"Have Mercy, on the people in the street; help them find a way to get back on their feet.
"Have Mercy, on those who would be free; free to work in hope, living peacefully. Oh, have mercy, have mercy on us all; have mercy on us all."
With those words from his song, "Mercy," Canadian rocker Carl Dixon set the tone as the keynote speaker on Saturday night at the Genesee Region USBC bowling association annual banquet at Batavia Downs Gaming.
While not a standout bowler (although he did say that he used to bowl while growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) – Dixon "struck" a chord with the 90 people in attendance as he shared his road to musical success and the details of a 2008 car accident in Australia, a horrific event that dramatically changed his outlook on life.
Dixon said he was born to perform in front of people, playing piano at the age of 3 and drums and guitar a few years later. He got hooked on rock and roll after buying a 45 of The Guess Who’s "Laughing" and "Undun," and eventually became the lead singer of the legendary group in the 1990s (when Burton Cummings took time off from touring).
His singing, playing and songwriting ability led to fame in Canada as a member of April Wine and Coney Hatch, and he said he was about to join The Guess Who again prior to the late night head-on collision while he was in Australia attempting to patch up problems with his wife at that time and his daughters.
Distraught over his inability to connect with his loved ones, Carl said he forgot that Australians drive on the opposite side of a two-lane country highway and his small car strayed into the other lane and into the path of a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The force of the crash left him with multiple fractures, a brain injury, lacerated liver and the loss of his right eye.
Although he said he doesn’t remember the accident, the way he described it left no doubt of the severity of the collision.
“He (the other driver) came up at an angle and because he was so much bigger than my car, he came up over the top of the roof of my car and kept going after crushing all down on top of me,” he said. “I just had time, we figure, to get my arm in front of my teeth, which is why I still have my teeth, but the undercarriage of the car going over me, hit this side of my head and tore it all up.”
He said his right arm was pulled out of its socket and was torn into pieces. The impact crushed the side of his head, cheekbones and eye socket. He also had a C-7 fracture of his spine; both legs were badly broken and had many other internal injuries. All told, he had sustained 50 injuries in the space of just two seconds.
“There are a number of factors while I’m still able to stand here tonight and talk at all,” he said, mentioning that he, 49 at the time, was in peak physical condition (he played hockey three times a week right up to the accident) and was a non-smoker and a light drinker.
“My cardiovascular system was able to at least keep things pumping and get me through the crisis on that level,” he said. “Apparently I was still able to form sentences when people first came along, and this is the miraculous part: I’d like to say I must have had a whole squadron of angels watching over me that night.”
Within minutes, on what was a lonely stretch of road at the time of the crash, Carl said that several cars came upon the scene to offer assistance.
As he reflects upon it, Carl said he “takes heart from the many people who have said that God had more for you to do in this world; your work on Earth wasn’t done yet. That’s why you got through that night and the (ensuing) days.”
He said that during his recovery years, things still did not go well with his marriage and he longed for someone to come into his life to share his journey. In 2013, he said he met that person – his wife, Helen, an Australian, who accompanied him at the dinner.
Today, Carl continues to perform, touring with a couple different bands. He said he is booked to return to Batavia Downs on July 5 as part of its concert series and will be performing a tribute to The Guess Who next February at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.
He left his audience with some of the principles that he now lives by.
“Love and connection gets us through everything that life throws at us … and it’s not something that we should turn our backs on ever,” he said. “We should stick together and believe in each other. And when things get tough, we have it in us – our thoughts are the most powerful force in the universe. We can turn our best thoughts toward the problem, and not beat ourselves up.”
"Believe in positive things, turn your energy toward the belief that I’ll get through this. I’ll tell you one thing, after what I’ve been through, anything now – well, I can always say, ‘I’ve seen worse.’ ”
Photo at top -- Carl Dixon speaking at Genesee Region USBC annual banquet Saturday night. Photo by Mike Pettinella.