To diverge a bit from the subject matter that has been consuming my attention lately, I feel like I have to mark an important anniversary today. Admittedly, this impulse came about when a younger work friend said, in all innocence, “what’s Live Aid,” when I brought it up in conversation.
After I turned into ancient dust and blew away on a gust of 80’s wind, I revisited some of the performances of that day through the myriad posts I was seeing that presented the individual memories of other oldsters like me.
Once upon a time Bob Geldof was a songwriter and singer in a band from Dublin. The Boomtown Rats spent a fair chunk of a couple of decades in the ‘all time favourite’ spot on my personal list, and even today I get a little overwhelmed when I hear songs like
(likely their best known song – and one of the first popular songs I learned to play on the piano). ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ was about school violence in the US, specifically a school shooting in California. The song hit number 1 in the UK, but was denied airplay in the US as radio stations feared lawsuits and negative reaction from the religious right (interesting that those things are still major concerns – backlash from the gun lobby and the religious right – and still dictate too many things in that country).
They appeared in a fantastic ‘To Sir With Love’ spoof on SCTV:
I can remember madly searching for a blank VHS tape when it popped up on my television. I still have the tape.
Their songs were largely ‘story songs’ – telling tales of people and places, slices of life in particular environments at particular times. It’s interesting that they hardly seem dated or out of comprehensible context, despite the fact that they were mainly referring to characters in places like Dublin or London in the 1970’s and 19080’s.
The songs had elements of social criticism wrapped up in the lyrics – often about the lousy lot of the working class in the ‘Banana Republic’ that was Ireland at the time. A ‘septic isle’ under the thumb of politicians, police and priests. A place that was rapidly losing its young people to emigration – or the ongoing conflicts in the North. It was a place that had banned the band from performances due to their outspoken critique of the nationalism, influence of the church and corrupt politicians that they felt were destroying their native land (again, the fact that this is still a thing should be concerning).
‘Banana Republic’ is a fantastic example of how social commentary can be voiced in an articulate yet entertaining manner. Bob’s lyrics were often biting, but they demonstrated an incredibly clever mastery of language and turn of phrase. The songs of the Rats always said something, and they said it in a tuneful, and often playful, way.
“The purple and the pinstripe mutely shake their heads
A silence shrieking volumes, a violence worse than they condemn
Stab you in the back yeah, laughing in your face
Glad to see the place again – it’s a pity nothing’s changed.’
There’s something entirely Irish about the lyrics.
In 1984 Bob saw a BBC news report about the drought and famine in Ethiopia. Out of his horror at the images he saw came this:
He and Midge Ure wrote a song and started a movement to raise money as a response to perceived inaction on the part of world leaders to intervene in the tragedy that was unfolding in Africa. It was the impetus for other musicians to take up the battle cry, and it brought extensive coverage to the issue.
Bob visited Ethiopia to see the extent of the tragedy for himself and realized that a large part of the reason that African nations were in such states of emergency was due to the repayments of loans to Western banks. The song wasn’t going to be enough to even scratch the surface. Even when Americans and Canadians came up with their own songs, in response.
So he and Midge got back to work and planned and executed an unprecedented stage show that would join the world together for one day in a desperate and despairing plea for action in the face of incredible need. By July 13, Bob was exhausted and in pain with a back injury, but his intensity over the course of the day and through the entirety of the live broadcast is palpable.
He continually reminded the audience why we were all there. It wasn’t just the greatest rock show ever staged, there was an underlying purpose that made the trappings and egos of popular music irrelevant and ridiculous (the day that ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ was recorded he famously admonished all the participants to ‘leave egos at the door’).
The recordings from that day demonstrate just how far we’ve come – technology- and communications-wise, anyway. These days a simple electronic money transfer in support of hurricane victims can be completed in a matter of seconds. In 1985 there was more involved, and Bob knew that he had to drive the message home and maintain the intensity of the purpose so that people would get off their butts and DO something to help.
It was a day of spectacle and excess (Phil Collins hopping the Concorde to play both Wembley and Philadelphia, comes to mind) – and, in addition to the incredible performances (check out Queen. Freddie held that crowd in his hands and revivified Queen in the hearts of many. The DVD highlights the contributions from other countries – INXS’s concert from Australia is still one of my favourites among their live performances), musicians found that their voices – raised together – could impact world events in a positive way.
Over the course of that day, the way we thought about popular music and its ability to affect social change was forever altered and a new standard was set.
A lot of people have done similar things since then. They have used their celebrity in ways that benefit others (Bono started on his path to real political involvement after Live Aid) and raised money and petitioned governments on behalf of many people in need of aid and intervention. But Bob was the first to see the worldwide possibilities that could come with the exploitation of love of music. No one has used music and story as a means of communication as earth-shatteringly as did Sir Bob Geldof.
He has continued his charitable movements for Africa and global peace, achieving success – and his share of critics – over the subsequent decades. His caustic straightforwardness has earned him derision and some enemies. He can be an insufferable jerk. He has amassed a fairly vast personal fortune – and may or may not have paid taxes on some of it. His personal life has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs and negative publicity. He is an unlikely hero in many ways.
That said, Bob used the tools that he had to hand – his background as a songwriter/musician, his connections in the music and music journalism industries, and a seemingly endless supply of energy and passion – to start a worldwide movement that is still resonating in our popular culture. He was recognized, at 34, with an honorary knighthood by the Queen, yet refused to sit on his laurels. He continues to fight for social justice and reform in a number of spheres.
The Rats’ new album is really good (although its exposure has been hampered, as has the great output of so many artists, in the times as they are, right now) – and is reflective of that same drive, even after the passage of the ensuing decades.
On this, the 35th anniversary of the day that changed me – as I learned that those things I love best can help to change those things that needs changing – please remember that there are many contemporary artists who are doing their part to make manifest the lesson I learned 35 years ago today. Art, when wielded well, can do more than bring pleasure and comfort – it can change the world. Listen to what they have to say – and support them however you can.
P.S. If you didn’t get to experience it when it happened, definitely take the time to watch Live Aid in its entirety. Over and above the significance of the day, it featured some incredible – and some never-to-be-repeated – performances. It was truly a day of wonder.
At times my mind takes me curious places. Ever since I was a small child I’ve had this inclination to make connections between things- however disparate they may seem to be on the surface. It’s my particular way of making sense of the world- and it reinforces my deeply-held belief that we are all connected and essentially alike- by virtue of our shared humanity.
I’ve always been an observer- taking note of and carefully storing away experiences and memories and information- and the fact that I have a well-developed ability to retain information and images sometimes leads to a fair bit more introspection than may be completely healthy. Those ‘curious places’ can be more than a little dark and dangerous, at times. Remembering often leads to regretting. And that’s a slippery slope, for me.
Venturing into some of the darker realms means that I’ve been absent lately. From life in general, and certainly from around these parts. The drafts folder is full-to-overflowing with false starts that will likely never see the light of day.
I have mixed feelings about that. This forum, here in WordPress World, has become, over the past couple of years, one of my favourite places. I’ve had some really interesting conversations, read a whole lot of eye-opening and thought-provoking essays, and made a number of good friends – I’ve even had the opportunity to meet some of them IRL (looking at you, A-M. You know it’s feeling like 40 degrees Celsius with full sun and a breeze from the lake here today, right? If you’re thinking of heading out of Glasgow- although you know how your hometown stole my heart- may I suggest Toronto as an option? We’ve definitely had a summer the past few weeks!).
But something is off. I explained my lack of recent posts to one of my oldest-and-dearests last night, mentioning that, lately, I look at the drafts- or start working on something that catches my fancy- only to feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The windmills are forever andalways the same- and the tilting isn’t getting me anywhere other than frustrated and feeling completely ineffective and ineffectual.
Not good. The act of writing has become counter-productive. It frustrates, rather than frees. Which sucks. Bigtime. I’m a writer. I write. Not writing is not good for cole’s soul (using the term irreligiously, of course).
Ironically, this means that more introspection is required if I’m to get to the heart of ‘what’s up with that’? (Cue visual of Kenan Thompson as Diondre Cole telling Bill Hader’s Lindsey Buckinghan that they are, once again, out of time, and he won’t be interviewed this week. The SNL sketch is oddly apt, actually…)
Over the past few months I’ve attempted to re-focus my energies- spending time with fiction, rather than struggling to articulate essays/commentary about those things that reallyreally bug me. The ultimate themes and messages- such as they are- are echoed, regardless of form. I am who I am, after all. The way I think- and the things about which I think- stay pretty much the same whether I’m writing a blog post or a novel. I write as a way to suss out answers. To get my thoughts straight on a given topic, and to provide those thoughts something like coherence and exposure to the world outside of my brain.
None of that is happening right now. I’m scattered and disengaged- pretty much all around. I’m in a holding pattern of lackadaisical ennui (how’s that for some purple prose?) that is both out-of-character and concerning.
But I’m working on it.
Per usual (for me), that involves a lot of reading, and listening to music, and paying attention to what smart, talented people have to say about things that interest and/or concern me.
While working on a presentation for the day job, I came across this TEDTalk (I DO love the TEDTalks):
Tattoos? I have none. Regrets? I’ve had a few. And, unlike Mr. Sinatra, I can’t call mine ‘too few to mention’.
Kathryn Schulz’ talk was personally interesting in many ways. I tend to move beyond the denial stage fairly quickly. I generally get that I’ve made an irrevocable, regrettable, decision pretty much right off the bat. The alienation and self-punishment? Those things sound more like me. And they last.
Perseveration? Oh yeah. That one is a biggie. The soundtrack of error runs round and round and round in my head. Ad nauseam. The memory of the action that caused the regret gets set on endless repeat. It becomes a one-song iPod that I can’t turn off.
So, illumination! Making peace with regret? You can do that?! As a fellow-perfectionist, I share her struggle. I rarely balk at forgiving others their trespasses against me (unless they are especially banal and/or heinous) but I have an inordinate amount of trouble cutting myself any slack at all. At. All.
‘Learning to love the flawed, imperfect things we create? Forgiving ourselves for creating them? Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly- it reminds us that we know we can do better.’
I like that. I like all of that.
It’s a far more human approach to looking at ourselves- our lives, our actions, our fallibility- than a lot of the ‘mindfulness-speak’ that is out there in the ether of ‘holistic health’ and the push for ‘positive culture’ that dominates our social media soundbites these days.
Funnily enough (although I tend to see it as another one of those connectivity things), the whole regret-thing (and the absolution of said regret-things) has been circumstantially at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks.
Been thinking about choices a lot as I try to figure out next steps. For example: What, exactly, do I want to be when I grow up? How do I define happiness? Has that definition changed? If my goals/wants/needs have changed, what do I need to do make those things manifest?
I have a birthday coming up next month (all being well- shouldn’t count chickens/tempt fate and all that)- it’s not a biggie- no zero at the end or anything. But it’s been a while since I last really thought about those questions. It was around the time of my last zero-at-the-end birthday (funny how those markers tend to make us take stock)- which puts it few years ago. Five long years, to be specific. So it’s past time to revisit the questions- and see where I’m at- existentially speaking. Especially since that last round of questioning led to some decisions that ended up being rather regretful, in retrospect.
Adulting and First World Problems. Ick. It’s whiny and ridiculous- in so many ways. I get it. I’m a good feminist- aware of all my intersections. The choices are myriad- a reality that is a product of my privilege. Everyone should be so lucky to have to the choices I have had- that I continue to have. I get that too. But the sources of that privilege- my family, my friends, my opportunities- keep hitting me with the insistent realization that I need to keep on striving to do better.
Which I can’t do if I’m locked into the perseveration of regrets.
There are these songs (I know- there are always some songs- as I said, I am who I am)… two of them. They speak of regret- in very different, yet complimentary, ways.
The first is a cover version of an older song, performed by a guy that I love so very much. I’ve talked about Midge before. A few times, actually. And he more than deserves all the positive print I can offer up. This song most definitely helped me through some rough times over the years.
It’s over. It’s done. It’s for the best. No looking back.
Healthy, right? Yet melancholy-as-Hell in tone, and speaking to the truth that even that which is the right thing doesn’t necessarily come regret-free.
I had the opportunity to see Midge live (again! Twice in less than a year!), playing a pared-down and fabulous acoustic show- just him and his guitar- back in March, and took the opportunity to meet him after the show and express my thanks for all the years of music and lessons and wonder that he has brought into my life.
(And made my bud, the incomparable Len, take my picture with him. That is an example of whatever the absolute opposite of regret might be).
This other song, though…
It’s the one that keeps on running through my head. That whole self-punishment and ‘what the hell did I do’ sort of thinking that Kathryn spoke about. That’s much more my style.
And this song makes my heart hurt with the physical weight of such regrets…
Regardless of how often I listen to it, Airborne Toxic Event’s (I’ve talked about them before, too) rage against the regret of the loss of love sends my stomach all butterfly-ish. Every time. That’s power– sourced in the fact that our human-ness means that we’ve experienced that depth of self-excoriation about decisions made or roads not traveled- and react to the memory of the regret.
It’s a big deal, regret. A big, messy, complicated deal.
So. Starting last night (interestingly it actually was sometime around midnight), inspired by a great, if much-delayed, conversation with a too-long-absent but ever-important person in my life, I’m working on annotating and embracing my regrets. Perhaps that evaluation will lead me out of my current stasis and back into some positive directions. Even if those directions end up being transitional- or transformational- and even if some of them are regrettable.
On November 25th, 1984, a bunch of pop stars got together and recorded a song. There was a famine happening in Ethiopia, and this guy, the lead singer and songwriter of a band out of Ireland, was more than a little staggered that very little seemed to be happening to address what was going on.
He got in touch with a mate, the lead singer and songwriter of a band out of Scotland, and the two of them threw together- not overnight, but close- a tune and some lyrics.
Were the lyrics, perhaps, a little Western-centric and culturally-condescending? Arguably, yes. Was the song catchy and well-intentioned? Definitely. In my opinion, such as it is, anyway.
The two musicians then set about gathering up the biggest names in the British music business of the day and bringing them all together to record the song. All this, like the composition of the song, happened pretty damn quickly- as said musicians set aside other commitments and headed into the studio to record a song that changed things pretty spectacularly.
Leaving egos (and who can claim bigger egos than the pop stars of the 80s? Durans, I’m looking at you, in particular) at the door, they contributed to a little ditty that arose out of one man’s driving need to do something about a situation that he felt was going ignored as the rest of the world geared up for the holiday season.
The single set in motion an entire movement that promoted awareness and participation and involvement on a worldwide scale.
That there’s a pretty hefty statement. But I stand by it. Totally.
Maybe you have to have been a young, idealistic music fan, as I was (and remain- okay, maybe not so much the ‘young’ part) at the time, to really appreciate the impact that the impulse of one guy‘s need to help had on the world, as we saw it then.
Band Aid- and the international iterations that followed- was a big deal. A really big deal. It’s hard, today, for those who take for granted the instantaneous nature of communication and our ability to speak face-to-face across continents through the wonders of the interworld age, to understand the work involved in getting humanity to come together with the technology that was available thirty years ago.
The movement became a juggernaut that over-took Geldof’s life. Admittedly, it did him some fair amount of personal good as well. I’m certainly not going to dispute that. He may well be as big a jerk as some claim with a vast fortune and an inclination to dodge taxes. Never met him. Don’t know.
But the initial act that he set in motion became the jumping-off point for the shaping of any number of similar projects in the following years.
I’m not going to cite statistics (not sure I trust them)- how much money has been raised over the years, where that money went, how many lives may or may not have been saved. What, thirty years later, still gets me, is just how many people were, maybe, shaken out of their self-centred complacency and who stopped, if even for a moment, to think about something larger than themselves.
Those people who, however temporarily, shifted focus away from what they planned to stand in lines to buy on Black Friday and came to some level of awareness that there are others sharing this here planet, and that their concerns are about things other than whether or not they’ll score the latest iPhone (or whatever the kids are clamouring for in any particular holiday season).
At best, our connectedness and access to the media is a mixed-blessing. When it is used in an attempt to shakeup- or wake up- people, to roust them out of self-indulgence- without resorting to soundbites designed to terrify- it can be a truly beautiful thing.
Do I like the new version? Not so much. Beyond the fact that I can recognize maybe three of the contributors (the less said about Bono here the better- I have a bit of a defence of him in the works, but it’s for something completely different) and the reality that changing up the lyrics to suit the Ebola outbreak messes with my nostalgic fondness for the song (and seems more than a little forced), I haven’t paid all that much attention to any of the previous attempts to re-work the song to make it appropriate to its return.
I’m, generally, pretty aware of what goes on around me- and elsewhere in the world, and I’ve always made an effort to address crises in my own way- through the donation of time or, sometimes, money. I’m not suggesting that I’m a paragon of involvement- but I’d say I’m at least a little more engaged than a lot of people. And I’m no longer 14, so the purchase of a 45 (yes, I have the original on 45) isn’t my only option for attempting to make a difference in situations that matter.
I’ve seen a lot of nay-saying, and charges that the return of Do They Know it’s Christmas is all about Geldof, rather than Ebola relief and awareness. The Current, for example, spoke with a bunch of people who know a whole lot about programs in Africa and the things that are being done to change the course of this outbreak.
Cool. I’m glad they are getting the forum to challenge this particular approach to raising awareness. Criticisms of Bob and Midge aside, if experts and people on the ground have the opportunity to actually speak about the realities of the situation to larger audiences of people, that, in itself, marks a fairly significant sea-change for the better.
Which speaks very much for the validity of the re-release of the song, in my mind.
If we start to hear less fear-mongering from pundits on major news channels and more actual, evidence-based information about this virus and its transmission, this is all to the good.
Understanding, however it comes, has to be lauded. As does awareness. And if they raise a few million quid in the process, how is this bad?
Seriously. I’m looking for an answer, here.
No one, to my knowledge anyway, has suggested that throwing money at the problem (either now, or in 1984) is going to be the only thing that might make it go away.
Our seemingly-intrinsic and ever-nutured selfishness has led us to a state of affairs in which we need something– pop stars, reality ‘celebrities’, whatever- to massively jar us out of the constant focus on the microcosm and engage us in acknowledging that it’s not all about us.
I tend, as a matter of course and function of personality, to look for best intentions before leaping to criticize. And I can’t see that the intentions behind this whole thing are anything but positive.
Naive? Maybe. I’ve been called worse.
But people are talking- and buying the thing.
There may have been ulterior motives. I don’t know either of the dudes, personally. I love their music, so I’m somewhat biased in that respect (full disclosure- the two of them have written some of my very favourite songs, and Midge has a set of pipes on him that is incomparable, as far as I’m concerned).
But I’m also well aware of the wholefeet of clay thing, and the dangers of setting anyone on too-high a pedestal. (this Bill Cosby thing is killing me a little. Talk about a blow to my childhood idylls/idols).
I’m not doing that here. Truly.
Until you can say that you have affected world-wide change on a level that Bob Geldof and Midge Ure have done, with the composition of a little song thirty years ago, I really think you need to be holding your tongue. Somewhat.
Pop stars, and the rest of us, inhabit our own little worlds of relative privilege and concerns (and relative to those who were dying of famine in Ethiopia, I’d say that privilege is pretty substantial, whether you’re a multimillionaire pop star or a 14-year-old from Toronto). 30 years ago a couple of those pop stars spurred a number more to acknowledge that privilege and contribute in the way they were best equipped to do so.
They made no claims to be experts in African politics, culture or economics. They saw something happening to their fellow humans and came together to do something, anything, about it. They make music. Some of them get paid ridiculous sums of money to play that music (and we, who buy their records and pay exorbitant prices for concert tickets, are complicit in the achievement of this wealth).
They are using the tools at their disposal, their voices and their fame, to draw attention to a situation that needs some light.
I can’t see that doing something is, in any way, worse than doing nothing. This is true in most things. And in this case, most certainly.
A number of years after the first go-round of the single and all the events that followed, Bob wrote another song. He called it The Great Song of Indifference. It was a response, a counter-point, if you will, to the criticisms being leveled, even then, against his continued involvement.
I don’t care if you live or die Couldn’t care less if you laugh or cry I don’t mind if you crash or fly I don’t mind at all
I don’t mind if you come or go I don’t mind if you say no Couldn’t care less baby let it flow ‘Cause I don’t care at all
I don’t care if you sink or swim Lock me out or let me in Where I’m going or where I’ve been I don’t mind at all
I don’t mind if the government falls Implements more futile laws I don’t care if the nation stalls And I don’t care at all
I don’t care if they tear down trees I don’t feel the hotter breeze Sink in dust in dying sees And I don’t care at all
I don’t mind if culture crumbles I don’t mind if religion stumbles I can’t hear the speakers mumble And I don’t mind at all
I don’t care if the Third World fries It’s hotter there I’m not surprised Baby I can watch whole nations die And I don’t care at all
I don’t mind I don’t mind I don’t mind I don’t mind I don’t mind I don’t mind I don’t mind at all
I don’t mind about people’s fears Authority no longer hears Send a social engineer And I don’t mind at all
Cynicism and right-minded criticism have their place. We need to be questioning motivations and strategy when we face problems that impact us humans and the planet we call home. But I have a real problem with knee-jerk disapproval without suggestions for alternative solutions.
If every couple of dollars raised by this effort is representative of a person who stopped, if only for the space of time it takes to listen to the song, then that’s a sign of forward momentum, as far as I’m concerned. And if it gets us thinking and talking about what we’ve, personally, contributed to make a difference in the world… And how we might go about upping that ante…
Hallelujah. It’s about freakin time.
I know it did for me. My nostalgic reminiscences have me contemplating what I need to be doing next to manifest all this change I keep talking about here- and in the real world.
I wonder if those who are looking to condemn- based in perceived intentions or actual execution- gave that any thought as they were writing tweets or articles about the misguidance or abuse of charitable impulses in attempts to affect change. I kinda doubt it.
Buy the song, don’t buy the song.
But do something that demonstrates that indifference is not the prevailing impulse to which you’d like to cling. It’s the least you can do before taking those who do otherwise to task.
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) stylisticallyinformal (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.
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.
It’s been a long, dispiriting couple of weeks in manymany ways. The news isn’t good (understatement, that)- and seems to be growing ever darker. Mylast post– and the direction in which my mind has been traveling the past little bit- has tended toward the apocalyptic- which is, in its current parlance, foreboding and pessimistic by definition. But it’s hard to hold onto the doom and gloom- on a gorgeous Friday in TO, with the CNE open and heralding the end of summer, people heading to a baseball game, and a festival of street performers bringing crowds of people together to celebrate community and creativity. Soooo- I’m going to set aside all that ‘end of days’ chatter and focus on the present- and the joy of the past that have helped to get me here, to this place, right now.
Last week I wrote about the loooooong car trips we used to take as a family when we were kids. As I mentioned, I pulled out all kinds of crazy stops to keep the sisters (and myself) entertained in those days loooooong before anyone thought to put a movie-watching machine in a moving vehicle. To give themselves some peace and quiet from the ongoing silliness prompted by that alien from outer space, my parents let us take it in turns to control the tape deck (yes, we had a tape deck- at least it wasn’t an 8-track player).
In the summer of 1984, home from camp and on the road to see every freakin’ fort on the Eastern Seaboard, my go-to and oft-repeated choice was an album called Into the Gap by a British band called the Thompson Twins. I loved that tape. By the end of the holiday my sisters and I could sing along with all of the songs.
Once home, along with the usual gearing up for the start of a new school year, my parents had to contend with my end-of-the-summer birthday. They asked what I wanted as a gift, and my answer was something that could be easily accommodated (the way my 14-year-old self saw the world, anyway). The Thompson Twins were playing the Grandstand at the CNE two days before my birthday. Perfect, thought I.
The parents? Not so much. For some reason they had an issue with their 13-year-old (those two days meant much more to them than they did to me, apparently) heading to the Ex all by myownself for a concert (that wouldn’t end before 11pm). But they knew I reallyreallyreally wanted to go (TBH, my constant expression of this fact might have had something to do with that awareness).
So… the compromise. Dad, wonderful man that he was, opted to get us tickets and take me to see the band. It. Was. Awesome. The initial pangs of embarrassment I might have felt about going to a concert with my Dad faded pretty quickly as I stood, enraptured, as the band took the crowd through their songs of wonder.
Including this one:
There were more, and I’ll likely talk some more about the rest of them (placeholder), but this one- and its video (which I hadn’t seen in decades before I went looking for it this week) is super-resonant with the directions in which my brains is running right now.
I’m glad in these hard times – day in day out. There’s hope in your eyes – hope in his eyes. I don’t need a religion – too hot too hot. ‘Cause this love never dies – love never dies. I believe in today – believe boy believe boy. It’s better that way and you work through the night. I know what it means to work hard on machines. It’s a labour of love so please don’t ask me why
That concert, 3o years ago this weekend, is one of my happiest memories. Not just because of the great music, but because of the time I got to spend with Dad. He enjoyed the show a great deal- and watching him watch the band and feeling the energy of the crowd started to bring home the fact of his person-ness- as opposed to his Dad-ness. At least a little. While he would always retain his Dad-ness, that show help to set us on the road to the friendship that we would develop as I grew up- a relationship that remains one of the great privileges of life filled with good fortune.
Fast forward a number of decades to the end of a difficult Spring and an email message from an oldold friend. He isn’t exactly the Boy Next Door, but he comes pretty close. Len and I grew up a block away from each other- went to Kindergarden and onwards together, and then, as happens, lost touch for a decade or two. Through the miracle of social media (mixed blessing though it may be), we reconnected via the facebook a number of years back and discovered a shared love of music and common ways of approaching all kinds of things in this here world.
A few months back, Len, with his connections to the world of music, heard the first inkling regarding a concert that was in the works. A show that would bring together a passel of the great voices of the 80s and have them share a stage of an evening.
Ultimate result? That up there ^^^^.
As coincidence (or providence, or fate, or whatever) would have it, they’re stopping here in town. Almost 30 years to the day that I last saw Tom Bailey perform those songs, with my Dad at my side.
It should go without saying that I will be in attendance.
Now Len, being an even bigger fan than I, is seeing them three times (yes THREE) before the tour hits our hometown. He was at opening night in NYC and is at tonight’s show as I write this. I’m putting aside my jealousy (and absurd degree of eager anticipation) in gratitude that I will be experiencing it all for myself in just a few days.
But it’s hard. The line-up is phenomenal- a musical journey down memory lane that I can’t wait to experience in person. So I’m getting into the proper mindset by running through the old faves and re-familiarizing myself with some gems that the Shuffle Daemon and I have neglected recently.
I did see these guys, live and in person, last Fall. I wrote about that show (although the post won’t link for some reason- search on ‘Persuasive Danger’ if you’re interested in giving it a read)- and the fact that it felt like hanging with old buds seeing them at Hugh’s Room.
I missed him the last time he stopped in Toronto with a solo show, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing him play the hits- from his days with Ultravox, Visage and his solo albums (it’s also almost 30 years since he co-wrote a song that started a revolution in the way we think about popular music and its ability to affect change and raise awareness. But there’ll be more on that anniversary as we approach the holiday season…)
Quite some time before Alanis so spectacularly misused the concept of ‘irony’, an English dude named Howard wrote this little ditty about expectations not always meeting the reality.
Howard also requires a placeholder. Bigtime. I’ve seen him live a few times over the years and he never fails to disappoint. Revisiting his catalogue over the past little bit has reinforced the reality that strong musical ability and intelligent (and positive) lyrics can still have popular appeal. I could write dissertations on his turns of phrase and clever use of language (okay, that might be slightly hyperbolic. I’m a little overexcited right now) and he deserves more than a bare paragraph here.
Rather than drive myself (and those around me) completely nutso with my jittery anticipation, I’ll be spending the next few days catching up with these old friends in advance of hanging out with them next week. Their tunes- and the memories they provoke and the messages that still shout their wisdom- will be the backdrop to my weekend.
But I’ll still be counting down the hours… and thinking back over the years.
I might not like their coffee at all, but this picture really sums up the last couple of days here in TO.
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 onebefore. 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 justbeing 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.
... au gré des trouvailles, au fil de l'inspiration. Ma devise : rester humble, devant l'infiniment petit, tout comme face au très grand... angle :) Merci à toi visiteur furtif ou ami de longue date...