Category Archives: Music

A Cautionary Tale

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I cheated myself, like I knew I would.
— Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse has been on my mind lately. July 23rd marked the fourth anniversary of her passing and even here in Poland radio stations have been playing her music in tribute.

It’s hard to separate the Amy Winehouse of everyday, who was a complete mess, and Amy Winehouse, the musician. She wrote a lot about her struggles, candidly documenting her weakness for men, alcohol and other substances. I’ve often shied away from admitting she’s an influence on my own singing, but I don’t think I should any longer. For one thing, I know I’m not like her. And for another, I see her life as an example of how not to live so that, even in death, she is an inspiration to me.

Maybe cautionary tale would be a better term to describe how I feel about Amy.

Amy was consumed by her base hungers and her ill-placed love for a man who served as an instigator for her own addictions. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I think much of why she allowed others to dictate her life was because she was deeply self-conscious and wanted to be taken care of so she wouldn’t have to think about problems herself. That’s not the kind of person I want to be.

Amy never got the chance to change her ways. Her body gave up on her long before she was ready to change and so now she is frozen in time, a specter that will not change or evolve. Thankfully, blissfully I live and I can change. We all can. Each day that we live we have the opportunity to change the way we act or feel or behave. That’s one step forward that Amy Winehouse will never get to take. That’s the biggest tragedy of her death and why I will continue to mourn her for years to come. She didn’t want to die, but she couldn’t continue to live the way that she was living. She could have changed that, but the effort was too much for her. Those of us who want change, welcome renewal, are the lucky ones because we get that opportunity. Let Amy Winehouse be a cautionary tale for all of us.

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Sun Flares Galore

Before I left for Poland, I got an opportunity to shoot some really fun photos in Ashbridges Bay.

Phill asked me to get some shots for his upcoming solo album and he had one unique request — to include sun flares. We also had the opportunity to play with a vintage T-bird.

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Why Has the Harlem Shake Gone Viral?

The Harlem Shake is a series of viral Youtube videos that features one man or woman standing in the middle of a setting with various bored/nonchalant bystanders (in the case of this one, it’s a subway car full of startled passengers.) Halfway through the song, at the climactic peak, the video “smash cut(s) to the entire room going nuts in the most ridiculous ways possible.” Thank you, Mashable’s extensive research into the first viral hit of 2013. Students have done it, firefighters have done it. Even T-Pain’s done it.

Now that we know how it has progressed to its viral peak, I have to ask why? Why is the premise so popular?

Mashable themselves gave a hypothesis: “The videos are so short, you can easily consume a dozen of them in a ten-minute lunch break.”

My guess is that it’s also because so many new videos are being uploaded, there is fresh content to see almost daily. And, because the premise is simple and silly, more people are willing to spend a bit of time creating them.

Have you heard it, though? The beat is so grating to the ears and nerves that it’s almost calming to be released from the pain of its driving force.

This may sound terribly old of me to ask but, is this what they call EDM?

Electronic Dance Music, what I once associated with musicians like Nine Inch Nails (industrial), Depeche Mode, Massive Attack, Tiesto and Paul Oakenfold.

Now it’s associated with strange man-child-android hybrids named things like Skrillex and Dangermou5. Dangermou-five? Is that how you say it?

I’m being facetious, but I only ask this because it feels like popular music sometimes swings into this noisy mess that I can’t relate to. It happened when I was a child and grunge came out. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the true genius out of musicians like Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain, Bradley Nowell or, hell, even Billy Armstrong (although I do remember jumping like a gleeful punk to “When I Come Around” at the age of ten).

So perhaps this is the point at which I come to a startling conclusion: maybe I’ll “get” Skrillex when I’m older and wiser?

I won’t get the Harlem Shake videos, though. It’s just too weird and strange for me. Maybe I didn’t go to the right raves when I was growing up.

Who am I kidding? I didn’t go to any raves when I was growing up.

Update, Sunday, February 17th: Professional music geek Alan Cross also agrees with me. I contacted him to ask his opinion on the Harlem Shake and his response was succinct: “I don’t get it, either. I’m purposely ignoring it.” Thanks, Alan!

Stop Beyoncé Bashing

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Last Sunday, I watched the Superbowl. As a non-fan, I went into the party more excited about the prospect of gorging on American comfort food like chili and wings rather than the actual game itself. Then the half-time show started and I sat in front of the television like a giddly child, watching Beyoncé show the entire world just why she’s the most successful female performer in the world right now.

It was spectacular. Everything it could have been and more. Billboard magazine’s Brad Wete will back me up on that one—they called it “easily one of the best ever”.

But I knew as soon as it was over that it wouldn’t be enough. It’s never enough for some people. Despite the fact that she gave the performance of a career, there’s still criticism and what’s most surprising is that it’s coming from other women. The Globe and Mail‘s Wency Leung’s asks “Did Beyoncé hog the spotlight?” and Slate‘s Julia Turner asks “why did you insult your former bandmates?

Excuse me? Hog the spotlight? Beyoncé was hired to perform at the Superbowl, not Destiny’s Child. And the fact that she included the other two members of her former girl group speaks to the wisdom of this woman—she paid homage to her past by inviting her former bandmates to share the spotlight. How is that an insult? According to Turner, it’s because she “chose to be stingy about sharing the spotlight.” Leung, while she doesn’t particularly give any further insight into how this was “hogging the spotlight”, chose to focus on this rather than praise the woman for creating such a spectacle and finding a way to incorporate her old colleagues. Even former bandmate LaTavia Roberson tweeted the ecstatic but succinct following: “hats off to Bee’s halftime show! She murdered it!!!”

Why is it that when a woman brings her band back together to do a medley she’s lambasted for not giving them more of a spotlight? Why should she? What did the other two singers that equals to the work she’s put into her career? Yes. She’s a better performer than the other two. We knew it back then when she was the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child and we still know it today as we go back to that Superbowl performance and see the level of confidence and complexity she put into her own performance.

No one said to Sir Paul McCartney when he brought strangely enough the former members of Nirvana on stage with him to perform a new song together at the Hurrican Sandy Relief Concert that he didn’t give them enough of the limelight. Mostly we just said “huh?” since it was such a strange team-up. But there wasn’t a single person who sneered at the fact that the other band members didn’t get enough time onstage. It wasn’t their performance—it was Macca’s. Likewise it was Beyonce’s turn to shine and she outshone everyone. She brought the Superdome to its knees and we’re still ragging on her for not doing this, that or the other.

Shame on Turner and Leung for being such trolls. The success of our fellow women should bolster our own pride and make us seek to better ourselves in our own careers. Why put our energies into tearing each other down when there are plenty of men who are willing to do it for us. Pettiness is ugly and it takes too much time and effort.

An Addendum to a “Tunesday”

I noticed today that one of my most popular blog posts on The Punnery is this one, comparing Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain to Snow Patrol’s Set Fire to the Third Bar.

What a mouthful.

The one thing I failed to notice while I was going “deep into the psyche” of these lovely songs was this: why the fuck do they want to set fire to anything?

Bunch of arsonists.

As far as I’m concerned we should avoid both parties at all costs. Even if they are terribly romantic.

Also, What if Adele Was Mrs. Doubtfire?


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Without Chronic Back Pain I Could Be Runnin’ Up That Hill with No Problem

Recently, within the last month, I’ve developed a severe chronic pain in my back. I’ve largely ignored it and now it’s at the point where it lingers all day long, eating away at my lower back when I stand for more than a few minutes. In the morning, I get out of bed gingerly. In the bathroom, I bend from the knees to lift the toilet cover up. I practically fall onto the seat. God help me if my toothbrush is stored below the sink.

The doctor told me that in my situation I needed to exercise to strengthen my back muscles, otherwise this chronic condition would worsen. Knowing my father’s history with back pain, the thought of it getting any worse has struck fear into my heart. Once your back goes, everything goes.

A few years ago I began to take yoga classes at the Harlequin offices. Each Tuesday at five o’clock, a nice woman from a yoga studio would turn one of our large meeting rooms into a little retreat with some mood music and dimmed lights. There, for an hour’s time, I would forget the drudgery of my everyday life and focus on breathing and stretching. It was wonderfully relaxing. This was the first time I ever committed to an exercise—class, routine, what have you. I took that class for over a year and a half.

When I left that office, I stopped taking yoga classes. I couldn’t find the same deal, nor a studio that quite imitated the experience that I got from my Harlequin yoga class. I tried looking for one, but it just wasn’t the same. Eventually life swept me into its waves and I forgot about it.

Yoga has come back into my life because of this pain. When my friend Kristen visited me recently, she inspired me to try doing it in the comfort of my own home. As she recounted her life in Morocco, where she taught for a year, she mentioned that she would frequently do yoga in a spare bedroom. What most appealed to me was that she would listen to whatever she wanted.

While I enjoyed my classes when I was taking them, the instructor’s taste in music was traditional, and while I could tolerate it, I wasn’t insired by it. Not a big surprise, given the fact that music is so important to my life. So, buoyed by Kristen’s experience, I’ve started practicing yoga at home, and it’s helped me immensely with my back pain.

I write this after a particularly vigorous 40 minute session and I feel no pain in my lower back, while before, as I was struggling to work on my laptop, I was hampered by the constant ache. Thank God for yoga. I encourage you to try it if you haven’t. It’s a great meditative process and it really helps you get the kinks out of what ails you. Most places offer a free trial class, but I’m a total convert to the self-practice route as well. Once you know enough moves, you can work with your body in your own time.

And, as a bonus inspiration, I offer you a link to my favourite playlist that I currently use as my mood music. It’s not quite the sitar and raga sort of yoga music, but it certainly does put me into a meditative state. The bonus part is it ends with Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, one of my favourite songs. Enjoy College’s Every Single Time mix on Soundcloud. And check out the Valerie Collective, which I happened to stumble upon accidentally one day. Fans of the Drive soundtrack (yes, that movie with the Gos) will be pleasantly surprised.

A year ago in the French countryside

I spent some time learning a little jazz.


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Indeed, it was the first time I had truly organized myself to study one particular style of music outside of my adolescent influences, the Nine Inch Nails, the Sarah McLachlans, the trashy Euro trance that fills my iPod even to this day. It could just as very well have been opera or folk music but no, I chose jazz.

Recently, a fellow attendee of last year’s workshop dredged up my memories of the event. First he announced via Facebook he was off to the Loire Valley once again which sent a twinge of longing through my being, then he posted his photographs of this year’s on Facebook. I creeped them shamelessly, eager to see if I recognized anyone. Happily and sadly, it was only a few.

As I was browsing the album, I thought about the people I didn’t know and what it was like for them. Did they have as much fun as we did last year? What was the group dynamic like? Were the late nights as late as ours? Did the group study as hard as we did? What sort of connections did these people make with each other?

I think about my own life and what sort of progress I’ve made since that eventful trip. The first obvious change was that my musical education began in earnest after my return. From attending weekly Wednesday night open mics where I’d be lucky to sing one or two songs the band knew, I turned my attention to theory. I built on the education that the Loire Music School merely introduced me to in that short week. I hired a tutor who patiently introduced me to the potential of music theory. (“That’s why it’s called theory, because they can’t call it the rules.”) I fumbled through identifying chords on my keyboard and I worked on my repertoire and I began to listen in earnest.

My music collection has increased tenfold since that week, mostly in the vein of jazz. I now own albums of Ella, Chet, Django, Duke, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington (the first jazz singer I took my inspiration from), Brad Mehldau, Melody Gardot, Amy Winehouse. These are just some of musicians I turn my attention to gain inspiration from. And I’m constantly seeking more.

What’s the next step to take in this path? Go to music school? Some would say so. But when I think about all the things I want to learn in music school I can’t help but feel like I’m already well on my way to learning all of those things, and I didn’t have to pay a huge tuition to get them. My next “step” is taking a seven-week piano course from the Royal Conservatory of Music, so I can actually learn to play the piano decently. It’s inexpensive and it would be foolish of me not to capitalize on the facilities I have available to me for practicing.

And then? What after that? I suppose I could entertain the idea of taking that walk down the garden path towards higher education. But I’d just as rather see if I can move to London and find work as a musician there. So I suppose that means the future is open, which makes me uneasy, but as I’ve proven in the past, that’s not an uncommon feeling in my life.

Now that I’ve written all of this out, though, I feel much more like I can move confidently down this unknown path. I mean, it’s not really unknown to me; I’ve spelled it out for myself in plain English through my keyboard. It’s rather exciting now.