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To the Crowd at the Wake of a Friend and Mentor

Billy Houlihan, a great friend and mentor of mine passed away last year. I left to go on tour with Youngtree & The Blooms two days later and I asked my uncle to read this out at the wake. Today is his birthday. #HeavenAintALonelyRoad

Hello to everyone that has come to share in this moment of Billy’s passing. I write this as my band drives across Newfoundland to the first show of our Atlantic Canadian tour. It’s fair to say I might not be on this path as a performer and musician if not for Billy Houlihan. Many of you probably know that Billy was a powerful musical mentor to me. He took me under his wing when I was in high school and we got together every Thursday to drink tea and play tunes. He coached me through my first public performance. Truly, my whole style of playing has been shaped by Billy.

What is perhaps less obvious to some is that Billy was also a great life mentor to me, and a teacher in the purest sense of the word. A little language lesson, now, which Billy would appreciate. The word “educate” comes from the Latin “educere” which means “to draw out” or “to uncover.” In this way, Billy was a natural educator, an uncover-er. He lived in such a way that he would naturally draw out people’s innate talents and potential, no matter where he was — and he seemed to derive a quiet pleasure from doing so. I witnessed his special way-of-being help the brightest students in our school as well as the slowest; I witnessed it help me many times through the years; I saw it help my father expand musically and mentally later in life. Billy taught me that my ideas were worthy of respect and contemplation simply by paying attention to what I had to say, being gentle, and never turning down a conversation. And while he never once mentioned religion or spirituality to me, he exemplified better than almost anyone I knew what it was to live a virtuous and noble life. Those who truly knew Billy will know exactly what I’m speaking of, though it is difficult to put into words.

I’ll stop trying to fit Billy’s essence into words now, because it can’t be done anyway. I regret that I can’t be there to have a good cry with you all. I’ll say, though, that if I grow to become anything resembling the human Billy was, then I’ll feel content that I’ve done something right. At moments like this, I reflect on the fact that life is fleeting. It is important to learn how not to become too stressed out over life’s ever-changing circumstances, and to look upon the world and the people in our lives with great appreciation. Thank you all for listening and for coming to pay respect to a great man.


'Heaven Ain't a Lonely Road' is a song that had its beginnings in a dream. Perhaps I'll write more about that at another time. But it really came into being the day Billy was getting a stem cell transplant as a treatment for his cancer, and I chatted to him on the phone in his hospital bed. The song hasn't been recorded yet but I reckon it'll be on the next Youngtree & The Blooms record. The lyrics are below.

I was speaking with my friend

in his hospital bed,

Waiting for a cure to fly in on a plane

And he told me this:

"Half this battle is

having friends that love and help you on the way.

We're not here to do this alone,

We've got people pushing us along;

If Heaven's a path, then all I know

All I know is that

Heaven ain't a lonely road."

He said, "It's times like these

when the real power shows

in all the friendships that you've made

Now all the love I feel,

more than I could've known,

I think that now I could face any type of weather

And I've had time to reflect

on all the friends I've had a choices that I've made

And I do not regret

a thing because I gave them all I had.

Heaven ain't a lonely road."

He said,

"I know you've got something you're waiting to become

And it belongs to you alone

But don't forget about the friends by your side,

You'll never reach that place

if you try to do it on your own

Now, you and me, we always rode together

And you know it's made each of us better,

I want you to remember

the people you can lean on,

You've got potential, man,

So just dream on. Dream on."

"And don't dwell too long or think too much

On all the loneliness you'll feel along the way.

I will give you my touch.

Heaven ain't a lonely road."

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