John Gogo knows Vancouver Island — its people, its post-colonial history and its music.
And the fourth-generation Islander has brought a century’s worth of logging and mining stories together in The Coal and Wood Show.
The one-man-show will see Gogo portraying three characters – his great-grandfather, an 1880s-era coal miner, his grandpa and his father, both loggers from the 1930s to 1980s.
But it’s not just stories of himself and his family – the show will weave together the history of the region and notable players throughout the past century.
“Haunting folk tales told by four generations of a Nanaimo pioneer family offer a fascinating look beneath the surface of history unfolded from 1895 to 1995,” said Gogo in a release.
“Their songs explore the unique and layered lives of heroes and villains: the visionary Finns of Sointula, the notorious Dunsmuirs, labour martyr Ginger Goodwin, the ghost of Clarence Ballance and the infamous Brother XII of De Courcy Island.”
It shouldn’t be difficult to keep track of which one is the real John Gogo – because they all share the same name.
“The fact that we’re all John Gogos kind of makes it an interesting angle,” said Gogo. “I logged with my dad when I was kid, and he logged with his dad – so it’s been quite a family tradition. Actually, it’s four generations of us.”
Gogo draws from the stories of his family as well as stories of his own experience working as a logger 30 years ago.
“I wrote a song – it’s called ‘Chokerman’s Lament’ – I wrote it about 30 or so years ago from my own two years experience as a chokerman in a logging camp,” said Gogo.
Gogo debuted the show on Protection Island this summer and recently staged it Sointula and Port McNeill earlier this month, followed by gigs in Cumberland and Lasqueti Island.
“They were amazing. I purposefully debuted them in logging communities,” said Gogo.
He’s toured on similar themes before, performing with a group in a show called Good Timber Songs and Stories of the Western Logger.
“After the show all these old loggers would come up, and they’d basically stand in line to talk to me because what they want to do is tell their stories,” said Gogo.
“That was a really gratifying part of that experience, talking to the old timers.”
He also ends the show with a bit of a twist, talking about the inherent privilege afforded to those born into white families on Vancouver Island.
“After I had written the show, I thought – ‘well, this is all well and fine that I’ve written this sort of celebratory piece about my lineage here on Vancouver Island as logger but what about all the people that weren’t white?’ My ancestors definitely had it rough, but they were white. So in a lot of ways they had doors open for them that were not open for other people,” said Gogo.
He specifically mentioned the head tax faced by Chinese people, discrimination against Sikh people and what he says is most significant, the many hardships put upon First Nations peoples.
“That’s the biggest one. So I decided that would be my artistic statement – just to say what about this, what about that. I’m trying to be careful not to hit anybody over the head with that, but I do address privilege right at the end of the show. Just to try and leave people with something to think about,” said Gogo.
He’s not looking to be preachy – just reflective and realistic – and he says so far that aspect of the show has gone well despite his reservations that it might not.
“It was really well-received. I got a standing ovation, and encore, which I wasn’t expecting,” said Gogo.
For more information, check out his website.