The thing about Time…

Phew.  That was some crazy Christmas.

There are still homes without power here in TO, but the sun is shining today and the snow/ice seems to be melting into that less-than-lovely slush that is one of the icky aspects of life in the downtown core.  Hopefully the increasing temperature will help the wonderful hydro workers who have been labouring without rest- or time with their own families- to get everyone back into the light and warmth of the season.

I feel like I haven’t stopped to take a breather- although obviously not to the same extent as the tireless light-bringers- but that’s all good.  It’s part of the time of year.  Some quietude should come this weekend- at least to a degree.  And then the celebrations will begin anew as we ring in 2014.

How did that happen?  Sometimes it amazes me how quickly time passes.  I’ve written before about the peculiarity of that particular human construct- driven, as it is, by the sun, moon, stars, seasons, turns of the earth and all that.  But we do value time interestingly- especially at this time of year.

Depending on your personal life circumstances there may often seem to never be enough hours in a day- to get things done, get enough rest, spend time with family and friends.  I’ve also written (extensively/ad nauseum, depending on your perspective) about how we seem to increasingly choose to waste huge chunks of time- on meaningless/mindless television, listening to manufactured cookie-cutter music, arguing about issues that should have been put to rest eons go and that are completely out of keeping with the access we have to the awareness of our globally shared humanity…

Yes.  If you scan back through the posts (over 100- surprising, that) I’ve completed since starting this little piece of the WordPress World last March, you’ll see pretty clearly that I have a few opinions about a couple of things and tend to express those opinions by drawing connections to our communal stories and songs.  I’m not alone in this- I’ve discovered a great many minds that work similarly to mine since I’ve become part of this community, along with those minds that express similar ideas through the media of poetry or short story or pure ranting and rolling with the issues at hand.

I love it.  I love the conversations I have seen started, the dialogues that remain ongoing, the friendships that I’ve developed- as I look for new posts and updates on sticky or joyous situations.  It’s a wonderful World- but one that can certainly become time consumptive.

If I had those extra hours in the day I would certainly spend some of them reading and commenting on more of the blogs I’ve come to love.  But I certainly do make every effort to check in with you all as often as I can.  Pre-colemining I truly had no concept as to just how reciprocal the blogosphere really is.  We read, we support, we send each other in different directions… It’s a fantastic way to learn new things and gain new insights into our fellow humans.

It’s an every day case study of our continually developing mythologies and worldviews.

Both in the outside world that is my Toronto and here in the WP World, there’s been a whole lot of talk about time lately- some of it in the form of discussions of everyone’s favourite Time Lord, Doctor Who.  I’m a sporadic fan, I admit (in that I will always watch it given the opportunity, but of late I have made few opportunities to do so), but I am endlessly fascinated by the story and the development of the mythology and the character changes- written into the mythology and therefore absolutely integral to the whole thing.  And it’s funny.  And about goodness.  And perseverance.  And fighting the good fight.

The Doctor and I are very often on the same page- ideologically and eccentricity-wise- and I see in him, and in the resurgence of his popularity, a reason for optimism.  The show is smart (in this it is not alone- there is some other, great programming out there these days) and quirky and focused simultaneously on the past, present and future- emphasizing the fact that the three are inextricably linked and vital to one another.  In an era in which we seem determined to either forget or rewrite our history, I love this element of the stories.

Time runs- keeps on running- and is something that needs to be appreciated rather than squandered and then forgotten about.  Like so much in this commercial, material world, it has become at once precious and easily tossed away.

Weird how we do that.  Say we NEED something so desperately- whether it’s extra time, a piece of designer clothing, a new television/cell phone/laptop- and then toss it aside without a thought when it’s delivered into our hands.  Whenever something better, or easier, comes along.

In my last post I included a brief Shuffle Daemon holiday song selection- brief, partly because the post was getting long (even for me- which is saying something) and partly because I was pressed for time.  One of the residual effects of this time crunch is that things can be forgotten, left off, or out.

If you’re a regular visitor hereabouts a) I thank you sincerely, and b) you’ve probably recognized that my musical tastes don’t run to the female singer variety- very often at least.  I’m not entirely sure why this is- there ARE some fabulous female musicians out there- those of singular voice (Annie Lennox, for one- love her greatly) and/or musical and creative versatility.  But for some reason I have always gravitated to the dudes and their songs.  My friends think it’s weird, but they’ve pretty much accepted that none of my party playlists are going to have all that many ladies singing the blues for our edification and enjoyment.

Another exception to this not-rule (it’s more a habit of a lifetime) appears on my annual Christmas playlist.  She, along with the late Kirsty MacColl- who so memorably spars with Shane MacGowan in The Fairytale of New York– are pretty much the only ladies who back up my holiday comings and goings with some seasonal wisdom.

Like Midge’s Dear God, this one used to get a whole lot of airplay on MuchMusic (back in the days when it was the Nation’s MUSIC Station and played something other than SNL marathons) on Christmas day.

In addition to the fact that the video features angelic children singing, well angelically, We Belong is a song about holding on to important things- and not squandering time, or love, or relationships in general.  As such, it is perfectly matched with the time of year and all the sentiments and reflection of the season.

Don’t want to leave you, really
I’ve invested too much time
To give you up that easy
To the doubts that complicate your mind…

 Father Time is an off-shoot representation of the Titan Chronos, described, in Greek mythology, as the father of that king of the Olympians, Zeus.  He personified time, and, with his three heads and equally serpentine consort, Ananke, circled the primal world egg and separated it from the ordered universe.  He became amalgamated with another Titan, Cronus/Kronus, who overthrew his father, Uranus, by castrating him with the sickle or scythe created by Gaia, Mother Earth, for the purpose.

While the Greeks saw Kronus as a force of disorder and chaos, the Romans associated him with Saturn- their god of peace and plenty- and dedicated their festival, Saturnalia, in his honour.  He became the god of calendars, seasons and harvest and the two- Chronos and Kronus- eventually became one: Father Time.

Saturnalia was celebrated in December (roughly the 17th-23rd in the Julian calendar), and, during Rome’s Golden Age, featured feasts and parties to anticipate and celebrate the renewal of light, the coming of the new year and the overturning of social norms and expectations, for a time.  It was a celebration of the social egalitarianism that marked the era, and many of its customs (including gingerbread men, caroling and gift giving) influenced early Christian celebrations of their own holiday- Christmas.  Eventually, as a way of mass converting the Romans under their (now) political dominance, the early Christian church integrated Saturnalia into its annual marking of the birth of its deity.

As I think about the year gone by and the one just around the corner, one of the promises I will make- to myself and to those who I am fortunate enough to have share their lives with me- is to be more conscious of time– not in an obsessive ‘I’m going to be late’ kind of way-  but with an awareness that it is a precious- and limited- commodity.

Whether you chose to celebrate the return of the light, the birth of a saviour, the miracle of the lamp, or just the turning of another year, it bears remembering that, for us mere mortals at least, time keeps on ticking by.  Invested time should not be wasted without efforts to recover the reasons why the investment was deemed worthwhile, once upon a time.  This holds true of relationships and all endeavours which we undertake in order to play out our life stories in the best ways possible.

Welcoming the New Year with the hope and expectation of the wonder it will bring while sending off the old with acknowledgment and a maintenance of all those things that retain importance and vitality.  That’s the way I plan to begin the adventures of 2014.  Hoping the same goes for all of you.

…counting down….

I might not like their coffee at all, but this picture really sums up the last couple of days here in TO.

Well.

That was interesting.  We got a bit of ice hereabouts.  And that ice weighed down all the hydro lines and left electrical power just a fading memory to a fair number of folks here in our sleepy little burgh.

The temperature has plummeted and it’s not looking like some peeps are going to get the electricity back before Wednesday.  Generally speaking my little part of the town is all okay.  I have hydro, and the commute to work is such that the streetcar and subway closures didn’t affect me.  Hoping that the situation stays okay- but preparing just in case.

The shopping is all done- so there’s no more running around required, at least.  A little more in the way of food prep for the day itself- and for some parties in the days following, but I’m basically feeling like I have a pretty solid handle on things.

Does that mean I’ve captured some of the spirit that has been so elusive this year?  Hmmm.  Not sure I can go that far.  But I think I’m getting there.

Despite an incredible night of Skydiggers fun and games on Friday (GREAT show) and some solid face-time and catching up accomplished with part of my extended fam/friends, I’m still not sure I’m feeling all that holiday-motivated.

One of my dearest buds- a good Irish/French Canadian Roman Catholic lad- is always asking me (seriously dude, it’s been something like 25 years- you really don’t know by now?) how I prefer to address the ‘greetings of the season’.  There has been a whole lot of nonsense about ‘wars on Christmas’ and that sort of rot on the ‘news’ channels of late, but I, personally, am in a very comfortable place with regards to my non-belief in the deity driving the holiday but my FIRM belief in the goodness of humanity.  And that does tend to get a good, solid airing at this time of the year.

I tell him (over and over) that any variation of Merry/Happy Christmas is fine by me- and not something that offends in the slightest.  I do celebrate the holiday- after a fashion.  I certainly celebrate the STORY behind the holiday- probably more ‘devoutly’ (for lack of a better word) than some of those who make claims of belief.  The story of Jesus- and the Nativity- is one of the greatest and most enduring of all our many and varied myths.  It chokes me up with its beauty- especially the Adoration of the Magi (an ecumenical touch that very much speaks to me- and you know I love the Zoroastrians), and it has had such an impact on our history and culture… what’s not to love?

Do I have to believe in the divinity of Jesus- or of the details of the story- to appreciate it?  I’d argue that I do not.  The same way I do not have to subscribe to the entirety of the belief system behind the story of Hanukkah to find grace and hope in that miraculous triumph of light over darkness.  Especially at this time of year- and in with Toronto’s current state of emergency (or non-emergency, according to the ‘mayor)- when any and all light in the darkness is welcome and appreciated.

The story of Christmas- in all its variations and off-shoots- permeates our culture.  The music, the subsequent stories- of giving, of love, of acceptance- it represents, to me, one of the many flavours of the strength of our humanity, and the love and hope we cling to as we share our time with those closest to us. Traditional Christmas carols can make me a little teary.  Especially Good King Wenceslas with its wonderful message and example…

This time of year is also always one of pretty heavy introspection.  That’s the pagan in me, I guess.  The longer nights, the turning of the year.  There’s just a whole lot of looking back happening, and a little bit of looking forward that seems to go along with that.  Such thoughts seem to be of weightier import this year, since I’m in a state of flux at the moment- next directions and contributions to the betterment of those things that I’ve been complaining of for the past year (and more) are still being ruminated upon- with no easy solutions found, thus far.  I’m getting close to a game plan- so we’ll see how that pans out, once the city is actually up and running again.

Christmas Eve is generally my night to sit and just feel the feelings of the season.  With a glass of wine- or some rummy eggnog- and the solstice tree all lit up, I take myself back over the past year and use the memories as a starting point for the goals and plans for the one that’s up-coming.  It’s a space of quiet amongst all the hustle and bustle of running to and from friends and family and shopping and cooking/baking.

The past couple of weeks have involved even more rushing about than is even the norm at this time of year, so the respite will be even more welcome- if increasingly plagued by concerns and lack of knowledge just what to do about them.  As usual, I will have some great stories to keep me company- a movie or two (have to re-watch the first installment of The Hobbit in anticipation of seeing Part Two on Boxing Day, and It’s a Wonderful Life is pretty much always on the playlist on the 24th), and I have a novel I’ve been trying to finish for weeks now.  My brain has been running in far too many directions to give it the attention it deserves (Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, if you’re curious) but I will try again this evening, for a bit, at least.

While I’m reading, there will be, of course, a soundtrack.  It varies little from year to year, and I’ve mentioned some of the songs here before, but this will be the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon that will see me through to the holiday festivities of Wednesday.

This song exemplifies so much of what the season means to me.  Pared down- just those familiar Monkee voices in wonderful harmonies, candlelight and quiet.  It’s comforting in a way I can’t really articulate.  Even if one of them is now missing.

I’m not going to say more about Ray, specifically (but I did link one of the other posts I wrote about him, if you’re interested).  If you’re not a Kinks fan (but seriously, how can you NOT be?), I know you’re probably sick of me going on about him as I have been doing lately.  But this song remains so very culturally relevant that it is tied for my favourite holiday tune.  Remembering those less fortunate.  THAT’S a message that too often gets lost in the iPads and PS-whatevers and stuffstuffstuff (Steve Austin outfits?) that become the focus.

Father Christmas is neck-and-neck with that one there ^^^.  I love the Pogues.  Surprised I haven’t already written about them, actually.  I think Shane MacGowan (who was born on December 25th, interestingly) is one of the great lyricists of the 20th century- despite (or perhaps because of) his seemingly-significant personal demons.  I once saw a copy of a book of his lyrics, called Poguetry, in a music/bookstore at Yonge/Eglinton.  I didn’t buy it, since I was on my way somewhere and didn’t want to carry it around, and I’ve yet to find a copy.  Big regret.  Anyway… the song demonstrates the investment we have in the time of year- and the disappointment of those expectations that sometimes happens.  Or often happens.  But we keep on, and there are memories and new experiences to celebrate.

I wrote about this one before.  Strong, beautiful message.  And it’s Midge.  Co-author of a song that changed the world for a time.

This song.  That changed the world.  I wrote about it before too– and about how Bob and Midge started something incredible with a tune about giving and just being aware of something outside of ourselves.  All year round.

From the sublime to the Canadian… Nav65 and I were talking about this the other day.  A bit of the best of this place I call home.  A bit of funny.  A bit of silly.  A bit of Canada.

Thank you to all of you who have graciously joined me here in this little corner of the WordPress world and demonstrated that community isn’t an anachronism.  My wish for all is that you celebrate, with those you love best (either in realized or remembered festivities) and let go of the hardships of the past year while looking forward to the one to come with hope and the true sense of giving and receiving that the stories of this time of year evoke- once the material trapping are stripped away from the core.

Happy Christmas everyone.  May all your stories be wonderful this season.

Take off, eh

Just in case there was any remaining doubt in your mind- which there shouldn’t be if you have read any of my posts (like this one Or this. Or this.)- I am very proud to be a Canadian.  I might get more than a little testy about our elected leaders- and their behaviours and systematic dissolution of some of the very policies and programs that have made us stand out, internationally, as an awesome place- one with welcoming arms and a social conscience to go with its gorgeous landscapes and world class cities, but I’d really rather live here than anywhere else in this wide world.  (At least permanently.  An extended holiday somewhere without winter wouldn’t be all that bad…)

I read this article without even a bit of surprise and with a heart full of pride.  I love it when we are recognized for our overall awesomeness.  For the most part, we deserve it.

Which is why I was distressed to have read this article yesterday which is, IMHO, bang on about our very real and very dire situation here in Canada’s biggest (and best) city.  We are in a state of crisis, evidenced yet again yesterday when the chair, Frances Nunziata (an ally of that buffoon I’ve spoken of at length), of city council was forced to shut down the session because of the un-parliamentary behaviour of said mayor-in-name-only and another of his cronies.

What’s a citizen to do?  Really.  I’m asking.  For reals.  Looking for a response that makes sense to me.  There is a crisis of strong, ethical leadership at all levels of government right now (although, as the article notes, Kathleen Wynne is doing her absolute damnedest to lead her chaotic party with something like a responsible example- it’s a majorly uphill battle, though) and that got me thinking about a number of things- none of them particularly comfortable.

At dinner with close friends a couple of weeks ago, the talk turned to politics (not something that is unusual).  One amongst our number- a high school principal in one of the RC boards in the GTA- will be throwing his hat into the ring of provincial politics sometime in the near future.  He took a run at it about a decade ago but decided that it was a bad idea- given the dysfunction of the political environment.  But things have now reached a state where he is feeling like not getting involved is a form of negligence or collusion.

As we spoke, and as I ranted about the municipal situation (as I’m inclined to do), he suggested that I should run for city council.  My initial reaction?  Yeah, right.  First of all, I do not have the personal wealth to get involved in politics (one of the many flaws in the system), and the reality of the situation here in TO means that I would be unlikely to garner any level of financial backing, since I’m not convinced that my view of things is in any way supported by others in this great town.  At least not those with the money to spend to back an untested candidate.

Plus, I would certainly be dismissed as an ‘elite’- given my educational and locational background (having always lived in affluent, ‘downtown’ neighbourhoods), so that would eradicate any possibility of support from ‘the Nation’ and others who might be disinclined to vote for a non-career politician.

I have no interest in having my life exposed to the constant scrutiny of the media- and to those in opposition of my views that might seek to ‘expose’ something unseemly.  Not because I have anything to hide- no skeletons in my closet that I’m aware of- but because the thought of becoming part of a system that is run that way is anathema to everything I believe in.  The behaviour of ridiculous groups like the ‘birthers’ in the US, or those who vilified Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion- when they ran for federal leadership- solely because of academic background and perceived elitism… I just don’t get- and can’t, in any way, suborn that kind of thing.

So.  I dismissed the suggestion out of hand.

After reading the articles yesterday, and with my Canadian pride all lit up like the CN Tower at the recognition that we are pretty cool folks, now I’m feeling like making excuses for not participating on some level is far too close to complicity in the perpetuation of the complete lack of leadership that we are dealing with in my city.  And my country.

I’m not sure what to do with this feeling, or where it might lead me, but I’m thinking that the New Year is going to HAVE to see some action on my part.  Enough just writing and bitching about it.  My CV- widely dispersed in my ongoing search for a more meaningful line of work- claims ‘excellence in leadership’ as one of the attributes I could bring to a company or organization smart enough to hire me.  I’m thinking that it’s time I figured out how to put those skills into practice to effect some change.  How that will be done will require a whole lot of reflection and discussion with my loved ones.  I’m not sure I can sit idly by as my beloved city/province/country loses all those things that make us stand out- and stand tall- as Canadians.

That said, I’m not about to commit myself to a run for council.  I don’t think I’d last a day.  I am a pretty patient person (as classrooms of hundreds of undergrads can attest), but at the first sign of behaviours like those seen in the council session yesterday?  How do you fight idiocy?  I have no clue- and standing, daily, against that level of discourtesy, boorishness, ignorance and completely unjustified arrogance would render me completely ineffective in a matter of weeks.  I can’t fight on their level.  I won’t fight on their level.  But I am at a loss as to how to even begin to raise the standards.

The people seem to like their idiots-as-leaders/media personalities (did you see the latest Fox ‘News’ debacle about the definite ‘whiteness’ of Santa Freakin Claus?  And Jesus?  You can’t see me, but believe me, I’m shaking my head in exasperation).  I’m not an idiot, and I have no intention of playing one on tv.

I hate politics.  Not a big fan of politicians either.  They are single-mindedly focused on their own agendas- or those of the lobbies that support them.  The few ideologues who are brave enough to climb into the mire for the betterment of others too quickly become engulfed by the surrounding culture of self-serving impetus.  In the aftermath of the loss of the great statesman (NOT politician.  NEVER a politician), Nelson Mandela, it’s impossible not to make a comparison with those putative leaders that we can claim, these days.  How do we remove the ‘dirty word’ aspect of politics and politicians in favour of a more statesperson-like definition?

And then there are those ‘mayors’ who never even finished university or had a career other than ‘politician’ and ‘ part time football coach’… Those who cast unfounded and libellous aspersions upon the names and characters of those journalists who are called to hold him- and those who likewise claim to represent the best interests of the city- to account…

Food for thought.

PS- I have also decided that I am going to begin interspersing my regular conversation with all the stereotypical ‘Canadianisms’ that float around outside our borders.  Anything to keep up our image of ‘quaintness’ in the face of accusations of inbred idiocy, which, given the fact that so many people are still saying they would re-elect a certain someone, aren’t completely unfounded.   So… ‘take off, you hosers.  I’m off to pick up a two-four of Labatt’s Blue and then head oot and aboot in the snow of the Great White North. Eh.’  

PPS- I’m not, really.  Labatt’s Blue is TERRIBLE beer.  And I never been either oot or aboot- to my knowledge anyway.

Stories with Stuart

Here in Canada we have a wonderful, and distinctively Canadian, thing called the CBC.  Sure, other countries have public radio/television, and they certainly do tell the stories of their nations in myriad ways, but our CBC radio programming holds a very special place in my heart and mind.  (The television programming is also good, but I admit I spend more time with the radio shows than the tv, generally speaking).

Our current federal government is attempting to dismantle this national treasure a little bit at a time.  But the producers and presenters of our unique (though often very different, regionally speaking) way(s) of looking at our country and the world continue charging forward- and looking back- telling our stories and creating little pieces of wonder as they keep on keeping on.

One of these incredible people is Stuart McLean.  His Vinyl Café stories have been a fixture on CBC radio for close on 20 years.  His variety show highlights Canadian singer-songwriters- artists whose work might otherwise not get a whole lot of airtime- and intermingles music, humour and an almost nostalgic sense of Canada and its people- in all our often-messy glory.

Stuart is a rarity these days.  He’s a born storyteller- his distinctive voice and presence make you feel like you’re sharing a drink with a close friend.  Who just happens to have a never ending supply of amazing tales to recount.  Tales about characters that have grown in familiarity to the extent that they become like members of the family.  Relatives that you are pleased you only have to visit a few times a year, perhaps, but continuing sources of hilarity and well-learned life-lessons.

At the heart of the show is Stuart’s primary literary comic foil- Dave, the owner of an independent record store in Toronto, and the trouble he seems endlessly able to attract.  In abundance.

Dave and his family- his long-suffering wife, Morley, children Sam and Stephanie- along with an incredible cast of neighbours and friends, find themselves in some pretty far out situations.  But no matter the extremity of the circumstance, those of us familiar with Dave and his antics easily, and willingly, suspend our disbelief in our awareness that ‘it’s just Dave.  Of course such things can happen to him.’

Every year the great folks behind the Vinyl Café take their Christmas show on the road and make a stop here at home.  A visit with Stuart and his compatriots has become an annual holiday event for me and some of my peeps.  Friday night they rolled into the Sony Centre and, as usual, had us rolling in the aisles.  My face still hurts from all the laughing.

Audience participation is encouraged, and the way that Stuart feeds off the energy of his audience helps guide the shape of his shows.  He allowed as how they were genuinely happy to be home after 24 days of taking the show across the country (and down into a few select towns in the States)- a sentiment he reinforced when a part of his first story- the part about kindergarden children tumbling off of the stage during the school holiday pageant- brought down the house- anticipatorily.  Apparently that part of the tale was met with shocked silence in more PC towns like Vancouver.

Toronto has a slightly more irreverent sense of humour, it would seem (we must.  Look at our mayor.  HE made it into the show, too.  Not in a flattering light- go figure).  We love the old favourites, but one of the best things about attending the Christmas shows live and in person is hearing the new stories, freshly minted, and Stuart gave us two on Friday.

But we also revisited ‘Morley’s Christmas Concert’ and the discombobulated, but completely intact, tumbling children who were left in the dark when Dave’s sound system took out the school’s power grid.  And after Intermission, Stuart had a sit down with us, and together we remembered the highlights from all our favourite holiday stories.  ‘Dave Cooks the Turkey’, of course.  And ‘Dave on the Roof’– about the perils of the Canadian winter and the ways in which our slightly defiantly perverse instincts can get the best of us.  Despite the fact we know better (DO NOT stick your tongue on anything metal- especially while up on the roof repairing the tv antenna.  Really.  Just don’t.)

The musical guests this year were a wonderful trio of ladies called The Good Lovelies, whose harmonies and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Sara Bareilles’ Winter Song very much reflected the quiet and the melancholy of the snow that had covered the city that day.  Yet we were warm, inside, and with friends, so the plaintiveness of the song could be felt at a remove rather than with its full, sad immediacy.

A night with Vinyl Café is always enjoyable on many levels, but one of the things that makes me most appreciate our annual visits is the fact that so many children are present to participate.  In this day and age.  With all the visual and technological interfaces available to them, the fact that there are children who can still appreciate the wonder and the value of a storyteller, coming to them over the radio (or via a podcast), without anything flashing or shaping their images of the characters or the settings other than Stuart’s description alone.

Every year I applaud those parents who have raised children that can be engaged by the sound of his voice, recounting the most recent adventures of a bunch of crazy Canadians (or flashing back to earlier stories), as they use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks- and people the stories with their own variations and appearances.

Storytelling of this sort is both communal and very personal.  I know what Dave and his family look like to me.  They’ve changed- grown older- as I’ve gotten to know them over the years of listening to their life- often in kitchens, as dinner preparations where underway.  Would I recognize them, if I passed them on the street?  About that, I’m not sure.  But I’d know them by their actions- both the silly antics and the wonderful, well-meaning heart that lies at the centre of all their interactions with their friends, family and neighbours.

They have taught me lessons.  They have made me laugh.  And tear up from time to time, too.  Stuart has made them fully realized.

He ended our evening by returning to the stage with his long-time touring musical director, John Sheard.  Together they sang a song. that John wrote, about the holidays- and what they would really like for Christmas.  This wonderful, wonderful tune contained references to Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, the Senate debacle, Rob Ford, Don Cherry, the federal government’s actions re. the CBC… Straight minutes of nothing other but laughter.  Canadian laugher.  FOR us, BY us.  We were still laughing as we headed out into the cold of Front Street.

I have a whole bunch of podcasts of the show to catch up with.  Somehow there aren’t enough hours in the day to do/read/watch/listen to everything that needs to be done/watched/read/listened to- especially at this time of year.  But the next hour I have free (or make the time to have free), I will decide to just sit, and listen, and fully experience Stuart’s incredible gift with story- its creation and its delivery.  The holidays ARE supposed to be about time spent with friends, after all.

Please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Stuart McLean.  I trust you will get along famously.

The hand, writing on the wall

The Hebrew Scriptures have some pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines.  I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the focus of my doctoral thesis- and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory.  I’ve neglected the Egyptians and Mesopotamians a bit lately- after teaching about them for a few years running and visiting with them at the ROM on a weekly basis we all needed some time apart.

The NT and I remain estranged- there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis, and, to be honest, I’m not sure that Saul of Tarsus and I will ever really see eye to eye on things.  The Revelation has a lot of fun stuff, but it’s being used all over the place lately (the Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse- on Sleepy Hollow, for e.g), so I’m feeling the over-exposure and forced interpretations more than a little bit right now.

My last new, not re-blogged, post- about our current selfie society- generated some great dialogue in the comments section, and led me to pull out the ol’ Old Testament and have a look back at the Book of Daniel (thanks, Susan!).

Now Daniel and I have always been buds.  He’s a guy you can really cheer for- and the book about him marks the real, canonical, beginnings of apocalyptic literature in the biblical worldview (I’d rather not get into an argument about whether or not the book belongs with the prophetic books or the writings.  Some day, perhaps, I’ll talk a bit about biblical prophecy being not so much- or at all- prophetic but very much about the social commentary of the time in which it was written- and therefore a type of early apocalypticism– but right now I’m grooving with Daniel.  Who belongs with the writings as a proto-apocalyptic).

Next to my gnostics, I love the apocalyptic peeps best.  Sometimes it’s like choosing a favourite from among two cherished children, so why choose?  They tend to overlap a fair bit anyway- hardly surprising since both arise out of discontent and disconnection with the society when the texts were written.

When people are pissed with the status quo things often get a little apocalyptic (it’s happening now, as a matter of fact).  Daniel- and the pseudonymous book about him- was a harbinger of a whole lot of discontent and attempts at change.  And it gave us one of the most interesting images of the whole bible.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

The narrative tells the story of Daniel, who, as a member of the Judean nobility, is serving some time in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  He, and three of his pals, refused to succumb to the lures of the food and wine provided by their captors, and maintain the mandates of their heritage and religion, even while in exile.  They catch the eye of the king, who declares them to be superior to his own wise men at court and enlists them to his service.  Daniel soon gains a reputation for the accuracy of his dream interpretations, and, since Nebuchadnezzar (I love that name.  Just typing it makes me happy.  Saying it makes me smile.  I guess I was a Babylonian in a former life.  Or something) frequently needs his dreams analysed, he eventually appoints Daniel as his Chief Wise Guy.

While Nebuchadnezzar had his good qualities (like his name.  I love his name), he did steal the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem (during the destruction of the city and the beginning of the Exilic Period) and brought them back to Babylon with him.  While Neb deals with his demons (7 years of crazy, living like a wild beast and all that) his son Belshazzar (although the Book of Daniel is the only source that lists Belshazzar as Neb’s kid- other historical sources list him as the son of Nabonidus- but we can let him be Neb’s son- no harm to the story) acts as co-regent, and then king in his own right.

One night Belshazzar and his noble friends throw a big party- and use the sacred vessels plundered from Solomon’s Temple as their pint glasses.  They make toasts to their gods- mainly inanimate deities- using Yahweh’s own sacred vessels.  Those of you who have read the Hebrew Scriptures up to this point in the continuing story have to realize that this is not a good idea.  Yahweh does not (generally) take kindly to his word, his people or his stuff being messed with.

To the horror of the collected party goers, a mysterious disembodied hand appears and starts writing on the wall.  Still reeling from the strange apparition, neither Belshazzar nor his assembled guests can figure out what the writing says.  He calls for Daniel to come and have a look.  Daniel, the superlative and Yahweh-favoured Chief Wise Dude, reads the words as Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.  At first inspection they seem to be meaningless references to weights and measures, but Daniel interprets them as the verbs that correspond to the nouns: numbered, weighed, divided.

As such, he explains that god has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and decided that they are at an end.  The kingdom (and its king) have been weighed and found wanting, so it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians.  Like now.  The interpretation is quickly realized, and that very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king.

Generally the story is used (‘the writing on the wall’, ‘the hand writing on the wall’, ‘Mene Mene’) to indicate imminent doom, originating in misbehaviour or inappropriate governance.  Those who attended the feast- and shared culpability for the bad politics and decisions- were able to see the hand as it wrote on the wall, yet were totally unable to understand the message that was being imparted.  The interpretation had to come from someone who wasn’t in any way responsible for the negative behaviours- or the misuse of the vessels and the sacrosanct ideology behind them.  Only Daniel was able to give warning and explain the impending collapse of the Babylonian kingdom by reading the writing on the wall.

Increasingly, these days and with the societies and systems of government that we have created and institutionalized, fewer and fewer people are able to see the imminence of danger as we continue headlong down a path that is becoming less and less equitable and more and more dictated by those who hold power.  That those in power were, ostensibly, chosen by the people (rather than through hereditary ascension, as in the Babylonian example), makes the systemic problems all the more glaring and frustrating.

We are not doing enough to hold our leaders to account (don’t even talk to me about the idiots of FN- who will STILL vote for that guy come next October.  As much as I despise name-calling, those who remain convinced that THAT guy is the best candidate for mayor, ARE idiots.  There is no other adequate descriptive word.  And I know LOTS of words) while they choose to ignore the disembodied hand and its message entirely.  Claims about improvements to the economy (while myriad citizens remain in situations of un/underemployment and the middle class continues shrinking while the divide between the haves and the have nots become more pronounced), to the housing market (as home ownership is increasingly an inaccessible pipe dream in most major Canadian cities), and the short-sighted politics that reflect immediate self-interest rather than long-term nationwide benefits… These things, as serious as they are, only scratch the surface of the current crises we are facing.

As I say over and over and over again, our myths- and their interpretations- have a whole lot of wisdom to offer, if we bother to take the time and pay attention to what those who came before us had to say.  Especially since we keep on making the same sorts of mistakes, driven by greed and one-upmanship and the ever-increasing need to hear ourselves speak (or yell) over the voices that might be offering an alternative (and better, more equitable) perspective.

In February 1964, as a response to the assassination of JFK a few months previously, a young lad named Paul Simon wrote a song.  The Sound(s) of Silence (the original title was plural) shares an enduring sense of futility and awareness of the dangers of silence- the problems that arise when people fail to effectively listen to and speak out about the cancers growing around us.

As we bow to our own neon gods, perhaps we need to take time to listen to this song- about to celebrate its 50th (!) birthday- a little more closely.  It might help us to see the hand and decipher the message it is continually writing on the walls that surround us.

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls’

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Mene Mene, my friends.  Take heed.  That hand is getting pretty emphatic with its messages.

Ain’t Gonna Play

Nelson Mandela.

We knew it was coming.

I wrote the reblogged post back when we first started hearing that his health was deteriorating. He is on my mind- and in the hearts of the world- tonight, and will remain there as long as his legacy, wisdom and adherence to the power of forgiveness and love over blind and ridiculous hatred are nurtured and developed.
He taught the world a lesson that we can’t ever forget. There aren’t a lot of people about whom you can legitimately say that the world would be a drastically different place if it were not for their presence among us.

He is one of those very few people.

 

I can’t even think clearly right now. My desire to present an adequate remembrance of a man I deeply respected isn’t going to be realized tonight.

I have to first figure out a way to follow his example and let go of anger- which, evidenced by my most recent new post- has taken up residence somewhere in the back of my skull.

Even as I mourn with the rest of the world- something (the ‘rest of the world’ part) which provides hope for the return to ideals that support community- I can’t help but feel a renewal of the rage I was feeling yesterday when writing about the nurtured narcissism that has been permitted to run rampant among us.

Seeing our current world leaders expressing their sadness at the loss of this great man, it’s impossible not to make comparisons. All are lacking. And this is our collective fault.

We know better. Nelson Mandela showed us how to be better. His words and actions must continue to be an example.

Almost 30 years ago, Little Stevie was inspired to do his part to create awareness about the great injustice of Apartheid. His actions were informed by the awareness that Nelson Mandela, and others who fought for human rights, brought into the world’s parlance.

Artists United Against Apartheid generated a new audience and helped to end the travesty of institutionalized racism in South Africa.
Since I originally wrote this post we have lost Lou Reed- and now Madiba himself. I suggested yesterday that we must start looking outside ourselves and our own narrow interests and start thinking as a community for the betterment- if not the very continuance- of us all.

On this sad evening I will take some time to reflect with love and respect upon the life of a man who embodied peace and the best motivations of humanity. I hope our current world leaders will be doing the same- and that their tributes tonight and in the days to come will prove to be motivators to follow his example rather than the self-serving lip service that is their regular practice.

Go in peace, Madiba.

Thank you.

colemining

This past weekend started off with tonnes o’ summer fun and ended with some heavy reflection.  There was a whole lot going on in the City and on the world stage that took me down some well-travelled paths of both hope and despair.

The 2013 Pride celebrations wrapped up successfully, with all indicators pointing to a good time having been had by all- including the Premier of the Province of Ontario, who participated in most of the events (‘our’ mayor having absented himself once again)- and the excitement is already building for next year’s World Pride Celebration.  A great finish to a week that saw some pretty cool stuff happening- basic human rights-wise– in the US.

Canada Day Spectaculars were held across the country- including in Calgary- where their mayor (a man definitely worth the title) asked his residents to take a day off from the flood clean up and…

View original post 1,369 more words

Literacy, ill.

I love words.  I love seeking their origins, working out where they came from and why we use them to say the things we’re trying to say.

I have a fairly developed vocabulary- owing largely to the fact that I read a lot, but also because I know a number of languages, in addition to my mother tongue.  The ancient languages provide a foundation for some of the whys and wherefores, and the modern languages help explain particular usages.  It’s like a big puzzle- the way words connect us.  Words demonstrate the way in which we communicate- across this wide world of ours- and the way we always have done.

‘Newer’ languages borrow words from those that came before- adapting them to seek their particular linguistic needs.  Language is never static- it develops with each passing day.

Literacy- in any and  all languages- is something I regard as supremely important.

Lately there’s been a lot of talk in the news about the ‘words of the year’, according to the Oxford Dictionary– with ‘selfie’ leading the charge as the most popular term.  It’s still new enough that as I typed it, the little red line appeared underneath, letting me know that the spell check hasn’t yet been alerted to its ‘official’ recognition.

If you travel anywhere at all in the world of social media you are aware of the definition of this brave new word.  It is one of the many indicators of the paradigm shift that’s been happening as the interworld becomes increasingly realized as the de rigueur place to hang out.  These days it’s “all about me”.  Everything is geared toward self-glorification and the experience of those moments of fame (or infamy) to which we have been told we are entitled to experience.

For all the new words we create- to describe our increasingly self-absorbed perceptions of life- somehow we have completely lost the plot when it comes to things of real import.  You know, those issues that affect us and that are creating greater and greater divides of opinion and practice as our ‘communication’ allegedly increases?

I love Bill Moyers.  I think I might have mentioned that once or twice before.  Today I saw an excerpted post on his website about this very thing.

Henry Giroux, cultural analyst and foundational theorist in the realm of critical pedagogy, is another voice crying in the wilderness of the institutionalized dumbing-down of society that I have railed about so very many times here in my little corner of the WordPress world.  Although he is an American- and his great body of work generally cites American exemplars- we have been privileged to have him up here in the neighbourhood, as the Global Television Network (I won’t address the irony of that– at the moment, anyway) Chair Professorship in the English and Cultural Studies Department at McMaster University in the Hammer (again, sorry about the Grey Cup loss, Ticats), and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University, here in the Big Town.

The excerpt from his book, Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, notes:

‘The collapse of journalistic standards finds its counterpart in the rise of civic illiteracy… a difference species of ignorance and anti-intellectualism… It is a form of illiteracy that points less to the lack of technical skills and the absence of certain competencies than to a deficit in the realms of politics- one that subverts both critical thinking and the notion of literacy as both critical interpretation and the possibility of intervention in the world.  This type of illiteracy is not only incapable of dealing with complex and contested questions, it is also an excuse for glorifying the principle of self-interest as a paradigm for understanding politics.  This is a form of illiteracy marked by the inability to see outside of the realm of the privatized self, an illiteracy in which the act of translation withers, reduced to a relic of another age.  The United States is a country that is increasingly defined by a civic deficit , a chronic and deadly form of civic illiteracy that points to the failure of both its educational system and the growing ability of anti-democratic forces to use the educational force of the culture to promote the new illiteracy.  As this widespread illiteracy has come to dominate American culture, we have moved from a culture of questioning to a culture of shouting and in doing so have restaged politics and power in both unproductive and anti-democratic ways.’

Jebus.

Have you ever felt like you’d like to spend even just one day in someone else’s brain?  I admit that I seem to be feeling that way quite a bit lately- between peeps like Ray and Professor Giroux I admit to something of a sense of comparative inadequacy in my own thought/creative/analytical processes

As one of my very smart and engaged sociologist friends pointed out to me this morning, Professor Giroux could be describing the situation we have here with our now-mayor-in-name-only and his remaining Nation.  To the letter.  (And today additional information was released by the courts.  Yes, there’s more.  Than just the crack smoking.  And obscenities.  And drunken stupors.  Stand by.)

Ack.

The system- including educational, media AND political bodies- encourages the continuance of self-absorption (to a pathological degree, sometimes) so that we remain uninvolved in anything outside of ourselves, engrossed as we are in the minutiae and irrelevancies of cults of celebrity and mindless television/internet programming, rehashed (‘rebooted’) films, and formulaic/manufactured music.

We aren’t challenged in our entertainment- as we use what little leisure time we may be able to access as work days/weeks become longer- since such stimulation might lead to the exercise of unused brain matter that might, in turn, lead to more important evaluations- of society, politics, the imbalance between the super-wealthy and everyone else…

Heavens forfend.

That would certainly interfere with those who hold power- be it politically or economically- maintaining a status quo that is increasingly unfavourable to the rest of us.

WHY are we letting this happen?

(This is not a rhetorical question.  All possible explanations are welcome.)

I realize that many people are facing the sheer exhaustion of day-to-day living- what with un/underemployment, rising utility/housing costs, concerns about access to healthcare (particularly in the States)- and that time has become a precious commodity for more and more of us.  I also understand the need to use what little free time we might have in ways that make the daily grind worthwhile.   Time spent with family and friends, and even a little mindless entertainment is a good thing.  Such things do much to help us get through the day.

But I strongly object to the idea that ALL down time should be used playing Bejewelled or catching up with any freakin Kardashians.  We need to start educating ourselves- and cluing back into the communities in which we live.  If we don’t, these communities will continue their downward slide into political and social apathy as we let big business (pharma, the media, commercial conglomerates and etc.), the 1%, lobbyists and career politicians pad their own financial portfolios on the backs of the rest of us.

There’s this guy- a ‘financial expert’- who is a frequent contributor on the CBC (another precious Canadian commodity that is gradually being phased out by the Federal Conservative government- as we watch it happen and do nothing to stop it.  Farewell Hockey Night in Canada– your days are truly numbered… Sorry.  Got sidetracked.  I’ll defend the CBC another day) for some reason.

Some days- when I’m in a ‘selfie’ kind of mood, I think he’s there for no other reason than to make me see red.  In addition to his own ‘name on the masthead’ show, he is a frequent guest on the morning show.  I have no idea who might make up his appreciative demographic (although I can guess), but he’s obviously a ratings draw.

Anyhoo.  He makes me angry.  And that anger compels me to read up about the stuff he says that makes me angry.  To look at his opinion and the countering views of others.  In this way, I can form a balanced impression about whether or not I am reacting to the fact that I can’t stand HIM, or if I am truly opposed to his take on the ways of the world.

I try not to be knee-jerk about anything.  I fail, sometimes, but I think that I generally take the time- and do the work- required of me, as a fully-functional member of society, to make informed decisions.

I’m starting to feel more and more in the minority, as far as this approach to the world is concerned.  With each passing day/news story/political scandal/new reality tv series.

This new word of ours- ‘selfie’- shares a common linguistic root with ‘selfish’.    Which is defined as being ‘concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, regardless of others; characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself.’ 

We cannot afford to remain a selfie culture.  Shouting- whether in the comment section of online articles, with constant self-promoting pictures, or by actually yelling (and mowing down older women) in council chambers- needs to be replaced by critical examination and reasoned discussion that might lead to answers that will benefit ALL of society.

Everywhere we turn we are encouraged to develop ‘our brand’ through self-promotion and shouting louder than other voices.  We have become a society in which those who yell loudest tend to be the ones who end up as our leaders.

Is this really what we want?  Self-aggrandizing in place of discourse?

Pop songs are increasingly all about self-involvement- about ‘roaring’ and ‘sparkling’ and being a ‘firework’ and the like.  Some may argue that they promote the empowerment of those who feel powerless (particularly the young(er) peeps who can actually listen to Katy Perry et al without breaking out in hives), and maybe they are- on the most simplistic and formulaic of levels.

(I just CAN’T post one of those videos here.  Just.  CanNOT)

I’d argue that they contribute to the persistence of this pervasive solipsism that is making working together to change the world more and more difficult.

Professor Giroux is more emphatic:

‘The raging narcissism that seems to shape every ad, film, television program and appeal now mediated through the power of the corporate state and consumer society is not merely a clinical and individual problem.  It is the basis for a new kind of mass illiteracy that is endlessly reproduced through the venues of a number of anti-democratic institutions and forces that eschew critical debate, self-reflection, critical analysis and certainly modes of dissent that call the totality of society into question.’

‘Raging narcissism’.  Yep.  That sounds about right.

Basically, we don’t want to end up like this:

If I looked all over the world
And there’s every type of girl
But your empty eyes seem to pass me by
And leave me dancing with myself

So let’s sink another drink
‘Cause it’ll give me time to think
If I had a chance, I’d ask the world to dance
And I’d be dancing with myself

That post-apocalyptic imagery strikes me a as being a little bit too possible, these days.

‘We might still have a way to go’

December.  Already.  How did that happen?

It seems that the New Year arrives more and more quickly with each one that passes.  I swear, it feels like it was August just two weeks ago.  And I am brutally behind in just about everything I turn my hand to these days.

I did manage to complete my personal NaNoWriMo challenge.  Finished with 52 768 words as of November 30, 2013.  I didn’t actually participate in any of the local events or conversations or communal support- really I just used their word counter as a way of marking progress.  I discovered that I can, in fact, get that much written in a month (I actually wrote more than those 50-some-thousand words, given the fact that I did manage some posts here at colemining as well), even if the final 30-day count has not necessarily brought me that much closer to completion of the project.  There is still a lot of story to be told, and the organization, editing and substantial re-writes is the next hurdle to overcome, but the characters are beginning to develop nicely, and the story progression is reasonably mapped, so progress was made.

It’s nice to know that I can still set a goal which can be met, even while keeping up with the rest of my responsibilities.  So yay for me.  A side effect of all that productivity is that I can step back for a bit, and I do have to say I’m glad that I can take a bit of a break from that particular outlet to give me some time to view it with fresh eyes.

As we rush headlong into the holiday season I am realizing, as is usually the case, that for the next few weeks there will not be enough hours in the day.  Feeling pulled in all these different directions was making me more than a little irritable over the weekend (despite having attended an incredible American Thanksgiving dinner in friends’ new and wonderful home on Saturday- great food, fantastic company- good times indeed).

This irritability was not helped AT ALL by the fact that city was locked in gridlock- were you foolish enough to attempt to drive anywhere- while the TTC seemed to be operating on some arcane schedule that required initiation into some sort of transportation cabal if you actually wanted to know when a streetcar might actually arrive- and not randomly change route numbers or short turn to nowhere on the whim of some Grand Poobah of the Red Rocket.  And don’t get me started on the road closures to accommodate the Buffalo Bills being in town…

Jebus.

‘Grouchy Cole’ is not my favourite character manifestation.

Starting the work week- with deadlines looming and conflict in the workplace- hasn’t helped to dissipate the negative vibes, so I’ve had to look for some external sources of inspiration to get me back on track and looking forward with anticipation rather than anxiety.

cfef6-9781402778919m

This guy.

I picked up the book over a week ago (after first learning of its existence months ago) and, under normal circumstances, would have had it long devoured by this point.  It’s representative of my two very favourite things, after all- music and story (and storytellers).

Shamefully it has taken me this long to write about Ray’s wonderful memoir- using his tours of the US as the core and starting point for his story.  In his lyrical style (everything the guy writes sounds like his music- conversational yet clever, and as if there is a subtle background riff that has been familiar forever supporting his thoughts and emotions as they ring off of the page), he tells the story of life on the road- through the early lean years with the Kinks, and, more recently, as he attempted to rediscover/remake himself in his own image as a solo artist.

First off, I have to say that apparently I was sleeping in 2004, since I had no idea at all that he had been shot.  Believe me, if I had heard a news report that someone raised a gun at Ray Davies in New Orleans, I would have recalled it in the way that those who remember JFK’s assassination can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing.

He looms that largely in my life.

And this book has just reinforced that presence.  Seriously.  It was hard to keep reading because there was just so much inspiration being thrown at me on each and every single page.  I was itching to take that inspiration on board and get back to work.

Although they were part of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, the Kinks have never held the same place in the North American popular imagination of those days as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  There are reasons for this- some of which Ray discusses over the course of Americana– but I think he nails it quite concisely remarking that, as a lyricist, in those early years he was unwilling to play at being anything other than himself- a working class lad from suburban London, who never lost his accent or stopped singing about things that resonated with him, personally.  Regardless of how inexplicable such things might be to an American audience.  The Kinks remained true to their roots, and, especially in their early years, their songs were very reflective of their native environment.

Still, as a child, Ray romanticized the US, based in impressions gleaned from Hollywood and music that spoke of roots and depth of connection to places that were foreign in every manner of speaking from his own life experience.  As their following grew, and again after the break-up of the Kinks, he sought out those roots in an effort to figure out the next directions his creativity might take.

Shifting between recollections of the early tours- painfully recalling the loneliness and boredom of time on the road- and moving forward, in his personal and professional lives, Ray offers insights into his creative process that are at once illuminating and daunting.  Here is a guy with no formal musical training- beyond the fact that he has been playing and writing songs since he was a teenager- who has created a catalogue of some of the most memorable characters and stories in popular music.

He tells the stories of the nascence of songs like this one:

It talks about the tension- ever-present since the band began- between Ray and his little bro’, Dave, and the decision to keep the band together despite the sometimes seeming irrelevance of rock ‘n’ roll.  He created the character of ‘Dan the fan’ to illustrate the impact that music has, even against the backdrop of the time- and the death of Elvis Presley (which came the day after the insomnia that saw the seeds of the song first-formed).  It is a personal and cultural marker of time and place.  We’ve had the song for decades, but to someone like me- for whom story and its creation is an endless source of fascination and wonder- reading about how the song came to be is a new gift to be savoured.

The Shuffle Daemon hasn’t been shuffling anything other than Kinks and/or Ray Davies tunes as I wend my way through his written words.  As Ray revisited his process and the events that spoke to the process, I listened to the songs that resulted, rediscovering old favourites, or hearing those that didn’t top my personal pops in a new light which added a level of appreciation.

This one retains relevance to a prescient degree:

I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead

The news was so bad that I fell out of bed

There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike

Got to be a superman to survive

Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills

I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive…

I’d really like to change the world

And save it from the mess it’s in…

Ray writes so well and so prolifically, it is hard to imagine that he has experienced writers’ block of any kind.  But he has.  And since this is the bane of the existence of any and all those who dare to self-describe as creative-types, knowing that the feeling affects a master of his caliber helps us mere mortals feel a little reassured…

‘In a creatively non-productive phase, my body almost mirrors my emotional state and I can become uncoordinated and risk to myself and others as I bump into tables and walk into closing doors.  When it gets like this I forget which side of the Atlantic I am on.  I invariably trip up on the pavement, drive on the wrong side of the road, and generally become a danger to anyone who happens to be walking near me.  I become a cause for concern among all those who care for me… Sometimes the inspiration gene kicks in early in the morning like a randy rooster crowing a new beat.  That’s the time when it’s important to start writing.  When the dum-dum explodes it is usually accompanied in my head by the ‘William Tell’ overture, that tells me I have to write- which I do at maniacal speed, stopping only in response to exhaustion or physical pain.  A period of nonproductivity, on the other hand, can sometimes necessitate a jug of coffee before I can even put on my dressing gown and get out of bed.  That’s the creative curse.’  (pg. 150-151)

Destroyer is, in many ways- in my opinion anyway- the ultimate Kinks song.  Combining the instantly recognizable riff from All Day and All of the Night and the reappearance of that inimitable character, Lola, it’s about self-destruction as a result of self-involvement.

Silly boy you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure you self-destroyer..

Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption

Over the past week and a bit, as I’ve worked to complete a self-imposed exercise in productivity- one that leaves me filled with vacillating analyses ranging between ‘that’s pretty good’ and ‘oh man, does THAT ever suck rocks’- Ray has provided some illumination and even a kick in the pants or two and helped to draw me back into focus.  And helped me regain some of the optimism that is generally second nature, but which has been missing in action over the last while.

He remains a work in progress- one who is still (at almost 70 years of age) producing works filled with inspiration and enduring characters.  He went searching for himself in an America that was partly an amalgam of the pictures in his head, and found out a whole lot about himself in the process.  Americana seems to have provided him with some perspective- and it has provided me with endless moments of delight.  That I will certainly revisit over and over- the way I need to keep listening to his music.

As he notes in the epilogue: ‘Songs are like friends who comfort you so you don’t feel alone.  Believe in them hard enough and they come true.’ (pg. 296).

With that bit of wisdom, I can’t help but agree- wholeheartedly- and look forward, with hope, for a day when I can believe in my own creations enough that they, in turn, become realized enough that they might just one day befriend someone the way his music and lyrics have been constant companions to me for years and years (and years…).

I could go on (how did this creep up to almost 2000 words?!?  Although many of them are Ray’s…), but will instead recommend that you check out the book for yourself.  Spending time with old friends is always good- especially at this time of year.

Cheers, Ray.