There’s Just One Thing Left to Be Said

Chris Cornell is dead – those words still don’t make sense – and I’ve hardly stopped thinking about him since I got HLP Paul’s text (which read, simply, “Chris Cornell,” followed by the shocked emoji) and became catatonic early Thursday. At first I avoided his voice (and music in general), then actively sought it out: I listened to Temple of the Dog, which helped, then “Seasons,” which didn’t, before moving onto Audioslave for the first time in ages. The thoughts about him haven’t been coherent, which I guess is inevitable when someone who’s been in your life for twenty years, suddenly passes away.

One thought, though, has stuck, and that’s the awful image of his final moments on this earth: Chris Cornell – husband, father, beloved rock star, and my favourite singer of all-time – dead in a casino hotel bathroom. He changed the world; he changed me. And he died alone, by his own hand.

I’ve never been suicidal, so I can’t imagine the sort of hell Chris Cornell must’ve been occupying in order to consider ending his life, let alone acting on those thoughts. His lyrics offer the best clues (see “When I’m Down” from Euphoria Mourning, for instance), but beyond empathizing with his plight we can’t know what he was thinking or feeling when he arrived back at the MGM Grand Detroit following Soundgarden’s concert at the Fox Theatre. However, when someone kills themselves, especially someone rich and famous, someone else will almost invariably offer the opinion that he (or she) shouldn’t have been depressed because he (or she) was rich and famous. That opinion is bullshit. And that’s because mental illness doesn’t. give. a. shit.

Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Chris Cornell was a rock star worth an estimate $60-million. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Robin Williams was funny. Mental illness didn’t give a shit that Kurt Cobain had been crowned as the voice of his generation; it used that against him, actually. Mental illness didn’t care about those men; it didn’t care about their wives or kids or careers or money. It doesn’t care about me. And it doesn’t care about you, either.

That, to me, is the lesson to be drawn from Cornell’s death. To borrow from Lin-Manuel Miranda: mental illness doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. Thinking that it does is how stigma metastasizes. Rich Larson, who wrote a far more eloquent Cornell eulogy than mine, nailed this point when he wrote:

Cornell is speaking to us all one last time. This isn’t something we left behind with our twenties. This isn’t something cured by age or financial security. This isn’t something you “outgrow.” If it’s allowed to fester, depression is stronger than wisdom. Depression is insidious and tenacious. Depression can get to anybody. It can make you feel like an old man at 27. It can make you feel lost as a child at 52.

Chris Cornell was sick. In some cases, depression is little more than a blip in a person’s life. In others, it can be fatal if left untreated. Please: don’t let it get to that point. Reach out (or reach down, if you prefer). Don’t assume mental illness can be outrun, because in a lot of instances it can’t. But it can be managed, and that starts with a single conversation. If there’s a silver lining to Chris Cornell’s death – and I have to believe there is – it’s that it might help one single person open up. And that’s something to cling to, even as we continue to mourn.

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On Last Night’s Bike Ride

Last week I slashed my antidepressant dosage by a third, from 15mg a day to 10. My OCD’s at a point where it hardly ever affects me: I haven’t had a flare-up since last October, if not last July, and while that doesn’t mean I’m “cured” or anything (since there is no cure) it’s still a wonderful development.

But. Psychotropic drugs are meant to mess with your body, and any sort of adjustment, big or small, is going to have an impact. I’ve felt “off” since last week, and yesterday I was so lethargic I could hardly sit upright, let alone stand. Nonetheless, after work I came home, hopped on the bike, and went for a ride. We’re just a little over three weeks out from the Ride to Conquer Cancer; I need to get my miles in, withdrawal symptoms be damned. On my way back, riding alongside Lake Ontario into a brilliant early-evening sunset, I passed the Molson Amphitheatre, whose new corporate name I refuse to use.

I started thinking about some of the shows I’d seen there. Weezer. Aerosmith. Oasis and Pearl Jam twice each. Tom Petty. Robert Plant. Black Sabbath. And then another thought occurred to me: in spite of all I’ve seen there I’d never seen a truly transcendent Amphitheatre show. It’s my least-favourite major venue in Toronto. I don’t like the amphitheatre-style setup to begin with; the chore of entering and (especially) exiting the venue puts a damper on pre-show anticipation and gnaws away at any lingering post-concert bliss. It’s a tough room.

And then I realized: “Hey, this is where I saw Soundgarden for the first time!” It was one of the most special nights in my life as a music fan, the thing I dreamed would one day happen but that didn’t seem possible until I was actually down in the pit looking up at Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron, and Chris Cornell. Isn’t Soundgarden playing Detroit tonight? I thought to myself. Sherkin and I had talked about getting tickets, but neither of us was sure if we’d be able to make it and then let the subject go.

And so I biked home, ate dinner, and went to bed. When I woke up, Chris Cornell had died of suicide, aged 52.

Hamilton

Bumping into Jimmy Page at the Strand was cool, but by no means was it the highlight of mine and Sam’s trip to New York. On Saturday, we finally saw Hamilton.

By now you likely know at least two things about Hamilton: it’s the biggest hit (and I don’t think this is an exaggeration) in Broadway history and tickets are both outlandishly expensive and incredibly difficult to procure. It’d become a mini saga for us. I had a chance to see Hamilton a month after its Broadway opening but balked at the asking price ($200; oh, if only I’d known). Later that year Sam and I toyed with the idea of doing the ticket lottery – front row, $10 – before deciding against standing out on 46th Street in the dead of winter for a minuscule chance at getting in (we threw away our shot, as it were). We thought we’d succeeded through Ticketmaster last January, only to have our seats swiped out from under us. In June, finally, we pulled it off. We didn’t pay nearly as much as you might assume, but they were still comfortably the most expensive tickets we’ve ever bought.

IMG_6753

Two people donating their wedding budget to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Also: we ordered them in June, which means we had to wait for it (as it were) for almost a year. And after that build-up…I won’t actually say much about the show, since I know not many of you will have seen it yet. (I’d been in Hamilton blackout since January, when I stopped listening to both the cast recording and The Hamilton Mixtape.) I will, however, say this: as excited as we were, Hamilton blew our expectations away, and it blew them away almost immediately. “My Shot,” which is the second song in the show, is also one of my least-favourites; the line “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry” makes me cringe. When it ended I burst into laughter, uttered a four-letter epithet, and teared up. It was simply overwhelming, and both of us were done for. And that’s how I reacted to a song I didn’t like. You should’ve seen me during “The Room Where it Happened.”

I’ve long maintained that Hamilton might actually be underrated: it’s become such a cultural juggernaut that it’s easy to forget it won the Pulitzer. Seeing the show reinforced that idea. When it was over Sam and I had two immediate reactions. The first was to burst into giggles before wandering, dazed, from the Richard Rogers Theatre. The second was to look at one another and say, “Now what?” Not as in “what do we want to do with the rest of our night?” but “what do we want to do with the rest of our lives?” Only Tommy‘s ever had a similar impact. And that, coming from me, is the ultimate compliment.

Where Giants Roam the Earth

Sam and I spent the weekend in New York, mostly so we could see musicals that end with the shows’ titular characters dying by gunshot wounds. We also went to our favourite bookstore, the Strand, on three separate occasions, and during the second visit something genuinely surreal occurred.

Some context. We were staying at an Airbnb on St. Marks Place, just down from #96-98 – which feature on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti record (as well as the Rolling Stones video “Waiting on a Friend”). We’d actually sought the buildings out during a previous trip, and when we walked passed them on Friday we wondered aloud why Zeppelin had chosen those two seemingly nondescript apartments from the tens of thousands of other ones in New York. Later in the Strand, perhaps subconsciously searching for an answer, I made my way to the music section and…

I ran into Jimmy Page.

Again: I ran into Jimmy Page. The context made it even weirder, but…I mean, it was Jimmy Page and he was book-browsing at the Strand like a normal person, which he is not, because he is Jimmy Page. I very casually walked upstairs, found Sam, put my arms around her neck, gazed deep into her beautiful eyes, and whispered: “Sam. Jimmy Page is downstairs.” Are you sure? she asked. Two thousand percent, I told her. And so back down we went–and sure enough there he was, now browsing in (I’m not making this up: it’s too perfect) MYTHOLOGY & OCCULT – Divination – Mythology/Folklore.

Sam and I spent the next fifteen minutes mulling over the appropriate move. In the end we decided no move was the best move: he was with his girlfriend, and it would’ve been obtrusive, and besides which neither of us is the world’s biggest Zeppelin fan (although her dad might be). And then Jimmy and his girlfriend – Scarlett Sabet – ambled over to the record section…and he pulled out a copy of Physical Graffiti and inspected the cover.

We were both too flabbergasted to react.

I’m usually able to play it pretty cool around famous people: they are, after all, just people, and I’ve worked around them off-and-on since I was 21. Of course, only three people on earth were in Led Zeppelin. One of them was standing next to me on Friday, and for one of the few times in my life I was rendered completely speechless.

And we still don’t know why they picked those two buildings.

How I Got Stranded in Frankfurt

I will generally defend Air Canada. I know this makes me an awful Western Canadian, where hating Air Canada’s a virtual civic duty, but it’s a perfectly adequate airline, it’s part of an extensive network of global carriers, and it doesn’t use “our flight attendants tell jokes!” as a marketing tool.

But I can’t defend what happened to me in Frankfurt last week.

A lot of you saw the Faces of Steve Facebook posts from Frankfurt, Dubai, and an airplane in between the two. Here’s how they came about. My initial flight from Toronto to Frankfurt turned around inside an hour due to a mechanical failure. I will never complain about a flight being aborted for safety reasons: sure, it sucks, but I’d much rather it suck and be safely on the ground than, say, on board a plane whose flaps couldn’t fully extend (which, as it turns out, was the issue). Stuff happens, y’know? Every single flight is a miracle; it’s a wonder more flights aren’t affected by in-air mechanical difficulties. The real problems began in Frankfurt. I’d been seated in 34C – the 34 was deliberate – and was therefore one of the last people off the plane. Those of us with connecting flights were then shepherded to the Air Canada desk, where we were forced to wait up to three hours for information. We had no access to food or drink, or even to water: we were still technically “plane-side.” In Toronto, where some of the airport’s restaurants were still open when our initial flight returned, Air Canada plied us with free food and drink at the departure gate. In Frankfurt I ate a handful of almonds I’d packed in my carry-on.

And so we waited. It took me three hours to get my new itinerary, which had me flying to Dubai by way of Rome (and on an Emirates A380, which was a major win). The agent then scribbled the name of a hotel, the InterCity, on the back of my boarding pass. It took fifteen minutes for my luggage to re-appear; it took almost an hour for the hotel’s shuttle bus to show up and then another fifteen minutes to actually arrive at the InterCity Hotel. At this point I was delirious, but I was also nearing the end of the line.

And then…and then I got to the reception desk and was informed there weren’t any rooms left.

Wait a second: what?

I asked the desk clerk to repeat herself. Turns out Air Canada hadn’t set aside enough rooms for us, and so those of us who were late getting to the hotel were literally turned away. When we asked what we should do, the hotel suggested going back to the airport. The shuttle would leave again in 45 minutes. And would cost €7.

And so I took a deep breath and began making contingency plans. The Sheraton at Frankfurt airport was available – for a cool €391. But the Holiday Inn Frankfurt Airport – North was both available and affordable. The cab ride over cost almost €25; my meal, a surprisingly edible bar pizza, cost another €12 (it later doubled as a surprisingly edible breakfast). I’ll be sending the receipts, along with the cost of the accommodation and the shuttle back to Frankfurt airport the following morning, to Air Canada.

Again, I get it: stuff happens. But last week’s misadventure weren’t a consequence of the technical difficulties that led to the initial delay. Rather, they were the result of gross incompetence by, and apparent indifference from, Air Canada’s Frankfurt staff, who seemed to view us as an inconvenience and who made such basic screw-ups that some of us were literally turned away by the airline’s hotel. Sam lodged a complaint on my behalf, quite literally, while I was in line at Frankfurt. I’ll be following suit if (when?) I’m denied Altitude points because Air Canada rebooked me on non-Star Alliance carriers. No matter what, though, it’s a lot harder for me to defend Air Canada than it was this time last week.

Stuff I’ve Seen at the Air Canada Centre

In honour of absolutely nothing, here’s an updated list of all stuff I’ve seen at the Air Canada Centre. I sat in the platinums for both Leaf games I saw this month–I was on the boards for the second one–and it cost me a grand total of zero dollars. I know the best people.

  1. Apr. 30/99: Leafs vs. Flyers (2-1 OT) (Eastern Conference Quarter Finals Game 5)
  2. Oct. 30/99: Leafs vs. Flames (2-1)
  3. Nov. 13/99: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-1)
  4. Jan. 12/00: Raptors vs. Magic (108-102)
  5. Feb. 1/00: Our Lady Peace w/the Stereophonics
  6. Oct. 5/00: Pearl Jam w/Supergrass
  7. Oct. 7/00: Leafs vs. Canadiens (2-0)
  8. Nov. 17/00: Leafs vs. Lightning (2-2)
  9. Dec. 2/00: Leafs vs. Rangers (8-2)
  10. Dec. 3/00: The Tragically Hip (“An Evening with…”)
  11. Feb. 10/01: Leafs vs. Wings (3-3)
  12. Mar. 3/01: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 OT)
  13. Mar. 4/01: Raptors vs. Knicks (98-88)
  14. Sept. 18/01: Tool w/Meshuggah
  15. Oct. 9/01: Leafs vs. Mighty Ducks (6-1)
  16. Oct. 21/01: Music Without Borders Live with the Tragically Hip, Alanis Morissette, Our Lady Peace, the Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn and Choclair
  17. Mar. 1/02: Raptors vs. Trail Blazers (81-91)
  18. Mar. 2/02: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-2)
  19. Mar. 3/02: Raptors vs. 76ers (84-96)
  20. Mar. 30/02: Leafs vs. Devils (1-3)
  21. May 28/02: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (1-2 OT) (Eastern Conference Finals Game 6) 
  22. Sept. 28/02: The Who w/the Counting Crows
  23. Oct. 14/02: Leafs vs. Penguins (4-5)
  24. Oct. 16/02: The Rolling Stones w/the White Stripes
  25. Nov. 14/02: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-2)
  26. Dec. 5/02: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  27. Dec. 22/02: Raptors vs. Lakers (107-109 OT)
  28. Dec. 23/02: Leafs vs. Thrashers (5-1)
  29. Jan. 4/03: Leafs vs. Devils (2-1)
  30. Feb. 18/03: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (4-3)
  31. Oct. 13/03: Leafs vs. Capitals (2-2)
  32. Dec. 9/03: Leafs vs. Blues (2-3 OT)
  33. Dec. 20/03: Leafs vs. Canadiens (4-2)
  34. Dec. 23/03: Leafs vs. Panthers (5-2)
  35. Feb. 18/04: Raptors vs. Spurs (82-86)
  36. Jul. 7/04: Eric Clapton w/Robert Randolph & the Family Band
  37. Nov. 2/04: Green Day w/New Found Glory and Sugarcult
  38. Nov. 8/04: The Beastie Boys w/Talib Kwali
  39. Nov. 26/04: The Tragically Hip w/the Joel Plaskett Emergency
  40. Dec. 15/04: Raptors vs. Timberwolves (96-90) (Vince Carter’s last game as a Raptor; he didn’t play)
  41. Jan. 26/05:  Raptors vs. Heat (96-111)
  42. Feb. 6/05: Raptors vs. Mavericks (113-122)
  43. Feb. 27/05: Raptors vs. Lakers (108-102)
  44. Mar. 11/05: Raptors vs. Hawks (112-116 OT)
  45. Mar. 20/05: Raptors vs. Cavaliers (105-98) (LeBron James: 56/10/5/48)
  46. Sept. 1/05: System of a Down w/the Mars Volta and Bad Acid Trip
  47. Sept. 17/05: U2 w/Dashboard Confessional (Eddie Vedder guest appearance)
  48. Sept. 19/05: Pearl Jam w/Sleater-Kinney (Bono guest appearance)
  49. Oct. 5/05: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 SO) (first shootout in NHL history)
  50. Oct. 22/05: Leafs vs. Flyers (2-5)
  51. Nov. 15/05: Leafs vs. Rangers (2-1)
  52. Dec. 23/05: Leafs vs. Bruins (2-1)
  53. Jan. 26/06: Leafs vs. Sabres (4-8)
  54. Feb. 7/06: Leafs vs. Thrashers (4-1)
  55. Mar. 4/06: Leafs vs. Senators (2-4)
  56. May 9/06: Pearl Jam w/My Morning Jacket
  57. May 10/06: Pearl Jam w/My Morning Jacket
  58. Oct. 4/06: Leafs vs. Senators (1-4)
  59. Oct. 14/06: Leafs vs. Flames (5-4 OT) (Mats Sundin’s 500th career goal)
  60. Nov. 21/06: Bob Dylan w/the Foo Fighters
  61. Nov. 25/06: Leafs vs. Bruins (1-3)
  62. Nov. 28/06: Leafs vs. Bruins (1-4)
  63. Dec. 4/06: The Who w/The Pretenders
  64. Dec. 5/06: Leafs vs. Thrashers (2-5)
  65. Dec. 19/06: Leafs vs. Panthers (3-7)
  66. Dec. 26/06: Leafs vs. Wild (4-3)
  67. Dec. 30/06: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 OT)
  68. Feb. 8/07: The Tragically Hip w/Buck 65
  69. Feb. 12/07: Leafs vs. Islanders (2-3 SO)
  70. May 1/07: Raptors vs. Nets (98-96) (Eastern Conference First Round Game 5)
  71. Oct. 6/07: Leafs vs. Canadiens (4-3 OT)
  72. Feb. 2/08: Leafs vs. Senators (4-2)
  73. Feb. 5/08: Leafs vs. Panthers (0-8)
  74. Oct. 11/08: Leafs vs. Canadiens (1-6)
  75. Dec. 23/08: Leafs vs. Stars (2-8)
  76. Dec. 30/08: Leafs vs. Thrashers (4-3 OT)
  77. Dec. 1/09: Leafs vs. Sabres (1-4)
  78. Jan. 30/09: Leafs vs. Penguins (5-4)
  79. May 9/09: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  80. Oct. 10/09: Leafs vs. Penguins (2-5)
  81. Dec. 19/09: Leafs vs. Bruins (2-0)
  82. Dec. 21/09: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-3 OT)
  83. Dec. 26/09: Leafs vs. Canadiens (2-3 OT)
  84. Apr. 6/10: Leafs vs. Flyers (0-2)
  85. Aug. 9/10: Paul McCartney
  86. Nov. 6/10: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-3 OT)
  87. Nov. 13/10: Leafs vs. Canucks (3-5)
  88. Dec. 20/10: Leafs vs. Thrashers (3-6)
  89. Dec. 28/10: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (3-4)
  90. Mar. 2/11: Leafs vs. Penguins (3-2 OT)
  91. Mar. 5/11: Leafs vs. Blackhawks (3-5)
  92. Sept. 11/11: Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney (Neil Young guest appearance)
  93. Sept. 12/11: Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney
  94. Dec. 22/11: Leafs vs. Sabres (3-2)
  95. Jan. 3/12: Leafs vs. Lightning (7-3)
  96. Jan. 5/12: Leafs vs. Jets (4-0) (first time seeing the Jets in either of its iterations)
  97. Oct. 25/12: The Smashing Pumpkins w/Morning Parade
  98. Nov. 23/12: The Who w/Vintage Trouble
  99. Oct. 6/13: Leafs vs. Senators (5-4 SO)
  100. Dec. 17/13: Leafs vs. Panthers (1-3)
  101. Dec. 19/13: Leafs vs. Coyotes (2-1 SO)
  102. Apr. 5/14: Leafs vs. Jets (2-4)
  103. Oct. 18/14: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-4) (Sam’s first NHL game)
  104. Dec. 16/14: Leafs vs. Ducks (6-2)
  105. Dec. 20/14: Leafs vs. Flyers (4-7)
  106. Nov. 30/15: Leafs vs. Oilers (3-0)
  107. Dec. 19/15: Leafs vs. Kings (4-0)
  108. Jan. 2/16: Leafs vs. Blues (5-1)
  109. Jan. 18/16: Raptors vs. Nets (112-100)
  110. Feb. 2/16: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (Sam’s first Springsteen concert)
  111. Feb. 23/16: Leafs vs. Predators (2-3)
  112. Mar. 1/16: The Who w/Tal Wilkenfeld
  113. Mar. 21/16: Leafs vs. Flames (5-2)
  114. Apr. 27/16: The Who w/Slydigs (Sam’s first Who concert)
  115. May 10/16: Pearl Jam
  116. May 12/16: Pearl Jam (Sam’s first Pearl Jam concert)
  117. Aug. 10/16: The Tragically Hip
  118. Aug. 12/16: The Tragically Hip
  119. Aug. 14/16: The Tragically Hip
  120. Nov. 11/16: Leafs vs. Flyers (6-3)
  121. Dec. 19/16: Leafs vs. Ducks (2-3)
  122. Jan. 23/17: Leafs vs. Flames (4-0)
  123. Mar. 7/17: Leafs vs. Red Wings (3-2)
  124. Mar. 28/17: Leafs vs. Panthers (3-2)

Wow! I’ve had lots of great nights at the ACC, but if I were whittling them down to a top five–and I am–I’d rank them as follows:

  1. The second night of Pearl Jam’s 2006 Air Canada Centre run, which was one of the absolute greatest concerts I’ve attended
  2. The Who in 2006, which was also one of the absolute greatest concerts I’ve attended; I almost collapsed on my way out I was shaking so hard
  3. Leafs vs. Flames in 2006, when Mats Sundin scored his 500th career goal, shorthanded, in overtime, to complete his hat trick
  4. The second of the Hip’s three-night stand on the Man Machine Poem tour. I went to all three. The first and third shows were great; the second was a pantheon concert. I’ve seen the Hip seven times at the ACC…and counting, until we hear otherwise.
  5. Leafs vs. Carolina, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, for reasons both good and bad.

I can’t wait to keep updating this list!

Discovering My Inner Jew, Part V: We’re Ba-ack

In 2012 I began digging into my mom’s family history, trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that’d been eluding us for generations: whether or not we’re Jewish. But then the trail, such as it was, ran cold, and the last time I wrote about the Jewish question I lamented:

The clues are there, but I can’t piece them together. I feel as though I need a lucky break.

The ultimate break would, of course, be a copy of the letter that my great aunt burned for its suggestion that we might not be what we thought. I wonder if that exists, or if the sole copy (and the information it provided) went up in smoke.

Well…I’m holding it. The letter wasn’t burned; the smoke it went up in was metaphorical. There’s a lot to unpack here, beginning with the author’s identity: her name is Ella Miriam Weiner (née Borschow), and I’d never heard of before today. But the letter itself is unequivocal: Ella Miriam Weiner was Jewish, and if I’m related to her…then so am I.

Proving that relationship will be difficult, if not impossible. But I’m a lot closer to doing it now than I was 24 hours ago.