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Up from Under: Saxophones Don't Burn

He punched the keyboard; the program notes were done. The agony squiggles vanished from his forehead. "Up from Under. Because of Hurricane Katrina. And jazz."

"You've never been to New Orleans," I said.

"Doesn't matter. It's about recovery. I imagine New Orleans completely submerged, and then leaping out of the aquatic depths, jumping around and dancing wildly.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and grinned. "It's perfect, right?"

Up from Under: Saxophones Don't Burn is a story about living life as a creative adventure,
come hell or high water.
The book is about two artists in love: jazz man and composer Nic Gotham and myself, theatre artist Baņuta Rubess. Our innovative productions kicked up the dust in the Toronto arts scene in the 1980s and 90s, a special era of building Canadian culture.


From our very first meeting, my hyphenated identity as a Latvian-Canadian was a part of our artistic brew. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the two of us left the secure sidewalks of Queen Street West for the Wild East of Latvia, two young children in tow. Life in Latvia was never easy, but always interesting.


This life came to a crashing halt when Nic was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. Being sick is no fun in any country; being sick in Riga is Kafkaesque. After a brutal operation, we returned to Canada, where Nic discovered he had a year to live. His response was to reach for his pen and compose to the end. Like David Bowie, he was mixing music in a studio shortly before he died.


Up from Under: Saxophones Don’t Burn tells the story of a man who took his optimism very seriously. Mortality put that optimism to a stringent test. The memoir charts how artists face trauma; the power of creativity; the strategies of a married couple; and a particularly Canadian kindness.


Love and music and an extraordinary community turned Nic's crisis into a work of art.


This story turned into a keynote video-speech about creativity, at a conference in Liepāja, Latvia, 2015, and it inspired  filmmaker Anna Maclean to make the documentary short Boom, Baby, Boom!