gordon lightfoot

#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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#483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

GETTING MORE TALE #483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down,
Of the big lake they call gichi-gumi.
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead,
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more,
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed.
When the gales of November came early.

Living in Southern Ontario, we have easy access to three of the five Great Lakes. Many children spent time holidaying on Huron, Erie or Ontario. In school we learned to memorize the names of the Great Lakes with the acronym “HOMES”: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The Ojibwe called Superior “gichi-gami” meaning “big sea”. When I was a kid we spent our summers at the cottage in Kincardine. Kincardine is located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, or as my dad used to call it when I was a toddler, “big water”. Some things are universal.

We are surrounded by nautical activity, from the great locks at Welland canal, to the legendary shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.   Just a few kilometers south of Kincardine is Boiler Beach, so named because a few meters from the shore sits the boiler from an old steamer that exploded in 1883.  The Erie Belle was a tug boat sent to rescue another ship that had blown aground after missing Kincardine harbour and attempting to turn around.  It could not budge the freighter, and the Erie Belle’s boiler exploded when the engine overheated and seized.   The piece of history is still sitting there partly due to the cold fresh waters of Huron.  You can see it clearly even from the road.  If that kind of sight doesn’t instil in a kid an interest in nautical Great Lakes history, nothing will.  And then there are glass-bottom boats that do tours, and in clear waters to view shipwrecks.

We also weathered quite a few storms that rolled in off the lake, taking down hydro poles and trees.  All you can do is sit tight and wait it out.  We always kept several oil lamps at the cottage, ready to go, and we had to use them annually.  It was easy to see how a even a huge ship could come to harm in such a storm.

Today, thanks to Gordon Lightfoot’s musical immortalization, the wreck of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald is the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck of all time.

EDMUND

The huge freighter was hauling iron from Duluth, Minnesota to steel mills in Detroit, Michigan.  Its final destination of the season was the port of Cleveland. It was late in the year 1975, and the big ship had to traverse the entire length of Superior, the deepest and most northerly lake.  From there, to the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and then south down the entire length of Huron.  The Edmund Fitzgerald was a sturdy ship, launched in 1958 as the largest on the lakes.  She broke speed records, and then broke her own records.  She was a favourite to crowds because of the charismatic “DJ Captain”, Captain Peter Pulcer.  He enjoyed piping music in the loudspeakers, and entertaining crowds on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers with tales of the big ship.  But it was Captain Ernest M. McSorley who was command that fateful night in November.

There was a storm on the radar, but the weather service predicted it would proceed harmlessly south of Lake Superior.  The Edmund Fitzgerald departed on November 9, but by 7 pm that night, the weather reports suddenly changed.  The storm was crossing the lake, and they sounded the warning for gale-force winds.  Pounded by 60 mph winds and 10 foot waves, the Edmund Fitzgerald headed north for shelter.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck,
Saying, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.”
At seven PM it grew dark, it was then,
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya.”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in,
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when her lights went out of sight,
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Gordon Lightfoot was fascinated by the story and wrote the famous song around the disaster. His storytelling ability made it legendary, never to be forgotten.  It went to #1 on every relevant chart in Canada, and has been covered by artists as diverse as the Dandy Warhols and the Rhoestatics.  And in honour of the 29 men who died on that ship, he has revised his old lyrics. Formerly the words went, “At seven PM a main hatchway caved in.” However this implies the hatchway was not secured properly, and investigations showed that there was no crew error in the disaster. With respect to history, Lightfoot changed the line to “At seven PM it grew dark, it was then…”

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings,
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below, Lake Ontario,
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her.
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know,
With the gales of November remembered.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies at the bottom today, 15 miles from the aptly named  Deadman’s Cove, Ontario.  It is now a protected site, but there are no conclusive answers to what happened in her final moments.  The way Lightfoot worded it was appropriately vague: “And later that night when her lights went out of sight, Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  What is more important today, rather than the cause of the wreck, is the fact that the 29 people lost at sea are now immortal.  Gordon Lightfoot ensured that.

In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral,
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times,
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

#481: Hang It Up

GETTING MORE TALE #481: Hang It Up

Rock fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we?  We will openly praise our rock heroes, placing them upon mighty pedestals.  We will proclaim that our love for said bands trumps anyone else’s; we are truer fans than the average wannabe.  Then at the drop of a hat, when our bands take an action we don’t approve of, we suddenly become the authority on what that band actually should have done.  We’re the experts after all, right?

Most commonly, we are quick to judge when a band has passed its prime.  We have all done it.  “They need to hang it up and call it a day, go out with some dignity,” we proclaim, pretending that we actually have a clue of what goes on in their creative or financial headspaces.

Why do we think we know what’s best?  Certainly, we are opinionated on what we like and what we don’t.  Let’s say a certain band “jumps the shark” a little bit, to use the TV vernacular.  For example, Aerosmith.  A lot of fans, this one included, feel that Aerosmith’s best days are long behind them.  As fans, we don’t want to see the band continue to sink further into a crapslide of mediocrity.  Mediocrity, that is, defined by us.

Certainly, Aerosmith have no problems selling out arenas even after several patchy discs and gigs.  Go and see them live and you will meet fans who have seen them dozens of times in their lives.  They have a blast doing so, and they don’t care if Tyler can’t jump around like he used to.   What makes one group of fans (the ones that cry “hang it up!”) right, but the others who will gladly go see them live again tomorrow, wrong?

Nothing.  It’s all personal taste.  You may fall on one side of fence with Aerosmith, but another side with the Stones, or the Who.  Look, I love Kiss.  I always have.  I loved when they were great, and I loved when they were shit.  Now that the original members are down to just Gene and Paul, and Paul’s struggling with his voice, do I think they should hang it up?  Absolutely not.  I still look forward to whatever Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy have cooking next.   But I don’t necessarily feel that way about Aerosmith, or even AC/DC.

I saw Gordon Lightfoot perform about 10 years ago.  His voice is reduced to a quiet whisper now.  Years take their toll, but Gordon and his band still played a set of unforgettable music.  Was it a harsh reminder of the years gone by?  Sure, but I can say I’ve seen Gordon Lightfoot now, an experience I wouldn’t trade in for a cash refund, no way.

To compare an artist to their younger selves is almost universally unfair.  I can’t run the 100 meter dash like I used to.  Ian Gillan can’t hit the high screams like 1969 either.  That’s OK.  Ageing is a part of life.  It is also a part of music, even rock and roll.  Rock music used to be about celebrating youth, but today it is a far more diverse field than it was in the golden years.

On the other hand, take a group like AC/DC.  For all intents and purposes, they were still going very strong with the classic five members until very recently.  Then Malcolm got sick – irreversibly so.  Phil Rudd had his problems and was let go.  Now Brian Johnson is gone and Axl Rose is in.  At what point does a band become a parody of itself?  More importantly, who gets to decide that?  I’d prefer if AC/DC were able to continue with Brian; I don’t want to adjust to an AC/DC with yet another new singer.  But I don’t get a say, do I?

But we do get to vote on this, in one way:  the capitalist way.  We vote democratically with our dollars.  People who don’t want to see Axl Rose fronting AC/DC are offered full refunds, and by taking the refund, a fan can voice his or her displeasure.  If the tour continues beyond these dates, we will still be able to vote with our wallets.  There is no deception here.  Surely anyone in the market for AC/DC tickets knows what’s going on now.

Speaking personally, I would go see Axl/DC.  Who knows how long this aggregation will last?  It’s a possible chance to see history in the making.   Even if they suck absolutely (doubtful), I would still be able to say “I saw that.  I was there.”  So, given the chance, even if I don’t like the idea of Axl fronting AC/DC, I would still use my money to vote “yay”.  Even just out of curiosity, it would be worth it.

The single instance that I feel is universally appropriate for a band to retire is the sad day they find themselves without any original members.  Take Quiet Riot for example.  Nobody currently in the band played on the first two Quiet Riot albums.  Two of the members who did are now dead, and there is no connection at all to the earliest recordings of the group.  In cases such as this, what separates a band from a mere tribute?  Call it what it is, in my view.

Who do you think should hang it up?  And if they do, how long before the reunion tour?  Time will tell!

MOVEMBER: Top Five Canadian moustaches of Rock!

Idea stolen from Every Record, with a Canadian twist:

For MOVEMBER, the top five Canadian moustaches of rock!  (I didn’t use John Albini from Lee Aaron’s band since Every Record did.)

5. Neil Peart (Rush)

4. Gordon Lightfoot

3. Dave Myles & Pye Dubois (Max Webster)

2. Burton Cummings

1. Pretty much all of Helix

(moustaches l-r: Mike Uzelac, Brian Vollmer, Paul Hackman)

Part 102: Dumped in Barrie

Once again, I found myself on the road.  CDs were not completely dead and we were still expanding.  We opened a new location in Barrie, Ontario. It seemed like a good location, and the store had a good layout, with plenty of space and a huge back room for storage.  The shelves were well stocked and the place looked great.  They didn’t have a lot of great, unique stock yet:  It usually took time for a store to grow that way.

As usual I was chosen to do a large share of staff training.  I was sent there for 7 days in total, split over two weekends, training 3 or 4 people.  The higher-ups who sent me there chose not to be there on the weekends themselves.  That’s why they sent me.  I understand that this arrangement was considered “funny” by those who didn’t have to spend their weekends there, or so I was told.

I packed a cooler bag full of lunches and drinks so I wouldn’t have to keep buying food and charging it to the company.  It was easier than running out for food, and it was better for the company.  I was the only one who did this.  All I charged to the company at the end of it all was one meal at Burger King, while others charged wine and expensive meals, so it was alleged to me.  I didn’t even charge my use of Highway 407 to the company, since it was my personal, last-minute choice to use the highway to get home faster.  Nobody cleared me to use it, therefore I chose to foot the bill myself.

I was also at the tail end of another relationship.  I was going out with this chick who called herself “JJJewels”.  She was generous and fun, but not ready to be in a relationship with a guy who hated his job and every waking moment he was at work.  I don’t hold the breakup against her, just the way she went about it.

After a grueling 12 hour day of training and work, I checked into my hotel room.  I wandered around for 20 minutes lugging my cooler bag full of food before I found the actual room.  I went to bed immediately, exhausted, when my cell phone rang.  It was JJJulie.  She was dumping me over the phone while I was in a hotel room in Barrie.  I couldn’t believe it!

I sat there in bed, just shocked that anybody could dump another person while sitting miserably alone in a hotel room in Barrie.  On the other hand, it was inevitable, so there was also a sense of relief.

I called my good friend Shannon the next day and told her what had happened.  It was now Saturday, and I was really lonely stuck in a Barrie hotel room with nobody around to talk to.  The room had two beds, so I asked Shannon if she wanted to come up Saturday night.  Kindly, she grabbed some board games and drove up.  That little gesture meant a lot and it was the only ray of light in the whole time I was in Barrie.  The others who came to Barrie during the week were already with their friends and significant others, because they worked with them.  I took Shannon out to dinner at Red Lobster (paying for it myself, not asking the company to pay for my dinner) and we played Monopoly.  It really helped a lot.

That night, we were awakened by the sound of a hockey team partying in the hallways.  I woke up, and stuck my face out the door and scowled.  There were half a dozen hockey players.

“Hey man!  Want a beer?”

I shook my head and closed the door.  They got the hint and moved it into their room.

The following weekend was much like the first; a cooler bag full of lunches, driving up Highway 400 with Gordon Lightfoot, and Guns N’ Roses on the deck.  The second weekend was marginally better than the first; at least I didn’t get dumped this time.  I didn’t want to spend another Saturday night in a hotel room though.  Saturday night we closed at 6, and we didn’t open again until Sunday at noon.  I wanted to drive home Saturday night and spend it at home, not alone in exile in Barrie.  However the hotel room was already reserved for Friday and Saturday nights.

I told my boss that I preferred driving home on Saturday night, and back on Sunday. I’m guessing the hotel room must have been cheaper than the mileage, because he said no.  I should have just done it anyway, but I followed orders and spent a miserably lonely Saturday night by myself in Barrie.  It just indicated to me that the powers that be had lost the plot and had no understanding of morale.  It would have done me a world of good to spend Saturday night with friends, like everyone else does.

When it was all said and done, after two weeks of no time off, and two weekends of exile in Barrie, they rewarded me with a Monday off.  I spent that bitter Monday in my pajamas watching movies and stuffing my face full of junk food.  The day was over before I knew it, my one day of rest was done.  Back to the grind.

If memory serves, this was the very last time we opened a new store.  The decline of brick-and-mortar music sales meant that I wouldn’t be doing anymore of those weekend training missions.  Thank God!