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A Night at Medici’s With Paper Rose

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We climb the eight concrete stairs, exiting the darkness and the cool evening air – a light shhwwwhhsshhh of breezes running through the nearby pines, car tires in the distance.

Then, pushing through the solid wooden door, it’s as if breathing can begin once again, as if the suspended animation of motionlessness has restarted and life resumes its tireless orbital path.

A harmonious mixture of warm light and music and laughter and conversation – glasses on tables, shoes on hardwood floors, scents of coffee and Firehall Backdraft Blonde beer –  cheerfully mingles with the friendly waves of David and Marcel and a few others who show signs of recognition.

The stage is lit and the song unfolds.

medicis night

My first set ever at Medici’s

Welcome to a night at Medici’s.

Open Mic. Every 2nd Friday. Bring a guitar, a ukulele or mandolin, your voice, even a clarinet.

So, who will it be tonight? Billy Joel, Bruce Cockburn, Miranda Lambert, Ed Sheeran, Zac Brown?

Of course not.

Medici’s – a renovated former Catholic church – is a place for small musicians and music aficionados – those who enjoy an evening of homemade entertainment, made by real people, genuine everyday sorts with big smiles and some with big dreams, dreams of their future, and others… like me… with greyish hair, sailing on dreams distilled in days long past.

Like a night out at bingo, you never know which musical ball will rise to the surface with each entertainer. G-54… Folk!  B-19… country!  N-28… rock!  I-47… jazz! BINGO!

Marcel, the jovial young emcee always starts the evening out strumming and singing a song or two mixed with his infectious humour and irreverent teasing of Medici’s owner David. Occasionally he lightheartedly chides one of the regular pre-show nervous musicians sipping her wine innocently at a nearby table.

Marcel then cedes the spotlight to the others. Each musician or group steps up and plays their 3 allotted songs, some original, most covers of recognizable hits by others.

The crowd, generally filled with musicians and their friends, is warmly supportive, knowing the jitters that accompany the amateur performances.

Later, when I walk up the 3 wooden steps to the stage, I don’t see the people in the crowd in their underwear to calm my nerves, but I do envision myself in Nashville’s famed Bluebird Cafe. When I pick out the final few notes of a song on my guitar, I feel the addictive draw of the applause and the eyes of an audience focused on me. Ego.

In my Walter Mitty mind, I’m an up-and-coming ingenue waiting for the record company executive to approach me after my set, and smiling aglow, tell me he’d like to sign me to a contract promising a huge future. It’s a teenage dream… for a guitarist/ singer/ songwriter it approaches a wet-dream in its excitement and unexpected intensity.

From Medici’s to the Bluebird Cafe or the Ryman Auditorium or Grand Ole Opry or Massey Hall, the opium takes hold.

bluebird cafe.jpg……………..

Each time we drive south to the hamlet of Oliver and Medici’s, there are some new faces on stage, young high school kids with tender melodic voices or old cowboy-types with rugged grey stubble and rugged raspy tunes.

When a fresh new Okanagan fruit picking season descends in the heat of late summer and early autumn, songs imported from the far eastern side of Canada waft in with the French-Canadian working kids who come like Woodstock refugees – les Habitants – dreadlocks flowing,  and their incredible musical talents on guitar and banjo and voice.

And always, there are the regulars like Richard and Rolly, Tom, and “Paper Rose”…. ah yes, sweet Paper Rose.

Paper Rose is my favourite.

Rose, whose real name is Evelyn, is a wonderful 80’ish crooner that dresses in Minnie Pearl fashion, flower hat (minus price tag) and all.

Minnie PEarl

Paper Rose stands unpretentiously at the microphone with her guitar and begins with a chatty story, a story about her health, a story about the challenges of living with diabetes, her voice mellow and earnest, her smile bright.

After her lengthy tale, filled with little asides, she launches into her songs, most of them originating from the 1950’s and ’60’s era, usually involving birds or flowers… Yellow Bird, There’s a Bluebird on Your Windowsill… or… Paper Roses. 

Rose definitely isn’t the best guitar player, sometimes she’ll even stop mid-song because she’s forgotten the chords.

But, possessed with a pleasant singing voice, she always sings her songs right on key.

By the time she arrives at the chorus, her guitar gone silent, the whole venue, all the audience, is hooked and singing along. Everyone is rapt, everyone is smiling, and we all sail with her into the chorus hook…

Paper roses, paper roses,
Oh how real those roses seem to me
But they’re only imitation
Like your imitation love for me.

An explosion of raucous, enthusiastic applause erupts.

Rose’s cheeks flush like a spring robin’s breast as she sweetly calls out her thank you’s.

A bit rough around the edges, sure.

If you look hard, you can almost see little girl Rose in the hazy mist – blue ribbons in her hair – gaily skipping rope on the playground, catching her toes often in the fast moving rope, yet not caring a whit.

The joy of the game is all that matters.

Then she begins her next story…

 

 

 

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Are There Ghosts Living In Your DNA? … Song For A Winter’s Night …

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winter night2

It was a rapturous moment … sitting in the just-darkened theatre.

The din of voices dimmed in harmony with the overhead lights.

As the light melted away, the honey-mellow sound of soft acoustic guitars rose like the swoosh of a hot air balloon lifting, and I felt that strange simultaneous mix of warmth and chill in those first melodic moments as I always do when I attend a concert.

Is there anything more soul-stirring than the first 30 seconds at the opening of a musical performance, whether rock, country, folk or classical?

It’s a mild, late fall evening on the western side of this rocky Canadian country and I’m listening – live for my first time ever – to the well-worn Canadian singer-songwriting icon named Gordon Lightfoot.

His voice is a wispy shadow of its original timbre – at least he sings on key, otherwise I’d go crazy – but the brilliance is buried inside his tones.

Lightfoot was a huge international phenomenon in the 1960’s and ’70’s with his lengthy song list that included The Canadian Railway Trilogy, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Sundown, Daylight Katy … and … Song For a Winter’s Night.

Song For A Winter’s Night is a metaphorical wonder of wintry snow and cold, and warm romance. True Canadiana.

There’s a lyrical beauty in it whether sung by Lightfoot himself or magically covered by another iconic Canadian, Sarah McLachlan.

I’m watching the stage, mesmerized, and as the song begins I silently ponder if the two versions could be pixie-dust consummated into a single duet akin to Natalie singing Unforgettable alongside her long-dead father Nat King Cole.

Gordon then

Gordie then…

 

SONG FOR A WINTER’S NIGHT

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
 
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me
 
If I could know within my heart,
that you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
 
The fire is dying now,
my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are drifting
 
If I could only have you near,
to breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with you
On this winter night with you
 
GordonLightfoot now

The same Gordie now …

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

The guitars return it home to a hazy finish of sleigh bells and I find my head in fluffy clouds of musical thought.

It’s here where a part of our existence dwells in a log cabin in the backwoods of northern Ontario or standing on a breathless wintry Saskatchewan lake frozen over with rabbit and deer tracks criss-crossing the barren snow-covered distance.

We close our eyes, our minds drifting like smoke from a moonlit chimney with curlicues of wonder and memory.

Often, a song carries us to an emotion-laden time and place where we experience our senses overflowing, telling us of the smells and sounds of euphoric good times or maybe, the heartbreakingly not-so-good.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a song takes us on a journey into a story of our inner heritage and even though we may have never felt the soothing warmth of a fire crackling to comfort us, we know inside ourselves what it means. It’s as if a mystical seed has been planted in our brains, a historic reminder of where we originated, who we are.

Each and every one of us is a product of countless generations that lived and loved and struggled, so it only makes sense that tiny fragments of those lives reside inside our makeup.

We tend to think of ourselves as an amalgam of our Ma and Pa, and maybe sometimes we see our grandparents contributing to our mix.

Child-JigsawPuzzle

 

But in reality, we are a huge jigsaw puzzle constructed of genetic pieces going back centuries. A corner piece that is the unexpected curl in your hair may originate in Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Elizabeth’s DNA, a pun-filled sense of humour the little piece that was your G-G-Granddad’s mischievous demeanour.

Don’t ask me how listening to a musical tune brings these thoughts floating to the surface. Is it possible that the past is reaching out to me? Is there something in the words and tune that reflects something existing deeper within the chasms of my core structure?

Perhaps Song For A Winter’s Night has unearthed a wistful story of the lives of a man and a woman in my distant DNA.

Each impatiently yearns for the time when they can once again find solace and warmth in the other’s arms after a lengthy separation because of war, religious differences, or difficult times. It’s a story that somehow developed without the modern interruptions and connections of motorized vehicles, cellphones, or eHarmony.

Gordon Lightfoot won’t be with us for a whole lot longer – yet his lyrical memory will wander the musical stage for generations.

But the dimensions and associations that originate in his words, his melodies, like so many other gifted artists, linger on in our DNA to be shared the next time you sit in a theatre and sweet notes float over you, caressing you like a gentle river.

Goodbye

Finding Our Song

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     Open your eyes
     Look up to the skies and see,
     I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
    Because I’m easy come, easy go
    Little high, little low
    Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me,
    to me
                  Bohemian Rhapsody – QUEEN

Piano

If you could choose a song to represent the life you’ve lived (are living), what would it be?

Songs come in various shapes and sizes like fashionable clothes hanging on a rack. Some pieces are form-fitting and secure, making us feel giddy elation and full of fresh air, others bind or billow and leave us feeling uncomfortably bloated and unhappy, maybe even irritated.

Rock, folk, jazz, reggae, classical, bhangra…the choices go on and on. We mix and match them depending on the day, the time, our mood.

Lift me, won’t you lift me above the old routine
Make it nice, play it clean, Jazzman.

        Jazzman– CAROLE KING

After closing time, I worked the overnight graveyard shift at McDonalds on a few occasions as a teenager. It was quiet and still in the cooling night as the humidity of sticky Hamilton summer days dissipated until a renewed blast of heat began when the sun rose the following morning.

There was just Bob Randazzo and myself working away to get things clean and prepared for the next day’s hordes of hungry burger eaters. Bob cleaned and mopped the lobby and outside area and I cleaned and stocked the McKitchen.

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I had to pour viscous, orange Big Mac sauce into plastic squeeze sleeves, chop grotty fly-ridden lettuce into thin shreds (yes, I did remove the flies!), and chop onions into little bits until streaky tears coursed in streams down my face.

It felt eerily strange working through the night when everyone else I knew was fast asleep.

But it was music that kept me company through the solitude of the dark hours on Queenston Road. I bopped along while the radio played on the restaurant’s overhead speakers and the high-pitched cries of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You“, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle”  and Ozark Mountain Daredevil’s “Jackie Blue” kept me going.

Cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon
    When you comin’ home Dad I don’t know when 
    We’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then.

            Cats in the Cradle – HARRY CHAPIN

There were John Denver songs that would carry me up to emotional heights of elation (You fill up my senses…) and then Roberta Flack’s soulful voice (Killing me softly with his sooooooong...”) would push into the delicate sore spots that it couldn’t reach in daylight hours.

Darkness and solitude have a way of pushing demons and heavy-hearted ponderings to the surface. The pressing thoughts that separate and hold us back from sleep at night have no apparent link to those we have after the sun rises for the day.

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So…let me ask again:

If you could choose a song to represent the life you’ve lived, what would it be?

Would there be only one song, or would it take a collection to sum up your complexity?

Would there be the rousing sound of a train whistle approaching announcing you’ve arrived or would it be a foghorn searching mournfully in the grey, weary night?

There’s a time a for joy
A time for tears
A time we’ll treasure through the years
We’ll remember always
Graduation Day

Graduation Day– BEACH BOYS

Songs define us and the times we live and share with others. Music has done this for eons. It tells stories about us that we often don’t even understand ourselves. It lodges in our sub-conscious and rushes to the surface with it’s collection of senses: sounds, smells, touches, when we hear it years later.

There’s a song for every feeling and emotion and the collection we hold inside is as individual as Saskatchewan snowflakes in late April (sorry, couldn’t resist the Saskatchewan dig there!).

We sit in our cars driving and drifting, melodies carrying us inside ourselves to times when we were flush with romantic lust in an early relationship; sweaty-palmed nervous about a presentation or assignment while travelling on the bus to university or college; gulping in the delicious wafting scents of coffee and bacon on a visit home to visit Mom and Dad.

Music is emotion

And… as I’m discovering through a brilliant online course in songwriting, it doesn’t just happen by accident.

Music is truly an art but it works like a science on our minds and our moods. We absorb music and find its meaning in similar ways. The major chords seek us out when we’re happy and upbeat, the minor chords find us when we’re melancholy. A small twinge of off-harmony notes in the chorus tell us that something just isn’t right. We’re often not even aware that the texture and tone is manipulating our emotions. One small but glaring example?…the screeching high-pitched minor-key violin notes in the famous “Psycho” shower scene are obviously designed to heighten tension and get the hair standing on the back of our necks.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

       Fire and Rain – JAMES TAYLOR

Personally, I define myself by songs bordering on melancholy. I could suggest a bunch of possibilities for why this might be the case, but the truth is, I don’t really know why. Psychologists and psychiatrists could make a good living delving into the deepest core of each of us finding reasons for the way we are. There’s something powerful and emotionally stirring in songs of despair, longing or desire.

And so, I’ll leave you here with a current favourite melancholy earworm of mine, called Pieces. This is co-written by my online songwriting instructor Pat Pattison of Boston and sung by Liz Longley. It’s designed (scientifically!) to pull at my heartstrings, and, for me at least, it works beautifully.