Monday, November 30, 2015


Annual is a term that refers to some event that happens once a year. It's a rather mundane sounding word and often describes tasks that aren't exactly invigorating: Your annual medical exam, an annual office party where you aren't allowed to drink and you have to leave your clothes on, your annual bath ... wait, is that wrong?

You get my point Something annual can denote a thing that is expected, predictable, routine.

But some annual events go beyond the banality of the term. For example, the annual Women's Blues Review. It has been happening every year for 29 years now. Collette and I have been attending for a majority of those years. So you could call it a routine but it is something that is far from routine

The event has elements that could be described as being predictable. There will be six featured vocalists, they will each sing three songs, they will all be female. There will be a finale where all the performers will sing together, one song. There will be a host and there will be a band, naturally comprised of all women

There are, however, elements to this event that take it far from the mundane. Take the band for instance, that is, the backing band. Eight ladies, hardcore professional musicians with credits that could fill a phone book; as the host of the concert stated "these are not female musicians, these are musicians". Many of these women have been playing this gig for over twenty years. So that makes them a band but a band who only plays together once a year. That ain't just annual, that's a mirage.

A really sweet sounding, good looking mirage

And although the show follows a well practised itinerary, it's a live show and every one is the same while every one is different. That's the nature of live shows

It's predictable that I will see a woman or two who are old faves of mine as well as discover a singer or two who will become a favourite. Who those will be, well that's the wild card of a live show

Going into this year's concert I knew that a couple of faves would be appearing and one in particular brought me to Massey Hall. Rita Chirarelli is a veteran of the Canadian music and blues scene. We first saw her in 1991 performing with Long John Baldry and since that time, we have seen her perhaps a dozen times. We never tire of it

Rita is a force of nature and should be a Canadian national treasure. Her voice is powerful and passionate and pained and sexy all at once. There is a huskiness to her voice that she can temper from a strained painful plaint to a howl of lust and anger that makes you sit back in your seat. She is also funny and generous and self effacing. Her three songs ranged from the confession of the "other woman" to a demonstration of how Little Richard's Lucille is indeed the blues and the story of an inmate serving life in Angola Prison that is a deep blues moan that illicit memories of Blind Lemon Jefferson; it was powerful and sad and Rita's voice filled the theatre and I'm sure could be heard all the way to Angola. She was the last act of the first set. That makes sense

No one wants to follow Rita Chirarelli

After the intermission came a woman who was the show's best chance of following Rita. Suzie Vinnik is another veteran of the Canadian blues scene. Like most blues performers she sings more than the blues of course; she has created dozens of recordings as a solo and with other musicians that cover a wide ranger of musical styles. But music is in this woman's heart and I always love to hear it come out

Unlike Rita, Suzie is not a "shouter". Her voice is rich and nuanced and but can still express hurt and lust and anger and joy. It's the kind of voice you close your eyes to and let the warm caramel of her tones just ooze down over you. Suzie is also a very gifted multiple instrumentalist. Her CD Me  n Mabel features her playing acoustic guitar, she also plays a melodic and expressive electric lead. But I'll always think of Suzie as a bassist. For the concert she did a song where she played her electric bass as a lead guitar, so much so that they still needed a double bass to back her up

This year's discover came in the form of a First Nations singer from Manitoulin Islands named Crystal Shawanda. She is a pretty girl with a bubbly personality in a sparkly white dress. And the voice that came out of her made me thinking there may be a crossroads up there on her nation. Collette and I quickly called her Rita Jr. Crystal is a shouter, with the husky Rita edge to her but the voice is always controlled and expressive. The night of the show I downloaded her latest recording The Whole World's Got the Blues.

Yeh I'm a fan of this lady

She can go from hurting songs to "get your ass out the door" shouters to deep blues to just plain hip shakers. Crystal has been living in Nashville for several years but she has not forgotten her roots. Pray Sister examines the plight of the missing aboriginal women in Canada. The song ends with Crystal singing over the voice of a Native woman who seems to be reading a list of names of missing girls. This is the true blues, music created out of a deep cultural pain

The sensation of being blue is of course real in the Blues but that is not all that the music conveys. This show is always a celebration. A celebration of the music and a celebration of the women who make it. The show ends, predictably with an ensemble number. This year it was the standard People Get Ready. The finale is a standard for the show but it's always different and this year was one of the better ones. The song suited all the divergent voices and the band was just digging deep on this one

Crystal's song is Pray Sister. This show is Sing Sister

A mirage of haunting voices and joyous women, slowly fading over the skyline of Toronto

Friday, November 27, 2015


Scary times, my friends, scary times

Recently I had my credit card and iTunes/Mac account "compromised" Yeh thieves got in and began making purchases. My credit card company did its job and posted a purchase that did not fit my pattern of spending: Women's fashion from HMV. Um, right. Not only would I not be buying lady's clothing on my credit card (I trust the intelligent lady in my house to buy her own clothes) I barely know what HMV is. I think it's one of those stores in the mall that when you pass by the open doors you are assaulted with a waft of trendy perfume and pure cold evil

So, I'm very very glad that there are entities who were paying attention to one part of my online existence. And I learned that it's not prudent to use HACKTHISACCOUNT as your password for everything. Lesson learned

I understand that very little of what we do online is actually private. From the Cloud to Anonymous to fishing schemes, the internet as eyes. (Which reminds of the National Lampoon parody of Lord of the Rings were Gandalf cautions that "the walls have ears" and Frodo pulls back a curtain to reveal a wall covered with ears) In the case of my credit card company I welcome a certain amount of intrusion. In other cases I know that many many entities, with various levels of malevolence are out there trying to grab my data. In some cases I could care less. In other cases it freaks me out just a little

So I make things as secure as I can and just proceed with the knowledge that online means everything online to everybody

Some of these keen observers of your data are the government, or governments. That's not paranoia, that's a fact. People who google how to declare bankrupcty or back taxes can get flagged by Revenue Canada. Harper's administration certainly were busy little beavers in the internet spying game. There are stories about people's accounts being flagged if there were references to negative comments about the then PM. Unlikely? Don't forget that this is a guy who was so paranoid that during his first address to the UN General Assembly he warned them about the treat posed by Michael Ignatieff who at the time formed our country's official opposition. I'm sure most of these world leaders turned to each other and asked "Michael who?"

There is a new potential threat to your online security but at least this one is being happily announced ahead of time, well maybe ahead of time, could be happening already, that's how these things go

The other day the RCMP announced that they would find it extremely convenient if they were able to access people's online information without the need for a search warrant. This reminds me of when Julian Faction was Toronto's police chief and he wondered if they could dispense with all this pesky and time consuming paperwork. Paperwork. You know, officer logs and reports and search warrants. So pesky

I guess the Mounties feel the same way

They want to make things easier for themselves. They want to be able to monitor suspicious online behaviour without arousing suspicion. On the surface, that makes sense. They want to tip off the bad guys that they are being watched. Fair enough. But how do we determine who the bad guys are. In order to get a warrant, an investigator has had to convince a judge or some other entity that they have a basis for it, that there is a credible suspicion, a viable risk. That they just aren't some turkey hunt with the oven already warmed up and their baster .. er... ready

Accountability. Something so lacking today in most public officials. Ronald Reagan can say he just plain forgot about Iran-Contra. In his memoirs Dalton McGinty explained the power plant fiasco by saying the gave it to someone else to deal with and they fuck it up. In an interview he literally threw up his hands; for these guys delegating is just a way of deflecting responsibility

I want accountability. And I want to be asked for my permission. My credit card company can monitor my account because they have my permission, it's a tacit part of our contract. I want the authorities to have a contract with me before they go snooping around in my life. That contract can be called a warrant.

"If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about" I worry because I have done nothing wrong yet a federal police agency may still be rooting around in my cyber drawers. Think J Edgar Hoover and all those files. Think the NSA and all those tapped phone lines. Just because I'm innocent, does it make a covert investigation any more correct? If the covert investigation is permitted, do we permit the covert redaction?

No, I don't think the Mounties are going to waterboard me in some hidden stable under RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg. But I think they should do their job. They should be responsible. And accountable. At least ask me. Maybe I will say yes. Maybe I will ask for counsel. Maybe I will say no

All are my right. Sorry if that means paperwork, Dudley Drought. Deal with the paper cuts. And deal with freedom surpassing convenience

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The enemy wears a mask. It's not the balaclava of the bank robber, or the head scarf of the terrorist or even the Guy Falkes mask of the hacker. The enemy is out to curtail your freedom, deny your beliefs and impose his will upon you. He wears a mask. The mask is smooth and flesh like and without emotion. It's the mask of Political Correctness

You know who I mean. The people who tell you that you can't use certain words, in certain situations, to certain people

Now, I'm an old school guy. I grew up in an era where you did  not use certain words to describe people, such as the n word and the bundle of stick words (think about it) I learned that using such terms classified people and classifying human being diminished them. Even now, as people fight to reclaim some of these words I could never bring myself to use them. It's just the way I am

But language is a slippery thing. Controlling language and how it's used, puts us on that slippery slope without rope and without traction. I'll never use the n word. But if someone else uses it, that's their business. And how I react to them using it, well that's my business

Me and the person who uses a word I could never bring myself to use, well we'll have to work that out between the two of us It may get ugly, or it may not. But we'll work it out

Do I need someone telling me how to feel about all of that? Well it would depend on the person and why. And it would depend upon their motivation I've had people tell me why a certain word, or a certain cultural behaviour may affect them on a personal basis, how that word impacts them on a very real level. That's called information and I'm always willing to digest some information

It is one thing for someone to suggest to you that your language may be insensitive. They provide you with information. You decide what to do with it. It's another thing when some authority puts you in a position where it is deemed not only inappropriate to use certain language, but it is mandated that you do not

Then, my friends, we may have a problem. But again, it comes down to motivation. State your case. Make your argument. Let's see if this is reasonable. In many cases Political Correctness is far from reasonable

Case in point. Jennifer Scharf is a woman who, since 2008, has been offering yoga classes to anyone interested at the University of Ottawa at their Centre for Students with Disabilities. She offers these classes for free, she does not profit from them. Yoga is an excellent way to deal with stress and we all know that university can be stressful; I'll never forget the stress of not having quite enough money to take advantage of the Happy Hour two pitchers of draft beer for the price of one at Sneakers Pub at St Lawrence College

But I digress

Recently Ms Scharf was shocked to hear that her yoga practises were being shut down by the University. Not by the faculty, not by the university administration, but by a form of student council. Why? Because white people practising yoga may be a case of cultural appropriation Yeh, Ms Scharf is not of Indian heritage you see

The student council declared that the cultures from which yoga originated "have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy ... we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga"

Yeh, your morning stretch is oppressing some people over in Rangoon. So get out of that downward dog, children in Mumbai are crying

Ms Scharf suggested that she change the name of her classes. Instead of Yoga, she would call it Mindful Stretching. Um, no. We don't how to translate Mindful Stretching into French. University of Ottawa is a bilingual school. Or perhaps not so much. I find it difficult to believe that no one could figure out to express this concept in French. A bilingual campus that thinks you have to have a literal translation of a phrase? Um, right

Now, let's get to the kicker. No one had ever complained about these classes. No Hindi or Indian or Pakistani or guy who just loves butter chicken came forward and said "Hey, these classes make me feel all hollow and downtrodden inside"

The student council just decided it was culturally inappropriate. We call that white man's guilt don't we

That is a very telling part so I'll repeat it NO ONE COMPLAINED. The council just took it on itself to correct a wrong that very well may not have existed And this is the danger of official Political Correctness. It morphs from concerns for the feeling of another, to an entity of authority informing you that the way you think about something is wrong

Yeh, you know, I may want to call that thought control

The fact that this happened on a university campus and that it originated from students itself, well that pierces me right in my Hell No We Won't Go, Four Dead at Ohio heart. What the hell has happened to students exploring new thoughts, questioning status quo and holding long, often pointless yet well motivated debates on every little thing. I guess all of that stuff doesn't rate well on Youtube

Appropriating culture is n to something to which I'm insensitive. I would probably never get a dream catcher tattooed on my body because I am not Native North American. I see dream catchers sold on reserves that were made in Taiwan but hell, that's their culture, let them diminish and profit from it. But if someone is going to define cultural appropriation it should be someone from that culture, not a bunch of hipsters in their wool caps and sipping Gatorade in the student council offices

Ms Scharf needs to fight this. We all need to fight this. Defining a word is one thing. Defining how I should feel about things? Well my dog is only going downward to bite you right in the ass

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Earl Bales Park is a huge urban park near to my home in North York where I take the girls on a regular basis. This is one of Toronto's ravine parks, with a perfectly manicured enormous space bounded by Sheppard Avenue and Bathurst Sts that contains an amphitheatre, playgrounds and large open areas.

Where it drops down into the Humber River valley the park widens out. There is a large fenced dog offish area there and a ski hill and trails that wind through through the deep valley. I take the dogs there often

I've noticed a pair of red tail hawks hunting in the ravine. Often I see them circling above the open space of the ski hill, sometimes alone sometimes together, their cries echoing down the long narrow river valley

Last weekend I saw the female fly overhead with a squirrel in her talons. She flew across the ski hill and disappeared into the trees that march up the high sides of the ravine like the crenelated walls of some ancient woodland fortress

A little later, I could hear the two birds calling to each other. I kind of imagined how that conversation went

Her: "Hon, dinner's ready!"

Him: "I'll be right there hon, I'm watching the game"

Her: "Game? What game? Football?"

Him: "No, game, as in the chipmunk I may want to eat. Come on, I'm a hawk"

Her: "But I have dinner right here, and it's still trying to get out of my talons. I may need a pedi after this"

Him: "Great, another spa day, who's going to take of the nest"

Her: "Well, you could get off your feathers and take care of that Honeydo list"

Him: "I'm a busy man, you know, hunting, defending, scaring poodles in the dog park"

Her: "Hunting? What the hell do you call this squirrel I have in my beak?"

Him: "We could call him Alfonzo, I always liked that name"

Her: "You are not helping yourself here"

Him: "Isn't that what your mother says? I'm beyond help?"

Her: "This squirrel is not the only thing about to get disemboweled"

Him: "Yeh you get him ready, I'll be there shortly"

Her: "Get your ass over to this tree right now and the only thing you'll be eating is butt"

Him: "No dirty talk, you never know who could be listening"

Her: "That's it, you're sleeping out of the nest tonight"

Him: "Finally, some peace and quiet"

Her: "Is that how you treat me? After I've been slaving over a hot squirrel all day?"

Him: "You know you love me"

Her: "Seriously, it's time to become a cannibal"

Him: "You want to eat me? I told you, no dirty talk"

Her: "I should have married an eagle"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


There is a soundtrack inside my head. Or a radio station. Or a streaming service. There is music, in my mind, it always seems to be there and I am not always in control of it

I'm sure this is true for all of us. You know what I mean. You are walking along, driving along, riding a horse, using a pogo stick on Bay St, and suddenly there is this song in your head. You weren't necessarily thinking of the song but bang, there it is.

Where the hell did that come from?

Sometimes it's easy to explain. Perhaps you heard the song yesterday, or last week; on the radio or as the soundtrack of some show you're watching or even a TV commercial. Something catchy, rhythmic, simple, glued to the sticky stuff on the inside of your brain along with the face of the actor whose name you never quite recall and the smell of your best friend's Dodge Coronet in high school Given a little time you can identify the music and its origin

We know that there is a causal connection between music and memory but it's usually the music that inspires the memory. That's nostalgia, a piece of art that brings you back to some very specific event of the past, or even the emotional impact of that event. To this day when I listen to CCR's Run Through the Jungle I remember that night huddled in a foxhole in the rain at Khe Sanh as Charlie pelted us all through the night ... ok, that's not my memory but it's probably somebody's

Sometimes it even works the other way around. You think of some specific event from your past and it brings some piece of music to your mind. When I think of a powwow I attended in The Pas Manitoba in 1978 I instantly hear the chorus of Can't You See by The Marshall Tucker Band in my head It was playing on a portable cassette deck as we sat around a bonfire so high and so hot we could barely feel the rain that was pouring down from the northern prairie sky. It brings back the heat of that fire and the smell of the rain and the taste of Club Ale drank out of brown glass stubby bottles.

This all memory of course. Connections. Associations

But how do you explain those tunes that seem to bubble up into your brain and you can't make the connection to where that song came from, there is no strong association attached to it. It comes down to how much you can actually remember, and how much of that you can actually recall

There is something called "working memory" which essentially is the amount of stored information that we can manage and manipulate. It is the part of our short term memory that we can currently access. Phone numbers for example, or names of people who you've recently met. Some studies suggest that the working memory can only process and work with four such memories at a time

I think I can do about one and a half. But we all know that I ain't normal

Working memories are short term. That's their function. It's why it may take a few listens to remember a song's lyrics properly. Working memory is why "young girls they do get wooly" for instance. Reinforcement, or reputation, is how long-term memories are created. Hear that song enough, you'll finally be able to recall the lyrics

Some studies suggest that we are better at long-storing (yeh I just made up that term, deal with it) lyrics than melody. At first I found that surprising. I thought that our brains may be partial to remembering rhythm and they are, but we are much more adept and long-storing lyrics.

Association again, and repitition

So the songs that just seem to pop into your head without an association, perhaps it's because we remember the tune but not the event/memory from which the song comes. Fair enough

But I think, I feel, that I actually have music playing in my mind all the time and like that radio station, I just tune into it from time to time. I have a tendency to bing play songs and albums. I connect with some songs so strongly that I play them over and over and over

We've established that I'm annoying, right?

I think Red Rider's early album Neruda is constantly playing in my head. I first bought it on cassette tape and I literally wore that damn thing. I almost wore out the CD. At any given time lyrics from Napoleon Sheds His Skin can weave their way into my thoughts at any given time

The streets are covered in chalk
The shops are boarded up
The bodies are carried down from the square
He begins to wonder
If it always was this hot
Or is it just the clothes
That he now wears

Heady stuff and that song, the entire album, had a great affect on my when I first listened to it back in the 80's. I don't have a particular association to go with the music, no powerful single memory. It was just a work of art that made me look at my own art differently, in a new way. It's important to me I suppose

Maybe that's it. Music is important. It's important to culture, to history but more significantly it's important to us, to our lives. Whether it helps us recall in crystal detail some scene from our past or whether it has helped us grow as humans, music is important. A part of our lives

So the music is there. In there somewhere. All the time. I don't want to think about that too much, I really don't need to know why. I just need to know that the music will always be there. And when I want it, when I need it, I can just turn it up

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Apparently I'm not a great detective. In the Case of the Overhyped Hollywood HasBeen Who Tries for Redemption on the Stage, I missed or misread a lot of the clues

A play not quite finished by a deceased Canadian playwright. A show that did not make it on to the Mirvish Productions season playlist. And a lead actor who's theatre and even screen credits are, shall we say, inconclusive

We've seen many plays that have featured well known "screen" stars: Donald Sutherland, Kathleen Turner, Angela Lansbury, Judd Hirsch, and it has always been a great experience, watching these actors in the intimate setting of live theatre

Many of these actors, all of them certainly, got their start in theatre and it always show in these performances: Angela Lansbury in Blythe Spirit was a revelation, this 80 years plus woman had energy and stamina that was barely matched by her much younger cast mates. That's what you should get from a live performance

This brings us back to our mystery. Sherlock Holmes. A great character who has been portrayed by man great actors: Basil Rathbone, Robert Downey, Jeremy Brett, Nicol Williamson, Johnny Lee Miller. Holmes is a character into which a lot of nuance can be worked, he is open to interpretation while still remaining true to his essence

Now to this list of actors we can add David Arquette. Yeh, David Arquette. Probably not a name that comes instantly to your mind when thinking about actors. Good or bad. He's been around a while, he's made a wide variety of movies and TV and even was involved in pro wrestling.

I associate him mostly with comedy and with playing characters who may not be the sharpest paring knife in the knife block. But hey, that's acting and pro actors often fall into the roles in which people want to see them

Well, sometimes actors just portray what they may actually be. In this case, pretty damn bad. Arquette's British accent is terrible, it's more like the impression of a bad British accent. Sometimes that's not so bad, there are hints of satire in the play. What was really bad was the man's unprofessionalism. The guy has been a working actor for a long time, his credit list is pretty long, but all those credits are movies and TV, retakes allowed. This is live theatre

He constantly was dropping his lines. And when he did so, his reaction was to giggle. The Watson character was played by an understudy and he also struggled with his lines and finding his mark on the stage This is not something to which I'm accustomed in a Mirvish production. Even in those plays I didn't enjoy, you always got an entirely professional production. We have seen many understudies over the years and have never been disappointed in their performances

There are many problems with the play itself. It has its moments, there are some very good Monty Python like comedy set ups and there was one decent scene between Holmes and Watson that expressed some emotional concerns. But there are also some bizarre Greek chorus-like scenes of exposition with the entire cast and a dream sequence that seemed the template for how not to do a dream sequence All of this made the play disjointed, whatever comedy energy was built was often smacked in the teeth; there was blood everywhere

There were also issues with the audio levels, the music (way too much of it and way necessary, this isn't a musical) often overwhelmed the dialogue, but perhaps I didn't miss much

The final straw was the final scene; the very end of the play has the entire cast assembled and in response to an exchange between Holmes and Watson, the cast is to shout out "Elementary!" They didn't even get that right, I think Arquette giggled through it

So yes, I am a bad bad detective. But in comparison to this Sherlock Holmes, I'm fucking brilliant

Top Blogs Pets

Add to Technorati Favorites