Thursday, 17 January 2019

The fall and rise of Burton Cummings

Burton Cummings on the cover of his 1981 album "Sweet, Sweet"
(may be subject to copyright)
I was sitting in Row 2 at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge waiting for Burton Cummings to take the stage when all these memories came rushing back, especially from the 1980s.

He is a Canadian musical icon, a man with a golden voice and a talent to tickle the ivories.

When the 1980s opened, Burton Cummings had already had his biggest success. By the time the decade drew to a close, he had plummeted out of sight only to return with a surprising and stirring comeback that put him back on the charts.

This is the fall and rise of Burton Cummings.

Burton Cummings’ rise to stardom is well documented. Growing up in Winnipeg, he rose to prominence after joining Randy Bachman and the Guess Who when he was still just a teenager.

They would have a storied career with hits such as “These Eyes”, “Laughing”, “Undun”, “No Time”, and their biggest hit of all – the iconoclastic “American Woman”.

Then the band came apart at the seams.

Both Cummings and Bachman left, and not on the best of terms with each other. Bachman would go on to team up with brothers Robin and Tim and friend Fred Turner to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, while Cummings struck out on his own.

He would ride through the 1970s  with a string of hit albums and singles, including, “Stand Tall”, “Break it to Them Gently”, “I Will Play a Rhapsody”, “My Own Way to Rock”, “Dream of a Child”, and, “I’m Scared.” His 1978 album “Dream of a Child” went triple platinum and was the best-selling album in Canada ever to that date.

Yet, by the end of the 1970s, his career began to tail off a bit.

Dawn of the decade

The decade opened for Burton Cummings with the 1981 release of the album, “Sweet, Sweet”, which would produce singles such as “Saved My Soul” and “Something Old, Something New”.

I first came in contact with this when I was at my sister’s place one night and we saw the trailer for this movie called “Melanie” on CTV, Channel 13. It caught my attention because they kept referring to it as starring Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, as well as Glynnis O’Connor, and – Burton Cummings. It was the story of a woman, O’Connor as the title character Melanie, in an abusive relationship with her husband played by Johnson. She eventually leaves him and takes up with a musician, trying to make a comeback, played by Cummings.

His actual songs are featured in the movie, which had been released in 1982, a year after the album came out.

I discovered that when I found a copy of “Sweet, Sweet” at a comic book shop at the Park Meadows mall in Lethbridge in 1986.

My sister always was willing to record vinyl onto tape and she did with this one too. I ended up listening to it for close to a month before school every morning while I waited for the bus. But the first time I ever heard “Saved My Soul” was when Cummings performed it on a live broadcast of the Genies.

“Saved My Soul” would go on to win the Genie for best original song in 1983. It also had moderate chart success in Canada, rising to number 31 on the charts, and number 12 on the adult contemporary chart.

I was disappointed “Something Old, Something New”, which went all the way to number one in the movie, did not duplicate the success its fictional counterpart had. It rose to number 26 on the adult contemporary chart.

The fall
“Sweet Sweet” seemed to be the beginning of the end for Burton Cummings. He put out an album called “Heart” in 1984, but it attracted little attention.

I only heard about it in passing when it was mentioned in a profile of Burton Cummings I heard one night on LA-107 FM. There was nothing notable about that album, and Burton Cummings seemed to be fading away like so many of his contemporaries.

Then something happened at the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990.

The rise
It was strange. I was cruising through the lounge on Main Kelsey, the floor I lived on in res at the University of Alberta. Muchmusic always seemed to be playing on the TV. This day, I heard a voice that sounded familiar, but the song did not. Moreover, I liked what I heard.

I stopped and watched. I saw a picture of none other than Burton Cummings on he screen. But what was he singing?

It turned out to be, “Take One Away”, the first single off his new album, “Plus Signs.”

So, I started looking for the song. It began to climb up the charts on Much. And, it wasn’t just old fans like me who took notice. Young people, like my friend Jim Lake on our floor, also liked the song and indicated he was going to buy the tape. He had never really heard, or at least paid attention to, Burton Cummings before that.

The song went all the way to number 16 on the charts, and number six on the adult contemporary chart. It was his last top 20 single to date.

More importantly, Burton Cummings was back. It was not the same smash he had enjoyed more than a decade earlier, but he had made a comeback and was relevant again.

The years after
The album “Plus Signs” spawned a tour, and I was able to see Burton Cummings live at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton right after my third year of university ended. I want to say it was May or maybe June. I went with my good friend Kevan Farrell, and it was awesome. I still have the concert shirt kicking around somewhere.

He would keep touring and performing, get back together with Randy Bachman, and with the Guess Who to perform. He was named an officer in the Order of Canada in 2009, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2011, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2016, and was awarded a lifetime achievement award in 2018 from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) for his songwriting.

So, even at the age of 71, he continues to write, record, perform and tour.

Parting thoughts
I have been listening to Burton Cummings as long as I can remember. When he sings one of his ballads such as “Break it to Them Gently” or “I Will Play a Rhapsody” it just touches me deeply, even after all these years. His voice just has that magical quality.

But, there are several things that cemented my love for Burton Cummings.

One was seeing “Melanie” on TV and subsequently discovering the album “Sweet, Sweet” that was a sort of  de facto soundtrack for it. Cummings essentially played a version of himself in the movie. He was a washed up rock star who made a big comeback, but only after he helped someone else overcome her own challenges. I listened to that tape over and over because those two songs, “Saved My Soul” and “Something Old, Something New” just resonated with me. They remain two of my favourites.  

Another thing was going to see him live in 1990. There, he was the perfect host, explaining the history of the songs he played, whether with the Guess Who or his solo efforts.

In particular, he talked about “I’m Scared”, where he visited a cathedral in New York City, and said he felt the very presence of God. I had not really heard that song before, but now it had new meaning for me.

Then, in 1996, he released “Up Close and Alone”, a solo album that stripped away all the processing and sound engineering. It was just Cummings and his piano, and it was amazing. It showcased his two greatest talents – his voice and his ability to play piano. He also shared some history of the songs once again, which was almost identical to the stories he told back in 1990. It was then, after hearing that version with just voice and piano, that “I’m Scared” became one of my favourite Burton Cummings’ songs of all time. I still regularly listen to that album, and enjoy that song immensely.

Finally, he showed his resilience and some depth when he released “Take One Away”. It showed me that he seemed to have conquered some of the demons and excesses that can consume the careers of performers. Better yet, the song was about some adult themes and was cleverly written and arranged. It is another one of my favourites because it is so much different from all the songs that came before it.

So, when I went to see Burton Cummings at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge on October 19, 2017, I pretty much knew what to expect. It was just him and his piano, telling the same stories and playing the same songs he had the previous time I saw him and heard him on tape.

And it was just perfect. It reinforced the reasons I enjoy his music so much. It reminded me of the long journey he took in the 1980s, and the trip I took right along with him as a fan.

(You can hear for yourself below. At is concert on Oct. 19, 2017, Burton Cummings encouraged everyone to shoot video and post it online, so I am with this live, unplugged version of "Saved My Soul")

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

"Something So Strong" on a date

It’s funny how hearing a song can take you back to a moment in your life when you heard that song. All the feelings, sights and sounds come right back like it happened yesterday.

“Something so Strong” by Crowded House is such a song for me

One last summer date
It was a strange time. Grade 12 had just ended and I was kind of in a holding pattern until it was time to head off to university in Edmonton.

My luck with women had changed marginally by then. After some humming and hawing, I had gone on a few dates with a girl named Gina.

By the end of school, we had gone on two dates and she had been my escort to grad.

I’d seen an ad  in the Lethbridge Herald, or maybe on TV, for a play going on at the University of Lethbridge. I was still working at the greenhouse. I recall phoning the university box office to get the time – and price. Then I called Gina and she was in.

The whole experience with her had been weird to say the least. When I first met her, she was outgoing, kind of loud, and boisterous. I used to see her before she started social studies class with my old teacher Mr. Vuch. She kind of flirted with me and even made me a “pumpkin” out of a piece of loose-leaf paper. I also told her about this play I wrote, and she said she wanted to read it.

Well, that was my entrée. I left a note for her in it – a poem actually. It was just in time for her to go off on a band trip. I did not expect a response for days. But the next day, a mutual friend said Gina had left a note for me. It was a response with a poem of her own. It was the go ahead to go out.

When she got back, I went to Coaldale where I called her from my best friend Chris Vining’s room.

She would go out – likely her first date too. When she asked what we should do, I said, “The world is our oyster.” Vining rolled his eyes. I suggested a movie and would pick her up. She gave me her address and I repeated it for Vining to write down.

When Saturday came, I got dressed in my best, got the car ready and drove to Coaldale. I pulled up in front of Gina’s house and an old man answered. I said I was there to see Gina. He had no idea who I was talking about. I cursed out Vining – only to return to the car to discover I had read the address wrong.

Her house was actually across the street, right across from the water tower.

She answered the door and told me I had to meet her parents. That was okay with me. Her dad told me I could do whatever I wanted with her because she was crazier than he was. Her sister Lori, who I had taken Accounting 10-20 with when I was in Grade 10, was going out the back door with another guy.

“One out the front, one out the back,” her mom said.

So I escorted Gina to the car, opened the door for her, and closed it behind her. I got in, and suggested we go to a movie. That was fine, she said, but she did not say much more.

I stopped at Mac’s for a newspaper, and we agreed on, “The Secret of My Success”. In an effort to try to b funny, I crumpled up the newspaper and tossed it in the back seat. That came back to haunt me, because I forgot which theatre the movie was in.

The most striking thing was that the outgoing, kind-of-loud, and boisterous Gina just stopped talking. She said nothing. All through the movie and after.

The same thing repeated the next week.

Grad followed and then it was summer.

This play at the University of Lethbridge would be my last date with Gina.

I recall finishing up at the greenhouse and driving through Coaldale wondering what the night would bring. I went home, bathed and changed. I still remember the shirt I put on – it had white and pink vertical stripes, and was one of my favourites.

I picked up Gina and again a dearth of conversation followed. I still remember what she wore – long white blouse, leggings under a skirt and granny boots.

I had no idea how to get to the university. Gina had been to a drama camp there so she kind of knew. I caught the turn late and sped like a race car driver around the clover leaf to West Lethbridge.

The song playing on the radio was “Something so Strong” by Crowded House, and I belted it out as the G-force kicked in. I was trying to impress Gina any way I could – or at least get her to talk. I think she was just kind of scared.

After that, things were pretty uneventful.

The show was “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie, and it was a two-person show. The performances were riveting and Gina even said so.

After the first act ended, she got up to leave. I told her there was still another act. She said the show looked done, and it did seem to wrap up. But there was another act, and it was even better.

That was something we both agreed on.

And that was the end of the Saga of Gina. I don’t think I ever saw her again after that.

Parting thoughts
Looking back, I think we were both just nervous and inexperienced about dating. And quite frankly, really not made for each other. It still amazes me though, 30 years later, how a person could be so different in private and public. But that is how teenagers can act.

It is funny how songs can be associated with events in life.

I heard “Something So Strong” just the other day, and it took me back to the drive in West Lethbridge the summer of 1987 that took me at break-neck speed around a clover leaf.

And it reminded me of the minefield of teenage dating and how lucky I am to be through it.

*From the vault

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

“Oh my god!”: Remembering John Hillerman

John Hillerman played Jonathan Quayle Higgins, the foil for
private investigator Thomas Magnum, for eight seasons on "Magnum P.I."

(may be subject to copywright)

“Magnum PI” was one of the most popular detective shows of the 1980s, and a big part of that was Jonathan Quayle Higgins, the major domo of the estate private investigator Thomas Magnum lived on.

Higgins was not so much Magnum’s boss, as his overseer, foil, babysitter, and eventually – friend.

One of his trademarks was the three-word phrase he exclaimed when Magnum vexed him: “Oh – my – god!”

Last year, John Hillerman passed away. His death, and the re-boot of “Magnum P.I.” in September, have brought back great memories of the actor, who may have played a British role, but was actually a Texan with a long career.

The years before
The first time I saw John Hillerman was when he played Betty White’s husband on her short-lived series “The Betty White Show”. He appeared as her one-time husband for 14 episodes. I don’t remember much, other than he did not have an English accent. He also played Mr. Conners, one of two of Ann Romano’s bosses at the ad agency she worked at on “One Day at a Time”, from 1976 to 1980. Again, I recalled no English accent.

Major domo
The first time I ever saw anything about “Magnum PI” was a commercial in the summer of 1980 on Channel 13 CFCN. There was this guy in a Hawaiian shirt, struggling to get his key to open a locked Ferrari with two Dobermans bearing down on him. Of course that guy was Thomas Sullivan Magnum.

The premise was simple. He was a private investigator who lived on the estate of Robin Masters, an internationally renowned author with holdings all over the world. Magnum served as Robin’s head of security on the estate, and lived in the estate’s guesthouse. The estate was overseen by Jonathan Quayle Higgins, Robin’s major domo, played by John Hillerman.

The Ferrari belonged to Robin Masters, but Magnum could use it, under Higgins’ watchful eye. Higgins was also the master of those two Dobermans, Zeus and Apollo, and he delighted in watching them torment Magnum. In fact, he did not seem that thrilled at having Magnum around at all.

That would change.

It’s complicated
The relationship between Higgins and Magnum evolved over time. As the seasons wore on, the usual comedic moments that would earn an “Oh my god!” were supplemented. There were episodes where Magnum, or one of his friends, was in trouble and Higgins helped out. There were episodes where Higgins was in trouble, and Magnum helped him.

They had a lot more in common than it first appeared. Magnum had served in special forces in Vietnam, while Higgins had served in a similar role for MI-5 in the Second World War.

One of the enduring mysteries, that was never really laid to rest, was the possibility that Higgins was Robin Masters. That would have put things in a different light.

Memorable moments
As the years wore on, there were episodes that focused on Higgins. None were more interesting, or funny, as the ones featuring his half brothers. You see Higgins’ father, also a military man, had dalliances all over the world. The first by-product of one of those affairs was Elmo Ziller, Higgins’ half brother from Texas. It was the only time in the series we got to hear what John Hillerman actually sounded like. Later, we met Father Paddy McGuinness, a half brother who was an Irish priest, and even a Spanish half-brother named Don Luis Mongueo. There is also reference to another brother, Soo Ling, but he is never seen.

There was also a cross-over episode with “Murder, She Wrote”, where Higgins tried to romance mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, a cross-over episode with “Simon and Simon”, that guest starred Morgan Fairchild, and much more.

For his efforts, Hillerman was nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actor in a drama series for the role in 1984, 1985, 1986, and finally winning in 1987. He won a Golden Globe for the role in 1982, and was nominated again in 1983, 1985, 1987, and 1988.

Not good English
It is simply amazing that John Hillerman is not English. He spent a lot of time and effort learning that particular brand of British accent, and for that he should be commended. It was quite the performance he turned in as retired British military when he was actually a kid from Texas.

The years after
Hillerman would also do the standard turn in a variety of guest roles on weekly TV shows, most notably as the villain Monocle in the pilot for “Tales of the Gold Monkey” in 1982. He would later on play the grandfather on the sitcom “The Hogan Family” in 1990 for a season.

Parting thoughts
When “Magnum PI” re-booted a few months ago, it is perhaps fitting that one major change was made.

Thomas Magnum is back, along with his friends Rick and TC, and Lieutenant Tanaka, his some-time nemesis on the Honolulu PD. He is still getting into trouble, and still sticking up for the under dog.

However, now, Higgins is a female, Juliet Higgins played by Perdita Weeks.

Whether intentional or not, no one really could re-create or update the role of Jonathan Quayle Higgins. He was one of a kind.

I am glad they didn’t even try.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Tragically Hip: A near miss

The debut album for the Canadian band the Tragically Hip,
an EP fittingly titled, "The Tragically Hip" released in 1987.
(may be subject to copyright)
They were an iconic band that told unique stories about Canada. There is not a person of a certain age who does not look on the music of the Tragically Hip with fondness.

Unlike, contemporaries such as Blue Rodeo, who keep on performing, the Tragically Hip’s musical journey came to an end last year when Gord Downey, their lead singer, passed away.

He had made his struggle with brain cancer very public, and his journey was one we were all invited to observe. He said his goodbyes, and was lucky enough to live until he died.

When the band gave their farewell concert, which was televised nationally to millions a few months ago, it made me think of my own memories of the Tragically Hip.

Someone asked me if I ever saw the ‘Hip in concert.

“No,” I responded. “But almost.”

A near miss
It was the fall of 1987 and I had just started my first year of university in Edmonton. There seemed to be parties every day and activities all the time. It was just awesome, and all so new.

We heard this band was playing on campus, and I had heard the name, but none of their music really came to mind. There were handbills advertising the concert all over campus. I grabbed one sitting on one of the tables at the Student Union Building.

Me and my roommate Chris Vining talked about going, and I think I had every intention of going. However, we had a few beers on our floor in res and a few more, and ended up going to sleep.

I woke up the next day, and saw one of the handbills for that band. The concert had been the day before, and we had missed it.

So I just missed seeing the Tragically Hip.

The years after
The band would really begin to take off in 1989 with their album "Up to Here" and the singles, "Blow at High Dough" and "New Orleans is Sinking". From there, their popularity would explode, and they would produce some of the most iconic music of the 1990s.

The Hip would be back in Edmonton several times, in bigger venues then that first time back in 1987, but I never did manage to see them.

I really did not start listening to them until the 1990s anyway, with songs such as “Little Bones”,  “Fifty Mission Camp” and “Scared”.

By then, they were firmly planted as one of the nation’s best bands.

Parting thoughts
Everyone has a Tragically Hip story.

Mine is pretty simple. I had a chance to get in on the ground floor and see them before they became the sensation they were. That would have been a great story. Instead, I just missed them in a haze of teenage exuberance. Missed them by that much.

Not all stories have to be funny.

*This is from the vault

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Howard Pawley: A lesson in political science

Howard Pawley, the 18th premier of Manitoba, was
at the centre of a lot of Canadian history in the 1980s.
Source: University of Winnipeg

(may be subject to copyright)
Before him, I really had no idea what a New Democrat was, or that it was possible they could form a government. By the end of the 1980s though, I not only knew who Howard Pawley was, but how one person could influence a party, a province, and the very nature of Confederation.

When I heard Howard Pawley, the former premier of Manitoba, had passed away at the age of 81, I was reminded of so many things – Ed Schreyer, Sterling Lyon, the 1982 Patriation, the Meech Lake Accord, minority government, and of course the New Democratic Party.

It was a lesson in political science in the 1980s, and Howard Pawley was at the centre of much of it.

Taming a Lyon
Although I had become interested in politics during the 1979 federal election, I still had no real exposure to or understanding of Canada or federal-provincial relations.

That all changed in 1981-1982 when the news was filled with coverage of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s quest to “bring the constitution home.” It seemed like every night there were pictures of these men in suits sitting around a table.

They were the premiers of Canada’s provinces along with Trudeau.

Over time, I came to know them – Peter Lougheed of Alberta, who I already knew; Bill Bennett of British Columbia; Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan; Bill Davis of Ontario; René Levesque of Quebec; and Sterling Lyon, of Manitoba.

They, along with the premiers of the Atlantic provinces, would ultimately make an agreement on the constitution. Standing nearby Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II when the constitution came home was Ed Schreyer, Canada’s governor general.

Back then, it was beyond my comprehension, and not really that well explained by the media.

Yet, I had become familiar with those names.

Then, one day, things changed.

Manitoba had a provincial election, and Sterling Lyon had been defeated by a man named Howard Pawley who led the New Democratic Party.

He had slain a Lyon.

Provincial affairs
Sterling Lyon led the Progressive Conservatives, who had won the 1977 provincial election by defeating incumbent NDP Premier Ed Schreyer. I had come to know Schreyer as the Governor-General of Canada, so I was surprised to learn he had such a prolific career in provincial politics. It was even more surprising that a Liberal prime minister appointed a non-Liberal, much less a New Democrat, to that position.

Howard Pawley was first elected to the legislature in 1969 and would go on to hold several posts in the Schreyer government, including minister of government services, minister of municipal affairs, and attorney general. In 1979, he had been chosen to succeed Schreyer and was leader of the opposition during those constitutional negotiations.

The Manitoba electorate would sour on Lyon, and turn him out in 1981, becoming the first party in the province’s history to be voted out after one term. Howard Pawley had won a majority to become the 18th premier of Manitoba.

It was interesting for me, as a young observer, because the NDP was not a viable force in Alberta then, and little was said about them out here. Yet, In Manitoba they had formed government and now would again.

While Lyon was never heard from again, Pawley would go on to have an eventful, albeit relatively short, career in politics.

Premier occasion
Pawley was sworn in as premier in 1981, having won 34 of 57 seats to form a majority government. He won a second mandate in 1986, with a narrow majority of 30 of 57 seats. This would become a factor in his second administration.

In 1987, the premiers gathered at a then-unknown retreat at Meech Lake, and came to an agreement to amend the Canadian constitution and “bring Quebec into the constitutional family.”

Pawley represented Manitoba, in an agreement that finally had Quebec sign the constitution. In return, Quebec received constitutional recognition as a distinct society; increased provincial control of immigration; a curb on the federal spending power; increased provincial input on the appointment of senators and supreme court justices; and any future amendments to the constitution required unanimous consent.

His government became increasingly unpopular, was beset by resignations and, finally, a backbencher voted against the 1988 budget causing the government to fall. Pawley resigned, and his party went down to defeat in the subsequent election. No one won a majority in that election, but the Progressive Conservatives under Gary Filmon won the largest number of seats to form a minority government. Gary Doer, who succeeded Pawley as leader of the New Democrats, supported the PCs and Sharon Carstairs of the Liberals was the opposition.

Parting thoughts
One item in particular that had been left unfinished by Pawley’s government was ratification of the Meech Lake Accord. This would likely, in the large swath of Canadian history, be his greatest legacy.

As the June 30, 1990 deadline approached to ratify, or approve, the Meech Lake Accord, Manitoba was one of the provinces that had not done so. New Brunswick was the other, but they would ratify at the 11th hour. However, Newfoundland had also had a change of government and their new premier, Clyde Wells, withdrew his province’s consent. That left Newfoundland and Manitoba.

Manitoba had indicated they would not ratify without public hearings. As the deadline approached, there was still an opportunity to ratify, but unanimous consent of the legislature was required.

This is where one of the most iconic images of the era emerged.

Denying unanimous consent, and waving a ceremonial feather to do it, was NDP MLA Elijah Harper, a one-time chief and native rights advocate.

Without unanimous consent, legislation could not proceed and the accord died. It met a similar fate in the Newfoundland legislature at the same time when the assembly did not even come to a vote on ratification.

All of this was made possible, because of the demise of Pawley and his government.

It was a pivotal moment in Canadian history and Howard Pawley was at the centre of it.

It was just part of a career of public service and commitment.

*This is from the vault

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Leonard Cohen: The dawn of "Hallelujah"

Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen who, among his many accomplishments,
wrote and recorded "Hallelujah" one of the most covered songs in music history.
Source: Dominique Issermann

(may be subject to copyright)
It may be one the most covered songs in music. Whether it is Jennifer Warnes in the 1980s, or k.d. lang’s stirring rendition at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, “Hallelujah” is a song that stirs the emotions.

The song was actually composed, and first performed by Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen. When he died awhile back, it was cause to reflect on his life, and he did quite a lot starting in the 1980s, including “Hallelujah”.

Famous Blue Raincoat
First impressions are a strong thing. They often are what a person compares everything else to.
Such is the case for Leonard Cohen.
My first contact with Leonard Cohen was through his music and lyrics, but not his voice.

It was through a tribute album by Jennifer Warnes.

Up to that point, I had known Jennifer Warnes mostly for duets and soundtracks, most notably “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker for the movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “As Long As We’ve Got Each Other” with B.J. Thomas for the television show, “Growing Pains”.

Then, in the middle of my Grade 12 year, she released “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It was November of 1986, and it may have been the first time I recall hearing Jennifer Warnes as a solo artist. The voice was hers, but the songs and lyrics were all written by Leonard Cohen.

This would not be the first time I heard his work performed by somebody else.

“Ain’t No Cure for Love”
Her first single was “Ain’t No Cure for Love”, and it was a distinctive soulful song. It peaked at 86 on Billboard’s country chart, but went all the way to number one in Canada on the adult contemporary chart.

It was just a song that made you want to chill. It was released in 1988 by Cohen on his “I’m Your Man” album.

“First We Take Manhattan”
Her next single was “First We Take Manhattan”, which featured the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar, and peaked at 29 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Contemporary chart.

Cohen released his own version in 1988. Although he wrote it, it sounded odd to me hearing a man sing this song, because I had heard Warnes sing it first.

“Bird on a Wire”
The third single was “Bird on a Wire”, which was a song Cohen had recorded back in 1968. It did not chart in the States for Warnes, but peaked at number 16 in Canada on the adult contemporary listing.
This song really came to the fore for me in 1988, when it served as the title track for the movie, “Bird on a Wire” starring Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson as an escaped fugitive taking cover with an ex-girlfriend.

Again it was another artist, this time the Neville Brothers, who recorded the song that played during the closing credits for the movie.

It may also be one of the most covered songs written by Leonard Cohen. Wikipedia lists 31 different versions of the song performed by everyone from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to k.d. lang and Katey Sagal on the TV show “Sons of Anarchy”
However, the honour of most covered song would be taken by another song that Cohen wrote in the 1980s.

The song “Hallelujah” was first released in 1984 on Cohen’s album, “Various Positions”. It was greeted with limited success but that would soon change.

According to Wikipedia, John Cale recorded the song in 1991, and later Jeff Buckley covered it, launching it into the success it is today.

Since its release in 1984, “Hallelujah” has been covered by almost 200 artists in various languages and has become one of the most often performed songs in American music history.

The years after
Leonard Cohen would continue to produce and perform music, gaining acclaim both at home and abroad. He was invested into the Order of Canada in 2003.

He passed away on Nov. 7, 2016.

Parting thoughts
Leonard Cohen will always hold a special place in my heart, for one simple reason. Beyond all the talents and all the accolades, the legacy of high quality work he has left behind, Cohen wrote “Hallelujah” which has become an anthem for so many different things.

For me, it was one of the songs performed at my dad’s funeral. Not the k.d. lang version, but a stirring rendition by Susan Boyle.

So, in addition to everything he did for Canadian arts and culture, and all the millions he has entertained, he was there for me in a time of grief. His song provided comfort, on a sad day.

For that, I will be eternally grateful.

*This is from the vault

Friday, 11 January 2019

Mary Tyler Moore: Trailblazer, groundbreaker, and role model

Mary Tyler Moore, at left, with co-star
James Farentino in their
1985 television show "Mary".
(may be subject to copyright)
She had blazed quite a trail for women in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but by the time the 1980s rolled around, Mary Tyler Moore had reached the zenith of her career. During the decade, she had unparallelled dramatic success in her career, and transitioned into television production, although by the close of the decade she twice was unable to recapture the magic and the popularity she had on television.

Mary Tyler Moore passed away in 2017 and, looking back at her career, she built quite a strong resumé of strong female characters, starting in a time when very few others existed. She truly was one of the groundbreaking trailblazers on television, and her legacy lives on in the multitude of strong women on TV today.

Legs and brains
Mary Tyler had her first continuing role on TV in “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” where she played a receptionist. Interestingly, her voice was heard and only her legs appeared on camera. I never saw the show, but saw clips as part of some history of television.

It was in 1961 that her face became well known when she began a five-year run on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” playing Laura Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie played by Van Dyke. That show went off the air in the 1960s, long before I was born. I did see an episode when Channel 7 on peasant vision celebrated its anniversary by showing a bunch of old shows it broadcast over the years. Over the span of a week or two, they re-broadcast “The Twilight Zone”, and “The Honeymooners” among other things, and an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. That was my first exposure to that show.

What I recall most, aside from the fact it was still pretty funny was how young she looked.

Why was that?

Because, I had grown up watching her on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, where she broke ground as a single woman, working in a management position.

That show had some classic moments. Everyone who has seen the show, points to the “The Death of Chuckles the Clown” episode, as the hallmark of the show. That was one of the funniest episodes. However, for me, my biggest memory comes right from the opening show.

Mary Richards is being interviewed by Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner. He starts in with a bunch of questions, and the exchange goes something like this.

“What religion are you?” he asks.

“Mr. Grant, you really aren’t allowed to ask me that,” Mary responds.

“Oh, okay. Are you married?”


It was classic TV, and set the stage for a show with rich, well-written characters.

Yet, the show had its send-off, and it actually did have a final, farewell episode, before the dawn of the 1980s.

It was the climax of a TV career for Mary Tyler Moore that would never return to the same heights as it had been.

Mary Tyler Moore in 1980's "Ordinary People", perhaps her greatest dramatic role.
(may be subject to copyright)
The 1980s
Mary Tyler Moore opened the decade with a stirring performance in “Ordinary People”, a theatrical release that looked into the lives of a family after a son takes his own life. Moore played the grieving mother, struggling to cope with her loss. Her efforts earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress.

She would hit another home run in 1984 playing the wife to James Garner’s Harold Lear in the television movie “Heartsounds”, garnering her more critical acclaim and another award nomination. It was the story of a doctor who develops a heart condition and must contend with the health-care system. This time Mary Tyler Moore earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or special.

She would earn two more award nominations in the decade – a CableACE award nomination in 1985 for Finnegan Begin Again, and another Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or special in 1988 for playing Mary Todd Lincoln in "Lincoln".

That proved to be the height of the decade for Moore.

She would try her hand at two more series, neither gaining any traction from viewers.

In 1985, she starred in “Mary” as Mary Brenner, a former high profile writer at a fashion magazine who goes to work at a tabloid. The show also featured James Farentino, John Astin and a young Katey Sagal. It was cancelled after 13 episodes.

Moore was back again in 1988, starring in “Annie McGuire” where she played a newlywed with children, trying to cope with her life and ageing parents. One of its cast members was a 15-year-old Adrien Brody who would go on to win an Oscar in 2002 for “The Pianist”. “Annie McGuire” aired just eight episodes, with another three that never made the air.

Television production
Mary Tyler Moore in her
1988 television show "Annie McGuire".
(may be subject to copyright)
Moore also had a major influence in the 1980s on television production, through her company MTM Enterprises. Created  in 1969 by Moore and her husband Grant Tinker, the TV mogul, it was responsible for a large number of successful shows such as, “Remington Steele”; “The White Shadow”; “WKRP in Cincinnati”; “Newhart”; “Hill Street Blues”; and “St. Elsewhere”.

One of the interesting features was that each show had its own unique closing credits involving “Mimsie”, the cat mascot for MTM. In “Remington Steele”, it had a Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe. In “The White Shadow”, it dribbled a basketball. In “WKRP in Cincinnati” it had sunglasses and played rock music. In “Newhart” it said meow with Bob Newhart’s voice. In “Hill Street Blues” it was dressed like a police officer. In “St. Elsewhere” it was in surgical garb.

Another aspect of Mary Tyler Moore’s life was the awareness she raised around diabetes. I recall a commercial on one of the channels talking about diabetes and some of the famous people who had it such as hockey player Bobby Clarke and actor Mary Tyler Moore. It was a cause she trumpeted throughout her life.

Parting thoughts
Mary Tyler Moore would continue on acting, including a return to the role of Mary Richards in a reunion movie with Valerie Harper as her best friend Rhoda Morgenstern in 1998.

She will always be remembered as a woman who played roles well beyond the conventional, or stereotypical roles of the time. She played strong women and, in her award-winning sitcom, a woman in a leadership role. That was almost unheard of then.

Moore will also be remembered for enabling creative shows to emerge through MTM Enterprises. Some of those, such as “Newhart”, “The White Shadow”, and “St. Elsewhere” were innovative, and even groundbreaking.

And, she was a champion for several causes, most notably diabetes. It was a disease from which she suffered, but she wanted to raise awareness of it, and tell people with diabetes they can lead normal, or in her case, extraordinary lives.

She would never recreate the success she had in the 1970s, but she successfully transitioned into theatrical and television movies, where she earned several award nominations in the 1980s.

All told, Mary Tyler was a trailblazer, a ground breaker, and a role model for a generation of women.

*This is from the vault

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Blue Jays memories: 1983, Getting into the race, part two

It was the shot heard round the world for the Toronto Blue Jays. A home run that, as it turned out, signalled the beginning of a collapse that showed the Toronto Blue Jays were just not ready to win the American League East title.

Designated hitter Cliff Johnson of the
1983 Toronto Blue Jays provided
veteran leadership throughout the season.
(may be subject to copyright)
The saga of Lenn Sakata
The Jays hung around in the race for the American League East title, although as the season wore on, their weaknesses became more evident, especially the lack of relief pitching. The starters would give them good outings, and the offence would provide a lead, but the bullpen could not hold it.

Toronto started the month of August at 12-12, but were presented with a golden opportunity. They were going into Baltimore for a three-game set. The Orioles were tied for the division lead, 2.5 games up on the Jays. Oddly the two teams had the same number of wins, but the Orioles had three fewer losses. If the Jays won all three, they would move past Baltimore and likely into the lead.

What transpired was one of the weirdest series I have ever seen, filled with drama and its fair share of karma.

The series opened on Aug. 23 with the Jays sending Luis Leal, their third starter behind ace Dave Stieb and Jim Clancy, to face Mike Flanagan, the Orioles’ ace. That game was highlighted by Blue Jay Shortstop Alfredo Griffin making several great defensive plays. The game was nationally televised in the States, so the whole country got to see Griffin at his best for really the first time.

Leal would go the distance, pitching nine complete innings, allowing three runs, seven hits and striking out four as the Blue Jays won 9-3. The Jays chased Flanagan in the fourth, after scoring seven runs. To make matters worse for Baltimore they shot themselves in the foot, making five errors, including two each by second baseman Lenn Sakata and Flanagan.

Lenn Sakata of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles went
from goat to hero, and became the first in
a long line of Toronto Blue Jay killers.
(may be subject to copyright)
Everything would turn in the next game. It was on CTV’s Wednesday night Blue Jays Baseball, and I will never forget that night or that game. All the talk had been about how great Griffin had played, and what a goat Sakata had been.

Jim Clancy got the start in Game 2, on Aug. 24, and pitched a gem. There was no scoring until the third inning when the Jays got a run off Scott McGregor, only to have the Orioles tie it in the bottom half of the inning. Toronto went up 2-1 in the fifth then tacked on another run in the eighth to lead 3-1 with Baltimore having one last chance in the bottom of the ninth inning.

But the Jays could not hold the lead. The Orioles cashed in two runs to tie the game 3-3 and send it into extra innings.

Things still did not seem dire though. Designated hitter Cliff Johnson promptly it a solo home run to give the Jays a 4-3 lead. Things looked even better when the Jays got another base runner. The Orioles had brought in reliever Tippy Martinez who picked him off. Undeterred, the Jays got another base runner. Martinez picked him off too. Then, incredibly, Toronto put another man on base and Martinez picked him off too!

Years later my best friend of the time Chris Vining said that Martinez’s move was obviously a balk.

Still, the Jays had a one-run lead, three outs away from moving a step closer to first place.

Cal Ripken Junior stepped in and hit a solo homer to again tie the score. The fans were going crazy in Baltimore.

The Jays managed to get two outs and the Orioles put two men on.

So, who steps to the plate? Lenn Sakata, goat from the day before. Baltimore manager Joe Altobelli had had to make so many changes in his line up in his effort to tie the game, that he ran out of catchers. Sakata, had not caught since little league, and was pressed into action behind the plate in extra innings.

There is another theory about Martinez picking off all those base runners. Because the Jays were trying to take advantage of Sakata’s inexperience, they were leading too far off first base, making it easier for Martinez to pick them off. So, Sakata survived that inning behind the plate, and now had a chance to win the game with a base hit.

The Jays brought in Randy Moffitt, after their avowed closer Joey McLaughlin surrendered that home run to Ripken.

Sakata, who was not the best hitter, turned from goat to hero by hitting a three-run, walk-off home run.

Game over.

Roy Lee Jackson was a reliever
with the 1983 Toronto Blue Jays.
(may be subject to copyright)
The next night, the Jays concluded that series with a virtual repeat performance. Dave Stieb dueled Storm Davis to a scoreless draw after nine innings. In the top of the tenth, Barry Bonnell hit a solo home run to give Toronto a one-run lead. However, the bull pen blew it again. This time their other ace reliever, Roy Lee Jackson, surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning, to give Baltimore a 2-1 victory.

The Jays had gone from the possibility of leading the division by half a game, had they won those two extra-inning games, to trailing Baltimore by 3.5 games.

The pattern repeated itself in their next series in Detroit. The Jays lost Game 1 in extra innings then won Game 2. The pivotal third game, if the Jays won, would move them closer to first place. They scored two in third and Detroit got one back in the fourth, to provide all the scoring going into the ninth, and Detroit’s last at-bat. Starter Luis Leal had turned in another quality start for Toronto, turning the lead over to the bull pen. McLaughlin was called in the ninth to nail down the victory.

Joey McLaughlin was a reliever
with the 1983 Toronto Blue Jays.
(may be subject to copyright)
This time, it was Chet Lemon who launched a three-run, walk-off home run into the seats to give the Tigers the win in the game and the series.

The Jays were now five games back, and in a bit of a tailspin.

End of the line
The Jays finished August with a 15-19 record, and with faint hopes of winning the division. They rebounded somewhat in September, going 16-10, but only made up one game in the standings. They closed out the season with two games to start October, winning one and losing one against Minnesota.

They finished the year 89-73. They had led the American League East at the all-star break. Although they faded and finished fourth behind the Orioles, it was by far the best record in their history.

Parting thoughts
That collapse in August had exposed the Jays’ biggest weakness – they needed relief pitching. It would be something they would try and address for the next few seasons, ultimately finding just the right combination.

Still, 1983 was a watershed year. The Blue Jays had gone from perennial doormat to contender, almost over night. This season would be the first of 11 straight winning seasons for the Blue Jays. The streak may have been longer, but was ended by a strike in 1994.

The late-season collapse also started a string of heartbreaks and disasters that would haunt the Jays until they finally exorcised their demons by winning the World Series in 1992.

The year also produced its share of moments. Centrefielder Lloyd Moseby was the player of the month for August, and would win a Silver Slugger Award at the end of the season. Dave Stieb had started and won the all-star game.

More than anything, the season created an energy and electricity around the team that would propel it for the next 11 years. The song “Let’s Play Ball” became a mantra for the team. Oddly, it alludes to a seagull, which was a strange coincidence. That year Dave Winfield, then playing for the New York Yankees, killed a seagull accidentally by a throw from the outfield. He was even charged, although the charges were dropped.

It just demonstrated there was a new interest and buzz about the team.

One other odd memory also illustrated the new found excitement around the team. I was watching the Canadian Open tennis tournament on CTV.

Billie-Jean King was doing the colour commentary. I think it was Fergie Olver who was the announcer, and he kept bringing updates from a Jays game going on in Boston. The Jays had trailed badly, but as the match wore on, they mounted a comeback. Olver said Billie-Jean King was going crazy in the booth, jumping up and down with excitement when the Jays took the lead and eventually won the game. Why? Because her brother Randy Moffitt played for the Jays as a relief pitcher.

It was a magical time, because the Jays were the ultimate underdog.

Even though they did not win in the end, they had come so far – and they had set the stage for things to come.

*This is from the vault