brushes with greatness: chapter 5

Our story today begins with the announcement of the entertainment lineup for the Central Canada Exhibition. SuperEX.

You remember SuperEX. It’s the annual event that for 123 years was a highlight of summer in Ottawa — one of the city’s defining celebrations. Only two things managed to keep the Ex from happening: the Second World War and apathy. When, in 2010, it was announced that SuperEX would be no more, proud locals responded as one with a shrug of the shoulders. Over a century of tradition, you say? Well, it doesn’t affect me. Besides, those oppressed Glebeites had for years resented the fact that no sooner had they moved into a quiet, upscale neighbourhood than a noisy summer festival that had been going on for a century or so, caused mild mayhem a few blocks away. So good riddance.

But I digress. (Frequently.)

The news release trumpets SuperEX’s free concert series, to be held as usual at the Civic Centre and to feature as usual the level of talent one might expect of a SuperEX free concert series — yer array of April Wines and tribute bands and talent-show runners-up. And, according to this, Violent Femmes.

I’m sorry. Does that say Violent Femmes? At SuperEX?

A quick call to the crack SuperEX PR team confirms that yes, Violent Femmes are slated to perform a free afternoon show at the CCE. Sandwiched, I imagine, between the livestock show and the hypnotist.

So, like, do you have contact info for the band, so’s I can arrange an interview to promote this SuperEX coup?

No contact info. Sorry. We can put you in touch with Dalbello, though.

No. Thank you. That’s okay, though: this is the late-1990s and we here at the X Press office have access to all the knowledge that the worldwide web can offer — so long as the modem can make the connection. So no worries, SuperEX people: I’ll just ask Jeeves, or maybe Dogpile. Let’s see, http://www…

It appears there is a Violent Femmes page of sorts, which proves to be of no help. (And the graphics suck!) The plucky Blister in the Sun trio also does not appear to be associated with any major record label anymore — as if the booking at SuperEX were not a bit of a tip-off in that area. Eventually, though, (and I may have had to resort to AltaVista for this one) I manage to find an agency that claims to book Violent Femmes for parties and bar mitzvahs and such. (NB: the possibly racist spellcheck available on WordPress does not recognize “bar mitzvah” as a legitimate phrase.) A quick call confirms that yes, the band is playing SuperEX but no, there will be no interviews to promote what will surely stand as a high point in the Country Death Song band’s career.

Well, okay… we’ll just see what WebCrawler has to say about that, shall we?

I eventually come up with a management group that has the Femmes on its roster. A phone number pops up on the big 13-inch screen, but only briefly. Long enough, though, for me to make note of the number provided.

“How did you get this number?” the cigar-smoking showbiz veteran at the other end of the line demands. I explain my worldwide webbing and after a harumph or two and an admission that he doesn’t exactly represent the band, he repeats the party line about the Good Feeling combo not doing interviews. Well, I ask, would you have more direct contact information for me, just to be sure? Another harumph. “Try this number,” he says, reluctantly feeding me 10 digits in the hope that I will then leave him alone.

“Wait,” I say as he prepares to slam down the phone. “Who do I ask for?” (I would have said ‘whom’ but he was already pissed-off at me.)

“Brian Ritchie,” he says before ending the conversation and presumably giving his assistant strict instructions to never put such nuisance calls through to him again.

Brian Ritchie? Well, that creates a bit of a problem. See, my helpful new friend may not know who Brian Ritchie is, but as a longtime Violent Femmes fan I am familiar with the band’s bassist. Heck, I had even bought his solo album. There can’t be many folks out there — let alone interviewers — that can say that. Alas, it did occur to me that calling Brian Ritchie out of the blue and requesting an interview, when the band has evidently left strict instructions it is not to be disturbed, will almost certainly rule out any possibility of me and Brian becoming buds. But on the plus side, it will also potentially cause some heads to roll in the band’s management. I mean, what was this guy thinking, giving me the home number of a member of the band? Does he figure that anyone but Gordon Gano is fair game? Actually, that’s probably it.

And so my fingers hesitantly push those buttons, knowing what is inevitably about to happen. I just hope he has a sense of humour about it. But here goes…

“Hello,” the voice at the other end says brusquely. (Okay, it was just a regular hello, but I’m going somewhere with this.)

“Hello, Brian Ritchie. [Do I mention the solo album now, to try to break the ice? Perhaps he’ll sign it for me at the SuperEX show. Though, as my pal Terry once noted of his decision to refuse to allow Simon Nicol to sign an album for him, an unsigned copy will probably be worth more.] I’m calling from the X Press, the alternative newsweekly in Ottawa. [Those were the days.] I was hoping you might be available sometime for an interview to promote your upcoming show here, and that we could arrange a time to chat.”

Pause. Long pause. Probably caused by that rising urge to kill.

“We’re not doing interviews,” he grumbles.

And with that, he is gone. Daddy. Gone.

Though, let’s face it, I did at least see that one coming.

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