Monday Morning Rainbow

As I stumbled bleary-eyed from my bed this morning, I was greeted by a rainbow over the city:

It’s rare we have a rainbow over the city but even rarer when it’s a double one such as this. All too soon it was gone.

The rainbow was followed by some unusual light and threatening skies:

Dark skies & bright buildings

And then it all gave way to rain…

“Last Man Dancing”

I’ve had this article on my hard drive for many years. I can’t recall exactly where or when I found the essay but I do know who the author is – it’s written by a man named Patrick Runkle. I couldn’t find too much about him on the Internet, other than he is a music producer/composer from the U.S. and is a founder of Cohaagen Music. He is also a member of the electropop group Ganymede. Patrick has written this interesting but sad and wistful article about the electronic music scene of the late 70s/early 80s in San Francisco, its effect on gay liberation and culture, and the toll AIDS has taken on many of the performers.


In the dusty back rooms of dance music stores and in cardboard boxes stored in attics all over San Francisco, there are indigenous records in worn sleeves with titles like Menergy, Cruisin’ the Streets and Die Hard Lover. These records — like their creators — had short, brilliant, tragic lives.

The names on these records are unknown to most people, even those who follow San Francisco music. To others, the names are fading memories from a dead era. But to a few people, like music lawyer and former nightclub owner Steven Ames Brown, the disco stars who made records in San Francisco during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were friends who died too young.

Brown sits in his Franklin D. Israel-designed modern mansion on Grand View Avenue overlooking the city. “At 49, I’m an elder statesman of San Francisco dance music. It’s an eerie feeling,” he says.

He pages through Tribal Rites, a book from 1987 by David Diebold containing first-person remembrances of the gay music scene in San Francisco, and finds a picture of himself from 1981 posing with drag queen Sylvester.

“Look, I had brown hair. And I was thin,” he says, even though he’s currently in incredible shape.

Brown pages through the book some more and then closes it.

“God, all these people are dead.”

The cover of Tribal Rites is a collage of faces from the era. The men are buff, young and virile, all with full, perfectly trimmed mustaches and huge smiles. They seem to be frozen forever in the blinding afternoon sun of Castro Street.

“Every night was another party,” Brown said. “It was an incredible time to be a jet-setting homo. The music was fun; life was fun. There was someone for everyone to go home with.”

“People don’t remember why there were thousands of men marching in the gay pride parades. Nobody gave a shit about the political speeches,” Brown said. “The music was the glue that brought the community together. It was because people like Sylvester were on the floats that we marched behind them.”

Sylvester, San Francisco’s first breakout disco star, was a soul singer who enjoyed success in the early ’70s as a member of the Bay Area transvestite group the Cockettes. His outrageous performances won him a large local following and a solo contract on the Fantasy label. A series of hit disco tracks followed, including “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” both from 1978.

Members of the same nightclub and disco culture from which Sylvester emerged started to see the possibilities for the gay community to produce its own music without the interference of major labels.

“It became possible because of advances in recording technology in the disco era to produce tracks for a lot less money than before,” Brown said. “Also, and most important, the music didn’t need enormous distribution to be popular.”

Brown came to the city in 1974 to study law at Hastings after working as a disc jockey for a Michigan radio station and studying film at USC in Los Angeles.

“I happened to acquire some property in South of Market in one of my first cases here as a lawyer,” Brown said. “Because of my experience in the music industry, I decided to open a nightclub. And it did so well that I opened another.”

“Disco music had re-invigorated dancing and nightclubs, and the clubs went from being dirty, back-room swill holes to being fun, bright, gay places. After pressing only a few thousand records and playing them in the right clubs, you could have a major hit.”

Musicians in San Francisco’s gay nightclubs started to make music of their own. Bill Motley was a charismatic but frustrated disc jockey in the Castro who had big dreams.

“Bill was a man whose inside didn’t match his outside,” Brown said. “On the outside, he was a large, burly guy who looked like the kind of person you wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley.”

“But on the inside, he was Diana Ross.”

Motley’s experience was mostly as a lighting consultant for local nightclubs, but his musical intuition was sharp. Although he wanted desperately to be a star, he knew his talent was for production.

His idea was to record a disco version of the Ashford-Simpson soul classics “Remember Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” He borrowed money to do it from his friend Victor Swedosh, owner of the Moby Dick bar at 18th & Hartford in the Castro.

Taking inspiration from the Village People, which was essentially a front band for producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, Motley created a fictitious band called The Boys Town Gang to realize his vision.

“Bill found some kids in the city who could sing,” Brown said. “He designed a stage show for them, and started recording with them in the studio.”

The track that resulted was a 6-minute suite, “Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Motley, Swedosh, and another friend from the Castro, Stan Moriss, formed Moby Dick Records in 1980 to release and distribute the Boys Town Gang recordings.

The first track went out on a 12-inch EP called Cruisin’ the Streets, which hit #5 on Billboard’s dance music chart and made enough money for the fun to continue.

“Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a joyous burst of soulful disco that, while not incredibly progressive, shows an incredible ear for production. It was a great answer to all the vapid, soulless corporate disco albums that caused the national ‘disco sucks’ backlash in 1980.

Elsewhere in the Castro at the same time, Patrick Cowley, a synthesizer player and former nightclub lighting technician, was preparing his first solo release.

Cowley had studied music and synthesizers at City College before landing a spot in Sylvester’s band in the late ‘70s.

“We didn’t even know Patrick could play music when we met him,” Sylvester recalled before his death in 1988. “He was designing the lighting for some of our shows, and he played us a tape of his music. I asked him to join us.”

Patrick Cowley & Sylvester

Indeed, Cowley’s unique analog synthesizer flourishes showed up first on Sylvester’s Step II album in 1978, and he contributed two songs to Sylvester’s Stars album a year later.

But Cowley had personal problems with some members of Sylvester’s band, and decided to go solo in 1980. Cowley became friends with the owners of the Automatt studios at 11th & Harrison, and they would let him use the studio during off hours.

“Patrick was a short guy, very passive,” Brown recalls. “All he did was make music, get screwed, and do drugs.”

Cowley and business partner Marty Blecman, a former disc jockey, put together an album of electronic disco music, heavily influenced by the European synth sounds of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder, which was to feature a title track called “Energy.”

“One day, while we were recording,” Blecman wrote before his death in 1991, “We got high and I added an ‘M’ in front of ‘Energy,’ and we came up with all these completely gay lyrics for it. In the end, that’s what we used.”

The song “Menergy” was born. The album Menergy, released on the Fusion label, became an international dance smash in early 1981. It went to number one on Billboard’s dance charts and set a new high-water mark for electronic music.

The title track owes a great debt to Giorgio Moroder’s production of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Like Cowley’s best work, it makes no apologies for its sexual orientation, but maintains an eye-winking charm, without
being explicitly about sex. “The boys in the back room are lovin’ it up / Shootin’ off menergy,” the joyous female chorus sings. What exactly this menergy is that the boys are shooting off is left to the fertile imagination of the listener.

Moreover, Cowley’s electronic arrangements had a fantastic, almost sci-fi quality that tied into the drug-induced club experience of the time.

The success of Menergy allowed Blecman and Cowley to form a company of their own, Megatone Records. In the same way, sales of the Boys Town Gang’s first record ensured more recordings from the Moby Dick label.

The two companies were run from Victorian homes in the Castro, and the performing stars that the labels created enjoyed notoriety both in San Francisco and throughout the worldwide cosmopolitan gay community.

“There was a point where you could fly to any city in the world, and the gay bars and nightclubs were playing the same songs.” said Brown.

People loved “something which was homegrown. It wasn’t marketed to you by faceless corporations. It was the allure of quality music from the community.”

“They were producing a cultural commodity, if I can put those two words together,” Brown said. “They created a business that was both self-sufficient and gay, an underground economy. This was also around the time that we saw an explosion of gay lawyers serving gay clients, gay doctors serving gay patients, and so on.”

In mid-1981, Megatone Records had its first official release, Patrick Cowley’s Megatron Man LP, the title track from which was another huge hit for the company.

Meanwhile, Moby Dick put out a Boys Town Gang LP, Disc Charge, as the follow-up to Cruisin’ the Streets. That album’s disco cover of the Gaudio-Crewe standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” was a monstrous worldwide hit.

The parties lit up the city every weekend. Thousands of men converged on dozens of nightclubs to hear the latest tracks and see the stars perform.

But it wasn’t to last.

After Megatron Man was released in 1981, Cowley fell ill with a mysterious illness.

The disease, first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) or the AID Syndrome, would soon put an end to it all. Cowley was among the first victims in San Francisco.

“Patrick was the first person I saw who was really sick,” Brown said. “They wheeled him onto the balcony of the Palladium. It was too upsetting to watch.”

After fighting the disease for a year, Cowley died on Nov. 12, 1982.

“In the year leading up to his death, Patrick was either in the studio or the hospital,” Blecman told the San Francisco Chronicle upon Cowley’s death. “He left his legacy on tape.”

After Cowley’s death, but before panic over AIDS spread throughout the nation, the two Castro-based labels remained profitable.

Megatone released posthumous Cowley-produced material throughout 1983, including vocalist Paul Parker’s #1 hit “Right On Target” from his LP Too Much To Dream, and Cowley’s reunion with Sylvester, another #1 single, “Do Ya Wanna Funk?”

Moby Dick released another Boys Town Gang album, as well as a huge hit single from vocalist Frank Loverde, “Die Hard Lover,” which was a collaboration between Cowley and Motley.

But everyone knew the end was near. “By late ’83, HIV had scared everyone out of the nightclubs, especially the straight suburban kids who spent so much money,” Brown said. “People thought it might be transmitted through the air.”

“After that, they didn’t have any hits.”

Other problems plagued the fledgling companies. In-fighting among the personalities in the scene over performances, disappearing royalties, and record sales stunted their growth.

“None of these people knew how to run a record company. They created an overhead that they couldn’t possibly maintain,” Brown said. “They had to pay for marketing, pressing, packaging, administration, everything. When their sales started to slip, it was all over.”

“These guys didn’t want day jobs, and they were attracted to the allure of show business.”

“Their lives were bleak. These guys didn’t have any stage presence whatsoever, they couldn’t perform,” Brown said.

Michael Garrett, a disc jockey from the era and current owner of the CD Record Rack, a Castro district dance music store, remembers a performance from artist Frank Loverde:

“Loverde had a hit record in ’82 with ‘Die Hard Lover.’ There was a show at one of the clubs downtown where he was supposed to perform. He came out on stage and saw all the men in the audience, and he fainted. They had to carry him off, and I don’t think his career ever recovered.”

The years of the AIDS crisis destroyed the San Francisco disco community. As the artists watched their friends and colleagues die, the music changed.

“The mood was different,” Brown said. “It was about mechanical sex.”

Moby Dick dissolved soon after Bill Motley left the company in 1984. He retained the rights to the Boys Town Gang, but got sick soon after and died in 1986. Brown was in charge of selling the company’s assets.

“The only they had that was worth anything were the Boys Town Gang masters,” he said. “I still have those, and I won’t part with them.”

Megatone sputtered along under Blecman throughout the ’80s, releasing regurgitated hits, unremarkable dance music and pathetic aerobics compilations. When Blecman got sick in 1990, Brown brokered the company’s sale to a Canadian company, Unidisc.

Patrick Cowley, Marty Blecman and Sylvester share square number 2795 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Frank Loverde, who died in 1987, is memorialized on square 1791. Bill Motley, who died in 1986, is on square 4152.

“This music was part of a transcendent force of gay liberation,” Brown says. “The community has lost the memory of how important this music was. I think these artists won’t ever, ever get their due.”

I Am Canadian!!!

“I Am Canadian” was the slogan of Molson Canadian beer from 1994 to 2005. As part of their campaign, Molson released Joe’s “I Am Canadian” TV rant in March 2000. I had long forgotten about this great clip until I came upon it in YouTube the other day. “Joe”, by the way, is actor Jeff Douglas who, because of the clip’s success, was mobbed everywhere he went for years. After all these years, the rant still makes me smile and feel proud of our beautiful and free country. It goes something like this:

Hey,
I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader….
I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dogsled….
and I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada,
although I’m certain they’re really really nice.

I have a Prime Minister, not a president.
I speak English and French, not American.
And I pronounce it ‘about’, not ‘a boot’.

I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack.
I believe in peace keeping, not policing,
Diversity, not assimilation,
and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.
A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,
and it is pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’, ‘zed’ !!!!

Canada is the second largest landmass!
The first nation of hockey!
and the best part of North America!

My name is Joe!!
AND I AM CANADIAN!!!
Thank you.

Here’s the video:

“Dancer From The Dance”

First published in 1978, Dancer From The Dance is Andrew Holleran’s highly acclaimed first novel. The title is taken from the last few lines of W.B. Yeats’s Among School Children:

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Widely considered a gay classic and must-read, it’s been reissued yet again, this time in eBook format. A couple of years ago we did a massive purge of physical books at our house, and this novel was one of the ones that got accidentally tossed. So, with the reissue finally in eBook format, I felt the time was right to re-add it to my collection.

This is the third time in my life I’d read this book. After a re-read, I now remember the mixed feelings I had about it: the novel is extremely intelligent and beautifully written but also depressing and self-loathing (mostly the latter). To over-simplify the plot, the story follows the life of Malone, a physically beautiful man from an upper-class background. Initially Malone does not realize he’s gay but has an awakening and eventually comes to terms with his new life. After coming out, he falls in love with a possessive and jealous married Italian man but their relationship sours and they become enemies. Malone then becomes extremely promiscuous, having sex with men of every physical description, and forms a curious friendship with a man called Sutherland (a Queen with a capital Q, if ever there was).

The story is set in New York City and Fire Island in the early-to-mid 1970s, post-Stonewall, long before AIDS became the devastating force that forever changed our world. There is very little plot other than Malone’s tortured seeking of love and Sutherland’s excessive drug consumption, indulgent lifestyle and solipsism.

It’s not an uplifting tale and not a book I’d recommend to a young gay man looking for a positive literary experience. Dancer From The Dance is quite pessimistic and without hope. The lives of the two main characters, especially, lack any spiritual depth; the “dance” of the novel’s title becomes a metaphor for the life they lead. The portrayal of gay people is rather stereotypical and for this reason I am lukewarm on this novel; I am very content with being gay and have no remorse or self-pity about it. It may be possible to identify with our hero Malone and his hopes for romance but his gay world differs so massively from mine. The idolatry of youth and beauty leave little option for the novel’s characters: they either become the old guy at the club, leave New York City, or go out in a blaze of glory – the characters of this book do all three.

Many of the characters are racist and antisemitic but this is the early 70s after all, well before our current PC status quo. The book is written from the viewpoint of an unnamed narrator.

I never really connected with any of the characters and I think the book’s unusual narrative style is one of the reasons. Dancer From The Dance is quite similar in tone, content and era to Larry Kramer’s Faggots, and I sometimes get the plot lines of these two novels slightly mixed up because of this.

Dancer From The Dance has been released numerous times over the last 40 years, each reissue having a different cover:

A few years ago it was announced that gay Hollywood directer Alan Poul would direct the film version of the novel. As far as I can tell this film project never came to pass; I can find very little about it on the Internet except that production was slated for the summer of 2016.

I’ll close with a few quotes from the novel:

Now of all the bonds between homosexual friends, none was greater than that between friends who danced together. The friend you danced with, when you had no lover, was the most important person in your life; and for people who went without lovers for years, that was all they had.

Try not to be self-conscious or so critical. Don’t mope around looking for someone else to make you happy, and remember that the vast majority of homosexuals are looking for a superman to love and find it very difficult to love anyone merely human, which we unfortunately happen to be.

You are doomed to a life that will repeat itself again and again, as do all lives—for lives are static things, readings of already written papers—but whereas some men are fortunate to repeat a good pattern, others have the opposite luck—and you can surely see by now that your life is doomed to this same humiliation, endlessly repeated.

Dancer From The Dance (1978)


Andrew Holleran’s other novels are: Nights in Aruba (1983), Ground Zero (essays) (1988), The Beauty of Men (1996), In September, The Light Changes (stories) (1999), Grief: a Novel (2006), Chronicles of a Plague, Revisited: AIDS and Its Aftermath (2008)

A Wet Ghost Walk Through The Distillery District

We’d been wanting to do a ghost walk of Toronto’s Distillery District for some time so we bought our tickets for the night of July 6th. One figures with a historic place like the Distillery District there’s bound to be some hauntings and a few lost souls lingering about.

The company hosting the walk was The Haunted Walk. They also have offices in Ottawa and Kingston and we have taken their tours while visiting each of these cities. The tours from this company were fun and enjoyable so we thought we’d try out one of the tours a little closer to home.

The Distillery District walk was called Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery. Our guide was fantastic – very personable and his voice was loud and clear. The stories he wove of the creepy happenings in the Distillery District were fascinating – but – the downside to the walk was the torrential rain pelting down on us just as the tour started. Here’s how it went down (literally):

The rain did finally let up and we were able to finish the tour, albeit feeling quite soggy. Post-tour we took refuge and sustenance at CACAO 70 Eatery – nothing like great chocolate to soothe the soul!

It turned into a nice evening just as we were leaving (of course). Here’s a parting shot:

I’d like to do this tour again sometime to get the full spirit of the thing. Hopefully next time the weather gods will have some mercy on us!

“Dear Mama”

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:

Dear Mama:

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,

Michael


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:

TOTC | Letter to Mama Reading | Netflix

More than 30 years after it was published, Armistead Maupin's Letter To Mama is still so powerful that Laura Linney, Ellen Page, and their Tales Of The City co-stars can barely get through reading it without crying

Posted by Netflix on Wednesday, June 12, 2019

To My Departed Friend, Mari-es

Dear Mari-es:

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 & John

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.

Marvin Job

Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019

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.

Shots taken February 9, 2019.

Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019Bloor-Yorkville Icefest 2019

E-cigarettes/Vaping

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?

"Vaping is 95% less likely to kill you, but 98% more likely to make you look like a complete tosser!"

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:

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Seriously????!!!

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If there’s any justice in the world vaping will hopefully prove to be a fad which runs its course. We can hope…

Star Wars & The TSO

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.

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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:

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The audience during Intermission

Performance Schedule

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.

– Very well done, TSO and Sarah Hicks! –

SARStock / Toronto Rocks

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.

Crowd shot

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 SARSMolson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, SARSfest, SARS-a-palooza, the SARS concertThe 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
Sam Roberts
Kathleen EdwardsPlaybill
La Chicane
The Tea Party
Blue Rodeo
Sass Jordan
The Flaming Lips
The Isley Brothers
Justin Timberlake
The Guess Who
Rush
AC/DC
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:

THE CROWD

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).

Crowd shot

THE WEATHER

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!

THE VIBE

Party. Absolute, sheer party. Period.

MY FRIENDS

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:

our gang arriving at sarstock - july 30, 2003
Some of the Molson crew were taking Polaroid pictures of people arriving from the subway and we happened to get our mugs shot as we made our way to the concert grounds.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

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

Guess Who
Randy Bachman, Garry Peterson, Burton Cummings

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…

AC/DC

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 ACDC & crowdAC/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.

SARS-Relief

CONCERT SETLIST

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.

Toronto Rocks DVD cover
SARSTock Concert DVD

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.

Boxing Day

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 ofBoxing2 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. Boxing day concept background, realistic styleOn 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!

Boxing3

Christmas Windows

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:

Land’s End, U.K.

Land’s End is literally the end of the land in England, the very south-west tip. There is no more land west of here until you hit Newfoundland. The scenery here is quite dramatic, to say the least.

I took these shots on September 28, 2018, during my photo tour of Cornwall in the U.K.: