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.

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Dead On.

October 17, 2012

From Nick Hornby’s new collection of essays from The Believer:

“Three of the presents my friends had bought me were book-shaped, and, miraculously, given the lack of deferred gratification in my book-buying life, I wanted to read them all, and didn’t own any of them.”

Tattoo

October 17, 2012

by Carl Dennis

If the body is the house of the soul,
What’s wrong with a little home decoration
More permanent than the drapes in the parlor
Or the fabric on the dining-room chairs?

A forearm, say, adorned with a tropical flower
Or with a palm tree under a deep blue sky,
Suggesting the body is glad to recall
Its stay in Eden, whether or not the soul
Regards that episode as relevant now.

Or consider the young waitress
Who served you lunch just an hour ago,
How her sleeveless blouse revealed
A small heart on her shoulder
Inscribed with two names, Dave and Gretchen,
Under a sprig of lilac.

No need to assume she’s failed to imagine a time
When a boyfriend more congenial
Wakes up beside her only to be reminded
There was once a Dave who was all she wanted.

Could be she wants to send a reminder
To the Gretchen she may become
Not to forget the girl who believed
That holding on was a project worthy
Of all the attention that she could muster,
As much a challenge as letting go.

“Tattoo” by Carl Dennis from Callings. © Penguin Poets, 2010.

Highly Recommended:

July 19, 2012

Music: Carole King’s The Legendary Demos is a must-listen for anyone interested in pop music. The album is what it says: the original demo versions, performed by Carole and her backers, for some of Goffin and King’s best pop songs: Pleasant Valley Sunday, Locomotion, Up on the Roof, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman… It also includes demos for her own songs, mostly from Tapestry, which have a great, quick energy compared to the more staid versions on the finished album. I’ve written a couple times about the genius I think it takes to keep writing great pop songs, and these demos show it in its most elemental form.

Fiction: I just finished Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements.  I picked it up because it sounded like an interesting story. A family descends on their summer home to prepare for the wedding of their first daughter, and entanglements and an exploding whale ensue. I was mostly interested because a great deal of the book is from the father’s perspective, and Shipstead’s author bio said she was born the same year I was, which made me wonder how she’d write a middle-aged man. I can’t speak to how accurate that is, but the book’s depiction of family dynamics and the craziness that comes with a wedding was spot on to me.

Non-Fiction: Finishing Barack Obama: The Story, by David Maraniss. On my left-leaning newscommentary pages there was some discussion that Maraniss is a conservative critic of Obama, but I thought the book was quite well-balanced. When there’s a difference between Obama’s memoirs and the historical record, Maraniss points it out, but he’s perfectly content to ascribe those differences to the fictionalization that happens to any memoir.  A long read, and not the easiest, but offers some significant insight into a person with great depth of experience and, I think, understanding. Reading GWB’s memoir made me lose some of the sympathy I’d gained for him in intervening years; reading Maraniss’ book made me more eager to see an Obama second term.

Movie: Well, we watched American Reunion last night, which was exactly what you’d expect from an American Pie movie. Sort of like the 4th Indiana Jones, it’s just cool to see those characters again. But the movie I came to recommend is Barry Stevens’ documentary Prosecutor, about the International Criminal Court’s first Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. As someone interested in a global approach to systemic international problems, I appreciated seeing a film that exposes the shortcomings of international criminal prosecutions while still maintaining the value of the system.

Drift

June 6, 2012

The title Rachel Maddow chose for her book on the influences of, and on, US military intervention could be equally well-applied to What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel.

Sandel makes a convincing argument that it’s time for  honest discussion about where we see the place of market forces, and what realms of life and society are best left off-limits: “These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods and the proper way of valuing them. This is a debate we didn’t have during the era of market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” (10)

And he offers relevant examples of that drift. In confusing the desire to pay with the ability to pay, a market society justifies tiered services, not only in the cultural realm (skyboxes at athletic events) but also in education, health care, and the rest. Where’s the line between legacy admission or making a large donation to a college and buying your way in? Or between buying citizenship or being given a permanent visa for investing $500K in a US business?

“The more things money can buy, the fewer the occasions when people from different walks of life encounter one another…Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life…For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.” (202-203)

It’s a thoughtful, important book.

The Use of Women

May 28, 2012

I just (ashamedly for getting to it so late) finished Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s first memoir, Infidel. Nomad, the second, is still waiting on my shelf.

It is an eloquent and powerful insight into the process of rational examination she went through on her transition away from Islam and the developing world.

And it made me reconsider something that had spoken true to me at an earlier time but no longer seemed to fit my worldview, and showed me why.

I heard a keynote speaker once who had just come back from Afghanistan, in the early years of the ongoing war. She talked about visiting women and children and asking them about “women’s rights”, and said they responded that while they were concerned about violence and clean water, it was foolish to worry about gender equality and the oppression of women.

At the time, it sounded right. But looking at the problems in many developing parts of the world, it started to seem inadequate. And Infidel cleared up my thinking on the subject. There is no way these problems can even begin to be addressed without exploiting the social potential of women. And that’s why the treatment of women is a development issue, as well as a moral one.

Father and Son

May 23, 2012

At first I felt like Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’ joint memoir, Along the Way, had some broader points to make about the father/son relationship, and what it means to be a man in contemporary society. Strangely enough, as the chapters start to be about “what they learned” as opposed to how they lived together, the book started to feel more specific to them, and less broadly applicable. Still fascinating, but fascinating as a memoir of these two individuals living very particular lives. A definite read if you’re interested in their work.

Once again I get reminded how hard it must be to end a novel. John Boyne’s The Absolutist could have ended perfectly on page 292, and instead we get a “60 years later” that takes us to page 309. It’s not as useless as some codas, however, and either last line is haunting.

Boyne called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a fable, and while that book was heartbreaking, I can see how this one is more honest. If you’re a lover of character, this story of “the Great War” is for you. The first person narration is never hackneyed; the book asks and answers questions at the rate we want, never too quickly or too slowly. There’s a sympathy for the human condition that overrides all.

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.

Religion for Atheists

March 31, 2012

I’m glad I came to Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists at a somewhat slow time.  I don’t know that I would have had the patience for it otherwise, and alongside some parts I took issue with, there were some good ideas. Mostly, I have quotations to share and discuss:

“Much of modern moral thought has been transfixed by the idea that a collapse in belief must have irreparably damaged our capacity to build a convincing ethical framework for ourselves. But this argument, while apparently atheistic in nature, owes a strange, unwarranted debt to a religious mindset–for only if we truly believed at some level that God had once existed, and that the foundations of morality were therefore in their essence supernatural, would the recognition  of his present non-existence have any power to shake our moral principles.” (79)  I think de Botton is mistaken in calling this argument “apparently atheistic.” None of the atheists I know would make such an argument, and all live according to a convincing ethical framework. Most would agree with Christopher Hitchens that it takes a pretty low view of humanity to believe the only thing keeping us from mistreating each other is our belief in God.

“In the secular sphere, we may well be reading the right books, but we too often fail to ask direct questions of them…We are fatefully in love with ambiguity, uncritical of the Modernist doctrine that great art should have no moral content or desire to change its audience.” (119)  I think we mean postmodern, here, don’t we? He’s talking about books, so for me Modernist means D.H. Lawrence, maybe edging back to Conrad, and while those authors, to name two, may be concerned with issues of moral complexity, complexity isn’t the same thing as ambiguity. And even ambiguity of meaning doesn’t mean the same thing as having ‘no moral content’.  I think most serious students of literature, even the postmodern, recognize works’ desire to change their audience.

de Botton goes into some detail on his feelings about books as revered artifacts, and the importance of revisiting important texts on a regular basis, the same way religions make use of guided study. I only take issue with the idea that religious communities are the only groups that work with texts this way.

 

And some passages I found interesting and helpful:

“Because the ego is inherently vulnerable, its predominant mood is one of anxiety…Even under the most auspicious of contexts, it is never far from a relentless, throbbing drumbeat of worry, which conspires to prevent it from sincere involvement with anything outside of itself. And yet the ego also has a touching tendency constantly to trust that its desires are about to be fulfilled. Images of tranquility and security haunt it: a particular job, social conquest or material acquisition always seems to hold out the promise of an end to craving.” (148-150)

“It is telling that the secular world is not well versed in the art of gratitude: we no longer offer up thanks for harvests, meals, bees or clement weather. On a superficial level, we might suppose that this is because there is no one to say ‘Thank you’ to. But at base it seems more a matter of ambition and expectation. Many of those blessings for which our pious and pessimistic ancestors offered thanks, we now pride ourselves on having worked hard enough to take for granted.” (188)

“Christianity also knows that any pain is aggravated by the sense that we are alone in experiencing it. However, we are as a rule not very skilled at communicating the texture of our troubles to others, or at sensing the sorrows they themselves are hiding behind stoic facades. We are therefore in need of art to help us to understand our own neglected hurt, to grasp everything that does not come up in casual conversation and to coax us out of an unproductively isolated relationship with our most despised and awkward qualities.” (221)

“It may be that we are asking too much of our own secular artists, requiring them not only to impress our senses but also to be the originators of profound psychological and moral insights. Our artistic scene might benefit from greater collaborations between thinkers and makers of images, a marriage of the best ideas with their highest expressions.” (239)

“There is a devilishly direct relationship between the significance of an idea and how nervous we become at the prospect of having to think about it.” (267)