Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Explication of the Text of My Life at the Moment, and the Future of that Life and this Blog

July 7, 2017
bradspurgeon

IHT

IHT

PARIS – No I am not in retirement!!! In recent weeks I have bumped into friends and acquaintances who have wondered about my working status as they have been slightly confused by some of my recent blog posts that make them think that I have, or am about to, “slow down” and “retire.” After another such moment at a bar in the Latin Quarter last night, I decided it was time to make clear to readers of this blog one of the biggest changes in my life “situation,” that came about in phases over the end of last year and the beginning of this year. This blog was always linked to a degree to my world travel to F1 races, so while this is a long, drawn-out and personal post that may not even interest many of my friends let alone a casual reader of the site, it seems to make sense to lay down some markers for the future of the blog as well….

I worked at the International Herald Tribune – which then became the International New York Times – in Paris from December 1983 until December 2016. Last fall, The New York Times decided to close down its editorial and production operation in Paris as part of a global expansion. (Don’t ask me to try to explain that!) This essentially put an end to the 130-year run of creating a newspaper in Paris that started as the European edition of The New York Herald, and that morphed into the Herald Tribune and then in 1967 to the International Herald Tribune (owned by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Whitney Communications), before turning into the International New York Times in 2013 after 10 years under sole ownership of the NYT.

While there was a lot of focus from the media – and rightly so – on the death of this long tradition of an American newspaper in Paris, I want to also note that there still remains a staff of some nearly 50 people in the advertising department and other areas of the New York Times International Edition based in Paris, with many of these people having started out decades ago at the IHT. But as far as producing a newspaper in Paris, with its own editorial and production staff, as had been done since 1887, that came to an end last fall, and 69 people were fired. I was one of these 69 people. But my last, long-standing gig at the paper, which was a full-time job reporting on Formula One car racing, was not one of the aspects of the newspaper that they actually wanted to get rid of. But apparently it made sense to management to fire me along with everyone else, and then offer to me that I continue covering Formula One as a freelance.

This, in any case, is what happened. I at first said yes to the proposal to freelance (I had no choice on the firing business!). It seemed fabulous that I could have my cake and eat it too – i.e., I would receive my indemnities, and my unemployment insurance, and the help from various French organizations designed to aid us in our transition back to employment or, as I chose, to start a new company, and I would continue to work as a freelance. (It’s not quite that straightforward a situation, but that’s what it amounts to.)

But then, in early 2017, I learned that the newspaper would massively reduce the number of special reports about Formula One – the backbone in recent years of my work at the newspaper – to the point that the job I had been doing really and truly no longer did exist! Yes, I would have a handful of articles to write, but not enough to make a living or support a career.

To remain a Formula One expert to write those few articles would nevertheless mean being “on” all of the time regarding the series. Being an expert on F1 is a full-time job, a full-time passion and a full-time preoccupation. All of this would in turn mean that I would not be able to focus enough on my more important job of starting the company – my new legal entity – to build a future life and career. I decided to forgo the bits and pieces of freelance. So it was that the day before I received my 2017 full-season accreditation acceptance for Formula One, my F1 reporting career had officially ended.

Henceforth, I would devote myself to the founding of my new company, which I am calling “Unfinished Business,” and which will be launched officially in November. This will be the legal entity for all of the projects that I am passionate about and was never able to focus on seriously enough while working full-time covering Formula One racing. Before that all-consuming job covering F1 – a gig that lasted me nearly 25 years! – I had many other goals, ambitions and passions in life. This included lots of different and disparate writing projects that had nothing to do with racing. (When I decided to become a writer at age 20, it was never in order to specialize on a single subject, but to explore the world.)

Clown Brad and Ornella Share a Secret

Clown Brad and Ornella Share a Secret

I also have many other areas of my life that are important to me, that need either finishing or further expansion: Making music, finishing my documentary film about open mics around the world, doing future such documentaries, finishing and selling my memoir book about open mics around the world, selling the saleable novels in my drawers, making music videos, writing new songs and making another CD, selling my skills in making and editing videos, and yes, finally, continuing to write for newspapers and magazines around the world, but on all of the many subjects that full-time F1 writing overshadowed. I also want to expand and develop my reach into magazine and web markets that I still have an ambition to write for, but never made it into before. I intend to continue a few sideline activities as well, like clowning around riding my unicycle and juggling!

So while I am in a phase of starting up my company and putting together decades’ worth of paperwork for the transition to this new life, the concept of “retirement” – i.e., losing my ambition to create and execute personal artistic and journalistic and musical projects and earning money – that some people thought might be my current situation is something I can never imagine happening to me either now or in the future.

Ultimately, my life has little changed since I was fired from the NYT last December: I have always worked on personal creative projects outside of the jobs I have done to earn a living to pay for my – and my family’s – livelihood as I dreamed of the creative projects leading to my future livelihood. In that I have been more successful in some areas than others, but that is the way my career grew. Now, I am continuing exactly the same approach to life, but my financial earnings are simply no longer coming from the payslips of the two newspapers where I worked for more than 36 years. (I began at The Globe and Mail in Toronto in July 1980 to September 1983, when I moved to Paris and joined the IHT in December of that year.)

So, for anyone who might have thought that I am about to shrivel up and the sizzle has gone from my life – and therefore from this blog – I just wanted to let you know that the exact opposite is happening. I’m more creatively active and working harder than ever before on the projects that count most to me. And strangely, after working for 36 years in the precarious business of newspapers – I seem to remember a big wave of layoffs at the Globe in around 1982, and the trend never stopped – I have never been, or felt, so financially secure and been able to look so far ahead in terms of where my livelihood might come from as I can since last December when I was fired. That, of course, is thanks to the French social system that was such a big part of my decision to stay in this country during the several occasions when I thought I might leave – the same social system that is apparently part of the reason some international companies want to leave France…. Merci la France!

A Serendipitous, Synchronistic Video Experience for “Since You Left Me,” Amongst the Jugglers and the Musicians

April 26, 2017
bradspurgeon

MILAN – The idea was only to try out my DJI Osmo 4k camera again and see if I could do a cool atmospheric video of a walk in the park with a bunch of jugglers, musicians, slack-line walkers and other circus arts practitioners at a get together by a lake in Lombardy. Then, thanks to some fabulous serendipity and synchronicity, something quite unexpected and beautiful, it turned into the seventh video of the series of 10 that I have been working on to “illustrate” my 10-track CD, “Out of a Jam.”

I have been working towards finding the best way to record sound with this DJI Osmo and so I again tried out my system of using a Zoom recorder attached to the DJI as a microphone. Without me realizing it, the connection between the two gadgets was bad, and eventually the recorder unplugged itself from the camera, as I was walking around the lakeside park. When I returned to view and listen to the video, I found great images – as usual with this fabulous little camera – but the sound was a disaster. A horrible mess. There was crackling, banging, popping and sometimes no sound at all. It went from silence to hurting the ears – moreover, the level was set too high as well, even when it worked, so it was distorted even when at its best.

Since You Left Me – video

I decided to put the video up on this blog as a demonstration, again, of what the Osmo can do, but I would put a music recording over the original sound, so not to distract and hurt the ears of the viewers. For that, I decided to use my song, “Since You Left Me.” Then, after importing to the film editing programming, when I pressed the play button, I saw immediately an uncanny synergy between the content of the video in the park and the music of the song. The musicians playing, and the dancers dancing seemingly to the same beat as my song; the link in the lyrics between seeking out another world, another way to live, and the otherworldly link to the juggling, slack-line walking, and other circus arts; even the view up to the sky at precisely the right moment for the song.

I immediately decided that I had the basis for a video for “Since You Left Me,” and that I would put in either a performance by me of the song, or do some more filming, some kind of dramatic storyline of me acting something out. So I used the performance I did of the same song at the Noctambules bar, edited it all together, and felt lucky for the serendipity, synchronicity, synergy, and luck that all seemed to combine to come up with another video for my CD, and the first with which I have used the 4k camera.

Rant: The Freaky List of Things That Happened to Me in My First Two Months as a Freelance, Actually Continuing to be Employed Working for Other People not Doing Their Jobs

February 16, 2017
bradspurgeon

employmentBe warned in advance. This is a rant. It has nothing to do with my usual long-drawn-out descriptions of playing music in bars around the world. But I do hope it will be at least as entertaining as a night at an open mic….

On 6 Dec. after 33 years as an employee of a company, I went freelance. The plan is to continue to do everything I always did – journalism, writing, music, film – but to be accountable only to myself, and the private company I am currently creating, which I will call: Unfinished Business. But, astoundingly, since my official separation from my employer – I was one of 69 people fired – and my decision to work only for myself, I have actually been involved in the most absurd, at times laughable, and always frustrating task of doing other peoples’ jobs for them!

For the last two months, almost every time I have had to deal with people employed to serve me – through me paying them for a service, or through government agencies, public positions, private businesses etc. – the employed individuals have not quite done their jobs correctly, not paid attention to essential details, which has in turn led to infuriating situations of me working overtime trying to resolve the consequences from the lack of attention to those details. Ultimately, it has felt at times like this has become my new full-time job.

If you think I am exaggerating or have unrealistically high ideas of a work ethic, just take a look at this incredible string of events over the last two months, this unfortunate list of 15 excruciating events that has occupied me in near full-time employment unravelling jobs-not-well-done, and let me know if you can relate to this – or worse, have your own excruciating list of such events:

  1. The annual, so-called “check-up” for my apartment’s heater turned into a one-week ordeal of emails, telephone calls, early morning meetings with a technician over the machine that had heated my home and water perfectly for years after it broke down the night following the technician’s visit since he destroyed a regulating valve during the check up. One week to get them to repair the damage, and accept that I did not have to pay an extra fee for the valve they broke.
  2. Three hours lost – instead of 15 minutes – and several days of stress created over a government official’s lack of attention to a detail sending me the wrong form letter invitation to a vitally important meeting that was supposed to be done by phone, but for which due to the incorrect letter, I was obliged to show up at the office of the agency, where I was unwanted.
  3. An hour wait for both me and for the doctor at a check up, due to an error by one receptionist who failed to send the doctor the message and a lie by her replacement when I asked 30 minutes into the wait if it was normal, and she said, “Yes,” claiming without knowing it that the wait was entirely normal as the doctor was delayed, when in fact the doctor was just waiting for me in frustration.
  4. Several days of email communications, stress, and confusion over the sending of official documents to various government agencies after a staff member went on sick leave while preparing important documents for me which then lay in limbo for weeks.
  5. Due to a Paris metro trip from my home to the Gare de Lyon taking 1 hour 13 minutes instead of 25 minutes thanks to a so-called suspicious object, I missed a train to Milan from Paris and lost the 38-euro cost of the train ticket and was obliged to buy a 114-euro ticket for the next train that left 4-hours later.
  6. That delay led to me going into a nearby Fnac store where I ended up paying 500 euros for the wrong handheld steady-cam thanks to a salesman not giving me correct information about the model of the camera – and loss of time and money in an international call over this error.
  7. Endless visits to the ticket office of the Paris metro, missed metros, and sometimes lost tickets, due to some Metro employee’s new, poor choice of cardboard for the Paris metro tickets, which is ultra-sensitive to whatever happens to be in my pockets – like keys, credit cards or lint – that then demagnetizes the tickets.
  8. Spending 1125 euros on new eyeglasses that do not work correctly as they were either poorly mounted or poorly prescribed; with the even worse insult of two months’ occupation in sending documents, emails, return visits, and debates, due to a poor job of filing the papers by the optician as I try to be reimbursed for at least part of the cost of these glasses from the Social Security and private health insurance.
  9. A failed battle to receive an adequate sick leave note from a house call doctor for the horrendous case of the flu of my son – which lasted nearly a week.
  10. The subsequent more than an hourlong battle to find a pharmacy open on the Sunday to buy his medication after the officially assigned pharmacy for that Sunday’s opening was closed for no apparent reason, despite its legal requirement to be open.
  11. Having to pack up and carry internationally across Europe from Milan to Paris and then Paris back to Milan an electric moka machine that I bought in Milan and found defective once I got it back to Paris.
  12. Returning from Milan earlier than I wanted to in order to attend a meeting at my bank in France only to have the meeting cancelled at the last minute, thus robbing me of my time in Milan and causing extra work to set up a new meeting.
  13. Paying 23 euros, plus 2 euros tip, for a very bad, rushed, haircut so inadequately done that it required another haircut to make up for it, despite having previously discovered a great place where I can get my haircut just fine for 10 euros, plus tip, but deciding to be loyal to the more expensive place as a good client.
  14. A more than weeklong battle with The New Yorker to be reimbursed for having accidentally taken out two 146-euro annual subscriptions from the web site because there was no adequate confirmation that my first subscription had been registered.
  15. Repeated calls, emails, stress and information sent to a new potential colleague who failed to correctly either save or understand the information in the first place.

So tell me, is there really a conspiracy against the unemployed by the employed – to do their jobs for them – or am I just over sensitive and this just happens to all of us all of the time due to the fact that most of us, while employed, may officially be categorised as sleepwalkers? Or is this just one of those classic cases of work filling out the time available to achieve it – i.e., I have so much time on my hands now that regular daily tasks will take all that time in order to be completed? Only time will tell….

Short Report on Gig at Le Baroc

July 10, 2015
bradspurgeon

Brad Gig Photo

Brad Gig Photo

PARIS – After performing my gig at the Baroc last night in Paris with Joe Cady on the fiddle and lead guitar and David Hummel on percussion, I have realized that I do far too few gigs. Why? Because it was simply so much fun! I played two sets of nearly an hour each, and still had some songs in the pocket that I either forgot to play, or decided for various reasons not to do. David’s drumming was perfect, and Joe’s fiddle and lede guitar were gutsy and emotional – I realized what it is I like about Joe Cady’s playing. It has that quality that Neil Young has of raw, ripping feel and a personal sound.

Between the two sets a Japanese woman sang some songs in French – and part of a Gainsbourg translated in Japanese. And then after the second set the stage was taken over by jammers, and Joe and David stayed up and jammed with them while I cooled off with a cold beer at the bar….
Brad Spurgeon and band at Le Baroc

Brad Spurgeon and band at Le Baroc


A fabulous evening, and I rarely have so much fun singing my songs and the covers.

Oxford Roundup, Paris End-Up, and a Gig at the Baroc Tomorrow

July 8, 2015
bradspurgeon

Brad Gig Photo

Brad Gig Photo

PARIS – I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was in Oxford over the end of last week and the weekend, and I posted only one item on this blog about my musical moments there. In fact, I actually played three nights out of the four that I was there, and just got lazy about posting…. So here’s the round up of the rest of it, and a little talk about things to come.

After the great night at Catweazle on Thursday, I got back to Oxford from Silverstone a little late, and I was pretty sure that I had missed the chance to take part in the Oxford Folk Club open night on the Friday. But I was staying in a pub-hotel – in the Cowley Road area – and decided that I’d have a small dinner and then walk over to the Oxford Folk Club anyway, just because you never say something is finished until it is.

It was about a 25 minute or so walk from the restaurant to the pub on the Abingdon Road, a when I arrived it turned out that they had already announced the last performance of the evening, and it was happening. I whipped out my camera and caught a bit of it. But this folk club being one of great spirit and openness, when the organizer saw me entering, she came right over and asked if I wanted to play. People in Oxford open mics know what time of year it is, by the way, by when I show up: “Ah, Brad’s here, we must be back in the summer for the British Grand Prix….”

So I went up and played a couple of my traditional folk songs and…thanks to my walk, my meal, my long day, and my lateness at the open mic, I immediately forgot the lyrics to not just one of the songs, but both songs, in the middle of the songs!!! I cannot remember the last time I was hit was such a memory lapse even once, let alone twice. No worry, I did manage to get enough out in each song – “Only Our Rivers Run Free” and “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” that I think it was still a pretty ok set….

The next open mic was not until Sunday, and that was the longstanding one run by Nigel, who also ran it at the Bookbinder’s pub down the street a few years ago, but moved to the Harcourt Arms – in the Jericho neighbourhood – since around 2011. This is a classic, warm, open mic, in a neat and friendly pub. It turns out that whomsoever decided not to run the thing in the Bookbinders must have regretted it, and now there is another open mic at the Bookbinders – although I think the pub has different name now – and so there are two open mics in the same neighbourhood on Sunday night – plus at least one more at the Half Moon -, which for a city the size of Oxford is amazing. Until you realize that this IS a student town….

There were some nice acts, including a group that calls itself the Oxford Beatles, and covers Beatles songs…but the musicians also do solo stuff and all sorts of different styles…. I played two songs, and my only complaint about this open mic – and it is the same for just about all open mics in Oxford – is that the damn things end by 11 PM or earlier! Please!!!! But how can you change the English mentality? At least pubs themselves no longer necessarily close at 11 PM as they did traditionally!!

Having mentioned the Half Moon pub, I forgot to mention in my post about Catweazle the other day that after the Catweazle open mic, and as my hotel was around the corner from it, I decided to drop in to the open mic at the Half Moon pub. I came in to find the organizer jamming lead guitar with a participant jamming rhythm guitar. It was pretty hodgepodge, and it went on for at least 20 minutes before I realized there was a list of names to participate in the open mic. So I got up from my table where I was sitting with my guitar right beside the jammers, and I asked the organizer if I could play, saying I just noticed the list. He said the open mic was now over, so I couldn’t, and he continued to jam with the guy for another 10 minutes.

So once it was finished, and having met someone else who wanted to play, I whipped out my guitar and played a couple of songs at the table, and so did the other guy who had arrived, also using my guitar. The MC of the open mic just nodded and left.

OK!

So that takes us to last night in Paris, as I did not play anywhere on Monday after my long travel. Last night I just dropped in to the Café Oz open mic at the Blanche metro and with no intention of playing, having also arrived quite late after a meal. But before I knew it, Brislee Adams, the MC, had my name on the list already, and I would play after maybe three other people. So I happily accepted.

There had been quite a raucous crowd, by the way, and so I decided to try using Brislee’s electric guitar – a Strat – and I did “I won’t back down,” “Mad World,” and my song, “Except Her Heart.” It was pure delight using the electric, and it’s getting me thinking about doing that more often!

In any case, I suppose I have had plenty of warm up time now for my gig at the Baroc, which takes place tomorrow night, in Paris, near the Colonel Fabien metro, or the Belleville Metro. Come along and give it a listen: I’ll be playing in a trio, with me on guitar and vocals, and Joe Cady on fiddle and lead guitar, and David Hummell on cajon and snare….


Update of My Shanghai Open Mic Guide

April 28, 2015
bradspurgeon

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

PARIS – A couple of weeks after being there, I have now finally found the time to update my Thumbnail Guide to Shanghai Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music. Unfortunately, I have only one place to add to the list, the amazing YYT open mic, which I have finally managed to do myself (the principle behind my guide being that I give personal experience accounts to what it’s like to perform in the venues.) And I ended up cutting out several other open mics in Shanghai that have ended since I started this worldwide guide two years ago. I plan to update all of my Worldwide Thumbnail Guides as I travel the world again this year – so keep posted! (Oh, and the Paris Thumbnail guide to open mics, the original of them all, is due for a major update too, since there have been many changes in recent months here in Paris’s open mics.

A Celebration of My Father’s Life, an Obituary of David Carey Spurgeon

April 15, 2015
bradspurgeon

Spurgeon portrait

David Spurgeon

Today, it is with great sadness that I am announcing on my blog the death of my father, David Carey Spurgeon, who died on Saturday, April 11, in a hospital in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, two days after celebrating his 90th birthday. Although I rarely speak about my family on this blog, I am also announcing with a sense of pride, that I have decided to celebrate my father’s life and achievements here in a formal obituary that I wrote yesterday while waiting for my flight from Shanghai to Bahrain.

My father was a lifelong journalist, notably as science writer at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, and I have to say that a majority of the things that I know about the craft of journalism, I learned from him. I did so both through osmosis and his constant help. That help from him came especially in the early part of my journalism career, and especially in terms of his building up my confidence, at a time when I was receiving a barrage of rejection slips from editors for several years! He was my secret weapon against defeat, telling me what was right, or wrong, about my stories.Spurgeon of Arabia

Although I had considered for this blog to write some personal reminiscences about him, it occurred to me that as a first step, I’d rather take up the challenge of writing a newspaper-like obituary, impersonal, but factual; which is to say, the way that he spent most of his writing life, always trying to be objective, rarely putting himself in the story. I’ll let time take care of the rest of it, and perhaps some day in the future write something more. I have never before published an obituary of anyone, having only made one effort to do so in the past, and having had it rejected.

So here, for the moment, in my blog section of “Blog articles as opposed to posts,” is my obituary, of my father, a trailblazing Canadian science journalist, who covered most of the major science stories of the second half of the 20th century: David Spurgeon: A Life Devoted to Science, Communications and Living Well.

Blog at WordPress.com.