One of the most moving moments in Armistead Maupin’s brilliant Tales of the City, is when one of the main characters, Michael, comes out to his mother in a letter. His coming out at this point in the narrative is prompted by the news that his mother has joined Anita Bryant’s hateful and anti-gay “Save The Children” campaign, which was launched in the late 1970s.
This is an incredibly moving and inspirational piece which has been recited countless times by gay choruses, actors and those just coming out. Here, then, is the full text of the letter:
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I’m not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.
I have friends who think I’m foolish to write this letter. I hope they’re wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who love and trust them less than mine do. I hope especially that you’ll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn’t have written, I guess, if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.
I’m sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief — rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.
No, Mama, I wasn’t “recruited.” No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, “You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends — all kinds of friends — who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.”
But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being.
These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me, too.
I know what you must be thinking now. You’re asking yourself: What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way?
I can’t answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don’t care. All I know is this: If you and Papa are responsible for the way I am, then I thank you with all my heart, for it’s the light and the joy of my life.
I know I can’t tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it’s not.
It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbor, except when he’s crass or unkind.
Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength.
It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it.
There’s not much else I can say, except that I’m the same Michael you’ve always known. You just know me better now. I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will.
Please don’t feel you have to answer this right away. It’s enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value truth.
Mary Ann sends her love.
Everything is fine at 28 Barbary Lane.
Your loving son,
If you’d like to hear this letter being read, I’ve embedded a couple of outstanding clips below. Ian McKellan and several of the cast from Netflix’s Tales of the City are moved to tears by the reading:
Although you left us in 2014 my heart still aches when I think of you; your departure was far too soon and far too sudden. If it were only possible to talk to you again, even for a few precious minutes, this is what I’d say:
I must honestly say that the seven or so years we shared at Canada Life were the best I’ve ever had in my life. It was a joy and pleasure to work with you and be your friend. You always had a cheery disposition and wore a smile no matter how busy or hectic things became. I remember the many wonderful chats and hearty laughter we shared in the Workstation Support Burn-in Room down on B1 in the St. Patrick building. Later, when you and John joined us on Leslie’s Workstation Support team, we continued to share a lot of laughter in our daily support interactions, the team meetings and the inevitable team lunches. When I joined Mackenzie a few years later to work with Carmela, John, you, Phil, Dini and Patricia, you patiently worked side-by-side with me, showing me the ropes and mentoring flawlessly. We had a great time at Mackenzie as well and, among many other things, I still have fond memories of the many Friday lunches we enjoyed on Baldwin Street near Chinatown.
You touched so very many lives over the years and I never, ever heard a single negative thing about you from anyone. Your complete calm I always admired – you never lost your cool with even the most difficult user or situation. You always placed yourself last and nothing was ever too much trouble for you. Animals and pets played a big part in your life and you enjoyed a true love of all creatures. I well remember your stories of Jack, your cat that you so adored. Your family, children and grandchildren were the light of your life. By the way, the audio system and Polk Audio speakers we bought from you and Veny years ago continue to fill our home with beautiful music. I am always reminded of you every time I hear an especially moving piece of music coming from this system.
Please keep an eye on John. You two can now resume the wonderful sparring friendship you once shared and there will be many happy times ahead for the both of you I’m sure. The good-natured teasing and antics you two shared at both Canada Life and Mackenzie always made everyone laugh.
Mari-es, you were the kindest, gentlest, sweetest, most gracious and beautiful person I’ve ever met. You have touched my life and I will never forget you as long as I live. Never. It has been an honour and a privilege to have been your colleague and friend, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
It had been four years since I’d photographed the annual Bloor-Yorkville Icefest. The weather finally cooperated this year and gave us below freezing temperatures which preserved the beautiful sculptures of the ice artists (unlike the last couple of years, when “Icefest” became more like “Dripfest” due to very warm temperatures). It didn’t hurt that the organizers finally moved the event to early February this year instead of the customary late February.
This year’s theme was “Hollywood North”, inspired by the success of the film industry in Toronto and Yorkville. Some of the sculptures included an Icefest Cinema facade, paparazzi, a giant box of popcorn, a projector and an iconic Oscar. There was also an “Icefest Lounge” featuring some smooth sounds with DJ’s from Bellosound.
OK, whoever came up with these things really has a lot to answer for.
Vaping is one of those things that really bugs me for some reason and I’m not sure exactly why. It could be the fad-ish nature of it where everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, but I think the main reason I find it so irritating is the pretentiousness of the whole thing. People who vape, particularly the 20-something crowd, think they look the epitome of absolute cool. My question to these people puffing on their e-cigs would have to be: Do you know how ridiculous you look?
Walking behind someone who is puffing away on their device, I frequently become enveloped in a mushroom cloud of exhaled smelly garbage. The second-hand stench of the expired substance is enough to turn your stomach. If I had a choice between that sickly sweet, toxic smelling stuff and a cloud of cigarette smoke, I’d definitely opt for the latter. Better yet, how about being totally healthy and not smoking anything?
Even more annoying is the media’s efforts to sway the masses over to the joys of vaping. Here’s three of my favourites, the first one being especially ridiculous:
If there’s any justice in the world vaping will hopefully prove to be a fad which runs its course. We can hope…
You’ve probably read the title of this post and thought: “Whhaaaaa??”. It’s an unlikely combo at first glance: the film Star Wars: A New Hope coupled with the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Not so weird actually.
What a brilliant idea. Over the span of the next couple of years the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is performing the John Williams-composed Star Wars soundtracks live while the movies are projected larger than life in the background. These concerts take place in the still-somewhat-elegant Roy Thomson Hall.
Starting with the 1997 re-release versions of the “original three” (as I like to call them), the first concert up is Star Wars: A New Hope; this is the production we went to last night. It was fantastic to hear that amazing John Williams soundtrack *really* brought to life by the TSO.
You don’t realize how much music, both prominent and incidental, there actually is in a Star Wars film; this concert really brought the music to the forefront. The TSO were absolutely superb and every musical detail was faithful to the original motion picture soundtrack (except the “Cantina” scene in the Mos Eisley bar – the filmed version was played here). Sarah Hicks did a brilliant job conducting the orchestra, who played to an absolutely packed and very enthusiastic house. No less than three encores were called after the performance/film completed.
Here’s a few shots from last night’s performance. These were taken before the performance began and during the 15-minute intermission at the movie’s halfway point:
Star Wars: A New Hope played on the nights of January 23, 24, 25, 26, 2019. The rest of the Star Wars Film Concert Series is scheduled as follows:
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – March 20, 21, 22, 23, 2019 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – October 2, 3, 4, 5, 2019 Star Wars: The Force Awakens – May 6, 7, 8, 9, 2020
I’m sure more are to follow as time goes by, and I can hardly wait.
There were two memorable events in Toronto during the summer of 2003: one was the massive power blackout covering most of northeast North America and the other was SARStock.
Held on July 30, 2003 at Downsview Park (previously a former military air base in the north end of the city), the event was a gigantic, marathon rock concert to benefit Toronto’s economy and help it recover from the SARS epidemic. The concert was organized in about a month upon the suggestion of concert headliners The Rolling Stones. The Stones, by the way, love Toronto – they have played in our city many times and, utilizing small clubs like the Phoenix or the Palais Royale, they frequently practice and perform here prior to setting off on their major tours. Toronto has some not-so-fond memories, though, for Keith Richards; this is where he got busted, tried and sentenced for heroin possession way back in early 1977.
This massive concert in Downsview Park went by many names – Toronto Rocks, Stars 4 SARS, Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, SARSfest, SARS-a-palooza, the SARS concert, The Rolling Stones SARS Benefit Concert – but I affectionately call it SARSstock as it seems the most apropos. The Rolling Stones donated 50 percent of the proceeds (an estimated $1.3 million) from their merchandise sales to two relief funds set up for the event, and $1 per ticket was also donated towards the funds. The net proceeds of official merchandise was also donated towards the relief funds.
Official crowd estimates put the number at 500,000 people attending the concert, but it felt (and looked) like far, far more than that. The unofficial crowd estimate was over a million people so I don’t know who to believe. Regardless, SARStock made the record books as the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history.
It was an all-Canadian event: vendors sold Alberta beef in support of the Canadian beef industry, which had recently suffered because of a case of mad cow disease. In gentle, polite, mannerly, well-behaved Canadian style, there were no major security incidents that day, which was amazing given the crowd size.
Co-hosted by Canada’s own Dan Ackroyd and Mike Bullard the band lineup was a mish-mash of Canadian (English & French), American and English talent, mostly retro acts but good retro acts if you know what I mean. The day’s lineup was:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue
The Tea Party
The Flaming Lips
The Isley Brothers
The Guess Who
The Rolling Stones
And all of this for only $21.50.
Each band (full concert setlist below) performed for about 15 to 20 minutes but stage/equipment teardown and setup for each act seemed to take forever. There was a lot of people scenery between acts, however, to keep anyone occupied. The Stones and AC/DC sets each took over 90 minutes, so you could certainly tell who the headliners of this gig were.
This was one of the best and most fun days of my life. My memories of that day are:
In my entire life, I’ve never been in a crowd this large – that in itself was an experience. You can imagine the chaos of over a half-million people sprawled pell-mell on the grass with no organization whatsoever. If you had to leave your group for whatever reason, the only point of reference for your return were the numbered speaker stacks in the audience. If you failed to notice the number on your speaker stack there was little chance you’d ever find your group again. I remember it taking me over an hour just to get to the water and toilets – I missed Justin Timberlake’s set entirely (oh noooooo!) while I was gone, so I failed to witness firsthand the legendary water bottle-throwing incident (more on that, below).
It was one of those rare summer days in Toronto where, instead of haze and humidity, the sky was absolutely clear and deep blue, not a cloud in sight, and it was HOT, very hot!
Party. Absolute, sheer party. Period.
I spent this day with my good friends Janice, Richard and his son Pete. What a great time we had. I’ll never forget Janice smuggling in her bottle of vodka. The security line we were in at the entrance gates was conducting frisk-searches, so Janice hopped over one line and – as luck would have it – they bypassed her for a frisk search. Happy days.
Here we are as we stepped out of Downsview subway station to make our way to the concert grounds:
Justin Timberlake was booed by the crowd, who were anticipating the harder-rocking second half of the concert. Throughout his performance he had to dodge water bottles, toilet paper, muffins, and other items thrown by the audience. This was definitely a hard rock/classic rock crowd and Timberlake was the odd man out with his lightweight pop styling. He later returned to duet with Mick Jagger on Miss You; at that time the crowd was scolded by a visibly pissed off Keith Richards for their earlier treatment of Timberlake.
THE GUESS WHO
So awesome to see the original lineup back, if even for a precious few numbers. To me, the Guess Who is synonymous with growing up in the early 70s on the Canadian prairies – their music was everywhere and was entrenched in our culture. My older brother was a big influence in my memories and impressions of the Guess Who; he had a few of their earlier records and played them often around the house (strains of Albert Flasher, No Time and New Mother Nature drift through my mind when I think of those days).
THE FLAMING LIPS
The Flaming Lips invited artists from backstage to dance on stage with them dressed in fuzzy animal costumes. I, for one, was never a Flaming Lips fan… I just don’t get them…
I am not an AC/DC fan by any stretch of the imagination (OK, OK, I owned a copy of Back In Black as a teenager… who didn’t?), but they put on a show like the city has never seen; they absolutely stole the entire concert. AC/DC played a balls-to-the-wall (as they used to say in the ’70s) 70-minute set. Most of the crowd were there expressly to see AC/DC and didn’t really care so much about the previous acts. AC/DC were onstage just before the headlining Rolling Stones, but the AC/DC set absolutely blew away the crowd, driving them into a frenzy. I’ll never forget Angus Young dropping his pants and mooning the audience with an enormous Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on his shiny boxer shorts.
When the Stones finally did take the stage it was anticlimactic, almost bordering on disappointing, compared to the live bolts of lightning that was AC/DC. It was truly an odd thing: a huge amount of people began to leave during the Stones set (sorry, I can never get this thing of leaving in the middle of a performance to beat the traffic home – such an annoying Toronto thing).
Here’s a YouTube that shows the intensity of AC/DC as they played for the massive audience that day:
CLOSING OF CONCERT & THE JOURNEY HOME
As you can imagine, it takes quite a while for a crowd of half a million or more people to disperse. People were slowly drifting away halfway through the Stones’ performance but Richard and I stayed until the very bitter end to see the last cannon fired, so to speak. I believe it was somewhere around 1:00AM when we made our way out in the departing wave of humanity (Janice and Pete had left earlier in the evening, long before this mass exodus). It was absolutely impossible to get back on the subway at nearby Downsview station, so we walked all the way across Sheppard Avenue West from Downsview Park to Yonge Street where we somehow were able to get on the Yonge line with tens of thousands of other people heading home.
I’ll never forget that walk Richard and I took across Sheppard Avenue with so many of the other concertgoers who also decided to walk to Yonge Street. It was a crowd tens of thousands strong, and there was such a crazy party vibe in the air – absolute jubilation, with everyone still on a high from the heat and music of the day. When we did finally reach Sheppard station on the Yonge line it was jammed beyond comprehension, so we waited in queue for about another hour until we could stuff ourselves on one of the trains (the TTC had arranged to run all night that night in order to get everybody home). We finally got out of the packed subway at Yonge and Bloor and made our way home across Bloor Street East. All told, it was about 3:00AM when I stumbled through my front door. Luckily Richard and I both had the next day off work, which was a Friday.
Here then, for posterity’s sake, is the setlist for the entire day. I’ve tried to be as complete as possible but there may be one or two songs missing here and there. I compiled the setlist from my own DVD copy of the concert and several miscellaneous Internet sources, so there could be some inconsistency. For the most part, though, the day’s music ran as follows:
The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi & supporting band) Intro With Skybox Ballroom Pump
Sam Roberts Don’t Walk Away Eileen Brother Down Where Have All The Good People Gone?
Kathleen Edwards One More Song The Radio Won’t Like Mercury 6 O’clock News
La Chicane Viens Donc M’voir Le Yâb De St. Nitouche Le Fil
The Tea Party Temptation Sister Awake Heaven Coming Down
Blue Rodeo Trust Yourself Hasn’t Hit Me Yet Lost Together
Sass Jordan High Road Easy You Don’t Have To Remind Me Brand New Day Make You A Believer (with Jeff Healy)
The Flaming Lips Race For The Prize Do You Realize?
The Have Love Will Travel Revue I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole
The Isley Brothers Fight the Power I Want to Take You Higher It’s Your Thing Put Yourself In My Place Who’s That Lady Summer Breeze Shout
Justin Timberlake Señorita Cry Me a River
The Have Love Will Travel Revue Time Won’t Let Me
The Guess Who Hand Me Down World No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature Takin’ Care of Business (BTO cover) American Woman No Time
Rush Tom Sawyer Limelight Dreamline YYZ Freewill Closer to the Heart Paint It Black The Spirit Of Radio
AC/DC Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be Back in Black Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap Thunderstruck If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) Hells Bells The Jack T.N.T. You Shook Me All Night Long Whole Lotta Rosie Let There Be Rock
Encore: Highway to Hell
Rolling Stones Start Me Up Brown Sugar You Got Me Rocking Tumbling Dice Don’t Stop Ruby Tuesday You Can’t Always Get What You Want It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It) Miss You (with Justin Timberlake) The Nearness of You (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Happy (Keith Richards, lead vocals) Sympathy for the Devil Rock Me Baby (with Malcolm & Angus Young from AC/DC) Honky Tonk Women (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Encore: Jumpin’ Jack Flash
A DVD of the day’s concert was released later in 2003, although it has omitted quite a few of the original tracks. I assume this is to fit the concert on a 2-disc DVD release. That’s a pity, as I’d like to relive the concert as a whole, regardless of how many physical discs are required. The DVD is probably no longer produced and marketed, so it remains a keepsake item for me.
There has never been a crowd and concert like this in Toronto, before or since. It was truly a unique experience and I’m so very glad I was a part of it. I’ll never forget that hot, cloudless, wonderful day in Downsview Park.
For any American or European readers not familiar with some of Canada’s holidays, we celebrate Boxing Day in our country.
Boxing Day is a federal statutory holiday which always falls on the day after Christmas. All banks, government agencies, etc. are closed on this day. Boxing Day originated in the UK and is celebrated in the countries that, at one time, were part of the British Empire (Canada remains one of the Commonwealth nations of Britain).
It seems no one is absolutely certain about the origins of Boxing Day. The popular theory is that the tradition originated in Britain in the early 19th century. The day after Christmas was set aside for those in service occupations (postmen, errand boys, servants) who would receive a “Christmas Box” for their good service throughout the year. According to Wikipedia, this custom is linked to an even older British tradition: since servants had to wait on their wealthy masters on Christmas Day, the servants were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. These days, if you don’t see your friends and family on Christmas, then Boxing Day is the time to get together.
In a retail/shopping sense, Boxing Day to Canadians is what Black Friday is to Americans. On Boxing Day (these days expanded to “Boxing Week”), one can find the best deals of the year on almost anything, but the really deep discounts are usually on electronics such as TVs, mobile phones, stereos, etc. Many retailers open very early (5:00AM or earlier) and offer door-crasher deals to draw people to their stores. Long lines form early in the morning of December 26, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales; this especially holds true for the big-box electronic stores (Best Buy et al). Shoppers’ behaviour can become very “un-Canadian” in the stores during the retail madness of Boxing Day, as it can be “kill or be killed” in some retail outlets. Many stores have their most profitable day of the year on Boxing Day.
Personally, I love Boxing Day – it’s another chance to eat Christmas leftovers!
I’d been meaning to capture The Bay’s Christmas window displays at night for quite a while now so I took a little spin down to Yonge and Queen last night to see this year’s offerings.
The windows are quite good this year but, sadly, not nearly as extensive as they were prior to the merger of Saks Fifth Avenue in the same building. Prior to Saks, the Christmas windows continued all along Queen Street East and rounded the corner on to Yonge Street. Nevertheless, it was fun to shoot these charming displays:
For much of this year I’d been seeing posters in the subway platforms and cars depicting a healthy-looking, hot guy (or guys) staring dreamily into the camera with captions reading I’m on PrEP, or Ask your doctor about PrEP or some such verbiage involving something called “PrEP”.
I had no idea exactly what PrEP is, other than it obviously being a product strategically aimed at a gay male audience, so a little Googling was in order.
I found out that PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Using the brand name Truvada, it is a drug to prevent the contraction of HIV in people who have not yet been exposed to the virus. Taken daily, it is a medication which reportedly reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 92% (ideally, for total prevention against HIV transmission, PrEP should be accompanied with the use of condoms). So, basically, the miracle of modern medicine has given us protection from something as horrific as HIV/AIDS in pill form – at last.
Please don’t misunderstand the intentions of this post – I am neither for or against PrEP; to be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. On the one hand, I marvel how the advances of modern science can at last give us protection against the dreaded disease that has wreaked such devastation on the world. On the other hand, I’m a little shocked at how the advertising/media world imply that if we take PrEP we should throw all caution to the wind and go at it like mad bunnies.
I confess the whole thing makes me slightly uneasy because I remember the past very well. I can’t help thinking of those early, awful, fearful, devastating years of AIDS my generation witnessed and lived through. We were the next generation of potential AIDS patients after the initial onslaught claimed men from the fallout of late 70s and early 80s sexual hedonism. My age group became very used to seeing the miles of obituaries – in our bi-weekly Toronto gay rag, Xtra! – of the beautiful, young men we’d see in the Village, taken from us far too early in life. We’d wonder who’s next? as we checked ourselves, yet again, for swollen lymph nodes, weight loss or any fresh and mysterious spots on our skin. I remember very well the Act Up! demonstrations and “die-ins” during the Toronto Pride Parades of the 80s and early 90s, the AIDS candlelight vigils and memorials in Cawthra Park (now Barbara Hall Park) just off Church Street, the protest marches and gatherings at Queen’s Park where everyone shouted for more AIDS research funding. Over the years I’ve seen acquaintances and work colleagues succumb to this horrible disease and have felt the fear and loss.
I guess I’m simply old school and still have contagion issues and fears, remembering how history unfolded over the past 30 or so years. I don’t know – I guess time will tell how effective these new meds are. If proven effective over the long term, they truly are a marvel of modern science and will change our lives.
I’m on a Truman Capote binge lately. I’ve been re-reading a couple of his novels as well as discovering some of the ones new to me. The more of Capote’s work I read, the more I appreciate this man’s incredible writing. He truly was a literary genius but a tortured one in his private life, at least in the last few years of his life.
I’ve just finished re-reading In Cold Blood and am now working on Music For Chameleons. I’ve lifted a few notable Capote quotes from these two brilliant books:
But I’m not a saint yet. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.
– Music for Chameleons
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there”.
– In Cold Blood
Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.
– In Cold Blood
It is no shame to have a dirty face- the shame comes when you keep it dirty.
– In Cold Blood
Strange where our passions carry us, floggingly pursue us, forcing upon us unwanted dreams, unwelcome destinies.
– Music for Chameleons
Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity.
– In Cold Blood
Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.
– In Cold Blood
We all, sometimes, leave each other there under the skies, and we never understand why.
– Music for Chameleons
Some cities, like wrapped boxes under Christmas trees, conceal unexpected gifts, secret delights. Some cities will always remain wrapped boxes, containers of riddles never to be solved, nor even to be seen by vacationing visitors, or, for that matter, the most inquisitive, persistent travelers.
– Music for Chameleons
It is easy to ignore the rain if you have a raincoat.
I was running some errands downtown last weekend and had to make a stop in 80 Spadina Avenue (above King St.). This building at one point in time was an old Toronto warehouse which has been converted into artist spaces, studios and photo reproduction companies, among other things. I spotted an old-fashioned, decommissioned safe in the building’s hallway and found it interesting; I have a penchant for historic items such as this.
I love the not-too-subtle message about employees caught tampering with the combination…
I hesitate to call these tracks the “B-list” of my favourite music, as the term is slightly derogatory. These are all special songs to me and remain some of my favourites, but they don’t quite merit a place on my Desert Island Songs list. Like my other lists, this one remains a work in progress.
Here then, is more of my life’s soundtrack:
Moments Of Pleasure – Kate Bush Only You – Yaz Boy – Book Of Love Il Mio Cuore Va – Sarah Brightman Minuet in G Major – J.S. Bach (comp.) Suddenly Last Summer – The Motels I Want You Back – The Jackson 5 Safe And Sound – Capital Cities Lady Marmalade – Labelle Nothing But A Heartache – Freemasons (feat. Sylvia Mason-James) The Sailor Song – Autoheart Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers (with Coldplay) Unfinished Business – Boy George The Last Song – Elton John The Power Of Love – Frankie Goes To Hollywood No Promises – Icehouse Breaking Us In Two – Joe Jackson Shadow Man – David Bowie Pavane – Gabriel Fauré (comp.) It Couldn’t Happen Here – Pet Shop Boys Man On The Moon – R.E.M. Crying Out Loud For Love – The Box Canon In D – J. Pachelbel (comp.) Life On Mars? – David Bowie Half-Light (Day Version) – George Fitzgerald feat. Tracey Thorn Every Bit Of Love – Ken Tobias Be My Number Two – Joe Jackson Old Money – Lana Del Rey Caroline – Concrete Blonde Oh Yeah – Roxy Music I Want To Wake Up (Breakdown Mix) – Pet Shop Boys
On August 18th of this year I took a photowalk along Danforth Avenue. I started at Broadview Ave. and finished at Greenwood Ave., at which point I crossed the street and returned to Broadview, snapping all the way.
This small excerpt is the last few lines of Tennyson’s Ulysses. It is significant to me because I included it in the eulogy I delivered at my Dad’s funeral. I feel this segment of the poem is all about looking back over a life of hard work and even though it’s now time to rest, we must keep going and keep seeking as the will remains strong.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
By way of Matt Baume’s fascinating YouTube channel, where he takes a light-hearted look at issues affecting and involving the LGBT community, we recently discovered the British TV comedy series Vicious.
The primary stars of Vicious are Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi. With a core cast like that, how can you lose? There’s not a lot of characters throughout the episodes; the regular cast never goes beyond six members. There are the two central characters Freddie Thornhill (Ian McKellen) and Stuart Bixby (Derek Jacobi), their friend Violet Crosby (brilliantly played by Frances de la Tour) and younger upstairs friend/neighbour Ash Weston (Iwan Rheon). Occasionally we see the mostly-senile but lovable, long-time family friend Penelope (Marcia Warren), and Mason (Philip Voss) as Freddie’s acid-tongued brother who is also gay but disapproves of Freddie and Stuart’s relationship.
Vicious is very British with its sly insult-humour, a genre the English do especially well. The plot centres around the love-hate relationship of gay male couple Freddie and Stuart (played by our two aforementioned knighted actors) who have been together just shy of fifty years. Each episode’s plot also includes their circle of friends – Violet, Ash, Penelope and Mason – each generating their own form of lunacy. The two seasons weave the characters in and out of various hilarious predicaments, ending in Freddie and Stuart’s wedding (after fifty years of being together) in the final episode of the second season. This wedding episode is not to be missed.
Only two seasons of Vicious plus a Finale were shot and each season has only six or seven episodes, which is very typical of a British television series. The series premiered in April 2013 but was cancelled by ITV in the U.K. in 2016, with the Finale special airing in December of that year. The series was panned by British critics but, nevertheless, did well during its run. PBS in North America carried the show in 2014 but I’m not sure what the success rate was on this side of the Atlantic. The humour in Vicious does not appeal to everyone, and you have to approach the series with an appreciation of camp, gay humour, comedic put-downs, dark humour and a general love/appreciation of British comedy (which is interpreted somewhat differently by our North American sensibilities).
The series was twice nominated for the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, while the finale was nominated for Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series.
If you do find the series somewhere online (i.e. streaming services, YouTube, etc.) and begin watching, my advice is to stick with it through the first season. I found the first two episodes of the first season, especially, just plain mean-spirited and cruel, and I felt quite uncomfortable watching them; I just about gave up on the series at that point but I’m so glad I stayed with it. The script, characters and tone does soften, however, and the series becomes much more enjoyable and hilarious with each episode. By the end of Season One I was howling with laughter! I read somewhere that Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi had a hand in rewriting some of the script and making the dialog a little “softer” and the characters more empathic.
The opening and closing theme is an abridged version of The Communards version of Never Can Say Goodbye (which is on my list of Desert Island Songs by the way); this scored big points with me.
You may love Vicious or you may hate it – everyone’s mileage will vary. I’ll leave you with a clip of Season One’s “Best Of”:
Rowley is a hamlet located in east-central Alberta, north of Drumheller. The official census lists the population of Rowley at 8!
Rowley dates from the early 1910s, when the railway came through. After the trains ceased to run through Rowley it more or less became a ghost town as people began to move away. Sometime in the mid-1970s the remaining locals came up with an idea to lure tourist dollars by promoting Rowley as an old “wild west” ghost town, and for the next 25 years they restored old homes and businesses. Soon visitors were attracted from all parts of Alberta, Canada and the U.S.
The grain elevators in these shots have been completely renovated and restored for tourism and heritage purposes. Part of Rowley’s charm is that while locals have spent thousands of dollars fixing up many of the old community’s homes and buildings to reflect the hamlet’s pioneer days, there are still many others left abandoned.
Yes, it was Rick’s big day, and a number of people got together to throw him a party for the occasion. We had a lot of fun with the “photo booth”, in which people were photographed holding signs of some of Rick’s famous (and infamous) sayings. It was a great party! 🙂
For a while now I’ve had it in mind to create a post talking about the “do’s and don’ts” when we see a service/working dog in our daily travels. I have a personal connection with this topic as my very good friend is visually impaired and has used service dogs for most of her life. A service dog is a lifeline to a blind or disabled person; I can attest to this as I see my friend’s challenges almost every single day as we make our way through busy downtown Toronto.
Despite the best efforts of programs to educate the general public, there are still many people who just simply don’t “get” the issue of service dogs and don’t know how to respond around them. Hopefully I can throw a little light on some of the “do’s and don’ts” for those who are not familiar.
Never Distract A Service Dog
This is probably the most important thing to mention. Even though a service dog may not “look like” it’s doing its job, she is always working. Service dogs typically wear some sort of vest or harness and are easily identifiable as such. To distract a working service dog can have serious or dangerous consequences for the dog and handler team. A service dog needs all her attention to safely guide her handler through traffic and many other obstacles; to be distracted from that job is dangerous or even fatal for the dog/handler team, especially in big city traffic.
Never pet or touch a service dog or make distracting sounds to get their attention – for example, making “kissy” or clicking sounds, calling to them or talking to them. The best practice is to politely ignore the dog.
No Need To “Feel Sorry” For The Dog
Service dogs are dearly loved by their owner/handler. They are well adjusted, socialized and highly trained to be working much of the time. Service dogs are just like other dogs – they get plenty of time off duty to run, play, get treats and just be a “regular dog”. No need to “feel sorry” for a service dog; they are very happy doing their duty. Dogs love a routine and like to work, especially many breeds of bigger dogs.
Be patient when you see a service dog and handler team executing a climb up/down stairs, getting on/off public transit or any similar situation. The dog needs to work out the safest method for herself and the handler to negotiate the challenge. As a team they will usually successfully work it out, but in the rare case a handler needs assistance to navigate a problematic situation they will call out or ask for assistance if it is required.
Never grab a blind person by the arm and pull them across the street, etc. in an attempt to navigate them – this is probably one of the most confusing and frightening things a blind person can experience as it totally disorients them within their surroundings. If you do want to help, politely ask them if they require any assistance with whatever it is they’re navigating and proceed from there. It will be appreciated.
Although people may mean well, it’s inappropriate to ask a service dog handler: “What happened to you? How did you go blind (or become disabled, etc.)”, or “How do you deal with it?”. Please understand this is personal information and the handler most likely does not wish to discuss this with anyone.
Don’t Discriminate – It’s The Law
The law protects service dogs and their handlers. Service dogs are not pets. They are allowed in all food stores, restaurants, food outlets and other public spaces. This is the law: both the Ontario and federal Human Rights Codes prohibit discrimination based on disability, and rejecting a service animal definitely fits that category.
Rejecting a service dog also violates the Ontario Blind Person’s Rights Act. If there is a rejection of the service dog, the service dog handler can file a human rights complaint with the appropriate tribunal, either Ontario or federal, and can pursue charges under the Blind Person’s Right Act, which fines any offender a maximum of $5,000 if convicted.
I hope this helps. I’ve also included a couple of relevant links below if you’d like to learn more about service dogs, their handlers, and the challenges they face:
A new artist I’ve just started to follow is George FitzGerald. At the moment I don’t know too much about Mr. FitzGerald other than he’s an English Dance/Electronic musician, producer and DJ. Initially he resided in Berlin, Germany to cut his teeth in the electronic music scene there but has since returned to England. Electronic music critics are heralding him as the up and coming one to watch.
Apparently George has been active in the electronic music scene since the early 2010s and has released several EPs and extended mixes during that time. It looks like he’s also been on tour through North America lately and did a Toronto gig in early October this year. George FitzGerald released his first full-length album (Fading Love) in 2015. He also has albums Update and All That Must Be under his belt. His latest album is All That Must Be (Remixes), and this is the one that grabbed my attention.
I stumbled across George’s single Half-Light (Day Version) and was instantly blown away by the texture and dreamy, hypnotic quality of his sound. Leading me to this George FitzGerald track was the fact that vocalist, musician and personal Goddess Tracey Thorn is featured on the vocals. Where Tracey goes I follow willingly – she’s an amazingly talented woman with an incredible, heavenly, haunting voice. Ah, those lovely soaring notes of Miss Tracey… always a treat:
Half-Light (Day Version), feat. Tracey Thorn
If you’re not familiar with Tracey Thorn, she was one half of the duo Everything But The Girl. Along with her husband Ben Watt they had enormous success as singers, musicians and songwriters in Everything But The Girl, first in Europe then in North America, from the mid-1980s to 2000. It was their monster hit Missing that finally broke them in the North American mainstream market and propelled them forward over here; great commercial success followed for them after that hit. Since disbanding after an impressive group career Ben and Tracey have each gone on to many successful solo projects. Ben produces other groups in the studio and has a successful career as a musician, singer, songwriter, author, DJ and radio presenter. Tracey has released several excellent solo albums and written an autobiography called Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up & Tried To Be A Pop Star (love that title). In 2015 she published her second book, Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, and her third book, Another Planet: A Teenager InSuburbia is scheduled for release on February 7, 2019, followed by a UK book release tour. Tracey also writes a regular column for the New Statesman, which is a British political and cultural magazine. Tracey took a few years of respite from the music scene in the early 2000s, during which time she and Ben had three children. This is one busy woman!
I hope to do a future post on Tracey Thorn & Ben Watt, aka Everything But The Girl, so stay tuned for that.
In September 2015 we journeyed to Vienna, Austria. That city is simply too amazing to describe in this short space, but I’d like to share a few shots I took when we toured Der Wiener Zentralfriedhof (or, in English, The Vienna Central Cemetery).
It might be somewhat crass to call this part of the cemetery the “famous dead composer” section, but… well, it is:
The grave I really wanted to visit was none other than that of the beloved Falco. Yes, Vienna’s Central Cemetery is the final resting place of that famous Austrian pop star Falco, real name Hans Holzel. His grave marker is kind of hard to see in these shots as it’s made of curved, clear glass with etchings:
Culled from my own music collection, Spotify and Rolling Stone “worst of” lists, here is my compilation of songs that have been covered by a completely inappropriate artist or are simply a bad cover of the song.
Some of these covers are funny, some are marginally bearable, some are nauseating and some are so abjectly, abysmally awful they make you lose your will to live.
What were these people thinking??!!
Life On Mars? – Barbra Streisand Help! – Diana Ross & The Supremes I Love Rock ‘n Roll – Britney Spears Might Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) – Julie London Happy Together – Mel Torme When A Man Loves A Woman – Michael Bolton A Hard Day’s Night – Peggy Lee Respect Yourself – Bruce Willis Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – William Shatner American Pie – Madonna Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird – Will To Power Mrs. Robinson – Guy Lombardo Funky Town – Pseudo Echo I Am The Walrus – Jim Carrey All By Myself – Celine Dion Sugar, Sugar – Kurt Russell Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Tiny Tim It’s My Life – No Doubt Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – Wayne Newton Stairway to Heaven – Dolly Parton Ring of Fire – Olivia Newton John Piece of My Heart – Faith Hill Big Yellow Taxi – Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton Everyday People – Peggy Lee Live and Let Die – Guns N’ Roses Cat’s In The Cradle – Ugly Kid Joe More Than This – 10,000 Maniacs MacArthur Park – Waylon Jennings
Score! This past weekend I was thrilled to find a used DVD box set of the entire Two Fat Ladies TV series in mint condition at the always-amazing Sonic Boom on Spadina Avenue. For years Vince and I have looked at all the various online and streaming sources for the Ladies but no one carries the entire series, at least not at a reasonable price, and it remains out of print as far as I can see.
So, what more could possibly be written about the phenomenon that was Two Fat Ladies?
In case you were living under a rock in the 1990s, Two Fat Ladies were a British cooking duo consisting of Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, who showcased their talents in a massively popular TV show. The TV show was later followed by their cookbooks, videos, autobiographies and other marketing paraphernalia. The TFL show was wildly popular in the U.K. and also really caught on in North America, which was surprising.
Many will probably think we’re weird for loving such an uncool, cheesy, old-fashioned show, but the episodes were glorious! The Ladies were refreshingly non-PC and such a breath of fresh air; they really didn’t care about conventions or what other people thought of them or their cooking methods. Yes, they cooked with lard and butter – lots and lots of it. These two unconventional cooks travelled the British countryside in a sidecar-equipped motorcycle and prepared traditional dishes with an emphasis on strong flavours, fresh ingredients, and more than just a pat of butter. While their high-calorie meal selections were probably not the healthiest thing to eat, they looked utterly delicious and must have tasted fantastic.
Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright took a lot of criticism for their style of unhealthy cooking. Optomen Television in the UK, though, had this to say in the Ladies defense:
The Ladies are cooks not chefs – they reject the pretensions and elaborations of haute cuisine and are aggressively unfashionable, delighting in such ingredients as clotted cream, lard and fatty meats.
The Two Fat Ladies have now both passed on, gone but certainly not forgotten, at least not by me. Jennifer Paterson died of lung cancer on August 10, 1999, one month after diagnosis, and Clarissa Dickson Wright died of pneumonia March 15, 2014.