I have a friend from school who’s into gardening, and she has a line from a gardening author that she uses as a mantra: plants want to grow. So I shared this story with her, just now.

Last summer right after we moved I bought a little bleeding heart plant. I prepped a little bed, got all ready to put it in, and when I was taking it from the pot the top snapped off in my hand. I was sad, because we had a bleeding heart growing up and I was all nostalgic and excited about it. I left it in, but didn’t have high hopes.
There were already some things in the bed, some tulips and some (now I see) lily of the valley, and I’ve added a lilac bush that’s doing well and a little white pine in the yard. So I finally got around to weeding/tidying things up, and what do I see this morning?
Bleeding heart leaves.

ZZ Packer’s short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, did two things I’m amazed could be done simultaneously.

1. It evoked how much every human being’s interior life is made up of the same hopes, concerns, dreams, fears.

2. It reminded me how much I am middle class and white.

But it also shows what fantastic work can be done with language, especially in short forms like this. I love me a good short story.

Musical moments

May 22, 2010

I got behind reading other things. I didn’t start April’s TBR book, Whispering Pines, on the “northern roots of American music”, till May, but in the last week I finished that and read my 5th book, for May, ZZ Packer’s short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. So now I can detour again, to a loaned Shutter Island, which a review says is “the kind of book you could imagine Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe coming up with if they collaborated after dropping LSD”, so looking forward to that :p We saw the movie, so I’m sure the book won’t be as stunning as it would be otherwise, but I’m curious enough to give it a read.

Anyway, this post is all about music, and books about music. I’ve always been fascinated by these sort of artistic schools, and how partnerships and groups form and break and influence and work (like how Pollock’s relationship with Krasner was one of the most interesting parts of that movie, to me). And in this phase, my thinking on it started with James Taylor and Carole King’s reunion tour. Too poor for tickets, I got the CD/DVD instead. I know more about her and her career, and appreciate her music more, than I do his (especially because of how much of his is hers, hers and Gerry Goffin’s).  So the Brill building is just the first musical community that comes up here.

Then they went west, to LA and the Troubadour. Because I didn’t know much of the exact chronology, I was amazed when Taylor said that King gave him permission to record “You’ve got a Friend” while she was recording Tapestry, even though his album would be released first. I guess she knew her record would stand on its own, too; although I think there’s also a great deal to be said for Taylor’s statement that it was just an incredibly generous thing to do.

Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music…From Hank Snow to the Band is really mostly about the Band, but that’s fine with me, because it reminded me of the fantastic music they created and made me want to listen to it more and watch The Last Waltz again.

The book was encyclopedic without being overwrought. Jason Schneider’s attention to detail really evoked the period of the folk/rock transition and those who either went through it (Dylan) or ignored it (Lightfoot) or found some combination of the two (the Band). It becomes very clear how much everyone was inspired by and was focused on Dylan, and I’m not just talking, here, about the Band. Everyone who was making music at all. And he, in turn, was inspired by all the other musical influences around him. It must have been an incredibly vibrant time.

My only issue with the book was that I felt like I already knew it all, and not because I’m particularly well-versed or knowledgeable about the time or people it discusses, but because, when you listen to the music, you know about Neil Young’s problems, or the community that led to Big Pink (or that Anne Murray really wasn’t all that exciting :p).

There are some times, though, when biography helps. Like hearing about Robert Johnson’s troubled life leads to a greater appreciation of his soulful music, knowing that Sharon Jones used to be a corrections officer at Rikers emphasizes what her voice tells you: she’s one tough lady. Frontperson of the soul/funk revival group Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, I hadn’t known about her until promotions for their latest album, I Learned the Hard Way. If you’re at all interested in funk/soul/R&B (and who’s not?), make sure to pick it up.

It’s so incredible when talented artists finally find the right place for them.


May 22, 2010

“our belief in his existence is something that must be learned and not taken on faith” – from the playbill.

We weren’t sure, going to Harvey at the Shaw Festival this year, how we’d feel about it, as big fans of the movie. In a lot of ways, though, I found it more effective.

First, as we left the theatre, my mother commented that one “really starts to feel like Shaw’s a community theatre”, considering that some of these actors have been our favourites since we started going, and have been with the company for 25 years. It was nice to see some of my favourite dramatic actors (Peter Krantz, Norman Browning, and others) stretch their comedic muscles, especially since repertoire at Shaw has veered away from dramas in recent years. (This is one of my issues with the theatre; and don’t get me started on giving equal emphasis to “plays representing Shaw’s time” – the dude lived for a century, that doesn’t give you enough material?!).

Sets, etc., were marvelous, as always. But the real gem, of course, was Peter Krantz. There was a bittersweetness to his performance that I don’t know if Jimmy Stewart missed, or if I missed it because I’m more attuned that way now than as a child. Yes, Elwood’s rabbit maintains his joy in life and emphasizes magic and chivalry. But Elwood’s also an alcoholic, and that and Harvey really isolate him, even from his family. The pain of Veta (Mary Haney, another Shaw veteran) and the sadness in Krantz’ voice when Elwood discusses how everyone’s his friend, when they’re drinking, was really moving. We can be sad that society has changed, but that doesn’t mean we can cling to how things were.


May 21, 2010

I was only going to post once tonight. But when I started to type “George” in the tags field the autocomplete came up with “genocide”. My blog must be a cheery place.

So true.

May 21, 2010

G. posted a poem this evening, so I think I’ll do one too. I have some real blogging to do tomorrow morning, but for now I’ll leave you with a prose poem (we can discuss if that’s a real thing) by George Bowering (mixed feelings about him, too). But I like this one a lot.

George Bowering, My Darling Nellie Grey, Talonbooks, 2010. From the March cycle.


I REMEMBER my father and me having competing

teams. It used to make me wonder, to know that he was a fan of

the Giants, say, long before I was born, in his own life story.

My kid brothers are both Montreal Canadiens fans, and I don’t

understand that, because the Canadiens were my father’s team.

I took him to see them in Vancouver, the first time in his life,

which never did get long enough. He was a Canadiens fan, and

I don’t know why, because in rural British Columbia we were

pretty well all Toronto Maple Leafs fans, though my uncle

Gerry was somehow a Boston Bruins fan. So it was my dad’s

Habs versus my Leafs, It was his Giants versus my Dodgers.

My father, who took a bar of soap into the lake. His Indians

versus my Red Sox. No football, no basketball. You had to

have a team, and stay with them and be serious about it. Except

for my mother. She has always rooted for whatever team is

playing against your team, for the competition, even if it was

the New York Yankees.


May 11, 2010

“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”