With a book coming out, and no chance of a launch anytime soon thanks to the pandemic, I was asked by my publisher to pull back the curtain on what I was up to at home these days. Here’s the big reveal.
This blog post doesn’t have a lot to do with Tapping the West: How Alberta’s Craft Beer Industry Bubbled Out of an Economy Gone Flat (now available for pre-order!). Writing it, however, got me thinking about the potential for COVID-19 to teach us something about ourselves. If this thing doesn’t kill us, it might indeed make us stronger somehow.
And if the proof doesn’t turn up in the pudding, maybe it will in the homebrew.
After Gord Downie, is there hope for lyrics in mainstream Canadian music?
This article originally appeared in Eighteen Bridges, a Canadian magazine of narrative journalism.
A LOT OF WHAT I SAW ON MUCHMUSIC in the 1990s has stayed with me. Perhaps it’s because I entered the formative years of my adolescence during the channel’s heyday that so much of my memory bank has been signed over to VJ Erica Ehm, Big Shiny Tunes playlists and Dan Gallagher handing out two-slice toasters on his gameshow, Test Pattern.
But some useful things stuck, too, like a report from the network that aired on September 24, 1994. That day marked the release of Day for Night, an album that galvanized (in platinum, six times) the Tragically Hip’s reputation as atypical but accessible CanCon.
Toronto record stores stayed open until midnight to move copies, and MuchMusic cameras captured an scene that still strikes me as anomalous. A frenzied teenage boy tears plastic from the CD to free the liner notes. “There’s lyrics!” he shouts. Weirdly, he’s not alone. His frenzied friends join the chorus, high-fiving as if Bill Barilko or Paul Henderson or whichever hockey hero that Downie deified in verse had just pocketed a winner. I’d never seen anyone lose their mind over the words a modern, popular Canadian singer set to music. But MuchMusic took note, so I did too. Frenzied Teenage Boy and I became kindred spirits, acolytes of the people’s poetry of Gord Downie.
As participants in the blanket exercise that was to come, we were told that we’d likely need the boxes of tissues being set out for us. It was a way of being told we weren’t ready to hear the things we were about to learn. Colonialism, our facilitator said, was “a brutal history.”
This story originally appeared in Eighteen Bridges, a Canadian magazine of narrative journalism. Sorry that all the pictures are of me. It’s all I had at hand and long reads aren’t any fun without pics, so there you go.
Near the halfway point, the trail became almost impassable. It was only a 10-kilometre race, but its dirt trail made it treacherous from the start. Within minutes of leaving the starting line, I plunged into the tangle of poplar, chokecherry, cranberry and dogwood that carpets the banks of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The late summer days had coaxed gorgeous reds and purples and yellows from the foliage, but who cared?
All that mattered was the linear metre of earth directly ahead, laced with roots and studded with stones. For two-and-a-half kilometres, the course rose and fell like river rapids, twisting and bucking capriciously. More than 370 runners were at its mercy. None got any.
In 2015, NAIT grad Billy Morin became the youngest elected chief in the modern history of Enoch Cree Nation. Thereafter, he set about trying to strike a balance between progress and tradition, and bring renewed prosperity to his community. It’s the “dream job” he always wanted, but it hasn’t come without a cost.
The fall 2017 issue features writing about Edmonton for Canada’s 150th birthday
As senior editor at Eighteen Bridges, one of Canada’s top magazines for narrative journalism, I have the privilege of reading, working with, and helping to publish the writing of incredible authors. (Sometimes I even get to appear along side them, as the magazine’s music columnist.)
The fall 2017 issue was extra special. A collaboration with the Edmonton Community Foundation, it enlisted talented essayists who bring unique perspectives on Edmonton’s past, present and future. The result is a rich and varied anthology that runs the gamut of what makes Alberta’s capital a fascinating, complicated and, on the whole, amazing place to be.
I’d love for you to buy a copy to see it all for yourself – or better yet, subscribe! To help make my case, here’s a sampling of the awesome stories you can expect from this issue and those to come:
Edmonton Time: Musician Rollie Pemberton on what it means to be an Edmonton artist – even when you live in Montreal
My discovery of the true meaning of REST: Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy
Salt can hold a certain kind of salvation. All you have to do is dissolve 1,000 pounds of it in a shallow, 34-degree bath. And then you just lie down and drift.
I discovered this at Modern Gravity, a float facility in central Edmonton. Owners Matt Smith and Jamie Phillips hope to establish the practice as a recognized therapy for relieving clients of many of the stresses of modern life.
The challenge: relieve floating of its reputation for being, as the owners put it, “hippy woo-woo science.”
An unexpected reaction to Heavy Metal Parking Lot, 30 years later
Revisiting Heavy Metal Parking Lot when it turned 30 in 2016 was a shock.
At first, watching the cult classic documentary – which explored the inebriated human condition outside a Judas Priest concert in Maryland – was fun. It was a window onto the cringeworthy awkwardness of youth.
Or, was it a window onto myself?
And not my young self. Maybe my middle-aged self of the here and now. I wondered: Should I be worried? In an effort to figure that out, I wrote a short essay.
The Gothic Knight brings Pure Power Wrestling to Lethbridge
When I heard that a graduate of NAIT, the polytechnic where I’m a comms guy, was a professional wrestler, it was like a bell had rung. As a writer – and a former 10-year-old wrestling super-fan – this was the matchup I’d been waiting for.
The Gothic Knight, a.k.a. Edward Gatzky, finished a diploma in dietary technology in the 1980s before hitting the wrestling circuit, coming ever so close to a career in the WWE. But life had a few surprise moves of its own, and Gothic (as he’s called) ended up in settling down in Lethbridge, the area of the province he’s from, where he started Pure Power Wrestling.
On the eve of his retirement in fall 2016, I visited Gothic to talk about life in the square circle, what it meant to leave it behind, and his dream to bring wrestling back to its heyday in my youth, when the reality was that pro wrestling ruled.