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

My First Tuesday: Welcome To My Blog.

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The new school year started today for my wife and my two daughters. For me, today is the day my retirement officially started. A new start for them, a new world for me.

For the past few years, my school day would begin by taking my daughters to school and waiting there until the bell rang and they were safely inside. Then, as the other Moms and Dads would make their coffee clutch plans, I would head to my car and drive to school to prepare for my own day.  How I begrudged those other parents their freedom.  It was never the fact that I didn’t want to be with my own students or that I preferred coffee that much. It was the fact that I didn’t have the freedom to control my fate. I had to go to work. No choice. I had to go.

No longer.

Today, I saw my youngest safely inside her school and I……….and I……….well, I went for coffee!!!!!   I did.  I got into my car and drove downtown and met two friends, also retired teachers, and we had coffee together on a sidewalk patio. The sun shone down upon our skin. We waved to friendly passersby. We chatted about weighty matters and feather-light ones, too.  But, best of all, there was a school bell there that I was asked to ring. Not a tentative, self-conscience tinkle of a ring but, instead, a full-throttled, lusty declarative ring of freedom for all to hear. So, I rang that bell, loud and long and clear. Every time someone looked our way in puzzlement, my friends would point to me and announce, “It’s his first Tuesday!”, as if that explained everything.

But, it is my first Tuesday in this new life of mine. School traditionally starts on the first Tuesday after Labour Day in Canada. For the first time in 49 years, I was not in school on the first Tuesday. On this day, I was free.  Freedom is intoxicating and I admit to feeling slightly off balance by it all but, in a good way.  The best way I can describe it all is to point to those near-death experiences you read about. You know, the ones with the bright light that you are drawn toward and the loved ones awaiting you on the other side. Today, I got to experience the bright light that is the freedom to chart my own course. I am thankful to my two friends, Pat and Tracy, for being there to help me transition to the other side, as it were.

This is my first post on my new blog. Thank you for reading. I hope to see many of you following along as I embark on my journey with words.  Thanks for being part of my first Tuesday.  It is awesome to be here……on the other side!!!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Fanfare Rondeau by Jean-Joseph Mouret…Composition #22/50: Keepin’ It Classy

The dashing composer Jean-Joseph Mouret

“Fanfare Rondeau” was composed by Jean-Joseph Mouret as part of his Suite De Symphonies in 1729 which makes this composition almost three hundred years old! It is certainly one of the oldest pieces of music that I have ever commented on in a post format such as this. In addition to that, “Fanfare Rondeau” is the only composition of Mouret’s to still be played today with any regularity. Thus, not only is this the oldest work to appear in any music series of mine, it also makes Jean-Joseph Mouret the original one-hit wonder! Like all of the music featured in Keepin’ It Classy, “Fanfare Rondeau” is a piece of music that you will recognize from the opening notes. In fact, although this composition was well-received at the time of its creation, it has become even more popular today because of its association with a famous TV show. So let’s take a closer look at this noteworthy composition and the man who created it. Here is the story of “Fanfare Rondeau” by Jean-Joseph Mouret.

During his lifetime, Jean-Joseph Mouret was quite a famous and popular composer. As a young man, he was noted for his quick wit, stylish disposition and the ease with which he moved in the social circles of the French nobility. While barely into his twenties, Mouret fell under the protective patronage of Anne, the Duchess of Maine. Anne was originally a member of the House of Bourbon, which was a powerful political family in aristocratic circles in France. In a marriage of political convenience, she became married to Louis-Auguste, the illegitimate son of King Louis XIV. The Duchess of Maine used her influential position to promote French culture and the Arts. She became known for the banquets she held and for the musical performances she commissioned. For the position of Surintendant de la Musique, she selected the young Jean-Joseph Mouret. He quickly fell into his role as a valued member of the Duchess of Maine’s royal court and created hundreds of compositions in her honour that became the featured music played during her feasts. Consequently, Mouret enjoyed much favour among the aristocracy and was able to live a life of relative luxury for a man who had no royal bloodline of his own.

(Agen) Portrait de Marie-Anne de Bourbon, princesse de Conti 1690-91- François de Troy – Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Agen

Because the vast majority of the music he created was never performed outside of the royal ballrooms of the Duke and Duchess of Maine, Mouret’s work never became popular in the larger, more commercial sense. In fact, the only time Jean-Joseph Mouret ventured beyond the protective confines of the royal household, his efforts met with disastrous results. At that time in France, the Catholic Church was a powerful presence in the political landscape. Consequently, religious observances were strictly adhered to by most everyone. For example, during the period known as Lent, all opera houses in Paris closed their doors out of respect for the Catholic Church. However, not everyone in France was Catholic, and it was felt that The Arts should continue during Lent as long as they were such that all performances had thematic aspects that respected the religious tone of the times. Thus, a series of public concerts were organized that became known as Concerts Spirituel. These concerts were originally organized by someone else but soon the series fell into financial ruin. In his position of Surintendant de la Musique in the royal court, Jean-Joseph Mouret was asked to come in and take over the leadership of these secular concerts. Mouret was delighted to have been approached and saw this as an opportunity to expand his influence beyond the walls of the royal palace. However, it turned out that the members of the nobility had sworn their allegiance to the Catholic Church, and they refused to follow their favourite composer into the public world of Parisian music. Not long after agreeing to head the Concerts Spirituel series, Mouret was forced to declare bankruptcy. It was a shameful and humiliating moment for Mouret. Afterwards, he was forced to return to his duties at the behest of the Duchess of Maine having had any political or career ambitions stripped from him leaving him effectively neutered in the eyes of those in the royal court. For the remainder of his life, he composed music for the Duchess and her friends…and never again for anyone else.

As mentioned, there is only one piece of Mouret’s entire musical catalogue that has survived the passage of time and that is a piece of music entitled “Fanfare Rondeau”. As you may know, a fanfare is a piece of music that is often played when someone of importance is being welcomed into a place where a crowd has gathered. In Mouret’s case, his “Fanfare Rondeau” was commissioned to announce the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Maine into the royal ballroom. In musical terms, a rondeau is a segment of music that is part of a sequence of structured movements called musical forms. Back during the Baroque Period of classical music, the use of the standardized musical form compositional structure was common practice. In that common structure, the rondeau was considered to be the first segment of the musical form (which often consisted of three to four parts). Thus, in his Suites de Symphonies, the rondeau was the introductory segment of the symphony and because it was being used to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Maine into the ballroom, the rondeau was also considered to be a fanfare, thus the piece became known as “Fanfare Rondeau”.

This composition was very popular when it debuted. It became the standard introductory fanfare used to welcome royal visitors into any royal court in France thereafter. But what ensured the continued relevance of “Fanfare Rondeau” no longer has anything to do with the shiny people of the noble class. Instead, what made this composition so well known and popular today was its selection as the opening theme for the PBS television series, Masterpiece Theater. The producers of Masterpiece Theater wanted to bring a sense of the importance of art and culture into the living rooms of regular Americans by showcasing some of the finest theatrical plays and movies available. In order to give their programmes a regal air, the producers selected “Fanfare Rondeau” as their show’s opening theme. Masterpiece Theater has been one of the flagship shows on the entire PBS network, and as such, the playing of “Fanfare Rondeau” has come to represent PBS, as a whole, in the eyes of the world. Although Jean-Joseph Mouret has long since passed away, his ability to capture the essence of upper class refinement in music has granted him a sense of immortality that finally extends his name beyond the walls of the royal palace of the Duke and Duchess of Maine in France. The proof that the name of Jean-Joseph Mouret lives on will be seen in the fact that you will know his music the second it begins. His “Fanfare Rondeau” has become synonymous with classiness and refinement. Undoubtedly, this would make Mouret proud.

The link to the video for the composition “Fanfare Rondeau” by Jean-Joseph Mouret can be found here.

The link to the video for the playing of the opening theme to Masterpiece Theatre on PBS can be found here.

The link to the official website for Jean-Joseph Mouret can be found here.

The link to the world’s greatest classical music station…Classical FM 103.1…broadcasting out of my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch…Song #18/250: Reader’s Choice

One of the most successful and heavily promoted music groups of the 1980s was a boy band known as New Kids on the Block. They had a string of hits such as “Hanging Tough”, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, “I’ll Be Loving You Forever”, “Cover Girl” and many more. The five original members of NKOTB all hailed from the Boston area (which will become important as this story rolls along). One of those original guys in the band was named Donnie Wahlberg. He had a younger brother named Mark. This is where the story of today’s post begins.

The Wahlberg brothers grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston. Dorchester used to be a city unto itself but was incorporated into the municipality of Boston proper. Initially, Dorchester was a mainly white community founded by Puritans who arrived from England and Ireland centuries ago. However, after amalgamation, Dorchester saw an influx of immigrants arrive, making it one of the most diverse cities along America’s eastern seaboard today. Like many in the Boston area, the Wahlbergs identified with Irish heritage (which at the time for a teenage boy like Mark Wahlberg meant white culture). You don’t have to look very hard in Boston to find indicators of Irish culture. (The Boston Celtic basketball team, bands such as The Dropkick Murphys…my favourite faux Irish band, etc…, are everywhere you go.) So, when Donnie Wahlberg suddenly became a huge music star with New Kids on the Block, it gave his little brother, Mark, a larger sense of self-importance than most boys his age have earned the right to have. With his ego large, young Mark Wahlberg turned to crime. Specifically, he was charged with several violent, racially-motivated crimes against Black and Asian families who had recently moved into the Dorchester area. In fact, one assault was so serious that Mark Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder (which ended up being plea-bargained down to felony assault, for which Wahlberg served time in jail as a young man).

Mary Mark and the Funky Bunch. Note the “Irish” green.

After having completed his sentence, Mark Wahlberg faced an uncertain future. The one thing he had going for him was that he was handsome and strong…and he had a brother who was a music star. Mark worked with Donnie and with his brother’s management team to see if he had the talent to follow in his brother’s footsteps. As it turned out, Mark Wahlberg wanted to try rapping (after seeing the success of Vanilla Ice). With the help of Donnie and some DJs who were skilled in the emerging art of sampling, Mark Wahlberg organized them all into a band that went by the name Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Their first album was called Music for the People. The first single was called “Good Vibrations”. This song went all the way to #1 on the charts and stayed in the Top 40 for almost a full year! The highlight of the song for many was the combination of some stellar piano playing, Mark Wahlberg’s rapping and the soaring vocal sample taken from a lady named Loleatta Holloway (who was given a co-songwriting credit because of the sample, even though she never recorded a single note for the song). Despite the fact that this song reached the top of the charts, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were never able to replicate its success, and so “Good Vibrations” can really be considered their only true hit.

Mark Wahlberg’s iconic Calvin Klein ad. He is 21 years old in this photo.

While the song certainly possesses a funked up groove, it was really the accompanying music video that took Mark Wahlberg straight to the top. In the video for “Good Vibrations”, Wahlberg appears shirtless for most of it. At the time, Mark Wahlberg possessed a physique that was toned and chiseled. His body and his tough guy image that he projected set many hearts a flutter. Sex appeal has long been known to sell merchandise and this was certainly the case with Marky Mark. As a result of the overwhelmingly positive reception his six pack abs received as a result of this video, Wahlberg was signed to be a Calvin Klein underwear model. In the end, he became as famous for appearing in his underwear on billboards (alone or with model Kate Moss) as he ever did as a singer. Many others wondered how they could get themselves into the same physical shape that he managed to do and so he was approached to put together exercise videos. The story of his fitness regimes is more important than many casual fans realize and impacted his career for years thereafter.

Mark Wahlberg and “Irish” Micky Ward at the premiere of the movie, The Fighter.

When Mark and Donnie Wahlberg were putting together the music for “Good Vibrations”, there existed a famous boxer from nearby Lowell, Massachusetts, called “Irish” Micky Ward. Ward fought several times for the Lightweight title and is most known for a trilogy of matches against Montreal’s own Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. Ward won the initial match against Gatti while losing the rematch and tie breaker. However, many who watch boxing will tell you that those three matches were among the best boxing matches of all time, and that both boxers earned their sterling reputations in the ring during those bouts against the other. In fact, two of those three matches ended up being ranked as “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine. So, when the Irish-influenced kid, Mark Wahlberg, decided that he needed training in the art of boxing for his video for “Good Vibrations”, he turned to “Irish” Micky Ward. It was because of Ward’s training that Wahlberg developed his chiseled physique and authentic boxing moves. But there is more to the story than that. As many of you know, Mark Wahlberg left the music business and went into acting after his modeling days came to an end. He gained fame in movies such as Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm and Planet of the Apes. My daughters know him best from a series of movies called Daddy’s Home (with Will Ferrell). But the movie that Wahlberg is most closely associated with was a movie that earned him many awards and nominations called The Fighter. This movie is the biopic based on the life of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward. In fact, there are many Irish connections at play here…Canada’s favourite faux-Irish band, The Mahones *(who were profiled last week in a post that you can read here) contributed a song to the soundtrack of The Fighter called “Paint the Town Red”. It is the band’s biggest hit. As well, Boston’s own The Dropkick Murphys’ most successful album was called The Warrior’s Code. The title track was a song dedicated to “Irish” Micky Ward, who also graces the album’s front cover. *(You can watch that video here).

Mark Wahlberg, like so many of us, is certainly a product of his environment. He grew up Irish-proud and immigrant-phobic but, over time, he has become able to embrace the positive side of his cultural roots without doing so by downgrading the right to cultural pride by groups who differ from himself. Not knowing the man personally, I cannot say for sure whether that is truly the person he has become or whether it is because of his understanding of how to project an image in the public spotlight. But what I can say for sure is that he has managed to create several onscreen characters that the people in my family like, and in particular, he has created one funky song that really appeals to my wife. So, I dedicate this post to my beautiful wife, Keri. I hope that it brings a smile to your face and a skip to your step. Thanks for being the driving force in our home for bringing the music of boy bands to the forefront. I know that you had New Kids on the Block posters on your bedroom walls growing up so this is something that makes you a product of your environment as well. As boy band songs go, “Good Vibrations” is one that even I can listen to and appreciate. Thanks for being you, dear.

***As a reminder, I take requests. Any genre. Any era. Send me your song/artist/band suggestions and I will do whatever I can to bring those stories to life in a post just like this one. Feel free to leave your requests in the comment box below. Thanks.

The link to the video for the song “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The official website for Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

The trailer for the movie, The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Tomorrow’s Top 40: First Aid Kit, Lido Pimiento, Soweto Gospel Choir and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Welcome to another edition of Tomorrow’s Top 40. These artists that I am about to highlight all have recently released new material that is noteworthy in one regard or another. I encourage you to give each artist your attention because, as you know, these songs that you are hearing today could all potentially be tomorrow’s Top 40. So, let’s goooooooo!

Palomino by First Aid Kit

Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit. Both sisters are singing at a microphone and each are playing a guitar, too.
Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit.

I have written in the past about what life was like during the early stages of the COVID pandemic and how I used some of that time in lockdown as a way to discover new artists and bands. While I have spoken mostly about bands such as Idles and Fontaine DC, a third group that caught my attention and held it was First Aid Kit. This duo is composed of Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara Soderberg. I first discovered them when they released their amazing cover of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush *(before it became a monster hit for Bush via the TV show, Stranger Things, when it seemed as though every artist was covering that song. You can watch that video here). Because I watched that video, the YouTube algorithms took me to more of their work. It was all equally interesting. They did a second amazing cover…this time for “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. The thing about that video is that they performed the song live at a Royal Gala concert with Paul Simon in attendance. Well, when the song ended, Simon jumped to his feet and gave a standing ovation. What made that noteworthy was that he had broken royal protocol by doing so before the Swedish King had risen. I guess it was a bit of a diplomatic incident. *(You can watch that video here). The third video of theirs that I saw was an original song by them called “Emmylou”. This song was written about the legendary singer, Emmylou Harris. First Aid Kit performed it for her and did such a good job that it brought Harris to tears. *(You can watch that performance here).

For fifteen years now, Johanna and Klara Soderberg have been perfecting their musical craft. They harmonize beautifully. Their voices are strong and clear. Their respect for those pioneers who have paved the way for their own success is clearly shown. Now, they have a new album of original music called Palomino. From that album, the first single is called “A Feeling That Never Came”. First Aid Kit is easily one of my favourite discoveries of the last five years. Give them a listen and they might just become the same for you as well. Their latest song, “A Feeling That Never Came”, can be heard here. ***The lyrics version is here.

Miss Colombia by Lido Pimienta

Lido Pimiento faces the camera. She is wearing a pointed tiara-like crown. She is wearing colourful feather boas and a pink gown.
Lido Pimienta

Lido Pimienta is a Colombian-born singer/artist/activist who has lived in Canada for the past decade or so. She came into the national spotlight in 2016 when she released an album of original music called La Papessa which went on to be declared the Album of the Year in Canada and which helped her to win the Polaris Prize. Much of her music revolves around ethnicity and gender issues. Her latest release is called Miss Colombia. The album title stems from an infamous incident from a few years ago when the Miss World Pageant crown was mistakenly awarded to the contestant from Colombia by host Steve Harvey, only to have it taken away moments later when it was revealed that Harvey had misread the card he was given and had announced the wrong contestant’s country. That moment brought deep embarrassment to Steve Harvey, but it also brought deep anger to the country of Colombia and to many Colombians who were watching, such as Lido Pimienta. Her anger stemmed from the disrespect she felt on the world stage from being someone from Colombia. Pimienta stated that the country’s legacy of being colonized, along with its association with drug cartels has caused all Colombians to bear a mark of shame wherever they travel in the world and that she has never felt at home regardless of where she has lived.

The first song from her new album is sung entirely in Spanish and it sounds amazing! The video is worth watching because of the striking visuals involved and because of the story it tells. The song is called “Eso Que Tu Haces” which translates into “That Thing That You Do”. The story behind the song is of Colombian slaves seeking freedom. The video is set in a village called San Basilio de Palenque, which was the first “free town” for slaves seeking their freedom in Colombia. The dancers who appear in this video perform a series of modern and traditional dances that relate directly to the story of emancipation from slavery in Colombia. The music is excellent and the visuals are extraordinary. Lido Pimienta is definitely her own person, but if you need a comparable performer to measure her against, then someone with the artist pedigree of Bjork comes to mind. “Eso Que Tu Haces” is an incredible song that is well worth checking out. That it is sung entirely in Spanish didn’t affect my enjoyment in the least. Well worth checking out…which you can do here.

***Sorry, there isn’t an English lyrics version for this song…which is kind of the point of it all when it comes to Pimienta’s assertion that she and all Colombians should be accepted for who they are. Enjoy.

Hope by The Soweto Gospel Choir.

Ten members of the Soweto Gospel Choir sing in unison, each with their left arm raised toward the sky.
The Soweto Gospel Choir

If you know your history at all then you will be aware that Soweto is a city in South Africa and that it was one of the hotspots when it came to ending Apartheid in that country several decades ago. The Soweto Gospel Choir have been in existence for many years and have earned an international reputation for the beauty of their harmonies and the passion with which they sing and the pride with which they represent African culture. Over the years, The Soweto Gospel Choir have won numerous Grammy Awards for Best Traditional World Music Album. They have also toured with super stars such as Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel (who co-wrote a song of theirs that was included in the WALL-E soundtrack, which was nominated for an Academy Award).

Their latest album, Hope, is their first in four years. It is filled with covers of songs from the US Civil Rights movement, along with original music from the era of resistance to Apartheid in their home country of South Africa. On Hope, they cover Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and Hugh Masekela, among others. The Soweto Gospel Choir was originally sponsored by Reverend Desmond Tutu. They carry on his legacy by promoting a programme called the 46664 Campaign which, again if you know your history, was Nelson Mandela’s identification number while in prison. The first single is called “Stand Up”, which is an original song inspired by the best Gospel/Soul songs of the Civil Rights Movement from the US. That a choir from Africa can so accurately capture the spirit of resiliency and hope that the US Civil Rights marchers exuded just shows how universal the experience of racial oppression actually is and how connected Africans and African-Americans actually are. “Stand Up” is more than just a song, it is an anthem. I can picture this song winning awards before the coming year is through. You can listen to it here. ***There is no lyrics version of this song but a link to a print version of the lyrics to “Stand Up” is here.

Live in Cleveland ‘77 by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

Southside Johnny and Steven Van Zandt sing together at one microphone. Two horn players stand behind them, to their left.One has a trombone and the other has a saxophone.
Southside Johnny and “Miami” Steven Van Zandt and some of the Jukes.

In the early 1970s, Asbury, New Jersey was one of the hotbeds of rock n’ roll music in America. A young man named Bruce Springsteen was launching his career by playing epic sets in bars all up and down the Jersey shore. But he was not the only one doing so. At the time, there were other acts that were ripping it up as well. One of the most famous was a band called Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The “Johnny” in question was a man named John Lyon. The use of a horn section that helped create a sound that encompassed Blues, Soul, as well as elements of the Beatles style of rock n’ roll was characteristic of a sound that came to be known as the Jersey Sound. The songs that Southside Johnny sang often dealt with the lives of working class people who found themselves in positions where they were underdogs. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes put on live performances that rivaled the epic sets that their compatriot, Bruce Springsteen, became known for. Jon Bon Jovi is credited with stating that it was Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who directly inspired him to become a singer.

As was the case with many bands, there was a lot of cross-pollination between bands in the Asbury scene in the 1970s. In fact, Bruce Springsteen regularly wrote songs for Southside Johnny to sing while guitarist Steve Van Zandt actually was a member of The Jukes until Springsteen went big. He was called “Miami Steve” back then. In any case, like many bands, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes had dreams of finding success beyond the borders of the Jersey shore. So, it was with much appreciation that they discovered their early tunes were being played on a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. In gratitude for such support, the band traveled there and put on a couple of shows that were recorded live. At one of the shows, the band was supported by the legendary Ronnie Spector. She covered a hot tune at the time, “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” by a rising New York singer named Billy Joel. *(You can listen to that song here). Live in Cleveland ‘77 captures Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in their prime. After listening to this album, it is easy to understand why Southside Johnny is considered an equal to Bruce Springsteen by many who were there at the time. If you have never heard this band before then, buckle up! They were truly something back in ‘77!

The link to the official website for First Aid Kit can be found here.

The link to the official website for Lido Pimienta can be found here.

The link to the website for The Soweto Gospel Choir can be found here.

The link to the official website for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Slow Ride by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Dazed and Confused…Song #23/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”

The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.

There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.

Milla Jovovich was just one of many young stars who got their start in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.

A very young Matthew McConaughey in character.

Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.

If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.

The link to the video for the song “Slow Ride” by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Dazed and Confused can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot…Song #23/250: The Great Canadian Road Trip

As 1967 drew near, many plans were set into motion to mark the occasion of Canada’s 100th anniversary of becoming an independent country. For my family, we embarked on a cross-Canada tour that involved the three of us taking the train from Sydney, Nova Scotia, traveling all the way westward to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then driving back home in our family car that my father had shipped out to Vancouver on the train along with us. At the time of our trip, I was only three years old so I was not privy to any of the planning that had gone into organizing such a journey. However, with the hindsight of history to guide me, I know that my mom and dad were commemorating Canada’s centennial by traversing this great land using one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever: the creation of the Canadian National Railroad. Our history books like to wax nostalgic about the creation of the railroad being one of the great acts of national unification. All that I knew at the time was that being on a train for over ten days seemed like fun to me. Some of the earliest memories in my life are of the train stopping in the Rockies and me looking at how big the mountains seemed and how cool and fresh the air felt. From Stanley Park in Vancouver, to the endless wheat fields of the Prairies, the Big Nickel in Sudbury, Expo 67 in Montreal, the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and finally, back across the Maritimes to Cape Breton Island once again. We were home in this great land we call Canada.

Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot.
Gordon Lightfoot.

Our national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC) had planned a year long series of broadcasts that were aimed at telling “our story” as a country. To start it all off, the CBC contacted singer Gordon Lightfoot and asked him to compose a song about Canada. Lightfoot was not just a great singer and songwriter but he was a natural storyteller. So, when Gord put pen to paper, he opted to tell the story of the making of the railroad that ran from east to west. He called his song “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy”. The song debuted on January 1st, 1967. It was well received by many in Canada and has gone on to become one of Gordon Lightfoot’s signature songs in a catalogue filled with hits. Lightfoot created the structure for the song based upon a US song called “The Civil War Trilogy” that was originally sung there by The Limelighters. In Gord’s song, there are slow parts and speedier parts. This cadence was meant to resemble the chug-chug-chugging of a steam locomotive, which would have been the sort of train in use back when the railroad was built in the 1800s. For many who enjoy this song, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy stands as a testament to a moment in time when our nation was united and strong. For that reason, the song evoked a sense of national pride whenever it was played.

About fifty Chinese labourers posing by a segment of railroad track that they had built as part of the original Canadian National Railroad.
Chinese “navvies” who worked on the building of the Canadian National Railroad. Many lost their lives due to the dangerous nature of their work and to poor safety standards at the time.

But as we are becoming more aware, the telling of history is a fickle thing. Gordon Lightfoot deserves credit for dedicating a large portion of “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” to the navvies (or the immigrant Chinese workers), whose labour helped build each length of track. It was dangerous, back-breaking work and many Chinese labourers lost their lives completing the “national dream”. The navvies were paid less than English-speaking workers and they were required to perform the most dangerous tasks (such as blasting through the Rocky Mountains to make tunnels). It is generally acknowledged that 3-4 Chinese workers died for every mile of track created. Knowing the vastness of Canadian geography as we do, the death toll among Chinese workers stretches into the tens of thousands. In gratitude for the heroic nature of their work, the Chinese labourers were fired en masse once the last spike was driven in Craigellachie, British Columbia and were forced to find their own transportation back to wherever they were going to live next. Those workers were always considered expendable. But, at least, their existence was acknowledged by Gordon Lightfoot in his song, so there is that, I suppose.

But, the same can’t be said for the Indigenous Peoples of this land. The history of Canada is replete with example after example of Indigenous Peoples being on the short end of national expansionism. I want you to stop and think back to a time just prior to the arrival of European explorers such as Jacques Cartier, Giovanni Caboto and Samuel de Champlain. In those pre-contact times, the whole of the land that is now considered to be Canada was actually populated by Indigenous nations. These Nations existed from sea to sea to sea. Each Nation had its own customs and governance. All existed with the foundational thought that they were not above nature and animal life but were as one with it. Bison and beavers thrived at this time. The idea of taking what you need but no more, was a guiding principle that allowed the various Indigenous Peoples to survive for thousands of years. And then came the Europeans.

About fifty workers watch as a rich white man in a beard and tip hat hammers in the final spike to complete the building of the Canadian National Railroad at Craigellachie, British Columbia.
The “Last Spike” being driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia.

Say what you want about European settlers, but the actual facts from History show that they viewed this new land as theirs for the taking. The Indigenous Peoples were merely an obstacle to be overcome, either by negotiated treaty or by force. Even those negotiated treaties were very one-sided, with the settlers getting the best land and access to resources, while the Indigenous Peoples were shunted off to the side…of the land that they had lived on successfully for an eternity. One of the most lethal instruments of colonization of Indigenous lands was the Canadian National Railroad. Its creation was the political excuse used to appropriate Indigenous lands, especially across the Prairies and into British Columbia. It was the political excuse used to send troops into the Prairies so as to “safeguard” the work of railroad building and to help acquire additional territory along the way. It was opposition to the railroad, and more specifically, to the appropriation of Indigenous land that caused Louis Riel to take his famous stands at The Red River Valley (in what is now Manitoba) and later at Batoche (in what is now Saskatchewan), for which he paid the ultimate price with his life by being sentenced to death for treason. Much of what happened to Louis Riel and the Metis Peoples reverberated into Quebec and was the start of French nationalism there. The politics of the railroad entering British Columbia helped convince those settlers to officially enter into Confederation as the westernmost province in Canada. It goes on and on. The creation of the Canadian National Railroad has become synonymous with Canadian history, in general.

And so it was back in 1967, as the words of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” played out to great acclaim, my parents were inspired to recreate that journey and relive the national dream, creating memories to last a lifetime for themselves and their young son. The beauty and the vastness of the land is a memory that I retain to this day. As a toddler, I had no idea of the politics of railroad building, of the sacrifices made by so many underpaid Chinese labourers, nor of the devastating impact of the railroad on the lives of Indigenous Peoples ever since it went across this land. But I do know now. While it may not be for me to insist that those of you who read this rise up in anger and in protest, I think it is my place to insist that we, as the descendants of those who colonized this land, do our part to understand the true nature of its history. When we do, it forces us to regard the railroad as much more than a feat of engineering worth celebrating in song. I imagine that the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” must be a difficult song for Indigenous Peoples to have to listen to. I apologize in advance for any hurt that this post causes. As we make our way through the songs listed as being part of this Great Canadian Road Trip of mine, we should always be aware of the history of this land and what our role has been in shaping it as it exists today. It is, quite literally, the very least we can do.

The link to the video for the song “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” by Gordon Lightfoot can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Gordon Lightfoot can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be found here. *(As you may know, this Commission reported mainly on the impact of the residential school system but, in doing so, it touched on many aspects of the impact of colonization upon the Indigenous Peoples of this land such as land appropriation, forced cultural assimilation, The Indian Act and much, much more). Its report and recommendations should be required reading for all who live in this country called Canada, imo).

The link to an article from the Globe and Mail newspaper about the use of the railroad as a tool of colonization and why, in reply, so many Indigenous protests involve railroad blockades can be found here.

The link to the official website for the town of Craigellachie, British Columbia can be found here. *(Craigellachie was the original terminus of the Canadian National Railroad. It was where the “last spike” was driven).

**As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Entrance of the Gladiators by Julius Fucik…Composition #21/50: Keepin’ It Classy

Photo of Czech composer Julius Fucik in military uniform.
Composer of the Entrance of the Gladiators, Julius Fucik.

Julius Fučik was born in Prague in the Czech Republic in 1876 when that part of the world was still considered part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born into a creative family. His brother was a musician and an opera singer and his nephew was a journalist and author who, as it turned out, was killed by order of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s when he was consolidating power and eliminating his political opponents. Julius Fučik grew up to be a composer who specialized in military marches. But, more specifically than that, Fučik was someone who helped revolutionize the very idea of orchestral compositions because he was enamoured with brass and woodwind instruments.

Sheet music for the composition: "Entrance of the Gladiators" by Julius Fucik

At the turn of the century, the vast majority of classical compositions were written for piano or strings or softer woodwind instruments such as the flute or the oboe. Fučik believed in the power and vibrancy of brass. Thus, he wrote many of his earliest compositions for trumpet, trombone and tuba. When he first debuted his brass-oriented works, audiences were taken aback at the forcefulness of it all! His compositions were loud and to some, even strident in tone. After his initial works were aired, it was suggested to Fučik that instead of performing for seated audiences, his compositions were better suited for military marches. With that in mind, Fučik joined the Austro-Hungarian military and soon rose through the ranks and became a military composer. From that point onward, his compositions were all written with the idea that they would be played during military parades (when the soldiers would exhibit their marching skills in a series of highly choreographed marching routines) or else as a way of inspiring troops before entering into actual battle. Of all the military marches that Julius Fučik composed during his lifetime, none was more famous or popular than the march entitled, “Entrance of the Gladiators”.

“Entrance of the Gladiators” has gone on to become one of the most recognizable tunes ever written in the history of recorded music. Even most children today know this song when it is played. However, the reason that “Entrance of the Gladiators” became so popular differs from the reason for its initial composition in a way that would horrify Julius Fučik if he were alive today. Over a century ago, making brass instruments the centrepiece of a classical composition was a novel idea. As mentioned already, Julius Fučik was one of the earliest composers to go this route. So, when he created “Entrance of the Gladiators”, he wanted to show off his skills a little, thus he incorporated a section within the piece that allowed him to demonstrate the capability of brass instruments to navigate the chromatic scales in music. Chromatic scales are musical notes that are situated at regular, consistent intervals from each other. An example would be when you sing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do…the notes rise at regular intervals and fall back at those same intervals if you reverse the scales. Anyway, Julius Fučik decided to demonstrate how flexible brass instruments could be by having them play the chromatic scales forward and backward as the core component of “Entrance of the Gladiators”. When he debuted this composition, it was very well received and Fučik was rewarded with a military promotion as a result of his creative thinking.

Three people in the circus ring: the ringmaster in a red coat and top hat, a man in a checker box suit doin a somersault and a lady in a yellow dress with black folks dots.
Thunder and Blazes is typically played as a way of introducing clowns when it is their turn to enter the centre circus ring.

However, not long after Fučik debuted his march, a Canadian composer named Louis-Philippe Laurendeau took the composition, increased its tempo slightly and created an altered version called “Thunder and Blazes” that has gone on to become popular the world over. Laurendeau’s version of “Entrance of the Gladiators” is the standard tune that is played at circuses, especially when the clowns are set to arrive in the centre ring. Whether or not Laurendeau intended to make a political statement by comparing soldiers and war to clowns and a circus is something that has never been made clear. But, the truth of the matter is that he took a military march and turned it into a child’s delight. “Entrance of the Gladiators” is a piece of music that you will know immediately when it starts to play. Chances are great that by the time you are finished listening to it, you will not be thinking of war and of conquest, but instead will be smiling and thinking of clowns. I don’t know about you but I prefer my music to inspire happy thoughts as opposed to hurtful, hateful ones, so from my perspective, Laurendeau has done a good thing here. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.

The link to the video for the composition “Entrance of the Gladiators” by Julius Fučik can be found here.

The link to the official website for Julius Fučik can be found here.

The link to the official website for Louis-Philippe Laurendeau can be found here.

The link to classical music station, Classical 103.1, located in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens/Yusuf…Song #17/250: Reader’s Choice

There are two stories to tell today with regard to the song “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf. The first is a short history of this song which, as it turns out, was first written as instrumental music for a church hymn over a century ago. The second story concerns our singer and his life, which has taken several twists and turns along the way making him one of the most interesting and enigmatic entertainment figures of all time.

Alfriston, East Sussex

The song “Morning Has Broken” has a long and storied history. It is believed to have been created as an instrumental piece of music by Irish monks on the Isle of Iona several hundred years ago. From there, the song (which was known as a hymn tune) made its way into Scotland. Once there, a gaelic speaking woman named Mary MacDoanld turned the hymn tune into a Christian hymn and named it Bunessan (which is the name of a village near Ardtun where Mary lived). In 1927, the Bunessan tune was written down in a hymn book called Songs of Praise. Once included in the book, the editors approached an author named Eleanor Farjeon to compose lyrics for the Bunessan. The poem that she wrote was inspired by the beauty of the village of Alfriston in Scotland. Together, Farjoen’s poem and the hymn tune, Bunessan, combined to form a new song that was entitled “Morning Has Broken”. It remained a church hymn up until 1972 when a singer who went by the stage name of Cat Stevens recorded it on an album called Teaser and Firecat. This album also contained the hit songs, “Moonshadow” and “Peace Train”, which cemented Stevens’ reputation as one of the great Folk-rock singers in music history.

Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens was born as Steven Georgiou in 1948. By the time he finished high school, he was dabbling in both art and music. Like many young, aspiring musicians, Georgiou began his songwriting career by peddling his songs to other musicians. One of the very first songs he ever sold turned out to be a classic rock n’ roll tune for Rod Stewart and many others. It was called “The First Cut Is The Deepest”. As his career began, Georgiou was packaged as a rock singer. He even changed his name to something that was thought to be easier for the general public to understand…Cat Stevens! However, he did not feel that the person being promoted by his record label was a true representation of himself. That feeling was further entrenched within his mind shortly after the release of his first album when he was struck down by tuberculosis. During the year it took to recover in hospital and then several convalescent homes, Stevens watched the doctors and nurses and how hard they worked to save his life. He, also, watched others less fortunate than him pass away. As he lay in his recovery bed, he began to realize that there was much more to life than the rock star lifestyle that awaited him once he returned to health. So, as part of his recovery process, Stevens began practicing yoga, he became a vegetarian, and, most importantly of all, he began examining the religions of the world.

The album that spawned “Moonshadow”, “Peace Train” and “Morning Has Broken”. Cat Stevens did the art for the front cover as well.

When Cat Stevens had fully recovered, he made the professional decision to eschew rock music in favour of a style of music that better reflected the man he felt he was becoming. Consequently, Cat Stevens opted for Folk-rock. His next two albums, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, were big hits and established him as one of the world’s rising music stars. As the 1970s progressed, Stevens continued to embrace and explore various religions and philosophies. Once, while in Marrakesh, he heard the adhan being broadcast over speakers. When he asked about what was going on, it was explained to him that the adhan was the call to prayer for those who followed Islam and that its playing was “music for God”. The phrase “music for God” appealed to his burgeoning sense of spirituality. Not long after, he was given a copy of the Qur’an as a gift. Reading it, Stevens discovered that much of it spoke directly to his heart. Seeking greater wisdom, he approached an Islamic cleric and asked to know more. The cleric was happy to oblige. At the end of their discussions, which lasted for several days, Stevens was told that if he wished to truly immerse himself in Islamic culture, then he should convert and give himself over fully to Islam. He did so in 1977. To the surprise of his fans and his record label, Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam and walked away from the music business for what was to be over a quarter century.

Presenting….Yusuf Islam!

Once he had fully converted to Islam and had been accepted into the Faith by those in authority, he was advised not to continue his career in music because western music often spoke of themes that would be deemed offensive to Islamic culture. So instead of music, Yusuf, as he now preferred to be called, threw himself into philanthropy. He used the royalty money that came pouring in from the sales of his previous two albums to fund the building of Muslim-oriented schools in England and around the world. Yusuf also funded organizations whose purpose was the spread of peace. He married and raised his children in the Islamic faith as well. Despite having several well-documented moments of controversy (such as when he was quoted as supporting the death sentence imposed on author Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses), Yusuf settled into life as a Muslim man and was at peace with the decisions he had made.

But then, one day, several decades later, his teenage son brought home an acoustic guitar and asked his father to teach him how to play. Those lessons were the first time Yusuf had picked up any musical instrument in over twenty-five years. The urge to create new music returned. But, being as immersed in Islam as he had become, Yusuf knew that creating western music was not the way forward for him. Instead, he created albums for children that celebrated Islam. However, as significant anniversary milestones approached for his albums, Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, Yusuf was approached to sing selected songs in public again. With approval from his local clerics, Yusuf re-appeared in the secular world and gave several public performances of songs such as “Morning Has Broken”. Yusuf stated that a song such as “Morning Has Broken” spoke to the beauty inherent in our world, and that, in turn, reflected the philosophy of Islam that he found so compelling all those years ago and throughout his adult life. From Steven Georgiou to Cat Stevens and finally, to Yusuf…from rock star to folk singer to Islamic philanthropist…from bachelor to husband to father…the journey through his life has been a rich and fulfilling one, indeed.

A special thanks goes out to my dear friend, Jan Fluke, for nominating “Morning Has Broken” as today’s Reader’s Choice song. Like me, Jan is a retired teacher. We worked together for many years which allows me to say with great confidence that Jan is a champion for children in all aspects of their development. In her retirement years, Jan and a friend have co-written several books for children and have launched their own literary-based company called The Story Snuggery. Thanks again, Jan. Keep those song requests coming. Your taste in music is awesome!

The link to the video for the song “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the playing of the hymn tune “Bunessan” can be found here.

The link to the official website for Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Story Snuggery can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Bruce Springsteen, Mud Morganfield, Amanda Shires and The Mahones: Tomorrow’s Top 40

In this edition of Tomorrow’s Top 40, we are taking a look at some new releases from some talented veterans of the music scene. So, if you are searching for some terrific Soul, R&B, Gospel, Blues, Country or Punk, this is your post because, as you all know, today’s new releases often become Tomorrow’s Top 40 successes. So, let’s quit the chatter and get down to it for the week of November 14-20, 2022. Here we go!

Jameson Street by The Mahones

Ladies and gentlemen….The Mahones!

OMG! It’s The Mahones! Canada’s preeminent Celtic punk rockers, The Mahones have been ripping it up for almost thirty years now. They sing songs about drinking and partying and loving and fighting in a way that is impossible to ignore. The Mahones have drawn their inspiration from the likes of The Pogues at their boozy best. They relentlessly tour, appearing regularly with bands such as The Dropkick Murphys, Stiff Little Fingers, Flogging Molly, Spirit of the West, even opening for The Tragically Hip on one of their Canadian tours. Jameson Street is their first album since before the pandemic so there is an extra energy infused into each song. There is nothing subtle about the music you will hear when you click on their link. It is loud and fast and brash and a whole lot of fun! I think their music sounds better with a beer in your hand but that’s just me. Here are The Mahones with a song that I predict will become a huge hit in pubs everywhere. It is called “Last Call at the Bar”. You can listen to it here. ***If you want a taste of The Mahones live then, check out this rendition of their most popular song, “Paint The Town Red” here.

***There is no lyrics version of this song at this time.

Take It Like a Man by Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires….and her fiddle.

Amanda Shires has been working her way through the ranks of the best female Country and Western singers for a while now. As a teenager, Shires was given a fiddle from a second hand store on the condition that she learn how to play it properly. So, she took lessons from some of Nashville’s best session players and soon found herself performing with The Texas Playboys. In her twenties and thirties, Shires released hit album after hit album. She was declared the “Best Emerging Artist” in 2017 and received a Grammy Award as a member of the band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit that same year. However, what Amanda Shires is mostly known for is starting an all-female supergroup called The Highwomen. This group was meant to be the female counterpart to the legendary Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson) from a few decades ago. The Highwomen consists of Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. Well, as it has turned out, Amanda Shires is turning forty this year and that has caused her to take stock of her life to date and her hopes for the future. This self-assessment has manifested itself in the form of a new album called Take It Like A Man. The title track has a clever twist at the end that helps make this song a feminist anthem of sorts. You can listen to “Take It Like A Man” here. ***Not sure if it just me but I think she sounds a bit like Dolly Parton.

***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Portrait by Mud Morganfield

He sounds as smooth as he looks! This is Larry “Mud” Morganfield.

Growing up on Cape Breton Island as I did, there was a great tendency among the locals to place everyone into family groupings on the basis of a single question that every newcomer tended to be asked…that question was, “Who’s yer fodder?” That is a slangy way of asking who someone’s father was. From there, the newcomer could be judged accordingly: being welcomed with open arms or pushed away, whichever the case may be. Well, it appears that the same sort of judging process has been a part of Larry “Mud” Morganfield’s life for as long as he can remember, too. You may not be familiar with Morganfield’s name but I guarantee you that if you are familiar with music history at all, and in particular, Chicago Blues, then you know Morganfield’s father, Muddy Waters. Waters was a legendary Blues master who passed away in 1983. At that time, Morganfield was driving trucks for a living. He had no intention of trying to start a career in the shadow of his legendary father. In fact, Morganfield was just trying to avoid the bullets that often flew around his neighbourhood in Chicago. But then, the story goes that one night after his father’s death, Morganfield had a dream that he was on stage with his father and that he was playing the Blues and that his dad was smiling upon him. When he awoke, Morganfield decided to pick up a guitar and see what would happen. Well, what happened was that he turned out to be quite the Bluesman, himself. In fact, Morganfield decided to introduce himself to the world by recording an album of his father’s greatest hits, for which he won Bluesman of the Year. To listen to Morganfield play and sing is to hear Muddy Waters again. To follow up his debut success, Morganfield is drawing upon his Gospel and R&B roots with an album called Portrait. From that album, his first single is a soaring Gospel song entitled, “Praise Him”. It is hard not to smile and sway as this song plays. It is magnificent. I am hopeful that Portrait becomes a hit and that Mud Morganfield becomes a success in his own right. Maybe the day will come when people refer to Muddy Waters as Mud Morganfield’s Dad. You can listen to “Praise Him” here.

The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Only The Strong Survive by Bruce Springsteen

The Boss at age 73.

The storyteller in me absolutely loves Bruce Springsteen. The Boss has written some of the best story-songs of all time. I love “Thunder Road” and “Atlantic City” and “The River”, just to name a few. However, Only The Strong Survive is not an album of new material. It is a covers album containing tracks that Springsteen feels are essential Blues, Soul and R&B songs that today’s generation of listeners should be made aware of. I tip my hat to Springsteen because I have always maintained that the foundational songs that helped start Rock n’ Roll as we know it today all have their roots in black churches and nightclubs on the Chitlin’ circuit. It should not be up to someone like Bruce Springsteen to publicize these songs because they should be part of the Great American Songbook already. But, as many of you know, our understanding and appreciation of cultures that are different from our own tends to be limited. We often stick to cultural experiences that reflect ourselves, thus the Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys become more well known than the Isley Brothers or someone like Jackie Wilson. Whether this is simply due to human nature or to something else is a question for another post. But, for Bruce Springsteen, the answer is clear. He feels that the songs on Only The Strong Survive are under-valued and under-exposed and he is attempting to change that. For that reason, I commend Springsteen for having noble intentions. If you listen to the first single, “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”, you might think it is a terrific sounding song that fills your heart and soul and gets your toes a-tapping! But, as one critic put it, “The entire album sounds like Springsteen singing karaoke”. That was my impression, too. It will be your impression as well, especially if you listen to the real thing from Mud Morganfield first. That having been said, I am sure that Only The Strong Survive will sell well this holiday season. After all, anything that Springsteen associates himself with will always have a certain level of quality inherent in the final product. So, while there are no new stories from The Boss, he is using his 73rd year wisely to tell a story of a different sort. I hope that his efforts result in a Motown-esque revival because that is some music that really slaps. *You can listen to “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” here.

***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Mahones can be found here.

The link to the official website for Amanda Shires can be found here.

The link to the official website for Mud Morganfield can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bruce Springsteen can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Andrew Lloyd Webber, as sung by Elaine Paige from the Original West End Cast Recording of Evita…Song #22/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

The history of politics is filled with compassionate souls who have entered into the field of public service because they felt they had something to offer that would make the world a better place in which to live for everyone. To those kind folks, I salute you. Our world would be a much kinder, fairer and more just place to be if those sitting in the big chairs did so as leaders possessing charitable hearts. But, the reality of political history all throughout the world is that many who enter the political arena do so for less magnanimous reasons; power and money being chief among them. Politics has always been, or so it seems, an occupation not for the faint of heart. It is far too rare that political opponents join forces in pursuit of a common goal. Most often, we have maneuverings and intrigue, leaving someone to be the victor and someone to be the vanquished. And as the hoary old cliché goes, the history of our times is always written by the victors.

Who ends up dictating the events of history is an important factor to consider when discussing the story of one of the most controversial, beloved and misunderstood figures in any era of modern world politics, Eva Perón. In all of the research that I have conducted into almost one thousand songs, I have never encountered such a polarizing figure as the lady who would go on to inspire the hit musical, Evita. In fact, the information that I have read about her varies wildly depending upon who is doing the telling…the victors or the vanquished. So, let me take a few moments and give you the broad strokes of the story behind who Eva Perón was and how she came to hold such a position of influence within the country of Argentina. I state the following facts as being as true as I can know them to be. I am not an Argentinian scholar, by any means. If anyone reading this post has a greater pool of knowledge to draw from and can add to or correct what I am about to write then please, by all means, feel free to do so below.

Eva Peron as she while acting as the First Lady of Argentina.

Every biography of Eva Perón that I have read states that she began her life as Eva Duarte and that she had an impoverished upbringing. As she grew up and became a teenager, Eva Duarte began to have dreams of becoming a movie and music star. She knew that she would never become a star where she was living so she began to devise a plan that would see her move to the capital city of Buenos Aires. Not having money, Eva Duarte used her beauty to attract the attention of men in positions of power. It was through her relationships with these men that she made her way from her small town all the way to the big city. Once in Buenos Aires, Duarte began venturing into nightclubs and theatres looking for an opportunity to make herself known to those with the power to advance her career. As her teenage years moved along, she began getting roles in musicals, as well as opportunities to sing on stage in clubs. It was while working at a benefit fundraiser that she met one of Argentina’s rising young political stars, Col. Juan Perón. There was an attraction between the two and soon they began a torrid love affair. *(Up until this point in her story, the only bone of contention between those who consider Eva Perón to be akin to a saint and those who despise everything about her is whether she made her way to the top of Argentinian society because of her cunning determination and ambition or whether she prostituted herself). From what I have read, there appears to be no middle ground in this matter.

Eva and Col. Juan Person made for a glamorous couple.

Once Eva Duarte and Juan Perón became a romantically involved couple, they entered into a political partnership. As anyone with any knowledge of politics probably knows, no one rises to positions of power in isolation. They do so because they have supporters working behind the scenes, as well as in front of the cameras, who help their candidate of choice acquire enough popular support among the electorate to gain power. This is where the story of Evita becomes muddled and why it is important to understand the motives behind whoever is telling her tale. As the Peróns ascended to the Presidency of Argentina, they started a series of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the working class. Hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc…, all received an influx of funding that flowed from the pens of Eva and Juan Perón. Up until their arrival, charities in Argentina were often run by the wealthy who would pocket much of the money that was raised from the citizens of the country. Needless to say, when Eva Perón essentially nationalized philanthropy, she made a lot of powerful enemies among the ruling class. It bothered them further that she was beautiful and revered by those she was helping. To her supporters in the working class, Eva Perón is viewed as an angel who made a concrete difference in their lives. For those who disliked her, she was nothing more than a political opportunist who stole from the rich to enrich herself and whose charity was nothing more than a power move to solidify support from those she considered her base. Many who oppose her claim that she was no better than another notorious First Lady, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines. Eva Perón died from cancer in her mid-thirties. Her husband was the subject of a military coup. Perón’s body was removed from its crypt by thieves and spirited away to Italy, where it was held for ransom for several decades before finally being allowed to return to Argentina. She was eventually laid to rest in the Duarte family plot in the same small village in which she had been raised. Her life had come full circle.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is a famous creator of musicals, as many of you are aware. He has a musical partner named Tim Rice. Rice often composes the musical scores that accompany Webber’s lyrics. It was Rice who first heard of the story of Eva Perón. He spent years researching her life story. He visited Argentina dozens of times, going to all of the places that played a major role in her life. In his mind, the story of the life of Eva Perón was an obvious choice to be turned into a musical. However, his partner wasn’t so sure. Webber argued that no one outside of Latin America knew who she was and that the general public wouldn’t rush out to see a play about the First Lady of Argentina, even if they did. But Tim Rice persisted and eventually Andrew Lloyd Webber agreed to give it a try. Initially, the compromise solution was to create a live cast recording and leave it at that. But, as tracks were recorded, the story that became Evita began taking on an energy of its own to the point where even Andrew Lloyd Webber himself had to acknowledge that this was a musical waiting to happen. But this is where the politics of the storyteller’s perspective come into play.

The plaque placed on her tomb by the taxi drivers union. It was the inspiration for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was not entirely certain as to how to accurately portray Eva Perón on the stage. As noted, she is a historically polarizing figure whose biography varies a great degree depending upon who is doing the talking. So, what Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up doing was to insert a character into the story called Ché. *(This may or may not be a reference to the famous revolutionary leader, Ché Guevara). The character of Ché is used by Webber in the role of the traditional Greek chorus. Ché is cynical of Perón and her motives and helps provide a perspective that contrasts with the mythologizing of Eva Perón that comes from the rest of the cast who play the citizens of Argentina. That she was adored and despised in equal measure appears to be the truest path to tread when it comes to evaluating Perón’s legacy by those of us who were never there at the time and who have to rely on the perspectives of those with something to gain by how they share her story. In the end, Andrew Lloyd Webber appears to have come down on the side of those in her corner. For the show stopping number, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, Webber drew upon the true story of how ordinary citizens reacted upon hearing the news of her death. At her gravesite rests a plaque that was paid for by donations raised by the taxi drivers union of Buenos Aires. The plaque states that they will not cry for her (because they felt blessed to have had her in their lives, even for such a short time as it turned out to be), but that they would cry for their country (because of the opportunity for charity and compassion that had been lost).

Evita has gone on to become one of the most successful musicals ever made. The song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song in a Musical the year it was released. In the 1990s, Evita was made into a Hollywood movie that starred Madonna as Eva Perón. Madonna had campaigned for years to play the role of Eva Perón because she felt that Perón’s life story bore a striking resemblance to her own. The movie opened to mixed reviews, mostly due to Madonna’s acting and singing voice. That may seem like a strange thing to say, since Madonna is one of the biggest selling singing stars of all time. However, what her performance showed, more than anything, was that there is a big difference between being a singer who sings Pop songs recorded in a studio as opposed to being a singer who belts it out on stage every night. Prior to Madonna singing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in the movie, the song had been famously sung by such women as Barbra Streisand, as well as the legendary West End star, Elaine Paige *(who you will remember from her star turn in Cats as she sings that musical’s show stopper, “Memories”, which you can read about here). For my money, Paige is simply the gold standard. It is her version of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” that I will feature below. I will include Madonna’s, too, just so you can compare the two performances for yourself.

The politics of storytelling is not reserved for musicals and dramatic film adaptations. We are seeing this bear fruit in real time in our own society as more and more of our newspapers, television news stations and social media outlets are being taken over by those on the right wing side of the political spectrum. When the information we are being presented takes on the perspective of those who view themselves as the victors, then their reality becomes our history. An easy modern example is the resistance to Climate Change initiatives. Who are the ones who believe in a “Green” future, and who seek to maintain the status quo because it is good for the bottom lines of those in charge? Who are the victors and who are the vanquished, and, just as importantly, who gets to tell the tale? Our future just may very well depend upon the answer to that question. Perhaps I should tweet about my feelings on Twitter but, then again…..

The link to the video for the song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Elaine Paige can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer of the West End musical, Evita, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” as sung by Madonna from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Evita can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Eva Perón Society can be found here.

*As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner with the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins: Song #22/250…The Great Canadian Road Trip

Martha and the Muffins are often thought of as “one-hit wonders” because of the success of their debut single, “Echo Beach”, in 1981. While “Echo Beach” was a huge hit…in fact, it won the Juno Award for Single of the Year…the song was just one of many that charted in those early days of the burgeoning Alternative music in and around Toronto. However, Martha and the Muffins had an impactful career, not just because of the music they produced but also because of the people they worked with along the way. In fact, an argument can be made that it was because of the band giving a break to a teenage boy working out of his Mom’s house in Hamilton, Ontario, that the face of music around the world changed for the better as the 1980s rolled along. So, sit down, strap in and make yourself comfortable. Here is the story of “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins.

Martha and the Muffins.

The band Martha and the Muffins formed in the late 1970s at the Ontario College Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto. The original members were the Gane Brothers (Mark and Tim), along with friends, David Millar, Carl Finkle and singer, Martha Johnson. At the time, punk rock was exploding around the world. Bands like The Clash and The Damned were making a name for themselves. The members of Martha and the Muffins wanted to play a form of Art Rock but didn’t want a harsh sounding name for the group, so, as a lark, they called themselves Martha and the Muffins. They never intended to have that as the real name of their band, but the joke was soon on them. In 1980, they recorded their debut album and released their first single, which was “Echo Beach”. While the band members all felt that “Echo Beach” was a cool sounding song, no one was prepared for how quickly it caught fire and roared up the charts. It became such a smash hit that the band’s name became their brand, whether they wanted it to be or not. In later years, after several lineup changes, the core members tried to rebrand themselves as “M + M” but by then, they had become too well known as Martha and the Muffins to make that change come to fruition.

In this photo, you can see how small Sunnyside Beach actually is and how close it is to the Gardiner Expressway and the rest of the City of Toronto.

There is no actual beach in Canada called Echo Beach. When the song speaks of having a boring job and of daydreaming about this idyllic beach, that much is based in fact. The song was inspired by Mark Gane having a summer job in a wall paper factory. It was a terribly boring job (checking the paper for rips as it came off of the production line) and one that had him dreaming of being anywhere else but where he was. The beach Gane was actually thinking of was a real beach in Toronto called Sunnyside Beach. Sunnyside Beach is a small stretch of sand on the shores of Lake Ontario. It sits almost directly across from High Park, on the southern side of a major highway in Toronto known as the Gardiner Expressway. The Gardiner Expressway is the major road artery that brings vehicular traffic into the lower downtown area of Toronto. Over one hundred thousand cars a day travel on the Gardiner Expressway as it meanders along the Lake Ontario coastline. Just north of the Gardiner Expressway sits the city of Toronto proper and all two million of its residents. Sunnyside Beach exists amid it all as a tiny little oasis of calm. A series of trees shields the beach from the noise of the Gardiner Expressway. Once you are relaxing on the sand of Sunnyside Beach, you can almost imagine that you are somewhere else entirely, even as two million people go about their business less than a kilometre away. The song “Echo Beach” speaks of the universal desire for peace and relaxation and for getting away from the hustle and the grind of everyday life. It is not surprising that its message resonated so well with so many who heard it.

Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton, Ontario. This was home base for Daniel Lanois when he started producing and recording music.

But, the story of Martha and the Muffins doesn’t end with this one great song. Their importance as a band stretches far beyond “Echo Beach”. The story goes that their one hit song had record executives clamouring for a follow-up. By the time the band was ready to start work on album #2, there had been several lineup changes. Most notably, they hired a new bassist named Jocelyne Lanois. *(When her time ended with Martha and the Muffins, Lanois helped form another Canadian band of note, Crash Vegas). In any case, besides bringing her musical skills to the forefront, Jocelyne Lanois’ most important contribution was recommending her seventeen-year-old brother for the job as producer. Her brother’s name was Daniel Lanois. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Starting in the 1980s, Daniel Lanois has become one of the most successful record producers and recording artists in the entire world. While he was a complete unknown when Martha and the Muffins came calling at his Grant Avenue Studios in his mom’s Hamilton, Ontario home, Lanois would go on to produce all of U2’s greatest albums during the 1980s including The Joshua Tree, as well as producing Peter Gabriel’s “So” album *(which was the very first CD I ever bought), Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Canada’s own The Tragically Hip and many many more.

Producer/musician extraordinaire Daniel Lanois.

The early 1980s, when Martha and the Muffins sought the services of a very young Daniel Lanois, was a time when the music industry was changing. The digitization of music was in its infancy. Compact discs were just starting to replace record albums as the format of choice for consumers. The process of digitization meant that recordings weren’t restricted to the sounds that artists could produce live, in studio. Now, sounds could be recorded, reformatted and tweaked in numerous electronic ways. Daniel Lanois was very interested in experimenting with the recording process. This involved everything from how microphones were used, to how many tracks could be laid over each other and so on. The members of Martha and the Muffins, having a background in Art and Design, were predisposed to liking the creative process of sound manipulation that Lanois was proposing. As a result, their second album was more experimental sounding. While the band liked their work, as did Daniel Lanois, there were no “hit songs” to emerge. After another album or two of music that was more cutting edge than it was commercial sounding, Martha and the Muffins were dropped by their record label. From this point on, the process of reinvention took place. The band tried to tour as “M + M” but to no avail. Eventually, the band members began releasing solo material. In fact, lead singer Martha Johnson created a children’s album and ended up winning her second Juno Award (for Best Children’s Recording).

The band eventually came to terms with the notion that they will always be Martha and the Muffins in the eyes of their fans and have started touring again. They now find themselves in a situation similar to bands such as Violent Femmes (with “Blister in the Sun”) and Pulp (with “Common People”) in that they have an entire catalogue filled with music they are proud of, but in the end, they know that their audiences usually come to hear that one hit song. They know that when they play those familiar opening notes that the roof will blow off of whatever venue they find themselves in, and, at least for that moment in time, they can help their own audience to remember those happy times when they, too, were able to get away from the hustle and grind for a while and feel the sunshine on their skin and be happy. To be able to do that for another is a gift worth giving. And so Martha and the Muffins continue to play “Echo Beach”, a song that is far away in time in more ways than one.

The link to the video for the song “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins can be found here.

***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the 30th anniversary reissue of “Echo Beach”…much slower and jazz-like…can be found here. Excellent video, btw.

The link to the official website for Martha and the Muffins can be found here.

The link to the official website for the City of Toronto beaches and parks directory can be found here.

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