Thursday, February 4, 2016

Golden Sunshine

I almost died once.
It would have been a stupid death, had it actually happened.

I inhaled some mold spores while renovating my house. My epiglottis began to swell and it became difficult to breathe and swallow. At the hospital, I was told I had mere hours to live. I was intubated and sent to Intensive Care for six days.
While in I.C.U. I met my friend, morphine. The morphine that drip, drip, dripped like golden sunshine into my veins.

The idea of Pain doesn't scare me anymore.
Thanks to morphine, it now feels a lot like Love.

Thanks to all who took part in the first week of The 100-Word Challenge.  It was a lot of fun to write and share and read such good work again.  Thanks to all who visited my blog and left such positive and supportive comments. Thanks, as always, to Tara for hosting.

"Golden Sunshine" is a true story.  Man! That morphine felt soooooo good! I can see why people become addicted. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Care To Watch?

My annual physical. The doctor probes my prostate....and pauses.
"Your prostate is enlarged. I'm not comfortable leaving this unchecked. I'll book you an appointment with a specialist."
I didn't need to ask what he meant. I'm over 50 now.  

Three weeks later.....
The fasting. The enema. 

I will be awake for the exam and, apparently, if I so choose, I can watch it in real time on a monitor. Are my balls big enough to watch God's verdict, on their monitor? 

The probe is inserted and the doctor cheerfully cries, "Let us begin!" 
I so wish I could shit!

A big THANK YOU and shout out goes to a great person and writer named Tara Roberts!  Thanks for picking up the mantle of responsibility and keeping the 100-Word Challenge alive. It is so nice, at least for this moment in time, to be surrounded by such a wonderful, supportive and talented group of writers again.  I have missed you all.  Please click on the 100-Word Challenge link on the right to be taken to Tara's great blog, Thin Spiral Notebook and, of course, this writing challenge.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

X-Y-Z is for Neil Young

     Neil Young has been producing great music for more than the entire 51 years of my life.

     His career began way back in the early 1960s with a band Called Buffalo Springfield.  This band had a big hit with the Vietnam protest song called, For What It's Worth.  Buffalo Springfield was a supergroup of sorts, with other members such as Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash), Richie Furay and Jim Messina (Poco, for both and Loggins and Messina, for Jim Messina) all finding personal and collaborative success in the wake of Buffalo Springfield's demise after a few short years.  But, the door was not entirely closed on Buffalo Springfield because, in 1997, it was elected to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
     Eventually, as the 1960s drew to a close, Stills called upon Neil Young to join his new group that he had formed with David Crosby and Graham Nash so, they formed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. CSNY enjoyed hits such as Teach Your ChildrenOhio and Helpless. This group was at the forefront of the 1960s "Flower power" movement and helped cement Young's reputation as a political singer who was unafraid to state his opinions, through his songs, on a wide range of issues.

     After CSNY broke up, Neil Young went on to forge one of the most consistently successful careers in all of music. Regardless of whether he was playing in styles such as folk, country or rock, Young created iconic hit songs such as Old Man, After the Gold Rush, Needle and the Damage Done, Cinnamon Girl, Harvest Moon, Southern Man, Rockin' in the Free World, Hey, Hey, My, My, HurricaneLong May You Run and Only Love Can Break Your Heart, all of which are acknowledged as being classics of the Rock n' Roll era.

    Politically and personally, Neil Young has devoted a lot of his energy and his fame toward various causes which struck close to his heart such as the Farm Aid concerts. He helped to found The Bridge School, for children with severe physical and/or developmental difficulties and helped to organize the highly successful benefit concerts that are held yearly to aid the school. He has, also, spoken out against corporate sponsorship of rock music and those who cause damage to our environment.  Consequently, Neil Young has always appeared a little "rough around the edges" from a music industry perspective.  He is a non-conformist with regard to the powers-that-be but a populist performer with his fans and admirers.

     Neil Young has earned many awards over the course of his legendary career including, being elected to the Rock n' Roll hall of Fame TWICE!! (Once, as a member of Buffalo Springfield and once for his work as a solo performer.)  He has been elected to The Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. Young has been nominated for 28(!) Juno Awards, winning seven. He is a member of The Order of Manitoba and an Officer of The Order of Canada.
He has been deemed, along with Bob Dylan, as being the greatest living songwriter of all time.  And, all I really can say about all of this is that Neil Young was writing hit songs when I was a toddler, learning my letters and numbers......and, he is still as relevant today, as he was back then, an entire lifetime ago.  What an amazing performer!  What an amazing career!

     A big tip of the hat to our final group of performers...those whose names begin with an "X", a "Y" or a "Z":

     Singer, Alfie Zappacosta, Olympic songbird, Nikki Yanovsky, Guitarist, Zal Yanovsky (of The Lovin' Spoonful), Country star, Lori Yates, Mr. Joel Zimmerman aka, Deadmau5, Alt-rock band, Yukon Blonde, Juno Award-winning folk singers, Zubot and Dawson, Indie rock band, The Zolas,  Montreal alternative band, Young Galaxy, Indie band, Young Empires, Alt-rock band, Zeus and, finally, one of the founding fathers of Canadian punk rock, Young Canadians aka, the K-tels!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

W is for Walk Off The Earth, Patrick Watson and the Weakerthans

     A few years ago, on a rainy, indoor recess school day, I found myself on supervisory duty.  As I entered the computer lab, one of the older kids beckoned me over and said, "Hey!  Mr. M.!  Check this Out!  Five people playing one guitar!"
     I walked over, expecting to see some sort of novelty act but, instead, I stood, transfixed, watching some very talented performers expertly playing one guitar and singing the most amazing song called Somebody I Used To Know.

     "Who Is this?" I asked.

     "They're called Walk Off The Earth."

     At the time, I had no idea that this was not their own song and was, in fact, a cover of the original song by Australian singer, Goyte.  All that I know was that this video was really well done and that the group seemed refreshing and original and that I liked them.  While still on duty, I called in the music teacher to watch the video and then, the Principal, too.  We were all floored!  Apparently, we were not alone.  At the time of the writing of this post, Walk Off The Earth's version of Somebody I Used To Know has been viewed over 2 million times!   Many people, myself included, far prefer the WOTE version of this song and that is where controversy took root.  Walk Off The Earth's version was being requested on iTunes and on local radio stations but, technically, Goyte's version was the legally-released song and, as such, it was almost impossible to hear WOTE's version through mainstream sources.  There was a lot of back-and-forth on comment boards between fans demanding that WOTE's version be more readily accessible, with just as many criticizing the band and accusing it of ripping Goyte off.

     In the end, both bands declared mutual respect for the other and, in retrospect, it is easy see how the publicity helped both performers gain attention and record sales as a result.  However, at the time, Walk Off The Earth became one of the most talked-about groups in the world.......and, they never even had a record contract!   Like The Weeknd, Walk off The Earth circumvented the traditional music industry route when it came to having their music heard by the masses.  They pioneered the use of YouTube and social media like Facebook and Twitter, to connect directly with their fan base.  Since that first video, Walk Off The Earth has released all of their songs on video first. In most cases, they released the videos straight from their own website onto Facebook and into the homes of millions of their "friends" and "followers".

     Walk Off The Earth has had a string of hits with other cover songs such as, Little Boxes, Some Nights and I Knew You Were Trouble. But, they have started releasing their own, original tunes, as well and have been achieving an increasingly higher amount of record sales and/or air play on mainstream media. Songs such as Summer Vibe, Gang of Rhythm, Red Hands and Rule the World have all become hits and have earned their fair share of airplay at my house via our various personal iTunes playlists and all across the country, too.

     This band, from Burlington, Ontario, just seems to be getting stronger and stronger. Their inventiveness and creativity can clearly be seen in the really cool videos they produce.  They appear to be having a lot of fun doing what they are doing and seem very relaxed and comfortable with the vision they have for their career and how best to interact with their fans.  It wouldn't surprise me at all if, on future rainy, indoor recess kind of day, that some other student doesn't call me over to say, "Hey!  Mr. M.!  Check out this really cool video!"   I know I'll be as impressed then as I was that first time, when I first watched "five people playing one guitar"
     *Just as an fyi, the video for Gang of Rhythm was filmed on the pier by the beach in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario so, if you want to get a sense of where I am when I write these posts then, check out Gang of Rhythm.   

     When I first began creating these posts, it was with the goal of, hopefully, bringing some new and deserving artists to light.  With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to Patrick Watson.

     Patrick Watson is a very interesting performer because he appears as Patrick Watson, solo artist, as well as, Patrick Watson, the band.  Whether alone or accompanied, Patrick Watson has been wowing the music critics and his fellow performers for years.

     Born in the U.S. but, raised in and around, Montreal, Patrick Watson, has performed with many of the performers who make up the Montreal music scene such as The Dears, The Stills and so on.  Watson's first album, Closer To Paradise, won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 and was nominated for a Juno Award. His second album, Wooden Arms,  was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize in 2009.  His songs have appeared on famous television shows such as Grey's Anatomy and The Walking Dead. 
   Patrick Watson has developed a devoted following who admire the inventiveness of the instrumentation and poetry of the lyrics used in such songs as The Great Escape, Noisy Sunday, Big Bird in a Small Cage and Lighthouse.  Currently, Patrick Watson has a hit song entitled, Love Songs for Robots. Moody. Atmospheric. Ethereal. Delicate and Intricate. Perfect. Patrick Watson.

     I will leave you with Winnipeg's The Weakerthans.  The Weakerthans were formed in the late 90s by members of two hard rock bands, Propaghandi and Red Fisher.  The goal was to create a more melodic type of sound than was possible within the constraints of their former bands.  The band name was chosen after a line, "What force on Earth can be weaker than the feeble strength of one."

     The Weakerthans have achieved both, critical and commercial success. Their second album, Left and Leaving was named one of the Top Ten albums of all-time in Canada in the very same reader's poll from Chart Magazine than had named Sloan as having the top album of all-time.  Obviously, readers of Chart Magazine enjoy their Alt-rock music written and played well.  The Weakerthans have been nominated for Juno Awards and have been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. They have won multiple West Coast Music Awards, as well as, being named Artist of the Year at the Verge Awards on XM Satellite Radio (other winners have included, Hey Rosetta!  Alexisonfire and Dan Mangan).
     The Weakerthans have produced several hit songs including, Civil TwilightTournament of Hearts, Sun in an Empty Room, One Great City, Left and Leaving and Aside.  This particular song, One Great City, is a great example of what The Weakerthans are all about; it is Canadian to its' core, unpretentious and down to earth, a sing-along song about Winnipeg...who knew?  Well, apparently, all of the folks singing along in the crowd did.  What a great Canadian band, The Weakerthans!!!

     Finally, a big tip of the hat to the following artists whose name happens to start with a "W":

Indie Rockers, Women, Singer/songwriter/producer, Hawksley Workman, Superb musical siblings, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Lead singer of Sum 41, Deryck Whibley, Satirist, Nancy White, Rocker, David Wilcox,  Lead singer of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings/Junkhouse, Tom Wilson, Singer/songwriter/composer, Bob Wiseman, Singer, Karl Wolf, Country star, Michelle Wright, Singer/songwriter, Royal Wood, Bluesman, Jackie Washington, Alt-folk band, Woodpigeon, Alternative darlings from Montreal, Wolf Parade, Bourbon Tabernacle Choir founder, Andrew Whitman, The Lumberjack Singer, Hal Willis, Alternative band, Wake Owl, Bluegrass stars, The Wailin' Jennys, Alt-rock band, Whitehorse, Indie rockers, The Waltons, Rockers, Wide Mouth Mason, Weeping Tile and The Watchmen, Blues rockers, Wild T and the Spirit, Trenton, Ontario's own, The Wilkinsons and, finally, Indie rockers from Halifax, Wintersleep.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

W is for The Weeknd and The Power of Celebrity

     In the not so very distant past, a lady named Oprah Winfrey had her own television talk show in the United States.  Besides being an excellent host, Oprah was, also, an actress, a philanthropist and a social activist but, above all else, Oprah Winfrey was a Kingmaker.  Oprah was a powerful woman; especially in the Arts community. With a single sticker from her "Book Club" placed on the cover of a new book, Oprah could take, even the most obscure author, and bestow upon them instant credibility and direct toward them, legions of faithful followers who would dutifully ratchet up the sales totals, driving the book quickly up the the New York Times Best-seller charts.  Oprah's Book Club is just example of the power of "the celebrity endorsement".

     In Canada, we have seen the rise of a new celebrity power-broker. The rapper, Drake, has assumed the position of arbitrator of "cool" in this country.  His base of power is the city of Toronto.  Drake reigns over his dominion as a benevolent dictator.
He has rebranded the city as "The 6" and Torontonians love it; especially the athletes, singers and artists, the ones in the public eye.  They took to referring to Toronto as "The 6" immediately, as if it had never been any other name, ever.  He helped to unveil the Toronto Raptors new uniforms during one of his concerts, and the crowds and the city loved it.  Drake is an a-list rapper who hangs with the likes of Jay-Z and Eminem. His cache enables him to effortlessly attract other "cool" figures into his realm such as NBA star, Lebron James and singers such as Pharrell.  Drake has acquired the same devoted following in Canada and, in particular, in Toronto, as Oprah ever had in the United States. He has power to affect change, on his terms and, he is gaining more confidence when it comes to using it. Drake is, single-handedly, helping the city put a strut back in its' stride. As fans, the relationship with Drake in symbiotic in that the more he leads, the more they want him to lead. They are his source of energy. They are his gang, as it were and he is their leader.  They are emboldened by his attitude and they welcome and support, unreservedly, anyone who he deems worthy of his blessing. Such is the case with, arguably, the hottest, fastest rising music star in the country these days, rapper and soul singer, The Weeknd.

     The Weeknd is the stage name of Toronto-area rapper, Abel Tesfaye.  He began his career only a few years ago in 2010. Initially, he bypassed the usual music industry requirements of having an agent, signing a record deal, etc. and, simply recorded three songs and released them on YouTube.  He only gave his name as The Weeknd and provided no other information; letting his music speak for him.  The quality of his rapping was so stellar that people took notice and talk of his music spread by word-of-mouth, ending with Drake taking notice and deciding to involve himself by placing the songs on his own website.  Such a personal and public endorsement catapulted The Weeknd into the spotlight in a hurry.  Only one year into his career, The Weeknd was shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize and found himself performing at Drake's own OVOfest concert.

     The Weeknd has displayed a tendency to use social media as his way to connect with his fans and to market his product.  Initially, he released three separate "mixed tapes" on his own website, available for free download.  Even when performing live on a stage, The Weeknd would never want to grant interviews. Instead, he would respond directly to his fans via Twitter, for example.  In doing so, The Weeknd created an air of mystery about himself while, at the same time, developing an intimate relationship with each fan who became a member of "his crew".

     Eventually, The Weeknd signed a record deal and released an album that combined the three previously released mixed tapes.  This album, Trilogy, went into the Top Ten on BillBoard's Music Charts, in the categories of Rap and Soul.  Ever since then, The Weekend has had a steady stream of hit songs such as The Hills, Earned ItLive For, Often, The Morning and Kiss Land and has raised his profile considerably by appearing on such well-known soundtracks as The Fifty Shades of Grey.  The Weeknd is well on his way to enjoying a career marked by tremendous commercial and critical success. He has achieved what he has to date by maintaining strict control over how he releases new songs, as well as, in how he interacts with his fans.  He has always kept the music "industry" at arms length which, when you have friends like Drake in your corner, you are able to get away with doing.

***Note:  Part II of "W" will appear tomorrow, along with the "Hats off" list, too.   Thanks for taking the time to read my work. As always, your comments are gratefully appreciated.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

V is for Jon Vickers

     Jon Vickers was one of the most renown operatic tenors in the world.  In fact, he was more than merely a tenor, Jon Vickers was a heldentenor, which means to have a heroic presence on stage.  In my opinion, if you have the vocal ability to sing opera the way it is meant to be sung, you may as well go all the way and be heroic in the process.  Jon Vickers was every bit that hero.

     Jon studied opera at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in the 1950s and, upon graduation, joined The Covent Garden Company of London's Royal Opera House in 1957 and then, in 1960, joined the company at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  Possessing a strong, powerful voice, Vickers was able to easily handle the rigours of Opera's founding languages; French, Italian and German.  He was noted for his acting abilities, as much as his vocal prowess and, as such, was a sought-after performer in virtually all major operas of note.  His favourite composer was Wagner but, Vickers was more than comfortable handling the work of any composer.  He was awarded the Companion to the Order of Canada and The Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

     Just this past month, Jon Vickers passed away at his home in Ontario.  He had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease at the time of his death.  In order to forestall the onset of Alzheimers as long as possible, family members and hospital staff filled his home and then, eventually, his room, with the rich, full, glorious sounds of his operas.  Bizet (Carmen), Handel (Samson), Berlioz (Les Troyens), Verdi (Otello), Beethoven (Fidelio), Wagner (Die Walker, "Winterstrume"); the words, music and passion of a life lived grandly, filled his final hours, leaving such a rich tapestry of success for all of us to admire.
     Jon Vickers was Canada's greatest Heldentenor.  A hero to all who truly care about great music.

     A big tip of the hat is extended toward the following performers whose name begins with the letter, "V":

     Alternative singer, Chad VanGaalen, Quebec metal bands, Voivod and Vulgaires Machins, Folk singer, Valdy, Hit songwriter (especially for Bryan Adams), Jim Vallance, Prince protogee, Vanity, My pal, Gloria's lifelong boy crush, Singer Roch Voisine, Montreal Singer and 80s heart throb, Gino Vanelli, Lead singer of rock band, Helix, Brian Vollmer, Quebec singer, Vincent Vallieres, Electronic/Sound sampler, Venetian Snares and, finally, one of the godfathers of the Punk Music scene in Canada, The Viletones.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

U is for Usher

     David Usher gained fame in the 90s for being the lead singer of a band called, Moist.  Moist  had a string of several hits such as Push, Silver, Believe Me, Leave It Alone, BreatheResurrection, Gasoline and Tangerine.   Usher was born in England; his mother being a Thai Bhuddist artist and his father, a professor of Economics from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.   Moist formed in Vancouver and has won two Juno Awards, several Much Music Video Awards and several Canadian Music Association Awards for Best Rock Album, Video, Band and Singer.

     For many young musicians, the attainment of critical and mainstream success would be the end goal to a productive and prestigious life. However, David Usher, like Raine Maida (from Our Lady Peace), never did see his musical career as being the centre of his life.  Because of his upbringing, Usher has experienced a life that brought with it a blending of cultures, beliefs and attitudes. As a result, David Usher has a vision for his life that extends well beyond the spotlight and into the realm of compassion and creativity on a global scale.

     In addition to singing with Moist, Usher is involved in several creative and/or charitable ventures;

- He serves on the Board of Directors of an organization called Amnesty International's Artists for Amnesty (which focusses on helping people who are oppressed and/or imprisoned in their home countries). Many artists have donated songs to this cause which you can download for free or else, purchase through the normal sources and have a portion of the purchase price go to help fund Amnesty International's work on social and political justice throughout the world.
- He has travelled with an organization called WarChild (which deals with children in war zones).  By clicking on the link and then, clicking on "Our History" you will see David's name and activities for this organization, as well as, Raine Maida, his wife, Chantel Kreviazuk and other big time Canadian performers such as The Tragically Hip, Sum 41 and others.
- He sits on the Board of McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas.
- David runs a company called, Clouded Creativity Labs (which works to bring together the worlds of Art and Technology in interesting and creative ways)
- Finally, David Usher is an author and motivational speaker.  His book, Let the Elephants Run is all about how we, as ordinary citizens, can harness the creativity that exists within us but which, for one reason or another, is suppressed.   In addition to his book, Usher writes about the impact of "exponentially and the coming of the second machine age on business and society"  on a website called Human Metrics.

     When David Usher and Moist first burst on to the Canadian music scene, his exotic good looks held sway and there was a great attempt made to turn him into a poster boy and teen idol. But, as is evident from the words above, judging this book by its' cover would cause you to miss out on a deep-thinking, compassionate soul who is living a fully, self-actualized life and who is leaving a better world in his wake.  What a great Canadian success story David Usher has turned out to be.

     Hard to follow that so, instead, let's go straight to the tipping of the hat toward those performers whose name begins with a "U":

    Indie-pop performers, Unicorns, Singer/songwriter, Shari Ulrich, 80s rockers, Universal Honey, Avant-garde Metal Band, UnexpecT, and finally, Multi-Award winning Jazz fusion group from Montreal, Uzeb