Monday 5 April 1999

- Column - Bill Brownstein -

Alley oop!
Amazing how things get done

The Gazette

Insults flew. Egos were bruised. Ah, just another afternoon of merriment at Winnie's. The usual suspects were present: embittered members of the press; politicos, of varying levels of repute; artists; con-artists; philosophers; one philanthropist-cum-Talmudic scholar; sundry barkeeps; and, of course, Renee, the queen of this ragtag corps.

The controversy-du-jour was the city of Montreal's decision to officially name the lane next to Winnie's Ruelle Nick Auf der Maur on Wednesday, to commemorate the first anniversary of the legendary alley-er's death.

One faction felt it was a slap in the face to have his name affixed to this ignominious alley, frequented mainly by beer trucks and folks whose bladders are bursting because of said beer.

The other faction felt it was a good start, the first step in having Crescent St. changed to Auf der Maur Crescent or, better still, Boulevard.

Tempers flared. The decibel level rose dramatically. Ever-cool Margo, arbiter and bartender, considered removing all sharp objects from the counter.

Nick would have loved all this commotion.

In the midst of the din, my friend Stephen Phizicky, CBC-TV producer and executor of Nick's estate, made a most astute observation: "Who would have bet any kind of money that a group of screwed-up reprobates could have ever managed to shut up long enough to put together a book (Nick: A Montreal Life) that was on the bestseller list for five months and to start a couple of thriving memorial funds?"

The Phiz has a point. This is a group of humans who on a good day would have difficulty organizing a cab ride home, let alone making the 20-metre pilgrimage across the street to Ziggy's for evening deliberations.

What's in a name?

Ziggy Eichenbaum, the tireless proprietor of Ziggy's pub, has an explanation as to how some once-listless souls could became so mobilized: "Mention Nick's name, and stuff happens."

Phizicky admits it took just one phone call to Gerry Weiner, a city of Montreal executive-committee member, to get the Ruelle Nick Auf der Maur ball rolling.

While Auf der Maur's legacy will always live on among friends at downtown haunts, so it will among many Montrealers who never knew him.

Close to $50,000 has been donated to the Nick Auf der Maur Memorial Fund for cancer patients at the Montreal General Hospital. More than $13,000 of that has come from the Nick book.

In addition, more than $12,000 has been donated to a scholarship fund at Concordia University to benefit journalism students. And there is the $5,000 annual grant from Mix 96 Radio that goes to another scholarship fund at Concordia in Nick's name.

More gratifying is that donations keep coming. Following the unveiling of the Ruelle Nick Auf der Maur on Wednesday at 4:30 pm., both Winnie's and Ziggy's will kick in $1 to the charities for every drink sold throughout the evening. Staff will also donate tips to the cause. And the downtown Cheers, Thursdays and Mckibbins Pub have each pledged $1,000.

Melissa Auf der Maur, Nick's rock-star daughter, is touched. "I am so honoured there will be a street-sign carrying my family's name - my father

always loved the alleys for the warm-cuts and the short-cuts," said Melissa, who will preside over unveiling ceremonies. "But I would go for all of Crescent carrying his name, since Crescent has no significant meaning." The scholarship fund does have special significance for Melissa. She will oversee it and pick students "hungry to learn."

Though she spends most of her time in L.A. with the group Hole, this city and her father's memory are ever-present in her mind. "For the first six months, I was trying to protect myself and his passing barely penetrated. Now I feel it sinking in more and more every day. I still hear him laughing, and I still hear all the bad jokes he would tell me all my life," she said softly. "Now I'm telling these same bad jokes to people. Of course, they don't laugh - because they're not funny. Oh yes, he'll always be with me."

And there was calm at the bar at last.

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