Scott Nolan's performance at Folsom Prison is part of the story in "Chasing a Song". (Mike Latschislaw)
Music smartened me up just in time. I was from a good family and a good neighbourhood and I had access to a good lawyer -- but I know if I was someone else, from a different neighbourhood, I would have gone away.
—Scott Nolan, musician
When local documentarian Charles Konowal approached singer/songwriter Scott Nolan about doing a film, Nolan passed on it. Twice.
"I just didn't feel like, you know..." he stops and starts again. "I'm known in some circles, but I'm not a star."
Nolan is being modest. He's easily one of Winnipeg's most treasured singer/songwriters whose evocative, heartrending lyrics have inspired many other musicians, including Texas songwriter Hayes Carll, who even recorded a cover of "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart."
Nolan's collaborative relationships with his peers -- including Dan Frechette and Big Dave McLean -- are central to Chasing a Song: Scott Nolan + Friends, Konowal's resulting film (yes, Nolan caved). The hour-long documentary premieres at Cinematheque in Winnipeg and will screen on MTS On Demand.
"It's tasteful," Nolan says of the film. "It was never put on. Nothing was set up. My parents sat together for the first time in how long. It was somewhat emotional for me. I think Charles' hope was to capture songs as they came to me, but that's not exactly how it turned out."
Konowal's aim was to offer an intimate portrait of a deeply personal songwriter and insight into his creative process -- but another story emerged while the cameras were rolling.
Scott was incredibly close with his cousin Patrick Nolan, a relationship that eventually only existed in letters. Patrick struggled with drug addiction and a turbulent home life and, at 19, was sentenced to life in Folsom Prison for killing a man.
After spending two years in solitary confinement for stabbing a fellow inmate, Patrick found his light. He turned his life around on the inside and was a frontrunner of the Arts in Corrections program at Folsom -- a groundbreaking program that brought men in racially charged environment together through music.
Patrick has since passed away, but his legacy remains. Scott was offered the opportunity to go to Folsom and lead songwriting workshops with the inmates, many of whom knew Patrick. The experience is one of the most affecting parts of Chasing a Song. Being in the place where his cousin lived, a place he only imagined from Patrick's letters, offered Scott closure.
"It really was surreal," Nolan says. "Everything about it was. Men came up to me and said, 'Your cousin saved my life.' It was a heavy emotional atmosphere. I'm sure glad I did it. I felt like these men needed me."
Nolan knows how powerful music can be; he, too, battled drug addiction, which led to a brush with the law and a stint in rehab at 16.
"Music was what saved my life as a young person," he says. "Things could have gone a lot differently for me. Music smartened me up just in time. I was from a good family and a good neighbourhood and I had access to a good lawyer -- but I know if I was someone else, from a different neighbourhood, I would have gone away."
While Nolan might not be a "star," he's certainly a fascinating subject. Like a good song, Chasing a Song proves that a good story well told is well worth sharing.
Besides, you never know who might hear it. Nolan relays an anecdote about running into The Rolling Stones' tour manager after a show. "I was telling him about my experience at Folsom and he was like, 'it's too bad that wasn't filmed,'" Scott chuckles.
The Rolling Stones tour manager is now in the possession of a copy of Chasing a Song. He plans to screen it on the Stones' tour bus.
Chasing a Song screens at 7 p.m. on April 18 at Cinematheque.