(no subject)

I'm reading the most recent biography of Rene Levesque. I've put it down, and am marking the page with a Pierre Trudeau bookmark, purchased at the House of Commons gift shop. I put it on the table, next to my Quebec National Assembly coffee mug, purchased at their gift shop.

Sometime next week, I shall sit under the Rene Levesque statue in Quebec City, just off the grounds of the National Assembly and read him parts of his life story.

His statue sits on federal land.

I love this country so very much sometimes.

(no subject)

So, had a "time-check" experience at work a few days back. I was regaling a couple of co-workers (nice, younger people, pretty darn smart) and I made a reference, something like "you know, like the hat Humphrey Bogart wore in Casablanca".

Puzzled expressions. The younger of the two said "I don't know who that is"...The other added. "That was a movie, right?"

Okay now. I wake up every morning pretty happy to be waking up every morning. I have wrinkles because I've smiled for a lot of years, and my face is often in "full expression" mode. All those years of stretching and smiling, and I'm looking older. Hair, check. Beard/Moustache? Grey and black. Middle age gut? Uh huh.

But even I didn't realize the cultural gap with 25 year-olds. Whoa...

I'd like to thank my agent...

Within the last two months, I've received two awards that leave me befuddled.

First, I am the slightly puzzled recipient of something called a "Spotlight" award. It seems that, within all the Ontario provincial ministries, there is an awards committee that looks at communications projects and rates them. Then, this same committee votes, and presents said awards at a snazzy little shindig walking distance from the offices of most of the folks nominated. Finger foods, cash bar and an hour of un-airconditioned glad-handing, then a quick ditch of the chicken-on-a-stick and we're in to witness the wonders of our labours.

A not unfunny few lines of dialogue, and then video snippets of samples of the work: posters, videos, print campaigns, social media stuff. Some pretty impressive work. Some of it mine. And so, I win an award for my work on the mumps campaign, a particularly cheeky video we produced last year. Ended up with about 80,000 views on youtube, and made a Huffington Post list of the top 9 weirdest public service announcements http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/23/the-nine-weirdest-psas-ev_n_168365.html

Which is cool. Except that I won at least one other, and maybe two. And I'm not sure why. The other awards were to big teams, and I may or may not have had something to do with their work. I'm pretty sure I was on one of those teams. The other didn't ring any bells, but the general topic was something I worked on.

I now have a slab of glass with "Spotlights, 2010" etched on it. It's basically a flat paperweight. It doesn't stand up, it's too thick for a coaster, and can't be hung on a wall...

The other award is just odd. It's a certificate of appreciation for taking part in a clinical trial which was stopped early. I was in the control group, and the trial stopped because the vitamin/drug being tested was clearly making no difference in the vascular health of transplant patients. Translation: They would have been happier had I had a heart attack, as then it might have shown a statistical difference in therapies. Instead, I get a "congratulations, your ongoing good health killed the survey" certificate. Odd.

I'm writing for me again, I think.

Was at a staff chill-out party today. I can now confirm what I've long suspected: I work with a batch of smart, cool people. This is not what I was expecting from the civil service.

Oh, and they really, really like cheese.

Ich bin ein Korrektor!

So, as a promised followup to my last, somewhat shortened post, allow me to present to you tonight's missive.



How I learned to stop worrying and love the helmut

So, for the last three days, in anticipation of the largest fundraising event my workplace holds all year, I have been proofreading. I have discovered that, in a perverse kind of way, I like to find mistakes.

It may be that I am the purest essence of evil, and enjoy basking in the misfortune of others. Someone should invent a catchy foreign phrase for that.

It could be that my high school English teacher somehow warped me into a grammarian, ready to pounce on the smallest split infinitive or dangling participle.

Most likely, however, it is the chance to find things that are mere moments away from being recorded forever as mistakes in print. Things like ....the helmut.

It was a simple little paragraph. One of those short descriptions of an item someone donates for our use in a silent auction. The line read like this:

"Use this gift certificate to enjoy 3 free riding lessons. Must bring own helmut."

Well, my first thought was "What about Franz und Hans und Wolfgang? Why does only Helmut get to go?
My second thought was "Wow, that first thought was funny". My third thought was...I forget. i'm getting old. This happened yesterday, and that's a long time ago, now.

So, that's all I have for this evening. Don't proofread and drive. Goodnight Cleveland.

Well then...general statement of intent and such

It would appear I have been slacking. Yes, allowing my responsibility to my faithful readers, both of them, to vanish like so much cash at a casino. Or some such metaphor. Or analogy.

I will, I say, I will attempt to return to my giddy days of scribbling. Starting tomorrow. On my way to trying to get paid for being clever. As opposed to getting paid for being a smart-ass. Two very different things.

Thank you for the reminder.
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Writing Inspired by The Group of Six

They are the best band you've never heard on the radio.

It's not "were the best band" yet. But it's coming.

My love affair with the Rheostatics started many, many years ago. Almost as far back as they are old. I was barely old enough to drink, and almost in university. And I was a fan of a Mr. David Wisdom on a CBC late-night radio program called "Brave New Waves". It came on at 11 on Friday and Saturday nights,. For years I had been listening to this gentleman spin mysterious records well into the night, interviewing musicians, performance artists and just talking about music. I even won a China Crisis album in one of his contests, and he sent along a note apologizing for not having the Ultravox album he promised...
One night, a band called the Rheostatics played live, on air. That was it for me.

They were one of the first bands I saw in person. Which was the only way, other than the aforementioned, that I was able to hear them in those lonely days before digital technology and the net. You scoured record stores for new releases (or, in my case, ended up working at Dr. Disc, the used/import record emporium, and devoured the catalogs as they came in, looking for ..them), and you hoped they would come to play somewhere you could get to within a couple of hours.

I saw them here, I saw them there. I saw them at the Hideaway, after yelling at the guys who owned the place (where I was a DJ working for moped gas money) for five years to book them. Sure, they booked the Look People, Deja Voodoo, the Shuffle Demons and a dozen other of the bands i suggested, but not until I moved away did they finally play there. I came back to town for them.

Imagine, if you will, Neil Young, Rush, Stompin' Tom, ELO, Toots and the Maytalls and Gordon Lightfoot all sitting in a bar. They all want to see a band. One band. Can you think of a show that they would all want to go to?

I can. It was in 1992 at the Bathurst Street Theatre. The Rheostatics, with their usual cast of thousands of special guests, decamped upon the stage of that astounding musical space and jammed and played and laughed and talked and entertained. I remember the show specifically, because they played a song called "Guns". On the album version, Neil Peart, drummer of Rush fame, provided skins for the tune. On stage, 5 (!) drummers came out to do his part. Later, snowflakes drifted from the rafters as the show ended. I drove in from Listowel for that show after work, met my brother and a friend, hung out after, and went home the same night. And I listened to Whale Music on a casette all the way home. Twice, as I recall.

I also have a family connection to this band. Sort of. My brother Robbie, known many years ago throughout certain parts of the Toronto music scene for, oh, let’s say, his energetic dancing and fervent devotion to local tunes, knows the band. He complains to me that the band likes me more than him, though he knew them first. They know me from some narratives, not unlike this one, that I have penned over the years and sent their way. Dave Bidini seems to be the one who answers the more troubling fan mail, and thus, after various life adventures (like pouring vodka over Sir John A’s grave, in tribute to a truly Canadian hero) I would scribble out a weird travelogue and send it to the band. Really to Dave. I wrote, I got ugly postcards with almost indecipherable script in return. And invites to upcoming shows, and book launches from Dave.

My friends know of the band because I never stopped talking about them. I even dragged out a few to various shows over the years. Some became fans, some became...puzzled. The Rheos never fit into a category, and thus was their fate, to hop from small label to small label, with a brief stop in the bigs when “Whale Music” came out. Every musician worth their maple syrup knows of the band, about 95% have played with them somewhere, maybe a festival,or during their decade of 10-night stands at the Horseshoe every winter.

Why are they Rock Gods?

They are responsible for pulling Stompin’ Tom Connors out of musical exile.
Their childrens record was performed as a musical at a high school in Ontario, and I have the t-shirt, found in a Goodwill in North Bay, to prove it. (A story I sent to the band, I believe).
Their first album was called Greatest Hits.
They were commissioned to write and perform music about the Group of Seven by the National Gallery of Canada.
They wrote me a letter and said,”Go ahead, tape our music from your friend’s CD” as I was holding on to vinyl with a hope beyond hope and owned nothing to play what they had released.
They wrote “The Ballad of Wendell Clark”, which should be enough to get them into heaven.
They sang the most evocative version of “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” anyone has ever heard (though there are rumours that Bernie Finklestein, Gordon Lightfoot’s agent...oh, never mind. Let there be mysteries...)

And every show is different. Every night is a musical surprise. Would they rock out like some crazy 80’s metal band? Would they play an evening of mostly instrumentals? Would they play a happy set? A sad set? A Martin wants to take it easy on the voice so let Dave sing everything night?

They are a force of nature. And now, after 20 plus years, they have announced their final show will be at Massey Hall in March of 2007. They will continue to play, apart and in groups, but they say this will be it for the lineup, and the band itself is done.

What of these men? Members of the band past and present?
Martin will sing. You’ll hear him, sometime, on the radio and think, “I know who that is...I think”.
Phillip will do what Phillip does, which is everything for everybody.
Tim will rock out, Violet Archers preparing for world domination, maybe in Bala, the new home of “Dock Rock”.
Don will make everyone else sound great and keep Ron Sexsmith’s fierce temper under control.
One Dave will drum elsewhere, working with young Canadian artists like Peter Elkas and Joel Plaskett.
The other Dave will continue to write books that I dislike finishing (because I buy them quick and hate to wait for the next one). With luck, he will not leave me the last man in Toronto to wear a fedora without irony.

But they will all be with me. Driving across Manitoba, hitting repeat on #3 on Songs Inspired by the Group of Seven and feeling the train. Cruising through Trenton, yelling “Legal Age Life” at the top of my voice through the car window, startling men in uniform. Humming “People’s Republic of Dave” on the subway platform. Singing “Popopolis” for no apparent reason. Mangling the french lyrics in “Chanson Les Ruelles” (a la Diefenbaker) walking through Byward Market...

This band has provided me with a soundtrack of my adult life, assuming your definition of adult is generous. It seems impossible that they will no longer exist. Will the Morningstars still compete for the Exclaim! Cup each year?

The tickets, already purchased and delivered, sit staring at me from the fridge door every time I walk in the kitchen. It will be the last live show. I’m not sure I want to go, but I know I will. I have seen Gordon Lightfoot do magic finger dances across the frets in that hall. I have heard Laurie Anderson describe how to cook hot dogs in hotel rooms using stripped table lamp wires. And I shall see the Rheostatics, for the last time, in my favourite musical venue. Finally.

And now, before my wife calls me to bed, I shall post this online. Tomorrow, I shall apply stamp to envelope and post it to the band. My band. The best band Canada has ever produced. As Canadian as...not knowing what to insert as a descriptor in the sentence “as Canadian as”.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the website. Like the band, it is understated. www.rheostatics.ca. Go, look. See what you have missed, and what you may yet find.

Lastly? The CD’s I taped? I’ve since bought them. Thanks for the 5-year free trial of your albums, guys. You knew I was good for it.

Thanks for everything.

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