“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2


Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to…

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‘You take what you need and leave the rest’

Feeling some February blahs- and some all-around feeling that all is not right with the world. Seems I’m not the only one (looking at you, Hippie Cahier). So let’s see if we can’t rediscover some of the good… 

It was a big music weekend. All about the Grammy Awards.


I’m not a big one for ‘industry’ stuff. And, to be really honest, I’d only heard of about four of the albums that were up for awards this year. It seems that with each one that passes, the ‘artists’ who show up to these things become further and further outside my ken/musical appreciation.

I did have to watch a couple of things, though. Sadly, I missed AC/DC’s show opener but caught it on YouTube Monday morning- (I had to look hard to find it- thought I had it, but it turned out to be a commentary about starting the show with ‘satanic worship’ and ‘Illuminati performances’. Jebus.) – Angus can still rock those shorts, and, despite the fact that Highway to Hell was a little slower than I remember it being, the guys can still enchant an audience. Must be their connection to the Devil…

What I reallyreally wanted to see was Jeff Lynne (with his current incarnation of ELO). He- and that redheaded kid- offered up a solid performance. Jeff’s voice hasn’t changed even a little bit over the years- still so familiar and so wonderful. Evil Woman and Mr. Blue Sky (I wrote about that little ditty here) – keen offerings, although I was a little surprised that they didn’t do Don’t Bring Me Down. Kind of interesting that he and Tom Petty were both present to watch that other kid take home a best record/best song award for the song he cribbed from them… But I talked about that whole thing already.

I decided recently that I quite adore Hozier. There’s a lot of solid musicianship and some great themes and lyrics behind that engaging smile. And the fact that Take me to Church is a commentary on love- and how institutionalized religion (he rails against the RC church, in particular- good Irish lad that he is) has a nasty tendency to treat sexuality- specifically homosexuality- as something that is shameful. Powerful song.

And then he was joined by Ms. Annie… Who, once again, proved that she has class, extremity of talent and timelessness- and pipes that Just. Won’t. Quit. Best performance of the night. A few other female ‘vocalists’ were well-and-truly schooled by her understated presence and powerful voice. Keeping it real, Annie. Gotta love her.

I turned it off, after that. Heard about that idiot’s aborted attempt to undermine Beck’s acceptance of his award (and the artistry that earned him the recognition)- which validated my decision to turn the thing off. The unwarranted arrogance is astonishing. All that autotune… are we sure he’s not a robot? Really? The (inexplicable) presence of Sir Paul in his life of late notwithstanding, I just don’t get the appeal. At all. Not cool. Beck was pretty groovy about the whole thing, though. Another class act.

But this post isn’t really about the Grammys. It’s about music– rather than industry.

Saturday was a cold and snowy-type of day (what’s up with that, btw, winter? Cold OR snowy I can almost handle. Both simultaneously? Not so freakin much), and I admit that I didn’t move all that far from the couch for most of it. It was a catch-up kind of a weekend- watching stuff, reading stuff, replying to some outstanding correspondence and stuff…

But all came to a complete and total halt when the best music documentary ever produced came on the tv.

I ‘placeholdered’ these guys way back last summer. Watching The Last Waltz for the umpteenth time reminded me that they are more than overdue for some props. ‘Twas strange, actually. As I watched the movie again, I had the strongest feeling of déjà vu that was about more than just the fact that I’d seen the film and heard the songs before. I felt like I’d written a post about them already… Time can be peculiar…

Anyway. Weird loopings of time aside…

Have you seen the movie? No? Do it. If you like music at all then this is a must-see. Produced by Marty Scorsese, it is the best concert film of all time. Yes, I’m waxing hyperbolic. But it’s deserved hyperbole.

Those guys.

Rick, Garth, Richard… love(d) them all. But Levon and Robbie? Two very different dudes, but among my absolute favourite music-makers.

Unlike all too many of those who were present and representing at Sunday’s spectacle, The Band influenced generations of fellow-musicians- in so many genres and over many decades. They’ve always been there- in my lifetime, anyway. Working with the best of the best- singing songs with the likes of Bob Dylan, inspiring the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John/Bernie Taupin (who named a song after Mr. Helms- although their Levon told someone else’s story)…

The Last Waltz featured many of the peeps who wrote the soundtracks, in various musical styles, for decades– from Neil Diamond, to Van Morrison, Eric Clapton- and fellow Canadian treasures Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

For much of my earliest life they were there in the background- I knew the songs, but mightn’t have been able to identify the band (or The Band) that wrote and performed them. Levon, Rick and Richard switching up the vocal duties as easily as they all swapped instruments made it hard for me (always focused on the vocals and the lyrics before anything else) to give all the songs a single source.

I finally put it all together years after the dissolution that followed The Last Waltz, when (my fellow Torontonian) Robbie released his self-titled solo album. Showdown at Big Sky resonated deeply with me- even then, long before I embarked on my crusade to rid us all of superstitious thinking- with its apocalyptic themes and pointed references to the historical injustices visited upon our First Nations. I love everything about that song- and its message is as important (maybe more so) now as it was in 1987.

After hearing and loving Robbie, I pieced together the jigsaw of talent and realized that The Band has been part of my personal and eternal playlist since the beginning…

Ronnie Hawkins (sans the Hawks who were gone from him and no longer The Band, either, by the time that I was old enough to see him at every single New Year’s Eve performance at Nathan Phillips Square) found the five original members while they were but wee ones, bringing them together as his supporting band.

Garth came to the band with a stipulation- his parents had invested heavily in his musical training, so, to mollify fears that his education was in vain, he insisted that the other Hawks call him a ‘music instructor’ and pay him $10 per week for his tutelage. Under Hawkins, and Garth’s formal training, the other four flourished in their musicology and experimentation.

They played ALL the instruments. They wrote ALL the songs.

And everything they wrote and recorded is just so good.

‘The Weight’ is undeniably one of the best songs of all time. Rolling Stone placed it at #41 of their top 500 songs, ever. It has been covered by so many people (you doubt? Check out the Wikipedia- there were versions I didn’t even know about)- and has become a ‘modern standard’.

Arguably, it’s one of the best story-songs in existence- and you know I love those story-songs.

The traveler arrives in the ‘Holy Land’ of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, weary from his journey and looking for some comfort as he passes on the well-wishes of his Miss Fanny. He meets a cast of characters- named for biblical peeps- and offers up sketches of each of the interesting individuals that call Nazareth home.

I love these characters- feel like I know them. And I love the underlying message about sharing the load. Based, as they are, in the tradition of musical forms that include spirituals and folk songs and traditional country ditties, it’s hardly surprising that most of their catalogue is uplifting in nature.

Oh, how I love that catalogue.

As so often seems to be the case when I start thinking about answers/reasons/inspiration, that connection thing is happening again.

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the recording of Canada’s answer to the call to raise awareness and aid for Ethiopia (I’ve talked about the British response and re-response before). The CBC had an engaging story about it  yesterday morning. Check out the link embedded in the article that takes you to the original video. Brought tears to my eyes. Seriously.

Talking about the three major offerings to the cause, the author noted that:

“Each represents a cliché stereotype about its country, he suggests. The British Do They Know It’s Christmas? takes a colonial attitude, while the American We Are the World is very self-centred. Tears Are Not Enough offered an emotional but indistinct humanitarianism.”

‘Emotional, but indistinct humanitarianism.’ I’m not sure that that’s particularly fulsome praise, but as stereotypes go, there are certainly worse.

I’m (almost always) proud to be Canadian. When you watch the Northern Lights video, keep your eyes peeled for a couple of the people who are linked, inextricably, to The Band. They were present and accounted for then. Still are.

We have staying power, us Canucks. And determination to see things through.

And then I saw this today.

Bob Dylan accepting a well-deserved award and giving an eloquent (if sometimes surprising) speech.

If you sung all these “come all ye” songs all the time like I did, you’d be writing, “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.”

You’d have written that too. There’s nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that’s all enough, and that’s all you know. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.


Lesson for the week?

Music, at its best, can be a powerful force for change and awareness-raising- and can tell stories about particular times and particular ways of viewing the world, while leaving us with themes and tunes that resonate regardless of time or place. Music gives– comfort and insight and entertainment- allowing us to take what we need (any and all of those things on the notice up there ^^^) and leave the rest for the next person to enjoy and use as they might require.

At its worst? It is nothing more than a pathway to fame and/or infamy for ego-driven jackasses who put personal aggrandizement ahead of art and craft at every opportunity.

People wonder why I listen to the music that I do (stuff invariably from the former category) and ignore the dross put out by the latter.

The Band wrote songs that ‘made sense’. They still make sense. Not sure that can be said about a lot of the output that was celebrated at the industry ceremony the other night.

Still… Bob again:

All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down and you’ve just got to bear it. In a sense everything evened itself out.

Music shouldn’t divide. Not when it’s reflective of the best that it can be. I’m feeling like we need some evening out hereabouts these days. Some equatable sharing of the load- whatever that load might be.

Soundtrack for the rest of week?

Lots of The Band. I’m in the mood for some solid storytelling and great music and lyrics. And some mending. And defending.

Especially since I know a whole lot o’ folks all feeling a little like we’re half past dead right now.

‘She told me just to come on by
If there’s anything that she could do’

Regarding goat rodeos and other suchlike things


I don’t know how I missed this.

Thankfully, in a meeting today, our management team brought this wonder to our collective attention.  The video was presented in the context of team-building- and a discussion of the employment of varied talents, brought together to create something almost beyond belief in its greatness.

It’s still blowing my mind.

Not just the undeniable beauty of the music that these sessions produced (you know I love great music) but because it is indicative of the overarching culture that drives my place of work.  And because it completely corresponds with the direction in which my brain has been running this week.

Bringing together disparate elements with individual strengths to create an incredible whole.  Yeah.  I like that.  A lot.

I also like the song a lot.  Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile (and Aoife O’Donovan on Here and Heaven) came together in 2011 and demonstrated that things like background and genre need mean nothing when there is a common goal.  That Bluegrass and Classical music speak to the same atavistic drives and desires and propensity for greatness and cooperation that we have as humans.

The two genres might generally appeal to different sorts of people, from different places and different circumstances, but the artists demonstrated that when the elements are brought together, the superficiality of some types of context can vanish in the face of the purity of what is produced.

As you might be aware, I’ve been saying that very thing about our stories and songs for quite some time hereabouts (have a run through the archives if you need a refresher).

A goat rodeo is a chaotic situation in which many things must all go right for it to all come together.  It is often used to describe corporate or bureaucratic circumstances, but, in this case, it refers to the perfect storm of challenges that is required to combine the elements of the styles of music.

(N.B.  It’s also, apparently, a real thing.  A rodeo.  But with goats.  Go figure.)

The term is often used negatively to describe an unmanageable event or circumstance.  The artists who participated in The Goat Rodeo Sessions have turned that definition on its head.  They prove that order– constructed through the work of many- can be used to overcome chaos- another specific point I’ve chatted about recently.

There’s a whole lot of chaos out there.  I can hardly bear to watch the news some days.  I could easily list off some of the more distressing manifestations of the chaos that is making headlines around the world today.  It would be a long list.

I’ve written posts about that sort of thing before.  Not being one to bury my head in the sand and deny the crazy, it’s hard to move past the day-to-day realities that demonstrate the desire- on the part of too many people- to act in ways that reflect the lowest common denominator amongst us human-type-beings.  Horrors and injustice and just plain bad behaviour clog the news feeds and contribute to the general malaise that seems unwilling to let loose its grip.

Exposure to direct evidence of the contrary- the highest heights of cooperation and collaboration- mitigates the pessimism.

Not long ago I threatened to talk about these guys.

I have to admit that I was more than a little awestruck waaaaaay back in the day when the Wilburys showed up.  Sure, there had been other examples of super-groups- it was the post-BandAid era, after all- but that particular combination of singer-songwriting majesty just blew me away.

Bob Dylan.  Roy Orbison.  Jeff Lynne.  George Harrison.  Tom Petty.

Handle With Care, while about the trials and tribulations of fame, spoke to the Wilbury ideal.  These five guys.  All HUGE musical presences with the exposure and the accolades rightly afforded by their decades of dedication to their craft.  You’d have to wonder- with some justification- how the egos all managed to fit in the same building, let alone studio.

But.  The project stemmed out of George’s desire to do an album with his ‘mates’.  Just him and some pals writing some tunes and contributing their own, inimitable, voices to some songs for the pure joy of doing so.

To add to the fun, they created pseudonyms and personae around the conceit of the Wilbury family- traveling musicians who were half-brothers stemming from a single, fictional, father.  Along with the fun, the stories, the harmonies and sense of togetherness, as the great songsters they are/were, they provided little bits of advice that remain timeless.

‘I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess’

Personal accountability- a pillar of individual success, but also one that contributes to the smooth functioning of groups and development of the product needing to be delivered.  It comes up as a theme in this one, too:

‘You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)’

After Roy Orbison died of a heart attack, the Wilburys kept on Traveling.  The rocking chair- empty save for his guitar- and the brief close-up on the framed photo still speak to me about the importance of remembrance and recognition of lives touched while illustrating that the road doesn’t end when we lose the people we love.

I still get choked up when I watch that video.

As the years moved ever onward, we also lost George (admission here- he will always be my fave from the Fab 4).

‘I don’t see nothing new but I feel a lot of change
And I get the strangest feeling, as I’m
Heading for the light’

The joy of this song- finding a path after a time in darkness- is so very George.  Yet, the addition of Jeff’s distinctive harmonies and the combined guitars make it a Wilburys song.  Truly- bits and pieces of the best of some of the best of a generation of musical presences- what is more positive and concerted than that?

A concert is ‘a public performance of music’, but it also represents ‘agreement in design or plan’ and ‘union formed by mutual communication of opinion and views’.

Despite the individual and collective merits of each of their songs, as we head into the first long weekend of the summer (come on blue skies and rising temperatures!), this is the one that will be heading the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon.

In that short piece of goodness (mainly authored by Tom), each Wilbury is identifiable as an individual- but the concert of it all makes it one of my favourites of their joint composition.

(I really do like Jeff’s bit best, though)

‘Still the sun went down your way
Down from the blue into the gray
Where I stood I saw you walk away
You danced away’

I’ll be dancing my way into the weekend.  Spending it with friends and family and acknowledging that for all our individual strengths, we remain best together.

We can all be honourary Wilburys.  Let the concert begin.

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to further understand our universe, I say (cautiously), knock yourselves out.

Intellectually, I cannot believe in external, supernatural manifestations of good and evil.  That those two extremes exist in the world is an indicator of their presence within us.  We humans have an incredible capacity for beautiful acts of good and terrible depths of evil.  And, unfortunately, those impulses- standing alone or as a mix of the two (evil is frequently done with the best of intentions)- cause us to do terrible things in the name of belief.

When that happens, we have to root out the causes of such actions and work as a society to prevent them from happening again.

Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article attempts to do just that.

It is a first step- highlighting some of the challenges faced by immigrant families in a new, multicultural environment, separated from extended family and history and ‘the known’ and left to figure things out without enough community resources to facilitate their transition between cultures.

(My good friend, Farah, has done great work in this field.  Her perspective, experiences and huge store of knowledge on this subject is invaluable.)

Through her interviews, Reitman illustrates the ways in which people can hide their disconnection from the larger community, while seeming to be involved and engaged with those around them.  It shows that someone who appears well-adjusted can lose that sense of belonging when stability is threatened or removed completely.  And that people, when left without that stability, can be influenced by organizations or ideologies that, at base, are all about the search for power through destructive means.

I do have some issues with the article.  Primarily the fact that Reitman labels the subject of her article a ‘monster’.

Words have a great deal of impact and affect our reactions on a very basic level.  Rather than calling the accused to account for his actions, denying the humanity of the person in fact becomes a way of excusing the actions.  Monsters are monstrous because they are MONSTERS.

When people do horrible things there are reasons- however insignificant or incomprehensible or inexcusable.  There ARE reasons.  And getting to the source of those reasons can help us prevent future actions that may result from the same conditions.  Making perpetrators into monsters also abrogates our collective responsibility for the conditions that can lead to heinous acts.

Externalizing evil- making destructive thoughts/actions all about the Other– whether supernatural in origin or sourced in a different culture/religion/worldview suggests that there is nothing we can do about it.

(I’ve begun to examine the origins of this propensity to excuse ourselves from our tendencies toward doing evil hereherehere and here).

Of course there is something we can do about it.  We are pretty awesome at solving problems when we put our collective minds and resources together.

This blog is supposed to emphasize the best of humanity.

Sometimes we have to look at the worst- and figure our where it came from- so that those impulses to act against our fellow humans in such heinous ways can be eradicated.  This requires that we examine the causes of social anomie- including the reasons why a young man, seemingly well-adjusted and from a ‘nice neighbourhood,’ could do something like he did.

Taking one magazine to task for publishing an investigative story suggests that we should be holding our journalists to some standard of sensitivity and morality- one that takes feelings into account- and yet the media has become an hysterical free-for-all of opinion and sensationalism rather than a measured and well-researched exploration of facts, origins, conditions and resulting outcomes.  Post-9/11, media outlets and satirical commentators were silenced for doing what they do- delving into the story behind the obvious extremity and inhumaity of the act.

Although not always the case, there are generally complex issues at play- involving religion, society, myth, culture.

Our illustrious PM, in a turnabout of his expressed opinion that we should not ‘commit sociology’ (I ranted about that here), has changed his tune about searching for causality in a different circumstance.   The causes of one tragedy, but not the other, are, apparently, worth discovering.

Investigating the process by which a young North American college student became a radicalized terrorist is perceived as somehow ‘glorifying’ the act and the actor, although both dangerous and short-sighted to an alarming degree, and is not viewed as being as important as punishing the perpetrator.

Investigating whether or not a terrible accident had its source in negligence or in the government-advocated cutting back of standards in operational procedures on the rails of our country?  THAT will be done, and ‘quickly’.

As I stated on my ‘About’ page, my studies of religion and humanity have taught me that sometimes we have to un-create our gods- or our closely-held ideologies- and create something better and more human. And humane.

Rolling Stone has always been associated with the liberal end of the politically ideological spectrum.  Interestingly, many of the retail corporations and celebrities that have loudly spoken out against the August cover article can be found at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Politicizing our reactions to tragic events is despicable, and is one of those things that we have to change.  It is one aspect of our political system(s), media, and society in general, that needs to be un-created and re-created in a way that takes into account something other than power/influence for its own sake.

Jann Wenner named his magazine after a 1950 Muddy Waters song.  The proverb (credited to Publilius Syrus in the 1st century BCE) that inspired that song “is often interpreted as referring to figurative nomads who avoid taking on responsibilities or cultivating or advancing their own knowledge, experience or culture” while “another interpretation equates moss to stagnation” (according to the Wikipedia).

Bob Dylan used the proverbial image as the basis for the extended piece of poetry that became his 1965 song Like A Rolling Stone.  It is a wonderfully complex song that explores the themes of resentment and revenge, as well as compassion, and the perceived freedom of being without ties:

When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to reveal

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a Rolling Stone

Because everything is connected (and because that’s the way my mind works) it’s hard not to see the correspondence of themes in Dylan’s song and the human condition of loneliness and disconnection that can lead to social anomie.

Don McLean’s American Pie (one of my all time fave tunes) has a nostalgic yearning for an era in which things were not stagnant- the time before the Day the Music Died.  Although he is famously elusive about discussing the meaning behind the song, McLean is citing a point in time that is associated with perceived innocence, but also with change and progress.

For the “10 years we’ve been on our own… moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not how it used to be.”

That was 42 (!) years ago.

We have to keep rolling forward and let the moss of stagnation fall from us as we work together to solve the problems that lead people to the desperation and separation that can lead to acts of terror.  We should be ‘advancing our knowledge, experience and culture’ while refusing to be mired in the past or in created ideologies that prevent this progress.

That isn’t going to happen if we insist on silencing our writers for the sake of ‘sensibilities’ or due to the politically motivated obfuscation of invaluable research and social criticism.

How does it feel?

It’s an important question that needs to be answered.