No more running on the Backstreets

4 February 2023

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered “Backstreets”, the Bruce Springsteen fan magazine, but I can say that whenever that was, my reaction was simple and direct; somebody gets me.

Being a fan of Bruce Springsteen always felt bigger somehow. It wasn’t just an obsession with a look or a sound. It was discovering an artist who knew me, knew my friends and knew the things that gave us joy or caused us pain. Realizing that a man like Charles R. Cross, the original editor of Backstreets, was willing to dedicate his effort, his money and his time to this single subject gave validation to my passion for all things Bruce. To so many of us, Springsteen wasn’t just a musician with a dedicated following like the Grateful Dead or The Beatles or Neil Diamond. He was a reason to believe. As a teenager, his stories of fathers and sons resonated with truth, anguish and understanding. As a young man stumbling through the hardness of this world, he seemed to understand the monotony of working to live and the realities we faced as husbands, fathers, and friends. What’s more; Backstreets knew it too. Charles Cross and later Chris Phillips, the editor that took over for Charles, gave a voice to that connection. They were the mayors of a community that offered safe harbour to all who connected to Springsteen’s music in the same way.

My subscription started sometime after my first show in July of 1984. Of course, that was long before the space-age immediacy of today’s information consumption and I distinctly remember waiting impatiently for each magazine to arrive in my mail box. Those glossy pages were full of sweat-drenched photos and stories of mythical performances. They fed into my own personal land of hope and dreams while I worked nights in a factory and stole time on the beach during the day. Each month when Backstreets arrived, I poured over every word. I marvelled at the tales of Bruce showing up at local clubs in New Jersey and I was amazed at the details of shows that included setlists, running times and a passionate recitation of the live performances as well as reviews of the records. As much as Backstreets was a fan magazine, it was well-written, professional and never failed to turn a critical eye if one was required.

In 1989, when Charles Cross decided to publish a book called “Backstreets - Springsteen, the Man and His Music,” I was first online to buy it. Like the magazines that were still arriving in the mail, I took in every word and photo with exhilaration akin to an actual Springsteen show. In 1995, that book became a road atlas of sorts as my buddy Tim and I took the seven-hour drive from Southeastern Ontario to the Jersey Shore. We had tickets to see Clarence Clemons at the Stone Pony and that matte-black, hardcover book was going to be our tour guide to Springsteen’s roots. The book had a place of honour and importance between the two front seats of Tim’s 1990 Miata, as we drove south through Syracuse, Binghamton, the Poconos, across the Delaware Water Gap, and into Northern Jersey. We went straight to the Stone Pony in Asbury Park to grab our tickets to see The Big Man, only to discover that the show had been cancelled. We were devastated to lose the opportunity to see Clarence and just maybe, a chance to see Bruce make one of his legendary impromptu bar appearances. The person running the Pony box office that day could see our disappointment and they went above and beyond; calling the Tradewinds Club in Sea Bright to reserve us two tickets to see some guy named Joe Grushecky the next night. “Bruce produced his new album,” he told us. “You never know, he just might show up.”

Of course, Springsteen DID show up to play with his buddy Grushecky we had the night of our young lives. We also toured through Freehold, Rumson, Long Branch and Asbury Park – all with the help of that hardcover book.

When I read Chris Phillips editorial – his final editorial that tells the story of why he’s decided to shutdown Backstreets for good – I immediately reached for that book. It still has the hand-written notes and phone numbers from that momentous weekend. Etched into the bottom of the acknowledgments page are numbers for Backstreets headquarters, the Stone Pony box office and a number for Light of Day founder Bob Benjamin. Deeper into the pages I discovered even more. Charles Cross had gone to the painstaking detail of gathering and corroborating setlists for every Springsteen performance from those very early days up to and including the Human Rights Now tour in 1988. I had gone to the slightly less painstaking detail of highlighting any of those shows that I’d seen or that lived within the bootleg recordings of my record collection. Last night, I must’ve spent an hour just pouring over the pages of that book and remembering my journey from then to now. It’s a journey that includes booking sellout Light of Day Canada shows in my hometown of Kingston, volunteering for Light of Day in Jersey, managing my friend Joe D’Urso, being in the “We Take Care of Our Own” video and getting my own Bruce nickname from the man himself. I’ve told many of those stories on these pages and I’ll continue to tell them as long as people will listen but each time I do, I harken back to that connection with Backstreets and I wonder if any of it would’ve happened if I hadn’t discovered my own community within its pages.

It’s no wonder then, that after reading Chris’s well-written and thought-provoking treatise on his own feelings and his decision, I was emotional. In the wake of this loss, I’m left with two distinct sentiments. The first and most prevalent is an overwhelming sense of sadness – as if a good friend had just shared his terminal diagnosis. The second recalls that response from nearly 40 years ago when I discovered Backstreets – somebody still gets me.
All the best to Chris, Charles, the current and former staff of Backstreets, and to all those who like me, feel as if they’ve lost a good friend. See you down the road apiece.


The price of a promise

24 July 2022

Last week, as thousands of Springsteen fans sat staring in astonishment at “dynamic prices” on computer screens wondering how Bruce could let this happen, it felt as if a promise was broken. We’ll return to that theme in a moment. First a question. How is “dynamic pricing” even a thing? It’s a term that sadly, most Springsteen fans have become intimately familiar with as we tried to buy tickets to the his 2023 tour. In short, Ticketmaster the ticket-selling monopoly, put a process in place that increases the price of tickets based on demand. As thousands of people logged on to buy tickets and waded through the electronic queue, they were presented with tickets that were outrageously overpriced. The examples are too numerous to count: $10,419 for section 130, Row L at Amalie Arena in Tampa, $5113 for rear standing room in Minnesota or $1968 for rear floor seats in Boston. These are not reseller prices. These are jacked-up, overvalued tickets being sold by the company that has partnered with Bruce Springsteen to sell his shows.

Ticketmaster’s “defense” is that they instituted this process to eliminate third party resales. They’re painting themselves as our concert-going saviour but they’re the devil incarnate.  As for Springsteen’s defense? Crickets. The deafening silence coming from Bruce and his management team has fans fuming and feeling betrayed but again, more on that later.
First, let’s talk about “dynamic pricing.” I’m sure Ticketmaster employed a high-priced marketing team to brainstorm that particular euphemism but this is price gouging plain and simple. Price gouging is a practice that is outlawed in a majority of jurisdictions in North America and around the world. It’s usually seen and prosecuted by law enforcement, after natural disasters when demand for essential goods or accommodations far exceeds the supply. I can almost hear the executroids in the TM offices now:
We’re just capitalizing on demand.
It’s a market-driven economy.
Concerts aren’t essential.

And hell no.

They’re profiteering on the backs of a global community who, for the last 28 months, has been denied a soul-enriching, life-affirming activity. I used to love the way Bruce himself explained the concert-going experience. He said that in the hours before and after a show, nothing exists inside the venue but for those two and half hours when the band is on stage and the crowd is in place, a kind of alchemy occurs in which the artist and the fans come together to make something ethereal and magical. You’ll note that I said I used to love this description. Lately it feels phony. It’s an antiquated notion miles removed from the days when he would hire a “man in black” to wander the upper reaches of every stadium, finding people with the worst tickets in the house, and upgrading them to the front row. It seems he’s become so detached from his fan base that he either doesn’t care or can’t be bothered. The financial exploitation that Ticketmaster is imposing and that Springsteen is tacitly permitting verges on criminal. It’s foolish to think he’s unaware. He’s a well-read man. His manager Jon Landau is too. His recent induction to the rock and roll hall of fame – a significant accomplishment for a manager - wasn’t achieved by ignoring public reaction. They both have significant culpability for what’s been happening. Last year when Bruce re-opened Broadway, he told his audience, “I am here tonight to provide proof of life.” Well Bruce, where is your proof of compassion, your proof that you understand our sense of betrayal, your proof that you’re not just another artist trying to capitalize on the people that gave you a career?

When I first saw Springsteen in 1984, he was so good, I bought a ticket for the next night’s show too. The price of those tickets was $18.00 each.
In 1999 when the reunion tour happened, I took my 9-year-old son to Continental Airlines arena in Jersey. The price of those tickets was $67.50 each.
In 2009, I took my beautiful Ginette to her first Springsteen show. The tickets were £55.00 ($102.00 CAD). No price gouging, no profiteering and each show was transcendent and reassuring somehow; as if the troubles of the world could be solved in one place by one guy singing about the Promised Land. It’s a naïve concept but we all need that type of reassurance from time to time; never more than during the height of COVID. Like many I struggled with the loss and the isolation as the pandemic raged on, but one day in May, as I was travelling the empty streets back and forth to the office, I felt hope rise up inside me. I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s show “From My Home to Yours” on E Street Radio. In one of the early episodes, he said something that changed my outlook, “When this experience is over, I am gonna throw the wildest party you have ever seen, and you, my friends, are all invited.”
My emotions rose to the surface as I heard those words. Live music is a vital part of who I am and COVID had snatched it away without notice and with no indication it would ever return. Then, here comes the icon of my rock and roll heart assuring me that someday soon, the pounding backbeat that has nourished my soul for 50 years would resume and that he would lead the charge. I imagined that first show and how he would step to the microphone with a smile three stages wide and that familiar Fender Esquire strapped across his chest. I could hear the crowd rising to meet him in sheer joy and exhilaration. I could literally feel the pre-show anticipation rising up within me. On that day, with those words, Bruce made a promise to me and to the rest of E Street Nation.
I sincerely hope that during this relentless silence, he’s taking his time and formulating a plan to make it right. The logistics are complex but not impossible and the first show doesn’t happen until February of 2023; plenty of time to reset things and get it right. Plenty of time to bring that train back into the station, re-load all the saints and sinners, the losers and winners, and move on down the tracks to the Land of Hope and Dreams. The longer the silence rages, the more likely we are to feel as if that promise he made on the radio has been broken and if that happens, we’ll just have to cash in a few of our rock and roll dreams and find our redemption someplace else.




Missing our LOD friends

10 March 2022

I was on my way to work and doing okay, until I heard the first chords of Racing in the Street. I’m not sure why it was that song at that time, but suddenly I was fighting an overwhelming urge to ditch the day job and head to the Shore. By the time Bruce started singing about his ’69 Chevy with a 396, I desperately wanted to turn around. I wanted to call Ginette and tell her to put her make up on and fix her hair up pretty. I wanted to coax that red Rogue south towards I-81. To be honest, I don’t think the car would’ve needed much convincing. I swear it could find its way to Asbury Park without anything more than the occasional combination of accelerator and brake and a stop or two at a toll booth along the way.

I stared up at the traffic lights forever. Beyond them, the four-lane blacktop was beckoning. An impatient driver behind me shattered my daydream with his horn. I took one last look up towards the 401, shook it off, finished my coffee and resumed my commute.

Missing the Light of Day Foundation’s annual fundraising weekend in Asbury Park would be so much easier if it was just about the music. We’ve missed concerts before. Hell, we’ve even missed surprise appearances by Bruce Springsteen before. It’s disappointing but it’s nowhere near the sense of detachment we’re both feeling since we decided not to attend Light of Day for the first time since 2008. For 14 years, Ginette and I have driven that dusty road from Kingston to Asbury to hear some great music and raise money for Parkinson’s research. It was one of the first things I wanted her to experience when we met. I talked endlessly about how I’d been along for the ride since the beginning when music manager Bob Benjamin, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 38, decided to have a birthday party and instead of asking for presents he threw a party and asked for donations to Parkinson’s research. I talked about my friendship with Joe D’Urso; one of the few musicians who’s been at every single Light of Day show. Mostly I talked about being surrounded by a sense of community and purpose; all set to a Jersey Shore soundtrack. For that first trip, I put together a Jersey road trip playlist that included not just Bruce but Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky, John Eddie and Willie Nile. Springsteen – who so often jumped onstage with his buddy Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers - didn’t show up that first year but Ginette was hooked anyway. From that point forward, Light of Day in Asbury Park was permanently etched into our calendar. A few years later, we went to Light of Day Canada in Niagara Falls. Meeting Dave Rotella changed everything. His enthusiasm for the cause and his passionate love of music made it easy to say yes to volunteering. That weekend, we drove emcee Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos to Toronto for a TV interview. Over the next 48 hours, Vinnie became our friend and our “agent”. He told the powers that be in Jersey, “You have to bring Gord and Ginette down to Asbury”. With Vinnie’s endorsement we ended up working at the legendary Stone Pony. That added a different perspective to the weekend. We were volunteer stage managers. We lined up performers, made sure each band got on and got off at the assigned times and generally pitched in wherever we could. We started at 6pm and finished at 1am and never sat down for a minute but we loved it. Over the next few years, we put in the work and drank in the love. We had breakfast with Joel Plaskett, dinner with Dave Hodge and late-night drinks with Jamie, Danny, Peter, Joe, Hans, Willie, Jenn, Johnny, Jorgen, and Billy. By now, the weekend had morphed into four days but as the event grew, so did the connections. Charles and Kathy, Jake, Michele, Big Dee, J.R. – all people I now consider friends. And each year, that sense of community flourished. We were raising money and awareness and eventually we were going to beat Parkinson’s. In the words of the great Willie Nile, “Once we’re done with Parkinson’s we’ll move on to the next cause and we’ll kick ITS ass.”

After several years of this, it only made sense that we’d try running a Light of Day right here in our hometown. So, we did. Supported by our friends and artists like Joe D’Urso, Willie Nile, Miss Emily, Kent Nicholson, Steve Earle and Southside Johnny, we hosted Light of Day Kingston for five consecutive years. Laura and Candy came from Maryland and Florida, Frankie drove from Niagara, Tony and Bob came up from LOD headquarters in New Jersey, Bill came from Ottawa and Sammy came from Toronto. Vincent Pastore even made the trip up from NYC to host in our second year. I can close my eyes right now and access a looping film clip memory of Vinnie coming across the street from his hotel to the venue, walking through the doors of the BLUMartini and saying, “Gord, what a beautiful hotel! I opened the curtains and bam, I’m looking out at freakin’ Lake Ontario.” It still makes me laugh.

In January of 2020 we went back to Jersey for the 13th time as a couple. It felt familiar and fresh, new and comforting all at the same time. The world was whispering in the background about some strange virus but we were focused on using the power of music to end an incurable, progressive disease. As ever, the drive home was filled with new music, new stories and old love. We had no idea that the 2020 show would be a reference point for the next two years.
“I haven’t seen a concert since Light of Day,” became a refrain as we ZOOMED or livestreamed or Facetimed. We talked about how good it would feel once we could finally get together again and we hoped for a break in the COVID isolation. And then it happened. Sort of.  We could travel again. Kind of.
In early September I booked the Berkeley Hotel for January and I crossed my fingers, but Omicron moved Light of Day to March and moved the potential of a soul-saving trip to the Shore from an almost sure thing to a near impossible thing.

Knowing the very distinct possibility that a positive test could either strand us in Watertown or cost us a border-imposed fine of $5,000 each, we pulled the plug.
Since then, we’ve gone about our daily routines and we’ve waited for spring and we’ve tried to ignore the impending sense of missing out; until Racing in the Street.

I guess I do know why it was that song at that time after all. Road trips are what Ginette and I do best and of all the road trips we’ve taken, 401 to 81 to 380 to 80 to the Garden State Parkway feels almost like the road home. From the minute we pull up to the hotel, to the minute we leave, we’re surrounded by people we love and people who love us. We can walk into the Stone Pony or the Wonderbar or Asbury Roastery or McCloone’s and see as many smiling, familiar faces as we can in downtown Kingston. That feeling is irreplaceable and this weekend, that feeling will be temporarily missing.
For those of you that do make it to the Shore, have a Jameson’s at the back bar in the Pony for us and take a minute or two to remember just how Goddamned lucky we are to be part of this community.  Where else can you be surrounded by people who travel hundreds or thousands of miles to sing arm-in-arm and put a little money in the kitty for a good cause?
To paraphrase that guy from Jersey:
Tonight, tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way, mister, you best keep
'Cause Light of Day’s here and the time is right
For racin' in the street.


The Other Kind

4 March 2022

Lately I’ve been thinking about a particular Steve Earle lyric.

“There are those that break and bend, I’m the other kind.”

On March 1st of 2022 Miss Emily was nominated for a Juno in the Blues Album of the Year category.

For the first time in three years, I missed the live announcement; my friend Chris, a Toronto news reporter, messaged me about it so I immediately pulled up the livestream. I fast-forwarded through the categories until I found the right one. When I saw it, the emotions rose to the surface; not because Emily was getting national recognition or realizing a dream. Not even because it was about damn time. No, I got emotional because, despite everything that’s happened, Emily’s stubborn refusal to accept defeat had been vindicated.
The last two years has been a tough road.
It started with so much promise. On the evening of February 2nd, 2020, Miss Emily won two Maple Blues Awards: Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year as well as the Sapphire Blues Video Award for “Hold Back the River”. The celebration went well into the following morning. We toasted, we laughed, we cried and we hugged a thousand people. Over the next few days, we were inundated with media requests and offers to play. Interviews, phone calls, meetings, even some label interest. It was all happening the way it was supposed to when a 20-year overnight sensation finally gets recognized for her immense talent and her unparalleled work ethic. Anticipation and excitement coloured every conversation.

Sadly, we all know how the rest of this story goes. Six weeks later the world shut down. The cancellations didn’t happen immediately. Tentative dates and might-happen promises kept us hanging on for a month or two. At one point, I was so weary of fielding and responding to cancelled shows, that I just broke down. I couldn’t call Emily one more time to tell her yet another festival was cancelled. I waited a day or two and then broke the news. Her response was resolute and surprising. “I knew it was coming but COVID is not going to stop us. It’s just going to delay us for a bit.”
Hearing her steadfast resolve reminded me of a different challenge we’d faced in 2017, just prior to announcing the CD release shows at the Isabel. Em was in Newfoundland and she called me in tears. Another big local show had announced that they were going on sale, putting the successful launch of our show in jeopardy. These CD release shows weren’t just any concerts. We were promoting them ourselves which meant the costs were born by Emily and if they didn’t sell well, she would end up on the hook for a significant amount of money. I offered up several solutions. We hadn’t announced the shows to the public yet so we could pare it down to a single show and sell the hell out of that. Maybe we could move to a different date or even a different city. Belleville? Picton? We still had some flexibility. Em listened and absorbed and, as she often does, she took a little time to think about it. The next morning, she called me back. The tears had been replaced by determination. The shaky voice was now strong and clear. “We’re doing this and we’re going to sell out both shows.” How could I argue? This woman who had every right to be upset or concerned had simply decided she would persevere. And she did. We sold out both shows. We sold a ton of CD’s and we turned what could’ve been defeat into the foundation for an appearance at the Blues Summit in Toronto, which turned into our best summer ever, which resulted in Female Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and the inaugural Sapphire Blues Video Award.
So after telling her about yet another cancelled show and then hearing, “this won’t stop us,” I believed it. But make no mistake COVID continued to destroy our plans. It turned a new studio album into a live album. It turned festivals into livestreams and it turned band rehearsal into group-texts and email threads. We were battling a hurricane of bad timing. Even a brief ray of hope for summer shows in 2021 gave way to more cancellations, more maybe-next-years and more disappointment. Still, as much as COVID pushed her backwards, Emily just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Then came the personal bombshell. Em’s relationship was ending. We talked a lot during this time and despite the devastation and shock, she never failed to finish every conversation with some version of, “This will only make me stronger.”

Her words and her attitude inspired me. Each time I felt as if COVID was a burden, or my own life was a bit less than stellar, I thought of the woman who had stared down and overcome more challenges in two years, than most of us face in a decade. So, when we decided to submit “LIVE at the Isabel” for Juno consideration I was hopeful. Her resolve was undeniable. Even if the Junos didn’t come knocking this time, they would come eventually…and they did. That’s the thing about Emily; she builds belief and confidence, which turns into positive action, which inevitably becomes success.

We all go through difficult times.

We’re all confronted with obstacles.

We all react differently as the world appears to crumble around us.

In the face of relentless misfortune, it’s hard to fault those who break or bend.

That’s why I marvel at Miss Emily.

She’s the other kind.



Home for a rest in Asbury Park

9 January 2022

Originally written Jan. 9, 2018. Updated Jan. 9, 2022

I'm a sap for the most part. It doesn’t take much to start the waterworks; sometimes it’s just a few words, sometimes it’s a perfectly written letter and sometimes it’s a song. This song took a few replays but eventually the all-star version of “Home for a Rest” had me smiling around the tracks of my tears.

But maybe not for the reason you’d think.

John Mann, was the lead singer and one of the songwriters for Spirit of the West. He co-wrote “Home for a Rest.” In 2013, John was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. He died on November 20, 2019 at 57. Whenever I watch the documentary about his journey called “Spirit Unforgettable” I'm a puddle. It culminates with John’s final concert, recorded at Massey Hall. Throughout the film, we watch mournfully as John’s memories – his life – are erased by this horrible disease. Despite that, you can’t help but see the positive and poignant effect that playing and singing music had on him.

In 2017, when Alan Doyle posted a video of “Home for a Rest” on social media, I knew it would be difficult to watch. The video was from a benefit concert for John at The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver and it included many of John’s musical friends singing his signature song. I remember, when I sat down to watch this, I was prepared to be sad but surprisingly, I didn't cry right away. Instead, I found myself smiling and as soon as it finished, I teed it up again; still no tears. Something was compelling me to watch it again and again and as I did, I was bombarded by memories. It took me all the way back to May 1, 1985 and my short time at Kingston radio station, CKLC.  I can vividly recall the palpable anticipation in the station as we awaited the delivery of “Tears Are Not Enough”, the all star Canadian answer to "We are the World". I was working production that day and it was my job to transfer the record to a “cart” – essentially an 8-track tape that we used to broadcast music in those days. I put the song on the cart and ran it into the studio for Jim Elyot who introduced the song and played it for the rest of Kingston. It was the first time I remember feeling as if I was part of something that would help someone in need and help them through music.

Since those days, I’ve given a lot of my time to Light of Day, a cause that uses music to raise money and awareness about Parkinson's disease. Ginette and I are proud to be a small part of helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for people suffering with this progressive and incurable illness. Along the way, we’ve gained a second family of like-minded souls. Normally at this time of year, we'd be getting ready to return to Asbury Park for Light of Day's Winterfest. It's a time for us to hang out with hundreds of very cool people, see dozens of bands, sing until we're hoarse and renew ourselves with a sense that together, as a group we’re making a difference with music.

Watching “Home for a Rest” reminded me once again that music can do more than excite or motivate, it can engage and involve and it at its best, it can even help to heal the hatred and division that has raged across North America over the last few years.

In case you are still uncertain about humanity after watching this video can I suggest a couple of solutions? Watch it again and if that doesn't work, watch it again. I guarantee that you’ll eventually notice several things. First of all, it’s a great song full of some of Canada’s brightest musical lights. Then you’ll see that the Spirit of music is alive and well in so many familiar faces and voices. Finally, if you’re like me, you’ll watch John Mann in his billowy white shirt and see that he’s not just dancing. He’s feeling something bigger than himself; something bigger than the crowd of musicians or the sold out audience. He's absorbing thousands of voices that are singing with him and to him and he’s translating that into pure, unadulterated joy.

Ultimately, that was what brought me to tears and probably will the next 30 times I watch it. I hope you cry too and then I hope you donate to something. Help the Baycrest Foundation, an organization that John and his wife Jill supported. Help Light of Day an organization that's been hit hard by COVID. Help the local band that's lost all their bookings but who are still striving to raise some dough and sell a record. Help others to feel the music and feel the Spirit. In the end, you'll be helping yourself to feel the strength, the soul, and ultimately, the power within the music.




The cost we pay for love

5 January 2022
Originally written January 5, 2020
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 recent years. 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.

Lately, I haven’t felt so lucky. I lost my mom on September 6, 2019 and then; I lost the father of a great friend, a childhood hockey buddy, a musical brother and a woman who, with her husband, set a benchmark for love and parenting that I couldn’t quite grasp but a benchmark I always tried to reach. Vicky Mahwinney was the quiet, loving, beating heart of a family I’ve known since 2001. Vicky opened her home to Joe D'Urso and I at the insistence of her daughter, Lisa. Vicky had never met us. 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 in my ancestral home of Scotland.

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. Vicky died two years ago after suffering a stroke.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve been welcomed into hearth and home in Fife, Ayrshire, Park Ridge, Mexico City, Sweden, Wakefield, Warwickshire, Bristol, Farnham, Ireland, and Amsterdam and a dozen other places. So yeah – I’ve felt lucky.

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, 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 the last couple of years 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. Each loss staggers your belief and your faith. But somewhere under the pain, under the seething anger and heartache is an understanding that anything of value comes with a price.

Sadly, grief is the cost you pay for love.

Ginette and I are sending our love to the Mawhinney family and all of those who knew Vicky including - the D'Urso’s, Emily Fennell Taylor, William Crawford, Micky Kemp, El Dubya and so many other lucky people.




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


total of 13 records found showing records per page