Hellhound on his trail

A century after his birth, musicians still rave about Robert Johnson, wrote The North Bay Nugget May 12, in a story about the troubled musician of the 1930s who died at age 27.

"Robert Johnson’s a massive influence on blues and blues-based rock," explains Rob Bowman, Grammy-winning music historian and professor of ethnomusicology at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts]. "He’s huge. If we look at the blues, there are three musicians who are absolutely seminal: Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson. Those three informed so much of the repertoire, esthetics and playing techniques of people like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and so on. He’s incredibly important."

Columbia Records producer John Hammond…made sure that everyone he knew was hip to this album [King of the Delta Blues Singers], says Bowman. “Word quickly filtered from musician to musician and connoisseur to connoisseur that here was a guy who was a notch or two above his contemporaries. That got his songs circulating within the folk and blues revival scene, and eventually manifested itself in the wealth of covers performed in the late ’60s and early ’70s by a host of contemporary blues singers, as well as a whole lot of rock ‘n’ roll players like Cream, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

“Robert Johnson, for whatever reason, had a sense of himself," concludes Bowman. “It shows in the way he performed and recorded and toured. And that was the crucible for his transformation from a folk musician to a professional musician. It was simply a different level of consciousness from his contemporaries. Sure, the aura, the intrigue and the mystery obviously play a big role. But if there’s not great music behind it, none of that other stuff matters."

No charges laid after alleged homophobic attack

Toronto Police said Wednesday that no charges will be laid after an alleged homophobic attack at York University last month, wrote CityNews.ca May 11.

Valerie Bustros says she was attacked by three men when she went to use the women’s bathroom at the University’s Winters Absinthe Pub. Police identified the suspects using security camera footage, but said Wednesday that no charges will be laid following their investigation.

The gender divide in children’s lit

Jeffrey Canton, a lecturer in Children’s Studies at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], believes that Canadian publishers are more sensitive to social disparities, wrote the National Post May 11, in a story about a US study that found a dominance of male characters in children’s books, especially if they are animals.

“Our small independent Canadian publishers, such as Groundwood, Orca, Annick, Second Story Press, are more aware of the need for gender equity. Because of that awareness, they publish books that do try to balance that,” he said.

He also noted that many Canadian publishing houses are run by women.

How to raise a good man

If you follow the advice below, chances are, your son will turn into the kind of man you want him to be, wrote WomensDay.com May 11, in a story about parenting advice for mothers.

Encourage him to read novels. Ongoing studies at York University [by psychology Professor Raymond Mar and colleagues in the Faculty of Health] show that people who read more fiction than nonfiction score higher on empathy tests. Why? Researchers theorize that the parts of the brain we use to understand how fictional characters feel are the same ones we use to figure out how real people feel. And the more we use those parts of our brain, the stronger our ability to understand others.

York grad wins re-election in Carleton-Mississippi Mills

“Four more years!” These were the words shouted in unison by the modest crowd of supporters who attended Carleton-Mississippi Mills MP Gordon O’Connor‘s constituency office…in Kanata May 2, upon hearing the official announcement proclaiming the Conservative Party’s majority win in the 2011 federal election, wrote West Carleton EMC May 12.

Born in Toronto, O’Connor has lived in Kanata for more than 25 years. He studied mathematics and physics at Concordia University in Montreal and holds a BA [’82] in philosophy from York University. He served more than 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, retiring with the rank of brigadier-general. He then entered the private sector and served as a lobbyist for several defence industry companies.

O’Connor was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 2004. During his previous tenures, O’Connor has filled such roles as minister of national defence, minister of national revenue, and minister of state and chief government whip.

Osgoode grad loved the arts, travel

Stephen Tatrallyay [LLB ’82] passed away peacefully at Stratford General Hospital on Saturday May 7, in his 54th year, wrote the Stratford Beacon-Herald May 11 in a death notice.

Born in Peterborough Ontario, Steve attended school there and in Toronto. He graduated from Carleton University and received his law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the bar in 1984. Steve was a partner at the law firm of Koskie Minsky in Toronto as well as a past president of the Canadian College of Construction Lawyers (CCCL). In 2007, he moved his independent practice to Stratford.

Steve loved life and lived it to the fullest. He loved the arts – not only in regularly attending performances, but also in volunteering behind the scenes. Steve never met an art gallery, museum or book he didn’t love and would spend hours absorbing them.

Steve was also an inveterate traveller and has left his footprints in many parts of the world.

Teacher was destined for life in school

Sue LeRoy [BA ’77] is soon to retire from the staff of Stouffville District Secondary School, wrote YorkRegion.com May 11.

“From an early age, I knew what I wanted,” she says, “entering the teaching profession was the best decision I ever made. I’ve been blessed.”

LeRoy obtained a bachelor of arts from York University and later her bachelor of education from the University of Toronto.

Her big break came after receiving a call from Stouffville District Secondary School teacher Jan McBride, suggesting she drop by for an interview. She immediately responded and was hired. “That was the best strategic career move I ever made,” she recalls.

LeRoy’s teaching career spans three decades, including 25 years at SDSS.

While best known for a leadership role in physical education, she also taught classes in guidance, typing, English and career studies. She established the first co-op teaching assistance program here. In sports, volleyball was a main interest and strength. Other athletic coaching involvements included track and field and badminton.

Stepping off the gas

Gas prices are on the rise, but what can consumers really do about it? Should they buy a more efficient car, or go electric?, asked GlobalNews.ca May 11.

To get some answers, Global News spoke to Vijay Gill [MBA ’02], principal research associate, energy, environment & technology policy at The Conference Board of Canada. He is responsible for research in transportation. He joined the Conference Board in 2010, after working at Transport Canada. Vijay has…an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

“The more your drive, the greater the financial incentive to switch [to an electric car],” said Gill. “Roughly speaking, the price per litre of gas would need to exceed $3 for a consumer to recoup their costs of a Chevy Volt over an alternative purchase such as the Chevy Cruze Eco. This does not include any rebate incentives. The tipping point could occur earlier for the Nissan Leaf (again relative to the Cruze Eco), since the purchase price is lower and it has greater potential for more annual electric mileage.

“The tipping point occurs much earlier for ‘regular’ hybrids due to the smaller initial premium. For a person who drives 16,000 or 18,000 kilometres per year, which is about average, the current price of gas may already be incentive enough.

“[People will start buying electric cars], but take-up will be very limited until there is a significant decrease in the purchase price and at least some increase in vehicle range (for pure battery electrics such as the Leaf).

Displacement and self-discovery for York dance grad

Sashar Zarif [MA ’07] is a work in progress, a man forced by circumstances, as are many immigrants, to ponder the foundations of his personal identity, wrote the Toronto Star May 11. It’s a process that has hatched several acclaimed dance works, the latest of which, Solos of My Life, has its premiere this week.

Zarif, 42, arrived in Toronto from a harrowing adolescence. He was born in Tehran to parents of Azerbaijani descent when Persia was still a monarchy. He experienced the horrors of the 1979 Iranian Revolution as an Azerbaijani – including torture – firsthand.

Barely 14, Zarif managed to escape through the mountains to Turkey during the chaos of the Iran-Iraq War, only to spend another three-and-a-half years in a refugee camp before his UN agency-brokered move to Canada.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent reassertion of Azerbaijan’s independence allowed him to visit his ancestral homeland, the country whose traditions and culture he’d learned about as a child at the feet of his exiled grandmother.

That almost year-long sojourn in Baku changed Zarif’s life. He began studying traditional dance forms and on his return to Toronto dedicated himself to dance and ethnographic research, eventually earning a master’s degree from York University [Faculty of Fine Arts].

Now Zarif is tapping the complexities of his personal saga and cultural heritage in a work that seemingly belies its title. Solos of My Life is in fact choreographed for five performers, Zarif and a cast of four seasoned female collaborators, none of whom leave the stage during the work’s one-hour duration.

Program helps seniors ‘get it’ about healthy living

Other than a yoga class a year ago, John Van Esterik admits he wasn’t very active, wrote InsideToronto.com May 12.

But the retired York University professor [Department of Social Science, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] hopes a program he just completed at York West Active Living Centre has changed his lifestyle.

While Van Esterik said only time will tell whether he can maintain his new dedication to exercise, at the moment he is determined to embrace a new way of life. "I thought it (the program) was pretty good. I’ve started to exercise more at home now," he said. "I have a cross trainer (exercise equipment). Before, I would get discouraged. I was on for five minutes and would get pooped. And now I do 10-15 minutes easily."

Buses could get exclusive lanes on Finch West

Light rail transit along Finch Avenue West is off the books as far as the City of Toronto is concerned, wrote InsideToronto.com May 11, in a story about a new city council transportation report. But a similar plan, using dedicated bus lanes along the middle of the road – or other bus-only routes using the hydro corridor – could be the ultimate transit solution for the corridor.

The report suggests that the city could construct a two-lane roadway for the exclusive use of buses, through the hydro corridor north of Finch, similar to the one operating between Dufferin and Keele streets for the York University express bus.

On air

  • Perry Sadorsky, economics professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about why gas prices are so high, on Global Television May 11.