Oh Canada

July 1, 2011

It’s Canada Day today.

The older I get, the more often I consider Canada and think, yeah, now that seems like a country that has its act together. There’s football and rock bands and rivers and streams of pure maple syrup.

Paloma and I were watching episodes of The Kids In The Hall last week when she suggested we move to the land that gave us Bruce McCulloch.

“I don’t think that they want us.”

Not that we’re trouble. We’re quiet, well-behaved and have both seen Rush live.

Hell, I’m watching the Lions and Alouettes in the opening CFL game at this moment…seriously.

(no billionaires fighting with millionaires for the last dollar there)

But Canada doesn’t want us.

(and this is a country that put out the welcome mat for the Quaids!)

But it’s cool, Canada. Paloma and I still think you’re swell and we thank you for all of the groovy stuff you’ve exported to us.

Here are four fairly random songs by Canadian acts…

Rush – Subdivisions
from Signals

I quickly realized upon entering high school that Rush was the only band that mattered for the stoners in band. At the time, I might have known the Canadian trio’s Tom Sawyer but likely little more.

But the group had a hit from Signals New World Man – that was getting played on all the stations and, upon hearing the album, I became a devotee of the band, eventually owning most of their catalog, and catching them a couple of times live.

The pulsating Subdivisions, which chronicled the pressures to “be cool or be cast out,” seemed awfully deep at the time and, if it might sound considerably obvious now, it’s still pretty stellar.

Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind
from Greatest Hits

I’ve read that If You Could Read My Mind is about the break-up of Gordon Lightfoot’s first marriage and it certainly is a somber affair. Of course, it also might be a good example of the smooth-talking ways of Lightfoot, as I imagine he was fairly suave when it came to the ladies.

Leonard Cohen – Democracy
from Leonard Cohen

Management at the office where I slave has a penchant for using the term “rock star” as praise.

There are no rock stars where I work.

Acerbic, witty, literate, and with a delightful hint of menace in his lyrics and vocals, Leonard Cohen has had his songs covered by everyone from Elton John and Billy Joel to The Pixies and R.E.M. He spent the early ’90s linked to actress Rebecca DeMornay (who was half his age) and the latter part of the same decade living in a Buddhist monastery.

That is a rock star.

Bruce Cockburn – A Dream Like Mine
from Nothing But A Burning Light

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains mostly unknown south of his homeland’s border, though one with a devoted cult following.

The ghostly-sounding A Dream Like Mine found Cockburn well matched with producer T-Bone Burnett with the latter’s wife – the wonderful Sam Phillips – adding background vocals. The song just keeps trucking along with the same resilient spirit that runs through a lot of Cockburn’s prolific catalog.

Maybe There’ll Be Soylent Bacon

August 14, 2009

Well, the future’s here and somehow we’re expected to handle it without the guidance of Charlton Heston. This is disconcerting.

I realized from watching The Planet Of The Apes as a child that no one was more at ease in dealing with the future than Heston. It wasn’t just maladjusted monkeys. An after-school viewing The Omega Man in the mid-‘70s made it clear that the man was equally as capable of keeping a horde of psychotic, Luddite cultists at bay.

And, with The Omega Man, it’s almost as though the filmmaker had peered thirty-five years into the future and been inspired by a glimpse of a town-hall meeting on health care.

(of course, that flick ended badly for Heston – it would seem that you can only keep a horde of psychotic, Luddite cultists at bay for so long)

Each time I read of the folks who believe that passing a health care program would be like smothering old folks with a pillow, I can’t help but think of another Heston movie – Soylent Green.

I think I was eight or nine, sometime in the late ‘70s, when CBS showed Soylent Green on the Tuesday Night Movie (or whatever night it happened to be). It had one of those “mature audiences” announcements beforehand.

Of course, I watched it.

And it freaked me out.

Soylent Green was set in the future – from an early ’70s perspective – with most of the human population unemployed and sleeping in the crumbling stairways of roach motels.

The small handful of uber wealthy live in high-rise apartment buildings playing video games and eating steaks and strawberries. The poor have never seen a steak, a strawberry, or a Pop-Tart as pollution and global warming has ravaged the environment.

So, the future is playing out pretty much according to that script.

(why couldn’t it have been talking monkeys running the planet?)

And, if the rantings of the misinformed and Sarah Palin are to be believed regarding old people and the health care debate, you’d think Soylent Green – the foodstuff – might be in stores by Thanksgiving.

A Girl Called Eddy – People Used To Dream About The Future
from A Girl Called Eddy

I received a promo of this album; the debut for an American ex-pat in London named Erin Moran who goes by the less Happy Days-centric A Girl Called Eddy. Her 2004 debut was one of those deals where I checked it out, thought enough of it to move it into another pile of discs, and it promptly got lost in the shuffle.

Hearing this song was a fortunate rediscovery. I’m not sure how the rest of the album sounds, but People Who Used To Dream… is gorgeous. If you’re a fan of Burt Bacharach, it’s an excellent use of five-and-a-half minutes.

Leonard Cohen – The Future
from The Future

There are outtakes of stuff I’ve never posted where Leonard Cohen has popped up. And I keep thinking I need to write about him. I mean, the man has lived a full-grown life.

If I were Canadian, I’d want Mr. Cohen to be prime minister.

Timbuk3 – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
from Greetings from Timbuk3

This song’s simply more fun than killin’ drifters.

Matthew Sweet – Future Shock
from In Reverse

Paloma does not find The Heston to be as endearing as I do. Fortunately, I have studied his work and should we have to address talking monkeys, a horde of psychotic, Luddite cultists, or Soylent Green in the future, I will be prepared with a dramatic, over-the-top solution.

Paloma is extremely fond of the work of Matthew Sweet and, after hearing Future Shock, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Jeff Buckley

May 29, 2009

For several years, the position of main buyer at a large record store in a major music city afforded me opportunities that would make most music fans delirious. I took advantage, but, at times, it was overwhelming.

So, when a friend who worked for a label called me on a rainy Sunday night, I had no intent of trekking out into the gloom. However, as this friend was not prone to hyperbole and he made his case that this show was a must, I reconsidered.

Fortunately, my then-girlfriend’s apartment was two blocks from the club. It was eight o’clock. I think that I told her that I’d be back by nine.

The club was small, housed in a building in which one half was a candlelit café with a decidedly bohemian slant. The club occupied the other half. It was filled to maybe half capacity – no more than a hundred people.

I found my friend at a table with several other of our usual group, likely ordered a glass of red, and watched as a slight kid with a mop of unkempt black hair took the small stage. A large statue of an angel – a noted feature of this club – hung behind the band, high above, seeming to levitate against the dark, theatre-style draperies.

The artist was Jeff Buckley.

Jeff was the son of folk singer Tim Buckley, who had died of an overdose in the mid-‘70s. It was March of ’94 and Jeff’s debut album, Grace, wouldn’t arrive in stores until late summer.

Buckley’s voice was one of the most compelling I’d ever heard. It was primal. It soared and swooped like some beautiful, yet fragile, bird of prey.

When he sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, the clinking of glasses, the idle conversations all stopped.

(and I’d argue that the version that appeared on Grace is the definitive take on that modern classic)

Afterwards, he hung out with us for a bit. The details are hazy (I was drinking on my label friend’s expense account), but I remember him having a gentleness about him. He seemed down-to-earth, quiet, and to have a vibe of restless calm about him.

I didn’t make it back to my girlfriend’s apartment until well after two.

Six months later, Grace was released to critical raves and (everyone say it together) public indifference.

But the album didn’t merely fade away. The acclaim was so strong and listeners who had found it had the need to reach converts. Though it didn’t become a mammoth commercial smash, Grace sold well and did so steadily for the next year or so.

Praise came from legends such as Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Lou Reed.

During the late winter of ’97, Buckley had relocated from Manhattan to Memphis to work on his second album. He had already recorded an album’s worth of songs but was dissatisfied with them.

On May 29, the day his band had arrived in town to continue work on the record; Buckley waded out into a channel of the Mississippi River, taking a late night swim. According to a roadie, who was onshore, he was singing the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

That night, I was with the same label friend, out with most of the same friends from that show, having drinks, when he received a phone call that Buckley was missing. Word of the incident seemed to spread quickly.

Our group ended up at the house where I lived. We sat around watching a compilation of live and video footage my friend had, as mesmerized as we had been three years earlier. It was an unexpected, impromptu wake.

Buckley’s body was found six days later and – as he was sober at the time – his death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should Have Come Over
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Last Goodbye
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
from Grace

Jeff Buckley – Everybody Here Wants You
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk

Jeff Buckley – Yard Of Blonde Girls
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk

Jeff Buckley – New Year’s Day Prayer
from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk