More True Tales From 60 Years Of Music

June 21, 2015


(Originally published on February 28, 2011)

THIS WEEK: Michael Wrycraft, Hunter S. Thompson, Francis Rossi & Status Quo, John Doyle, TIFF, Ron Hynes, Beast, Hawksley Workman, Corin Raymond, Robyn Dell’Unto, Nana Mouskouri and more…

A motto for the music business

Lots of people, including my pal graphics designer Michael Wrycraft, use the infamous Hunter S. Thompson quote as an e-mail signature. You know the one:

“The music business is a dark, plastic hallway; where pimps and thieves run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Here’s the one I much prefer to use:

“You learn very quickly there’s no point moaning about the music business. We have an expression in this band: ‘I do believe this was your chosen profession.’  It’s our way of saying, ‘Shut the fuck up, you could be driving an ice-cream van.’”

Francis Rossi (Order of the British Empire) said that, and if you don’t know who he is, shame on you. His band’s sold 118 million records, scored 64 hit singles in the UK, had 33 albums on the British charts, made 108 appearances on BBC-TV‘s Top of the Pops, and the band’s been going for a staggering 45 years.

For whatever reason, all of us did indeed choose this profession, and if it’s so hard to deal with, the exit is clearly marked. Thank God, Status Quo — surely a model for Spinal Tap — continues to work.  Much better than driving an ice cream van. Recovering from the Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto is beginning to recover from the Toronto International Film Festival. Said John Doyle, the very best reason to read The Globe and Mail, earlier this week.

“TIFF this and TIFF that. Hereabouts, if you’re not TIFFing, you’re nothing. The Toronto International Film Festival has a paralyzing effect on Toronto. A 10-day frock opera and hunk-spotting festival, it causes normally sensible people to behave strangely.

“Ladies will spend an inordinate amount of time at the hairdresser and purchase yet another little black dress to attend some sad little afternoon soiree at a louche nightclub in an alleyway, on the basis that some C-list Hollywood type might show up and grace the tatty little red carpet with their presence….”

Nailed it in one, as usual.

Tell the truth, I don’t mind the festival as much as I mind the way it swamps the media – music reporters suddenly find themselves writing about Vietnamese documentaries filmed in black and white, and whole pages — even in the Globe —­ are given over to celebrity fluff. Did you know that a D-list Hollywood “celebrity” mooned the poor folk on Yorkville from his second floor hotel room last week? You gave a shit?

The hysteria’s catching, and as I write this item (on Wednesday evening) a friend calls me to say that it’s on the news that Bruce Springsteen is going to play at the Horseshoe, and was I going? Er, No. Nyet, Nein. Not on your fucking life!

Which leads me to the two parts of TIFF I was present at.

First, the screening of The Man of a Thousand Songs, a touching documentary on the confused, joyful, sad, even tortured life of Ron Hynes, the Newfoundland singer and songwriter.

You may not know Ron, unless you follow acoustic roots music and the folk scene, but he is — back on The Rock — a superstar and the songwriting soul of St. John’s. I’m so glad I got to see this very special film in a cinema; the rest of you, alas, will see it on Superchannel and CBC TV on much smaller screens in a few months.

He’s been to the depths, has Ron, and my friend Wrycraft and I recalled a time eight or nine years ago when he showed up at a showcase, glassy-eyed and reeking of sweat, stale food and urine.  He speaks about his addictions frankly and bravely in the film, and talks about the two or three vastly different sides of his personality.

Thankfully, Ron is now well, clean, healthy, reunited with his kids, and his new album for Borealis, Stealing Genius, is a gem.  If you understand tradition, love good songs, and can celebrate an artist who has saved himself from self-destruction, find this CD. And don’t miss the movie when it gets to TV.


Life on the red carpet

I also got myself invited to a red carpet reception for film music supervisors, organized by the folk at Arts & Crafts at a trendy wee joint in Toronto’s “entertainment district.” Most people shouted At each other throughout the evening, but I caught a bit of a set by a tarty Montreal band called Beast; one of the women in the quartet hammered on a cowbell, played a little bit of keyboard, and kept yelling at the audience. “More cum on my face,” she screamed at one point. Okay, then.

Hawksley Workman and his pianist, Mr. Lonely, played an unfocussed set over the schmoozy turmoil. Workman has apparently decided to manage himself and is threatening not to make any more records, although he does want to produce for other artists. And, since he took part in the TIFF party shambles, he presumably also wants film folk to use his music.

All this led me to ruminate on the interface between screen and music. May I leave THAT until next week?


Quote of the week: “I’m so aware of the passing of time. I just like learning and being a bit out of my depth.” — Robert Plant, Mojo magazine, Sept. 2010 issue


Download of the week: “Hamilton Steel” from the new Tim Hus release Hockeytown, Stony Plain SPCD-1351


Shopping cart:

1)   Corin Raymond ­— There Will Always Be a Small Time — Independent. Great songs, informal boozy, funtime record, and a title song that’s the new paradigm for the music ”business.” Corin can usually be found at the Cameron in Toronto or the Times Chang’d in Winnipeg.

2)   Robyn Dell’Unto — I’m Here Every Night — Orange. Sparkly, light-hearted, frisky pop from an artist I met at a party. Cam Carptenter’s got a winner here!


Vaguely interesting factoid of the week: Nana Mouskouri’s first album in English was produced by Quincy Jones. It’s pretty damn good, too. Cut in 1962 — standards and (on the Mercury CD I have from ’99, three unreleased bonus tracks.


Finally, the most amazing rock video of all time:

The amazing finale of a rock concert in Rome, starring James Brown, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Dave Edmonds and a gigantic horn section. Not to mention Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, who both try (and fail) to one-up everybody else.  There’s a wonderful moment at 1:14, when James Brown is figuring out the next musical changes with B.B. King while Little Richard fluffs up his hair in the background!