Sunday, October 29, 2017

Gord 'n' Gordon

In the last week two deaths have affected me quite deeply, though in extremely different ways.  The first was of someone I never knew or met, and although he was greatly revered and very famous I was not a fan of his art.  The other passing, a considerably more personal loss, meant a significant part of my youth died at the same time.  
The Tragically Hip was a big enough band that I had heard of them in the UK, but they never had any hit albums or singles.  I had listened to them over there, but the Hip's music did nothing for me, and I was not a fan of the dude's voice.  Since moving to Canada the band obviously became much more visible to me, obviously especially in my workplace, where I sell their CDs (and now recently reissued vinyl) pretty much every week.  As a 'new' Canadian keen to learn as much as I can about the history and culture of my country I have tried listening to lots of music that means a great deal to Canadians, and to this end I have heard plenty that were new names to me that I now love - Lighthouse, Five Man Electrical Band, David Francey and lots more - and I have heard even more that, although I appreciate their cultural significance, is really not my bag, such as Spirit of the West and, indeed, The Tragically Hip.  I have tried, but they are simply not for me.  However, as the "most Canadian of all Canadian bands"' I can understand the great love for the latter, especially via my friend Justin Rutledge, who grew up listening to the Hip and loves them so much he released an entire album of their songs, entitled Daredevil.
Just as, for example, I can appreciate Marilyn Manson as a valid rock star and find him a fascinating, intelligent human being while his music leaves me cold, when it comes to the Hip's Gord Downie I am fully aware of Downie the activist and his amazing philanthropic, environmental and humanitarian work, especially in respect of First Nations people.  Downie looked beyond the generally speaking happy-go-lucky Canadian outlook and natural wonderland that Canada is viewed as around the world and, to quote CBC, he was "...inspired by headlines, history books, personal paint a picture of a country that was equally fascinating and flawed.  Downie's Canada was anything but perfect, but in his attempt to honestly capture it over a 30-year career he taught a nation how to confront its darkest moments and dare to not repeat them."
That is the Gord Downie I love: musician or otherwise, it matters not, but a man working tirelessly and bravely to do good and effect change in this world, and to inspire others to follow suit.  As this world seems to be spiralling out of control in so many ways, as our humanity seems to be further eroded day-on-day, we need many, many more like Gord Downie to step up to the plate and teach us how to learn from the mistakes we have made and continue to make.  So, when such an important figure should be taken from us at just 53 - almost four years younger than I - it is heartbreaking.  Feeling the country's grief - seeing our Prime Minister in tears on live national television - really affected me, as this is the first death of its kind that I have experienced as a new Canadian.  When Leonard Cohen passed - at the grand old age of 82, remember - it seemed to be greeted with a reverent quietude, rather than the outpouring of national sadness that followed Downie's passing.  I felt it, too, vicariously as someone who feels more Canadian by the week, yet not as a fan of his music.  In my way, then, I will miss him as much as the most hardcore Tragically Hip fan, but for entirely different reasons.
And in the same week, I learned of the death of my youth-hood friend, Gordon.  He actually passed in 2014, but the news somehow did not reach me, and I found out completely by accident just a week ago.  This came as a huge shock.  Gordon played a big role in what I guess should be termed my formative years, as in fact did his brother, James, and his wonderful parents.  Gordon is the first person I got stoned with - while listening to Jethro Tull in his bedroom, I seem to recall - and it was with Gordon that I queued overnight to bag tickets for the very same band at Birmingham Odeon.  That remains the only occasion that I have done that, and that it was with Gordon makes it very special.  We also saw Black Sabbath together at least once, but perhaps more times than that (it was a long time ago).  As you shall read, this fact is important.
Gordon was a BIG man - probably 6'5" and 25o pounds - and I felt like a Hobbit in his considerable physical presence. One enduring memory of this man-mountain that I treasure was following him as he thundered at top speed down a Birmingham Odeon aisle, towards a startled-looking security guy, swatting him away like a paper doll in our (successful) efforts to reach the mosh pit.  (Don't worry, security guy was fine and, like his colleagues at that show, in a pretty futile role.)

We hung out together for many years, getting into all kinds of scrapes and drinking way too much at our local boozer.  They were heady, often wild days when we thought we could take on the world and frequently tried to, but despite our 'spirited shenanigans' we never really overstepped the mark into total idiocy.  We just had a lot of fun, as young people tend do.
We kind of lost touch when Gordon joined the Royal Navy and I moved to Brighton, but reconnected many years later, sporadically emailing and reminiscing therein.  I also lost touch with his beautiful, spiritually-inclined brother, last seeing either of them something like sixteen years ago, I would guess, but again later reconnecting with him by email.  Pointed there after thinking about the obscure prog-rock band Druid, it was by dropping in on James' pagan rock band Druidspear's website last week that I learned of Gordon's death from a beautifully written, heartrending statement on the homepage.  My blood turned to ice for a time when I read the words, "I have been asked to deal with loss on a frequent basis.  The greatest loss being that of my brother Gordon who passed away in 2014."
It took me several days of introspective grief before I could summon the strength to email James, and his reply shattered my heart.  Gordon passed of cancer - such a colossal, foul presence in my life - and I also heard from James of his own awful health issues and the passing of his and Gordon's gorgeous mother.  This has all hit me very hard, and since this sad discovery my mind has been a projection screen for a non-stop reel of my adventures in youth with Gordon and James, some excerpts making me cry and others making me laugh.  The biggest laugh of all, a bittersweet piece of news to receive if ever there was one, came from the conclusion of James' extraordinary email, in telling me that at Gordon's funeral his coffin slipped through the curtains to the strains of Black Sabbath's Fairies Wear Boots!  That is about the most 'Gordon way' he could have left us all, and I love him all the more for it.
 What a star.
Every time I hear that song, which will be plenty more times before my own day to go comes, I will think of my dear friend, and smile like the Cheshire cat.  And the beautiful big bastard will know it, too.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

There Goes Summer

Although there are still three months of the year left, during which anything can happen, when I reminisce about 2017 in years to come it will be all about the summer.  These summer months have been the busiest and best in living memory, almost a blur, and whatever happens for the remainder of 2017, and however wet and bleak the Fall and Winter are, we have absorbed enough energy from the events of the hot season to carry us through.
Bookended by two great music festivals (with one meh one in between), Summer 2017 was a season we grabbed by the scruff of the neck and truly made the most of.  We visited several places for the first time since moving to Vancouver Island, including the Port Renfrew area on our wedding anniversary, where we saw a mama bear and cub on Botanical Beach.  Far from anything manmade, in their natural habitat with the ocean as a backdrop, it was a marvellous natural scene that moved Susan to tears.  Similarly, at Stamp River Provincial Park we saw salmon leaping up the waterfall there, in their extraordinary, hardwired determination to reach their spawning grounds.  It is impossible for us puny humans to comprehend the strength and fortitude required to complete this Herculean task, in the last act of their species before they die.  Imagine trying to hurl yourself up Niagara Falls.  All we could do was watch in awe.
In Summer 2017 we made new friends, lost others to death and relocation, and received visits from others we have known for decades.  We saw lots of live music, attended BBQs and parties, threw an epic block party of our own - truly one of the best days of my life - and in a world becoming crazier and seemingly closer to Armageddon every day, our community of dear friends closed ranks to look out for each other, to enjoy the good times as long as they are destined to last.
It has been a summer to remember.  Now it is in the rear view mirror we will start to hunker down for what, we are told, will be a bad winter.  Whatever.  It will be what it will be and there's nothing anyone can do about it.  Bring on the rain, bring on the snow and bring on walking to and from work in the dark.  I will keep upbeat during the miserable weather by thinking about those bears, those salmon, my friends, and all the talented, wonderful people I know, folks that inspire me while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.  And I will look forward to Summer 2018 in the hope it can deliver even a fraction of the magic of its predecessor.     

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Classically Speaking

Classical music is becoming an increasingly big deal for me.  I've listened to it since I was a small boy, rifling through my parents' extremely random, small selection of LPs, immersing myself in such as Gustav Holst's "The Planets."  On and off my whole life I've dipped back in for a time, mainly the extremely obvious 'popular' classics, then drifted away from it to continue my rock 'n' roll life's journey. 

However, with Susan also having a deep appreciation for the genre, it has become a permanent feature of our listening pleasure, and over the last couple of years we've been listening to it more and more, exploring composers and works new to us.  Having previously gone about our individual morning routines without a soundtrack, this year we've started playing music over breakfast and when getting ready for work.  It's usually instrumental, sometimes jazz, but more often than not classical.  It's a great way to start the day.

This newfound and prolonged rediscovery has led to us, when thrift shopping, looking out for great or interesting classical CDs to add to our rapidly burgeoning collection, now numbering in the hundreds.  And at work I'll look out for interesting stuff, sometimes guided by regular customers and classical music authorities, Bert and Murray.  My appetite for all music has always been vociferous, but getting stuck into a genre that spans centuries, with hundreds of versions of everything, is a unique challenge presenting many great rewards.

Naturally, this has crossed over to our social life, and this year the two most powerful live concert experiences I've had have been classical concerts.  At the end of Orff's "Carmina Burana" at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, I was so moved by the power of that extraordinary piece - incredibly performed by the Victoria Symphony, under the direction of Maestra Tania Miller, and the Victoria Choral Society - that I was shaking, with tears running down my cheeks.  It's a massive piece, and to hear it live is akin to standing in a full force gale, trying to keep upright. 

Then two weekends ago we experienced a great double-header of classical awesomeness, firstly with Susan's Aunty May at Maffeo-Sutton Park for the annual free "Symphony by the Sea" concert with the Vancouver Island Symphony, under the direction of Calvin Dyck.  This concert traditionally presents the very well known variety of classical and light classical music, this year including movie themes.  Nonetheless, sitting in the sunshine with a picnic, listening to a full orchestra doing their grandiose thing, is one great way to spend a few hours.

The following evening we went to the Port Theatre for a free concert by the astonishing National Youth Orchestra, performing as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.  Oh my, what a night this was.  We sat in the 5th row downstairs, feeling the full, colossal power of this remarkable group of young musicians.  The first half had me absolutely enraptured, as one of my very favourite pieces - Modest Mussorgsky's majestic "Pictures at an Exhibition" - nearly brought the house down, provoking a five-minute standing ovation.  And this was just part one.  Part two, after a much needed interval just to calm down, brought Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D Major (Op. 25), and Richard Strauss' epic "Death and Transfiguration," so after that we left the theatre euphoric and exhausted.

There is absolutely nothing in a live music scenario to match the enormous power of an orchestra.  What it must be like to be part of that, I just don't know, and cannot imagine.  When watching Canada's finest young musicians play, I spent time watching individuals - their expressions, attention to the conductor and so forth - and, though I may be reading too much into this based on my own emotional response to the music, I swear I saw one female violinist struggling to hold back tears during "The Great Gate of Kiev," the enormous, soul-stirring climax to "Pictures at an Exhibition."  It seems only natural to react in such a way, as it seems for all the world a melody sent from another planet, such is its remarkable power to move the listener.

So, as you do, we've started checking out the classical concerts taking place in Victoria in the first half of next year!  There are many concerts we fancy, particularly a performance from the Tallis Scholars at Alix Goolden Hall; an evening of the fantastic Tania Miller (whose feet left the ground several times during "Carmina Burana") conducting Rachmaninoff; Verdi's "Requiem" and, oh yes indeed, "The Planets."  There is no way I can miss that one, it being something of a portal to this world of music for me.

There is a reason classical music is still listened to hundreds of years since it was composed.  It is immortal and timeless, emotionally rewarding, and always will be.  And right now, we just cannot get enough of it.      

Saturday, July 22, 2017

And, All Well and Good, I Aim to Bow Out in the Same Manner

This has been quite a week, a veritable rollercoaster of emotions with euphoric highs and crushingly sad lows.  Of the latter state of being we experienced another death this week, that of a beloved customer of my workplace.  There is little more I can say about it other than what you can read below.  Offering to post a tribute on the store's Facebook page, I have been attempting since Tuesday to compose something in my head, and set about the task today when I could have quiet, uninterrupted time to do so.  All I can hope is that it serves this lovely man well.
"Hello everyone.  We have something we wish to share with you all, so thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to read this.

This has been a sad week in the music world with a number of notable deaths:  Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington; Streetheart’s Kenny Shields; Christopher Wong Won (Fresh Kid Ice) of 2 Live Crew; Tuxedomoon’s Peter “Principle” Dachert; South African musician Ray Phiri; Canadian reggae artist Wayne McGhie and the French singer Barbara Weldens have all left us in the last few days.

However, we have also experienced a significant loss at the store with the passing of a popular long-term customer.  He was such a lovely man, so we feel compelled to share a little of his story by way of a tribute, but particularly concerning the remarkable and inspiring way he faced death, and lived his final months.

For over 25 years DAVID HALL shopped at Fascinating Rhythm.  A self-confessed music (and comic books/graphic novels) nerd, David’s taste was very wide, so as a weekly customer he amassed an enormous CD collection from us alone over that quarter-century.  He really knew his stuff, too, and in particular was a real authority on African music.  Since we started stocking them in depth David must have bought hundreds of CDs in this genre, as well as mountains of other international sounds, soul, rock, blues, folk and…well, you get the picture.  He was, by any measure, a music fanatic, and as is the case with certain customers we could order esoteric titles in so-called specialist genres with full confidence that David would either buy or investigate them!

As you will read later, of poignant significance to this story is that David was an avid concert and music festival attendee.  We would often see him out and about, checking out bands or artists that he either already knew and liked, but also those that simply piqued his interest or we had recommended, then buying CDs at the show or picking them up from us at a later date.

A couple of years ago, noticing a dramatic weight loss in him, we inquired as to David’s health, and he informed us that he was battling an aggressive cancer.  We were obviously shocked and concerned, wishing him every strength for his fight, and asked him to keep us as updated as possible, if he could.  Several months later he told us he had been declared cancer-free, which naturally delighted us and came as a huge relief.  However, as cancer can and unfortunately so frequently does, it returned with a vengeance.  Not yet aware of this, upon inquiring how he was feeling when he paid us a visit one day, he informed us it had returned, but that this time other than very risky surgery there was nothing any doctor could do to help him.  This was somewhere around the turn of the year. 

Incredibly, David delivered this news as if he were discussing the weather.  Casually, making no great deal of it, he said simply that we all have to go sometime, and as he now knew his time was on the horizon he had starting laying plans for everything he wanted to do with the rest of his life, however long that turned out to be.  Most important, he said, was to return to his favourite place on earth, New Orleans, to once again attend the Jazz & Heritage Festival, taking place this year between April 28th and May 7th.  And so off he went to that spectacular event, to witness performances by such as Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Alabama Shakes and many more.

As his health grew considerably more fragile, David’s attitude became ‘a day at a time,’ but without a single ounce of self-pity.  It was seemingly more about what he could achieve in any given day than looking down the line with dread to what was coming.

And then, get this, after just the week prior having been given 24 hours to live, David somehow summoned the strength to head to the Comox Valley with a good pal to attend all three days of the Vancouver Island MusicFest last weekend, one avowed intention being to see one of his all-time favourites, Emmylou Harris, one last time.  Back from the festival, presumably having checked everything off his list, David quietly slipped away on Tuesday.

Store owner Steve and I (Dave) visited David at his Ladysmith home during his last three weeks on earth, drawing incredible inspiration from the matter-of-fact, Zen-like way he was, at least outwardly, facing the end.  He was sat under a parasol on his terrace at the edge of a pretty forest, listening to his favourite music, reading graphic novels, just chilling in the sunshine, all peaceful and full of smiles.  We knew he loved his beer, so my wife Susan and I took him over a couple of bottles of our favourite IPA (Fat Tug, if you’re curious) to share with David; it transpired he had not tasted that one before, and loved it.  We had such a good time, chatting about music and life and all manner of things that organically arose in conversation.  He wanted to know more about my own cancer history (I’m a three-time survivor) and his eyes filled with tears as I related my tale.  I have no words for how moved and humbled I was, and remain, that a man in David’s situation should cry for me like that.  As we left, Susan - who had met David at gigs, but barely knew him – was beside herself, saying, “Wow.  What an incredible man.”
We had planned to pay him a visit again this weekend, but alas.

We have so many wonderful customers, and down the two-and-a-half decades he shopped with us David was one of those that Steve and, in my ten years at the store, I, also, grew very fond of.  He was a highly intelligent, gentle, sweet, private man, full of wit, wisdom and knowledge from a life well-lived, including time spent teaching in West Africa and Northern China.  We will miss him a great deal, and I personally will miss how he liked to push my buttons with banter about The Black Keys and Dan Auerbach; he was a big fan, but I’m not so struck!

So, that’s David Hall, part of the store’s little world for 25 years, and claimed by cancer at just 62.  Thank you for reading about him.  We hope, like us, you can draw something of inspiration to you from his story.  As Susan said, he really was an incredible man.

R.I.P. David."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Much ado...

We humans are absolutely ridiculous creatures.  Besides the obviously terrible, evil ways we can behave towards each other, not forgetting towards other species', we can behave in simply stupid ways that defy belief.
Although it appears on a great many other news sites, a few days ago I read a report on the BBC website about a ludicrous global craze - or 'scourge' as it has been termed - that is so damn stupid all I could do was shake my head.  In the wake of utter nonsense like planking and pouring quarts of milk over ourselves - you know, for a laugh - we now have 'manspreading' to concern ourselves with.  Even the word itself is preposterous.
Rather than me blathering on further about it, getting myself all riled up over nothing, here's the report for your amusement/fury/disbelief: Delete as applicable.
"Transport chiefs in the Spanish capital, Madrid, have launched a campaign discouraging 'manspreading' - men encroaching on other seats by sitting with their legs wide apart.
Bus operator EMT is putting up new signs showing a seated male figure, legs akimbo, next to a big red cross.  A similar campaign is planned for the city's Metro system.  The move follows an online petition by a women's campaign group, which garnered more than 12,000 signatures.  Manspreading - which was accepted as a word in the online Oxford dictionary two years ago - is already discouraged in some other cities around the world.
EMT said in a statement that the aim of the new signs was to remind male travellers "of the need to maintain civic behaviour and to respect the space of everyone on board the bus".
The women's group Mujeres en Lucha (Women in Struggle) said in its online petition that it was not uncommon on public transport to see women "with their legs closed and very uncomfortable because there is a man next to her invading her space".
It's hashtag #MadridSinManspreading (#MadridWithoutManspreading) has been widely used on social media.
In 2014, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to crack down on the manspreading scourge with signs on the city's Metro that read: "Dude... stop the spread, please."  The US city of Philadelphia also launched a "Dude, it's Rude" campaign, while Seattle's transport provider put up signs showing an octopus with its tentacles draped over bordering seats."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What Were They Thinking?

As you can imagine, in my work at the music store I see a constant stream of CD and LP sleeves and packaging, day in-day out.  Of course, I see a great many that are already familiar, but also a whole ton that I have not seen before.  There are occasions where a sleeve design or packaging element is so impossibly bad that it stops me in my tracks.  It could be a dreadful painting, poor layout, crappy font or whatever, but all I can think when I see them is that someone, or more than one person, and more often than not also the act in question, will have approved that design as the way to sell that product.  In so many instances I simply cannot believe how terrible the sleeve is, and that it has been approved, making me wonder 'what were they thinking?!'

Speaking of, just take a look at the utterly fucking useless example above.  After watching a wonderful documentary about her, Susan and I have been buying and enjoying what we can find by the late jazz-blues singer, Alberta Hunter.  There isn't too much out there, especially of her really early work, so we were delighted to learn that a brand new 4 CD set of her recordings between 1921 and 1940 was to be released this month.  As soon as it arrived at the store I snapped it up, eager to hear it at home.  However, upon unwrapping it I was astonished, angry and amused all at once to see what you see above.

This is what is revealed upon taking CD 1 from its tray.  There, right in the middle, is an archive photograph of Alberta, her face perfectly obscured by the retaining hub.  God alive, how can this have ever been approved?!

Picture the scene:  the four disc set has been meticulously compiled after the recordings have been restored; a lovely booklet of biographical information has been researched and written, and the CD set's packaging layout has been drawn up.  It is all sent to whomever at the record label and someone - OBVIOUSLY A MORON - looks it over and says, "Yes, that looks awesome."

Seriously, I am lost for any more words on the subject.  Everything about this piece of design packaging is totally shit.  It is a fact that cannot be disputed or argued against.  It is a pitiful oversight blighting a historically significant collection of vintage material, and poor Alberta would be turning in her grave if she could see it.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Gimme dat Oscar!

Not that it would qualify anyway, apart from saying the word 'No!' in a preposterous, mercifully brief, live breakfast TV skit 'starring' famous British cheese-ball radio DJ, Tony Blackburn, I have never in my life acted until this year.  Even then, as the video above illustrates, I hardly turned in an epic performance upon my proper debut, but bearing in mind the point of the video that doesn't really matter.
As a volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society, I was saddened to be part of the organizing committee responsible for reluctantly deciding that 2017's Relay for Life be the last one to be held in Nanaimo.  Rapidly declining participant registration and plummeting year-on-year fundraising totals forced our collective hands, so from 2018 we will look at new initiatives and fresh ideas for campaigns.  So, this year we are hurling everything we've got at making the very last Relay for Life in our community as good and successful as it can be, especially in terms of promotion.  For my part, this has included calling on my insanely talented filmmaking friend, Raymond Knight, to see if he would be up for making a short film for us to help promote the event.  With cancer affecting his family at this time, he jumped right onboard.
The resultant clip is pretty upbeat and fun, and we had a blast making it.  The real star is 11-year-old Dexter Komen - at just five-and-a-half weeks old the youngest person ever to be diagnosed with the rare and aggressive rhabdomyosarcoma.  He's a wonderful lad, and if the Nanaimo Relay for Life has such a thing as a poster boy, Dexter is he.
Over the course of a morning, directed by Raymond - who was ably assisted by his volunteer crew of extras - Dexter and I hammed it up at the Hub City Cinema Society in Downtown Nanaimo, fumbling our lines and corpsing repeatedly.  Then, with filming done, after much skilful editing and a separate voiceover session for me, the resultant film was launched in April.  I have to say I absolutely love it, as do Dexter and his lovely mom, Sonia, so we're all delighted with the end product.
To date, although it's only received just over 70 views on YouTube, it's been watched over 7,000 times via the Nanaimo Relay for Life Facebook page.  That's just great, and the more people that watch it, the more likely it is that some of them will want to participate in the final Nanaimo Relay for Life.  If so, job done.