When rants were just rants

19 September 2021

Every weekend on Princess St. between Wellington and Montreal you can find a balding, middle-aged man quoting scripture and warning anybody within earshot about his vengeful god. I only catch snippets as I walk by on my way to the coffee shop or to the pub or to the used record store.

“He will cast you out….”
“The wrath of god is revealed…”
“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria…”
Okay, that last one is from Ghostbusters but you get the idea. This guy is a fundamentalist who apparently sees it as his mission to terrify us all into believing his version of Christianity. Or maybe he just craves attention. Whatever his goal, his reach is minimal and his effect is negligible. Most people see him as someone to be given a wide berth, a sideshow, a curiosity, but imagine if someone gave him a broadcasting system. I’m not talking about religious broadcasts like those hosted by Kenneth Copeland or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. They’re multi-millionaires with TV studios, editing suites and productions teams. No, what I’m saying is imagine Vengeful God Guy could spew his rhetoric into every home with a computer or an iPhone and it wouldn’t cost him a cent. That’s a game-changer. That means that instead of being ignored or brushed aside as a nut, the odds are pretty good he might find a sympathetic ear…or two….or ten. Then imagine that those two or ten “converts” decided they needed to share the misguided messages of their newfound messiah with ten thousand others and it wouldn’t cost them a cent either. Vengeful God Guy’s rants would quickly become a zealot’s version of the “I-told-two-friends” Faberge shampoo commercial from the 70’s. Pretty soon you would have an army of mush-minded fanatics spewing crazy theories about God’s determination to smite the non-believers.

Welcome to Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. That’s what social media has done. It’s given a production team, an editing suite and a broadcasting platform to anybody who wants to say anything.
Unlike actual broadcasters or publishers that must adhere to journalistic principles like truth, accuracy, accountability and impartiality, social media gets a pass. I can literally say, “John Smith stole $50,000 from the Bank,” and I cannot be charged for publishing a false statement. I don’t even need to tell the world who I am when I say it. I can create a fake account with a fake name from a fake country. I can build up followers by paying for them. I can spend money to advertise my crackpot speculations to even more people and I have zero liability for the words that I broadcast.
As the election campaign winds down here in Canada, the main parties are, for the most part, operating within the accepted guidelines of expectations. They stretch the truth. They edit news clips to make themselves sound better or their opponents sound worse but they can’t spew flat out lies. However, their most ardent followers can. They can lie, libel, slander or falsely accuse anyone, without fear of reprisal, as long as they do it on a social media platform. So why aren’t Facebook, Twitter and Youtube doing anything to stop it? Money. They rake in hundreds of billions of dollars on each platform. In order to affect real, significant change, they would need to change section 230 of the American Communications Decency Act. It states that, “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another content provider.”
That’s the golden loophole, the hall pass for idiots, and more than anything else it’s tearing the world apart. Despite being an American law, it literally governs the use of social media across the entire planet. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are American companies, born in Silicon Valley but fostered and cared for by every green-eyed capitalist with a glint in their eye and an innate desire to make money no matter how much damage they wreak upon society.
We know that giant corporations are not suddenly going to accept responsibility for theories published by the unbalanced anti-vaxxers, the hare-brained anti-maskers or the stolen election morons. That would cost millions – even billions – in legal fees. What they could do – what they should do - is change that law so that individuals have to legally stand behind anything they broadcast. You wanna say that left-leaning celebrities participated in a pedophile ring? You’d better be able to back it up or you’re gonna get sued. You wanna say the presidential medical advisor created COVID? Lay out the undisputed facts or you’ll lose your house. That would shut things down in a hurry and it would go a long way to restoring a bit of civility in discourse. Right now, the world is divided between fact-based scientific research and wildly inaccurate conspiracies. Those on the crazy side are emboldened by a law that gives them the unfettered ability to spread the internet’s version of fertilizer; it smells up the neighbourhood, it’s made from bullshit and it cultivates growth.

Now, let’s return to our main character Vengeful God Guy. Yesterday, once again, I walked by him, hearing bits and pieces of his rant as I ran a few errands.
“The destroyer is coming….”
“I will bring upon you a sword….”
“The walls in the 53rd Precinct were bleeding….”
Okay, that last one was Ghostbusters again but my point is that yesterday, I saw him in a different light.
He’s a harmless religious nut; the kind of person my mom used to describe as, “quite a character.” He’s not broadcasting his biblical prophecies. He’s standing in the street shouting words into the ether. I’ve never seen anybody gather around him. His opinions can’t be replayed or shared and he doesn’t chase people down and insert himself into their conversations. When I first saw Vengeful God Guy, a few years ago, I was angry that he was spreading vaguely threatening misinterpretations. Today I see him in the gauzy, gentle light of nostalgia often reserved for bubblegum music or bygone TV series.
“Remember Vengeful God Guy?”
“Yeah. I loved it when he’d start waving the bible like he just scored a game-winning touchdown.”
In a world where people shoot up pizzerias because a crazy woman in Belleville said she heard it was a front for child-stealing, Vengeful God Guy is a welcome distraction.
Let’s hope we soon return to his kind of rants and not the soul-destroying, society-shredding social media tripe that’s currently rending our world into splinters and factions.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s what Vengeful God Guy has been trying to warn us about all this time. I need to go back and listen more closely.





Canada's shame

1 July 2021

For most of my 58 years, I’ve worn the red maple leaf with pride.

I love that we have a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot.

I love that we’re the country that says, “I’m sorry” too much.

I love that our armed forces are known best for international peace-keeping.

I love our flag, our emblem, our two official languages and our vast natural beauty.

And yet today, all I can feel is shame.

It’s a shame born from the brutal reality of colonization by Western Europeans. My grandfather came here after WWI, to escape the crushing poverty of 19th century Scotland. He was not a colonizer…but I still feel it.
It’s a shame that endures because, as a country, we have not properly recognized the damage that colonization did to the indigenous peoples that lived here peacefully for thousands of years. The ancestors of those same men, women and children who once lived in harmony on the plains and in the mountains and along the shores, were forced to endure brutal mistreatment at the hands of our government and at the hands of the Catholic Church. These gentle spirits were considered “savages” and had their culture, their lands and their very children ripped away.
It’s a national shame that started generations before my family arrived in Canada and continued after I had my own children…but I still feel it.

The Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair who is now Chancellor of Queen’s University, headed up our country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2012. When the commission released its report in 2015, Sinclair led the call for the government and the church to:

Release documents surrounding the deaths of indigenous children at residential schools,

Create a register of the deaths,

Plot the locations of the thousands of unmarked graves,

Release financial resources that would, “inform the families of children who died at residential schools of the child’s burial location, and respond to families’ wishes for appropriate commemoration ceremonies and markers, and reburial in home communities where requested.”

To this day, none of that has been done. It took the discovery of 215 poor young souls of the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nations on the site of a residential school followed by 751 unmarked graves of Cowessess First Nations children on the site of another residential school, before either the church or the government would commit to ANY action. It’s a governmental, institutional and Catholic shame and I am none of the above…but I still feel it.

That shame is why I can’t possibly “celebrate” my country today. I can’t possibly sit and watch fireworks or reminisce about national accomplishments. I can’t put out a flag or wear red & white or even sing the national anthem. None of that is appropriate while families grieve.
Patriotism can’t matter while mothers and fathers still wonder where their children are.
Canada as a country, cannot move forward knowing that defenceless, innocent children died alone and terrified and nothing was done to stop it.

And nothing has been done to recognize that.

And nothing is being done to address that.

So today, July 1st, I will honour the dead, recognize the First Nations, and reflect upon the shame because….I still feel it.


You don't get to say 'no'

2 May 2021

Remember when you first realized the stark reality of COVID? For me it was a video, shared by my friend Johnny Pisano. The video was taken by a kid on a BMX bike rolling through an eerily quiet New York City. The streets were empty and as he passed a hospital, you could see refrigerated trucks that were being used to store hundreds of dead bodies. The video was posted to Youtube on April 15, 2020 and Johnny sent it to me shortly afterwards. It hit me like an 18-wheeler. The city that never sleeps was a ghost town and bodies were piled so high, their hospitals and morgues couldn’t hold them. From that point forward, I vowed to do my part to find an end to COVID. What could I do? It was simple really. Wear a mask, stay home and take the vaccine when it became available. Sure it was monotonous and yes I missed my family, and my friends. But never once did I say, “I want my freedom and I don’t care about the rest of the world.” Who would?

Well, unfortunately a small number of Canadians are unwilling to make that simple sacrifice of isolation and vaccination for the greater good. Led by idiot politicians like Randy Hillier, Maxime Bernier and Derek Sloan these people are claiming that their own personal freedoms override the health of their neighbours, their friends and their family. They want the “freedom” to make others sick, to prolong COVID and to refuse the vaccine.
Here’s a quick lesson in community and global health, your freedom of choice ends when it directly impacts the health and wellbeing of others. You don’t get to say “no” to lockdowns or stay-at-home orders and you damn sure don’t get to say “no” to the vaccine.
Every generation born in Canada from the 1946 to 1979 got the smallpox vaccine. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t say no to it. They just got it. It saved millions and it ended smallpox. ENDED IT. Smallpox no longer exists and we have the scars to prove it. Mine is on my right arm. It’s an ugly bump full of irregular ridges, but when I look at it, I don’t wave my fist in anger at the government that insisted upon it; I’m proud of it. I helped to wipe out a disease that could have decimated the world.

If you were born in the late seventies or later, you probably don’t have the scar. Your arm might be pristine and unmarked.  You know why? Because we took one for the team. You owe those of us that came before a debt and it’s time to pay up. Get your COVID vaccine. Don’t wonder if you should, don’t “research” the internet for reasons to avoid it. The work’s been done by men and women who have dedicated their lives to science. Men and women who went to school and studied virology, epidemiology, medicine and public health. They spent tens of thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars becoming experts in how a virus spreads and how to stop it. They didn’t get a meme from the third cousin of a friend and decide they knew everything they needed to know about vaccines. They read books, went to labs, experimented, studied, took exams, tests and sacrificed time so that when COVID arrived on our shores, they could stop it.

In February of 2020, experts at the World Health Organization theorized it would take a year and a half to effect a vaccine. Instead, we had one in 10 months. Now all you have to do is take it. You can’t refuse this. You can’t claim that you know more than the scientists because you don’t. You know much LESS than the scientists. You’ve got one job. Roll up your sleeve and let the doctor, the pharmacist or the med student insert a needle into your deltoid and deliver this miracle of science. You won’t even have a scar to point to when future generations ask, “How did you help to stop COVID?” Instead, you will have the knowledge that you did something to save others. This is your chance to save the world – literally – and all you have to do is roll up your sleeve.
Be a hero to millions.
Save the world.
Get the vaccine.
You don’t get to say “no”.




The River and the Ties that Bind
Dec 11, 2015

31 March 2021

I wish I could recite the details of the first time I heard the thunderous snare crack of “The Ties That Bind”, the song that introduces Springsteen’s 1980 album, “The River”. I wish I could still recall my primal reaction to the joyful crowd noise that enticed me into the car with “Sherry Darling”. I know them now like I know everything and nothing else. I know the anguished sighs of “Drive All Night” and the undaunted pursuit of “Two Hearts”, but that first River experience is a blur of cellophane, black vinyl and the spinning red label of Columbia Records.

By 1979, I was 16, I hated my Dad, I was struggling to be a mediocre student and I was two years into my fascination with Jersey’s Boss. I had raised my fist in defiance with Born to Run. I had listened in a dimly lit bedroom as Darkness on the Edge of Town blasted out a black and white movie full of vengeance, passion and misdirected rage. Those records were new and challenging and otherworldly, but they belonged to friends – they weren’t really mine. I was still reaching, searching for something of my own.

I finally found it in the fall of 1980, on the pages of the Rolling Stone magazine. The article about Springsteen and his new double-album spoke to the person I was and the man I wanted to be. I vividly remember finishing the story and running to my mom with some weak excuse about going to the mall. I drove that ‘75 Plymouth Fury like a Stolen Car to the local record store. Half an hour later, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom with the album on my lap like some ancient, holy tome. The excitement of ownership and discovery attached to that day and to “The River” remains unsurpassed.

The songs reached into the best and worst parts of me. They ripped out my story in pieces; the ponderous love of “Point Blank”, the fractious father-son struggle of “Independence Day”, the raucous beer-fuelled parties of “Ramrod”. It was a time-capsuled, fortune-teller’s crib sheet of my life.

Like many friends from those days, The River faded into the misty world of epic teenage adventures and youthful crushes. Once in a while characters like Dirty Annie would wave to me from the Jackson Cage in a scratchy home-movie flicker but my return was fleeting and lonely. The River, the album that spoke to me when I was surrounded by a crowded future, was mine and mine alone.

In August of 1999 I was reunited with this album by my nine-year-old son. He travelled with me to the Continental Airlines Arena. We camped at Cheesequake State park. We tailgated with the rest of New Jersey in the Meadowlands parking lot and we saw something that changed us both.

“Play Cadillac Ranch Bruce! Play Cadillac Ranch!”

His voice was strong and passionate and belied his age. I fully expected him to crash halfway through the three-hour performance. Instead, he was on his feet or on my shoulders for the entire show; pointing at Little Steven, waving to Clarence and singing along with Two Hearts. Daniel Hunter - whose birth date of April 9, 1990 came 17 years after the release of Greetings from Asbury Park and one year after the break-up of the E Street Band - had given me back the River. Sadly, like the album itself, this story ends on a somber note.

Boys become teens and they grapple with fathers and rules and just plain growin’ up. Fathers used to be teens and they struggle to find the balance between friendship and guidance; support and sympathy. Through all the arguments, the rules, the pain and the tears, we both owned the River.

It was the slim thread that tied and bound us together. It connected me to him when nothing else would. I'm sure the songs spoke to Daniel like an older brother; without the weight and substance of a father’s words. I smiled when I would hear him listening to “The Price You Pay” or “Wreck on the Highway” but when I tried to talk to him about it, the words came back to me in grunts and syllables. One night when the stars were aligned and the winter moon broke down the barriers, he let me into his River.

“You used to love Cadillac Ranch,” I said in passing.

“Yeah….still do. But there’s something about those quiet songs.”

“Something sad,” I asked?

“Yeah. Something…..more”

I nodded. I had worn those 17 year-old shoes. I had strained to find the person I was beneath my insecurity and monumental teenage anxiety and I recognized that struggle in my son. I understood at that precise moment, how a great record can be truly timeless.

A year after that conversation, I split up with his mom. It hadn’t worked for a long time and we both needed to find our paths. Dan blamed me. Still does. I write to him almost every day but I haven’t seen him in a year and half. When we spoke it was awkward and stilted.

I miss him every day.

I maintain a kind of minimal ownership in the River but I’ve given most of my share to Daniel. It’s his now but I cling to it sometimes. Not the sad songs – they carry too much of him and too many of my failures. But when Two Hearts rolls around on my iPOD, I sing along with him; belting out the words and drowning out the pain of his absence.

Today as tickets for the 35th anniversary tour of The River go on sale, this song is on an endless loop in my head.

“You sit and wonder just who's gonna stop the rain
Who'll ease the sadness, who's gonna quiet the pain
It's a long dark highway and a thin white line
Connecting baby, your heart to mine
We're runnin' now but darlin' we will stand in time
To face the ties that bind
The ties that bind
Now you can't break the ties that bind
You can't forsake the ties that bind”

- Bruce Springsteen, “The Ties That Bind” from The River



Take me to The River
Feb 4, 2016

31 March 2021

“Tonight we’re gonna take you to the River……”

The words flowed out over the crowd like the concept itself; smooth and welcome and warm. And if the words were the river, the congregation was once again baptized in rock and roll. For me it was a return to the record that confirmed my faith. Born to Run opened my eyes. Darkness on the Edge of Town asked the hard questions. But The River? The River sealed the deal. It was raucous and raunchy and dark and soulful. It reached into my life and told the stories I didn’t know existed yet. Fathers and sons, husbands and wives, cars, shoes, sex and yes, rock and roll at its most primal.

On Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, arm in arm with the beautiful girl I married and 17,000 other Canadian tramps, we lived it all again and we lived it with narration by the man himself.

One of the things that always drew me to Bruce Springsteen’s live shows was the conversation. The most vivid memory I have of my first show was Bruce, sitting on the edge of the stage at the CNE Grandstand. It was a beautiful Ontario summer night in July of 1984. I was 21 and he was 35. At one point with the band playing quietly behind him, he sat down. His legs dangled over the edge of a stadium-sized framework of scaffolds and plywood. His audience was 25,000 screaming fans but when he started to talk, he was tailgating in the high school parking lot. He was telling us about his family’s first new used car and how it felt when his dad drove it into the driveway. He wasn’t a musical superstar or a songwriting icon. He was your buddy reminiscing about the swirling emotional landscape of a small town. Over the years, those conversations disappeared. I’m not sure why. Maybe he decided we’d heard it all before. Maybe he thought the music said it all. Or maybe he didn’t think about it at all. Whatever the reason, I missed those moments of intimacy. Tuesday night was a return to that Bruce – the guy who opened the curtain on his life. He kicked it off with a rocket-fueled out take from 1980 called “Meet Me in the City” and as the roar of the crowd became a rumble, he told us that the River was the record where he was trying to figure out where he fit in within the broader community. Is it any wonder we connected so completely with these songs and this man? He ripped through “The Ties the Bind”, “Sherry Darling”, “Jackson Cage”, “Two Hearts” and I was transported back to my family home. That bedroom with the white Pearl drum set in the corner, Bose speakers on both sides of the room and posters on every wall. I could actually hear the echoes of my dad yelling at me to turn it down when Bruce gave the band the tempo for “Independence Day”. With Charlie Giordano on the organ, Roy on grand piano and Max’s high hat cinching down the beat – Bruce took the mic and walked out to the front of the stage. He didn’t sit down but it didn’t matter. 30 years and almost 100 shows in, his voice is so familiar to me; it’s like listening to your best friend tell a story. It’s compelling and dramatic and familiar and it lands somewhere south of the heart and north of the soul. “Independence Day was the first song I wrote about fathers and sons. It’s the kinda song that you write when you’re young and you’re first startled by your parents’ humanity. You’re shocked to realize that they had their own dreams and their own desires because all you could see is the adult compromises they’ve had to make. When you’re young you haven’t had to do that yet. I remember the idea that frightened me; the idea of how they seemed locked into a certain world and all you could feel was the desire to escape that world as a teenager and a young man.”

The tears were inescapable. He does that. He finds a way beneath the façade of your public life and pulls out the emotions we don’t show the world. I could see my dad at the kitchen table, my son at his computer and me wandering the years between them.

And that was just side one. Side two kicks off with the singalong “Hungry Heart.” It’s always been a “crowd participation” song but over the last few tours, he’s taken that to a new level by adding crowd surfing to the experience. More singing with “Out in the Street”, some localized contributions to “Crush on You” by the crowd down front and a hilarious “You Can Look” with lots of mugging and hand gestures from Little Steven. I wasn’t sure what to expect with “I Wanna Marry You” but I certainly hadn’t anticipated another conversational prelude. “I wrote this song as a daydream….a sweet little daydream. The kind where you’re standing on the corner in the summer, watching some girl that you’ll never meet walk by and you imagine a whole life with her in 30 seconds. Of course you imagine the easiest life – without consequences. That’s why it’s a song of youthful imagining and of love in all its foolish glory and early tentativeness and all of its perfectness.” It was a stunning re-imagining of this song and a perfect transition to the title track and the cornerstone of the record.

I have to say that throughout the whole show I was impressed with the normally sedate Toronto crowd. From the first note to the final wave, they were all in with the vocals, with additional lighting courtesy of cell phones and appropriate respect during the slow songs.

“The River” itself was brilliant. The interplay between Jake on sax and Bruce on the harp floated memories of Scooter and The Big Man but that’s not to take anything away from Jake – it’s just part of Clarence’s infinite shadow. Jake’s energy and commitment to every song was fresh and invigorating. He has definitely earned his own spot in the legend that is the E Street Band.

Time for side three. If side one is the call to join the party and side two is friends, mayhem and laughter, side three is when things turn serious. “Point Blank” was stunning and Roy’s piano – the sound that is maybe most identifiable with the Springsteen canon – was absolutely heart-wrenching. “Cadillac Ranch” piled everybody into the backseat and onto the lip of the stage. “I’m a Rocker” turned up the stereo. “Fade Away” was the harmony-laden soul that got everyone’s attention and the ghost-filled “Stolen Car” stopped us cold.

Finally we reached side four and again – we’re dancing and mugging with the roadhouse rocker “Ramrod”. It’s the last bit of untethered exuberance before the trio of “Price You Pay”, “Drive All Night” and “Wreck on the Highway”.

I’ve always said that perhaps the biggest strength of the E Street Band is their incredible sense of dynamics. Each member knows when to step forward and when to drop it down to a whisper. These three songs brought that home with passion and drama. “Price You Pay” is a mid-tempo rant led by The Professor’s piano riff, pounding out the fury of the main character as he swears to, “…tear it down and throw it away.” From that hammering backbeat the band falls away and we’re left with the piano and Max’s quiet rimshot pleading with us to “Drive All Night.” This – according to almost everyone I spoke to - was the diamond in a night full of gems. In ten minutes of musical perfection it builds from desolate harmonized misery to a plaintive full-band wail. It was amazing to watch the crowd - at first seated - rise with the crescendo of the band to one of the loudest ovations of the night. The final song, “Wreck on the Highway” was the beautiful ending; a denouement to one of the best musical stories I’ve witnessed and before the last note, Bruce summed it up this way, “The River was about time. Time comes us all and The River was about the ticking of that time and how we each have a finite amount to do our job, to raise our family, to do something good.”

That would have been enough for mere mortals but with emotions raw and bare we were treated to 12 more songs that ran the length and breadth of Springsteen’s career. “Promised Land”, “Brilliant Disguise” and the Isley Brothers “Shout” were among the standouts. Then again, it all stands out.

Later as I was chatting with friends I was asked several times how the show ranked for me and to be honest I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t place the show in a list because for me – it was too personal. The River was my record. I owned it for so many years and later, when I took my son to his first Bruce show, it became his. When I first met Ginette I gave it to her and this year, she gave it back to me. How do you rank something that is, for all intents and purposes, an heirloom? It stands alone and separate. It runs through us as a stark and glorious reminder that music has a power to transform and to heal and to renew.


The cost we pay for love

4 March 2021

It’s a strange kind of notion, to measure life by those we’ve lost but it’s a path I’ve had to travel in the last year. I’ve often said that I'm a lucky man. I found love when I was sure I didn’t deserve it. I found health when I thought hadn’t earned it. I found success amidst failure, stability after turmoil and ultimately I put it all down to luck.
It wasn’t really; or it might have been. I honestly don’t really know. So much of our journey is based on chance. You could be sitting at home, feeling desperate and alone and somebody offers you a concert ticket. You’re pretty certain it’s a bad idea. You can think of six reasons why you shouldn’t go, but you go anyway. You meet your future wife and you meet your future life. It’s chance. It’s choice.  And yes, it’s luck.


This year, I haven’t felt so lucky. I lost my mom on September 6th and then; I lost the father of a great friend, a childhood hockey buddy, a musical brother and most recently, a woman who, with her husband, set a benchmark for love and parenting that I couldn’t quite grasp but a benchmark that I always tried to reach. Vicky Mawhinney was the quiet, loving, beating heart of a family I’ve known since 2001. Vicky opened her home and her heart to Joe D’Urso and I at the insistence of her daughter. Vicky had never met us. Her daughter Lisa had never met us. Yet, when we showed up on her doorstep - on the Fife side of the Firth of Forth - she hugged us and suddenly we were home.

Home for a few days in the middle of a tour.

Home for my first birthday outside Canada.

Home with cake and heavy cream and whisky and Sunday roast on a Monday night. That’s what Vicky did – she gave you home. She did it for her beloved Billy. She did it for her three daughters and one son. She did it for her 11 grandkids.

So yeah – I felt lucky that I was welcomed into hearth and home in Fife, Sweden, Wakefield, Warwickshire, Farnham, Ireland, Amsterdam

Then, after all of this loss, I didn’t.

But here’s the thing. I AM lucky. I’m lucky that I have people I love and people who love me in Canada, the US, Mexico, Scotland, England, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Australia. That’s more luck and love than I could have ever imagined; certainly more than I deserve and it means the network of people I care about has grown exponentially. When you increase your circle of loved ones, you increase the chances that you’ll lose someone you love.

I’m sad today and if I’m honest, I’ve been sad more than happy for months but I’ve come to a realization. Death can knock you down to your knees and just as you get up, it can knock you down again.

And again.

And again.

Each loss hurts like hell, but under the pain, under the seething anger and grief is an understanding that anything of value comes with a price. Grief is the cost you pay for love.


Losing weight on a run

4 March 2021

He remembered a time when he and the road was his friend. A time when the sound of his shoes against the pavement was the backbeat to his favourite song; when the wind and the cars and the sounds of the city combined into the white noise background of a novel he was writing in his head.
Those days were gone; disappeared into the vortex of youth and “time served”.
Now the road was a bully that taunted him. He slapped it, and it slapped back twice as hard. He looked for the end and saw only an oily, menacing scar that stretched past the horizon. And still, he ran.
He ran because it was the shortcut to self-esteem. He ran because despite the fear and the pain, he knew when he found the finish line, he would feel better. He ran because he felt like he was losing everything else – his wife, his friends, his cat, his family, himself.
So when he passed the woman at the 5 km mark, he had no idea how her words would affect him. He had no idea that two simple words would lift him up and remind him he was on the right path and heading in the right direction.
“Good job,” she said.

It wasn’t patronizing or exaggerated. It wasn’t overt encouragement or sarcasm. It was just acknowledgement of his effort.
“Thanks,” he said with a mixture of exhaustion and gratitude.

His posture changed imperceptibly and his pace increased slightly; not because she was attractive and he was vain. She was and he was – but it was something else. He thought about it for a moment and then he realized that for months now, he’d been carrying the burden of questionable health and pharmaceutical side-effects on his own. He’d been walking or skating or running with a lead-weighted belt of pills and uncertainty wrapped around his waist and it had slowed him down to a standstill.
And yet, this stranger on Union St. had temporarily lifted the weight and revealed a truth. He wasn’t alone. He had chosen to deal with things on his own but even people he’d never met could help if he let them in. Maybe his fear of the road and his weakness of will had made him more open to suggestion. Maybe the warmth of a spring morning had exposed him to a different mindset. Or maybe just a kind word from a passing citizen was enough. Whatever the reason, he finished his run with a smile; much lighter than when he’d started.
“Note to self,” he thought, “stay open to kindness and it’s much more likely to find you.”
Maybe he could renew that friendship with the road afterall.



Black Dog

4 March 2021

I’m struggling to understand why I’m so emotional about the death of man I never knew and whose music I only encountered occasionally. If I am completely honest, I’m not struggling with why. I’m struggling to explain it and struggling mightily with the need to bleed it out into words from me to you.

Last night, the body of Scott Hutchison was found in the Firth of Forth – an inlet that brushes up beside Edinburgh and leads out to the North Sea. Scott was the singer and songwriter for Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish band I was introduced to by one of my best friends, Billy Crawford. The music was evocative and catchy and deep and I connected to it for reasons I didn’t really understand. Maybe initially the connection was simply because it meant something to a friend. Then Billy sent me a video of “Scottish Winds”. It’s a song that captures the fierce pride of my family heritage.

Come gather in my lungs Scottish wind
Belt out your blackest poems
As the sea around you sings
When that drone takes to the air
A single note to raise my hair
Carry songs beyond my lungs
Cold Scottish wind

In a single verse Scott tells a story that has lived within me since I was a wee’un, when the drone of the pipes was the only thing that would silence my sick and tired infant soul.

Since I heard that song, I’ve been a fan. I’ve followed their releases, downloaded their music and tried, unsuccessfully, to see them in concert. On Wednesday, Scott’s bandmates sent out an urgent message for him to come home and for others to watch out for him, “He may be in a fragile state and may not be making the best decisions for himself right now.”

That, more than beautiful Celtic melodies and passionate appeals to my ancestry, got my attention. If you’ve read through my musings here, you know I’ve suffered from depression in the past. These days I feel as if I’ve conquered it for the most part. Sure, some days the black dog is scratching at the door but when he does, I turn up the music, turn on the computer, belt out the words, belt out the paragraphs and eventually, he goes away. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, on one day in particular I stood, much as I assume Scott must’ve done, at the edge of some dark billowy waves. I’ve never told this story but knowing that the world has lost another tortured, beautiful soul, maybe it’s time.
One of the things that depression does is coax you into isolation. You can fight and tear away at the walls but that takes strength and the black dog weakens you. Often it’s easier just to give in and leave the walls to stand against the world. On this day, my friend Ron had come by and convinced me to get out of bed and make an effort. With his help I battered away at the walls and walked out. That day we talked about music and my band and he helped me come up with a strategy. The first thing I’d do was use my connections to accomplish something for me and for my band. It was just a blues band that played small gigs but when we did, it lifted my spirits and Ron knew it. Rehearsals were the hard part and I often let the band down, leaving them in a lurch. But they were patient. Ron had seen us play and together we formed a plan.

I arranged for the band to appear on Breakfast Television; partly to thank the band for its patience and partly to promote the band, play more, and keep the black dog at bay. So I booked the show. We got up in the middle of the night, piled into a van and drove to Toronto. We arrived at the studio, loaded in and awaited soundcheck. But something wasn’t quite right. The floor manager was whispering to somebody else and looking our way. As it turned out, I had the dates wrong. We were actually scheduled for the next day’s spot. I begged and pleaded with the band that WAS scheduled and they rightly refused to give up their spot. My band was furious with me. Some had taken time from work. Others had rearranged plans. Friends and family were getting up early to watch. Now, none of that would happen. No TV, embarrassing explanations and on top of it all, we had to bail on our original commitment because not everyone was available the next day.

As I write those words, I realize how trivial it all really was. It wasn’t life or death. And yet, it felt like that because my mental health was compromised. I packed my kit into the van and then went round to the driver, “I’m staying here.”


“Yep, I’m not going home with you guys. I’ll get a ride or something. Have to work this out.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. I’ll call once I have this resolved.”

I had no intention of resolving it. No resolution was really possible. We wouldn’t get another shot (we actually did) and my band was probably going to dump me (they didn’t).

As I left the studio, the black clouds were gathering inside and invading every corner of my thought process; refusing to give way to the light. I walked and walked until I reached Queens Quay in Toronto. I had a friend who lived nearby. I stood at a phone booth and thought about calling him….but how could I admit this colossal screw up? This was before cell phones so I certainly couldn’t call Ron. Instead I walked to the water and found a quiet and unattended pier. I stood staring into the black, rolling surface of Lake Ontario. The sun had only peaked out from the horizon and the day had barely begun. I was alone. I stepped over the fencing and leaned back against it. I could feel the frigid air rising up from the water. It was early May and while the sky was warm, ice had only been gone from the lake for a few weeks. I thought about how cold it would feel enveloping me. I would probably just start swimming, get numb, give in and drift down. Nobody around to save me. This would be best. I stood in that same place for what felt like hours contemplating the only end I could see. The only end the black dog allowed me to see. Around me I could hear the city beginning to wake up and somewhere through the sticky tar of depression, I was reminded of another day; a day in my youth when life was full of promise. On THAT day Ron and I had walked through my hometown at dawn watching an entire town come alive and reach out into a new day. I had seen beauty back then. Beauty in the commonplace. Beauty in friendship. It felt as if life was stretched out before me. That one, single fading memory of life, love and friendship saved me. It woke me up somehow and I stepped back over the fence. I walked for a few more hours before finally catching a bus home.

I was lucky and perhaps not as deeply affected by depression as Scott Hutchison or the hundreds of others who give in to the blackness.

I don’t know if it helps for others to understand that you can rise above it and you can keep the black dog away from the door. I DO know that without friends, in isolation, it’s easier to allow yourself to be swallowed up.

If you know somebody that is suffering – don’t give up on them. Reach out even if they don’t or won’t engage. Keep reaching, keep talking, keep loving. It helps even if it feels like it doesn’t. It gets through even if it feels like the walls are impenetrable. It can save someone even if it feels like they are beyond redemption. Even if you’re two hundred miles away.

And thank you in advance, Scottish wind……


And the whisper to my mouth, soft Scottish winds
Just enough to say I love you
To the girl who keeps me sane
Take the stupid things I've said
Blow them miles and miles away
Thank you in advance, Scottish wind
Thank you in advance, Scottish wind

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