Archive for February, 2009

Travel West

February 28, 2009

These are my people, I should never have come here.

Martha Wainwright

Factory

Welcome to Part II of Marth Wainwright’s CBC Radio 2 Concert on Demand. Well, my live blog of it.  Part I is yesterday’s post so you can just click back to it if you like.

We kick off part two of this exercise with This Life. I wonder if it’s more of a commentary on what is going on in her life at a moment, or a philsophical treatise. This, this life, right now, is snoring. I guess that answers my question.  Once again we have just Martha and her guitar.  I wish I could adequately describe her singing style. I made an attempt in Part I, but I’m not sure I did it justice.  Her voice almost cycles up and down, like Neko Case in a washing machine. That may seem negative but it is not intended to be.  Halfway through the song we bounce to French, then back to English. The crowd was delighted by the change.

Martha and her mother are now going to get together for one of Kate’s songs, Wise Men.  We are told, in French, that this song is about the war in Afghanistan, and apparently some relationship to the Magi.  What did they see in the sky that made them take leave of their life? Very good question. If there were in fact three wise men, who traveled to Bethlehem, I wonder what they thought when they arrived?  Was it what they expected when they saw a great light in the sky? The song has a strange vibe and reminds me of many a French folk song, even though the lyrics are in English. The combination of voices is almost creepy, yet sweetly satisfying.

Jimi.  I don’t know a thing about this song, but I wonder if this song is at all connected to Jimi Hendrix.  Martha creates unique sonic landscapes that are ethereal, musical, and yet almost not.  It is a collection of sonic postcards from Quebec to Pluto.  The whole band comes out in full force for this one.  The vocal harmonies in this song are at first jarring, but I came to understand that they are supposed to evoke the otherwordly colour of the piece.

Martha moved to New York at some point in her young life, and forged her musical career there.  This one starts out as a jazzy love song, lead by electric guitar and brushed drums.  This song is robably the most obvious one I’ve heard in this set.  It is the most like compositions by other musicians, and thus the least unique.  There is an understated building solo that turns into a duet with her voice.  The guitar tone is fantastic, very dirty and full. After the song she introduces the band. Looking over Martha’s discography, she has featured an astonishing number of guests on her albums. I guess that is one advantage of having famous musician parents.

G.P.T. from her self-titled album is the third-to-last song of the set.  This is a more rock song than anything we’ve heard in this half of the show.  It’s a very catchy tune.  I should probably thank the CBC for putting these concerts online.  It is a great opportunity to enjoy musicians I may not get out to see very often. I imagine if I lived somewhere like Moose Factory, where big musicians seldom go, I’d be even happier about the streaming COD’s.

We now have the first real cover of the night, because covering your mom’s music doesn’t count, Dis Quand Reviendras-Tu by French musician Barbara.  I have not heard the original yet, though I plan on checking out, but I am familiar with some French music.  This is a beautiful song featuring just Martha and piano.  The crowd seems deeply appreciative for this piece.

We finish up with what appears to be the whole family, in attendance, singing Factory. This has been a fun show, and I bet Montreal is the ideal place to see Martha.  This song shows off a lot of what makes Martha a highly entertaining musician.  It must’ve been cool to see the many talented singers together for this final song.  Once again the CBC has given us a fun and enjoyable concery.  Check it out if you’d like an hour or so of great music from one of Canada’s bright musical stars.

I’m In The Hearts Club Band

February 27, 2009

There’s a rush, when we touch.

Martha Wainwright

So Many Friends

It’s been awhile but it’s time for another CBC Radio 2 Concert on Demand Live Blog.  I have to admit I am more familiar with the work of Rufus Wainwright than that of his little sister Martha, but it is her December 12th, 2009 performance in Montreal that I am interested in today.  Being the daughter of two well known musicians, and the sister of another would cetainly aid in the career of a young singer-songwriter.  But Martha has certainly carved out a nice niche for herself away from the family.  In this concert we are apparently going to be blessed with an appearance by Kate McGarrigle, Martha’s mom, and her aunt Anna. There will also be some Christmas fare.  Let’s get to the music.

I Wish I Were gets us started with just Martha and an acoustic guitar. She is accompanied by a lot of yelling people in the crowd. She is beloved in Montreal (and a lot of other places). Her voice certainly reminds me of the great songstresses of the psychedelic and folk movements of the 60’s and 70’s.  It’s a classic sound that is beautiful and gritty all at the same time, like a tropical beach.  Indeed her voice overpowers anything her guitar does.  I can picture her prancing about the stage as she performs, though I’m not sure she actually does that, the song just gives the impression of a musician in motion.

Before Bleeding All Over You we get a nice little story about her travels and work en francais.  She must be in Montreal, a truly bilingual place. There are days when the cage doesn’t seem to open very wide at all. What a lovely line, I’ve had times like that.  Her songs are so whimsical, almost like they are blowing around in the breeze.  There is an interesting contrast between Martha’s voice and her backup singer Lily Lanken. I wish I could explain it but you’ll just have to listen yourself.

Coming Tonight starts out with a 50’s sci fi sound effect, and it occurs to me that Martha emits a sound that would be comfortable on vinyl.  I wonder if you can get her albums that way. She gets roaring applause for ending the song with coming tonight to my home town.

The drums kick off Hearts Club Band.  Martha is doing something musically that is a bit off the predominant indie, folk or pop modes of singing.  Although her songs would fit on a number of other band’s releases, Martha’s expressive singing is unique to her.  You’ve got the funniest smile I’ve ever seen.  This concert has already had a number of great lines and we are just getting warmed up. This song ends with some interesting use of apparently out of tune note combinations. I think it’s intentional. The value of that is the shock it causes our ears.

The crowd is excited about this one. It starts out like many  Dave Matthews Band song, but it’s So Many Friends.  This seems like a bitter sweet song, and I think Martha feels that way about it too.  I can’t make out every word because of the way she is almost cackling some lines.  I still love this vibe.  It’s just so different than other things out there, and in many ways reminiscent of an earlier sound.

Somewhat of a reminder that it’s Christmas, as the drums come up for Jesus and Mary.  This is a dark little song. It really should’ve been used in an episode of Due South. I love the atmosphere she creates, with dissonant guitar sounds. Rehersals must be a blast for this group. They seem like they love to play around in the music they are making.

I am going to wrap up Part I of this review with BMFA so look for Part II tomorrow.  Those letters stand for something I don’t want to publish on my blog, and are in reference to her father Loudon Wainwright III, who was apparently not a great dad.  I have no idea what that’s like because my dad rocks.  This is an angry song though, and Martha is not going to play around.

Spend Some Time Love

February 26, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends.

The Beatles

With a Little Help From My Friends

The conversation about the future of music continues today. I was listening to Bill Simmons’ podcast from the other day, and he was discussing how music had changed with his friend Jacko.  They are both excited about the new U2 album (one that I’m not that interested in for reasons I can go into another time) and they lamented that in 20 years no one will be that excited about the new releases from current popular bands.  It is probably valid to ask which bands that have formed in the last 10 years will still be beloved in 20 years.  I tried to come up with a list but was pretty unsuccessful. Maybe someone out there has a better idea about this than me.

I have just started a brand new job, well a 10 week contract job, working on a big youth volunteer challenge.  It’s a fairly exciting way of promoting volunteerism among young people.  I have talked at length about volunteering on a couple episodes of the podcast because I think it is an important part of creating a quality society. Some interesting Canadian volunteer facts:

12 million people in Canada volunteer and provide two billion hours of service each year

Canada has the second largest number of volunteers in the world

Volunteers contribute the equivalent of $26 Billion dollars worth of labour and services

Without volunteer service Canada would not be the country it is today, and the fact is we could do even more with a larger percentage of the population chipping in. If you haven’t put in some free hours lately, consider it. I think the world will be better for it, and so will you.

Number 1 With A Bullet

February 25, 2009

You can’t rely on time, to change the way you feel, ’cause time it often loses track of who it’s go to heal.

Jill Barber

In Perfect Time

I’m tempted to print the entire lyrics to that Jill Barber song because I think it is a wonderfully written song.  Speaking of songs a little while ago I pointed out my friend Dave’s new blog, The Song Review, and challenged him to write a post about Bruce Cockburn. So he did.  He raised an interesting point in the first post the that blog when he mentioned that this is the “iTunes age.”  His point is that people can buy as many individual songs as they like without being forced to endure the “filler songs,” namely those that are there to make the album long and to justify the price.  People willingly pay $0.99 for Radiohead’s Paranoid Android but probably not their less rocking (though oddly interesting) Fitter Happier. Maybe tracks from Ok Computer aren’t the best examples, but you get the point. Actually if I was pressed I would say that Ok Computer is an example of why the album shouldn’t disappear as an art form. From time to time a grou puts out a record that is great from start to finish.  Some of the quality would be lost if you cherry picked the most popular songs while ignoring the less known tracks.

I’m sure it’s been debated elsewhere, but perhaps we are moving towards the true death of the album.  Although there is a lot of excitement in the coming of a new album, perhaps the music buyer of the future will only be interested in having the very best tracks from many artists, rather than an up and down album from their favourite band.  I really doubt that musicians will give up writing and recording entire albums of songs becuase it’s such a fun process. If the proliferation of independent music labels continues, along with the availability of quality recording equipment, I think we will in fact see more albums, with even more filler songs. The good news is, we can ignore them if we want.

Either way I love the concept behind Dave’s site, so get over there and read!

Dreaming While You Sleep

February 24, 2009

In my dreams I’m dying all the time.

Moby

Porcelain

I was never a huge Moby fan, and I don’t usually die in my dreams (in fact I’m usually the one killing, scary), but it is an appropriate lyric for today’s podcast. It largely deals with themes pulled from my own dreams.  There is also music by Mythos, Duchess Says, and Miwagemini. As usual you can find the podcast over there –>.

I actually had a lot of ideas for this week’s show and had to leave many out. One involved an old collection of early Genesis songs, and another a call for action on the Mid-Summer Festival of Peace nd Tranquility (I will get to that soon).  My favourite missing piece was a discussion of Anne Hathaway’s interview with Barbara Walters. Now I did not watch the Oscars, nor did I see Rachel Getting Married, but I confess to being a lover of Anne.  Her work has generally been pretty good, and I have always thought of her as being quite beautiful.  Two things jumped at me as a result of the that interview. The first was her comment that she wanted to “own land.”  What a quirky 19th Century statement to make.  I imagine she meant it in the sense of a sprawling acreage in some quiet place, but I took it more literally. This young actor wanted to own some property, thus becoming a real grown up.  Mind you this was her answer to the question “where do you see yourself in 10 years?”Isn’t buying a piece of land really the last act of a young person becoming an adult?  Once you get that mortgage, or outright buy it, you have responsibility to and ownership of something vast and timeless.  What a strange event in a persons life. Hopefully she gets her land.

The second I notice was my own reaction to her. Clearly I have matured, because I no longer ogle her like a 15 year old.  She is still a beautiful woman, but I would no longer sell my left leg for a shot at her.  I’m happy about this, I’ve been waiting for my own transition to being a real grown up, and I think it’s coming.

Take Me Back To That Fantastic Day

February 23, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Take Me Back To That Fantastic Day“, posted with vodpod

I was at the Toronto Auto Show on Sunday so this is a fitting post. I found this video while poking around on Will Leitch’s personal site. It depicts a formula one driver taking a Porsche on an insane trip across Paris at speeds exceeding 140mph apparently. He drives right down streets where I was lost while on a trip in 2001. This odd fellow game up to me and started yelling random French words. I could never sort out what he wanted, but I just said “Non” and got out of there. When I found myself looking at large industrial buildings and walking under creepy rail bridges, I realized I need to get myself back to pretty Paris before someone cuts me up.But back to the video. This is one scary ride, but also visually stunning because Paris is such a beautiful and interesting city.  Keep your eye open for obvious landmarks like the Arc De Triomphe, and the Louvre, as well as the host of pedestrians that periodically poke up.

Looking Back

February 22, 2009

One of my favourite blogs linked to an interesting site the other day. Among other things this site has a collection of pictures depicting old mailboxes in New York. I was recently discussing the number of old milk slots that remain on the houses in my neighbourhood. Ours was removed in a renovation before we bought the house, but many of my neighbours have simply boarded up the inside without changing the outside appearance.  This particular area of Hamilton contains homes built in the 1950’s so some now archaic elements were included.  Down in the city you can still find the odd coal shoot, or other now useless bit of historical architecture.  It always makes me think about the ways our society has changed in the last 60 years, and how to some degree we are trying to move back to the past.  For example, increased promotion of farmer’s markets and eating locally is an attempt to rekindle agriculture near urban areas.  My grandparents had their milk and eggs delivered by the farmers who produced them.  Thus they had a relationship with the person who brought them their food. They also knew their local butcher, and even the baker who made their bread.  Part of urban life was interacting with the people who produced and prepared much of your food.  Obviously with mass chain grocery stores we no longer have those kinds of relationships.

It may be obvious to people who read my blog regularly but I believe that improved interpersonal relationships are a key part of creating a better society.  I expect consumers to find greater respect for producers by reconnecting with the people who provide goods and services, especially food. There have been reports that this relationship is deteriorating more and more every year.  Along with all the environmental and economic benefits of eat locally, perhaps it is time to start fixing some of the stress generated in the retail world.  The past can’t always help us fix our society, but perhaps this is one case where it can have an impact.

If You’ve Got A Dream Like Mine

February 21, 2009

In this great land is one of the best rivers in the world. The beauty of the countryside cannot be overpraised, for the fertility of the soil, the extent of the forests, and the opportunities for hunting and fishing in abundance. All these things hold out their arms to you.

Samuel de Champlain

quoted in Dreams of a Land

Directed by Robert Doucet
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Dreams of a Land by Robert Doucet, – NFB“, posted with vodpod

I have once again chosen to embed a short video for your enjoyment. This National Film Board documentary about Samuel de Champlain is both informative and creative. The story is told quickly, with an emphasis on Champlain’s dreams, ambitions, and struggles. The animation, which resembles crayon sketches, stirs the imagination and refuses to fill in all of the blanks. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is Champlain’s willingness first to travel back and forth to France for supplies each year to support his search for the Pacific Ocean, and second his desire to stay in Canada even after many of his men had died, and the “Great Sea” turned out to just be another freshwater lake. Here was a man who fell in love with this land, as the quote above demonstrates. As someone who has always loved history, particularly from the period of exploration, I find stories like Champlain’s to be both exciting and nightmarish. I can’t fathom watching my colleagues die from scurvy in the dead of a seemingly endless winter because our food has run out or frozen. I can’t imagine the punishing portages over difficult terrain, and the immense disappointment at failing to find a passage to India. But I can fall in love with the spirit of adventure, perserverance, courage, and self sacrafice that drew men like Champlain to cross the Atlantic in the first place, and to set up settlements in unforgiving climates, when life in France might have been more comfortable. No doubt the native peoples played an important part in ensuring the survival of colonists, and I certainly wish they had been treated better. As winter refuses to leave on a cold February day, I think it’s important to remember all those Native, French, British, or Dutch who endured the winters for centuries both out of necessity, and a love for this land.

Make Me Your Animal

February 20, 2009

I will always be the worst.

Matthew Good Band

Generation X-Wing

“Hey Peter”

“Yes?”

“Why don’t you do one of those unsolicited reviews of an album that’s old and mostly forgotten?”

“I could do that. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, Matt Good has been all popular as a solo artist in the last few years. You should go back to his earlier days and talk about Raygun. As a bonus it’s short so you won’t have to write much.”

“That’s a good idea! I’ll do it!”

It’s 1996.  I’m in Grade 9 and The Matthew Good Band has been enjoying enormous indie success.  Dave Genn (now of 54*40? What?) has just joined the group, and they are just a short time away from exploding with Underdogs and it’s rocking single Everything is Automatic. It seems like a good time for an album bridging EP.  Raygun appears with a new version of Haven’t Slept In Years (I’ll get to that) and a bizarre cover picture of a man with a 1940’s futuristic gun strapped to his face.  But what really matters is the music, and this collection succeeds in a wide variety of ways.

The first of 5 tracks is the title one, Raygun.  It builds up with heavy drums, bass and guitar.  There was something about Matt Good’s voice that moved teenaged me.  It still does I think. This song is everything you’d expect from this group, up tempo, yet at times understated.  The sound was particularly popular in the late 90’s which were my formative music years.  Matt Good was known for his politically charged and somewhat crude lyrics.  He has a bit of Dave Matthews and a bit of Bob Dylan in his words.

The ode to Star Wars (not really) Generation X-Wing starts out with drums that sound like the beginning of Love Shack. I love the B-52’s.  The song quickly becomes much more Matthew Good Band.  This song displays his love of almost howling vocal parts.  Yea you can call me loser, yeah you can call me anything.  This song seems to be about feeling inadequate, or at least recognizing that you just aren’t that great of a person.  I’ve heard Matt Good isn’t the nicest guy to deal with, but at least he knows it! The solo in Generation X-Wing is not very notable, and it’s followed by a feedback laced rambling speech.  Yet somehow this is still an entertaining song.

Haven’t Slept in Years was on Last of the Ghetto Astronauts but it was remade for the EP.  The beginning of this song is just awesome.  I was once in a jam grou that only did Matthew Good Band songs. It was a lot of fun.  This is definitely the stand out track on the disc.  Although you could argue that there is not a huge difference between any early Matthew Good Band songs, they all still have merit as creative rock pieces.  What they realized that a lot of other hard rock bands don’t is that you can’t just pound out a bunch of power chords and a big solo and consider yourself an interesting musician.  Matt Good and his proteges were always diversifying their songs, adding bits and pieces that made them fun to listen to, all while maintaining that rock ethic.  Haven’t talked to anybody else.

I’ve never been to Alabama. I guess Matt Good has. But what is life if not a joke? That is a wonderful question. See rather than singing abotu some girl he slept with, or lost, Matt Good wants us to ponder the very meaning of our existence in the context of a dingy hotel in a backwater town.  He is also obsessed with using television as an image in his songs.  I think he views it as a black hole in human culture, since the characters who watch TV or are on TV are inevitably shallow, lost or hopeless.

So Long, Mrs. Smith echoes back to Matt Good’s early days as a solo artist. Yes he was a folky troubadour before making it as a rock star, and then going back to being a folky solo guy.  I don’t think he could do an album without a song like this. Apparations, and Strange Days are two more examples.

This is a short little EP, but it is highly enjoyable.  If you’ve got half an hour to pass away, I’d suggest putting it on.  If you’re like me it will be a nice flashback to a simpler more awkward time in your life.

Who Can It Be Now?

February 19, 2009

(3) There is a tree outside my window,

Alvin Plantinga

Religious Belief As ‘Properly Basic’

As a student of religion I often encountered arguments both for and against a myriad of spiritual issues: the existence of a god, gods, or some spiritual essence, the value of organized religion, the reality of faith, among others.   Virtually every university hosts regular debates on the question of “god.” I have never attended one but I usually take the time to read any material about them, including the basic premise of the debate and the general positions of the participants.  Philosophers have managed to devise a limited number of arguments for both sides, and these are generally repeated in each and every debate.  The main problem with all arguments for and against the existence of god is very simple, no matter how we rationalize the unknowable, it remains unknowable.  We place faith in people, objects, our bodies and senses, nature, the universe, and, for some, god (or a supernaturally ordered universe). As we make progress towards better understanding our universe we still struggle to comprehend some of the most basic premises of existence.  Why do we die?  Why is suffering part of life?  Why are intelligent beings, such as ourselves, such a small part of an enormous universe? We have figured out parts of these questions, but we have yet to put it all together in a meaningful way outside the context of religious explanation, and even those often struggle to adequately address these questions.  We are regularly reminded that what we don’t know vastly outweighs what we do, and the answers aren’t coming quickly.  Outside of attempted conversion to one ideology or another what is the point of debating the supernatural?

Occasionally (though not very often) someone will ask me about my religious beliefs.  I think many just assume I have some deep conviction to a specific belief system because I studied religion.  People in my field range from the very religious to the very not.  Our common thread is an interest in the beliefs of people around the world, and a desire to probe the limits of what is known and what is thought. Much like the behavioural psychologist who studies people to see why they act the way we do, religious studies scholars concern themselves with the more than the how and what of belief, to break open the why.  For me it has always been part of a quest to be understand ultimate truth, the elusive answers to the questions I posed above.

Once, when I was an undergrad, I attempted to systematically document my own beliefs. I have long since lost that document, and it would be irrelevant now anyway.  A person who deeply considers their faith will normally fluctuate in what they believe over the course of their lives.  After all, when dealing with grand ideas, there are many possible points of contact, and a plethora of directions to explore.  Although I am not quite as adventurous as some, I have been exposed to a large number of different ideas about spirituality.

The common debate of religion versus spirituality, one that seems to have found its way around Western society on its own, has so many permutations it challenges even the best religious thinkers.  But that is not a question for this post.  The real question that concerns me today is, can we resolve the issue of the existence of god if we accept that neither sie will concede (short of god appearing on the mountain and moving it)?  Let me first state that I do not have the magic answer that proves or disproves the reality of the supernatural.  I have read the arguments that exist and none satisfy me in any real way. They sometimes work rationally, but most fail the “so what?” test.  It is fantastic to say that an ordered universe implies an intelligent designer, but we can then ask about the obvious flaws in that design, sickness, suffering, and the dark side of human nature.  Surely we could demand a better blueprint.  This is, again, beside the point.  I don’t want to convince you to believe in a supernatural idea.  In fact, I am mostly interested in people accepting moral responsibility for their actions and adhering to a code of behaviour that promotes the value of the person as an interdependent member of society.  Thus for me there is no need to argue about the existence of god, although I do think it is a healthy exercise as part of spiritual development (or lack of). I also see the value of philosophical discussion, even if its just a repeated thought experiment, every term, on every campus.

If we are going to get serious about the question of god’s existence, and I have no doubt that many people are serious about it, we need to ask ourselves about our endgame.  What do we hope to accomplish from this? Why are we arguing? Why is it so important to you to prove or disprove somethign that by its definition can’t be known for sure?  I can see three main motivations for engaging in this conversation, though I am sure there are more.  The first is the desire to discuss the topic at hand in a scholarly way, and thus be part of the academic community.  in other words, the participant wants to be involved in the debate because it is one of the classic debates of the last few hundred years, in particular the last century or so.  This group might also be motivated by the need to definitively convince the other side of the truth of their position.  There are certainly those who think they can change the beliefs of others by presenting them with the “facts,” and to some degree I’m sure they can persuade the undecided in one direction or the other.  But the thought that someone who is entrenched will suddenly change, even as the result of vigorous debate is mostly a dream.  Debates tend to increase people’s belief in their own cause rather than softening them to the other position.  The final main motivation I can see for such a debate is insecurity. Certainly there are those who need to convince themselves that what they believe is the truth, and by dismissing the ideas of others with rational arguments they give themselves the security blanket they desire.  Now there is nothing wrong with any of these reasons for entering a debate, and if you enjoy the process then you should get involved. I only mention them as a contrast to my own ideas about discussing the supernatural meaning of life.  I have never felt the urge to participate in such a debate, mostly because I don’t agree with the purpose of it.  If I want to discuss the nature of the universe, and learn other people’s beliefs I’d rather do it a a dialogue, not a debate. Certainly their ideas will challenge my long held assumptions, but as I mentioned on an episode of the podcast that is exactly what I want.  I don’t want to be able to hide behind the walls of my own beliefs (as ill-defined as they may be at any given time).  Can I speak with conviction about how I see the world? Of course I can, and from time to time I do so on the blog or podcast.  I think that the focus of a discussion about the existence of god should be on meaning of such a universe rather than the veracity of the claim.  We should present the arguments for and against every kind of belief for people who wish to explore them, but when we meet to discuss beliefs it is more useful to look at the impact of belief.  By all means engage in debate if you like, but I will be off sorting out what existence means for those who are experiencing it.

I recently heard a prominent fictional character say that they don’t believe in an afterlife because they don’t want life to be a test.    In a future post I will be exploring the notion that the afterlife exists independently of life on earth. In other words, heaven is not a reward for a life well lived, but the next step in the process.  Thus it is more like experiencing puberty than graduating high school.  The implications of that line of thought are enormous, and I should say that I don’t believe in acting justly because there is a supernatural reward.  I think any reward cheapens the activity, though it does not diminish its inherent value independent of the actor.