Painting with John: Preparation

In a normal year, baseball players would be reporting to spring training right about now. It’s a magical time of year, and I’ve always dreamed about heading down to Lakeland, Florida to see Detroit Tigers legends such as Mort Crim, Bill Bonds, and “the MFIC1 up close and in-person. Just typing these words has the beautiful voice of Ernie Harwell floating around in my mind.

This year’s spring training probably won’t happen. World Wars and Covid didn’t cause the cancelation of an MLB baseball season, but it’s relatively common for labor strife to do so.

Spring Training with John

However, Painting with John Season 2 WILL premier on February 18, so I will turn my attention there.

Many Canadians are likely reading this while doing their stretching, limbering up before heading out to shovel another two or three feet of snow from their driveway. It’s quite similar to the annual workouts that baseball players engage in. The difference is that Spring Training is about 6 weeks, and a Canadian winter is about 6 months.

Spring training for Painting with John is not mandatory, but it is a good idea. Season 1 episodes were only around 20 minutes long, but they are rich and dense viewing. One episode equates to enough thought-provoking material for 3 or 4 university-level lectures.

To get into shape for Season 2 of Painting with John, I have decided to rewatch all of Season 1 again.

Below are my thoughts on Season 1 Episode 1.

In episode one of season one of Painting with John, there’s an image of a sunset. John Lurie asks us to write a poem about it as if we are all Leonard Cohen. Earlier in the episode, Lurie was brave enough to say that “Bob Ross was wrong. Not everyone can paint.” But here he is thinking we are all wordsmiths.

Well, Mr. Lounge Lizard. I’m gonna prove to you and everyone reading this that I am no poet:

There’s a bomb in the sky, the beach has sand
Sunsets are a brand, the laughter is canned

My writing is dung, just like the words sung by Neil young
Go ahead and set you stupid sun, I’m gonna have some fun

Tiananmen Square is where the Red army marches
Sunsets use the same colors as the Golden Arches

my terrible sunset poem

I suppose we’ve all been brainwashed into believing sunsets are beautiful. In other words, Sunsets© have created a strong brand. But they’re not beautiful. Sunsets are the end. The end of the day. We should not get all lovey-dovey when we see them. We should vote against them or vote thumbs down or something.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan (the good one)

Hunter S. Thompson vs. The Moon

One of Ralph Steadman’s paintings of Hunter S. Thompson

I recall reading Hunter Thompson describing being wiped out, outdoors with a sword, swinging a katana at the moon. The big glowing rock in the sky had seriously wounded Dr. Gonzo, and it would have to pay. The lone swordfighter, terrestrially bound, fighting a heavenly body.

“You son of a bitch! How dare you come out here and mock me, all of us, every goddamn night!”

Something Hunter S. Thompson might have written

The sun mocks us on an even grander scale than the moon. It knows we are nothing without it. The great explosion in the sky, the great big bomb in the sky is holding four aces, and has a couple more up it’s sleeve. Every night is more or less a nuclear winter. We ought to hate sunsets.

Each one is a recreation of the Doors song The End, only on a galactic level. But branding made us believe that sunsets are beautiful, even romantic.


The Olympics Don’t Impress Detroit Much

After the episode of Painting with John finished, I scanned through the channels. The snowboarders were on again, getting Big Air at The Olympics. Nuclear cooling towers were prominent in the background. Where there’s smoke there is fire, and where there are cooling towers there is a nuclear explosion, a little sun.

The entire spectacle looked like a version of Detroit at its nadir, only for spoiled rich white kids instead of Black people with soul. Years ago, Dick Valentine sang matter-of-factly “they can’t kill Detroit”. The Big Dick was right, and he was right to sing it matter-of-factly, too.

The whole thing made me envision Hunter in the great outdoors doing battle with an Olympic flag. Instead of a Samurai sword, he had a set of Ginsu Steak Knives he bought from an infomercial, along with Voice of Chunk.

Dope, Greed, and Corruption or Faster, Higher, Stronger?

Instead of the pernicious moon, the Olympic flag rages in the sky. It’s rings signify Dope, Greed, and Corruption instead of Faster, Higher, Stronger. Hunter is our man taking on the hypocrisy, all alone, but representing the 99%.

That’s enough training for one evening. I’ll probably head to bed and fall asleep watching Repo Man, a movie about the bomb, a sunset, The End. Or is it…

Tomorrow’s Training:

Tomorrow’s training shall include reading On Photography by Susan Sontag, with special emphasis placed on the chapter The Image-World.


1 “Years later, in 1973, Detroit would elect its first African-American mayor, Coleman Young, who ran a campaign on social justice and black power. He famously kept a placard on his desk that read “M.F.I.C.” — short for “Motherfucker in charge.” He even once greeted reporters from Hawaii by saying, “Aloha, motherfuckers!” Young went on to serve five terms.” https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/detroit-and-the-word-motherfucker-a-brief-history/Content?oid=19249813

*Featured image is Stanza looking at a picture of himself painted by Mark Seabrook. Bottom image is a drawing by David Byrne.

11 Freedom Convoy Stories You May Have Missed

Before we get started please allow me to give thanks to David Letterman and The Onion for inspiration. Also, it might be a good idea to listen to Gridlock by Electric Six while catching up on “the news”. Stay Safe.

11 Michigan Governor Offers Free Red Wings Tickets to Any Truckers Who Leave the Protest Peacefully

“Somebody’s got to be the adult in the room.”

Governor Whitmer explained: “If there’s one thing Canadians can’t resist, it’s hockey. It’s their catnip. They’re building a bridge linking Ontario and Michigan and naming it after a hockey player. Heck, the Leafs are even in town on the 26th.”

10 Dave Grohl Offers to Drive Trucks During Protests

“When I found out that the amount of goods crossing the border daily here was the same as my net worth, I HAD to do something,” says the omnipresent drummer, famous for being in corporate rock outfits such as Nirvana and Foo Fighters.

“I’m always ready to pick up a shift when someone calls in sick,” said the drummer. “Kurt would have been here too”.

A Blu-ray, vinyl, expanded box set, action figure, and more collectibles are in the works.
It remains unclear as to whether Dave Grohl or Justin Trudeau has nicer hair.

9 US Congress Applauds Truckers

“They’re still moving trucks across the Ambassador Bridge at warp speed, compared how much we get done,” said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. “And let me be perfectly clear, I have nicer hair than Justin Trudeau.”

“I’m twice the Prime Minister’s age and still have better hair.”

8 Netflix Plans “B. J. And the Bear” Reboot, Auditions Chimpanzees

Insiders say Justin Trudeau is the frontrunner to assume the lead role of B.J., made famous by TV heartthrob Greg Evigan (seen above with beloved “Bear”.)

“It will be good to get behind the wheel of a Kenworth and show Trump how it is done.” said the Prime Minister. It remains unclear as to whether the actor or the actor has nicer hair.

7 Bills Coach Admires Truckers’ Ability to “Stop Forward Progress”

Buffalo Bills' Coach Sean McDermott
“Josh Allen definitely has better hair than Justin Trudeau.” – Sean McDermott

“We couldn’t shut down the Chiefs for 12 seconds. These guys have shut down the border for days” said Bills Coach Sean McDermott.

The Coach went on to say “I haven’t seen this sort of domination since Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain days.”

6 Bigfoot Sightings Now More Common than Trudeau Sightings

Ape-like creature or Prime Minister?

It remains unclear as to whether Sasquatch or Canada’s Prime Minister has nicer hair.

5 Biden Tells Canada to “Knock it off with the Malarkey”

“Here’s 20 bucks to go away, Canada.”

4 Trucker Earns Bachelor of Science Degree During Border Blockade

Refusing to sit idly by while trucks around him idle, a trucker has completed his BSc while simultaneously participating in the Freedom Convoy.

The multitasker explained: “I just want something to fall back on in case shutting down the economy so we can get back to work doesn’t pan out.”

“It’s like having a spare tire, eh? You hope you never need it, but you are glad you have it when you do. Besides, I don’t have the right hair or last name to be Prime Minister.”

3 Bell Stands by Let’s Talk Initiative Despite PM’s Refusal to Do the Same

“Let’s talk business and food.” – Neil Hamburger

2 Trudeau Set to Unveil New Convoy Tax, Citing Science Table

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once again championed the legislation, known formerly as Bill 401. “Science has shown us that the only way to end these disruptions is by putting a price on protests.”

1 World Has Second Thoughts about “Needing More Canada”

RE: Writer Perry King sees Toronto through community sports

The following is a kneejerk response to an article I recently read. The article’s purpose was to promote a book written by a local author, which is great. It also triggered me in a good way, which is also great. I’ve checked the ebook out of Toronto Public Library and maybe I will post again after I finish reading it.

It sounds like the book looks at where public money goes in terms of funding infrastructure for sports, and that old white money gets funding, while others do not. Hockey arenas get built, but basketball courts and cricket pitches get neglected.

From what I gather, the focus of the book is that sports can build communities, improve economic opportunities, and basically be a force for good. It’s like funding the arts: it is a good investment.

Anyway, thanks certainly go out to Perry King for writing the book in the first place. It’s called Rebound, and is available from Coach House Books.

Here’s my pre-read rant/response to the article.

Stop gun violence? Maybe “bribe” hoods by saying “turn in 50 handguns, and we’ll build a new basketball court”.

The Pan Am Games cost Ontario $2.5 Billion1. I am sure they were “sold” to the public with false claims of building the infrastructure discussed in the article (and housing!), but what they amounted to was a very expensive traffic jam.

The infrastructure highlight from that amounts to a hiking trail that was a pet project of Kathleen Wynne. Miss Wynne earmarked $2.5 million for the Pan Am/Parapan Am Trails.

How many basketball courts could have been built with $2.5 Billion, or even $2.5 million for that matter?

And if we’re going to be discussing billions of dollars, Toronto, and building communities, surely Rogers must be brought into the discussion.

Rogers is based in Toronto, and generally reports profits of about $1 Billion/quarter.2 So they’ve got some serious stakes in the game.

Rogers infamously paid $5.232 billion for the rights to point cameras at millionaires sitting on a bench and spitting on ice. Surely a Toronto-based company with that sort of spare change can, and should, “give back to the community by giving back to the community”.3

And let’s not forget that Rogers bought what was formerly known as SkyDome for less than nickels on the dollar. Literally. The dome was financed mostly through public money and cost around $570 million to build, but Rogers picked it up for about $25 million.

In effect, Rogers was given over half a Billion dollars in corporate welfare when they “purchased” SkyDome. How many basketball courts could that kind of money build?

For perspective, Rogers also owns the Blue Jays, and currently pays their center fielder $29 million/year or so.4 I suspect you could cover the outfield of Rogers Centre with $29 million worth of basketballs quite easily.

And just imagine what $29 million could do for an “at-risk neighbourhood”, especially when you consider that the federal government thinks investing $1 million will revitalize Little Jamaica!5

Also consider that the current mayor of Toronto has a very long and cozy relationship with Rogers. As a matter of fact, Toronto’s mayor is currently still on the Rogers’ payroll and apparently takes home a cool $100K/year while sitting as mayor. That’s in addition to the nearly $200K/year or so in public money that he receives as mayor.6

Toronto’s current mayor was infamously accused of taking a day off of his duties as mayor to referee a very public family dispute within the Rogers family.7 Something tells me that “building basketball courts” rarely appears on his “to-do list”.

This is the sort of think I expect to read about in Rebound. Let me dive in and get back to you…

(Author photo by Jalani Morgan)


1 https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/audit-reveals-pan-am-games-were-342m-over-budget-but-ontario-still-paid-5m-in-performance-bonuses

2 https://investors.rogers.com/financials/financial-reports/

3 this is a Jello Biafra quote. i thought it was from his spoken word piece entitled Rob Now, Pay Later but i was wrong. Regardless, the words for Rob Now, Pay Later are worth repeating here:
“Some day even the experts will figure out that crime is not caused by rap music, or even my music!, but by a power structure of self-absorbed property owners so brain dead and stupid they won’t even see that if you’re too damn greedy to pay taxes for schools and services, they’re not going to be any good anymore! And that uneducated time bombs are a very poor investment as a future work force. And if you go on teaching people that life is cheap, and leave them to rot in ghettos and jails, they may one day feel justified in coming back to rob and kill you. Duh!

4 https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/toronto-blue-jays/payroll/

5 https://dailyhive.com/toronto/toronto-neighbourhood-revitalization-little-jamaica-eglinton

6 https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/furey-tory-made-almost-700k-from-rogers-while-mayor-talk-about-an-optics-problem

7 https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/martha-rogers-calls-out-john-tory-over-claim-rogers-dispute-only-occupies-spare-time-1.5641226

Do you believe in Painting with John? YES!

On Feb. 22, 1980, when the United States Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union, Al Michaels famously said, asked, and proclaimed all at once with the words “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” Mr. Michaels summed up the 80s, even before they happened. The 80s lifted America and the world up from a horrendous economy, oil embargos, hostage situations, and bloated, repulsive rock and roll.

2022 is also an Olympic year. The economy is in tatters, cancel culture wants to do away with oil, a virus has been holding the world hostage for years, and bloated, repulsive, Dave Grohl is everywhere.

So maybe, just maybe, John Lurie returning to the screens of people with fine taste everywhere in the form of Painting with John Season 2 will be the equivalent of those words that America’s best sportscaster said at Lake Placid 42 years ago. Maybe.

Consider this: in Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything”. Furthermore, Jackie Robinson wore #42.

Here’s hoping that Lurie can “pull a Michaels” and pull us all out of this cruddy situation.

The new season of Painting with John premieres February 18 AT 11 PM.

Yuletide Tunes

Driving Home for Christmas might be my favourite Christmas song, even though I don’t drive, don’t have a home to go back to, and most certainly don’t care about Christmas. Anyway, I heard the Chris Rea staple early this year, on The Big Band Show with Glen Woodcock of all places. On top of that, I heard Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses a full 12 days before St. Nick does his thing. It feels like I opened all my presents a couple of weeks early!

So what can a poor boy do?1 On one hand, that means there’s nothing left to wait for, so how am I supposed to have a Holly, Jolly Christmas? On the other hand, it frees me up to take a deep dive into Christmas music I can not only tolerate but actually like.

So let’s take a trip and explore a little Christmas music that isn’t dreadful, shall we?

First Stop, Germany: Willkommen und Frohe Weihnachten

Germany is known for lots of great music, there can be no doubt. Kraftwerk immediately springs to mind, of course, but there’s also Bowie’s astounding Berlin Trilogy, and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and The Idiot. And of course, The Reeperbahn is where it first came together for The Beatles.

Ja, das ist gut, nein?

So many of today’s Christmas traditions started in Germany, and with an avalanche of great popular music coming out of Germany, there surely there must be some fine Christmas songs by fine German artists, right? Of course, there is!

Here are Deutschland legends Heino and james last serving up a holiday feast of happiness. Prost!

Heino!

Hansi!

Next up: Memphis and The King

In America, places like Motown, Nashville, and New Orleans are musical Meccas. But The King lived in Memphis, of course, and he recorded many great Christmas songs. Graceland might as well be Jerusalem for many people.

Blue Christmas, It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby, and Here Comes Santa Claus are all exemplary Elvis. The King wasn’t messing around with deep-fried birds. He did Christmas right! Be sure to check out Elvis’ gospel recordings if you want to do Christmas up all legit-like.

On It’s Christmas Time, Pretty Baby, Elvis sounds as ferocious as The Who at their most explosive, as intense as Dead Kennedys at their peak, and as maniacally focused as The Stones on Paint It Black. This ain’t no Holiday in Cambodia, this is Christmas with The King!

A Merry Michigan Christmas to you too!

I have spent a lot of time in Michigan and it always feels like home. The sad truth though is that I’ve never made it up to Frankenmuth to experience it all, not even Bronner’s, the world’s largest year-round Christmas ornament and décor store. I have, however, enjoyed a fine time at the Dakota Inn Rathskeller in Detroit, so please don’t put me on the naughty list quite yet.

While Berry, Smokey, and the incredible Motown team at Hitsville USA isn’t turning out the hits Henry Ford style anymore, in more recent years two newer Detroit legends have gifted us a couple of fine Christmas covers.

Goober & The Peas – Snoopy’s Christmas

Back in 1992 Goober & The Peas put out an entire Christmas ep. It was beautiful, just like Christmas ought to be. One of the tracks is a heavenly gospel/country ditty entitled Tell The Lord (What Santa’s Done). More appropriate for this line of listening (inquisition?) is their cover of Snoopy’s Christmas. Besides, the late great Ernie Harwell is featured on that gem. So don’t just stand there like a house by the side of the road and watch it go by. Take a listen. Please. For Goob.

Electric Six – The Grinch Thing

And of course the hardest working band in not only the virtual world but also the real one, Electric Six does a marvelous job with a cover of You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Electric Six is from Detroit and has seen their city come back from the dead countless times. Electric Six has reason to turn to the Grinch side, but they never do, because tomorrow is always Easter when you live in The D. “They can’t kill Detroit”.

All you Lucy Liu’s, and Cindy-Lou Who’s, you know what to do.

Don’t Be a Grinch – Give It up for Iggy and Big Gretch!

Before we leave The Great Lakes State, and because we talked about Iggy a bit earlier, be sure to check his version of White Christmas. I just discovered it recently, and it is most certainly interesting. Go ahead, click Santa. He likes it!

Maybe for Christmas we can get to see The Godfather of Punk singing a duet of his smash hit Candy with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

How about it, Big Gretch?

Across the Pond, Mark E Smith Was Practically Father Christmas

The Fall’s No Christmas for John Quays reminded us that “The X in X-mas is a substitute crucifix for Christ”. The song has been a yuletide staple for decades now, even if some would have all copies thrown on the yuletide log. No matter.

Fall frontman Mark E Smith was a Christ-like figure to many. “If there was a holy grail, Mr. Smith would be the only one allowed to pick it up” is how he was greeted on Granada TV back in 1988. Again, no matter. Mark E never came across like he thought he was Bono or even Christ. Mr. Smith did leave us with at least 9 Christmas songs though.

Anyway, I still believe in Santa Clause, even if Chico Marx doesn’t. Enjoy your cookies and shot of rum instead of milk, Santa Baby. I heard cows are bad for the environment, and Rudolph is driving anyway, hence the hooch.

Jingle Cats Are Here to Save Christmas!

There’s a pretty good chance that none of the above appeals to you. That’s fine, of course, but it’s also great to make as many people happy as possible, especially at this time of year. Towards that end I offer you Jingle Cats!

As Ernie Harwell said in the aforementioned Goober & The Peas song:

“Merry Christmas, Mein Friends!”



1 Sorry, Mick!

Sleepless in Toronto

(editors note: To skip to the part of this post pertaining to sleep aids and help with insomnia, click here. To read about “Leslieville Lenny” click here)

I went over to Leslieville to meet an old friend for a couple of drinks on Friday. He’d been suffering from terrible insomnia and we both needed the company. For me the commute is about an hour long and covers 11 km. On this trip it involved two buses, a subway train, and a streetcar. The picture above was taken while on a streetcar on Queen Street, just east of Broadview.

The route I take is basically an L, travelling south on Yonge Street and then east on Queen Street. The transfer at Yonge and Queen is at street level, in a concrete canyon that is bordered by the Eaton Centre on the north and The Bay on the south. This picture was taken there:

Queen and Yonge in Toronto

Before We Get to Ideas for Help with Insomnia

With the scent of cheese, pasta, and chicken fajitas in the air and the Raptors game on the big and numerous TVs, we got down to the business at hand. In addition to sleeping disorders, we also researched what college football game looked most intriguing for the following afternoon.

The (13) Auburn Tigers @ (14) Texas A&M Aggies looked like the best bet. It wasn’t. We also agreed that in a season of big upsets, there would likely be one. There were two in the top 10.

Just What Is an Aggie, Anyway? And What Does A&M Stand For?

As Canadians, those two questions are pretty sure to be asked whenever anything involving Texas A&M comes up. I can never seem to commit it to memory, so I did a quick Google while my friend was outside enjoying a fine tobacco product. He did the same thing while outside. Along the way I found some mind-blowing stats. There are about 70,000 students who attend Texas A&M, tuition is around $20,000, and the midsize campus is about 1/3 the size of Manhattan.

But to answer those critical questions, here are the answers, straight from the Texas A&M website:

  • Agricultural and Mechanical, originally, but today the letters no longer explicitly stand for anything.”

  • “An Aggie is a student at Texas A&M. In the early 1900s, Texas A&M students were referred to as “Farmers.” The term Aggie began to be used in the 1920s, and in 1949, when the yearbook changed its name from The Longhorn to Aggieland, Aggie became the official student body nickname.”

Sleep Aids! Who’s Got ‘em? Who Needs ‘em?

When we finally got down to business, I didn’t have a good answer for what I use as a sleeping aid. Perhaps therapy helped with my insomnia, perhaps not. I’ve always had trouble sleeping, even as a young child. My sister used to yell at me to go to sleep from her room across the hall.

In college, the person living in the apartment next to me had a supply of Nytol. As I recall Nytol helped me get my Z’s, but I only used it a couple of times, and not since those days. I want to sleep, not kill myself.

I also mentioned that watching reruns of television shows looped helped me sleep. Familiar voices and all that. As my dad used to say, “TV is the greatest sleeping pill ever invented“.

Reading can also work on occasion, but after a few nights of no sleep, reading isn’t really someone one is capable of at any level. However, if you are in the mood for reading, there’s a recent article in the NY Times that may interest you entitled Did Covid Change How We Dream? It takes about an hour to read, so grab a blankie…

After Sleeping on It…

I had a couple of other ideas and thoughts for my sleep-deprived comrade:

Carb Coma?
I used to keep a pot of rice in the fridge. Not for a sleep aid, but for a snack. I thought it might be healthier than junk food, and equally as quick. I take a little out of the pot, nuke it for a minute, and blammo! Just brown rice and margarine, and often that puts me out. I’ve also used oatmeal, but rice is much more pleasant.

If I were a Texas A&M alumnus, I might say postprandial somnolence instead of “carb coma”.

Herbal Tea?
In later years of college I would complain to Michelle that I couldn’t sleep and that I need a bottle of sleeping pills. She’d shake her fist at me and say “I’ve got your bottle of sleeping pills right here!”She was joking, of course, and would often brew me a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea. There are lots of varieties of herbal teas and even store brands out there. I still use herbal tea as a sleep aide from time to time.

Melatonin Supplements?
Melatonin is a hormone that is made by your brain. It helps to regulate sleep, in that your brain makes produces more melatonin when it is dark, and less when it is light. It’s basically your brain synchronizing your wake/sleep patterns with the sun. Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter in Canada and the US.

It’s Getting Late, so until next Time…

On the way home from Leslieville there was a man on the streetcar walking up and down the aisle trying to sell uncooked roasts. He had them cradled inside his jacket and would be certain to make eye contact with whoever he offered them to. His voice was soft, as if he were pleading. “Half price?” Maybe he had a child who planning on attending Texas A&M in the fall and this was a side-hustle to work up tuition.

The beef salesman reminded me of a hilarious character from the old TV show Good Times named Lenny. Lenny wore a full-length fur coat and would open it to show off his wares, everything from electronics to medical supplies. His sales pitch was always in the form of a rhyme. With a hustle like that he must have ended up owning Chicago!

See Lenny in action for yourself here:

Leslieville Lenny” had me remembering other unusual purchasing opportunities I had seen, and that was going to be the subject of this post. Oh well, maybe next time.

PS The Raptors dropped a close one at home.

PPS Texas A&M defeated Auburn. Elsewhere, the #3 ranked Michigan State Spartans were upset by unseeded Purdue Boilermakers. Before the MSU game, Purdue had also defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes, who were ranked #2 at the time.

Next week Purdue is in Columbus to take on the #6 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, so Boiler Up!

Sleep well!

Dick Valentine Takes Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car for a Spin

Beloved American Troubadour Dick Valentine often gifts music lovers around the world with cover versions of songs we know and love. Other times he puts his special spin on songs we don’t know and don’t love, introducing us to new ditties. That’s an old American trick first made famous by Will Rogers : “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”i

Recently Mr. Valentine reintroduced me to an old friend, the Tracy Chapman song Fast Car.

Valentine’s version is definitely his own, but it shares the same intrinsic, smoldering intensity that Chapman’s original has . Both are so heartfelt and authentic that they refused to be ignored, so honest that they break your heart. You need to know both, trust me.

Blue-eyed Blues?

As songs, these two versions of Fast Car transport the listener to somewhere else, accomplishing in the mind what the lyrics desire so much. A good blues song will transport you back to the Mississippi Delta, whether you have ever been there or not. Chapman sped us away from problematic childhoods, while Valentine revisits those places, reminding us of how lucky we are now. Whatever the opposite of tearing down a statue is, he is doing that with his cover of Fast Car.

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution (sounds like a whisper)

Chapman’s original came out in 1988 and was a massive hit around the world. The lyrics are about young people getting away from a situation that is somewhat less than ideal. This ain’t Hollywood, as they say, and Chapman’s earnestness speaks to all good people. More so the young, because they are the ones who dream. They dream of getting to Hollywood, or at least escaping poverty, broken families, and abuse. They dream of finding peace.

Bring the Noise?

Far too many songs that are massive are shrill, contrived, and commercial. Hearing them is as painful as being force fed a jagged little pill. Fast Car is calm, thoughtful, and personal. 1988 was a noisy year, not unlike 2020. Black men like Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, and Public Enemy were all bringing good noise. It took a nation of millions to hold them back. At the same time, a Black woman named Tracy Chapman was offering quiet, peace, and solace. She sold millions of records in many nations.

Tracy Chapman sold more cars than Detroit automakers.

Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop

As frontman for Electric Six, one might expect Mr. Valentine to cover Jonathan Richman’s classic Roadrunner before something by Ms. Chapman. After all, Roadrunner has a very similar theme as Fast Car: driving around and forgetting one’s worries and cares, at least temporarily. Richman’s song is upbeat though, a party song you turn up to 11 on Friday night and is likely on the same Spotify lists as Gay Bar.

It Isn’t Ironic.

A white man singing a black woman’s song has a lot of opportunities to go wrong and can easily be a recipe for disaster. Sung by Dick Valentine, we are reminded of how beautiful and universal Chapman’s song is. His rendition is authentic, without humour or irony, and is bound to hit you in that place we call the heart.

Again, we owe a great many thanks to Mr. Valentine.

Enough News for Huey Lewis

Valentine did indeed “nail it”, and hearing his version also took me back to how I heard Tracy Chapman’s album for the first time, way back in ’88. There was no internet back then, so every day I would go to the convenience store and exchange 20 hard-won cents for a copy of either The Detroit News or the Free Press, whichever I was in the mood for. I’d also visit Giglio’s Market on Wednesdays to pick up a copy of Metro Times.

Man, I got around before Al Gore invented the internet!

The convenience store where I scored my news fix was not the same one that Chapman wrote about in Fast Car, but it did rent CDs. So, after reading so many glowing reviews about her first album, I decided to rent it. I also checked out a couple of albums by the NYC noise band Sonic Youth and hid Chapman’s album between EVOL and Sister.

It was the musical equivalent of hiding Playboy inside of something like Field & Stream. I could not be seen in public cavorting with the mainstream!

And Don’t Forget the JOA!

Around the same time as Fast Car came out, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press entered upon a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA). The newspapers agreed to share printing facilities but their editorial departments would remain separate. Certainly, the time is nigh for a Fast Car JOA between Dick Valentine and Tracy Chapman.

No Escape from Ohio?

One last thing I would like to point out is that Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. One has to think that Fast Car was about getting out of the Buckeye State. Also, an important and popular part of the Electric Six canon is the song Escape from Ohio. Perhaps Dick Valentine covering Tracy Chapman was always part of some Divine Plan.

So now, ladies and gentlemen, here’s Dick Valentine baring his soul with his version of Tracy Chapman’s seminal blues song, Fast Car:
Dick Valentine performing the seminal Tracy Chapman song Fast Car

“THERE ARE NO STRANGERS HERE, only friends you haven’t met yet” is a quote attributed to a great many people. Who you think said it first is dependent on where you grew up, I suppose, and a variety of other factors, such as social status, class, race, etc. Some say Will Rogers, some say William Butler Yeats, some say some dingaling on Twitter. Getting to its origin is akin to answering the musical question “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

Gerrard India Bazaar – Toronto’s Little India

My friend Seamus and I made plans to meet on the last Saturday of July in 2021 to tilt a couple of drink and make actual human contact before the next wave locks us down again. Seamus had discovered a very promising looking location called Eulalie’s Corner Store on Gerrard Street in Toronto’s Little India.

It’s a fantastic part of town officially known as Gerrard India Bazaar and “the largest main street marketplace of South Asian goods and services in North America”.

As luck would have it, a couple of “happy little accidents” happened. Seamus was running a little late, and I was a little early. Hello discovering opportunity!

Fun, Inviting, and Beautiful Patios!

There’s an amazing atmosphere in Gerrard India Bazaar, at once happy, inviting, hopeful, and fun. It immediately felt like home when I stepped off the 506 Streetcar at Gerrard and Coxwell. I was having a GREAT time even before spending any money, and I also noticed lots of parking, so get over there ASAP.

AMAZING Street Art!

Take a little trip…

Too much colour?

Not enough colour?

How about a portrait?

Next time visit Gerrard India Bazaar I will be sampling some of the many tempting street food options. See you then.

अलविदा

Would You Care for Some Art with Your Shot?

On July 10, the morning of my second shot, I was listening to The Jam’s live album Dig the New Breed before heading downtown for my 2nd jab. I didn’t choose The Jam so much as it sought me out. Music does that. Thank you, music.

Mingus Music kept me company during the lockdown, for instance. Sue and Charles came over and made themselves at home, and I am glad they did. Thanks again, music.

Sue and Charles Mingus

Take the Last Train to Jabs-ville

Riding the train downtown for maybe the 4th time in 2 years is a trip. It seems like we’re all meeker now, afraid, riding reluctantly. Aside from the occasional dingbat. Of course, there is a Barbie made up like she’s going to The Club and wearing a plastic mask that looks like a cross between Jacques Plante’s facial adornments and Hannibal Lecter’s. Of course there is. Cockroaches and Princesses will be around to keep Keith Richards company in the post-apocalyptic world, my friends.

The Early Bird Gets the Art

I was intentionally early so I hobbled down to where the jabs were being administered (basically the Dome) from St. Andrew Subway Station. This allowed for a scenic and leisurely walk and I was able to take in some of the visual delights offered by Toronto’s Financial District.

Instead of music choosing me, it was Russell Jacques’s sculpture Pas de Trois that sought me out as I strolled by University and Wellington. Completed in 1984, Pas de Trois lunged out and grabbed me by the throat, insisting that I take in its beauty and magnificence, if only for a moment. And I’m glad it did, too.

Russell Jacques’s sculpture Pas de Trois, which can be seen at University and Wellington in Toronto.

I didn’t Google at the time, but the words “Pas de Trois” kinda looked like the word “Detroit” to me. That made perfect sense, since one of the big reasons for me to get vaccinated was so that I could cross the border and visit friends in Detroit. (Pas de Trois is actually a ballet term meaning “three dancers”.) Thank you, sculpture.

Cat Scratch Fever?

Music grabbed me again while I was going through 19 versions of Checkpoint Covid. This time it was Cat Stevens, soothing me with his classic Moonshadow. Yes indeed, nipped by “the Cat”. The lyrics were very apropos.

Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow
Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
Moonshadow, moonshadow

And if I ever lose my legs
I won’t moan, and I won’t beg
Oh, if I ever lose my legs
Oh, if, I won’t have to walk no more

– Cat Stevens, throwing some moonshade on the situation
Isobel the cat (photo by Michelle Stonkus)

Face Masks Kill Comedy

The jab process itself is about what you would expect. If you are reading this, you likely know what I mean. If you don’t know, find out and get the jab.

What I do want to report though is that it is bloody hard to tell jokes with everyone in a mask. One of the people asked me if I was experiencing any symptoms on a list, things such as vomiting, feeling hot and sweaty…

Of course, I had to say “Only when I think of Justin Trudeau”, and of course I had to repeat it three times because we were both wearing masks.

The Great Escape

Upon exiting the convention centre after doing the jibby jabby, I walked down the ramp that connects the Dome to Front Street. I’ve been up and down it countless times before but never noticed the wavey structure before. I like it, I like it a lot. (It’s the Dodge Veg-o-matic of public art!).

It’s a billboard for the Aquarium, and it reminds me of the Oculus in NYC. In my mind, it represents waves, ebbs and flows, life, aquatic and otherwise.

The red and white eyesore of a grid across the street is the government’s propaganda building. In my mind, it represents confining, rigidity, unimaginative, restrictive, and boxed in, just to name a few.

The Aquarium wave/billboard at John and Front in Toronto.

King Street from John to Yonge

I walked north on John from the Dome King Street, and just stood there for a good while taking it all in. The fabulous restaurants to the west. Fabulous Queen Street and The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern to the north. Fabulous The Princess of Wales Theatre to the east. Fabulous TIFF central right across the street. It was all Ab Fab!

Looking east along Toronto’s King Street from John Street.

This Yonge and King Urban Oasis Has Come a Long Way (Baby)!

I grew up in a small, very homogenous burb that was stuck in the ‘50s (and from what i gather, hasn’t changed). When I dreamed of Big Cities, this is the sort of thing I thunked of. There’s bits and pieces of those dreams in Toronto, and this urban oasis at Yonge and King is a fine example.

An urban oasis at Yonge and King in Toronto. with water fountains offering some excellent public art.

Oh well, as Sting advised many moons ago, “When the world is running down, you make the best of what is still around.”

The good people at Mirvish artfully remind us that things will return to normal soon.

It’s Time for a Vinyl Reckoning

Well, Mark Seabrook, you’ve done it again. A simple Facebook post of yours has inspired me to create another blog post. I know in the past we have discussed vinyl topics such as locked grooves and Porky Prime Cuts, but those are niche conversations that the public at large has no real interest in.

The post in question raises matters of great social and political import that concern a great many citizens.


The issue: The issue: Far too many people are listening to music in the incorrect order when they choose to listen using vinyl records. For too long certain elements of the vinyl record listening public has not been following generally accepted guidelines when it comes to listening to audio recordings through the medium of grooved discs.

The illustration above clearly demonstrates the frustrations felt by many artists when listeners interact with their art in an unacceptable and inappropriate manner.

Towards a more just vinyl experience

Here is a 9-point plan that The Government plans to introduce on how to create a better, more inclusive, sustainable, and clear record listening experience for all, at least insofar as it relates to turning over those groovy discs during the listening experience.

A modest sonic proposal: The Government can encourage a better user experience for all citizens and improved listening experience for all by implementing the following 9-point action plan. It is a simple and much needed plan that will further enhance the listening enjoyment for all who enjoy consuming their music and other recordings via the vinyl medium.

It is also a holistic plan that takes into consideration various systemic issues within the domain of vinyl recordings, addresses them, and offers long-term solutions.

A 9-point Vinyl Reckoning Plan (9-VRP)

~Drop the needle and give it a listen~

  1. Set up a Crown Corporation to study the flipping of the sides, so as to allow clarity and transparency, consult with all affected parties including turntable manufactures, promise to support the domestic record producing industries with more studies and significant tax incentives;

  2. Implement a Side Flipping Tax that will punish those who play Side 2 first. There needs to be a price on improper listening (and Improper Dancing);

    Ban single-use cellophane wrapping on the manufacturing processes of new vinyl recordings that include music and/or spoken word material;

  3. Mandate that the pulp used to manufacture record album jackets is ethically sourced from sustainable wood, and that the manufacturing facilities of said record album jackets achieve carbon neutrality by the year 20331/3;

  4. Enact laws that ensure the spoken word and/or music has a high percentage of domestic value and is performed by domestic artists;

Side Two/Côté Deux

6) Legislate teachers to include in their curriculum important messaging about why it is important to be mindful of Side Flipping, while at the same time being empathetic with those who are triggered by a playing of sides that do not respect the intentions of the musicians, speakers, and other people who were involved in the production of the vinyl recording and have deep, real, and significant emotional attachments to their artistic artefacts;

7) Legislate a National Day of Vinyl Reckoning for those who have been affected by the playing of sides that goes against societal and artistic norms;

8) Enact mindful legislation that will ensure that instructions for the flipping of record albums are abundantly clear, free of gender-specific pronouns, and in both official languages;

9) Issue a formal apology, request that the RIAA do the same.


Comment le gouvernement gérerait la merde:

1) Mettre en place une société d’État pour étudier le retournement des côtés, afin de permettre la clarté et la transparence, consulter toutes les parties concernées, y compris les fabricants de platines, promettre de soutenir les industries nationales de production de disques avec plus d’études et des incitations fiscales importantes;

2) Recommander la mise en œuvre d’une taxe de retournement latéral qui punira ceux qui jouent en premier à Side 2. Il doit y avoir un prix sur une mauvaise écoute (ET une mauvaise danse!);

3) Interdire les emballages en cellophane à usage unique sur la fabrication de nouveaux enregistrements vinyles enrobés de papier contenant de la musique et/ou des créations orales;

4) Mandater que la pâte utilisée pour fabriquer les pochettes d’albums de disques provient de bois durable de manière éthique et que les installations de fabrication desdites pochettes d’albums de disques atteignent la neutralité carbone d’ici l’année 20331/3;

5) Adopter des lois garantissant que la parole et/ou la musique ont un pourcentage élevé de valeur nationale et sont interprétées par des artistes nationaux;

Côté Deux

6) Légiférer les enseignants pour qu’ils incluent dans leur programme des messages importants expliquant pourquoi il est important de garder à l’esprit le retournement de côté tout en faisant preuve d’empathie envers ceux qui sont déclenchés par un jeu de côtés qui ne respecte pas les intentions des musiciens, des orateurs et des d’autres personnes qui ont participé à la production de l’enregistrement vinyle et qui ont des attachements émotionnels profonds, réels et significatifs à leurs artefacts artistiques;

7) Légiférer sur une Journée nationale du calcul du vinyle pour ceux qui ont été touchés par le jeu des côtés qui va à l’encontre des normes sociétales et artistiques ;

8) Permettre une législation qui garantira que les instructions pour le retournement des albums de disques soient parfaitement claires, exemptes de pronoms sexospécifiques et dans les deux langues officielles;

9) Présentez des excuses formelles, demandez à la (Syndicat national de l’édition phonographique (SNEP) de faire de même.