Reader’s Choice: The Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song #7/250: Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.

“Here Comes the Sun” was a song that was written by George Harrison. It appeared on The Beatles farewell album, Abbey Road, which was released in 1969. “Here Comes the Sun” was one of two tracks on that album that were written by Harrison *(the other being, “Something”, which you can read about here). With the inclusion of both Harrison songs, he attained a level of respect for his songwriting abilities that he had long craved. Many critics regard his contributions as being the best two songs on the album and that they were on a par with anything ever written by John Lennon or Paul McCartney as Beatles themselves.

Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

“Here Comes the Sun” was written by Harrison one sunny afternoon spent strolling the grounds in Eric Clapton’s garden. The genesis of the song is actually a brief history of the band itself. In the mid-1960s The Beatles were at the very apex of their fame and were changing the way music was being written and listened to. One of the reasons that the innovative nature of their creativity was so strong was that they were free to focus solely on the music they were making. They were unencumbered from the financial goings-on of maintaining their brand because they had a manager who put everything he had into looking after his boys. That man was Brian Epstein. History has shown that Epstein may not have been the shrewdest of wheeler dealers, but, at the time, his presence allowed John and Paul, in particular, to focus on their music. And what glorious music they made! However, the most pivotal event in the history of The Beatles as a band took place when Brian Epstein unexpectedly died. His death created a leadership vacuum on the business side of The Beatles musical empire. That vacuum ended up being filled, at least temporarily, by the members of the band, themselves. From that point onward, whenever the four members of The Beatles gathered to work, they were just as likely to be discussing accounting details with money managers as they were to be discussing new songs. Of the four Beatles, no one despised dealing with business matters more than George Harrison. So, on the day that he wound up in his friend Eric Clapton’s garden, Harrison was actually skipping out on a series of business meetings he was expected to attend at Abbey Road studios.

Brian Epstein.

A second aspect of how “Here Comes the Sun” represents a look into the history of the band is that as The Beatles reached the end of their time together with the recording sessions for Let It Be, Abbey Road and the famous rooftop concert at Abbey Road Studios, George Harrison was beginning to chafe under the yoke of the subordinate role assigned to him by the band’s leaders, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. George Harrison quite literally grew up into adulthood on stage as a Beatle. Now that he was older and wiser and more musically experienced, he had ideas percolating in his brain that he wanted to express. During those final recording sessions as a band, John Lennon was frequently absent (even when he was actually present) which left Paul to fill the leadership void by becoming overly controlling and attempting to dominate the sessions with his own ideas for songs. It became so dysfunctional for a while that George Harrison quit and left the band for several weeks. Stepping away from all of the tension and acrimony gave Harrison the mental headspace to focus on his own ideas for music, as well as his place within the hierarchy of The Beatles. Thus, a song like “Here Comes the Sun” was given the room it needed to be brought to fruition.

The Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The final element of Beatles history that can be traced to this song is in how “Here Comes the Sun” embodies Eastern philosophies. As you know, George Harrison and the rest of the band had made a pilgrimage to India and were allowing the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to wash over them. Harrison, more than the others, took the philosophical lessons he was learning to heart. The message of calmness and peace became integrated into the core of his being. Thus, when he suddenly found himself in times of trouble, it wasn’t Mother Mary who whispered words of wisdom, it was the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that he drew upon. So, as he left the business meetings and tension-filled recording sessions behind, he found himself at the home of his best friend, in a garden filled with sunshine, his mind filled with creative energy that expressed itself in the form of an optimistic song that simply states that the world is a beautiful place and that everything is going to be OK in the end. That’s it. That’s the central message of “Here Comes the Sun”. No matter how rough life may be, it will always turn out OK in the end if your heart is full.

As part of the negotiations that ensued between Harrison and the rest of his bandmates after he quit and left the band, George Harrison demanded that they move the recording sessions from a movie studio (where they were filming a movie as well as recording Let It Be) and return to Abbey Road Studios so they could work in a more music-centric environment. He also demanded that his ideas be given more weight and that he be allowed to contribute material that he had written. The end result was “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”, the two strongest songs on the final album produced by the best band the world has ever seen. The sad thing about it all is that because The Beatles broke up so soon after Let It Be and Abbey Road were recorded, they never toured together to play these songs live. The only time The Beatles ever performed Harrison’s two musical gems was when they were recorded in-studio. The only time the songs were ever played live were when Harrison performed them as a solo artist or when they were covered and performed by other artists.

“Here Comes the Sun” rough sketch by George Harrison.

Of all of the songs in The Beatles musical canon, most people regard “Here Comes the Sun” as being the most positive, uplifting and life affirming of them all. The song is generally always included in any ranking of the best Beatles songs of all time. Not too shabby for a young man who just wanted everyone to keep making music and for his friends to just get along.

The link to the video for the song “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles can be found here. ***The lyric version can be found here.

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

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

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind Today’s Biggest Hits…Glastonbury Music Festival Edition: Part II.

In this edition of Today’s Top 40, I am going to wrap up our look at the recent Glastonbury Music Festival by introducing you to two young performers who stole the show there, as well as reacquainting you with two dear old friends who gave, arguably, the most memorable performance of the entire festival. Here we go! This is Glastonbury Part II!

I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend by Girl in Red. *Lyrics video is here.

Marie Ulven Ringheim of Girl in Red.

Girl in Red is a band from Norway that is fronted by a charismatic twenty-three year old woman named Marie Ulven Ringheim. Like many of this generation’s most popular acts, Girl in Red came to the attention of the public via performances on social media. In this case, Ringheim was given a guitar as a teenager and started writing her own songs and uploading them to the file sharing platform known as Soundcloud. It was while on Soundcloud that people first heard her song, “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend”. This song captured the more inclusive mood of today’s youth by being unabashedly about Ringheim’s desire for a girl named Hannah. The song is a guitar driven bit of jangle pop and is a hoot to listen to. In 2017, Girl in Red was signed to a record contract and released their debut album called Chapter 1. Since then, the video for “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” has been streamed a quarter of a billion(!) times. Girl in Red was voted as Best New Act and “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” as Song of the Year in Norway in 2018.

Aside from the great initial success of this song, Girl in Red gave an outstanding live performance of “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” at Glastonbury that you just have to see. The video is seven minutes long. The first half is the type of standard stage show you would expect to see but then, at the halfway mark, Ringheim challenges the audience to perform a “wall of death”. They agree to try. What follows is an amazing example of the trust that exists between an artist and their fans when rock n’ roll is done properly. The second half of this performance is awesome! When you watch it you will see thousands of people having the time of their lives. It is truly something else! Definitely worth a few minutes of your time. And yes, the “wall of death” scene just goes to prove that COVID is over, right?! It’s really over, isn’t it? This crowd certainly thinks so. But we won’t think about that just yet. Simply enjoy this amazing performance and remember what it feels like to have fun on an epic scale such as this.

Seventeen Going Under by Sam Fender. *Lyrics video is here.

Sam Fender.

“Seventeen Going Under” is the title track from Sam Fender’s second album. Fender is a good example of not rushing to judgment on a person because of how they look. On the surface, Sam Fender is model handsome. Because of that, it is easy to view him as a beautiful boy who has been given the spotlight because of his looks more than because of any talent he might possess. However, to do so would be wrong and would cause you to miss out on a performer who has endured quite a lot already in his young life and whose songwriting has gained comparisons to a young Springsteen.

The song “Seventeen Going Under” is Fender’s autobiography. It tells the story of a life spent battling poverty, bullying, obesity and abuse. It does all of this in the guise of a guitar driven rocker that will have you cheering for Fender by the time he is through with you. The short strokes of his story are that Fender grew up in Northern England in poverty. His parents had an abusive marriage which, at times, involved the abuse finding its way to him. Fender was overweight as a child and was bullied because of it. The combination of abuse at school and at home caused Fender to mask his sadness and sorrow by becoming an extroverted class clown type. Eventually, Fender found music as an outlet for the emotions he was bottling up inside. As well, one of his uncles began teaching him self defense as a teenager. The discipline needed to be successful in that endeavour helped to tone his body. However, just as life was beginning to look up for him as a teenage boy, his mother was stricken with health problems and Fender felt as though the responsibility for caring for his family was falling on his shoulders. So, at age seventeen, he felt he was falling under the weight of his burdens and so he wrote the song, “Seventeen Going Under”.

This song has achieved widespread acclaim. Sam Fender has been declared Best New Artist in the UK and “Seventeen Going Under” was proclaimed the winner of the Ivor Novello Award as Best Song in this very year of 2022. When you watch the live performance, you can see that the audience is definitely on Fender’s side as they sing along from the very first notes. It has to be gratifying to have come from where he has and then to receive the type of reception he got at Glastonbury. When it comes to watching the video, I suggest that you watch the lyrics video first. That video is less visually distracting which will allow you to focus on the words he is singing and the story that he is telling. The comparisons to Springsteen are not a stretch by any means. This young man actually has some writing chops. The more I learn of him the more I wonder if his career will mirror that of another model handsome young man named George Michael. Time will tell, I suppose. But, for now, allow me to introduce you to a great, well written song and a wonderfully-positive live performance as well. Enjoy both.

Imagine! All these years later, Paul McCartney and John Lennon share the same stage again.

I’ve Got a Feeling by Paul McCartney and “John Lennon”. *Lyrics version can be found here.

When it was first announced that 80 year old Paul McCartney would be the closing act at Glastonbury, many thought that this was a mistake. Music festivals such as Glastonbury tend to be energy-fuelled affairs that often showcase the music of up and coming acts. While big name acts appear on the bill, too, those acts tended to still be ones that were actively recording and releasing new material such as Foo Fighters, who headlined Glastonbury just before the pandemic shut everything down. So when Paul McCatrney was announced as the headliner, many thought his show would be slow paced and pedestrian and that it would be a set filled with old music from a bygone era.

So, imagine everyone’s surprise when this 80 year old man absolutely killed it for over two solid hours! McCartney’s set was helped by special appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl (who was making his first public appearance since the death of friend and drummer, Taylor Hawkins a few months ago). However, the biggest surprise was McCartney himself. His voice was strong and his stamina solid. He played like he always had and sounded fresh and vibrant as ever. It seemed as though he was having fun. Consequently, the audience was given a glimpse at the charismatic presence of a man who helped change the way the world listens to music.

One of the best parts about moments such as McCartney’s performance is that the lessons of history need not be dull. The Glastonbury Music Festival is, above all else, a vehicle for showcasing the best of British music. What better venue than this for introducing modern audiences to the generational talent that is Paul McCartney and The Beatles?! Thus, it was with much poignancy that Sir Paul launched into the song “I’ve Got a Feeling” toward the end of his set. You may remember that this song was one of the final songs The Beatles ever recorded together. As their time together was ending and they were all going their separate ways, the members of The Beatles managed to record a few final songs. One of them was “I’ve Got a Feeling”. That song was one of the songs they were able to perform at the famous rooftop concert at Abbey Road studios that marked the end of their live performing days as a band. So, there was a lot of history at play when Paul McCartney started to sing this song on the Glastonbury stage. About two thirds of the way through the song, McCartney was joined by a special guest who served to bring the history lesson home. That special guest was long time songwriting partner and friend, John Lennon….well, sort of! History came to life on that stage and an entirely new generation of British music fans got to bear witness to something extremely special that served as a foundation for all of the new music they had heard at the festival up until that point. It is not an understatement to say that it was a magical moment and one that will be remembered for a long time. I guess that it just goes to prove the point that just because someone or something is old doesn’t mean it still can’t rock one’s world. Please click on the link above and watch a genius work his magic once again.

That closes out my coverage of the 2022 Glastonbury Music Festival. *(You can read Part I here). I hope that you have enjoyed reading about and watching some of the amazingly talented performers who graced the various stages at this festival. It was so nice to see live music again. If you want to get a glimpse of a far larger group of artists and bands who performed at Glastonbury, you can access their performances by clicking on the BBC Music link here. Thank you all for reading and listening. Have a wonderful day.

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

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs From Movies and Musicals…Song #9/250: State of Love and Trust by Pearl Jam from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Singles.

It isn’t easy to live in the continental United States and exist in your own bubble of sorts, but prior to 1990, that was essentially true of the region known as the Pacific Northwest. The most populated city in the area would have been Seattle, Washington. Seattle’s closest big city neighbour is actually Vancouver, British Columbia, across the border into Canada. Prior to 1990, the Pacific Northwest region of the US was known more for its wilderness and hiking trails and, oh yes, a volcano named Mount St. Helens! If you traveled there it was definitely a destination journey, meaning that you wanted to go specifically there. It was a boutique location, for sure. Consequently, if you happened to live there, you did so in a very tight knit community. Seattle, in particular, was insulated from much of what was happening elsewhere across the States. This sense of relative isolation allowed the local Arts scene to incubate, free of scrutiny from the outside world. Thus, when local band Nirvana released “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the outside world sat up and took notice. This song is credited with launching the Grunge music movement and creating what music journalists dubbed “The Seattle Scene”. But, truth be told, Seattle, Washington had been a hotbed for great music long before the region was “discovered” by the rest of the country. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and many more were all well established on the local music circuit by the time Nirvana came out with the Nevermind album. Once Nirvana went supernova, as it were, the world descended on Seattle and that quiet sense of purity that characterized the music scene there was gone forever. If you happen to ever hear someone being interviewed who was in Seattle prior to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, they always lament the loss of privacy that came with being discovered. To get a sense of what it was like to live in Seattle just before Grunge exploded isn’t easy. However, we are lucky that there was a movie made there in 1992 by director Cameron Crowe that did a pretty good job of capturing the fashion, the music, the club scene and the sense of community that existed in the Arts world in Seattle. That movie was called Singles. This is the story of that movie, the impactful soundtrack that accompanied it and the mega-hit TV show that was inspired because of it.

Singles was a movie that starred Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgewick and a host of characters from around Seattle such as the members of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell and the members of Soundgarden, director Tim Burton and many others. The movie is basically a romantic comedy of sorts that uses, as its setting, the world of Seattle’s Arts scene as it existed just before “Teen Spirit” took off. Throughout much of the movie, songs by Seattle bands can be heard playing in the background, or else whole scenes will take place in a club or at a concert with real bands on stage. One scene was even shot at the real gravesite of legendary rocker…and Seattle resident…Jimi Hendrix. As such, Singles was always more than a mere movie. It was a film that intentionally captured a moment in cultural history while it was all still relatively innocent and pure. To call Singles a time capsule would be very accurate.

L – R: Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam), actor Matt Dillon, Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Director Cameron Crowe.

What makes Singles such a memorable movie is the soundtrack. The movie is crammed with great tunes by a ton of artists and bands who, at the time, were only really known in Seattle or on the college radio circuit. The whole soundtrack is packed with hits and/or performances from Seattle artists/bands that we consider to be huge today such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Paul Westerberg (formerly of The Replacements), Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and The Smashing Pumpkins, along with familiar names such as Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart (who perform as The Lovemongers on this soundtrack, covering a Led Zeppelin tune called “The Battle of Evermore”) and Seattle’s most famous pre-Grunge son, Jimi Hendrix, too. What makes the Singles soundtrack unique in movie history is that at the time of its release, all of the tunes were original releases. Taking that one step further, all of these bands/artists would, in time, become big stars on the national stage, but for this soundtrack, they all submitted original work. It is almost as if some cool Seattle insider made a mixtape of the best music around at the time and released it for the world to discover. From everything I have read about this movie, I believe that those musicians who agreed to take part all did so because they believed in Cameron Crowe’s vision for how the Arts community was going to be portrayed. It was also important to them that the movie have a timelessness to it so that it wouldn’t appear dated a few years after release. The Singles soundtrack has achieved that aim. It is still one of the very best movie soundtracks that I have ever heard. I owned it back in my Columbia Record Club days and I still like all of the artists and bands who contributed to it to this very day. Don’t read too much into the fact that I chose “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam to represent this movie. I could have chosen almost any of the songs in this soundtrack and it would have been a good choice. I picked “State of Love and Trust” simply because it is a good tune and I own it and like it. Simple.

Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon.

As for the movie itself, Singles never won any awards for the quality of the story being told. However, when it was released, the story of young, single, attractive twenty-somethings living near each other, growing into adulthood together, searching for love and a life lived with purpose resonated with audiences. For me, I always thought that Bridget Fonda’s character was super cute. She had a “look” that Cameron Crowe insisted that she naturally had and that somehow managed to perfectly capture that sense of fashion that was popular in Seattle at the time. This is an important note because once the movie was released, many who saw it wanted the storylines from the movie to continue on in the form of a TV show. Cameron Crowe was offered the chance to take Singles and serialize it for television but he declined, stating that he felt he had captured the spirit of Seattle perfectly in the film and didn’t wish to dilute that by having to make the story fit a national perspective. However, not long after declining the chance to take Singles to TV, a new show debuted on NBC called Friends. That show involved a group of young, attractive single twenty-somethings who all lived near each other, growing into adulthood, searching for love and a life lived with purpose. One of the stars of the show was Jennifer Aniston who, like Bridget Fonda, became known for her sense of style. I felt that “Rachel” was pretty cute at times, too. The producers of Friends insist that their show had nothing to do with Singles, but their denials are more rooted in a desire to avoid ever being sued by Crowe for a share of the profits the show has accrued over the years.

In any case, Singles is a movie that may have not ever been an Oscar-calibre story, but the cultural impact it had on the world of music and television is unquestioned. If you have never watched Singles before, please feel free to do so. It will be like unearthing a cultural time capsule. The trailer I am enclosing is really corny and low-budget, but, at least, it will introduce you to the characters. When you see it, try and figure out who inspired the various Friends characters on TV. Overall, I love Singles for the music…and for Bridget Fonda’s character. The soundtrack is outstanding. I hope that you will give it a chance, too.

The link to the video for the song “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam can be found here. ***The lyrics video can be found here.

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

The link to a YouTube playlist for the entire movie soundtrack of Singles can be found here.

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

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

The Great Canadian Road Trip: The Stories Behind Great Songs and Great Canadian Places…Song #9/250: Sudbury Saturday Night by Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Canada’s troubadour…Stomping’ Tom Connors.

Stompin’ Tom Connors was one of Canada’s most beloved troubadours. In his career, he recorded almost fifty albums, selling over four million copies in the process. He was invested into the Order of Canada (which is the highest honour a Canadian citizen can attain). He has been awarded Juno Awards for his music. He has been given a place of honour on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. His marriage in the 1970s was broadcast on daytime TV. His funeral in 2013 was also broadcast on the CBC. Tom Connors was fiercely Canadian. He traveled from one end of the country to the other, writing songs about the beauty of the land, the people who lived there and the history of their lives. Stompin’ Tom Connors was such a presence on our cultural scene that he is one of the very few people in the world to ever have met Queen Elizabeth and not have had to remove his hat! In a career that spanned over a half century, Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote many songs that have become woven into the cultural fabric of our country including “Bud the Spud”, “The Hockey Song”, “The Ketchup Song”, “Big Joe Mufferaw” and, of course, today’s song, “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Let’s take a closer look at that particular song, how Tom Connors came to write it and a bit about the story he was telling us all about with his song. Here is the story of “Sudbury Saturday Night” by Canada’s own Stompin’ Tom Connors.

Tom Connors weds Lena Walsh live on the Elwood Glover TV Show on CBC.

Tom Connors was born in St. John, New Brunswick in 1936. His childhood was a tough one. Connors was born into poverty. His mother and biological father broke up early in his young life. As a result, he and his mother lived a very transient existence, moving from house to house, barely staying ahead of the bill collectors. Tom’s mother often stole to pay for rent or food or alcohol, and because of this, she was known to the local police. Because his mother was often incarcerated for petty theft, she spent many days in the county jail. Many times, Tom was thrown in with her because it was easier for the municipality to care for her child by providing a form of penal daycare than it was to actually provide a proper home and assistance that a young child requires in order to grow up with a stable life. Eventually, Tom Connors was removed from his mother’s custody and placed into foster care. He was adopted by a couple from Prince Edward Island when he was ten years old. By the age of fourteen, he left that home, standing on the side of the Trans Canada Highway that ran past their house, thumb extended. Connors was picked up and began a cross-country odyssey that saw him journey to all manner of small towns and bigger cities in Canada. In each place where he would be let off, Connors would find piece work, earning enough money for a hot meal, a cold beer and a place to lay his head. It was while working at these odd jobs such as tobacco picking, as a lumberjack or a miner that Connors began to display an affinity for storytelling. He was a working-class man who appreciated the work ethic of others like him, so he decided to tell their tales on their behalf. In his late teens, he saved enough money to buy a second-hand guitar. Notebook in hand, Connors began writing songs about the people he was meeting and the history of their lives. His first ever song was called “Reversing Falls Darling”. Later, in his twenties, Tom Connors found himself working at the nickel mines in Sudbury, Ontario. One night he was sitting in the Towne House Tavern. He asked the bartender for a beer. The cost was thirty-five cents. Connors only had thirty. The bartender took the thirty cents but asked Connors if he would repay his debt by singing a few songs, as there was no musical act booked that night. Even though he had never appeared on a professional music stage before, Tom Connors took his guitar and strode to the front of the room. For the most part, the patrons there ignored him. Tom Connors approached the microphone and began to play. The crowd ignored him again. Their conversations and laughter made it hard for Connors to hear himself play. In order to help himself keep time, he began to stomp his foot down on the stage. Doing so enabled him to maintain a proper beat. Eventually, the crowd turned their attention to this young man pounding away on the stage. A few even applauded when he finished. Tom Connors returned to the bar when his set was over. The bartender paid him in the form of a second beer. That man was named Gaetan Lepine. Lepine asked Connors to come back and play again the following night. Connors accepted and started what would become a fourteen month run as the house act at the Towne House Tavern in Sudbury, Ontario. It was while living in Sudbury that Connors wrote “Sudbury Saturday Night”. He also became known as a jingle writer and would often write jingles for local businesses in exchange for products such as snow tires and furniture. The fourteen months that Tom Connors spent in Sudbury were the most stable months of his life up until that point. His charming personality endeared him to many and soon his music was being played on radio stations in places such as Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie. It was not long after that Connors was signed to a record contract and that he released his debut album. One of the songs on it was “Sudbury Saturday Night”.

INCO plant, complete with the Superstack.

At the time Tom Connors was singing at the Towne House Tavern, Sudbury was very much known as a company town. The major employer there was a mining company called INCO. The letters in INCO stood for International Nickel Company. In the 1850s, nickel was discovered in Sudbury. Before too long, much of the western world’s supply of nickel was coming directly from the mines in Sudbury. There was much work available to those brave and/or desperate enough to work in the dangerous conditions of the nickel mines. Because INCO controlled almost all employment in the area, they called the shots when it came to wages paid, benefits offered and so on. If a worker was unhappy there, they were free to leave and find work elsewhere. But, if you wanted to stay in Sudbury then you did so on INCO’s terms. When Tom Connors arrived in Sudbury, he did so at a time when union activity had begun to take root. In fact, one of the most noteworthy events in Canadian Labour history was the first big strike at INCO in the 1970s. Miners went on strike for almost a year. Somehow, they were able to withstand the loss of income and were able to outwait the company (which is not how strikes often turn out). In any case, INCO eventually settled on terms that favoured the union. It was in that atmosphere that Connors wrote “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Being a working-class man, he told the story of life in Sudbury from the perspective of ordinary workers. Because he tended to be a novelty-song style of writer, he built his song around words that rhymed with INCO such as “bingo” and “stinko”. Before long, he had a song that went straight from the Towne House Tavern stage and into the musical canon of the country.

The Towne House Tavern in Sudbury, Ontario.

For a while, Stompin’ Tom Connors was as big a name in the Canadian music scene as there was. He was always good at using his platform to speak out on behalf of Canada and Canadian musicians. In fact, at one point in his career, he returned all of the JUNO Awards he had won because he was upset that much of the JUNO spotlight was being given to musicians who were spending the bulk of their time and careers in the US. Connors believed that a Canadian music awards show should be honouring those musicians who were working in Canada. While the JUNO Awards show continues on as it has, there were many musicians who were most appreciative of what Tom Connors was trying to say. So when it came time for his funeral, those who appeared on stage to honour his legacy were all singers or bands that had stayed in Canada and who wrote about Canada such as The Rheostatics, Damhnait Doyle, Sylvia Tyson, JP Cormier and others. Flags across the country were set to half-mast in his honour. The then-Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, spoke at his funeral on behalf of the country. Not bad for a man who came from the childhood that Connors had.

Fans gather outside of The Towne House Tavern on a Sudbury Saturday Night.

At the funeral, Tom Connors Jr. eulogized his dad by saying how proud he had been to live in Canada and how he longed for others to wave Canada’s flag proudly. Many have taken up the mantle of being Canada’s troubadour, most notably Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, but every singer and band who take pen to paper and write about the places they live and work in, the people that they meet and the history embedded in the land are all following in the footsteps of one of our greatest musicians of all time, Stompin’ Tom Connors. I am sure that if there is, indeed, an afterlife, that somewhere there is a plywood square being stomped on with pride. In this life, the Towne House Tavern celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Sudbury Saturday Night” by gathering together the regulars and making a video of everyone singing that song together. The thing about it all is that there were smiles and happiness all around. As it often was whenever Stompin’ Tom Connors was involved.

The link to the video for the song “Sudbury Saturday Night” by Stompin’ Tom Connors can be found here. ***There appears to not be a Lyric version online. So, instead, a complete list of the written lyrics can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stompin’ Tom Connors can be found here.

The link to the video of the Towne House Tavern regulars singing “Sudbury Saturday Night” can be found here.

The link to the video from a new Canadian TV show called “Shoresy” *(a spin-off of Letter Kenney) of a promo skit called, “Sudbury Saturday Night” can be found here. NSFW.

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

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

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Classical Compositions of All-Time…Composition #8/50: 1812 Overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

In the 1960s, when I was a child, we only had two TV channels that we could access. They were both from our taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; one channel was CBC in English and the other channel was the CBC in French. As the 1970s dawned, we thought we had moved into the big time because a private broadcasting company called CTV became available. Suddenly there was a wider variety of programming including shows that originated in the United States. A decade or so later, the television universe expanded again with the introduction of something called cable TV. With the advent of cable, a dozen new channels became available at the push of a button on a huge converter box that sat on our coffee table in the living room. The real draw to cable TV was that about half of the new channels that became available actually were American channels. Growing up in Nova Scotia meant that the American channels that we accessed via cable TV all broadcast out of Bangor, Maine (which was the closest US city with its own television stations). Because Maine was considered to be part of the “New England” states, the focus of much of the US cultural coverage on TV from there was centered on Boston. So, I grew up watching the Boston Red Sox baseball team, the Bruins hockey team and the New England Patriots football team as much as I ever did my own Canadian teams (which, at the time, revolved around Toronto and Montreal). Because I was able to immerse myself in the cultural traditions of two different nations, many aspects of American history and culture became very familiar to me and, as such, became part of the fabric of my own identity to a certain degree. This brings me to the Canadian and American national holidays which are celebrated on July 1st and July 4th, respectively. For me, those two holidays became one long weekend of festivities. There were the actual events I attended in my hometown on Canada Day, and then those were bookended by the July 4th celebrations we would watch on cable TV. Not surprisingly, the July 4th evening concert by The Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of conductor Arthur Fiedler always seemed to serve as the finale for that long weekend of festivities. The finale of that concert was always the “1812 Overture” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Thus, the booming of sixteen real cannons is something I have always associated with my childhood and with my relationship to America.

Childhood is a safe haven for more innocent memories and times. In those days, politics was not part of my thought process. I was proud to be a Canadian citizen. I believed that my country was one of the nice guys on the world stage. I viewed America as being our friends and Americans as being basically good people. There was never any thought of the fact that both countries were built upon foundations of colonization and oppression of indigenous cultures. Back then, it was all hot dogs and fireworks. Good times if you were a wide-eyed, well-behaved white teenage boy like I was.

However, the passing of time has revealed that much of what I believed to be true as a child was, in fact, not true at all. One of the simplest examples comes in the form of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”. Until very recently, I always regarded this composition as being an American patriotic tune. It is not. I believed that this composition was about The War of 1812 and that the reason it is played on the Fourth of July is because of the importance of that war to America and Canada solidifying their status as independent countries, apart from England. I was wrong to believe that, too. The final pinprick into the heart of my nostalgic bubble came in the form of the realization that this most famous of compositions by Tchaikovsky was one that he wrote under duress and always hated because of the crass showiness of how it plays out. So, if the composer hated it and it has nothing to do with America or the Fourth of July, how did the “1812 Overture” become such an integral part of American culture, and by osmosis, my own cultural upbringing? Let’s find out.

Napoleon invades Russia in 1812.

Believe it or not, the “1812 Overture” is actually a composition that chronicles a famous military victory for Russia against Napoleon Bonaparte. Way back in the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte had a reputation as being a cunning military strategist. Without going into the entire geo-political history of Europe at the time, let me tell you that in 1812, Russia found itself the target of an invasion by Napoleon and the mighty French Army. Like many nations who have tried to conquer Russia, France made great headway at first. Not far from Leningrad, a fierce battle was fought. This battle was called The Battle of Borodino. Napoleon’s army eventually prevailed but at the cost of two thirds of its soldiers. Russia then played a trick on Napoleon. They abandoned Moscow. Napoleon mustered the remaining troops at his disposal and marched into Moscow with the complete expectation that he would be greeted as a conquering hero and that terms of surrender would be discussed at that time. However, when French troops arrived, they found Moscow deserted. After a few weeks, Cossack resistance fighters burned Moscow to the ground, leaving Napoleon’s army trapped in a barren, deserted city, far from their supply lines. No Russian emissary ever came to negotiate with Napoleon. Eventually his troops began to starve and became dispirited. With health and morale plummeting, Napoleon made the tactical decision to withdraw from Moscow. However, the French retreat was plagued with hardships brought on by the cruel Russian winter, as well as by guerilla war tactics from what was left of the Russian army. By the time Napoleon made it to the Russian/Polish border, only 20,000 French troops remained from an invasion force that totalled almost half a million when the campaign began. Although Napoleon won all of the major battles his army fought, he ended up losing the war. Three years later, Napoleon would meet his Waterloo at the hands of The Duke of Wellington. Shortly thereafter, exile to the Island of Elba would seal his fate.

Historical fiction is a time-honoured literary genre. In the 1880s, a Russian writer named Leo Tolstoy wrote a novel that you may have heard of called War and Peace. As part of the storyline to this book, Tolstoy recounted the mighty victory enjoyed by Russia over Napoleon and the mighty French army. The publication of “War and Peace” sparked renewed interest in this aspect of Russian history. As the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Borodino approached, the Tsar called for commemorative celebrations to be held. These celebrations were to include parades and concerts. As part of this call to the Arts community, Tchaikovsky was commissioned to create a patriotic piece of music for the Tsar. He was told that it needed to be more loud than quiet, more forceful than subtle. He was told that the Tsar, himself, was expecting Tchaikovsky’s most rousing anthem to date. The piece that Tchaikovsky ended up writing was called The Year 1812, Solemn Overture, Op. 49. As noted earlier, Tchaikovsky hated it. He thought it was loud and crude but it was what was demanded of him by the Tsar who, in turn, thought the “1812 Overture” was perfect.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The “1812 Overture” clocks in between 12-15 minutes, depending on the orchestra performing it. In that time, Tchaikovsky created a complete timeline of the military campaign. There are periods where Russian music dominates the composition. At other times, the French national anthem is woven into the score to show how Napoleon’s advance into Russia threatened their nation. In the end, the piece concludes with celebratory cannon blasts to signifying the exultation felt all across Russia because of this great victory over a mighty foe.

History is a murky business. This post will be published on July the 4th. No doubt, as the day draws to a close, orchestras all across America will strike up the band and play a Russian military song, while Americans revel in their own patriotism, believing the music to be about them. I have no doubt that many people in my hometown of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, will tune their televisions to their local cable PBS channel and will watch the concert from the comfort of their Canadian living rooms. As for me, I will participate in Canada Day, and to a lesser extent, July 4th, by wearing an orange shirt dedicated to the memory of those Indigenous children whose bones were ground and mixed together to help create the foundation upon which these two countries were built. Like my boy, Tchaikovsky, I am sure I will think the overt celebratory nature of the day is just a tad too much.

The link to the video for the composition, “The 1812 Overture” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky can be found here. ***Note: the composition begins at the 2:00 mark.

The link to the official website for Classical 103.1…the classical music radio station located in my town of Cobourg, Ontario, can be found here.

The link to the report of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission can be found here.

My daughter and I picking strawberries on July 1st.

***Many Indigenous communities across Turtle Island are recommending that Canadians spend July 1st in sombre reflection with regard to the true nature of how Canada came to be a country and the price paid by Indigenous Peoples as part of that process.

Fireworks or thoughtfulness? I will leave that decision up to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves performs “Rainbow” at Glastonbury.

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

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

Chaise Longue by Wet Leg.

Wet Leg.

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

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

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

Lily Allen and Olivia Rodrigo at Glastonbury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iggy Pop in his prime!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was in Bobcaygeon

that I saw the constellations

reveal themselves,

one star at a time.

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

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

That night in Toronto,

with its checkerboard floors,

riding on horseback,

keeping order restored,

until The Men They Couldn’t Hang,

strode to the mic and sang,

and their voices rang,

with that Aryan twang.”

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

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

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

The Men They Couldn’t Hang and their fans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The link to the official website for the village of Bobcaygeon, Ontario can be found here.

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

Keepin’ It Classy: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Classical Music Compositions of All-time…Composition #7/50: String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 by Luigi Boccherini.

Minuet and Trio (A Major) by Luigi Boccherini.

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

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

Luigi Boccherini.

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

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

Statue of Luigi Boccherini. Lucca, Italy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Pain circa 1992.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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