These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.
Death is a natural part of life. We are all born and one day, we will all die. There is nothing as constant and safe a bet in all of human history than the fact that one day we will all die. Death comes for ditch diggers and astronauts, poets and hotel maids, it comes for Kings and Queens as well. When commoners die, friends, colleagues and family members gather to pay their respects, share some favourite memories and then, to join together in prayer and song to help send the newly departed on their way to the afterlife (if one believes in that) or to eternal nothingness and slow decay (if that is what you believe as well). Every town and city has a funeral home of some sort. Funerals happen all of the time. They are so common that, in fact, most of us pay them no heed as they occur. We live and then we die. Death is really nothing out of the ordinary.
Except when it is.
As I write these words, it is Monday, September 19, 2022 or, as history will remember it, the date of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England. Most of us live our whole lives in a form of relative anonymity. Not the Queen. She has sat on the throne of England and, by extension, many countries around the world that England has colonized, for seventy years. Her life was impactful in very profound ways. Her image is known by millions of people around the world. Her legacy of service before self casts a nostalgic glow over a world and a time that many deem as being simpler and more humane. She did not live in relative anonymity. She was one of the most recognizable people in the whole world. And yet, Death still came for her, too. But, while Death came, it did not take her away in silence. The Queen’s death has instantly become an event that will go down in the annals of British history. Thousands of people have stood on the side of the road or have turned to their televisions and computers to watch her coffin pass through the streets of various English towns and cities. Many have left bouquets of flowers and/or jam sandwiches at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Even more will watch her funeral service as it plays out today. Through it all, the Royal Family will mourn in a public manner as befits their status as the head of the nation. And yes, there will be music, too.
Throughout the course of the history of Classical music, there have been many occasions in which composers have created works to be played during the funeral services for members of the nobility. In a previous post, we have discussed funeral marches that were composed by Frederic Chopin and by Edward Elgar *(You can read these posts here and here). Both of those famous funeral marches will find their place in today’s events in London as part of the ceremony honouring Queen Elizabeth. There is a third famous funeral march that is well known in England and which will probably be played today but which is erroneously entitled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”. First let me tell you why this march is so famous in England and then, I will tell you a bit about why the title is misleading.
“Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is a march of remembrance that has been played in England for decades as part of that country’s Remembrance ceremonies held each year to honour those soldiers who have fallen in the fields of battle in various global conflicts. It is always played after the Last Post sounds and, as such it has become part of the soundtrack to the British way of life and is always viewed as being a respectful and honourable piece of music. The thing that is misleading about the title, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is that this composition was not written by Beethoven at all. Instead, the music for this composition was written by a German conductor and composer named Johann Heinrich Walch. Walch had a history of creating funeral marches that commemorated the end of wars. He created a piece called “Pariser Einzugsmarsch” at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This piece of music was also played for Adolf Hitler as he watched German troops marching through the streets of Paris in 1940. The march that has come to be called, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was written when Walch was working under the auspices of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg who, as you may know if you are a history buff, was a link in the hereditary chain between the British Monarchy and the aristocracy of Germany that had existed for centuries, including during WWII. The famous “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was thought to have been originally written by Walch for Prince Albert who was Queen Victoria’s consort. Prince Albert was the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at the time. Since then, this composition has been played at the funerals of King Edward VII, British Prime Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as having been played throughout the procession that saw Queen Elizabeth’s coffin pass through the streets of England.
So again, as was the case with the funeral marches written by Chopin and by Elgar, I urge you to click on the link below and give Walch’s composition a few moments of your time. I write with great confidence when I say that I am quite certain you will hear this piece of music played at some point in the funeral proceedings. And if it is played and there are credits displayed on television that call this piece “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”, I hope that you will all wag your finger at the screen and state aloud that you know the real composer is Johann Heinrich Walch and that you read it first on Tom Macinnes’ little blog series called, Keepin’ It Classy.
I will end by offering a simple wish for Queen Elizabeth and all others who happen to share her death date today…thank you to each of you for being part of our world for as long as you managed. Many blessings to you and those you love as you transition from life to death. May whatever happens next be painless. Let it be a form of release. God Bless you all.
The link to the video for the composition, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” by Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.
The link to the official website for Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.
The link to the classical music radio station found in my very own town of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada…Classical 103.1…can be found here.
While I am waiting for a few more song suggestions from all of you, I have decided to use today’s post as an “Author’s Choice” and tell you the story of a hugely popular song from 2019 called “Dance Monkey” by an Australian singer who goes by the name, Tones and I. Tones is the stage name of Australian street performer Toni Watson. I don’t know her back story well enough to say why being a street performer/busker was her chosen route to employment but, none-the-less, she spent much of her teenage years and into her early twenties on the streets of Australia busking on corners, hat in hand, relying on the kindness of strangers to allow her to be able to eat and to find lodging each day. As you may already be aware, one of the original forms of busking was known as the organ grinder and his monkey. The organ grinder would turn a handle on a box he was holding and music would begin to play. The organ grinder’s monkey would dance and prance about, often times holding a metal cup in his little hands. If the audience approved of the dance then they would put coins in the monkey’s cup. There was no limit on how many times an audience would demand that the monkey dance. If someone made the demand to dance, the monkey had no choice but to dance.
I don’t know about you but I was raised in a world in which there was a certain sense of nobility involved in performing labour on behalf of others. The recent death of Queen Elizabeth of England has reinforced the generational notion of service before self. In an age where working collectively toward the goal of creating a better society was strived for, it was easy to see the value in many types of labour. In fact, for most of my teaching career, I had a laminated sign that I stuck on my classroom door that said, “There are no unimportant jobs, no unimportant people, no unimportant acts of kindness“. This sign indicated to all who passed under it that our classroom was going to be a place where they would be valued as humans and recognized for the skills they held and the acts of kindness they displayed. Every child need not have been perfect to be regarded by me and others as having great value. That is a message that I feel has gotten somewhat lost in the hustle and bustle of today’s world.
“Dance Monkey” is a song that describes what it was like for Watson to experience the power imbalance that exists in today’s on-demand world. It paints a bleak picture of the lack of civility that seems to be so common in our interactions with those who we may view as being beneath us in our station in life. The COVID pandemic has really brought to the forefront how poorly we treat so many of the workers who deal with the public such as wait staff at restaurants, cashiers, hospital employees, educators, retail workers and so on. No one should be filled with anxiety over reporting for a minimum wage job due to fear of being assaulted or verbally abused. What makes “Dance Monkey” so successful as a song is that it is not preachy at all. In fact, it is a perfect Pop song…all bouncy and peppy and filled with energy. Just like Pagliaccio, the tragic clown of opera fame, Watson addresses the abuse she suffered at the hands of her audiences in disguise…in this case, as a Pop star singing a Pop song. But, make no mistake, the earnestness of her emotion shines through, making her so easy to root for. Her desire to turn the spotlight on her abusers makes her performance a powerful one that has resonated with audiences around the world. I am sure we have all watched videos of “Karens” in full meltdown mode on social media. It isn’t pretty to watch. I cannot imagine what it is like to experience that on a daily basis. No one should have to imagine that. Toni Watson most certainly did. Unfortunately, it is easy to tell.
Songs about underdogs rising up to overcome their abusers have always struck a chord with me. One of the very first songs of that nature that I ever came to know was the 80s classic, “Voices Carry” by Til Tuesday. Til Tuesday was a musical vehicle for singer Aimee Mann. In the song, “Voices Carry”, Mann spoke for all women who have ever found themselves in a relationship, professionally or personally, with a very controlling man. In the song, she describes her life. In it, the man is the one who makes all of the decisions…what she will wear, whether or not she will pursue her dream of being a singer and much more. As the song reaches its conclusion, Mann’s character has finally had enough and decides to stand up for herself in public at a theatrical performance. As she stands up and sings of her desire to be independent and to follow her own path, her partner tells her to sit down and hold her tongue. She sings incredulously:
“He said to shut up!
He said to shut up!
Can’t you keep it down!
And then she adds quietly, “I wish he would just let me talk”.
Demeaning. Dehumanizing. Debilitating. Abuse in any form is a soul crushing thing to endure. For those who summon the courage to speak out as Aimee Mann’s character did in this song or as Toni Watson does in “Dance Monkey”, the very act of doing so can appear most powerful and inspirational. *(You can watch the video for “Voices Carry” here). ***Lyrics version is here.
There are other songs in which abusers and cheaters get theirs such as “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), as well as a song like “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood that get audiences whooping and cheering for the woman as she exacts her revenge. However, in both of those songs and many others of their ilk, there is something almost cartoonish about the comeuppance that the abusers receive. Right from the start we all know a beatdown is on tap and that these jerks are going to get what’s coming. However, in real life, it is not always so easy to stand up for oneself, let alone exact any form of retribution. As outsiders, we often listen to tales of ill-treatment at the hands of others and question why the victim “put up with it”. Why didn’t they “just pack up and leave”?! But, in reality, it isn’t that easy to simply leave. The reasons for being in the situation a victim finds themselves in are often far more nuanced than any observer can possibly imagine. It definitely is not easy to stand up for yourself when you are constantly beaten down by a person or by many people. So, when somebody like Toni Watson does that very thing, it seems like a revolutionary act of the highest order. When you watch the videos of Watson singing…first, on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as a performance from an outdoor festival in Australia, watch the reaction of the audiences. They are all ready to wrap Watson up in their warm, protective embrace. There is something just so likable about her. She presents, not as a performer who is making a statement but more as a survivor of something that must have been very tough to endure. As a society, we seem to regard survivors with more compassion and patience than we do those who are merely victims.
The song, “Dance Monkey” holds the record in Australia after being in the #1 spot on the charts for nineteen consecutive weeks. In the UK, Watson tied a record held by Whitney Houston and Rhianna for consecutive weeks atop the British charts. The song sold over eleven million units and has been downloaded on social media over one billion times. It was Australia’s 2020 Song of the Year, as well as being the most played song on the radio in Australian history. In the links below, I will include links to the two performances mentioned previously above. But I am also going to include a couple of cover versions of this song to show you how popular it is worldwide and how the message it contains has swept the planet. “Dance Monkey” is truly a worldwide phenomenon.
I will conclude by issuing you all a challenge. Knowing you as I do, I suspect that this challenge will be easy to accept and to complete. Here goes…let’s all make a concerted effort to lessen the burden that others bear on our behalf. There are many people who perform labour for us who end up being impacted by the choices we so cavalierly make. For example, the next time you are shopping at the grocery store, thank the cashier for his/her effort and when you get to your car and unpack your groceries, put the shopping cart where it belongs so that some minimum wage earning high school kid doesn’t have to dodge traffic by having to collect carts left strewn all over the parking lot. I always put my cart away properly and have actually been thanked for doing so by staff. It isn’t hard to do the right thing for others and lessen their burden. A second easy thing to do…the next time you go to a restaurant, be patient. The wait staff are working as quickly as they can. Offer thanks to the cook who worked in a hot kitchen to make your meal. And yes, if you can, please leave a tip. It is surprisingly easy to be pleasant to those who are working on your behalf. These are just a couple of examples of how we can make life easier for those who work hard in a public setting. That civility seems to be in such short supply is a real commentary on the state of our society right now. We need to all do better. Making the lives of others better is a mindset that allows us to always think of how our actions are impacting those we come in contact with. It shouldn’t take a song about abuse like “Dance Monkey” to do our thinking for us and make us the better version of ourselves we need to be.
The link to the video for the song, “Dance Monkey” as sung by Toni Watson, from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Dance Monkey” as sung by Toni Watson, from an outdoor music festival in Australia can be found here.
The link to the video for a cover of “Dance Monkey” performed on piano in a London subway station by pianist Peter Buka can be found here. ***This guy is terrific!
The link to the video for cover versions of “Dance Monkey” as performed on TV shows such as The Voice, from around the world can be found here. ***This video really illustrates what a global phenomenon this song has become.
These are the stories behind the top hits of today.
Welcome to this week’s edition of Today’s Top 40. As the summer song season winds down, the Top Ten lists have all taken on the appearance of a logjam. Harry Styles, Lizzo, Bad Bunny, Beyonce and some of the other usual summer suspects continue occupying the major chart positions. I imagine that as the Christmas holiday shopping season draws ever closer that we will have some new material from some big names in the industry which should shake up the listings a bit. But for now, things are fairly static. So, for this edition of Today’s Top 40, I am shining the spotlight on some songs that have just entered the Top Ten at #10 or else, they are knocking at the door at positions #11 or #12. As always, I draw my material from the following weekly charts: BBC Radio 1, CHUM-FM and Indie88-FM (Toronto), Spotify, Billboard Magazine and finally, KEXP-FM (Seattle). So, enough with the chat, let’s take a look at the young upstart songs who are trying to dethrone the defending summer champs. Here is Today’s Top 40.
The Beths are a band from New Zealand. They remind me a bit of Canada’s own Barenaked Ladies *(profiled this week here). They are a wholesome, talented quartet whose songs are all cleverly written and are built upon a foundation of humour. They have a new album coming out tomorrow called Expert in a Dying Field. Their previous album was called, Future Me Hates Me so you can get a taste for their sense of humour there. In any case, The Beths play a form of Indie-Pop and are a pleasure to watch. This song, “Knees Deep” has a very cute video in which the members of the band gather for a band rehearsal session, only to have each member drop out to go bungee jumping off of a bridge. The song and video chronicle the change in their behaviour upon returning to the rehearsal after having made the jump. Overall, the message of the song is about embracing life and enjoying the moments of fun and adventure that come your way. Simple stuff sung in a very entertaining and enjoyable way. The Beths are alright!
***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here. ***Ooops! No lyrics video yet for this song apparently. Sorry.
Numb: Marshmello and Khalid (CHUM-FM and Spotify).
“Numb” is a song that was made specifically to be one of the “songs of the summer”. It is a song about having fun with your friends and not having any responsibilities of note to occupy your time. The video for this song is shot mainly around a swimming pool so there are lots of beautiful bodies to look at as you listen. There are no weighty messages contained within the lyrics. It is all good times with good people and the making of good memories that you can take with you into the cooler winter months to come. Pure Pop created as only Marshmello and Khalid can. If you like breezy Pop songs with a catchy chorus then, “Numb” is a song you will probably like.
***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.
Morgan Wallen is one of Country music’s rising young stars. The song, “You Proof” is a play on alcohol. As experienced drinkers all know, the higher the “proof number”, the more potent the alcohol content. So, if we take that same thing and apply it to romantic relationships, can there be any more powerful love than one that is “You Proof”? I should think not. This song covers the usual ground that many Country songs do. It is about a guy and a girl and a broken heart caused by a relationship gone wrong that just might be ok in the end because the guy is just such a rascal that he is irresistible no matter what he has done to cause the trouble he is in. This song is semi-autobiographical for Wallen because he has had his share of public relation missteps only to see his record sales soar each time. Wallen lost a chance to appear as the music guest on Saturday Night LIve due to his refusal to adhere to COVID protocols during the pandemic. He is a good ol’ boy from the south who uses the “n-word” to refer to people of colour. Finally, he has been arrested for public intoxication in, of all places, Kid Rock’s restaurant (raise your hand if you knew that Kid Rock has a chain of restaurants). And yet, the more trouble Morgan Wallen seeks out, the more warmly wrapped he becomes in the embrace of his fans. Go figure, “Merica!
***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.
One of the big trends in the past few years in music is for Electronic Dance Music DJs to produce music that is sung/fronted by relatively unknown young stars. This trend continues with the song “Crazy What Love Can Do”. David Guetta is a DJ with a long track record of success; especially in Europe where he is from. In this song, he has produced a slick summer hit with the help of two young female singers from the UK named Becky Hill and Ella Henderson. Both girls are solo artists and have never performed together prior to this song. Both girls are beautiful, have big hair, tanned skin and, most importantly, strong singing voices. The inspiration for the song was the famous female empowerment movie, Thelma and Louise…hence the need for two females to sing this song. Just like the movie, “Crazy What Love Can Do” is all about sisterhood in a modern world. The video for the song follows the storyline for Thelma and Louise pretty faithfully. Both Hill and Henderson sound great together which makes this song pleasing to listen to.
***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.
If you have never heard of Loony before then, allow me to introduce you to Toronto-based singer Kira Huszar. I am not sure where the moniker “Loony” comes from but, in my opinion, it is somewhat unfortunate because it gives an impression that takes away from the actual person Huszar is. When I first listened to this song, I immediately thought it drew inspiration from John Mayer at his Bluesy-est moments. Huszar has a sultry voice and the orchestration behind her is gorgeous. “First Thing Smokin’” is a song that possesses a wonderful sound quality and is well worth playing; especially if you have a quality sound system or headphones available.
***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.
These are the stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.
Today we are going to do something a little bit different. Instead of choosing one song and focusing on it and the impact that it had on a given movie or musical, we are going to discuss how director Quentin Tarentino uses music to create a stylistic environment for his movie characters to live in. Tarentino has become known as much for how his movies “sound” as he has for how his movies “look”. For him, the musical soundtrack adds layers of detail and meaning in very much the same way as the set design, the cinematography or the fashion choices do. So, in this post, we are going to examine how Quentin Tarentino used music…some of it well known and some of it more under-the-radar, as it were…to create the world of Pulp Fiction.
For anyone who has not watched Pulp Fiction already, here is a brief synopsis of the plot. Before I even begin with that, it is important to note that one of the things that made Pulp Fiction very interesting to watch was that Tarentino’s story involves three interconnected storylines that all house characters who weave in and out of each storyline in differing combinations. The stories are not told in chronological order so there is some piecing together of the puzzle that is required in order to understand what is happening and why as the movie rolls along. However, one of the reasons why Quentin Tarentino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay is how he always manages to ensure that all scenes and all characters behave in ways that are true to their own individual story arc, even though they may be involved with different characters, in different scenes and in and out of chronological order. The construction of this film is fascinating to me.
In any case, the three story arcs are as follows:
1- A crime boss (played by Ving Rhames) demands that a washed up boxer (Bruce Willis) throw his next boxing match. Willis accepts the bribe money and agrees to throw the fight so that Rhames can place a big bet and make lots of money. However, Willis ends up accidentally winning the fight via knockout and decides to flee with the crime boss’ cash. Needless to say, Rhames vows revenge. So, story arc #1 is about the relationship between Willis and Rhames that plays out all throughout the movie.
2- Story Arc #2 involves two hit men (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) who work for Rhames. We follow them for a day as they conduct their business which involves eating breakfast in a diner that is being robbed, stopping by an apartment to retrieve a briefcase belonging to Rhames that had been stolen by petty thieves. *(This scene has become one of the most iconic in recent Hollywood history. The “Royale with cheese” scene helped make Jackson the star he is today. You can view that complete scene here. Warning: lots of violence and profanity…but, in the context of the movie as a whole, it all works). The ramifications of that apartment visit play out over the course of the movie and cause both men to re-evaluate what it is that they are doing with their lives.
3- Story arc #3 involves Travolta’s character performing another duty for his crime boss, Rhames. In this case, Rhames has asked Travolta to entertain his wife for an evening while Rhames is at the big boxing match. (Rhames’ wife is played by Uma Thurman). Needless to say, taking the sexually aggressive wife of his boss out on a date places Travolta’s character is a precarious situation. There is much chemistry between the two and much of what ends up happening after the two return home after their evening on the town fuels the remainder of the movie’s plot; especially for Travolta’s character.
All three story arcs resolve themselves at the end of the movie. Part of the fun with Pulp Fiction was re-watching the movie and figuring out how seamlessly all of the interconnected parts fit together even if you didn;t realize it the first time around. Critics have hailed Pulp Fiction as being Tarentino’s masterpiece and one of the best films of the last half century. I don’t disagree. There is a lot of good acting, good writing and excellent story structure going on in this movie. One of the things that ties it all together is the music so let’s take a closer look at that.
When we talk about the way Quentin Tarentino uses music in his films, it is instructive to make a quick comparison to another famous, successful film that was released around the same time…Forrest Gump. Like Pulp Fiction,Forrest Gump is a period piece, meaning that it is set in a certain time period, with the music, costumes, set design and cultural references all being reflective of that period. Forrest Gump takes place in the 1960s in America.The soundtrack for this movie contains many recognizable hits from that time period. As such, many music critics have stated that there are no surprises in the soundtrack. Everything is as expected. For some, that is a strength. For others, they tale the view of only playing the popular, safe songs is a bit of a musical cliche. Tarentino has never been one to settle for cliched responses when more interesting choices exist. So, in all of his movies, he has developed a pattern of choosing music that the cool kids would have listened to; some of it well known and some of it more of an underground variety. His musical choices end up giving his films a cultural cache that other directors just can’t match. So, here are a selection of songs from the soundtrack of the movie, Pulp Fiction. In each case, I will briefly talk about the original artist who recorded the song and then I will talk about the scene in the movie in which the song was played and why Tarentino opted to do what he did by pairing that song with that particular scene. Buckle up! Here we go!
Neil Diamond wrote this song as a very young man. It was placed on his second album. Diamond says that he wrote this song specifically for the girls that he noticed were starting to come to his shows. He may have been just a young man at the time but Diamond already recognized that his music held a certain power over impressional young girls…a power that he was happy to exploit. This song was one of his early hits that helped establish him as a major player on the music scene in America.
In the movie, this song plays as Travolta and Thurman have returned home from their night on the town. While Travolta is in the bathroom trying to buy some time so he can figure out how to make a graceful exit without offending his boss’ wife, she is dancing to this song in her living room while wearing Travolta’s coat. Wearing a guy’s coat/shirt is usually a turn-on so we all know where this scene is headed…until Thurman starts fishing around in the coat pocket and makes a discovery that changes the entire course of the rest of the movie.
Tarentino has taken a song written by a guy who has all of the power and is using it to attract women and uses it to switch positions and make clear that it is Thurman who is calling the shots in this sexually-charged situation. In writing class, newbie writers are always instructed to create scenes by showing and not telling all of the details. In this scene, Tarentino uses music to do the talking and establish the parameters for each character without either of them having to actually say what they are thinking out loud.
*(You can watch the scene by clicking on the link found in the song title above).
“Let’s Stay Together” comes from the album of the same name. It was Al Green’s biggest selling single of his career and has come to define much of who he was as a person and as a performer. It is a classic, beautiful song that describes the importance of standing by one another through good times and bad. It is a life message that has helped many a couple over the years.
In the movie, this song plays in its’ entirety in the background of one of the first scenes in the movie. It is the scene in which the crime boss (Rhames) is meeting with Willis’ character and instructing him to throw his upcoming match. For most of the scene, we only see Willis as he listens silently to Rhames telling him how it is going to go. The power dynamic is clear. Rhames does all of the talking and Willis meeking accepts Rhames’ decision. It is also clear that neither man really likes or respects the other. But, for Willis, it is what it is and he feels as if he has no choice in the matter which, by extension, also describes how he views his life as a whole at that moment in time.
Tarentino uses this song as a bit of foreshadowing. As this scene plays out we, the audience, have no idea how inextricably linked both characters will become over the course of the film. Like the song says, they will have good times and bad and, for better or worse, will end up together in a way neither man could have foreseen in this initial scene. For me, this scene really captures the essence of why Pulp Fiction is such an epic movie. At first blush, this scene seems fairly straightforward but, once the movie is over and we all know what happened, to watch this scene again with wiser eyes is a revelation. There is actually so much going on here that you don’t notice at first but upon further review, the attention to detail is simply incredible!
This song was Chuck Berry’s last hit in the 1960s. He wrote it after completing time in jail for violating The Mann Act. This law was passed to deal with the problem of human trafficking and essentially made it illegal to take minors across state lines without permission from the child’s parents. In Berry’s case, I do not know if sexual liberties were in play or if he was targetted because he was a black man and/or a celebrity but, he was charged with taking a fourteen year old Mexican girl from Mexico and placing her to work in a night club in St. Louis, where he was from. Many of Berry’s songs prior to his incarceration had sexual elements to them but, after being released, his first song…”You Can Never Tell”…is a wholesome song about a couple finding true love and making their relationship work.
In the movie, this song is used during a classic scene that shows Tarentino’s love for nostalgia. It is the famous Jack Rabbit Slims’ dance contest scene with Thurman and Travolta early on in their date night experience. Tarentino uses this scene to pay homage to the 1960s and 70s. Jack Rabbit Slims is a diner that specializes in recreating the world of the 1960/70s. The host of the dance contest is a man playing Ed Sullivan. The dance contest trophy will be presented by someone playing Marilyn Monroe. When “Sullivan” calls for dance contestants, Thurman enthusiastically volunteers. When Travolta politely declines, Thurman reminds him, in no uncertain terms, that he is to do her bidding because of who her husband is. The power dynamic is set in stone. When they danced, they were supposed to be dancing the Twist. While it starts out that way, the duo end up dancing in almost a dozen different, easily recognizable styles that serve as a real tip of the hat to the era of the 1960s, as well as solidifying the unspoken chemistry that the couple possesses. By the end of the dance, it is plain to see that, as the song states, you never can tell when the right one will come along.
I have profiled this song in a previous post which you can read here.
Dick Dale was one of the originators of the “Surf Sound” of the 1960s. He was a pioneering guitar player and remains to this day as one of the most influential musicians of his era.
In the movie, Quentin Tarentino uses this song over the opening credits. It is an instrumental number but it immediately helps create an association for the viewer that this movie is taking place in the 1960s in a time where pulp fiction magazines and dime store detective novels were a thing. “Misirlou” is one of those classic Tarentino song choices because it is something that insiders know well and Tarentino is nothing if not a cultural touchstone geek.
This is our final song choice of this post. For a while in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, there were many people who felt that British singer Dusty Springfield was set to become the next big thing. But, while she had a huge hit with “Son Of A Preacher Man”, Springfield never really reached the lofty heights in America that many felt were waiting for her. Thus, she stands as one of those under-the-radar cool choices that Tarentino loves to make. Dusty Springfield had a soulful sound to her voice. This song was a bit of a controversial choice during the day because of the subject matter which describes a young girl falling in love with the son of a preacher. At the time, religious leaders were not often mentioned as being the source of sexual attraction but this song does that, albeit with the preacher’s son. Just the same, there was a bit of a forbidden-fruit element to “Son Of A Preacher Man” when it first aired.
Tarentino uses this song again with Travolta and Thurman. It plays as Travolta first shows up at his boss’ house to pick up his wife for their date. The song plays as Thurman watches Travolta via security cameras. She speaks to him via an intercom. It is clear, once again, that Thurman is controlling the situation. The song also helps establish the dangerous tightrope that Travolta is being forced to walk as he goes through with this date.
Overall, the way in which Quentin Tarentino uses music to add layers of meaning to the stories he is telling on screen has become one of his defining characteristics. He is one of my favourite directors. I like so many of his movies such as Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and From Dusk Till Dawn, just to name a few. He is such a great writer and creator of scenes. But, as much as I admire him for his writing skills, I also love the way he uses music to make his stories better. Hopefully you feel likewise. If you have a favourite Tarentino scene or movie please feel free to let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading my words. Have a great day.
The link to the trailer to the movie, Pulp Fiction can be found here.
The link to the official website for Neil Diamond can be found here.
The link to the official website for Urge Overkill can be found here.
The link to the official website for Al Green can be found here.
The link to the official website for Chuck Berry can be found here.
The link to the official website for Dusty Springfield can be found here.
The stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.
One of the most exhilarating about being a fan of a singer/band is finding out that they are even better in person than they are on their studio recordings. The Barenaked Ladies definitely fall into this category. Right from the very earliest days of their career, The Barenaked Ladies were known for the high entertainment factor that was always present in their live shows. Not only were the members of the band all very talented musicians in their own right but, they exuded a sense of charm that dazzled audiences everywhere. Many of their earliest songs such as “If I Had a Million Dollars” and “Be My Yoko Ono” came across as almost novelty-type songs because of the humorous tract the band followed. But the high energy nature of the way they played and the razor-sharp repartee between singers Ed Roberston and Steven Page allowed them to rise above the other bands that mined the same ground such as Moxy Fruvous, The Shuffle Demons and so on in the Toronto music scene of the late 1980s and into the 1990s. But, in addition to putting on great live shows, what really helped propel The Barenaked Ladies into the upper echelon of the Canadian music scene was how innovative they were when it came to marketing themselves. These guys should teach a course or write a book or both about how to develop and market a brand because they did an excellent job. The story of today’s song, “The Old Apartment” is but one example from many that illustrate how clever these guys truly were. Let’s have a look inside the music and marketing genius that was The Barenaked Ladies!
Originally, the band began waaaaaay back when Ed Robertson and Steven Page met in elementary school. They went to the same school and soon discovered that they followed the same bands and through that shared interest, they began to hang out and became best friends. One of the things that helped bond their friendship was the ability the boys had to offer witty observational commentary when watching other bands play. For instance, they once attended a Bob Dylan concert and proceeded to offer a running commentary of what they were seeing, as if they were play-by-play announcers. Apparently, they were more funny than annoying and soon were encouraged to develop their craft and share it with others. While appearing at open mic nights and battles-of-the-band competitions, Robertson and Page developed a reputation for being witty performers. The next phase of their development involved adding other musicians and becoming a real band, which they did with the additions of Stewart and, at the time, two Creeggan brothers, Jim and Andrew. They started performing as the opening act for the local Toronto-area comedic band, Corky and the Juice Pigs, which presented them with the type of audience that was perfectly suited for their particular brand of entertainment. But then, two things happened in close proximity to each other that launched the band into the national spotlight.
The first was that they got themselves some free publicity by being banned by the Mayor of Toronto from performing in front of City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square because their name was deemed inappropriate. Of course, there was nothing the least bit unseemly about the band members or the type of music they played so, in all the uproar over the rush to judgment by Mayor Rowlands, The Barenaked Ladies received a boatload of free publicity from the media. This helped open the door for the band, serving as a public introduction to the City of Toronto which was (and still is) Canada’s largest commercial market for music. With all of that publicity percolating away for the band, they looked for ways to get their own original songs out to the public in a free yet mass way. So, what they did next is how I first became aware of them. In Toronto there exists a local television station known as CITY-TV. In the 1980s, CITY-TV was at the forefront of a broadcasting experiment. That experiment was to remove the walls that separated broadcasters from their audience and make everything as open and transparent and interactive as possible. One of the things CITY-TV did was to place their broadcasting studios on the ground floor of a building on Queen Street that had huge windows at street level. This allowed passersby to see directly into the studios while they were live on-air, much the same way as shoppers passing department stores might look at the goods for sale in a store window. One additional thing City-TV did to encourage interactivity was to install a booth in the corner of their building that would allow anyone to stop by and record a message. This booth was called Speaker’s Corner and became a popular way for Torontonians to offer opinions, air grievances and to promote events such as charity drives and rallies. Robertson and Page saw Speaker’s Corner as a free and easy way to introduce themselves and their music to their audience. So the boys all squeezed into the tiny recording booth on Queen Street, introduced themselves and then sang “If I Had a Million Dollars” and “Be My Yoko Ono”. CITY-TV used to use the content of all those messages that were left on Speaker’s Corner and aired it as a packaged show. This is where I saw The Barenaked Ladies for the first time. It turned out that I was not alone.
Not long after this, the band started marketing a cassette tape of songs that they had recorded. This tape became known as the Yellow Tape and was made available at local record stores (when record stores were still a popular and vibrant enterprise). Demand for the Yellow Tape was so great that it became one of Toronto’s best selling musical recordings, outstripping musical heavyweights such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston in the local market. In fact, sales of the Yellow Tape were so great that it eventually reached Platinum status making it the very first independent recording to ever achieve that level of success. Needless to say, the very same record companies who turned down the band just one year earlier, mocking them as a novelty act, were all now rushing to sign them. Soon a contract was proffered and an official album named Gordon was released. This album contained the two songs they had sung on Speaker’s Corner, plus other hits like “Enid”, “Grade 9” and a song that would help launch them in the US, “Brian Wilson”. In the end, Gordon sold over one million copies.
But, as I said off the top, being even better live than you are in-studio is such a bonus for an artist or a band. What The Barenaked Ladies had as their next inspiration was to bottle that live stage energy, as it were, in the form of an album that would be a recording of a live show or combination of live shows. This live album became known as Rock Spectacle. This album contained recordings of live concerts that the band played in Chicago, of all places. In any case, the magic of their showmanship was on full display all through Rock Spectacle. While all of the songs of this album came across well, the song “Brian Wilson” really turned out well and helped serve as the song that opened the door into the US market for the band. For those who don’t know, “Brian Wilson” tells the semi-autobiographical story of legendary musical genius, Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. Wilson was one of the most innovative musicians ever but had a variety of mental and emotional issues following his experience making The Beach Boys seminal album, Pet Sounds. The Barenaked Ladies song, “Brian Wilson” takes a sympathetic look at his life while in the care of psychiatrists who may or may not have had his best interest at heart. There is a depth to the emotional story being told in this song that helped elevate the public view of The Barenaked Ladies as being something more than a band who sing songs laden with puns. In addition to “Brian Wilson”, Rock Spectacle contained two other songs that went on to become huge hits for the band…”One Week” and today’s song, “Old Apartment”.
The song “Old Apartment” is a song whose lyrical content foreshadowed, in some ways, how the band members themselves were dealing with their meteoric rise to fame. The song name drops a famous neighbourhood in Toronto called The Danforth. Like many major cities, Toronto has various neighbourhoods that have become known for specific things (many of those being ethnic-oriented) such as Chinatown or Little Italy. The Danforth area of Toronto was known for being the Greek enclave in the city. It was also undergoing a period of gentrification which meant that it was evolving into an area of the city where non-Greeks were moving to because it was becoming trendy and hip to be associated with that part of town. The song, “Old Apartment” talks about an experience that many young adults have when they first start out in the world. It talks about those first apartments we tended to live in. The ones that were in basements or above storefronts and were never viewed as being a forever home by anyone who moved in and moved out shortly thereafter. Those first apartments were just stepping stones on the road to where we really wanted to be. But, in many ways, those times spent in those dive apartments also corresponded with a time in our lives when we were unencumbered by many of the responsibilities of life and, in a way, were at our most free. There is a certain nostalgia factor at play that traps some people into believing that the past was the best that life has to offer. That is a tough way to deal with the present and the future where we all have to actually live our lives.
For The Barenaked Ladies, much greater fame and fortune awaited them after the success of Rock Spectacle. The band had several other hits, the most noteworthy of which was singing the theme song to the big TV show hit, The Big Bang Theory. The band was also featured on the television show, 90210 (Jason Priestly was a huge fan) and got to play a showcase of songs at the show’s musical venue, The Peach Pit. However, in time, the price of fame and fortune weighed heavily upon the band. Steven Page began having issues with drug addiction and, at one point, was arrested for possession as he attempted to cross the border. Eventually, he and his childhood friend, Ed Robertson stopped talking to each other and Page was fired from the band. While the remaining members of The Barenaked Ladies have soldiered on, Page’s firing effectively ended the era of greatest success for The Barenaked Ladies. There was much hope that if Steven Page entered drug rehab and got his life back on track that there would be a Barenaked Ladies reunion at some point. But, the truth of the matter is that the only time the original lineup has played together since the firing was when the band was inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame. *(You can watch that clip here). That one-off concert seemed to go well and there was a lot of optimism that all would be well. But, as the song “Old Apartment” makes clear, living in the past is not really living at all. So, as for the future, the band has no plans for a reunion….at all.
However disappointing that may be, we must temper our feelings with an appreciation for how innovative The Barenaked Ladies were in their prime. In addition to taking advantage of avenues of access such as Speaker’s Corner in Toronto to market their Yellow Tape cassette, The Barenaked Ladies were among the very first bands to run their own website. On this website, they were one of the very first bands to employ such tools as interactive blogs, podcasts, free downloads and so much more. They were also one of the very first bands to sell a CD (Barenaked for the Holidays…their Christmas collection) and include with the CD an MP3 plug-in device so that listeners could take their music with them and plug it in anywhere there was a USB jack. This predates streaming technology that we enjoy today. The Barenaked Ladies always had one eye on the future. If only they could have taken all that was great about the future and marry it to all that was great about the past then their present would have been perfect.
The link to the video for the song, “Old Apartment” by The Barenaked Ladies can be found here. ***The link to the lyrics version can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Brian Wilson” from the album Rock Spectacle by The Barenaked Ladies can be found here.
The link to the video that shows The Barenaked Ladies as they appeared on Speaker’s Corner in Toronto can be found here. ***Some cringey/interesting cameos by other “celebrities”, too.
The link to the official website for The Barenaked Ladies can be found here.
The link to the official website for Taste Of The Danforth Cultural Festival can be found here.
These are the stories behind your most memorable songs.
Seal was born in 1963 in London to parents who were a combination of Nigerian and Brazilian heritage. His legal name is Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel. His childhood was not always pleasant, as he was put into foster care for a while before being reunited with his birth parents. However, that reunion was short-lived due to physical and emotional abuse handed down by his biological father. Being the subject of abuse can leave lasting scars on a person but, in the case of Seal, it caused him to adopt the attitude that he, as an adult, would strive to behave differently. As a result, he took a solemn personal oath to do no harm to others and, instead, promised to become a person that others could depend and rely upon. As if to prove his own point, Seal has generally lived a controversy-free life in the eyes of the tabloids even though he has had a highly successful music career and enjoyed a high-profile marriage (to supermodel Heidi Klum) for well over a decade.
His music career was slow to start. Like many aspiring musicians, Seal bounced around from band to band during his early twenties. He even traveled through Asia and into India as part of his journey toward finding the right fit for him as a singer. Finally, upon returning to London in the late 1980s, Seal began making guest singing appearances for other artists and bands and, as a result came to the attention of a music producer named Adamski. Through his connection with Adamski, Seal sang a song called “Killer”. This song rose all the way to the top of the UK charts which, as one would expect, brought Seal to the attention of the record buying public. Soon, Seal was signed to his own recording contract and the rest is history. He has sold over 20 million records worldwide and has enjoyed numerous Top Ten hits with songs such as “Crazy”, “Prayer For The Dying”, “Love’s Divine”, “Amazing”, the multi award winning song, “Kiss From a Rose” and, of course, today’s nominated song, “Waiting For You”. Over the course of his career, Seal has won four Ivor Novello awards for songwriting and for the single of the year in the UK. He has also won three Brit Awards and four Grammy Awards in the US.
The song, “Waiting For You” was nominated by my friend, Deb Wilton. This song comes from the album, Seal IV, which was his fourth studio album. When this song was first brought to my attention as a possible Reader’s Choice entry, I asked Deb what it was about “Waiting For You” that did it for her. She replied that “to me, this is one of the most technically perfect songs of all time. I love how it starts very simply, builds to an amazing crescendo and then fades away. I could listen to it and to this amazing voice, over and over”. I agree with Deb’s assessment. The sound of Seal’s voice, along with his superb ability to control the pitch and power of it, is part of what makes him so special as a singer. There are no histrionics involved in his singing. It is all silky smooth, powerful and completely under his control at all times. As male singers go, Seal is easily one of the best ever.
Thanks to Deb for nominating such an elegant song. It is always a pleasure to showcase such a tremendously talented performer as Seal. “Waiting For You” is a wonderful song that I know will bring a smile to your face and a warm feeling to your heart. As always, if any of you have a special song you would like for me to profile then, by all means, drop me a line in the comments box below and I will see what I can do. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate your presence at my blog space. Have a great day!
The link to the video for the song, “Waiting For You” by Seal can be found here.
The link to the official website for Seal can be found here.
These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.
As a blogger, I try my best to stay one day ahead when it comes to publishing the content that you get to read. As a result, I spent yesterday morning creating the latest post in my Reader’s Choice series. When I was finished, the post was completed and all that was left for me to do was to hit the “Publish” button this morning and the post would have gone live as intended. At the time I was writing yesterday’s post, I had no idea that someone’s 96 year old Granny was on her deathbed halfway across the world. But, after having a bit of lunch and a spot of hot tea, I learned, what the world soon learned, that Queen Elizabeth had passed away. No matter what opinion one holds of Queen Elizabeth or of the British Monarchy, in general, her passing is big news. It dwarfs much of what is in the current news cycle at this moment. It certainly made what I had written yesterday seem irrelevant…at least in terms of publishing it in the midst of all this sadness and uproar caused by the Queen’s death. So, instead of simply hitting the “Publish” button this morning as I had intended, I am, instead, creating a whole new post for today because there is certainly lots to say about Elizabeth of Windsor, her impact and her legacy. So, for those keeping track, I will publish the Reader’s Choice post on Monday and am publishing a new post for Keepin’ It Classy today (which is Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 as I write).
Like most people reading this post, Queen Elizabeth has been the only Queen I have known in my lifetime. Prime Ministers and Presidents have come and gone but for seventy years, she has occupied the throne of England. Her longevity merits applause. When she was first crowned as Queen, she promised to devote her entire life to public service. That she has done. Queen Elizabeth began fulfilling that promise by working as a mechanic during WWII. In the passing years, she has gone on to head up hundreds and hundreds of charities and other organizations whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I grew up in a home in which the example of service before self was viewed as a great virtue. My mother, in particular, always devoted herself to the care of others as a registered nurse and then, after retirement, as someone who helped out in Seniors homes as well as in her church. I followed her lead by becoming a school teacher. Helping children and their families was a tremendous source of satisfaction and pride to me. So, when the news of Queen Elizabeth’s passing first became known, my initial thought was for my mother and those of her generation who placed so much emphasis on helping others based upon the Queen’s own example. Further to this, one of our family’s most steadfast traditions at Christmas time was to gather round the television at some point during the day and listen to the annual “Queen’s Christmas Message” from Buckingham Palace. It brought my family a great sense of peace to hear her speak and to know that she was present at the helm. The simple fact that she lived and was so steady a public presence for all of these years is much of what made her so important to ordinary folks like us. The political winds may have blown this way or that but the Queen was unwavering and steadfast and resolute in her demeanour. As long as she was there, our world would be alright. And now she is gone. A foundational pillar has been removed by death and the world seems a little shakier this day than it was before.
However, any sadness or trepidation that I may feel this morning is counterbalanced by an understanding that the legacy of Elizabeth of Windsor is complicated, at best. While there were many public declarations of sadness and grief from around the world, there were also many declarations of glee and exultation that she was finally dead. For as much as the Queen may have represented a sense of stability and calm to many of us she, also, represented oppression and privilege to many others around the world, too. Apparently there were fireworks and dancing in the streets of places such as Northern Ireland, a nation whose entire history is coloured red from the seemingly endless amount of blood spilled in conflicts with England (of which the Queen was head). Many countries in Africa celebrated the demise of a foreign ruler whose territorial ambitions caused untold hardship and deprivation to the local Indigenous populations. Even a country such as Jamaica is preparing lawsuits, as you read these words, against the British Crown for reparations for the slave trade a century ago. Part of the back story to the song, “No Woman, No Cry” by the great Bob Marley has to do with the consequences of British empire building upon the Jamaican population. *(You can read that post here). Finally, there are many younger people who have watched how the institution of the Monarchy reacted to the presence of strong young, intelligent, vibrant women such as Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. That they were expected to stand quietly by and temper their own enthusiasms rankled many modern women who took the view that Queen Elizabeth was a relic from a bygone era and that her demise may be what was necessary to start the modernization of the Monarchy that is needed if it is to remain relevant in an ever changing world.
I am sure that the debate over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy will rage on over the course of the next few days and weeks. However, my greater sense is that much of the politics of remembrance will give way to pageantry in the end. The British are known for many things and one of them is how to put on a good public show…whether that be for Royal weddings, funerals or coronations. So, I am predicting that the funeral for Queen Elizabeth will end up being one of the top stories from the year 2022. It will be a spectacle of emotion and expense. I also predict, with great certainty, that the Queen’s funeral will have a playlist and that one of the pieces of music on this playlist will be “Nimrod”, Variation No. 9 of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations Suite. There are many who state that, after the anthemic notes of “God Save the Queen/King”, which is England’s national anthem, the most patriotic English composition in history is “Nimrod” by Elgar. So, let’s talk a bit about Elgar’s Enigma Variations and why Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” is viewed as being so special.
Edward Elgar is viewed as being the greatest English composer of all time. I wrote about him when we discussed his other great work, “Pomp and Circumstance”. *(You can read that post here). All throughout his life, Edward Elgar was plagued by periods of depression and self-loathing. One of the factors that helped to elevate him in the ranks of the great composers in history, besides talent, was that he was surrounded by a wonderful network of family and friends who all did a tremendous job at keeping his spirits up and helping Elgar to remain productive and to recognize the merit of the work he was creating. Edward Elgar, to his credit, understood who he was and how valuable his support network was to him in his career and in his personal life. So, in gratitude he created a suite of music that has become known as the Enigma Variations. There are fourteen individual variations that make up the entire suite. Each Variation is based upon some aspect of someone who was important to Elgar in his life. The tone of each dedicated variation was created to reflect some aspect of the relationship Elgar had with that individual person…some variations are more upbeat, some are more serious, some are romantic and so on. Variation No. 9 was dedicated to his long-time musical mentor and publisher, Auguste J. Jaeger. It was Jaeger, as much as anyone else, who was responsible for constantly reminding Elgar that he had worth as a composer and that his compositions were the equal of his heroes such as Beethoven. Jaeger was also one of Elgar’s most honest critics, often challenging him to work harder, to be better and to polish his work to an even finer edge. Edward Elgar came to rely on and appreciate Jaeger’s counsel. Thus, for Jaeger’s variation, Elgar created a soaring piece of music that is characterized by a consistent and steady musical structure, around which other chords rise and fall, building into a crescendo of fervor that never fails but to arouse an emotional response in the listener. Elgar entitled Jaeger’s variation as being “Nimrod” because, in German, the word Jager means “hunter” and in the Old Testament, the term “Nimrod” means mightyhunter before The Lord. When Elgar released his entire Enigma Variations suite, it was met with much approval from music critics, as well as from ordinary citizens. In time, Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” became the most popular of the variations. It has been performed at many prominent national events in England such as at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the funerals of Princess Diana and Prince Phillip, as well, “Nimrod” is played each year at the London Cenotaph to honour those who gave their lives in the many wars in which England has fought. Thus, I feel relatively safe in predicting that “Nimrod” will be played at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, too. It is just seems like such a British thing to do.
I have to be honest and admit that I am not overly sad about Queen Elizabeth passing away. Like anyone in her situation, I do feel a sense of sympathy for her family members for which she was not their Monarch but, instead, was their mother or grandmother. I am sure that her corgis are wondering where she is as well. But, more than anything, I am somewhat anxious as to what the future holds for England. Even though I live in Canada, what happens in places like England and France and the United States affects us. We are countries built upon a foundation of western democratic principles. As we have already witnessed under Donald Trump’s tenure at the helm of the US, the ripple effects of political instability in the land of any of our allies ends up washing up upon our shores, too. So, in the case of England, I wonder what the political fallout will be from the leadership vacuum her death represents. One thing that I do know is that King Charles has huge shoes to fill. I sincerely hope that he assumes his place at the head of the monarchy with much confidence and helps to inspire a nation and a Commonwealth to move forward with common purpose. One thing I am sad for is that Queen Elizabeth’s death removes one more female role model from the world’s stage. Do we really need another old white man in a position of authority? In any case, the immediate future will unfold in a very scripted manner, according to the formal government plans announced yesterday. There will be much time set aside for reflection and for public mourning. Her funeral will take place a week or so from now. In that time, I believe that Elgar’s Enigma Variation, Op. 36, No. 9. “Nimrod” will have a prominent airing and will come to be the anthem of her passing. So please take a moment to click on the link at the bottom of this post and listen to “Nimrod” for yourself so that you will recognize it when you hear it played live in the days and weeks to come in London. As you listen to it playing, know that it was written for someone who was viewed as being a true and resolute friend to the composer. Now that same thematic quality will be applied to the Queen of all of England and the Commonwealth of countries, too. Regardless of the politics of the moment, I wish the Queen’s family peace and I wish her a joyous, relaxed reunion with her husband and all of the corgis who went before her.
The link to the video for the composition, Enigma Variations, Op. 36, No. 9, “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar can be found here.
“Nimrod” was used to great effect in the closing scene of the recent movie, Dunkirk. This score, in combination with Winston Churchill’s “Never Surrender” speech are part of the fabric of British history. The link to the video for this scene can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Royal Family can be found here. ***You may sign a Book of Condolence via this website.
These are the stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.
If I were to climb into my car and drive for approximately one half hour to the north east of where I live, I would arrive at a site where one of the most iconic albums in Canadian history was recorded. That location would be a farmhouse situated in a rural village called Kendal Valley. That farmhouse would be owned by none other than Mr. Greg Keelor, co-lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the band, Blue Rodeo. The album that was recorded at his farmhouse was called Five Days in July. Many music critics rate Five Days in July as being one of the top twenty albums ever produced in Canada. The album is compared favourably to other legendary albums such as Neil Young’s Harvest album or Music From Big Pink by The Band. The big single to come from that album was “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”. This is the story of the band, the album and that superb single. Let’s go!
The story of Blue Rodeo began way back in high school when Greg Keelor and fellow co-lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jim Cuddy first became aware of each other. Like many young, aspiring musicians, Keelor and Cuddy played in and out of many bands during their pre-Blue Rodeo days. Some of the people they played with ended up joining them as members of Blue Rodeo while others, like the Timmins Brothers, ended up in other bands such as The Cowboy Junkies. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a good time in the history of Canadian music. While Blue Rodeo were gaining their sea legs, bands such as Sloan, The Tragically Hip, The Skydiggers, Jane Siberry, Andrew Cash and many others were all being signed to recording contracts and were releasing albums that met with various levels of acclaim and sales success. Into that environment came Blue Rodeo. The guys in the band had, for a while, left Toronto and had settled into New York City in order to jump start their career. While overnight success failed to materialize there, what did happen was that they were afforded lots of opportunity to play and to write. Out of that experience came the song, “Rose-Coloured Glasses”, which was one of four songs that they shopped around and which eventually landed them their own recording contract. Their first album was called Outskirts. The breakthrough single from that album was the stellar track, “Try”. That single launched Blue Rodeo into the upper levels of fame in Canada.
Like all bands, there are times when everything runs like a well-oiled machine and other times when the group dynamic is off and the band lacks cohesion. In the early days of Blue Rodeo’s existence, things went relatively well. They had several hit songs which have gone on to become woven into the fabric of our national musical soundscape such as “Diamond Mine”, “Rebel”, “Til I Am Myself Again”, “Trust Yourself”, “What Am I Doing Here?”, “Lost Together” and “Angels”, among many others. Blue Rodeo had mastered the country-rock sound. They toured all over Canada and the United States. Many people considered them to be worthy peers of the kings of Canadian music, The Tragically Hip. One of the main reasons for their distinct sound was the keyboard stylings of original member, Bob Wiseman. Wiseman was considered by Cuddy and Keelor to have been uniquely talented. His virtuosity on the keyboard was such that instead of the usual guitar or drum solos that rock bands perform when they are feeling great on stage, Blue Rodeo would incorporate keyboard solos to show off Wiseman’s skills. Because of the presence of Bob Wiseman, Blue Rodeo had an aspect to their sound that no other band could duplicate. However, as the years went by and the album count climbed, Bob Wiseman no longer felt like he wanted to remain with the band. He felt constrained by the structure of this rock band. So, after several acrimonious months, he quit the band. The rest of the band were not unhappy to see him go.
Around this time, Greg Keelor found himself on a train that was heading back to Toronto from Montreal, I believe. That train passed through a section of land near where I live that has been dubbed, “The Rolling Hills of Northumberland County”. Just to the north of where I reside sits some of the best farmland in Ontario. This land alternates between rounded mountains and green valleys. It is a very peaceful, serene stretch of land that so far, as of this moment, has managed to evade the greedy clutches of the land developers. The Rolling Hills of Northumberland County remain relatively pure and bucolic. This is what Greg Keelor saw as his train chugged along. With the departure of Bob Wiseman fresh in his mind, the sudden presence of this peaceful, green countryside filled Keelor with a sense of calm that he hadn’t known for many months. As soon as he arrived back in Toronto, Keelor grabbed the real estate listings for the area and found a farmhouse that was for sale. That farmhouse was in a village called Kendal. Keelor bought it immediately. This farmhouse became a sort of homebase for the band, much in the same way that The Tragically Hip have their own recording studio called The Bathouse in Bath, Ontario.
With all of the turmoil of the past few months still echoing in his mind, Keelor decided that what he and the band needed to do most was to simply gather together, invite some friends along for a sleepover type of thing and just play music for the sake of playing music. So, the members of Blue Rodeo arrived in Kendal, as did musical friends such as Sarah MacLachlan, Colin Linden and many others. A small recording studio was set up in one of the rooms. Some beverages were consumed. Some weed was smoked. Good food was prepared and shared. Musical instruments came out. Voices joined in song. The sky was blue. The weather, warm. Soft breezes blew in through the open windows. Those who were there all say that those five days were among the most relaxed and enjoyable any of them have ever had. When that five day get-together began in July, no one thought that an entire album of original material would emerge from it. But, as we all know, sometimes when we are at our most mellow, we get the greatest ideas and inspirational thoughts. This was the case at the Kendal farmhouse. After the first day or so of singing and collaborating and of creating new songs, it was suggested that it would be a good idea to record the songs for posterity. By the time the fifth day had ended, all of the material that would end up on the Five Days in July album had been created and recorded. In fact, they were all so productive that half of the music for their follow-up album, Nowhere To Here was created and recorded during those five days, as well.
Many of the songs that were created by Keelor at the farmhouse, as well as many others he has written over the years alternate between themes of loss and of the excitement of new relationships. So, it is not a great surprise that a song such as “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” is about loss. Coming as it did during a period of major transition for the band, “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” reads like the feelings of someone who knew that change was afoot but remains stunned that it ended up happening just the same. We all deal with loss differently. For Blue Rodeo, the loss of Bob Wiseman and his brand of creative musicality allowed them to follow a new and satisfying path that resulted in one of the great Canadian albums of all time. The song is one of the few that mention Lake Ontario by name (“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” being another notable song to do so). The video for “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” was filmed on a wintery day just north of Port Hope, Ontario. Port Hope is almost due south from Kendal and sits beside Lake Ontario. In the video, the boys in the band are burying someone (Wiseman?) in a field overlooking the Lake as the snow falls.
“Hey! Hey! I guess it hasn’t hit me yet.
I fell through this crack and I kinda lost my way.
I stand transfixed before this streetlight,
Watching the snow fall on this cold December night
And out in the middle of Lake Ontario
The same snow is falling (the same snow is falling),
On the deep silent water (on the deep silent water),
The great dark wonder
Into the waves of my heart
Into the waves of my heart
Of my heart.”
Blue Rodeo continues to make music and tour all across Canada, stopping to play in places large and small for anyone who cares to come by and listen. The band has been inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame, as well as earning a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. They have definitely earned all of the kudos that have come their way. However, in spite of their success, they remain level headed and grounded individuals. It wasn’t all that long ago that Greg Keelor and I both found ourselves in a Port Hope grocery store shopping for onions and potatoes at the very same time. He wore dirty, baggy jeans and a faded sweater coat. Nobody bothered this gray-haired man as he rooted through the potato bin. But I knew who he was and I was secretly very pleased. I hope that he enjoyed his dinner back in Kendal which is, as you now know, only a half hour from my own house. We’re practically neighbours, Greg Keelor and I.
The link to the video for the song, “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” by Blue Rodeo can be found here. ***The link to the lyric version of this song can be found here.
The link to the official website for Blue Rodeo can be found here.
There is no website for Kendal, Ontario nor is there one for Lake Ontario. So, instead, the link to the official website for Port Hope, Ontario…where the music video was shot and where I bumped into Greg Keelor at the grocery store…can be found here.
The header photo was taken by Port Hope photographer Davandra Cribbie. It shows Lake Ontario as viewed from Port Hope harbour in winter. The link to Davandra’s website can be found here.
These are the stories behind the most memorable songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.
The movie, Philadelphia, was released in the early 1990s. It starred Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington as the two main characters. The soundtrack to the movie contained original work by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. That so many heavy hitters from their respective industries were involved in this movie project speaks to the larger intent behind which the movie was made in the first place. Director Jonathan Demme wanted to make a movie that would take a ground-level look at the AIDS crisis in America. Demme knew that the story of a Gay man dying of AIDS would be a tough sell for certain segments of the population so he enlisted people to support his project such as Springsteen, Washington, Young and Hanks who, he felt, would be a big enough draw based on name recognition alone to reach as broad an audience with his message as possible. That message included important information about how AIDS was actually transmitted and how much homophobia came into play in further exacerbating this painful life experience for so many Americans. Philadelphia went on to be nominated for several Academy Awards including wins for Best Actor for Hanks and Best Song for Springsteen.
The plot of Philadelphia unfolds just as the AIDS epidemic had begun to play out in America. In the 1980s, AIDS was sweeping through the US. It was a disease that was considered by some as God’s punishment against homosexuals because, for the most part, those who were contracting AIDS were Gay men. As such, in addition to the fear of an unknown disease that many Americans faced, there was the added element of homophobia that was thrown into the mix. The result of this was that those who contracted AIDS suffered physically, as the disease ravaged their bodies but, as well, they suffered emotionally and mentally due to a campaign of ostracization that took place all across the US. For many AIDS patients, during a time in their lives when they were most in need of compassion and companionship, many found themselves the object of panic and disgust. In the end, many AIDS patients died alone and lonely.
In the movie, Tom Hanks played a young Gay lawyer who contracts AIDS. All throughout this career at the law firm he was working at, he hid his sexual orientation from his employers and colleagues. Then, one day a lesion appears on his forehead. A colleague accuses Hanks of having AIDS because he associated the one lesion with the disease. Not long after this incident at work, Hanks is fired for “incompetence”. Hanks believes he was fired because of his sexual orientation and because of AIDS so he decides to sue the law firm for wrongful dismissal. As Hanks begins assembling his court case, we begin to see some of the obstacles that AIDS patients faced at the time. For starters, no lawyer is willing to take on his case because they are all afraid of catching AIDS just by being with him. Hanks eventually asks Denzel Washington’s character, a fellow lawyer, for help. Washington refuses because he is fearful of getting too close. But then, a few days later, Washington sees Hanks in a law library as he attempts to conduct some research into his case. Washington watches as those around Hanks all move away from him and how Hanks is urged to work in an isolated room, away from public view. Denzel Washington’s character recognizes discrimination at play because he, himself, had experienced it as a black man in America. So, Denzel Washington agrees to represent Hanks in his suit. Needless to say, the journey of discovery that Denzel Washington takes as he learns about how AIDS is actually transmitted is the journey of discovery that Director Jonathan Demme was hoping all of America would take. In the end, Washington and Hanks become close friends and we all get to see the humanity at play as Tom Hanks progresses through the various stages of this terrible disease. Humanizing Aids sufferers, helping to destigmatize those who contracted AIDS, as well as homosexuality, in general were all part of why Philadelphia was made in the first place.
The soundtrack to this movie is stellar. In addition to the songs written by Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, there is music from Peter Gabriel, Sade, Indigo Girls, Maria Callas and even one hit wonders, The Spin Doctors! As with most movies, the music involved adds another layer of meaning to the story. In the specific case of the Bruce Springtsteen song, “The Streets of Philadelphia”, the story is that Demme asked Springsteen to contribute a song that would act as the opening of the film. At first, Springsteen was reluctant to do so because he had not had much experience scoring films but he agreed to at least give it a try. Springsteen’s version of a try was the song, “The Streets of Philadelphia”. In this song, Springsteen casts himself in the role of the AIDS sufferer. He describes the effects of AIDS on his body…how his clothes don’t fit him anymore because he is losing weight, how his appearance is changing and, as a result, is making him “unrecognizable to himself” but mostly, Springsteen describes how alone he feels as the rest of society distances itself from him in his hour of greatest need. Demme is on record as saying that when Springsteen submitted his “rough draft” of the song, he and his wife listened to it and cried. That rough draft was kept and is the track that was recorded and put onto the film’s soundtrack album. Not only did Bruce Springsteen win the Academy Award for Best Song but, “The Streets of Philadelphia” also won four Grammy Awards for Springsteen, too.
If you have seen Philadelphia then you know that it is a movie that is not easy to watch all of the way through. But, sometimes it is important for the general public to be asked to keep watching and to not turn away. As unpleasant as the death process can be and as ugly as racism and homophobia can also be, if we are ever to become a more empathetic and tolerant society then, watching movies such as Philadelphia is a must. There are many who point to Philadelphia as a turning point in the public battle against AIDS. After watching such respected actors as Hanks and Washington on screen and listening to such respected musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, the tone of the public discourse surrounding AIDS changed for the better. AIDS victims were less isolated and feared, it became easier to raise much needed funds for research and it suddenly became a badge of honour to participate in AIDS marches and to wear “ribbons” of support while in public. But, as we know, there are diseases of the medical kind and diseases of the spiritual kind and the battle remains ongoing. Sometimes, the most important direct action we can take is to be brave and not look away.
The link to the video for the song, “The Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “Philadelphia” by Neil Young can be found here.
***This song plays over the closing scene in the movie which is the wake of Tom Hanks’ character. For my money, this is one of the best closing scenes of any movie. I always bawl whenever I watch it. It is devastating!Neil Young’s haunting song is perfect.
The link to the video for the trailer to the movie, Philadelphia can be found here.
For more information about ongoing efforts to cure Aids in Canada, the link to the official website for Canadian AIDS Society can be found here.
I have always believed that music has the power to heal, to inspire and to bring people together. The truth behind this belief was on full display for all to see this past weekend when musicians and fans gathered at Wembley Stadium in London to honour the memory of Taylor Hawkins, the late drummer for The Foo Fighters. Ostensibly, this tribute stood in place of the traditional Celebration of Life that most families would hold for their lost loved one with the exception that it was being broadcast to the world and was being organized by arguably the biggest name in music today, Mr. Dave Grohl. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins were bandmates and best friends. No one outside of his family would have known Taylor Hawkins’ wishes for being remembered better than Grohl. Therefore, it was no surprise that Grohl managed to organize a celebration that captured both, the humanity and the humility of his friend, along with doing so in an amazing rock n’ roll show for the ages. The music was outstanding but the emotion and tender moments are what made this event one of the most positive and uplifting concerts that I have ever seen! What Dave Grohl managed to pull off with this spectacular tribute to his friend was something that so many of us…even those who didn’t personally know Taylor Hawkins…so desperately needed. We all owe Dave Grohl and the Hawkins Family a debt of gratitude. Here is why.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people from all parts of the world have had to live differently than we once had. Collectively, we have suffered tremendous losses in terms of people taken from us, families torn asunder and so on. One of the things that became common as loved ones died was that we, as grieving family members, were not allowed to gather together to mourn. If I had a nickel for every death announcement I read that stated that a service would be held at a later date, I’d be pretty rich by now. Grief postponed is grief unexpressed. Eventually, for the sake of our own emotional and mental health, we need to grieve properly. To do so is to cleanse our souls.
So, while the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert was about paying homage to the life of Mr. Hawkins, what really made the moment special was that it provided an avenue for all of us to participate in as emotionally cathartic an experience I have seen in a long while. But even more than that, this concert was organized so well that we, as an audience, were allowed to grieve other losses all the while honouring the past history of Rock n’ Roll, saluting the present and passing the torch, as it were, to the future…all in one show. The concert was a masterclass in organizational skill. It was also a showcase for how much of a community the music world truly is. Respect. Fellowship. Passion. Musicianship. These are all words that easily come to mind after having watched much of this show.
For a brief bit of context, I have written about the charismatic Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl before in previous posts. *(You can read the main history of his life, as well as Taylor Hawkins here). Dave Grohl has arguably been the biggest name in Rock music in the past decade and change. He has become loved and respected for his skill as a singer, guitarist and drummer. He is also much loved for the charming nature of his personality. He is a storyteller and a very supportive and generous presence in the lives of countless musicians from all genres and eras of music. However, for being so nice a guy, Dave Grohl seems cursed with the most tragic luck imaginable. It almost seems cruel. The short strokes of this tragic arc include being the drummer for the biggest band in the world at one point (Nirvana) and having your friend and lead singer die by suicide. Then, regrouping and getting a second chance at the spotlight by being the lead singer of the biggest rock band since Nirvana (The Foo Fighters) only to have your friend and drummer, Taylor Hawkins die unexpectedly. When Death came into Dave Grohl’s life the first time, he channeled his sadness into a new musical venture which became The Foo Fighters. When Death came into his life a second time, Dave Grohl responded by organizing the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert. In his most recent book called, Storyteller, Dave Grohl talked a lot about how lost and unsure of himself he felt after the death of Kurt Cobain. Initially, Grohl thought that he would never play again. But music was ingrained in his soul so as time went by, his feelings about not playing began to change. It suddenly felt as if not playing was a betrayal of what he and his friends had accomplished in Nirvana. So, Dave Grohl decided to write music again and to play around with recording his work. But, what gave him the strength and the courage to believe that his new music had worth and, just as importantly, that he had what it took to actually front his own band (which he had never done before) were his friends. One of his most important friends was drummer Taylor Hawkins.
Taylor Hawkins came into the public eye for the first time as drummer for one of the most influential new voices of the 1990s, Alanis Morissette. *(You can see him working as her drummer during this appearance on the David Lettermen Show. Alanis rips it up here. As you watch this energetic performance, you can clearly notice the energy and charisma of a young Taylor Hawkins as he plays). When word leaked out that Dave Grohl of Nirvana was making music again and looking to form his own band, Taylor Hawkins got in touch. The mere act of contacting Dave Grohl took a lot of courage because many in the music world considered Grohl to have been a drumming prodigy. Now, Hawkins was asking to sit behind the drum kit of one of the world’s greatest drummers. Luckily, Dave Grohl was looking to begin a band that was a departure from who he was in Nirvana. In The Foo Fighters, Grohl would be the main songwriter, the lead singer and the face of the band. So, he was relieved, in a way, to pass the drumsticks over to Hawkins. As it turned out, Taylor Hawkins not only had the musical chops to occupy Dave’s seat behind the drum kit but he had a personality that fans fell in love with immediately. In Taylor Hawkins, Dave Grohl had a new wingman and the two became best friends in real life.
Taylor Hawkins passed away in South America earlier this year while on tour with The Foo Fighters. The cause of his death was ruled a drug overdose. The one thing that was made clear was that the overdose was not a suicide. After what happened to Kurt Cobain, a second suicide of a best friend would have been unbearable. As it was, even an accidental death hurt more than words could say. So, when the band finally released an official statement some days after the death, their words sounded very similar to what I read in the many deaths that happened during the pandemic…they said that they were grieving, the loss was devastating and that they would have a proper ceremony for him at a later date. As it turned out, that later date was this past weekend.
It has long been said that when tragedy strikes, you really find out who your friends are. In the case of Dave Grohl, he found out that he had a lot of friends. When the Foo Fighters were actively performing, they often took time to cover the songs of artists they respected and admired. I have heard them cover Rush songs, as well as those of David Bowie, Queen, The Beatles, Black Sabbath and many more. So, not surprisingly, when Dave Grohl decided that the best way to honour his friend was with a tribute concert, he went one step further, he decided to honour the whole of the music community that Taylor Hawkins and he so admired and respected. One of the first people to step forward and volunteer to help were Geddy Lee and Alex Liefson of Rush. They were grieving their own recent loss with the death of legendary drummer, Neil Peart. So, not only did they get to help Dave Grohl honour his friend’s memory by performing for the first time in public since Peart’s death, Dave Grohl, in turn, honoured their loss by sitting in behind Peart’s drum kit while Rush played their short set. That’s what mutual respect looks like. *(You can watch that performance here).
It was a Whos-Who of music heavyweights that answered Grohl’s call. Paul McCartney showed up and played. So did Liam Gallagher from Oasis. Nile Rodgers and Omar Hakim from the band, Chic, helped honour David Bowie with a short set of Bowie tunes. Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders played, as did Brian May, from Queen. Even AC/DC reunited for this show. The musical influences from Grohl and Hawkins’ past were on full display, as were performances by artists and bands who are popular today such as Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age (doing his best David Bowie impression during the Chic set) and Blink-182’s Travis Barker, an excellent drummer in his own right, sitting in for awhile, as did Lars Ulrich of Mettalica..
But one of the most emotional and important themes of the day was family and that of tradition. In that regard, Dave Grohl took great pains to place the next generation of musicians firmly in the spotlight. He did this several ways. First of all, Grohl got to honour the passing of legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen by having his son, Wolfgang Van Halen, shred his guitar during a performance of his father’s hit, “Hot For Teacher”. Grohl played drums for that song. *(You can watch that performance here). Secondly, one of the nicest things Dave Grohl had been involved with during the past few years was an internet duel with an eleven year old girl named Nandi Bushell. Nandi had used the Internet (YouTube, in particular) to challenge Grohl to a drum-off. She had tremendous talent so Dave Grohl accepted her offer and the two engaged in a good-natured “rivalry”, back and forth via the Internet which culminated in Bushell being invited to perform live in concert with The Foo Fighters. Taylor Hawkins generously gave up his seat so that Bushell could play with the band. She ended up killing it! So, naturally, in Dave Grohl’s moment of need, Nandi Bushell reached out again and offered to help. Her offer was accepted and she played with the band again…this time at Wembley. *(You can watch that performance here). Dave Grohl’s own daughter, Violet sang two beautiful songs…a cover of “Grace” by Jeff Buckley and “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse….Buckley and Winehouse being two other singers who left the world far too soon. But, by far, the most emotional moment of all was when Dave Grohl invited Taylor Hawkins’ son, 16 year old Shane, to join The Foo Fighters on the closing song, “My Hero”. Not only did Shane Hawkins put on a terrific display of drumming skill, he pounded those drums like he was exorcising demons! It was as emotional a performance by any musician as I have seen. It was grace under tremendous pressure. And, all the while the song went on, Dave Grohl and the other members of the Foo Fighters took turns walking over to check on Taylor’s son, making eye contact with him, making sure that he was ok. He was more than ok. He was phenomenal! *(That performance can be seen here).
The final important thing that Dave Grohl was able to pack into this tremendous concert was a lesson in humanity. Far too often in life, men are told to hold our emotions deep down inside. We are told that any outward show of emotion is actually a sign of weakness. Personally, I think that this mindset is one of the main causes of much that is wrong in our world. I believe that Dave Grohl would agree. During his solo acoustic performance of the song “Times Like These”, Grohl made no attempt to hide his tears. They flowed freely and frequently. Even rock stars are human after all. *(That performance is here).
When all was said and done, over fifty songs were played over the course of six hours in the first of two concerts. The second concert is scheduled to take place in California in another week or so. I can’t imagine it being any more perfect than the Wembley Stadium gig. But, I have also learned never to underestimate Dave Grohl. He seems connected to all that is right about live music. Grohl understands that music has the power to unite us all; the young and the old, the rich and the poor, regardless of gender or sexual orientation or economic status or religious affiliation or nationality. Music is a universal language that we all understand. It is a powerful force for good. It is certainly helping to heal a lot of hearts. Believe me, the world certainly needed that. Brilliantly done, Dave.
The link to the official website for The Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert can be found here.