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

Cold, Cold Heart by Hank Williams Sr., covered by Tony Bennett and by Norah Jones…Song #22/250: Reader’s Choice.

Hank and Audrey Williams

Hank Williams Sr. is definitely one of the most iconic figures in all of American music history. He was a prolific songwriter and a talented singer who became the face of Country music just as WWII was ending and the post-war boom was beginning. Williams was also a raging alcoholic who suffered from chronic back pain his whole life. (I wrote a previous post about Hank Williams Sr. and his song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in which his life story is chronicled in detail. You can read that post here). For the sake of this post, the most important thing to know about Hank Williams Sr. has to do with the state of his marriage. For many years, Williams was married to a woman named Audrey. Their union was tumultuous to say the least. There are many stories about both parties being unfaithful to the other and about how mean a drunk Williams could be at times. The story of the song “Cold, Cold Heart” revolves around a time when Hank Williams Sr. returned from performing on the road, only to find Audrey in the hospital. Apparently, Audrey had become pregnant and was certain that the father of the baby was not her husband, so she attempted to abort the baby in their family home. Complications arose from such an attempt (as they often do in situations such as that), and Audrey ended up in the hospital with a severe infection. When Hank WIlliams Sr. came to visit his wife and give her a kiss, she brushed him off and called him names. To those in attendance, there was no doubt as to the icy nature of their marriage. Like many songwriters, Williams used the emotions of the moment to fuel his songwriting, and as a result, he came up with the lyrics to one of his biggest hits, “Cold, Cold Heart”. The song went all the way to #1 on the charts and was one of the biggest selling songs of his career. However, in addition to this song being such a huge hit, it was important for a reason that no one, including Hank Williams Sr., saw coming.

Mr. Tony Bennett

Starting in the 1920s with the crossover success in George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” that integrated the worlds of Jazz and Classical music (You can read more about that here), music executives were always on the lookout for fresh ways to expand music markets. However, Gershwin’s success proved to be relatively rare and didn’t really apply to other genres of music. Back in 1951 when “Cold, Cold Heart” was released, Blues songs had their own chart. Pop songs had their own chart. Country and Western songs had their own charts as well. Most genres of music were still restricted to their own niche marketplaces. That changed with the release of “Cold, Cold Heart”. As that song was climbing the Country and Western charts, the lyrics of the song left an impression on Marvin Miller, the manager of crooner Tony Bennett. Miller felt as though the story that Williams Sr. was telling in this song was one that had universal appeal and that it could be told in other genres by other performers such as his client, Tony Bennett. Initially, Bennett was reluctant to record the song because Pop crooners didn’t sing Country “tears in my beer” style songs. It just wasn’t done. But eventually the music for the song was re-arranged by Percy Faith. Once Bennett sang the lyrics to Percy Faith’s arrangement, he knew the song could work for him, too. So, Tony Bennett recorded and released “Cold, Cold Heart” in 1952. It went all the way to #1 on the Pop charts. Thus, “Cold, Cold Heart” became the very first crossover hit between the genres of Country and Pop. This helped introduce Hank Williams Sr. to an entirely new audience. As music executives had hoped, sales of Williams records increased, and when he released his final big hit before his death, “Hey, Good Lookin’”, both Pop and Country audiences lapped it up and sales went through the roof. In the time since that first crossover hit, there are now numerous examples of singers such as Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, etc…, who are equally as comfortable and successful in either genre.

Norah Jones

To further broaden the appeal of “Cold, Cold Heart”, forty years later, singer Norah Jones covered the song but did so from a Jazz perspective. Her torch-style take on this classic tune was so dramatically different as to make the original Hank Williams version almost unrecognizable. It was this Norah Jones version of the song that was nominated for today’s Reader’s Choice tune. Thank you, Jan Fluke, for having such great taste in music. Norah Jones is a wonderfully talented singer. If breathy, silky smooth Jazz singing is your style, then Norah Jones is someone who comes highly recommended.

I completely understand the appeal of crossover artists and songs for music executives. The broader an artist’s audience reach, the greater the potential that exists for sales of music and merchandise. I get that. Music is a business. Having music that agrees with the musical sensibilities of multiple types of audiences is a good thing for everyone’s bottom line. But, for me, I also like the idea of being able to re-imagine material in ways that honour the original version but, at the same time, create something new and vibrant out of something that previously existed in another form. That a twangy Country classic torn from the lives of Hank Williams Sr. and his wife can exist as a Pop song and as a Jazz standard speaks to the craftsmanship of the writing that Williams Sr. employed way back in 1951. That man lived hard while he was alive and died way too soon. But, in his wake, he left a legacy of songwriting that continues to inspire new musicians to this very day. Hank Williams Sr. is one of the most revered Country singer/songwriters of all time for a reason. I believe the actual term is legend.

The link to the video for the song “Cold, Cold Heart” by Hank Wiliams Sr. can be found here. This video is introduced by Country superstar Roy Acuff and is one of the few recordings of Williams singing live on TV. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the song “Cold, Cold Heart” as sung by Tony Bennett can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the song “Cold, Cold Heart” as sung by Norah Jones can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The links to the official websites for Hank Williams Sr., Tony Bennett and Norah Jones are here, here and here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: January 26, 2023

Welcome back to another edition of Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40. In this post we’ll start by taking a closer look at three songs that are currently on the Top 40 charts of the world and then three other songs which come from albums that have just been released this week. So get ready to enjoy the best of the present and possibly the best that the future has to offer in terms of great music. Here we go!!!

Flowers by Miley Cyrus

For those of us of a certain vintage, we have known about Miley Cyrus for almost the entirety of her life. She first came into the public eye as the cute young daughter of Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. From there, the two of them parlayed his musical fame into starring roles in the children’s TV show Hannah Montana. But as Miley grew older, she did so with a clear goal in mind and that was to be a music star in her own right. She has certainly achieved that goal with her chart topping classic hit, “Wrecking Ball”, along with several others that have all cracked the Top 40 in past years. To date, she has sold over 40 million albums and has been streamed/viewed online over 100 million times! Like many child stars, the transition to adulthood has been marked with controversial moments but through it all, Miley Cyrus has always leaned on her love of music to steady herself. She is well-respected by her peers and has wowed many audiences with her rich, deep voice and emotive, heartfelt singing style. If anyone can be counted on to pull off bluesy rock songs in the style of Janis Joplin, it is Miley Cyrus.

Miley Cyrus as seen in her “Flowers” video.

This takes us to today’s song. Miley Cyrus had been married to actor Liam Hemsworth. The story goes that at their wedding reception, Hemsworth dedicated the song “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars to his bride. Well, as often happens to young couples in the spotlight, they broke up a while ago. Like many before her, Miley has channeled her sadness and disappointment into song lyrics. These lyrics form the body of today’s #1 song on the charts, “Flowers”. I would love to say that “Flowers” is a highly original and thoughtful song but, unfortunately, it really isn’t. Instead it mines the usual territory in which an ex-lover is dissed and then the spurned lover talks about how she will survive because of how empowered she feels and how desirable she remains in the eyes of others. According to sources, “Flowers” is supposed to be a line for line rebuttal to the Bruno Mars song that had been dedicated to her by Hemsworth. Furthermore, “Flowers” was released as a single on Liam Hemsworth’s birthday. If you wish to listen to the #1 song in North America and watch a video of Miley Cyrus giving off a “look at what you’re missing, boy” vibe then by all means click here. ***The lyrics video is here.

Something In The Orange by Zach Bryan

From Navy SEAL to Country superstar…here is Zach Bryan.

Zach Bryan is a Country singer. But before he sang for a living, Bryan was an enlisted serviceman in the U.S. Navy. Zach Bryan got into music as a way to pass the time while at sea. Because of the way technology works today, Bryan was able to write songs and upload YouTube videos of himself singing while sailing in the middle of the ocean. Eventually, the story of a handsome Navy Seal singing love songs at sea caught the attention of the public, and his music videos began going viral, as they say. After eight years of service, Bryan was honourably discharged so that he could pursue a career in music. He was immediately signed to a record contract and has released three albums since. Today’s song, “Something in the Orange”, is a song about heartbreak. It is racing up the charts and should be firmly inside the Top Ten in a matter of a few weeks. For now, you can listen to one of the hottest Country songs around by clicking here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

10:35 by Tiesto featuring Tate McRae

Tiesto and Tate McRae at Atlantis the Royal in Dubai.

Tiesto is a Dutch DJ who is quite famous in the world of electronic dance music. Tate McRae is a Canadian singer, dancer and actress who first came into the public eye by becoming the first Canadian finalist on the show So You Think You Can Dance, which she managed to achieve at age 13!!! McRae has used social media outlets such as Tik Tok to promote her music and has enjoyed much success online with songs such as “One Day” and “You Broke Me First”. Tiesto and Tate McRae were brought together by big-monied interests from Dubai to create a song that would be used to promote a new resort opening there called Atlantis The Royal. The video for this song was filmed exclusively at the new resort. The song is about meeting someone special and having a wonderful time together. The title, “10:35”, refers to the moment when the two lovers first meet and come to realize that a magical night lay ahead.

There are plenty of songs that possess a great bass line and a killer groove that touch your heart and soul. There are others, such as “10:35”, that are all about the bottom line and make me think about booking a vacation. Whatever! “10:35” is still a peppy little song and should prove to be a popular tune on the dancefloors of clubs all around the world. You can get your own groove on by clicking on the song link here. ***The lyrics version is here.

Love FromThe Other Side by Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy. Pete Wentz is on the far left.

The career story of Fall Out Boy is a cautionary tale for all bands. Fall Out Boy was never really meant to be a serious band. It began as a side project for singer Pete Wentz and served as something for him to do while he figured out what he really wanted to do in the world of music. Originally more of a hardcore performer in the Chicago area, Wentz grew tired of the hardcore scene there and so began Fall Out Boy as a way to try out a more commercial, rock-alternative vibe for a while. Fall Out Boy’s first album turned out to be very well received (which was unexpected), and then, a second album yielded the mighty hit “Dance Dance”, which went on to become one of the biggest selling songs in the 2010s. Suddenly, Fall Out Boy were being asked to appear on national late night talk shows, to headline festivals and much, much more. It all proved to be too much too soon for Wentz, who attempted suicide at one point, as well as engaged in many attention-seeking social media moments including a constantly-in-the-spotlight relationship with fellow singer Ashlee Simpson. As a band, Fall Out Boy went on a period of hiatus that many felt would end up becoming permanent, but lo and behold, the boys in the band have hung tough and have released several more albums recently. From their latest album, So Much (for) Stardust, comes the new single, “Love From The Other Side”. You can listen to this new release here. ***The lyrics version is here.

In Your Universe by Banners

Michael Nelson aka Banners.

When I was about to start my final year of teaching, I started things off by dedicating a song to all teachers called “Someone To You”. This song is about the feeling of satisfaction you get when you allow yourself to become special in someone else’s eyes. This happens all of the time when you are a teacher who works with small children. I could wallpaper an entire room in my home using all of the pictures that I have received from students over the years that showed the two of us holding hands in the sunshine or under a rainbow or some other cheery scene. Being able to be that special person for someone else was always the best part of being a classroom teacher. So, when I needed a theme song for my final year, I turned to Scottish born singer Michael Nelson, who goes by the stage name Banners. I discovered Banners in 2015 when I heard his debut EP which contained four songs that were all excellent: “Ghosts”, “Shine a Light”, “Start a Riot” and “Someone To You”. I have followed his career ever since and have always been delighted with everything he releases. His latest album just dropped this week. It is called I Wish I Was Flawless, I’m Not. The first single is “In Your Universe”. You can listen to it here. ***The lyrics version is here.

Underground by City and Colour

Dallas Green, the World Series winning baseball manager.

City and Colour is the stage name of Canadian singer Dallas Green. *(Ya see, his first name is a city and his last name is a colour; thus, he calls himself City and Colour). He was named after baseball manager Dallas Green who was managing the Philadelphia Phillies the last time they won the World Series. Green’s father had placed a bet on the Phillies and because they ended up winning, he considered “Dallas Green” to be a lucky-charm-style name for his newborn son. Regardless of what his name is or how it came to be, Dallas Green is one of Canada’s most prolific and creative singers these days.

Dallas Green the singer.

Green began his career with a hardcore rock band called Alexisonfire. In this band, Green had many hit songs and wound up being nominated for several Juno Awards. But Dallas Green had bigger ambitions than simply playing his music as loudly as possible. About five years after Alexisonfire began (and was still thriving), Green started a side project called City and Colour. This iteration of himself as a performer was much softer, emotive and introspective. He often performed by himself with only guitar and a haunted voice to act on his behalf. To broaden his reach, Green teamed up with several other music stars in duets, such as with Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, to sing one of my all-time favourite songs, “Sleeping Sickness”, as well as with P!nk in another excellent duet of a song called “What Makes A Man”. You can listen to both performances here and here.

Dallas Green tours as City and Colour and continues to play in Alexisonfire as well. This past week, in his City and Colour guise, he released a new album called The Love Still Held Me Near. The first single is called “Underground”. You can listen to it here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

That’s it for this week. If you have any comments on the songs featured today please feel free to drop them in the comment box below and I will get back to you as soon as I can. If there are other new and noteworthy songs that you feel should be placed in the spotlight, feel free to bring those songs up, too. In the meantime, thanks for reading my words and being part of my world. I appreciate you being here. Bye for now. Have a wonderful week!

***As always, all original content contained in this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

All Is Love by Karen O. and the Kids from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Where The Wild Things Are

In 1973, Hans Fenger was hired to teach music in Langley, British Columbia. The only problem with that was that Mr. Fenger had never taught music before and had no idea how it should be done. But the 1970s were a time of experimentation in education, so Mr. Fenger decided to teach his curriculum topics by introducing his students to popular songs of the day. The longer he worked with his students, the better he got to know them as fully-formed human beings. He started getting a better sense of their fears, their dreams and the whole kaleidoscope of emotions they possessed. As a result, he was better able to tailor his song-based curriculum to suit the personalities of his students. That gave him an idea. He worked in collaboration with the students and their families to record a series of choral renderings of famous songs. All of these songs were recorded in school gyms scattered through Langley. Enough material was recorded to produce two separate full length record albums. The two-album set was called The Langley Schools Music Project. Needless to say, these albums were hits primarily with the families of the students only, but just the same, when all was said and done, Hans Fenger felt that he had captured a realistic version of how children view childhood via the songs they sang. These songs ranged from “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings, to “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by Klaatu, several Beach Boys songs such as “God Only Knows”, “Desperado” by The Eagles and much, much more.

The story would have ended there except for a bit of fortuitous luck in the year 2000. A record collector who focussed on finding musical oddities and rare recordings stumbled across one of the Langley Schools Music Project albums in a thrift store. Excited by the haunting quality of the music that was recorded, he searched for the other album and eventually was able to find it, too. Together, they were brought to various record labels in the hope that they could be re-recorded and re-released. Bar None Records agreed that there was something special about these albums and re-packaged them as a double CD set. It was this CD version that ended up having the greatest impact. For starters, it was what inspired the making of the movie (and subsequent TV series) School of Rock starring Jack Black in the role of Hans Fenger. The CD set also fell into the hands of one of music videos’ hottest producers, Spike Jonze. Jonze had worked with just about every band of note during the 1990s and into the 2000s. He had just finished producing his first movie, the quirky Being John Malkovich. At the time that he discovered the Langley Schools Music Project CDs, Jonze had just been hired on to produce the ambitious movie Where The Wild Things Are, which, as you may know, was based upon the famous children’s book of the same name by Maurice Sendak. The CDs had been re-titled and now went by the name Innocence and Despair. In Jonze’s mind, the title of these CDs, along with the amateurish sound of these children working their way through some of the famous songs in the world that dealt with topics such as longing, heartbreak and hopefulness was exactly what he imagined childhood to be from a child’s perspective. Because he felt that Sendak’s book also nailed the idea of childhood as seen and experienced by real children, he decided that the Langley Schools Music Project would guide the making of his new movie, Where The Wild Things Are.

Where The Wild Things movie director Spike Jonze.

Spike Jonze knew the world of modern music extremely well. So, when it came time to hand the music score over to someone who would understand his vision of what childhood from a child’s perspective was like, he immediately thought of the lead singer of the group Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O. As the 2000s dawned, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the freshest and most original music acts in the world. Jonze was most impressed by a music video called “Cheated Hearts” (which I highly encourage you to read about and watch here). Not long after that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released the groundbreaking music video for the song “M.A.P.S.” (which, again, I highly encourage you to read about and watch here before going on with this story). In both cases, it was clear to Jonze that Karen O. knew how to allow her audience to express their true selves without shame or inhibition so he asked her to score his film. Once Karen O. came on board with the film project, she gathered her Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates together, along with other musicians from Alternative/Indie bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and others. These extra musicians became the “kids” who, along with Karen O., wrote the soundtrack for this film. The big song that came from the movie was written by Karen O. and was called “All Is Love”.

Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote “All Is Love”.

“All Is Love” never became a huge hit because it was never intended to be a stand-alone song. It was also never intended to be a song about adulthood. “All Is Love” was written to capture the idea that one of the most important and sad things that happens as we progress through our childhood years is that we learn that we have to temper our emotions. Rarely do we, as adults, allow ourselves to simply “let it all hang out”. How often do we laugh so hard we wet our pants or lose our breath? How often do we run and run and run just to feel the wind on our skin as our hearts pound almost completely out of our chests? How often do we scream cathartically at the top of our lungs in public places? The answer to all of these questions is rarely, if ever at all. Part of the process of growing up requires the reining in of our emotions. The need to fit in, to get along, to know how to properly behave in society means taking the edge off of our most basic instincts and desires. In a world where being good citizens and neighbours has value, this isn’t the worst thing. But, it is a bargain we are forced to make, whether we like it or not. Much of the rationale behind the original storybook version of Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was to allow children to be children for as long as possible because that was when we are in our purest form. Childhood, in all of its uncontrollable emotional moments, is that time in all of our lives before the social negotiations begin and the tradeoffs take root and we become, not necessarily who we want to be, but the version of ourselves that we have to be in order to be accepted by others. The point of the book was that in childhood, we are our true selves and yet, despite how that sometimes plays out, we are loved unconditionally by our parents and grandparents anyway. It can be exhausting but sometimes that’s just the way love is. The song “All Is Love” by Karen O. and the Kids captures that dichotomy extremely well. As stated, this song was never meant to stand alone so I recommend watching it as it was used in the movie. I will link to that below.

The film Where The Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze was met with decidedly mixed reviews. Much of the reason for this was because people simply didn’t know what to make of a movie that wasn’t told from the perspective of adults and yet, wasn’t a children’s movie, either. Where The Wild Things Are was a movie about childhood in all of its warts and bruises. It was a cinematic rendering of what it is like to be a child and experience the wild swings of emotion that come with it. For what it is worth, in my opinion, Spike Jonze managed that rarest of rare feats…he treated children and childhood with respect. Not many adults accept children for who they actually are. They often believe them incapable of serious thought, and as such, deny them the opportunity to chart their own course and make their own decisions which, in turn, lead to consequences that help fuel future growth. In the book and the movie, it is only when young Max has his tantrum at home and then journeys to the land of the Wild Things in his imagination that he comes to realize that he can be who he truly is and will still be loved by his mother (who has a hot supper waiting for him…the hot supper being symbolic of a mother’s love). Helping children to realize that who they truly are is all that they need to be has immeasurable value to their future wellbeing. It is the reason that Where The Wild Things Are was recently rated as being the #1 children’s picture book of all time and the #4 most checked out book in American Public Libraries (and that includes all adult books, too).

I will conclude by stating that nothing I have written in this post is meant to suggest that children should be allowed to run amok, to do whatever they please whenever they feel like it. Part of being a parent is the responsibility to sometimes limit your child’s desires due to safety reasons or economic ones or dozens of other things, too. However, another part of being a parent…in my opinion, by far and away the most important part…is helping your child to become the best version of themselves that they are capable of being. Part of doing that is respecting your child for who they really are and loving them no matter what. At the end of the day, your child’s formative years are the foundation of the rest of their life. We would be wise to help them build as strong a foundation as possible because, as we all know, being an adult isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Let the wild rumpus begin anyway! Let’s all go and have our very best day!

The link to the video for the song “All Is Love” by Karen O. and the Kids from the Original Soundtrack to the film Where The Wild Things Are can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the film Where The Wild Things Are can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Misguided Angel by The Cowboy Junkies…Song #30/250: The Great Canadian Road Trip

When I started writing the posts that came to be The Great Canadian Road Trip series, the idea was to write about songs that possessed the specific name of a Canadian place within its lyrics. However, as the series has progressed, I have made the deliberate decision to move beyond the original criterion that I imposed upon myself and, instead, I will move forward simply talking about Canada, the people who create music here and the places that merit mention because of their connection to music. Today, we are going to visit a place of significant cultural and historical importance to the City of Toronto, as well as to the world of social activism and the Arts. That place is the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto. Aside from the myriad of things the church is known for, one of the most enjoyable was that it was the location where one of Canada’s greatest albums of all time was recorded. The album was The Trinity Session. The band who recorded it was The Cowboy Junkies. Let’s find out what it was that drew The Cowboy Junkies to The Church of the Holy Trinity and what it was about the church itself that caused this album to have such a distinctive sound and to be such a career-defining success. Here is the story of a small church in the heart of a big city. Let’s go!

Maintaining The Toronto Homeless Memorial is just one of many compassionate and important acts performed by those who run The Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto.

The Church of the Holy Trinity has a very interesting and important history. It was built in the mid-1800s on a parcel of land that was donated by a man named James Simcoe Macaulay. Mr. Macaulay was the surgeon to the British Army stationed in the area. When he was honorably discharged from his post, he purchased a parcel of land that comprised 100 acres of farm, forest and marshland in an area of Toronto that was undeveloped at the time. (In 2023, the heart of his property sat where the Toronto Eaton Centre Shopping Mall and office towers now reside). As time went on, Macaulay severed his land to various family members and other people who wanted to develop the area for housing and for business interests. One of the people who approached Macaulay about his land was Archbishop Strachan, the Anglican Archbishop of Toronto. Strachan had been contacted by lawyers from England who informed him that the diocese had been bequeathed a large sum of money (5000 pounds sterling) for the sole purpose of building a new church. The benefactor was an English woman named Mary Lambert Swale. Mrs. Swale stipulated that the church must be named The Church of the Holy Trinity and that it must be an “open church”, meaning that the pews were unreserved. (In the past, one of the ways that churches raised money was from the selling of their pew space in return for a monthly or yearly fee. This often meant that only the wealthy could afford to go to church and that the poor were denied access). Mrs. Swale’s conditions meant that The Church of the Holy Trinity would be a church that serviced immigrants, the poor, the homeless and anyone else who wanted to attend. Consequently, throughout the entire length of its history, The Church of the Holy Trinity has carried through with its mission statement and has served as home for all manner of those on the fringes of society including Vietnam draft dodgers, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community in the 1970s, the homeless (The Toronto Homeless Memorial Roll that contains the names of all homeless people who have died in Toronto is kept there), those battling addictions and many, many more. It was a building that took on the air of a sanctuary in the heart of Canada’s largest and fastest growing city. Not only was the Church of the Holy Trinity a champion for those in need, it also served the role as a patron of the Arts. Throughout its history, it has routinely offered the space within its walls to musicians in need of a place to perform or record. It was because of this that a group that billed itself at the time as the Timmins Family Singers booked the church for one day because that was all they could afford. The Timmins Family Singers turned out to be The Cowboy Junkies and that one day allowed them to record the album that put them on the musical map in Canada, The Trinity Session.

The Cowboy Junkies had their origin way back in kindergarten when Michael Timmins met his lifelong friend Alan Anton. The two boys grew up together and started forming bands while in high school. Their first band was called Hunger Project. Wanting to live in the land of their musical influences, the lads moved to England. Eventually Hunger Project went belly up, and the boys started a new, avant-garde band called Germinal. While that band earned them some small bits of recognition, they both agreed that it was time to return to Toronto, so back home they came. After experimenting with band lineups using various combinations of friends and acquaintances, Anton and Timmins came to the conclusion that their songs might sound better if they were being sung by a woman’s voice, so Michael recruited his younger sister, Margo, to join their band. The only problem with this was that Margo was extremely shy at this stage of her life. The last thing she wanted to do was to face a live audience and belt out tunes written by her brother. But when her brother and Alan Anton heard her sing, they knew her voice was mesmerizing, so they adapted their style of play to suit her hushed style of singing. As a result, The Cowboy Junkies stumbled upon their signature quiet sound quite by accident.

The Cowboy Junkies and crew recording at The Church of the Holy Trinity for The Trinity Session album.

After realizing that performing in a small and intimate way was the key to their future success, the band sought opportunities to capture that sound live on an album. Fortunately for them, they ran into a man named Peter Moore who spoke about recording music using a single microphone. The band liked the thought of all crowding around one microphone and believed that doing so would allow their whispery style of play to be captured authentically on tape, so they formed a partnership with Moore. Now, the only thing left was to find an acoustically perfect place to make this album. Being a relatively new band, The Cowboy Junkies did not have a huge budget. Somewhere along the way, it was discovered that The Church of the Holy Trinity would rent its space for a small fee as long as the music being recorded was “suitable and appropriate” for such a venue. That’s how The Cowboy Junkies became The Timmins Family Singers for one day. They told the booking person at the church that they would be recording a Christmas album. They said nothing about singing songs of longing or addiction or sex. The band loved the acoustics they found in the church. The space had no pillars of any sort supporting the roof so the interior space was wide open. This, combined with the stone walls and rounded roof meant that there was a crystal clear clarity to the notes being played and the words being sung. The band recorded the simplest songs first…adjusting the microphone and their own positioning accordingly as each song progressed and grew more complex. The final song they recorded that day was “Misguided Angel”. It was recorded in one take. There was no overdubbing or mixing required. The version you hear when you listen to it today is exactly the same version that was recorded that day. With the exception of a few additional vocal tracks which were laid down afterwards, the entire Trinity Session album was recorded in one day at The Church of the Holy Trinity.

When The Trinity Session was released, it was lauded for the sound quality of the music, along with the inspired choice of lyrics of a majority of the songs, such as their cover of “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed (which he has stated is his favourite version of that song), “200 More Miles”, “Blue Moon Revisited (A Song for Elvis)” and, today’s song, “Misguided Angel”. The album flew off of store shelves going two times platinum in Canada. Music critics across North America rated it as one of the best albums of the year, and as if that wasn’t enough, The Trinity Session was named the winner of the Polaris Prize for Best Album in Canada for the decade of the 1980s. To celebrate the success of the album, The Cowboy Junkies re-recorded it twenty five years later, but this time adding singers such as Natalie Merchant, Vic Chestnutt and Ryan Adams to the mix as duet partners. That album was called Trinity Session Revisited.

The Cowboy Junkies have released eighteen albums as of 2023. The band’s lineup has remained the same for almost thirty years now. As for The Church of the Holy Trinity, it occupies one of the most prime pieces of real estate in downtown Toronto. There have been many offers to buy the property and turn it into condominiums or storefront retail space but all attempts to buy the land on which the church sits have been rebuffed. This church, which was once one of Toronto’s most distinctive buildings, now sits dwarfed on all sides by buildings devoted to commerce and trade. Yet, it remains a safe harbour for those experiencing personal storms. It also remains a place where musicians and artists can find a venue to showcase their skills and talents. There is a weekly music series that anyone can attend. The Cowboy Junkies have never performed there but if you ever see a group that goes by the name of The Timmins Family Singers on the schedule, alert your friends and head on down because it will be sure to be quite the show. The price of admission remains free and will be forever more.

The link to the video for the song “Misguided Angel” by The Cowboy Junkies can be found here. ***There appears to be no lyrics version but a photo of the lyrics can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for The Church of the Holy Trinity can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Twelve Variations by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…Composition #27/50: Keepin’ It Classy

A young Mozart at Versailles.

For a short while during the 1700s, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived in Paris, France. Like many who had come to live there before him, Mozart was inspired by the culture of the French people. In particular, he was delighted by a simple French folk song entitled “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman”. The melody of this folk song is universally recognized as the foundation of three classic children’s songs: “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the “ABC song”. If you sing each song in your head, you will notice that the melody is exactly the same for each song and that, not only that, you can interchange the lyrics from one song to the other without losing any of the melodic flow at all.

What Mozart did with this folk song is something in music known as theme and variation. What that means is that a composer such as Mozart will begin the composition with a standard set piece of music which will be played in its entirety. This is known as the theme. Then, the composer will replay that original set piece but alter it in one specific way each time. This is known as the variation. In the specific case of “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman”, Mozart played the original “Twinkle, Twinkle” version as the theme and then altered it in twelve ways (such as rhythmically, melodically, harmonically, by changing the timbre, the orchestration and so on). By creating these twelve variations, Mozart was showing other composers, as well as his audience, that it was possible to take a well-known composition and present it in original and imaginative ways that all created something new and fresh while, at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the foundational piece. By doing so, Mozart declared that it was within the realm of possibility to re-imagine the entire scope of all music created by humans up until that time.

Needless to say, Mozart’s ideas were often of a revolutionary nature that didn’t always work in harmony with the existing structured mindset possessed by many composers at the time. Mozart lived during a time period in which classical compositions were supposed to fit a certain mold. He found these expectations too restrictive and, as a result, often took delight in tweaking the noses of the musical establishment, as it were, by creating pieces such as his Twelve Variations. By insisting to the authorities at the various royal courts that he frequented that it was possible to alter existing works in ways that were exciting and new and yet still sounded like the original work, he was forcing them to accept the notion that the rules of musical composition weren’t set in stone. Granting future composers the freedom to experiment with musical form was one of the most important legacies that Mozart left behind after his death. He accomplished this in part because of his Twelve Variations on “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman”.

The Twelve Variations scene from the Your Lie In April anime.

One of the things I enjoy about the research I do into the stories of these musical pieces is that sometimes something unexpected pops up which takes me in a whole new direction. One such instance of this occurred during my research into the Twelve Variations. While listening to this work on YouTube, I kept reading listener comments that stated something along the lines, “Who else is here because of Your Lie In April?” I had no idea what Your Lie In April was so I went down the rabbit hole and began researching that topic. Here is what I found. In Japan, there is a very popular art form known as Manga. For lack of a better comparative term, Japanese manga translates roughly the same as North American comic books. We might simply call that form of artistic expression as being “comics”. In Japan, they call it “manga”. So anyway, in Japan there was a manga series that was based upon music. That series was called Your Lie in April. The series was released in serial form, meaning one chapter at a time. The story involved a child prodigy who was an award-winning pianist. This child was driven by his mother to attain a level of perfection that made his stage presence and his playing almost seem robotic. Despite that, he inspires a young girl to take up the violin. She does so with dreams of one day playing on stage with the young man. Eventually the two meet and become friends. Then, a tragedy happens. The mother of the pianist dies from an illness. The boy finds that he can no longer hear the piano when it plays, and he lapses into a form of depression because his gift appears to have been taken from him just as his mother was. The young girl seeks to nurture his soul back so that he will attempt to perform again and that she can do it with him. I won’t spoil the ending by giving it away, but Your Lie In April had a very emotional ending, to say the least.

Because the manga was about music but was in two-dimensional book form, many felt as though something was missing. So, an animé (or, live action animated version) of the manga was created for television. It aired in episodic fashion in Japan a few years ago. Because the story was being told like a movie now, all of the classical music that the pianist and his violinist friend were practicing and performing could be played aloud in the animé. On episode #3 of the series, the pianist’s mother had just died and he was discovering that he couldn’t play the piano anymore. The young girl was trying to cheer him up in a café. Suddenly, two young children begin to play Mozart’s Twelve Variations on a piano located in the café. (Remember, the tune is just “Twinkle, Twinkle”). The violinist asks her friend if he can hear those notes and guides him over to where the little girls are playing. They recognize him as being the famous child prodigy they had seen on TV and ask him to play with them. With encouragement, he begins to play for the first time since his mother had passed away, only to find the notes are elusive and he cannot even play “Twinkle, Twinkle” anymore. This scene can be viewed by clicking here.

I have always believed in the power of creativity. The act of creating something out of nothing is absolutely exhilarating! Whether it is me with the blank screen that appears before me as I begin each post or a chef who gathers the ingredients that will combine to make a feast or a composer who takes a blank sheet of paper and fills it with squiggles that play as melodies, being able to create something new and original that may bring pleasure to others is what motivates me and so many others to do what we do each day of our lives. It was what motivated a creative genius like Mozart to explore and surpass the boundaries of what was possible during his lifetime in the world of classical composition. It is, also, the loss of that creative ability that quickly drained the joy away from the young pianist in the animé Your Lie In April. Being a creator is important. So, give your children crayons and blank paper, along with the colouring books with pre-drawn pictures. Let them make their marks and tell their stories accordingly. Our imagination is one of the most precious aspects of ourselves, along with our hearts and needs to be protected and nurtured and unleashed as required. Just as we do by exercising to keep our bodies healthy, take some time today (and every day) for a little play time. It will do wonders for your imagination and it will do wonders for your soul. Now that you have read this post….go and play! Have some fun! I will see you again next time with a whole new story. Until then, take care. Bye for now.

The link to the video for the composition “The Twelve Variations” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be found here.

The link to the official website of the Mozart Museum can be found here.

The link to the world’s best classical music radio station…Classical 103.1…which broadcasts from my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Bliss by Volbeat…Song #22: Reader’s Choice

Way back in the day when I first put out a call for submissions for my Reader’s Choice series, one of the entries I got back was today’s song, “The Bliss” by Volbeat. The nomination came from a former student of mine. Among the best things about being a teacher are the personal connections that you are fortunate enough to be able to make with students and their families. In the case of Livy Lu (as she is known on social media), I not only got a chance to meet a terrific student and person, but I also got to work alongside her aunt (who was a fellow staff member). As well, Livy’s father, Jay, came along as a parent volunteer on class trips and her grandmother was often the one who picked her up after school, so I got to know most of Livy Lu’s family fairly well. Once I retired from teaching, I came across Livy Lu’s aunt and dad on social media and was encouraged by them to stay in touch. Eventually, Livy Lu, herself, grew old enough to make contact with. I have thoroughly enjoyed being connected to Livy Lu and her family because they are all nice people, but more than that, I like them because they are all into music. Over the course of the past few years, I have had a front row seat to the birth of a new local band. Jay, his brother, his brother-in-law and one other friend named Rocky joined together in Jay’s basement to form a band called Nitetime Drive. In the time since they first started posting their jam sessions, the band has released a CD of original rock n’ roll music, they have played their first paid gigs in small local music venues and now have reached the point where they recently found themselves opening on a bill at the famous El Mocambo nightclub in Toronto. Through it all, Livy Lu has posted her own favourite songs on social media, has learned to play several instruments and has produced several excellent videos that showcase her father’s band. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch Livy Lu and her family grow and develop their love of music, turning it into something tangible like a real live band. And speaking of real live bands, let’s talk about Livy Lu’s nominated band, Volbeat.

Rob Caggiano, Michael Poulsen, Jon larsen (on drums) and Kaspar Boye Larsen (VOLBEAT) at Rock Am Ring 2016 in Mendig (Germany)

Volbeat is a Danish band. They have been together for over a decade now. Initially, the core members of Volbeat were in a Danish death metal band called Dominus. Eventually, the death metal scene grew tiresome so lead singer Michael Poulsen left to form a new band that could play a wider range of music. His new band became Volbeat. Volbeat got its name from the title of Dominus’ final album called Vol. Beat. As Volbeat started out, they played a combination of heavy metal, hard rock, regular rock and some rockabilly, too. Because the members of Volbeat were already familiar to music lovers in the Danish music scene, Volbeat got a boost right off the bat when they released their debut album. Sales were solid for this band who ended the year being named Best New Metal Band in Denmark. Like many new bands, Volbeat paid their musical dues by opening for other like-minded but more established acts such as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and others as they toured Europe. The connections Volbeat made as a result of these touring opportunities allowed them to grow their own base, and subsequently, it gave them the freedom to experiment with musical styles and broaden the range of music they were writing and playing for audiences. This resulted in a song that was released in two versions. First, it was released in Danish and was called “For Evigt” (which means “forever”). Then, the same song was released in English and was called “The Bliss”.

“The Bliss” is a pure rock song. It has lots of guitars and a strong vocal presence by Poulsen. The song was written by Poulsen about his feelings surrounding his new girlfriend. “The Bliss” speaks to those mysterious powers of attraction that seem to exist between two people that cannot be logically explained. There is a power to the intensity of the connection being made that, at times, can be exhilarating and frightening at the same time. But, one thing for sure, that feeling is always memorable and remains with you forever, which is what “The Bliss” is all about. Volbeat are much loved in their homeland (even a cursory glance at the comments that accompany this song will bear this out). “The Bliss” has become a song that is played for lovers, but, as well, it is played for those for whom a loving relationship exists such as between parents and their family, thus it is not uncommon for “The Bliss” to be played at funerals, too.

Nitetime Drive: Jay, Rocky, Mike and Marc

All in all, Volbeat stands as yet another example of a local band creating music from their hearts and, as a result, they are building strong bonds with their audience. I am grateful to Livy Lu for allowing me to be a fly on the wall of her life and, as part of this, to be able to watch as she and her own family enjoy their own musical journey with their band, Nitetime Drive. 2023 began with an appearance at the El Mocambo. Who knows where it may end up? But, one thing is for sure, as long as they continue to create music from the heart and play with passion on stage every night, Nitetime Drive will discover that their audience will follow them wherever they go, too, just like Volbeat has done in Denmark. A second thing I can confidently predict is that my pal, Livy Lu, will be there to witness it all. I look forward to seeing how it all turns out. Livy Lu, I wish you and your family all the best in the year to come. May all of your musical dreams come true.

The link to the video for the song “The Bliss” by Volbeat can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

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

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

The link to the video for the song, “Dirty Little Angel” by Nitetime Drive (their first ever music video!!!) can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Today’s/Tomorrow’s Top 40: January, 2023

In today’s post I am going to be featuring three songs that are currently charting around the world and three songs that are hot off of the presses and may turn into the chart-topping songs of tomorrow. So, let’s get started with three of the hottest songs in the world.

TOP OF THE CHARTS

Pointless: Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi

Lewis Capaldi is a Scottish-born singer who burst onto the world music scene in 2019 with the monster hit song “Someone You Loved”. This song helped Capaldi win the Brit Award for Best New Artist, as well as having the song nominated for Song of the Year in England as well as in the U.S. Lewis Capaldi has a new album coming out in the spring time and is presently pre-releasing singles in advance of his album coming out. The first single is a song called “Pointless”, and let me tell you, it is the first song of 2023 to be mentioned as a potential Song of the Year candidate for this year. It is a four-tissue tear-jerker of a song about a mother’s love for her son. Capaldi insists that the song is not biographical but one has to wonder. The video for this song plays like a home video from my own life. So many of the moments that he alludes to and captures on film are exactly right based upon my own recollections of being loved by my own mom. In a morbid sort of way, I predict that, from this point onward, “Pointless” will become the #1 song played at funerals for mothers. If you are a mother of a son or sons, or if you are a son with a loving mother, this song was written expressly for you. As you read these words, “Pointless” by Lewis Capaldi is #1 on the BBC Radio 1 charts. ***Lyrics video is here.

Anti-Hero: Taylor Swift

The “real” Taylor Swift learning to live with the “celebrity image” that she portrays when on brand, as seen in her Anti-Hero video.

Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, dropped just prior to the Christmas shopping season. In press releases that accompanied the release of this new album, Taylor Swift said that each song on the album reflected some part of her life in which there were problems, fears, questions or concerns that kept her awake at night. The album has been well-received by fans and critics alike, with the song “Anti-Hero” being the one most are pointing to as being the best track. In literature or the movies, an anti-hero is a character caught somewhere in the netherworld between heroes and villains. An anti-hero often seems to possess the desire to act in a villainous manner, but in the end behaves in a good way. For Taylor Swift, this song is about the nature of living a life under the weight of being a celebrity. Swift claims that her life is actually different from her image, but that it is difficult to just be herself when her every move is scrutinized to such a tremendous extent that she can barely breathe. I have stated in previous posts that I harbour not a single ounce of envy for those living in the glare of the spotlights. It may seem glamorous on the surface, but as someone who values privacy and freedom of movement and calmness, having my every utterance analyzed would be almost unbearable. “Anti-Hero” is Taylor Swift’s musical declaration that she finds being the living embodiment of her own brand is growing wearisome and that she longs to live a normal life. As you read these words, “Anti Hero” has been a #1 song in the U.S. and remains in the Top Ten of many charts around the world. ***Lyrics version is here.

Sza: Kill Bill

Sza

Sza (pronounced SIZ-a) is a female Hip Hop singer. She has had much success over the past few years but really has a hit on her hands with the song “Kill Bill”. This song was inspired by the Quentin Tarantino movies Kill Bill and Kill Bill Vol. 2 that starred Uma Thurman as a revenge-seeking woman who is determined to bring her ex-lover to justice no matter who stands in her way. As is customary from Tarantino, both Kill Bill movies were very violent. That sentiment that equates violence to Art is at play in Sza’s song. In her song, “Kill Bill”, Sza is a spurned lover who seeks to kill the girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend because her love for him is just too strong to ignore. Sza is being praised by fans and critics for creating a song that displays such honest emotions. Have a listen to this song for yourself and see if you agree that killing in the name of love is a praise-worthy accomplishment. As you read these words, “Kill Bill” by Sza is the #1 song on Billboard, Spotify and KEXP-FM charts, as well as a Top Ten song on most charts around the world. ***Lyrics version is here.

NEW ALBUM RELEASES

Living On Mercy by Dan Penn

In a recent post *(which you can read here) I wrote about Dan Penn and the important role he played as a songwriter at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama during the 1960s and 70s and how he had contributed to the launch of the genre of music called blue-eyed soul. What I didn’t really do is give the man his due as a performer in his own right. I wish to correct that oversight here and now. Dan Penn has written some of the most important and recognizable songs in the history of modern music and has written for everyone from Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett on to Janis Joplin, Percy Sledge, Hank Williams Sr., Sam and Dave, Ronnie Milsap, Faron Young, Albert King, Nick Lowe and many more. But, as much as Dan Penn is respected as a songwriter for hire, he is equally respected for producing excellent albums of his own. Just as the pandemic was getting underway in 2020, Penn released an album called Living On Mercy, which contained a series of restrained Soul-influenced songs that tap into the wisdom of a man who has seen and done much in his eighty years on this planet. The lyrics track can be listened to here.

This Stupid World by Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo

In a previous post *(which you can read here) I wrote about Yo La Tengo being one of the most adored and respected alternative bands in the world. They have been quietly going about their musical business for over two decades now. The band consists of a trio of performers: singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan, keyboardist Georgia Hubley and a rotating series of bass players, the most current being James McNew. I have always considered their sound to be a coffeehouse/indie vibe. Their lyrics are often lyrically evocative and filled with gorgeous sensory imagery. If you like your music on the quiet and literate side, then you will like Yo La Tengo. This Stupid World is their 17th album. The first single off of the album is a song sung by Georgia Hubley called “Aselestine”. ***Unfortunately, there isn’t a lyrics version yet.

Dance Fever by Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine

In a recent post *(that you can read here) I wrote about listening to the radio as I drove across the top of Toronto at nearly two in the morning. The first song I heard once the dial found radio station CFNY-FM was “Stereo” by The Watchmen. The very next song was “Free” by Florence and the Machine. For those unaware, the “Florence” in Florence and the Machine is a female singer from England named Florence Welch. About a decade ago, she was the winner of one of Simon Cowell’s on-air television talent shows and because of that was awarded a recording contract. She has released a string of hits in the years that have followed. My favourite moment of hers was when she acted as fill-in headliner at the Glastonbury Music Festival for the Foo Fighters one year when Dave Grohl had broken his leg. The first song she sang in her set was “Times Like These”, which is a Foo Fighters song. Dave Grohl and the band returned the following year as headliners. Grohl opened his set with a story about watching Florence and the Machine singing his song. It is a funny NSFW story, but it is well worth watching to get a sense of how respected Florence Welch is in music circles. *(You can watch the Dave Grohl/Florence Welch video here. You can watch Florence’s original performance here). In any case, Florence and the Machine released a new album called Dance Fever right at the end of 2022. “Free” is the second single released from it. The song is about how Florence dealt with the anxiety that was associated with the Covid pandemic and how music helped her retain her sense of inner balance. It is a peppy, uplifting song co-written by Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote the songs on Taylor Swift’s last few albums as well. You can listen to “Free” right here. ***The lyrics version is here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator…Song #29/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Emperor Commodus as he appeared in a bust and as a computer-generated version of what he may have looked like in real life.

When we examine the whole of human history, it is safe to say that the Holy Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and impactful of all time. At the height of its rule, that Empire counted 70 million people strong. For almost two full centuries, its laws and customs were the laws and customs of a majority of people living in all developed countries on the planet. This period of Roman rule is known in history as Pax Romana or Roman Peace. For the sake of this post, I will not go into the entire history of the Holy Roman Empire but will, instead, focus on how it ended. The 200-year historical period known as Pax Romana was marked by the rule of five Roman Emperors known as the Five Good Emperors. Of those five good emperors, the final one was Marcus Aurelius. During his lifetime, Marcus Aurelius fathered several children, all of whom passed away during childhood except one: a son named Commodus. Being the sole heir to the throne, Commodus received the best in terms of education and opportunity. As a young teenager, Commodus rode off into battle with his father and earned many honours. As he rose in influence, Commodus eventually joined his father as co-emperor and then, a few years later upon Marcus Aurelius’ death, Commodus became the sole Roman Emperor in his early twenties. The reign of Commodus is noted mainly for two things: 1- he negotiated several peace treaties with warring neighbouring countries that led to the final period of stability and peace in the Pax Romana era. 2- Commodus never showed an interest in running the day-to-day affairs of state. He delegated those to subordinates. Instead of being a statesman, Commodus began to rule as though he was a God. He fought gladiator-style in the Coliseum and, among other things, changed many laws to honour his name and protect his place on the throne of Rome. Because of his unsteady leadership, he was the subject of a coup and was assassinated at the age of thirty-one. The death of Commodus ended Pax Romana and ushered in the Year of the Five Emperors and initiated the start of the decline of the Holy Roman Empire across the world.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in the movie Gladiator.

The movie Gladiator is a work of historical fiction that was inspired by the true story of the reign of Commodus. In the movie, Joaquin Phoenix played the role of Commodus to great effect. Veteran actor Richard Harris played his father, the last great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. As you may know, Gladiator won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. Crowe’s character of a military leader turned slave turned gladiator named Maximus was a composite of several historical figures. While Gladiator played loose with the historical facts, as most movies do, overall it was lauded for its generally accurate depiction of how Commodus behaved personally and politically up to and including his decision to meet Maximus in combat in the movie’s climactic scene. All throughout his twenties, Commodus regularly climbed into the combat arena to battle with select gladiators. As was to be expected, he never faced a serious challenge and always emerged victorious. One of his customs was to inflict one or more cuts into the flesh of his opponents. He would then “show mercy” and allow his opponent to live if the opponent agreed to bow down and surrender to him in the arena. All did. Then, as these gladiators went about the rest of their lives, they would bear a “battle scar” that told the world of their indebtedness to Commodus. It was much the same idea as when slave owners branded slaves with their mark as a way of showing ownership. So in the movie’s final scene, it was historically accurate to depict Joaquin Phoenix climbing down from the Emperor’s viewing stand and agreeing to fight to the death with Maximus (who the movie implies was Marcus Aurelius’ favoured choice of successor). If you have not seen the movie then I will not spoil the ending by telling you how the battle turned out. However, I will say that as the scene ended, a most beautiful and unusual song began to play. This song is called “Now We Are Free”. It was written by a woman named Lisa Gerrard. The musical score was created by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer. Before I go any further, I want you to stop reading this post so that you can go and listen to a live rendition of this song. I would like to see if it makes any impressions upon you (aside from the fact that it is lovely and epic in scope). Can you spot what is unusual about this song which makes it completely original in terms of the vast majority of songs used in movies. So, take a moment and listen to the song here. Come back when you are finished and I will let you in on a little secret.

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard at the Golden Globes where they won for Best Song for “Now We Are Free”.

I hope that you gave this song a proper airing. What did you think of it? I have listened to several different renditions by several different female singers and they all sound similarly beautiful and ethereal. The thing that makes “Now We Are Free” so unique has nothing to do with the music of Hans Zimmer. It is entirely something to do with the writer Lisa Gerrard. While you were listening to the singer, did you hear her use words? It seems as though she does but, in truth, there are no words from any discernible language used in this song at all. Not one. Apparently, from the time she was a child, Lisa Gerrard believed that she could talk directly to God. I kid you not. As part of this communication conduit, Gerrard spoke in a made up language which she believed was given to her by God in order to facilitate their communication. Thus, in “Now We Are Free”, the female voice is using Gerrard’s invented speech patterns. What Hans Zimmer did was match his musical notes so that they amplified and/or complemented the sounds that Gerrard’s utterances were making in such a way as to make beautiful music. It is the same technique that Earth Wind and Fire used in their hit song, “September” when they sang the nonsense line “Ba De Ya” over and over again. Initially that was just a placeholder phrase when the song was still in the formative stages of development but once the music was composed, Maurice White decided to keep the nonsense phrase “Ba De Ya” in place because the cadence of it matched the musical notes perfectly. So, whether it be an uptempo number like “September”, or a passionate, dramatic piece such as “Now We Are Free”, sometimes the sounds made by a human voice are more important in the form they take rather than any actual words being used. This lends credence to those who say that instrumental music, or more specifically, wordless music is still a form of language just the same.

And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to….Russell Crowe as Maximus from the movie Gladiator.

In any case, “Now We Are Free” stands out as one of the most unique cinematic songs ever created. For a song without intelligible lyrics, “Now We Are Free” says so much. By now you will have listened to a live recording of the song. Below, I will provide a link to how the song was used in the movie. If you have never watched Gladiator and think that you might as a result of this post, then don’t click on the link because it gives away the ending of the movie and I would hate to spoil that experience for anyone. However, if you have watched the movie or just don’t really care, then by all means, click away and enjoy. In any case, the movie Gladiator launched a resurgence in historical fiction in Hollywood with movies such as Troy, King Arthur, The Last Samurai, 300 and Alexander being just some of the movies made in the 2000s that sought to replicate the success of this historical epic. However, even if history isn’t your thing, it is still important to know some of the most important and well known aspects of it. Movies such as Gladiator provide a gateway into the political world of empire building in a way that makes it seem interesting. The desire of megalomaniacs to create empires has been something that has happened repeatedly throughout human history with England and the US and Russia and Hitler’s Germany and WWII-era Japan all being recent examples. Stories of conquerors and the conquered are, in fact, more than works of fiction that fuel novels and movie scripts. This is the real world in which we all live. The real fiction may, in fact, be that any of us truly believe that we are free.

The link to the video for the song “Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator can be found here.

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

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Takin’ Care of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive…Song #29/250: The Great Canadian Road Trip

Elvis’ private airplane with the Takin’ Care of Business logo on the tail. This plane now sits at his Graceland Mansion Museum.

If you are familiar with the career trajectory of Elvis Presley at all, then you know how he burst onto the music scene in the 1950s with music and moves that left audiences in complete hysterics. In the early 1960s, Elvis left the bright lights of the music world for the discipline of the military. When he was honourably discharged from Uncle Sam’s army, Elvis returned to the world of entertainment but as a movie star instead of being purely a rock n’ roll singer. It was during this phase of his career that Elvis Presley began to experience a drop in popularity. Concerned about this, he decided to take control of his career back from his manager in the form of a national television special in which he would simply do what he enjoyed most and that was: sing! The television special was dubbed as Elvis’ “comeback special”. It was warmly received. Going back to his musical roots reinvigorated his spirits and caused Elvis Aaron Presley to want to perform live on a more regular and consistent basis. Thus, he gathered a new backing band and headed out on the road. The name he selected for his backing band reflected the renewed sense of purpose he felt inside. Thus, when Elvis launched his first tour in over a decade, it was called the “Takin’ Care of Business” Tour with Elvis Presley and the Takin’ Care of Business Band. The whole entourage flew on a plane emblazoned with the letters “TCB” next to a lightning bolt. All of the merchandise being sold on the tour had “TCB” and the lightning bolt on it. Elvis Presley was back and was takin’ care of business as only he could.

Just prior to the airing of Elvis’ “comeback special” on TV, a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba was climbing the US rock charts with a smash hit of their own, “American Woman”. The Guess Who, led by singer Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman saw their song go all the way to #1 on the charts, becoming the first Canadian act to do so in the Rock n’ Roll era. As was the case with many bands, Bachman and Cummings were busy writing and composing new material even as they toured with their older work. One of the songs that Randy Bachman brought to the group was a song tentatively called “White Collar Worker”. At the time, Burton Cummings dismissed the song as terrible because the chorus was clumsy and the melody of the song seemed to be merely copying The Beatles hit, “Paperback Writer”. But despite Cummings’ stinging rebuke, there was something about the song that Randy Bachman liked, so he tucked it away with a list of other songs he was composing with the thought of revisiting it at a future date.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Randy Bachman, Blair Thornton (who replaced Tim Bachman on guitar), Robbie Bachman and Fred Turner.

Well, that future date arrived several years later after The Guess Who had broken up. Randy Bachman found himself drifting through several bands, none of which were successful in gaining a new record deal. Eventually, Bachman turned to his family and convinced his brothers Tim and Robbie to join him in a band. They knew they needed a better singer than any of them were, so they recruited a fellow Winnipeg singer named Fred Turner. They named their new band Bachman-Turner Overdrive and set out to create some good, old-fashioned guitar driven rock n’ roll. Randy Bachman wrote all of the songs and kept all of the royalties for himself, which, in time, would prove to be a divisive decision. But, in the beginning, none of that mattered because the hits rolled off of Bachman’s pen. Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s first five albums all went Gold in Canada, with the first four also going Platinum in terms of sales. They had a string of iconic Canadian hits, such as “Let It Ride”, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, “Roll On Down The Highway”, “Hey You” and their most famous anthem, “Takin’ Care of Business”. In the mid-1970s, BTO were as big a band in Canada as there was. Their songs, along with those of bands such as April Wine and Trooper, formed much of the soundtrack of my teenage years.

Randy Bachman was listening to Vancouver’s CFUN radio when he heard the magical phrase, “Takin’ Care of Business”.

While most critics and fans accept BTO’s other hits at face value as being straight-ahead rockin’ tunes that are fairly self-explanatory as far as meaning goes, there have always been questions about “Takin’ Care of Business”. In an interview, Randy Bachman stated that although he was an Elvis Presley fan, he had no idea that Elvis’ new tour was titled “The Takin’ Care of Business” tour, nor that his backing band was called by that name, too. He denied ripping Elvis off and claimed, instead, that his song, “Takin’ Care of Business”, had actually been written years before and went by the name “White Collar Man”. Bachman maintained that Bachman-Turner Overdrive used to use “White Collar Man” as a warm-up song during recording sessions in which they would tune their instruments and get proper mic levels all figured out while they played. He said that he never thought of replacing the phrase “white collar man” with “takin’ care of business” until one day in Vancouver when he heard a DJ on CFUN radio use the phrase to describe the station’s musical philosophy. After hearing that, Bachman tweaked the song lyrics and the BTO version of “Takin’ Care of Business” was born. But, even then, the band had no intention of recording it for inclusion on an album. How that came to be was one day during a live performance, lead singer Fred Turner began to experience a mild form of laryngitis. Not certain that he had enough voice left to finish the show, he asked the band to play something…anything for ten minutes while he guzzled water so he could finish the set. Not knowing what else to play, they fell back upon their “tune-up” song and Randy Bachman began to sing. The debut performance of “Takin’ Care of Business” was met with thunderous applause, with the audience singing the new and improved chorus back right from the get-go. Afterwards, it was decided that the song should be added to the next album and the rest is Canadian music history.

The heyday of Bachman-Turner Overdrive coincided with the rejuvenation of Elvis Presley’s career and the donning of his iconic white jumpsuit. By the time that Elvis died in 1976, Bachman-Turner Overdrive were also essentially done as a touring band, too. In the short span of five or six years, Bachman-Turner Overdrive carved out a place for themselves in the pantheon of Canadian music greats. But the intensity with which they toured and recorded new material, coupled with the lack of equity in the division of profits the band was accruing caused the band to bicker and argue, and eventually, it caused Randy Bachman, himself, to opt to leave. There were several iterations of the band as the decades rolled by, including an actual reunion between Fred Turner and Randy Bachman, but nothing of musical consequence emerged. In fact, as some of you may be aware, Robbie Bachman passed away just one week ago formally ending any hope of a reunion of the classic BTO lineup.

Looking back upon it all, Randy Bachman has said that he has no regrets over anything. He remains one of the few Canadian rockers to have two #1 hits with two different bands (“American Woman” with The Guess Who and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” with Bachman-Turner Overdrive). A song that he always believed in (“Takin’ Care of Business”) became one of the most beloved and recognizable songs in Canadian history and still can be heard played at sporting events everywhere. And through it all, by some pure coincidence in timing, he has found himself forever linked with his hero, Elvis Presley, as two musicians who knew exactly what it meant to be takin’ care of business. The mere thought of it makes Bachman smile to this very day.

The link to the video for the song “Takin’ Care of Business” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

The link to the official website for Winnipeg, Manitoba…the birthplace of Bachman-Turner Overdrive can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin…Composition #26/50: Keepin’ It Classy

Mr. Chuck Berry

Over the past few years I have spent much time writing about music and the stories behind the most famous songs and genres throughout history. Much of that writing has focussed on Rock n’ Roll. One of the most factual pieces of information to arise out of all of this research and storytelling is that Rock n’ Roll drew much of its inspiration from the Blues and from Gospel. In other words, there was a whole host of musicians and bands who gained fame by taking the best aspects of the Blues and Gospel and integrating that into a new form of Pop music. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones and others of their ilk all readily admit to initially being inspired to become musicians by the likes of Chuck Berry, Big Mama Thornton, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and so on. One of the things about Rock n’ Roll, no matter who was doing the playing, was that it frightened those who sought to preserve the status quo in society at the time. Rock was called “the Devil’s music”. Many conservative organizations sought to ban it in one form or another. Laying just beneath the surface of this outrage was the odious notion that the real problem with Rock n’ Roll was that it was “Black” music. It was dangerous. It was sexual. It wasn’t proper. While Elvis and The Beatles were celebrated as being musical innovators, the likes of Marvin Gaye and Ben E. King and Curtis Mayfield had to ply their trade on the Chitlin’ Circuit because that was the safest avenue for singers of colour to perform and to express themselves. There were no cheesy movies made about the Reverend Al Green or Sam Cooke. It is simplest to say that the personal and professional experiences of Black musicians differed from those of their White counterparts. For Black musicians, Gospel and the Blues were part of their cultural heritage in a profoundly important manner that just didn’t apply to most White singers.

Many Speakeasies that sprang up in the 1920s showcased Jazz and served alcohol to a multi-racial clientele.

The notion that history repeats itself applies to music as well. Rock n’ Roll was not the first instance when a culturally significant form of musical expression for Black people was co-opted, sanitized and homogenized by Whites who, in turn, were celebrated and honoured for their efforts. The exact same thing happened a half century earlier with the musical genre called Jazz. While Rock n’ Roll was built upon a foundation of Gospel and the Blues, Jazz also incorporated the Blues but in a form that was spiced up with equal measures of Creole, Latin and Caribbean rhythms. Many point to New Orleans, Louisiana, as being the birthplace of Jazz and that, unlike much of the rest of the world’s music, Jazz was a uniquely American construct. Unencumbered by history and by rules handed down from centuries of European experience (as was the case with Classical music), Jazz was more free form and liberated. It was also primarily the purvey of Black musicians. As such, there was an initial air of mystery about Jazz for White audiences. What really brought White audiences and the world of Jazz together was the introduction in the 1920s of Prohibition. The legalized attempt to ban alcohol consumption only served to drive the market for booze underground and into the hands of organized crime figures such as Al Capone. Under the auspices of Prohibition, illegal nightclubs sprang up like weeds. These nightclubs would sell alcohol on the sly. Thus, clubs known as speakeasies began to appear and with them, Jazz musicians found a home. Because Jazz was considered to be Black music, there was a sexiness and an allure about it that drew White people to these speakeasy nightclubs. The 1920s became known as The Roaring Twenties in part because of the growth of Jazz and Swing music.

This is where knowing your history is important. Many of you are aware that it was just as Chuck Berry and Little Richard and James Brown were threatening to break through and become popular acts of their own accord that Rock n’ Roll suddenly went “White” with the appearance of Elvis and The Beatles. It was not some bit of divine intervention or some fluke of timing that saw these White entertainers appear from out of nowhere on their way to superstardom. The powers that be behind the scenes…the Col. Parkers of the world…knew that it was a White world and that they could only take Black music so far in terms of its acceptance by White audiences. These folks knew that if they could take the best of Black music and repackage it in a manner that would more easily appeal to White audiences, then they would really have something. The same thing was true for Jazz.

Composer George Gershwin.

Jazz was born from the cultural heritage of Black people. It rose to prominence as a musical genre during the age of prohibition and thus, it seemed illicit in a way to those not totally familiar with it. But, the growing appeal of Jazz music was undeniable. So, too, was the appeal it had to those who sought to control it and market it and profit from it. Just like it was later with Rock n’ Roll, the moment when Jazz crossed over into the mainstream of White culture in America occurred when a man named George Gershwin was challenged to create a Jazz-inspired crossover composition that would unite the world of Classical music (which was uniformly White) with the world of Jazz (which was almost entirely Black). That composition was called “Rhapsody in Blue”. This composition changed the nature of Jazz music in America in the same way that Elvis singing “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton changed Rock music in the 1950s. What was proudly Black now became commercially White. And everything was different then.

George Gershwin was only twenty-five years old when he composed “Rhapsody in Blue”. He was inspired to create the music for it after having ridden on a train. The pounding circular rhythm of the train’s movements caused Gershwin to develop the core components of the composition. Up until this moment, Gershwin had been known for providing the soundtrack to plays in much the same way that Mozart created the music for operas such as “The Marriage of Figaro”. As such, Gershwin was a rising star in the New York music scene. Because he was so young and successful, the powers that be felt that he would be the perfect person to launch as the face of modern Jazz. Trained in classical music as he was, Gershwin was very familiar with creating works for orchestras. He would write music for specific instruments and then weave the individual parts together to form a tapestry of sound that was pleasing to the ear. The challenge he faced with “Rhapsody in Blue” was to take the classical music format and insert elements of Jazz music into it while, at the same time, using traditional classical instruments in a Jazz style. Gershwin accomplished this by opening his piece with an elongated clarinet solo, that when first played, was unlike anything audiences had heard before. The opening of “Rhapsody in Blue” has become one of the most famous musical openings of all time. To those in attendance the first time “Rhapsody in Blue” was played, it was obvious that music was original and innovative and had staked new musical ground. Gershwin’s debut performance was met with rapturous applause. From that moment onward, “Rhapsody in Blue” was Jazz in America. To authentic New Orleans Jazz players, “Rhapsody in Blue” struck them as relatively bland and vanilla-like. But they also knew that White men had arrived in the world of Jazz and that the jig would never be the same again. They were right about that. As you listen to “Rhapsody in Blue” below, I hope that you appreciate it for the lovely piece of music that it is. The clarinet movement off of the top was an inspired choice to lead off the composition and act as an invitation into the mysterious world of Jazz for modern audiences. This was no speakeasy composition, but rather, it was a mass-marketing tool that drew as its inspiration the strength and beauty of America. A White America for White Americans. Gershwin was to Jazz as Elvis was to Rock n’ Roll. Somewhere down in New Orleans, beyond the tourist-trap allure of Bourbon Street, there is a Black Jazz player who is channeling an entire history worth of experience into their performance in the same manner that Billie Holiday once sang of “Strange Fruit”.

I will end this post as I began by simply stating the fact that the cultural and historical experiences that Black musicians infuse into their music are profoundly and deeply different than those experienced by Whites. They just are. For as lovely and historically significant a piece of music that “Rhapsody in Blue” is, it isn’t real Jazz. It is something else. Real Jazz comes from somewhere else. Somewhere deeper. I hope that you like it anyway. Many do. Just as many adored Elvis, too.

The link to the video for the composition “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for Classical music radio station extraordinaire…Classical 103.1…broadcasting from my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario can be found here.

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