Presence of Absence

I miss my dad. Not always, and less often than at first, but today. It has been over twenty one years since he died. I had young children then and my grieving was balanced by the duties of fatherhood. I have mementos. Things that I inherited that were his. Things that remind me of him and our connection. Things that recall his presence.

I was listening to a radio program called “Ideas” on the CBC yesterday and the episode was called “Haunted”. One of the interviewees was Daniel Goldstein who made art from various things that reflected his feelings of loss as a member of a community that was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. He used a phrase that I may have heard before, but this time I was prompted to retrieve the episode and listen more closely to make sure I was understanding him correctly.

The phrase was: “presence of absence” to describe his haunting artwork. My spine tingled. This oxymoron hit home. He put into words much of what I love in life. I love deserted spaces, liminal spaces. I love things that have been tossed aside, but remain. I seek out ruins and cemeteries. My pinterest “likes” feeds me rusty train engines and deserted theatres, abandoned subway stops, classic cars and trees growing out of cars and the like. I am waking up to the fact that the reason I like all of these things is my predilection for presence of absence. I imagine what was there before, I may romanticize what was there, because there is no real way of knowing.

I am reminded of photos of derelict barns that my friend Percy takes, the realist art of Alex Colville, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. Songs like “Torn Screen Door” by David Francey also come to mind.

Perhaps I love to bask in melancholy. I don’t necessarily feel melancholic or nostalgic, but to witness others that recognize this beauty gives me comfort.

As I googled “presence of absence” the word “Saudade” kept popping up

Saudade is a Portuguese word that is almost untranslatable. The best way to describe it is: the presence of absence. It is a longing for someone or something that you remember fondly but know you can never experience again.

I love word play, and in 2004 when I first looked up the word “Saudade” (a word I had seen in Bossa Nova titles (Chega de Saudade, etc.) I realized that the feeling actually was embodied by a song I was writing then called “So Dad…” which was a conversation with a ghost. I was hoping that they were pronounced the same to complete the pun. Apparently in Portugal they pronounce it “SO Dad Jay” which annoyed me, but the Brazilian version was close to “so dad”. I am with Brazil on this one.

Saudade / So Dad…
Ian G Hanchet

So Dad… I look in the mirror some days
I look in the mirror some days and I see your face
Looking back (2x)

You lived your life well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you, I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… I can hear your voice some days
I can hear your voice some days 
When I’m yelling at my kids (like you did) (2x)

Then I remember  To treat them warm and tender
But with a firm hand, I understand

So Dad… the shadow that you cast  Is pretty big
The shadow that you cast is pretty big
But it isn’t all dark

So Dad… the fire in your veins went out
The fire in your veins went out 
But though we part, you left a spark

             (chorus 1) 

So Dad… I grew up under your wing
I grew up under your wing 
And I may have stayed too long
So Dad… you gave me a voice to sing
You gave me a voice to sing
But you let me sing my own song

You did your job well and As far as I can tell 
I got the best of you I got the worst of you
Right here

So Dad… the last time I kissed you
The last time I kissed your forehead
It was already cold
You’d stopped… Growing old…

So Dad… A little bit of you lives on
A little bit of you lives on
in your prodigal son

	I’m only a little boy, Just a little boy 
	I’m your little boy still, I’m your little boy still

©2004 IGH


“It doesn’t get any better than this”

A memory of an experience I had around twenty years ago just popped into my head and I thought I’d write about it.

I was assisting in a music therapy session, getting frail elderly patients to engage and/or participate at their level in the activity. My job was to try and animate (mostly wheelchair bound) people in the live music experience. One elderly gent sitting near the back of the room was tapping his hand to the music, so I approached him and asked if he’d like to play a percussion instrument along with the music. His caregiver piped in with the obvious and said “he’s blind”. I ignored that redundant information and placed an instrument (a hand drum) in the man’s hand and he scanned it manually and played a gentle and appropriate accompaniment to the live music. His mien and posture shifted in his wheelchair and he dug in, adding some flourishes as the verses changed to choruses. His smile was palpable. More than a mere smile, he was beaming. As the activity drew to a close he proffered his drum to me and grabbed my hand and said to me in all earnestness: “it doesn’t get better than this!”. 

Here was a man who had lost his sight, in a diaper, in a wheelchair, appreciating a simple activity whose purpose was to stimulate a rather passive and sedentary group while simultaneously providing me with grocery money. I looked him up and down while thanking him and then I noticed the tattoo….. He had survived the holocaust.

We talked a bit. His wife of fifty years had died a few years back and he was all alone. His children had all moved far away and seldom thought of calling. One might be bitter…..

Imagine if the sentence had read like this: 

He said to me sarcastically: “it doesn’t get any better than this?”

Same words….. totally different meaning.

Letting Go

When I drove my eldest daughter to take an entry exam at a local High School, this happened. When we got there, I asked if she’d like me to escort her, but she cheerfully said “no” and she got out of the car and skipped away across the field. I immediately felt a pang and I have recognized this pang is universal (I felt it again when my other daughter got married)

All children are meant to fly on their own and even though we become less “necessary” and we feel we have become “less important”, we are always there to support and the love continues and thrives.

This child, these hopes, these dreams, these aspirations
How could she know? How could she know?

My bursting heart is filled with Trepidation
I'll let her go Although I 
know her heart will break
And with each mistake
I won't be there to catch her
Or there to watch her

She's so naive she still believes
In happy endings
And when she finds
Life's lined with mines

Her heart so torn
Will bleed and need Some mending
She will be fine
The sun will shine

Her story will turn out
Without pretending
She will be fine 
The sun will
Keep on shining through
All because she knew
I would be there to catch her
And there to watch her
Evermore

I will be there to catch her
And there to watch her
Evermore 



Silent Song

My niece did a walking pilgrimage across Spain and afterwards went to a Monastic retreat. When she told me of these wonderful experiences I was filled with envy for the silent retreat away from the world. At the time I was in the thick of my teaching career and incessant noise was weighing heavily on me.

I had recorded a demo of it after I first wrote the song, but I was never totally satisfied with the result, so when I was recording my solo acoustic album I re-recorded it using my Greenfield guitar.

If there was a place that I could go to
And be silent all day long
I’d try and put that silence in a song
And when I drop my heavy load
at the end of my weary road
After climbing a hill so steep
You know I’d sing, I’d sing myself to sleep

And when I’m asleep Nothing can harm me
Cause I’m dreaming all night long
When I awake I’ll try and catch that dreaming
In a song And I will sing
You know I’ll sing it all day long

There is a place that I can go to
in my heart all day long
my heart beats in the world of song
it won’t be long til your heart beats to my song
it won’t be long til your heart beats to my song

How Can This Be?

A friend of mine relayed the story of her elderly mum’s death to me. My friend’s Mother was given a break for the weekend from looking after her husband who was quite “labour intensive” due to his advanced Alzheimer’s. When the husband was returned to their apartment, his spouse was gone. She had died over the weekend.

Many of the lyrics in my song are actually transcriptions of his words in his bewilderment. Picture a child’s perspective of trying to understand loss and at the same time the life partner’s shock at having lost.

“Someone always leaves first” is an expression my wife uses often. Although inevitable, it is always a shock.


How can this be?
how can you do this to me?
What am I going to do without you?
How cruel and unkind 
To be left behind
I wanted to go with you!

I've looked for you nearly everywhere
You're not in your room, or your favourite chair
There isn't a note, 
how can you be so remote
When you know I've devoted
The best of my years to you

How can this be?...

You're nowhere to be found
And I don't understand
How you could leave me behind
You were here yesterday
But you aren't here today
I'm going out of my mind

How can this be?...

I want to hear your voice
I want to be given a choice
I loved everything about you
You left me here, stranded
I've come up empty-handed
I can't go on without you

How can this be?


Grey Day

I was fortunate that when my father died, I had the freedom and space to mourn his passing. I am a strong believer in feeling one’s feelings, expressing one’s emotions and being real.

The last month has been rife with preparations for yesterday’s funeral for my father-in-law. I watched as Sharon prepared: 1. transport from palliative care to funeral home. 2. Arrangements with funeral home. 3. dealing with the liquidator. 4. choosing the design for a commemorative bookmark. 5. Choosing the music for several different parts of the funeral. 6. Digitizing photos and creating a photo montage for the visitation. 7. dealing with the caterer. 8. Dealing with her mum. I am exhausted just writing about it, but you get the idea. The mourning has come in waves for Sharon. The lull between duties. Maybe a photo triggers a fond memory, a saved phone message. Much of the mourning came as death approached nearer and nearer.

My song is a creation culled from many memories, not just my own father’s funeral and burial. The first funeral I ever saw was JFK on a black and white TV. It was grey and cold in late November 1963. Then, 4 grandparents and so on. It seems as we age, there are more funerals now than ever before. Not just relatives, but friends, siblings leaving too soon as well. The heroes I had as a younger man are dropping. Jazz musicians, songwriters, sports heroes. We are all hurtling towards death anyways, so I make the most out of living each day to the fullest.

In “Grey Day” I tried to evoke the loneliness of mourning and the restorative power of crying and the need for fellowship to heal and continue. Not a day goes by where I don’t have reminders of my father. I miss him, but no longer to the point of tears. Music helped.


Blue…makes me think of you…anew…
grey… day…grey car took you far away

Colours fade if you let them
So wet them, so let them
Feelings fade if you wet them,
So wet them, and let them

Rain… lets me feel the pain…again…
Get… wet…grey day won’t let me forget

Problems leave if you let them,
Don’t fret them, forget them
Friends return if you feed them,
So feed them, you need them

Hurt… grovel in the dirt…alert!…
low… blow…know there is nowhere to go

© 2004 I.G.H.


Don’t Tell Me I Can’t

Dreamers and creative people who dwell in a world of fantasy and possibility are at odds with the “bean counters” and “suits” of the world. There seems to be a lot of thoughtless energy out in the world designed to quash this liberty of the artist.

My mother, when I told her my ambition of writing and performing music said “Oh, They’re a dime a dozen!” I loved my mom, but what an ignorant thing to say (and believe). There is not a day that goes by where I don’t hear those words in my head and I have to remind myself that creating music is not a “commodity”, it is an art. It would be lovely to have thousands that hear my songs, but it is not necessary for a song to be successful. A successful song is one that is finished and that satisfies me. The rest is just fluff.


I want to be a stardust collector 
I want to catch rainbows
I want to be a moon reflector
the scent of flowers in my nose
  
II: don't tell me I can't ,don’t tell me i can’t
don’t tell me I can’t
don't tell me that it's (1)too late :II
                                       (2)im-possible

I want to ride on a Unicorn, I want to swim up waterfalls
I want to sleep inside a Stradivarius 
and vibrate in the best concert halls

I want to fly with a dragon by my side
I want to live inside an old oak tree
I want a world where tears are jewels
where nobody frowns and everything is free

I want to stay awake and never get tired
I want to live in my richest dream
I only want to drink the finest wine
and feast at the table of the king

I want to live in Shangri La, Lothlorien or Brigadoon
I want to live on the bottom of the sea
and take vacations on the moon


One Son Flew

This song came about after a conversation I had with a good friend. We were talking about her husband who is a confident and trustworthy and successful human being, and her brother-in-law who is almost the exact opposite. It turns out that most of us know of family situations that resemble this or are perhaps part of one themselves.

The sons in this song could very easily have been daughters. I was thinking of many of the people in my life experience where one sibling follows a steady path and another flounders. Nature/nurture argument doesn’t apply. I know a set of twins where one twin is a successful psychologist and her twin occupies the fringes of society and has trouble staying out of jail and/or being sober. They both had the same genes and the same parenting….the same opportunities, the same privilege.

one son flew.....  one son fell 
one son knew.....    the other …not so well

Both were loved    both were fledged
both free range birds both led to the edge

one son flew...

one flew straight away.      he returns when he can
building his own nest        was always part of the plan

One son flew...

one worries in circles.        he never really left 
afraid of the ledge              afraid of the test

One son flew...

afraid of the ledge.                but longing to be free
clinging to the branches.     of a disappearing tree

one son flew ...

in order to soar.        you need to trust your wings
It’s never really too late     to try on different things

The coddling can’t continue you’re really on your own
waiting for the words..... “This bird has flown”





Lorelei

The Lorelei legend is about a rock on the river Rhine that is sometimes mistaken for a beautiful maiden.
My Lorelei is about a beautiful maiden who masquerades as a rock.



You were recklessly abandoned
So you floated to love
You chose a mate at random
And you gloated above
You lived your life in tandem
Until you’d had enough
And then with reckless abandon
You let push come to shove
Stick your chin out – hang tough

Lorelei Lora Lorelei, Don’t let them see you cry, Lorelei

Sticks and stones can’t hurt you
Through your rough tough had enough skin
And people can’t desert you
If you never let them in
And if you never buy a ticket
It’s for sure you’ll never win
If there’s a problem you can lick it
Or just take it on the chin
That’s the ticket – that’s the spin

Lorelei Lora Lorelei Don’t let them see you cry, Lorelei

But I see you in the forest
Looking slight beneath the trees
I hear you sing another chorus
Lilting lightly on the breeze
And I sense your skin is porous
When I see you on your knees
But then you tense and you ignore this
And return to your deep freeze
Another day – you didn’t seize

Lorelei Lora Lorelei I love to see you cry, Lorelei


Caught In The Doldrums

I wrote and recorded this shortly after reading “The Life Of Pi” by Yann Martel. There were many aspects of my life that were out of whack. I felt stuck…no goals to reach, no safe place to land…no going back… ennui.

The sax solo is by local legend Dave Turner.

Caught In The Doldrums

I need just a little breeze
To fill my sail
Just a little breath of wind 
to lift your veil 
just a little breeze
to give me a nudge
I need a little breeze 
Or I can’t budge
Caught in the doldrums

Caught in the doldrums
Drifting aimlessly
Caught in the doldrums
Nothing on an endless sea
Caught in the doldrums
It’s all the same
There’s nothing new

I’ve been bobbing on the tide
Such a useless endless ride
I got nothing left to try
And no tears left to cry
Caught in the doldrums
Caught in the doldrums

I’ve been sitting, waiting for
Something to occur, but
Time is hesitating and 
Nothing wants to stir
Caught in the doldrums
Caught in the doldrums

Caught in the doldrums
Drifting aimlessly
Caught in the doldrums
Nothing on an endless sea
Caught in the doldrums
It’s all the same
There’s nothing new

Don’t know where I ought to be 
But I know it’s not at sea
Don’t know what I ought to do 
Everything I see is blue
Caught in the doldrums
Caught in the doldrums
(repeat A and B )

©2008 IGH