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Dec. 17, 2018 | Monday
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Chatting life, death and music with Jesse Lamothe
Jesse Lamothe. (Supplied photo/Lunn Photography)

Jesse Lamothe freely admits he wasn’t the nicest kid in high school. But when the Niagara-on-the-Lake-raised musician returned from living in England for two years, he set out to make amends.

“I called up a bunch of people and apologized,” he says.

That kind of gesture takes courage, which is something Lamothe is deliberately building in his life.

The decision to move to England, for example, was made on a whim, after his wife Sarah lost her job three days before they were to finalize the purchase of a house in Niagara Falls.

“Sarah just looked at me and said, ‘Do you want to move to England?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

“That move adulted me up,” he says with humility. “I learned that I’m very small, and the world is very big. I had so many different culture shocks — we lived in a house with a Greek, a Kenyan, and a Russian. London is a weird animal and I love it.”

On their return from London two years later, Lamothe went beyond holding himself accountable for his teenage attitude — he also decided to face his fears head on. Having played some guitar and bass in his teens, he consciously pushed himself further in that direction. He started jamming with old NOTL friends like Jared Goerz and Taylor Hulley. He put together an alt-rock band called the Admiral Hardys: Lamothe plays guitar and sings lead.

Performing in an easygoing cover band helped assuage his anxiety, and he became comfortable on stage with his band mates at places such as the Mansion House and the Red Hot Chili Pepper in St. Catharines. But Lamothe’s professional life remained a bit aimless.

“Sarah convinced me to get some kind of career training, so I decided to go to Niagara College,” he says. “I chose therapeutic recreation because it was just vague enough. I just wanted to get out of my shell.” With his diploma in hand he went job hunting, and was quickly hired at a long-term care residence. His job is to interact with residents, mainly seniors, and keep them busy and entertained.

Lamothe soon realized the one thing every person in the retirement home loved was music. He decided to play his guitar and sing for his clients, and did some research into the kind of music they might enjoy. “I sing old songs, ones I wouldn’t have touched otherwise. I never liked Elvis or Johnny Cash, but now I think ‘This is music,’” he says with some reverence. “This is the real foundation. This is my musical education.”

That “schooling” took him to the next level. Through word of mouth, in 2016 Lamothe heard about a comedic rock theatre show that was casting, and he asked to audition. “I felt like I avoided too much because I was afraid. So I tried out, and got the part,” he says, of the role of Stacee Jaxx — an 80s rock star past his prime — in Something-Something Production’s presentation of the Broadway show Rock of Ages.

“I realized I had never done anything like this. It was ridiculous, it was crazy,” he says of launching a theatre career in his early thirties. But Rob Burke, Something-Something’s co-founder, says, “It was quite a challenge for Jesse, having no history of theatre work, but he did an awesome job.”

Perhaps recalling his nastier days in high school, Lamothe was able to channel the character’s arrogant persona. “I enjoy acting — I like hiding behind the character,” he says. Online reviews from audience members sang the cast’s praises.

Burke had dreams of another theatrical musical production: Club 27 would be about four famous musicians who all died at the age of 27. Lamothe, looking for another challenge, approached Burke about being part of the cast.

“Jesse said, ‘If you do Club 27, I’d like to try out for the Kurt Cobain role,’” says Burke. “I believed in him, and he nailed it.”

Like Rock of Ages, Club 27 had a limited and very successful run at Corks Playhouse Theatre, ending with a special encore presentation this summer. Burke has plans to expand the show and take it elsewhere, and Lamothe intends to keep falling to his knees and spitting on the audience as he channels Cobain.

On the flip side he’s singing Neil Diamond and BB King songs on the retirement home circuit.

And now he’s facing his biggest fear of all: being himself. Lamothe started writing and performing his own songs this year. “I thought, ‘What is the scariest thing I could do now?” He booked himself a spot on stage at a singer songwriter showcase in St. Catharines.

The judges included established Canadian musicians Jacob Moon, Melissa-Marie Shriner and Ron Whitman, along with the event’s organizer, Ryan Lunn. “I thought I was going to pass out on stage,” says Lamothe.

But he stayed conscious — enough so that he did some meaningful networking, and shook a few hands of “people I only knew on Facebook, and here they were in person.” He met local music festival organizers, and even secured himself a spot in the Sessions on the River live concert series.

The near future promises to hold similar thrills and chills with the expansion of Club 27. Lamothe will also be working on a CD of his own songs and exploring the solo performance circuit, as well as gigs with his cover bands the Admiral Hardys (named for a pub in England) and the Model Ehs. But if his wife has her way, “She likes me to be at home,” he laughs.

And the admiral has his anchor: “I feel synergy at work, always,” he says about his job in the retirement home. “I’m committed to it — it’s a foundation of who I am now.” And that biggest fear, the one that surrounds him all the time in his job? “This work is definitely changing my viewpoint regarding death. It’s okay. It’s just what happens,” he says calmly. “Maybe it’s a reality check, maybe it inspires you to keep going, to do whatever you can.”

What Lamothe can do is be a therapeutic recreationist. “My work gives me the opportunity to be the warm and fuzzy centre, bringing people back to their true happy place,” he says. Perhaps keeping clear of his comfort zone has the same effect on Lamothe.

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