Saturday, January 20, 2007


My friend, Barry Gilpin, has been operating 4 consignment stores in Vancouver's West Side for almost 20 years. The Stores are called "Cheapskates."

You bring in your old bike. He takes your name, address, phone number and your old bike. He puts a tag on the bike and he puts the bike in the store. Let's say, the price begins at $300.00. A week later, it's $275, and then, another week later, $250, and so on.

I brought him a heavy, old and serviceable mountain bike for which I had originally paid $135.00 at Canadian Tire. I rode the bike for almost 12 years, gave it to Barry and bought a new, much lighter and very expensive bike at fancy new bike store.

A few weeks later, Cheapskates sent me a cheque for $35. I was happy and so were they.

What's the problem?

The problem is that Barry will soon close down all 4 stores, which have been happily supplying used hockey equipment, tennis racquets, bicycles and nameit to cash-strapped families for over 19 years now. Why?

The City of Vancouver in its infinite wisdom has created a new city by-law designed (badly, as usual) to stop the sale of stolen goods. The police want Barry and other second-hand store owners to do 2 new things: 1) Store all new goods for 35 days so that the police will have time to check on their legitimacy. This will only add $10,000/month to the costs of doing business for what is essentially a mom-and-pop shop selling goalie gloves. 2) Record every consignor's eye color, hair color, height, weight and race.

Has anybody at City Hall ever heard of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Eye color and race? Are these bureaucrats completely mad?


James Brown died on Christmas Day. Until this morning, I hated him.

That all changed while taking my daily Heart Walk and listening, as I do most Saturday mornings to Robert Harris on CBC-FM. As he did a few weeks ago, with a masterly hour on the overlooked genius of Doris Day (the great, great, great jazz singer and not the movie star), Mr. Harris worked his magic on me. So did James Brown. And now, several weeks after Mr. Brown's death and a lifetime of my detesting his music, his guns, his smashed pickup trucks, his police chases and his domestic "disturbances," I have become one of his legion of fans. Finally, I have come to understand why the music world and a large part of the rest of humanity stopped still in their tracks to honour The Godfather of Soul.

I can imagine those of you who are much hipper than me - and that is a constituency of almost everyone - saying, "Oh, Berner. You are so White, such a Jew. You like your blacks chocolate and smooth. You adore Johnny Mathis and Denzel and Sidney. The Man was just too, too black for you, right? That pompadour, all that sweat, the giant gnashing smile."

It may be true. I saw James Brown on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver in the late sixties. He was hot and famous and the hall was packed. From the opening repeated blasts of the saxophone section to the hidden announcer's boast, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business," I hated this guy. Hardest Working Man, etc. So what? You could say that about Tony Danza or Shecky Greene and I wouldn't cross the boulevard to see either of those guys either.
I left after 3 numbers.

Now understand where I'm coming from. I am a Jew, born in 1942 and brought up in an Orthodox grandparent's home in the North End of Winnipeg. My family comes from Russia and Germany. I am part of the great wave of Eastern European settlement in the New World. My musical heroes and my great loves are all of a piece: the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart, Jerome Kern. The first movie I ever saw was The Jolson Story. I still have a VHS copy of that and the sequel, "Jolson Sings Again."

This is music that marries the folk melodies and symphonies of the schtetl with the rhythms of Black America, resulting in "Old Man River," and "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Now, along comes James Brown, this local genius, a black kid from South Carolina, who discards Europe, highlights Africa and makes a new kind of American music that is all rhythm. "Please, Please, Please," and "I Feel Good," are Gospel Funk raised to the nth dimension. It's a call and Answer and the sax pumps between phrases are downright sexual. Yow!

O.K. Itook 40 years, but I 'm starting to get it. James Brown. May he rest in peace. May we dance joyously on to his holy sounds.