Bob Bossin explores his dad’s life as a Toronto bookie in the 30s and 40s in Davy the Punk at the All-Star reading Saturday

Gambling on a Home Remedy

An Elephant Mountain Literary Festival Mini-series

Festival Tales

An Elephant Mountain Literary Festival Mini-series

For years I kept a small bottle on my windowsill. It was half full of green liquid and the label had cracked in the sun, but you could still read it: Bob Bossin’s Home Remedy for Nuclear War.

I bought it at his Nelson show sometime in the ’80s. I knew it wouldn’t stop the Doomsday Clock, but I can report that the old-time medicine show was “good for what ails ya”—something Bob Bossin and his musical group Stringband certainly were.

Three decades later Bob is back, this time as an Elephant Mountain Literary Festival special guest with his new book Davy the Punk: A Story of Bookies, Toronto the Good, the Mob and My Dad. He’ll take the stage with Governor-General’s Literary Award-winner Kate Pullinger and Commonwealth Writers Prize-winner Marina Endicott at the All-Star Reading on Saturday, July 11 at 7:30pm at the Capitol Theatre.

Back in the day you could stomp your Birkenstocks to Stringband’s beat, but when you stopped to listen there was a whole lot more. Bob’s understanding of politics, society, and what ails us came through, prompting Vancouver Folk Festival co-founder Gary Cristall to write: “Bob researched his songs like they were books. He made them sound simple, but underneath, they were complex pieces of art.

So it seems completely reasonable that Bob should go on to write a book, and that it should be at once playful, serious, complex—and well researched. Reading Davy the Punk gave me a window into a part of Canadian society about which I knew next to nothing, and I was fascinated.

In the impoverished Toronto neighbourhood known as The Ward, things were rough in the 30s. Betting on the horses was legal at the track, but off-track gambling for those who couldn’t afford the races was illegal. As an underworld bookie, Bob’s dad may have flaunted the law but he maintained a level of integrity that earned him respect—even with the cops. By the time Bob was born Davy had moved on to more legitimate work; he died when Bob was a teenager.

On the website davythepunk.com, Bob writes: “My father, as I knew him in the 1950s, was a quiet, conservative man who booked acts into nightclubs around Ontario. But before that, in the 1930s and 40s, he had been Davy the Punk, his nom de guerre in the gambling underworld. Sufficeth to say, Davy was not a man who kept a diary; ‘Bobby, what you don’t say can’t be held against you,’ he warned me.”

But if Davy kept mum, Bob put his research skills to work forty years later, speaking to folks at the United Dairy Farmers Restaurant (est. 1912) who remembered his dad, and poring over police reports. The result is a glimpse into a colourful era of Canadian history, an honest investigation into a life, and a darn good read.

But the musician is never far from the writer. Bob’s been touring with a one-man show that combines songs based on the book with excerpts, set against a backdrop of archival images. He’ll bring a piece of that show to us on Saturday night.

You can get Bob’s take on creativity by coming to the Saturday daytime panel discussions on creative process, which take place at Kootenay Studio Arts at 606 Victoria Street. The origins of creativity are considered with panelists Bob Bossin, author Asok Mathur, potter David Lawson, and artist and poet Susan Andrews Grace, moderated by Rose Nielsen, at 9am. All four panels feature our special guests along with Nelson artists and creative thinkers.

Elephant Mountain Literary Festival—a weekend of ideas, conversations, food for thought and entertainment—is as good a home remedy as any for what ails ya.

Elephant Mountain Literary Festival runs July 10 – 12 in Nelson. Future columns will cover Saturday panels in detail and profile special guest Marina Endicott. For information and tickets go to www.emlfestival.com.

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