Thursday, September 24, 2015

Raconteur, R.I.P.

Murdoch Burnett was about as famous as a Canadian artist, poet, film maker or writer could be. Which for a lot of people in the arts just simply does not pay the bills or provide a strong sense of support or comfort during the creative risk-taking practice of making art in Canada. Murdoch reached the limit that a poet can reach professionally in Canada, short of the next stratosphere of artists like Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell or Neil Young who sell their work in an international U.S. based market. Nope, the rest of artistic Canadians are lucky if they can get a grant, or a regular job, or teach somewhere to pay for their crafts and materials and rent. And most of them are not household names to other Canadians.

I fist met Murdoch when I was a teen I co-owned, cooked and served  in a vegetarian restaurant in Calgary, Alberta. I will always remember the first time I saw Murdoch up close. It was at a party, down the street in the hip neighborhood our restaurant was located, on 10th Street where all 2 dozen of the punks, drunks, hippies, poets, artists and musicians lived or worked. At this party Murdoch was sitting crossed-legged and reading his poetry. He had really long straight blonde hair and he looked like a Z-Boy surfer from LA. He was absolutely gorgeous. There wasn't a girl who met him back then who didn't fall instantly in lust with him. And Murdoch took full advantage of this, and his wonderful stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll would captivate his friends in the years to come.

The next time I saw Murdoch was in Victoria B.C when he and his band of poet pirates, the Penny Dreadfuls, were performing on a terrible rainy night. I lived in Victoria and I found out what hotel they were staying at and I left them a few bottles of booze as a surprise and gift when they checked in. That night we all got together and Murdoch and I stayed up and shot the shit, long after everyone went to bed. That night formed a weird, karmic, wonderful and difficult on again off again friendship for the next ten years. My grandfather, who lived in Calgary, got very sick, and so I stayed with my grandparents for a few months which put Murdoch and I in the same city at the same time for a quite a while. Murdoch was suffering from several broken relationships and he and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and driving though Alberta talking about poetry. There was a lot of drinking and smoking. As much as Murdoch loved poetry he loved drinking and smoking. Murdoch and my ailing grandfather forged a fascinating connection with each other. Both heavy drinkers and smokers they had a great time sharing their follies. It's a time of old highways, prairies, vodka road pops, my grandmothers good cooking and Murdochs terrible pain suddenly shifting into some of the best belly laughs and fun I've ever had. One of my best memories is watching the Academy Awards with him as we were both Oscar fanatics and loved awards shows. I've never known anyone else who loved awards shows like I did.

I can not write a short tribute to Murdoch. He deserves a huge tribute. Let the guitars weep, let the doves loose, let guns blare. Let wild rose petals line the country roads. Murdoch lived!

In some ways Murdoch and I were frenemies. Maybe I shouldn't even feel like I have the authority to write an obit for him. I know I disappointed him many times over the years. I can hear him right now saying I better write a bloodless tribute or shut the fuck up. I can hear him say "Don't be shy about describing how beautiful I was". You know, we used to have crazy arguments. And you know he made me laugh. Once we had an argument about a song. He insisted that the old Jann Arden song "Insensitive" was written about him. I remember just choking with laughter and saying even if it was, don't tell people makes it all the more possible. You shouldn't be conceited about being a schmuck. But, you know, Murdoch really was such a sexy classic bad boy it wouldn't be surprising if that song really was written about him. He deserves to be famous, even if for being a bad boy. The thing is, there is a line in that song that goes "I'm one of the chosen few who went ahead and fell for you" and when it comes to Murdoch, there no chosen few. Maybe chosen hundreds. When he was on his game, when he was reading a poem, or commanding a kitchen party, or researching literature, or chasing women, there were no chosen few. Maybe chosen hundreds. There were only people who could fall hopelessly in love with him.  He was a lady killer and story teller unparalleled.

Murdoch was one of the most charming, funny, talented, gorgeous, intelligent well-read people I've ever known. His kindness to my grandparents despite his own insecurities and suffering will always be so valuable to me. And I am so grateful for all the arguments and jokes and laughs we had. He had met my father on a number of occasions and the two of them were oil and water although they had listening to the blues in common. Murdoch had quite a tongue and he could make you laugh with his bitchiness, He once described me, in writing no less, as redoubtable. I've never been called a tough dame so fancy before or since. And he made me cry with laughter once about my dad. He said of my dad "Your dad loves the blues, but the blues don't love him".

Murdoch, you were so cool. The blues loved you, maybe just a little too much.



Sharona said...

Thank you for sharing your memories and letting us relive the old times. Lots of love travelling to the heavens.

Candy Minx said...

Hi Sharona! So good to "see" you. I think you've said it that it is like reliving the old times. Thanks for stopping by. And big hugs to you xxxooo

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