‘You take what you need and leave the rest’

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

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

Meh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway. Weird loopings of time aside…

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

Those guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And everything they wrote and recorded is just so good.

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

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

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

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

Oh, how I love that catalogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I saw this today.

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

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

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

So.

Lesson for the week?

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

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

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

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

Still… Bob again:

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

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

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

Soundtrack for the rest of week?

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

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

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

’tis the season

Trust me, I am reallyreally not one for in ANY way supporting the whole ‘Xmas begins as soon as the Hallowe’en candy is put on sale’ thing.  I think it’s especially shameful when stores and the like start putting up decorations before Remembrance Day.  Don’t like that at all.  Respect for our veterans should not be too much to ask.

It’s only November 22.  I have yet to do anything as my token nod to the season- as far as shopping/decorating/cooking/baking goes.  That will likely start next weekend (a couple of friends always host an American Thanksgiving dinner and I will be bringing dessert)- although, other than the baking (which I do kind of love.  Most of the time) I’m not sure I’m looking forward to the preparations all that much.

Partly because the decorative stuff is all in storage, which necessitates a trip to the storage place to get it all, and then another trip out there to return the empty boxes…

All right.  I’m being lazy.  I get that.  I could make excuses about the residual effects of the move, being behind in the proactive searching for employment, NaNoWriMo (closing in on 40 ooo words- even if the story isn’t even half told), this cold I can’t shake (seriously- week two and counting)… But honestly?  I think that the real reason I’m not feeling a whole lot of the old peace on earth/good will toward fellow humans thing right now has to do with the build up of cynicism and existential despair that current events have instilled down deep in the very core of my being.

But.

Over the last couple of days I’ve seen a bunch of posts suggesting attempts at rediscovering some joy amongst the jaded negativity that seems to be prevalent lately.  My blogging bud, Beth Byrnes, spoke about her attempts to change the course of recent spates of judge-y behaviours, including some seasonally-inspired therapy in the form of light-hearted Hallmark movies.

I had to agree that one of my personal favourite things about this time of year is the annual showings of wonderful feel-good classic films.  It’s a Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street (seriously, who is more beautiful than Maureen O’Hara?), the Sound of Music (and I’m NOT talking about some new-fangled live version with some country star- Julie Andrews IS Maria, and Canadian treasure Christopher Plummer IS Georg.  That’s all I have to say about that), and even newer films like Elf (how do you not LOVE Will Farrell in that role?  And Bob Newhart- and Mr. Grant as SANTA?) and Love Actually (fave ensemble cast film in years) really contribute to the overall suspension of Scroogery- even in the face of political skullduggery run rampant and the disasters (natural and otherwise) that seem to be affecting the world with increasing regularity.

This is use of story– and enduring characters- at its most wonderful.  When a time-tested tale can generate viewership- across generations, beliefs and borders of all kinds- and allow a little bit of hope for the realization of goodness to creep into the day-to-day… That’s kind of freakin miraculous.

So today I took my first step on the road to some celebrating of the season.  First annual tradition well on its way?  Check!

I picked up our tickets to the annual Skydiggers Xmas show at the Horseshoe Tavern (which I referenced here, when discussing some of our city’s FANTASTIC live music venues) this evening.  Every December- for years beyond counting- a group of us (the core remains the same but we welcome additions/cast changes dependent on circumstances- including inclement weather or last minute cancellations) have gathered to see these Toronto stalwarts- and whomever else might be floating around and wanting to play a song or two- sing their classic tunes and share a little holiday cheer.

The show feels like a visit with family.  The band has been a fixture in my life since forever it seems (1988, anyway).  I have seen them in any number of venues, in any number of cities (and on subway platforms- ran into Andy on Hallowe’en, actually) over the years, but the Xmas show at the ‘Shoe is a traditional gathering that can’t be missed.  Be assured that there will be more on this topic once the show actually happens.

If you’re going to be in Toronto the weekend of December 20th and 21st, come on over and join us.  Well worth the price of admission.  And I’m sure that Andy (and frequent guest/collaborator, the Member of Parliament for Davenport, Andrew Cash) will have some insightful commentary on our current political scandals, in case you’re looking for more of that sort of thing.  We’ll be set up by the sound dude, drinking 50 (the one time of year THAT happens.  Horrible beer.  But part of the tradition), if you want to come say hello.

I left Soundscapes (my fave record store and source of tickets in town), not only with the tickets that were the focus of the trip, but with a copy of Ray Davies’ new book Americana (finally picked it up- after finding out about it MONTHS ago). DOUBLE SCORE!

Since it is (for now) unseasonably warm, and since I was feeling somewhat energized for the first time in weeks, I decided that a walk was in order.  The winter will arrive in earnest soon enough.

Strolling back along College, then through Kensington and down Spadina, past the venue itself (which waits, like a loyal friend, for our appearance in a few weeks), then through the ED (long before the arrival of all the 905ers) and down toward that giant spire in the sky (lit up in red tonight), I remembered just how much I LOVE this town.

Recent events have cast us in a darker light- and created some of that angst I was talking about.  But Toronto remains a great place to live.  Our downtown core on a Friday evening is alive with people moving about- setting plans for the evening, heading to dinner/after work drinks, picking up groceries (or bubble tea, or a slice of pizza), and doing some early holiday shopping.

I could almost feel the gently falling (hopefully gently falling– 5 years ago it took hours to get home after a couple of feet of white stuff fell on the city while we were inside singing along) snow that will likely set the scene outside on Queen Street in a few weeks, as we begin to really ring in the season, with some of my favourite peeps in the widewide world.

I let the Shuffle Daemon set the playlist, and he (she?  It?) didn’t disappoint.

Forgot how much I love that video.

A steamy Skydiggers song- memories of summer AND of Xmas shows past.

Another song about the heat of summer- and levies and such- but a FANTASTIC tune about walking about kind of aimlessly yet winding up in the same places again and again.

The Daemon seemed determined to evoke warmth (holidays and ice cream and such)- perhaps knowing what’s forecast to arrive this weekend (plummeting temperatures and snow).  I think it’s trying to tell me that summer WILL come ’round again… Gotta love The Beat, regardless of season.

Now THAT’s a weekend-starting song, if I ever heard one.  And love the classic MTV clip at the start.  I DARE you not to smile.

After a long absence, Genesis has been popping up on the SD a lot lately. 

Some bitter-sweetness here.  Michael Hutchence died 16 years ago today.  A definite waste- of talent and promise.  But he left us with songs like this…

With these songs echoing through the headphones, a Skydiggers reunion to look forward to, a great book to read, and a football game (a Canadian football championship) to watch on Sunday (notwithstanding the fact that the hometown Argos were jinxed by the halftime arrival of someone who shall remain nameless.  What the hell.  Oskee Wee Wee or whatever.  Ontario is still there to represent.  Go Ticats.  I suppose), I’m starting the weekend with a happier outlook than has been the norm of late.

I’m thinking that it will be an unplugged weekend (except for the writing I want to get done), so the tv will remain off (suggestions from Genesis notwithstanding) and the news groups will remain unchecked.  The world can carry on without my input for a couple of days.

Bring on the holidays.  I think I just might be ready to face the madness.

Bon weekend!