For what would have been Melanie Klimchuk’s 60th birthday this year, which was commemorated by an event in Toronto, I wrote this appreciation of her and our four decades of friendship.
In the early 1980s, I was hosting a music-comedy show on the University of Alberta campus station, when a woman contacted me because she wanted a copy of a poster that Gene Kosowan and I made to promote the show, named after a quote from a TV commercial that showed housewives comparing respective piles of laundry. “The pile on the left is whiter,” said one of them and that became the name of our weekly program. The name said where we came from and why we didn’t want to remain there. Melanie must have felt that too, or just thought it was funny, because she wanted a copy of the poster.
Both of us came from the same middle-class, prairie, bible belt origins, and a generation weaned on TV shows and ads that broadcast our news, dreams, family values, entertainment choices, relationship woes, financial aspirations – and, ultimately, provoked disenchantment with all of the above. .
Who would have thought that a flimsy piece of paper promoting a little-heard radio show would lead to a nearly 40-year friendship?
Of course, there was a writerly connection, too, and the fact that we both fled the western prairies to live in the eastern climes of Ontario and Quebec.
No instrument can calculate the impact which one person’s life has on another, but after I relocated to Mexico in 2021, I remembered that my first introduction to Mexican art was a postcard that Melanie sent me in Montreal in 1986. She had a flair for out-of-the-blue kindnesses like that, which I found endearing.
It was only towards the curtain call of 2022, when Facebook reminded me of a memory we shared, that I went to look at her page and was shocked to see that she’d already been gone for almost 2 years. That prompted me to get in touch with the last love of her life, Michael Dent and pass along my condolences. Getting to know him via social media, and seeing that we’re both old-school punk musicians was a silver lining, as was getting to see the touching photos of them together on his page. (His band The Dents are on Soundcloud.)
From what Michael told me, and knowing Melanie as I did, she would not have wanted to worry or inconvenience anyone with her illness. She was humble to a fault. At times, I think she undervalued herself, or underestimated the affection that others had for her. Whenever someone dies prematurely there are always regrets: the words that went unsaid, the plans that went awry,
The deceased continue to exist in loving memories but also on a higher and more artistic plane. In my new memoir, she is very much alive and present in a scene where her and her girlfriends came to my place for drinks after a gig and ended up talking to my mom while I slowly passed out on the couch to the tune of their wisecracks and four-part harmonies of laughter pealing like bells.
And when I take a future trip to Mexico City, I’ll be searching for the murals of Jose Clemente Orozco, whose fantastical work was featured on the postcard she sent me all those decades ago. Since Melanie brokered that introduction, I feel like she should be there in some metaphorical or shamanistic way (I know she’d prefer the latter), when I finally see them and post some pics online to thank her.
So long to the flesh-and-blood Melanie, who left us too young and inspired us so much.
Long live the Melanie made of memories and spirit, who continues to dwell in the heads and hearts of her loved ones.
Jim Algie, Oaxaca, Mexico, June 2023