No Pain, No Pain

I just realized I don’t have any pictures of David.

David McDonald (from St. Eustache) was a high school friend who I stayed in touch with for almost thirty years after we graduated. The last communication I had from him was in January 2004. A postcard from his hotel room telling me he had lost all his e-mail addresses when the Tsunami hit Krabi. He said he was banged up a bit, but survived, and would be home in time for his birthday in February. A few days after the postcard arrived, I got a mysterious phone message from one of his sisters urging me to please contact her. I figured it was about a surprise party for his homecoming/birthday, but the news was dire. David had died  in his hotel bed while reading. Shock and disbelief and questions swirled in my head. 

David loved to travel. He was a consultant for CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and essentially travelled all over to write papers on whether Canada should invest in various projects or not. He was a geographer, and assessed environmental impact of these projects and whether everything was in line with our governmental policies concerning every aspect of investing. He loved his job, fluent in French, English and then Spanish, he was able to travel broadly to nations that spoke those languages.

He even travelled for vacation. Dave was in Thailand after spending nearly a month in Nepal on vacation. These are places with great and readily available drugs. My friend was a connoisseur. David was a “Bon Vivant”. The official story of his death was that he was missing his blood pressure pills and he was banged up. My instinct told me otherwise. 

We were taught by Presentation brothers at a boarding school for “troubled youth” in Montebello, Quebec and all the boys had “house duties”. Ours was to care for Brother Raymond’s plants while he was off in Ireland (he was “Provincial”, which meant he overlooked several schools and several other groups of monks). Dave suggested that we plant some  pot seeds among Brother Raymond’s other plants, so we did. The pot grew well and we were never detected. We replanted some outdoors and there was a photo of him and me grinning through the leaves. At the funeral, his sister said she had that photo and promised to send it to me. Didn’t happen.

Several times a week we all had to “run the U” for exercise. The “U” a 7 km route through picturesque rural Quebec farmland. Picture a hundred boys running along a gravel road that looped back in a “U”. Brother Stafford was driven  up and down the road in a Renault with his portly head poking up through the sun roof and encouraging us to run through his megaphone by saying.    ” remember boys, ‘no pain, no gain!'” 

One hot sunny day in May, David and I were really lagging behind. We were only running half-heartedly, and when Brother Stafford (who we all referred to as ‘Agnes’) had driven past us, David said “follow me” and we peeled off to the left and into a thicket of dense trees.

There was a footpath that led us to a hidden swimming hole at the foot of a tiny waterfall in a creek surrounded by moss and ferns and heather. It was heaven. How David knew about this, I’ll never know. We stripped naked and plunged into the dark pool and frolicked and laughed joyfully in the cool refreshing water. We got out to air dry on the moss and David lit a joint. We laid back and marvelled in the moment at the beauty surrounding us and Dave’s cleverness at not only avoiding the “U”, but at creating a perfect moment, now a perfect memory.

After a while in our reverie we heard the lead boys returning, (the other side of the “U”) the rhythmic pounding of sneakers on gravel and much puffing and snorting. We heard the Renault whizzing back and forth. We got dressed and after the largest body of runners had passed, we bolted out of the woods with our still wet hair and tucked safely in with some exhausted and oblivious Juniors and we pretended to look like we’d run the whole way.

Dave turned to me and said slyly, “No pain, no pain!”

David is on the left. Picture found on the net

Merry Pranksters

I recently heard from my old friend Roy of the passing of yet another of my mentors. Cahill Rooney died on Good Friday 2021. Along with this news came other news that someone had written a book called “Brothers In Montebello”.

The author (Shawn Urlocker) arrived the September after I graduated, so I never knew him, but I purchased the book anyway,buying it online on Monday. It arrived Thursday morning and I devoured it by Friday evening. The stories inside stirred up memories of school mates and names long forgotten and places that I had known intimately. The book mentioned an event that I was involved in. The back cover said that:

“Presentation High school in Montebello was a ‘last chance’ for Montreal’s most incorrigible youth, while also offering a quality education for “regular lads”.”

Needless to say, I was not a “regular lad”. I did graduate with top grades in English and Religion, and went from being a mediocre student to being accepted at Acadia University.

The book told of the kids at the school and their lives in and out of school. It also mentioned a caper that I had been involved in.

Mr. Rooney was the Vice Principal of Presentation High School. The school year I attended was my final year of high school. 1973-74. Mr Rooney was a character to be sure. Physically, I felt he looked like Roy Orbison. He had a thick mop of jet black hair and black rimmed Ray Ban glasses. He walked on the balls of his feet and it seemed like he was always smiling. He had a way of emitting a short and high pitched “hm” and raised his eyebrows in surprise as he entered a scene. I am pretty sure it was a nervous habit of his, but it made us wonder what he knew and we would wonder if he was “hmm”ing disdainfully or playfully. I often found myself copying this mannerism of his in my own teaching career from time to time, and each time I did, I would think of Rooney.

Cahill Rooney loved cars. He had several classic Jaguars that were not running, but parked on the lawn beside the school. The year I was there he had a Hemi Roadrunner which is a honking big muscle car. I only remember riding in it once, which was a trip to Ottawa and back. The date was Saturday March 16th, 1974. I had convinced some of my pals to come to a concert in Ottawa with me. I played guitar and was becoming increasingly fascinated by things musical. Mr. Rooney took courses in Ottawa and went frequently. He was going that Saturday and we were able somehow to not only get tickets, but get a ride, (we also got some potent LSD) and all this before internet and not having any credit. Rooney was a pretty cool guy, all told.

The concert was a triple bill. The first act was “The James Gang” which at this time had Canadian guitar legend Domenic Troiano on guitar (not Joe Walsh…who had left by then). They were loud and heavy. Not my thing, I was there for Roy Buchanan who was a blues based telecaster slinger who I had discovered while hanging out at Phantasmagoria record store which was a cool store with barnwood, sofas and tropical fish. I heard Roy there and bought the album “Second Contribution” on the spot. I think he came on second, but I can’t be sure. I know I loved the music. The other band on the bill was “Soft Machine” which was a prog rock outfit… lotsa synths and I did not relate to them at all. Fortunately the double barrel orange pills we had taken before made all the music and the experience a cloudy jumble. Meeting up with Rooney after the show was a trip in itself…. We were so blotto… every thing he said and every growl of the engine were amplified with cosmic significance somehow. Rooney drove fast! We were doing well over a hundred and twenty. (Miles Per Hour) Canada would go metric in almost exactly one year. Ripping down the 417 from Ottawa to Hawkesbury was like when the Enterprise goes warp speed… all the while with Rooney smiling and “hmm”ing and we feeble ados not able to discern if he knew how fucked up we were… The bridge to quebec and up the road we all knew so well back to Montebello. There is now a high speed bypass from Lachute to Gatineau, but the old road is pretty much as it was then.

That was not “the” caper. It sticks out in my memory, though. I remember Dave MacDonald was with us, and I am pretty sure there were two others but time has erased those details.

AT our “reform” school there were brothers who taught and ran the place and several teaching positions held by “lay people” The year I attended there were two men from Queens, NY . I remembered them as Bart and Steve, but in the book it refers to a Mr. Ross. They both used to regale us of stories of going “clamming” near their native Queens. Very heavy and thick Queens accents. I think they may have been “old boys”. We’ll call “Bart” “Ross” for the sake of this story.

Ross had an old Volvo like this one:

Volvo Classic Cars | Volvo oldtimers for sale at E&R Classic Cars!

His was easily classifiable as an old car… junker….beater….etc. It had a manual transmission.

One of my classmates (I don’t remember who, but probably Dave) came up with the brilliant idea to “relocate” the Volvo as a practical joke. We snuck around after lights out and got to work. We needed many strong boys to push it and someone behind the wheel to steer. Gerry (Muttsey) was the strongest and Bruno was also muscular. There were others, but only hazy in my memory. David and a long haired kid named “Poshton”. I had my driver’s licence and knew stick, so I was elected the wheel man. The goal was to push the car around to the back of the school and deposit it in the Gym. The school was built on an embankment. Two storeys visible in the front, but two more storeys beneath those levels. We got the car around to the back alright, but hit a snag at the Gym door. The car did not have enough room to turn the 90 degrees necessary to go through the door. We had to lift the back of the car up and swing the tail around without very much room to do it because the sidewalk we were on could accommodate the car, but dropped off severely not unlike a mountain road. When we got the car perpendicular to the school, we realized the gym doors needed to be removed and the car needed to be lifted in the front to get over the threshold and into the gym. Imagine all the grunting and swearing of pubescent boys exerting themselves and picture the bedroom window of Mr. Rooney’s bedroom two stories directly above. It is a miracle we didn’t wake him.

We got the car into the centre of the gym and someone took a picture. I wish I had that photo now, I don’t even remember who took it. About a dozen boys in the middle of the night atop and astride the Volvo. We all snuck off to our dorms and went to sleep feeling pretty damn proud of our collective naughtiness. We were awoken rudely before the usual time by the Brothers and Ross yelling for the grade ten and elevens to wake up. They told us that the Volvo had been stolen and we were the prime suspects. No-one spoke. Muttsey was singled out, but he remained mute. We had a code as young punks to not “squeal”. This is before they found it in the Gym… The Securité du Québec officers were there and one officer strolled downstairs and came back grinning and said “J’ai trouver ton auto, monsieur!” and Ross went downstairs and came back fuming and ranting (and smacked a few of us that he was sure were in on it. Muttsey and Timmins….. Still we were all mute. Mr. Rooney came in with a shit eating grin and brother Raymond came in smirking as well. They lectured us and made us skip breakfast and we had several duties piled on the lot of us. That was it.

I felt kind of bad because Ross had gotten up very early to drive to Montreal for a dentist appointment which he ultimately missed. We really loved the guy, and were totally not thinking of the ramifications or consequences of our brilliant, but admittedly delinquent caper. Idiot boys.

I am pretty sure that Brother Raymond and Mr. Rooney were secretly proud of our teamwork and our ingenuity in pulling this off even though they feigned anger, disbelief and revenge. I can picture them sitting over a scotch and howling with laughter at how their incorrigibles did.

I am quite sad that I couldn’t find pictures of Cahill Rooney (the right one…) on line. He was ultimately a very private man. I have many pictures of him etched into the recesses of my brain and another memory of seeing his name in the Gazette in 2012 in regards to a development project in Shaughnessy Village where his home backed onto the development. I checked the phone book for Rooneys and found one on Chomedey Street. I knew the street as I had had an apartment in a converted townhouse there in the 70’s. I called him up and we chatted a bit agreed to meet up at a café nearby on another day. He was thrilled to know I became a teacher and was eager to discuss my music with me. Alas, it never transpired. I regret it. My life was about to become unmanageable as I was close to burn out my job, my mother’s health, worry over one of my children and my marriage had unravelled beyond repair.

Now he is gone. We never have anybody forever, but having him ever present in my memories and habits will have to do. I am surely not the only boy he ever helped as I see from Urlocker’s book. I intend to have a chat with my buddy Roy who went on to help him establish his own school in Aylmer, Quebec a few short years after I graduated.

I have another tale from school days here:

https://vignettesandbagatelles.blog/?s=no+pain

Bizarre Dreams

 I recently had a disturbing dream about a very nice girl I knew in my early years (elementary school through grade nine) until my family moved away from the area.

In my dream, this girl I remembered was as vivid as anything, except that in it, we were both adults, and I was in my role as a teacher,and she, a visitor. Perhaps it was a parent-teacher night. It was an unusual situation, It was nighttime in a school that I never taught at. The room we were in was like a classroom I may have been in before at Roslyn School in Westmount. Not that exact room, but it had that same vintage (ancient) smell, and feeling. Both of my girls had attended Roslyn, so perhaps it was from those drawers in my memory let loose seemingly at random in my dream.  

I don’t recall what it was that she and I were talking about, but out of the blue I asked her if I had ever been mean to her when we were kids. She astonished me by saying “as a matter of fact, you were!” Then she disappeared as the scene shifted and I was scrambling to find my day book and a pencil because I realized I was going to be late for another class and someone kept kept turning the lights on and off in the classroom making the search more difficult.

I woke up. I desperately wanted to find out if and how I had been mean to her, and to make an amend. I had been rocked by her quick response in my dream, as I had no recollection of ever being unkind to her. I realize it was only a dream, much like my entire childhood is dreamlike to me now. 

I remember all sorts of foolish things that i did as a kid that I would never do now. Saying racist things like calling french kids “pepsis” and saying insensitive things to kids with handicaps, etc. Laughing at racist or sexist jokes that weren’t funny.  I chalk it up to childishness and ignorance and just selfish unawareness. My parents did not teach me to be a little dickhead. I don’t beat myself up over it, but being aware of it now has helped me evolve into a kinder and more tolerant and open human being. 

My music teaching career has provided me with many opportunities to observe and challenge similar behaviours and try and teach children to be empathetic and aware of the harm and hurt that such loose and thoughtless language and behaviour causes. Music is an amazing resource for teaching (as Elvis Costello wrote) Peace, love and understanding.

It was only a dream, but there was such clarity about what she said, and it was definitely her, not some vague composite memory like the room and the situation was.

It has been 50 years or so since we were classmates and Sunday School mates as well. I hoped that if I did or said something to her in those early years that caused her any sort of pain or anguish, I wanted her to know I was deeply sorry and I would ask her forgiveness. 

In my conscious memory, she was someone smart, friendly and pretty who I genuinely liked and my father teased me about. I think I may have let slip that she and I were friends. Maybe she was the only girl on a birthday party list or something else very innocent. He would embarrass me on purpose calling her my “girlfriend” in a mocking tone. He was teasing, but i remember the shame and embarrassment I felt at that tender age. Just writing this now evoked that visceral memory again. 

The cruelty of waking up with this shame and this mystery unanswered is why I sought her out on social media and wrote her with pretty much this same story.

My friend promptly replied in a beautiful letter which I have abridged here:

“Oh my goodness Ian! I had a huge crush on you in elementary school and you were never, ever mean to me!!! I remember your infectious sense of humour.

I remember how kind your mom was. I think I went over to to play at your house a couple of times. And you invited me to your birthday party which was very cool for me. 

That day, your mom gave me an empty red velvet Valentine’s box that I kept for a long time to put my stamps in. 

While your dream got it all wrong, the timing is interesting.  

Thanks for reaching out and rest assured, you were a really nice kid.”

Whew!

Perhaps bizarre dreams are a part of the aging process where we look back and try and make sense out of the voyage we have all been on. Seeking affirmations or refutations of memories, decisions, choices, roads not taken, successes, regrets…..

Truth be told, I had had a crush on her as well, and my birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. I am relieved that my dream had some truthful memory in it, but that I am absolved from being a jerk. At least, in this case.

Miss Duke

I just read an obituary for a beloved High School Phys Ed. teacher who touched so many lives in a positive way. One of the testimonials from one of his former students stated that “Chuck” had stood up for him twice to prevent his expulsion. I never knew “Chuck”, but the stories in the comments generated by his obituary and the personal testimony of some of my friends and acquaintances who knew him made me think immediately of Miss Duke.

I attended three different High Schools (sequentially….). The second High School I went to was a big rural “Regional” high school. My classmates came from very diverse communities. People from my region tended to come from educated parents who had recently quit the urban scene but still commuted to the city (an hour away). my region was also a ski resort, so many outdoorsy families as well. Other stops on our school bus route picked up regular kids whose parents (or parent) perhaps worked in retail, or trades or other jobs that one would expect to find in a small village or town. Other buses that fed the school had kids that came from very rural communities where farming and occupations like well-drilling and/or septic tank maintenance or tractor repair were the norm.

Miss Duke was not that much older than us grade ten students. I believe it was her first posting out of teacher’s college. She was very prim and proper. In a way, like Mary Poppins. She came from a small farming community herself and was perhaps the first one in her immediate circle to get a college education. She was passionate about books! She got excited about poetry. She loved to invite opinions from her students and was very disappointed in students who were apathetic, dull, or unthinking.

I was also passionate about books and poetry and finding meaning in the seemingly meaningless. My lifelong friend Jon describes himself and me as “searchers, seekers, on the road”. Not just passengers. I also really liked hallucinogens and pot. Miss Duke was the epitome of sober, (but I digress).

I was a royal pain in the ass to some of the other teachers who I deemed to be “assholes” whose classes I treated as non-compulsory, but in Miss Duke’s class I was attentive and contributed to the class discussions in a way (so I am told) that was beyond my years. I never skipped her class. Miss Duke inspired me. She stood up for me when “the suits” wanted me gone from the school for spotty attendance to certain classes and the various shenanigans and general mayhem that my cohorts and I fostered through our increasingly counter-cultural behaviour via music, dress, attitude and drugs. Rebel without a cause.

One of these events was “Mandrax Day” (which was never pinned on us) which caused the school to close early one day as there were dozens of us completely, howlingly bent…. It has reached legendary proportions by now, so you can’t really believe a word I say about it, except that a buddy of mine swiped a huge pile of Mandrax from his granny and gave them out to the adventurous (quite ignorant and stupid, actually) like me. Mandrax is sort of like Quaaludes…. a tranquilizing effect if taking properly, but quite a bit of fun if abused. Naturally, we abused them.

Many (40) years later as my generation’s parents started to die off, I got re-acquainted with one of my cohorts and one of my best friends as he returned to Quebec to attend to his ailing father. We had a great visit and his wife snapped a picture of us at one of the lookouts on the mountain that dominates the Montreal skyline. It was great to see him as we live very far apart. I didn’t know I’d be seeing him two weeks later when his father died and he had to fly back.

I attended the funeral with my buddies and it was great to get reacquainted and reminisce about things. Miss Duke was at the funeral as well, and I was delighted to catch up with her after four decades had passed. I was talking with her when my friend’s wife interrupted us to give me a gift that she had brought from Winnipeg. I unwrapped a coffee mug with the image of us that she had taken two weeks previously on it. Underneath the photo were three letters: BFF. I jokingly asked my friend’s wife if it stood for “Big Fat Fuckers”? Probably shouldn’t have done that in a church hall with my former English Teacher present…..

I actually thought nothing of it until the next day when my phone rang. “Ian!” barked the oh so familiar authoritative voice from a different age. “Miss Duke” I meekly replied, knowing I was in deep shit. She exclaimed:”I have a bone to pick with you”… I replied desperately: “I am so sorry to offend you by swearing yesterday….” She replied, cutting me off, “I don’t give a shit that you swore,” she continued “Don’t you Ever, EVER put yourself down!” Then she said “Now, please give me your mailing address”.

My eyes welled up as I hung up the phone, and I felt so amazed that she would take time out to guide me after all this time. It was a balm in a particularly hectic time in my life. I felt loved.

Three days later, a package arrived in the mail.
I received perhaps the best note anyone could receive from a mentor.

Along with the note, she sent photocopies of my correspondence with her from the mid-to-late seventies. She kept the originals!!!!! I read them aloud to my eldest daughter who was sick at the time. We both wept with joy.

January 2011

Dear Ian,
Your ingenious
ability to compose
brilliant thoughts,
always tempered by
your magnanimous heart,
Still (almost forty years later)
Takes my breath away!!

Enjoy your “diary”
Louise

framed

Which, in turn, inspired this poem….

Miss Duke

Duke had my back
Back in the day
When not much
Went my way

She stood up for me
When it counted
A teacher, a mentor
who really cared

She laughed at my
confounding questions
and deflected my
Angry Young Man
Into words and
Self-esteem.

Protected me
From the suits
And the jokers
who spat,
who never understood

She got me.
She had my back.
I wrote.
She wrote back.

Even now,
When fallow years
And other roads
Diverge,
She has my back
Still

Everyone should
Have a hero like
My Miss Duke.
I hope she knows.

As a postscript to this poem which I sent her, and may have slightly embarrassed her, She knows.

It is important to let people know how much they mean to you. It takes next to nothing to say kind, real, heartfelt things to make the world a slightly better place for people that matter.

The Impact Of Certain Ballads 4

#4

Painted a From Memory

Poetry is cool, but lyrics can be divine. This is an example of such. The words evoke a longing for something that was and now won’t ever be, and worse than that she smiles for someone else. Nuclear fallout. The words standing alone are beautiful, but coupled with the unhurried melody and arrangement it is divine.

This ballad is an exquisite and unlikely collaboration between pop songwriter Burt Bacharach and super punk Elvis Costello. I first heard a Elvis sing it on the album by the same name. There is no clear indication of who did what as in a Rodgers and Hammerstein song, though the melody is probably mostly Bacharach’s and the lyric mostly Costello’s. 

The mind does tricks and time fades our memory. The premise of the song is an artist staring at a portrait of a once beloved and musing on how accurate it might be. “Those eyes I tried to capture, they are lost to me now forever, they smile for someone …else”. 

I love Elvis’ original as well as an exquisite “cover” by Cassandra Wilson and Bill Frisell which is worth seeking out. I transcribed the second version so I can play it and Bill’s chords sit easier on the guitar. What a difference a semi-tone makes (from Db to C). Cassandra personalized it from she to he to reflect her gender and Bill’s playing is gorgeous. His use of space and sustain and his pedal modified tone support the tragedy of this little known gem. This live version of Elvis and Burt is also awesome.

#3

Bill Evans was one of the greatest interpreters of a ballad ever. I have chosen this performance of “Sometime Ago” (a waltz by Sergio Mihanovich taken from an exquisite 1977 album “You Must Believe In Spring”) as much for the beautiful melody as for this fluid arrangement for trio. Bill plays solo for the first statement of the theme. He pushes and pulls the melody in and out of time until Eddie Gomez enters with beautiful harmonics which are the perfect counterpoint to Bill’s delicate exposition of the theme they continue to play with the time until Elliot Zigmund comes in on the drums and the improvising starts and the seamless interplay of a working trio at the top of their game. Even the bass solo is inventive and musical. I always enjoy the way Gomez’ bass is amplified as it makes his presence known as well as felt. His asides and commentary to Bill are to me as integral as anything else this song has to offer. The modal outro over the repeating two chord theme are reminiscent of Bill’s playing on Peace Piece. 

#2

First Song (for Ruth)

I have many different recordings of this song (written by the great American bassist Charlie Haden). I am fond of them all. I first heard it by Quartet West with Charlie Haden, I have heard it played by many others as well, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Jim Hall, Laurence Hobgood and Abbey Lincoln who wrote lyrics to it. The heaviest version by far is a duet with Kenny Barron on piano and Stan Getz on Tenor Sax. 

Stan Getz was very ill. Three months away from succumbing to cancer and he had to take long breaks and I believe he may have even had to take oxygen between tunes. His playing is plaintive and his breath laboured, and he infuses every note of his performance with dignity and passion. Aside from it being a sort of swan song for Stan, he knew Ruth and Charlie personally. Ruth was married to Haden. Every note has a poignancy, a statement of desire for life and a reaffirmation of the beauty of music.

I transcribed this song about twenty years ago which has (as you can imagine from a bassist) a wonderful bass line. It is almost hymnal in it’s simplicity and yet the harmonies accompanying the bass line are gorgeous. It is no surprise that lyrical guitarists like Hall and Metheny loved it.

Commitment

Everybody is competing for your time: Friends are posting their creative endeavours looking for validation; Social media posts bits of sensational news to hold your attention; advertisers; silly memes; rants; quizzes and lists to do or ignore. We tend to commit to the things that take the least amount of our most precious resources. Time and thought.

To read a poem takes about a minute. To glance at a photo or a painting can take seconds. We go scrolling through life, eyes ricochet off pixels. Some articles catching our fancy and we take some minutes to read, maybe respond. Click, click. Like. I agree….

All art takes time to create, but a film, a play, a book, a record album, a painting, a photograph should all take a considerable amount time to experience and reflect upon.

Commitment.

Recently, a number of my friends have been posting their ten essential albums, or books or films. Supposed to not explain. Why not? When someone tells me they love something, I want to know why.  

I love seeing familiar album covers. I enjoy my memories of the album and I enjoy the connection made with the friend via this album. Often it guides me to listen to something I haven’t heard in years. Sometimes I seek out an album that is unfamiliar to me to see if it helps in my connection or understanding of the person who has put it in their top ten. Commitment. Time and thought again.

I listen to a lot of music in a day. I spend a great deal of my time learning, practicing, composing and recording music, and I also enjoy sitting still and listening to music to match my mood, or alter my mood. It can be as diverse as Tower of Power to Keith Jarrett to a Muddy Waters and beyond. I don’t do Spotify. I like to choose.

In 2007 I took a chance on the CD “West” by Lucinda Williams(whose music I did not know) because Bill Frisell was a guest contributor on the record, and I love his guitar work. I am not sure if I was aware at the time that Hal Willner had produced it, although I was very aware of many of his compilations Kurt Weill and Thelonious Monk) and the “Night Music” show on TV.

“West” resonated with me. I learned how to play and sing “Everything Has Changed” within days of hearing it for the first time. I am now a lifelong fan. According to my computer I own 14 of Lucinda’s albums for a total of 155 songs. 

Throughout this last week I have been listening intently to “West”. I think I have listened to it six (and a half….fell asleep…won’t count that) times this week. I chose “West” because of something I had read in Bill Frisell’s reminiscences of his friend Hal Willner who had succumbed to the Covid 19 virus last week.

One listen to “West” takes an hour and nine minutes. Six listens is a commitment of nearly seven hours, (not in a row, mind you). When I listen on this level, it is the only conscious thing I am doing. I don’t consider doing housework with music playing to be “listening”. Throughout my teaching career I have tried to install in my students the difference between “hearing” which is passive and “listening” which is active. To Listen is an invisible action verb. 

Sometimes when I listen, I concentrate on one particular facet of the recording such as the guitar interplay; (Frisell and Doug Pettibone) or the drum sound;(Jim Keltner) or the lyrics…. or the stereo mix.

Sometimes it is merely for pleasure. My mind shuts down my own static and I absorb the gestalt of the artistic statement through my ears.

If you have read this far, you made a commitment. Thank you. I encourage active listening, reading and the parceling of time to truly appreciate works of beauty that deserve to be heard.

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

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

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

Hagstrom “Swede”

 probably built around 1970

I traded two “name” guitars (Gretsch and Fender) for a “non-name” guitar. The Hagstrom Swede looks like a Les Paul, but is not an imitation. I wanted something on which to Rock that could stay in tune. I was a big fan of Focus and their lead guitarist Jan Akkerman played a Swede (although vintage footage of the group usually shows him with a Les Paul..…) Around the time I got this guitar the French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was playing with Daryl Stuermer who endorsed The Swede. They both name dropped Larry Coryell whose music I don’t generally care for, but he played a Swede as well.

One of the main attractions for me was the truss rod. The Hagstrom used an I beam instead of the normal truss rod. The two guitars I traded both had warped necks, so I was getting a guitar that held it’s tuning. 

My guitar is no longer “stock”. I took off the pick guard for starters. I put in a Bone nut to further enhance the sustain. I also put in a brass bridge after having my hand chewed up some sharp ridges on the stock bridge. The machine heads are too beautiful to change, but are a pain when changing strings because they are too big for a stringwinder. I pulled the pick ups and put in some Bill Lawrence “blade” pick-ups. I had to rout a bit as the pick-ups were larger slightly than the originals. In the mid eighties I was very into fusin guitar. There were great advances in Analog to digital converters. I installed a Roland GK 1 pick-up and used the Swede as a controller. Midi required a really stable instrument for proper tracking. The Hagstrom is great that way.

I haven’t used the guitar synth part for ages as my ability to play keyboard has improved, but I still record with the Hagstrom. She is Heavy. I have flat wounds on her, so I can get top speed and minimal squelch. The biggest problem with the Hagstrom was the binding on the neck. Canadian climate (and probably Sweden as well) has times of great humidity and other times of great dryness. These two factors cause wood to expand and contract, but has no effect on nacré or whatever the plastic was that bound the neck. Most guitars don’t have this. Anyway, the plastic cracked and was unstable when reglued by the luthier.  Little bits of it would come off and the resultant gap on the side of the neck was disorienting and annoying. 

Eventually we just ripped them and Joey laid new binding meticulously and now she is better than ever. With all the changes I have made, it is probably not even considered a Swede any more.

I love to play her. Funny that I can’t find any pictures of me playing her. I know there are some….

Post Script photo by Sharon Cheema