Swiss Steak

Every time I see the street sign for “rue De Salaberry” it makes me think of the words “Salisbury steak” which in turn reminds me of my least favourite dish that my mum would make regularly for us as we were growing up. It was not “Salisbury Steak” which is basically pub burger with peas and gravy. I used to order Salisbury Steak at Toe Blake’s Tavern when I was out for a “cultural soirée” with my deplorable friends and the Rib Steak was sold out.

Mum’s dish was something called “Swiss Steak”. Sounds exotic, right? Well it isn’t. No Swiss clichés anywhere. No Chocolate, no cheese, no yodelling, no Alpenhorn, no watch…..not even neutrality. Maybe somewhere in the world there is someone who knew how to cook this dish and make it palatable, but my mum couldn’t, and neither could Sharon’s. To be fair, my mum’s cooking could not be described flatteringly or truthfully. Best approached with humour and sarcasm (and a plan B).

When I described it to Sharon just now I said it was like a Sandal boiled in tomato juice. She howled at the description, but this still requires some clarity, however. The Leather sole was boiled in a black iron pot that was only ever used for this. A Civil war relic. Not sure WHICH Civil War either. My guess would be the British one in the mid 1600s. The Sandal was boiled until it was Petrified into curled up pieces of ironwood surrounded by the ghost of a red mushy “sauce” It resembled a head on collision between a produce truck and a truck carrying roof shingles. Even that might have proven tastier.

To try and cut a slab of sandal, the cutlery needed to be Military issue. It would bend a fork and blunt a knife. By the time cutlery was discarded and furtive fingers used, it was also cold. If one had teeth, one could perhaps tear off a chip and try to chew some nutrition out of it. This would result in a pulp that needed to be washed down with water or strands would lodge between the teeth unable to be flossed…. eventually dissolving after several days as the acids in the mouth fought to erode the strands.

There is only one other childhood dish that is even in the same league. The lunchbag letdown of Fried Bologna sandwiches ………with Ketchup…..

My 2020

I listened to a radio show (Radio Noon CBC Montreal) last week that asked the question: “Did the pandemic affect your creativity?” It is hard to measure something like that, for me, especially this year as I retired in June, so there is some overlap between the two. Some of the things are quantifiable, however.

I haven’t sat still (aside from going nowhere except walking the dogs and grocery shopping and a weekly foray to the city to get a meal from Mariposa or visit the Avian vet). Every day I read literature, and I work at my music which is something I love to do more than almost anything it seems. It doesn’t feel like work at all.

In 2020 I wrote 33 songs (29 of them after the first lockdown). These are complete songs. “Keepers”. I have recorded all of them as well. Some to be released soon. I also remastered two of my previous albums and will be re-releasing them on Bandcamp this month. Including the 33 new songs and the 23 remasters I have a total of 111 pieces that I have either recorded, re-recorded or re-mastered in 2020.

I took the liberty of this found time to organize all my music. I have written music and songs for all of my adult life and they exist in one form or another outside of my head as sheet music, manuscript or words and chords, as a demo or a video or whatever. I decided to digitize them in one format for iPad and put them into two ring binders in alphabetical order. I put my 2020 songs in another binder so I can have a Chronological order as well…. I wish I had dated things before, We were taught to put the date on everything in Grade School. I never saw the point at the time….. The total number of pieces I have is over 200. so, if 2020’s 33 songs represents one year, it is roughly one sixth of my overall output over one 64th of my lifetime. Is this attributable to found time or my biological clock ticking down? I don’t know, but I suspect both.

My songs A-Z

releases prior to 2021

Some of my music that I rediscovered I had to re-learn from sketchy chord charts or no chords at all, but some I had included a detail of a particular voicing or a riff that sets the song apart. As I re-discovered and re-learned my music spanning 40 years, I made an audio recording of the work. Some songs were written but missing a line, or there was a harmony that wasn’t quite right. I had two songs where one line or one word bugged me. I always thought I could do better, so I had abandoned the song. I finished them this year. The three R’s of my retirement: Revive, revise, record. Fortunately the fourth R is reject which I usually do at the time. If I like the song, I keep it. If not, if it is too derivative or too schmaltzy or too offensive or trite I get rid of it and don’t count it among my works.

During this time I also learned or re-learned songs I love. Recorded several by Elvis Costello, Sixties faves and more Lightfoot. I also finally revisited and memorized ‘Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk and have been practicing Jazz standards I once knew that I have not had the time to keep “on the desktop” of my conscious self. It is remarkable how a little nudge of memory can bring new life to old material.

My original “plan” for 2020 and my retirement was to:

-release a new album called “I’m A Caboose”

-start a folk choir for people who love to sing but lack the opportunity.

-organize tours of House Concerts.

-gigs with Tarantula Dreams and Tumbleweed

I had also intended to do some part-time teaching. Well, the best laid plans……

It seems that when life gives you lemons…… chuck them and write a song.

In The Bleak Mid Winter

I am not a big fan of secular Christmas music, but having been a chorister for years in an Anglican Cathedral choir I was exposed to very traditional music and was immersed in the most beautiful sound bath of the voices of men and boys in a huge reverberant space. Singing this music throughout Advent and on Christmas day was one of the greatest privileges of my life. I am grateful for the opportunity and the experience.

In The Bleak Mid Winter is by far my favourite Christmas Carol. It is not Jolly. In fact it is quite austere and lonely. These are feelings I often associate with Christmastime even though for the most part, my Christmases have also been joyous and loving events. I related thoroughly to the stories and ideals that I learned in Sunday School and Choir and Confirmation classes, and was appalled that the whole idea of Christmas had become so twisted and profane by the commercial and the profiteers. Obviously I was Linus.

There are two different treatments of the original poem by Christina Rossetti. I prefer the Darke version, others may prefer the Holst version. James Taylor sings his beautiful arrangement of the Holst, while I just recorded my arrangement of the Darke for voice and guitar. I hope that you enjoy it.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

An explanation and a brief history of the Carol is written here:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/christmas/in-the-bleak-midwinter-lyrics-song-carol-peaky/

Turn Me Loose

I heard a song at the boulangerie today as I was waiting to purchase a croissant. I told the server (in French) that I loved that song, but it was playing way too soft. It is not a “la la la” it’s an “oomph”!

This triggered a memory of mine.

One of the most memorable rides I ever got while hitchhiking, happened in New Brunswick in 1983 as I was returning home to Montreal. I was returning from visiting friends in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. 

I had been waiting with my guitar on the side of the Trans Canada highway at the northernmost traffic light in Fredericton. I had to go north through the province following the St. John river, and I was hoping to get a lift that ate up some kilometres. My last few lifts had been little skips between exits and the ratio of standing with my thumb out and distance achieved was probably the equivalent of walking. I didn’t relish the idea of walking all the way to Montreal which is about the same distance as Munich, Germany to Paris, France both physically and culturally (but with less interesting landmarks on my trip).

A throbbing sedan stopped for me and when I caught up to it, the passenger swung his door open and asked where I was going. He was facing backwards because all the seats but the driver’s had been taken out. The passenger seat was a mere cushion and the man in it was facing backwards to better hear the stereo which was ample for a theatre let alone a car. The stereo speakers were enormous. I wedged in between them in the back and the driver turned the music down for a few minutes to tell me they were going 180 km to just past Perth-Andover as far as the reservation at Tobique. I asked them (they were native) if they were Mi’k maq , they said “no” they were proudly Maliseet and they were returning home from studying at UNB. They lit a joint and shared it with me. Very good homegrown for the times (early 80’s).

With the sun glinting off the river to my left and my head starting to melt as I lay back into the plush cushion between the speakers they put the music back on.

There is “loud” and then there is “ten past loud” which is where we were.The song blew my mind. It was perfect. I was reminded of a quote a friend of mine said he had read on a needlepoint: “Cleanliness Is Next To High Fidelity”. 

It starts off with a synthesizer playing two long notes a ninth apart accompanied by accented 16th notes on a closed hi hat cymbal for seven measures as the synth rapidly sweeps up several octaves a bass guitar belches in with one of the most unforgettable riffs in Rock music. Gmi to F.  After stating his theme twice a glorious electric guitar enters with grinding power chords sound that could sustain forever and have some highlighted harmonics in the F chord where the 9th degree is cutting through. I love the chugga chugga sound of an overdriven electric guitar. It is a bit reminiscent of Martin Barre’s guitar on Locomotive’s Breath by Jethro Tull. The guitarist then adds fills to complement his power chords. All this action that gripped me in the one minute intro. The singer has one of those taut, strutting and loud, “tight trousers” voices that is similar to all the other ubiquitous industrial hair rock bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Journey and Kansas, Boston, etc. He hits a great falsetto on the climactic lyric “high”. Very serviceable and perfect for this song.

Interesting that the guitar is not present at all on the first verse. A honky Tony piano enters with a syncopated repeated riff and then the harmonies on “turn me loose” with understated hand muted chugs on the guitar. The hi hat patterns change ever so subtly in each section adding more subliminal interest

There is an instrumental interlude in E….neither major nor minor as far as I can tell (no third in the chord) except the last chord of the interlude which is not only E major, but has an augmented fifth (like the first chord of O Darling by the Beatles).

The song return to the original key and the “woo hoo” background singers start….omg.…perfect. The song builds to finally having all of these parts together in a taut choreographed full bodied sound. The guitar solo is full of vitality and continues throughout  the next chorus. Such mastery near the end when all but the drums playing through with the hi hat going “syup” with”sy” starting on the and of 2 and the “up” on beat 3  and bass hitting on beat 4. A sparse and contrasting accompaniment before the guitar re enters just before the final “turn me loose” which is a capella. Perfect arrangement. Very clever.

All that analytical stuff came after the fact of course. At the time I was totally immersed in learning and performing jazz. In fact, I was returning to Montreal for a gig. I was a bit snobbo when it came to music other than jazz. I knew nothing about “hair bands” and the music I listened to outside of jazz was not mainstream….Classical, Dylan, Lightfoot,Joni, Neil, Harmonium, Focus…..

When the song was over I asked my hosts who that was and they told me it was Loverboy. I jokingly said they should call it “Turn Me Loose!” The one facing backward gave me a gap toothed grin, knowing I was totally wasted and asked: “like it?” As he pressed replay.

P.S. The phrase “turn me loose” occurs 28 times in this song.

Light The Light

This is a song I wrote many years ago after a discussion with a friend about light and darkness.

He said: “Cup your hands and look inside.” I complied. He continued: “Now open your hands and observe the difference around you.” I again followed his instruction. He turned out the lights and handed me a match and asked me to strike it. A little light went on (pun intended).

Please click on the link below to hear the track.

https://ianhanchet.bandcamp.com/track/light-the-light

Light the light
Take back the night
Shed a little light on the unknown
Leave a little light on so I can find my way back home

Just a spark
Defeats the dark
Give me just enough to write this song
Give me just enough to find my way back home

Stubbed my toe
Cause I don’t know
Stubbed my toe cause I don’t know the way to go home
Shed a little light so I can find my way back home

It’s hard to wait
Illuminate
Eliminate all darkness and hate
Let a little sun shine through to my back gate

©2006 IGH

November

like the skeleton trees of November
with tendrils so stark and so slender
grasping for things to remember
when Spring suddenly burst into splendour

seems so long ago

thoughts spinning round in my blender
songs melt in my echo chamber
notes of passion, attraction, abstraction,
dissatisfaction

I thought I felt the answer
it revealed it was cancer
someone’s laughing

who played this joke on me?


days are shorter and thinner
hope I make it through winter
when the ice turns to streams
and I won’t have to wait for my dreams

seems so far away

November

And I Love Her

Yesterday I was distracted, then horrified and disgusted and finally angered by something I heard over the p.a. System while standing in line at the grocery store. 

This is the culprit

I was distracted by a pleasant groove and a pleasant processed female musical voice singing “And I Love Him” over a punchy bass and drum (computer generated and a clean sounding nylon string guitar and repetitive piano chords. I thought “oh great, a fairly good musical treatment of The Beatles.” It was not long until I was horrified that the groove over two chords (Bbmi and Fmi) was IT….and not only that, the ONLY lyrics in this version were “ I give him all my love, that’s all I do”. It was sampled and slowed down from jazz singer Esther Phillips’ 1965 recording. 

Esther Phillips

My horror built toward disgust and anger. The original Latin tinged ballad by the Beatles (McCartney) is one of my favourite ballads from their oeuvre. It is a naive exposition of undying love for his muse at the time (Jane Asher). Time has shown that “a love like ours will never die” was a bit premature…lol.

It is not just the minimal repetitive lyric that annoys me. The original recording has harmony to support and enhance. Not just two minor chords.

I play this song (in F) a semi tone higher than the Beatles (E) starting on Gmi which in music theory is the ii of F, but when the melody starts, it goes Gmi to Dmi (the relative minor of F)twice then Bb(IV)then C7(V) then finally to F (I). This A section is the meat of the song and in AABA form is 3/4 of the song. Rich in harmony, rich in melody and strong and memorable. The B section is a short complementary contrast to the A section and ushers in the third A section perfectly from the dominant 7 chord. 

I realize that the music that so angered me is not created as “art” and is perceived as wonderful and inspired by many judging from the comments on  the YouTube video. I imagine not many of them are aware of it’s origins, nor do they care.

I also recognize that the remix is commercial and is meant for dancing, and youth and inebriation can enhance these experiences. 

To me, it is the dumbing down of beauty which is contrary to great art. I have included links to several great versions of this song as contrast to the remix.

No caption necessary

one of my favourites
One of the first versions I ever heard
My present favourite

I hope you have given each of these versions a fair listen. I look forward to your comments.

Dumb

I was talking to the dogs this morning on our walk. They don’t talk back. I was struck by an idea: Animals are considered “dumb” as in “unable to speak”.  Then I reflected on all of the “dumb” things I read this morning while scrolling on fb that wasted my time and energy.

Dumb has come to mean “stupid”.  We say and do dumb things, we follow down or ignore dumb ideas. I am dumb to read anything that disturbs my serenity. Glad I know it, and reset.

I am dumbfounded at just how dumb some people can be. I wish the dumb (stupid) were dumb (silent). 

Dummy up!

Leaving

The sick trees,
the weak trees
leaving first
giving up

too ready to concede
the red flag
in a sea of green

warning of what is coming
not living for today
as I am

A Poem (after Robert Creeley)

"I Love You", says the coffee
scent wafting up the stairs
 
"I Love You" says the open book
face down on the table, waiting

"I Love You" sing the birds
flitting through the frigid air
to crack the seeds of life

"I Love You" say the squirrels
bushy flags flicking
as they nosh on nuts

"I Love You" say your eyes as you
spread your arms and lock in for a hug
like a shuttle approaching the mothership

"What was that for?" you ask
as I cradle you, unaware from behind

"What wasn't that for?" I reply
"I love you. That's all there is!"