Posts from the ‘Music’ Category

The Hip says “Bye, Canada.”

2016-07-30 22.13.06

The stage at Rexall Place, Edmonton, July 30, 2016

The Tragedy in Being Hip

First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

–        Ahead by a Century, Trouble at the Henhouse
2016-07-30 19.39.58Like the loss of a Canadian NHL team, or the closing of Eaton’s, another Canadian icon will write its final chapter in a few weeks.  And just like almost all Canadians were glued to their television sets almost 44 years ago to watch Henderson jump into Cournoyer’s arms, a generation that was just in grade school back then will tune in Saturday night to watch five Canadian boys take the stage one last time, right back where they started in Kingston, Ontario.

No Canadian band has burned itself so deeply into my psyche than The Tragically Hip.  Their music has intertwined with my entire adult life.  As a young cadet at the Royal Military College in Kingston, I remember them – not so much as the eclectic, metaphoric group they grew into – but rather as a gangly group of wannabes. Their frothy cover songs and unripe originals did not do much to capture the imagination of a young lad who was more interested in the heavy metal riffs of Zeppelin, the mythological lyrics of Rush, or the guitar solos of Eddie van Halen.. The intended sarcasm of their name escaped my young mind, and we the sometimes showered the fledglings unkindly with the little bones of half-eaten 5¢ chicken wings during King’s Town Happy Hours gone awry.

51lg+oujt-LOnly a few years later, while serving in Germany, I fatefully unwrapped the cellophane from their second CD – Up to Here –  recommended by a mate.  Feeling a little homesick for my old stomping grounds, I gave it a listen – a deep, deep listen. The album and the Band struck a chord, in fact several pleasing, appealing chords. And the lyrics were clever, melancholic poems with a deep sense of Canadiana about them. The album made me feel for home.  I was hooked like a pike in a Northern Ontario lake.

I guess that is what The Tragically Hip has done for millions of us throughout the last 30 years – forming the soundtrack of a generation expressed through a strangely overt, yet unsurprisingly subdued sense of national pride. Through the national glue of hockey and canoes, of flora and fauna, of places and things they shouted, “We are Canada!” in a way that was an inside-joke – something you just could not understand, unless you knew about toques and pucks and Bobby Orr. Unless you understood Canada.

Canadians are a unique collective – so humble, so self-effacing, yet so proud. Only we understand experiences like Paul Henderson’s winning goal, or righting David Milgaard’s wrongful conviction, or that once there was a fishing fan named Barilko; only we celebrate places like Golden, Thomson, Bobcaygeon, Lake Memphremagog,  and Mistaken Point – or lay claim to the 100th Meridian where the Great Plains begin.  Many of us only began to understand the beauty of our country through the words of the Tragically Hip. They brought Canada to life in a way school atlases never could.

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Sadly, I had written off seeing them live this last tour as the free enterprise vampires sucked the tickets up in seconds after they went on sale. I was angered and dismayed that lifelong fans like me would not get a chance to celebrate them again. And, after hearing the hue and cry, I was jubilant that the CBC recognized the significance and would broadcast the final show from YGK live. Like the 1972 Summit Series final game, at least this unforgettable moment in Canadian history would be experienced live, even if on television.

2016-07-31 06.23.00But out of nowhere, my brother who understood my affinity for the Band – because his may be bigger than mine – surprised me with tickets for the final Edmonton show.  And so my wife, Sue, and I became part of the half million or so lucky Canadians who will see the last tour live.

As one of my friends rightly noted, my words cannot do justice to the experience. The concert and the mark it left on those who were there, are indescribable. The emotions inside the stadium were beyond any live event I have ever felt – perhaps because I am a Leafs fan.

Gord lived up to his legendary antics, thrilling tens of thousands of animated and lucky fans in his metallic suits and feathered hats, in turn like a metallic pink or turquoise or silver crayon gone wild.

I did not hear every Hip song that holds deep meaning to me. How could I hear them all? There are just so many.

But from the opening chords of Blow at High Dough, to New Orleans is Sinking, to the poignant refrains of Courage , Grace, Too,, and so many more to the end of their second encore and Bobcaygeon, it was an emotional roller coaster. Each song brought back so many memories and reminiscences…it was a dry ice-, light- and sound-filled travelogue through my last 30 years.  Happy times, sad times, challenges, triumphs all rolled up into one evening.

And each time we thought it was over, the musicians of The Hip demonstrated the classy humility that we all strive to display. Knowing that Gord Downie is their voice and the recognizable tip of the Hip’s iceberg, they surrendered the stage repeatedly to their lead singer to absorb our love – fully and completely. And as we shouted ourselves hoarse and clapped until our hands were red, he looked back at us all with many emotions: sorrow that it was likely the last time that he would thrill an Edmonton crowd, and joy that he left us so fulfilled.

But mostly what I saw on Gord’s face was a deep, deep gratitude. Gratitude that we have appreciated the poetry, the music, the showmanship, the enigmatic persona – the whole musical adventure and journey.  That we grew from six people in seedy pubs and taverns to almost thirty-thousand in the shrines of hockey all across Canada.

And after what possibly seemed like an eternity for him, but only a moment for us, he left the stage… leaving a vacuum in the moment and quite possibly forever.  Though others did, I did not cry, but I did feel a well of sadness.

I felt for him, and for all those that know they face a shortened future because of some incurable illness.

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And selfishly, I also felt a tiny bit of me slip away, too…30 years of memories seemed to fade slightly with The Hip’s departure from Edmonton’s and Canada’s stage. It was an evening of ups and downs that left me hoarse, ringing, and emotionally drained. I would not have missed it for the world!

And for those that are not fortunate enough to see them live one last time, the broadcast of their final concert is not something to miss. I know like the majority of Canada, I will be glued to the set, with a beer in hand, watching history. Just as they would like us all to be.

It will be Tragic, yes; and it will also be epic.

In the end, I have a feeling we will all be saying, “The Hip shoots and they score!”

Later,

ASF

 

 

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Day 10 of 100 Happy Days – Piano Man in training

Day 10-100

Day 10 of 100 Happy Days

Today, I took up a new challenge. I took on something that has been sitting around quietly, partly taunting me, teasing me, mocking me.

A couple of years ago we purchased a nice digital piano. My wife owned a piano once, and a digital was an inexpensive way to have quality sound at a reasonable price – as well as with a reasonable space footprint. It was a hobby she enjoyed.

As for me, I do not know how to play piano. Nevertheless, this Christmas, my brother-in-law picked up my guitar, and with no lessons, theory or practice, was able to translate his piano know-how into actual carols and songs like some kind of savant.  I wanted to be able to do the same – on the piano that is, and without people thinking I was Dustin Hoffman.

So with the same vigour, and subject matter expertise and support  that I attacked my guitar playing over a decade ago, I have taken on the challenge of learning the piano. By  myself. Who needs formal lessons? I’ve got Google and You Tube.

So I downloaded a chord chart from the internet and started banging away. And despite the fact that I am absolutely horrible, it was an entertaining time. Wearing my headphones, I lost track of time as I tried desperately to tap ebony and ivory (or the synthetic versions of them) with rugby prop fingers, hoping to develop some sort of muscle memory as an anchor for my budding pianist aspirations.

After the hour, I was starting to sense some order emerging from the chaos and the jumble of black and white keys…the sequence, the scales, the chord patterns were making sense.  There is a repetitions, a predictability that  appeals perfectly to the orderly and methodical engineer’s mind. I know I can learn the chord and notes through analysis and identifying the repetition and symmetry.  Like the guitar there is math involved. And I like math!

So I will carry on, and hopefully over time, as I will get better. Maybe in the future there will be some creativity intermingled with the patterns and sequences.

But then again, maybe not.

It took a while for the guitar to stop screeching, so I think that Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ray Manzarek, and the kid from School of Rock  have absolutely nothing to worry about. Hopefully one day I’ll hear someone say, “Sing me a song, you’re the Piano Man.” Guffaw, guffaw!

But regardless of how it goes, a new goal means new challenges. And new challenges mean happy times…

Wish me luck!

Later,

ASF

Happy 33rd Birthday to The Wall

pink-floyd-the-wall-movie-poster-art

On 30 November 1979, Pink Floyd released The Wall.  At that time, I was 15 and I didn’t know much about Roger Waters’ life…or life in general, for that matter.  When I first heard it, I just thought it had some catchy tunes, like Another Brick in the Wall…plus they used risqué lyrics like “…do you think they’ll try to break my balls?…”  People said it was deep. I just liked the fact that the album told everyone that “we don’t need no education.”

The Wall VinylMy brother bought that album soon after it came out – he was the family music freak.  And yes, the first version I listened to was the vinyl LP (you remember, a Long Play, a 33rpm… or what the kids would now think of as the grandfather of the MP3 – the son being the CD.  Oh, wait – your younger ones probably won’t even remember what those were.)

The album was fantastic. We had no clue what it meant, but we listened to it, and listened to it and listened to it.

Four years later, in 1983, I went to University. Soon after arriving, I bought a tape deck and one of the first cassette tapes I bought – yes, I said cassette tape – was The Wall.  And I continued my obsession with the album.  In my four years of university I went through four or five cassettes- finally having to replace the older one when I could no longer rewind the spools with a pencil, or the tape ripped.  I must have had about six empty The Wall cassette cases – cracked, misaligned,The Wall cassette scratched and with stained liner notes – when I graduated.  I just couldn’t bear to throw them out.

I guess I have listened to the Album over 5000 times in the past 33 years.  The playlist is etched in my brain.  So are the lyrics.  And as I grew older, I started to appreciate what Roger Waters was trying to convey.  One of my University buds could not figure out the hold the album had on me, calling it “slit your wrist” music.  “Depressing”, he used to say.

I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

Yes, I will admit that it starts off with a spiral into depression and addiction with a generous splash and violence and racism to sharpen the softer edges.  But through the anger and confusion and isolation, the protagonist (aptly named Pink) manages to put himself on trial by inner judge, and sentences himself to try and face the world.

Does it work?  Who knows.The Wall CD

For those who have not noticed, the album actually ends off where it started. If you listen to the final words, they are the opening words to the incomplete sentence that introduce the album.  I guess it means that the battle never ends, it just keeps going on.

To cap it off, I was very 0fortunate last year. Just like in 1979,  my brother came through as when he bought the first album.  In May 2012, he took me to The Wall Live at O2 in London. There is still only one word to describe the experience…Amazing.

Over twenty-thousand people, singing along…and I am sure that with each song, they could not help but think of all the times, all the places and all the people that are intertwined with their personal memories of the album.

The Wall Concert O2 London May 2015

For me, each time I hear it, I feel a flood of memories: studying for exams, driving on the Trans-Canada, watching the campfire while sipping a beer, enjoying a cup of tea in my favourite chair, dozing on the couch on a sunny Sunday afternoon, listening to it on my Walkman while flying across the Atlantic, or falling asleep after just a few bars of Goodbye Blue Sky …

Good times…and great memories.  Thanks Mr Waters and Mr Gilmore.  And to your album, Happy Birthday!

Later,

ASF

Where did my “Dancin’ Fool” go? Oh there he is…

I was watching CNN yesterday and saw that Don Cornelius died.  Perhaps some of you remember him – especially those of you were born before Stevie Wonder released “Sir Duke.  Mr. Cornelius, if you do not know, was the creator, founder and host of Soul Train – one of the epic early music shows on TV.

Now, I could go on many tangents writing about Soul Train. I could write about the empowerment of the Afro-American community. Or maybe the influence it had on Quincy Jones, Spike Lee and other black producers and directors. But I am too late. Yesterday, CNN covered all that in a stereotypical two minute feature, repeated 6 times an hour.

Instead, I will write about what Soul Train meant to me.  Soul Train was about boogie and moving & grooving.  I will blog about dancing – because when Soul Train was hot, it made all of us into Dancin’ Fools.

Soul Train was just one of many dance shows that influenced a whole generation and provided the “funky” moves we only dreamed of using during the school gym dances.  The brave and hip souls who exposed themselves on the Soul Train Dance Line were the ancient forefathers and mothers of the “So-You –Think-You-Can-Dance” Crowd.  If you cannot grasp the sheer quirkiness of the period’s boogie fever, pre-hip hop dance moves, and fantastic fashions, have a gander of just what Soul Train brought to the table and prepare to groove along to these highlights.

Yes, I can imagine the youngsters giggling through all of that.  Funnily enough, Soul Train was not the first dance show I remember. The grandpappy of all the shows, with the host who signed the deal with the Devil for eternal youth, was American Bandstand. For 30+ years, Dick Clarke did not age one friggin’ day as he hosted a variety of American Icons and the happening teenagers of the day.  But while Soul Train allowed all those who thought they had the stuff to strut it, American Bandstand was more like the mosh pit as the Alpha Dancers tried hard to get just a few seconds of screen time.  And that was the major difference between the ‘Train and the ‘Stand? (Yep, that was the hip lingo back then…and I still got it!)  If you wanted to stick out on American Bandstand, you had to do something really special

Soul Train and Bandstand provided the moves that helped me through school dances. Confidently, I was doing the “left foot, right foot” shuffle to “Kung Fu Fighting” in Grade 4, bumping to “Le Freak, C’est Chic” in Grade 9, or doing the Carleton Banks to “We got the Beat” in Grade 12.  For most of us, the TV dance moves were all we needed to get the other side of the gym begging us to dance with them. Yeah, right…

Inevitably as I grew older, dance shows served another purpose.  Now, for anyone born after 1990, imagine a time before the internet and free porn; imagine an innocent time when the Friday night  Baby Blue movies were the talk of the school lunchroom on Mondays, and when the images of the “20 Minute Workout” helped us master our domains.  And the dance show’s contribution? Yes…the Solid Gold Dancer. My goodness, did someone turn up the heat…

But sadly, there came a time when all the old chestnuts lost their allure.  The music became too mainstream and the dancers in the crowd, well, they were just like me – only nerdier.  I needed something more modern, more “with it”.  And who filled the void…Much Music and its hyper-hip Electric Circus.   Live from City TV studios in the cultural centre of Canada (you guessed it – John Street!) Electric Circus was “poser” Canada at its best…hosted by the chic Monika Deol and her vox basso. I mean, who didn’t want to be – or do – an Electric Circus Dancer? (For the record, that is not sexist. The dancers were both male and female…so people of all five sexual orientations could fantasize about them. How much more inclusively-Canadian can you get than that?)

But like always, the lights in the club eventually turn on – long after last call has passed. You suddenly realise that all that grown-up stuff – marriage, kids, work – has conspired against you and the dancing stopped without you even noticing. No more dance shows with their hip moves. Forget the funk. Forget the Boogie. Dancing – if you still did it – consisted of sweating to the Let’s Twist Again Medley, the Bird Dance or La Macarena at weddings.

But while I did not watch anymore dance shows, I still tried to find the opportunity to try out the moves that I saw during the occasional TV-surfing moments. On New Year’s Eve1999, I nearly suffered a cardiac arrest as I emulated the  Torrance Community Dance Group during an impromptu 4 minute dance solo on an empty floor.  There wasn’t one single Soul Train dance move during that set.  I realised after that unintentional aerobics class, that maybe I was getting old. That maybe I should put away the Billy Idol arm thrashing, the MC Hammer moves, and the Fresh Prince’s Running Man.

But as dance has been there pretty much for all of my life, I heard the advice, but I didn’t really listen to it. And so, dancing has made the occasional appearance during my grown up life (usually in the company of several drinks and the unmistakable beat of the 70s and 80s hits). When that happens, I am bopping because my pelvis and knees have loosened up through the liberal application of a few cocktails.  During these happy times, I still believe that I am just as good as the kids who shimmied along Don Cornelius’s Dance Line – even if I do have an overbite.

Keep dancing!  Later,

ASF

PS.  Interpretive dance…gotta love that too. One of my favourites!

Forget pop, Pop. You are ready for the Blues now…

While we all try to stay current and “with it”, listening to Katy Perry, Rihanna, Eminem or Lady Gaga is just not suitable for a 45+ man in public (even using an iPod with airtight headphones). Google the term “music appropriate for middle-aged men” and you will see the screen filled with many recommendations and streams –  obviously it is an extremely critical subject!  While the classics – AC DC, The Cars, B52s, Talking Heads etcetera – will still raise a nostalgic smile, and result in the odd head bob or Carlton Banks dance move (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlxjbhB9HE ), if you have kids in their teens, it is time to man-up and show the world that your music is like you – weathered, wise, tough and savvy.  So for you, my adventurous colleague, there is only one choice: the rugged and man-friendly blues.

If it is not obvious, I love the Blues. Ever since I first heard Howling Wolf croaking his way through Ol’ Smokestack Lightning (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiExHrVXmtE&feature=related) I realised how much the Blues has been a part of my life, even though I may not have known it.  All my musical heroes were either inspired by the old slide guitarists, or were just shameless copycats and plagiarists (Don’t believe me? Check out the Wiki at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokestack_Lightning).  Even my teen-hood heroes – Robert, Jimmy, John Paul and Bonzo – were avid “borrowers” of old-school blues; just compare Led Zeppelin’s  Lemon Song to Killer Floor or Travellin’ Riverside Blues. (See http://www.warr.org/zep.html for more.)

Oh no….Sorry, sorry…before you tell me to “Whoa, whoa there little doggy…you’re scaring me,” I will exit the “Blues Geek Zone” and get back to the issue at hand.  Why do the Blues fit your age?

So, middle-aged man, if you don’t believe me that you are now the right age for the blues, ask yourself at what other stage in life would you have gained enough life experience to understand The Blues?  When, before now, were you so worldly, battered, jaded, weary or patient? Still not persuaded? Then ask yourself, at what age do you think a person could write or sing a legit Blues song?

Now, there are some youngsters who might argue a teen could do it. My counter: only if that teen is in the Rainman range – the kind of person who can play chess without a board, or master the violin after hearing three bars of Beethoven’s Fifth.  I will admit though, that with all the hormones, confusion, angst, worry, and high school mean-ness, there may be enough raw material for a teen to write a good song.  But it takes longer than 15 years to reach Maslow’s sixth or seventh level and stop worrying about the next sandwich or getting laid (wait, on second thought it takes longer that 45+ years to do that).  I mean, it takes many years to gain the experience needed to makes sense of all the teenage bullshit. Everything in High School was just so serious, how could we find time between the tears, rage and the horninesss to analyse it all?  Though not a classic 12 or 16 bar blues tune, Rough Trade captured all that angst in the song High School Confidential –  which has the best product endorsemnt ever conceived!( Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsJHtzdvfKg ) But,  I don’t remember seeing anyone of Carol Pope’s vintage in High School…unless it was Night School.  It took her until her 50s to write that song (I think that is how old she is, but that may have been the 80s look.)

Some might argue that you can sing the blues when you are in your twenties…after all you have likely moved away from home, you are just coming to grips with making it on your own, and you may be balancing between credit cards to bankroll your partying, internet downloads, designer coffee, rent, utilities and food (most likely in that order).  But seriously, what wisdom can you share on any subject? I do not think that there would be much interest in a song called “The I-Know-It-All and My-Parents-Know-Less-Than-Nothing Blues”, (though I might be tempted by a hemp-head version of “My Cheatin’ Kraft Dinner Jus’ Plain Gawn”. Then again that would probably better fit into the genre of Acid Country AND Western).

How about your thirties? Toddlers, onset of the receding hairline, start of the muffin top, Fred Penner, Barney (or whatever their present incarnations are)…all good things to moan about if we weren’t having so much “fun”.  But really, “The Honda Odyssey Blues” or “The Full Pampers Shuffle”.  Pass…

So that leaves us old timers (for me, defined as anyone who is close to, or over, a half-century old) as the only practical group left – a reverse battle of attrition.  By 45 we have likely seen most of it and survived –  we can put it all into perspective! Love – unrequited or departed, debt, jealousy, cheatin’, sadness, rage, missed opportunities…universal constants that are all good fodder for the blues artist.  We get it, We can appreciate it.  And what will the blues do for you? Aside from letting you groove to great rhythms, licks, vocals and lyrics, the music serves as a reminder you are not the only to have it tough. People long before you have suffered and have had moments of sadness. Life is not meant to be easy, that everyone feels pain – but gets through it. And it shows you that despite the hurt, there are really cool and clever ways to bitch about it!  Most importantly, you will find that in even the most bleak blues ditty, there is always a silver lining or glimmer of light that will give you hope.  What more could you ask for from your music?

So if you think your life has been battered enough to start a career as a blues artist, check out this primer for a giggle:  http://www.greatstoryteller.com/1/post/2010/4/how-to-write-a-blues-song-funny.html .

And, if you’re just interested in expanding your music library with age-appropriate stuff, check out the following PBS sites that will point you at some classic, contemporary, and modern blues artists and their music. They’ll nudge you gently into the world of the sliding steel guitar.

http://www.pbs.org/theblues/songsartists/songsbioalpha.html

http://www.pbs.org/theblues/classroom/cd.html#null

Hope you enjoy!  Later…

ASF