270 Cassandra Boulevard

In August, Brooke and I will be moving. We’re not going far, just three streets west, but it brought up for me the impermanence of living arrangements. We’ve lived in our current apartment for six years, but that doesn’t seem that long to me anymore. When I was a child, we lived in the same apartment for more than two decades. From 1971 until 1992, I lived in apartment 310 at 270 Cassandra Boulevard, near the intersection of Victoria Park Avenue and York Mills Road in Toronto. That apartment building was the scene of all my life’s most important moments: my first kiss (1975, I think), my first beer (summer of 1978). My mother died at home there in 1987. So that place will always hold strong memories for me. I was six when we moved in (Dad, Mum and me), 13 or so when Dad moved away, 22 when Mum died, and 27 when I finally moved away. It was only a four-storey building, but it was unusual in that there were lots and lots of families with kids there, and I made more friends there than at school. Thanks to the recent success of Facebook, I’ve actually reconnected with a few of these long-lost friends. I’m going to list more of them in case they find their way here through Google. Maybe we can arrange a road-hockey game reunion!

The Rheostatics’ Last Waltz

Rheostatics
Rheostatics, circa 2006

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a witness last night to my beloved Rheostatics‘ last concert. After more than twenty years together, they’ve decided to call it quits as a band, although all of the members will continue to make music.

The event was held at the fittingly historic Massey Hall, a large and yet intimate space that has been the venue for some of my most memorable evenings of music. Last night was no different. Unfortunately, my favourite Rheo Martin Tielli had voice problems that prevented him from unleashing his trademark falsetto as well as some technical issues with his guitar, but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. One of the band’s trademarks has been their shambolic and sometimes uneven live shows, and last night seemed to be a summary of their career. They played over three hours, and seemed reluctant to call it a night, coming back for a second encore where they sat huddled on the edge of the stage around Dave Bidini’s acoustic guitar and singing without mikes.

The set covered the range of their long career, but was understandably weighted toward their two greatest albums, Melville (1991) and Whale Music (1992). After hearing these songs for maybe the hundredth time (and maybe 20 times live), I’m still convinced that two finer albums have not emerged from this country.

Their music was impossible to categorize, with three and sometimes four songwriters in the band, but somehow these guys from Etobicoke, Ontario seemed to resonate with Canadians all across the country, especially in smaller places where “cooler” bands didn’t play live. The crowd at their shows always seemed incredibly diverse, with young and old fans side by side, and there was something incredibly sincere about them, whether they were performing stinging political songs, spacey art-rock, or irony-free covers of Canadian standards by Gordon Lightfoot or Stompin’ Tom Connors. No band that I’m aware of has had such an ambitious reach, from making a children’s record, scoring a film, and accepting a commission from the National Gallery of Canada to create a piece of music celebrating Canadian painters The Group of Seven. The Rheostatics did all of this and more, and despite a lack of commercial success, cultivated a small but devoted following right across the country.

I found myself choking up a few times during the show, especially between songs when, amid shouted song requests, people could be heard yelling “Thank you” and “We’re going to miss you.” I’ve never been part of anything like that before, and it made me feel happy, sad, and old all at the same time. I was at the show with my wife Brooke, and in the row in front of us were my friend Brent and his girlfriend Kim. Brent introduced me to the band way back in 1992 while we were sharing an apartment, and it’s sobering to think of how long we’ve been friends, and fans. But even though it was a bittersweet feeling, there was nowhere else on God’s green earth that I wanted to be last night.

Toronto Screen Shots

I’ve been back from SXSW since last weekend but of course have been exhausted and swamped with work. I have, however, taken some time to collect all of my film-related writing on a brand-new weblog called Toronto Screen Shots. I’m hoping to collaborate with a few other film writers there and feature some exciting new content in the coming months. Please visit and let me know what you think!

P.S. Yes, I’ll post something about SXSW soon, probably this weekend.