Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Never-Ending Tour: Spring 2018

In April 2018, I published The Never-Ending Present, my biography of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. I knew this story had resonance across Canada, and I wanted to talk about it as far and wide as I could. I didn’t know what that would involve.

Most books are launched with a little wine and cheese party in the author’s hometown. I wanted a lot more than that.

Tanis Rideout
So I did what any self-respecting rock’n’roller / DIY punk / hip-hop hustler would do: I booked it myself. This is how the journey turned out.

Most of this, certainly not all, appeared on the book's Instagram account: @theneverendingpresent. 

Part one: Spring 2018

April 5: Toronto, Horseshoe Tavern

Nirmala Basnayake
This is it. The book is done. It’s one year and four days since I signed the contract and started work. Now it’s a real thing.

I’m incredibly proud of it. I have no desire to be modest: this deserves a big launch. And yet I’m still nervous about bringing it into the world.

Gord Downie died only six months ago. It still seems too soon to be celebrating anything. There are fans who openly resent the fact that I wrote this book at all. There’s at least one member of the Tragically Hip who feels the same way. But it’s a story worth celebrating, both on the page and in real life. And it’s worth celebrating now.

Helen Spitzer, Chief Support Officer
I’ve booked the Horseshoe—obviously. It was the Hip’s primary home in Toronto. It’s where they got signed. It’s where Downie had his wedding reception. It’s where Chris Tsangarides came to see them right before they recorded Fully Completely together. It was the site of secret shows through the years. It’s the checkerboard floors.

I need a band. I cast out a few feelers to assemble a band and guest singers. My immensely talented friend Terra Lightfoot instantly agrees to be one of the singers, and then I get the idea of hiring her band instead of assembling one myself, piecemeal. A few weeks before the show, when she gets nominated for a Juno, Terra has to back out and attend the ceremonies in Vancouver. She writes me the most unbelievably unnecessary apology, because she's the best.

But now I start having minor panic attacks.

Ian Blurton
I ask Ian Blurton, a hero of mine who is completely approachable and down-to-earth and yet I’ve always been intimidated by him. He agrees: most of his band Public Animal can do it, as can guest guitar wiz Aaron Goldstein, but he needs to find a bass player. We also need to agree on a fee—Blurton doesn’t work for free, and nor should he. The man’s a legend. Before he finally finds Sean Dean of the Sadies, I continue to have panic attacks.

Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers)
I now have a great band: I have to pay them. The publisher agrees to cough up some dough. My parents were going to fly back from Florida for the launch; my mom gets ill and they cancel, but as a present they send me the money they would have spent on airline tickets. All great, but I’m still short cash to cover the band and the rehearsal spot and an honorarium for each singer plus some dinner money for them. With help from the Horseshoe, I get a sponsorship from Ace Hill, a local brewery I happen to actually enjoy. So far, so good. (Attention, readers: drink some Ace Hill!)

Michelle McAdorey (Crash Vegas)
Then there’s the singers. I don’t want a bunch of old guys who once knew the Hip—though one or two would be nice. I purposely invite a bunch of women and acts you wouldn’t expect to do a Hip song. The Strombo Show’s Hip 30 was inspiring: I reach out to Tanika Charles, Weaves, Iskwé and a few others to see if they want to repeat what they did for Strombo on my stage. Most have to send their regrets, for various reasons. To my delight, Sate accepts. 

The rest are people I know personally: Owen Pallett, Michelle McAdorey (Crash Vegas), Mike O’Neill (Inbreds), Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers), Nirmala Basnayake (Controller Controller). I ask José Contreras, who I only really got to know after interviewing him for the book. I ask Tom Wilson, to whom I’ve never spoken to at all. I have lots of great names and some of my all-time favourites, but not a lot of “stars.” The week before the gig, I run into Serena Ryder at a Beth Ditto show. She’s into it.

Nirmala Basnayake (Controller Controller)
We now have a band and 10 singers. A week before the show, Tom Wilson tells me he wants to read something rather than sing. At rehearsals with Blurton’s band, I decide that I’m going to sing “Blow at High Dough” in lieu of Wilson. Hubris, yes. Nerve-racking. But it has to be done. Owen changes his song from “Escape is at Hand” to “Ahead by a Century.” The band has already learned the former and are excited to play it; Tony Dekker happily takes it over, as he’s covered it before.

Mike O'Neill (Inbreds, Tuns)
The night before the show, I get the idea of doing a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” thing with cue cards and having the entire crowd sing “Blow at High Dough” with the band. Turns out to be the best $15 I’ve ever spent at Dollarama; my partner, Helen Spitzer, writes all the lyrics on about 30 cards. She does many things in life much better than I ever could, including penmanship.

The day of the show I spend most of the afternoon at the CBC studios doing regional drive shows asking me the same five questions from a script. 

Owen Pallett
I try to tailor my responses regionally as best I can. Some bring up the fact that Rob Baker recently tweeted, when asked about the book, to “not believe everything you read,” claiming to have almost “spit out my coffee” after reading a few pages. Naturally, this has a lot of traction in the fan community, as well as with former MuchMusic VJ and noted intellectual Bill Welychka. 

My stock answers: the band had the opportunity to fact-check, and they turned it down. The only error I’m aware of is the release date of a Willie Dunn record; perhaps Baker is a huge Willie Dunn fan? One day the Hip will tell their own story; this is their story as told by those who worked with them.

José Contreras (By Divine Right)
As I’m leaving, Serena’s manager calls and tells me she has to cancel because she threw out her back. I arrive during sound check and do my best to stage manage and make everyone feel comfortable. One of the performers tells me they almost cancelled because they were exhausted from spending most of that week caring for a parent with glioblastoma.

Tom Wilson (Lee Harvey Osmond, Junkhouse, BARK)
The evening begins with Wilson reading a story about the first time he met Gord Downie. It’s a perfect tribute, and Wilson’s delivery is captivating and hilarious. Then I do a reading from the book: probably too long, especially in front of a crowd without chairs, but it goes very well.

Lana Gay (mensch)
I’ve asked the lovely Lana Gay, of Indie 88, to be my on-stage interlocutor. She asks if any topic if off-limits. Of course not, I say, but oh, wait: no questions about the Baker tweets tonight. I know I’m going to be talking about that for the rest of the book tour, and given the choice I’d rather not talk about that tonight. Her thoughtful questions and her overall presence are everything I could ever ask for. She’s a gem.

The band is amazing, one ecstatic epiphany after another. Here’s the set:

Blurton's set list
Owen Pallett: Ahead by a Century

Ian Blurton: Last of the Unplucked Gems

Michelle McAdorey: Flamenco

Nirmala Basnayake: Nautical Disaster

Aaron Goldstein: It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken

José Contreras: The Never-Ending Present

Tony Dekker: Trick Rider, Escape is At Hand For the Travelling Man

Mike O'Neill: Fireworks

Me and crowd: Blow at High Dough

Sate: New Orleans is Sinking

Ian Blurton, Sate
The venue is about 75% full, which is perfect, because I don’t like the Horseshoe when it’s rammed—or desolate, obviously. I was worried about it being either empty or too full and turning people away. I charged $5 at the door, with proceeds to one of Downie’s pet causes, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. All expenses are covered by a combination of the publisher, the beer sponsor (which, again, was ACE HILL), my parents’ gift, and my own pocket.

It was easy to spot the superfans
The crowd contains many “this-is-your-life” moments for me: high school, university, various workplaces, including a large Maclean’s contingent. There are also several diehard Hip fans there, who stand in front of the stage in Hip gear all night. One tells me they were a bit apprehensive about coming, considering the acrimony among some fans about the book, but that they were really glad they did. (Hip acolytes the Arkells and City and Colour were playing a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square that night, which pulled some fans away.) 

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs
Many take one of the “Blow at High Dough” cue cards.

Rock'n'roll fantasy
It’s a beautiful evening. I sleep well for the first time since signing off on the final edits. 

WANT TO SEE SOME VIDEO? My friend Ian Daffern edited this little snippet for me. There's a lot more where that came from, whenever I get it together. 

(Note: all Horseshoe photos by Bob Ciofli, with some by David Leyes

April 6: Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery

I went from the most glamorous gig to… well, whatever this is. I’d been looking for a gig in the area between Toronto and Kingston—where a gig this weekend was booked months ago—and somehow slid in to this museum’s First Friday event, with the help of local arts impresario Will McGuirk. They let me make a quick five-minute presentation before some local amateur songwriters, backed up by some guy who was in an ’80s version of the Guess Who. The rest of the night I can sell my books in the lobby. It goes well enough, and gets better when I’m surprised by an old high school friend I haven’t seen in 20 years.

I drive to Peterborough afterwards to stay with the host of tomorrow’s event.

April 7: Lindsay, Down to Earth / Kingston, Chapters

I asked my university roommate Sandra Patrick if I could do something in Peterborough, and she suggested I just do it at the Lindsay bike store she runs with her husband. And why not?

I had no idea what to expect or what I would do. Nor did the people who started awkwardly milling around at the appointed time, so I just loudly introduced myself to the room and started talking about how and why I wrote the book. That led to a wonderful freeform, 40-minute discussion with about 20 people or so, which I would come to learn is often better than a staged event.

Fans in Kingston, ON
On to Kingston. I didn’t have high hopes for this: it’s in a corporate book store whose management didn’t want to hear any of my ideas about live music or giving a talk or having a live interviewer: there was no P.A. in the store and they just wanted me to sit at a table for a few hours. There’d been a great full-page article in the Whig-Standard by Peter Hendra, so at least I was unlikely to face a Spinal Tap situation. I have dinner at old Hip haunt the Copper Penny beforehand.

I meet a lot of parents of Hip fans. I meet a Queen's prof I quote in the book. Meet the guy who designed the Phantom Power cover. Meet a lady who booked me for the Kingston Writers Festival in the fall. And I meet two uberfans who did not know each other, but both seemed to come to suss me out to see if I knew my shit before buying a copy, which they did just as the store was closing, after we'd gabbed for about 30 minutes. 

I drive back to Toronto. 

April 13: Buffalo, Tralf Music Hall

Amber Healey, Jeremy Hoyle backstage at Tralf
Jeremy Hoyle of the Strictly Hip has invited me to “open” for them at their somewhat regular house gig. The world of Hip cover bands was new to me when I wrote the book, and Jeremy’s story in particular fascinated me. He’s a Niagara guy who moved his band to Buffalo and became one of the most popular bands in the city, preaching the gospel of the Hip on a weekly basis. I’d had this idea that I didn’t want to pair up with Hip cover bands on this book tour, but made an exception this time. I’m very glad I did.

From the moment I arrive, everyone is exceedingly generous and excited. I’m to be interviewed on stage by Amber Healy, a local journo and Canuckophile who regularly writes for Alan Cross’s site. She lost her voice that morning and is incredibly apologetic, but does a great job on stage, after I read a short excerpt that focuses primarily on the American chapter of the book.

The band’s show is great, although I don’t hear too much of it because I’m busy selling books. I sold way more than I ever expected—70!—second only to the Toronto launch.

Most important: fan after fan thanked me for coming, and for reading from the chapter about the myth of the Hip's American failure. They feel negated by the prevailing narrative of "Canada's band." They feel a deep sense of ownership over this band as well. "Music isn't stopped at customs," Downie once said. You most definitely do not need a Canadian passport to love this band. 

I meet one older guy who tells me he came to the band late, but saw them a couple of dozen times.
“Oh, really?” I ask. “When did you first hear them?”
“In 2014.”
“Wait, you’re telling me you saw them at least 24 times in the last two years of the band’s career?!”

I retire to the hotel room (courtesy of Jeremy) with a leftover pound of, yes, Buffalo wings from backstage. I feel obliged to eat them all. When in Rome and all that, but… this is a colossal mistake.

April 14: London, London Brewing Co-op

London is a huge Hip town. I’m expecting big things here, even though I got no press and only one radio hit two weeks earlier. Suspicion on the official fan FB page means I’m still wary of self-promotion there. But the biggest hindrance to attendance at this gig is the raging ice storm that descends on southwestern Ontario while I’m en route from Buffalo. If I didn’t have to be somewhere, there’s no way I would have left my house. Turns out others felt the same.

Michael James Brown, Michael Peter Barclay
News of the Humboldt bus crash is on the radio, and visions of tragic highway accidents are on my mind. The local classic rock station plays Tom Cochrane’s “Big League,” an odd choice on a day like this, especially sandwiched in a set with no context provided. Great job, automated playlist robot!

My interviewer today is Michael James Brown, who's been involved at CHRW for decades and is now corrupting the minds of youth in the public school system. It's his voice you hear at the beginning of the firsttrack on the first Constantines album, dedicating a song to "the death of... that great gospel jest called rock and roll." Yet here we are. 

ECW Press editor Jen Hale
The crowd is predictably sparse. But it includes Jen Hale, one of the two ECW editors who shepherded Have Not Been the Same into being. It also includes my cousin, his girlfriend and my aunt; my dad grew up in London, and he met my mom here at Western.

It's one thing when people in my age bracket enjoy the book. It's another when my 80-year-old aunt shows up having read half the book already and is ready with insightful, enthusiastic questions, despite never having heard the Hip’s music. Then again, Aunt Elaine is full of surprises, especially after our conversation topics included her enthusiasm for Art Bell, Tom Clancy, Brandi Carlile and Amy Winehouse, followed by her out-of-nowhere declaration of love for the Velvet Underground "I'm Waiting For My Man." Did not see that coming. 

Aunt Elaine and cousin Jim at Tony's Famous
After we go out for pizza at Tony’s Famous, I turn down an invitation to stay at their house of 20 cats, and splurge on a hotel. The wind howls, the streets are empty. I go see the film A Quiet Place at a desolate downtown mall; it’s highly original, suspenseful and great. Kept awake at night by hockey players down the hall.

April 15: Brantford, The Duke on Park 

Heather Valley, Mike Tutt
Why didn’t I cancel this event? The ice storm continues to be brutal. In order to even get into the parking lot of this pub, my car has to take several runs at the snowdrift blocking the driveway. I got a full-page story in the BrantfordExpositor earlier this week, but my hopes are not high for attendance. Rightfully so: that 10 people turn up is a minor miracle. Three of them are there half an hour before I’m scheduled to start. They tell me they actually stayed up all night drinking, they were so excited for the event. It’s pretty clear the drinking is going to continue.

This gig is put on by Mike Tutt, a guy determined to make things happen in this town, against many odds. He invited local singer/songwriter Heather Valley to perform a couple of Hip songs; she does a stunning job on “It’s a Good Life.” The inebriated fans get up and sway to “Bobcaygeon,” and their off-key warbling threatens to throw off the unshakeable singer, a young woman who recently ditched her law career to focus on music. She’s wonderful.

Fans in Brantford, ON
I keep my reading short, sell a few books and chat with the people there. The all-nighters want me to sign a Hip jersey. “You know I’m not in the band, right?” Before they leave, there’s some kerfuffle about one of them trying to steal a baby seat from the bar.

Hands down the weirdest gig of this tour. Next stop: the classiest!

April 20: Ottawa, National Arts Centre

Never thought I'd have a book event here. My friend Rolf Klausener, who co-runs the Arboretum Fest, recently started working here, which was a big help. Plus, my former Maclean’s colleague Paul Wells instantly agreed to host the event; he has close connections to the theatre and regularly interviews cabinet ministers and other Ottawa luminaries in the NAC’s lobby, where my event is held.

Jamieson McKay (Shadowhand), Claude Munson at NAC
My excitement is tempered somewhat when, upon arriving by train, I instantly lose a bag with my iPod, an advance copy of a Paul Simon bio I’m supposed to review, and a copy of my speech. But this turns out to be one of the best gigs. Captive audience of about 100 people, and I sell a lot of books with the help of the lovely and mighty Stéfanie Power.

Jamieson McKay, from one of my new favourite bands, Shadowhand, performs, as does Claude Munson. Paul Wells is predictably wonderful, and I’m more than honoured that he agreed to do this. Lots of great conversations afterwards. 

Rolf Klausener, Stef Power, Jon Bartlett at the Manx
Rolf and Stef then take me on the town for dinner and then drinks at the Manx Pub, where we’re served by poet David O’Meara, whom I interviewed in the book. Other friends drop by, including music impresario Jon Bartlett, who’s been moving and shaking since I first met him 20 years ago and he asked me to play organ on his Steaming Toolie album. I crash at Rolf’s place. A beautiful night. 

April 21: Port Hope, Port Hope Public Library

Ian Jack, Jeff Harris
This was set up by my Have Not Been the Same co-author Ian Jack, who brings his game to the on-stage interview: music clips, a slide show, and more geeky questions than we have time to get to during our allotted hour. Nice turnout here, although we are competing with the town's biggest annual event: FloatYour Fanny Down the Ganny, in which the entire town rides homemade ersatz rafts down the freezing Ganaraska River. Frankly, I’m amazed anyone showed up at all considering competition like that. 

Candace Ablaza, Sue File, in Port Hope
Pleasant surprise: two old high school friends who live nowhere near the area decide to show up. 

April 24: Hamilton, Mills Hardware

Wayne Petti, Stuart Berman, Dylan Hudecki,
Lisa Savard-Quong, Tyler Kyte
After Toronto, I didn’t have the stomach to put on another live music event. But after I asked old friend and Eye Weekly colleague Stuart Berman—one of my favourite music writers ever, anywhere—to host this event, he conspired with local bon vivant Dylan “the Dill” Hudecki and Cuff the Duke’s Wayne Petti to put on an actual revue. They invited a few friends from Elliott Brood, Dwayne Gretzky, and Hidden Cameras, while I added Heather Valley to the bill as thanks for playing that horrible ice-storm gig in Brantford.

This manages to pull a decent crowd, and the set list looks like this:

Matias Rozenberg (a.k.a. just Matias): Into the Night (performed on Casio-esque keyboard)

Lisa Savard-Quong: Pretend (from World Container, odd choice! Later covered by Dwayne Gretzky on their debut album)

Tyler Kyte (Dwayne Gretzky): Wheat Kings

Wayne Petti and the Dill: Chancellor

Mark Sasso (Elliott Brood): Trick Rider

Heather Valley: It's a Good Life

Attendance is good, but I lose money because I had to rent the venue—which I’m happy to do, but the slight sting of overall loss overshadows what is otherwise a great night. I have yet to view these events as loss leaders, which I really should. Because they're also a lot of fun.

April 26: Toronto, Toronto Reference Library 

Esi Edugyan and the
luckiest guy at the Bibliobash
Every year the Toronto Public Library Foundation throws a ritzy gala called the Biblio Bash, in which rich people buy a table where they will be joined for dinner by a writer. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, doesn’t matter. Some writers are famous, others not so much. One table got stuck with me. This makes me incredibly nervous: these people collectively paid more than $1,000 to sit with me! Thankfully, I’m seated next to an interesting tech VC and his even more interesting wife, a photographer who works for Human Rights Watch. This meant we didn’t have to talk about me the whole night.

Much more fun is meeting my old Eye Weekly colleague Kamal Al-Solaylee for the first time; his book Intolerable is one of my all-time favourites. My former Maclean’s colleague, the incredible Jessica Allen, is now a TV star on The Social, and shows up with gossip queen Lainey Liu. Most thrilling, however, is meeting Esi Edugyan, whose Half-Blood Blues is one of the best fiction books about music, and art during wartime, that I’ve ever read. I ask this gorgeous and charming woman if her next book is about music; she smiles and says no and I act disappointed. Months later, she will release the incredible Washington Black and I wish I could replay this entire incident. An official photographer snaps a photo of the two of us, and it runs in the Toronto Star. This boosts my ego for the next calendar year, and it gets worse when Washington Black wins the Giller.  

April 29: Sarnia, the Bookkeeper

My lady, Helen Spitzer, went to high school in Sarnia, so we make this one a family vacation in order to show off her roots to our child. Unfortunately, our tour of the town takes a total of 30 minutes. Sarnia: even less interesting than you remember it being.

Thankfully, the event itself goes very well. This is a lovely bookstore run by real enthusiasts; just check out their inventive Instagram account. From what I can tell of the municipal environs, this cultural space is a local beacon of light. Even if it’s in a strip mall, its signage invisible from the adjacent highway. Our child delights in sitting at the signing table with me and appearing important. Which he is, of course.

May 5: Wellington, Midtown Brewing Company

Stew Jones, Trevor Norris
This one is another family road trip, just for an excuse to go to Prince Edward County. I was invited here by Stew Jones, one of the biggest CanRock fans I know, a passion he's put into his painting and just about everything he does. The Kingston native and lifelong Hip fan lived in Toronto for years, where we have many mutual friends. He’s now a partner at this brewery, where he lined up local author Ken Murray to do the Q&A and added to the bill himself and musical partner Trevor Norris (who, I learned, is executor of the Nash the Slash estate). Decent crowd, though Stew thought we’d draw more. A childhood family friend shows up; I haven’t seen her since high school. She’s one of many locals who are recent converts to the county. At Stew’s house that night, a bonfire attracts several neighbours, almost all of them Toronto refugees with evangelical stories about their new life outside of the big, bad city.

Al Purdy's A-frame
The next day we visit Tim Falconer, a non-fiction writer I consulted for advice before beginning the book. Tim wrote Bad Singer, about the concept of being tone deaf; it’s a mix of memoir and popular neuroscience. He showed up in Wellington and told us he’s doing a residency at Al Purdy’s A-frame in nearby Ameliasburgh. The building is as charming as you’d imagine, so much of it restored and/or intact almost 20 years after his death. We take lots of pictures. Purdy has been on my mind a lot in the last year, not just because he was one of Downie’s favourite poets, but because my former Maclean’s colleague Brian D. Johnson directed the excellent doc Al Purdy Was Here

May 14: Waterloo, the Jane Bond

David McPherson
This is tough: Monday night, not ideal. Despite advance articles in two local newspapers—one of which has run my album-review column for 18 years—only about 10 people showed up. One of them is Wesley Crawford, an uberfan I quote in the very first line of the book. Another is my second cousin (my mom grew up here); another is an ex-co-worker. The on-stage chat is with David McPherson, biographer of The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. It’s a lovely venue, one with many fond memories for me, and this is a really great night—other than the fact that practically nobody is there. 

May 15: Guelph, Bookshelf

This is home turf. I lived in Guelph for 12 years and still have many friends here: almost all of them make it out, so it’s a packed house: roommates, bandmates, many of whom I’ve known for 25 years or more.

Mystery Machine denizens
My friend Douglas Davey, a librarian and YA author, is the interviewer. I know he’s not a Hip fan, which leads to some tangents that make this uniquely different from every other on-stage conversation I have on the tour. To close, he pulls out a drawing of headless Scooby-Doo characters and pics of the disembodied heads of Hip members, and asks me to mix and match. This is harder than you’d think. We go with: Downie as Scooby, Rob Baker as Shaggy, Johnny Fay as Daphne, Paul Langlois as Velma, and Sinclair as Fred.

I invite Heather Valley to perform again, as well as Jessy Bell-Smith, who sings with the Skydiggers but whom I’ve known since she was a teenager, and is one of the most breathtaking singers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with (we briefly played in a wedding band together). Needless to say, she totally kills it here.

Tristan O'Malley (Black Cabbage), Jenny Mitchell (Bird City)
I know almost everyone in this room, although there is a large table at the front with about half a dozen elderly ladies. As I’m signing books afterwards, I ask one of them what brought them out. Turns out they’re a sorority who get together once a month for an outing, and figured that my event was the most intriguing option. A few friends and I retire to a nearby pub, and after breaking my normal sobriety pledge during this tour, I stumble back to Douglas’s.  

June 10: London, London Music Hall, RockCon

A couple of weeks earlier, I had lunch with Danko Jones. He was about to put out his first book, a collection of columns, and a mutual friend set us up to talk shop. Lovely guy. He told me he was doing this thing in London similar to ComicCon but for rock geeks, and that I could probably get a slot and a table. Since my actual event in London was such a bust due to the ice storm, I figure this couldn’t hurt.

Martin Popoff
Turns out it could. At an event where Dee Snider, Lita Ford and Peter Criss are the main draws, a grand total of two people come to hear my talk. Unsurprisingly, I don’t sell any books. I do, however, get to meet Martin Popoff, one of the most prolific music writers in the country, who is there with about 40 of his titles for sale. We do a book trade; I take his Max Webster bio. I also stand at a urinal next to the singer of Twisted Sister; it’s a “pee Snider” experience, I joke later. 

June 11: Toronto, Toronto Reference Library

This was one of the most heavily promoted events, as part of the TPL’s Eh List series. And yet only about 20 people show up, including my parents, who come into town for the occasion. Most of the crowd is of a similar demographic: retirees. I guess that’s just the normal library crowd? By this point the book is a national bestseller, but events like this keep my ego in check.

Tabassum Siddiqui
I’d asked my friend and peer Tabassum Siddiqui to host the event, which ruffles a few feathers at the library because—even though she’s as prolific and widely published as I am—they don’t consider her enough of a star draw. Their alternate suggestions are white men older than me. That’s telling. I hold my ground, and of course Tab does a great job, which I didn’t doubt for a second. She and I go way back to the pages of Eye Weekly and Exclaim in the early 2000s, and we served together on the Polaris Prize grand jury in 2013, when Feist won. She’s one of the most passionate fans of Canadian music I know. After the event is over, I have to split quickly—to go see Depeche Mode with Helen, who is finally seeing her favourite teenage band 30 years after her parents wouldn’t let her. 

June 14: Uxbridge, Second Wedge Brewing Company

Will McGuirk
Oshawa’s cultural ambassador Will McGuirk told me the best book store in his town was actually in Uxbridge, and hooked me up with Blue Heron Books. They were very excited and put on a bonafide event at this brewery: $20 ticket, includes a pint and $10 off any book in the store (ideally mine, which of course is for sale at the event). I was wary at first but came to realize this is genius. Do you drink beer and buy books? If so, then coming to this thing really only costs you $5, and you’re more likely to come if you’ve bought a ticket in advance. And lots of people do show up in this small exurb: at least twice as many as came to the Reference Library, anyway.

McGuirk is a great interviewer—and a big fan. He carts around his worn copy of Have Not Been the Same to gigs and festivals and gets artists mentioned to sign the text where they appear. He tells me he’s already read the Hip book twice. So he obviously has some smart and informed questions. So does the audience.

After a brief set by local musicians doing Hip songs, I head to another bar for dinner (because rush hour traffic meant the trip here took twice as long as it should, and I raced in at the nick of time). There, I meet two uberfans who met on the Facebook fan page, one of whom asks me the single oddest question I receive all year: “What should we do to defend your honour?”

Hold up, what?

McGuirk at Hillside 2019
Apparently this Facebook thing has spiraled out of control, with people arguing viciously about my book’s right to exist without the band’s consent. Before the book came out, I was following the discussion with masochistic fascination. The fan site was a great resource for rare clips and random info, but it is mostly a group of pen pals posting photos of the various ways in which they love the Hip. This was my first real glimpse into fan culture of any kind; there is a lot that’s beautiful about it (i.e. shared cancer stories) and a lot that’s obsessive and just plain weird. One of the weird things is that the loudest voices there don’t seem to understand how non-fiction or history works. The Baker tweets certainly didn’t help matters any.

The moderator of the site apparently posted photos of a series of pages where she circled, crossed-out and highlighted what she thought were errors and/or publicly available information that she believed rendered my research irrelevant. As a result, I was accused of being an ambulance-chaser, a grifter, a charlatan, etc. The tone of some comments put me on par with someone who writes Paul Bernardo fan fiction.

So what should these lovely women in Uxbridge do to “defend my honour”? Nothing, I told them. Just tell people to read the book or don’t!

I know what I wrote. I know it’s a good book, respectfully done. I’ll happily accept fair criticism of the book itself, but not the book’s right to exist. 

Side note: I went to a lot of microbreweries on this tour, and though I didn't taste them all, Second Wedge was definitely the best that I brought home with me. The lemongrass/ginger beer was shockingly good. 

NEXT: Summer

Also in this series: East Coast; Western Canada; Encores

FINAL NOTE: Most Horseshoe shots are by Bob Ciolfi, some by David Leyes. BiblioBash shot by the event photographer. All other photos here are by me or someone standing next to me, sometimes Helen Spitzer. I have some great video that I hope to have ready by the book's third anniversary. Apologies for any/all copy editing mistakes, especially when I stray in and out of never-ending present tense.

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The Never-Ending Tour: Encores

ENCORES: Just when I thought I was done, this was the victory lap. Nov. 10, 2018 Forch’s Record Store, Cambri...