O to Copa: Home and the Local

I miss a lot from my former lives. I’ve spent time living in Ottawa, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Montreal, and now Toronto, and with each move, each shift of life, I’ve left something special behind: a girl I loved, a friend I cherished, an apartment I felt right in, a diner that burned my grilled cheese just right, a quiet street I liked to stumble home, a spot on the beach to celebrate the eventide, a girl I loved. I like moving. I enjoy that sense of displacement. The rush of adrenalin born of fear of solitude and loneliness. The way a new place smells. The way it tastes. Of walking unfamiliar streets completely alone. And what I like best of a new place, a new temporary home, is discovering a local, a pub or tavern to call my own. And on a recent visit back to Montreal, I stopped by a former local to find it turned inside out, contemporized, changed. And I realized, much to my disappointment, that I haven’t had a local in some time, that I’m without a true home.

Many more intelligent folks than I have considered what we “need.” Virginia Woolf claimed that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Why this only applies to women and fiction is beyond my two degrees in English, but it didn’t turn out all that well for Ginny did it? Neil Young claimed a “man needs a maid” but Neil is notoriously messy, and that all turned pretty bad for Carrie Snodgress. Hunter S. Thompson told us “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” which some of us have tried to varying degrees of success, Thompson himself on the low end of that measurement. For me, a man needs a home, and that home is a local, a bar to call his own, a place where you can drop in at 11am without judgment for a cold 50 and read the paper. A place where a stool is always empty, where you can have both conversation and silence, where a hockey game plays on a TV quietly in the distance, where a friend will drop by, or not. And where it doesn’t matter.

My first local was an Irish pub in Ottawa called Gentle Annie’s. My friends and I went there because, well, it was close to our homes and they’d serve us even though we were sixteen. The owner, Des, whose nose had burst so many blood vessels it looked like an irrigation chart, and his staff very much knew how old we were, mostly because we would drunkenly admit it in the wee hours. We were peach-fuzzed little drunkards, but we could hold our liquor and we tipped well. We knew all the words to all the Irish songs, and we belted them out as best we could. The only problem with being so close to our homes, was that from time to time a friend’s parents or one of our high school teachers would come in. We’d all pretend not to see each other, except for on one occasion when a rather inebriated algebra teacher struggled to his feet to declare he was taking attendance, and proceeded to call on the five of us by surname over and over until someone settled him down.

On one of my last visits to Gentle Annie’s, I accidently broke my buddy Joe’s front tooth with the end of my pool cue. Opinion on how it happened differs, as Joe claims I hit him and I maintain that he face planted into my cue as he bent over for his pint.  Joe, suffering from too many drinks and a bit of vanity, naturally called 911 from the bar payphone. We were a little surprised when two cop cars, a fire engine, and an ambulance showed up upon hearing of a broken tooth at a local not averse to the occasional scuffle. The cops laughed at us, the fire engine quickly departed, and after the ambulance attendant explained to Joe that he would be charged a $95 fee for the ride, he thought it best to just go home and sleep it off. To this day his cap doesn’t quite match his teeth, and his mother holds me responsible for his now slightly less than perfect smile. He’s still very pretty, though.

There were a few places when I moved to Vancouver that I considered my local, but I never really felt at home in that city until I found The Fringe Café. The Fringe was like a house party with all your closest friends, every night, all night. I would imagine that the party is still going on, but I haven’t been there in twelve years. The Fringe was special, in that you could go in at any time and feel comfortable whether you were reading a book or hitting on the barmaid or doing shots of Jäger. The staff was more than friendly, and it was not uncommon to stay drinking right into morning, and greet the day staff as they came in for their early shift. On two separate occasions I put my ball cap down on a candle, nearly setting fire to the table, and perhaps the bar. Another time I left the bar not by walking out the front door, but by somersaulting the length of the room and out the back. I remember once refusing to leave the patio, and being carried, pint in hand, by Karen the bartender to an indoor seat. I remember great music. I remember feeling light. I remember good people. I remember being three thousand kilometres from home, and not at all.

Eventually, the sane man sobers up and leaves Vancouver. And in the years that followed I was without a local. There were a few weeks in Ottawa where the Alibi Room was close, but it was too small and dark to find any real comfort. It was, however, the place that supplied my roommate and I with toilet paper, as we were broke and he was handy with opening the locked dispenser in the men’s washroom with his Swiss Army knife. But then one night a girl I was seeing decided to pour an entire litre bottle of water over my head in the middle of the bar, and after that it wasn’t really a place I wanted to go back to.

In Montezuma, on the Peninsula de Nicoya in Costa Rica, there were a couple of little hotel bars I liked, where eventually the staff acknowledged me as a pseudo-regular. If I was a true regular anywhere there, it was the breakfast place that would whip up my eggs and café con leche as they spotted me coming down the beach, or the groceteria that had cheapest pilsners and discounted guaro. But down there, we were always happiest to drink on the beach, and no one is in Costa Rica on any permanent basis. No one is home.

It wasn’t until I got back to Canada, and moved to Montreal that I found a local again. The Cock n’ Bull was one of the first bars I had been to in my youthful visits to Montreal, so it seemed natural to return. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I liked going there alone in the afternoons for pitchers of 50 and to read the paper, maybe try and do some writing. There were always these sad old men at the bar, Bukowksi’s without pens or poetry, drinking draught beer from white wine glasses, contently awaiting some kind end. I kind of admired them, their comfort in solitude, their confident quiet. It was here that I wrote most of my first book, where I could look into the future of my speakers as they sat at the bar next to me. As I found a community, when we called each other, we didn’t even need to say which bar to meet at, just when. The Cock n’ Bull became a home. Many nights would start at a large table, pitcher upon pitch being devoured, and inevitably end up with just myself and Nick McArthur as 3am rolled around, doing shots of Southern Comfort, wondering where everyone went, talking about how one day we’d be writers.

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Hockey Writers Fail in Post-Belak Fallout

I’ve been waiting it out, and wading through the hockey media’s attempts to write about what Bruce Arthur called probably the worst off-season ever for a professional sports league.  I attempted to tweet at (attweet?) some hockey writers to comment on my argument that it’s a cultural problem, as opposed to an NHL or enforcer problem. But I received no responses. I guess when you’re not relaying a deadline rumour, or agreeing with their simplistic and under-researched “journalism” you’re not worthy of a response. Or you’re just some writer with a blog who really doesn’t warrant a moment of thought.

Either way, what was written was so simple and so naïve it’s not worth directly referencing or linking. Some wrote about the mixing of drugs and alcohol as the problem, and while I’m not saying it isn’t a part of the problem, if mixing drugs and alcohol led directly to these kinds of events as often as they have this summer in the NHL, then the next two weeks of Frosh Weeks in Canadian universities should be on the lookout for some mass deaths. Drug and alcohol abuse are a result of many variables, something these viewpoints did not understand. And to blame the drugs and alcohol themselves? I’ve seen contemporaries drop pills into cocktails like they were ice cubes, and when it came time to evaluate what got them to that point, no one blamed the pills and cocktails. It’s like blaming a concussion on the brain. Or blaming a head and spinal injury on a turnbuckle and not an abhorrent and violent irresponsible action. Oh, wait. They already did that.

Some called for an end to fighting, and while I wouldn’t complain if fighting was removed from the game, I’m not naïve enough to believe it will happen for at least a generation. Maybe two. Some, like the ever-ignorant-yet-more-employed-than-I-am P.J. Stock was hesitant to call Belak’s death a suicide, despite the Toronto Police calling it just that. Perfect. Stock’s not even willing to admit what happened. I guess he’s fully expecting Derek Boogaard to be taking a few shifts this fall for the Rangers. Some wrote very well-intentioned yet benign and useless odes to the wonderful person that was Wade Belak.  Nice? Yes. But sort of Monday morning quarterbacking, if you ask me. They weren’t obituaries as much as they were examples of the further ineptness of the hockey journalism community to reach anything beyond the simple, or what is fed to them by the hockey machine. At least those pieces were in competent English and showed evidence of a simple understanding of the decade we’re in. Bruce Dowbiggin referred to an “online website,” and Steve Simmons couldn’t even get his verb tenses correct. It’s hard to believed they get paid.

Many made calls for not jumping to conclusions. To take our time. To respect and measure a process.  How typically Canadian. To slow down, call an inquiry. Extend the process over several years. Is Charles Dubin still alive? Does he need work? The only hope I found over the weekend was the news via Dave Hodge that Michael Farber was expected back to work soon (he has been battling an illness.) Farber is one of the few hockey journalists around who won’t kowtow to the hockey community. He wrote about the issues facing fighters some decade-and-a-half ago in Sports Illustrated. If only we had listened. But, of course, a voice of reason has no place in hockey. Here’s a link to Mr. Farber’s phenomenal piece from SI, as well as a clip below of him taking on Don Cherry in a TV interview after the Punch-up at Piestany.  This is the kind of opposition, and questioning of the establishment that could lead to a productive and useful discourse.

Hit Somebody

Wade Belak, a 35-year-old former NHL player, took his own life in a downtown Toronto hotel yesterday afternoon. He left behind a wife and two children, a promising post-hockey career, and a hockey culture that has bred two other suicides this summer. Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien played similar hockey roles to Belak. They fought. They hit. They instigated and engaged. There was no power play time. They didn’t kill penalties. They were not on the ice for important face-offs. They were enforcers. Tough guys. Fighters. Des hommes fort. They played the role from their early teens right up to their deaths. And what we, the fans, are left with is trying to understand what role we’ve played in their unfortunate deaths. At the end of the day, the Canadian hockey community, its fan base, and the media that covers the sport are not responsible, but guilty.

Canadians pride themselves on being the gatekeepers to the kingdom of hockey. The protectors of its national sport; it is our obsession, our heart, our long Winters and early Springs. We are born into a culture that idolizes teenagers, that is taught to respect not just the offensively gifted and the defensively sublime, but also those with grit. Those with sandpaper to their games. Players who will stick up for their teammates. And we love a good fighter. Because those boys are the salt of the earth. The real hockey players. The real Canadians. They grow up playing on makeshift rinks on family farms. They shoot pucks at the barn until their mothers force them to bed. They wear hockey sweaters like skin. They’re everything we ever wanted to be.

This, of course, is all bullshit. This is the image of hockey that has been force fed to us by an all-powerful hockey community. These fallacies fill their coffers, fund their sport, and feed our national pride. It’s an image they need to portray in order to hide decades of sanctioned abuse of young boys who just want to play a game. How is it that we, as a populace, allow boys to be taken from their homes as young as 15-years-old in order to play hockey in a community they don’t live in. To be left in the charge of strangers with questionable motives and goals. Left with the Graham James’ and David Frosts’ of the world. Shame on us. Would Canadian hockey die if players were only allowed to play within a certain circumference of their hometown? Of course not, but that’s not a benevolent attitude that buys into the hockey monster.

And once removed from parents all too willing to allow the move (because after all who doesn’t want their child to be the next Gretzky or Crosby or Kordic?) what does it do to a teenager to be told by an adult to go beat up another teenager? How is that a tolerable culture? In any other setting it’s barbarism. It’s child abuse. It’s a horrific act withholding the tools children need to become adults. It’s teaching a culture of violence, a culture that dictates that the less talented, the less gifted, must resort to acts of pugilism elsewhere criminal in order to survive.

What happens to these boys when they become men in an adult world? When they are left outside the rink in places like Nashville and Atlanta and New York, and not Red Deer or Saskatoon or Sudbury? Places that do not worship at the altar of hockey, that do not ignore the right and just and sane for three more wins, for one more season, for a shot at a silver cup. I think we know what happens, and we need to look no further than John Kordic, Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, and now Wade Belak. But what of those that never made it to the NHL, to the show? What about those who never made it past Red Deer’s penalty box? What happens to them?

Hockey has become a diseased culture, a deeply flawed community unable or unwilling to tend to its problems. And I believe the media; the ‘journalists’ who cover the sport have played a role in allowing the downward spiral of the game. The media is meant to be the fourth estate, meant to hold those responsible accountable. But the hockey media, and in particular the Canadian hockey media, have a long history of ignoring hockey’s flaws. It dates back to Alan Eagleson, and progresses right through amphetamines, the movement of Canadian franchises, the sexual abuse scandals, ignoring steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, concussions, and now the mental fragility of the players kept on the game’s periphery.

Too often the Canadian hockey media has been populated by fanboys, by those who yearned to move away from their parents at 15 and weren’t talented enough, so they turned to covering the sport they loved. And as much as they love the sport, they love feeling as if they are a part of it. They call players, coaches, and management by sports’ simplest collection of nicknames: Burkie, Collie, Ripper, Gomer, and so on. They report rumours and not fact, as if the rules of journalism don’t apply because they’re just covering hockey. They impose themselves on the discourse not to evolve it, but rather to be a function of it. To be a part of the culture. What should be the entity that protects the Rick Rypiens, and Sheldon Kennedys, and Theoren Fleurys, and Derek Boogaards, that should have held the sport accountable, instead has become the entity that allowed these atrocities under its watch. Shame on them.

After Wade Belak’s death was confirmed yesterday, there was an outpouring of sadness from the hockey community. There was a non-stop flow of stories about what a great guy he was. “Great in the room.” “A great teammate.” And from the ever ignorant and unaccountable media: “A great quote,” “Made our jobs easier.” And yet, who was being a great teammate to Belak in a broader sense? Who was making his job easier? There were certainly some calls for the NHL to be more accountable given the deaths of the three enforcers so close together. No one I’ve read was holding themselves, or the community at large in question. The only solace I could take, in moments away from my outrage, was that I was glad that it was the off-season. I don’t think I could have handled a Coach’s Corner on Belak. To watch the clown prince of hockey, Donald S. Cherry, talk about Belak and Boogaard and Rypien, and yet not hold himself or his jester Ron MacLean somewhat accountable in their blindness.

Cherry often talks about fallen soldiers and law enforcement officers, nearly coming to tears as he tells the audience of their untimely deaths. But what about the deaths occurring in his own backyard? What about those who are living within the philosophy that he espouses only to fall victim to its folly? It’s quite sad that Cherry seems totally oblivious to his power, to his standing within his community. A better man, a more responsible voice, would be leading the charge to reevaluate, to reconsider how all of us are a part of these deaths. But instead the community will pave over their graves with grit and sandpaper. And as typical Canadians we’ll soldier on oblivious and complacent, and we’ll quickly forget about three young men whose lives ended too early, because we’ve got dreams of Saturday nights, and hockey fights, and a vicarious run at the Stanley Cup. Shame on all of us.

If You’ll Admit That You Were Wrong Then We’ll Admit That We’re Right

Apologies to the seven people out there who are not related to me by blood and who read this blog on a semi-regular basis. The week has been filled with travel, bad leases, car theft, and very little hockey news. Also, had I known that hating a right-wing journalist with the writing level of a six-year-old would attract 127 times my regular readership, I’d have dropped out of poem school and started hating Christie Blatchford ten years ago. As in all things, it’s too late. Here’s some stuff for a Wednesday promising of fall.

Quotes of the Week

“He’s not drunk, his head just does that.” – anon.

“I wonder if I don’t like that kind of music anymore, because I’m not single and depressed.” – anon.

“All those quotes are real. Except the ones I made up.” – anon.

“Thanks for the ¾ Creemore!” – anon.

“Who the hell am I kidding myself.” – anon.

“You’re an idiot.” – anon.

On a Train

Why is it children are so precious?
I mean, what is it about them
that we consider precious.

If I was to spend the entirety
of a train ride from Toronto
to Montreal

screaming up and down the aisles
dropping my drinks on the other
passengers. Reeking of urine

and bravado. I’d be arrested.
This isn’t an assumption.
I’ve proved it.

Game 6s

That Spring we spent in our backyard,
when we had moved the TV onto the deck,
so we could play hacky sack and watch
the Sens lose to the Leafs. Again.

That was a good Spring.

Canada on a Terrasse

Over pints, we tried to decide
what Canada was.

And Jean said, bpNichol and wheat,
like he does for every discussion
not about the Habs.

And the other Jean said, Halifax in the late summer
just before Labour Day. With lobster,
and sweet corn-on-the-cob.

And the other Jean said, the thing just above the US.
And we sighed, and ordered more
beer, and lit more cigarettes.

And I said, that taste of the playoffs,
the quiet of my folks’ lake at dusk,
the smell of winter leaving.

And, of course, I was right.


When I was 21 and stupid, I worked at a restaurant in Vancouver with a girl who had cancelled her pending nuptials with a guy because he didn’t like Sloan. When I asked her if that didn’t seem a little shortsighted, she replied: “Have you ever listened to Sloan? They’re fucking awesome.” Well, she was wrong. Sloan is not awesome. But this song does not suck, and it came on the radio as I was driving the other day. Terrestrial radio. Like with aerials and frequencies and morning shows. Old timey.

Load the Car and Write the Note

Drunk on Television: Weatherporn and Kids Shows

I had a moment to watch some TV yesterday, as I was in a home with the Super Extended Premium Fuck You Bruce Springsteen Digital Cable package, and I took curious note of two very different sets of “performers” who I believed must have been drunk. I not sure the frequency with which television personalities are drunk while on camera. I’m sure it’s less than it used to be. For example, Fred Rogers must have been more often than not a few beverages into his afternoon before putting on his cardigan. Bob Cole surely knocks down a few shots of Lambs Navy Rum before fighting his way through a HNIC telecast. And anyone within three feet of Elisabeth Hasselback better be drunk, or I’ve lost all faith in humanity. But none of those people were on TV yesterday.

The first drunk was spotted during the CNN coverage of Hurricane Irene, and its impending doom. I made the assumption, after only a few minutes, that Wolf Blitzer must have been very very very inebriated. I mean, he’d have to be, right? Blitzer, at some point in time, was a respected and important journalist. I mean, he went to Johns Hopkins. He made it out of Buffalo. He covered news in Jerusalem and DC. He was a White House correspondent, for god sakes. He is arguably, the grandfather of cable network news. He named himself Wolf! He’s not Ben Fucking Mulroney. But here he is, working a Saturday afternoon in August (when, really, no one with a real job does) doing 24 hour coverage of Irene, in CNN’s best weatherporn style. Its entire coverage is based on elaborate sets, and iPad 5 prototype touch screens and, instead of giving facts, assuming and predicting the worst.  So, as you can see from our CNN Weather Alert Matrix, if everyone currently living east of Milwaukee was to run naked to the base of the Hudson River, there could possibly within reason be significant casualties.

First of all, Wolfy looks embarrassed. But, I understand a man’s gotta work. He’s probably got debt. A few mortgages. A bad investment here and there. Dude has bills to pay. I get it. So there he is, slugging back three-finger gin and sodas and chasing them with 12 year-old Glendronach, just so he can stand in front of a 35 foot LED screen and tell viewers to keep watching or they’ll die. Hell, I had to have a few adult beverages just to keep watching. He must have been praying for an assassination, or coup, or even a B-celeb overdose just so he could stop introducing some DeVry dropout every four seconds to show viewers what a map of the East Coast looks like, and how clouds move.

In quite dichotomous opposition to the drunkenness of Mr. Blitzer, is that found within the atrocity of contemporary children’s programming. Now, understand, I have no problem with Dora and her cousin. I spent a winter living in Costa Rica, and I dig the whole Pura Vida thing, let’s save the whales and learn shit while avoiding a fox vibe. I can get onboard with that. And Sesame Street is still one of the best TV shows of any genre out there. (However, when did Bert and Ernie get legs? In fact, when did any of Jim Henson’s creations get legs? It’s just kinda creepy.) But some of these shows are just plain awful. There’s this Max and Ruby, two rabbit orphans who never wear pants. And Daniel something, who is the embodiment of a Bruce McDonald Kids in the Hall character traveling the world and asking adults annoying questions. Kids seem to like it, but I’m afraid they’ll all grow up kind of stupid and naïve. Seriously, the coming generation is going to believe that puppets have legs, and that pants are unnecessary. Trust me, it’s coming.

Note: If my sister and brother-in-law are reading this, I’m referring to other people’s children. Your kids will be fine. First off, you guys are cool, which helps offset the evils of TV. Also, when you’re not looking I explain the Silver Jews, and alliteration, and Hemingway to them. They’re cool.

Keeping within our framework of on-camera drunkenness, is a show called The Fresh Beat Band.  There are dozens of shows that most be similarly employing drunken young actors, but this is the one my niece and nephew like, and this is the only one I’ve seen enough to judge, generalize, and make rash assumptions about. So, The Fresh Beat Band stars The Fresh Beat Band who bounce around a bright coloured sound stage, and sing and dance with their kid co-stars, and adore everything and are filled with such wonderment it is sickening. Frightening even. See for yourself:

When you peel back the fluorescent façade of faux happiness, you find a collection of your favourite Milestone’s and Boston Pizza servers trapped in what they believe to be their big acting break. The thing is, it isn’t. And when the adult actors realize this (and it must not take too many episodes to do so) I can’t imagine they have much choice but to turn to drinking. Again, as in mid-weatherporn Wolf, I had to tip a few to survive. It should be noted, however, that both Milestone’s and Boston Pizza have wonderful corporate advancement and management programs. Not all is lost.

I think it may be best to return to the days when it was kosher to have a smoke and a scotch out on the news desk. Why hide it anymore?  It insults us all. And for the love of all things holy, someone give Wolf a war to cover. And don’t bring him in on Saturdays in August anymore. None of us are working, why should he? We’re all in our backyards enjoying adult beverages without the world watching.

Minced Oaths revisited

41. The winter dragged on, and work was light.
They watched sitcom upon sitcom upon sitcom,
but could never settle on an aesthetic to their liking.

42. You don’t own it. It’s not yours. It’s not yours.
But, when you’re up for it before the dawn,
and the coffee bleeds rum. Maybe it is.

43. He liked the subway, how it was always nighttime,
the comfort of the constant shuffle of strangers.
The fare, however, he found prohibitive.

44. The tide made its way to the porch. His things
were packed. The car hadn’t started.
Maybe they’d stay. It depended on the car.

45. He had always been attracted to Sinead O’Connor,
finally convinced his wife to shave her head. It didn’t work
for him. Turns out he had been attracted to the accent.

46. Cauterized, and staggered, he wandered on.
Facing back the night, and trampled. He wondered
about more drink, about morning, about his math.

47. He lived in vacations between substances,
in a two-bedroom by the water. He longed
for a washer and dryer, or an addiction to pills.

48. “The monkey hadn’t eaten since it arrived.
Finally, he accepted some peanuts. Being allergic, he died instantly.”
The zookeeper always felt he knew, felt it was suicide.

49. He spent the day googling himself, until he found something
interesting. Turns out he wasn’t a dentist. Wasn’t married.
Did not have kids on the way. Did not golf. Interesting.

50. At the bar, it was sad news. He was not impressive.
The girl with the llama tattoo finally broke away from her friends,
and whispered: “Take your things, and stick with us.”

The Avett Bros.

You know, because of Brooklyn and the hurricane and stuff.

The Return of the Cobains (Whatever Happened to Grunge?)

A continuation of a thought on Frances Bean Cobain from a few weeks back, which can be found here.

The New York Times had an article recently on the “arrival” of Frances Bean Cobain, as perhaps a fashion and pop icon. Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s daughter is all of 18 years old, and this offensive article (more befitting of the TMZs of the world) is so frustratingly naïve and ignorant it makes me fear for the Times.  For example writer Austin Considine, who I’m assuming is a 15-year-old aspiring dancer/actor from Des Moines with a prestigious blog and a subscription to People, notes:

“Last night as we were all attempting to leave the office, we couldn’t pull ourselves away from our computer screens because we were too mesmerized by the new photos of Frances Bean Cobain,” wrote Alyssa Vingan on StyleCaster.com. “All of our fashion friends were tweeting up a storm about them, and it’s easy to see why.”

Indeed. Gone is the sweet round-faced teen of her 2008 pictorial for Harper’s Bazaar. Instead, her intense, pale stare hauntingly recalls her brilliant but troubled father, front man for Nirvana, who committed suicide in 1994, when she wasn’t yet 2. The stringy hair, self-possession and voluptuous pouting lips evoke a younger, wildly ambitious Ms. Love.”

What young Considine does in quoting the similarly naïve ignoramus Vingan, and noting Ms. Cobain’s aesthetic attributes she shares with her parents, is that the only thing that matters in her rise to pop prominence is her parents. A birth certificate, and not person mesmerized Vingan and her cohorts. And more importantly, and intriguingly, and upsettingly, is whether or not Eddie Vedder’s daughter(s) would (or will) get this much attention. And the answer is: fuck no. Because Eddie Vedder didn’t kill himself with a shotgun on April 4th, 1994.

But all this got me thinking about Grunge, because what Considine sees in Frances’ “intense, pale stare” I did see in the photos from Harper’s Bazaar in 2008. I see her dad. I see Kurt Cobain. And I see my youth. I was 17-years-old when Cobain died, not that much younger than Frances is now. I don’t remember a whole lot about the day. I know that my friends and I were stoned, and hanging out in someone’s parents’ basement. Much Music broke the news that a man had been found dead on Cobain’s Seattle property, and though I recall waiting for confirmation that it was indeed Cobain, we all knew.

I also don’t recall any great sadness, or an evening drunken reminiscence, or candle light vigils. Maybe because at the time, I was more of a Pearl Jam fan. I do remember being angry that Cobain quoted Neil Young in his suicide note, writing it was “better to burnout, than to fade away.” In the 90s, Young was often referred to as The Godfather of Grunge, but what Cobain’s borrowing of a great lyric failed to do, and what Grunge did not properly inherit from Neil Young, is that the music, the art, the writing was the release, not the embodiment, of pain and suffering.

Young took the quoting hard, and refused to play “Hey, Hey, My, My” for years afterwards. I was, and am, a huge Neil fan, and during this time I saw Neil play once or twice a year. The songs absence was noticeable, and sad in a way I can’t quite explain. When he finally did put the song back in his concert rotation, I saw him at a show in (I believe) Toronto, and it was moving and cathartic experience for the crowd, and I imagine for Young. In that rendition, and in the times I’ve seen him since, his emphasis seems to be on the lyric “and once you’re gone, you can’t come back” and there’s something quietly beautiful about that, and the place that Young and Cobain share in Rock’s history.

I miss Grunge. I miss Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. I miss going to the record store, and searching out Green River imports, and Mother Love Bone EPs. I miss waking up and throwing on a pair of dirty ripped jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a beaten up t-shirt, and calling it an outfit. I miss never having to wash or shave, and calling it cool. I miss lyrics like “Chloe’s just like me, only beautiful” and “the feeling, it gets left behind.” And I actually miss feeling “stupid, and contagious,” because, shit, that’s how it was at times.

A while back I started listening to Nirvana again. The Cock n’ Bull in Montreal had “Aneurysm” on it’s jukebox, and I overplayed it every time we went in. This was followed by a re-introduction to MTV Unplugged in New York.  There’s a point in “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” that just breaks your heart, and for a beautifully haunting moment, you’re exposed to what it is that eventually ended Cobain. “My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night?” And though the composition isn’t his, it allows for a great parallel in interpretation. Cobain, intriguingly, felt the full Blues-ridden pain of the Lead Belly song, and put a stripped down and yet near pitch-perfect Grunge take on it. Yet, when it came to interpreting Young’s lyric, all he could take away was an excuse to burn out.

Too bad. Who knows where Nirvana would have gone, where Cobain was going to take music, if Grunge would have survived. We could have been spared Foo Fighters. But Pearl Jam faded away, but not before leaving us with an unfortunate legacy of Eddie Vedder copycat artists (I’m looking at you Nicklesuck.) And Chris Cornell turned to Adult Contemporary pop nonsense, forming the worst named band ever (Audioslave), teaming with American Idol winners, and finally a desperate Soundgarden reunion. (Christ, that’s how old I am. A Soundgarden reunion.) Layne Staley OD’d to no one’s surprise, though Alice in Chains reunited anyway.  And yet their Godfather, Neil Young, is still as vibrant as ever. It’s sad when parents outlive their children, a sadness that will be carried out all too publicly by Frances Bean Cobain.

The Cattle Tell Lies

Minced Oaths cont’d cont’d cont’d

16. Everything was set for the wedding.
Though the cows hadn’t been lying down,
that afternoon it rained nonetheless.

17. He liked the sound of stupidity in the morning.
He often punched above his weight.
She knew this, and rarely accepted his calls.

18. Her boyfriend was meek, and her girlfriend imposing.
He said: “I love you,” but she pretended not to hear.
She said: “I love you,” but she pretended not to hear.

19. Wednesday does not rhyme with junk-trunk.
Despite this, Ray continued to write villanelles.
Eventually, the EI cheques stopped coming.

20. He found them a nice apartment in Parkdale.
One bedroom with a den. Big kitchen. Yard.
When 11pm rolled around, it was apparent she wasn’t coming.

21. There are few things he cared less about in the world,
than other peoples dreams, and other peoples orgasms.
When she realized this, it was apparent why she wasn’t coming.

22. Her whole life, she thought the painting in her parents’
living room had been done by her grandmother.
Turns out it was Monet. Or Manet. But not Nana.

23. When she awoke, she knew she had made another mistake.
He moved his left forearm comfortably between her breasts.
“You’ll always be my future husband,” she whispered.

24. When told that Sam Elliott was not her uncle,
she cried. She would no longer be attracted to men
wearing moustaches. But he still refused to shave.

25. It was not cancer. It was not an allergic reaction.
His hair had greyed, and his humour darkened.
It was an inflammation of derision.

26. His bid for Parliament failed,
he decided to leave politics. She was still
ambitious, and began dating other candidates.

27. He had had too much to drink. His bladder was full.
He could not for the life of him find the second floor washroom.
He had become an easy drunk. The house was a bungalow.

28. The monkey tattooed on his upper shoulder
was meant to signify burden. As he got older, it lost
its shape, and came to signify mistakes.

29. He couldn’t remember his 24th birthday,
or when he started to go bald. But her smile,
the feel of her palm against his. That, he knew.

30. Their friends couldn’t understand why they hadn’t married.
Years later they would discover that she had suffered
from fanatical monogamy.

31. “It makes you consider what you don’t have.”
“What don’t you have?”

32. She left her boyfriend’s apartment as he slept.
She made her way in the night to another man’s home.
It was warm for October, but love isn’t an excuse.

33. They spent the night at a motel outside Rochester.
Against his better judgment, he got a room with two beds.
He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t tell her.

34. The jeans got skinny, then wide, then skinny again.
Music got worse. Gas more expensive.
He was still alone. Kurt Cobain was still dead.

35. They rarely danced, but she fit well in his arms.
At a wedding once, they sat at different tables.
It was a sign of things to come.