KHABBAZ email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-08-25 published
CARMICHAEL, Donald Norman
Surrounded by family, Friends, and an abundance of love. Don bid us farewell on Thursday August 23, 2007 at Scarborough Grace Hospital. Don was a most loving and devoted husband to Mary Therese. He was an extremely proud father and father-in-law to Robb and Deb, Ron, Doug and Joan, David and Erica, and Danny and Dawn. Don was a treasured Papa to Erica, Geneva, Benjamin, Ryan, Aaron, Chloe, Madeline, Nathan, Abigail and Adam. Don will be especially remembered by many other close family members and long-time Friends. Don was a kind and gentle man who will live on in all of our hearts. A special thank you to Doctor HUROWITZ, Doctor KHABBAZ and the palliative care team for all of their advice and support. Friends may visit at Highland Funeral Home (416-773-0933), 3280 Sheppard Ave. E., west of Warden, on Sunday, August 26th from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. A Memorial Mass will be held on Monday August 27th at 10: 00 a.m. at Holy Spirit Church, 3526 Sheppard Ave. E., west of Birchmount. Burial service at Holy Cross Cemetery at 8361 Yonge Street, south of Hwy. 7 and Hwy. 407. In lieu of flowers, a donations to the ALS Society or World Vision would be appreciated.
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KHAN firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-10-27 published
His BamBoo club transformed the nightlife of restrained Toronto
Onetime freelance writer and his business partner took an abandoned laundry and turned it into the cornerstone of Toronto's funky Queen Street West scene through the 1980s and 1990s
By Ron CSILLAG, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S11
Toronto -- Richard O'BRIEN was the arbiter of cool in a city that never stops obsessing over its image. Only he dared to pair plates of redolent Thai spicy noodles and feverish jerk chicken, washed down with a Tusker lager or two, with the throbbing beat of a Zairean soukous band.
Maybe he was crazy like a fox, for the marriage between exotic world music and Asian/Caribbean cuisine kept Toronto's landmark BamBoo club pulsating for nearly 20 years. As The Globe noted five years ago this month, when the BamBoo finally shuttered its fabled doors, "long before the Gap and Starbucks sent Queen Street West spiralling into a retail frenzy, stopping in at the BamBoo for a beer or a bite was a rite of passage for city residents and out-of-towners alike."
Indeed, the decidedly unslick 'Boo (once described, though lovingly, as "a carefully crappy-looking dive") was the cornerstone of Toronto's funky Queen Street West scene through the 1980s and 1990s, showcasing cutting-edge reggae, funk, R&B, Latin, jazz and soul acts, and hosting some of the wildest private parties staid Toronto had seen. The eclectic kitchen staff, meantime, cranked out signature Caribbean, Indonesian and Thai dishes that kept the joint at the top of virtually every "best-place-to-eat" list in the city since the day it opened.
The music was loud, the place usually packed (and sweltering), the food piquant and the atmosphere laid-back and aggressively Third World. It worked.
In the days before random club shootings and refrigerator-sized bouncers, the BamBoo was more a community centre for artists and musicians. "And it was an awesome community," recalled Lorraine SEGATO, lead singer for the long-defunct Parachute Club, which played the BamBoo in July, 1983, to celebrate their debut release, a month before the club officially opened.
(As Patti HABIB, Mr. O'BRIEN's friend and business partner for some 30 years, recalled with some satisfaction, the place that night "was jammed to the rafters, and it was totally illegal. We had no liquor license and no running water. You'd never get away with that kind of stuff today.")
What fascinated Ms. SEGATO about the BamBoo was its timing. Toronto "was just starting to bust out in terms of a cultural product that was coming from all the immigrants. So the music scene was really ripe."
"The timing was really extraordinary," she said wistfully. "It was a confluence of energies. More importantly, it was home to so many people who considered themselves either artists or, you know, different. The 'Boo was this safe haven."
That's precisely how Mr. O'BRIEN and Ms. HABIB planned it.
"Richard never turned down artists or musicians," Ms. HABIB said. "People felt the BamBoo was their home because it was a very relaxed atmosphere. No women ever had to feel scared. We never had fights. It was a very warm place."
A bearish man who bore a striking resemblance to film director Francis Ford Coppola and favoured retro Hawaiian shirts, Mr. O'BRIEN could be sarcastic and cantankerous (his favourite expressions were, "Is everybody mental around here?" and "What's the big deal?"). He was also gregarious and passionate, an unabashed party animal and a lover of the arts. Even as a child, he showed interest in art and theatre, said his 97-year-old mother, Catherine O'BRIEN.
Adopted when he was four years old, he was a product of Toronto's Catholic schools. At 17, he and a buddy hopped on a motorcycle to see a girl in North Carolina. Mr. O'BRIEN kept going, and wound up in California in 1965. He bummed around, studied writing and broadcast journalism, and played drums in a small jazz club in San Francisco, where such giants as Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner dropped in to record. Four years after leaving, he returned to Toronto, sold some drawings and freelanced articles to newspapers.
He went to work for TVOntario, then the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where he got to interview reggae icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
In the late 1970s, Mr. O'BRIEN started hosting a popular Toronto booze can, the Dream Factory (where his friend Marcus O'Hara launched the annual Martian Awareness Ball to coincide with St. Patrick's Day. Little green men - get it?)
With Ms. HABIB, he also ran one the city's hippest speakeasies, the legendary MBC. A lot of people joked that it meant "My Booze Can," but the name was a playful dig at the inability of Mr. O'BRIEN and some Friends to buy the nearby Embassy Tavern. MBC, open only on Mondays and Thursdays, was a hit, featuring live music until 6 a.m. with acts that included Rough Trade with Carole Pope.
"We didn't just start a club with no background," Mr. HABIB pointed out. "We had been doing different events around the city and compiling a mailing list."
The two also frequented a rooftop after-hours boîte called the Paper Door, where Bruce Cockburn and Murray McLaughlin were regular acts. Significantly, it looked down onto a dumpy building that had had housed a Chinese laundry for 80 years but was used to store wicker furniture.
"It was the most derelict place," Ms. HABIB recalls with a laugh. "It was condemned, had no running water, no heat and no floor to speak of. But we said, 'Wouldn't it be a fabulous place to throw a party?' "
To their surprise, the space was for rent, and in 1982, "Richard, not me, put a [$2,500] deposit down on six-months' rent, thinking he could build a club." The couple had three months to renovate about 1,500 square metres of space.
Investors were brought in but money was short. The couple set up a flea market of Christmas trees in an event dubbed "Tree and Flea." Banks turned them down for loans, so another group of investors came in with the funds needed to finish the job, but charged a mob-like interest rate of 100 per cent over two years (successfully paid).
Meantime, nothing in the club was new. The lime-green wrought-iron front gates came from a wrecking company, and the banquette seating was from the Drake Hotel. Toilets were bought for $50 from a pinball parlour that was going under. The bar was salvaged from an Irish social club in Buffalo.
After $85,000 in renovations, the place opened on August 26, 1983, and was christened the BamBoo as a tribute to its former incarnation. There were lineups almost right away.
"It was always full," recalled Fergus Hambleton, lead singer for Toronto's poster band for reggae, the Sattalites, who became regulars. "It was partially that we're fabulous," Mr. Hambleton said half-jokingly, "but other than that, it was also a time when that club was right and the whole Queen Street thing was developing."
In Toronto, the 'Boo was to the eighties music scene what the El Mocambo was in the seventies or the Riverboat in the sixties. On any given night, one could hear a Nigerian-style juju group, a West African highlife act, ska, or a soca (soul calypso) band. Sometimes, jazz greats Buddy Rich and DIzzy Gillespie would follow reggae giants Bunny Wailer and Toots and the Maytalls.
The club couldn't have a liquor license unless it served food, so veteran chefs Vera KHAN handled the Caribbean fare, while Wandee YOUNG did the Thai cooking. Both put their stamp on a 1997 cookbook, The BamBoo Cooks. And rumour had it that rocker David Bowie simply had to have the BamBoo's ka kai soup whenever he was in town.
It all made Mr. O'BRIEN, in the eyes of Ms. HABIB, "really, really brave. When you're in his circle of people, 'no' doesn't come into your repertoire. I had to be dragged into this circle of the BamBoo, but when Richard was around, the possibilities were endless. He'd think big, act big, and I think that takes a fairly brave person."
Mr. Hambleton had a similar take. "Everybody at some point had a screaming argument with Richard because he just had a big personality. He brought an artistic flair to everything he did. He had a prodigious knowledge of all cultural things. He blustered. But at the bottom was this creative personality that was driven to share."
In 2000, Mr. O'BRIEN suffered a debilitating stroke that caused paralysis on his left side and put him in a wheelchair. The end of the BamBoo came in the summer of 2002, when the building's landlord announced he'd rented the space to another tenant, and gave the club 90 days to vacate. There was a final farewell bash, "Boo Hoo" on October 31 that year. Mr. O'BRIEN wasn't all that upset. "He thought it was a good sign to get out of Queen Street," Ms. HABIB said.
Besides, she'd been thinking of selling the place. "It was just too much running a club at night, especially by myself."
Months later, Mr. O'BRIEN became restless, and in March, 2003, he and some partners unveiled Bambu By The Lake, an even larger club/restaurant on Toronto's waterfront. "I really loved the old BamBoo," he explained in an interview, "but this really makes me forget it quick. We took the best of the old parts of the old BamBoo and incorporated them."
His involvement in the new venture lasted six months. According to Ms. HABIB, he lost everything, save for his Toronto Islands house, which he'd mortgaged to the hilt.
His final contribution to the city was an attempt to beautify the islands' grim concrete ferry terminal. He re-learned to use a computer well enough to Photoshop his colour-splashed ideas into the landscape, and called it Terminal Art.
Mr. O'BRIEN suffered a second massive stroke earlier this month. His last words were, "What's the big deal?"
Richard Kevin O'BRIEN was born in Montreal on July 28, 1948, and died in Toronto on October 14, 2007, of neurological complications. He was 59. He is survived by his mother, Catherine O'BRIEN, and sisters Colleen and Marylou. He also leaves his godson, Alexander HABIB. He was predeceased by his father, Joe O'BRIEN and his brother Gregory.
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