Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Jimmy Buffett

I realize that this is a post about the late, great entertainer Jimmy Buffett, but I want to start out by talking for a minute about Taylor Swift. There are millions of ordinary, everyday people who adore Taylor Swift. They love her music. They love her as an entertainer. They value her opinions. They buy her merchandise in record numbers. They go to her shows (when they can manage to afford a ticket). They adore her. Simple as that. Taylor’s most devoted fans are known as “Swifties”. If Taylor opines about registering to vote in an upcoming election, Swifties register in record numbers. If Taylor muses about a new video dropping or song coming out, her Swifties cause computer servers to crash due to the avalanche of downloads that ensue the moment the song or video becomes available. Taylor Swift seems to have it all. She has good health. She is fit and attractive. She has no shortage of eligible, hot male suitors. She is a savvy business person. She writes hit songs as easily as most people change their socks each day. She has a net worth approaching one billion dollars!!! Yet, she often comes across as “the girl next door”. Throughout her career so far, Taylor Swift has marketed herself with aplomb. She is skilled in the art of creating and curating her brand. There is no one quite like her in the entertainment world today.

Now, let me introduce you to someone who inspired Taylor Swift to manage her image and career as she has been doing. That person was Jimmy Buffett. I could easily re-write my opening paragraph and simply change all of the “Taylors” for “Jimmys” and the essence of what I wrote would still ring true. Let me walk you through the life and times of one of the entertainment world’s most interesting, financially successful and beloved singers ever so you can see for yourself.

Jimmy Buffett’s career began before he ever left high school. He was always interested in music as a young man. He picked up a guitar while a teenager and developed enough skill that he was soon able to play for friends at parties and in the school cafeteria at lunch time. He sang nonsense songs that made his friends laugh. He also sang cover tunes, too. Whenever he sang, he did so with a boyish grin and a boatload of charm. Not surprisingly, his love of music soon overtook his attention to school work. This resulted in Buffett earning marks that barely met the entrance standards of local colleges. But college life beckoned, and soon Jimmy Buffett began to fine tune his ability to play music and get girls. Life became a party whenever he was around. Needless to say, Jimmy Buffett was a popular person on campus, even if he was never the most academically inclined. After graduating with a general diploma, Buffett headed off to Nashville and became good friends with singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker (of “Mr. Bojangles” fame). The two lived together and played together. It was during this time that Jimmy Buffett began to develop his love of Country music that was to remain a constant part of his life and career. Soon enough, Buffett and Walker left Nashville and headed to New Orleans. Buffett found himself making a living as a busker in the French Quarter. From there, he began playing in small bars and clubs. After a short stint in the Big Easy, Buffett drove down the Florida panhandle and set up shop in the Florida Keys. Once there, he used his easy going personality to charm his way onto the crew of a yacht owned by the heir of the Rival Cooking Company (who make crockpots and other kitchen supplies and gadgets). In time, Buffett became First Mate. It was while sailing aboard this yacht and being exposed to such a decadent lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett came up with an idea.

Like many of us as we enter the early stages of adulthood, Jimmy Buffett had been drifting through his life. He knew that he enjoyed music and that he had the ability to charm a crowd, but he was never able to see a vision forward for where any of this might take him in life. But then, as he spent his days in the sunshine among the shiniest and richest of people he had ever seen, Buffett saw his path forward with clarity. If the first lesson of writing is to write about what you know, then, Buffett decided that he could write about those who live without a care and who sail the seas and for whom every day is filled with sunshine, love and fun times with friends. It was a decision that led to the creation of a personal brand or image that Buffett carried with him from that point until his death recently from skin cancer. Buffett sought to embody that carefree, indulgent lifestyle through song and through the carefully crafted persona that he adopted on stage. He began wearing flowery shirts, which he left unbuttoned several buttons down to reveal his tanned chest. His smile was pearl white. His hair, sandy beach blonde. For his songs, Buffett drew upon his own family history. He came from a long line of mariners and was well versed in the ways of the sea. He was First Mate on that yacht not just because of his charming personality. He actually was a sailor of some renown. Thus, Buffett began writing songs about sailing and the people who sailed ships. He wrote about smugglers and pirates. He wrote about how easy it was to get caught up in the lifestyle of places where the waters were warm, the drinks were cold and the women knew how to take care of a sailor. He wrote about the feel of the sun on his skin. He even wrote about the joy of finding a cheeseburger stand on a remote tropical island. Every song he created was built upon a foundation of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. It was always as if he, as the narrator, was just a regular guy who couldn’t believe his luck. If his dreams could come true, then so could those of the regular folks buying his records. Thus, he developed his brand and created a cult-like level of followers who came to be known as “Parrotheads”. The Parrothead lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett championed manifested itself in many forms, including drawing huge tourist crowds to the Florida Keys in search of that mythical place known as “Margaritaville”. Parrotheads have come to be known to hold conferences and retreats all dedicated to the music of Jimmy Buffett and the image he conveyed and the lifestyle he espoused. I have no doubt that these same festivals will continue long after his death as well. Even if the “Mayor of Margaritaville” has left his earthly marina, the ideal of living a carefree life in the sun is one that will linger forever as fuel for Parrotheads the world over.

However, one of the other big lessons from Jimmy Buffett’s life is that a person doesn’t need a wall of framed degrees to be considered a smart person. Jimmy Buffett was as clever as they came when it turned to making money from this image-laden world that he had created through music. Jimmy Buffett could sing and could write catchy songs that connected with audiences, but he was equally as skilled in business marketing. He knew that his fans enjoyed his songs about sailing and living in the sun. He knew that they would buy his records, come to his shows and visit the places he sang about. The next level to his marketing plan was to give those same fans a means of experiencing the lifestyle for themselves regardless of their bank balance. Thus, Buffett launched two restaurant chains: one called Margaritaville and the other known as Cheeseburgers in Paradise. As the demographic age of his Parrotheads began skewing older, Jimmy Buffett developed a series of retirement lifestyle communities, too. Between his musical endeavours, the restaurant chains and the retirement communities, Jimmy Buffett died with a net worth of over a billion dollars. Like Taylor Swift, Buffett came across as being the guy next door, someone who you could see yourself sharing beers with and talking with about the sea. Yet, he was the head of a multi-pronged, highly successful business corporation and had more than enough income to buy his own yacht (which he did with the proceeds of his most famous song, “Margaritaville”).

The craft of imagemaking is not one that just anyone can pull off. Taylor Swift is as successful as she is today in part because she studied success stories, such as those of people like Jimmy Buffett. There are lots of rich people who do not have the personality to inspire others like Buffett or Swift have. Both singer/ songwriters have tapped into the dreams of ordinary people and have used those dreams to create whole worlds or safe havens for their legions of followers. In death, much has been made of Jimmy Buffett’s discography, as well as his business acumen. But, the truth of it all is that Jimmy Buffett may just actually have been someone who managed to live up to his own hype off stage. He was happily married to his college sweetheart. He was friends with all manner of other musicians and actors and writers. He enjoyed excellent health right up until he developed cancer near the end of his life. He was generous with his money, donating to many environmental and political causes (he favoured Democrats, politically) and often headlining benefit concerts for free. Even as his final days drew near, Jimmy Buffett’s chest was tanned, his smile was pearl white and his hair, sandy beach blonde. He died as he had lived: surrounded by those who loved him, on a sunny day, near the water. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Buffett. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Jimmy Buffett can be found here. ***If you click on the link, you will find a lovely letter to his fans that was written by his wife, Jane. She includes several details about his life and times that I opted not to include for the sake of brevity. Her letter is well worth a few moments of your time to read. Their love is obvious and shines through like the rays of the sun.

The link to the video for the song “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

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

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

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Sinead O’ Connor

Even in death, Sinead O’ Connor still has that ability to rouse passionate debate. Regardless of how she has lived her life the past thirty years, Sinead O’ Connor will always and forever be noted for her decision to rip up the Pope’s photo at the end of her performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992. When she first did that, the reaction against her was white hot. It effectively ended her public career in North America just as it was getting started. I wrote about that incident and the fallout that came about as a result in a previous post that you can read here.

However, as it turned out, Sinead was correct to call out the Catholic Church over its practice of shielding priests who committed acts of sexual abuse on children. In the time since she so famously tore that photo up on live TV, her stance has been vindicated. Thus, when her death was first announced, the overwhelming sentiment expressed by fans was that she had been courageous in taking such a risk-laden stand. A few days after that, a new backlash began to emerge online. This time, it was a chorus of people who claimed that today’s mourners were hypocrites because they had never expressed public support for O’ Connor until after her death. In the middle of all the hue and cry, what got lost was her music. Her music was always at the heart of everything Sinead O’ Connor valued herself. To her, it was always all that ever mattered.

I have always believed that Sinead O’ Connor possessed one of the most beautiful and powerful singing voices ever. This was especially so when she burst onto the music scene with songs such as “Mandinka”, “Nothing Compares to U” and my personal favourite, “The Last Day of our Acquaintance”. But when the media frenzy overwhelmed her and she ended up wiping her hands clean of the industry as a whole, Sinead O’ Connor never stopped singing. She simply stopped playing the corporate music world’s game. In the decades that followed her withdrawal from the big stages of the world, Sinead returned to her roots. She went back home to Ireland and spent much time singing songs that drew upon her Irish heritage. She released albums filled with Irish songs that connected the history of Ireland with the lives and politics of those who live there today. She sang as a solo artist but also appeared as a guest collaborator with many famous and not so famous singers and bands. As time went on, these guest appearances became increasingly popular. When she married her voice with that of her island’s history, it helped remind all who heard her that she was a national treasure. While it may have appeared to those of us on the other side of the world that she had gone quiet and abandoned her career, that would have been incorrect. We often create traps for ourselves when we define what constitutes a successful career by commercial success standards only. Sinead O’ Connor refused to attend the Grammy Awards when “Nothing Compares to U” went viral because she opposed the commercialization of the music industry. That she spent her whole life singing quietly yet, purposefully out of the spotlight should have actually surpassed no one who knew anything about her.

Yes, she was courageous to have spoken out against such a powerful institution as the Catholic Church on national TV. But, that one act didn’t define her. It may have done so for those too lazy to look at what was really going on but it didn’t define her for herself or for those who lived near her in her Irish homeland. When viewed through a different lens, it is easy to see that Sinead O’ Connor had a wonderful career. She sang because it inspired others when they heard her voice. She sang because it was a meaningful and political act. She sang because it gave her pleasure and purpose for her to do so. Now that she has passed on, it behooves us to leave her in peace. I am grateful that I am able to continue to listen to her commercial music catalogue but just as thankful to hear her sing Irish songs that act as my introduction to the history and culture of a grand and glorious country and people. You have more than earned your rest, Sinead. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Sinead O’ Connor can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile” as sung by Sinead O’ Connor can be found here. ***This song is a traditional Irish song that had its origin as a wedding song that was played whenever it was time for a new bride “to enter her husband’s home” as his wife. After 1916 and The Easter Rising, the song came to be a rebel-inspired song calling all fighters to return home to fight for independence.

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

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Gary Wright

Chances are good that if you recognize the name, Gary Wright, it is because of his association with one of the songs that defined 1970s rock n’ roll, “Dream Weaver”. While Gary Wright is primarily known for this one huge hit song, it would be wrong to characterize him as a one-hit wonder. Far from it. Gary Wright lived a most interesting life and accomplished much in The Arts. He also rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous and influential performers of the day. So far from being a novelty act, Gary Wright was a respected member of the 1970s Arts and music scene and is someone well worth knowing.

Gary Wright was born in 1943 and grew up in New Jersey. He lived in a household in which many family members were performers, including his mother and his aunt. Both of those ladies sang in local groups, offered their services as session singers during recording sessions and also acted in local theatre productions. As a young boy, Gary Wright was encouraged by his mother and aunt to audition for his highschool play. Gary got the part and liked it so much that he began following in the family footsteps and started acting in local plays and musicals. At one point he got the role of “the son” in the musical, Fanny. The woman who played his mother in the musical was none other that actress Florence Henderson of Brady Bunch fame! Because he got along so well with his stage mom, Florence Henderson recommended him for some television work. Wright’s experiences on professional television production sets opened his eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for his future. Being on set, in an environment where creativity was sought after and highly respected, was a transformative moment and helped set Gary Wright on his own path as an entertainer.

Not surprisingly, Wright soon found school life to be overly restrictive and as a result he dropped out. His first move as a “free” person was to form a band. Because of his experiences in television and theatre, Wright viewed himself as a bit more of an industry insider than was perhaps warranted. But, what this mindset did was give him the confidence to approach influential people as if that was something that everybody did. So, when he came in contact with the band, Traffic at a concert of theirs, talking to anyone connected to the band who would listen to him seemed like the natural and obvious thing to do. Because of those conversations, he met a producer named Jimmy Miller. Miller happened to be the famous “Mr. Jimmy” of Rolling Stones fame. Miller invited Wright to join some recording sessions he had going which resulted in Wright becoming known in the exploding rock scene as a piano/keyboard player. From his experiences playing the keyboards, Wright formed a new band with some other session players and called themselves Spooky Tooth. Spooky Tooth managed to release several songs that cracked the Top 40 in the UK. While they never had a #1 hit song, Spooky Tooth was a respected band and regularly played on bills with heavyweight acts such as The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Eventually, Spooky Tooth broke up and Gary Wright decided to try his hand at being a solo artist.

One of the things that had helped Wright all through the early stages of his adult life was that he was a very likable person. He made friends easily. Consequently, as the early 1970s dawned and Wright found himself out in the music marketplace as a solo artist, he had plenty of friends in the business who eagerly lent him a hand. One of the most influential of those friends was a man who was just coming into his own right at that time, George Harrison. As many of you would know, The Beatles broke up as the 1960s came to a close. This caused the four members of the band to scatter, artistically, in many different directions. For Harrison, The Beatles break up coincided with his sudden emergence as a songwriter of note on a par with his mates Paul McCartney and John Lennon. In the years immediately following the disillusionment of The Beatles, Harrison decided to use his platform for the good of mankind. He was a firm follower of Eastern mysticism at this point and believed fervently in living a life of peacefulness and charity. It was just prior to Harrison’s famous Concert for Bangladesh that he took Gary Wright under his protective wing. As part of doing so, Harrison introduced Wright to the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and gave him books of poetry based on Eastern teachings. From this exposure, Gary Wright developed an appreciation for some of the same practices that so captivated Harrison, including mediating daily, which Wright did from that point on until his death a few weeks ago. From the books of poetry he read, Wright was drawn to one particular poem that contained a line that went…”When at night my mind weaves dreams”. That poem serves as the inspiration for Gary Wright’s megahit, “Dream Weaver”.

“Dream Weaver” is not only noteworthy because of its poetic lyrics, it was also one of the first major hit songs that featured the prominent use of an electronic synthesizer. Initially, Gary Wright wrote the keyboard part for piano. When it came time to record the song, he laid down piano tracks as originally intended. But, Wright was also an associate of members of the band Pink Floyd. Because of their use of synthesizers and other more experimental instruments, Wright felt somewhat liberated to try new things as well. So, he acquired a synthesizer to replace the piano part and, just like that, “Dream Weaver” transformed from being a typical rock song into being a modern sounding, ethereal piece of music that helped solidify synthesizers as a commonly used musical tool.

“Dream Weaver” raced to the #1 spot and changed the course of Gary Wright’s life. His song ended up being one of the most recognized songs of the decade and carved out a place for him in the annals of rock music history. It was also a song that was impossible for Wright to follow up. While he did have some minor hits afterwards, “Dream Weaver” was his biggest hit and the song most synonymous with his name. In later years, interviewers would frequently ask Wright if he ever tired of playing “Dream Weaver” and he always replied that the song was a gift. To have written something that meant so much to so many people was an honour. From a more practical point of view, the royalties he earned from this one song allowed Gary Wright to live a life of comfort for himself and his family all throughout his days on this earth. In fact, he credits the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit movie Wayne’s World with being akin to winning the lottery. As time went on, Wright came to terms with the fact that “Dream Weaver” might be his musical Mount Olympus. Wright did continue to record albums as a solo artist and had a few Top 40 hits and he even reunited briefly with the members of Spooky Tooth, too. But, for the most part, Wright spent much of the later portions of his career mainly touring with Ringo Starr’s Travelling All-star band, where he was always introduced as Gary Wright, the man who wrote “Dream Weaver”. From all reports, his introduction always generated smiles and a warm round of applause. In reply, Wright always took to the spotlight with grace and appreciation. As it turned out, it was a good thing to be Gary Wright.

All in all, those who knew Gary Wright all say that he was a genuinely good and kind person and that they are happy for his success. Having charm, good conversational skills, coupled with the ability to play professionally all led Wright to the esteemed position of venerated performer that he holds today. Far from being a one-hit wonder, Gary Wright turned out to be a multi-faceted entertainer of some renown. He also possessed a kind soul and a generous heart and will be greatly missed by his family, friends and all who knew him. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Wright. May peace be with you now and forever more.

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

The link to the video for the song “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Dream Weaver by Gary Wright as used in the movie Wayne’s World can be found here.

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

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson was born in 1943 in Toronto. His mother was of Mohawk descent and, as such, Robertson spent portions of his childhood on the Six Nations Indigenous Territory near present day Brantford. Immersed in Indigenous culture as he was as a child, Robertson was exposed to music and storytelling and came to view both as natural forms of personal and communal self-expression. Therefore it came as no surprise to anyone who knew him as a child that he was drawn to music and, in particular, to playing the guitar. Robbie Robertson spent almost the entirety of his life playing, producing, recording, singing songs about his life, his Indigenous roots and/or the history of the places in which he found himself. While Canadian by birth, music drew him southward. For reasons that we shall get to shortly, Robbie Robertson spent most of his adult life in the United States playing and creating some of the most memorable music of his generation. In the process of doing so, Robertson worked with legendary musicians and film directors and even starred in a big budget movie that he helped to write called Carny. Robertson died at age 80 from pancreatic cancer, but what a rich legacy of excellence he left behind.

Like many teenage boys with a passion for music, Robertson became involved in local bands all throughout his highschool years. It was while playing in one such band that he happened upon the opportunity to play in front of the legendary Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins was impressed with Robertson’s maturity and passion for music. He was equally impressed with his guitar playing skills which, while still rudimentary at this stage, stood out as possessing great potential. Hawkins hired Robertson to join his touring band, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, as a roadie. This eventually led to Robertson becoming a backup singer, then a fill-in guitar player during rehearsals, to eventually a permanent place in his band The Hawks. As Robertson toured with The Hawks, other members of the backup band came and went, their places filled by other young men who would go on to become lifelong members of Robertson’s life…Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. Together, the five members of The Hawks developed a chemistry and a camaraderie amongst themselves that grew to the point where they felt ready to leave the nest, as it were, and form their own band. Initially, they called themselves Levon Helm and the Hawks. But, eventually, they simply became known as The Band.

While touring as their own band, they were seen by the manager of one of music’s hottest and most influential performers, Bob Dylan. The timing of this sighting was most fortuitous for all parties because, unbeknownst to Robertson and the rest of The Band, Dylan was tinkering with the idea of turning the Folk music world upside down by “going electric”. To do so, Dylan realized that he would need a backing band with the chops necessary to keep up with him. He saw that in The Band. An invitation to join him as his permanent backing band was proffered and accepted. Just like that, Robbie Robertson and his mates found themselves at the centre of a musical storm as Bob Dylan introduced electrically created sounds to the modern world of folk music. As Dylan and The Band toured, each concert would involve two separate parts. In the first half, Dylan would appear on stage by himself. He would only have his acoustic guitar and harmonica. He would perform his folk hits in the traditional folk style. Then there would be a short intermission. When he returned for Part #2 of the show, he would do so with The Band behind him and an electric guitar in hand. For the whole of this first world tour, Dylan and The Band were subject to much abuse and condemnation. Cries of “Traitor!” and “Judas!” filled the air. But Bob Dylan knew that the times were, quite literally, a-changing. He stuck to his vision and changed music as we knew it in the process.

Robbie Robertson was changed by the experience as well. Coming from a childhood heritage steeped in the traditions of storytelling prepared Robertson well to soak up the lessons available to him by having such consistent and intimate contact with a poet such as Dylan. Dylan’s ability to paint pictures with his words and create songs with vivid characters, settings and emotions made a dramatic impression on Robertson. Being able to apprentice at the feet of the Master, so to speak, prepared Robertson well a few years later when he wrote his own music for The Band to perform. Songs such as “The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The NIght They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”, etc…, ended up becoming some of rock music’s most beloved and influential songs in their own right. Robertson respectfully credits his time with Dylan, along with his time spent on the Six Nations reserve, as helping prepare him for his star turn as a songwriter of note.

As was often the case throughout Robertson’s career, one project often led directly to another. Hawkins led to The Band which, in turn, led to meeting and touring with Bob Dylan which, in turn, led to a huge career on their own as The Band. So when creative tensions began to pull at the fabric of their lineup, The Band didn’t simply break up. Instead, they ended in style with a performance for the ages called The Last Waltz. This final concert was held in San Francisco and happened on American Thanksgiving Day. The Winterland Ballroom filled with invited guests who were served a full Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner. Once dinner was served, the tables were cleared and a concert performance was held. The Band played their hits, of course, but they also shared the stage with many special guests including the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Staples Singers, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and many more. In addition to the live concert, what made The Last Waltz memorable was that it was filmed by Robertson’s friend, film director Martin Scorsese. The film was released in theatres a year or so later and became one of the very first “rockumentaries” ever created. ***You can watch The Last Waltz in its entirety for free on Tubi Tv right now by clicking here. The link takes you to the main Tube TV site. From there, use the search box to find The Last Waltz.

Robertson’s connection with Scorsese led him directly from The Band into a career in the movies as a film scorer. Through this connection, Robertson helped score a majority of Martin Scorsese’s most famous films such as Raging Bull, Casino, Gangs of New York, The King of Comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street and many more. It was while working with Scorsese in the early 1980s that Robertson was approached about his interest in film production and even in acting. This resulted in his involvement in the movie Carny, which starred Robertson alongside Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Even though Robertson was often told that he possessed “movie star looks”, he was always most comfortable behind the scenes and enjoyed his greatest success as a film scorer over the years.

In 1987, Robertson decided to release an album of solo material. That album was created in collaboration with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno and featured performances by Peter Gabriel and the band, U2. The album was called Showdown At Big Sky. I actually owned this album and absolutely loved it. It was filled with great songs such as the title track, “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”, “Broken Arrow” and many more. Showdown At Big Sky ended up winning Grammy and Juno Awards for Robertson for Album of the Year.

Robbie Robertson remained actively involved in music right up until the time of his death a few weeks ago. He also spent portions of his later years promoting Indigenous music and culture which, in a way, helped to bring his life full circle. Overall, Robbie Robertson lived a full, rich life. He was a witness to the birth of Rock n’ Roll and had a ringside seat as Dylan took it all one step further by “going electric”. Many of Robertson’s songs as a solo artist or as a member of The Band stand as being among the most memorable and evocative of their generation. As if that wasn’t enough, in a ranking of the best guitarists of all time, Robertson came in at #59 out of 100. It is not without reason that Robbie Robertson is a member of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Band and as a solo artist, a member of Canada’s Music Hall of Fame, that he has a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame or that he is a Member of the Order of Canada. What a career! What a musical and personal legacy! What a life well lived. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Robertson. May peace be with you now and forever more.

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

The link to the video for the trailer for The Last Waltz can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” from the album Showdown At Big Sky can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

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

Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #37/50: Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Since I write about classical music and YouTube algorithms being what they are, I often am recommended various classical music-related videos whenever I tune into my YouTube channel. A few weeks ago, a dramatic tagline grabbed my attention. It implored me to “click here” to listen to the saddest music ever created and to learn about how this composition has impacted all who listen to it. I usually ignore clickbait, but on this day, there was just something about it that caused me to actually click away. When I did, I was introduced to a composition created by Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff entitled Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor. What I learned from this video was that one of the motivating factors behind the creation of this composition was that Rachmaninoff had been suffering from clinical depression prior to composing it. This piece of music was his attempt to convey the harrowing emotions involved in being depressed. From there, I did my own research about depression and about this particular composition and discovered that it has been at the centre of many cultural touchstones over the past century. This includes being the foundational idea behind one of England’s most cherished and beloved movies of all time, as well as appearing in one of the 1970s’ greatest one-hit wonder songs and, finally, being the favourite composition of one of the modern world’s saddest and most loved figures, too. In the case of all three of those things, the themes of depression and loneliness and regret all play major roles, dancing in and around the notes of a composition that is justifiably called the world’s saddest piece of music ever recorded.

I will start off by saying that I have never suffered from clinical depression. I have had some sad times over the course of my life, but I think it is important to differentiate sadness from clinical depression because there is a world of difference between the two. The best description that I have ever heard used to describe what depression is like is the term aloneness. This is not the same thing as loneliness. Loneliness is the feeling one gets when you wish you were with other people but can’t be. Many people experience loneliness…seniors in nursing homes, university students who have just left home for the first time, soldiers stationed away from their loved ones…the list is vast and varied. While loneliness is a sad state of affairs to experience, it is not the same as depression and aloneness. Those experiencing depression often state that it feels like absolute nothingness, like being untethered in outer space, like being in a void or a vacuum or existing in an abyss. There is no light in one’s life, no colour, no touch that feels reassuring, no reason to move or think or hope. It is as if a blanket of emotional darkness has wrapped itself around you and you are completely and utterly alone, without any hope of ever seeing and feeling the sun again. With that having been said, let’s meet our featured composer.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was born in Russia in the late 1800s. This was a glorious time in Russian history when it came to the plethora of talented composers who existed then. This was the heyday of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and many more. Into their midst was born Sergei Rachmaninoff. From a very early age he showed a proclivity toward playing the piano. By the age of five, he was being formally trained. By the age of ten, he was enrolled in one of Russia’s most famous music schools. He had legions of admirers who all expected him to grow into an adult who would be regarded as an equal to the many other great composers of the time. And so it was that Sergei Rachmaninoff became a child prodigy on the piano. By the time his teens had ended and he entered his twenties, his instructors deemed him ready to compose his own symphonies and take his place on the greatest stages in Russia as a public performer. So Rachmaninoff created his first finished composition. His debut was scheduled. The excitement in the Russian music community was palpable. The night of his debut finally arrived. The orchestra assembled. The audience settled in. Fellow composers took their seats. The conductor tapped his baton and the performance began. Almost immediately, everyone in attendance could tell that something was wrong. Instead of a tapestry of sound, there was more like a cacophony. The performance was a disaster. A detailed review of the performance that was held afterward, like an autopsy, indicated that the conductor may have been intoxicated and/or that some of the orchestra members may have deliberately sabotaged the performance out of professional jealousy against a composer they may have felt was receiving preferential treatment from the music establishment. Whatever the case, the magnitude of his public humiliation was something that the virtuoso-like Rachmaninoff had never experienced before in his life. He fled from the concert hall, mid-performance. He was so shaken by the scale of his public failure that he had what doctors describe as a psychotic breakdown. Rachmaninoff retreated from the public eye and went into a period of severe clinical depression.

For several years, Rachmaninoff refused to compose, not even playing simple tunes on the piano anymore. He appeared to those who loved and admired him as someone who had given up on life. He gained weight. His ability to practise self-care left him completely. He refused all visitors. But mostly, he experienced a deep sense of aloneness. Generally speaking, when a person falls into clinical depression and does so in isolation, it is often impossible for them to summon the inner strength necessary to pull themselves away from the abyss and return to what constitutes a normal life. Luckily for Rachmaninoff, he did not suffer in isolation. Even though he shooed visitors away, he was surrounded by a network of supporters who sought ways to help him recover, even if he didn’t want to on his own. One of the first treatments he received was to be placed in the company of other creative people who lived life the way he used to in his past. So, the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was brought in to meet with him regularly. The thinking was that Tolstoy would speak to Rachmaninoff about his latest creative endeavours, and by doing so, would arouse within the composer the desire to become creative again himself. But this tactic failed miserably. The impact upon Rachmaninoff of being in the legendary writer’s company was to be reminded of how great Tolstoy was and how great a failure he, himself, was and how he was a fraud in comparison to the great man. Eventually, Tolstoy packed up his books and notepads and went away.

The strategy that ended up reviving Rachmaninoff and helped him to find joy again in life was psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis was a form of therapy made famous by Sigmund Freud. In Rachmaninoff’s case, he was treated by a Russian doctor named Nikolai Dahl, who used a form of psychoanalysis in combination with hypno-therapy to help renew Rachmaninoff’s level of self-esteem and confidence. It was stated that Dahl worked with Rachmaninoff daily for one thousand consecutive days, until one day, when Rachmaninoff declared that he had thought of an idea for a new composition and wanted to play it on the piano. That new composition turned out to be Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor. Unlike his first public performance, Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor was well-received by music critics, fellow composers and general audiences, too. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Dahl and his support network of true friends, Rachmaninoff felt the sunshine on his skin once again and returned to a life of creativity and social engagement. If not for the dawn of The Russian Revolution and the chilling effect that had on creators in the Arts, Rachmaninoff might have lived his entire life in Russia. Instead, as the Revolution began, he left Russia; first for Europe, and eventually for the United States, where he lived until his death in 1943. But regardless of where he lived at any given time, it was his remarkable Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor that is regarded as his greatest work. The irony of this is that this composition was his attempt to describe, with music, the emotional effect of clinical depression. The impact of Rachmaninoff’s creative ability to convey how he felt has manifested itself in countless ways in the century since the Concerto was first created. I imagine it will continue to do so as time goes by. Here is a look at just a few notable instances where Rachmaninoff’s work has appeared in other forms since his death.

Rachmaninoff performing in public again.

One of the first uses of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by another person occurred shortly after Rachmaninoff’s death. British movie director David Lean used the emotional depth of the piece as the foundation for a film called Brief Encounter, which has been hailed as one of the most beloved films in British cinematic history. This movie starred Celia Johnson as a married, middle class, middle aged housewife who meets a handsome stranger while waiting for a train. As the film progresses, she and the stranger find themselves meeting regularly at the train station, and, as plot developments require, they recognize that they are falling in love with one another. However, the one attempt the couple make to consummate their newfound love almost results in their relationship being exposed. Celia Johnson’s character finds herself trapped in a marriage to a kind yet dull husband and has realized that her true soulmate is someone she can never have. The two agree that they cannot have a future together and agree to part after meeting one final time at the train station. However, even that meeting falls flat when an acquaintance arrives and begins chatting away as the train pulls into the station and her loving stranger is forced to mouth a wordless farewell as he boards the train without a proper goodbye. Celia Johnson’s character is then faced with the decision to commit suicide by jumping in front of the train, or else to go home to her now loveless marriage and life. As she makes her choice and returns to her unsuspecting husband waiting at home, the music of Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor plays, reflecting the depth of her sorrow and the deadening of her spirit. Because of its placement within the movie Brief Encounter, Rachmaninoff’s music reached a much wider public audience than it ever had before. As a result, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor came to be something that immediately and intuitively came to represent the feeling of emotional death and despair in the minds of the greater public.

In the 1970s, one of the biggest worldwide music hits was a song by a singer/songwriter named Eric Carmen called “All By Myself”. It is his most well known song. He had long been a fan of classical music and often used the music of various composers as sources of inspiration when composing new material. In the case of “All By Myself”, the entire musical structure of the chorus of this song is lifted directly from the second movement of Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. While Carmen’s song deals more with loneliness than it does with depression, the built-in association of the general public toward associating Rachmaninoff’s music with unending grief positioned Carmen perfectly to strike a chord with his own version of deep sadness and loss and yearning.

But, perhaps one of the most tragic examples of how Rachmaninoff’s music touched a famous soul can be seen in the case of Princess Diana of England. As many of you are aware, what began as a fairytale romance between a very young Diana and an older Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, turned out to be anything but in the end. Theirs was a loveless marriage that played out before the ravenous eyes of the paparazzi and the public, who just couldn’t seem to get enough of the salacious gossip that emanated so regularly from behind the walls of Buckingham Palace. Not only did Diana feel trapped within a loveless marriage (like the woman in the film Brief Encounter), but she also felt trapped within the rigid expectations imposed upon her as a member of the Royal Family. After her death, it was revealed by those who knew her personally that Diana’s favourite piece of classical music was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Not only that, but that she was an accomplished pianist in her own right, and when life got too stressful for her, she would retreat into a private room of hers and would play Rachmaninoff aloud. It was as if it was the only music that conveyed the emotional depth of connection to what she was experiencing in her own heart. I think it is fair to say that there are few public figures so beloved by so many who, at the same time, were so completely unhappy and lost as Diana, Princess of Wales.

If/when you click the link below and listen to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for yourself, do so in the knowledge that this composition is structured in three parts. By all means, feel free to listen to the whole piece if you so desire. However, the section that has become most well known is found in Movement #2. Feel free to fast forward if you like. Regardless, there are many who claim that the true breathtaking works of staggering genius created by artists of all genres cannot come from routine and everyday experiences. There are schools of thought that say that an artist must suffer for their craft. There are others who insist that mind-altering chemicals are needed to transport the artist from their everyday world to a higher plane beyond their regular grasp. I am not sure how valid either statement actually is, but in the case of Sergei Rachmaninoff, it did appear to take a complete separation of his mind from his soul in the form of clinical depression to allow him to fully understand the creative depth he possessed and express it properly as he did. Whatever it was, the result was one of the most impactful and influential pieces of music ever created anywhere by anyone.

The link to the video for the composition Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff can be found here.

The link to the official website for composer Segei Rachmaninoff can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie Brief Encounter can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen can be found here. ***Listen carefully to the music used in the background of the chorus for this song. That music is Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Rachmaninoff.

The link to a video that shows Princess Diana playing the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor can be found here. ***This video is 45 minutes long. Start at the 43:00 minute mark. The video ends with a discussion of her attachment to Rachmaninoff and what his music meant to her by someone who knew her well. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor plays in the background as this person is interviewed. A segment of Princess Diana playing it is shown, too. It is all very sad and moving.

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

Who’s Punk?! What’s the score?! Song #1/25: Boxcar by Jawbreaker.

NOTE: This post marks the start of a brand new series that is dedicated to one of my favourite genres of music….Punk Rock! There is just something about the energy, intimacy, idealism and simplicity of Punk music that does it for me. In each of the twenty-five posts in this series, it is my hope to profile one of Punk’s most influential, successful and/or notorious bands and, in doing so, hopefully provide you all with a greater understanding of the depth and breadth of this musical form. Now having said all of that, I am fully aware that Punk music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If that is true for you, then by all means, feel free to read these posts if you like. Perhaps you will end up broadening your musical perspectives. If not, then you can move on to the other genres I cover in the Classical, Canadian, Soundtrack/Show Tune or Reader’s Choice categories. I like lots of music. There is something for everyone. Today, that something revolves around one of Punk Rock’s most influential bands, Jawbreaker. So, welcome aboard to those of you who have decided to stay. I am happy that you are here. Let’s go!!!!!!

The title for this series, Who’s Punk?! What’s the Score?! is taken from a line in the song “Boxcar” by Jawbreaker. The song itself, and this line, in particular, serve as an appropriate place to begin this series because they deal with the fundamental question of what exactly constitutes a Punk band in the first place. So let’s start with that. There are several traits that are demonstrated consistently by most singers/bands that are regarded as being Punk. First of all, the music is loud. Secondly, it is often played at breakneck speed. Thirdly, the music often has a political element to it. Punk bands tend to play in smaller, more intimate settings and interact with their fans more easily than standard arena rock bands tend to do. Finally, the lyrical structures and musical arrangements are usually simplistic and repetitive. Quick, loud, fast, forceful and sweaty are good attributes to define Punk music. However, there are also some misconceptions about Punk that people have. For example, the image that often comes to mind for people who have not spent a lot of time experiencing the Punk music genre is of bands like The Sex Pistols out of the UK. They were a band who ushered in the look of Punk music, with the torn clothing, the piercings, the spiked hair and so on. Well, that look was certainly part of the Punk Rock world for a time, but it was not how Punk bands originally looked, nor is it how bands look today, as Punk has evolved over the years. The other great misconception about Punk is that all Punk bands are Sex Pistols clones. That is not the case at all. Like many other musical genres, Punk Rock tends to be an umbrella term, under which reside several sub-genres of that style of music. So, as we move through this twenty-five post series, you will be introduced to many bands who came from the various evolutionary eras of this genre. Some will look like the Sex Pistols did but many will not. One of those bands that looks and sounds different is the focus of today’s post: Jawbreaker. Their story is an important one because it helps bring the question of who the real punk bands actually are out into the open. Here is their story. Welcome to the series everyone.

Jawbreaker became popular in the Punk music scene in the early 1990s. If you know your musical history then you will know that the early 1990s was when the big Grunge scene erupted, led by a band out of Seattle called Nirvana. And, if you know anything at all about Nirvana, then you will be aware that all throughout his life, lead singer Kurt Cobain wrestled with his involvement in the business side of the music industry. Ultimately, the pressure of trying to stay true to his musical vision and to who he was as a person while having to deal with money managers and promoters who cared mainly about money was a major factor in his decision to end his life via suicide. When Nirvana was first formed, they embodied a Punk Rock mentality. Their first album, Bleach, is heralded by Punk purists as being their best album. Nirvana’s commercial breakthrough album, Nevermind, was deemed by those same purists as being the beginning of the band becoming a corporate sellout. While Nirvana were the poster boys for bands who were caught in that endless tug of war between commercialism and idealism, there were many other local bands who were experiencing the very same thing.

Jawbreaker found themselves living and performing in and around San Francisco as Grunge exploded to the north. Like many smaller local bands, Jawbreaker began by playing at parties in basements and backyards, before moving on to play in Battle-of-the-Bands events in parks, and then to small pubs and community halls when they became old enough to be allowed inside. Jawbreaker was a trio that consisted of lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach, guitarist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler. In time, Jawbreaker began to garner some word-of-mouth local buzz and ended up being invited to play at a Punk Rock hall known as Gilman’s. As it turned out, Gilman’s was more than just a physical space for bands to perform in. In a way, the space itself and those who ran it, became church-like in their influence. Part of how this came to be is that there was a rigid set of rules for those who attended Gilman concerts as well as those for bands who played there. For audiences, there were rules such as no violence being permitted. That may seem like an obvious expectation, but it was actually a very important means of separating themselves from the more rightwing, hardcore Punk acts who promoted violence as a means of enacting social change. At Gilman’s, safety was priority #1. Dancing and having fun in a safe, inclusive, alcohol and drug-free environment was strictly enforced. Consequently, Gilman’s developed a reputation in the Punk community as a safe place to be, which was especially important since many of the audience members were still in their teens. For the bands, there was one main rule and that was that no band who sought to play at Gilman’s could be signed to a major record label. The owners of Gilman’s and the kids who flocked there believed in the purity of Punk music. In their minds, even the mere hint that a band might be considering signing a contract with a record label tainted that band and would cause them to be banned from the premises permanently. The first band of note to feel the wrath of the Gilman world was Green Day. Green Day cut their musical teeth at Gilman’s only to find themselves permanently banned when they signed with a major label and released their major label debut album, Dookie, which launched them into superstardom.

So there sat the boys in Jawbreaker. Nirvana and Grunge had taken off. Local bands such as Green Day were being scouted by A & R types from major labels all in search of the next big thing. All the while, bands such as Jawbreaker were playing at Gilman’s and trying to live by the code of purity that fans and management insisted upon. For a while, it all worked well. Jawbreaker signed with a local record label and released their debut album, Unfun, locally only. That album, like Nirvana’s Bleach, was met with approval by the Gilman fans. Jawbreaker had managed to channel their frenetic live shows onto vinyl in a way that helped maintain their street cred. Unfortunately, Unfun didn’t sell that well. It wasn’t because the music was subpar or was poorly produced or received. It was simply because their small, local label didn’t have the marketing infrastructure necessary to promote the album beyond their small, devoted fanbase in San Francisco. Thus, the potential market for their music was limited before the album was ever even made. This placed the men from Jawbreaker squarely in the crosshairs of a conundrum.

The band loved making music. They were happy with the songs on Unfun and were proud to sing them anywhere. But, at the end of the day, they had rent to pay and food to buy and studio time didn’t come cheaply, either. The idealism of being a Punk rocker was crashing headlong into the reality of having to exist in a world that runs on commerce. All of this happened at a time when the band was given what appeared on the surface to be a big break. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana had become aware of Unfun and liked it a lot. He thought that Jawbreaker would be a perfect band to open for them as they toured California, so he invited them to open for Nirvana for six shows. When word leaked out that Jawbreaker might open for a band like Nirvana, who were now considered to be corporate sellouts by Punk purists, the stink of that association was enough to taint Jawbreaker as well. Before they knew what had happened, the fanbase that had nurtured them for years turned on them in an instant. The owners of Gilman’s demanded that the band make a public pledge of allegiance to the local punk scene and declare that they were not going to use this opportunity to open for Nirvana as a way to sign with a major record label. At the last Gilman’s show before embarking on the Nirvana tour, Jawbreaker’s lead singer announced that the band would never sell out. The crowd inside Gilman’s gave them a tepid round of applause. But, the truth was that the audience didn’t completely trust Jawbreaker anymore, and the bonds between audience and band were broken. Lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach took the fallout personally. All he and his bandmates ever wanted was to make music on their terms that they could be proud of. That’s all.

But once on tour, as fans had suspected, the siren song of the corporate rock world played for the boys in Jawbreaker. Knowing what would happen if they signed, the band negotiated a deal which allowed for creative control so they could still sing about their values and beliefs as they had always done. But, as soon as rumours began to swirl that discussions on a contract were being held, that was enough for the band to be banned from Gilman’s and for their fanbase to turn their backs for good. The very second that Jawbreaker signed their contract with Nirvana’s corporate label, they were cast out by their once devoted fanbase into the musical wilderness. With the release of their second album (and major label debut) 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Jawbreaker found themselves a band in search of a new audience. Since they couldn’t return to San Francisco, Jawbreaker became a touring band. They played everywhere in search of new fans. But the fact was, outside of San Francisco, they were an unknown band, so it was hard for them to find themselves having to return to the beginning and invest years again building up word-of-mouth momentum. They couldn’t afford that creatively nor financially. The frustration and sense of betrayal that they all felt at the complete lack of support and encouragement from those folks who were there from the very beginning manifested itself in the lyrics of a song called “Boxcar”.

“Boxcar” is from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and is a scathing indictment of Punk purists, especially those at Gilman’s. In a furious two and a half minutes, the song talks about how the scene that nurtured the band turned out to be akin to being with an obsessive dating partner who claimed to love you but would never actually let you exist out of their sight. In the video links I will provide below, listen to the lyrics video first. It will tell a far greater story now that you are aware of the context behind the lyrics. The second video is one that the band made at the time that “Boxcar” was attempting to gain some traction on college radio and on Alternative music radio stations across the U.S. The third video is a live recording of Jawbreaker’s two biggest commercial hits: “I Want You” and “Boxcar”. Besides the fact that both songs are rippin’ versions by a band that knows what it is doing, the key thing to note is that this video was recorded in 2019 at…..wait for it….Gilman’s!!! Wait, what? As time went on, Jawbreaker imploded from the financial pressures the band found itself under, The constant touring under those conditions led to conflicts within the band. Like too many other talented bands, Jawbreaker decided to break up. For over a decade, the members of the band did not play together at all. Meanwhile, back at Gilman’s, those who live by the purity sword ended up dying by it, too. Gilman’s fell upon hard financial times and was forced to close. The fall of Gilman’s created a musical vacuum within the San Francisco community. Eventually, diehard Gilman devotees rallied together and found the funding necessary to relaunch the club. However, in doing so, the new owners learned from the mistakes of the previous regime, specifically, that maintaining such rigid expectations of the bands that played there and helped to generate revenue for them was wrong and needed to be changed. Thus, the new owners of Gilman’s reached out to many of the original successful local acts that had received bans because of their attempts to better themselves and reach a wider audience through the help of major record labels and invited them to return to play. Green Day has played there three times now. As for Jawbreaker, the band reunited and remains playing and touring today. In the third video I will link to, you can see how intimate a venue Gilman’s really was, how close the fans were to the band and, most importantly, how great a band Jawbreaker remains today. “I Want You” and “Boxcar” look like lots of fun. I wish I was there. What a hoot that would have been.

So there you go. Post #1 in the new Punk Rock series has reached its conclusion. How was it? Hopefully, you will be able to see that Punk Rock exists in forms that extend beyond the stereotypical Sex Pistols imagery. When you watch Jawbreaker perform, there are no mohawk haircuts, no piercings that I can see and no violent imagery of any sort. All that there is are three guys who have created great music, playing as hard as they can for their fans and basking in the warm glow of their audience’s enthusiasm. To me, that is what music is all about. Please feel free to leave your comments below. I look forward to seeing where this Punk Rock journey takes us in the twenty-four weeks to come. I hope that you will come along for the ride. Until next time, that’s it for Who’s Punk?! What’s the Score?! Bye for now.

The link for the lyrics video for the song “Boxcar” by Jawbreaker can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “Boxcar” by Jawbreaker can be found here.

The link to the video for the live version of the songs “I Want You” and “Boxcar” as performed at Gilman’s in San Francisco can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for Gilman’s can be found here.

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

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Bruce Guthro

Bruce Guthro passed away this week at age 62 from cancer. I am not sure how well known Mr. Guthro was outside of his native Cape Breton Island, but I can assure you that back home, my island is in mourning.

There are many aspects of being a Cape Bretoner that fill me with pride, but one of the best is the rich musical heritage found there. I am so very lucky to have come of age at the same time as the Cape Breton Celtic music scene did in the 1970s and beyond. As a young adult, I was surrounded on all sides by the musicianship and the storytelling of singers such as Matt Minglewood, Rita MacNeil, J.P. Cormier, The Rankin Family, The Barra MacNeils, The Inspirational Singers from Whitney Pier, The glorious Men of the Deeps and Gordie Sampson, along with the extraordinary fiddle playing of Lee Cremo, Winnie Chafe, Buddy and Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac and the choral singing of Sister Rita Clare and the Cape Breton Chorale and so much more. The heartbeat of Cape Breton can be felt in the hand claps and foot stomps found in ceilidhs and other impromptu gatherings all over the island. Everyone’s doors were always open, the teapots were always on and a sense of community borne of music and culture and history was always seen and felt and on display. In the middle of it all was a man named Bruce Guthro.

Bruce Guthro was a singer and songwriter. He was a respected peer of everyone mentioned above. He was the winner of multiple East Coast Music Awards for his singing and his songwriting. He performed solo for the entirety of his career. But he also fronted a very successful Scottish Celtic band named Runrig. But just as importantly, Bruce Guthro wove himself into the musical fabric of the island by playing and working with anyone and everyone who wished to make music. One of the things Bruce Guthro was most noted for was a series he developed known affectionately as The Circle. Essentially, the idea behind The Circle was to invite a collection of entertainers, songwriters and musicians to meet together in a room or on a stage and sit in a circle, surrounded on all sides by an audience. In this circle, the invited guests would swap stories and play some tunes to the delight of the crowd in attendance. It was all warm and intimate and friendly and built upon a foundation of storytelling and song. As important a musical figure as Bruce Guthro was, I always regarded him as a father figure to those who performed in the kitchens, legion halls, taverns and concert halls of Cape Breton. It is in this light that I would like to share a personal story with you about how Bruce Guthro played a small role in one of the most memorable moments in my life. Here we go!

I live in Ontario, Canada. That is a long way from Cape Breton Island, which sits atop the east coast province of Nova Scotia. I have lived away, as they say, since 1982, but I go back home to Cape Breton Island every year to visit family and to bathe in the warm glow of what it feels like to be Home. This particular story takes place in 2002 (which was the year my wife and I got married). I met my wife in Ontario. We fell in love instantly and knew we were destined to be married. I assumed that we would follow tradition that states that our wedding would be where the bride’s hometown was. But, to my delight, my wife told me that she didn’t wish for that to be the case and would be happy to be married on Cape Breton Island. So, home we went. In 2001, we traveled home and made all the wedding arrangements. In 2002, we invited a small cadre of our closest friends and family and were married at a restaurant called The Miner’s Village Restaurant on the grounds of The Miner’s Museum which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in my hometown of Glace Bay a week before our wedding day, which is when our story takes place.

When we first arrived back home, my mother informed us that there was going to be a special concert happening in town, down by the harbour. Unbeknownst to my wife and I, a local Glace Bay girl named Aselin Debison had written a song and recorded an album and was being promoted as being Canada’s next big thing by the movers and shakers within the Canadian music industry. To help launch Aselin on to a national stage, the CBC was set to film a live concert in Glace Bay. According to my mother, the concert was free and the CBC was recruiting local citizens to sit in as Aselin Debison’s audience. So, the next thing we knew, my bride-to-be, my mother and I were sitting in chairs next to the entrance to Glace Bay Harbour as we waited to be part of a live television broadcast. A concert stage had been set up in front of the wharf next to the water. Behind the stage were several fishing trawlers moored for the day. Lobster traps sat stacked photogenically hither and yon. The fish processing plant hosted a flock of seagulls who eyed us all with curiosity. All in all, Glace Bay Harbour cleaned itself up well for its moment on the national stage and we were delighted to be there to see it all happen.

Bruce Guthro and a very young Aselin Denison and some lobster traps. Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

One of the greatest things about being from Cape Breton Island is the pride everyone feels when “one of their own” does well. In the case of young Aselin Debison, she carried herself with much charm and humility. In reply, the local community hoisted her up on their collective shoulders and were only too happy to cheer her on as she was given this opportunity. So there we sat, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Cape Bretoners who were all bursting with pride. The waves rolled in. The seagulls squawked. The sea breezes blew. Then the flood lights were struck and the CBC director announced that we were set to begin. But, as the show began, it was not Aselin Debison who strode to the stage, it was a handsome man holding a guitar. His name was Bruce Guthro. As it turned out, Bruce Guthro was friends with Aselin Debison’s parents and had been mentoring the young singer for years. So, it was only natural for him to continue in that role by appearing as her opening act. I know that my wife did not know who this man was but I sure did! Even twenty or so years ago, Bruce Guthro was a big name in the Cape Breton Celtic music scene. As he walked onto the stage, I counted myself as being extremely fortunate to be introducing my wife to Celtic music as performed by such a talented and respected performer. As with all good opening acts, Bruce Guthro ran through a selection of his hits and other popular Cape Breton songs and got the audience suitably warmed up for Aselin Debison’s appearance. When his short set was over, Aselin Debison was called to the stage. All of eleven or twelve years old she was! She walked to the centre of the stage, received a hug from Bruce Guthro and then she began to sing. All the while, Bruce Guthro remained on stage, beaming at her with pride, playing along and helping her to take her star turn on the CBC. Aselin Debison was an absolute sweetheart! She sang her hit song at the time, “Sweet Is The Melody”, and a host of other classic Cape Breton tunes such as “It’s Getting Dark Again” and “Out On The Mira”. She closed with the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton, “We Are An Island”. Everyone sang and clapped and cheered. It was a perfect evening on Cape Breton Island. *You can watch the CBC version of that concert by clicking on the link here.

Flash forward a few years. My wife and I are married and are expecting our first child (who turned out to be a girl). In choosing her name, we decided to make her first name something unique and set apart from any familial connections or history. In that way, she could create her own legacy and have her name turn out to mean whatever she wished it to be. So, we called our daughter Leah. But, for her middle name, we did want there to be some sort of tie to the past. But as we searched through the names of our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and so on, we weren’t satisfied with how any of those names sounded next to “Leah”. Then it hit me! I turned to my wife and brought up the name Aselin. As soon as we said it out loud, Leah Aselin MacInnes became her name. In the end, the tie to the past that we went for was not familial at all but, instead, it was cultural. Our daughter is named after that lovely young singer Aselin Debison, but more importantly, she is named after the music of Cape Breton. Leah was once given a onesie or a t-shirt (I can’t really remember which it was) by a dear friend of mine from back home that read, “My Roots Are In Cape Breton”. No truer words were ever spoken.

And now, with the news of the passing of Bruce Guthro, I am taken back to that evening by the harbour, under the lights and to the songs of Cape Breton that filled the air.

I doubt that Mr. Guthro was ever aware that we were in that audience that night nor what the impact of his efforts were. He only had eyes for Aselin Debison. But like so many others who listened to his music or his stories, we were made better and richer as a result. His death leaves a great void in the cultural landscape of Cape Breton, but his legacy is strong. I have no doubt at all that in the days leading up to his funeral or those immediately after or even those during his funeral, that there will be songs of Cape Breton sung, glasses raised in his honour and a sense of cultural community reinforced once again for all to see and feel. Some people leave their mark on our world by the difference they made in the lives of others, and Bruce Guthro is a prime example. I will not be down for his funeral, but I will acknowledge his passing with a good firm hug of my daughter who has Cape Breton blood in her veins. Perhaps we will play some down home music as well, including a song or two from Mr. Guthro as well as his protegée, Aselin Debison. Thank you for all that you have contributed to life on Cape Breton Island, Mr. Guthro. You have lived well and accomplished much to be proud of. You have earned your rest. Cheers to you. May Peace Be With You now and forever more.

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

The link to the official website for the Scottish band Runrig can be found here.

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

The Stars of Stage and Screen: Song #39/250: What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to The Barbie Movie

I went with my family to see The Barbie Movie this summer, and I have to say that I came away from the experience pleasantly surprised at how thoughtful and creative it was. Like many who went in that initial wave of attendees, I assumed that we would be watching a light comedy which would, essentially, end up being a children’s movie. Boy was I in for a surprise! What we ended up watching was a poignant treatise on the promise of feminism and the impact of our perceptions of gender on our society. We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. At the end, many people in the theatre cried a lot, too. As we left the theatre and walked back to our cars, we did so with the mindset that we had just seen a movie about a toy that, daresay, might actually warrant being deemed as important.

While this post is meant to act as a music post, it is difficult to discuss the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish without first placing the song in some sort of context. To do so requires a brief account of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie and wish to at a later date then you may wish to stop reading right now because some SPOILER details are soon to come. If you have seen the movie then feel free to enjoy this brief summary, or else skip on ahead to the next paragraph. Here we go.

Growing up, I always took the presence of Barbie dolls for granted. They were just a toy that my sister played with. No different than any other toy that came and went from our home. However, from watching The Barbie Movie I learned that the original Barbie doll was created by a lady named Ruth Handler who worked at Mattel and that the doll was created to act as a feminist alternative to the traditional “baby” dolls that acted as a training tool geared toward motherhood. While there is nothing at all wrong with the idea of motherhood, society at that time (the 1950s) was only just beginning to accept the notion that women could expect to have a future that extended beyond the home. Thus, Barbie dolls were created so that young girls were able to imagine themselves being astronauts, scientists, doctors and even the president of the United States. This is where the movie begins. In Barbieland, all of the various iterations of Barbie over the years live in blissful happiness. Every day is perfect. There is laughter and sunshine all of the time. The Kens exist on the periphery and only play a meaningful role when needed by a Barbie. As the movie opens, Margot Robbie’s character, “Stereotypical Barbie”, dances and hangs out with her other Barbie friends until one day when she gets a weird feeling that manifests itself in thoughts of mortality. She then develops cellulite and flat feet. In a panic she seeks help from “Weird Barbie”, who takes care of all the other Barbie dolls who are misshapen and/or who never fit in. From her, Robbie learns that whoever is playing with her in the “real world” is having issues that need to be addressed. So, Robbie (and Ken…Ryan Gosling…,who hides in her Barbie car) head to the real world to meet this mystery person. Once in the real world, Margot Robbie’s Barbie discovers that the promise of feminism hasn’t quite taken root there. She is ogled and touched without her consent. Meanwhile, Ken is admired for his buff physique and is introduced to a concept known as the Patriarchy. A young teenage girl berates Barbie for having created generations of women who feel badly about their body image because they can’t compete with Barbie’s sexualized figure. Finally, Robbie meets the person who had been playing with her. It was America Ferrera, who plays the mother of the teenage girl who gave Barbie such a scolding. As it turns out, Ferrera’s character had grown tired of trying to find her way in a “man’s world” and had been viewing her daughter’s Barbie doll with a mixture of emotions that were potent enough to have reached Robbie’s Barbie all the way in Barbieland. In the midst of all of this, Mattel executives become aware that Barbie has crossed over into the real world and chase after her so that she can be repackaged and rebranded to their liking. Barbie ends up running for her life through the Mattel headquarters and beyond. In the course of this, she runs into a ghost-like figure played by Rhea Perlman who turns out to be Ruth Handler. As mentioned off of the top, it was a woman named Ruth Handler who created the original Barbie doll. So, when Barbie meets Ruth, it is akin to you or I meeting God. It is at this point that Handler has a motherly talk with a very confused and distraught Barbie. While this talk unfolds, a montage appears on screen of moments between mothers and daughters and between girlfriends and between sisters. Accompanying this ode to Sisterhood and all that is maternal, the song “What Was I Made For?” is played. It is not an exaggeration to say that the sobs emanating from the audience I was a part of were audible and unrestrained. Any critic can say anything they want about The Barbie Movie, but the fact remains that director Greta Gerwig touched the hearts and minds of a great many people with her work on this film.

One of the many things that work well in this movie is the way music is used. The soundtrack to The Barbie Movie is populated with many of today’s hottest stars such as Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and, of course, Billie Eilish. With her brother Finneas, Billie Eilish wrote “What Was I Made For?” after having been given a sneak peek at the movie by Gerwig before it was released. According to Eilish, she was greatly moved by what she saw onscreen and immediately recognized herself in the character played by Robbie. Eilish understood the impact of being a woman and of body image and how all of that takes away from her work as an artist. Eilish has stated many times that it is one of her most fervent wishes that articles about her focus on her lyrics and her music and not on what clothes she is wearing or the colour of her hair. In the movie, her whispery song delivery is perfectly suited for the reflective nature of the grand talk between Barbie and Ruth Handler. This song resonates with so many who feel unfairly burdened and typecast by gender and appearance and societal expectations and traditions. That we live in judgie times is acknowledged and not shied away from in the movie, which to its credit, does not seek tidy solutions to the plotline of this film. The world is a complicated mess and it is, indeed, difficult to know what one’s purpose is at times. You don’t have to be Barbie to understand that.

Here is something that you can take to the bank. If there happens to be an Academy Awards ceremony this coming year (and, with the screenwriters’ strike ongoing as I type this, that is not a given), I boldly predict that “What Was I Made For?” will win for Best Song in a Motion Picture. It was the absolutely perfect vehicle to pair with the onscreen visuals and dialogue. In any artist’s lifetime, if you can ever create work that touches the hearts and minds of those who encounter it, then you have really realized your own purpose. Billie Eilish and Finneas have done that with “What Was I Made For?”, just as Greta Gerwig has done so with The Barbie Movie. This movie was pretty amazing, and I am better for having seen it.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, The Barbie Movie can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish can be found here. ***NOTE: There is no video released from the actual Barbie Movie that pairs this song with the visuals that are shown when Barbie and Ruth Handler have their chat. The video that accompanies this link shows Billie Eilish and is solely featuring her.

Just for fun, the link to a video from The Barbie Movie called “Just Ken” can be found here. This song is sung by Ryan Gosling who, as Ken, chews scenery left and right in a terrific comedic turn that should earn him Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor. In this song, Ken wrestles with his feelings about having no self-identity outside of his association with Barbie. Even though this video comes across as light-hearted, it carries the point that one of the keys to a fulfilling life is being true to yourself, no matter who you are.

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

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #41/250…Blame Brett by The Beaches

A 92 year old lady, her dark-haired son and a ceramic nurse doll sit on a bed in a nursing home room.
My mother and me in her nursing home after she was safely moved in. The doll is named Nurse Joanie and serves as a reminder of her career as an R.N. #MomsAreEverything

NOTE: It has been approximately three months since I last created a post on WordPress. At that time, I had no idea that real life was about to make my music posts seem irrelevant to me, but that is what happened. The full version of this story will be given a proper airing at a future date. But for now, what happened was that I received a phone call out of the blue one Saturday afternoon in May informing me that my 92-year-old mother had fallen and broken her hip. She lives far from where I do. Her fall ended her ability to live independently which meant, among other things, that she could no longer live in her apartment and that she would require constant care from that point forward. That necessitated two different trips down from Ontario. The first was to clear out her apartment and find homes for her possessions. It also meant finding a permanent nursing home for her to live in. The second trip was more to check in on her and see if there were any adjustments needed to her living arrangement in her new location. Fortunately, as you can see from this photo, my Mom is rallying. She has taken to being cared for and has willingly relinquished the burden of looking after herself on her own. Her hip has healed nicely, and she is scooting around the nursing home in her wheelchair as if she was a driver in the Indy 500. All in all, things have stabilized and life is unfolding again as it always had. At least until the next phone call.

For now, that means that I can focus on my writing again and my love of music. So, with that in mind, let’s get back to it, shall we?! Here is today’s latest, greatest Canadian song…”Blame Brett” by The Beaches. Let’s go!!!!!

Like many major cities in the world, Toronto is made up of a patchwork of established neighbourhoods. Each of these neighbourhoods has its own unique history, culture and lifestyle. One of the more idyllic of these in Toronto is an area known as The Beaches. This neighbourhood is home to almost 20,000 residents and sits at the eastern end of the city. The neighbourhood comes by its name honestly. The Beaches community encompasses four different beaches, as well as numerous major parks, shopping districts, restaurants and houses with unique and colourful exteriors. The area is known for its Jazz Festival, the many outdoor patios and cafes that abound, as well as a marked Bohemian attitude that sets it apart from the rest of the city. It should come as no surprise to learn that such an artsy, laid back, geographically beautiful area would give birth to arguably Canada’s hottest rising band, The Beaches. As I type these words, the band The Beaches owns the #1 hit song in Canada with “Blame Brett”. If there was any song worthy of being crowned as the Song of the Summer this year, “Blame Brett” is it.

The members of the band, The Beaches. Four young woman named Eliza Inman-McDaniel, Leandra Earl, Jordan Miller and Kylie Miller.
The Beaches: Eliza Enman-McDaniel, Leandra Earl, Jordan Miller and Kylie Miller.

The Beaches band is an all-girl affair made up of two sisters and two friends. Jordan Miller handles lead vocals, as well as bass guitar. Kylie Miller plays lead guitar. Leandra Earl plays keyboards and rhythm guitar. Finally, Eliza Enman-McDaniel is the band’s drummer. Initially, the Miller sisters, along with Enman-McDaniel, formed a band in 2011 as teenagers called Done With Dolls. Right from their earliest days, these young women set out to make music on their terms. They wrote their own songs and arranged their own music. Even while still in high school, Done With Dolls began making a name for itself in the Toronto music scene and was chosen to write a theme song for a teen TV show called Really Me. Not long after that, Leandra Earl became involved with the band. The group decided to rebrand themselves as The Beaches in honour of the part of Toronto from which they grew up.

The Beaches have had a fair amount of success in the early stages of their career. Their debut album, Late Show, was produced by mentor and role model Emily Haines of the band, Metric (as well as the famous Toronto area musical collective, Broken Social Scene). From this album came two hit singles called “Money” and “T-shirt”. The latter song went all the way to #1 and helped The Beaches to earn their first Juno award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. The following year, The Beaches earned their second Juno award…this time for Rock Album of the Year. In between award shows, the band opened for everyone from The Glorious Sons to the legendary Rolling Stones.Being an all-girl band that plays a brand of pop-rock helps The Beaches to draw easy comparisons to another all-girl band known as The GoGos. You can read all about The GoGos from a previous post here. But, for now, know that The GoGos were the very first all-girl band who wrote and arranged their own songs and managed to have a #1 hit song. Their combination of stage presence, musicianship and determination helped propel Tne GoGos all the way into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Bands such as The Beaches owe a debt of gratitude to The GoGos for blazing such a trail for them to follow. It wasn’t easy for The GoGos to break into the male-dominated world of rock n’ roll back in the 1980s and it isn’t necessarily any easier today for The Beaches. However, having such strong role models as The GoGos, along with Emily Haines, has allowed The Beaches to find the confidence to write songs about things that matter to them and to perform them with strength and conviction. The song “Blame Brett” is a good example of this.

“Blame Brett” is a breakup song, of sorts. It is about the reaction that some people have to having their heart broken. When such a thing occurs, it is not uncommon for the heartbroken person to lock up their heart to protect it from future pain. Once their heart is secure, relationships become more superficial which often means more sexual. “Blame Brett” is a battlecry that warns all potential suitors what the ground rules are now. As lovely and interesting as any of the band members of The Beaches may be, we are not to make the mistake of falling in love with them because they are not in the mood for love themselves. They have been there and done that and are now on the prowl for pleasures of the flesh. They make no excuses for this attitude and caution against casting aspersions in their direction because, after all, it is all the fault of a guy named Brett who broke one of their hearts. “Blame Brett” is as catchy a Pop-Rock song as I have heard in quite a while. It mines much of the same ground that Taylor Swift regularly writes about but spares us the melodrama in the process. The girls also give a hometown shout-out to the men of the Toronto Raptors with a line that declares that as of now:

“Done being the sad girl

I’m done dating rockstars

From now on only actors

And tall boys from the Raptors…”

I am reasonably confident that “Blame Brett” is going to be the song that propels The Beaches into the mainstream. It is a terrific tune that plays as a feminist anthem. To my mind, it is only a matter of when, not if, this song is featured in a movie or television show and ends up at #1, not just in Canada but around the world as well. The members of The Beaches have done very well for themselves so far and have a very bright future ahead. I applaud their willingness to speak out about matters that are important to them and to do so without calculation and marketing being at the core of it all. The Beaches appear to be a well grounded, very talented band. If this is your first time watching/listening to them sing, then you are in for a treat. They are terrific! I am including two videos for the song “Blame Brett”. The first is the lyrics video (which will help you understand the song and the message it conveys). The second video is the official video release. It will help you get to know the four members of the band. It is also the video which reminds me most of The GoGos. I hope that you enjoy them both.

Thanks for reading. It is good to be back writing for you. As always, I enjoy reading your comments so feel free to reply below with any thoughts you have about this band, the song, The GoGos, all-girl bands or anything else that you may have on your mind. Until then, take care. See you again soon.

The link to the lyrics video for the song “Blame Brett” by The Beaches can be found here.

The link to the official video for the song “Blame Brett” by The Beaches can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for the Toronto neighbourhood known as The Beaches can be found here.

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

Keepin’ It Classy: Composition #36/50: Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

I hope that this post finds you well wherever you happen to be reading it. In Cobourg, Ontario, where I am, the sun is shining, the grass is greening up, the birds are singing and the temperatures are starting to become warmer. I have opened all of the windows in our house. It is a wonderful time to take my keyboard in hand and write this post to all of you. While I can report that our gardens are coming alive with the first sprouts of tulips and daffodils, I have not seen the first appearance of our important friends, the bumblebees. A lot of what we do in our yard, with regard to planting, is so that there will be pollinating plants for the bees to visit, along with milkweed and other varieties of plants essential for the health and well-being of butterflies. My wife and I are by no means experts in creating insect-friendly garden spaces but we try our best. Our reward comes in the form of the flitting of Monarch butterfly wings and the buzzing of the bees all around our home throughout the warmer months of the year.

That’s not a bumblebee! It’s a Prince!

Bumblebees are one of the most important living creatures on our planet. Their role as pollinators is critical to the growth of many plants that we, as humans, need to survive. However, despite the important role that they play, bumblebees are also the clown princes of the insect world, too. The reason for this is the design of their bodies. Bumblebees have large, strong stocky bodies, yet their wings are relatively short. There have been many engineering experts who have studied the design of a bumblebee’s body and have declared that, mathematically-speaking, a bumblebee should not be able to fly at all. Those short wings do not possess enough length to compensate for the girth of their bodies, which means that they can’t use their wings in the same way that most flying creatures can to create lift. It has been discovered that bumblebees are able to fly because they use their wings in a motion that resembles a human swimmer doing the breaststroke. The bee’s wings go forward and backwards instead of up and down. But even with this swimming-like motion, a bumblebee can barely lift its own weight, and thus it must work furiously to merely buzz about gardens such as mine. This manic effort, combined with the aerodynamic challenges inherent in a bumblebee’s design, often cause a bumblebee’s flight pattern to be erratic. If you have ever watched a bee flying in your garden, you will be aware that they rarely go from flower to flower in a straight, economical line. Instead, they buzz about in stops and starts, looping about each flower as if they are attempting to land in a windstorm. It is no wonder that bumblebees bathe themselves in golden pollen once inside a flower. It must be such a feeling of relief to simply not be flying anymore and be still.

Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The chaotic nature of how bumblebees fly is not only of interest to those who ponder food chains and the survival of our planet. It also served as inspiration for one of classical music’s most famous and well-known compositions, “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov was a very important and influential Russian composer who practiced his craft in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. He wrote many symphonies but was best known for his operas, many of which drew from Russian folklore. Consequently, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is regarded as one of the major composers of nationalistic music (which is more commonly referred to as the Russian sound). In 1899, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera called The Tale of Tsar Saltan. In this opera, the Tsar goes to sea just as he is about to become a father. While at sea, he gets word that his child has turned out to be a monster of some sort. Meanwhile, a coup has taken place at home that, among other things, has seen the Tsarina and her new baby boy sealed into a barrel and cast into the middle of the ocean. One thing leads to another, and the boy grows up to be a prince on a small island that he and his mother had washed up upon. One day, the Tsar sails by this island totally unaware that his wife and son now reside there. A magic swan appears and grants the boy the ability to change into the shape of a bumblebee. In this form, the boy is able to fly across the water and, in a modern day drone-like fashion, watch the man who he has come to suspect is his real father. As the opera unfolds, the boy changes into the form of a bumblebee several times. Each time that he does, the music of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” plays. Used in this way, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” is considered to be a piece of music called an Interlude. An interlude is a short piece of music that acts as a bridge between scenes. In this specific case, the interlude known as “The Flight of the Bumblebee” plays during the act of the boy flying to be near his father’s ship.

Each yellow dash equals one note. This image shows five seconds worth of notes. That’s a lot of notes in a very short time!

There have been several examples of incidental interludes actually becoming famous stand-alone pieces of music that end up outshining the original symphony or opera in which they were found. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” is one such example that you can read about here. In the case of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, even though it is a short composition, it has gained fame due to the incredibly difficult skill level required to play it properly. Rimsky-Korsakov paid attention to detail. This can be seen in the fact that he constructed the notes of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” to be played at a rate that mimicked the speed with which an actual bumblebee has to use its wings in order to be able to fly. As we know, a real bumblebee has to move its wings incredibly fast, and even then, it still has difficulty moving about in an orderly fashion. Rimsky-Korsakov attempted to replicate this rapidity of movement by having the notes played as quickly as humanly possible. Not only that, but the way in which the notes appear in this piece requires the pianist to not only play with great speed but also with dexterity and extreme precision. For this reason, “The Flight of the Bumblebee” is generally considered to be one of the most difficult compositions for piano that has ever been written. It is often used as one of the examination pieces that students at conservatories of music are required to master before being granted certification. For proof of how difficult this short piece of music is to play, I ask you to click on the link at the end of this description and watch a video of this piece being played in a digitized fashion. The video shows the musical notes as coloured dashes that fall toward a piano keyboard at the bottom of the screen. As the notes fall, the pianist must hit the corresponding keys in time and in sequence in order for the video to continue. It resembles a video game on hyper drive. It seems to my untrained eyes that it is impossible to keep up the pace and accuracy necessary in order to play “The Flight of the Bumblebee” properly, but yet, many pianists manage to pull it off and real bumblebees can actually fly, so who am I to argue? You can watch this video by clicking here.

The Diner scene from Shine. Geoffrey Rush plays The Flight of the Bumblebee in a diner.

I will close by stating that “The Flight of the Bumblebee” has become a piece of music that has taken on a life of its own. It has been used in countless movies and animated television shows. In many of those cases, the music is played during chase scenes. There is one notable exception to this rule. In the 1996 movie Shine, actor Geoffrey Rush won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott. In real life, Helfgott was a classically trained pianist who was raised in a very strict and demanding household in Australia. Eventually he moved to London and began to achieve a measure of fame for his playing skills on the piano. However, with fame came pressure that, in turn, came to manifest itself in the form of mental illness, eventual breakdown and hospitalization. In the movie scene that I will include in the links below, Geoffrey Rush (as Helfgott) stumbles into a restaurant that has a piano off to the side of the dining room. He is dressed haphazardly. As he enters the restaurant, his appearance attracts the attention of those dining inside. As the restaurant owners contemplate how they are going to handle this seemingly mentally unstable man, Rush sits down at the piano, drops his sheet music all over the floor, leaves it there and then launches into “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. For the brief moments that this composition lasts, Rush is able to demonstrate Helfgott’s prodigious talent and allow him to shine for all to see. It is a remarkable cinematic moment; one that went a long way toward helping Rush win the Best Actor Oscar.

The time for me to end this post is at hand. The time for me to head outside into the sunshine is at hand as well. I do not anticipate seeing a bumblebee in my yard on this day. It is still slightly too cool. But when I see them again, I will welcome their arrival. There will be no handshakes, hugs or high-fives between us. Instead, I will smile while keeping my distance. That bumblebee will be working hard just to stay aloft and say hello. I will leave it alone and allow it to stagger about, grateful that in doing so, it is saving the world. Bumblebees are truly one of Nature’s greatest miracles.

The link to the video for the composition “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov can be found here. ***Honestly, the pianist is moving her hands so quickly they are nothing but a blur in this video. Unbelievable.

The link to the video for the “Flight of the Bumblebee” scene from the movie Shine can be found here.

The link to the official website of a museum dedicated to the life of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov can be found here.

***NOTE: On a personal note, I wish to inform my faithful readers that this will be my last music post for the foreseeable future. My 92 year old mother has landed in hospital in Nova Scotia. At this time I do not wish to speculate on the outcome of her stay. But, needless to say, I will be heading down to be with her in the days to come. Hopefully, I won’t need to be away long but in cases such as this, one never knows. So, hug the ones you love. I will see you all again sometime down the road. Bye for now.

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