Monday, May 27, 2013

Built Ford Tough, Like A Crack Rock

While powering my way through 4 digital kilometre’s on the elliptical machine (okay 3.64), I made the split second decision to pause Opie & Anthony and turn up the volume on the TV. See, what I do, what I need to do while cranking out fake mileage on a fine piece of modern day exercise equipment, going to and fro, holding onto the top of the bally knobs, simulating a walking briskly type motion, like a happy worker on his way to the job and is all sorts of tinkled pink about it, is be over stimulated. It really is a strange motion that elliptical machine. And because I’m addicted to stimulation and information and also because I cannot stand silence, like cannot accept it for even a nanosecond, there always has to be a radio or person or TV talking in the background or I’ll go insane. I always listen to either Howard Stern or Opie & Anthony on my iPod stereo and simultaneously tune in to either the CBC, CNN, hockey, or tennis--all muted of course.

Unless there is some kind of apocalyptic breaking news story the TV remains muted and I’m left to ruminate on what the expressions on the newscasters’ faces mean. Believe it or not, I’ve seen quite a few good tennis matches while suffering for beauty. I can get lost in a long rally, in the game within a game within a game nature of tennis and by the time I look at the digital display, 2km’s have been put pounded out. But enough about me.

The reason for pausing O&A is Rob Ford’s brother, Doug. The behind the scenes rainmaker. Doug is  the landlord and his brother Rob the sole tenant of a madhouse of their own creation. In a saner alternate world, the somewhat well spoken, somewhat in shape Doug would be the mayor, and goofy fat boy Rob would lick oversized swirly lollipops in his overalls.

It was one of the stranger press conferences I’ve seen in a while. Right off the bat, Doug wanted to be sure the great people of Toronto knew that he wasn’t “speaking for my brother, he can do that himself,” yet that was in essence what he was doing . . . speaking for his silent little bro. And then in a feat so bold and hubristic it boggles the noggin, Doug goes on to list the various accomplishments of the Ford administration and almost entirely ignores the specific issue at hand, and the supposed reason for the press conference being called in the first place: Rob Ford smoking crack on a cell phone video taken by Somali pirates drug dealers.

Now that’s a Hollywood pitch meeting as far as I can tell.

In Doug’s universe, this was simply an opportunity to remind the good citizens of Toronto that we have more cranes in the air than Chicago and Atlanta combined!

Well, okayyyy, but . . .

A hypothetical aside: Would you rather have a mayor who smokes the occasional crack rock but otherwise is firmly in line with policies you support, or a tee-totalling do-gooder with nary a whiff of scandal but is out of step with your beliefs? I’d sure as hell take the former though I’d rather take neither.

And then, impossibly, Doug ends the whole self-aggrandizing charade by not taking any questions and disappearing into the bowels of city hall. Take that Toronto! The whole thing gets very meta when you consider that Rob was most likely watching the speech that he should have been giving on a nearby TV.

The next day arrives and finally Rob has caved into the pressure and holds his own p.c. It was almost as bizarre as Doug’s speech. The spectacle played out pretty much the way I thought it would: Rob vehemently denies the crack allegations and goes on to praise the colleagues who have stood by him during this difficult week. There where more ‘thank-you’s’ than a goddamn Oscars speech.

Perhaps my favourite part was right at the beginning, when Rob first looked up at the throngs of reporters and cameras glaring back at him. “Wow . . .” he can be heard saying softly, as he adjusts the mic, as if he thought there would be one or two local reporters, as if the whole hullabaloo was much ado about nothing. After the ‘wow’ there is some inaudible mumbling before he gets down to his prepared speech; the mumbling of a very nervous man about to speak publicly.

What really troubles me, in a strictly logical sense, is that he denied smoking crack, yet in the following sentence could not comment about the purported video of him smoking crack. Does it not follow common sense air-tight, steel trap logic that when one denies smoking crack there would ipso facto be no video of any crack smoking?

His lawyers have told him to shut his trap, the less said the better. That’s the explanation for his wall of silence. It took a week of silence for him to tell Toronto in a single terse sentence that his legal/p.r. team advised him to not comment on the video? Why wasn’t that said on day one of #CrackGateTO?

If this crack smoking video did not exist, he would probably not be advised to say (or not say) anything about it while members of a salivating media exchange ponderous head shakes with one another. He would simply do what you or I would do when faced with an absurd, false allegation: jump at the first chance to defend yourself; set the record straight. Me smoking crack with some thug lifer’s filming me on an iPhone? Naw pal, got the wrong guy.

Rob spent most of his time at the lectern heaping his smelly, insincere ‘thank-you’s’ onto the very people and organizations that no longer want anything to do him. Mark Towhey, the mayor’s Chief of Staff, was fired for apparently trying to talk some sense into Rob, and the Catholic School Board of Toronto does not want him coaching any of their school football teams, namely Don Bosco, the school where he has been coaching those ‘fucking minorities’ for the last number of seasons. The football thing has to carry some extra sadness for Rob, like a favourite toy being taken away from an unruly child.

At the end of the p.c. Rob walks off the field, but not before laterally passing the pigskin to Doug, who would not take questions during his own p.c. yesterday but will now graciously answer a few questions from the frothing hordes for his brother Rob. He then spent half his Q&A time chastising the journo’s for talking over one another, asking questions while he was trying to answer. Diversion at its finest, or basest, who knows?

I can’t help but wonder what this past week has been like for the person(s) with the tape. Is there a secret team of police officers loyal to Ford Nation scouring Rexdale and Scarborough neighbourhoods looking for these guys? Is there a group of ruthless Quebecois wheelchair assassins hunting down Somali crack barons? Is Rob’s camp actively trying to buy and bury the tape? Come on, Rob must know who is responsible for it; sure as fuck isn’t Herzog or Coppola. He didn’t roll down his window and ask some random punks if they have any crack for sale, and “Oh by the way, I’m going to hang out with you kids for a little bit and have a couple puffs.” He must know these guys in some capacity. Perhaps Ford’s lawyers have gotten a hold of them and threatened some kind of legal (or illegal) action? Because there hasn’t been any sign from the owners of the tape for days.

Why disappear though? These people actively sought out buyers of this tape a week or so ago, meeting with John Cook, the editor at Gawker, and two Toronto Star reporters, and now that the $200,000 Gawker was raising is drifting into the realm of reality, they’ve disappeared. Poof! No more Somali crack dealers with the most valuable piece of iPhone footage north of the 49th parallel. What in the what?

Maybe other characters in the Trawwno underworld who are in the know are after the owners of the tape as well. By golly this whole scandal is like T.O. Confidential!

I think Rob Ford is gearing up and preparing for the bomb to go off. He knows this alleged video is legit, and it’s going to come out sooner rather than later. He’s not vociferously defending himself with regards to the crack tape because it will simply make him look that much worse when the video does come out. He does not want to explicitly lie about the video in a legal sense.

The clamour to get a hold of the tape is so intense you‘d think it was Infinite Jest . Are we all going to become comatose after being entertained to death, fluids spilling out of every orifice after we finally--hopefully--see this two minute crack masterpiece? (But John Cook and the two Star reporters are still alive and well. Hmm . . . )

I have a feeling it’s going to be that good. Think how awesome it will be the moment before you see the video, when your buddy texts you, “Have you seen the crack vid yet brah?” And you rush to the computer, anxiously waiting for the video to buffer on Gawker, or wherever in Hades it ends up only to spread like a super SARS Trojan virus across the internet.

Here comes the best crack toke of your life, better than even the first one. The lush burning bowl aglow with orange and crackling like a Victoria Day sparkler . . .

Exhale and press ‘play’.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Letter To My Unborn Child

Dear Whoever You Are,

Humans are not inherently special; not a single one of ‘em.

Whether it’s the prime minister or your neighbour. Basically, we’re all the same tub full of guts, however basically sad that is. What I really mean is that no one possesses any special powers. L. Ron Hubbard was schizophrenic and Jesus Christ was a carpenter. Be wary of anybody who claims to know or converse with God. They’re always lying, or at the very least are untruthful in the sense that they have convinced themselves of the veracity of their lies, but any way you slice it, it’s not true--remember that.

Like someone’s father once said: “The reason for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time.”

You don’t need religion to construct a set of moral ethics. It’s really not all that complicated. The rub is empathy. Some may not believe it but it’s true. You can never say the phrase, “put yourself in their shoes” enough. Say it at least five times a day and you’ll understand why people are the way they are. Sure it’s a cliché, but you will eventually find out that no amount of ironic detachment can slay the inherent truth’s in most clichés.

The put yourself in their shoes adage is also equally applicable to oneself. Imagine the other person is in my shoes, hearing what I just said, taking in my position. It’s really an invaluable phrase to live by. How can we be assaulted by modern reality and not constantly remind ourselves of this? It’s what keeps us sane. The things we pay attention to, our emotional responses, are so manipulated and commodified from the moment we emerge screaming from our mothers’ piss flaps, the first curtains we see peeled back on the world stage, how can we even know we’re doing the right thing? All I know is, I’ll do my best to show you the right path, but you’ll have to machete chop your way through the unchartered areas.

Occam’s Razor is a remarkable tool. The simplest explanation generally really is the truth. 9/11 conspiracy theories and UFO’s, however salacious, are sliced up by the O.R. Avoid getting caught up in all the blustery rhetoric. You’ll be coaxed into ponzi scheme’s and robo-call scams, and Shamwow’s, and timeshare’s, and marriage, and joint accounts, and 48 hour murder mysteries, and enough already! Stay away from it all! It’s all lies! If you want to live in a cabin in the woods that’s fine by me; you can’t get far away enough from these humans.

I certainly don’t hold out much hope for unvarnished truth in the political sphere, and I have never identified myself outright with any dichotomous political party. Labels are for cans, dude, not people. Politicians tend to screw the electorate behind closed doors and in mundane ways, ways that are muddled in needless complexity so as to detract attention--it’s too boring--rather than in sexy conspiratorial ways. Makes for a great movie though. The grand systems we are born into are maintained through networks and kickbacks and last minute insertions that the plebeian masses can only catch the smallest glimpses of and are seemingly powerless to control. The maddening thing about politicians is that even when they’re being genuine you just don’t know if they’re genuinely being genuine or if that’s simply part of their whole persona . . . to seem more genuine. God, I hope you don’t become like that, where every word that comes out of your mouth is mediated and considered for full emotional effect.

Simply be you and you’ll find that others are drawn into your orbit. Try your best to speak the truth. I mean, you’ll end up telling some lies, it’s inevitable. If your boss tells you to tell a customer the shipment that never left the dock was caught up at a UPS terminal, well that’s your call. It really doesn’t matter what party you vote for, that part of the show is an illusion of democracy. All the important things that keep the cash flowing for the plutocrats who control industries and influence national policies will continue to be implemented in clandestinely immense ways regardless of which party controls the House, Senate, Duma, etc. It doesn’t mean I don’t want you to care about social issues, I just wanted to sound kind of smart and include it in my letter to you. If you need to know what a letter is all you have to do is ask.

Help others on a communal level instead of worrying too much about the big picture. The big picture is far too daunting; too much white noise.

Have a sense of humour about yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than a vegan feminist lesbian or a white supremacist who obsessively collects Nazi memorabilia and shines his guns every night, or a narcissistic actor who is a Scientologist. These people have no senses of humour about themselves and are not much fun to be around. Not that fun is the be all and end all to human experience. My culture is very much addicted to entertainment and fun. We’re continually sliding down the fun continuum, scrambling our sense of what’s truly important. Attention spans have been co-opted to consume the most stimulating experiences in quicker and quicker doses. It’s what the audience demands! Not much time for much else.

Real understanding takes time, though. That’s the problem. Sometimes a message needs to be fleshed out over five hundred pages for the nuances to be understood and fully enjoyed, not one hundred forty characters. I’ll tell ya right know, kiddo, there’s no Coles Notes to this thing.

In my culture it’s very easy to be courageous. All you have to do is be in the right place at the right time and be famous enough to draw attention. Angelina Jolie is unanimously being hailed as a courageous woman for pre-empting her potentially cancerous genes by having a double mastectomy. She has roughly an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. A mastectomy seems like a common sense approach to eliminating the threat of a serious disease. Some say she is courageous because she is a famous actress and her identity is integral to her physical beauty. I will concede that point on the surface. However, Angelina is not a young woman trying to gain traction in Hollywood (I’m aware that not many young actresses have double mastectomies), she’s one of the most powerful and established women in show business, married to the hunk of all hunks and her doctor is going to more or less replicate her formerly beautiful, buoyant chesticles, perhaps in an even more lascivious shape and heft than the originals, so she can still play milfy sex pots and the audience has the added bonus of catching glimpses of her new breasts and thinking how odd it is that science made those! I can certainly empathize with the pain of the whole ordeal of adjusting to her new body, and I realize it is life altering, but I fail to see what is courageous about this. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. She and/or her publicity machine knew she would be hailed as courageous so it was a very low risk, non courageous decision to gain/maintain publicity and relevance. I don’t get it. I’m not singling her out because I have some white hot hatred towards her. Her op-ed in the New York Times was a nice piece, but even she noted that aside from the surgery and the small scars there are not many lasting effects.

Real courage, for the most part, happens outside the encompassing gaze of Sauron’s eye.

Real courage is a woman living in Brampton with two kids and an ex-husband, and a receptionist job, and she was too tired and busy to check out that lump in her right breast, tried to will its corporeality out of existence, because her youngest has a recital tonight and she has to be there; then finally, after months of this ungodly lump growing slowly until it could no longer be ignored, she goes to her doctor and sits in a waiting room with the rest of the diseased hordes, until her name is called and her test results come back a week later to confirm that she has breast cancer and she goes home and doesn’t even cry, or think about it all, she makes dinner for her kids because they have to eat, and doesn’t say anything about going to the doctors office, she’s still in shock and it’s just way too sad and unreal so she loses herself in the routines of family maintenance, and her kids don’t suspect a thing. They eat macaroni and cheese and get tucked in at night by mommy who tries to figure out the right thing to do.

The world abounds with delicious contradictions. You’ll find out that some of the funniest people you will ever meet are also the saddest.

You can always come to me with anything. That’s not to say our relationship will always be seashells and butterflies. I am simply a man, a human just like you, and sometimes my emotions swell up and I’m overcome with hatred, spite, jealousy. I can be a passive aggressive asshole. I don’t like confrontations and go to great lengths to avoid them, and act nonchalant in social battles though inside I’m forever scheming and plotting to outsmart and upstage my opponents.

I hate that about myself and anyone else.

I don’t address serious problems directly and grow cold and distant for reasons that perhaps I’ll work out and correct by the time you’re older. Let’s hope so. If I ever act like a passive aggressive asshole by all means let me know. Two passive aggressive people equal a non-operational union. I’m not good at many things, but no matter how narcissistically self-obsessed my persona is, don’t let that fool you--I’m a really good listener. The kind that, after a long, emotion-purging one-sided conversation, you wonder if the other person is even still on the line. I’m that strong silent type. Spill your guts out, it’s all good, I have two ears and a heart ready for you.

Even if you want to rape little boys, or blow up tall buildings, or both, at the same time, however awful that is, I’ll be there for you, and we’ll try to work through it together. I can’t promise the authorities won’t be notified. However, I’d always be early for our prison visits.

Drugs really aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be. Especially ones like pot and coke and booze. Maybe some Mdma and Adderall too. Don’t mess around with meth, bath salts, glue, and opiates. They destroy your life more so than the other aforementioned drugs; easier to get carried away and addicted to. Tobacco’s not really worth it either, it’s worse for you than coke, pot, et al., and there isn’t much of a payoff. Avoid that one. The main thing is don’t over indulge and keep it recreational. If you’re drinking a twelver everyday, you’ll have some ’splaining to do. That goes for pretty much anything, though. My eyebrow would raise if you only ate bananas every day for a week, too. There’s absolutely nothing wrong--morally, spiritually, physically--with sniffing a few lines of blow while you’re out with some friends. It’ll ring your cherries. I don’t know why it is that any substance that brings relief or pleasure is automatically categorized as evil. The main thing is respect. You must respect the power of these substances. And they are powerful. All of them. Cocaine is a helluva drug.

It’s not much fun to sniff a line if you’re doing it every night. When drug use is needed simply for the maintenance of sobriety than something is long gone wrong. You won’t get that great rush of anticipation before the physical intake of the drug. For example: if I’m constipated, all I have to do is pour out some sugar and cut up a thick line, whip out my wallet, roll up a fiver, and come this close to sniffing it up the schnozola to jog the old memory bank.

Respect drugs and they’ll reward you with pleasure and something resembling enlightenment. You can learn about addiction either directly or indirectly. It’ll be damn near impossible once you become a teenager or young adult for me to actually make you stop using drugs by punishing you. What am I gonna do? Lock you up in a cage and watch you 24/7/365? I hope you don’t learn the hard way, because it’s bleak--a soul-sapping type of suicidal bleakness, and I don’t want you to go through that. I’m not even sure it builds character in the long run. Only digs a grave, really. All I can do is light the way and hope you don’t wander off into the dark. All I can do is give you a pair of steel toed boots to kick at the darkness.

Sometimes I can’t escape the thought that once we’re born into this world our sincerest, deepest bed rock emotions, our attention, our money, our entire sense of being and our beliefs, is only a potentially viable commodity to be bled dry and co-opted and manipulated to further the agendas of massive corporations. It’s a very sad and empty and helpless way of approaching the world, and though it doesn’t prevent me from pursuing the things I love and feel strongly about, it’s a constant kind of nipping at my heels. A niggling voice in the back of my mind; such is our modern world. By bringing you into it I will have ostensibly surrendered to the fact that you, too, will be subsumed by this, and all I can do is make you aware of The Matrix, let you know it’s there, lingering beneath every decision you make, even though being aware of it doesn’t really change anything, cannot change anything.

Don’t let that extinguish your passions. It still takes everything I have not to get all pissy-eyed when I listen to And I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues by Elton John. It’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Difficult to even put into words why--I might need five hundred and forty pages. It’s the timbre of Elton’s voice, the poignancy of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, the wonderful chord progression (a killer B7 in the verse). It‘s about the direction love should have went and didn’t.

Really, though, please don’t become a Scientologist. I spent a few weeks in a YouTube vortex watching ‘bull-baiting’ protests and creepy minions confronting ex-church members at their homes; scary, scary mind-controlling stuff. Some of Scientology’s official videos, like the fifteen minute one criticizing the integrity of The New Yorker, and some of their fundraiser commercials are unintentionally hilarious.

That’s another thing: unintentional hilarity is perhaps the greatest subset of comedy. It’s incredibly funny on an abstract plane knowing that unintentional, purely non-comedic actions are, in actual fact, sometimes completely hilarious.

One of the best feelings a human can have is trying to suppress laughter in a socially inappropriate setting--classroom, job site, courtroom, etc. Where you’re trying with every ounce of strength to keep those facial muscles slack and those guffaws way down in the hole. Then the damn bursts and tears are streaming down your face and your cheeks ache from smiling.

When I used to paint houses, my partner in crime, Jamie, and myself began mimicking our bosses idiosyncrasies, making fun of his habit of starting off sentences with, “Get a . . .” As in, “ Once I get a good meal in me I’ll finish the lower windows in no time.” Furthermore, he would end sentences with, “Or . . .” just letting it trail off into the ether. “You guys gonna finish the lower windows, or . . .”

Or what!? Suck each other’s dicks and do our taxes!?

To this day, it’s one of the most grating speech tics, worse even than ‘like’. So don’t do that.

In closing, please don’t become one of those religious nuts who believes the world is six thousand years old and that all the evolutionary and geological evidence to the contrary is only gods way of testing your faith. Oh, brother. Hey god, why not just a written, huh?

P.S. I simply love you more than I love life itself.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Guitar (& Life) Lessons From Dan

So take me to the station
And put me on a train
I’ve got no expectations
To pass
Through here

- No Expectations, The Rolling Stones

“Being dead’s only a problem if you know you’re dead, which you never do because you’re dead!”

-Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections


I took off my tattered, unwashed cardigan that was hanging open over a Nirvana t-shirt, the one that has a pink translucent figure on the front and ‘SLIVER’ written on the back in blue capital letters, and grabbed the proffered Armani suit attached to my mother‘s outstretched hand. My arms slid nicely through the smooth lining and I went into the bathroom excitedly to check out the results. It was the first time I ever put on a suit jacket.

At first, it looked perfect: I’d never seen my wimpy teenage shoulders so enhanced and sharply rendered. All of a sudden, here was Simon Le Bon staring back at me. The jacket seemed perfectly tailored for me and not to a recently deceased family friend. But then my eyes drifted towards the extremities. Those damnable sleeves! Of course they were too short and if I was wearing a dress shirt underneath, the cuffs would be as long as John Holmes’ rig. Curse these gangly twig arms! I took off the suit and hung it up in my closet, knowing it would sit there until I, too, could pass it along.


The doorbell rings, I stop playing my guitar and lean it against the back of a chair, taking my hand off the neck for an instant to make sure it will stay up on its own before turning for the door. There’s nothing worse than the sound of your guitar toppling over and crashing to the ground with an atonal thud.

I got up to the peephole and watched this stranger stare back through the other end of the peephole. He an eerie blank look of non-recognition though he was looking right at me; some kind of thousand yard rock n’ roll stare. It’s my first lesson with this teacher and I’m a little nervous. One more deep breath and the show begins . . .

He stepped into the foyer and plunked down his hard shell acoustic guitar case, extending his hand to mine. We both shared that universal truth when two people shake hands and look each other right in the eyes. I was instantly pleased and relaxed; he had the warm smile of a disarming person. Instantly, I became aware that my new guitar teacher was a dead ringer for Kim Thayil, the lead shredder from Soundgarden. I was flabbergasted.

Ambiguous East Indian/South Asian nationality? Check.

Long, thick black hair? Check.

Long, thick black beard? Check.

Grunge/Stoner get up? Check.

It was 1997, the height of Soundgarden’s fame. If I didn’t bring it up it would be the elephant in the room. As I led him through the hallway to the dining room, I said, “Dude! You look exactly like Kim Thayil. I bet you get that all the time.”

He broke into a hearty chuckle, half expecting it, and confirmed that, “Yeah, I get that all the time. Hey, I can‘t help that that guy looks like me,” he said and gave me a you got the joke, right? smile.

KT took a seat at the dining room table, unfastened the clasps on his case and whipped out his axe. My guitar lessons always took place in the almost-never-used-yet-fanciest-room-in-the-whole-joint, otherwise known as the dining room. It was the only reasonable place where Mom could keep an eye on the proceedings.

KT showed me the scales, in particular the E scale, iterating that, “all those awesome solos, from Slash to Mick Taylor, originate right here.” He waited for the profundity of the statement to sink in, and I managed a half-hearted, “Cool.”

There we were, Kim Thayil circa the Black Hole Sun video, and me, a greasy haired grunge rocker/stoner amidst the finest china the Nesbit’s could afford. It was quite the anachronistic scene.

He showed me a few chord progressions and tricks of the trade (Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually) and asked if there was a song or two for him to tab out for next week’s lesson. A treat of sorts if I practice the scales.

“What are you into? Classic Rock? Grunge? Most of my students are into grunge nowadays. I bet you are too, right?” He asked accusingly.

As much as my existential teenage angst cut to the core, I was no different than most fifteen year old’s, apparently. “ Yeah, I love Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, that type of stuff, but I also love The Doors, Hendrix, Zeppelin, and The Beatles too. I don’t think I can learn too many solos right now. I like the chords, the rhythm parts. I love Nirvana. I just want to learn like Nirvana songs basically.”

“Just tablature, right? You don’t want to learn notes?”

“Pretty much, yeah. I mean, no notes . . . yeah.”

“That’s fine, I’m not a hard ass about the notes. Truthfully, some of the best, most original guitarists don’t know much about the technical side of things. It’s kind of like knowing where your good buddies house is, but not the address. In the end, you still know how to get there right?”

“For sure.”

Surely, Nirvana was the bane of mid-to-late nineties guitar teachers’ existence.

“Okay . . .” he sighed, “Anything in particular?”

I played it off like “Hmmm . . . let me see, how about this song. . .” when really I was waiting all week for this question so I could show this guitar teacher who totally looks like Kim Thayil, that I was fucking way deep cool.

“Let’s go with Radio Friendly Unit Shifter. You know that one?” I deadpanned like a jaded junkie rock star.

“Sure, sure. I know every single song from In Utero, front to back back to front. The kids can’t get enough of it! Though I don‘t usually get asked for that one, I‘ll admit. I’ll have it tabbed out for next week’s lesson on one condition: you practice that E scale both going up and down. Even Kurt knew the E scale, Taylor!”


It is the summer of 1987, and I’m on a houseboat idling in the middle of Pigeon Lake. It’s my first time on such a thing--a houseboat, not a lake. I am six or seven years old.

I’m standing on the deck looking out absently at the opposite shore while both sets of parents whooped it up inside the kitchen/dining area. Dan came around the corner wielding a fishing rod with what I only recall as a flailing scorpion-like creature of death hanging from the hook. A crawfish perhaps? Dan pinched the dangling line and swung the creature in my face, the thing coming this close with its pincers to snapping onto my rosy, prepubescent cheeks.

Cue the waterworks. I started wailing and crying with the gusto that only a small coddled only child can muster. I considered diving overboard, taking my chances in the unknown waters, (I could, after all, swim in the deep end sans water wings) but instead ran into the interior of the ship where Dan’s dad was frying up lunch and the other adults played cards.

“Danny has a monster and it’s gonna bite me!” I cried.

This was my one and only memory during the week on the houseboat.


The doorbell rings, and I put the same guitar on the back of the same chair, wait the moment it takes to be sure the guitar is perched at such an angle that it will remain poised, and head for the peephole to check out my new guitar teacher. I can’t say I’m thrilled. KT was a great teacher and he left after only a few weeks to go on tour--just a local one. Never did get the name of his band (Soundgarden cover band, perhaps?)
I opened the door to a man wholly committed to denim. He was a tall white guy with shoulder length hair and bore a striking resemblance to Canada’s own Kim Mitchell (when he had hair, of course). And can I pause here for just a minute? Kim Mitchell is just awful. He has some of the most unbearable tunes in the annals of Canadian rock history. Who needs to be told to go for a soda so nobody hurts and nobody dies? It’s like if Neil Young sang, “I’ve seen the car crash and the damage done/Unsafe amounts of beer were in his blood/Gone, gone, the damage done . . .”

I’m MADD as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

Is the public so ignorant that they need to be told--in song form--not to rape toddlers born with AIDS? We get it, Kim, drinking and driving is bad, thanks for the advice. Now shove a patio lantern where the sun don’t shine.

Anyways, I didn’t sense much warmth from this guy and things went from bad to worse as the lesson progressed. He was militant and unfriendly. I fumbled through his Yngwie Malmsteen-esque drills while the look on his face, just beneath the surface, if you looked hard enough, had failed-frustrated-wannabe-rock-star-just-biding-his-time-until-his-big-break written all over him. Not the most suitable approach to teaching.

As soon as the guy left I told my Mom that that man cannot under any circumstances teach me guitar ever again.


 Dan was the best guitar teacher I ever had. He would come over and we’d go in the basement instead of the formal confines of the dining room. Protocols of formality disappeared because he was a family friend. My parents knew his since before Dan or I were born. He was the kind of family friend that I only saw on big occasions like Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving, and we’d been out on their boat a few times, too. It deflated the mystique of Dan to see him on a regular old Tuesday in July.

In the basement we’d sit cross legged on the floor, our acoustics cradled on our laps. Dan would flip open a tattered notebook full of tabbed out songs from previous sessions. He would always ask at the end of each lesson to give him a couple songs to tab out for the next week.

This one time he opened up the Sacred Book of Tabs and the song was one I had been waiting all week to learn: Here Comes Your Man by The Pixies.

Before I had a chance to make sense of the numbers running through lines, he warned me, “Don’t look at the tab yet, just watch me play it.”

He picked out the familiar riff a notch slower than how The Pixies actually played it. His fingers were flying all over the frets, even using the dreaded pinkie to hit one of the notes. “Not the pinky!” I protested. “Can’t I just use my third finger to compensate?”

“Nope. Gotta use all four. It will suck now but you’ll thank me later.”

Slowly, I fumbled my way through the indie surf rock riff, gaining confidence and clarity of note through each go around until we landed in synch, and it’s like we were one entity reflecting a message--the same message--back at each other. We played the riff a couple of times so I could lock it into my muscle memory. I took my eyes off the neck and peered over at Dan. He was looking right at me and I looked right back. His eyes were asking, “Do you get it now?

Dancing with fingers instead of bodies. Though there is no physical contact, his fingers are urging mine along, guiding them, stringing them along, forging a path. There is a connection that is not possible through language or sex or blood. It is through music and unfortunately it can only be conveyed descriptively through language.


Forgotten junk and rock n’ roll are apparently peaceful cohabitants.

Before me are rows upon rows of single car wide storage spaces coloured road construction orange stretching out into the distance. It’s one of those places where most people store whatever tenuous junk they’re hanging onto, unable to just toss it in the garbage and forget about it. These are the auxiliary items that define their lives, but are too cumbersome for the homestead.

And then there are those who rent out these spaces for rock n’ roll. A place where there are no parents and no neighbours who simply don’t get it.

Dan slides up his units door, unfurling before me his tools of the trade. There was a drum kit, two guitar amps, a bass amp, and a few stray guitars strewn about the small space, barely large enough for a car to fit in. A tattered poster of the Human Riff himself, is the only accoutrement adorning the walls. It’s the one where Keith is leaning against a wall, eyes hidden behind aviator glasses, a blank look on his face; beside him is the sign: PATIENCE PLEASE . . . A DRUG FREE AMERICA COMES FIRST!

Though I didn’t recognize the photo at the time, I’ve since seen it many times since, scrolling through Google Images looking at page after page of Rolling Stones photos, scouring for ones of the band in the heady early‘70’s. The photo was taken during the Exile on Main St. tour of America in the summer of ‘72, arguably their best tour, and my favourite if I had to choose. Definitely their most mythologized; books, movies, you name it. At some point the myth and the reality become inextricable. The reality is that they’re savvy businessmen who crafted their legacy very carefully and they also know how to write great songs, but a boy can dream, can’t he? Or maybe Mick is the reality and Keith is the myth and the ingredients are stirred into a concoction that is left to simmer, and here we are fifty years later and if I could afford the tickets I’d be watching them at the ACC this summer.

“I’ll hop on drums and we’ll jam it out, okay? I’ll give you a simple beat and just lay into some power chords, man.”

Dan got behind the kit and started banging out a slow and simple 4/4 beat while I drowned him out with brain piercing decibels of feedback to hide my insufficient skills. Sensing that I had to actually play something, anything, I then palm muted an E chord and in a Parkinson’s-esque flurry kept chugging along until I switched it to a G chord and then back to an E, then back to G and so on, until Dan, finally sick of my two chord dichotomy stopped playing and shouted, “Hey! Hey! Taylor!” until I stopped too and looked up at him. “Yeah?”

“Let’s try something different. You know ‘Satisfaction’?”

“No, don’t know any Stones songs.”

Dan showed me the simple riff on a nearby guitar while I watched his fingers compute the simple equation across the calculator of the neck. Simple enough, I thought.

Back on the drums, he kept time with a repetitive tap on the snare until I had the rhythm down. All I could was keep playing the intro riff over and over, which is not very much fun for anyone involved. Sensing my nervousness (and ineptitude) we stopped and he drove me back home. I felt like a doorknob and a douche bag. I was a beginner but he entrusted me to be able to hold a simple rhythm and fiddle around on some chords and I let him down (Whhhhaaahhhh!). He was as meek and accommodating as ever . . .

“Next week I’ll come to your place and I’ll teach you a couple little tricks. You’re doing fine Taylor, it just takes practice. John Lennon didn’t get good overnight, either. Though, you can palm mute an E chord like nobody‘s business!”

                                        Breaking the (by)law

Everyone remembers notable world events that happen on one’s birthday. We collect them like talisman’s we hope imbue us with an air of mystery or intrigue. One of my go to birthday events is the UFO crash at Roswell. Clearly the most famous supposed UFO crash of all time, and it happened
on July 3rd 1947. I want to believe dammit!

Definitely the most surreal and unsettling one is death of Jim Morrison. He died on July 3rd 1971, exactly ten years to the day that I was born. Impossibly, Jim died sometime in the early morning hours, approximately 3-5am, while I was born at about 4am. You may know where I’m going with this. I half convinced myself when I was seventeen and a huge Doors fan that I was at least one quarter Lizard King. I had to be! It was quite conceivable that he died at exactly the same time as me, exactly ten years (a nice tidy round sum) before I was born. It’s not like he died on April 14th, 1973 for Chrissakes! That would mean absolutely nothing to the story! Based on the ten year purgatorial soul rule, Mr. Mojo Risin must have floated out of his body in 1971 and wandered the streets of the city of lights and then, looking for an inhabitant of a city that was more unburdened with centuries of history, he submerged his wayward soul into the umbilical cord of a prenatal boy in the generically comfortable suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Take that Paris!

I really got into the Stones when I was in my late twenties. I, as most other people with two ears and a heart, have always liked the Stones. No one hates the Stones. Perhaps you dislike the ubiquity of the Stones, but it seems impossible to me to hate them, at least their 60’s and 70’s output, and especially a lot of the songs you don’t hear on the radio. Believe me, I don’t ever want to hear Start Me Up ever again either, but I never tire of the duelling lead guitars on Beast of Burden.

It’s impossible to throw on Waiting On A Friend or Sweet Virginia and not think about my old guitar teacher. Surely, the two are mutually exclusive, but they’re inextricably woven into the fabric of my being. Try as I might to untangle the knots, they coexist. Some songs hit the feeling home harder than others. Especially those awesome 70’s songs because that’s what Dan loved. He was always mentioning something called Exile on Main St. and calling it one of the greatest rock records ever and I pretended to care and insist that I would "Check it out."

The Stones' 60’s success gave way to the decadence and debauchery of the 70’s, where I’m sure all four of the guys found out that despite being rich, famous, and one of the most successful rock bands in the world, problems persisted. They found out that they were still mere mortals. Drug problems and egos and girls will fuck any good thing up. Don’t discount that as glib or trite nonsense. The realization can crush your fucking soul. There’s no way out. Picture this: you are on top of the world of rock n’ roll, for all intents and purposes a real life superman spending 85% of your life flying over the plebeian masses to get to the next show where you play 15-20 songs in a stadium full of nameless faces. In fact you see so many vague little amorphous faces in the crowd, you see more actual human beings than most any other people in the world, but they’re just staring at you and going wild and though you see so many people and they see you, it’s not like there’s any sort of conversation or meaningful nuance to the mass of people you see night in and night out; a crowd in Tulsa is the same as one in Vancouver. All you can do is manipulate the coiled strings on this long necked wooden device that is heavily amplified to explode throughout a massive dome reserved for entertainment, and you have to control these patterned noises you’ve written with your band mates a while back, and now have to play these things over and over the same way (for the most part) as the only means to really extend a hand to these endless nameless faces that scream back at you every single night, and sometimes all you can do is lay down in the quiet of a hotel room far from home (as if you really even have such a thing anymore) and shoot junk and snort blow and come up with more intro/verse/chorus/interlude/solo/verse/chorus/outro patterns to amplify in front of the same screaming faces around the same time next year.

Dan only shows up now when I’m learning the tab on a Stones song, making sure I use my pinkie if needed. He can rest assured. I don’t cheat anymore with my ring finger, my pinkie’s well trained after playing for some fifteen plus years now. Sometimes Dan is there in the flesh, his slight frame translucent. Sunlight coming through his whispy blonde hair. He’s some kind of Frankenstein between Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain, with a dash of David Foster Wallace. But sometimes it’s only a feeling; a vague senescence, little Dan particles infused everywhere, in between every chord.

Tonight, I’m learning one of their easier tunes that I somehow never thought to learn after all these years (there is an embarrassment of riches): No Expectations. It’s 2013 and all the tabs are only a click away, books of tab that are sold at music stores, Dan’s notebooks full of meticulously laid out solos full of hammer-on’s and pull-off’s, and chord structures are now gone, their practicality rotting on the vine of a dead age. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t need to book a lesson to learn this one. It’s only C, F, and G for the all the beginners playing along. There is a great slide guitar part that is rumoured to be the last contribution of Brian Jones. Practically useless in the studio during the recording of Beggar’s Banquet, stoned out of his gourd, he somehow managed to put together the beautiful acoustic slide guitar part that really makes the song what it is, before he was fired from the band and then promptly drowned in his pool on July 3rd 1969.


There aren’t too many motorcycle accidents in Brampton mainly because there aren’t too many motorcycles. Those types of accidents tend to happen more often on the winding country roads north of the city.

If only he didn’t pass that van waiting to turn left. If only he slowed down and just waited for a damn minute, if only he had patience. I guess that’s why people buy motorcycles in the first place though, right? They want to go fast, they don’t want to be stuck behind a minivan doing 40 K. If only he had a flat tire, or if only he didn’t bother to catch a crawfish on a houseboat on Pigeon Lake in 1987, or if only the other driver, the one facing Dan, waiting to turn left, didn’t assume the coast was clear and ease too far into the middle of the intersection.

‘If’ is the middle word in life.

As ‘if’ mentally rearranging the facts as though they were pliable, as though they were a rubik’s cube that could reroute and endlessly confuse the road that led us to the inextricable here and now.

To each party involved in the accident it must have seemed like they both came out of nowhere--until they didn’t.

By the turn of the millenium, I lost all contact with Dan, and hadn’t seen him for a few years, which turned out to be his last. Frankly, I was surprised that he had a motorcycle. He was 5’ 8” and 130lbs--wouldn’t exactly have fit in with Sonny Barger and Co.

There were only a handful of lessons in total, and certainly no further jam sessions. There was still an indelible mark left on my budding psyche. Nothing was better than the two of us sitting in the basement, learning a tune. No hard feelings. Just the way it is. Maybe I’ll see you on Christmas Eve.

But I never did.

My family began new traditions--we were travelling more during Christmas to see our extended family and contact with his family was somehow lost in the shuffle, relegated to the land of Christmas Cards.

Some people are destined to live on in memory only and there are no answers why so why am I even trying?