ECW Press

ECW Press

ECW is Entertainment. ECW is Culture. ECW is Writing.

Publishers Weekly recognized ECW Press as one of the most diversified independent publishers in North America. ECW Press has published close to 1,000 books that are distributed throughout the English-speaking world and translated into dozens of languages. In the next year, we’ll release 50+ new titles and will continue to support and promote a vibrant backlist that includes poetry and fiction, pop-culture and political analysis, sports books, biography, and travel guides. Books by writers whose names you know and love — and by those who we’re very pleased to introduce for the first time.

665-gerrard

Who are we? After three decades, we still get asked about our name, those three little letters: ECW.

At first the acronym was self-descriptive: Essays on Canadian Writing (the name of the journal of literary criticism we started in 1974). But as the company grew and changed, our name, in our minds, also changed. We’ve heard the company called Essential Canadian Writing, Excellent Contemporary Writing, or, more recently, Extreme Cutting-Edge Writing. And these names have been, and still are, appropriate. But now we realize that each of those letters represents a particular strain of ECW Press’s diverse passions — Entertainment, Culture, Writing.

No matter how our name has been interpreted, however, there has always been one constant: our pursuit of excellent writing. We recognize that it’s our authors who make us what we are, who establish our reputation. And because of this we’re committed to bringing you the best writers and the best writing we know — in every genre. In the next decade, ECW will continue to grow and change.

Today, we’re publishing a heady mix of commercial and literary works that strive for a uniform standard of excellence: the best writing; the most exciting, controversial, and insightful takes on the hottest subject matter; ground-breaking design; and high production values.
Our goal is to support every ECW Press title with the kind of innovative marketing and promotion that give our books and authors the recognition they deserve.

Welcome to ECW.

ECW Press
665 Gerrard Street East
Toronto, ON M4M 1Y2
416-694-3348
info@ecwpress.com

Free_eBook-75

At ECW we believe that you can have your cake and eat it too, at least when it comes to the way you read. If you buy one of our print books we’ll give you the eBook for free! 

 

Shelf_Monkey-75

Become a Shelf Monkey for the chance to review great ECW books!

 

 

Sign up for our monthly newsies | Visit our website | Facebook | Twitter  | Instagram

Books by this Publisher
Sort by:
View Mode:
Elizabeth of Bohemia

Elizabeth of Bohemia

A Novel about Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

I woke the morning after the banquet from a restless sleep wondering at my brother’s condition and went at the earliest convenience to St. James’s to look in on him, expecting to find him still in bed, only to discover that he had long since left the confines of his bedchamber to see to preparations for a performance that evening. Henry had arranged for a production of Hamlet, which the Palatine was apparently very fond of, to be mounted by the King’s Men. I found him backstage, consulting with the playwright over some details of the dialogue. My brother was in the process of assembling his own court at St. James’s, and any number of musicians and poets, artists and entertainers were vying for appointment. The rivalry was intense and not without intrigues. In the case of Mr. Shakespeare’s theatre company, there were rumours that they should soon give themselves over to the Prince of Wales and call themselves Prince Henry’s Men thereafter, a move sure to infuriate my father.

When Henry saw me he raised one hand to signal he would be just a moment and resumed his conversation with Mr. Shakespeare, while I used the time to study his demeanour and appearance. I thought him far from recovered, for he was pallid in complexion and clearly labouring to bring energy to his actions. Now he excused himself and came to stand before me.

“Elizabeth.” He kissed me on the cheek. “What brings you here so early?”

“Surely you must know, I came to see how you’re feeling. I’m surprised to see you up and about. Do you really think it advisable?”

“I can’t see why not. Is something amiss?”

“Amiss? Henry, you fainted last evening. Are you pretending nothing happened?”

“I’m fine, I tell you.”

“You don’t look fine. Have you had breakfast?”

“I shall see to some lunch as soon as I’m finished here.”

“I don’t like the idea that you are going to all this trouble. I hope you’re not trying to impress the Palatine for my sake.” I took him by both hands and inspected his features closely. “You are such a brother as a sister can only hope for, and I do not mean to bring you undue worry, but I tell you in all honesty, Henry, you are not well.”

“I grant my strength is not yet entirely returned, but you must not concern yourself. I shall be fully recovered by tonight.”

“Not if you if you keep this up.”

“I appreciate your concern, but now I must ask that you allow me to get back to the business at hand.” He hesitated for a moment. “And for your part, shouldn’t you be entertaining the Palatine?”

“I intend to make myself as little available as our father shall allow.”

“But why should you do so? This Prince seems entirely decent, and not without considerable character.” He looked past me at Mr. Shakespeare, who was beckoning to him from the stage. “Yes, yes, one more minute, if you please,” he scolded, and turned back to me. “This playwright’s impatience speaks to his vanity. He seems to be under the impression that an artist’s talent dictates that he be treated as an equal.”

“I suppose it had been better to have lived in Roman times,” I said as we watched Mr. Shakespeare hold up the folio to Henry and poke at it with his finger, “when they contented themselves as the hired help.”

“But to the matter of Prince Frederick.” Henry gave me a pleading look. “I am not asking you to marry the man, only to give him a chance. Must you be so eager to dismiss him outright?”

“You know I have my reasons.”

“You mustn’t let your acrimony toward our father cloud your judgment.”

“If only it were that easy. But let that go. You are eager to get back to your preparations. Promise me you will get some more rest.”

“I promise.” He kissed me on the cheek and hurried back to the actors.

“And something to eat,” I called after him.

“I shall.”

I made my way back to Richmond, where I learned upon arrival that Count Schomberg was waiting for me in the antechamber, eager to convey an invitation from the Palatine to dine with him at lunch. I made my way down the hall and, finding the door slightly ajar, paused when I saw the Count seated in close conversation with Lady Anne.

“The Palatine assures me he has hardly met a fellow as splendid as your Prince Henry,” the Count offered, “and admires him greatly.”

“There can be no doubt the feeling is mutual. They certainly took to each other even upon their first meeting.”

“They have since had a second. Prince Henry came by early this morning to personally invite the Palatine to the performance of the play this evening at St. James’s, whereupon the two of them struck up a long conversation.”

My eavesdropping left me unable to decide which was the greater offence: that my brother should have gone traipsing about London after giving me such a scare only the night before, or that he should have seen fit to seek out the Palatine’s company and not mine.

“Prince Frederick did confide to me,” the Count continued. “He felt as though he had come upon the best companion of his life, or had a long-lost friend returned to him.”

“Remarkable that two people should strike up such an amiable acquaintance in so short a time. Who would have thought?”

“Tell me, Madam, what have your mistress to say about Prince Frederick?”

“Little, I’m afraid, but you will allow she was concerned for her brother’s health.”

“That was quite an introduction they had.”

“Indeed.”

“Lady Anne, may I pose a question to you?” Count Schomberg asked.

I had been about to show myself and make my entrance, but now I lingered a moment more.

“I hope it is within the bounds of my office to answer.”

“I grant the matter is somewhat delicate, for it concerns the matter of a man’s desire.”

“A man may desire what he likes, though desire and fulfillment are two different things.”

“I grant as much, but tell me, what does a man want more than anything from the woman he loves?”

“I might hazard a guess, but then, I am no man.”

“But cannot a maid know a man’s heart?”

“I am no maid.”

“I beg your indulgence. I only meant for you to consider the question from your woman’s point of view.”

“Speak plainly. What is your drift?”

“I have always thought, and it seems to me clearer of late, that more than anything a man desires that the woman he loves should think highly of him.”

“I will caution that My Lady’s favour is not easily won.”

“I meant not the princess but yourself?”

“Sir?”

“How might a man hope to gain your esteem?” The Count leaned in a little and looked into Lady Anne’s eyes.

At this I pulled the door wide and entered the room.

“Your Majesty.” Count Schomberg rose quickly.

“Madam.” Lady Anne followed suit, and the two of them stood facing me. “We were just talking about you,” she added stiffly.

“You seem a little out of breath,” I teased, “as though I might have caught you in some act of illicit indulgence.”

Lady Anne was clearly flustered and looked to the Count to intervene.

“I have come at the Palatine’s bidding,” said the Count. “He wanted to enquire after your plans for the afternoon.”

“I have none,” I answered, “but how for you two?”

“Madam.” Lady Anne became serious. “I am at your service.”

“As you, Sir, must be to your Elector,” I said to the Count. “Tell him thank you, but I must send my regrets, and shall at any rate entertain his company at this evening’s play.”

“Very well.” The Count bowed, then turned to Lady Anne, took up her hand in both of his, and placed upon it so lingering a kiss that she finally pulled her hand away and offered me an awkward smile.

“I think he may be enamoured of you,” I said when the Count had left the room. “Do you find him handsome?”

“I had hardly taken notice of his features.” Lady Anne glanced at me sideways, and when she saw that I was utterly unconvinced, added, “I suppose he has a good moustache.”

“Though not as fine as Sir Raleigh’s, you must agree.”

“Yes, yes, you have taken pains again and again to assure me he has the best moustache you have ever seen, but is it merely that which brings you to mention him just now?”

“He would surely have attended this play were he not confined to the Tower.”

“Indeed he has languished there for too long.”

“And yet my father will not relent.”

“I suppose you imagine Sir Raleigh devoting all of his attention to you at the expense of the Palatine.”

“It’s only that I should have liked for them to meet.”

“But to what end?”

“No more than for the three of us to be together in the same room.”

“You suffer yet from that same girlish infatuation,” Lady Anne scoffed. “The man is old enough to be your father.”

“As are most of the suitors my father would have me married off to.”

“And this one, this Palatine, he is too young, you think?”

“It matters little what I think, or so it would seem.”

“Your brother has certainly taken to him.”

“And not to his own bed, as like would have been wiser.”

“At any rate,” said Lady Anne, suddenly all business, “we have much in the way of preparation for this evening. Do you know what you’re going to wear?”

“And how for yourself?”

“Come, we have much to do.”

As much as I had witnessed Lady Anne’s composure unsettled by the Count, she had seen mine undone by Sir Raleigh. I had no explanation for it except to say that it seemed entirely out of my hands. His nearness would give me to entertain such thoughts, give birth to such cravings as I had not yet experienced in my young life. Granted there had been some interludes with boys by that time, of an exploratory nature, but nothing more. And now this young Palatine had come to seek me for his bride, and me a young woman utterly smitten with the fanciful and girlish dream of being swept up in the arms of an older man.

Evening found me at St. James’s, where a small audience was already assembled when I arrived with Lady Anne, and though Henry greeted me warmly, I saw at once in the tightness of his facial features, the struggle behind his eyes, that he was fighting off some intense discomfort. He was quick to dismiss my concerns, admitting only to a riotous headache that he insisted was already passing. I was soon seated between my brother and the Palatine, with Lady Anne in behind me next to Count Schomberg, and when Henry excused himself for some final consultation with the players we sat in an uneasy quietude for some moments before the Count spoke up.

“Madam, you’ve no doubt seen this play performed before?” he enquired of Lady Anne.

“Indeed,” she answered curtly.

“Prince Henry has arranged for Richard Burbage himself to play the title role,” offered the Palatine.

“One of the finest players in all of London, I’m told,” the Count allowed.

“We are fortunate, then.”

“And the playwright himself,” the Palatine turned to me, “shall act the part of the King Hamlet’s ghost.”

“Even better.” Lady Anne’s sarcasm continued unabated.

“You’ve seen him upon the stage, I take it?”

“I have.”

“And what say you for his acting?” the Count enquired.

“Much as I do for his writing.”

“By which you mean to give him high praise?” He smiled over at Lady Anne.

“By which I mean it were better he abstained from both.”

The Palatine leaned a little toward me and spoke in a stage whisper, “Your Maid of Honour is a harsh critic.”

“Of playwrights and princes alike.” I stared straight ahead.

Henry made his way back to his chair just as the last few ladies and gentlemen settled into their seats, while upon the stage the players shuffled about in their final preparations behind the curtains.

“I see this play is billed as a tragedy, but I confess I am not familiar with it,” said the Count. “What is the upshot?”

“A young prince comes to a bad end,” said Henry, rubbing at his temples. He spoke as though more to himself than the others, and there was an ominous tone in his voice that troubled me.

“It concerns a young woman who is torn between obedience to her father.” Lady Anne cast a sideways glance at me. “And her prospects for a relationship with a prince.”

“A Danish prince, no less,” I said.

“I dare say the Queen might know some of the history behind it, then,” said Count Schomberg. “She came from Denmark, did she not?”

“Just so,” said Lady Anne, “when she was yet two years My Lady’s junior.”

“We could ask her about it,” I offered, “if she were here.” My mother had not consented to sit for the play. She could not be bothered with such dramatics when they did not concern one of her precious masques.

“And the King?” the Count asked.

“Busy, as you can see,” I said. My father was seated on an elevated platform at the far end of the room, more interested in cavorting with the young men that fawned over him than the company of his children.

The Count turned to Lady Anne. “And what is your opinion of this play, Madam?”

“Only that it promises to unfold much the same as any other, namely that the lines spoken to greatest import shall be uttered by men, that the lion’s share of soliloquy shall likewise be so, and that those few utterances accorded the fairer sex, being spoken by lanky youths with milky voices, shall consist in the main of hand-wringing and general fretting about.”

“This sounds a harsh indictment,” said the Count.

“Perhaps an apt one nonetheless,” I offered.

The noise of the audience died to a gentle murmur as two pages with long-handled candle snuffers made their way around the room until the light grew dim.

“Do you not think Ophelia a role of depth and character?” the Palatine asked, turning to me.

“She does little else but rummage over Hamlet. Where he doth search his soul, she espouses naught but confusion at his alienation of her affection.”

“Because he will not have her and she would know the reason.”

“Sometime it may be so,” Lady Anne cast me a furtive glance, “only the other way round.”

“Perhaps it had been better to mount a production of the Scottish play,” I said.

“The King is descended from Banquo,” Lady Anne explained.

“Or so he would have us believe,” I said. “Our father is wont to take from history such particulars as suit his purpose, and dismiss others.”

“Much as this playwright,” Lady Anne added.

Now the curtains pulled apart at last, and the stage revealed a cloth backdrop upon which was painted a scene depicting the walls of a fortress. A man clad in armour stood at centre stage while another approached from the wings.

“Who’s there?”

“Nay, answer me: stand and unfold yourself.”

“Long live the king!”

At this line there was a barely audible smattering of murmurs through the crowd. When the apparition appeared clad all in armour, the audience gasped, and Count Schomberg leaned over to Lady Anne.

“He speaks not,” said the Count.

“He shall. Do but bide a little,” said Lady Anne.

The play had advanced well into the first act when the Palatine leaned in close to me and whispered, “Madam, what think you of this lengthy counsel Polonius would bestow upon his son Laertes?”

“He exhibits that same vanity my father suffers, which is to think himself wiser simply because he is older.”

Those friends thou hast,” Polonius was telling Laertes, “and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

“He overshoots the mark,” said Lady Anne. “This might pass better for comedy.”

“There is something of the buffoon in him, I grant,” said the Palatine.

“I think he gives good counsel,” Henry insisted. “A man is known by his words and actions.”

“Yet many a man may fall victim to his own shortcomings.”

“A worthy man will overcome such,” I said.

“And never second-guess?”

“As Hamlet does, you mean?”

“I say he shows conviction in his deliberations.”

“Have your father spoken to you as this Polonius does?” the Palatine asked.

“I have suffered to hear him do so, yes. At the news of your coming he gave me instruction that I should offer up that which is best in a daughter, the better to become thereafter a compliant wife. Obedience, loyalty, and faithfulness; these, according to my father, are the highest virtues my gender can aspire to.”

“Madam.” The Palatine leaned in closer. “I do most humbly beg you may see fit to address me as Frederick, that we might enjoy some greater degree of informality.”

I thought him bold to come so near, and yet there was no offence in it, for his warm breath was not unpleasant.

“And I suppose you will want to call me Elizabeth.”

“If’t please, I should be glad for it.”

By the fifth act, a troubling drowsiness had come over my brother. I saw his head nod forward in sleep, after which he tore himself awake, only to fall again into slumber. I took up his hand in mine and found it cold as ice. When I examined it more closely, I discovered an unusual greenish hue at the base of his fingernails, at which he stirred and turned to look at me in surprised exhaustion.

“Hamlet is preparing for his duel with Laertes,” said the Palatine.

“They sense that tragedy is about to befall,” Henry murmured.

“Horatio counsels that Hamlet shall see fit to decline this challenge.”

The audience had grown strangely quiet.

You will lose, My Lord,” said Laertes.

I do not think so,” Hamlet replied, “since he went to France I have been in constant practice. I shall win at the odds.

“I have often witnessed our Prince Henry,” Lady Anne whispered to Count Schomberg, “in long and arduous practice with foil and lance.”

“What think you of this Horatio fellow?” the Palatine asked Henry.

“The two are good companions,” he answered. “Indeed he has been throughout the play Hamlet’s closest and perhaps only ally, steadfast in’s loyalty, and given to honest counsel always.”

“Just so,” said Count Schomberg.

“And yet am I not entirely certain Hamlet’s best interests lie at the foundation of his heart,” said the Palatine.

“Why do you say so?” Henry asked. “He bids Hamlet forgo the match.”

“But wherefore does he so?”

“For fear Hamlet shall come to harm, naturally.”

“But what reason have he to think so?”

“That Laertes is the better swordsman.”

“He knows otherwise. Hamlet himself is surprised to hear he think not so.”

“What is your meaning?”

“Perhaps Horatio knows more than he lets on.”

“You think him guilty of duplicity?”

“Is there a man incapable of betrayal?” said Lady Anne.

“I say such a man exists,” said the Count.

She turned to him. “Can you name one?”

“In all honesty, Madam, such a one is Prince Frederick.”

I looked past him at Henry, who sat ill and pale, but now utterly absorbed in the play. “Hamlet’s about to be poisoned,” he said.

“And by the man who is brother to the woman he loves, no less,” I added.

“Some would argue Laertes has just cause. Hamlet did greatly wrong his sister, Ophelia, even unto her tragic and untimely death.”

“Indeed, what can be more just,” the Palatine added, “but that a loyal brother should seek to defend the honour of his sister?”

“It’s a little late, if you ask me,” said Lady Anne.

“He feels remorse,” the Palatine looked at me, “and seeks to atone with revenge.”

“He chided her that Hamlet’s vow of love should not be trusted,” I said.

“Out of love for her did he so caution.” Henry’s eyes remained fixed upon the stage. “In fear for her heart.”

“Yet Hamlet did forsake her,” I said.

“Because he thought her guilty of betrayal.”

Henry spoke quietly. “Hamlet takes this duel for an entertainment.”

“He knows not that the tip of Laertes’s sword is poisoned,” Lady Anne whispered to the Count, “as is the goblet of wine set by for him.”

“Yet look how he stays yet a while.” Henry seemed to be speaking to himself now, as much as to anyone of us. “Sits in quiet apprehension of some unknown fate that awaits him.”

Up on the stage, Horatio strode toward Hamlet, knelt before him.

Hamlet lowered his head, placed his arm on Horatio’s as he spoke quietly to him, “But thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart.”

Henry leaned forward, as though the actor upon the stage were speaking directly to him, and moved his lips along with the actor’s as the lines were spoken. “It is no matter. If it be now, ’tis not to come,” he mouthed; “if it be not to come it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all…”

I glanced in my father’s direction just as Hamlet’s mother drank the poison, and thought I saw there in his visage an expression not unlike that which came over the King in the play.

When the performance ended Henry came out of his trance and did his best to make himself as amiable as was ever his nature, but I was not convinced. He seemed to be in the clutches of some nagging augury that tortured him, and even as he managed to pluck up his energy and take his leave of us, it was plain to me he was putting up a false front, fighting to maintain his cheerful demeanour. Something was amiss, but even in my darkest misgivings I could never have imagined what it would come to.

close this panel
Mahoney's Camaro
Excerpt

“Base to 36, base to 36. What’s your twenty, over.”

Mahoney picked up the microphone and clicked. “McPhillips and Stardust, Dolores. Just grabbing the breakfast of champions, over.” The voice at the other end of the transmission laughed and coughed at the same time, a damp smoker’s cough. “That cat food is gonna stop your heart cold one of these days, over.”

“And four packs a day won’t? Over.”

“Fig you, Baloney, and your little dog too, over.” As raw as the off-air conversation could get at the Hook Me Up office, Mahoney knew that the on-air banter for the two-way had to be kept PG, thanks to a few complaints that had made their way to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Someone was always listening, even if it was a fat kid in a basement with a Radio Shack scanner and virgin ears. Even he could complain — to his Mom anyway.

“Whaddya got, Dolores? It better not be some drunk rich kid’s Trans Am at Night Moves, cause I’m nowhere near it, over.” Mahoney waited for the dispatcher to chastise him for his insolence with a few figs, maybe an offer to go multiply himself repeatedly. Instead, there was a pause. Dolores always paused when it was a bad one. Mahoney knew that the timing was right for a bad one. High school graduation season was in full swing throughout the city. Many schools were still trying to push the designated driver concept, though the reality was that at least two teens would die that weekend in closed-casket crashes.

“It’s a cop call,” said Dolores. “North Main Street boat launch, got a car in the water. Did you get that fiddling cable fixed on the fiddling winch yet? Over.”

“It’s as strong as your breath. Ever heard of a fiddling Tic-Tac? Over.”

Dolores coughed. “Ever heard of a ritual killing? Over.”

“Got it Dolores. 36 over and out.” Mahoney hung up the mic. He steered with his knees while he ate.

It took Mahoney about fifteen minutes to get to the North Main Red River boat launch. It would have taken less than ten, if it wasn’t for the media blockade. They’d been monitoring the police band on their respective scanners. Mahoney had attended to numerous calls where the media was first on the scene. Listening in was illegal, though the police had never followed through on enforcing it. As much as the media could bring a world of hurt to an ongoing investigation, it could also assist in locating a missing person, or a person of interest. Mahoney knew, like most Winnipeggers, that the city’s police department was still feeling the sting of negative publicity from a few high-profile cases in the last few years.

The third trial for Thomas Sophonow was underway, with many citizens quietly convinced that he had been railroaded into the role of the Cowboy Killer, that had strangled Barbara Stoppel in the bathroom of the Ideal Donut Shop. Candace Derksen had been found in January, hog-tied and left to die in a shed within walking distance of her family home. Paul Clear had been murdered by two of Winnipeg’s not-so-finest in the summer of ’81. The pair was convinced that he had snitched on them for their on-duty burglary hobby. One of the cops was Clear’s brother-in-law.

At the entrance to the boat launch, a skinny rookie was keeping the reporters at bay. He signaled to Mahoney to head through as the respective news outlets snapped their pictures and filled their Betacams with the barricaded scene. The CKND van tried to follow Mahoney in, stopping quickly when the driver locked eyes with the rookie’s icy glare. The rookie motioned to another officer in an idling cruiser who quickly got the hint, blocking the gravel access road with two tons of black-and-white Ford LTD.

Mahoney looked ahead to the riverside activity. The road was thick with black-and-whites and unmarked detective units. An ambulance passed him on the left, looking to be in anything but a hurry, its emergency lights dark. Mahoney saw why as he started the decline to the Red River. The meat wagon. It was a non-descript, windowless black Ford Econoline, usually seen in the grainy crime-page pictures of the local papers. Mahoney could see the Harbor Master runabout in the water. The boat’s driver was talking to a police diver, who nodded his goggled head attentively before heading back down to the watery crime scene. The stage had plenty of backlighting, thanks to the side-mounted floodlights of the MS Paddlewheel Queen. The riverboat had practically been at its berth near the Northgate Copa dinner hall when one of the passengers noticed the red lights in the water. The previously-upbeat River East Collegiate Class of 1985 had quieted down considerably. The deck was lined with boys in rented tuxedos, and girls in what would most likely be the second-most expensive dress of their lives. They watched in stunned silence. Some of the girls were crying. Mahoney figured that going all the way tonight for any of these grads had about as much chance of happening as the waterlogged car below starting its engine and driving away.

close this panel
A Forgotten Hero

A Forgotten Hero

Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish Humanitarian Who Rescued 30,000 People from the Nazis
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Final Fire
Excerpt

One midnight forty years ago I faced a pack of wild dogs howling down the cobbled street of a small Mexican pueblo. I knew the wild dogs of Mexico well. Individually they were scrawny, sulking curs -- collectively they were brutal and brave -- canine killers. And this pack had sensed a prey -- the terrified sixty-pound jaguar that had just leaped to my shoulders. Madre de Dios! The tiger and I were in trouble once again.

I had spent several years working on an archaeological survey crew exploring the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. We were quite a mix – a bitter Cuban, a La Jolla millionaire, an aging surfer, a Carolina professor, their families and me, the solitary Canadian. We’d roll into the isolated settlements along the coastal plain, park our jeeps, show our papers to the mayores and inquire about artifacts.  The villagers would show us the Pre-Columbian pot sherds and plates they’d ploughed up in their fields or stumbled on in caves. Occasionally a campesino would show up carrying a magnificent burial urn. These always bore a carefully sculpted effigy – of a god, a bird, or beast. Country people always named these urns for the creature they depicted.

In one tiny hamlet fronting an enormous brackish lagoon the news of our purpose had arrived a head of us. The locals were waiting with their string bags bulging with the handwork of history. We carefully inspected everything, identified the owners and made appointments to visit the region’s tombs and ruins that had given up the treasures.  When we’d finished interviewing everyone only a small boy and his baby sister remained. He approached me shyly and whispered , “My father has a tigre.”

Now, a Oaxacan jaguar effigy urn is among the most magnificent of all pre-Columbian artifacts – and among the scarcest. This was a pot I had to see. I arranged to visit the boy’s father, a butcher, the following day.

We made many site visits after the next day’s sunrise, driving deep into the thorn forest and hiking high into the hills. It was dusk when we finally returned to our camp outside the village. While my colleagues prepared supper I set off to find the butcher and his boy. Their shop fronted a cart-track that was the hamlet’s only street. I was led behind the building to a hardpan courtyard where the tiger pot was kept.  A little kitten on a rope cowered in a corner. It turned out to be the tiger.

As I crouched down to inspect that animal I realized it was no ordinary kitten. It had very heavy legs, large feet and enormous eyes set in a big square head. Much of its coat had fallen out but where it hadn’t I could see that it was spotted like a leopard. Its very long tail was ringed with stripes of gold and jet. It was potentially a spectacular little beast but clearly one that was very ill.

The butcher had recently shot its mother in the mountains. Her pelt had fetched a peso bonanza that encouraged him to return for her kits with the intention of raising them to adulthood for slaughter and sale as well. However, his shop meat was far too precious to share with small wild things so he’d fed them only water and stale tortillas.  One by one the little carnivores had died of malnutrition. I was looking at the sole survivor and it was truly a mangy little tragedy.

Sometimes we put our hearts before our heads and do dumb things. I began to negotiate for that little cat and so three mescals and twenty dollars later I was the owner of a baby wild cat. And a lot of trouble.

The lagoon had been the last stop of our field season. We were soon packed and on our way up the coastal sierra and on to distant Oaxaca where we’d have real beds after months of hammocks, and beer with real dinners instead of water and endless beans with rice. As I drove our Jeep through hours of mountain switchbacks toward the city the little tigre yowled in a crate at my feet.

In town we began a season of lab work on regular office hours. At day’s end I’d walk down to Oaxaca’s enormous market and negotiate for offal and leftovers to feed my little cat. He grew quickly. His eyes brightened and his coat began to grow in. Soon I had a magnificent animal with long strong legs, a sturdy square chest and a most handsome face. And his huge dark eyes got bigger and bigger. In no time he had grown to the size of a large dog and was ready for walks with a collar and chain. If we went down into the city centre the pedestrian traffic on the wide walkways of the Zócalo would part like the Red Sea. The locals found him absolutely terrifying. “Tigre,  jaguar, marguay, ocelot,” they’d whisper. I never did figure out which of a half dozen possible species he was.

Tigre lived in my apartment on a hundred feet of chain. He’d wander around the furniture, weaving in and out until he was finally jerked to a stop by the end of his tether. At this point a dog would have sat there and whimpered until its owner obligingly untangled the mess and the cycle could begin again. Tigre would simply turn around, retrace his steps and liberate the hundred feet. He was a very, very, intelligent animal.

He was also still a kitten. Sometimes I’d be walking through my living room and a yard-long furry arm would sweep out from beneath a chair and down me on the flagstone floor -- playful kitty. He also enjoyed leaping onto the kitchen counters so he could plow through the piles of dishes, cups and glasses until everything lay shattered on the floor. I bought replacements in bulk. But whenever I got so desperate that I was ready to release him in the mountains he’d crawl into bed with me, cozy up and begin a purr that came from that place way down where the daily earthquakes that shook the valley of Oaxaca were born. This was a pet with a woofer.

He was also a wild animal. He loved being outside and so when I was home I’d tie him to a tree in my courtyard so that he could explore the garden. Tigre eventually grew strong enough to sever his chain. He made a few breaks for the mountains and more than once was gone for several days. But he always returned. At night you’d hear him on the roof or calling from a tree.  He was proud – he never came when you called him home but he made sure that you could see him and reach the short length of chain that remained hooked to his collar.  I’d gently pull him down and he’d slip through the door ahead of me. In no time he’d join me in bed with his earthquake twenty-cycle-rumble. Once again we’d have forgiven each other.

However as Tigre got bigger life with him got harder. One day a visit to the market had yielded a whole heart from a bull. I carried it home, a heavy brown-paper-wrapped bundle the size of a volley ball. Upon entering the apartment I set it on the counter of the kitchen just outside my bedroom that had a bathroom at the back. I rushed in there to pee. When I tried to reenter the kitchen I was confronted by a jaguar, a lion and a sabre-toothed tiger. The Tigre had a kill and until it was consumed no creature was going to pass. A bull has a very large heart. The Tigre kept me prisoner in my bedroom for 24 hours. When he finally finished and fell asleep I slipped out and shortened his chain. We were finished. That midnight I led him up the cobbled road to San Filipe and freedom in the mountains. But then those wild dogs came and came and came.

As Tigre trembled on my shoulders I began pulling cut-stones from the road. When the wild dogs leapt at me I’d split their skulls to save us both. Yet even with their brains spilling from their crainial cups and eyeballs dangling those dogs kept coming, growling, leaping, tearing. However, finally their losses were greater than ours and Tigre and I were able to beat a bloodied retreat for home. Our time together was not yet over.

Some months later I returned permanently to Canada without the tiger. But cats remained central to my life. My partner loved them. At what was the nadir for me there were eighteen cats sharing our apartment. The place stank. It was insane but despite the undifferentiated kitten chaos I still managed to find some favourites. Max, a pearl gray long-hair, often kept me company. He was always dirty and disheveled but one day he begged to be admitted to my darkroom where he began to clean himself up for the very first time. As I worked a long shift making production prints Max sat under the yellow safelight washing and grooming for at least a dozen hours. Then he jumped down, nuzzled my legs and cried at the darkroom’s back door that gave out to a fire escape. He’d always been an indoor cat so I endured more than an hour of his insistence before opening the door. Max strutted out into the world in his fancy new suit. I never saw him again. I still miss him.

And the Tigre? Well, some months after that encounter with the dogs I met an American artist traveling Mexico on a Guggenheim. He’d done some drawings in Chiapas that I loved. He in turn loved the Tigre and often drew him. We finally affected a trade. I got a handful of pictures and Tigre retired to Florida, a location that I’m confident pleased him more than the icy streets of Toronto could have. When I look back I realize that the Tigretaught me an important life lesson – a wild animal is a wild animal is a wild animal.

close this panel
Listen Up!

Listen Up!

Recording Music with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, The Tragically Hip, REM, Iggy Pop, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Waits...
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

Chapter 25

 

TOM WAITS

 

In January of 2002 Andy Kaulkin, the head of Anti Records called me. He was a big fan of the Lucinda Williams album, and he’d pitched my name to Tom Waits for his next record. I was thrilled: I’d been a big fan of Tom’s “Bone Machine” album.

Andy wasn’t sure when Tom wanted to start, but said that Tom would call me. A year passed and I assumed they must have recorded with someone else. But in February of 2003 Tom finally called.

“Hey Mark,” he said in his low, gravelly voice. “I was wondering if you would be available to make my next record.”

I agreed right away.

“I understand that you produce a lot of records,” he continued. “I have the producing part covered by my wife Kathleen and me. Would it be possible for you to separate the production and the engineering part, then record and mix my record?”

I told him I actually did that a lot. I also told him where I was working—at The Paramour—and that we could record there if he liked. Tom said that although it sounded great, he liked to work close to home so he was with family. The studio that was closest to his home was more than two hours away and it would be a battle going back and forth every day. I suggested I do a studio installation somewhere nearer.

“Hmm … now that could be interesting,” he said.

He told me about an old schoolhouse that people rented for events. I flew into Oakland, rented a car, and drove up to a little town called Valley Ford, just north of San Francisco. It was about a twenty minute drive past Petaluma, and the town a short drive past Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock had filmed his 1963 horror film The Birds. What a creepy little fishing village that was: driving in I felt a chill in the air; it was windy and disturbing because the birds really do swarm there.

Tom was to meet me there at 2:00. There was just a little general store with a wooden porch and I imagined Tom showing up in a rusted out 50s pick-up. Cars came and went but not Tom. I was sitting on the wooden bench out front of the general store when a woman driving a black Audi with tinted windows pulled up. It sat there for a good fifteen minutes before the woman got out and walked over to the store. Just as she entered the building she looked over at me and asked, “You’re not Mark, are you?”

I told her I was but she continued on into the store, which I thought strange. When she came back out she said, “Tom said he wanted to talk to you.”

I explained that I had been waiting for him for an hour but he hadn’t shown up. She told me to come over to the car and so I walked with her. She opened the back door and there he was. I hadn’t been able to see him because of the blackened windows.

Tom Waits climbed out, dressed entirely in denim--what we in Canada call “The Canadian tuxedo.”

“Hey, Mark, it’s me, Tom. Sorry I’m late, I was working on a ‘preparation.’”

I didn’t know what that meant but told him it was fine.

We drove around the corner to the schoolhouse, a long wooden building with steps that led up to two double doors. There was a big old barn beside it and a big dirt parking lot in front. We walked in and it was still intact, complete with chalk boards and the alphabet hanging above them. It was just one big classroom, with girls’ and boys’ bathrooms. With the wooden flooring and fluorescent lighting and was all a bit stark. It did have windows along the front, and the possibility of good natural light.

I’d brought a few pieces of test gear like always: a voltage meter and the other a little cassette blaster that I hooked up to an acoustic guitar pickup to check the magnetic field. The voltage was 220 and the magnetic field was near perfect. Tom asked if I thought it would work, and I said I did. It was exactly the same size room as The Paramour. He said he’d talk to the custodian and to see if he could rent it for a couple months.

He wanted to play me some songs he’d been working on but had no way to play them because they were on a Tascam 4 track cassette machine. I suggested he come to L.A. for a day so we could listen to the songs, and I told him that would be able to mix them down so he could listen to them on a CD in his car.

He was enthusiastic. “Wow! That’s what I need.”

Tom and his wife Kathleen came to L.A. to work with me at The Paramour in March of 2003. I walked them around the property and they couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Tom pulled out his 4 track cassette recorder and I plugged it in. They were recordings that he had done in the bathroom of his house, late at night while everyone was sleeping. It sounded so animalistic--he had grunted into the mic and although it was distorted, the recording featured a nice overdrive. He had done beats with his mouth and then over dubbed pots and pans on top of them, boom chic clang. It was so bizarre -- but it was also great!

“When we make the record we will re-record it to get a bigger sound,” I said.

I mixed it all down so he had a reference, but they were mainly ideas for rhythm tracks, with no lyrics.

Tom had worked out a deal to work at the schoolhouse and we planned to start in April. He only wanted to work weekdays. I packed up all the studio gear, all the rugs and couches and loaded them into a 24-foot U-haul. I also took a Harley with me—a little 883 Sportster—so I would have a way to get around. The truck was packed to the gills, with the Harley-Sportster stuffed in the back so the door just closed. I left The Paramour at 5 am to beat traffic. It took a lot longer to get there because the truck would only go 55 mph and going through ‘The Grapevine,’ a 40-mile stretch of the Golden State Freeway, was incredibly slow. There is a gradual climb to the road and it’s famous for overheating cars and blowing head gaskets. I arrived in the early evening and Tom and his kids were there to help me unload the truck. I backed it up to the front entrance of the schoolhouse and pulled out the ramp. It only took an hour to unload everything. Tom said that we could start bringing over some of his instruments the next day.

They had booked me into a bed and breakfast just up the street, a musty old Victorian house. My room felt like it belonged in a doll house, with lots of frilly curtains and old wooden wardrobes. There was no TV or internet and the bathroom was up the hall. Being totally exhausted from the drive I crashed right away, but I woke up at four o’clock in the morning, and being wide awake with nothing to do I headed over to the schoolhouse to start the installation.

I had brought a Moroccan tent with me which I set up over the control room area and hung the walls of the tent over the front windows so no one could see inside. It was purple silk and combined with the rugs it felt like a Moroccan palace. I had everything all set up by nine that morning so I went back to the Bed and Breakfast to eat.

Tom arrived at the schoolhouse at noon. “Wow! I would have never imagined it to be this cool,” he exclaimed at the doorway. He called Kathleen and told her she needed to come over so he could show her.

Later on Tom said we needed to go to his house and pick up his gear while we had the big truck. There were green rolling hills out where he lived and it felt a little like being in Ireland. We arrived at a little treed area and then carried on down a winding road that led to a set of gates. They were like a metal sculpture with gardening tools welded to it, old shovels, garden scissors, and a pitch fork. Once the gates opened we drove down the lane to the house which looked more like a modern barn that had been converted into a house. There was a swimming pool that looked like a lagoon and a trampoline with cargo netting around it. The outside area was like an army training camp, with ropes that hung from the trees with more cargo netting for climbing, and old tire tubes stacked to climb through—it was definitely a kid’s paradise.

We went into Tom’s storage locker, which was bigger than a garage and looked like a half-finished studio. It was packed to the ceiling with all kinds of exotic instruments, old pianos, a steam Calliope, a wooden Marimba, African Kalimbas, and a double key Chamberlin. I was floored by the incredible things he had, and on the walls were black and white photos of him and Keith Richards. Tom said that Keith and James Brown were his heroes. We loaded the truck with all kinds of musical toys and went back to the schoolhouse to unload.

close this panel
Arrow’s Fall
Excerpt

“As you have curtailed our evening's entertainment perhaps you would care to engage Mr. Summers in a little demonstration for the guests,” he went on unfazed. “I am sure he is quite keen. I understand he was under a slight disadvantage last time you met. Something about a dog bite if I remember correctly.”

Summers remained in front of me, his face impassive, his eyes burning.

Laura's nails dug into my hand.

“I don't think so,” I said.

My head was spinning from the drink and the smoke, and the girl had released demons into the room. I needed clean air, and space to breathe.

Summer's lips drew back in a mocking grin and he leaned towards me.

“Perhaps we could compete for the tart,” he murmured in a voice only the three of us could hear. “I see you're fucking her now. Not that she was all that great, mind you. Except for the last time of course. That was outstanding.”

I looked at the sneering face and the world shrank and there were only the two of us, and I was lying by the dugout dazed and bleeding and then the stifling smell of hay in the barn and the oppressive dust filled heat and the stillness of the other prisoners around us in a circle as the rage built and consumed me like a prairie fire.

“This time I'll kill you outright, Wakosky,” I murmured, and his face grew puzzled and a hand was pulling at my shoulder and I pushed away and there was a crash and Danny yelled and then I was up and had Summers by the throat and hurled him across the table and he slid across in a crashing of dishes and fell.

He rolled and came up smiling, much quicker than I remembered and he kicked me twice before I spun and took the leg and jack-knifed him down but he rose again as if on springs, so light for a heavy man, the dust from the hay clouding the air around him, but Wakosky was much thicker and I pondered this and he hit me again and I fell heavily and he danced away, changing shape and I rose and crouched and caught him in the throat as he came in, and he buckled and fell and I grabbed a fallen knife and leaned down and stared at his face and his eyes changed into the blue of my Grandfather's and I screamed in rage and terror and brought the knife towards him but Danny was there holding me and Summers rolled away.

“The demonstration is over,” Danny said.

Waverly looked at us and I saw him calculating, but there were guests, important people, and he was no fool, and he smiled and the tension left his body.

“Perhaps we can do this again another time,” he said. “I hate to leave things unfinished and I am sure Captain Summers feels the same.”

We turned and walked away, Padraic, Molly and Laura in a tight group, her father's arm around her, and Danny and I bringing up the rear. We went outside and there were two uniformed men waiting in the launch and they took us back to Arrow without a word from anybody. Molly left and the others went down below and then Danny came back out with a bottle and glasses and we sat in the cockpit drinking in silence.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked me once.

“No.”

He nodded and poured another drink and we sat there for the longest time.

I put the evening away and pulled the covers over it and buried it back down deep and held it there until the alcohol and the tiredness dulled it down and then I closed my eyes and slept. I woke once and Danny was still there, talking to someone in a low voice, and it was just breaking dawn. I squinted my eyes and it was Elinor, dripping wet in the cockpit, and this struck me as strange but I fell asleep again before I could make any sense out of it.

When I woke again I was alone and hoped I had dreamed it all.

~

“I thought you were going to sleep forever.”

I took the cup of coffee and grunted my thanks. I noted a slight bruising on Laura's left cheek. I felt like shit.

“Sorry about last night,” I muttered.

“My fault. I should have stayed out of the way. I suppose you were sort of defending my honor.”

I fumbled around the cockpit for my sunglasses. The cloud cover was thin, and it was exceedingly bright.

“Or don't you remember?”

“I remember.”

“Do you always drink so much?”

Jesus Christ. “Look, I said I was sorry.”

“Do you want some rum in your coffee?”

“No.”

“How about a Caesar then?”

“Look, I'm not an alcoholic. I just like to enjoy myself once in a while. Summers last night, that had nothing to do with drink. We don't like each other very much.”

“What did you call him?”

“Summers.”

“No. Last night. Something else.”

“I don't know. Asshole maybe. What does it matter? He was out of line and I lost my cool. Forget it.”

She stared at me, her face thoughtful.

“What time is it?”

“Ten o'clock. Everybody else has been up for ages.”

“I think I'll go for a shower.”

I stood up and looked out over the harbor. The Golden Dragon was gone.

“They left an hour ago. Dropped all their guests ashore before they pulled out,” Laura said.

“Good riddance.”

I'd drop over to Port Control, see if I could find out where they had cleared out to.

I went down below to grab some clean clothes and a towel and halted in surprise. Danny and Elinor were sitting at the table drinking coffee.

“What's she doing here?”

“She swam over early this morning. You said Hi to her.”

“I thought I was dreaming. But what's she doing here?”

“Hi again,” Elinor said. “I decided I didn't want to stay aboard that boat any longer. I don't know why I didn't leave when my friend Susan did a month ago. I don't particularly like any of them and Waverly gives me the creeps. And that girl he keeps. Ugh.” She shivered. “After you all left last night he told his guests there'd been a change of plans, they would have to leave.”

“And that included you?”

“No. I was crew. But he was angry with me about last night, as if some of it was my fault because I was with your lot. I don't trust him.”

“I'm not sure I trust you,” I said.

“C'mon Jared. Relax. She's all right.” Danny glared at me.

“Waverly selected you to be our hostess?”

“Yes.”

“Why was that?”

“I don't know. The others were taken, I guess.”

“Taken?”

“You know. They were with the other guests.”

“And you weren't with anybody.”

“That's right. Not right then. But I have been some other times. I don't have to make excuses to anybody,” she said, standing up. “I just needed to get away from the Dragon, and I didn't have anywhere else to go right away. I’m leaving now.”

“No. I apologize. If Danny wants you to stay, you stay. It's his call,” I said

“What would you like to do?” Danny asked her.

“I'd like to stay aboard Arrow and help you beat that arrogant manipulative bastard,” she said.

With her makeup washed off and her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she bore little resemblance to the sophisticated woman of the previous night.

“Beat him at what?” Laura asked.

“Recovering the treasure. I heard them talking about it.”

“Welcome aboard, Elinor,” I said, “now please tell us everything you know.”

close this panel
The Never-Ending Present

The Never-Ending Present

The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
More Info
Excerpt

Day for Night

Jimmy McDonough: “Did you want destroy your audience as soon as you got it?”

Neil Young: “Turnover. Like in clubs where they turn over the audience. Did you ever notice that if the same audience stays, the second set usually isn’t as good as the first set? But if they turn the audience over, the second set could be better than the first set? Because with me that’s the way it is.”

--

Rock’n’roll should make you scared. It’d kinda what it does. Scared with the thrill of intoxication, of sexuality, of danger, of staring into either the darkest abyss or the most blinding light.

If you’re the money man, however, your greatest fear is that the record just won’t sell.

When Allan Gregg first heard Day for Night, he called Jake Gold. He told him, “Look, ‘Nautical Disaster’ is a radio hit. The rest is almost unlistenable. They’re not finished. They have to go back into the studio.” Gold brought this news to the band. It did not go over well. A meeting was called. “This is the finished record,” the band insisted. Then, being Canadian, they offered Gregg a gentle out: “We think it might be better to have you as a friend than as a manager.”

Gregg was ready for this news. He’d had a hell of a year, during which the Hip’s ascension was the only good thing going for him. In the fall of 1992, he led the failed referendum campaign in favour of the Charlottetown Accord. One year later, he was campaign manager for prime minister Kim Campbell’s election campaign, in which the governing Progressive Conservatives were driven to a fifth-place finish in the general election, threatening to wipe the founding political party of the country off the map. On top of that, he was surrounded by cancer: both his father and his best friend died of it, and his wife was diagnosed. He wasn’t totally happy with recent band decisions, either: they had gone to Australia and filmed a video for “At the Hundredth Meridian” that Gregg thought was a “fucking abomination.”

He was exhausted. So when the Tragically Hip dropped off a mysterious, murky album on his desk with no obvious singles, he was less than receptive. “Look,” he told them at the band meeting, “at the end of the day, your fucking name is on this record—not mine. If you can live with this shit, that’s up to you. But I won’t have any part of it.” Though he remained a financial partner with Jake Gold in the Management Trust, Gregg receded into the background and didn’t have any direct involvement with the Tragically Hip again.

Day For Night sold 300,000 copies in the first four days of its release on Sept. 6, 1994. It went on to sell 300,000 more. (Fully Completely, by comparison, took three months to sell its first 200,000 copies.) It spawned six radio singles and four videos. In February 1995, it allowed the band to launch the biggest-ever tour of Canada by a homegrown band, playing the arenas in ever major market, sometimes with multiple dates; it was a feat they would repeat two years later.

It was by no means a sure bet; Allan Gregg had every reason to be antsy. The Tragically Hip had gone dark. It’s right there in the title. They left the radio-ready ways of Fully Completely behind and made a sludgy record that was more Eric’s Trip than Tom Cochrane. They could have gone bright pop. They could have cashed in and gone grunge, playing catch-up with Pearl Jam. They could have wrapped themselves in the flag. They didn’t. Because of Fully Completely’s blockbuster status, the Hip found themselves in a position to indulge. For the first time in their career, they were not eager to please. It was time to roll the dice.

--

An artist’s first album after a massive success is always tricky. Do you try to climb the same mountain? Do you try to climb a similar mountain? Or do you try deep-sea diving instead? Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Prince’s Around the World in a Day. Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. REM’s Automatic for the People. Nirvana’s In Utero. Radiohead’s Kid A. All those records rejected a formula that had reaped considerable commercial reward just a few years before, a formula that made all those artists household names. All those records were welcomed by a collective WTF, only to embraced as classics, some sooner than later.

The Hip didn’t necessarily know what they wanted, but they knew what they didn’t: a repeat of the Fully Completely experience. Downie had described the London studio where it was made as a “fairly sterile environment,” and that they “were lucky enough to pull a record out of it that we liked and had some sense of atmosphere. We vowed never to do that again.” They knew who they wanted to help them shake up their sound. The choice was obvious: Daniel Lanois, with whom they’d toured on the 1993 Another Roadside Attraction tour. His first two solo albums, Acadie and For the Beauty of Wynona, were Hip favourites. And, obviously, he’d made three of the biggest international records of the last 10 years: Peter Gabriel’s So and U2’s The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Not to mention Robbie Robertson’s solo album, the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, and a slew of great Canadian new wave records in the early ’80s (Martha and the Muffins, Parachute Club, Luba), as well as his work with Brian Eno on ambient music. The biggest new rock band in Canada working with the country’s most internationally acclaimed producer: it seemed like a perfect fit.

Except that Lanois turned them down. But the Hip were also friendly with Lanois’s right-hand man, engineer Mark Howard, who was responsible for helping Lanois translate his ideas to tape, and also assisted in setting up studios in wonderfully weird parts of North America. It was Howard who, during the first Another Roadside Attraction, recorded the “Land” single in Calgary, featuring Midnight Oil, Crash Vegas, Lanois and the Hip. Watching him work was a revelation after Fully Completely, which Howard says, “was just a common way of making records. They hated it so much. When they saw how I made that song with them on the road, it opened their eyes to thinking, ‘Wow, we could make a whole record like this.’ ”

The Hip decided to go back to New Orleans and hire Howard as co-producer. After years under Lanois’s wing, this was his first production credit for a major client. Lanois wasn’t around; he and Howard had just finished setting up shop in a Mexican mountain cave. “The walls were all natural rock and there was a grass roof over it and it looked over the Sea of Cortez,” says Howard. After making that new studio functional, Howard flew back to New Orleans and started work on what would be Day For Night.

close this panel
Sea Trial
Excerpt

My father’s effects were like flotsam on a beach, each wave leaving something behind as he weakened and died, until the beach was littered with his life. 

And there were so many John Harveys. The prairie kid who was happiest snaring gophers with his friends and crawling underneath the boardwalk on Main Street, who left home at sixteen and never came back, not even for his father’s death. The disillusioned high school teacher who borrowed money, went back to school and became a doctor. The photographer who filled our house with the smell of developers and fixers, and our family albums with images that were much more than snapshots. And the trophy-winning violinist and peripatetic physician who kept searching for the place where medicine was practised the way he thought it should be.

Getting a handle on a life like this one seemed impossible; there was always going to be something you couldn’t quite grasp. After he died, I took a lot of that flotsam into my own home and went gamely through it, sometimes laughing, occasionally crying. I spent a month classifying, labeling, judging, before distributing and disposing. Worst of all were the drop-offs at the Sally Ann, roaring away from the beaten chair and the obsolete stereo abandoned on a wet sidewalk.

For sheer tonnage, the photographs dominated, and that seemed fitting. Photography and music had been the passions that never faded, and he had left many pounds of meticulously labelled negatives and prints. Among the best were the black and white portraits of his fellow physicians, hand-made sixteen-by-twenties he had shot in a hallway, or an operating room, or the smoke-laden Doctors’ Lounge. My favourite bore a caption that typified the mordant sense of humour that my father tried to suppress, but never really could: in this portrait, the doctor is grinning, a cigarette in one hand and the other hand aloft, the thumb and first finger measuring off an inch or so of air.

“Just a small one,” the caption reads. “I have to operate.”

He also left bits and pieces from most of our boats. I went through mountains of nautical detritus in the freezing-cold shed behind his house, high-stepping over rusting garden tools and reaching around scary bottles of thirty-year old pesticide to get at the treasures. Rotting cardboard boxes rained hundreds of dollars worth of bronze nuts and bolts on my shoes. I unearthed a priceless collection of teak scraps left over from the costly rebuilding of a doomed deck; cans of questionable kerosene and long-solidified spar varnish; the rope and wood boarding ladder he’d made during his fear-of-falling overboard phase (this coincided with his fear-of-head-injury phase, when he wore a red motorcycle helmet while driving his convertible). One boat in particular was responsible for much head-scratching and even the need for a German-English dictionary: from Stortebeker III I discovered old Admiralty charts of Raoul Island, where HMS Bounty’s Captain Bligh and his men first made land after being cast adrift by the doomed Fletcher Christian, ceramic jars with cork-lined lids marked “Kaffee” and “Kakao” and even, stuffed into a black plastic back that showered me with rat droppings when I tugged it out of a high-up cranny, a threadbare Nazi flag. Stortebeker III had been built in 1937, in Bremen; there was no lead in her keel.

But the boat stuff was not so difficult to deal with. A lot of it, like the screws and the teak, went directly into my own boat stores, with silent thanks that I would never have to buy it. The coffee and cocoa containers were washed out and refilled. The rest of the household goods found their way to new homes, or to family shelves where they could bide their time for as long as it took for their new owners to die. I donated the doctors’ portraits to the Victoria Medical Society.

That left the papers.

My father’s papers (and there were a lot of them) were sealed in already-labeled cardboard boxes. I left those for last, finally working through them with a growing sense of dread. Most of them were no problem: letters, newspaper clippings about his early triumphs as a violinist, pristine instruction manuals for his many cameras, his own short stories and essays and even a few tentative poems. But there was one box I didn’t want to find. For a while I even thought it might not be there at all, that he might, in the final months before he was exiled to the nursing home and lost control over his own possessions, have managed to get down on his knees and enter the vile crawlspace beneath the kitchen, where I knew it was stored. I imagined him navigating shakily past the trap with the liquefying rat and the jumble of mouldy boat cushions, making it finally to the leaning pile of cardboard boxes to delete the one I feared.

I found it, of course. He could never have disposed of it even if he’d wanted to: it was too heavy. I shoved the box to one side, ignoring it until that’s all there was on the workbench: labeled like all the rest (he was a labeler), but more carefully than the others, the single word LEGAL written on one of those white adhesive rectangles with a red border, then licked and smoothed hard onto the cardboard so there would be no mistake about what was inside. The pain its contents represented had been impossible to contain, but at least the evidence was secure. Until now.

The tape yielded after a short struggle, and took some of the cardboard with it; he had sealed the box well. Inside were files, packed tightly, a solid cube of paper. I pulled them out in slippery handfuls, stacked them on the workbench, stomped the torn cardboard box flat; it was as frail, it turned out, as he was at the end. Then I began to go through the piles.

Work quickly, I told myself; be ruthless. You owe it to him to see what’s in here, but you don’t have to read anything. If he would never explain it all to you before, why start now?

The papers smelled of mould and neglect and, because I knew something of their story, of defeat. I began to go through them, a quick scan and then into the recycling box. Files of patients long dead, each in its own named folder. Photocopies of scientific papers from medical journals, none of them more recent than the mid-1980s. Long and ominous-looking transcripts in vinyl three-ring binders warped with age, and a thick bundle of yellowed newspaper clippings that I tossed without even looking. Printouts of some kind of manuscript, the lettering faded, on side-punched computer paper. I glanced and tossed, as though washing my hands of a corpse. It looked like the whole story was here.

And then, after about twelve inches, I gave up and began to go in reverse. The discard pile got smaller again. I couldn’t recycle or even shred this stuff, it was too sensitive. There were names. It must have taken him years to compile this dossier, with trips to the medical library, the archives, the stationery store for the recipe cards where every reference was recorded on its own little rectangle. Hydrocephalus in Children. Complications of Ventriculo-Atrial Shunts. The Practice of Law and the Search for Truth. Most of the reprints were heavily annotated, in orange highlighter or in his own neat hand; some of them were askew on the page. I imagined him, an unwilling student in his late seventies, cramming a heavy textbook over the photocopy machine, leaning on the cover, turning the page and doing it all again. I couldn’t throw this stuff away.

Pretty soon it was all back together again, a toxic little archive reconstructed. I grabbed one of the brand new U-Haul boxes, erected it and shoe-horned the lot back in. Then some packing tape, rather a lot of it, because I never intended to open the box again, and all it lacked was an unambiguous name. I took a felt pen and wrote the one he had already chosen for his own manuscript, on the top and on each side for good measure, so there’d be no mistaking it: THE TRIAL. Then I pushed it out of sight.

close this panel
close this panel

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...