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IF I FORGET TO SAY GOODBYE – The Song

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Remember that great earworm CUPS song (“When I’m Gone”) performed by Anna Kendrick in the movie Pitch Perfect?

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Some co-workers and myself sang and performed a fun, modified version of the CUPS song as a retirement goodbye send-off to a pair of colleagues back in 2013.

“Cups” actually originated from a 1931 song “When I’m Gone” by the Carter Family (written by A.P. Carter)

The catchy hook of the song goes like this:

When I’m gone
When I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
You’re gonna miss me by my hair
You’re gonna miss me everywhere, oh
You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

Now how about… actor Keanu Reeves being interviewed by Stephen Colbert in 2019.

The pair bantered back and forth until Colbert earnestly asked Reeves… What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”

I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”

Simple words and yet it shows us the power of subtlety.

In the last month our household has been hit with the news of 3 deaths of relatives…. so…

Each of these things I’m talking about above bring me around to my thought today…

Here’s a little secret I’ll share with you:

For sure, I fear dying… but even more, I fear dying without being able to say goodbye to my loved ones.

My Mom collapsed and died with acute suddenness on the driveway outside our home… there was no goodbye. This sticks with me like the shadow to my body.

It stresses me that my kids/grandkids might get that sudden, startling, late night phone call relaying my “unexpected” demise.

I’m holding out, holding on, for at least a short, cognitive, slice of time at my ending; a day or week when I can utter my final love words, and of course great last words of “Silly Larry” earthbound wisdom, to those who’ve: lived with me, put up with me, laughed and hugged and cried with me, worked and played with me, been bored with me… you know, the whole panoply of “with” stuff.

Yup, I know these are the things you should say to the ones you love every day, you’re right. Yup, so right.

But like the “beginning at birth” idea that boys don’t cry, sharing deep inner emotions and thoughts with others is very difficult… the words get stuck between my brain and my tongue.

And so, I’ll at least talk about this in verse and song.

Today I’ll share the verses with you, and hopefully someday soon, I’ll have a musical bed to lay the words over and roll them past you again.

IF I FORGET TO SAY GOODBYE

by Larry Green

Years and years from now

you’ll hear yourself say something strange

maybe wonder where the words came from

like when you find that long lost name

the glue peels away, the memory shines clear

the instant you feel me near

pre-CHORUS

skipping ropes, summer hikes

shooting hoops and riding bikes

CHORUS

If I forget to say goodbye

excuse my lapse and find a smile

I won’t melt away that fast

because I’ll always be inside you

No you can’t lose me oh so easily

even if I forget to say goodbye

……….

Last week when you were born

I was younger than you are now

it was certain life would go on forever

but life’s logic was a magic paint

whose door has felt the wind and sun

swinging closed and growing faint

pre-CHORUS

toboggan runs, Sunoka waves

ballet shoes and trebuchets 

CHORUS

If I forget to say goodbye

excuse my lapse and find a smile

I won’t melt away that fast

because I’ll always be inside you 

No you can’t lose me oh so easily

even if I forget to say goodbye

……….

I’ll set down my guitar

Draw in my last breath 

and blow away like yellowed newsprint

we’ll share a blueprint etched forever

in the starry sky together

even if I forget to say goodbye

Remembering My Bananas Brother

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It’s sad and it’s sweet… and I knew it complete… when I wore a younger man’s clothes…

How can any person live 79 years and feel they’ve been shortchanged?

How can you have lived in 7 countries, have a wife and 3 kids, 5 grandkids, 2 great grandchildren, and somehow be cheated by death? You can’t really… except…

… it feels to me like he was cheated, like a million others, probably someone you love(d)… not by death, death is certain… but by a beautiful mind that became shrouded in dense cloud and mist. Alzheimer’s storm.

Today I write this blog post as an homage and tribute to my brother Robert who passed this week… my family of 5 siblings has winnowed down to 3 …

I really didn’t come to know my brother until my adult years… Robert and I were separated by 15 years in age, and when he moved from Hamilton to Edmonton to work on his PhD when I was about 5 or 6 years old, our age separation was multiplied by a few thousand kilometres of physical distance.

As I grew up, I heard stories of my “foreign” brother… mostly about how incredibly smart he was. Bright enough to skip 2 grades in school. I teased myself later on that I was a failure, a black sheep, because I only moved ahead one grade.

Robert married a lovely prairie girl Lois (another PhD student) and they shared an adventurous life of making babies (3 in total) while moving every few years to live and teach in a host of countries (Malaysia, England, Egypt, Nigeria, India, Wales).

In between their globe-hopping they would settle for a year or two in Regina or Saskatoon before taking on another international escapade.

Robert was also a bibliophile, a book lover.

Broadway District, Saskatoon

One day he opened a popular bookstore in Saskatoon, Broadway Book Merchants.

Broadway Street is a destination artistic haven to this day and his bookstore was a well-known stop for many many wandering the streets. Robert revelled in the authors who regularly sat in his store to autograph new releases.

He was never so happy as when celebrated author and storyteller W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen The Wind, Jake and the Kid) came to the house for dinner after a book signing. After dinner, Mitchell said in his lovely sonorous voice that he’d be happy to share stories with the family all night long, so long as the alcohol flowed liberally! Robert (an inveterate wine and beer maker himself) was delighted to oblige.

Bookselling retirement was eventually forced on him as the inevitability of the mega-online booksellers ate away at bricks-and-mortar retailers. He accepted the inevitable and moved on.

Somehow, over the years, my wife Maureen and I were able to meet up and spend bits of time here and there with Robert; never for long, but let’s say it was “quality time”.

Cross-country skiing over mountain passes in Jasper, organizing and coordinating family reunions, vacationing together in China, visits in Cusco, Peru, teaching me to add cumin to my chili recipe, and his many visits to our Okanagan home gave me the chance to “bond” with Robert.

A wee sip of Chinese snake wine… adventurous!

He and I shared a silly sense of humour that was always best expressed while taking in anything by the Monty Python crew…

Robert wasn’t a perfect man (he and I must be related!), but he had an inner softness and vulnerability that I loved.

We became “brothers” as adults when childhood hadn’t afforded us that opportunity.

On our shared journey across China almost 10 years ago, I could sense small changes in Robert’s mental functioning that said something was awry.

Sure enough, only a couple of months after we returned, the Alzheimer’s diagnosis was confirmed and his lengthy downward journey became his final unwanted odyssey.

This past year, I wrote a song (with an irreverent title but one that Robert would have laughed over anyways) about Robert’s decline that I’ll share with you here once again today.

Thanks for being my brother Robert…

What’s Up My Greensleeves…

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Like Dickens himself, young William Chatterton Dix coughed and stoked the coal-stove to drive out the damp chill of an English winter day.

He sat at the rugged wood table rubbing his hands together to create a bit more heat, then lifted his fountain pen to scribble another line… much as Mr. Dickens had done while writing A Christmas Carol only 22 years earlier…

…………………

With less than a month now until that famous Christian HOHOHOliday, I think I can squeak in an early post related to the holy and hallowed.

Even as an atheist, I’ve taken a Scrooge-like possession of sacred carols and music that festoons our halls and jingle our bells.

One of my favourites of the Christmas season is the carol we all know today as What Child Is This?, but I came to know first-off as Greensleeves (?a tribute to my many childhood runny noses?)

As a young piano prodigy *hah* (like driving a car as a youngster, I could barely reach the instrument’s pedals) one of the earliest pieces I learned from my austere music teacher was… you got it… Greensleeves.

But I’ve always pondered – yet never known or understood – why two names for the same carol? What’s the subterfuge that brought this about I wondered.

Let’s look a bit deeper:

Before What Child Is This? was born in Bristol, England in 1865, it took its first breaths as a celebrated English instrumental folk song, Greensleeves.

Some erroneously claim that Greensleeves, composed anonymously in 1580, was written by Henry VIII in order to woo Anne Boleyn; or, that Lady Greensleeves was a loose woman or a prostitute; or that the song has Irish origins. All good guesses, but… wrong, wrong, and wrong.

For all of these claims there is no actual evidence, yet still the stories circulate widely. Even the soap opera TV series The Tudors makes a show of Henry VIII composing Greensleeves.

In truth, the music to Greensleeves was first published and registered at the London Stationer’s Company in 1580.

On September 3, 1580, Richard Jones was licensed to print A New Northern Dittye of ye Lady Greene Sleeves. He then printed a book in 1584, A Handful of Pleasant Delights, in which the song was reprinted as A new Courtly Sonet of the Lady Green sleeues, to the new tune of Greensleeves.

The song was immediately immensely popular and off to a flying start. Even William Shakespeare cited it in his The Merry Wives of Windsor, c. 1602, 17 years after the song’s first publication and widespread success. His character Falstaff calls out: “Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’!

Now let’s jump ahead a couple of hundred years and drop in on businessman William Chatterton Dix, the son of a surgeon from Bristol, England.

William actually spent most of his life in Glasgow, Scotland, working as a manager of the Maritime Insurance Company.

In 1865, 29 year-old William, a man extremely fond of traditional English folk songs, suffered a near-death bout of sickness. Afflicted also with severe depression, this traumatic experience changed him completely.

While recovering, he became an avid reader of the Bible and experienced a spiritual awakening that inspired him to take up crafting hymns in celebration.

While healing, he wrote the lyrics of The Manger Throne, which later came to be known as What Child Is This?, incorporating the tune of the celebrated English folk song, Greensleeves.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Today, it’s been sung and recorded by countless artists of all genres. Andrea Bocelli, Johnny Mathis, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban, Bing Crosby, the list goes on and on…

And, as the late radio host Paul Harvey used to say… “now you know… the rest of the story…

And maybe to entice you into the glow and spirit of the festive season to come, here is my recent recording of the tune on my faithful guitar:

Looking Towards A New Me… When I’m 64!

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Jim Ferguson is an old and very good friend of mine (and the MAN ON THE FRINGE).

For a second time this year, I’ve asked Jim if he would consider contributing a guest post and he has generously taken me up on this.

I always enjoy Jim’s insights as he possesses an extraordinary vision into the combination of science, religion, and human compassion. These can be challenging subjects to mix and marry, but Jim has a talent for bridging the gaps.

Today, Jim is striking into a lighter and perhaps… more fun arena – his upcoming “retirement”. I’ll let him tell you his story:

The Man Behind the Curtain aka Man On The Fringe – Sir Lawrence Green – has once again asked me to contribute a guest blog focusing on the theme of my impending retirement from a medical career spanning the better part of 44-years.

It all started in Canada’s Arctic region, Yellowknife, NWT, in 1977 when I trained as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and then worked with Larry at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital until spring, 1979.

I then married an American girl and was off to medical school in the States a decade later, graduating as a Physician Associate and getting a Master’s degree in Public Health and completing a fellowship in Integrative Medicine along the way. The rest, as they say, is history.

As I approach my retirement, it really is all about history-where it all started and the journey to where this phase of my life will conclude.

It seems that this journey has passed in the twinkling of an eye to the point where I feel a bit numb and dizzy as I view the course of the past 44-years…sort of like a retirement version of benign positional vertigo.

As I have been reflecting on this major life-change I have found myself defining my retirement by some of the major retirement songs of our era. I’ve been thinking of some of these songs and whether any of these might be apropos as I board the retirement ship to “sail off into my golden years”. 

Here are a few examples and some musings. Maybe those of you reading this who are retired will find some common threads.

Glue your dentures in and make sure the Depends are nice and snug…here we go:

– Johnny Paycheck is known for the song Take This Job And Shove It. The opening refrain is recognizable to many- “Take this job and shove it, I aint workin’ here no more”.

While I love the feistiness of the song, I would have to say that this song doesn’t reflect my attitude towards my work or my employer as I wrap up my career as a family medicine provider.

I entered medicine seeing it as a vocation or even a calling. I love being of service to others and what better career path to follow than medicine where you work with people at their most vulnerable i.e., when they are ill.

I have loved my work for that reason and have had great employers over the years whether in Yellowknife in the early days, in remote Alaskan villages during the middle of my career, as a public health officer, and finally for Providence Medical Group here in Oregon.

While I am retiring from my job with the medical group, I am not retiring from medicine completely. I will seek ways to recreate myself in service to others using my medical knowledge and talents and I look forward to those opportunities.

– The Beatles had a hit with Sir Paul McCartney’s light and fluffy When I’m 64.

While I tend to favour Lennon’s more gritty rock and roll sound, this particular “bubble gum” attempt at a rock tune strikes a retirement chord.

As it turns out I will turn 64 in December a month or so after I pack it in at my current place of employ. This song has some definite influence on my retirement.

I’ve long lost much of my hair, I’ve been handy (thanks to Red Green who has told millions of men: “If women don’t find you handsome, at least let them find you handy“), I’ve spent more hours than I can count in the garden on my 5.4-acre farm in Oregon.

Bottom Line regarding this song: been there…done most of that!! I guess I could throw this CD in the player as I walk out the door at work for the final time and it would seem appropriate.

– If anyone is expecting me to live up to the message in Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild, well you have another thing coming.

My version of wild these days is to down a bottle of Geritol, chase it with a Fleets Enema, and hit the hay by 8 PM.

OK… maybe I’m not that far gone BUT the wild days are behind me. Larry can attest to the fact that our Yellowknife days were about as wild as they come- who else here can chug a Molson Canadian standing on their head in under a minute…😊

Those days are long gone and while retirement will be nothing like the days of yore, they will be filled with opportunities to be of service to my community and I do welcome the change from having a set schedule day in/day out and being more flexible in determining what I invest my time in.

I do have hobbies that I will pursue. I still enjoy watching my beloved Habs (Montreal Canadiens hockey team) when I can. I also enjoy my mandolin and playing music. I love being outdoors and hiking and running. There will be lots to keep me busy as I move forward.

– As I have alluded in this blog post, I see a beginning in the end.

As one career ends another exciting phase of life begins. What better song to portray this than We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters featuring the silky-smooth voice of Karen Carpenter.

Don’t tell Larry that I told you this BUT he and I would occasionally sprawl out on the two chesterfields in his apartment in Yellowknife and semi-doze off listening to Karen and Richard performing their magic.

That song is a great segue towards retirement. As one door closes another opens, as one window closes, another window opens, etc. You get the point…Insert your own cliché here:___________________.

Karen sings “so many roads to choose, we’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run…sharing horizons that are new to us…” A great inspiration as I head into the unknown.

I am also aware that maybe I’ve peeved off a few folks in my work life along the way, so I am a firm believer in the adage that if you are being run out of town, get in front of the crowd, and make it look like a parade…😊 That’s my plan on my last day. It’s a win-win for me.

– I will leave you with one last song that I have always loved…. Five for Fighting’s 100 Years.

It is a touching tune of the passage of the years from the age of 15 to 99. Go listen to it…you’ll recognize the song when you hear it.

I can especially appreciate the verse where he sings: “Half time goes by… Suddenly you’re wise…Another blink of an eye…Sixty-seven is gone…The sun is getting high…We’re moving on.” Man ‘o man…how true it is.

Where have the years gone? I feel as though I am there now. Two-thirds of my life has flashed by and yet I am thrilled at the thought of what is to come and look forward to the great adventures that await.

Well…if you are near retirement or have already moved beyond that point in life, what songs best describe your retirement journey? Let’s see them in the comment section below.

Peace,

Jim Ferguson

Fire and Rain

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Oh, 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…

.

JAMES TAYLOR ca. 1974

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Fire and Rain… OMG, I have loved this James Taylor song for so so many years…

… JT and this song in particular were midnight staples and saviours for my teenage angst – F & R was my favourite solo guitar song for coming down from a late night shift at McDonalds, or upon returning from a boozed-up-on-25-cents-a-glass draft beer night at Corktown Irish Pub in Hamilton.

The blues-without-the-blues-style song is James’ lament to a woman friend who died by suicide (Suzanne) and his personal struggles with heroin and fame. It’s a story of deepest darkness and anguish, a soothing salve.

At the time, I didn’t know or understand the genesis of the song’s underpinnings, but the wonderful thing about music done well is that lyrics only tell a part of the story. The melody, the key, the pacing of this song speak to profound sadness… words or no words.

I’m reflecting on the song today because right now, I’m sitting in Forest Fire Central aka British Columbia (BC). NO fire AND rain, just fire.

And yet. I love living in BC.

Even though I’ve lived in and visited many many wonderful, beautiful places in the world, there is no place I’d prefer to live than here.

Now, upon saying this, I also have to acknowledge in recent times that part-and-parcel of living on the west coast of Canada (actually the entire west coast of North America) – and more specifically, the Interior region of BC – is accepting dry, summer heat and forest fires as a routine part of this summer life.

As I look out my window, a heavy pall of acrid grey-white smoke lingers lazily over the valley hillsides. Each day, I listen to the overhead hum and buzz of water-bomber aircraft lugging off to pollinate the woods with huge gulps of fire-quenching water.

Four of the past 5 summers here have been filled with these huge, relentless fires from July through until late September when, finally, cooler temperatures and a modicum of rain mark the passing of the singe season.

You could say that the BC economy runs largely on trees… the ones we cut down and slice into sticks of wood to build houses… and the other ones we burn down each year that create billions of dollars of GDP in putting the fires out.

GDP is a great measure of our financial success except when it’s measured in tragedy for human and animal life. GDP should measure productivity, not destruction.

So, my mind runs off in winding tangents as I think about JT and his beautiful song…

… and this takes me into thinking about the lovely region in which I live…

… then veers further onward to fires and global warming that affects us all to greater and lesser degrees…

… and finally…

… it all lands heavily on how we are living amid a much greater degree of science denial than I ever dreamed possible 5 short years ago (a denial that covers much more than global warming, but I’ll restrict my thoughts to this today).

It takes a strange and perhaps demented mind like mine to segue from 1970’s James Taylor music all the way to climate change and its deniers.

I won’t dig too deep into a rant here other than to say that anyone willing to take an hour or two of downtime to review the broad and peer-reviewed research on climatic evolution should come to an inevitable conclusion.

………

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
– Mark Twain

………

This is not a mere cosmic routine cycle of climate change that occurs every 100, 250, 500 years. The floods, the hurricanes, the fires, and melting ice-caps are not just “nothing to look at here” routine stuff.

This is “us” caused and needs to be “us” cured. Soon.

The silver lining underlying this “whoa is us” scenario is that I have great faith in the ability of human ingenuity and technology to stem this tide.

Humanity (myself included) has a tendency to sweep bad news under the carpet until there are no options left other than to deal with it. Inevitability breeds action, eventually…

These days, when I play my guitar, I don’t suffer from that same teenage angst of years ago; now when I play Fire and Rain late at night, my angst is for the larger blue planet that we share, the same one we also share responsibility for its future and care.

My fervent hope is that, should I live long enough – and I’m working hard to be a participant in the Centenarian Olympics – the only sad Fire and Rain we’ll be afflicted with is in James Taylor’s sweet music…

Oh, 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…

JAMES TAYLOR ca. 2021

RAMBLER SUMMER – The Song

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Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learning how….

Summer beaches, summer fun, summer hormones, summer sun…

Summer holds a delicious lure to us residents of the chillier northern regions (although perhaps not this week where the temperatures here in B.C. reached well into the 40+C range).

This magnetic lure is intense.

When the dark days of December and January descend like a heavy, grey blanket, the lily-white limbs of northern denizens do a lemming-march onto airplanes, then migrate like geese, southwards to recapture that special, intoxicating summer lure.

July and August blow in in a heady combination of scanty clothing, the scent of BBQ and french fries in the air, convertible car tops down with wind in our hair, sweet potent icy drinks, trashy beach books, and of course, la pièce de resistance… summer music.

I wonder if you, like me, have one summer in your past that stands out as unique and memorable in a way that no other has before or since?

My “special” season came along in 1974… I turned 17 during those hot, humid, Hamilton summer days.

I passed my driver’s licence test that spring.

I moved away from my family home into an apartment with my sister when my widower father remarried.

By the time Grade 12 ended in June, I was flipping burgers at McDonalds for about 2 bucks an hour (my starting wage was $1.55/hr) and through some financial wizardry, I scraped together $1,000 bucks… enough to buy a 1967 Rambler American car.

Tan brown and suburban middle-class stodgy, my Rambler wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t sporty, it wasn’t fast, but… it was MY own car.

I installed a clickety-clack 8-track player and fed it the music of James Taylor, Carole King, Seals & Crofts, America, Supertramp, Elton John, Eagles… and of course, summer music supreme… The Beach Boys!

Cars and boy hormones are a standard teenage combustible combination… which means by the end of August I had a car… AND a girlfriend. All my hormones were cosmically aligned and on fire.

I wasn’t old enough yet to vote or drink alcohol legally… still, this young man came of age in the summer of 1974.

Which brings us to the song below, whose lyrics I wrote and posted here a year ago on June 28.

At the time I labelled it The Colour of My Rambler Summer, but after a number of revisions, I’ve shortened it to just Rambler Summer.

OK, now the nitty-gritty of putting music to a lyric. Hours and hours are spent experimenting different time signatures, keys, melodies and chord arrangements. This song has been through about 3 complete iterations in differing styles.

BUT.

Music and lyrics have to blend and match like a pair of identical twins to create magic, yes?

Musically, I wanted it to have a summer song ambiance- after all, it has summer in the title (as I hear DUH in my ear).

I love the Latin-style Cuban beat and one of my favourite Latino singers is a talented Cuban-Canadian young man, Alex Cuba (who lives in Smithers, B.C). Cuba often uses a Latin calypso rhythm in his songs which I’ve hijacked here. When I hear Alex, I feel summer heat on my skin.

Alex Cuba

Come the chorus, there was no doubt in my mind that it had to emulate a Beach Boys style of harmony to give it a summer-beachy sound.

It all begins with my simple Martin acoustic guitar and builds from there. It’s like baking a cake, adding one ingredient at a time.

Of course, I have miles to go to achieve the quality and texture of an Alex Cuba, or the mastery of a Brian Wilson song, but I’ve had a blast of summery fun playing, singing, and recording all the layers to this tune.

See if you can hear the elements I’ve mentioned.

If you pass, I’ll send you a music appreciation certificate like the one I received in Grade 6 for Sight-Singing music!!

Rambler Summer

by Larry Green

I don’t know if I learned the truth
at 17 or in my older days
soft lips and youthful yearning
the colours of a rainbow’s arch
seemed so clear in my first car
shared tones between the bars

CHORUS
The colour of my Rambler summer
was a camouflage tone
melting ice cream on my chin
syrupy sweet night
dark and light
dreams come free at a cost

Cool Butch and handsome Sundance
were the heroes of this laddish young’un
I’d pretend to be the thuggish
bad boy that held the school hall fun
watching shag cut kids with
droopy eyes singed by drugs

CHORUS
The colour of my Rambler summer
was a camouflage tone
melting ice cream on my chin
syrupy sweet night
dark and light
dreams come free at a cost

We sat in movie theatre matinees
cool dark balconies hanging with Steve McQueen
while outside buses fumed the air
sidewalks seared the shoppers’ feet
city streets scorched humid in the sun
that curled the women’s hair


CHORUS
The colour of my Rambler summer
was a camouflage tone
melting ice cream on my chin
syrupy sweet night
dark and light
dreams come free at a cost

YOU’RE A UFO – The Song

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In the distance, they hear ruinous bombs detonating near the house they fled only an hour earlier.

Fear and worry overwhelm their hearts and heads.

The ground they walk over is rough and difficult to manage when carrying a one and a 3 year-old… but happily the Jordanian border is just another kilometre or two over the next hill.

Flash floods of humanity rush and surge and overflow upon us… still.

Syria, Central America, Venezuela, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia… the list goes on…

Conflict and climate and economic refugees of different stripes and colours and ethnicities continue to pour across borders and oceans like sand slipping between our toes on a warm southern beach.

For many or most of us, this is a distant reality… we see it on TV and read about it in our internet news feeds, but we rarely really touch it with our own eyes and fingers.

For 3 and a half years now, I’ve been getting together once or twice weekly to work on English studies with a man whose life and whose family’s lives have been torn apart for no reason of their making.

He’s a Syrian refugee – one of 5.6 million of his countrymen since 2012 – who was “fortunate” enough not to be one of the hundreds of thousands killed by their own government with Russian complicity.

His parents and siblings have fled their generational homes and are spread far apart in Syria, Jordan, Canada, Denmark, and Britain.

He and I have become good friends, and I’ve gained a tremendous amount of understanding and compassion for the plight of refugees because of our time spent together.

We’ve shared birthday celebrations, and the joy of an additional two births within their family since arriving in Canada.

All of the children speak fluent English (in addition to Arabic) and are now Canadian citizens, while Mom and Dad study in preparation for their citizenship tests which will come up soon.

He didn’t know one word of English when he landed at Pearson Airport in Toronto – but he absorbed “thank you” quickly.

One thing he has since learned – NO, not from me – is the “F” word.

He grins and laughs about it because he knows it wields great power in the English language, although he’s not quite sure why… I haven’t explained that one well to him so far, but I advise him to keep it inside his head (or at least to voice it ONLY in our sessions)!

Today, after 5+ years in their adopted country of Canada, they continue to struggle daily with the sea change that befell them. The confusing blend of cultural and religious differences are akin to mixing oil and water for them.

They are like UFO’s coming to a planet

they have never seen before.

They try. They grapple with totally foreign ideas and social norms, strange foods and ways that people dress. They appreciatively wonder at the acceptance they encounter, and fret about the dark, overt racism that also comes their way.

While appreciating the freedom and safety to raise their children in peace, they can’t help but miss their old lives tremendously.

Canada (government, private sector, and individuals) has done an admirable job of keeping them aloft with financial support for their home, healthcare, educational opportunities, children’s activities… not perfect, but … I am proud of this country that brought them to safety and is able to share its wealth in ensuring they are reasonably comfortable.

For my own small part, I help them over the many hurdles of Western life and government bureaucracies, yet I often feel impotent and powerless to “make things right” for them, even when I know there is much I just cannot do.

Which all brings me to….

… a blog post I wrote on October 19, 2019.

I wrote and posted these song lyrics about this family’s journey to where they are now.

Today, I’m sharing this song with music attached… I’ve removed two of the verses because it was becoming too long (BIG size is a favourite trait of mine that I’m trying to kick (at least in music)).

Finally, in case you’re interested in the anatomy of a song’s production, here are a couple of things to digest.

I’ve added in an underlying deep cello “drone” to hint at slow plodding (like refugees walking) and suggest drama.

And in the chorus, I’m doing a vocal harmony that is a I-VII interval that gives the music a more unsettled or uncomfortable feel that hopefully matches the lyrics. This is instead of the more typically melodic I-III or I-V harmony that we usually expect. Bonus points if you notice.

YOU’RE A UFO

by Larry Green

Schoolyard dust a daily friend
farm that held no borders
The air was calm and warm
your brothers’ calls familiar
then a new day broke hell
with clouds that lit a storm

You packed a bag and wandered far
along quiet lines with others
left your home where soldiers warred
where bombs and bullets threatened
bully tyrant who ripped your life
your tears he never cared for

CHORUS

You’re a UFO that landed
in this universe apart
in hibernation from your nation
soul burned from your heart
and a home that’s just a house

….

Years slid by in sun-baked camp
your eyes so shy, smile drained and dry
yet morning breaks another day
phone call beckoned with your chance
one week later you climbed the steps
to a westward craft of hope

Aliens greeted you with smiles and promise
strange words that made no sense
trembling smiles over months and years
memories crushed under winter’s ice
through long night’s darkness cloak your kids
they never saw your tears

BRIDGE:

How long will this prison hold you?
when will the air smell sweet again?
and carefree gossip with your neighbour
turns your hair to grey

You feel the stares, the daily threat
stories ripped from the news
wander streets with kids in tow
schoolbooks under arms
others spy your covered head and shake
about the dangers you impose

CHORUS

You’re a UFO that landed
in this universe apart
in hibernation from your nation
soul burned across a border
and a home that’s just a… house

HUXLEY STONES – The Song

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Wedding Day June 8, 1899 – Margaret Gray and William Miller (my grandparents)

In nighttime fog, as you press yourself through tangled cobwebs and gauzy mist, where do your dreams take you in time and place?

Do you, like me, sometimes “chat” with a departed relative or friend almost as if you’re at a seance?

Might it seem so real that you can feel your grandmother’s hand on your arm… or smell the scent of tobacco on your favourite uncle’s breath? Hear the excited timbre of your childhood friend’s voice?

I have very fond memories of childhood (and adult too) visits to a cemetery at a countryside junction between Wellington Rd 24 and Sideroad 27 in the bucolic rolling hills just outside of Hillsburgh Ontario. Huxley Cemetery.

There, I’d commune with my grandparents and their siblings, my aunts and uncles – some that I had met, and many more that left this little blue planet before I drew my first breath of air.

Nowadays, when I’m not at the actual cemetery “visiting”, I sometimes have nighttime explorations in my dreams and fill my head with the imaginings of these ancestors whose very presence made mine possible.

My life rests upon their lives, even though I never knew them apart from family stories and old worn photographs. They were real flesh and blood people with all of the troubles and joys that I have felt in my own life.

In this week’s lyrics post, I’m taking one of my imaginary journeys into the world of my forebears for a dusky chat with my grandparents, Will and Maggie, buried side-by-side many years back along the grassy slope of Huxley Cemetery.

What sort of conversations do you have with your past?

Huxley Stones

by Larry Green

Intro

Before these stones

before this granite’s tome

before you go no further this day

before your sand returns from bone…

slip through the cracks of Craigh Na Dun…

Verse

“… pull up a chair beside

and chat for just a few, would you?

tell us first, where have you been?

We’re sure there’s been so many changes

Since your last drop by to see us

We’re not mere misty strangers

hazy illusions of a painter’s brush”

Verse

“Could you tell us all we’ve missed

these 80 years or so

the big the small dear share it all

parcel up the news from near and far

Were you your parents’ sheen and shine?

we worried so about your mother

to carry such a worried mind”

Verse

“We catch the roamer’s stories

in glimpses as they pass

what war or peace was seen of late

whose hearts are filled with love and hate

If only we could trade places,

to wander streets and dance vivacious

what might we see out there?”

Verse

“And what of your siblings dear?

So sad we never got to know you all

anywhere ‘cept here

by this chiselled quirky stone standing tall

where kinfolk talk in whispered tones

We see the wrinkles on your brow have grown

reminding how days and nights have flown

your face now weathered like our own”

Verse

“Oh my we yawn and close our eyes

under sun it’s hard to fathom

how we weary now, no chore or two to ply

God knows we toiled long and hard

in our many days gone by

this stone of dates you touch is chill and sterile

but in you our hearts stay warm this while”

CHORUS

Tell me, are you a

caregiver creator lover jester

warrior outlaw explorer sage?

Blow the grass, lie with us forever

look up and see the clouds as we do

your bones and blood a part of us together

To Be Childishly Wise And Wisely Foolish

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*head to the bottom of this post for my recording this week of a Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac) instrumental piece simply titled STEPHANIE.

The fool doth think he is wise,

but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

So, am I wise?… or a fool? Oh, what a tangled web…

Good ole Will Shakespeare poured forth his great nuggets of wisdom through the jesters and fools within his plays.

We often absorb serious messages more readily when we don’t know we’re being schooled… it’s a bit like when I’d blend vegetables into what I was cooking so the kids wouldn’t realize they were eating “health” food (shhhh… they’re all in their 30’s and still don’t know).

To write a few words of wisdom – I’ve discovered a thousand times – is no easy feat. To paraphrase E.B. White, the perfect sentence is one from which nothing can be added or removed. Every word plays its part.

You know the power of a mere few words… yes, the classic example of Hemingway’s famous 6-word story of sorrow: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Like just about everything I do in my blogging and songwriting, I’ve once more been on the hunt for inspiration. And while I’ve been called a jester or a fool many times in my days – wise?… well… I’ve not often stood accused.

It’s pretty clear that most of our wisdom is acquired through the experiences of life… the hard knocks, the tumbles, the luck, and joys… still I believe some can be taken in more casually and obliquely through the process of osmosis ie. reading, playing, and enjoying the simple joy of cartoon characters.

Have you noticed how much of the great wisdom of the world today comes, not only from the Shakespeare’s and Hemingway’s, but… in a complexly simple form… from the mouths of children or children’s writers?

To wit, I’ll share a tiny morsel of the “accidental” sagacity that, like seeping slickness, comes our way in cartoon word’ish wizardry.. I give you THE TAO OF THE ‘TOONS

Dr. Seuss rhymed these wads of wise thought:

Today you are YOU, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. YOU are the only YOU. Isn’t that awesome? There’s nobody alive who can be you better than you. So never aim to be just like someone else. It’s a waste of a perfectly good you.

I’m afraid that sometimes you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.

Be who you are and say what you feel because the ones who mind don’t matter, and the ones who matter don’t mind.

Linus van Pelt (of Peanuts fame) is the thinker and philosopher. He’s thoughtful and respectful and is often the voice of reason among his Peanuts gang. Linus clings to his security blanket while remaining perpetually hopeful.

Linus blanketed us in great perception:

Brothers and sisters should never be in the same family.

Most psychiatrists agree that sitting in a pumpkin patch is excellent therapy for a troubled mind.

• I dread getting old… I don’t want to have to wear bifocal teeth!

There’s a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker.

Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.

Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes) is an Obi-Wan of a kid too.

I think night time is dark so you can imagine your fears with less distraction.

Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.

Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

……………………

And finally, let’s leave the jesters and wise folks behind with their nuggets of words, and try out a nugget of music magic from the songwriting artistry of Lindsey Buckingham (written in 1973), interpreted by me “duetting” with myself on my guitar!

When asked where the name of the song Stephanie originated, Buckingham said: “The song Stephanie, well that was really just an instrumental piece that didn’t have a title, and, uh, Stevie said why don’t you name that Stephanie, and I said, OK, and that’s what it was.”

SLOW SPEED CHASE – The Song

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Have you ever witnessed something happening on the street or in your life that you think would make a great story idea, perhaps a novel… even a song?

It’s likely crossed your mind at least once or twice.

This happens to me quite regularly and occasionally, just occasionally, I actually spring into action and move on the thought.

A few years back (pre-COVID era!), during a bike spin class, I was panting and dripping a salty-sweat river like a torrent over Niagara Falls.

Our energetic instructor Therese would sometimes keep our minds off the “pain” of a hard spin by telling little stories from her daily life.

It’s a little like – using an example from my former lab life – distracting children while putting a needle in their arm. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? *where’s my sucker that you promised me?*

Anyway, her personal anecdote this time began simply while driving down a street in the small town of Penticton next door to our tinier town of Summerland.

Therese’s miniature dog Sugar sat next to her in the passenger seat as she drove along early one summer’s evening.

In passing, her eye (and Sugar’s too) was drawn to a young, shoeless man walking… bedraggled, head hung low, dragging himself along the sidewalk. A lonely island.

A true Samaritan-type, she checked in her rearview mirror, pulled to a rapid stop and backed up her car – Sugar barking excitedly – to ask if he needed some help.

Poking his head inside her window with a relieved smile, he gently stroked Sugar on the head, and almost knocked them both over with a wallop of 80-proof alcohol-breath.

And then next… well… for the rest of this story, you’ll need to pull up yourself, and listen to the country-twang song of this story that I hijacked from Therese as my own, then wrote and recorded.

I call it SLOW SPEED CHASE… I’ve always had a blast playing this song and enjoy the response I get from audiences when I get to the words… right down there by the old stripper’s bar…. (lyrics follow below)

(As a postscript, little Sugar passed on to puppy heaven a year and a half back at the age of 17 years, may his memory live on in this song)

SLOW SPEED CHASE

Words & Music – Larry Green


Verse 1
It was just before dark and I was driving back home
Barely noticed your outstretched thumb
So I glanced in my rear view mirror
I could see your tears beginning to come
When I caught that you had no shoes to wear
It pushed the brake that was my heart
Sugar barked at me c’mon let’s pull on over
Here’s a guy that we can’t discard.

Verse 2
You wobbled to my door with your bloodshot eyes
Through my window breathed a liquor shot
I said get in we’ll take you somewhere safe and warm
Someplace nearby that’s got a coffeepot
Y’ said, could ya help me find my buddy he’s around here somewhere
You should meet him He’s a real cool dude
He can suck back a beer while standing on his head
He can do it, even do it in the nude

CHORUS
It’s a Slow Speed Chase
Where the rubber hits the road
And if I just unload
I can catch him at this frantic pace
So I creeped on over to the other lane
The meter hit 15 I felt just fine
So I juiced it up to 20 my heart started to race
There’s no escapin’ from this Slow Speed Chase

Verse 3
Tears of joy started pouring down your cheeks
Can you take me down to Oliver you slurred
No I can’t but the bus depot will do you just fine
I can send you on your way on bus 39

Bridge – Slow and sweet
You and Sugar are the sweetest things I’ve seen,
He said since my last hot tender cruller
And a double double right now would sip so good
Even Better … better…
Even better than the last beer in my cooler

Verse 4
Just then your furry hairballed eyes did spy
That good ole boy that you were searchin’ for
You yelled, follow him, c’mon let’s catch that guy
Sugar barked out “yep” like Toto on the handlebar

CHORUS
It’s a Slow Speed Chase
Where the rubber hits the road
And if I just unload
I can catch him at this frantic pace
So I creeped on over to the other lane
The meter hit 15 I felt just fine
So I juiced it up to 20 my heart started to race
There’s no escapin’ from this Slow Speed Chase

Verse 5
We pulled up along beside his swerving wreck
You rolled your window down and hollered out some words
I couldn’t hear but they must have had the right effect
Cause he inched his beat up Chevy right over to the curb
I kinda slowed and came to a rollin’ stop
Right down there by the old stripper’s bar
You jumped out and poor Sugar looked so sad
He was teary when you slid drunk into his car.

CHORUS
It was a Slow Speed Chase
Where the rubber hits the road
And if I just unload
I can catch him at this frantic pace
So I creeped on over to the other lane
The meter hit 15 I felt just fine
So I juiced it up to 20 my heart started to race
There’s no escapin’ from this Slow Speed Chase    

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