Cory Henry @ VCC

It was an honour and a privilege. Connor and I were sitting so close - in the front row. He was so "there" in the room and so clearly creating as we watched. So completely connected to his instrument. I had expected to see the amazing keyboard player that we'd seen playing with Snarky Puppy last June, but I was not expecting the complete musical experience that Cory Henry and his two compatriots - Andreas Kapsalis and Oketo - brought to VCC last night.

And he sang! 

"It brings a tear ..." were the first words out of his mouth and I swear a tear appeared in my eye. 

I don't think he realizes what a great singer he is. He only sang three or four songs. But there was nothing missing from the rest of the set. He played his ass off. He was soulful, or funky, or CHURCH, or funny or just damn charming ... I don't think I've ever seen a more accomplished musician in person. Victor Wooten came to mind, but I still haven't seen him. 

In a Youtube video I watched today, he dropped the fact that he rehearsed 8 hours a day. Like Victor. You can see it. The keys jump up to his fingers. It seems like his hands sometimes go places that are a surprise to him - but you can also see that he trusts them completely. 

The band was over an hour late arriving for the show because of trouble crossing the border - but it was so worth the wait. It was one of the four or five best music shows I've ever seen.

Time and Place

It's all about time and place. And state-of-mind ... and whether or not you have the time, or the willingness, to spare the bit of your heart that's needed for moments like these. It's a tender balance sometimes. When it's not the right time and place, my instincts usually know when something is good enough to keep around - and that's why I was able to listen to the John Moreland album last night. 

It was late. I'd finished all my "business", such as that is these days. The plan was to listen to a newish Keb' Mo' album while I sorted through the files still littering my desktop. When the Keb' was done I double-clicked the 'High On Tulsa Heat' cover, remembering the minor chord it struck in me the only time I'd listened to it. 

'Hang Me In the Tulsa County Stars' dropped comfortably into the melancholy back room of my consciousness. Sadness ignored is still sadness. I have a lamp with a red shade. The other lights were off. Moreland is emotional. I try to decide if it's *too* emotional and haven't before the next song; 'Heart's Too Heavy' kicks in. This feels like a new record by an old favourite. I think Steve Earle, then not really. I piss myself off noticing the Springsteen in his voice. Because this is not that. Although the commitment and honesty is there, there is not the slightest whiff of self-consciousness in theses songs, this singing. It's dark, the lights are low and Mr Moreland has my number. 

Halfway through the third song I haven't heard or felt a cliche. The playing is deft, the arrangements sound like they are creating themselves, around the words in realtime, as they come. And the words are right up my alley at this time and in this place. From 'Cherokee":

And don't I hear you speakin' in the noises in this house
Airplanes flyin' over, shakin' all my secrets out
Darlin' tell me somethin' that I don't already know
I'm aware of where to find ya, it hurts too bad to go

And the music stops somewhere in the "I'm aware ..." in that last line. And my heart quivers a little. Or the chorus for 'Losing Sleep Tonight':

Are you busy serving sentences
To prodigals and priests
Drowning in the sea of tears you're crying
Are you worried that you're happier At war than at peace
Baby are you losing sleep tonight like I am
Oh are you losing sleep tonight like I am



It's all about time and place. And state-of-mind ... and whether or not you have the time, or the willingness, to spare the bit of your heart that's needed for moments like these.


I finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami last night. It was a big, engrossing magical book that took me both far away and deep inside. I didn't want it to end. Like Richard Ford's brilliant books, 1Q84 made me want to write. It reminded me that no two people see this world and its passing minutes the same. It convinced me again that capturing and preserving the ephemeral moment and the random impression is worthwhile - if only for my own satisfaction and edification.

According to Chekhov,” Tamaru said, rising from his chair, “once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.”

“Meaning what?”

Tamaru stood facing Aomame directly. He was only an inch or two taller than she was. “Meaning, don’t bring unnecessary props into a story. If a pistol appears, it has to be fired at some point. Chekhov liked to write stories that did away with all useless ornamentation.”

Aomame straightened the sleeves of her dress and slung her bag over her shoulder. “And that worries you – if a pistol comes on the scene, it’s sure to be fired at some point.”

“In Chekhov’s view, yes.”

“So you’re thinking you’d rather not hand me a pistol.”

“They’re dangerous. And illegal. And Chekhov is a writer you can trust.”

“But this is not a story. We’re talking about the real world.”

Tamaru narrowed his eyes and looked hard at Aomame. Then, slowly opening his mouth, he said, “Who knows?”

~ Haruki Murakami - 1Q84

The Sportswriter

I'm re-reading 'The Sportswriter' by Richard Ford. I don't often read a book a second time. Debbie gave me all ten of the New York Times Top Ten Books for Christmas in 2006 and Ford's 'The Lay of the Land' was among them. It was unlike anything I'd ever read - equally hard-nosed realistic and dreamy-headed magical. The writing was alive, crisp, startlingly present and read as though every word had been polished – while at the same time seeming to flow like water from the mind of its protagonist Frank Bascombe - a man surprisingly recognizable to me.


Richard Ford

I soon learned that 'The Lay of the Land' was the most recent of three books chronicling Bascombe's complicated, yet in many ways pedestrian, life from 1986 (The Sportswriter) to 2006 (The Lay of the Land). 1996's 'Independence Day' covered the years in between.

I dug out 'The Sportswriter' a few days ago thinking to check it as a benchmark of sorts. I've held all three books in such high esteem, I'd started to wonder if my current reading still held up or if, maybe, I'd placed the Bascombe books on an undeserved pedestal - creating an unrealistic and unfair reference point.

On the plane to Toronto and back this past weekend I confirmed that, in the case of 'The Sportswriter' at least, the power of the writing remains undiminished.

I have to use a post-it note to mark my place in the dog-eared paperback because so many pages have been turned down (or in some cases up) to mark favourite passages. Here's one on the subject of teachers, a profession Frank has tried, but run from, terrified, referring to his former colleagues as "anti-mystery types":

"Real mystery – the very reason to read (and certainly to write) any book – was to them a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words."

Or this from earlier in the book, about Franks habit of "looking around" what he feels to something else he might be feeling:

"When you are fully in your emotions, when they are simple and appealing enough to be in, and the distance is closed between what you feel and what you might also feel, then your instincts can be trusted. It is the difference between a man who quits his job to become a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout, and who one day as he is paddling his canoe into the dock at dusk, stops paddling to admire the sunset and realizes how much he wants to be a fishing guide on Lake Big Trout; and another man who has made the same decision, stopped paddling at the same time, felt how glad he was, but also thought he could probably be a guide on Windigo Lake if he decided to, and might also get a better deal on canoes.

Another way of describing this is that it's the difference between being a literalist and a factualist. A literalist is a man who will enjoy an afternoon watching people while stranded in an airport in Chicago, while a factualist can't stop wondering why his plane was late out of Salt Lake, and gauging whether they'll still serve dinner or just a snack."

These ruminations arise from Franks confusion about whether or not to tell Vicki Arcenault he loves her.

These are not easy books to read and I'm not necessarily recommending them to you. An online check will show you that they are about equally hated and revered out there in the world. But since the books aren't as famous as some, and Richard Ford is still not a household name, I thought I'd share them here like I share the sometimes less-than-well-known music I love.

Also, I want to write as well as Richard Ford - a goal that, although probably unattainable, will pull me forward like no wishing or hoping could do. Writing this post is, then, part show-and-tell - but also part declaration. I want to write as well as Richard Ford.

On Tour With My iPad

I've finished my first two book on my iPad - "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan and "Wild Years - The Music and Myth of Tom Waits" by Jay S. Jacobs. "Goon Squad" is a truly contemporary book that wanders shamelessly through time, observing the tumultuous lives of a cast of characters all vaguely associated with the music industry. I liked it a lot. The Tom Waits book is a pretty straightforward chronicle of a very private man's career. I would have liked to see more detail, but appreciate what I learned.

I really enjoy reading on the iPad. On the whole, I like it better than reading traditional books.

At first I missed not being able to gauge, by the amount of pages shifted from the right hand to the left, how far along in the story I was, but it's not so much a loss as a change of habit. My iPad has helped be break that habit and realize that reading, like life, is all about the journey. The distance yet to be travelled should not be a distracting consideration. At any rate, a quick touch of the screen will show me.

I've read my iPad in airports, on planes, in vans, in restaurants, in hotel rooms, in beds in hotel rooms and in all circumstances, except bright sunlight, the experience has been more comfortable and all-round more rewarding. Part of this is due to the excellent Marware Eco-Vue case I bought while waiting for my iPad to arrive. Thanks to the multiple configurations of the case, I rarely have to hold the iPad with my hands. Even while sitting with my legs crossed the micro-fibre lining grips my jeans and holds the screen in place.

I was most looking forward to reading comic books and graphic novels on the bright, colourful and nearly comic-book-shaped iPad screen, and that experience has been everything I hoped for. I've been re-reading some favourites and discovering new titles (like Ed Brubaker's amazing "Criminal").

Although the time difference probably measures in miliseconds, the iPad is quicker in and out of the backpack and, as a result, more likely to be deployed. There is a general feel of convenience to it that my heavier, hinged, MacBook Pro seems, more and more, to lack.

For the moment though, and until I'm more used to the iPads glass keyboard, anything longer than a few paragraphs gets written on this trusty laptop.

The iPad

I spent Wednesday morning glued to my computer screen, alternating between three live-blogs while simultaneously trying to make sense of a mostly unlistenable uStream feed beamed directly from the Yerbe Buena Centre in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs and his Apple compatriots were unveiling their new tablet computing device; the iPad. I'm a fan of both Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs. I've been to MacWorld three times. I haven't missed a Keynote or product announcement for years. I've owned Apple gear since 1996 when I bought my Quadra 650, and I've been the Mac tech, tutor and evangelist for friends and family since then.

I will buy at least one iPad. And I'll take a lot of pleasure from watching what David Pogue calls "a 1.5 lb sack of potential" fill-up with as-yet unimagined applications and fill-out with next year's (or next month's) software and hardware updates. Just like the iPhone did.

In the meantime, the internet and twitter-verse is aswarm with those whose expectations were not met. Apple's inability to fulfill all of the rumour-mill's rampant and often unrealistic predictions is seen by some as a fundamental failure of a company that should know better. And, dammit, should have done better.

A friend posted on Facebook that "It's really an oversized iTouch being heralded as new technology for the future!" and goes on to say that he's "had a fully functioning tablet for 3 years now!". The PC he's referring to isn't the iPad, or anything like it, and it wouldn't take long to confirm that, but his characterization is already dishearteningly familiar and confirms how rewarding it can be to pass judgment ... even when that judgment is sometimes based on a minimum of related information.

Bob Lefsetz, a pop culture commentator, wrote something yesterday so ill-informed that it made me laugh out loud when I read it:

"The iPad is almost like a computer without software". He said.

A computer without software is exactly what it is at the moment! A powerful, beautifully designed computer that you operate by moving your fingers over a screen. The iPhone had  no software to speak of when it was announced. As of Wednesday there are 140,000 apps in the App Store. But Bob, my friend on Facebook, and many others, are unimpressed.

I will continue to be excited, optimistic and hopeful about what I see as a whole new way to interact with the ever-growing digital data-stream and a new vessel into which we can pour our collective imagination. And I'll leave you with this:

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.” ~ Steve Jobs

If you do have some interest in the iPad and want to take a few minutes to learn about it, I recommend the article posted yesterday by British actor, writer, comedian, television presenter, film director and genius Stephen Fry who was at the Yerbe Buena presentation and held one in his hands. I also recommend David Pogue's "The Apple iPad, First Impressions" in the New York Times, and John Gruber's dependably incisive and clear-headed observations on his blog, Daring Fireball.

Another great review of Connor McGuire's ‘Different After Dawn’

My buddy, L.A. musician and songwriter (and artist on Guitar Hero III) Davidicus Schacher, sent me some comments on Connor’s CD that he’s given me permission to share with you:

“i was under the impression it was close to folk, (not sure why), but i think of it as acoustic pop now. lyrically authentic, i’m jealous. the melodies aren’t as bombastic as what i usually listen to, but it’s a very sophisticated album that deepens over time. the performances are skillfully played and beautifully polished. the arrangements are perfectly refined and drive the album forward. i’m particularly fond of Whenever I Talk and Easy (great choice with the mandolin). a very honest and mature collection. i’m very glad to have a copy.”

The Shadow of the Wind

I just finished a great book. So great, I feel like reading it again right away. It’s a combination of Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose”, Wilkie Collins’ “Women in White” and a fifties mystery/adventure/horror movie filmed in Barcelona, Spain.

Maybe I loved it more because I was just in Barcelona, but I don’t think so. “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a complete and immensely satisfying entertainment. It’s exciting, magical, complex and thought provoking. In many ways the book is about reading and the power of the writer’s art. Here’s a quote I love from near the end of the book:

“Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”

Connor McGuire Review - White Rock Sun

A review from Connor’s show at the Wired Monk last Saturday:


There’s been so much else to talk about, I haven’t mentioned some of the fine musical adventures I’ve had over the last few weeks. I must start with my dropping in on Connor McGuire at the Wired Monk in Crescent Beach. (By the way, this fully licensed coffee bistro is warm, cozy, intimate, and a perfect spot as an acoustic venue.) As usual when Connor performs, people of all ages were there, on this occasion flowing out the door, and as always, lots of love in the room. Rarely have I known a performer who has such an intimate connection with his audience as he interacts with them between and sometimes during his songs. Each time I’ve seen Connor perform, the audience becomes part of the show, and before the night is done he has everyone singing along. Connor was joined by his friend Kieran Mercer to sing an original song they wrote together called “On my way”. Connor sings both covers that he makes his own and his own songs: “Sweetly Goodnight”, “You Don’t Know” and “Easy” …

For me, the way I know when someone has had a big impact on me is when I can’t get a song out of my head, and this was the case this evening as the lyrics, which he had us all singing along with him “It seems to me that either way, you’re surrounded by the people surrounding you today…” kept playing in my head for days afterwards. A unique sound, strong songs with big hooks and powerful lyrics, the audience in the palm of his hand, and a warmth that invites you in and makes you a part of a night you want to go on and on, it’s always a treat to catch a performance by this fine young singer / songwriter.

~ Doug LaChance

Book News

My book has received some excellent reviews and has been nominated for the Blooker Prize. Also, I ran into the guys from April Wine at the Saskatoon Airport today and Brian Greenway (who is in the book and, apparently enjoyed reading the book) told me that he had seen it front-racked at bookstores in the Toronto International Airport. Which makes me very happy.

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.