American Tune

Today, on July the 4th, I’ve been thinking of dear friends and family living in America.

Like Canada’s national holiday a few days ago, it is a day of pride in one’s nation and celebrating the vast and beautiful countries we live in. But it’s also a reminder of what European settlement here has cost the original inhabitants of North America; I already shared my thoughts on Canada Day on such matters as treaties. 

Indigenous people on both sides of the Canada-United States border are more likely to live in poverty than non-Indigenous citizens, and there are opposing views on causes of that. But, my firm belief is that it stems in largest part from uprooting families from their communities, and taking away their children to try to assimilate them in European culture and Christian religion (by erasing their culture and faith); just a few factors among others that have dispossessed a people from the land they honoured and were deeply connected to for many centuries.

Similarly, the Black population of America has, in many ways, continued to be seen as lesser than those whose ancestors forcefully brought them here as slaves, a cruel practice that was maintained for centuries.

“Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home”

(from “American Tune,” by Paul Simon)

With all that turbulent political history, particularly in recent years, there is indeed much to be weary about. In my view, much of the devolution of society is tied to the rise of the Internet. While it has opened us to new ways to communicate and has brought innovation to many aspects of our lives, much of that communication is harsh, combative and hateful as one can see on a casual scroll through many Twitter conversations. It is pervasive, tearing away at the fabric of a civil society.

But today I’m choosing to think about and savour the many relationships Sweety and I have developed with people in the US. Some we’ve only been with once or twice though we share strong bonds. There are more we’ve only met online this year as a result of the coronavirus lockdown and the many efforts by helper organizations to reach out and link people up in virtual community, using what my dear Colorado friend calls “sacred technology” to create a space for gathering and supporting each other. On the various Zoom calls we participate in through the week, we regularly hear from or get in touch with people from Colorado, Minnesota, California and other states. And though not through Zoom, we maintain connections with several friends in Connecticut, and have a nephew in Ohio whom we are fortunate enough to see once in a while.

They are all in our loving thoughts today and always.

As we mark the anniversaries of our countries being founded, I worry a lot about our world and a growing culture of hate that never seems far away. But at the same time, I have hope that we are all learning something, especially this year, through the complex and constant upheaval that is challenging our complacent views about what type of world we want, and not just as distinct countries around the globe, building barriers against each other.

The audio for today’s song is a cover; I often favour cover versions of songs, as you may have noticed if you follow this blog. Though the writers of songs have vision in creating them, I sometimes prefer the interpretations of other artists, noting the latter would not be possible without the former. (And I’ve mentioned before, one of our lads has been performing a series he calls Quarantine Covers, on Instagram. Check him out!)

Today’s cover of a Paul Simon composition comes from Eva Cassidy’s third posthumous album, also titled American Tune (2003). I also referred to today’s song in an earlier post where I reminisced about memories of sadness following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. And I recently featured Cassidy’s rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” originally from the last album (of the same title) by Simon & Garfunkel.

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 Eva Cassidy’s official YouTube channel

The Boys Are Back in Town

Happy Friday! Where the heck did that whole week go?

Thin Lizzy released the album Jailbreak in 1976, the year most of my school friends were getting their drivers’ licences. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did not get mine until I was 19; after failing the road test the first time, I wasn’t motivated to try again until a work colleague with whom I carpooled encouraged me to learn to drive her stick-shift Honda Civic. After that, I was hooked!

My first car, a 1980 Ford Mustang, was also a manual transmission. The first car Sweety and I bought together was a manual as well, our 2006 Sonata. The car we bought last year, a Subaru Outback, has an automatic transmission, as we felt we were through that need for constant shifting and were all about the safety features, many of which were not available with a standard transmission. Neither of us misses the stick shift, but could easily switch back if there were a need. But I digress…

“The Boys Are Back in Town” plays in a scene from one of my favourite movies, A Knight’s Tale. William (played magnificently by the now-late Heath Ledger), a poor young man in 14th century England, impersonating his liege Sir Ector (who died at a rest stop on the side of a road), has won several jousting tournaments under the assumed name Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein from Gelderland, as men without titles are not allowed to compete. William/Sir Ulrich, his entourage, and many others are making their way into London for the World Championships. The song plays in the soundtrack as they triumphantly enter London, William wild with excitement at returning home with his (albeit fraudulently) newfound fame, and anxious to visit Cheapside to find his father, who sent William away as a boy to serve and learn from Sir Ector. 

There’s so much more to A Knight’s Tale; I don’t want to spoil it if you have not seen it — and if you haven’t, then buy or rent it and watch it! It’s is a terrific movie. When my two lads were much younger, one of us would pick it to watch it on Friday pizza-and-movie nights with Sweety and me. Time for one of those again soon.

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 video for the song from Thin Lizzy’s official YouTube channel

Sailing

Sweety and I have seen Rod Stewart in concert in Winnipeg, Canada, three times, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing him each time.

We saw him once with my mum, and twice with dear friends — once in the tenth row at what’s now called Bell MTS Place. This was a couple I have talked about before, particularly in this post on Cyndi Lauper’s “I’m Gonna Be Strong” and Stewart, Lauper and Sarah Brightman were all artists we listened to together, a lot. We would often watch the 2004 DVD, One Night Only! Rod Stewart Live at the Royal Albert Hall and I remember our late friend, his wife and us singing along with delight at the duet of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” that Stewart did with Amy Belle, whom he had recently discovered when she was a busker.

Not long after my mum moved back to Winnipeg after my dad died, she was at our home for a big family Christmas dinner, and we had a lovely evening together. After most of the company had left, she, Sweety and I watched Rod Stewart videos and danced to some of the songs. She even stayed the night in our “blue room,” the main guest room. The evening is a treasured memory. 

Years later, when visiting my cousins and their families in Liverpool, Birkenhead and Wales, Stewart somehow came up in conversation. We discovered we all loved the song “Sailing” and had poignant memories of it. For me, it was the Christmas evening with mum; for them, it was the nautical aspect of the song as their now late dad spent all his working life in the Merchant Navy.

Gavin Sutherland (of the Sutherland Brothers), who wrote the song in 1972, commented: “Most people take the song to be about a young guy telling his girl that he’s crossing the Atlantic to be with her. In fact, the song’s got nothing to do with romance or ships; it’s an account of mankind’s spiritual odyssey through life on his way to freedom and fulfillment with the Supreme Being.”

I always thought the song was about those left behind after a death, yearning to be near that person again. That has undoubtedly added to the poignancy of it as memory.

“I am flying
I am flying
Like a bird
‘Cross the sky
I am flying
Passing high clouds
To be with you
To be free

Can you hear me, can you hear me
Through the dark night, far away
I am dying, forever crying
To be with you, who can say”

(from “Sailing,” by Gavin Sutherland)

I’d been thinking about sharing this song for a while, after having a long conversation and several comments on my blog from my eldest cousin a while back. Today as Sweety and I learned of the sudden though eventually expected death of a dear friend’s mother, it seemed like the day to post it. 

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

Stewart recorded the song in 1975, and it was a hit for him. Here’s a video of him, his band along with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a solo choir, playing the song as the closing piece for the One Night Only! show, from his official YouTube channel: 

Starwalker

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!

I wasn’t on social media much today, but I did come across a few posts where people wrote about how fortunate they feel to live in our country. Many of them are like me, first-generation Canadians; our generation’s parents moved here from countries around the world. Some of my siblings were born in England; my sister and I were born here. The theme that ran through many messages was gratitude at living in a country like Canada, where we are free from the effects of most of the world’s conflicts, have government-paid health-care, and have opportunities we might not have had in our ancestral homes.

One post in particular resonated with me: it included a quote attributed to the late Canadian storytelling treasure, Stuart McLean. When talking about toasting our country, he said such a declaration “should contain certain humility, acknowledgment of our stumbles and our quiet determination to try harder, to listen carefully, to be thoughtful of new ways, to be sure we are on the right side of history.” 

I don’t feel like we’ve fulfilled Stuart’s wishes yet; we have a lot of work left. After the first Europeans settled here, they made treaties with the country’s first inhabitants, our Indigenous Peoples, and white governments have essentially dishonoured those treaties. Our society tried to strip Indigenous people of their homes, culture and traditions, and forcefully took children away from their birth parents and put them into residential schools. We have also been slow to act on the nation-wide issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. I’ve heard it said that these deep wounds will take seven generations to heal. 

When I think about the harm done, I also think of those who have spoken up from inside and outside Indigenous communities to seek fairer treatment; I think of leaders like Buffy Sainte-Marie. In my post on her song, “Goodnight,” I spoke briefly on “Starwalker” and its call to action, “aim straight, stand tall.” To me, this song is an anthem to those whose lives have been deeply affected since the arrival of Europeans, calling to the memories of the past, with hope for the future.

Much work is underway to reconcile with our Indigenous communities, though it seems agonizingly slow, even after the work and final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For instance, it took nearly eight years for my city’s leaders and the federal government to build a 24-kilometre “freedom road” to bring transportation access to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, landlocked for many years on a human-made island by the construction of an aqueduct to provide drinking water to Winnipeg. Let us hope — and call for loudly as people who have ultimately benefited from the claiming of this land — that future reconciliation efforts will come more swiftly so that all in our country may celebrate one day. 

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 video for a live performance of the song from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s official YouTube channel (there is also one of her singing the song on stage during Canada Day 2017 celebrations, but I prefer this version):

Uncertain Smile

My earliest memory of the band The The relates to a former schoolmate whose condominium I rented a room in, during the early 1980s. Ours was a friendship I mentioned in my post on “Song to the Siren.” He’d heard of The The, somehow, and I remember him finding the name quite noteworthy and funny. I have numerous musical memories with him, actually. He was the first in our school friends’ group to buy a good stereo, so we certainly shared a love for higher-quality music reproduction. I was the one in the group doling out most of my cash on long-play records, and am pretty sure I brought them to play at his place often as our gang often hung out there.

One exceptional memory of our time together is when he took me to see the British ska band The Beat (famous for their 1980 single “Mirror in the Bathroom”) as a gift for my birthday. It would have been around 1983-85, but that’s about as close as I can narrow it down as I couldn’t find a reference to The Beat giving a show at Winnipeg’s Playhouse Theatre, which I’m almost certain is where they played. (One of my favourite mid-sized venues, by the way. A beautiful building and excellent place to see a show.)

Aside from that rather vague and random recollection about my friend and The The, I don’t know anything about the band. I’ve heard a few of their songs lately and, listening to this past weekend’s episode of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC Sounds, I heard “Uncertain Smile,” which the band released in October 1982 in advance of the album Soul Mining, released a full year later. (You don’t see that kind of lag-time very often!)

I enjoyed hearing the song today and believe it’s the first time I’ve listened to it. A commenter on the YouTube post remarked on turning the volume up for the piano solo — it’s a cracking one, for sure!

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 The’s official YouTube channel

Summertime

In the late 1980s and through the 90s, I sat on several committees of my local church. First, I was a member of the property committee, then took over chairing when my mentor wanted to take a break from leading. Then I was on the official board (or council as it was called), which I chaired in 1994-1995. At one point, I became close to starting the process to work toward ordination, but different life events and choices made that pathway unrealistic. In retrospect, I don’t regret having not taken that route.

Anyway, during those years I spent a lot of my free time in the building at meetings or tending to volunteer jobs. If I was just popping in for a brief discussion, I would often take my two young boys with me during the time I was a stay-at-home dad from 1993 to 1996.

One evening after a meeting, a few of us lingered in the main hallway while some young people were rehearsing music pieces in the church hall, maybe for a school musical or perhaps a coffee house; I don’t remember exactly. When we started listening in a young woman, in her mid-teens, was at the piano singing “Summertime,” George Gershwin’s famous aria from the opera Porgy and Bess. She had a magnificent voice and such a presence that I can still remember her singing. I also recall that at the end of the song, she reverted to being an awkward and shy youth.

The song has always stayed with me because of that evening. It popped into my mind sitting in the summer porch today on this 31°C / 88°F (with the humidity, feels like 39 / 102) day, sheltered from the hot sun while doing some work, watching some cycling videos, and deciding what song to post today.

When searching for versions of the song, I was attracted to the depth of soulful sound in Annie Lennox’s rendition, from her 2014 album Nostalgia (which I just bought from the iTunes Store after hearing some more smoking-hot tracks from it on YouTube’s autoplay). I’ve featured Lennox before in one of my favourite posts, on “Stay By Me.” I think her version of “Summertime” reminds me a little of the memory of hearing it serendipitously in that hallway. 

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 video for the song from Annie Lennox’s official YouTube channel

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

I set off to YouTube to find a classical piece to share with you today. After dismissing some sappy movie soundtrack excerpts, I searched further and then cruised through the suggested videos.  

Today’s selection caught my attention with the intriguing title, “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.” It comes from Act II of the opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, (Orpheus and Euridice) by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787). The movement is a short but divine piece, beautifully played by Franco-Belgian cellist Camille Thomas who plays a 1730 Stradivarius cello. 

I love the cello; it is such a deep sounding instrument, and while it can sound mournful, it sings hopefully just as well. There is a mix of the two emotions in this piece, I find.

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 piece from Camille Thomas’s official YouTube channel:

And I thought I’d add this Deutsche Grammophon video of Thomas performing, though it’s odd that the production does not show the orchestra. Still, it is impressive to see the artistry of her playing.

Streets of Philadelphia

Full disclosure, here at the start: I’ve never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen’s. But, I honour him as a significant musical presence in the world. We just have never really clicked… for the most part. But I hope you’ll read on anyway; I am sure it will be worth your time.

One song of Springsteen’s that I love, and know could never have been done better by anyone else, is today’s selection. The song and melody anchor the Jonathan Demme film, Philadelphia. It stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, supported by some stellar actors: Mary Steenburgen and Jason Robards (two longtime favourites of mine), and Antonio Banderas. 

I remember seeing the movie not long after its 1993 release and can still recall the societal fear, ignorance and intolerance it depicts so agonizingly well, and how deeply the film affected me at the time — and does whenever I think about it or this song.

Hanks, who plays a man who has contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and has developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), has been fired from his job as a lawyer seeks help from Washington’s character, also a lawyer. When they meet, the latter is hesitant about being in Hanks’s character’s presence and looks at his outstretched hand in fear. (Fast forward to today, when we’re only starting to gather in groups after lockdown, and it’s still my sincere hope that the handshake is dead because unlike HIV, the coronavirus is known to be capable of being spread as a result of such contact. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy a good handshake, but it isn’t as effective a sign of respect as a simple bow and is a proven disease sharer. Its time has come.)

Also, today’s song falls into that category of serendipity that I’ve written to you about before. On Friday, I attended an online “coffee chat” hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), the national association for public relations and communications professionals. I was a member while working in PR and am now a retired member, and have participated in a few of their activities in recent years. Yesterday’s was a talk by Daniel Tisch, who holds accreditation from and is a Fellow of the Society, the latter a distinction placed upon only a few. He’s also into Springsteen, according to his Twitter profile (@DanTisch, though I quit Twitter some time ago due to my difficulty with its toxicity, and only dip my toes in occasionally from the sidelines, observing a minimal number of accounts and following even fewer).

Tisch and I met at a CPRS national conference in 2013 and have admired him and his work and character ever since. 

In 2018, when Tisch was being brought to Winnipeg, Canada to speak on the future of public relations, a friend and colleague who was still attached to the provincial CPRS board remembered how I had enthusiastically said how I wanted to pick him up at the airport and hang out/help out if Dan ever came to Winnipeg. Wow… not only did I get to do that, but I also toured him around many of our city’s sights and then we spent nearly two hours in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was an exciting day for me, and memory of this thrill returned when I later received a personal thank-you card and pair of argyle socks from him in the mail (he is the CEO of Argyle Public Relationships; it’s his thing to do that, and for years I had wondered how I could ever achieve receiving a pair of those!). We’ve engaged online numerous times since and I always get a genuine sense of his appreciation for our friendship.

Hanging out on the alabaster-clad ramps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, May 16, 2018.

When planning Dan’s city tour, I made a mix CD of songs based on two Springsteen tunes (“Human Touch” and “Streets of Philadelphia”) surrounded by 14 others from my collection that I thought were compatible with them. Incredibly, I forgot to play it while we were driving that first day, and plans changed so that he didn’t need a ride (and supplemental tour) en route to the airport the next day, so the CD went unheard. Oh well. Another souvenir.

The unheard playlist.

I guess what I take from this post is that human connection and honouring are so critical, always. Yesterday on the CPRS call, Dan greeted me heartily and, amidst the many other participants, we had a quick chat about PR issues relating to Winnipeg. Thinking today about the song and movie, I was treated far differently by him than the Hanks character was in the film. I don’t take that for granted.

My late father used to go out of his way to greet and smile at everyone he met in the mall or on the street, and he was a survivor of the hell of World War II. That inspired and still inspires me immensely, and while I don’t always do as he did, I’m trying to be more intentional about it. And I think of him when I do, and feel like I’m somehow adding stitches to help weave a heartier societal fabric. It’s something we can all do, and when Dan does it, there’s such authenticity in it.

When I hear “Streets of Philadelphia,” I feel such a terrible sadness thinking of the shunning of people living with HIV/AIDS; I absolutely cannot listen to it without tears, thinking of the portrayal in the movie and how that acting was and still is a reality for so, so many people who are living with the disease or have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS… “I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone…” And, I also think of that playlist and my dream-come-true encounter with one of my mentors.

For me, part of the power of the song is the deep emotion in it. Springsteen is a very humane person, so although not a favourite musician of mine, I am completely entranced by his ode to those in suffering, loss, love and grief and how he has presented it in this song.

The other part of the serendipity is that the song played in the car on CarPlay autoplay today when I ventured out for groceries, and it staked its claim as my song of the day when it grabbed at my heart like it always does.

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 Bruce Springsteen’s YouTube channel — it’s a stunning piece that I saw for the first time tonight: 

Yukon Princess

Happy Friday!

Here’s a song by Lakes and Pines, a band from Morden, a small city in my home province of Manitoba, Canada.

I don’t recall where I first heard it, but I bought it in October 2017. It may have been played on CBC Radio 2 or 3. I didn’t know until recently that the band was local.

The song comes from the band’s debut album, Peace Comes at Last, from 2007. Their website doesn’t appear to be active, so I’m not sure if they are still making music. It’s a great song that I quite enjoy.

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 like it, please head over to the Lakes and Pines Bandcamp page, and buy it. It’s also available on the iTunes Store and Spotify.

Here’s the video for the song from the Lakes and Pines official YouTube channel

Green Green Grass of Home

So, six weeks ago we, along with our next-door neighbours and another couple of neighbours down the street (she of that latter couple being the ringleader of the project) de-thatched, raked, de-thatched again, raked again, aerated, and once again raked our lawns, then spread manure, a mix of different grass seeds, and then fertilizer.

(Over the 18 years we’ve been in our home the lawn has never been stellar; it struggled to grow beneath a canopy of 110-year-old elms and wasn’t getting enough sunshine or love. So by the last raking, there wasn’t much lawn anymore.)

Oh, and watering. The new seeding required watering twice a day which was not really a problem since we weren’t going on a trip or anything (à la yesterday’s post on “The Trip”). We watered so much, Sweety and I sprung for one of those fancy sprinklers from Lee Valley as I was tired of being sprayed in the face when trying to get the correct swath going with the crappy, not-so-old, cheapo model we had before. We also had to leave the new grass to grow for six weeks without cutting. There was mud everywhere from all the watering, we couldn’t walk on it, and it’s still pretty soft and mushy underneath. But it looks so much better than before!

The lawn was a bit of a jungle to get through yesterday, but fortunately, thanks to our next-door neighbours’ awesome parents, we had the loan of a gas-powered mower with a catcher to collect the clippings. We own a reel mower, which would not have stood a chance against the long, thick carpet of green.

Photo of a lawn with planters on either side of a sidewalk.
Our new lawn! Photo © Steve West.

As I was sitting in the summer porch with my sweety last evening, finishing up yesterday’s post, and looking out on the newly-cut and very green grass, of course, the song “Green Green Grass of Home” popped into my mind. The massively-popular version recorded by Tom Jones in 1966 was another one of those staples in my childhood home.

It always started off sounding like a romantic love song to me, though it had this undercurrent of woe to it and then I’d recall the rest of the story as the singer tells of waking up to find he’s in prison (and, as I later learned, on death row, on the day of his execution). I must say I prefer the type of song that lifts my emotions, not one that drags them down. But, hey, it’s a memory.

In addition to Jones’s cover of the Claude “Curly” Putman Jr. composition, many other artists have recorded it, including Johnny Darrell, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Nana Mouskouri, George Jones, Hank Snow, Merle Haggard, Trini Lopez, Charley Pride, The Statler Brothers, and many more.

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 Tom Jones’s official YouTube channel

The Trip

Sitting in the summer porch today, I’m thinking about past trips and trips we’d like to take. Family care and other responsibilities prevented us from travelling far away since the spring of 2017. We did take a short road trip to Calgary, Alberta in 2018 as a quick but not uninterrupted bit of respite. And finally, by February of this year, it looked like we could actually start to plan to go somewhere. Then, well, you know what happened, everywhere

It still feels weird that we are quite limited in many of our activities, despite many sectors of society reopening to people. And while many people are mixing a fair bit in small crowds, Sweety and I are still relatively hunkered down, though it was nice to join a friend last night for dinner in her back yard and to go to a pub for lunch with my two lads on Fathers’ Day.

My province, Manitoba, is very fortunate. Our public health officials acted quickly, put restrictions in place early, expanded them as needed, and people cooperated. Plus, Manitoba is not a major airport hub, reducing the possibility of travel-related spread of the coronavirus. So on the one hand, while it’s a drag to be limited, on the other hand, it seems like a small price to pay for being affected far less than many places are.

When I was writing the post for “On My Way Back Home” by Band of Horses, “The Trip” came on YouTube’s autoplay shuffle. I’ve also heard it on KEXP Seattle. The song comes from the 2013 release Strange Pleasures by the band Still Corners.

The rolling melody brings to my mind’s eye the view out the passenger window when on long driving trips, staring out at the endless prairie vista. I can almost hear the wind and the sound of the wheels rolling. “So many miles…” 

The thought also makes me think of songs I’d hear in the car when my brother and sister-in-law took me on day trips with them to the beach in my childhood.

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 video for the song from the Sub Pop Records official YouTube channel

If you really like the song, here’s an unofficial, 33-minute extended version.

Song to the Siren

By 1984, my musical tastes were quite distant from those of my friends (I mentioned in an earlier post that they were diverging around that time). I think this was a symbol of my sense of our decaying friendship; even “friends 2.0” started to disperse, and I was exploring different groups of people trying to find a fit (and yes, female companionship… it wasn’t until I stopped looking that one arrived in the mid-1980s, and it led to many happy times, marriage, two beautiful, wonderful children, then losses including family death and, much later, the breakdown of that marriage). 

And back to the early 80s, I was often listening to late-night radio on CBC Radio 2 (Night Lines on Friday and Saturday, and Brave New Waves through the rest of the weekdays) which I sometimes recorded so that I could hear what was being played if I happened to be out. I wasn’t out every single night anymore like I described in my post on “Crazy Love.” I shared a condo with a high school friend, and spent quite a lot of solo time in my small room, with my stereo and recliner chair. 

My condo mate’s and my relationship, like some others in our school friends group, had a history of being somewhat unhealthy at times. We all grew up with various unresolved wounds and weaknesses, not to mention a few had some pretty hellish/distant parenting. In the absence of learning to talk about those issues, we took on what the adult male world taught us young men — toxic masculinity; mind you, not the horrible kind that included misogyny and violence, but rather the slightly more subtle aspects: bullying, and what would now be referred to as microaggression — within the group. Some of that was focused on me due to my standing in the social pecking order of our school and our group. However, that lower position in our group could and did sometimes change from me to others. 

I don’t see those men anymore, though I am in regular contact with one who was something of an adjunct to the group because we had a mutual interest in motocross, and he and I developed a better, mutual sense of respect. I talk about him in my post on “Drive.”

I was truly fortunate in my late 40s to meet a group of men that meets regularly to talk about men’s issues and — as one of our now late, elder men used to say — “to learn to be better men.” That group is not without its challenges, but it has exposed me to a lot of learning and much personal growth and development. Through it, I’ve also made numerous connections, including some men in Colorado, Minnesota and California.

Back to 1984 though; that was also when some bands belonging to or close to the sub-genre of Dream Pop gathered for a project called This Mortal Coil. The collective (members from Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Modern English, Xmal Deutschland, Cindytalk, Colourbox, and The Wolfgang Press) released the album It’ll End in Tears, that year. It’s an eclectic mix of dreamy, melancholic, industrial, and upbeat tunes that I often listened to in my room on solitary evenings when I was getting better at and actually starting to savour time with me.

I was reminded of this album and time of life when sitting down to — wait for it — yes, my main man, Mr Garvey on BBC6 Music’s Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour. The program I referenced yesterday, (May 31, 2020 – “Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Talk Talk”) highlighted Tim Buckley, who wrote “Song to the Siren” in 1967. Buckley died at age 28 of a drug overdose, leaving two sons. 

The Cocteau Twins recorded their cover of Buckley’s song for the This Mortal Coil project’s It’ll End in Tears album.

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 released under the British label 4AD, from the This Mortal Coil (topic) YouTube channel:

Time

A few weeks ago, listening to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music (May 31, 2020 – “Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Talk Talk”), I heard a recording of Tom Waits singing his composition, “Time.” It reminded me of the Tori Amos cover of the piece. I like her version a lot; she captures the melancholic, soul-searching raspiness of the original, but brings additional layers of depth and vulnerability to the sound, I think.

As you may recall if you saw my post on “Strange Little Girl,” Amos wore different clothes, hair and makeup for each of a series of photographs depicting the songs on the 2001 album, Strange Little Girls on which her version of “Time” appears. It’s a terrific album, and if you don’t already own it, you should. Honestly.

Image of a woman from a CD liner notes.
Photo for the song “Time” in the liner notes to the Tori Amos CD Strange Little Girls.

I thought of the song this morning, in the context of the summer solstice that occurred this past weekend, and “time marching on” — after all, we’re nearing the end of June, and it feels in some ways like summer has barely begun. And, what will time bring us in the next weeks, months, year? Another lockdown if coronavirus infections spike at the same time influenza season starts in the fall? Maybe we can’t wait; just need to keep going on, doing our best to keep ourselves and others safe by following public health recommendations, and taking care of each other as we try to figure out how to coexist in a global pandemic that isn’t ending anytime soon.

“Time” is a beautiful song, and the lyrics are truly poetic.

“Well the smart money’s on Harlow
And the moon is in the street
The shadow boys are breaking all the laws
And you’re east of East St. Louis
And the wind is making speeches
And the rain sounds like a round of applause
Napoleon is weeping in the Carnival Saloon
His invisible fiance is in the mirror
The band is going home
It’s raining hammers, it’s raining nails
Yes, it’s true, there’s nothin’ left for him down here

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time

And they all pretend they’re orphans
And their memory’s like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can’t remember
Tell the things you can’t forget that
History puts a saint in every dream

Well she said she’d stick around
Until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don’t know when to quit
And Matilda asks the sailors, ‘Are those dreams
Or are those prayers?’
So just close your eyes, son
And this won’t hurt a bit

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time

Well, things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl
The boys just dive right off the cars
And splash into the street
And when she’s on a roll she pulls a razor
From her boot and a thousand
Pigeons fall around her feet
So put a candle in the window
And a kiss upon his lips
Till the dish outside the window fills with rain
Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart
And pay the fiddler off till I come back again

Oh, it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time”

(“Time,” by Tom Waits)

When looking this morning for a YouTube video for this song I found one of Amos performing it on September 18, 2001, on TV’s Late Night with David Letterman. Apparently she was the first musical guest on Letterman after the crashing of terrorist-hijacked airplanes in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC in the USA a week earlier.

I remember sitting in the car with Sweety when I picked her up from work, days after 9/11, and the Paul Simon song “American Tune” played in an interlude on the drive-home show Up to Speed on CBC Radio 1. Today when watching the video for “Time” I recalled the same sense of sadness as then, and imagine the TV audience must have felt it too, as they listened to Amos singing on Letterman’s sound stage with the deep, nationwide wounds of grief and loss so open and raw. (We felt it in Canada, too, and still remember.) Letterman himself looks quite touched, after the song and following the edited commercial break (at the very end of the clip).

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 an unofficial video of the Letterman performance:

Plus, the studio recording, from Tori Amos’ official YouTube channel

And, if you prefer or just want to compare, Tom Waits’ 1985 version, from his official YouTube channel:

Jesu Bleibet Meine Freude

Today’s classical piano piece is a transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s church cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life), BWV 147, Movement No. 10, the chorale, “Jesu Bleibet Meine Freude.”

This movement is best known under the roughly equivalent English title, “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Interestingly, Bach took parts of the chorale melody from a work written in 1641 by violinist Johann Schop. 

English pianist Myra Hess made the transcriptions for solo piano and for two pianos in 1926 and 1934. 

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 a rare 1947 recording of the piece, played by Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950):

New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Today’s song is one of my favourite Simple Minds songs. It grabs me from the beginning synthesizer lines and percussion to the arrival of the thundering main drum kit. And yeah, there are credits to two drummers on this song on the LP… I was wondering if it was a drum machine, but, nope, a drummer. 

Drum machines, like the LM-1 and LinnDrum, were popular with many avant-garde bands in the early-to-mid-1980s, in the studio for sure, but on stage, too — though relatively rare, as audiences weren’t always as kind as they seem to be at shows nowadays (well, pre-pandemic nowadays… haven’t been at a show in a while, not since the house concert we had at ours with Alberta’s hard-working and bluesy Danielle Dayton). (And, as a side note in this side note, pandemic thoughts were vaguely stirring in Manitoba, Canada at the time of the house show and I was pretty strong in promoting the choice of hand-washing or hand sanitizing to people as they arrived and started scooping — with real scoops, yeah, not hands — snacks. Seven days later, our province was really starting beginning to shut its doors and lock down. Our musicians for that show made it safely home, and Deighton has done a couple of quarantine shows from home; props to her and all the musicians that have stepped up and played shows to their iPhones… wow… that is worth a whole side note of itself, but I’m going to put that to the side for now, or we’ll never finish here.

Back to drum machines for a second (even though they have no apparent relation to this song), if you’re a follower, you might recall me mentioning a friend’s band, called A New Man Celebration in this post, and me having been in the studio audience at a TV taping, etc. They were utterly stylish, so on-point for that time in the world. They reminded me so much of the look of the band Japan or like I’ve also mentioned before, the clothing I was mesmerized by at the David Bowie concert in Liverpool (see this post, or search for Bowie as I mention this elsewhere), and I’ll add that at that time I was a gawkish kid with what felt life life-threatening summer allergies, to grass, weeds — you know — rare stuff like that… and dressed that night in a maroon Ban-Lon top and loud, plaid, wide-leg trousers over some ridiculously booty-looking brown shoes (I honestly wish I had a picture!). 

And, okay, so, back to A New Man Celebration, my friend played the fretless bass, and the band used a drum machine (finally, I got to the point). I remember when they played that old favourite haunt of mine, The Norlander, many in the crowd shouted out at the band for not having a drummer. I was half expecting rotten vegetables to fly onto the band stage from the floor. It was kind of embarrassing. Tonight, thinking about it, I remember the singer, who had the most beautifully artistic presence on stage and an incredible bass voice, said at one point, “Ah, hecklers…” They played on through all that guff, with their adoring following were there; all of us in our cool clothes at the front of the room, while the all-similarly-clad wannabe-biker crowd were surrounding us in the place. (Okay I might have embellished this very last bit of the memory, but you’ve ve gotta say, it kind of works, no?). I recently found their cassette tape and played it, immediately remembering all the sounds from my favourite song of theirs, “New Romans.”

Photo of a cassette tape case.
Cassette tape released by the 1980s avant-garde band, A New Man Celebration. Photo © Steve West.

And today, looking over the cover of my copy of Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), and downloading the remaining parts of the album I didn’t already have digitally (and for some reason the iTunes Store wanted me to buy the whole album, though at 7.99 CAD which seemed a bargain in the circumstances), I had a strong recollection of how important this album was to me when it came out in 1982. At that time, I was piecing my life back together after the breakdown of what I’d call my second, serious, romantic relationship. My mates at the time, what I refer to on this blog as “friends 2.0,” were down some musical paths I started to catch up to when we got together. Simple Minds was a band that one guy in particular of our group was obsessed with and I was all in on that.

The album New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) was made just as Simple Minds were achieving massive commercial and critical success as a band. The record cover was frequently in my hands or my room leaning on the glass door of my stereo cabinet in those days as I spent many hours sitting in my chair or on my bed listening to music in solitude.

Photo of Simple Minds record album.
Album cover for Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). Photo © Steve West.

Music as you know by now has been something that’s continued to be essential in my life. Thankfully, as I think of it now, I recognized that need and when working in the most difficult of my jobs in more recent years, I bought that still-awesome iYiYi iPod dock so I could listen to music in the background a lot of the time, or when taking a break, or to keep me company each workday from when staff left promptly at 4:30 (because they had their priorities straight, but also weren’t under unrealistic expectations I shielded them from as best I could) until I had sort of caught up with my own emails at around 7:30 or 8:00 pm and went home to Sweety, with little or nothing left, but she always welcomed me home like as if we’d just gotten together.

For me, “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) “and the album of the same name remind me of the kind of friend that remains with you in the tough times; they weather well and show up even if you haven’t connected with them for a while. I don’t know what kind of marketing Simple Minds’ label did for the record, but if my post doesn’t sell you on it, I’m not sure what will. If you don’t own it, please buy it. There are so many solid songs on it:
“Someone Somewhere in Summertime,” Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel,” “Promised You a Miracle,” “Big Sleep” (which I always relate for some reason with the Robert Mitchum film of the same name), “Somebody Up The Likes You,” “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84),” “Glittering Prize,” “Hunter and the Hunted,” and “King Is White and in the Crowd” – wait, I guess that’s all of them… Anyway, music loved is music worthy of owning, not just streaming. Because if bands can’t make a living, they can’t make music. I don’t want a world that doesn’t have music. Music I’ve savoured while writing to you tonight.

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 video for the song from Simple Minds’ official YouTube channel:

We’ll Meet Again

Vera Lynn was another fixture in my childhood home. 

As I talked about in this post on Albinoni’s Adagio, my dad was a Veteran, and mum was a survivor of World War II. I remember today’s selection being a particularly poignant song for them, as was another wartime hit of Lynn’s, “The White Cliffs of Dover.” I quietly pondered on that latter one during a 27-kilometre walk along the white cliffs, the fields and beaches from Dover to Deal, England in 2008 with Sweety and her older son. (Deal is the adjoining town to Walmer, the site of a station of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. RNLI is a charitable organization whose volunteers crew powered lifeboats to rescue those in peril on England’s seas and larger waterways. It’s a cause close to my UK family’s hearts as my uncle/their dad, spent all his adult working life in the Merchant Navy and my cousin/his son works on one of the ferry lines… the family has a profound and abiding respect for the Lifeboats. The three of us walked around the station in Walmer on that walk in 2008. In 2011 with the Liverpudlians, Sweety and I had a tour of the station at Hoylake, which is near where they all live.)

I learned today that Very Lynn died yesterday. Of course, that made some childhood and adult memories flood in as I thought of this woman and the powerful impact she and her music had on a country in the deep turmoil of war.

“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say “Hello”
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where
Don’t know when.
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do,
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say “Hello”
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go,
I was singin’ this song.
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where,
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”

(“We’ll meet again, by Hughie Charles, Ross Parker)

In addition to Lynn’s recording of the song, I have in my collection versions by Johnny Cash and two versions (the Reynolds Sisters and Soso Choir) that appear on The Battle of the Atlantic: 70th Anniversary Charity Album, released by the recording studio owned by Gary Millar, former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, now a city councillor and entrepreneur whom I got to know over Twitter when I was active on that platform some years ago.

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 Vera Lynn official YouTube channel

Familiar

I used to listen to longtime Canadian music broadcaster Laurie Brown’s CBC Radio 2 show, The Signal until she left it in 2017 after ten years of playing progressive and eclectic music on late-evening radio. CBC filled her spot with Afterdark, a more extended program hosted by entertainer Odario Williams, who was born in Guyana and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. I stopped watching The Signal’s Facebook page for a while as it was full of serial complainers, endlessly lamenting the fact that Williams’ program wasn’t a carbon copy of Brown’s. I get that people missed their decade-long love affair with Brown, but it was quite tiresome. 

I haven’t really followed Brown’s next project, an Internet-based program called Pondercast, which she runs under a crowdfunding model. The programs feature a lot of spoken word by Brown, surrounded by music, particularly the ambient-style music of a frequent collaborator, Joshua Van Tassel (who composed a neat instrumental called “Daniel Craig”). I should revisit the program and listen in again.

Agnes Obel is an Danish artist I learned of through The Signal. I’ve heard her on BBC 6 Music as well. But what would Odario play? (Okay, I’ll admit, familiar is good.)

I don’t know Obel’s music very well but like the dreamy sounds. Today’s song comes from her 2016 album, Citizen of Glass.

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 Obel performing her song, “Familiar” on KCRW Log Angeles, a National Public Radio station.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Today’s selection is a cover of a song by The Beatles from the two-record set titled, The Beatles, also known as the White Album. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a composition of the late George Harrison, believed to arise partly from the discord going on in the band in 1968 when the record was recorded after the band attended a Transcendental Meditation course in India.

Reading up on the song today, I learned that Eric Clapton played the guitar solo in the studio recording, though he wasn’t given credit. (There aren’t any credits to speak of, or graphics, on the four-sided album cover.)

The song is one that has been covered by many musicians including Todd Rundgren, Jeff Healey, and a 2002 Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton version. Cruising around YouTube today, looking over some of the suggested videos relating to other songs I am thinking about, I noticed one I’ve enjoyed many times: the “supergroup” cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” played in honour of George Harrison’s posthumous induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. It’s performed by some folks I’ve featured here; the now-late Prince and Tom Petty, plus Steve Winwood, along with Jeff Lynne and George’s son Dhani Harrison. It’s a terrific tribute that is truly set on fire by Prince’s wizardry on the famous guitar solo.

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 video for the song from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame official YouTube channel

Mind Over Money

This past Thursday, I wrote a bit about serendipity, and here it comes again.

I was feeling like posting some older songs in the last week or so and, this past Saturday, landed on “Higher Love,” by Steve Winwood. Well, today I listened on the BBC Sounds app to some of Sunday’s episode of Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (“I Embrace All Formats”), and didn’t Winwood appear in the broadcast during Garvey’s sister’s feature, the “Beckapedia”! She did a profile on Winwood’s years with bands before he launched his solo career, and the playlist followed up with a song by the Spencer Davis Group on which he sang. 

Well, now for today’s song.

Going back a little further, to the May 31 lineup of Finest Hour (“Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Talk Talk”), I heard “Mind Over Money,” released in 2001 by the English group Turin Brakes. (The program has been featuring a lot of music of that vintage lately, or maybe it’s just coincidental.) Anyway, I’m quite sure it’s the first I heard of the band, and find it’s precisely the kind of sound Garvey seems to favour. I quite like it too, and listened to a few more of their songs on YouTube autoplay so will be checking them out some more.

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 video for the song from the Turin Brakes VEVO/YouTube channel

I’m Not in Love

The English band 10cc was another band I learned of during those basement suite parties that one of my brothers invited me to, as talked about here and here.

“I’m Not in Love,” released 45 years ago last month, is likely 10cc’s most famous, commercially-successful single. “The Things We Do for Love” is another big one. I bought my brother’s vinyl rock music collection from him a long time ago, and I have a memory of the original cellophane wrapper being taped around all the closed sides of the album, The Original Soundtrack, to keep it intact, protecting the cover like a dust jacket does a book. I couldn’t find it in my collection today when thinking about this song, so maybe I’m just recalling a memory of seeing the LP (or another?) in the basement of our childhood home. Or else, I misfiled it when alphabetizing my vinyl… numbers should be before letters (I know my older lad has got my back on that one)… so, where is it? No matter. (I mentioned here about the A-Z rearrangement of my CDs… well, once I did one collection, I pretty much had to do the other, right?)

Anyway, today, I read a fascinating article on Wikipedia explaining how the song was recorded and produced to give the vocals that ethereal, choral sound. I knew some of those facts already but enjoyed reading in detail about the process, and how the band used a Moog synthesizer to create the soft drumbeat, intentionally, so as not to take away from the vocal foundation. The article describes the drumbeat as being like a heartbeat… I hadn’t thought much about that before, but it definitely comes across that way. Drum beats and heart beats…

Tori Amos covers “I’m Not in Love” on Strange Little Girls, an album I featured a song from in this post. Hers is a rather gloomy but imaginative interpretation of the song, worth a listen as is that whole collection of cover songs.

When “I’m Not in Love” song was released, I was 15. So when it started to really take off, this late-bloomer was just about to take his first part-time job at McDonald’s (see this post for a bit about that, and while you’re there, listen to David Sylvian’s song… it’s gorgeous… but don’t get faked out by the false ending half way through; I do every time…), and McDonald’s, being the place where he met his first serious love. Oh, boy, I really do not miss those 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 video, from 10cc’s VEVO/YouTube channel, of the radio edit version (3:46… why did record labels insist on pandering to short attention spans?!?! Thank goodness for late-night FM in those days; the only place where one could hear a song longer than four minutes).

And another version, from an unofficial source, of the full recording and associated video:

Gloria: Qui Tollis

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Grosse Messe” or “Great Mass” was a prominent part of the soundtrack for the 1988 miniseries on England’s Channel Four, A Very British Coup. The three-episode program starred the iconic (and now late) British actor Ray McAnally as the Labour Party leader, and member of Parliament for a northern England constituency suddenly thrust into the role of Prime Minister.

I think that regardless of one’s political affiliations, it’s a masterful program though it is not easy to find a copy of it. I remember being enthralled by the program, with McAnally’s brilliant acting, and of course all the backroom politics, much of it aimed at discrediting the PM as he was “upsetting the apple cart.” As politicians do, he marked his territory and he predictably did so with a working-class flair. Some of his first acts were to dissolve newspaper monopolies (yes, please) and to establish real “open government” (a concept then hobbled, or at least slowed, by the lack of an Internet, but nowadays still not wholly embraced by governments, nearly 30 years later). One of the PM’s more controversial moves was the removal of American military bases from UK soil. There were many establishment conservatives in the bureaucracy watching his moves, and working hard behind the scenes to undermine him and his government. 

But the scene I remember vividly, all these years later, is his act of televising the government-sanctioned disarming of a nuclear weapon for all of Britain to see. The start of the “Gloria: Qui Tollis” is the powerful music that underscores the scene: the music, the video imagery, and the PM’s speech combine to create quite a dramatic (and obviously unforgettable) moment.

The version of the work that I own is a Deutsche Grammophon CD with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerrischen Rundfunks, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, and soloists, Arleen Auger (Soprano), Frederica von Stade (Mezzosoprano), Frank Lopardo (Tenor), Cornelius Hauptmann (Bass).

The “Great Mass” is also a central piece, if I remember correctly, in the film, Amadeus. With its 15 movements, the mass is a remarkable composition with many different sections from pastoral to chaotic, joyful to mournful. There are many movements I find to be calming and contemplative, and I recommend setting aside an hour sometime to hear the whole piece. I’m just about to settle into that, now. Here’s an unofficial link to the same collection of folks performing the whole work.) 

In addition to the movement featured here today, the miniseries producers used the “Kyrie” from the mass. Another stunning and perhaps more recognizable piece of music. (I have an element of nagging doubt saying that it is the music for the disarmament scene, but I am quite sure today’s piece is the one… its opening is more consequential.)

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 piece: