Monthly Archives: February 2011

If a saloon can have a soul, the Lorne had a soul

I’ve only once, in all my years as a newspaper guy, seen one chalk outline of a murder victim. But, this is a smaller community with a relatively low violent crime quotient. Law&Order Comox Valley would not attract a huge viewership, though we have had our moments.

I only mention that was because the outline was in the parking lot of the Lorne Hotel in Comox. And I only mention that because the Lorne Hotel burned down last night. The Lorne, which sat at the focal intersection of the main drag of the town was the oldest licensed premises in the province.

Now, the European history component of this province doesn’t go back all that far so the Lorne, at the age of 133, was elderly indeed as structures go. Unfortunately it was a wood-frame building and fire is always a threat to such places. You know, one of those: “It’s only a matter of time” kind of things. 

The Lorne, which was reminiscent of a frontier saloon – for that is exactly what it was in its day – had an agreeable soul about it. It was fully refurbished a couple of decades ago and it boasted a pleasant pub and a pretty decent eatery within. In the days when I still hoisted a few pints, I hoisted a few within the Lorne. It was a good place to be.

So, this little item won’t have a huge universal appeal, but it behooved me to bid an appropriate farewell to kind of a grand old lady who had sat in her special spot since 1878.

One of the nicest hours of the hours in my life

I live in a smaller community – about 65,000 souls at last count – and in it being a smaller community we don’t get too many visitors of major note, and those of some fame who do pass through like to keep it quiet. George HW Bush likes to fish in these waters and periodically comes ashore for a meal. Eric Clapton, another salmon angler, also drops by to a resort a few miles north.

And in living in that smaller community I, as a newspaper reporter for the then ‘paper of record’ (as they say in the biz) didn’t get that many opportunities to interview genuine notables. I had a few enjoyable chats with people who were either lesser known, or locally popular, but not many real biggies. I almost got a chance to interview Eve of Destruction’s Barry McGuire, but he bailed out before it happened.

So, you can imagine how chuffed I was when I got the chance to interview a genuine musical hero of mine. And this one came off and it remains one of the genuine high points of my sometimes-desultory career as a scribe.

I got word that George Shearing was coming to town and would be available for interview. I leapt at the chance.

I was reminded of this when I learned that the sightless jazz pianist and composer/arranger par excellence had died at the age of 91 on Valentine’s Day.

I’m a bit of a jazz buff. I’m not hugely knowledgeable and I detest jazz snobs and purists as much as I detest classical snobs and purists – “Chopin’s not classical, you philistine!” 

So, the fact that I loved Shearing’s anthemic Lullaby of Birdland made me a person deserving of derision to those who cherish indecipherable bebop riffs that on for three days, but what do I care? I also love Chet Baker’s My Funny Valentine, which makes me a ‘romantic’ in the eyes of fanatic jazzies. Again, what do I care? I loved Shearing’s stuff.

So I sat and chatted with the man for over an hour, and I was enchanted all the while. He spoke firsthand of people like Sinatra and Nat Cole. He and Mel Torme were like brothers and worked together regularly late in Shearing’s life. 

He told an amusing tale of doing a Pepsi commercial with equally sightless Ray Charles. It was a kind of Ferrante and Teicher dual pianos thing for a TV spot. Shearing told me that when they had finished and the commercial was a wrap, he said to Charles: “I hope it came out OK and that it looks good.” To which Charles replied: “Why do we give a shit, man. We’ll never see it.”

That’s about all for this tale. I am only happy that Mr. Shearing took 60 minutes out of his 91 years to chat with me.

Here’s to you, George and maybe you’re in a place where you can see clearly now.

I lift up mine eyes unto the hills and all like that there

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

–         Melody Beattie

It was my birthday the other day. The occasion gave me pause for thought. An important thought being, while I’m not all that thrilled that another year has passed in my life in this sphere, I am at least here still to think such thoughts. That is, as far as I know, a good thing.

I note the “as far as I know” part only because I have found, as the years have gone by, that I have undergone changes in my approach to who I am and where I am in the universe. One of the changes is that I believe I am a considerably more spiritual person than I was when younger. Not spiritual in a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ manner. I’m afraid I don’t have much truck with conventional religious observance. That’s my right and I choose to exercise it and it works OK for me. No, my spirituality lies within – from my own thoughts, my own readings, and my own meditations. My approach is not a perfect answer but it generally works.

So, OK, I am more spiritual now, but I am much less mystical.  That’s liberating, I find. While I once might have at least granted cursory attention to astrology, assorted soothsayers, spirit-guides, soulmates, incantations, smudging ceremonies and all sorts of other (in my opinion) folderol, I reserve a much more profound skepticism which leads me more realistically to the here-and-now. This is all I got, folks so I had better make the best of it and be grateful for what it is.

And so right now I am grateful for:

–         The fact I can look out my front window and see the scene pictured above. Well, not exactly like that. A zoom lens helped to emphasize the good stuff. Anyway, that old Queneesh Glacier comforts me.

–         I have a comfortable, centrally-heated house, with food in the fridge and a big ole dog lying in front of the fire even as I write this. No, I am not sleeping rough, while some are.

–         My health is relatively good and my vices have largely been arrested. I try to live a healthy life and am smart enough to be able to figure out what I need to do, and what I shouldn’t do.

–         I am in a contented and loving domestic situation. I don’t have a good track record in that regard, but to my former wives (2) I bear no grudges and love each in my own way. I always shall. It just didn’t work out, but you taught me a lot.

–         I have friends whom I love and friends whom I like, of both sexes. I know myself well enough to understand that I need the balance of both sexes amongst my loved ones.

–         I have always been susceptible to falling in love. That’s both a bad and good thing. Bad in that such thoughts must remain not acted upon as I am loyal and responsible; yet good in that I know my heart is big enough to feel such emotions in what is often a very innocent and caring manner (nowadays, at least). I am, after all, just truly human. I like that about me. You know, the human part.

–         I’m intelligent. Not braggadocio, but I know I am and cherish that fact. I’m not rich, but my intellect has allowed me to follow endeavors that demanded intellectual acumen. It didn’t make me rich. I don’t really care about that.

–         I’m creative. What I am is creative ‘enough’. I am not brilliant in that regard, but I have earned a decent enough living from my writing and I love to escape via painting. Again, not brilliant but always prepared to learn.

–         I was raised by a family (no, not of wolves, though sometimes it felt like that) that cared about learning and encouraged it. I am hard-pressed to feel deeply affectionate towards those that raised me, but they did give me a respect for learning and an equal respect for hard work.

–         I have traveled considerably and have lived abroad and I would like to have the time and health to do some more, thank you very much. You know, if that’s in the cards and all.

–         I try to ‘give back’ as much as I can and feel privileged to be able to contribute rather than drain my society.

I’m getting on a roll here and should end this. But, I am also grateful for having a public space in which I can share my gratitude with others.

OK, so it worked for HST for a long time, but not so much for our Fred

We love our buzzwords, we do, we do. We glom onto an expression or term and then we begin to apply it to virtually anything that might apply, no matter how tenuous the connection might be.

One such word is: Dysfunction, and its adjective, Dysfunctional. In certain ‘helping’ circles nobody is ever a drunk, a pervert, a druggie, a thug, or just a plain asshole. Everybody is dysfunctional.

And, if a person is dysfunctional, he or she likely came from a dysfunctional ‘family-of-origin’ (another au courant cliché reference), so they are cursed down all their generations.

I probably use the term too much myself, mainly because I used to be in one of those damn ‘helping’ circles, providing whatever skills I might have as an addictions counsellor. Not that I didn’t feel the work was important – it was and is – but it was just that in my mind a client I was dealing with was really a ‘crackhead asshole’ (by his behavior, at least), which seemed more realistic than, “Oh yes, Fred is dysfunctional to a degree.” Bob is dysfunctional in every respect, damnit. Fred does no functioning at all other than scoring and going back to the pipe.

And the silliness continues to permeate the ‘sweetness-and-light’ brigade that is currently mounting a campaign over on these shores based on a bit of London inspired naïve nonsense with the slogan: “Nice People Take Drugs.” Welcome to the ‘anti-stigma brigade! It is designed to stop us being mean to the crackhead who is ripping off your TV. In a pig’s eye, I say. People in active addiction are ‘not’ nice people. At heart they may be ‘nice’, but based on my therapeutic experience, they are not nice when they are using. So, back to dysfunction.

Dysfunction is intended to be a ‘gentler’ term, as is the bullshit ‘niceness’ campaign. But, dysfunction is in its own way actually a bit harsher and more judgmental in that it tends to indict the so-described as being virtually valueless in all areas of his or her being.

Fred, he can’t function. No, as long as Fred isn’t addressing his addiction, he can’t function very well. And as long as Fred isn’t addressing his addiction he will have to bear with the stigma. Goes with the territory. I’ve known not a few addicts who kicked. They revert to their default which rendered them charming and intelligent people, and no longer dysfunctional nor carrying a stigma. Choices, y’see.

Of course the person who flew in the face of all the aforementioned indictments was Hunter S. Thompson. One of the great minds of our time was the ‘Doctor’, scribe of Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing tomes and so much more. I cannot help — being the age I am and doing what I do – being in awe of his creative genius.

But, he was also a madman. He was also a hopeless alcoholic. He was also a hopeless drug addict. And as the years went by he got more and more out of control. He got away with ‘everything’ in his day because he was a legend and everybody loved him. 

I am currently reading an intriguing book called ‘Gonzo’ which is a series of anecdotal accounts of the man by everybody from George McGovern, to Jack Nicholson, to Johnny Depp (who revered him) and many others It’s great. But as the seasons turned down all the years – despite the anecdotes of his outrageous behavior – like marching up to board a plane, beer in one hand, hash-pipe in the other, and being granted the right to board because of who he was.

But then, as the book evolves, reality intervenes. His physical health breaks down, is psychological health deteriorates, he loses his craft, and ultimately does what he perceives as his only option. He offs himself.

Such a loss. would he have been the creative force he was had he not been dysfunctional? I have no answer for that.

But I will say he was an anomaly. Most of us aren’t. Most of us are like Fred.

Drink to the health of old Marcel and find out who you are

I completed this a few years ago and decided to revisit it just to see how much I had changed – or not. I found that I had changed – and hadn’t. How’s that for enigmatic?

Named for long-winded writer Marcel Proust (whom nobody has ever actually read in his entirety) and long a feature of the magazine Vanity Fair (the journal that sometimes lives up to its pretentious expectations but mostly doesn’t).

Anyway. Give it a try it’s both fun and a little therapeutically self-revalatory.

Proust Questionnaire 

Part I


What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Isolation and  being left with nobody with whom to share my thoughts, passions, joys and fears.

Where would you like to live?

Either where I am living now, or on the island Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, Annecy, France, or Bath, England.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Being able to express myself at all levels of my being; being in love with someone who loves me equally; making love with that same someone. Oh, and good health.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Any self-destructive vice but only if the person is actually doing something realistic to change his or her behavior. Or, if the person has sufficient intelligence, charm and talent to override his/her transgressions. The latter applies to Hunter S. Thompson and Dylan Thomas, but not to Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Long John Silver, Inspector Morse, Jean Valjean, Calvin’s wise tiger Hobbes.

Who are your favorite characters in history? (These responses don’t always mean I like them, only that I find them colorful and interesting)

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry VIII, Huey Long, Voltaire, Cesare Borgia, Napoleon, N.S. Kruschev, James Cook


Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Edith Cavell, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Florence Nightingale, Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged in Britain who was hanged in 1955 mainly because she was from the wrong side of the tracks).

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Dolores Price in Wally Lamb’s ‘She’s Come Undone’, Judith Hearne, Jane Eyre, Mrs. Peggoty

Your favorite painter? Van Gogh, JMW Turner, Modigliani, (some) Salvador Dali, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper.

Your favorite musician? Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Booker T. Jones, Otis Redding, Bryan Ferry, Fats Waller, Louis Prima (this could go on and on, so I won’t).

The quality you most admire in a man? Courage, intelligence, wit, honesty.

The quality you most admire in a woman? Courage, intelligence, wit, honesty, sensitivity, candor, beauty,(outer and inner)

Your favorite virtue? Honesty.

Your favorite occupation? What I did (and sometimes still do) journalism.

Who would you have liked to be? A published and respected author, a painter.

Part II

Your most marked characteristic? Sense of humor

What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty

What is your principle defect? Insecurity

What is your favorite occupation? Writing/teaching

What is your dream of happiness? To have the financial resources and time freedom to travel back to places I love and to explore new ones.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? To lose a loved one due to death or abandonment.

What would you like to be? Pretty much what I am only younger.

What is your favorite color? Blue in all its shades and hues.

What is your favorite flower? The rose.

What is your favorite bird? The owl.

Who are your favorite prose writers? Orwell, Dickens, Twain, Waugh, Huxley, Richler, Margaret Laurence, G. Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, HL Mencken, etc.

Who are your favorite poets? Shakespeare, Blake, Auden, Spender, W. Owen, Coleridge, Keats, Dickinson, P. Larkin, etc.

Who are your favorite composers? Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Elgar, Khatchaturian, etc.

Who are your heroes in real life? I don’t go in much for hero worship, as they tend to have feet of clay. I am most inspired by those ‘little’ people who do nasty dog work to help others, but go unheralded. Avoidance of publicity and fawning are marks of true heroism in my esteem.

Who are your favorite heroines of history? See ‘heroes’ above.

What are your favorite names? I don’t really have any, though there are some names I dislike more than others.

What is it you most dislike? Dishonesty, arrogance, self-importance, cruelty of all kinds, crudity, bigotry, betrayal, religious fundamentalism, moodiness, and personal illness.

What historical figures do you most despise? Oh, the usual, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Ceausescu (shoot the bastard! Oh righ, they did), Catherine de Medici, and about 70 percent of all politicians of any stripe in any country.

What event in military history do you most admire? The courage and determination shown by Londoners in the Battle of Britain.

What reform do you most admire? Universal suffrage and the liberation of all subject peoples at any time anywhere.

What natural gift would you most like to possess? Wisdom.

How would you like to die? In my bed, minus pain, at a very advanced age.
What is your present state of mind? OK – just OK.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Those who fail in a quest but are detemined to try again.

What is your motto? If nothing changes, nothing changes.


Lies! It’s nothing but a pack of (unintentional) lies

So, here I am over the last few days busily editing a manuscript that has lain fallow for too long. It has been an interesting endeavor to resurrect something that has been fermenting. The editing task has been enlightening in that it has opened up a lot of questions from me – about me.

You see, the piece is a reminiscence about what it was like to be growing up in my town in the historical period in which I grew up. You know you are getting old when you refer to your earlier life as an ‘historical period’. But, that’s what it is. It is the stuff of quaint retrospectives in films and TV shows, most of which (with the exception perhaps of the meticulously researched Mad Men) are grievously clichéd and inaccurate.

But, that’s not my point here. My point is, how accurate are our own memories of our own lives? It’s all about point-of-view. Is my elaboration of how I emotionally responded something that happened when I was age 5 reflective of what I felt when I was 5, or is it reflective of how the situation impacts me now at a much greater age?

In other words, was I the same person at 5 as I am now? Or, is this just some of that inner-child claptrap that was so trendy a while ago?

If I am still the same person as that inner child, doesn’t that mean I’m screwed? Doesn’t it mean the whole maturation process was kind of a waste since I am still a whimpering, simpering tot?

I’m telling Wendy about a particular incident in the book and I’m telling her how good it made me feel at the time. “Or, does it make you feel good now?” she asked. Maybe you felt different then. And maybe your memory isn’t at all accurate so you’ve colored it to suit who you are now?” 

Holy poop, I thought. That might mean that all reminiscences from anybody are a crock! Just a pack of swinish lies designed to mollify the ego of the writer. What to believe? 

She told me of an incident that put her point into realistic perspective. She cited it because she has an entirely different memory of the same incident than do I.

A few years ago we went on a Zodiac trip along the magnificent Napali coast on Kauai. The boat was crewed by two Hawaiian guys, an older and younger man.

“The way you tell the story, and I’ve heard you, is that the skipper was an older man, a rough-hewn old Hawaiian seafaring guy.”

Well yes, I thought. And so he was. 

“No he wasn’t,” she said. “He was a relatively young man, certainly considerably younger than you.”

Too many people are these days, I resignedly thought.

So, was I lying in telling that story? No, I wasn’t. From my point-of-view the trip was what I remembered. It was at odds with what she remembered.

So, all I can say is that if my book should ever be published and you should happen upon a copy, remember that all my disgusting lies are unintentional.

‘Say — isn’t that….? Naah, it can’t be.’

“There he is,” I said to Wendy as we attended a concert on Sunday evening. “Sitting right at the end of our row. It’s Gene Hackman!”

Of course it wasn’t. Gene doesn’t hang out around here too much, I understand. Although, it’s not beyond possibility. A reporter friend was grabbing a quick coffee in a local bistro and realized Angela Lansbury was sitting there enjoying a cuppa. Another time a woman phoned the paper in a state of near-hysteria because when she stopped at a local farm market she realized the guy in front of her was Mel Gibson. That was back when Mel was still a heartthrob and before he became drunken Bigotry-Central USA. And finally, a friend who is quite proud to be AA happened to attend a meeting a few miles north of here and realized one of the visitors at the meeting was a guy named Eric Clapton. Don’t worry, I can blow Clapton’s anonymity as he speaks openly about his membership in that fine organization.

Anyway, the aforementioned are all legitimate sightings in this otherwise relatively insignificant community on Vancouver Island. On the other hand, the guy at the concert was ‘not’ Gene Hackman. But – and we have seen him around before – he is such a lookalike they could be identical twins. He is, of course, a doppelganger.

The only problem with doppelgangers is that you’re never quite sure. You see somebody who is the spit of a noted personality and you can be nonplused. Sometimes the person in question can carry it off with élan. I was once sitting in a hotel bar in Exeter England, nursing a solitary pint. The man sitting across from me at the large table looked remarkably like English comic actor Leslie Phillips. I tried to not be obtrusive as I cast the odd glance in his direction. I mean, you don’t want to be too overt glancing at a strange man in a pub.

“Before you ask,” he said, looking at me, “Yes I am.”

How cool is that, I thought. Such a nice courtesy.

But, as I said about the man the other evening, he is not Gene Hackman so there is no point in me saying: “You were just great in The French Connection. In the first place, he has probably heard the line a million times, and in the second place it would simply be rude on my part.

So, do any of you have a famous doppelganger? I have had two in my life. The first one I hinted at the other day was Buddy Holly, but I think that was only about the glasses. The other, and this was when I was in my early 20s, was actor Robert Mitchum. I was flattered by the Mitchum comparison because he is one of my favorite underappreciated actors, and in all honesty I could see it – slightly. But, even that is a bit strange. I was once at a house party at which we were discussing look-alikes. I mentioned the Mitchum thing. “That’s not right,” said one of the women present. “Steve (her husband) looks like Mitchum.” I looked at Steve and, by God, I could see it. So, we asked for an objective appraisal of our respective Mitchum-nesses. We had, in effect, a Mitchum-off. Most present could see it in both of us, even though Steve and I don’t really look remotely alike.

Weird, that. But, at least there is some solace in not being seen as a Charles Laughton  doppelganger.