Why Mr. Wonderful is dead to me


Kevin O’Leary, you’re dead to me. Phhhht. Clown, begone!

You were the great best hope for the Conservative Party of Canada in its quest to find leadership fit for the day. Not that you would have made a particularly good politician, but you held promise: you had just the right mix of charisma, narcissism, guile and perception of success to turn heads in the culture as it stands today. You were the only one in a field of 17 would-be party leaders with even a chance of competing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019, himself the perfect fit for contemporary culture: you discerned correctly that his fascination with himself and rejection of the burden substance requires were no liabilities at all in the eyes of those who voted him in, and concluded that measuring him against old-school social values would be futile as a knockout political strategy.

What none of the other candidates hoping to be the one elected on May 27 (save for Andrew Scheer, perhaps) seem to understand is that conservatism on its own is not a valued commodity in Canadian politics today. All the social peer pressure is tilted toward supporting progressive brands. Any conservative-leaning party leader who would become prime minister must think bigger than brand, and demonstrate recognition of the forces shaping the world’s economic and political landscape. To do less is to lead your party into the wilderness of perpetual opposition, where arguing semantics and abstract political points will have to count as your contribution.

You, O’Leary, had that global awareness, even if you had no track record to prove you could also be a “good Conservative”, and were doing a poor job demonstrating that you were more than half-heartedly interested in being a good Canadian. The people, nevertheless, responded to the appearance of a Canadian champion in a worldwide movement of nations’ citizens who are saying no to servitude to unseen offshore masters. They made you the frontrunner on the very day you announced your candidacy, and kept you there until your stunning withdrawal two days before mail-in voting was to begin. Continue reading

Soaring leaps, pedestrian incursions and long noses

Blair and I, ready for Pinocchio

IN FULL ANTICIPATION: Blair and I, on one of our father-son Culture Night outings, ready for Pinocchio. Disappointment was yet to come.


I tell you this with every confidence that my nose will be the same length when I’m done as it is now. I loved the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Pinocchio last Saturday night — as much as the NBC loved the first of my three tweets from the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. I loved it as much as I hated it.

That’s where we parted ways in the Twittersphere, NBC and I. What I have to say here also runs the risk of the criticism being what you too will remember of my impressions, but bear with me and you’ll see “love-hate” is by no means the equivalent of “hate hate”. That said, I consider myself a discriminating consumer of art, and having had the privilege of taking in a reasonable share of opera and ballet productions at the Four Seasons Centre, also consider myself qualified to harrumph loudly when my artistic and cultural sensibilities have been affronted.

The surprise upon learning there were roles with speaking parts caused one eyebrow to arch, to be sure, unexpected as they are in a visual art space such as ballet. Yet they did not elicit a harrumph, artistic licence being recognized currency here. The ridiculously shallow twaddle representing “Canadian content”, on the other hand, was about as enriching as a Canadian $1 bill and a handful of pennies, and just as useful in moving the production forward. Dollarama fare presented brazenly to audiences that had paid Nordstrom prices.

Harrumph. Continue reading

Anonymous commenting for the loss


Little in the world of publishing bugs me more than persons moved to make a public statement somehow wishing to do so anonymously. In my newspaper editing days, reporters bringing requests for anonymity with their stories had to make a solid case before their efforts made it into print. While there are legitimate cases that call for protecting the identity of a source or author (legal ramifications, the threat of dramatic personal loss or even personal safety considerations), those are rare. And the story had better be good!

And here I am, then, commenting on a political story on the Vancouver-based Common Ground website anonymously.

I swear, it came about as a result of a technical shortcoming (an unseen switch or two in the posting mechanism) and not a desire to distance myself from statements I would make in the political sphere. To prove it, here is the exact text of what I had to say in response to a story by former national PC leadership contender David Orchard: Continue reading

Ode to the Brig Bay Co-op store


In case you’re wondering, I can pinpoint for you the centre of the universe. For those who wish to know precisely, it is atop a hill just off the main road in Brig Bay, Nfld. — just past the branch where you turn left and, because the ravages of time and change have spared no one, veer right instead of pulling into a steep parking lot on your left (’cause you’re continuing on up the incline toward Bird Cove Hill).

It is from this lesser hill, where you would no longer stop for commerce, the Co-op store presided for many a year, drawing good people unto itself for the dispensation of the necessities of life, sometimes described in terms of nourishment or shelter not connected in any way to terms of purchase. Some climbed the stairs to conduct business, yes, or just to hang out, but you were just as likely on winter nights to trip over hockey players recovering from a beating and frostbite, or a newsbearer winding up in gusts of urgency to rival the whipping wind those Orrs and Espositos were hiding from.

I have been a newsman most of my life. This fascination with the news and its components — not to mention the warring sides of every issue — didn’t start with the Humber Log, The Western Star, The Gander Beacon or the Northern Pen, or any of the mainland newsrooms I would later land in, for that matter. These early ones were just finishing schools, where I honed my skills and figured out the craft. The real insight had come from watching and listening, while waiting to be tended on at the Co-op store. Continue reading

A new book of poetry: Words determined to rise up and be heard


As I write this, my new poetry book, a thousand steps from home, is making its entrance into the world. With apologies to women everywhere (the only ones qualified to truly testify to the extent of the physical travail), bringing this book project from point of inspiration to physical form has felt like going through the birthing process.

The experience of fretting over not just one creative piece but an entire collection of works is like no other literary endeavor. The challenges are many: creative flow, logistics and then crucial decisions at crossroads not anticipated when the project began.

A volume of poetry, much like a musical album, is actually a collection of creative expressions gathered together in one package for the purpose of developing a thematic whole. (At least this is what’s true for me when selecting parts for assembly.) The individual pieces don’t necessarily have a direct relationship to those abutting them (though in some cases they might), but neither are they random choices; they are all constituent parts of a greater whole, throughout which an identifiable theme persists.

Not lost on the exhausted poet in calculating the emotional toll afterward is that many of those constituent parts had been carefully crafted earlier as standalone works; now asked to surrender individual stature for the sake of becoming part of a collective, in which the statement that makes it great defers to one generated by process and not organic inspiration.

Done well, it most definitely is the thematic whole that carries the day. Whether it works is determined by the reader, not the author: Did you see yourself or your life experience reflected in some way as your eyes traveled across the span of pages?

In many of my major creative works, the overarching theme describes a journey, and many of the pieces are drawn from observations the traveling-man persona I develop would have been apt to make in the traversing of a stretch of land from one place to the next. It works that way on the Sighs of the Times CD as well.

Poetry is still the most honest form of written expression, as far as I’m concerned. A poet will knowingly enter into the grueling creative process for reasons other than commercial success, while most other writers calculate the financial return before setting pen to paper. Nor is the motivation limited to creating beautiful word objects, in the hopes of eliciting recognition for praiseworthy craftsmanship. While hope reigns eternal on both of those fronts, the poet is more likely to be moved by an irrepressible need to convey insight having been gained into aspects of the human condition, of injustice perpetrated on some innocent, of hope and longing, and perhaps even a realization that owes its dawning to the requisite number of hours spent in a long night, contemplating the color of despair. Continue reading

When deflection becomes deception: A case study


The tragic death on June 22 of Kingdom Heirs builder (and longtime baritone vocalist) Steve French and his companion, Lindsay (Black) Hudson, has reverberated far beyond Southern Gospel’s geographic centre, beyond the magnificent New River Gorge bridge from which the two renegade lovebirds plunged, and past any references to literary tragedy one might superficially infer.

An early end to life is always sobering. A nefarious end to a life you’d had reason to regard with admiration will come as a shock to the system. Industry admirers and faithful Kingdom Heirs followers who had formed varying degrees of relationship with French — through the shared experience of “special moments” of which he was often chief architect — were left dumbfounded, and grasping for answers.

Alas, no answers were forthcoming from the official voices of the industry, even as sketchy news reports lit fires of angst and bewilderment across the fan base. Rank-and-file sycophants policing online forums, predictably, were beating back legitimate inquiries with self-righteous perspectives and Bible verses. (Pah! Pah! Pah!) All seemed oblivious to a simple truth that emerges every time a community’s world has been rocked by an unthinkable event involving those the people think they know: logic is the necessary device they reach for to stabilize their world.

Good people die. Accidents happen. Reckless behavior reaches its natural consequence. Disasters come and go. Bad people barge in to wreak havoc on someone’s perfectly ordered world. Yet, to those left standing, it’s all survivable as long as reason can be found to help them make sense of it. Continue reading

Orlando massacre: A narrative gone awry


As an old-time newspaperman believing I’ve acquired a few pearls of wisdom to pass on to the upcoming generation before I amble off into the night, the astonishing news coverage of the June 12 massacre in Orlando left me in a state of apoplexy. It has also presented a formidable challenge, going forward, to any words of wisdom I might have for up-and-coming newswriters in terms of “higher brands” after whom to model their pursuit of integrity in reporting.

Even the most recognizable brands inexplicably lent themselves to advancing a non-factual statement about the social condition — one that masked, or at least downplayed, the reality painted by the evidence in the aftermath of a deadly shooting spree that left 49 people dead and 53 seriously wounded at the gay nightclub Pulse.

Electronic and print brands alike, no matter how notable and decorated, found themselves caught up in a narrative that very quickly left the evidence in its dust: describing the massacre as a hate crime directed at the LGBT community, to the exclusion of apparent Islamic jihad having been carried out in the name of ISIS. Continue reading

Handle with care the crown Mulcair has won


Driving the rural roads of southwestern Ontario recently, where election signs a-plenty decorated the roadways, I found myself reminded of an imagined scenario I’d been pondering ever since Tom Mulcair began to emerge as a very credible candidate for prime minister: how would I, were I an NDP candidate, present my case at the door of Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Canadian?

Out here in the middle of farmland Ontario, you can’t get any more Ordinary Canadian. Away from the aggression and the pandering of interest groups and the ebb and flow of movements that allow urbanites the latitude to think by collective, here you find the engine room of the country: the nuts and bolts and the exactness of practical knowledge under the expert care of conscientious people who provide the necessities to those cozy parlors where elite minds exchange platitudes while outthinking themselves and us.

Years spent in flighty arts circles and as a political pundit in a metropolitan setting, I know how to dance to that tune. (Urban left-wingers, while annoyingly Pharisaic, do know how to step in style.) But out here, where the spin doesn’t cut it and even the best spinmeister can’t cut a decent rug, the campaigner would be wise to consider Mulcair’s ascent to the top of the polls. He was a player early and he is solidly there now, more than halfway to the finish line in this race to trump incumbent Conservative Stephen Harper in the Oct. 19 federal election. And it is that he is resonating with rural and urban voters alike without a groundswell of left-wing sentiment to fill his sails that is the important observation. Continue reading

Loving that old barbershop style

A quartet, formed out of the joy of barbershopping

COOL CATS ON POLECATS: One of the cool quartets that came together to sing some Polecat numbers during my visit to East York Barbershoppers rehearsal. From left are Barry Tripp (baritone), me (tenor), Wally (bass) and Doug Morrison (lead). Sheer happiness.


My friend Grant Orchard and I paid a visit to the East York Barbershoppers this week. Grant, a fellow tenor singer in newchoir, has been intrigued by the close, four-part male harmonies particular to this style of a cappella singing, and I have been waxing nostalgic lately about a musical form to which I once enjoyed a very close connection. So we took advantage of the Barbershop Harmony Society’s open door policy of letting the curious drop in on their regular weekly rehearsal night to see it all in action.

I had arranged earlier with Barry Tripp, VP Chapter Development, for us to visit on a Tuesday night in June at Harmony Hall, the Gower Street rehearsal facility the chapter owns. Somehow, our wires got crossed and we showed up a week earlier than he was expecting. Bonus for us, it turned out, because we got to take in their final rehearsal before a Saturday show and see director Pat Hannon vigorously working the 40-something member chorus: ironing out wrinkles and fluffing up nuance in their repertoire as he tweaked his wall of sound. Continue reading

New life found in breathtaking Carnegie Hall experience


Carnegie Hall will take your breath away. Standing on the storied old stage and looking out at 2,800 expectant concert goers in one of the world’s most prestigious venues is a dividing line in the history of any performer.

Georg and I backstage at Carnegie Hall

READY TO GO: From newchoir in Toronto, Georg Bjarnason, right, and I waiting to take the stage at Carnegie Hall.

It is a transformational experience, duly noted by a flood of emotions that well up seemingly out of nowhere, not only in the heat of performance but also during dress rehearsal — where before you, filling every one of the red cloth-covered seats, is history — and afterward, too, once you’ve climbed back up the staircase to your dressing room.

There is admiration of history and architecture, the way the grand auditorium’s multi-tier seating arrangement sweeps around you. There is a keen sense of destination and of destiny too, and in the midst of the storied opulence, no matter how politely stated, one is moved to acknowledge his own beginnings and the steps that led him here. Along with surges of elation and a sense of musical elevation comes a soaring joy, but also sobriety.

I got to experience this firsthand on March 29, as part of the Distinguished Concerts International New York presentation Total Vocal. Continue reading