Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada from Away

HONO[U]RARY CANADIAN (photo: Roche Percé, Quebec)

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My NXNE Storify: “Great Music & Great Times in Toronto for NXNE 2014″

For my coverage of NXNE, the Toronto music festival I attended June 17-24 as accredited press, I’ve used Storify, the platform that lets bloggers incorporate social media posts in with their own writing. It’s called “Great Music & Great Times in Toronto for NXNE 2014,” “a collection of illustrated social sharing culled from my timelines 6/17-6/24, w/commentary; links to bands & venues; plus content I’m borrowing with acknowledgement of & appreciation for other music fans who shared about NXNE, creating a visual diary of the festival.” Please click here to read it on Storify, or here on Honourary Canadian. I hope you enjoy reading the piece which includes travel and tourism info about Toronto, offering some notes on restaurants, bookstores, shopping, and architecture, along with my music coverage.

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Had a great time Monday night meeting many NY and NJ booksellers at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, where a preview of two key Fall titles was put on by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA). Thanks to all hosts and sponsors, including Christopher Kerr, Ruth Liebmann, and Eileen Dengler, plus novelist Emily St. John Mandel (STATION ELEVEN), and urban historian Robert W. Snyder (CROSSING BROADWAY: Washington Hts. and the Promise of New York City). At The Great Gray Bridge is a full post with links and pics.

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At NXNE I loved discovering bang-up one-man band Bloodshot Bill, who played a great backyard show.

At NXNE I loved discovering bang-up one-man band Bloodshot Bill, who played a great backyard show.

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Happy in Toronto for NXNE

For the fourth consecutive year I’ve traveled to Toronto for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE); to see my client ExpertFile.com; and hold some publishing meetings. I am having a great week and have been posting frequently on Twitter and Facebook about the great events I’ve attended, and on the sister blog to this one, HonouraryCanadian.com, where I wrote about comedian and podcaster Marc Maron’s rousing keynote remarks.

Late last night I lucked in to an impromptu show at the great venue the Cameron House w/one of my musical heroes, Matt Mays. He had been invited by frontman Sam Cash to sit in with his band the Romatic Dogs. Matt began by leading the band, and the audience, in Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Matt and I spoke afterward, exchanging heartfelt appreciations. I conveyed my condolences for the sudden loss last year of his bandmate Jay Smith. He thanked me for remembering his old friend. I told him about Honourary Canadian and gave him my card for which he thanked me and said it would be going in “a special place.” Here’s a shot of Sam and Matt from last night:

I’ll also be hosting more here about NXNE after I return to NYC next week.


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NXNE Day I: Marc Maron’s Rousing and Funny Keynote

Great kickoff for NXNE on Day 1, with such highlights as a keynote by comedian and podcaster extraordinare Marc Maron, and a party for musicians and press last night at the Edward Day Gallery.

At Maron’s talk I unexpectedly found myself seated on a couch between Christopher Roberts, director of NXNE, and Michael Hollet, who founded the festival twenty years ago. Maron, passing by the couch, jibed it must be the “couch of royalty.” I demurred, replying it was actually a sign of democracy, since I had just walked in and sat down at the spot. Maron, with a reputation aas an intense guy, paced the front of the low stage, waiting to get started.

I first heard Maron’s voice when he was a radio host on Air America in the early 2000s, so even before his podcasting began, I knew him to be an edgy, self-deprecating commentator, which seemed to afford him the right to deprecate others. Stepping on to the stage, he began by sharing a video of what he called a really embarrassing moment, one he couldn’t watch again, though he asked everyone in the room to do so. In the early days of the Internet during in standup routine he unabashedly derided the new technology, comparing it to CB radios in profane and broad-brush words. Wincing as the video ended, he addressed the several hundred people in the hotel conference room: “I coudn’t have been more wrong about the future… .I know nothing, and had no fucking idea how to use my computer. But podcasting has changed my life… . I’ve been a comic 25 years. I was depressed. seeking the spiritual reprieve of the faithless. I didn’t really fit in anywhere.” Perching on the edge of his stool, he explained that when Air America collapsed in the mid-2000s, he caught on with another lefty media start-up, but they ran low on funds and let him go pretty quickly. His personal difficulties only grew when he and his wife split up. Though fired from the job, he was told he could continue using his office and the studio for a while. It was during this period that he created the first 12 podcasts of what has since become known as WTF. They were so under the radar in his former employer’s building they had to ask guests to take the freight elevator, lest his former bosses discover what they were doing. “We had no idea what we were doing, and had no expectations.” Maron’s now done more than 500 podcasts of WTF.

After the inevitable exit from the more professional studio, they moved the operation to the cluttered gararage of his two-bedroom house in Los Angeles. He said, after working several years in political commentary, he no longer wanted to work in punditry, as he’d realized his interests and priorities were more existenital. There was pick-up on the early podcasts, with 1200-1500 downloads of each epsiode. He offered simple technical advice for anyone taking up podcasting: “Get good mics.” He said the first 100 interviews were mostly him asking famous people to help him out. hey had no business model in place, and no way to monetize what they were doing. But he took refuge in consistency—they put out two episodes per week, releasing them each Monday and Thursday. Robin Williams came on for a very candid conversation, in what became one of their first big deal episodes, producing a breakthrough for WTF.

He later did a two-part interview with Louis C.K. Then, the manager of the comedian known as Gallagher called and said the comic wanted to come on the show. Maron pressed Gallagher about racist and homophobic bits in his comedy. Gallagher, who’s been known to smash a watermelon with a hammer while on stage, walked out with the mics still on, shouting That’s not a hammer, that’s a cross.” Maron confessed, “I did sandbag him a bit. He’s an asshole.” In an interview with Carlos Mencia, the guest, often known as a “pathological joke thief,” saw a chance to reinvent himself. At first, Maron let him get away with it, but then thought better of it, and called him on his prolific thievery. Freworks ensued.

He said, “The medium grew with me. I hope I’m giving you the details you want… . The podcast saved my life… . My partner keeps the numbers: 120 million downloads overall, 3.4 million per month, 20 episodes have more than 300,000 downloads… . I lucked out w/this medium, I Just wanted to keep busy. It’s not an empire, it’s a garage. Keep it as intimate as the medium allows, no cameras, no video. Most people listen with headphones, gives me a direct line to their brains. You want to be relevant, not just get a laugh.” On making money, he said, “I don’t want to gamble, just hold on to what I’ve got.”

They now use an app and iTunes to monetize the podcast. The most recent 50 episodes are always free, then the 51st and so on are available via a fee for one-time purchases or via a full subscription. About making money, he said, “I don’t want to gamble, I just want to hold on to what I’ve got.” He didn’t give any figures, but by his own measure, he seems to be succeeding. They also have ads in the podcast, through an ad network I think he called Mid Roll.

During the Q&A I asked Maron about one of my favorites among his podcasts, his conversation with John Fogerty. He said it was challenging because of a bad contract the musician signed when Creedence Clearwater Revival was just starting out back in the ’60s, leaving him without copyright him unable of his own songs for decades. Knowing it could cast a shadow on the conversation if he asked about it, Maron declined to bring it up directly. Finally, Fogerty brought up near the end, creating a memorablly poignant moment in the podcast.

Maron’s closing line was among his very best expressions: “I don’t have a demographic, I have a disposition.” After robust applause, Maron stuck around and shook hands with everyone who wanted to say hello. The fellow ahead of me in line, a comedy booker from a club in London, Ontario asked me to take a picture of him with Maron, which I did, and then the booker did the same for me with my digital camera, which I’ll download and share later.


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Brain Cloud, On the Bill at Ottawa Jazz Festival, June 28th, 29th

On June 4th Kyle and I went to hear one of my favorite NY bands, Brain Cloud, a six-piece outfit that plays Western swing and ’40s standards, and some originals, making it all sound new and fresh. I wrote about the show at The Great Gray Bridge, and then heard this today from frontman Dennis Lichtman:

“We’re playing Ottawa Jazz Festival on Saturday, 6/28 and Sunday, 6/29 on the Laurier Ave. stage, 4:00pm each day. Thanks for letting folks know!”


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#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s Newspaper Novel, COLD TYPE

#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, COLD TYPE, being published July 2014.

Memorable and likable characters dominate this realistic and very enjoyable novel by longtime New York Times sports reporter Araton, who also spent some years at the NY Daily News. The progtagonist is Jamie Kramer, son of Morris, a longtime printer and union member at a NY paper called the Sun, which has recently been acquired by a marauding Anglo-Irish press baron, Leland Brady. Jamie works at the paper, too, though his one big story, on covert policies in his native Brooklyn that limit the sale of real estate to white people, a well-reported expose, earned him nothing but trouble. He hasn’t received the laurels bestowed on his hotshot cousin, Steven, a heroic columnist, at least in his own eyes. The book is set during a newspaper strike, apparently resembling in some respects a strike that occurred at the Daily News in the early 1990s. Araton makes entirely believeable the tension among the eight different unions striking the paper, triggered by the intemperate drivers.

Other characters include Jamie’s wife, Karyn, from whom he’s separated; their son, two-year old Aaron; and Jamie’s Latina colleague Carla, a savvy ally in the newsroom, and a sympathetic soul who knows Jamie’s secrets, even while she has many of her own. One subplot concerns Karyn, who’s in the midst of being recruited by an talkative entrepreneur in Seattle who’s starting a new business selling books on the Internet, still so new at this point in the ’90s. He even wants to recruit Jamie, who wants desperately to maintain a connection to Aaron, and so flirts with the idea of moving across the country. Araton never gives this Jeff-Bezos avatar a name but he hardly needed to do so. One irony that Araton doesn’t seem to have anticipated for his novel is that Bezos is now himself a newspaper owner, of the Washington Post, an inheritor of the world that Jamie Kramer and his father inhabit.

I will say very little about the ending, except that it’s a treat, as just desserts are served all ‘round. This is a really enjoyable, sort of old-fashioned novel, offering a social portrait and a really rich story. Kudos to Mr Araton and Cinco Puntos Press, of El Paso, Texas, for writing and publishing this worthy novel. Thanks to Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos, who at BEA gave me the autographed copy I finished reading today. I’m going to be recommending COLD TYPE for weeks.