2018 was another tumultuous year. I feel like I’ve been writing that for several years in a row. World events continued to be a non-stop dumpster fire, and there were some definite ups and downs in my personal life. Through it all, whether I was mourning, celebrating or just enduring, there was live music.

I saw 37 live shows in 2018, which is a pretty respectable number. Here are some of the highlights.

Nick Cave: Any year in which I see Nick Cave is a good year. A year in which I see Nick Cave twice is an exceptional year. When one of those shows is in Dublin, with Cave playing his first show in Ireland in over a decade, that’s a fucking spectacular year. Add Patti Smith to the bill, and you’ve got a concert for the ages. It was a huge outdoor show on the grounds of a 17th century estate, and it was nothing short of amazing.

Patti Smith was fiery and passionate and amazing, as she always is. The sun was barely setting as Nick Cave took the stage and his first words were “Daylight? You all look frightful, so I can only imagine how I look.” Cave proceeded to make the huge outdoor venue feel as as intimate as a concert hall as he wandered out in the crowd and climbed on a barricade to sing “The Weeping Song”.

Going to Ireland was a dream come true for me, and to see one of my favourite performers in the company of good friends elevated it to something magical.

“The Mercy Seat”, live from Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin.

Radiohead: I never thought I would get to see Radiohead live. I had tickets to their 2008 show at Molson Amphitheatre/Budweiser Stage/whatever corporate BS they’ll name it after next. That night was the huge blackout that knocked out the city’s power for most of the weekend, and when the show was rescheduled, I wasn’t able to make it.

Everyone knows what happened at Radiohead’s next show. Crowds at the gate just waiting to get in. A stage collapse. One of Radiohead’s crew members, Scott Johnson, crushed underneath. Killed instantly. A legal battle that dragged on so long that it was eventually thrown out of court. We all figured the band would never return, and who could blame them. Toronto now holds nothing for the band but memories of loss, pain and a miscarriage of justice.

Then out of nowhere two Toronto shows were announced. I snagged tickets to the first one, way up in the nosebleeds at the ACC. As the date approached, media from all over the world talked about how this was the band’s first Toronto date since Johnson’s death and how badly our legal system handled it. It was grim and depressing. The night of the show, I was excited but also somewhat apprehensive, wondering what the mood of the show was going to be. When I got inside the venue, I could tell right away that everyone else felt the same way. It hanging in the air, almost palpable.

The band delivered beautiful, intense and moody soundscapes accompanied by a stunning light show, all while without saying a word to the audience. Every time a song ended you could feel the entire venue holding its breath, waiting. At the end of the second encore, Thom Yorke spoke up. “The silence is deafening” he said, and then he stepped back to hold a moment of silence for Scott Johnson. The band then launched into a searing version of “Karma Police”.

David Byrne: His stage show for the “American Utopia” record was billed as his most ambitious since “Stop Making Sense”, and boy, did it deliver. Dressed all in white and moving and dancing in formation almost the entire show, Byrne and his band were the epitome of joyous motion.

C-Tec: I was stunned when these electro-industrial pioneers reformed and announced a Toronto date. Despite playing at the ungodly hour of 11:30 pm on a Thursday night (work was FUN the next day), they delivered a set of brilliant dark dance music.

Jan Wobble: Founding PIL member, brilliant bassist and all-around genius musician, Jan Wobble’s set spanned everything from post-punk to dub reggae, all interspersed with witty storytelling.

VNV Nation: This was my second VNV show, and it catapulted me from a casual fan to a diehard. Their new album is brilliant and Ronan is one of best, most genuine and engaging performers I have ever seen. I was there with a bunch of friends and we all started dancing like mad the moment the set started. Ronan was delighted by this and referred to us as “the dance floor” for the rest of the evening. More than once, he came running over to say “Hey dance floor, how you guys doing? ‘This next song is for you!” According to my step counter, I danced 10km that night.

2017 was a hell of a year for me. To say that there was a lot of upheaval is putting it mildly. After being out of full-time work for over two years, I suddenly found myself back in the workforce. I was just starting to get settled when a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer. They died just five months later, just before the end of the year. In the middle of all that, another family member died. And just for good measure, my husband parted ways with his company and started a new job just a few weeks later.

One of the things that kept me grounded through it all was music, both seeing live music and discovering new music.

I saw 23 concerts in 2017, which is pretty much on par with my usual concert-going schedule. In any given year, I try to see as much live music as my budget and stamina allows. Here are the shows that really stood out for me this past year:

Mogwai: I began and ended my year with Mogwai. Mogwai was my second show of 2017 on January 30, the very day after Adam Ant, in fact. They were performing the score they created for a documentary about the atomic bomb, and the documentary was broadcast on a screen behind them. The entire room stood silent and motionless as waves of sound rose and crashed to images of Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Looking back, I realized that there was not a single cell phone in sight. Everyone was too mesmerized to take photos.

Mogwai came back to Toronto on December 5, and I ended my concert-going year much as I had begun, with waves of searing noise and melody. Except this time I was smart enough not to take my earplugs out during Mogwai Fear Satan.

PJ Harvey: I fucking adore PJ Harvey and this was her first Toronto show in nearly 13 years. Auspicious number, that! The show sold out very quickly and my friends and I were kind of stuck behind one of Massey Hall’s notorious pillars, but none of that really mattered because we were in the same room as the brilliant and majestic PJ Harvey. She was touring her brilliant new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, and it was no surprise that this was reflected in the set list. What was a surprise – a huge, joyful, earth-shattering, wonderful surprise – was when, right in the middle of the concert, she launched into 50 Ft Queenie.

Anyone who knows me knows that 50 Ft Queenie has been my online handle since the Usenet days. I first used 50 Ft Queenie on alt.gothic, then Livejournal, Dreamwidth, Twitter, Gmail, you name it. Even in silly little iPhone games, if I have to choose a handle, it’s always 50 Ft Queenie. The song begins with a loud twanging guitar chord and then launches into PJ’s fantasy of being “the biggest woman” who is the “king of the world”.

I had never heard it live and wasn’t sure PJ even performed it anymore. When I heard the opening chords ring out, I sat in stunned silence for a couple of seconds. PJ tore into the song with a raw, fierce energy and it was fucking breathtaking and glorious. My only regret – and I do regret this deeply – is that I didn’t stand up and dance. Everyone around me was sitting and I didn’t want to be that jerk who stands up and blocks everyone’s view. BUT…it was a rock show and PJ Harvey was tearing it up onstage and I desperately wanted to dance to my favourite song. I made do with shimmying madly in my seat, but if I could do it all over again, I would jump and dance like the king of the world.

Nick Cave: I have seen Nick Cave many many times, beginning with his set at Lollapalooza in 1994, when he ordered the crowd to stop moshing. The show was at Massey Hall and we were in the second row, but even before the show started, it was clear that no one was staying in their seats. There was already a crowd in front of the stage waiting for the arrival of Saint Nick.

When the show started, we all pressed even closer to the stage and Nick, as always, prowled the edge of the stage, reaching out into the audience, drawing us all in close to him. Out of nowhere, during Magneto, he grabbed my hand, looked me right in the eye and sang to me. I stood very still, hardly daring to breathe as I held his gaze. Then the moment was over and he moved on and I stood there hardly daring to believe what had just happened. My heart still skips a beat when I think of it.

VNV Nation: This was my first time seeing them, believe it or not. All the times they’ve come through Toronto, I’ve missed them and listened to friends rave about them. This time, they were doing a small club show at The Garrison and even though it was late September, it was 40 fucking degrees inside the club. My friend Sabs and I wore the shortest skirts we owned and danced our feet off. If I did not lose 10 pounds in sweat that night, then there is no God.

And I now know why everyone raves about VNV Nation shows. I don’t usually think of electronic/EBM shows as intimate and emotional. That was before I experienced Ronan Harris live – his warmth, his passion, his connection with the audience. The heat is the venue that night due to so much more than just the temperature outside.

Diamanda Galas: I confess that I know more about the legend that is Diamanda Galas more than I know her music. I do know that she has a fanatical and devoted following, and her vocal range and mastery of her voice is unparalleled. So when she announced her first tour in years, I had to go. I like to see artists whose work I’m not familiar with – it keeps me from falling in musical ruts.

I recognized maybe one or two of the songs she performed, but I didn’t care. I was there to experience her voice and her whole presence. Galas’ hair, make-up and outfits are a cross between Cruella de Ville, Maleficent and Victorian deep mourning, and to say that she carries it off majestically is a massive understatement.

And her voice….I’m not sure I can do it justice. She hit impossibly high notes at a pitch that made me wince, and then swooped right down in a low register. And she made it all seem effortless. After the show, someone posted on Twitter that they were sure Diamanda Galas’ voice had opened up a portal to hell. Sounds about right.

A few months ago, there was a meme going around Facebook where people posted the albums that influenced them the most during their teenage years. I had an interesting discussion with my friend Rik about it over drinks one night. Rik is a fellow music aficionado and writes his own excellent blog called A Pile of Concert Tickets which I highly encourage you to read. Rik’s take on the meme was that people were posting the albums that were most likely to make them look cool. As he put it, “Yes, I was listening to David Bowie and Duran Duran in high school, but I was also listening to The Thompson Twins!” And he has a point. Who wants to confess that they really loved Nik Kershaw in the 9th grade?

I argued that the meme asked us to list the albums we were most influenced by, and listening to something and being influenced by something are two very different things. I had a copy of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual when I was in high school. I liked it a lot back then, but I don’t listen to it now and it didn’t really shape my musical taste over the years. The albums that influenced me, the ones I still listen to, are the ones that have stood the test of time, that still speak to me after all these years.

Without further ado, here is my list:

1. Duran Duran – Rio

Ah, Duran Duran. I have loved this band for most of my life. Rio was the first album of theirs that I owned, bought for me by my favourite aunt. On that same shopping trip, Aunt Pat bought me the first makeup I ever owned – brown mascara, blue eyeshadow, pink lipstick. I was 14 and my parents didn’t want me listening to rock music or wearing makeup. Aunt Pat was a high school teacher and understood what mattered to kids my age.

Rio is, for me, a perfect album. An album full of light and joy and fun (Rio, Hungry Like The Wolf, My Own Way, Hold Back The Rain), introspection, loneliness and doubt (Lonely In Your Nightmare, Last Chance on the Stairway, New Religion) and pure unfettered beautiful atmospheric weirdness (The Chauffeur). When I got married, I asked for Rio to be the last song of the night because it’s such a joyful song.

And of course, I owe so much of my musical growth and discovery to Duran Duran. Read on…….

2. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

John Taylor and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran talked endlessly in interviews about what a huge influence Bowie was on them and the whole band, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album in particular. So of course I had to find it.

My first copy of the album was actually a copied from vinyl onto cassette for me by Ken, a guy I babysat for who had a massive record collection. I was gobsmacked the first time I heard it. I had never before heard an album with such a perfect story arc, executed with such beauty and ferocity and precision.

Finding the actual album proved to be a bit of a challenge. This was the mid 80s, before the age of the Internet (yes, I’m old – shut up) and most record stores didn’t carry Bowie’s earlier stuff. There used to be a store called Incredible Records at Bloor and Yonge, on the second floor above a clothing store. It was huge and spent many Saturday afternoons there, after telling my parents that I was at the library. They had tons of Bowie, but not Ziggy. After screwing up my courage to talk to the guys who worked there, I bit the bullet and paid $30 to have the album shipped from the UK. It was worth every fucking penny.

3. Sinead O’Connor – The Lion and the Cobra

This album was a turning point for me. My tastes in early high school were pretty mainstream still. Lots of new wave and pop music. Sinead was anything but mainstream. She was raw and fierce and like nothing I’d ever heard. I was fascinated, but wary. Fascination won out and I bought The Lion and the Cobra and was captivated by it. By Sinead’s voice, by how she could be shrieking herself raw one minute, and be tender and vulnerable the next. By how the album was all over the place musically, and yet hung together perfectly.

4. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

Pretty Hate Machine came out in late 1989, and it took a few months for it to show up on my musical radar. But when it did, it’s impact was immediate – visceral and quite honestly, life saving. I bought it at the start of the summer of 1990. I was 19, and things were very bad at home and I had very few outlets for the anger and helplessness I was feeling. I remember hearing Head Like A Hole for the first time, and feeling an instant shock of recognition. I wasn’t self-absorbed enough to think “Trent knows my pain” or “He wrote that song just for me”; what I did know was that here was someone expressing anger in a way that gave a voice to everything inside of me. That album stayed on my turntable all summer and to this day, I swear it kept me sane.

5. The Cure – Disintegration

There are moments you remember forever. One of those moments for me is unwrapping Disintegration, putting the pristine album on my turntable, dropping the needle onto the first song of Side 1, and being struck dumb as the perfect, plangent beauty of Plainsong poured out of the speakers. The whole album is an elegant, mournful and darkly romantic masterpiece, full of lush instrumentation that fills the room, all layered over with Robert Smith’s inimitable voice.

But Plainsong is the song that always gets me, every time, even after all these years. Many years ago, I saw The Cure on the Curiosa tour at the Molson Amphitheatre. It was a warm summer night and sun was just going down as The Cure took the stage. They opened with Plainsong and the sky blazed gold and red as the opening chords floated out into the night. It was another perfect moment that I remember like yesterday.

6. New Order – Substance

Strange as this may sound, this album became a favourite for me in retrospect. My friends and I used to make tapes for each other as Christmas and birthday gifts, and that was where I first fell in love with so many classic New Order songs. I remember lying in bed with the lights out, listening to Perfect Kiss, Shellshock and Subculture long after my parents thought I had gone to sleep. Months later, I discovered Everything’s Gone Green and fell in love all over again. And then I stumbled upon 1963 and then I finally picked up Substance in a record store and realized that all these songs were on the same album. I bought it, raced home and it didn’t leave my turntable for months.

7. Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

I started this list talking about how much Duran Duran influenced me. I wasn’t kidding. When I read in Smash Hits that John Taylor’s favourite song was “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” by Roxy Music, I had to track it down. The track was off of Roxy’s second album, For Your Pleasure, and like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, it was very hard to find. Again, I went back to Incredible Records and paid a large sum of money for them to import it for me from the UK. When it arrived, I smuggled it home in my backpack and unwrapped it in the privacy of my room. It was packaged in a double sleeve with some of the most beautiful album art I had ever seen – Bryan Ferry and Amanda Lear all in black against a nighttime cityscape.

Of course, the first track I listened to was “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”. I have never heard anything like, before or since. The song starts slowly, full of creeping obsession and lust while Brian Eno’s keyboards build a sense of creeping unease underneath it all. Halfway through, the song explodes into squalling guitars as Ferry wails about his lost love. It sends chills down my spine to this day.

8. Depeche Mode – 101

This may strike some people as an odd choice. Why not Black Celebration, Music for the Masses or Violator, all iconic albums and ones I love deeply. 101 – both the album and the documentary – is special to me for a couple of reasons. I bought the album the day after a disastrous high school dance, to console myself.

Guys were not lining up to date me in high school. One day, as I was leaving English class, a guy waiting outside told me he liked my hat (a white fedora, as I recall). After that, he would often catch my eye and smile as I left class and soon we were chatting regularly and when the next high school dance came up, he said he’d be there and hoped I would be too. I tried not to read too much into it, but my stomach was full of butterflies as I got ready for the dance. I’d spent all my high school years watching other people go on dates, have boyfriends and girlfriends. Was it finally going to be my turn?

I got to the dance, the guy was there and…he ignored me all night. Even worse, he spent all evening paying attention to my friend’s sister. I was devastated, as only a spurned, lonely, awkward high schooler can be. The next day, I told my parents I was going to the library, but instead I went down to Sam The Record Man on Yonge St and bought 101. I brought it home and drowned myself in the music. That live version of Never Let Me Down Again still sends chills down my spine.

On the weekend that I first saw the documentary, my parents were away for the weekend and I was at loose ends on a Saturday night. I saw in NOW Magazine that 101 was playing at the Bloor Cinema and on impulse, I went. This may not seem like a big deal, but I was very sheltered and had my parents been home, there was no way they would have let me go downtown by myself at night. Especially not to see a movie about a rock band. I still remember how daring and bold I felt as I took the subway down to Bathurst and Bloor and then sat in the darkened theatre thrilling to the sights and sounds of Depeche Mode. And how pleased I was when, back at home, I realized I had gotten away with it.

9. Sisters of Mercy – Floodland

Towards the end of high school, I started dressing more and more in black. I dyed my hair as much as I could get away with while living under my parents’ roof. I don’t even remember when or where I heard the Sisters of Mercy for the first time. I probably heard about them in one of the British music mags I kept stacked under my bed, and I probably saw the video for This Corrosion late at night on Much Music.

When I bought Floodland, I dove into it headfirst and immersed myself in the shameless bombast and drama that is Uncle Andy at his finest. To say that I became a bit obsessed with the Sisters is putting it mildly. I spent hours and way too much money in Penny Lane Records buying import copies of all their albums, EPs, live bootlegs, cassettes, fanzines, unofficial bios etc. I hopped into a car with a  bunch of complete strangers to travel down to the States to see the Sisters play their first US gig in 7 years. Two of those strangers are now my very close friends.

10. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Barbed Wire Kisses

Another album that I first owned on cassette. I picked it up used at a local record store. Barbed Wire Kisses isn’t really an album, per se, but a collection of B-sides, and rarities. That doesn’t matter. The songs are arranged perfectly, starting with several noisy droning tracks that lull you into a state of music-drugged bliss. Then come the short, sharp, noisy guitar anthems, then some more buzzsaw drone, and finally some perfect power pop to end it all off. I used to lie on the floor of my tiny dorm room with the lights off and incense burning and listen to Barbed Wire Kisses over and over.

11. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Tinderbox

I’m supposed to say that I bought this album because Siouxsie is both a goth and a punk icon, but the truth is, I bought this album because of a boy. His name was Dan and he was in my Grade 11 drama class. He was tall and skinny and he wore a black leather jacket and had spiked hair and a British accent. I thought he was really cute and really cool and I wanted him to think I was cool too. I showed up in drama class one day with a cassette copy of Tinderbox in my Walkman, and made a point of mentioning it as often as possible, hoping that Dan would notice and be impressed. He didn’t and he wasn’t.

Instead, Tinderbox became my gateway into the dark, driven, beautiful and mesmerizing world of Siouxsie and the Banshees.

12. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks

I didn’t buy this album because I was a punk fan. It was kind of the other way around. I bought the album because it seemed like all the kids that I thought were cool and popular (and intimidating)  were into punk. And the Pistols were kind of legendary. So I bought Never Mind The Bollocks and was amazed at the anger and energy and outrage that came pouring out of the speakers.

And then my father caught sight of the album cover and blew his stack, and I became a diehard punk fan for life.

It was just a few weeks ago, wasn’t it, that I said I was sick of writing RIP posts. I actually had a different post planned for today, and I still plan to write it. But this one needs to be written first. Because this time, it’s personal. This is a post mourning someone I actually met, spent time with, sat and talked to.

15 years ago, some friends and I formed a event promotion company. To say that this business venture was problematic and short-lived is putting it mildly, but is also a story for another time. The very first shows we produced were The Chameleons; two shows in Montreal – one acoustic and one full on, a show in Toronto and a private meet and greet in Toronto. They contacted us, believe it or not. They had reformed and decided to tour again, and since they didn’t have a record company, they were organizing the tour themselves.

You know who The Chameleons are, right? You’ve heard Swamp Thing. Everybody has heard Swamp Thing. It’s a moody, plangent and yet insistently catchy bit of post-punk brilliance that still fills dancefloors 31 years after it was released.

 

And yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg with The Chameleons. Their first three albums are sheer post-punk brilliance. A perfect marriage of Mark Burgess’s lyrics that always spoke to the need to connect and belong, the soaring and shimmering guitar lines of Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding, and the insistent, driving rhythms of John Lever’s drums. They broke up in 1987, reformed in 2000 and it was 2002 when we put on the only Canadian dates on their North American tour. I took a week’s vacation from my day job to travel to the shows in Montreal and Toronto. I did everything from setting up media interviews and sending out news releases to shopping for the band’s rider and setting up their backstage food and drink.

When the band arrived, I did my best to be professional and not fangirl all over them. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.  They were all fucking sweethearts, every last one of them. They were all working class Manchester lads, no posturing or pretense allowed. John was shy, but over the course of the week, I got to know him a bit. He had a delightfully dry sense of humour. He had me in stitches one day with a monologue about how we’d all be able to connect to the internet with our toasters any time now. On their last night in Toronto, we held a private meet and greet at a local bistro. John spent most of the evening out on the patio. “It’s too posh in there” he said. “I don’t like posh.” He was more comfortable sitting outside with a pint in his hand, chatting to anyone who was out there.

Near the end of the week, he emerged from the tour bus with a stack of CDs. He handed them to me and said “These are for you for taking such good care of us.” I still have them all. It’s been 15 years, but I still remember that whirlwind, chaotic week. Our promotion company struggled along for a couple more years and then imploded. It all seems like a lifetime ago, and yet it all came roaring back so vividly when the news of John’s passing broke a couple of weeks ago.

Thank you for the music John. Thank you for being part of one of my life’s many crazy episodes. I hope you’re enjoying a pint in the afterlife.


I was introduced to Viv Albertine’s autobiography by a friend of mine who raved about it. Viv Albertine is, of course, the guitarist for The Slits, the seminal all-girl punk band. I confess that I wasn’t hugely familiar with The Slits when I started reading Viv’s book. I knew of them, but had heard very little of their music. The Slits were right on the front lines, formed in 1976 and supporting The Clash on their White Riot tour in 1977.

Viv Albertine were there for it all, right there on the ground floor. Names that are now household names among music geeks everywhere are dropped casually into conversation throughout her book because to her, they were just her mates. Her fellow art school attendees. The people she ran into at the pub and parties. The people she snogged and shagged and fell in love with. I’m tempted to list them all, but I’d rather you stumble upon them as you read your way through the book, like I did. Marvelling at just what a tight-knit community of musicians and provocateurs and artists she came from.

Viv’s story is divided into two distinct parts – her childhood and youth, up to the demise of The Slits, and then her life post-Slits, as she forges a life for herself outside of music and works to discover who she is now that she’s no longer in a band. That may sound odd, but back then, everyone she knew was in a band. Music was the force that drove everyone and she captures with stark honesty how it felt to be cut loose from that world and then struggle to find her footing again.

Her voice is entirely her own. There’s a hilarious section near the end of the book where her manager tries to talk her into a using a ghost writer and she tells him to fuck off, resulting in her being asked to leave a public cafe due to her unladylike profanity. She writes with unflinching honesty about being in an all-female band and facing open hostility and abuse, about facing infertility, cancer and the end of her marriage. My own life story is in a distinct rocky patch as I write this, and I need heroes and inspirations more than ever. I need strong women who have striven and overcome to tell me to keep fighting. I need women like Viv Albertine.

 

It’s taken me two months to write about Leonard Cohen. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was sick of the fact that every blog post I wrote last year was about the death of one of my heroes. Maybe it was that Cohen died the same week that the most unheroic cowardly man possible was elected to power, and my mind was reeling. Whatever the reason, I am writing about him now.

You don’t always remember when an artist enters your life. Some of them, it just seems like they were always there. I remember exactly when and where I discovered Leonard Cohen. I was 15 and babysitting for a family that lived across the street from mine. I spent most weekends babysitting, truth be told. I was shy and awkward, and didn’t have much of a social life. I was always happy to earn some spending money, but I must confess that there were certain families that I preferred babysitting for. Namely, the ones with cable TV, comfy couches and tasty snacks.

This family had none of those things. Their tiny black and white TV was in the chilly basement, and they didn’t have cable. The whole house was chilly – freezing, in fact – because they believed in keeping their thermostat as low as possible. They were also big into health food, which meant that forays into the pantry for a snack yielded up bags of bran and wheat germ. The one thing they did have was books. One night, after I’d put the kids to bed, I curled up on the hard living room couch with a scratchy blanket over my legs and started inspecting the book shelves. There must be something I can entertain myself with for the next couple of hours! Hey, Leonard Cohen. I’d heard of him.

I picked out a volume of poetry, Flowers for Hitler, and started reading. My eyes grew wide and my mouth dropped open. This  unlike any poetry I’d ever read before. There were poems about sex! He even wrote a poem about getting a blow job! And no, it wasn’t Chelsea Hotel that I read. It was another poem. Cohen was apparently the poet laureate of oral sex. I didn’t know you could write poetry about things like that, and that poems could be both dirty and beautiful. There was a short one-act play in there as well, called The New Step, and I was so fascinated by it that I read it every time I babysat for that family.

I developed a fascination with Cohen and devoured his poetry. His novels were less accessible to me. It was his poetry that I read over and over until I could recite entire poems by heart. I discovered his records and fell instantly in love with that impossibly deep, rich voice. I babysat for another couple, Ken and Judy, who were both huge Cohen fans and told me stories of having seen him live. He disappeared into a monastery in 1994, when I was just finishing university. I figured I would never get to see him live. I kept listening and reading and wrote a paper on him for my Canadian Literature course, even though my prof hated Cohen and was guaranteed to give me a low mark.

I watched documentaries about Cohen. When Phillip Glass set Cohen’s latest collection of poems to music for a multimedia spectacle at Luminato, I went and almost imploded when Cohen himself slipped into the theatre just before the lights went down and sat two rows behind me. I went to a live Q&A to listen to Cohen and Glass talk about working together. I watched as Lou Reed inducted Cohen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Then something unbelievable happened. Cohen emerged from several years of seclusion to find that his manager had misappropriated most of his money. To make it back, he went out on tour. My husband and I splurged on the best tickets possible and saw him twice in Toronto, both times within the first 10 rows. The second night, tears started pouring down my face while he sang. We saw him again a few years later, this time the tickets were a birthday gift from me to my husband.

He was 82 when he died. That’s a good long run. His time had come and he knew it. He was ready. It’s the rest of us who weren’t ready yet.

I like to think of him hanging out in the afterlife with Lou and Lemmy and Bowie. Like all of them, he was an outsider and he spoke for us with wisdom, dark wit, bawdiness, and stunning beauty. We are ugly, but we have the music.

It was the late 80s when I first heard The Tragically Hip. There was a family I babysat for often and the dad had a massive record collection. Ken would often send me home with mixed tapes full of music, and on one of those tapes was the Tragically Hip’s self-titled debut album.

Now, you have to understand that the Hip was not at all my usual musical fare. It was the late 80s and I was a new wave kid through and through. I bought my clothes at vintage stores, dressed mostly in black and bleached my bangs so I could look like Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran. Bluesy twangy rock ‘n roll wasn’t really on my radar.

And yet, I was hooked. There was something wild and slightly unhinged about the way the band played. It felt like the wind in my face on long car rides during long, hot Ontario summers. It felt like the endless expanse of highway on the way out of Toronto and the gravel roads that made it clear we had left the big city behind. Gord Downie wrote songs about Canada the way that Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood wrote stories about Canada. Evoking that vastness and loneliness and wild beauty with seeming effortlessness, but always with a twist at the end. A sharpness and a bite. Last American Exit was the first song that grabbed me and it has stayed with me ever since.

First time I saw The Hip live was when they played frosh week at Western. I was a frosh leader and so had to stay sober while trying to keep track of a bunch of kids drunk on freedom and cheap beer. Our frosh week theme that year was Ghostbusters and all the frosh were dressed in white ghost-themed outfits. Gord Downie looked out at the crowd, said “You all look like a bunch of sperm running around out there” and then launched into one of his stream-of-consciousness stories while the band jammed.

The next time, it was 1997 and I had tickets to Another Roadside Attraction. One of those tickets was for my boyfriend, until he dumped me. I ended going with a guy that I was good friends with, not having any clue at the time that I would end up marrying him. Many years passed until saw The Hip again, and then it was 2009 and they were doing a 6 -night stand at Massey Hall and there we were again, watching The Hip, this time longtime married.

And then last week, one of the final Toronto shows at the ACC. Hearing the mighty echo off the rafters as the entire crowd sang along to “Little Bones”. Watching Gord Downie in his hot pink metallic leather suit, thinking that he sure as hell doesn’t look like a man with a terminal illness. Marvelling at the big smile on his face, at how much fun he seemed to be having. And then crying at the end when he stood onstage by himself as the crowd cheered, none of us wanting the moment to end.

In a couple of hours, we’re going to head to a local pub and meet up with a good friend to watch The Tragically Hip’s final show of the tour from Kingston, their home town. Will this be their final show ever? No one knows. Gord has brain cancer, and he could have anything from a few months to a couple of years left. This is all too sudden and much too cruel, and like so many others, I’m not ready to say goodbye. 2016 has been a year of such loss. So many heroes gone.

There are Tragically Hip viewing parties across Canada tonight. People are gathering in pubs, parks, movie theatres and public squares, coming together to watch a band that was always unashamedly, eccentrically and poetically Canadian.

Thank you Gord. I could always count on you to tell me what the poets are doing.