One snowy night in January 1969, the singer Willy Mitchell was shot in the head in Maniwaki, Quebec, because of Christmas decorations. Mitchell was a 15-year-old Canadian schoolboy of Algonquin and Mohawk heritage, living on the Kitigan Zibi reserve, who had recently formed a rock band called Northern Lights. “We were loud,” he says, laughing. “If we’d stuck together we’d have been the next Nirvana!” That night, he was flyposting to promote their first gig when he bumped into some friends who had stolen some Christmas lights from a neighbour’s tree. They handed him the lights just as a police car pulled up and an armed officer stepped out. Mitchell was running for cover when the bullet struck him. “It was kids stealing lightbulbs, not a bank job,” he says, the old anger bubbling up. “I was running away and he shot me in the back.”
While recovering in hospital, Mitchell wrote a song about his experience, Big Police Man. He later won a feeble settlement of $3,000 – just $500 after legal fees and travel costs. He spent it on a white Fender Telecaster Thinline, just like the one Johnny Cash’s guitarist played, which he still uses today.