About the Author

Dave Bidini

Dave Bidini's first book, published in 1998, was the popular and critically acclaimed On a Cold Road, about what it's like to tour Canada in a rock 'n' roll band. He has since written four more books, Tropic Of Hockey (2001), Baseballissimo (2004), For Those About to Rock (2004) and The Best Game You Can Name (2005). When he is not writing or traveling the world, Bidini is rhythm guitarist for the Rheostatics. He also starred in the Gemini Award-winning film The Hockey Nomad. Dave Bidini lives with his wife and two children in Toronto.

 

Please visit Dave at www.davebidini.ca or follow him on Facebook.

Books by this Author
A Wild Stab for It

A Wild Stab for It

This Is Game Eight from Russia
by Dave Bidini
by (photographer) Brian Pickell
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged : hockey
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Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs
Excerpt

I started playing my first song — “Little Bird, Little Bird,” a folk elegy about a Second World War soldier. I stood at the front of the stage but stepped down on the floor after sensing that the lyrics couldn’t be heard at the back of the hall. Before I got too deeply into the song, however, I borrowed a trick from our old drummer, Dave Clark, and divided the audience in half, getting the right side of the room to whisper Zzzzzz-Zzzzzz-Zzzzzzz on the first three beats, and the left side to shout Ha! on the fourth. After I demonstrated this to the audience, Wilfred bounded out of his chair and began conducting the crowd on my behalf, swinging out both arms and counting in the air to show them where the beat fell. The Finns and the Chinese — with the exception of crowds in Joensuu and the Hunan — had been perplexed by this kind of razzmatazz, but the Liberians grabbed it by the neck. Soon their chanting had grown louder than my vocal, polyrhythmically transforming the song. The hall rang with voices, and I was free to take it all in, experiencing one of those rare instances when the musician feels both inside and outside the performance, as conscious of how the song is being perceived as it is being played.

Then I played “Horses.” I went over to where the drummers were sitting and repeated the song’s opening riff until they
started thumping along. I sang a verse, then a chorus, and Wilfred sprang to his feet once again, waving his arms through the “Holy Mackinaw, Joes!” and getting the crowd to sing along as the King’s Jubilee had done the day before. My eyes fell on Stephen from Harmony Rocks, who was singing “The glory of God will take you over!” at the top of his lungs. Wilfred was quick to him too, and within moments, Stephen was on stage standing over Abbie as she held the microphone in the air as if putting distance between herself and a foul-smelling sock. Meanwhile, a tall, willowy woman dressed in a long African gown with her hair bundled in a cloth turban stood up, tightened her fists above her head, and wailed along with Stephen. Others in the crowd followed her lead, and, once again, the Liberians
gloriously wrested my song from me and made it their own.

I’ve played “Horses” at outdoor rock festivals over enormous speaker towers wired through mighty guitar cabinets
juiced to fill stadiums and speedways, and the version at Buduburam sounded just as big without any kind of amplification, Abbie’s microphone notwithstanding. The song was driven by the cries of the crowd, the pounding of drumskins, my strumming hand slashing down on my guitar, and the whoops and screams of a pack of small children Wilfred had organized into a choir near the front of the stage. This natural accompaniment sounded intense in the same way that the wind hammering at a houseface is intense, or an axe thunking into cordwood, or a freight train shaking a quiet neighbourhood. It was all the more visceral for having been created out of nothing by the crowd.
Because of this, the Buduburams were reluctant to let it go easily, and as the chorus looped and looped, I thought that “Horses” might never end.

When the song finally began to lose steam, I turned to the drummers and shouted the song’s final bar — “One! Two! Three! Four!” They took this as a metronomical command, and played loudly and more frenetically in an attempt to straighten the groove into the tepid Western time signature I’d requested. I shook my head at them and counted out the song a second time, but my voice couldn’t be heard above the drums. I looked at the front row and saw Wilfred slapping his hands together and laughing at me, at which point I realized that it wasn’t that the drummers didn’t understand my signal to conclude the song. They just didn’t want to.

I put down my guitar and walked over to where they were drumming. I fell to my knees and joined them, pounding one of their fangas with the flat of my palms. But they were too fast for me, and I soon picked up my guitar again. I strummed hard for a few more bars, stared gravely at the crowd, then did the only thing possible: I leaped off the stage, scissoring my legs and landing in a groin-stretching Townshendian pose at the feet of the crowd. The song tumbled to rest in a hail of laughter.

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Baseballissimo
Excerpt

During a pre­game workout in Nettuno, Italy, Mirko Rocchetti, an infielder with the Peones, arrived at the park carrying a tray of cornetti, brioche, and biscotti. Simone Cancelli (the Natural) followed twenty minutes later with a large box, which he placed on the ledge of the dugout. He lifted the lid, pulled back a layer of crepe paper, and revealed a small mountain of fresh croissants, their light, flaky shells embossed with vanilla crema. A few minutes later Francesco “Pompo” Pompozzi, the Peones’ twenty­one­year­old fireballer, produced two green bottles filled with sugar­soaked espresso, and passed out little white plastic cups. Ricky Viccaro (Solid Gold) — who looked, as always, as if he were standing in front of a wind machine — showed up a half­hour into the game, swinging a red Thermos of espresso, which he cracked in the fifth inning and refilled for the beginning of the second game. Someone else placed boxes of sweets on racks above the bench, and they were polished off in no time.

This sugar fiesta was typical for the Peones, Nettuno’s Serie B baseball team. They believed — as did many Italians — that sugar and coffee were all you needed to get you through any game. Andrea Cancelli (the Emperor) munched on energy pills that tasted like tiny soap cakes. At a game in Sardinia, I saw Fabio Giolitti (Fab Julie) pat his rumbling stomach before fetching a box of wafer cookies from his kit bag, which he passed out, two at a time, to his teammates. Then Mirko asked me, “Davide? Are you hungry?” and promptly handed me two panini spread with grape jelly — the Italian athlete’s equivalent of an energy bar. At the same game, Mario Mazza, the Peones’ second baseman, gathered the team excitedly, as if he’d just cracked the opposing team’s sequence of signs, only to pass out packets of sugar he’d swiped from a café. The players poured them down the hatch. I joined in, even though I wasn’t playing, just watching the Peones, the team I’d come to Italy to write about.

I found language as much a cultural divide as the approach to food, though I was able to find my place among the Peones by spouting a combination Italo­Canadian­Baseballese, at the risk of becoming Team Stooge. At times, I wondered whether the boys were asking me questions just to see how I would mangle their mother tongue.

One day, Chencho Navacci, the team’s left­handed reliever, heard me comment that a hit had been “il pollo morto.”

“Tuo pollo?” he asked.

“No, la palla. La palla è il pollo. Il pollo è morto.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, smiling.

“You know, dying quail,” I said, reverting to English.

“?”

“The chicken is dead,” I said, making a high, curving motion with my hand. “The ball — la palla. La palla è il pollo.”

“Il pollo?”

I couldn’t understand why Chencho was so confused. I’d always assumed that dying quail — baseball’s term for a hit that bloops between the infield and the outfield — was one of those universal baseball terms.

“Si! Il pollo è morto!” I repeated.

“Il pollo è morto? Okay, is good!” he said, turning away.

Later, I told Janet, my wife, what had happened at the ballpark.

“La qualia,” she corrected. “You should have said ‘la qualia.’”

“How was I supposed to know they had quail in Italy?”

“What did you think? They have chicken, don’t they?”

“Ya, but quail.”

“Yes, quail. And I don’t think pollo is the right word for chicken. La gallina is how you say chicken. Pollo is what you order in a restaurant.’

Pollo is restaurant chicken?” I said, mortified.

“I think so.”

“So, you mean I was telling Chencho that the ball was like a piece of cooked chicken?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you were.”

“Flying cooked chicken?”

For my first few weeks with the team, I probably sounded like a moron. I regularly confused the word for last with first, and used always instead of never, as in “Speaking good Italian is always the first thing I learn.” I’d also fallen into the embarrassing habit of pronouncing the word penne (the pasta) as if it were pene, the Italian word for penis. But I was excused for saying things like “I’d like my penis with tomatoes and mushroom,” and, to their credit, the team and townsfolk hung with me. After a while, the players must have noticed a pattern in the things I said at practice: dying quail, rabbit ball, hot potato, ducks on the pond, bring the gas, in his kitchen. They probably figured I was just really hungry.

Before leaving Canada for Italy in the spring of 2002, I bound my five bats together with black packing tape. They looked like a wooden bouquet and their heads clacked as I laid them on the airport’s baggage belt: the brown, thirty­four­ounce Harold Baines Adirondack, two new fungo bats, a red Louisville smiting pole, and a vintage Pudge Fisk hurt stick, with Pudge’s signature burnt into the fat of the wood.

My bats and I weren’t alone. There was also my wife, Janet; our two children, Cecilia, a curly­haired two­year­old blabberpuss, and Lorenzo, not ten weeks old; and for the first part of the trip Janet’s mother, Norma.

Other than a curiosity to experience sport unblemished by money, I had a few more reasons for shipping the family off to Italy. First, I love the game of baseball, having committed the last half­decade of summer Sunday evenings to something named the Queen Street Softball League. I am the starting shortstop for a team called the Rebels, originally affiliated with a local brewery, which was both our strength and poison. I spend most games standing on the gravel in my white Converse low­cuts, waiting for some silk­screen print shop worker or bartender or anthropology student or record­store clerk to whale the ball to my feet, providing that no off­leash hound makes for the pitcher’s mound, lovestruck couple promenades through centre field, or rapscallions riding their bmxs rip up the sod in the power alleys, which lie just to the right of the oak tree and slightly to the left of the guy selling weed out of his Dickie Dee ice­cream cart. Still, we compete like heck. As a weekend scrub, I give everything at the plate. I also try my best to keep my feet spread, arse down, and eyes on the ball when fielding ground hops, the way Pee Wee Reese might have. Stats­wise, I’ve hovered around .400 — a modest softball average — year in and out, having effectively learned how to slice a 25-mph spinball just beyond the reach of the guy in the knee brace, who’s swatting a mosquito while trying not to spill his lager.

It’s because of my shortcomings as a ballplayer that I couldn’t possibly have tagged along with an elite, or even semi­elite, pro­level team in Italy. I had briefly flirted with the notion of following around a major league club, but ditched the idea after hearing about Nettuno, which had just the right combination of respectable talent level, rabid fan base, and casual sporting culture to allow a dreamy scrub like me to toss in my glove and wander among them.

Which is to say: they let me.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Blueblood

A Team, a Fan, and His City
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Drive By

Drive By

A Road Trip with Jeff Thomas
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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For Those About to Rock

For Those About to Rock

A Road Map to Being in a Band
edition:Paperback
tagged : rock
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For Those About to Write

For Those About to Write

How I Learned to Love Books and Why I Had to Write Them
edition:Paperback
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Home and Away

Home and Away

In Search of Dreams at the Homeless World Cup of Soccer
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Keon and Me

Keon and Me

My Search For The Lost Soul Of The Leafs
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Midnight Light

Midnight Light

A Personal Journey to the North
edition:Paperback
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On a Cold Road

On a Cold Road

Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock
edition:Paperback
tagged : rock
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Excerpt

I was nothing but a pimply little question mark on the day my sister and I first walked into Ken Jones Music in Etobicoke. Sunlight streamed through the windows, dappling the guitars that hung behind the counter and bathing the small music shop at the back of the Westway Plaza in warm light. The store was cluttered with drums stacked on top of each other, keyboards leaning three deep against the walls, dusty racks of unread sheet music, long outdated band want-ads taped to the cash register, and ashtrays scattered across old chairs and window ledges. At the back of the store, young boys sat in tiny rooms plucking guitars through amplifiers that buzzed like heat bugs, the sound of their hammer-ons and finger-rolls and string-benders snaking out to where I stood, sucking it all in like sugar through a Pixie-Stik.
 
After our first taste of this place, my sister and I signed up for guitar lessons, which I grew to hate. My disdain might have had something to do with the fact that Cathy had mastered the basic chords and strumming technique before I’d grown my first finger callus. She out-licked me on “Kum Ba Yah,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “House of the Rising Sun,” which we debuted for our parents in our living room sitting on bridge table chairs behind music stands. I’d like to tell you that I rose to her challenge and went on to become a blurry-fingered virtuoso of the fretboard whose technique set the world’s pants on fire. But I did not.
 
Instead, I quit.
 
Cathy played her hand just right. My room was papered with an Aerosmith poster over my bed, 10cc above my night table, and Rush’s Farewell to Kings staring at me each night as I hit my pillow. Every other inch of the walls was pasted with photos culled from Hit Parader, Creem, and Circus magazines, or purchased at Flash Jack’s Head Shop, the scuzzy Yonge Street epicentre of high school stonerdom, where they sold roach clips and hash pipes and lurid pictures of Linda Ronstadt. These pictures of my favourite bands were testament to my desire to be like them, but they were also witness to my failure to do anything about it. I’d wander into my sister’s austere room – shockingly devoid of rock shrine-ography – and stare at her acoustic guitar, Mel Bay How-to-Play book, and music stand casually draped with belts, purses and other young-girl ephemera. In this display of coolness, Cathy seemed indifferent that she was better than me. My jealousy deepened. School ended. Summer passed. Winter descended. My sister played on.
 
But then a year later, mysteriously, she stopped. As soon as Cathy put away her guitar, I picked mine up again. I went back to Ken Jones Music to sign up for more lessons, still a damp patty of clay waiting to be palmed, but this time confident enough to look into the future and see someone other than who I was: a nervous child dressed in brown, ankle-riding cords and a maroon sweater that scratched like steel wool. No, this time I could see myself as a figure straight from my walls – a sparkling giant outfitted in electrically lit platform shoes and a spangly jumpsuit, flaunting a great bramble of chest hair, and topped by a frizzy afro and bug sunglasses.
 
I approached the counter, where an unclean fellow sat with his feet up, plucking a mandolin.
 
“I was wondering about guitar lessons,” I gulped.
 
“Do you play guitar, man?” asked the freak.
 
“No. Well, I did. But I’m not very good,” I said.
 
“Excellent,” he replied, strangely.
 
Stu looked like he’d just strode off a Three Dog Night album cover. He had that Jesus-as-folksinger look, thin-framed with a moustache and straggly beard. It was 1975. The first time I smelled pot, it was rising like steam off his flower-patched denim jacket. But while Stu was a prodigious stoner, he was a lot easier to understand than most of my teachers at school. He’d sit with me while I waited for my lesson with Ken and describe all the bands I’d never heard of whose music books he sold at the store – ZZ Top, the Eagles, Humble Pie, the James Gang. He told me about rigging a stage, setting up microphones, sound-checking, recording, tuning, and keeping your instrument in playable condition. He let me in on these mysteries as if he were spooling out paradigms from a lost language.
 
When a few friends and I finally got a band together, we set up in the store so that Stu could teach us the basic tenets of songwriting and arranging. We paid him with money given to us by our parents, who had parted with their hard-earned dollars even though they knew the money would be going to an indolent hippie who wore love beads and smoked skunk-weed from a water pipe. Stu took us through the looking glass, and we followed like Alice.
 
Our little combo was enthusiastic, if musically repugnant. We were four fourteen-year-olds playing the Triumph version of “Rocky Mountain Way” on out-of-tune instruments. Everybody took a solo, even our drummer, Mario Molinaro, who played so hard that he punched his sticks through his drumskins and shredded the hi-hats into shrapnel. But no matter how hellacious our din, Stu would listen patiently, bemused, and then show us what a bridge was. We were thrilled. Every now and then, his own group rehearsed in the store. We’d camp outside and listen to them play Led Zeppelin and Rush songs with three-tiered synthesizers, double-neck guitars, roto-tom drum terraces, disembowellingly loud bass guitars, and vocal mikes cabled through a Traynor P.A. To us it was like hearing the Stones at the Gardens. We vowed that we’d be good enough to have gear that real and a sound that big. Stu just tapped his head and said, “You will, you will,” then folded his hands in his lap.
 
Stu worked the front of the store, but the fellow whose name was on the place did most of the work. Ken Jones was a round, balding fellow who looked shockingly like Captain Kangaroo without the mendacious eyebrows. Ken sold me my first guitar, a white El Degas Stratocaster copy with a soft neck and a tone that was as warm and forgiving as a tire crunching glass. Ken showed me the basics out of the Mel Bay books, and soon I was putting two notes together, pretending to play “Rock and Roll Hoochie- Koo.” That Ken had the patience to take me this far was remarkable considering that he spent most of his time locked away in a closet-sized room teaching sweaty teenagers with breath like milk gone bad how to cop Eric Clapton licks or strum church hymns. He eventually passed me on to a local long-haired rock troll who tried teaching me Frank Marino, Joe Walsh, and Domenic Troiano riffs while his girlfriend sat cross-legged smoking in the corner. This often led to lead-guitar duels with him in which I placed a distant second. I was put off playing solos for the rest of my life, but Ken and Stu had already turned me on to music and there was no going back.
 
A few years after I left the store for other musical experiences, the Toronto Star wrote an article about the Rheostatics’ first gig at the Edge in February 1980. We were seventeen years old at the time and had to get a special liquor permit to play in the club. About fifty kids from high school came to see us play, and when we finished, the band we were opening for pleaded with us to get our friends to stay. But it was a school night. The Star found all of this interminably cute and dispatched a reporter to interview and photograph us on the bleachers of a high-school football field. I owe it to my mom for calling them and suggesting the idea in the first place. It was the first time I ever saw myself in print, and it was a shock. In the photo, I’m wearing blue trousers, a white striped blazer, and a T-shirt with an exclamation mark on it. Even though I’m sporting my most expensive haircut to date – thirty dollars at Super Cutz in Sherway Gardens – my head still looks like a luge helmet.
 
 
Ken Jones posted the clipping in his shop. He drew an arrow pointing to me and wrote, “I taught him!” on it. He didn’t do it because he had any intuition that we would dent the mug of Canadian rock, or grow up to dazzle industry captains or play sold-out concerts in hockey rinks or take champagne baths in rooms wallpapered with money. It was because of one gig.
 
One.
Three dollars. Tuesday night.
The Edge.
 
Sixteen years, handfuls of tours, walls of faces, miles of strings and cables, thickets of magnetic and electrical tape, lakes of beer, numberless clubhouse sandwiches, and six hundred gigs later, we were asked to do a national tour with the Tragically Hip in the winter of 1996 to support their Trouble at the Henhouse album. The biggest tour by a Canadian band in the history of music in Canada. It would put the Rheostatics in front of almost half a million people and finally give us a chance to play our music to the mass audience that till then had eluded us. Since our inaugural gig at the Edge in 1980, we’d gone through many changes in sound and had suffered the loss of our drummer of fourteen years, Dave Clark, who quit the band sixteen months before our tour. People like Stu and Ken and a million others had floated across those years, and as I set out to write down my experiences about being on the road, I found myself thinking not only about them, but also about the bands and musicians whose songs I’d heard on the radio as a kid, and whose bravura had founded the musical culture in which I now lived and explored.
 
I decided to track down these figures from my past. I wanted to understand, through them, the anatomy of making music in a country noted more for space and snow than for money or people. I was fully aware of the struggle it takes to sustain a musical career in Canada (I was painfully conscious that a small number of consumers supported Canadian bands – 19 per cent of total sales – and that our scant population meant that musicians shared the same audience in ten cities across the country), but I knew very little about the artists themselves. It became important to me to know what it was like for the early bands, the first to leave their home towns hauling P.A. systems and glitter balls, chasing down one-nighters in towns that barely existed. They’d established the east-west route that every Canadian group now travelled, and more than likely took for granted. Without their perseverance, neither we nor the Hip would have had reason to exist, let alone to light out for the coast, let alone to write this book.

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Tell Me a Story

Gordon Lightfoot and the Essence of Canada
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The Best Game You Can Name
Excerpt

1
A FROZEN RIVER OF STOUT

If it’s true that the best time for sports is when you’re eleven, I’ve discovered that it’s also pretty good when you’re forty. My athletic renaissance came on the heels of turning thirty-­four, which is how old I was when I lit out to discover world hockey. Later, and older, I spent an entire summer dogging an Italian baseball team up and down the Boot. One evening while I was in Nettuno — my Italian baseballing town — I paced with some agitation behind the town’s seawall, holding my cellphone and listening to my friend Ozzie from his couch in Etobicoke, Ontario. He was shouting the names of undrafted nhlers: “Thomas Vokoun? Available, I think. Comrie? Gone. Brisebois? You really wanna pick Brisebois?”

Purple waves licked the beach not twenty feet from where I was standing under the bright Roman moon, pondering the kind of quibbler that must have perplexed Marcus Aurelius or Cicero or any number of Latin thinkers who’d paced this same long stretch of sand:

“Anson Carter gives us depth, sure, but if Brian Boucher’s around, you know we can never have too much goaltending.”

Ozzie paused while a Sputnik orbiting hundreds of miles overhead ensnared our transcontinental frequency in static, then volleyed a thought about the unpredictability of a young American goaltender. Would Boucher ever supplant Sean Burke as number one in Phoenix, he wondered, and, hey, what was Italy like anyway. I told him that Italy was fine, just fine, then pressed on with the matter at hand: to draft our fantasy league team with a handful of other hockey freaks.

Arguing eggheadedly over draft picks during the sweet soft hours of an Italian evening — to say nothing of spending what should have been prime holidaying time catching fungoes — is proof that sports means as much to me now as it ever did at age eleven. Which is saying a lot. As a boy growing up in suburban Toronto, my life was a hockey card collection, a gas station stamp book, a Team Canada poster, an Export ‘A’ Leafs calender, Gordie Howe’s name scribbled in blue ink on the back of a beer mat, Tiger Williams at Kingsway Motors, a pair of Marlie greys, a front tooth knocked out by Martin Dzako’s street hockey follow-­through. I was just as obsessed as the next scamp with the gladiators of ice, but my friend Murray Heywood went one step further. When Murray was eight, his brothers would invite their friends over to watch the kid put on a show. He’d leave the room while they put a hockey card on the kitchen table, obscured except for the players’ eyes. They’d call Murray back into the room. He’d guess right every time.

The players Ozzie and I drafted onto our fantasy team were the adult equivalents of a hockey card collection. We obsessed over them as we once obsessed over the flat, sugar-­dusted squares stacked stat-­to-­stat in shoeboxes and lunch tins. A fondness for the outdoor rinks and skating ponds and scraps of ice that collect in the ravines, creeks, and parking-­lot potholes of my kid-­dom returned after a long, post-­adolescent, soul-­clearing wander into the land of art, love, dope, movies, and the strains of Killing Joke. Hockey had been drummed out of my heart, head, and hands by demanding coaches, aggressive peers, and a natural tightening of life, to say nothing of the siren of rock and roll. It had led me away from sports, but it had taken me back there again. In rinks like Bill Bolton, Moss Park, DeLaSalle, St. Mike’s, Scadding Court, Dufferin Grove, McCormick, and Wallace Emerson — each pad seated near the heart of the city — I rediscovered the game.

This rebirth of sporting love is common among youngish Canadians who, on the other side of twenty-­five, suddenly see hockey as being more than just the domain of guys in mullets weaned on White Snake and Extra Old Stock. A collection of these enlightened folk can be found every Easter weekend at the Exclaim! Cup hockey tournament, a yearly play-­down sponsored by Exclaim!, a national music magazine that is to The Hockey News what Thurston Moore is to Michael Hedges. The tourney takes place over four days and features twenty-­four musician teams whose players, like me, fell out of, then back in, love with the game. Members of the Fruit, Dufferin Groove, Wheatfield Souldiers, Victoria Humiliation, Vancouver Flying Vees, Edmonton Green Pepper All-­Stars, and all the other teams know that while the dividing line between art and sport is thick, the E! Cup proves that the geek and the goon can co-­exist, even flourish in a single body.

During the tourney, rinkside rock bands serenade the crowd with everything from “More Than a Feeling” played in twenty-­second kerrangs to the occasional hippie drum-­jam extended for as long as it takes the referee to collect players for a faceoff. It’s the Vans Warped Tour meets the Allan Cup Finals. At the evening socials (coined the “Hockey Hootenany” by the organizer, Morningstar Tom Goodwin), the teams become bands again, executing the kind of cultural switcheroo that never would have happened back in my high-­school days, not when left wingers were beating the snot out of safety-­pinners on local football fields. For their performance at the ’04 Hootenany, the Montreal entry, organized by Ninja Tune records, debuted a work by British electronic music king Amon Tobin: a remix of the Hockey Night in Canada theme. The tune — transformed by Tobin’s thunderous beats and growling industrial textures — became a celebration of hockey without the macho cruelty, art without the arrogance.

The E! Cup began as a challenge match between the Sonic Unyon Pond Hockey Squad (Sonic Unyon is a Hamilton label that’s put out records by Frank Black, Sianspheric, and Mayor McCA, who also happens to be Ric Seiling’s nephew) and my team, the Morningstars, which has suffered three straight Cup losses after winning the first three.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Five Hole Stories

The Five Hole Stories

edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
tagged : sports
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Tropic Of Hockey

Tropic Of Hockey

My Search for the Game in Unlikely Places
edition:Paperback
tagged : adventure, hockey
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Writing Gordon Lightfoot

Writing Gordon Lightfoot

The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Hey, Gord. Or Gordon. Or Mr. Lightfoot. No, I’m going to call you Gord, and I hope that’s okay. You don’t know me, but I know you. We all know you. You’re in our heads. You’re in the walls of our hearts. Your melodies hang and swerve over the great open skies and soupy lakes and long highways and your lyrics are printed in old history and geography and humanities textbooks that get passed down from grade to grade to grade. When people say “Lightfoot,” it’s like saying “Muskoka” or “Gretzky” or “Trudeau.” I dunno. “Lightfoot.”
 
Your name says as much as these things, maybe more. Gord, I am writing this book even though you won’t talk to me. It’s a long story, but this is a long book, so here goes. You won’t talk to me because of a song that my old band covered, a version of your nautical epic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Back in 1989, we contacted your late manager, Barry Harvey – a good guy; at least he was to us – to ask for approval, and he gave us his blessing. But then he said that he probably wouldn’t play our version of the song for you. What he actually said was, “If I play it for him, it’ll just piss him off.”
 
A few months later, something else happened, which is maybe the real reason why you won’t talk to me. You see, after coming home from a tour of Ireland – an ill-fated tour; we broke up there, only to re-form and record your song, though you probably wish we’d stayed broken up – a music writer asked about our rendition. Because I was young and dumb and feeling disappointed that you – one of my heroes – refused to recognize our interpretation of what is surely one of Canada’s most famous, and best, songs, I punked out. I told him that, “well, everyone knows that it’s based on an old Irish melody. It’s not his, not really.” What I didn’t tell the writer was that a guy in a bar in Cork had told me this, nor did I tell him that there were several beers involved – in Cork, Gord, this is a given. Later on, when Barry Harvey read what I’d said, he asked me to recant my statement. I might have just grunted and hung up the phone. Barry asked again and again, and, having grown a little older and less punked-out, I said I would, but then the story appeared on the Internet (the goddamned Internet). Barry was gentlemanly about the whole thing, but he said that I’d upset you, which is what I’d wanted to do, at least in the beginning, but not anymore. You were mad and I don’t begrudge you that feeling. After all, the same guy who’d desecrated your song had called you a phony, even if he hadn’t really meant it (Cork plus beer plus being rejected by one’s hero plus an encounter with a drunken storyteller equals impetuous rant. It’s a weak defence, I know, but it’s all I’ve got). I tried taking the story down, then forgot about it. Barry called a third time, then a fourth time, asking nicely. Then he passed away. And now I am writing a book about you. And you won’t talk to me.
 
Last year, when my publisher asked if I wanted to do this book, I explained the situation. He said, “Do it anyway,” and so we proceeded to figure out a way to create a book without the contribution of its central figure, which is you. At first, I thought about using stories that other people had told about you, but the biographical holes were too great (turns out you’re a bit of a mystery, Gord, although it’s not like you don’t know that). Then, as I started to look back through your life, I came across an event that I remembered reading about years ago in a Peter Goddard-edited seventies Toronto pop magazine called Touch. The event was Mariposa ’72. Because it was a great event – maybe one of the most important in Canadian musical and cultural history – I was given a starting point from which to talk about your life, without actually talking to you. I also thought it might be a way of telling the story of Canada. But I tried not to think too much about it. Instead, I just sat down and started writing.
 
Gord, I know you know all of this, but, at this point, I should tell the readers a few things. Okay. Readers: the 1972 Mariposa Folk Festival (the sixteenth year of the event) was unlike any that came before it. It took place on a small isthmus at the bottom of Toronto, on Centre Island, now the site of a popular kids’ amusement park. At the time, Mariposa was one of the most progressive festivals of its kind – only the Newport Folk Festival and a similar event in Philadelphia had better reputations – bringing attention to marginalized folk, blues, and traditional music. It steered clear of emerging chart music – pop and rock and even folk-rock – instead scheduling time for forgotten blues masters, Inuit throat singers, and local tubthumpers (Gord, I do not mean to disparage local folksingers by calling them “tub-thumpers,” but it’s kind of what they were. Still, I know that a lot of them are your friends, and I don’t need to piss you off any more than you already are). In 1971, excitement over the event resulted in ticketless fans swimming across the harbour to get to the island, further dissuading organizers from booking big-name talent for fear that the grassroots festival would lose its way. Such was their monastic commitment to a toned-down event that, in 1972, evening performances were cancelled, in keeping with the philosophy established by artistic director Estelle Klein, who, in 1972, was out of the country, holidaying in Greece and taking a break from the festival.
 
By 1972, the music scene had changed. In Toronto, it had moved from Yorkville’s coffee bar idyll to scabrous Yonge Street, with rock clubs being born every day alongside strip joints, pinball arcades, and gay taverns. These new places catered largely to the younger music fan, blessed by the drinking age in Ontario having been lowered, a year earlier, from twenty-one to eighteen. Also, because of 1971 federal legislation that required radio stations to play 33? per cent Canadian music, the nation’s sonic palette widened and there was room for new bands driven by fuzz-toned guitarists and wild-haired singers who felt empowered after hearing themselves on the radio for the first time. The city’s musical culture moulted. New sounds were being heard everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except at the largest and most stubborn-minded music festival in Canada.
 
When Mariposa organizers sat down to program the playbill for that year’s festival, they pencilled in Murray McLauchlan and Bruce Cockburn as the de facto headliners. Gord, I’m sure that you would have headlined the festival had you not been suffering through your shittiest year ever. By ’72, you’d stopped touring, and you were dating Cathy Evelyn Smith, the same woman who’d conceived Levon Helm’s love child in the Seahorse Inn on Toronto’s southern Etobicoke lakeshore and who was later charged with murder in the speedball death of John Belushi. You had also suffered the first symptoms of Bell’s palsy during a performance at Massey Hall and, in 1971, had waged a trying battle with Grammy organizers, who demanded that you shorten “If You Could Read My Mind.” Anyway, because of your stasis, the responsibility for headlining the bill fell to two of your Yorkville proteges, both of whom, because of the new CanCon rules, had usurped a musical territory that, before the new law, had been almost exclusively yours. I don’t know if that cheesed you, Gord. I don’t even know whether, because you were lost in a deep fog of booze and drugs and pain, any of this registered. Maybe it did. It’s one of the things I hope to figure out.
 
Anyway, what happened on that island that weekend was an unexpected confluence of the greatest songwriters of their age, each of them – like yourself – emerging from difficult times. That it happened in my city – in your city, in our city – puts me close to the memory, although I would have been way too young to go there myself. Because it’s one of these great events that hasn’t been written about, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Writers live for this sort of thing: an untold story. The same could be said for you, Gord. It’s been over thirty years since anyone wrote a book about you. It is time. Still, the ideas didn’t end there. After poring over newsprint and microfilm about Mariposa ’72 at the Toronto Reference Library and other places, I found that the story grew and grew. What I learned was that, over the seven days leading up to Mariposa, there occurred some of the era’s most memorable and profound moments in music, politics, sports, and culture, both at home and abroad. What happened from July 10 to July 17 eclipsed any single story, including your own. In Canada, the Canada–Russia hockey teams were announced; the largest jailbreak in Canadian history occurred at Kingston’s Millhaven penitentiary; and, through a combination of forces, Trudeau mania fell fast and hard. The summer of 1972 was also when The Rolling Stones staged one of the most important – and notorious – rock and roll tours ever, in support of their important and notorious album, Exile on Main Street. As it turns out, they were also in Toronto during the Mariposa weekend, playing two shows at Maple Leaf Gardens. Stevie Wonder opened and filmmaker Robert Frank and writer Truman Capote were in tow. On Sunday in Montreal, their equipment truck was bombed in a loading bay behind the Forum. Some said the separatists were responsible, but no one knows for sure.
 
World news of that week is also filled with remarkable events large and small, including the beginning of the Bobby Fischer–Boris Spassky chess summit and the journey of Pioneer 10 towards Jupiter. The week started with a total eclipse of the sun, and when the bells rang out on the evening of December 31, 1972, they ended the longest twelve months in history – three seconds having been added to international time – and something about music, something about Canada, and something about the world was different than it had been before. Gord, before I started writing, I talked to people who know you. I was given advice on how to handle the situation, which proved to be no advice at all. When I announced my intentions, some folks told me to steer clear. “Whatever you do, don’t park outside his house,” said one person. “The last guy who did this had his car pissed on by him. He’s a grumpy old man. He’ll never talk to you.” Others were more encouraging.
 
“Gord is a beautiful person,” said Dan Hill. “After Paul [Quarrington] died, he really helped me get through my period of grieving.” Eventually, I was left with two impressions. From what I gathered, you were either a loner or you were everybody’s good time. You were either a tough guy or a sweetheart who could break down at a moment’s notice. You were either a shit-kicking cowboy or an angel; a drunk or a saint. You’d either steal someone’s girlfriend or give him the shirt off your back. You were either Canada’s Townes Van Zandt or a Roger Whittaker wannabe in a plaid shirt. You were either hell on your band or loyal to a fault. You either loved Canada or had tried as hard as you could to get the hell out. Your small-town roots were either the driving force of your art, or the small, airless pepper box in which your life was confined. You were either here – showing up at Leafs games or attending industry banquets – or not here – disappearing to go on long canoe trips, or hiding out in a friend’s apartment in Detroit.
 
Because you won’t talk to me – I’ve called your record company a bunch of times, written emails, all of that, and still nothing – I decided to write you a letter, which, by now, is kind of obvious. I should also tell you that this book alternates between a letter to you and a description of the events of that week in ’72, leading up to Mariposa and a wild prose crescendo that will leave even the crustiest old critic lachrymose and braying from his knees.
 
There’s one other thing, Gord. It’s actually a big thing.
 
You see, in the letter sections, I’ve made stuff up. Some of it might have happened; some of it might not. Because you won’t talk to me, I’m left having to imagine your life. Because I’m a musician, too, I wanted to use all that I’ve seen and heard and done in my own rock and roll life to help piece together your story; to understand how you – a small-town choirboy – ended up creating this country’s most formidable body of song. The lawyers don’t want me to write this book, Gord. They think you will come and find me and drag this book down. My wife doesn’t want me to write it. She doesn’t want our car pissed on. But no artist ever did anything based on whether a lawyer liked their idea or not. Well, maybe some did, but not me.
 
Still, if you won’t talk to me, Gord, I’m going to talk to you. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first conversation that started without both people listening.
 
So, okay, Gord.
 
I’ll start.

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The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories

The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories

by Roch Carrier
introduction by Dave Bidini
translated by Sheila Fischman
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