Our Man Joe

December 23, 2012

As our friend Tim Falconer reminded us yesterday, it was ten years ago that Joe Strummer died.

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Back in 2002, I was having dinner with some friends between Christmas and New Year’s. During the course of the conversation, I expressed sadness at the news of Strummer’s death a couple days prior. One of the people at the table had not heard yet about it and let fly with an uninhibited ‘Joe Strummer died?!’ (We were a couple bottles in by that time.) theclashThis created quite a stir among our fellow diners in the restaurant, and not because of the volume of the outburst but because, well, Joe Strummer had died.

A surprising number of people around us were genuinely upset by the news.

Why surprising?

It was two decades since Strummer was at his peak popularity as the lead singer and co-soul behind the seminal group, The Clash. He’d been something of a peripatetic musician-public personality since that time. Acting in ultra-indie movies, stepping in as a replacement musician, radio show host. His work with the Mescaleros was terrific but somewhat unsung in terms of popularity.

But his death revealed a widespread and deeply felt connection between him and those who followed him regardless of what he was doing. He was our front man in the only band that mattered still, twenty years on.

As someone designated a boomer (although Mr. Falconer has embraced our own generational label), I grew up in the flat lined part of that demographic. Forever overshadowed by The Sixties, where for many popular music stopped when The Beatles disbanded, the following decade always felt like the poor cousin. TIt was all somehow nothing more than an extension of what had happened previously.

Still, I’m struck by how much music we crammed in to our teenage years during that thought of by some musical wilderness of the 70s. The burning hot intensity that seemed to go cold within what must’ve been a matter of months. Early on in high school I remember my KISS and Aerosmith phases, followed by a prog rock period. While I listened intensely to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, somehow there was that crazy Darkness on the Edge of Town Springsteen infatuation.

I came gradually to punk music, not immediately enamoured with the Pistols. But eventually, I fell and I fell hard. Mostly because of The Clash.

They were probably two albums in when I did which is not surprising since when I look back on it, they were crazy productive. The Clash in 1977. Give `Em Enough Rope, 1978. London Calling, 1979. Sandinista!, 1980. Combat Rock, 1982.

This is where I get my generational back up. Fjoestrummer1uck The Beatles, man. I defy anyone to try and match that, album for album, song for song, over a 5 year period.

Joe Strummer wasn’t The Clash. Mick Jones was the musician in the band and was the perfect fragile foil to Strummer. Jones went on to do some era defining music on his own with B.A.D and produced two of my favourite albums from the last decade from one of my favourite bands, The Libertines.

But Strummer… *sigh*. Not for nothing The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn sang: Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer/I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher.

Strummer showed us it was cool to be political. Cool and vital. You didn’t have to sing like an angel or play guitar like a prodigy, you just had to have a heart.

For someone as musically cloistered as I was, Strummer proved to be an important guide, never getting stuck in one genre. I was introduced to kinds of music that, up to that point, I would never think of listening to. Jesus Christ, listen to the evolution from The Clash to Sandinista! In three fucking years.

Joe Strummer didn’t just sing about never settling, never giving up, never surrendering. He lived it. He carried a vulnerable swagger, a sense of knowing he was right but not certain enough to pull it off entirely. That’s the spirit I think many of us embraced as our own.

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So now all I have to do is to die before Tim Falconer, in order to lift his idea for my funeral.

And when Joe Strummer’s “Silver and Gold” plays — as I insist it will — everyone must stay quiet until the song ends and, after a pause, Strummer says, “Okay. That’s a take.”

Tim Falconer, It’s My Funeral

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

April 24, 2012

Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.

“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”

The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”

Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.

What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.

Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.

At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.

Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.

“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”

Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.

It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.

In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


Vengeance is Ford’s

July 17, 2011

Upper Jarvis Street was a lovely avenue when my grandfather’s grandfather, William R. Johnston, built his mansion on it in 1875. He and his family lived there until 1916, when they were part of the exodus of Toronto’s high society north to the suburbs of Rosedale and Forest Hill. Today, neighbours call 571 Jarvis, at the corner of Isabella, The Grey Lady and it serves as office and training space for Casey House. Meanwhile, Jarvis St. became a battleground for competing visions of what Toronto can and should be.

One sides sees Jarvis as a 1950s-style “traffic corridor,” a glorified highway to zip central Toronto residents downtown and provide suburbanites an alternative to the Don Valley Parkway’s congestion. Another vision, championed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam among others, would have Jarvis as a pedestrian-friendly cultural corridor. Of course, we didn’t hear much about cultural corridors at city council this week, just rage over bike lanes.

Jarvis was actually an unlikely site for such a crusade. Despite the whining of the soccer moms in Councilor Karen Stintz’s North Toronto ward, the bike lanes weren’t really that disruptive for carists. Maybe they added a couple of minutes to the commute, but the five-lane system was far from elegant and left the lanes too narrow to really be safe. As Councilor Josh Matlow noted, the bike lanes actually improved the road for drivers. Meanwhile, let’s face it, if we could install just one north-south bike lane between the one on Sherbourne and the one on St. George and Beverly, we wouldn’t put it on Jarvis—we’d want it on Bay or Yonge. Besides, bike lanes aren’t essential to a cultural corridor; in fact, they meant the sidewalks weren’t widened as originally planned.

Nevertheless, the cyclists picked my great-great-grandfather’s old street to make their stand. Inevitably, they were frustrated that the carists showed absolutely no understanding of even the most rudimentary elements of transportation planning. Mayor Rob Ford’s allies treated self-serving anecdotes as data and dismissed contrary evidence as corrupt. They also delighted in their procedural deviousness. So while the cycling community held out hope that the vote would be close, the bike brigade never had a chance.

For Ford Nation, this skirmish was about far more than bike lanes or even just a clash of competing visions—it was a triumph of vengeance over vision. Ford and his faction on the previous council felt so dismissed by the Miller administration that once they grabbed power, they were going to make damn sure to treat the council’s left wing the same way. Only worse. (This comes as no surprise to anyone who understands Ford’s essential childishness.) More than that, the mayor is determined to undo as much of Miller’s legacy as he possibly can, no matter the merit or the cost. Transit City’s four LRT lines? Now just one. The Fort York bridge? Gone. Jarvis as a cultural corridor? Nope. Instead, the five lanes will return at a cost of $500,000 to respected taxpayers.

Those of us who saw Don Cherry’s rant at Ford’s investiture as classless and inappropriately partisan missed the real message: he was signaling that Ford’s reign would be all about spite. But vengeance is not only a disastrous way to run a city, it’s a foolish political strategy.

So the bad news is: a lot of things in Toronto are going to get much worse before they have a chance to get any better. By shrinking the planned expansion of transit (and even cutting back on existing service), by making our streets more inhospitable to cyclists and by completely ignoring pedestrians, Ford ensures that our roads will become even more congested.

But the good news is: Ford’s government by vengeance ensures that voters will react by giving a strong and clear mandate to a city builder with a vision of Toronto as a place that works for everyone, not just those behind the wheel. And someday Jarvis will become a cultural corridor because those are the kinds of streets great cities nurture. I’m pretty sure that’s what William R. Johnston would want for his old ‘hood.

— submitted by Tim Falconer is the author of three books, including Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile.


Conservatives To Cities: We’re Just Not That Into You

February 3, 2011

Trying to shake free of the grip events in Egypt have had on me for the past couple days and get on with life… even writing that makes me squirm in embarrassment. Sorry about all that repression and killing of unarmed civilians, Egyptians, but I’ve got a post to write. Hold tight. I’ll be back in a jif.

I was struck while watching the situation unfold in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by the thought that governments, especially authoritarian ones, must hate cities. All those millions of people, gathering together, plotting, resisting, café latteing. While it may make for some easy turkey shoots, exerting control in cities of millions can ultimately prove impossible. Thus, unlawful assembly edicts tend to be urban oriented. Country rabble rousers are easily rounded up with a quick visit to the closet highway exit Tim Hortons location.

In between paroxysms of outrage and despair, I came across a series of articles yesterday that suggested even non-dictatorial states aren’t really that crazy about cities. It either began here or here or, quite possibly, here (which is why I love the internet. Stories nested within stories, allowing you to read about a subject for hours on end without so much as a bathroom break. Just strap on your Depends and wallow in the informational overload.)

Now, much of this has a very American slant and is not entirely relevant to us in Canada especially the views on the U.S. Senate being, at heart, an anti-urban institution due, in part, to the power wielded by the many smaller populated states. Although we have had a variation on that argued here recently about the under-representation of the more populous regions in both our federal and provincial legislatures. This discrepancy has allowed our current Prime Minister to piece together a workable minority government over the last 5 years without any representation in the country’s 3 largest cities. And all his machinations to build a winning majority have not included attempts to garner increased urban support.

Which brings me to the pertinent point of all these articles: the politics at the centre of this anti-urbanism. Conservatives seem to take a dim view of cities. Or at least, the higher density, public transit depending, non-car loving, artsy-fartsy, (you know where I’m going with this), downtown, pinko elitist parts of cities. On the surface you could argue, why wouldn’t they? Downtowners are not their kind of people and don’t tend to vote Conservative. So, fuck `em. Conversely however, it could be pointed out that Conservatives don’t stand for anything much that downtowners might get behind.

It’s a thought we touched upon a little last August when we reviewed Tim Falconer’s book, Drive.  After talking to the Sierra Club’s Transportation Committee chair, John Holtzclaw, who believes that higher density living creates a more open-minded, tolerant society, Mr. Falconer concludes that, “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.” A different attitude from one that prizes individualism over the collective as the surest vehicle toward achieving well-being.

Conservative antipathy toward urbanism is nothing new nor is it something they possessed exclusively. E. Barbara Phillips noted in City Lights the early 20th-century perception of city life was largely negative. “Alienation. Rootlessness. Superficial relationships. The loss of human connections. Materialsim. Money instead of personal relations as the bond of association among people.” One moved to the city out of necessity while pining for the simplicity of small town life.

Understandable as we still saw ourselves as a largely agrarian country. A century later, however, and that is no longer the case. Despite our wide open spaces and iconic national images of the Rocky Mountains, prairie wheat fields and (formerly) frozen tundra, we are now an urban nation, like it or not. As of 2006, nearly 14 million Canadians lived in cities with populations of 500,000 or more. That’s almost half of us and the percentage over the last 5 years certainly won’t have declined.

It’s all part of a global urban trend which makes our anti-urbanism somewhat archaic and more than a little self-destructive. As cities go, so goes their countries, and if we insist on knee-capping them with outdated approaches to planning, transit, sustainability and infrastructure, we will make ourselves less competitive and less economically viable. Aren’t those the core of conservative values?

He asks, living in a city that just elected a mayor who needs space, his own driveway and backyard. A mayor that thought it necessary to build parking for a new proposed waterfront aquarium site that the developer’s chose “… because of the (pedestrian and transit) options…” and that “… parking made the project not financially viable…” A mayor whose administration is eyeing with suspicion sustainable and green initiatives as something outside of a city’s “core services”.

Yeah, some points of view die hard and when they rise up to take control of the levers of power, all we can do is resist mightily and try to mitigate the damage until we regain our civic senses. We can also take solace in the fact that at least so far here in Canada, anti-urbanism hasn’t achieved conspiracy level status where light rail transit, sustainable development and smart growth are seen as some U.N. plot to pry right thinking Americans out of their “personal mobility machines” and into tiny, cramped “human habitation zones”. It’s a sci-fi, dystopian view of cities that conservatives seem bound and determined to make a reality.

city mousedly submitted by Cityslikr


Until We Meet Again. In 2011.

December 12, 2010

I don’t know how y’all celebrate this particular season but around here we go unplugged. In reaction to the crazy consumerist bent that these holidays have become, awhile back we made the decision to simply take a step back, tune out, turn off, drop out. (I know, I know. That’s not the exact quote. It suits our purposes here.) Starting (roughly) 12 days before Christmas, we go downright Amish minus the barn building and plus the booze. (Do the Amish drink alcohol?)

No TV. No radio. No computer with its internets and Tweeting. Just us and our thoughts. And food. And music. We’re not animals here. And almost a year’s backlog of magazine subscriptions to catch up on. And booze. Did I mention booze?

A tradition which pains me a little this year as it means missing next Thursday’s city council meeting. It’s going to be a doozy! But what’s tradition if you just go around breaking it, willy nilly, on any old thing that catches your fancy? So, forgo the meeting I must. Can’t wait to hear all about it in the new year.

Before signing off for 2010, we’d like to give some shout outs to everyone who’s been following along with us since January.Of course, family and friends who have been very supportive and encouraging and whose names we keep confidential for fear of delivering upon them retribution from all our enemies (you know who you are.) Specifically, a very loving thank you to my wife for indulging me yet another career twist. This one’s going to stick. Really.

Then we’d like to thank the folks over at Spacing and Torontoist for their links to our pieces every now and then. Much appreciated. And Edward Keenan, senior editor at Eye Weekly for acknowledging our minor disagreement with him, pleasantly and politely. (Yes, people. That is a shameless way for us to point out that some very important people have noticed us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.)

Over on the Twittersphere, we want to give a h/t to @paisleyrae for all the regular, sometimes daily links. Thank you very much. And @orwellsbastard for all those #FFs. Much appreciated. I’m sure there are many more folks we’re missing. Our apologies ahead of time. Don’t hate us because we’re forgetful.

Two last big shout outs.

One, to Tim Falconer for his early sage advice and bumps on Twitter that got our site up and moving. Thank you very much. And everyone out there reading this, go get Tim’s books! Buy them, read them and give them as Christmas gifts.

And finally, Jonathan Goldsbie. His overwhelming enthusiasm for our work here was invaluable to bringing us a wider readership, unwarranted for sure but appreciated nonetheless. Without Jonathan’s regular queries about our true identities, Leah McLaren would never have started following us on Twitter. That alone makes us eternally grateful.

Moreover, Goldsbie’s encyclopedic knowledge of what goes on at City Hall and his easy willingness in sharing it with those like us who are woefully ignorant was, at times, incalculable. We won’t ever possibly be able to return the favour, so hopefully a heartfelt thanks will suffice.

For many of us, 2010 was an awful year, politically speaking. Terrible. Disheartening. Disillusioning. We’d like to think it couldn’t get any worse and that we’ve hit rock bottom. But we fear that’s simply rum and egg nog induced wishful thinking. Shit could get a whole lot worse.

Which is why we need to rest up, kick back and take a breather. Enjoy the holidays and prepare ourselves for the battle(s) ahead in the new year. The slog, she has just begun.

So Happy Holidays to all and we’ll see you early in 2011.

Peace out.

seasonally submitted by Cityslikr