Music City My Ass


Every time I see an article lauding Mayor John Tory’s ‘inspired’ idea of turning Toronto into a ‘Music City,’ I get queasy. You see, I came to Toronto in 1976, when it really WAS one, and have watched succeeding local governments and well-heeled blue noses, waving the banners of political correctness and money over art, stomp the culture to death.

Being a great deal older now than I was then (it happens,) I understand, at least in part, why the city had to change from what – to me – was a cornucopia of musical delights, as dirty and scary as it was,, into what it is today … a staid dowager in corsets trying desperately to seem hip.

IYorkville disco 70sn ’76, the Yorkville of the sixties was already undergoing gentrification, with trendy shops springing up where head shops once ruled, and the few hippie hold outs clinging to their properties out of loyalty or desperation. Disco fevered platformed shoes trod the sacred ground in front of the Riverboat as  I’d wander through on the way to The Morrissey at Yonge and Davenport.

The scene had already moved on to other areas, with Yonge Street the main rock drive, and club after club rocking exceptional talent, with rarely a cover charge, six nights a week, cheek by jowl with strip clubs, massage parlours, peep shows, and sex shops. Sleazy, garish, lewd and loud, the Strip was very much like New York’s Time Square of the period, ugly and yet so seductive. And everybody smoked like chimneys – inyonge st pedestrians the clubs, the patios and the streets.

Gay men and women flocked to the Church and Wellesley area, where they could feel safer than on the butchier Strip. Although this year’s Pride Week and Parade celebrating sexual and gender identity will have sponsors as diverse as TD Canada Trust, Bud Light, Via Rail, and Google+, back then, openly gay people were widely marginalized, shunned, and attacked in the mainstream media and politics. bathhouse raids rageIn 1975, “tiny perfect” mayor David Crombie sent his best wishes to Pride’s organizers, but refused to officially recognize Pride, while City Council declined permission for a Yonge Street march .

And in 1981, Metro Toronto police made the second largest mass arrest in Canadian history when 306 people where busted in the infamous bathhouse raids. It was safer hanging out at `the steps` in front of the Second Cup on Church and Wellesley.

However heteros were in luck in 1975, when the city legalized full nudity for strippers. It became zanzibar1.jpgpretty common for the bigger bars to have strippers by day, and live bands at night.

Black American R&B and soul stars, sick to death of segregation and persecution in their own country, flocked to play the BlueNote, the Edison, and the Colonial Tavern, where they were enthusiastically received. the colonial

Prior to new hate-speech laws of 2007, the biggest reggae acts out of Jamaica would visit Toronto at least twice a year. Anti-gay language in many of their songs, while common in their country, was not welcome here.

The city was dirty, and exciting, and counter culture was hiding in neighbourhoods that were being redefined to suit their residents’ tastes.   Queen West was where you went to find head shops and record stores, and check out the Sally Ann for vintage clothing stores. Later, it was Toronto’s punk centre, as the kids from OCA made their own music. And later still you’d find Chris Sheppard spinning at Club Domino before heading up the long thin stairs to the Voodoo Club.

You could have shot a cannon along King West any time after business hours, and never hit a soul,in the late 70s. In the 80s and 90s, street kids and skin heads hung out at the Evergreen Centre, which, though nominally a drop in, support centre for kids, was actually where you went to score drugs. You could get a whole tray of draft beer at the Gasworks for about $5.00 if you bought it before the bands started, and cheap quarts fuelled a lot of rockers through the hot nights.

the-knobby-1.jpgOut in Scarborough, clubs like the Knob Hill boasted top local talent while the waiters, legends themselves, sold watery draft for a quarter a glass. In Richmond Hill, anyone who was anyone hung at the Black Hawk Motor Inn.

 

 

There really were so many amazing clubs in diverse areas, reflecting the different interests and sounds Toronto wanted to hear. And yes, there was a “Toronto Sound,” and you knew it when you heard it.

So what killed that diverse, energetic culture? Couple of things – and most involved the corporatization of the city. In a quest to bring in funds for the city, ridiculous and arcane licensing regulations picked the pockets of bar owners. It was only last year that the city issued a memo stating that music venues would no longer be ticketed for posters – usually posted by the bands desperate to market a rare gig – advertising their shows.

Yorkville fell to gentrification, and soon, anywhere that the kids flocked began to look like prime real estate. Watching Queen West change from funky to glitz was painful enough for those who’d loved its grunge, but harder still on the residents and business owners who’d made it what it was. Rents soared until a club was walking such a thin profit margin that an off winter could bury them. These days, a shop or bar owner in Kensington Market is looking at paying from $3500 to $9000 a month for basic rent, with virtually no owner maintenance applied. Riverdale , Parkdale, Dufferin Grove, the Junction – all fallen to gentrification that brings more big bucks to those who already have the big bucks, and leaves previous residents out of luck for a reasonable price on a place to live or play.

No one is FOR drunk driving, but the founders of MADD went a little mad themselves as they ground down and down to get to the current laws. Drivers under 21 cannot have ANY alcohol in their blood when driving. Over 21, you have to have a blood alcohol level that is lower than .05%, essentially what you’ll get from a non-alcoholic beverage. You don’t even have to be in a moving car to get an impaired driving violation. If you are sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, moving or not, and have too much alcohol in your system you can get a fine, lose your license and face other penalties.

 And for all the fuss over drinking and driving, I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a club that gave free non-alcoholic beverages to a “Designated Driver”.

no smoking anywhere If you smoke in Toronto, good luck. It’s getting harder and harder to find a place, inside or out, where you can light up. When the new law of not smoking on patios took effect, I knew they’d gone too far. Can’t drink, can’t smoke … what do you do? Why go to a bar at all? May as well stay home – assuming your apartment or condo allows smoking – and drink without the hassle.

The whole corporate model of making money at the expense of art just doesn’t work long term, There’s less investment in the arts – last year, ScotiaBank pulled funding for Nuit Blanche, Caribana, BuskerFest and the CHIN International Picnic. Responding to the dog whistles of stockholders that must have their profits leads to the death of corporate sponsorship of the arts. And good luck with sponsorship of counterculture art. The Big Bop gets torn down to become an upscale furniture store. Liberty Entertainment closes alt-rock venue the Velvet Underground at 510 Queen West to focus on growing its portfolio of wine bars.toronto_opera2.jpg

While donating multiple millions of dollars’ worth of land and funds to conventional arts palaces like the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto City Council quibbles over what constitutes sound restrictions applied to bars. Thou shalt have no music louder than 45 db after 11 pm. A library clocks in at 50-70, a restaurant with no live band at about 90-100. This is progress?

Municipal licensing issues debate over whether a venue is a restaurant with a bar attached, or an entertainment venue. Despite a 2012 report by lobby group Music Canada that outlined ridiculous restrictions to entertainment venues that give ample room for official interpretation (and fines,) the City still loves its condo owners a lot more than it does its club owners. You can read the full report here (http://musiccanada.com/resources/research/toronto-music-city/)

The ‘idea’ of making Toronto a “Music City” is great. In practice, there needs to be a great deal more cooperation on the part of the City in how it deals with current and future venues. What’s been forgotten in a lust for overall incoming revenue from ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and enhanced tourism is that you don’t just add water and stir up a musical culture … it’s made by musicians who fall far outside of the strictures imposed by those who can afford to attend the venues government has deigned to sponsor. It’s made in alleyways and smoky bars, it includes over indulgence in both legal and illegal substances, and it’s a cry AGAINST what Mayor Tory and his Council represent.

Music-City-panel.jpgIf Toronto is serious about doing more than endlessly discussing what they`d do for the city if they could, but apparently can`t, they`ll have to do better than the recent WaveLength panel on The Toronto Music Moment. The latest meeting, held on January 31st saw Jonny Dovercourt and moderator Emily Scherzinger along with Amy Terrill (Music Canada, 4479 Toronto), Daniel Silver (U of T Sociology, Chicago Music City researcher), Rolf Klausener (The Acorn, Arboretum Festival) and Ayo Leilani (Witch Prophet, Above Top Secret, 88 Days of Fortune) hash through basically the same points they did on previous gatherings, and presumably will rehash again at next year`s meeting.

Oh, sure, there are pockets of musical fun to be had in Toronto, and certainly, when the music fests start rolling out in a few months, there will be whole weeks where it seems like the city comes alive in technicolor.

But the following week, the smiles will drop from the faces of the law, the controls will snap back into place with a vengeance, and you’ll once more be unable to get ready public transit from point A to point B. The RIDE programs will stop a lot of entertainment seekers from having more than one beverage, and smokers will try desperately to find somewhere they can still indulge their (legal) vice.

You don’t get to have a clean, politically correct, easily controlled society and still call yourself a ‘Music City.’

(originally published Feb 2016 – bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/roxanne-tellier-music-city-my-ass/)

 

Smoke and Mirrors and Politics Oh My!


Pull the curtain back to reveal the secrets behind the Wizard of Oz. Pull the camera back to reveal how public relations imaging massages a wonderful picture of solidarity. paris leaders march PR

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.

At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’

After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.

Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.

So when this photo emerged today, I was not at all surprised. paris leaders march real

A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.

World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.

In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.

Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.

Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.

“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)

Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.

Mandela funeral selfieI’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!

ford mocks drunk driverAnd then there’s our own Rob Ford. Nearly everything he did during his term as Toronto Mayor was embarrassing, not only for him, but for the city.

So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.

crisis up my sleevePerhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.

Empathy By Degrees


My cats hate each other, but they hate winter more. cats fightingBoth Big Blonde and the Black Whiner have finally come to one agreement; cold and snow are not to be tolerated.

My cats are very lucky. They live lives of relative luxury; they are loved, well-fed, and taken care of when they are ill or needy.

The two homeless men that died in Toronto during the cold snap of this week were not so lucky. As temperatures plummeted, the men – one found dead in a downtown bus shelter wearing only jeans, a T-shirt, and a hospital bracelet; the other found dead in an abandoned delivery truck parked in the city’s west end on Monday – were 55 and 60 years old.

There hasn’t been a lot of information released yet on these men’s backgrounds. homeless in toronto winterIt seems they’ve already been filed underhomeless,’ and for many people, that’s enough to make a judgment. “Those” people – those that have fallen through society’s cracks and who bother us by begging for spare change, or whom we step over as they sleep on heating grates in one of North America’s richest cities – rarely elicit more than a ‘tsk’ from those who have jobs, families, friends, and societal approval.

In Toronto, the Mayor’s office issues an extreme cold weather alert when the temperature plummets to –15 C, (5 below, in Fahrenheit,) or when Environment Canada‘s forecast includes factors like wind chill and precipitation. The city has to do so, as even if there were enough shelters to hold our most vulnerable residents, there are many who would still brave the cold rather than seek shelter. The cold weather alert releases additional resources, like warming centres, in those cases. homelessDSC00414

Despite the cold snap that descended on Toronto on Monday morning, the city did not call an alert. On Tuesday morning, temperatures reached -20 C with wind chill, but the actual temperature was -14 C, just above the range. Imagine being outside and homeless, chilled to the bone, teeth rattling as you shiver, and contemplating that one degree of separation.

Even though an extreme cold weather alert had not been issued by Toronto Public Health (TPH,) Mayor John Tory requested last night that the city manager open Toronto’s two 24-hour warming centres.

toronto-homeless1-622x414TWO warming centres, in a city with an estimated population of more than 2800 people living on the streets on any given night.

On the bright side, during an extreme cold weather alert, shelters are directed to relax service restrictions, allowing some homeless, known to be mentally unstable or disruptive, a chance to “warm up.” Transit tokens are made available at drop-in centres so that people can reach shelters, additional shelter spaces are made available, and there is an increase in street outreach and transportation services.

Gaetan Heroux, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, organized a protest at City Hall yesterday, as the hashtag #CallTheAlert trended on Twitter. Toronto residents calling for action gathered outside the Mayor’s office criticized the city’s policy of 15C below. With two dead in two days, Toronto Public Health (TPH) still defended the -15 C threshold, saying that their conclusions are appropriate, and based on science.

Meanwhile, local radio and television statements urged pet owners to be diligent in keeping their furry friends indoors, as the cold could lead to frostbite and long-term health problems.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold weather warning for today, forecasting that the wind chill will make it feel like close to –30 in the afternoon and overnight.

My cats are lucky; they’ll be safe and warm, well-fed, and being cared for by people that love them. homeless in Toronto2But for the homeless in Toronto, there’ll be two warming shelters, begrudgingly allowing its citizens with physical, emotional or financial problems to “warm up,” – but only when it’s below 15C.

From the City of Toronto’s website: “If you see someone whom you think requires street outreach assistance, call 311. Note that 311 is not an emergency number. In an emergency, dial 911.”