It is only an abandoned “cabin” in the woods, like the grotto of Lourdes is only a hole in the rock.
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but some places, due to the special energy they once embodied, become shrines or shrines.
Perhaps that’s too big a claim for the late Rob Lanois’ beautiful dark wooden cabin with the metal roof where he recorded some truly memorable music, with the likes of his Grammy-winning brother Daniel Lanois, Canadian music legend Bruce Cockburn, Tom Wilson and many more.
But, Dave Conlon doesn’t think so and neither do I and I don’t think you will either if you’re a follower of this city’s rich musical tradition.
Dave, who lives in Burlington, runs a fascinating website called FreakTography, which features photographs and videos he posts from his urban explorations, mostly of abandoned homes, buildings, churches, prisons, hospitals, factories and more. Not just here, but in places as far away as Detroit and Gary, Indiana, and around the world.
“It’s my side job,” says Dave, whose day job is at a marketing firm.
For all of his travels that he’s had, some of his best hits here at home, and there’s only ever been one discovery, in his 10 years of work, that launched him on a track longer than its normal 10 or 15. minute videos and photo galleries. This one, which he found following a tip, is only a short drive from his home.
Yes, Bob Lanois’ cabin.
As he does with so many of his subjects, Dave has studied him exhaustively. He couldn’t let go of what he had found – the history, the character, the happy/sad texture of the place and the people who inhabited it, most notably its owner, Bob Lanois. So as he processed what he had, what came out was nothing less than a 106-minute documentary.
‘Bob Lanois’ Cabin in the Woods’ is Dave’s first full-length play and it’s a good rookie of the year, a remarkably safe, informative, beautifully shot and well-paced maiden voyage in the documentary.
“I had to tell more stories than usual,” says Dave. “There’s the fascinating story of the cabin itself,” but there’s also the whole story of the Lanois brothers, the culture and the musicians that revolve around them and Bob’s accomplishments and tragedies, including including his near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2012.
For a novice, the prospect of doing history justice was daunting – he knew it would mean having to interview people who figured prominently, almost mythically, in his thinking, great figures in the history not just of music from Hamilton, but international music. . Tom Wilson, Daniel Lanois, Bob Doige, Edgar Breau.
“Amazingly, they all said yes,” recalls Dave. They have all been so kind to their time, perhaps a testament to the depth they feel for Bob Lanois, but also to Dave’s sensitive and respectful approach. In all of his work, he refuses to intrude or violate people’s privacy and there is a warning on his site that if anyone is triggered or , he will remove it.
More importantly for the documentary project, Dave approached Bob’s widow, Margot Peters, and got her blessing for the project.
The story scrolling from the opening credits centers on the shed that Bob Lanois found in his quest to become “grounded” and have his own place in nature, away from it all.
Through this hangar, which he expanded and built into a proper cabin with excellent acoustics, everything else flows. The story of the Lanois brothers, how they went from recording music in their mother’s basement to forming, with Bob Doige, of Grant Avenue studios, how those studios became a hive of musical activity that attracted musicians from all over.
The story of how Bob and Daniel bonded with everyone from Tom Wilson to stars like U2 and Emmylou Harris, whose albums Daniel produced, on his way to earning 15 Grammy nominations and seven wins , often with Bob’s help in sound engineering (at which he was a virtuoso), photography, filmmaking, and other creative touches.
Bob was also an excellent harmonica player and made wonderful music with, much of it in his cabin with Tom Wilson and his brother Daniel, on records like ‘Snake Road’ and ‘The Shack Recordings’.
Bob remained, throughout his life, a searching soul, with a philosophical bent, lyrically expressive and sensitive, coexisting with a demanding seriousness and a passion for quality, for the best work. His quest has taken him everywhere from India to his French-Canadian roots to his little castle in the trees.
He passed away in 2021 and left behind great music, admiring friends and a wonderful legacy, which Dave captured.
“I feel like I know him even though I’ve never met him,” says Dave.
Lanois cabin in the woods recently sold.
The documentary can be viewed on YouTube.