Wednesday, 27 December 2017


Ten Years After

On the lower right hand side of this site there always has and always will be a link to The Delete Bin, one of the most thoughtful and well written music blogs on the lifehouse grid. On December 18th, exactly one decade to the day, founder, writer and editor Rob Jones published his last post.

“I was mostly interested in talking about pop music as a means to understanding what it is to be alive and human. I felt like it was important work to do, as well as being a lot of fun. In terms of pure numbers, everyone loved blogs of the kind The Delete Bin was in 2008-09, which is roughly when I enjoyed quite a bit of traffic and interaction. I was lucky to get a number of regular visitors and commenters; very smart and articulate people who would add dimension to what I had written. That’s how that relationship used to be when it came to bloggers and blogs. It’s a lot tougher these days to be heard above the din and to get a sense of that connection.”

I first became acquainted with Rob on a music chat board with a British URL about 15 years ago. We learned that we were neighbours, sort of, the Rocky Mountains in the way. We’ve met over pints of beer on a couple of occasions at the Lennox pub on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver. I was a sporadic, irregular contributor to The Delete Bin. Rob said to me once, “You know, you should start your own blog.”

“When I started The Delete Bin, I knew I wanted to talk to people who didn’t already have a fixed opinion on everything that moves; I wanted to talk to people who were ready to be amazed by something they’d never heard before, or had heard but never thought about in a certain way. Aside from that, and to be honest, one of my biggest motivations to start my own thing was just to have some vehicle to force me to write something new every day, however that turned out, and for that to be mine. I wasn’t even sure if anyone would join me in my pursuit, or that I had much to really say that would resonate with anyone. It was just calisthenics at first.”

The Delete Bin was a doubly inspired endeavour. The name evokes a bygone era of vinyl, of record stores with dusty racks purveying discounted albums with the corners of their sleeves clipped, of radio play lists generated by payola instead of corporate computer programs; the days of a parallel and thriving music press. Rob says, “I got into reading music journalism primarily when I lived in England where that kind of in-depth writing and music history is treated pretty seriously, and not strictly as a means of furthering celebrity or selling ad space. Great music journalism reminds me of how important artists are to civilization. Artists’ efforts and the fruits of it help us to understand each other, to empathize with each other.”

The masterstroke came once Rob had found his stride. He avoided lists and the current hypes. The majority of his posts were narrowly focused, insightful, entertaining essays about specific songs: new releases, obscurities or classics. “Listen to this, good people!” That format allowed The Delete Bin to evolve from a daily scan into an archival resource. The content can never get stale because great records never die, and the Internet is forever presently.

“As much as I love the album format, I realized fairly early on that when it came to writing about music, it was ‘the song’ that is the base unit for me. That really helped to unlock a direction for the writing. From there, it was a lot easier to figure out what the nature of pop music and artistry is for. It was about the concept of connection as the prime motivator for creating anything meant to be consumed on a wide scale, whether that’s a song or a piece of writing about a song. Songs are written for different reasons. But for me the most interesting ones are those that touch on something personal, but also have some bearing on the human condition in some capacity.”

Ten years burned down the road, it’s time for a change. “I’m pretty excited about co-hosting the Deeper Cuts podcast. We touch on many of the same things as I tried to touch on with The Delete Bin, with a particular focus on the balance between personal associations with specific pieces of music, and how that translates from past to present, from person to person. It’s a unique approach, and I think it’s resonant.” The beat goes on. “There’s so much great stuff being made right now and so many ways to hear it. It’s a great time to be a music fan.”

Monday, 18 December 2017


The Eternal Running of the Heaven Stakes

The scene is an immense, infinite oval track. The infield is filled, rife with promises, rituals, weapons of all types, instruments of torture, sacred texts, and religious icons including statuary, stained glass and paintings. The grandstand, large enough to seat every person on the planet is decorated with festive bunting. Hawkers move about selling souvenirs, hope and hypocrisy.

Geoff: If you’re just joining us, welcome to the Heaven Stakes, the longest and longest-running race in the history of humanity. Track conditions are poor, the weather is abysmal and there is darkness all around. That said, this race has never been about the present so much as the reward beyond the finish line. Some have mused that the closed nature of the loop is beyond irony. I’m Geoff your host, sharing the booth with me, as usual, is the Other Voice in My Head.

Other Voice in My Head: Hi, Geoff. Great to be here. Glad to be alive and living in the moment.

G: Likewise, O.V. Good to hear your voice again. And just to recap: the Atheists and Existentialists were early scratches and the Puritans and Quakers have dropped out.

OViMH: But hold your horses, it’s still a very crowded and complicated field. You know, Geoff, I always figured there are, what, three or four major religions on Earth?

G: You would think, O.V. But then you start talking about history, about sects and schisms…

OViMH: Don’t forget the culties!

G: And the members of various cults… By the way, this just in, the Raelians have killed themselves.

OViMH: That’s no way to run a race, you need to compete. Be more like the Mormons with a few extra fillies on the track, if you know what I mean.

G: The Catholics have changed jockeys, but still, there’s a tremendous amount of baggage to be hauled, centuries’ worth.

OViMH: So, Geoff, who do you like in this contest, this Run for Our Souls? I mean, there’s plenty to choose from and so where do you place your bet? By the same token, it’s a wager you can’t afford to lose, really. Or can you? Does any of it matter? Is it just an intellectual game?

G: Tough question, O.V. It’s all a human construct, isn’t it? The Lutherans have been complaining about the rules for 500 years. The Jews recently gained a home field advantage and you’ve got to like that chip on their shoulder. I wonder if the zealot strategy of the Sunnis and Shiites will backfire. Tough call.

OViMH: Well, you know the Seventh Day Adventists will always be a day late. And when was the last time you saw a Jehovah’s Witness? Get it?

G: You’re killing me, O.V. Hang on, there’s an orange, fiery flash down on the straightaway. I smell sulphur. It looks like Satan’s making a move. Audacious! He’s opened up a fast lane, a veritable highway! He’s on the inside approaching the turn!

OViMH: He’s always had an intense, albeit small group of supporters. They make their presence known everywhere you go.

G: Look at that little devil go! We could all be going to Hell, O.V.! But don’t bet on it! Here come the Baptists! The Baptists, so prim, pinched and proper, are giving chase! They’re calling for donations to run the dark horse off the track!

OViMH: A little tithing will do ya, apparently. Got to love those plucky evangelicals. Let’s see that again in slow-motion.

G: Here we go. Satan cuts to the inside past the Sikhs and the Anglicans. You can see the Baptists begin to thump the bejesus out of their horse ‘Bible.’

OViMH: Freeze it, freeze it right there. Now, look at the rear of the pack. Behind even the Parsees and the Pantheistic Mythologies, you can see the Buddhists. It’s as if their heads are in the clouds or something, as if the race has little or no meaning. Cool, calm, collected, la-di-da, laid back, they’re just so, so…

G: Zen?

OViMH: I was going to say, out of it, Rasta, almost: 'Every little thing's going to be all right.'

G: Love the way you lob those segues to me, O.V., just saying! Speaking of out of it, let’s break away from our broadcast for a brief, paid political commercial interruption.

Saturday, 16 December 2017



Stats Guy and I, charter members of the Tuesday Night Beer Club, have been close friends for some 35 years. He is a confirmed bachelor, and a packrat, but most of all a packrat. I have not been inside his apartment in over a decade. A couple of months ago he said he’d ordered some new bookshelves. I offered my assembly services because the task seemed like a good excuse to get inside his warren and see for myself the books, music and films he hoards. I imagine the floors are bowed. I am relieved that I don’t rent the unit directly beneath his place.

While medicine chests, closets and underwear drawers are strictly off limits, I’m the type of guest who will, given half a chance, examine your libraries of movies, magazines, literature and music. I’m a spine reader, different from a chiropractor. I won’t judge if you possess The da Vinci Code instead of The Confessions, but I will make a mental note. ABBA’s Gold over Endless Summer by the Beach Boys? Hmm. Which solo Beatle’s works drew you? I’m on the hunt for a slight slice of insight into you.

Netflix Derek and I have been close friends for maybe five years. Our homes are around the corner from each other’s. He’s one of those people who reinforced the hidden magic of existence for me: you meet a stranger and feel a bond and realize that this other person will ultimately become a confederate and confidante. You recognize a friend, a kindred soul even as you shake hands with someone you’ve never met before. He loves cars and I love songs about cars. We’re not that different.

My take on life here at the Crooked 9 is that any item or box that leaves the house permanently is a good, good thing. Godspeed. Conversely, whatever enters - groceries, cigarettes and beer aside – is bad. Last weekend Netflix Derek telephoned to say he was de-cluttering and would I enjoy flipping through two banker’s boxes of his 70s vinyl before he dispatched them to a better place, elsewhere. Would I? Would I! There’s always space for an overlooked musical gem or two but not much room for greedy acquisitiveness. I want to get rid of stuff too.

Whilst cherry-picking Netflix Derek’s herd cull I realized that if we’d known each other in high school or university, we’d have spent a lot of hours discussing music together. Our tastes back then would’ve overlapped significantly with enough deviation to argue about. I’ll see your Electric Chairs and raise you the Vibrators.

Sound is remarkable voodoo. You can sense it, but you can’t see it, touch it or taste it. Music is a time machine. Because of graphic design and packaging, sometimes you don’t even have to hear it. I’ve got two cardboard bins of Netflix Derek’s memories on the living room carpet by the stereo. What these sleeves, slip-sliding away, evoke for him, I can’t begin to guess. Maybe Lust for Life and Johnny the Fox remind him of downshifting, ripping his MG along the back roads beyond the outskirts of Edmonton. The Kick Inside might summon up a long gone girl and an unforgettable summer.

What intrigues is plausible synchronicity. It’s entirely possible that one night years ago we were both spinning Coney Island Baby at the exact same time, three provinces apart. My mental scrapbook which accompanies that album as a phantom insert would be entirely different from Netflix Derek’s, fewer pages, maybe many more. I don’t know and I suspect I never will. My favourite song on it is ‘Charlie’s Girl’ and I’ll bet he preferred another track and anyway, speculation is moot because Lou’s since been consigned to the delete bin. The big question for me is: what did he keep? I need to know. I’ll be an invitee at his place New Year’s Eve, a midnight snooper; a new year and a new opportunity knocking.

Thursday, 7 December 2017


And the Kitchen Sink

I don’t spend a lot of time rooting around in the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink because I’m not an amateur chemist who synthesizes crystal meth from abrasive cleaning products. But since which fruit flavoured dishwashing liquid to use at any particular time is a curiously compelling conundrum, there is always a selection, I do poke my head underneath once in a while. Recently, I was dismayed to discover a pool of grey water. I noted the blistered paint on the rear wall; black, mouldy stains cascaded like descending fireworks effects proximate to the pipe joints.

“Ann, we’ve got a problem.”

The drain has always been slow, beyond the scope of commercial cleaners. Well maintained for the most part too although who knows what has swirled away over thrice daily dishes over three decades. Dan the Demolition Man found a butter knife lodged in the U-joint. Pete the Plumber found a piece of a previous plumber’s snake. The pipe itself was kitchen cannelloni, an iron tube stuffed with petrified black sludge. The three-inch drainage channel had been reduced to the circumference of a sewing pin’s head.

So with the heart of the house torn out, why not replace the scarred kitchen countertops and the pale and neutral boring tile backsplash? We’re halfway there anyway and the room could use a fresh coat of paint. We set the coffeemaker up in the bathroom. We moved the cats’ bowls into the front hall. We emptied every kitchen drawer and cupboard and stored their surprisingly plentiful contents in the dining room, prepared to live like hoarding squatters.

Beyond conveniently situated hot and cold running water, we didn’t know what we had until it was out of commission. Off site Ann and I sat and analyzed where and how we spend our time in our home. Neither of us had ever given it any thought.

There’s the bedroom of course though neither of us are likely to sleep through the entire night. We tend to find evidence of each other’s visit to the kitchen. There’s cinnamon residue on the Montreal Canadiens mug: Ann had some hot milk. Geoff made a sandwich and left his plate in the sink; The Economist is splayed on the counter.

Ann practices her violin in a room dedicated to her music. I write in the basement surrounded by the works of more accomplished authors. The most comfortable chairs in the house are in the den but the tabbies have commandeered them. The television’s there too and it’s some kind of big day when it’s actually turned on. The desktop computer is essentially for correspondence.

I was brought up being constantly reminded that the living room is for guests and not for children. I only venture in there to play music on the stereo. Nothing much has changed. Besides, visitors to the Crooked 9 tend to congregate in the kitchen. The couch is very comfortable for stretching out and reading but Mungo, the tabby named for the founder and patron saint of Edinburgh, never fails to find me, lie on my chest in a tugboat or decoy duck pose and drool on me or my book. Ann and I use the dining room table for Scrabble games and increasingly less frequent family dinners.

Our household thrums from the kitchen: two or three meals per day plus foraging in the wee small hours; coffee and crossword puzzles; newspapers and magazines; iPhones and iPads; cat dishes. The main landline is in there and it rings sometimes. There’s a vessel of pens and pencils beside the Beatles Yellow Submarine notepad. The erasable bulletin board features Elvis and Montreal International Jazz Festival magnets, and to-do lists. We can’t plan an afternoon, a day or a week without consulting the inky wall calendar. I log a lot of time looking out our back door, thinking and watching the jays, magpies and woodpeckers, on sentry duty because evil grey-and-white cat who lives across the street prowls our property ready to pounce on our aged pair of brothers. Ann and I live our lives in the kitchen.

I had expected the renovation to disrupt our routine, my routine, but I hadn’t planned for the personal anxieties the impromptu refresh would cause me. The framed Bob Dylan show bill was leaned up against the loveseat in the living room. The wall clock, the only way I can tell time, was face down on the dining room table. No sink, no countertops. The antique pine washstand on which I stack our current magazines was inaccessible and bowed beneath a stack of utensil trays. Where are the box of Kleenex, the garbage bin and the roll of paper towels? Everything was missing or out of place, I was discombobulated.

Allocating home ownership funds can be a bit of a tightrope walk. There are always the monthly bills. Ongoing maintenance of the structure and its physical plant is critical. There should be an emergency stash of cash because modern appliances are more delicate and more difficult to repair because of their electronics and fragile assemblies. Not much is manufactured to last a lifetime these days; warranties aren’t worth the web sites they’re uploaded to.

If there’s space in the household budget to splurge, Ann and I have two pieces of advice for you. First, buy a high quality mattress because you’ll find that you spend a lot of time lying on it. Don’t worry about the suite of furniture because most of the time you won’t be able to see it. Second, invest the rest in the room that’s used most often. In our case, that’s the kitchen. Provided you’re not incontinent, the room that wins the reno lottery may surprise you.

By this time next week our kitchen command centre should be back to a gussied up new normal. Ann and I will both be relieved by the completion of the process and the cessation of its troupe of indifferent strangers through what we now understand to be a crucial and intimate personal space. We look forward to rehanging pictures and restocking the cupboards and drawers, using the stove. And the sink will drain properly because we believe in miracles and hydrochloric acid. We expect all of this inconvenient work and redecorating to see us out in bold and colourful style, ours.

Friday, 1 December 2017



Rex Tillerson, the lame duck Secretary of State of the United States, is alleged to have described his superior, the 45th president, as “a fucking moron.” He and I have a lot in common. Who has not toiled under the fleshy, stubby thumb of a fucking moron? “Fucking moron” was my pet phrase for anyone I’ve had to report to throughout my varied working life. Granted, my job was mostly buying ink and paper, not averting nuclear war or inciting racial violence.

This week Tweeterdumbest retweeted three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos. The nasty and brutish shorts were productions of Britain’s lunatic fringe which, alas, is no longer comprised of the Goons, Spike Milligan and Monty Python. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shrugged off the extremely dubious nature of the hate propaganda insisting, “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real.”

An unsurprising and Orwellian double-think take by an administration that happily trots out “alternative” facts while decrying “fake” news. While it’s rather sad and perhaps even cringe-inducing to watch a great world power wane, it’s definitely cause for alarm when it’s apparent its most senior officials display difficulty grappling with the actual nature of reality. Truth is for losers.

Meanwhile, former Klu Klux Klan wizard or dragon or grand imperial whatever, David Duke cheered on the orange, odious vulgarian from the far right sidelines. “That’s why we love him!” And a fucking moron, at that.

Sunday, 26 November 2017


Crash and Burn

Beyond the city limits in Leduc County a super-duper outlet mall is rising in the environs of the Edmonton International Airport (EIA). From the highway the massive structure resembles a prison, complete with watchtowers. Costco, with all its concrete Soviet Brutalist charm, has been confirmed as a tenant. The Alberta Aerotropolis project envisions the province’s capital city, the city of Leduc and industrial Nisku as an inland port, anchored by the EIA and big box stores. Despite explosive growth along the Queen Elizabeth II, the CalgaryEdmonton corridor, I wonder if the retail component is a decade behind the times. As is, perhaps, the high stakes bet on the long term robustness of the fossil fuel industry and its Nisku service companies.

The city currently boasts two premium malls. West Edmonton of course, and Southgate, now host to the cavernous vacuum of the debacle that was Sears. Toys “R” Us will probably leave some big, empty boxes strewn about. Secondary commercial properties are struggling with abandoned Zellers and Target leases. Some are reeling from the double whammy of Sobeys’ Safeway acquisition; grocery banners which no longer compete with each other merely require a single space for their wares. Most malls are depressingly populated with medical service and supply companies, and dental clinics whose signs always feature a gigantic, rooty molar. Neighbourhood strip malls tend to be even drabber, shabby convenience stores tucked between FOR LEASE signs and whitewashed windows.

Loblaw was once Canada’s most innovative grocer, thanks to visionary gourmand Dave Nichol. The President’s Choice (PC) brand was audacious, promising consumers a private, exclusive and superior product to that of any of the nationals. The foundation of the PC line was somewhat ironic, the formula of Royal Crown cola, a deceased and forgotten though tasty brand, an early victim in the war between Coke and Pepsi. After the gift of President’s Choice cola Nichol graced us all with “decadent” chocolate cookies.

Last week Loblaw announced that it intended to extort its vendors again, shaving invoices for a modest percentage to cover processing costs. The company announced the launch of a fee-based loyalty program. The company announced too that it would close 22 of its stores but was coy about which ones where. The company announced an e-commerce initiative predicated on consumers’ needs featuring premium pricing which may potentially be eased somewhat by signing up and paying for the enhancements touted by the fee-based loyalty program.

The Sobeys attempt at being digital is the ludicrously codenamed “Project Sunrise.” The only quantifiable result to date is the termination of the careers of 800 of its employees.

The golden or perhaps black metric for traditional retail has been same-store sales. Ever upward! Amazon never cared a whit for this dusty model. It didn’t have to. So this is why e-commerce can become something like Hercules’s Hydra for newcomers, old school operations. E-commerce will reduce foot traffic. Reduced foot traffic will reduce impulse purchases, incremental sales. Less busy stores require less staff. A lack of staff, especially cashiers, will annoy average shoppers inside stores who are not professional third party pickers with lists. They may ultimately decide to spend their money elsewhere, some place with a human face and a modicum of customer service. But where will they go?

My guess for baby boomers like myself is that we’ll just give up and go home, a safe place to click-step into the new, emerging world order. Younger people, prizing experiences over consumer goods, are already mobile, shopping from anywhere without actually having to endure the hassle of going to a store. Chain retailers are twigging to the new reality, that they don’t need hundreds of locations so much as a few warehouses and a virtual store. Amazon seems to be going against the trend it created with its Seattle shop and its acquisition of Whole Foods, a modest operation, but it doesn’t strike me as a strategy so much as a novel attraction, like a themed corporate outlet on Times Square.

Electronics retailer Best Buy has long complained that consumers utilize its stores as mere showrooms before purchasing items from less expensive, competing online vendors. Chapters-Indigo, a bookseller, seems convinced the path to profit is lit by votive candles and padded with aphoristic throw cushions. Why visit a bookstore that doesn’t sell books? The HMV music chain closed its doors leaving Edmonton with one decent record shop; that one hurt me.

My sweeping generalization of economic digital disruption is that most sectors have or will become more efficient while utilizing less labour. Retail provides a fine example of the paradox posed in this period of transition. Online shopping is a relatively painless and positive experience. A venture into the actual physical marketplace has been degraded into something akin to agony, no staff, no stock, no satisfaction. And anyway, people who are out of work or juggling multiple part-time obligations or struggling with their new roles in the gig economy tend not to throw money around.

But if you’ve got the money, honey, why settle for the wares of a dowdy banner still trying to figure out the modern world which already went by in a Doppler engine drone? Direct-to-consumer startups are offering viable alternatives to Gillette razor blades, Kraft Dinner and Heinz ketchup; they’re as disruptive now as Loblaw was in the 80s when it launched its President’s Choice brand to humble the nationals: Dave Nichol versus Goliaths.

So in a region pocked with dead or withering retail space and banners, it only makes sense to develop more, bigger, grander commercial square footage on arable farmland midway into nowhere because, well, things are bound to revert to the good old days, if only we knew when the good old days were and could define them. My hunch is that there are just not enough Black Fridays and Boxing Days on the retail calendar to make Aerotropolis anything more than a fiasco.

Sunday, 19 November 2017


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


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


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?”


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


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


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


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


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 or call toll-free 1-877-284-5181.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


High School Confidential

It was a couple of hours after midnight and so I guessed it was sort of Saturday already, squinty in a Double Pizza outlet on rue Ste-Catherine and Jeanne-Mance. The chairs were on the tables. An employee in a polyester polo shirt was mopping the floor. There were two wedges of pizza on display, warm in infra-red heat. Nothing else within staggering distance was open. Ann and I were occupying a smoking room across the street at the Hyatt. We were hungry and I was sweating potential bed spins; I knew fog and pain would come with sunrise even if the curtains were drawn. I had regressed 40 years in the previous seven hours.

High school reunions are time machines. I graduated from a semi-private Catholic boys’ school in 1977. Ann and I were in Montreal to say hello again to distant friends of mine and perhaps find others whom I’ve lost along the way. This trip had a different, invigorating dynamic. “Our focus isn’t family obligations in my hometown, baby, we’re only here for fun.”

Marty is my oldest friend. He lives in Vancouver, me, Edmonton, the Rockies between us now. We grew up on the same side of the street in Montreal. His house number was 77, mine was 111. Our dads knew each other well enough to nod and know the other’s name. In kindergarten, 1966, Marty suggested we didn’t have to take the yellow Uncle Harry’s school bus, we could just cut through the alleys, he knew the way. Last weekend he informed me that I’m getting fat. I would’ve preferred “a little thicker around the middle” even though my waist size is 31-inches. Gut punch. When Marty admitted his embarrassment about his hair, I said there wasn’t much to be embarrassed about.

Eric had combined business with pleasure on this side of the Atlantic. He was in from London, UK via Boston. At home, he walks his dog in Windsor Park. He’d just learned that the old geezer he greets most mornings with a casual wave is Prince Philip. John lives on the ninth hole of a golf course in northern Mexico, about three hours south of El Paso. He and his wife Grace packed sipping tequila, Heineken and Mexican Marlboro Lights for Montreal. Ever gracious if lethal hosts, their penthouse suite became our headquarters after hours. The Nexus: Ann, me, Marty, Eric, John and Grace; the gang that couldn’t do shooters straight.

When I think of my high school days, I picture a Twister mat with overlapping circles. My old school was unique in that students attended from all over the city. One group rattled along together on the morning train from the West Island. Marty and I were Townies who transferred between three buses, the 165, the 51 and the 102; we’d bump into John and his brother on the 51 who were en route from Outremont. Eric caught the 66 before boarding the 102 much earlier in its loop. He could also take the 105.

Some guys were stoners while others only smoked cigarettes. Some guys inhaled both. There were athletes and brainiacs, nerds and hipsters, student councilors, chess players and drama club actors. Because of the bus stops and the train platforms, some shared bad habits or athletic facilities or common interests in particular rock bands combined with the configuration of classroom seating and the tics and tells of certain teachers, a mixture of that or this, it was impossible to be isolated, educated in a vacuum. My high school circle was not a bubble. Last weekend one fellow said, “We were a good group. There were no bullies.” I agreed and added, “No, just one psychopath and a sociopath or two.” Just like everywhere. Then we got to wondering about the fates of the red flags, the would-be criminals in our graduating class. “Wasn’t he kicked out?” Shrug. “D’know. Can’t remember.”

I cannot guess a person’s age anymore. Maybe I never could. The Class of ’77 gathered in a private lounge and so I knew that virtually everyone in the room was around my age, 57. Still, some guys looked like they could get seniors’ discounts anywhere. For others, their ageing process apparently ceased at the close of the 20th century, the only documented malfunctions of the Y2K scare. I thought I appeared as expected, unairbrushed, sort of close to the mark, four decades considered.

Enlarged pages of the school’s tabloid newspaper were laid out for display. Tony, meGeoff’s itinerant correspondent, was the Entertainment Editor. I cringed rereading my gushing review of the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue (although rock revisionism has since come around somewhat to my teenaged, blind worship point of view). And there on the same page was blown-up proof that I’m not completely crazy. “Ann! You’ve got to read this! It’s all true!” I pointed to an ancient feature story on our school’s music teacher.

Miss was a dedicated disciplinarian, a pinched Scottish spinster who loved her work. “Mister Moore, you will learn to find middle C on a piano keyboard if it’s the last thing I do on God’s green earth.” One of the songs she taught us in secondary one (grade seven) was ‘Jim the Carter Lad.’ The chorus went: Crack! Crack! Goes my whip I whistles and I sings/I sits upon my wagon happy as a king/My horse is always willing and me I’m never sad/For there’s none can lead a jollier life the Jim the carter lad. Twenty boys with breaking voices would roll their Rs right back at their conductor. That memory will always stay with me. Did Miss know we were mocking her? Did she care? Crrrack! Crrrack! Ann, herself a retired music teacher, knows the words now.

Montreal’s Hyatt is a few blocks west of what used to be heaven, the former Sam the Record Man rabbit warren of rock ‘n’ roll. One Saturday morning in the spring of 1978 my friend Norm and I lined up well before opening time to score tickets for the Rolling Stones. Green card stock with a perforation and black type, $15 Canadian – mint stubs from the Some Girls tour now sell for $50 American on e-Bay. That the concert would be staged in a foreign country on the fourth of July was simply a matter of logistics. These days Norm lives in Toronto. In real life he’s a lawyer but he plays a blonde Fender in two working bands. His hometown crew which features his brother-in-law on lead guitar and vocals is called Exiled on the Main. The outfit rocked the Class of ’77 reunion.

Norm wore a black Keith Richards t-shirt. Judging from Keith’s hair, the design was based on a ’76 European tour photo. I’d had a hunch. I peeled off my red sweater to reveal a charcoal Mick Jagger t-shirt, ’72 American tour, jumpsuit and eye glitter. Since Ann and Grace were the only women there, I mostly danced to the live music alone. During the extended coda of ‘Tumbling Dice,’ I gave it my all, the full body roll the way Mick used to perform it. While trying to regain my feet or at least my knees I realized I’m not so limber anymore, fat as Marty so helpfully pointed out. What made the rising process doubly awkward was my knowing Eugene was in the room.

I played with and against some incredibly talented football players in high school. One of the best I ever saw was Eugene, a phantom running back, impossible to tackle. He quit the team because his passion was dancing and he turned pro. Eugene and his wife Jessie, who did not attend, are pioneers of a collaborative exercise regimen which they dubbed acro-yoga. I asked him how he connected the dots from dancing to acrobatics to yoga. His short answer was, “People.” He went on to explain that people are inherently social, we like being together. We enjoy the sensation of touch, of human contact. So why should a workout be any different? Tony has taken some of their classes. Tony said he now burns in body parts and places he didn’t know were included in standard human anatomy.

The Nexus had convened in a pub on Bleury at two Friday afternoon. A proposed stroll downhill to Old Montreal never happened. Once the high school bash wrapped up around midnight, it only made sense to go back to John’s and Grace’s to drink more and smoke Mexican cigarettes on the balcony where John suggested I might benefit from regular visits to a psychologist: good for me, good for Ann, just because I fear heights owing to an insane compulsion to leap. We were doing everything we used to do in a more sophisticated way, getting wasted in hotel suites instead of parents' basements and public parks. Nothing and everything had changed over 40 years. That is why I eventually found myself swaying slightly in Double Pizza at closing time eyeballing two slices of life preservers. “What are they?”

“Vegetarian and plain cheese, sir.”

Well, that wouldn’t do. “If you throw some pepperoni on both, I’ll buy out your inventory.” Sir? He called me sir. He didn’t understand that this weekend I am just 17, if you know what I mean.

“I’ll have to charge you extra, sir.”

“I’m cool with that.” I had to be, had no choice because I knew that when Ann and I eventually got vertical and cleaned up hours hence, we’d do it all again. Amen.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


A Second Letter from Tony

Tony Intas and I were classmates and football teammates at Montreal’s Loyola High School. That was 40 years ago. We’ll meet again on Friday at our class reunion. In the meantime, meGeoff’s roving correspondent checks in from Barcelona, Spain. The football team played inside an empty stadium; the Rolling Stones didn’t.

Dear Geoff,

A wise (and by now absurdly rich) man one proclaimed, "You can't always get what you want. You get what you need".

I experienced first hand evidence of this last week in Barcelona, Spain.

An English ex-pat former work colleague of mine from the 1980s, with an otiose wanderlust the likes of which I have never seen, and I having been going to Rolling Stones concerts together since 1989. It is "tradition", it is "expected". He has a very understanding wife, who almost gave birth to their first child at a Stones concert in Paris over a decade ago, but had the courtesy to do so a few days later, thank you very much. His children, each born in different countries, have "interesting" passports and are leading perhaps equally interesting, definitely worldly lives, never having spent a day in school in England. They too understand that whenever "Uncle" Tony visits, he and Daddy will go somewhere to see the Rolling Stones  - if they are on tour. (Otherwise "Uncle" Tony will just act silly and leave).

When a tour is announced, Daddy and I decide where in the world we have yet to see them and if it is a place where he and his family currently reside, we see them there. If not, we pick a place where either neither of us has been to before, or where it would be really "cool" to see them (still waiting for the opportunity in Moscow or Beijing, just to observe the kayos and mayhem afterwards, as we are now both too old to be active participants in same). His understanding wife understands this as well, as do his children.

This "No Filter" tour, it was Barcelona. He had been to the city before, I had not, so this was technically within the parameters because he had not been there with yours truly. 80,000 of us piled into the former Olympic Stadium. As Daddy and I are older, although not necessarily wiser, we selected seats that had excellent vantage points AND padding. The washrooms and refreshment stand were mere meters away. Ours was a covered section of the open aired stadium, should it rain, which it did not. Perfect!! I needed that.

It had been a few years since we had seen the Glimmer Twins et al, and I was therefore very much in the mood to do so. Mick Jagger has lost a step or two and Keith Richards and Ron Wood now share the guitar solos. Nonetheless, it was a solid two hour show and they played all the favourites, some of which brought tears to my eyes, as they always do, because certain songs remind me of certain events in my life, both good and bad. All the times I have seen them, (8 and counting) I have yet to hear them play "my" song, "Can't You Hear Me Knocking". I have a live version of it on a CD and Jagger's harmonica solo is amazing and Ron Wood ends the song playing the guitar like I have never seen him do so. I really, really, really wanted to hear "my" song. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The people around Daddy and I, of the same approximately age and girth, were very respectful of one another when it came to sight lines and standing during the concert and frequent trips to the washrooms or refreshment stand. I needed that.

When the 80,000 of us left the stadium, it was as organized and tame a mass exodus as I have ever seen. No drunken hooliganism, no fist fights, no ambulances carting away the comatose (not like Wembley in the late 1990s, THAT was a mass exodus of multi generational Doc Marten wearing fans!!). Alas, I need that too, because I am older, was tired and just wanted to go to bed. When the mass exodus arrived in great numbers at the Metro Station closest to the stadium,  to find it had closed for the night 15 minutes before, there was a very organized and respectful queue for buses and/or taxis. Again, I needed that , as my  "Street Fighting Man" days are well, well behind me and I was even more tired and still wanted to go to bed.

So, in the end, I didn't get what I wanted, I got what I needed.

Thank you Mick and the boys for reminding me what it is all about.



Readers of this blog who find themselves in places where they don’t normally find themselves, actual or otherwise, are encouraged to write meGeoff a letter detailing their experiences and impressions. Get in touch with me. I’m on Facebook.

Sunday, 1 October 2017


Ain’t Got No Shame

I wouldn’t feed airline food to a dog. Unless I hated the dog.

On Wednesday Ann and I will fly to Montreal. Our agenda includes my 40th high school reunion which could shake down as a depressing exercise in nostalgia and an admission of failure later in life. We’ve also booked an uplifting visit with my elderly mother who prays every day to die in her sleep that night. Should be fun!

In the meantime, particular needs require attention. I have to bull through the novel I’m currently reading so I can crack open William Gibson’s Neuromancer on our trip. Tuesday evening while Ann is playing with her orchestra I’ll meet with our usual house-sitter who knows the routine: Mungo the tabby laps still water from the stoppered bathroom sink while his big brother Scamp prefers to drink directly from the trickling kitchen faucet. Next, I shall put on the new Rolling Stones album, Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theatre, rattle the windows, deafen the cats and make sandwiches to eat on our flight.

A friend of mine describes the need to use the facilities on an airplane as “the walk of shame.” I get that. I’ve got hang-ups too and would rather writhe in my seat than be comfortable. I used to feel the same way about Ann and I packing our Air Canada picnics, uptight and embarrassed: The rubes are aboard with raw rutabagas and live chickens! Not any longer. Honestly, I now get a mild kick from planning and creating our in-flight menu because it is the sole modicum of joy I derive from air travel.

Hell is other people. For me it doesn’t get much worse than the stifling confines of a flying tube filled with folk and their trolleys of carry-on baggage. Affordable flying is essentially a good thing of course, but full planes (and often overbooked at that) have allowed carriers carte blanche to ratchet customer service into a death spiral. One of the first things out the cabin window was somewhat palatable complimentary food. The glittering on-board café options, nickel-and-dime cash grabs, credit cards only, are inedible bits of expensive cardboard. For the record, I’ve enjoyed tastier heroes and hoagies from Petro-Canada gas stations, Mac’s convenience stores and 7-11. No bologna and those places sell cigarettes too.

I’m not cheap. However, overpaying for sub-par products infuriates me. Stocking up on sandwiches in the departure area before boarding isn’t a viable option because I can make better sandwiches for less than half the prices those bakery and deli kiosks gouge. There’s an art to being a gourmet rube, shameless yet refined.

I always consider the indelicate sensibilities of the morbidly obese stranger nestled up against my shoulder, snoring softly, their shoes off and their pants undone. Ann’s and my sandwiches can’t be too pungent. Onion buns are out, as are sloppy, smelly fillings such as egg and tuna salad. Cheese buns can be a bit greasy, but we pack those square-inch packets of chemical wipes that I habitually light-finger from pubs that serve ribs and chicken wings. Artisan breads bulked up with seeds warrant toothpicks and that cleaning process merely reduces Ann and me to the level of our fellow rabble. Other breads just transform into a masticated muck that hibernates between my gums and cheeks. Delivery systems are tricky, sticky wickets.

Condiments are crucial. There are five types of mustard in our fridge, not one of them is plain old childhood, boiled hot dog yellow. Mayonnaise yes, ersatz salad-type dressing, no. The key though is ajvar, a pepper and eggplant based vegetable spread. It’s red and it looks bloody good on bread. Cheese must be strong. Not just its flavour but the texture as it must retain some semblance of its semi-solid self following a few unrefrigerated hours in a baggie. Havarti is too soft, too delicate, like most garnishes. Tomato slices do not travel well. Sliced kosher dill pickles do, provided they’ve been patted down with a paper towel. Spinach leaves hold up better than lettuce leaves because they’re always limp anyway.

My sandwich specifications demand one half-inch of filling, a minimum meat stack. My preference is shaved slices of everything in the barnyard: fowl, bovine and porcine. Two of the three will do as there are so many delightful variations of sandwich meat: spiced or herbed; cured, smoked and processed carcinogenic.

For me, the miracle of air travel, the ability to traverse a huge country in hours instead of weeks now lies with our enjoyment of my culinary creations rather than the thrust of turbines and the lift of wings. My sandwiches are magical, heady combinations of the finest ingredients, personally selected, thought through and assembled with doting care. Whatever hell we’ll be flying in or into, well, at least we each had a decent sandwich en route. What more can you ask for in the jet age?

Thursday, 21 September 2017


It Was Real at the Time

For sale: Tired, out of touch though revered brand. Sale price includes archives and 50 years of brand equity irrevocably tarnished by recent shoddy practices. Best offer.

My impression of Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, is that his life’s goal was to be almost as famous as the musicians his newspaper began to cover upon its inception in 1967. The original fan boy became a media baron. If he couldn’t shift cultural tectonic plates himself, he could at least befriend the genuine shakers and movers, document their achievements and share a little of the spotlight stage left.

It’s safe to posit that the glory days of magazines have passed. There are too many other, less thoughtful distractions. However, the great titles always bore an intensely personal stamp as distinctive as their logos and their covers in a crowded rack. I cannot think of The New Yorker without thinking of its legendary editor William Shawn. In Canada, Maclean’s was the undisputed realm of Peter C. Newman and Robert Fulford was the heart of Saturday Night. And so it was with Wenner and Rolling Stone, for better and worse. Still, it’s a little disheartening to imagine Wenner’s dream as just another title in the portfolio of a conglomerate. Word is that Wenner would stay on as a guiding hand; those types of agreements rarely work out since the seller cedes all vision and power in exchange for a hefty cheque. As Kurt Cobain’s t-shirt read on one RS cover: CORPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK.

After school was out in June, 1975, I was dispatched from Montreal to Edmonton to spend the summer with my older brother at his behest. I believe he was concerned that I would grow up to be a petty criminal if left to my own unsupervised devices because he was out west and our dad lived in Ottawa. While my brother went to work every day, I haunted Jasper Avenue. I learned some things, like never order a hotdog in a Chinese café, even if they’re listed on the menu and WESTERN FOOD is stencilled on the window in a cowboy font. A stop on my daily rounds was Mike’s, a newsstand crammed with cigar smoke and racing forms. There, stacked at ankle level, I saw Mick and Keith, both shirtless, on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was time for this sophisticated man about town to take the great leap from Circus and Hit Parader, just the way I’d switched from AM to FM radio back home.   

Random Notes became essential devouring. Rolling Stone was a bi-weekly paper, so there was no more immediate way to learn what my favourite groups were getting up to. I realized that Montreal’s hip and high deejays had just been repeating what they’d read in Random Notes. The record reviews were thoughtful, well argued, serious stuff, gold. Yet there were elements of arch humour, an attractive snobbishness. The best ever that I can recall was three words, J.D. Considine on J.D. Souther’s ‘Home by Dawn:’ “Don’t wait up.” Snotty, cheeky genius.

Writers were given prominence on the covers because they were as good in their field as their subjects were in their own. Tom Wolfe’s first novel was serialized. Brando and Prince granted interviews. The cover images themselves were frequently the talk of the town. Some were awkward. I had a hard time bringing an oiled up John Travolta sporting Tarzan briefs to the cash register. One of the Boston Marathon bombers did not warrant his additional 15 minutes of infamy, that one pissed me off. Bad calls and mistakes will be made over 50 years of publication, and anyway, provocation sells even if the articles are shorter and less nuanced.

During my 42 years as a loyal reader, I’ve watched the magazine change. Colour was introduced. The tabloid format was shrunk slightly, bindery, staples, were introduced. Rolling Stone shrank again into a traditional magazine format. Lately the perfect bind spine, glued pages, has reverted to saddle stitching as the editorial and advertising content has dried up. It’s not what it was, even physically.

Rolling Stone has always reflected the passions and prejudices of its founder. The irony is that a chronicler of counter-culture was slow to embrace punk because it was not music made by the Beatles, Dylan or the Stones, the rock establishment. Last year’s RS list of the top 50 punk albums had as much credibility as a Trump University diploma. Efforts to remain relevant have spurted inches of fawning ink on Internet fame junkies like Tila Tequila and runners-up in televised talent contests. The magazine’s nadir was a recent double whammy: intrepid reporter Sean Penn’s interview with a notorious Mexican drug lord, only to be topped by a well intentioned but completely and utterly discredited feature on the prevalence of rape culture on American college campuses.

But wasn’t it all big important stuff when rock music wasn’t a mere sub-genre of a disrupted industry. I used to read Rolling Stone like an album jacket, cover-to-cover at least twice. Dear me, it mattered desperately. When’s the next issue? These days when I prowl in the wee wee hours, I prefer to peruse The Economist. I’ve found with Rolling Stone lately that I might be interested enough to read half of every second issue. Maybe I’ve enabled its decline because I don’t care about Stone Temple Pilots, Kings of Leon, Star Wars, Fiddy, Jeezy, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton and Paris Jackson. Maybe I haven’t because I’ve stubbornly kept subscribing.

The last writer left from the days when Rolling Stone was perched at the toppermost of the poppermost is Mikal Gilmore. He remains a frequent contributor because he now specializes in penning legacy pieces about the dead artists in my record collection, lengthy obituaries. And wouldn’t it be just like Jann Wenner to commission a story about himself and his magazine because the current spew of self-aggrandizing 50th anniversary articles in Rolling Stone just aren’t enough to provide a complete measure of a man. My subscription’s going to expire soon and I do not plan to renew. I will miss it. And then I will forget about it.