Fearless Flying (Going Places magazine)

Fearless Flying

Thirteen fearful flyers face their phobia

Going Places magazine, September 2001

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I morphed – from being your typical white knuckler to avoiding flying althogether. There wasn’t a terrifying near-crash experience. I have always just hated it, perhaps conditioned by a mother wanting to return to her homeland but completely unwilling to get there hurtling through space.

I’d flown without incidence for years. Still, weeks before a flight I’d imagine all that could go wrong: raging passenger, uncooperative Mother Nature, vengeful mechanic, narcoleptic and/or incompetent pilot. It would only get worse once I was on the aircraft. I’d actually feel my hair getting whiter. But my high anxiety over something thousands of people do safely every day has increased over the past few years, culminating with a flight to California this February. On our descent into LAX, the pilot dusted off one of his old war plane stunts. I’m not familiar with the terminology, but I’d call it a Quick Turn and Fall, accompanied by the screams and gasps of everyone on board.

I was flying with several seasoned travellers; they said it was the most terrifying experience of their lives. To me, it ranked right up there with every other flight of my life. Still, I decided to forgo the free flight home in exchange for a 36-hour bus ride – in itself almost enough to cure me of my phobia. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. But it gave me ample time to think about my condition and vow to do something about it.

Eight weeks later, I was sitting around a boardroom table for Beyond the Fear of Flying, the Air Canada-endorsed, 5-week Avserve West program for phobic flyers, held at the Vancouver airport. I figured, if anything, it would make a good story. If they could cure me, they could cure anyone. Then there were my classmates. These would be people in need of serious help, I figured. Maybe so, but they were a cool group of people from all walks of life. Some flew regularly for their work but were growing extremely uncomfortable with it; others had phobias that prevented them from flying at all (one woman hadn’t flown in two decades).

Our flight terrors were immediately attacked on two fronts: technical and mental. On the tech side was the eminently calm and rational Lidnsay Paxton, a pilot with Air Canada since 1972. Taking care of our fragile mental states was Ruth Shell, a registered clinical counselor. The duo was a potent one-two punch to our psychoses. We were told right off the bat that our particular fear was irrational. Mine wasn’t: Planes crash all the time; for every stat I was given, I had a “yes, but.”

Among the facts I found particularly helpful: If a plane loses both engines, it can still glide safely to the ground (though I’d hate to be on that silent descent); turbulence cannot damage a plane; an airplane is inherently stable (which means that even without a pilot, the plane will right itself); there is no such thing as an air pocket; and every second of every day an aircraft is taking off or landing somewhere in the world. Turns out planes do not, in fact, crash all the time. (You would have to board a commercial airliner every day for 26,000 years to be involved in a major accident, and even then it might not be fatal.)

While the ever-steady Paxton was reassuring us with the facts, Shell was teaching us relaxation exercises and cognitive therapies such as thought stopping. (I preferred the technical aspects. I want to know a plane is safe before boarding; I can do without being comfortable if it’s going down.) An air traffic controller and aircraft maintenance engineer also worked with us. And since we were at the airport, each class ended with a visit to an aircraft where we practiced those warm and fuzzy relaxation techniques.

By the time week five rolled around, every member of the class was ready for our graduation flight to Calgary. This in itself was a major step: several of us were still waffling when the course started. I figured a delicious irony would be the next morning’s headlines: Fearful Flyers Crash Over the Rockies. Even my friends wouldn’t be able to refrain from laughing over that one. I wouldn’t blame them.

One classmate, who had to fly for work before the rest of us took our graduation flight, returned to class raving: “It works, it really works!” I immediately pegged her as a plant. That is, until the rest of us were strapped in, ready to take off for Calgary. I found comfort in simple left-right rhythmic finger tapping and breathing exercises. It was surprising: The technical information had got me on board, but it was the relaxation techniques that were keeping me there.

The bottom line is we made it back in one piece. And most of my classmates were giddy with their new-found drug- and alcohol-free success. Still, even though Paxton likes to say flying is safer than life, I don’t know; I’m not totally convinced. But I do know one thing. It beats the hell out of busing.

What's So Funny (Vancouver Magazine)


What’s So Funny

How does comedy work? Five headlining comics deconstruct the jokes that make them laugh

Vancouver Magazine, Summer 2001

In time for the Vancouver International Comedy Festival (starting July 20), we thought we’d get some professionally funny people to tell us what tickles them, and why. Jack Herbert once said that a comedian is “a fellow who finds other comedians too humorous to mention.” Not our yuksters. They all generously cited a fave from another comic’s work, then supplied us with one of their own.


Brent Butt, Vancouver-based headliner, 2001 winner of Best Male Standup Comic in Canada.

That’s a Good One
“Jack Benny is jumped by a robber who points a gun at him and demands, ‘Your money or your life!’ There is a loooooong pause, and when the robber repeats, ‘Your money or your life!’ Jack says, ‘I’m thinking, I’m thinking.’”

“It is fundamentally hilarious, and I also admire the joke because in one phrase it tells you everything you need to know about Jack Benny’s character. In my mind, it’s a perfect joke.”

Now Try One of Mine
“Police have it easier in a small town. ‘Can you describe the man who robbed you?’ ‘Yeah, he was Dwayne.’”


Gerry Swallow, Victoria-based screenwriter of Say It Isn’t So and the upcoming Black Knight.

That’s a Good One
“’Hitler was right!’ (Pause here, long enough to evoke a murmur from the crowd, then…) ‘Moustaches should be small an unobtrusive.’” – told to me second-hand, though I believe it belongs to a comic from Minnesota

“There’s nothing like bringing a crowd to the edge of hostility, then reeling them back in. Of course, some people would never recover from the setup. But then those people should avoid comedy altogether.”

Now Try One of Mine
“My friend Steve just got married. Before he got married, he sat down and he typed out a list of household chores and duties for his wife. Can you believe that? Come on, typing’s women’s work.”


Sarah Silverman, comedian/actress, Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld

That’s a Good One
“I didn’t start masturbating until I was 11. Because before that I was getting laid.” – Garry Shandling

“No need to dissect its structure. It makes me laugh!”

Now Try One of Mine
“I really wanted to get a dog. I was looking around for one but then I realized that I travel around so much that it’s just not fair. So I think I’m going to have a baby.”


A. Whitney Brown, formerly of Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show

That’s a Good One
“We’ve all been surprised by the success of Star Trek. It’s been shown in 73 different countries, although not always by the same name. In Japan, for example, it’s called Sulu: Master of Navigation.” – written for William Shatner on SNL

“It’s about the most basic human failing – everything’s about us. From ancient China calling itself the centre of the world, to the outrage at Galileo’s claim that the heavens don’t revolve around the earth… it’s a very, very old story, succinctly told.”

Now Try One of Mine
“There’s a billion people in China. That’s hard to imagine. That means that even if you are a one-in-a-million kind of person, there’s still a thousand exactly like you.”


Irwin Barker, national headliner and Vancouver-based comic

That’s a Good One
“I saw an ad in the paper for a job as an estimator. On the application form, when they asked my age, I said, ‘Oh, about 30.’” – Toronto comic Derek Edwards

“I like it because the punch line is so simple yet you don’t see it coming. The essence of any good joke is surprise, an unexpected response that puts a new meaning on the setup.”

Now Try One of Mine
“I have an aunt who is a perfect combination of fatalist and optimist. Last week she fell down the stairs and broke her leg. She just laid there saying, ‘Am I ever glad that’s over with.’”


Swinging Kenny Colman keeps on hustling for gigs (Georgia Straight)

Swinging Kenny Colman keeps on hustling for gigs

The Georgia Straight, June 21, 2001

At times Kenny Colman feels like Rodney Dangerfield. The Vancouver singer has done it all and still can’t get no respect. At least not in his hometown.

Colman’s biography reads like a who’s who of show business: discovered by Sarah Vaughan; first gigged in Las Vegas on a bill with Lionel Hampton and Della Reese; sang for all the talk-show hosts, from Steve Allen to Johnny Carson to Merv Griffin; recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra; befriended Frank Sinatra; opened for the likes of Redd Foxx and Lenny Bruce; and played such hot spots as Monte Carlo, New York, and Cancun.

So why does this man have to hustle for gigs just like the next guy?

“I’ve done all these shows and I’m still looking for work in my hometown,” Colman says, on the line from his False Creek home.

The veteran jazz singer will be splitting the bill at the Vogue with Dee Daniels next Monday (June 25) in a show that promises to be a bit different for his Vancouver fans.

“Most people, when they see me in a club, it’s more intimate,” he says. “They’re drinking and having a good time, where in a concert, you can focus in more on a ballad and the attention is there. It’ll be a different thing for people to see me in a concert setting. I think they’ll enjoy it. I’ll be able to tell stories about my past and all that.”

Colman says part of the reason that he doesn’t get more work is a lack of venues in town. The Cellar is an excellent jazz club with a great feel, but doesn’t often book singers. So Colman continues to play casinos and lounges around the world while sitting in on the gigs of friends around town just to keep his chops up.

“Getting a continuous roll is always the hardest thing,” he says. “Getting that back-to-back continuation, you know? Always looking for gigs is a hardship. It’s hard on the wife, but you have to go with your work.”

Colman, while not in the vein of a scat-singing singer like Mark Murphy or Kurt Elling, considers himself a jazz stylist whose motto is Less Is More.

“I think the word jazz sometimes scares people off,” he says. “I surround myself always with jazz players because they’re the best players. And I always deviate from the melody and create melody, which is improvisation. I consider myself a very swinging, jazz-oriented-type singer. I can swing. And you can’t teach somebody to swing, you know? I mean, Vic Damone can’t swing. There are very few singers who can swing.”

Still, that and a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee. But as long as the 60-something crooner can still swing, he’ll continue knocking on doors.

“I still feel very strong and still driven,” he says. “If there was going to be a book about me, Driven would be the word. I still have the same energy and drive as when I was 28 walking up and down Second Avenue in the Village looking for gigs.”

Bass Legend Takes a Late Lead (Georgia Straight)

Bass Legend Takes a Late Lead

Just don’t ask Ray Brown to play favourites

The Georgia Straight, June 21-28, 2001

Los Angeles-based Ray Brown is considered one of the best bassists in jazz history, but that doesn’t mean he was expecting an invitation to the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Although the 74-year-old is heading to Vancouver for a three-night stint at Rossini’s, Monday to Wednesday (June 25 to 27), he assumed the shows would be no different from the ones he usually does at the Gastown eatery.

“They didn’t say anything about the festival, they just said my regular visit up there,” Brown says from an Emerald City tour stop. “Whenever I’m in Seattle, I just come up there the next week usually.”

Name a jazz master, and chances are the bassist has played with him. But don’t ask him to play favourites.

“I’m not going to touch that,” he says. “You think I’m going to stand up here and say that Count Basie was better than Duke Ellington, or Duke Ellington was better than Art Tatum, or Art Tatum was better than Dizzy Gillespie, or Dizzy Gillespie was better than Charlie Parker, and so forth? And then Louis Armstrong and then Coleman Hawkins and then Lester Young? You want me to tell you one person? You’re outta your fuckin’ mind. You gotta be crazy! I mean, you don’t ask anybody that’s played with those many people who’s the best. There’s no such thing.”

Okay, a bad call on my part, but in my defense, had he chosen one I would have had a scoop.

Brown, who was married to Ella Fitzgerald from 1948 until 1952, isn’t one of those old-timers who thinks everything was better back in the day. His comments on the younger generation will shock those who think nothing good has been recorded since 1959.

“There’s a whole bunch of good young musicians around now,” he says, “and they’re playing better at a younger age than we did when I was young.”

He says the reason for that is simple: “There’s more stuff available. Duke Ellington made maybe four records a year when I was a kid. Four 78s. That’s, like, two minutes of music on each side, so that’s 16 minutes. That ain’t even a CD. And that’s what we had to study from and practice with.”

Brown started out on the piano but switched to the bass in high school. Why? “It looked easier. It only had one line to read instead of two.” Was it easier? “Hell, no.”

It’s not common for bass players to be leaders, but after 50 years of being a sideman, Brown has had enough. Now it’s his turn, although just because he’s in charge doesn’t mean he’ll be taking endless solos all night.

“Solos are great, but I don’t think you serve any purpose playing on every tune,” he says. “I think you’re better served playing one really good substantial solo. I play maybe 10, 12 minutes solo. And I think you impress people maybe a little better than just taking some choruses on every tune that goes by. After it’s been exhausted by the saxophone player playing 40 choruses and the piano player playing 25 and the other horns, then they always turn it over to you last.”

"Universality of music" informs Fraser's tunes (Georgia Straight)

“Universality of music” informs Fraser’s tunes

The Georgia Straight, June 14-21, 2001

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival has been criticized for booking country stars like Emmylou Harris and rockers like Wide Mouth Mason, but no one has any cause to complain about the Legends of the Bandstand show at the Vogue next Friday (June 22).

“It’s definitely one of the most jazz-oriented shows, I guess,” Hugh Fraser says, on the line from his home in Victoria.

The Juno Award-winning pianist and trombonist’s quintet opens the Legends show and then plays a longer gig at the Cellar on Saturday (June 23). In the meantime, Fraser is happy to weigh in on the controversy about what kind of acts the festival should be booking.

“It’s kind of a misnomer that they are called jazz festivals,” he offers. “I think they’d be better served to call them music festivals. But we’re talking about a week a year. It is disappointing the treatment a lot of the festivals give Canadian artists, but that’s not just a festival thing, it’s a Canadian thing in general. When I lived in New York, and people had to phone my Manhattan number, I could instantly negotiate twice the fee that I do now that I live out here. It’s just bullshit.”

Having lived in New York, then in London for four years, where he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, Fraser recently returned to his hometown of Victoria. There he oversees his record label, publishing company, and educational commitments. (He is starting up a two-year, diploma-granting jazz program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.)

Besides being an educator and musician, Fraser is most comfortable identifying himself as a composer. He has written close to 200 compositions. And unlike those of many of his contemporaries, his tunes are at once modern, challenging, accessible, and swinging in a hard-bop context. That’s not surprising, given his philosophy of composition.

“I think a lot of jazz musicians, especially nowadays with so much jazz education around – and I’m guilty of helping contribute to that with all the teaching I do – sometimes have almost too much information,” he says.

He composes with what he terms the “universality of music” always in mind. “It means that someone 200 years from now on a bunch of electronic instruments can play ‘Take the A Train’ or ‘Perdido’ or something and it’ll still have enough of the essentials of solid organization that it’ll be really appealing. And that’s basically melody, harmony, and rhythm.

“Like, who remembers any UZEB tunes or Jeff Lorber fusion tunes?” he continues. “I remember hearing them live and being really impressed, but it’s like fast food or sugar. After the initial impact, it burns away, because there isn’t enough substance where it can be played by other people.”

And for Fraser, composing is not a matter of rehashing the same old stuff, either. “Everyone thinks that evolution is this progressive thing but I view it as keeping good energy alive,” he says. “Water and air are ancient and they’re the most important things to us. It’s the same with certain melodic and harmonic and rhythmic patterns. Instead of trying to throw them out to find something new, you have to build on them.”

California Screamin' (Westworld magazine)

California Screamin'

Becoming a man in the wilds of La La Land

Westworld magazine, June 2001

It’s 1 p.m. and I’m waiting on the pier for friends. We’re setting out to discover California. We’ll stroll the boardwalk, take in the attractions, head over to the mountains, do some whitewater rafting, check out the vintners in wine country, go hang-gliding over the Golden Gate Bridge and Mission Bay in San Diego, stop by Hollywood, take in a show. We’re on foot so we figure we won’t get back to the hotel until dinnertime.

Oh, did I mention this is Disney’s California Adventure theme park? The good folks at Disney came up with the idea to celebrate the wonders of the Golden State -- all in one convenient 22-hectare location beside the original Disneyland. The park is divided into three sections: Paradise Pier, Golden State and the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. Because really, what else to the state is there?

My friends Jon and Chris come bounding off California Screamin’, a giant roller coaster that takes its helpless victims from 0 to 90 kilometres an hour in four seconds, beaming. The ride includes a loop-de-loop, which sounds so innocent and fun. This is brilliant marketing -- loop-de-loop is much more inviting than, say, the Upside Down Circle of Death. Which is what it looks like to me.

You see, I’m not what you’d call a “ride” guy. Not only that, I don’t know enough about centrifugal force to even contemplate going on that puppy. But my pals insist. They’ve been on it twice already and want more.

I insist right back that I can gain just as much enjoyment from watching and listening to their chilling screams while standing safely on the ground, right-side-up. Jon tells me he’s terrified of rides, but this one’s “a hoot”. He, like I, went on the old wooden coaster at the PNE once and vowed never again, so I believe him. Reluctantly, I proceed ashen-faced to the front of the line. How bad can it be? I reassure myself.

There I am, locked into my fate as we shoot off for our mile-long, 3.5-minute thrill ride, grabbing on for dear life, eyes clamped shut. At the first turn I remember to open them. Once I can see where I’m heading, I’m fine. Jon is laughing and screaming beside me. But I play it cool. On our ascent to 120 feet (sounds so much more menacing than 36 metres), I engage in small talk.

“So Jonathan, how’s work going?” Apparently not well, judging from his blood-curdling scream as gravity takes over and we hurl straight down. Part of the thrill of these kinds of rides is surviving them. You step off and feel like you’ve cheated death.

“Let’s do it again!” I scream. And we did. Suddenly, I’m a “ride” person. At least when Disney’s involved. I think I trust Disney rides because they’re run not by carnies but by shiny, happy people. Sure, their wide-eyed, smiling faces remind me of infomercial audience members, but I definitely feel safer on Disney rides. And certainly cleaner.

We try them all now, including Soarin’ Over California (Californians apparently are too laid back to pronounce “ing”). This simulated hang-gliding (make that glidin’) ride is amazing. I keep looking to the side of the 80-foot bowl-shaped screen for reassurance that I’m not actually hundreds of feet in the air floating over rivers, valleys, mountains and ocean. We feel the wind on our face and somehow smell the smells. Unless that was Jon.

We manage to see most of “California” in an afternoon but come back for more that night and again the next day. It’s easy to be cynical of Disney and all it represents (wholesome family values and litigation against anyone who dares copy those wholesome family values). Still, I defy anyone not to have fun at the “Happiest Place On Earth” (TM, just in case, lest we be hit with our own lawsuit). What can I say? Disney knows how to build a theme park.

Plus they know how to build character. I’m proud of myself for turning into a “ride” guy, though I think I could have enjoyed the place while maintaining my previous chicken status. There are enough shows and games and kiddie rides to keep a coward like me occupied.

And thankfully, no earthquakes, floods or riots.
Guy MacPherson is a Vancouver freelance writer usually afraid of his own shadow. He has won no awards.

Give it up to the Grizz (Vancouver Sun)

Give it up to the Grizz

It’s too early to write an epitaph for a team that deserves a fighting chance to taste success


Vancouver Sun, February 16, 2001

I may be in denial, but I just don’t believe the Grizzlies are going anywhere, with the exception of their usual downward spiral to oblivion.

Last year, when Bill Laurie attempted to buy the Bears but wouldn’t commit to Vancouver, the local press started yawping about the end of NBA basketball in Vancouver. Reading the coverage, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind the team would wind up in St. Louis in a matter of months. It didn’t happen. I may have been the only one who didn’t believe they were moving then, and I still don’t believe it now.

Why should I? The NBA cannot be that naïve or gullible and owner Michael Heisley cannot be that duplicitous. Despite Heisley’s constant whining about losses, nothing has changed significantly since he bought the team from John McCaw less than one year ago. In any area.

And the NBA, ultimately, must realize this, too. Despite his perceived good intentions, Heisley would have to be a miracle worker to change the fortunes of this sad-sack franchise in less than a season.

According to the team’s 2000-01 media guide, Heisley’s Heico Acquisitions Inc. “acts as an investment firm, specializing in buying interests in under-performing companies and turning them around.” The Grizzlies fit this profile to a technical foul but where’s the turnaround? Obviously if they haven’t reversed their fortunes in half a season, they never will, right? And the altruistic Heisley has done all he could do.

The media guide tells us, after all, “… the Grizzles have significantly bolstered their roster this off-season, adding talent and depth to their bench through free agent signings and trades….” The crack management team assembled in the off-season was crafty enough to pick up two players who hadn’t played in the league (or elsewhere) for two seasons, so they should be well-rested.

But Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (4.5 points per game) and Kevin Edwards (4.1 ppg) seldom get off the bench. Ike Austin (4.7 ppg) was due for a rebound season after being a bust in Orlando and Washington the last two seasons while earning over $5 million a year. It’s not management’s fault they’re not performing. What more could it do?

I’m not a businessman, but I did pass Economics 100 at UVic with a D. This is my take on the situation. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is a reported billionaire. How many billions he has, I don’t know. But even if he has one billion, that’s one thousand million!

Think about it. For him to lose $50 million (a highly disputed figure, by the way) in a season is the equivalent of you or me taking a grand to Vegas and dropping 50 bucks.

What’s the problem, Mike? You’d still have $950 million left. And it’s not as if his other businesses aren’t making money to compensate, i.e. he ain’t going broke, folks.

I’m reminded of the line from Citizen Kane where Charles Foster Kane is being advised by his accountant to drop his newspaper enterprise because he’s losing a million dollars. I’m going from memory here, but Kane’s response is, “So I lose a million dollars? I’ll lose a million next year, too, and the year after that. And you know what? In 65 years I’ll be broke!”

Providing he has only one billion now and makes no more money from any other source for the rest of his life and loses $50 million for real a year, that would last 20 years. Have you seen the guy? Not exactly your picture of health. He needn’t worry.

As for that $50-million figure, the NBA should hire an objective forensic accountant so we can be sure this is not a case of fuzzy book keeping or money laundering.

NBA commissioner David Stern has given Heisley the go-ahead to seek other cities for relocation. Granted, it doesn’t sound encouraging. But under Stern’s 17-year reign, no franchise has changed locations, a fact he’s fiercely proud of. Teams have tried to relocate and he’s put the kibosh on it.

Stern says Vancouver’s business community implicitly agreed to support the Grizzlies and hasn’t come through. Again, I want to point out my lack of business acumen, but I would think savvy businessmen would want promises in the explicit category. One man’s implicit is another man’s “Huh?”

Businesses, like most fans, back a winner. And like Mr. Heisley, Vancouver business folk didn’t go into business to lose money. Put the Grizzlies with their pathetic 5.5-year record of 92-336 in any U.S. city and you’ll see apathy in action. Conversely, put Vince Carter and the Raptors here in Vancouver, and you’d see sell-outs and businesses hopping on board like they were giving out free corporate welfare.

Cities like Dallas and Orlando, with good teams, are experiencing low attendance: What makes the NBA think an Anaheim or New Orleans will show up in force to watch the Grizzlies blow it night after night, year after year?

Here’s why I’m saying the team stays: Any proposed move by a franchise has to be voted on by the NBA board of governors. How bad would it look for the association to move a failing franchise only to have it fail somewhere else? And with the management the Grizzlies have had over the years, including this one, there’s no reason to believe the team will get any better anywhere else.

It doesn’t help to have the local media acting as this is a foregone conclusion. The league just fined Grizzlies’ president Dick Versace for comments he made about the Toronto situation. They know that constant fear of failure can hurt the box office. What they fail to realize is that’s all we’ve had here from the beginning. “Is the team staying or going? It can’t possibly succeed,” etc. How can a business flourish in that climate?

The Grizzlies may very well leave, but it’s still conjecture at this point. My prediction is the league will do the honourable thing and give Vancouver a fighting chance, something we haven’t yet had.

If the city won’t support an exciting team with even an outside chance of making the playoffs, let alone a contender, then maybe a move would be understandable. But we’ve never been give than chance.

Guy MacPherson covers the Grizzlies for Associated Press.