Tag Archives: Music

Rewind

The most formative twelve months of my life happened between August 1989 and July 1990. When digging around in the basement more than thirty-two years later, my wife uncovered a box filled with cassettes containing a veritable treasure trove of nostalgia and some pretty awesome music.

Therein were dozens of purchased cassettes, mixed tapes, and bootlegs recorded tape-to-tape or from these newfangled digital compact discs. Included in this musical ark were my first two attempts at making mixes with meaning that documented those magical, formative twelve months and ushered in a new era of my human development.

Before we get into a rundown of my autobiographical mixes, let’s first take a minute to appreciate the sheer eclecticism of this collection. If you know me and my wife, you’ll be able to pick out whose are whose, but there is some definite and in some cases surprising overlap (I’ll leave it to you to guess what that is). On the top layer alone we have the following artists represented:

REM, Steve Vai, The Mighty Lemon Drops, George Michael, The Northern Pikes, RUSH, They Might Be Giants, Billy Bragg, Sting, Concrete Blonde, James, Bootsauce, Pink Floyd, Beastie Boys, 54-40, Yaz, The Grapes of Wrath, ABBA, Sarah McLachlan, The Pursuit of Happiness, Tori Amos, Culture Club, The Jam, Depeche Mode, Rage Against The Machine, Aerosmith, Pachelbel, The Cure, L7, Sinead O’Connor, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, Faith No More, House of Pain, Lava Hay, Voice of the Beehive, Bananarama, National Velvet, Violent Femmes, Ride, The Murmurs, The Watchmen, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, and Michael Jackson

I don’t think there’s a playlist in existence that contains all of those acts and I suspect that iTunes’ or Spotify’s algorithms wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do to come up with a “recommended for you” list.

It’s worth noting that with all my wife’s (clearly superior) tastes intermingled with mine in one fantastic pile of music there was but a single cassette requiring pencil surgery!

Challenge:
Create a playlist with one (1) song from each of the above artists and share the link. I want to see what you come up with.

Here’s mine (minus National Velvet because they aren’t on Spotify)

Let’s start with a look at the music I put on those tapes back in the middle of 1990 and I’ll walk you through the reasons they’re on there after you’ve had a chance to absorb the list:


Mixed Tape #1 – “1st Attempt at Perfection (Boy Was I Off)”
Recorded on a BASF CR-E II 120 tape around June of 1990.

Side 1

  1. Mixed Emotions – The Rolling Stones
  2. Hold On To Your Hat – The Rolling Stones
  3. Rock And A Hard Place – The Rolling Stones
  4. Get Off Of My Cloud – The Rolling Stones
  5. Paint It, Black – The Rolling Stones
  6. Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones
  7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
  8. The Joker – Steve Miller Band
  9. Swingtown – Steve Miller Band
  10. Rock’n Me – Steve Miller Band
  11. Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
  12. All Join Our Hands – White Lion
  13. Love Ain’t For Keepin’ – The Who
  14. Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
  15. YYZ – Rush

Side 2

  1. My Generation – The Who
  2. Pinball Wizard – The Who
  3. Hello, I Love You – The Doors
  4. In My Life – The Beatles
  5. Revolution – The Beatles
  6. Imagine – John Lennon
  7. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
  8. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
  9. Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
  10. My Michelle – Guns N’ Roses
  11. Fallen Angel – Poison
  12. Baba O’Riley – The Who
  13. Money – Pink Floyd
  14. With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker
Mixed Tape #2 – “Repeat Offender”
Recorded on a TDK IECII/TypeII High Position cassette tape around June of 1990.

Side 1

  1. YYZ – Rush
  2. The Spirit Of Radio – Rush
  3. Limelight – Rush
  4. Tom Sawyer – Rush
  5. Red Barchetta – Rush
  6. Take The Money And Run – Steve Miller Band
  7. You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
  8. All You Need Is Rock ‘n’ Roll – White Lion
  9. My Michelle – Guns N’ Roses
  10. Red Red Wine – UB40

Side 2

  1. Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
  2. It Ain’t Me Babe – Bob Dylan
  3. Paranoimia (feat. Max Headroom) – The Art Of Noise, Max Headroom
  4. Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
  5. Legs – The Art Of Noise
  6. Peter Gunn (feat. Duane Eddy) – The Art Of Noise, Duane Eddy
  7. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  8. Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
  9. Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
  10. Wild Thing – The Troggs
  11. Piano Man – Billy Joel

Three and a half hours of music, 50 tracks (48 unique), and very little of it current for the time. So what exactly was going on?

The Rolling Stones (7)

In late 1989, at the age of 15, my good friend Jon who was a year older than me, got tickets to see The Rolling Stones through a contact of his grandfather (I think he played cards with a concert promotor). It was the Steel Wheels tour and it was my first ever concert. Forget the fact that it was at Skydome (now Rogers Centre) before they figured out how to make the sound work well. Forget the fact that we were a mile away in the lower bowl. I was with my longest-standing friend watching the Rolling Stones and it was freakin’ awesome.

RUSH (6), Billy Joel (1), Louis Armstrong (1), Joe Cocker (1)

Two words; High school. More specifically, Jer, Shelby, Nicky, Melissa, Michelle (more about her later), Deborah, and Heather.

For reasons I cannot remember, Louis Armstrong and Joe Cocker songs were popular, but all those friends were who I hung out with so I’m just assuming they had something to do with them being on the tape.

Billy Joel is on there because he was definitely a favourite of all the girls I mentioned above. I didn’t go to his concert with them but they did surprise me with a concert t-shirt the next day and that was really cool.

As for RUSH, that’s entirely Jer’s doing. I was sitting in the hallway with him one day and he gave me his headphones and pressed play on his Walkman. The opening riff of Limelight blasted into my ears and could do nothing but sit there, mouth agape and in complete awe. I was hooked and they remain one of my favourite bands to this day (RIP Neil).

Whitesnake (1), White Lion (2), Guns N’ Roses (3), Poison (1), AC/DC (1)

From late 1988 to the summer of 1990 I worked as a bus boy at a place called The Firefighter’s Club. My dad, not a firefighter, had a membership and put in a good word for me with “Coop” (John Cooper) and got me the job.

There was supposed to be an initiation that involved being wrapped in an extension cord and hung upside down from the balcony of the pump house beside the pool or dunked in the grease pit or something. I don’t remember exactly, just that as the new guy it was a rough introduction to my first job outside of delivering newspapers.

Everyone had a nickname: Pig, Der, Smurf, CC… I didn’t have one for the longest time but eventually, a couple of the others started calling me “Bat Butters” on account of the fact I had a 1989 Batman t-shirt I wore in the mornings when we’d be cleaning up from the night before and setting up for that evening’s events.

Anyway, the job sucked. It was incredibly long hours with little pay. I may have even been promoted to washroom cleaning at some point. However, it had its perks. Most notably, open bars at weddings from which the bartenders would slip the bus boys and girls drinks. If you were lucky enough to get the pump house as your assignment it was a veritable free-for-all, which was nice.

The kitchen where the dishes were done was separate from the kitchen where the food was cooked and that was where Pig lived. I think his actual name was Dave, but he was the resident dish pig, and so he was named. He was a metalhead, a super nice guy, and played music, loud music, while he washed the dishes. Whitesnake, White Lion, Guns N’ Roses, Poison, and AC/DC were all bands that he played that had some tunes I enjoyed – even if they weren’t as heavy hitting as the songs Pig preferred.

Missing from my tapes that Pig liked to play: Metallica, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath.

It’s also worth noting that the GnR song I included in the mixes was there because I was into the aforementioned Michelle. It’s not a song one would normally associate with a teenage crush, but the title aligned, and so on it went.

Pink Floyd (1), The Doors (1)

I won’t go into too many details here, but suffice it to say that it was Smurf who introduced me to a beer bottle with a hole in the bottom and that had a lot to do with my sudden interest in Pink Floyd and The Doors.

Def Leppard (1), Led Zeppelin (1)

Toward the end of each academic year, my high school had a big dance. Everyone got to vote on their favourite songs and we’d have a Much Music (the Canadian equivalent of MTV) Video Party to count down the top 100 songs. They’d write them on a big thing of packing paper and unroll the list until they got to #1.

For both Grade 9 and 10 (1989 and 1990) Pour Some Sugar On Me was still hugely popular, in spite of the song coming out in 1987. Stairway To Heaven was the perennial number one, mostly because it was a song you could dance slow to (for most of it, at least) and was like thirty-seven minutes long, so you knew that so long as it hadn’t played you still had some time to work up the nerve to ask someone to dance (I was supposed to dance with Shelby but Evan swooped in before I could work my way over to her and I’ll be honest I’ve never really forgiven him for it).

Steve Miller Band (4), The Art Of Noise (3), Bob Dylan (3), The Who (4), Steppenwolf (1), The Troggs (1), The Proclaimers (1), The Beatles (2), John Lennon (1), U2 (1)

Two words: summer camp. More specifically, Rhett, Doug, Matt Zinner and an incident that simply became known as “The Belt”.

In August of 1989, I was in my last year as a camper at Sparrow Lake Camp (SLC). It was my fourth or fifth year there and as I’d have to apply for the counsellor in training (CIT) program next year nothing was guaranteed. My counsellors, Doug and Rhett, either took this into consideration or were just awesome guys because they gave me the most memorable two weeks of all my summer camp experiences.

While the Art of Noise and Proclaimers were in general popular around camp, it was Rhett and Doug that made sure Bob Dylan, The Who (Magic Bus was our lip synch contest song that year), Steppenwolf, The Troggs, The Beatles, and John Lennon were firmly entrenched in the soundtrack of the summer. Rhett and Doug also helped me through the traumatic belt incident. They helped me “lean into it” and taught me more about human nature in those two weeks than I’d ever learnt to that point.

My one cabin mate, Sean, whom I’d shared a cabin with in previous years was a huge U2 fan. At one point the year prior he’d written the lyrics to Sunday Bloody Sunday on the cabin ceiling (seeing as it was a United Church camp it was his little piece of rebellion). There was also another counsellor named Roop that, when I first met him a couple of years prior, wore a Joshua Tree concert t-shirt. Both of them were cool cats and remarkably nice and the prospect of getting to see them again in the summer of 1990 was exciting.

Lastly, we have the Steve Miller Band. At that time, his Greatest Hits 1974-1978 album was experiencing a resurgence, especially at summer camps for some reason. At SLC there was this one particular counsellor, Matt, who was the absolute shit. I can’t remember if it was 1989 or earlier, but Matt was the reason I wanted to become a counsellor myself. He was remarkably well-liked by the campers and treated everyone really well. I wasn’t one of the “cool” kids, but in the presence of Matt it didn’t matter, because he made me feel like I was. One day I was in the communal washroom taking a leak and Matt sauntered in (he was too cool to simply walk) and stepped up to the urinal beside me and just started singing Steve Miller’s The Joker at the top of his lungs, adding extra emphasis on the “midnight toker” part and then giving me a wink.

UB40 (1) and Guns N’ Roses Reprise

Remember my high school hallway hangout crew from earlier? Well, this is where shit gets teenage angsty. Heather’s Sweet 16 party was held on a boat that cruised the Toronto harbour and Michelle was there. For months I’d been working up the nerve to make a move and with the school year winding down and summer camp on the horizon (I was accepted as a CIT and would be gone for all of July and Michelle was going to be away at her camp as well), Heather’s party was my chance. She wore a red dress and we danced to UB40’s Red Red Wine and either shortly before or after that song (it’s all kind of a blur so many years later) we kissed.

A couple of days later her brother drove her to my baseball game where afterwards she took me aside and explained that her parents forbade the relationship because I wasn’t Jewish. I was devastated and as I watched them pull out of the parking lot, her brother turned and gave me this shit-eating grin before driving away (like Evan with Shelby, I haven’t forgiven him for it, not that I hold 30-year-long grudges or anything). So, UB40 made it onto the second mix along with My Michelle (again) in an effort to help process (read: wallow in) my grief.

Michelle and I stayed friends, which is good because she was a beautiful human and we shared a lot of common friends, one of whom was Jer (remember, he was the one who introduced me to RUSH). I forget when, but she started dating him at some point, was crowned prom queen with him as king our graduating year, and then they married. They’re still together and they’re both still beautiful humans that I am fortunate to know.


So, there you have it. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but the ones I shared above are about as permanent as they get. As I look at the other mixed tapes I created in the years that followed I can clearly see not just the evolution of my musical tastes but also the evolution of me as a person. The twelfth mix was done sometime in 1995 and with the exception of one Hootie and the Blowfish song it still holds up today.

I’ve created Spotify playlists of the first two in the twelve tape series (sadly, I’m missing #6 and #10) and will create more for the remaining tapes when I get the chance.

(Almost) Always Working

Being a writer is an odd sort of existence. You come up with these wild (hopefully original) ideas and slap tens of thousands of different combinations of the same 26 letters onto the page and bring them to life.

Katie Oldham famously wrote about the experience of consuming these ideas:

Creating the most effective hallucinatory experience takes a lot of effort. You need to know what you’re doing. You need to have a solid grasp of the rules and conformances – so you can break them properly. You need to be dedicated, not just to the execution element of the craft, but to the whole universe of storytelling. I will also argue it’s not enough to have merely existed, you need to have experienced something in life, either first-hand or vicariously through others. That’s not to say that young, inexperienced people can’t write engaging or even transformative stories, but I’ll assert that they are in the minority. Hell, the list of those who can is short enough as it is even if you don’t impose any life-experience criteria.

There’s also an expression out there, and I’m not sure who to attribute it to, but it goes like this:

Writers are readers.

I’ll take the quote a step further and say:

Writers are conscientious consumers of storytelling in all its forms.

Yes, books are storytelling but so are:

  • graphic novels,
  • and screen productions (large and small, self-made or professional),
  • and live theatre,
  • and webcomics or cartoons,
  • and graphic novels,
  • and magic,
  • and stand-up comedy,
  • and poetry,
  • and spoken (or signed) word,
  • and cave drawings,
  • and all the visual arts,
  • and music.

Recently, George Stroumboulopoulos (“Strombo”) interviewed the surviving members of Rush, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, on his “House of Strombo” show (you can watch the full YouTube interview at the end of this post). This segment early in the discussion really resonated with me.

Strombo: “Rush could have played 20 different genres. What were the things that you were being exposed to that led you to figure out that this is the way you wanted to be?”

Lifeson: “Listening to other things like Joni Mitchell, listening to the crafting of songs and what works and what doesn’t work and what really stands out in a song, and the pacing, and all of those things about the structure of a song, you learn about that through listening. You… maybe are not directly influenced by the music itself, but how it’s constructed and how it works… becomes the important thing, I think, and you carry that on forever.”

I extend the philosophy of Lifeson’s influencing experiences to my everyday existence. Sure, there are times when I just shut off my brain and enjoy various art forms for the sake of enjoying them, appreciating art for art’s sake, but more often than not I’m examining, as Alex said, “how it’s constructed and how it works”.

I pay attention to how whatever I’m consuming makes me feel and then I start thinking about whatever it is that’s making me feel the way I’m feeling. Naturally, if it involves words of any kind I examine the writing first, but what I’m really doing is looking for the fundamental elements of the story that are triggering the emotion, regardless of the positiveness or negativeness of it.

Ultimately, I’m constantly asking myself, “Why does the story make me feel the way I feel?” and when I sit down at the computer to write, I do my darndest to take those pieces, those elements of structure and construction, and craft the story I want to tell. In that sense, I’m (almost) always working, a concept that Misters Lifeson and Lee have understood since they strummed their first chords together more than fifty years ago.

I got no time for livin’
Yes, I’m workin’ all the time

– Workign Man. Songwriters: Alex Lifeson / Geddy Lee

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that everyone who creates should consume with the same analytical intent. It’s perfectly fine for anyone to enjoy art for art’s sake 100% of the time. However, if you’re a writer, if you’re a storyteller, I would encourage you to look beyond your chosen medium, see what makes it tick, and bring some of that into what you do.

At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding and appreciation for whatever it is you’ve experienced, and who knows, in the process, you might create a more engaging or transformative story of your own.


Check out Alex Lifeson’s new musical project, Envy Of None. It’s a departure from the musical stylings of Rush, but something any music lover will appreciate (Maiah Wynne’s vocals are so haunting and trippy you’ll find yourself immersed in the music). https://envyofnone.com/

Alex Lifeson, Strombo, and Geddy Lee



The Subjectivity of Art

At first blush, you wouldn’t think that your local mom & pop pizza joint would have anything in common with Kanye West, but you’d be wrong because they both claim to be the best in the world, and just as you take the flyer that Vito’s Authentic Pizzeria (“The Best Pizza In The World Since 1982”) stuffs in your mailbox week after week with a grain of parmesan, so should you with this quote from Ye.

“I am unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time. It’s not even a question at this point.”

Kanye West, 2019

In both cases about the only claim they can reasonably make is having an exceptional skill at crafting unprovable hyperbole.

I bring this up because musicologist Eric Alper posted the Kanye quote with no additional context and I immediately hopped into the comments to watch the show. Suffice it to say, it was pretty hilarious, so I added a comment of my own:

Top: Kanye West, Bottom: Neil Peart

I should have known better. Kanye is a Donald Trump fan and Kanye’s fans behave, well, a lot like Donald Trump fans. I was called a “Boomer”, which is funny because I’m solidly GenX. Someone else replied that if Neil Peart was alive he’d appreciate Kanye as a musician, which I thought was the funniest thing I’d read all week – until the commenter made it clear that he was serious. Okay… His justification was that artists like Paul McCartney and Lou Reed have all come out publicly and said they like Kanye. As if somehow “I like Kanye’s stuff” from someone with actual musical talent equates to “I hereby bestow upon you the indisputable title of Greatest Artist of All Time.”

Ralph Wiggum, The Simpsons

Kanye doesn’t lead the world in more than a couple of objective categories, let alone all of them. Subjectively, I could name fifty other musicians across time and genres that I think have either had a bigger influence on the world or have honed their craft to a greater degree than Mr. West.

Listen, I don’t give a shit if you love Kanye and think he’s all that and a bag of chips. If his work brings you joy then that’s good. The world needs more joy. But for the love of pizza, blindly parroting a claim that at best is unprovable and at worst, as I already pointed out, is objectively untrue, makes you look infantile.

These days, and especially when Red Hats are involved, it seems that good-faith debate devolves into ad-hominem attacks and trading playful barbs into mudslinging, which is too bad. On other comment threads, there were more damning insults than me being called a “Boomer”, but I won’t repeat them. I will say that for every comment asserting Kanye sucked there was often a counterargument that involved a personal epithet. It seems that there will always be a group of people that have forgotten that it’s all subjective.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/subjective

I actually love the “who’s better than who” debates that rage on the internet (and especially out with friends at a pub). It’s passionate people passionately defending something or someone they are passionate about. It can be educational (“Did you know…?”) and it can be a lot of fun, but some folks are hellbent on making it personal, completely ignoring the subjectivity and making it more about “being right”.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t name a single Kanye song, but I know I’ve heard some of them before. To make sure wasn’t missing something, I listened to a few of his songs on Spotify:

  • Stronger (over 900 million streams)
  • Ni**as In Paris (over 750 millon streams)
  • Heartless (over 400 million streams)

My impression after giving those songs an open-minded listen? Meh. I can see people digging it, but it did nothing for me and I still 100% stand behind my “beats” meme comment.

It goes to show you though, it takes all kinds. It’s just too bad some people are convinced that disagreeing with someone’s musical taste means they can spread insults and hatred like Vito’s secret family recipe pizza sauce on a large thin-crust pie.

Besides, there’s a common cause out there that we should all be focused on:
Making fun of Nickelback.

~ Andrew

Remember That Time?

Memories are fascinating. How do they work? In asking myself this question it became clear that I didn’t have the foggiest idea. I thought it was sort of like a hard drive where your brain would accept sensory input and then some sort of fancy synapse thing happened and, voila!, memory. Turns out that while this is a gross oversimplification it’s not actually that far off. There’s a lot that goes into encoding, storing, and retrieving a memory, and the science behind it will blow your mind (multiple times if you can remember it all). One thing the big foreheads in the science labs found out was that for the vast majority of people, their brain decides if it’s important enough to be worthy of remembering and if so it encodes and stores it for future reference.

For those in the memory game, they talk about building a Memory Palace; a visual story around what you want to remember, and the more absurd the better. Absurdity is memorable! This is likely also one of the reasons our memories are extremely fallible. Our brains don’t necessarily pick up on the details that are actually important. That said, there are some aspects of our day-to-day lives that are surefire memory triggers: songs, smells, and foods. I’d be willing to bet that these triggers factor more into whether or not you remember something than how “significant” the event is. Think about all the, “Where were you when…” moments that are supposed to be significant and then analyze what you actually remember about the event. I’m willing to bet that the other sensory details that were happening at the time are what’s driving the memory.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Songs, smells, and foods.

I know tonnes of people who have memories triggered by music and I am no exception to that. Here are just a few of the hundreds of songs that invoke a strong, specific memory for me:

  • Bootsauce, Everyone’s a Winner:
    • I spent eight hours on a bus with a bunch of teenagers travelling from Toronto to Killington, Vermont for an epic ski trip. This song was played more than any other.
  • Angels and Airwaves, The Adventure:
    • When my wife was pregnant with our second child I worked 45 minutes from home. When I got the call that she was in labour I put the pedal to the metal and hauled ass home. When I was a few minutes out this song started playing. The lyric “Life’s waiting to begin” hung in the air as I pulled into the driveway.
  • U2, any song off the Joshua Tree album:
    • I have lots of memories of this album but one, in particular, comes to mind when I hear any song off this album and that’s the craft hut at my old summer camp. I wandered in one day and the final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two stared I began to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the girls from Cabin 2 started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full-blown singalong. We spent the rest of the hour singing 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 of counsellors, and U2. Thirty years later I had the privilege of taking my daughter to see the band play the album in its entirety.

As someone with a boatload of seasonal allergies who is scent sensitive (you know, “scentsitive”. I’ll see myself out.) I find my olfactory system triggers memory more often than anything else. In fact, I can even think of an instance where someone once described something to me and associated the smell of instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal with it and now I can’t smell brown sugar without that visual coming to mind. A few other notable smellmories:

  • Lilacs
    • At some point in my childhood, my mom planted a lilac bush in the backyard and since we didn’t have air conditioning the windows were often open. In spite of my severe seasonal allergies I never really minded the smell. Lilacs remind me of home.
  • Fresh-baked tea biscuits
    • My father’s mother always struck me as being very proper. She never swore like my mum’s mum and she never let me win at cards or crokinole. Whenever we’d visit she’d make tea and biscuits and then she’d read my tea leaves.
  • Weed
    • My first experience with smelling the Devil’s Lettuce was at the Canadian university football championships, the Vanier Cup, which at the time was played at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. My dad and his friend took my friend and I and we were way up in the bleachers and all the university students around us were smoking it. Not long after I went to my first concert, The Rolling Stones at Skydome in 1989, and while I was not accompanied by any adults, all the adults around me were getting high!
https://static1.puretrend.com/articles/5/50/97/5/@/511189-le-festival-de-woodstock-en-1969-opengraph_1200-4.jpg

And then there are foods. These are often a combination of sight, taste, and smell for me, though if I had to divide it up I’d say that sight ranks lowest, followed by smell, with taste at the top. Maybe it’s because food incorporates so many of the senses (all of them, if you’re fortunate enough to experience them all to begin with), but for me, this one paints the most vivid picture. Off the top of my head:

  • Cilantro
    • This one is funny because it brings me back to the time when there was a salad made, I won’t say by who, and instead of whatever was supposed to be the base for the salad cilantro was used instead. After everyone had a bite it was determined that a grave mistake had been made and the salad was removed from the table.
  • Lasagna
    • I used to work as a busboy for this banquet hall / private club and once a month was Italian Night. Around 400 people would pack the large hall and a dozen old Italian ladies would take over the kitchen. Normally we’d have our own kitchen staff but not on Italian Night. The smell of the lasagnas cooking in the giant 3′ x 3′ metal pans was amazing. All the hall staff would get to eat once we’d served all the guests and it was absolutely scrumptious. Of course, all the busboys had to clean up so it wasn’t 100% enjoyable, but it was definitely worth it.
  • Grapefruit
    • I was going on my first plane ride, alone, to visit my grandparents in Florida and at the airport, I was nervous and nauseous. Back then you could get farther in without a boarding pass and my mum was with me and she went and bought me a grapefruit juice. She said it would calm me down and settle my stomach. Of course, she was just making that up and hoping that the placebo effect would kick in. It did, of course, and now every time I have a grapefruit juice (or an actual grapefruit) I remember that moment and feel a sense of calm.
By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41054604

What about you? What are some of your biggest memory triggers? Keep it positive, if you can, since the world needs more of those memories being shared these days.

Rest in Peace, Professor

Here we are, again. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion of life, we have lost another great musician. The last decade has seen many greats shuffle off this mortal coil and some have hit me harder than others. This one is near the top for me, and I know it’s way up there for many others. What is it about music and musicians that have this effect on us? I think it’s because music breaks down barriers. In a world hell-bent on dividing us, it brings us together. It’s part of our every day. It’s there for the good times and bad. It makes us feel. It transcends. My wife absolutely loves music and everything about it and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.

NeilPeart

Back in September or October of 1988, I was sitting in the first-floor hallway of my high school when my friend Jeremy plopped himself down beside me. He had a Walkman and he was air drumming. He said something to the extent of, “You GOTTA listen to this.” He rewound the tape a bit and handed me the headphones. Once I had them on, he pressed play and I heard the opening chords to Limelight. By the ninth measure, the thump-da-thump of Neil Peart’s drums kicked in and I was completely hooked on RUSH not 20 seconds into the first of their songs I’d ever heard. For the next twenty years, they were my #1 band. Even today, thirty years later and a good five since they retired, I’d put them in my top three.

I can remember back in 1993 my friends and I would huddle in front of computers in the math building at the University of Waterloo and connect to The Internet. We’d hit the newsgroups and bulletin boards searching for nuggets of information to sate our fanboy desires. Some of my friends would go to alt.music.nirvana and others to alt.music.pearljam. I went to alt.music.rush and even then the internet consipirators were out in full force.

“Neil Peart has cancer. That’s why he wears that beanie on his head!”

– Early Internet Trolls

Five years later daughter died in a car crash and ten months after that he lost his wife to cancer. Twenty years after that the Early Internet Trolls’ prognostications came true, and as off base as they were back then I can imagine they, like so many of us today, are crushed by the news.

Neil was the soft-spoken one. Neil was the lyricist. The quiet brooder tapping out “YYZ” in Morse code in the studio because he saw the Toronto airport tag on his luggage (“YYZ” is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport) and liked the beat. That would later become an instrumental of the same title that was nominated for a Grammy (losing to The Police’s “Behind My Camel”).

I haven’t tested the theory yet but I am certain that there is a lyric that he’s written that maps perfectly to every moment in my life. He wrote books as well as lyrics. He made a number of instructional videos. He used his fame and recognition to bring styles of music to the masses that we would have otherwise ignored.

“He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”

Dave Grohl

If you’ve been on social media for the past 18 hours you’ve no doubt seen all the messages, condolences, and tributes come rolling in. There are a lot of them. The most well-known musicians in the world today are talking about it. That’s the type of influence Neil Peart had on not just music, but the music industry. He touched so many, myself included, and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and of course to Geddy and Alex.

There are literally thousands of lyrics to choose from to close out my thoughts but one that was penned by Neil’s bandmates seems most apt. For me, it perfectly sums up what it was like having Neil behind the drum kit and I can imagine Geddy and Alex felt much the same way.

“You can take me for a little while
You can take me
You can make me smile
In the end”

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

Happy Little Accidents

I used to question the theory that every moment in a person’s life has led them to the moment they are experiencing right now. I mean, how many throwaway moments have there been? Certainly a lot. We’re not living a fictitious life within the pages of a best-selling novel. Not everything that happens moves the plot forward or develops our character. Sometimes the tip of your pencil breaking is inconsequential, and then sometimes a sequence of events gets strung together over twenty-five years to culminate in an experience never to be forgotten.

Like this one.

Back in my first year of university, I met a few people that, even at that early stage, I knew were special. My buddy Riaz, my friend-girlfriend-not friend-friend-girlfriend-fiancee-wife, Jodi, and my friend-lab partner-roommate-colleague-boss-friend, Jason.

Riaz introduced me to Jodi. I met her properly in his room across the hall from mine. She was playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and he and I were listening to music, playing Ultima Underworld on his computer, and burning incense. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Jodi and Riaz introduced me to this band called The Watchmen. Jodi pushing their first album, Maclaren Furnace Room, and Riaz in love with their second one, In The Trees. Ri and I would take in as many of their shows as we could over the years and have more than a few stories to tell about those times.

Jay was a friend of some friends and lived on a rival floor in residence, and later became my lab partner and my go-to friend for a game or ten of pool, often played at the on-campus bar where this one album with the strange name, Shakespeare My Butt, by this obscure band called Lowest of the Low seemed to play on an endless loop.

Life was grand. Responsibilities were minimal. Parental supervision was non-existent. Our relationships were rooted in amazing Canadian music; the less mainstream stuff like Watchmen and Lowest of the Low, as well as the national heroes The Tragically Hip. Then, things started to change. Not overnight, though looking back it does feel like it was, but in slow motion over the span of years and decades.

Jodi and I married and a year later Jay married this wonderful woman, Tamara. Riaz moved back out West. Jay and Jodi stopped going to Watchmen concerts with me, but Tam was a big fan and stepped up and started being my “date” for shows. There was this one concert that all four of us went to one day. I think it was before kids were in the picture and we could all be out on a Friday night in Toronto (about an hour away from where we lived) without feeling guilty or tired. We saw Lowest of the Low open for Billy Bragg. Jodi’s a huge Billy Bragg fan and we were all in love with Lowest of the Low from our days hanging out in the on-campus bar.

For me, though, it was The Watchmen that held my attention. In the early days of me falling in love with Jodi, they were there. We’d argue over which of their first two albums was better. I could pull a lyric from any song and relate it to something about us. Strangely enough, on a couple occasions Danny, the lead singer from the band, would sing a Billy Bragg song as his signature a cappella song during their concerts.

In 2011 I decided I would do something special for my anniversary. I took some singing lessons and got a band together, with Jay on guitar, and I surprised her with an a cappella Billy Bragg song (sadly, not a romantic one but the one Danny sang at his shows) and a rendition of The Watchmen song, All Uncovered, the chords and lyrics for which were really hard to come by. Enter in Facebook and the super talented and one hell of a nice guy bassist for The Watchmen and solo artist, Ken Tizzard. I sent Ken a message asking for help with the song and he sent me back, within a couple hours I might add, some photos of their songbook that was no longer in print. It was an awesome gesture and was the reason the performance went off without a hitch (or well enough, all things considered).

While this was going on I was working on my writing and meeting a lot of really cool creative types on the internet. One of them was this fellow by the name of Alex Kimmell. He writes creepy, mind-bending horror now but he used to be a musician until MS decided to send him a swift kick to the nards and take that away. Back in the day, he was a drummer for this grunge outfit Out Vile Jelly.  Korn opened for them at one point. It was then, through a connection at a record label that he was introduced and got into the music of The Watchmen. Alas, when I met him the MS prohibited extended travel and they weren’t touring anymore, only playing gigs in Toronto and occasional other Canadian cities. That’s when I got the idea that whenever I would go to a show, I would record his favourite Watchmen song for him so he’d get to experience the experience a little bit.

In the middle of all of that, like a gut punch from out of nowhere, we lost Riaz. It was sudden, it hurt like a sonofabitch, and it left a big hole. In the intro to my video tribute to him, there was Watchmen playing in the background. Hearing their music would never be the same. Every song would be bittersweet and carry a deeper meaning than I ever thought possible (more on Riaz in this blog post).

You might be thinking that this is all fine and dandy but what does it have to do with my opening paragraph? Well, that’s where Friday night comes in. All of what I just described (though it happened in much greater detail in real life) came together to give me the greatest concert experience I will likely ever have.

It actually started Thursday night when I got the last-minute idea to message Ken once again asking for a favour. I thought it would be cool if, before they played Alex’s favourite song, they tossed out a dedication to him. So, I asked. Ken got back to me in rapid fashion again and had some bad news. They were swapping out that song for something else for this show. He did say he’d discuss it with the guys though. I thanked him for even considering it and wished them a good show.

Friday comes and Tam agrees to drive into the city and we arrive at the venue ten minutes before the opener hits the stage. Because we’re old we got seats up in the balcony this time and were able to sit down for the show. It felt weird at first, having never seen the band from a chair before, but my aching bones would thank me later. The opening act? A fella by the name of Ron Hawkins. No, not the one from Arkansas currently in the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Someone better. The Ron Hawkins who happens to play guitar and sing for the Lowest of the Low.

Ron opened the night with a close-to-45-minute set that included some solo stuff, some Lowest of the Low, some Rusty Nails, and a few snippets of some cover tunes just for shits and giggles. He even brought the LotL guitarist, Steve, on stage to do a couple of their classic tunes. It was a lot of fun, and the place was already close to capacity. The mood was set for more good times, and oh boy, were they delivered – in spades.

 

Due to curfew rules for the venue, The Watchmen came on at 9:02. Early by concert standards but to come on stage so soon after such a good opener turned out to be a great idea. Everyone was excited and feeling good, including the band, and from the very first chord, it showed.

Now, because I wasn’t sure if they’d play Alex’s song or not, at the end of each song I’d get my phone ready to record. It wasn’t a big deal because I was sitting down. I just put my phone in my lap with my camera app open and clapped and cheered like everyone else while we waited for the next tune. Then, the band did something different. The bassist grabbed an acoustic guitar and the drummer grabbed some bongos. Sensing something special coming I started recording, and Danny gave a little intro and they kicked into a cover of a Tragically Hip song. It was emotional as hell.

For those who don’t know, The Hip (as they are affectionately known) lost their lead singer, Gord Downie, a couple of years ago (about a year after I lost Riaz). The nation mourned (I wrote about that, too), but Friday night when The Watchmen played one of their tunes, it was a celebration. I, along with every other person in the joint, was close to tears, but it was a celebration and a damn fine tribute.

Then, the band played my favourite Watchmen tune acoustic-style. It’s the one I learned to play for my anniversary.

That was followed up by Danny’s a cappella. It wasn’t Billy Bragg this time, but it sounded like gold. His voice was like butter and while no live performance will ever be executed perfectly, it was perfect.

The whole show was fantastic. Every song was tight, the sound was clean, the audience was into it, and the band looked like they were having a blast. Toward the end of the show, they called out Ron to do a song: Billy Bragg’s A New England. It was off the charts fantastic and because I was at-the-ready with my phone I captured it.

I didn’t record every emotional moment I had, though. I started recording one of my favourite songs toward the end of the show but it was too much. It was one of Riaz’s favourite songs as well and he would often quote the opening lyric to me randomly on facebook or via email. As soon as they played it I put the phone down and just sat and watched, and listened, and immersed myself in the moment. Even now, the emotions are overwhelming.

With the show coming to a close and one encore set already done it was clear that I had just experienced something truly special. Then, the guys go and outdo themselves yet again. There was a bit of a discussion on stage amongst the band and then Danny informs us that they’re “calling an audible” and instead of only getting one more song to end the night that we’re going to get two. Camera at the ready, I started recording and then I heard the telltale opening drums of Alex’s favourite song, Say Something.

They played the last song after that, just Danny and the guitarist Joey, and the lights came up. Tam and I looked at each other and agreed that it was probably the best show of theirs we’d ever seen. We bypassed the main stairwell and headed down the side steps that led directly outside. Two paces to the right outside on the sidewalk I see a friend from high school that I interact with regularly on Facebook. I haven’t seen him face-to-face in probably twenty-five years. He hadn’t been at the show. He had been out with friends and was waiting for an Uber. He’s a hell of a guy and a wonderful blogger, and it was the perfect random encounter to cap off the perfect evening, all made possible by a quarter of a century of seemingly random and inconsequential events. Bob Ross would have called them happy little accidents, and after Friday night I’d be inclined to agree.

~ Andrew

The Kindness of Strangers

There is a lot of sadness, corruption, and hate in the world. Nations are committing genocide, North Korea has nukes and might actually be disturbed enough to use them, over a hundred First Nations communities in Canada don’t have clean drinking water, Flint Michigan, a city in the wealthiest country in the world, doesn’t have clean drinking water–and hasn’t for years–and the leader of that country is a complete and total dipshit. Terrible human, just terrible. Sad!
Fear not, my friends, for there is more to this than doom and gloom. There are good people everywhere. They may not solve the world’s problems, and they likely won’t do it on a newsworthy scale, but they will do good things and those good things will not go unnoticed. Those good things will mean the world to somebody. Somebody who needed something good to happen. Something to pick them up because they are down. Something to help them survive one more day. Something to remind them that the world is not all bad. Something that will make them smile. 
I witness, hear, or read about these occurrences on a regular basis, and occasionally I get to experience them. Two such deeds happened to bring smiles of pure joy to my children and I feel they are both worth sharing. One was planned and one was totally random, but both helped show my family that the community in which we live has some genuinely good people in it. They were small things in the grand scheme of things, but they were also big things because they showed my children that there are random good people everywhere. In both cases, I am certain these small deeds will help my children grow to be good people themselves. Better than they are now (which is pretty darned amazing.)
First up, Linda from the Temple Baptist Church. 
When my daughter started ninth grade I started driving her to a bus stop that was a little closer to her school to reduce her travel time roughly in half. Every day would take this one corner and pass the Temple Baptist Church and their sign on the corner. Every Monday the sign had a new message and over the course of the year, it became a “thing” for us. It was just a little father/daughter bonding moment that would not have seen like much to anyone else, but for us, it was a few seconds that we got to share.

As we approached her fifteenth birthday I got the idea to ask the church if they would change the sign and extend birthday greetings as a surprise to her. So, roughly a week before her birthday I found the church’s website and sent them an email.

In my message, I explained that we were not religious but every day we pass their sign and it often sparked discussion for the remainder of the drive and if they would be so kind as to change it for one day so that I could surprise my daughter for her birthday.

Linda replied to me in short order and said, of course, they would change the sign. Just like that. No questions asked (other than her name and what the message would be). I offered to make a donation to their church to thank them for their kindness and this was the response I received:

“No payment is expected. We care about you and Avery very much even though we have never met! Pleased to do this for you.”

Linda even sent me a warning email the afternoon before telling me that they had to change the sign that afternoon because the person who performs that task wasn’t going to be around early enough the next morning (we drive past it a few minutes after seven o’clock). So, I drove home from work and made up an excuse to pick up my daughter from school and I drove her home a different route instead of the route the bus would have taken, which would have seen her stopping on the corner right by the sign.

The next morning, I made up another excuse (so many lies!) about why I was recording video in the car so I could capture her reaction. Watch for yourself.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk5UBDImYD0]

I think it all went about as well as it could have (except my voice in the video. In my defense, I was a little verklempt).


Next up, Mark, a music lover in Cambridge.

One week at my son’s drum lesson I asked his teacher, Vic, how far he should get in his book before I buy him a new snare. His existing one was a little worse for wear and was held together with duct tape, but I wanted him to have to work for it. Vic told me there was one for sale in the store, used, for something like $60 and was a great deal in his opinion. 
Well, I got mired in a financial snafu with my bank and didn’t get the chance to buy the drum (figuring I would eventually spring it on Dude at the appropriate time). The next week we get to class and Vic calls me in, which is weird because I never get called in. 
He sits us down and says that word got out to the guy who bought the drum that Dude was in the market to replace his duct tape special and this guy refurbished the snare (according to Vic he must have put over $100 into it) and asked Vic to give it to Dude. All he wanted in return was a picture of Dude with the drum. 
The generous music lover’s name is Mark Parnell (possibly spelled differently) and after I texted him this photo and thanked him I asked him if he was on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter so I could give him a proper shout-out. He wrote back that he was not and that the smile on Dude’s face was all the thanks he needed. 
Thank you, Mark. You made our day, and while Dude is no Neal Peartyethe’s going to practice with that snare and enjoy it a lot more than the old one. 

BONUS GOOD DEED!

My across-the-street neighbour, Mohammed. 
One morning, I awoke to the smell of gas in the house, so I got everyone outside and called the fire department. They came and shut the gas off and aired the house out and called the gas company. My wife took the kids to get McDonald’s breakfast and I waited outside across the street.

It was early morning in October and I was standing across the street on the sidewalk in my pajamas and bare feet freezing my little piggies off and my neighbour came out of his house. Now, Mohammed and I had spoken exactly two words to each other in the six years I had lived across the street from him (we’ve said “hello” twice). He’s quiet and keeps to himself. He has a nice lawn. He knows when it’s yard waste day. I’m not very sociable with the neighbours, which at the time was partially due to the fact I had the crappiest lawn on the block and was self-conscious that my neighbours were all annoyed by it.

Anyway, Mohammed walked over to me and asked me what was going on. I explained the situation and told him that we’d be allowed back in the house soon. Nothing to worry about, etc, etc. Then, he looked down at my feet and asked, “Do you want me to get you some shoes?” No one had ever offered me shoes before. I didn’t even get a chance to respond and he pointed to my feet. “You must be cold. Let me get you some shoes.”

It turns out I didn’t need the shoes as we were let back into our house shortly thereafter, but the gesture stuck with me.


So there you have it. Three small deeds or gestures that, at a minimum, show there are at least three people where I live that are ready to do some good anytime they feel it’s needed. I, for one, couldn’t be happier because I know that in my city and the region that surrounds it, there are over half a million people and the good ones far outnumber any others.

Start looking for people performing good deeds and random acts of kindness in the places where you live, work, and play. I bet you dollars to doughnuts it won’t take you long to find them. When you do, tell me about it down in the comments so everyone can see that the good news can travel just as fast as the bad.

~ Andrew

More Music Mastery

Another one of those post-a-song-a-day things is circulating on Facebook and I thought I’d give it a go. This time the list of “challenges” looks like this:

I’ve tried to do a little write-up for each one but some days are better than others. Here are the first twelve days:

Day 1 – A song you like with a colour in the title
There are lots of songs with the colour red in them and I wanted something a little darker. Well, black is as dark as it gets! Plus, Led Zeppelin.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tlSx0jkuLM]


Day 2 – A song you like with a number in the title
21 Guns by Green Day – I like Green Day.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVaYkdG4k_I]


Day 3 – A song that reminds you of summertime
I considered this song for the upcoming Day 8 (A song about drugs or alcohol) but this song makes me think more about summer than it does about drugs. I’m not sure if it’s the imagery painted by Victoria’s lyrics or what, but this song makes me think about dry, dusty fields and hanging out on sweltering hot days with some friends

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


Day 4 – A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget 
I wrote a blog post (https://potatochipmath.com/2012/10/an-untitled-post-about-bullying.html) about some of the memories that got kicked up when I went a did a favour for an old high school acquaintance by playing a fighting street person for this video. Thankfully, I’m not a big follower of hip hop & rap (though do enjoy it on occasion) and I don’t come across this song too often

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV6QHXulcaY]


Day 5 – A song that needs to be played loud 
Oh my god, so many choices. I don’t know where to begin. Obviously, AC/DC came to mind, then Van Halen and Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses… and we have a winner. I cannot listen to Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses without having to crank the sound to eleven.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbm6GXllBiw]


Day 6 – A song that makes you want to dance
I am not known to be a dancer. I make Elaine from Seinfeld look like Paula Abdul. That said, there’s one song that makes me groove every time (in as much as I am capable of grooving). The thing is, I hate the lyrics to the original and have little respect for the original artist as a musician or even a human. Fortunately for me, Weird Al Yankovic did a parody with much better lyrics but with the same musical groove. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic. Music by that dipshit Robin Thicke

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gv0H-vPoDc]


Day 7 – A song to drive to
Are you kidding me?

“My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about. He says it used to be a farm, before the Motor Law.” 

This is a song about driving a well preserved red Barchetta sports car. It’s a fantastic song and perfect for driving fast on winding country roads.I love driving to this tune.

“Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware” 

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

Day 8 – A song about drugs or alcohol 
Hmmm. Let’s see… which one of the 37 million songs about drugs or alcohol should I choose? I’m going to go with Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. Come on, this just comes right out and says it clear as day, 

“Everybody must get stoned.” 

It could not be more fitting that there’s a video of this song being sung by Bob Dylan playing with the Grateful Dead.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI-H_27NptM]

Day 9 – A song that makes you happy 
Say what you want about Ed Sheeran, but I love this song. I can’t help but turn it up and sing along and smile. I like the album version better overall but watching Ed do this one with just an acoustic guitar and a loop machine is pretty damn cool. Plus, seeing a bunch of kids sing this at the KW Glee boot camp this summer was awesome too 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DVLzHks8xs]

Day 10 – A song that makes you sad
There was a stretch where every time I found out about someone dying this song would play on the radio shortly thereafter. Plus, it’s a sad song. Even though it’s a song about hope and hanging on and knowing you’re not alone in your struggles, the fact is there are still so many struggling that there is, at best, one degree of separation between yourself and someone to whom this song applies. This song makes me sad, but I’ll be okay. If this song applies to you and you need someone to hold onto or just be present, give me a call. Send me a text or an email. 

“Take comfort in your friends. Everybody hurts.” 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlOeGeVih4]

Day 11 – A song you never get tired of
I don’t know what it is about this song that sticks with me, but something does. I think it’s probably my favourite U2 song out of their whole catalog, and for a band that’s probably one of my all-time favourties with as many songs as they have that I like that’s saying something. The fact they played it on their recent Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour this summer is even better. Like it or don’t like it, whatever your preference one thing you can say for sure it’s that it’s not a bad song #dadjoke #groan 
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zIW8qDPhos]

Day 12 – A song from your preteen years 
In 1985 I was eleven years old. That qualifies as preteen, yes? Well holy shit, would you take a look at the number one songs from that year?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_1985

The list is insanely good. Easily a dozen of those songs popped into my head when I first read the category. How did I pick just one? Easy. I went with the love song from the movie that had Demi Moore in it, of course! I love the intro to this dong and even tried playing it at the piano at summer camp. I never did learn how to, but it’s a fun memory regardless. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgW9SqP3YJc]

The 30-Day Song Challenge – Days 1-3

A friend of mine, writer and all-around great guy Gareth S. Young started doing this 30-Day song challenge and after seeing his posts day after day I decided I’d give it a shot. I haven’t blogged much in a while so I thought I’d do it here as a weekly Monday summary to get me in the habit of writing at least something every day. Plus, MUSIC! Who doesn’t love music?

This is the “challenge”:

June 3 – Day 1 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

My favourite song

I have lots of songs that I love. I have even more that I enjoy in specific situations. One song, however, stands above them all. I have yet to listen to a song that captures my attention more than this one. Originally written by the Magnetic Fields, The Book of Love was covered by the Airborne Toxic Event and I first heard it on their live album played with the Calder Quartet at the Walt Disney Concert Hall the week after the death of the lead singer’s grandma.

The lyrics, the emotion, the music… I love everything about this song.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQUZBi-P6Jw]


June 4 – Day 2 of the 30-Day Song Challenge

My least  favourite song

This wasn’t even a contest for the longest time. My least favourite song by a country mile was Paranoid Android by Radiohead. It’s odd because Radiohead isn’t even my least favourite artist. They’re nowhere near the top, but they’re also not at the bottom. That Paranoid Android song, though, grates my cheese like you wouldn’t believe. But it’s no matter because Gwen Stefani wrote the song Hollaback Girl and it instantaneously took over the top spot. Even after the ridiculous amount of airplay it got on the radio I have not warmed up to it. Not even a little.

You know what’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S, Gwen? That hearing your song makes me want to throw my radio across the room.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kgjkth6BRRY]


June 5 – Day 3 of the 30-Day Song Challenge 

A song that makes me happy

There is so much about music to be happy about. Whether it’s seeing my wife pour through music on Spotify and see the look on her face when she hears a new song that that she likes, or hearing my daughter singing the same song over and over again because she absolutely loves it and must know how to sing it and play it on the guitar, or watching my son destroy the dashboard of my car because we are on our way to or from drum lessons and the Beastie Boys are playing and he. Must. Play. Along.  For the longest time all I had was the radio and a few cassette tapes and CDs so when I first heard Rush’s Spirit of Radio my mind was blown. Considering when that song first came out I think it was about as meta as you could get at the time. The song is about the companionship and freedom that music brings but how ultimately it’s controlled by commercialization.

“For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall, concert hall… and echoes with the sounds, of salesmen, of salesmen, of salesmen”

When they play it live and hit that “concert hall” line all the house lights go up and the crowd goes crazy. I’ve seen them play that song live at least half a dozen times and it gives me goosebumps every time.

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


What would your songs be for these categories? Put ’em in the comments and tune in next week for days four to ten!
~ Andrew

Grace, too

In December 1991, Canadian rock legends RUSH started their Presto tour in Hamilton, Ontario with Jeff Healey as the opening act. It was thought that a couple nights later in Toronto, that Healey would open as well. Ticket sales were slow, or so the story goes. A friend of mine scored us a pair of tickets in the sixth row, just off center, and on the day of the concert my high school walls were buzzing. At least, the dozen RUSH fans in the two thousand student body were buzzing. A rumor was circulating that Jeff Healey wasn’t going to open, instead, it was going to be The Tragically Hip.

I was a counselor in training back in the summer of 1990 when The Hip’s first full album, Up To Here, was making waves on the shores of Sparrow Lake – and Lake Ontario, and pretty much any other lake, small town, city, or metropolis in The Great White North. At the time it was one of my favourite albums. The album that outdid it, though, was their next one. The 1991 gem, Road Apples. So, by the time December of that year rolled around The Tragically Hip had become Canada’s band, and I was going to get a front row seat (okay, it was the sixth row, but who’s counting) to see them open for the band that previously held the title.

That concert was everything it promised to be, and then some. I watched Gord Downie belt out hit after hit of hard hitting, good old fashioned rock-n-roll married with lyrics that were pure genius. When he lay down with half his body hanging over the stage and screamed the lyrics to New Orleans Is Sinking while pretending to do the front crawl I knew I was witnessing something truly unique. Part man, part machine, part poem, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip were rewriting the national anthem.

Twenty-five years later an entire country was collectively winded from the gut-punch news that Gord was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. Doing what I can imagine only a few people in the world could do, Gord and the band decided they would go out the way they came in. That is, with a bang, and they set out do play a series of gigs – exclusively in Canada – with their magnum opus to come in a six-thousand-seat venue in their band’s birth city of Kingston, Ontario.

The Hip could have sold a hundred thousand tickets to that show. Hell, they could have filled Downsview Park in Toronto and close to a million people would have shown up. Interest was so high in tickets for these concerts that, after the debacle with getting seats (tickets going up on Stub Hub for thousands of dollars within seconds of going on sale), the national broadcaster, CBC, committed to airing the concert free of editing and commercials as well as streaming it live on their website, YouTube, and Facebook. Over four million people watched the entire broadcast and almost twelve million tuned into it at some point.

Let that sink in.

A rock band from Kingston, Ontario, population roughly 120,000, had one-third of the entire population of Canada tune in to watch a portion of their final concert.

Several politicians from several levels of government and all party affiliations were in attendance but the one that stood out the most was none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who in addition to clapping and cheering in a concert t-shirt, showed his love and appreciation for Gord and the band in a series of tweets:

 
 
 

Praise, well wishes, prayers, and thoughts came from all over the world but I think former Saturday Night Live cast member and king of late night television, Jimmy Fallon, said it best:

And Pearl Jam took a moment out of their concert at Wrigley Field to say a few words:

 
Articles much better than this one were written and I have got to tell you, the list of news outlets covering this event blew my mind. A partial list (each linking to the article):

Personal stories were in abundance. So what is mine? Aside from the above introduction, I don’t really have one except to say that The Hip went from being the best-kept secret in Ontario to having throngs of loyal fans. I described it to a coworker today as having this feeling that in 1990 they were this obscure band that had a few good songs I liked and in 1991 it was as if they had always been playing on the soundtrack of my life.

After that night in Toronto, I only managed to see them a few more times but their music was everywhere to be found. My good friend and former physics lab partner is a big fan and when we shared an apartment not many hours would pass without a Hip song being played, or strummed on the guitar, or sang poorly over Kraft Dinner being eaten straight out of the pot. I remember listening to their album Phantom Power on the radio in the car on the way up to the cottage with my then-girlfriend now wife. There’s a lyric in the song Fireworks that goes, “She said she didn’t give a fuck about hockey and I never saw someone say that before,” and that pretty much summed up our relationship right there. She always sings that part loud and proud when we’re together and we hear that song.

The stories, they go on and on and on and on. Throw a rock at a group of Canadians and you’ll hit someone with a story about the Tragically Hip. So what is it about them that brings together millions of people to say goodbye?

For starters, the lyrics are masterfully woven from the threads of Canadiana, set to guitar, drums, and bass that make you want to sing along and move, and delivered with the rawest of emotions. For a good number of Canadians, the band speaks directly to them using tools and talent a rarified few possess.

The online Canadian encyclopedia gives us a glimpse into the poetic genius of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip with an exhibit outlining the stories behind of a handful of the band’s most popular songs. For people who have never heard of the Tragically Hip to people that have committed every lyric to memory, this is a must-see. They lifted the name of the exhibit from a song off the album Fully Completely.

What sums it up most aptly for me is lifted from two lyrics from one of my favourite Hip songs off the album Day For Night (which, in a sick and twisted bit of coincidence features the song titled Inevitability of Death):

“Armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”

“Armed with skill and its frustration, and grace, too.” 

Gord Downie did it all. He did it with will and determination and even with all his skill, he showed us his frustration. And he did it with grace, too.

~ Andrew