Thursday, December 4, 2014

Born again Blue Jay



The Toronto Blue Jays obtained Micheal Saunders in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Saunders becomes the second player from Victoria, B.C., to play for the Blue Jays. Here's a feature article from 1997 about Steve Sinclair's revived effort to get to the major leagues. He made his big-league debut with the Blue Jays in 1998.


By Tom Hawthorn
Victoria Times Colonist
September 28, 1997


Not so long ago, Steve Sinclair had called it quits, had hung 'em up, had stepped down from the pitcher's mound for good, had seen his childhood dream go to that big bullpen in the sky. He had languished in the Toronto Blue Jays system for five yearsand the closest he got to the bigs was listening to Buck Martinez on TSN. He had had enough and came home to Victoria at age 24 to go to school, to get a job, to become a grownup.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fans flock to meet a part of NHL's holy trinity



By Tom Hawthorn

Special to the Globe and Mail
November 7, 2005

Monday, December 1, 2014

Watching movies the old way



By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
December, 2014

Each yuletide, a smallish Christmas tree took up a corner of the living room in our apartment. All magazines but one were removed from the top of the end table to make way for a cardboard crèche. 
On winter evenings, our family quartet gathered around the warm, black-and-white glow of a cathode-ray tube to watch holiday specials.

The weekly TV Guide, hidden behind the crèche, was studied as carefully as holy text for the three shows my sister and I absolutely could not miss. These would be broadcast but once during the season and we were determined to not miss them.

We watched “Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” with unforgettable narration by movie monster Boris Karloff.

We watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a stop-motion animation with Burl Ives narration. One of the characters was a prospector named Yukon Cornelius and since the Yukon was in Canada it was easy to believe Santa's Workshop indeed could be found elsewhere in the Great White North.
We watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with the sad-sack hero finding the true meaning of Christmas not in the commercialization of the holiday. The soundtrack was a revelation in a household favouring Elvis, as the Vince Guaraldi Trio's jazzy score remains as Christmassy to me as any carol.

The telecast specials offered a 30-minute reprieve for our parents from our constant requests for a Chatty Cathy™, an Easy-Bake Oven™, Battling Tops™, and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots™ (“My block is knocked off!” “But you can press it back on again!”). Cindy Lou Who and all the Whos down in Whoville could make do without presents, but the redemptive holiday message of the specials was lost on two kids as greedy as any other.

By the time my own children were born, the shows were broadcast several times (including as early as November). Christmas movies were available on VHS tape and, later, on DVDs, while the soundtracks were on compact disks, technologies beyond imagination when those specials were first aired in the mid-1960s.

Many families maintain holiday viewing traditions, whether “A Christmas Carol” with Alastair Sim, or “A Christmas Story” featuring Ralphie's pursuit of a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model BB gun with which he might put his eye out.

Rob Nesbitt, 46, a self-described traditionalist, watches “It's a Wonderful Life,” though he also holds an annual party with friends while screening “Bad Santa” with Billy Bob Thornton. Nesbitt's childhood favourites includes Charlie Brown's scrawny tree and the teacher's voice a sad trombone.
“It's got such a sweet centre, but it's not cloying and it's not clichéd,” Nesbitt said.

Christmas is an important season for Nesbitt, as it is for many other proprietors of small businesses in Victoria. He is a co-owner of Pic-A-Flic Video, the Cook Street Village landmark, where the holidays will be marked with a large display of movies with a holiday theme. The bottom shelves are dedicated to alternative holiday selections, including the likes of “Fubar” and “Die Hard,” the action movie that has become a classic in some circles as Bruce Willis takes on terrorists on Christmas Eve.

The seasonal offerings are among 48,000 titles stocked at the store, which is the region's largest and a survivor in an entertainment business decimated by online services such as iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We got Netflix earlier this year and the convenience cannot be matched, though the selection remains limited and the suggestions based on previous viewings are an embarrassment, if not insulting.

“How are we doing? We're doing unbelievably well,” Nesbitt said, “because every other store in the world is closing, and we're not.”

To browse a shelf at Pic-A-Flic is to immerse in the history of cinema. The blockbuster is equal to the cult offering, the Bing Crosby classic “Going My Way” sharing space with my CanCon fave “Goin' Down the Road.” (The store's online catalogue describes the stars of the latter as “two hosers.”) 

Talking movies with the store's staff is like having a one-on-one with the late Roger Eberts. Recently, John Threlfall of the University of Victoria curated a selection of movies featuring time travel. That's beyond what's on offer from online streaming services.

“Netflix is an algorithm, it's not people,” Nesbitt said.

I'd feel bereft if the curtain ever dropped on Pic-A-Flic, as important in its way to cultural life in Victoria as Munro's Books. So, this holiday season I'm going to rent a stack of movies and support a local business. Think of it as an early new year's resolution.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

'At 90, all your sins are forgiven'

George Seldes outlasts his critics



Friday, August 1, 2014

Master attends to a dying technology


Jes Vowles shows off a Hermes portable. Photo by Deddeda White.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Paul Horn, musician (1930-2014)


By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail
July 26, 2014
VICTORIA

A jazz musician's search for spiritual enlightenment led him to an ashram in India, where he befriended the Beatles. When a plan to film the band fell through, Paul Horn traveled to Agra, where he played his flute within the echoing majesty of the Taj Mahal.

The resulting recording was intended originally for friends. Instead, his label released it as a long-playing record. “Inside” has sold one million copies, boosting a new genre of music and gaining for Mr. Horn a reputation as a founding father of New Age music.

Mr. Horn, who has died, aged 84, moved to British Columbia in 1970, by which time the acclaimed jazz musician had begun melding his experience with Transcendental Meditation into his performances. An advocate of gentle bearing, he spoke often of the benefits of meditation, performing at countless benefit concerts for nonprofit groups.

He toured both China and the Soviet Union at a time when the leadership of both countries was suspicious of jazz as a subversive force. He followed the Taj Mahal recording with similar performances at other sacred sites.

Mr. Horn's years on the West Coast are best captured by an image from the early 1970s, as he sits cross-legged on a rug, playing flute for a captive male orca named Haida. The whale is said to have shown greater spirit following sessions with the musician.

Mr. Horn's interest in the spiritual led to his exploring a serene, mellow and meditative sound. Even a jazz purist intending to scoff could become immersed in the warm, contemplative groove conjured by superior musicianship.

Mr. Horn indulged music writers less interested in his spiritual quest than tales of an earlier dissolute jazz life in New York and Los Angeles, where he recorded with the likes of Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, a longtime friend.

Paul Joseph Horn was born in New York City on March 17, 1930, to Frances (née Sper) and Jack Horn, a wholesale liquor salesman. Before her marriage, Miss Sper had been a Jazz Age singer and an in-house pianist for Irving Berlin. For two years before her marriage, she appeared on a weekly dinnertime radio program in New York. She also had several songs released on record. Her husband preferred Gilbert and Sullivan.

Paul played piano at age 4, clarinet at 10, saxophone at 12, and the flute at 19. The parents encouraged their only child's musical obsession. “People don't expect it from a jazz musician,” he once told a filmmaker, “but I had a good home life.” After moving from his childhood home in Mount Vernon, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., young Mr. Horn attended local jazz clubs as an underaged performer. He earned a bachelor's degree in music, majoring in clarinet, at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where his daily regimen included five to eight hours of practice. He followed with a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Three years of military service was spent playing the flute in the U.S. Army Field Band. While stationed at Fort Meade, Md., he sat in with a local Cuban big band in nearby Washington, an opportunity to improvise on flute backed by Latin rhythms.

Horn's mother, Frances Sper, was a Jazz Age vocalist.
The composers Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan invited the young player into their Sauter-Finegan big band, an innovative ensemble incorporating such unusual instruments as the kazoo. Within a year, Mr. Horn left to join the Los Angeles-based Chico Hamilton Quintet. One of his first gigs with the group was opening for Billie Holiday at New York's Carnegie Hall in November, 1956.

The Hamilton group featured in the 1957 Hollywood movie “Sweet Smell of Success” and Mr. Horn revived his friendship with the actor Tony Curtis later on- and off-screen during the filming of the similarly jazz-themed movies “The Rat Race” (1963) and “Wild and Wonderful” (1964).

He signed with Dot Records in 1957, the year the label released his debut album, “House of Horn,” on which he played flute, alto flute, alto sax, clarinet and piccolo.

A valued session man, Mr. Horn joined the likes of vibraphonist Cal Tjader in the studio for the recording of “Latin for Lovers.” He also formed the Paul Horn Group, which was followed by the Paul Horn Quintet, all the while maintaining a hectic concert and recording schedule. Deeply influenced by his friend Miles Davis, Mr. Horn adopted a calmer, more reflective modal jazz.

“Miles knows how to wait,” Mr. Horn once said. “He doesn't make notes unless he has something to say. Then he speaks true, and he sings out.”

Mr. Davis recommended Mr. Horn to Columbia Records. The flutist was pleased to have been allowed three full days in the studio without interference from his producer, a rare freedom for which he thanked the man, Mr. Horn once told the Victoria music writer Mike Devlin. The producer replied that he had received a telephone call from Miles. “Paul's recording today,” he said. “Don't fuck with him.”
The resulting LP, “The Sound of Paul Horn” (1961), earned a four-star review from Billboard magazine.

The flautist was the subject of a 26-minute, black-and-white television documentary, “The Story of a Jazz Musician,” produced by David Wolper which aired on CBS in 1962. By this time, he had separated from his wife, Yvonne (née Jordan), sharing with her the raising of their sons, Marlen and Robin. The quintet is shown playing a Horn composition, “Count Your Change,” at Shelly's Manne-Hole club in Los Angeles.

Already a jazz figure of note, Mr. Horn began to develop a mass audience with his performance on the record “Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts,” which earned Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin a Grammy. (The album earned another Grammy for best cover photography.) A review in Life magazine hailed the flautist as the star of the recording. “His varied pipes flood out a torrent of late-progressive arabesques in a kind of confession-without-words,” the critic Carter Harman wrote in 1965.

That same year, Mr. Horn scored and wrote a jaunty theme song for a television revival of the Three Stooges featuring cartoons. The music was the highlight of an otherwise ill-considered project.

After being asked to join a recording session by the sitar player Ravi Shankar, Mr. Horn decided to travel to India to study its music. Besides, his marriage was in disarray and he had tired of a “plastic lifestyle” in Los Angeles, including “smoky nightclubs, late-night hours, marijuana and a heart-breaking affair with a beautiful actress.” He saw himself heading down a dead-end street at the end of which would be a wall against which he would meet his death. he once said.

Leaving in December, 1966, he spent several months as a devotee of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, eventually becoming a Transcendental Meditation instructor himself. Mr. Horn also recorded two albums with Shankar's students, “In India” and “Paul Horn in Kashmir.” (These would later be reissued in a collection titled, “Cosmic Consciousness,” one of the Maharishi's catchphrases.)
The musician returned to America a different man, eschewing drugs in favour of contemplation. Not all of his friends or even band mates were able to cope.

“The bass player was most put off by my not indulging anymore,” Mr. Horn told Vancouver Province reporter Damian Inwood in 1990. “It's hard to know what's holding a friendship together, what's the glue. In that case, it was the dope.

“Sometimes people feel when someone else is changed, they don't know what that means. Since I was so changed when I came back from India, I think a lot of it was based on fear — like, 'Who's Paul now, what's going on with this guy?' ”

Mr. Horn returned to India in 1968 intending to film a documentary on the Maharishi. He was at the ashram on an escarpment above the Ganges across the river from Rishikesh during the famous visit by the Beatles, who were joined by the Scottish singer Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, the actress Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence, among others. The planned film was never completed, but Mr. Horn did have a state-of-the-art tape recorder on hand when he decided to visit the Taj Mahal with sound engineer John Archer.

“I never heard anything so beautiful,” he wrote of standing beneath the white marble dome that surmounts the tomb. “Each tone hung suspended in space for 28 seconds and the acoustics are so perfect you couldn't tell when his voice stopped and the echo took over.”

The long span between blowing a note and its final decay demanded the flautist provide space for the echo, otherwise, he once explained, “the music would just have become a mess, a confusion of notes and sounds reverberating.”

Mr. Horn was teaching meditation at the University of California, Los Angeles when Epic Records asked if he had any new material. He forwarded the Taj Mahal tape, which Epic released in 1969, his 14th album, with the promotion: “Paul Horn's jazz fame is already great. But this makes it truly monumental.”

The haunting, atmospheric instrumental, running less than a half hour, found an audience where one had not previously been known to exist. Though it did not get radio air play, “Inside” did receive critical praise. “A cathedral-like depth and echo haunts his flute and the voice chants of a local caller,” Billboard noted in a 1969 review. “Horn spies mythical entities, moods, and musical meditations, using the Taj Mahal to add to the eerie beauty. A sleeper to watch.”

It was while touring with Donovan that Mr. Horn first visited Vancouver Island. In 1970, he loaded a van with his two sons and, joined by girlfriend Tryntje Bom, a Dutch-born fashion designer known in L.A. as Miss Bom Bom, headed north to Canada, where they settled in Victoria's leafy Gordon Head neighbourhood on an acre overlooking the sea.

He maintained a steady, album-per-year output, performing tirelessly. In 1973, he hosted 13 episodes of an eponymous variety program, which aired nationally on CTV. Meanwhile, he lent his name and musical talents to several causes, including the environmental group Greenpeace and its campaign to save whales. He was called in by Sealand of the Pacific, an aquarium in Victoria which has since closed, to play for Haida, a captive male said to be bereft after the death of his mate, Chimo. Mr. Horn performed Bach, an irish jig, and his own contemplative music. The musician and the lovelorn cetacean also appeared in “We Call Them Killers,” a 1972 National Film Board documentary.

Mr. Horn played regularly in Vancouver clubs such as Gassy Jack's and Oil Can Harry's. He often was an instructor at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, working with teenagers in summer jazz workshops.

The success of “Inside” (later retitled “Inside the Taj Mahal”) led Mr. Horn to create recordings in other sacred locales, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the Kazamieras Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania. He returned to record at the Taj Mahal in 1989. Mr. Horn made two tours of China and three to the Soviet Union, accompanied on the latter by his son, Robin, who served as drummer.

In 1974, the independent, Vancouver-based Mushroom label released a double album of material, including a 24-page booklet on his career. The package sold a quick 10,000 copies, an unprecedented figure in the industry, proof of a growing market for New Age material in the mid-1970s. He later founded his own Golden Flute label.

The Grammy Awards added a New Age category in 1986. Mr. Horn received nominations in 1987 for “Traveler” and in 1999 for “Inside Monument Valley” with R. Carlos Nakai.

Late in life, Mr. Horn married the South African-born singer and composer Ann Mortifee, an Order of Canada recipient whom he had first met during a taping of his television show. The couple collaborated on “In Love with the Mystery,” a 2010 release. They divided their time between his home in Tucson, Ariz., and hers on Cortes Island, B.C. They also owned a condominium in Vancouver, where Mr. Horn died on June 29 after a brief illness the nature of which the family has declined to reveal. He was 84. He leaves Ms. Mortifee, his two sons, a stepson and four grandchildren.

In 2009, Mr. Horn took part in a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which promotes the Transcendental Meditation program. The show at Radio City Music Hall in New York included such musicians as Moby, Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder and Bettye LaVette. It also reunited Mr. Horn with Donovan, as well as the two surviving Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, the four reprising the dreamy season they enjoyed together 41 years earlier in India.

Paul Horn with television guest Valdy.


From left: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Shah Jahan, Donovan, Patti Harrison, John Lennon and Paul Horn at the ashram in Rishikesh in 1968.



Friday, June 27, 2014

What? The MAD gang worry?


By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 1, 1988


NEW YORK

On the 13th floor at 485 MADison Ave., the Usual Gang of Idiots is at work preparing the next issue of Mad magazine .
The editors are out to lunch, the art director has his feet up on a drafting table, and the associate editor is shredding unsolicited manuscripts before tossing them unread into the trash can.
William Gaines — the brains behind the Usual Gang of Idiots, as the magazine refers to its artists and writers — can be found sitting buddha-like in a dark room filled with toy zeppelins and Statue of Liberty replicas. His desk clock is attached to sticks of dynamite.
Every window shade in the place opens to reveal a red brick wall.
That's the kind of dumb gag to be expected at Mad. The magazine's formula of puerile puns, juvenile jokes and sophomoric satire has barely changed since Mr. Gaines started the publication 36 years ago. Success has come from its refusal to grow up.
"Mad hates everybody," he says today with typical boyish delight, "regardless of race, creed, or color."
Mad particularly hates advertisers, making it different from all but a handful of magazines. Even though its offices are in the heart of the Madison Avenue advertising district, Mad has never printed an ad.
Mr. Gaines, the 65-year-old publisher, barred them from his pages so that he would not have to alter his magazine to meet an advertiser's demands. His inspiration was the ad-free liberal daily newspaper PM, which was published in New York during the Second World War.
Mad grossed about $9-million (U.S.) last year from a circulation of one million for its U.S. edition, including 75,000 copies sold in Canada. It retails in New York for $1.95, and is published eight times annually.
E. C. Publications Inc. also earns royalties from paperback books and 12 foreign editions for its parent company, Warner Communications Inc., the New York-based entertainment company.
But after so many years of relying solely on subscribers for revenue, the magazine is about to launch a line of Mad merchandise, including a board game, novelties, and a lampoon of the Mickey Mouse watch. It features magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman in a straight jacket, his legs going round to keep time.
Alfred is Mad's most memorable character. His goofy, gap-toothed grin has graced every cover since 1956, and his catchphrase - "What, me worry?" - is often attributed to public officials who blissfully ignore pending catastrophes.
The nudnik with the missing front tooth is based on a popular cartoon figure used in turn-of-the-century ads, including one for a painless dentist.
Mad once faced simultaneous lawsuits over copyright ownership of the face.
"Their names were Stuff and Smeck," Mr. Gaines recalls, "and we didn't tell either one about the other. Instead of fighting us, they showed up in court facing each other. That went to the (U.S.) Supreme Court, which held that neither had properly policed their copyright. We won, and Alfred was given to us."
It was not the first time the publisher found himself before the justices. A songbook called Sing Along with Mad, which had parody lyrics to the tune of 57 popular standards, sparked a suit in the early '60s by the publishers of 12 leading tunesmiths, including Irving Berlin.
The publishers accused Mad of trying to capitalize on the composer's talents, but a federal court of appeals rejected Tin Pan Alley's allegations of damage, a decision the Supreme Court let stand.
The lower court said the parodies would never satisfy demand for the original song. "Quite soundly," said the court, "it is not suggested that 'Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady' might be an acceptable substitute for a potential patron of 'A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.' " Today, Mr. Gaines is a soft-spoken giant, the crew cut of his earlier days replaced by shoulder-length grey hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. He is a millionaire who dresses like a pauper, indulging only his hobby of collecting zeppelins and statues of Lady Liberty.
He is not beyond self-parody either, as the current issue features a fake ad on the back cover for an exercise device called the Bulgin' Belly Burner from Cockamamie Products of Gullibility, Texas. The fleshy Mr. Gaines is shown stripped to socks and shorts, as are flabby friends Lyle Stuart, a book publisher, and Al Goldstein, publisher of the adult tabloid Screw.
Mr. Gaines relishes his brassy, upstart image, but his first brawl with authorities was almost his company's undoing.
The son of the founder of the modern comic book, Mr. Gaines was training to be a high school chemistry teacher when his father was killed in an accident. He took over fledgling Educational Comics, which was producing historical, scientific, and Biblical books. Mr. Gaines had little interest in publishing such brainy material, instead turning his attentions to comics that mirrored the steamy pulps he had enjoyed as a child.
His comic-book stable included titles such as Tales From the Crypt, a horror comic that featured severed limbs and other gruesome illustrations. He specialized in gory science fiction, crime, suspense, and war titles, eventually starting a comic to parody other comics titled Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad.
Unfortunately for Mr. Gaines, his introduction to the comic book industry came just as church, civic, and parent-teacher groups were leading a crusade against unwholesome comics, claiming they were responsible for juvenile delinquency. A comics code authority was created to vet what the censors considered unsavory content.
"I dropped all my horror, science fiction and crime titles," Mr. Gaines recalls. "It almost put me out of business. I had nothing left but Mad.
"I tried putting out a whole new line of comics which would go through the code: Impact, Aces High, MD, Psychoanalysis, Valor, Piracy. We had some far-out stuff. They were a failure."
When his distributor went bankrupt, Mr. Gaines' mother had to lend the magazine almost $150,000 to keep Mad afloat. Mad, a magazine-sized black- and-white book, sold for 25 cents, while most color comic books cost only a dime. A tawdry come-on - "Cheap!" - was placed after the price to lure the extra coins from a child's pocket, a practice that continues to this day.
In fact, a reader who returns to the magazine today will find Mad little changed. The white spy and black spy do battle in the Joke and Dagger Department's Spy vs. Spy, cartoonist Dave Berg is still looking at The Lighter Side, the back cover continues to feature a Mad Fold-In, and popular movies and television shows are lampooned as they have always been.
"It hasn't changed very much," Mr. Gaines admits. "It's gotten sexually more permissive in the script, but not in the art. My theory is that if a kid is old enough to understand the banter, he's old enough that it won't hurt him. If he doesn't understand it, it'll go over his head and he won't even know it's there."
As editors Nick Meglin and John Ficarra repeatedly tell visitors: "There's no nudity in the magazine, only in the office."
Because it carries no advertising, Mad has never done a demographic survey. Its readers are presumed to be 11-to 16-year-old boys. The writers and artists, though, are middle-aged men peddling the same jokes they have been doing for more than three decades.
Mad prefers pricking the balloon of Establishment pomposity to adopting a political line. The magazine has long campaigned against cigaret smoking, deceptive packaging, and drug and alcohol abuse. The publisher calls his staff gentle muckrakers.
One of Mad's early attempts to profit from its reputation ended in embarrassment. Warner Brothers, the movie-making arm of Mad's parent company, convinced the magazine to lend its name to a movie for teen-agers designed to cash in on the astonishing commercial success of National Lampoon's Animal House.
Mr. Gaines strongly objected to a script he found offensive, but the movie, titled Mad Magazine's Up the Academy, went into production with few changes. It was booed at its Toronto debut, and was soon removed from circulation.
"If it was anybody other than Warner," Mr. Gaines says, "I would have sued the hell out of them."
Still, merchandising has proved to be profitable in the past. Parker Brothers, a division of Kenner Parker Toys Inc. of Beverly, Mass., has reacquired rights to the Mad Magazine Game, which was first released in 1979. It earned Mad $2.25-million in royalties before succumbing to the video game craze.
No matter how much can be made in spinoffs, however, Mr. Gaines pledges that the screwball magazine will continue to subtly subvert future generations.
"We want kids to read us secretly, under the covers, with a flashlight, but they don't do that anymore," Mr. Gaines sighs.
"The worst thing we have to deal with now is acceptance by parents and teachers. It's the kiss of death."