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B.A. Johnston performing “I Miss the Pig Ear’s Tavern” at the Gordon Best Theatre | Photo Credit: David King

B.A. Johnston Picks Up After Himself

Written by
David King
and
and
November 2, 2022
B.A. Johnston Picks Up After Himself
B.A. Johnston performing “I Miss the Pig Ear’s Tavern” at the Gordon Best Theatre | Photo Credit: David King

A lot has changed for B.A. Johnston since Arthur last checked in on him. As the world opens back up and the bars refill, his latest tour puts him back where he belongs, rolling around in cheap beer on venue floors. Johnston fulfils a niche that few would expect Canadiana to look like, soaring over the Stompin’ Toms and Randy Bachmans of our past, and landing in some future realm, unknown to most of us.

“A Toast to B.A. Johnston,” our last piece that featured Ol’ B.A., illustrated a period of uncertainty for the musician, whose career thrives on sweaty performances, unromanticized lyricism, and baton-wielding. Since that interview, a couple of keystone moments for B.A. have changed his trajectory for the better: His latest album, Werewolves of London, ON was released on June 3rd of this year, rating itself “C for Chud,” and his back-to-back tours landed him not once, but twice in Peterborough in 2022.

I’ve been a B.A. fan since his first stint in the Captain’s Courtyard this summer, living vicariously through his rotund figure rolling in the gravel backlot of Spanky’s, soaked in beer, sweat, and body odour. I remember being one of a four-man mosh pit, throwing ourselves around to the beloved anthem “We’re All Going To Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die)” as he ran around, forcing semi-willing patrons’ drinks down their gullets. 

A Hamilton transplant and Trent alum, B.A. has become an unlikely folk hero here in NOGO/PTBO, epitomizing a soiled, platonic ideal of a Peterborough man; an unyielding, portly, Lindsay-hating presence, commanding the attention of all who unwillingly witness him in his Wolfman Jack yowl. 

On the eve of October 14, the Gordon Best Theatre was packed floor-to-rafter as B.A Johnston swaggered onto the stage to the tune of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, sparklers alight on the approach, ripping off the pants of his dirty tracksuit to reveal a disgusting pair of galaxy leggings. 

As the night continued to come off its hinge, it became clear that B.A. has a method to his madness. He tore his windbreaker asunder to reveal a series of unwashed shirts, one with Charlie Sheen’s face, a caption to its left saying “Im Winning,” an oasis after countless  layers of his classic “What You Starin’ At, Dickhead?” shirt. With every reveal, I yell “show us your tits!” even louder, because the objectification of the male physique is definitely warranted with B.A. his glistening form leaving an unidentifiable residue on my hand after I give him a pat on the back. 

Johnston’s catalogue boasts a variety of heartfelt ballads, such as “I Miss the Pig’s Ear Tavern” and “Grease Lullaby,” and rabble-rousing bangers like “Alley Beers” and “I Don’t Buy No Government Weed (Still Buying from Steve)” that get the crowd’s fists a-swinging. No mosh pit at this show, however, since the Gordo’s floors probably won’t be able to handle it, but the energy was absolutely there, the crowd singing along wholeheartedly to almost every song B.A. plays.

His crowd work is also something to behold, from crawling on hand-and-knee through people’s legs, to standing on the Gordo’s bar, crooning about how the price of patio beers is far too high for his liking. 

There was a real togetherness about the entire affair that was markedly different from the last B.A. show at Spanky’s, and it’s hard to believe such a stout, little man could become such a folk hero to these people, me included. The appeal of B.A. Johnston is attributed to his unveiling of a Canadiana unseen, the real life of Southern Ontarians in the spotlight finally, and his deep, profound love and respect for all its players, the rascals and Tim Horton's loiterers getting their long-awaited day in the sun. 

Outside of our media empire’s image of clean pure-heartedness is the inverse reality that we dwell in as working people; a salt-grit, passive-aggressive Canada, full of cultural obsessives of overly specific phenomena, mid-tier fast food, and bad prop comedy. Johnston gives us all of that in a grounding dose in the high times of a lowlife, Hawkins cheezies and alley beers included. It’s the very reason why he is so beloved in these parts: he’s not afraid to tell it as it is. He is real, and he embraces the reality of his life through his prolific discography, with all its lumps and warts. He sees the beauty in the everyday, the greasy and the profane; it’s everything Peterborough is, in its reluctance, yet he loves it all the same. We should follow this example, loving the one we are with.

As his tour winds down, he’ll eventually come back to Peterborough, and I’ll be ready. Hopefully, we’ll talk in person next time, sit down and discuss our commonality: this beautiful, disgusting little town that has moulded us into the beautiful, disgusting little men we are today. This is my personal invitation to you, B.A.: We shall have a chicken shawarma feast at one of the many George St. shawarma joints, and we will watch King of the Hill at my apartment afterward. It’ll be the perfect night. I await your reply.

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