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NY Times Profiles CBC host Jian Ghomeshi


Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s ‘Q,’ one of my favorite talk shows on radio, has been profiled by the NY Times John Schwartz in an article headlined “A Wild Mix of Culture by Way of Canada.” I had recently written about Jian and ‘Q’ in this post, after he won the Gold Award for best talk-show host at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards. I am pleased to see him making so much headway in New York City, and throughout the States, where the program is now carried on 120 public radio stations, including WNYC 93.9 FM at 10 PM on weeknights. I took the photo below of Jian (l.) and CBC host Grant Lawrence when I was recently in Toronto for NXNE, and along with a group of CBC Radio 3 fans was given a tour of the broadcast facility.

 

Annals of Urban Wildlife–Meeting a Skunk in the City (or a Sturgeon)

Update: A day or two after my encounter with the skunk chronicled below, I read of a wild urban encounter involving my friend, CBC Radio host and author Grant Lawrence. In the coastal waters washing around Vancouver, B.C., where he lives, he saw a huge, prehistoric-looking fish whose presence in water he had been about to swim in alarmed him and a young nephew until they determined that the marine creature was actually dead. He took the photo shown here and sent it out on Twitter, crowd-sourcing identification of it. Grant’s discovery turns out to have been a sturgeon, the world’s largest freshwater fish. This one was seven or eight feet long, as shown in Grant’s amazing picture. Now, a local paper has written up the account in full, which I invite you to read at this link. Not so coincidentally, this summer Grant is hosting CBC Radio’s The Wild Side, all about encounters with creatures and the wilderness. As Grant’s discovery shows, and even mine with the little skunk, our cities are also the scene for brushes with the wild side.

I ride my bicycle nearly every day in New York City, even during this current heat wave. Biking is my preferred form of exercise, and has been for years, going back to my days at Franconia College, near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, when I rode all over the White Mountains. I was never in better shape than in those years.

New York City doesn’t offer quite as many topographical challenges as the North Country but I get my miles in every week, and there are some lovely spots to ride in the city. Some days I ride on the Central Park loop that goes around the perimeter of the big park; other days I pedal along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s west side, all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, where readers of this blog may recall the Little Red Lighthouse resides under the Great Gray Bridge, which I wrote about in a foundational post, How This Blog Got its Name.

Today I was on the west side but in the 95 degree heat, I took a reading break at what are called the Harlem West Piers, about even with 125th Street, near the uptown branch of the Fairway market. Sitting on a bench, I read three engrossing chapters in the spy novel I’m currently enjoying, The Double Game by Dan Fesperman, which I’d made my #FridayReads yesterday. Looking at my watch I finally decided it was time to head home, so picked up my cell to let my wife know. As our phone at home began to ring, I was startled to see a creature stirring in the shrubbery and bushes just near my bench. I thought at first, ‘a rat,’ since they are common sights in New York these days. But, no, the coloring was wrong. When it emerged from the bushes, I could see it was black & white, and I said to Kyle just as she answered the phone, “Holy shit, I see a skunk!” She was taken aback, and I quietly explained what was in front of me. Neither of was completely shocked, as we have occasionally detected a skunk-like odor that wafts up from Riverside Park at night, though we were never certain that’s what we were smelling. I quickly added that I’d soon be heading home and ended the call so I could pull out my IPod-Touch and take some pictures of the sleek little creature.

I observed that it was almost certainly immature in growth, though not a pup, or whatever baby skunks are called. It seemed unafraid of me and there was not a moment where I thought it was riled up or likely to spray or, even run away from my observance of it. I took quite a few pictures and followed it as it crept along the path in front of the fence. Once it disappeared into the shrubs, I prepared to strap on my helmet and ride away, but saw a Parks Dept. worker nearby. This is a very well-maintained park so I walked over and asked her if it was known to her and her colleagues that skunks are living right here in front of the river.  She blanched a bit and said, “You saw what? Oh, no the landscaper is going to be here tomorrow and we’re supposed to work in those beds. I’m so glad you told me, I don’t want to be stirring up any angry skunks!” I explained to her that it had been a young one I’d seen, and that it didn’t appear to have been made at all nervous by being near me. She was glad of that, but mentioned there must be more than just the one. Her name was Penny Hyman and I gave her my card which I’d been using a bookmark in my novel, as she said her supervisor might want to see my photos of the little creature. For you, my dear readers, here are several of those pictures, proof that I had a close encounter with a surprising example of Manhattan wildlife. All this goes to show, you never know what may happen when you leave your house for some exercise and quiet reading time.

There’s Music in the Trees!

During NXNE at the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods Parks organized by host and author Grant Lawrence, the musicians Adrian Glynn and Zach Gray literally climbed a tree to perform the three songs that made up their excellent set of music. They had funny banter from aloft, including about their band moniker, which I’ve confirmed with Adrian Glynn is Emperor of the North AKA Murder on The Canadian AKA the Caboose Boys. I managed to record one of their tunes as a video on my IPad. I’m glad I got it, even if it cost me a stiff neck to train my device on the two of them for 4 + minutes. Fun stuff. For more info on Adrian and Zach you should go to www.adrianglynn.com and www.thezolasmusic.com. Click through to see all photos and captions.

Done with BEA, on to NXNE

With Book Expo America (BEA) now a wrap–and time enough over the summer to review the publishers’ catalogs I collected and follow up on email with people whose business cards I exchanged for my own–this week I’m preparing to attend North by Northeast (NXNE), Toronto’s annual music/film/digital festival. Among the band and artists I’m eager to hear live I’m especially excited about Belle Game, Shred Kelly, Adaline, Daniel Romano, Julie Doiron, The Elwins, Brasstronaut, Jeremy Fisher, Plants & Animals, and that’s only through Friday on the schedule, leaving me the weekend line-up to scrutinize. Last year when I went to NXNE I was a bit overwhelmed with all the choices, but still had a great time. Even with a year under my belt, I’m feeling daunted again, but with useful guides like this one by producer Elliot Garnier on the Radio 3 blog, I know I can’t go far wrong. I’ll be blogging, posting to my wall on Facebook, tweeting from NXNE, and connecting on LinkedIn, so please watch for updates if you’re not attending NXNE and would like to know what’s going on in Toronto.

While I’m packing my bag and readying my kit for a Wednesday morning flight to Toronto, friends from the CBCRadio 3 listener community have been traveling by train since last Saturday from Vancouver, B.C., across the Canadian Rockies and prairies, in a musical excursion called Tracks on Tracks, that has placed ten indie Canadian bands on a train with dozens of indie music fans, including Radio 3 host and author Grant Lawrence. It’s a 21st Century version of 1970’s Festival Express, when Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Band, and other musicians all trained across Canada. The documentary chronicling that trip is still fun to watch all these years later.

While in Toronto from June 13-18, I’ll also be meeting and working with Speakerfile, my new client who I introduced to many bookpeople during BEA. They have a great Internet platform that connects the events industry and conference organizers with authors, experts, and thought leaders. I’m pleased to host a promo from them at the upper-right hand corner of my site, so if you do public speaking, or work with authors who do public speaking, and you’re curious about what they can do for you and your authors, please click on the promo and surf through to their website. I can also provide you with information, if you want to ask me for it directly.
While I’m packing my bag and readying my kit for a Wednesday morning flight to Toronto, friends from the CBCRadio 3 listener community have been traveling by train since last Saturday from Vancouver, B.C., across the Canadian Rockies and prairies, in a musical excursion called Tracks on Tracks, that has placed ten indie Canadian bands on a train with dozens of indie music fans, including Radio 3 host and author Grant Lawrence. It’s a 21st Century version of 1970’s Festival Express, when Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Band, and other musicians all trained across Canada. The documentary chronicling that trip is still fun to watch all these years later.

While in Toronto from June 13-18, I’ll also be meeting and working with Speakerfile, my new client who I introduced to many bookpeople during BEA. They have a great Internet platform that connects the events industry and conference organizers with authors, experts, and thought leaders. I’m pleased to host a promo from them at the upper-right hand corner of my site, so if you do public speaking, or work with authors who do public speaking, and you’re curious about what they can do for you and your authors, please click on the promo and surf through to their website. I can also provide you with information, if you want to ask me for it directly.

Jill Barber and Plants & Animals in NYC–Romance and Rock ‘n Roll

Wednesday night was another great night for live music by Canadian artists in New York City. First stop on the evening’s program was Joe’s Pub to hear Jill Barber, a latter-day chanteuse who weaves a retro spell that even with her backward glances is always fresh and vibrant. She showed an enchanting stage presence, and her 3-piece band was superb, with Drew Jerucka on violin and clarinet; Robbie Grunwald on piano and accordion; and Steve Zsirai on upright bass. In addition to her vocals and songwriting, Barber also played a small guitar, left-handed.** She exuded a winsome charm, unselfconscious glamour, and improvised with light banter between songs. She sings in a distinctive tone that is the aural equivalent of B Grade maple syrup–my favorite–sweet and smoky. After she sang “Chances”–with its lyric, “Chances, what are the chances/The chances that I’d find you/Stealing glances across a crowded room/And taking a chance or two“–against a backdrop of plucked violin, tinkling piano, and a strange rumbling that could only be heard in New York, Jill said, “I can’t tell if that’s me trembling, or the subway.” Don’t fear, I thought to tell her, it is the #6 train. She continued, “I write a lot of love songs, I hope you like love songs.” The love song is indeed her milieu, and in her hands each one provides the listener a vivid romantic narrative. Among her most affecting numbers was “Measures and Scales,” with its minor key, old-world violin and accordion accompaniment, and haunted lyrics of a doomed love: “He plays piano in a jazz band/And I love him for the man that he could be/I asked him, if I let you, would you play me/Then delighted as he tickled every key . . . I am just a dreamer wearing sensible shoes/I still dream in colour even though I sing the blues . . . But it disappears somewhere when the music is done/Every song ever written has a final note“. Her show-stopper was “Oh My My,” with its invocation of a surgeon who may, or may not, be able to mend its narrator’s broken heart. This song had hot clarinet, piano boogie-woogie, and great sung-shouted lyrics.

Something I appreciate about Jill Barber’s musical enterprise is that though she’s cultivated this vintage atmospheric, she’s not playing it for camp humor or just capitalizing on some sort of Mad Men vibe; in fact she’s been working in this vein since her 2008 album, “Chances.” Her latest album “Mischievous Moon” has just been released in the U.S. and she traveled to this gig from Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband, author and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence,*** to play shows in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Joe’s Pub, where I’d never been, is a handsome music room with great lighting and excellent acoustics. I had a nice time chatting with Jill and manager Evan Newman after her set, when I learned she’s also playing in New York City Saturday night in the Studio at Webster Hall. I’ll be eager to hear Jill Barber and her band again, whether it’s this weekend or another time in the future. I urge readers to seek out her music–she’s a unique talent as a singer and performer, and when I reflect that she also writes her own songs, it’s clear to me how special she is.

After that great set of music I quickly finished my drink and then–never able to get enough live music–taxied in the rain to the Mercury Lounge where the Montreal band Plants and Animals were due to go on at 11 PM. I just made it in and snaked through a full room to in front of the stage as they were strapping on their axes. The band has a lot of NY fans! Recognition applause and whoops accompanied the opening of many songs. They were tremendous, with great singing by Warren Spicer, energetic lead licks and great guitar tone from Nick Basque, and a terrific rhythm section anchored by drummer Matthew Woodley. Plants and Animals started out as an instrumental trio, and according to information on their website, lyrics and vocals came relatively late into their repertoire. As a residue of those origins, their songs are often longer than the usual pop standard of three minutes, stretching into the six and seven minute range. They really like to stretch things out and it makes for rewarding listening for the live music listener. As the last band of the night, there was no act following them, and the crowd soon picked up on the fact that they weren’t going to hustle off after a 40-minute set, as is often the case at tightly scheduled clubs. This was ideal given the band’s instrumental and orchestral instincts. With that in mind everyone relaxed and grooved to the abundance of tunes they rolled out. They played such songs from their 2008 album “Parc Avenue” as “The Mama Papa,” and “Bye, Bye, Bye,”–with a sweet autoharp bit played by Basque–and from their newest album, “The End of That” I recognized “LightShow,” “Why, Why” and the eponymous, “The End of That,” in which Grant Lawrence astutely hears a kind of Velvet Underground vibe. In short, they played a mess of songs from all their albums, and the set edged in to the 90-minute range. High fives were exchanged all around the dance floor when they finished the second song of their extended encore. Plants & Animals will be playing at NXNE in Toronto in mid-June, a festival I attended last year, and I hope to make it there again. When I do, I’ll be very excited to hear them play once more.

**Jill’s singer/songwriter brother Matt Barber, about whom I blogged after I heard him perform last year, also plays guitar left-handed. Clearly, left-handedness and extravagant talent run in the family.

***Full disclosure: Grant Lawrence is a personal friend of mine, about whom I have previously written on this blog. // click through on share link below to see more photographs . . . //

Rose Cousins & Band–Catching a Spark at The Living Room

One of the first musical artists I chanced upon when I discovered the terrific Canadian indie music scene on CBC Radio 3 was the spellbinding Maritimes-born singer-songwriter Rose Cousins. I put her classic, “White Daisies,” a poetic tale of love and loss, in one of the first personal playlists I made on the Radio 3 website and have listened to it many times with its great vocal and concluding verse,

“You sent me flowers when you were strong/You were my baby, a whole year long/All you could tell me is how I’d done you wrong/Now I’ve got white daisies and a lonesome song.”

I was excited last month when I heard Rose would be performing in New York City at the Living Room, a great venue to enjoy acoustic and roots music and lightly amplified rock ‘n roll. When I arrived breathless last night, cutting it way too close for the announced 8:00 start time, I saw a very full room, and wondered where or if I might find a seat. When I saw there was no one at the door taking cover charge money, I realized that the gig was actually a release party for Rose’s new album, “We Have Made a Spark.” Someone was already saving the first seat I tried, but on my second attempt found a chair right in front of the low stage, closer to Rose and her mic than anyone else’s in the room. She was only moments from beginning her set when I shrugged off my coat and settled in to my seat.

The stage at the intimate Living Room was crowded with the excellent band she’d gathered around herself in Boston where the new album was recorded–with Charlie Rose on banjo and pedal steel; album producer Zachariah Hickman, plucking and bowing an upright bass and sporting a handlebar moustache; Sean Staples seated, on a battery of acoustic guitars; Billy Beard on drums and other percussion, playing great thumping beats; Austin Nevins on a big, gorgeous hollow body Gretsch electric guitar making tasty licks; Dinty Child, on an eight-string (!) acoustic guitar, banjo, and piano; and Ana Ege singing backup vocals, who was seated at the same table as me when she wasn’t singing. Rose sang beautifully and feelingly, moving between her Martin guitar and the piano tucked in the far corner of the stage. In her songwriting she boldly knits her heart to her sleeve, and in her vulnerability asks her listener to do the same. “Spark’ is a very intimate and personal set of new songs that began growing on me instantly. I had heard Radio 3 hosts Grant Lawrence and Lisa Christiansen say that she also has a great stage presence, often engaging in witty and self-revealing banter. This reputation is deserved, as she introduced virtually every song with a bit of story and a personal truth.

After the gig it was a treat to introduce myself to Rose, and tell her that I love her home province of Prince Edward Island. I mentioned that my wife, artist Kyle Gallup, painted gorgeous watercolors when we vacationed there a few years ago, and she replied that her grandma had also painted PEI’s lovely shores and red sand beaches. One of Kyle’s pieces is below, a PEI scene titled, “Doyle’s Cove, North Rustico, 2008.” 

Excellent Book News from Vancouver, Canada

So glad for my friend, Grant Lawrence–host on CBC Radio 3, who last year published the Canadian bestseller Adventures in Solitude, winner of the BC Book Prize–signing a deal with Vancouver publisher Douglas & McIntyre for his next two books. The first book will be a rock ‘n roll travelogue of “Grant’s life through the gritty […]