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O Fir (Goodness Sakes) Tree…

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O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Not only green in summer’s heat,
But also winter’s snow and sleet.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.
Each year you bring to us delight
With brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like… celebration time for some of the Abrahamic religions, Christmas being the observance I grew up surrounded by…

Now for the past few years, each December I’ve taken on the task of learning a finger-picking guitar version of a Christmas song or carol, and publishing my meagre efforts here on the MOTF.

Last year I added slightly countrified versions of Christmas For Cowboys and Silent Night to my repertoire, the year before it was Greensleeves (What Child Is This), and the year prior, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas… you get the idea.

This year I’ve been working on another, O Christmas Tree, whose secular, modern lyrics entitled O Tannenbaum were written in 1824 by the Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz.

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

I have a deep affection for Christmas music in general (Boney M versions excepted!), and the season gives me the push I need to hone my guitar skills while finding a musical piece that brings me inner satisfaction and yes… peace.

However, the results of my efforts this year haven’t been coming along as smoothly as I had hoped, and I’m not prepared to share the imperfect recordings I’ve been able to manage so far… but…

… you know that there’s usually a but in my posts, yes? Well, here it is…

My BUT today is that in place of the music recording I’d intended, I’d like to share a bit of the story behind the making of the song O Tannenbaum, translated from German into the English version most of us know today as O Christmas Tree.

Alrighty then, let’s dig in…

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The Year: 1820. The Place: What we know today as Germany.

Ludvig van Beethoven was studiously hard at work on his last 3 sonatas, with only 7 years remaining before his death.

At the same time, a love song, “O Tannenbaum“, was written by August Zarnack (1777-1827), teacher and director of the Potsdam military orphanage.

Tannenbaum is literally translated into English as Fir Tree.

At the beginning of Zarnack’s song, which is designed as a man’s lament for love, the fir tree is invoked as a symbol of fidelity, which stands in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the “girl” he mentions in the second stanza.

Zarnack continued an older tradition of drawing the melody from earlier folk songs which had been published in Munich in 1642 in which the fir tree symbolically stood for fidelity due to its evergreen needles. The song? “O Dannenbaum/O Dannenbaum”

In 1824, Leipzig teacher Ernst Anschütz (1780-1861) issued his “Musikalisches Schulgesangbuch” a rewriting of Zarnack’s Dannenbaum song that was more adapted to children’s mouths: he re-shaped the love song – while retaining the first verse – into a Christmas carol. Yes, it began as a second-hand song… combine, mix, blend. Idea Sex was alive even then!

Anschütz (below) based his poetic text on a 16th-century Silesian folk song by Melchior Franck, “Ach Tannenbaum“.

Ernst Anschütz

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This is probably the first known song that creates a connection between the Christmas tree and Christmas.

With the development of middle-class Christmas traditions, the custom of the decorated Christmas tree found its way into living rooms of the 19th century, and the song came to be seen as a Christmas carol.

The modified beginning of the song “O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, How lovely are your branches!” that is common today wasn’t yet documented in the 19th century, but became increasingly used.

Anschütz’s version still had treu (true, faithful) as the adjective describing the fir’s leaves (needles), harking back to the contrast to the faithless maiden of the folk song. This was changed to grün (green) at some point in the 20th century, after the song had come to be associated with Christmas.

Both the love song and the Christmas carol continued on through the 1800’s although the reception history of the two Tannenbaum songs was different.

Up to the First World War, Zarnack’s love song was more common than the Anschütz Christmas carol version in books of folk songs, a trend that quickly reversed.

Following the Second World War, the song with Zarnack’s text was only published sporadically, while the Anschütz Christmas carol then experienced its widest distribution, which continues to this day.

The O Christmas Tree melody was also adapted internationally.

The poem “Maryland, My Maryland”, written by James Ryder Randall (1839-1908) in April 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, was published a short time later in a setting by the German-born Charles W. A. Ellerbrock as a piano-accompanied song. In 1939, “Maryland, My Maryland” became the official “state song” of the US state of Maryland. Today, 4 U.S. States use the melody of O Tannenbaum for their official state songs.

In 1889 in London, Jim Connell (1852–1929) wrote the workers’ song “The Red Flag“, which, with its Christmas tree melody, became one of the most well-known anthems of the international workers’ movement in the 20th century.

In tandem with these melody adaptations, the Christmas carol itself was recorded in translated form in many countries. There are several different English versions – such as “O Christmas Tree” (1926) by H. Brueckner – and a French version called “Mon Beau Sapin“.

The song is also appreciated in its original German language in some countries. In a more recent Japanese songbook, the German Christmas carol is even reproduced in a phonetic transcription.

O Tannenbaum also enjoys popularity in Canada and the US, where in autumn 2001 it was parodied as “O Taliban” against President HW Bush and distributed on the Internet.

Numerous German-language song parodies/propagandas are documented for the 20th century. Among the flood of war songs published between 1914 and 1918 there is “Hindenburglied” (“O Hindenburg! O Hindenburg! How beautiful are your victories!”) to the Christmas tree melody.

To no one’s surprise, the advertising industry has also taken advantage of the high level of awareness of the Christmas carol. Look to Walmart with Celine Dion or Corona beer‘s use of the music for its O TannenPalm commercial…

Yes, Celine and Corona lend a great modern holiday twist that Ernst Anschütz could have only dreamed of in 1824 when he penned his iconic tune… Beethoven would be so jealous, especially since his picture was never on a bubblegum card (Good grief, Charlie Brown…)!

O Fir (Goodness Sakes) Tree

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Oxymorons

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Gotta love the word… OXYMORON…

While its true meaning is funny in itself, the word (an excellent Scrabble point’s grabber)- to me – implies an idiot catching his breath.

Whatever… the important thing is I laugh when I hear the word.

The word is derived from two ancient Greek words: oxys, which means “sharp,” and moronos, which means “dull” or “stupid.” Yes, even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron!

The days are getting oh-so-short here in Slumberland… the weather is way-out-of-character cold… and I’m sweeping the dust bunnies out of the nooks and crannies of my noggin searching for a hidden challenge … something to invigorate my snow-globe clouded mind… because, as you know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

So, to drag myself up, up, and away into the blue skies of mental magic today, I’ve decided to write a simply complex oxymoronic tale, a silly, bittersweet story of incredibly bad dialogue, terrible plot-lines, and sad attempts at oxymoron’isms. Properly ridiculous, would you say?

The hills are alive, let’s go twerking in the Austrian Alps…

The Silliest Sounds of Music

Good grief“, she uttered through the clamorous hubbub of 7 excited children, staring off into the distance, dreaming of a warm holiday, perhaps the French Riviera or southern Spain… this was nothing like the working vacation she had envisioned coming into this bone-chilling Austrian winter.

Maria would sooner be a happily disgruntled nun than look after this unruly band of Butt-Heads, this small crowd of hoodlums otherwise known as the Von Trapp children.

Did the Captain even have the foggiest notion in his unconscious awareness that 16-going-on-17 Liesl was sneaking out at night to earn tips sliding and shimmying as a pole dancer in the Salzburg Barrel Haus? Yes, fellows WERE falling in line, those eager young lads, rogues and cads who were offering her food and wine, and much much more.

Months before, when Mother Superior told Maria, implored her really – in a detailed summary – of the opportunity to shed her habit and become a student teacher of sorts, she jumped at the chance. After all, it was an open secret at the abbey that Maria was a devout atheist.

Perhaps, thought cheerful pessimist Mother Superior, nannying a gaggle of defiant ragamuffins and a curmudgeonly Captain would help Maria to climb ev’ry mountain, ford ev’ry stream and find God.

Some of her sister nuns saw this as seriously funny, while others cast their eyes upon her in a pretty ugly way.

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But how had Maria ever ended up in a secluded Catholic convent, this place of sweet sorrow, where desperate freezer burnt women huddled in endless, quiet prayer?

It was old news that the Nazis had plans to forcefully conscript members of the Austrian militia to aid in their efforts to control the entire planet.

Before entering the convent, Maria had belonged to a militant pacifist group, a small crowd of bohemians that believed an Austrian civil war could be avoided, if they could only convince the general population to adopt a peaceful resistance of intense apathy. The unsophisticated group firmly believed that doing nothing could be the saviour of the motherland of Austria, at least until the Nazis took brutal control.

Maria had clearly misunderstood the mood of the populace.

Loud whispers grew in the underground faction, of her naive complicity with the German invaders and other ne’er-do-wells. With each passing day, she could feel the walls closing in upon her and her pacifist movement; if nothing was done soon, she would likely end up behind bars, perhaps even disappear like so many others she had heard of, in the night.

You must hide yourself away from these slimy Nazi bastards“, implored her equally-naive freund Gertrude with a sad smile. “They will steal your guitar and your do-re-mi… I read a wonderful little story by some English playwright the other day who said, ‘Get thee to a Nunnery!’. I think this is fine advice. Take your guitar and skip away Maria.” It seemed her only choice.

In the dark morning light when the co-conspirator Austrian police and German army officers crashed through her door to arrest her, a deafening silence could be heard as the police realized she had absconded.

Drat“, they exclaimed, Maria had been found missing. She truly was a wise fool they collectively agreed, as they nibbled on jumbo shrimp sent along by the wife of one of the police lieutenants.

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Time was running out and Maria and the Von Trapp family soon found themselves between a soft rock and a hard place. Both the Austrian police and the German army declared that climbing trees while wearing gaudy curtains was tantamount to treason and would be punishable by internment in a travelling marionette show run by lonely goat-herders.

Though the Captain had recently been in ill health, the family knew the writing was on the wall. Escape was their only avenue.

In order to raise the funds needed to mount a hike over the snow-covered Alps in the dead of winter, Maria and the Captain signed a contract for a live recording of their journey with a reality show producer that Liesl had met while lap dancing at the Barrel Haus.

This terribly good tale of the VonTrapp family comes to a close as we view a drone-shot of the group, twirling and singing in melancholy merriment as they traipse through waist-deep snow, like frozen zombies of The Walking Dead, enroute to Switzerland and lucrative deals with Swiss Chocolate and Watch makers.

  • Fade to black

SKELLIG LULLABY – The Song

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Awe and Amazement.

There are only a few breathtaking and spiritual sites I’ve been to in the world that have left me with a hangover…

… a lingering sense of wonderment and near incredulity of the power – not always beneficial – of human struggle, labour, and aspiration.

I think of visits to Machu Picchu (Peru), the Terra Cotta Warriors (China)… and most recently… an island in the Atlantic, Skellig Michael (Ireland).

None of these are spectacular natural wonders like Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef, or the Northern Lights.

These are constructs of human imagination and toil – toil by thousands of living souls in the cases of Machu Picchu and the Terra Cotta Warriors, but in the Skellig Michael instance, exertions by a mere 13 souls (at any one time) over 600 years, from about 600 CE to 1200 CE.

A grouping of 13 Augustinian monks migrated to the 22 hectare (54 acres) island about 12 km. off the southwest coast of Ireland to create a monastery from which to praise God.

The rocky island is defined by its twin peaks and intervening valley (known as Christ’s Saddle) which make its landscape steep and inhospitable.

Six hundred upward steps from the ocean, these monks built a stone monastery situated near the peak of the crag about 180 m (550 to 600 ft).

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The island is of special interest to archaeologists, since the monastery and outbuildings are in unusually good condition. And for 180 fortunate travellers each day during spring and summer – when weather allows – a boat trip and hike up the treacherously steep steps to the monastery is a pilgrimage into the past.

This is a journey that I, my wife Maureen, and my daughter and her partner undertook this summer. (see post I wrote earlier)

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And now… to bring all of this into lyric and song… a lullaby, for the past and the present of this magnificent rock jutting from the depths of the Atlantic off the County Kerry coast of Ireland…

SKELLIG LULLABY

by Larry Green

Rest in your rocky bed

pilgrims of god’s command

perceive the ocean’s lapping lilt 

where only rock and wind withstands 

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These spikes of Kerry rock

this hidden hav’n discovered

mere 13 souls, a million birds

escape the sins of humanity suffered

CHORUS 

Today we trod this fearsome cliff

hearts dance to hymns of awe

watch clouds shift watch colours drift

each minute stands alone

brushed o’er

the medieval lens of yesteryear 

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As little dolls in children’s beds 

the wings, the coos of puffins 

through grey and shrouded mist

great gannets soar, in so many hundreds

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But in the dreamer’s sound 

I hear the breath of faithful toilers

piling stone with consecrated care

rising ever upwards upwards to the cloister

BRIDGE

Aristobulus conveyed them here

through plagues and pagan tales

6 centuries travails

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Ah, the mysteries of humanity

each rocky step’s salvation 

embracing faith and obedience

abiding isolation, bearing desolation

CHORUS 

Today we trod this fearsome cliff

hearts dance to hymns of awe

watch clouds shift watch colours drift

each minute stands alone

brushed o’er

the medieval lens of yesteryear 




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NB. A recently released historical fiction book, entitled HAVEN, by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue (author of ROOM and THE WONDER), highlights the monks’ story of Skellig Michael

THE MAP OF LIFE – The Song

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Introspection, retrospection,

genuflection, crunch

Ice cream soda, Lemonade punch

Tell me the name, Of my honey-bunch

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Yes, go back, way back, to the playground of your youth… to the skipping rope of life.

It can be fun to reflect on the childish, gigglish stuff we did as kids.

Those carefree summer days with popsicles and ice cream trucks, swings and teeter-totters (see-saws if you prefer), baseball bats and Barbies, Slinkys and Yo-Yo’s.

Those early days ever so slowly morph into teenage, then young adult, perhaps parenting years… speeding up into late adulthood and seniorhood… racing into elderly dawns… following the map of life.

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Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.” – Confucius

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The GPS that directs us is largely in our hands to determine.

A million choices, a billion decisions and forks in the road – the expected and unexpected – the exhilarating and tragic – that guide us forward.

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Travel [Life] isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Today, in my quest forward as a lyricist and songwriter, I’ve taken the metaphor of life as a journey and a map, a series of roads and crossroads to travel, taking us on the wild and mysterious ride of our existence.

We spend our days looking forwards and backwards, looking inwards. Sometimes we coast along smoothly, contentedly… sometimes we feel empty, confused, and lost.

From a songwriting perspective, a major contributor to the emotional push and pull of a song is the tune and rhythm that guides the words. The “prosody” effect is critical to the enjoyment of a song.

Musically, I can hear this song set in a similar tempo and “drive” as Dire Strait’s Sultans of Swing… feel the rhythm of the road beneath you as you motor along…

So buckle yourself in and let’s go for a drive…

The Map of Life

by Larry Green

Drive the highways
drive the backroads
fill my trunk with
whatever it holds
Open the glovebox 
pull out the map
savour spring's lilacs
the map of my life

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red light, yellow light, green light, go
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The asphalt is strewn
sometimes it's clear
look over the fields
scan all I revered
Open the windows
and look in the mirror
survey the map
the map of my life
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red light, yellow light, green light, go
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CHORUS

Pull out the pages
let the wind tease my hair
Lucky souls, lovers and friends
dribbled through the ages
stain the map of many bends
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red light, yellow light, green light, go
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Now where are the rivers,
the crossroads, the balladeers
the accidents and lawgivers
green lights and the quitters
Peer ahead through the windshield
thru mornings thru sunsets
for the lights of the diner
shining on the map of my life
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red light, yellow light, green light, go

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

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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…

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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

.

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

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