Photo by: Joshua Kloke
Buck 65 is taking me to a baseball game.
While I originally proposed taking Rich Terfry to a Toronto Blue Jays game to talk about his then-upcoming new album Neverlove, from the moment I meet the eclectic hip-hop artist known as Buck 65 outside Gate 9 it's clear he's the one in driver’s seat.
It's obvious Terfry is at home at the stadium. On our way to our seats, he stops at a food vendor and without hesitation lists off his order: two hot dogs, a bag of Swedish Berries and lemonade. Sitting on the first base line, Terfry is a child. He is enamoured with a game played by men often half his age. Statistics have broken the game down to a science but Terfry sees something in baseball that many fans, and many artists, have overlooked.
“There’s a real poetry in this game,” says Terfry in no uncertain terms.
Sure, it's in music that he is gainfully employed. His career has afforded him Juno nominations, critical acclaim and what he deems an “interesting” life. It's no surprise to see him hobnobbing with big shot Canadian music executive Bernie Finkelstein at the game, for instance.
Yet it's in baseball that he is saved. And yet baseball makes him yearn for a part of him he has yet to find.
Today, on the first day of the MLB post-season (and a few days since the Jays were officially eliminated from contention), the 42-year-old's 14th full-length album Neverlove is offically released. And Terfry has good reason for the harsh title: two years ago his wife left him abruptly with just a note and her wedding ring beside it. He has yet to see her since.
Neverlove is ripe with realizations about the nature of love and the pain Terfry had to endure in the aftermath of his divorce. Now, he's coming to terms with the first love of his life.
His career as Buck 65 is well established, but only a saddening twist of fate derailed what Terfry thought and dreamed would be his living: playing baseball professionally.
He’s written songs about baseball, including “Joey Bats” which celebrates Blue Jay Jose Bautista. Terfry admires the slugger’s intellectual qualities and surmises that “in a lot of ways a guy like Bautista is the kind of player I was.”
A star shortstop since he was seven years old in Nova Scotia, he was spotted at a baseball camp by Stan Sanders, a scout who took him through the minor league ranks.
“He told me to finish high school and then when camp was over the next year he’d take me back to Ohio, where he worked, and we would go from there,” he remembers.
Terfry returned to the camp the following year to learn that Sanders had suffered a heart attack. Terfry never heard from him again.
“That was my ticket,” he says, looking wistfully into the Rogers Centre outfield.
This, not his recent divorce, is what he calls one of the “great heartbreaks” of his life. “Not a day goes by where I don’t lament the situation,” he says.
Lament, sure. But he has no time for anger in baseball.
There’s palpable anger on Neverlove.
Now that he's had time to reflect and come to terms with his divorce artistically, Terfry speaks with an oft-eerie calm about the turn of events that found him alone. “I was angry about not having the chance for discussion,” he says. “That’s a hard hand to be dealt.”
That anger emerges only one minute into Neverlove. “Gates of Hell,” the powerful opening track, features a terrifying loop of Terfry screaming “Fire” repeatedly at a deafening pitch. At a friend’s urging he began working in primal scream therapy (the same excercise once made famous by John Lennon). After dealing with a loss of this magnitude the common reaction might be to scream. So that’s exactly what Terfry did.
“I’m a very introverted person,” he says, admitting he found the therapy “challenging” at first. What follows is a snapshot of Terfry, the broken man approaching middle age. He turned to medication, something he’s never wanted to do. The enormity of his loss began to encapsulate.
“My thoughts were directing me into bad places,” he says. Journals he kept allowed him some understanding, but clarity was limited. He maintains he had no intentions of making a record, in part because his early writing was like “trying to read a different alphabet.”
The initial material he recorded was a look into his pained state of mind. “It was dark stuff,” he says. He soon found council in Swedish producer and friend Marten Tromm. While Terfry utilized different producers on the record, Tromm reintroducing a broken man into the world and the “slick, shiny stuff on the record.”
“He was getting me out of the house,” he says. “A lot of stuff on the record wouldn’t have come out otherwise.”
His pain speaks volumes on “That’s The Way Love Dies,” when Terfry describes replacing a woman’s beauty with rage before calling promises made a “joke,” all amidst a driving beat.
So what’s it worth to him now then?
“There was a part of me that hoped all this suffering I was going through was currency for something I’ll come away with,” he says. Still, he is alive after a loss few would wish upon others.
And yet there’s another loss he has yet to come to terms with: the game that both confronts and consoles him every day. His lost baseball career and the dream of playing the game haunts Rich Terfry. “The fire of that dream still burns inside of me,” he says. “I’m doing ridiculous things like working on my swing and I have to stop and ask ‘Why does this matter?’”
Buck 65’s wife walked away from their marriage and it is baseball that still haunts and empowers him.
“(Baseball) is the only thing I’ve ever done where I feel in control. It’s pretty rare for me to have that feeling.”
With the bases loaded in the 7th inning, Bautista steps to the plate. Terfry is transfixed. Finkelstein catches this and points to the plate.
“I’m ready,” Terfry says, bringing his hands together. It’s a swing he’s proud of.