Author Archives: Brian Brennan

Randy Bachman Blasts Harper

Randy Bachman, according to a story in the Huffington Post, has vented his displeasure at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for using without permission his classic “Takin’ Care of Business” as the theme song for a speech Harper gave recently to his Conservative supporters.

Bachman tells HuffPo he likely wouldn’t have granted permission to Harper to use the song because of the low royalty rate (10 percent of the American rate) for digital music streaming set by the Copyright Board of Canada earlier this year. The full HuffPo story is at this link.

I did a newspaper interview with Bachman back around the time he wrote “Takin’ Care of Business.” You can read about that encounter in a recent column I wrote for the estimable Facts & Opinions online journal. You can find a link to the column here. It will cost you a buck to read it but, hey, that’s less than you would pay to buy me a cup of coffee. Plus, that buck helps pay my grocery bills. I depend on royalties for my livelihood too.

UPDATE – Bachman has backtracked somewhat, saying in a story today that “Takin’ Care of Business” was actually played in a venue licensed for use of recorded music. But he’s still upset at the Copyright Board for shortchanging Canadian musicians. You can find the updated Winnipeg Free Press story here.

Time-capsule journalism

I’m writing a new arts column for the estimable Facts & Opinions: Journalism Matters  journal, recalling interviews I did with celebrities during the 15 years I worked as a newspaper entertainment reporter. I was inspired to revisit the interviews after a recent conversation with a friend, during which I happened to mention casually that Tennessee Williams once complained to me that the Russians were ripping him off to the tune of thousands of dollars in unpaid royalties.

“You talked to Tennessee Williams?” said my friend.

Yes, and I talked to Kenny Rogers and Tammy Wynette and Sally Rand and Chuck Berry and dozens of other well-known individuals of that period. Revisiting those interviews now is an enjoyable exercise in time-capsule journalism for me, particularly in light of events that have occurred since. I call the column Brief Encounters because many of the interviews were conducted in haste, in green rooms and hotel rooms, when the publicists gave me 15 minutes or less to fish for pearls of wisdom.

I talked to Kenny Rogers after he had tried rockabilly, jazz, folk, country and psychedelic rock, and was unsure where he was going to go next. This was long before he recorded “The Gambler.” I talked to Tammy Wynette when she was finding it difficult to reconcile being a married mother of four with being constantly on the road. Later that month, she got divorced for the fourth time. I talked to fan dancer Sally Rand when she was still taking her clothes off in public at age 71. I talked to Chuck Berry when he was refusing to talk to other reporters because of all the bad press he received over his troubles with the law.

Jay Silverheels as Tonto

Jay Silverheels as Tonto

When B.B. King played for President Obama at the White House in 2012, I recalled that he once told me he thought the blues was dying. When Randy Bachman reinvented himself as a CBC Radio host, I recalled that I had talked to him about his career choices after he had seemingly committed artistic suicide twice, first by walking away from The Guess Who and then by leaving Bachman-Turner Overdrive. When Johnny Depp played Tonto in the 2013 big-screen remake of The Lone Ranger (a flop, by all critical accounts), I recalled that I had talked to the original Tonto, Jay Silverheels, about the racism he encountered in Hollywood.

My first column is about Silverheels. Check it out by clicking here. I hope you enjoy this journey down memory lane with me.

Front yard progress

This time last year, I posted this report on the landscaping of my front yard. Take a look at the pictures below and see how the yard has changed and grown since then. A couple of the plants didn’t survive the winter, which was probably to be expected. But most did, and I’m very pleased to see how Mother Nature does her work in this often inhospitable climate.

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Stories removed

You will notice that a dozen of the biographical profiles I had included in the “Life Stories” section of this site have now been removed. The reason: These profiles will be included among the 31 in my next book, tentatively scheduled for publication in the spring of 2015. Stay tuned for further details.

Alistair Macleod RIP


Many of us in the writing game have a story to tell about Alistair Macleod. This is mine. It happened at the annual meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada in Ottawa in 2003. Alistair was the writer picked to deliver the annual Margaret Laurence lecture, talking about his life as a writer. He gave his presentation at the National Library of Canada.

He didn’t have a prepared text. He had a stack of yellow foolscap pages filled with handwritten notes, and he leafed back and forth through them as he spoke.

I didn’t take notes. But I remember two things he said that have stuck with me ever since. One was that a writer should have a plan of attack. Random words,  sentences,  paragraphs and scenes would never end up as a story, he said. It would be the same as a woodworker aimlessly sawing, nailing and hammering, and expecting to have a birdhouse or a patio deck at the end of the process.

The other thing he said was that a certain point in the composition of every story, one should write the last sentence on a Post-it note and stick it on the computer screen as a  reminder of  where the story should end. I haven’t used this technique with Post-it notes, but I often remind myself that what I write must carry as strong an ending as its beginning. As for having a plan of attack, that’s certainly a must when one does journalism and other kinds of narrative nonfiction. I could also see it applying to fiction.

When he finished his speech, which was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation, Alistair joined a few of us for drinks at the Library bar. There was a piano in the room, a vintage nine-foot Steinway once owned by Glenn Gould. I couldn’t resist. I pulled off the quilted vinyl cover and started to play “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” During the chorus I looked across the room and there, singing and dancing a reel with fellow Maritimer Deborah Windsor, was Alistair Macleod. He looked as happy as a bird in spring. ‘Tis a memory I will always cherish.