Frank Gutch Jr: Thank You, Vancouver! We Love You! Be Sure To Tip Your Waitress!

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My brother-in-law kept telling me about New York but all I could see was the tall buildings popping out of the ground of downtown Vancouver.  It wasn’t the massiveness of the city.  It was the feel!  And make no mistake, Vancouver is a city.  A big one with a big downtown and all of the pluses and minuses which go with it.  Sirens all night, a large homeless contingent, people walking with rolling suitcases everywhere.  Restaurants— my God, there were so many restaurants— every kind of food you could possibly imagine.

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If you are in the 1%, you have choices beyond imagination.  Even if you are in the 99% you are in certain areas surrounded by more takes on India, Vietnamese, Chinese, Lebanese, British, and American food than you think possible.  McDonald’s?  Almost as many as Starbuck’s, though I can not imagine eating another MacGutBomb or drinking another cup of sludge from the Starbuck tar sands ever again.  Went to the fair over on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds and picked up on a dude named Bobby Bazini, who was pretty damn good in the vein of one of my favorites from the 80s, Grayson Hugh.  Very professional set with a very professional band.  The key?  His voice, which has a slight texture to it.  Perfect for singing white soul.  He unfortunately records for Universal (it should have been obvious that there was big money behind the sound) and therefore not within my wheelhouse (I am pure bottomfeeder), but he was damn impressive, regardless.  Very well worth listening to.  Took a drive up to Whistler.  The scenery was surreal.  Steep, rock-faced mountains I would not want to fight fires on, that’s for sure, on one side and the water on the other (the inside straits— the sound?).  Like nothing I have ever seen and I have spent a good portion of my life in mountains not as grandiose.  Downtown is a maze of upscale shops and large department stores with a few pockets of blue collar tossed in for good measure.  Toward the water there is a section evidently blocked off for the homeless and  dispossessed.  Lots of panhandling and screaming and digging through dumpsters and old dirty sleeping bags laid across sidewalks.  I would have passed a few bucks on but there were so many that when they saw a chance, they swarmed.  I have seen such situations in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle too, but not as concentrated nor as intense.  A percentage of those less fortunate individuals have either developed certain mannerisms from exposure or are suffering from within.  I have never understood how we as human beings can brush aside those who really need help, but we do and Vancouver has seemingly done it with panache.  I stayed downtown on the 23rd floor of a high-rise and at three o’clock each night, The Screamer blasted humanity with a long series of epithets and soul-rending screams which lasted forever, bouncing off of the buildings in echoes.  Even 23 stories up, they sounded like they were right outside the window.  I could have slept through it but for the empathy I felt/feel.  These are the depths into which we tossed our disinherited.

I laugh at the over-generalized Canadian— the ones we Americans associate with Benton Fraser from Due South or those portrayed in the movie Canadian Bacon in which I found one of my favorite quotes regarding America’s Hat— “Canadians are always dreaming up a lotta ways to ruin our lives.  The metric system, for the love of God!  Celsius!  Neil Young!”  Cool thing about Neil Young is that he laughs as much as we do.  I remember a couple of guys from up around Whitehorse who attended the University of Oregon back in the day.  We played Canadian Whist every Sunday whilst eating Reser’s pickled polish sausages and drinking American beer and listening to KASH radio.  Between conversation which revolved around the “oots” (that crazy Canadian accent which is capsulized even by Canadians themselves in the phrase “oot and aboot”) and mentions of the cold up in the Yukon, we laughed our ways through a year of college and a meeting of cultures.  They loved America.  I learned to love Canada.  Sigh.  KASH radio.  Eugene.  At that time, the best radio available and the Canucks loved it too.  The card playing stopped when the Bee Gees came on, the Canadian boys tipping their heads back and singing— very poorly, I might add— “In the event of something happening to me…” with a wild chorus of laughs when they were done.  The same thing happened with Come On Down To My Boat, Every Mother’s Son‘s contribution to the Top Forty.  I met and talked with Dennis Larden once, you know, the afternoon we were picking up tickets to see Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band at The Golden Palomino.  A story for another time.

Sometime in the late sixties, I somehow picked up on The Collectors.  They were from Vancouver, right?  They, alongside The Paupers, were the far northern contingent of psych music as far as I was concerned.  I loved both bands.  Decades a little over ten years after buying that first Collectors’ album, I ran into Bill Henderson at Mushroom Studios in Vancouver.  I under-impressed him with a few comments about that early band but he was very happy to hear that I had a copy of and loved Dreams, Dreams, Dreams— the album which contains my all-time favorite Chilliwack song, Fly at Night.  That and Walk On from a later Chilliwack album titled Wanna Be a Star still hold up as songs of worth, though I have been known to play all of their albums in chronological order on occasion.

The Paupers!  My God, but what a great start (if indeed start it was) for Skip Prokop.  Only two albums (Only?  Most bands in those days got maybe one, if they were lucky!) and then the legend that was Lighthouse.  I mean, Skip was a drummer, for chrissakes, and then he was a— gasp!— guitarist?!!!  Blasphemy!  To drummers, anyway, of which I pretended to be.  But what a run!  Lighthouse was like no other band to me.  Brass was not something I really liked outside of the soul and jazz genres, but the fusion was magic!  Intense, pounding rock with upfront blazing brass.  And the softer, more intricate pieces with jazz leanings.  Chicago tried and had their moments, but Lighthouse succeeded.  Maybe not financially, but musically.  Skip, by the way, is still going strong both as musician and producer.  You can check out his latest stuff at www.skipprokop.com.

The Powder Blues Band is one of Vancouver’s prime exports.  I remember them from their first album (at least, I think it was their first), Uncut.  Their management company supplied Peaches Records with boxes of the Canadian pressing hoping to jumpstart a contract with a US label.  It worked.  RCA took the bait for that album and EMI America took over from there.  They were huge in Seattle but evidently their music did not translate further south, at least on the Left Coast.  I caught their first night at The Fabulous Rainbow tavern across the street from the store and they blew the roof off of the place.  Tom Lavin was everything I could have hoped for short of Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar and the brass was smokin’ hot!  Hell of a night.

After a good years worth of denying even remotely possible decent tasting poutine, I caved and I’m hooked.  My first dip was at a Taco Time where they were advertising mexi-fries putine.  I shrugged and thought what the hell.  I was fairly impressed and that’s saying something because the idea of ruining my fries with gravy has always made me shudder.  I mean, I always thought fries should have their own food group, you know?  Well, I liked it but had joellemayreservations about those little white blobs floating around in the gravy— turned out to be cheese curd.  Cheese curd!  If I wanted curd, I would order curd!  Still it wasn’t bad.  Second dip was with the enchanting PR maven Joelle May at a dive/diner known as The Templeton, according to their website.  You maybe could have sat thirty people between the small handful of booths and the eight or so seats at the counter, but it was clean and I was hungry.  And they served beer (for Joelle, not myself).  So I ordered and whiled (or would that be wiled) away the time talking with Joelle (the stories she had to tell…) and when the poutine arrived, I was given a lesson.  Templeton’s uses white cheddar instead of cheese curd because cheese curd does not melt evenly.  And she was right!  The first fork full had me swooning!  Afterwards, I got to thinking that maybe I had been thinking wrong at the beginning.  It isn’t about the fries!  It is about the poutine!  As soon as I tossed the idea of fries away, I was in junk food heaven.  Now, to find a place here in Oregon which serves poutine.  Or move to Vancouver.

Bob Segarini has not, to my knowledge, lived in Vancouver but he has certainly played there many times.  My introduction to his music was the Roxy album adopted by Gary Haller at The House of Records in the Eugene Oregon of the early seventies.  He put that album on the minute he came in and said, yeah, that’s pretty good and I thought that was it.  When The Wackers came out with their first album, he pointed out that it was a later lineup of Roxy, which he had played fairly constantly, always saying, yeah, it’s okay.  When I mentioned Segarini to Gary a few months ago, he laughed and just said “Roxy.”  We both knew what he meant.  Bob more than likely played Vancouver the-family-tree-at-the-retinal-circus (1)numerous times under a few different band names— The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, and Segarini (which Bob refers to as The Segarini Band but was truthfully known only as Segarini.  More than likely, he played Vancouver’s The Commodore Ballroom. (Editor’s Note: I played the PNE and the amazing Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, and Tommy Chong’s Retinal Circus. Partied at The Commodore with Joe Jackson, who joined us onstage at Gary’s, and spent a lot of time at Gassy Jack’s and other Gastown Bars. One of the best times in Gastown was when Crabby Appleton was in Van the same time we were. Kif, anyone?)

The place was legend on the Left Coast.  All the big bands played there.  When I found it and stood outside its closed doors, I was surprised that it wasn’t more prominent.  Just a double door with The Commodore on the building.  Nothing fancy.  Inside, I’m sure it was massive compared to the different venues I have visited.  They are still going strong and booking shows like crazy.  I stood there for some time, wondering what it was like back when The Collectors and The Paupers played there, and probably Guess Who and Cream and a slew of others.  Vancouver’s version of The Fillmore.  The Hometown Band surely had to have played there.  Vancouver’s own, out of which came Shari Ulrich (who had played in other bands previous).  Claire Lawrence (The Collectors and Chilliwack) had evidently put that band together originally to back Vancouver legend Valdy, but the band took on a path of their own.  When I hit Seattle in the late seventies, they were legend.

Hell, 54-40 were out of Vancouver!  I saw them once in Seattle opening for Three O’Clock before they signed with a major label (they were on Mo-Da-Mu back then) and they rocked!  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who they were/are.  Man, that was a great show.  A tip of a beer to George Romansic who got me in.

I didn’t make it to Nat Bailey Stadium but I wanted to.  Supposedly, it is a replica of Seattle’s old Sick’s Stadium, the home of The Seattle Rainiers and, later, the Seattle Pilots.  Of course, the team left Seattle after one season.  Minor league baseball is much more appealing to me than the Major Leagues and I spent quite a few years following The Pacific Coast League and the Vancouver Mounties in my youth.  Naturally, I rooted for the Portland Beavers, but Vancouver was cool.

Kinsella-797492Last year when I visited Victoria, another incredibly beautiful city and area may I add, a bookstore owner told me a few stories about W.P. Kinsella working in a bookstore there.  I have been a fan of his writings since Shoeless Joe but was more taken with his non-politically-correct series of books about life on and off the reservation.  Nadia Elkharadly found a couple of Kinsella’s books for me— Dance Me Outside and The Fencepost Chronicles (thank you, Nadia) and whilst in Vancouver I worked my way to MacLeod’s Books in downtown Vancouver.  When they pointed to a small corner with a small sign heralding Canadian literature, I confess to being a mite disappointed.  When I made my way there, though, I saw just about every book Kinsella had written, many titles not on my list.  Most are collections of short stories but they are outstanding stories.  I ended up buying a copy of Born Indian, supposedly the second in what would be a long series of books about characters like Silas Ermineskin, Bedelia Coyote and Frank Fencepost, et. al.  I loved the few I was able to find in earlier years and am looking forward to building a collection.  Most will remember Kinsella as the author of the book upon which the movie Field of Dreams was based.  Well, in typical Hollywood fashion, they fucked the movie up.  Bad casting and attempts to make the storyline easier for audiences made for a lame representation of the book, at best.  Don’t even get me started on Kevin Costner.  He could be a nice guy, I don’t know, but he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.

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I have mentioned the New Canadian Library in an earlier column and would like to say a few words about it now.  It is a series of books imprinted because they showcase the best of what Canada’s authors have had to offer.  So many forgotten authors on Canadian soil— Robert J.C. Stead, Ringuet, Ste[hen Leacock, Gabrielle Roy, Mordecai Richler, Hugh MacLennan— way too many to name here, have placed Canada at the top of my list when it comes to literature.  They affected me so much that I regularly use Ringuet as a username, constantly refer the books to other people, and am constantly on the lookout.  Speaking of British Columbia, have you read Hubert Evans‘ classic tale of man versus both civilization and nature titled Mist On the River?  Or Frederick Philip Grove‘s excellent historical fiction novel about man and machine trying to tame nature— The Master of the Mill?  Or the aforementioned Ringuet’s Thirty Acres, a tale of struggle for balance in a world torn between the English and French and between tradition and progress.  A haunting story and beautifully written.  Do Canadians know about these?  Do they care?  Hell, forget Canadians!  Does anyone care?  I was swept away with the series and spent many, many hours searching for books outside of that series by the same authors.  You have no idea (but hopefully you do) what a treasure trove of books and novels have come and are coming out of the Northlands.

farleymowatCanada also had Farley Mowat.  I was very upset when I discovered that he had died some time before I became aware.  The man was a writing legend to me.  An old girlfriend’s mother had turned me on to Mowat and I felt compelled to pay her tribute and thanks for the favor.  Here is what I wrote in an old column dated January of this year (God, but it seems like ten years have passed)… I was originally paying tribute to musicians who had passed over in 2014 but wrote this aside before the list began…

Before I delve into it though, I want to mention another artist who passed over.  Farley Mowat. Writers are artists, are they not?  Craftsmen (and -women)?  Okay.  But when you master a craft, it is an art, and Mowat mastered his like few others.

You might know him for Never Cry Wolf, the Disney flick, but long before Disney and the film, it was a book.  And a damn good one.  I first crossed paths with him around ’72 after dating a girl named Debby.  Debby’s mother found that I had an interest in literature and, being’s how she was a school librarian (Marylhurst in Portland, Oregon, I believe), she began passing me slips of papers with names of authors I needed to read.  Mowat’s name was there along with that of Gene Fowler, Ben Hecht, Thorne Smith, H. Allen Smith and so many others I came to know and love.  All were unique, none more than Mowat.

Mowat, an environmentalist, wrote about many things but his best works involved nature.  I knew he was special the second I picked up People of the Deer and discovered the depth of truth.  He made a simple gesture which should have worked seem a disaster, which it probably was.  You see, Canada, in its bureaucratic wisdom, decided they needed to save the Inuit from themselves so the government, shall we say, changed their ways. They forbade certain practices and foods and substituted others in their stead, thereby causing problems unforeseen.  If you find it confusing, imagine the confusion of the natives.  No, I will not tell the story myself.  You should read it yourself.  (Click here)  That and Never Cry Wolf and The Siberians and A Whale For the Killing and Death of a People— The Ihalmiut and a long string of books Mowat-penned.  The last I read was And No Birds Sang, a book which confirmed to me the terror of war.

Farley Mowat was a national treasure of Canada.  His voice will be missed.  The following clip proves it.

No Notes this week.  Not enough time.  But I will put together an extra special Notes section nect week— Promise.

Let me just say that I am enthralled with Vancouver and, indeed, with all of Canada.  I used to sit through the signoff on CBC back when cable TV carried the channel out of Vancouver.  I can close my eyes and still hear the towns and cities listed— Whitehorse, Spillamacheen, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw— Man, those are names, you know?  And I still laugh when I see repeats of Due South and hear Benton Fraser say Tuktoyaktuk, all with the utmost respect.  I just think they’re cool names.  Seriously, though, if you ever get a chance, head for Vancouver.  That is one happening city.

An aside:  While researching this piece, I found out that Kinsella had been injured and has been unable to write the way he had been.  He has been writing reviews on occasion to keep his name public.  I hope he knows how much his writing has meant to so many such as myself.  I will be reading Born Indian this next week with a reverence I have felt toward his works since picking up Shoeless Joe so many years ago.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Thank You, Vancouver! We Love You! Be Sure To Tip Your Waitress!”

  1. now see .. if you’d just come visit .. I have a library full of Kinsella, Mowat, and many other great writers … 😉

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