My Four Seasons

I don’t post to this blog as frequently as I used to. I’m doing a lot more writing at work, so I’ve been less inclined to post.

Plus, let’s be honest: I’m not that interesting. You know you’re getting to the end of the line when you post about your boots. (Although I love those boots.)

Oh well. The name of this blog is Reynoworld, not Jim’s Riveting Reads.

Anyway, I don’t want to disappoint the several people who read this blog, so here’s another one. Got a cupla beer in, got a dip in (sorry, Template), got Trane on the stereo. Ready to write.

IMG_0780
Jim Reyno and Brad Hunter welcome summer at The Ship. Kelly Drennan photo.

It’s officially summer. Just turned from spring. I intended to write this post yesterday, but I was busy baseball watchin’ and cat wrasslin’.

But I’ve cleared my schedule and here it is: My ranking off the seasons, from first to worst.

Fall: You’ve had a great summer, lots of hot weather, and now it’s cooler — but not too cool. The leaves haven’t fallen yet, and the colours are spectacular.

Sweater weather, easier to hide the spare tire you’ve earned with a summer of beer drinkin’ and deck sittin’.

Plus, I get a sense of optimism from fall. Great memories of summer, as well as the hope winter won’t be so bad. And as a sports guy, you’ve got baseball playoffs as well as early season NFL and NHL. A perfect storm, if by “storm” you mean fascinating for-real reality TV. I hope my favourite team of millionaires who represent a city I don’t live in beats yours!

Summer: Like a Trump tweet, summer speaks for itself. Sun, warmth, decks, family, friends, barbecue — all that.

Although I don’t like the humid days as much as I did when I was younger. Who wants to feel sweat on their gut? I’m 47 years old.

Spring: Like fall, I get a sense of optimism from spring. You’ve survived the winter, and as everyone knows about baseball spring training, hope springs eternal.

And two of my favourite days of the year are the first day I can wear shorts, and the first day I can open the window in the condo.

Winter: Now just a minute. I don’t hate winter. If you’re ready for the cold weather, it’s not too bad. Me and my main man and Reynoworld guest blogger Nate walk all the way from the office to the Starbucks on Main West in Hamilton pretty well every workday. It’s like, three blocks at least. I think it’s fair to say we are warriors.

One thing that makes winter much easier is having indoor parking at the condo. I rarely have to brush snow off the car. Regardless of how you rank the seasons, I think we can all agree that brushing snow off a car is the worst fucking thing in the history of the world.

But maybe that’s just me. Feel free to tell me how you rank the seasons. If we can reach a consensus, maybe we can change the weather.

The Worst (Ooh That Smell)

I wasn’t going to tell this story, because I know a lot of kids read this blog to provide a moral compass. And I don’t condone what I did. But I shared this story with Reynoworld photographer Melissa Hank, and she was quite touched by it.

So here goes.

In April 1993, my friend and fellow former altar boy Erin went to Montreal to see two Canadiens NHL playoff games and three Expos baseball games. I already wrote about the ridiculous train ride from Halifax. Once we got to Montreal, the ridiculous didn’t stop.

We stayed in downtown Montreal at the Y (that might be another blog post). We drank a lot and we ate a lot of crap. We ate some good food, though — ribs at the legendary Bar-B-Barn. Spectacular! Walking back to the Y, we gave our leftovers to a homeless guy. Made his day, hopefully.

We also ate and drank at the famous Peel Pub. I don’t remember what we had, but I do remember I left the pub to go to a nearby bank machine. I was crossing a one-way street, so I made sure to look before I ran across illegally (safety first).

The thing is I looked the wrong way and got hit by a car. I heard the horn, the squeal of the brakes, and someone nearby yell, “Look out!”

Fortunately, I was basically liquid at that point and rolled over the hood and landed on the road. Injury report: a minor scrap on my left knee.

After I hit the road, I got up and kept running. The same guy who hollered before followed it up with, “Whoa!”

But as I was saying, we ate a lot of crap. Hot dogs, burgers, fries — nothing approaching healthy. It eventually got to be too much for me.

I got really bad gas.

Now I don’t mean: buuuuwp. Oh, pardon me!

I’m talking flatulence. (I can’t be sexy all the time.) I’m talking silent but deadly. SBD, as the kids say.

It started in our room at the Y. Erin, sitting in the bed next to me, having a smoke, suddenly crinkling his face up.

“What the fuck? Was that you?”

“Sorry man, it must’ve been one of those hot dogs.”

And the hits just kept on coming. I won’t bore you with the details (I probably shouldn’t even bore you with these details), but by the time we left for the Expos game, Erin was very upset with me.

I remember riding the subway to Olympic Stadium, Erin seated about five feet away as I stood holding a pole. He scowled as he sat facing me, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Every once in a while we’d make eye contact, and he’d just shake his head slightly and look away.

Well, I released another one and kept my eyes on Erin. He looked at me, gave me the stink-eye, and looked at the subway floor. Then he looked at me again, more suspiciously. He looked down again, and then it hit him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

It didn’t get better at Olympic Stadium. We sat in the right-field bleachers. I needed another hotdog and that didn’t help things, plus I spilled mustard on the blue windbreaker of the guy who sat in front of me.

jimclose
Melissa Hank photo.

At one point, I glanced at the guy sitting behind me. I’d say he was in his 40s and looked like he had a moustache. I say looked like he had a moustache because he actually had his sweater pulled over his nose.

The good news is, that was the last time anything like that has happened to me. It’s been smooth smelling ever since.

Out Of This World: Celebrating John Coltrane

I was already a fan of John Coltrane when I saw Mr. Holland’s Opus in a Halifax theatre in 1996.

What – you weren’t there? Quickly: Mr. Holland, portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, is a musician who wants to be a full-time composer, but becomes a music teacher to make ends meet. He ends up being a lifelong teacher.

I originally started another paragraph about the movie, but this post is about Trane, man — the jazz giant who took Giant Steps, and then some. Took on the tenor saxophone like a catharsis, bad teeth[1] and all. Took the soprano sax from the edge of extinction by reinventing a Broadway Favourite. Took his spiritual quest to the Supreme. Took his musical quest as far as it could go — Out Of This World. Maybe too far? Till he ran out of horn.[2]

Here’s the quote about Trane from Mr. Holland’s Opus that stayed with me (spoken by Dreyfuss):

When I was 15, I hung out at a local record store. And the guy there thought he knew what I liked and one day, handed me this record album. And it was John Coltrane. I took it home and played it — and I hated it. I mean — I really hated it. So, I played it again. I played it again. And I played it again. And I just couldn’t stop playing it.

“Oh wow!” I remember thinking in the theatre. “They’re going to bust out some Trane!”

You would think, right? Mr. Holland is obviously profoundly affected by the music of Coltrane, so much so that he and his wife name their son Coltrane.

So you would think, with Trane’s music such an integral part of the protagonist’s life, the moviemakers would give the moviegoers a taste.

But the Trane never comes. A two-hour, 23-minute movie that IMDB.com lists as having 27 music items — and there’s not one second of John Coltrane music.

That’s remarkable, but not surprising. Trane’s intense, long-form music doesn’t lend itself to cheery, movie-sized snippets.

Get down, real low down

You listen to Coltrane, derail your own train

Well, who hasn’t been there before?[3]

Being the optimist that I am (seriously!), I hope those who saw Mr. Holland’s Opus who weren’t already familiar with his music were inspired to learn more about John Coltrane. Trane for short.

To paraphrase what I said in my first post about Brian Wilson, better-qualified writers than me have written about Trane, frequently. So this isn’t a comprehensive Coltrane bio.[4] And as you know I’m no musician (just an occasional mandolin picker), so this is no technical musical analysis, either.

So what is it? It’s in the title: It’s a celebration of Trane. I want to try to explain how much his music means to me. I listen to a wide variety of music, but the older I get, I listen to Trane more frequently. And I hope in my own humble way (seriously!) that those who aren’t already familiar with his music might check it out.

Coltrane’s big break came when Miles Davis hired him to join his first great quintet in the mid-1950s.[5] It wasn’t a popular choice: Critics and fans alike railed about his harsh tone on tenor and his lengthy musical excursions.

Davis himself wondered what was going on.

Miles said to him: “Man, why don’t you try playing 27 choruses instead of 28?” Trane answered: “I get involved in these things and I don’t know how to stop.” Miles said: “Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth.”[6]

But that was Trane. Searching, searching, always searching, musically and spiritually.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. Something that hasn’t been played before. I don’t know what it is. … I’ll just keep searching.[7]

In 1959, Trane played tenor on Miles Davis’s perfect album Kind Of Blue. If you have room for only one jazz album in your collection, conventional wisdom says Kind Of Blue is the one to have.

But if you’ve read this far — hey! Looks like you have room for more than one jazz album!

Try Trane’s Giant Steps, recorded later in 1959. Some have dismissed it as glorified technical exercises, but it still swings and contains Naima, one of Coltrane’s most beloved ballads. And as far as technical prowess goes … Trane was the man! Check out these sheets of sound, as writer Ira Gitler famously called Trane’s improvisational style:

I shake my head in wonder when I hear Countdown. I find all those notes — and the speed! — inspiring. I must get the sheet music for that so I can play it on mandolin.[8]

Recorded in October 1960, My Favourite Things is another can’t-miss Coltrane album. Since everyone knows the title track, it might be a good place to start for the uninitiated. The waltz time is infectious, and Trane’s passionate improvisation is easy to appreciate since everyone knows the tune so well. He soars on soprano sax, at a time when few if anyone in jazz were using the horn. (I previously linked to My Favourite Things in this post.)

Coltrane’s most beloved album is his spiritual tour de force, A Love Supreme (recorded in December 1964). The four-part prayer was recorded in one day with what’s known as his classic quartet: Jimmy Garrison (bass), McCoy Tyner (piano), and Elvin Jones (drums).

As with all great works of art, A Love Supreme rewards revisiting. You can really feel the drive toward the final movement, Psalm, which features Trane “reading” a poem in the album’s original liner notes, via his saxophone. To my ears, A Love Supreme is the story of Trane’s life, a musical representation of his struggle through anonymity, drug and alcohol addiction — not to mention the stresses of being a black man in America — to his successful-yet-never-ending spiritual and musical quest.

You don’t have to be religious to get the passion and commitment of A Love Supreme. I’m not the only one who feels that way:

OK, so we’re up to 1965. This is where the music changes. This is where you might play a Coltrane album, hate it, hate it some more, and keep on hating it.

(Y)ears after it was recorded, John Coltrane’s Ascension remains a good way to start an argument. To some, it was Coltrane’s breakthrough album, a bracing declaration of independence from the prevailing musical restrictions. To others, it marked the beginning of a talented musician’s disturbing slide into chaos.[9]

“It sounds like a car crash,” I’d tell people about Ascension. Recorded June 28, 1965, with Trane’s classic quartet augmented by four more saxophonists, two trumpeters, and another bassist, Ascension is loud, abrasive, relentless. And it does kinda sound like a car crash, until you revisit it enough times that you really start to hear it.

Once I heard it, I realized it was unlike anything I’d heard before. The intensity is overwhelming: I’d owned Ascension for years but didn’t sit down and give it my full attention until last year, when one night I poured a bottle of wine and cranked it. The reissue contains two versions (both roughly 40 minutes), but I could only get through one. Too much sound, too much information, just too much.

But I enjoy Ascension. Not every night, but it’s a good restart if I’ve been listening to too much of the pop music I so love.

Wanna sample it? This is the version Trane preferred. You won’t need your dancing shoes:

So if you listened to even a bit of that, I think you’d agree that it’s not for everyone. Coltrane continued searching for new ways to express himself until his death from liver cancer in July 1967[10], alienating many critics, fans, and fellow musicians along the way.

Till he literally ran out of horn. During some performances in 1966 and ’67, Coltrane would stop playing the saxophone, beat his chest and sing. Drummer Rashied Ali remembers:

“I’d say, ‘Trane, man, why are you doing that?’ … He’d say, ‘Man, I can’t find nothing else to play on the horn.’ He exhausted the saxophone.”[11]

But not before he took us Out Of This World. Here’s my favourite Trane performance, recorded with the classic quartet in 1962:

[1] Coltrane: Chasin’ The Trane by J.C. Thomas (Da Capo, 1975). P. 41.

[2] Drummer Rashied Ali in Coltrane: The Story Of A Sound by Ben Ratliff (Picador, 2007). P. 109.

[3] If It Makes You Happy, Sheryl Crow. Sheryl Crow (A&M Records, 1996).

[4] Jazz fans will notice I pass over Coltrane’s time with pianist Thelonious Monk. I hope to talk about my main man Monk in a future post.

[5] Check out the Miles Davis albums Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, Steamin’, and ’Round About Midnight.

[6] The Jazz Anthology by Miles Kington (HarperCollins, 1992). P. 1992.

[7] The Heavyweight Champion John Coltrane: The Complete Atlantic Recordings liner notes by Lewis Porter (1995). P. 29.

[8] Right.

[9] John Coltrane: Ascension reissue liner notes by Lewis Porter (2000). P. 2.

[10] He was just 40 years old.

[11] Coltrane: The Story Of A Sound. P. 109.

Guest Post: When Jordan Met Melissa

I’m a sucker for pop music.

All that ridiculous, catchy, earworm-y pap that you can’t get away from and some studies have shown rots your teeth? Yeah, I pretty well love all of it.

I have just as many Spice Girl CDs and I do U2 (in my defence, the Spice Girls CD was only $3. Who could resist?). In the 1980s, I wanted a Wham! cassette but I was too embarrassed to buy it myself, so I made my buddy Arthur buy it for me for my birthday. And I remember owning at least one New Kids On The Block cassette and CD.

You know who else loves pop music? My co-worker and official Reynoworld photographer Melissa Hank. In October 2011, Melissa was granted an audience with NKOTB frontman Jordan Knight. I thought her story for TV Guide was very well done and hilariously honest.

Here it is!

fullsizerender
Melissa Hank (right) and not Jordan Knight (left).

I know I’m supposed to be a hard-nosed media professional who girds her loins with objectivity and wears cynicism like it’s this season’s Chanel, but omigosh, omigosh, omigosh!

I’m on CBC’s Cover Me Canada set to interview judge Jordan Knight. Of New Kids on the Block fame. Whom women of a certain age remember gracing numerous T-shirts, pins, bed sheets, and in my case, a fold-out poster from Tiger Beat taped to my closet door. At lip level.

“He must never know about that poster!” Reporter Melissa scolds. “You’ll lose credibility! And keep it zipped about going to the NKOTB-Backstreet Boys concert this summer!” Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa sulks, while Reporter Melissa skims over her questions.

And then, he appears. In a leather jacket, jeans and white T-shirt, the man once named one of People’s Most Beautiful perches atop a stool. Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa’s hand starts twitching and she suddenly needs a glass of water.

“Pitiful,” Reporter Melissa sniffs and she strides towards him, cooly lobbing questions his way.

Reporter Melissa: You’ve stayed in good shape. What kind of workout are you doing?

Jordan Knight: I hate to say the word yoga, but I do calisthenics, stretching and yoga pretty much every morning. And I just watch what I eat. I don’t eat a lot, and I try to eat non-fattening and non-sugary foods.

Unable to hold her silence, 13-year-old Melissa blurts, “So does that mean no cake and ice cream?” It’s a cheesy reference to a lyric in his song Stingy, which has been playing non-stop on her iPod for the past two weeks. Reporter Melissa hangs her head in shame.

He seems unfazed. “I do eat cake and ice cream, but I do it in moderation. I think the only diet that works is the self-control diet.” And that’s Minute 2. Reporter Melissa shoulders back in just as 13-Year-Old Melissa is about to gush about that poster.

Reporter Melissa: Looking back at the ’80s and ’90s, are there any fashions you wore that now you’re like “What was I thinking?”

Jordan Knight: Actually, I was looking at something the other day. It looked like I was wearing pyjamas, basically. And I was out! I was, like, having a night on the town in a pair of pyjamas, so that was really strange.

Minutes 3 and 4 tick by. Reporter Melissa seems in control. She remembers her awesomely tolerant husband back home, shoves thoughts of the poster to the side, and holds 13-Year-Old Melissa’s twitching hand at bay.

Reporter Melissa: I know you did a quick walk-by on (NKOTB member Donnie Wahlberg’s show) Blue Bloods. Would you ever do your own show?

Jordan Knight: I was the guy in the stadium scene, in the crowd. Joking! But acting? If somebody said ‘I’ve got the perfect part for you’ I would definitely do it. But I don’t believe in my acting skills that much to go and go get it. It’d be fun, though.

Reporter Melissa: Will you do gigs while you’re in Toronto?

Jordan Knight: I might. Chum FM just started playing a new song of mine called “One More Night” and it’s one of my favourite songs on the album Unfinished. If that gains traction, I might do a few shows. I’ll probably do something anyhow.

The news is too much for 13-Year-Old Melissa, and at Minute 6 she bursts in, all flushed and giggly, “I saw you in concert in Hamilton this summer!” He looks up, with the puppy-dog brown eyes 13-Year-Old Melissa saw taped to her closet door every night. “Oh, yeah?’

Reporter Melissa knows what’s coming and tries to dive back in before the words tumble out. But it’s like she’s in one of those sitcom sequences where someone’s moving in super-slow-motion, yelling, “Stooooooop!”

Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa: I totally had a poster of you in my bedroom. You know that one where you’re like this? (She cocks her head to the side and arches an eyebrow.)

Jordan Knight, clearly amused: Which poster? What?!

Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa: Yeah, it said “I love Jordan” at the bottom!

Jordan Knight: Really? I don’t remember that poster.

Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa: Oh, yeah – you can Google it!

Jordan Knight, valiantly humouring her: OK, I’ll go check it out.

And that’s Minute 8. The interview is up and I make way for the next reporter, who’s waiting with her veil of cynicism intact.

Reporter Melissa: Idiot!

Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa: Did you see? He only yawned once in the interview! He said it’s because he came in late last night, and that totally proves he didn’t think I was boring!

Reporter Melissa: I can’t take you anywhere.

Thirteen-Year-Old Melissa: Do you think it’s too late to ask for a picture with him?

Fresca Fantasy: A True Hamilton Story

I don’t think it’s necessarily a blessing. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a curse. It just is what it is: I’m always early.

Like, always. Maybe it comes from being in the deadline business. Whatever the case, I’m more likely to be an hour early for something than I am to be one minute late.

5 p.m.: That’s when I was supposed to meet my buddy Moira at Brux House on Locke Street here in Hamilton. So as I approached Locke I checked my iPhone: 4:30.

That’s pretty well on time for me. But I still had time to kill, so I thought I’d walk up Locke then head to Brux.

As I walked up Locke, there were less than a handful of fellow pedestrians. A guy walked toward me with bleach blonde hair wearing a beige parka. The parka was open a bit in front, where he had a small dog tucked in. Not sure of the breed, but I can confirm it was not a beloved beagle.

Now I love dogs (and cats), but something about this guy smacked of: Look at me! I have a cute dog in an unconventional place! Yay me!

I put my eyes to the sidewalk and walked by. I refused to acknowledge him.

But that would change. Oh yes — that would change. It’s such a dramatic transition, I don’t think I’m doing it justice. Let me try again.

 

But that would change.

Oh yes — that would change.

 

I guess the spacing and italics adds drama. Hope so.

Anyway, after I walked up Locke for a bit, I walked back down to Starbucks across the street from Brux. And who was in front of me in line? Dog Boy.

“Not this fucking guy again,” I thought. Then I looked at the counter in front of him: An open can of Fresca.

I looked away. No. Then I looked back. Really? Is it … could he be … is he part of the Fresca Fan Alliance?

I had to know.

“Is that your can?”

He eyed me suspiciously.

“Yeah.”

Me. My heart. Filled with love and pride. And look at the cute dog!

“That’s the best pop in the world,” I said. “I love it.”

“I know!” he smiled. “It’s sooo good.”

“Not many people drink it,” I giggled. “Giggle!”

Here comes the bespectacled barista with her brown hair tied in a ponytail.

“I used to work for a vending company,” she looked me in the eye like we’d known each other our whole lives and why wouldn’t she that’s what Fresca does it brings people together.

“And I loved it when we’d re-load the machine and there’d be extra Frescas.”

Dog Boy raised his.

“I woke up this morning and this was on my deck. I was like, ‘OK! I’ll take that!’”

In hindsight, I probably should have pursued that line of questioning. But it was already getting weird, and as Billy Joel said:

The Over/Under Of Rated (Or From Baseball To Boots)

Bull Durham, released in 1988, ranks sixth on Rolling Stone’s list of top sports movies. As a huge baseball fan, I saw it shortly after it was released and thoroughly enjoyed its depiction of the minor-league life. Starring Kevin Costner as a grizzled veteran catcher and Tim Robbins as a thickheaded pitcher on his way to the big leagues, everything I read indicated the baseball scenes in Bull Durham were true-to-life.

fullsizerenderI’m sure that’s the case. But Bull Durham doesn’t hold up for me. A few years after I first saw it, I bought the DVD, watched it again, and ended up reselling it.

It’s still a good movie — very funny and well written. But a few years removed, I no longer believed Costner as a (mostly) career minor-leaguer. He doesn’t dip, for one thing. And he’s so well-spoken, with a perfect haircut,  and perfectly pressed expensive clothes — he looks like a Hollywood movie star playing a ball player.

So although I still enjoy it, I think Bull Durham is overrated.

But hey, it’s not Costner’s fault! It was that bloody costume designer Louise Frogley (thank you, IMDB.com).

Costner was underrated in another baseball film, 1999’s For The Love Of The Game. He portrays a veteran major-league pitcher on his way to a perfect game in perhaps the final start of his career. (There’s also a bunch of love/romance-y stuff like in Bull Durham.) For The Love Of The Game isn’t a great flick, but I found Costner’s performance effective, and I appreciate the chemistry he has with his catcher, John C. Reilly.

Speaking of baseball — and I know this is sacrilege — but to me Fenway Park in Boston is overrated. As I mentioned previously, the hotdogs are spectacular, but overall Fenway ain’t so great. Built in 1912, the seats are cramped even when the place is empty. When a Red Sox game is on, personal space disappears and it’s bump-into-me-and-spill-my-beer season.

Now if you’ve never been to Fenway, I’m not saying don’t go — I’ve been there 15 to 20 times and even did the stadium tour. It is a unique baseball experience and the history speaks for itself. This is just a heads up for the casual fan that nothing is easy at Fenway, and you already know how much it sucks to spill beer imagine spilling an expensive one.

From Red Sox to real socks. One thing I’ve underrated until recently is the value of a quality pair of socks.

I have no fashion sense, and generally wear clothes until they disintegrate. Socks especially. Unless there are holes in the toes (very annoying), I’m wearing them.

But a while back I was given a pair of high-end socks. They’re red-and-black checkboard patterned from Roots and THICK! Every part of my feet is warm, all the time. And I need that, especially when I’m wearing my boots.

img_1519My boots. My beloved, 20-year-old (I’m guessing), well-worn, down-and-out boots. New boots are overrated.

Look at these warriors. The lace on the left boot is broken and doesn’t go through all the holes. The right boot has a three-centimetre gash by my baby toe that means if I walk through deep snow, I’m getting a soaker. The backs of both boots are frayed from being pulled off and on for so many years. They’ve had everything on them from dog crap to deer crap to tobacco juice to mud to blood to booze.

Why would I want to get rid of them?

I almost did a few weeks ago. I went looking for a new pair, but I couldn’t bring myself to replace my warriors. (Also, have you checked out the price of boots lately? I saw one pair for $160! No thanks, I’ll take the soaker and get groceries.)

img_1521Look, I’ve got to be honest with this blog. So I confess I really don’t care about Costner, Fenway, or even quality socks. I just want to pay tribute to my boots.

They said I couldn’t do it.

“You can’t write a whole post about your boots!”

“Why not?”

“No one cares about your stupid boots!”

“What do you mean? No one’s even seen them up close yet.”

“You have to expand the focus to include other things, then maybe — maybe — you can mention your boots.”

img_1518Oh I’ll mention them, all right. How about I’ll immortalize them for all time in a blog read by literally several people?

Almost forgot: My boots are also steel-toed, which is important for all the heavy typing I do at work.

“You should get them bronzed or give them a proper burial.”

“I’ll be buried with them.”

Melissa Hank contributed to the photography and title of this post, as well as a pair of socks.

Album Covers: Digressions On A Dying Art

Glen Miller — not the bandleader, my co-worker and friend. Glen has profoundly affected my life in two ways.

No. 1: Let’s go back to when I was working in Toronto, and Glen was one of my bosses.

At the Reynoworld gallery. admiring a Monk. Melissa Hank photo.
At the Reynoworld gallery, admiring a Monk. Melissa Hank photo.

Every payday, Glen would walk over to my desk, drop my pay stub on it, walk away and say with a friendly smirk: “Fooled ’em again, eh Jim?”

Cracked me up every time. Still does. In fact, I told my co-workers on the arts/life desk about it. It’s inspired us to the point where we sometimes refer to payday as “fooled-em-again day.”

No. 2: Glen — a passionate music fan — stopped by our department the other day, and the conversation turned to albums and CDs as musical formats.

Glen said he wished CDs were the same size as albums, so the integrity of the album-cover art would be maintained.

“Yeah!” I thought. “The album cover is really becoming a lost art.”

That’s the second profound affect: Glen inspired this historic post. In this age of downloads — and before the art gets any lost-er — I’d like to celebrate my favourite album/CD covers. The fascinating catch is that I’m only picking CDs from my personal collection:

sgt-pepper_1

The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

No surprise — everyone knows what a brilliant cover this is. There’s so much going on in this picture, you could write a separate post about it. I’d just like to make two personal observations:

  1. The “old” Beatle George Harrison, front row far left next to boxer Sonny Liston, looks like he’s more than happy to turn things over to the new Sgt. Pepper Beatles.
  2. John Lennon wanted Jesus, Gandhi and Hitler in the collage. I think they’re too … what’s the best way to say this — historically significant? — and would have distracted from the overall Lonely Hearts Club presentation.

freddie-hubbard-breaking-point-cover-1920-ljc

Freddie Hubbard: “Breaking Point!” (1964)

Shocker: A great album cover from the Blue Note label. A quick check on Amazon indicates there are two — two — coffee-table books showcasing the label’s amazing covers.

I like this one best. Hubbard was a kick-ass trumpeter, had range all day long. When I see the cover of “Breaking Point!”, I imagine Hubbard hitting a high note and breaking the glass. More than any other album cover, when I see this, I really want to listen to the album. Like right now.

One final thought on Hubbard: The two most important free-jazz albums of the 1960s were Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, recorded in 1960, and John Coltrane’s Ascension (1965). Hubbard is the only musician to appear on both albums.

steely-dan-katy-lied

Steely Dan: Katy Lied (1975)

Just so bizarre, this one. What in the name of God did Katy lie about that would cause an infestation of bugs?

I don’t know, but I do know this is a killer album, maybe my favourite Dan album (I’m still sweet on Aja, too).

Whoa hang on, just found this on Wikipedia: The album cover features a picture of a katydid, a “singing” (stridulating) insect related to crickets and grasshoppers. This is a pun on the album’s title; the “singing” of a katydid sounds as though they’re saying “Katy did, Katy didn’t.”

Lyrics in the song Doctor Wu include “Katy tried, I was halfway crucified” and “Katy lies, you can see it in her eyes.”

OK, the cover makes more sense now. Still, love the oddball cleverness of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Are you with me, Doctor Wu?

john-coltrane-meditations-cover

John Coltrane: Meditations (1965)

I think this photo captures Trane at the height of his intensity, spirituality, and technique. I know for most people A Love Supreme (recorded in 1964) is the quintessential Trane. And I love that record. Obviously — how could you not? But I don’t know … I get more catharsis and reward from Meditations, recorded 11 months after Supreme.

It’s worth noting that for many jazz fans, Meditations was the end of an era. Supreme was recorded with the classic quartet, including McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and the irreplaceable Elvin Jones (drums). Meditations adds Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax) and Rashied Ali (drums).

Jones and Tyner bailed not long after Meditations, and Trane continued his search for new sounds in an increasingly avant-garde direction.

Look, I could talk all day about Trane. Let’s get to another album cover I love.

43b86135a20f4092a2a36492c13df01e

Belinda Carlisle: Her Greatest Hits (1992)

Anyone who’s read this blog knows Belinda is my girlfriend. Seriously: Look at her! What could be cuter than that?

And did you know George Harrison played slide guitar on Leave A Light On? That’s right. You may as well say Belinda was the fifth Beatle.

As always, please post your favourite album covers. I love talking about this stuff.

Hummus — No — Yummus

“You know it’s really easy to make, right?”

Yeah. YEAH! I know it’s really easy to make.

“I’ll send you a recipe.”

Yay! After I print it off, I just have to decide which of the many cookbooks I own that I will place it in. Why on Earth would I own a cookbook when we live in a world of takeout?

Thank you so much! Hugs! Lol smiley face heart option on Facebook and Twitter and whatever the equivalent is on Instagram.

Ah, I’m just kidding. Of course I appreciate it when people give me a recipe for hummus! And it’s happened frequently.

But like the time a co-worker found out I loved hummus and said:

“You know it’s really easy to make, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s really easy to buy, too.”

Hahahaha! I’m that clever. High five, hummus lovers!

Hummus — no — yummus! Delicious! Nutritious! It’s like a hug for your stomach.

Let’s break it down.

Now anyone who’s read this blog knows I do a tremendous amount of research for my posts and I don’t just peck at letters on a keyboard when I’m drunk so here goes and these are the results of my Google search:

Hummus! It’s basically chickpeas. With varying amounts of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.

Now anyone who’s read this blog knows I love spicy food. Especially life-affirming wings.

But you know what? You can’t live on spicy food all the time. Or at least I can’t. I guess I have a reputation for being an inferno-mouth kind of guy, and I know I’ve cultivated that reputation.

But I’m asking you now, about 160 Reynoworld posts in, to see behind the cartoonish character I present. Even Gene Simmons puts his tongue back in his mouth once in a while.

So this is the real me: I eat hummus more than anything else. And the blander the better.

I only buy plain, or traditional, hummus. Sure, I’ve tried various types over the years: Spicy (obviously), with garlic, with peppers, with other ingredients. I’ve even bought the hummus that has the clump of crap in the middle and looks all high-end. But fancy presentation or not, it all tastes like a bastardization of the true, plain, boring hummus I love.

Why do I love it so? It agrees with me, both gastronomically and spiritually.

img_1464Gastonomically, hummus has only ever soothed my stomach. I swear, you could eat it straight for a month and not even have to burp.

Spiritually, eating hummus is very zen (and that’s the first and last time I’ll use the word “zen” in this blog). It’s quite peaceful — even cathartic — to sit at table, take tortilla bread (or a disgusting vegetable), methodically dip it in hummus, and then place it in your mouth.

Savour it. I’m talking eyes-closed savour it. I mean actually, truly taste it. Chew slowly. Enjoy the flavour. Let it linger. Don’t just stuff as much food down your throat as quickly as possible you goddamn garbage guts!

Sorry. That last one was a note-to-self.

Try this: If you enjoy eggs and toast, use hummus on your toast instead of butter.

Here’s another tip: If a friend at work says his girlfriend has just made hummus do you want some say, “Damn straight, bebe!”

Lots of people make hummus at home, apparently.

You know it’s really easy to make, right?

Here’s my favourite recipe:

  1. Go to Nations grocery store in Jackson Square in Hamilton.
  2. Oops, back up a step — stop at Starbucks for a decaf and if you’re lucky Monette will give you a blast of whipped cream on top of it.
  3. Back to Nations: Go directly to the buffet near the frozen food section, diagonally across from the deli. It’s diagonally across from the sweet, sweet deli.
  4. Once at the buffet, don’t get distracted by the various types of olives. And forget about the tzatziki, baba ganoush, and whatever that orange-ish shit is.
  5. Spot the hummus tray. Grab the biggest plastic container (they’re to the left), the big silver spoon, dig in, and start dolloping.
  6. Don’t be shy! Fill that container with hummus! Pat it down! Fill it! Do you know how many times you live? I do — once!
  7. Once it’s full, put the top on your container of hummus deliciousness.
  8. Return home and commence face stuffery.

For those who don’t live in the Hammer, I’ve prepared an alternate recipe:

  1. Go to a grocery store.
  2. Buy some hummus.
  3. Return home and commence face stuffery.

Tobacco 2: The Struggle Continues

Opening an empty tin of chewing tobacco, smelling it, deeply — inhaling it. Closing the tin, squeezing it between my hands.

Where to begin?

Open the tin again. Inhale it again. … Still not getting anywhere.

I’m writing this Nov. 2. Been seven days without tobacco. Sucks with a capitol S-U-C-K-S.

I first wrote about my tobacco use when I was a sportswriter at a Halifax newspaper, around 1997. Before that, I’d told my future annulled ex-wife (as opposed to my future non-annulled ex-wife) that I’d quit, only for her to catch me buying Red Man in the drug store above the office where I was working.

She told me I walked right past her, even after she said, “Hi, Jim.” I didn’t notice her. I just needed the tobacco.

Then I wrote this post in August 2013.

I’ll try not to duplicate anything I said then, but I feel I have to write about tobacco again since I haven’t been able to quit. Not at all. It’s gotten progressively worse, till I went to the Template in Kitchener on Oct. 24 and asked for her help (more on that in a sec).

Have I finally quit?

I want to make clear what a debilitating, vulgar habit chewing tobacco is. But, as I tried to describe in my initial post, it’s paradoxically a life-affirming habit.

I will miss it. And — I know this sounds dramatic and Tuesday-night drunkish — it breaks my heart that something that gives me such pleasure is killing me.

Credit to me: In the last two years, I did switch from loose tobacco to pouches, so it doesn’t spread all over your teeth. You still have to spit, but it’s not as gross a spit.

Slightly less disgusting.

I remember when it was priced at $16, I said that’s as much as I’ll spend. Then it went to $17, and I made allowances for that. $18. $19.

img_1446“OK, that’s it,” I said. “I won’t go over 20 bucks a tin.”

21.

As I said in my last birthday post, I live cheque-to-cheque. Like most people, I have to pick my spots financially. For me, tobacco marked the spot.

If I had $40 left in my spending account, more than half that was going to dip (as we dippers call mouth tobacco).

And then it went from one tin every two weeks, to one a week, to more than one a week.

How it happened:

Wake up. Let’s hit the treadmill in the gym upstairs, some light weights. Or, more realistically, let’s lie in bed and listen to music. Who in their right mind wants to do either one of those things without a buzz? Let’s put a dip in.

Next, let’s have some breakfast — there’s even time to lie down and read before starting work at noon. Let’s put a dip in.

Coffee on the way to the office (only decaf), but still a great way to start the workday. Bring the cup into the office. Put a dip in.

Have a bit to eat at your desk. Dessert? Put a dip in. Late changes to some pages? Put a dip in.

6 p.m.? Put a dip in. 7 p.m.? Put a dip in, put another dip in, put another motherfucking dip in. And when you get home at night — all dip, all the time.

Real talk:

I’ve ruined two car stereos spilling tobacco juice on them. I’ve permanently stained carpets and chairs in various places I’ve lived and visited with spilled tobacco spit. I’ve walked out of my building with a spittoon to toss in the garbage, only to have the wind pick up and blow my own tobacco spit back on me.

And still — and still — put a dip in.

Enough.

What’s different:

I’m sick of being broke from tobacco. I’m sick of walking to the gas station near the office to buy dip with my head hung low, my hands in my pockets, knowing this shit is killing me. And yet still forking out $21 for it. I’m sick of those disgusting spittoons.

I’m sick of looking at my yellow teeth, being afraid to look at my gums, avoiding the dentist because I’m afraid of the diagnoses. (Ever read any of my music blogs? I often hold CD covers in front of my mouth because I’m self-conscious about my teeth.)

What I did:

I finally realized I’m blessed with many supportive friends and family. I reached out to them and asked for help. And they responded — in droves. A few I’d like to mention specifically:

The Template: For the text message and overall awesomeness that inspired all this. But what would I expect from someone a million years old?

JPEG: For sending a work email with a pic of a beagle for every day I’ve been off tobacco. Look forward to it every day.

Nate: Could have judged, but didn’t. You let me work through it, even though you went out of your way to let me go to the gas station to buy that crap on our work walks.

Facebook friends: When I posted about being off tobacco for a week, I had about 100 likes and supportive comments. Thanks, everyone!

When I started this post, it was just after I’d frantically texted a couple of people: I was looking for someone to piss me off so I could make an excuse to get tobacco. No one did.

Today, Day 8.

The Ballad Of The Beef Stew

This was originally a Facebook post till I copied, pasted, and posted it. Now it’s a blog post. Names have been changed to protect those who don’t want to appear in this “stupid blog,” as one of my brothers-in-law so kindly called it.

That offended me. This blog is not stupid, not to me anyway. I meticulously plan my posts, to the point where I can’t sleep. It’s a not a your-head’s-on-the-ground-go-look-for-it blog.

No, this blog is not stupid. This blog is ridiculous. A celebration of the absurd (crazy way to spell a word, “absurd”). Self-deprecating (unless I’m talking about my hair). A breezy read (hopefully). An effective time-kill for those between Frescas (best served on ice).

But perhaps above all, for this particular Reynoworld post, it’s not long enough. Thus all the time-killing above.

Cut me some slack! The FB post was like 250 words or something. If I’m going to waste your time, I want to be serious about it. How many? About 480? OK.

Anyway, here’s the beef:

What a night! It all started about this time last night when I got a text from design-desk boss Patrick: “Juliana made a huge slow cooker of stew. Want some tomorrow?”

Slow cooker of stew.

I think you know where this is going.

“OH my god!!!!!” I texted Patrick. “Yes please!!”

Now, this is a Facebook post not a novel. So I’ll get right to it: I just finished the stew and it was beyond belly-warming.

You know how when people say they have a beef with someone, it’s a bad thing? Well, I guess they weren’t talking about this tasty tender beef, small chunks mixed with carrots and potatoes and celery and probably something else. I didn’t make it, but I sure did eat it!

And the thick sauce really lent itself to sopping the four crusty rolls I had to buy because Juliana also made tea biscuits, but Patrick ate mine.

I’m not mad about that, though. My birthday was a couple of days ago; no need to keep that party going forever.

I must say I’m pretty blessed when it comes to stew from co-workers! Guest-blogger David brought me in another delicious stew not long ago (that one was frozen and it took a bit longer to prepare. But I’m not that busy.)

And I’m trying to remember … I think Candace might have brought me in a stew a while back. … So long ago. … I think she still works across the aisle from me. Actually, I bumped into her the other day.

“When are you going to bring me some more stew?” I asked reasonably.

“What do you ever bring me?” she demanded, but I want to stress she’s not usually that selfish.

“I bring you the same thing every day,” I told her. “Eye candy.”