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Bookends: Robbie Robertson and the story of The Band February 16, 2018

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Bookends: Robbie Robertson and the story of The Band

By Dan Davidson

August 9, 2017

– 860 words –


Testimony: A Memoir 


By Robbie Robertson

Vintage Canada

512 pages


Kindle: $16.99

“I was introduced to serious storytelling at a young age, on the Six Nations Reserve. The oral history, the legends, the fables, and the great holy mystery of life. My mother, who was Mohawk and Cayuga, was born and raised there.

“At the age of nine I told my mother that I wanted to be a storyteller when I grew up. She smiled and said, ‘I think you will.’”

Robbie Robertson is another one of those mixed race persons who have decided that their primary identity is to be found in the First Nation side of their genetic heritage.

One wonders what might have happened if Robertson’s biological father, a Jewish professional gambler named Alexander David Klegerman, had lived. But Robertson was still an infant when his father died in a hit and run accident, and he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, James Patrick Robertson. It was only many years later, when that marriage was in trouble, that Robbie learned the truth about his background.

We get clues as to how that night have gone later in the book, when he meets some of his shadier relatives, but this book really begins with 16 year old Robertson heading south from Toronto to Fayetteville, Arkansas, about to try out as a bass player for the Hawks, the backing group for the legendary Rockin’ Ronnie Hawkins. By then, Robertson had been playing in bands since the age of 14, and had worked in a travelling carny circuit for parts of two summers, as well as at the Canadian National Exhibition.

It was the years with the Hawks, though, that would be his major training ground, and the changing composition of that band woiuld move him from the bass to lead guitar, and surround him with most of the individuals that would later become the Band.

We meet them all, one by one, and though the late Levon Helm painted a nasty picture of Robertson in his book about The Band, Robertson can’t say enough positive things about his former band mate. In a touching CBC interview that was recently rebroadcast, Robertson regretted never having been able to patch things up with Helm.

The years with Hawkins were followed by the years with Bob Dylan, for when Dylan decided to go electric, he picked the Hawks as his backing band. Initially the first half of the shows on the tour were vintage Dylan acoustic, and then he would bring out the Hawks. Some people were delighted, but Robertson remembers it as a hard three year (1965-68) tour, and being on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

In 1967, the members of the band relocated to Woodstock, living in the house that would come to known as Big Pink, and that’s where they merged the rockabilly blues of their Hawks years with the folk-rock of the tour and developed the unique sound that would make them into The Band.

First, though, there were the Basement Tapes, which is an interesting section. Imagine Bob Dylan, recovering from his motorcycle accident, upstairs in the house, pounding out lyrics of a typewriter, handing the pages off the group and saying something like lets’ see what we can do with this. The Basement tapes CDs have a lot of minor stuff on them, but they also have “This Wheel’s on Fire”, “You Ain’t Going’ Nowhere”, and “Tears of Rage”, some classic stuff often covered by other people. There were eventually 138 songs.

The story moves on to the group’s first solo album, Music from Big Pink, and the rather offhand way they ended up with that name and the name The Band.

Robertson takes us through the recording of subsequent albums, but it becomes clear in the narrative that some of the guys aren’t having as much fun as they used to without chemical assistance. Not that Robertson abstained; there are numerous tales of this type in the book, though not as many as in Mick Fleetwood’s memoir, which I reviewed here a few months back.

What the two books have in common is that both Robertson and Fleetwood came to feel that they were responsible for keeping their groups together, and that put a strain on the kind of communal energy that had created the Band in the first place.

There’s quite a bit of space devoted to the creation of The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese film and 3-LP (you do remember records, right?) that actually became their swan song. Getting the record together was a near thing. The day they were supposed to start working on it at their Shangri-la studio, Robertson got there early, expecting to get to work, By 3:30 that day no one else had shown up.

“Waiting there as the sun went down, it finally hit me – what I had been in denial about: this train we’d been riding so long was pulling into the station, not just for touring, not just for recording, but for everything.”










Bookends: Growing up in Canada and around the World January 17, 2017

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Bookends: Growing up in Canada and around the World

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2016

– 844 words –


The Water Here Is Never Blue: Intrigue And Lies From An Uncommon Childhoodthe-water-here

By Shelagh Plunkett

304 pages


e-book: $14.99


When I tell Shelagh Plunkett that she was a bit of a naughty girl in that hotel room in Jakarta at the tender age of 15, she casts her mind back and agrees with me. It was a rebellion that would be quite at odds with the life the adult woman has since carved out for herself in Montreal, but it was perhaps understandable given what had happened in her life up to that point.

In the 1970s this young girl, her sister, and her brother, were whisked off to Guyana by their parents, to a nation where her father, who was ostensibly an engineer, was supposed to helping to map and catalogue water and mineral resources for the local government.

The kids were enrolled in a religious run day school and eventually became quite acclimatized to the country. This portion of the book is narrated in a style which partakes of the local patois to a great extent. It has a flavour of steel drums and Guyanese music.

At the time she never suspected her father of doing anything nefarious, but as she grew older, she came to wonder more and more what he was really up to in all the trouble spots of the world. He was in the Mekong Delta in 1972, Afghanistan in 1974, in Uganda just after Idi Admin was deposed. When he died, in 1993, a friend of his named Russ Fraser lit a fuse of curiosity that had been waiting to ignite for some time.

“He said that wherever my father went, coups seemed to follow, that if Dad went to a country, you could bet there’d be an uprising of some sort soon after. Maybe Pat was a spy?”

Pat Plunkett didn’t take them with him to every job, but really quite disrupted the family’s lives with the moves he did make. It was not a normal Canadian childhood.

They were in Guyana (right the new government began nationalizing foreign owned companies) long enough to feel at home there and when another assignment took him elsewhere, they returned to Vancouver.

There, Shelagh, at least, found she did not fit in. She had odd habits and expectations which the “it girls” which she calls “the Debbies” did not appreciate. She picked up some teen rebellion habits like coming to class slightly drunk and using four letter words to tell off her teachers, who suggested she needed psychotherapy. All this by the time she was finishing grade 9.

Then it was off to Indonesia, which was actually quite a dangerous place to be at the time, what with the government troops slaughtering East Timorese, and the potential dangers that might just creep up on two cute white, blond teenage girls (the brother being off at university by then) in a land where local people followed them around like a parade and wanted to touch them to see if they were real.

They were home schooled, spent a lot of time at their house, which was sort of a compound with a garden their mother created (because she really wasn’t allowed to do much else). It was home to a number of exotic animals, including a monkey.

The language used to describe their lives in Timor is quite different from that used to describe Guyana and the narrative there is edged with a potential for danger that didn’t seem to be in the earlier part of the book. Perhaps this is because the girls were older and more aware. Perhaps it is because they were more isolated from the local people than they had been in South America.

Coming back to Canada was even harder for Shelagh this time. She had missed so many of the cultural changes. Perhaps this contributed, when she grew up, to a life in which she did a lot of travelling. She has worked on research projects and written articles about places all over the world.

The last section of the book is her personal exploration of that part of India where her father died, taking with him all the secrets that she never got to uncover. She and her partner travelled to Shimla, in the Indian mountains, and stayed at Hotel Dreamland, where her father had stayed. She walked the path she believed he had been walking when his spine collapsed and he began his final journey to a strange and unknown land. She came no closer to unraveling his mystery than she ever had and concludes, “ Whatever else you want to know, you’ll have to find yourself, somewhere. Perhaps it’s out there, Maybe not.”

Shelagh Plunkett is an award-winning writer and journalist. She has been published in various Canadian and U.S. journals, including The Walrus, enRoute Magazine, Geist, The Globe and Mail, and the Vancouver Sun. Plunkett currently lives in Montreal and was recently a writer-in-residence in Berton House.




Bookends: Journalists explain why they do it January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, News, personal, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Journalists explain why they do it

By Dan Davidsonthats-why

April 6, 2016

– 841 words –


That’s Why I’m A Journalist

Top Canadian Reporters Tell Their Most Unforgettable Stories

edited by Mark Bulgutch

Douglas & McIntyre

328 pages



This book was assembled by a man whose name I did not know, but whose work I have been watching for years. Mark Bulgutch worked for the CBC for 35 years, nearly one-third of that time as a senior editor for the National, and ending as Senior Executive Producer of TV News. During those years he accumulated an impressive number of awards for his work, but unless you watched all the credits on a regular basis, you wouldn’t have seen his name.

Louise Penny named the central character of her Gamache mystery series after an editor she had worked with at the CBC, but Bulgutch hasn’t been memorialized that way.

In his introduction to the 44 essays in this book, Bulgutch notes that journalism wasn’t his original childhood choice for a career. When he was 5 or 6 he really wanted to be a milkman. Now there’s a career that wouldn’t have lasted. A good many of you will never even have seen such a person, or even seen frozen milk pushing the cardboard cap off a glass bottle in the winter.

It was watching his parents, whom he describes as working class folks who were barely literate, go through the daily ritual of reading the evening paper, that convinced him there was something magical about the process.

“And it was magical. The entire world was suddenly in my hands.”

For a lot of the reporters, most of whom are familiar faces and voices on CBC, CTV, Global, or on the various American networks where they have made their mark, there’s something of that in the tales they tell. Their profession has allowed them to get more than an everyday, street level view of what is going on in the world, or in whatever segment of the world on which they were focussed.

For some of them, it’s the thrill of having a backstage look at major events. For others it’s a feeling that this one particular story is making a difference to someone, somewhere.

For David Common, during the earthquake in Haiti, it was telling stories that he felt no one else was paying attention to.

Brian Stewart had a similar feeling during an early Ethiopian famine, but in his case there really was no one else there. “I felt the responsibility weighing heavily on my back.”

Adrienne Arsenault recalls bringing two old men together, one a Jew , the other a Palestinian. It was a meeting that it took three years to set up and it was fraught with tension, but it was full of meaning and worth the effort.

Diana Swain worked to uncover the scandal in the Boy Scout movement.

“Journalism,” she writes, “is about making things better.”

Allison Smith told the story of a Canadian 9/11 survivor, just one man’s story instead of the big global mess.

Patrick Brown travelled to Graceland with the Elvis Presley Appreciation Society of Quebec when Elvis died.

Anna Maria Tremonti spent time in the former Yugoslavian town of Mostar, where she found that victims of that war could be gracious and welcoming in he midst of their pain.

Dan Bjarnason, in spite of his mild phobia about small spaces, got to travel in one of Canada’s newly acquired British lemon submarines and produced a story that the brass hated, but the enlisted guys loved.

Joy Malborn was in Berlin when the Wall came down and Paul Hunter was sent to Boston to cover the aftermath of the Marathon bombing.

Hannah Gartner uncovered the nasty details of the Ashley Smith case, in which a young woman choked herself to death while guards, forbidden to enter her cell as long as she was conscious, looked on.

The venerable Joe Schlesinger was one of the first journalists to realize that relations between China and the United States were about to thaw, and that a game of Ping-Pong was the key to understanding that this was going to happen.

Peter Mansbridge writes about his experience being guided through the tunnels and trenches of Vimy Ridge during he 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing in 2014. He was there to commemorate a different war altogether, but these WW I remains affected him deeply

“When I came out of that tunnel I can truly say I had never felt more Canadian.”

This is quite a book for someone who dabbles in the trade and can say that he’s felt a few of these impulses over the years. I think I write to help myself make sense of the world, and hope to help others do the same. There was a lot of that motivation in a lot of these stories.

This was a browser of a book – one or two entries every few days. It took a while to read, but it was well worth the time.






And then my computer died February 3, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in personal.
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There has been a considerable hiatus in postings here due to the death of my laptop. Fortunately the data was stored elsewhere, but I have some catching up to do.

This is what a dying computer looks like:

About Klondykewriter and Uffish Productions September 5, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in personal.
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This is the beginning of a place to post the various types of writing I do under the general heading of Uffish Productions. It will include Bookends ( Book Reviews), Uffish Thoughts (commentary) and links to places such as What’s Up Yukon where another regular column (A Klondike Korner) appears, or to theKlondike Sun, where most of my journalism ends up (either before or after it appears in the Whitehorse Star.
Expect this site to change on a regular basis, most likely weekly at the least.