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Archive for the ‘Drugs’ 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: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Silent Night” (2009).

There’s been quite a lot of songs coming out for Amazon Soundtracks lately.  This Christmas song comes from Eric Paschal Johnson’s short film The Letter.

There have been probably hundreds of recordings of “Silent Night,” one of the few Christmas songs that I feel should not be tampered with. It’s a beautiful song and if done right can be incredibly moving.

Sharon’s version is really fascinating to me.  It’s not especially traditional.  Indeed, it feels very contemporary.  The music is a kind of throbbing bass note, almost like a slow, dance song.  It pulses and changes pitch, but all quite slowly.

And yet, the song doesn’t feel like a dance song.  Sharon doesn’t sing it like a pop song at all.  Rather, she sings gently in a deep register–very earnestly.  After a verse, a second vocalist comes in and adds some dreamy backing vocals.

For the third verse, a simple drum rhythm is added.  The song is now much fuller than when it started and yet it’s not all that different.

It’s really quite a lovely update to the song and an all around excellent version.

[READ: December 14, 2019] “Natural Light”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story played around with linear reality in a number of ways.

It opens with the narrator telling us her mother is dead, but that she keeps getting emails from her.

She wanted me to know that a small penis size was not an indictment against my future happiness….  She needed some money for an emergency that had unfolded, totally beyond her control, somewhere at an airport in Nigeria.

The narrator could not bring herself to flag the spam.

She also continued to wear her wedding ring even though they had been divorced for a year.  Her husband had said more than once “I can’t imagine t he man who would have an easy time living with you.”  There are a few instances where the ex-husband comes up in the story which really flesh out what’s happening.  The ring wasn’t a hope for reconciliation.  Rather, it was a reminder that her unhappiness was not only a chemical dysfunction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Someday at Christmas” (2004).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Someday at Christmas” is a cover of the Stevie Wonder song.  I don’t know the original, but this version is a delightful Christmas song, one which I’m really surprised isn’t in regular Christmas song rotation.

The song is simple and catchy.  After a little guitar jingle of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” the songs moves fluidly along with some nice bass lines from Jess Ament.

The lyrics are really wonderful, too

Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

After the first two verses the song moves up a note and there’s some nice wah wah guitars added in.  There’s no chorus, just a bunch of verses which plead for a peaceful Christmas time.

There’s a slightly downer note at the end, although the song remains ever optimistic and ends with the guitar line playing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, once again.”

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime.

Now that it’s out in the ether, lets mix it in with the standard radio songs, eh?

[READ: December 3, 2019] “Save-A-Lot”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is by Anthony Doerr.  I thought I had read a lot more by him, but apparently I’m mostly just familiar with his name.  Which is a shame because this story is really enjoyable, even if it starts very dark.

The story is broken into fifteen numbered sections.

I was amused that the first one started “On the one hand there’s Bunny.”  We learn about Bunny’s life–she fled Texas at 17 and earned a nursing degree and a job in Bangor, Maine.  She is beloved at Woodlands Assisted and is so energetic, she is nicknamed The Prius: small, sensible, an a million miles to the gallon.

Then, when Bunny turned 22, Mike Ramirez impregnated her and fled for Tampa.  She keeps hearing her mother’s drunken voice–you’re as dumb as box of hair, you’re not worth spit.

But the baby, whom she names Hanako after the oldest elephant in the world, is very smart.  And Bunny is resilient.  She is doing okay. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 27, 2019] Joseph Keckler

When I bought tickets for Sleater-Kinney ages ago, I don’t think they’d announced an opening act.

Then the opening act was supposed to be Shamir whom I’d seen on a Tiny Desk Concert and enjoyed.  His dance music seemed very different from S-K, but the S-K album is pretty different itself.  Then Shamir dropped out and I didn’t hear about the new opener until a few nights ago.

I looked up Joseph Keckler and I kept seeing this review from the New York Times which called him a “major vocal talent” which I thought was a weird phrasing.  As if they didn’t really know what noun to use to describe him.  I looked for a song briefly and found him to be rather operatic, but didn’t really pursue it very much for whatever reason.

So I had no idea what to expect when he came out on stage.  But wow, he blew me away. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MANDOLIN ORANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #882 (August 23, 2019).

Mandolin Orange is one of my favorite new band names.  It’s funny and clever and tells you a lot about the band.

I so wish I liked them more.

In fact, their music is really lovely.  I guess it comes down to Andrew Marlin’s voice.  It really don’t like it.  Indeed, Emily Frantz’ backing vocals are delightful and if she sang lead I’d like them a lot more.

But clearly I am no judge, because their recent album (their sixth) was #1 on the following Billboard charts:

Heatseekers, Current Country, Bluegrass and Folk / Americana with Top 10 Entries on 5 Additional Charts.

So don’t listen to me.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz made everything seem so easy, pulling a few acoustic instruments out of their car and, in no time, huddling around a single microphone behind the Tiny Desk. With that, Mandolin Orange was ready.

Interestingly, “Golden Embers,” the first song that Mandolin Orange plays, doesn’t actually have a mandolin in it.  Rather, Frantz plays the violin while Marlin plays guitar.  I couldn’t get past his voice so I didn’t really hear the words beyond “it’s like an old friend,” but apparently he

sang about his mom being carried away in a hearse.

Yikes.

It’s the second song, “The Wolves” that features Marlin on mandolin and Frantz on guitar.  I liked this one a bit more perhaps because he seems to be speaking more than singing and that’s more palatable to me.  This song

 is a story song that … tells a tale on an older woman’s life, the “hard road” she’s taken and that feeling of wanting to howl at the moon when all is finally right.

The last track, “Wildfire” comes from their 2016 album Blindfaller.  He sticks with the mandolin as he sings about Civil War.

The lyrics to this song are pretty great

 It’s a song with a wish that the Civil War would have left racism to rot on the battlefield, and yet it still rages like “wildfire.” It’s a sobering message presented with a gentle tone.

And so I love their name, their music and their lyrics.  I just can’t get past his voice.  But what do I know.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Are You Experienced?”

The title of this naturally made me think of Jimi Hendrix.  And I was correct to think this.  For this story concerns hippies about to shipped off to war.

Although Billy doesn’t know he is soon to be shipped of to Vietnam.  In fact, as the story opens, he is dropping acid with his girlfriend Meg near Lake Michigan.  Billy had hung a “Keep On Truckin'” poster on the wall.  The poster eventually started dancing, trying to lure her in.

Billy was always full of schemes.  He told her about his Uncle Rex and Aunt Minerva who had been farmers but had moved to Lansing.  He knew that Rex had a box of cash in his attic.  Rex doesn’t have the heart to spend the money because it came from the soil and “he lost his farm a few years back and he’s still not over it.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SESAME STREET-Tiny Desk Concert #856 (June 10, 2019).

Yes, Sesame Street.  Not the OTHER puppet band Fragile Rock, the actual Sesame Street characters.

It’s a convergence of NPR and PBS!

And there they are at the Tiny Desk: Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster, all singing about a sunny day and how everything is A-OK. The Sesame Street crew — including Elmo, Grover and other surprise guests — visited NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Sesame Street’s 50 years of teaching the world its A-B-Cs, its 1-2-3s, how to be kind and how to be proud, all while spreading love and joy.

Everyone knows Sesame Street, but it’s also worth talking about how awesome it is.

Sesame Street has won more major awards than any other group to play the Tiny Desk, including 11 Grammys and 192 Emmys. There was a lot of love as the cast of Sesame Street got to meet NPR hosts and newscasters, who in turn got to geek out meeting their favorite Muppets and the creators behind the felt and fur. These folks include Matt Vogel, Sesame Street’s puppet captain and performer, and music director Bill Sherman.

The Muppets get through six songs in 15 minutes (no soloing here).

Count von Count and the NPR kids count us down: 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1!

Andwhat Sesame Street show could begin without “The Sesame Street Theme (Sunny Days)” (Rosita & Elmo, Ernie & Bert, Abby Cadabby, and Big Bird and Cookie Monster).

Then it’s on to Grover singing “People In Your Neighborhood” with Rosita.  Grover oberves a person making sounds with a soundy-making thingy.  Rosita is there to help learn about musicians.  Then a Reporter comes out to talk about what she does.  Finally Bob Boilen himself comes out (Grover: “who might you be sir, you do not appear to be doing anything.”  Bob: “I’m the producer, Grover.”  Grover: “Oh well that explains it”).

I even got to sing with Grover. And I’ll also say, on a personal note, that this may well have been the hardest-working, most dedicated group of performers I’ve ever worked with. I’m so proud of these Muppets and so happy to celebrate all that they’ve meant to the world for these 50 years.

Then they sang two new songs (imagine them having new sings in the last fifty years).

“What I Am” sung by Abby, Ernie and Elmo, a sweet song if ever there was one.

There’s even some full-sized Muppets in the audience (although the kids don’t seem that excited to be near them).

And then it’s Bert’s turn.  But Bert’s kinda shy and is nervous.  Thankfully Big Bird is there to sing a song together (and then confuse the proceedings): I

Its simple.  We’re gonna sing a song and we’re gonna sing it all together and i’ll start singing the song and then they’ll sing then song when I sing what I sing in the song and the you come in singing the song after i sing what i gonna sing when the song starts and we’ll sing the song.

There’s even more fun when Big Bird sings a long high note and Bert says: really?

Cookie monster wants a cookie, but it’s time for the medley” “Whats the name of that song?” (Elmo) then “Rubber Ducky (Ernie) and “C is fr Cookie” (Cookie Monster).  Then Big Bird sing a line before a funky piano and bass riff for “12345, 678910, 11 12… TWELVE!” (my personal favorite).

It segues into perennial happy song “Sing.”

Then Oscar comes on and tells everyone to scram.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “The Children”

This story reads like a fairy tale.  It has a slow inevitability in the pacing and real lack of urgency.

It is called an adventure of lost heirs.  It runs concurrently with a series of beheadings that were happening on Anjavavy island.  The story is quick to point out that the beheadings do not impact the story, they are just mentioned for context.

It begins in the early 2000’s on the island.  Giustinia was visiting Shay in Anjavavy for two weeks before heading off to Madagascar.  They are staying at Shay’s house which is mostly empty.  Shay lives on the island for part of the year and in Italy for the rest of the year.  Shay’s husband will be returning soon.

Giustinia is a poet and a critic  She and Shay became friends when Shay translated some of her essays for an American magazine.   Her family has ancient roots in Tuscany and has an unconscious regal air.

Shay hopes news of the beheadings doesn’t reach them during the fortnight. (more…)

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