31 December 2013

Remembering John Lavery on his birthday

I'm thinking about writer and friend John Lavery, who would have been celebrating his birthday today. John died on May 8, 2011. I was extremely fond of him, and in awe of his brilliance as a writer and composer/songwriter.

It surprises me how much I still yearn to talk with him again. To hear that soothing, quiet voice. To hear his blunt, provocative, and sometimes outrageous ideas about writing.

On September 17, 2011, his beautiful, awesome family — wife Claire, daughters Madeleine and Catherine, and son Charles-Éric — held a magnificent tribute to John in Gatineau, Quebec, where they lived. I hosted the event with Madeleine, and the program featured readings and music and memories from Peter Norman, Max Middle, the Fandango Guitar Quartet, Phillip Victor Bova, Glenn Nuotio, Jeni Labelle, Alison Leja, and others. Catherine read a passage from one of John's favourite writers, the novelist and short fictioneer Christian Bobin, and Charles-Éric, an accomplished musician himself, played his musical interpretation of John's poem "La Porte d'Entrée."

It was an afternoon filled with beautiful art — including Catherine's perfect portrait of her father playing guitar —

great readings, stunning music, and a lot of tears, especially during a brilliantly bagpiped "Scotland the Brave," video of John reading from Sandra Beck (shot by Aldo Erdic during a reading John and I gave at Levack Block in Toronto in February 2011), and the finale, an audio recording of John singing his farewell song, "Disappearing."

The printed programme for the event kicked off with this quotation by John:

"I am a natural performer, and have been since even before my parents made me show off my chops for their martini-drinking friends. Performing is a way of deflecting attention away from yourself. The performer offers up a version of himself which he hopes will be sufficiently interesting to people that when he stops performing, they will not interest themselves in what he considers to be the real version and leave him alone. The performer requires anonymity, but the anonymity would be unbearable without the performing."

Here's John playing one of his own compositions at the Manx Pub in Ottawa:

John was the author of three impeccable, moving, breathtaking books of fiction: the story collections Very Good Butter and You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off (which he considered a novel) and the novel Sandra Beck. I believe he was one of the greatest and most inventive prose stylists this country as ever seen. At the tribute in September 2011, John's family launched Dignity, the CD of his songs John was determined to complete before he died. He did complete it, and it's a thing of wonder. John wrote songs like nothing I've ever heard before. Each is as literary and rich as a good short story. Madeleine said at the tribute: "Today is the official launch of the CD Dignity which John started taping with Bova Sound exactly one year ago, on September 17, 2010. To quote him: 'It was something I had only wanted to do since I had been 12 years old.' He unfortunately did not get the chance to see it through, as he had hoped, but we are very proud to be able to do it for him."

Those of us who knew John were blessed. Those who didn't know John can still read his enduring literary works, and listen to his songs.

Happy birthday, John.

Over and out.


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