Notes from Canada

So there I was, in Canada, three weeks ago, and here I am, in San Francisco, three weeks later, violating all the laws of bloggery by blogging about it. Of course, the immediacy of Twitter might have led to some relaxing of the rules on posting blogs. But just in case, I’ll restrict myself to the notes I made along the way.

Toronto, day one. Up at 5.30 in the morning for breakfast TV. My schedule tells me to be “camera-ready.” Even when I stay up till 5.30 I’m rarely what you’d describe as “camera-ready”, so this is my first challenge. I will come to discover over the next few days that breakfast TV  -and the same applies to lunch TV and afternoon TV – is a strange universe with bizarre rites and practices all their own. There are a few minor differences. Sometimes your segment lasts four minutes, sometimes seven, at one time nine. Sometimes you’re questioned by one perfectly-coiffed person and sometimes by a perfectly-coiffed male/female pair. My first one, I was questioned by four, all of us sitting around a desk the approximate size of Luxembourg, which was in a large room with a plate-glass wall that opened onto the street so passers-by could watch.

What they all have in common though is: The Make-up Person.

In the daytime TV equivalent of a sheep dip, before you’re led before the cameras, you’re taken to a side room where your face is covered in orange makeup and your lips are painted with strawberry lipgloss.

My Leonard Cohen book’s No.1 in the Non-fiction Chart in Canada – well, in two out of three of them; in the third it’s Neil Young’s autobiography. It’s funny, I wrote a biography about Neil Young once, a dozen or so years ago when I was living in London. Now I’m living in Northern California, not that far from where Neil Young lives, but here I am in Toronto – which looks so much like London sometimes that it stops me in my tracks – and arm-wrestling him for the top spot in the Canadian book charts.

So I’ve been given the rock star treatment: flowers in my room, even a note of congratulation from the manager of the hotel, and an escort to take me to all the interviews they’ve arranged for me to do. The list’s daunting. There’s ten in one day. In the cab between radio stations they’ve programmed some press interviews by mobile phone. We stop in one bookshop to use their back room for a phoned-in radio interview. We stop at another shop for me to sign  copies of the book.

Hey Porter. I have fallen in love with an airline. True love. My eyes have a misty glaze just thinking about it. It operates out of an enchanting airport in the middle of the city named Billy Bishop, that you have to reach by ferry boat. The airline staff dress and behave like they were beamed in from some retro parallel universe where they like their passengers and can’t wait to ply them with services, all for free. If Porter weren’t just six years old, I’d marry it.

Montreal, and more about Airports. So far, Canada is really impressing me  in matters airportable. I am meant to go straight from here to an afternoon TV show, but I linger awhile to use the free wifi, have a coffee and prepar to speak French. Oh and Montreal is the only airport I’ve been where the women’s bathroom has a machine selling banana and ice-cream flavoured condoms.

Toronto, last day. Standing outside on the ferry deck, soaking in some sun on the ferry from Billy Bishop to the city. A couple of hours off to go to the farmers market and prepare an indoor picnic (despite the sun, it’s barely 0 degrees) for Kate Maki and Fred Squire when we rehearse for the gig the three of us have at Soundscapes tonight. Kate is a great singer-songwriter I met through our friend Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, who produced her album before last. During the research for my book, when I pored through the Leonard Cohen Archives in the University of Toronto rare book library, I stayed with Kate, and we’d sit up late at night singing together, she with her guitar, me with my uke, joined by a book of classic pop songs and several bottles of wine. Maybe I’ll put some of our tunes up online sometime. Since I last saw her she fell in love with singer-songwriter Fred Squire, and they and their baby son live four or five hours outside of Toronto. There was barely time for a rehearsal of the songs we’d decided on – Famous Blue Raincoat, Old Revolution, Sisters Of Mercy and So Long, Marianne, before taking off for the gig.

Soundscapes is a fantastic little record shop. If I lived in Toronto I’d be there all the time (well, all the time that I wasn’t hanging around Porter and Billy Bishop Airport). The people who run it have the best taste in music. I left with the new Arvo Part album and a rare Lee Hazelwood record.

In the morning I’m off to New York City. Where it looks like I’ll be spending my first night in the hotel where Leonard Cohen and Suzanne Elrod used to go in the late sixties for Scientology classes…




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