Tuesday, 31 August 2021


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


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


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


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


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.