Hopes this finds you happy and healthy this spring of 2015! Much like the changing of the seasons, it’s a period of transition for me, especially at the CBC.
For the past ten years, I hosted a four-hour daily live show, Monday to Friday, on CBC Radio 3. I primarily played Canadian independent music, falling mostly under the umbrella of “indie rock”. It was an incredible experience to channel my DJ heroes like Wolfman Jack, Alan Freed, David Wisdom, and Nardwuar, while simultaneously broadcasting live to North America on SiriusXM satellite radio and streaming to the world on cbcmusic.ca.
Like many things at the CBC these days, Radio 3 is going through changes. The big one happened at the end of March, when we ended our live hosting on the network after a decade. The final broadcasting day, Friday March 27, 2015, was extremely fun but also very emotional. Ten years is a long time, and the audience and community that has grown out of Radio 3 is second to none. I’m proud to call many of the international listeners, who engaged with me on air through many means on a daily basis, my friends. Thanks again to all for the kind wishes for the future.
And the future is… now! I’m still at the CBC, still working with Radio 3 (which continues!) and CBC Music. You’re still hear me in recorded segments on Radio 3, and on various programs on CBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 doing what I always do: promoting new Canadian music. You’ll also see me all over CBC Music’s social media feeds and on regional CBC television. I also still host the CBC Radio 3 Podcast, and will be guest hosting on CBC Radio 1 this summer.
When it comes to writing, I’ve also proudly been writing a local Vancouver column for The Westender, the city’s longest-running entertainment weekly. The feature is called Vancouver Shakedown, and is all about the culture, society, and zeitgeist of this Terminal City. I’ve already caught roses and thorns while covering such topics as weather bragging, the whales still in captivity at the aquarium, attempted stroller theft, the new “heron cam”, and the infamous West Coast social condition known as “The BC Bail”.
I also continue to plunder away at my third book. It’s still a rock ‘n’ roll story, a warts-and-all tour diary expose of my many years on the road in The Smugglers. Sometimes the process is fun, other times embarrassing, and sometimes a struggle, but I’m determined to finish it for both my sake and for your hopeful enjoyment.
As for hockey, my team the Flying Vees had our best season ever, going 17-5-1. Sadly, we lost in the playoffs, but my hockey-obsessed son Joshua was able to come to some games and loved it.
When it comes to live events, I’m about to enter a very busy spring season of appearances in and around BC and Ontario. All the dates are listed below. If you’re around, it’ll be fantastic to see you as always.
Thanks for the support, hope to see somewhere this spring or summer,
Grant Lawrence Spring / Summer 2015 Live Schedule:
Sat May 2, Authors for Indies, 32 Books, North Vancouver BC, 1pm – 3pm.
Sat May 9, A Whisky Library, Lynn Valley Library, North Vancouver BC, 7:30pm (whisky and literature pairings; a benefit for the Trish McMordie Memorial Fund).
Fri May 15, Sun May 17, Word on the Lake Writers Festival, Salmon Arm BC.
Sat May 23, CBC Music Festival, Toronto ON.
Sun June 14, Canadian Independent Music Association 40th Anniversary Awards Gala, the Great Hall, Toronto ON.
Sat June 20, Unofficial CBC Radio 3 Fan Picnic, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto ON.
Fri July 17 – Sun July 19, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Jericho Beach BC.
Free the whales: my opinion on the Vancouver Aquarium’s continued practice of keeping and breeding whales
Even when I was a little kid, I knew keeping whales in captivity at the Vancouver Aquarium was wrong. Despite my misgivings, I’d still scramble and jockey to sit in the “splash zone”, hoping the cold salt water from the killer whale and dolphin shows would slosh over the glass and soak me.
It was when the magnificent bodies of those gigantic mammals exploded out of the water at their trainers’ behest, all for a reward of a meager mouthful of dead herring, when I felt the stab of guilt. It was painfully obvious that the animals were simply way too big for their tank.
“Look at the dolphins, they love it!” squealed one sopping kid, as the dolphins bobbed and leapt across the surface of their stage. “They’re smiling!”
Such is the curse of the dolphin. Just like belugas and, to a lesser extent the orcas, when opened, their mouths curve up at the jaw, giving the false impression they’re perpetually “smiling”, as if a visit to a Yaletown botox clinic had gone permanently wrong.
That “smile” also gives the appearance, especially to impressionable children, that these incredibly smart mammals actually somehow enjoy being held prisoner in aquatic cellblocks, where they are forced to do tricks for dead fish. You know in your gut that nothing could be further from the truth.
How is it even a fathomable reality, that decades after my childhood guilt, we still allow the Vancouver Aquarium to imprison cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), in tanks hardly larger than an Olympic swimming pool? Our mayor has publicly spoken against our incarceration of whales. Last summer, our parks board voted against further captive breeding (what a disgusting phrase), but since the civic election, that ban has been sunk.
The aquarium justifies the confinement of cetaceans as research, and yet their website still clearly offers “dolphin shows” and “beluga shows” (to their credit the Vancouver Aquarium no longer keep orcas). The “shows” might well be more on the instructional side than the old killer whale splash zone antics of yore, but they are still marketed as performances, and you just know it all comes down to money: the cetaceans are literally the aquarium’s big ticket items.
To make matters worse, the aquarium has imminent plans to expand, which means even more loaner beluga whales will return to Vancouver. One such beluga was on loan for breeding at SeaWorld Orlando. Tragically, that unfortunate whale/sperm bank died from an infection caused by a broken jaw, which apparently came from some sort of altercation with other belugas. Excuse me?
According to the Vancouver Aquarium, the cetaceans in their command have been deemed “non-releasable by government authorities”. Even if originally rescued, these beautiful mammals do not deserve to be kept as pets and show pieces. They are mostly migratory, highly social, and keenly intelligent. In their natural habitat, most beluga whales are seasonally programmed to migrate thousands of kilometres, spending social time in pods of anywhere from three whales to groups of thousands. Think about a naturally migratory mammal in a fish tank. They must go crazy.
All that said, you can add my voice to the long list of critics calling upon the Vancouver Aquarium to end their long-standing, unethical, and hypocritical captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and to release them into their natural habitat.
If these intuitive creatures cannot survive in the wild after release as the Aquarium predicts, they would at the very least taste freedom, something we all desire.
And you would finally know in your gut that for once, that “smile” would be genuine.
“The snow is in Whistler, but the flakes are in Vancouver”.
It’s an unflattering phrase I’ve heard a few times, describing a social ill that is supposedly creeping into our behavioral patterns like mold in a grow-op. You’ve likely already heard about Vancouver’s not-so-nice social rep of being “unfriendly to newcomers” and that “it’s hard to make friends here”. Apparently these days, if you actually do manage to make friends and then make some plans, there’s a very strong possibility that your new Vancouver pals won’t even show up. This rampant condition has a nickname. It’s called “The BC Bail”.
When my friend Lizzy relocated from Toronto to Vancouver, she received advanced warning of the BC Bail. According to Lizzy, “the BC Bail is when you make plans, but know in the back of your mind you might not actually go through with whatever it is you just agreed to, then you cancel last minute”.
Lizzy’s lived in Vancouver for five years now, so I asked her if she thinks flaking out is still an issue. “Oh yeah”, she said without hesitation. Lizzy is the founder and producer of the wildly successful Rain City Chronicles storytelling event. It’s almost always sold out at venues across the city, yet an average of 15 per cent of ticket holders don’t show up, at $22 a pre-paid ticket.
“I plan for people to bail.”
“It’s just downright disrespectful to flake, and definitely a Vancouver phenomenon”, says Jay, a recently thawed-out transplant from Winnipeg. “Vancouverites take their reputation for being laid back way too far. No one can stick to a plan. Maybe it’s the lack of a real winter? In a Winnipeg deep-freeze, there’s real value in getting together with friends. In Vancouver, I’ve bought concert tickets for a friend and me, and have been stuck with the extra ticket when he inevitably jammed out. Not cool.”
Leigh moved here from Charlottetown, a city known for its close-knit community. Surprise! She agrees with Jay and Lizzy. Leigh feels it’s all about the better option. “When people make plans here, they wait until zero hour to see if there’s a better choice, or a cooler party. Then they bail. It’s so frustrating.”
Vancouver! What can we do about this abhorrent behavior? According to my friend Lauren, who wrote about the BC Bail on her fantastic blog “Grown-Up Party”, it’s best to get out ahead of the problem by not over scheduling. “I’ve recognized that I don’t like to have plans two nights in a row during the week. So now ahead of time I try to spread them out, as a pre-emptive strike on the BC Bail.”
Lauren also strongly believes that cell phones are a huge part of the problem, when all it takes is a quick, shockingly guilt-free text to bail on plans that may have been in the works for months.
OK look, as a guy who has lived in Vancouver my entire life, I’m willing to do my part to put an end to this ridiculous BC Bail stuff. In fact, I have plans to meet friends for drinks at a craft brewery tonight, and damn it, I’m going to show up. But then again… I do have three episodes of Better Call Saul on the PVR… and it’s raining… and I’m already in my boxer shorts….
Do you think the BC Bail is a social problem in Vancouver? Are you guilty of pulling a BC Bail? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me! #BCBail.
Now that the crumbs have fallen on the Westender’s jam-packed (and 18th straight) Best of the City issue, I hope it’s safe to serve up some of my own personal Best of the City picks, all in an effort to create your perfect Vancouver meal that won’t break your bank.
For your starter, the greatest salad in Vancouver can be found right in the heart of downtown, at Finch’s (353 West Pender at Homer). The line up can be annoyingly long (though they do offer order-ahead service), the staff is cooler than you and they know it, and the décor somewhat resembles a garage sale at the end of the day, but once you receive that beautifully presented prosciutto and vine tomato salad with a hard boiled egg on top, circled by leafy green lettuce and sprinkled with cracked pepper ($11.45), all is forgiven.
For your second course, behold one of the culinary reasons I was swayed to move to Hastings-Sunrise: Tacofino (2327 East Hastings at Nanaimo). The place is always swarmed, but I swear it’s worth it. All you need to do is get a seat, then order two fish tacos ($12) and a jug of beer. The tacos are stuffed with crispy local lingcod as fresh as if I caught it myself in Desolation Sound, complimented with cabbage, and salsa fresca – but hold the mayo (at least on my tacos). It’s a perfect West Coast treat, and yes, that’s Canucks president Trevor Linden chowing down in the corner!
For your main, let’s go to Main. Allow me to settle the age-old Vancouver argument once and for all. The best pizza in town can be found at a cute little hole in the wall on what was once one of the most notorious blocks in the city. Pizza Farina (915 Main at Prior, right beside the Cobalt Motor Hotel), famously “opens at 5pm until the dough runs out”. Farina serves beautifully thin, fresh, light, delicious pizza that should be scrumptiously enjoyed as soon as it comes out of the oven for maximum taste bud impact. Trust them and get the special ($16), with arugula on top, even if you can’t decipher any of the other Italian ingredients. Fair warning: if you leave their front door open, prepared to get yelled at.
Best chocolate chip cookie
For dessert, you should know that chocolate chip cookies are my favourite food, and I consider myself a life-long connoisseur. I am in constant in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I have scoured Vancouver for years for the very best, and keep coming back to the same place. The all-time greatest chocolate chip cookie can be found at… The Dish (1068 Davie near Thurlow). Go early so they aren’t sold out, then sink your chompers into these absolutely delectable three-bite cookies ($1 each) that are fresh-baked every day, using oatmeal, lots of love, and a super-secret ingredient the owners won’t reveal. I’ve been known to buy two-dozen of these heavenly morsels at a time, and those cookies are one of the main reasons I was reluctant to move out of the West End.
Those are my Best of the City picks for delicious eats that won’t have you in a barrel and suspenders after paying the bill. Feel free to share your favourite quality budget bites with me on twitter, or in the comments section.
I’ve read it cover to cover ever since I first picked it up at a downtown cafe when I was a curious teenager about 25 years ago… my band The Smugglers were lucky enough to be on the cover almost 15 years ago exactly (see above) … and now, in 2015, I’m proud to announce that, as Vancouver’s oldest indie rocker, I am fittingly writing a weekly column for Vancouver’s oldest entertainment weekly, The Westender.
The column is called Vancouver Shakedown, which is mostly a reference to an old Smugglers chestnut called “Shakedown!”. And shaking down Vancouver is what I’ll essentially try to do each week for you in print… stories of this city I love so much: good and bad, ugly and beautiful, sad and joyful, and hopefully some funny stuff thrown in there, too.
We have it all in this Terminal City by the sea, and it’s the city I’ve chosen to live in for my entire life. Now I have the pleasure of writing about it each and every week. I consider it an honour, and I hope you enjoy.
You can read my inaugural column here. The Westender comes out every Thursday and is available for free throughout the city. If you have any subject you’d like me to cover, get in touch on twitter: @grantlawrence #VancouverShakedown. Thanks in advance!
PS. The cover photo above is L-R: David Carswell, Beez, me, Nick Thomas, and… Jeff McCloy. Our pal Jeff was in the Smugglers for about a year in 1998-99, filling in for Beez. For this cover shoot he was filling in yet again, this time for for our drummer Graham Watson, who lived in Nanaimo (still does) and couldn’t make the photo shoot. Jeff, Nick, and former Smugglers drummer Bryce Dunn went on to form the Tranzmitors a few years later.
Was it the rising tide of the Idle No More movement? Was it was ‘reconciliation‘ finally becoming accepted vernacular for open-minded Canadians? Was it simply great art being recognized by mainstream Canada? Whatever the case, 2014 was a dominant, award-winning year for exceptional Canadian Aboriginal culture, and hopefully, a sea change of acceptance, mutual understanding, and enjoyment for the future.
Here’s some highlights:
The Orenda wins Canada Reads.
Joseph Boyden (who is of Anishinaabe and Scottish heritage) won big on the CBC with his epic and bloody third novel in his Bird family trilogy*. To simply call this bestseller ‘historical fiction’ is to completely undersell its breakneck pace, drama, and excitement, let alone its reminder that this land’s rich human history stretches far before 1867. A must-read for all Canadians, defended deftly to victory by journalist Wab Kinew. (Kinew will host Canada Reads in 2015). *…which actually isn’t a trilogy… at the 2014 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Boyden announced that he has TWO more books coming that follow the further adventures of the Bird family).
A Tribe Called Red wins the Juno Award for Breakout Group.
Winning a Juno is often about strategy, because an artist can pick which category they hope to be nominated for. Many apply for what feels to be the sure thing; the easiest route. In A Tribe Called Red‘s case, that category would be Aboriginal Record of the Year. The Ottawa powwow-step trio of First Nations DJs refused to be pigeon-holed to that category, instead going for Breakout Artist of the Year, which almost always goes to a white rock or pop act. Not in 2014.
Tanya Tagaq wins the Polaris Music Prize.
Tanya Tagaq stepped out of Canada’s most remote territory, spent years plying her unique musical style, and in 2014, stepped into the limelight of Toronto to win the $30,000 Polaris Music Prize, arguably the country’s most prestigious juried music award. Not only did her album Animism win, the Inuk throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, dedicated her career-changing performance to Canada’s missing Aboriginal women, whose names streamed seemingly endlessly behind her as she raged and contorted on stage.
Thomas King wins two major literary awards for nonfiction and fiction.
Author Thomas King, who is of Cherokee and German-American descent, had a huge literary year. In February, the 71-year-old won the Charles Taylor Prize for his hit international bestseller The Inconvenient Indian, and in November, he won the GG Award for The Back of the Turtle, his first novel in 15 years.
First Inuk NHL player Jordin Tootoo publishes bestselling memoir.
All The Way: My Life on Ice may not have won any awards in 2014, but it was an instant national bestseller. Jordin Tootoo‘s brutal, extremely raw, honest memoir of his struggle to get to and stay in the NHL is an infectious read. The highly likeable but damaged Tootoo comes from a far-north background of substance abuse and tragedy, yet he still managed to become an elite athlete, and be the first-ever Inuk / first-ever player from Nunavut in the NHL. The ridiculous racism he endured at the minor league level alone is sickening. And Joseph Boyden wrote the introduction. Full circle.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section! Thanks for reading.
It’s that time of year again of looming postal deadlines that are creeping in like a Desolation Sound fog so you have to act fast.
If you’d like to give for the holidays a copy of either The Lonely End of the Rink (BC Book of the Year 2014) or Adventures in Solitude (BC Book of the Year 2011), please note the following deadlines for which to place your order:
Canada: Dec 15
USA: Dec 10
Overseas: Dec 5
…but… the sooner the better.
When making your order, please use the comments section in PayPal for instructions on exactly who the book should be signed to, and any special message you’d like included, or email your inscription directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you lots of cold beer, fast ice, and warm cabins this holiday season… where are you spending them this year? Comment below!
There’s just something about the Kootenay region of southeast BC in the fall… maybe it’s the spectacular autumn colours, the comforting smell of marijuana (and woodsmoke) in the air, the crisp nights and still-warm days, or the winding roads that lead to amazing towns big and small, the inhabitants of which all seem so incredibly supportive of independent musicians, authors, the CBC, and the arts in general. Suffice to stay I love the place and it’s why I keep coming back.
I first discovered the magic of the Kootenays in the 90′s when my band would play Nelson and the surrounding small towns, always to spectacularly friendly crowds. When I was invited back to tour the area for my first book, I jumped at the chance. This is now my third time back as an author.
This time, my wife Jill Barber and our son Joshua will be along for the ride. I’ll read a couple of stories from both my books and show some slides, do a Q+A and signing, and if Joshua behaves, Jill will also sing a couple of songs and chat about her new children’s book Music Is For Everyone. All events are free.
If you’re in the West Kootenays, hope to see you this week. If you know someone in the West Koots, send them our way!
I have no idea why, but 2014 seems to be the year of the Canadian indie rock reunion. Check it out: The Constantines, Death from Above 1979, the Unicorns, the Smalls, Young and Sexy, and Roots Roundup have all reformed and/or released new material.
That’s all great, but for me, the most thrilling reunion of the year is… BUM.
BUM is a hugely underrated, very brilliant power pop band from Victoria BC. In 1993, they released -seriously- one of the greatest albums not enough people heard called Wanna Smash Sensation (produced by Kurt Bloch, released by Popllama). I played that record to death and know every song and note. The band also released a string of absolutely killer singles and EPs.
The amazing thing about BUM is that they were basically the perfect four-piece band.
They had NO weak links, which is extremely rare in rock ‘n’ roll. They boasted a songwriting tandem that had a yin-yang equality of greatness: guitarist Andrew Molloy provided the chorus-heavy, Instant Kool-Ayd pop and power ballads, while Rob Nesbitt served up the buzzsaw blasts of emotionally charged melodic punk. It meshed incredibly. The harmonies were outstanding.
BUM also boasted powerhouse precision drumming from Graham Watson (also the drummer in my own band the Smugglers for many years post-BUM). BUM were even perfectly West Coast-multicultural with their underrated anchor: the ultra-cool bassist Kevin Lee, with his stoic expression, Ramones-style bowl cut, and low-slung, star-speckled Fender bass. For awhile, Kev co-owned one of the best record stores in Canada called Funhouse, on Yates in downtown Victoria, which seemed to give BUM the inside edge on the best labels and bands going in the early 90s, and there were a lot.
BUM’s Buzzcocks-like steady stream of singles in the early 90s provided the anticipation, but when I first heard Wanna Smash Sensation I could hardly breathe. I’ve always maintained the eternal idea that Wanna Smash should have been as big as Dookie or at the very least any of the better Redd Kross or Sloan records. Not to be. It turns out the only “territory” that really “got” BUM, (besides a small drunk army of adoring fans in the Pacific Northwest) was Spain.
BUM were HUGE in Spain.
Like folklore huge. Like billboards and wall murals and sold out shows and massive audience sing-a-longs huge. Full rock star status. Yet in Toronto they’d draw 35 people. In Eugene, Oregon… don’t ask. (But I shoulder part of the blame for that one because the Smugglers were also on that bill. Animal House it was not.)
The Smugglers instantly hit it off with BUM because we shared the same underdog sense of humour. The Smugglers’ “music” was a lot more lowest-common demoninator garage-pop, based in gimmicky showmanship, sleight-of-foot trickery and bombast, to distract the audience from our lack of actual songwriting talent. We were always in awe of BUM’s writing skills. We also had some incredible parties with BUM. Lots and lots of laughs, all night long.
At the height of BUM’s fame in Spain 1994 (and with rapidly growing interest in Japan), Nesbitt abruptly left the band within a year of the release of the classic Wanna Smash Sensation. I remember being stunned. Watson followed soon after, making the questionable career move of joining the Smugglers for the next decade.
That perfect foursome, that once-in-a-lifetime alchemy that was BUM in its prime, was over, just like that.
All four members do lots of other great things musically to this day (Budokan, Suite Sixteen), though it seems it’s when the four of them come together that they’re truly at the well of rock ‘n’ roll greatness.
That’s why it felt like my wedding day when I heard of their unlikely reunion. Thank the gods for that cliche of ‘time heals all wounds’ because, twenty years later, based on the Youtube footage alone, I had no idea BUM would sound so HOT HOT HOT.
Sure, they may be bent on being bent on rivalling fellow Victoria punkers NoMeansNo for “Most Grey Hair On Stage”, but SO WHAT? The collective Clooney look just adds to the vibe; the boys still sound fantastic. That’s what counts. Here’s hoping that reunion show at the Rifflandia Festival in Victoria on September 13, 2014 was just the beginning. Your disciples want more. I’m not one for endless nostalgia, but reunions can be done gracefully and done well.
So cheers to all those other bands for getting back together and making it a trend, but for me, my fist is raised in the devil horn salute for return of the mighty BUM. I dearly hope for the promise of more BUM shows in Vancouver, Seattle, Nanaimo, Japan… and of course the entire country of Spain.
Because… a promise is a promise.
It’s hard for me to believe it, but it’s almost been a year since my last book The Lonely End of the Rink came out in October 2013. I didn’t get to do too many fall literary festivals last year since the book came out right in the middle of the season, so I’m trying to make up for it this autumn with some bi-coastal action.
I’ll be reading stories from both books as well as some new material here and there. I’d love to see you at any of these mostly free events, including a book tour of the BC Kootenay region.
Sun Sep 21, Word on the Street, Halifax (2:30PM)
Sun Sep 28, Word on the Street, Vancouver (1PM)
Sun Oct 5, Western Canadian Music Awards, Winnipeg MB
Fri Oct 17 – Sun Oct 19, Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Whistler BC
Kootenay Region BC Book Tour
Mon Oct 20, Public Libary, Kaslo BC (7pm)
Tue Oct 21, Public Library, Nelson BC (7pm)
Wed Oct 22, Public Library, Creson BC (7pm)
Thu Oct 23, Public Library, Fruitvale BC (7pm)
Fri Oct 24, Rosewood Village, Trail BC (2pm)
Fri Oct 24, Firehall Theatre, Rossland BC (7pm)
Sat Oct 25, Public Library, Grand Forks BC (2pm)