The Death of Facts

The other day, The Chicago Tribune featured a satiric story about the death of Facts. A sad story, but possibly true.

When I was a teenager, I'd often call the downtown Vancouver Public Library where the staff there would look up facts for me. Although it's hard to believe now, they'd put me on hold and rummage through the appropriate reference books until they found the answers to the questions I'd asked. The librarians always seemed happy, and maybe even a little proud, to be able to help me in this way.

Later in life, a large part of my fascination with the computer revolution hinged on the very real possibility that facts would someday become easily and instantly available without the necessity of those phone calls. The internet tied all the computers together and it soon seemed as though we would presently have access to a worldwide library wherein all truth could be found.

I signed on with more passion and conviction than anyone I knew, and sure enough, the internet eventually became my personal and dependable fact repository. Then a strange thing began happening ...

As the internet began to become *everyone's* personal library and access to facts became ubiquitous, those same facts began to lose their lustre. As they became less rare - they seemed to become less valuable.

And as the internet democratized the collection and storage of facts, institutions formerly trusted to caretake them - The Encyclopaedia Britannica, The New York Times, the Vancouver Public Library for instance - were eroded and undermined. The conflicting agendas of the online masses and the new media they aligned with began to create, re-purpose or spin facts to support whatever opinions they felt required supporting.

For a while there, I thought I was losing my mind. My searches for dependable information became less and less fruitful. Reputable and supposedly trustworthy experts delivered black-and-white opposite versions of what should have been the simple truth. Trying to identify definitive facts became next to impossible for me. I yearned for the nice ladies at the Vancouver Public Library.

If my Dad was still around, he'd be reminding me now that the press and media - and anyone else trusted with the power of information (or simply "the power") - has always lied - twisting or inventing the facts as they pleased for their own purposes. He was right, I know, but this is different.

I didn't become a news junkie until September 11th 2001. Before that I'd check the news in the morning the way our parents quickly scanned the front pages of the morning paper. On that Tuesday morning the news page I frequented was simply a white background with black headlines, saying only that New York City was "under attack".

After 911, I was addicted to unfolding history. I was drunk with the power the internet gave me to parse every molecule of information at the moment it became available. I kept a bottle of Visine beside my computer screen.

Soon, questions arose. A theory was advanced that controlled demolitions had brought down the World Trade Centre buildings. A YouTube clip demonstrated that a 757 couldn't fit into the hole in the Pentagon wall. If these citizen journalists were actually on to something, the ramifications were almost impossible to consider.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars just added important questions that demanded answers. I waited for those answers to emerge, but the people and institutions now in control of the information simply continued to generate more facts, or statements with the appearance of facts, without ever taking responsibility for their veracity. Fair and balanced now seemed to mean that flat-earth believers still had viable facts to contribute to the news cycle.

While Obama restored my hope, his presidency has since become the focal point of some of the most egregious misuse of the f-word. Ridiculous assertions now stand as fact - unchallenged. Opinion is all that remains.

The Chicago Tribune story, while satirical, contains quotes from Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of "A History of the Modern Fact." Both the professor and her book are, in fact, real. She says:

"There was an erosion of any kind of collective sense of what's true or how you would go about verifying any truth claims," Poovey said. "Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the 'news' an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact."

The world wide web has brought people together in a way that has never before been possible and helped us accumulate a shared treasury of knowledge that's unsurpassed in history, and yet it's become a free-for-all in which the truth is threatened by dogma, superstition and politics.

I mourn the passing of Facts. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for truth and wisdom.

The Politics of Songwriting - Part One

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were a hugely successful American husband-and-wife songwriting team. I've invoked their names hundreds of times over the years when asked about songwriting and songwriting royalties.

Felice & Boudleaux Bryant

They wrote 6000 songs and sold over 200 million records. Their list of hits includes “Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Love Hurts” and “Rocky Top.” The one I wave around while giving my songwriting speech is "Love Hurts”, a song I first heard in 1961.

I would never have imagined at the time - I was 11 - that those words and that melody came from anywhere other than Roy Orbison’s own tortured heart. He sang every word with conviction and sincerity and delivered every note of the melody as though it was occurring to him as he sang, there in front of the microphone in that mysterious non-place where I imagined hit records were created back then.

I suppose I believed, in an unquestioning and not very thorough way, that all the songs I heard on the radio were emotional communiques that originated with the singers performing them. It wasn’t till I started writing songs myself that I began to learn more, and think more seriously, about the song writer’s art.

By 1975, I’d co-written the eight songs on the first Trooper album. Two of those songs, “Baby Woncha Please Come Home” and “Good Ol’ General Hand Grenade” shared the Canadian charts that summer with another version of “Love Hurts” – this one recorded by a Scottish group called Nazareth.

Dan McCafferty sang the song with a ferocity not present in Orbison’s version. Roy’s “Love Hurts” was sad but resigned. Dan’s added anger (especially in the soaring middle eight) and a lick of righteous self pity. The “hurt” is overall more searing than Roy’s. I continue to love both, to this day.*

Most people are familiar with the Nazareth version and some will remember the earlier Orbison track, but fewer will have heard the very first recording of the song, by the Everly Brothers in 1960, or Jim Capaldi’s hit UK version, from 1975. For many, Jacob Lusk’s recent American Idol performance may be their only exposure to the song.†

Regardless, while all five of these strikingly different performances showcase the unique singers and musicians that created them, one important thread remains consistent throughout: the lyrics and melody wedded together by Felice and Boudleaux over fifty years ago.

The songwriting royalties generated by the record sales and airplay of all the versions of “Love Hurts” went to the Bryants and, now, to their heirs. This will be the case with the iTunes track released last week by Jacob Lusk and will continue to be the case if another talented artist or group chooses to record the song in the future.

I'll return to another Nazareth hit, "This Flight Tonight" in part two - once I write it.

Roy Orbison's cover of "Love Hurts"

Nazareth's cover of "Love Hurts"

Jacob Lusk's American Idol performance of "Love Hurts"

*I was honoured to have the opportunity to sing a verse of “Love Hurts” onstage with Dan McCafferty and Nazareth on my birthday in 2004.

† These are not the only covers of the song. To see a full list, containing over 40 versions (!), click here.

Singers Are Important To Me

When I was young, I believed there was an agency that monitored TV commercials in order to ensure that all of the claims made were true. As time passed, I began to realize that advertising was simply an unregulated free-for-all battle of competing claims, at least one of which was not true.

In 1962 I went to see Little Stevie Wonder at the Gardens Auditorium in Vancouver. Stevie was 12 years old at the time, and so was I. He stood awkwardly at centre stage and sang along with his records. There was no pretense about it. You could hear the needle drop on each track, and Stevie was the only performer on the stage. Everyone knew that he was just singing along - you could hear both his voice and the recorded original - but the audience understood that he wrote the songs and sang them on the records. He was the heart and soul of the tunes we loved, and we were honored to be in his presence.

Last week we opened for CCR. The week before we did the same for The Sweet. Both bands were paid very large sums of money to headline these shows. Neither of them featured the singer who sang (and in the case of CCR, wrote) their hits.

“The Sweet” was a British “Glam-Rock” band that had hit records in the 1970’s. We played with one of the *two* currently touring versions of the band. One version contains only the original bass player, the other, the original guitar player. The Wikipedia page for The Sweet lists a total of 12 singers over the years - not counting the one who actually sang “Little Willy” and “Ballroom Blitz”.

“CCR” (”Creedence Clearwater Revival”) was an iconic American band fronted by the amazing one-of-a-kind talent; John Fogerty, who wrote, sang and played guitar on the CCR hit records. After going solo, Fogerty tried to stop the drummer and bass player from Creedence Clearwater Revival from advertising themselves as “CCR” (”Creedence Clearwater *Revisited*”) and touring all over North America with a singer who mimicked him - but he was unsuccessful. This was the band that we opened for in Waterloo Ontario last week.

This has happened before. Canada’s “Guess Who” toured successfully in America for years without Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. “BTO” did the same without either the “B” (Randy Bachman) or the “T” (Fred Turner). To be fair, Randy’s brother, Robbie Bachman, BTO’s original drummer, was in attendance.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to imitate famous front men and women. Singers for cover bands all over the world do it every night and some do it shockingly well. I did it for years. (In fact, back in the day I did a pretty convincing John Fogerty!) “Tribute” bands do note-for-note emulations of the groups they are paying tribute to. Some singers, like Shania *Twin* and *Nearly* Neil, make a living pretending to be their similarly-named heroes.

None of these singers, though, pretend for a moment that they are the *actual* singers featured on the hits they are singing. If, however, one of them were drafted to be the next singer for “CCR” or “The Sweet”, they would, at the expense of what I believe is a sizable portion of their ticket-buying audience, be doing exactly that.

And I don’t think that’s right.

People who buy tickets to see Shania *Twin* do not expect to see, nor do they pay the premium ticket price commanded by, Canada’s best looking country singer. I have to believe that many, if not most, of the people buying tickets to see, say, “CCR” headlining a big-ticket concert are expecting to see … well … CCR! And I don’t think they’re stupid because they didn’t know otherwise. The band should be billed as: “WHOEVER, featuring Stu Cook & Doug Clifford, formerly of CCR” - so there’s no possible confusion for the public.

I saw a poster the other day that stopped me in my tracks. It was promoting an upcoming show for “Doug and the Slugs”. Doug Bennett’s distinctive voice and inimitable stage presence were always the heart and soul of the tunes he wrote and recorded with his band and the shows they performed. Doug died a tragic death only a few short years ago. I’d like to humbly suggest that the band do as they once did when they released a single that Doug played no part in. They called themselves: “The Slugs Without Doug”. I think that would be a much more appropriate name for their current project.

The Juno Awards


“How do you feel about winning the best group Juno?” I was asked.

“It’s fucking wonderful” I responded.

” ‘It’s wonderful’ said Trooper singer Ra McGuire at last night’s Juno Award ceremonies …” reported the Toronto newspaper headline the next day.

It has always annoyed me that I wasn’t quoted correctly. There is, of course, a HUGE difference between “fucking wonderful” and just “wonderful”.

The 2009 Junos took place in Vancouver tonight. I didn’t attend this year. Trooper has received seven Juno nominations - and won the “Best Group” award - but we’ve only attended twice. Once, in 1978, when we were nominated for “Most Promising Group of the Year” and in 1980 when we were up for both “Best Group” and “Album of the Year”.

We flew to Toronto for our first Junos when we were nominated for “Most Promising Group of the Year”. We arrived proudly in the Royal York ballroom which was decorated with large blown-up album covers of all the nominated artists, and saw that ours was the only cover that was, humiliatingly, conspicuous in its absence. The evening deteriorated further when the “Most Promising” award was presented to “The THP Orchestra”.

In 1978, we were one of five bands nominated for “Group of the Year”, but chose not to attend. Rush won that year. In 1979 we were nominated again for “Group of the Year” and we chose, again, to not attend. Rush won it again. In 1980, now simply following a comfortable tradition, we once again turned down the Juno organizer’s invitation to fly to the Toronto ceremonies. At first they tried to shame us into coming, which didn’t work. Finally, they broke down and told us that we were going to win at least one award. So we embarked on what was to become a great Trooper adventure that ended with, among other things, members of the band rolling, drunk and in white suits, in a Toronto hotel driveway with Burton Cummings. My personal most embarrassing Juno moment came that year when a young Vancouver friend shouted across a room filled with Canadian music-biz royalty.

“Ra McGuire!!” he shouted when he spotted me. “You’re BIG!!”

It’s funny that I still remember that. We’ve never returned to the Junos and, because the whole idea of them still makes me uncomfortably squirmy, I’ve only managed to watch them on TV two or three times in the intervening years. There have been a couple of occasions, however, when I would have enjoyed shouting back at Bryan Adams, who’s gone on to do quite well for himself.

I’ve had more to say about this (and other things) on Twitter. You can follow me, if you want, here.

Ken - Some Thoughts on Politics

It seems as though Ken never stops walking. We see him every time we walk the beach - and we walk at all hours of the day.

Tall, tanned, well-groomed and always wearing shorts despite the weather, he strides along the 2.2 kilometer promenade with the air of a man on his way to somewhere important. As the ever-present gulls hover overhead, we say “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” and Ken returns the greeting briskly in a british-tinged accent. Sometimes we just nod. Sometimes we raise a hand in a casual, regular-beachwalker salute.

This morning was cool, grey and threatening rain. Debbie and I wore sweaters, jackets and, in my case, a knit hat. Ken was wearing his shorts, as usual. We never talk, but each time I see him I’m reminded, as I was this morning, of the night the three of us sat, as strangers, in the White Rock city council chambers with a group of concerned and angry citizens.

The council chambers room is not large. It can seat a sell-out crowd of about fifty. Ken sat behind us, against the back wall, as the mayor and council members debated the merits of a cluster of four high-rise towers being proposed for our small seaside community. Many of us were there to speak out against the development and, in an effort to be seen as unquestionably civil, we were waiting, patiently and quietly, for question period.

By this point my passionately penned “Height and Density” letter-to-the-editor had been re-cast as an article, accompanied by my picture, in the local paper. I had been interviewed by the Globe and Mail about small town development and had faced off against White Rock’s mayor on the CBC. At the public meeting unveiling the towers, Debbie and I had asked two city council members what it would take to stop construction, or at least alter the plan. They advised us, solemn-faced, that if we could convince one thousand people to attend a public meeting and oppose the development, council would “have to turn it down”. So, after falling in with some like-minded old-hand White Rock shit-disturbers, a grassroots campaign began.

The council meeting was not going well. White Rock’s then and current mayor often delivers her surprisingly fragile understanding of the facts with the conviction of a bombastic middle-aged cheerleader. Many residents see this as charming, but her enthusiasm is often coupled with a self-servingly short memory. Promises made at one meeting, opportunistically timed to douse criticism, are (infuriatingly, to the promisees) forgotten by the next. As we sat biting our tongues, a strong baritone voice, with a british accent, broke the silence.

“You’re just full of it. Give it a rest.”

A gavel was hammered and the small crowd was admonished to be more respectful. In the intervening years I have forgotten the details of Ken’s continued loud and disrespectful outbursts, but, had I been in a different frame of mind, I’d like to believe I would have found them funny. At the time, though, I was the one who eventually turned, looked Ken in the eye and said:

“Your not helping us here. Could you please be quiet.”

I do remember that he replied, obviously offended:

“And who asked you for your opinion?”

The next day on the beach as Ken approached us, his perfectly combed hair unruffled by the wind, I decided to say hello. He smiled charmingly and returned the greeting. He either didn’t recognize me or had completely forgiven me overnight. I’m still not sure which.

Our group of concerned citizens succeeded in motivating the community to speak out. Over a thousand people spoke against the Bosa development at two public meetings and by emails to city council. Less than two hundred spoke in favour. Months of painstaking work had brought us a hard-fought victory but, despite this clear message to our elected representatives, we ultimately had no impact at all. Council voted in favor of the development. Two of the four towers now stand at the top of the White Rock hill, and, according to my friend Dave, units are selling slowly.

Debbie and I squandered large chunks of our already precious time trying to influence those in power in our little town. Even though only a few of them had earned our respect, we had risked becoming like them. We had begun speaking their language and using some of their tactics in an attempt to persuade them. We ended our involvement with local politics the day after council voted on the towers. Our friends and former comrades seem to understand.

For two weeks I’ve been glued to the computer screen, reading Huffington Post, Politico and CNN - obsessively following the 2008 US Presidential election. This is the first time I’ve shown an interest in national politics. I think the US election might be the most important political decision made in my lifetime and, as a result I have been careening between elation, when Obama moves forward, and a gut-wrenching disgust when his opponents slash again at my new hero.

Seeing Ken on the beach this morning made me smile. Why today’s encounter was different than others is unclear. Maybe because he reminded me that I’m an observer now, not a participant. Maybe it’s simply because Debbie and I are regular beach walkers again. I made a note to think about this today. What I found myself thinking about, maybe for the first time since that city council meeting, was Ken’s heckling. It was funny, and after all I learned during my political adventure, maybe not such an inappropriate response.

The Cell Phone Girl & Barack Obama’s Prayer

I have been trying to find a good reason to write here again, but after rustling through the dry and withered collection of used-up motivations, I have been unable to find or create even one new one. The thrill of publishing online was effectively vaporized by the thrill of traditional analog publishing. The challenge of documenting the interesting bits of my life was also met when my book was completed. The ever-present call to creativity can be as easily answered off-line, and every intelligent bone in my body tells me if I do write something, it should rhyme.

Two events from today inform this post - if only in the very most oblique way.

I was in the hotel restaurant, here in Bathurst, New Brunswick, waiting for my all-day breakfast when an attractive girl, talking and laughing into her cell phone, and an equally attractive guy appeared at the entrance. The girl continued her casual phone conversation as they were led to their table. She was still talking as their menus were delivered. Her male friend stared into space. At about the point in time when I would have expected him to snatch the phone from her hand and throw it across the room, she laughed charmingly and said to the person on the other end of the call:

“So … how are you?”

A few minutes later - still on the phone - she reached over and stroked her restaurant friend on the cheek and pouted, as if to remind him that she required his attention as well.

After breakfast and back in my room, I read a story online about the prayer that Barack Obama had left in the Western Wall in Jerusalem - one of the holiest locations in Judaism - this morning.

Notes containing prayers are left, by people from all over the world, in the cracks of the wall, and are usually collected and buried at another sacred site. Obama’s note had been removed and given to the press.

The rabbi in charge of the Western Wall was angry.

“The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them,” the rabbi said.

Obama’s appropriated private prayer (which by now is all over the internet, if you want to read it) asks the Lord to help him guard against pride and despair. It’s a very succinct, simple, eloquent and beautiful prayer. Between a man and his maker.

It was after reading it that I was moved to finally write about why I can’t seem to write.

“Just write what you’d want to read” She said …

The thing looked like a designer kitchen utensil - like half an egg-beater sporting additional mysterious appendages and missing a handle. Although clearly made of metal, glinting as it did in the afternoon sun, the circle of thin graceful flame-shaped blades at one end appeared to float in the polaroid blue sky - the tops seemingly too thin to otherwise successfully support themselves. It was beautiful in a streamlined yet asymmetrical way. It was both magical and clearly mechanical. The four star-like projections under the metal flames were supported by two sets of delicate bracing arms, suggesting that without them the craft might fold in on itself and fall from the sky. There were clear and detailed markings under the long flat body. One of the shots was a close up. Neatly centered and laid out like a copyright notice on a Henkel knife - the unreadable characters were accompanied by small crests. Or were they vents? The four photos were astonishingly clear but their subject was too baffling to allow interpretation of the finely captured details.

“Charlie”, who had sent the photos to a national radio show but wished to remain anonymous, said he just wanted to know what the craft was. He was worried that the humming noise it made - “like” he said, “when you’re near very large power lines” - was detrimental to the health of his wife and their unborn baby. He would only say that he lived in Northern California.

In ten minutes I’d found a perfect CGI video recreation of the craft, moving around on a makeshift background - ostensibly proving that fakery was probable. Five more minutes took me to a website where a collection of disparate photos of the “Dragonfly Drones”, as they were now calling them, had been assembled - all slightly or significantly different from one another and all from supposedly unrelated sources. One set of photos depicted a craft of such confusing complexity that I grinned with delight. Why would anyone, terrestrial or otherwise, create such a byzantine mass of tangled airborne technology and what possible purpose could it serve? I flipped from my browser to check my mail.

Of course, it didn’t need to serve any other purpose than the garnering and sustaining of attention. The whole idea of the dragonfly drones had held mine for over half an hour. I downloaded the mysterious “CARET documents” that appeared to tie-in with the under-body hieroglyphics. They were beautifully drafted and intelligently presented. The diagrams were high-tech art - marred only by two penciled question marks and a few roughly drawn circles and arrows. I opened Photoshop and removed anything that appeared to be of human origin. I printed the five pages and stood them up against the wall at the side of my desk and then wondered what I would do with them.

Record Companies

Trooper recorded their first seven albums while under contract to MCA Records. In December of 2006, Universal Music (formerly MCA) released five of those albums to the iTunes Music Store where they can now be purchased and downloaded.

Two albums remain conspicuously absent from the digital music store. Trooper’s first album was not part of the iTunes offering, nor was the seventh, and last, album released by MCA/Universal.

In the non-digital world, products with marginal sales are discontinued. Manufacturing, shipping and storage expenses eclipse potential income. For this reason, the first and last MCA Trooper albums (ironically, both titled “Trooper”) have not been available in stores for years. But digital replicas of those albums are not encumbered by the brick-and-mortar paradigm. They require no warehouse space, no shipping - and can be cloned, like magic, from the master recordings. The tracks from the missing albums could have been prepared and uploaded with minimal additional effort. I am cursed with a mind that cannot help but ask why they weren’t.

I’ve emailed the record company asking them to upload the additional albums, but I am obliged to accept whatever action, or inaction they choose to take. Notwithstanding the fact that I wrote and sang the songs, spent months in the studio recording the albums and months on the road promoting them - Universal owns all seven records and can do whatever they want with them. This can include, sadly, making them disappear off the face of the earth forever.

Very few people understand the relationship between a band (or singer, or musician - the contract refers to us all as “The Artist”) and their record company. Many still believe that the artist owns and controls the recordings they make. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Most record company contracts ‘loan’ the artist money to record an album. In exchange for this recoupable loan (and promises of promotion and distribution), the record company takes ownership of the resulting recordings. The artist is promised a royalty - a small percentage of the retail price of the finished ‘product’. BUT … before the artist receives any “artist royalties”, they must first PAY BACK the record company the total cost of the recording (and, usually, the video) - not from the total profit on the sales but from their artist royalty. If you have not paid off your first album debt by the time your second album is released, the difference is simply brought forward and you continue to pay back the accumulated amount.

Although it feels like dropping single grains of sand into an ever-enlarging beach bucket, Trooper eventually, with the help of a greatest hits album that required minimal recording costs, paid back all of their recoupable loans. Nonetheless, we still do not own those recordings.

Many people would ask why someone would sign on to a contract like that.

Because, for years and years, it was the only game in town.

In 1994, “The Artist (get it now?) Formerly Known as Prince” inked the word “SLAVE” onto his face. He told the press that he had become “merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Brothers” (his record company).

In 2000, Courtney Love delivered a scathing, landmark rant to the Digital Hollywood Online Entertainment Conference in New York. She began by saying:

“Piracy is the act of stealing an artist’s work without any intention of paying for it. I’m not talking about Napster-type software. I’m talking about major label recording contracts.”

She went on to say that:

“The system’s set up so that almost nobody gets paid.”

Most major recording artists rely on their major record labels for their major money, but, because Ms. Love had developed an income from films, she could afford to bite down hard on the hand that ostensibly fed her. Everyone with even a remote interest in the future of recorded music should take the time to read the transcript of her speech.

Prince and Courtney Love kicked open doors that have since been pinned wide open by a growing storm of discontent. The digital world now looms large and threatening over once arrogant and implacable RIAA executives. Not unlike Courtney Love, I have very little to lose by talking candidly about my former record companies. The royalties I receive have gone from pitiful to laughable and I haven’t had a new record hanging in the balance for many years. I have a list of grievances - real and possibly imagined - that could, no doubt, parallel hers. Like many of my peers, I believe that the reign of record company control over recorded music, and the artists who make that music, should and will end soon. I can say this with confidence and a reasonable certainty. But talk is cheap.

One way or another, Connor will be recording his first album this year. He’s been thinking a lot about how he’ll get it out to the world. Questions about the feasibility, morality, and, for that matter, longevity of record companies have become, suddenly, non-hypothetical.

As the old paradigm dies … what will rise to replace it?

Connor McGuire @ The Wired Monk

Connor’s band, Anger and After, started to break up when their twenty-one year old drummer began devoting more time and attention to a twenty-something band with connections to a local recording studio. Just at the point where A&A had gig offers, he became double-booked - and chose the more mature band over his two seventeen-year-old Anger and After band mates.

Disheartened, Connor and Simon struggled through auditions. One young drummer brought his girlfriend and asked for a mid-audition break so he could smoke some pot. Another played, unaccompanied, the complete and extremely complex drum part from a Dillinger Escape Plan song.

With a new drummer failing to materialize, Simon became less and less committed to the idea of the band. He explained that his musical tastes were shifting toward more artistic and experimental music. One night he called Connor to say that he would be unable to attend the drummer audition planned for that evening because he was going to a concert by one of those artistic and experimental bands. Although the two of them had been best friends since grade six, their musical partnership ended that night.

Two years later, last Friday night, at a coffee shop in Crescent Beach, a standing-room-only crowd listened intently as Connor, acoustic guitar balanced on his lap, described one of the first songs he had ever written.

“I’ve revamped the chords a bit, but the words still suck.” he said, grinning.

Then he called his friend Simon to the stage to sing the song with him.

From the moment he said; “Hi, I’m Connor McGuire, I write my own songs”, he had the young, and usually fidgety, audience in complete pin-drop-quiet control. He played for an hour - just him and his guitar - interspersing his amazing songs with charming and engaging banter. The crowd cheered, whooped, whistled and hollered after every tune. He completely owned.

Just two years after the collapse of his first rock band, Connor has returned to the stage with a completely new, and improved, version of himself. He’s written a collection of heartbreakingly powerful songs - each new one better than the last. He’s taught himself finger picking and has profited from the classical guitar lessons he took. His singing has become natural and unaffected and his vocal phrasing amazes me.

Connor’s show at the Wired Monk on Friday was a watershed in his music career. He’s proven to himself that he can do this by himself. What he did on Friday can be replicated successfully on any stage anywhere.

Little Ramon and the Enduros

On November 22nd, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy was shot dead as his motorcade slowed round a bend in Dallas’s Deeley Plaza. A short month later, a British group called the Beatles released their double-sided single “I Saw Her Standing There/I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, initiating what would soon be called Beatlemania. Six months earlier on June 13th, at the onset of a seemingly endless Fraserview summer, I turned 13 years old.

Every man in the sprawling Fraserview housing project was a Second War veteran, the father of three or more children and the unwilling but not ungrateful recipient of a lower than average income. These were contracted conditions of the rental agreement. The houses in the project shared four identical floor plans. There were kids everywhere.

At the time, I was the singer for the Epics. The group’s guitarist, Brian Graham was my best friend. Derek Solby, a Killarney High School wunderkind, played the drums and Ken (Tarpaper) Hynds was the sax player. Gerry Andrews played a Fender Jazzmaster, and, with his guitar swung out of the way, the electric organ. It was Gerry who hooked me up with another group - a Fraserview soul band that would soon be called “Little Ramon and the Enduros”.

Gerry had signed on with the nine-piece horn band and had recommended me to replace their diminutive but muscular singer Fuji Forchuk. The remaining musicians were a hard-core crew of soul music fanatics in their mid to late twenties. The singer that preceded Fuji, and who had remained attached, talisman-like, to the band, was Rick Cameron - a quintessential James Dean greaser and a member of the notorious Bobolink Gang. I met with Cameron alone in his kitchen one afternoon to discuss my role in the band - tempering my adolescent admiration of his rebellious cool and juvenile delinquent fashion sense with wary respect and an abject fear that he was probably well accustomed to. It was hard for me to believe that these guys were giving me the time of day - let alone a spot-lit place at the front of their soul revue.

Brian Henderson, the lead guitar player was the fastest, coolest and funkiest player I’d ever known. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, sported a blonde pompadour and played a Fender Telecaster. He was Fraserview’s Steve Cropper. The band’s manager, a burly, hard-assed, unpolished lout, was the drummer’s father. He would occasionally visit us in his dungeon-like basement - where we practiced - and deliver what he thought were inspirational pep talks, in the manner of the Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbit - but lacking the conviction, passion and intelligence. It was this man who announced dramatically, when Gerry and I had finally tired of his two-bit tyranny and given our notice;

“Singers and Guitar players are a dime a dozen.”

Paul, the sax playing Sal Mineo look-alike, taught me ‘the Continental’ - the cool and casual step with which all the players shifted, in perfect rhythmic synch, from side to side - the pivot executed at the drop of the left foot, and then the right.

Fuji Forchuk stayed on to deliver a final unforgettable basement command performance, so that I would be clear about what was expected of me. Wearing a tight white wife-beater over his dark muscular torso, he moved with animal grace and sang ferociously. In the musty basement darkness, lit by a single bare light bulb, he jumped, shook, gyrated and, at one point, rolled on the floor. The band’s manager nodded in told-you-so approval. Fuji was the best.

I watched in hopeless appreciation and dismay, knowing that my thirteen-year-old feet could never fill Fuji’s shiny, black, and lightening-fast shoes. I was convinced I lacked the cool, the charisma and the menacing command of the stage that characterized Fuji and his band-mates, and I was probably right. I was thirteen, five-foot-eight, weighed 110 pounds and could not, for the life of me, get my mother-cut curly hair to stay molded into the essential pompadour position - despite liberal applications of my Dad’s Brylcream. Worse yet, I was a nerdy smart kid at school - I had skipped a grade only two years prior - introverted, socially awkward and nearly always afraid that guys like Rick Cameron were going to beat me up for sport. But for all that, no one in this new band seemed to notice, or care.

At home, alone in my room, I nervously dropped the needle onto a borrowed James Brown LP, ready to begin transposing lyrics and fleshing out melodies. The music filled the room and I was transported to a dark, wild and erotic alternate universe. This was not the clean-cut radio music I knew and loved. This music was dangerous and dirty - too passionate and overt for Fraserview. Songs like “Please, Please, Please” and “Try Me” - unashamedly over-the-top soul ballads - were unlike anything I’d ever heard. A week went by and I was emulating every note and emotional vocal scratch that came from the throat of the man soon to become the ‘Godfather of Soul’.

Singing with a full horn section blowing thick, sweet and menacing chords behind me was thrilling. Jumping on to, and riding, the careening guitar hook of “I’ll Go Crazy” was an exhilarating vocal adventure that was different every night. The tight, staccato horn shots punctuated the funky groove like syncopated rifle shots and kicked into my back as I sang.

I learned to dance - in a fashion. I did the Continental with the band at the appropriate moments. I lost myself in the deep soul groove. I may not have mastered Fuji Forchuk’s moves, and no one ever invited me to throw in with the Bobolink gang - but for a brief groovin’ moment in the long summer of 1963 I was Little Ramon, a soul singer unaffected by the cruel and clumsy teenage reality of his otherwise un-soulful world.

The Last Day of the Tour

” … and if we can’t put her down in Halifax we’ll have to go to … uh … our alternate.”

The landing gear came down, but the dense grey fog prevailed, with no land in sight below us. At the very last minute of our descent, the nose pulled up sharply. The flight attendant answered her phone, listened and then announced:

” … we’re going to try again on the other runway, and if we’re unable to land there, we’ll go on to Moncton.” She smiled coyly. “Although the weather’s not that great in Moncton either …”

I was drifting in and out of a fitful upright unconsciousness. When my alarm woke me at 5:00 am, I’d had two hours sleep. Our second pass at the Halifax airport was no more successful than the first. Moncton was twenty minutes away.

Our show in Triton, Newfoundland was our third sold-out performance in our favourite province. Like both Gander and Port Aux Basques, the lively and loving crowd joined us in a fun-filled, large-scale, kick out the jams kitchen party. Although Triton is full of die hard Trooper fans, it lacks a hotel, so we didn’t arrive at our Deer Lake rooms till 3:00 am. Our flight boarded at 6:30.

Conditions over Moncton were identical to those at Halifax. We began our third descent through socked-in fog, trying not to consider what our options would be if we again failed to touch down. We peered into the unchanging grey until grass came into view. As we taxied to the terminal we had new issues to consider.

For reasons still unclear to me, our friend Jack Livingston, the promoter of the three Newfoundland shows, had booked our flights out of Newfoundland into Halifax, Nova Scotia despite the fact that we needed to get to a place called Neguac, New Brunswick - two hours out of Moncton. Four days earlier, in order to accommodate this far from perfect itinerary, we had left our two rental vehicles and some luggage behind at the Halifax airport. Now we were sitting on the runway in Moncton, much closer to where we needed to be, listening to the flight attendant discuss the possibility of flying back to Halifax, or, if Halifax remained unreachable, Montreal, Quebec.

Our crew had not slept at all. Dave, Randy and Richard had struck the stage and dead-headed to the Deer Lake airport. Pulling himself together, Dave began trying to convince the Air Canada ground crew to let us disembark the Halifax flight in Moncton while Smitty discussed options with the National car rental people. We left the plane twenty minutes later with a rough plan that involved Dave and Richard taking an Air Canada financed cab ride to Halifax to pick up the two vans while we drove on to the gig with Randy and the gear in two additional rented vehicles.

Before we left, Smitty and I picked up our complimentary Air Canada toiletry kits. The suitcases we had checked in Deer Lake were not on the plane.

Random Acts …

I woke up this morning in a hotel room deep in the concrete heart of downtown Toronto. I swung from bed to chair and cautiously cracked open the tall thick blackout curtains. Outside my second-floor window, the corner of Jarvis and Gerrard was pulsing with humanity. Street people and office workers bumped shoulders on the crowded pavement. I rubbed sleep from my eyes and squinted into the bright morning sunlight.

Across the intersection, in the middle of the sidewalk, sat a lone wheelchair. Its occupant, a man in his eighties, put me in mind of my Dad. He was casually smoking a cigarette and seemed more than comfortable relaxing, stationary, in the midst of the morning hustle. As I watched, a younger man, long hair spilling from under a backwards army hat, stepped up holding a white two litre container of Tropicana Orange juice. He leaned close and spoke to the man, smiling as he offered him the juice, which was accepted and quickly maneuvered to a spot behind the old man’s back.

I recognized the red star on the green army hat. Gogo had bought the hat in Kingston at the surplus store on Princess Street. Once I had identified the hat, his familiar smile came into focus. I watched as he then produced what looked like a can of pop, which he also gave to the grateful wheelchair occupant.

Gogo’s brief random act of kindness lasted only a few moments. As he turned and walked towards our hotel, the wheelchair made its way along the sidewalk. As it rolled, the large plastic bottle slipped out of the chair unnoticed and landed on the pavement twenty feet behind where the chair again stopped.

A tall, silver-haired and bearded man in a well-cut grey suit appeared, smoking a pipe and walking briskly. He stopped at the orange juice and picked it up. He held it for a moment, and then turned and walked down Gerrard street, swinging the the bottle in the warm morning air.

Good Stories

A “pre-interview” is an interview that’s never heard, seen or read by anyone. The pre-interviewer’s job is to confirm that a potential radio or tv show guest will have something interesting to say, so that the REAL interviewer won’t find him or herself floating in what media people like to call “dead air”.

Monday’s pre-interviewer was intelligent, charming and funny, and we talked comfortably until she asked me to tell her a couple of stories.

“… like you would tell when you’re all sitting around having a beer.” she hinted. “I just need one from this tour, and maybe one from the early days.”

Despite the fact that I am a seasoned interviewee with not inconsiderable experience in the field, I could not, for the life of me, deliver a story. She needed two. I had zero. I apologized, explaining that stories have always just come up in conversation so I’ve never felt the need to choose some “good” ones for this kind of context-free interview emergency. Being a complete professional, she picked up our conversation as though the request had not been made and we successfully completed the otherwise smooth-sailing simulated interview.

The next day I asked my band-mates to help me develop some party-pieces - at least two good road stories that I could count on. For the next hour, we riffed through a small collection of oft-repeated and familiar tales that still reduce us all to hysterical laughter.

Someone once took three of us out on an expensive and powerful cigarette boat. As they pulled away from the dock, the high-strung skipper admitted it was only his third time at the helm of this souped-up macho racer - and it quickly became terrifyingly obvious that he had never been trained to drive it. After a white knuckled beeline to the middle of the lake, and with no land in sight, he turned off the roaring engines. The shaken passengers were then offered drinks … and cocaine. After nervously declining the fat white lines he had produced, they watched in horror as their host finished all the drugs himself.

This is the kind of story that we tell when we’re having a few beers. I had lied. I have hundreds, probably thousands, of them but I can’t trust myself to know with a certainty that the one I have chosen to tell will turn out to be appropriate for all audiences. This one probably isn’t.

Undeterred, we continued. There was the one about a former Trooper crew member who, at a large outdoor concert, had pissed off so many on-site crew and staff that, when he fell to the stage floor with a painful hernia attack, everyone just stepped over top of him - carrying on with their work.

There was the time when one of the band members, sick with the flu, had us stop the van quickly so he could leap out the side door and vomit impressively in front of a packed restaurant’s dinner patrons.

There was the time when, a former light man driving the gear truck in dense fog in Newfoundland nearly hit a deer and screamed - waking our sleeping merch guy who, disoriented and seeing only a white void beyond the windshield, and deducing that the truck was flying off a cliff, braced his hands and feet against the dashboard screaming “NO! NO! NO!” - waking our tour manager, Mike Pacholuk who calmly surveyed the situation and made a mental note to remember to tell us all about it later.

The search for appropriate stories continues. My real interview is a week away.

Publishing is a Vicious Game

We’d been driving for seven or eight hours and Winnipeg was still too far away to think about. We’d stopped for a piss - and more bottled water. It was dark and see-your-breath chilly. We stood in the spill of convenience store fluorescent light, and talked quietly on our cell phones to our wives and girlfriends.

The new gold Suburban I was leaning up against was overflowing with luggage, jackets, blankets, a pillow, a ukulele, a violin, two computers, empty Starbucks and Tim Hortons cups and cookies from the Alberta Cookie Lady. There was no room in there for personal calls.

Scott, Gogo and Frankie, in the back half of the Suburban, had just watched “Still Crazy” on the onboard DVD player while I watched “Hostage” on my Powerbook in the passenger seat. Smitty, behind the wheel as usual, watched the long, straight and virtually unchanging highway. I was glad for the rest. Our first tour of the season had started with a bigger bang than usual.

My week of CBC National Playlist sessions was followed by interviews with the two local papers. This would be the first time that I would face questions about the book, and I was disturbingly unsure about how I was going to respond. My concern was compounded by the fact that my friends and family would most likely see the results of my potentially amateur inaugural book-promotion efforts. To my great relief both interviews came off without a hitch.

My friend Myles Goodwyn once wrote that “Rock and Roll is a Vicious Game”, which is arguably true, but one of my five interviews on Tuesday made it clear to me that rock and roll’s got nothing on the publishing world. My first interview of the morning was a spirited radio spot with a funny and bright Saskatoon DJ. I was pumped and ready to go when my next call, from an Alberta newspaper entertainment writer, came in. After minimal preliminaries, the writer began to discuss the phenomenon of “books like this”. He made jokes about rocker Brian Volmer’s new Helix book. He told me he was planning a sidebar for my story that would list titles for imaginary books by other rock stars who, he was convinced, were going to write even more “books like this”. He lamented that he was doomed to host a weekly series called “Book Talk with Rockers”. He was reveling in rudeness.

At the point where I was convinced that input from me wouldn’t be necessary for his story - he clearly had all the material he needed - he finally asked me: “So why do we need another book like this?”

“Well, uh, Dickface,” (Dickface is not his real name - I’ve changed it here to avoid potential legal action) “I, uh … you know Brian’s had a pretty intense journey of his own, but I have to say that it’s entirely different than mine in many ways.” I wondered if he could sense the forced smile and the cold, controlled civility.

I continued to speak, as humbly as possible, about writing the book as I carefully considered the idea of hanging up on the guy before I told him to go fuck himself. My wife and son were listening at the kitchen table only a few feet away. I chose to stay the course.

“And what is it …” he asked, warming to his theme “about blogs, that makes you think that we want to read your innermost thoughts from your personal diary?”

“Well, Asshat,” (not his real name), I responded, “it’s not actually my diary …”

And then, like the boxer in “Against the Ropes” the mediocre Meg Ryan movie that Debbie and I watched the other night, I reached my limit, changed up my stance and bit down hard on whatever it is boxers bite down on, and said something like:

“You know, it’s not a diary and it’s not “another book like this”. It’s MY book, and it took me three years to write - and it means a lot to me.”

He paused for a moment - seemingly shaken out of his righteous groove - and then he told me, authoritatively, that I should not be so sensitive.

“I’m just challenging you.” he said, sounding pleased with himself.

“I’m with you” I grinned, “I’m with you.”

Most of the good stuff that appeared in the finished story followed. I went off, and said what I needed to say, convinced that doing otherwise would be a waste of valuable interview time. My favourite part of the interview came when he tried to re-visit the topic of blogs.

“Do you write on your blog about everything that happens to you?”

“No, just things I think people would find interesting.”

“So are you going to write about this on your blog?”

“Oh fuck, yeah” I said.

No Biz Like Show Biz

I arrived at the downtown Vancouver CBC building 40 minutes early – budgeting extra time for a morning rush hour that I’ve obviously had no experience with. The two security guards sent me downstairs to ‘Master Control’, which turned out to be a large room full of gear and one lone technician. He was not expecting me, but directed me to a small, dark room with a chair, a mic, a set of headphones and a beige metal box with only one functional knob – the incoming volume.

“They’ll come on soon.” He promised.

Five minutes before show time, my headphones were still eerily silent. As casually as I could manage, I made a quick second visit to master control.

“They were calling the wrong number,” he said smiling “I gave them the right one”.

I returned to my room and was shuffling through my notes when the Toronto producer said “hello”. He promised that the voice of Jian Gomeshi would soon join us and we went over some technical issues while we waited.

My friend Howard Mandshein, the outrageous and charismatic Winnipeg showbiz icon, had warned me that his week on the National Playlist had been challenging. Sitting alone in my tiny triangular studio I was about to enter into a debate, on national radio, with three people I could not see and did not know, all of whom were gathered in another downtown studio 4000 kilometers away. I reached for my volume knob and cranked it up loud.

What ensued was fun from the start. Jian Gomeshi, Tara Thorne and Dalton Higgins were enthusiastic and entertaining debate-mates and the show, guided by Jian’s innate professionalism, rolled out smoothly and confidently.

My headphones became my lifeline – the focus of my complete attention. My temporal Vancouver reality shrank to the space between my face and the black mic in front of me.

During a break the headphones went quiet again.

Moments later, they crackled, and a new voice broke the silence.

“Hello, Ra?”

“Hey” I answered, confused.

“This is Joe, I’m your engineer here in Toronto. I just wanted to say … thanks for the music”.

I’m smiling as I recall this. I enjoyed meeting and talking to Joe - across the country, through the CBC’s phone lines. He told me he was going to blog about it. And he did.

There’s no business like show business.

Click here to visit Joe Mahoney’s Blog and read about our conversation.

All About Yesterday

(This is the post that followed the final post in the book - and the last entry before I shut the site down for the winter)


"You should know that there may be some weight issues on the way back."

The young pilot leaned close to me and spoke quietly.

"Sorry?" I said.

"Well, with the gravel and all ..."

"The gravel?"

"Well, ya ... and the short runway. And the fact that the take off is over water. There may be some weight issues. You may have to leave some things behind tonight."

"We already left a bunch of stuff behind in Winnipeg." I said, thinking out loud. "And we play tomorrow night ..."

I paused, weighing safety against a potentially missed gig, "How much stuff?"

"No more than a hundred pounds ... but it's really up to the pilot ..." He thought for a moment, "and the wind".

Our tiny ten passenger Pilatus single engine turbo prop sat alone on the Big Trout Lake air strip - a ragged gravel swatch cut out of the lakeside forest - surrounded by the band, the crew, a small collection of gear and the community's welcoming committee.

We moved quietly through the gathering entourage, shaking hands and making introductions. Accompanied by Eno, the show's coordinator, Luke, our constant companion for the evening, and three teenage boys, we boarded a battered yellow school bus for the ride to the "resting place". We crashed and bounced through the trees on dusty dirt roads - I raised my left hand, like a rodeo bull rider, bouncing on my seat. We hooted and hollered. Glen the school teacher - obviously British, wearing a Tilley hat, steel-rimmed glasses, shorts and boots grinned from behind the wheel.

"Kish'n'mayg'sib" Luke delivers the community's name as though it contains no more than two syllables.

"A little slower, Luke. Who's got a pen?"

"Kitchen - aw - maygo - sip" I repeated the word over and over in the arena's basement dressing room.

"Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip"

"You've got it now" said Luke, smiling.

"Kitchenawmagosip" I repeated, unconvinced.

Kitchenawmagosip, or Big Trout Lake as it's called on the map, is an hour and a half flight northeast of Winnipeg. It's not accessible by road in the summer, when the ice-roads have melted. They have two stores, a school, a police station with three policemen, a woman's shelter, and a small hotel with a restaurant. They are planning a youth centre and a laundromat. We were there as part of a celebration that also included square dancing, fiddle music and a $50,000 Bingo game.

"Take us there!" we said when we heard.

"Two Fifty a card" replied one of the buzz-cut teenagers.

"Two hundred and fifty dollars?"

"That's how we do things." Eno said proudly.

About a hundred people, in two rows of chairs, sat at the halfway point in the large dark arena. The six o'clock show-time had drifted to seven. Our high-intensity intro music exploded in the silent, near empty arena and the first show began. It is fair to say that first nations people have a general tendency to shyness. As an audience, they applaud appreciatively between songs but lack the animated interaction of a typical rock crowd. After I insisted that they move their chairs closer to the stage, the small audience began to warm up. They smile. Shyly.

We have flown from Vancouver to Winnipeg, from Winnipeg to Big Trout Lake and performed a ninety minute set. Our second show begins after a short thirty minute break - most of which is squandered signing autographs at the t-shirt table. We are already exhausted as we take the stage for the second time that day.

"That second show was on fire!" says Luke quietly as we make our way down the basement hallway to our bright yellow dressing room.

"Hey thanks." I say, shaking his outstretched hand.

By 11:00 PM we are assembled again at the airstrip. The warm, clear northern night is pin-drop quiet - headlights from a few randomly parked pickups provide enough light to load the gear. We talk quietly as we say our farewells. Luke promises to email photos. Eno's handshake turns into a hug. I step away from the group for a moment to discuss the weight issue with the pilot.

Ten minutes later, as we fly back to the tree-line, the copilot shuts off all the lights in the plane. We are high above the clouds and sharing the sky with a massive display of northern lights. Our tiny plane is surrounded by enormous curtains of shimmering and dancing light. Like children, we press our faces to the small windows - maneuvering our elbows to the seats in an effort to see higher into the night sky.

An hour passes before Winnipeg floats into view in front of us. We take turns craning over the pilots' shoulders as the city lights grow brighter. Soon, two clearly defined parallel rows of lights position themselves below and ahead of us. It still seems like a very long way down. Tilted at a slight angle to break our speed, but moving straight towards the runway, we descend smoothly to the Winnipeg tarmac.