Be There

Life and death have been on my mind lately. 

I just finished re-reading Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. The story is complex but deals with the annihilation of the human race except for some ragtag castaways on an island in the Galapagos archipelago. Told by a ghost with very cavalier and smug opinions about the importance of life and death. Vonnegut’s world view, of course, shaped by the horrors of war and surviving the carpet bombing destruction of Dresden. 

Twenty two years ago on this date (April 4th) a very good friend of mine hurtled to his death from atop a high rise apartment building on rue Docteur Penfield. He was twenty-seven years old. He’d be forty-seven now. He finally achieved his goal.

My father-in-law is ninety and was recently released from a two week stay in hospital after a big scare because his heart is weak. He is quite adamant about doing all he can to stay alive. 

It got me to reflecting this morning about the contrast between people who choose death and others who choose life and others in between. 

Recently there have been friends who have endured gruelling bouts of chemotherapy and radiation and determined to beat it. Other friends were not as fortunate. Many are in limbo. Several stories of people close to friends (a father of one and the husband of a colleague of my wife) who chose medically assisted death because their suffering was immense. 

I respect people and their highly personal life and death decisions. I guess that makes me pro life although I don’t mean it in the anti abortion sense.

In between are people who seem to go through life just skimming the surface and not delving or seemingly cognizant of the wonderful gift of the world around us. Basic people do not interest me. I don’t respect them. “An unexamined life is not worth living”- Socrates

This morning a few lines of verse came to me. I wrote them down and picked up a guitar and said “B”  and this song just wrote itself. I wrote and recorded it all in about three hours. Not bragging. It just goes to show that being in the moment and being aware are two things I cherish and what could have been just an ordinary day became an extraordinary day by my being free to follow this muse.

I’ve known children who want to be older
older people who dye to be young
people discontent with their lot in life
they can’t "be", they need to become

they hate Mondays… Can’t wait for Fridays…
they hate weekdays…Can’t wait for holidays
what about the in between?
break out of your routine
be there….be aware

some people don’t even know they’re alive
they take this gift for granted
looking at the world with blinders on
they don’t want to understand it

willful ignorance.. ignorance is bliss
willful ignorance I’ll tell you this: 
get off your butts and live
life has so much to give
be there… be aware

I’ve known people who’ve been emptied out
they feel like they’ve been living through hell
they wake up in the dark even though it’s not night
they’re living in a prison cell

if you can call that living… they’ve given up
abandoned dreams …  abandoned hope
I wish this wasn’t so, I want to share what I know
be there… be aware….

I’ve known people desperate to die
life’s menu caused them great pain
every day they’d ask themselves why
why should they do it again?

what can I tell them?….what can I say?
I never walked in their shoes… I’ve never felt that way
one thing I know for sure 
my love for life is pure
be there…. be aware

I’ve also known people who were desperate to live
not ready to give up the ghost
they felt that life had much more to give
and wanted to live it to the utmost

what’s the hurry?… breathe in the air…
why worry? …..just be aware…
be there… be aware…

Last Train Home

My Aunt Betty was my mother’s older sister. My dad had, in fact gone on a few dates with her before he left Ottawa to attend McGill. This is not about that.

Aunt Betty was also my godmother, although my actual mother was more of a believer than Aunt Betty. Golf and curling were the main preoccupations of Aunt Betty and her husband, my Uncle John. Uncle John, too, was my godparent.

Theirs was a successful marriage that paralleled my parents. They had three girls and a boy, and my family was three boys and a girl.

Cancer struck both our families at roughly the same time. The kids were all either independent or in University. My dad’s cancer was treated successfully and he lived another twenty years. Uncle John was not as fortunate. He became bed-ridden and suffered for a drawn out nine years with my Aunt Betty essentially as his nurse/caregiver. Indentured servitude; Duty; Nine Years; Love and suffering; and being housebound were the words that spring to mind from my perspective of Aunt Betty’s life then.

When Uncle John finally succumbed, we were all sad, but relieved as well. Aunt Betty was very pragmatic and rebounded quite quickly. I understand because my mum had a lengthy illness and the mourning came long before her death.

Aunt Betty and Uncle John had many friends, among them a man named Alex and his wife. They would play golf together, bridge, curling, share dinners and vacations. Alex had assumed the same role as Aunt Betty in caring for his spouse as she faded and died around the same time as Uncle John.

Aunt Betty and Alex, who were already friends, leaned on each other and started to date. My cousins were scandalized. My mother horrified. I thought it was great! I had seen The Dead Poet’s Society and learned about Carpe Diem (seize the day). I never could understand cultures where widows wore black for the rest of their lives and just accepted their widowhood as defining them. Way to go Aunt Betty! Choose life! We did not usually talk about anything deep EVER! She loved me, but thought I was a weirdo and did not understand music and the arts at all. She took me aside that day and told me she was grateful for my support on this as “everybody else” was against her moving so quickly. I cherish that bond. Ever so slight.

My first love was a young woman who I fell hopelessly for while home at Christmas vacation while in my senior year. I was usually away at a boarding school that year(Don’t get the wrong impression. It was not posh, but more for boys who were struggling. Run by Religious Brothers. Not club med). She was in her first year of college, and home for the break as well. We saw each other for about a week and then carried on with a furious exchange of letters (hers scented) and in our young minds we really were over the top in love. We managed to see each other every other weekend and each time our attraction and affection grew deeper and deeper. I was 18 and was legal drinking age. We would stay out later and later and I’d drop her off and linger at her house. My girlfriend’s mum was a single mother and worked late as a waitress. Some nights she’d get home and would all sit around the kitchen table and we grew quite fond of each other. I liked this new arrangement. It had started to concern my parents, however. One very late night as I was driving home and unbeknownst to me, my mother called their home.

There was a decided shift in my relationships both with my parents and my girlfriend from that time forward. The “we don’t do that in MY family!” attitude threw a major blanket on our fire. This is the stuff of classic novels of love between people who were not on an even social footing. Romeo? Juliet? We remained friends for a while, planning to rekindle when I got to university, and we both admitted that the timing was not right. Regrets? Yes and no.

When I heard Last Train Home by Pat Metheny I was captivated by the melody, the harmony, everything about it really. I loved the 16th note chugging rhythms of the bass and drums, The track is perfect.

I always wanted to perform it, but slower and jazzier so I wrote lyrics melding the two stories of my Aunt and myself. I imagined that it was me getting together with the first love the way my Aunt was able to retrieve a life without loneliness. I am happily remarried, so my last train home doesn’t fit the story and the song doesn’t really pertain to me anymore, but I think there is a universality to the message of people finding either a soul mate that they didn’t seize in the past or a new mate that they never dreamed existed. All aboard!

Music By: Pat Metheny
Lyrics By: Ian Hanchet

So many years since I saw your face
So many tears since our last embrace
Hidden love, forbidden love
And now I know the time has come
We both know where to go
Take the last train home

So many miles of railroad track
So many years of looking back
A taken love, forsaken love
The time to pay was yesterday
A big mistake, it’s time to take
Take the last train home

Second-hand love was a masquerade
The lives we built were a cheap charade
Those days are dead, now look ahead
The seeds are gone, the birds have flown
Fret no more, regret no more
Take the last train home

Life Loves On

It was a rainy day in Montreal, I was kind of Blue having heard of the death of a close friend I had known since high school. I was reading The Atlantic magazine articles on line. I came across this one: which is a story about how losing someone in 9/11 affected a family from the perspective of 20 years later. The story resonated with me.

While practicing my nylon string guitar later that morning I started playing a couple of chord sequences that caught my fancy. I was zoning out and started to ad lib words and “life loves on”stuck. I decided to try and build a song around that phrase. I love turns of phrase and tried many before settling on life loves on and love lives on which are subtly similar and yet somewhat different. The actual 4 note motif for “life loves on” fits the “Hallelujah” part from an old Anglican Hymn: “All Creatures Of Our God and King”

I was staring out the window at the teeming rain and the phrase “into each life some rain must fall” which I thought might be a bible verse because my mum had used it often. I googled the line, and It turned out it was a line in “The Rainy Day” written in 1842 after the death of his first wife, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire poem fit neatly into what I was trying to create, so, rather than re-invent the wheel, I set his poem to music with only a slight adaptation and some repetition.


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,

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


The Mighty, They Fall

This song was prompted by a story my daughter posted on social media this morning about a professor she had had while a drama student. The professor is being called out for a series of inappropriate actions with students including sexual and psychological abuse. The teacher is still at the school, but I suspect this latest onslaught of publicity will be his downfall.

As a teacher myself, I am appalled at stories like these that crop up whether it is scout leaders, priests, teachers, coaches, choir directors, relatives, etc. Such power and trust must not be broken, but it is. Over and over again.

How the mighty they fall
they’re not mighty at all
all the good they’ve ever done 
has now become undone
he’s in the toilet
Salome’s been unveiled
his actions left a trail
they’re going to spoil it

At the base of the tree
people learned at his knee
they hung on every word of his
cause he knew the truth
he was always certain 
no one look behind the curtain
and see the proof

gospel was his word
then the lines got blurred
he stepped over the line
but was safe cause 
he was a prophet
but what profits a man to gain the world
if he loses his soul

he directed the show
told you where to go
like Svengali
he pulled the strings
he roped em in, he wrangled
but then the strings got tangled
the wicked web he weaved 
was built to deceive

oh…you’re busted
oh….you can’t be trusted
that teacher,he used treachery
to send innocents into therapy

like an actor, sublime
he knew all of his lines
he used them on the people he used
all of the time
everything was scripted
measured and predicted
it’s a crime…
so do the time.

Biblical temptress who dances before Herod II.
To the French, Salome was not a woman at all, but a brute, insensible force. The idea of Salome’s dance and the seven veils, originates with Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play “Salomé”. Wilde was influenced by earlier French writers who had transformed the image of Salome into an incarnation of female lust. 
Svengali …Early 20th century the name of a musician in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894), who controls Trilby’s stage singing hypnotically.
A person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose.


I wrote this song in 2016 in response to a darkening world. I have always resisted injustice and inequality. Now more than ever!

Somebody asked me a short time ago 
"Where are all the protest songs?" 
I thought about it long and hard 
How we gonna right this wrong?
I thought about my place in this world 
And what we're going to leave our grandkids
Looking at me so curiously
Asking me "what we did?"
Time, Yes it's time
Time to resist
Time, yes it's time
It's come to this
Big fat bullies in a china shop
Running amok with their lies
Breaking all truth and beauty
They're Pigs to loathe and despise
'Cause There's no room for billionaires
Laughing on their gated thrones
Greedy dragons basking in their lairs
Feeding on people's bones
Time, Yes it's time
Time to resist
Time, yes it's time
It's come to this
They Promised to return to a better time
A time that never really was
They fooled the folks with alternate facts
Lies that re-enforced their cause
They dumbed it down for the disenfranchised
The narrow-minded, bigots too
Wrapped in the flag, pretending to be holy
But What the hell would Jesus do?
Time, Yes it's time
Time to resist
Time, yes it's time
It's come to this
Their Contempt for women and veterans
Mexicans and muslims too
Cutting off food, the arts and education
Next they'll be coming after you
So take your anger to the streets
Yell at them and shake your fist
Never give in 'cause you know it's wrong
You know you have to resist
Time, Yes it's time
Time to resist
Time, yes it's time
It's come to this

The Visit (Up To You)

I like to refer to sudden inspiration as “The Visit”. When I get visited I try to be welcoming and open even when the visit comes at an inappropriate time (4a.m.) or place…driving…on the bog…. 

I am fortunate to be in tune with these visits from the ether. If I ignore the visitors, they do go away and take their gifts with them. I enjoy my solitude, but I don’t ignore them anymore. I write or record the inspiration as it comes and drop whatever else I am doing.

Obviously with not much taking place during the pandemic lockdown, I have the time and space to do so. I was visited by this particular chord sequence in a chunk…. the lyrics flowed after I improvised the first line. The visit was short and sweet and yielded the  following song:

may 21, 2020.
Sometimes you get the visit 
Sometimes you don’t 
Sometimes it’s exquisite
up to you If you will or if you won’t

some things you can prepare for
Other things are beyond our control
The secret is in how you handle it
up to you to hold or drop the ball
How many times were we too tired
Missing out by not looking up
Wasting time preaching to the choir
Dragging our feet and running Out of luck
Some days are not what they seem
You think you’re awake, but it’s a dream
Some paths are just so obvious
up to you If you’re doing or being

I Don’t Want To Wear A Hat

I met up several years ago with my good friend Terry to catch up and just enjoy each other’s company over a cup of tea. As we settled in to our seats he asked me how things were going? At the time my life was seemingly spinning out of control. I had a mother who was fading away and who lived several hours away. I had a teenage daughter who was struggling with life, another teenage daughter who wasn’t, but felt neglected. My job was stressful, and my boss was Narcissistic. My marriage was straining (actually failing) and my art was suffering. I said; “I wake up and put on my Dad hat, I drive to work and put on my teacher hat, I come home and put on my husband hat, there were many more hats, but you get the idea. He said “Sounds like you are wearing too many hats!” which was true. He then asked “How are your migraines?” to which I replied “Worse than ever!”. He said “Maybe you should take off a few of those hats!”. He was right, of course.

The thing is, we wear hats to define ourselves. Nothing says “British Banker” more than a Bowler. Cowboy hat on a musician means you aren’t listening to Jazz. A beret means you are artsy (or a fascist). Work hats are obvious. A uniform. We often wear hats just to fancy ourselves up. Hats are an accessory that people notice first (unless maybe you have no nose, are green, or naked). Just the other day someone asked me “Which one is Ted?” and I said “the guy with the Peeky Binders Hat”. I didn’t have to describe any further. Some hats we put on out of necessity like a helmet or a toque to protect ourselves. I have noticed that many people who are balding or bald wear hats to lower the glare or frame their face.

The good thing about most bald men that I know is they have nice shaped heads. Baldness suits them. My head is a block. If I were bald, they’d get out the pitchforks and torches and I would scare little children. I have a full head of hair which is nature’s way of protecting the aesthetic of the environment. My head is also very large (I was going to say “huge”, but that might be an exaggeration). My chiropractor was working on my head and remarked: “Ian, this is the biggest head I’ve ever worked on!” I replied “There goes my self esteem!”

I wrote this song shortly after my visit with Terry. It came out in one fell swoop. Plopped in my lap fully formed. I was quite pleased to have written something that sounded so balanced and catchy with so little effort. I performed it as early as July 2008 at The Yellow Door and another engagement in January 2009. Then I sorta shelved it because everything in my life came to a head and music became secondary to survival. I recorded a demo of it at home in 2010 (the xylophone sound is an Orff instrument I had borrowed from the school I was working at)) and I always intended to re-record it and put it out on an album. I returned to it last week and listened. I decided to master it on-line to see what that might produce. Lo and behold, I am very pleased with the result. The guitar and voice have a presence I was unable to access in my home studio.

Seeing as almost no-one buys music anymore, I thought I should let this song go. It is worthy of being heard. Best way is going to be a video. I asked some friends to submit some goofy shots. Here it is.

The greatest hat I ever wore
Kept my four corners warm
Sheltered me from every storm
Man, I miss that hat!

Some hats are too loose
Some hats fit too tight
Some hats I get to choose
But nothing seems to fit right

I don’t want to wear a hat
The ceiling’s low and my head’s too fat

I wear a hat when I go to work
Another when I get home
I wear a hat when I’m out with friends
I even wear one when I’m alone

I can’t remember when my head was bare
Since I was young, there’s always been something there
Always on the go, always on the do
Always trying to try on something new


When you wear a hat it’s hard to dream
If you’re a dreamer your head will be splitting at the seam
Cause if your head’s too big like mine is
A hat’ll just confine this

If I gotta wear one, make it fit
Not just my head, but what’s in it
If I gotta wear one, make it cool
I’m tired of changing hats like a fool


In god’s house I try to keep my head bare
But prayer caps and doer caps keep slipping up there
I wish I didn’t care
What hat I wear when people stare

I think it’s pretty unfair
I just want to feel the wind in my hair

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. 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:

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.


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