Taking a Page from Honourary Canadian

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I started a second blog in 2013, called Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada From Away. After starting this blog in 2011, I was often posting about Canada, and a couple years in, decided to start a second site devoted to Canadian topics, where I’d offer my views of Canada for Canadians and others interested in the country. I aspire to the perspective and the work of Alistair Cooke, who broadcast and wrote knowledgeably and sensitively about America, after moving to the US from England. Like this site, at the new blog I write about Canadian books, publishing, live music, media, and politics, with the cross-cultural perspective of a respectful outsider. I’ve been sharing HC links here from time to time and integrating the two sites one with another, for instance setting up a feed so the latest posts from each site are readily visible and linked to on the other. The two blogs are sort of like siblings, with this one the older brother.

I’m posting here today to let Great Gray Bridge readers know I recently published a new entry at Honourary Canadian called Why I Started This Blog and Call It Honourary Canadian, which explores my lifelong interest in the neighbor to the north. I invite you to read it. It’s a memoiristic piece that chronicles many trips I’ve made in Canada since childhood, beginning with Expo ’67 when I was just twelve years old; authors whose books I’ve read and published; bands I’ve seen live and become friendly with; and reflections on differences between the US and Canada, and the media in both countries. Along with the essay, I’ve included dozens of scenic photographs, book covers, band photos, and scans of letters I received from Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, with whom I had a lengthy correspondence when I ran Undercover Books in the 1980s.

At the top of this entry is a shot of that new post, which will give you a sense of what the new site looks like if you’ve not visited yet. Just as I found a visual touchstone for this blog from a scenic landmark—the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and the little red lighthouse—I found visual inspiration for the new site in a true wonder of the world, the majestic Percé Rock (aka le rocher percé or ‘pierced rock’), a huge rock face on eastern Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, a veritable lobster tail jutting in to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Below is a pic of what that post looks like. If you enjoy awe-inspiring scenery, I recommend you check out the whole post, which includes many photos I took during a visit there in 1988. In fact, I invite you to visit Honourary Canadian, and have a look around. 

Lee Lorch, an Exiled American Hero Who Found a Haven in Canada

Until reading this March 1 obituary by David Margolick about Lee Lorch I had not known about this brave man, or the vital role he played in ending racial bias in publicly-subsidized housing in New York City and the rest of the United States.

A WWII vet, Lorch came home from the war amid a nationwide housing shortage that was particularly severe in New York City. Then living with his wife Grace and daughter in what the NY Times reports Lorch called “‘half a Quonset hut’ overlooking Jamaican Bay in Queens,” he applied to live in the housing complex of Stuyvesant Town then being developed on the east side of Manhattan by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company with generous subsidies and accommodations from the city. He learned that African-Americans were explicitly barred from living in the development, as Met Life’s chairman Frederick Ecker told news media, “Negroes and whites don’t mix. If we brought them into this development, it would be to the detriment of the city, too, because it would depress all the surrounding property.” The Lorches and fellow tenants invited African-American families to come stay in there apartments as their guests, a move that drew Met Life’s ire and threats of eviction.

As a result, Lee Lorch lost his job teaching math at City College, and was made unwelcome at other universities where he applied to teach, including Penn State, which hired and then fired him in less than a year. For a time, he and his family were in Little Rock, Arkansas, where in 1957 Grace famously comforted Elizabeth Eckford, one of the “Little Rock Nine,” as she tried to attend Little Rock Central High School.Grace Lorch and Elizabeth Eckford

In addition, Lorch’s unapologetic membership in the American Communist Party caused civil rights leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, to keep their distance from him. After years of erratic employment in the States, in 1959 Lorch was offered a teaching position in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and later York University in Toronto. The Lorches emigrated and much like young draft-age American males of the Vietnam era, the Lorches found a new home and haven north of the 49th Parallel.

Lorch lived a remarkable life, and one that should be remembered. In addition to the March 1 NY Times obit and a 2010 article, here are other Web resources:

1) Video with a 2010 interview of Lee Lorch

2) A segment with Lee Lorch’s daughter Alice from CBC’s As It Happens, remembering her father and the family’s life in Canada.

3) A review of David Margolick’s book Elizabeth and Hazel, on Elizabeth Eckford, of the Little Rock Nine, and Hazel Bryan, a white woman who yelled at her as she tried to enter Central High School in 1957.

4) An Arkansas Times Web feature with lots more information on the Little Rock Nine.

Cross-posted on my blog Honourary Canadian.

Sam Roberts Band Launches New Album, “Lo-Fantasy,” at Mercury Lounge

SATURDAY MORNING TV UPDATE: On Feb 15 the Sam Roberts Band will appear on CBS This Morning as part of their ‘Saturday Sessions’ series. According to press materials, they should go on at 8:45AM.
—-Sam Roberts Band
Had a blast Tuesday night as the Sam Roberts Band of Montreal blew into town for one night to launch their terrific new album “Lo-Fantasy,” drawing a boisterous crowd to a sold-out Mercury Lounge. It was my first time hearing them live, after years of enjoying their music on CBC Radio 3. They are a tight rock n’ roll machine, starting with a tremendous rhythm section of of bassist James Hall and drummer Josh Trager, who played on a clear see-through kit allowing the audience to peer through the armature and really see him bashing away on the skins. I stood directly in front of Hall and Trager, and for the first half of the show I thought maybe that was why they sounded so good, then I decided, nah, they’re just great players. At center-stage was frontman Roberts, a small guy and a powerful rock n’ roll package–a handsome man and a lithe performer who bursts with vocal energy while striking insistent guitar chords, and moving around a lot on stage. On the far side of him from me were a keyboard player, lead guitarist, and saxophonist. The 6-piece outfit ripped through the 11 songs on the new album. Several I had heard already, like “We’re All In This Together”–with good lyrics expressive to me of a communitarian ethic. There’s an extended video of it below, and the process of making the new album. Once they worked through the new record, they took a bow and left the stage. It was clear though they’d be back for more. When they came back out for encores, they really gave the crowd full value, by playing another four songs, all from earlier albums. The sound was a mix of pure pop propulsion–most songs were uptempo, driven by the bass and drums–with Roberts’ vocals and strong riffs and tasty licks from the other three instrumentalists.

Lo-Fantasy Sam Roberts BandYesterday was Paperbag Records‘ official release date of “Lo-Fantasy.” They put out many of my fave Canadian bands, like Elliott Brood, Cuff the Duke and Rural Alberta Advantage. Sam Roberts is well known beyond Montreal and Canada, with the current tour taking him and his band to many US cities between now and March 28: Chicago; Grand Rapids, MI; St. Paul; San Francisco; San Diego; Seattle; Portland; Boston area; Washington, DC; and Philadelphia, where they’ll be playing World Cafe Live, a show that I’d bet will end up on public radio here in the States.

As good as Sam Roberts Band turned out to be, I also liked the opening act, Heaven’s Jail. I walked in as they started and was glad I had arrived on time. Love when that happens at a live show, walking in on the first notes to a new sound that’s immediately likable. Going to hear live music ought to be as much about discovering new bands as hearing longtime faves. Mercury Lounge did a smart thing booking them as the stage-setter for the evening. Based here in NYC, they’re a basic drums/bass/lead guitar trio, and so offered a clean sonic appetizer that went down real easy. For reference, their sound reminded me in the vocals of Warren Zevon, and in their bright jangling guitar-driven riffs they made think of the Felice Brothers from upstate New York who I heard open for Josh Ritter last year. Heaven’s Jail also have a current album, “Angelmakers,” which you can hear at their bandcamp page. I look forward to hearing them again.

After the Sam Roberts Band left the stage for the last time, a lot of the crowd melted away in to the cold NY night. I had already met some great people during the course of the long evening–like Emily Curran, a NYC schoolteacher who had seen Sam Roberts several times–so I stuck around, eager to meet other folks who’d enjoyed the evening, either from among the audience or the musicians. It being a release party it’s no surprise there were lots of music industry people on hand, like Ben Liemer of music distributor The Orchard who I really enjoyed talking with. Next I recognized two of the three members of Heaven’s Jail, and so chatted with them–Francesco and Ethan, guitarist and drummer. I complimented them on their set and we launched in to a spirited discussion of our rock n’ roll upbringings. I mentioned mine in Cleveland, and the great shows I was able to see in my early days as a live music fan, beginning with a Canned Heat and Cream bill back in the day. These conversations–plus one in a group with Sam Roberts’ brother Tom, who I learned lives in NY, and with his friend Jim, a bass player, capped off a fun night.

Via this link are more pictures from last night’s show, two black & white publicity shots of the Sam Roberts Band, and two videos of them performing.
Cross-posted at my blog Honourary Canadian.



Rural Alberta Advantage, Another Great Indie Band from Canada

Had a great time last night at a live music show put on by the Toronto trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, my first time hearing them live after enjoying them the past few years on CBC Radio 3. They played a sold-out show in front of a boisterously appreciative full house at the Mercury Lounge on the lower east side of Manhattan. I have a full post with pictures at my other blog Honourary Canadian. Here are shots showing all three band members, first Amy Cole, keys with Nils Edenloff, guitar and lead vocals, then Paul Banwatt, drums. I hope you enjoy the rest of the post over there.Mercury Lounge Jan 24 2014Mercury Lounge Jan 24 2014

Loving “Bonfire Etiquette,” Amity Beach’s New Album

Bonfire EtiquetteAt Honourary Canadian, the sister blog to this one, I’ve written up a new  album by Amity Beach,  a young Ontario pop band that I discovered at NXNE in 2012. I really like their new songs a lot. This is my post where I’ve published a full report. And this is a link to the single, “Born in the Daylight” from their soundcloud.com page. I hope you like it, too. I recommend the whole album, which you can sample at their tumblr. Really gets better the more you listen to it. Highly recommended.

Eager to Read Peter Warner’s New Thriller “The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates”


The picture in the above tweet shows the present and former chiefs of Thames & Hudson, the publishing company that Will Balliett (r.) heads up nowadays, and which author Peter Warner–here mulling his inscription for Will’s copy of Peter’s new book–ran for many years prior. Will and I were colleagues from 2000-06, when we both worked at Avalon Publishing Group. I was glad I could attend Peter ‘s launch party last week, as he is also a publishing friend of many years. His new novel, his third, is The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates, published Oct 22 with Thomas Dunne Books at St. Martin’s Press. It’s already had an excellent review in Washingtonian magazine. Calling the book “crafty, critic John Wilwol added, “Warner knows Washington intimately, and he particularly nails the way that the right social access can lead to professional success.”The Mole

Peter has established a Tumblr blog where he’s sharing the documentary underpinnings of his novel, with such artifacts as photos of CIA directors Allen Dulles and Richard Helms, a U-2 spy plane, and Senator Richard Russell, the politician on whose staff title character Winston Bates serves. Captions on the blog are cleverly written from the persona and in the voice of Bates, an expat Canadian now working for Russell, who was in real life one of the most powerful figures in the US senate. Though I haven’t begun reading it yet, this novel, like several I’ve read in recent months, especially Jayne Anne Phillips Quiet Dell, is part of a genre I’ve begun calling “documentary fiction,” with books that draw on events, artifacts, and figures from history. To show the other, more imaginative side of his enterprise, Peter Warner has created a Facebook author page with postings about the creative underpinnings of the book. This comment of his caught my eye, as the proprietor of a sister blog to The Great Gray Bridge called  Honourary Canadian.

My Personal Alternate History

In my last post I wrote about The Mole as a different take on the literary category of alternate history. But I think almost everyone has, in the back of his or her mind, an alternative life story that comes to mind on occasion: What if I had taken that job? What if I had made that investment? What if I had married that crazy person? In my case there is one alternate history that I share with almost every man of my generation: What if I had moved to Canada as a war resistor or to escape the draft during the Vietnam War era? There are also tens of thousands of American men, now Canadian citizens, who probably wonder: What if I hadn’t moved to Canada to avoid the draft? In my case, I was lucky to get a draft exemption after couple of years of anxiety. Subsequently, my publishing career took me to Canada at least twice a year for more than twenty years. I am sure having regular opportunities to imagine myself as a Canadian while in Canada played a part in the central plot of The Mole—that there might have been a Canadian “sleeper” at the heart of the American political establishment, doing his best (or worst) to undermine the so-called “American Century.” In Canada, I sometimes sensed in my friends a kind of ironic armor they had developed to accept (sometimes endure) that huge, well-intentioned, sometimes irrational, culturally inescapable, totally oblivious neighbor to the south. I hope Canadian readers will look at The Mole as a kind of delicious literary revenge.

I did not have quite the same experience of the Vietnam era as Peter, since I am a bit younger than him, but my brother Joel, almost four years older than me, certainly did sweat the draft lottery along with millions of other older teenage boys in the US. One more connection that I found I have to The Mole is through a history book I published at Carroll & Graf in 2006, How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair & the Hunt for Soviet Spies, by Canadian historian Amy Knight. She chronicles the strange events involving Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cypher clerk who in 1945, while employed at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, walked away from his desk and defected to the West with a trove of secrets and information that indicated a Soviet spy network was then operating in North America. It became an international cause celebre, lasting for several years, with Gouzenko seeking and receiving permission to live in Canada. It was, for its day, an Edward Snowden-type event.

The intense publicity did eventually subside and about 20 years after his defection, Gouzenko actually appeared on Canadian TV, disguised by a hooded mask that had eyeholes cut out for him to see. To Americans, it looks instantly like a KKK hood, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t seen that way in Canada in 1965. Knight chronicles this as the all-too-amazing-to-be-true-but-is story that it was. Among the odd aspects of the incident was that Gouzenko, who somehow evaded the supervision at the embassy with his pregnant wife and their two-year old son, could not at first get any Canadian authorities to accept that he was an authentic defector. They ended up walking around Canada’s capitol city for more than 40 hours, finally being believed after first futilely visiting several Canadian government offices.* Occurring even before WWII had ended, the Gouzenko incident set off a cascade of frantic maneuvering among leaders of the USA, Canada, Soviet Union, and Britain, their intelligence services, and even our FBI. The countries were all nominally still allies, but this episode displayed the ill will and suspicion that would dominate the Cold War.Gouzenko photo

It is against that historical backdrop that a character like Peter Warner’s Winston Bates operates. All these personal connections to Peter Warner and The Mole have me eager and excited to begin reading his book.

*Via this link is a fascinating video of Gouzenko’s appearance on the CBC news program “Seven Days.” The first CBC host to speak is the great broadcaster Patrick Watson, later a novelist, who in 1979 visited Undercover Books, my bookstore, for a great in-store appearance promoting his novel Alter Ego, a kind of “Memento”–type story, written many years before that entertaining film was made.

Remembering Lou Reed from his Guest Appearance with Metric in 2012

10 Reed and HainesWhen I saw Metric last September at Radio City Music Hall as guest of live music buddy Steve Conte we were startled to hear Emily Haines welcome to the stage one of her musical heroes, Lou Reed. He came out for two songs, standing side by side with Haines. I was so sorry to learn of his passing today, at age 71. Here are my pictures of them from that special show.14a Reed and Haines13b Reed and Haines13a Reed and HainesReed and MetricReed and Haines

#FridayReads, October 25–Grant Lawrence’s “The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie”

Lonely End of the Rink#FridayReads, October 25–Grant Lawrence’s The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. Very excited to begin reading my copy of the new book by my friend, Canadian broadcaster Grant Lawrence, which just landed in my mailbox this afternoon. The book, which chronicles his uneasy relationship with the Canadian national sport, was officially launched last night with an event in Vancouver, BC. Grant loves to meet with booksellers and readers and is one of the hardest working authors I’ve ever observed. On his website you can find details on the extensive book tour he’s taking, with stops in many Canadian cities between now and December 12.Lonely End back cover

I loved Grant’s first book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other Stories from Desolation Sound, a memoir of the many summers he’s spent in the wilds of coastal British Columbia, in the environs of a family cabin on the vividly named Desolation Sound. It went to #1 on the BC Bestseller List, won the BC Book Prize for the 2010 Book of the Year, an award given by booksellers, and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. I’m hoping for similar success for his new book, which I will begin reading this weekend.Adventures in SolitudeGrant at Radio 3 picnic
[cross-posted at my other blog Honourary Canadian]