Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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An 8th of December in Paris, and long ago in Toronto and New York

December 9, 2010

I have always kept the same image in my mind of me walking down a snowy Toronto street, at Bathurst and Queen Streets, to be precise, and looking down at the slush and ice on the sidewalk, and up at the lights above the street, and thinking about the death of John Lennon. It was 8 December 1980, and I had had my own birthday the day before and I think I was basking in some strange sense of how I could be feeling good about my birthday – this is no longer the case – while Lennon would never reach another year, and the world – and I – was swamped by the tragedy of his death. How could such an icon die? Worse, be murdered?

In any case, who knows why we sometimes have certain banal images attached in our minds with big events (I mean, why Bathurst and Queen Streets? Right next to the Wheatsheaf Tavern, I think it was….) Of course, it’s the “where were you when John Lennon (or JFK or Martin Luther King etc) died?” question and phenomenon….

So last night, in Paris it was the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder, and not only did I have the memory of the snow Toronto evening in my mind as I walked to the Highlander to play in the open mic but I actually also had the same image of the Paris streets and sidewalk and streetlights: Paris was, as Toronto was 30 years before, under a blanket of snow and slush and ice. Where such a thing is banal in Toronto, however, here in Paris it means the city nearly stops functioning.

To Thomas Brun‘s great credit, however, the open mic went on. And it was quite a success, considering that most people had a hard time getting there – no buses, all taxis occupied, streets unwalkable, and metros full. While the Highlander went on, I learned later that the vocal jam at the Cavern was called off because some of the musicians could not get into town.

So it was that the theme at the Highlander was John Lennon. Just before he opened the evening Thomas told me I would go up after him – if I wanted – and began the evening singing three Lennon songs. I was rubbing my hands with delight at the thought that I would play second because I know only one John Lennon song, and that is, “Jealous Guy.” So I thought that I had a very, very good chance to be able to play it. If I went up in the middle of the evening, I was sure someone would play it before me. Oh dear, the third song Thomas did was… “Jealous Guy.”

But I did have a joker, and that was a song that Lennon did, and his rendition of it – rather than the original – is what really got me to thinking I should learn it. So I told the crowd that I would do “Stand By Me” as my Lennon tribute.

This was a night to remember as well, as it turned out, for Paris was SOOOO closed down that by the time I decided to go home the metro had stopped, all of the few remaining taxis were occupied – and every street corner had someone trying to flag down a cab – and all the hotels were booked. I finally managed to find a hotel room for a few hundred euros after a last minute cancellation by someone, and because I got to the counter before the many people sleeping on the floor and couches of the lobby…. Airplanes had been cancelled too, and people could not return to their homes so the hotels were crowded. Only in Paris!!!!!

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