Pete Townshend to himself

November 23, 2012

Just finished Pete Townshend’s memoir,Who I Am. While sometimes episodic, and demonstrative of how people sometimes have difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff in their own lives, it’s an absolutely fascinating look into his creative, political, and personal journeys. This passage at the end, a letter from Townshend to himself as an 8-year-old, is an affirmation that I think would speak to many.

“Remember that the bad feelings you sometimes have today are helping to make you strong and talented and empathetic to the pain that other people feel. But you have a good heart and you will be okay at the end. Life can be hard, and what you will find hard is accepting how wonderful the life you are going to have actually is. This is because for some reason you don’t feel you deserve all this.

“You have a brilliant mind. Unfortunately you are not going to exercise it quite as much as you should. Your self-esteem is too low and you will lapse into laziness that will slow you up.

“…Respect yourself. Try to remember that not everything in life can be perfect. You will make mistakes. That’s inevitable. But you are not ugly. You will only be ugly when you behave in an ugly way.

“Enjoy life. And be careful what you pray for–remember, you will get it all.”


Bring Back The Sun

October 21, 2012

Kirk and I started dating when we were in high school…next year we’ll have been together for half of my life (married for seven years!), and Chantal Kreviazuk and Our Lady Peace were a major part of the soundtrack of our lives from the beginning. I thought we knew everything we could about their work. But last night we went to an absolutely amazing concert, with Chantal headlining and Raine in a (very strong…stronger even than the last time) supporting role, and we learned even more about them and some of our favourite songs. Some things were major  and some things were silly and we should have known before.

The concert was one of the keystones of an IMAGINE Festival for the Ontario Shores mental health organization, although we didn’t know it at the time. So the musicians’ work was informed by that theme, and we learned stories about many of the songs that were influenced by experiences with mental health issues.

Some of the things we learned were major: I’ll never listen to her “Surrounded” or our wedding song, “In This Life” in the same way again, now that I know something about the experiences to which they refer.

Some of the things were minor, and I felt silly for not realizing them before. She does a song called “Feels Like Home” that I knew was a cover, as one’s heard other women sing it, often. But I didn’t realize till she said it that the songwriter was Randy Newman. Now that I know it, the Newmanisms all come out. It sounds SO much like the rest of his work. In a good way.

Kirk and I both always thought the phrase in the chorus of Maida’s “Yellow Brick Road” was “Rise Up”…turns out it’s “Wise Up”. Not too silly, as some of our misheard lyrics go.

And I’d never thought before about the pun on his name, when, in “Before You”, she sings, “Ever since I met you on a cloudy Monday, I can’t believe how much I love the rain.” I feel like such a dullard for missing it before.

The last time we saw them together was a few years ago at Massey Hall. Raine was a straight opener for his wife, which is beautiful to me. So often, historically, with talented couples, the woman’s talent is downplayed through her support for the man’s career (something I think I’ve pondered on this blog before). It was even better last night to see him more often, still as an opener, but then again throughout the night. He did acoustic versions of “Innocence” and “In Repair”, and as an encore, acquiesced to an audience request for “4 am”, which was incredible, and I’d never thought we’d hear it.

I think we were probably somewhat unusual among the audience, which tended older and I think more Chantal-focused (which makes sense), in that Kirk and I shared as our absolute favourite from the entire night a STUNNING duet on the OLP song “Bring Back the Sun”. They shared the verses, and came together on the choruses, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful song. Thinking of it now brings back tears. Maybe my favourite live performance of any song, ever.

Both shared new songs that, we hope, will be on their next albums (well, one of three by Chantal was on her live album “In This Life”). Maida said he’d likely go home and record “Not Done Yet” today, and we should hold him to that!

Watching the two of them together is good for the heart. They were joking about being cranky, but they’re both amazingly gorgeous and talented and clearly in love. It’s so perfectly Canadian, that people with so many gifts are still so self-deprecating. A very, very warm fall evening, with times of darkness brought into the light.

OLP Overproduced

April 7, 2012

I didn’t have  specific expectations for Our Lady Peace’s new album Curve, but had high hopes based on the first single, “Heavyweight”.  I loved the track because it combined some of the band’s best sounds…the rawness of pre-Spiritual Machines, the upbeat rock of post-Spiritual Machines, the creativity of Raine’s solo stuff.

My reaction to my first listen of  the album was underwhelming. I thought this was because it was overproduced…lots of backing tracks, strings. But the other morning after a second listen, I turned to Raine Maida’s solo The Hunter’s Lullaby, and realized that album has all those things, too. Curve, aside from a couple highlights like “Heavyweight” and “If This is It” just feels sluggish (maybe the album’s boxing theme fits, just not in the way the band thinks it does).  Albums do need to have some sort of unifying sound, which this album does…but they also need to have some variety, and after a few tracks, the songs on Curve just sound indistinguishable.

Maybe it will improve on me with time. Right now, it feels like this is the band “being artists” as opposed to just making some rock music. No thanks. We’ve already got Spiritual Machines and aside from 1 or 2 tracks, that’s unlistenable.


March 22, 2011

I don’t love all popular music…or lots of it, even.  I need the lyrics to a song to be at least somewhat interesting, and for the song to have that hook that makes something really memorable.

But those pop songs that are memorable…those, I think, take as much virtuosity to write as the most complex piece of music. The example I always come back to for myself is Carole King. Not all of the songs are great, but there’s something in them that shows that the writer really understands how music works and how we listen to it.

Semi-bold statement #2: for me, Kanye West is one of those artists. And, thank goodness, I think he’s showing signs of maturing (maybe not as much personally as in his music). His first few albums were characterized by flashes of brilliance (Jesus Walks, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Stronger) surrounded by mediocre material. But I just gave My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his newest album, a listen, and while it doesn’t have any of those immediate standouts, it’s much more listen-able, overall. No more of those stupid skits that I’d just skip over. A really solid, enjoyable album, with, even, some beautiful moments.

The Music Instinct

March 2, 2011

The conclusion of Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct:

“In the end we need to allow music to be music, with its own set of emotions and sensations that we have yet to name and perhaps do not need to. Music is not like other forms of art–it is sui generis, and therefore in some respects beyond words. And yet we cognize it using familiar neural apparatus–it is rather like an extraordinary occurrence for which our brains have  accepted the need for unprecedented collaboration between departments. Wonderfully, they have decided it is worth the effort.”

Current reads

February 9, 2011

I’m throwing in the towel on another one: Peter Filkins’ translation of H.G. Adler’s holocaust novel Panorama. I can already tell it’s beautiful. I think I’m just not in the mood, with the cold weather and stress of other things. And on Kobo I’ve been reading the Anne series one more time. So that’s a bit easier to pick up. Mostly looking forward to Anne’s House of Dreams. My print copy’s a lovely first edition, so it will be nice to be able to fall asleep reading it without being scared of hurting it.

I’m very much enjoying Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. Sufficiently technical, sufficiently readable. He has a knack for explaining difficult things.

I’ll go back to Adler in the spring, when I’m ready for another challenge.

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.


March 12, 2010

I fell in love with Jamie Cullum, a contemporary British jazz singer, because of his clever lyrics and his unconventional sound (no Harry Connick or Michael Buble), when I saw him on the Today Show promoting his album Twentysomething (“I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot / but the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought”).

His new album is The Pursuit, and I’ve really been enjoying it. At very first listen I wasn’t sure because it opened up with the sort of smooth, big horns sound that he usually avoids, but mostly it’s an energetic, driving sort of album. And he continues his unconventional choices for cover songs: on The Pursuit, the big ones are a really sexy cover of Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music” and “Not While I’m Around”, from Sweeney Todd. Yes, from Sweeney Todd. If you don’t know the musical, I’m sure it’s a lovely song in and of itself. If you do, I think Cullum gets across some of the weirdness, even in the seemingly lovely song…it’s in a strange key, and notes are held just a little too long and creepily.

Very strong.

I’ll be trying to be more healthy, and spend less, but I don’t know that I can make those resolutions. MizB has come up with a challenge I can handle: reading 12 books from one’s TBR (to be read) list in 12 months. One is allowed to add another list of 12 as back-up…I’ve been interested enough in these books for long enough that I hope I won’t need it, and just have 13 because I miscounted and now I can’t decide which one to drop :p

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer. I’ve been hearing about him for a long time but this will be my first read.

American Bloomsbury, a profile of those nor’eastern US Transcendental folks and “Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work”, a Christmas present from G., written by Susan Cheever.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder.

The Prince, Machiavelli.

The Englishman’s Boy, Guy Vanderhaeghe.

Failure is not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond, Gene Kranz.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, a short story collection by ZZ Packer.

All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy.

Four Major Plays (Oxford ed.), Ibsen.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger.

Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music, from Hank Snow to The Band, Jason Schneider.

And the only one I’ve actually tried to read before and stopped, D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. I was really enjoying it, I don’t know why I stopped. And yes, I know it’s shameful that I haven’t yet read some of the things on the list. But that’s the point of next year.

My Christmas present from my husband this year was going to see Chantal Kreviazuk, in support of her new album Plain Jane, at Massey Hall.

First, the album. Her last two albums, What if it All Means Something and Ghost Stories, were immediately enjoyable to me. I felt like I loved some of the songs with the very first listen (we used “In This Life” as our first dance at our wedding). Plain Jane didn’t catch me that way, at least not at first. But having listened to it a few more times, I began to appreciate the musical development it demonstrated, especially with its jazz tendencies.

So I was excited to see the show at Massey Hall. I’ve never been there before, although of course I’ve known about the space. And her husband, Raine Maida, was going to be Kreviazuk’s opening act, which was thrilling as a long-time Our Lady Peace fan and someone who enjoyed The Hunter’s Lullaby. It was also a treat as they apparently don’t do concerts together very often.

Dala was the very opening act. They’re a female duo from Scarborough. I went home and downloaded the album right away. What wonderful voices, what wonderful songs. From fun (“Levi Blues”) to heart-wrenching (“Horses”, a song that still has only failed to make me cry once).

Maida’s set was really good. I feel like concerts are always too loud to be able to hear musical complexity, and I regret that deeply, but most of it still came across here. Amazing what can be done with voice, piano, guitar, drums, cello, and violin. Not the typical rock set up, but Maida proved his rock star credentials by climbing up on his wife’s grand piano in the final song. An excellent, acoustic, slowed-down version of “Innocent” from the OLP album Gravity, which isn’t one of my favourite songs, but this changed my mind some.

It’s hard to describe what a warm feeling the whole concert gave me. Part of it was probably the space, part of it the type of music, part of it the Canadian-ness, part of it the family-ness of the event. And going at the beginning of the Christmas season. But during Maida’s set, and continuing through Kreviazuk’s, it really felt like a very warm, sharing performance. Not in a mushy way…Maida told a story about Kreviazuk calling his mother to come deal with a newlywed squabble.

Just in a very normal, happy family sort of way. Kreviazuk shared stories about personal tragedies that have led to the writing of some of the songs, including a song written just a few weeks ago for a friend. She chatted with their sons, all offstage, and with friends in the crowd. She sang Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown”, which she said she always sings in her hometown of Winnipeg and now feels like she can also sing in Toronto. One of the videos played in the background during a song was home video of their sons.

And she didn’t discourage them from the stage. The oldest, Rowan, is almost 6 and ran out in the middle of the concert to talk to her. “He’s asking me how much longer I’ll be,” she said to the audience, “because he’s so into it,” sarcastically. Finally, during the last curtain call, he came out again and introduced his younger brother, Lucca, who’s 4. With Mom at the piano, and the other musicians playing along, he sang all of the opening track from Plain Jane, “Invincible”.  It was one of those moments that’s so beautiful it’s heartbreaking. He accepted our applause and then ran off to give Dad a hug on the side of the stage. And then she did, as she put it, “her version”, and finished the night.

We drove back into some blowing snow, but it was such an incredibly warm evening. What a wonderful gift.