Two boys, both regularly beaten black and blue by the schoolyard bully and disappointed by the doomed fortunes of their respective hometown hockey teams, find salvation from eternal nerdom by joining rock bands. The two eventually document those formative experiences in memoirs. Both books are published in fall 2013.
While it might be premature to hail the advent of a new subgenre in Canadian non-fiction, the similarities between Dave Bidini’s Keon and Me and Grant Lawrence’s The Lonely End of the Rink are striking. Both books even devote considerable ink to the colourful antics of mischief-maker Tiger Williams, who thrilled fans of both Bidini’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Lawrence’s Vancouver Canucks.
But that is where the similarities end. Any further comparisons do not flatter Lawrence, notwithstanding the fact that he cites Bidini as an influence.
The author of a dozen books – all of which have been autobiographical at least to some extent, and many of which have probed our irrepressible national fixation with shinny – Bidini has written a thoughtful, amusing, coming-of-age meditation on what it means, as both a child and an adult, to be a fan. Keon and Me also has the virtue of dividing its focus between two subjects.
Yes, we learn even more than we previously knew about Bidini, whose résumé includes membership in the treasured rock band the Rheostatics. But we also discover a fair bit about Bidini’s childhood hero, Dave Keon, the enigmatic star of the last Toronto team to win the Stanley Cup, as well as other players who have donned the blue and white over the years.
Not yet four in 1967, when his cherished Leafs last hoisted hockey’s holy grail, Bidini focuses instead on the 1974–’75 season, Keon’s last as a Leaf and the author’s first as the default punching bag of a neighbourhood bully (and fan of the pugilistic Philadelphia Flyers to boot).
The operating narrative conceit throughout involves the separation of the boy’s childhood perspective from the man’s adult reflection. And so: “The boy felt that if he didn’t stand up for the Leafs, something about his life and the world and the order of the universe wouldn’t be right, and while he would become a man who would sometimes look back on this slavish commitment and shake his head, he also knew that it made him feel important at an age when everything about his young life seemed insignificant.”
Bidini’s fondness for road trips contributes to one of the book’s high points, a visit to Rouyn-Noranda, the Northern Quebec mining town that spawned Keon and so many other hockey greats.
There is a sense that Keon isn’t much interested in reliving or revisiting the past; would that Grant Lawrence shared some of Keon’s reticence. The Lonely End of the Rink starts with the story of how Lawrence happened, at one year of age, to spend an entire flight on Bobby Orr’s lap, as the Boston Bruins legend and the rest of his Team Canada teammates flew from Toronto to Winnipeg during the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Most of us would have dined out on that anecdote for the rest of our lives, and left it at that.
Not so for the former lead singer of the Smugglers and current host of CBC Radio 3 music podcasts. Lawrence spends the bulk of this book relating the story of how he learned to love the Canucks, while routinely being assaulted by his knuckleheaded childhood nemesis, Buck. Lawrence, whose unathletic youth was partly a condition of poor eyesight and knee braces, eventually carved out a place for himself between the pipes, playing goal in beer leagues and annual pickup games involving other musicians.
Lawrence leans on pop culture references to the point that it quickly feels like a lazy alternative to actual writing. On one page alone, Buck is said to resemble Adam Rich from Eight Is Enough and Kelly from The Bad News Bears. Then there is the compulsion to insert a nickname whenever a hockey player is mentioned, even in a second reference.
Most problematic, however, is the fact that Lawrence doesn’t bother to establish why anyone beyond his friends and family might be interested in his musings. Bidini, by contrast, welcomes a wider audience.