Symphony No. 9, II. Largo

I’ve always thought when listening to the 9th Symphony by Czech composer Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904), that the second movement, the largo, is so understated and unique that it almost doesn’t belong with the rest of the work. 

The movement starts so simply, peacefully, and as one online reviewer comments, it says so much with so little. While I like passages from the rest of the symphony, sometimes it goes off frenetically into other directions which, in my opinion, doesn’t suit the piece and takes away from the theme of a voyage. I am sure there are explanations for why it was written that way; perhaps sudden storms at sea?

Anyway, the second movement is beautiful and evocative of a long journey into uncertainty and challenge of settling in a new place. (Though it doesn’t even begin to consider how immigration to the “New World” affected those whose ancestors had already lived here for a hundred thousand years.) 

I found a version of the piece conducted by Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), whom I featured last week with his interpretation of Vivaldi’s “Summer” from The Four Seasons. I chose this one as I enjoyed it more than others I came across. (And unlike his quicker version of “Summer,” von Karajan’s version of the Dvořák largo is relatively slow, which is crucial to the mood of the music.)

When I was listening to the video, my sweety walked into the room, saying, “Mmmm, ‘Goin’ Home,'” referring to a spiritual version of the piece, with lyrics written in 1922 by William Arms Fisher, a student of Dvořák. 

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s a video of Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985 at the Großer Saal des Wiener Musikvereins, Vienna, Austria.  

In a Manner of Speaking

Sweety and I have a friend we met through another, longtime friend, but have only seen a handful of times over the years.

We have connected on social media and come to know her better in the past year or so, much of this through the pandemic where online conversation was one of the few ways to connect in the absence of in-person contact at parties and such. She shares many interesting posts in such areas as music, philosophy, education, pop culture, social justice and many others, and her wit added much-needed cheer in the time of lockdown. This friend frequently responds to Facebook posts I make on my daily song selections, and has told me about a few musical acts I didn’t know.

She recently commented on my post about a 1980s song, telling me about an album by Nouvelle Vague, which features bossa nova covers of 80s tunes. I responded that I had not heard of the band. But today, when looking up the group, I found one of the songs from their 2004 debut album of the same name, was one I’ve had in my Apple Music library since January 2019. (I don’t even have a vague idea where I first heard it.)

Another funny thing about this is, the song “In a Manner of Speaking” is one that has sat for months on a list of songs I’ve been thinking about posting. I had no idea back then that it is a cover, of a song by the English synth-rock band Depeche Mode’s main writer and front person, Martin L. Gore from his 1989 solo EP, Counterfeit. (Please see my post on “Enjoy the Silence” for a sample of the full band’s music.)

I’m posting both artists’ versions today. By now, if you follow this blog, you will know I like a good cover, often more than the original but always with a sense of gratitude to the composer, because it’s only right, isn’t it? I think Nouvelle Vague’s rendition captures this song brilliantly, and I find it more compelling to listen to than the original. I suppose I assumed it was an original, and think their version always appealed to me in almost a film noir kind of way, with the haunting vocal punctuated by the drum rim-shots. It almost makes me feel like I’m back walking through rain-soaked streets of Montmartre in Paris with my sweety!

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the Nouvelle Vague cover of the song from the Kwaidan Records YouTube channel

And here’s the original by Martin L. Gore:

Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

Rain, Rain, Rain

Rain, rain, rain.

That’s the one thing I didn’t plan for on my bike ride today. After all, the weather forecast said 0% probability of it. But then, the outlook also called for a mild wind out of the south at ten kilometres per hour (six miles per hour). So I headed south as the wind was to increase to 20 around noon, which would make for a nice little tailwind on the way home. The wind was strong and gusting, quite early on.

Today was the first ride in many months where I was starting in a cold temperature (it was 3° Celsius or 37° Fahrenheit, plus a windchill when I left), and I had planned on a long distance, so clothing choices were crucial. My windbreaker and layers were just right, though the harsh wind and unexpected (though mercifully, fairly light) rain made it feel quite cold for the southernmost 30-40 kilometres (19-25 miles).

I had planned to try for my “Metric Century,” or 100-kilometre (60-mile) ride today; it has been my goal for 2020. (I told you about this plan back in May, in my post on “Ahead by a Century” by The Tragically Hip.)

I did it! Here’s a screenshot I took on my bike computer when I was slowing down to watch the number roll from 99.99 to 100.0 when arriving home, under a clearing sky.

Screenshot with the display of distance, speed and other measures on a bike computer

“Rain, Rain, Rain” is on the B-side of Roxy Music’s 1980 album Flesh + Blood. It only seemed natural to acknowledge the unanticipated element that had me slightly nervous, for a little over an hour, whether I would stay dry and warm enough to complete my goal without a lot of discomfort.

I’ve previously posted another song from this album, “Oh Yeah.” The instrumentation, vocals and production on Flesh + Blood are magnificent.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Please enjoy. 

Here’s the audio for the song from Roxy Music’s official YouTube channel:

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Okay, so we’re stuck in the 80s for another day… call it a distraction from the challenge I’ve told you about, with me not wanting to let go of summer. It’s real, folks, I tell ya…

Anyway, today’s selection reminds me of summer. The most powerful memory I have of hearing Tears for Fears was in summer, at a friend’s place. We had met up there to have lunch, and I was helping him with some backyard chore. We ate while starting to listen to the album Songs from the Big Chair, but then went outside and all the windows and doors were closed so that we couldn’t hear any of it! It was 1985, and the record had just come out. It opens with the magnificent, almost arena-rock-styled anthem, “Shout.” The whole album is superb, just fantastic.

Everyone I knew was excited about the record, having waited two years since the release of their stunning debut release, The Hurting; that album contains the song “Mad World,” of which a compellingly dark cover was included in the film Donnie Darko, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. That song was also covered and posted on Twitter a few days ago by Brandi Carlile (please see my post on her song “The Joke“). Carlile’s version of “Mad World” is spellbinding. (I always get stuck on the line, “…went to school and I was very nervous / no one knew me…”) Her post ends with the statement, “It’s a mad world, but we’re in this together. Vote.” Wow. If America can stay immune to all the disinformation and relentless lying until after the voting, the future can be bright, for the whole world. So Carlile’s admonition is an important one. But I digress…

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” has a slightly similar feel to yesterday’s song by Modern English, “I Melt with You” in that it’s got an upbeat vibe. Tears for Fears’ two first albums were blockbusters that I remember dominating the limited platforms music had at the time (basically radio). I’m not sure how popular the later ones, The Seeds of Love and Elemental were, but by the time of the latter one, I wasn’t paying super-active attention. I have all four of those albums, though didn’t keep up with the band after that. 

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video for the song from the Tears for Fears YouTube channel. Remember to click “thumbs up” if you liked the performance.

And, here’s a live performance video of the song, a Spotify presentation. (I bite my lip a bit as I share it, as I do not care for music streaming services; their corporate greed means artists earn only hundredths or thousandths of a cent per play, which is just wrong. That’s why, like Guy Garvey, I too will ‘bang the drum’ for buying music, so that when you buy their music, musicians can afford to make more music.

Tears for Fears co-frontperson Roland Orzabal describes at the beginning of the video how the song was originally titled, “Everybody Wants to Go to War,” though after a while they could see that the perspective, lyrics and title needed to change. See? Change is possible.

I Melt with You

Do you ever notice how, when you start your day off with an upbeat song, it has an influence on your mood for the rest of the day?

 I think music can have that power, though I wouldn’t claim it will cure all ills. But I believe it does make a difference. Maybe that’s why I love to listen to music so much. Having a great song repeating in one’s mind must have some effect, if nothing more than pushing aside negative thoughts and feelings for a while. What do you think? Do you find “happy songs” improve your mood? I’d love to know. And tell me some of your favourites!

Today, after my early morning routine of playing with Perry Como the cat, feeding him, and scooping litter, I settled down for a coffee and put on KEXP Seattle. I hadn’t listened to The Morning Show with John Richards in quite some time, and “I Melt with You” by Modern English was the first song I heard after “tuning in” online. 

“(Let’s stop the world) I’ll stop the world and melt with you 
(Let’s stop the world) You’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time 
(Let’s stop the world) There’s nothing you and I won’t do 
(Let’s stop the world) I’ll stop the world and melt with you 

The future’s open wide” 

(from “I Melt with You,” by Robbie Grey, Gary McDowell, Richard Brown, Michael Conroy, Stephen Walker)

Richards later played a terrific song by Nina Simone. I was so moved by it, I posted a couple of tweets to Richards to let him know how much I was enjoying his music selections. Richards is a beautiful soul and personable host, who draws in and embraces the KEXP listener community and uses the mantra, “You Are Not Alone,” in his sincere and vulnerable efforts to combat the stigma around mental health.

 Modern English is one of the bands that participated in the project This Mortal Coil, which produced the 1984 record It’ll End in Tears (please see my post on “Song to the Siren” for more on that collaboration). “I Melt with You” was the second single from Modern English’s 1982 album, After the Snow. The official video shows a cabaret scene that looked a lot like some of the bars I frequented in the early 1980s.

I’ve heard this song countless times over the years, but don’t remember noticing before today how the band sings an opposing lyric to lead singer Robbie Grey’s in the chorus. How could I have missed that?

The band formed in 1979, broke up in 1987 and has reformed a few more times.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official video for the 1982 single from the 4AD Records YouTube channel. Don’t forget to hit “thumbs up” if you liked the song… it’s a way to support the artists, though buying their music is always the best way.

And check out the band, including the look of lead singer Grey, 35 years later in this 2017 live performance for Paste magazine. 

Taking Tiger Mountain

Today I was thinking of posting an ambient piece — something to chill out on.

You see, last night, I was not feeling tired at all, and so I stayed up to watch two episodes of a new series I found on Netflix, Away, about a NASA mission to Mars. I enjoy a quality science fiction work, and the first two episodes were engaging and suspenseful.

I’d had a lot on my mind through the day and into the night: all good things, like an upcoming volunteer opportunity I’m delighted about; being excited about my cycling progress over the season; feeling grateful and fortunate to be healthy, loved and in love; and, finally, yesterday’s song just kept playing on in my mind, it was so inspiriting. (Check it out if you haven’t already!)

So, even at 1:00 am, I still didn’t feel ready to fall asleep, and after tossing and turning with the above thoughts, I got up and read sometime after 3:00 am, finally conking out from about 4:00 to 8:30. I have a feeling tonight might be an earlier night…

When ambient came to mind today, I thought I would post something by Brian Eno. It’s no secret that I’m an admirer of his music and collaborations, and if you search “Brian Eno” on this site, you’ll see clear evidence of that.

“Taking Tiger Mountain” is the closing track on the 1974 album, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, the second album he released after starting his post-Roxy Music solo career in 1973. I wouldn’t consider the song ambient, but it has a slow, climbing sort of mood to it, which, along with acoustic piano and synthesizer sounds and multi-layered effects on the guitars, makes it a thoughtful and calming piece, much like the qualities of ambient music. (And the wind sound effect makes me think of the gusty headwind I took on, on the way home cycling today.)

Eno, who claims he only became a musician by chance, has been a pioneer in the progressive/art rock, experimental and ambient music spheres. He started making ambient records while still in the rock realm, and has meandered between the two genres for years.

At 72, he is still creating visual/aural art, and making and producing music (check out these posts on Blonde, Ultramarine and Celeste from his most recent release, this year’s Mixing Colours, which he made with his brother, Roger). He’s also an activist whose thoughts and opinions are sought on topics such as science and technology, climate change, and various political and social issues critical to the future of our living world.

In the second post that I made on this blog (Deep Blue Day, on January 6), I told of a brother urging me to buy Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy as soon as I purchased my first stereo, and my gratefulness for the musical path his advice took me on. Serendipitously, I had a chance to visit with him today. Like so many family and close friends, we’ve been mostly apart since the pandemic lockdowns began. It was heartwarming to be together in a way you just can’t do as effectively by text, online gathering or phone (though those sure have been welcome because the limitations on in-person gatherings).

“We climbed and we climbed
Oh, how we climbed
My, how we climbed
Over the stars to top
Tiger Mountain
Forcing the lines through the snow”

(Taking Tiger Mountain,” by Brian Eno)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the 2004 digital remastering of the audio for the song from Brian Eno’s official YouTube channel:

Nobody Knows

Today, I’m sharing an exhilarating piece I heard for the first time this morning.

As followers of this blog know, I gain a lot of my new-to-me music through Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music, where the host and lead singer of the British band Elbow shares his musical taste, history bits by one of his sisters (the Beckapedia), songs that listeners have recommended to him, other regular featurettes and, since the pandemic, diary entries from his siblings. (Some of those entries have been amusing, and one or two brought me to tears with their obvious familial affection and missing each other in lockdown.)

While most of the program is what I’d describe as “thoughtful rock” oriented, Garvey hosts an eclectic program that sometimes includes classical pieces and, this past Sunday, a spiritual. (I’ve finally caught up on the archives of the program, finishing this past week’s program today. Now I have to wait all the way to Sunday for more…)

“Nobody Knows” sets to full band and choir — and with expanded lyrics — the famous Black American spiritual song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” which was written in the time of slavery but published much later (1867).

I’ve only witnessed spirituals being sung a few times in my life; once, at a memorial service. Each time, I have been mesmerized by the soulful singing, and the hope and joy the sounds bring to any situation. The communal aspect of this singing style surely must have been part of the reason for their historical adoption. The genre seems to help draw people out of desolation, just by singing as a massed group about the “troubles” they are enduring. It is a type of music that makes the hairs stand up on my arms and legs!

Many years ago, a former superior of mine told me about his spiritual songs experience when he was an official guest at a Black History Month event here in Winnipeg, Canada. He was generally conservative in his manner, but I could see he had been affected when he talked so enthusiastically about it… so much so that I wished I too had been there!

I’m grateful to have heard the song and to have this opportunity to share it with you here.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. (And if you enjoyed this post, please click the “like” button or, better yet, leave a comment to tell me about your favourite spirituals — I’d love to hear from you and learn of some more examples from this most stirring style of music!)

Here is the audio for the song from the Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir YouTube topic channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

Violin Concerto No. 2, “Summer”

Antonio Vivaldi composed his best-known works, four violin concerti that form The Four Seasons, around 1716 or 1717. They were the first four concerti of 12 in his Opus number 8, Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). 

Each concerto of the four is written in three movements, and the sounds throughout the work are meant to represent the features of the seasons: animals, human activities, and nature sounds.

Today, in keeping with my reminiscences about summer, I’m featuring the concerto written to represent that season. And just like summer is my favourite season, “Summer” is my favourite concerto of the four. 

I have a few versions of The Four Seasons. Both of the CD versions that I own feature German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as the soloist; one with a chamber group, and one with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan (a recording released in 1984, which is probably one of the more quickly-played versions I’ve heard).

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here are three videos from Anne-Sophie Mutter’s official YouTube channel, which provide the audio from the 1984 recording for each of the three movements:

Movement no. 1, Allegro non molto: 

Movement no. 2, Adagio: 

Movement no. 3, Presto, which includes several terrific runs, to bring the “season” to a dramatic close:

Also, here is an unofficial copy of a video of Karajan conducting the concerto with Mutter on the violin. There isn’t any information about the orchestra or the date of the performance.

Listening Wind

Today I was thinking of the 1980 album by Talking Heads, Remain in Light. In my opinion, it’s their best and most inspired work. A visit to the vinyl collection in the basement and a look at the album and liner notes reminded me that Brian Eno, David Byrne and Talking Heads co-wrote the album’s songs. Eno also played percussion, bass, keyboards and voice, and arranged the vocals. I have to think that Eno had something to do with engineer Rhett Davis and guitarist Adrian Belew being involved in the record, too. (Listening to the album tonight, I can make out Eno’s backing vocals. I hadn’t listened for them before, and barely remember him being part of the album though must have known it at some time…)

I’d mentioned in my post on Wordy Rappinghood how Remain in Light joined David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) as essential parts of the soundtrack to my “Vancouver period.” As I think more of it, Remain in Light was more prominent as friends had the record and kept playing it at gatherings that seemed to have been put together to celebrate my friend and me having a visit. At one point, I got to listen to the album on headphones and heard the wild, rich, aural landscape Eno had helped Talking Heads create.

It’s a wildly out-of-control kind of album in many ways, and a departure for even the Talking Heads, who were way ahead of their time in experimental rock music. The one song that was suitable for radio was at the time was “Once in a Lifetime,” probably one of Talking Heads’ best-known hits. (I wonder how many radio lovers bought the album on the strength of the single, and then couldn’t find any sense in the album.)

I remember that at one gathering, my friend (that subject of infatuation for a few years, whom I wrote of here) told me about one particular couple we had been hanging out with. The woman in the couple was of East Asian descent, and her partner was of white European lineage. She had fled from her family rather than going through with the marriage her parents had arranged with those of a man in India. My friend told me that the woman lived in significant risk because her fleeing had meant her family, who also lived in Vancouver, would live in shame, and there was some fear of an “honour killing” of her. I remember, after hearing that, I watched that couple and tried to imagine what it was to be them, to live with that uncertainly, and how they accepted it because of their love. It was incredibly powerful and inspiring. After that trip, I never saw them again, and as they were among six or eight people we were meeting up with on and off, I didn’t get addresses or anything for them. After all, I would be moving there within a year, so it would be effortless to reconnect through my friend. I’ve thought of this particular memory only seldomly in the past 40 years.

I really hope all those people I met are still alive, loving and thriving.

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” my favourite track on the album, had initially been my choice tonight. And, while that song is terrific, this album is so excellent, and as I listened, I remembered the magical sounds, including a hollow-sounding African drum that opens “Listening Wind.” Its rhythm is like primordial chanting, and fades into the background after the opening, then turns and heads partway back, and its steady beat suffuses throughout the remainder of the song.

Of course, I have to mention that this song was one Peter Gabriel included on Scratch My Back, an orchestral covers album. That collection produced some marvellous music, including a couple I have featured: The Power of the Heart and Flume (and another, Mirrorball — except I featured the original version of that one by Elbow, the lead singer of which is none other than Guy Garvey, of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music whose musical choices I draw from so often … oh, hey, did we just go full-circle?).

Anyway, it’s the kind of music a well-blessed, some-travelled, ambient-infused, art-loving, justice-oriented, political activist wannabe would listen to. How about you?

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts on or memories of the song.

Here is the audio for the song from the Talking Heads Youtube (topic) channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

On the Sea

It’s Friday, September 11, the last day of what’s been for many a challenging first week back in school in Canada. It’s also a day when the world remembers the deaths and other losses suffered in terrorist attacks on the United States 19 years ago. The commonality is life and death, the sometimes thin veil that separates the two realms, and the complexity that fear adds to life.

Today’s song was one of two Beach House tracks played by Guy Garvey on his BBC 6 Music show, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (August 23, 2020, “If Guy Were a Carpenter”). The other was “Myth,” the first song of theirs I heard, which I find a bit uninspired.

In “On the Sea,” I feel like the writers use the imagery of the sea, and particularly its waves, to symbolize life and death and the mystery of that space in between.

“Out on the sea we’d be forgiven
Our bodies stopped the spirit living
Wouldn’t you like to know how far you’ve got left to go

Somebody’s child nobody made you
It’s not what you stole it’s what they gave you
In or out you go
In your silence your soul

Would you rather go unwilling
Your heart is full and now it’s spilling
Barreling down the steps
Only a moment left

In hind of sight no peace of mind
Where you begin and I’m defined
Daughter of unconscious fate
Time will tell in spite of me

In hind of sight no peace of mind
Where it begins and we’re defined
Shadows bend and suddenly
The world becomes and swallows me in

Whistle to a friend gentle till the end
Anyway in a name she takes shape just the same”

(“On the Sea,” by Victoria Legrand, Alex Scully)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. (And if you enjoyed this post, please click the “like” button or, better yet, leave a comment with your thoughts — I’d love to hear from you!)

This is the audio for the song from Sub Pop’s official YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work.

The Magician

Andy Shauf has been active in music since the early 2000s, but I’d say his 2016 album The Party is his most widely-known work.

The singer-songwriter was born in rural Saskatchewan, and settled in Regina. He played all the instruments on The Party, including the clarinet, the trademark sound from today’s selection, “The Magician.” The album sounds rich and full; a true labour of love. I bought it soon after hearing it… the first time was likely in Winnipeg, Canada’s Parlour Coffee, where I used to take a break in the morning when I was still working.

From humble beginnings, Shauf has become so well-known he has been played in the United Kingdom on BBC 6 Music. (I was sure I’d heard today’s song on a recent episode of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour but wasn’t able to find it. Some of the recent episodes seem to have been corrupted when archived, as the playlists show several songs duplicated or even triplicated so it’s hard to know if something was dropped off the listing in that process. Much as I’d like to re-listen to each show to find out for sure, I won’t be doing that… It may have even been on another program; who knows.)

I think the song is about trying to fool oneself about life’s challenges; becoming numb to them or creating an alternate reality to present to people, instead of admitting hardships, facing them and trying to solve them.

“Do you find
It gets a little easier each time you make it disappear?
Oh fools, the magician bends the rules
As the crowd watches his every move

Just a shaking hand without a concrete plan
Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo

Sidesteps to a death-defying feat
Wait for him to reappear
Look close, you’ll see him sweat the most
Each time his options disappear”

(from “The Magician,” by Andy Shauf)

What do you think?

The video for today’s song has nearly five million views, which says a lot about Shauf’s appeal. At the same time, he still plays smaller-venue shows: While a friend was working a temporary job in Regina some years back, he posted on social media about attending a Shauf concert.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. (And if you enjoyed this post, please click the “like” button or, better yet, leave a comment with your thoughts — I’d love to hear from you!)

This is the official video for the song from the ANTI-Records YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work. 

Turn to Dust

Wolf Alice is a band whose music I really enjoy.

As I mentioned in my post on their song, “Don’t Delete the Kisses“– brilliantly unique in its spoken verse style — they’re a group I regret not going to see when I had an opportunity to, a few years ago. (I hope you’ll check out that post if you haven’t already, as it points to an excellent Song Exploder podcast episode that features “Don’t Delete the Kisses.”

“Turn to Dust” is a bleak, yet somehow dreamy tune that opens the band’s debut album, My Love Is Cool. (The track precedes another favourite of mine, “Bros.”)

The song’s bleakness is tempered by a sense of hope with the mention of light and reliance on another to help one through difficulties. As individuals, we often try to go it alone but as a dear friend sometimes asks us when that path hasn’t worked, “How’s that working for you?” as a loving yet realistic reminder that it’s okay to need and lean on each other in this complex and often unkind world.

“Keep your beady eyes on me
To make sure I don’t turn to dust
If fear is in the mind, then my mind lives in fear
As deep and as vast as the dirty British sea

Keep your beady eyes on me
To make sure I don’t turn to dust

There’s paths to make the heart beat
And paths where I can skip
And a path to tread lightly with the clouds beneath my feet

(Oooh)

When the light creeps from the blinds I dance in Heaven
It’s just old passing time, it rains dead weather

Keep your beady eyes on me
To make sure I don’t turn to dust”

(“Turn to Dust,” by Joel Amey, Theodore Ellis, Ellen Rowsell, Jonathan Oddie)

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

This is the official audio for the song from Wolf Alice’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work. 

Martha

Yesterday, I featured a poem by Scott Nolan, which he made into a song. Today, a song by Tom Waits that I find quite poetic; another storyteller piece that I read at one of our Friday night poetry circles on Zoom.

“Martha” reminds me a lot of the Harry Chapin song, “Taxi,” and the Jim Croce hit, “Operator.” Through different perspectives, all three songs tell stories of love and longing and, ultimately, the realization of deep loss.

“Operator, number please, it’s been so many years
Will she remember my old voice while I fight the tears
Hello, hello there, is this Martha, this is old Tom Frost
And I am calling long distance, don’t worry about the cost
‘Cause it’s been forty years or more, now Martha please recall
Meet me out for coffee, where we’ll talk about it all

And those were the days of roses, of poetry and prose
And Martha all I had was you and all you had was me
There was no tomorrows, we packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day

And I feel so much older now, and you’re much older too
How’s your husband, and how’s your kids, you know that I got married too
Lucky that you found someone to make you feel secure
‘Cause we were all so young and foolish, now we are mature

And those were the days of roses, of poetry and prose
And Martha all I had was you and all you had was me
There was no tomorrows, we packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day

And I was always so impulsive, I guess that I still am
And all that really mattered then was that I was a man
I guess that our being together was never meant to be
And Martha, Martha, I love you, can’t you see

And those were the days of roses, of poetry and prose
And Martha all I had was you and all you had was me
There was no tomorrows, we packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day

And I remember quiet evenings, trembling close to you”

I enjoy Waits’ singing on this track. There’s more of a softness to his tone than usual… perhaps it is his contemplative spirit showing. And the piano is wonderful: simple, yet compelling, like the story he weaves.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. (And if you enjoyed this post, please click the “like” button or, better yet, leave a comment with your thoughts — I’d love to hear from you!)

This is the official audio for the song from Tom Waits’ YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work. 

The Yellow Lights of Moray

It has been a while since I have highlighted a local musician. Today, a song by Winnipeg, Canada’s Scott Nolan.

Nolan is a talented individual with a good heart, who supports the local music scene and musicians, and has exposed Winnipeg to talent from other places. A great example of this was the playbill he shared with American singer-songwriter Samantha Crain last year (see this post on a song by Crain, which Guy Garvey of Elbow played on his BBC 6 Music broadcast, Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour; he’s since played more of her music and raves about her talent). Nolan has also brought us Watermelon Slim, whose album Golden Boy he produced in his studio, The Song Shop. He’s also produced recordings by artists including Corin Raymond (Dirty Mansions), William Prince (Earthly Days and Reliever) and one of our lads’ earlier projects, Kieran West & His Buffalo Band (Fort Garry C.C.).

Before lockdown, Nolan played several live shows, including an innovative in-the-round show at the West End Cultural Centre with Winnipeg composer and musician Glenn Buhr with full band and a chamber orchestra. Nolan’s longtime performance partner is drummer, singer and whistler-extraordinaire Joanna Miller (who was also mentioned in this post). He has also been a mentor and support to local musicians. Nolan cares about people, and his city, which he often writes about in his songs and poetry. “The Yellow Lights of Moray” is one such piece; a poem he wrote, then set to music. I read the poem last week at a poetry circle Sweety and I participate in on Zoom.

Today’s song doesn’t appear on any of Nolan’s albums and I usually only post songs I own or that are available for purchase, but I hope to see it on a release sometime. In the meantime, he does have several albums available through his website. I encourage you to check out his music; it can also be found in the iTunes Store on Apple Music.

I consider Nolan a friend, though I haven’t seen him in quite some time, I think since the show he did with Buhr. He’s a likeable fellow with a lot of talent, sincerity and humour.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here is a video of a live performance of the song from Scott Nolan’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on the “thumbs up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work.

Pour le Piano, Movement No. 2: Sarabande

A few weeks ago, when I was looking for a particular classical piece, I stumbled upon this piano piece by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), and it’s remained with me since.

The YouTube notes for the music say, “Watch Rafał Blechacz play Debussy’s “Sarabande” from his new DG recording featuring piano works by (Karol) Szymanowski and Debussy. The young pianist is by talent, proclivity, and nationality the perfect choice to record works by his fellow Pole, Szymanowski. And therefore to record Debussy, too — whose presence in Szymanowski’s musical DNA looms large.

For the first time on record Rafał Blechacz plays Szymanowski’s reverie-inducing music — a revelation to those unfamiliar with it. Debussy’s Impressionist soundscapes (also new to Rafał Blechacz’s discography) — including Pour le piano and Estampes — are a natural fit for a Chopin expert such as he.”

I am not all that knowledgeable about classical and know even less about Debussy; he’s not exactly a household name, but perhaps he should be after listening to this piece. The playing by Blechacz is quite beautiful, and the sarabande is remarkable… calming at times, and dramatic in others.

I must admit that when seeing the first few seconds of the video, with the camera shooting the head and torso of the pianist, I wondered if we would see his hands. Seeing a person play a piano is a magical thing to watch… how could it not be: to see the hands’ movements creating such exquisite sounds…

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Deutsche Grammophon official YouTube channel:

Two Cold Nights in Buffalo

This morning was a little warmer than yesterday, so I set out with fewer layers hoping I’d be warm enough on the bike. Soon the knee-warmers came off and were stuffed in my jersey pocket. Then just south of Saint-Adolphe, Manitoba, where I turned around after riding 40 kilometres (25 miles) against a mild headwind, the arm-warmers came off and mingled in my pocket with them.

Turning north from the Tourond Creek housing subdivision today. This was the only body of water I could see there,

The temperature seemed to be rising slowly, though a massive cloud bank gradually obscured the sky and sun, and it felt cooler again. Quite comfortable for cycling, really.

I arrived home a smidge after turning over 85 kilometres (52.8 miles) on the bike computer… my longest ride ever, and by far the longest solo ride I’ve done. I usually ride solo but serendipitously had my riding mentor with me for 35 km on my previous longest ride.

I ate ravenously and after getting cleaned up, snoozed on the couch for at least an hour. Tonight, as is our Saturday custom, my sweety and I worked together in the kitchen to make a fabulous pizza. (No kitchen dance though, I’ve just realized!) We ate in the summer porch as it was warm and golden-sunny out there. I know, but don’t want to acknowledge, that there may not be many more days like this. Bliss.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, many of my thoughts lately have been about summer. I’m grateful for how hot it has been and how we enjoyed some beach and lake time, observed important family milestones, achievements and memories, had some amazing nights watching the sky, walking biking together and, of course, I did so much great, longer-distance cycling in the heat. Not enough family time though… life’s responsibilities and COVID-19 limitations got in the way more than once, though we hope to have the boys and their partners and baby over for at least another spread-out dinner gathering in the porch before it’s too cold.

A few times lately, the country song “Two Cold Nights in Buffalo” has come into my mind. It is by Courtney Maria Andrews from her 2018 album May Your Kindness Remain, and is the only piece of hers in my collection. While I haven’t owned a copy of her song long, I don’t have a firm idea of where I first heard it. I have a vague notion it might have been one of those playlists venues put on between acts. It seems a good fit for that vibe.

I love (and listen for) how Andrews and her backup singers end each line of the chorus taking their voices up to the higher register in the last word. It also reminds me how, when my boys were just young lads, they would punctuate their many questions to me by raising the note of the end of their sentences, I suppose to emphasize that they were finished asking and needed to know my answer. It’s a cherished memory of two little miracles that grew into lovely men.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. I hope you will leave me a comment with your thoughts on the post; I’d love to hear from you!

Here is the official audio for the song from the Loose Music YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” in the video if you appreciated the artist’s work. 

Round and Round

Happy Friday!

It feels like the weather has suddenly changed. When I set off on my bike this morning, it was just 7°C (44°F). It stayed on the cold side through the ride, so I was wearing some extra clothing to keep warm. It felt good to be moving after a few days off the bike.

This seasonal transition has me thinking a lot about summer: the hot, beautiful summer we’ve been having this year, and memories of other summers. It’s my favourite season. 

A summer sunset scene on a lake, with clouds in the sky.
Summer sunset, 2020. Photo © Steve West.

Three years ago, on August 15, I was at Winnipeg, Canada’s best honky-tonk, The Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club, with my older lad, Kieran. We saw an act called king creosote + michael johnston. Kieran had played the Trout Forest music festival the weekend before and had met and heard KC + MJ there.

I’d first heard KC + MJ’s music some months before, on CBC Radio 2’s overnight, DJ-less show Nightstream when “Round and Round” was on the playlist. I Shazamed it, but the app couldn’t identify the song, maybe because it was only newly issued or was before release. I kept searching for the song and finally found it, along with the album The Bound of the Red Deer. I wrote to the artists through their band site, which told me that King Creosote (aka Kenny Anderson) is based in Crail, a fishing village in Scotland, and Johnston, in Toronto (and is a former Winnipegger). The two describe their collaborative relationship as a “decade-long, trans-Atlantic bromance.” They responded to my message with appreciation for my comments and told me a yet-to-be-announced show would be happening in Winnipeg in the summer. I was so excited!

The show was fabulous; wonderful music. Before and after their set, I had conversations with Johnston and Anderson, and it was a memorable evening for my lad and me. Bother musicians signed the CD I bought at the show, and Anderson gave me his broken guitar pick, which was reminiscent of 80s concert souvenirs and added to the thrill of the night. When I told him how long I had searched for “Round and Round,” Anderson said in his Scottish brogue, “Hunger is the best sauce.”

A CD in an open CD case.
My souvenirs of August 15, 2017.

Both men’s humility, friendliness and generous spirits moved me, and I still look back fondly at memories of that evening. 

Playing the drum kit that night for KC + MJ was Joanna Miller, a talented and versatile Winnipeg drummer and singer. The opener was Leaf Rapids, a local band I had not seen before but really enjoyed… their sound complemented the main act’s.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. I hope you will leave me a comment with your thoughts on this post; I’d love to hear from you.

Here is the official audio for the song from the KC + MJ SoundCloud account. Please remember to click on the “heart” on the song page if you appreciated the artists’ work. And, like Elbow’s Guy Garvey says, don’t stream it for a pittance… buy the recording so the musicians can make more!

You’re All I’ve Got Tonight

Back on March 26, just days into the lockdown, Sweety and I were already scheming with neighbour-friends on how to get together, and I posted about a gathering we had at the time. Later, I wondered if it was really such a good idea after all. Since then, public health recommendations have loosened, though they’ve tightened up again in outbreak areas. We still don’t really gather with people outside our family bubble, and if we do, it’s with masks and social-distancing. And always masks-on when in indoor spaces, whether the establishment requires them or not.

In this post on “Good Times Roll,” the opening track of The Cars debut album, I told the story of that gathering and memories about when the album first came out.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” is the first track on the B-side of the record and gets it off to a rollicking start. The title is perhaps sexist-sounding though that type of consideration wasn’t on the male-dominated radar of acceptability in that era when the band released the song and record. In an EA News article in 1978, bandleader Ric Ocasek said, “When things get too quiet, and you’re willing to put up with any company, or you’re not willing to accept the prospect of being alone, you might find yourself needing what you’ve got.” I suppose that was a prevailing attitude among many men and, as an extension, touring bands, but it doesn’t speak well of honouring each other as precious individuals in the world. I hope we’ve mostly moved away from that type of mindset.

All that aside, I still think it’s a great rock song with a memorable beat and harmonies. 

We are firmly in a time of “cancel culture” — disposing of statues and other tributes representing those whose attitudes and actions have later been shown to be racist, fascist, sexist or otherwise not socially just. I value the opinion of a local Metis leader who recently stated it makes more sense to leave the monuments but to make sure the full stories are told, instead of hiding them. But it’s easy for me to advance that idea, as a man of white privilege. I’m interested to know what you think.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. I hope you will leave me a comment with your thoughts on the post; I’d love to hear from you.

This is the official audio for the song from The Cars’ YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” in the video if you appreciated the artist’s work. (Be sure to choose 1080p for best quality audio playback.)

Lonely People

The day before yesterday, in the car just getting on the road, I flipped on the Sirius XM soft-rock radio channel, The Bridge, as I wasn’t yet sure what playlist of my music I wanted to hear. (We still have Sirius as, whenever I call to cancel, they offer me a ridiculously cheap, six-month extension of the original, three-month, new-car deal from over a year ago.)

One of the first songs that came on was the band America’s “Lonely People,” a 1974 hit from their album, Holiday. A Wikipedia article I read yesterday highlights and draws from Dan Peek’s 2004 autobiography, An American Band: the America Story, telling why he and his wife Catherine wrote the song. From the article:

“‘Lonely People’ was written as an optimistic response to the Beatles’ song ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ Dan Peek considered ‘Eleanor Rigby’ an overwhelming ‘picture… of the masses of lost humanity, drowning in grey oblivion’ and would recall being ‘lacerated’ on first hearing the lyrics of its chorus which run: ‘All the lonely people: where do they all come from…where do they all belong.’ ‘Lonely People’ was written within a few weeks of Dan Peek’s 1973 marriage to Catherine Mayberry: Peek- ‘I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now [upon getting married] I felt like I’d won.’ The lyrics of ‘Lonely People’ advise ‘all the lonely people’: ‘Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup,’ a metaphor which Dan Peek thus explains: ‘It’s possible to drink from another’s well of experience…and be refreshed.'”

Like yesterday’s selection, “Eleanor Rigby,” I remember the Peeks’ beautiful answer to it in “Lonely People,” from my youth (though I only learned yesterday about it being a response to The Beatles’ song). Hearing both songs brings back sad and dark memories of feeling lonesome a lot of the time as a young person. I could be in a crowded place like school or a party, even sometimes in more intimate gatherings and still feel alone, unlikable and invisible, which I am sure many others also felt, too, but I never knew for sure. No one talked about such things in those days, and many still do not feel they can due to the ongoing and evil stigmatization of emotional and mental health. Hearing “Lonely People” sometimes brought hope that maybe someday I’d “drink from the silver cup,” too, so, not to give up.

It’s a beautiful song, written from a place of deep compassion. (Sadly, I also learned Dan Peek died in 2011, at my current age.)

“This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way
Yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And never take you down or never give you up
You never know until you try”

(“Lonely People,” by Catherine Peek, Dan Peek)

Nowadays, loneliness is seldom a problem. I often enjoy solitude, but that is a far different thing than loneliness and invisibility.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. And, please leave a comment to tell me how this or any other music may have helped you with loneliness in your life. I’d love to hear from you.

Here is the official audio for the song from America’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” in the video if you appreciated the artists’ work. 

Eleanor Rigby

Today, when searching a few other songs, I came across The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.”

I distinctly remember it from my childhood as the first song where I learned words for feelings of loneliness and other darker emotions. That was back in 1966 which, from a health perspective, was a pretty terrible year for me. No doubt, my inner circumstances affected how the song reached me, though as a six-year-old, I couldn’t completely understand its meaning. But I certainly took in the vibe, and the feeling has remained with me since. It’s a powerful piece, in my opinion; very dark and hopeless. Full of negative images: utter loneliness, soulless people and institutions, and death.

I can’t say I truly enjoy the song, though it is a brilliant piece of writing and skillful production, arranged by producer George Martin and complemented by a double string quartet.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here.

The song is featured here in a video excerpt from the animated film, Yellow Submarine, from The Beatles’ official Youtube channel.

Deep Blue

The most powerful films I’ve seen leave me rapt in attention to the music at the ending credits… often wishing the film just wouldn’t end. In my imagination, I’ve pretended that some of my most favourite songs were the ending themes to movies. I mentioned in my post on Dire Straits’ song “Sultans of Swing” that it always struck me as such a theme song. 

The last of 16 tracks of the album I’ve just spent the previous seven days presenting to you, “The Suburbs (Continued),” forms what I think is a brief theatrical epilogue to the work, repeating an earlier theme of “wasted hours,” and fades to lyrics from the first track, “The Suburbs.”

For me, the real ending theme for The Suburbs is the 12th track, “Deep Blue.” It is the most emotive on the album for me as it brings up a memory of New Year’s Eve 2000-2001 when Sweety and I, along with friends we were visiting, stood watching the final sunset of the century pass down the horizon of the vast and frozen Boundary Waters where in the spring, summer and fall, Ontario, Canada’s famous Lake of the Woods laps on the shores of Minnesota in the USA. (And sure, we can debate that 1999-2000 vs. 2000-2001 signified the end of the century, but, hey… I’m taking some licence here.)

In that time, after many challenging years, my personal life was in a better place, and I was early into what was becoming a successful second career, in disaster management. But I remember wondering in that sundown moment, what would the future bring? There was already some anticipatory grief as my dad was quite ill (and as it turned out, died very quickly, that January):

“Here
In my place and time
And here in my own skin
I can finally begin
Let the century pass me by
Standing under night sky
Tomorrow means nothing”

In the context of the notion of a theatrical, rock opera The Suburbs, the song is pivotal as the line, “Tomorrow means nothing,” can mean a number of things (and did, to me, in a way I would much rather I had not experienced) but is also almost dismissive of the conflict that rages throughout the album. Perhaps it’s a reminder that the starry, nighttime sky — the canvas of safety under which the two lovers kiss in the nearest park in “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” — is symbolic of the only constant: the way billions of years of time have passed over the horizon. We have no control over time, and often very little influence over our destinies. In the end, all that matters is that we have faith about matters often unseen… like that kiss in the dark. 

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here are the lyrics to the song… I think they’re a magnificent and crucial part of this “closing” piece:

“Here
In my place and time
And here in my own skin
I can finally begin
Let the century pass me by
Standing under night sky
Tomorrow means nothing

I was only a child then
Feeling barely alive when
I heard a song from the speaker of a passing car
And prayed to a dying star
The memory’s fading
I can almost remember singing
La la, la la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la

We watched the end of the century
Compressed on a tiny screen
A dead star collapsing and we could see
That something was ending
Are you through pretending
We saw the signs in the suburbs?

You could never predict it
That it could see through you
Kasparov – Deep Blue 1996
Your mind’s playing tricks now
Show is over so take a bow
We’re living in the shadows of…
La la, la la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la

La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la

Hey
Put the cellphone down for a while
In the night there is something wild
Can you hear it breathing?
And hey
Put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it’s leaving me

La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la
La la, la la, la la la la”

(“Deep Blue,” by Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Timothy Kingsbury, Richard Parry, Win Butler) 

And, this is the official audio for the song from Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

Since we’ve heard only some of the album’s sixteen tracks over these eight days, here is the playlist for the full album. I hope you like it enough to buy it. I am very happy I did.

Edit: Before posting, I had meant to look up the reference in the lyrics to “Kasparov – Deep Blue 1996” — I didn’t at first remember the story from the time, that Deep Blue was an IBM supercomputer built to beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The machine won the first game, but Kasparov won the match. The computer won the second match in 1997. I think Arcade Fire are saying something about the danger of our reliance on computers as they later sing, “Hey / Put the cellphone down for a while…” and then “Hey / Put the laptop down for a while…” There are many hazards out there in the world. Best to ride your bike to a park, and kiss in the dark.