Dr. Kathryn Ladano

#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.

#710: I Can’t Grok Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #710: I Can’t Grok Rock

Before we proceed, we must put some time into trying to define the work “grok”.  One of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the word in 1961 in his epic novel Stranger in a Strange Land.  Perhaps you recall the “I Grok Spock” slogan from the late 60s when fans mobilised to save Star Trek from cancellation.  There’s no easy definition of the word, although “I grok” can mean “I love”, among many other things.  Depending on its usage, “I grok” can mean:

  • “I hate”
  • “I see” or “I understand”
  • “I fear”
  • “I live”
  • “I am a part of”
  • “I drink” or “I eat”
  • “I think”
  • To use Heinleins own words, grok means to understand something “so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you.”

Grok means all these things, and according to Heinlein, “a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. ‘Grok’ means all of these.”

Heavy stuff, but the more I think (or grok) on it, I realise (or grok) something very sad.  As much as I love, cherish, adore and try to further my understanding of it, I think I can never fully grok rock music. In order to do that, I would have to understand it to a depth I have not reached yet.  As a non-musician who has tried and failed to do play it, true grokking of rock music has eluded me my whole life.

Music exists in several ways simultaneously.  There are the vibrations in the air that are soundwaves on different frequencies.  There are the hairs on your inner ear, moved by the soundwaves.  This physical action is converted to electromagnet signals, sent to your brain and then interpreted and perceived as music.  I can comprehend these things, but true understanding of music means understanding its structure.  Why do those frequencies sound good together?  Why does a recurring rhythm sound good to you even if you don’t know it’s 7/8 time?  Or even know what 7/8 time is?

There is an underlying mathematics to music, an almost mechanical precision.  Well guess what.  I’m no mechanic either!  I have to pay someone to change the oil in my car.

I’m fortunate enough to have Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the family, who truly does grok music.  As an improvisational musician, she creates living music in and of the moment.  She and the players she works with can grok it on an instinctual and intellectual level.  The funny thing about this is that I used to have to help Dr. Kathryn with her math homework.  On paper, I was better at numbers.  Within music, it turns out she can really grok math.

I’ve spent most of my life with music in my ears.  There are bands whose history I have an understanding of deeper than my expertise in that of Canada, and I’m a history B.A.!  There are songs that I have memorised down to the last note and beat, such as “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  But I still don’t really comprehend how it’s was constructed, why it works, or what makes it unique.  And it drives me insane.

I’ve tried, Lord knows I’ve tried!  I thought I’d pick up the guitar again a few years ago and see if my older, wiser mind could grasp the universal secrets of music.  Again, I failed.  I put my guitar away, but now we have a couple acoustics.  I’ve been strumming.  You can’t kill this curiosity.  I really don’t think I will ever grok rock in the truest sense, but I keep trying!

It’s a frustration situation, but rock and roll isn’t about quitting.  That much I do grok.

 

#705: Extra Hands

GETTING MORE TALE #705 Extra Hands

Today we discuss perhaps the most controversial subject ever broached on mikeladano.com.  In the past we have fearlessly tackled bands without original members, whiny fanboys, the far right, and the plight of natives.  Now we go where no one has dared.

Readers here may think that my sister Dr. Kathryn and I have lots in common.  We both love music, schnauzers, and Star Wars.  That’s everything, right?  You’d certainly think so.  We disagree more often than we agree.

Some spans are simply too far to bridge.  This is one of them.

Here is the controversy.  Don’t judge until you’ve heard us out.

My sister and I disagree, strongly, when action figures come packaged with extra hands.

Say what?  I’ll explain.

This issue first arose in 2012 when the Star Wars 6″ Black Series was launched.  This was a series aimed at collectors, packaged to display.  Many increased in value quickly.  Each character was numbered.  The larger size (standard Star Wars figures were 3 1/4″) enabled more detail, better facial sculpting and way more articulation.  Some of these figures look like the actual actors for the first time.  Though quite a few are less than perfect (#03 Luke Skywalker has weirdly bright blue eyes) they were, by and large, exactly what nostalgic fans wanted.  Eventually just about every major character was released (though we are still missing a Padme) with lots of the minor ones too (bounty hunters, Jabba’s minions).  Fans were peeved that it took until now to get an original Lando Calrissian figure, while we already had such dubious characters as “Constable Zuvio”, plus about a dozen Rey variations!  From Star Wars ’77 to Solo, most of your favourites are now available in the Black Series line.

The figure that sparked the controversy is #08, the excellent Han Solo in his 1977 getup:  Black vest, white shirt, cool holster and blaster!  The Black Series also occasionally threw in some bonus accessories.  #08 Han has some of the best.  He comes with his regular gun and holster, plus a Stormtrooper’s gun and belt so you can duplicate the look he had when he was running around the Death Star after escaping the trash compactor.  He also comes with an extra set of gloved hands, so you can have Han as he looked when he was fleeing TIE Fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon.  The hands snap in and out easily with no fear of breakage, still maintaining full wrist articulation.  One of the gloved hands has fingers outstretched, as if Han were hitting buttons on the Falcon’s dashboard.

So what’s the problem?

My sister likes to keep her figures sealed.  She displays them around her desk in her music room at home.  I, on the other hand, put my sealed figures in storage, and sometimes buy a second one to open up and display.  #08 Han is one such figure that I opened.  (My sealed one is in a Cantina two-pack with Greedo!)

I’ve displayed Han in all sorts of ways:  With and without vest, with and without Stormtrooper gear, and sometimes with the gloved hands.  Meanwhile my sister’s boxed figure gets quizzical looks when she has friends over.

“Why does Han have two dismembered hands in the box?”

My sister finds the hands to be an eyesore she’d rather do without.  For me, they are just another display option.  I’ll bag up whatever accessories Han isn’t using right now.  (Currently, my #08 Han is put away, while I have “Old Han” from The Force Awakens on display with Chewie.)

To me, a bigger offender is actually R2-D2.  R2 is loaded with accessories (which is good since he’s half the size of a regular figure but still the same price).  R2 is packed with a sensor scope, an antenna, and a Luke lightsaber that he packs in his dome.  There are also blue dome covers for when you want R2 all closed up looking normal.  But he also comes with jetpacks for his legs.  Many fans consider the “flying R2” scenes to be among the worst in the prequel trilogy.  I’d rather pretend it never happened.

“Those are stupid too,” says my sister of the leg rockets.

Han isn’t the only figure in the series with alternate body parts.  Qui-Gon Jinn has a bonus hand doing a Force movement.  Anakin Skywalker came with two heads so you can do him with two looks:  mopey or angry.  My sister considers all of these to be very poor display pieces.

I guess we will never agree on this issue.  I think the extra hands are a bonus.  If her friends can’t figure out that sometimes action figures come with alternate parts, then maybe she needs new friends.