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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LIAM KAZAR-“Sunloathe” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

I don’t know Liam Kazar (he was in Kids These Days and Marrow).  This song is a simple folkie version of the song with some nice slide guitar and some cool keyboard sounds in the middle.

Kazar’s mellow singing with these instruments makes this cover sound not too different from the original.

[READ: August 23, 2019] The Adventurist

I was intrigued by the title of this book.  I didn’t know a thing about it or the author, but the title and the blurbs were promising a funny and thought provoking novel.  And they were right.

Henry Hurt is a surprisingly likable narrator given his general disposition.  He thinks we need a war in this country–not exactly, but when he looks in the rearview mirror and sees “a glare from my fellow citizen…a look of such opprobrium, such astonished offense (I change lanes too abruptly) that I would have the nerve, the gall to interrupt even for a moment her progress in the world…. Yes: tank treads and the tromp of boots, here on our courteous soil.  It is the only remedy.”

He also loves work. Not just his own work but work in general.  Unlike his sister:

in her mythology a corporate job is a necessary evil, to be tolerated only until a person finds what he was Meant To Do.

He felt that way once as well, when he first got his job at Cyber Systems but

what changed my mind was love. Of money.  I am only partly joking.  It’s no good avowing one’s regard for money.  You set yourself up as a satirical creature.  [but] it didn’t take long to see that acquiring a skill, linking arms with others to fix problems, fulfilling one’s duties with aplomb, all toward a commercial end, is its own kind of nobility.

His sister works for a non profit.  He admires the mission but finds all her coworkers too self-satisfied.

So how could one enjoy this person as a main character?  Because hes funny and insightful and because he presents a perspective that you don’t often see in literature–a non-caricatured business man. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RADIOHEAD-Drill EP (1992).

Radiohead recently released a bunch of their stuff to streaming platforms.  One of those releases was Drill, their debut EP that came out a year or so before Pablo Honey.  Most of the tracks appear to be demos.  And yet, they are very well recorded demos.–they sound quite good.

Three of the four songs were rerecorded for Pablo Honey.  The only one not on the album is “Stupid Car” a quiet ballad.

“Prove Yourself” and “You” sound a lot like the album versions.  The biggest difference is the sound quality and the “Prove Yourself” guitar solo which is much louder and more piercing on Pablo Honey.  “You” sounds pretty identical, right down to Thom Yorke’s powerful scream mid song

The biggest difference comes with ‘Thinking About You”  On Pablo Honey it is a slow acoustic ballad.  But here it is a fast-paced almost punk rocker.  It’s got racing guitars and fast drums.  Honestly I prefer this to the album version.

The impressive thing is just how good these songs sound.  Not only because they were basically demos.  But because this was their first release and while Radiohead has changed drastically over the years, these original songs are still really good.

Fans tend to disregard Pablo Honey, but the compositions, while nothing like the newer work, are solid, well-crafted alt rock songs.  Don’t dismiss this EP, this band is going somewhere.

[READ December 29, 2019] Out of the Cage

Every now and then I get a short play at my desk.  This one looked pretty interesting.

Inspired by the munition women of Silvertown, London during the First World War, this tells the story of women’s courage, dignity and hope, fired in the crucible of war.

During the War, women worked in munition plants (munitionettes, they were called).  Despite their hard work in dangerous places, they were given far less credit and pay than their male counterparts.  (Sound familiar?). Could they possibly stand up for themselves or would they forever be seen as second class citizens.

There are eight major characters in the play

  • Jane Byass: 40’s 4 kids, hard but fair
  • Nancy LongdonL Late 20s upper-class, committed to the cause
  • Dee Jessop: 40s, sick and dying, vengeful
  • Nelly Jonson: 30s forceful and sharp, the only Irishwoman there
  • Annie Castledine: early 20a vibrant and funny
  • Carrie Sefton: Early 20s, tough and engaging
  • Ol’ Mim: 50’s nurturing, tough
  • Lil’ Ginny: early teens, naive

The play opens in Jane’s apartment.  The women are meeting there to discuss what to do about he unfair working conditions.  The first to arrive is Nancy.  The others are mistrustful of her because she is upper class, but she is dedicated to women’s rights.

Dee arrives next, she is bitter and sarcastic, she has been breathing in the toxic fumes in the furnace room.  Her breath is a short as her temper and she is not doing well at all.  Nelly arrives next.  She is the most cynical about Nancy because of the Irish vs. English class wars.  The women descend into bickering but Jane settles them down. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Santa God” (1993).

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.

The song opens with a quiet guitar melody and Eddie’s droning style of vocal until the bass comes in and the song starts really moving.

It’s a flashback to childhood

Now and then I remember when
Us Adults were little Kids
And our only worry was
What we get from Santa Claus

There’s a little synth melody in between verses as the song seems to grow more positive.  The chorus is simple and reminds me in style of some of the later Nirvana songs (with the backing vocals especially).

It seems like it’s a sarcastic song, but indeed, it’s not

How I learned from right and wrong
Had to be good for Santa Claus
He made me, stop misbehaving
And once a year if I did my job
I’d be given my favorite toys
So simple, the principles

It’s a catchy enough song, but probably won’t run up the holiday music charts anytime soon.

[READ: December 7, 2019] “An Errand in the Country”

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 is a short short story.  It concern a Russian man who has been living in the United States for most of his life.  Gregory has been a successful businessman in New York City.  He was exacting and always on time.  Actually, he’s rather a a jerk.

He returned to Moscow infrequently, and when he did, his visits were brief.  He wanted to stay at the Ritz but his mother was always upset with him if he didn’t stay with her.  So he agreed to stay in her run down place, where he knew he would not be able to get the smell of her apartment out of his clothes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FOUR LADS-“The Bus Stop Song (A Paper of Pins)” (1956).

Given the content of this book, I thought it might be fun to pick a song that was popular in Canada in, say 1956.

I was pretty fascinated to learn from the Canadian Music Blog:

National charts did not begin in Canada until the launch of RPM Magazine in 1964. Below, from Oh Canada What a Feeling A Musical Odyssey by Martin Melhuish are lists of popular songs in Canada through the 1950s. We have also included big hits by Canadian artists that made the year-end charts of U.S. Billboard Magazine with their year-end positions on the chart.

Some popular artists back then were

Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians: Enjoy Yourself, The Third Man Theme, Dearie, Our Little Ranch House, All My Love, Harbour Lights, Tennessee Waltz. (all 1950) If, Because of You (1951) Crazy Heart, Blue Tango, Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, Half as Much (1952) Hernando’s Hideaway (1954)

The Four Lads: Moments to Remember (#17) (1955) My Little Angel, A House with Love In It, The Bus Stop Song (A Paper of Pins) (1956) Who Needs You, I Just Don’t Know, Put a Light in the Window (1957) There’s Only One of You, Enchanted Island, The Mocking Bird (1958)

The Crew-Cuts: Earth Angel, Ko Ko Mo, Don’t Be Angry, Chop Chop Boom, A Story Untold, Gum Drop, Angels in the Sky (1955) Mostly Martha, Seven Days (1956)

Paul Anka Diana (#24) (1957) You Are My Destiny, Crazy Love, Let the Bells Keep Ringing, The Teen Commandments (1958) Lonely Boy (#5) Put Your Head On My Shoulder (#12) My Heart Sings, I Miss You So, It’s Time to Cry (1959)

My dad was really into big band music of this ilk and he had records from Guy Lombardo and The Four Lads.  To me the switch from that kind of sound to the style of Paul Anka in 1957/1958 seems like a pretty big shift.  I feel like my dad didn’t like the kind of crooner-y music that Paul Anka sang.  It’s interesting that The Four Lads never rose above a chart position of 52 after 1958.

I chose this particular song because I know  The Four Tops a little.  But mostly because this song is very perplexing.  I had no idea what a “paper of pins” could be.  Turns out the lyrics are a traditional English children’s song.  A “paper of pins” is a sheet of paper with different size pins for sewing.  Why on earth would you give them as a sign of your love?

In the original, the song is a call and response, with the second verse being the rejection of the first verse.

I’ll give to you a paper of pins
And that’s the way our love begins
If you will marry me, me, me
If you will marry me

[The original verse two is :
I don’t want your paper of pins,
If that’s the way that love begins,
For I won’t marry,
Marry, marry, marry
I won’t marry you.]

[The original next verse is not a feathery bed but:
I’ll give to you a silver spoon,
Feed the baby in the afternoon]

I’ll give to you a feathery bed
With downy pillows for your head
If you will marry me, me, me
If you will marry me

After a few more verses, the Four Lads end:

But you don’t want my paper of pins
And you don’t want my feathery bed
You want my house and money instead
That is plain to see

Well, here they are take everything
My house, my money, my wedding ring
And in the bargain I’ll throw in me
If you will marry me

But in the original ends like this

If you give me the keys of the chest,
And all the money that you possess,
Then I will marry,
Marry, marry, marry,
I will marry you.

Ah ha ha, now I see,
You love my money but you don’t love me,
So I won’t marry,
Marry, marry, marry,
I won’t marry you.

So The Four Lads made this song kind of sweet, but also kind of pathetic.  Weird choices.

And why in the world is it called The Bus Stop Song?

[READ: November 17, 2019] The Canadians

This is a book of 79 photos taken from The Globe and Mail archives.  The are not art, they are not beautiful.  They are documentation.  Documentation of a specific time and place–Canada in the late 1950s and early 60s.

These are pictures of regular folks working, doing chores, meeting politicians.  There’s no posing, there’s no “beauty.”  It’s just grim reality.  I grabbed this book because Douglas Coupland wrote the introduction (I’m not sure who wrote the copy for the pictures–each picture has one line of information about it).  The collection was edited by Roger Hargreaves, Jill Offenbeck and Stefanie Petrilli.

I love Coupland’s take on these picture because he looks at things from such a different vantage point than I’m used to.  Like the way he opens the book.  He says that the Canada depicted here pretty much didn’t exist anymore by the time he was born.  He describes Canada then as “a country in which, it would seem, people were born, became teenagers, and then magically at the age of 21, turned into chain-smoking fifty year-olds with undiagnosed cancers.”

He observes that few people smiled and those that did had teeth riddled with nicotine stains.  This is by and large true.  The photos with politicians seem to have the biggest smiles although the young members of Chelecos and Lancers Motorcycle Club certainly mug for the camera. (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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SOUNDTRACK: ERIN RAE-Tiny Desk Concert #867 (July 12, 2019).

Lars Gottrich is one of my favorite NPR personalities.  He picks some of my favorite loud music but he also loves a lot of quiet music.  So even though I have never seen Erin Rae, he has apparently seen her many times.

Every time I’ve seen Erin Rae live, she transforms her quiet storms into different hues of squalling introspection.

She opens with “Bad Mind.”  But before that,

Her performance at the Tiny Desk opens with a soft tide of ambient tones — both a way to ease into the song but also understand that life’s unease is ever-present.  Then a lilting acoustic melody introduces “Bad Mind,” a stunning statement of identity from a Nashville singer-songwriter who shares the secrets we keep close.

She’s joined here by Jerry Bernhardt, a treasured collaborator and a guitarist who knows how to play decorative but unobtrusive figures. He and drummer Dom Billet both appear on Putting On Airs, taking those arrangements and stretching them out at the Tiny Desk with Mellotron/Rhodes piano player Ben Tanner and bassist Joe Garner.

It’s a lovely melody and she avoids the dreaded country twang when she sings. In fact when Bernhardt and Billet sing along, their voices are pure folk gold.  Bernhardt introduces a quiet buzzing guitar solo which, along with the organ adds all kinds of neat sounds to this simple song.

Before the second song she says she and her sister used to make their own radio shows.  They were a big NPR family but she thought it meant Nashville Public Radio.

“Can’t Cut Loose” is a song about letting go of things that aren’t good for you anymore.  Its’a quiet slow song with a pretty chorus.

The Tiny Desk closes with “the summer jam,” as Erin Rae jokingly calls “Love Like Before,”

She says it’s their most upbeat song, although that is all relative.  It’s about learning to be content wherever you may be.

It’s definitely a bit more upbeat but it’s still a slow and thoughtful song.

I won’t be going to see Erin Rae, but I did enjoy this mellow little Concert.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Radio Summer”

The Summer 2019 issue of The West End Phoenix was a special all comics issue with illustrations by Simone Heath.  Each story either has one central illustration or is broken up with many pictures (or even done like a comic strip).

Each story is headed by the year that the story takes place–a story from that particular summer.

2003:  Here’s another summer job story.  But this one is actually a happy summer job story.

Abdelmahmoud says that normally you want a summer job that starts in the evening so you can sleep in.  But there was one job worth getting up at 8AM for: being the summer DJ at CKVI 91.9 FM in Kingston.

It was part of a school program and for the summer he was the only DJ there from 8AM to 4PM.  You want jazz? Sure! A ska show from 2-3? Sure!

This was a dream job and one lucky person got it each summer. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STING AND SHAGGY-Tiny Desk Concert #866 (July 10, 2019).

Sting is certainly one of the biggest names to play the Tiny Desk Concert thus far (even if his star has probably faded somewhat).  I was surprised to see him here. And also surprised to see him with Shaggy, a singer I don’t know all that much about.

Sting and Shaggy might not be the most likely musical pairing. But one thing is certain, they love playing each other’s music. On a bright autumn morning, the legends arrived at the NPR Music office bleary-eyed yet excited to play for the diverse staff of Shaggy and Sting fans. What surprised many of my NPR colleagues is just how well the collaboration works.

I don’t know if they have done more together besides this, but they certainly sound familiar with each others work.  Well, the blurb suggests that they are or were touring together:

Shaggy affectionately refers to his collaborator as “Stingy,” putting his arm around him mid-performance. It’s easy to see the camaraderie that being on the road together affords these veteran musicians.

They open the set with “Englishman in New York” and Sting’s bass sounds great.  When he sings, he is so clearly Sting (even if he’s singing is slightly affected).  Dominic Miller strums Reggae offbeats on acoustic guitar.  Then Shaggy takes the second verse.

Shaggy (zoinks! – his nom de guerre comes from the Scooby-Doo cartoon character) was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to New York when he was 18 and his music evokes only good vibes. The positive energy he brought to their opening song, “Englishman[and Jamaican]In New York,”had everyone in the room grinning ear to ear, “early morning Reggae style,” as he put it.

Shaggy adds this humorous verse:

I wear my colors in my back pocket / I got a big spliff in my hand /
and you might notice there’s swagger anytime I walk / I’m a Jamaican in New York.

Their voices sound great together especially as the end of the song soars unexpectedly.

After the tune, Sting announced “I never sang that song before 8 PM… Ever!”

Up next is “Don’t Make Me Wait,” a song I don’t know.  Sting plays a reggae bass line will Shaggy sings the first verses. The backing vocals from Gene Noble and Melissa Musique fill the chorus.  Then Sting takes the next verses.

The end is really funny as Shaggy tries to clap along with the backing singers but he gets lost and everyone laps.

The final song is a mash-up.  Dominic Miller co-wrote “Shape Of My Heart” which is mashed-up with Juice Wrld’s “Lucid Dream.”  “Shape of My Heart” sounds familiar–or at least sounds like a pretty typical Sting song.  Since I don’t know either song, I didn’t realize that Gene Noble was singing the lead of “Lucid Dream” within “Shape.”  Miller and Sting plays the same melody all the way through.  Noble has a nice voice, but I don’t like the way he sings.  Shaggy takes a verse.

This is an unlikely collaboration, but it works very well.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Diamond Monkey”

The Summer 2019 issue of The West End Phoenix was a special all comics issue with illustrations by Simone Heath.  Each story either has one central illustration or is broken up with many pictures (or even done like a comic strip).

Each story is headed by the year that the story takes place–a story from that particular summer.

1995: This is another story about a summer job opportunity–one that promised much but delivered little.

This time the job opportunity was working the diamond mines in Yellowknife, Canada.  Heidi and her friends were driving up from Montreal.

This was pre-cell phone, pre-internet, pre-everything.  They squatted in grubby trailers playing cards.  What else was there to do?  Drink beers of course.

But you never wanted to go outside to pee, even after four beers because 20 seconds of dropped pants equaled at least three times that number in angry northern mosquito bites. (more…)

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