Wednesday, 2 December 2015


Closer to Home

Our household is awash in print. We live in a sea of serifs. We subscribe to two daily newspapers and five magazines. There’d be more periodicals in the house if Edmonton still had a decent newsstand, a place with warped floorboards, wizened chiselers poring over the daily racing form, stacks of outdated European broadsheets, British football mags and an exposed, glorious wall of tobacco behind the counter. Magic. Yeah, a place like that would be a destination as desirable as our indie record shop.

Magazine racks in chain bookstores and the 7-11 don’t quite purvey the same ambience. So my favourite magazines come to me now. Rolling Stone has been a habit since 1975 and each successive issue makes me miss CREEM that much more. Alberta Views is a traditional magazine in the sense that it includes a compendium of other published articles to complement its own array of intermittently annoying left-leaning features. The New Yorker is sort of a reverse Playboy for me, yes, the writing’s wonderful but I really love the cartoons. Britain’s The Economist is hands down the best magazine in the world, full stop.

I suspect it’s a culmination of age, five miserable, lost years working nights, topped up with 25 years of advertising stress, silliness and deadlines, but I rarely sleep through the night these days. I tend to prowl the house around 3:30 in the morning. Invariably I end up seated at the kitchen counter with one or more of the recently delivered magazines. And I always begin each one on the very last page.

Rolling Stone is slip sliding into irrelevance and so it boasts reminders of past issues, glory days. We used to matter, here’s proof! I enjoy the little time machine. Alberta Views simply lifted Harper’s Index, stats and facts tied into any one issue’s theme. The New Yorker’s weekly cartoon caption contest is almost worth the magazine’s cover price alone. The Economist publishes a single obituary. Most of us don’t qualify for an unfailingly elegant and witty send-off in The Economist, but what a crowning achievement to a life that would be – provided it was not cut short.

In recent years it has been my misfortune to write obituaries, eulogies and Globe and Mail Lives Lived columns. It is not easy work, tinged as it must be by family blood and grief. Yet there seems to be a definite third party art to concisely and succinctly taking the final human measure of a woman or a man. Lou Reed, a rock ‘n’ roll hero of mine, died in 2013. The simple, single one-page essay in The Economist revealed the artist and the man with more depth and emotion than the extensive Rolling Stone cover story tribute.

After skulking last week during the small hours, I settled in the kitchen with The Economist. The obituary told the story of one Cedric Mauduit, an obscure French provincial fonctionnaire or bureaucrat based in Caen. The picture showed a good looking, stylishly dressed man, aged just 41. M. Mauduit led a secret life after office hours and on weekends. His casual wardrobe consisted of Ramones tee-shirts; he was fanatically devoted to the music of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. M. Mauduit’s death warrant was a concert ticket. He was one of the 129 people slaughtered in the November 13th Paris attacks.

I’ve long been numb to the rotten news of the world. Yet here before me splayed on the counter was a horrific statistic reduced to the elementary human connection, one-to-one. The Economist made a faraway event deeply personal. I imagined that if I had ever crossed paths with Cedric I would have instinctively liked him. I knew him now. I even heard dialogue in the heart of the night: ‘The Berlin trilogy? Dude, are you fucking crazy? No way, it’s got to be Ziggy, Aladdin and Diamond Dogs!’ Adieu, Cedric. Rock on. I promise to do the same.

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