Friday, June 18, 2010

Paul Quarrington

Reading Paul Quarrington's memoir Cigar Box Banjo and I have to say, that considering Paul received the news about his lung cancer partway through the writing of this book, and then changed his approach, the finished product is funny, uplifting and a flat-out dandy read.
I've always liked Quarrington's books. From my first reading of Home Game, his first novel, through King Leary and The Life of Hope his books have grabbed me. And I can't begin to explain how I enjoyed Whale Music, maybe the best book ever written about Brian Wilson! Except it's about the Howl Brothers! Great film too.
After I read Home Game I sent a letter to Paul c/o his publisher, and he replied. We entered into a brief letter writing relationship. Then it was over. Didn't see him for a few years, until his band Pork Belly Futures appeared at the Scottish Rite, opening a reading by Ian Rankin. The band was fun, playing Paul's songs about Hemingway, and Michael Ondaatje, and they had a special guest guitarist. Danny Weis (who had played in Rhinoceros back in the day) was filling in. We (my wife and I) rode in the elevator with Danny. After the reading, I talked to Paul and reminded him of the letters. Who remembers letters from ten years ago? Well, since one of my letters included the suggestion that a character in Home Game should be portrayed by Gilda Radner...he remembered.
So, this is all to say that even though there's sadness in the pages of Cigar Box Banjo there's life too, and hope, and humour, and a lesson for us all. Keep livin' til you just can't live anymore. Enjoy every sandwich.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jersey Boys

Last night my wife and I attended a performance of Jersey Boys at the Toronto Centre for the Arts way up in North York. It was a special Media Event, which means that we truly were 'guests'. Now I must confess that I've never been much of a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons based on their records playing in between songs of the British Invasion during the '60s. No, I was a definite Beatles fan, it was Gerry & the Pacemakers, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and so on for me. None of that show-biz glitz that Frankie and the boys put out. I should also say that I never owned a Four Seasons record. Not one. As best I can recall, not even a random song on a soundtrack album made it into my collection. Until last night that is.
Upon checking in at the theatre we received 2 CDs (The Very Best of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Jersey Boys the soundtrack), more Valli than I ever imagined. Over pre-show drinks in the bar Alan Cross spoke about the importance of the Four Seasons in the on-going history of new music. While admitting that they were "a bit outside [his] normal area of expertise" he gave a potted history of their accomplishments that made them sound important to the younger journalists who had attended. We elders smiled and nodded.
As the show began (with a hip-hop rendition of "Oh, What a Night" entitled "Ces Soirees-la") my heart sank. I couldn't make out the rap, and the sound was loud and muddy. Then the actor playing Tommy DeVito appeared and commenced his story, and from that moment on, I was hooked. The production was marvelous. The story engaging. And the music, which I had never warmed up to in nearly 50 years, seemed perfect for this kind of presentation. I developed an appreciation for the compositional skills of Bob Gaudio (et al) and, well...I'm a sucker for good harmony singing anyway. The show had me. And it kept me too. Right to the end.
Just enough good humour, and historical accuracy to keep a music historian (even an amateur one) interested...and the music. I can't say enough about it. I left the theatre, like everyone else, humming or singing the songs.
"Oh, What a Night" indeed!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

since April...

Wow! Has it really been so long since I last blogged?
Just checking the diary to see where I've been and what I've been up to.
I read a couple of books, two about Van Morrison. Greil Marcus's When That Rough God Does Riding has been fairly controversial amongst rabid Van-fans, but it seems pretty clear to me that Marcus is as big a fan as any of us, but is not afraid to tell how disappointed he's been in long stretches of Morrison's output over the years. I agree with him. While I think that weak Morrison is better than a lot of the other stuff that's out there, when measured against himself...Van has had some dry periods. Hymns to the Silence by Peter Mills should please everybody. It's a decent read as well.
Bought the new Roky Erickson (with Okkervil River) album (yep, vinyl) on Record Store Day. And while I was never a big fan of Roky in his heyday, it sounds like he may be back to stay. I found a used copy of The Best of Allan Sherman and really enjoyed listening to those classic tunes. He's still a funny guy!
We went to the DVD release concert for Steve Strongman's Live at the Barn. The show was great, the band rocked the Studio Theatre. And the DVD is not bad either.
I've been talking with Michael Wrycraft (the graphic artist responsible for so many great CD packages and posters for Northern Blues and Borealis). I hope to be able to announce that McMaster has A Man Called Wrycraft's archives pretty soon.
Recently that most Southern Californian of all songwriters Jackson Browne released a double CD with that most polyester of guitar players David Lindley. Love Is Strange is a beautiful recording of a concert in Spain. Lovely stuff.
Then we spent a week in Saint John, New Brunswick for a conference (CNIE) and series of meetings (OUETDA). A day for touring built in let us visit St. Stephen's (Ganong Chocolate Factory), St. Andrew's by the Sea (too early for whale watching) and St. Martin's (world famous chowder, mmmm). Oh, and a visit or two to one of Canada's classic independent record stores...Backstreet Records. Great little shop.
Right now I'm reading Stieg Larsson's third Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Blomkvist book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Sad to say...there won't be any more.