One of the little things I take pleasure in is giving an alias to the baristas at Starbucks when they ask for my name. I am usually buying a latte for my sweetie. I have used some such as: “The Emperor”; “Viking Banana”;”Ziggy Stardust”; “The Dude”; etc.
I also like to give the names of famous musicians as well. I have used “Frank Zappa”; “Willie Nelson” and “Bob Dylan”.
This little game usually puts a smile on the person’s face who took the order and also the person who prepares the coffee. I make a point of asking who it’s for if the barista just hands it out. If the name is really absurd I might ask them to announce it louder. It is a fun game and most of the servers go along with it. They won’t print swearing, which I understand but I find irritating. I wanted to use “corporate prick” and was refused.
One time I told the Barista I was the “Queen of Sheba” who is a biblical figure of repute. An African Queen who bore gifts of great value to King Solomon. The barista wrote “Queen of Shiva” which is a word likely known to the man who was probably jewish rather than Hindu. In Judaism, shiva is a period of mourning. In Hinduism it is a god of asceticism (deprival)…similar, but not Sheba.
My latest encounter was when I told the person taking my order that I was “Beethoven”. She complied and before I saw it she said it was “probably mis-spelled”. I asked “How can you mis-spell such a famous name?” She said “I am in Science, not music!” I told her I was in music, but I could spell “Einstein” and furthermore I asked her if “for example, you are writing a Master’s thesis on Hydrocarbons, what would happen if you got “Hydrocarbon” wrong? We agreed she would probably fail. She then exclaimed… “in my defense, I am dyslexic!” which to me is not a defense at all, but an excuse because I, too, am dyslexic and have only used that as an excuse for comedic reasons as in “I have sex daily” which is an anagram of “I have dyslexia”. (I’d rather have sex daily for the record.)
When I got the coffee and read the label on the cup I was amazed at how wrong she could have gotten it. I was tempted to ask if she was related to Donald Trump, but that would have been cruel and insulting.
When my grandparents arrived in Canada from Great Britain, they brought with them so many of the customs and values of their thoroughly British upbringing. At the time, the Canada they arrived in was a colony of the British Empire, soon to be renamed the Commonwealth. Granted, their adapting to the new world was less drastic than people who need to learn the language, customs and mores of their adopted country. Another major difference is that my grandparents were not refugees. Their immigrating was voluntary and gentle and direct. My grandfather never gave up his Victorian views despite being here in Canada for over sixty years (all of his adult life except the years spent overseas in the Canadian Army in the First World War). My father was born here and espoused Canadian values with a slight tinge of his British heritage showing through. He never missed the Queen’s Christmas message for example. I am fully Canadian and never have visited England (yet). I am fluently bilingual and considerably less dogmatic than my dad.
One can only imagine the culture shock that someone coming from a non-English or French speaking culture must experience. How about coming from a war-torn nation where ideologies shoot at each other and information is either un-trustworthy or non-existent? Bewildered and amazed, we ask a lot of these people right off the bat. How can they assimilate quickly? Why should they? It may or may not happen.
Several years ago, just before the 2015 Canadian election while I was out for a stroll, I watched three generations of women walking down the street toward me. Grandmother was wearing traditional garb. Very colourful and head fully covered including a scarf over the face. The next generation wore a Hijab that matched her beige western outfit. The third generation was in slacks and a sweater, dressed like my daughter would. It made me happy. I don’t know their story, it is none of my business, but I knew these three women were safe here. They have the benefits of their own culture while enjoying the freedoms inherent in Canadian society.
That very morning, I heard people being interviewed on CBC about their political choices. Many mentioned the NDP’s support of people who wear the Burqa as a reason for abandoning the party. It saddened me that fear-mongering and intolerance and misunderstanding on an issue that barely affects them on a day-to-day basis overrides the awful truths of the ugly transformations in Canada (under Harper, a polluting, warring country that the obfuscators in power had bullied through with a majority of seats but merely a third of actual support from voting Canadians.
The Tories (actually Reform party=Northern Republicans) were poised to do the exact same thing they had done the last time. Split the support between the reasonable people who wish to support and protect our Society (Green, Liberal, NDP, Bloc) so that their votes are squandered and the self-congratulatory xenophobic bigots drive triumphantly around the right flank based on empty boasting about Leadership and supposed Fiscal mastery that are easily disproved.
At the time I wrote “Don’t let the country be hijacked again. Vote strategically so that Canada can get back on track.”
We are headed into another federal election with the landscape altered . After several provincial elections and the fiasco in the States have put arrogant, philistine right wing privilege in power with their bigotry in action and on display makes me fear those muslim women I saw are not as safe as I would like them to be. It is not a direction that makes me proud to be Canadian.
The last election was won by a liberal majority who have outshone their predecessors with several key promises made, but have failed miserably on so many key issues (Parliamentary reform for example). I hope that the election results in 2019 bring us a more balanced minority government that focuses on the environment and core values of health, education and equity for all.
With the cyber vomit that will be coming soon, I suspect the wrong things will be done for the wrong reasons and our jewel of a nation will be tarnished and damaged by the populism and partisan hatred like our neighbours to the south.
“On Your Image” is a phrase used in recovery to describe the lifestyle you are projecting to others. We are all on our image whether we like it or not. We are all either: A.) in some sort of recovery from some sort of damage or the other or B.) in denial. I am not talking about formal recovery like rehab or a 12 step program, just the way we traverse the years and deal with adversity and wounds from the past. Face em or bury em.
I woke up two days ago and decided to get my hair cut. This is probably a common occurrence for most people. They get a hair cut weekly? Bi-weekly? monthly? It has been a long time since I had had even a trim. The last trim I remembered was before my wedding over two years ago. Getting my hair cut was a big deal to me.
Most guys my age either don’t have hair, or they do, but it is white. There are also combinations of balding and whiteness/greyness that men my age contend with. This sets me apart from that category “men my age”. Most teachers are relatively clean cut. Hair sets me apart from that group as well. While out walking the dogs several years ago a neighbour introduced himself and said “So, you’re the neighbourhood hippie!” I was relieved that I did not fit in to this setting. I stood out. With long hair I could maintain the delusion of immortality and being an outsider, a counter-culture rebel, a musician. and not “the man”: Teacher, dad, suburban middle-class, middle-aged curmudgeon which is actually closer to the truth.
Image. Ego. Insecurity.
I used to be proud of my “I don’t give a shit what others think” attitude. Turns out I do care more than I thought. I present as someone who doesn’t give a shit, but hidden from view is this insecurity and fear of being normal. being mediocre. being forgettable, being boring….gasp!!!!
As a teenager I had many struggles with my parents over the length of my hair. I liked it long. All my heroes were hippies and yippies and Rock musicians who I wanted to emulate. I even started a petition in High School as to whether I should cut my hair. My favourite comment was from my vice principal who wrote that “Leroy Beals has no concern with what is on the outside of Ian’s head, he is, however deeply concerned with what is on the inside of Ian’s Head”.
My hair was not always long. For the first half of my adult life, I kept it kind of short. Sometimes spikey. Punk. As a young teacher, Music Therapist and dad, short hair and a clean shaven face were how I presented. Short hair does not get pulled when interacting with young children with Autism or my own babies. I never had to shave more than once a week because my “whiskers” were only barely visible. My heroes at the time were Jazz musicians whose hair did not figure into their coolness.
Things shifted for me a few years back as my mom was descending into her dementia and my job satisfaction was diminishing and my first marriage was crumbling. I discovered that without the judgement of my mom, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Her voice telling me to “forgive” and to “turn the other cheek” turned into a “NO!” I don’t want to take this anymore from anyone. I started to let my hair grow, and when my mum died I had the freedom to make clear choices without the cloud of her invading my conscience. I switched jobs. switched partners. Switched on my creative juices. My musical output went from “sporadic” to “frequent” to “constant” and my self-esteem and confidence started to blossom. All of this coincided with my growing my hair longer.
Just before getting it cut, my hair was half way down my back. It got caught in my seat belt and my harmonica holder (not at the same time…). All shoulder straps pulled my hair. My hair blew all over my face on windy days, stuck to my sweaty neck on hot days, got in my mouth sometimes when eating My bird (Johnny Winter) would like to burrow up in there like some divine nest. Getting my hair cut was a big deal for me. My hair kinda defined me.
I went from being “Jack Nicholson” to “Sting” to “The Dude” through to “Willie Nelson”, “Gandalf”, “ZZ Top” and “biker” or “viking”. Guess who is more “on his image” than the people he sat back and judged? Did you notice that I was projecting an image of “other” that has other people’s names on it? Oh the narcissism, vanity and hubris I am guilty of!
I was thinking that my hair is where my strength came from. Like Samson, whose hair was the source of his strength and a symbol of God’s power. When his hair had been cut by the trickery of Delilah, he lost everything and he was captured by the Philistines who blinded him by gouging out his eyes.
The Philistines are the last people you want to contend with as an artist. They are the enemies of freedom and truth and beauty. Unawake people with little or no time or aesthetic sensibility. I hate them, try to ignore them. They are stupid. I certainly don’t want them controlling my life. Guaranteed they vote for pigs.
Well. I am not Samson. My hair is not the source of my strength. Never was. I cut my hair and lo and behold, I am still here. No fear of Philistines. Feeling stronger than ever.
I am free of this burden for the time being. My hair is going to be sewn into a wig for someone whose “image” has changed due to the indignities of trying to save their life through chemotherapy. They are not “on their image”. They are projecting “sick person”. Who the hell wants to project that?! If a small vanity of a wig restores some of their “non-sick person” my hair will have done more good than it ever did on my head.
My desk is a mess. My workbench is a mess. My closet and drawers are a mess. I do have a system though, and I am pretty sure I know where everything is. I have to pay particular attention because as much as I am a “leave it out in the open” kind of guy, she is a “put it back in a drawer or back in the cupboard” kind of person. It is only a problem if I am cooking and I should leave the kitchen mid preparation. It is like an elf has swept in and made the measuring cup disappear and miraculously put the spices away. My system is that as I bring out all of the spices listed in a recipe and after I add a spice to whatever I am making, I put the ingredient away. This way I can keep track of what needs to be done yet. I have to be strategic and cook while nobody is home or if she is home, to not leave the kitchen unattended lest my hovercraft wife comes in and cleans everything.
I find that recently I am misplacing things more and more. Not the usual car keys and glasses or phone stuff. That is to be expected. Sometimes I walk into a room with intent and draw a blank to what the intent was. Sometimes forgot where I parked. Nothing serious.
Before I moved in with Sharon, I had a house filled with a lifetime’s collection of stuff. As the confusion of having possessions here, there and everywhere. at my house, my temporary quarters at my dear friend Danny’s and even more stuff at Sharon’s. I still knew where everything was.
Even this year with my classroom moved and all the contents now in up to five different places, I am able to locate anything.
Keeping track of my musical stuff is no less daunting. All of my harmonicas are labelled. My pedals are stored in one place. My guitars are almost all under one roof. I keep one at work. I have a drawer for strings, tuners, capos, wire cutters etc. I keep sheet music handy on a shelf and a portable recording device nearby as well.
Problems can arise when I go to rehearsal or to a gig. The equipment must all be amassed and returned sometimes under adverse conditions. People talk to you during breakdown, distractions mid-job. I try to be methodical. Last night I needed: four guitar cables, two pedals, two AC adapters for the pedals. One amp. One guitar. Spare strings and about a dozen harmonicas. I need an iPad clip and iPad for this gig and I like to use a pedal called an Air-Turn which turns the page hands free so I can follow the setlist and remind me of opening lines to songs etc.
I was pretty sure I had all of these things together while leaving the house. A shoulder bag with all the electronic crap and a briefcase with my harmonicas and rack and tuner, capo, etc. an amp (Fender Deluxe Reverb). and a guitar. (Fender Telecaster).
While setting up, however, I noticed the Air-Turn was gone. Not the biggest deal. I coped. I changed the page manually which is just an inconvenience. After the breakdown, I scoured the stage to no avail except to find our bassist’s tuner…lol. No Air-turn. Checked at home to no avail either. I figured it may have fallen out of the bag in the car. I remember a bag tipping when I had to brake quicker than usual. This morning I checked the car. Threw out a bunch of detritus, but no Air-Turn. I re-checked places where I knew it wasn’t and I was getting angry with myself because this Air-Turn was my second one, and they aren’t cheap. The first had been ruined by a glass of water frying it.
Then as I was searching in my sock drawer for two socks that matched. They are all black, but some feel better than others. No Air-turn, but I thought “Maybe it is in the back of the amp.” I don’t usually throw things in there because the tubes are vulnerable. There was my Air-Turn. I vaguely remember that it had been charging and I went to pack it last after the other bag and briefcase were full. I remember there was no room in the pocket of my gig bag, and there is a shadow of a memory of throwing it in the back of the amp.
All this to say it is important to be mindful when doing things.
I teach music to young children ages 5 to about 11 or 12. The children come to my classroom and the youngest classes sit in a circle on the floor and we get started on the day’s activities. The children know that we need a circle that includes every child and if the circle is too small I sing a song I made up which is “if everybody moves back just a little bit, there’s going to be enough place for everyone to sit.”
Yesterday, a child arrived late, and class was already in progress, so she lurked on the fringe of the circle and no-one made room for her. I switched to the above mentioned ditty and the children “scootched” back a bit and there were several gaps that the latecomer could have easily sat in, but an argument erupted between the latecomer and another child who was in the exact geographic location that the latecomer wanted. To my eyes, an arbitrary spot on the floor, but to these two, a fundamental right was being trampled on. My intervention was to point out that; virtually no one spot had an advantage over another, and that a solution was needed so we could continue making music. I said to both of them that if they really wanted to sing, one of them would have to shift their rigidity. The sitting child could cede his place, or the standing child could opt to sit elsewhere. I try not to “decide for them” in cases like this. I let them figure it out for themselves with a bit of guidance. The standing child chose an empty spot and we continued the class. We are all equal, and everyone matters. Simple, right? We made music.
Then on the way home I heard about the awful massacre of Palestinian protesters by the IDF. There was much analysis and people from both sides having their say and virtually the only “common ground” was the ground they both wanted. The highly educated people discussing the situation from either side had legitimate points and both seemed logical and reasonable. The need for a Jewish homeland is important. Especially after the holocaust brought on by the Nazis. The need for Palestinians to have a home is important as well. The British kind of dropped the ball on the Palestinians when Israel was formed after the second world war. (1949). They both want the same space and they both desire peace, but there are fanatics on both sides that keep this from happening. The problem is that each side has chosen to not co-exist and believes that they are fundamentally more important than the other. This is not news. I was brought up on the Christian bible, and the stories of wars and slavery and inequity have been going on for ages. I am not being frivolous here, but what don’t these religions get? “Thou shalt not kill” pretty clear commandment from Allah, Yahweh, G*d, God….. If you want to make music, you have to learn to get along. There is enough room for everyone, and no-one has to hate. There is no holiness in hatred.
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard….. “I love to sing, but I hate the sound of my voice” from students, friends, strangers. Worse than that are the “I can’t sing” people and the people who believe they are tone deaf. All of which are exaggerations of a negative self-defeating attitude.It got me to thinking about “tunedness” and “tonal quality” in general. Most people are repelled by hearing a recording of themselves for the first time. We usually hear our own voices not just through our ears but the resonating of our own skulls. When we hear the recording, this resonance is absent, so it sounds “weird” and wrong. This revulsion subsides as with more experience and confidence we accept “what is” over some possible ideal of what is “supposed to be”.
The other day I listened intently to the rough mix of my own recent studio recordings. I was highly critical of my own music and making notes of verses I’d like to overdub because “a note in the verse is slightly flat”; Checking for notes that may need to be “evened out” or replaced. I am ruthless when it comes to my own stuff. I became discouraged with one performance which had sounded great in the studio and now sounded “out of tune” to me.. I had even asked George (whose ears I trust) if he heard any “pitchy” notes. We had agreed just after I sang that this was “the” take. Passion was there, phrasing, timing, tuning. I listened again this morning and it sounded perfect. What changed?
In between the two sessions of listening critically to my music I had listened to a huge hero of mine. I listened to Bob Dylan’s album “Another Side of Bob Dylan” and noticed “pitchiness” on virtually every song on an album which I had never questioned as anything but perfect. I realized that if this music had been overly scrutinized it might have never seen the light of day. The material and the authenticity and integrity of the music surpasses any flaws perceived or not. It took guts and confidence to put that out there.
There is no mistaking Bob Dylan’s voice for anyone else’s. Many people don’t like it. They just don’t get it. Even Dylan has tried different approaches to singing. His Nashville voice, his Guthrie voice, the croak, the “live voice” (my least favourite), and my favourite voice (Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde)mid-sixties venomous punk and fragile lover. I accepted Bob’s performance without once questioning his tuning. I have sometimes questioned the tuning of the guitars on his early rock stuff. Mike Bloomfield’s parts in particular strike me as a bit “off” even as perfect as they are.
Also in between my own two listening sessions of my recordings my daughter Ema Jean sent me her latest mix of one of her songs. She wanted my opinion. I listened intently to the song several times. Each time focusing on a different element, but the last time I listened just for pleasure and I was viscerally transported. I told her (in a text) that it was perfect. She wrote back “Really? You don’t hear anything weird?” I listened again several times and for the life of me I could not perceive any flaws or “weirdness”. I told her it was perfect.
I remember one of the songs on my first album where I was reaching for a particular phrase in my improvisation that I played “wrong”. I had a sound in my head and my fingers were a bit behind and it came out “different”. No one else heard it because no one could have read my mind or known my intention. Because we were recording live to two track in an expensive studio I left it as is. I always heard it as wrong (while everyone else who has heard it accepts it as what it is). Until a few months ago when the song came on in the car. Sharon likes to put her iPod on shuffle, and often, surprises come up. I was delighted to hear a piece I had written so long ago come up randomly. I did not hear the wrong passage at all. I heard the phrase as what it has now become, which is perfect.
Ema’s song may not be exactly what she hears in her head, but to an objective listener, it is perfect. Independent of my being her dad, her work is of a consistently high quality.
Virtually all of my favourite singers have released music that have a characteristic of uniqueness that can be seen as pitchiness. Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ellen McIlwaine, Leonard Cohen, J.J. Cale, John Lennon, Tom Petty, Lou Reed, Jerry Garcia, Jeff Tweedy. And so on.
Listening critically requires objectivity, but we always listen to our own music through the burden of ego and the liability of subjectivity. I hold myself to standards that are virtually impossible to achieve and that I don’t require from others…..
“Use what talents you possess; The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” – Henry van Dyke
I was playing the piano at school yesterday and a substitute teacher happened by and remarked: “You are lucky!” I stopped and asked him why he thought that. He explained that he meant I was lucky I could play music to which I replied: “Luck had nothing to do with it!” Whatever skill I possess is a product of desire and hard work. Perhaps in a sense I am lucky to work at something I love. I only just thought of that now as I write. I may be lucky in other ways, but good luck and bad luck go hand in hand.
Our conversation continued as I queried whether he loved music or not. He said that he adored music and was an eager consumer of recorded music and a frequent attendee at live venues. I told him that that was great, and he and his ilk are very important to me and my ilk. Listeners and fans are important to keep the art alive.
I thought a bit and drew a parallel between the subject of our conversation and the subject of cars. I said that I enjoy driving, but had no clue how to do any but the most basic repairs on a car. Mechanics also love cars and have the skill set to repair them. I have a skill set to write and/or interpret music. Like the mechanic, I had curiosity, I gathered knowledge and experience. I may have had an underlying aptitude, I don’t know. I do know that learning the guitar (and continuing to learn daily) has been a lot of hard and frustrating work. Rewarding work. Enjoyable work. But definitely work.
It is ironic that all this “work” results in ability to “play”. People often remark on how easy I make it look. They refer to this quality called “talent”. Looks are deceiving. I have worked hard on and continue to work hard on: tone, technique, harmony, chord substitution, etc. Many many thousands of hours. My guitar playing friends know.
Today I encountered a little girl in grade one who told me she “knew how to play the guitar well!” and as I enquired further, she told me her dad had been teaching her for years. I was skeptical, but I asked her if she could play me a song on my guitar. At school this rarely happens. My guitar is “off limits” at all times. She said she could play “My Heart Will Go On”. What transpired next was baffling. The dreadnaught guitar in her hands reminded me of Snoopy playing at the Christmas pageant. She started to sing and was scratching and flailing at the guitar with both hands. Neither hand making any cohesive sound to accompany her able singing of this dreadful song.
I asked her if her dad maybe held his fingers on the chord shapes while she strummed. I asked her if that was the way she always played it and whether she “knew” another song. She answered that this was the way she always played it. I asked her if there was anything she could do to improve it and she said it was perfect. Her Daddy and Mummy think she should go on “La Voix”. (Crappy artificial TV talent show). I hope not.
I like this little girl. She is very smart! Quick as a whip. There was something that struck me as odd about this, though. I asked the other children in the class if they enjoyed the performance, and the answers were all of the opinion that the guitar and the song didn’t “quite” match. They were kind, but truthful. One child said they couldn’t hear a beat.
I did not want to discourage her. I told her she was very brave to perform for us.
She must get a great deal of positive attention at home for an admittedly cute performance, but rewarding a dreadfully unmusical and nonsensical performance that is beyond her skill set and fine motor development should not be thought of as perfect. I hope this little girl’s delusion will one day be replaced by desire to actually learn the guitar which will of course, require work. I hope it is not an indication of how the music dies.