Happy Long Weekend!  As we ease into the last 3-day holiday of the summer I’ll be highlighting every bit of that little three word phrase.  Happiness, the weekend and, most especially, loooooooong.  I’d recommend you crack a beer before delving in…. (seriously, longest post EVER- and that’s saying something hereabouts)

Is it possible to have a Happiness Hangover?  If so, I’m almost 72 hours into one of epic proportion.

What a night.

Some of you might be looking for a proper review of that little show I spoke about with anticipatory giddiness a few days back.  That had been the plan, but then my bud Len threw a little something together describing the first three shows of the tour and there’s just no way I can come close to topping his take on the wonderment.  If you want the playlists and a bang-up overview of his enthusiastic take on the tour-to-end-all tours, please pop over and visit him at Battery Kill Corner.  You won’t be disappointed.  The guy knows his way around music like no one else.

I don’t claim to be a reviewer (let alone one of Len’s caliber).  I tend to be a little more (shall we say) stylistically informal (at least when I’m not doing the day job) than is traditionally called for when reviewing books or concerts or what-have-you.

I also don’t love reviews (generally speaking).  I prefer to form my own opinions about things- uncluttered by the responses that others might have had.  I read one post-show review in a local source and was incredibly disappointed by the writer’s lack of real engagement with the artists and their ability to hold the crowd so tightly together.  I guess I want everyone to have had the same experience I did.

What I do write is a whole lot o’ letters (especially when I’m doing the day job), and figure I’m pretty good at that sort of thing.

So let’s not call this a review.  Let’s call this a thank you epistle.  A reallyreally loooong thank you epistle.

Back when we were youngsters, Mum insisted we learn to write proper letters of gratitude and acknowledgement when people took the time to gift us with something- be it a material offering or a granting of time and attention.  Much as we grumbled and tried to get out of it, the lesson- and habit- was one that stuck with me.  It seems to be a rapidly-disappearing social nicety, so here’s my stab at changing that.

From cole davidson, the pseudonymous blogging handle of a citizen of Toronto the Good, grateful lover of music, to the assembly of musicians and supporters who collectively demonstrated the wonder of our shared humanity at Kool Haus on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. 

I am thankful for your presence in the world- for the songs and the wisdom and the fun that you have shared across decades and in far-reaching places.  I thank you for returning, one and all, to this city that loves you- a congregation that has hosted you before and that will continue to welcome you whenever you choose to return.

First, though, an apology.  I admit that I was somewhat less than enthusiastic about the inclusion of Katrina (ex-of the Waves) Leskanich in the tour de force that is Retro Futura.  I never looked beyond Walking on Sunshine (which was, let’s be honest, somewhat overplayed- back in the day and on retro radio stations in more recent times).  I’m also (as I’ve mentioned before) not big on the girl singers.  I admit this.

So I was pretty blown away by just how hard that lady can rock and roll.

Mea Culpa.  Her rapport with the band and the crowd was pretty spectacular, especially given the fact that most of the audience was there, primarily, to see one (or more) of the acts to follow.  She was a class act all around, and in fine voice, as she got us all warmed up.  I definitely have a new appreciation for that sunshiny song.  And this one was pretty kick ass live:

Then my old friends started to take the stage…

I’m not sure just what was up with Gary and the caftan (although Len says they had a convo about that- something to do with keeping cool and hiding his middle-aged paunch- but that’s just hearsay), but he and Eddie (who, as Gary quipped, “still wears the pants”) came on out and chatted with us all as if we were hanging in the living room.  Or at Hugh’s Room.  A show which was referenced when he asked who among us had been with them there.

They included the song that really started it all for them- their 1982 tune about the insidious evil of Apartheid in African and White.

We need your faith and hostility
To be certain of a change
And could you ever recover from
Forever recover from this prejudice

Life is a fever we create

I’m not sure I understand why they left Working With Fire and Steel off the playlist this time out, but the inclusion of Arizona Sky made me happy.  It had fallen off the Shuffle Daemon’s playlist.  It’s back again.  Forgot how much I loved it- and love seeing them do it live (last time would have been at Canada’s Wonderland in ’80-something).

Decorate, paint it for the union
No reason to give up on the illusion
Take confident possession of yourself
No reason to give up on the illusion

Eddie got to sing Wishful Thinking– a change from the playlist of the previous shows.  Full of chat and cheek, as usual, the Liverpudlian Lads built on Katrina’s energy and led us into the next set…

Mr. James Ure.  (Can I call you James?  During one of our many discussions/debriefs about the shows, I mentioned something in passing about Jim Ure- to which Len remarked that there are probably only about 114 people in the world who know that ‘Midge’ is a nickname stemming from the reversal of ‘Jim’).

That voice.  That powerfulpowerful voice.  While I still regret missing him when he passed through town earlier this year (and last year- he’s been around a lot, actually) to play Hugh’s Room (there’s that place again- all the cool people play there) for a pared down, acoustic show (not unlike Gary and Eddie’s visit) I’m pretty damn happy I got to hear him plugged in and with the support of the fantastic house band (who did an incredible job handling all three of the first courses in our musical prix fixe menu)…

Opening with Hymn, in all its fullness and glory, Midge reminded me how much I love that song.  And how much I have missed that song.  My copy of Quartet is vinyl- and has been in storage for far too long.  Midge belted out the sermon- ‘faithless in faith’– clearly demonstrating that his pipes retain a depth and strength that you just don’t hear all that often.  Mores the pity.  I’d try to describe it, but why deny you the pleasure of hearing it for yourself…

It almost made me forgive him for not playing Reap the Wild Wind– my absolute fave Ultravox song- and one of my fave songs of all time full stop.  But he played Vienna… and Fade to Grey… and If I Was.  So much greatness.  Jim ended his fierce set with Dancing With Tears in My Eyes (probably his best known hit- after that little Xmas song, of course)- a song full of the haunting echoes of that era- and my generation.

We were the children of a time period in which 3-or-4-minutes-to-midnight was an ever-present reality.  We felt the shadow of nuclear destruction in all facets of our life.  There were constant warnings that the clock was ticking down- that two old men had their fingers hovering over buttons that could end the world as we knew it (my thanks to Nik Kershaw- who would have fit right in among this august company- for that particular image).

We were an apocalyptic generation (and we’re still feeling that ennui and uncertainty ripple through the subsequent years).  The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has (had?  Haven’t been in a few years) a section that deals with the years of the Cold War.  In the early 80s, as Reagan escalated the arms race and advocated the positioning of guns in the sky to keep democracy safe from the Soviets, the music reflected the reality that the Doomsday Clock had us teetering dangerously close to the edge of a politically-driven global catastrophe.

Ultravox’s Dancing is one of the videos that plays in the Museum as a reminder of the underlying nuclear threat that was ever-present in those years (although we’re hardly in better shape now- the Clock continues to hover around 23:55- mainly due to concerns about global warming.  No wonder we’re all about the apocalypses again lately…)

That video still makes me shiver with remembered fear that goes bone-deep.  In its sadness and desperation as the end comes with the meltdown at a nuclear power plant there is still a love of life and the transcendence of inevitability that wends its way through all of Midge’s songs.

And then there was Howard.

I admit that I spent some time trying my hand at being one of the cynical few– a member of the Doom Crew, if you will.  Part of growing up is getting all angsty, all ‘the world is against me’, all ‘nothing can save us now’ about things.  I like to think that I left that negativity behind me a long time ago (teenage angst is highly unattractive in people no longer teenaged), but, things in the world as they are, I have been feeling a creeping return of negativity, and overall frustration with the unwillingness of people to critically assess situations and work toward affecting positive change.

Leading up to Tuesday night, listening to Howard again, the reasons why he is a man to admire and to emulate came through loudly and clearly.  And I realized that he played a pretty big role in helping to shape the way I approach the world- as an adult, now, but also as a young’un seeking a path in the world.

His voice is all about the positive.

I’ve been waiting for so long…

This is a song to all of my friends, they take the challenge to their hearts

Challenging preconceived ideas, saying goodbye to long-standing fears…

That New Song of his spoke volumes to me as a 13-year-old.  It resonates even more now.  He taught me that it was okay- nay, that it was necessary, to question things and to look for, and then thoroughly evaluate, the answers that we find.

In songs of less than five minutes.  He taught me that.  And this.

What is love, anyway?

And maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be, the door always must be left unlocked.

To love when circumstance may lead someone away from you, and not to spend the time just doubting.

He seemed genuinely happy to be back with us- he even referenced the fact that he was Canadian for a time (and can sing the National Anthem with the rest/best of us).  These songs…  All of these songs… This one hit me right where I’m living right now.

 We’re not scared to lose it all
Security throw through the wall
Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands
Won’t keep us from the things we plan
Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize

And do you feel scared, I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better

Treating today as though it was
The last, the final show
Get to sixty and feel no regret
It may take a little time
A lonely path, an uphill climb
Success or failure will not alter it

If you hang out with me hereabouts you know that I’m in the process of thinking through and working out the ways in which I can translate my particular view of the world in a way that can be shared vis-à-vis the corporate realm and the larger community.  That song sums up so manymany things for me.  And man, does it make you smile.  I DARE you not to smile as you listen to that song.  I didn’t want him to leave us.


Tom Bailey.  I spoke about my sentimental connection with the Thompson Twins- about Dad, and 30 years, and how the nostalgia is, in itself, healing.  But the reality?  Whoa back.

As soon as he took the stage he led us in a conversation– starting with some needed filler to cover for a technical glitch at the get-go.  Tom chatted with us as the issue was resolved- talking about his appearance on Jimmy Fallon- how weird that was since he’s not one for the ‘show business’ stuff.  He strolled the stage- looking comfortable and extending random thoughts and off-hand comments until the machines were up and running again.

That song I spoke about the other day- You Take Me Up– was one more in a string of sing-a-long opportunities over the 4 hours we were all together.  His updated version of a song from a movie that was part of the canon of 80s teendom got everyone remembering (those who were behind the curve) what it was like to be 16.

After more than a quarter century not performing (or even listening to) these songs, it was pretty remarkable how comfortable he was on that stage and with those words- that are ingrained in my memory- as he made the whole shebang look effortless.

I loved Lies, missed Lay Your Hands on Me– although I understand his reasons for leaving that one off the playlist- and rediscovered my appreciation of King for a Day.  And then it was time.

When I was 14- and on that road trip with the family that I told you about, listening to the tape over and over and over again- every time I heard that song I had the visual of the video that was getting tonnes of airplay on the video shows back home, with Tom, redheaded and at the piano, belting out a song of love.

A love song that acknowledges that all is not always long-stemmed roses and boxes of chocolates.  That communication is vital- but that misunderstandings will happen, nevertheless.

While on the Walt Disney World portion of the road trip, we spent an evening at what was then Lake Buena Vista Village (before its Downtown Disney iteration).  As the lake lit up and my folks and sisters moved in and out of the stores, I stood on the shore of that lake, Walkman in pocket, listening to Hold Me Now, and just being almost-14 and in love with Tom Bailey.

4 years ago, after an emotionally brutal divorce and challenging upheaval and relocation home to TO, Dad and my sisters sent me to Disney for my 40th birthday.  One evening, as my sister slept, I went out for a walk down by another of the Disney lakes.  This one, looking across at a Magical Kingdom, had a beach that was completely deserted at that time of night.

I popped in the ear buds and chose the last song of the night on the Shuffle Daemon.  I remembered being almost-14 and in love, feeling the intensity of that adolescent emotion, while I counted my blessings and drifted back into that innocent affection for the duration of the song.

Mr. Jones’ Everlasting Love, indeed.

In an interview with Ryan White in the Sacramento Bee, talking about why he chose, after 27 years, to return to playing and touring with these songs of my youth, Tom reflected on what those songs were all about.

“I kind of suddenly grasped it was about a nostalgia for a lost honesty about ourselves and about our optimism for the future.”  Bailey said.  When he thinks about the 80s, he thinks about that optimism, and the way the years since have been marked by disappointing and discouraging events.  In some respects, cynicism has been normalized.  “I feel like it would be a contribution to lift the lid on that 80s optimism.”  And that is the work of a pop star.

And a man with things yet to teach.  Every one of the great and talented performers that gifted us with their presence on Tuesday has mastered effective communication to a degree that is staggering.  They are still imparting lessons.  Especially resonant for me is the one that says that a ‘classroom’ needn’t be bricks and mortar and organized within an institution of some kind.  That those who are meant to teach will always find their audience and impact the lives of others as they both entertain and advise.

Epistles are letters that, traditionally, are didactic in nature.  The epistolary genre was common in Ancient Egypt and made up a big part of the curriculum found in scribal schools.  It became a major type of composition among the Greeks and Romans before it found an even greater degree of fame in the hands of that guy from Tarsus and those who later wrote in his name and/or style.  Philosophically, didacticism emphasized the instructional qualities of art and literature.  And music.

Epistles also told stories of love and devotion while modeling behaviour and recommending effective and productive and human and humane ways of living in this world of ours.

So.  Thank you for the songs.  For the lessons.  For the examples.  For continuing to teach me about life and love and positivity.  And for coming to see us again.  On my birthday.

Please don’t be strangers.

This greeting and fulsome (understatement, that) record of thanks and enduring love and appreciation is by me, cole, by my own hands, on my own keyboard.  My appreciation to all of you, In the Name of Love. Verily.

6 comments on “Epistle

  1. bethbyrnes says:

    Cole! Did you every listen to that first Katrina/Waves album? All the songs! Man, that girl and that album were awesome. She totally rocked but you can only appreciate what she did if you listen to the other tunes on that set. Wow! I am going to come back and read and comment here more, but I had get that out of the way STAT!

  2. I wish concert reviews were as well-written and heart-felt as what you’ve posted here. When I read the typical review I come away either irritated by the reviewer’s need to be “edgy” or feeling cheated by the fact the writer let their preconceptions get in the way or with the impression that they simply didn’t know much about the artist.

    Instead, your post not only allowed me to visualize the artists and their music, but also brought back that time 30 years ago when I listened to them regularly, a period when life was very different. It also helped me recall more than a few emotions and memories, and, as always, made me glad I stopped by for a visit. Thanks, Cole.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, CBC. I could never be a critic since writing reviews generally requires some distance from the subject, and, generally, when I attend shows like this it becomes one big love and shiny-happy-smiley-fest. The one local review I read of the show was exactly as you describe- an attempt at edginess without any indication of anything other than a superficial knowledge of the artists or their music- or the contribution they have made to lives like mine.

      There are certainly more important things happening in the world than a concert tour by a bunch of Brits, but it was more than a breath of fresh air for me. It was a reminder that cynicism (credulous cynicism, much of the time) has been permitted to become the norm, and optimism and positivity have been given short shrift as a result. These guys (and Katrina) reminded me that negativity cycles upon itself and solves nothing. No. Thing. Which is a pretty great lesson- and well worth the price of admission.

      And thank you, as always, for your visit and kind comment!

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