Friday, 11 August 2017

A FAN’S NOTES

Bryan Ferry Live in Enoch, Alberta

The year was 1982. Roxy Music had hit the North American big time with Avalon which would prove to be their final, full-length studio swan song. I remember walking along de Maisonneuve Boulevard, tickets for the group’s Montreal Forum show tucked into the pocket of my leather jacket, maybe my brown one, maybe my black one, I can’t remember. I was wearing Levi’s. There was no snow on the ground. I fell in behind a group of guys with elaborate hairdos, each resplendent in a solid pastel suit, the colours accentuating, complementing their mates'.

Roxy Music was glam, avant-garde, ground-breaking, sultry, louche, manic. Out there, Bowie in a permanent Berlin phase. Following the glamour boys I thought, “Wow, hardcore fans, dressing up like that.” An hour later they were on stage as Modern English performing ‘I Melt with You.’ And then Bryan Ferry fronting Roxy Music came on.

Wednesday afternoon Ann and I drove the sports car westbound on the Whitemud. We passed Edmonton’s ring road and then the freeway frittered itself away into a maze of concrete barriers and NO ENTRY signs. A hard left and we arrived at the River Cree Resort, a well-appointed and curiously cheerful casino attached to a Marriott Courtyard on Treaty Six land. This time I was wearing L.L. Bean jeans and some sort of Costco retro-vintage, three-button t-shirt.

In the rear of the complex and out of sight is a permanent, temporary structure, The Venue at River Cree. A taut pavilion on a concrete pad supported by steel studs and fed with as much electricity and alcohol as required. Folding chairs, with section letters and row numbers taped to the smooth floor. Bryan Ferry was to perform beyond our city’s limits this night in a place an occupying army might erect.

Nineteen eighty-two to 2017, 35 years, that’s the longest I’ve gone between a hero’s gigs. Ferry’s support act this time was Judith Owen. Witty and dramatic, she would slay headlining a club where the patrons had paid to see her and her band. On before Ferry, she was doomed to be seen as just another delay before the legend’s entrance. There was an indifferent drinkers’ din in the back of the room.

Prior to the concert, I had big plans. I would bump into Ferry somewhere in the hotel or casino and then be helpful, writing out his set list for him. I’d tell him to perform a show of mixed thirds, solo, Roxy and covers. He would thank me for my valued input.

Ferry walked on stage sporting a black suit jacket and a white dress shirt with the top two or three buttons undone. There was some grey in that famous black haircut. I imagined James Bond gone slightly to seed, intent on killing audiences rather than enemy agents. Ann leaned over, “He just drips cool.” And a charisma enhanced by dramatic poses and flourishing, emotive arms and hands, much communication in a motion. And sweat. The human heat and the lights made the tent a little closer. There was a smell. Usually backlit by a wall of uniform colour, the suave silhouette seductively led his audience up the stairs to his Dorian Gray attic. I consciously averted my eyes from the video screens to the left and right of the stage. Ferry was right there before us, actual human-sized, to scale, and I wanted the illusion to be real.

Walking onto the stage Ferry immediately switched to glide with ‘The Main Thing’ and ‘Slave to Love.’ I guessed there had to be a Dylan cover since Ferry has recorded an entire album and more of His Bobness. ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ proved me right. The middle portion featured the welcome surprise of ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ from For Your Pleasure, Roxy’s second release dating back to 1973. I’d read (falsely) that Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera was part of Ferry’s band for this tour. His substitute was the equally legendary Chris Spedding who shredded a searing version of Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane,’ another left field song in the set I didn’t dare hope to hear.

Ann and I matched the crowd demographic, mostly middle-aged couples. She noted something I didn’t pick up on, that one partner was hardcore while their mate was more of an incidental fan, a taste gap that’s rare at a rock concert. The climax of the concert was sustained as Ferry fed off the frenzy of an audience trying to remember how to rush the stage, cognizant of dodgy knees and bad hips. ‘Can’t Let Go’ quickly led into ‘More Than This’ and ‘Avalon.’ ‘Love Is the Drug’ preceded ‘Virginia Plain.’ Tucked somewhere within the assault was Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy.’ The evening ended with the frantic, stone soul classic ‘Hold On (I’m Coming)’ by Sam and Dave.   

The show cannot go on forever. Concertgoers understand rusty or fading chops. Indeed, Ferry left some of his signature lines to his better equipped hired help. But our memories for an artist like Bryan Ferry are long. So a show can sometimes become about what it was not. I missed ‘Mother of Pearl,’ ‘When She Walks In the Room,’ ‘Oh Yeah,’ ‘To Turn You On’ and ‘Take Me to the River.’ If we’d met at the resort, those are the songs I’d have demanded Ferry play. And as he sauntered away bemused because I’m basically harmless I would have shouted, “And ‘In the Midnight Hour’ too!”

“Staycay” is an abbreviation of the insipid compound neologism “staycation.” Ann and I had decided to spend the night together at the River Cree so we could enjoy a couple of beers after the show and the modern novelty of smoking indoors because the casino is situated on First Nations turf. My newly formulated plan was to meet Ferry in the casino after his show, debrief him and then gently chide him for not fulfilling my fantasy set list. Maybe we’d play baccarat together, roulette or vingt-et-un. “No, Mister Ferry, I expect you to sing.” It was not to be, but Ann and I finished up our evening $67 ahead on the slots. We were flush, flushed, the party was over and we were so tired.

Monday, 7 August 2017

HUMAN WRECKAGE

The Ugly Face of War

Our gas barbecue is housed in a brick cabinet on the backyard patio. The countertop is tile. Beneath it is a storage area which also allows access to the gas line. Early last spring I took the unit apart to clean and prep it for the upcoming grilling season. I was dismayed to discover a squirrel nest made of grass clippings and whatever other debris the critters could scavenge.

During these past couple of months of summer I noticed I had been refilling the four bird feeders on the property at an unprecedented rate. I realized I was not only feeding my flock but a family of squirrels. Our aged tabbies no longer prowl like they once did and are no threat to the neighbourhood varmints anymore. Last week I watched a squirrel climb up into the angled extension of one of our downspouts, slide through it, pop out into the garden and then scamper up and do it again. And again. When the house is still, Ann and I pause periodically and listen for scrabbling in the attic.

Saturday morning Ann and I took our coffee out on the front porch. The air was heavy and humid. Thunderheads were building to the west. Ann saw a squirrel run up a front wheel of our Honda CRV and disappear. She went and got the keys and then started the engine. The rodent emerged through the front grille, a blur of fur, Chip n’ Dale physics. We opened the hood and discovered a nest of grass clippings perched atop the engine. Worse, the hood liner had been chewed through and its insulation torn out.

Our problems are of course the fault of others. The cats are too old to be of any use. The woodpeckers, blue jays and finches aren’t aggressive enough defending their food sources. The City of Edmonton by encouraging me not to collect my grass clippings for ecological reasons has become a supplier of building materials.

Since my territorial pissings have done nothing to dissuade the local skunk population, I figured whipping it out again was not an option. Ann and I declared war. I chose weapons. The garden hose turned on full and set to JET worked for about a minute. The cheeky, rusty red bastards quickly turned the show of force into a game, nattering for more from high tree branches. The straw broom is ineffective. While my form is good, there’s too much drag, like trying to swat a fly with an open newspaper.

Last night it occurred to me that our solution might be leaning up against a bookshelf in the basement: a Daisy Red Rider BB gun. Ann thinks that my patrolling the property or sitting on the front porch in this day and age with something that resembles an actual rifle might not be my most inspired idea. No good could come of it.

I might wing a neighbour; if it’s that old cow with anger management issues to the right of us, twice. That lady in the blue coat who always deposits her dog’s shit in our back alley bins? I’d ambush her. I’d take potshots at speeders zipping down our street, draw a bead on those vandals on trick bikes who rob parked cars after dark. I’d aim at the windows of that black infill three doors down, the one that resembles a Star Trek Borg cube, bust them all.

Vermin. I will eradicate our squirrel infestation. I will shoot them all. I will decapitate their corpses and impale their cute, big-eyed heads on tomato stakes as a warning to others. I will decorate our driveway with ornamental skulls. I will summon my friends the crows and the magpies to feast upon the fruits of my lusty slaughtering, the Crooked 9 will run with blood. Me is Geoff, meGeoff! I swear by the red god Mars to kill everything in sight.

Hang on. I can hear Ann in another room on the phone with Netflix Derek our psychologist friend. Car keys jingling and jangling. She’s packed a suitcase. It’s sitting by the front door. What’s going on here? Door slam! She’ll be back. I’m pretty sure. It’s not as if I’m unhinged or anything. I mean, c’mon, I’m the most stable guy I know. Really. Oh well, best let it ride. Meanwhile, I must find some ammo for that Red Rider. And where did I stash that black balaclava and the camouflage coverall?