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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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!

Link to Matt Mays’ new song, “Sentimental Sins”:

Bonus link—youtube of Matt Mays’s “City of Lakes”:

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15 Photos from an Upper Manhattan Bike Ride to the Little Red Lighthouse & Great Gray Bridge

Hudson Beach view

Click here to see all photos at The Great Gray Bridge.

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The Visual Inspiration for Honourary Canadian–Percé Rock in Eastern Quebec

Map of Atlantic Canada + Perce RocheOver the past couple days, I’ve been looking at old photos I may scan and use to illustrate posts I plan to publish on the two blogs I manage–it’s rewarding work, especially the more I really dig in to the task and decide what to post. Even with the pictures I’m unlikely to use, it’s fun to be reminded of things I’ve done and places I’ve been over the years.

As an example of the sort of images I’m looking at, here are pictures I took on a three-week solo road trip I made in autumn 1988 to Atlantic Canada, with a culminating day at the majestic Percé Rock (aka le rocher percé or ‘pierced rock’) or in eastern Quebec along the Gaspé Peninsula, a veritable lobster tail jutting in to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, as shown on the above map. The rock face sits like the prow of a massive ship, towering nearly three hundred feet above the water. It is approachable on foot at low tide, but even then you have to keep on your toes as winds can shift the waves unexpectedly. The same vacation I also visited nearby Bonaventure Island and Parc Forillon, a serene national park. I toured this area only once, as subsequent trips to Quebec with my wife and son never brought us this far east. I would love to return with them some day.

The wikipedia entry about Percé Rock includes a lot of fascinating information, such as the fact that more than 150 fossil species have been found in the locale, with some of the fossils dating back more than 310 million years. Bonaventure Island, which I visited by boat, is home to huge flocks of noisy seabirds, including northern gannets, snowy gannets, and black cormorants, with the pungent tang of their guano filling the air, which in past times local farmers would gather to spread across their fields.

This region left a great impression on me, for as you can see, I chose the image of the pierced rock as the motif for this site when I started it last year, similar to when I chose an image of the George Washington Bridge, aka The Great Gray Bridge, for my first blog, established in 2011. Unsurprisingly, I am not alone in having been captivated by Percé Rock. The wikipedia article reports that French poet André  Breton, an exponent of surrealism and friend to Dada artists, visited the rock in 1944, while global war still raged, including at home in France. His sight of the rock inspired a poem, “Arcanum 17,” which he called “a hymn of hope, renewal, and resurrection,” adding that Percé Rock is a “razor blade rising out of the water, an image very imperious and commanding, a marvelous iceberg of moon stone…to a distracted observer though to a common man it is just but a resting place of birds.”

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Rural Alberta Advantage, Keeping Live Music Fans Warm on a Cold Night


Paul BanwattFun live music show last night with Toronto trio Rural Alberta Advantage in front of a boisterously appreciative full house at the Mercury Lounge on the lower east side of Manhattan. Early on, one of the band members mentioned from the stage that they had last played in NYC about four years ago, and how glad they were to back. Despite that, or even because of it, they sold out an early and a late show last night. I was at the latter set, my first time hearing them, after some years enjoying their music on CBC Radio 3. When I arrived near the end of the opening set by the duo Glasslands, I was glad to see the venue quite crowded already. In this club, with a music room whose walls are clad all in brick and no acoustic buffers installed anywhere, the sound can be brittle and harsh if the room isn’t full of people. On a wintry night with everybody in sweaters and heavy coats, the crowd was the buffer, and the sound was great.

The three members of RAA array themselves across the stage in a level rank–that is, the drummer, Paul, isn’t set up toward the back of the stage, but to the side of his bandmates. The frontman, Nils–a fair, sort of gingery fellow, in a light blue denim shirt and blue jeans, your basic Canadian tuxedo, shown in the tweet I shared from the floor–belts out lyrics in a distinctive vocal and singing style, with lots of shouts and murmurs, more of the former than the latter, all very expressive. He accompanies himself with percussive and propulsive guitar strumming, on an acoustic. He actually broke a string last night, and apparently having no second guitar with him on stage, asked if anyone in the audience could re-string his instrument for him. A confident and competent dude called out from the audience and walked on stage to help out, while Nils moved stepped over to his keyboard for a song. The guitar good samaritan took care of business and finished his task before the next song ended. This little episode made me think of how Neil Young always lauds his longtime guitar tech Larry Cragg, To one side of Nils was raven-haired Amy, on keys, xylophone and backing vocals. Among the musical sounds from her instrumentation, I could tell that she was providing a steady bass thump–since the band doesn’t have a bassist–and she did it really well). Drummer Paul was a fierce warrior on his stool, seated, not behind but to the side of his kit, so that you could really watch him play. It was nice to see a drummer freed from the back row. It’s apt, because he was a big contributor to the band’s sound last night. He happened to be in darkness most of the time, so the only photo of him I got of him happened when he was moving around on stage for a bit. Take my word for it: he’s a seriously great drummer, with a punchy tone to his skins that had the sonic character of an instrument, not beats alone.

RAA has a pleasantly raw, not heavily amplified, sound, reminiscent to me of other Canadian groups I love like Elliott Brood, “death country” trio that features guitar, banjo, and drums; the multi-instrumental duo Sunparlour Players; Cuff the Duke, a 4-piece whose guitar-driven sound ranges from pastoral to edgy and serrated; and ski-bumming, stoke-folk 5-piece Shred Kelly.

Rural Alberta Advantage played for about 75 minutes last night, before coming back for a few encores, capped off by the band’s stroll down from the stage in to the audience, where they stepped up on to a bench against a wall, and led the happy crowd in an acapella finale. Nils announced that following the show they would be hanging out in the bar’s front room for a while and would be eager to meet and say hi. I stuck around and enjoyed introducing myself to and speaking with Paul Banwatt, Amy Cole, and Nils Edenloff. I told them about my blogs and said I looked forward to sharing a report on their show, along with the photos I took during their spirited performance.

Such a fun night of live music. I hope to hear the band again sometime and plan on picking up one or both of their albums down the road. I didn’t buy either last night–being currently without a CD player attached to my Mac–but would love to have their CDs from Paperbag Records, a terrific label that also handles Elliott Brood and Cuff the Duke. Shout-out to Amanda Dameron Pitts of Cobra Camanda who helped me get in to to this sold-out show.


Cross-posted at The Great Gray Bridge.

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Happy 2014 & Fervent Hopes for a Great New Year

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