I’ve known Canadian singer-songwriter Bob Bossin since the 1970s. In those days, he co-led Stringband, an accomplished folk group that pioneered the do-it-yourself recording industry that is so prevalent 40 years later, and I produced several concerts in Montreal in the 1970s and ‘80s with the band and with Bob as a solo performer.
Bob’s latest projects – a book released last year and a captivating stage show he’s been touring across Canada, both called Davy the Punk – tell the story, or, rather tell stories, about Davy Bossin, Bob’s father, an infamous bookie in Toronto in the 1930s and ‘40s. And, while Davy the Punk is specifically about one man, it’s also the story of an immigrant Jewish community struggling to survive and establish itself in Canada at a time of profound anti-Semitism.
Davy died at age 58 in 1963, when Bob was 17. When Bob was growing up, his father ran a theatrical agency. Bob didn’t really know anything of his previous occupation in Toronto’s underworld. Researching his father’s life decades later, it was explained to him that his father got out of the gambling business when Bob was a young boy because Davy didn’t want his son growing up in a criminal milieu.
In the ‘70s, more than a decade after his father’s death, Bob was having lunch at the United Bakers Dairy restaurant on Spadina Avenue in Toronto’s old Jewish neighbourhood and got into a conversation with the old man working behind the counter (Bob thinks it may have been one of the restaurant’s original owners from 1912). Asking the counterman if he remembered the Bossin family, the old man mentioned all the Bossins he remembered, including Davy.
“We called him ‘Davy the Punk,’” the old man said, when Bob told him that Davy was his father.
And so began Bob’s almost-lifelong quest to find out all he could about his father. Over a period of many years, he talked to elderly relatives and to friends and cronies of his father. He also studied newspaper clippings and court records from back in the day, eventually piecing together the story of Davy’s life. About nine years ago – when he turned 60 – Bob began to write the book as well as the script and songs for the stage show.
In June of 2014, Bob performed an abridged version of Davy the Punk at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. It was a warmhearted, poignant and funny one-man multi-media show filled with engrossing monologues, rich characterizations and captivating songs. It was a fascinating look at a distinctly Jewish character from those times and an intriguing look at a Jewish community so very different in many ways from that of today.
Bob is returning to Ottawa to perform the full-length version of Davy the Punk on Thursday, October 29, 7:30 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. Tickets are $20 at the door. Visit www.davythepunk.com for more information about the stage show or book. Contact Roslyn Wollock at email@example.com or 613-798-9818, ext. 254 for more information about the event.