For some reason he can't quite explain, but one he readily admits is "insane," the broadcaster and musician Rich Terfry heads to the park across from his Toronto home almost every single day, lugging a tee, a bat, and a bucket of baseballs. He stands there, smacking imaginary home runs, working on "the little imperfections" that plague his swing.
"I'm still working on it as if I'm trying to get the notice of scouts," he says. "I can't let it go, and I won't. I'll be 60, and I'll be out there doing the same thing. And I can't understand it, I can't explain it for myself or for anyone else, but it's something I have to do. I have to keep working on it."
Terfry and I are hiding in the shade on a College Street patio on a humid afternoon in late July, talking baseball, which is his enduring passion, above all else. Somewhat wistfully, and seemingly unrelatedly, he mentions an article he recently read about the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator in Switzerland.
"They did these experiments earlier this year where they were looking into the idea of parallel universes," he says. "And every time I hear people talk about the idea, I think there's gotta be a parallel universe, somewhere, where it worked out. How do I get there? How do I tap into that?" His voice is searching. "Why am I stuck in this one?"
In a way, Terfry's first book, Wicked and Weird, exists in that parallel universe, a portrait of the CBC Radio 2 host and Juno Award-winning rapper, but as seen through a prism of sorts, both real and imagined. It's a book that manages to be both brutally raw and playfully deceptive, fact couched in fiction. Reading it, one immediately thinks back to April and his now-infamous Facebook post: "I've manipulated and tricked people. I've created a false image of myself … I'm sorry to everyone for making you believe I'm something I'm not." Having read Wicked and Weird, I'm still not sure what that something is.
When advance copies of the book went out to media earlier this year, it sported the subtitle The True Tale of Buck 65, a nod to the most famous of his musical alter egos.
When it arrives in stores on Tuesday, it'll be branded The Amazing Tales of Buck 65. One changed word, one added letter, yet, in meaning, a profound difference.
"There was concern about making sure we were as clear as we could be in how we were positioning the book," his editor, Lynn Henry, says. "We needed to make it really clear that this quote-unquote 'truth' is to be taken with a grain of salt."
While it's not exactly a memoir, it's not a novel, either. It begins, like Terfry's own life, in Mount Uniacke, N.S., a village surrounded by abandoned gold mines and deep woods, he writes, that "provided ideal cover for killers, deviants and motorcycle gangs. Dirt roads curled around each of a half-dozen pretty little lakes. Landmarks were limited to a junkyard, the old fire station, the elementary school and my father's place," a gas station. It was here, in this tiny community a few dozen kilometres north of Halifax, that he learned about the power of a good yarn, the tall tale, the literary tradition to which Wicked and Weird most closely belongs.
"I grew up in this family of storytellers, and there were a few in particular who were really good at it, and who, therefore, were always the centre of attention in the family, especially when the family got together," he says. "I watched them do their thing, and sometimes tell stories that I was there for and know that that's not exactly how it happened." They understood, he says, that "the point of telling someone a story is to entertain them. You just want to make the story as good as you can possibly make it. So I think my default setting for everything I've ever done is that I would always rather be entertaining than boring."
The book traces Terfry's life from rural Nova Scotia, where he discovered baseball and hip hop, to Halifax, where he studied biology at Dalhousie University, hosted a popular campus radio show and birthed his rap doppelganger, Buck 65. There was his Radiohead-aided breakthrough, his exodus in Paris, his travels around the world and his turbulent, sometimes messy relationships, including with the French novelist Claire Berest, who wrote about their life together in her 2012 novel L'orchestre vide.
What's real about Wicked and Weird, and what's not, is the question. Henry, his editor, estimates the book is 60-per-cent factual, 40-per-cent embellished.
"The weirdest, craziest things that have happened in my life – those are the true stories," Terfry says.
He began writing Wicked and Weird a few years ago, in the wake of a divorce. He was trying to understand what happened, where he had gone wrong, and started jotting down notes, unsure of what they'd become. "I knew that it was going to be something that couldn't be tackled in a three-and-a-half-minute-long song," he says. When his manager learned of the project, he introduced Terfry to a literary agent, who soon had multiple publishers interested in the far-from-finished project.
"I didn't sit down and say, 'Alright, time to write a book,'" he says. "Just, the next thing I knew, I had one on my hands."
The fact that the book grew out of a divorce is apparent in the way Terfry treats himself as a character; he is both the hero and villain of the story. He describes himself as "a factory reject," a man hiding an "evil demon" inside him, a man "restless for devilry." The book reads as a man coming to terms with his own failings, and Terfry describes the writing process as "like holding your own head underwater."
Wicked and Weird is the second piece of art he's created that mines the dissolution of his marriage; the first, a record called Neverlove, was released last year. He treats them as companion pieces; the book chronicling the years leading up to his marriage, the record chronicling his life postdivorce. "It's the biggest mistake I've made in my life, and a huge regret, and a source of shame," he says of the infidelity that ended the marriage. "It's just not something I really wanted to talk about – not only publicly, but even privately."
Then came the Facebook post, which, he wrote, was "the first of many steps I take to become a better person." In the post, which he says was written on "a bad day," Terfry admitted to destroying "every important relationship in my life by cheating and lying. That includes my marriage." The post was an attempt to come clean, a way of addressing what had become "a heavy, hard, shitty thing to carry around. One day I said, 'I can't do it any more. I'm not carrying this around any more.'
"I just stood on the edge of the deep end of the pool, plugged my nose, and then I just jumped in."
As far as baseball goes, he still gets his fix playing in local leagues – "I pitch for a team, I play shortstop for another team and I hit dingers for both" – but recently re-injured his shoulder, which he'd spent the past year rehabilitating. He's visibly upset by the setback. He talks about looking up the ages of MLB players and realizing that, at 43, he'd be the oldest. (Recently acquired Blue Jay pitcher LaTroy Hawkins is 42.) The dream is over, but he doesn't want to wake up.
Yet last September, thanks to a friend who works for the Chicago Cubs, Terfry found himself throwing out the first pitch at a game in Chicago against the L.A. Dodgers, his current favourite team.
"As disapointing as it was for the way things went for me, for baseball, standing on the mound at Wrigley Field last year and throwing out a first pitch, and throwing it almost as hard as I can, and throwing a strike, hearing that glove pop, and hearing 35,000 people cheer, it was maybe the biggest thrill of my life." Standing there, any regret about baseball that had haunted him over the decades was gone.
"'This is it,'" he recalls thinking. "'It didn't work out quite the way you wanted it, but you got this one pitch. You're standing here on a big-league field – maybe the most hallowed of them all. Just let this thing fly. Just put all the years of your life into this pitch.' And I did. And it felt amazing."
Last month, the collectible card company Topps released this year's edition of Allen & Ginter baseball cards, the most popular set they produce. Open the right pack and you'll find Rich Terfry, looking away from the camera, focusing, and gripping an imaginary bat.
His other keepsakes are a pinstriped Cubs jersey with "Buck" and the number 65 emblazoned across the back, and a YouTube video capturing his moment on the mound. Despite his claims, it wasn't quite a strike – he missed the plate by a couple of inches – but he'd finally made it to the big leagues.