Saturday, November 16, 2013

Love of Music and Music of Love

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood
And it made him feel so happy, it made him feel so good
And he sang from his heart, and he sang from his soul
He did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole
--Harry Chapin, "Mr. Tanner"

I can thank my parents for my love of music. I grew up in a home where music was a constant. I can still remember many of the songs I used to dance around to when I was a wee lad...everything from Knock Three Times to Nightflight to Venus to Stayin''s safe to say my Mom's musical tastes didn't stray too far from the Top 40 of the time, but 70s Top 40 was richer and more varied, it seems to me, than it has been since, and much richer than it tends to be today. There are undoubtedly gems scattered throughout today's music, but they don't tend to chart...or at least chart as high as they should. 

From my Dad I got an appreciation of music you don't normally associate with children. On one of the last days of grade three, just before the moving for the first time in my life, I got up in front of the class and sang all three verses of this:

I still have this memorized.  It really is kind of frightening how much of my mental storage capacity is taken up with song lyrics. 
Roger Whittaker was my first concert. I haven't been to many in my life. This may sound strange, but it's hard to appreciate music in a crowd, or at least I find it hard. Depending on the artist or group, there's too much screaming and/or singing along (and few in the audience can lift the damned tune, much less carry it). 
Concerts I have been to, aside from that Roger Whittaker:

Glass Tiger (London, sometime in the mid-eighties, a concert my wife also attended, and for all I know we saw each other. Our paths have crossed more than once, long before we actually met

Chicago (Canada's Wonderland, late eighties) 

Roxette (Maple Leaf Gardens, 1991)--my first and probably last large arena concert, this was at the height of Roxette's popularity and sometimes it was hard to hear Marie and Per over the screams of countless girls and not a few boys

The Proclaimers at Lulu's here in town, twice...yeah, I loved 'em that much

Prozzak in London--I went with a friend and her sister, having barely heard of the group, and came away something of a fan

and finally John McDermott at Center in the Square, twice, with Eva. John McDermott is another musical gift from my father, a Scottish-Canadian troubadour with an angelic voice. I'd listen to this guy sing his grocery list. He's one of exactly two Toronto Maple Leaf anthem singers I don't rush to mute.

I tend to go through phases, musically, that last a year or two, from which I pluck a few artists and songs out for my 'eternal playlist' before moving on. One year I listened to a whole hell of a lot of new country. I don't listen to much now, but when I do it's usually Brad Paisley.  Then there was my Celtic phase -- I actually toyed with learning Scots Gaelic at one point before realizing just how insanely difficult that language is to pick up -- and I still listen to Capercaillie (and of course John McDermott) out of that. 

I actually appreciate Eminem, and to those who say rap is crap, I suggest you watch 8 Mile with a mind as open as you can make it. Done the way that man does it, rap is an art. It's hyperkinetic wordplay, and I'm a wordsmith at heart. Is it crude and occasionally obscene? Yeah. So is life. Also, Eminem is a persona, occasionally a persona of  a persona, and some people don't seem to understand that. 

He's penned a number of empowering, uplifting songs, too. Perhaps my favourite is this one, which perks me up at the end of a shitty day like few other songs can.  
And if Eminem is too dirty for you and you still think rap has nothing to recommend it, try this Canadian contribution...and I defy you to get through this without growing a grin on your face.

My latest musical loves, at least in English,  are Janelle Monae (her Dace Apocalyptic is the catchiest tune I've heard in about five years) and The Heavy Blinkers, a group that crafts orchestral soundscapes as far from pap as pop is apt to get. 
Of course, that's pop. I'm still in a classical piano phase by and large, enjoying everything from the heavyweights (Liszt, Chopin) to the unjustifiably unknowns (did Cat Stevens steal 'Morning Has Broken' from this female composer?)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the songs that I've actually learned from over the years, and two of those in particular. The songs that have something to teach me tend to be about love. I have some rather unorthodox views on that subject, and sometimes I need a little musical kick in the chops and swift excursion back to reality. The first is an old Moxy Früvous tune called "Horseshoes". The sound quality of the various YouTube videos is uniformly terrible, so I'm just going to type out the lyrics here...

My sister Sue and I were doing stunts with electric trains
She said she'd do my dishes, so I handed her the reins
And she engineered a collision steered by a hand-eye protegée
Before my train set started burning, I heard my sister say

 (Chorus) Look straight at the coming disaster
Realize what you've lost
You keep handing out horseshoes
Horseshoes have gotta be tossed

I dreamed I went to heaven 'cause I told my lover lies
When I woke up I went to her and looked her in the eyes
I said, "help me cry 'cause I can't deny this union's feelin' wrong"
Then I flashed back to the dream, and angels singing songs... (chorus)

Don't push the river, if you love it, set it free
I said 'Go on and see him, you can still come home to me"
I was satisfied, God was on our side, 'cause we're freer than the birds...
she wrote me a letter, I didn't read it, I already knew the words (chorus)

That third verse...I lived by that, once, and it bit me. I still think love isn't a prison, and of course I realized that 'he' was better for her than I could ever be...but there's still a bit of bitter truth in 'horseshoes have gotta be tossed'. 

I am, as I may have mentioned before, a reformed cheater. Back in my young-and-stupid days, I didn't really care for anyone more than I did for myself. I don't harbour many regrets in my life, but I do so regret my behaviour in those years. One of the things I learned from those experiences is that some mistakes can't be fixed and regret means little to nothing no matter how sincerely it's expressed. Another is neatly and heartbreakingly encapsulated in 'Reste avec elle' (Stay With Her) by Québécois artist Lynda Lemay:

I'm still not able to translate this line for line -- I'm getting closer, but the language is quite poetic in places, which makes it much harder -- the general gist is this: it's sung by a mistress who spends three verses and half of a bridge praising her lover's wife, telling him over and over to stay with her. That bridge I can translate, though, and I find it emotionally devastating:

She, who you have chosen
She, who is your safe harbour
She, who is your country
She, who you adore
She, who also you forget
when your eyes linger on my body
when you look at me a little too strong
when you leave her in a time of madness
when you leave her in a time of thrills
Go, right now, rejoin her, I beg you
Go, right now, rejoin her, otherwise

Stay with me...


My first reaction, hearing and understanding this, was to really question if 'she' was all that to him if he'd cheat on her after a single lingering look. Then I thought of course he would, it's just sex.

Except it usually isn't. In affairs of the heart (and despite the proliferation of so-called 'hookup culture', most of them turn into affairs of the heart even if it's the last thing either party wants), the emotions run hot and they can burn everyone they touch.

The lover has emotional needs too, however poorly their object has been chosen, and this is something that tends to blindside men in particular. You think you can keep an affair secret from your wife? Good luck with that. You might be the best actor on the face of the earth and you'll find yourself completely helpless when your mistress gets upset with you for any reason at all and suddenly blurts out that she's about to call up your partner and reveal her existence.

The most mindblowing sex you've ever had isn't worth what'll ensue then, folks. Don't cheat. Just don't.

It's worth noting, I think, that in that final verse of the song that begins 'Stay with me', the lover lists out just a few reasons why she thinks she should. Only one of them has to do with anything she'll do for him as opposed to her own aching need for him...and that one (I'll give you hugs that never stop) is word-for-word something she'd earlier praised/accused his wife of doing for him. I find that more than a little telling, and it jives with my ancient experience. Usually -- not always, but usually -- the person you're cheating with is a pale imitation of the person you're cheating on.

There's even more emotional depth in this song, having to do with love in general, and I may come back to it at some point.  In the meantime, if you know any songs with deep lyrics that really speak to you, I'd be curious to hear them.


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