Subbing For the Divine Miss Ehm (Sports Vue)

Subbing For the Divine Miss Ehm

Hooked on Sonics’ surprising revelations

Sports Vue, November 3-10, 1994

An era has ended. Erica Ehm, the lovely and talented veejay, left MuchMusic at the end of October. I, for one, will miss her. In her program Between the Sheets, she asked rock stars about the books they were reading. She felt that if the youth of today learns that its heroes have interests outside of their idolatrized professions, and even read books on occasion, then maybe kids themselves could be persuaded to develop good reading habits. It was kind of Hooked on Phonics for the acne set.

As a tribute to the Divine Miss Ehm, I thought I would carry on her tradition of discussing great literature with role models – in this case, members of the Seattle SuperSonics. I call it Hooked on Sonics.

To break the ice, I try to get Sam Perkins and Kendall Gill to comment on the Grizzly logo.

PERKINS: I haven’t seen it.

Are you just being diplomatic?

PERKINS: I haven’t seen it, I’m sorry. What does it look like?

Well, it’s turquoise and there’s a bear on it. There’s some red and gold.

PERKINS: I can’t comment on it; I haven’t seen it.

Okay, what are you reading now?

PERKINS: I’m reading The Chamber.


PERKINS: Grisham. John Grisham? The Chamber? You’ve never heard of it?


PERKINS: What?! You’ve never heard of it? See, it’s possible you never hera of something or see something, okay?

Are you giving me a hard time?

PERKINS: No, but you couldn’t believe I didn’t see the logo.

But you’re in the NBA. It’s your business.

PERKINS: It’s the first time I’ve been up here.

It didn’t make the news down there?

PERKINS: Hey, I ain’t been with the team. It’s my first game.

Oh yeah, you were away. What was the problem?

PERKINS: Don’t you read the news? See? Okay then.

Okay, what else are you reading?

PERKINS: Magazines. I read Essence, a black magazine – about black women. I’m trying to understand them as much as possible. The more I read the more confused I get. What else am I reading? Home Remedies.

What’s that?

PERKINS: What to do in case you have a headache or bee sting or various things.

Don’t you just run to the trainer when something goes wrong?

PERKINS: Well, you know, trainers always get you on medication or something like that, so it’s a good book to have.

A good, entertaining read. I’m waiting for the movie to come out.

PERKINS: Which one?

Home Remedies.

PERKINS: The movie? I ain’t heard about that one. Um, what other books? I read The Client. Oh, this book I read called And Deliver Us From Evil [Murder, Madness and Mayhem in the Lone Star State by Mike Cochran]. It’s a book on Dallas, Texas, all the happenings from John Kennedy to Reverend Walter Railey.

So do you believe in the conspiracy theory?

PERKINS: Oh yeah, definitely, that was a conspiracy, no question. But there are different events that happened in the state of Texas they still haven’t solved. Like Walter Railey. You never heard of him?


PERKINS: Dang, where you been? You’ve been up here too much.

You played in Dallas for a few seasons.

PERKINS: Yeah, it’s a Christian-like city but a lot of evil things, that’s why the book is called And Deliver Us From Evil. There are a lot of things that happen down there to be so Christian.

They’re hypocrites is what you’re saying. All Texans are hypocrites.

PERKINS: No, they’re not all hypocrites but they say one thing and do another.

[Let’s all think about that one for a while. It’s an interesting distinction to be sure. I move on to Kendall Gill but keep Perkins in the conversation.]

Kendall, have you seen the Grizzly logo?

GILL: No, but I’ve seen the colours. They’re nice.

PERKINS: See! See!

What do you think about the name?

GILL: The name is nice.

Come on, speak your mind.

GILL: Grizzlies? I’m speaking my mind.

You really like it?

GILL: Yeah. What do you think it should be named?

I don’t know. I don’t have one. I can just sit back and criticize.

GILL: I know, you’re a reporter. It’s in your blood.

Are you reading anything right now?

GILL: Right now I think I’m going to go get, uh, what’s that girl’s name? O.J. Simpson’s wife?

PERKINS: Nicole.

GILL: Yeah, I think I might go get that book.

Do you think he did it?


But the book paints him as doing it, doesn’t it?

GILL: Yeah, but I mean the power’s in the paint. You know that right, right? (laughs)

You think O.J. did it?

PERKINS: I don’t think so. Do you?

I don’t know. It’s got to be proved. But why did he take off?

GILL: What would you do in that situation?

PERKINS: What would you do? Go straight to the cops and let ’em take you to jail?


PERKINS: You say ‘yeah’ now. And plus, he was black so what of it?

So what?

PERKINS: I guess if you’re white, I guess you’ll say ‘here I am.’

But he’s a superstar.

PERKINS: If he wasn’t a superstar, the case would have been over. That ain’t got nothing to do with it.

GILL: So was Mike Tyson, so was Michael Jordan, so was Michael Jackson.


GILL: They were all superstars and look what happened.

What happened to Michael Jordan? Did I miss that one?

GILL: Yeah, you all ran him outta the game.

[I decided to get out of that debate before I got smacked. Shawn Kemp, a.k.a. the Rain Man, says he’s just finished reading the latest issue of GQ, featuring his rival Charles Barkley. As for books, he is a horror fan whose favourite author is Stephen King. But science fiction is no match for science fact. Or at least fact according to new Sonic Sarunas Marciulionis.]

MARCIULIONIS: I’m very interested in all these UFO mysteries.

There are a lot of sightings in your country (Lithuania), aren’t there?

MARCIULIONIS: No, in the States much more.

Do you believe in UFOs?

MARCIULIONIS: Oh yeah, sure. You think there are just us in this whole space? You think there’s only we human beings?



Why haven’t they been better documented?

MARCIULIONIS: They’re filmed. The thing is, we have to prepare society for all this news. The government, they don’t really want to publicize everything because people would think that we’re an experiment on this earth. Nobody would feel good about that. This is hypothesis and it’s almost proven.

Have you seen one?

MARCIULIONIS: Uh, not yet.

Aren’t a lot of sightings simply lights people can’t identify?

MARCIULIONIS: No lights. No, this is what some scientists want to tell you. You know, lights, shadows, planes. I’ve seen tapes and it was pretty impressive.

Is this a hobby of yours?

MARCIULIONIS: Yeah, kind of. I’ve been interested for the last 10 or 12 years. But in the former Soviet Union you weren’t allowed to think that way so we didn’t have much information. People would stop working if they knew there was something more powerful, something stronger around.

What about the Bermuda Triangle?

 MARCIULIONIS: There’s gotta be some connection with that stuff – magnetic anomalies in the former Soviet Union and the Triangle. It’s very interesting.

I leave the Sonic locker room secure in the knowledge that our children are in good hands with such well-read role models. Then Marciulionis catches up to me. He informs me that there are four aliens in a Roswell, New Mexico warehouse, having been captured in 1947. He tells me that you can learn more from such TV programs as Montel Williams.

Maybe it’s just as well Erica is no longer on the air. Such discussions can be disillusioning

I've found my true niche (Sports Vue)

I’ve found my true niche

The Sports Guy, Sports Vue, September 8-15, 1994

I’m excited by the prospect of becoming a world class caliber athlete.

Through the years I’ve succeeded at being good enough to compete with and against fellow fitness-challenged jocks. I’ve been on championship co-ed recreational basketball teams, played for the championship in mixed intramural softball, and even won a miniature golf tournament.

But I’ve failed in my quest to represent my country in a sport. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, even since I was old enough to realize the endorsement opportunities.

At 32 years old I feel that, unlike my elementary and high school mate Geoff Courtnall, who’s nearing the end of his NHL career, I’m just now coming into my own as an athlete. The problem is trying to convince the ageist powers-that-be of that. Even though I would be a valuable member to any team, most general managers and coaches wouldn’t give me the time o’ day.

For example, there’s no denying that I could make the Grizzlies if it weren’t for Stu Jackson’s obvious distaste for slow, inexperienced veterans. And I would even be willing to try out, if it weren’t for my distaste for the Grizzlies’ logo.

So team sports are out. So too are high performance sports such as diving (afraid of heights), swimming (can’t), tennis (10 mph lob serves are not yet in vogue), gymnastics (can’t even touch toes and pull-ups are out of the question) and boxing (have a glass head).

I have narrowed my choices down to three: golf, curling and lawn bowls.

Golf is too dangerous – you could get hit upside the head by a stray ball, suffer severe brain damage and end up on the pro-bowling tour. And as for curling, I don’t even like sweeping my own apartment.

So lawn bowls it must be. (Incidentally, when did the verb lawn bowling nounify itself? I guess they want to distance themselves from such unathletic bastardized versions of their sport as five and ten pin bowling. Lawn bowls is no macho, beer-swilling, goofy shirt-wearing and goofier shoe-wearing activity. It is a sport that requires a high degree of hand-eye coordination and athleticism. It also helps to have a pulse and get by without the aid of a walker, but the sport discriminates against no one).

I’ve read the rules. I know what I’m in for. You roll a non-spherical ball along the grass and try to get close to a white jack. You do this for three and a half hours, collect your money and go home. And then you have the rest of the day to get some exercise.

Not to take anything away from the finely-tuned physical specimens that are lawn bowlers, but I know in my heart of hearts I could compete with the best of them right now and not be embarrassed. I’ve never played before but I’m savvy enough to pick it up pretty quickly. I would bring new dimensions to the sport, such as the emergence of trash-talking. Just how mentally tough are these bowlers? I challenge any of them to a game, anytime, anywhere.

If I’d started two months ago, I’d have represented Canada in Victoria at the Commonwealth Games this summer. Friendly Games, Schmiendly Games.

At the fireworks with a hundred thousand friends (West End Times)

At the fireworks with a hundred thousand friends

Guy MacPherson gets lost and discovers he’s at the Symphony of Fire

The West End Times, August 9, 1994

I had always thought there were two types of people in this world: those who would go out of their way to watch fireworks, and those who wouldn’t. After attending last Saturday night’s premiere of Symphony of Fire, along with a couple hundred thousand of my closest friends I concluded that maybe there’s only one type.

People came from all over the Lower Mainland to experience this many-times-in-a-lifetime event. Come to think of it, I was there – and I always considered myself in the second group, thinking fire flower spectacles were a big waste of time and money (to produce the four shows in Vancouver, the cost will be over one million dollars and takes producer Frank Furtado a full year of planning. Need I say more?). Although, in my defense, I was there under false pretenses. I was certain I read it was going to be a Symphony on Fire.

However, there was no symphony. Not in person, anyway. There was music, including a rendition of the Spanish national anthem, also known as Requiem for a Dictator, sans whirlwinds of tempestuous fire. With the militaristic march aside, the program began. The competition between the countries is partly judged on the ability to synchronize skyrockets to a musical score. Now, if you can get explosives to detonate expressively during the slow movements, you’ve got yourself a pretty good trick. I heard the music and I saw the pyrotechnics, but I failed to experience the synchronicity.

In fact, the whole exercise reminded me of something I learned in some film class in university. The great Russian film maker Eisenstein – or was it the great Life photographer Eisenstadt? It definitely wasn’t the great German brainiac Einstein because he had more important ideas on his mind. Whoever it was used the same picture of an expressionless person to convey different emotions, i.e., depressed, loving, angry, satisfied, etc. The same picture suited each description. We saw what we expected to see.

In other words, fireworks explode the same way in the fast, exciting passages as they do during the slow, beautiful parts.

“The joy of colour,” the narrator narrated. “The colours of our land.” Hey, ours too! Turns out there are only six different basic colours that can be used in fireworks. The Spanish firm of Pirotechnia Caballer, which was featured last Saturday, burst some beautiful bombs in the air that looked like giant weeping willows of yellow, red, green, blue and orange or squiggly white paisleys. Did you know that there are only 100 top fireworks firms in the whole world and that each company’s formulas are closely guarded secrets? That’s why if you saw Italy or Japan on Wednesday or Saturday you would have spotted much different weeping willows of yellow, red, green, blue and orange or different squiggly white paisleys. You don’t spend four months planning and designing a 25-minute show to do what everybody else does. That’s why I’m sure it’s only my untrained eye that makes these extravaganzas look like every other fireworks display I’ve ever seen, from Disneyland to Butchart Gardens to Canada Day to the ones my grandfather used to let off in our backyard on Halloween.

The mass of humanity seemed to enjoy itself. People parked themselves on the beach at English Bay hours ahead of the 10:15 start. Streets were closed off by police officers, who showed remarkable restraint by not shooting tear gas at the crowd. Maybe it’s a good thing Canada is not competing in this year’s contest. There’s no telling how the Vancouverites might react if we didn’t bring home the prestigious Benson & Hedges Inc. Gold Trophy.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the exhibition. It brings people together in a way that only hockey playoffs had been able to do. And in a much more peaceful fashion. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford $13.95 for 25 minutes worth of entertainment, or you happen to be in the media, you can enjoy reserved seating, along with free cookies, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Blis, the “ultimate dessert.” It was to my deep regret that free Benson & Hedges smokes weren’t handed out because I’ve always wanted to take up the habit. I resigned myself to breathing really deeply and getting the full effect of the fireworks.

Artists bring magic into stations (West End Times)

Artists bring magic into stations

Chinese ‘erhu’ brings smiles to faces of harried commuters at SkyTrain stations

West End Times, January 26, 1994

They perform every day for thousands. They are probably seen live by more people than most major pop stars. They’ve also probably trained and studied more than your average pop star. And yet nobody knows their names.

They are street musicians. Buskers. Call them what you will, but don’t call them beggars. Often times, these are very gifted musicians.

Take Blaine Waldbauer and Ji Rong Huang. You can hear them at a SkyTrain station near you.

Each year SkyTrain hands out 25 licences to musicians with styles ranging from folk to rock to classical to flamenco. In order to get a licence, the musician must pass an audition, undergo a security check, and pay $50. That seems like a lot to go through just to play your fiddle for passersby. But Waldbauer doesn’t object.

He has been a street musician for 12 years and is a seven year veteran of the SkyTrain circuit. “This is a craft,” he says. “Just like if you had a plumber, he would have to be expected to know how to do the plumbing. We’re making a living.”

Waldbauer’s been performing on the streets for so long that nothing phases him. But that first time was a little scary. “I came from the prairies,” he said, “and with busking there was a perception of begging. Even now, people come up to me and they confuse the word ‘busker’ and ‘beggar’. They say, ‘You’re panhandling.’ I say, ‘I’m not. I’m busking. Look it up in the dictionary. It means in itinerant musician or actor that plays or performs on the street for gratuities. That’s in Webster’s Dictionary.”

Given these musicians’ obvious talents, some people can’t understand why they’d opt for a life on the streets.

Waldbauer is a violinist with a Bachelor of Composition degree from the University of Victoria. By the age of 19 he had received his associate diploma in violin and piano from Mount Royal College. After graduating, he played with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, where he was principal second violin and played in the first violin section. On any given day you can hear him play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Mozart’s concertos, Irish jigs, country music, movie themes, and even children’s songs. And when he’s performing with his partner, singer/guitarist Cathleen Kolba, they play original folk music.

Huang plays a two-stringed ancient Chinese instrument called the ‘erhu’, known to westerners as the Chinese violin. “Actually, it’s not a violin, but it’s as popular as the western violin in China,” he says. “It’s used in orchestras, for opera, for everything.”

He has been playing the instrument for more than 20 years, since he was a little boy in Shanghai. Huang received his B.A. from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He is a sessional instructor at the school of music at UBC and is also the co-director of the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble. At his SkyTrain post, Huang plays classical music, traditional Chinese music and western tunes accompanying himself through the use of modern technology. “I arranged it and played using a keyboard and transferred it to Midi, just like a computer,” he says. As he plays, he sits on a cooler, a smile etched onto his face.

Says Waldbauer, “One of the questions I asked in our master class at university was, Canada produces probably 200 violinists per year, given all the conservatories and universities. There are only 23 openings or so in the symphony orchestra. What are we going to do for work? And the master violinist said, ‘Good question.’

“There’s a perception still in society,” he continues, “that if you’re playing on the street and you’re any good, you should be on stage. I take exception to that because I say music is for people. And the people are on the street.”

Huang agrees. “It’s not possible for everybody to go to concerts because people are busy working or studying. This way they can hear music and can relax after working or studying.”

While a few people do not appreciate street culture, most have been very supportive. Huang has produced two cassettes, which have proven popular with his audience. One tape is Christmas melodies, while the other is a mixed bag of well-known traditional Chinese music, hits like Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Zhivago, and selections from Chopin and Bach.

Says Huang, “Most people enjoy my music very much. That’s why I’m happy doing this job.”