The sad news came today that Paul Quarrington, writer and singer, died today after an energetic fight with lung cancer. CBC obituary at:
Here is the text of the speech I made at the sold-out and joyous celebration of Paul at the Harbourfront International Writers’ Festival in Toronto in the fall of 2009:
We’re here to honour our friend and fellow writer, Paul Quarrington. Others (have spoken/will speak) about the many hats he wears, and his many talents. I’d like to take you back to a PEN Benefit of yesteryear – those somehow Canadian mixes of serious stuff and idiotic perfomances done in a good cause. I’d persuaded Timothy Findlay to dress up as a cowboy and do a fake country and western medley – hits like Ghost Writers in the Sky and If I Had the Wings of an Agent. The third member of our trio was Paul Quarrington – the only one who could actually sing. During our rehearsals.– as Tiff and I wandered among the sharps and flats and Tiff threatened meltdown because he’d never sung in public — Paul’s patience, good humour, and composure were inspirational.
Just before the event, we were told – hush hush! — that this night was to be Salman Rushdie’s coming-out party – his first appearance since the death-threat Fatweh had been imposed on him, with its attendant shootings and bomb threats. During the Intermission, we were all sealed up backstage as men in trenchcoats talked into their sleeves. Tension was, well, tense: had anything leaked? Were we about to become actual Ghost Writers in the Sky? Paul Quarrington was everything you’d want during an impending catastrophe. A bit of Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, mixed with the upbeat stoicism of a violin player on the Titanic. He turned a potential “We’re doomed” into a nerve-steadying “This is cool, eh?”
Such moments are revealing, and this one revealed a vintage Paul Quarrington – modestly understated, courageously cheerful, ready to deal with whatever, and – insofar as possible – to relish it. If Paul has a motto, it’s probably “Keep On Singing.” And he has. And so should we all.