Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Irrevocable

It's irrevocably January.  I rummaged in the early morning darkness of our study, and caught myself trying to make out the outline of the Christmas tree which isn't there.  Not much later, I stood at the bedroom window and watched the city worker dragging the corpses of our neighbour's tree and our own -- still beautifully shaped and bushy -- to the waiting truck where he pushed a lever and they were sucked out of sight.

Early yesterday morning, I was still in bed when the Resident Fan Boy shuffled in from the bathroom and informed me that David Bowie had died.  Like millions of others, I didn't believe it.  Bowie had been all over the internet; he'd just had a birthday and an album released.  As the news was confirmed, I thought: Well, he'd know how to keep his illness private.  (Evidently, by telling people on a need-to-know basis.  And few people needed to know.)

The day was spent like many others spent it:  elder daughter got a Bowie playlist off Spotify and, being a millennial, downloaded Labyrinth to watch on her laptop in her bedroom.  I resorted to YouTube, because I don't actually own any Bowie albums; I liked his music, but not enough to purchase it.  I was therefore astonished at how sad I felt. I suppose it really hit me yesterday how ubiquitous Bowie was:  his music was everywhere, his influence was pervasive.  If you look at any rundown of his long career -- and those were all over the news -- you see a long stretch of collaborations that put him into close contact with most of the successful rock musicians of the past forty years.

However, he's also etched into the memories of those of us who will never be famous.  I remember classmates dressing like him, I attended countless wedding receptions blaring "Modern Love", saw television shows based on his songs.  One of the first YouTube videos I sought out was "Suffragette City", a favourite dance tune at the "SUB Pub", in the basement of the Student Union Building at the University of Victoria.

I've always been a bit of a rule-follower, so I felt a rebellious thrill in shouting out "AAaaaaaaw.....WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM!" (The blond dancer is none other than Montreal's own Louise Lecavalier of LA LA LA Human Steps - Eduard Lock choreographed this particular 1990 tour.)

I looked up another one of my favourite Bowie songs. This is "Blue Jeans" from the comical short film "Jazzin' for Blue Jeans" - in which Bowie plays a loser called Vic trying to impress a pretty girl by taking her to see a drug-addled rock star named Screaming Lord Byron -- also played by Bowie.

The 20-minute film from which this is taken is mildly amusing, but it's fun to watch Bowie take pot-shots at himself.

However, I liked Bowie best in collaboration. After Freddy Mercury's death, an epic memorial concert was held for him at Wembley Stadium on Easter Monday, April 20th, 1992 - this was three days before elder daughter was born. Heavily pregnant, I watched tributes from Extreme and Lisa Stansfield - yes, I know.

The whole atmosphere of the concert changed when Bowie took over for his segment, which started with "Under Pressure", which he had written and recorded with Queen in 1981. This is Bowie's performance with Annie Lennox. It nearly blew me off the bed; I can't imagine what it was like to have been there.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the Wembley audience recreating Mercury's scat-singing perfectly.

Elder daughter, in utero, must have wondered what the noise was when I saw Ian Hunter taking the stage next. I'm a massive Mott the Hoople fan, even when not nearly nine months pregnant, and I understand that Joe Elliot and Phil Collen of Def Leppard are as well. You can see them singing back-up to "All the Young Dudes" (written by Bowie and Mott's greatest hit), and looking as if they were the ones who had died and gone to heaven. Playing guitar is Mick Ronson, a musician strongly associated with with both Bowie and Hunter. A little over a year later, he would be dead of liver cancer, which is what eventually killed Bowie himself.

If you've taken the opportunity to watch the whole video, you'll see that Bowie finished the set with another of my favourites, "Heroes". Looking back nearly 24 years, I wondered how his sudden kneeling to recite the Lord's Prayer would have been received by the largely atheistic London audience of today, even when delivered by the likes of Bowie.

Bowie sang of heaven in his final video "Lazarus", which is being described in the press and online as a "final gift to his fans". I don't know about that; it looks more like something Bowie was working through for himself, using his art as a palliative. I was far more spooked by the haunting ten minutes of "Blackstar", which starts with the remains of an astronaut who could be Major Tom of "Space Oddity" from 1970, and moves through images of shaking suffering interspersed with a sort of "Rites of Spring" dancing. At the 4:45 mark, the song shifts into a tune that is more identifiable as a Bowie song, and we see three scarecrows who resemble Jesus and the two thieves at Golgotha (which is supposed to mean "place of the skull").

Mesmerized and disturbed by the images, I was startled when it all faded away. Rather like Bowie himself.

It's a bleak way to begin the new year, but here in Hades, January is always bleak. Perhaps it is better to follow David Bowie's example. Hold on to what is yours, even if that something is pain and suffering - keep it private and precious, and share it only with those closest to you.

Then, make it as beautiful as you can and share it with the world.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

First world problems

I have discovered that, nine times out of ten, if I don't want to go out in the evening, I'll usually have a good time if I do.

This was certainly the case last night.  We'd been out Friday night and I longed to stay home and watch telly Saturday night.  First world problem, I know.

I dragged myself out to see Nathalie McMaster perform a Christmas concert with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.  I was so glad we went.

The NACO, for one thing, performed a number of lovely Christmas medleys and carol settings.  Among these was James M Stephenson's Holiday Fanfare Medley #1 which featured, wonder of wonders, a carol I've never heard before:  "Come, All Ye Shepherds" which originates from Czechoslovakia. 

They also played Appalachian Carol, arranged by Dan Goeller, which sounds for all the world like a mini-version of Copland's Appalachian Spring.  The following video features liturgical dancing - not my favourite thing, but it gets the women up to the front of the church to light two candles for the Second Sunday in Advent. 

To be clear, there was no liturgical dancing at our concert.  There was a lot of spectacular step-dancing and fiddling.

Nathalie McMaster is a world-class fiddler from Cape Breton who is raising six world-class fiddlers and step-dancers with her husband Donnell Leahy (another world-class fiddler) at Douru, Ontario, which is about a four-hour drive from Hades.  Two of her small daughters joined her on stage to perform - last spring we saw a gaggle of Leahy kids, cousins and what-have-you perform with the NACO, it's very much a family thing.

This video will give you an idea of what much of the evening was like.  Just imagine it cranked up a notch or three; our concert was McMaster's last performance before Christmas and she pulled out all the stops, all evening.  Tip:  things really kick off at about the five-minute mark.

We had been disappointed when Stuart Mclean cancelled his annual Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert to begin treatment for melanoma, another first world problem.  (The disappointment over the missed concert, not the melanoma.) Last night just might tide us over.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The perils of thinking aloud on social media

I'm not all that familiar with the work of Joyce Carol Oates. I read one of her YA books when elder daughter was moving from middle school to high school - I think she had ordered it through Scholastic Books when her homeroom teacher passed around the forms. The book was distressing but intentionally so; the plot involved date rape. It was well-written enough that I had another of Oates' books - aimed at an adult audience - on my to-read list, but I never got around to it.

A week or so ago, Oates came up on my radar again, in that strange domino effect that Twitter has. I follow Marie Phillips, a writer whose work I enjoy, and she re-Tweeted a rather scornful comment by a colleague to a tweet that Joyce Carol Oates had made about ISIS:

Puzzled, I went to Oates' Twitter page to have a look.  Here's what I found.  (The most recent tweets appear at the top of a feed, so these should be read in reverse order):

The tweet on its own was bewildering, but I thought, innocuous.  Read in the context of her three following tweets, it came across to me as an awkwardly phrased, but genuine inquiry.

However, by the time I'd noticed this, thousands of replies and references had been already been posted, all of them to the opening tweet, much as the comment by Marie Phillips' chum had been.  Here's one of the kinder responses.
Most were vitriolic and self-righteous.  More than one man - I came across no woman who did this - felt words did not suffice and posted horrific pictures of ISIS atrocities, presumably in the belief that Joyce Carol Oates had no idea what was going on in occupied territories.  It was "mansplaining" at its nastiest. I had some difficulty sleeping that night.

There were lots of sarcastic retorts, bursts of out-and-out invective, and many retweetings of something cutting the late Gore Vidal apparently said of Joyce Carol Oates years earlier.  Molly Ringwold was also retweeted when she quipped:  "Okay, who got Grandma stoned?"

There were a few who treated the tweet as the question that JCO must have intended.
Others made a stab at defending her:

But there were only a handful.  It was clear that the vast majority had read the first tweet only, and rushed to judgement.  I was saddened to see that Guy Gavriel Kay, an author whose work I've appreciated, had not bothered to read further.
The trouble with Twitter is that you can only "tweet" in bursts of 140 characters.  While it can be an interesting exercise in economical writing,  for the most part it degenerates into, at best, a contest for the funniest, pithiest jibe, or at worst,the shortest, most vicious jab.

It really isn't the best medium for thinking out loud, and this is where Joyce Carol Oates falls down.

Let's put her four tweets into a brief paragraph:
All we hear of ISIS is puritanical and punitive; is there nothing celebratory & joyous?  Or is query naive? Cultures seem to swing between extremes of Puritanism and permissiveness; rigid order & disorder; control & "freedom". What is clear is that human beings can't live for long -- do not care to reproduce -- without meaning in their lives. Tragic that "meaning" can be virtually anything -- someone will believe it & die for it.

It's still pretty damn clunky - gosh, she loves alliteration - but I think there would have been less kerfuffle if she had written the whole paragraph somewhere other than Twitter -- although, no doubt, plenty of people might still have been offended by the opening sentence.  Better still, she could have thought her thoughts through and simply tweeted the last sentence.

However, it wouldn't have got nearly the same amount of attention.

Was that the point?  She hasn't removed the tweets.  I would have were I in her place, but JCO evidently has thicker skin than I do.  She almost immediately plunged into a series of short diatribes about Woodrow Wilson, then went on to make observations about North Korea -- which pissed off a whole bunch of other people -- or perhaps the same bunch of people, all eager to demonstrate how naive/pointless/crazy/old/choose-your-own-derogatory-adjective they think Oates is.

For the record, I have a sort of answer to her question -- even though I think she answered it herself in the remaining three tweets.  Not long ago, I stumbled across a CBC item by Brent Bambury which addresses the subject of music and celebration in the ISIS.  Should you choose to follow this link, I think I should warn you that, while not as graphic as the photos some men in the Twitterverse posted to "educate" Joyce Carol Oates, I had the same sick feeling of horror by what was suggested.

I have no intention of tweeting the link to Joyce Carol Oates. The last time I checked, she was worlds away, thinking out loud about other controversial topics.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Wibbly-wobbly Pooh

The Resident Fan Boy and I were a bit leery about Winnie the Pooh: The Radio Show, but younger daughter said she wanted to go, so we purchased tickets for an evening show, reasoning that we were less likely to be overwhelmed by ankle-biters. However, the audience, which filled the Gladstone Theatre, ranged to pre-teens to the elderly.

The set looked cozy and Christmassy, all scarlet, beiges, browns and olive green. Three singers dressed as flappers sang jazzy songs in three-part harmony.

Then five actors assembled in front of microphones disguised as old-fashioned radio microphones, along with a sound effects man with a slight drinking problem and a box of sound effects for The Christmas Carol. He would have to make do with improvisations on a handy Christmas wreath.

The cast had just received the script for Winnie the Pooh, arrived by mail from the BBC. The parts were assigned, and one fellow wanted to be Tigger, but was informed that it was 1925, and Tigger doesn't appear until The House of Pooh Corner in 1928.

"But if it's 1925, how do we know all this?" asked the would-be Tigger.
The man voicing Winnie the Pooh shrugged: "Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."

The Resident Fan Boy, who was wearing his new Doctor Who Christmas sweater, applauded.

And the evening proceeded, with sly references to Canada in 2015 from a sometimes anachronistic ninety years earlier. What was not quite so anachronistic was a mild example of 1920's anti-semitism. What was really anachronistic were the tunes from the Disney version of "Winnie the Pooh".

Younger daughter didn't care. She had jazz, she had a bit of Disney, and she had Christmas. And the Resident Fan Boy had a Doctor Who reference.

They must have seen us coming.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Foggy street and random thigh

A little over six years ago, I wrote a post about the "literal videos" of dascottjr who, in the intervening years, has been forced to retreat from YouTube to Funny or Die because his videos were continually being wiped at the request of copyright lawyers, who appear to have little sense of humour.

A "literal video", for the uninitiated, is a music video in which the original soundtrack has been replaced with a very similar soundtrack where the lyrics have been altered so that they simply describe what's going on in the video. The funniness varies wildly, even in the hands of someone as skilled as David A Scott Jr., but he's responsible for the classic literal version of Total Eclipse of the Heart.

I checked back at his page at Funny or Die earlier this week and found some gems. Here are two of them.

First up, "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, which is so loved and ground-breaking that it can take a little ribbing - even if whoever wrote the subtitles doesn't know how to spell "unfazed". After all, MJ actively encouraged Weird Al Yankovic to spoof his videos more than once; I think he might have chuckled at this one.

Earlier this week, I was remembering a song from the time I brought my newborn younger daughter home from the hospital.

The following was one of the songs getting heavy rotation when I brought elder daughter home from hospital. It's also strong enough to survive some knocking.

The "sad man", by the way, is Bono's father who died nine years later. I like to think he would have found this funny, too.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

We'll try and we'll try and we'll try and we'll try again

Every now and then, a song comes on the radio, or in a movie soundtrack, or over the speakers in a coffee shop, and you say: "Wait! What is that? Who's this?"

It happened this morning while younger daughter was getting ready for school, and I leaned over to catch the information babbled by the announcer. Luckily, CBC Radio Two has a play-log online, and it was also mentioned in their Facebook feed.

This song is by Alana Yorke, who is from Halifax. As the day wore on, it turned out that it was just the song I needed to hear - provided I got the words right.

I've been watching.
I've been wondering.
We've been saving up.
We've been growing up.
And how many friends have we lost along the way?
They are still in this world with our faith in the same,
and we'll hold to our dreams we won't give them away.
We'll just try and we'll try and we'll try and we'll try again.
We'll just keep on singing la ha ha ha ha ah ah

Ask me.
I can tell you.
If I was stronger now,
I would need you now.
'Cause all that we want is to love along the way.
There are times in this life when we're willing to change.
If you don't ask you won't learn then it won't go away.
We'll just try and we'll try and we'll try again.
We'll just keep on singing.

I have learned some things:
Stay healthy.
Be with the ones you love.
Do the things you like.
If you ask me,
I can tell you.
Keep trying.
We will break through.
You know we will break through.
'Cause all that we want is to give our love away.
There are times in this life we are willing to change.
We will ask for the world.
We will ask for the world,
And we'll try and we'll try and we'll try and again,
we'll just keep on singing.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Smitten (write of passage number thirty-nine)

As the bus draws up at the stop, the baby in the stroller is peeling off her gloves with the finesse of Gypsy Rose Lee. Her mother scrambles to retrieve them from the dark sidewalk, so we board first.

Somebody folds up one of the side seats so the stroller can be parked off the aisle, and the young man who finds himself facing the baby greets her with a jazz-hand wave. She responds by slapping her hand to her mouth and blowing him a kiss. He jerks back as if the kiss has hit him square in the face.

This young lady, mitten-free, seems now determined to tackle her boots. Her mother distracts her by pointing out the strings of brilliant lights that outline the trees in Confederation Park as our bus prepares to make the turn towards Mackenzie King Bridge. This works well -- for two minutes, then the mum has her do "high fives". She tries to get the little girl to high-five the young man, but she gravely shakes her head each time.

She's perfectly content to throw mittened kisses when it's time to get off. The young man waves and throws one back. When the stroller has rolled away, he saunters off the bus.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Far-gone

I believe I'm on record as being squeamish.

This is why I can never quite figure out why I like Fargo, a movie that I've watched several times. I used to think it was mainly because of the performance of Frances McDormand, who is married to one of the Coen brothers who directed this film. However, the film also stars William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi and a host of wonderful character actors. The dialogue is quirky and clever; the characters are also quirky and often not so clever. And despite the body count, there is a great deal of humour, dark and otherwise.

Maybe that's why I watched the first television series of Fargo. Produced by the Coen brothers, it's a different story than the movie, but has similar characters: an innocent but skilled cop who is way smarter than she sounds, a sad sack loser who blunders into a life of crime and murder, a cold-blooded killer, a whole raft of people who, for the most part, don't deserve to die the way they do. Like the movie, the writing is superb, the camera work is spell-binding, and the acting is fabulous.

So when the Resident Fan Boy sat down with me as I was watching the penultimate episode of the second TV series, he was mystified.

"If I were watching something like this," he declared, "You'd be telling me this was soul-destroying."

I'm pretty mystified myself. It's very well done, though. As with the previous two incarnations of Fargo, it has many of the same elements, but is set in 1979 -- and gives Lifespring the respect it deserves.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, very little of the action in the three stories actually takes place in Fargo. They're set in Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, where it's always mid-to-late winter.

Chilling, but oddly fresh.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas lights

The Resident Fan Boy put up the Christmas lights today, as he usually does on St Nicholas Day. Elder daughter and younger daughter, who really need Christmas this year, are delighted. (Ooh. See what I did there?)

I am drained after three particularly trying days, so I'm offering this photograph which I took eight years ago. Now, I'm going to bed.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Cast your fate to the wind


So I was really looking forward to a concert of Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas music with the Jerry Granelli Trio. Younger daughter, the Resident Fan Boy and I saw them two years ago and were eager to go again. Well, the evening was certainly interesting. Suppose I contrast the good with the bad?

Good: The concert was held in the beautiful Dominion-Chalmers United Church. We've been to concerts there before.

Bad: Like much of Hades these days, there is construction and renovation going on, which meant the patrons of the sold-out concert were herded through one single entrance. This involve finding the correct door, joining a cue to have our tickets verified, then looped back for a hand-stamp before hurrying in to secure a seat. Festival seating, of course, the bane of jazz and baroque concerts in Hades.

Good: The Resident Fan Boy, being a Virgo, ensured that we arrived at 6:30, so we got quite nice seats on the side.

Bad: The Resident Fan Boy, being a Virgo, tends to think of "on time" as "late", and due to the single entrance, the concert began more than twenty minutes later than scheduled. So he grumbled and fussed within full hearing of younger daughter, who, along with living on the autistic spectrum, has recently acquired an anxiety disorder.

Good: This concert was organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival, so the emphasis was on improvisation, and we heard three excellent musicians doing what they do best, rather than note-by-note replications of the music heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Bad: This concert was organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival, so they sold raffle tickets. Do you know what raffle tickets mean? It means hanging around after the concert to find out if you've won. (We didn't buy any.)

Good: The Goulbourn Junior Jubilee Singers, comprised of about 15 to 20 kids ranging in ages eight to thirteen, sang charmingly and on key. When "Linus and Lucy" was playing, you could see the smaller ones dancing in the choir stall.

Bad: Because it's Charlie Brown and involves a children's choir, there were a lot of kids in the audience who were way too small for an evening show - even one starting at 7:20.

Good: I've taken to carrying my bird binoculars in my purse, so I could focus on the expressive face and clever drum-sticks of Jerry Granelli. He even used his hands bongo-style in a wild solo during Guaraldi's inversion of "Little Drummer Boy". I also enjoyed his interaction with bassist Simon Fisk.

Bad: We had a "big 'n' tall" man sitting in the pew in front of us, so I could only catch glimpses of pianist Chris Gestrin.

Good: I've been practising what I call "bastardized Pilates" or "BP" - a really easy DVD and I do the simplest adaptation of the exercises on our bed.

Bad: We were sitting in a pew for fifty minutes waiting for a 90-minute show to begin, so I got a case of "pew bottom". It was "BP" versus "PB". I was mildly crippled and stiff the next day, but it could have been so much worse.

Good: We'd been to a version of this at the Ottawa Little Theatre, so had heard the stories and comments.

Bad: We couldn't hear anything spoken at Dominion-Chalmers, possibly because we were off to the side. I don't recall having this problem with the other concerts we've attended there, so either the acoustics are better if you're front and centre or in the balcony, or the miking wasn't the best.

Good (Really, really, really Good): The encore was the number that got Vince Guaraldi the Charlie Brown gig in the first place: Cast Your Fate to the Wind.

Magical. If only the evening had ended there.

Afterwards, we leapt to our feet -- which really helped the "pew bottom".

Bad (Really, really, really Bad): With younger daughter living on the autistic spectrum with an anxiety disorder and premenstrual to boot, my main objective was now to get her out of the venue and home. However, our pew mates had purchased raffle tickets, and in the low light, were fumbling with their phones to read their numbers. We couldn't exit from the central aisle which was now packed with concert-leavers who shared our objective. When I asked the raffle ticket-holders if we could get by, they agreed politely enough, but expected us to squeeze by them, rather than stepping out briefly and they had left their belongings underfoot. I finally managed to extricate myself, feeling embarrassed and harassed, and hurried to the exit, a few feet away. When I reached the outside door, there was room to stop and put on my coat. That's when I noticed that the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter were nowhere to be seen.

I watched a seemingly endless line of people file by me, while I wondered what to do. Had they somehow got past me? Had the Resident Fan Boy, with his infamous sense of direction, made a wrong turn? Had they come out, then realized they had left younger daughter's packsack behind? I phoned the RFB, but he had turned his off. I phoned younger daughter, but hers was out of reach in her bag.

When they finally emerged, I learned that younger daughter had refused to leave the pew without donning her jacket, which is new and takes some effort to zip up. Then they mistakenly got stuck in the line-up for autographs.

I'm glad we went.

But I doubt we'll go again.

I've posted this before but I'm posting this again. It didn't sound like this last night. It didn't sound like this three years ago. Because it's jazz.