A Buzz from the past

The crazy tale of the Mad Ma­nure Bomber plays city stage

Calgary Herald - - ENTERTAINM­ENT -

HEATH MCCOY

There’s no deny­ing the sheer wack­i­ness of the Cal Cavendish story.

It’s the ridicu­lous, re­bel­lious, de­cid­edly Al­ber­tan tale of the Mad Ma­nure Bomber, as he was dubbed in this very news­pa­per. The hot­headed coun­try artist who, on April 11, 1975, de­cided to get back at the mean old city which re­jected his mu­sic by pack­ing up his sin­gle en­gine air­craft with 45 kilo­grams of ma­nure and 100 of his un­sold records and dump­ing the load in Cal­gary’s down­town core as he swooped be­tween build­ings.

The ornery cuss even buzzed the Cal­gary Tower, cir­cling the tower top restau­rant as pa­trons were rushed from the build­ing by po­lice.

It’s a knee-slap­per of a tale that’s been told time and time again over the years — weird foot­note in Cal­gary his­tory that it is — but, be­cause of its bizarre, funny na­ture, the sad side of the Cavendish story has been en­tirely over­looked.

Play­wright David van Belle and singer-song­writer Kris De­meanor have come to know this more poignant as­pect of Cavendish’s saga and they plan to cap­ture that when they bring their new play Buzz Job! The True Story of Cal Cavendish to the Iron­wood stage next week (Feb. 5-10, 12 and 13th).

The truth is that Cavendish, for all his jovial blus­ter, was, and is to this day, an ex­tremely sen­si­tive in­di­vid­ual.

That’s clear when I sit down with the ec­cen­tric singer­song­writer, now 68, along with De­meanor and van Belle for an in­ter­view at the Iron­wood.

As we chat over cof­fee a young fe­male artist strums away on stage, singing her heart out be­fore a largely in­dif­fer­ent crowd. Cavendish is gen­uinely trou­bled by the scene.

“I say this with all hu­mil­ity,” he says, his voice low­er­ing to a whis­per and very nearly trem­bling. “This gal ... she’s singing her songs and she’s try­ing to make a liv­ing and we’re here vis­it­ing. . . . She isn’t re­ally be­ing no­ticed and that both­ers me right now. It’s a heart­breaker . . . be­cause some­times the nights don’t go well and it can tear you right up.”

Torn up Cavendish was on that day nearly 34 years ago when he lodged his con­tro­ver­sial protest.

There had been mo­ments in his mu­sic ca­reer where he thought he was get­ting some­where. He had re­leased four self-fi­nanced al­bums and a few of his sin­gles even cracked the charts. He had writ­ten the theme song for CBC Ra­dio’s Wild Rose Coun­try and he was the sub­ject of a 1973 Na­tional Film Board doc­u­men­tary.

But de­spite all of that, as Cavendish watched his fel­low Cal­gar­i­ans get rich dur­ing the city’s oil boom, he be­came in­creas­ingly de­jected, strug­gling as a mu­si­cian and work­ing as a se­cu­rity guard at K-Mart to make ends meet.

To top it all off, his prized pi­lot’s li­cence had been yanked away from him the pre­vi­ous year when Cavendish was un­der­go­ing psy­chi­atric treat­ment.

That’s right, he was fly­ing without a li­cense when he pulled his in­fa­mous stunt.

“Once you have a med­i­cal is­sue, they de­cide what to do with you and they de­cided the best thing for me, and so­ci­ety, was to write me off as a pi­lot,” Cavendish says. “That was re­ally dev­as­tat­ing.”

But the big is­sue was frus­tra­tion over his fal­ter­ing mu­sic ca­reer. “I had put all my eggs in the mu­si­cal bas­ket and the way I looked at things was that I wasn’t mak­ing it and I prob­a­bly never would,” Cavendish says. “I was pretty des­per­ate.”

Cavendish stresses that his act was a peace­ful protest and in­sists there was never any dan­ger the stunt could have gone ar­ray. He says he was a skilled flyer with about 10 years of avi­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt.

Still, even he con­cedes: “This may not have been the choice road to take. I’m not sure I’d want to do it again.”

In any case, as Cavendish tells it, his “re­bel­lion came at a high price.”

What could have been the ul­ti­mate pub­lic­ity stunt back­fired and even though the law was le­nient — he was fined $3,000 but didn’t serve any jail time — the singer found him­self black­balled in the mu­sic in­dus­try. “Agents stayed away from me,” he says. “Be­cause I was un­sta­ble, I think.”

That’s when Cavendish left the mu­sic busi­ness, in­stead hit­ting the road as a trucker. “I threw my hat on the ground and quit,” he says. “And I made money for the first time in my life, too!”

Kris De­meanor, who’s play­ing the young Cavendish in Buzz Job, says he leaped at the op­por­tu­nity be­cause he felt a spe­cial kin­ship with the ec­cen­tric folk hero.

“I’ve seen a lot of ca­su­al­ties of the mu­sic in­dus­try,” De­meanor says. “I’ve seen so many strong per­form­ers and writ­ers that have said this is a shark tank this busi­ness. Peo­ple treat you like garbage a lot of the time on all lev­els, from the book­ers to the press to the au­di­ence, and you think, ‘What the hell am I do­ing this for?’ I’ve felt like that. That’s one of the rea­sons I was so at­tracted to Cal’s story.”

To play­wright, David van Belle Cavendish’s tale is an im­por­tant one that needed to be re­told.

“This isn’t just about Cal Cavendish,” van Belle stresses. “It’s also a love song for Cal­gary in my view. Some­times a love song is about bro­ken hearts and dreams that get shat­tered. . . .

“This can be a tough town and when the money pours in, as it did in the ’70s, some­times that can add a bit of a mean edge to the place. . . .

“I think (Cal’s story) has a right­ful place in the city’s mythol­ogy.”

Cavendish him­self couldn’t agree more.

When I sug­gest that there was some­thing quintessen­tially Al­ber­tan about the Buzz Job he ex­claims: “You bet­ter be­lieve it was Al­ber­tan! It’s the free­dom to make an ass out of your­self. It was straight out of the wild and woolly west!”

Ul­ti­mately, Cavendish is most ex­cited about the play be­cause it fea­tures his mu­sic promi­nently and he hopes a large au­di­ence will at last dis­cover his songs.

As far as the at­ten­tion it will bring to the Buzz Job, on that the old cow­boy still has mixed feel­ings.

“Some peo­ple thought it was funny and some peo­ple thought it was nuts and they were both right,” Cavendish says. “But it re­ally was the defin­ing mo­ment of my life. Here I am over 30 years later still talk­ing about some­thing that my grand­kids have to live down. Or up to, de­pend­ing on how you wanna look at it.”

Dean Bick­nell, Cal­gary Her­ald

Buzz Job, a mu­si­cal about Cal Cavendish, above right, fea­tures singer song­writer Kris De­meanor, left, who plays Cavendish.

Dean Bick­nell, Cal­gary Her­ald

Kris De­meanor, right, can re­late to the story of Cal Cavendish, left, who be­came a folk leg­end in 1975 when he flew a plane over the Cal­gary Tower and dropped 45 kilo­grams of ma­nure and his records into the city’s down­town. TELE­VI­SION •

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