‘Looking for Satellite(s) of Love’

Getting back to writing after a hiatus- brief though it may have been- should be easy.  Ideas and things to write about just keep popping into my head (sometimes they pop out again pretty quickly- a function of sleep deprivation, but these things happen) so there is SO much to draw from.  I have even more just-started drafts in the dashboard than I did a few weeks ago, and I’m feeling a little bit like I’ve come down with a case of the distractions.

Which isn’t good.

Not on the eve of NaNoWriMo (I’m going to attempt to divide my focus and get some work done on the fiction, in addition to keeping up with my peeps here at the WordPress.  Might be overly-ambitious, but never know ’til you try and all that) and not when I have a newly-minted-and-purchased novel by one of my fave mystery authors (Elizabeth George, if you’re curious) which is just perfectly timed for curling up away from the Autumn chill with a cup of tea and just getting lost with Lynley and Barbara for a bit.

So.  Where to start?

Amid all the chaos of the move, it was a FABULOUS period of music/reminiscing, this week just past.  There was the reunion with Simple Minds last Tuesday, and then on Saturday one of my best buds took me to see David Bowie Is at the AGO.  Phenomenal.

In the way that everything seems to be connected (that synchronicity thing again), after wandering through the wonder-and-constant-innovation-that-is-Bowie all afternoon Saturday, I caught Iggy Pop on the radio (I rarely listen to the radio these days- too much commercial crap IMHO) not once, but twice.

While taking a breather from the packing/unpacking I started a post lauding all that Mr. Jones has contributed to the world- ripples (and sometimes tsunamis) of influence that have shaped our (popular) culture as we know it.  The characters, the costumes, the bending and breaking of rules of identity/gender/art… the beautifully curated exhibit really brought home just how important the Thin White Duke remains.

And man, can the guy write songs.

Once upon a time a veryveryvery long time ago, I wrote a stream of consciousness piece called ‘Talking to Ziggy’, about a protagonist who is in constant contact with the spirit of Ziggy Stardust.  It was about what happens to a fictional character who becomes fully realized and then left to fade as newer characters take priority.  Might have to try to find that…  In any case, Bowie has been an everywhere influence in my life.  It was wonderful to reconnect with him in my hometown art gallery.

But my loving chat about Bowie- and the characters that have become parts of our contemporary mythology- will have to wait for another time, because Sunday night another one of those connections showed up, and this one broke my heart a little…

Lou Reed.

Two days later, I’m still kind of at a loss for words.  He’s always been part of the fabric of the background soundtrack of my life.  Not necessarily the song that opens the film or plays as the credits are rolling on a particular period of my life, but a voice that is continually popping up here and there when the action is about angst, or disillusionment, or visiting NYC… and his underlying influence reaches even further into the music that constantly surrounds me.

Simple Minds did a cover version of Street Hassle (Waltzing Matilda/Slipaway) on Sparkle in the Rain.

Emily Haines, from our local wonder of a band, Metric, had some incredible things to say about the man and his influence on her own music.

He contributed his distinctive voice to Little Stevie’s movement against apartheid in South Africa.

He was a poet/novelist all his life- his writing was set to music rather than bound up as ink and paper.  His words remain at once timeless in way that is seldom seen any longer and pictures of specific periods in history that inform about experiences and mores and the evolving technologies that changed the way we perceive and appreciate art and music.

Lou Reed and David Bowie overlap so often it’s almost ridiculous.  Andy Warhol.  All the co-productions/cross-productions/collaborations over the years.  Bowie was London to Lou’s NYC.  They were all about experimentation and pushing the boundaries of discourse.

The three dudes in the pic up there ^^^ have always been interconnected in my brain (admittedly, in part, because of Velvet Goldmine, but I digress…)

Iggy’s Lust for Life (written and produced by Bowie) is like Lou’s Walk on the Wild Side.  Story songs about people- living on the edge and doing the best they can while dealing with demons and changes and societal conflicts.

Bowie’s Looking for Satellites (from Earthling– his first self-produced album since Diamond Dogs in 1974) is like Satellite of Lovefrom Lou’s Transformer album.  Bowie produced and provided the background vocals.

Neil Gaiman, with his wonderful way with words sums things up in a way that completely resonates with my own feelings (as is so often the case):

“His songs were the soundtrack to my life: a quavering New York voice with little range singing songs of alienation and despair, with flashes of impossible hope and of those tiny, perfect days and nights we want to last for ever, important because they are so finite and so few; songs filled with people, some named, some anonymous, who strut and stagger and flit and shimmy and hitch-hike into the limelight and out again.

It was all about stories. The songs implied more than they told: they made me want to know more, to imagine, to tell those stories myself. Some of the stories were impossible to unpack, others, like The Gift, were classically constructed short stories. Each of the albums had a personality. Each of the stories had a narrative voice: often detached, numb, without judgment.”

If there were ever two exemplars of the point that I am constantly trying to make here at colemining about the importance of story and the many ways it impacts all aspects of our lives, as human beings with card-carrying memberships in communities, David Bowie and Lou Reed are the winners and still champions.

In the fog/fugue state of packing, I squirrelled away all my CD sets into storage- including Bowie’s Sound + Vision, and my boxed set retrospective of pretty much everything Lou Reed has ever done.  Right now I’m wishing I’d labelled the boxes better so I’d have some kind of idea where they might have ended up.  Will have to settle for the YouTube and those songs in the iTunes library/on the Shuffle Daemon to take me through this newest period of reflection and remembrance.

Travel safe, Mr. Reed.  Somehow I thought you’d always be here.

I’m out of words right now, and ‘thank you’ seems overwhelmingly inadequate, but I’ll say it anyway.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you

Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on.

Giving Thanks, Canadian Style

There I was, all exhausted with the tilting and complaining and angst and concerns about the direction of this here world and us humans who are managing to keep messing it all up.  And the packing.  Always with the packing.  And the job search- while dealing with the current day job…

Then… Surprise!  Honest to goodness GOODNESS shows up out of nowhere.

What a wonderful way to start the day.  Yesterday morning Heather Hiscox was practically dancing with excitement on the CBC News Network.  I have to admit that I came close to a tear or two of happiness my own self.

Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  She is the first Canadian- and only the 13th woman- to do so.

(Saul Bellow, who won in 1976, was born in Canada but raised in the US- so he’s harder to claim and the US leapt all over calling them theirs anyway.  Not so our Alice.  She’s as Canadian as maple syrup and poutine).

The pride.

Alice has a particular way with characterization and definition of place that is astounding.  The more so since she manages to convey the people and places she writes about in short story format.  No wasted words- just succinctly beautiful stories about small town Ontario and the people that live there.

She has not been overlooked for well-deserved accolades in the past, having received three Governor General’s Awards for fiction and the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work, but the Nobel Prize… Wow.

I think most Canadian students are exposed to her work at one stage or another.  High School English classes like to support the CanCon wherever possible, and Alice, along with Maggie Atwood, are two of our literary staples.  But I’m not sure that I really began to appreciate Alice’s stories until I re-encountered her in the university classroom in a course on 20th Century Literature (it actually was still the 20th century when I took the class).

Alongside the Yeats (and you know I love that guy), the Beckett, the cummings and the Morrison was Alice’s 1990 collection Friend of My Youth, which reemphasizes her recurring view of a world that is not shaped by faith or reason, but by chance or fate.  Her stories offer snapshots of particular times in small town Ontario, as the characters (mainly women) of the farming communities come to terms with changing mores and expectations.  She is not afraid to write about the darkness of the human condition as it is expressed in the day-to-day lives of ‘regular’ people, at different times in history.

I have tried to write short stories- without much success.  Not because I’m overly verbose (although I am, admittedly, at times, long winded.  The other day I got a text from a friend who kindly follows my blog and is diligent about keeping up with those things I decide to rant about.  He had been on holiday- so was catching up with the posts he’d missed.  He asked that I try to keep them under 5000 words.  He was being facetious- I do try hard to keep them around 1000 at most, but sometimes I do get a little carried away.  Particularly with long asides.  Like this one…), but because I just can’t seem to effectively convey what I’m trying to convey in so few pages.

(Which is somewhat odd- since my professors- throughout my undergrad and graduate schooling- uniformly lauded my ability to succinctly discuss the things I was looking to discuss, without wasting words or paper.  Seems like I’ve lost that ability.  At least here at colemining.) 

Alice beautifully conveys entireties– of characters, emotions, events, thoughts, actions- in very few pages.  It’s an enviable skill- and she has very much raised the bar on what defines successful storytelling.  I compare her to those rare (these days) storytellers I was privileged to see, as a child, every now and again.  In a short interlude of time they were able to spin tales of wonder that left me enchanted or wondering or questioning a closely-held certainty.

Alice’s stories do that too.  Although I love novels, the ability to completely devour a slice of life on a lunch break or subway trip, or drift away into another reality without completely messing with the schedule of things that need to be done (I have a habit of just forgetting about anything else- people, work, food- when caught up in an engaging story) makes a well-written short story appealing.

Alice Munro ‘does’ the short story like no one else.

And she now has the Nobel Prize in Literature, so people all over the world will get to know and love her, the way we’ve been able to do here at home for decades.

Her books are flying off the shelves.  As suspicious as I can be about the commercialization of literature, the exposure of the Nobel will introduce new readers to both Alice and parts of our home and native land.

(She’ll show the world that we aren’t just about our horrible mayors and imported filibustering junior GOP Senators, for example).

It’s the Friday of a long weekend (phew!) as we Canadians prepare to celebrate our Thanksgiving on Monday.  It’s our last long weekend of the year- and the last stat holiday until the Christmas season rolls around.  It was a beautiful day today and the sun and warmth should stay with us at least through tomorrow.

The folks south of our border have a long weekend too- celebrating an evil villain of history (at least according to The Oatmeal– who knew you could learn so much history on the facebook?  Love that guy.  He’s some funny!)- while we up here will be giving thanks for those things we sometimes take for granted over turkey and all the trimmings.

I’ve complained somewhat over-much about the goings on here at home lately.  I’m frustrated with the current political and social situations we’ve created for ourselves.  So I needed the reminder that we remain a pretty spectacular country, with some pretty spectacular citizens who contribute to the continuing betterment of the world and our culture.

Alice has been recognized for doing so in a reallyreally big way this week.  She is one among a whole crowd of Canadians who bring positive creativity into the world.

So this weekend’s playlist on the Shuffle Daemon (as I continue finish the packing and organizing) is all about the CanCon.

Metric.  Emily just has one of those voices…

Talk like an open book
Sign me up

USS- or Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker.  A great band name (always seeking synergy, me), playing a song with an equally great title (‘Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole’)– which contains lyrics from that Newfoundlander traditional folk tune, ‘I’se the B’y’ (CanCon²).  

Bowie singing backup to Arcade Fire.  What can be better than that?  (Going to see the the Bowie exhibit at the AGO in a couple of weeks- can’t wait).  I don’t think I could love this song more.  And lyrics in both langues officielles (CanCon², again).

Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore.
Entre les voyants, les vivants et les morts.

And now from the vaults…

Lovely song.  And all that hair!  The song was produced by another fairly popular Canadian dude by the name of Tom Cochrane (that’s him singing backup.  He had a bunch o’ memorable tunes himself).  (2X the Canada in that one too.)

BNL singing a classic Bruce Cockburn song while driving around Toronto in the back of a truck (well, Scarborough, to be precise).  So, that’s actually CanCon³.  (A friend and I were out for dinner last night and recalling a stretch of time when Steven Page seemed to be everywhere she was.  We decided he was stalking her.  But in a friendly, Torontonian sort of way.)

You’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.

The Hip- singing about coming home on the last American exit.  For all those road-tripping home to see the family.  This was the first Hip song I ever heard (Gord had SO much hair) and it remains my sentimental favourite.  All of their songs are Canada, somehow.

In case anyone is planning on spending the long weekend over-imbibing, a cautionary tale from Spirit of the West.

Since this post has grown to monumental proportions (verifying my friend’s earlier complaint about my ‘wordiness’), just one last offering to close the evening while opening the weekend of celebrating.  From our very own bard of Montreal.  About a little tavern in Toronto (CanCon²).

…and I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn’t worth a dime
And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
and it’s once for the devil and once for Christ
but the Boss don’t like these dizzy heights
we’re busted in the blinding lights,

of closing time

Have a fantastic weekend!

P.S.  There are so many songs that could have/should have made the Shuffle Daemon.  I think this post will require a musical sequel (or more) down the road.  Canada Rocks.  We just do.

Ain’t Gonna Play

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 enjoy themselves after all their trials and hard work over the past couple of weeks.  Amazing to see the way that neighbours are helping each other out and moving forward in the face some pretty hefty devastation.

Cmdr. Chris Hadfield sang on Parliament Hill- solidifying his presence as a science celebrity and positive influence for curiosity, education and the arts (not so separate from the sciences it turns out) and bringing smiles to the faces of everyone watching- whether on the Hill or from home (and Metric rocked hard.  As usual).


Egypt is in the middle of crisis (Canada closed its embassy there today), the situation in Syria hasn’t stabilized any, the RCMP stopped a terror plot to blow up the British Columbia legislature…

From genuinely thinking that hey, this world is a pretty great place, back to feeling overwhelmed by power- and hatred-driven craziness.   There was that anomie again, and I was feeling as if attempting to affect change is very much a ‘one step forward, two steps back kind of undertaking.’  Not an ideal way to start the work week.

Add to that the fact that Nelson Mandela has been on my mind- and in the collective thoughts of most of us- I started thinking back to that peculiar period back in the 80’s, when apartheid was still an institutional evil and shameful blemish on the face of the world.

Cruising the YouTube I found this:

(Is that Bono or a leprechaun at 4:28?  And who dances like Peter Wolf?  Ah, memories).

Way back in 1985 I was pretty much oblivious to larger world affairs, including the mounting opposition to the racial segregation that was the institutionalized reality for generations in South Africa.  I was deeply into my books and the music that provided an interesting soundtrack to that period of my life.

I knew that some countries- and the UN- were imposing economic sanctions against the government and growing louder in the condemnation of the system of state-sanctioned racism.

I proudly learned a little piece of Canadian history that noted that Prime Minister Diefenbaker, in 1961, was responsible for breaking the deadlock of Commonwealth leaders regarding whether or not South Africa would remain part of the Commonwealth.  His suggestion that the application not be denied outright, but that racial equality as an important principle of the Commonwealth be emphasized, resulted in South Africa withdrawing its application- a key Canadian contribution to international politics on an important human rights issue.

One would think that the opinions of the West had grown even more opposed to the system of apartheid– the Afrikaans term for ‘a state of being apart’ (there it is again- that irrational fear of the ‘other’)- as the decades of oppression stretched on and the situation grew increasingly violent.  Peaceful protest- by students and labour unions- ended with gunfire and death at the hands of the military powers of the government.

Many strong voices against the government were killed or imprisoned in attempts to silence the opposition and maintain the status quo- even amid increasing international pressures.

The Roman Catholic Church- and its leader Pope John Paul II- stood in solidarity with the chorus against apartheid.  Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu supported the economic boycott of his homeland- despite the hardships it would cause the poorest of the poor.  On the other side, the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa remained committed to the system of apartheid- impeding political reform from within the country.

International sports associations like FIFA banned South Africa from participation in sporting events.  Academic and cultural institutions were encouraged to terminate links with the country as long as racial discrimination continued.

in 1985, (Little) Stevie Van Zandt became involved with the anti-apartheid movement, initially upon hearing that the system was influenced by the American model of Indian reservations.  Since the issues of North America’s First Peoples was a primary focus of Stevie’s interest, the parallels between them and black South Africans struck a particular chord.  While traveling to research his next album, he became particularly upset by the ‘resort’ area, Sun City, a gambling mecca in a bantustan (Bophuthatswana)- a created ‘homeland’- in an impoverished rural area.

He gathered ‘rockers and rappers’ who joined together to speak against the injustice of apartheid and the American government’s official position on South Africa.

As Joey (miss that guy) notes at 2:22- “Constructive engagement (was) Ronald Reagan’s plan.”  Unlike the UN and most of the rest of the Western World, the US government promoted this mandate as an alternative to economic sanctions against South Africa.  (Although Maggie Thatcher echoed the policy during her tenure as British PM).

This political stance meant that only about half of US radio stations played “Sun City”.  But in countries without such resistance to positive and necessary change, the song became a major success- raising awareness and seeking freedom for the entire population of South Africa.

As that awareness continued to grow, the Reagan administration maintained its stance against the ANC and resistance t0 the imposition of trade embargoes and economic sanctions.  But the voices against what Bishop Tutu called “an abomination, an unmitigated disaster” (in a 1984 speech on Capitol Hill) began to increase, even in the conservative US of the 1980’s.

The Republican party turned against its President on this issue, and Congress overrode Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, ending constructive engagement and instituting the imposition of economic sanctions that caused South Africa’s economy to drop to among the lowest in the world.

Between 1990 and 1996 apartheid was systematically abolished.  In April 1994 20,000,000 South Africans cast their votes in the first free elections, and in May of that year Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s President.

At times when we seem to be increasingly divided by our differences, it is extremely valuable to remember that we have worked together to affect positive change and to realize the revocation of significant ideological evils- changes that work for our common good and prosperity.

Regardless of particular story variations or political maneuvering for the sake of greed we CAN work together toward what we know is right.  Even when it seems as though our political leaders are all about economic bottom lines and support of the status quo as a means of maintaining power.

Songs like “Sun City” tap into the popular culture to raise awareness and inform those uninterested in bored jaded by the political posturing that detracts from the real issues of rights and freedoms, as the pundits and talking heads spout policies based in ideologies (and stories) that should be left to history.

Once that awareness grows we can collectively tell our elected leaders just exactly where we ain’t gonna play.  History shows us that if enough of us shout it out they do have to listen.

I realized this morning that I didn’t define my terms very well.  Bad Historian.  ‘Constructive engagement’ sounds nice on the face of it- after all, ‘constructive criticism’ is meant to improve the thing being criticised, right?   And being ‘engaged’- in all senses of the word- is also something positive. 

Reagan advocated using incentives rather than sanctions to encourage South Africa to move away from its institutionalized policy of human rights violations.  The reason?  Political expediency.  In the Cold War of the 1980’s, the Reagan Administration feared the growth of communism in Africa, and viewed the white minority government of South Africa as an ally in its prevention. Ignoring a nation’s human rights record in order to further a particular agenda?  Doesn’t sound at all like the Harper government’s relationship with China and their increasing involvement in oil and gas development and their investment in the oilsands at all.

The parallels can be extended to include the West’s intervention- or lack thereof (depending on self-interest) in the various actions taking place in the Middle East, and right here at home to our Idle No More movement.

As Little Stevie wrote, in 1985, “This quiet diplomacy ain’t nothing but a joke.”  It’s time to get back on the right side of history and follow our own example.  Working together we can begin to solve our collective problems so we can stop being “always on the wrong side.”