Defying Gravity from the musical, Wicked…Song #14/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

The classic children’s novel, The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum.

In 1900, Frank Baum published a children’s novel entitled, The Wizard of Oz. In the century and a bit that has followed, The Wizard of Oz has gone on to become one of the most highly regarded and bestselling children’s novels of all time. By now, the characters are all fairly familiar with Dorothy and her dog, Toto arriving in Oz because of a tornado only to encounter munchkins, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion and a tin man, along with several witches and the Wizard of Oz, himself. The ruby red slippers that Dorothy finds and that the Wicked Witch of the West covets have taken their places among the most iconic movie props in Hollywood history. When Frank Baum published his book, his story was built upon a foundation of advice for children. This advice centered upon such fundamental things as always believing in yourself and staying true to your friends. But, as time has progressed, The Wizard of Oz book came to symbolize something else…something more grown up in nature. In time, adults came to realize that Frank Baum was also making a political statement with his book. That statement had to do with the nature of politics and of governing and how, as citizens, you shouldn’t always believe what you are being told by your leaders because what you are being told is not always the truth. The Wizard of Oz became a bestselling book. Then, it became an award-winning movie starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the story of Oz became a musical. This post is about that musical, which came to be called Wicked and how the appearance of truth can be deceptive, as Frank Baum had postulated over a century ago.

The musical, Wicked, is based upon a 1995 book by author Gregory Maguire called, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. In his book, Maguire tells the familiar Oz story from the perspective of Elphaba (the real name of the Wicked Witch of the West). Maguire’s ability to present the story from the point of view of one of literature’s most famous villains is an important one because it allows us to understand the need for critical thinking with regard to our history and the stories about our lives that we all believe to be true. One of the great truisms regarding our civilization is that its history is written by the victors. A simple example of this in Canada is how, for so many high school students, Canadian history has come to be stories of how people like Champlain and Cartier sailed across the ocean from Europe and conquered the land now known as Canada. Not much is ever said about the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples of this land who would, not surprisingly, take a much different and dimmer view of Champlain and these other explorers and colonizers. So, it has come to be accepted that those in power get to create the narrative by which we view ourselves and those around us who share our stories. Believe me when I tell you that there are whole libraries filled with books about the impact of our cultural stories on the lives of marginalized groups in our society. For the sake of a specific example, I present the story of Wicked.

Wicked’s storyline begins before the arrival of Dorothy and Toto in the Land of Oz. It starts out with the story of a woman who has an affair during which she gleefully drinks a green elixir. Out of this romantic tryst a baby girl is born. However, she was born with green skin. Needless to say, the colour of her skin has a big impact on how she is viewed by others and how she comes to view herself. The baby girl is named Elphaba. As she grows up, she comes in contact with another girl named Galinda. Galinda is everything that Elphaba feels she is not: she is cute, she is socially popular and all of the adults seem to dote upon her. As Elphaba and Galinda grow up together, the world of politics enters their lives in the form of an organized campaign to cage and imprison animals. In the Land of Oz, many animals are endowed with human-like qualities. In Wicked, one of Elphaba’s favourite professors is a goat who, one day, informs the class that his time as their teacher is drawing to a close because of new laws being passed against animals who can speak aloud. Not long after hearing this news, Elphaba’s teacher is replaced. This new teacher starts her first lesson by parading a caged lion cub in front of the class. The lesson being given is all about power and superiority but, to Elphaba, what she sees horrifies her. In her anger, she discovers that she has the ability to cast a spell. In doing so, she is able to put everyone in her class to sleep while she frees the lion cub. But, by doing so, Elphaba comes to the attention of the headmistress of her school who agrees to instruct her in the art of sorcery. Not long after, Elphaba asks that Galinda also be given the same lessons. Elphaba does this in the hope that she and Galinda can become true friends. Galinda agrees but does not view Elphaba with gratitude. Instead, as a “thank you”, she gifts Elphaba with a pointy black hat for her to wear at a party they are all going to. When Elphaba shows up wearing her stylish new hat, she finds herself mocked and ridiculed…which is the first step toward creating her identity as a black-hatted wicked witch. In time, the headmistress tells Elphaba that she believes in her and thinks she is ready to take her concerns about animal rights to the great Wizard of Oz, himself. Elphaba is thrilled and nervous, at the same time. Upon arrival in the Wizard’s palace, Elphaba and Galinda (who has accompanied her) discover what we all know about the Wizard of Oz and that he is just a puffed up phony with no real magical powers nor legal authority. This disillusionment causes Elphaba and Galinda both to see their world differently. Elphaba dedicates herself to opposing the Wizard’s regime and becoming someone who refuses to “play by the rules” that govern her and society. Thus, she becomes a rebel.

Idina Menzel, as Elphaba, sings, “Defying Gravity”.

At this stage in the musical, Idina Menzel (who played Elphaba) and Kristin Chenoweth (who plays Galinda) sing the song, “Defying Gravity”. This song is designed to be a show-stopper and is packed with many moments in which Menzel, in particular, gets to show off her vocal range. The song depicts a pivotal moment in the lives of both characters. In it, Elphaba declares herself a free person and promises to go out into the world on her own terms. She offers a seat on her broom to her “friend” Galinda but Galinda turns her down and allows Elphaba to defy gravity and fly away. This song ends Act #1. As Act #2 unfolds, we see that Glinda, the Good Witch, as she is now called, has become the public face of those in charge of the Land of Oz. Meanwhile, Elphaba has fled to the west to Munchkinland and is being called The Wicked Witch of the West by those in charge. There are love stories interwoven within this storyline and other plot developments, too. But, everything else that happens in Act #2 leads us to the climax of the story. Because you know the book, you know what happens in the end. Wicked does not alter the ending. But now, because the story of Oz has been told from a different perspective, we are left to wonder if the death of Elphaba is actually the cause for celebration that it has always been portrayed. Wicked asks us, as an audience, to revisit our preconceived ideas about what we believe to be true and re-examine if, in fact, the truth is real. Wicked leads us to question whether Elphaba was actually ever really wicked in the first place and whether her characterization as such was simply a political move by those in power to cause public opinion to sway against someone that they may have viewed as a threat. Conversely, was Glinda the Good Witch actually the good person she was always portrayed as being?

When I was still a teacher, I often led the children through a unit on Fairy Tales. I always found Fairy Tales to be a great way to introduce the elements of story writing to young children. Most Fairy Tales have well-defined beginnings, middles and ends. Most Fairy Tales have well-defined “good” and “evil” characters, too. However, a great thing used to happen as this unit moved along. As we made lists of the various characters who populated these stories, we would divide them up into charts of “good” and “evil” characters. At that point, I would help the kids describe the character traits that helped to make a character “good” or “evil”. If I did my job properly, at some point during this discussion, the kids would realize that most fairy tales are sexist as all get out. Almost all of the heroic characters are Princes and Kings. Almost all the helpless characters in need of being saved are beautiful females. Almost all of the truly nasty characters are strong women. Again, if I played my cards correctly, without having to say anything myself, one of the girls in the class would raise her hand and say, “Hey! Wait a minute!” because she was seeing these stories for what they were for the first time in her life. Because I took the kids through this unit, I always went out of my way to have books in the classroom in which some of the heroes were female (such as Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch or even Hansel and Gretel) or were Black-skinned or that had male characters in non-masculine roles and so on. Unfortunately, our world is far more complex and nuanced than many wish for it to be. But, our discomfort at having our life stories revealed to be false is no reason not to become critical thinkers. Whether it is school curriculum or the leadlines in our local newspapers, on TV or online, it behooves us to question what we are being told by those in positions of authority. As Frank Baum stated over a century ago, be a good friend to others, believe in the strength of your own character and always be willing to pull back the curtain on those in power. That’s what the Wizard of Oz was about. That’s what the musical, Wicked is about. Like it or not, that is what life is about, too.

The link to the video for the song, “Defying Gravity” from the musical, Wicked can be found here.

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

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

Keepin’ It Classy: Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite #3, Movement #3 by Ottorino Respighi or, as it is better known as, the Opening Theme to the Film, “Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses”.

The stories behind the greatest classical compositions of all time

It may seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but nevertheless I wish to take a few moments of your time to sing the praises of a movie franchise that made quite an impression on me and my daughters as they were growing up. The movie franchise I am referring to is none other than Barbie…you know, the doll from the Mattel toy company. That Barbie! The story of how we came to be devoted Barbie movie lovers dates back to the very earliest moments spent with our children. It serves to reinforce an important principle of parenthood which is that reading with your children from the day they are born reaps unimagined benefits down the road. Here is the story of how I became a Barbie movie fan and what that has to do with classical music.

Just one of the many terrific books in the Baby Einstein series.

From the very first moment our eldest daughter entered the world, my wife and I knew that something magical had happened. We were determined to love our child as fiercely as possible and raise her to be armed with as much confidence and knowledge as we possibly could so that she could take on the world on her own terms. One of the ways we decided to do this was by reading to our baby every day. Being teachers, my wife and I recognized the intellectual benefits for children to being exposed to language at an early age. But, even more than that, reading to our daughter gave us the opportunity to hold her close to our hearts each day while we read to her. This allowed for the pairing of warmth, security and happiness with the act of reading. In time, our daughter was old enough to hold and choose her own books. When she did, she explored the world of books with a sense of curiosity and excitement. In time, our daughter began to develop a tendency to read certain types of books so we began taking her to our public library and letting her have a say in what books we would borrow there. One of the book series that she became drawn to was the Baby Einstein series. These books were filled with shapes and colours and textures and flaps that opened and closed. But, they were also filled with short poems, works of Art and so on. It was a very enriching experience for our daughter and helped introduce her to people like Mozart and Brahms while doing so in an intellectually-appropriate manner for her young age. These Baby Einstein books led us to discover that there were DVDs available at the library, too. So, our daughter began looking in the DVD section of the children’s department as part of each visit, just as she did the storybook sections that were available to her. As our daughter grew some more, she began watching age-appropriate shows on TV and then looking to pair her viewing habits with books. So, before we knew it, we were inundated with books about Dora the Explorer, Caillou and The Berenstain Bears. Before long, our daughter discovered Barbie. That led to borrowing Barbie storybooks and then, eventually, she discovered a Barbie DVD called Barbie and the Three Musketeers. This is where my family’s love affair with the Barbie movie franchise began.

Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses Dvd.

As of the writing of this post, there are a total of 47 movies in the Barbie movie franchise. The series has gone through four re-boots along the way. Both of my daughters went through their Barbie movie phase but agree that the first quarter of the franchise had the best of the movies. So, let me tell you a bit about why my girls enjoyed the Barbie movies so much and why I recommend them so highly to any parent of children under the age of ten. First of all, just like the Baby Einstein books and DVDs, the early Barbie movies were all based on classic works from literature or the stage. So, our first DVD was the Barbie version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, The Three Musketeers. From there, the girls watched Barbie and Swan Lake, Barbie and the Nutcracker, Barbie as Rapunzel and Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, just to name a few. For my eldest daughter, in particular, watching these movies gave us the chance to introduce the original classic stories into our home. So, even though the animation was rudimentary, the storylines were faithful to the original classic works which made the experience of watching these movies worthwhile. Secondly, each movie contained a soundtrack that introduced new, original music but mostly featured the real versions of familiar classical compositions. It was through these Barbie movies that my daughters got to hear Swan Lake being performed, as well as the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky. In Barbie and Rapunzel, the girls were introduced to “Symphony No. 9, Movement No. 3” by Antonin Dvorak. For me, the pinnacle of the integration of the Arts with the Barbie movies came when we watched Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Composer Ottorino Respighi.

“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is originally a fairy tale from Germany’s The Brothers Grimm. In the Barbie movie, the same fairy tale was told with long segments of ballet interspersed within the storyline. The opening theme of the movie used the classical composition “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3, Movement No. 3” by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. The beautiful ballet scenes that formed the core of the story were accompanied by the music of Felix Mendelssohn and his “Symphony No. 4”. All in all, the movies were magical, made all the more so because of the wonderful music that was included in the soundtrack. As I have said before, using such rich pieces of music and combining them with classic tales well told all served my daughters very well. My eldest daughter, in particular, has developed a great love of reading and has challenged herself to read a wide variety of books from the present and from the past, involving a seemingly endless array of subject matter and themes.

The final aspect of the Barbie movies that made them such valued additions to our home was the fact that the storylines all involved strong female characters. There were no helpless damsels waiting for their prince to come and save them. All of the Barbie movies involved an element of “girl power”, which was important for my impressionable young daughters to grow up seeing. In addition to helping our daughters grow up to be literate and knowledgeable, we wanted them to be strong, confident, self-sufficient young women, too. So, having them watch movies based upon classic literature that used classical music gems, and then that showed the female characters being brave and innovative and loyal, all without the need to rely on male characters, added up to a big parenting win in our minds.

In the links below, I will show how the Barbie movies used the original compositions from Respighi and Mendelssohn in the films, as well as a few other styles of music that my daughters each happened to like. All in all, I am aware that the character of Barbie comes with some cultural baggage based upon how she was built and marketed during her heyday as one of the toys that were “meant for girls”. I took that attitude into my initial viewing of the very first Barbie and the Three Musketeers movie that we borrowed from our public library. But, I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it in all regards. The Barbie movies are not Oscar-calibre films by any stretch, but as a way to expose your children to classic works of literature and music, they are excellent and I highly recommend them…especially the first ten-twelve in the series.

The link to the original composition of “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3, Movement No. 3” by Ottorino Respighi can be found here.

The link to how “Ancient Airs and Dances” was used in the opening theme to the movie Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses can be found here.

The link to the original composition of “Symphony No. 4, Movements 1 and 3” by Felix Mendlessohn, can be found here.

The link to one of the scenes from the Barbie movie that used Mendlessohn’s “Symphony No. 4” can be found here.

The link to the movie trailer for Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses can be found here.

My eldest daughter’s favourite Barbie movie song is “Unbelievable” by EMF. The link to that can be found here.

My youngest’s daughter is a fashionista in real life. Not surprisingly, her favourite Barbie movie song involves fashion. The link to “Get Your Sparkle On” can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #95: The Boys of Summer by Don Henley.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #95: Boys of Summer by Don Henley.

Don Henley released, “Boys of Summer” in the early 1980s on his debut solo album called, “Building the Perfect Beast”. Just prior to this album coming out, Henley belonged to one of the most successful rock acts of the 1970s, The Eagles. He was their drummer and wrote some of their biggest hits; especially, taking a star turn on the greatest hit of them all, “Hotel California”. All through the 1970s, Henley was immersed in the Southern California music scene. He began as a session player, along with the likes of Glenn Frey and Randy Meisner, performing back up roles for the likes of Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and, most notably, for Linda Ronstadt. The California music scene was very vibrant and close-knit, with many collaborations occurring between members of different bands and/or between band members and solo artists. The Eagles had a string of great hits and enjoyed much success all throughout the 1970s. Those were heady times to be a musician like Don Henley. But, after the experience of having a mega-hit like, “Hotel California”, the members of The Eagles found it impossible to follow it up in a manner that allowed them to remain a cohesive unit. Instead, internal conflicts arose; particularly between Glenn Frey and guitarist, Don Felder and, as the 1970s drew to a close, The Eagles decided to break up. Each member of the band set out on solo careers. For Don Henley, his solo career began with an album called, “Building the Perfect Beast” and a song called, “Boys of Summer” which, in a nutshell, is a song about Henley taking stock of his life and the lives of his generation. Here is the story of “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley.

Don Henley was always a good songwriter. What he liked to do best was work with someone who would create a musical score and then, Henley would take that music, go for long car rides along the Pacific Ocean and allow the notes and chords to flow over him and into him until such time as lyrics began to form in his mind. The music for “Boys of Summer” was created by Mike Campbell, who was the guitarist in the band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Campbell shared his musical idea with Petty first but, because it didn’t quite fit, musically-speaking, with the songs they were working on for their own album, “Southern Accents”, Petty turned the song down. Campbell shared the song with Henley next. Henley took Campbells track and went for his famous car ride along the coast and came back with a rough outline of a song that became “Boys of Summer”.

Henley built his lyrics upon a foundation that is the mythology of California; sunshine, summer vibes, beaches, driving with the top down, etc. He used the idea of how summer feels to describe the fondness with which he viewed life and love in the recent past. He lets the listener know, right away, that that feeling of “summer” was changing. His opening lines go, as follows:

Nobody on the road.

Nobody on the beach.

I feel it in the air

The summer’s out of reach.

Empty lake, empty streets,

The sun goes down alone

I’m driving by your house

But I know you’re not home.

What was, is not what is, anymore. When I first listened to this song in the 1980s, I always felt he was singing about The Eagles and was putting a formal nail in the coffin of that relationship he used to enjoy and that treated him so well. But, according to Henley’s own words, the song is more about the changing way life was being lived in California. Like The Doors with “L.A. Woman”, Henley was sensing that things were shifting and that the attitude of living on the west coast was transforming into something that he might not agree with. But, before moving on, Henley stopped to take stock of where his generation stood and what the future might hold for them all as a result. What he sees does not please him. His displeasure and sense of unease manifested itself in one of the best lines from any song in the 80s:

Out on the road today,

I saw a “Deadhead” sticker on a Cadillac.

For anyone who doesn’t get the reference….”Deadheads” were what fans of the band, The Grateful Dead, were known as. In their heyday, The Grateful Dead were one of the most famous counter-culture bands in the world. So, to see a Grateful Dead fan driving a Cadillac meant, to Henley, that his generation had sold-out their ideals and compromised their integrity. But, as the song closes, Henley rallies and declares that he will stand strong:

I can see you

Your brown skin shining in the sun

You got your hair slicked back, wayfarers on, baby

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong

After the boys of summer have gone.”

The phrase, “Boys of Summer” refers to baseball players and, in particular, to a book of the same name by Roger Kahn. Kahn’s book was about the story of how the Brooklyn Dodgers broke many hearts in NYC by leaving town and transforming themselves into the Los Angeles Dodgers. By Henley comparing himself to this sports story, he is declaring that his new career will yield great results, too. I suppose it is always a good thing if you can examine the whole of your life and declare, with confidence, that the future will be bright. That is what “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley is, basically, all about.

So, without further delay, here is Don Henley with his first big solo success, “Boys of Summer”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, can be found here.

The link to the video featuring Don Henley discussing how he wrote, “The Boys of Summer”, as seen on the Howard Stern Show, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Don Henley, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #97: Let Down by Radiohead.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #97: Let Down by Radiohead.

Just a word of warning: if you are feeling tired and don’t have the energy right now to think about something clever and a bit weighty then, take a break and come back to this post another time. But, if you are in the mood for something that speaks to the human condition; especially, in urban centres AND that is incredibly clever in how it is constructed and presented then, read on because “Let Down” by Radiohead is for you.

“Let Down” by Radiohead is from their album called, “OK Computer”. The album had a lot of terrific songs that explored the concept of our increasing sense of loneliness and isolation that we, as humans, are beginning to feel because of technology. I have loved this album since the very first time I heard it…..waaay back in my Columbia Record Club days in the 1990s. I know that saying I love an album of songs about loneliness makes me sound like someone who is fun at parties! But, I stand by my statement. What attracts me to this album is that it is very intelligently written but, more than that, the way that Radiohead constructed their songs, using advances in the very technology that they are describing, gives these songs a depth of meaning that doesn’t ordinarily exist in most songs.

Specifically, “Let Down” tackles the sense of isolation that one feels in social situations. In particular, it focuses on the value of our time, as humans, when we are commuting. In this song, when you are stuck in the commuter lifestyle, you are always with others but rarely part of a group. You watch others and are watched in reply but rarely ever interacted with. You are not at home nor where you want to be. You are in a nether world of motion and movement but, all the while, you are actually nowhere, doing nothing and wishing against hope that things had worked out differently for you and that you were somewhere else. In essence, “Let Down” is a song about realizing that you have fallen into a trap and that you are simply going through the motions of living while, in reality, the world is passing you by as you whiz through it.

What elevates this song is the clever way Radiohead use technology to further their point. For example, the song is filled with blips and beeps. These tonal notes are meant to stand for commuters. Each beep is someone, going somewhere. As the guitars play, you will notice that the notes seem to be isloated and play crisply and clearly. The guitar notes are meant to act as humans, too. All of the sounds fluctuate from being close to in harmony and then, to being discordant but, not in a painfully annoying way, just slightly askew. This is all meant to replicate the social environment of the commuter. Loads of people, all sharing a common space and direction but lacking community. The lyrics speak to the tedium of commuter travel; comparing it to the soul crushing existence of bugs being stepped upon on the sidewalk. The one ray of hope that is offered by the band in this song occurs near the four minute mark (of this five minute song). At that point, the beeps, blips and guitar chords all harmonize. The tedium-stricken commuter resolves to “grow wings” and live a more fulfilling life. His spirits soar. He feels as though their actually is hope for a better life and then, his train/bus/airplane arrives, the harmony gives way to discordant blips and bleeps again, as everyone leaves the common space and heads out on their separate ways, leaving our commuter alone again, in a crowd, going somewhere he would rather not be.

Obviously, “Let Down” is not a dance song nor a party, rock-out song. Not all songs have to be like that to be great songs. “Let Down”, for me, is akin to reading the George Orwell book, “1984”; it may be bleak in subject matter but, the ideas being discussed are important and the impression left after hearing the song is long-lasting. When I first read, “1984”, the storyline moved me and actually caused me to have a visceral reaction against the protagonist, Winston Smith who, like the commuter in “Let Down”, realizes that he is trapped by the society in which he finds himself. In “1984”, Winston Smith makes a decision that went against everything I believe in and, as such, it provoked in me, an angry reaction. Radiohead leave their song open-ended. They know that for many of us, we are the commuter in this song. We know what it feels like to walk into a crowded subway car and hope to disappear. According to Radiohead, we still have room to make a choice of how we wish to live a more fulfilling life but, time is running out. Our train is about to pull into the theoretical station. What will we do once we arrive? That choice is what “Let Down” is all about.

The beauty of music is that their are songs that fit all occasions and all moods. Sometimes, cranking AC/DC is where I am at. Sometimes, I am in the mood for Celtic fiddle music. But, there are also times when I appreciate the intellectual discourse that a song like “Let Down” provides. It is ok to listen to music and have your mind stimulated by an idea. So, as you listen to “Let Down”, remember that the concept of the song is social isolation and living a fulfilling life. Pay attention to the musical structure; the blips and bleeps and discordant notes that aim to replicate a social scenario where we are surrounded by our fellow humans yet, completely disconnected from them as well. Radiohead are my favourite band for a reason. They make interesting music and, at the same time, make music interesting.

Without further delay, here is Song #97 in our countdown…..”Let Down” by Radiohead. Enjoy…..and think.

The link to the video for the song, “Let Down” by Radiohead, can be found here.

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

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable mention Song #24: Have Not Been the Same by Slow (as Chosen for Ian Jack).

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s final Honourable Mention song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #24: Have Not Been The Same by Slow (as Chosen for Ian Jack).

So, you are out and about, driving merrily along, when you happen to pass a local church hall or community centre with a sign out front that says something like, “Ladies Auxiliary Bake Sale Today!!!”…..what do you do? Well, if you are like me, you safely apply your brakes, pull into their parking lot and head on inside. Why? Because one of the truisms of my life so far is that anywhere little white-haired Grandmothers are making meals or baking pies, there is bound to be good eating going on inside! So, in I go. Always. Every time.

Ironically enough, I drive by fast food and chain restaurants every day without getting the same feeling. It is not like simply having access to food is my motivating factor. What it is, really, is having access to a certain kind of food that is lovingly made, by the very people whose name is on the sign out front. For the most part, community groups and, by extension, most “Mom and Pop”-type food stores, put a lot into the food they serve because their food represents who they are, as real people. That isn’t the same as it is for minimum wage earners who ask if you want fries with your burger. For them, the experience of preparing food for others is a job….a way to make the money needed to live the lives they seek to live. It is not an experience that is often filled with passion and pride, as if the server’s reputation is connected with the assembly-line burgers being kept warm under heat lamps. No, for me, home-made is best. And, if I can find that home-made taste experience, out in the real world, that is where I will spend my money every time.

The same rule applies to my taste in music. I have never been an off-the-rack Pop follower. Over the course of this countdown, I have noticed trends in how many of you respond to the songs I post. Most of you are consistently willing to “Like” or “Love” almost anything I write but, some of the songs I like the most….Radiohead, Bjork, Kate Bush, DJ Shadow, etc., have been the posts that have garnered the fewest kindhearted responses. That is not a criticism of you but more, an acknowledgement that my tastes tend to not be the same as most people’s tastes in music. For this reason, over the course of my entire music-loving life, I have had to fight to find access to the types of music that mean the most to me. Like the grey-haired ladies making pies in the church hall, I tend to gravitate toward music that doesn’t follow formulas and isn’t being made with commercial considerations at the forefront of the creative process. I guess you could say, I tend to be drawn to Alternative and Indie music most of all. That is not everyone’s cup of tea but, it works for me. So, this post, more than anything else, is about how I have found the music that has held the most meaning in my life and why it hasn’t been from commercial radio. It is, also, about a kindred spirit that I didn’t really even know that I had until doing this project…..Mr. Ian Jack, for whom this post is dedicated.

One of the hobby horses I have ridden for awhile is that commercial radio bugs me. What it is that bugs me exactly is how most commercial radio stations are more concerned with advertising and marketing than they are about the Art of making music. One of the ways you can tell this is by their lack of involvement in the local Arts scene in the communities in which they broadcast. The second thing is by how they allocate their advertising and promotional dollars toward artists who just happen to be touring in the area and/or have just released new work that is in need of promotion. In my own experience working in radio for the short time that I did, commercial radio operates on a continuous cycle of promoting the same popular acts, over and over again, ad nauseam. To me, commercial radio is like Walmart or McDonalds…..sure, I can get things that are useful there but, it is not really the quality of the experience I am really looking for. So, I have had to find ways to find artists and bands who create, first and foremost, for the sake of the Art they are making.

I have been like this forever and, truth be told, I didn’t know I was like this until one evening, waaaaaaay back in the early 1980s, when I discovered a programme on CBC Radio that was airing all the way in the commercial dead zone of midnight. That show was called, “Brave New Waves”. It was hosted, at that time, by a lady named Augusta LaPaix. Back in those days, I used to enjoy winding down from my day by listening to music in the dark, after everyone else had gone to bed. By the time that happened, it was usually late at night. So, on one of those late nights, I happened to tune the radio dial, in search of anything interesting, headphones on, when suddenly, I heard music I had never heard before. It was jangly and fast and loud and was speaking about all sorts of things that I didn’t normally hear in the Top 40 music that I was used to listening to. It was music by bands like The Spoons, when they were just starting out….King Cobb Steelie, Eric’s Trip, Mary Margaret O’Hara and many more. Most of the artists or bands were completely unknown to me. My first time hearing them was when Augusta LaPaix decided to spin their record. Before I knew it, I was tuning in to “Brave New Waves” as often as I could manage. The logical next step in my music listening evolution was in trying to find some of the music by these artists and bands…….that is when I began to realize that commercial radio was not for me. To this day, I still cannot remember a time when I have tuned into CHUM-FM….Toronto’s big Top40 station…..and heard them play a Sloan song or The Skydiggers or Jane Siberry. It just never happens. So, I turned away from stations like that and found other sources where I could find new music, indie music, alternative music.

As I was discovering and loving “Brave New Waves”, I was, also, discovering Much Music (Canada’s version of MTV, for my American readers). In the early 1980s, Much Music had lots of air time to fill and were quite open to airing just about anything remotely appropriate by any Canadian artist or band. It was via Much Music that I discovered the Rheostatics, The Pursuit of Happiness and, even, a very young band called Barenaked Ladies, who got their big break by appearing on a CITY-TV project called “Speaker’s Corner”. Many Canadian artists and bands got their first national exposure via the VJs on Much Music and, by extension, I got to hear interesting bands that way, too.

Nowadays, I tend to spend much of my time consuming whatever YouTube algorithms send my way. Because I actively search out Independent music online, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, along with platforms such as YouTube, tend to push me toward newer content from artists such as Idles (who were the whole reason I ever found out about Internet streaming radio station, KEXP, in the first place, let alone their list of the Top 500 songs of all-time, that inspired our very own countdown journey). Because of the algorithms I create online, I have come to know singers such as Aurora, who is this generation’s Bjork, in my mind. What a talent! I am lucky to have found her, and all of the like-minded, Art-first musicians I tend to be drawn towards.

This brings me back to my friend, Ian Jack. Ian is an elementary school teacher in my area. I worked with his wife, Cara, when I was still teaching. My wife, Keri, taught Ian and Cara’s eldest son. So, we all know each other, professionally and personally, in ways that have nothing to do with music. Fast forward a few years, another way I have gotten to know more about the music I like….and that is so hard to find on commercial radio… via books. One of my favourite music authors is a man named Michael Barclay. I was introduced to his writing by way of the fabulous book about The Tragically Hip called, “Never Ending Present”. Once I finished that book, I looked for other work by Barclay and, lo and behold, what did I find but a book entitled, “Have Not Been The Same” by Barclay and, my pal, Ian Jack! Up until that point, Had never read “Ian’s book” but, I have now and it was like seeing my own life story told by someone else. So many of the stories told in this book correlate directly to my love of Alternative music, my experiences with “Brave New Waves” and the early days of “Much Music” and how those times laid the groundwork for much of what has come to pass as a Canadian music scene today.

The title of Ian’s book is the title of a song by a mid 1980’s punkish band called, Slow. Slow were a rather notorious band, as it turned out due to cases of indecent exposure in BC, as well as, problems with drugs and alcohol. But, when you see the video for the song, Have Not Been the Same” you are going to see Grunge before Grunge became a thing. Slow had a lot of potential to be “the next big thing” in music circles but, being the next big thing was never what they were about. That they didn’t survive as a band says a lot about them but, so does the fact that many of the original members are still making music today in bands that nobody hears unless they catch them in a small town bar or opening a festival in a farmer’s field somewhere for the just-after-lunch crowd. Sometimes, when you pour yourself into the songs you create, it is a recipe for the best music of all….even if it doesn’t chart and only a handful of people ever hear it. You made it. It is part of you. And, if something that is part of you can become part of someone else’s life then, you have succeeded in making good Art.

The link to the video for “Have Not Been the Same” by Slow, can be found here.

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

If you wish to order the book, Have Not Been the Same” by Michael Barclay, Ian Jack and Jason Schneider, contact your local, independent bookstore. That’s where I got my copy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #31: Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #31: Jumping’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones.

One of my favourite books ever is Keith Richard’s biography entitled, “Life”. The book chronicles every aspect of Richard’s life, right from his earliest days as a young boy, all the way through his initial friendship with Mick Jagger, all the way through almost every song of note that The Rolling Stones made and a thousand and one other events that happened along the way. Keith Richards writes in a voice that gives the reader an excellent sense of the excitement that comes with being a major Rock n’ Roll star. And while there are sections that delve into some of the more sordid affairs of his life, the ones that leapt off of the page and were my favourite parts of the book were when Richard pulled back the curtain and allowed us all to see how the magic worked. Easily the best and most memorable aspect of this book is the joy of creativity that fills this man. There are so many instances of where a song idea sprang from, how they arrived at a certain chord progression or lyric or else, how it felt to take their good work and play it live for an audience. Keith Richards absolutely delights in the process of creativity and no more so in how “Jumping’ Jack Flash” came to be. So, I thought I would share a bit of that glee with you, as we talk about one of the greatest rock songs of them all, “Jumping’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones.

First things first, I usually spend my words telling you about the story behind the song of the day. But, in this case, the story behind the song isn’t really that important, as you will soon see. What is important is how the song was made. So, I am going to start by getting the song origin out of the way, if you will, and then, plunging into the good stuff about how “Jumping’ Jack Flash” was created.

“Jumping’ Jack Flash” was written after an early morning encounter with Keith Richards’ gardener. As was often the case, Richards and his bandmates usually worked all through the night when they were rehearsing and/or working on new songs. On one such occasion, Mick Jagger stayed over at Richards’ house. They went to sleep around five in the morning. A few short hours later, Jagger awoke in a start because of the clomping of footsteps out side of his window. When he shouted out in alarm that someone was nearby, Richards replied that it was only his gardener, “Jumping Jack”, as he called him. The boys both had a laugh about “Jumping Jack” and went back to sleep. Upon waking up for good, they returned to the topic of “Jumping Jack, the Gardener”. Jagger started playing with his name, as if in song and, shortly thereafter, added the word, “Flash” for fun and to help match the syllables of the name with the notes he was humming. Before you know it, the magic of The Glimmer Twins returned and they had the start of “Jumping’ Jack Flash”.

That is, more or less, the story of the origin of the song. At that time, the whole psychedelic influence of Brian Jones was ending. He was drug-addled and increasingly incoherent much of the time. While he had been one of the creative forces in the band during their early days, he was becoming less so, over time. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both ready to take The Rolling Stones into more, guitar-driven, Rock-oriented direction. “Jumping’ Jack Flash” signalled to the music industry and to their fans that this transition had been completed and the Brian Jones era was over. Shortly after the release of “Jumping’ Jack Flash”, Brian Jones was officially fired from the band. One month after that, he was found dead in his pool.

But, like I said off of the top, the real story of this song is the creative process, writ large, that was at play during this time in the Stones’ history and that allowed for such instant success with a new song like “Jumping’ Jack Flash. To understand this best, I am going to do something I don’t normally do and that is, I am going to let someone else do the talking……that someone being, Keith Richards. Here he is talking about being creative and about how he and his mates worked with sounds.

Flash! What a record! All my stuff came together on a cassette player. With “Jumping’ Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting’ Man” I’d discovered a new sound I could get out of an acoustic guitar. That grinding, dirty sound came out of these crummy little motels where the only thing you had to record with was this new invention called a cassette recorder. And it didn’t disturb anybody. Suddenly, you had this mini studio. Playing an acoustic, you’d overload the cassette player to the point of distortion so that when it played back, in effect, you had an electric guitar. You were using a cassette player as a pickup and an amplifier at the same time. You were forcing acoustic guitars through the cassette player and what came out the other end was electric as Hell! An electric guitar will jump in your hands. It’s like holding an electric eel. An acoustic guitar is very dry and you have to play it a different way. But, if you can get that different sound electrified, you get this amazing tone and this amazing sound. I always loved the acoustic guitar…loved playing it and, I thought, if I can just power this up a bit without going electric then I’ll have a unique sound. It’s got a little tingle on top. It fascinated me at the time. In the studio, I plugged the cassette player into a little extension speaker and put a microphone in front so that it had a bit more breadth and depth and put that on tape. That was the basic track. There are no electric instruments on “Street Fighting’ Man” at all, apart from the bass. All acoustic guitars. “Jumping’ Jack Flash”, the same. I wish I could still do that but, they don’t build cassette machines like that anymore. The band thought I was mad but they sort of indulged me. But, I heard a sound that I knew I could get out that way. Producer Jimmy saw it, too and was right with me. “Street Fighting’ Man”, “Jumping’ Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter” were all made that way….on a cassette machine. And that’s how those songs were made……using rubbish, in hotel rooms, with our little toys.”

So, as you listen to “Jumping’ Jack Flash” in a few moments, imagine that you are hearing acoustic lead guitars! Amazing! They don’t sound like any acoustic guitars that I have ever heard before. I will close with one other quote from the book. It is all about where the “magic” of creativity comes from and how feels to unleash that power on stage, in front of a raucous crowd.

“Flash” is particularly interesting. “Flash” is basically, “Satisfaction” in reverse. Nearly all of the riffs are closely related. But, if someone said that I could only play one riff for the rest of my life, I’d play, “Flash”! It’s almost Arabic or very old, archaic, classical, the chord setups you could only hear in Gregorian chants or something like that. It’s a weird mixture of your actual rock and roll and, at the same time, this weird echo of very, very ancient music that you don’t even know. It’s all much older than I am and that’s unbelievable! It’s like a recall of something and I don’t know where that comes from…………And when we play it, I can hear the whole band take off behind me. There’s this extra sort of turbocharge! You jump on the riff and it plays you. We have ignition? OK, let’s go! One, two, three…..And then we don’t look at each other again because you know that you’re in for a ride. It’ll always make you feel different. Levitation is the closest analogy to what I feel….whether it is “Flash” or “Satisfaction”….when I feel I’ve hit the right tempo and the band’s behind me. It’s like taking off in a jet. I have no sense that my feet are touching the ground. People ask me, “When are you gong to give this all up?” I can’t retire until I croak. I don’t think they quite understand what I get out of this. I’m not doing this for the money or for you. I’m doing it for me. I have no choice.”

In a much earlier post, I stated that the celebrity I would most want to have dinner with would be Bjork. That much is still true. But, if she happened to be busy, having a pint or two with Keith Richards would be more than alright, too. With that having been said, here are the Rolling Stones with their hit song that was recorded on a cassette player in a hotel room, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Jumping’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #60: Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #60: Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones.

In many ways, the argument can be made that the essence of Humanity is the constant battle we face between Good and Evil. All throughout the course of Human History, this battle plays out. You can see it in the foundational construction of Christianity; with everything from Eve giving into temptation in The Garden of Eden, to the whole premise of Heaven and Hell. The History of Nations has been one of constantly alternating periods of Peace and of War. Even in the Arts, the crux of virtually all Drama centres on conflicts between protagonists and antagonists. Whether or not the tension created by opposing views on Goodness and Evil lends itself to a form of balance is almost as fundamental as having clean air to breath and clean water to drink. Good and Evil. War and Peace. Creation and Destruction. Heaven and Hell. Love and Hate. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Let’s have a go, shall we?

A great many people, when they speak of modern music, always end up pairing The Beatles and The Rolling Stones up. The two groups started around the same time in the early 1960s. They thrived all throughout that decade. They each made some of the most classic and innovative songs of all-time. They both dealt with financial sharks such as Allen Klein; losing millions of dollars but, also, becoming richer than they ever could have imagined. In fact, the band members were actually friends with each other; hanging out on vacations, playing on each others’ songs and so on. But, there was one thing that served as a dividing line between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and that was their image. Whether a band’s image is something concocted by their record label or whether it is something that comes from within the band, themselves, the contrast between the squeaky clean mop-top image of the Fab Four and the bawdy, dark, boozy, sexual image of The Rolling Stones existed like darkness and light.

Truth be told, while The Rolling Stones openly courted their image as rebellious and dangerous so as to carve out a separate identity from their rivals, The Beatles, a more fundamental aspect of it all was in how they were more organically Blues-based and, as such, the Blues comes from a deeper, darker place so, therefore, they went deeper and darker in pursuit. One of the earliest of the famous Bluesmen was a man named Robert Johnson. It was often said by him and, by others, about him, that Johnson had made a deal with the Devil that, in exchange for his soul, the Devil would grant Johnson the ability to conjure up a form of the Blues like no other had done before nor since. There is no way to verify that such an exchange actually took place but, the legend grew and became part and parcel of who Robert Johnson was. One of the men who would come along decades later, sniffing out the very legend of Robert Johnson, was Keith Richards. Keef, along with his teenage bestie, Mick Jagger, were interested in the Blues right from their earliest days together. So were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The difference was that The Beatles chose to use the rhythm of The Blues as a way to make perfect Pop songs. Keith and Mick used the Blues to help them find the soul of a baser Rock sound that manifested itself in the form of songs like, “Sympathy For The Devil”.

Coming in hot on the heels of an album called, “Her Satanic Majesty’s Request”, “Sympathy For The Devil” cemented the reputation in the minds of many, that The Rolling Stones had gone to the dark side and that, maybe even, they were satanic, themselves. The Rolling Stones did little to dispel those rumours. In fact, they revelled in them. It made them the bad boys of Rock n’ Roll; an image that the band wore like fashion. However, in interviews, both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger both dismissed such satanic talk as nonsensical. Richards claimed that it was all just good, clean fun. Jagger stated that to be an authentic Bluesman is to go places within your own heart that ordinary musicians dare not go and that, sometimes, when you mine your own soul, darkness grows. So, as “Sympathy For The Devil” was just a twinkle in Jagger’s songwriter’s eye, the band, themselves, were at the height of their bad boy image making shenanigans. This helped create a mindset that lent itself to the creation of one of the richest, deepest explorations on the concept of Good vs. Evil in the whole history of modern music.

“Sympathy For The Devil” was inspired by a book called, “The Master and Margarita” by Russian novelist, Mikhail Bulgakov. At the time, “The Master and Margarita” was a banned book in Russia that was smuggled out into the western world. As such, it had a cache about it and it became a sought-after read by those with connections in the literary world. Someone who had connections was Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, Marianne Faithful. It was she who placed “The Master and Margarita” into Jagger’s hands. From there, the roots of the song grew and the lyrics followed quickly. The short strokes of this magnificent song are that it is a treatise on the whole history of Evil in various conflicts and atrocities throughout the whole of modern history. It is a song that declares that we can’t adopt a sanctimonious pose and tsk-tsk those we feel do wrong because, it is actually in all of our natures to be evil. What separates those who massacre others and those who strive for Peace and Brotherhood is simply the difference in how we keep our darker impulses at bay and in check.

“Sympathy For The Devil” is a history lesson masquerading as a song. It touches on numerous real events from the annals of History, such as: the murders of The Romanov Family that preceded the Russian Revolution, the assassination of the Kennedy Brothers, the German Blitzkrieg offensive against Poland that launched WWII and many other notorious moments when our better natures were seen to be lacking. The song is sung by Mick Jagger from the point of view of Lucifer who gleefully promotes his notion of “good work” and then, demands acknowledgement from the listener in the form of the listener having to state his name. There is power in forcing someone to acknowledge your identity; especially, when your identity is synonymous with the intimidating forces of Evil.

But, “Sympathy For The Devil” is not just a song that rests on the stellar nature of its’ lyrics. The musical structure of the song is another aspect of the attention to detail that the great musicians all seem to have. The musical structure of “Sympathy For The Devil” was inspired by the Samba. Further to that, it was meant to go from the start of the song, all the way to the end, maintaining the same rhythm….never really slowing down, nor speeding up, not getting quieter nor louder…..instead, the tempo is meant to be constant all the way through. Richards described it as being almost “tribal” and “African” *(his words) and that sense of blackness and darkness was what gave “Sympathy For The Devil” its soul and spirit. The song is, also, noted for the background chorus that chants “Woo-Woo” all throughout the song. The “Woo-woos” came about because of how the people gathered in the control booth were reacting to Mick Jagger as he passionately rolled through his lyrics while recording his track. Producer, Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Miller, first started it off as a way to measure Jagger’s timing between lines. Keith Richards girlfriend, Anita Pallenburg, thought the Woo-woos added a needed element to the song and started joining in. By the time Jagger had finished, Miller, Pallenburg, Marianne Faithful and Brian Jones were all singing along. Needless to say, the band thought the Woo-woos added something to the song, as well, and they were officially added to the track and have now become one of the most popular features of the song.

It really says something for a song to offer a discourse in the history of humanity, an exploration of the nature of our soul, all the while mining its structure for as close to an authentic Blues feel as a band of white boys can manage, while being fuelled by a chorus of woo-woos. But, “Sympathy For The Devil” checks all of those boxes in a way that makes it one of the most unique and driven and intellectual songs of all-time. So, without further delay, here is one of The Rolling Stones greatest songs….a true masterpiece of lyrical and musical construction…..”Sympathy For The Devil” from the album, “Beggar’s Banquet”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

***For those interested….the link to the video for the song, “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones, as sung at the notorious Altamont Speedway Concert, can be found here. It is generally agreed that the concert sprang out of control when this song started to be played. While the stabbing that happened didn’t occur during the playing of “Sympathy For The Devil”, it is plain to see that the seeds for it were sown here. The Rolling Stones do not look like they are in control of their own stage at all here. So, watch the video if you are interested in seeing a nasty bit of history, like those depicted in the song, itself.

The link to the official website for The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Sings in Modern Music History…Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

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

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #382: The Magical Mystery Tour/I Am The Walrus by The Beatles.

In the year of my birth, 1964, an American author named Ken Kesey set forth with a band of family and friends who came to be known as The Merry Pranksters. Driving in a decaled-up van known as “Further” and armed to the teeth with all sorts of mood-altering chemicals such as LSD, Kesey and his gang set out to expand their consciousness and live a life that went beyond the confines of the expectations society placed on its citizens. There was a book written about this journey that was relatively famous, called, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip” by Tom Wolfe. At the time of Kesey’s travels, media was not the 24-7, real-time enterprise that it is today. However, several journalists did cover the story and printed their reports in newspapers and magazines around the world. One of the people who was following the exploits of The Merry Pranksters with interest was a young man named Paul McCartney. A lot had happened to The Beatles by the time Kesey began his journey. Beatlemania was in full bloom in the UK. The Beatles had already had several hit albums and many #1 hits under their belts. Like Elvis, The Beatles began making movies to help expand their commercial reach. *(For any young folk reading this, in 1964, there was no Internet, there were no websites for bands to promote themselves, there were no music videos nor YouTube nor Instagram nor TikTok or any other form of social media). In addition to their music careers, the members of The Beatles were, also, starting their exploration of Eastern Mysticism and expanding their own consciousnesses via meditation, as well as, drugs. The final big change in the Beatles story arc was that their manager, Brian Epstein, who had guided the early days of their careers with a firm but, gentle hand, had passed away. The combination of all of these events formed a “perfect storm” of sorts for the band when it came to deciding what projects to focus on next. So, when Paul McCartney pitched the idea of a TV movie about a fantastical bus trip called “The Magical Mystery Tour”, the band signed on.

The premise of the movie was that The Beatles would invite viewers to board their bus. The bus would then make several stops along the way and the band members would engage in silly, satiric adventures suited to the setting. There were a total of six songs written for this movie. The first song was the title track, “The Magical Mystery Tour”. It was written and performed mainly by Paul McCartney. It is a whimsical invitation to board the magic bus. The final song written was “I Am The Walrus” by John Lennon. The story behind “I Am The Walrus” was that word had filtered back to The Beatles that the lyrics to their previously-released songs were being studied in schools/universities for their “literary merit”. John Lennon, in particular, thought that this was an absurd state of affairs and set out to create a nonsensical song that would defy closer, scholarly examination. He based the gibberish-laden lyrics upon such literary tales as the poem, “Jabberwocky” and, more specifically, a Lewis Carroll poem called, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. Ironically, in attempting to create a nonsense song, Lennon actually created one of the most literature-rich songs in their whole musical catalogue.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was savaged by critics when it aired. Claims that the movie was “self-indulgent nonsense” stung the band mates and was part of the reason that they decided to put more of their efforts into travelling to India and away from the UK. “The Magical Mystery Tour” was the beginning of the end of the height of Beatlemania. This movie soundtrack also put the band at odds with their record company. As noted earlier, six songs were recorded for this movie soundtrack. Six is an unusual number because it is too many for an EP (extended play albums had no more than four songs) and too few for a full-blown album (which usually had 8-10 or more). So, to “solve this issue”, the record label decided to create a double-album by adding on several singles that had been previously released or that were slated for future albums. So, if you were to look up the soundtrack to “The Magical Mystery Tour” on Spotify or Goggle, you would see songs listed like, “Strawberry Fields”, “Hello/Goodbye”, “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love” and, not surprisingly, you would think that this was a whopper of a soundtrack. But, truth be told, none of those songs were actually in the movie which, in retrospect, even McCartney acknowledged as being more of a lark than a polished project.

“The Magical Mystery Tour” movie was the first real taste the members of The Beatles had at being in total creative control of their work. As such, they learned many lessons that they applied to later masterpieces such as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. To put a final bow on the movie, just like Ken Kesey had his band of Merry Pranksters touring with him in America, McCartney invited a group of Monty Python-esque singers called, “The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band” aboard the bus with him. These folks sang a song in the movie that was based on a pulp fiction novel called, “Death Cab for Cutie”. Why this is important is that, for starters, “Death Cab For Cutie” is the name of the band coming up in the very next post. When Keri saw this band name, she remarked at how odd it was and why would anyone named themselves that? Well, my dear, the answer lay within the walls of the Magical Mystery Tour bus. “Death Cab For Cutie”…the band…are fantastic, as you will soon see. In the movie, the song sung by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band is symbolic of the silliness that marked the movie as a whole. I will share it with you below. As well, we will listen to Paul McCartney’s “The Magical Mystery Tour”, as well as, John Lennon’s, “I Am The Walrus”. So, climb on board, everyone, the Magical Mystery Tour is about to begin. Enjoy.

The link to the video for “The Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for “Death Cab for Cutie” by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, can be found here.

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

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #383: Cloudbusting by Kate Bush.

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

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #383: Cloudbusting by Kate Bush.

In a recent post, I spoke about how books have inspired many of the best songs of our generation. This is very true of the song that is the focus of today’s post: “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush.

Back in 1973, Kate Bush read a book called, “A Book of Dreams”. It was written by a man named Peter Reich. Reich was the son of a well-known philosopher and psychiatrist named Wilhelm Reich. “A Book of Dreams” is a memoir of the father-son relationship that they enjoyed. Unlike many ordinary families, the Reichs lived in the rolling hills of Maine in the U.S., where Wilhelm had built a hilltop laboratory. The chief focus of his research was on building a machine that could change the weather, causing it to rain at will (which was, especially, important in times of drought). The machine he was attempting to invent was called a “Cloudbusting” machine. Unfortunately, his work became a source of concern to the government and Wilhelm Reich was arrested and taken to prison, his laboratory was ransacked and his son, Peter, was left to watch helplessly as his father was taken away.

Kate Bush often infuses her songs with references to the Arts and “Cloudbusting” in no exception. The lyrics to this song tell a fairly faithful re-creation of the original story. When she shared her song with Peter Reich, he commented on how perfectly she captured the competing emotions of the security he felt when with his father in his laboratory and the complete loss of everything he knew as he watched his father being taken away. But, as much as the song stands alone as one of Kate Bush’s best and most popular works, it is the music video that truly takes this song to another level.

The video for “Cloudbusting” was directed by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame). It plays like an epic, full-length movie, even though it is only 5-6 minutes long. The video stars Canadian actor Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm and Bush (with shortened hair) starring as the son, Peter. The cloud busting machine was designed by the same set designer who came up with the “Alien monster” from the movie, “Alien”. If you are familiar with the movie, “Alien” at all then, you will see the physical similarities between Wilhelm Reich’s machine and the movie monster quite readily. In any case, this song pulsates with a beat that mimics a heartbeat and is filled with emotion as the relationship between father and son grows and swells and then, is taken away once the authorities arrive on the scene. When this video was first released in the UK, it was often shown in theatres (like a movie trailer) before the start of the main feature and it was quite common for people to cry as it ended or, to cheer, as well.

All in all, the ties that bind parents and children are among the strongest and most primal that we, as humans, experience. “Cloudbusting” captures every emotion present; in the good times and the bad. In a world where “Hey, Baby, Baby” is the standard relationship arc that fills our airwaves, “Cloudbusting” serves as a reminder of the many other important relationships that exist in our lives. It is a remarkable saga told through song and through video. Please enjoy.

The link for the music video for “Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush, can be found here.

A link to a website devoted to Kate Bush can be found here.

A link to order the book written by Peter Reich called “The Book of Dreams” can be found here. I ordered the book and can attest to the fact that it is a very unique and interesting story.

I Read Canadian

Today is Wednesday, February 19, 2020. It is “I Read Canadian” Day. For the first time ever, Canada is honouring all of the authors and illustrators who have published books in Canada over the years. The effort to promote the Canadian Book Publishing Industry has been organized by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, children’s author, Eric Walters, CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers), as well as, The Ontario Library Association.

There is much to be proud of, as Canadians, when it comes to our nation’s literary canon. Our stories paint a vivid picture of who we are as Canadians and help to share the physical beauty of our country with the world. As citizens, we owe a debt of gratitude to all of the men and women who have put pen to paper on our behalf. My post today is meant to act as one, small payment that has come due.

The focus of today’s post is going to be a listing of Canadian Picture books and Chapter books that have played an important part in my classrooms over the years. I have been retired for almost two years now but, many of my most cherished memories that I have as a teacher came as a result of the books I read aloud to my students. I was so fortunate to have such rich resources to draw upon in the promotion of literacy and in helping children discover the magic of a story well told. So, here, in no particular order, are some of the best of the best Canadian books that I had the very great privilege of reading aloud.

15- The Secret Life of Owen Skye/Dear Sylvia/After Sylvia

The Secret Life of Owen Skye was the first book in a trilogy that included Dear Sylvia and After Sylvia, too. These wonderful chapter books were written by Alan Cumyn. The series revolved around the Skye Family who, like most families, have their share of secrets, rivalries, shared traditions and various ups and downs that Life tended to throw their way. I liked how Mr. Cumyn allowed life to unfold for this family in an unhurried, very natural manner. There are no zombies, time portals or machine guns in this series. I, especially, like the tenderness with which he allowed Owen and Sylvia to explore the nature of the affection they feel for each other. Overall, a wonderful, wholesome, funny look at family life.

14- The Name of the Tree

The Name of the Tree by Celia Barker Lottridge is one of the single, most important books in my collection. I devoted an entire post to it last year which detailed the magic of this book and highlighted the important role it played in helping my students develop a love of books and of stories, as well as, helping them to grow as little humans and believe in their hearts that they were capable of great things. You can read that post here. There isn’t much that any of us can say with absolute certainty in life but, one thing that I can say for sure is that this book is extremely special and that if I live to be 100, I will still have this book on a bookshelf near to where I am. It is that good. The illustrations are by the incomparable, Ian Wallace and add so much meaning to the text.

13- A Salmon For Simon.

A Salmon For Simon is written by Betty Waterton. Aside from the fact that this book has a super title, the tale told is one that lots of children over the years have been able to relate to. Simon longs to catch his own fish, like the big boys do. But, salmon are strong fish and Simon is still a small boy so, he is unable to catch one on his own. That is, until one day when a salmon actually falls from the sky, released from the talons of an eagle. The fish falls into a small pool at Simon’s feet. It is his for the taking but, as he studies the salmon, he notices the fear on its face. So, instead of taking the fish as a prize, Simon decides to work to save its life and set it free. Many a class of mine engaged in rich discussions when it came to whether Simon should keep the fish or release the fish. Even small children are capable of acts of great compassion and kindness, as Simon showed. Lovely book. The illustrations, by Ann Blades, are soft and warm, in keeping with the feel of the book.

12- The White Stone in the Castle Wall.

The White Stone in the Castle Wall is by Sheldon Oberman. It details how a single, white stone came to find its way into the wall surrounding the historic Case Loma in Toronto. I took many classes on field trips to explore Casa Loma and, before leaving on the bus for home at the end of the day, we always walked the perimeter of the property until we found the legendary white stone. Then, we would all pose beside it as a group and the memory of our trip would be preserved. The story, itself, introduces children to Sir Henry M. Pellatt, who made his fortune bringing electric street lights to Toronto. The White Stone in the Castle Wall also makes the important point that there is value in hard work, as the young boy learns when he meets Mr. Pellatt and tells him the story of how hard it was to get his stone from across the city, all the way to Casa Loma. In addition to the historical bent of the story, the illustrations are gorgeous! The illustrator was Les Tait and each picture is actually a painting. Fabulous work, all around and a wonderful companion piece to many a memorable class trip to the big city from our small town.

11- Barbara Reid Art.

OMG! Barbara Reid is a megastar when it comes to children’s literature in Canada. She is well known as an author and as an illustrator. But, she is most famous for creating exquisite illustrations using the medium of plasticine. I first came to know of Barbara Reid when I discovered her book, The New Baby Calf. I would be willing to place a very large wager that you would have difficulty going into any elementary school in Canada and trying to find any educator who has not read her books or has not had a Barbara Reid art lesson or three with their students. I always enjoyed making Barbara Reid Art with my students because, in order to replicate what she did, students had to be aware of art-related concepts such as foreground, middle ground and back ground in a picture. They, also, were able to incorporate a fair amount of detail in their work because their work surfaces were usually small. I, often used stiff cardboard as the backing for their plasticine art and placed the finished work inside a clear cd jewel case….when cds were still a thing.

10- A Poppy Is to Remember.

A Poppy Is to Remember was written by Heather Patterson. It isn’t easy to explain concepts like War and Remembrance to small children but this book, A Poppy Is To Remember is among the best at doing so that I have come across. In sparse, simple text, children come to learn that soldiers could be in the air, on the water or marching on land and that many were scared and that some did not make it back home to their families in Canada. The famous poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae is included in context with the story being told. I credit this book with helping many, many children truly understand this important Canadian poem. When it came time to conduct Remembrance Day services at school, my students often were tasked with reciting this book in front of their peers. They always took that responsibility seriously and made me and their parents and themselves, proud. The illustrations in this book are by Ron Lightburn and are actual paintings, too, as was the case with The White Stone in the Castle Wall. Mr. Lightburn is from my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario.

9- A Northern Alphabet.

A Northern Alphabet is written and illustrated by Ted Harrison. Mr. Harrison has written and illustrated many children’s books but, what sets him apart are two things: (a) many of his stories are set in the northern regions of Canada and highlight the life experiences of the Inuit people, (b) his illustrations tend to use swirling, wavy lines and vibrant hues of purple and pink and shades of blue. As was the case with Barbara Reid earlier, Ted Harrison is an author whose stories lend themselves to further exploration though Art. One of my fondest teaching memories was working at a school where we cooked with the kids quite often (for a variety of reasons). But, specifically, with regard to Ted Harrison, I remember creating homemade soup and then, as we ate it, we painted Ted Harrison-style pictures, while Canadian music played in the classroom. I can never look with passivity at any work of Ted Harrison’s. His work evokes a sensory experience for me every time.

8- Kathy Stinson.

Kathy Stinson wrote two books; Those Green Things and Red is Best waaaay back at the beginning of my teaching career. They were two of the very first books I ever owned as a professional educator. She had a wonderful way of capturing the many moods of small children; especially when it came to eating suspicious green veggies or wearing your favourite red clothes. But, like many people, Kathy Stinson matured as her own career went along and, lo and behold, she came out with an enormously important book called the Highway of Heroes; which talks about the importance of a stretch of highway that runs past my town. The Highway of Heroes is a book about honouring those Canadian soldiers at work today in hotspots all over the world. Many children only think of Remembrance Day as being for soldiers from WWI and WWII. But, Ms. Stinson reminds us that today’s soldiers are helping to keep the peace in many war-torn countries around the world and that, sometimes, that work is dangerous and, even, deadly. When a Canadian soldier dies in active duty, their body is flown to the air force base at Trenton, Ontario. It proceeds down the main 401 highway until it reaches Toronto, where an autopsy is performed. All along the route, people line the overpasses and salute the fallen hero. It is an amazing experience to stand on a bridge overlooking the Highway of Heroes. Kathy Stinson captures that feeling ever so well. What a special book.

8- Waiting for the Whales.

Waiting for the Whales was written by Sheryl McFarlane. This is a beautiful, slow moving story that luxuriates in the warmth of the family bonds it is describing. One of the beautiful parts of being a parent or grandparent is having the chance to share those things that we find special with our beloved children. The memories of such sharing live on, even after death takes the elders away. Waiting for the Whales is a wonderful story for introducing children to the concept of death and to the circle of life. The illustrations are completely lovely and were created by my fellow Cobourg citizen, Ron Lightburn.

7- Have You Seen Josephine?

Have You Seen Josephine? was written and illustrated by Stephane Poulin. Josephine is a cat who is running loose through the streets of Montreal. The thing that every single class loved about this book was how, in each picture, Josephine was hiding somewhere, trying to elude detection. So, part of the joy of reading this book for each child was trying to find Josephine, too. Each page of the book took the reader to a different part of Montreal so, students were given a good glimpse of how the city was organized, what went on in the various places they were taken to and so on. There are a couple of “Josephine” books out there and all were well-loved in my classroom.

6- Town Is By The Sea.

Town Is By The Sea was written by Joanne Schwartz. This book is an exception to my list because it is a book I never got to share with my students. It was published just as I retired. But, I am including it on my list of special Canadian books because it is set where I grew up, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Joanne Schwartz grew upon a community called New Waterford, which is about a twenty minute drive from where I grew up in Glace Bay. When I look at Sydney Smith‘s beautifully-illustrated front cover, I see my home as I remember it; the many-coloured houses, the telephone poles, clothes hanging on the line and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. ***Funny personal note, I’m pretty sure that my mother and Joanne Schwartz’s father knew each other. I believe her father was a man named Irving Schwartz and, if I am correct then, Mr. Schwartz ran a chain of furniture stores from which my mother furnished our homes. I don’t know Joanne Schwartz at all but, that having been said, neither of us has lived in a Town by the Sea for a long time, either. But, regardless, Town Is By The Sea is, yet, another one of those special books that I will keep forever. Home has never been captured so well. Many thanks to Joanne and Sydney.

5- Phoebe Gilman.

Phoebe Gilman wrote some of the most beloved books in my collection, including Jillian Jiggs, Something From Nothing and The Balloon Tree. She was an extremely talented illustrator and used her illustrations to add layers of meaning to her text. All of her stories were whimsical and highlighted creativity and fun and family life, too. The Balloon Tree was her first published book. Phoebe Gilman passed away recently but, her legacy as one of the most popular and important members of the Children’s Literary scene in Canada is firmly entrenched.

4- The Breadwinner Trilogy.

The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey and Mud City make up The Breadwinner Trilogy. All were written by Deborah Ellis. All three books take place in Afghanistan, with Mud City, also, spilling over into Pakistan. In each case, the lives of girls and women are scrutinized in ways that are relentless and unflinching. I read these books with my own daughter, Leah, as well as, with a Grade 5 class I taught one year. Many, many important conversations were held regarding the role of women in oppressed societies such as the Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are no warm fuzzies with these books but, this trilogy remains an important work of courage and conviction by Deborah Ellis. Not everyone has the luxury of a “happily-ever-after” life story but, for those who don’t, it is crucial to tell their stories anyway so that the world can know the dignity of lives lived differently and, hopefully, make those lives better through knowledge and empathy.

3- Anne of Green Gables.

This story has become the image of Canada that is held by many people from around the world. Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote the story of the orphan girl named Anne who talked so much her tongue must have been hung in the middle, it flapped so! Through Anne, we learned about the importance of kindred spirits and her Lake of Shining Waters. This story takes place in Prince Edward Island and has been made into a multi-book series, a movie series, an animated series, a musical and has recently been given new life in a modern-influenced adaptation called Anne With an E. Anne of Green Gables is a story about family and loyal friends and imagination and uses beautiful, beautiful language in the telling. If Canada is to be imagined from abroad then, having images of Avonlea dance in the heads of those imagining must be a wondrous thing indeed!

2- Hana’s Suitcase.

Hana’s Suitcase was written by Karen Levine. Simply put, this book is the most special book to me of them all! I wrote a post about why it is such an important book to me, earlier in the year, which you can read here. Sometimes a book can change your life. This book changed mine…for the better, too. For a book about the Holocaust, it turned out to be such a warm story about family and the bonds of love that exist between family members. An important portion of this book takes place during wartime but, make no mistake, Hana’s Suitcase is a book about Peace and about Hope but, most of all, it is book about Love.

1- Love You Forever.

Love You Forever was written by the highest-selling Canadian author of all time, Robert Munsch. I read Love You Forever for the very first time in the University of Western Ontario book store while I was attending Teacher’s College. I read it amid the hubbub of a regular business day in that book shop. By the time I finished the book, I was in tears. No one else in the store seemed to notice but, I felt as though the orientation of my life had changed a little at that moment. While I had grown up reading stories such as Hop on Pop and Cat in the Hat, this story was different. It told a generational tale of family love in a way that I had never read before. It was told in simple language and contained a repetitive verse that came to be a trademark of Robert Munsch’s. It was the very first book I ever bought as a professional educator. This is the book that began a thirty-year quest to build a personal library of the best of children’s literature because our children, my students, deserved nothing less than the very best.

This list of mine is the mere tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to quality literature for children in Canada. Farley Mowat, Dennis Lee, Mordiceau Richler, Melanie Watt, Sheree Fitch and so many others all come easily to mind when I think of the books that have made a difference to my own children and to those who were entrusted to my care. How lucky we are to live in a country so rich in talent!

Please feel free, as always, to comment in the box below if you have any thoughts you wish to share about the books I have listed or some others that you feel are deserving of praise, too. Happy “I Read Canadian” Day, folks. Thanks for allowing me to play a small part in the festivities.