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

Organic Fertilizer (part 1- The Hammond B3 in Rock)

I started out to say that ever since I heard a Hammond B3 organ I was enraptured, but that would not have been accurate. My first experience of it was quite awful. At Rockland Shopping Centre in Montreal when I was a boy they had hired some “square” to play music from time to time (it may have been regular ). It was pretty ghastly. Cheapo beguine rhythms on a rhythm ace and corny sounds and really a “square” sound. I was an organ snob. I sang in the Cathedral choir after all. My choirmaster could play a 4 manual organ and still play the bass with his feet. The shopping centre sounded “cheesy” to me. Like this…..

My first significant encounter with the B3, however, was through the radio. I may be leaving some out, but it was probably “Good Lovin'” by the Young Rascals in 1966. I had not made the “brand” connection yet. Felix Cavaliere was obviously someone to listen to based on that solo. Around this time I also heard “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group with that hypnotic ostinato intro: da da da da dah dum. da da da da dah dum. repeating which caught my attention and then the nastiest sounding organ with that huge funky flourish caught my soul. So amazing.

organ solo at 1:36
organ in video is not a B3…. the sound is from the record which is a B3

I then discovered Santana. I am a guitarist and I found his playing inspirational. The organ riff on “Hope You’re Feeling Better”‘s was so powerful and visceral and the clave figure starting off “Oye Como Va” played on the organ was also delightful. I then went back to their previous album with the great percussion features…. “Waiting” has great textures (control of the Leslie speaker and voicing shifts) and features Chester Thompson going wild….. way before the lead guitar enters…. I love Santana’s music. I have continued to follow the band to the present.

The album ends with Soul Sacrifice which also blew my mind. Listen to the organ growl and then the trading of phrases between Carlos and Chester….. the bomb!

My musical education was taking off right around then, and the next few examples are not necessarily in order. The Small Faces had a hit with “Itchycoo Park”. Listen to the riff just after the first line “On the bridge of sighs”…… It is perfect and propels this song…Ian McLagan was a master of the B3.

What did they do there?….

The Zombies featuring Rod Argent, then Argent…

organ solo at 1:23

When I hitch-hiked across Canada at age 16 in 1972 the shorter version of this was on the radio in most cars. Other songs on the soundtrack of my adventure : “Rocket Man” and “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”…..

Listen to how the organ fills this track… awesome stuff.

This is a DUO!!! Lee Michaels who plays piano and organ and clavinet on this and a drummer…… power chords on the B3. Pretty sure the piano and clav were overdubs, maybe not. I like this track.

Steven Stills is mostly viewed as a guitarist, songwriter and a singer, but his organ playing on this is remarkable.

Good God Amighty!!!!…. Deep Purple…. This was my intro to them.

And this…. The album sounded better, but this looks so good. tight trousers, bad teeth and 1970’s hair…. Organ is a bitch! Jon Lord was great on this!

I saw Focus live in 1973… they had a big hit on the radio with Hocus Pocus, but their album cuts still interest me. This suite has so many different ideas in it. Organ is so great! 3:18 a great little solo. The organist (Thijs Van Leer) also played flute and yodelled.

OK, not a B3, but Garth Hudson brought the organ to the fore. It was a Lowrey….

Not forgetting Booker T and The MGs and the Meters whose funky instrumental music I adore. There are many examples of Booker T’s brilliance but I am partial to “Melting Pot” for the groove and the over use of reverb on the organ which renders this perfect.

I first heard Nelson Symonds (Montreal guitarist and friend of mine) play “Cissy Strut” at Rockhead’s Paradise. Nelson told me what it was. I was unfamiliar with the Meters, but became an immediate fan! Led to the Neville Brothers later on as well. Art Neville (keys) died this last summer… a great musician.

listen to the soaring organ note at 1:22 leading into the improvised part of the performance…

Billy Preston had a hit with the Gospel song “That’s The Way God Planned It” I had heard of him (and heard him) via his connection to the Beatles and the organ at the beginning of this song are the same chords as O Canada…lol. I used to sing along with this “That’s the Way…God Damn It” which my mum forbade me from singing in her house….lol. I had misheard the lyrics. The organ solo at 1:57 is gorgeous.

Around this time I became aware of the Allman Brothers. Greg Allman got switched to organ!!!!! He is perfect for this band. One of my favourite cuts is “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” The organ chords just humming along calmly and the song built on top. The live at Fillmore is long, but it won’t seem long. Bon Voyage…

I was drawn to Roy Buchanan through his Second album, but on the first album he had this “hit” Which is essentially instrumental with spoken “lyrics” that are unashamedly religious. The guitar is outrageous…. He makes the Telecaster Scream, Moan and generally suffer. Listen to the organ though…..It is padding and goading and is so beautiful on it’s own. The chords are shifting one note at a time… masterful voice leading. The original is worth seeking out, but this live version is great.

Then I discovered Tower Of Power……Everything about this group excites me still. I have seen them live many times. This cut is a great example of how the organ drives…. Hard to just choose just one example. Listen how the organ counterpoints and cuts through the mix with this huge band (5 horns, guitar, bass, drums and vox). The playing at the end is so great!

at 3;08 til the end….

There were many great organ solos not on Hammond, but I’ll leave that to someone else. Part two of this article will deal with why I started writing this today. Jazz organ coming soon…. I woke up this morning and put on “The Mighty Burner”…have mercy!

Borders

Cars line up to cross into the U.S. at the border on Feb. 25, 2017, in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.

I live in Montreal,Canada, and I stay put most of the time. I have my wanderlust in check. I love it here. Last night, a friend of mine pointed out that I have been travelling a lot lately. I guess I have. I vacationed in North Wales and did side trips to London and Liverpool. I also recently played a gig in our nation’s capitol, and most recently made a trip to New York City.

I travel to the States most often. I have a daughter, friends and extended family who live there. Travelling by automobile, it is reasonably easy to visit adjacent states. There are four states that border on Quebec: NY, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I have visited all of them within the last several years despite my visceral opposition to the American president and the awful imperialistic and militaristic policies of (typically) Republicans.

Even before “T” I found the border a bit intimidating. I don’t like uniforms or guns (not in that order). My car is not pristine and I look like a hippie. I have to put on a mask of obedience and subservience at the border which is ironic as they always ask me to remove my shades, and neither obedience or subservience is prominent in my real character.

My wife simply WON”T go since the election of “T”. She always feels traumatized by the border. She was not born in Canada, she was born in India which always results in further scrutiny from the border police. She has about as much in common with terrorism as a kitten has in common with a python.

In the summer of 2016 (pre-T) I rented a cottage in Vermont for several days. I had to split my vacation between my wife (3 days) and my girls (4 days) due to their conflicting work Schedules. This meant I had to traverse the border several times in either direction with different passengers in the car. I witnessed my wife’s discomfort and we got questioned (not about her nationality) about the two Shih-Tzus travelling with us. They let us pass, but scolded us for not having their papers with them….. After our three days together we returned to Montreal and I piled my girls into the jeep and we returned. BAM! Pulled over, car searched, tomatoes confiscated….the elder daughter was questioned about a student visa she had had to study in Texas. It had been 2 years since she had decided to not pursue the degree and moved away. After a half hour of waiting they let us through and supposedly entered her change of status into the “system”.

At Canadian Thanksgiving that year, my siblings and I rented a house on Lake Champlain just across the border. Lake Champlain is partly in Canada and separates NY from Vt. I was prepared for our weekend. We brought food and I brought my guitar. I thought going through at a small crossing like Beebe Plain at an odd hour would be a breeze…… They rummaged through everything, cut open a sealed package of cookies, didn’t treat anything respectfully. I had to bite my tongue when the guard gestured to my guitar case and asked “what is it?” and then “what’s it for”. I hate having to stifle my sarcasm. He then gestured to my box of CDs and warned “You’d better not be intending to sell those!” I said it was unlikely seeing as my family already had copies of all my CDs and we were going to a cottage. Sharon scolded me afterward for being too “familiar”.

They let us through. Then “T” happened. The world immediately got sick. I vowed to not go south while he was in office. I have since broken that vow because my younger daughter now lives there, and I have to visit her, and due to tie ups with her Visa status etc. It is best she not come up here.

I went down to NYC last week. At the border with my older daughter, we got flagged and told to pull into the customs and immigration building parking lot. We did, and went inside, but not before encountering a surly GI Joe type guy who barked at us to go inside. I thought, “How Rude” and “what an asshole!” Then I saw how he treated the next people who had just pulled up. He screamed at them “What are you parking there for?” and gestured menacingly and inhospitably (is that redundant?) to a stall.

The people behind us were a young family (Mum and Dad with a toddler and infant) who looked like they might be middle eastern (that is to say they were light brown) and as I learned later had “foreign-sounding” names.

We waited and waited to be called. I took advantage of this time to use the facilities. When I got back my daughter leaned in to me and whispered to me that we were the only white people pulled over. I looked around and sure enough that of the 20 or so people, we were the only white people in the waiting area. Ema was indignant. She said she was angry, that this was not right. I said “You’re right, but let’s keep a lid on it til we clear our hurdle.” I also noticed that EVERY officer on duty was white and male and dressed like GI Joe. We were called after a man named Malik who was interrogated VERY thoroughly with stupid questions like: “Are these your children” etc. I witnessed Systemic racism first hand.

I looked at the baseball caps with CBP on them worn by the officers and in my poetic dyslexic way, I started thinking PCB and CBD and CDN….etc. As I write I had to look CBP up to be sure of the actual acronym…..

We had to explain Ema’s non-student status over again, and they had to go into the “system” and verify everything. We got through, and they didn’t search the car which is a good thing because I have a prescription for CBD oil for my migraines, CBD is illegal in the US (which is criminal in itself…), and although I have synthetic CBD (which is allowed in the US) I also had a tablet of chocolate that was made with CBD in my luggage.

About 20 miles into the States there was a huge roadblock on I 87. A dozen or so cop cars in the median and several lines of cars waiting to proceed southward. There was a sniffer dog walking with his/her handler going up and down the line of stopped cars. I felt a bit nervous, because I know how good a dog’s nose is (ironic for a species that eats poop, but I digress). We were waved on as I showed my passport to the cop. I am surmising that they were looking for Americans who bought pot legally in Canada and were headed back with it.

We had a lovely trip. I didn’t need the CBD chocolate after all.

Coming home, we approached the border. The guard for our queue was female and her skin was black. She addressed us in both official languages (English and French) and was courteous and professional. She asked us where we lived, how long we’d been in the US and if we had anything to declare? I did. I had two bottles of “Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan brand Whiskey) and a framed photo that we had shipped to my brother’s place to save on international shipping. She gave me our passports back and said “Have a nice day!”

To quote Paul Simon “Gee, but it’s great to be back home”. If you hear the song as you read that, you’re my kind of person.

“Have A Nice Day” Indeed!

I Don’t Like It Here (Not One Wee Bit)

While travelling back to North Wales from London by tube and then Train I overheard a whiny little boy who quite clearly was fed up with waiting around in Euston train station. I wrote the words he spoke: “I don’t like it here, not one wee bit” in my notes folder. Back at the home where we were staying I picked up a guitar forgetting I had tuned it DADGAD. I grabbed what I thought was a D chord but in this tuning was a D7. The next chord (Bb) was just where the song went…almost like it was dictated to me. The words rushed out in a torrent as I channeled my own experiences of discomfort and imagining those of children with Autism who I have known. As I was writing it all down I was aware that I actually DID like it there. It was a beautiful experience to travel in my ancestral homeland.

Everything is noisy, no-one’s sitting still

I won’t drink the poison, I won’t swallow that pill

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

my clothes are feeling itchy, I need to take a shower

feeling itchy, snitchy, bitchy,  minutes seem like  hours

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

everyone looks worried and no-one looks around

scurry hurry worry, people driven underground 

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

we all know time is fleeting, time to beat the clock

time to miss more meetings, time to take a nature walk

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

(today) all the trains are running, but nothing runs on time

pacing, racing, chasing, I have no peace of mind

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I tend to glorify the past I want time to stand still

but nothing ever lasts and nothing ever will

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I feel ill at ease, like I don’t fit my skin

I need to be released, my patience is running thin

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

cooped up, locked, up locked down, locked out,

look out, look up black out, fed up

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

I don’t like it here, not one wee bit

Hidden Gem

Today, I don’t know why, but I decided to listen to some music that I rarely listen to at all, let alone first thing in the morning.. I put on Beck, Bogert & Appice. Their eponymous first album.

It was never a “great” album despite being a “Supergroup” , but in the present moment I am listening with fresh ears. Of course Jeff Beck  is brilliant. He dive bombs and squawks in places that delight. The music is at times Beatlesesque…at times shadowing Cream. I hear a bit of Beach Boy harmony in there as well. Sweet Sweet Surrender is reminiscent of I Shall Be Released.

The lead vocals are workmanlike. Not one of the great voices that come to mind in Jeff Beck’s legacy (Max Middleton, Rod Stewart). The harmony vocals are reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge and Grand Funk. All those  huge industrial rock bands in the 70s. “Why Should I Care” reminiscent of “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by the Stones.

The rhythm tracks are what I find interesting. The playing is very good all round. A lot of work went into arranging and executing these songs. Lots of punches and abrupt (tight) turns. The Allmusic guide gives it 2 and a half of 5 stars. I agree, but this should not deter one from checking out a lovely example of Rock Music on it’s own terms. 

“In my defense, I am Dyslexic”

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.

O Canada

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. 

Resist!