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. And why not, subscribe to his channel… it’s another way to support an artist.

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 SiriusXM 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.

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

We have come to the second-last track on Arcade Fire’s 2010 album, The Suburbs.

The song begins with a bounding, hopeful-sounding beat, and there is a soft, almost playful affect to Regine Chassagne’s voice, in contrast to the conflict-charged vocals in previous tracks sung by her lover in the story (and partner in real life), Win Butler. But the apparent hopefulness in the tone is somewhat contradicted by the lyrics, which seem to signify her resignation at the continuing oppression by the establishment, while she dreams of something better that is still unseen in the dark (though to be believed, nonetheless):

“They heard me singing and they told me to stop
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock
These days my life, I feel it has no purpose
But late at night the feelings swim to the surface”

“Sprawl II” follows another interlude by Butler — “Sprawl I (Flatland)” — an adagio movement in which he’s sorrowful, still searching for sense and meaning in the conflict. “II” is like a resolution to “I” as Chassagne sings of her and Butler’s late night meetup… it’s a victory of love over the artless, dominating and intolerant establishment:


“We rode our bikes to the nearest park
Sat under the swings and kissed in the dark
We shield our eyes from the police lights
We run away, but we don’t know why
Black river, your city lights shine
They’re screaming at us, ‘we don’t need your kind’
Sometimes I wonder if the world’s so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains
And there’s no end in sight
I need the darkness, someone please cut the lights”

(from “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” by Regine Chassagne, Richard Parry, Win Butler, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury, Will Butler)

The main verse is repeated around the chorus, faithful to the album’s operatic and theatrical storytelling style. The lovers have made it through the conflict to reach that place of a nighttime kiss in the park, as if to say the suburban war is over and the combatants are coming home to the warm embrace of reunification — or at least, if not an end to the conflict, the two have made peace with the world despite it rejecting them, their soulful individuality and their unconquerable and deep love.

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 I’ll see you tomorrow for the conclusion to this series on The Suburbs.

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

We Used to Wait

It’s time for another selection from The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

“We Used to Wait” is the 13th track on the album. The song continues the theme of waiting that comes in on “Suburban War,” and I interpret this as similar to the often painful waiting that goes on in any conflict.

At the Winnipeg concert for The Suburbs, the backdrop on the stage became a blotter where intricately-formed handwriting appeared as if someone was actually writing a letter in real time. In the context of war and other conflicts, this struck me as representing the strong desire to keep in touch with loved ones; writing a letter in wartime and mailing it, then waiting and hoping for long, anxious and doubtful weeks and months for responses (“sometimes they never came“). All one could control was the writing and sending of the letter… what a time that must have been for our ancestors, and how fortunate are we, mostly immune from that type of emotional torment.

While much less protracted in the waiting, the desire to be in touch has been also been something essential during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdown and other public health directives put distance between us and the ones we cherish. In some cases, we are still limited in ability to be in direct contact, and this may worsen in the autumn when the healthcare implications of seasonal influenza butt up against supports for health in the ongoing pandemic. But we’re fortunate to have what one dear friend calls “sacred technology from the earth” when speaking of his computer screen which brings us together via the imperfect magic of Zoom and other such programs.

A staccato keyboard sets an anxious tone for the song, again reminding us of life in conflict in the suburbs. The piece, in all its urgency, ends with the keyboard and sound effects fading, resembling the sound of a train trundling off into the distance (maybe carrying letters to those off in conflict).

The song and the track that follows it, “Sprawl I (Flatland),” form something of an interlude between parts like the driving, allegro-like beat of “Month of May” (“make a record in the month of May” — as if doing so is an act of collective defiance with the kids who “are still standing with their arms folded tight“) and the determination of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” with a slightly lighter beat that takes us through to the concluding tracks.

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

Suburban War

On this next look at The Suburbs, we’re on to “Suburban War,” the ninth track on the album.

Today’s song strikes me as being like a soliloquy in a play. Perhaps it’s an interlude meant to catch the audience up on what’s happening in the suburbs as the young people get ready to grow up, but in the meantime, wage war against the establishment and its corporate greed, symbolized by the impersonal streets and buildings around them.

“This town’s so strange
They built it to change
And while we sleep we know the streets get rearranged

And my old friends, we were so different then
Before your war against the suburbs began
Before it began

Now the music divides
Us into tribes
You grew your hair so I grew mine
You said the past won’t rest
Until we jump the fence
And leave it behind”

And later,

“But you started a war
That you can’t win
They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in

Now the music divides
Us into tribes
You choose your side and I’ll choose my side”

(from “Suburban War,” by Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Timothy Kingsbury, Richard Parry)

Like other songs from the album, “Suburban War” also revisits themes from earlier in the story, like this, almost verbatim from opening, title track:

“In the suburbs I
I learned to drive
And you told me we would never survive
So grab your mother’s keys we leave tonight”

The song is at a somewhat slower piece again (andante, anyone?) that invites the listener in to curl up around lead singer Win Butler’s storytelling.

Maybe the whole work could be a stage play as much as a rock opera; at any rate, it’s truly theatrical and once I “clicked” with the album, the drama woven throughout the collection became one of its more foundational and appealing features for me.

It’s been challenging to select just seven songs from the sixteen in the collection. There are several terrific ones I’ve skipped over; the only piece on the album that I don’t care too much for is “Rococo.”

I’ll finish this week with two more selections, but I also want to feature what I see as the natural conclusion to the work — the ending credits, if you will (to add the motion picture as yet another analogy to the notions of rock opera or stage play for this visit to The Suburbs), and will do that on Monday. I hope you’ll stick around and check it out.

And finally, today is the birthday of one of my brothers. He was telling me yesterday how much he was enjoying this week’s series and the album. So today’s post goes out to him with my love.

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, why not leave a comment to let me know what you think of this post, or series of posts, on The Suburbs… I’d love to read your reflections!

This is the official audio for the song from Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on if the video if you enjoyed the artists’ work. And of course, buying their music is another way to support the artists.

Half Light I

We’re on to the seventh song on Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs.

Carrying on with my notion of a rock opera, this song might be called an andante, a fairly slow movement. It has a steady drum beat complemented by the strumming of the electric guitar. I really enjoy the harmonies in the slowed-down piece, after the faster, more complex pace of the first couple of tracks.

The song seems to me to be about young people, trying to find their way out of the norms of their parents and society, through adventures with their friends. Ironically, as the light of day fades, they become more awake, though still somehow aware there are secrets held in the houses they pass, riding their bikes in what should be their care-free years:

“You told us that
We were too young
Now that night’s closing in
And in the half light
We run
Lock us up safe
And hide the key
But the night tears us loose
And in the half light
We’re free

Strange how the half light
Can make a place new
You can’t recognize me
And I can’t recognize you

We run through these streets
That we know so well
And the houses hide so much
But in the half light
None of us can tell
They hide the ocean in a shell
The ocean in a shell”

(from”Half Light I,” by Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Timothy Kingsbury, Richard Parry, Win Butler)

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 Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

Empty Room

We’re continuing to explore The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire. Jumping ahead to the fifth track on the album, today’s selection is “Empty Room.”

If, like I’ve said before, as recently as Monday, that the album were a rock opera, well, this song would be an allegro due to its fast pace. The dual violins at the start add to that notion and vibe, I think.

The whole album seems to me to be making a statement about the loss of individuality in society as people become more wrapped up in consumer culture, exemplified by the band’s imagery around the stereotypical homogeneity of suburbs. And, the urging to conform with that societal model… a pressure that began in school for most of us (and which plays out in the official video for the title track). The idea is built upon in “Empty Room”:


“When I’m by myself
I can be myself
And my life is coming
But I don’t know when”

(from “Empty Room, by Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Timothy Kingsbury, Richard Parry, Win Butler

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 Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

Ready to Start

Today, we are continuing with Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs. (By the way, we won’t get to all the tracks, as there are 16 songs on the album!)

The second song on the album is “Ready to Start.” It was, rather appropriately, the song their The Suburbs concert began with. It’s a great opening song for a show and they played it with such enthusiasm and vigour.

It contains some of their trademark anti-establishment chants. Arcade Fire are known for their subtle activism; they call out, usually through parody (like with the album Everything Now) the pitfalls of excessive consumer culture.

“If the businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I’ll just begin again
You say, “can we still be friends? “

If I was scared… I would
And if I was bored… you know I would
And if I was yours… but I’m not

All the kids have always known
That the emperor wears no clothes
But they bow down to him anyway
‘Cause it’s better than being alone”

(from “Ready to Start,” by Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury, Richard Parry)

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 Arcade Fire’s YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work.

The Suburbs

This is a busy week, and I have been thinking for a while that I might change things up a bit. So I’m going to highlight an album over this coming week. I hope you like it.

My older lad and I went to see Arcade Fire at what’s now called Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Canada. The band were touring to support their album The Suburbs (2010) and it was a fantastic show. I seem to recall the set looked like it was the underside of a freeway bridge.

Most of the band members play several instruments, so their concerts are almost like watching a game of musical chairs. High energy musical chairs, mind you… (Sweety and I saw the Reflektor tour a few years later; also a terrific show.)

I’ve posted before to say that when The Suburbs was released, I disliked it the first few times I heard it. I set it aside for a while, and when I listened to it again a few more times, it really hooked me.

“The Suburbs” is, perhaps naturally, the opening track of the collection. It sets the tone for what I feel is a cohesive whole, an album whose songs work so well together and seem like a kind of rock opera to me.

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 video 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.

Andante from Italian Concerto in F Major

Years ago, soon after her 1985 debut, I saw Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Her playing was divine. I don’t remember which pieces were on the concert playbill, but I do recall being mesmerized by the graceful movement as her hands moved over the keyboard. It’s an image I can still see in my mind’s eye. Not long after the show, I rushed out and bought her 1985 Deutsche Grammophon CD of Johann Sebastian Bach piano pieces. I was listening to it recently and wanted to share a selection, the second movement (Andante) from the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971. It reminds me of Hewitt’s concert all those 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 is an unofficial video with the audio for the song:

Washing of the Water

I’ve loved Peter Gabriel’s music for years. He’s one of the most amazing, influential and versatile musicians I’ve heard.

I was introduced to his music by one of my high school friends, who was prominent in our group, though meek and mild and never pushed his presence. Thinking back, I admire that quiet strength. He was a good fellow. I was at his wedding close to 40 years ago, and travelled to visit the couple once; then we went on our own ways, it seems… We have been in casual contact since our high school’s 35th reunion in 2013 and I am inspired seeing their devotion to each other. And I have to say, his influence is inextricably linked with my enduring love for Gabriel.

With Sweety’s and my recent beach visits from this week, water has been a big theme lately, so maybe it’s not so surprising for a song like this to come up today.

Today’s song comes from the album, Us. I posted about another brilliant song from that album, “Come Talk to Me.”

Gabriel sings “Washing of the Water” on his Secret World Live DVD, and it’s just awesome. It reaches deep into my soul. The DVD version of the song is beautiful, but not available on a free, official public platform. It’s the most heartfelt performance of the song I’ve heard and so I somewhat reluctantly share an unofficial version

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

The official video for the song is from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2014, where Gabriel is accompanied by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who does a pretty great job complementing the master’s voice. 

And, the remastered studio track from Peter Gabriel’s official YouTube channel:

Help!

Don’t we all need help, some time? I know I do. And for some reason, the song “Help!” came into my mind this evening. (And no, thank you, I am doing well… no help needed at the moment!)

Perhaps predictably, given that I grew up in the 1960s and was the youngest of five siblings, I heard a lot of The Beatles’ music in my childhood home. I mentioned in my post on “Here Comes the Sun,” about seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show the first time they appeared on North American TV.

Help. Who needs it? In our post-modern, more self-oriented world, independence has been ingrained in us. And I agree, it is important to be self-sufficient. But personally, I think that independence in extreme, combined with too much living in one’s head, leads to isolation, which feeds itself, and that’s not healthy. And don’t get me wrong… as a strongly introverted person, I find solitude helps me to keep grounded and less depleted. And, maybe ironically, I love a party, though find that kind of gathering can be quite draining. I just need to know how much I can absorb, then maybe take a walk or break for a one-on-one conversation and return, or stay at the party for a shorter time. 

It’s essential to be with people… a fact that became blatantly obvious in the lockdown. We had to — and did — find creative ways to gather in community, and some of those gatherings (like those on Zoom) have brought us lasting friendships… distant, yet close. It’s a strange world.

We all need help sometimes, though. The trick is knowing when we need help, being confident enough to ask for it, and humble enough to receive it. So many people want to help. Have you ever had a problem, and a stranger noticed, came up, and asked if they could help? Me too! It’s the best part of our society when that happens — from both perspectives, though. We both win when we engage in a helper/recipient interaction.

We all have heard the old saying, “’Tis better to give than receive,” and that’s really quite telling. We have been taught not to receive. It can be a challenge to receive something from others… traits like pride and stubbornness get in the way.

“When I was younger, so much younger than today
 I never needed anybody’s help in any way
 (Now) But now these days are gone (These days are gone) and I’m not so self-assured
 (And now I find) Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors”

 (from “Help,” by John Lennon, Paul McCartney)

Let’s all “open up the doors,” to those who need us and those who want to help us, shall we? Either way, it makes us more human.

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 video for the song from The Beatles’ official YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artists’ work. 

At the River

Having spent two afternoons and evenings at the beach this week, I’m keenly aware of and appreciating the beauty of the living world — the sky, the land, the water and the air. Such magnificence all around us. (And sure, a little irony that my sweety and I drove out there twice, but I rationalize that by driving a car with a four-cylinder engine, and we walk and bike as much as we can to conserve non-renewable energy. Okay, enough justification… on with the post!)

“At the River” is a song I’ve heard a few times on BBC 6 Music, including at least once on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (episode of August 9, 2020 — a repeat of an earlier program sometime back when Garvey and family were living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada while his wife was working on the TV series spin-off, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco).

Wikipedia tells about how the English duo Groove Armada conceived the song: “A sample of Patti Page’s ‘Old Cape Cod’ forms the basis of the song: the lines ‘If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air/Quaint little villages here and there,’ sung in Page’s multi-tracked close-harmony, is repeated throughout the song, with the addition of synthesizer bass and slowed-down drum programming.” 

The trombone in the song makes me think of childhood beach memories for some reason; maybe it’s something to do with horn-playing musicians like Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and others that I grew up hearing, and how childhood time at the beach was magical (even though I never learned to swim!). Today, hearing the song brought back memories old and new of watching and listening to waves lapping the shore and examining and touching the many types and colours of stones that wash up on the beach.

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 audio for the song (not an official version):

Also, here’s a video of an extended, live performance from the official Groove Armada YouTube channel. I find it goes off and rambles a bit too long, not as tight and compact as the studio version, though it’s cool to see some of the performance. Please click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the artist’s work.