Tuesday, December 04, 2012


Five years after the Rheostatics played their final show in 2007 (not counting an appearance a few months later at Paul Quarrington's living wake), they announced three shows at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern to celebrate the venue's anniversary, featuring original drummer Dave Clark and a promise of new material. As a huge fan of the band, I was of course excited—although I will admit that I was not planning on going, primarily because my memory of that 2007 Massey Hall performance is so precious to me. That didn't stop anyone else, though: all three shows were sold out.

Then came the abrupt announcement that the shows had been cancelled. Dave Bidini posted on his Facebook that Martin Tielli was "unable to perform" and offered his apologies to fans who had bought tickets. As a consolation, Bidini's current project—Bidiniband, featuring one-time Rheo drummer Don Kerr—will be performing a free show at the Horseshoe tomorrow, Wednesday December 5, with special guests that will include Rheo bassist Tim Vesely (and others have been invited to come and sing Rheostatics songs).

The explanation for the cancellation was suitably vague enough to spark endless speculation: about relations in the band, about the open secret of Tielli's alcohol addiction, about Tielli's career-long bout with stage fright. The latter explanation was picked up by the Globe and Mail, which prompted singer Jenn Grant to also talk about her own struggles with stage fright (which in turn sparked stories of support from other fellow artists). Bidini engaged in several retorts on Twitter, in which he said stage fright was not the reason for the decision, that the four musicians were absolutely getting along, that there was no fight involved, and that they all supported Tielli's decision, tough and frustrating as it may be.

Early this morning, Tielli took to Facebook (something he rarely, rarely does—and when he does he's a hilarious critic of the entire medium) to offer his own explanation. Among other things, he makes a clear distinction between stage fright and a much larger problem of anxiety, a condition that is even less understood by many. Here's what he said, in full:

I'm very sorry to the Horseshoe Tavern, the Rheostatics, Tim Mech, Steve Clarkson, Shauna de Cartier, and especially our fans for what Vesely called a "shit-storm of inconvenience". I really wanted to do it and did not foresee this, otherwise I would not have said yes. I regret it very much.

All I can say is that I simply could not do it. It's not a decision I took lightly. I have played through many an ailment over the years: whooping cough, many flus and colds, complete exhaustion and finally, at the Rheostatics final show at Massey Hall, my first case of laryngitis (contracted from an opera singer... no joke). This is more difficult to deal with than any physical problem I've ever had. 

"Stage fright" is a light and simplistic term for my psychological blight but it'll have to do as it's been my personal concern to varying degrees since the first time I ever played in front of anyone else. I don't show it on stage because that is not where it happens -- it's the days and weeks leading up to a performance that are physically and emotionally brutal for me. 

Why it happened so bad this time is partly because I retired from playing live after a series of Nick Buzz performances almost two years ago and it seems as though the less I play the worse it gets. I'm not interested in talking about this publicly, but those kind people who showed concern and those who are miffed deserve more explanation. Also, there are rumours that it's due to alcohol addiction and though I've certainly had some periods of prodigious exaggeration in this and other regards this has not been the case for a long while. 

This whole situation aside, I haven't been happier in a long time. I live outside of Hamilton under the Niagara Escarpment where I pursue my first interests which are "nature" and painting. I also record a lot, having done the soundtrack to the documentary "Payback" and just finished an album with my group Nick Buzz. 

I love music and I love performing it but the public aspect of it has always felt disorienting to me. I hope to one day find my way back on to the stage, but for the time being, it just seems impossible. I am very sorry to all of those who bought concert tickets and/or airline tickets.


Supplementary reading: the Rheostatics chapter of [the first edition, unrevised] Have Not Been the Same was posted in four parts on this blog in advance of the 2007 show.

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