Sunday, March 27, 2011

Found Toronto - Yonge Street's music heyday

We caught this show today and I'm so glad we did: Yonge Street - Toronto Rock n' Roll Stories. I just loved it, and I still have 50 windows open in my browser from looking up all the interesting people who came up in this show. 

My dad has made a few references to the Toronto music scene in the 60's but only now do I understand that was happening here at that time was actually quite monumental. The clubs, the music and the people of that time period here in Toronto were key components of the development of a cultural revolution in North America and Britain. In short, they were innovators who informed the construction of R&B and rock as we know it. There was a "Canadian sound," it was influential, and it was respected. 

There are a few key things that I learned in this documentary that have further cemented my love of this city: 

1. Until now, I thought Ronnie Hawkins was a quaint, local attraction, but not in the least. He had his hands in on some really huge musical undertakings. Bob Dylan's manager sent him here to be inspired by Ronnie Hawkin's band and Dylan actually hired them to play with him at Massey Hall. Hawkins also put together  what eventually became The Band, and plus, he orchestrated Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band. I'm sorry, Ronnie! You are The Man, and most of us seriously had  no idea. 

2. Toronto had an R&B scene? In the 60's? We sure did. John Finley, a white kid from Aurora made his way to Yonge St, sang some James Brown tunes, and suddenly, there was A Scene. I couldn't find a clip on YouTube that does him justice, but here they are doing Shotgun. How cool is that? 

3. Jackie Shane was another important part of the development of Canadian R&B. He was Canada's first openly gay and transgendered performer to record a hit song. What a voice. Check out Any Other Way. What a fantastic song. "Tell her I'm happy, tell her I'm gay, tell her I wouldn't have it any other way."

Watching this documentary has made me wonder where music would be today if none of this had happened here, but also, what would would have happened if these and other talented Canadians had the support of the American music industry? I also wonder what it would have been like to actually spend a night on Yonge St., wandering up and down the street through the clubs and hearing great music. I'll have to ask my dad. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Weekly Wonders - March #4

I love CBC radio. I've been listening to and enjoying Q on Radio 1 every day this week. Host Jian Ghomeshi provides smart and funny commentary with a variety of guests from the arts, culture and entertainment sphere. His guests this week included Dan Savage and Jean Paul Gaultier, plus a lively discussion of whether the proposed ban on shark fin soup is in fact racist. Q airs from 10 am to 11 am and again at 10 pm here in Toronto.

I didn't know much about Detroit, but have heard bits and peices about how the decline of the auto industry and the mortgage crisis has caused a massive drop in population over the last 10 years. I had no idea that it's actually a 25% drop in population. 25%! This article explains the fallout and gives a glimpse of the future of this interesting city. line.

I've learned that few people know about the great performances put on by U of T. There is a range of theatre, music, dance and lectures which are all very affordable. $15 for a well produced play? You can't argue with that. I saw The Rocky Horror Show here a couple of weeks and it was fantastic. The next big stage production is Rent and I'm hoping to make it.  One show has sold out already, so it would seem to be a good idea to grab tickets soon. Noam Chomsky is coming in April, but sadly, this lecture is sold out. There is a full list of events on the U of T Tix web site.

Those of us in the Chinatown area are excited for the opening of Ocho at Spadina and Phoebe. Ocho is a boutique hotel that is providing us with a much needed non-Asian dining for the area, plus a bar, coffee house and a hotel with 12 rooms, which opens in June.

Ocho is a beautiful space which has maintained much of what looks like the original brick interior. Huge windows bring in beautiful light, and the furnishings are all warm woods, some of which has a vintage feel.

Dark Horse's arrival last spring singalled a change in the area, and Ocho is following through by providing a clean, stylish and comfortable space in an area otherwise void of such destinations. As Dark Horse has gained a loyal following, it is often impossible to find seating, so it has unfortunately become an unreliable meeting spot. Ocho is filling the gap with their own Espresso bar and casual atmosphere in the downstairs space. Upstairs is a lovely dining room with a bar at the back. There are small lunch and dinner menus that cover range of tastes and price points. They are open at 7 every day, and they do pastries and coffee on week day mornings, with the addition of a brunch menu on the weekends. And I hope you're sitting down, because there's going to be a patio!

I'm also impressed with Ocho already demonstrating a committment to improving the community by cleaning up that dark, seedy little park that is adjacent to Ogden Public School. Ocho staff clean up the park daily, and they have installed bright lights to deter night time visitors who have concerning intentions.

Please join us in welcoming Ocho to the area by stopping in for at least a coffee.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekly Wonders - March #3

In these days of RSS, Twitter, and the like, newsletters seem so quaint. But I think they still have their place, and there's still lots of good ones around. One that I was undecided about is Ref Desk's Site of the Day, because I felt like I've seen it at all, and have so much coming at me already. However, it's a great little email and one of the few that I read every day. They always remind me of a web site I haven't been to in a long time and there's always something useful to read.

I've mentioned The Moth a couple of times on my blog, but if you're local, you should check out Toronto's monthly MothUp. It's a live event, held at a cute little place called No One Writes To The Colonel at 460 College near Bathurst. Basically, there is a theme each month and people sign up to tell stories on that theme at the event. I have yet to tell a story, but I love listening. I can't say all of them will be "great," but it's always a good time. NOTE: you MUST get there before 7 or you will not get in.

We saw Another Year yesterday at  Carlton Cinema, and I'm still undecided on it. I loved the main characters, but felt depressed by all the others. It's a simple story that revolves around one British couple and a year of their lives, including life events of their friends and family. Ruth Sheen does a lovely job of the Gerri character, and as my husband put it, we could all take relationship lessons from her.

We visited the Auld Spot Pub last Tuesday, and we both had the fish 'n chips. It is truly the best I've had in a long time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Weekly Wonders - March #2

Well, I've had a busy week and several migraines, so I didn't have a chance to read or watch much, and I didn't get out at all. Still, here a few things that I came across this week that you might find interesting.

It was International Women's Day this past Tuesday. If you're wondering why we need still need this day, check out this great piece from Shameless Magazine which explains it all. If you're in Toronto, the rally and march are tomorrow. See for more info.

I listen to This American Life just about every week, and they are all great, but every once in awhile something very interesting pops out at me. I listened to Oh You Shouldn't Have earlier in the week, and enjoyed it greatly. In the first part of the show, there is a segment on This Is Your Life, and I never once considered that the people who were featured on that show might not have wanted to be there. A couple of old segments are discussed in this podcast, and I was amazed to learn that an airing of This Is Your Life was actually the first time a holocaust survivor's story was ever televised.

If you've ever had the experience of being sucked in to someone's drama online, whether you did or didn't know the person, this article will speak to you. It will also speak to you if you've ever watched a loved one get sucked in, because chances are, the person doing the pulling pulled your loved one away from you and your life together. I think this whole concept of people enjoying the emotional response they can elicit from people online (including via text and messaging) is worth exploring, not just in the context of faked illness. I myself have been pulled into other kinds of drama, by people I know, online. I also think the people who believe online communication is less personal than real life communication are mistaken.

Sick note: Faking illness online | M√ľnchausen by internet | Life and style | The Guardian

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekly Wonders - March #1

We had the great pleasure of listening to The Moth podcast this week, which featured Jeff Simmerson telling the hilarious story A Giant Lizard Ate My Pants. Jeff's blog is equally fun, so check it out. There's a link to the podcast in the menu on the right. 

Have you ever wondered about the bands who played for the likes of Marvin Gaye or The Supremes? Lend your ear to the music itself, and it's amazing work. Well, it turns out, a little known band of highly talented musicians who called themselves The Funk Brothers were the backbone of many Motown greats. We came across their documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown the other night, and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of great music. There are fantastic performances with Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan and Ben Harper. You can read more about The Funk Brothers, and order a copy of the DVD on the web site.

Jack Goes Boating is a major hidden gem. It does not have a high rating on IMDB, but the ability of the majority of IMDB voters to judge independent cinema is questionable. As one of two of Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial efforts, this film highlights his talent beautifully. He always excels in playing believable characters himself, and in this movie, he excels in mentoring other actors to do the same. 

Spring is coming, and spring is when my thoughts turn to decorating. I just love this house. When we moved into our current home, I chose a warm colour scheme, and I totally regret it, because, at the time, I did not gather that the living room (where we spend most of our time) gets very little natural light, so warm, in this case, means dark. So I love how this home's palette is comprised of cool colours. A few of other loves:

1. I haven't yet figured out how to pair clean, modern lines with shapelier furniture. I love how she's placed simple Ikea-esque pieces so well with others that they have warmth.

2. I have been contemplating painting a few furniture pieces, so I love those green and yellow pieces.

3. It has never occurred to me to put two small carpets together to make a larger one. What a great idea.