Songs to Learn and Sing

So… today is another one of those examples of polarization that I keep talking about.

Ostensibly about love, do a quick internet search and you will be presented with at least as many posts about how Valentine’s Day suuuuucks as you will find links to the ‘perfect gift/thought/outing’ to plan for/with a special someone.

Flipping back through what I’ve written the past while, I can’t help but notice an extremely un-cole-like preponderance of negativity and cynicism overshadowing my thoughts and the words I’ve felt compelled to share here on the WordPress.  So while I could (and almost did) write something about how this ‘Hallmark holiday’ is nothing more than yet another example of the hyper-commercialism of society and one of the many things that keeps us distracted from stuff we need to be thinking about, I’ve decided that it’s past time to lighten the hell up a little, and view the day in light of ‘best intentions’ and the celebration of the many forms of love in this life to which we should be paying daily attention.

We humans are social animals and we gravitate to one another for a variety of reasons- whether biological, emotional, philosophical, intellectual or otherwise.  This basic commonality is reflected in our myths and music.  It pervades February 14th and has become associated with, strictly, couple-y love (in the high Middle Ages the day was about courtly love- which had little to do with things like love within the bonds of marriage and more with those rules of chivalry that Don Quixote tried so hard to re-introduce) rather than love of a more general and all-encompassing sort.

I think this emphasis represents a missed opportunity.

Here in Ontario we have a long weekend ahead of us (thank goodness!) with Monday being the ‘Family Day’ statutory holiday.  Arriving in tandem with all the pink/red flowers, hearts, candy and cutesy teddy bears, we can take the opportunity to stop for a little bit and focus on the existence of love- in all its manifestations- than can be experienced as we travel these roads together.

I let the Shuffle Daemon take the wheel (since it has been brilliantly returning absent friends to me lately) and find me some tunes that speak to this theme of love-in-general that we need to get working for us.

I wrote about this guy- and mentioned this song in passing- the other day.  I think it’s one of my favourite being-in-love songs ever.  Straightforward and real.

‘I could be discontent and chase the rainbow’s end
I might win much more but lose all that is mine
I could be a lot but I know I’m not
I’m content just with the riches that you bring
I might shoot to win and commit the sin
Of wanting more than I’ve already got
I could run away but I’d rather stay
In the warmth of your smile lighting up my day
(the one that makes me say, heh)

‘Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me or my world
You’re the best thing that ever happened – so don’t go away

I might be a king and steal my people’s things
But I don’t go for that power crazy way
All that I could rule but I don’t check for fools
All that I need is to be left to live my way
(say listen what I say)’

Little Stevie Winwood.  The hope/assertion of fact in this song is just so veryvery human.

‘Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind, we try to see
Falling behind in what could be’

Some people might interpret this song as being about the supernatural love of a deity somewhere.  Steve might even have meant it to be about that.  One of the great and beautiful things about music is its interpretability.  I think it’s about that human-to-human connection we all need.

‘Worlds are turning and we’re just hanging on
Facing our fear and standing out there alone
A yearning, and it’s real to me
There must be someone who’s feeling for me’

Interpret as you will.  I saw him at Maple Leaf Gardens when he toured this album.  Man, can that guy sing.

I love that movie.  And when Lulu sings the title song to Sidney Poitier/Mr. Thackery… my poor teacher’s heart overflows.  It’s a wonderful and innocent reminder of the impact that we make as we pass through the lives of others.

‘The time has come
For closing books; and long last looks must end
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong — that’s a lot to learn
What — what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon,
I would try to make a start… but I
Would rather you let me give my heart
To Sir, With Love’

I know, I know.  I write about these guys a lot.  How can you not?

It’s about family love and lessons and the reciprocity of both.

Although I could go on and on and on… Should dash and get my plans for the weekend started.  But there’s time for one final tune…

‘In a hand painted night, me and Gypsy Scotty are partners
At the Hotel Flamingo, wearing black market shoes
This loud Cuban band is crucifying John Lennon
No one wants to be lonely, no one wants to sing the blues

She’s perched like a parrot on his tuxedo shoulder
Christ, what she’s doing with him?  She could be
Dancing with me’

Ah, Mellencamp.  This tune just makes me smile all over.  It’s a buddy/road trip song about adventures shared and bumps in the road overcome (and Matthew McConaughey is in the video).  The line about the ‘Cuban band crucifying John Lennon’ is one of my favourite lyrics EVER.

Let’s all get some of that love thing made manifest this weekend- whether it’s in the company of that one special person, your family, friends, furry children, or sent across the wide world in representation of love for and pride in our home and native land- and those doing us proud at them there Olympic Games (I know, I said I wasn’t interested, and I have yet to watch any events/coverage, but between the medal count and the fact that our athletes/coaches/fans are making my proud Canadian heart sing… it’s hard to stay Grinch-y about it all).

Happy Valentine’s Day/Family Day/We-are-human-and-we-love.  It’s-what-we-do Day.

PS- I stole the title for the post from an Echo and Bunnymen Greatest Hits compilation.  The Shuffle Daemon didn’t see fit to add them to the mix, but I thank them for the inspiration, nonetheless.

Sing it, Neil

He’s one of our National Treasures.

I dare you to challenge that.  The man has a body of work that runs the gamut from inspirational and incredibly harmonic, to silly rockabilly, to political commentary that can strip paint with its caustic words.

The night before last he showed up in town to kick off a very important journey.  He’s putting the boots to our current federal government and defiantly and loudly– in that signature growly voice of his- taking them to task for their irresponsible governance and stewardship of this great land of ours.

He’s done this sort of thing before, of course.  Way back when, he wrote a couple of tunes about racism and its continuing evils that resulted in something of a ‘song battle’ with one of the stalwarts of Southern rock.

And then there was this one- critiquing the politics of George  H. W. Bush.

Seems Stephen Harper fancies himself something of a musician.  He’s serenaded those who follow his party line a number of times now.  You’d think he’d have some level of respect for someone who has conquered the musical world to a rarified degree while participating in raising awareness about things that impact or concern him greatly.

Evidently not.

I started this post yesterday on my lunch break and intended to finish it once at home and settled in after some dinner.  But while prepping said dinner I tuned in to Evan Solomon on the venerable CBC to hear him lead the convo about Power and Politics.  Topic?  Should Neil Young be talking about the tar sands?  So.  I listened intently- and with anger and frustration, per usual, as the Conservative ‘analyst’ worked her rhetoric into a full head of steam- and then thought about what was said over the course of the rest of the evening.

Do I like the tar sands?  Not so much.  I have a few close peeps who have been involved in natural resources industries- some of them for decades– and I have formed my opinions regarding things like fracking and the tar sands (interesting that they call them the ‘oil sands’ these days- new lingo for a new, positive spin.  We NEED oil– ‘tar’ has a much more ambiguous association, and the most accurate descriptor- ‘bituminous sands’- means nothing to anyone) based in discussions with them and my own readings about the ways in which we ‘withdraw’ our resources from our collective Canadian Bank.

My opinion about this stuff isn’t really the point of this post though.  Nor is Neil’s, if it comes to that.  It’s all about the ability to speak up and create awareness that a single perspective- in this case, that of Harper’s government- shouldn’t be accepted without reflection and analysis.

Do I concede the point that we live lifestyles that are reliant upon fossil fuels?  I do.  Do I also believe that this is an unfortunate and unsustainable reality?  Yes.  The production of new, cleaner forms of energy has to become a priority, but our current federal government is not on the same opinion page as I am, as far as that goes.  And that, for me, is at the heart of the issue that Neil has brought to the forefront for discussion.

His focus- which is being supported by his current tour- has to do with government violations of First Nations land treaties in the on-going quest for fossil fuels at any cost.  I respect that- and his dedication to a cause that he feels strongly about.  The issues- both environmental and cultural- are myriad and often-complex and all deserve a fair hearing and examination.

Harper’s Conservatives have a pretty singular line of defence/purpose in their approach to the extraction and production of natural resources: the economic bottom line.  They have to push for this straw as a means of maintaining a grasping hold on the idea that Canada has weathered the worldwide financial crisis and is doing just fine, thank you.  Despite a falling Canadian dollar and rise in unemployment numbers.

One of the commentators last evening made the point that the two things- the environment and the economy- needn’t be presented as an inescapable dichotomy- but this is exactly what Harper’s Conservatives are doing.  Oil-at whatever cost- or no economic growth.

Anyway- I didn’t intend for this post to become a political rant (you can find those all over the place today).  I was spurred to write this because I, unlike what’s-her-name-the-Conservative-pundit-from-Evan’s-show-last-night, think that Neil has done veryvery good- leading this charge and creating discussion.  While she would maintain that sure, debate should take place, she questions his methods and means of bringing the issue to the surface (his own version of ‘fracking’, if you will).

I maintain that someone who has earned a voice- through his decades of social commentary and activism- and who is inherently entitled to express that voice- by virtue of his Canadian-ness- has every right to use whatever means he can come up with to present his message to any and all among the electorate that might take the time to listen to him.

Anyone who can shake said electorate out of our apathy/complacency/laziness and make us pay even cursory attention to something important, has my full support.  If even a handful of people- who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered concerning themselves with anything going on out there in those Alberta tar sands- take even a small portion of Neil’s message as a starting point to learn more about the situation?

Bravo, Mr. Young.

It seems that something pretty substantial (read: catastrophic) has to happen these days to get people off their butts and invested in anything other than the Golden Globes or Game of Thrones.  I, personally, applaud anyone willing to do some homework and take a stand on something they believe in strongly- whether they are a scientist, a teacher, a student, a Parliamentary Page, or an enduring and important Canadian musical voice.

Neil Young is not claiming to have all the answers.  He is sounding an alarm asking those who might listen to him to wake the hell up and look into these things a trifle more deeply than they might otherwise be wont to do.  And THEN form an opinion regarding which perspective makes the most sense.  He certainly isn’t expecting- like the Conservatives seem to be- that Canadians will continue to ignore the systemic dismantling of scientific institutions and projects that maintain the environmental standards that allow for the protection of all our natural wonders and the violation of executed treaties with our First Nations all for the furtherance of a politically-expedient economic bottom lineAnd the votes of those in the petroleum industry that might help them retain their somewhat-tenuous hold on the federal government.

This is what we all need to be doing.  Whether our audience is in the millions- like Neil’s- the thousands, or, as in my case, the 398 followers of this here little blog, voicing our concerns about negligence, corruption or tunnel vision among those elected to determine the future of this incredible country of ours is a responsibility of citizenship.  Too many of us have abrogated that responsibility lately.  Neil has not.

That’s why, even if he had never recorded Harvest (a mandated musical staple for Canadian cottage weekends/camping trips) or hung around with those other guys and produced tunes like Helpless and albums like Déjà Vu, he is one of my  heroes.

Never more so than this week.

I’ll leave him with the last words (from his response to what the PMO spokesman had to say about his tour and its mandate):

“As a Canadian citizen, I am concerned that this government is not acting within the advice of science.  When people say one thing and do another, it is hypocrisy. Our Canadian environmental laws don’t  matter if they are broken.”