I Don't Want To Wear A Hat

I met up several years ago with my good friend Terry to catch up and just enjoy each other’s company over a cup of tea. As we settled in to our seats he asked me how things were going? At the time my life was seemingly spinning out of control. I had a mother who was fading away and who lived several hours away. I had a teenage daughter who was struggling with life, another teenage daughter who wasn’t, but felt neglected. My job was stressful, and my boss was Narcissistic. My marriage was straining (actually failing) and my art was suffering. I said; “I wake up and put on my Dad hat, I drive to work and put on my teacher hat, I come home and put on my husband hat, there were many more hats, but you get the idea. He said “Sounds like you are wearing too many hats!” which was true. He then asked “How are your migraines?” to which I replied “Worse than ever!”. He said “Maybe you should take off a few of those hats!”. He was right, of course.

The thing is, we wear hats to define ourselves. Nothing says “British Banker” more than a Bowler. Cowboy hat on a musician means you aren’t listening to Jazz. A beret means you are artsy (or a fascist). Work hats are obvious. A uniform. We often wear hats just to fancy ourselves up. Hats are an accessory that people notice first (unless maybe you have no nose, are green, or naked). Just the other day someone asked me “Which one is Ted?” and I said “the guy with the Peeky Binders Hat”. I didn’t have to describe any further. Some hats we put on out of necessity like a helmet or a toque to protect ourselves. I have noticed that many people who are balding or bald wear hats to lower the glare or frame their face.

The good thing about most bald men that I know is they have nice shaped heads. Baldness suits them. My head is a block. If I were bald, they’d get out the pitchforks and torches and I would scare little children. I have a full head of hair which is nature’s way of protecting the aesthetic of the environment. My head is also very large (I was going to say “huge”, but that might be an exaggeration). My chiropractor was working on my head and remarked: “Ian, this is the biggest head I’ve ever worked on!” I replied “There goes my self esteem!”

I wrote this song shortly after my visit with Terry. It came out in one fell swoop. Plopped in my lap fully formed. I was quite pleased to have written something that sounded so balanced and catchy with so little effort. I performed it as early as July 2008 at The Yellow Door and another engagement in January 2009. Then I sorta shelved it because everything in my life came to a head and music became secondary to survival. I recorded a demo of it at home in 2010 (the xylophone sound is an Orff instrument I had borrowed from the school I was working at)) and I always intended to re-record it and put it out on an album. I returned to it last week and listened. I decided to master it on-line to see what that might produce. Lo and behold, I am very pleased with the result. The guitar and voice have a presence I was unable to access in my home studio.

Seeing as almost no-one buys music anymore, I thought I should let this song go. It is worthy of being heard. Best way is going to be a video. I asked some friends to submit some goofy shots. Here it is.

The greatest hat I ever wore
Kept my four corners warm
Sheltered me from every storm
Man, I miss that hat!

Some hats are too loose
Some hats fit too tight
Some hats I get to choose
But nothing seems to fit right

I don’t want to wear a hat
The ceiling’s low and my head’s too fat

I wear a hat when I go to work
Another when I get home
I wear a hat when I’m out with friends
I even wear one when I’m alone

I can’t remember when my head was bare
Since I was young, there’s always been something there
Always on the go, always on the do
Always trying to try on something new

(chorus)

When you wear a hat it’s hard to dream
If you’re a dreamer your head will be splitting at the seam
Cause if your head’s too big like mine is
A hat’ll just confine this

If I gotta wear one, make it fit
Not just my head, but what’s in it
If I gotta wear one, make it cool
I’m tired of changing hats like a fool

(chorus)

In god’s house I try to keep my head bare
But prayer caps and doer caps keep slipping up there
I wish I didn’t care
What hat I wear when people stare

(chorus)
I think it’s pretty unfair
I just want to feel the wind in my hair

Empty Rooms

Revisiting troubled times is always fraught with danger. All of the “what if”‘s and “could have been”s return to the conscience. A home is a place to alter to your tastes and fill with familiar objects and keepsakes that provide comfort. Today I was finally getting around to some of my music that had been neglected if not downright forgotten and I rediscovered “Empty Rooms” and remembered the walk through video (at the end of the blog) I took of our sold house the day before the possession date. Shattered dreams and failure overshadowing the happy times and the delight of raising two wonderful children. But, to quote the Bacharach/David song, “a house is not a home”.

The music started out (I am not sure of the year) as just a guitar piece on electric guitar using a volume pedal to eliminate the attack of each note and/or swell the chords (with Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen on cymbals). I still intend to record it that way some day.

I do remember that I was very inspired after seeing an Art exhibit by Brian Eno at the “Galerie Lavelin” in Montreal called “The Quiet Room”. The article below describes the exhibit very eloquently and saves me the trouble of doing so as well. https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/brian-enos-quiet-revolution/article1117765/ Funny how in my mind the exhibit was called “Empty Rooms”, but I digress.

The poem came to me in the dark one night several years later while I was laying emotionally wounded on the wooden floor (visible in the video) and wondering what on earth I could do or should do about my seemingly impossible situation. It is not easy living on a volcano. I picked up the guitar and the song fell in place, distracting me from my misery.

I have recorded it several times, never quite satisfied with the result, and shelved it. My life now is vastly different from those times, so I never felt the need to express this pain anymore. Today, though, as I mixed and mastered, I finally heard it the way I wanted it so I added all of the ingredients together to make this little video. I hope it may be of some comfort to someone out there to recognize that there is light and shared experience beyond the bleakness.

The song
The walk through

The Forgotten

I wrote down the words “The forgotten” from a feeling I had while we were visiting a person we know who is having some difficulties and is at the Douglas Hospital in Verdun for observation and treatment. My intention was to write a poem about this feeling.

It was a particularly desolate winter evening. The meandering route to the poorly lit, windswept and empty parking lot was long and foreboding, forlorn and barren. The buildings that comprise the hospital were particularly dark and gloomy that night and loomed before us like a lonely forgotten castle. There was nothing welcoming about it.

I know hospitals are necessary, and are wonderful places where massive effort is put into healing. I know that there can be drama and fear as well as joy and sadness. I was only able to recall negative and depressing details from my hospital experiences that night: My father’s death bed in St. Agathe, my two weeks in isolation at the Royal Vic.as a three year old, my last visit with a dear friend who was dying of cancer and was half his adult weight when I last saw him. My mother failing and her intellect shrinking with every weekly visit for several years. Visiting my close friend Danny who kept living and defying death even with the most gruesome and insurmountable health issues. He lived, until he didn’t, but that wasn’t a hospital story. I remembered my own lonely and prolonged stay in hospital as a teen-ager. All of this burden at once as we approached the entrance. Not optimistic. The corridors may not have been dark, but my thoughts were.

As can be expected, the person we were visiting was disoriented and showed little or no affect. That is why she was there, after all. It was very sad. The “common room” where patients could receive visitors or pass time was almost empty and it’s few occupants had very little in common. Not the kind of place to meet and make friends. I noticed the clock had stopped. 3:47…..who knows how long ago? There were random(probably donated) books on shelves. Probably never been read by their previous owner nor by anyone at the hospital. They were books, though. It was then that I wrote “the forgotten” on my notepad. I thought I would come back to it and write something sad and profound about how these souls were languishing or some such nonsense. Something to match my mood.

Subsequent visits were equally gloomy, although there was more action, some medical personnel and the occasional visitor.

Today was different. We met Lucien. He was a spry old fellow wearing a toque and he went over to the piano and played a few ascending chords very lightly. He turned around and I made eye contact and I said “bravo” He sauntered over to us and told us his story about having been a patient and how he returns to volunteer and help people as he was helped. He had lost his wife of 50 years and fell into a depression. The hospital helped him deal with his dark thoughts, got him some laser surgery for his eyesight “I’m eighty, but I can see like I am twenty-four” he exclaimed cheerily. “No pills!” he added. He was delightful, thankful and graceful and encouraged any within his sphere to join him in the sunshine room tomorrow, or any day, for that matter. A hero. He had a companion with him who he had met and befriended when both were patients. They both went off to visit another room and it was clear that they had left a spark in the “common room”.

I was hesitant to walk over to the piano, but my wife encouraged me. I went and played a few chords and then seeing as no-one told me to shut up I sat down and played in earnest. I played some chords and melodies of songs I vaguely knew and was going to stop, but the room started to fill with the curious, and , it turns out, the appreciative. A woman patient said to me “N’arret pas madame” and burst out laughing when I turned around. She had assumed that with my long hair I must be female. The beard tipped her off. I sang “Golden Slumbers”, and “Caledonia” to an ever expanding and appreciative crowd. Even the nurse gave me a thumbs up.  I only took my exit when I saw someone about to make a phone call. We had to go as our parking was up.

I realized then that it was I that had “forgotten” that my skill with music can be a bridge. My fear and loathing was lifted and the room had more air and people were smiling and talking to one another. It was finally a Common room. There was joy that was lasting and abounding. I think I know how I will give back after I retire. Merci Lucien.

Buttery Moon

I was going to watch my first born daughter (Ema Jean) launch her second CD (Room for Fascination) the other night and the moonrise on our way to the venue was spectacular. Sharon observed “look at the buttery moon!” which, in itself is a miracle because I am usually the one that points out celestial events to her. I looked at the moon and it was indeed buttery in at least two ways. The first way that I observed was a shininess, a shimmer on the almost perfectly round orb. The second sense was that it looked like a pat of butter. Not the square ones, but the round ones you might get at a higher scale restaurant. I loved the phrase. I like the rhythm of it and the fluttery, buttery, come whatery of it.

The evening was a stunning success. The concept for the album about her journey through some trials and tribulations and the execution of the music were inspired and inspiring.

Ema Jean emerging from her Chrysalis

You can hear and purchase Ema Jean’s music here: https://emajean.bandcamp.com/album/room-for-fascination

My daughter’s voice was indeed “buttery” in the sense of smooth and slippery and also in the sense that almost everything is better with butter.

I was determined to write a song called “Buttery Moon” and I picked up my guitar and the first chords that came out were Ami to Fma7 which is a favourite progression of mine and of two of my songwriting heroes (Bob Dylan and Neil Young). It is OK to trust that almost all chord progressions and melodies have been discovered before, yet can seem fresh and new like a newly built house that has the same design as the neighbour’s but has the individual tastes and decorations of home. Then the first verse spilled out in one splash. I went to bed with the wheels spinning about where to go next. Nada except lack of rest….

The next day I was sitting with my coffee and watching the action around our bird feeders in the backyard and I was struck by the simplicity and wonder of our natural world. A poem came out that fit the other song…Buttery Moon. How to reconcile this? abandon the first? store them separately in the notebook?

I took the dogs for a walk in the park and caught a snowflake on my tongue which reminded me of walking another dog in another park at another time late at night and another verse was born.

I realized that the three seemingly disparate songs were related somehow as they all came out of my imagination, but could not reconcile that they evoked three separate experiences and there were jumps in time of day and weather…. then I realized that they all did belong together as they all reflect gratitude:My daughter and her music (which was positive and thought provoking), The indoor and outdoor birds that bring me joy and peace while they go around just being birds, and finally, the sounds at night walking in the cold city in a Canadian winter. So many things in there: Family, wife, nature, sound, music, exercise.. all gratefully brought together under the Buttery Moon.

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My baby sang out last night from her Chrysalis

(E)merging from the shrouds of clouds like a buttery moon

glowing over the darkest nights of dissonance

Shining healing light on ancient wounds

buttery moon, buttery moon

buttery moon, buttery moon

shining healing light 

on ancient wounds

on ancient wounds

(There were a) dozen different birds out back today grazing on seeds

(in the) blowing snow they know where to go to fulfill their needs

bless their little souls they don’t complain

in the snow, sleet, hail or the driving rain

the driving rain, the driving rain

driving rain, driving rain

cleansing, washing away

residual pain

residual pain

(catching) snowflakes on my tongue in the cool crisp air 

(there may be) better places on this earth, but I don’t know where

(I hear a) rebound off the boards at the rink across the way

someone letting off steam at the and of the day

the end of the day, end of the day

end of the day, finding my way under the buttery moon 

buttery moon, buttery moon

buttery moon, buttery moon

shining healing light 

on ancient wounds

buttery moon

“Levesqueing”

I never noticed before,  but my father-in-law combs his hair forward and slicks it down. Due, I suppose, to his attempt at minimizing the effect of his ever encroaching forehead. Looks sort of like Caesar (or at least, Graham Chapman who played Caesar in “The Life of Brian”) or the British director Lindsay Anderson. It got me to thinking about baldness. More specifically, the disappearance of the “combover”. I wonder when the last time was that I saw someone “Levesque” their hair. 

Is “Levesque” even a verb? To “Levesque” one’s hair is to grow one side of fringe that can be combed over to meet the other side. Named affectionately (or not) after a former chain-smoking Premier of Quebec whose combover was quite evident. Defining, in fact.

My friend Allan has what he refers to as “Bozo wings” when he lets his fringe grow too long. Another friend John is mor Icabod. Picture the actor Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown in “Back to the Future”. 

Many of my friends just shave their whole head at the first sign of “male pattern baldness” which disguises their age somewhat in that it makes them look tougher, younger, smarter. One friend with a “chrome dome” looks sort of like Daddy Warbucks another like Kojak and yet another friend looks like Yul Brynner. I think the shaved head looks best.

My ex-friend “Dan” lost his hair in his early twenties and he was quite uptight about it at the time because he was a musician and thought he needed hair for it. My friend David (who I have never known with hair) put a female wig on at Hallowe’en and it really did transform him. His face now framed with blonde tresses made him look like someone else entirely

I am into my 60’s and have a full head of hair still. A bit of grey, but not pushing it. I don’t know how my hairless friends feel about being bald. Some have said “you’re lucky” to have a full head of hair implying somehow that they are less lucky. I always point out that my head is this huge square block that if shaven would scare kids…Every bald guy I know has a round head, and baldness in their case is not the aesthetic disaster it would be in mine 

One thing for sure, and I suppose the reason for this essay is that I am glad I never had to “Levesque” my hair.

Rehearsal

Beautiful and funny. Just like you!

bogeyandruby

Sometimes I feel like an imposter in my own life.

This evening, my rockstar husband and I are playing a gig at our beloved Mariposa Cafe to raise money for the St. James Drop-In Centre, a wonderful community resource that supports members who are coping with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. Our friend, Antonella, volunteers in the art therapy program there and her enthusiasm for the program and compassion for its members convinced us to support the cause.

It is less sold out closer to showtime but for a few weeks it was!

We played a similar gig nearly a year ago, selling copies of our self-funded cd of cover tunes and raising close to $1500. This year, all proceeds from the $15 cover charge will be donated to the cause.

I’ve come a long way, baby.

From music teacher Mrs. Bloomer with the chinny chin hairs and…

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Songs of Autumn: 2016.

The year 2016 saw many icons of music die who had had an impact on my life. In January, the rock artist David Bowie died within days of releasing the masterful and poignant Black Star. On Nov. 7 Leonard Cohen died; On November 8 the unspeakable was elected in the U.S.(democracy died). On Nov. 13 Leon Russell,and Nov. 15, Mose Allison died. These may not mean anything to you, but were huge losses to me.

In a year marked by such public tragedy and grief, an enormous personal tragedy befell me and my family. Our beloved friend (uncle to my girls) Danny Lewis died on October 21st.

Danny wore many hats in his life. It would be hard to find anyone more interesting and/or unbelievable than Danny. He was well-travelled, had jobs from taxi driver to potter to technical writer and organic farmer. He seemed to know so many odd facts, conversed at length on disparate subjects and always injected his thoughts with abundant humour and intelligent ideas. Some of Danny’s stories were pretty far-fetched, but he was always able to convince that most elements of the story were true and that if there was some reason to stretch it, that also became true. His stories, rants, and his general take on things delighted and fascinated all who came in contact with him. My daughters loved him dearly. He was a confidante and a sage non-parental unit to them.My younger daughter even has a caricature of Danny tattooed on her arm. I valued Danny as a friend. He never let me down except by dying….

The girls and I spent lots of time at Danny’s organic farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, near the Vermont border. His farm was on a crest of land that Danny bragged was the highest elevation of arable or cultivated land in the province. Who knows if that is true or not? The way Danny said it, it became true. He called his printing business and his farm “Topedahill” which is a nonsense word that he was able to get past the Office de la langue Francais (businesses in Quebec can’t have English names.) Danny was clever. Danny was kind. He let my family vacation at the farm dozens of times. When I was going through my separation and divorce he sheltered me and the girls for many months at his home in the city. Danny seemed unfazed by visitors. He always greeted phone calls and visitors enthusiastically, even when he was suffering and in dire pain. In 2007 I wrote the song below for Danny. The original recording of this song was a “one off” demo that I gave to Danny and, like him, it is gone.

Danny’s Farm
By: Ian Goodall Hanchet

I’ve got a friend who lives on Topadehill If I
need someone to help me I know he will
Life’s a bit too hectic here
I need a rest I need some cheer

I know the country’s where to go so I
Hop into the car you know it isn’t very far
I’m going down to Danny’s farm
down to Danny’s farm
down to Danny’s, down to Danny’s farm

City life is too eclectic
Everything is too electric
I’m gonna sink like the Titanic
Get me back to where life’s organic
(chorus)
I know the country’s where to go
When I need some country charm
I just go down to Danny’s farm

when I’m on the fringe and every
thing has come unhinged
then I know it’s when it’s time to
take me there again
(chorus)
When I need to get away
When I need things to go slow
I know where to stay
I know where to go
(chorus)

©2007 I.G.H

On September 21, 2016 Leonard Cohen released a CD for what was going to be his last time. I purchased “You Want It Darker” as soon as it was released. Leonard’s late in life music tended to blues forms and lyrics that rhythmically interested me. The song “You Want It Darker” hit me like a freight train. I transcribed and learned it immediately. I don’t often cover Leonard’s songs, but this one hit me in the same way “Make It Rain” by Tom Waits hit me. They could be companion pieces. When the news of Cohen’s death in November spread through the tiny “folk” community to which I belong , we immediately went into mourning. My friend Brenda worked for the synagogue that was going to process Leonard’s funeral and had been sitting on exclusive news of his demise for three days (Leonard died on the 7th and the news broke on the 10th) before the news became public. She was present at our open mic. and heaved a huge sigh of relief and tears and had a stiff drink. She had been sworn to secrecy, and like the trustworthy person she is she kept her word. We musicians immediately wanted to pay tribute. My contribution was “You Want It Darker”.

Retracing my autumn, I go back to a story of what my friend Hal Newman posted on the 20th of October just a day before Danny died. Hal lived in Stanstead, Qc. on the border with Vermont. He had been awakened pre-dawn by hundreds of crows ( a murder of crows) in a tree outside his bedroom. I quipped “Murder On The Border” which I thought would make a great song title. (Apparently already existed as a book and movie, but I didn’t know that.) We agreed that it was a great song title. With Danny dying the next day I was “distracted” and forgot about the title until I started to imagine macabre scenarios. Danny’s body was at the morgue (as yet unclaimed by his family) and lengthy conversations between us survivors added to the imagery. Danny’s farm is also on the border with Vermont about 18 km away from Hal. Many of the scenes I imagined in this song are actual locations on Danny’s property. I was drinking coffee at my favourite Mexican cafe (Cafe 92). On the walls are beautiful and macabre posters celebrating Dia de la muerta. The next day we were to celebrate Danny’s life and commit his ashes back to the earth. This song is the confluence of Leonard Cohen, Danny, Cafe 92 and the Crows and Hallowe’en approaching. The song and the video arrived effortlessly in my imagination.

Retracing again, I received three urgent messages from my accountant which was highly unusual for October. Danny and I were both clients. I believe it was Danny who recommended him in the first place. We were both viewed by Doug as “slackers” in the tax filing department. It was a standing joke as to who would get his crap in first. I knew it was something bad. The news broke my heart. I then got to the task of informing others of this sad news. My daughters took it very badly. Friends in common were aghast! My friends Peter and Helen had had Danny over the night before and there were no indications of anything beyond the usual wrong with Danny. The next day, this came out:

Three urgent messages
What could be worse?
They always said of love
Someone always leaves first

two short words

there goes my universe
Your heart gave out
My heart just burst

Who can I call now?
Danny knew everything
Who can I call now?
Danny was always there

Who can I call now? He was my first call

who can I call now? he could spin silk

Who can I call now? who will divert me?

Who can I call now? Why’d you desert me, huh?

With news good or bad
Any time of night or day

He never let me down
He never pushed me away
Who can I call now? Danny knew everything

Who can I call now? Danny was always there,
Who can I call now? Now that Danny’s gone

Late Autumn is generally a stark and foreboding time of year where I live (Quebec). The trees become skeletons and the ground becomes hard. We all know what is coming. This Autumn of 2016 was the worst. The US election was the foulest and worst nightmare scenario imaginable. I won’t talk about that here because there has been too much written about it already…. I was a big fan of Leon Russell. His “Stranger In A Strange Land” and “This Masquerade” are two pearls among many others. Wonderful musician. Mose Allison was a witty and sardonic Jazz and Blues artist whose style and hipness and great songs influenced me greatly. Needless to say all this death and dying and the hopelessness of the world events weighed heavily on my shoulders. This ensued:

Live recording from Mariposa
fields at Danny’s Farm

Thank you for reading and listening. I apologize for jumping around in time. It isn’t supposed to make chronological sense. Hard to make any sense out of anything when grieving. I hope I was able to convey that songs don’t just come out of nowhere. This was a sad period. Art was made.

Life goes on until it doesn’t.

The pond at Danny’s Farm