I Remember

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(There wasn’t a moment my cheeks weren’t covered in tears writing this. Please excuse any inconsistencies in tenses, grammar, spelling, etc. It’s just a story I wanted to share).

Many years ago, in a crowded night at the Bovine Sex Club, my best friend and I were approached by a man. He told us he’d heard about us. You see, in my former life, we used to manage local Toronto bands. As you know, I love music (hence every post having a soundtrack), and it was something we fell into after befriending many indie acts around the city.

What you need to know about this particular man, is we had heard about him too. Actually, we knew exactly who he was before he introduced himself and we had no idea why he was talking to us. This man’s name was Haydain. Haydain Neale. You may not be familiar with this name but you may be familiar with his band, his music. He was the frontman of jacksoul, a Canadian band I listened to since they first came out in ’96. I remember seeing this man on television, hearing this man on the radio and loving everything about the music he did. It didn’t feel or sound mainstream and that was the attraction. This was soul music, it fed me. Throughout the years, I saw interviews with Haydain – always with a smile on his face. Always positive. Always with an incredible sense of humour. I remember saying, “I’m going to meet that man.” I came very close on June 5, 2004. A co-worker gifted me tickets to a James Brown concert at the Molson Amp; jacksoul was the opening act and I had no idea. I was four rows back from the stage and I swore at one point we made eye contact but that could’ve been wishful thinking.

But the day came that evening in the Bovine. We asked how he’d heard about us and with that smile of his he told us how “word got around.” He and his wife, Michaela, started their own studio (Megawatt Studios) and were hoping to get some Toronto talent in to record. Unlike many “industry” folk we’d come across, he wasn’t trying to scam us or take advantage of our naiveté. He saw two young (black) Canadians with drive and passion doing their own thing. We weren’t a stereotype, the same way he wasn’t. At least that’s how I felt when we spoke.

Haydain and Michaela invited us to check out their brand-new studio space. No sales pitches, no pressure to bring our bands in to record. We sat around chatting about what we were doing, where we saw ourselves going.  I left that meeting feeling pumped, feeling like we could do anything we set our minds to. Something we’ve done must be right if an award-winning musician heard about our company without us ever contacting him. Michaela and I emailed back and forth for awhile but life happened, we fell out of touch and my management company dissolved.

On November 22, 2009, I was keying allocations; distributing boxes to retail stores across North America as I did every day. I remember singing along to “Can’t Stop” on the radio. I remember the DJ’s voice when the song concluded  telling me Haydain succumbed to his battle with lung cancer. I felt cold. I hadn’t heard. I calmly walked to the washroom, walked into a stall and cried. This man, who was still recovering from a life-threatening accident years prior, this man whose band was getting ready to release their latest album in December, was gone.

Not a single day goes by when I don’t think about meeting him; the way he and his wife welcomed us in. The way he seemed to live his life with laughter and the way that chance encounter boosted my confidence when I was trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. Do you understand how special a human being you have to be to affect someone you barely know; that you’ve met twice? He exuded a certain kind of magic. He was the essence of kindness, joy and love.

Today I remember Haydain Neale and his family he left too soon…the same way I remembered him yesterday. The same way I’ll remember him tomorrow.

Haydain Neale
September 3, 1970 – November 22, 2009

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