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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Reginald Iolanthe Morrison

That gorgeous creature - all neatly tucked in, fast asleep and impossibly cute - is our cat, Reggie...or, as my dear wife decided to fully name him when we adopted him, Reginald Iolanthe Morrison.  (I had nothing - I repeat, nothing - to do with that.)  Yesterday, this utter bundle of joy celebrated the fifth anniversary of his birth.  Or rather we did, as he was obviously utterly oblivious to the fact, presumably unaware of the concept of time.
Anyway, I digress.  Reggie is a fantastic critter, unlike any beastie of his species I've ever owned or encountered.  His personality continues to surprise and delight, four years and forty-two weeks since we brought him home as a tiny kitten, all shaking with fear as we took over his full-time care from his foster mother.  Since then it's been wonderful companionship all the way, with a great deal of hilarity as, a small piece at a time, his personality has unfolded.
As I type, Reggie is sprawled across the heat register in my office, totally blocking any heat from coming my way, as he warms his belly and bum.  It's just one of hundreds of his lovely ways, some of which I will, in no particular order, recount here...
He loves to be brushed, so his coat is silky and immaculate at all times.  When we brush him, he'll allow his flanks, bib, legs and back to be done, before throwing himself over so his belly can be brushed.  He behaves in a similar way when we return home from work, greeting us at the front door before literally falling over, stretching and exposing his belly for rubs.  "Drop, thud and roll," Susan calls that.
Our 'Mini House Lion' plays fetch.  Yes, just like a dog.  His favourite fetch games involve his two favourite ball toys, the Bonker Ball and the 'Wee Ball,' which started life as a pompom on one of Susan's woollen gloves.  We stand in the kitchen and hurl one of these things into the bedroom, above the bed, uttering a loud, shrill "Boooooo" as we do so, whereupon he tears after it, leaping onto the bed, skidding right across it with his back legs splayed, before disappearing over the other side.  Seconds later, he'll appear proudly in the kitchen with said Bonker or Wee Ball, and drop it at my or Susan's feet so we can do it again.
He loves to scrap feistily with me in what I trust is a spirited attempt to usurp me as the Alpha Male of the pride.  This occurs mainly when on the rug in the lounge, or the runner in the dining room - areas we have consequently designated as Reggie's 'Combat Zones.'  With regular occurrence and utter predictability, he'll roll about all cute in these zones, luring me in to rub his belly, then he'll grab hold of my arm and clasp on with his front legs, sink his teeth into my hand (which rarely hurts) and kick away at my arm with his back feet.  'Kangaroo Boy' is what we've called this ultimately futile and unfailingly amusing act of aggression.  When he thinks he's got the upper hand, I'll scoop him up and cuddle him, whereupon he looks so guilty and apologetic.  I just love that he does all this, as he retains a degree of wildness.
It's easy to directly communicate with Reggie.  I'll look at him intently, blinking slowly in an exaggerated manner, and he blinks right back.  It should come as no great surprise that we have called this lovely feature of his behaviour 'Blinkies.'  (Classic middle-aged, childless cat nuts - that's us!)
He gets 'Full Moon Fever' and can detect storms on the way long before we do.  When there's a full moon or inclement weather coming in, he'll run around the house at top speed, a grey blur, howling something like a wolf in cat form, which is just another example of his frequent dog-like personality traits. 
He does so many beautiful, side-splitting things, with new tricks on a regular basis, that I could write about our nutty, gorgeous feline companion all day long.  At this five-year mark we look back at how he has grown and developed, just as a parent would and does with their children, and we feel so lucky that the little blighter entered our world.  He brings us so much happiness, fuzz therapy whenever we need it (which is often), and whatever the feline interpretation of unconditional love is (especially, as a Mama's Boy, for Susan).  He's such a little star.
Happy Birthday, Reginald Iolanthe Morrison!      

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Wisdom of Robyn

Susan and I are big fans of the veteran English psychedelic pop singer-songwriter, Robyn Hitchcock, currently resident in Nashville.  Since 1972 Hitchcock has kept us hugely entertained with his wonderful, frequently whimsical and surreal songs, and he never really drops the ball with album after album of  consistently good material.  Live, between songs he tells the strangest, tripped out stories that seem to be improvised on the spot, and they are usually hilarious.  The odd sense of humour he employs in his songwriting and stage banter is clearly displayed in his Twitter feed, with random 'nonsense' pronouncements such as:
"Music is really good fun, and some musicians even play golf.  Our cat is going to sneeze.  It's not long 'til Easter.  I like mint chocolate."
"If we were more evolved we would sorvkng dfhi cgui wotdb until we zoefmu forever."
Delightful and silly, but of late Hitchcock has felt compelled to join the billions of right-thinking individuals around the world with a stream of powerful statements about and against Donald Trump and his insane 'executive orders.'  He has just about nailed it with the following quotes, with which I will conclude this brief post.
"Either we will eventually become extinct and be replaced by cats with articulated thumbs, who have evolved the way apes slowly evolved into us, or we will become empathic and mildly telepathic.  People like Donald Trump won't happen because biologically no human will be born with that lack of empathy."
This next one is an open letter to Trump, published on certain music blogs the day after the inauguration.  It is, in my opinion, very powerful, beautifully measured, and absolutely right on:
"Yesterday the whole thinking, feeling world gave the thumbs down to Donald Trump and everything he stands for. 
What does he stand for - or stand against, more importantly?
He's against every single gain we've made as a species in the last sixty years: in racial equality, in gender parity, in sexual tolerance, in environmental awareness, and in welfare, just to start the list.  Less than a day into his presidency, he has begun to nullify and marginalize all that so many have fought for in these areas since the Civil Rights movement.
But you can't marginalize the melting ice caps, Donald, and you can't nullify people's feelings when they get sick and starve.  You can't steal a woman's body from her, or steamroller someone's sexuality.  No matter hard you legislate.
Your supporters are mostly either so wealthy that they feel immune to life and death, or so misinformed that they think losing their health care will somehow help them.  Or they just can't face a female president, for reasons of their own.  We don't understand them, and they don't understand us, frankly.  You're presiding over the United States now - a nation with a greater divide than the Rockies ever were. 
You're not alone.  Your greedy, vainglorious, vindictive nature finds its echo in Britain, Russia and other lands.  But you will never find the admiration you lack, or the respect you crave, by alienating every empathic soul on earth.  And right now you're doing just that; you may relish it, but it's not making you happy, is it?
Yesterday my old friends marched in London, my partner marched in Washington DC, and my Nashville friends and I marched here in Tennessee.  I'm proud of them all, and proud to be among them.  There was no violence - just a bunch of us across the social dial celebrating what we believe in, and celebrating each other.
You must believe in something - other than the lustre of your own gold, and hurting those who disagree with you - or am I missing the point, Donald?"