MARCH

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This seems like a good time for a book review.

A few months ago, US Congressman, and well known Civil Rights activist, John Lewis passed away. Just prior to his passing, a biography of his life was released in the form of a graphic novel trilogy, appropriately titled, MARCH. For someone like me, who professes to know and love History, it was an eye-opening memoir. I am very thankful to the friend who recommended I read Mr. Lewis’ story. Not only did MARCH deepen my understanding of how systemic racism has kept people of colour in a state of oppression for generation after generation but, it has heightened the sense of justice that many are feeling right now because of how the recent US Presidential election has played out; particularly, in the state of Georgia.

The story of Mr. Lewis’ life often focuses on that day when, alongside other Civil Rights leaders, he attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama and was met with armed resistance from law enforcement officers. The incident was broadcast on national television and is generally acknowledged as the tipping point in the creation of The Civil Rights Act in the United States.

As people, we tend to like our myths, our national stories, to be simple and easy to understand. Sometimes, injustice IS easy to understand but, more often than not, the background of the stories that shape nations and that go down in History are multi-faceted and slow in forming. John Lewis would be the first to tell you that he was not solely responsible for The Civil Rights Act coming to fruition. He would tell you that the journey to freedom and justice for people of colour in the US was long and hard and filled with many desperate and dangerous times. He would, also, tell you that racial equality is still more a dream than a reality.

In MARCH, Mr. Lewis demonstrated how deeply engrained the inequities faced by people of colour were in America. Many of us, as white people, are familiar with stories such as Rosa Parks purposely sitting in the “white” section of the bus and being arrested for refusing to give up her seat. Her actions led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott that saw people of colour refuse to use public transportation for over a year. Many of us, as white people, are familiar with the iconic photo of little Ruby Bridges, a Grade 1 student, being escorted into a formerly segregated school by US Marshalls, as angry white parents hurled vitriol upon her. The hatred from white adults to that black child is palpable. The de-segregation of schools is widely seen as one of the biggest accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, it would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t possess, at least, a passing familiarity with Martin Luther King’s famous, “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.

These are the stories we know. As a white person, I was quite familiar with the broad details of each of these stories. As someone who believes in racial justice and equal rights, I always have nodded my head and smiled whenever the stories of Dr. King or Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson or Billie Holiday are told. Then, I read all three books in the MARCH trilogy. I have to be honest and say that I am ashamed at how little about these stories I ever really knew. The mythic nature of sitting on a bus or walking into a school or crossing a bridge were never just about those, specific moments. Instead, they were the culmination of years of effort by scores of dedicated, courageous people. As Mr. Lewis would tell you, You can’t climb a mountain by starting at the top.

What I learned from reading MARCH can be boiled down to a few main points: 1- Systemic injustice means living in a society with laws and policies purposefully enacted that favour one group over another. Furthermore, it means that the oppressed party is often blamed and punished for actions that others are not and/or they are denied access to opportunities and freedoms that the other group enjoys without question. This is a textbook answer, on my part. But, what MARCH showed so clearly was how so many aspects of living life as a person of colour was difficult and unfair. For example, I read a book a few months ago called The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. It showed how the City of New Orleans had enacted bylaws about the zoning for housing that made it harder to purchase homes in certain neighbourhoods for people of colour and then, once neighbourhoods began to form that contains mostly people of colour, by-laws enabling industrial development in those areas were enacted thus, lowering the value of the homes and creating unsafe living conditions because of chemicals, pollution, etc. “Lower class” areas of the city became places where folks with few options ended up. What systemic injustice does is create conditions that eliminate options in life for whole groups of people. As a result, an oppressed group ends up struggling for basic rights throughout the whole of their lives.

2- The second thing I learned from reading MARCH was that one of the driving forces behind the entire Civil Rights movement was voter registration. In a democratic society, having the right to vote enables each citizen to have their say in how things are run and by whom. As a white person, I have usually only dwelled on the fragility of my right to vote on such occasions as Remembrance Day (here is Canada) when we pay our formal respects to the men and women of the Armed Forces who fought in wars for “our freedom”. I am privileged beyond belief to assume that I will be able to vote every time there in an election in my area. In MARCH, Mr. Lewis showed quite clearly how many jurisdictions in the southern US had formal policies in place that made it difficult, if not impossible, for people of colour to register to vote. Things like having criteria for registration that contained clauses that most people of colour couldn’t pass or else, having very limited registration hours so very few aspiring registrants could be processed. Sometimes, people of colour were given academic tests, with questions on them that were impossible to answer correctly. Many people of colour were intimidated with physical reprisals if they attempted to register to vote. In those days, the Ku Klux Klan was very active and had many ways, subtle and otherwise, of letting a black family know that their actions were being monitored. One of John Lewis biggest roles in the Civil Rights Movement had to do with helping people of colour register to vote. This was because, in a democratic society, if you want to change the way things are being run where you live, you vote for change. For people of colour, one of the best chances they had to change the laws of racial injustice which so marked their lives, was to register to vote. Registering people of colour to vote was dangerous work. People like John Lewis were often the subject of physical abuse. Mr. Lewis often served time in jail for his actions. He famously called this, “good trouble” because of the importance to him and so many others, of this cause.

3- The third major thing I learned to appreciate more after reading MARCH was the importance to this cause, and to any other, for that matter, of being organized. It is difficult to affect change when you are one person, alone. But, in numbers, many people can make great things happen. This point was brought home, again and again, in MARCH. Mr Lewis talked repeatedly about organizational meetings held in churches and in the basements of safe homes and in the jails where he and his colleagues were so often incarcerated. Not only was having an organizational approach important when it came to the number of people involved, it was, also, clear that those on the front lines needed certain intangible qualities such as courage, determination and a positive outlook on life. Love trumps Hate every time but, sometimes, Hate holds sway for awhile and it isn’t always easy to keep willing oneself to fight the good fight when Hope is in short supply. One of the over-arching themes of MARCH was how relentlessly bleak things seemed much of the time….how difficult it was to make even the slightest bit of progress….how much of a struggle it was to remain optimistic….how easy it would have been to simply give in and give up in the face of such violence, hostility and systemic injustice from those tasked with being our leaders.

John Lewis would be proud today.

In the tradition of activist organizers like Mr. Lewis, I present a lady named Stacey Abrams. Ms. Abrams has been involved in the civic life of the State of Georgia for most of her life. A few years ago, she ran on the Democratic ticket, for Governor of Georgia. She ran a highly respected campaign but, in the end, she lost her election to her Republican rival. Throughout this contest, there were accusations of voter suppression. Her rival was white. He was acting Governor at the time and was accused of enacting laws that made it more difficult for Georgians of colour to vote. If you can’t vote then, you have a much more difficult chance of enabling change to occur. At the time of Ms. Abrams defeat, it seemed like “business as usual” for people of colour in the southern US. This was especially ominous because of how supportive the US President was, at the time, of white nationalist policies. Undaunted, Ms. Abrams dusted herself off and re-dedicated her efforts to register as many voters as possible and, as well, make sure there was an organized effort, all across the state to get that vote out to the polls.

It is possible that her drive to register voters may end up being the reason that President Trump loses the 2020 Presidential election. At this moment, Georgia has been declared “too close to call” because the vote tallies for President Trump and his challenger, Democrat, Joe Biden, are nearly deadlocked. Georgia has always been viewed as a safe Republican state, in large part, because of laws that limited the ability to vote of people of colour. If, in fact, Georgia does end up being declared as a victory for Joe Biden, it will push his Electoral College totals over the threshold for victory in this election. If so, a large share of the credit for this dramatic turn-around will be accorded Stacey Abrams. When asked, I am sure she will say the exact same thing that Mr. Lewis would have said….she didn’t do it alone. Being organized, being courageous and possessing an unflinching sense of determination are all necessary ingredients in helping to secure racial justice.

So, as Georgia prepares for its moment in the national spotlight, I think back to all that I learned while reading MARCH by John Lewis. The journey to the top of the mountain has been long but, on this day, the summit appears within reach. And, from high up above, I reckon that Mr. John Lewis is smiling.

My Hana’s Suitcase Story

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Have you ever had a book change your life? I did. This is the story of a book that gave me my favourite experience as a classroom teacher ever!!! Please enjoy. 🙂

Prologue: Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, is an award-winning story that is actually two stories in one. The story begins by introducing us to the Brady Family and, in particular, the two Brady children; George and Hana. As we meet them, they are blissfully unaware that they are about to be swept up into one of modern history’s darkest chapters: the Holocaust. In the next chapter, we fast-forward sixty years and meet a Japanese teacher named Fumiko who has organized a peace club. In order to help her students understand the true nature of the Holocaust, Fumiko knows that children usually learn more deeply when they have actual materials and objects to hold rather than simply looking through photographs. So, she sends requests to Holocaust museums all over the world for any resources that they could spare to help her in her lessons. She received rejections from every museum except for one.

That museum sent a collection of artifacts that included a suitcase with the name Hana Brady on it. And so begins a detective story than ended up spanning the globe as Fumiko and her students attempt to discover who this “Hana Brady” really was.

Karen Levine constructed her book by alternating the story lines every other chapter. So, as Hana and her family move through the well-known stages of the Holocaust process culminating in being sent to the concentration camps, Fumiko and her students move closer and closer to discovering what eventually ended up happening to Hana and her family members by the end of the book.

As a father, I completely and wholeheartedly endorse the notion of surrounding young children with rich literature. In my home we have books about every conceivable topic imaginable on bookshelves in our living room, in both of my daughter’s bedrooms and in our basement playroom, too. My daughters are growing up surrounded by, literally, thousands of books. Not surprisingly, they are both growing up to have a love of reading and to view reading as an enjoyable way to spend time during their day.

As a teacher, I have attempted to create the same kind of literature-rich environment for my students. There were, again, thousands of books in my classroom; available for students to read for pleasure, to use for research purposes, to listen to being read aloud and much more. The books in our classroom spanned a wide range of reading levels and subject areas so, there was something for every student to successfully read and enjoy in our classroom. Having good books in a school classroom is important so that students can hear wonderful writing and fascinating stories; stories that may inspire anything from flights of fancy to calls for social justice and beyond. Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. It is well-suited to students who are in the 8-11 age range. But, I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult, too. However, my reason to singling this particular book out has nothing to do with remembering the Holocaust or giving a shout-out to Karen Levine. My reason for writing about this book is that Hana’s Suitcase was the book that helped me experience my favourite and most profound reading experience with a student in my entire career. Here is my Hana’s Suitcase story…..I hope that you enjoy it. 🙂

My classroom was loaded with books. I had them sorted into bins and baskets usually based upon topic or genre. For example, I had a bin of “dog” stories, bins of “outer space” books, bins of “Halloween” books and so on. My standard classroom practice was to set these book bins/baskets out and make them available for students to access all throughout the year as interest or need arose for them. However, whenever I started a new Unit of study in the classroom, I would pull those books out from wherever they were and place them in a location of prominence near where our class meeting place happened to be. As I pulled these books out, I would hold a book talk with the students and go over each book so that they became familiar with them.

My Hana’s Suitcase story starts as we approached the special Canadian day known as Remembrance Day. In Canada, Remembrance Day is used to honour our soldiers who have fought in wars all over the world, as well as, those who are presently involved in peacekeeping duties in such hotspots as Afghanistan. As you all can appreciate, war can be a very grisly topic when you explore it in detail so, as a general rule of thumb, when getting Remembrance Day Units of Study prepared for Primary students, keeping things on a very general, basic level is the preferred route to go. So, in this context, I began my book talk with my class of Grade 2 students in Bowmanville, Ontario. I pulled out books such as The Butter Battle by Dr. Seuss and proceeded with the book talk as planned.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t stop here to tell you that this class of Grade 2 students was one of “those” classes. When a teacher usually talks about their class being one of “those” classes, they often are referring to classes that are not that well-behaved. The old adage is that every teacher will have one of “those” classes before their career is over. I’ve had mine and I survived my trial by fire. But, this class was not one of “those” classes because it was a bad class. In fact, the exact opposite is true. This class was a class that was full of keeners who all got along well together and who were all very eager to learn. They loved sitting on our carpet meeting place and talking about everything under the sun. They particularly enjoyed book talks. So, as I went through all of the primary-level books that I had in my collection, a young girl put up her hand and said, “My mother told me a story once about a little girl who……….I’m not exactly sure if I remember it right but……the girl and her family had to live in a closet or a basement for two years during the War.” Although she couldn’t remember the exact details, I knew at once that she was referring to Anne Frank. So, as she spoke, I debated with myself as to whether or not I really wanted to go where she was leading me. In the end, I did, as I often do. I decided to listen to the students and follow their interests. So, I told the class that the young lady in question was Anne Frank and I told them the broad outline of her story. I had the actual Diary of a Young Girl book in a cupboard (where I kept books that I liked but that I didn’t feel Grade 2s were ready to handle). I took it out and showed it to the class. This sparked a whole new round of questions and, in the end, they asked me if I would leave the Anne Frank book out with the other Remembrance Day books. I said that I would.

And since they liked Anne Frank, I told myself that there was no reason to keep Hana’s Suitcase tucked away either. So, I pulled that out and talked about Hana’s story in basic terms, too. I stressed to the kids that I thought both books were too hard for Grade 2s to read but that if they wanted to look at the books during reading time, I would answer any questions that they had as a result of what they were able to read themselves or see in the pictures. I concluded the book talk and life went on in our room as it normally did.

Two days later, a young girl in my class named Kaicey, came up to me during our Language time with Hana’s Suitcase in her hand. She asked me if I would help her read the book because she was interested in finding out what happened to Hana. Now, at that moment, I had 26 other students engaged in a variety of reading, writing and spelling tasks. There was a lot of activity going on and, to be truthful, after having told the class that I thought this book was too difficult for Grade 2s to read, I really didn’t want to sit down and slog our way through this 102-page book about the Holocaust. But, Kaicey continued to stand there. ”Will you help me read this book, Mr. MacInnes. Will you help me, pleaseeee!” I truly didn’t want to go down that road but that tiny voice inside my head reminded me that I was a teacher and that helping kids learn to read is my job and that I should just get over myself and help this child who has had her interest sparked by a book. Soooo, I took a deep breath, sighed a little and told Kaicey that I would help her read the book. But, she needed to know that we would not be able to finish it in one day because it was over 100 pages long and that it wasn’t a happy story, either, that I expected her to do most of the reading, that I would only help her with the big words and be there to answer her questions about what she was reading. She looked at me and smiled and said that we had a deal. So, in the middle of a bustling Grade 2 classroom, Kaicey and I sat down on the carpet, with our backs against a wall of cupboards and we began to read Hana’s Suitcase.

That first day, she read three and a half pages. We talked about what she had read so far and what she thought was going to happen to the, then, carefree Hana Brady. She answered. I, then, asked her if she felt like this was a book that she wanted to continue to read. I half expected her to say that the book was too tough, thank me for my time and tell me that she would move on to something else. But, she said that she liked the book so far and was excited to read it again tomorrow. In my mind, I was still not convinced that she would still be as interested the next day but, come the next day, Kaicey was right there with the book in her hand, ready to continue to learn about a little girl named Hana Brady. So, in that fashion, reading 3-5 pages at a time, we started getting deeper into the book and I began to enjoy my time spent reading and talking about Hana with her. She read almost all of the words by herself, with me filling in with only words such as the names of the towns and cities, for example.

Well, we were about 20 pages in, when Remembrance Day came and went. Kaicey knew that my routine was to put the “theme” books back in their bin or basket once our Unit of Study was over and get new books out for the next Unit. So, she came to me of her own initiative and said that she knew Remembrance Day was over and that the Remembrance Day books were going to be put away but, would it be ok if we continued to read Hana’s Suitcase. I told her that, of course it would be ok and that, perhaps, she would like to keep the book in her desk until we were through. She liked that idea.

So, over the next few weeks, reading a few pages here and a few pages there, amid the learning commotion in my classroom, we managed to reach the end of the book. Normally, under such circumstances, an event like this would be cause for celebration. It isn’t everyday that a grade 2 student can read a tough book like that, mostly on her own. But, as we discovered what happened to Hana and her family and to Fumiko and her students, neither of us felt like celebrating at all. In fact, we both felt somewhat sad that our experience had come to an end. While not as intense a bond as a father-daughter bond, we had shared a unique experience none-the-less and it brought us closer together in a way that normally doesn’t happen with a teacher and a student in the course of our academic affairs. So I said to her that, if she wanted, she could keep my copy of Hana’s Suitcase so that she could always remember Hana and remember our time together reading about her and learning about the Holocaust. I expected her to take the book. But instead, she gave me the book back and said that it was such a good story that she wanted to make sure that I would share it with other children in my other classes to come. So, reluctantly, I took the book back.

The story would have ended there if not for some fortuitous timing. Two weeks later, I attended the Ontario Library Association Annual Conference in Toronto. One of the workshops at this conference involved award winning children’s authors discussing their work and, as luck would have it, one of the authors was Karen Levine! I sat in the workshop, spellbound, as she regaled the audience with tales of how she came to be involved in this book project and how she felt as it came to its’ gorgeous conclusion. At the end of the presentation, the authors took questions from the audience. Someone asked Karen what the most satisfying consequence of writing the book was for her. Without missing a beat, she replied that she enjoyed the letters that she received; especially from young students who found Hana to be inspiring and her story to be important.

Now, I do have a brain and it normally functions well. But, the thought of writing to Karen Levine and telling her of my experience in the classroom with Kaicey and her book had never occurred to me until that very moment. So, my next immediate thought was that if Kaicey would’t accept my own copy of Hana’s Suitcase, perhaps she would accept a new copy if I got the actual author to autograph it for her. So I rushed out to the nearest bookstore and bought a brand new copy. However, Karen Levine had left by the time I got back to the conference hall. So immediately, I contacted her publishing company and explained what I wanted to do. Luckily, they were very understanding and were only too happy to help. I sent them the book and they said they would contact Karen Levine on my behalf and have her autograph the book.

About a month and a half later, a parcel arrived at school. It was the book. Karen Levine had, indeed, autographed the book but had gone one step better and wrote Kaicey a personalized note. The note read: ”Thank you for taking such an interest in someone that I have come to view as very special. Reading such a book at your age makes you very special, too. Keep up your interest in reading. Yours truly, Karen Levine.

I contacted Kaicey’s mother and told her what I had done and that I wanted to give Kaicey the book as soon as possible and would she, Kaicey’s mother, like to be there. She was very pleased that I had done what I did. I gave Kaicey the book after school a few days later. Mom smiled. I smiled. Kaicey smiled and accepted the autographed book.

That experience happened many years ago, prior to the advent of social media. At the time, having message boards and chat rooms on my school network was as close to experiencing the interactivity that has come to characterize our use of social media nowadays. At that time, the following Fall, a teacher from another school posted a question asking for good book recommendations for our upcoming Remembrance Day. A good book recommendation!? Did I ever have one for her. So, I posted a letter describing the experience that Kaicey and I had with Hana’s Suitcase. I had never written anything for an audience before so I was unprepared for the avalanche of overwhelmingly positive feedback that poured in from all over the school board. One teacher even asked for permission to print our story off and give it to her mother who collected “Teacher stories”. I had never thought of writing about my experiences as a teacher before but, all of this feedback gave me food for thought.

So, I started my own blog and the first story I wrote was the one you are reading. Back in those days, I had only just joined Facebook and Twitter and was just learning how to link my blog posts up to social media and share them with the world. Before I did this though, I wondered about contacting Kaicey (and/or her family) and letting her know what I was hoping to do. Several years had passed by this point and I was able to find both Kaicey and her mother on Facebook. They were both delighted that this experience had meant as much to me as it did them and that I wanted others to know about it, too. They were enthusiastic in granting permission for me to go forward.

So, I linked my blog post up to Facebook and waited for another avalanche of glowing feedback. I waited. I waited some more. Eventually, a few friends chimed in and said it was a good story and thanks for sharing. But, that was it. I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. So, I decided to give Twitter a try.

I was new to tweeting and using hash tags. So, I simply posted that I wanted people to know about an amazing experience I had had in class with a great book and an eager student. I hash-tagged it #teacherstories, #HanasSuitcase and sent it out into the world.

A day or two later, I received a reply………from Fumiko, herself! The same Fumiko who was profiled in the book. The same Fumiko who had discovered who Hana really was and who helped her family reclaim her suitcase. That same Fumiko had read my post and reached out to thank me for sharing the story of my experience with Kaicey and for helping to introduce Hana Brady to the world. Needless to say, I was star struck. Immediately, I contacted Kaicey via Facebook.

I told Kaicey what had happened. She was excited, too. Then she floored me by telling me that she still had ever single part of the package Karen Levine had sent. She had the book, the personalized letter, the book mark and, even, the original shipping envelop, too. Then she sent me the photo you can see to the left. Always Remember, Karen Levine had written and Kaicey said she remembered everything we experienced and shared and that she always would.

Thanks to sites such as Facebook, I have been able to maintain contact with Kaicey and her Mom. In fact, when I recently had my birthday in January, she was one of the first to send along birthday wishes “to my favourite teacher EVER!!!!!!!!!” A day or two later, her mother emailed me to say that her daughter’s birthday wish wasn’t mere flattery and that she still regards our experience reading Hana’s Suitcase as being her favourite moment in her whole school career.

Even though this experience happened many years ago now, it still touches my heart every time I think about it. Having opportunities to make an actual difference in the lives of our students is why teachers teach. It is my single-most favourite and treasured memory of a 30 year teaching career. Good books are important. A good book called Hana’s Suitcase helped to give me and a young Grade 2 student named Kaicey, a memory that we will cherish forever. Do you have a special memory of reading with a teacher or adult that you cherish? If so, do share. I’d love to hear your stories, too

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KTOM- Song #396 …Senses Working Overtime by XTC.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #396: Senses Working Overtime by XTC.

XTC formed in the mid-1970s and released numerous albums over the course of the next several decades. They are fronted by singer/guitarists Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. XTC were a funny band, in a way, because they seemed to defy placement in any particular music genre; instead, they moved fluidly from early Punk, to New Wave, to Pop and to more original combinations of all three. They had several hits from early in their career such as “Making Plans for Nigel”, “Ball and Chain” and “Senses Working Overtime”. Later on in their career, they hit the Top Ten with “Dear God”, “The Mayor of Simpleton”, “Grass” and “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”.

XTC songs are noted for the inventiveness with which the band approached the playing of their instruments and for the wittiness of their wordplay. For instance, when you see the video for “Senses Working Overtime”, pay attention to the small things such as to how they use the tambourine or the order in which the drummer hits what he hits. These small touches, added up over the course of an entire song, give XTC songs a unique sound and feel and, as such, their fanbase tends to be more of a cult-following of music nerds than it does a broad base of popular appeal.

The most telling feature of XTC’s career was something that developed as the band began touring in the early 1980s in support of their album, “English Settlement”, from which, “Senses Working Overtime” comes. As the band toured North America, opening for The Police, frontman Andy Partridge began to develop a sense of anxiety that, eventually, morphed into full-blown stage fright. Despite using medication for his nervousness, Partridge was unable to complete his tour obligations and, from that point onward, XTC have been a studio-only band. It is felt that the band’s inability to make public appearances has stood in the way of larger, more mainstream successs. But, whatever the case, it has not stopped XTC from producing inventive music. *In fact, we will meet XTC again in this list, for their most popular and controversial song, “Dear God”. For now, I will leave you with one of their best known hits from early in their career, “Senses Working Overtime”. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Senses Working Overtime by XTC can be found here.

XTC have a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KTOM- Song #397 …Enter Sandman by Metallica.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTom: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #397: Enter Sandman by Metallica.

Metallica are one of the most successful Heavy Metal bands of all time. They have album sales of well over 100 million worldwide. The band has consisted of core members: drummer, Lars Ulrich, Singer/guitarist, James Hetfield and guitarist, Kirk Hammett; along with a rotating cast of bass guitarists, of which, Robert Trujillo is the current member. Metallica began in the early 1980s as a “Thrash” or “Speed” Metal band. They played fast and hard and loud. Their songs were often based upon dark themes. Their fan base was very loyal. Metallica rewarded their fans with a string of hits such as “Whiplash”, “And Justice for All” and “One”.

Not only did Metallica produce an impressive collection of Heavy Metal songs during the 1980s and 90s, they were one of the bands most responsible for the system of song downloading that we have in place today. Waaaay back in the day, there was a computer file sharing service called, “Napster”. Napster allowed users to share computer files with each other for free. Not long after starting as a business, members of Napster began sharing song files among each other. In essence, music fans were getting to have their favourite songs without the artists in question being compensated in any form. Metallica sued Napster. For awhile, Lars Ulrich, who became the spokesperson for the band during the Napster trials, became a hated future among music fans for seeking to deny them free access to their favourite songs. As it turned out, there was justice for Metallica and for all artists who place their copyrighted material in the marketplace. The judge in the case ruled in favour of Metallica. As a result, we have pay-per-download streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify that must compensate artists whenever their music is downloaded.

Meanwhile, as the Napster trial was going on, Metallica met a Canadian producer named Bob Rock. Rock had been a member of the Canadian band, “Paul Hyde and the Payolas”. Bob Rock went into the production side of the business and one of his first major clients was Metallica. Under Rock’s guidance, Metallica released an eponymous album called “Metallica” that simply became known as “The Black Album”. On this album, Metallica moved away from thrash metal and moved toward a more radio-friendly rock sound. Many of their original fanbase were outraged and accused the band of selling out. Many pointed an accusatory finger at Bob Rock, as well, for leading the band away from their roots. However, the album sales for “The Black Album” went through the roof. The first single released from that album was “Enter Sandman”.

“Enter Sandman” is a creepy, suspenseful song about the fear that children may have about falling asleep and having nightmares. The song begins with the children’s lullaby, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”, which starts out sweetly enough but, as it goes on, the guitars and drums spring to life, rumbling and roaring and then, as the conclusion of the lullaby, they erupt into sonic life! It is a song that has become a staple of all of Metalica’s live shows. (As you will see in the video below….I should note that the live version does not contain the opening lullaby…only the album version does). As well, the song as been adopted by various sports teams as their entrance song. I will show one such instance where the song is used at a US College football game. It is something to see almost 100,000 people getting swept up in the fervour of “Enter Sandman”.

So, without further delay, here is “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. Enjoy.

PS: In the comments section, I am going to share a slightly-inappropriate but, very true story of what this song means to me when I hear it. I am not the main character in this story but, just the same, it affected me. Read the NSFW story below or not, if you would rather just stick to the musical facts in this post.

The link to the music video for Enter Sandman by Metallica can be found here.

Metallica have their own website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

The link to the video for Enter Sandman being used as a football hype song, can be found here.

Finally: here is my NSFW story of what Enter Sandman really means to me when I hear it being played.

NSWF: Ok, here is my story about “Enter Sandman”. Before becoming a homeowner, I lived in a series of apartments, in and around, Oshawa, Ontario. One of the apartments I had was in a house owned by a Dutch woodworker. He lived on the main floor of the house and had converted the upper floor into two separate apartments. I had one of the upper floor apartments and a good friend of mine at the time, Barb, had the other. Barb was a very tasteful, professional person and was very quiet. I didn’t even know she was across the hall most days. Eventually, she moved out to a house of her own and a new girl moved in. This is where “Enter Sandman” comes in.

The new girl was about ten years younger than me (so, barely 20 or so). She was a blonde, with a Lady Di-pixie cut. She wore long, flowing Laura Ashley floral dresses (when that was a thing). We were friendly but were never friends. However, every once and awhile, she would knock on my door and ask to use my phone (which, at the time, I thought was weird). After sitting on my couch for several times and chatting with her girlfriends, I imagine, and me not making any moves (Because I was STUPID that way), she stopped knocking on my door and, instead, started bringing a boyfriend around to her apartment. It was her life so I didn’t care what she was doing. Until, one day, when I was returning home from getting groceries, I entered the house to the opening notes of “Enter Sandman” blasting from her apartment. Prior to this, she had been a model tenant and neighbour as far as noise went. So, imagine me climbing the stairs to the landing that we shared as “Enter Sandman” begins to build in intensity. I stopped at the top of the stairs because, truly, I was taken aback that she was rocking out like that. It was really loud! I could feel the bass vibrating through her door. Anyway, as I stood there, surrounded by the sounds of drums and thundering guitars, a new sound joined the mix……moans and groans!!!!……timed perfectly to the rise and fall of the notes of that song. Once I realized that she and her boyfriend were making out, I quickly entered my own apartment, put my groceries away and then, left again to go for a walk. No need to be listening to that going on.

From that day onward, every time they made love, it was to the throbbing beat of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. And, every time I have heard that song since, all I can think about is that day, grocery bags in hand, when I heard the “Enter Sandman” remix version coming from across the hallway for the first time. True story.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #398 …Paid In Full by Eric B. and Rakim.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #398: Paid in Full by Eric B. and Rakim.

“Paid in Full” by Eric B. and Rakim was one of the very first big Hip Hop hits in the 1980s once GrandMater Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Run-DMC had laid the cultural foundation for this genre. Eric B. was a DJ in New York, Rakim was a young rapper in search of a partner. Together, they recorded some early demos which came to the attention of a man named Russell Simmons. Russell Simmons was head of the fledgling Hip Hop Production Company, “Def Jam Records”. *Simmons is, also, the brother of Joseph Simmons who, as you may remember, was “Reverend Run” from Run-DMC. Simmons signed Eric B. and Rakim to a contract and, from their debut album, “Paid in Full” was released.

“Paid in Full” was one of the first Hip Hop songs that expanded its lyrical message beyond being a mirror to events and emotions present from the local community. Hip Hop was born on street corners and local venues and often spoke to conditions found there. “Paid in Full” paid homage to that, to a point but, it also helped establish an internal dialogue that moved the narrator away from the streets into a fictionalized future. Some point to “Pain in Full” as the beginning of the Hip Hop “Thug Life” culture and, as such, it is a song that holds tremendous importance in the history of Hip Hop.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to “Paid in Full” being released. There are, actually, two versions of it. The first version is the one recorded by Eric B. and Rakim at Def Jam Studios. The second version is a remix by an English DJ-duo called Coldcut. The original version debuted to moderately-successful album sales but, the remix went straight to #1. If you have ever heard a song exhorting you to “Pump Up The Volume! Pump Up The Volume!” then, you have heard the remix of “Paid in Full” (whether you realized that this is what it was or not). The Coldcut remix is credited with being one of the very first mega-successful attempts at remixing an existing song. In the remix, Coldcut used a myriad of sampled voices including everyone from actor Humphrey Bogart, to TV announcer Don Pardo, to an Israeli singer named Ofra Haza. They sampled a variety of beats and brass instruments; looping and extending and repeating them as needed. The remix of “Paid in Full” is called “Seven Minutes of Madness” but, in reality, it is seven minutes of creative excellence. When asked to describe the process by which they were able to blend spoken words and beats and Rakim’s rapping so seamlessly, Coldcut replied that it was the ability to experiment with sounds from songs as they played in Clubs and in their own homes. It reminds me of the importance of “Play” for children and how so much of their creativity is derived from imaginative play.

Anyway, even if Hip Hop isn’t your thing, I am betting that you may have heard snippets of the remix of “Paid in Full” at one time or another. Regardless as to whether you have heard it or not, the song is well worth a listen. The mash-up of sounds is so well done and the message of Rakim’s rapping is such an important cultural touchstone in Hip Hop history. So, prepare to become the cool kid in your circle and have a listen to one of the most influential Hip Hop songs of all time, “Paid in Full” by Eric B. and Rakim, remixed by Coldcut. Enjoy.

A link to the music video for Paid in Full by Eric B. and Rakim, remixed by Coldcut, can be found here.

Eric B. and Rakim have a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting important artists and the music they make. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #399 …Don’t Go by Yazoo.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #399: Don’t Go by Yazoo (featuring Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke).

When I first moved from Cape Breton to go to university in Toronto in 1982, the school had an “orientation week” for new students. There are always a lot of social mixers involved in these weeks and, with these social mixers. came alcohol. One such party was held in the Common Room in the basement of my residence (which was called Neill-Wycik College). I had the first 8(!) beers of my life that night. I can still remember the amusement I felt at trying so hard to walk within a straight row of tiles on the floor and not being able to make it past tile #3 or 4 before staggering off to the side. I don’t remember how I got back to my bedroom that night but, just before I left the party, I do remember hearing this absolutely terrific song for the first time. The female singer’s voice was unlike anything I had ever heard. The synthesizer work was amazing to me, too. Even in the fog that was my brain at that moment, I could tell that this song was something special. The song turned out to be, “Don’t Go!” and the group was called Yazoo! This is the story of one of Synth-Pop’s signature songs. This is the story of Yazoo.

Yazoo consisted of two people; singer, Alison Moyet and keyboardist extraordinaire, Vince Clarke. Both of their stories are very interesting so, I shall discuss both. But first, I’ll talk about the band. Yazoo was formed in 1981 when Clarke answered an ad placed by Moyet, who was a singer in search of bandmates. Together, they formed Yazoo and ended up having a string of very successful, genre-defining singles such as “Nobody’s Diary”, “Only You”, “Situation” and “Don’t Go”. The combination of Moyet’s deep, soulful voice and Clarke’s wizardry with the synthesizer helped launch Synth-Pop as a genre. However, internal and external pressures conspired to break up the band, as it were, and, Yazoo ceased to exist a mere two or three years later. But, the story doesn’t end there. The experiences of both Moyet and Clarke are different and are noteworthy for their differences. Let’s take Vince Clarke first.

Clarke has long been associated with top-notch musical acts. Before answering Moyet’s ad for bandmates, Clarke was a member of an up and coming band that you may have heard of called, “Depeche Mode”. As “Depeche Mode” was sorting itself out after one album, beginning a career that saw it end up in The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Clarke sought newer, creative opportunities. He felt he had that when he paired up with Alison Moyet and began providing the techno-counter-balance to her earthy voice. For awhile, he was correct. Together, the partnership flourished and Yazoo were as popular as any band in the world. Eventually, pressures that had more to do with Moyet (as we shall soon find out about) caused the band to grind to a halt. Clarke left Yazoo and joined up with a man named Andy Bell and, together, they formed the highly-successful band, “Erasure”. *”Erasure” has had an incredible string of Top 40 hits and will be profiled on their own in the coming weeks. “Erasure” is still producing music today and Vince Clarke remains a respected musician throughout the world.

As for Alison Moyet…..she is one of those generational singers. Her voice is strong and powerful and utterly distinctive. The comparison that is often made with Alison Moyet is between her and Adele. At the time of the creation of Yazoo, there was no one with the stage presence of Alison Moyet. That was a good thing and a bad thing, as it turned out. A singer is a singer and a song is a song and a voice is a voice. That should be all that matters. But, in our world, there is one final layer added and that is appearance. When Yazoo was formed, Alison Moyet was a large, plus-size woman. She wore a severe, brush cut style of hair and was quickly declared to be “butch” and “unattractive”. It didn’t seem to matter that she possessed a singularly unique voice and singing style. What ended up mattering first was that she wasn’t Barbie. Needless to say, it isn’t easy to be constantly berated for how one looks. The debate that raged made it difficult for Moyet’s talent and creative ambition to come to the fore. Moyet had dreams of making Blues albums and Dance albums and Jazz albums but, all that her record company wanted was more of the same Synth-Pop……more albums/less personal appearances. In the end, Moyet refused to play the media/music industry game any longer and she stopped making music. Her record company took her to court to make her fulfill her contractual obligations. Yazoo disbanded. Clarke left to pursue his own career with “Erasure”, leaving Moyet to languish in creative limbo; unable to record as she wished, unwilling to record what was being demanded of her by the record company.

With the passing of time (and the Statute of Limitations, I suspect), Alison Moyet has been enjoying a bit of a musical renaissance. In 2016, she re-appeared in public as the centrepiece of the annual Burberry Fashion Show in London. Moyet sang her four hits from the Yazoo years, while models passed by on the runway all around her. Once again, it was her physical appearance that garnered all of the attention. For health reasons, Moyet had slimmed down and lost a lot of weight. She has adopted a softer, more flowing hairstyle, too. She looks happy and healthy and fit. Her voice remains electric. I will post the original video of “Don’t Go” below and then, I will post the Burberry Fashion video, for comparison sake.

I will close by returning to the comparison made between Alison Moyet and Adele. Moyet’s experiences as a female singer are instructive when watching how Adele is handling her career. In both cases, they have unbelievable singing voices that separate them from all others in their peer group. In both cases, each woman started their career being called, “Fat” and “Overweight” and having that focus detract from the beauty of the music they were making. That obsession with appearance nearly derailed Moyet’s entire career. Keep that in mind as we watch Adele attempt to conform to the media/public’s idea of what females should look like. I notice the changes in her weight. Being healthy is important, of course but, being happy is important, too. Adele doesn’t have to be anything other than who she is for me to be happy. I feel as honoured to listen to the magnificence of her voice as I did that foggy, drunken evening in 1982 when I heard Alison Moyet’s voice for the first time. Both women are completely unforgettable. We are all the richer for being exposed to women of such talent. That is all that matters. Here is “Don’t Go!” by Yazoo. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Don’y Go by Yazoo can be found here.

The link to the music video for the Burberry Fashion Show, featuring Alison Moyet, can be found here.

Alison Moyet has her own website that can be reached by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their wonderful website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KTOM- Song #400 …Best Day of My Life by American Authors.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #400: Best Day of my Life by American Authors.

Well folks, we are officially 100 songs in! The first hundred have come and gone. I hope that you are enjoying these posts. I know that not every song is as well known as every other nor, do you even know or like each song but, overall, I hope that you are enjoying having a bit of storytelling to brighten your day, with the added bonus of having a few good tunes to soundtrack your heart and your mind’s day. As you may know by now, every 25th song goes to one of my daughters so, today, with her #9 selection on her personal Top Ten list is Sophie’s choice of “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors.

You may know this song by its title and, if not, once you hear it, you will ALL recognize it immediately. It was all over the airwaves when it was released in the summer of 2014. It is a light and sunny Pop tune which was the intention when it was written. “American Authors” are a US group comprised of Zac Barnett, Dave Rubin, Matt Sanchez and James Shelley. They wrote the song in response to one of the most heart-wrenching tragedies in recent US History….The Sandy Hook School shooting. The guys in the band wanted to write something that was uplifting and happy and would help heal the wounds laid bare by Sandy Hook. The result of their efforts was “Best Day of my LIfe”. The message in the song is simply to keep plugging away no matter what life throws at you because, if you do, you’ll enjoy sunnier days and, maybe even, the “best day of your life.”

Before writing this post, I asked Sophie why she chose this song as one of her Top Ten favourites of all time. She replied that “Best Day of my Life” was a song that was used a lot at her school by her teachers at end-of-term/end-of-year assemblies. At these assemblies, Sophie’s teachers would put together a montage of photos of the kids doing their thing and would pair it with the song, “Best Day of my Life.” The memories of those shared experiences with her school mates and teachers makes Sophie’s heart smile. That, in turn, makes my heart smile, too. Both girls have gone to the same, small community school. The staff there have been absolutely fantastic and have helped Leah and Sophie, with, get off to a wonderful start in life. As parents, we are incredibly indebted to them for what they have done for our girls.

While the Sandy Hook tragedy and our own experiences with Covid-19 are not exactly the same, they both share one thing in common and that is loss. Whether it is loss of life or loss of experiences, both have impacted us all in very fundamental ways. Many experts speak of the mental health aspect of the Covid pandemic. When I reflect on Sophie’s song choice for today, I think about the mental health of our children, too. They have lost a lot over the course of these past two years. As adults, we may view the pandemic in terms of lives lost, freedoms restricted or in economic terms. Our children view it in terms of losing their world. They have lost access to their friends, to their hobbies and recreation and, for many, they have lost the safe place in their lives that is school. Our children may not always come right out and express their inner feelings directly but, they may wax nostalgic about past experiences lost and leave you to connect the dots that lead to their heart.

These are tough times, to say the least but, according to Sophie’s song choice, by persevering, better days are possible. Let’s all hope that this is true. As I write these words, our neighbourhood, is green and our gardens, in bloom. It looks gorgeous outside at the moment. The world looks beautiful from our window. Here’s hoping for a good day for us all. Thanks for the terrific song, Sophie! You are loved.

The link to the music video for Best Day of My Life by American Authors can be found here.

American Authors have their own website which can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KTOM- Song #401 …Uprising by Muse.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTom: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #401: Uprising by Muse.

Muse is a band out of the UK that consists of singer/guitarist, Matt Bellamy, bass guitarist, Chris Wolstenholme and drummer, Dominic Howard. Muse has been releasing albums since 1999 and has released eight so far, selling over 20 million albums worldwide in the process. Muse tends to produce albums that have a concept or theme running throughout it. As a result, there is a theatrical bent to their albums, as they aim to tell more complex stories over numerous, inter-connected songs. Because of the dramatic storytelling narratives at play in their music, Muse have put much energy into their live performances and, as such, they have become well known for the visual spectacle that is a live Muse show.

Although, as band recognition goes, Muse can be regarded as an under-rated band, their fanbase is legion and are very devoted (as you will see in the video accompanying this post). The song, “Uprising” came from an album called, “Resistance”. That album explored the themes of autocratic government regimes and the restrictions they place of the lives of ordinary citizens. The song, “Uprising” depicts two young lovers seeking to fulfill their desires in an atmosphere of restrictions and oppression. The chorus is a rousing declaration of defiance from the young lovers:

“They will not force us,

And they will stop degrading us.

They will not control us

And we will be victorious!!!!”

The chorus is usually sung with fervour from the entire audience, in addition to Bellamy’s amazing voice, and is accompanied by much fist pumping and arm waving. It is theatre and pageantry on a scale that we don’t often see anymore in modern concerts.

So, buckle up and get ready for quite a show! The crowd is excellent in this video. Matt Bellamy can sure sing! As well, check out the rubber neck on Chris Wolstenholme, the bassist. If I tried to move like he does, I’d be in traction before the song ended. Finally, note that drummer, Dominic Howard is a rare, lefty drummer. His drum kit is built/arranged for left-handed drummers only. If you like songs with vision and broad intentions then, I think you’ll enjoy Muse and, in particular, the song, “Uprising”.

The link to the music video for Uprising by Muse can be found here.

Muse have a wonderful website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #402 …Brimful of Asha by Cornershop.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #402: Brimful of Asha by Cornershop.

I am going to make an assumptive leap and guess that most of you, like me, upon reading the title of today’s song said, “What song is this? I’ve never heard this before in my life!” Fair enough. Back in the Fall, when I first scrolled through this entire list of 500 songs, I stopped at #402. It struck me as interesting that someone who likes music as much as I do could possibly not know a song that was, purportedly, one of the best of all time nor, the group who sings it. So, I listened to the song. It is from the UK and is a rather peppy, catchy pop tune. I think most of you will like it when you listen to it. Then, I did some research. I am glad I did. What my research revealed serves as a reminder to me that I am not the master of all I survey. Sometimes, my worldview is coloured by the cultural experiences that shape my life. There is nothing inherently wrong with that except when one falls into the trap of thinking that your worldview is the only worldview. When you stop taking the time to realize that life on our planet is unfolding in myriad ways; some of which are completely different than yours. That’s when trouble begins or, in this case, you miss a special song like a “Brimful of Asha”. Let me tell you what I found out about it.

A “Brimful of Asha” is a song dedicated to a woman named Asha Bhosle. Asha Bhosle is affectionately referred to as “Sadi rani” or “our Queen” in India. She came to be known by that name because of her contributions to the culture of India through her work on Bollywood films. As you may be aware, singing and dancing are trademarks of many films originating in India. As people from India emigrate around the world, they bring aspects of their culture with them to their new homes. Bollywood films are a part of that culture and are, increasingly, becoming well known around the globe. Asha Bhosle is known in India as a “playback singer” which means that she is the actual singer of the songs that appear in Bollywood movies and that the on-screen actors merely lip-sync. Asha Bhosle has sung over 12,000 songs in Bollywood movies. She is revered as being a “queen” or “mother” of Indian culture, as a result.

The song, “A Brimful of Asha” was released in the UK by Cornershop in 1997. It did not do very well upon its release so, a few years later, it was re-mixed (and made faster) by a man named Norman Cook. The Norman Cook Re-mix is the version that became popular and went to #1 on the Pop charts. In the song, there are references to “bosoms for a pillow”. When asked about this, Cornershop claimed that there was nothing sexual being implied. Instead, they said that it referred to motherhood and to Asha Bhosle’s role as “mother of Indian culture”. The video for “A Brimful of Asha” is a mash-up of dancers dancing in the UK. It is not a direct take on Bollywood dancing per se but, instead, it is showing how the dance-centric cultural traditions of India are manifesting themselves in Britain. It is a fun song and a fun video. If you like those Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk” mashup videos then, I believe that you will like “A Brimful of Asha”, too.

Sometimes, our eyes don’t allow us to see what is clearly there. Dance is a universal expression of happiness. This song reminds me (and, maybe you, too) that beauty and culture and skill appear in many forms and in many places. The trick is remembering to not always look where you’ve always been or else, you’ll only see what you’ve already seen. There is no growth in that approach. So, thanks, Cornershop, for creating such a boppy song and reminding me to expand my worldview. Because of you and your song, I have grown. Enjoy the video, folks! It is a good one!

The link to the music video for Brimful of Asha by Cornershop can be found here.

Cornershop have a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks to KEXP for your role in the creation of this post and, as well, for helping to expand my own horizons via your support of beautiful music from the four corners of the world. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #403 …Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #403: “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

Like many young adults, my university years were a time of personal growth and awakening for me. Being exposed to so many new cultures and opportunities was good for me in many ways. Musically speaking, being in Toronto afforded me the chance to experience new genres of music and to be introduced to bands and singers I had never heard of before. One of those new-to-me bands was Simple Minds. I first became aware of Scotland’s, “Simple Minds” when a roommate of mine handed me an album called, “Sparkle in the Rain”. On that album, I was introduced to classic Simple Minds songs such as “Waterfront”, “Up On The Catwalk”, “Book of Brilliant Things” and “Speed Your Love To Me”. That album led me to check out their previous work which brought songs such as “Love Song”, “Promised You a Miracle” and the very first 12-inch single I ever owned called, “Someone, Somewhere in Summertime”. I thought that Simple Minds were terrific! Lead singer, Jim Kerr, had an excellent, deep singing voice and the band, as a whole, had a greater bredth of sound than the usual synth-pop bands of the day. I was not alone in my admiration. “Simple Minds” had several Gold records in Canada and the UK. The one country that seemed oblivious to their charms was the U.S. That all changed with movie by John Hughes called, “The Breakfast Club”.

The song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me) is a funny song, in a way. It was written by songwriters Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff with Jim Kerr and Simple Minds in mind. However, the band rejected the song when first approached. Bryan Ferry (of Roxy Music) and Billy Idol were, also, offered the song, only to reject it, as well. The record company suggested a Canadian singer named Corey Hart might want the song but, before offering the song to him (just as “Sunglasses at Night” was reaching #1), the songwriters re-approached Simple Minds. Luckily for all concerned, Jim Kerr had started dating the lead singer of The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde. She thought that the song had “mainstream” potential and, if the band wanted a U.S. breakthrough then, this song might be the open door they had been waiting for. Turns out that Hynde was correct.

“The Breakfast Club” was a film that came to define the 1980s for many and the song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, bookending the iconic movie’s opening and closing credits as it does, served as the movie’s anthem. Even though “Simple Minds” went on to have more hits in Canada and the UK, such as, “Alive and Kicking”, “Sanctify Yourself” and “The Belfast Child”, “The Breakfast Club” Soundtrack was their only #1 hit in America. My beautiful wife, Keri, likes this song so she will be happy with today’s post. As for me, “Simple Minds” have always meant more to me than this one song. They are one of my “University bands”. They are one of the bands that took me in a lifelong direction toward Alternative music. As much as “Simple Minds” are best known for a movie soundtrack song, to me, they are part of the soundtrack of my entry into adulthood and, as such, I will never forget them.

In the video below, I will play a video that shows clips from the movie. If Leah (my eldest daughter) is reading this, I think she should watch this video because, in it, she will see so many iconic scenes that were copied on the show, “Victorious” when they did their “Breakfast Club”-themed episode. As well, in the comments section, I will post a video of the band playing live from their performance in 1985 at Live Aid. Enjoy.

The link to the music video to Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds, from the original motion picture soundtrack to The Breakfast Club, can be found here.

The link to the live music video of Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds can be found here.

Simple Minds have a wonderful website that is well worth checking out. A link to that website can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #404 …Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #404: Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney.

Has this ever happened to you? You have an event to attend (a new class at school, a public lecture, even someone’s private party) and you arrive a few minutes before the appointed time, only to discover that there is hardly anyone there? It is a weird feeling. You instantly stop yourself and start to question whether or not you are supposed to be there. Is this the correct day? Did I get the time wrong and I’m too early. Luckily, these instances have been infrequent and the strange feeling of disconnect that washes over me is temporary. I always end up going in and being welcomed and having a wonderful time in the end. I always end up where I belong.

Many people in our society experience that feeling of social disconnection. For them, the feeling of inclusion that comes so easily for me tends to be more elusive for them. I can only imagine how it feels to be Indigenous in a Colonial world or to be a person of colour in our whitebread society. I, also, will never know what it is to be female in a culture ruled by the Patriarchy. Today’s song and group are all about the latter. Sleater-Kinney are an all-female group comprised of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (vocals and guitars) and Janet Weiss (drums). They formed in the heyday of the “Seattle Grunge Scene” of the early 1990s. That was a time when bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Mudhoney, to name but, a few, were on the rise. Mainstream media were enchanted with these hard-rocking, literate, all-male bands. The Seattle scene was thriving……if……you were male and could play an instrument and/or could sing. But, what if you were female and wanted in? That wasn’t so easy. Female bands tended to be dismissed, outright or else, they were met with a chorus of misogyny or vitriol. No one really listened to their words or appreciated their musicianship.

So, in a case like that, a type of resistance emerged in the form of a political and creative movement called Riot Grrrls. The Riot Grrrl Movement consisted of mostly all-female bands whose purpose and intent was to play for an almost exclusively female audience. The content of their songs would be ones that these women weren’t seeing addressed in modern, patriarchal circles. Topics such as gender politics, sexual orientation, etc., were all on the table. Riot Grrrl bands tended to be fairly fluid in their composition; forming, playing for awhile, breaking up, reforming with new members of other bands and so on, repeating the cycle, again and again. One of the few bands that lasted over time was Sleater-Kinney.

The song “Dig Me Out” came from their third album, also called, “Dig Me Out”. Sleater-Kinney were gaining an underground following after albums #1 and 2 but, by the time “Dig Me Out” appeared, audiences and music critics really began to take notice. Just prior to its release, SPIN Magazine (who were big fans of the band) wrote an article outing Brownstein and Tucker as being in a lesbian relationship. Such a relationship was quite acceptable in Riot Grrrl circles but, even in the 1990s, the general public were still not so embracing of what would be deemed, an “alternative” lifestyle. The pressure resulting from the scrutiny that befell their private life forced the two girls to split up as a couple. But, instead of breaking up the band, Brownstein and Tucker poured their emotional energy into the songs that appeared on “Dig Me Out”. The result was an incendiary album of forceful and passionate songs from start to finish!

It is important for aspiring female rockers to have role models. For Sleater-Kinney, they had musicians such as Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth), Joan Jett and Patti Smith. But, more than just having role models, the girls of the bands that formed the Riot Grrrls Movement needed a safe place to play and to express themselves. As a result, we have terrific performances like the one you are about to see in the video for “Dig Me Out”. All three of these ladies can rock. They are all just as talented as any male band and play with just as much intensity and passion. If you watch this video, note the bond that still exists between Brownstein and Tucker as they play. They have such a natural, easy way with each other. Although they are not a couple, the affection certainly remains. It isn’t always easy to find that sense of belonging that brings about contentment and happiness but, Sleater-Kinney seem to have found it for themselves and are still bringing it to bear even today so that others may find their way, as well. Here is a ripping performance of “Dig Me Out” by the incomparable Sleater-Kinney. Enjoy!

The link to the music video for Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney can be found here.

Sleater-Kinney have a website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting important music and important acts like Sleater-Kinney. A link to KEXP’s website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #405 …Fortunate Son by Credence Clearwater Revival.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #405: Fortunate Son by Credence Clearwater Revival.

“Fortunate Son” was written by singer John Fogarty and was released in 1969. U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was in full swing at the time. In order to put together a fighting force to travel to Asia, the U.S. government re-instituted the Draft. For anyone unaware of what that means, it was a way of forcing civilians into the Armed Forces. If you received a letter stating that you had been drafted into the Armed Forces, you were legally obligated to report to duty. Failure to report when summoned could result in jail time and other related penalties. One of the most famous cases of “refusal to report” was by boxer, Muhammed Ali. When questioned by reporters as to why he was refusing to allow himself to be drafted, he replied that he had no quarrel with the VietCong. Furthermore, he pointed to the inequities of the Draft. He stated that it was predominantly the poor and the racialized who were being sent off to fight in Vietnam. Ali ended up being stripped of his Championship title because of his stand against the Draft. While Ali was holding his press conferences, a draft letter was delivered to John Fogarty. While Fogarty questioned the purpose of going off to a war he felt was more politically-motivated than it was a security issue, what bothered him even more was the seeming unfairness of how the Draft was unfolding. Not only were the poor and racial minorities filling a majority of the call-ups, the reverse was becoming true for the upper class. It seemed to Fogarty that if you had enough money and enough political connections then, “personal deferments” were easy to come by and one was able to buy his way out of active service. In particular, Fogarty was watching with interest as a political union was formed by the marriage of Julie Nixon (daughter of Richard Nixon) and David Eisenhauer (son of President Dwight D. Eisenhauer). It became the inspiration behind the line in “Fortunate Son” where Fogarty sneers, “I ain’t no senator’s son!”

One of the most famous men to acquire a “personal deferment” via his wealth and family connections was a New York Real Estate Developer named Donald Trump. While Trump was not the initial inspiration for “Fortunate Son”, he certainly became the poster boy for the song when he decided to use it as a “hype” song during campaign stops in the most recent US Presidential election. The song, “Fortunate Son” rails against the inequity of class when it came to serving America’s military interests abroad. The organizers of Trump’s rallies seemed oblivious to the idea that the song was, actually, against everything Trump stood for and was espousing. Eventually, Fogarty took out a cease-and-desist order and stopped Trump from using the song at his events.

“Fortunate Son” was one of the best-selling songs that Credence Clearwater Revival released. It sold millions of copies and has gone on to be one of the defining anti-war anthems of the modern era in U.S. history. C.C.R. was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Their song, “Fortunate Son” was enshrined into the U.S. Library of Congress because of its cultural impact. Despite the fact that the Draft was cancelled and recruitment into the Armed Forces is, once again, voluntary, the fact remains that membership in the U.S. Armed Forces is comprised primarily of those on the lower half of the socio-economic scale. What John Fogarty was quoted as saying when “Fortunate Son” was originally released in 1969, still holds true today, “There’s an old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them.”…..especially true if “you ain’t no senator’s son!” Ladies and gentlemen, here is “Fortunate Son” by C.C.R. Enjoy.

The link to the music video for Fortunate Son by Credence Clearwater Revival can be found here.

The link to a news interview regarding how Fogarty felt about Donald Trump using Fortunate Son at his campaign rallies, can be found here.

A link to the John Fogarty website can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.