Monday, 29 December 2014



Not Even a House


I was upstairs drinking alone, swishing four neat fingers of Irish around in a tumbler. Miles was spinning on the hi-fi and I was feeling kind of blue myself. Reflecting upon the past year, I realized I was a mad, obsessive artist of some sort: I’d created a lot of widows and fatherless children. Wide teary eyes dripping on velvet draped coffins and ash urns. Well, you don’t get to choose your old man, do you? Nobody does.


Murder is a strong word for what I do. I’d suggest retribution or justice. Each and every one of the dearly deceased sons of bitches got their due. And I wouldn’t hesitate to waste them again. Still, it gets to you, the toll. It eats me up inside so I try not to dwell too much on violent death. The name’s Danger, Geoff Danger. I suppose you could describe me as a fixer. I walk your streets because I’m here to help but it’s best you never need nor even know of a man like me.


Outside the snow fell in the low, chilly northern light, the dreadful sky darkening like a pulsing, bloody wound under white cotton. I sipped my whiskey and mused about retirement, about Freedom 55. Maybe the old ways had passed and it was time for me to drop my guns. Maybe Ann Fatale and I could emigrate to some Caribbean clime. Serve up rum punches and bebop to tourists from some shack on a beach. I lit a cigarette and sighed: my baby’s still struck by the bright lights in our big city, enamoured of the glorious, blinding glamour of Edmonton’s ballrooms and her glittering ball gowns with slits up the thigh and plunging necklines.


Oh, melancholy me. Truth was I needed a job, a caper, a lark, action. None of our neighbours needed to be threatened nor beaten half to death. The fellow who tended to deposit his dog’s dirt in our waste bins is still recovering in hospital; best not to ingest fecal matter, my son, however difficult it is to refuse what with two broken arms and missing teeth. There’ve been no heists since we lifted the lavender plant from the old lady’s back alley garden two doors down. And funnily enough, the good folk from the community league don’t come around much anymore since I threw a beer bottle and brandished a gat at the children’s Halloween pumpkin carving festival. I lost to a nine-year-old. The judges did not impress me, they’d been bought and the fix was in.


My bitter reverie was shattered when Ann Fatale came up the basement stairs sans her typical drop dead aplomb. Her miniskirt was a-twirl. I scoped every inch of her fishnetted gams. ‘Something’s skittering in the ceiling, oh, Geoff!’ she breathed huskily.


‘Hmm,’ I grunted. ‘Weather’s getting cold. Mice.’ I crushed out my cigarette and finished my drink. I stood up. ‘Go get even more beautiful,’ I instructed her. ‘I’ll deal with this. I was looking for something to do anyway.’


I adjusted the angle of my fedora to something a little jauntier and pulled out my 9mm automatic before descending the stairs. The basement was dark and cool. I could hear critter noises above my head, creeping like my darkest thoughts. I fired a few shots through the panels of the drop ceiling and then ventilated the spaghetti system of furnace ducts. The rodent sounds, like the thrum of my rogue conscience, did not abate. The cloudy smell of cordite was thick like cigarette funk and haze. The smoke detector went off. I emptied what was left in my clip into it and holstered my weapon.


Ann called from the top of the stairs, ‘Are you okay down there, baby?’


‘Everything’s twenty-three ski-doo,’ I grunted.


‘It’s just that some of the rounds have ruined the Persian rugs up here.’


‘I hate vermin,’ I muttered.


‘What’s that?’


I ignored my baby, something I don’t often do. I remembered that I still had a few pounds of Semtex 10 in the workroom leftover from a job well done a few years ago. I was a kinder and gentler man in those days; being eviscerated into a pink mist is a pretty painless way to meet your maker. Anyway, I set the putty cubes of plastic explosive strategically around the basement and then ran the wires and detonator up to the main floor. The mice had no chance.

In retrospect it’s probably best not to act out of rage. It’s important to breathe, to inhale, to consider, to exhale. My baby and me will be able to rebuild our love-nest on what’s left of the foundation provided the blasts didn’t compromise the integrity of the original concrete. The ensuing work will qualify as a renovation under existing government regulations so we’ll avoid a significant amount of tax and perhaps even qualify for certain green subsidies and rebates. Ann Fatale will get the new kitchen cupboards and the new granite counters she’s been breathlessly wanting. A whole new wardrobe awaits her at Holt’s and we’ll ring in the New Year from a penthouse suite in the best hotel in town. It’s all good.

Friday, 26 December 2014



Boxing Day and Time Machines


December 26th. It’s one of those perfect Edmonton winter days, pristine freshly fallen snow, a blindingly blue sky and a low pale sun struggling to be as yellow as an egg yolk. If every winter’s day was like this one I could sell the season to the good emirs of King Abdullah Economic City, and they can afford to fake the weather. Inside the house there are leftovers, a mild hangover and the Rolling Stones turned way up loud.


There’s something about the old songs. I’m convinced you pretty much stake your place in pop culture before you’ve shed the awkwardness of your early, icky teens. And so a welcome gift from yesterday resonates in more ways than one. I’m listening to ‘Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981),’ a new release from the Stones’ From the Vault series. The group or corporate entity is following the lead of Dylan’s magical, oxymoronic official bootlegs. Springsteen’s on board; you can now purchase E Street’s ’78 Cleveland show at These aren’t barrel scrapings although these ancient gifts will scour your wallet.


Earlier this year saxophonist Bobby Keys and former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan passed away within weeks of each other (somehow Keith lives). Both men were in the band for the Stones’ ’81 American tour.


I caught two dates of their 50 continental bookings; both were long bus rides from Quebec. One particular gig presented a dilemma for a 21-year-old rocker: the Kinks were playing the Montreal Forum one night but the Stones bus to the States departed at midnight from a long way’s away – what to miss? I now regret not seeing the Kinks. It’s possible we could’ve done both but I fretted about getting west to east through cross-town traffic. I chewed a gram of hash before we crossed the New York border for their Syracuse Carrier Dome Show. Praise the Lord, there were two opening acts before I came to. I slept through Molly Hatchet and somebody else, too wasted to flirt with disaster.


It’s curiously life-affirming to hear these particular renditions of the old songs again. I’ve come a long hard way since ‘81. We all have. Perhaps that’s when the Stones should’ve packed it in. They were riding high on two decent, recent releases - provided you overlook ‘Emotional Rescue,’ that thinly sliced, bland deli meat in the ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Tattoo You’ sandwich. That year gave us their last great set list: a couple of well-chosen covers, material that was fresh since their ’78 tour and enthusiastic runs through of just a few of their war horses, songs people demand from the Stones.


For me the Stones were all about kicking backing, questioning authority and doubting the teachings of the Catholic Church. You grow, you learn. Eventually you realize that rebellion doesn’t pay off unless you’re being compensated like Mick Jagger. Ooh la la, if I’d only known then what I know now. They looked gorgeous back then and I wasn’t half-bad. Time waits for no one but it’s nice to go back and revisit old friends in their heyday.

Happy New Year. Don’t look back.

Sunday, 21 December 2014



An Insomniac’s Nightmare


The winter solstice is upon us, high times for pagans and prowlers. Overtime on the nightshift. And as I lie awake I’ll wonder, wa-wa-wonder about maybe having a beef and bean burrito later on in Sinatra’s wee small hours. Read what I haven’t already read in the latest Economist. Look out the window and spot the camouflaged hares in the snow. Listen to the coyotes yipping in the river valley.


The skip of the curling squad we sub for wants to bring his Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen album over since I revealed that we’d bought the ‘house’ a new turntable. There’s enough casual interest among our circle of friends to form a vinyl club, play the old songs once a month or so. We did that all the time back in high school and beyond. Maybe, in a way, you can go back again.


What’s become of my old friend Daniel with whom I shared a subscription to Musician magazine? We spent hours together record shopping, recording mix tapes and arguing about music. I’d like him to know that there are now Eno CDs in the house. There was Peter from Westmount High who turned me on to Peter Gabriel and pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd. We lost touch. I will never forget hearing ‘Careful with That Axe, Eugene’ for the first time in Peter’s parents’ basement.


My black leather address book is 25-years-old. The penciled entries have smudged. Corrections are in various colours of ink. A lot of the information in its pages is hopelessly out of date. It is an alphabetical listing of people who have long since moved on, or people I have moved on from. It is a diary of mistakes and good intentions, of relief and regrets, of sorrow and joy. It is, increasingly, a roll of the dead.

So many departed to wonder and worry about during the longest night of the year. Perhaps they are the ghosts lurking in the closet or underneath the bed. But Christmas is coming, which means the days will lengthen soon enough. And anyway, there’s Mexican food in the freezer.

Thursday, 18 December 2014



The Platonic Ideal of Maple Syrup


Canadian maple syrup is as American as apple pie. This country produces some 84-per-cent of the world’s supply. Our good friends south of 49 are responsible for the balance. The sickly sweet goo might be our national condiment. There are worse things, some nations’ signature delicacies are buried or left to rot before serving.


The Edmonton Journal this week reported that the International Maple Syrup Institute and Agriculture Canada have agreed to replicate the United States’ product descriptors on Canadian maple syrup labels. These discussions took a decade to reach a semantic consensus. Essentially, the existing grades of Canada No. 1 and Canada No. 2 will now read instead something like ‘golden’ and ‘amber’ respectively. It doesn't get any sweeter.


Federal grading and labeling regulations serve a higher purpose, the country’s citizens. Red tape is there for our protection and to ensure the producers of certain commodities are recognized for the quality of their wares. Rules are the bane of marketers which is why snake oil is now described as lite, homeopathic, gluten-free or organic. If you examine your shampoo bottle in the shower tomorrow, you’ll note that the main ingredient is listed as aqua – it reads so much better than water.

Still, not all marketers are oily. And nobody except Avis really wants to sell anything branded number two. It’s all about perception. Already there is trickle down from the maple syrup lobby’s victory. Canadian poultry farmers are petitioning Ottawa to rebrand the Canada Utility grade rating. Insiders say they’re flying on a wing and a prayer because they haven’t a leg to stand on.

Friday, 12 December 2014



CKUA: Alberta Public Radio


Radio and me, we’ve been together through life. A fusty reminder of old ways, like subscriptions to a magazine’s print edition or the ringing of a telephone landline, I never imagined falling in love again with an apparently exhausted medium in the digitized 21st century.


Our early days together were wonderful. I frolicked on a seashore awash with station breaking invisible waves. Les Canadiens skated left to right on the transistor dial. I boogied down with Eddie Kendricks or the Rolling Stones on AM Top Forty. Montreal Expos baseball broadcasts were even better during rain delays, colour man and Brooklyn Dodgers legend Duke Snider related stories about teammate Jackie Robinson: ‘I remember once in Japan, the Dodgers were on a tour, Jackie and me…’ Over on FM where there was no static at all: just a high deejay giggling underneath ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ or ‘No Woman No Cry.’ There was magic on the air.


Modern commercial radio suffers from the malady of all traditional media: corporate congestion and increasing generic content, the quality of which slides ever downhill. Seemingly overnight it became a strictly formatted wasteland of rabid talk and zany morning zoo crews. And c’mon, are Creed and Limp Bizkit the best you got? God help me if I ever hear another twee Vinyl Café story about Morley and Dave.


Soul salvation has come from a station that’s been on the air since November 21, 1927. The genesis of CKUA was the University of Alberta (note the call letters) attempting to utilize this new-fangled technology known as radio as an educational tool; early distance learning, if you will. The CKUA network now blankets the province and, as they are fond of telling listeners, may be heard around the world at (I urge you to tune in). In this house, provided we’re home and not asleep or not playing albums, CKUA is on.


The landline rang earlier this week. After some consternation and confusion we realized what the sound was. CKUA was on the line: a follow up call to say thanks again to Ann for contributing toward another year of programming. Touched, for a dollar a day and touched to be part of an incredibly interesting and special community that loves music as much as Ann and I do. At CKUA the hosts matter. They pick their own tracks. Each is fully immersed in hers or his genre. Enlightenment lives on the FM dial.


My favourite show is Dead Ends and Detours which comes on Saturday mornings at 10 (MT). Host Peter North’s jumping off point is the Grateful Dead. The ripples widen into the sounds of the various offshoot bands and into the catalogues of the hundreds of musicians who have swum within the circles of the Dead. It softens me up for the next program, Allison Brock’s Wide Cut Country and, well, we may get a gunfighter ballad or Steve Earle or Gram Parsons. The safe bet is a helping of Guy Clark and a scoop of everything else.


To me, Dead Ends and Detours should be on Fridays after dark, but there are only so many hours in the night. We would miss the wee Celtic Show; everything is wee to the host: the songs, albums, conversations with fiddlers. I said once to Ann, ‘He’s probably a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, I mean, can an Irish brogue really be that thick?’ The wee show is followed by the Friday Night Blues Party, essential listening. And if the Deadheads moved to Saturdays we’d lose Lionel’s Vinyls which is not acceptable.

CKUA drives us to the record store. We’ve been listening to rhythm and blues, rock, reggae, bluegrass, jazz, blues, classical, country, God knows what else and some admittedly very cacophonic hybrids. CKUA has opened my ears again. I’m reminded of myself, the teenager who gambled on albums on the strength of a review in CREEM or Trouser Press because he couldn’t hear a single song from them on the radio anyway. The other morning, Baba, the cosmically connected host of Mid-Morning Mojo, played a track from Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue. You didn’t hear it when it was released and you don’t hear stuff like that on the radio today. Except on CKUA.

Monday, 8 December 2014



$5.2 Billion: Ain't That a Punch in the Head


Perhaps only bookies perceive a relationship between pro sports and logic. Fans certainly don’t because passion and devotion combine to create their core essence. Logic is always the first victim of blind faith. That’s the nature of the game. However, when corporations act like loaded fans (drunk and rich), you have to sit back, scratch your head and look askance. Do not try this while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer.


Chevrolet paid British football team Manchester United $559 million (US) for the right to place its ‘bowtie’ logo on the Red Devils’ jerseys for seven Premiership seasons. Europeans cannot buy a Chevrolet vehicle, the brand does not exist on that continent. The strategy according to Detroit is deviously clever: by piggybacking on a fading international sports brand which plays its home games in the north of England, Chevrolet will garner unprecedented exposure in the massive and untapped Asian market. Makes perfect sense provided convergence converges as conceptualized; Wile E. Coyote might whisper, ‘Genius.’


Closer to home we must quizzically consider Canada’s Rogers Communications, a media conglomerate that may have made the same expensive mistake twice.


Rogers mistook the red, white and blue National Football League shield for gold. The Buffalo Bills recently gassed a long-term, lucrative deal with Rogers to play one meaningful regular season home game in Toronto. Football fans shrugged. Spenders in Canada’s largest market were not seduced by the presence of the legendary NFL brand. Beyond the curious and Rob Ford there was little demand for a bad foreign team with tenuous regional ties to Ontario’s capital city playing lousy American football.


The good old hockey game is the best game you can name and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game.’ Rogers went all in on Stompin’ Tom’s sentiments. Perhaps there was a stray elbow to the head. The biggest ongoing business story in Canada is Rogers paying the National Hockey League $5.2 billion dollars for 12 years of exclusive broadcast rights (with some exceptions). For a media provider in a winter country seeking content for its various outlets and devices, the deal seemed a dream come true. NHL hockey! Platforms! Convergence!


While it is still early in the first period for Rogers, the Globe and Mail Saturday reported that the eyeballs promised to sponsors are myopic; they’re not seeing as much as Rogers previously advertised despite the ref cam. This is troubling news if you’ve chosen hockey as your designated convergence agent, cross-platform driver and subsequently inflated your ad rates accordingly.


What shines on the NHL shield is just silver paint. Fans live and die with their teams; the league itself and its 29 other clubs, especially the bad ones, do not matter. The league’s expansion into non-traditional markets does not equate to the growth of the game. It remains a regional sport, albeit a popular one in a big, empty, regionalized country like Canada. Rogers is broadcasting more games on more channels on more nights than ever before. Yet Rogers may have overestimated the sport’s blanket national demand. The fact is that a Mountain Time Saturday night game between Edmonton and Calgary doesn’t matter to anybody outside of Alberta; the tilt's not an NHL game so much as it is the Oilers versus the Flames. A Canadiens fan will not watch the Leafs unless they’re playing one another. Sidney Crosby cannot appear simultaneously in all seven Canadian markets seven nights a week. Very few folk watch hockey just because there happens to be a game on, some element of any particular game has to matter to the viewer.


Rogers’ other sports property is the Toronto Blue Jays. Historically the company has been loathe to spend to compete in the stacked American League East. The company has failed to transform Canada’s sole Major League Baseball club into a beloved national brand. Maybe it’s not so difficult to botch a monopoly after all.

Despite its heavy investment in games, the company seems blind to the nuances of sport in general, those ethereal things that enthrall students of a game and enhance the small joys of fandom. The sense is that Rogers doesn’t quite get it. The company’s cable and wireless customers complain that Rogers doesn’t quite get those aspects of its business either. Of course, it’s impossible to be all things to all fans.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014



Jean Beliveau 1931-2014


In February 1969 my French Canadian Nana (nee Leblanc) took me to my first-ever Montreal Canadiens hockey game at the Montreal Forum. Dear God, Nana loved hockey; her favourite player was Rocket Richard who retired the year I was born but Gros Bill was a fine substitute for her passion. The expansion Los Angeles Kings were the visitors. The game was played a day or two before or a day or two after my ninth birthday. I was a big man in the schoolyard that week, going to see the Canadiens. We sat suspended in the rafters over one end, in seats known as the greys; great seats, impossible seats, were known as the reds. Blues were not as good as reds, there were whites in between. Greys were better than standing room, especially for fans pushing four feet tall.


I want to tell you that I wore my red Montreal Canadiens woolen sweater to the game with number 4 on the back, white felt cut out and sewn on by my British Nana (nee Toms), but I cannot remember. Nor can I remember what the final score was although the Canadiens prevailed. I do remember worrying if the running game commentary at the rink would be in French or English and was shocked to learn that there wasn’t any, that commentary was done for radio and TV broadcasts only. I do remember being beyond beside myself at the prospect of seeing my hero, number 4, Jean Beliveau, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, play hockey live and in person.


It’s passing strange to weep over the passing of a stranger. Mine is a selfish grief, a lament for a half-forgotten childhood not often revisited.


Eighteen seasons. Ten Stanley Cups. Thirteen all-star appearances; 1395 points in 1287 NHL career games. The enduring friendship and respect of equally gifted rivals Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. To be the greatest Montreal Canadien ever is to be one of the best there ever was. And Beliveau’s stature only grew following his retirement in 1971: a gentleman, philanthropist and humanitarian, the classiest Canadian citizen in our country’s history.

I don’t go to many NHL games anymore. I’ve paid my money and I’ve done my time and anyway, the Canadiens come west only once a year. But every time I’m in an arena, I look for that kid who may be at his or her first game. Not the dozy infant, but someone too young to understand the crystal frailty of human heroes and goofy artificial economics yet old enough to be entranced by the magic and the wonder of the game played at its highest level. I envy them their wide-eyed experience because it will never be quite the same ever again. And I am smug too: My first game, I saw Beliveau with my Nana and I will never forget that night. Ever.