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Broadview Signal Boost

“Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime”. Motto on Broadview’s website

There’s a town in Eastern Saskatchewan called Broadview. Why it’s called that I don’t really know. Truth be told, there is a lot of Saskatchewan (and Manitoba, and Alberta for that matter), that could boast of “broad views” in that there isn’t a whole lot to block a view. What you’re viewing, nobody knows. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it is a broad one.

There’s not really a lot to see from the highway, to be honest, and despite an impressive website for a community of its size, I remember it made the news a few years ago when it came out that bored residents got their entertainment by listening in on passing truckers’ CB radio, and scolding them for using bad language. Of course I can’t find a link to that story now, but you’ll just have to trust my memory that it happened. If you DO take time to visit the Broadview Museum, you may see the stuffed corpse of “Sargent Bill” an honest to goodness Billy Goat who was the town’s mascot in WWI. This goat must have had some kind of winning personality because not only did they decide to stuff him after he died, the Army gave him a medal for war service while he was alive. I didn’t know they had goats over there as mascots or what the hell a goat could do to earn a medal, but if a guy can buy a bear at a train station and take him overseas #winniethepoohref then anything is possible, I guess. What a world.

Anyway, my first experience with Broadview stretches back to more than 20 years ago. My Mom, brother and I were driving home from a family wedding in Alberta and we had been on the road for about 10 hours at this point and quite punchy. My Mom was thinking of getting a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier as a pet, and she wanted to stop in to visit a SCWT breeder in Broadview. She had the address, and Broadview isn’t that big of a place, so it didn’t take very long to find it. It was one of the few times that day we were all out of the car to stretch our legs, and like I said: my brother and I were pretty beat. When my Mom rang the doorbell, we knew we had the right house from the chorus of barking erupting from within. After a minute, there was a woman at the door with two of the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen in your life in her arms. She apologized for the noise. My Mom introduced herself and the woman remembered her from a previous phone conversation.

“Would you like to come around the back and check out my BITCHES??” the woman asked us out of the blue, and that was all it took for my brother and me to just lose it and start laughing hysterically until tears were in our eyes. Yes, I knew that female dogs are called “bitches” and I also sort of knew that breeders use that term all the time and they don’t think anything of it, but it was so unexpected to see this otherwise normal looking lady use that word that my brother and I couldn’t even.

My Mom shot glares at us which meant, “Smarten up. What are you, twelve?” For the record, I was 20. We managed to pull it together for just long enough until one of us looked at the other and then a fresh round of hysterics would explode from us. From that day onward, “Do you want to come check out my BITCHES?” entered our family vocabulary.

Where’s my cute bitches at?

So let’s fast-forward to the present day. My wife has a notoriously tiny bladder. Everyone knows this, and so on road trips you gotta factor in an additional 10% of time for extra washroom stops over and above the NORMAL amount of time for people with NORMAL bladders. It got so bad on this trip that I was forced into a village that had no gas station or any real services. My wife was so grateful that this little café let her use their facilities even though they had a “Washrooms are for Customers Only” sign out front, she bought a jar of Saskatoon Jam, so what I’m saying is that frequent pee stops aren’t always a bad thing.

So we had a pee stop in Broadview on our drive home over the weekend. This CO-OP gas station had what I thought was a door man, but in fact it was just the guy who pumps your gas, and since no one usually stops in Broadview, he was just standing by the door, looking forlornly out at an empty parking lot. Since he wasn’t allowed to check his trucker CB frequency while on the clock, he passed his time at work by opening the door to people like my wife who were only there for the toilets.

I hung out in the parking lot (because I am not even joking when I say that we stopped maybe an hour before in Moose Jaw for gas and pee), and I saw a strange sight. It was a bicycle with a baby chariot attached. That in of itself isn’t all that strange. You see long distance cyclists use them from time to time, if not for actual babies, then for their gear and whatnot. What was odd about this situation was that there was a full-grown (and quite elderly, by the look of her) Golden Retriever curled up in the back. It’s owner must have been in the store getting snacks.

When my wife came out, I saw a peculiar sign on the other side of the gas station that I thought would be fun to take our daughter’s picture with. In the interests of privacy I shall not name that sign nor shall I show that picture, but I WILL show platinum subscribers during the next pledge week. After I took a couple of pictures, the guy with the dog in the baby carrier pedaled up to us and offered to take a picture of all of us together. It’s rare to get a pic of all three of us that isn’t some kind of cramped “selfie” affair, so we took him up on his generous offer.

He seemed to have some kind of signage on his bike that I didn’t notice before, and I asked him what his deal was. It turns out he is pedaling across Canada with his dog, Ginger, to raise awareness of Juvenile PTSD and mental illness. He started in PEI in June and plans to make it to Victoria by October. He gave us his card, told us his dog’s name was Ginger, and we parted ways. There’s something special about someone doing an extraordinary act (like biking across the country) to raise awareness for a cause in which they believe. I didn’t really think of PTSD as something that kids could experience, but why not? Any traumatic event could trigger it, so it’s prevalence is probably grossly under-reported and greatly misunderstood.

His name is Brian Nadon, and he is the Founder and Director of the VATIC foundation. (Value, Achieve, Take Part, Inspire, Community) and he hopes to raise $150,000 this summer for a post-secondary scholarship fund for young people who suffer from PTSD and mental illness. I liked the cut of his jib, and I wish him the very best of the rest of his journey (especially that part where he goes through the Rocky Mountains). It made me reflect on my own experiences with mental illness, which I wrote about once here and also here.  (#shamelessblogpostbuzzmarketing) Brian seemed like a friendly guy, he had a Kansas City Royals ball cap affixed to his bike, which is a surrogate team for me when the Jays are out of it, and anyone raising awareness of mental illness is a kindred. Also, I love a good acronym.

When we got home I googled “Bike Riding for PTSD” and was surprised to see that Brian isn’t the only one riding across Canada this summer for PTSD. There’s another guy who’s doing it on Motorcycle. Michael Terry, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan is riding to raise awareness of PTSD in the military, specifically. Who knew? Is this just like the summer of ’97 where we had to choose between Dante’s Peak and Volcano, or the following summer where we were forced to choose between Deep Impact and Armageddon? Or the constant decision we are forced to make EVEN TO THIS DAY whether we are fans of Josh Whedon or fans of J.J. Abrams? BUT NOT BOTH?! (For the record, I’m a Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak and J.J. Abrams man all the way and shan’t hear it any other way).  But since Brian is doing it on a bicycle with a dog and I met him, I consider him the Terry Fox of PTSD awareness and the Motorcycle guy merely the Steve Fonyo. (Still good though! And gosh, more than I could achieve believe me. I don’t want to badmouth anyone who is following their calling and who has served our country and suffered for it and Lord knows mental health needs as many advocates as possible and I think there’s plenty of room for bikes, motorcycles and even a guy in a borrowed CR-V on the TransCanada this summer).

If you’d like to read more about Brian’s journey,  learn about PTSD, and feel moved to make a donation,  you can check out his webpage at www.vaticfoundation.com

He’s also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @vaticfoundation if you’d like to cheer him on.

Consider this a signal boost from Broadview, the home of bitches and dead goats, where “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime” sounds like a threat, not a promise.

Brian and Ginger in Broadview, SK

 

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senuTi evaglaS

I’m writing this post on a brand new MacBook Air, because this Spring our 10-year-old MacBook was STOLEN along with a bunch of other stuff. I’m not going to dwell on all that was taken from the lighthouse, and how that affected us psychologically. Instead I’m going to focus on what was saved.

The two most precious things lost to us on our computer were our photos and our music. They were saved on an external drive (instead of the computer), but the drive was taken too. That hard drive represented close to a decade of memories and music. My wife was more shattered by the loss of the pictures, but for me it was the music library. Sure, I could log into iTunes and download any purchased music again, but that made up a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall library. That library was made up of personal CDs that I ripped and then smugly got rid of, rare bootlegs (mostly of U2 concerts, but oddly enough it included one bootleg of the Dave Matthews Band. Maybe I was moved by his acting in Because of Winn Dixie and I wanted more? Who can say what I was thinking all those years ago? Some of were gifts from friends, and yes: some were LIBRARY COPIES, (borrowed for personal use only, you guys). I don’t think that’s against the librarian’s code. I mean, come on.

The photos held way more sentimental value for my wife, as they began back in 2008 and included our daughter’s birth and growth up to this past Spring. I can hear you muttering about “the cloud” and yes, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see the value of saving stuff on “the cloud” for easy retrieval, but I was backing stuff up on hard drives, so there were back ups, I just didn’t conceive of a break in and a major theft.

Our old MacBook was getting sluggish in its old age, and we knew we would have to replace it one of these days. It really didn’t surf the Internet very well, and I only really used it to add music to my iTunes and synch with my iPods. Even then, it was a kind of “cross your fingers and hope for the best” kind of situation every time I ripped a CD. It even changed the standard for adding stuff. I had to be really damn sure that I wanted it in my permanent collection because it was becoming more and more of a pain. For example, the new Beck album, Colours, made it on there, but I drew the line at the new Killers album. I liked it, but it didn’t reach the threshold of “iTunes worthy” in my mind. I know: that “Don’t Give Up on Me” song is really great, but does the album as a whole quality? Reader, I decided not. i regret that now.

This all sounds hopeless, but I am happy to report that ALL WAS NOT LOST. A day or two after the theft, my wife remembered that she had BACKED UP MANY MANY PHOTOS on a couple of thumb drives AND HIDDEN THEM IN A SECRET SPOT IN OUR LIGHTHOUSE and they were still there, untouched and unstolen. Now, these weren’t ALL of our photos, obviously, but a good number of the best of the best, because she spent a lot of time going through and saving only the keepers. So: all I need to do is upload those pictures into our iPhoto library and we are back in business. We took some solace in the fact that when we were kids, we only had one album each dedicated to us from birth up to early teenage years. A generous estimate would be somewhere between 150-200 photos per album. I looked at that album (and the one for my younger brother) over and over again as a kid and never once did I think, “I wish there were more pictures”. There were as many pictures as there were, and that seemed just fine. We actually have a physical album for our daughter, carefully curated by my wife and our daughter mere days before the theft, AS IF SOMEHOW THEY KNEW A BAD THING WAS ON THE HORIZON, and I’d say that album is close in size to the one I had as a kid AND I THINK I HAD A GREAT CHILDHOOD WITH THE APPROPRIATE NUMBER OF PHOTOS TO LOOK AT. My daughter took a scattered approach in her selection and placement of pictures, so it doesn’t follow chronologically, but rather it is a haphazard collection of her with different people at all ages and stages between 0-8. It makes it a bit difficult to place pictures in a particular time or place, but it makes for a more interesting viewing experience. So, our pictures are somewhat saved.

It was a different story for my music library. As mentioned, I had amassed a large collection of music over the last decade, and now it was all gone.

Well, maybe not ALL gone. I had a iPod touch and an iPod Classic, which, even though they were in plain view, neither one was taken in the theft and that was the one glimmer of hope I had in the weeks leading up to getting a new MacBook. The iPod touch was 32 GB, so although it had my most favourite albums and artists on there it was nowhere near a complete library. The iPod classic, however, boasts a storage space of 160 GB, and I was nowhere near filling that. (I think it was hovering around the 60 GB neighbourhood). And while I can’t say for sure if every song on my iTunes was also on my iPod Classic, I’d say it was so close that whatever wasn’t didn’t matter. I made a point of adding every new album to the iPod Classic and only adding some to the iPod touch. I actually had a really needlessly complicated file system for my music on my old computer. Imagine that: a librarian coming up with a new classification system. Who could have predicted that? I actually had two completely separate (but virtually identical) libraries for my Touch and Classic, and would only sync the right pod with the right library.  I know it doubled my storage space (hence the saving to external drives) but I liked having that kind of control. Another x-factor in all this was the computer itself.

MacBooks have changed quite a lot in the past ten years. For one, they don’t make the same model as our old one, but talking with an Apple employee, he was really sympathetic regarding our loss and listened to us explain exactly what we wanted to use the computer for and what we needed it to do. It helped that we had a price range in mind, thanks to our excellent insurance adjuster who has been nothing but helpful throughout the process. Shoutout to Jean, if you’re reading this! Working with our budget, we decided that a MacBook Air was the best machine for us for a number of reasons. It is considered the “workhorse” MacBook that doesn’t have the highest resolution or processor speed (although both are miles better than our old 10 year old machine) but it reliable and is the only laptop that still has regular USB ports. I wasn’t really keen on getting an adapter for these new mini USB ports that come on the other MacBook models, and it even comes with a camera memory card reader so when you are uploading photos you don’t have to plug the whole camera in. (I mean you still can if you want to, but you can also just take out the camera card and cut out the middle man). This sounded like the machine for us. And we were able to customize it by maxing out the memory on it, which was a nice feature. The one downside was that to make it so slim, Apple eliminated the disc drive, which I still use a fair amount (even though I guess the world is going wireless). It would mean I would need to attach an external drive every time I wanted to use a disc, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

I know Apple calls their employees “Geniuses” in the same eyerolly way that Subway refers to their employees as “Sandwich Artists”, but in this case the salesperson had a really genius solution to a problem that has dogged us for almost ten years. On our old MacBook my wife and I had separate log ins and profiles, which was great. I had all of my weird stuff on my side, and she had all of her weird stuff on her side and we weren’t in each other’s way. The problem soon came up when she wanted to add photos to the computer. At the time, I was the only one who had an Apple ID, so the photos and music were at home on my profile. Whenever my wife needed to add photos, or edit them, or print them or whatever, I had to log in as myself and let her in on my side, which was fine but a little bit of a nuisance. I tried to see if there was a way to create a “shared folder” and there probably is but I could never really figure it out and I was afraid of messing around with iPhoto in case I did a “mass erase” or some terrible thing. We just lived with it. (The music wasn’t a problem because up until last year I was the only one who had an iPod).

So, I asked this helpful salesperson about creating a shared folder for music and photos. Is it possible to do that now on the new OS? (I assumed it was). The scrunched up his face and said that there wasn’t really an easy way to share access to photos and music since the music at least is tied to a person’s Apple ID, he DID suggest (and this is the genius part) that we should just created a shared profile, along with our own personal profiles, and use that shared profile for music and photos. So simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. We even created a login for our daughter, with parental controls (filtering which sites she can get on, and limiting how much computer time she can have in a day, and when her profile shuts down at night. It’s really quite great).

So, that shared profile solves the problem of my wife and I accessing the same iPhoto and iTunes libraries, but it doesn’t do anything for my music retrieval. I asked our insurance lady whether data files were covered, knowing what the answer probably already was, (and I was right. They weren’t. covered). If I had physical CDs stolen, then those would have been covered, but who uses CDs these days?

From there I turned my attention to my iPods. They were dead ducks unless I could somehow transfer the songs BACK onto a new computer. I knew iTunes wasn’t set up for that, and that iPods would normally “synch” with an iTunes library when you plugged it in, and if I plugged either of my iPods in without changing some settings, the computer would helpfully sync the iPods to an EMPTY LIBRARY ON THE COMPUTER, thus effectively erasing them. I did NOT want that outcome at any cost.

I turned first to a couple of friends who were sort of techy and sort of into Macs. My first friend was upfront about not knowing how to save the music, but kindly offered for me to come over and “replenish” my library with stuff from his own. I really appreciated his honesty regarding his ability to retrieve my music, rather than pretending to know how and ending up with nothing. Another friend had a convoluted plan to synch it to an old MacBook that he owned and then transferring it to an external drive which I could use as the restoring drive whenever I bought my new computer. I appreciated his ingenuity but I didn’t fully understand his rube goldbergesque route to restoring the music, and then somehow I would be trapped in some outdated technology loop for ever? It was unclear whether he was offering the use of his old MacBook for this purpose only, or whether he was willing to sell it to us, or even give it to us. We never got that far into the conversation before I contacted a “data recovery” service. I explained my problem, and they gave me a lot of hope. They said the songs were definitely salvageable and they generously offered to take a launch to the lighthouse and do it in person whenever I had my new computer. They even sent me a $25 off coupon. I didn’t ask how much this service cost, but if they were going to knock off $25 without me even asking, they much be charging at LEAST $100, right? Maybe $200. This was money I was willing to pay to save. library of over 12,000 songs, but I kept looking for other solutions.

This is where my buzz marketing comes in. SENUTI! (Or iTunes spelled backwards, you guys). It’s a third-party program that claims to be able to transfer songs from iPods back into iTunes. There is a free trial for up to 1000 songs, and a $18.99 license for unlimited transfers. At this point I knew I had to “go big or go home” so I bought the license without even trying the demo. What did I have to lose? Just 10 years of my musical life. No pressure, right?

Well, let me be the poster boy for the success of this excellent little program. I downloaded it, installed it, and carefully prepped my iTunes so that it would not sync automatically as soon as I plugged something in. Senuti is powerful but even IT would be stymied if you told your computer go synch up without giving it a second thought. So, with my iTunes prepped, I opened senuTi. It simply said, “Connect iPod to begin”, and while holding my breath and a saying a “here goes nothing” in my head, I connected the iPod Classic.

Nothing happened.

Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I must have set iTunes up correctly because instead of erasing my iPod, I saw a window open with all my music files listed. I could sort by album, artist, title, genre, you name it. The interface was easy to figure out. You just highlighted the tracks I wanted, and hit the “transfer button” and they were instantaneously transferred back into my new empty iTunes library. I had a moment of fear where an error message popped up saying seunTi couldn’t transfer the music because it couldn’t find the iTunes library folder. I fiddled a bit with the settings (meaning I can’t remember now exactly how I fixed that) but whatever I did worked because the songs showed up in iTunes. Home again! I suppose I could have done a “select all” and pushed “transfer” and walked away, but I thought this was a perfect opportunity to weed the library a little bit. A moment ago I was lamenting the loss of everything, and now here I was taking a critical eye to what I had accumulated. But just like moving house, why pack up stuff that you don’t really need anymore? There were albums and artists on there that I don’t think I even listened to once in the past ten years, or artists that I wanted to get familiar with because they were openers for a headliner I really cared about. Some of those openers I came to love and kept (Snow Patrol, for example) and some were quite forgettable (The Fray and The Arctic Monkeys to name a couple. Don’t @ me). I also had a weirdly high number of audiobooks on there that I didn’t transfer back over. Audiobooks that I never even listened to. I think I loaded up the Classic when it was looking like we were going on strike a few years ago, and I thought I could use my time on the picket line to catch up on some books I had always meant to read. No need for them now, as we are safely renewed for another 4 years, and if it comes to that again, I think I’ll rely on Overdrive for my audiobook needs.

To make sure I didn’t miss anything hiding on the Classic, I went through by artist first, then by album. I think I’ll still do a run-through on “genre” to catch oddities like “holiday” and “soundtracks” that might not fit nicely into the artist or album lists. I did the same thing with the iPod touch, and was surprised to find a handful of albums on there that WEREN’T on the Classic. I guess nobody’s perfect and I must have added the odd album directly to the Touch without syncing the Classic, which means that there are probably a few outliers that were in my iTunes but not on either my Classic or Touch, and those ones are well and truly lost. But like I said, that’s okay. I retrieved 95% to 98% of my music library, and to quote U2, “what you don’t have, you don’t need it anyway”.

The one weird little glitch or anomaly with senuTi is that only SOME of the album artwork transferred over. I could see if none of the artwork transferred. That might mean that I didn’t have one of the metadata boxes checked or something (I checked on all that), but it’s weird that SOME transferred over and others didn’t. Not a big deal in the scheme of things. I much rather have the music file without the album artwork than have the artwork without the music file. And it’s pretty easy, albeit a big time-consuming, to manually import album art myself. Maybe a project for a rainy day.

So consider this the longest Yelp! review for a piece of software. I give it full marks, or 4 stars, or 10 hearts or whatever they use on Yelp! (I’ve never been on Yelp! you guys).

And if this blog post helps even one other person who has lost their iTunes library but has an echo of it on a portable device, then it was worth me writing it.

And if the good people at senuTi read this, thank you SO MUCH again for making this thing. I will be spreading the good word. I will even wear a senuTi t-shirt or button or whatever and recommend your app to the customers I encounter on a daily basis a public librarian.

senuTi everybody! They go both ways! (New Slogan?)

p.s. I made that “Innocence and Experience” playlist that I mentioned in the last blog post, thanks to senuTi, and it’s PRETTY GOOD, although I think I’ll move Cedarwood Road to further down in the list and swallow my pride (no pun intended) and add The Showman early on just for funners.

That’s all from me. I’m off to listen to some music, y’all!

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Deluxe Deluxe Edition

U2 released a new album last December and I looked the other way.

They were resuming their “Innocence and Experience Tour” in 2018, but on a smaller scale with only one Canadian city included (Montreal). None of the American stops were within an easy drive, and I had let my passport lapse anyway.

So, just like with Arcade Fire’s Everything Now last summer, I didn’t have a real incentive for hearing the new songs before I’d hear them performed live, and just like last summer, I was holding a bit of a grudge with my favourite band in the world. They’re also Irish, so I think they would understand about grudges and feuds.

It wasn’t until I was holed up in my hospital room back in May, spoiled for choice in reading material, (Bill Bryson’s At Home, some P.G. Wodehouse, and some John Bellairs) [perfect options for someone recovering from a major Depression by the way. A real literary mixed grill.], but lacking in motivation to read anything that I discovered a recent U2 concert from St. Louis was uploaded by some good soul to Youtube. The entire thing! All 2 hours and 11 minutes of it. I’d link to it, but it’s probably gone by now. If you are interested, have a look for yourself. The man (I’m assuming it was a man, going by his youtube handle BUT WHO CAN TELL THESE DAYS) was seated about halfway up one of the sides of the arena, so he had an excellent view of the huge rectangular side screen that dominated the show back in 2015 and continues to dominate now. They’ve made some technical improvements to the screen, so that you can download an app before the show, and during certain portions of the concert you are encouraged to watch the screen through your phone and you’ll see some cool 3D effects. This youtuber didn’t bother with that. He was more focused on giving the home (or hospital) viewer a real variety of angles and zooms, or as well as he could from his vantage point. He seemed to have an uncanny knack to know when to focus on the screen and when to focus on the band themselves. There was really only one point during the whole 2 hours that his attention seemed to lag. It was during Desire in the second half and he seemed to let the arm holding his phone rest a bit, ON THE BUTT OF THE LADY IN FRONT OF HIM. I mean, she was dancing along to Desire, and so maybe the youtuber thought it was video-worthy. I am sure he didn’t know this woman and can only assume he didn’t see permission for his ass camerary, but it was a brief diversion from the main show and this viewer wants to give this youtuber the benefit of the doubt. (Mind you, if you are going to videotape some ass jiving, Desire is a pretty good song to pick. I GUESS WE WILL NEVER KNOW). In any event, for two hours I was transported to a different time and place and lost myself in that video, thoroughly enjoying the show, the new songs, the old favourites, the return of MacPhisto and the energy of the crowd all through the tiny screen of my iPod touch. It was also notable that not one song from The Joshua Tree was played. You may think it would be odd to go to a U2 concert and not hear Where the Streets Have No Name or With or Without You, but they weren’t missed a bit. I’m sure the band was tired of playing that whole album in album order night after night all last year, so it was an easy decision to skip it on this leg. This was towards the end of my hospital stay, so I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy something like this, and as much as I love Bryson, Bellairs and Wodehouse (I’d go to THAT law-firm!), I was tired of just reading.

So, on the strength of that video, I decided I should go out and get the new U2 album, Songs of Experience, and I haven’t been able to stop playing it in my car.

It will definitely be one of the soundtracks of this summer, so I thought it would be only fitting to do a song by song rundown of the album as we head into the heart of summer.

  1. Love is All we Have Left: U2 usually starts off their albums with a banger to get you on your feet. Where the Streets have No Name, Vertigo, and Beautiful Day are all examples of a strong opener. This song, on the other hand, is slow and contemplative, and with just enough autotune that you get a bit of a Bon Iver vibe off of it. An interesting choice for an album opener, and even more notable that they begin these sets of concert with it, with Bono on the catwalk halfway down, in the middle of the arena, alone. Singing it with a weird sculptured version of his face appearing in 3D on the screen above. It works, though.
  2. The Lights of Home: It starts off with Kinks evoking guitar, like something out of a Wes Anderson film, and soon turns into a toe tapper. By the time it reaches its final coda of “Free yourself to be yourself…” you’re left feeling like you’ve just heard a medley of three songs. I like it, though.
  3. You’re the Best thing about Me: Okay, this song would be FINE if it wasn’t for a lazy rhyme in the chorus which goes, “You’re the best thing about me. The best thing that ever happened a boy”. You read that right. It’s not “best thing that ever happened to a boy” which my wife says would be too many syllables to work (I disagree), and it’s not “best thing that every happened. Oh boy!” (In my mind I’m singing this second version just so it doesn’t through me into a rage when ever this one comes on. I mean, look. Bono. You can do better. The next lines of the chorus are just fine, “You’re the best thing about me. The best things are easy to destroy. You’re the best thing about me, I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy.” Right? Those are thoughtful, clever and fun. But I CANNOT get over that first line of the chorus. It overshadows every thing that follows. More like “You’re the WORST thing about me”, amirite?
  4. Get out of your own way: I guess this is the “big” song on the album, the one that sounds the most like what you’d think a U2 song should sound like these days. It’s a great song and fun to sing along with. I like that is a love letter to America to remember your own greatness despite recent events. It can also be interpreted as someone giving advice to someone who can’t see their way through a problem. The cognitive triangle at work! (Behaviour changes thoughts which change feelings and so on!) As an added bonus it even has a cameo appearance from Kendrick Lamar in an outro (just to show that U2 is still COOL to the young kids out there), reciting some updated beatitudes, like: Blessed are the arrogant
    For theirs is the kingdom of their own company
    Blessed are the superstars
    For the magnificence in their light
    We understand better our own insignificance
    Blessed are the filthy rich
    For you can only truly own what you give away
    Like your pain, Blessed are the bullies

    For one day they will have to stand up to themselves
    Blessed are the lies
    For the truth can be awkward THEN GUESS WHAT SUCKERS? Those last few beatitudes are the INTRO for the next song, American Soul, so it’s like you don’t even have a say in whether you want to skip over it, because if you’ve listened closely to U2’s last album you probably have good reason to.
  5. American Soul: I guess I should continue my rant in the right song at least. If you listen closely, American Soul is the SAME SONG as Volcano off of Songs of Innocence. If you thought “ever happened a boy” was lazy, they didn’t even try to disguise the chorus. They even use the same words: “You. Are. Rock n’ Roll. You. And. I. Are. Rock n’ Roll” which doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. I want to skip over this song each time but I’m scared that Kendrick Lamar will find out and come to my house and scold me.
  6. Summer of Love: Luckily the next song redeems the album instantly. It’s my wife’s favourite song of the album, and it is super fun to sing along with, even though the lyrics are about the Syrian refugee crisis and the developed world’s moral obligation to take them in. It’s one that often gets played more than once in a row when we are listening in the car.
  7. Red Flag Day: This song sounds like it could have come off of one of U2’s earliest albums, like Boy or October. In fact, it could very well BE from October and they’d get away with it, because no one ever listens to that album or cares about it. I think it’s Adam Clayton’s jumpy bass that really gives this song its vintage feel, and it’s message of pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to help others is solid too.
  8. The Showman (Little more Better): This song is so weird, it almost would be a b-side on a single (if they still put out singles in any real way). It’s fun, and has a goofy chorus, and I can’t stop smiling when it comes on and I am forced to sing along with it. So: bonus points for U2 to not take themselves too seriously on every track. Will this song ever make it into a live set-list? Not a chance in hell, but I’m glad they wrote it and I’m glad it’s on here.
  9. The little Things that give you away: We first heard this song back in May of last year at the end of the first “Joshua Tree Tour 30th anniversary tour” concert in Vancouver. The ended the show with it in fact, which was kind of ballsy. It is one of those “start slow and small and build and build” kind of songs that grows on me each time I hear it. Every time it comes on I resist an urge to skip past it until I remember it gets really good halfway through.
  10. Landlady: I don’t know how Allie (Bono’s wife) feels about being called the “landlady” but this is a lovely little song which is a tribute to her and all the stuff that she does and puts up with being married to an egotistical megalomaniac with a mild Jesus complex.
  11. The Blackout: This song absolutely EXPLODES when you hear it played live. In the St. Louis show, they play it second, right after the slow and contemplative opening of Love is all we have left and it blows the roof off the place. Again, it sounds like vintage, 1980’s U2. I’d place this one more from the War era than anywhere else, and they were smart to release a music video of them playing this song live in some club in Amsterdam last year, because Live is really where this song lives.
  12. Love is Bigger than Anything in its way: Okay, we’ve finally come to this song, my absolutely favourite one on the whole album. You get the feeling this song pretty much wrote itself in a few minutes, and it is so simple and yet so optimistic and big hearted that it raised my spirits when I heard it performed in St. Louis via my hospital room. I mean, what more can you say about a song called “Love is bigger than anything in its way”. There’s no way you can sound cool with a title like that, and that’s okay. Sometimes sincerity sounds corny, and looking around at the world today, I am HERE for corny sentimentality. It’s the final song of the night for most nights on the recent leg of the tour, so as people are leaving the arena to get in their cars and drive home they are thinking (and singing inside no doubt) about the simple but moving truth that Love is Bigger than anything in its way.
  13. 13 (there is a light): Okay, I lied. It wasn’t exactly the last song of the concert, but it was the last FULL song of the concert (and I daresay this album too). I’ve called BS on some of the laziness that is evident on this album (while at the same time praising the band for the things they got right and the things I genuinely love about this album), but nothing could be lazier than not even coming up with a title for a song. Which is what happens here. The 13th (and final track of the album if you don’t have the deluxe version) is simple called 13. They try to hedge their bets by sticking (there is a light) in brackets, but it will always be just unlucky 13 to me. And here’s the worst part: it’s another redo of a song from the last album. Who does this!? Didn’t anyone take them aside and say, “Look fellas, we love you. But you can just release the same song with a slightly different title and think people will be fooled. This is clearly Song for Someone with minor cosmetic changes. For example, instead of singing “a song for someone, someone like you” as he does on the Songs of Innocence album, Bono changes it to “a song for someone, someone like ME” and we are all just supposed to sit back and pretend we don’t notice? Okay, I get that these two albums are to be seen as companion pieces to each other, so a little mirroring could be an acceptable creative choice. Maybe by opening the second album on the same chord as the last album ended? Oh wait, they already did that between the end of The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. Maybe they could loop it so that the last song on the second album blends seamlessly into the first song on the first album…..oh wait, Arcade Fire did something similar on their Everything Now album. Look, I don’t know how you want to link these albums thematically, but rehashing old songs and reworking them are the stuff of B-Sides and Rarities, not for new albums. U2, you are better than this. (I still love you though, and would love you even more if you came back. It’s been 7 years. Just sayin’)
  14. Ordinary Love*: So the official album ends with 13, but since I scored the DELUXE album I get to have Ordinary Love, the song they wrote for that Nelson Mandela movie (and for which they were nominated for an Oscar but lost to the Frozen people). U2 always seems to get a case of the musical yips when they have to release a song on its own, without the support of an album. They all kind of sound the same. Electrical Storm, Miss Sarajevo, Your Blue Room, Invisible and now Ordinary Love all seem to share the same dna, and if they are not musical siblings then there are certainly musical cousins.
  15. Book of your Heart*: I don’t have a fucking clue what this song is about, but guess what? It sounds just like Ordinary Love and the others. Yes, another victim of “singleitis”. If I had to hazard a guess, this song is about people getting married? I don’t know. I  guess I could look it up on Genius later.
  16. Lights of Home Remix*: Not much to add to this. Just a peppier version of the second track with a drum beat so it could be played in clubs. Do club DJs even consider U2 songs for their shows? I can’t imagine it.
  17. You’re the Best thing about me Remix*: I actually prefer this remix to the album version. It’s got a bit of auto-tune going on in the middle which gives it a bit of a Pet Shop Boys feel to it, but  I can still hear that dumb lyric throughout the distortion.

 

Well there you have it, my review of “Songs of Experience”, track by track. I liked it about the same as “Songs of Innocence” and if I am able to salvage my iTunes library I think I will make a “deluxe deluxe version” of both albums, taking the songs I like from both and dropping the ones that I don’t like. I think the album would look something like this:

  1. The Blackout
  2. Cedarwood Road
  3. Iris (Hold Me Close)
  4. Summer of Love
  5. Every Breaking Wave
  6. Get Out Of Your Own Way
  7. Song for Someone
  8. Red Flag Day
  9. The Little things that give you Away
  10. The Lights of Home
  11. The Troubles
  12. Love is Bigger than Everything in its Way

Playlist of the summer!

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The Cruellest Month

<begin transmission> test test test.

Hey gang, sorry for the lack of activity over the past few weeks, but we’ve had a little drama at the lighthouse.

At the beginning of April, someone ransacked the place, taking, among other things, the lighthouse logbooks dating back to the early ’90s. That was unnerving enough, but then: even WORSE for a lighthouse keeper: a gloomy fog began to roll in. At first it seemed like nothing that the lighthouse couldn’t handle, your garden variety mist, but it didn’t take long to realize this fog was thicker than the proverbial pea soup, and wasn’t going anywhere on its own. It was worrisome, and could have possibly proven fatal. To add insult to injury, when the lighthouse was ransacked, they took all our back up bulbs and wouldn’t you know: our main light began to show signs of weakening, not that it could have penetrated the dense fog even at full strength, but STILL. We hadn’t seen a fog like that in twenty five years, thereabouts.

I could only see one solution, but luckily for me (and all of YOU, loyal readers), my wife saw clearly enough to seek help. She replaced that bulb herself, with the help and support of many friends and family (you know who you are, all of you), not to mention a whole team of professional lighthouse maintenance people. After letting the light burn for a whole month, something miraculous happened:At first, it was just for 10 minutes, then a whole hour the following day, then longer still. I’m talking about the lifting of the fog. It always does lift. I know that now, and I knew that before. I just couldn’t see that when things were at their worst.

We are all doing quite a bit better now. The light seems to be growing brighter day by day, and although there are patches of fog here and there, I think we are through the worst of it.

We also put a security system in the lighthouse. No one ever bothered us before in the 15 years we’ve been here. We thought we were too remote and impenetrable. We were wrong.

This all started in April, a month T.S. Eliot curiously referred to as “the cruellest month”. It almost was, and the fog DID prevent a post last month, but I wasn’t going to let TWO months go by without an update from the lighthouse. Here we are on the last day of May, just under the wire. The sky is clear and the water is calm. Consider yourself updated. <end transmission>

Photo credit: Sheila Johns

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Tang Reunion

I was at the dentist this morning for my “once over”. I go about three times a year, not so much because I need it, but because my insurance covers it and my dentist likes to go on nice holidays. He always asks the same thing, like “any plans for Spring Break?”, and while wealthy and successful people may respond, “Well, yes. We are heading to: #Hawaii #Disneyland #Disneyworld #Arizona #Victoria #PalmSprings” or other such exotic locales, I told him we are heading to a small prairie city a couple hours drive west of here for their “Winter Exhibition”. Which is in itself a misnomer, as we are clearly into Spring now. (Okay, there is still snow on the ground, and as I look out the window this minute there are flurries in the air, but THE CALENDAR DOES NOT LIE [unless it is one of them “Hijri calendars” or my sweet U2 calendar from 1988 that I kept for years after the dates made no sense because I liked the pictures]). My dentist seemed to know about the winter carnival because he said the arena smells like a barn all week, and I agreed with him. “I have to take an antihistamine before I go near there, but my wife and daughter like petting all the small farm animals and I don’t mind watch the horse jumping all day long”. I realized I sounded like a bit of a simpleton, but it was the truth. They put some kind of covering on the arena floor. (Wood chips? Saw dust? Straw?) so you don’t ever hear the clop-clops of the horses’ hooves. (That apostrophe on ‘horses’ may be in violation of Strunk and White, but I can’t just bring myself to write horses’s and I wouldn’t want you to have to sound that out in your inner “reading voice”.)

Despite the sneezes and being around all those smelly animals for a day, I AM looking forward to our little getaway, and our hotel has a pool, so I might even risk a DIP at some point.

But this is all burying the lede, people. The main reason I am writing this post (in addition to writing one to not miss one in March. Not that missing one would be the end of the world, would it? I mean, really) is that I was reunited with my old hygienist today. (No, not Mary K. Long time readers may remember my favourite hygienist of all time. I wrote about her here way back in 2013.) Not her. That WOULD be something to celebrate. No. I’m talking about TANG, my hygienist who happens to be a MAN. Last time I was at the dentist, Tang wasn’t available so I was assigned to ANOTHER MAN. I don’t mean to sound sexist or ignorant here, but my impression (could be wrong, could be wrong!) is that dental hygienists tend to be women. In fact, up to and including Mary K, they had ALL been women for me. But now I’m wondering if there is something in my file that says, “He only takes dudes” now, because what are the chances that I would get not one, not two but THREE mangienists since Mary K’s tenure? (There was a short-lived guy name “Sam”, but no one ever saw him again after that first time). I did not care for Tang’s replacement last time. He was rough with his hands (and such big hands!) and he told me I wasn’t flossing enough, which I took the wrong way. I mean, sure, I’m not flossing after every meal. I’m not a serial killer. But I do make an effort to “eff and bee” every night before bed, and if I miss the occasional night, it only makes me more human and relatable. In short, we did not click.

So this morning, as I was sitting in the waiting room, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had booked with the Tang replacement, or the original flavour, so you can imagine my great surprise and joy when Tang 1.0 came out to the waiting room to collect me!

“It’s good to see you!” I gushed unrepentantly as I climbed up into the chair.

“You too, I missed you this winter” was Tang’s response.

“Really?”

“Well, I mean. It feels like its been awhile.”

“Yes, it has! I had that other guy last time. You weren’t here,” I said reproachfully.

And then we started talking about karaoke for some reason and I remembered how much I liked his laid back demeanour, his dry sense of humour, and his small, ALMOST LADYLIKE hands. FRIENDS AGAIN. Or, if not friends exactly, then a hygienist and a patient who seem to click.

We finished about 10 minutes early, and I commented, “Well, look at that. We are ahead of schedule.”

And Tang said, “That’s a testament to your good gums. There was even less plague on here that usual.”

“Welllllllllll. I’d say it is a testament to your ability as a hygienist. Why don’t we both take credit for our successes today?”

And Tang said, “That’s what we call around here Filling Each Others Buckets” and I didn’t like THAT term at ALL but I DO like Tang and made sure I booked in with him again in August. He wished me well at the winter fair, and I wished him well at his next Karaoke session, and I left with some floss, a toothbrush (green!), some paste, and ZERO cavaties.

 

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“Make Five Wieners, I’ll Eat Six”

Sad news recently in the world of radio. We learned this morning that Arthur Black, the long-time host of CBC Radio’s Basic Black died. He announced just a couple of weeks ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the “Mike Tyson of cancers” as he described it in a poignant, bittersweet blog post. That news brought back a flood of good memories for me, of spending a chunk of many, many Saturday mornings listening to Basic Black with my Dad. When I say, “listen with my Dad”, I don’t want to give the impression that he and I would sit around a radio, like a couple of old-timey rubes. That’s not what would typically happen. My Dad would play the CBC in the bathroom as he performed his “morning ablutions” (his words) and I would listen to it from my CASSETTE PLAYER/AMFM RADIO in my room, typically while I was still in bed. If my Dad was not in the bathroom DOING HIS ABLUTIONS, then he was probably upstairs in the kitchen puttering around, listening to it on his little transistor radio. I honestly don’t know what my Mom or brother were up to during these mornings, but I don’t think they ever listened to Basic Black. I think they surfaced around lunchtime, when Double Exposure took over the airwaves after Basic Black wrapped up for the week. Double Exposure was also a fun show. Just a half hour, it would lampoon weekly political news with skits and impressions of famous politicians of the day. Saturday mornings in our house were always that potent combination of Basic Black and Double Exposure, but today I want to focus on Basic Black.

I remember the theme song and Arthur Black’s cheery, “Good Saturday Morning, Canada!” which launched every show. And what a weird show it was! It was a smorgasbord of interviews with quirky people, skits, monologues, pre-recorded bits, and songs, both live and recorded. It seemed to me at the time that Arthur Black had complete creative control, but I imagine he had a team of writers and producers behind him to create this illusion of a single-minded vision. It was thanks to this show that I first heard Robbie Robertson and The Band. Arthur Black must have loved The Weight because it felt like it must have played it at least once a month on the show. I always thought the show did a great job of knitting together the various regions of Canada by taking calls from people from every corner, and creating this shared experience. You always kind of got the feeling you were in his circle, and you were in on the jokes.

A regular feature was the report from Sir George St. Jean Quimby…….in London. It always began with the chimes of Big Ben, and this weirdo correspondent would come on and report on odd things in the British zeitgeist. I never really knew if they were real news stories or made up. It didn’t matter, he was a part of the Basic Black family.

Joy Gallagher was another regular guest on Basic Black. She was always on doing a cooking segment with Arthur Black, and things always went horribly and hilariously wrong. She wrote a series of books called The Kitchen Klutzes Cookbook: No More than 4 Ingredient Recipes. For Christmas one year, I wanted to get one of these books for my Dad as a present. My Mom couldn’t understand why I wanted to get my Dad a cookbook, as he never took an interest in cooking (aside from wieners and beans night when my Mom was out), but I knew he would like it. I was right! He and I even tried out a few recipes from it, and I can tell you this: you should probably have more than 4 ingredients in your cooking for it to taste like anything, but it was still fun.

My favourite recurring bits were Arthur Black’s monologues. They were sort of like Rick Mercer’s street rants, but with less walking around, (and not as ranty, I don’t think). Just like E.B. White’s essays (ref to last blog post, you guys!), Arthur Black’s monologues would have easily fit into “blog post” form, I think. Speaking of blogs, the man himself started one just weeks ago when he received his diagnosis. You can find it at http://basicblack.homestead.com/ .

He sadly only made it to seven posts, but you can really get a sense of his humour and wit from them, if you are not familiar with his show. I just ordered one of his books from another library, so I’ll probably have more to say about him later.

After my Dad died, I drifted away from the show. As much as I enjoyed listening to it, it was more that it was something my Dad and I would do together. After he was gone, I didn’t really have a reason to continue listening. Life changes and you move on. I kind of regret that now.

Years passed.

So it was to my great surprise and delight that on Saturday, June 29, 2002 my then girlfriend/now wife and I were heading out to my Aunt and Uncle’s cottage for the long weekend, and when we put the radio on, can you guess what greeted us? That’s right! “Good Saturday Morning, Canada!” It happened to be the VERY LAST Basic Black, broadcast live from Thunder Bay. We listened to it the whole way out, and it was a lovely way to say goodbye. I didn’t know it until then, but my wife listened to Basic Black in the ’90s when she worked Saturday mornings at a toy store. It’s doubtful that we ever overlapped in our listening, but still.

The CBC’s Early Edition posted a link to his last show today. I’m not sure how long it will be up but you can listen to it here. I’ve been listening to it while I’ve been writing this post. It’s so goofy.

Towards the end of every show, Arthur Black would give out the show’s address if you wanted to write to him. This was before the days of email and social media so you had to actually WRITE LETTERS WITH ACTUAL PENS OR TYPEWRITERS. The CBC’s postal code in Toronto was (and is, I guess) M5W 1E6, and to remember it, he would always give out the address and end it with “Make Five Wieners, I’ll Eat Six”, which always made me smile, it was so stupid. Stupid, but a great blog post title.

 

 

 

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Thing(s) I Love 2018

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker

Okay. So we are doing this again? The Valentines’ Day post? (Or is it Valentine’s? Valentine’s, right? Because the Saint is called Valentine, and it is his day?). Are we all good with “Valentine’s”? I mean, the punctuation, are we good with it?

God, what an awkward start to this year’s Thing(s) I Love post. I really stumbled out of the gate. Even the punctuation in the title of these series of posts is questionable. “Is it a singular or a plural?” It can’t be both. We’re not doing quantum mechanics here, Keanu.

I was going to write about SOMETHING ELSE for this year’s “Thing(s) I Love” post, but now with all of this grammar and spelling kerfuffle at the top of this post, maybe I should write about ANOTHER thing (actually it’s not a THING, it’s a MAN: spoiler). That’s right. I’m talking about E.B. White, one half of that famous style manual, Strunk and White. (Well I guess  the actual title is The Elements of Style but anyone in the know calls it Strunk and White). And for you style enthusiasts, are you pleased with my use of the “it’s” in the first part of this paragraph. You see, it is a conjunction for “it is” which makes the apostrophe appropriate. If I were using “its” as a possessive, like “The cat hurt its paw”, then no apostrophe. I’M GLAD WE CLEARED ALL THAT UP. (All caps for emphasis).

Another reason to talk about E.B. White and The Elements of Style is that this year is the 100th anniversary of its (see what I did there?) creation. Now, back in 1918, White didn’t have anything to do with it. He didn’t come along and edit, expand and update it until 1959, when it became known as “Strunk and White”. Did people refer to the original 1918 version as just “The Strunk”? I like to think so, as in literary types shouting across a room to each other, “Pass me the Strunk!” Strunk struck out on his own, a hundred years ago, and created this manual because as an English professor at Cornell he was tired of seeing poor English usage among his students. In 1918! What would Strunk think of the world of social media today, with its LOLs, IMHOs, and emojis? Luckily we can ask him because in addition to being a former professor of English, Strunk is also a LORD OF THE DARK ARTS and traded his humanity for immortality in 1924. Thing is, he is kind of hard to track down and he is notoriously shy, so I couldn’t really find a useful quotation.

But enough about Strunk! I don’t love him, I love E.B. White! Let’s talk about him for a little bit. E.B. White was a student of Strunk’s at Cornell, which explains his connection to The Elements of Style.

I first came across  The Elements of Style in 2000, when I read Stephen King’s On Writing. For those who haven’t read On Writing, it’s all about SK’s take on the craft of writing, and he swears by Strunk and White as the guidepost and bible for all writers. I got so curious I went out and got my own copy of it, and yeah: It’s great. The first thing I noticed that it is short and to the point, which interestingly is one of the points of the book. “Remove unnecessary words”, to which any reader of this blog will know that I often do not adhere. Another rule is “avoid a succession of loose sentences”. Look, I never said I was a GOOD writer, you guys. And I, for one, welcome all sentences, loose or chaste. (The loose ones are a bit more fun). The second takeaway is that they are strong believers in the Oxford comma and I agree, affirm, and support this take. The third thing is that many of the things they discuss no longer apply in the digital era. For example, the whole idea of telling us when to break up words at the ends of lines really doesn’t matter with a word processor that can automatically justify any line width. But Strunk and White didn’t know about this in 1959. They were living in the age of typewriters. Despite Strunk’s play at immortality, he wasn’t a fortune-teller. (Still isn’t!).

Even though I like the idea of Strunk and White, I don’t agree with EVERYTHING in there. Like their first rule about possessives. They say you should stick an apostrophe and “S” after EVERY case of single possession, even those words that naturally end in “S”, so get situations like Charles’s. I’d be inclined to write Charles’ in cases like this. I don’t know if it is right, but it FEELS right to me. Don’t even get me started on plural possessives.

Well, what else is there to say about Strunk and White? Time magazine named it one of the 100 “best and most influential books written in English since 1923”. I guess they were talking about the 1959 version, and I still consult it from time to time, even if some of its advice is a bit questionable to this modern man. I wondered why Time seemingly chose an arbitrary date of 1923, but I looked it up and that was the year that Time began publishing, so I guess it makes sense.

But this post isn’t just about Strunk and White, you guys. I want to talk about some of the other stuff that White got up to while Strunk was buying incense and mail-order wizard’s robes. He wrote a book that actually turned out to be the first chapter book I ever read. Yes, that’s right. Charlotte’s Web. My grade two teacher read it to us, chapter by chapter, and we were supposed to follow along the best we could with our own scholastic copies. Of course I fell in love with Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern and even that rascal Templeton over a few weeks of reading together. A couple of the more clever kids in my class would “read ahead”, either independently or with their parents, and know what was coming next, but I thought that was dumb. Why would you not just let the story unfold at the pace Mrs. Lajeunnesse intended? We are all going to get there at the same time, pal. I wasn’t prepared for the “kick in the crotch” ending E.B. White lays on us. I was in grade two! I know there’s the whole “circle of life” business but STILL. The poignancy of the ending stayed with me a long time after we were done.

And up until very recently, aside from The Elements of Style, that was the only E. B. White book I ever read.

A couple of years ago, I reread Charlotte’s Web for the first time to my daughter. I think she enjoyed it, and I know it rubbed off on her because we had a guy come by to do some drywalling who she mistakenly called Wilbur. (His name was Weldon and didn’t seem to mind). I choked up a little reading the sad ending again, 35 years later, but it didn’t seem to leave much of an impression on my daughter. She’s made of tougher stuff than me, I think.

We went on to read The Trumpet of the Swan together shortly after that. That’s a bit of weird one, huh? A mute swan (Louis) ends up using a stolen trumpet to communicate. He gets odd jobs as a bugler at a summer camp, working for the Swan Boats in Boston Common, and later on in the Philadelphia zoo, reconnecting with his girlfriend and bargaining with the zookeeper for their freedom by dropping off a sacrificial swan now and again. Still, it was a rather lovely story, and inspirational in the sense that despite facing numerous hurdles, this swan is able to adapt and overcome them and lead a fairly successful life. I mean, how many swans do YOU know that can play trumpet, write on a slate and make cash dollars? An even better question: how many swans do you know, full stop? My point exactly.

E.B. White’s third classic was Stuart Little. I am a little ashamed to admit that I have never read it, or seen any movies or TV or puppets shows based on it. I was always a Mouse and the Motorcycle man when I was a kid, #teambeverlycleary and I just didn’t have room in my life for another talking mouse. Beverly Cleary is still alive you guys! She’s 101! Maybe she drank some of the ol’ “Strunk Juice”? Beverly Cleary is better known as the author of the Ramona books, and I can tell you after a recent reread of them with my daughter: they still hold up, although I sympathize with the parents now throughout. Hopefully I’ll get to Stuart Little with my daughter before she grows out of the age where she wants stories read to her. I understand it’s a dystopian look at what happens when a human woman gives birth to a horrible mutation that takes the shape of a talking mouse. Chilling.

Aside from the style book and his children’s novels, E.B. White wrote a series of articles for the New Yorker. Many of these eventually became collected as The Essays of E.B. White. I read this collection last summer and was moved by their excellence. Many of them were little “slices of life” either of his life as a writer in New York, or his adventures in owning a farm in Brooklin, Maine. They struck me as being very “blog posty”, and perhaps E.B. White would have published an entertaining and popular blog if he had only followed in Strunk’s footsteps and remained alive to this day. As I made my way through the essays, I found myself reading passages out loud to my wife because I didn’t want to hog the pleasure. Some of them sounded even better out loud than they did in my head. His one essay about driving from New York to Maine and all the feelings it evokes as he gets closer to his destination sent shivers up my spine, and I still recite the little poem from the essay in my head on a regular basis: “The river flows through Orland every day.”

More recently E.B. White was referenced tangentially throughout John Hodgman’s book of essays, Vacationland. Although he never mentions him by name, he does say that he is his wife’s favourite author and quotes from one of his poems. In one of the essays, Hodgman toys with the idea of buying E.B. White’s old farmhouse, but thinks better of it. The spirit of E.B. White is felt throughout this collection, and is just one more reason why he gets my nod for 2018’s Thing(s) I Love. You could even say that I think E.B. White is TERRIFIC.

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Some Pig.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

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A Hectic Morning

As has become tradition in the lighthouse, we like to celebrate the anniversary of this blog each year on February 9. Seven years ago now! Each year I wonder how much longer will this thing go on? At first, I thought: a year would be cool, then it quickly became two. Five seemed like a good place to wrap things up, but then it sort of kept going. Some months it is almost impossible to find inspiration and motivation to write anything, and other months see multiple posts. I’ve never missed a month in the past 7 years, (I don’t think), and I wear that minimal consistency with a bit of pride, I have to admit.

So here is our 8th “Morning” post. Looking ahead, maybe we’ll even make it to an even ten years? I think, looking back on this project, being able to say I’ve “maintained a blog” for a DECADE sounds way cooler than saying ALMOST A DECADE, right? Our daughter will be almost 12 by then, on the cusp of being a teenager. Probably a good time to turn the lens off of family life at that point, for her sake and ours. (I can hear all of you saying, “Darn, just when it’s about to get good!”)

But that means we still have three years together, you and I. (God willing). And to quote Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, “And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further?”

I called this post “A Hectic Morning” because in addition to one of my staff taking a “family sick” day, another staff person is super sick with a cold but still dragged herself in to do a couple of children’s programs (but most likely will head home after that) and most of my part-time staff are either working at other branches, maxed out on hours, or are out-of-town, so it may be the ol’ champ here this afternoon, manning the library/lighthouse singlehandedly. (Well, not actually single-handedly, but AT DIMINISHED CAPACITY). And yet I still find a quick moment to honour the day with a blog post. I have my priorities, you guys.

Speaking of our daughter, I overheard this little exchange on the schoolyard this morning that I thought you might enjoy it. It involves my daughter and one of her little pals, Marcos, who is in her grade (three) but not in her class this year. Marcos came up to her and gave her a big hug and said:

Marcos: “Hey A______, remember in grade one when we would talk all the time about Paw Patrol and then watch Paw Patrol? That was fun”.

Daughter: “Yeah”.

Marcos (a little hestitant): “Do you still like Paw Patrol“?

Daughter: “Yeah”.

Marcos (quickly and softly): “Me too”.

Daughter: “SORT of”.

Happy Anniversary, Mountains Beyond Mountains! There always seems to be another mountain to check out. Glad you are checking them out with me.

Oh, and Happy Winter Olympics, everybody! Cue the David Foster!

 

 

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Half Time Show

So I happened to catch the half time show for the Super Bowl last night. I wasn’t planning on it, but my wife did not want to miss the special episode of NBC’s This is Us which was supposed to come on afterwards. So I stuck on the TV to see how far along we were in the game, and it turned out it was just at half time. Half Time! I think I read somewhere that Justin Timberlake was going to be the performer, and so I thought, “Why the hell don’t I watch it?” and so I did. My daughter was in pyjamas by the point, and was half tucked, but sensing there might have been any reason to delay bedtime, she appeared and snuggled her self in next to my wife. How bad could it be, really? I mean, it was thanks to Justin Timberlake’s LAST appearance at the Super Bowl half time show that the FCC imposed a 5 second delay on all live broadcasts. Do you guys remember that? He was performing with Janet Jackson and he pulled off a section of her costume at the end of the song AND OUT POPPED HER BOOB for a few precious seconds and then the screen went black and air raid sirens went off and it almost was the end of everything because someone’s tit made an appearance in the open air. The term “Wardrobe Malfunction” was coined that night, and when you read up on it, apparently JT was SUPPOSED to remove a section of Janet Jackson’s costume to reveal a RED BRA underneath (lame) but instead he went for it and took the bra and all. (At least that’s the official version) because it was supposed to match the lyrics which were something like “I’m gonna get you naked by the end of this song” which just kind of sounds aggressive and gross. That was 2004, and I remember watching the Super Bowl over at my Mom’s place with my father-in-law. Everyone was around, but us two guys were the only ones that had any interest in the game and we were the only ones in the room when the boob appeared. It happened so fast that when you saw it the first time you weren’t really even sure what you were seeing. I think my father-in-law turned to me and said, “Interesting ending” and went back to his chips. I nodded, and refilled my drink. It wasn’t until the next day that we knew we saw something special that night. A lady’s boob.

So all of this was in the back of my mind last night when JT started doing his thing. It seemed like a typical half time show, in that the artist did a medley of his biggest hits, got in, did them, got out, and back to the game. I was surprised at how many my daughter knew. She was up and dancing and singing along as soon as it started. I think she hears them in gym class. I only recognized a couple. The one where he promises to bring “Sexxxy Back” and the one from the Trolls movie. This is how dumb I am: remember last year’s Oscars? I mean, before there was that screw up where La La Land thought it won best picture but it really was Moonlight, (or was it the other way around?), before all that, do you remember how the show opened? It opened with JT singing that song from the Trolls movie. I thought it was super cool and fun to have the awards show open with a song, but I didn’t realize at the time that JT was nominated for an Oscar for that song. He actually had a reason to be there. I thought he was just playing it because it was fun. This is how much I know sometimes.

And also: apologies for those extra “exes” in “Sexyback” up there. I got all excited because I thought that’s how Prince would have spelled the song title if he had written it. Which brings me to another section of the half time show that some people didn’t like. In I guess what was the “middle” section, JT sits down at a piano and starts to play “I would die 4 U”. Uh oh. This is/was a Prince song you guys, and remember how cagey he used to be about his music, his image, his everything? I remember seeing him in concert in 2011, and I had never before seen such aggressive ushers during the show, taking people’s phones from them if they were trying to take pictures or video. Beforehand, there were signs up that respectfully asked us to refrain from any recordings. The night was “for our memories”, one of the signs said. So what was about to happen here?

Actually, nothing TOO terrible. There were rumours that there was going to be a “hologram Prince” that would sing and dance along with JT, which would have been awful and super cringe-worthy. As it was, they had some kind of giant sheet up that was fluttering away, and on it they projected some footage of Prince. I mean, as tributes go, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. At one point, they showed the outside of the stadium turning purple and purple light shot out of it in all directions which turned in the “Prince Symbol” which I thought was pretty cool, even if it was all CGI. Back to the fluttery sheet for a sec: Interestingly, one of the shots they used was from Prince’s own Super Bowl half time show way back in 2007, where his silhouette was shown holding his guitar. It was controversial at the time, because it sort of looked like his genitals IN PROFILE. I mean, that’s what some people thought. I don’t know. I haven’t seen enough genitals to really make a ruling, (he said unconvincingly). I mean, I’m no genital expert, as my friends can attest. At best, I am an amateur genital enthusiast.

Still though, the moment quickly moved on and he finished up with the Trolls song and everyone seemed to like it. I don’t have a problem with JT. It seems like a good hearted boob (NO PUN INTENDED YOU GUYS). Sort of like a muppet in human form. The only way you could find him offensive would be if you found super safe, unintimidating middle of the road white dudes who can dance offensive, and I’m sure some of us can. And at least this time he kept his hands to himself.

It got me thinking, though about half time shows in general, and how did evolve to this huge production numbers that people dissect and talk about for hours, if not days, after? I turned to my wife at one point during JT’s show and said, “weren’t these half time shows at one time just some marching band playing “Louie Louie” or whatever?” and she didn’t know.

So I had to check.

Sure enough, getting big stars to perform at the Super Bowl really only started in 1993, when they got Michael Jackson (of course). After that, the NFL was all, “Jesus, this could be a huge money-maker for us”. It only took them 25 years to figure this out. For the first few Super Bowls, you DID get a bunch of marching bands, performing things like “A Salute to America!” or “A Tribute to our Military” or “Boobies All The Time”. (I’m not sure about that last one, but it WAS the 1960s.) Then you got this pseudo-Christian feel-good group, “Up with People” who were asked back 5 times in the 1970’s and ’80s to perform songs like “Everyone is Great and so are you” and “I like turtlenecks and unicorns!” or whatever.

In 1987, when U2 was about to take America by storm with The Joshua Tree tour, the half time show featured George Burns and Mickey Rooney, for God’s sake.

In a particularly messed up one, (1995) the theme was Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. I know. It sounds obscene, but it apparently was a Disney attraction so some executive must have thought it would be a great idea for a half time show to watch a stunt man dressed up like Indiana Jones run through obstacles while Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett sing songs? I mean, COME ON.

The first half time show I ever really wanted to watch was in 2002. U2, of course. They were brought in to perform at the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and it was pretty damn great. They had their heart-shaped stage which they had just toured around the world with for their Elevation tour (the same tour where I met Bono in Calgary the previous April, you guys, in case you forgot that story!) It was the perfect short set. Just three songs, but three FULL songs. They started with “Beautiful Day”, then segued into a prayerful “MLK”, during which all the names of those killed in the 9/11 attacks were scrolled on a sheet behind the stage, grouped by their flight number, first responder group, or location. Then, they brought it all home with a transformative and redemptive “Where the Streets Have No Name” and it was so beautiful and wonderful. Nothing compares. (Prince ref!).

After that, you really saw the biggest acts in the world play the Super Bowl half time show. The Rolling Stones, The Who, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry (with her weird shark dancers), Madonna (with her “Cleopatra entrance”), and Lady GaGA. Even Coldplay had their turn (although they kind of got sideswiped by Bruno Mars and Beyoncé). It’s almost become as big, if not bigger, than the football game itself. Megan Amram summed it up perfectly with this joke tweet last night:

I kind of wish we would get to see Janet Jackson again at the half time show, maybe solo this time. Maybe without anyone grabbing her boobs. Or failing that, MARCHING BANDS. But until then, we got to see THIS at least:

“This is what it looks like, when eyes lie”.

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To the Faithful Departed

“I have decided to leave you forever and I have decided to start things from here.

Thunder and Lightning won’t change what I’m feeling, oh oh.

And the daffodils look lovely today…

And the daffodils look lovely today….” Dolores O’Riordan, Daffodil Lament

You couldn’t really go anywhere in ’94 and ’95 without hearing that song, Zombie, by The Cranberries. In amongst Carnival by Natalie Merchant, No More I love Yous by Annie Lennox and anything off of Jagged Little Pill from Alanis Morissette, there was this song with a thundery bassline and female lead with a storm of a voice. I actually didn’t really like it at first, but then I found out it was IRISH and I was ON BOARD. She was singing about The Troubles! And she references the 1916 rebellion! It wasn’t long after that song made peak saturation that I picked up the CD, No Need to Argue from HMV. From the very first track, Ode to my Family, I knew this album was going to be special. The way the lead singer, (who I eventually came to know was Dolores O’Riordan from Limerick), sang out, “Does anyone care? Does anyone care?” at the end made me smile. I was in a wilderness period with my other beloved Irish Band, U2, (This was that odd period between Zooropa and Pop where it was uncertain if they would ever bounce back), and was happy to turn my attention, at least for a little while, to another group of artists from my ancestral homeland. The fire really kicks in with the next track, I can’t be with you but the next song spoke to me directly. Twenty One. I remember listening to this album in a god damn DISCMAN on the bus home to St. James and noting at the time that I was 21 too. It was as if Dolores was singing to me. Then you get that popular outlier, Zombie, four songs in. It’s interesting because that song doesn’t really sound like anything else on that album, but that’s the song for which The Cranberries will probably be most remembered. (Maybe tied with Dreams from the previous album). The second half of that album has some gems, too. The longingly beautiful Dreaming my Dreams, the “fuck you” to depression song, Ridiculous Thoughts, Daffodil Lament (my wife’s personal fave, I think) and that calm after the storm/relationship/illness is over, the titular No Need to Argue. I fell in love with that album, and I fell in love with Dolores O’Riordan. I loved how it was so steeped in melancholy but didn’t feel sad to me. It felt angry, and wistful maybe, but never just sad. I didn’t know melancholy could have so much energy. Keep in mind that this was the year after I got let out the hospital after being on a psych ward for 4 months getting all manner of treatment for Depression and my own brand of “Ridiculous Thoughts”. It was a rebirth of sorts for me (I’ve talked about this before) and a part of this rebirth was trying new things, finding new sounds, going to new places, and The Cranberries were definitely a part of that. I went back and got their earlier album, and loved it almost as much as No Need to Argue. I say “almost” because you never quite get over your first love, do you? Of course the two standouts off of the first album are Dreams and Linger (no surprise there).

And can we talk about Dolores’ voice for a second? It is pitch perfect, and I can’t really think of anyone else who can sound so strong and so fragile at almost the same time. I loved seeing her on late night talk shows, and to hear her lovely Limerick accent answering questions from the likes of David Letterman and (ugh) Jay Leno.

I also loved how her songs would show up in the oddest of places, like in a café scene towards the end of Mission Impossible where Ving Rhames and Tom Cruise are parting ways (SPOILERS ON A 22 YEAR OLD MOVIE YOU GUYS), and in You Got Mail when you see Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan going about their days. That’s a pretty versatile song, people.

Even though I loved those first two albums to bits, then it was the third release, 1996’s To the Faithful Departed that provided my best Cranberries memory. They were coming to town! Someone I worked with was as big a fan as me, and put the word out to see if anyone wanted to go to the show. I spoke up right away, and my co-worker came through with the goods. This third album didn’t do as well in sales as No Need to Argue (how could it?) and critically it placed 25 on Q’s list of “The worst 50 albums ever” in 2006, but I loved it almost as much. It is kind of trapped in a particular ‘late ’90s’ feel, being preoccupied with the war in Balkans on many tracks, this coming from Dolores’ work with the War Child charity. In fact, one of the more quiet, lovelier songs on this album is called War Child. It is a product of its time.

The chorus to one of their big singles, Free to Decide, goes like this:

“I’m free to decide, I’m free to decide. Well I’m not so suicidal after all”

and it always kind of bothered me that she made explicit reference to suicide in such a big song. But I sort of took it again in the spirit of Ridiculous Thoughts from the previous album. Maybe if we name it we take its power away from it. Maybe we can conquer it, overcome it. I read a recent article online about Doug Ault (digression time: feel free to go refill your drinks). It’s a long article so feel like you have to go read it, but it’s about the Toronto Blue Jays’ first real star from 1977 and his career and how in 2004 the world lost him through suicide. The article makes the point that with suicide victims it’s not really like their life is great and then it takes a terrible turn, but rather that every day is a struggle and a victory of hope over despair, until the day that it isn’t. I never really thought of it that way before, and it was heartening and revolutionary to me to think of a person surviving (and maybe even thriving sometimes) despite having ridiculous thoughts (and bad sleeps) on a regular basis. It was about the dawn coming after the darkness, and I cautiously embraced the idea.

Anyway, the darkness is never fall from the surface in a Cranberries song. But neither is the wit. My favourite song off the album (and I maybe foolishly tweeted that this was favourite Cranberries song of all to Amanda Palmer today) is Forever Yellow Skies. It is fast and loud and full-on PRESENT and I am HERE FOR THIS SONG. The chorus is clever in that it goes, “Forever, forever I’ll be, forever holding you. Forever, forever I’ll be forever holding you…” and you’re thinking “how lovely” but then like German grammar you gotta wait for the last word in the sentence for it all to make sense and Dolores sings, “responsible, responsible, responsible, responsible oh oh oh!” and it’s funny and cheeky and oh so Irish.

So you can imagine my excitement in 1996 to be ROW NINE with a group of like-minded co-workers and the lights went down and the opening drum beat of Forever Yellow Skies opens the show. “Dolores must love this song as much as I do if she’s making it the opener!” I thought to myself, and then the bassist appeared on stage playing the bouncy counterpoint to the frenetic drumming, and then a moment later the guitarist (I don’t know any of their names except Dolores, obvs) comes on and begins his part and by that point we are all on our feet and……..out steps Dolores to centre stage and she grabs the mic and wails into it. The buildup was longer and more dramatic live, and she didn’t start the “oh oh ohs” until after the guitar part (the reverse of what you hear on the album but if you click on this link you’ll get a sense of what I am talking about).

We were all wondering how she’d be, because just a week earlier she had injured her leg in a skiing accident, so there was some concern that she wouldn’t be as mobile as she’d like, but she seemed to be in fine form. The only concession to the injury was that she wore a leg brace, but it didn’t seem to slow her down. The concert flew by, and it was so wonderful to finally see this band, this woman with whom I had such an emotional attachment perform live. When it came time to play Zombie, she kind of turned to her bandmates, smiled and turned back to us and said, “It’s that time of the noight.” and I think a full shiver went up my spine at that particular moment. By the encores, Dolores had taken off the leg brace altogether. I imagined her backstage saying, “Fook it. It’s jyst in the whey anywhey.”

When I see a concert I really like, (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire 2010 amd Coldplay 2012!) I often will make a playlist of the concert order so I can relive it in my own way, even if I am just using album versions of the songs. It’s a lot easier now to create playlists (and on my iPod I do have one called “Cranberries 96” which is this very concert), but in the 90s it was all done with CDs getting dubbed onto cassettes. Still, I made one, and probably played it just as much as I did the first two albums. It sort of became a supercut of the best off of those three albums, and I play it still. Most recently I stuck it on for a drive out to Brandon in November. When those opening beats of Forever Yellow Skies blasted out of the speakers, my wife gave me an approving nod.

The Cranberries went on to release a couple more albums after To the Faithful Departed, but they didn’t really resonate with me in the same way as those first three did. I still bought them. 1999’s Bury the Hatchet and 2001’s Wake up and Smell the Coffee. A greatest hits album followed that, and a “reimagining of their songs acoustically with an orchestra” album came next. I didn’t bother with either. The band disappeared from the public eye. I just found out today that about 10 years ago Dolores released a couple of solo albums. I don’t know how that wasn’t on my radar, but I had moved on, maybe.

I had always hoped for a reunion, and another tour. Maybe even a new album and a renaissance of sorts. I regret that my wife never saw them live, but then again, how could anything compare to what I remember from 1996?

We got news today that Dolores Mary O’Riordan of Limerick, Ireland died suddenly and unexpectedly in London. She was 46. She was the lead singer of a band called “The Cranberries” and enjoyed moderate international success in the mid 1990s. Cause of death: unknown.

That may be how newspapers will report the news tomorrow. For me, she was a wonderful singer, a clever songwriter, a broken, damaged soul who suffered from ridiculous thoughts but who was able to take those ridiculous thoughts and spin them into hauntingly beautiful songs that touched many lives. Many of whom may not have had the ability to express their feelings but felt a connection to her words and music.

And remember: every day is a victory of hope over despair, until it isn’t.

Rest peacefully, Dolores O’Riordan of Limerick.

 

“Outside my door, I’ll see you no more.” Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries

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