February 7th, 2008

The jackass in the middle is Gordon Campell, premier of British Columbia. At the time the photo was taken, around 1990, he was mayor of Vancouver. He wanted to be a much, much bigger jackass so he became premier of the whole damn province. Sorry . . . calling him jackass is being too kind. Anyway . . . to his right is Blaine Culling who parlayed a successful restaurant into owning most of the clubs on Granville Street and on the far right is Leonard Schein who parlayed half-ownership in a funky old movie house where his opening night show was Casablanca into a string of semi-artsy movie theatres around town. When I asked him to help me show Jazz on a Summers Day back around 1979 he said it was too much trouble. Yawn. The guy at the far left is Hugh Harrison who’s claim to fame at the time was resurrecting the Vogue Theatre.

I was riding my bike down Granville Street one morning, on my way to my postal gig, when I spotted these clowns standing around with brooms. Some kind of “let’s clean up Granville Street” publicity stunt, I guess. Hauling Campbell outta there would have made it clean enough for me.

Herewith more cute pictures of Campbell, these from 2003, courtesy of the Maui Police Dept. Busted for drunk driving. Had it been me I’d probably have lost my job. But not Campbell. He’s only premier.

Gordon Campbell mug shots

[To be deleted. No creeps in my blog, please.]

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tales of the airport (no. 6)

January 31st, 2008

Deborah Roitberg and Charles Mingus at Vancouver airport

Al called to ask a favour. Can you pick up Mingus’ band at the airport? I had a VW bus and was always happy to help out. Besides . . . Mingus! Of course! He’d been my musical hero since I was 14. Would you drive out to the airport to pick up Mozart? Of course you would. Mingus was an even greater genius.

I called Deborah. I’m picking up Mingus at the airport . . . wanna come along?

It so happened that Warner Bros (Mingus’ label at the time) had a guy in Vancouver who loved Mingus. He also showed up at the airport. He brought a limo, a box of Montecristos (Mingus’ favourite cigar) and a photographer. To this day I resent that I wasn’t the one to wind up in that photo.

More about me and Mingus.

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December 29th, 2007

On July 20, 1969 I’d been staying for a couple of weeks at my friend Marian Seinen’s place, in a house so small it was hardly bigger than a doll’s house, in the back of a lot by the alley behind the normal sized house in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. My girlfriend at the time, Tassillie, and I had had a bit of a misunderstanding and were temporarily apart. She was a couple of blocks away and visited regularly. Thankfully, we solved our differences and were soon back together. I say “thankfully” because a few weeks later, after we moved together into the communal house at Stephens and Trafalgar (which included amongst the communards the future founder of Caper’s stores where I now buy my oats and occasionally have a bowl of their excellent soup), we discovered that she was bearing our child – a condition that directed the course of my life from that point on and resulted in the dynasty of children and grandchildren over which I preside, saving me from a life of aimless wandering and pointless, abeit pleasant, solitude.

But on that date in 1969 this was all as yet unknown to anyone. That morning I sat alone in Marian’s tiny living room eating a bowl of oatmeal with the TV on, watching the descent of the lunar module Eagle onto the Moon’s surface. At the same time that I was thrilled to be seeing, live as it was happening, human beings jumping around on the moon, I was thinking, for all we know this could have been filmed at any time in a vacant lot in Texas. Or Odessa. But in fact I chose to believe it and still do.

It seemed to me that I was the only person on Earth who heard Neil Armstrong say “that’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” and thought, “huh?

Then a golf ball shot through the window, shattered glass flying in every direction. I went out to investigate, finding the landlady (who lived in the normal-sized house at the other end of the yard) and five or six of her boyfriends playing golf on the lawn, drunk, stupid, and belligerent. Before I opened my mouth they were already yelling at me, the lady informing me that it was her house and she could fire golfballs through any window she pleased. Who the fuck are you? Where the fuck’s Marian? Fuck you, she explained. The boyfriends all yelling in agreement. I went back inside to contemplate homo sapiens.

I’d read a lot of science fiction. We met inhabitants of other planets. They’d be wise and benevolent. Or evil and murderous. It was one or the other. Stunted imagination, I think. What would a Martian find on Earth? Astronauts headed for the Moon? Billie Holiday singing Fine and Mellow with Lester Young on tenor? Or assholes whacking golfballs through

windows? What about evolution . . . how come we don’t all evolve?

My next topic: What did Khrushchev mean by “we will bury you”?

The drawing at the top was one of my first made on a computer . . . with Windows Paintbrush on a 286 PC, around 1989.

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December 24th, 2007

David Saxe, photographed at his home somewhere in a southern U.S. state, via the Internet on December 22, 2007. [See note below.]

Saxe, whom I’ve known longer than just about anyone still living on this planet, has hardly been mentioned in these pages. That’s partly due to the fact that I know he’s a regular reader here and so I hesitate to embarrass the fellow.

We were in the same eighth grade class at West Hill but I barely knew him then. Marvin Minkoff whispered to me once that David’s brother was a “beatnik” and that was good enough for me. Henry’s an artist and that alone made him a beatnik in Minkoff’s view. Minkoff once spotted me walking home home with a jazz record in hand (Jazz in Transition, a rare item these days) and that made me a beatnik, too, so there ya go.

I’m not sure what happened between eighth grade (I quit school the following year so that I could get on with my real life) and the Guilbault Street days by which time we were hanging out on a regular basis, listening to and exchanging jazz records, drinking beer nightly at the Swiss Hut, smoking weed, playing snooker at the Montreal Pool Room, and the like. Saxe was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts and was never without his Rapidograph, drawing endlessly on everything and his talent was impressive, to say the least. Eventually he was also carrying a camera around and was already a better photographer than I would ever be, so it’s not surprising he’s now one of the best and most interesting photographers on the planet.

Speaking of the Internet, I have to say that amongst its many miracles it is wholly responsible for David and I continuing our friendship after all these years. Without it we’d see each other once a decade and perhaps exchange a letter or two in alternate centuries. But in 1992 he was the only person aside from myself with an email address and so we began a correspondence that continues to this day and now comprises over 20,000 pages of text which elucidates the entire history of the second half of the twentieth century. At least as it applied to us.

David is a little older than and an thus I regard him as a mentor and role model. He’s not only a better photographer and visual artist in general, he’s the world’s foremost crank. Next to him I’m a veritable Pollyanna.

David Saxe’s photoblog is here. And more photos are in his web gallery here.


This is a repost of a previous item. At that time I had not yet taken the photo of Saxe seen above.

I haven’t seen him since about 2001, give or take. Thanks to advances in human ingenuity I was able to take that stunning portrait over the Internet using my Olympus digital and David’s web cam. What will we think of next, I wonder?

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The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet

November 29th, 2007

When I walked in the door this was playing. It was so loud I heard it half a block away. Then I plooped down on the sofa and didn’t move till it was over.

The album wasn’t even out, yet. I think it was Linda who brought it back from San Francisco. She knew all these guys and was always ahead of everyone in all things rock and roll. (Linda was the one responsible for the Grateful Dead spending the night in my room.) A month later I was in Montreal. A friend was coming to visit from New York and I told her, go to Sam Goody’s and get me this record. (I figured it had to be out by now.) A week later people were coming by my place just to hear the album.

A couple of months after that the Mothers of Invention were in town for a two-week gig at Gary Eisenkraft’s club, the New Penelope. That was just a few doors east of the Swiss Hut where I did most of my drinking. When the Swiss Hut hotties started getting very friendly towards me I had to wonder what made me so attractive all of a sudden. One sweetiepie in particular sat down at my table and asked, batting her eyeballs at me, so how long you guys gonna be in town? That explains it! They think I’m in the band. It was the hair.

This portrait of me, taken by Serena when she was a student at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, might explain some of the confusion on the part of the Swiss Hut Hotties. Long-hair on guys hadn’t come in yet, so basically in Montreal it was me, Armand Vaillancourt, and the Mothers of Invention. I wasn’t going around with a rose stuck in my teeth and could easily be mistaken by horny girls as a member of a famous U.S. American rock band.

Of course I went to see the band. I might have gone five times. Maybe six. It’s all a blur though, by now. I hung out a bit – just a bit – with a couple of the guys including Zappa and Herb Cohen, the Mothers’ manager. Cohen’s phone number is still in my address book but probably not current. Maybe I’ll call him up. Zappa was cool, and a very nice guy, but to recall any conversations at this point I would have to reconstruct my brain as it was then and there aren’t enough drugs for that.

So that’s as close as I ever got to enjoying rockstar groupie hotelroom frolics and possible plastercasting. If I’d been a little less honest . . . or maybe . . . if I could just remember . . .


I wouldn’t have thought that “tune” would stand the test of forty years – that’s how long since I last heard it. After all, the avant garde isn’t so avant garde anymore. But I must confess it holds up well and is as subversive as ever. When you consider this was released on MGM records . . . in 1966 . . . it’s a kind of miracle.

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November 12th, 2007

Believe it or not at one time Calgary was, and maybe still is for all I know, the friendliest city on Earth. Well at any rate, on a weekday morning in 1963 it was the friendliest place I’d been to so far in my short life. In just my first couple of hours after being dropped off by my last ride I had been given money by strangers, without my having asked anyone for anything. They could see I was on the road and could probably use a few bucks. At a downtown diner my meal was paid for by another stranger with a smiling face who’d struck up a conversation with me and decided I was worth helping out just because I came from somewhere and was going somewhere else. Where didn’t matter.

It didn’t stop. My backpack and dusty clothes were an open invitation to everyone to talk to me, give me a buck or two, or just wish me good luck. Someone mentioned that Calgary was a boom town, everybody had money, and so I supposed this in some way explains the everpresent good vibes. On the sunny sidewalk of a downtown street an older gent sidles up next to me and asks me who I am and where I’m headed. What’s your name? Smith, I say. In spite of everyone’s good nature there still lurks in me a bit of the old suspicions. Really, what’s your name, he insists. Why would you lie? So I tell him my name. You’re Jewish, aren’t you? I confess I am. Well, you should be proud and not making up names. And wherever you go in your travels you should always seek out other Jews. We help each other out. Well, I never thought about it that way before.

Walking along together we came to drycleaner, or it might have been a shoestore, or anything else. It was a long time ago. My name is Engel. This is my business, he said. Why don’t you come by at noon, I’ll take you to my home for a nice homecooked meal. I have a daughter about your age you can meet, too. Oh boy, I thought. Is this the end of the road for me?

I went back at noon and we drove way out to god knows where. Calgary seemed so huge and empty. We drove past nothing in the way of bars, clubs, joints, or anything, like a vast suburban nowhere. This man was obviously a nice guy and generous but he kept driving in his point about sticking with my own kind. Till then I didn’t even realize I had a kind. But there it was. Avoid strangers, he added. It became clear that by “strangers” he meant gentiles. I kept my mouth shut. Well, he’s an older guy, probably survived the war in Europe, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But inside I was thinking, why travel the world if I’m only going to stick with one kind?

His wife cooked up the best meal i’d had in weeks. Maybe months. Engel licked his lips and got up from the table. I have to get back to work but you can stay a while and relax. Come see me later. His daughter and I retired to the livingroom. Sad to say she was not the least bit attractive to me. A little on the plump side with a plain doughy face but she was sweet as could be. We talked about jazz of all things and what else I can’t remember. Plans for the future, no doubt. I wish I could have dug her more. Was the old man in a hurry to unload her? Imagine bringing home a hobo – Jewish hobo, but a hobo – to have lunch and sit in the livingroom with his zaftig princess. Well, she was nice and I hope today she’s a happy jazz-loving grandmother but I got up and she told me where to get the bus back downtown. I stood on a hot summer streetcorner in an empty Calgary wasteland till the bus came, then wandered around and went back to the drycleaner’s as requested. Or shoestore.

I own an apartment building, Engel told me. There’s always an empty apartment. Go see the manager, Mrs Monk, and she’ll let you in. You can stay as long as you want. Mrs Monk! I hoped she was distant cousin of the jazz genius, but it was not so. I wandered around Calgary the rest of the day and believe it or not ran into Murray and a little later the rest of the guys with whom I’d recently shared a bit of my westward journey. I was the King of the Road that day because I actually got us an apartment. Later that night the five of us went to the apartment and crashed. There was no furniture and we were all sprawled out on the carpeted floor the next morning when we were woken up by the sound of a key in the lock. The door creaked open and, after a short pause, creaked back shut. We all got up and a while later Engel was there demanding the return of the key. Monk had turned us in. I trusted you and you betrayed me . . . you let “strangers” stay in my apartment. It was clear what he meant by “strangers”.


Dale and I decided to head west and made it to Banff within a couple of hours where we soon hooked up again with the others for further adventures in the real world, involving breaking and entering, another eviction, mountain climbing, and a night in jail, to be revealed in an upcoming episode.

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November 9th, 2007

For Bowering

I don’t ordinarily dedicate things but I notice that all the best authors and poets do it and so perhaps by doing so I will raise myself a notch in the view of those who might throw me a testimonial dinner one day. In any event, I was looking up George Bowering in the Vancouver Public Library and practically fell over when I saw 83 books listed under his name. I don’t have anything under mine, except overdue fines and the like.

Bowering is known to be a lover of baseball and some of the books are either about baseball or have some baseball content. It got me thinking. I’m not a fan of any sport and in fact hate the whole concept of sports, except for pool. I almost got good at pool myself but then my eyes went. Glasses didn’t help. Lining up shots the rims always got in the way. By the time I discovered that they made special glasses for pool players it was too late. Also, the only sport I could bear to watch on TV, when I had one, was snooker. Because on TV they can show you the table from directly above, a view not available in most poolhalls.

But I love the sound of baseball. When I was eleven or twelve I spent a few weeks one summer with my cousin who lived in a third-floor walkup on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. Of course he loved the Dodgers and at night we hung out in his room listening to the Dodgers games. He filled me in on who was who but very little of it stuck, nor did I care much, but I found the sound of the play-by-play, crowd noises in the background, and the thwack of bat on ball a great pleasure to hear. It was like a leisurely sonata that ambled along for a couple of hours on summer nights. After that when my Dad was listening to ball games in the kitchen while my mother watched old movies on the TV downstairs I’d go in there and hang out with him, paying no attention whatsoever to the game itself but just enjoying the sound of it as I putzed around the kitchen.

One day, a year or so after that Brooklyn summer I received a gift from my cousin. He’d caught a home run ball hit into the stands by Duke Snider. After the game he waited by the Ebbets Field exit and got Snider to sign the ball and in a gesture of the greatest generosity I have ever benefited from he sent it to me. I absolutely did not deserve that ball because within weeks, after taking it out to the street to play with . . . or whatever I did . . . I lost it. I hope I’m not being too unsentimental when I say that today that ball would be worth a million dollars.

Some years after that I watched a TV interview with a guy who had done baseball play-by-play for an independent radio station somewhere in some small town in the middle of America. Small stations couldn’t afford the live network feed so guys like this kept track of game action via the incoming teletype and re-enacted the game as though live from the stadium right there in the studio complete with a battery of sound effects. Tape loops of crowd sounds (ooohs, ahhs . . cheers . . . and ambient noises) the bat on ball thwack, etc. Rather than being disillusioned I loved the idea of a game broadcast so pure there was no game itself. The teletype-announcer was a musician of the highest order.

Listen to The New York Giants vs The Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, August 31st, 1951:

My last pool game.
With Melody Diachun, Kitsilano Billiards, Vancouver. December 15 2002.

[Ebbets Field and Duke Snider, unidentified photographers]

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Ahhh . . . we were young.

November 6th, 2007

This is my proudest achievement both as a photographer and as a presenter. Mary Lou Williams dwelt amongst the gods of jazz from her teenage years when she began her professional career. That would be in the nineteen-twenties. She played piano and wrote tunes and arrangements for Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy and went on to write for and/or perform with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, and others, and remained a modernist as the music evolved. In 1942 she formed a band that included Art Blakey on drums. Monk, Bud Powell, and others hung out at her Harlem apartment and revered her. As did Cecil Taylor, who came up with the idea that I should present her in concert in Vancouver and got the two of us in touch. She came and played four nights here with bassist Wyatt Ruther. She was scheduled to play with Larry Gales but just days before the gig Larry’s wife dreamed he was in a plane crash and wouldn’t let him travel. She aslo played a concert for kids on the Saturday afternoon, which I have on tape and will post one of these days.

I brought Mary Lou and Wyatt to the CKVU-TV studios for an interview on the “Vancouver Show” a live, two-hour nightly broadcast of local affairs. They’d play a tune, as well, and when they practiced a little before going on the air I took this picture.

So I got to hang out with a true jazz legend for four days and I confess that I regret not taking the opportunity to ask her more about the glory days of the birth of this greatest music on Earth. Frankly, I don’t remember much conversation. (Fortunately, though, there is a great biography, which I highly recommend, Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams by Linda Dahl. Even if you have no interest in jazz history this book will fascinate you, plus the feminists among you will love it because you must realize that Williams was pretty much the only woman to make her name in the male-dominated jazz world, at least until Jane Fair came along. )

I made up for this lapse when Jay McShann came along a few years later. I had nothing to do with this gig, which was a week at the Anchor in Gastown. McShann came up around the same time as Williams, in what for me was the greatest period of jazz before the New York Fifty-Second Street bebop period of the mid-forties. Thirties Kansas City. I found out where McShann was staying and went to the hotel one day in the early afternoon. I didn’t call ahead, I just took my chances. I used the hotel phone to call the desk and ask for McShann’s room. He happened to be in and I just said I was no one in particular and could I just come up and hang out with him and he said sure, c’mon up and for a couple of hours we sat in his room talking about Kansas City. McShann knew Mary Lou of course. He was the first to hire Charlie Parker, as is well known. He talked about Bird, Mary Lou, Art Tatum, Basie, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, all people he played with, hung out with, got high with, all personal pals and he loved jiust talking about all these people. It was one of the best moments of my life and maybe I should have had a tape recorder with me because I’ve forgotten ninety-nine percent of everything, although the one percent that’s left still electrifies me.

One thing I remember best, as I was leaving I said I had one more question.

I’ve read a lot of history of that time in Kansas City, about, for example, how you’d play dance gigs from six at night till six in the morning and then go and jam! Mary Lou Williams mentioned how they’d bang on her window in the early morning to say the piano player was worn out and packed it in and they needed another piano player and she’d get up and go take over. Was all that really true?

Yes, it was. Yes, it was.

How could you play a twelve hour gig and keep going, playing a jam session after that???

Ahhhh . . . . we were young.

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November 2nd, 2007

My neighbour’s a Mountie. Raymond, on the fourth floor. I run into him now and then, in the lobby or elevator and once he spotted me at the bus stop downtown and gave me a ride home. He drives a red Miata and so I cultivate his friendship in the hope that one day he’ll lend me his car. The other day we were in the elevator, he was loaded down with a big jacket and a gun in its holster. Just getting off work, it looked like.

What exactly do you do?


Oh shit, I whispered, backing into the corner.

I don’t want to know about it.

I was kidding around, of course. I haven’t indulged in illegal drugs since I got high with Sam Rivers in 1979. Even then it had been a long time and I only joined Sam because he’s one of the best jazz musicians in the world and I thought if we got high together I’d learn something new but all that happened was I waited for the effects to wear off. I have no idea why I no longer enjoy what was once a favourite pastime. So much so, in fact, that I’d planned to move to North Africa because I understood that hashish was plentiful and legal. Of course, the people that told me that were very stoned, so who knows?

Hey, whatever happened to Abe Snedenko?

Who the fuck’s Abe Snedenko?

Are you kidding me? You don’t know about Abe Snedenko? There must be a plaque with his name hanging down at headquarters. Next time you’re in the office ask one of the older guys to tell you about Abe Snedenko.

Abe Snedenko was Vancouver’s number one narc in the sixties, his name synonymous with all the forces against peace, freedom, love, nudity, and addled consciousness. He was immortalized as “Sargent Stadanko” by Cheech and Chong on their 1973 smash album, Los Cochinos. Oddly enough I had to leave Vancouver to finally run into him myself. I was spending most of the summer of 1968 at Galley Bay, up the coast about 150 miles. Accessible only by boat or float plane. No roads, no powerlines, just pure natural beauty. It started out as a small commune but by the end of that summer there were, I’m guessing, close to sixty people there at one time. Most of them high most of the time.

It was a beautiful scene. Really . . . it’s not just the hippie in me talking. We grew our own food, fished, and beachcombed for stray logs for the little money we needed. We cavorted au naturel amongst the trees and flowers and lay upon the rocky shore gazing out at the distant . . . etc. Of course they had to bust us.

There was a forty-foot ketch tied to the dock and sometimes I liked to sleep on it because the gentle rocking soothed me. In the morning I’d open my eyes and see the expanse of still water with the peaks snowcapped in the distance. Perfect in every way. But one night I had trouble getting to sleep because the dozen or so dogs that lived up there kept barking without letup. They were going nuts. I thought perhaps they’d cornered a bear but in any case I got up and dragged my sleeping bag back up to the big house.

Everybody had been rounded up and corralled into the main living room of the big house as five or six mounties asked stupid tough-guy questions and searched sleeping bags and backpacks for drugs. If you ever needed a picture of how utterly and irredeemably ridiculous society’s reaction to the phenomenon of young people having a fun life was, this was it. Singing and guitar playing kids having a good laugh while these stern, super-serious gendarmes flashlighted their stupid way around an old ramshackle house hundreds of miles from anywhere in pursuit of nothing.

The head pig was the esteemed Abe Snedanko. After a while he rounded up his Mounties and slinked off into the night on their Mountie boat, threatening to return only next time he’d find something and throw everybody on earth under the age of 18 not wearing a suit into the clink. Now, four decades later, down on the corner from here scabrous shit-stained sleazebags hang out openly dealing not just some harmless weed, but crack cocaine, crystal meth, and worse, by the 24-hour inconvenience store.

Raymond, how come you don’t bust those scumballs on the corner.

Nah . . . who gives a shit?

Man, they don’t make narcs like they use to.

By the way, just to set the record straight, I’m not now nor have I ever been a “hippie”. For one thing I’m too old. I came along more in the earlier “beat” timeframe when the term “hippy” was coined to describe young girls emulating the Joan Baez look who wanted to hang out and make the hipster scene. I knew many hippies, of course, and whenever possible enjoyed the liberated lusts of their females, although not as often as I’d have liked or as I imagined, but often enough. Amen.

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who needs enemies?

October 30th, 2007

Had coffee with Bowering again today. Who should walk in but Alex Waterhouse-Hayward. Alex is one of the best photographers west of Vermont, in my opinion. At least I thought he was before we had a falling-out last year. Over what I will only tell you privately because this is if nothing else a good vibes collection of memoirs and anecdotes. He stopped to say hello in spite of a big rush to get to the photography class he teaches up the street. Are we still friends I asked him and he nodded yes. Hey, is that your camera in that bag? Take our picture. No, he said. Then he must have seen something . . . I don’t know, but he fumbled with his huge what was it, I forget, but a very large camera to which he attached a Polaroid back and took this picture, presenting the print straight away. There were tables everywhere and he couldn’t seem to get back far enough to focus the image but who cares, I think this is a great photo I treasure already.

Just to show Alex there are no hard feelings I’ll direct you to his blog, although there may be new hard feelings when he sees I’ve posted his photo without any consultation. Regardless, have a look at

Alex at the SP Gallery 2002.

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