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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

.

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    

Gone Bananas…

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It’s a Super Twofer Sunday!

FLASHBACK x 2

… first to China 9 years ago in 2012 … and then a jump forward to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2019.

Ten years back I was contacted by my eldest brother Robert from Saskatoon about accompanying him and his wife on a tour through China.

Hmmmm, honestly, China hadn’t been on my “travel radar”. But… given the 15 year age gap between myself and my bro, my wife and I decided this was a great opportunity to spend quality time when chances for sharing time together might be limited as his age advanced.

It was a fabulous journey through China (the Terra Cotta Warriors… OMG!), but one morning, while sharing breakfast on a small cruise boat on the Yangtze River just downstream from the Three Gorges Dam, I was surprised when my brother showed no recollection of a cold that I had been sniffling, snorting, and coughing from over the past 2 days.

Nothing else unusual jumped out.

It was really a tiny thing but noticeable nonetheless. I was suspicious. I could hear a faint alarm bell ringing. Not normal.

OK, flash forward 7 years to June, 2019.

My brother now spends his days and nights in a Saskatoon care home in a hunched over position in a padded wheelchair, lacking spark, no vivacity, much less any ability to initiate a conversation.

It’s not certain, but he seems to recognize me and other family members as we chatter away at him in his tidy little room where all of his physical needs are looked after by attentive, friendly care staff.

He is a shell of the highly intelligent (PhD- Chemistry), sassy brother I have known all my life.

Yes, Alzheimer’s vapours have enveloped another soul, hungrily sucking up his humanity. In your life experience, you likely know someone(s) who has also been hijacked this way. The fire is out and only a few dim embers remain.

Having a parent travel this dementia road is tragic… having a sibling afflicted is surreal.

So, on June 9, 2019 I posted some song lyrics in a blog post here about my “lost” brother.

It’s called LET’S BAKE YOU A BANANA CAKE

… you may think the title sounds irreverent, perhaps even disrespectful, but to my Monty Python-loving brother I once knew, I think he would laugh at the “dark, sick humour”.

For a long time, I’ve sweated and re-hashed music to accompany these lyrics over and over.

Then about 2 weeks ago, in one of those “aha” moments, the music muse unveiled a melody and chord structure that – at least for me – fit the subject of the song.

Good songs need to absorb and reflect the tone of the message in the lyrics. It’s called prosody… where all the elements of a song create a synergy towards one meaning or essence.

Below is a version I’ve recorded with my rudimentary grasp of recording techniques (and thin singing voice!) in my little home studio. The lyrics I wrote in 2019 follow afterwards…

Jade-shopping in China Bro-style

Let’s Bake You A Banana Cake

VERSE
I called my brother the other day
when he answered I knew he wasn’t there
his voice held up strong but it was clear
the same world we didn’t share
at least not anymore.

VERSE
It’s funny that you can hear a smile
though the sound travels a thousand miles
the words are a salad, they even sound sane
Do you think you can remember my name?
No, not anymore.

VERSE
Books linger hushed on your shelf
framed photos pretty your little room’s walls
blue summer skies and childhood smiles
are prairie breezes sharing your favourite waltz?
I don’t think so anymore

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing

VERSE
So let’s chat lightly for a bit mon frère
I’ll ask the questions, to see if you’re there
You’re pretty cheery so does it really matter?
We’ve sipped some wine, skied some trails
but, perhaps, not anymore

BRIDGE
There’s a thief in the house
taken the marbles and flown
the halls echo empty where you, my brother, once roamed

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing.

SUMMERLAND – The Song

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I wonder if I should have my testosterone levels checked?

I’m just a sentimental Summerland sap.

There is a lovely, poignant movie recently released on Prime Video that swept me up and embraced me with its tender story. (Aside: if you’ve ever seen the heart-rending movie Summer of ’42, you’ll find some similarities here)

I guess you could call it a consequences of war movie – it’s set in the British countryside of World War 2 as London is being bombed mercilessly by the German Luftwaffe – with an underlying LGBTQ storyline that is understated but clear in its societal message.

For eons too long, those who stand outside the mainstream heterosexual realm have been sidelined and chastised and humiliated. And like a pernicious virus, too many human sorrows and tragedies lie crushed in the wake.

I believe we all need to see and be exposed to gentle messages of inclusion to rub away the sandpaper-cruel roughness from this world. The movie takes us down a bumpy road before finding some smoother ground in the end.

The title of the movie is SUMMERLAND… yes, the same name as the little town where I’ve lived and raised a family over the past 33 years.

The film comes with an unexpected twist near the end that has the nature of deliciously fine wine with a serene aftertaste that lingers.

The beautiful cinematography of English rural life combined with the movie’s eponymous title inspired me in my songwriting this week… how could it not? Summerland, whether in England or in the mountain-ringed orchards and vineyards of British Columbia cries out for poetry.

………………..

One tiny thing this movie taught me was the phenomenon of FATA MORGANA… “Summerland” was a fata morgana in the movie – “heaven” to the Vikings.

Wikipedia says:

A Fata Morgana is a form of mirage that can be seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is an Italian term named after the Arthurian sorceress, Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages… were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths.

Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable. A Fata Morgana may be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions, or in deserts. It may involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands, and the coastline.

The optical phenomenon occurs because rays of light are bent when they pass through air layers of different temperatures in a steep thermal inversion where an atmospheric duct has formed.

………………..

And so, in this context of my town of Summerland and a cinematic’s scenic panorama, I’ve put together a short song lyric that combines two stories/ideas into one (yup, it’s Idea Sex again!)…

… a local landscape inhabited by historic characters living an aching internal war with the secret of their forbidden love, in a time of true physical war.

SUMMERLAND

by Larry Green

Giant’s Head climbs a wintry horizon

windswept skeletons of Ambrosia

outstretched arms of Cabernet

your windswept nut-brown hair lashes

chilly shoals lining cliffsides of clay

.

Flames kiss the moon in the sky

Sweet smiling eyes reflect lovers’ shine

sun diamonds dance on the lake

each Monet frame makes a painting

at sunrise before her heartbreak

.

CHORUS

Song of seclusion

Hint of allusion

Fata morgana

drifts over Summerland shores

.

Salish sunflowers upon Ponderosa pine

call out the new season’s coming

through the sage’s turn to sadness

cage of love’s play and maternal desire

burned to ash in the grasses

.

BRIDGE

Take off your sweater

in this hot summer sun

Shed suffocation of expectation

that withered away

your twins of desire and hope

.

CHORUS

Song of seclusion

Hint of allusion

Fata morgana

drifts over Summerland shores

.


THE EXPLOSION OF A SONG

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Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes.
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break
We fall and we make our mistakes.
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
Then I’m willin’ to- then I’m willin’ to-
Wait for it… Wait for it… Wait for it…

Lin Manuel Miranda (from Broadway play Hamilton)

Yes, wait for it… I discovered a Netflix show this week that has me beautifully intrigued and inspired.

I hope you won’t find this post too musically nerdy as a river of thoughts has me floating lazily through Songland this week.

The show is called SONG EXPLODER and explores pretty much what its title suggests.

Podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway interviews an accomplished songwriter (and oftimes performer) and “explodes” one song, digging deeply into the evolution and construction of something they’ve written.

So far, I’ve only watched the Alicia Keys and Lin Manuel Miranda segments. I’m hooked.

Although the documentary series dissects only the anatomy of songs, I’d love it if they extrapolated this format in future, taking the “explode” concept into other art forms like novel writing or painting.

Typically, as outside observers of art, we see only the end result and then interpret the story without guidance as to how the creation process was undertaken.

SONG EXPLODER shows us this creative insight.

In my own pursuit of songwriting, and perhaps in your pursuit of whatever your passion might be, to see and hear the thought behind the creation is helpful. We like to see and hear stories where we can see ourselves reflected; this show does that.

Comfortingly, my quest to write songs seems surprisingly similar to those of the rich and famous in this show (Larry, you’re not rich or famous!).

Here’s the twist: in this week’s post I thought I would “explode” the production of a short instrumental sample that I recorded and mixed here in my home studio/office.

The piece is unpretentiously called Love Songs, from James Taylor’s 1975 album Gorilla (I popped another of Taylor’s instrumentals in a post a few weeks back). It’s a simple cover that packs a huge emotional tug for me.

Now I can’t give you the anatomy of the origin of the song itself since I didn’t write it, but I can offer you some insight into how I put it together on the recording front.

Home recording has thankfully become a relatively simple process with the incredible technology of today.

Someone with an interest and a few hundred dollars can make a musical recording that isn’t a huge leap from what was produced in high-end recording studios of 25 years ago using super-expensive equipment.

Let’s get started with my version of the song: the piece is instrumentally sparse… no bass guitar, no drums, no layers upon layers of additional instruments…. just a single simple acoustic guitar (my Martin DX1AE) and clarinet.

It took me about 5 or 6 hours of work (thank you COVID isolation) over 2 days to make this one minute instrumental happen.

My first job… listen closely to the song, read the music, and… practice.

I need to practice lots because the simpler – in the end – the music sounds to you, the better I know I’ve prepared.

The song is played in the key of D# minor or E♭minor. Some think of E♭as one of the saddest keys, expressing the dark night of the soul. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Simon and Garfunkle’s Sounds of Silence are all in E♭minor.

See if this piece gives you a sensation of bittersweet… maybe longing or melancholy. I know I’m drawn to music that conveys a sadness. (Hmmmm… Larry, you should really see a therapist…).

Once I had the guitar part largely nailed, I began recording on my 24 track digital recording studio, a Tascam DP24SD.

With all its buttons and sliders, the Tascam looks a bit scary and pretty complicated, but can be used reasonably well with a manual in hand and about 10-20 hours of time.

I set up two mics for recording the single guitar; two so that I can “pan” the sound of each, one slightly coming from your left, and one from your right, so it gives a stereo kind of sound as if you were in a concert hall.

It took about 15 “takes” of recording this very short piece into the Tascam because little buzzes and guitar goofs (Guitarist error!) creep in, especially so when you know in your mind that you’re recording. It’s a terrible head game.

OK, next. I transfer the guitar recording into my Mac computer with a USB connector cable. I then transfer the file into a software program that comes free with all Mac desktop computers called GARAGEBAND. The price is definitely right…

GARAGEBAND allows me to make all sorts of mystical musical manipulations.

I could take these guitar files and transform the piece into a screaming rock anthem fit for Queen if I chose to, but this boy ain’t much of a rocker so… not today!

I take each of the 2 guitar parts and give them a slightly different tone… one with a touch of echo, the other more plain and unadorned. I tilt one to the left speaker, the other to the right, and then add some reverb (vibration) and compression for a richer sound.

Now the real digital fun begins. GARAGEBAND provides me with an orchestra or band full of instruments that I can add in quite easily. I choose clarinet for this song because… well… that’s what James Taylor used, although his clarinet was made by human breath and talent.

Using the keys on my keyboard, I go through the song and “play” the clarinet part as if my keyboard was a piano, with each key a different note.

But… yikes, I make a few mistakes (OK… lots… OK… TONS!)… typos truly. Mercifully, the software is forgiving. It allows me to magically change the length and/or pitch of every note I’ve typed in, one by one.

An hour or so of patient notation manipulation and I have the clarinet part the way I’d like. Whew!

Now, the downside, and there is a downside sadly… the digital clarinet isn’t as tonally beautiful as a skilled clarinet’est… the vibrato and smooth contours I’d love to detect in the playing isn’t achievable, at least not with this free software package. Did I mention the price was right?

I now go through the whole piece as one and adjust the EQ (not the Emotional Quotient, it’s Equalization)… the basses, mid-ranges, and treble to a sound I like.

The final step is popping in a simple fade-out at the end so it finishes up smooth and warm like fine bourbon on your palate.

BAM! That’s how it’s made… EXPLODED!!

If you made it this far, congratulations and thanks for staying with me.

I hope you’re ready to listen. Here goes… LOVE SONGS

PAPER ROSE – The Song

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In days past when we gathered in groups and sat close beside each other (remember those days?), there was a bi-weekly Open Mic at a small re-conditioned church cum Gelateria in Oliver, BC called Medicis, owned and run by a friend of mine, David.

We would head down to Medicis once a month on a Friday evening and I would perform my three allotted songs.

The place was cozily warm and comfortable with about a dozen or 15 tables scattered about, an inviting atmosphere to play or to listen (think Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe).

One of the really fun parts of attending this was to see and listen to other performers. Listening to their songs, their style, while watching their frayed nervousness or professional polish, was a highlight of the night.

We listened to many dozens of musicians over a few years, but only a few performers really stand out in my mind. There was the: really good, the really bad, and the eccentrics, of which there was no paucity.

One of those eccentrics was an elderly lady with a sweet temperament and a very folksy presence on stage.

I called her Paper Rose which I’ll explain more about in a moment.

She would climb the three creaky stairs to the stage holding her guitar, smiling somewhat shyly out at the audience as she fumbled to slide the guitar’s strap over her head.

Her physical appearance was strikingly reminiscent of Minnie Pearl, the flower-hatted lady on the old TV show HEE HAW, her voice a bit less shrill. And yes, she actually wore a flowered, round-rimmed straw hat, sans dangling price tag!

Once settled a bit, she would begin to tell in expansive detail a narrative of her recent life and health issues. This could go on for some minutes.

In many cases it might irritate an audience to listen to her go on, but her engaging manner just endeared her to us.

By the time she began to play her guitar and sing, the audience was rooting for her, no matter what she sang.

And after seeing her on more than one occasion, it became clear that one of the 3 songs she would always sing was Paper Roses (made most famous in 1973 by Marie Osmond).

Invariably, halfway through the song, “Rose” would lose track of the chords on her guitar and stop playing mid-stride in apparent embarrassment.

She would try one chord and hum a bit, try another chord and hum some more… then the audience (maybe slightly lubricated by this time) would begin to pick up the well-known tune and sing aloud until she just joined back in without any guitar accompaniment.

At the end of the song, a great burst of applause would ring out. Rose would beam in her awshucks folksy way.

Rose may or may not be alive today, I don’t know. I hope so.

I only know that she was adorable and adored.

The following song lyrics I’ve written are an ode, an homage, to the sweet lady that invariably brought a smile to your face… a lady that I call Paper Rose because of this song that she sang.

(NB. Following these lyrics, you will find a new song recording I’m pleased to share…)

PAPER ROSE

by Larry Green

These old church steps are harder to climb
guess it’s a telltale sign
my heart’s grown so weak and tired
the doctor says, “watch your fire
you can’t do everything you desire”
then reaching the top stair a quiet voice draws close
“Sing your song Paper Rose.”

Medicis’ door swings open wide
I’m not so crippled when I come here to hide
but I’m not feeling too good of late
just a whispery shadow of a merciful fate
light upon the smile in my eye
my dancing heart that soon may die
the stage is calling “Sing your song Paper Rose”

CHORUS
Paper Rose, Paper Rose
you’ve shown me this mirror
this window of life
I’ll thank you for singing
I hear Angels singing
I’ll exit this stage with my Paper Rose

Wood floor warm, full of innocence again
sparked to make memories and preserve them
Strum this first chord on my guitar
house holding out to me their dance card
Kind David babysits over the gelato counter
hear my heart it’s fluttering fast
I search to find the song of my past

“These strings just won’t tune” I babble
struggle and giggle, peer up and prattle
adjust my Minnie Pearl hat to where it belongs
Can I remember the darn words to my favourite song?
the song I always sing, that song I always sing
I’ve got it, that mysterious ghost
The words, the music for my Paper Rose

“Oh dear my friends I’ve lost my chords”
burning flush pouring through my pores
wiggle and squirm “oh I’m clumsy as an ox”
Losing my smile on the ragged wrecked rocks
then musical words rise aloud from the house
as they sing along on a moment’s notice
Sweet Lord, “Paper Roses, Paper Roses…”

BRIDGE
The party’s growing wan
the band still plays on
little girl in the photo withering

CHORUS
Paper Rose, Paper Rose
you’ve shown me this mirror
this window of life
I’ll thank you for singing
I can hear Angels singing
I’ll exit this stage with my Paper Rose

…………………………

I’m proud to share this next song with you.

An eternity ago, at the start of the COVID isolation, I got together with a long-time musical collaborator of mine, Marie Delmaire. As a duo, we perform publicly as Green Sea Âmes, a nod to each of our last names and Marie’s birthplace of France.

We recorded this lovely song called GREEN EYES. The song was written in 1982 by American folksinger Kate Wolf. Wolf died a mere 4 years later of leukemia at the age of 44.

I hope you like it.

GREEN EYES

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