I just stepped out of my comfort zone. I was picking up Sharon at the hairdresser’s and there was a group of about eight middle aged and older men standing around drinking coffee in front of the deli next door. I watched them for about a minute. They looked very happy and comfortable with each other. Perhaps old friends, perhaps an after meeting chat for a 12 steps program, I don’t know. They were standing in a loose circle with maybe three or four feet distance between them.
The temperature is minus twenty degrees this morning, so their breath was actually visible and I could see that they were each breathing in part of each other’s breath. My internal voices were vacillating between “live and let live”, “Mind your own business” on the one hand, and “do your duty” and “it’s everybody’s business” on the other. The second voice won over, and I exited my car and I approached the circle and said “excuse me”, informed them that I could see their breath and that they were each breathing in each other’s breath. They thanked me and backed away from each other, but if there was any spread of germs, it was already done. I did not want to be “that guy” or a “Karen”, The party started to disintegrate after my little say. I felt like an uncool dad asking kids to break up a party….then I reflected on my 11 months of social distancing and my sacrifices and the sacrifices of so many to try and slow the spread of this virus and the shameful examples of negligence and ignorance shown by some citizens of this province, the rest of Canada and elsewhere in the world.
The men totally agreed that they needed to be more mindful and no-one told me to fuck off, so if they all stay healthy it is a “win/win”. If one of them spread the virus, the group would not be so cheerful in a month.
I guess the teacher in me found and used the “teachable moment”.
Twenty years ago I met a student who was particularly difficult to reach, and was determined to have her own way at all times. She had transferred into the school after the term had started, so needed remediation to get to the same level as her new classmates. She had chosen to play the clarinet, and was struggling frustratedly with it.
At our first remediation (recess or lunch) session she informed me that she wanted to learn “Hatikva” which is the national anthem of Israel. To me, this was like wanting to run a marathon after just learning how to toddle. I told her something like that, and suggested we learn “Ode To Joy” first as it had a limited number of notes and was attainable in a few days.
She said: “Don’t worry, I have O.D.D.” I had just arrived at this school myself having immersed myself doing music therapy with children with Autism and other puzzles for the previous ten years at a special school. I said to her “I’ve heard of P.D.D, ADHD, and other learning differences before, but I have never heard of O.D.D. What is it?”
Her response was quite well informed. It included these traits: “Often loses temper; Is often touchy or easily annoyed; Is often angry and resentful; Often argues with authority figures or for children and adolescents, with adults; Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules; Often deliberately annoys others; Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour; Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months.” Quite a mouthful for a child in eighth grade. I asked her what the difference was between this diagnosis and being a spoiled brat? She didn’t skip a beat and answered: “the name”……”and money”…. An absolutely brilliant answer to my question.
She did get Hatikva down, and performed it in public after about a month. She was brilliant in so many ways and I am not sure if her determination was a result of this peculiar label or the label was as a result of her focus and grit.
Fast forward fifteen years, I saw a business card on the wall of the staff room where we go to find substitute teachers. Her name was on one of those cards. I was hoping beyond hope that a colleague would one day hire her and we could meet up under these very different circumstances and I could see for myself if she had outgrown the ODD, and if not, how she survived in the profession. Alas, never happened.
When the email arrived carrying a link to ‘The Gift’ I wasn’t really expecting it.
Sure, when Ian Hanchet (the gift giver) commented on my poem “If I Could...” he wrote, “I was inspired to immediately pick up my guitar and melody flowed from me. I recorded it on my phone, but I need to become more acquainted with the rhythms of your poem so that I may do each phrase justice. Too bad my life just got super busy. Maybe Next week I can return to this work of wonder.” When I read his words I thought, ‘how lovely’ and promptly wrote back to thank him and to let him know how excited I was he liked the poem that much.
And then, I let it go.
Yesterday, Ian emailed to say he’d finished the song and included the audio link.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ― Heraclitus
Aside from the gender specific reference of the above quote, it is profoundly true. I like to revisit things. Places, people, music, films, ideas, books.
Recently, I have undertaken the task of Reading “The Unabridged Mark Twain”. Many of the stories are ones I read as a boy and/or as a younger man. One of the tales is “Huckleberry Finn” which is a sequel of “Tom Sawyer” which I have also re-read (as the tome is chronological and I started at the beginning). Immediately after publication, Huckleberry Finn was banned on the recommendation of public commissioners in Concord, Massachusetts, who described it as racist, coarse, trashy, inelegant, irreligious, obsolete, inaccurate, and mindless. It is none of these, but what more temptation would a young boy need but to read a book that was banned?
When I first read Huckleberry Finn I doubt if I was yet ten years old. It is quite a compelling story of an adventure down the Mississippi River on a raft by a young boy who was around my age at the time and his friend, a runaway slave. The narrative is written in a style that imitates the language of the people of the southern United States in the mid eighteen hundreds which is pre-Civil War. Being Canadian and raised in the 60’s, my models for this style of speech would have been from TV at that time. The Andy Griffith Show, Disney movies, Gomer Pyle, etc. Perhaps I had seen Gone With The Wind as well. The tropes of southern belles, country bumpkins, gamblers, grifters, southern preachers etc. would all have been modelled in Western Movies and shows like Roy Rogers, The Rifleman, etc.
The intention behind my reading books as a child was just to follow the story. To get to the end. It never struck me as odd or unnatural or unusual that black skinned people in this book were referred to with what we now call “the ‘n’ word”. I didn’t use it myself, I didn’t hear it except from time to time on the playground at school even though my elementary schooling was in a privileged and predominately white neighbourhood and the word was meant to disparage like “fag”, “Pepsi”, “retard”. Words meant to isolate, to demean, to destroy. Thinking about it now makes me realize how little I understood things. To me, those words were just sounds that did not apply to me because I was not black, gay, or French or intellectually challenged (my sister would argue the last point. Lol). I was truly naive.
The ‘n’ word did not make my skin crawl as it does now. The social order of the story was just a description, no more, no less. I did not question it. The matter- of-fact manner in which slaves appeared in the story lacked the ominous and oppressive weight that I understand now as an adult. I had heard about and read about slaves in Sunday School. Jews enslaved in Egypt, etc. Just Stories.
The interval since I first read Twain is 50 odd years. My education and personal growth and changes since then have been vast. I have held beliefs, reversed beliefs, been entirely skeptical, entirely optimistic. Ambivalence, it could be argued, is a Canadian trait. Yet I have always had a healthy disregard for authority, always questioned yet generally adhered to the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). I have travelled. I have worked and played, loved and hated, fulfilled both dreams and nightmares.
The human body almost entirely replaces itself on a cellular level every 7 years. So At age 64, I am Ian Hanchet version 8.0. I have been regenerated roughly six and a half times since I read Huck Finn the first time. Who was that guy?
I have benefitted greatly from my White Privilege. Which I now know has been at the expense of others. I am a direct result of the colonial system living in a land that was stolen. I have been able to do things others could only dream of. It seems the world is in constant flux. Economic and Territorial powers are always in flux. I have the luxury of being able to think and not be worried where my next meal comes from. I am thankful and ashamed.
To revisit Huck after reading Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, is to uncover the degrees of subtlety that Twain infused into his writing. I googled “Twain and racism” to see if I should continue. It turns out that Twain was a champion of racial tolerance and critical social commentary and human rights. Did my world view come from him in the first place, the subliminal foundation on which I built me beliefs and non-beliefs throughout my life or am I just realizing now what has always been there? Every awakening I experience is like being freed from being a prisoner in Plato’s Allegory of the cave.
Not just Huck, either. So far I have revisited: “The Innocents Abroad” which satirizes Amerocentric travellers and the revelations of places visited and the people in them as a huge hustle; “The Prince and The Pauper” where privilege and disenfranchisement trade places; At this writing, I am half way through “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” which is also a scathing yet subtle satire of aristocracy and power structure. I am at page 1,000 (about 3/4 of the way through)of the first of two tomes.
Some of the stories in here I will be encountering for the first time. Putting my feet into a new river. Early in my teaching career I remember taking a school band by bus on an excursion from Winnipeg to Minneapolis. The bus driver announced at some point that “to our right is the great Mississippi River!” I asked him rather excitedly to stop the bus as I wanted to dip my toe in this heralded river that bisects america, rich in history, down to the Delta which is Blues country and ends in New Orleans the birthplace of Jazz. I scrambled down the embankment with my students watching on as their Weirdo Music Teacher took off his shoes and waded into what turned out to be a very polluted part of the great Mississippi River. I remember that, rather than elation I was horrified that such a great natural wonder could be so mistreated. An environmentally conscious person was newly baptized. Part of my reverence was shattered. It was restored a decade later on a trip to St. Louis where the river was cleaner and better represented the images of my youth. The literary river I just waded through was like reading it for the first time with eyes wide open. I wish I could have gleaned from it way back when what I did this time. Alas, not the same man, not the same river.
The real richesse of retirement is the amount of time I have to reflect on things, assume a mantle of wisdom and to get to projects and books I could never make the time for on the treadmill. *ironic side note… I listened to “A People’s History of America” while exercising on an actual treadmill. Makes me feel less like a chubby hamster.
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…..
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.
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.
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:
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 Valleyin 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.
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).