RIP Frank Levin aka FISH, my dear and famous cousin of Eight Seconds, Shark Tank, Indie Pool, and, The Bridge Group, Fame...
My cousin FISH passed away last week, possibly after an epileptic attack, and then in his sleep, [can we say peacefully???], in his apartment in Shanghai, China.
He had spearheaded a multifaceted business called The Bridge Group, which brokered ties between China and Canada in the import-export sectors, but also did innovative web stuff – in fact FISH helped me design my first www.dominicbercier.com website about ten years ago. He loved the culture and people of China. But so was his nature – to explore, just like his namesake FISH would suggest.
Were it accessible I’m sure he’d be living on the moon, designing someone else’s web presence. He had been teaching English on the side. Life was good. But something was wrong.
Many years ago, FISH had had surgery on his brain, and though the initial cause for concern was now gone, there were indeed lingering side effects, such as epileptic-like seizures. He died at the age of 55 [and not 57 as some music industry sources are citing].
My cousin François Lavigne was my greatest mentor in the art of… transformation. When I got babysat at his house, I would always look forward to his waking up, so that I could hang out with my cool cousin, who was 15 years my senior, but more often than not, he’d been up all night playing music, and he’d sleep in to all sorts of crazy hours. Still, it did happen.
I remember one evening, after dinner, just as my parents were about to pick me up. We went downstairs to his music set up : microphones, stacks of synthesizers, and a drum set that dwarfed me but that I was encouraged to play all the same. I could not keep a beat, but I banged on every skin I could reach, and he would simply press, pull, twirl and modify knobs on a production board, and make my voice change. It was a watershed moment. Echo. Reverb. Distortion. It was amazing.
His high school rock band days gave way to an actual career in music. I’ve been to at least four Eight Seconds concerts. First When Ottava Roma / Ottava Rima was launched, circa 1984 esque??? Anyways the university hall was packed with 1980s-styled kids, the music was loud, and it was amazing. Another concert was outdoors, for a festival or for Canada Day. The lawn was packed. Also awesome. And, as I remember it, a day so beautiful and perfect that I’ve rarely seen its equal.
A more curious concert was in Lefaivre, Ontario, near the family homestead. This to me proved that no matter what your humble beginnings, you can be an artist, and you can be great. Again : Transformation!!! But perhaps my most memorable concert was at the NAC/National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was a goodbye concert that would later come to inspire a scene in my current work.
Around the time Eight Seconds got signed to a NYC label, François changed his name for the first, but not the last, time. He would be Frank Levin now. This was important at the time, as stigma around being French Canadian in a pop group existed, and he simply did not want to deal with it on a day to day basis, or, at least, that’s how I understood it. The following LP, Almacantar, produced in the UK, was fitting of the 80s synth sound, but also radically ahead of its time, possibly by decades. Using a mix of hair rock, progressive synthesizers, smooth drum and guitar sounds, a clean set of voices, with a slight hint of what hip hop would come to sound like, they were a complete sound. Eight Seconds opened for various acts, including Bowie. I trust they worked hard and partied hard, but alas, the band disbanded shortly after their 1990 album Big Houses, the album art for which hung in his Shark Tank Studios in Ottawa, in the mid 1990s.
Meanwhile, I was going to an artistic high school where artists outnumbered jocks [sport types were not the norm], and I soon learned to play the guitar and write my own songs. I was thrilled when, circa 1995, my cousin, now called FISH, helped me produce a song I had written. He knew exactly what the song needed, and his fleshed out version far exceeded my own vision for the piece.
This made me understand why he was so instrumental [pardon the pun] in helping establish the early sounds of Alanis Morissette and even the theme song to the NHL expansion team The Ottawa Senators. Every time I hear the hockey club fanfare I think of him. He had also helped create musical data banks for local upstart Corel – yes that Corel.
I would later meet up with FISH in Toronto, where he was busy establishing the undeniable Indie Pool label, a sort of do it yourself music everything for independent musical acts, thousands or tens of thousands of which would sign up for their services. Given that we were in the same city now [I was studying at OCAD and working in Comic Book Studios], he and I would go for beers, he’d regale me with music scene war stories, and I’d try to keep up.
I found myself helping out at Indie Pool a few times, and it was in their offices that Fish and I both took to being tutored in the art of Flash Design, which would later lead to work opportunities for me and for him. He was ALWAYS learning and innovating.
As the online notes suggest, Fish was always jovial, always pleasant, optimistic, but he was also always very serious, dedicated to his work. Upon second reflection, I have come to understand that work and pleasure were one and the same for him. Such kung fu-like mastery of duty and humanity makes me better understand why Fish would set up shop in China of all places, on the other side of the world. The Bridge Group is the perfect name-metaphor for what he was, literally a bridge between the People’s Republic and our Northern Dominion.
A year and a half ago, I saw him for the last time. His short hair betrayed a zigzag of scars from his brain surgery. He had come for a visit to Ottawa, we shared a drink with friends, I showed him my new business card – it was square and strange and he marveled at it – and that was that.
On Friday we learned that FISH had passed away the night before.
The news did not hit me right away. His living so far away meant little difference to my day to day, but as the hours have since amassed I have come to understand something, that FISH transformed into, or rather onto, another plane of existence. My famous cousin, FISH, is gone.
I sometimes wonder what life would have been like without him… how would Alanis sound? Would the 80s style have evolved differently?? What would the Ottawa Music Scene really look like today? Would the Ottawa Senators still sound the same?? And then, there are the countless little things, which come beg me to ask, how would I, myself, have been different!? Would I have dared become an international artist without FISH pointing the way? I was a small time country bumpkin, like him – how did he/we ever shed our early shape/s to transform into something… beautiful???
As of right now, the shock remains a shock, and is not a properly formed emotion. When it hits I’m sure it will hit hard. Or maybe he’ll guide me from above, and the emotion will simply “transform.”
God Bless You, Fish. You were like a big brother, and there will never be another like you. And even if there are trillions of fish in this world, there will only be one You, FISH. Thanks for showing me the way.
Otta/Va, December, 2017.
PS : Now we may never know, why we were looking for Bula…
Also... check out my brother Nicholas' Remix for Eight Seconds' legendary pop love song... Kiss You When It's Dangerous :
This is the blog of writer-artist-designer-author Dominic Bercier, MCS principal and founder.