Sunday, 19 November 2017

NONSENSE VERSE

Scamp’s Crooked 9 Blues

I’m a cranky old tabby big as rugby ball
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby big as rugby ball
Hear me rumblin’ all down your front hall

I’m a cranky old tabby pacing the kitchen floor
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby pacing the kitchen floor
You don’t feed me Whiskas I ain’t goin’ purr no more

I’m a cranky old tabby sippin’ at the bathroom sink
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby sippin’ at the bathroom sink
You better run that tap ‘cause man I need a drink

I’m a cranky old tabby with a crusty butt
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby with a crusty butt
Better change my litter or I’ll drop a you know what

I’m a cranky old tabby snoozing on a comfy chair
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby snoozing on a comfy chair
When I wake up you better comb my tiger hair

I’m a cranky old tabby wailin’ at the wall
Said, I’m a cranky old tabby wailin’ at the wall
Dear Lord deliver me won’t you heed my call

Monday, 13 November 2017

NONSENSE VERSE

A Tabby in Winter

I know that it’s confusing; I know it’s really weird
But winter has arrived again, my old greybeard

We’ve had this conversation at least twenty times before
The weather is the same outside every household door

I’ll tell you something else that’s oddly passing strange
It takes more than thirty seconds for a season’s change

Letting you out now, sir, you’d only meet your death
You’d freeze beneath that hungry coyote’s breath

Get off the counter! Don’t shred the couch!
Use your litter box! Don’t be a grouch!

Go groom yourself, curl up and try to get more sleep
Because out there, my friend, the snow drifts are so deep

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

The Dilemma Posed by Rod Stewart

Ann swears like a sailor these days. Sometimes I wish she’d stop poring over her American fake news feeds. Hello, Pot, I’m no better. I look at the CBC, the BBC, the New York Times and the Globe and Mail and keep muttering, “Jesus.”

Ann cannot move around my heart without the use of a cane now. Sometimes she uses it as a pointer and I find myself instinctively cupping my gnards with protective affection. Some sort of binary, cisgender reflex, I guess; I’ve always been fond of them. Our everyday routine has altered. Our ancient and deaf tabby sits and caterwauls facing the wrong way in a corner like some Cockney demon, “Allo! Allo!” The toilet runs like a marathon. The faucet in the bath doesn’t work. October’s social calendar was populated with funerals. Halloween Jack on the front porch is frozen solid.

When it all gets too much, I shrink inward and dwell on big, important stuff. The other morning Ann said, “Rod Stewart’s coming to Edmonton.” I made a humming noise of acknowledgement, morning kitchen coffee proof that I’d been paying attention. I began to think about Rod the Mod because I’m so sick of global, national and provincial politics; heart attacks, suicides and cancer scares; poverty and entitlement; negative and regressive public discourse; the Canadiens’ horrific start to the new season; Facebook platitudes and affirmations; pug puppies and kale.

Even if things are breaking down in this house and in the world that surrounds us, there is always music playing in the living room or the YouTube vortex on the desktop computer in the den. Either as a member of Faces or as a solo star, Rod gets more than his fair share of loud spins here at the Crooked 9. However, we rarely listen to anything released after 1975’s Atlantic Crossing. In the great, chaotic cosmic scheme in which life’s rich pageant unfolds, Rod’s career trajectory barely registers as tragedy except amongst betrayed hardcore fans.

Rolling Stone once sneered that no other artist had betrayed their talent so completely. Rod was a lot like a tumor, the bigger he became the worse he became. Yet his pedigree was impeccable: shy second fiddle to the ego that is Jeff Beck in the Jeff Beck Group; front man for chaotically and delightfully sloppy Stones rivals the Faces; the remarkable string of solo albums for Mercury Records. There’s no firm consensus as to when Rod fell over the edge of the creative cliff but the albums that followed 1977’s Foot Loose and Fancy Free were slicker and excruciatingly calculated to please a mass audience: the folkie, lovable loser desperately desired to be a rock god at any price. And then Rod stopped writing songs altogether.

He is a legacy artist with a chequered legacy. Still, Rod remains one of the premier showmen of second generation rock ‘n’ roll. His is an amiable stage presence, witty and charming. (His breezy autobiography Rod is neither a waste of time nor eyesight.) Soccer balls booted from the footlights zipping around hockey rinks! Reliable. For two hours or so his paying audience will have as much fun as he does, and that’s always felt like reciprocity to me having seen him four times over the course of some 40 years.

Ann said, “I’ve never seen him.”

Hmm. “When?”

“April.”

The trouble with senior rockers of course is that you must make a financial commitment months in advance, roll the dice on their health (and yours) rather than the illegal foolish behaviour of their (and our) primes. Tickets aren’t $15 anymore. Arena security is now as invasive and annoying as an airport’s. Still, it’s very simple to reschedule a downtown train trip across the river as opposed to an itinerary involving flights and hotels. I’d mused a year ago about surprising Ann with a trip to see him in Las Vegas, but America has a very different hue these days.

“Something to look forward to,” Ann said.

April, yeah, spring. It’s cold now and the winter’s coming on. The fake news is all bad. All right, let’s plan on rocking out like middle-aged boomers in five months. “That would be fun,” I said. And if Rod the Mod can still do his job, and everything shakes down as it should for him, and us, and the planet over the next 150 days, it will be.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

THE DELETE BIN

Three O'Clock Train

Today's post has migrated to the Delete Bin, my favourite music blog. The link to the 'Bin is down on the lower right. I wrote about Three O'Clock Train here in September. More needed to be said.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

A FAN’S NOTES

US + Them

Early last June my friend Rene, a graphic designer, called from Calgary. Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, had a fall date in Edmonton. Rene, a native Edmontonian, described Waters as a “bucket list” act and thought a road trip north to see the show and check out the new downtown arena might be fun. We got in touch with our friend Roy, a stone-carving wildlife artist and self-proclaimed aficionado of “all things related to The Wall.” Last year, my birthday gift to Roy was a gently used The Wall coffee mug and a cinema ticket for Roger Waters: The Wall.

The three of us met almost 30 years ago in the advertising department of a major corporation. One of the conundrums of advertising is easily described by imagining a simple linear scale that extends from one to ten. The designer’s mind is at ten. The available software is either a seven or an eight. The budget and production resources usually register around four.

Waters’ departure from the progressive band was so acrimonious as to be petty. In return for ceding the name of the group he co-founded to remaining members he demanded the rights to The Wall and his inflatable pig. He’s often perceived and portrayed as a cynical crank. Now, reimagine the advertising graph. Substitute Waters for the designer. An analogue recording studio becomes the software. Live performances transform into the means of production. We’ve wormed into a lobe of his brain and the neurons are firing frustration.

In 2017 technology caught up with much of what must go on in Waters’ head. The floating pig is now a drone. Through some miracle of ticketing Rene was able to acquire us seats the venue described as “lower-drink rail.” We were cordoned off above and behind a lower bowl section on comfortable chairs before a shelf to rest and bend our elbows on. The soundboard island down on the hockey rink’s floor was larger than Canada’s smallest province. I counted a baker’s dozen of lit laptops before struggling to remember what number follows 13.

The focal point for the audience was an immense video screen which dwarfed my perception of the depth of the stage. The boards to be trodden were maybe two planks, nothing wider than a window washer’s gantry. Pose some of your children’s action figures on a cribbage slat in front of your 60” flat screen TV and you’ll get the picture. Band members were uniformly dressed in black. The bearded guitarist and co-vocalist bore a curious resemblance to a young, unshaven David Gilmour.

A rock critic once acidly and rather amusingly described the Eagles as “loitering” on stage. There was no Freddie Mercury in Pink Floyd either. The Floyd relied on special effects, lights and backdrop slides. If complex compositions were not road worthy, well, a movie could be filmed in a Roman ruin. Waters is more charismatic in interviews than performance, as snide and opinionated as his lyrics.

The evening’s sensory assault was casual fan friendly. The set list was stuffed with material from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. I assume the sole song I didn’t recognize came from Is This the Life We Really Want? his latest release. Mercifully, we were not required to reassess The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Because a $12 Rogers Place beer is processed at the same rate as the buck-a-can variety, I scurried off to the men’s room during ‘Money’ because I’m okay if I never hear that track again. If there was a theme to the performance, it could be summed up succinctly: “Mother, should I trust (insert personal bete noir here)…”

As the US + Them extravaganza marched toward its climax, I was glad I was wearing my glasses though I didn’t know where to look. A second video screen, perpendicular to the first dropped from the ceiling, its supporting cables rendered as white smokestacks. It stretched from goal line to goal line. A remote controlled pig flew around the upper tiers past an image of the Battersea power station snuffling after a silvery, remote controlled moon. Down on the floor the prism from the cover of Dark Side was recreated as a pyramid, Giza sized, with white lasers. The multi-media surrealism was a parsec beyond anything Waters could’ve imagined let alone orchestrated and staged during Pink Floyd’s prime.

Fittingly, the show ended with ‘Comfortably Numb.’ Rene, Roy and I walked over to the Hotel Macdonald to have a beer under the portrait of the Fathers of Confederation. I felt overloaded, hungover almost, battered by the volume of everything: the music, the effects, the visuals. Minds blown. We reached a questioning consensus. “What the hell did we just go to?” If we still smoked up our brains would’ve melted. There had been a few whiffs of skunk in the arena and the olfactory trigger had made me grin, thinking about the 70s for a fleeting moment, rock shows, basements with wood paneling and shag carpets, rolling papers, record sleeves and black vinyl, and clunky stereo headphones.

Roy examined his phone. “How do we get Uber?”

I said, “There’s a taxi stand right outside the door.”

“Old school,” Rene said to me. He turned to Roy, “I think you have to download the app.”

“How do I do that?”

“We could just grab a cab, you know.”

“No, we’re taking Uber.”

Friday, 13 October 2017

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Montreal, Mon Amour

City magic. Drink it all in. Our internal clocks are winding down and could stop any time. Sometime in the late afternoon of the first of May, 2020, coincidentally Ann’s birthday, there could come a moment on a median. I will have lived exactly half my life in my hometown and half in Alberta. Two entirely different lives.

Ann and I are 12 storeys up in the Hyatt. Through our hotel’s window I can see the Royal Victoria Hospital where my sister Anne toiled for most of her medical career. The gothic castle is set against the familiar profile of Mount Royal, a latticed steel cross atop its ancient, rounded peak. The foliage is just beginning to fade and turn from a deep, rich green. Some of my brother is up there somewhere amongst the trees.

Five years ago the three of us found a nice spot for a few ounces of Bob’s ashes overlooking the McGill University campus, his alma mater. We took turns sprinkling him around. Afterward I licked his dust from my fingertips because I didn’t want to wipe him on my jeans. Following our private pagan ceremony we went to Lester’s on Bernard for smoked meat sandwiches. Tell me, what else were we going to do?

There were mileposts all down the unpaved shoulder of my steep slope to perdition. The crucifix and portrait of my rather effeminate guardian angel, little boy blue, over my bed were sequentially replaced by Spider-Man, Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau and ultimately, Mick Jagger. The one constant was outside in the night air illuminating the radio waves.

Compared to the aridity of Edmonton, Montreal always feels tropical, humid beneath a busted water balloon sky. Ann and I leaned against the brick sidewall of a pub on Bleury, sheltering from the rain beneath a black iron fire escape, smoking. From the alley I could see the top of cruciform Place Ville-Marie, lit red, the fingers of its searchlights probing the darkness. Its iconic beams used to hypnotize me to sleep. A perfect night long ago meant the lights sweeping clockwise past my bedroom window, the Expos playing baseball in the Pacific time zone on the radio and my mother not screaming at my father downstairs in the living room.

After I die I hope to exist beyond the confines of time and space; I wish to spend eternity exploring the universe which is, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “… a big place, perhaps the biggest.” There’s so much I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t understand. On the other hand, I could easily settle for a modest afterlife, a searchlight, a single bed and a ballgame on a transistor radio – so long as the batteries don’t run out as sometimes nine innings take forever.

Crescent Street, greystones, stairs, awnings, memories, was wet with rain. I understood something I already knew, why certain film directors always shoot wet sets. Everything glistens. A dirty street had been washed and baptized. Gazing down upon the streetscape like that optician’s billboard in The Great Gatsby was an unfinished 20-storey mural of Leonard Cohen, late career fedora and pinstriped glad rags. The rake really didn’t suit his beige undercoating, too bland, not Leonard’s style; on this drizzly day I wanted to see his famous blue raincoat. I don’t suspect Leonard hung out much on Crescent Street either, neither earnest nor earthy enough, no poetry in the singles bars no doubt, but, Jesus, he would’ve made out like a bandit.

This city was my city. Now I’m just a tourist with heartstrings attached. Montreal made me. Montreal shaped me. Montreal will always have a hold on me. I wished we had a better camera than Ann’s iPhone and my iPad. Everywhere I looked I saw a work of art, a tableau of tired grace; a streaky watercolour, one of my works if only I possessed that gift and quality brushes. I wanted to paint the town. All I’ve got are words and my vocabulary is limited. I love Montreal more than I can say.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

DUKE STREET KINGS

Crass Cash Grab

Copies of my second novel Duke Street Kings are still available. Not a surprise so much as a genuine, certifiable miracle. Honest. Visit falcon-press.ca or call toll-free 1-877-284-5181.