Underwhelmed majority speak out against “No Fun” town…

4202975Hello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

Last week the question was put forward “Is Vancouver a “no fun” zone when it comes to support for the arts.

The ensuing for-and-against argument that took place was heated, epic, and glorious. Apparently, even films were made to celebrate the event.

Now it took a while, but the numbers are in and the votes have finally been tabulated…

People who agree Vancouver is a “no fun city”: 2

People who disagree: 0

And there you have it!

Okay, maybe NO fun is a bit strong. As mentioned last week, there are indeed great artists in Vancouver and there are people working hard to create a scene there, but readers,… the numbers don’t lie,… 2-0! So what gives? Does Vancouver just fall in between the cracks of what makes for a healthy cultural city scene; not as big as Toronto, not as french as Montreal, yet not as wealthy as Alberta?

So if you’re one (or the other) of those who agreed, I put forth the only logical question which needs asking: WHO CAN WE BLAME? Surely, there’s gotta be some one or something we can blame. Some people say Vancouver’s just the hot girl who never had to learn to carry a conversation. Last week, it was suggested that the high cost of living plays a large part. I’m going to put forth that a lesser (than Toronto or Montreal) public transportation system and strict liquor laws are a factor. And what about the artists of Vancouver? How are we responsible? If at all?

And finally, what can be done about it? (I mean, you know,… I will move back there, but there’s only so much I can do folks!)

Then again, there’s always a chance that 2 people are wrong,…
Just kidding! 2 people against 0 are never wrong.

Below, are the comments by John and Morgan (both of whom have since moved to other cities).
As always, thanks for the comments and have a great week! jd1
(Above picture from poster for Melissa James’ new film “No Fun City”, about,… you guessed it,… Vancouver.)

Morgan’s comment:

It’s not the only reason I moved away, but it is the biggest one. I was basically made to feel that my prospect for making a living there was a remarkably small piece of a tiny litle pie set off in one corner of a restaurant that was going …out of business. And as you noted, I’m not discussing the scene or any of the wonderful, inspiring music and musicians I had access to out there… I wouldn’t trade any of that for anything… It’s just my basic feeling on the percieved social value of the arts in general in Vancouver, outside of events happening as part of a “festival”.

I mean… the most artistically fulfilling house gig I had for over 2 years where it was with a working band that could do anything we wanted musically, we did at the behest of a clubowner who described musicians, variously as “pieces of shit on my shoe”, “the lowest form of life in the world” and “my fucking bitches.” We willingly subjected ourselves to that type of treatment in order to get our music performed. We don’t have to do that out here. I’ve never heard anybody talk about musicians like that out here. I may not make any more money playing at the Tranzac or even the Rex sometimes… but at least I’m generally treated with warmth and kindness and respect.

And honestly, for somebody known in BC and Alberta, it makes good economic sense to live out east and still have access to all the good gigs out west, with the added cachet of being from Toronto, Montreal, or New York. I hate to sound cynical or opportunistic, but that’s the reality of it for me. I did THREE tours last year funded by the Canada Council. That’s two more than my grand total for living in Vancouver for 10 years. Not that that is any sort of barometer of talent, or artistic achievement or anything else… but the music with each band WAS gratifying artistically, and I almost started to feel like I was making a real living there, for a minute.

Certain things about living in Vancouver started to make me feel unfulfilled (like I wasn’t any good), or at least that all my prospects for advancement were limited. I was never going to be the first call guy to play with the heavy out-of-towners at the Cellar. Never going to “sub” for Person X in Great Leader Y’s band. People from other scenes didn’t know I was interested in other styles (pigeonholing is much more convenient for a lot of people). I did not (and do not) posess the desire to teach awkwardly and amateurishly, like so many do everywhere in order to make a “living”. Probably what I was interested in presenting musically was always going to fall into the too “straight-ahead” category (never my words) to ever lead my own group in a really nice venue during the jazz festival, say with some premium out-of-town guests (outside of The Cellar, of course, thank God for the Cellar on so many levels).

Maybe some people just didn’t really like the way I play… I’m okay with that if that’s true. I did always try to do my best when given the opportunities that I had, to represent the music the way it was taught to me, and try to give people what they expected. I did get tired of the constant mythologizing of the Vancouver scene. “See, we’re special because we’re isolated and nobody has ever heard of us. But everybody here plays just as well as everybody in New York, and we’re certainly superior to everybody in Toronto. There’s nothing going on there, y’know, creatively.” That sentiment smacks of insecurity, to me. The world of music is a big place. It feels larger to me than it ever has before… and maybe that’s because of the fact I moved, and maybe it’s because I’m getting old… but it feels real to me.

John’s comment:

I haven’t been a full time Vancouver resident for nearly 8 years now, but I’ve always kind of felt like Vancouver is a victim of it’s own success. In places like New York, it was still possible to be a penniless bohemian in a rancid garrett in the center of the Manhattan action well into the second half of the 20th century, although anyone who lives there now will tell you things are way different now and they they despair for the future of jazz in NY. But for now, the infrastructure of the arts is secure enough that the jazz ‘business’ (if not jazz culture) will remain centered in NYC for the foreseable future.

When I first started playing around Vancouver in the early 70s, it was possible to live cheaply and make a living playing music. Almost all the musicians I knew worked constantly in strip clubs and blues bars (and played jazz for peanuts in other places; some things haven’t changed) and lived right in the center of town, in places like Kitsilano or the West End. When I played in the house band at the Place Cabaret on Granville in 1973, a bunch of us rented a house at 2586 w13th Avenue for $175 a month. No way could you do that now.

Not that I’m laying blame entirely at the feet of the real estate industry. I know it’s not really the done thing to say this, but frankly, there just isn’t much support in Vancouver for things like jazz among audiences. Because you’re right, it really doesn’t matter much if things end a bit early (here in New Orleans Snug Harbor, the main straight-ahead venue, moved it’s shows from 9 and 11p.m. to 8 and 10, because they were losing audiences during the late set. In post-Katrina New Orleans, people work harder and get up earlier), but the puritan attitude evinced by that kind of thing IS significant. Vancouverites are often too busy hustling money to make the condo mortgage payment to have much energy to hang in clubs.

There’s no shortage of first rate jazz musicians in Vancouver, in fact I’m always amazed at how many there are, considering the size of the city. There’s just not enough audience for them.

  • Guy

    I’m a little confused about the arguments put forward. Are we talking about Vanouver being a “no-fun” city or are we talking about the ability for jazz musicians to make a decent living? Those seem like two different questions to me. I can’t speak to the latter one. But I’ve always believed you make your own fun. The city is, and always has been, fun enough for me. I can see live jazz, live comedy and live theatre seven nights a week if I want. I don’t go to rock clubs much anymore or other nightclubs, but I certainly pass enough of them on the streets late at night. So is the question now how late things go? Is that the current definition of fun? Like, if you can’t party until 5 a.m., you can’t have fun? Well, maybe for some people. I know the liquor laws are archaic and laws about live music, but it’s not as if you can’t hear live music or get shit-faced now. I just came back from Phoenix and if Vancouver is a no-fun city, I daresay most big cities not named Toronto, Montreal, New York, New Orleans and a few others are no-nothing cities.

    I think “no-fun city” is just a meme. There are true parts to it but it’s reached a level far beyond its significance. Count me in the opposing camp.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    “I think “no-fun city” is just a meme.”

    If I recall correctly, it was actually a kind of contrarian reaction to the municiple government’s “Funcouver” campaign of some years back, and I agree that there’s been a lot of progress made. When I first started going out to “bars’ in Vancouver, that activity consisted of sitting glumly in a hotel “beer parlor” while a pug-faced ex-wrestler plunked down 8 or 10 plimsole-lined “glasses” of “draft” and made change from a coin dispenser on his belt. There was no music allowed, no singing allowed, and if you wanted to join friends at another table you weren’t allowed to carry your beer over there, you had to ask the waiter to do it for you. Worlds have turned since then.

    On the other hand, maybe it depends on your definition of ‘fun.’ The last time I took a late night walk down the “entertainment district” srip on Granville, where bars are now allowed to stay open late (or has that been rescinded?) it was like an alcohol-fueled 7th circle of hell. If ‘fun’ means getting shit faced and screaming like a baboon, then Vancouver truly has made the big-leagues. If there’s a “no-fun” aspect to Vancouver, it’s of the same stripe as London, which has a similar soccer-hooligan vibe after the pubs close. Anglo-saxon culture doesn’t treat drink the same way as the Gallic-Mediterannian (Montreal) does.

    I find Morgan’s comment interesting for a couple of reasons. I don’t know if he remembers this but about ten years ago, on the Vancouverjazz.com discussion board, he and I were going back and forth about the jazz scene in Vancouver. Morgs was of the opinion that it was about to bust wide open; that the number of first rate players had reached a kind of critical mass that was soon to result in the city taking it’s rightfull place alongside Toronto as THE center of jazz in Canada. I felt that I’d heard all that before, years back, and that Toronto would likely remain the center of the Canadian jazz universe for the forseeable future. I also suggested that he ought to base his decisions on what was best for HIS career, and not on a commendable but misplaced sense of loyalty to Vancouver. You could easily wind up ten years later, still waiting for the place to take off.

    I also find it interesting that a great deal of what he’s saying here, now, is pretty much identical to statements that got me chased off the Vancouverjazz.com board a couple of years ago by angry villagers brandishing torches and farm impliments. Careful Morgan, Vancouverites don’t take to criticism from “outsiders.”:-P

    “And honestly, for somebody known in BC and Alberta, it makes good economic sense to live out east and still have access to all the good gigs out west, with the added cachet of being from Toronto, Montreal, or New York. I hate to sound cynical or opportunistic, but that’s the reality of it for me”

    This has pretty much been my experience too. When I return to play the Vancouver jazzfest (which has been often, praise be to the Gig Gods) I usually get “better” gigs than I did when I was a local yokel. As Cam Ryga says, we’re all bums in our own backyard. And since there are NO cities, anywhere on earth, that are so much fun a jazz musician can make a living staying home in them, life is easier when you can easily reach major population-gig centers in and around the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle or, in my case, be a days drive from major markets in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Memphis, Atlanta, and Miami.

    “See, we’re special because we’re isolated and nobody has ever heard of us. But everybody here plays just as well as everybody in New York, and we’re certainly superior to everybody in Toronto. There’s nothing going on there, y’know, creatively.” That sentiment smacks of insecurity, to me”

    It always smacked a bit of self-congratulation to me, as did the “world class city” stuff that started popping up around Expo 86 (although god knows Toronto does that to death too). Real world class cities never call THEMSELVES that. Others do it for them.

    “The world of music is a big place. It feels larger to me than it ever has before”

    Amen to that. And this too, for me, has been a product of leaving Vancouver. For all it’s self proclaimed cosmopolitanism, it can be a parochial place, particularly in it’s self-regard.

    “We don’t have to do that out here. I’ve never heard anybody talk about musicians like that out here. I may not make any more money playing at the Tranzac or even the Rex sometimes… but at least I’m generally treated with warmth and kindness and respect.”

    Uh, Morgan. Didn’t I just finish reading a screed about exactly this kind of shitty treatment at a TORONTO club on your Facebook status?

    But yeah, it is nice to live in a “music town” and New Orleans is that. The money sometimes really sucks, but being a musician here carries a kind of social status I never, ever felt in Vancouver.

    Does all this add up to “No Fun Couver” for the average person? Probably not. But for jazz musicians, Vancouver doesn’t have a great deal to offer. More than Phoenix, certainly, but that’s far from your only choice. If you’re serious about music, you need to be where audiences are serious about it too. There are serious audiences in Vancouver, for sure. There’s just not enough of them.

  • Rachelle

    I agree with Morgan and John and I’m not a jazz musician but a photographer and artist and I ran screaming from Vancouver last year and haven’t looked back. I am now in Montreal and ecstatic to be once again living in a city that truly supports and appreciates the arts.

    I lived in Vancouver for five years and have some wonderfully talented friends there desperately attempting to create a larger artistic scene and infuse some ‘fun’ into what is (without question) the most boring city I’ve ever lived in, but it’s a difficult thing to accomplish.

    The sad truth is that most artists have to leave Vancouver and become known in another city before anyone in Vancouver takes notice. Tough to create a scene if you have to leave to be taken seriously.

    My opinion on why Vancouver is ‘no-fun’: combination of extremely high cost of living, practically non-existent government support of the arts or any ‘fun’ related activities, apathetic general population who are too busy working and working-out to care that they live in a cultural vacuum.

    I would also add that a large majority of people who live in Vancouver seem to be naturally anti-social, in the sense that they are not open to conversing with people outside their already close-knit social circle. I have a psychiatrist friend who told me that Vancouver is well known in mental health fields as a city with major social interaction and relationship problems.

    Maybe it’s the constant rain and oppressive clouds that makes everyone too depressed to create fun?

    Whatever it is, I’m glad I relocated. The difference in attitude here is remarkable. There is such a welcoming and positive vibe in Montreal that simply doesn’t exist in Vancouver. I can’t even count how many random strangers have happily struck up conservations with me here in the parks, the metro, on the street etc.

    Not to mention the never ending festivals and cultural events…most of which are free or cheap enough to be accessible to all. And the respect for artists is enough to make you want to weep tears of joy!

    That’s definitely a big part of what Vancouver is lacking. Good luck out there!

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    I should probably add (before the lynch mob forms yet again) that none of what I’ve said is meant as a blanket indictment of Vancouver per se. There are many excellent players there, and more than a few hard working presenters. I’d wager most of them stay put because they feel they’ve got a pretty nice life and career, and a respectable place at the table. Then there are those of us who were dogged by the feeling that there was no room at the inn, and that we’d best seek our destiny elsewhere. For me, this played out thus; I like to play the saxophone, and I like to teach (awkwardly or otherwise Morgan :-P)and I suspect if there’d been opportunities to do just a bit more of either of those things, I might have stayed. But I’m glad I didn’t now because, as Morgan says, the world of music is very big, and I’d never have gotten to do most of the terrific things I’ve experienced in the last 8 years by sitting around Vancouver complaining.

    But yeah Guy, I guess it all comes down to how you define ‘fun’. I had a brass band gig last night in the Krewe De Veaux parade. I spent four hours marching behind the sub Krewe of Spermes “Cuntinental Airlines” float, while being poked in the butt by giant rubber penises weilded by drag queens screaming “We’re here! We’re queer! And we want your ass!” You can’t have THAT kind of fun anywhere but New Orleans lol.

  • http://stevemynett.com Steve

    Good conversations about no fun in relation to the jazz scene. Gonna steer clear of jumping in on that side of the thread.

    I think the people that label Vancouver a no fun city define a certain amount of fun as night life. A different definition could yield Vancouver as the funnest city in the world. Beaches, 2 hours from whistler, swimming at spanish banks, rowing in english Bay, hiking on Grouse mountain and live in beautiful city with a great view. To me, that’s fun.

    But fun is also public art, great architecture, live music, culture etc. Not sure if something like ‘drinking on the street at 2AM’ is something I associate to being fun.

    I think there are some physical things about the city layout that contribute to the lack of vibrant night life, and liquor laws and public transport (see layout of the city) that don’t help the situation. But using everyones favourite example, The Cellar, they could have a 3rd set there and stay open a little longer, but people are ready to go home at 11.

    Nothing wrong with that. Just the way that it is. I dunno about everyone else but I don’t have much problem having a fun time in this city.

  • Guy

    So what have we learned? Vancouver’s no fun if you’re trying to make a living as a jazz musician, photographer or artist. If you’re a regular citizen, then it may or may not be fun depending on what you like to do. Um… so it’s subjective? That doesn’t work on a bumper sticker, people! Come on, let’s work together on this!

    I’ve never quite understood the idea that Vancouverites are less friendly. I mean, I understand it on one level — we do seem a tad more reticent. But why is that? Virtually no one is actually from here. People move here from all over the world. Do they stop being friendly once they relocate? I find if you put yourself out there and make non-crazy or delusional talk with a stranger, they’ll talk. But most people don’t like being the first to open up.

    Oh, and back to Phoenix for a second. I laughed a bit when I saw their public declaration of being a “world-class city”, too. But I don’t doubt that it is. There are no rules. Whatever. But I doubt there’s much hand-wringing from their populace about whether they truly are or not. It has its charms as does Vancouver and New Orleans and Montreal and New York and Edmonton… Okay, not Edmonton. Who are we kidding?