Devil’s Broom

Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – November 24, 2005

“Devil’s Broom” is the fourth track off Joseph Arthur’s album Our Shadows Will Remain. It’s a memorable song about hopelessness, alcoholism and homelessness.

“Since you’re gone ain’t nobody else gonna save me/ ’cause I can’t trade a bottle for an empty room/ I just pray that the Lord is going to come down and take me/ sweep me off this floor with the devil’s broom/ where are you?/ what did I do?/ why can’t you see/ you mean everything to me?”

It’s about losing the one you love at a time when you can’t get enough to make it. You’ve lost your sense, woken up in the sun face down on the pavement, and everything you own is in a garbage bag.

Most of Arthur’s discography can be interpreted as a rich collection of emotional songs about drug addiction, mental illness, street life and seeking redemption. Through this, Ottawans can gain a deeper appreciation for stories that could easily double as those of our city’s marginal folks.

Whenever a panhandler begs me for change, when I see that lady with her placard listing the conspiracies she’s convinced oppress her, saying “Help me: I’m homeless and terrorized,” when I pass the dude on Rideau Street lying in a puddle of his own piss, I wonder to myself, What happened to those people?

And is it any wonder that I might look to Joseph Arthur for an answer or to become more aware of issues facing the broken who live on the fringes of society, given that he, the poet, has accurately portrayed an Ottawa “beggar” as a sick man in his journal entry from Notes From the Road, 51400, back on May 14, 2000:

“Without a voice/ without glue/ falling apart/ in Ottawa/ a burning tulip/ looking behind us/ I saw him take a tomato from a vendor/ pretending to hurl it at a lady selling maple syrup/…he put the whole tomato in his mouth/ chewing like an angry dog/ stumbling into the street/ where he spit it out like a monkey heart/ stopping cars/ as rain began to fall from the sky.”

By listening to songs like “Put My Daddy on Prozac,” I think twice about telling a young panhandler to return home. When I put on “Creation or a Stain,” I intuit how horrible it must be to be demonized by voices in your head. When I hear “You’ve Been Loved,” I think of relapsing addicts. “Leave Us Alone” reminds me of how I get told to fuck off sometimes when I offer food instead of a dollar.

The more I cast these outsiders into imaginary Arthur videos in my head, the more I find myself open to, and understanding of, stories like Ottawa’s Gypsy Jaq, a.k.a. Mr. Michel-Florent Morin. The NCC evicted him from his tent home on the Gatineau shore of the Ottawa River near the Portage Bridge on November 3. “There is no place for us, except in the clouds,” he told an Ottawa Citizen reporter before he was evicted.

Jaq used to be a high school teacher and gave up teaching “because students had to take courses they couldn’t handle.” He suffered for this idealism, then suffered from depression, and I now suspect he’s back to living on the streets.

Then there’s the story of Tom Hogan, a 50-year-old Ojibwa man who has drifted in and out of hospitals and shelters, battled a chronic alcohol addiction, slept on the streets-and painted. His amazing paintings were recently on display at Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro in the market thanks to organizer Jo-Ann Oosterman, who made sure Hogan didn’t sell his valuable works for a bottle of sherry.

I know that just because Arthur’s music helps me relate to homeless people on a deeper level it doesn’t mean his fans can wipe out the problem in Ottawa. But by becoming more compassionate, we’ll be sure to spot ignorant fucks shouting “Get a job!” and steal their brooms before they sweep the disadvantaged and fractured too far from view.

If you like music and are also interested in helping out the homeless in a very real way, then come out to the Second Annual Feed the Homeless Benefit ( at Zaphod’s (27 York Street) on November 25 at 7:30 p.m., featuring Cosmic Juice, Tim’s Myth and DJ Rick “The Plant.”

Tickets are a donation of $5 or more. This benefit pays for an annual Christmas meal for 500 homeless people. Homelessness sucks. “Our event doesn’t change that reality,” says Kevin Nolan, one of the volunteer organizers, “but it calls attention to the issue, and helps in a very small way by paying for a special dinner, on a special day.”


RAISIN’ CASH BY GROWIN’ ‘STACHES Local garage rockers The Setbacks are nuts, but nice. They’ve just joined the local chapter of Mustaches for Kids ( and are enlisting members to collect pledges to sponsor “corner-to-corner” moustache growth, with proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The progress of the aspiring Magnum P.I.s are photographed against the dartboard at the Royal Oak on Bank and MacLaren every Friday at 8 p.m. until December 22. Check out the sproutin’ at Not sure how much to donate? Forget Jesus-you could always put your question to What Would The Setbacks Do? at

– Sylvie Hill