Thursday, 27 February 2020


Twenty-twenty Flight Rock

Early January in Las Vegas I hit the jackpot. I was guiding Ann through Caesars Palace pointing out examples of American Grotesque and the lack of an apostrophe. We dawdled in an expensive memorabilia store called Field of Dreams. There’s one in every major resort along The Strip. In the back amongst the cheap kitsch I came across a Rolling Stones 1981 American tour poster, five flying red tongues over a bottle green Statue of Liberty, the only one there, condition very good, priced at $10. Ann engineered its liberation from the display case and a free indestructible packing tube. Score!

I collect Rolling Stones tour posters. Some are marvels of commercial art. Some have more meaning because I was there. A few are both. My predilection is a passive passion. There’s no joy in seeking them out, they’re best enjoyed stumbled upon just as music is more fun to buy in a record shop as opposed to clicking on an Amazon thumbnail.

I’ve seen the Stones seven times between 1978 and 2005. Could’ve been nine or ten but real life got in the way. I caught the 1981 tour twice, bussing from Montreal to gigs in upper New York State, Buffalo and Syracuse. I could not withstand that particular hellish migration now. I’m 60. I was 21 then. My Syracuse companion advised me to eat a gram of hash before we reached the American border. The full body stone kicked in at the university’s field house before we boarded a shuttle bus to the Carrier Dome. I came to when the Stones came on relieved I hadn’t died in a toilet stall because I sort of remembered sheltering in a confined space, hypnotised by the toes of my black Reeboks. A porcelain toilet, stonewashed Levis down, plumbing stopped up, vaguely aware of my lit cigarette and dangling testicles.

Valentine’s Day Rolling Stones 2020 tour tickets went on sale. My God, they formed in 1962. I’ve no memory of existing in a world without the Rolling Stones. I learned the cheap seats for Vancouver’s BC Place, their only Canadian date, were selling for $255, a lot of money for massive video screen viewing and the one or two surprise songs in their Rosetta Stone set list. The last couple of times I tried to get tickets to a Stones show I was utterly galled by the tickets’ cost, admittedly inflated by the exchange rate between American and Canadian dollars. Ultimately, one of those concerts was cancelled and the other postponed.

Travelling to a Rolling Stones gig has always involved an element of medical risk. In their prime, it was recreational drugs, arrest and possibly death. In their lucrative dotage, the concern is cardiac arrest and death. My life has changed since I had to squirm through the educational film ‘From Boy to Man,’ just as my puberty intersected with ‘Hot Rocks.’ Society has changed; tastes in popular music have changed but the Rolling Stones never have except for the rare experimental album track like the jazz-inflected ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ or the Chemical Brothers’ treatments on ‘Anybody Seen My Baby.’ They remain a reassuring constant in my life and I’ve loved them all as there’s been some turnover in the cast of characters.

I recently joined a Facebook group dedicated to Stones memorabilia, trinkets, bootlegs, posters. I’ve scrolled through the posts. I said to Ann, “You know, all things considered, I’m a pretty stable and healthy individual. I mean, Jesus, look at some of this stuff. That’s in somebody’s living room.” meGeoff’s Stones’ world is mostly confined to the basement of the Crooked 9. Granted, there’s some spillover.

Still, I’ve matured somewhat. Managed the best I can. Too wise yet always tempted to spend hundreds of dollars on a Stones ticket and thousands of dollars on travel. At their age. At my age. And Ann, essentially tolerant, patient not patronising, is a willing partner in crime should an opportunity arise. Their road may go on forever, ours won’t. But Rolling Stones songs have already transported me to swinging London, Chicago, Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, Nashville, Motown, New York City and Kingston, Jamaica: blues, rock, country, gospel, disco, funk and reggae. And didn’t I retrieve some wonderful memories at a bargain price in Las Vegas of all places.   

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of musical musings since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020


Notes on the Underground

London is my favourite foreign city. My hunch is that this minor personal detail will remain a constant even as I continue to gather more experiences abroad. And when I think of London, I think of the Tube.

Once down the stairs or escalator you can pretty much go anywhere underneath the metropolis. A passenger on the Circle line can change trains for another line at multiple stations on its loop. The long and the short of it is which direction to go? A friend of mine with a time-share there once described route planning as “Tube physics.” Bearish on Paddington? Hello Bakerloo, goodbye St. James’s Park. The names of the stops evoke London’s famous boroughs and they will always resonate in film, history, literature and song. A ride for me is a trip into tunnels of love.

Say “jigsaw puzzle” to me and I think: “Beggars Banquet, side one track five, Jagger trying to write like Dylan.” I love the song but puzzles themselves are less interesting mental exercises than crosswords because I’ll take a thousand words over a picture most every time. My other soft complaint about puzzles is the finished image, if it doesn’t interest me then I’m not interested in expending my time and labour.

The Tube is a remarkable feat of civil engineering. What has fascinated me beyond the Underground’s echoes in the arts is London Transport’s usage of graphic design. The logo is simple and universally recognizable. There are patterns in station tile walls. Posters promoting the system’s convenience from bygone days and present day are compelling constructions of commercial art. The world cannot find its way without clever and easily understandable design. London Transport created a subterranean world with easy exits. Daylight up ahead, mind the gap.

The map of the Underground as we’ve come to recognize it online and on paper was initially devised in 1933 by a genius named Harry Beck. He contrived to constrain a sprawling river city, its environs and tunnels into a stylized, comprehensible rectangle which elegantly and necessarily distorts geography and distance. His Tube map is a staggering work of modern art.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of Ann’s and mine, a Londoner, a teacher and a music buff, took something of a busman’s holiday. He posted pictures of his progress on a puzzle of Beck’s continually updated masterpiece. He took some guff in the comment balloons for not beginning with the border, a near impossibility as it’s almost exclusively white. The map itself is essentially an abstract of intersecting coloured lines against a white field. Simple to interpret; difficult to assemble.

Last October Ann and I lingered in the London Transport Museum’s gift shop. We bought two reproductions of vintage posters to frame and hang in our front hall. A whimsical upside down cockatoo amid a floral jungle thrice urging readers GO TO KEW. The other shows every kind of people gently converging on a sidewalk Tube entrance, probably Piccadilly, most of them floating blissfully into THE LURE OF THE UNDERGROUND. We also purchased a Depression-era Chelsea versus Arsenal poster advocating inexpensive transit to the grounds, a gift for a football fan; some days I regret our generosity. It never occurred to me to buy a jigsaw puzzle.

I muttered my complaint to Ann. “There’s one in the basement storeroom,” she replied. “It’s in the cupboard with the sports equipment and the Lego.” Oh my.

Crosswords and puzzles are absolute. There is right and there’s just plain wrong. When Ann and I work on the New York Times’s Saturday and Sunday crosswords we always begin by filling in the grid with clue answers we’re certain of and then work off of those letters. Generally our openings are proper nouns but not always. With Beck’s Tube jigsaw we worked off the Underground logo bottom left and the map legend bottom right. Eventually they would have to be connected by the River Thames. Sticking with a pale blue theme, we pieced together the Victoria line which crosses the Thames and terminates at Brixton.

Our next project was the purple Piccadilly line because it shares three stations with the Victoria line and eventually ends up at the four Heathrow terminals bottom left, down near the Thames and the Underground logo. Ann then decided we had enough visual information to complete the puzzle’s frame. But one bottom border piece, plain white, appeared to be missing. I began to fret that the puzzle was incomplete, that a piece or two had been lost as cat toys and were mouldering under the refrigerator. However, her insight allowed us to begin construction of the red Central line from Epping, upper right corner, all the way to Ealing Broadway, middle left edge. Fifty-two out of scale miles of parallel track and 51 stations.

What constitutes cheating? Sometimes in a crossword a portmanteau isn’t just a valise. Employing the word’s secondary definition with a clue such as “part of a juice portmanteau” renders CRAN as in cranberry which then suggests a product like Ocean Spray cran-raspberry cocktail. The odd time when Ann and I refer to a dictionary whilst solving crosswords we always feel as if we’ve broken a sacred and tacit covenant. And so, how many sneak peeks were Ann and I allowed at the cover of the jigsaw puzzle box?

Our London stay is still relatively fresh in our minds. We had taken advantage of our Oyster cards (which we kept). Our lodgings had allowed three easily walkable Tube options: Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street and Warren Street. We’d access to the Victoria, Central and Northern lines. Our puzzle strategy went into the black, the Northern line. Despite its spurs and digressions, we figured we could easily connect two stations, Camden Town to the north with Waterloo to the south across the Thames. We’d spent some time on the Northern line.

Once we’d finally completed Beck’s map, the last half-dozen plain white pieces including the missing frame fragment, I said to Ann, “I guess it goes right back into its box now.”

Ann said, “Don’t you want to admire it for a while?”

So I did. Didn’t we change to the Jubilee line at Green Park for St. John’s Wood? Exit, turn right for Abbey Road. Didn’t we ride up to the Camden Town market? Hadn’t we endured a luggage-laden, cramped and sweaty hour on the Piccadilly line from King’s Cross to Heathrow - Ann managed to secure a seat, thank God. What a curious way to revisit a holiday. I had taken notes, impressions and sketches. We’d taken digital photographs. Yet this chopped up beautiful design, those fragments of coloured lines, sparked our memories and ignited kitchen conversation.

“It makes you want to go back, doesn’t it?” Ann said.

Time travel. Backward and possibly forward. I remembered all the details of our trip. I thought of all the stations on Harry Beck’s beautiful Tube map and the associations I’d made as Ann and I patiently filled in the puzzle: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, George Smiley, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, the Beatles, the Clash, the Jam, Pete Townshend solo, the Who, all of this and World War II. And more. London Transport indeed.

I said, “Yeah. Soon.”  
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of intellectual distraction since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Sunday, 16 February 2020


Before You Accuse Me

You whinge, you whine, you’re so hard done by
So I’m setting down some verse to make you sigh

Shove your precious litany of companion animal peeves
I don’t care a whit for your self-diagnostic special needs

Sitting with your steaming non-recyclable Starbucks latte cup
Hectoring, lecturing, stroking your mangy emotional support pup

Schadenfreude, flight shaming and windy green electricity
Pit mined lithium for your mood and iPhone battery

Behind an angry cloak of self-righteous hypocrisy
You spout misquoted Marx on media socially

Your dream is a politically correct authoritarian state
With free wi-fi and plant-based steak on every plate

As lost and committed as an ISIS caliphate flunkie
You’re a humourless online hashtag meme junkie

Perfect pedantic pedagogue, ideologue enlightened and woke
Haloed and holy as the Right: your ivory tower’s standing joke

Yet you sleep where you were born and assail your guilty parents
Boomers mussed the planet’s sheets while finishing the basement

I’m a colonial oppressor and so my remarks are grossly unfair
Insensitive and privileged, but unlike you, I’m self-aware

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of really bad poetry since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Sunday, 2 February 2020


My Kingdom for the Reincarnation of Jean Beliveau

My retirement has been fretful. While I don’t fear for my job and its paycheque any more nor sweat its deadlines, I’ve managed to roil that disused brain space with the weight of the world.

Last Tuesday morning, much too early to be moody blue, I read with a sinking heart The Globe and Mail’s lead article detailing the joint American-Israeli peace plan for Palestine, a place that does not yet exist even though it does just as Israel once did not. The Middle East is a poxy, proxy combative place on the globe: one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire the region has alternately festered or erupted, a planetary boil.

The story was written by Mark MacKinnon, the Globe’s Senior International Correspondent and datelined Beirut.  Its second paragraph was despairingly illuminating: “Mr. Trump’s proposal was unveiled hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges and as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate.” Are these two characters the best we can offer to soothe a modern century’s litany of conflict and tragedy in the Middle East? And wouldn’t you at least run the plan past the other interested party?

Sometimes the Big Lie is so big that you can’t see the forest for the pulp mill. I turned over a new leaf of newsprint. The sports section. Professional sport is the ultimate, lowest common denominator of distraction because everybody can relate to something that doesn’t matter a whit. This big, self-important, statistically driven entertainment that seems to drive public works for private interests is essentially about nothing. Mindless and meaningless provided you’re not a gambler, whereas art, literature and music may gently or jarringly alter your perception of reality.

I keep a heavy lidded half eye on Canadian football, England’s Premiership and baseball’s major leagues but the only professional sports club with whom I consistently engage is the Montreal Canadiens. My team has been middling, average for more than a generation; frustrating to follow. The perversity of mediocrity is that the club is never terrible enough to be in the running to draft the reincarnation of Jean Beliveau, a man so gracious and upstanding he refused an appointment as Canada’s Governor-General and whose skills as a player current hockey writers would gush over as “generational.”

As of this morning the club has 29 games remaining in the regular season. They have lost five games more than they have won to this point. Montreal is eight points out of a playoff spot with three teams with games in hand to leapfrog. Postseason play doesn’t seem out of the question until you remember that the other clubs are obligated to show up for their remaining 30 contests. No Canadiens skater registers on the list of the league’s top 20 scorers. Goaltender Carey Price, the face of the franchise, whose other-worldly years appear to be behind him, seems exhausted and despairingly all too human. The realization has sunken in that this club and its mildly varied past incarnations in the previous seven or eight seasons never really had a championship window.

The consensus among Habs fans I’ve chatted with is that it’s time to trade Price provided the club can move his monstrous contract. The sentiment is a strange one. It’s not so much get rid of the bum but a collective act of charity, give this guy a shot at a Stanley Cup, let him regain his form backstopping a contending team that won’t allow so many shots on net. Price is far from done. Last night he registered the 47th shutout in his career as a Canadien, one better than the legendary Ken Dryden. Canadiens Nation is infamous for its torches, pitchforks and cries for lynchings. The mob’s outpouring of goodwill speaks to Price’s personality, character and popularity in the city. “We wish you well” is very different from “Good riddance.”

The Canadiens management reminds me of an entrenched, corrupt regime. The original masterminds have long since departed. The new boys haven’t the finesse and know-how of their forebears. And those minions who cannot abide the diktat of endless, unsuccessful Five Year Plans are ruthlessly disposed of, often in their primes. The organization is stunningly adept at parading history and flying moth-eaten ancient glory because the latest strategies have been so disastrous. A fan’s question is fair, “Is this the best you can do?”

Oh, the best laid and ill-fated plans… From the Middle East to Montreal, there is no joy. From a homeland to hockey, it seems most of us are prepared to settle for the third-rate with small complaint; jury-rigged and gerry-built sweet fuck all sold by charlatans of all stripes. Dylan sings, “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.” And so here we are now without the likes of Jean Beliveau anywhere on any horizon.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of sports writing and opinion since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.