Creating for nothing. Not!

Magazine publisher Ritchie Yorke, left, hobnobbed with the biggest rock stars, including John Lennon of the Beatles. He wasn’t nearly as friendly with his writer-contributors.

I’m often asked what it’s like being a freelancer – someone who creates often without knowing whether the work will ever be published. Suffice to say, it’s a speculative jungle out there. I know. As a newspaper and magazine writer for some 40 years, I’ve been eaten alive whole more than a few times. A bit of background:

In the late 1960s, I enrolled at Ryerson (before it was a university) in the Radio and Television Arts program. While working towards my diploma (1968-1971) I craved a taste of the real writing world, so I began submitting ideas for features to magazines and newspapers.

Ted Barris writes Foreword to new book Syncopated: Black Stories

In a new book of biographies (compiled by author Ed Brown) about Black musicians in Canada, Ted Barris was invited to write the Foreword.

The star attraction was not in the house that night. While many others – the luminaries of the Canadian jazz scene – performed on stage, perhaps the country’s best studio and jazz concert drummer of the day was absent. In fact, it was because he was absent, that all the stars came out. It was in 1967 when Toronto-born musician Archie Alleyne suffered serious injuries in a car accident. He was not able to work … at either of his jobs.

“I didn’t have a car, so I had to carry my drum kit on streetcars and the subway,” he told my father, Alex Barris, back then. “I’d play from 9 at night to 1 a.m., get home with my drums by 3 a.m. and be up four hours later to go to my day job.”

Life on the death beat

Sandra Martin, the obit Queen. Photo by Nigel Dickson.

I had a visit with the Queen this past week. Not Elizabeth II. No one with any royal blood really. But she has certainly worn a crown, of sorts, as the best at what she does. In fact, she has won gold and silver recognition in her profession. She is a writer, a writer of one of the oldest forms of journalism and among the most actively followed sections of published newspapers – the obituary.

“Her subjects (are) the famous as well as the unknown,” said a press release promoting her most recent book. “Sandra Martin is the obit Queen of Canada.”

Acknowledging musical gifts

The Town Tavern (at Queen and Yonge streets) was Archie Alleyne's home club from the mid-1950s until 1970.
The Town Tavern (at Queen and Yonge streets) was Archie Alleyne's home club from the mid-1950s until 1970.

The star attraction was not in the house that night. While many others were present – the luminaries of the Canadian jazz scene – perhaps the country’s best studio and jazz concert drummer of the day was absent. In fact, it was because he was absent, that all the stars came out. It was 45 years ago that Toronto-born drummer Archie Alleyne suffered serious injuries in a car accident. He was not able to work … at either of his jobs.

“I didn’t have a car, so I had to carry my drum kit on streetcars and the subway,” he told my father, Alex Barris, back then. “I’d play from nine at night to one a.m., get home with my drums by three a.m. and be up four hours later to go to my day job.”