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 on Synthesis Blog

Connor’s new album was reviewed on the Synthesis Magazine blog the other day:

Synthesis Band You’ve Never Heard Of Band of The Day: Connor McGuire Author: spencer

8 Feb

Connor McGuire

I sifted through a few submissions today and declined about four or five groups based mostly on their lyrical content, or lack thereof, rather. As a songwriter, the difference between hiding behind poorly-constructed metaphors and creating phrases that strike from the bone and come right from the heart is like night and day. There’s poetry in the day to day and honest simplicity will always trump complicated purple prose. That’s why Connor McGuire is our Band You’ve Never Heard of Band of the Day.

British Columbia singer/songwriter Connor McGuire’s songs take a road traveled by the likes of Mason Jennings and Jason Collett , built around acoustic instruments, peppered with non-obtrusive arrangements of mandolins, strings, horns, organs and electric guitar. His lyrical couplets follow ideas to their full conclusion (see “The End of the Line”), blending axioms and blunt moments into a seamless earnestness. You can purchase his album Different After Dawn here.

Dad’s Birthday

It’s my Dad’s birthday today. He would have been 88. Here’s the first two paragraphs of the life story that he wrote longhand (and which my Mom painstakingly transcribed):

I was born on January 3, 1920, in a dirt-floored cabin, on a homestead in northern Alberta near Mellowdale … a town that I don’t believe exists now. It was seventy miles above Edmonton. But try as I may, I can’t remember that day. I have to go on what my Mother told me.

The only memory I have of this time is riding in a horse-drawn sleigh with “sleigh bells ringing”, all bundled up under a heavy fur, and seeing lights from a window of a house down a snowy hill to the left. It was dark … blue dark. The house had heavy snow on the roof, and icicles, and it was still snowing, and I could hear music. The fur we were under was a buffalo hide, my Dad told me years later. He never remembered that particular time, but said it was probably Eligh DeGuire’s place. I recall, vaguely, being placed on a bed with other little sleeping kids and complaining bitterly. I also remember crying because the music was so beautiful, and my Mother sang so beautifully.

My Christmas Letter

Ok, here’s the latest plan. Think Springsteen’s “Nebraska” record, only with drums, or at least a groove of some kind. Maybe some occasional strings. Not traditional strings but rough strings. Gravelly strings. Like the ones I used on the demo of Cold Water. Just simple songs framed frugally.

This may be yet another promising but overly gaudy float in an annoyingly unrewarding parade of potentially do-able creative blueprints that has been taunting me all year. This one sounds good to me - but I’m in a positive frame of mind. It’s Christmas.

The complex and frankly threatening idea of song writing often floats to the top of my consciousness on those few occasions when, because other less controllable thought has subsided slightly, I could be pursuing the elusive relaxation that I claim to want so badly. As I began, on this quiet and calm day after Christmas, to formulate a tentative year-end list of 2007 events and milestones, I was not surprised to see songwriting once again stepping to the foreground, grinning accusingly. I will plow on regardless, on the premise that those things that did happen in 2007 are more significant than those that didn’t.

Right now, I feel as though the whole year tired me out, but more than likely it’s that Christmas thing - or at least that Christmas thing that we do here. We try very hard to do Christmas as Ebenezer was said to have done it after returning from his visits with the three phantoms. We try to do it well.

A little over a year ago my mother moved from the 1800 square foot house in Langley where she’d lived alone since Dad died, to a 600 square foot apartment here in White Rock. We helped her dismantle a home bursting with a lifetime’s treasures. We helped her with impossible decisions about what could be kept and what had to go. This was unimaginably difficult for my mom, and possibly equally as painful for the rest of her family. We all put on our brave faces, but it was no fun. Weeks of hard work saw us cleaning out the house, moving into the brand new apartment and setting up Mom for her new life. As 2007 began, she put the Langley house up for sale - it was sold by February 2nd.

By then we had already begun preparations for Connor’s first album. The recording of “Different After Dawn”, a brilliant collection of passionately performed acoustic-based original songs, was a culmination of so many things for Connor - and for his three-piece family. The recording sessions were fun, difficult, and massively rewarding. The finished CD will remain a triumph for Connor as he moves forward into his music. Connor and I co-produced the album and, for the most part, found the perfect balance point. When that wasn’t possible we struggled for the right thing. In all respects, the music won. Debbie didn’t get production credits, but should have. It was a real team effort.

Recording was often interrupted by shows. Trooper was, as always, the strong and consistent thread that ties my years together. In 2007 we performed sixty-seven shows at festivals, casinos, concerts, theatres and clubs from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and as far north as Inuvik and Chisasibi. We spent more time in airports than any other year of our career. Over the past two or three years we have spent far less time huddled in rented vans driving for hours on end. I miss that.

In the spring I signed on as a ‘judge’ for the CBC’s Seven Wonders of Canada project. By June that supposedly modest project had attracted national attention. I devoted a surprising amount of time and brain-space to the suddenly necessary task of knowing Canada more fully and deeply. By the time the two “National News” TV news segments had aired - featuring the three judges narrowing 52 nominations down to 7 winners - I was more than ready to step back out of the public eye. The upshot downside is that I received equal amounts of kudos and hate mail, neither of which I read. The upside was that I came to know Canada more fully and deeply - and that I met and kicked around with Roy MacGregor - a fellow SWofC judge, a great Canadian and a great guy.

By July we were finishing up the mixes for Connor’s record. Boxes of CDs arrived in August. A few weeks later, in mid September, Connor and Debbie and I were in Barcelona Spain drinking San Miguel beer in Gaudi’s beautiful Parc Guell. After Trooper’s gig in Barcelona, the three of us toured that amazing country for three fun-filled weeks. It was a great adventure in a beautiful and passionate country. In November Debbie flew to Toronto and joined me, mid-tour, for a week of big-time downtown fun while I played a few shows in the area. We ended the week with our very first Grey Cup game.

In 2007 I also went to Nanaimo to sing on S. George Brown’s first CD, wrote a heartbroken song with my friend John Pippus, went to Warped Tour with Connor, went to see George Martin (the Beatles’ producer) with Connor and Debbie, went to see Ratatat with Connor, did a father-son TV interview with Red Robinson, held my breath while my friends Monty and Jon miraculously beat Heart Disease and Cancer respectively, welcomed Paul Cloutier back to the band as Tour Manager, stayed in close contact with our accountant as Trooper was audited by the tax department, attended Tuesday morning meetings of the Gentlemen of Leisure, Spent eight months successfully convincing (and then helping) Universal Music to post ALL of their Trooper recordings on iTunes, and, finally, burned up a great deal of time taking care of all those disparate chores that fall under the general heading of “Trooper business”.

I’ve managed to devote more time to my family. It’s been an ongoing goal and I’m proud of my few successes in 2007. The three of us working together on Connor’s record was the unforgettable milestone of the year. Debbie and I huddled happily in our new favourite Queen Street italian restaurant (Terroni) on a cold and wet Toronto afternoon runs a close second.

Connor scored a great job as an assistant editor at a local film company when we returned from Spain, and just attended the company Christmas party last week. His record has received great reviews and he’s playing lots of successful shows. Debbie is sewing and creating again and happy to see a hopeful horizon looming in the distance. Her Mom has remained in her White Rock home since Alex passed away and seems content and reasonably healthy, and I do not recall my mother ever being happier and more full of life than she is at this very moment in time.

For myself, I’m unsure about what happens next. I can say, though, that on these final grey days of 2007, it seems like anything’s possible.

Seven Wonders of Canada 2 - The Upshot


The initial infrastructure for the show was quickly humbled by the country’s enthusiastic response to the idea of picking seven favourite Canadian wonders. The 7WC website underwent several hasty renovations and the online voting system strained and choked under the weight of it’s sudden popularity. My job, as a judge, slowly began to seem just a tiny bit more … complicated.

I still have the first email from the CBC producer. It refers to the “feedback that we hope to get from listeners”. Over 20,000 pitches and more than a million votes later, I was shuffling my tour schedule to accommodate the three and a half hour “Judgement Day” television and radio segment at the CBC’s Toronto studios.

Conference calls hammered together a complicated, but hopefully fair, procedure by which we would proceed. The judges painstakingly filled out spreadsheets listing all fifty-two short listed nominations and the criteria that had been determined at the outset. The online voting would be factored in, but not relied upon completely, because many worthy nominations lacked the population base to generate the kind of pride-driven community voting that characterized some of the more seemingly popular wonders. One of my hopeless favourites, for instance, - a seventy kilometer in diameter impact crater - blasted into the Canadian Shield 200 million years ago and still looking like a fresh bullet wound - probably received very few votes beyond that of Canadian astronaut, Marc Garneau, who had photographed it from space and pitched it on one of the first ‘Sound Like Canada’ Seven Wonders shows.

Despite the fact that I’ve visited two thirds of the 52 nominated wonders, I felt obligated to take the time to study them all - confirming and adding to what I knew, and learning about those places I’ve never been. I spent hours discussing potential nominations with family and friends - quickly learning that no two seven wonders lists are the same. It was an enriching, rewarding and, yes, fun experience.

I’m proud of the list of seven that Roberta, Roy and I ultimately settled on. It was borne of compromise and will be seen by many as flawed, but I hope those people who cared about the outcome will understand that we did our very best to represent them. From the looks of things, the Seven Wonders of Canada program was just the beginning of the CBC’s celebration of a country that boasts hundreds of wonders - not just seven. Check out the 7WC website to see the much larger and - much more important - picture that they present there.

Finally, and even though nobody’s asked me, here’s my *personal* seven wonders of Canada:

Niagara Falls The Rockies Haida Gwaii The Ice Road from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk The Manicouagan Crater The Thousand Islands The Lobster Pound in Hall’s Harbour NS

Now YOU try to get your list down to just seven!

UPDATE - One thing’s for sure, the Sleeping Giant is awake now” - Roy MacGregor - Globe and Mail UPDATE 2 - Geographical correctness run amok” - Christie Blatchford - Globe and Mail UPDATE 3 - “More on the Seven Wonders of Canada” Jonathan Whitten & Cathy Simon - The National - Blog

Seven Wonders of Canada 1 - Judgement Day

There were moments, on the CBC’s Seven Wonders of Canada set, where the three of us fell totally silent and simply stared at one another hopelessly. Staff from ‘The National’ and ‘Sounds Like Canada’ and a large crew of technicians looked on, cameras rolling, as the complete impossibility of our task began to sink in.

We had been chosen by the CBC to be judges. I believe they made excellent choices. Roberta L. Jamieson is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. She was the first Canadian aboriginal woman to earn a law degree, the first woman to serve as the chief of the Six Nations and the first woman appointed as Ombudsman for the Province of Ontario - a position she held for ten years. We arm-wrestled on the set.

Roy MacGregor has been covering the Stanley Cup Finals for the Globe and Mail recently. We hung out backstage together at game four in Ottawa. His books have been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award and include both fiction and non-fiction. He wrote the acclaimed “Home Team: Fathers, Sons and Hockey”, the popular Screech Owls Mystery series for young readers and has recently released “Canadian” in which he attempts to explain us to ourselves. If Google is to be trusted, he’s an Order of Canada recipient. He’s also a helluva guy.

None of our credentials could have prepared us for the surreal showdown we were facing. Starting with a “short list” of fifty-two truly inspiring Canadian “wonders”, we were given just over three hours to discard fourty-five of them. Our every deliberation was being filmed for TV and recorded for radio, and would be presented in an edited form, right across the country, four days later.

To be continued …

Link to streaming video of Part One

Link to streaming video of Part Two

UPDATE - “Seven Wonders of Canada” - Jonathan Whitten Executive Producer of the National - CBC Inside Media UPDATE 2 - What is more wonderfully Canadian than a snowflake?” - Roy MacGregor Globe and Mail

Interview Day

Tuesday is my interview day. Some Tuesdays I do four or five interviews back to back, half an hour apart. It can get confusing remembering what you’ve said to your current interviewer when you’ve already answered the same questions two or three times. This potential problem is more than offset by the fact that I prefer concentrating the interviews into one day to having them popping up randomly during the week - which is how they used to happen.

I did two interviews last Tuesday - one with a newspaper in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta and one with a magazine in Toronto, Ontario.

While discussing the fact that many people come to see my band multiple times, the Fort Saskatchewan interviewer told me that he’d seen Trooper fourteen times. When discussing the same topic half an hour later with the Toronto writer, I proudly mentioned the Fort S. writer/fan.

“Well, he’s got me …” he said sounding a little disappointed, “I’ve only seen you twelve times”.