Joseph Planta – the

Joseph Planta is quite simply one of the best interviewers working today, and he has been for quite a few years now. Far-ranging and ubiquitous in his tastes, he is always deeply researched and versed in the world of the person at the other end of the microphone.

HereJOE is the piece I did with him over the weekend on my book.

VANCOUVER SUN REVIEW – Thanks, Tom Sandborn!


By Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun April 5, 2013

Imagine an alarmingly energetic and ferocious 70 year old, sparks of intensity almost visible around his short cropped white hair, emphatic nose, flashing eyes and mobile, sensuous lips as he laughs, jokes, insults, entertains and challenges anyone within range of his well trained actor’s voice. Welcome to the Dave Berner Show, a remarkable display of inventiveness, compassion, outrage, opinionated rhetoric and side-splittingly funny stories that has been entertaining, alarming and enriching Vancouver now for decades.

Berner, a well-known local character who has been a talk radio host, TV personality, live theatre actor, journalist, public speaker, provocateur, therapist and therapeutic community founder in Vancouver since the 1960s, has finally written the memoir his friends have longed for and his enemies have feared. Well, not a full memoir; this man has lived more than enough adventure to fill several volumes longer than All the Way Home and in the current book Berner focuses primarily on X-Kalay, the innovative therapeutic community he helped found and lead for nearly a decade in Vancouver. Kalay is a First Nations word for path, so X-Kalay means unknown path. Along the way he gives glimpses of his poverty-stricken early life with his mother, who struggled with manic depression, and his later careers in radio, TV, journalism and public education, but the X-Kalay years are the centre of this well-written, stimulating book.

X-Kalay was founded by Berner and a couple of First Nations ex-convicts in 1967 when they pooled $130 and had the prospect of some ongoing salary for him from the Company of Young Canadians. It was a remarkable social experiment modelled loosely on the American-based Synanon and, like Synanon, influenced by the late ’60s mélange of encounter groups, gestalt therapy and psychodrama emerging up and down the West Coast. But unlike the sometimes over-precious and self-referential tone set in some of the “human potential” workshops of the day, X-Kalay featured a tough-minded focus on real work and concrete activity.

Creating a large and vibrant community of people who had turned their lives into various kinds of train wrecks with drugs, alcohol and general fecklessness, Berner and the X-Kalay pioneers greeted anyone who wanted to live at X-Kalay, or to attend the games, stews and trips (group experiences focusing on confrontational honesty, loving support and high-energy, antic play, some in-house for residents and some open to interested community members) with a challenge that Berner summarizes thus:

“Get busy. Get quiet. Get silly. Get sad. Addictions are about stasis and decay. Addictions are about being asleep on your feet. Addictions are death on a stick. Effective treatment programs really are about cleaning up. Wake up, stand up, shout, play, hit the ball, run the workshop, fix the car, change the diaper, make the meal, live!”

And the mixture of tough love, puritan work ethic, inspired goofiness and mutual aid worked for many. (Berner estimates that about one-quarter of those who came to X-Kalay stayed and got sober.) During its heyday, X-Kalay grew to house up to 125 residents and to operate service stations, hair salons, a lodge on the Gulf Islands and other enterprises staffed with residents. It was a preferred referral for progressive or exasperated social workers, probation officers and judges who saw it as a superior alternative to the hellish revolving-door experiences most addicts suffered in prisons and the sclerotic System. X-Kalay even created a “branch plant” operation in Manitoba, which is still, unlike the Vancouver operation, up and running in 2013.

While X-Kalay itself shut down in 1976, Berner argues that its legacy, as embodied directly in the Manitoba spinoff (now known as the Behavioural Health Foundation) and less directly in other residential therapeutic communities that share elements of the X-Kalay philosophy, remains important in thinking about addiction and treatment. His book is a polemic to promote that approach and to attack what he sees as the misguided “harm reduction” approach, as exemplified locally in the Insight safe injection centre and other attempts to create interventions that will reduce health impacts of addiction without demanding total abstinence. With his typical measured tone, Berner writes:

“There are people who give addicts heroin or methadone and claim that they then do counselling work with the buzzed client. They are more delusional than the addict. The addict, by the way, is laughing up his sleeve at the sorry Santa who is so addicted to ‘helping,’ that he hands out free poison.”

Not everyone involved in addiction treatment sees it that way (and in fact, full disclosure, this reviewer disagrees strongly with Berner’s contempt for harm reduction) but All the Way Home is as strong and persuasive a case for the non-harm-reduction approach as I have ever seen. Whether or not you agree with him on the contentious harm-reduction issue, you will be challenged, entertained, moved and enraged by this remarkable book. Everyone who cares about those who are suffering the hells of addiction or about public policy should go out and get this book, as should anyone who values sentences that are well written, pungent and charged with conviction, passion and wit.

This book is highly recommended. But be careful, you might easily become addicted to Dave Berner’s splendid writing, in which case you might find yourself seeking out his website at for another hit.

All the Way Home is currently available on Amazon or at

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes feedback and story suggestions at
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun





A friend of mine urged me to get it all down on paper.

Like many others, he had endured my telling these war stories over countless meals, cappuccinos, walks along the shore and drives to nearby escapes.

Of course, I had a great collection of amusing anecdotes from my years in broadcasting and show business. Ginger Rogers dancing down the circular staircase to fix the bandage on my forehead. Tony Bennett falling in love with the design of my Sony tape recorder. Carol Channing holding my hand and singing directly into my face, “Take your left hand in my right hand – Look you’re dancing!” Perhaps one day, that would be another book. Certainly, there was enough juicy material.

But the stories that really held sway and the stories that I compulsively could hardly stop telling were of a different time and place and a different me.

Addictions. Not mine. Everybody else’s.

These were little round moments from a life lived passionately and intensely and often wrong and oh so right almost 50 years ago.

David, little Jewish boy from North End Winnipeg, comes to Vancouver, horses around for a few years and then, knowing nothing, having no training and no guidelines, builds a residential treatment centre for heroin addicts, alcoholics, potheads, LSD brain-crashers, counter-culture warriors, ex-cons and others. The enterprise goes from three guys and $130 dollars in four years to 125 people in residence, houses, cars, trucks and five profitable businesses all run by junkies. It’s a true story. No kidding. The place spores off into Winnipeg, and, forty plus tears later, it’s still cooking away with 136 men, women and children getting clean and sober, reclaiming their lost lives.

So almost anything in conversation triggers the memory of one of the comic, gruesome, enthralling, inspiring, sweet moments from this tale and there I am once again compulsively telling these tales.

O.K., Bob. You’re right. I should get off my ass and tell this tale once and for all.

So, six years ago I rent an ultra-modern jazzy little flat above the Johnston Street Bridge in Victoria and settle in for two weeks. Very disciplined, very focused. Up at eight, ball cap, jacket, walk to the corner grocer, pick up the Sun, come back, camomile tea, lemon and honey, read the paper, write, post and email out my blog. Full-on breakfast. Then, three hours at the computer. Stop. Bike, swim or walk. Shower, shave, doll up, cafe on the street. Yeah! At the end of two weeks, I’ve got 130 pages of basic story line. This happened, I did, we did, she said, then…



But here is the hysterical irony of this exercise. The apartment is in an expensive new building in a downtown location right on the water. Beauty, yes? Well, not entirely. Turns out, we are directly above the local heroin-methadone clinic hang-out shooting gallery. So the good folks, who form the pleasant gauntlet through which I must walk every morning to get my paper, use the base of my apartment building and the thin cover of bushes that adorn it for just above everything. They shit, piss and sleep there. They shoot up and get down and I’m sure exchange the occasional precious bodily fluids. Lovely.

My two weeks being up, I head back to my regular life in Vancouver. Now, I add to my routines the visit at least twice a week to a noisy busy cafe for more writing. I already have a big laptop at home on my desk, but now I invest in a small laptop and can’t wait to order my cappuccino and muffin and sink into the folds of bad music and goofy conversation all around me. Way better than silence! It energizes me. I’m in my 60’s and I’m boppin’!

The next year, I return to Victoria, but instead of nesting above the ground-up Ground Creatures, I rent a darling little old cottage half a block off Dallas Road, possibly one of the most beautiful streets in the Americas. Every day, regardless of weather, hordes of people walk and ride their bikes and exercise their dogs along the Cliffside trails, admiring the open vistas of Juan de Fuca Strait. At the end of another two weeks, I have some sort of thing resembling a book of about 200 plus pages.

I find an editor. She reads it and makes suggestions. I like half of them and incorporate them. I pay her.

Back home and work and play and the welcome madness of the cafes.

One year, I am writing in Venice, Italy. One year, I have my friend’s hand built log house of Salt Spring Island. It is summer. I do my Tai Chi every morning stark blessed naked on the front meadow.

Going to these temporary homes, I am like a small army advance unit. I know exactly what I have to do for optimum performance and concentration. Scope out the best local market, fruit, veggies, breads. Stock up on basics. Turn the TV head on to the most comfy armchair. Figure out the local channels. Make sure we never run out of popcorn. Position the writing table for top productivity. Get up at least once an hour and walk around, stretch, refill the tea mug or get a pear. Philip Roth says he discovered he liked writing long hand and standing up and never changed. I like it. I get it. Graham Greene had his legendary 500 words every morning.

Soon – try four or five years – I have close to 300 pages and Draft 6.

I start sending these versions out to publishers. More about that in the next installment.

In the end – the end being when the book is finally published – I have written nine drafts! And that doesn’t count the constant and relentless tinkering. Oh, what about that moment? Oh, forget that guy; he doesn’t deserve that paragraph.

330 some pages.

Who knew? Now at least I have some idea of what writing a book means. It is glory and torture. It is huge fun and agony. It is hard work and good work.

I am very proud of what I have done with this book.

I like it.