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Farewell, Toby

Our dear friend Toby Steel passed away on Friday, August 13, 2004. Here is his obituary notice from the Globe & Mail:

STEEL, Toby - Died Friday, August 13, 2004, at age 44, peacefully in hospital with friends and family by his side. Toby's extraordinary mind and heart will be greatly missed by his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and many, many friends. A service will be held on Wednesday, August 18, at 11 a.m., in the chapel of the St. James-the-Less Cemetery, 635 Parliament St. (at Bloor St.). For those who wish, donations to The Canadian Lung Association or the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada would be greatly appreciated.

Our Favourite Toby Steel Moments

During the first few weeks when Toby first went into the hopsital, I had asked if there was anything I could do for him while he was there. The only thing he asked of me was to draw some pictures for him in Microsoft Paint. The reason he asked specifically for this is because I used to draw pictures for him at work in Microsoft Paint, and they usually made him happy.

One of Toby's favourite pictures was one I made of him after he had been complaining that everyone at work was out to get him. His paranoia may have been sparked by someone asking him to do something that he felt was wrong. He said he thought maybe somebody had a voodoo doll of him, and was attacking it -- hence his bad luck. This comment resulted in the following drawing:

I had some difficulty coming up with things to draw for Toby while he was in the hopsital because he usually inspired me with his antics at work. So, I went to our friends from past and present for ideas. I asked them to share with me their favourite memories of Toby Steel. This is the collection of memories and a couple of the pictures I've drawn to accompany them.

We'll miss you, Toby.

My main impression of Toby is that he is a rare being indeed! He is a true RENAISSANCE MAN.
One night Toby came over to our place to play the mandolin so that Drew could record it for a song Drew and a friend of his had been working on. Toby played beautifully and the guys had a great time in the basement playing with the various sounds, etc. Then, on his way out, he noticed that our steps were wiggly. He quickly collected some large rocks from our garden, jostled the stair-bed, banged a little here and a little there, and re-aligned our stairs in a matter of 5 minutes. Then he put his mandolin on his back and hummed his way home.
Okay maybe itís not the most inspiring story, but how many men: play the mandolin, program computers, do carpentry and all kinds of handy-man work, act, and have an interest in philosophy, politics, music, literature, art, history?
- Sylvia Kanitsch

How about a picture of Toby with a pint of Ale and a mandolin? Or singing at a campfire? (he did this on the Florida jaunt).
- Marc Riehm
One thing that comes to mind for me is Toby's two-part rendition of "Those Were the Days," the theme from "All In the Family." I remember that both parts were good, but his Edith was truly exceptional.
- Amanda Allan

Toby loved creating and playing humorous music, and quite a few of us have had the privilege of hearing him sing. Many of us enjoyed the song Killer Bee Picnic, a song whose lyrics he came up with in just a few minutes, which he recorded with his band Miscellaneous 'S' (0.9 MB).

Killer Bee Picnic

If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better wear protective clothing.
Discover what Hunter S. Thompson meant,
When he wrote about Fear and Loathing.
'Cause the honey there brings out the bears,
Who'd eat you but that's not the worst affair.
Today's the day the Killer Bees having their picnic.
Picnic time for Killer Bees,
They bite behind your knees and try to get in your hair.
They gather and swarm around anything warm,
They follow your screaming, pink fleshy form.
Today's the day the Killer Bees having their picnic.
You wake up high from the forest floor,
In a maple tree so nice.
Surrounded by millions of Killer Bees,
For human sacrifice.
Forget all your worries of losing your money,
You're going to become four gallons of honey.
Today's the day the Killer Bees having their picnic.

I remember Toby recording several mandolin tracks in the basement of my house. He contributed to recordings by Michael Cavanaugh, Luther Victim and his roommate Hugh. Toby has a good ear and quickly composed parts that fit the stye of each piece.
- Drew Atkins
Oh yeah, Toby added such richness to my life.
While he had many fine qualities, what stands out for me was his sardonic wit. When I was planning to record some of my songs at Drew's, I asked Toby if he would play mandolin on some of them. "Sure", he said, "as long as I can use a Wah Wah pedal." I laughed and knew he was the right guy for the job. It was typical of his restless, probing creativity.
When we were at Bowne together, Toby and I would play songs in the office at Christmas. It was always a riot. I remember in particular doing a version of Jingle Bells, where we transposed it to a minor key and turned it into an ominous, Russian-sounding dirge. Just for the hell of it. Or our Calypso version of Angels We Have Heard On High: " excelcius day-o, day-o, day-o, daylight come and me wanna go home..."
And then there were the nights on the beach in Florida, playing for hours. He was a human musical encyclopedia. I don't know if he actually knew every song, but he sure as hell played like he did.
But mostly, it was the contribution he made to the songs that I did record. In that head-down, silent Toby way, he didn't say anything, just playing the tastiest, most appropriate accompaniment. I didn't have to explain anything to him. He just "got it". The beauty is, I can still listen to him today.
- Michael Cavanaugh

Toby was not just a silly songwriter but a talented musician too, as his more musical friends can attest to.
Here are some recordings with Toby's accompaniment...
Alexandra by Luther Victim (4.6 MB)
Ringing the Changes by Hugh Hodges (6.9 MB)
The Only One by Michael Cavanaugh (7.5 MB)

My first memory of Toby was when he performed his band's song "Merry Xmas for Godzilla" for the staff at Bowne Internet Solutions in December, 1998.
- Luna Kwan


Listen to Merry Xmas For Godzilla
by Miscellaneous "S" (Toby's band) (1.3 MB).
Note: the singer in this song is not Toby, but another member of the band. To hear a song sung by Toby, go here.

Merry Xmas For Godzilla

Snow is falling on Mt. Fuji.
There's a rumbling in the sea.
Xmas time for everybody -
But Godzilla is hungry.
Merry Xmas for Godzilla,
It's a happy holiday.
Better bring lots of Polyfilla,
Xmas for Godzilla today.
Many people screaming,
Hands up in the air.
Godzilla brings his greetings.
All Xmas trees are crushed.
Call out the tanks.
Call out the planes.
Where is Mikoka?
Have you seen Mikoka??
(Yes, over there!)
He ate all our candy.
He ate all our trains.
Now we can't get anywhere,
And we don't have any sweets.
Now Godzilla is full.
He goes back to the sea.
Another happy Xmas,
But not for Japanese.

Toby took a bus from Kingston to come to his first interview at Mountain Lake. I recall being very impressed that he would hop on a bus to come for an interview not knowing what would come out of it.
- Bobbi Smith

A couple of Toby's family members have mentioned how fond he is of his mtnlake jacket.... If you're drawing a picture of him on the bus to Toronto for that interview, I thought he might have a thought bubble coming up from his head, dreaming of his future jacket.
- Amanda Allan

Infoman! Adventures of Infoman battling the evil Dr. Lung Machine!
Or how about the "Toby and Sandeep Show"?
Like Itchy and Scratchy... fight fight fight!
Sandeep gets taken out by Toby by feeding him a bad hashtable.
- Glenn Archer

One of my favorite memories of him is that play we went to see him in near the U of T.
- Jeremy Chan


Jeremy is referring to the play Woman in Mind, by Alan Ayckbourn. Toby's role was that of a supporting character whose personality ranged from being meek to silly to wild.

In one scene, Toby came out on stage as a sort of Romeo, with his shirt unbuttoned quite low, and very much contrary to his usual modest self!

Overall, Toby's performance was excellent, and he practically stole the show!

Toby dancing with a flippy-skirted lady.   :)
- Georges Gendron
Toby enjoyed challenging people to do things they normally wouldn't do. An example was the night that he, Georges, Amanda and I went to the Plaza Flamingo in Toronto for a salsa dance lesson. Georges was not too eager to go, but we all had a good time in the end.

I remember getting stinking drunk with Toby in a martini bar in Denver during one of the OOPSLA conferences. As we wandered back into the hotel I spied a piano in the lobby and started to bash out some chords. Toby bellowed a couple of lines of something I don't remember before the night clerk asked us to stop because we were waking up the other hotel guests. I seem to recall Toby having a small tape recorder throughout the entire debacle. Toby kept the tape. I'm sure he plans to blackmail me. If only I could get my hands on that tape!
- Drew Atkins

Toby has a keen sense of language. He sometimes imitates many language sounds including Japanese. The sounds is totally Japanese except it does not have any meanings. He took care of one of my cats while I was in Japan. I asked him if he wanted something from Japan, and his answer was a music CD of one of 70's Japanese groups. When I gave it to him, he sang one of their songs without accent. He just heard the song a couple of time in a movie. Amazing !!!
- Midori Aida
Toby loved learning languages and playing with words (he favoured Cryptic Crosswords from the New York Times).
He demonstrated a great ability to imitate accents and the sounds of foreign languages so convincingly that you couldn't tell if he could actually speak those foreign languages or if it was all just gibberish.
In reality, Toby could speak Russian and some French, and was learning Spanish.

If you have favourite memories of Toby that you would like to contribute, please let me know.

Last updated: October 21, 2004, 3:45 p.m. EDT