drop.” As a reward for six clean, drug free years, Randy recently bought himself a Ford Mustang.
This doesn’t come close to describing exactly how horribly low and desperate Randy’s existence became. You’ve heard of rock bottom, but you’ve never seen exactly what that can manifest into until you see the scene in which Randy is in the throws of a cocaine induced fit on the sidewalk, shockingly similar to someone who is possessed. Of course there’s others in the film who are living and dealing with unfathomable odds but the police officers on the beat who were responsible for the primary filming of the doc all agree that it’s Randy who is the worst they’ve seen. this is way it’s all the more amazing after peering into his life and seeing how horrible it turned out that he managed to turn it all around in a big way. The documentary that exposed the streets he lived in had managed to help him got off those streets in the end. This is where his story became such an awe-inspiring source for this song. Watch the film free here:
After I watched this film I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially Randy. Some people might have been able to but I was disturbed, upset and not willing to just put it out of my mind like another tv episode. I saw the truth about something that I sort of lied to myself about, so really if I just perpetuated that lie I would just be continuing to lie to myself, isn’t that finite stupidity? So one day after letting it fester long enough I just had to write a song about it. It just kind of fell onto the paper, it wasn’t a real task to write it, it was almost like I knew the song already, it was strange.
Every time I perform this song I can hear sniffling in the crowd. It’s not an easy song to hear I know, it’s even been a bit tough for me to get through singing sometimes. It’s touched a lot of people and I’m always floored when people come up to me and express how it touches them.
There it is, my story, or rather Randy’s, it was my journey. All songs are a journey, they should take you away from your existence into someone else’s. I for a moment, tried to see things through the eyes of Randy Miller. I often wonder how he is doing and if he realizes how incredibly important his journey is to us, the ones still writing the homeless off as lazy, or drunks who choose to be on the streets. He helped changed my point of view and I guess as a songwriter I just tried to “pay it forward”