Tag Archives: Music

In Defence of the Dark Arts

Nothing brings out the goodwill and joy like suggesting people keep their Christmas lights off until December 1st. If you want to enrage the neighbours all you have to do is go into the Facebook group someone set up for your neighbourhood and put up a post about it. Granted, I was a bit smarmy, but I have perfectly good and reasonable reasons. None of that matters because apparently I’m a Scrooge McGrinch Level 100 troll who has no right to tell people what to do.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frNRluzraJU]

The first response to my post was, “Why?” Well, I didn’t want to get all in-your-face and ranty about it, so I gave a watered-down response. There was already enough, especially when you factor in the extreme over-commercialization of the holiday that’s happened over the last couple decades. So why not give everyone a break? A bit of a reprieve, if you will.

That just made things worse.

FOR THE RECORD:
I’m a fan of the December joy, I really am. For the month of December, I always strive to be the jolliest asshole this side of the nuthouse(1). I love the snow and the lights and the whole general idea of giving more and not being a total ass to one another. I think it sets a good tone for the rest of the year.

But seriously, it’s getting a bit out of hand.

After Back to School and then Canadian Thanksgiving and then Halloween (stores are even putting up Christmas stuff before Halloween!) and then Remembrance Day (Canada) / Veterans Day (U.S.) and then U.S. Thanksgiving AND THEN December proper and 26 days of Christmas madness we take a (quick) breath and go straight back for more with New Year’s and just when you think you’re done the Orthodox folks jump in with their Christmas celebration on January 7. Oh, and let’s not forget there’s a bunch of other non-Christian holidays in there trying to get air time as well (more on that later).

Did you know that there are governments and military prisons that have used the persistent playing of music as a deterrent as well as torture? Well, welcome to certain radio stations and virtually every store in every mall in North America in December. Listen as they crank out Christmas music until you want to stuff an elf backwards into jolly old Santa’s milk and cookie piehole.

Starting November 25th!

Here’s a pro tip:
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be bombarded with Christmas 24/7/365. I am not a Scrooge or Grinch or Troll for having a lower tolerance for all things mistletoe. There’s the song 12 Days of Christmas and turning on the lights December 1st more than doubles the recommended serving of joy. That’s pretty good, no?

I think I brought the craziness to a close on that Facebook thread (at least I haven’s seen many comments since) with the following:

“Wow. I never said I wanted to make it a law. Amazing how quickly cheer turns into hate. Want to see people’s true colours? Challenge them on the internet.” 

Someone on my side (or at least not against me) replied to that with something about not messing with a woman and her Christmas decorations, and I replied with, “WAR ON CHRISTMAS!” It was a joke meant to play on the usage of the phrase, particularly with Tea Party Republicans in the U.S.

I shouldn’t have used the phrase because it’s not a war. It’s not a battle. It’s not a confrontation. It’s not even a heated argument. Hell, it barely meets the definition of a disagreement. Barely. So, to call it a war would be incredibly disrespectful to those who fight in actual wars. Which brings me to another thing: the November 12th People (N12P).

Now, I don’t know what veterans and service people think of the N12P, but I imagine members of the N12P taking in the Veterans Day parade waiting for the float with the replica of the tomb of the unknown soldier pass so they can push a button and have their Christmas lights turn on. That might be an extreme case and I’m certain that’s not what goes down for the majority of the N12P, but the simple fact that they wait until the 12th instead of, say, the 15th or 25th or the 2nd Sunday in November does give me the impression that they’re just waiting to get November 11 out of the way so they can get on with celebrating. Anyhow, that’s just an aside. I’ll let you think about it.

[…]

One argument I hear in favour of an early lighting is, “My kids get so excited!” Sure, Christmas is a wonderful time for kids. You know what, though? My kids used to get excited about having dessert after dinner. Now, for whatever reason they have it every night, and I couldn’t tell you the last time they were over-the-moon excited about 25g of sugar and chocolate.

I’ll tell you one thing, if you want to get someone really excited about something, tell them how awesome it is, and then tell them can’t have it until a certain date. I’m not suggesting we treat the turning on of the Christmas lights like the new Star Wars movie, but there is something to be said for absence making the heart grow fonder. I say make the kids wait as long as you possibly can and then watch as their heads explode with joy when they finally get to experience it.

(Hmm, I think the 40-year-old virgin may have been onto something.)

As an after December 1st argument, I’d also like to bring up cultural insensitivity. Maybe that’s not the right phrase. Cultural Christmaswashing? Think cultural whitewashing but with red and green candy canes and nativity scenes. I don’t know what you’d call it, but hasn’t the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture machine saturated the West enough over the last few hundred years? Do we really need to be standing on the rooftops for months at a time screaming, “CHRISTMAS! LOOK AT ME, I CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS! WOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOO! CHRISTMAS MOTHER*****ERS!”

I’m no social justice warrior but I have to wonder what all this feels like to the new immigrant or someone trying to celebrate their own holiday – or no holiday at all for that matter. I’d love to see some Diwali lights displayed in my neighbourhood but it’s awfully hard to pick them out over all the Christmas stuff. Then again, maybe it just looks like a party’s about to break out at any minute and everyone thinks it’s just fantastic (judging by the number of “likes” on my comment and the number of other people who are in line with my post-November light turny onie decision I’m guessing not).

Also on my new favourite Facebook thread was the comment that I can’t tell people what to do. To be precise:

“You can close your eyes you have no right to tell people when then can and can not [sic] decorate”. 

First, I don’t recall telling anyone to do anything. I posted a smarmy, “How about…? Mkay, thanks.”

But it did get me thinking… What about an individual’s rights? I have every right to question your judgement if you put up your Christmas stuff in the middle of August just as you have every right to put it up whenever the hell you want. But unwritten agreements exist all the time and work just fine without being formalised into law. I simply want people to come to an arrangement. A reasonable compromise that takes everything I’ve just written about into account.

I can imagine the person from the above quote sitting on the porch in their rocking chair with an armful of flashing LEDs, or walking around WalMart with a giant battery in a backpack powering Christmas lights strung all around their shopping cart. When approached and asked about why they’re doing what they’re doing they reply with:

“The 87th amendment to the Constitution clearly states that ‘A well regulated Neighbourhood Community being necessary to the celebration of Christmas, the right of the people to keep and display Christmas lights shall not be infringed’,” and then every argument from then on that even remotely appears to contradict the 87th amendment is met with, “CHRISTMAS MOTHER****ER!”

So there you have it. Do with this information what you will. I’ll be lighting my house and Christmas tree up like a Christmas tree on December 1st and shutting the lights off when I go to bed on December 31st, happy as a clam the whole time and trying not to be an ass to people the other eleven months of the year after that.

As for peace on earth, goodwill to men? All I have to say to that is it’s not gonna happen so long as there is an Internet – and a comments section.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk74WprmZxY]
(1) My all-time favourite Christmas movie.

~ Andrew

The Sound of Music – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the thing where I share my Top 5 albums of all time. Think of this as a “desert island” list. You know, “If you could only have one CD with you while you’re stranded on a desert island which one would it be?” – only instead of one, I’m taking five (if you can only pick one then you need to listen to more music. Hopefully, my list will guide you toward a future Top 5 choice for yourself.

As a reminder here is the main criteria that went into making my choices:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)

Last time, I shared some thoughts about the Irish pop/rock megaband U2’s fifth (and breakthrough) album The Joshua Tree. This week we’re going in the complete opposite direction and talking about a little-known Canadian indie/folk/rock band whose debut album is heads and butts on top of their entire four-album* catalog (update: 2017’s “Do the Right Now” makes it a five-album catalog and it’s a good listen).

Shakespeare My Butt by The Lowest of the Low

Released 1991
Track Listing:

  1. “4 O’Clock Stop” (7/10)
  2. “So Long Bernie” (7/10)
  3. “Just About ‘The Only’ Blues” (7/10)
  4. “Salesmen, Cheats and Liars” (7/10)
  5. “Rosy and Grey” (9/10)
  6. “Kinda the Lonely One” (8/10)
  7. “Eternal Fatalist” (8/10)
  8. “For the Hand of Magdalena” (8/10)
  9. “Subversives” (9/10)
  10. “Bleed a Little While Tonight” (8/10)
  11. “Bloodline” (8/10)
  12. “St. Brendan’s Way” (8/10)
  13. “Letter from Bilbao” (8/10)
  14. “Under the Carlaw Bridge” (7/10)
  15. “The Taming of Carolyn” (8/10)
  16. “Gossip Talkin’ Blues” (6/10)
  17. “Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes” (8/10)
The songs are put together quite well with most of the album upbeat folksy stuff. It’s really hard to listen to that album end-to-end and not be in a good mood. As for the number of songs on the album that I like? Well, if you look at the ratings I gave them (in parenthesis above) I pretty mich like all of them and a few are home to some lyrics that I just love to sing out loud: 
  • “Her mother’s worst fears are confirmed / She’s taken off with some musician / (Holy shit!)” (from Taming of Carolyn)
  • “Well, I’ve kissed you in France and I’ve kissed you in Spain / And I’ve kissed you in places I’d better not name / And I’ve seen the sun go down on Sacre Coeur / But I like it much better goin’ down on you / Ah, you know that’s true” (from Rosey and Grey)
  • “And if they had genitalia they’d have frozen their nuts off” (from Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes)
There a so many memories involving so many of these songs it’s hard to corral them into a single paragraph. For starters, it seemed like this album was on repeat for all of 1994 when I spent a considerable portion of my time at the local on-campus pub, The Bombshelter (or, as it is better known, The Bomber), at the University of Waterloo. I hung out with the folks that would become friends I still see today, and one particular girl who would go on to be my wife. Funny story, she and I would go on to see LotL on my birthday in 2002 and gave our soon-to-be first born child her first taste of good live music. In 2004 while white water rafting just outside of Ottawa a guitarist at the hostel we were camping at played “Rosey and Grey” as part of his set. A bunch of us Bomber alum sang along, giving the bar quite a show and garnering applause from the dude with the guitar. An even funnier story, one of our daughter’s first live concerts (out of the womb this time) came just a few years ago. We took the kids to the Toronto Urban Roots Festival and LotL played a short set on the main stage.   
Quite simply, this album makes me feel happy, and whenever one of the tracks comes on my iPod I turn it up and sing along as loud as I can (and as best as I can considering I’m terrible at remembering lyrics). 
~ Andrew
* Hallucegenia (1994), Nothing Short of a Bullet (live w/ 3 studio tracks, 2001), Sordid Fiction (2004) – an album I didn’t even remember existed until today

The Sound of Music – Part 1

More than five years ago I did a quick little “Top 5” post in homage to the film High Fidelity. The post was a simple 45-word paragraph (including the subheader) that listed my top 5 albums of all time. Well, I’ve decided to update the list and while much of it is the same, there are a couple of changes. You might be wondering what’s happened in the last five years that has led me to change my mind. If you think about it, that list should remain fairly static (I mean, seriously, could an album released in the last five years actually qualify as one of the “best ever”?)

Music is a big part of my family, not that any of us are particularly musically inclined (the kids tried to learn guitar at one point and I have taken voice lessons, but that’s about it). We do listen to it frequently though and everyone has a strong appreciation for it. After my last concussion, I found myself feeling quite thankful for any memory that I was able to recall, and as it turns out, music happens to provide a great “jog” for the ole memory keeper (my long term memory is actually pretty good, but my working memory is complete shite). For me, so many factors go into what makes an album The Best of All Time, and one of those factors is the memories that are invoked when a song from the album comes on the radio or through my iPod when I’m in the car.

Andrew singing as part of the band Speed of Light Lab with Jason Cassidy on guitar,
Joshua Hofstetter on drums, Jason Dykstra on bass, and Robb Farago on cello/harmonica.

Other factors include:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
I’ll list the albums in the proper Top 5 order when I’m done but for now let’s take a more detailed look at one of them in the list. I’ll do this for the next five weeks and end the last post with the ordered list. For now, in no particular order, let’s take a look at one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time:
Released March 9, 1987
Track Listing:
  1. “Where the Streets Have No Name” (8/10)
  2. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (8/10)  
  3. “With or Without You” (7/10)
  4. “Bullet the Blue Sky” (6/10)
  5. “Running to Stand Still” (8/10)
  6. “Red Hill Mining Town” (7/10)
  7. “In God’s Country” (7/10)
  8. “Trip Through Your Wires” (6/10)  
  9. “One Tree Hill” (8/10)
  10. “Exit” (6/10)
  11. “Mothers of the Disappeared” (8/10)

I’ve ranked the songs (in parenthesis) so you can see how it stacks up in terms of the “number of songs I like on the album” criteria. Only two of the eleven tracks would rank low on my list and even then I don’t not like them, I just don’t find them as good as the rest of the tracks on the album.

As for the composition of the album I think producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois struck a good balance with the tracks. It has a great flow, with some ups and downs, while still keeping the overall tone of the album constant. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of the band’s movie Rattle and Hum movie based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yzojvZwzQo]

How does the album make me feel? Nostalgic and wistful. Contemplative and concerned. Listening to this album, and most of the individual songs on it makes me feel like I’ve lived a great life but still have great things ahead of me.

As for the memories invoked by listening to this album, well, there are many. I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).

I remember in the summer of 1987 I was at summer camp and there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.

Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It’s the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn’t happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.

One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn’t feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn’t exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn’t say a word.

The final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.

For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.

~ Andrew

Whisky Is My Muse

With only 19 days left until November 1st it is time to make an important decision: to NaNo or not to NaNo? I have attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, failing in my first attempt but succeeding in the last two. This year, however, I’m torn. You see, I have a fully written novel and it requires a good amount of editing. I’m about one third through my first pass of identifying plot gaps (in come cases chasms) and other major blunders. I should be able to get through the remaining two thirds in a few weeks, and then take a week or so to go back and make some of the additions that I have identified.

That would put me in a pretty good spot to start shopping this baby around sometime early in the new year. On the other hand, I have a half written novel I’ve been sitting on since last NaNo that I really should finish off. It would be nice to have two completed novels under my belt. On the other, other hand, I have this entirely different idea that should squeeze into roughly 60,000 words and make for a nice short little novel that I think would make a great introductory piece for my future readers.

Decisions, decisions.

By Serge Bertasius Photography at http://freedigitalphotos.net 

I really want to move along my finished novel, but the unfinished piece has been sitting for far too long as well. Plus, I really don’t want to anger my muse by ignoring a right proper good idea for too long. Argh!

How to tell if you are a writer:

  1. Do you write?
  2. Do you have more projects started than you have completed?
  3. Do you think procrastination should be an Olympic event?
If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above then congratulations! You are a writer. 

Here’s the thing: I enjoy writing, but I’m a bit lazy turd, but I must also exercise my creativity or I start to get twitchy and depressed. This is why I blog, take a photo a day (as well as many others), write novels, short stories, am about to start a podcast, and write lyrics. Of all these things it’s the writing that I find most rewarding. As mentioned last week, I’m giving it more attention in the next few weeks and through November in hopes I can keep the groove going into the new year, but with what?

Methinks the editing and unfinished novel can wait, if only so I can get this idea that’s been rattling around out of my head and keep my muse from forgetting about me.

What do you think?

Since we’re on the topic, here’s the latest song creation by Jim Tigwell and I, inspired by all our friends over at Writers Without Borders. We don’t have it recorded yet, but we’re working on it.

~ Andrew


By Naypong at http://freedigitalphotos.net

Whiskey is My Muse

Lyrics by Andrew F. Butters
Music by Jim Tigwell

Capo 2 (seriously)

Am             C         G     G
Nothing but potential On the horizon

Am           C          G    G
Close my eyes and feel her warmth

F                                     Am
Standing next to me, Standing next to me

Am        C       G   G
Careful ’cause she is Watching

Am        C       G   G
Open my eyes and look inside

F                               Am
Trying to be free, Trying to be free

Thinking of the options running through my mind
Need something to get started
To get me on my way, To get me on my way
Praying for the answerto my problems
Fighting urges to be weak
And risk staying the same, And risk staying the same

Am      C       E7
Staring at the page

Am          C    G       E7
Listen (to) what she has to say

Am                 C             G
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey

   F
In my veins….

G
I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

G
I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

Fleeting glimpses of the future
Flash before my eyes
I know there is an answer
All I need is to entice
Too much confusion, too much chaos
Hiding deep inside
There she is providing guidance
But not without a price
Not without a price

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away

cadd9
Everything I do

D
Everything I say

cadd9
Every word’s for you

D
In every single way

cadd9
Everything that’s yours

D
And everything that’s mine

cadd9
Even though I’m torn

D                    Am
I think that I’ll be fine

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
All away
All away
All away
All away
.

Tommy Can You Hear Me?

A while back I wrote a post on how the general consensus is that for books that are made into movies, the book will almost always be better. After seeing not one, but two stage versions of The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” I have come to the conclusion that musical theatre is to music as movie adaptations are to books.

Rock & Roll music made into a movie with some of the
biggest names of that time in showbiz

There’s a reason there’s the musical expression “phrasing”. Music, you see, is a language. From our friends at Wikipedia: “Phrase and phrasing are concepts and practices related to grouping consecutive melodic notes, both in their composition and performance.” Music, much like the words on the page, allows the mind to wander, fill in the gaps, and fill the consumer with wonder and amazement.

Neither the 1995 nor the 2013 editions of “Tommy” did any of that for me and mostly for the same reasons. I expect a certain style when it comes to musical theatre, but I also have expectations when it comes to live music (not just concerts, but any non-recorded music). Live music should be bigger, louder, full of emotion and energy. It should invoke feelings, and lots of them.

I know, I know. $75 freaking dollars – for balcony?!

Granted, I was only 21 when I saw the 1995 show but I was no stranger to theatre. For its time the visuals were outstanding but I found the actors to be disengaged and tentative, almost as if they were afraid to make a mistake or personally offend the original creators. The music was definitely loud enough, but it was lacking most of the criteria I was expecting.

Now with a few more years behind me (eighteen to be precise), I can look at the performance from this week and, well, basically say the same things. Most of the players were pretty engaging, but I found the lead (teenage Tommy) to be weak. It was as if during the whole performance he was wondering what he’d be having for dinner after the show. The new fancy backdrop visuals were distracting and didn’t add any value. The music could have been louder, and it was lacking intensity. It was as if someone threw a towel over the guitarist’s amp and took away his distortion pedal.

Stratford Festival ticket deal for the win!

Now here comes a comparison with another stage show based on popular music: Abba’s “Mamma Mia!” (this could very well be the first time someone’s ever compared Abba and The Who. A quick Google search turned up 40,700,000 results of which I looked at the first two pages and found no such comparison. Feel free to check out the other 40,699,960 results and prove me wrong).

This principal difference between the two plays (aside from the vastly different plots) lies in the music and the musicians themselves. Abba songs are not rock & roll. Abba songs are poppy, toe tapping ditties and they lend themselves quite nicely for use in a live musical. Abba songs aren’t bigger than life; the stage production brought them to life and then gave them more heart. Songs by The Who absolutely ooze rock & roll. Songs by The Who are not toe tapping and the lion’s share are far from anything I’d classify as a ditty.

They are amplifier exploding epics that make you want to smash things.

You know what I expect when I hear someone play The Who? More freakin’ guitar, that’s what. Cowbell is to Blue Oyster Cult as guitar is to The Who and from what I heard in Stratford – and in listening back to the original 1995 stage recording – Peter Townshend should be rolling over in his grave (wait… what? He’s not dead?! Oh. Sorry, Pete. Moving on…) At the end of it all I simply found “Tommy” to be a little too much tea & crumpets and not enough rock & roll (finale excepted – it was great in both performances).

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised though. Music, really good music, packs so much into each song that it has got to be really difficult to breathe more life into it, short of performing the song live at an actual concert. Could this be a reason for there being such a lack of stage musicals based on popular music? I happen to think so. That being said, if anyone wants to go out and put together a stage production of RUSH’s 2112 I’d be all for it. Lord knows that would at least allow for a better comparison than ABBA.

RUSH’s 2112 “Starman”

~Andrew