On the grill
Who are you
I’m John Auber Armstrong, aka Buck Cherry, former minor punk-rock superstar and, these last 30 years, writer and journalist. Those are honestly two very different things. Why do you care? Well, likely you don’t but you should because people far wiser than I have said things like “Bukowski, but with better legs” and “James Thurber, if he’d had Tourette’s Syndrome.” Why you care at this moment is because I have a new book out, my third, called A Series of Dogs, a memoir of the dogs in my life from childhood to the present—life, love, loss, etc. These friends have sustained me through the vicissitudes of a misspent youth that lasted until middle age and from them I’ve learned loyalty and the value of giving and receiving love without judgment. If I were half the man my dogs have been, I’d get into Hebben on the first ballot. From New Star Books—insist your merchant carry many copies.
Wayne Newton at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. My stepfather was a janitor there for a time and got free tickets, and being “connected”, a backstage visit with Mr. Danke Schoen.
He was very tall, very shiny—as if he’d been coated with shellac, or possibly Rogers Golden Syrup—and dressed in a clown suit and whiteface because his finale had been some sort of "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" number that scared the living shit out of me.
There’ve been several—Stones in ’72 at the Coliseum, Stooges at Pender Ballroom, Dolls at the Commodore—but I’ll say the Mount Lehman Grease Band at Mallairdville Hall. This was the first time I saw Art Bergmann play, and discovered he lived just down the road from my high school. I knew immediately he’d been touched by the gods and I pestered him until he taught me how to play guitar. Thus began a 40-plus-year friendship and I’m still as much in awe of his talent as I was the first time I heard him. I love the man.
Top three records
Ry Cooder Boomer’s Story Depression and Dust Bowl ballads, greasy blues, and versions of “The Dark End of the Street” and “Maria Elena” that can bring me to tears, sober. A genius.
Television Marquee Moon Art and I listened to this over and over and over when it came out trying to figure out how they did that stuff. And then bent our fingers to hell trying to do it ourselves. A perfect album, unimprovable.
Copyright The Hidden World A staggering piece of work, baroque pop dipped in sleaze and degradation, angels giving blowjobs in alleyways, the death of youth and dreams. And gorgeous melodies. For my money, the greatest Canadian band—ever.
All-time favourite video
I suddenly realized you most likely mean “music video”, which saved us all some embarrassment. So … Copyright—“Into the Light”. A brilliant song and one of the most revealing, heartfelt lyrics I’ve ever heard. A mea culpa married to grinding Keith-esque guitars and propelled by a rhythm section that both swings and pounds, at the same time. I’m honoured to call these people friends and I miss this band everyday.
What’s in your fridge?
Anchovy paste. I’m 60 now, and I’ve learned few things. One is that you must always have anchovy paste handy. At the very least, to make instant Caesar dressing—take Kraft Creamy Caesar as a base, add lemon, fresh garlic, coarse black pepper, and a schmear of fish paste and you have it. Tastes like the real thing and delicious on all kinds of stuff besides lettuce.
Garlic chili oil. This is the stuff you see in Chinese restaurants where the hot pepper has settled to a red and black sludge at the bottom of the little glass pot and the oil floats above. There’s a reason for the tiny spoon stuck in the sludge: serving suggestion. How hot? If you drank this straight, you could use lava to rinse your mouth out. You’ve been warned. Fun Fact—the seeds have no hot to them, but the residue of the pith that holds them in the pepper itself is loaded with it. The longer it sits in oil, the hotter the product gets… You will not likely use a whole bottle in your lifetime as you use less and less each time out because it’s hotted up some more. It’s a kind of Zeno’s Paradox that also disintegrates your anus.
Green onions. Green onions are one of the most versatile foods I know of—you can put them in salads, eggs, potatoes, tuna, wraps, pasta, and on and on. That crunchy, mildly spicy taste, the cool texture, the sheer garden-freshness of them. Indispensible. Also, you should ALWAYS have fresh limes in the fridge. If only to make salad dressing and in case someone shows up with tequila. It’s been known to happen.
I should also say that putting your avocados in the fridge just as they hit perfect ripeness makes them last a long time, and with the price of avocados, this is a good thing to know. Seriously—if you have chili oil, limes, avocados, and green onion, anything you make with them will be good.
Now go buy my book, please.
If you are too lazy to get out to your local independent bookstore, you can find A Series of Dogs here.