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GoodDay GoodNight

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There’s nothing lovely or sentimental about a car crash (or a helicopter crash). They’re crushing and painful.

But in music, the bittersweet can be fabulous.

Most of us are drawn into sad songs as a way of dealing with our own sadnesses and knowing that others have experienced and felt the same…

I’m not a religious guy (surprise!), but I’m currently in love with a song… a set of lyrics playing on the country charts these days. It’s called Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Askin’), written by a talented young Canadian singer/songwriter Tenille Townes.

If I ever get to Heaven
You know I got a long list of questions
Like how do You make a snowflake?
Are You angry when the Earth quakes?
How does the sky change in a minute?
How do You keep this big rock spinnin’?
And why couldn’t You stop that car from crashin’?
Forgive me, I’m just askin'”

There are big questions we all have… monster-sized questions we’ll never truly know the answers to… I won’t be so arrogant as to tell you that your religious beliefs are wrong or swear that my lack of belief is right … I won’t boldly declare there is no heaven … nor hell…

But I will share my words that mark the final seconds of a life and wherever those moments take one…

Note the simple rhyme scheme… a new one for me in lyric writing.

day to night.

GOODDAY GOODNIGHT

by Larry Green

when your last breath sighs
sense the closing of your eyes
once you’ve murmured your last goodbye
heard your final baby’s cries
had all the high 5’s
lived enough years to say you’re wise
passed the tests stripped the disguise
lost the game sometimes but won the prize
Paradise

been to weddings, worn the bow ties
dipped in water been baptized
thought long and hard about euthanize
camped in forests bit by horseflies
watched the dipsy-doodle magpies
topped the CN Tower high rise
cooked some meals ate tons of fries
tasted apples Ambrosia and Sunrise
Paradise

college days spent learning blood types
years before I knew differences between bytes and disk drives
drawn in by girlish wares and fantasize
wore out jeans both Lee’s and Levi’s
drank too much beer so so unwise
scanned the northern lights in inky skies
strummed guitars and lyricized
met the girl and crooned the lullabies
Paradise

it’s chilly now on my glassy eyes
sailing back to days of mud-pies
swinging bats and catching pop-flies
street hockey games choosing sides
Heinz poured thick on Mom’s chicken potpies
steamy days steamy nights in Julys
evening breezes float cicadas and dragonflies
newspapers tossed for daily exercise
Paradise

CHORUS

GoodDay GoodNight
final frame unfrozen
running into the sun
GoodDay GoodNight

lantern

Summer Boys’ Prayer – The Song

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Beach Boys.jpg

Well east coast girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear…

.

January in the Great White North… This is a time of year (in Canada at least, no crazed Aussie wildfires here) where bone-chilling temperatures and piled up banks of snow make many of us so-called Brave Northerners actually pine for warm tropical beaches and … as we kick the snow off our boots …

… musically… a slingshot release to the warm halcyon days of summer, short-sleeves and bikini-on-the-beach kinda songs … the idealistic Beach Boys kind of music.

Light, breezy, romantic, carefree, fun … and in my mind at least, filled with incredible harmonies, lots of reverb, and Fender Rickenbacker and Stratocaster electric guitars.

And the Northern girls with the way they kiss
They keep their boyfriends warm at night

This week’s set of lyrics is my ode to what we might think of as simpler and arousing formative times … the awakening of puberty …

… simpler times when one of the joys of this young boy’s summer was lingering with a couple of friends at the school playground across the field from my house where we could hear the nearby crack of baseball bats hitting balls and the smell of newly cut grass filled our noses.

Not yet old enough to drive, we’d head to the park after supper around 6:30 or 7 at night and hang out at the swings and monkey bars, anxiously waiting for a pair or threesome of our favourite sweet lasses to arrive at the “meeting place”.

boy and girl on swings.jpg

Sometimes they’d show and sometimes not, but either way, the childhood, child-like anticipation of the great titillating flirt-to-come was deliciously exciting and naughty.

I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls

So let’s get to the childhood fun while the gettin’s hot!

SUMMER BOYS’ PRAYER

by Larry Green

Better hurry now
cuz the sun is getting low
and the girls we know have to be home
before the streetlights start to show

My two pals and me
grab the patch by the swings
make sure we have our fav spots laid out
get our best chance for a summertime fling

Racy game of anticipating
swearing out stories while we’re waiting
they know we’re here baying at the moon
they know we’re preying and hope they’ll be here soon

Just Summer boys
Wishin’ and dreamin’
in the church of passionate hopes
where pipe dreams are playin’
that’s our summer boys’ prayer
the summer boys’ prayer

There’s a flowery scent in their hair
at this sticky air time of the year
with rumours that drive us lads crazy
we’re workin’ real hard to get past maybe

Renato loves Adele’s brunette bob
I dream of how Cathy’s long blonde falls
And Frank well he just doesn’t care
cuz if they’re cute he digs them all

Bridge

Blood heads to new places
inside there’s a heat to this stirring…

Just Summer boys
Wishin’ and dreamin’
in the church of passionate hopes
where pipe dreams are playin’
that’s our summer boys’ prayer
the summer boys’ prayer

boy girl flirt

Sensuous Solstice

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NEW YEAR … old RUTS! Begone!!

rut stuck.jpg

I get stuck in the “rut” of trying to always write song lyrics that recite a story of some sort… what I think of as Harry Chapin songwriting… a narrative that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

It’s not a bad thing at all, but I think an assortment of approaches is good too…. would you agree?

Ruts in any endeavour, any area of our lives, are a monotony danger, and certainly one I rush away from the furrow’s edge in the other direction to avoid.*run away screaming*

Easier said than done though.

Freshness and new approaches help maintain an active and energized mind, an inner enthusiasm, a mini-orgasm of excitement …

This week, in another of my ongoing series of musical lyric blogs, I’m avoiding the “rut”, the story approach, and aiming for a less narrative-directed, more sense-based set of musical poetry.

When I think of airy, sensual music, a couple of examples come to me like Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic, or almost anything by Leonard Cohen.

Or how about a more recent feathery song I’ve been drawn to by a group of talented young musicians called Darlingside and their song, Hold Your Head Up High

How it rambles ’round the moon
A let-go-of balloon
Nothing is forever, everything is soon
And my father as he stands
A perfect cartoon man
Heavy-sighed and open-eyed, I heard him speak
Hold your head up high
Hold your head up high

Rise it up, it’s fine terrain
The time will come again
And misery’s no rest for weary gentlemen
See that humankind is you
Like all the rest, down to
The scratches on the album that you’re singing to
Hold your head up high
Hold your head up high

Through the light and through the shadow
I won’t wait it out, wait it out

So let’s get started here.

A part of our annual cosmic adventure is the ebb and flow of solstices. Solstices are markers of our time, the seasons of our lives. Solstices are important to me.

I feel an acute inner dread as we pass by the summer solstice and set out towards shorter, cooler, autumn and winter days…

… and then finally one day, the magic of winter solstice arrives and the excitement of longer days grabs me affectionately by the shirt collar and tugs me forward … forward to spring and the advent of new birth, new life bursting from the soil.

Enough said … here is my sense-based lyrical ode to the passage of winter solstice.

solstice

SIDES OF SOLSTICE

by Larry Green

smoky hue autumn brew
fizz pop proof of
luge rushing into December’s funnel
grasping winter’s tunnel
this icy pull of magnet pole
slippery tilt and earthly roll

dwarfed days charcoal skies
azure sinew patches carved with penknives
Charlie Brown sugar snowflakes taste
angel arms shivered and braced
smell the eggnog, sip the wine
push hard and harder at sun’s lowly climb

let’s hail this day this morning prize
as tiny ship sails o’er horizon sky
our worldly home comes creaking back
slow on slow escape this astral sandtrap

red hue yellow blue
emerald leafy proof of
running shoes by crocus bloom
discarded fleece Beach Boy tunes
light eons remain to harvest moon
sweet naked arms and torso too

weary, turns refreshed by days
robins and cicadas take flight and chase
bright shadows no longer freezing
perfume-infused dandelion breezing
the time that comes again again
forever comes again

let’s hail this day this morning prize
as tiny ship sails o’er horizon sky
our worldly home comes creaking back
slow on slow escape this astral sandtrap

dandelion.jpg

Lost Christmas

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NYC Killing 2019

Like a straight-line, linear graph (this is my lab background rearing its ugly head) …

… emotional intensity rises as we inch closer to Christmas.

Must be all that Harking and Jingling and O Holy’ing

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the tragic. The amplification soars.

I feel this intensity every year… my emotional core was struck deeply this past week by the news of a senseless cold-blooded murder of a young woman – a daughter, a sister, a student, a musician – in a New York City park.

Any parent will tell you that likely the most gut-wrenching and worrisome part of bringing children INTO the world, is still being alive to usher them OUT OF the world.

Nothing can prepare us for this.

Although I once experienced a close call many years back, I can only pretend to understand the inner devastation that cuts into a mother or father for the remainder of their days, upon the loss of a child.

So, as a kind of catharsis, I’ve “penned” a set of lyrics this week leading up to Christmas, that attempts to capture a bit of the heartbreak in losing a child, like the family of Tessa Majors … the unexpected, the shock, the despair.

Crimson Christmas

CRIMSON CHRISTMAS   (A Parent’s Lament)

by Larry Green

INTRO:

If she wasn’t young and pretty
would they care?
If he wasn’t an agitated kid dressed out in civvies
would they care?
Are thoughts and prayers enough for us
to show they care… when
the past is our only gift left to unwrap

Verse 1

Silver bells and mistletoe laugh
why would she walk those steps
in darkness alone?
gaudy glittered trees and romantic chaff
frosty wreathes over blood-stained snow
our goodbye epitaph

Verse 2

What ghostly happenstance
brought her to this savage moment
this chain of devil’s chance
from a day of season’s fa-la-la’s
from a life crammed full of plans

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

Verse 3

Her jacket torn and gashed askew
down feathers fill the evening sky
her heart that lost its beat
her bro that’s lost his feet
her guitar left deathly quiet

Verse 4

There’s little left inside this shell
please god I’ll bare my chest with glee
slash me deep to spare her tears
Crush my face in gravelled snow
I’ll forgo life’s wine and years

Bridge

Our morning seems to never come
Snow angels turn your heads in shame… while…

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

… and the past is our only gift left to unwrap.

tessa guitar

majors family

The Investment Magic of Writing…

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
poet Mary Oliver

…………………..

music magic

I’m trying to become a musical magician but it hurts like an August sunburn…

I was a huge fan of Elton John in his early years… Yellow Brick Road, Candle In The Wind, Love Lies Bleeding, Tiny Dancer, Your Song… tons more.

Honestly though, much of Bernie Taupin’s lyrical imagery for John’s songs were beyond my ken (lack of hallucinogenic stimulants?) …

back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad…

What the hell is that? Intriguing, yes…

I dreamed and schemed of wearing weird multi-hued eyeglasses in my teens as if that would make me a super songwriter… NOPE!

Alright, eyeglasses aren’t the magical secret. So what is?

elton john glasses.jpg

Good writing, whether prose, poetry, lyrics, or music is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that conjures magic from the ether.

But like any magic, it isn’t really magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand.

Good writing is hard work and when it reads or sounds easy to our ears and eyes, I know the crafter has worked the hardest of all.

Hemingway and Stephen King and Shakespeare and JK Rowling were/are no slouches at the art of writing. Imagination, imagery, metaphor.

Lennon and McCartney, JS Bach, Paul Simon, Antonio Vivaldi dedicated 10,000 hours and beyond to their efforts.

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field… Paul Simon (America) 

Paul Simon takes us on a emotional journey in 8 lines of verse where the initial fun and exuberance of young love fades as they pass over the landscape… it’s simplicity that likely took him a month or more to write.

He could have told us the same story in 4 lines filled with cliche and “you and me” directness but instead filled our minds with storybook images.

………………………….

… magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand …

………………………….

Pretty much any of us can get lucky and write something of quality… something that’s meaningful and memorable… once.

Almost any person can line up a tee shot once in their life and hit a hole-in-one. But can they replicate it? Play the Vegas slots enough and one day a big winner will likely come your way. Once.

But the writers and musicians that make me want to kiss them and raise their children, are those that work past the “lucky” stage and consistently find ways of speaking to us that engage our head and our heart.

I used to think that inspiration was the key. So wrong.

Inspiration is a lazy verb… hell, it’s not EVEN a verb… how slothful is that?

David Ben, a former Toronto tax lawyer turned magician, has been an entertainer for almost 40 years and says he still rehearses several hours each day. Inspiration through dogged rehearsal.

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel the same.

Inspiration is the feverish result of watching and listening and dreaming and pushing and pulling.

There’s an inquisitiveness aspect to magic-making where we drill in closely at a microscopic level trying to understand what it is that makes something work.

I’ve always been far too lazy or disinterested to understand how a car engine truly functions, or how a sail catches the wind in just the right way. I’d spend my 10,000 hours of learning in a bored-out-of-my-tree haze.

I hunger for magic that makes me jump up and down.

I unearth that feeling when I’m typing words, or picking out guitar notes.

But the inspiration usually only comes with time investment, which is really good for me as I jump up and down when I think of investment.

For the past two years I’ve invested time and thoughtful energy into a song, a song that I publicly previewed for the first time at an Open Mic in Oliver last night.

Two years investment. One song. Three musical minutes.

And it’s an investment – based on a lifetime of learning – that I look at… and as so often like with my financial investments, the end result isn’t quite as rich as I would like.

But that’s just being greedy.

It’s not the wondrous magic filled with fireworks that I dreamed of, but it is magic lite. 

And magical writing – wondrous or lite – is a process that goes nowhere without the sweat equity that makes any investment prosperous.

All these years later I’m still trying to become a musical magician, and damn if it still doesn’t hurt like an August sunburn…

 

Paper Rose photo (1).jpg

 

 

 

Money, Music, and Confidence

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Baby pullup

Certain things come easy in life. Other things hard. Sound familiar?

There are intersections that bring together my areas of interest and passion, encouraging and reinforcing the sensation of confidence.

Money and music are areas of ease and comfort for me… like the sensation of wearing a warm knitted cardigan on my outdoor deck on a mild spring day like today, crayola-yellow sunshine filtering through the wool into my skin, red-winged blackbird trills and chickadee chirps ringing me in a quiet, happy symphony.

Of course to complete this bucolic scene, a waft of fragrant cigar smoke from a Cuban Calixto is the topper. You can close your eyes, feel divine prickling down your spine, and know that there is heaven in the air.

Money and music feed my confidence.

First, Money.

While never in huge supply in my world (do you have enough? is there ever enough?), money has played a part in most of my life choices since I was a wispy little paperboy tossing rolled up Hamilton Spectator newspapers at the front doorsteps of east Hamilton denizens.

larry-spec-carrier-tiff

These early indications of my 10 year-old lad’s interest in investing have coursed through my veins, like a lively Riverdance, over the many years since.

I’m in a serene zone of comfort when I read annual reports and dig through financial statements. Yeah, I know, weird. Numbers’ nerd.

Maybe this is because professional earning capacity has never been one of my overwhelming goals, an arrow in my quiver.

I have complex fears of taking on jobs/careers that pay lofty salaries.

WTH? Well, it’s because an unease swells inside me like a nasty necrotizing fasciitis when Monday-to-Friday vocation impinges on my desire for flexibility and freedom.

I love making a positive contribution to our world, our economy, and the welfare of others, but I’ve always shrunk from becoming a minion to any one area of life, paid or otherwise.

Hence, the ability to have passive streams of income has been my target, the beautiful bullseye in my sights.

Passive income lets me exercise my ADHD “Madly Off In All Directions” bent of chasing diverse pathways, and still afford the occasional chocolate Fruit and Nut bar.

Investments in companies that produce a growing river of dividend payments are wonder drugs that alleviate the nagging anxiety of lack of flexibility or freedom.

Dollars that flow over the riverbanks into my bank account while I sleep are a sweet delicacy to be savoured, even though some days I sigh and wish the flood would speed up just a little bit.

Money Confidence.

Cat band

Next, Music.

Music too (not just listening, but playing too) has been a meandering thread throughout my life… sometimes tenuous and tentative, but always present like a quietly insistent heartbeat in the background.

In my early days, I sat in the basement of my family home while my teenage brother Gord and his pals set up their electric guitars and drumsets and pulsed out “(Sittin’ On The) Dock of the Bay” or “Satisfaction“. My brother’s friend Bill would let me play around on his baby-blue electric guitar when they took short breaks. Nirvana…

Soon, I was taking a few guitar lessons from a neighbourhood “Rocker”-lad with greasy-slicked hair. Next thing I knew, I was front and centre at the Glen Brae Junior High talent show crooning out a cover of the Bee Gees “Gotta Get A Message To You” on my very own electric guitar. I was hooked.

In my teen years, James Taylor, Carole King, Elton John, and John Denver seduced me while I learned acoustic picking, soothing my teenage fears and angst. You’ve Got A Friend was surely a song about my Yamaha guitar.

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

Music is a conversation I have with myself, and then I share it with others.

Learning and practicing music takes energy.

The conversation I have within my musical self can be difficult and complex and sometimes energy draining, but then the opposite happens when I share it.

Sharing our music is where energy is produced. I see it over and over again when performers come off the stage. I feel the energy myself. The endorphins are hurricane winds that can take a day or two to subside.

Music Confidence.

Little child girl plays superhero. Child on the background of su

For sure, confidence isn’t a blanket that spreads over all areas of my existence. It’s a patchwork.

Put me in front of a car motor in need of repair or maintenance and watch me shrivel and shrink like plastic wrap in a flame.

Set me in a room with math whizzes or history buffs and watch me stumble and fumble over concepts and intricacies.

Place me in a card game or at a chess board with moderately competent players and know that my lack of skill and aptitude will mark me as the sucker in a flash. 

Give me a basketball and ask me to throw 3-pointers. Watch as I toss airballs and rimshots over and over.

Lacking Confidence.

Confidence is a part of what we call Happiness… confidence feeds my self-esteem, my sense of control and competence.

The knowledge that we have skills and passions… money and music… or tennis and Italian cooking… or bowling and winemaking… or sewing and ultra-marathon running… or genealogy and Irish dancing… offers us the feeling of purpose that helps make our days more luminous, more intense, more meaningful.

Maybe one day… maybe… the making of music will become a minor money-maker for me. Nah, probably not…

… but it doesn’t really matter… because money investment and music ability each feed me in ways that build a stronger inner nucleus of confidence.

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Skills = Pleasure

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monkey violin.jpg

Skills & Pleasure.

I could be talking sex here… alright… I AM thinking sex here. But I’ll talk about something else, OK?

Guitar, cooking, writing, bartending, tennis, dancing, gardening, chess, biking, languages, investing, birdwatching, chocolate tasting. So many more…

Skills and knowledge; they elevate us and make us more as humans. Our lives are stories, and those areas where we thrive and grow and excel within are those that bring pleasure… and exhilaration to our story.

I crave endorphins. I love the rush, the feeling of ambrosia, beauty inside, excitement. I don’t get it from gambling in casinos, or buying lottery tickets, or injecting heroin.

I get it by doing and learning new skills.

I’m working on one right now that I never knew or even believed existed until recently.

I love playing my songs at Open Mic nights. I was on stage performing 4 songs last night: one I wrote, and one Harry Chapin tune for David because David loves ole Harry.

Harry Chapin.jpg

My Ole Friend Harry…

Sure, it scares me. Sure, loose bowels, yada yada… but I’m doing something I really really enjoy and it’s an intense learning experience.

I’m studying the art of reading the audience to suss out what works and what doesn’t. Stand-up comedians like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld do this all the time.

I used to think that playing the guitar reasonably well was my core strength – my manly muscle flex – and the singing part of my performance was something peripheral that folks just had to yawn about and tolerate to make the song complete.

At Open Mic I watch and wonder at Richard K. when he’s on stage. He’s an eccentric. He’s an unabashed performer, a Johnny Winter lookalike with a snowy white mane contrasted against classy black suit jacket and pants.

When Richard sings, he opens his mouth like a ferocious ocean storm, gaping wide and projecting from the calluses of his foot soles. Singing is Richard’s full body workout. It’s mesmerizing to watch as his voice pours out like a lion’s roar. I watch… and learn.

I’ve always regarded my own voice as mundane and choirboy-like, too buttery. I have dances in my dreams of parking some Kenny Rogers gravel or Keith Urban Down-Under twang in my throat.

But I’m finding that more and more often, I get compliments on my singing. Some of it is generous fatuous flattery.

However… lately… I’m coming around to the idea that there may be more to it.

EPIPHANY!

epiphany2

Now, I’m starting to unbelievably believe that it’s the singing that’s my strength.

Have you ever read or heard about Frank Sinatra, and how he made a song uniquely special with his pacing and delivery of the lyrics? Sinatra wrote the book on musical phrasing.

It didn’t mean anything to me when I heard that.  How could it be? It’s merely words sung to a melody line, right?… simple, straightforward.

But no other popular singer has ever known better the combined value of exacting diction and conversational delivery. No one before Sinatra seemed to know where the deliberate pause would paint the greatest emotional impact.

Sinatra was perhaps an intuitive musician, but he was also, I believe, an analytical, scientific singer too. He knew that to inflect a word or a syllable can shift the rhythm and increase the genuineness of a lyric, and can also wash attention over an especially attractive melodic phrase.

Subtlety. Nuance.

OK, so I’m a convert. Now I evangelize as if I wander the streets passing out Watchtower pamphlets. Hallelujah.

I’ve heard scads of singers who have pleasant voices and can stay on key and – OMG, if you can’t sing on key, please get off the stage and go join Boney M and drag your fingers down someone else’s blackboard – yet don’t understand musical phrasing.

Roberta Flack had phrasing. Freddie Mercury had phrasing. Adele has phrasing in spades… her voice and cadence betrays her frailty and, by extension, her humanity. It’s a skill.

No doubt you can think of a dozen singers that insinuate themselves inside you with the timing and pacing of their approach to lyrics. You may not be aware of the effect, but it happens, trust me.

When I practice a song these days, I’ll play it over and over again, and then once more. Jackson Browne would do this for hours on end when he lived in the basement suite below the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey in L.A. years ago.

Each time I play the song I’m working on, for example, the popular song Let Her Go by Passenger, I’ll try out many different interpretations, and work on timing and nuances within the lyric lines.

Eventually, I unearth a pattern that, to me, extracts the most emotional impact from the poetic words and rhythm. Skills and pleasure.

Pleasure Guitar 2

Subtlety. Nuance.

Learning through practice and concentrated effort brings me a feeling of nirvana… satisfaction … and… intense pleasure.

You’ve felt this powerful perception in your world when you put in your best effort and surrendered to the sensation. The soaring awareness of endorphin-packed execution wraps you in a blissful tranquility.

We’re all a complex bundle of simplicity and complexity, perpetually incomplete humans in all areas: physical, spiritual, emotional. Our desires will never be fully answered, nor should they be.

But when I’m always ready to learn a new skill, or improve an old one, I’m once again in my “beginner’s mind”, and like a tiny child, I hold that shiny object over my head, and wonder at all that it holds…

Now that’s pleasure.

pleasure.jpg

 

A Night at Medici’s With Paper Rose

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medicis 2.jpg

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

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

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

The stage is lit and the song unfolds.

medicis night

My first set ever at Medici’s

Welcome to a night at Medici’s.

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

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

Of course not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bluebird cafe.jpg……………..

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

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

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

Paper Rose is my favourite.

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

Minnie PEarl

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

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

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

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

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

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

An explosion of raucous, enthusiastic applause erupts.

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

A bit rough around the edges, sure.

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

The joy of the game is all that matters.

Then she begins her next story…

 

 

 

Disco DOESN’T Suck… and Other Guilty Pleasures

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Disco Travolta.jpg

Night fever, night fever.
We know how to do it.
Gimme that night fever, night fever.
We know how to show it.

……………………

My breath froze to solid icicles in my moustache. Even my eyelashes were crusty white with January frost.

The Northern Lights were a luminous emerald on black velvet, swirling in bright pinwheels overhead – it was night feverishly cold outside Yellowknife’s Mildred Hall School. The hand-sewn and decorated parkas we wore were antibodies against the glacial air.

But once inside the school’s gymnasium doors, the fever was hot hot hot.

It was 1978 and disco fever and glitter balls were at their zenith.

Maybe you were there and boogied to the throbbing beat.

Or maybe you were a wallflower egg still waiting to get down with a jivin’ sperm.

The Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Hot Chocolate (I believe in miracles… where you from, you sexy thing, sexy thing you) ruled the radio dial.

In the near-total darkness-shrouded Arctic town hugging the icy shores of Great Slave Lake, I, along with my friends Jim (we were Uncle Larry and Uncle Jimmy in those days, don’t ask me why) and Laurie, signed on for disco dance lessons.

Every Monday night for 6 weeks, we fsh-fsh’ed our mukluks down streetlit Franklin Avenue to the elementary school gym, where, for an hour or two, we danced the Saturday Night Fever roles of John Travolta and his dream girlfriend-dance partner Karen Lynn Gorney.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm, I’ve been kicked around
since I was born. 

bee gees.jpg

I don’t remember the name of our young dance instructor, or even the ethnicity of her soft accented-voice, but I can easily recollect that she was a young cutey in ballet flats and a pale pink dress that flowed like wispy feathers in the breeze when she twirled.

She dressed for the job.

She was a Dancing Queen.

More accurately, she was a disco dancing queen.

And when she took my hands to demonstrate the Butterfly dance move, I couldn’t help but notice that she had the softest hands I’d ever held. Playing John Travolta was a pretty fine gig.

Jim, Laurie and I had a blast those chilly Monday evenings, dancing, twisting our hips, firing our cool boogie finger high into the air… learning intricate disco moves that fuelled our drop-ins to northern alcohol-doused parties for months (maybe years) afterwards.

It was great fun and despite the vapid reputation and the musical Civil War that has battered disco music for years and years, I’ve always…. shhhhh… this is a secret…. clandestinely loved the driving bass beat, the unique funk and soul of disco music.

The Bee Gees’ falsettos and ABBA’s beautiful harmonies and chorus hooks simply infuse a divine song into my normally banal rhythmic blood flow.

abba disco.jpg

It’s a beautiful guilty pleasure like so many others.

And there’s simply no rationality to guilty pleasures. I have mine and you have yours. I know you do.

As a consummate goal-setting personality type, I feel the sly guilt associated with the temporary shedding of my in-bred Protestant work ethic, or the shameful sin of consuming something that goes against the “health” guidebook that sits propped open like a priest’s confessional door in my head.

Humanness means coming to a… grudging acceptance of our mortal frailties.

Guilty pleasures are no exception.

So, here’s my (partial!) guilty pleasure confessional.

Feel free to write me back a list of yours, maybe I’ve been missing out on some great stuff:

  1. Smooth delicious milk chocolate consumed (like, in moderation!) daily as if it is an essential part of the Food Guide
  2. Skipping a boot camp, long run, or spin class … just because…
  3. Afternoon naps
  4. The sweet, delicate lilt of a Scottish or Irish accent
  5. A McDonalds Big Mac with only half the “Mac” sauce
  6. Chick Flicks like When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail and Serendipity… always consumed with salty buttered popcorn
  7. One Cuban Cigar smoked each week during spring and summer
  8. Reading those old erotically-charged Penthouse Magazine Forum “letters”… especially the lesbian ones
  9. Luxuriantly reading a whole fiction book in less than a week
  10. Watching The Great British Baking Show and HGTV “Flipping” shows
  11. Picking the strings of my guitar late in the dark night, channelling Sting or Keith Urban… believing that I’m playing/singing better than them
  12. An inability to turn off the newest Reality TV… the ubiquitous, moment-to-moment CNN (what I now call the TRUMP channel) BREAKING NEWS stories of Trump/Conway/Spicer trainwrecks

doggy guilty pleasure

That Brand New Baby Smell…

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Mmmmmmmm. It’s like new car scent blended with cozy, fleecy blankets all rolled up in a warm, gooey cinnamon bun.

Anticipation is a magnificent thing. 

Anticipation of a Christmas work bonus… anticipation of a new baby… anticipation of a warm, fun, beach vacation… anticipation of the first splotch of ketchup on your steaming french fries… anticipation of a meeting with your probation officer. I don’t know. Anticipation.

For a few years now, I’ve been seeking out and lovingly caressing 12-string guitars to add to my happy family of stringed instruments… my current family constellation is two 6-string guitars, banjo, violin, mandolin, Peruvian charango.

Now this week I finally brought a brand new baby 12-string home. Her name is Taylor… and she’s beautiful.

taylor-356

My very first set of strings was a small brown ukulele I unwrapped on my 11th Christmas. Tiny Tim (not the Dicken’s character) was popular on the Ed Sullivan Show at the time and I learned Tiptoe Through The Tulips – his signature song – before midnight announced Boxing Day’s arrival.

I’ve been strung up on stringed instruments ever since. It’s kinda my TWANG!

With my new pre-teen passion for music, I saved dimes, quarters and dollar bills from my Hamilton Spectator paper route and purchased an electric guitar and a small amp. It was simply gorgeous.

I took some lessons from a local long-haired R&B rock and roller. He taught me some bar chords and I got hooked on the drug of harmony.

I loved playing that guitar and emulating my big brother Gord’s rock band (Sands of Time?) that played songs like Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, the Surfaris’ Wipeout, the Box Tops’ The Letter and that super-cool sixties guitar song, Eric Burden and the Animals’ House of the Rising Sonthere is a house in New Orleans

In Grade 7 I played the Bee Gees rock ballad I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You at my middle school’s talent show. There was a sad poignancy in its lyric I liked. I figured I was a pop star and when little pixie Anne Pekaruk smiled at me afterwards and said I was really good, I might have come close to my first spontaneous orgasm.

Over the years I’ve added to my string collection.

perfect instrument.jpg

Maybe the World’s Most Perfect Instrument?

I borrowed my sister Betty’s classical guitar during my poverty-prone college years. My teenage head was filled with grandiose visions of becoming an Elton John rock star. I wrote bad songs while learning a bit about fingerpicking styles from a girlfriend who dumped me for another “John Denver”-like guitar player.

The guitar was my solace during romantic break-ups, a diversion from studying for lab exams, and laid-back exhaustion-relaxer after 1 am McDonalds’ shifts.

After starting my first lab job, my brother Gord and I both bought banjos as a brotherly bonding experience.

In the Arctic chills of Yellowknife my buddy Jimmy sold (well, almost gave) me my first acoustic 6-string that I still own and play, a Yamaha FG-160. The strings are hard on the fingertips, but it has a nice tone to it. The Yamaha is a workhorse that holds its tuning well which is really important to someone like me who suffers the fingernails-scraping-the-blackboard sensation when he hears even a slightly out-of-tune instrument or voice. It’s a curse my friends.

For many years in the decades after I married and had kids and jobs, playing guitar or any music was left largely unloved at the bottom of the laundry pile of priority. I picked up the Yamaha occasionally and picked out my favourite Bruce Cockburn, John Denver and James Taylor songs.

The kids grew up and left for university. I looked in the mirror and saw wrinkles from happy laughter and sorrowed frowns, open lakes of shiny skin where dark, thick hair used to blossom. Elton John came out as gay and Otis Redding was dead.

music-reborn

The time to return to music was now or never.

Years were slipping by like summer days at the beach and if I let time and effort go by unseen or appreciated, well, why let regret get any sort of foothold?

My next new friend was a Martin guitar…DX1AE.

From my teen years I had harboured dreams of one day owning a Martin. What the hell is a Martin you ask?  Martin is a revered name in the guitar world.

If you watch many of the great guitar players and popular artists, the Martin manufacturer’s signature can be spotted on the headstock of the instrument. It loosely correlates to a Steinway grand piano, a Stradivarius violin. Martin denotes quality and rich sound.

I fell in love with Martin and have been strumming his soft strings for a few years now. He joins me onstage for Open Mics and the few other events where I play and… he tries to make me sound better than I truly am. Good friends are like that, they build you up.

And this brings me full life circle to this week and my long anticipated purchase of a 12-string guitar. She’s a Taylor 356ce with sensual curvaceous lines, comfortable to hold and melt into. Her strings feel soft under my fingertips, so soft when compared to many other 12-strings.

There is a full richness, an orchestral resonance to the 6 sets of double strings of a 12-string guitar.

Try listening to the Eagles’ introduction to Hotel California, or  Supertramp’s Give A Little Bit, or The Byrds or Gordon Lightfoot or the Beatles… close your eyes and there’s 12-string heaven ringing in your ears.

There’s a touch of surrendered sadness knowing my years of anticipation are over, a light mourning for a cherished friend. Anticipation is such a delicious part of our slender existence.

My job now is to retrain and transform my anticipation.

Anticipation is –at its heart –  about goals and moving forward. I thrive on the carrot of anticipation and making something – a birth, something tangible or ethereal- where nothing previously existed.

Taylor and I will be spending a fair bit of time together in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years. It will be a friendship to remember.

It’s time to get back to play.

……………..

PS. Below is a short guitar piece (not played on a 12-string) that I want to share with you. Tommy Emmanuelle is my current “Bromance” when it comes to guitar mastery. I hope you enjoy his richly harmonic heart-swelling song, ANGELINA, as much as I do.

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