Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Band in Heaven Plays My Favourite Song

I don't remember if I've ever used this space to discuss Miss Imperial's endlessly wonderful Band in Heaven project (and I'm too lazy to look back to see if I have), so if I'm repeating myself, bear with me.

Several years ago, Miss Imperial slyly asked many of her friends via email what their favourite song was, and why. Months passed, and then, voila, in each of our mailboxes appeared a lovingly compiled and packaged CD containing all of the songs, and a booklet with our explanations as to why, say, "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen (my pick) was the best song in the world, ever. And the CD was called The Band in Heaven.

And every year since, a new email has appeared soliciting picks for such themes as favourite dance song ("A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays," by De La Soul, since you're asking), favourite road song (don't remember), favourite discovery of the previous 5 years (The Constantines), etc. The first year, everyone's response had the air of candidness, but now the cat's out of the bag, so what you say about your pick is as important as the song you choose. You know that whatever response you give, your answer will be boiled down to its essence by Miss I and printed in the CD booklet for all to see. So, pressure, right?

Cut to this year, and the theme of sad songs, weepers, music for blue moods, etc. It took me a while to come up with the song, but once I did and it came time to write up the snappy reasons why, I got rather carried away with myself.

Reprinted below is my long-winded response, edited for legibility for those who haven't known me forever (or at all). The underlined text represents the portion Her Eminence, the Compiler chose as best expressing what the hell I meant:

It's a crowded field, because after all, sad songs say so much. But it has to be the poet laureate of sad, Leonard Cohen. "Famous Blue Raincoat" is about sizing up the detritus after the detonation of a three-way love affair, and the pain of losing both a lover and the friend who formed the third side of the triangle. It's not the specific situation that hits home necessarily, but the evocation of the painful knowledge that a part of your life has passed, and nothing on this Earth will bring it back again. The days and the people are gone.

To contextualize, one of the things I love about my wife's family is their sense of casual possession when it comes to their musical heroes. At family gatherings there's almost always a guitar or two, and eventually they come out and people start calling out songs. They call Cohen simply Leonard, as in "How about some Leonard?" That they do similar for Stan Rogers only makes me feel more giddy for the Canadian-ness of it all. Anyway, I suspect that it was out of these gatherings that my wife in large part developed her fondness for Cohen's songs, and it was those memories she was drawing on when she began using 'Famous Blue Raincoat' as a lullaby for our daughter, which worked beautifully, since the meter is so relaxing, even if the lyrics are paralyzingly depressing. So my relationship to this undeniably sad song is a complex one, for those are surely happy memories, of an infant baby held close in her mother's arms in the darkened bedroom of our house in the country.

But give me any shred of happiness and I'll surely find the sad side of it, for childhood is brief, and already I miss my infant daughter (she’s 2 going on 20 now), and every blissful moment I spend with her now also brings closer the knowledge of impending pain, because one day she will leave us, and that day is coming fast.

As for Leonard, I love the man as much as his effect on the people around me. Making kids depressed is surely like shooting fish in a barrel, but Cohen's particular brand of beautiful loserdom appeals absolutely to the adolescent psyche, and that's what friends and I would celebrate when we would sit in the dark saying nothing, listening to
The Best of Leonard Cohen. I remember several instances of this, maybe the most vivid being at Amy's house. It might have been hours that we sat there around an increasingly darkened kitchen table, remaining completely silent, listening.

I have also caught my mother expressing affection for Leonard and his work; my mother, who would be the last person I would ever expect to feel anything for Cohen. This rigid Presbyterian girl from smalltown
Nova Scotia and the dark and mysterious -- and frank in his sexuality -- Montreal Jew poet. When I caught the scent of this incongruous interest of my mother's, I was immensely comforted, because it hinted at a whole gray-tinted underside of her I did not know.

Anyway, good luck finding your brief one sentence sound bite in this overlong note. It's your fault, of course -- you asked.

And to think, I nearly chose "Atlantic City" again.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where Do the Days Go?

Wow, sorry about that extended absence. I guess the fact is that, after the hubbub and clamour and fuss of moving from one town to another subsides (which is not to say that it's all over, alas), you kind of sit back and wonder if you still are the person you thought you were when you lived in that old town. Such life changes offer handy access points to inspect life's moving parts, to dissect and to reexamine. They are perhaps the most convenient times to affect a degree of self re-invention, if in fact self re-invention is something you are interested in doing. Simply put, I guess I had to ask myself if I still wished to be an obsessive music consumer, listener, lover, worrier, thinker, postulater, pontificator and, yes, blogger. I wasn't really sure I had my answer until I unpacked the CD collection the other day. Poring over the spines, fussing over the correct alphabetization, coveting the objects as artifacts both personal and cultural, I knew I had my answer.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

But yes, I'm still a music broadcaster, or as much as I ever was, if you can call sharing a weekly jazz show on a campus radio station with 4 other guys broadcasting. Anyway, all that to say that this very minute, over at CKCU world headquarters, my first show in absentia is being presented. It's a re-edited, extended, re-cut version of the Michael White profile I did back in January, and my IMC cohort Ron is in the studio at Carleton U in Ottawa playing the digital files I have prepared and is inserting the appropriate ads (and many thanks to him for doing so). I've heard this show a hundred times now, what with the editing and so forth, and I've edited recordings of many of my previous shows, but this is the first time I have ever actually heard myself actually on air and I must report a strange, detached, almost out-of-body sensation as a result. Knowing that several other people (dozens? hundreds? thousands!?) are also hearing my voice as it is pushed out into the ether and onto the internet lends it a queer anti-weight. I am floating on invisible waves.

Anyway, if you're not listening right now, but would nevertheless like to hear the show, download it here:

Now's the Time - August 21: Michael White profile

Going forward, of course, all my shows will be presented this way (excepting those that aren't, I guess), which is a double-edged sword. There's no question that pre-recording gives the advantage of cutting, reconsidering, tweaking and perfecting, and all in all I know it will make for tighter shows. But there's an undeniable energy associated with sitting in that studio and working live into the microphone, and I'll miss that. Regardless, I'm glad I can keep up my association with the show and with the IMC. Seriously, those guys scare me with their knowledge, their passion and their devotion to the music and to the show.

Anyway, moving on...

If 2008 Ended Yesterday

No secret that this blog began as a simple list, an electronic version of the liners I used to make for the annual Best Of compilation that I, like countless other music obsessives, produce every year and foist onto friends too polite to tell me they don't really care. With that in mind, and because I'm terribly impatient, here's a pre-list, sort of a gestational version of the monster I'll unleash in December/January.

In not-yet-particular order:

The Walkmen, You + Me - this record made me cry last night, as much for its bang on evocation of what it means to be here and married and no longer prodigal as for its sheer perfection. It is as carefully crafted a set of sounds as you're likely to hear.

Portishead, Third - they had no right to produce something this incredible. None. They were over, washed up. What's impressive is that they recognized that a simple return to their sound would not fly in 2008; that the core ingredients of cinematic sounds and Beth Gibbons' unsurpassedly vulnerable voice were all that could remain; everything else had to be blown up and built again. Stunning.

The Hold Steady, Stay Positive - Frankly, it's no Boys and Girls in America, but then what is? Fact is nobody makes better classicist rock informed by punk, hardcore and '90s indie rock than this band, and the lyrics are always good.

The Night Marchers, See You in Magic - Rocket From the Crypt are no longer with us, but Speedo is, and his latest fling, The Night Marchers, continue with that band's basic M.O. This will kick your ass six ways from Sunday, and leave you happy it did. The perfect soundtrack to my re-insertion into suburbia.


Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
The Dodos, Visiter
Angles, Every Woman is a Tree
Various, Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-sounds and Nigerian Blues, 1970-76
Dave Douglas, Moonshine
Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust
Titus Andronicus, The Airing of Grievances
The Vandermark 5, Beat Reader

More to come. Promise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Isaac Hayes is Dead

Long live Isaac Hayes.