Writer-musician Paul Quarrington dies
Last Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2010 | 3:56 PM ET
Award-winning Toronto writer and musician Paul Quarrington has died of lung cancer at age 56.
Quarrington died Thursday morning at his home in Toronto, surrounded by friends and family, according to a statement on his website.
"It is comforting to know that he didn't suffer; he was calm and quiet holding hands with those who were closest to him," the statement said.
Since his diagnosis with lung cancer last spring, Quarrington had channeled his energy into several projects he had on the go, among them, his first solo CD, a third release from his band PorkBelly Futures, and a memoir, Cigar Box Banjo, to be published by Greystone Books.
"I used to think that I was one of the luckiest guys alive — and when I got the diagnosis I thought, well my luck has just run out, but actually it hasn't really," Quarrington said at a concert last August. "You find out how lucky you are in terms of friends and people around you."
At the time, Quarrington was touring with his band and making changes to his musical memoir, but he'd abandoned plans for another novel.
"Maybe because for a novelist going in you know at the end of the day you're not going to be entirely satisfied with the product because it's just too big and unwieldy. But with a song there's a chance it can be perfect — maybe they're more little bullets as opposed to the big bomb," he told CBC News.
Born and raised in Toronto, Quarrington graduated from the Canadian Film Centre. He first gained attention as a musician, recording Baby and the Blues, a Canadian hit, in 1979, with partner Martin Worthy.
He began writing novels while working as the bass player for the legendary Toronto rock band Joe Hall and the Continental Drift. His first novel, The Service, was published in 1978.
Although he addressed serious subjects, Quarrington's writing was characterized by its humour and deft handling of comic situations. His 1987 novel, King Leary, about a former hockey player, captured the 1988 Stephen Leacock Award, then faded into out-of-print oblivion. It emerged again as winner of CBC's Canada Reads 2008 competition. Anchor Canada subsequently produced a new edition of the book.
"There's a notion that if you're dealing with something that's fun, it's not as worthwhile as it could be," Quarrington told Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio's cultural affairs show Q, shortly after winning the contest.
"But when I was young and being influenced," he added, "all the novelists I read were funny like Joseph Heller and Philip Roth. I just thought it was part of the deal."
Giller Prize nominee Paul Quarrington signs copies of his book Galveston in 2004. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)Fellow musician and writer Dave Bidini, who defended King Leary for Canada Reads, recalled Quarrington on Thursday as a fresh voice in Canadian literature.
"He wrote about things that were common to me and common to his generation like rock 'n' roll and hockey," Bidini said. "He showed you didn't have to write poetically about the sleeping plain and undulating forest to create exciting and real Canadian literature."
Bidini, author of Tropic of Hockey and Around the World in 57½ Gigs, said Quarrington's cleared the way for his own career as a writer.
"He ripped open that hole and made it easier for the rest of us to walk through it."
After being diagnosed last spring, Quarrington joked about his condition with his friends and in interviews with the media. "I've always found refuge in humour," he said.
Quarrington was probably best known for his zany, fast-paced novel Whale Music, loosely based on the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Called "the greatest rock 'n' roll novel ever written" by Penthouse magazine, the book centres on a former rock legend who lives in seclusion mourning the death of his brother in car accident.
Whale Music won the 1989 Governor General's Award and became a film by the same name in 1994. Quarrington's screen adaptation was nominated for several Genie Awards. Two later novels, Galveston and The Ravine, were nominated for the Giller Prize.
Quarrington wrote the Gemini Award-winning screenplay for the 1991 film, Perfectly Normal, and the screenplay for Camilla, which was directed by Deepa Mehta. He wrote several scripts for the stage including The Invention of Poetry and Dying is Easy.
He wrote for television, including for Due South and Moose TV.He had adapted his 2008 semi-autobiographical novel, The Ravine, about a down-and-out television producer, into a short film.
He also was working on an eight-part series for television, Notebooks on Euphoria, with movie and television director John L'Ecuyer.
Quarrington penned several non-fiction books that reflect his love of mainstream Canadiana — fishing and hockey — including the 2001 Fishing for Brookies, Browns and Bows: The Old Guy's Complete Guide to Catching Trout.
He won three National Magazine Awards for his journalism work.
He taught writing at Humber College and the University of Toronto, and sat on the board of directors of the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival.
An accomplished guitarist and songwriter, he maintained an active career as a musician in recent years.
His band, country-blues ensemble PorkBelly Futures, includes drummer/songwriter Worthy, bassist Chas Elliott, guitarist/harmonica player Stuart Laughton and singer-songwriter Rebecca Campbell. Its first CD, Way Past Midnight, was released in 2005 by Wildflower Records and spent six months on the Americana charts. Its second CD, PorkBelly Futures, was released in April 2008 and contains many of Quarrington's original compositions.
He leaves two teenage daughters, Carson Lara and Flannery.
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