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October 4th, 2017

By Philip Turner in: Canadian Books & Authors; The Great Gray Bridge

Remembering a Favorite Canadian Novelist—Robertson Davies Visits a NY Hotel Room

Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (1913-95) in the Dorset Hotel, NY, 1988. From a NY Times story yesterday about the Ryerson Image Center in Toronto. Davies has since the 1980s been a favorite novelist of mine, when I sold hundreds of copies of his books at Undercover Books in Cleveland.

At the Great Gray Bridge I wrote about Davies in 2013 on the 100th anniversary of his birth, when CanadaPost made a stamp in his honor. With my web designer Harry Candelario, I later adapted the stamp into a motif for this blog.

Elsewhere, on Honourary Canadian, I shared several letters I received from Davies when I was selling his books, and marketing executives at his publisher, Viking Press, asked me to encourage other publishers to read and recommend his books. One of Davies’ letters was a response to my question for him after a visit I had made to London, which included a pilgrimage to a statue honoring the great thespian Henry Irving. Davies wrote to me on May 30, 1980:

“You will not find any magicians or jugglers under Henry Irving’s statue in London now because they have put flower beds around it, but at the time that Magnus Eisengrim [of The Deptford Trilogy] performed there it was flat pavement and street performers of all kinds gave their exhibitions there and on the outskirts there were always a number of pavement artists, who are also a vanishing breed. Unfortunately, life is becoming so heavily policed in our Welfare State that all these picturesque people are vanishing, but, when I saw them there when I was a young man, I always thought how pleased Irving would be that these humblest members of his profession were gathering, so to speak, under his cloak for protection.”  

I love Davies’ phrase “pavement artist” and the twinkle in his eye that appears in all these renderings of his audaciously bearded countenance!  #CANLit

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August 13th, 2017

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; The Great Gray Bridge

Hooray for Matt Mays Who’s Coming to Play Live in NYC, Sept 13

I’m thrilled that Matt Mays, one of my favorite Canadian rockers, will be playing a live show Sept 13 in NYC at the excellent local venue, Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2. It will be the first time I know of that Matt’s played Gotham since I began following Canadian rock n’ roll avidly almost 10 years ago.  I love all of Mays’s records, especially his exceptional concept album, “When the Angels Make Contact,” released in 2006. (It was written as a soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been filmed.) Though it’ll be the first time I’ve heard him close to home, I have heard him live twice before. The first was at a big show in Toronto with his whole band at Lee’s Palace in 2012 (l.), and then in the wee hours at The Cameron House in 2014. Below is a picture from that sweet night. On June 22, 2014, I wrote at my other blog The Great Gray Bridge:
“Late last night I lucked in to an impromptu show at the great venue the Cameron House w/one of my musical heroes, Matt Mays. He had been invited by frontman Sam Cash to sit in with his band the Romantic Dogs. Matt began by leading the band, and the audience, in Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Matt and I spoke afterward, exchanging heartfelt appreciations. I conveyed my condolences for the sudden loss last year of his bandmate Jay Smith. He thanked me for remembering his old friend. I told him about Honourary Canadian and he told me he was already a reader of the blog. Thrilled to hear that, I gave him my card for which he thanked me and said it would be going in “a special place.” Here’s a shot of Sam and Matt from that night:

Click here for tickets to the Sept 13 show at Rockwood Music Hall. That’s a venue friendly to acoustic or unplugged acts. I wonder if Matt, who can rock with the best of them (I like think of him as Canada’s Springsteen, or a bit like Tom Petty), will be playing with a band or on his own. I’ll found out a month from today!

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May 3rd, 2017

By Philip Turner in: Canadian Books & Authors; Music, Bands & Radio

“Dirty Windshields,” Grant Lawrence’s New Book on Touring with The Smugglers

Readers of this blog may recall how much I enjoyed Grant Lawrence’s first two books,  Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other Stories from Desolation Sound, a memoir of his many summers spent in the environs of a family cabin on Desolation Sound in the wilds of British Columbia, and The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie, which chronicles his uneasy relationship with hockey. That’s why I’m delighted that yesterday I received a copy of Grant’s new book, Dirty Windshields: The Best and Worst of The Smugglers’ Tour Diaries, which chronicles the life of the band he was lead singer and frontman for in the 1990s, before he became a CBC broadcaster and music journalist. I began reading it right away, and was fascinated with the Prologue, which provides the origin story of The Smugglers. What I love about Grant’s books is how he blends hilarious laugh-out-loud tales you instantly want to share with your seat-mate, along with tug-on-the heart stories that leave you touched and a bit teary-eyed. Rock writer Ira Robbins, publisher of the Trouser Press Record Guide enjoyed Dirty Windshields: “Told with equal measures pride and shame, this uproarious chronicle of vans, violence, alcohol, cops, fires, floods, blizzards, wrong turns, crooked club owners, actual snakes, robbery, bodily fluids and calamities of all sorts is the perfect companion to the band’s mega-fun music.”

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April 15th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Canadian Books & Authors; Music, Bands & Radio; News, Politics, History & Media

Always Something New to Learn about Canada, like the Acadian Dialect Chiac, Vernacular for Author Antonine Maillet

I recently heard a fascinating radio episode on the public radio program The World about a dialect of French heard nowadays exclusively in the regions of Canada where people of Acadian descent live today, Nova Scotia (NS) and New Brunswick (NB). It’s called Chiac, a name derived from a nearby town, Shediac, NB, that calls itself “Lobster Capitol of the World.” The program had run a shorter version of this half-hour podcast on WNYC, and I’m listening to the full version while writing this post. I was particularly excited when at the end of the radio bit they played a song by the incomparable Lisa Leblanc, who I heard live and loved at the CMJ festival in 2014, shown here. As readers of this blog may recall, I’ve traveled a lot in Atlantic Canada, including through Acadian locales, including the scenic island of Cape Breton, NS, where I learned about the mass expulsion of 1755-1764 which the British Navy forced on French-speaking people who’d settled in the region. I’d never known the local dialect had a name.

Relatedly, as editor at Walker & Co in 1987, I published the US edition of a novel by one of New Brunswick’s most honored writers, Antonine Maillet (b. 1929) of Bouctouche, NB, a town just north of Shediac facing the Gulf of St Lawrence across from the southern shores of Prince Edward Island. The book had come out in Canada a few years earlier, and I acquired US rights from a doyenne of Canadian publishing, Louise Dennys, for many years with Random House and Knopf Canada who was then part of her own company, Lester & Orpen Dennys. Maillet’s book was a fantastical historical novel, featuring a female pirate named Crache à Pic (translates as ‘spit-in-your-eye), skipper of a ship called Sea-Cow. who while Prohibition prevails in the States is running whiskey to American smugglers’ boats in the north Atlantic. My flap copy read, “Immediately reminiscent of Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore and Howard Frank Mosher’s Disappearances, the Walker Adventure Series is pleased to publish The Devil is Loose! and Antonine Maillet, a storyteller of international reputation.”

Mackenzie’s 1947 novel was set during WWII, when a whisky-laden ship runs aground near the aptly-named Great Todday and Little Todday, Scottish islands whose ration  of spirits has run out, leaving locals high and dry, who must decide what to do with the contraband; it was adapted for the funny movie, Tight Little Island. Mosher’s Disappearances is a multi-generational romp featuring a family who sometimes go by the surname Goodman, and sometimes Bonhomme. They live in the mythical Northeast Kingdom, Vermont’s northernmost region, and run liquor across the very real Lake Memphremagog, a long body of fresh water that straddles the border with Canada. I used to quote the opening paragraph for customers who I thought would enjoy the novel. Mosher has since written many novels set in Kingdom County.

Maillet was by 1987 already the author of more than 25 novels and plays, rich work that draws on a centuries-long store of folklore and local knowledge, about which she’s a scholar. In ’87, she traveled to NYC from Montreal, where she divides time with Bouctouche, and gave a talk at the Americas Society on Park Ave. Her tour in the US was subsidized by the cultural ministry of Quebec. I’ll add, from the year I entered publishing as an editor, in 1986, Canadian authors I published in the US, including Lt Romeo Dallaire and Margaret Atwood, often received significant support from federal and provincial agencies, eager to promote Canadian writers, including authors freshly launched in their careers, like Steven Galloway, whose first adult novel Ascension I brought in 2002. This held true until a few years in to the reign of PM Stephen Harper, whose government shut off the funds for cultural exchange to the US. I’m hopeful the cultural outreach will be restored and reinvigorated under PM Justin Trudeau.

Maillet is a mighty woman of rather short stature, and quite striking in appearance. We found that the lectern reserved for her was too tall, and unaccountably the venue had no stool or riser for her to stand on. Fortunately, I found a big box holding many reams of photocopy paper and at this ultra white-shoe venue she stood atop it to read from her novel, and lecture in a forceful, accented English about the French vernacular in which she wrote the book, and much of her work. Though I don’t think she called it Chiac, she described the local tongue, and its grounding in the French spoken by arrivals in the new world beginning in the 16th century. She likened it to speaking the French of Rabelais, who I note died in 1555! She described the settlers’ remoteness from French in Europe, as France advanced in to the industrial revolution, an isolation that set the local language, as if trapped in amber. Maillet has also created theater characters like La Sagouine, a wise old woman who tells audiences stories and imparts lore, using the local vernacular. I feel like the live theatre piece must form the heart of Chiac. Maillet’s accomplishments are truly a marvel to be celebrated. I first learned of her when as a bookseller with Undercover Books in Cleveland, when in 1979, with an earlier novel—Pélagie-la-Charrette, or Return to the Homeland, an epic account of the Acadian expulsion, a diaspora that scattered them to other parts of North America, including Louisiana, where the Acadiennes, become Cajuns—she became the only North American writer, male or female, to win France’s most prestigious book prize, the Prix Goncourt.

I was aware that people of Acadian descent still maintain a kind of linguistic flavor now rare in the modern world, but was delighted to learn so much more about it in this excellent half-hour of radio. I love language stuff like this, all the better when it’s about one of my favorite countries, and one of my favorite regions in that country! Below is some detail from the podcast’s web page, which you can listen to in full here.

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March 24th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Movies

Appreciative for a Shoutout to My Editing of “The Revenant” from Canadian Pal Grant Lawrence

I'm tickled that Canadian music journalist, CBC broadcaster, author, friend—and devoted reader of adventure tales—Grant…

Posted by Philip Turner on Wednesday, 23 March 2016

I was tickled that Canadian music journalist, CBC broadcaster, author, friend—and devoted reader of adventure tales—Grant Lawrence happened to see my name in the Author’s Acknowledgments at the back of The Revenant and deduced that I had been the book’s original editor when Carroll&Graf Publishers brought out Michael Punke’s first novel in 2001-02. Thanks for the shoutout, Grant! Click here for full post.

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March 23rd, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio

Mo Kenney, Ready for a Big Stage Next Time in NYC

I’d seen Mo Kenney perform live, but never in such an up-close setting as when she played Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage 3 on the lower east side of Manhattan this past Sunday night. I’d heard her sit in during an outdoor set at the CBC Music Festival last May, with Joel Plaskett and the Emergency band, and then in a solo show at the same festival where organizers put her in a too-small tent that overflowed with a couple hundred enthusiastic fans. Suffice to say that in Canada, where she’s become pretty well known, Mo Kenney warrants a big stage. In NYC, where she’s not well known yet, the small downstairs room at Rockwood was just right, though I’d add she’ll need a bigger one here next time.

She opened her set with her song “I Faked It,” full of scorn and romantic disappointment:
It was never you and me
When I said it was forever
I was lying through my teeth

For example
when I said it wouldn’t hurt
there was not a chance in hell
it was ever gonna work

To be truthful
the pleasure didn’t last
Before I took a drink
the ice had melted in the glass

While I’d seen Kenney really wail on a hollow-bodied Gretsch electric guitar at the outdoor shows—and play on an acoustic guitar—she had only a small acoustic guitar this night, I think a Martin, and got great sound from it. What’s more, she plays really interesting stuff. In fact, her chording embroidered the harsh lyrics of this first song with a harp-like beauty, a felt contrast to the embittered narrator’s regrets. When it ended, she remarked to the audience, “I thought I’d start with that one, so right off the bat you could see the sort of person I am.” It was a rueful, humorous note. She kept up that sort of banter throughout, showing an easy stage presence, even she was just tuning. Her second song was one she said she’d written at age 16,”Eden,” also the first song on her excellent 2012 debut album, a wistful song with a finger-picked passage that reminded me of The Beatles’ “Blackbird.” In her next break, she mentioned that she’d driven a car in NYC for the first time ever, a bit different from Halifax, and how glad she was it had been quiet, a Sunday. Not only are her lyrics full of arresting emotional images, when she toys with wordless vocalizations, doing a kind of folk-music scat, or assays to whistle a chorus, it comes off perfectly. She confessed to writing a lot of “sad songs,” but added she’s written at least one happy number, “The Happy Song,” which she played with a lilting eagerness, including a cleanly whistled passage.

She also mentioned Canadian rock superstar Joel Plaskett, who recognized Mo’s talents while she was still just in high school*. Plaskett’s produced her first two albums, and toured across Canada with him and the Emergency trio. He also recommended she consider covering a song called “Telephones,” which Mo played Sunday night. It was written by the Cape Breton, Nova Scotia group Mardeen,, seen in this video.

The rest of her set unfolded rapidly, compressing an hour into what seemed mere minutes, though it was actually almost another ten songs. Mo Kenney is on tour in the US over the next few weeks, with stops coming up in Syracuse, Buffalo, Washington, DC, Northampton, MA, and Saratoga Springs, NY, and several other towns. (details here and below). If you’re in any of these locales, I urge you to go hear Mo Kenney. She’s a brilliant songwriter, an engaging performer, a savvy song picker, and a big talent. She ended the night by telling one more story, about how devastated she’d been by David Bowie’s death (“I took out all my LPs, began playing them while weeping, a lump on the floor,” he’d meant so much to her in formative years.), and then played a cover of Bowie’s song, “Five Years,” with the timeless verse “Your face, your race, the way that you talk/I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.” Kyle and I really enjoyed Mo’s performance and visiting with her after the show.

Here also are some pictures I took when I heard Mo last summer at the CBC Music Festival.

*Source for this is Grant Lawrence of CBCMusic

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March 17th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio

Matt Andersen and Lee Harvey Osmond at Rockwood Music Hall, Friday March 18 + Mo Kenney, Sunday, 3/20

Looking forward to hearing Matt Andersen & Lee Harvey Osmond Friday 3/18 at Rockwood Music Hall NYC. Andersen’s powerful voice reminds of Greg Allman’s, while Osmond’s also got major vocal tone. Below are music videos by both artists. Admission is a very reasonable $15.
Click this link to get ticket info for Friday night’s show, a rare live appearance for both in NYC.

The booker at Rockwood is on a roll this week, as Sunday night March 20 they have Mo Kenney on one of their three stages. I hope to catch her show, too. Ticket info here, only $10.

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March 16th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Global News; Media

Good for a Laugh—American Network Fails at French Translation of PM Trudeau

Transnational humor in a funny failure at ABC News, via Buzzfeed Canada. See below for a sampling, or click here for the whole rundown of botched captions inadvertently provided to US viewers by ABC.