Jan 14, 1998 – June 24, 2013
Who was taking care of who?
Hope to see you next time around, my sweet friend.
Today’s, and Every day’s, Listening:
How I Remember You – Michael Franks
Jan 14, 1998 – June 24, 2013
Who was taking care of who?
Hope to see you next time around, my sweet friend.
Today’s, and Every day’s, Listening:
How I Remember You – Michael Franks
|City Chickens are wired – right to the ground||Country Chickens are wire-less, but well-grounded.|
|City Chickens live in Condos or Co-ops||Country Chickens live in coops (no hyphen)|
Sideways City chickens have no room for a soul
Country chickens have souls and giblets
City chickens don’t taste very good
1. When Sly Calls by Michael Franks fr: Passion Fruit
2. Until the Real Thing Comes Along by Fats Waller
3. Ooh Child by Valerie Carter fr: Just a Stone’s Throw Away
4. I Will by Alison Krauss and Tony Furtado
I know so many people having birthdays this month. I was just looking back in my journal (now digital) and seeing what my first April entry was. It was on this date! 39 years ago! 39 – the age Jack Benny said he always was.
The entry for April 17, 1974, was a scanned image. No text.
It’s a scan of an order slip. The kind waiters used to drop on your table in Chinese restaurants and on which you were expected to write down what you wanted for dinner.
This one brings back some great memories of food and friendship and makes me laugh.
My girlfriend, Helena, would take me into these “hole in the wall” restaurants and introduce me to stuff that you’d never find on the English menus. Still won’t.
The usually gruff waiter would slap down a piece of paper and a pencil and stalk off into the kitchen. Helena wouldn’t consult me, but often say “you probably won’t like this” and apparently write down an order for something mysterious. I don’t think I was ever disappointed.
We lived in different towns in 1974. I was in my first year of university and she was in her last year of high school. So what was I to do if I wanted this great Chinese food and she wasn’t around?
My solution was to carry around copies of these order slips in my wallet and produce them when served in a restaurant. It took more than one waiter aback that I nonchalantly handed him my order written out in Chinese characters. What I didn’t know at the time was that the writing had a distinctly feminine style to it. More baffledom for the waiter.
The old technology dictated that I had to photocopy these slips. And in the early 70’s, even photocopiers were not that easy to find.
That order slip is from one of the last times I saw Helena, but not the restaurants and the staff working in them.
One thing I learned is that there is a great loyalty from customers to the cooks and even the waiters in the Chinese restaurants of those days. Chefs come and go – waiters, too.
Not many Anglos come here. Not many Anglos know about it. Not that much has changed in 39 years.
The woman that runs this traditional BBQ restaurant always tries to talk me out of ordering what I want. “Canadians don’t like this!”.
The first time, I had a real fight on my hands. In other restaurants, I have been flatly refused or told they couldn’t make it. Now, 20 or so years after successfully ordering this dish in the Flourish Restaurant, the Flourish Lady (as I’ve always called her) still gives me the run around. She tries to talk me out of it, even after she has yelled my order to the back kitchen!
Every time, for decades. Our bit of fun.
Oh, and Helena? Another scanned image I put in my journal from those days is this one:
1. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly by Diana Panton
2. I Wish We Had Our Time Again by John Hartford
3. Made in Japan – Gojo Ohashi Bridge by Amos Garrett
4. Can I Make It Last (Or Will It Just Be Over?) by Boz Scaggs
At the end of winter, new, strange, glints of light are catching my eye.
It’s a twixt time. Transitioning between the grey, black atmosphere of true winter and the clear blue yellow light of spring.
When you know, but can’t see, the maple sap is rising. The squirrels and birds seem to know. They are digging and beginning to sing.
All I know is that the light is different. Will it take?
The tricks that all these transitional states play upon one’s mind – as in the place between dreaming and waking, falling asleep.
I see these glints in unusual places, like below in the corner of a kitchen window.
Not so much the usual sunsets and panoramas, but in the details of artificial objects like office building glass, hallways, a bit of flooring.
My working class reflections of consciousness.
1. As If By Magic by Glenn Cardier fr: Stranger Than Fiction
2. Have You Met Miss Jones? by George Van Eps fr: Mellow Guitar
3. Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most by Betty Carter fr: The Audience
4. Bar Inglese by Marcos Valle fr: Jet-Samba
I just got back from the Indigo store at the Yorkdale Mall and I feel sick.
How is it possible to spend over an hour in a bookstore and not find one book to buy? Good Lord, there is no end of books. Why so few that I’m interested in?
Is it because they don’t stock any authors I like?
Usually they don’t. Or if they do, it had better be on a bestsellers list or won some award. Or fit nicely into some easily digested category such as “Lifestyle”.
Is it because it’s more of a fashion boutique than a bookstore?
A little bit, yes. Well, a lot, yes.
The merchandise seems to be as important as the books judging by the prominent places reserved for displaying soap, candles, bags, novelty items etc.
I’ll admit it bothered me no small amount that I had to line up behind someone screaming at the cashier about returning a pair of socks. In a bookstore?
Is it the calibre of writing these days?
Unfortunately, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.
Walking down the maze of aisles and shelves, I began to get into a fugue state. It was a bit like when your mother took you to a department store as a small child and told you to wait in a chair while she checked out the ladies department.
I was briefly lifted out of this delirium by a bright little yellow paperback with the word “lemon” in it’s title. I thought it was absurd and forgot about it till I got home.
I had actually brought a list of new books and writers that I’d make note of from radio interviews and CBC podcasts, notably Writers and Company and The Next Chapter. Indigo stocked none of these.
In the end, I picked up a mystery novel by a writer I knew and trusted.
The cashier asked if I had “Plum Rewards Card”. More fruit.
But when I got home, the “lemon” thing came back to mind. For the heck of it, I searched Amazon for books with “lemon” in their titles.
The result was 496 book titles in fiction and literature alone.
2. The Sour Lemon Score: A Parker Novel ( by Richard Stark)
This was published in 1969 and would now feature a cell phone as well as, or instead of, a handgun. As the gun was indispensible to American TV shows (still is), the cell phone is now de rigueur.
And I really like this one:
– the blurb says: “On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake.”
– I can see a whole series happening here along the lines of the “Rabbi who..”and “the Cat who…”
Now, I wrote this before checking it out, thinking the fruit “series” idea was too nuts, but, lo and behold, Ms Fluke has already done it:
– Apple Turnover Murder,
– Red Velvet Cupcake Murder,
– Strawberry Shortcake Murder
– Peach Cobbler Murder
– Cream Puff Murder (where’s the fruit, Joanne?)
– Gingerbread Cookie Murder (ginger is a rhizome, not a fruit – Joanne is breaking her training now)
– Cherry Cheescake Murder
– Key Lime Pie Murder
– Plum Pudding Murder
– Carrot Cake Murder
There’s more, (14 of them, I think) and that’s more than enough. Interestingly, these mysteries are written by someone who also writes cook books and you’d think she would know better than to serve up endlessly repetitious themes to her customers.
Perhaps a palate freshener would be the curiously titled “Fruit: A novel about a boy and his nipples” by Brian Francis
(actually, I’m told this is really a pretty good book)
Let’s make one big book and get it done with.
Something with “vampire/coming- of-age/murderous childhood/set in Italy/fruit name/colour name/survivor…” kind of book.
Indeed, this sort of thing was done by Alan Coren in his 1976 collection of comic essays: Golfing for Cats.
A little something for everyone.
But not at the Indigo. I checked.
I would have been better off if I was in the market for socks. Or body lotion. I mean, a bookstore is where you go to buy that stuff, isn’t it?
Maybe I need something like “Chicken Soup for the Jaded Reader” – like a hole in the head, I do.
This may be the last perfect day of summer. Of the warm season. I’m sure it will be.
This is not a hot summer day, it’s not a fall day. It’s a transition day.
But if it’s rainy days we’re talking about, then it has to be Tuesdays.
Because every Tuesday this summer it’s rained. Just about.
I checked: 15 out of the last 18 Tuesdays since May 22 it rained.
And every Tuesday, I go to a place in the country to write. Here it is:
I’ve been going there for about 5 years.
It hasn’t always been Tuesdays, but it became Tuesdays on a regular basis when I started having a weekly appointment on Tuesday mornings.
I was living in the burbs and my appointments took place in the next abutting burb town. From there it was an easy scenic drive up to my friend’s country home, and 10 acres of fields and wild critters. And quiet.
Up until this summer, I would sit and fry in the sun, preferring to sit on the steps of his deck. I could just spread my notebooks, pens, stuff, out there better.
But this summer – rain. Almost every Tuesday.
Often the only day of the week.
I’d look at the weather channel and see the next seven days all represented by little orange suns – except one. A little grey cloud with cute drops falling from it, and the word: Tuesday.
That’s ok. I can be happy inside with a moody view of the trees and fields in their grey tones.
It only gets a bit awkward when the cleaning lady comes. Then, I either have to move around with my materials – table to sofa to an outbuilding that is sheltered.
That still means a walk in the wet to reach it – and a walk back.
It’s not so bad as I write longhand and don’t need electricity.
My only activity outside is taking pictures of moss.
It’s become something of an obsession. The family pieces, bits, of moss on the rock fence in the back are like my pets. (Ghia pets?)
What do you call a grouping of moss? A clump, a cushion, a mat.
The upside of the rain is the almost instant explosion of moss,
emerald (in cloud, on Tuesdays):
and peridot (in sun):
I feel like I need to have a word with Nature.
Could we schedule the rain for a different day of the week?
I was checking my Daytimer, and it says it’s time to order a new refill.
Since when did Nature use a Daytimer?
I’m going out there tomorrow and it’s supposed to rain
1. Rainy Days and Mondays – performed by Pat Metheny from the CD: “What’s It All About”
2. Long Hot Summer – The Style Council
3. Before the Rain – Lee Oskar
4. Garden in the Rain – Dan Hicks from the CD: “It Happened One Bite”
5. Antonio’s Song (The Rainbow) – Michael Franks from the CD: “Sleeping Gypsy”
6. The Gentle Rain – Astrid Gilberto from the CD “Verve Masters 9”
It happens every so often that I catch up with some old friends from the heyday of my CBC Radio Comedy days.
On Thursday, I got a message from comedy writer extraordinaire, Tim Burns, that he and Peter Wildman, of Frantics fame, were going to be at my favourite out-of-town club: The Moonshine Cafe in Oakville. The next day, Friday, tomorrow.
I get all emotional at these all-too-rare get-togethers. I don’t know about the other guys but it always seems we didn’t know what we had back in the days when we were too busy scrambling and learning and nervous to know this is what we’d always miss.
That’s enough nostalgia for me, but not, apparently, for the audience tonight.
Well before the fully-booked audience packs the room, long-time fans of Peter (and the Frantics) start to drift in. Some I know from the radio taping days, some have become fans since. People who have come to the fold only in the last couple of years when Peter has been doing solo performances and a few Frantics reunions.
One fellow asked me if I knew Peter. “You might say that”, I replied. Being their radio producer since 1981 qualifies me. I hear kids discussing their all-time favourite Frantics sketches, debating when they were first recorded. I don’t go over and straighten them out.
Tonight, Peter’s show is billed as his “Christmas Show” and over the years he has amassed a lot of Christmas songs and sketches. Much of tonight’s material is from Peter’s 30 year repertoire. Backing him up is Tim Burns on synth and electric guitar.
Tim is, in my opinion, an unheralded genius of comedy. Maybe one time in a career you get a chance like we had in 1989. My boss had one day said to me: “Ok, make the show you always wanted to make”. And the first thing I did was to pick up the phone, called Tim and say: “Ok, write the show you always wanted to write.” Trust who you hire and get out of their way.
It was well placed trust. The resulting show Six Days That Shook The Walt, won the gold medal at the New York Festival of Radio.
So, somewhere along the line, Pete and Tim started working together. And decades later, here they were at the Moonshine.
Great place. Great show. Great guys.
I met Ed Riche in 1989 in St. John’s. I was the Toronto CBC guy (a hateful position to find yourself in) going around the country and meeting/recruiting new local writers for radio comedy.
Ed and his writing partner, Steve Palmer, had a radio script ready to go. But they let me know that they had had no luck with the Toronto department head (my boss) getting a green light for a pilot. They were angry – especially Ed. I felt a lot of tension and partly I was baffled that this resentment was being directed at me. We’d never met before, I hadn’t made any bad blood with anybody in Newfoundland. Maybe it was a test. Maybe I was just a symbol of everything nasty about Toronto.
I couldn’t blame them – I was having the same problem back in Toronto. About 45 minutes went by, some static cleared, and things got better with us.
Some months later, a script and demo tape arrived at my Toronto office and I thought, how clever. There was no real point in critiquing or editing the written script when there was a tape already produced and the tape was obviously exactly the way they wanted it to sound. It was good, it was funny, it was done. I read the script anyway. It was different than the tape. I made notes on both and recommended to my boss that we skip the formal pilot approval process and go straight to a 6-part series, as proposed by Ed and Steve.
Nothing ever happened. I hadn’t learned yet how to manipulate managers properly. I got calls and made calls to the guys in St. John’s and we were all pissed off. They were resigned to the typical dismissal of their work by “Toronto”, but they weren’t hostile to me.
I saw Ed once again, about a year later, with a mutual friend and colleague in Toronto. It was outside the old Radio Building on Jarvis St. He was friendly enough now. (Of course, our mutual friend was a pretty woman who respected my work) I never met up with him again and I’m sure he has forgotten all this.
But I kept in touch with Ed’s writing career, especially enjoying his first book “Rare Birds” which had the funniest line I’d ever read in a Canadian novel.
“Dave, Columbo works in Los Angeles, which is on television.”
And I’ve just finished “Easy To Like”.
There are 2, maybe 3 , main concerns of Riche’s main character: wine-making, the inner machinations of the CBC executive, and the Canadian writer in L.A. Of wine-making, I know next to nothing and didn’t engage much with that concern. With one notable exception. The history of one elusive grape, its history and it’s incredibly demanding growing conditions. This is a little story in itself and though I really don’t care about wine and grapes and the fussiness of it all, I found myself pulled into the story of this grape as if it was something out of Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. Pages later, you realize you’ve gone off on a wonderful tangent but don’t mind in the least that it’s a bit of a red herring.
With regards to L.A.: refer to Riche’s own reference in Rare Birds above. Says it all for me.
When it comes to the CBC and Riche’s portrayal of management types, it means a lot more to me. Of course, he is writing as an outsider. Although, in his acknowledgments, he states that many CBC employees “sang”, it is not the same thing as having worked on the inside for, say, 25 years as I had.
While I was laughing my head off at his characters, their insane agendas and “visions” for programming the network and climbing the hierarchy of the crown corporation, I knew that the reality was a lot more complex.
Sure, we had managers and executives who were absolute cartoon characters (no other way to cope with figuring them out), there were others who were not “certifiable”. No, there were some who were quite sane and who don’t get off the hook by being just nuts. Evil, selfish, and very intelligent, a lot of them. These people are largely running the place now. And there were some who were odd ducks (rare birds) who were compassionate, intelligent and not naive. They were dispatched.
Those comments notwithstanding, this glimpse into your average modern day CBC management is the very antidote for those who carry the coffee-acid burning memories of that place and those people in their stomachs to this day.
I used to have a sign on my office door allegedly a dictum from our fearless leaders: “If you guys would stop making programs, we could get ahead with our work!” No one noticed, or they liked it.
Those are my informed criticisms of “Easy to Like”. None of that should get in the way of Riche’s great prose, his sophistication in all things culturally Canadian. He is an example of what Canadian literature really needs more of. Someone unapologetic, brutally sharp, whose eyes have been wide open for a long time. And he’s what Canadian comedy needs: articulate, knowledgeable, and dare I say it: class.
I felt a lot relief reading this book that at last someone in this country was writing fiction that was neither sentimental narcissistic “identity” stuff nor a formulaic mystery story. This is a very good book that happens to be hilarious, outraged, and self-reflective at the same time. He gets out of the regional trap and doesn’t get bogged down in a quagmire of his own personal woes – he writes about other people.
Let Ed Riche’s novels be an inspiration to all new comedic writers in this country. He’s the top.
Listen to Ed Riche being interviewed by fellow Newfoundland writer-broadcaster, Mack Furlong on the CBC Weekend Arts Magazine:
http://www.cbc.ca/wam/episodes/2011/09/11/wam-sept-10-11-new-book—easy-to-like/ and visit Mr. Riche’s website at:
1. No Banker Left Behind – Ry Cooder from Pull Up Some Dirt and Sit Down
2. To Claim It’s Love – Amos Garrett from Get Way Back
3. Summer’s Almost Gone – the Doors from Waiting for the Sun
4. Just My Imagination – Larry Carlton from Kid Gloves
I was surprised and delighted to hear Neil Gaiman the other day on the Guardian Books Podcast from the Edinburgh Book Festival. He was being interviewed mostly about the 10th Anniversary Edition of his book “American Gods”, but at one point in the question and answer part of the podcast, someone asked him if there was one medium he actually preferred to write for. The answer was the above title of this post. This is when I got surprised and delighted.
Delighted, because I always like to hear Gaiman talk, and surprised because he declared his favourite medium for his writing to be the radio play. I must admit that his reasons for enjoying spoken word on radio are completely in sync with mine. And because I made radio plays, comedy shows, and music programs for 20-odd years. I do mean “odd”, literally.
Gaiman alluded to the listener’s imagination being required to participate actively with the words, sounds, and voices in a radio play. The thing is that this can be quite demanding in a time when attention spans are more suited to text messages and the 144 character Tweet. Who now is out there who will listen uninterrupted to a half-hour audio production without pictures and commercials?
I think it’s been about a decade now since radio plays were common fare on this country’s national broadcaster. Of course, that’s when there was “broadcasting”. Original works of spoken work were one of the first genres of radio to be stripped out of the CBC’s schedule in favour of talking about things rather than making them.
I can understand that writers, performers, and studio time, is expensive compared to a host, a free guest and a record library. But that’s what private radio was all about. All this is history and I don’t see the radio play coming back soon. And perhaps that’s why Gaiman, and a lot of people I used to work with, can say “this is my favourite medium that I hardly ever do”.
I like to think that the audience itself never went away. We had great audiences. Not huge in numbers like a TV show, but huge in appreciation. Judging from the letters we used to get, our audiences were well-educated, literate, attentive, and extremely diverse. I expect a lot of them are saying about radio: “the radio play was my favourite media genre that I hardly ever hear.”
When I consider that the BBC production of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milkwood” (with Richard Burton as the narrator) was one of the single biggest influences that made me want to get into radio, I get really sad that this form of entertain, this form of interaction between a writer’s imagination and a listener’s, may be gone forever.
Maybe all us old guys and gals will have to start making our own radio productions and put them on iTunes.
So, thanks, Neil, for the validation of one of the great genres of broadcasting and those of us worked so hard making good radio.
1. The Point (part 1) – Harry Nilsson
2. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times – The Beach Boys from “Pet Sounds”
3. Once Upon A Summertime – Eden Atwood (check out Blossom Dearie’s version if you can find it)