Holding a writing instrument might have come slightly before holding a guitar, and is admittedly slightly easier, but Dave Bidini has been combining writing and music most of his life.
He’s written 13 books on subjects ranging from hockey to life in Canada’s Northwest Territory and what it’s like to tour the Great White North in an unforgiving winter, influenced in no small part by his role as a founding member of the Rheostatics and, later, Bidiniband.
But it was while researching his latest book, Midnight Light, that Bidini became inspired to create his own publication, the monthly tabloid-style, patron-supported West End Phoenix, focused on a neighborhood in his native Toronto where many writers, artists and musicians live.
“I was astonished, in 2015, to find a capital city in Canada where the newspaper was still vital and healthy and thriving,” Bidini says of Yellowknife and its twice-weekly paper, the Yellowknifer. “I fell in love with the tabloid. One of the things I fell in love with, other than people still reading the paper … a great way to get to know the city is working as a reporter. I wanted to work there for the summer.”
Given an invitation of “Well, if you want to come work here …” from the paper’s editor, Bidini spent five months working in one of the upper reaches of Canada with a reporter who wanted to raise the publication’s standards to that of his bigger city roots.
Bidini wanted to see the same kind of vibrant publication in Toronto, but the media landscape as it stood didn’t offer it. He decided to make it happen himself, going door to door in the West End to both gauge interest and try to secure subscriptions for the printed paper, which has foregone ads in favor of reader support and subscriptions.
The goal of the West End Phoenix is to “dignify the neighborhood and tell the stories in a way it had never been told,” he says. “That was the creative point of view. Editorially, we want to tell the stories that matter to the people who live in the community. We want to probe housing, education, development. … The idea is to do ground-level reporting infused with essays.”
Before the paper went to press for the first time in October 2017, before there was a paper to publish, those same neighbors who now read and write for the publication, some 800 subscriptions were secured, a number that has continued to steadily increase.
Dave Bidini, an author of 13 books and founding member of the Canadian band the Rheostatics, joins producer Michael O’Connell to discuss his latest venture, the monthly West End Phoenix newspaper in Toronto, featuring pieces from award-winning authors, writers, playwrights and poets who live in the neighborhood.