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

Today’s Top 40: Glastonbury Edition…the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Performances from the 2022 Glastonbury Music Festival.

NOTE: In this edition of Today’s Top 40, I am abandoning my usual format of showcasing the top songs on various music charts. Instead I am going to focus on the recent Glastonbury Music Festival. There are several major music festivals that typically take place around the world over the course of the summer, with Glastonbury being one of the biggest and most important of them all. This year’s edition of Glastonbury was the first live, in-person gathering since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I think that everyone was happy to be there, and the festival did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the politics of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the United States cast a pall over the proceedings. Many of the performers and audience members had opinions on the matter and were not afraid to state those aloud. This politically-charged atmosphere produced some unforgettable moments, many of which you will read about below. For now, for what it is worth, know that I completely and unreservedly support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. My social media platform is not that large but I will use it to champion this cause. To start, I present some of the best and most memorable performances from female acts at this past Glastonbury Music Festival. This is, in no way, tokenism. All performers were outstanding and worthy of the spotlight. So, without further delay, here are the festival highlights from Glastonbury 2022.

Stoned at the Nail Salon by Lorde (featuring Arlo Parks and Clairo)

Arlo Parks, Lorde and Clairo sing “Stoned at the Nail Salon” at Glastonbury.

Don’t let the title fool you. This is such a lovely and intelligent song. The live performance is absolutely stunning. “Stoned at the Nail Salon” appeared on Lorde’s latest album from 2021 called Solar Power. It is a delicately-constructed song that is almost sung a cappella, with only a subtle acoustic guitar accompaniment in the background. The song is a rumination on the life path of young women in today’s world and the choices one gets to make or not, according to society’s norms. In particular, it is a song about how gender defines a woman’s journey. Specifically, as a male, I was always encouraged to follow my dreams and ambitions and taught that how successful my life ended up being viewed by others depended upon my job and income, the size of my car and house, the beauty of my wife and so on. That this sort of valuation is nonsense doesn’t matter. It is how society’s game is played. For many women, they can be encouraged to follow their dreams and ambitions, too, but woven into that journey is the expectation of having children…a family, and of living a life in which domesticity plays a part. In “Stoned at the Nail Salon”, Lorde writes about having a good home, a loving partner and a dog who comes when she calls, and yet she wonders if she is missing anything in life because of how the path she is on was chosen for her in a lot of ways by societal expectations for women. What really makes this performance special is that Lorde unselfishly shares the stage with two other female singers…Arlo Parks and Clairo. Both of these young ladies are in their twenties like Lorde, but they have had very different life experiences up until now. However, when they sing, the most glorious harmonies occur. It is easily the best live singing performance I have seen in a long, long time. From the very first notes of this song, the audience and the three singers all realize that something magical is happening. It is wonderful to bear witness to. That three talented young women of differing backgrounds could sing together and speak as one is especially poignant given all that happened this week in America.

***Note: the link to the live performance can be found in the song title that begins this section of the post. However, starting today, I am going to include a “lyric” version of each song for any reader who is experiencing difficulty understanding the words of the songs I am highlighting. So, the link to the lyric version of “Stoned at the Nail Salon” can be found here.

Both Arlo Parks and Clairo have good careers of their own. In order to give each woman her due, I am including a link to their websites and a link to a song video of theirs as well.

So, for Arlo Parks, who is a poet and folk-pop singer, the link to her website can be found here. The link to the official music video for her beautiful song “Hope” can be found here. The lyric version of “Hope” by Arlo Parks can be found here.

For Clairo, who has been producing alternative folk-pop for many years now, the link to her website can be found here. The link to her live performance of “Bags” can be found here. The lyrics version can be viewed here.

I Know the End by Phoebe Bridgers (featuring Arlo Parks)

Phoebe Bridgers and Arlo Parks sing “I Know the End” at Glastonbury.

Phoebe Bridgers is a singer who has already achieved much success in the US with several Top 40 hits such as “Motion Sickness”, “Kyoto” and “Sidelines”. Bridgers released her debut album in 2017 and won several awards for it including “Best New Artist”. Bridgers is known for alternative and folk-rock music and models herself after the legendary singer/songwriter Elliott Smith *(you can read about Smith and Bridgers in this post about Smith’s hit “Miss Misery” here). The song “I Know the End” comes from her most recent album and is referred to as a three-piece suite. That is helpful to know because it is a song that can fool you into thinking it is a dreamy ballad when, in fact, it is a song with three distinct sections, all of which have different tempos and styles. The song represents Bridger’s thoughts on the direction life in America is heading. Being an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ2 rights, Bridgers is very fearful of the future for anyone who loves differently and seeks to live openly. The talented Arlo Parks shows up to lend her presence to Bridger’s song. It is instructive to see Parks with Bridgers after seeing her with Lorde and Clairo because both songs are very different, requiring Parks to be a different performer for each.

***The link to the lyrics version of “I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers can be found here.

Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves performs “Rainbow” at Glastonbury.

Kacey Musgraves is a country and western singer. But, she is a bit of a rare breed for that genre because she is an outspoken advocate for causes that tend to be on the left of the political spectrum whereas the genre, as a whole, tends to skew more toward conservative politics. Musgraves is a Grammy award winner, as well as being a multiple Country Music Association award winner, too. Because of her willingness to use her platform to further the causes she supports, Musgraves had some things to say about the Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the increasingly religious-minded US Supreme Court. You can hear her words at the beginning of the video for her song, “Rainbow”. “Rainbow” is from Musgraves’ third album. The video for this song won the CMA award for Video of the Year. Her album won the Grammy award for Country Album of the Year. The song is about finding the strength to overcome adversity. Musgraves states that “Rainbow” was the last song of hers that her grandmother ever heard her sing before passing away and that singing it at her funeral was the toughest performance of her life. Not surprisingly, Musgraves has dedicated the song to the LGBTQ2 community and has invited them to use it as an anthem for any parades, meetings or promotional campaigns.

***The link to the video containing the lyrics version of “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves can be found here.

Chaise Longue by Wet Leg.

Wet Leg.

Wet Leg are a female duo from the Isle of Wight. The two musicians are Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers. The name of their band comes from a local saying on the Isle of Wight that states you can always tell the tourists from those who live there because the tourists often get their pant legs wet disembarking from the small ferry that brings visitors to the island. Thus, those known as “wet legs” are wanderers and explorers and in many ways, outsiders. So, too, are the band, as they travel the world. I can tell you from my own YouTube music feed that Wet Leg are one of the hottest bands in the world at the moment. I have watched them appear everywhere from late night talk shows on TV, to appearances on any and every radio show that broadcasts live performances, all the way to music festivals such as Glastonbury. Wet Leg play a variety of musical styles but they are becoming best known for the energetic style of rock that they play. “Chaise Longue” is their biggest hit to date and is one of the most popular songs on music charts at the moment, too. Their performance at Glastonbury was one of the more widely anticipated ones on a roster packed with hit makers. If this is your first time watching/listening to Wet Leg, I can guarantee you that it will not be the last time you hear of them. They are on the cusp of being the next big thing. You heard that here first.

***The link to the video containing the lyrics version of “Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg can be found here.

F*ck You by Olivia Rodrigo (featuring Lily Allen)

Lily Allen and Olivia Rodrigo at Glastonbury.

I will close this post with a performance that made headlines when it happened. Right now, Olivia Rodrigo is one of the shiniest of stars in the world of music today. It is fair to say that she is well-positioned to be this generation’s version of Taylor Swift should she care to continue along the path she is currently on. *(I have profiled Olivia Rodrigo before. You can read that post here). So, a lot of attention was paid when Rodrigo took time from her Glastonbury set to address the Roe v. Wade decision. Rodrigo stated very passionately that the Court’s decision was one that will cost many women their lives. She proceeded to list the names of the conservative judges who authored the decision overturning abortion rights laws that had been on the books for half a century. Then she introduced a special guest singer named Lily Allen. Allen is a well known singer, particularly in the UK. She has had many hits of her own and was the winner of the Ivor Novello award for songwriting, as well as the Brit Award for Top Female Performer. The song “F*ck You” is a Lily Allen song. She wrote the song over a decade ago in response to the policies of US President George Bush. Since Bush has left office, “F*ck You” has been an all-purpose song that is used to take aim at whichever politician is trying to implement policies that cost lives, in the opinion of Allen. So, what better song for Olivia Rodrigo to dedicate to the US Supreme Court than “F*ck You” and who better to sing it with than Lily Allen herself.

Just one of the many articles written about The Dixie Chicks controversy.

As a lover of music and a student of history, the parallels between how Rodrigo spoke about conservative US policies at Glastonbury and how the all-female band The Dixie Chicks spoke about the Bush government after 9/11 are striking. For those unaware, The Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush for seeking to invade Iraq in the wake of the terrorist attacks in NYC on 9/11. Lead singer Natalie Maines simply said that they were embarrassed to have Bush for a president. The fallout from that public statement given during a concert in Paris was swift. The Dixie Chicks were the subject of an organized campaign to blacklist them from appearing in concert, on TV or radio in the US ever again. There were death threats against all three members of the band. Their record sales plummeted. Their song “Not Ready To Make Nice” was written in reaction to the experiences they endured. *(You can watch that video here. The lyrics video is here). In my opinion, it was a shameful chapter in US music history. Many have speculated that much of the reason for the ferocity of the pushback from conservatives in America was because the members of The Dixie Chicks were all female. Many have concluded that male singers have said and done much worse and have gotten off with light taps on the knuckles, if even that. That a strong female such as Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks caused such an over-the-top reaction twenty years ago makes me wonder how Olivia Rodrigo will fare when she returns to the US. I applaud her for having the courage to speak out on behalf of other women whose voices are never heard. I wish her luck in the coming days, weeks and months. I hope that she doesn’t need it. In the meantime, enjoy one of the most talked about performances from Glastonbury 2022.

***The link to the video containing the lyrics version of “F*ck You” by Lily Allen can be found here.

The link to the official website of The Glastonbury Music Festival 2022 can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs From Movies and Musicals…Song #8/250: As Time Goes By from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Casablanca.

Casablanca was released in 1942. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. It is universally regarded as being one of the top films ever produced in Hollywood. The song “As Time Goes By” was recently ranked by the American Film Institute as being the second most memorable movie song of all time (just behind “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz). Casablanca went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. To say that this movie made major stars of Bogart and Bergman is an understatement. Their on-screen chemistry and movie storyline of star-crossed lovers helped make Casablanca one of Hollywood’s first great romantic blockbusters. But, truth be told, Casablanca is a war movie. It was made during war time for a very specific reason and made under certain absolute restrictions. Making movies during wartime was (and still is) different than doing so during times of peace. As this post will show, the old saw about “life imitating art” was very true in 1942.

World War II officially broke out in 1939. For the first half of the war, the Allied countries were back on their heels as Germany swiftly conquered country after country in Europe. One of the biggest prizes for Germany was when France surrendered and German forces occupied Paris and the surrounding French countryside. The only thing that stood between German control of all of western Europe was England. But there is a truism that seems to exist regardless of where in the world wars are fought. It is that although a country may be defeated in battle, it is never truly beaten as long as there are enough people to form an army of resistance. Resistance fighters may be small in number but their constant harassment of an invading army does wonders for the morale of the vanquished citizens and serves to remind them that their country lives on despite the colour of the flag flying atop important buildings nearby. So, by the time Casablanca was filmed and released in 1942, much of Europe was under Nazi occupation. Organized resistance movements existed in France, Poland, Holland and Czechoslovakia. But, at the same time, the organizational operations of conquered cities needed to continue so the German government installed puppet regimes in all conquered countries. The people who agreed to cooperate with the Germans became known as collaborators. Many collaborators were seen as traitors by ordinary citizens, as well as by resistance fighters. However, for those who opted to cooperate, they viewed their decision as being a pragmatic one that offered them the best chance of surviving the war intact. So it was into this nuanced context that the movie Casablanca was written, filmed and released to the world.

In the movie, Humphrey Bogart’s character owns a nightclub called Rick’s Café Americain. This club is a transit hub for all sorts of characters such as actual Nazi officers, French collaborators, resistance fighters, as well as ordinary citizens all trying to keep their heads above water. One of the things that Casablanca did that helped elevate it to the top of movies set during wartime was in how it showed the intricate web of politics that was constantly at play all throughout the war. Many war-themed movies seemed fixated on battles and soldiers and sacrifice and valour on the battlefield. Hollywood studios were actually tasked by the government to produce movies that helped with war time recruitment by creating heroic characters who defeated tyranny against all odds. Many of these movies were made under the auspices of the American Armed Forces and starred actors who had enlisted such as Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Rod Taylor, Jimmy Stewart and so on. These “morale” movies were also created to help ensure that public opinion tipped in favour of government policies when it came to the United States’ initial neutrality, and then their entrance into the war as a combatant. The final role that many of these movies played was in the creation of villains. As many have noted, perhaps none more forcefully than George Orwell in 1984, the creation of an “enemy” supplies much of the fuel to any nation’s war machine, and so there were many movies created and released during WWII that demonized German and Japanese soldiers as being heartless and evil. But, Casablanca seemed to present a more subtle view of the many moving pieces involved in the on-going conflict in Europe, and for that reason, it seemed to resonate more with many viewers. That having been said, Casablanca was released just as Allied forces were set to invade North Africa in an attempt to liberate Morocco (where Casablanca is located) from Nazi rule so, timing also played a huge part in the success of this movie.

Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson. “As Time Goes By”.

The plotline of Casablanca revolves around the somewhat shady character of Rick, as played by Humphrey Bogart. He is the owner of the club but he is also someone who trades in a form of currency called secrets. Rick knows who the players all are and moves among them all like a chameleon, being who each needs him to appear to be. The story moves forward once Rick becomes in possession of two “travel documents” which allow the bearers to travel freely throughout the occupied territories. These documents are priceless to those seeking to flee from the Nazis: especially, for people who are Jewish. Consequently, whoever controls these documents can name their price, whether that price is in terms of money, jewels, property or sexual favours. Rick’s world is unfolding as usual until one day when a woman and man walk into the club. The woman is Ingrid Bergman. The man is her husband, Lazlo, who is a Czech resistance fighter. The two are happily married. However, as she enters the club, she sees Rick and immediately is taken back to a time when she knew Rick previously. Her reaction to seeing him again is to approach the piano player, Sam (as played by Dooley Wilson) and ask for a special song to be sung. That song is “As Time Goes By”. The playing of this song serves an important purpose in the movie. It acts much the same way the old Greek Chorus used to in the early days of drama. Back then, the Chorus was a group of characters whose role was to add commentary to help the audience understand what was transpiring on stage. In Casablanca, “As Time Goes By” serves to help the audience understand that Bergman and Bogart’s characters were not, in fact, meeting for the first time. Furthermore, in a previous place and time, they were very much in love. Suddenly, with the playing of one simple song, a complex love triangle erupts amid all of the political maneuverings that were already afoot in Rick’s Café Americain.

I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more in case there are readers who haven’t watched Casablanca and may wish to do so. However, I will comment on one final aspect of making this movie during wartime in 1942. I do not think it is breaking the “spoiler alert” code by stating that movies made during WWII in the US were not permitted to have overly sympathetic German characters. That is true of Casablanca, too. The US needed to have enemies for political reasons, so, as much as the screenwriters tried to create slightly more nuanced characters, it is not hard to watch this movie and know who to root for. But, in addition to adhering to guidelines regarding the characterization of Germans, the folks who wrote the screenplay also had to navigate around rules that existed regarding morality. For that reason, as much as it may have been obvious that Bogart and Bergman’s characters had been sexually intimate in their previous encounters, no mention of them being lovers was permitted because she was a married woman in the movie. Even in the song, “As Time Goes By”, the line, “and when two lovers woo” is quickly followed by, “they still say I love you” because it gave the appearance that the song was about a married couple, as opposed to two singles hooking up for an illicit encounter. If you have watched the movie or if you intend to, the manner in which the writers twist themselves into pretzels to maintain the integrity of a female character who was, obviously, a lover to two different men, is something to behold and very indicative of the times in which the movie was made.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Casablanca is a war movie like no other. The politics of living in wartime are laid bare for all to see. As well, the nature of the term personal sacrifice, which usually refers to soldiers on the battlefield in most war movies, is presented in a very humanistic manner here. Audiences became invested in the resolution of the love triangle amid the dangerous atmosphere of war. Lives definitely change as a result of everyone coming together in Rick’s Café Americain during the German occupation. Because, even in wartime, “you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by”.

The link to the video for the song “As Time Goes By” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Casablanca can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Casablanca can be found here.

**As always, all original content of this post remains the property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Stories Behind Canadian Songs That Mention Canadian Places…Song #8/250: Bobcaygeon by The Tragically Hip.

***Note: This post is from the archives. It was originally written as The Men They Couldn’t Hang in 2019. It is a post that describes an English band singing about France. It also mentions a Canadian band singing about cottage country (Bobcaygeon) as well as Canada’s biggest city (Toronto). But most of all, this post is about the joy of live music and one of the legendary places where it all comes together (The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto). Enjoy.

I love live music. I love the energy of a band as they dive into a treasured song. I love the way a crowd of strangers unite in response: jumping and swaying and fist-pumping in time with each note. I love it when a crowd sings as a choir and becomes as one with the band, a shared journey made possible through the poetry of song. I have been to many concerts that have left me sweat soaked and emotionally drained. That is my kind of fun!

Iggy Pop in his prime!

The best concert I ever saw live was Iggy Pop at The Warehouse in Toronto in the mid-90s. Iggy ripped through a set dedicated to his seminal album, Raw Power! That music was as loud as I have ever experienced. My ears rang for days afterward. But, it was an amazing time, just the same. This concert was my first real experience with a mosh pit that teemed with violent mayhem. Sweat and beer and testosterone – a potent combination, especially when soundtracked by the driving beat of one of Rock’s sonic pioneers. I truly believe that a Rock n’ Roll show should have elements of violence and sex in it. After all, if you are not worn to the core by the end of it, then what really was the point of it all? Iggy Pop at The Warehouse was definitely a Rock show, in all regards. Music, as catharsis. Visceral and muscular. Fun beyond measure.

Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. (CP PHOTO/Kevin Frayer)

When it comes to great Canadian live acts, the best I have seen in person was The Tragically Hip. They were a tight, five-piece band out of Kingston, Ontario. Some describe The Hip as playing straight-ahead guitar-oriented rock. But, that does the band a disservice. What elevated The Tragically Hip to the top of the musical mountain in Canada was a combination of the poetry of the lyrics to Hip songs and the showmanship of lead singer, Gord Downie. Simply put, Downie was one of the single most electrifying frontmen for any band, anywhere in the world. With Gord, you never quite knew what to expect on stage. He sang. He primped and pranced. He played excellent guitar. He offered monologues that may or may not have had anything to do with the song being played. He sweated and wiped that sweat away to theatrical effect. He made eye contact and bore his thoughts into our brains. He was amazing. A hint of the intensity of a Tragically Hip performance can be seen in their performance of “Grace, Too” from a concert in London, Ontario. That clip can be seen here.

A Tragically Hip performance was only part of their package. Their enduring legacy will be the songs they sang. It is, somewhat, cliche for us as Canadians to say that we have an unnatural relationship with that cultural juggernaut to the south of us called America. We bathe in their references, their personalities, while, at the same time, reveling in all that makes us different and separate from “them”. Gord Downie and The Hip wrote songs about Canada and about Canadian things in ways that made them seem like secrets that we could hoard. Like school children, we liked looking at the pictures of ourselves that The Hip painted. A Hip concert laid our Canadian souls bare. We danced to our History. We shouted out our stories. And, at the end of it all, as sweaty a mess as we physically were, we all felt proud of being who we were at the moment. We were Canadians in the presence of beautiful artists and storytellers. Like the weather, we were all affected by the experience.

So, in 2015, when it was announced that Gord Downie had an incurable brain tumor, it shook us all to our core. To have Gord taken away from us seemed unthinkable. As we digested the news reports, it was almost as if we could all hear the gods laughing. In response, Gord and the boys announced a final, cross-country, ten concert tour. It seemed equally unbelievable that someone with a brain tumor could still summon the massive amount of will and physical energy required to perform at the level of intensity that we had all come to expect from a Hip show. But, there he was. For ten nights, Gord Downie stood on that stage and gave every last bit of himself. At each venue, paramedics stood on guard should Downie collapse. But, at each venue, the band played on. Every song was a parting gift to a grateful nation. Canada was never more unified than on the night of The Hip’s final show. It was played in their home town of Kingston, Ontario, and was billed as a “National Celebration”. Our national TV broadcaster, the CBC, aired the three-hour concert commercial free. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau donned a Canadian tuxedo and attended in person. People gathered in arenas and parks, taverns and town squares, backyards and living rooms to give thanks for everything Gord Downie and The Hip had done. It was all coming to an end, and when it did, with “Ahead by a Century”, the tears were real and they flowed freely. Macleans magazine did a good job of capturing this emotion by filming the reactions of Canadians as they gathered in various locales across the country. This video ALWAYS makes me cry and leaves me spent, like all good music should, I suppose. It can be viewed here.

One of the things that happened during this farewell tour was that more scrutiny was given to the lyrics of The Hip songs. One of the most appealing aspects of their songwriting was that they often welcomed us, as an audience, into their stories by starting off with recognizable, universal truths. But, as often was the case, they would proceed to confound us with symbolism and/or obscure references that, at first blush, didn’t always connect with how the song began. Thus, their music invited you in, but if you stayed, you had to prepare yourself to think and engage. As a fan and as a reasonably intelligent person, I enjoyed learning more about these stories being shared. I will conclude this post by talking about one of their most popular songs, “Bobcaygeon”, and how I am still learning new things about it even now, long after Gord has gone to walk among the stars.

Like many of the people, events and settings referenced in Hip songs, Bobcaygeon is a real place. Located about two hours northeast of Toronto, Bobcaygeon is situated in a part of Ontario affectionately known as “Cottage Country”. The Kawartha Lakes region is where city dwellers come to get away from the noise and congestion of city life. As cultural myths go, Canada conjures images in the mind of lakes and forests, soundtracked by the cry of the loon, illuminated by a firework of sparks from a thousand campfires. Bobcaygeon is that myth brought to life.

The song “Bobcaygeon” contains one of the most beautiful and popular verses in their entire musical canon.

It was in Bobcaygeon

that I saw the constellations

reveal themselves,

one star at a time.

*(When I retired from teaching, the staff at my school gave me a framed print of those lines.) Even the most beer-swilling of Hip fans recognizes the beauty of those words. You only have to experience country darkness once in your life to know how lovely the stars can be. This was the universal truth that pulled listeners, like me, into this song. But then, as I said above, The Hip added elements to the second half of the song that had always puzzled me…until recently.

The first half to two-thirds of the song has a peaceful, cottage pace-of-life feel to it. But then, the final third roars to life,

That night in Toronto,

with its checkerboard floors,

riding on horseback,

keeping order restored,

until The Men They Couldn’t Hang,

strode to the mic and sang,

and their voices rang,

with that Aryan twang.”

I never knew what this had to do with being in Bobcaygeon, under the night sky. I had always thought the “Men they couldn’t hang” part and the “horseback/order restored” lines were talking about an outlaw and the police. I was wrong. Here is what I have learned about what they were really singing about. The Bobcaygeon video is here, for those who wish to view it.

HORSESHOE TAVERN. The bar and checkered floor of The ‘Shoe. The Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street East is 60 years old this year. The live music venue has been a standard for punk and country bands for years and who knows what the next 60 years will hold . (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star) rpj

In Toronto, there is a legendary bar called The Horseshoe Tavern. It has “checkerboard floors“, as you can see in the photo. Also, if you watched the Macleans Magazine video of The Hip’s final song, The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the spots they filmed at. Anyway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang is an actual musical group from the UK. They are described as being folk-punk. Like The Hip, they sing about history and real people, places and events. And, like The Tragically Hip, they are amazing live. I am going to share with you a live performance of theirs singing a song called “The Green Fields of France”. It is, simply put, one of the single best live performances I have ever seen! First of all, the song is gorgeously written and speaks of the senselessness of War, as seen from the perspective of a fallen soldier during The Battle of the Somme in World War One. I had never heard of this song before but I am certain that it is easily one of the best anti-war songs ever. But along with the glorious lyrics, if you watch this video, you will bear witness to a band and an audience as one…and, I don’t just mean singing along together. Such fantastic trust on display. You have to watch it for yourself to appreciate it. If they played at The Horseshoe Tavern for The Hip members, the way they do in this video, then I can see why The Hip name-dropped them in one of their most popular songs. You can watch this extraordinary video here. I get goosebumps watching this, especially the rousing chorus. This is what live music is all about.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang and their fans.

So, who inspires those who inspire us? For professional musicians at the level of an Iggy Pop or The Tragically Hip, or even The Men They Couldn’t Hang, they gain inspiration from their fellow musicians, as well as the time and the place in which they find themselves. “Bobcaygeon”, for me, is now a song about finding inspiration: be it from the stars above or from the close, sweaty confines of a tavern where the poetry of song oozes from every pore of every human there, as well as dropping down in balls of condensation from the ceiling to the floor. Inspiration sounds like a story and smells like beer. It is sticky and warm, and if you are fortunate at that moment, it will leave you changed.

I love live music. Do you? If so, what are some of your favourite memories of watching live music being performed? I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave them in the comment box below. Thanks for reading my work. Your willingness to do so inspires me.

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

The link to the official website for The Men They Could’t Hang can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto can be found here.

The link to the official website for the village of Bobcaygeon, 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 can be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Classical Music Compositions of All-time…Composition #8/50: String Quintet in E Major, Op

Minuet and Trio (A Major) by Luigi Boccherini.

One of the things that continues to amaze me about this classical music series is how well known so many of these compositions actually are. I am willing to bet that, like me, many of you would have trouble recognizing this composition from the title listed above, but believe me when I tell you that you have all heard this piece many times and will recognize it from the very first violin notes that you hear. In fact, I might recommend that the best course of action for you to take at this very moment is to stop reading my words, and instead go to the bottom of the post, click on the link that will take you to a live recording of Boccherini’s String Quintet and then, once you have the tune in your head, come back and continue on with the post. So…off you go! See you back in a bit.

Aaaaaah, you are back! I told you that you would recognize that piece of music. To be precise, that famous piece of music is actually one of four separate compositions that combine to make up the official String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No.5. The section you heard was the third movement from the String Quintet. It is a minuet (which is a short social dance for two people). This minuet is called “Minuetto, Trio (A Major)” as it is known in Italian. So, now that you have had a listen, let’s talk a little about the man who composed it, Luigi Boccherini.

Luigi Boccherini.

Like many famous composers, Boccherini was born into a musical family. His father, Leopoldo, was a well known cellist and violinist. His brother, Giovanni, was a poet who ended up writing several librettos (booklets containing storylines, stage directions, etc…, which accompanied instrumental compositions such as operas or ballets) for such luminaries as Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. Because of his family’s musical connections, Boccherini was able to obtain private lessons and attend prestigious musical schools throughout Italy. At age fourteen, Boccherini and his father travelled to Vienna and gained employment as musicians at the Royal Court. As an eighteen year old, Boccherini moved to Madrid and wrote the majority of his life’s work under the direct patronage of Prince Luis, the brother of King Charles III of Spain. At one point, he angered the King because of a disagreement between the two regarding part of one of Boccherini’s compositions. Boccherini was dismissed from his royal patronage position. However, Prince Luis was so enamoured of Boccherini’s work, that instead of Boccherini becoming an outcast, it was Prince Luis who left the Royal Court, establishing new homes in several small coastal villages in which Boccherini was always provided accommodation. Upon the death of Prince Luis, Boccherini secured new patronage positions with, among others, Lucien Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as King Wilhem II of Prussia.

The manner in which Luigi Boccherini lived his life as a composer operating in royal circles under the patronage and protection of important people is how many composers of the day earned their living. It was rare for the Boccherinis and Salieris of the world to do anything even remotely controversial that may offend their patron or draw shame on their reputations. For the most part, composers like Boccherini helped those in power to enjoy the lifestyle that came with such privilege. The best example of this style of composing can be seen in his String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5. The famous minuet that has become so ubiquitous in our modern world had its origins in the ballrooms of royal palaces where dances might be held before or after the feast. Today, that same ballroom minuet is used in countless tv shows and movies to help create an air of formality and wealth for the characters on screen. I wonder if any of you have ever been at an event at which the “Minuetto, Trio (A Major)” was played? If so, I imagine it was a stately affair.

Statue of Luigi Boccherini. Lucca, Italy.

Despite his access to the rich and powerful people of the day, Boccherini was not granted any form of immortality. He passed away in 1805 having outlived all of his royal patrons, two of his wives and four of his daughters. Only two sons managed to outlive him. After his funeral, Boccherini was laid to rest in Madrid. His remains were removed in 1927 when he was reburied in his hometown of Lucca. There is a small statue dedicated to his memory that you can visit should you ever find yourself in Lucca, Italy. But more than any statue, Boccherini’s lasting legacy lies squarely upon a short minuet that has become so famous that it is simply known as The Celebrated Minuet. While Boccherini was no classical one-hit wonder, he is best known for the minuet contained within his String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5. As I have stated before when talking about modern music, if you are only going to be remembered for one hit, then make sure it is a great one. I think that “The Celebrated Minuet” is one such great composition.

The link to the video for the composition “Minuet and Trio (A Major) from “String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5” by Luigi Boccherini can be found here.

The link to the official website of a museum dedicated to the memory of Luigi Boccherini can be found here.

The link to the official website for the classical music radio station in my very own town…Classical 103.1 FM…can be found here.

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

Reader’s Choice: The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song # 6/250: Jump Around by House of Pain as Nominated by Jackie Pepper.

As one-hit wonders go, House of Pain’s iconic 1992 smash hit, “Jump Around” is one song that seems to have transcended time and become woven into the fabric of our modern world. You can hear this song play as a hype song at sporting events, in movies and on TV shows and, of course, you hear it in clubs and bars whenever the DJ wishes to get the crowd out of their seats and onto the dance floor. I have even heard it played in schools when students have grabbed skipping ropes and performed choreographed skipping routines to those jazzy beats. “Jump Around” is one song that everyone knows the moves to. It is a song with some hardcore lyrics but with plenty of humourous lyrics thrown into the mix as well. The only criticism I have ever heard about House of Pain’s, “Jump Around” revolves around that high pitch, squawking sound heard off of the top. To some people, that is a fingernails-on-chalkboard sound. What is it in reality? Let’s find out!

House of Pain circa 1992.

House of Pain were a Hip Hop trio out of California. The band got their name from a scene found in the famous H.G. Wells’ novel, “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. House of Pain formed in the late 1980s and were composed of lead rapper, Erik “Everlast” Schrody, hype rapper Danny Boy O’Connor and DJ, Leor “DJ Lethal” Dimant. Schrody and O’Connor knew each other from high school. They were each interested in the emerging Hip Hop scene that was exploding in California in the 1980s. Schrody got into the professional end of the Hip Hop game by becoming one of Ice Cube’s back-up singers when Ice Cube and N.W.A. ruled the west coast Rap world. Because Schrody and O’Connor had connections in the Hip Hop community, they knew of a man named DJ Muggs who was part of another Hip Hop mega group called Cypress Hill. DJ Muggs wrote “Jump Around” for his own group only to have his song rejected by them. So, he decided to shop the song around, and luckily for everyone, he came into contact with Schrody and O’Connor. Both young men were looking for new songs for their debut album and thought that “Jump Around” had a chance to become a hit.

What helped House of Pain elevate their game was a bit of savvy marketing on their part. Both Schrody and O’Connor were of Irish descent, even though neither man had been anywhere near the homeland in their entire lives. But, in order to create a unique identity for themselves, they decided to become Irish rappers. Whenever they performed, they wore Boston Celtics shamrock green tank tops. The video for “Jump Around” was filmed at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in NYC and in an Irish bar. The parade marshall that year was the chairperson of the company that makes Guinness beer so with just one video, the band cemented their status as the best Irish Hip Hop group of all-time! And they are not even really Irish!

Because House of Pain was a Hip Hop group, they did not have a band in the traditional sense. No one in House of Pain ever played an instrument on any of their songs on any of their albums. All music that appears on songs released by House of Pain is composed entirely of samples. Samples, as we know by now, are previously recorded segments of instrumental music or singing that are taken out of their original works and inserted into a new song. In the case of “Jump Around”, that horn fanfare sound at the very beginning of the song that distinguishes it in the minds of so many is actually a sample from a jazz recording called, “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl. There was some debate about this, with folks claiming it was “Harlem Shuffle” and others claiming the sample was from a Prince song called “Gett Off!”. A computer analysis was done with the result seemingly pointing to a song by Junior Walker and the All-Stars called, “Shoot Your Shot”. But, in the end, Everlast Schrody himself chimed in and confirmed that the horn sounds came from “Harlem Shuffle”.

To you, all of this may not sound important but, to House of Pain, it is critically important that the sample be recognized as having come from Bob and Earl, as opposed to Prince. It was around this time that a backlash was beginning to form against Hip Hop artists with regard to how freely they were acquiring the samples they were using in their songs. In the early 1980s, Hip Hop acts plucked their samples from anywhere and everywhere with nary a concern for copyright infringement. But, as time went on, the artists whose work was being sampled began demanding compositional and/or songwriting credits on these new Hip Hop songs. As we know, songwriting credits are one way that people in the music industry carve up the profits from a song so, the more people given a credit, the smaller the share of the profits for each. One of the ways that original artists began protecting their work was through litigation. Lawsuits for copyright infringement became increasingly common. The effect of these lawsuits was that Hip Hop artists (and all musical acts, for that matter) had to negotiate for the right to use an existing sample. This meant giving the dreaded songwriting credit away or else, paying a lump sum fee. Failure to properly negotiate for the use of a sample could cost a band all revenue from a song…even one that became a #1 hit. ***(A scenario like this was chronicled in two posts about The Verve’s song, “Bittersweet Symphony” and their lawsuit with The Rolling Stones. You can read these important posts here and here). In the specific case of House of Pain, the horn sample they used off of the top of the song is actually used dozens of times all throughout the song, too. If it had been proven that the horn sample was from a Prince song then, chances are Prince would have sued and House of Pain would have lost all or a portion of the royalties to the only hit song of their career. The Bob and Earl sample, for the sake of comparison, was from a song catalogue for which free-use agreements were already in place. So, when Everlast Schrody declared that the horn sample is from Bob and Earl, he was doing more than settling a debate, he was actually protecting an investment that should help finance his retirement days in perpetuity.

“Jump Around” by House of Pain was nominated by my pal, Jackie Pepper. Jackie is an elementary school teacher by profession. Because the school year in Canada is winding down, I wanted to take this opportunity to give Jackie and all other people who work in our public schools a shout-out. Being involved in education is a tough but rewarding gig. However, over the past two years, it has been an incredibly stressful job for all involved. So, I will end this post by saying a great big THANK YOU to Jackie and to all of the other educators, administrators, bus drivers, crossing guards, students and school families for reaching the end of this school year intact. That is quite the accomplishment in itself. I wish you all a wonderful summer break. You are all rock stars in my books.

Now, get out your seats and jump around! Jump around! Jump around! Jump around! Jump up! Jump up and get down! Jump! Jump! Jump! (Everybody jump)! Jump around you beautiful educators. The end of the school year is here. You’ve made it. Congratulations. Thanks, Jackie, for the great song recommendation.

The link to the video for the song, “Jump Around” by House of Pain can be found here.

The link to the official website for House of Pain can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Biggest Hits of Today…Song Position: #35

The songs listed in this post were found using the Top 40 charts of the following music organizations: CHUM-FM, CFNY-FM, KEXP-FM, Billboard Magazine, Spotify and BBC Radio 1. All songs listed below occupied position #35 on their respective music lists from this past week. So, let’s take a quick look at today’s songs, and then a bit of a longer look at the song in today’s spotlight: Ojitos Lindos by Bad Bunny.

Woman by Doja Cat (Spotify)

Rapper extraordinaire…Doja Cat.

My two daughters really like Doja Cat. My youngest daughter, Sophie, particularly so. When I asked Sophie about why she liked Doja Cat so much, she responded that it was a combination of Doja Cat being a good singer with a pleasing voice, the songs having a good beat, and that the songs and videos she puts out all seem to have a theme of female empowerment woven into them. Sophie is also drawn to Doja Cat because she is a tiny woman and resembles her other favourite singer Ariana Grande quite a bit in body type. Seeing a successful female role model being sexy and self-assured means a lot to girls like Sophie. For me, having viewed several of her videos, I think they are all kind of the same. If you like your heroes to be pixie like, scantily clad and bringing the men in their world to heel, then Doja Cat is for you. For what it is worth, the video for the song “Woman” is fairly indicative of who Doja Cat is. If you like watching and listening to it, then you will like her other songs, too. Doja Cat has won a Grammy and many Billboard and MTV video awards for her songs and is definitely one of the rising female Soul and Hip Hop stars out there today.

Don’t Forget My Love by Diplo and Miguel (BBC Radio 1)

Diplo and Miguel.

Diplo made his name in the genre of electronic dance music as a DJ. He is known mostly because of the various collaborations he has engaged in over the years. In no particular order, he has put out music with Beyoncé, Shakira, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Britney Spears, Ellie Goulding, No Doubt and today’s featured star, Bad Bunny. This particular collaboration is with a singer named Miguel. The song “Don’t Forget My Love” is actually a groove-filled song that is pleasant to listen to. It will get your toes a-tapping and hands a-clapping. The videos for this song are another matter altogether. There are two “official” videos. The first one involves Diplo trying to warn Miguel that there is something amiss with Miguel’s new girlfriend. The video is bizarre at times, and the big reveal at the end might come off as disturbing to some viewers. The second video shows Diplo and Miguel engaging in one of the newest marketing strategies for artists these days, and that is attempting to stage a surprise, unannounced pop-up concert in various spots in NYC. This video reminds me a little of how the police broke up The Beatles rooftop concert at Abbey Road Studios, as well as when U2 put out their video for “The Streets Have No Name”. It may just be me, but I think I would like the song better without watching the videos. But, check it out and decide for yourself.

Ctrl + Alt + Del by RĂŞve (CHUM-FM).

Briannah Donolo aka Reve.

“Ctrl + Alt + Del” is a song that has been playing on the radio in my hometown for quite awhile now. It is sung by a Canadian girl named Briannah Donolo who goes by the stage name, Rêve. I have to be honest and admit that I always thought this song was from a band when I heard it on the radio. But, it is from this one girl who got her big break by singing the Canadian national anthem at Montreal Canadiens hockey games. Donolo sang the US anthem with a bit of a dance-oriented flair, that combined with her raven-haired good looks, helped make her a viral internet sensation. Donolo parlayed that internet fame into a recording contract and now has a Top 40 hit in Canada on her hands. “Ctrl + Alt + Del” are computer keyboard keys, for those who may not have known. If you press all three at the same time, it will act as an alternative way to shut your computer down. This song is certainly a catchy one that, if the US market becomes involved, will make Rêve one of the rising stars of 2022/23 for sure.

Road Runner by Turnstile (CFNY-FM)

Turnstile in Concert.

John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, as well as his second band, Public Image Limited, once sang a song that contained the line, “Anger is an energy”. The line meant that there was something potentially dangerous and lethal about the emotional anger possessed by many young people in society as it existed in the UK in the early 1980s. When channeled properly, anger as an energy can be used as a weapon against the powers that be. Well, every generation seems to have reason to gripe about their circumstances and leading today’s cry against conformity and politicians and greedy billionaires is a group called Turnstile. Their latest song, “Roadrunner”, is three minutes of pure anger and energy. It is loud and fast and performed with reckless abandon. These guys remind me of some of the early hardcore US punk bands such as Black Flag and Bad Brains. I am sure that this won’t appeal to very many of you, but the overarching importance of knowing about it is that there are segments of the teenage/20-something population who feel as though they have been dealt a bad hand because of COVID and lockdowns and rising house prices and so on…and they are ticked off! “Road Runner” by Turnstile is that anger unleashed in song.

Blood Money by The Lounge Council (KEXP-FM)

The Lounge Society.

The Lounge Council are a UK band who mine much of the same ground as does Turnstile. However, they do so in a more melodic manner. This is not to say that their music isn’t loud at times, but it does appear to contain less pure rage and more pure musical skill than what you get from Turnstile. Their videos are kinda interesting in a quirky sort of way that you have to see for yourself to completely appreciate. I am not sure that this song will end up on anyone’s personal playlist but it is worth checking out. “Blood Money” is anger expressed subtly.

Ojitos Lindos by Bad Bunny (ft. Bomba Estéreo) (Billboard)

The man they call…Bad Bunny.

Bad Bunny is the stage name of a Puerto Rican rapper named Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio. I knew something was up with Bad Bunny a few weeks ago when I was researching for a previous “Today’s Top 40” post and went to check the Spotify chart and found every song from Bad Bunny’s latest album in the Top 20! As it turns out, Bad Bunny has arguably had the most successful run of any performer during the time of the pandemic. In the past two years, Bad Bunny…who only sings in Spanish…is the most streamed artist in any genre in the entire world. His latest video was streamed 111 million times during the first two weeks it was out. Ocasio is a social media phenomenon who has made a name for himself as a rapper, a professional wrestler in the WWE, as a style icon, and will soon be joining the Marvel family in a 2024 movie called El Muerto where he will play a starring role as an anti-hero. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of him, and yet it seems like everyone else on the planet has heard of him and are singing his praises. I am flabbergasted that someone who sings in Spanish has taken the English-speaking world by storm. But, truly he has. If you want instant street cred with your grandchildren, mention Bad Bunny.

Bad Bunny, like a lot of modern day artists, likes to perform with other artists. So, many of his songs are collaborations. He has worked with Drake before, and now, for this video, he is working with a duo named Bomba Estéreo from Colombia. Bad Bunny has stated that he wants to improve the reach of Latin music and musicians throughout the Americas, and he has no plans to deviate from releasing Spanish-speaking albums and using his platform to showcase other Latin American artists. So far, mission accomplished. In case you don’t know who Bad Bunny is either, in the video, he will be the one with the stylish sunglasses. Just so ya know.

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

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Greatest Songs from Movies and Musicals…Song #7/250: Seasons of Love from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the Musical, Rent.

In 1896, opera lovers gathered at the Paris Opera House for the debut of an opera that was destined to become one of the most popular and performed operas of all time. That opera was La Bohème. It was composed by Giacomo Puccini. La Bohème was set in Paris and followed the exploits of several characters who were judged to have been living bohemian lifestyles. The lives these characters were leading were fraught with difficulties and dangers, but their love for life lent an air of purity to their pursuit of happiness and self-actualization. At the time, much of Europe was under threat from a disease called tuberculosis. In La Bohème, tuberculosis would cast a pall over the lives of those being enacted on stage. La Bohème was well received by Parisans and is regarded as one of Puccini’s greatest works. Since its debut, his opera has been performed all over the world and watched by hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. One of those fans was an American playwright named Billy Aronson who watched La Bohème in 1988. As he sat watching the story of carefree twenty-somethings in Paris living freely but struggling to pay their rent and avoid catching TB, Aronson was struck with how similar those times were to the ones he and his friends were living in now in New York City during the AIDS crisis. So, Aronson left the performance of La Bohème determined to create a modern adaptation of it. He approached his friend, Jonathan Larson, who was a songwriter and pitched the idea to him. Larson climbed on board immediately. Larson, who lived in Greenwich Village near the epi-center of AIDS outbreaks in the 1980s, agreed that there was definitely a story waiting to be told. After a period of collaboration that created a skeletal outline of a play, Larson asked Aronson if he could take the developmental lead because he had an idea to turn La Bohème into a rock opera. Aronson agreed in return for a percentage of future profits and formal recognition of his foundational role in the project. From there, Larson composed dozens and dozens of songs; eventually whittling it down to a suitable number, and just like that, a modern day version of the centuries old opera La Bohème emerged in the form of a musical called Rent.

Jonathan Larson.

Rent will forever be remembered as much for the circumstances of its debut as it ever has for the quality of its performances and that is really saying something because Rent has gone on to be one of the most highly recognized Broadway shows of all time. It took several years for Larson to complete his musical score, finalize the script and raise the necessary financing in order to mount his production. However, by late 1995, everything had seemingly fallen into place and pre-production began. The show was scheduled to make its off-Broadway debut in January of 1996. The date of that scheduled opening was deliberate because it would have been almost a full century, to the very day, that La Bohème had made its debut in Paris. But unbeknownst to everyone involved in the project, including Larson himself, tragedy was waiting silently for Larson in the wings. On the very eve of the debut of Rent in New York City, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm. Apparently, he had been carrying a non-AIDS-related disease called Marfan Syndrome which makes the blood vessels near the heart susceptible to leakage and/or rupture. Needless to say, the news of Larson’s death on the eve of what would become his greatest artistic triumph, was a devastating tragedy. Although those involved in Rent were shocked by the death of Larson, the musical’s champion, they followed the old adage that the show must still go on. However, instead of performing the musical as was intended, the cast gathered on stage and engaged in a sing-along with the audience in Larson’s memory. The song that touched people the most that night was called “Seasons of Love”.

The Rent cast sing “Seasons of Love”.

In a typical performance of Rent, “Seasons of Love” opens Act II. By this time in the musical, the audience will have met all of the characters and know of their struggles and their dreams. They will also know of the spectre of the AIDS virus which looms over the entire play like its own evil character. “Seasons of Love” serves to remind the audience of what has happened and then to prepare them for what is to follow. The song starts out by describing how to measure time in units of one year. It then poses the question as to how one would make use of that time if that time was all that you had left to live. How does one measure the worth of one year in a situation such as those who have contracted AIDS? Well, according to the song, you measure that year in units of Love. I have always firmly believed that Love is the very best aspect of Life and that it is the most powerful force in our world. Larson seems to have felt the same way. Rent resonates so strongly with so many people because his core idea embedded all throughout the musical is one that highlights the importance and power of hearts filled with Love. It is not surprising that “Seasons of Love” has become the official anthem of World AIDS Day.

Andrew Garfield discusses the nature of Grief with Stephen Colbert.

In the links below, I will obviously include a performance of “Seasons of Love” by the Broadway cast, along with a link to the website for Rent. But, I will also include a link to an interview that aired a year or so ago on the Stephen Colbert TV show at the height of the COVID pandemic. The video will show an interview that Colbert conducted with an actor named Andrew Garfield. At the time, Garfield was starring in a Netflix production called Tick, Tick, Boom! This production was one of many that Jonathan Larson had a hand in developing. Before Rent came to be realized, Larson worked as a waiter in order to make ends meet. In between shifts, he wrote hundreds and hundreds of songs that have ended up becoming parts of many other projects over the years, with Rent and Tick, Tick, Boom! being the most well known. In this interview, Garfield retells the story of Jonathan Larson and then concludes with a similar story from his own life. It is as poignant and intelligent an interview as one gets to bear witness to in this day and age. I highly recommend to each of you who read this post that you set aside a few minutes and watch Garfield and Colbert talk about the fragility of Life and the importance of Love. It will fill your heart; I guarantee it.

The link to the video for the song “Seasons of Love” from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the Musical Rent can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for World AIDS Day can be found here.

The link to the video for the interview between Andrew Garfield and Stephen Colbert can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this blog post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Stories Behind Canadian Songs That Mention Canadian Places…

One of the real perks to living anywhere in any town or city for a certain length of time is that you come to know where the true gathering spots are located. These are the places that have doors that always seem unlocked and a spirit inside that envelops you the moment you enter. These buildings may be dank and dark but they glitter like jewels to the regulars who regard them as a second home. A good watering hole will tell you all that you need to know about a community. Its chairs and stools will have a worn, lived-in look, its walls decorated with posters of local bands that have played there, the floor probably doesn’t shine any longer, either and is beer-soaked and tacky to the touch. But, it is a palace that regularly draws a crowd. And, not just those who can afford to pay a membership fee or exorbitant cover charge to get in. Every town has a place or a bar or pub where the weighty problems of the world are debated, blood is sometimes spilled, championships are celebrated, and on occasion, two bodies can be found joining together to share the space of one. This post is the story of one such place and the fight to keep it free from the wrecking ball’s swing. Welcome all to the Plains Hotel in Regina, Saskatchewan, and in particular, to Good Time Charlie’s Lounge.

The Plains Hotel, Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Plains Hotel was built at the intersection of College and Albert Streets in downtown Regina not long after WWI. In the early days of the Plains Hotel, it was a convenient source of affordable accommodation for soldiers returning from the war, as well as workers passing through on their way to the oil fields of Alberta, the endless wheat fields of the Prairies, or else the potash mines of the north. For about $20 a night, a traveler could get a clean room upstairs at the hotel and a hot meal downstairs at Good Time Charlie’s Lounge. The Plains Hotel sported a modern-looking “weather tower” on top of its roof. This tower was composed of lights that lit up with certain colours depending on the nature of the weather. It was just one of many reasons that folks in Regina were always drawn to the hotel, whether it was to stay there, to go to Charlie’s for a drink after work, or simply to check the weather at a glance.

In time, other, newer and more modern chain hotels came to Regina and the tourists started drifting away from The Plains Hotel. In their place, clients with far more modest incomes became the new regulars, and in fact, for much of the 1970s and beyond, The Plains Hotel found itself as home to low income renters who paid for their rooms by the month and dined in the Lounge below. As this transition took place, The Plains Hotel became more of a community with members whose faces and personalities were so familiar to each other that they became a type of family. Like characters from a novel, these renters were given nicknames that reflected their character and/or their habits. The Plains Hotel and Good Time Charlie’s Lounge became the center of their world.

The other thing that The Plains Hotel and Good Time Charlie’s Lounge became known for was as a venue for live music. The stage at Charlie’s was always available for local bands to showcase new songs, as well as singing covers of those songs favoured by the regulars. On occasion, a big band with a national reputation would be coming through and would stop by. That always caused a stir. But mostly, it was local bands playing a form of authentic Blues that only comes from those who have lived lives of sweat and toil. Many a night, passersby would pop in for a cold one, just to catch whichever band was playing at the time. The beer was always cold and the music was always hot. The regulars sat in their spots and sang and drank and talked. The visitors would occupy whatever seats were left and would drink and dance. Good Time Charlie’s Lounge was a place that welcomed all and on most nights, all felt welcomed inside those doors that never seemed to be locked.

Because The Plains Hotel had a full house of monthly tenants, there was a steady source of revenue for the owners of the building. However, as we all know, the cost of doing business rarely stays steady for long and never seems to go down. So, as inflationary times came to Regina, the cost of running and maintaining The Plains Hotel increased while the revenue stream stagnated. In time, the price of doing business started becoming too much for the owners. Occupying a prime corner of downtown Regina as it did, The Plains Hotel had long been on the radar of real estate developers. They had visions of convention centers and condominiums. To them, The Plains Hotel and Good Time Charlie’s Lounge was an eyesore and a poor return on investment. So, while the hotel was in its heyday, the real estate moguls were kept at bay, but as the hotel started experiencing financial stresses, they began to circle. Eventually, The Plains Hotel was put up for sale. One proposed plan was to knock it down, and in its place, build a new hotel/condo tower twenty-five stories tall. If that were to be the accepted plan, then those people who called The Plains Hotel their home would be cast out into the street. Those bands and their fans who viewed Good Time Charlie’s as a cultural mecca would be out of luck, too. So, a grassroots effort was made to save The Plains Hotel. That effort revolved around a music contest sponsored by the CBC.

In 2009, a call was put out by Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, for original songs from every province and territory in the country. Each province and territory would have a local competition complete with live performances and on-line voting. The winners of each provincial or territorial competition would win a cash prize and would earn a spot on a CD entitled, “CBC Songquest”. The criterion for entering was that each song had to reflect the essence of the geographic region it was from. It that way, the CBC was hoping to be able to release one CD that captured Canada in all of its glory from coast to coast to coast. Those who were involved in the effort to save The Plains Hotel saw this as an opportunity to memorialize this important community gathering spot in song and to shine a spotlight on their cause. It helped a great deal that a local band called The Deep Dark Woods agreed to write a song about what Good Time Charlie’s meant to them. The Deep Dark Woods were one of the local Folk-Rock bands that played the bar circuit in Regina and Saskatoon and throughout the Prairie provinces. They relied on places like Good Time Charlie’s for their livelihood. They also knew how important such bars and pubs were as community centers in the towns and cities in which they were located. The song the band created was called “Charlie’s (Is Coming Down”. The reason for calling their song this was because, not long after the Songquest contest was announced, Regina City Council approved the sale of The Plains Hotel to a new developer. The twenty-five story hotel/condo plan was given the green light. The fight to save The Plains Hotel was lost.

The Deep Dark Woods.

At that point, the CBC Songquest competition became something other than a game to be won. It became a race against time to honour a building that played such an integral part in the life of downtown Regina. It was also a race against time to do right by the regulars who had called The Plains Hotel home. Many of these people had been in poor health for many years, so when it became apparent a decade or so prior that it was becoming financially unfeasible to continue as they had, the owners of The Plains Hotel made a decision that says a lot about their character and about how those who frequented the establishment were viewed. As the regular tenants became unable to live on their own any longer and were moved by the province to long term care homes, their former rooms were closed down and not rented out any longer. If a regular tenant passed away and no family members were nearby, the folks at The Plains Hotel stepped in to ensure their friend was buried with dignity and respect. Eventually, the final regular tenant found a new place to live. The rooms at The Plains Hotel were now all empty. Meanwhile, “Charlie’s (Is Coming Down)” ended up winning the CBC Songquest contest. The final thing that the local community wanted was a stay of execution, if you will, so that The Deep Dark Woods (who were touring at the time) would have time to come back home and play the final concert ever at Good Time Charlie’s Lounge. Unfortunately, this story is bereft of fairy tale endings. The Deep Dark Woods have never known a king’s ransom from their music so they could not afford to abandon their tour and fly home. The developers of the new condo project did not wish to wait. The wrecker’s ball swung in 2011 and The Plains Hotel, complete with its iconic weather tower and along with Good Time Charlie’s Lounge, was no more.

The ironic thing is that almost immediately after knocking The Plains Hotel down, the new developer ran into financial difficulties of his own. As you read these words, nothing stands on the corner of College and Albert Streets in Regina. Nothing but an empty lot and silence. In a very short time, a new generation of citizens will grow up in Regina not knowing that anything of value ever existed at that street corner. Perhaps they will hear “Charlie’s (Is Coming Down)” one day on the radio and they will realize all that was lost. The lesson in all of this involves prioritizing the things that truly make a community what it is. While it is naive to think that money isn’t a significant factor in how the world operates, at some point, trading those precious places where people gather in exchange for trinkets and baubles has to stop. To my way of thinking, music is more important than silence. Community has more value than emptiness and loneliness. That sense of caring for each other that comes with being part of a family, regardless of bloodlines, is a treasure whose value is incalculable. I think of that whenever I listen to this song.

The link to the video for “Charlie’s (Is Coming Down)” by The Deep Dark Woods can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Deep Dark Woods can be found here.

The link to the official website for the city of Regina, Saskatchewan can be found here.

The link to a video for a news story about the history of The Plains Hotel can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be re-blogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the World’s Greatest Classical Compositions…Song # 6/50: Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39 by Sir Edward Elgar.

To my way of thinking, “Pomp and Circumstance” is the classical music equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” It is a series of marches that evoke much in the way of patriotic fervor from audiences: particularly from British audiences. It was composed by Elgar just prior to the beginning of WWI, which was a time when, as they say, the sun didn’t set on the British Empire. A clue to Elgar’s true intentions with this composition can be seen in its title. “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39” is actually a series of five-six marches. When first released, these marches aligned nicely with the militaristic mythology of the mighty British Empire, but in actual fact, Elgar was making a political statement with his music. He was attempting to cleverly convey a warning to regular citizens who might find themselves enlisting in a fit of patriotism because they were seduced by the “pomp” of the messaging being aimed at them. Elgar wanted everyone to be aware of the “circumstances” of trench warfare which was to be the new way of fighting in a war that was just around the corner. So, “Pomp and Circumstances, Op. 39”, like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, ranks as one of the most misunderstood pieces of music ever written.

But, the irony of Edward Elgar’s most famous composition does not end there. In life, we often view events that provoke a sense of cognitive dissonance as being normal simply because they are allowed to happen again and again. Thus, we may feel that something is awry but we come to accept it because everyone else seems to be ok with it. With “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39”, the question that begs to be asked is how did a British military-inspired suite of marches become the defacto processional march for high school and university graduates in North America? At this time of year (specifically in Canada) the school year is drawing to a close, and with it, many students are participating in graduation ceremonies. It is rare to find a ceremony anywhere in which “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39” isn’t played as the graduating students enter the auditorium. The story of how this came to be says a lot about the type of person Edward Elgar actually was. Here is his story.

Edward Elgar at his piano.

Growing up, Elgar found himself on the outside of the strata of society from which he would come to draw much of his audience in later years. His father worked as a piano tuner. Because of his father’s access to pianos, young Edward was able to learn how to play and then to develop his skills. As a young boy, it was assumed that Edward would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a piano tuner, as well. Perhaps, because of his improving musical skill set, he might become a piano instructor and earn a little extra money from giving private lessons to young students. So, while other young, rising musical stars were off studying at music academies abroad, Elgar was working piecemeal at home. All throughout his teenage years, Elgar believed he was meant for small things because of how the British class system worked at the time. He was Catholic at a time when Catholicism was on the outs. He was working class and lacked connections. His family did not come from money. He had not graduated from high school, dropping out when he was only fifteen years of age. At one point, he found a mentor in the form of violinist Adolf Pollitzer, but Elgar stopped his lessons with Pollitzer because he felt his skills would never be such that he could stand as an equal with his peers.

Caroline Roberts and Edward Elgar.

However, one of Life’s great lessons is to be true to yourself. Edward Elgar had always loved music, but what he really liked was composing music rather than playing it. Having to make ends meet meant that Elgar was forced to play and teach, and therefore he didn’t have the luxury of being able to indulge his passion for composing very often. Then, he got his big break in life. One of his violin students was a young woman who had decided against marriage. Her name was Caroline Roberts, and she was determined to live as a single woman (who, in those days, would be called a spinster). However, when her family hired Elgar to provide Roberts with violin lessons, she became quite taken with him. Her family forbade her from marrying Elgar because he was considered to be beneath her station in life. However, love conquered all and they were wed. Roberts’ family disowned her and cut off all of her funding. That didn’t faze young Caroline because she had published a book of poetry and was becoming known in literary circles as a writer of some renown. With her steady writing income, she and Edward were able to live a modestly comfortable life. More importantly, Edward was not having to work as long and hard as he once did as a music teacher and started to devote some of his time to composing.

Even though Elgar began creating compositions that attracted praise from music critics, he remained plagued by self-doubt. He was his own worst critic and often turned down opportunities to attend social events and make important connections with wealthy patrons simply because he never felt as though he belonged in higher society. But even though he was loath to promote himself and to network with those he deemed his superiors because of social status, Elgar increasingly came to believe in his own abilities as a composer. That rising sense of personal self-confidence allowed him to compose his first great musical work which ended up being called “The Enigma Variations”. The success of “The Enigma Variations” in 1899 pushed him into the public spotlight and garnered for him a sense of acclaim that not even he could deny any longer. Having achieved a hit that first time gave Elgar a better sense of what it took to create top-notch music that would succeed at a national level. So, a few years later in 1901 when he began stitching together a suite of marches, Elgar recognized immediately that he had another hit on his hands. In fact, when “Pomp and Circumstance” was premiered, the response was so rapturous that the entire suite was repeated twice! Since then, Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, Op 39” is viewed by many as the unofficial national anthem of Britain. In 1904, the piano tuner’s son was knighted and became Sir Edward Elgar, Britain’s pre-eminent composer!

Presenting “Sir” Edward Elgar! Newly knighted and now regarded as England top composer.

So, how did Sir Edward Elgar’s suite of marches become the standard processional accompaniment at North American graduation ceremonies? Not long after Elgar was knighted, the former high school dropout was invited to cross the Atlantic and accept an honourary music degree from Yale University. In America, Elgar was viewed with much respect for his accomplishments and was fêted as an honoured dignitary upon his arrival. Wanting to make Elgar feel welcome and comfortable, an orchestra played several of his compositions throughout the course of commencement ceremonies but saved “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39” for the grande finale. Everyone in attendance that day stated that Elgar’s music was the perfect complement to the graduation ceremony in that it sent the graduates out into the world with a fitting combination of praise for their academic accomplishments to date and belief in the awesome nature of the potential each possessed. Word quickly spread to other universities in the US as to how perfectly “Pomp and Circumstance, Op. 39” lent itself to such ceremonies, and as is often the case, Yale’s success was mimicked elsewhere and in no time at all, it became the unofficial music of just about all graduation ceremonies everywhere.

The story of Sir Edward Elgar is one that should be held up and told to students everywhere, because it is the quintessential example of what can happen if you work hard and believe in yourself and…let’s be honest, catch a lucky break or two along the way. Elgar was a highschool dropout without any social or professional connections of note, and yet, he was able to follow his passion and turn that into great success. The man who never felt he merited a place in higher society is now venerated as being Britain’s most important composer of all time. The high school dropout ended up becoming Dr. or Professor Elgar because of his degree from Yale. Finally, as history cruelly demonstrated, Elgar was among the very first to correctly predict that the “circumstances” of warfare would end up being truly horrific and would come to fuel anti-”Pomp” sentiments that had been so central to Britain’s belief in who it was as a country.

As the sun has come to set on the British Empire, Sir Edward Elgar has risen to become one of most respected figures of his time. History has treated him with the utmost kindness. Not a bad life at all for a piano tuner’s son.

The link to the video for the composition “Pomp and Circumstance, Op.39” can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sir Eward Elgar can be found here.

The link to the classical music station located in my hometown…Classical 103.1…can be found here.

***As always, all original content of this post remains the sole property of the author. NO part of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 tommacinneswriter.com

Reader’s Choice: The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…# 5/250: What Love (Suite) by The Collectors (as Nominated by rawgod).

A few days ago I published a post about the Tragically Hip song “Goodnight, Attawapiskat”. I started that post off with the line, “The journey across Turtle Island is long and never ending.” At the time that I wrote those words, I was referring to the journey one makes throughout the course of their life on Earth. I used the Indigenous term, “Turtle Island” because I wanted to tie that journey into the Indigenous perspective the song was lending itself to. Because some of you may not be familiar with what the term “Turtle Island” means, I thought it important to take a few moments and discuss it with you, because in Indigenous cultures it is one of the foundational pieces to the story of entire Peoples everywhere. So, here goes…

Painting by Dave Pelletier.

All cultures throughout the world have their own origin stories about how the world was created and how life came to be. In many North American Indigenous cultures the story of creation involves water, sky and the earth. While there are variations on this story depending upon which Peoples the storyteller represents, the essential elements of the Creation story are that the world was once covered entirely in water. Various animals were tasked with recovering wet soil from the bottom of the water so as to start the process of creating land. All failed, including the muskrat, who died. But the muskrat’s death was not in vain because it had placed wet soil upon a turtle’s back, which turned out to be the solution to developing land again. As more and more soil was placed upon the turtle’s back, the turtle increased in size until it became the foundation upon which the entire world rested. Thus, Turtle Island is the world. The origins of Turtle Island involve the interconnectedness of the water, the sky and the land which, as we know, forms one of the core philosophies of Indigenous cultures. The idea that we are not separate from the world around us, but instead, are part of everything and that everything is part of us is a fundamental part of not only land stewardship, but of how we treat each other in our everyday journey through life.

The Collectors self-titled debut album. “What Love (Suite)” fills all of side two.

I bring this all up because my post about the Tragically Hip found its way on to the computer screen of a MĂ©tis man from the Western Canada. He is a fellow blogger on WordPress who goes by the blogging name, rawgood. He left me a wonderfully detailed comment about my Tragically Hip post which, I assume, came to his attention because of my use of the term Turtle Island. We exchanged several emails back and forth and had a very good discussion. From this discussion came two points. The first was that rawgood is someone who is on a mission to reclaim Indigenous terminology, starting with the recognition that we are all inhabitants of Turtle Island. The world that European explorers sailed into and “discovered” was already referred to by Indigenous inhabitants as being Turtle Island. But, as colonization took place, one of the characteristics of it was the elimination of cultural terms and language used by the Indigenous Peoples. So, Turtle Island was renamed as being North America. Essentially all of the place names we recognize in Canada, for example, were once known by Indigenous names. So, anyway, rawgod and I had a good chat. As our conversation was winding up, I invited him to follow my blog and went over my publishing schedule i.e.: Monday is reserved for classical music posts; Tuesday, for Canadian songs, all the way to Friday, which I explained was the all-request Reader’s Choice segment. It was then, as he was saying his farewell that he tossed me a music request. rawgod asked if I was familiar with the Canadian rock band from the 1970/80s called Chilliwack. I said that I was. I grew up listening to songs of theirs such as “Fly at Night”, which formed part of the soundtrack of my teenage years. He then mentioned that the band Chilliwack used to be called The Collectors. The Collectors put out two albums. The first album was self-titled and featured Psychedelic rock in a style that was becoming popular at the time. The entire second side of that debut album was one song called, “What Love (Suite)”. This song contained a level of social conscience that impressed and moved rawgod so much that he declared it to be an “overlooked by the music world gem”. Many who have listened to this song (that clocks in at almost twenty minutes in length) compare it favourably to a song such as “The End” by Jim Morrison and The Doors. My friend, rawgod was equally impressed with The Collector’s second album which was actually a soundtrack album to a famous Canadian play. As much as “What Love (Suite)” may have blown rawgod’s mind at the time, I was equally impressed with the role their second album came to play. It was a role that fuels much of the story contained in the rest of this post. That second album was called Grass and Wild Strawberries. What was unique about this second album was that it was actually made up of songs written for one of the seminal theatre productions in Canadian history. I was not aware of that fact. So, as I always do whenever someone sends a music request my way, I wrote the song title down in my book that I have all of my song topics in, and I promised to give his request my full attention. Here is what I discovered.

The band Chilliwack was composed of lead singer Bill Henderson, along with Glenn Miller on bass, Ross Turney on drums and Claire Lawrence on flute, saxophone and keyboards. They had a great run as a rock band throughout the 1970s and all through the 80s. But, before they were Chilliwack, these guys were in a band called The Collectors, and prior to that, they were known as the CFUN Classics. While playing as CFUN Classics and as The Collectors, a man named Howie Vickers was the lead singer. When he eventually left the band, Bill Henderson took over. CFUN was a local radio station in Vancouver. The CFUN Classics were the house band on a local television show called “Let’s Go”. Like many bands, the CFUN Classics had dreams of musical success so in 1966, the band moved beyond “house band” status and become their own entity, which is when the CFUN Classics officially became The Collectors.

As mentioned above, The Collectors released two albums. It was after the release of their self-titled debut album that the band was approached by a playwright named George Ryga who asked if they would record a series of songs he had written for a new play he had created called “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe”. The band agreed. Their new album was called Grass and Wild Strawberries and contained many songs including one called “Seventeenth Summer”, which is achieved some modest chart recognition. While The Collectors didn’t become famous as a result of this album, this hasn’t stopped their endeavour from becoming recognized as one of the most important contributions in the history of Canadian drama, as well as in Canadian cultural discourse.

The play “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” was released just as Canada was approaching the centennial anniversary of its creation as a country. Whenever people or institutions approach milestones such as a 100th birthday or anniversary, the tendency of those involved is to become reflective and retrospective. There were many films made, plays produced and books written about Canada at 100 and to what that meant in the country and around the world. “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” was one such examination of what the impact of 100 years of Canada had been. In particular, the play examined the impact of colonization on an Indigenous woman named Rita Joe. Needless to say, the character of Rita Joe faced many obstacles when it came to living her life in a world that didn’t recognize nor value her identity as a female nor as an Indigenous person. “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” was the first public forum by which the question of the price paid by Indigenous Peoples in order for Canada to become a country was discussed. It has gone on to be viewed as being one of the very best and most important plays ever in the entire history of Canadian theatre. At one time, Chief Dan George and Frances Hyland starred in it. “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” has also been performed as a ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. By writing his play, George Ryga started Canadians, like me, on the very first steps of a journey of somber reflection as to our role as settlers and the impact that had on the lives of generations and generations of Indigenous Peoples all across this land. It is a journey that continues anew with every young body found buried in the unmarked graves that populate the grounds of residential schools. It is a journey that continues to unfold with every story of teen suicides at First Nations fly-in communities far to the north in our land. It is a journey that goes on with every boil-water advisory that remains in effect in First Nations communities all across the land we call Canada. And so, the journey across Turtle Island is long and never ending.

The songs, “What Love (Suite)” and “Seventeenth Summer” were originally sung by The Collectors and continued to be performed by the band The Collectors morphed into…Chilliwack. Regardless of which iteration of the band was singing, the songs from both albums were always sung with much energy, earnestness and purpose. Every word sung and note played from those two Collectors albums helped to shine a light on problems that many of us ignored or didn’t even know existed, as well as on a new way of living. “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe”, in particular, was the first step on the very necessary journey toward reconciliation for many. For this history lesson, I extend my thanks to rawgod, because as we all know, a long journey is made shorter and more enjoyable by having good company along the way.

The link to the video for the song, “What Love (Suite) by The Collectors can be found here.

The link to the entire second album, “Grass and Wild Strawberries” by The Collectors can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bill Henderson (The Collectors/Chilliwack) can be found here.

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

My pal, rawgod, writes for two blogs. The first is about spirituality and is called rawgodsspiritualatheism.wordpress.com. His other blog is about political activism and is called ideasfromoutsidetheboxes.wordpress.com. Feel free to check out either or both of his blogs at the links above.

“The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” by George Ryga is available in book form and can be ordered here.