One of the more intriguing characters I ran across at Fan Expo was this guy – I feel fairly confident in saying that he would like to be referred-to as duckman.  Energetic and prepared. Plus – (and for his business, it’s a real plus) the guy is a genuine ham – as entertaining as he could be (and more-so with each pass).  Not only was he completely committed to the spirit of costumery which characterizes this event, he is also part of a very old tradition of Toronto street-drummers – some of whom have even become musical celebrities.

The best known of these was probably the percussion prodigy Graeme Kirkland, who is doubly nifty as a reference because Catherine went to high school with him, and I knew him as a customer, back when I used to repair recording equipment.  I haven’t got any photos of Graeme (nor, meaning no insult, was he ever quite as much of a playful exhibitionist as today’s visual hero, duckman), but I do have one tiny story which I really like about him, that you won’t get anywhere else.

He (Graeme that is) used to set up at the corner of Yonge and Dundas and play for hours and hours and hours – rain and shine – and the guy really played beautifully – studied very hard, but implemented and refined-it too.  Intelligent, poly-rhythmical – funny even – and very tight (even today, there are few better ways to get to genuine baked-in chops, than relentless busking).  He used tons of unconventional instruments, including these industrial tubs and a whole lot of other things as well over time, but not randomly – more like the original (musical, not filmic) Spike Jones, who famously said, “A glunk is not just a glunk.”  Also – he worked so hard he ended up collaborating on recordings with innumerable nifty 90s Canadian acts (Beat Neal Peart from Rush for best Canadian drummer in the NOW poll, six years running – a genuine achievement).  ;o)

But my own personal encounter continues to amuse me to this day.  I like being nice, but as a skilled tech, I generally didn’t want to man the counter or answer the phone – loading a schematic or complex mechanism into your head so that you can visualize what’s wrong and then test your hypothesis takes awhile, and every time you’re interrupted, you have to reconstruct that mental edifice all over again (same reason some programmers like working for twenty-hours straight – saves them having to re-load the variable table).

So, I bought a counter-bell with my own money (and got in trouble with management for my initiative).  Left it there anyhow, despite disapproval.

Then one day Graeme came in and rang it – and right away he said, “I’ve got to buy this bell from you.”  The guy at the counter said, “Actually, it’s not the store’s, it belongs to Paul, so you’d have to ask him.”

I knew him from the underground music scene anyhow, so I smiled and said, “I really like having a bell on our counter, but I got this one down the street for five bucks.  You can go there and get yourself one, easy.”  Knowing full-well that he was after it’s musical properties.

But he said, “No, I want this exact one.  It’s way more irritating than the one I’ve got.  I need it.  How much?”

For some folks you’d think that was just artsy boasting – “I only play spoons electroplated before 1938 – everything else has inferior timbre.”  That sort of thing – but Graeme, bless him, always was the real thing.  So, wouldn’t you know-it, he proceeded to prove his point conclusively by actually pulling his own counter-bell from the pocket of his overcoat and giving it a good hard smack!

Indeed it was woefully tame and pleasant by-comparison – a swap was duly made.  For the curious, last I heard he’d traded-in the sticks for a suit and become a businessman – successful and happy, by all accounts – and cheers to him for his spirit and example.

Duckman however, playeth on!

(Check out “Beat Truths” on Vimeo, for Graeme in his prime – three minutes of gritty street lovely)

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