bidini and me (and keon)

keon and meDave Keon wouldn’t fight. Dave Bidini wanted to know why.

There was lots more he wanted to know, too. What was it like to grow up in Etobicoke in the 1970s, when Bidini was growing up there, and how were you supposed to figure out what kind of person you were going to be? What was up with the hellacious Flyers of Philadelphia, menacing their way to Stanley Cups? And what about, at school, the bully Roscoe: what was his problem?

Part memoir, part quest, part hockey picaresque, the book that Bidini has crafted to contain his inquiries is Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking Canada). It’s his eleventh, and it’s lovely: heartfelt and honest, funny and poignant. It’s as compelling in its portrait of a Canadian childhood as it is in examining how hockey shapes and sharpens and — all too often — confuses us. For instance: if Bidini’s favourite Leaf was indeed the greatest ever to have worn the blue and the white, why has the team so doggedly failed to recognize his stature, and what does that have to do with Toronto’s lingering case of not winning Stanley Cups?

Bidini has, of course, long been in the business of chronicling the country, with a particular emphasis on what we do when we find ourselves with hockey sticks and/or guitars in hand. He is, it has been pointed out, the only of us to be nominated for Juno, Gemini, and Genie awards, and the CBC’s national these-are-our-necessary-books contest, Canada Reads.

As a founding member of the great, late Rheostatics, Bidini journeyed around the country singing its history and legends and praises for more than 20 years, yielding eleven albums along the way. He’s in front of BidiniBand these days, with a new album, In The Rock Hall, that he’ll be taking out on the road early in the new year. As a writer he continues to contribute a weekly column to The National Post. He’s also working with Olympic cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes on a memoir of hers.

Fifty now, he lives with his family in midtown Toronto. There was wind blowing through the neighbourhood one afternoon back in the fall, and in the sky it looked like weather was coming. Bidini arrived on his bike, wearing his hat, and over a lunch of Greek salads and vegan bacon cheeseburgers with fries, submitted to questions.

Maybe more than your other books, is this the one you’ve been writing all your life? 
Yeah, probably. And waiting for a long time to write. Waiting for the right moment. And waiting for the right angle into it. I started it — the idea was almost to write a fictionalized version of my life as a Leafs fan. I invented all these characters. And I got 10,000 words into it when I just decided it was either going to take too much work or it wasn’t going to be personal enough, that way. It was kind of a comedy. And I abandoned it. I went straight back to it being more of a personal thing.

And so the structure, with your childhood paralleling Dave Keon’s remarkable career and refusal to be provoked, how did you come to that? 
That was late. I’ll give you a bit of the anatomy. The book started out, I was originally going to go to northern India, to this tournament they have in the Himalayas, played by … monks …. The IHF were going to have, I believe they were going to have their first sanctioned hockey game at a rink they’d built at the foot of the Himalayas. But I could never really get confirmation that the rink was working, that the players were going to show up …. It was going to be called Eat, Pray, Leafs.

So that was going to be the original thing. It was going to be an inner journey, it was going to parallel Indian mysticism … didn’t happen. And then I was going to write Diary of A Loser, which was going to be that comedic fictionalized look at my life, and that ended up becoming the Keon thing.

The way it goes down in the book, the Keon figure emerged over this series of incidents in which his name appeared, it sort of rose, and I realized, that’s the guy.

This might be your most personal book. Was it difficult to reach back to uncover what it was like being 11 in Toronto in the 1970s?
You start trying to get that, the chrysalis of memory, the true impression of what it was like, and then ultimately you start wondering whether that’s the way it actually felt like. That’s where it really dances between fact and fiction. Non-fiction, you’re sitting in a room, it’s all very austere, trying to do it very properly, and then fiction comes in a fucking checkered suit and a loud hat, right, and starts the party. Especially when I was reconstructing stuff like my cousin’s room, or hanging out with my parents, parties at my uncle’s place. It’s like, okay, I sort of have a sense of how this was, but I can sort of colour the edges. Which is how I kind of did it.

Is there ever a worry about writing about the people close to you, especially family? Does that ever hold you back?
Usually it does, but with this one I realized I had to just …. My dad read the book, and it was good. There was a lot of stuff that he had forgotten. He was glad that he was able to revisit it through that. I did tell him this was my impression, it wasn’t going to be totally accurate.

My wife actually told me a couple of books ago, I want you to totally take me out of anything you write in the future. She was like, you’ve gone down that road enough.

Although she does have a great line in this book about Mark Messier, that he looks like Agamemnon.
It’s true.

You talk in the book about the joys of just simply talking hockey, whether it’s with kids on the street or, in fact, when you finally track down Keon. Is that also one of the pleasures in writing a book like this: the jawing about last night’s game that we do as Canadians?
Yeah. And I do say in the book how, I think that used to be a lot more common in our society. And I think that’s what’s kind of nice about the book, in a way, it has kind of recharged it in our time. The Leafs playing well helps, obviously. Continue reading

this week: ya gotta step up to the thing

big bob

Hockey Night In Canada opened, this week, with a rousing rendition of Paul McCartney’s new song, “Save Us,” backing the usual montage of shooting and scoring and punching, and more punching, and some passing, and punching, building up to the big Nelson Mandela finish. Ron MacLean paid tribute to the late South African president’s geographical savvy with quotes involving the road to forgiveness and how, once you climb a hill, there’s always another hill to climb. In the rink in Ottawa, where the Leafs were visiting the Senators, a moment of silence in Mandela’s honour was broken by hardly any partisan bellowing.

That was Saturday night, just before all hell broke loose in Boston. Which is worth coming back to. First, though, in other news:

@Bernieparent tweeted a bulletin on Wednesday:

Your smile will give you a positive countenance that will make people feel comfortable around you.

… while Dave Bidini (@hockeyesque) called out his local librarian:

hey @torontolibrary ‘Keon and Me’: 16 copies, 76 holds. Stephen Harper? 177 copies. 13 holds. ‪#Moremelesshim

Meanwhile, in Moscow, R-Sport fretted about a crisis for the Russian hockey team playing host at the Sochi Olympics in February: with Ilya Bryzgalov going down this week with a concussion, all six Russian goaltenders playing in the NHL are now ailing. Sergei Bobrovsky’s lower body is stretched, strained, sprained, and/or smarting. Anton Khudobin’s ankle is his problem, while Evgeny Nabokov and Nikolai Khabibulin are troubled by groins. Sorry, that’s not quite right: what they’re saying is that they have “groin problems.” Semyon Varlamov has those, too; he also faces charges of third-degree assault for (allegedly) beating up his girlfriend.

R-Sport:

In Sochi, four-time world champion Russia is under great pressure to win gold following Vancouver 2010 failure, when the team was destroyed 7-3 by Canada in the quarterfinal.

“A Bobby Hull howitzer it wasn’t,” wrote The Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak of a Mikael Backlund goal that won a game for the Flames over Phoenix.

“I didn’t get too much on the puck, so I didn’t think it would go in,” Backlund said while a teammate in the dressing room referred to his shot as a “muffin.”

Buffalo captain Steve Ott (born in Summerside, P.E.I.) had monetary policy on his mind this week, broadcasting his dismay about the new Canadian five-dollar bill, which replaces an illustration of hockey-playing kids with one showing the Canadarm at work in outer space. @otterN9NE:

A little disappointed in the new Canadian 5’s … Never knew we had a space program? #Nasa or #Hockey 

Hue and cry ensued on Twitter, as you’d guess, until @otterN9NE returned (sheepishly?) to his smartphone:

It was cool to watch Com Chris Hadfield drop a puck from space last year but I believe Hockey should have stayed on the 5. Maybe the 10?

At The Toronto Star, Damien Cox wondered whether Edmonton’s Taylor Hall wasn’t talking himself into the Team Canada conversation.

Talking to Sports Illustrated, Boston coach Claude Julien didn’t deny that as a boy, he’d worshipped the Montreal Canadiens. Times change, though. “Right now I don’t like them,” he said.

Prediction from former New Jersey defenceman Ken Daneyko, now a broadcaster for the Devils: the NHL will expand to Quebec and Seattle within “a couple years.”

The NHL paid Wayne Gretzky the $US8-million it owed him this week, parking instant speculation that he’ll be back soon in an active management role in, maybe, Washington or perhaps (possibly) Los Angeles, though of course how can you rule out Toronto?

As for the mess in Boston Saturday night, here’s how the NHL page on Yahoo! Sports told the tale next morning:

Brooks Orpik attacked by Shawn Thornton

Penguins’ defenseman was stretchered off the ice after being jumped from behind by Bruins’ winger

Ugliness erupts in Boston

Bruins win late, add insult to injury Continue reading

this week: king mackerel, amberjack, bonito, barracuda

 On A Cold Road: Writer and rocker Dave Bidini strips down for a fantastic cause, the just-released Bare It For Books 2014 Calendar. Bidini — he’s April — has himself just published Keon And Me: My Search For The Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking). Other writers joining him to pass the time in near-nudity include Yann Martel, Miranda Hill, and Steven Heighton. Proceeds from the calendar go to PEN Canada. For more information, visit www.bareitforbooks.ca. (Photo: Shelagh Howard for Bare It For Books, www.shelaghhoward.com)


On A Cold Road: Writer and rocker Dave Bidini strips down for a fantastic cause, the just-released Bare It For Books 2014 Calendar. Bidini — he’s April — has himself just published the sly and incisive Keon And Me: My Search For The Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking). Other writers joining him to pass the time in near-nudity include Yann Martel, Miranda Hill, and Steven Heighton. Proceeds from the calendar go to PEN Canada. For more information, visit http://www.bareitforbooks.ca. (Photo: Shelagh Howard for Bare It For Books, http://www.shelaghhoward.com)

Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the New York Rangers, had a minor issue this week, and missed practice. The New York Daily News said it was a “minor issue.”

Kelly Chase, the former fighter who now broadcasts games for the St. Louis Blues, made the case that not enough fighting is causing mayhem in this year’s NHL. In his words (@Chasenpucks39): “Hits from behind UP! Injuries UP! Stretchers on ice UP! Number of suspensions at this of the year UP! Fighting DOWN! Hmmm”

Vanity Fair revealed its list of most stylish NHLers this — actually it was last week. “Arguably the most down-to-earth and least tabloid-friendly players, as a group, in professional sports, the men of the National Hockey League are usually lost under loose jerseys and protective masks during games,” gabbled the magazine. “Off the ice, their style may be noticeably more reserved than their football- or basketball-playing peers’, but they still know how to keep things cool, with looks that range from Power Broker to Nordic Gentleman.”

Henrik Lundqvist — “shows no fear of experimenting with color and pattern”— ranked at the top. Philadelphia’s Vincent Lecavalier ranked second (“tasteful use of open collars and V-neck shirts”) while Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson (“defies the thuggish-defenseman cliché during his off hours in Ottawa with Euro-cut slim suits and button-downs that pop with color”) and Jason Spezza (“accessorizes his classically cut suits with polka-dot ties, candy-stripe shirts, and Don Draperian pocket squares”) rated seventh and ninth, respectively.

The goalie who stopped the pucks in 1980 that helped the USA’s “Miracle On Ice” team win Olympic gold was blogging this week for the Russian newspaper RIA Novosti. “As we get ever closer to the Olympic Games in Sochi in February,” wrote Jim Craig, “I want you to stop for a moment and think about your family.”

Sidney Crosby continued to lead the NHL in scoring this week and as he arrived in Toronto to play the Leafs, Damien Cox from The Toronto Star said that he was at the peak of his powers, now that all the concussion-related uncertainty that clouded the air just two-and-half years again has passed.

For his part, Crosby wanted to talk about Pittsburgh’s goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, who wasn’t one of those invited to Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in August. “He’s played really well,” Crosby said. “He’s definitely earned the right to be considered.”

Asked about the struggles of the New York Rangers, the team he used to coach, John Tortorella said, “I don’t work there anymore. I’m certainly not going to criticize. That’s not fair.”

Earlier in the week, the Rangers had waived their back-up goalie, the 16-year veteran Martin Biron, with an idea of sending him to minor-league Hartford. Biron: “This is not a fun feeling.” Continue reading

this week: the good old hockey game

Credit: Brenda Jones and Nimbus Publishing

“We never go away, we never give up, we keep coming at them,” said Chicago’s captain, Jonathan Toews, of his team’s phenomenal start to the season.

From Boston, defenceman Andrew Ference twiddled about a post-prandial affogato, explaining what exactly that might be: gelato with two shots espresso. “Life is good!”

PETA wrote a letter to the Buffalo Sabres to say please would you do away with the fur coat that you guys award in the dressing room after a game to the player who played the best. Because? “People who care about animals don’t want to see their favorite players wearing the pelts of animals who were likely bludgeoned, strangled, electrocuted, and even skinned alive.” Said a PETA vice-president: “There’s nothing less sporting and more grotesque than wearing someone else’s skin. PETA is telling the Sabres that if they want to move forward and leave the past behind, they need to stop draping their top-scoring players in cruel caveman couture.”

The coat, said the Sabres’ Steve Ott, is fake fur.

“We’re going to Florida to win all the games and score 45,000 powerplay goals,” Claude Noel said, the Winnipeg coach with what might have been a smile. Continue reading