RIP Chuck Berry

Categories: 2017, Music, and RIP.

With guitar-based rock music decidedly out of fashion it is possible – probable? – that many people don’t understand how important Chuck Berry was to the music of the second half of the 20th century. But just because the electric guitar isn’t currently popular doesn’t mean it wasn’t the central vehicle for musical expression of the last 60 years, as it was: from the 1950s till very recently, if you wanted to form a band, someone in your band had to learn how to play guitar. That is because of Chuck Berry. Read More

RIP Garry Shandling

Categories: RIP.

Shandling was responsible for one of the truly great comedic TV shows, The Larry Sanders Show, which is on the shortlist of the very, very best, with The Flying Circus, SCTV, KITH, Seinfeld, The Simpsons and South Park. I’ve never seen his first show, It’s the Gary Shandling Show, but that was also apparently quite good. The Larry Sanders Show, in addition to being hilarious, is among the most influential shows of its era, as it helped birth the “awkward” comedy (at least in the US) that has come to dominate so much of what we see as funny these Read More

RIP George Martin

Categories: 2016 and Music.

George Martin was the most innovative producer of the 1960s and, given what happened in the 1960s, perhaps the most innovative producer in the history of rock music. As someone who grew up with The Beatles (long story), his music had a massive impact on my life. Martin is, of course, most known for producing The Beatles albums that irrevocably changed music history, though he had a much longer career, than just those seven and a half years. But whether Martin was some kind of genius producer who took The Beatles to heights they may not have reached themselves, or Read More

RIP Umberto Eco

Categories: 2016 and RIP.

I only ever read two books by the man – one fiction, one non – but I felt his presence in my life in many ways. Ever since I first saw (the awfully cast) film version of his The Name of the Rose, I was intrigued, I felt like there was something there. The movie may have been a Hollywoodization of his novel (frankly, I have no idea, as I have not read it) but I sensed an understanding of the world that made sense to me. It was only years later when I read Foucault’s Pendulum when I finally Read More

RIP David Bowie Playlist

Categories: 2015, Music, and RIP.

I am going to try to put together some of my favourite songs Bowie wrote and performed over the years, but I apologize if this list is not thorough enough. Nothing will really be good enough to capture what he meant to me or millions of others.   “Space Oddity’ (1969) I know it’s an obvious choice, but this is how he was first introduced to the masses and it probably marks the point at which art rock became its own thing.   “All the Madmen” (1970) Probably my favorite song from The Man Who Sold the World, as the Read More

RIP David Bowie

Categories: 2015, Music, and RIP.

Much like when Lou Reed, another of my favourite songwriters, died, I find myself in complete shock. Shock that someone I have spent over half my life listening to, discussing/debating and feeling like I had some kind of connection with, has died…could die. Shock that death comes for us all, no matter how great. The shock is all the greater, though, because Bowie just released an album the other day. I assumed incorrectly that the release of that album meant he was doing better. I had no intention of buying an album released by a 69-year old singer-songwriter, a songwriter Read More

RIP Lemmy

Categories: 2015, Music, and RIP.

It has come to my attention that Lemmy has died. My first reaction is kind of an awful one: I sort of thought he would have been dead a long time ago. Lemmy is the Keith Richards of NWOBM, after all. He appears to have done more to abuse his body than most people. Anyway, I was long that person – the person who preferred Hawkwind to Motorhead (I know, I know). But I’ve come around in recent years. And though I don’t know enough about the man to write anything particularly interesting, I can say that watching his biographical Read More

RIP EL Doctorow

Categories: Books and RIP.

I got into Doctorow because he was once one of my father’s favourite American novelists. Over the years I read eight of his twelve novels (though not his most famous, Ragtime), one of his two short story collections and his play. I haven’t read any of them recently. I feel like I am slowly coming into my own, writing about nonfiction (particularly nonfiction I dislike) but I have never felt good about how I write about fiction. So I struggle with what to say here. Doctorow’s historical fiction challenges the way we view the past, much like Gore Vidal’s historical Read More

RIP Chris Squire

Categories: Music and RIP.

Among the “Big 6” prog bands, Yes was long my least favourite (though, as I age, ELP has taken their place very handily) – I have always found their discography rather immense and, well, kind of repetitive (though I have not given it the time I have given King Crimson’s, for example). So, maybe how I feel about Squire will change once I get around to giving Yes’ discography the full attention it likely deserves, but who knows. For the moment: Read More

RIP Ornette Coleman

Categories: 2015 and Music.

I am not the man to write an obituary about Ornette Coleman, but what the hell, I’ll try to tell you what he meant to me anyway. If you don’t know him, Ornette Coleman ostensibly invented free jazz, that is the style of jazz that abandoned the previous rules of jazz and embraced free improvisation (i.e. doing whatever you want). Initially, this was just in the solos, deviating from the conventions of the genre which said you had to stay in certain ranges and keys during your solo. Coleman’s early quartet, fearturing him on alto (a plastic one!), Don Cherry Read More

RIP Mike Nichols

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

I am currently writing a draft of one of my future books, so this will be brief. Nichols was an important filmmaker who made some of the great American movies (including one of my absolute, all-time favourites) as well as some pretty mediocre shit that I couldn’t believe someone with his talent was responsible for. I have never been interested enough in his career to know why that might have been, or to detect Nicholsian moments, if there are such things. But some of this films made a profound impact on me and I will be forever grateful. Particularly The Read More

RIP Jack Bruce

Categories: 2014 and Music.

Jack Bruce, probably the second greatest bass guitarist of all time, died October 24, 2014. Bruce was one of the very first rock musicians to take an interest in jazz, and Bruce was in a number of rock bands that explored jazz before jazz musicians began exploring rock, the most famous of these was, obviously, Cream. (Alternatively, Bruce was one of the first jazz musicians to play rock music…) Bruce brought jazz bass techniques to the bass guitar for the first time. Though John Entwistle was obviously an important bassist, by being the first player to play obvious fills, Bruce Read More

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Categories: Books and RIP.

For some reason, I have never felt as comfortable writing about books as I have about music or movies. And the same goes for authors versus musicians or directors. And so when Garcia Marquez died, I intended to write something and then promptly could not. I think it’s because there’s so much more going on in a book, whether fiction or non, then there is in a song, an album, a short film or a feature. And I think that when you’re writing for no pay, as I do, it’s harder to buckle down and write an appropriate review of Read More

RIP Lou Reed

Categories: Music and RIP.

Lou Reed died today. I am at a bit of a loss for words, simply because, as with the death of any songwriter who has an impact on my life, I always just assume he would be around forever, which is a ridiculous thing. He was only 71, but not that long ago, 71 was really old. It is only recently that it is “below average” and still it is only that for the “developed world. I am rationalizing; I did think he would be making more music. And I haven’t even been keeping up, which makes my surprise / Read More

RIP Ray Manzarek

Categories: Music and RIP.

As keyboardist for the Doors, Ray Manzarek brought a level of virtuosity and taste to rock keyboards while (usually) showing a level of restraint most other rock keyboard innovators of the 1960s could not. (I mean the prog keyboardists such as Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, etc.) Manzarek helped bring various non-rock influences to “psychedelia”, such as Latin musics and musical theatre. And as a player he brought restraint to his solos, with the notable exception of “Light My Fire”. Check out his piano solo on “The Crystal Ship”, a restrained yet somehow note-perfect fill. Manzarek doesn’t show off here at Read More

RIP Roger Ebert

Categories: Movies and RIP.

Roger Ebert wasn’t the first movie critic I read, but he was the first movie critic I was aware of because of his TV show. I didn’t read Ebert regularly until his website made it possible to access his reviews. Since that time, I have read him anywhere between occasionally and regularly, depending upon how busy I was in my life. Though I can’t say I agreed with him on even half of his reviews, Ebert’s always-thoughtful reviews never failed to provoke a response. More importantly, his list of “The Great Movies” has served as my guide to the cinema Read More

RIP Ray Collins

Categories: Music and RIP.

Ray Collins died on Christmas eve. Because he was Ray Collins, I didn’t find out about it for four days. Collins was Zappa’s earliest lead vocalist in the Mothers of Invention – that is, when Zappa himself wasn’t singing – which was actually initially Collins’ band under another name. He also provided backing vocals to these early Mothers albums and numerous other Zappa projects (allmusic lists around 30 credits). He contributed some rhythm guitar and percussion as well to the early Mothers albums, when they were still an actual band, and not just whatever Zappa was doing that day. I was Read More

RIP Ravi Shankar

Categories: Music and RIP.

There was a time when I really, really wanted to get into Indian music. However, I lived in small town Quebec. So I used the internet (Napster then a few of Napster’s successors) and found very little in what I was really looking for: crazy-long ragas. I found a couple supposedly by Shankar (I have never been able to confirm) but not many. Listening to them in my university dorm room bothered other people. At some point my computer died and I lost the files. By the time I moved back to civilization, my desire to listen to ragas had Read More

RIP Dave Brubeck

Categories: Music and RIP.

I can’t pretend I know all that much about Brubeck, the jazz pianist (for those of you who don’t know him). Like most jazz fans, I know Time Out well. And I only know the rest of his career from reading about him. I don’t think I have listened to a single other Brubeck album though I have heard the odd additional track on CJRT (J as in Jazz) Jazz FM 91 – Canada’s Premier Jazz Station – “dedicated to jazz and the jazz community at large”.  (Did I mention they play jazz?) Ahem. I’m sorry. A eulogy isn’t the place for inside Read More

RIP Elliott Carter

Categories: Music and RIP.

I have come late to Carter’s work, having only heard most of hist string quartet cycle in the last year. I must say that I was extremely impressed and really interested in hearing more. Carter’s music – at least his music of the ’60s – breaks boundaries – and perhaps that’s why it is most notable – but Carter was able to give this boundary-breaking some kind of emotional resonance that someone like me, with no knowledge of music theory, can hardly express. I don’t know how he did it. But when I hear something like his first quartet I feel what Read More

Truth in Advertising

Categories: Movies and RIP.

I can’t really say “RIP Tony Scott” because I didn’t like many of his movies. And I’m sure if I went back and watched those that I did like as a teen or early 20-something, I would like them even less. I’m not saying this to be an asshole, but I am saying it because I strongly believe in truth telling, and all deaths – celebrity and non-celebrity alike – suffer from mythmaking: he was good, he was evil, etc. Gray details disappear. Read More

Gore Vidal was crazy but sometimes he was also awesome

Categories: Books and RIP.

I guess what I mean to say is RIP Gore Vidal. But I have a problem saying that, and my problem is that Gore Vidal believed a lot of stuff (particularly about the United States government) that was not true. Worse, he made it public. Worse, because he was Gore Vidal, he made it public on TV, in magazines, on the radio, etc. Read More

RIP: Jon Lord

Categories: Music and RIP.

Jon Lord was one of the earliest rock keyboardists – along with people like Keith Emerson – to attempt to fuse so-called “classical” music (actually it was usually romantic) with rock. He convinced his band, Deep Purple, to cover Richard Strauss, among others, to include his string and wind arrangements, and to eventually perform his “Concerto for Group and Orchestra” (certainly one of the inspirations for Metallica’s experiment with a symphony). All of this occurred before Deep Purple decided to try out (the early version of) heavy metal instead. After this change in direction, Lord was certainly one of the Read More

RIP Ween

Categories: Music and RIP.

I found out about Ween’s demise last week, and I have been trying to think of how to sum up what they meant to me (and the world, but of course…) in some kind of measured way. I have a rather bizarre relationship with them: I came to them rather late (2001? 2002?) and I never, ever saw them live. So I can’t really do them justice. But I will try. I think the best way to do it is to discuss what I think is their greatest achievement – and one of the great rock albums of the 1990s Read More

Dick Clark is Dead

Categories: Music and RIP.

Dick Clark died the other day. I woke up to a CTV news feature which included a CTV employee saying that Clark had “real talent” and was very nice… unlike all those other “middling talents” who weren’t so nice. If Clark had real talent, I wonder what all those musicians he showcased had? Extra-real talent? Hundreds of thousands of people die each day. So why do we celebrate someone who was a television presenter and nothing more? Is it because he was famous, as my friend tells me (and, to give him some credit, at least he was famous for Read More

RIP Gerald E. Tucker

Categories: 2011, Personal, and RIP.

Though he initially confounded me, as he did many first year students, Tucker became one of my favourite professors at Bishop’s while I was there – perhaps my favourite. He never finished the curriculum for any class I took with him (I’m not sure we ever made it 2/3rds of the way through any) and he usually strayed from the point, but no other professor at Bishop’s, or where I did my grad school, ever provoked me to think like Tucker did. He would say things – sometimes seriously but often jokingly – that would provoke my brain and / Read More

How would you revamp the Hall in light of Martin’s untimely death?

Categories: 2011, Hall of Fame, Hockey, and Sports.

How would I revamp the Hall in light of Martin’s untimely death? Start over. Put some notables from the early eras and then, starting around 1960 or so, any skater who is in the Top 25 the day they become eligible of any of the following categories is an automatic: Games, Goals, Assists, Points, +/-, GPG, APG, PPG, with a higher threshold for goalie wins, save %age and GAA. Anybody else would have to be justified in some way. Additionally, events and records and so forth could be inducted as well, instead of the players (if the players didn’t meet Read More

The Hall of Fame has screwed the pooch again

Categories: 2011, Hall of Fame, Hockey, RIP, and Sports.

For the second time in as many years the Hall of Fame has been exposed for not honouring someone in time. This time the death obviously wasn’t expected, but that doesn’t make it any better. First, they ignored or avoided the opportunity to put Burns in during his lifetime. I really don’t pay attention to coach records but I agree with those who felt Burns was a definite hall of famer that this was pretty classless. Now, Rick Martin, a deserving hall of famer as I argued last year, is dead and he will never be alive if the Hall Read More