Archive for December, 2008

Beyond the Big Cities

December 31, 2008

WHen I’m making a sketch I try to emphasize the things I want and ignore the things I don’t want.

A.Y. Jackson

Canadian Landscapes

I’m sitting down today and watching a 1941 National Film Board documentary called Canadian Landscapes.  This is the story of Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson, and his work.  Specifically, it deals with a canoe trip into the north.  The north here is Northern Ontario.

We bgin with a history, geography and art history lesson.  Early paintings of the Canadian North were done by Europeans in a European style.  Then came Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.  The film gives a quick overview, with examples, of thie thoroughly Canadian art movement.  Alexander Young Jackson makes his appearance.  He looks very good for a man of his age, and is identified as the leading landscape artists of his time.  We find him working in Toronto in a building that was built for Canadian artists.  Apparently he lives in a shack with a mining prospector.  He paintswearing a tie, which is an interesting touch.

As Jackson and his companion prepare for the journey north he hopes into a canoe dressed like a coureur de bois.  It is autumn so the trees are colourful.  Since it is 1940 their tent is simple canvas, not the high tech synthetics you found on campgrounds around North America these days.

The image of an artist working in the bush is at first striking and contradictory. After all, while art often seems delicate and careful, the Canada north is rugged and dangerous. Jackson climbs on top of the Canadian Shield to overlook the river he has just travelled. The narration gives a fantastic description of the method and meaning of his work.

It is very useful to be able to watch the painting and the scene juxtaposed, so we can understand the way the artist manipulates his view to create the art.  The quote at the top of this post sums up the general Group of Seven style quite well.  It’s not about caturing exactly what is there, as A.Y. Jackson says, the scene is “the starting point” for the artists interpretation.

I should note that Jackson is working in the area of Grace Lake, Ontario at this point. Next we travel to St. Tite de Caps, in Quebec. It is spring time, though the snow is still omnpresent.  Whereas in Northern Ontario Jackson focused on the hills and trees, in Quebec he turns his attention to the barns and other elements of rural life along the St. Lawrence.  He paints little scenes as he snowshoes through the woods and fields of this tiny village.  The narrator notes the difference in Jackson’s work here in Quebec. With painting done for the day Jackson plays cards with his French-Canadian friends.

This film is intended to demonstrate and explain Jackson’s process of creating finished works.  He is constantly changing his paintings as he gains a greater understanding of the landscape he experienced.  I have to say that the work is absolutely stunning.  The variety of paintings featured shows a breadth of Jackson’s creations I was not familiar with until now.

We are taken on a visual journey across the country, a feature all NFB documentaries should contain.  The narrator speaks of the vast untamed wilderness beyond settled Canada. Although people have since encroached upon more of this space, much of it remains open and empty of human touch.  Still the work of A.Y. Jackson, and this film record of his efforts stands as a reminder of what was once the very definition of Canada.

This Book is a Cookbook, How Do You Explain That?

December 30, 2008

Religious peoples and people who get elected to their jobs always take the world deadly serious. They never guess that by being so serious they make most people laugh at them.

Silas Ermineskin


W.P. Kinsella’s The Fencepost Chronicles

W.P. Kinsella is one of my favourite authors. I have read a number of his works and enjoyed every single one.  I am just finishing The Fencepost Chronicles and the mixture of wit, satire, and magic is a perfect way to spend a few hours.  He has a way of taking ordinary situations and transforming them into mystical and unbelievable stories.  He makes a really good point in the quote above through the guise of an Alberta Cree writer who observes a fundamentalist Christian book burning.  That particular story (one of 13 in the book) satirizes both religious fanatics and politicians, but in a very endearing manner. Indeed, the entire book reflects a worldview that is slightly askew from the ordinary: a 400lb medicine woman takes over as goalie and covers the entire net, two fish-out-of–water natives have a late night chat with the queen in Buckingham Palace, spending a night inside a caribou on a cultural exchange, and a host of other hilarious and outlandish stories.  Obviously, I am quite fond of this book and would recommend checking it out (most likely at your local library since it was first published in 1986).

The Fencepost Chronicles paints Canadian politicians and their religious counterparts as too serious and proud.  Of course it is intended to be satirical but it is also sincere.  It leads me to a question, would the world be a better place if “important” people didn’t take it so seriously.  On one hand, having doctors, social workers, and even politicians focusing their attention on social problems in a serious manner is important. On the other, by getting worked up about many things they probably exaserbate otherwise harmless situations.  I have to admit that I often get worked up about trivial items, and even sometimes take myself way too seriously to the point of heightening my sense of self-importance. Most of life is ridiculous and hilarious.  If I lived my life like the characters in The Fencepost Chronicles I’d have an eternal smile. Of course I would also be a career petty criminal and an alcoholic.  Probably not worth the trade. My point today is that the world needs more laughter and magic.

The Roof Is Leaking

December 29, 2008

It’s written in a book!

Phil Collins

Behind The Lines

New podcast is up today. As usual you can find it over there –>.  This week I am doing a vinyl album review of Phil Collins’ Face Value. I’m also featuring the music of two instrumental acts.

The first group is a local Hamilton outfit called Euphonic. They are a trio consisting of guitar, cello and drums. The music combines elements of jazz, fusion, and other more traditional styles, along with a contemporary sensibility. They have a concert on Friday January 2nd starting at 7pm at Centenary United Church (24 Main St. West in Hamilton). What the Folk will be joining them for that show.  It promises to be a great time! For more info about Euphonic check out their website. Music by What the Folk will be on a future episode of the podcast.

The second featured artist is Phoenix Rising, a duo of San Francisco area musicians, Monica Williams (Flute) and Wendy Loomis (Piano). Their latest album Ascension is a 7 track exploration of meditation, and relaxation with each track corresponding to one of the 7 chakras of Hindu spirituality.  One nice feature of the album is that the key of each track is one step above the previous. Meaning the album literally ascends musically. If you are looking for an entertaining and relaxing collection of well composed and beautifully played songs this is the grou for you.  For more information about this popular American duo visit their website.

The next episode will be up Friday and should feature Max of The Mass Romantics.

To my friends and listeners, I am going to begin posting my podcast updates through facebook and email to contact those who have not subscribed to the RSS feed. You will be able to opt out of this, but you need to let me know by replying to the message I send you. That’s it for today I will be back as usual tomorrow!

She/He Runs/Walks From/Toward Herself/Himself

December 28, 2008

The streets youre walking on, a thousand houses long, and that’s where I belong, and you belong with me, not swallowed in the sea.


Swallowed in the Sea

In an earlier post in this blog I briefly discussed the work of Viktor Frankl and his thoughts on the search for meaning. In the Christmas Eve episode of the podcast I discussed the religious quest for answers.  As I was walking home from the library today, clutching three good books and a film that promises to be part of Monday’s podcast, I was contemplating my own quest for identity.  There is a transition point in most people’s lives where they go from being a learner to being a doer.  The Coldplay song I have quoted deals with that question by positing ways that a person could carve out their niche in the world.  Others are always asking me, “so what will you do now? What are you doing now? What’s the plan?” and obviously I can’t answer them. I could say, oh I’m writing a blog, I’m making a podcast, I’m recording music, and I’m exploring the world as much as I can.  That doesn’t get to the meaning of their question I’m sure, but it does speak to my current hunt for an identity. Although in the podcast I talked about the search for meaning as a fundamental experience of life, the quest for identity is arguably more important.  I think most people can live without a meaning in life if they have a sense of who they are and how they fit. I guess the two ideas are intertwined in that in order to have an identity you must find some meaning in who you are, and vice versa.

The only reason I can really sit and question my own identity is because I have free time. Having nothing to do is the fertile soil in which philosophy grows.  I’m sure if I had 100 things t accomplish I would not give myself a second thought. Things would just be as they are.  It’s funny actually, because I spent many years studying other people’s ideas about identity and answers to the qeustion of meaning without ever fully developing my own.  The tendency to ignore your own thoughts when learning those of others can be one of the challenges of education.  It doesn’t have to be that way of course, and I would say that my experiments with writing and music stand as an example of my own seeking during my formative years.  But can I find my identity in lines of melody and text?  My girlfriend said to me the other day (in reference to some other band’s song), that she liked their music because it was clear what it was about.  She continued by telling me that my songs were incomprehenisble and confusing, though she still liked them.  I am open to that criticism and I’ve said before that the songs don’t always make sense to me at first.  But I’ve lost my way a bit here.  I think identity is something best understood in retrospect because in the moment it’s hard to see clearly what is really going on. Regardless it’s important to me that I look. How about you?

O Canada!

December 27, 2008

This post bears an appropriate title from the first song of Part II of this running diary. Thanks Kathleen Edwards. In case you are confused I’m listening to Kathleen Edwards on demand from CBC Radio 2. It’s her concert at the Ottawa Bluesfest back in July.

O Canada seems like another bitter song from Kathleen Edwards.  She is definitely mad about the world, guns, global warming etc. And honestly of all the countries in the world Canada is probably at or near the bottom of the list for many of the major global problems. Low murder rate, improving pollution record, a boat load of untouched natural resources, and generally healthy happy people.

Scared at Night. And underneath my sheets I could barely breath. This is an interesting little song featuring Kathleen and her acoustic guitar.  I think most people have been afraid of the dark, even just a little bit. The unknown is scary.  But this song is so much darker.  People and cats die in this song.  Songs about death are always hard to listen to. But this one is beautiful, and having Kathleen do it alone was a solid performance choice.

The piano returns early in Summer Long. You couldn’t keep me around if you tried…don’t look back and don’t call. Very nice harmony in the second verse and chorus. Ooooo a little feedback there. That’s the first noticeable audio mistake of the entire concert.

Here is a well known song that is also a favourite of mine, In State. I am curious to know if Kathleen really dated an ex con. Or if she just used her imagination. She writes songs about the most random and interesting things.  This version is being played up tempo. A bit faster than usual. I don’t usually like it when bands do that, it removes the familiarity of the song I think.  My face couldn’t make you leave it behind, maybe 20 years in state’ll change your mind. You know it’s true, when someone has a problem, love will not overcome it. I don’t think romantic passion has ever outdone the drive to use drugs, abuse alcohol, or steal.

Oil Man’s War. The title kind of gives this one away.  Back to the music.  This has been a good concert in terms of performance. The singing is mostly spot on and the band is rocking. I would like to hear a nice big organ solo but I’ll take what I can get from his work behind the guitar.

Is Hockey Skates her quintessential Canadian song? Anything to do with hockey likely ought to be.  I was so tired of playing defence I don’t even have hockey skates. This is a sweet little song.  The guitar work is classic alt country.

Our final song 12 Bellevue.  The concert has been highly enjoyable. It’s unfortunate that they cut out all the in between song talk. I think I might have learnt something from it.  The recording is good, and the performance is solid all the way through.  This one is definitely worth checking out.

There are only about 300 or more concerts on the CBC Radio 2 site. This is going to take awhile.

Cheapest Key

December 26, 2008

Maybe 20 years in state’ll change your mind.

Kathleen Edwards

In State

As a new feature here at The Alder Fork Blog I am going to be dipping into the deep collection of concerts on demand available on the CBC Radio 2 website.  People seem to like it when I review/talk about music. Maybe more than my philosophical meanderings.  I’m kicking this off with the ever-pleasant Kathleen Edwards.  She was captured at the Ottawa Bluesfest this past summer.  Kathleen is one of my favourite Canadian artists these days so this should be a fun ride.

She starts things off with Asking for Flowers, title track of her latest album. I think this song sums up what we should expect the rest of the way.  Gord Tough provides some solid lead guitar work in this song. The music is secure in it’s alt-country style.

Run. There have been a lot of songs with the name Run over the years.  This one has a bouncy bass line, one that invokes older country songs by the likes of Johnny Cash or Conway Twitty. Kathleen has a voie that would work for a number of genres, but like Neko Case she has found a home in this style. At one point she yodels her way through an emotional bit. There are keys in this song, but I’m waiting for a big organ solo. The song just begs for it.  There is just a hint of it towards the end, and we get a guitar solo instead. That is a little disappointing.

I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory starts out like a Paul Brandt song. Not one in particular, just any.  She caters to the crowd by letting them know she’s in her home town.  I’m Elvis Presley in the 70’s. This song is filled with popular references from Masarati to Marty Mcsorley (does he count as popular?).  Your the buffet I’m just the table. Now that’s a compliment!

Goodnight, California begins with a lovely instrumental jam. Big organ chords sit on top of an eccentric bass line.  I like this song because it is more or less an excuse to jam on top of a cool bass line.  Once again Gord Tough gives us some nice guitar work.

After a very Doors-esque jam, we get back to the alt country pop. Cheapest Key is a well known track.  It’s one of those naming songs, “A is for this etc.” You always play me in the cheapest key. I think Kathleen’s been burned a few too many times, someone needs to buy her some ice cream. Hey! Chris Martin offered some back in the Coldplay Live 2003 running diary. We should set them up.  As this is the 6th song I will shut it down for today and come back tomorrow with the usual part two.  If you aren’t familiar with this song, then you probably aren’t that familiar with Kathleen Edwards, shame on you!

‘Tis Once A Year

December 25, 2008

We’ll build our walls, aluminum, we’ll fill our mouths, with cinnamon

The Decemberists

Sons and Daughters

Merry Christmas folks.  Most blogs that I read have shut it down for the day on account of the holiday.  I am not most blogs! Since I doubt many people will read this (I hope you are spending today with family or friends) I won’t say too much.  I just want to let everyone know that 2009 promises to be an exciting year for The Alder Fork in all its forms. I am currently working on getting one or two other artists to join the music wing of things.  I am attempting to convince purveyors of Canadian music to give me access to their musicians for interviews and other things.  Plans are starting to formulate for the 2009 Mid-Summer Festival of Peace and Tranquility. The Alder Fork is working on two simultaneous musical projects, and the first single from The Lights I See You In Shadow complete with never before released B-sides is expected in January.  I also have a special project in the works that will further expand the scope of The Alder Fork Projects. All in all Christmas dawns with a bright future ahead. Tomorrow I will begin a new feature on the blog. It’s not that different from some other posts but it’s a new spin on an old gem.  Once again Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and have a safe time out there.

Whispers, In the Dark

December 24, 2008

And my gratitude goes out to you.

Urban Moon


New podcast is up today.  As always you can get the feed over on the side, or just click on the link for iTunes and subscribe there. This week is Winter-themed, with me talking endlessly about the stuff I think about when I’m shoveling snow, and playing music by The Mass Romantics, Urban Moon, Matt Blacquiere, and The Alder Fork. Yep I catered to my friends. But it’s Christmas here, so deal with it! It’s also Hanukkah so I hope the season is going well for my Jewish friends. Since the bands today don’t have websites, except for The Mass Romantics, this will not be the usual link day. Indeed since it is Christmas Eve, and I will most likely be enjoying the freedom of the season (aren’t I always?) I want to give you some happy thoughts to move ahead with.

My sources tell me that volunteerism has reached an all time high in North America. I certainly hope this is true because it means that more and more people are taking responsibility for bettering their communities. After all it is really about community now, certainly more than it’s been in a long time.  As someone who grew up ina city I know how unusual it is for people to associate with their neighbours in a meaningful way. Fortunately around here there is snow to be shovelled so we get to see some of the members of our community when we move their snow around.  Otherwise, who knows when we’d see them.  Even in this city there is a difference depending on which neighbourhood you are in. In the older parts of the city people tend to know each other and interact a lot more than in the new. Unless you have children who happen to be friends (increasingly rare I think) what other reason do you have to see the people down the block?  The importance of community is clearest when the economy is struggling or the weather is bad. It is at those moments that we rely on others to come together with us for mutual benefit.  Christmas generally puts people in a giving mood and let’s hope 2009 finds that spirit rolling on.  Thanks for your continuted support of The Alder Fork. If you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift, why not give The Lights I See You In Shadow, because it’s free and it’s good! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Violins and Tambourines

December 23, 2008
A Man and His Camel

A Man and His Camel

I have to admit that I don’t know the whole story of this picture.  I asked my good friend, Kern, to send me the most interesting picture from his crazy Asian oddyssey.  This is what he came up with.  The fellow’s uniform looks to be somewhere between  flight attendant and a green beret.  I imagine since he’s patrolling a stone wall in the desert he probably means business.  With a camel you don’t have to worry about sand in the air filter!

You might wander why I’d put up a random picture from half way around the world.  Honestly I just wanted a neat shot from Kern’s amazing adventure.  It’s also a somewhat appropriate lead-in to today’s topic: Afghanistan. Not the country specifically, but the challenges Canadians face as our soldiers fight there.  I was lead to this topic by, of all people, Don Cherry.  The Hockey Night in Canada commentator (who wears the most hideous suits) always features the pictures and stories of any soldier who dies over there.  I touched on the topic of war in my Remembrance Day post, but since Home by Christmas was a popular war related refrain, it seems like a good time to touch on it again.

War history has always been an interest of mine, along with philosophical topics related to death, dying, and evil. I think the reason that I am so into these concepts is that I am a very emotional person. I have strong experiences when I imagine myself in various situations.  So when I watch a movie about war, or play a video game, I can’t help but imagine the fear that I would feel if I actually faced enemy fire.  Now of course I can not possibly envision the true experience because I have never had to live it.  I am immensely grateful for that.  It is all well and good to say I am thankful for the sacrifices of generations before mine, and soldiers fighting today for peace and justice.  But if I fail to work towards a peaceful future, have I really gotten the point?  The lesson of the World Wars should be that violence is terrible and our children need to know that. They need to know that even though their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors saw fit to kill each other, it is not the best solution for the future. In fact it is not any kind of a solution.  It may seem that I am a pacifist advocating non-violence in every scenario.  Actually I’m not.  In fact I recognize that men like Adolph Hitler (the supreme example) need to be fought tooth and nail.  The loftier goal I have in mind is creating a generation that is smarter, more forgiving, and cooperative than ours.  We try very hard to create solutions among our adult selves, when perhaps the best we can do is to teach our children to do what we have been unable to do. To get along.

I firmly believe that humans aren’t born with the venom that can develop later in life.  Though some people seem to be predisposed toward certain behaviours, it is possible in the overwhelming majority of cases to influence young people towards a noble life.  We try very hard on the whole to protect our children, to give them what they want, and to help them succeed in life. Do I know how exactly we do this?  No I don’t.  But I want to be in the discussion. I want everyone to be in the conversation. At Christmas many people pray for peace, perhaps we need to get on our horses (or camels) and make it work. Thoughts?

What’s That You Say?

December 22, 2008

Dave laying down a sweet solo

Dave laying down a sweet solo

Today’s image depicts my good friend Dave recording the solo at the end of NOTLD. Don’t forget to check out Dave’s photography blog for better pictures than this one.

I have often referred to the music of bands such as The Tragically Hip as cold arena music.  For me, music often creates visual images in my mind, which are associated with specific life experiences.  I’m not sure why I experience music this way, but it’s always been like that. I guess it is partly related to movies and television, because they create connections between music and activity.  I doubt our ancestors experienced music in the same way.

Why am I talking about this? Well one artist whose music has created a vast array of mental images for me is Mr. Bruce Cockburn. I’ve talked about him on here before and today I am again. Specifically, I want to mention the little snippet of a concert that appeared on the CBC Radio 2 Live Concert podcast back in March.  They took a few songs from a set he played out in Vancouver.  He kicks off the set with Last Night of the World, a song I dearly love.  Only could Bruce Cockburn make the end of the world seem like one last great romantic evening for the ages.  I can imagine him pulling out his guitar for a last tune as the cities burn to the ground.

Please bear in mind that I’ve listened to this concert around 15 times, so I’m familiar with each moment.  Before this concert I was unaware of Bruce’s great sense of humour.  He has some great stories to tell. I’d love to have him on the podcast to just chat about his 40+ years as a musician and social advocate.  Who knew someone offered him a chance to be a gun runner? I didn’t. This amazing story (I won’t totally spoil it for you) leads to a song that I had not heard before the podcast.  In typical fashion there is so much going on with the guitar that it blows your mind. I believe it was Jackson Browne who said he believed that Bruce Cockburn was the kind of musician who used all sorts of effects to create his complex sounds, and was amazed when he saw him alone with an acoustic guitar playing the same compositions.  It is the rare talent who can write beautiful songs that require large amounts of guitar playing talent and retain a strong vocal melody. When you also consider that his lyrics are poetic and prophetic, you can’t help but conisder Bruce Cockburn among the foremost musicians/composers of the last 40 years. See you tomorrow, see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow…

Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by, you never get to stop and open your eyes, one day your waiting for the sky to fall, and next your dazzled by the beauty of it all. Yesterday I mentioned my definition of the perfect love song, and this one fits the bill.  The guitar is beautiful, the melody is moving, and the lyrics are passionate.  Got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight…an inspirational thought indeed.

Take some time right now to log into iTunes, search for CBC Radio 2, subcribe to the Live podcast, scroll down and download this concert.  There are two other high quality artists on this particular episode so you can listen to them too, but please at least scroll to the middle to hear Bruce.

Bruce graces us with an acoustic version of End of All Rivers that sounds as if it could feature three guitars. But it’s just him.  Amazing is really the only word for it.  The song itself does invoke images of rivers in the Canadian wilderness. For me at least.  I think because our country is so beautiful, music is easily inspired by it, and easily invokes it. I remember watching Bruce on the Live 8 concert. I think a lot of the crowd was a bit confused by who he was.  Such a shame!

Speaking of young people knowing his music, here is a song that predates me.  It is also an all time favourite of myself and many other people.  Wondering Where the Lions Are is a classic song, Canadian or otherwise.  Much like Chris Martin, Bruce invokes the crowds involvement.  and I’m thinking bout eternity, some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me. I’ll leave it to the Bruce Cockburn experts to explain this song. For now I’ll just say that if you don’t know this song you better get downloading, shopping, or doing whatever it takes to hear it. Stop missing out on a sonic adventure!

It’s well known that I love Bruce Cockburn’s music. Now it’s your chance to love it to. For free, thanks to the miracle that is the podcast. Go, enjoy, see ya tomorrow.