Archive for the ‘Gord Downie’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON (December 8, 2017).

Second of three shows for the Horseshoe Tavern’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Kindly recorded and provided by Mark Sloggett and Matt Kositsky.

The opening music is Echo and the Bunymen’s “Killing Moon” and Jonathan Richman’s “Ice Cream Man” until 1:20 when the guitar for “Stolen Car” starts playing.  It’s a quiet intro section and Martin sounds good.  At 6 minutes the overall sound increases dramatically for about 20 seconds. It’s a shame it doesn’t stay that loud because otherwise the show is too quiet.  An absolutely scorching solo between Martin and High Marsh.

A somewhat subdued and quiet version of “King of the Past,” Hugh adds some soaring violin at the end.

The usually kind of flat “AC/DC on My Stereo” is spruced up by Hugh’s violin.  But the mix is really unfortunate–the overly loud guitar masks the rest of the song.

Dave Bidini: That song was written by Dave Clarke on the drums (and my friend Brodie Lodge)  Clark: a shout out to Davide DiRenzo and our friends in Ensign Broderick–Ensign, Griffy (Gordie Wilson), Danny, Glenn Milichem on the drums.    (Glenn tried to steal martin for his band Vital Sines…it only proved he had great taste) but he got Gordie Wilson and it all worked out.

A solid fun version of “PIN” with a “Dirty Blvd” tag at the end.  It’s followed by a long (nearly 8 minute) jamming (Hugh get a pizzicato violin solo) version of Stompin’ Tom’s “Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down.”  DB: This song would have been played oh 37 years ago on this very stage.  Some songs just stick around longer.

They retell some stories about Vancouver (the song is about Vancouver)–diaper dancers and people stealing wallets.  Vancouver leads the nation in diaper dancers.  A good piece of advice is to take your wallet on stage.  But not in Vancouver!

DB: We’re not a rock band, we’re a public service.  In a plant a seed and watch it grow into a tree sort of way.  Information is our fruit.  Melody is our bark.  Stompin’ Tom is our hero.  Well, one of them.

Someone shouts, “Play [Stompin’ Tom’s] Snowmobile Song.”   DB says, not quite snowmobile weather.  Well, is there snow up north?  Little bit?  Then it’s not even Super Slider Snow Skates weather.  Oh Jesus    Here’s the commercial for the lawsuits waiting to happen.

“Here Come the Wolves” sounds different, but very cool.  I like this version. Clark shouts the verses and Martin sings a quiet verse.  After Clark introduces Bidini with an Italian accent the band launches into an impromptu Italian song.  Bidini says they haven’t done that song in 7000 years, although, ironically Hugh is more Italian than any of us.  Tim: Once you do that kind of thing you’re scarred for life.

Audience check-in moment.  DB: “The customer, the fan is always right…  The fanstomer.”

Clark asks Martin if they are going to do the end of the next song a certain way.  DB: gives away the ending?  Clark:  Asked his bibliophile lady (and her friends)—do you read the last page the book first?  They said yes and it blew his mind.  And then they’re happy to read the book.  Its like having an orgasm without foreplay… or not really actually.   DB: I’ve done that many times myself  MT: You know this sex thing that everyone is talking about…what happens at the end?  DC: You get a little plastic toy out of the bottom of the box. That’s why they call it Cracker Jack.  DB: And then you feel shame.  MT: The shame part I’m comfortable with.

DB to the fan: You realize that by shouting for the next song you’re further delaying the next song, just so you know.  These guys would never do that   they are seasoned fanstomers.  Then inevitably someone shouts “play some music” and that’s when the gig is fucking over.

A quiet and pretty “It” (in which Hugh plays some beautiful soaring sounds) is followed by a raucous “Michael Jackson.”  Instead of Michael Jackson, he sang Auston Matthews a Maple Leafs player.  Mid song they start chanting whoop whoop whoop while Martin plays “Sweet Child of Mine.”  DB: “It’s called having fun it’s what Axl says, it’s what Slash says, it’s what Jimmy Page says, it’s what Eddie Van Halen says, it’s what Kathleen Hannah says, it’s what Patti Smith she says, it’s what Michael Stipe he says, it’s what Gord Downie he said, it’s what Tom Connors he said, it’s about having fun.  It’s hard.  It’s really hard.”  The crowd woo woo woos and sings the “it feels good to be alive” ending.   It’s a cool moment.

I used to be that I’d Used to hear “You rock Dave” and it was for me, but now I’m sharing it with a stage with my best friend Dave Clark.  It’s nice. Not saying I’m comfortable with it I’m saying it’s nice.

Clark goes on about being warm and swaddled and like a child.
Someone shouts: You can never go back.
Clark: Oh yea you can be a child all your life if you got the right ideas.  Age is a matter of the mind–if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

This leads to Tim’s pretty, acoustic “Rear View.”

Someone: “C’mon Martin sing one.”  DB: “Yeah Martin, what the fuck?”

Clark introduces the drum beat of the next song “pluh dee dut dut, pluh dee dut dut ding.”  When someone shouts something inaudible, Clark replies, “Apples and oranges pizza and Popsicles man.”  DB: ” I think you just came up with the name of our next record.”  This is a lead in to Northern Waltz.   Which DB says is a progressive waltz.  Clark: It’s the Ostenick 3/4.  Tim: Another potential album title.  Walter Ostenick, a cool guy who watched them soundcheck.  Tim Mech bought an accordion from him.    They start the song and martin gets choked up–Clark: It’s the ghost of Walter inhibiting you….devil come out!  He tries again and things go well in a beautiful version.

Martin plays a beautiful solo version of Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon.“

During the pause there’s all kinds of weird shouted requests.  “Play some Skydiggers.”  “Play some Blue Rodeo.”  DB: “You’re kinda 0 for 2.  We don’t do those groups.”  Clark: “You realize that those guys are our friends.”

Play “Secret Heart” by Ron Sexsmith!  C’mon do it!”  DB: “You realize we’re not sitting in your car right now, eh.”  Clark: “Thelonious Monk says never engage with hecklers, so here we go.”

“Dope Fiends” sounds great and the band seems really into it with Martin shouting “Why didn’t they stay here? How come, Hugh, why?”  Clark gets a drum solo and it ends with a rollicking conclusion and soaring violins from Hugh.

“Self Serve” opens on a quiet guitar.  I almost didn’t recognize it, the way it was played.  It is very pretty.  The ending gets pretty harsh with Martin snarling “you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” before a rocking ending with everyone singing “I will be kinglike!”

This encore break exhibits this new thing that I’ve heard people do at shows where they chant “one more song,” which drives me nuts because some bands like the Rheos will actually play half a dozen songs, and you are limiting them, so knock it off!

Audience: “I love you Dave Bidini.”  DB: “I love you too, stranger, strange man.  Are you that strange man that I love?”

Merch plug: Give us your money and we will convert it into rock n roll magic.  You can take the things with you and replay the nights tonight for eternity—ish.  Plug for West End Phoenix.

This leads to a quiet acoustic version of “My First Rock Concert.”  DB: “Dave Clark tell us about your first rock concert.  Dave sings “Don’t Worry, Baby,” about The Beach Boys in 1973 The Surf’s Up tour.  He was 8 years old.  Wicked show!  Ricky Fataar on drums (he also played with the Rutles!).  Martin: My first concert was in 1981.  I went to Convocation Hall and I saw Bruce Cockburn with Murray McLaughlin and in the band was Hugh Marsh.   Tim: That doesn’t sound very rock to me.  In his diary Martin wrote, “This audience is very intelligent,” I thought rock shows would be full of assholes… like tonight. That was my first rock concert.  First and last.  After the song: Was that guy the same Hugh Marsh? Yes and John Goldsmith.

DB: I’m having a shitty lapel weekend.  Martin: Another one?  No, you’re just fixated.  It’s puffy, but it’s not that bad.  Any tailors in the audience?  Dave needs an emergency.

“I am Headless” sounds great.  I love the way Tim and Martin’s vocals interplay with Hugh’s violin.

We’re in Hamilton at This Ain’t Hollywood.  It’s sold out.  There’s still a few tickets for tomorrow night.  Good luck to TFC tomorrow.  Tim: Don’t tell the Thursday night people about tonight’s show because it wasn’t quite as good last night.

Martin starts a chuuga metal riff and Clark says, “What have you got for us, Tony Iommi?”  DB: here’s a song about hockey and also about being gay and living in a small town.  Tom Cochrane do not write it.  It’s a solid “Queer.”  For the second verse, Tim sings Cochrane’s “Big League,” (Sorry I was daydreaming for a second) then DB sings REM’s “I am Superman”  They try for the high note.  DB: “Kinda.”  Clark: “It’s always worth trying.  If you’re not failing, you’re not doing.”  Clark sings “Stepping Stone” which segues into “I’m a Believer.”

After “sometime choices aren’t so clear,” instead of the end it turns into a drum and violin jam which somehow segues into a funky instrumental jam and then into “Alomar” at the end.  Tim says “And what song were we playing? We don’t have to finish that.”  Clark quips: “We don’t even have to Swedish it….  Let’s Latvia alone.  It’s okay, I’m a little Estonia’d right now.”

What do you guys want to hear?  [Horses, Aliens, Palomar, Wreck of the Edmund]

Thanks, we have fed all of the data into the super computer which has come up with the exact right thing to play at this time.

Thanks to Ensign Broderick and everyone in the band Jason for opening the show.

DB: I was going to try to play “Purple Haze” but I don’t now how.  I thought you were doing Buddy Guy.  I don’t know, do we know any Eagles?

Here’s a song by the Eagles called “Horses.”  The Eagles featuring Rabbit Bundrick, Skunk Baxter, Philthy Animal Taylor, Gullible Guinea Pig and Hammy Hamster.  “Horses” starts quietly and intensely (with great backing vox from all present).  After the first “holy mackinaw, Joe,” it totally rocks out.  Dave also calls Red Deer a “fucking shitty town” (!).  They shift briefly into “We don’t need no education (sloppy).”   And the concert roars to an end with Martin making some great horse sounds on his guitar.

[READ: November 28, 2018] When I am King

Demian 5 (Demian Volger) created a hilarious and good-looking webcomic back in 2001 (hard to believe).  It was finally put into print form this year.

I love the clean lines and style that a webcomic (especially one from 2001) necessitated.  It also means the artist is going to have to think of ways to differentiate the characters who, for the most part, look pretty similar.  And Demian 5 does a great job with that.

In the (bilingual) introduction, Demian 5 explains that he has been editing the historical findings of his ancestors for some 15 years, trying to make this account readable and accessible.  “It was my goal to reproduce these historical hieroglyphs without detracting from the information they contain.”

And what that means is a wild and wonderful story about royalty, nudity (amusing and non-detailed), bestiality and flowers. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 2, 2018] Steven Page

I was thrilled to see Steven Page play with Art of Time Ensemble back in 2015.  When I saw that he was playing (somewhat) locally again, I was really excited to get tickets.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was doing a Songbook tour with the Art of Time Ensemble and not playing songs from his (excellent) solo albums.

That was fine, because I loved his Songbook release with AoT, but as always, I’d much rather see someone sing his or her own songs than covers. But Page had picked great songs for his album with AoT and he picked an even better selection for this show.

The ensemble came out on stage followed shortly after by Page.  Steven explained that the purpose of the evening was that these songs were designed to have their vocal melodies remain largely unchanged but for the arrangers to push the boundaries of what  these songs could sound like.  To go as far as possible without going too far.  He thought many people wouldn’t a lot of the songs but that this might inspire them to check out the originals. (more…)

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Gord Downie [1964-2017]

Gord Downie died yesterday after suffering from brain cancer.

Downie was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip a band I had wanted to see live but never did.

I first learned about The Hip in 1994. I was living in Boston and had access to Much Music, Canada’s music video channel.  I saw a video for “Nautical Disaster” and was blown away.  I loved everything about it.  This was from their fifth album, the one after the album that everyone cites as their best, Fully Completely.  But for me, Day for Night will always be my favorite.

Downie was an interesting and enigmatic guy–at least for a fan who didn’t know the band super well, but liked all their music.  Downie wrote interesting, thoughtful lyrics and he really brought people together.  As the CBC puts it: (more…)

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1968_12_28-200SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON (November 08, 2001).

horsetavThis is the final show for 2001 at the Rheostatics Live website.  This show is the second of eleven (11!) straight shows at The Horseshoe.  Since it was part of their Green Sprouts “week,” it is chock full of guests.

Kevin Hearn is playing this night (and a few others), but there’s also guest vocals from Sean Cullen and Gord Downie!

The recording is not quite two hours which I assume means that parts were cut off.  I mean, a Rheos show that’s under two hours during Green Sprouts week?  Unheard of.  Earlier that evening Bob Dylan was playing in town, so it seems like the early parts of the show were a bit quieter than usual.

The show stars with “Fat” which sounds like it may have been coming in from something else or that’s the intro music–hard to say exactly.  Then they play two new songs–“The Fire” (with a funny joke about someone’s folk apparatus (a harmonica)) and “We Went West.”  Then comes their first guest, Canadian comedian and songwriter Sean Cullen.  They play his Stompin’ Tom tribute/parody “I’ve Been Beaten All Over This Land.”

I love the version of “Junction Foil Ball” with th every amusing comment that a Globe and Mail reviewer described one part of the song as “a hippo jumping into a giant puddle of mud.”

There’s a very cool section that’s a Kevin special.  Songs from Group of 7 and Harmelodia: Boxcar Song, Landscape And Sky, The Blue Hysteria, Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun, Easy To Be With You, Loving Arms and I Am Drumstein.

Then Gord Downie comes out–sadly his introduction is cut off, so we don’t get to hear what they say about him (or the fan reaction).  They start in the middle of his song “Chancellor” from Coke Machine Glow.  Then they play “Canada Geese.” And then Dave asks if they can sing one of the Rheos’ songs (“sure thing, Tim, uh, Dave”).  Ha.  And Gord sings “Take Me in Your Hand.”

There’s a great version of “Stolen Car” and they end the show with three songs from the then new album: “P.I.N.,” “Mumbletypeg” and “Satan is the Whistler.” It’s the best live version of “Satan” that I’ve heard so far–perfect whistling, and they don’t mess up the fast part at the end.

I’m sure the other ten nights were equally great.  But this is all we have to close out 2001.

[READ: May 12, 2015] “The Cafeteria”

I read this story because it was alluded to in David Albahari’s “Hitler in Chicago.”  In Albahari’s story, a character on a plane is reading Singer’s book and the person next to him asks if he knows Singer’s story about a woman seeing Hitler in New York.

Indeed, in this story, there is a woman who sees Hitler in New York, so it was a nice full circle, and I applaud Albahari for playing around with an extant story like that.

This story, translated from the Yiddish by Singer and Dorothy Straus, is set in Manhattan.  The narrator, Aaron, has lived there for nearly 30 years–about as long as he lived in Poland.  He has many friends who he meets up with in the cafeteria.  They speak Yiddish and talk about the Holocaust or the state of Israel.  He looks forward to talking with them but he is a busy many (writing novels or articles) so he can’t stay too long.

Most of the people he meets with are men, but one day a woman, who looked younger than the rest of them, appeared.  She spoke Polish, Russian and some Yiddish.  She had been in a prison camp in Russia.  The men hovered around her, listening to her every word–she was surprisingly upbeat. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_04_29_13Drooker.inddSOUNDTRACK: THE TRAGICALLY HIP-“Now for Plan A” (2012).

hip manWhile I was enjoying the Hip’s new album, I recognized a voice in a couple of duets.  That voice is Sarah Harmer’s!  I love Harmer and realized that I haven’t heard much from her lately (her last album was three years ago).  I looked up to see what she’s been up to and it appears she’s been on some human rights trips, which is quite cool.  But it’s nice to hear her voice again.

This is the title track to the album.  It starts slow with a wah wah’d guitar.  The sounds slowly build as more layers are added and after a minute Gord starts singing.  By the second verse Harmer sings along with Downie–their voices complement each other very nicely, although it’s funny that in this song neither one of them is really showing of his or her chops–their vocals are mostly quiet.  Although I like when it seems like Harmer is taking over in the final verse.

I don’t love Hip ballads as a rule, but this is a good one.

[READ: May 9, 2013] “Fragments”

This story is indeed about fragments.

It opens with a conversation. And it’s a pretty interesting one–about flying a helicopter over midtown Manhattan.  But then that conversation ends–the protagonist was just overhearing it.  We see that he is at work.  And then his phone rings.  His wife has butt-dialed him and he is able to hear fragments of her conversation.  Although we hear only snippets, it is enough for him (although not necessarily for me) to think that she is planning on having an affair with whomever she is talking to.

This fear is not helped by the fact that she is working extra late hours on a case.  She is out until very late often until he is asleep.  Although in one instance he only pretends to sleep to see what she will do.  She goes to sleep without waking him, which he takes as a bad sign (although honestly, what is she supposed to do wake him up to say she is going to bed?) (more…)

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I knew I was going to write about Canadian musicians for this series of Extraordinary Canadians, but I wasn’t sure who would get matched to whom. I figured I’d match Gord Downie to Mordecai Richler, but when I saw this in the liner notes to this disc, I knew I’d made the right choice:

Thank you to the Richler Family for the font you are presently reading.  The Richler font, not publicly available, was created and named for the great Mordecai Richler.  It was commissioned by Louise Dennys, designed by Nick Shinn and graciously made available by Florence Richler.  I am grateful for this honour.

So Gord Downie is the driving force behind The Tragically Hip.  I’m always curious when a guy who pretty much runs a band needs to do a solo album (or three).  And in this case, since the last Hip album was much more mellow and almost country, it seemed like he got some of his less rocky side out on that disc, so what’s the need?  Unless, of course, it’s just the need to play with some other folks once in a while.

Well, whatever the reason, this disc finds Downie in incredible form.  In fact, I think I like this disc better than the last Hip disc (which I did like, but which was a little too mellow overall).  The songs are all great, from the simple folk tracks to the more elaborate rockers.  And, yes, while the disc never rocks as hard as some Hip songs tend to, this is not a simple acoustic guitars and solo vocals record.

“The East Wind” is a wonderful starter.  It’s fairly simple with awesomely catchy lyrics.   I learned that the lyrics are from a quote by Todd Burley.  And they are an awesome way to describe a hostile and violent wind: it’s lazy, because “it doesn’t go around you, it goes right through you.”  Fantastic.

“Moon Over Glenora” sounds a lot like a Hip song.  Downie’s lyrics are almost mumbled and understated until he gets to the end of each verse when he raises his voice an octave for maximum effect.   The stops and starts in the bridge are also great.  “As a Mover” is also smoothly catchy with a wonderful rising chorus.

“The Dance and the Disappearance” is another great conceit.  This song is inspired by a quote from Crystal Pite: “Dance disappears almost at the moment of its manifestation.”  It is suitably dramatic with some great verses.  “The Hard Canadian” is a gentle acoustic number that would not be out of place on the more recent Hip records.  “Gone” feels like a continuation of “Heart,” almost like the slightly more rocking second half of it.

My favorite track is “The Drowning Machine” (I seem to like anything that Downie writes that’s about the sea).  It’s a minor chord wonder, dark and mysterious and wonderfully catchy.  The rock comes back on the rather simple “Night is For Getting.”  It’s probably the least essential track on the disc except that once again the chorus/bridge is really great and memorable.

The last three tracks bring on the mellow, which is a fitting ending for the disc, although since the three t racks take up about 12 minutes, it makes the end drag a bit.  “Retrace” is a country-tinged (steel guitar) mellow track (again, Downie’s voice brings out the excitement) .  “Broadcast” has an extended outro of gentle guitars and piano that for all the world sounds like the end of a disc, so I’m always surprised that there’s a final track after it.   And so the final track “Pinned” feels like filler.  It has a movie projector clicking sound and gentle piano with almost inaudible vocals.  It’s actually a pretty song, but it feels almost discarded here.

One of things I’ve always liked about Downie’s lyrics is that they are atypical of rock songs.  They’re not “about” sex or rock or drugs or swagger or anything like that.  In this case they are about locations and events.  And it really paints a picture.  And speaking of painting, Downie painted the cover art.  The beautiful simplicity of the painting is not unlike the beautiful simplicity of the music on the disc.

Oh and my copy is autographed too! (although I wasn’t there when he autographed it, so it could have been anyone who scribbled on the cover).

[READ: November 15, 2010] Mordecai Richler

I don’t know a lot about Mordecai Richler, although I feel like whenever I read about him it’s in hushed tones (a neat trick, that).  Nevertheless, for a number of reasons I have wanted to read him for many years but have just never done it.  Now, the stars are aligning with me for Richler.

There’s this book, there’s the cover of the October 2010 issue of The Walrus and the recent filming of his book Barney’s Version (the filming of which is discussed in the same issue).  And then a patron asked for the film of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.  So, it’ about time to read one of his books.  But here’s the rub…do I start with the great books or do I start at the beginning and work my way through his career?  And, there’s also a huge new biography coming out (the review of which mentions a wonderfully offensive event in which Richler absolutely dismisses his Jewish audience).

This book was written by M.G. Vassanji.  I feel that I’ve heard of him but I’ve never read him.  And yet listen to this incredible biography:

M.G. Vassanji was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania.  He attended University in the United States, where he trained as a nuclear physicist, before coming to Canada in 1978.  Vassanji is the author is six novels and two collections of short stories…and he has twice won the Giller Prize.


Since I read this right after Coupland’s McLuhan it’s tempting to compare them.  And yet, as I said in that review, it seems quite apparent than Coupland’s book will be like no one else’s, so I won’t say much about that.  Instead, Vassanji opens the book by talking about the similarities between himself and Richler and their few awkward but pleasant meetings.  (In this respect yes, it is sort of like Coupland’s book in that the author puts himself into the text). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOUNG RIVAL-“Got What You Need” (2009).

I was only able to hear this song once.  It’s surprisingly on available on the Young Rival playlist on CBC Radio 3).  Young Rival play a kind of fast, noisy punk and yet the melodies underneath the noise are very poppy.

I also played the track “Authentic” which is similar in style.  I found both songs very catchy, but have to admit that even a few minutes later I couldn’t recall them at all.  I’d say it’s perfect  for radio airplay.

[READ: June 14, 2010] “Say the Names”

This, indeed, is the quintessential Canadian story.  Every line in the piece is taken from a Canadian song, book or movie.  (I only learned that from the introduction to all of the stories. There’s nothing in the story to reveal that.  Although given its fractured nature and the very obviousness of some of the titles, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out.]

It’s kind of fun to play “spot the lyrics” or what have you.  I knew some, but far fewer than I would have guessed.

As for the story itself, well, it’s a little disjointed. (more…)

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The Barenaked Ladies have always been like naughty kids.  So, it seems almost too obvious for them to make a kids’ album.  But almost as if they want to continue being naughty, this kids album is quite smart, not just a collection of cute kids songs.

There’s a wild mix of very specifically kiddie-aimed tracks and other amusing pop cultural commentary (or jokes from kiddies past).  For instance, the opening track “789” plays on the wonderful joke of why was 6 afraid of 7.

There’s also a lot of the more delicate sounding BNL songs that came to dominate their later albums: “Pollywog in a Bog” is a cute upbeat little ditty, “Here Come the Geese” is a pretty typical Kevin Hearn track (even his adult songs sound like children’s songs).

But I think the highlight comes from when Ed Robertson and Steven Page join forces.  Robertson is the king of the goofy guys and Steven Page’s songs are always wonderful, but typically less silly.  So “I Don’t Like” is a serious look at things we don’t like (salmon, heights), while the fantastic “Crazy ABCs” is a funny and clever look at words that start with silent letters: “D is for djinn E is for Euphrates F is for Fohn etc.”

I also enjoy Roberston’s solo songs like “There’s a Word for That.”  Robertson is clearly a fan of wordplay, and this song highlights that: “There’s a word for that…little dented skin between my upper lip and nose.”

My favorite song of the disc is “The Canadian Snacktime Trilogy.”  All kinds of famous (and non famous) people tell us what their favorite snacks are.  The contributors are listed here, and they include: Geddy Lee, barbecue potato chips; Lyle Lovett, watermelon; Martin Tielli, olives; Gordon Downie, peanut butter & crackers; “Weird Al” Yankovic, honey roasted peanuts and Gordon Lightfoot, pasta.  What fun!

It’s an overall enjoyable album for kids, full of mostly hyper songs and sounds quite a lot like a typical BNL effort.

[READ:February 27, 2010] Salt Water Taffy: The Truth About Dr. True

I have yet to mention the website for this series.  So, now I’m mentioning it, and I’m also mentioning Matt Loux’s page too.  It’s a great resource for all of the books and has many sample images and pages.

I adore this children’s graphic novel series.  Each story adds amazing depth to this seemingly quaint seaside town.  Eleven year-old Jack and 8-year-old Benny are on vacation at a boring seaside town.  But mysterious things are always coming up when the kids go snooping.

In this case Benny uncovers an ancient (empty) bottle of Dr. True’s magic elixir.  (I love that Jack sneers at Benny for digging in a garbage pile, when he would have really loved to be digging in it, too).  Dr True is the ancestor of True’s Taffy shop.

While this history of the island is unfolding, we also hear the history of another famous island resident: Captain Holister.  The captain is Chowder Bay’s real hero, with a statue of him erected in the town square and everything.  The boys’ favorite new friend, fisherman Angus is directly related to him.  (more…)

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This has rapidly become one of my favorite CDs for our kids.  It’s a collection of lullabies written by some great artists with performances by: Guy Davis, Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson, The Wailin’ Jennys and Lynn Miles.  They play either solo or in groups to create a wonderful collection of tracks which maintains an overall cohesive sound.

It’s nice to have a collection that, although it contains many different singers, retains a similar style, a style that feels like a group of folk singers playing together just to get you to relax.

The songwriters include: Greg Brown, Tom Waits, Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Neil Young, Carole King, Steve Earle and more.  It’s a magical collection of songs. Perfect for any bedtime routine.  The only problem with it is that my daughter usually falls asleep before we get to the end, so I don’t know the last five or six tracks all that well (but I know the first batch from start to finish).

I also recently learned that you can get a very cool edition of this CD in a book format. It is an illustrated edition of the title song and it comes complete with the full CD attached in the back. The book is quite beautiful (and I wish I had gotten that version instead of just the CD).

[READ: January 26, 2010] Salt Water Taffy 2

This fantastic kids graphic novel series just gets better and better.  I enjoyed this story so much that I decided to read it to my 4 year old son.  I removed a few paragraphs and edited for length but he really enjoyed the story…leading him down a garden path to comic book enjoyment.

This book continues the story of 8 year old Jack and 11 year old Benny on their family summer vacation in the seemingly dull seaside town of Chowder Bay.   The first volume laid out enough backstory for you to know that the town is boring as all get out for the kids, with no TV even!  But the locals have plenty of adventure for the kids to get up to.

As this book opens, the family is on a nature hike.  The boys are collecting feathers to compete with Fisherman Angus’ fantastic collection of a feather from every (species of) bird on the island.  But they are easily distracted from this quest when their dad reveals that Angus isn’t the only one on the island with good stories.  For indeed, he himself once climbed to the top of Mt Barnabus (the tallest mountain around) where he fought Barnabus, the giant eagle, for the hat that he is wearing at this very moment.

The boys are awed by this and now hold thie rdad in slightly higher esteem.

Later, when the kids are playing (and one of them is wearing that very same hat), Barnabus the giant eagle swoops down and take the hat right of his head.  He proceeds to fly up to his cave on th etop of the mountain.

The rest of the book covers the boys’ decision to climb that mountain by themselves and rescue that hat.  They encounter many many dangers on the way (I edited down the wolf section a wee bit)but what they find at the top of th emounatin is by turns frightening and hilarious.  (I especially enjoyed the cameo of the little lobsters from Book1).

The resolution to the story is great, the drawings are great, and the entire sprit of the book if one of advneture and fun.  It’s a real treat to read, and I’m delighted that there;s a 3rd book already available.

The first story laid out all of the details of where and who they are.  However,

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