The Cowsills In Magazines

Music-lovers owe a debt to Mr. Muretich
April 30, 2006
JAM Showbiz

The last time I used this space to celebrate someone who meant a great deal to this city and its musicians was too late.

It was Billy Cowsill and it was a week after he died.

The only regret being, other than it didn't go far enough, was that Cowsill, himself, probably never knew the extent of his contributions to the artistic community in Calgary and, by extension, our entire standard of living -- as lofty and maudlin as that may sound.

Well, life, as they say, is far too short for regrets, and with innumerable already banked, one more would be one more too many.

Which is why this space -- inadequate as it may be -- should now be used to celebrate what James Muretich means to everyone in this city who believes art and music can and do make a difference in the way you look at the world or merely how you feel about it.

He, for those who don't know, or whom may have forgotten, was this berg's pre-eminent music writer for the '80s and '90s, working for the Sun and then finishing his career with the Herald before, unfortunately shuffling off into the shadows for the past few years.

And like Cowsill, Muretich, right now dealing with some serious health issues of his own, probably has no idea the difference he made to the lives of the many he touched, be it the musicians he wrote about, those who read him, those who found inspiration in what he did or those he befriended.

It would be a crime if he never did.

The first time I remember being aware of Muretich was during his late-'70s, early '80s tenure on the community cable music video show FM Moving Pictures.

I was just a kid, but like most, an impressionable one, and he made an impression on the flickering tube.

But it's for what he wrote -- the many million column inches dedicated to bands both local and international, large and small, good or bad -- which we all owe him for.

Irascible, opinionated, boorish, brilliant, biting, hilarious, insightful but always entertaining, with his writing he opened the door to so much music for so many people -- from the odd and wonderful to now seminal bands and artists such as Dire Straits, The Clash, Blondie, Peter Gabriel and, just one of many personal unpayable debts of gratitude to the man, XTC.

Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, Muretich was, when he put his thoughts to paper, unequalled in this country when it came to music writing -- inspiring, infuriating but always worth reading.

And, perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay to someone who writes opinion for a living, you always knew where he was coming from and what he truly believed -- something everyone who does this for a living can only aspire to.

Even if you disagreed with or even detested what he had to say, you knew he meant it and you felt his passion.

And as for the musicians in this city -- many of whom probably fall in the love or hate camp, such is the profession and the egos involved -- each and every one owes Muretich a debt of gratitude.

Not just for the fact he illuminated and wrote about -- and thereby helped cultivate -- what they were doing in a city that often gives very little credence to anything not dealing with commerce, but because he would hold you accountable and then, usually, accost you in the club and slobber a kiss on you.

That's also something -- the kisses, too -- he did with those whom were fortunate enough to receive his friendship and teaching.

Yes, I'll now get indulgent and use this space to acknowledge -- and you can then blame -- him for his part in what I do and who I am.

In the early '90s, Muretich took me under his wing and gave me the opportunity to learn from what he knew about music, writing and life.

Like his criticism, there was some I accepted, some I dismissed, but all I ultimately benefited from -- personally and professionally.

I don't think I ever told him how much.

So now I am.

To be perfectly honest, I never thought I'd get to say it to him.

But now, tardy in coming as it may be, it's not regrettably too late.

So, James, thank you.

Thank you for everything you did for this city -- this city's musicians, its music-lovers and those who don't even know that what you did touched them.

And, most importantly, thank you from me -- thank you for XTC.

- Mike Bell

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