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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

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

…………

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

……….

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

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:

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

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.

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