Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Only going up from here: 7 Lessons I learned at Shania's knee

 HOW'S THIS FOR OPENERS? Talk; a.k.a. Nicholas Durocher, 
graduated from mom's basement to setting the mood
for Shania Twain's Queen of Me Tour. Photo lifted from

Earlier this year, my sister Bertholde gave one of my other sisters, Mary, a pair of tickets to see Shania Twain here in Toronto, and Mary, God love her, gave one to me for my birthday. So, two days ago, Sunday, Mary and I attended the concert. The outing proved--as you might have guessed--to be one life lesson after another. 

Here're just a  few of the things I learned. Or was reminded of. 

Shania Lesson One:

If you're going to a concert, show up on time. 

Even when you've never heard of them before, try to take in the opening act. When I was in grade nine, I and my friend Rick came to Toronto for a Frank Zappa concert at Massey Hall. Opening for Zappa was some piano player with a weird singing voice that nobody'd ever heard of and few of us paid attention to. His name was Tom Waits. True story.

But back to Shania. The concert was at the ScotiaBank Arena, and though the event was sold out, I'd estimate half the audience didn't arrive until the opener--a performer who bills himself as "Talk"-- was almost done. 

Their loss.

Talk, who used to be Nicholas Durocher, took everybody by surprise and I bet nobody in the joint was like Rick and I were at that Zappa concert and thinking,"okay okay let's get this over with and on to main act." 

Talk was wholly engrossing, lovable and if you listen to Run Away to Mars you'll hear why we--the smart people who showed up on time--were glad we did. I don't know how these opening acts get picked but I know I feel about Talk the same way I felt the first time I heard Shania.

Shania Lesson Two: 

Crocs--the shoes not the reptiles that you'll eventually see but only after awhile--come in size 17! 

Halfway through his performance, Talk demonstrated a new sport that he created--the Croc Kick--in which he sees how far into the audience he can hoof one of his giant Crocs. Best part? He, who looks twice my height and weight--very sweetly asked the audience to return the kicked Croc "because I'm not rich and I'd like my shoe back. I wear size 17 and it's hard to get shoes that big."

Shania Lesson Three:

PRETTY LIAR: No. Not her. The song. That's the name
of the song. About her ex, I'm thinking. Well, me, too, if I 
told you I took this photo. I instead swiped it from
The Toronto Sun review. Photograph by Dean Pilling
Cussing's way more fun when done it's done by people who don't swear much. Like Talk. Talk, who until last year was playing songs by himself in his parents' Ottawa basement, said he found it hard to believe that suddenly he was playing"the f'n' Scotiabank Arena."  Except he didn't say f'n. Then he added, "Sorry. I didn't meant to swear. I try not to." An hour and a bit later, I was reminded of lesson number three when Shania performed Pretty Liar off her new "Queen of Me" album. Not only was she singing "Your pants are on fire, you're such an f'n liar"(though she didn't say "an" or "f'n") the lyrics were projected over top the stage so 30,000 people were all cussing right along. Mary and I agreed the song was probably aimed at her ex-husband Mutt. Imagine what it must be like to be him and hear 30,000 strangers call you out? Then again why am I surprised Shania swears? She used to live in a small village near my hometown of Sudbury, called Hanmer. And, well... everybody in Hanmer swears

Shania Lesson Four:

Crime, too, is more way fun when committed by people you don't expect. First, you have to know that time was--when you entered the Toronto Transit system at a subway station--you dropped your token into a slot and a turnstile gave you one entry. Over the past few years, the turnstiles have been replaced by electronic gates, which you open by scanning your ticket. As soon as you're through, the gate shuts, locked, behind you. When Mary and I headed to the concert Sunday, Mary was so excited she actually entered the subway station closely enough on my tail that she came through the gate on the same scan as me!  Do you have any idea how hard that is to do? I'm pretty sure she did it by mistake, but afterward we were laughing like stoned teenagers, and I said, "Mary I've lived in Toronto almost 40 years. I've ridden the subway at all hours of the day and night and with all manner of ne-er-do-wells and yahoos and in all states of mind including being really drunk but nobody has EVER pulled that before." Even better, there was a transit cop watching when it happened and he didn't say a word. I think he was in shock. I know I was. Turnstile leaping carries a $400 and change fine. Something just occured to me. I bet Mary's felonious behaviour was caught on  camera. Pray the clip finds its way to YouTube.

Shania Lesson Five:

Me and my fare-evading big sister. Photo by
a woman walking her dog on our street.
If you ever meet her, Mary might tell you she's a retired nurse or hospital administrator or university teacher or some such but what Mary is is a 17-year-old-teenybopper. Not only did she evade the subway fare, Saturday before the concert we spent roaming Toronto malls in search of sparkly jeans, which she ultimately found at the Dixie Value Mall in Mississauga and then, once at the concert, from song one, Mary was on her feet dancing and yelling and singing along, including during the f-word song. 

Shania Lesson Six: 

As our late brother Ed said, "if you never say 'never' you can't say 'never say never.'" In April, 2016,  my generous and brilliant niece Jennifer Carter treated me to a Garth Brooks concert at Canadian Tire Place near Ottawa.  Along the drive from Toronto to the show, I was telling myself: "Peter. No matter what, you are NOT going to stand up and sing along, even during Low Places." You already know the end of this story.  Same thing happened at the Shania show. Except for the f word. I did not sing the f word.

Shania Lesson Seven:

She's still, at 58, got it. Twain & Talk put on an incredibly entertaining show that you can read about here, but more importantly, should you ever get a chance, go to a concert with Mary. It'll be unf'nforgettable..

Thursday, October 5, 2023

There once was an editor from Limerick

Photo by another marvelous neighbour, Ashley Wood-Suszko
My friend and neighbour Taras Gula attended a conference in Ireland this past summer and returned with a bunch of local newspapers that he gave me and I can't stop reading them. 

The Connacht Tribune calls itself "Ireland's Best Local Newspaper." 

The Limerick Leader's motto is "Limerick and Proud." 

The Irish Independent is "Ireland's best-selling newspaper." 

The Dublin Gazette is simply "The Latest News & Features from the County of Dublin. 

These traditionally designed newspapers, with giant photos, screaming headlines and craftily written--as well as sharply local--stories, compete for attention like I do with my brothers and sisters. 

One of my many journalistic mentors, the late Peter Worthington, pointed out that my being the youngest of 10 probably made me a better headline writer.

So far my favourite is the broadsheet Limerick paper; it measures almost a full metre across. Opening the Leader is a commitment; bordering on real exercise. (Limerick's also the best place name anywhere, except for Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Que.)

Reading the Leader reminds me of when I used to stretch out on the floor on my stomach as a kid to pore over the double-page-spread funnies in the weekend Sudbury paper. Except Dick Tracy. I never liked  Dick Tracy. Or Mary Worth. But it's sure weird that I remembered them, just now, just like that.

and Mike's bog adventure

Don't get me wrong. I am not a guy to yearn for what are  innaccurately referred to as "the good old days." Like my dad used to say, "the best thing about the good old days is that they're gone." But I am savouring these old-fashioned newspapers' celebrations of everyday life; up close. 

Exhibit a: On page 77 (!) of the Connacht Tribune, there's the Keady brothers, Michael and Bill, with a four-stone (whatever that is) keg of butter believed to be over 400 years old that they found buried in the bog near their home when they were cutting turf. (And I thought the stuff in our fridge was past its due-date. Hahaha.)

Then this. The Limerick paper has a "Limriddler" contest: a riddle in the form of a limerick.  

Me, I'll give a free lifetime subscription to Pete's Blog&Grille to whoever writes the best rhyme about somebody from Limerick. It's really hard. I've been trying for years.

That reminds me. I myself have a free lifetime subscription to the Manitoulin Expositor, which, if it came from Ireland, would blend in nicely with this bunch. 

I've never been to Ireland but I sure want to go now.  

From reading these papers, I have a feeling that I'd meet a whole bunch of people who not only look like me (that's a bit frightening, come to think of it) but also who are inherently interested in every little thing.  

They find stories everywhere and don't have to look far beyond their own front porches to unearth rivetting yarns. In June, just outside Dublin, a member of the Turvey Allotments Association discovered  a rare "bee orchid" on the property. A bee orchid looks like a bee in a flower! Imagine that!

So I can tell you how much I
admire that newspaper of his.

Fact: These great newspapers all share the motto of Pete's Blog&Grille and that is, "is any one person inherently more interesting than any other? No! Is any single place more interesting than any other? No! Have you ever seen a more ridiculous motto than this one? No!"

Finally, do you have to go to Ireland to read newspapers like the Leader, the Independent, the Tribune or the Dublin Gazette? You most certainly do not!

The aforementioned Expositor and Niagara-On-The-Lake's The Lake Report ("Canada's most decorated community paper") which my lifelong (well, so far, anyway) pal Kevin MacLean helps shape are both world-class community papers that know how to make the most of and microscopically focus on local events and people.  

Social media like Google and Facebook can't hope to compete with this human-contact next-door-neighbour journalism. Journalism that seems to care about its readers' well-being.

It's not just information you get from newspapers like this; it's a sense of belonging and comfort. Reassurance.

Reaping information from Facebook and Google serves up the exact opposite sensations. 

Social media can no more replace good community papers like these any more than it can replace Kevin, Taras, Ashley or those four-century-old-butter-finding Keady boys.