I would be remiss if I did not begin by making reference to the passing
of Taxinews' columnist Norm "Racetrack Hack" Hacking,
who died on Sunday night, November 25, but whose passing was not known
to some of us - myself included - until after the paper came out on
The world is too often made up of conformists and people who are content
to be ordinary. Norm was none of them. He didn't look like all the rest,
and he wasn't like most of the rest at the core of his being. His music,
especially his song-writing, was absolutely top drawer - and known to
be so - but elements in his make-up precluded him from getting rich
by this. He wrote over 200 original songs, performed more than 100 of
them routinely, and did very few songs on stage that were not his own
creations. To live by what you create, and almost nothing else, takes
real courage. Norm had that courage. His music told of the sensitive
man he was inside.
I have hosted only one party in my adult life, in 1996 or 1997. In
search of entertainment, I telephoned two musicians I knew, Norm being
one, the other being a friend who I was closer to than Norm. The other
quoted me $200 to do 10 songs at my party, for which I had booked the
bar of a downtown hotel. Norm was prepared to sing all night for $60.
I chose to go with Norm but upped my offer to $75 out of guilt. At the
party, I told the assembled taxi drivers and taxi industry people, "I've
paid Norm, but I haven't paid him in proportion to the talent he has
and the remuneration he deserves. So I'm passing the hat for him and
I hope you'll drop something in too." Thirty or so taxi industry
people, most of them drivers, upped Norm's take to $239. Norm and his
music made the party.
I wasn't really close with Norm, and I don't pass compliments easily,
but I did once tell him what I thought of his music. "Norm, your
music is as good as any of these rich and famous people I listen to
on the radio or see on television. I play it all the time at home on
my stereo. Your best stuff is not outclassed by anybody's." Norm
liked that opinion, as I knew he would. It was my true and fair assessment
of the man's great talent. Tragically, like a lot of true artists, he
cared too much for his art, not enough for money, and, in the end, the
want of money hurt him and his career in music badly.
Still Norm Hacking gave real pleasure, and wonderful insight, to a
great many people - and he did it so very cleverly.
There was a commemoration of Norm's life at the Renaissance Cafe, just
west of Woodbine Ave, on the evening of December 6th. I missed it due
to incompetence. I won't fully explain by reason of the fact my readers
will know how stupid I really can be. Basically, I got lost because
I relied on wrong information. I should have asked a cab driver where
the Renaissance Cafe is. Bell Canada didn't know and didn't have a number.
Norm loved his son Ben best, and, after Ben, his music and his succession
of cats, Syd, The Flea and Teapot, the last of whom, so far as I know,
lives yet. He liked writing his column in Taxinews, which was
quite different from all the rest. The paper can't replace Norm. There
was only one of his kind. None of us expect another to come our way
Webmaster's Notes: Peter McSherry's column "The Bystander"
appears regularly in TaxiNews ( at
www.taxinews.com/mcsherry.html on the web). This is the first portion
of his January 2008 column (with the balance on Toronto taxi industry
issues, continuing on page 10); it was written after Norm passed away
at his Toronto home on November 25, 2007. It is posted here by permission
of the author and TaxiNews.
Additional tribute articles from TaxiNews are on this
Heino Molls: "Remembering
Race Track Hack" (Dec 2007)
Shirley Gibson: "Norm
will be one Stubborn Ghost" (Jan 2008)
Mike Beggs: "The
big man's music was the real deal" (Jan 2008)
See the list of Norm's on-line lyrics, poetry
and prose, including a selection of the Taxi News
columns he wrote monthly starting in February 1992.
Taxi News website is www.taxinews.com.
Taxi News is a monthly publication with news and commentary
on Toronto's taxi industry and is available by subscription or free
at distribution points.