Cat Stevens

#725: “Mum’s” Music

GETTING MORE TALE #725: “Mum’s” Music

We couldn’t keep everything from “Mum’s” house.  Jen’s mother amassed a huge amount of possessions over the years.  We had to choose what to keep and what to leave behind.  Like most people, she had a lot of old worthless albums and CDs.  She also had a couple good ones, some of which baffled me.  I know I gave her the Rush CD, but I don’t know where some of these others came from!  Many are still sealed with price tags affixed.

I know I’m bad for that too.  I have many CDs that have been here for years, still sealed.  My collection is several thousand albums deep now.  There is a lot of stuff I just haven’t gotten around to hearing yet.  I guess “Mum” was the same.  I never really saw her listening to music at home although I know she loved certain artists and songs.  I don’t think she even had a working CD player anymore.  Jen says they mostly listened to music in the car.

Because she was so supportive, she owned two CDs by my sister Kathryn.  Her solo album Open is ironically still sealed.  Mum would have bought that at the CD release show, back in 2010 at the Button Factory in Waterloo.  (I was supposed to perform our song “Evil Kirk” that night but I was suffering from a throat infection so it was impossible for me to do.)  Mum loved watching Kathryn perform even if the music was beyond her.  She also had a copy of my sister’s first CD, A Recital of Works for Bass Clarinet.  I brought these back home with me.  Maybe I’ll do a contest to give them away.

Some decent greatest hits discs were found.  I think Mum would be glad that we kept some of her jazz classics.  I needed some Louis Armstrong, and now I have All Time Greatest Hits (1994) with 18 songs.  She also loved Etta James; she danced with Jen’s dad to “At Last” at our wedding.  Etta James was one of her favourites.  I’m going to do my best to appreciate her music.  Etta James’ Her Best (1997, 20 tracks) is still sealed but I’ll crack it open and give it a shot.

The Beach Boys’ Sounds of Summer also looks like a good one.  It’s 30 songs and I know virtually all of them.  Jen is a huge Beach Boys fan and I think this greatest hits is better than any she had before.  We will get lots of play from this, I know.  Then there’s Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix!  This one is opened!  I never heard her mention Jimi Hendrix, not once.  We have no idea what she was doing with Jimi in her collection.  I already have lots of Jimi, but this one has a really nice booklet with liner notes.

Two sealed Beatles CDs were in the collection.  Jen and I are the bigger Beatles fans, but we didn’t own Live at the BBC Volume 1 or 2!  These are the 2013 remasters, too.  I’ll admit I’ve never liked the first Live at the BBC.  It came out during my first Christmas at the Record Store, and it stiffed.  We sat on a huge pile of them that we couldn’t sell.  Nobody wanted rough live versions of Beatles songs.  People wanted the hits, and BBC disappointed many when it appeared under the Christmas tree in 1994.  (The same thing happened with Anthology 1 in 1995.)  Now we have both BBC sets, so we’ll have to give them another chance.  She also had Abbey Road on LP, which isn’t in terrible shape.  It’s my favourite Beatles album and it will be cool to hear it on vinyl, the way it was intended.

Also among the LPs was a Beach Boys double hits LP called Summer Dreams.  I was excited to find one by Gordon Lightfoot called 2 Originals of Gordon Lightfoot.  This contains two of his complete albums, Don Quixote and Summer Side of Life.  I owned neither until now.  Some of the coolest records were the soundtracks.  We took Rocky, Chariots of Fire, and The Buddy Holly Story.  The cool thing about The Buddy Holly Story is that the cast are the actual singers and musicians.  So that means it’s Gary Busey singing and playing lead guitar.  And he’s great!  This is a classic soundtrack that I am glad to finally own.

As discussed in a previous chapter, for some reason when Mum was sick, I felt a strong connection to Cat Stevens.  Specifically it was the song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”.  When we were watching over her in her last days, that song came into my head and I don’t know why.  I felt like she was trying to tell me something.  She never wanted either of us to be sad.  In my mind, it seemed like Mum was telling me not to be sad.  “Well, if you want to sing out, sing out.  And if you want to be free, be free.  ‘Cause there’s a million things to be, you know that there are.”  It seemed like something she would have said.  So when she finally passed, and we started going through her things, I found a Cat Stevens CD with that exact song on it.  It’s not on the 1975, 1990, or 2000 greatest hits albums.  But it is on Icon.  There it was, still sealed, and it had the song.  How strange, I thought, as a tear went down my face.

The world is strange indeed; or as Cat said it’s a “Wild World”.  There are coincidences that seem connected even if they are not.  The human brain has a knack for finding patterns, and many of us mistake this for deeper meaning.  Even though it could be pure chance, I think Mum was speaking to me when that song came into my head.  It’s a comforting thought.  I’ll take it.

When I write these stories about her, I miss her even more.  I can’t do it without crying at least once.  But it’s important to me that you get to know her a little bit.  She was an amazing woman, and this is just a small part of the music that she loved.

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#702: If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

GETTING MORE TALE #702:  If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

Summer is gone — it flew by.  We’ve said goodbye to our loved one.  Now it’s time to pick up the pieces, and also to try and get back to whatever “normal” is going to be now.  Time to write.  Not everything was bad.  Lots of tears, but some laughs too.

We stayed in a lot of hotels but I think my favourite is the last one we used, the Fairfield in Brampton.  We had a nice two room suite with a desk that I could use for writing.  I wrote the last instalment of Getting More Tale (#701:  Amazon You Bastards) at that desk at the Fairfield.  It was a really sweet spot!  Good wi-fi too.  We ordered Chinese food from one of Jen’s favourite places, and her cousins came over to visit.

Another hotel (I think the Edward in Toronto) had the most amazing shower I’ve ever experienced.  It had an overhead jet, three more on the vertical, and one of those hand-held shower heads.  You could combine them too.  It had enough settings that you could easily lose half an hour in there.

Having a good stay in a hotel requires several key things.  Add your own to my list:

  1. Music.  Usually in three forms.  I) Mp3 player.  II) Flash drive(s) for car.  III) Laptop.
  2. Headphones for said laptop.  This is both for music and Netflix.  I forgot the headphones on the Labour Day weekend.  I waited at a shitty Canadian Tire store in Toronto to find and buy a $30 pair.  Worth it though.
  3. Books.  I brought a Transformers graphic novel and a Rock Candy magazine given to me by Superdekes.
  4. Enough clothes.  I came short on this one twice this summer.
  5. Whatever personal hygiene products you require.
  6. Earplugs!

My fuck, are those hotel air conditioners loud.

Kiss is good comfort music.  At the Fairfield I spun Unmasked again, for what was probably the third time this week.  Uncle Meat’s words resonated in my head:  “You’re wrong on Unmasked“.  I listened, I enjoyed, I sang along.  Do I like this album?  I must.  It’s certainly problematic, with a lot of outside writing diluting the sauce.  But it also had an increased Ace Frehley participation factor.  Uncle Meat ranked it 4.5/5  steaks, I gave it 3.5/5 stars.  I might have to finally revise it again to 4/5 stars.  The jury will be back soon.

Back to my previous point though:  Kiss is good comfort music.  Many of those albums are time machines.  I can be 13 or 14 years old again, and very clearly so.  Most Kiss albums remind me of summer, but it’s not all just nostalgia.  Nostalgia alone is hollow.  You can’t listen to a song forever just because of nostalgia.  Whether you want to admit it or not, Kiss had the goods.  Barely enough goods, but they had ’em and they also had a style.  Today we say songs are “Kiss-like”, usually referring to the classic Kiss sound of 1974 to 1977.  Ace Frehley had an identifiable sound from day one.  He patented his own fretboard moves.  That’s why when Bob Kulick came aboard to play ghost guitars on Alive II, he was instructed to “make it sound like something Ace would play.”  As for Paul Stanley, there is no slagging the man’s voice in his prime.  He was the goddamn Phantom of the Opera fer fucksakes.  Kiss’ weaknesses are fairly obvious now that we know who really played what on what, but their strengths should also be clear to us.

I needed Kiss this summer.  Kiss helped.  That’s the bottom line.  If air drumming a little bit to “Anything for My Baby” takes my mind away to somewhere good for three minutes, then proceed.

I also had a re-connection with Cat Stevens late this summer.  I’m not sure why, but when “Mum” was sick in the hospital towards the end, I kept hearing one song in my head: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” from the Harold and Maude soundtrack.  I don’t remember ever watching that movie with Mum, or even hearing that song around her.  I just had a very sudden, profound connection of that song with her when she was sick.

Maybe she was trying to tell me something.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out,
And if you want to be free, be free,
‘Cause there’s a million things to be,
You know that there are.

It’s a message she might have wanted me to know?

Well, if you want to say yes, say yes,
And if you want to say no, say no,
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go,
You know that there are.

Whatever the connection in my head, I felt strongly enough about it to mix in with the songs we used for the visitation.  And it made me smile, and tear up at the same time.

Cat Stevens wrote some pretty good songs, didn’t he?

Here I am in my late 40s now, and I’m still learning new things about what music does.  Stronger than ever, I say again:  it’s in my blood!

 

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Bump Ahead (1993)

MR. BIG – Bump Ahead (1993 Atlantic)

Living up to Lean Into It was never going to be an easy thing to do.  By the time 1993 rolled around, it didn’t even matter.  Mr. Big were going to be ignored no matter what they did.

There are no giant leaps and bounds on Bump Ahead, but there are enough decent rock thrills and ballads to call it a good album.  A lot of the heavy artillery is expended right on the first track, “Colorado Bulldog”.  An amped-up Van Halen shuffle is cranked to the max with the one and only Billy Sheehan pushing the whole thing on the bass.  It’s an insane affair of accelerated playing and a stomping riff.

“The Price You Gotta Pay” keeps it heavy, anchored by a patented Sheehan groove.  Eric Martin’s bluesy soul rasp gives the music accessibility, but there is plenty going on instrumentally too.  Fans of sheer playing will find plenty of challenging licks within.  Likewise, “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”.  It sounds like a redo of an old Talas song called “Smart Lady”, with a new improved chorus.  They lay down a granite groove on “Temperamental”.  Plenty of solid rock is to be heard here.

That said, let’s not kid ourselves.  Mr. Big made their money with ballads like “To Be With You”, and so they loaded the deck here with a few more.  “Promise Her the Moon” is sentimental, understated and classy.  The big one is Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”.  Mr. Big were not likely to blow it on a song this magnificent.  Their version is more lush than Stevens’, but is actually quite great.  They miss the mark on “Nothing But Love”; too syrupy with its guitar synth orchestra.  In a case of ballad overdose, there is a fourth:  “Ain’t Seen Love Like That”.  It’s one of those basic campfire ballads.  Good song, but not essential.

Bump Ahead has a bit more filler than preferred.  “What’s It Gonna Be” is fine funky rock, but the chorus is pedestrian.  They go a different direction on the psychedelic “Mr. Gone”.  Don’t forget this is the band that gave us “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind“, though “Mr. Gone” isn’t as perfect as that.

They close the album on the free cover “Mr. Big”, the song that gave them their name.  The grind of “Mr. Big” ends the album on an upstanding note, but damn, they should have cut one of those ballads doncha think?  The fact is, Mr. Big were simply not going to have a hit with a ballad in 1993.  Wasn’t gonna happen.  The Japanese edition had a bonus track called “Long Way Down”, which wasn’t that outstanding but perhaps should have been included in the main tracklist at the expense of a ballad.

3/5 stars.

DVD REVIEW: Rushmore (The Criterion Collection) #WesAndersonBlogathon

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Scan_20160807 (2)RUSHMORE (1998/1999 Criterion DVD)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Whether they know it or not, everybody has their first Wes Anderson movie.  Mine was Rushmore, an easy entry point, and I had never seen anything like it before.  It has a genuine quality, an old-fashioned look, and a killer soundtrack — all Wes Anderson trademarks.

The Criterion Collection (“a continuing series of important classics and contemporary films”) deliver some of the best colour transfers, and that is necessary for any Wes Anderson film.  Soaked in dark but rich colours, Anderson fills his work with vibrancy.  His visual trademarks are apparent right from the first scene, a hilarious fantasy sequence introducing our main protagonist Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman).  Max is more than a dreamer though.  He is a doer.  He dreams things and makes things happen.  As such he is the founding (and sometimes sole) member of multiple clubs at Rushmore Academy.  He writes, produces and directs lavish school plays with no thought given to compromise, or safety.  Unfortunately, Max doesn’t dream much of his own schoolwork, and never seems to get it done.  He is on notice.  Fail one more class, and he’s expelled from the school he loves so much.  Brian Cox (Super Troopers) is excellent as Dr. Guggenheim, the school principal.

Max soon meets steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), to the tune of “Making Time” by The Creation (1967).  The retro music and formal dress at Rushmore Academy gives the movie a timeless feel.  Could it be the 90’s?  The 80’s?  The 70’s?  Sure, why not.  Instead of working at getting his grades up, Max continues to dream.  He dreams of saving the Latin program in school (for no real reason other than just to do it), and of new teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams).  He’s a charmer, but often with ulterior motives.  He and Blume manage to find a bond together.  That is, before Blume himself falls for Miss Cross.

This leads to a strange rivalry between Max and Blume, with each jockeying for position in the Miss Cross stakes, with little thought given to how she feels about the whole thing.  It also sets up some pretty amusing situations, such as Max trying to build a school aquarium for Miss Cross.  He almost succeeds, too.  Max is a hard character to read, as he often wants to make certain impressions.  Blume, on the other hand, is clearly depressed, living in a sham of a marriage with two barbarian sons he doesn’t even seem to like. As their rivalry grows in intensity, so does the music, culminating in The Who’s epic live version of a “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the deluxe version of Live at Leeds.  Wes Anderson has a knack for a musical montage too, and Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” is host to one such montage.  (Stevens also appears later on with “The Wind” in another song-appropriate scene.)   The Stones’ “I Am Waiting” is more great music for marking the passage of time.

Max might not have been the best student, but genius does not always get good grades.  His plays have an epic scope, and his aquarium does too:  $35,000 cost, just for the initial plans.  (Some of the aquatic movie footage that Max views may foreshadow a future Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray).  He’s also a perfectionist.  When it comes to his plays, every line matters.  “Don’t fuck with my play!” he screams to the star of his version of Serpico, right before getting punched right in the nose.  Finally young Max possesses a razor sharp wit, which he uses at will especially when it comes to those he considers love rivals, like Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson).

Rushmore is an ode to the creative mind.  After some humbling experiences, Max learns to use his inventiveness to bring people together.  His final triumph, to the strains of “Ooh La La” (The Small Faces), is to bring all the film’s characters (even the bully student Magnus) together in solidarity.  It’s all done with plenty of laughs, smiles and a few tears.

Wes Anderson utilizes a cast of talents he would work with repeatedly, with Bill Murray being the most obvious.  Kumar Pallana as Mr. Litteljeans, the groundskeeper, was an Anderson regular.  Brian Cox, who also participated in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, brings a sour delight to Dr. Guggenheim.   Secret weapon in this movie however is Mason Gamble as Max’s ally Dirk Calloway.  Another Anderson trademark is that each frame possesses astonishing detail and visual information.  Like beautifully painted and impossibly detailed storyboards, his scenes have a life and tell a million stories in the background.  Much like one of Max’s plays, actually.

Without a doubt, one of the best special DVD features is a selection of play adaptations by the Max Fischer Players, from the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.  The players do their own on-stage takes of:  Armageddon, The Truman Show, and Out of Sight.  MTV were producing some very funny bits for their movie award shows at the time, and these are some of the best. Utilizing the original cast and familiar music from the film, these feel like a fairly natural extension of Rushmore.

Other valuable trinkets include an on-screen program for Max’s Vietnam drama Heaven & Hell, and his adaptation of Serpico.  Of course there must be an audio commentary and that is by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman.  There are also the requisite making-of featurettes and supplements.  The biggest selling feature of this Criterion edition for those who value physical products is the giant fold-out map.  From here you can follow the events of the movie on a delightful full colour sketch by movie artist (and director’s brother) E.C. Anderson.  In fact all the packaging for this DVD was designed by Anderson.

5/5 stars

RUSHMORE MAP

Part 232: Amanda

RECORD STORE TALES Part 232:  Amanda

Although by this time, 2004, I had become a jaded prick in the relationship game, I decided to give dating another shot.  I met this girl from Cambridge named Amanda, nice girl, nothing wrong with her.  It was quickly obvious however that it wasn’t working out.  She liked Trailer Park Boys and had her own car which was a bonus.  She just didn’t get my passion for the rock.

Back at that time I was already working on the Record Store Tales.  In the original sequence of events, I was actually writing what was then supposed to be Part 13:  Perspective.  Most of the original Record Store Tales were excised, but the original Part 13 would have fit in between what became today’s Part 4 and Part 5.  As I was home writing Part 13, Amanda was on MSN, wanting to chat.  Even though my record store bosses regularly accused me of abusing MSN Messenger at work, I have never like it.  I’m an email guy. I always found it annoying.

AMANDAI told Amanda I was deep in a creative mode and I wanted to finish writing this chapter.  She waited about 10 or 15 minutes before pestering.  She was bored, but I was in the midst of what seemed like a multitude of musical and personal revelations.  It was just one sign that she didn’t really get what I was about.

That weekend it snowed.  I was working the Saturday, and after work she picked me up to go and get something to eat.  I had just read an article about Yusef Islam, the former Cat Stevens, and how he was on a no-fly list in a world of post-911 paranoia.  Two subjects I’m passionate about are music and politics.  While I leave politics aside for LeBrain’s Blog, I do like to discuss issues in private.  Making conversation, I asked her if she’d heard this story about Cat Stevens.  She was irritable about having to drive in the snow, and didn’t answer.  I quietly asked again, trying to thaw the personal ice a bit.

“Did you hear that story, about Cat Stevens?” I prodded.

“Actually, I don’t care,” she answered.

We went out to eat, but those words just ate away at me.  She didn’t care.  And music is the most important thing in my life.  Who was I trying to fool?  This wasn’t going to work out.

The next time we spoke, we agreed to part ways.  She was pretty upset.

Looking back, the funny thing to me is the day when I was all wrapped up in the writing of the original Part 13.  For all my bluster about being a “writer” and “an artist” working on “my story”, and pouring all my soul into it, Part 13 didn’t even make the cut in the end!  Crappy writing is crappy writing and some would say I haven’t improved much since!