Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Paul Quarrington was a man of many talents Add to ...

For Quarrington, the dark stuff included a harrowing event in childhood, documented in his last novel The Ravine , and the death of his mother, from a stroke, when he was just a teenager. He addressed the latter subject in his contribution to The Heart Does Break , a book of short memoirs about grief and grieving.

Another close friend, musician and writer Dave Bidini, with whom Quarrington was scheduled to have dinner tomorrow, said "it was Paul, so open, friendly, funny," who first showed him the possibility of being a writer. "He showed me and many other aspiring writers that there could be depth in humour. He just fizzed with joy. We spent a lot of time together, travelling, riding in long car rides, and he was such a great companion, just a lot fun to sit beside."

It was Bidini who nominated Quarrington's 1987 novel King Leary for the CBC's Canada Reads Series, a competition it subsequently won. "I did no work for that," Bidini said. "The book sold itself."

One of his closest friends, was songwriter Dan Hill, with whom he grew up in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills. Hill, his brother Lawrence, and the three Quarrington brothers, Tony, Paul and Joel, were all friends - part of that "strange, eccentric, hyper-talented constellation" of alien spirits that existed on the margins of straight-laced, WASP Don Mills adolescence.

At one point, Hill wanted to be part of a band Paul had formed, but was told to "come back when I knew more about Wilson Pickett." Later, however, they formed a folk duo, Quarrington Hill, and performed their own material in various Toronto clubs and church basements.

Hill had been with Quarrington virtually every day in recent weeks. It was during a benefit performance in April in Kingston, he said, that he first noticed Quarrington's "weird cough." A few weeks later, Paul called him from the hospital to tell him he had just had his lungs drained of fluid, three litres worth. "It's probably pneumonia," Hill said. But Paul said, "it might be cancer."

When the grim diagnosis was confirmed, Quarrington said he went home and sat, stunned. "I took a walk in the Bluffs, and blubbered a bit like anyone would. I sort of said, 'Well, you know, let's make the most of it.' You know, stop drinking cheap wine immediately and enjoy what one can."

In the summer, Hill began working with Quarrington on Are You Ready , a song about death, one of about a dozen new tunes written for his first solo album.

Later, they and Paul's brother, Joel, spent a week in Nashville, adding string arrangements to the tune.

Typically, said Hill, "Paul just wanted to be going all the time - the Country Music Hall of Fame, the RCA building, clubs, southern restaurants. Now I'm a pretty fit guy, but I could not keep up with him."

All proceeds from the sale of the song will be donated to the Paul Quarrington Society, a charitable organization that will provide scholarships to children showing talents in several artistic areas.

During a career that spanned more than 30 years, there seemed to be few artistic genres in which Quarrington did not demonstrate remarkable talent.

He produced 10 novels, including Whale Music, based loosely on the life of reclusive Beach Boy Brian Wilson. It was called the best novel ever written about rock music by Penthouse magazine. It later won a Governor-General's Award for literature. Two other books, Galveston and The Ravine , were nominated for the Scotiabank Giller prize. He also produced six books of non-fiction, one of which ( King Leary, the story of a broken-down former National Hockey League goalie playing on a minor-league team in northern Ontario, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour) as well as five plays, among them two musicals for children.

For the screen, he co-wrote the screenplay for Perfectly Normal , winning a Genie award in the process, and for Whale Music , and was nominated for a Gemini for his work on the hit TV series Due South .

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular