The Louis Tape

Sometime in the late 1980s — it was probably 1987 — I traveled cross-country from Peterborough to Vancouver in my little Datsun 510 with my friend Joanna.

Joanna and I had that kind of friendship bred from having “connective tissue friends” between us. In other words, a lot of my friends knew Joanna. And a lot of her friends knew me.

Which is not to say we were strangers: when I showed up at Trent, she was managing Trent Radio and I thought her unbelievably cool and aloof (or rather “caloof,” for they were inextricably linked qualities). I used to write for her zine. And I was her sister’s roommate for a time.

Joanna was best friends with my girlfriend of the day, and somehow it came to be that we both needed to go to Vancouver. I think we both needed to escape from complicated affairs of the heart.

In the case of Joanna, this involved an intertwingling with Louis Fagan.

I met Louis the day he arrived in Peterborough. He showed up in a huge American car with Northwest Territories license plates. He was cooler than hot shit.

I never really became friend with Louis, although because our girlfriends were best friends, we inevitably orbitted each other to some degree. I always found him quiet and imposing, although as I got to know him, some of the veneer rubbed off, which was both good and bad.

Before Joanna and I set off for the west, Louis made her a mix tape. It had a lot of Penguin Cafe Orchestra on it. And many other songs of the same ilk. As it was the only tape we had in the car, we listened to it over and over and over, up through the Sault, down into Minessota, and across the upper mid-west to Washington before punching back up into Canada.

The songs on the tape became welded to our DNA.

Joanna and I traveled remarkably well together, and I only have fond memories of the trip.

I headed back to Peterborough (in a marathon 4-day dash) soon after arrival on the coast; Joanna stayed much longer, then came back, then settled in Vancouver for good, where she remains.

Louis formed a rock band, called Born Again Pagans, that played to some critical acclaim in and around the Peterborough-Toronto musical axis. One of my later girlfriends used to sing with them. Eventually Louis migrated west himself. And in 1997 he died from an overdose.

I hadn’t thought of Louis for a long time. Today, though, I stumbled across this Born Again Pagans MP3 on Foog’s website. It brought back a lot of memories, and suddenly I was standing on the balcony at Peter Robinson College in 1986 as Louis walked into the room for the first time.

Rest in peace.

Comments

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on March 19, 2004 - 09:28

Peter:

Louis and I formed that band in 1989, and the idea for it came in a trip we took from Ottawa to Peterbourough in his 1969 Parisienne convertable, which he had just driven from Yellowknife. On the way across the country in 1989, he wrote a series of poems called Rumours of Detah which were amazing and evocative descriptions of the inner landscape and it’s mirror on the outside as he passed over the country wrestling with demons. I wrote the music and we put the band together to accompany his readings of the poems and a series of slides for one of the Artspace Caberets. I have a tape of that performance somewhere. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. Next time I’m in PEI I’ll bring it for you to listen to.

Foog was in that iteration of the band, but no one else survived to make it into the outfit that released the one CD. Originally we were called The Born Again Pagans and The Horns of Plenty. We played at Bacchus in 1990 under that name. Todd Hildebrandt was our flute player and he had a button on his coat that read “Born Again Pagan” which is where the name came from.

I didn’t see Louis out here in Vancouver when he moved here, but I ran into folks who knew him and were looking out for him. There was quite a bolt of devestation that rippled across the country when he died. I wish it would be possible to publish his poems or collect all his artistic output together, but he was very ethereal, and I wonder if any of it really survies. It would be interesting to know. He never published a volume as far as I knkow and his contributions to journals were spotty at best.

As a footnote, Louis was remembered by Mike McNulty who named the “Jazz goes to College” series at the University of Waterloo after him (http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/bu… scroll down a little). As an impressario, Louis brought some amazing jazz to Trent back in the day, lots of which I covered on my jazz programs at Trent Radio or wrote about in the Arthur or the Peterborough Examiner.

Thanks for writing about him, Peter. It’s triggered quite a flood here.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on March 19, 2004 - 14:22

A great friend of mine drifted out to Vancouver and suffered the same fate, also in 1997. What is it about Vancouver? I know of many similar stories that end sadly in that city.

Andrew Gibson's picture
Andrew Gibson on August 4, 2004 - 18:38

I was attending Peter Robinson College during the period when The Pagans would be playing a number of gigs. Louis Fagan was someone that everyone knew of. He was admired in a way that only a few people ever are. I too have moved to Vancouver all these years later. To this day the most fun I have ever had at a concert was when The Born Again Pagans played with an The Thomas Trio and the red albino in the PR dining hall.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on August 4, 2004 - 18:49

Hey Andrew I remember that show…that was amazing. I think I wrote about it for the Examiner.

You’re right…after experiencing live music at Trent like that, I have found it very difficult to get into any kind of commercial or arena pop genre. To this day my love of the Rheostatics dates from their appearence in that same dining hall. Or the time the Cowboy Junkies played there and there were only six of us. They waited until there were more people in the audience than in the band, and then they decided to do without the sound system and just play acoustic.

It’s like a dream!

Andrew Gibson's picture
Andrew Gibson on August 5, 2004 - 18:23

Hi Chris,

That Cowboy Junkies concert is ringing bells although I don’t think I was there. I remember my roommate brought in Molly Johnson to play the dining hall to a similar turn out.

I took a look at your website and I think I may have seen you playing at the Irish Heather before. Your name is familar to me from back at Trent (probably from The Arthur). I also remember Laurie Corrigan(related?)….a friend of friends I think. My first couple of years I lived in the Townhouse adjacent to Trent Radio…actually used to spend a lot of time with the guy who lived in the apartment on top. Ahhh the memory is straining for names and places. Seems like a lifetime ago. I heard they shut down The Jolly Hangman which would be a loss. A truly great place to while away the hours.

West Coast life suits me very well now.

By the way I specifically remember an amazing cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Temptation’ from that Pagans concert all those years ago.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on August 23, 2004 - 18:18

Hey Andrew…I probably lived in the house NEXT to Trent Radio while you were living in the townhouse. You probably did see me at the Heather at some point. And I wrote for the Arthur for a number of years too.

Hangman is gone…

The Molly Johnson show was a great one. I covered that one for the Examiner too. She and I went to the Country Style Donuts across the street and talked for hours after the show. She was a great person, and stil is a fabulous singer.

I’m pretty sure you didn’t see me with the Pagans doing a Tom Waits cover. I only played the two shows with them and then Louis put them together into a REAL band which started playing around Toronto and other places in Ontario after the put out the one CD.

Alison Boston's picture
Alison Boston on September 18, 2005 - 02:10

Man, I used to read poetry with Louis at Rosie Lee’s Tearoom on Laurier Street in Ottawa. Sometimes he’d bring his saxophone with him. We had a kind of love-hate relationship. He was a provocative fellow. I’m sorry he never found a way out of the hell that killed him. But maybe he wanted it this way. Maybe he wanted to be a legend who died young.

Mary's picture
Mary on February 10, 2006 - 06:38

I actually dated Louis for a while (around 1984 — 1985). I still have some of his poems (and mine) from that period of time and would like to get them to someone who collects this stuff — I was thinking Michael Dennis (http://www.boneheadmusic.com/m… might be a good person to send things to — they were pretty close. Everything I have is on paper so I would need to scan it, reformat, etc.

I was really devastated when I heard about the overdose. Even though I hadn’t been in direct contact with Louis for some time, it still had a huge effect. My friends (behind the scenes) made sure that I was informed in person but to this day, I still recall my reaction — it was if all the years peeled away and I was the same person I was when I first met Louis.

I do feel sometimes that Louis is looking over my shoulder, figuring out what he needs to do next and trying to nudge me in the right direction. Maybe,it is just my imagination, but ….

michael dennis's picture
michael dennis on April 3, 2006 - 00:37

I met Louis in the early 80’s. I’d just moved to Ottawa and a guy named George Young had given Louis one of my manuscripts. Louis had decided he didn’t like some of the poems and he set the manuscript on fire. I hadn’t met the guy. At the time I was working at the Avenue Bookshop (which no longer exists) and Louis knew it. I had told George that his firebug friend had to be an amazing ass and I suggested that if he had the balls he might come to see me at the store.

Of course Louis was there the next day. Not sure how it happened but we were best friends in about two minutes. I closed up the store, we hit the LCBO and drove over to my house in his old convertible. That was it. From then until he died Louis was one of my closest friends.

When K and I married The Pagans were our band. On their first video shot in the basement of their legendary George St. home in Peterborough you can see me dancing through the crowd. I’m the one dressed as Batman.

Louis was driving when the wheel and part of the axle came off of the U-Haul trailer that was taking me to Prince Edward Island. I remember him getting so spiritual after certain medicinal adventures that he brought home a small shark from the beach and hung it in the large tree in our backyard. Of course the shark was gone the next day.

Louis was the scam artist of all time. Truly on a level all his own. Just like the Tom Waits line “if I never tell the truth I can never tell a lie”. Or at least that was the Louis version. When I spoke at his funeral I was wearing a beautiful green sweater from Ireland. Louis had given it to me for a birthday present. Louis was like that, strangely generous when you least expected it. Anyway, I was wearing this green sweater at his funeral. While I was speaking K was sitting in the crowd with one of Lou’s cousins. She whispered to K that she thought Louis might have stolen the sweater from her house. She wasn’t mad about it or anything she thought it was typical Louis.

I loved Louis and I’m sure many of you did as well. Can’t remember any human being who pissed me off quite as much either. Louis wrote plenty of material and a lot of it was good. But much like his music it was only really appreciated funnelled through the proper source. Louis himself.

I’m sure many of you are wondering what actually happened to Lou. Whatever any of you might think it was an accident. He and Sabera had been doing better, had been getting closer to clean. I had spoken to him shortly before he died and he was happy. Optimistic about life and his future. He was loved and in love.

I miss him terribly.

Sabera is clean and living in Quebec, we still see her from time to time. Whenever we talk about Lou we laugh like hell. All of you should do the same.

luba's picture
luba on April 4, 2006 - 05:31

Louis. one of the last times i saw Lou, we sat in my kitchen in Montreal after dinner with Sabera and her daughter. The two of them went off to the movies and lou and i went off to a couple bottles of red and a stack of poems. mine, his and other people’s. just for fun. we argued til i thought it would get bloody. about feminism and politics and what the fuck were you thinking when you wrote that. by the time he left i think i wanted to pummel him. but at the same time i was happy thinking that louis and i would be doing this til we were 80. and i never doubted it. so, yes, i miss him terribly too. i miss him because of everything i knew of him and because of everything i know i couldn’t know.

And yes, Michael, that is exactly right — louis’ work was best when funnelled through the proper source. Louis himself.

Pat Mc's picture
Pat Mc on January 17, 2007 - 19:33

He was truly a rogue in the fairest sense.

I remember him with love.

Pocelain goddess's picture
Pocelain goddess on February 1, 2007 - 21:26

I never knew him but I sure remember the Pagans. I was at Trent in 90-91 and some of my fondest memories are of their shows (don’t remember the names of any of the venues) and listening to/talking on the Foog’s radio show all through the wee hours. Innocent times.

Patrick Gracey's picture
Patrick Gracey on April 6, 2007 - 22:37

I played in an early incarnation of his band but got the boot long before they were doing regular gigs.
I moved to NYC in 96 and lived my first year in this sort of dingy almost suburb on the far side of Flushing Bay where I had a view of Rikers Island and the constant air traffic of LaGuardia. When I went to work we passed through a lot of similar areas. NYC has a lot of these places where you can be in the middle of nowhere in a city that is ostensibly at least an economic and cultural mecca. One day I saw Louis get on the bus in one of these places and I thought holy shit, it’s Louis! Then I realised that no it was not. I could see him in such a place as this though and appreciating it’s seedy tough desolation. It was in the next 24-72 hours that my cousin Shelley phoned to tell me he’d died.
I was a bit blown away as I hadn’t realized he was into smack, although when I thought about it nothing would be taboo with him. He had such a mixed reputation, some of it deserved, some of it not. I remember the Bacchus he organized with Aneesa. The night before a guy I knew showed up at my door (on acid I think) wanting to round up a posse to go clobber Louis. By his own admission the guy had crashed a party chez Louis and threw chili at Louis during a party all because he was friends with one of Louis’ exes. I remember another friend who absolutely hated Louis picking a vicious verbal fight with him that went on for what seemed like half an hour with the two of them just inches from each other’s face. It might have just been five minutes though. I was a little aloof from Louis around then but remember thinking he was facing down a truly venomous character assassination and had to give him grudging respect for keeping his own and giving as good as he got without looking so shitty.

GF's picture
GF on June 12, 2007 - 03:53

He keeps growing on me still, this beatific asshole… the Pagans rank up there with Tom Waits and James Brown shows…. if you were there, you know it, all of those Underdog gigs (Tim now a fireman!) and even the Railway Club out west, and some scary loft on the East Side with Bob’s Your Uncle… and Lou. He came up to see me in Comox that tour for some reason, and I didn’t know this guy so well, just his stage presence and how my brother slagged but respected him…so he comes to Comox. Mid-day, all of the beer and booze in the fridge are gone. I drive to a pub and he’s ripped and drama all hitting the ceiling and dashboard (hard)yelling “the pain, the pain!” and I thought, what a contrived bastard.

Guess I was wrong.

He lived hard. Honest and true. Even and perhaps especially when he was full of it. Glory. Provocation. Generosity. Those wor(l)ds splattering.

It’s really moving to find this tribute from and between those that knew and loved (and sometimes hated) him. It’s beautiful, and though it took years, now I can see it…so was he.

Eric Altman's picture
Eric Altman on July 14, 2007 - 04:55

Just stumbled here and wanted to add a few words to say how moved I was by reading these comments. I knew Louis back in the late 80’s in Ottawa and played with him in Urban Hep. We shared some very good times and like the others that have commented here from that era (Luba, Michael, Mary- how I miss you all) saw Louis from many sides. The memories are vivid though and the lessons I learned have stayed close.

Sean Thomas Langan's picture
Sean Thomas Langan on July 29, 2007 - 13:30

I lived with the man for 2 years. Louis Fagan had no respect for women. He had no respect for men. He barely cared for himself. Overdose? Smack? Enough said. No person deserves an ignoble death, but some bring it upon themselves. He was his own demon. I wish him peaceful eternal rest, and if I see him where we go, I will say hello, and try to start again.
STL

michael dennis's picture
michael dennis on July 29, 2007 - 17:44

Sean,

A bit harsh. You might have lived with Louis but clearly you didn’t know him. He was a lot of things to a lot of different people and it appears you didn’t approve. But you should know that he loved and was loved in return.
Kind words for the dead. You’ll be there some day as well.

Marian's picture
Marian on October 15, 2007 - 17:30

I’ve posted a link to a free MP3 hosting site with a copy of Urban Hep (poetry by Louis Fagan) for anyone who feels nostalgic or curious. There should be two links, both are recordings of a dub of Trent Radio’s copy of Urban Hep. One is louder than the other. I think with some fiddling I could probably get a better dub if anyone is interested.

Marian's picture
Marian on October 15, 2007 - 17:31

Just click on the word Marian.

Mike McNulty's picture
Mike McNulty on February 27, 2008 - 10:02

Louis was one of the only guys I’ve ever really connected with, and he was a talented and passionate musician and poet. I miss him dearly.

I’m putting together a little tribute for the tenth anniversary of Lou’s death, which is this week. If you have anything relating to Lou that can be digitized please email it to me and I will try to include it.

Mike

Mike McNulty's picture
Mike McNulty on February 27, 2008 - 10:09

Here is the full-text from the 2000 article Peter referred to above…

Jazz series remembers a friend

Last year’s The Louis Fagan Memorial Jazz Goes to College Series at the Grad House was such a success — a sold-out show every night — that organizers are playing it again.
The second annual Jazz Goes to College program runs every other Wednesday beginning tonight at the Grad House:

February 16, the Cathy Menard Quartet,
March 1, the Andy Klaehn Trio,
March 15, the Paul Mitchell Quartet, and
March 29, the Jackie Chalmers Trio.
Not only does the series bring jazz to campus, but it honours the memory of Louis Fagan, a poet, singer, songwriter and saxophonist from Ottawa who died tragically in Vancouver in 1997.

Mike McNulty, a PhD student in philosophy who is organizing the jazz concerts for the second year, was a friend of Fagan’s when the two were undergrads at Trent University. During that time, Fagan was a member of the band “Born Again Pagans”, which produced four albums.

Fagan helped organize a Jazz Goes to College series at Trent, taking the name from a classic album by jazz legend Dave Brubeck. Although Fagan “died before he could get famous,” said McNulty, the musician had a “spirit about creativity and the arts that was unmatched. He saw the university as a creative centre, not an academic factory. He made the time at university vibrant.”

McNulty sees the resurrected jazz series at UW as a way of keeping the spirit of Fagan’s work alive — and bringing interesting and different music to the Grad House.

A.G. Jones's picture
A.G. Jones on March 22, 2008 - 08:36

Ah…Louis. After all these years I still think about the night I wanted to positively clobber him. I got into it with him during a Bacchus party about his treatment of his then-girlfriend (Ms. Rogers). Too much acid, dope, beer blah blah blah. Oddly, it was this event that led to a detente of sorts; an uneasy truce with one another. I don’t think I ever came to truly like the guy, but I was able to sit down and drink a beer or five with him. We certainly enjoyed mixing it up verbally. He was a capable jousting partner, and a good bullshit artist. I think Louis shared some of the same predilections that many of us did, but his bent and his style crept up to severely bite him in the ass. I was saddened to hear of his passing, as no one should go out like that. He wasn’t the nicest guy (nor was I), but he at least he threw himself into what he was doing. That is more than can be said for many. I wonder what would have become of Louis if he had made it, and for those who would judge harshly, keep in mind his age. He did not afford himself the opportunity to grow old gracefully.
One last thing: I have to agree with one previous poster who mentioned Louis’ problems with women. Dead on. He was a vicious bastard at times.

Marian's picture
Marian on March 22, 2008 - 16:33

Okay, I somehow managed to screw up the link to Louis’s performance of ‘Urban Hep’ above. Anyway, the link ‘Marian’ should take you to a podcasting webhost and Urban Hep should be right there next to a play button. I promise. The glitch probably has something to do with the fact that my podcasting site was doing renovations when I first made the link.

Chainsaw's picture
Chainsaw on August 23, 2008 - 20:14

Thanks for that link Marian. Didn’t think I’d every hear a recording of Urban Hep from the period I was in it, which was for only two shows in 1986 as far as I can remember (in a shopping center in Ottawa -Rideau Mall?- and at Foufounes Electriques in Montreal). Somewhere, I still have some promo pics of Louis, Bill and I, and pics of that shopping mall performance. I have fond memories of him, he was magnetic. I ran into him on the street in Vancouver in 1996 we had a very brief chat, I was going one way, he the other.

Deborah's picture
Deborah on January 22, 2009 - 17:52

We paddled on the Great Slave Lake, the waves the wind made us laugh out loud

We stopped at the small island and ran on the rocks, he with nice shirt, me with pretty dress.

We slept in Francois wall tent with the ravens and dogs…..he made me and Deon salmon on black ink pasta. We sat on the deck at midnight in the sun, quiet.

This is how I will remember you Louis…..2009.
Deborah

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on February 2, 2009 - 19:19

Wow…a connection Chainsaw too? Holy crap.

So in 1988 I think it was, February my friend Gry and I travelled to Montreal to do some work at McGill and we stayed with my friend Jeanne who at the time was sharing a place with Chainsaw. We had a couple of really fun late nights staying up with Christof talking about John Cage and radio and performance and what not. I remember to things he had in his room in addition to a mssive record and reel to reel collection: one as an antique dentist chair and the other as a radio transmitter. I asked about the radio transmitter and he told me that it had been used by the Faribundo Marti front in El Salvador for a hile. Turns out is had been sent there from Toronto’s ard Island here it as the treansmitter used to broadcast pirate radio into the city. Back in ‘88 Chris said he as still flooding the airaves of the Plateau ith the odd performance piece.
I had no idea at the time that Chris had any connection to Louis until now. And beyond, for it truns out that that transmitter powered a radio station that involved Ron Gaskin and Christopher Ward. Ward was a founder of Trent radio, and went on to become an early Much Music host, and Ron was the program director at Trent Radio for a while as well.

What an amazing little pre-internet web.

Tim Stairs's picture
Tim Stairs on March 25, 2009 - 02:37

I met Louis when he was still in high school in Ottawa and thinking about starting a show about poetry on the university radio station. Some of my memories of Louis — driving around Ottawa in one of his convertibles listening to “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes, watching Louis read his poetry, for the first time, in front of an audience at the Rosie Lee’s (he was too shy, so I mentioned to the M.C. that Louis wanted to read, afterward, he could never admit that I had helped him), drinking and writing poetry in the Penguin while a swing band performed, watching him and George Young abuse each other verbally, listening to him, up in the attic at his brother Jim’s place, jamming on a saxophone… he was the worst and the best. Truly an individual who lived in the moment. R.I.P.

Margot Fagan's picture
Margot Fagan on February 14, 2010 - 04:00

Hi, thanks for the link. I’m not sure if we’ve met, I’m Lou’s sister Margot. My kids were too young to know Lou, so these bits and pieces of things I can find on line are really appreciated.

WM's picture
WM on August 18, 2010 - 21:40

I knew Louis through the Pagans. I saw a show at the Railway Club in Vancouver (among others), and used to run into him once he moved west. I was very sad to hear of his death, and the circumstances thereof — I had no idea.

I was a much younger twerp, and not exactly in the same orbit as the Pagans, but Louis couldn’t have been kinder to me. Friendly, warm and genuine. My conservative dad was always happy to share a beer with Louis, as was I. He was charismatic on stage, and magnetic in person.

Coach's picture
Coach on September 22, 2010 - 21:05

My favorite Lou quote “He who’s foaming at the mouth the most wins the argument”. Lou was on my softball team: Patchworks, Trent U Summer’s, early 90’s – he had a pretty good stick. I still have the team picture from ’93 the year we won; Lou was the only one blinking.

Lisa C's picture
Lisa C on June 23, 2012 - 03:44

I’m a couple of years out of the loop here — its a hot summer night and they tend to remind me of Louis and cruising around in one of his humongous old beautiful cars in the mid eighties looking for swimming holes. Every once in a while I swear I see him crusing by me on the highway. I have some Urban Hep pictures too Chainsaw and Eric. Louis was the link to key events/people connections in my life. I miss his corny laugh. He would get himself into all kinds of trouble but he had a good heart if not a troubled one. I miss my friend Louis and have spent troubled moments over the years since he has been gone desparately trying to recall the last time we saw each other to no avail. Not sure why that matters.

Anna Hartley's picture
Anna Hartley on April 18, 2013 - 19:40

I knew Lou well for a short time. We ‘dated’ for about a minute before discovering we were destined to be friends and co-conspirators. He was a most loveable rogue with the heart of a poet. Although he sometimes lacked the grace to admit his foibles, to those of us who knew him, it was part of his charm. I miss how he made me feel like I too could be a poet, if only until the end of the bottle.

---'s picture
--- on October 22, 2013 - 01:50

Can anybody post the lyrics and maybe link to the original song by the Born Again Pagans called: The Man With the Pink Triangle
To: ryanharveymusic.com
He will be looking forward.

Would love to find it here as link, the song is so powerful.
Thanks.

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