Discorder Revisited

by Erica Leiren

Illustrations by Olga Abeleva
Illustrations by Olga Abeleva

I’d never heard of Van Halen. We were in Pasadena over Christmas vacation in 1977/78 to visit Grandma Anna and Grandpa Haakon and to see the Rose Parade, a family tradition. We’d lived in Pasadena during my Grade one through four years, when Dad wrote for  the LA Times, a plum job, because he could get us free tickets to Disneyland! Home was a beautiful little sun washed, craftsman-style house near the parade route on Colorado Boulevard.

New Year’s Day was a big deal in Pasadena, starting with the parade, then a big smorgasbord at my grandparents’. Grandpa built the house on Cooley Place, and it was the gathering place for our whole family. In the backyard he’d made a beautiful garden courtyard for Grandma and planted it with lemon trees. She loved lemon trees. Oranges too. Back in Norway, these had been rare treats, so trees flowering and fruiting in the backyard year-round must have seemed just like heaven. She told me once, she never wanted to feel cold again, and in Pasadena, you didn’t have to.

Grandma’s black and white cat Sylvester was a familiar sight in the back garden. He guarded the spot by the screen door, languidly sunning himself on the stoop or looking expectantly inside to the cool, dark interior where Grandma might be cooking up something delicious for us to eat, like lefse, a favourite Norwegian delicacy. Lefse is like a very thin potato pancake. Grandma would spread ours with butter and sugar, then roll up and throw them to us nonchalantly, as though the skill and effort of preparing this time consuming treat were nothing at all.

The tame box tortoise was another magical feature of the garden during our years growing up in Pasadena. She (he?) was usually to be found in the front yard, rambling freely and delicately nibbling greenery like a connoisseur. Sometimes we’d feed her a piece of juicy lettuce, which she seemed to like. If it got very hot, she would rest under the giant jade plants which stood like friendly sentinels at the entrance to the driveway. The tortoise would appear in the yard in springtime and be spotted now and then. When the few rainy weeks of November heralded winter, she went off to hide, only to re-appear the next spring, her shell grown a little bit larger. She was dry and dusty in a pleasant sort of way and she let us touch her hard shell, sometimes withdrawing, then coming out slowly to resume her perambulations with a meticulous rolling gait. We loved the gentle tortoise and, though we never knew where she went, she returned with every spring.

vanhalen 2

One day during our visit, we were standing out back near the garage, when our youngest uncle, Robin, appeared with an armload of t-shirts and LPs and began proudly handing them round to my three sisters and me. The loot was from his friends’ band that he was helping out.

The t-shirts were mostly black, with a big flying “VH” logo on the front; the album cover had photos of each band member taken at the Whisky A Go Go. The record was called simply Van Halen, a name that was new to us young, innocent Vancouverites.

We were like, “Cool! Thanks!  Who’s Van Halen?”

Had we been a few years older and still living in Pasadena, we definitely would have known who Van Halen were… the hottest thing in the LA Club scene and just about to release their very first album. The t-shirts Robin was giving us were for their first world tour, supporting Black Sabbath and Journey, and the records were advance copies of their debut album. It would come out two months later, totally catch fire, and sell 10 million copies. The band, of course, would go on to world-wide domination, with our 22 year old uncle along for the ride! We didn’t have a clue at the time.


When they were wood-shedding and still a local phenomenon, Van Halen practiced in my grandparents’ Pasadena garage. Grandma told me the guitarist’s pretty and nice girlfriend, Valerie Bertinelli, would come along to watch them practice. She starred in a popular TV show. I wonder if she ever got to try lefse?

Truly, it is hard to imagine the force of nature that was early Van Halen being contained by anything, much less a suburban Pasadena garage, while honing the songs for one of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest debut albums ever. David Lee Roth’s California-god looks, killer sense of humour, and belly-dance moves were made for a bigger stage. Van Halen were F-U-N and they took it straight from Pasadena to the world.

Later, when the band got huge, Uncle Robin toured the world with his friends in Van Halen as their guitar tech. Pretty cool when you think of what an epic and terrain-changing guitarist Eddie Van Halen was. My uncle was the guy tossing Eddie his next guitar on stage and making sure it all went perfectly so that the world’s newest guitar hero could really shine. Uncle Robin was a big burly guy and he got the touring nickname “Rudy,” because after concerts he had to be the “rude” one standing at the door making sure the backroom wasn’t overrun.

I still remember the first time Robin called us up with tickets when the band arrived in Vancouver. So exciting! Return of the conquering Hero!

It was September 26, 1978, at the Pacific Coliseum, near the end of Van Halen’s first world tour. He got my three sisters and I great seats, and we stood the whole time. They played the entire album and every song was better than the last. I was 17 and it is still the best rock ‘n’ roll show I have ever seen (and I’ve seen Nirvana.) David Lee Roth’s antics made you scream involuntarily.

A few years later, Robin came through with Mötley Crüe, but that’s another story…


Editor’s Note

by Alex de Boer


Illustrations by Dana Kearley
Illustrations by Dana Kearley

It’s my first issue as solo Editor-in-Chief and I’m feeling sentimental. As a result, this Editor’s Note may read as more self-indulgent than I had intended. Oh well to impartiality, I’ve chosen to reflect. Let’s all take a couple minutes to think about me. Me and my four year relationship with Discorder magazine, walking a terrain that has changed many times, but run a consequential course in my life.

Meandering through the last year of my arts undergrad degree at UBC, I began writing for Discorder in October 2011. My first assignment from then Editor Gregory Adams, was to review a halloween-themed EP. Although a silly, pumpkin-patchy task, I directed all my most masterful alliteration abilities into my premier music review. Gregory gave me a pass.

Graduated into the world of live show reviews, I walked nervously into the Electric Owl that November. My subject was Grimes, and unlike her performance, my review was shaky at best. I honed in too much on my own judgments and didn’t succeed in saying anything significant. Regardless, I tried again a couple months later. My two show reviews in February were better.

Meanwhile back at Discorder headquarters, the EIC torch was passed from Gregory to Laurel Borrowman. Laurel — lucky as she was — had the delight of reading, and probably gutting my first feature. Disheartened by my own unexceptional work, I was determined to improve on my next feature. I poured more effort in and my May article on River Vintage was notably stronger than my first.

I wrote a feature nearly every month for a year after April 2012. My pattern of success is spotty and self defined. I was (and probably still am) a sensitive writer and I didn’t deal with criticism very well. Alterations to my work made without my consent antagonized me and I often responded to critique with resistance. My editors, therefore, were irritating to me and certainly not more knowledgeable than I was. I generally crafted what I wrote very carefully, so suggesting it was imperfect was a direct offense.

In April 2014, past EIC Jacey Gibb gave me the opportunity to become a section editor at Discorder. Nervous and inexperienced, I found myself suddenly on the other end of the Google doc, holding onto the sensitivities of unpaid, time-sacrificing writers. Discorder’s contributors were now at the mercy of my email phrasing and the contentious connotations of my critiques.


When Jacey stepped down as EIC this past March, the other section editor, Rob Catherall, and I took over as collective interim-EIC. I must say, I never thought I could be EIC (or co-EIC). I mistrust my knowledge of Canadian Press standards and am still jarred when a conjunction sits at the front of a sentence. Regardless, the shared position was both an honor and a challenge.

When Rob became too busy to stay on as co-EIC at the end of May, I took over alone. I don’t really know if I earned the position, it seems more like it fell on me. But whether by capability or convenience, it’s June 2015, and I am the Editor of Discorder magazine.

Did I write this all for the sake of vanity? No. Really, no. While putting together Discorder’s summer edition over the last month, I have been struck by a number of observations and emotions.

Firstly, I realize that I can be a stern, blunt editor. “This doesn’t make sense,” is a comment I make regularly, and it’s a pat on the back in comparison with my harsh appraisal of writing that has not reached its potential. This month I was intentionally, extra rigorous with my edits, and the irony is not lost on me.

My other striking revelation is what stirred me to write this very Editor’s Note: Discorder has changed my life.

When I began writing for Discorder, I was aimless, longing for creative direction, yet completely lost without it. This magazine was the platform from which I was reminded that I am capable. Not at first, not painlessly, but incrementally, and because of my own commitment. I had forgotten I could create something I was proud of, and now I know I can. I didn’t think I could be the Editor-in-Chief of this magazine, and now I am.

By no means am I saying I’ve arrived as a writer or editor. I just wish to articulate to Discorder’s generous contributors that I appreciate you and I believe you are capable of doing exceptional work (though I may express it roughly). Corny as it sounds, the most significant thing you do can is realize your potential. My work with Discorder gave me that realization and it’s something I hope everyone finds, in these pages or elsewhere.