Monday, 25 October 2021

A FAN’S NOTES


Too Soon?


The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup relatively recently. I cannot remember which particular season nor can I remember their opponent. Those two sentences may also be applied to the St. Louis Blues. Both of these clubs had made the finals previously and lost, many years ago back in those remarkably courteous days prior to the uber-advent of the internet. In today’s bloated and gaseous NHL it’s not easy to reach the final, let alone make a return trip.


The Montreal Canadiens last summer reached that heady height for the first time since 1992-93. Like most teams they are mediocre on their best nights. Their surprising run reminded me of my days in university when I sometimes woke up in strange places and wondered how I’d got there. The Habs were easily dispatched by Tampa Bay. The Lightning, though an elite squad, are also a covid era anomaly, repeat champions due to two pandemic seasons being pretty much compressed into one. They beat somebody to win the lockdown tournament and then skated through an abridged schedule oddly reconfigured by a temporary divisional realignment.


The Montreal Canadiens are a lot like the Rolling Stones in that their glory days were some 40 years ago. Like the band, the franchise has exhibited an unabashed knack for marketing its past. And only a delusional fan would believe that last season’s unfulfilled miracle is something to build on, some kind of harbinger. The Habs’ operating philosophy since their heyday and the ensuing swelling of the NHL goes something like this: “Please God, if we can just squeak into the playoffs, anything can happen.” A bowling alley manager or a beer rep could manage the organization with a mission statement like that one. Oh, wait, those snarky scenarios actually unfolded. When a Habs fan says, “I could’ve done that,” it’s not barstool bragging. The shocking and immediate quality play of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights exposed the systemic ineptitude rampant in most NHL front offices. Remember, the Vegas roster was initially comprised of players 30 other teams deemed expendable.

 

I’m not writing to bury my favourite team. I can’t praise them either. Their perpetual mediocrity will likely see me out. Saturday night the Habs walloped Detroit’s Red Wings 6-1. That was their sixth game of this new season. They lost their first five, giving up 19 goals while scoring just four. The team’s two lynchpins are aging defenders, both of whom have probably reached their sell-by dates due to past injuries. Neither one has played a minute so far in 2021-22. Goaltender Cary Price is out for a month having entered the NHL’s player assistance program. Perhaps his head exploded when his employer left him and his contract exposed to the Seattle Kraken in yet another expansion draft. Canadiens defenceman and power play anchor Shea Weber is gone for the entire season and may be permanently broken after 14 years of big league hockey.


The pixels in the NHL post season picture usually morph into focus by American Thanksgiving, Christmas at the latest. It’s not even Halloween yet and the Canadiens are already in an awfully deep hole in their awfully deep pre-pandemic division. When the next cup final rolls around sometime during the middle of the 2022 baseball season a few Canadian sportswriters will pen their annual laments about Lord Stanley’s lengthy sojourn in the United States. I’m looking at you, Roy MacGregor, and so why not just write that the seven Canadian teams in the league are similar to the majority of their American counterparts, they haven’t got a clue as to what it takes. Meanwhile, virtually no fan of the game will ask, “Who lost it last year?” Bonjour, hi, Montreal! Bonjour la visite!  


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of barstool sports expertise since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Thursday, 21 October 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


How She Reminds Me


Have you ever noticed a mystery doppelganger? A stranger who reminds you of somebody else? Who are you to me? I get frustrated in these aging days of mine when I can’t put my finger on them, mostly because that’s a criminal offense. They’re ghostly figures on a sort of l’esprit d’escalier - those witty afterthought replies that have long surpassed their original repartees’ best-before dates.


Across the street from the Crooked 9, about three doors down, there’s an epic renovation going on. I’ve been monitoring years of painfully slow progress from the front porch. Should the work ever be completed, I’m pretty sure it’ll resemble Johnny Cash’s stolen car, a scrounged mishmash of miscellaneous materials. My eyes are already tired from observing and maybe one day they’ll be really sore.


I’m accustomed to the turquoise portable toilet and the dump truck on the lawn. Used to those highlights of the local scenery. Madame has been lately visiting her previous, present yet future home. I can’t imagine the finishing touches are anywhere close to being touched up. Anyway, she’s reminded me of someone with her electric bottle blonde long hair and severe straight-cut bangs. I’ve been watching; her look’s been niggling at me.


My first thought was maybe Madame personified the competing publican in my second novel Duke Street Kings. As with all fictional people, that character was a composite, albeit largely based on S., the hilarious and gregarious bartender who presided over the workaday lunch rush in Calgary’s downtown Unicorn Pub when it still occupied the basement of the elegant and historic Lancaster Building. No.


There’s an 80s vibe about Madame. Maybe Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, but she hasn’t filed her incisors into fangs nor does she wear her makeup like warpaint; Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott’s mullet during the height of hysteria over Pyromania? No, but closer.


Ian Hunter post-Mott? Oh God, oh God, I was so close to knowing this blonde – not in the biblical sense. And then coincidence, serendipity and synchronicity all kicked in at once, like mushrooms, pot and alcohol. There had been a small item in the entertainment news: Michael Caine allowed that his lengthy acting career was probably over, not many roles for a man his age. That was it! Madame reminded me of Michael Caine in drag! A Brian De Palma film, Dressed to Kill, 1980. Yes! My relief was cathartic, what the French might describe as le petit mort.      


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of snippy neighbourhood gossip since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Thursday, 14 October 2021

NONSENSE VERSE


The United Conservative Party Fight Song (Cheat Sheets Available)


My Ma and Pa were sibs

Raised up cross-eyed kids

For Alberta free and strong

Inbred genes gone wrong


I don’t read the news

Doesn’t suit my views

My reality it seems

A host of internet memes


Covid is an elitist joke

A verified commie hoax

I won’t get no vax

‘Cause I know the facts


Rodeos and QAnon

Sunday best, tin hat on

A global conspiracy

Can’t fool me


Tried to drink javel

Didn’t feel so well

Now my Invermectin

Is a miracle confection


Think I've shat my breath

Feeling much like death

Gasping in the ICU

I’ll leave room for you


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of some of the worst poetry ever written since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


That Song


Sunday morning came down like a mournful song, dreary, Thanksgiving rain threatening. Our window blinds were up but our lights were on. Ann was in the kitchen making batter for a pumpkin cake and I was trying to be helpful by getting in her way. Public radio was broadcasting a show called "Play It Again" which features Billboard hits from the 1920s through to the 1950s, a fascinating and engaging hour of radio. Times being as angry and yet delicate as they are, the show now comes with a pre-recorded waiver - some lyrics may no longer be considered appropriate. Baby, it’s getting weird outside.


Just as Ann turned the mixer on, the host spun Lefty Frizzell’s utterly glorious and gloomy “The Long Black Veil.” Lefty did not write it, but it's his. The song, narrated from beyond the grave, is a tragedy in three verses. An innocent man elects to be hanged for a murder he did not commit rather than besmirch his lover’s reputation with the scarlet letter. “There were few at the scene, but they all did agree, the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.” His honest alibi is almost in flagrante delicto as he was actually elsewhere “in the arms of my best friend’s wife,” but he chose to speak not a word in his own defense. It’s a grim view of life: trespasses exact a terrible toll, atonement is impossible.


“The Long Black Veil” with all its dread and doom reminds me of a much later song, Kate Bush’s eerily ethereal “Wuthering Heights,” gothic and hopelessly haunting.


When Ann was squeegeeing the metal mixing bowl with a rubber spatula, I said, “I think, considering all the music in our collection, ‘The Long Black Veil’ might be the song we have the most versions of, I mean by various artists.”


Johnny Cash covered it and so did his daughter Roseanne. We’ve got a heartbreaker version by Gregg Allman; The Band of course, and the Chieftains featuring Mick Jagger.  That’s five and I’m forgetting a couple, maybe Emmylou? Somebody else too. And I can hear something that never was: Rod Stewart rasping “The Long Black Veil” during his An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down – Never a Dull Moment prime. 


“I’m not going to do up a spreadsheet or anything.”


“You don’t know how,” Ann replied.


Yeah. Does anybody out there still operate with MS –DOS and an adorable Commodore 64? How could I ever configure rows and columns for all the triplicates in the Crooked 9’s music library? Consider Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” quirkily agitated by Talking Heads or Bryan Ferry. Ann and I sometimes daydream about visiting Memphis, Tennessee: Beale Street and barbecue, Stax and Sun; in the meantime we’re only able to travel there with Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers and the Faces.


“Tumbling Dice” is my all-time favourite song ever. If I count the Stones’ own proto-version “Good Time Women” from the expanded Exile reissue, we have four versions of it. Linda Ronstadt recorded a very sexy cover for her Simple Dreams album. No surprise then her guitarist Waddy Wachtel is also one of Keith’s X-pensive Winos. However, the stunner is courtesy of the late bluesman Johnny Copeland who enlisted guitarists Eric Ambel (Del-Lords) and Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) to really fatten up the song’s slinky, hypnotic rhythm. Ann is eternally grateful she shares the Crooked 9 with a sad sack middle-aged Stones fan because she knows we have every live version of “Tumbling Dice” the Stones have ever released.


In a somewhat similar vein, Ann and I possess three versions of “Darling Be Home Soon.” Apologies to The Lovin’ Spoonful, each one is performed by Joe Cocker. Each one makes me misty eyed.


We have a finite number of LPs and CDs at this moment and that total will grow before the end of 2021. It’s impossible for me to calculate the number of songs we have two versions of, especially when I contemplate the Tin Pan Alley tradition of factory songwriting before His Bobness and the Beatles changed everything by composing their own material. The Lieber-Stoller world was no more. So long, Doc Pomus. Ann’s musical tastes and my own intersect more often than not. So, I can hazard a big label data scoop: most of the songs we have alternative versions of likely originated as Chess or Motown releases, blues and “the sound of young America.”


Our headliners here at home, those performing artists whose works are scattered throughout the catalogues of rival artists, are probably Berry and Dylan, maybe Willie Dixon, maybe Willie Nelson and maybe Smokey Robinson. Contemplating our collection, I’m a little surprised that interpretations of Jagger-Richards, Lennon-McCartney, John-Taupin, Carole King, Leon Russell and Tom Waits aren’t as prevalent as I would’ve assumed. Then again, I suspect it requires vast amounts of swagger and verve to wax a track when its primary writer and performer is able to listen and judge.


Great covers bring something else to the stereo. The incomparable Otis Redding replaced Keith’s iconic fuzztone riff with horns when he went strictly Memphis with “Satisfaction.” I can only imagine Joni Mitchell’s reaction the first time she heard Scottish hard rock band Nazareth absolutely bludgeon her incredibly delicate “This Flight Tonight.” It's not her song any more. Perhaps the royalty cheques still elicit a smile.    


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of musical musings since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer. 

Monday, 4 October 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Days Like These


Last week roots rocker John Mellencamp released a single, “Wasted Days,” an earthy and reflective collaboration with Bruce Springsteen. The low-key video shows two grizzled hipsters, soul survivors from the days when rock ruled popular culture. The song echoes the sentiments I hear throughout Springsteen’s latest album, Letter to You, his collection of warm and sometimes bittersweet rearview mirror images of growing up on stage in seaside bars. I admire Mellencamp because he kicked back against the star maker machinery and willed his transformation from a groomed, manufactured teen idol into a vital American artist.


Flyer Guy made his weekly drop at the Crooked 9 too. His advertising bundle delivery is benignly erratic: lunchtime, happy hour, after midnight – and pick a day. He resembles an Allman brothers hybrid, Capricorn Records long blonde hair, Duane and Gregg the holy duo. He always wear a rock band t-shirt. His mellow is beyond Cheech & Chong bongs. From time to time he wishes to converse a lot more than I’d prefer. This gentle soul’s wasted days must be epic and that’s a legitimate response to days like these.


A pharmacy circular announced that Saturday was National Brow Day, Up to 50% off* on selected Annabelle Kohl, Rimmel London, L’Oreal and Maybelline New York products. No surprise. Friday was the International Day of Older Persons. September was the host month of National Coffee Day and some sort of Siblings Day. Dog knows every breed has its day. Does Caitlyn Jenner celebrate Mother’s Day or does she leave that Hallmark holiday to Norman Bates?


Lost in this daze of days was Canada’s inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a sombre end to September. The plight of this country’s First Nations is not particularly pleasant. A disproportionate number of Indigenous citizens populate Canada’s prisons. A disproportionate number of Indigenous women have been murdered and those missing are presumed dead. Many reserves are without potable water. These and other issues under the shadow of the horrific legacy of Canada’s residential school system, a government policy of assimilation predicated upon, to be brutally frank, beating the “Indian” out of Indians.


Our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is nothing to be celebrated. It is rather like Remembrance Day, a grim day necessarily marked, and intended to prompt all Canadians to pause and reflect on this country’s past, present and future. This special day debuted on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s watch. Naturally he went on vacation, took a holiday flyer. He wouldn’t dare do that on November 11 no matter what deep family sunshine discount the Aga Khan offered him for a sojourn on that private island paradise.


I will not deny our prime minister’s natural charisma. He made the cover of Rolling Stone after all – granted, the magazine isn’t what it was. I understand realpolitik. I understand that the needs of a party and its leader will always trump any ethical considerations. What I don’t understand is Trudeau’s propensity for botching the small stuff, the ceremonial and symbolic duties of his office. Is a public appearance or two in a First Nations community on our first-ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation such a big ask? Is there a single grain of common sense in that man’s head? Maybe not, because that snap election call two years into his term as head of a carte blanche minority government didn’t quite work out either. Engaged and enraged Canadians are now obligated to question his judgment about everything, from the economy to foreign policy.


In the great fund-raising and marketing scheme of things, diseases are graced with an entire week or even a month of national awareness, psycho-symptomatic credit card donation channels for hypochondriacs. Canada’s First Nations got a day and the prime minister flew through it, over it. No surprise then that eyebrows and pugs get more notice, more ink. What a wasted day for the rest of us. 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of prosaic tangents since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 27 September 2021

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


Signals and Symbols


They are rare birds in the city. Ann said that when the raven alit on the top rail our entire fence wobbled. Moments later I saw the beast on an angled piece of one of our downspouts. It was the size of a Canadian football with a head and a scythe for a beak, its wingspan constrained and knock-knock-knocking under the eaves. It was shiny black like Superman’s hair, complete with cyan DC Comics highlights.


The biggest birds Ann and I have marvelled at as they’ve flitted around the Crooked 9 are pileated woodpeckers, the largest of that species. They’re vertical birds, designed to cling upright to tree trunks. Bald eagles fly too high for our point of view. We sometimes hear great horned owls in the night. Ravens are dirigibles, unleaded zeppelins whose song remains the same, “Nevermore.” Even our local magpies were intimidated; a parliament of those prancing, squawking, puffed out toughs will generally take on all comers, cats and dogs included.


It’s impossible not to be at least a little po-faced as summer fades into fall. Yet it’s still that lovely and brief Hemingway time of the year: Ann and I get out of bed as the sun also rises. Dawn’s cloudy blazing swatches of horizon colour, hues of red, orange and yellow, accentuate the beautiful decaying leaves of our trees and shrubs; the sky curls on the lawn and the walk, drifted down to Earth. The air smells different, a little more pungent. There’s a refreshed clarity in our neighbourhood star’s lower light, everything we can see seems a little sharper, as if some cosmic lense has been wiped clean and adjusted minutely.


Mornings of late have been no small grace. Ann and I are still able to take our coffees outside. Our mugs steam on the front porch tete-a-tete. We are cozy in our Neil Young godfather of grunge lumberjack flannel shirts, collars up. The pages of our newspaper sections rustle in concert with the shrivelling leaves. The birds are active: some are year-round residents; Canada geese are squonking south; arctic nesters layover on their flight paths north. For one blessed hour there is peace, no motors, no sirens, just gratitude for a sense of low-key contentment in spite of everything else unfolding out there. It’s all good. Winter’s coming though, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.


I suspect this will sound a bit bizarre, but sometimes I imagine Richard Harris in shining armour clopping down our street astride a warhorse warbling, “By order summer lingers through September…” But Camelot was as idealistic as Eden, wasn’t it? As misguided a faith in the fantastically unattainable as a failing cult serving cups of funny tasting Kool-Aid. Nothing lasts, be it a moment, an hour, months, years or an era, good or bad.


I like to wear caps, baseball style ones. Berets never suited me. Only two English speaking people have ever rocked the French look, Groucho Marx and E Street’s Miami Steve. But I’ve smoked enough alcohol and drunk enough cigarettes to know that the Existentialists got life’s innate absurdity right enough or close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. Our unbidden existence is akin to raking leaves on a windy day: a futile exercise, but not entirely without result. When I’m working on our lawn with a fan rake in a breeze, I can choose between Sisyphean despair at the uselessness of it all, rake up and do it again, or be dazzled by the beauty of the fall. Still, it’s somewhat disconcerting to be conscious of the beady gaze of a lone raven as I go about my meaningless business. 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of mystified musings since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Have We Got Neighbours?


The nosy fellow across the street likes to sit on the front porch of the Crooked 9 and update Ann and me about what’s going on up and down our street. A few doors away, the home renovation of our local, convicted sex offender seems to have stalled; perhaps the pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain of dungeon fixtures. The neighbour to our immediate right hasn’t spoken to us for years – discounting a few obscenity-laden screams; we’re right up there with the sky, her adult daughter and her weird black dog cross-bred to bark anxiously. When her blinds are up we note that her Christmas tree is a 12-month, decorative fixture – and has been for a decade. She is of a peculiarly obese shape, her knees, her hips, her lungs and her heart have to work awfully hard while her mind is on vacation.


Ann and I have always kept things together.


The brand new, two-storey, curiously commercial-looking skinny home to the left of the Crooked 9 sold this week. All conditions are off and we expect new neighbours casting their shadows upon us by next weekend. Consequently, I’ve been dwelling on the nature of neighbours, Robert Frost and fences, all those posts and boards, gates and latches. I suppose new neighbours are akin to a choking hazard toy in a cereal box, a sealed pack of baseball cards or cancer: you can’t help wondering what you’re going to get.


I’ve come to terms with a biker bigwig moving into a fortified clubhouse. Incidental and opportunistic crime in the neighbourhood would plunge to zero. On the other hand, neither Ann nor I wish to be remembered as gang war euphemisms, civilian collateral damage.


Should we not be blessed with professional criminals who abide by a code of professional conduct, we’d settle for introverts or snobs – people likely to keep to themselves. Maybe our new neighbours might let their taste in music do their talking over the fence; Ann and I are more Warren Zevon and ZZ Top than Zamfir. There could be disputes, or not. We can only speculate about the value these strange folks place on the creative arts and its implied aesthetics, after all, they just slapped down a million plus on a home more suited to house a suite of medical offices as opposed to a family.


God forbid they’ll be garrulous. Life’s too short to gab at length about nothing. I hope they’re not passionate about weird stuff like Amway or Scientology. What if they prove to be extremists, right wing-nuts or trigger warning-happy leftists? A good neighbour is a burned-out cynic with a whit of wit.


Ann and I together keep our eyes on the street. We are front porch sentinels. Truth is, not a lot goes on and keeping watch might be a lonely job except for the fact we’re both mildly misanthropic. Cars enter garages, the segmented doors close; nobody uses their front doors. Nobody receives visitors or hosts Saturday night parties. The neighbourhood seems to exist in some sort of Stephen King prison dome, food and water rations driven in from the “outside.” Humanity’s rich pageant is hired help: housecleaners, lawn care and snow removal crews and dog walkers.


I don’t believe this strange and insular world Ann and I observe so acutely stems from pandemic life. I suggest its roots lie with the advent of digital television signals, the proliferation of the internet and their spawn, the iPhone. Real life selected an upgrade to version 2.0, departed our avenues and streets, bought the server farm. Of course, dwelling inside “the internet of things” costs money and nobody carries cash. When in 1987 the Royal Canadian Mint launched the loonie, I surmised our dollar would lose some of its value. I was not referencing global currency markets, I meant the average person’s perception of its worth, the denomination’s migration from billfold to change pocket. Money has become an abstraction since then. Binary code has evolved into fingertip prime numbers. Goods and services are delivered with the touch or swipe of a screen.


This weekend we’ll greet our new neighbours with a liberal sample of Ann’s baking. My hunch is that we won’t see much of them after this casually awkward attempt at introductions - and not just because winter’s coming on. Our neighbourhood has defaulted into digitized agoraphobia; remote work and home entertainment are investments that demand confinement. I suspect our new neighbours’ expansive and irksomely elevated rear deck may never be more than dead space, the way apartment and condo balconies are utilized mainly for exterior storage.


The convicted sex offender’s property abuts an immense black cube. Ann and I refer to its residents as “The Borg;” engagement is futile. There’s a woman who lives farther down our street, just as the asphalt begins to curve, who I ape with my not-too-bad impression of a smiling horse or perhaps a member of Britain’s royal family; sometimes Ann and I never need speak. All I know for sure about our new neighbours is that we will anoint them with a nickname, a descriptor or a mimicked signifier. Welcome to our street. We don’t judge, we just observe.              


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of street gossip since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Wake Me Up When September Ends


We know them; we know who they are. In my working life I was fortunate enough to possess the wherewithal to engineer a transition from blue collar to white collar. While I wasn’t cleaning toilets or mopping floors any more, I learned that less physically strenuous labour came with its own form of hell, and hell was other people (not a shock) but dressed in cleaner, nicer clothing: the caffeine-free herbal tea drinker who complains the only office perk is free coffee; the frail, pale moppet who messes with the thermostat in August; the rah-rah team-builder nuking butter-flavoured popcorn for all in the tiny common kitchen.


When I was transferred to Calgary from Edmonton almost 20 years ago, my employer’s ad hoc advertising department was graced with a minor miracle – we all agreed on what radio station to listen to in our space. AM1060 was a captivating mix of punk, post-punk, new wave and current releases in that spirit. It was too good to last for corporate radio and I can only assume its current format is news, talk, Christian or yacht rock. That station was my first sonic exposure to Green Day. I heard echoes of the Clash, in the same way I couldn’t glibly dismiss the Black Crowes for regurgitating Faces and Stones. There was something else there.


Ten years later I was in a Piccadilly tourist shop with my older brother. He was shopping for souvenirs for my nephews. He pointed at a Green Day t-shirt: “(My son) likes them.” I said, “I do too, great band.” He said, “I don’t think I know them.” I said, “You watched Seinfeld, you know ‘Good Riddance,’ time of your life? Anyways, they’re American, you can get that stuff anywhere.”


I never liked Motley Crue. I thought they were as cartoonish as Kiss, the Monkees and the Archies. Yet, there’s that theory of monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare and so one good song isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. If I still recorded mix tapes, I’d segue “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” into Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” This was the state of affairs in Alberta and Canada on the last long, lost weekend before a bitter Thanksgiving.


There are still 12 days left on the calendar before the advent of autumn, but Labour Day is the last melancholy gasp of summer. For Ann, a retired schoolteacher, the holiday Monday might as well be New Year’s Day. These first days don’t bode well. An unneeded federal election is underway, a campaign nobody wants. But Ottawa is governed by opinion polls, popularity. While opinion polls allow for a margin of error, they are not static: they’re a lot like life; things can change in a hurry. Protesters protesting various imaginary personal slights to their perceived rights have taken to throwing fistfuls of gravel at the prime minister at outdoor rallies. Many Canadians will recall his father not flinching at the rocks thrown at him by Quebec separatists. Perhaps the analogy of gravel and rocks and two dynastic prime ministers describes the chasm between their respective intellects. Anyway, somebody’s going to be at the helm of another minority government and the electorate may reasonably expect and project another annoying sense of déjà vu. Election day is one day before the fall.


Meanwhile, within the confines of the Crooked 9, my relationship with Ann is fraught. Though we agree that we’re both embarrassed to be Albertans, we’re at wellheads as to whether the mistaken state of affairs in our province has descended into tragedy or farce. Our immense slab of western Canada exists as visions of Jonathan Swift, H.G. Wells and George Romero: satire, science fiction and horror.


Premier Kenney promised Albertans “the best summer ever.” Only God and his confessor know what constitutes his idea of a good time. All pandemic restrictions were lifted in the province on Canada Day. This curiously libertarian and laissez-faire attitude to public health was based on British data. Alas, Alberta’s health authority did not account for that country’s spectacularly high rate of vaccination when it felt the time was ripe just to get on with things. Oddly, covid’s Delta variant has surged here and hospitals are again in the red zone.


As the leaves turn from green to burgundy and gold, I can imagine a drought stricken, pre-apocalyptic wasteland populated by Us, the vaccinated, and Them, those who must be shunned. I can smell the Alberta government’s desperation through my mask. Restrictions have been reintroduced. There’s an alcohol sales curfew for instance, although, weirdly, rodeos are exempt; they get a free ride. Anti-vaxxers are being bribed with $100 to dredge up some primordial form of common sense, to get a jab instead of a dose of livestock de-worming medicine. Gee, hot water with lemon, and bleach didn’t work nor did an earlier upped ante endeavour of three million-dollar vaccine lottery prizes.


There will be a civic election here next month. My hibernation might run 61 days – wake me when October ends. The slogan of one of Edmonton’s mayoral candidates is: YOUR TURN TO GET AHEAD. It’s pithy and populist, an absurdist plagiarism from der Trumpenfuhrer’s teleprompter. Boorishness American-style, that rhetoric is everywhere, another wedge between the jabs and the jab-nots. Civic politics are not terribly high-falutin’ – crumbling infrastructure and the costs of basic public services predominate, sewage disposal and treatment among them. Here we are now, Them and Us angrily at odds in a wasteland of confused stasis.


Perhaps despair knows no nadir because nadir knows no depths. Way back when I used to fret over the sequencing of my mix tapes, usually 11 songs per side for a 90, I recorded a “Suicide Cassette,” 22 of the most depressing songs in my collection. The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” constituted the precipice of the blues abyss. The twin reels were great, but I had to be in the mood. And now, I wish I still had it. Beyond this month and October, November lurks like one of those smug, smirking HOLD MY BEER social media memes: the insufferably saccharine Swedish pop group ABBA is going to release its first album of new material in 40 years. Certain people I used to work with loved ABBA. Fuck. Fuck them. Fuck it all.          


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of head shaking since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

A FAN’S NOTES


Charlie Watts 1941 - 2021


The always dapper Charlie Watts was a droll man. A quarter century into his career as a Rolling Stone, he described his experience as, “Five years of work and 20 years of hanging around.” The drummer characterized himself as a cross between “an athlete and a nervous wreck.”


Charlie was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is the Stones, the last permanent member to join. He was seduced by the other members to leave a graphic design job in a London ad agency. His fingerprints are all over the band’s visual identity, from sleeve art, merchandise, and stage design to tour logos. Legend has it he sketched every single hotel room he ever stayed in – God, what a particular chain’s brand manager wouldn’t give for their portion of that cache of potential marketing materials?


“Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?” He was the first Stone to appear solo on the front of one of their album covers. A few years later he nearly drowned in soap bubbles while filming a promotional reel, but he never lost his sailor’s cap. Usually in Stones videos he just smirked at the antics of three of his more flamboyant bandmates; he was no poseur. When social media became an avenue for fan connection (and sales), the Stones announced that Charlie was “too cool” to be involved, have his own feed. This was a man who collected antique cars but never learned how to drive; he just sat in them. The last time the Stones performed together, a remote covid broadcast, he drummed along on the scrolled arm of his chesterfield.


When I consider the Rolling Stones on the eve of their diamond anniversary, I cannot help but compare them to the Montreal Canadiens. I’ve been a fan forever; they’re not as good as they once were; the superstars are getting on and there’ve been a few roster changes: Brian Jones, fired; Mick Taylor, quit; Bill Wyman, retired; Charlie Watts, deceased. That last one, gee, never before have my eyes grown misty over the inevitable fate of a distant and eccentric stranger, a drummer at that.


Some 70 years ago my parents married in Montreal. Theirs was considered a mixed marriage in those times as Dad was raised as an Anglican. Their parents agreed that any children they might have would be raised in the Catholic faith. My catechism eventually clashed with “Honky Tonk Women.” Puberty, combined with the Stones, packed a cataclysmic wallop: “Forgive me, Father, I’m damned if I’m confessing to that. I’d recite six or nine Hail Marys a day for all the wrong reasons. As far as crèche figurines go, whoa! The mother of God was hot.”


I suppose it’s a natural inclination wanting or needing to preserve my heroes in amber. If I do that, maybe I can remain in stasis too. Sometimes I wish I could be 16 again, but equipped with my 61-year-old brain. I knew everything then and I know even more now. However, should acne and braces be part of the price, no deal. The Rolling Stones and rock music in general expressed for me, maybe incoherently, what I was unable to even articulate, and dry cleaned the mantle of self-loathing which enshrouded my growing pains.


The Enoch Reserve abuts the western boundary of Edmonton. When the Whitemud freeway peters into a gravel warning track before stopping abruptly at a concrete barrier, you’ve pretty much arrived at the River Cree hotel and casino, a fabulous concert venue. Some nine or so years ago I was headed underground into a downtown subway station. A vaguely familiar rock ‘n’ roll word mark on a bill plastered to some hoarding caught my eye. The Yardbirds were playing River Cree, one night only. Hello? I didn’t hesitate to pause to read the poster; the trains run frequently.


The Yardbirds were a guitar factory in their heyday; the singer died (insert electrocution/elocution joke here) when I was 16, long after Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page had moved on to other projects. This gig struck me as meaningless as bassist Jim Kale touring as the Guess Who, slightly more contemptible than Mike Love playing American summer state fairs and calling himself the Beach Boys. I mean, you can still see The Drifters even though the vocal group has rotated through 60 members since you bought their 1968 Atlantic Golden Hits. It took 59 years, but the Rolling Stones are now sitting on the fence in that murky netherworld of outright fraud or carrying on.


The Stones are scheduled to tour the United States this fall. These are covid-postponed makeup dates. Charlie bowed out for health reasons and gave his blessing to his substitute. Things have changed. And the pandemic virus keeps mutating. No other Stone has aged so gracefully and elegantly as Charlie. Whither the band without him, his jazzy backbeat? They’re done. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to grow up and get on with less teenybopperish things. My entire life has almost passed. Then again, Charlie was good on every album and I’ve got all of them and some time left to play them.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of regressive teenage introspection since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Here and Now, Then and There


Saint Dominic’s Preview is my favourite Van Morrison album. The poetic rumination of the title track continues to knock me out; it meanders from cleaning windows into a spacey geography lesson while name-checking Edith Piaf, Hank Williams and the Safeway grocery chain. Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers; an uncloistered, vernacular preacher who espoused both learning and virtue: an enlightened soul roaming through the Dark Ages.


Once I’d pressed REPEAT for the second time, I decided my second favourite Van Morrison song is “And It Stoned Me,” first song on side one of, of, of… oh my God. I’m lucky enough to have seen Van twice. At both shows he ripped through that particular title track as if to repudiate it, or at least get it out of the way in a big hurry. What’s that song? Is this what I’ve got to look forward to?


The whole of my existence must remain an unknown. I’m hopeful that I’m only in the third quarter. It took so long to get here and I’ve left more than a few messes in my wake. I want a government issued vaccine pass. I want a laminated or plastic card that suggests hope. I want to know that I’m able to travel should I choose to because I’ve worked hard my entire life in the hope that one day I might have the resources, time and freedom to explore some parts the world, that all my stresses would eventually pay out at an airline ticket counter. Now, none of this can happen when we’re in the state we’re in: “It’s a long way to Buffalo and it’s a long way to Belfast city too.”


This fall promises a rewind of the past, old touchstones in brand new drag. Sometime in New York City, the latest addition to Bob Dylan’s seemingly endless Bootleg Series, due late September, concentrates on the eighties, around the time of Empire Burlesque. I loved its cover portrait; it’s almost as cool a sleeve as Street Legal. I thought it something of a return to form in the wake of his born again phase. “Tight Connection to My Heart” is as absurdly addictive as its MTV promo video was just plain absurd and the song’s a joke compared to the lovelorn bitterness and remorse of Blood on the Tracks, but what do I know? Sometimes I imagine myself on a nature hike with His Bobness: I can’t keep up, and anyway, he’s gone off the path and is out of sight; eventually I find him again.


The first time I went to Buffalo was 1978. The last time I was in Buffalo was 1981. Both visits were for the same reason, a Rolling Stones concert.  The world has changed a lot in 40 years and so have I, but the Stones never have. The Tattoo You ’81-‘82 world tour was arguably their apex, the last time they were relevant – even if that road show’s corporate sponsor was a now-defunct perfume company. The deluxe reissue of that album is to be released toward the end of October.


The strange magic on any Rolling Stones album is to be found in the grooves between the hits. Tattoo You featured two massive singles, but I could easily sequence an album around “Black Limousine” and “Worried About You” instead of “Start Me Up” and “Waiting on a Friend.” The lure of their ongoing spate of enhanced cash grab re-masters is, for someone like me, the vault-scraping companion bonus disc of unreleased songs even though some of them have circulated in bootleg form for years. Even the blindest aficionado can sometimes hear why some material has never made the airwaves. My Tattoo You hook is the band’s spare, almost elegiac, cover of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away.”


“Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me…” It’s impossible to summarize a life lived in one popular song, but I can hear “Drift Away” at my funeral – figuratively, at least. The Devil’s music for me has always been a means of escape, an intellectual and philosophical exercise, a time machine and ultimately, a whole lotta good, clean, and down and dirty, fun. It’s part of my makeup and, gee, should I ever write another book, I cannot imagine my prose without music mentions. “Drift Away” says it all lyrically, no stone remains unturned. It is also the history of rock ‘n’ roll in one succinct, eloquent and addictive lesson: a hit for a Black American artist is earnestly and lovingly butchered by a group of pale Brits.


“Day after day, I’m more confused…” Moondance! That’s it, “Moondance.” It was out there in the ether, hovering just beyond the tip of my tongue, second song, side one.


(As I was correcting and revising this post I learned that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts died in London, age 80.) 


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of groovy introspection since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to get outside, get outside yourself.

Friday, 13 August 2021

EDMONTON EXISTENTIAL


Strange Weather


It snowed last Sunday morning. Ann and I are adapting to the fierceness of all climate things weird, but this miniature isolated flurry was just a little beyond. After one cup of black coffee and two cigarettes on our front porch I was still vexed. Ann said, “Woody’s moved in.” The snowflakes were stucco dust and beads of Styrofoam.


Downy woodpeckers are about the size of chickadees. Males have a little punk rock thatch of red on their heads as is common with other varieties of the species. Downy woodpeckers can be identified by the stubbiness of their beaks, compact augers and battering rams. They put their noses to the grindstone, so to peck.


The brand new, unsold, two-storey infill beside us is an attractive Berlin Wall grey. The exterior finish is stucco and I can only assume the acrylic stuff was skimmed on to the thickness of icing on a cake. Woody’s exploratory drilling soon opened a perfect black circle, the diameter of a golf ball and the white, rigid layer of beady insulation beneath was easy pickings. The result was a real estate classified aviary ad: an ideal space for woodpeckers yet too small for larger, intrusive nest raiders such as magpies and blue jays.


Ann and I are not pleased with what’s gone on next door these past two years, demolition and reconstruction, noise and dust and debris. An infill project comes with hidden costs for its neighbours. There will be accidental and minor damage along the property line. We purchased three trees in an attempt to regain a modicum of our lost privacy. New patterns of light and shadow have put Ann to work reconfiguring her garden, digging in the dirt, transplanting root balls.


The builder is a retired fireman, more hobbyist than developer. He did not cut corners with materials and fixtures. His given name is Irish and his surname is French. We’ve hosted him on our front porch for happy hour beers. We’re able to talk about things other than his project. He said from the start he wanted to be a good neighbour and he has been; Ann and I have been consulted when our input was warranted. He’s repaired our garden gate and cleaned our eaves troughs. When he installed his house’s address numbers he left one digit slightly off plumb. He said he wanted to co-mingle with the spirit of the Crooked 9. I’m certain he just made a mistake. What is the human touch but slight imperfection?


Woody’s squatting posed something of a dilemma for Ann and me. We knew our builder friend would never see the nest because of the infill’s crowding of the property line and the sheer height of the hole. Only crabs can negotiate the space between our fence and the Berlin Wall because they skitter sideways. My first gleeful thought was entirely malicious, “Yes! Instant karma!” I said to Ann, “I’m cheering for the woodpeckers.”


In the nighttime I’ve never been able to be alone with my thoughts. My cranium is crowded; there’s a riot going on, a lot of incoherent debate. Eventually, and frequently reluctantly, I manage to convince myself to do the right thing even if it feels wrong. Ultimately, I squealed on Woody. The nest hole was patched over that same day. I felt like a quisling among the nestlings.


The stucco repairman was just a block away, working on filling ten other woodpecker holes in two other infills, he said. Serendipity of a sort. All that’s left to be done on the structure beside the Crooked 9 is the landscaping - which displays as golf course Photoshop green in various real estate classifieds; the reality is weeds. As those permits and certificates officially worm their way through the City of Edmonton’s bureaucracy nothing can be done in the meantime. Meanwhile, our builder friend has become something of an obsessive birdwatcher. He visits his site a couple of times a day to stare up at its walls, inspecting them through binoculars. It’s only mid-August, but I wish it would snow.            


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of wither weather and woodpeckers since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer

Friday, 6 August 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


Delta Farce


Covid-19’s global fatality score has topped four million souls. That number certainly warrants a free spin on the cosmic life and death slot machine. Delta Bonus! I’m reminded too of a Gaia Theory hypothesis which supposes Earth as a super-organism, everything’s connected. From time to time Mother Earth freshens up, spritzes herself with a pathogenic Raid to keep her human nits at bay. The plagues in our history have dictated the course of our history by disrupting the era in which they manifest themselves.


Here in Alberta however, the news is all good. By mid-August the pandemic will be just another respiratory disease in the eyes of the government. There will be no more curbs unless they involve sidewalks; public safety below all. The direness of increasing infection rates coupled with declining vaccination rates is merely akin to letting one’s medical journal subscription lapse. Those darned renewal forms. Elected Health Minister Tyler Shandro maintains unelected Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s Jesus Christ Superstar’s affirmation of “everything’s all right, everything’s fine,” regarding public health will permit us all to sleep well at night.


Deena, Tyler would like to introduce you to the plausible deniability bus he’s prepared to throw you under. It’s a premium passenger Prevost en route from Provost and it’ll hit you like a Mack truck.


However, the good doctor is neither the Virgin Mary nor Mary Magdalene. Dr. Hinshaw’s remarks from last Wednesday weren’t terribly apocalyptic. But she has been criticized by other health experts for daring to address the elephant in the ICU: covid-19 may not be a pathogen that will be eradicated so much as just one more to be managed. We need to have this conversation. Implications and unintended consequences loom like a future variety of variant and no human being aspires to be a lab rat.


Dr. Hinshaw noted that dismissing covid would allow Alberta Health Services to concentrate on the ravages of other provincial scourges. She specifically mentioned the national opioid crisis and syphilis. Syphilis was known as the French disease in England. Syphilis was known as the English disease in France. Syphilis was also New World reciprocity for smallpox. Interested Albertans are curious as to how a sexually transmitted disease has thrived through 18 months of lockdowns and social distancing requirements.


Syphilis bladed eyebrows long before that look of perpetual surprise became a fashion statement. Untreated sufferers eventually embrace insanity as they would another sexual partner. Since the pandemic has magically vanished within Alberta’s borders, gone the way of Saskatchewan rats, it’s a fair question to ask whether or not syphilis is raging through the highest ranks of the provincial government. It’s enough to make one reach for the Oxycontin.                   


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of uninformed scientific discourse since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 2 August 2021

OF COURSE YOU DID


And Another Further Breathless Update


My new novella, Of Course You Did (shop here), is perched at number 9,740 on Amazon Canada’s list of literary fiction bestsellers. It’s a bit like breaking into the Top 10 except with a few extra zeroes. My head is swollen and I’ve not even popped a blue diamond pill yet.


The Amazon ranking reflects my obscurity. A recent item in The New York Times reminded me of this factual fact. A genre author complained about the unfairness of their books having to compete with those of more famous, albeit deceased, masters on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Imagine browsing the jazz racks in a record shop, searching for Billie Holiday or Eartha Kitt only to be presented with Diana Krall. I’m not particularly gratified that Amazon readers prefer 9,739 literary titles to Of Course You Did, but this is reality. I’m not precious.


I’ve never approached the Canada Council for the Arts for funding. I’ve never asked anyone for a hand or a leg up. I always figured I’d sink or stand, swim or fall, on my merit as a writer. My game was never rigged and I worked hard to improve it as much as my life would permit. Right now, Of Course You Did is the best that I can do.


The wonder of the arts is its legacy, not current trends and market conditions, but the magic of all that has come before. Writers, painters, architects, choreographers, actors, directors, dancers, musicians and comedians must necessarily compete not only in the present but also with the documented past. Rich histories in the various arts aren’t to be resented; they are to be embraced as the foundations of the natural order of things. The poet who writes a sonnet must always be cognizant of Shakespeare and Shelley, just as Percy was of Will. It’s an honour just to be on the same playing field, be it paper, canvas, celluloid, stone and steel, or stage boards.


Here at the Crooked 9 my hardback author’s copy of Of Course You Did is nestled between Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore and a few works by the prolific English writer John Mortimer. Pretty fine company even though both men are deceased and will continue to sell more books than I ever possibly can. It’s no small joy to rub covers and mingle; I’m just delighted to be there.                


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of limp self-promotion since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format or retailer.

Monday, 26 July 2021

SAINTS PRESERVE US


The Calendar on the Kitchen Wall


Ann and I have developed a sort of pandemic verbal shorthand should our conversations careen into the abstraction of a more hopeful future: “Don’t ask me, I just don’t fuckin’ know anything anymore. Fuck.” We are vexed by vaccines, variants and the mixed, conflicting messages issued from various informed or possibly incompetent authorities. Meanwhile, well-intentioned conspiracy theory freakazoids wallow in a false nostalgic reverie: “Iron lungs and polio, oh, how they take me back. Times were simpler then and we were so happy. Forgive me, my eyes are getting misty. Do you have a sanitized tissue?”


If last summer was a covid full-court press, this summer is ambiguity bouncing around like a loose ball. I am unclear on how Canada is able to reopen our border with the United States two weeks before they open their side. Of course, I’m no diplomat, never have been. There must be nuances. The world-famous, legendary Calgary Stampede, a public party second only to New Orleans’s Mardi Gras in North America, went ahead following a year’s covid sabbatical. I wonder if that festival of a sepia-toned Canadian West will shake down as a super-spreader event. England has been paralyzed like a tossed bull rider by “pingdemic,” a wireless public alert system that tracks covid cases and one’s proximity to them. And then there is Tokyo (not the amazing Bruce Cockburn song) 2020 even though it’s 2021: My mind keeps on ringing like a fire alarm!


Warm weather here in Edmonton is gauged by my Crooked 9 Theory of 12 Mows. I will mow our lawn a dozen times between Victoria Day and Thanksgiving. A calendar count puts me at eight already although two were backyard only and so they may be combined and reduced to a one. Lawn mowing decreases in frequency as summer heats up and the grass becomes lazy with unsatisfied thirst. Ann has asked me not to number my mows on our kitchen wall calendar, just indicate them generically so her countdown to autumn during another lost summer isn’t so literal. Fair enough, but Ann’ll still have to proofread this post.


The national assumption is that Ottawa’s minority Liberal government will drop the writ this fall, maybe before I’ve finished mowing the grass. The party’s election platform will likely hinge on how it didn’t completely mishandle the covid pandemic and, as is Liberal tradition, a lot of cash was spread around the country. And there’s more where that came from. Hello, national daycare; I used to worry about the state raising children, but the pandemic has made me realize it’s a better option than home schooling.


Mark Carney, former governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, has refused Liberal overtures to stand for election in the fall. Perhaps he realizes the prime minister displays no aversion to sacrificing his cabinet ministers in order to save himself. Still, our charismatic and photogenic prime minister remains something of an oxymoron in designer clothing: an ineffectual autocrat. Perhaps a senior cabinet post doesn’t adequately encompass the scope of Carney’s ambition.


A function of power is the creation of its own behaviours and ethics. Of all the prime minister’s missteps and blatant breaches, it’s the WE charity scandal which has appalled me most. That the charity has paid his wife, his mother and his brother is merely politics as usual; foul, but no harm. What made me seethe was the Government of Canada preparing to utilize a benevolent organization as an instrument of policy on behalf of a segment of Canada’s youth. Given the historical parallels to our horrible and sickening residential school system, I’d like to know who thought this was a good idea in 2020.


Archaic mentality is best left to the Conservatives whose rank and file debates social issues laid to rest when Barbara Frum was still hosting the national news on CBC. The New Democrats are broke, busted, without dimes to spare for a fall election, brother. My anger with the Liberals has been tempered somewhat by my sardonic amusement with the Green Party of Canada. The Greens won three seats in parliament in the last federal election, but one member has gone into the wind, crossing the floor to sit on the Liberal side of the house. The earnest environmentalists’ implosion was sparked by rocket fire into and out of the Gaza Strip. I’m not sure that any Canadian would turn to the Greens expecting a coherent foreign policy statement regarding the chaotic state of affairs in the Middle East.


The Greens’ internal disarray is particularly disheartening as these peculiar times are serendipitous to the party’s raison d’etre. Canada’s wildfire season is like summer in the musical Camelot, ever longer and hotter. Farm crops are withering. While Canadians are used to messages of prevention, especially with health care, there seems to be little national will to prevent or at least mitigate the next climate-related catastrophe. There’s a patchwork national carbon tax in place, but come fall the spectre of carbon border adjustments could be a hot topic on the stump. These fees intended to nudge international trading partners closer to the goals of the 2015 Accord de Paris could just as easily be misconstrued as protectionist tariffs.


My favourite song of late has been “Rain,” that hypnotic, droning Beatles B-side; I guess that’s mostly because we haven’t had any. If it doesn’t rain, the Crooked 9’s grass won’t grow which means I can’t mow the lawn and make a note on the kitchen wall calendar. If I can’t mow the lawn, I can’t talk to myself, think things through. So, as pandemic time flashes toward fall, fuck if I know anything about anything anymore.             


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of social and political commentary since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Monday, 19 July 2021

HUMAN WRECKAGE


Saturday Night’s All Right


Ann said, “You’re having fun, aren’t you?”


B.W. Stevenson’s neglected 1973 hit “My Maria” is 2:33 of repetitive addiction. But it was never produced for digital file compression, for earbuds nor the minute tinny speakers of pocket devices. The listener must move air, fill a room with fat, rich sound: Gypsy lady, doing miracle work for me


I am having fun. Saturday night started off with The Best of Sam and Dave. I’m seated on a footstool facing our stereo and cuing vinyl sides and tracks. I was doing the same thing forty years ago in a Montreal studio apartment with cockroaches for company. In those days there was a Maxell Chrome 90 cassette in the deck, the Dolby Noise Reduction switch on the second-hand Kenwood amp switched to OFF so I wouldn’t lose the highs. A notepad filled with themed mix tape song sequencing. Now it’s us having a lark.


From those days and cranked in the Crooked 9: God, it’s so painful when something is so close and yet so far out of reach… Tom Petty’s hook-laden, soaring jangle of despair with some portions of the vocal delivered full force, cocaine nasal. Take it easy, baby, make it last all night. A few minutes later, Ann and I danced ourselves from the kitchen, through the front hall and onto the porch accompanied by the Doobie Brothers.


There were two revelations in the night. One was music related. The second one was mildly embarrassing. First, Waylon Jennings’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” is not outlaw country music; it’s a Rolling Stones song. It’s prime Keith Richards riffing, a Telecaster statement of complaint and, curiously, fittingly, the Stones have even covered “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” the 1975 single’s B-side.


As for the second revelation, well, gee, I don’t have quite enough material to form a cult, engineer a new religion for subscribers. While refiling the Doobies my gaze paused on the spine of a Jim Croce album of Ann’s. I thought “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” would amuse us. Who does not know the words? And I was thinking way, way back to Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special and Wolfman Jack and the modern miracle of colour TV and how every Friday night show featured either Three Dog Night or Jim Croce.


Ann and I sat on the front porch. Time was inching toward midnight. We listened to the stereo through the open door. We let side one play through. “Operator” came on. Ann said she’d always liked that one. She wondered what would happen now should somebody dial 0. Ann could’ve said, “Why don’t you stand under our bedroom window and I’ll drop a water balloon on your head?”


Okay. So I did. Saints preserve us, somebody answered almost immediately. I almost dropped my beer. I was woefully unprepared, no words rehearsed, no witticisms. I blabbered about Jim Croce and Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” I’d no whit to wonder why the telco’s toll-free customer service line was significantly less responsive. The operator sighed before wishing me a long, slow ride into the gentle good night. I hung up too. Ann asked, “How’d that go?” She only heard the half of it. Mono, maybe.   


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative insight into of the heart of Saturday night since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

OF COURSE YOU DID


Yet Another Breathless Update


www.megeoff.com is awake and alive. This site dedicated to Of Course You Did is your link to various retailers, including Barnes & Noble and, naturally, Amazon. The most economical price for Canadian readers is through the FriesenPress online bookstore. Available editions include hardback and softcover. While I can’t pretend to understand the various ebook file options, there are multiple formats to choose from, they all depend on your thingy, I guess.


The first draft title of Of Course You Did was unwieldy, Pete and Tom Danger: Atomic Space Rangers! I was writing about the friendship between a pair of brothers who grew up in the late fifties and sixties. I wanted something retro, a title to suggest those times, something Tom Swift, something like Chuck White’s Treasure Chest, a Catholic comic book the nuns used to distribute when I attended elementary school. I shortened the title to Atomic Space Rangers! on the second or third rewrite. A lifelong friend who normally reads my stuff in its early stages refused to read the latest draft I’d sent him. I asked why. He said, “It’s science fiction. I hate science fiction.” I replied that it wasn’t, really. “Whatever.”


A focus group of one told me I had an off-putting title. And so I sat out on the front porch over the course of a few evenings and thought about the story I was attempting to tell, the relationships between my characters, the gratitude, the regrets. I’d used variations of a particular phrase a few times. My new title changed the tone of the narrative absolutely. My friend’s complaint also got me thinking about the jacket.


Tom, the narrator, a failed writer and the younger brother, sells print for a living. I’d spent 25 years in advertising marking up printers’ proofs. Registration marks resemble gun sights. Typography and fonts and their usage have always fascinated me. What if the Of Course You Did cover art not only presented my real-life changes but also suggested the usage of my “story within a story” (the science fiction parts) narrative device? And wouldn’t just two fonts without an illustration on a neutral background present well as an online thumbnail? Have a look at www.megeoff.com.


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of self-promotion since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. If you read just one book in 2021, well, you’ve got a problem. Bookmark this blog for more breathless updates

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

OF COURSE YOU DID


Another Breathless Update


The end result is always deflating. This is it? Where is the elation? But a quiet sense of satisfaction is okay, I guess.


After my first novel was published in 2003, I mainly felt relief. Two literary agents had sniffed before wiping their noses, the manuscript was good, but could I change the setting from Calgary to a generic American city or at least Toronto? I refused and both agents refused me. My publisher suggested I rewrite the story and incorporate a rose as a symbol throughout because the reader demographic for contemporary fiction skews female and a rose on the jacket would do wonders for sales. I refused.


What about its title? Could I at least change it to something other than Taking Stock? I argued that the plot revolved around an ad man desperately trying to balance his home life with his career while failing at both. Anyway, the usage of stock photography is a staple in the ad business. The connection was obvious to me. Hungry for publication, I caved. I’d dubbed the fictitious ad agency Murder Incorporated because my industry was cutthroat, even in the same shop, and I loved the Bruce Springsteen song (still do). Okay, what about that? Subsequently Murder Incorporated was marketed as a mystery-slash-thriller. Like my seven misled readers I could only throw up my hands. Still, I’d set out to accomplish something I wasn’t confident about accomplishing, something I’d maybe left a little too late in life, and I’d done it.


The last time I saw my university chum Robin Brunet was in a Vancouver back alley just off Granville Street. He’d dropped me off at my hotel after we’d spent a day together sipping whiskey, smoking cigars and scraping away at that epidermal layer of grime that is life with other people. He is a successful journalist and author on the coast, a talented and reliable writer covering the Lower Mainland and its environs. Our styles are very different. He says I’m dense. Robin gave me a hug, we embraced beside a dumpster. He said, “Don’t worry, it’s downtown Vancouver, no one will even notice.”


We had a conversation a couple of years ago. I’d just self-published The Garage Sailor. I told Robin I’d learned a lot of things I never cared to know. That quibble aside, I surely appreciated complete creative control. He said he’d just fired his agent. I replied no agent ever cared about me unless they hawked real estate. Robin said his publishing contract had expired and he was wary about re-upping. He said if he had to deal with any more shit and shovel it too, he’d rather be wearing rubber boots and knee-deep in it in his horse Razado’s barn stall. He was seeking a third way – he’d no interest in going my route and fair enough, 40 years of freelance grinding had burnished his reputation.


The publishing industry as we understand it today is a century-old business model. There was a time when bookshops not only sold their wares, but printed them too. Every publication is privately funded, it’s just a matter of how. The mass market novel as a primary form of leisure distraction began to fade not with the advent of radio so much as the proliferation of television sets. Analogous is the impact (albeit accelerated) of streaming on the recording industry, network and cable television, and even the Hollywood studio system. The publishing industry is something like a borrowed library book, long overdue for a disruptive correction.


I filed the copyright for Of Course You Did last January. Robin asked me, “Now what?” I admitted I had no clue. I believe my books are good, but they don’t sell; years of work for nothing except for a few inches of shelf space in Canada’s National Archives and I’ll take that dusty legacy over a tombstone any day. Robin said he’d found another way: complete creative control augmented by sound editorial advice and all backed by an extensive network of promotion, distribution and sales. Perhaps I should investigate. Of course, he is paid to write stories very different from mine whereas I merely dream of payment for writing stories very different from his (I’ve made more money writing advertising copy than I have from writing fiction).


I took Robin's counsel. And so, here I go again. Have a browse, have a look, buy a book.


https://books.friesenpress.com/store                     


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of self-promotion since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. If you read just one book in 2021, well, you’ve got a problem. Bookmark this blog for more breathless updates. 

Thursday, 24 June 2021

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES


Baseball Next Summer?


Stats Guy and I have sat and watched a lot of baseball together throughout our 35-year friendship. Most of the games we saw were played in a stadium situated down on Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River flats and most of those games were just one tier below the majors, AAA Pacific Coast League.


We are the sole survivors of the pre-pandemic Tuesday Night Beer Club. One member committed suicide. Another just couldn’t be bothered anymore. Our guests, visitors to our town, come and go. Must be the conversation. Stats Guy has a few years on me. Come July he will be officially certified a golden ager. He’s a little old-fashioned; he seriously believes that football, what North Americans call soccer, is a communist enterprise. Perhaps that’s why he loves America’s pastime, because except for maybe the Montreal Canadiens and the Rolling Stones no one has branded and marketed “Golden Age Nostalgia” quite like Major League Baseball. I’ll swing away on that 0-3 count.


Stats Guy grew up in a Los Angeles suburb. He saw Sandy Koufax pitch. He’s still a Dodgers fan: the Angels are upstarts, shame about the Expos. I hate the Dodgers because my late big brother hated them, and I don’t know why Bob hated the Dodgers but that was good enough for me. Stats Guy and Bob were very good friends. The Dodgers played in Brooklyn before I was born and their AAA International League club was the Montreal Royals. I believe my father attended a game or two at Delormier Downs. Possibly with my brother in tow as a youngster because Bob’s nine years older than me although now I’m as old as he ever was. The only baseball game I saw with my father was on a summer visit I paid him in Ottawa; we saw the Lynx (Expos AAA) host the Rochester Red Wings (Orioles AAA).


For some hundred Tuesdays prior to covid interruptus Stats Guy and I have kicked around, bent it like Beckham, the idea of a baseball road trip. I know he’d like to go home to southern California but if I’m going to buy a souvenir cap, as I must, I’d prefer not to promote a team I hate. Also, I’m tired of blue hats and black hats. I think I’d like a red hat. I’d love to see the St. Louis Cardinals play at home. And Kansas City is only an hour away. However, transport is problematic. It’s easier to get to Iceland from Edmonton’s international airport (YEG) than it is to Missouri. Call me persnickety, but I’d like to watch baseball somewhere just a direct flight away. The pandemic has lingered while time itself seems to have accelerated and YEG isn’t exactly a hub, and hanging around other airports waiting for connections is not my idea of time well spent. By this cranky logic, Stats Guy and I could end up in just one place: Minneapolis-St. Paul, home of the Twins.


In 2015 the Rolling Stones embarked on their “Zip Code” tour of North America. Of course I reviewed their itinerary. Big ticket prices to be paid months in advance for seats in big American football stadia in secondary markets, that is, places where people live because there once was a primary industry and where tourism now constitutes Thanksgiving visits from distant relatives. With the Stones in their diseased dotage, what would I do in Indianapolis except pluck little green apples should they cancel or postpone at the last minute, after I’ve beast of burdened up all the cash? Even in their prime there was an element of risk, a no show, although that was likely jail.


Travelling to watch a ballclub seems inherently more sensible. What could possibly go wrong for a pair of baseball tourists in the United States.? Travel insurance is available for sudden, personal medical events. It could rain. Oh, terrorist attacks, violent demonstrations and random mass shootings too. But all in all, safe as houses of credit cards, really.


The Government of Alberta is confident the province will open up for Canada Day, the first of July. Aside from a nastier covid variant named for a Greek or NATO alphabet letter in order not to offend the government of its country of origin, what could possibly go wrong? Perhaps the Tuesday Night Beer Club will reconvene. Perhaps Stats Guy and I will emulate Vivaldi: enjoy the grace of the ensuing four seasons, summer, fall, winter and spring – many months – and hatch a scheme we’ve only been talking about for years.                  


meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of revenge travel writing since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for further breathless updates