A New Beginning

This post is meant to serve as an update on what has been happening to the music posts I was producing and what is going to be happening next. So, let’s begin with a quick recap on The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History, first.

In the last two weeks, I have worked hard to make all 500 music posts accessible to you in two different ways: first of all, I produced a series of ten checklists…..organized in groups of 50 songs……that all linked back to each, individual song post, as well as, linking to the other checklists. If you have one checklist, you actually have all 500 posts. Secondly, I placed all 500 songs on a Spotify playlist. All songs on the playlist are written down in descending order, from Song #500, all the way to Song #1….including the 25 Honourable Mention songs that came up at the end. Finally, I have gone back through all 500 posts and updated any of the header photos; removing any that were blurry or out of frame. As a result of all of this work, that music series is now finished and we are ready to move on. ***If you did not see a checklist or receive the Spotify link to access the playlist, let me know in the comments below and I can set you up.

So, what do we do now?

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the original countdown, with many people asking for it to continue in a new format. So, I put on my thinking cap and thought about the different ways that songs interested me. That thought process allowed me to come up with a variety of categories of songs/music that I felt were worth exploring. This past week I have spent time researching content for each category and am happy to announce that I believe I have more than enough materials to re-start the music post series. So, without further delay, here is what is going to be happening, as of this Monday……which is May 9, 2022.

On Monday…..and on every Monday going forward…..I am starting a series of posts under the heading, “Keeping It Classy”. In this series, I will post one piece of famous Classical music and tell you the story behind it. Believe me when I tell you that you will know all fifty of these musical pieces. In addition, by the time we are finished, we will all sound like professors who know the difference between a sonata, an adagio, a fugue, a concerto, a symphony, an opus and so on. It will be more enjoyable that you probably imagine it will be. I am excited to get started.

On Tuesday, the 10th…….and on every Tuesday going forward……I will explore Canadian music. Specifically, as I fleshed out the songs and artists for this category, I noticed a sub-category emerge and that has caused me to re-evaluate a little bit…..tweaking here and there….so that on this coming Tuesday, we are starting something I call “The Great Canadian Road Trip”. There will be fifty or so songs that all namedrop particular geographic location in Canada or else, an actual bar or restaurant or hockey arena or so on. In any case, I will work that vein until it is tapped out and then, after that, I will split the category into one that it simply “Canucklemania”…..which is purely songs by Canadian singers and bands but, without the geographic connotations….. and another that it remains a travelogue of non-Canadian destinations i.e., “Leaving Las Vegas” by Sheryl Crow, “Shipping Up To Boston” by The Dropkick Murphys, “The Belfast Child” by Simple Minds and so on. I will replace “Keeping It Classy” with the World Travelogue when I run out of Classical tunes. Overall, I should have 250 Canadian songs, as well as, 250 travelogue songs, too.

On Wednesday, the 11th…..and on every Wednesday going forward…..I will be starting a series called, “Stars of Stage and Screen”. In this series, I have 250 songs that come from Broadway musicals or from Hollywood movie soundtracks. Believe it or not, I am confident I can do all 250 songs without repeating a single movie or broadway show. In all cases, I will use each post to highlight the composer of the song, the way it was used in the play or movie, the artist who sang the song and a bit about the play or movie, itself.

On Thursday, the 12th….and every Thursday going forward…..I am starting that most important of categories……”Today’s Top 40″. This is a series that will profile songs that are hits right now, as we speak. Each week, I am going to take a fresh look at the Top 40 charts from KEXP-fm, Billboard Magazine, Spotify and Toronto’s own, Chum-fm radio station. I will start with Position #40…..see what songs are listed there on each chart……determine which one has the best potential for a good story and present that to you in post form. The next week, I will look at chart position #39 and repeat the process. After I get all the way to Song #1 on the four charts, I will simply start all over again at #40 the next week and, in doing so, I can repeat the process indefinitely. Hopefully, by doing this, you will get to meet some new singers and bands that you may not had heard of, otherwise.

Finally, on Friday the 13th……and every Friday going forward……I will start a series called, “Reader’s Choice”. These are songs that you, as my faithful readers, have submitted and have asked me to consider writing up. To start, I have taken all of the extra songs that were submitted during the round of Honourable Mention songs a few months ago and created a new list out of them. I have forty songs to start. Please feel free to add to this list by sending me new requests at any time. The “Reader’s Choice” series will keep going as long as you keep sending me good tunes to write about.

When I was a classroom teacher, I got paid to juggle five or more things at one time all of the time so, doing this “next phase” in the music post series this way feels like putting on comfortable clothes. I intend to do one post per day and then, spend a bit of the extra time I would have put into doing a second daily post…….instead, into creating five new playlists on Spotify and amassing new linked checklists for each series, too. I learned a valuable lesson this past few weeks. It takes a lot of work to do a big job but not so much work to do a series of small jobs along the way. So, I will focus on producing interesting content for you all and organizing it as I go this time around. Hopefully, it will all work out and we will continue to share an interactive, informative and enjoyable journey together through the world of music.

Until next week…..take care. Bye for now.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang

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!

CINCINNATI – JUNE 23: Iggy Pop of the Stooges rides the crowd during a concert at Crosley Field on June 23, 1970 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

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.

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 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 sung. 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, revelling 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 tumour, 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 tumour could still summon 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 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, back yards 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. McLeans 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 camp fires. 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 and 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.

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 McLeans 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. The 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 this past week but, it is easily one of the best anti-war songs ever, I am certain. 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.

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 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 a beer. It is sticky and sweet and, if your 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.

Will You be My Neighbour?

When my wife and I bought the house we are currently living in, we were enchanted by the neighbourhood. It was tree-lined, quiet and the neighbours all seemed friendly. It was, in real-estate terms, an established neighbourhood. Many of the homeowners were original to the neighbourhood when it was first built. Their families had grown up and moved away. So, when young newlyweds moved on the street, folks were genuinely happy at the prospect of children, once again, playing outside and riding bicycles up and down the street.

Not surprisingly, within a few years of living here, age began to catch up with our neighbours. One by one, either because of death or illness, several of our neighbours left our street and their homes went up for sale. Just as we did a few years prior, more young families moved in and the trend toward the neighbourhood becoming younger intensified. In fact, the house directly adjacent to us on our south side was sold. The day the new family moved in is where this story begins.

We were puttering around our yard when the new folks pulled into their driveway and began unloading their car. After giving them a few minutes, I went over an introduced myself and welcomed them to the neighbourhood. The man introduced himself as Chris and his wife, as Robin. They had one child; a son slightly older than my eldest daughter, Leah so, about nine or ten at the time. They seemed very friendly and went on to be excellent neighbours. We waved to each other whenever one of us was driving by. We helped shovel each other’s driveway in the winter and mowed grass for each other in the summer. Robin was a teacher, like Keri and myself so, we talked shop occasionally. Chris and I talked about yard things; for example, he admired a new shed that I had built and placed in my backyard. They minded their business and we stayed out of theirs. It was all lovely.

But, I discovered just the other day, that our neighbours had been keeping a secret. A fairly big secret, as it turns out. My mind is blown…still! I will share that secret with you now.

Chris and Robin separated a few years ago. That saddened us, as we liked them as a couple and as neighbours. Chris moved into an apartment across town. Robin and their son stayed next door. Because of custody-sharing arrangements, we still saw Chris frequently, coming and going with his son. He still waved and smiled at us. We still waved and smiled back.

When Chris wasn’t around, we noticed that his son was spending most of his time playing the drums. He had a full drum kit in the basement of their house and he played, day and night, for hours at a time. Fortunately for us, he was actually a talented young drummer so, it wasn’t excruciating to hear his beats seeping up out of the foundation of their house. It was almost the same style of drumming that you would associate with the heavy drum solos that rock drummers sometimes perform during concerts. At one point, the son drummed so much that we began to think that, perhaps, he was autistic, and was obsessively drumming for emotional reasons. But, truth be told, Robin and her son never bothered us so, we viewed his drumming as a small price to pay for having reliable neighbours beside us.

Eventually, Robin put the house up for sale. She and her son have moved out of the neighbourhood and we have not seen them nor Chris for several months now.

A new family moved next door. A husband and wife, with two small children. They have been wonderful neighbours, too. We are lucky. The woman, Leslie, is a teacher and happens to work at the same school as my wife, Keri, does. Occasionally, they drive to school and back together. This happened the other day. During the course of the drive, Leslie wondered if we found her children too noisy when they were playing in their backyard. Keri replied that they were fine especially compared to the little drummer boy we just had next door. Leslie replied that she wasn’t surprised that the boy played the drums because, when they first looked at the house when it was up for sale, they noticed that it was filled with rock n’ roll memorabilia. When they asked the sales agent about it, they were told that the memorabilia belonged to a gentleman named Christian Tanna, drummer and co-founding member of Canadian rock supergroup, I Mother Earth.  Leslie was surprised that we didn’t know this already.

What!!!!!??????   My friendly neighbour, Chris…….the smiling, wavy-haired Dad who I watched mow the lawn in grubby shirts….the guy who had shed-envy……..was actually Christian Tanna, drummer for I Mother Earth!!!!!   And he never said a single word about it. Not one. There was nothing about how he looked or how he conducted himself that would had given us any indication that we had a rock star for a neighbour.  Sometimes, you just never know what goes on behind the closed doors of the nice homes on your street.

Christian Tanna or, Chris as I call him, is the third from the left (in the blue tank top) and this is I Mother Earth at the end of one of their shows.  Now it makes sense that his son was such a prodigious drummer and that he had talent, too. I Mother Earth were really big in the 90s in Canada. I have to be honest and say that they weren’t my favourite band back then but, being equally honest, Chris is my favourite rock star neighbour!!!!

As I look at this photo, I am still shaking my head. Can’t believe that I didn’t know who was living in the house next door.