we’re taught how geography is straight lines, in clusters, forming cities. so we learn the names, who runs them, and his-story’s take on how they came to be. these straight lines occasionally bend around curving water and rising hills. we know them because of the flat maps of documentation we inherit, these important memories reduced to textbooks. we memorize. rarely feeling their textures of culture. part of this learning, of how to carry this tradition, is about building more and better, always. never ceasing to explore. document, collect, report back. this is the formula of colonialism // our heritage we learn how to cross the river, not how to follow it. skipping over the earth’s chapter on flexibility. the inherit importance of curving around a rock, not blasting through it, may be one of the quietest secrets eroding from our awareness with each new set of lines this type of geography - systematic at best - denies understanding of cultural nuance. spatial play. what it means to explore, truly and gently. rather than rape our land of its value. we are learning. we must. always. how to carve out cravings, and how not to. differently from tradition, if tradition is only a temporary gain the same way feminism redefines equality against hard-headed men in new ways, each generation’s own bra burning is different. yet the redefining teaches the crude essence of humanity. passionate individuality our greatest and most cursed gift. emboldened community our saving grace. to speak for all the world, and yet hear nothing, is a failure of many ‘great’ leaders. selfish explorers. fearful of what they might find in places ‘untouched’. fabricating myths and drawing such fear on maps. for them the value of the world is in power; what namesake can be stolen, ascribed, and profiteered. redefined in industrial lenses. resources for the marketplace. we are told that is the worth of the earth. as colonial byproducts we can hardly justify any of our biases. but as humans we must do something (or many tend to feel strongly we should try) is equalized stasis the goal? socially and psychologically, in this moment of security as you cup that hot mug of cumulative achievement and satisfying refreshment look outside and notice your reflection alongside the others in the glass. question this moment, is it time for it to pass?
Music is the key to happiness, as my life’s research continues to inform such a hypothesis, it continues to be more and more true. Live music as an audience or performer continues to bring community together in delightful ways. As a hobby musician I have always greatly enjoyed being present while others explore musical topographies of placemaking. This quest has taken me through hills and valleys of emotion, road trips, and friendships. I am so very grateful for all of it. In early years, this was led by live folk concerts in Athabasca, AB; in recent years it has been the independent music production of friends and/or well-known musicians across Canada as I continue to seek out joy in each place I visit. (Thanks to parents for keeping the Alberta-Maritime duality alive!)
For over two years, the 17th of each month has been a day of synthesis, of surprises, and of inspiring moments which have continued to merge into each other. This month, June 2016, has been no less than the same kind of surprising wonderful.
While in Montreal recently I bought a book entitled DIY Magic, and while flipping through the short chapters, I stopped at chapter 17, curious about what it held. Mystically perfect, it was about bringing this kind of serendipity into our lives by welcoming patterns and supporting the factors which help contribute to increased collaboration. I chuckled, at this very synthesis reinforcing itself.
In mentioning this to fellow enthusiasts of living while in Montreal, they supported my wondering: what would take place on this 17th?
The answer was indeed a beautiful surprise, and a synthesis of many of the unravelings I have experienced since February 2014. Another neat form of influence on this reality, and because I’ve been opened and broken to see beautiful patterns, I smiled and savoured that perhaps the 17th is not just important to my own psychology, but important on the cosmic level.
Cosmic patterns notwithstanding, I am quite pleased with Dan Mangan’s ‘surprise’ release Unmake EP as a reminder and distillation of the wisdom of Club Meds.
It is a self proclaimed artistic compilation of gratuitous play, as Dan wrote and refined his most recent full length album songs like Whistleblower came to be but didn’t have a place among the other songs. The internet seems to agree this EP release is a fine home for such gentle works.
I wholly enjoy the title ‘Unmake’ as it refers to the dissolution of what has been for 5+ years as his band formed around him and informed each new sound development. Loel (of Wintersleep) takes over on drums as Kenton Loewen focuses on more solo endeavours, though Gord Grdina remains as +Blacksmith is notably not a part of this new product. A stripped down solo structure for these songs is a continuation of the mini-tour Dan constructed in Fall 2015 through BC and Alberta. Hearing songs like ‘Vessel’ without the band or studio effects (or animated cartoons from the psychadelia-inspired video) was my first introduction to what this new sound might be like, patiently waiting for the next release.
Unmake also speaks to the subject matter of the poetry in Race to the Bottom – where the idea of destabilizing normal could actually be seen as progress in the eyes of individuals not benefitting from the corporate model of happiness. From his initial philosophy which helped get a Polaris Prize nod in 2010 “spent half my life in the customer service line” (Robots, NNVN) this angst and anxiety about the state of the world has only grown to be a deeper creative metaphor.
These songs can be understood as a snapshot of the realities of being a North American in 2016. We have an idealization of our lives dominating how we understand and interact with the world. The point of Kitsch, Forgetery (with Tegan), and these new additions ‘Whistleblower’ ‘Race to the Bottom’ + ‘Hang With Me’ (Robyn cover), are about embracing the alertness of vulnerability in daily interactions. To remember moments are both important and fleeting specks in time helps adjust our nostalgic tendencies.
During the performance with Nova Scotia Symphony in January 2016 Dan explained Kitsch to have a double meaning: both as the rustic style of craft and/or vintage home décor being ‘kitschy’ considered to be in poor taste but in an ironic or knowing way; but also the idealization of successful people to be heroes without seeing the human qualities of their living.
I am grateful for these opportunities I have seized to be witness to Dan’s live performances if only for these moments of wisdom. For, of all people to have kitschy idolation over, I have most commonly turned to Dan Mangan for his soothing tenor and conscious undoing of this mess of culture we’re in.
This EP has been received with mixed reviews, but those who get it are wholly appreciative. I had the opportunity to share ‘Race to the Bottom’ with my high school social studies teacher (a vegetarian social justice advocate, a guerrilla geographer and former soldier, presently taking great joy in retirement life in Northern Alberta forest and farms). He properly used the ‘sad face’ emoticon on Facebook to express how true this commentary is to the state of the world. It doesn’t offer many solutions but the perspective of the pale blue dot image for scale of our problems does capture the heart and purpose of living. It may not be a cheerful song, but a catchy hook with meaningful lyrics enables enjoyable reflection on these larger than life issues.
In the indie88 Facebook Live interview on the morning of June 17th, Dan reflects how they may not be happy songs but he is generally feeling pretty decent – these are not meant to be depressing. Merely reflective and encouragingly insightful. I hope to continue to use this music and other clever songwriting to enable conversation about interesting problems in the world. This is the ultimate way to find a solution, silence will never solve anything.
Regarding Robots – Dan is bringing it back to live shows without the expectation of making it bigger and better each time, but instead “playing it in the present rather than fulfill nostalgia.” It is a song of happy repetition, and of course one of his most famous works, but as mentioned in an interview in December 2015 “you go crazy doing the same kind of show over and over again.” I can only imagine.
In this vein, regarding both Redux-es, these ‘cover songs’ from Club Meds, a fascinating approach of: ‘can they survive a different treatment?’ is applied, and hearing Forgetery with Tegan Quin is a beautiful reminder of many possibilities within the same formula of music and lyrics. It was also key in this new project to engagingly empower strong women in the pop realm, which is a new trajectory from +Blacksmith being all males.
The way I understand it, fear is a crippling monster which will tell us not to say/think/do/believe something in the world but it will also limit our opportunity for joy. I have come to settle on this understanding in some part thanks to Dan’s own progression of life informing lyrics informing our audience’s reception. His song ‘Jude’ offers a meditation on maturation – ‘so much for fear’ being a focus of the lullaby to his son. It is also used as a score for Hector and the Search For Happiness, underscoring the importance to fight for a better world. We should not be afraid of our past, nor the uncertainties of the future. Race to the Bottom is a reminder of the trauma of daily life in the present which can be unsettling but we gain nothing by being afraid. We may not always be happy, but we are working to preserve the good in the world. This preservation of good maintains the memory of happiness, and ensures it is possible in the future, for prolonged generations to come.
A line from the film is inset into the cadence of lyrics in Race to the Bottom “nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be.” Upon rewatching the film I take great pleasure in seeing this crossover – clearly an artistic choice on Dan’s part, having been so involved in the production but also personally aligning with the sentimentality of the message of searching happiness in his work.
One lesson I take from a few days’ reflection is to Unmake the pillars of nostalgia in our memory banks, but keep the strength and joy and lessons. We are aware the colonial legacy of our ancestors is something which is now quite outdated. The world deserves our creativity to do the work of goodness.
This recurrence of serendipity will continue to guide my way through the world, but I have no way of knowing what it is I will discover as the 17th rolls around again. A philosophy which I began to be a peace with thanks to Dan’s assurance: serendipity is life.
In the wisdom of Hector’s journey seeking and studying happiness, we must learn (through whatever means necessary) to ‘take comfort in the rich, random patterns of life’ to reconcile our desire for happiness in the routine of the everyday. Once we do, fear and sadness (under the code names anxiety and depression) continue to distance themselves from our daily reality.
While in Halifax for some midweek evening shows, Robbie, his girlfriend Becca and I moseyed around on a beautiful afternoon. We recorded this interview on Citadel Hill in beautiful sunshine with a mini picnic and some banjo pickin.
After knowing Robbie for a couple years now, we were overdue for this promotional chat. It was serendipitous to meet up with him on the East Coast after we both found ourselves in new realities next to the ocean.
Always a pleasure, Robbie!
Check out his tunes here:
and keep an ear out for more shows @ http://www.oldtowns.ca
Thanks for listening!
I truly enjoy making tracks at night,
Travelling lightly across streetlighted paths,
knowing silence deeply against the rain
escaping from demands of regular bustles
city rules and cyclists’ despair
Jane’s walks are infrequently important reminders of care.
Care for the parents and children in community.
Gentle acknowledgement of citizen equalling responsiblity
Enjoy this city, don’t let sleep keep you from truth.
navigate, dessicate any blind spots of fear
‘Hey Jude, don’t be afraid’ echoing in these inner ears.
Shane Koyczan’s name to our generation inspires a familiar comfort; his story is worn like a heart carefully stitched on his baggy t-shirt sleeve. Growing up awkward in a unique family bred social troubles; his stories about empowering this vulnerability has become a trademark strength.
I almost didn’t buy a ticket to see Shane this past Saturday, but I’m glad I did. Though, yes I did see last year’s Edmonton performance for April’s National Poetry Month, this year in Halifax was an entirely new context. Like last year, I laughed, cried, and grinned with heartwarmed connection with each stanza of his spoken word art guiding the room of similarly secret broken souls through group therapy. This year, I was with friends new and old in a beautiful Maritime United Church; last year I independently ensured I wouldn’t miss an opportunity for a live performance at the Royal Alberta Museum. Each time, Shane’s words resonated with depth and sincerity, however this time the context of my own appreciation had shifted. I was also surrounded by a support system, we shared in the vulnerable experience. (for the United Church creed to truly take hold, one mustn’t feel alone.)
For the audience in the pews of St. Matthew’s magnificently colonial church building in downtown Halifax, our discomfort was met with an opening joke from the stage when Shane explained he was still coming to terms with his “ecclesiaphobia”, or, a fear of churches. Though, it was a fascinating combination. The modern religion is self-awareness and mental health activism. United churches are about social justice and providing community. This building was a meeting place, our preacher was an uncomfortable poet who enveloped us under his poetic wing and cared for our fears with soothing, and often accidental, comedic cadences. Some accidental ‘ecclesia-profanities’ were met with an embarrassed hung head and anticipatory glance up at the wooden rafters (expecting a lightning strike). It was a key way to break the tension and just settle in for a mildly hedonistic evening of honesty.
Between particularly emotional stanzas, or in moments following applause, he was regaining composure to be able to approach another similar but separate emotional memory location. Memories being particularly precious following a cycling accident which he references for context to explain the tablet attached to the microphone stand. Memory is a tricky thing, we have a selective database to choose from, and a picky one at the best of times. It is innately the most personal possession we have, for many memories have never been shared. This poetry is one way to communicate what is otherwise challenging to give voice.
This attitude is why each word of poetry has been warmly received – it is our composite experience of which we can be most proud; standing up to bullies, or standing up against them 20 years later, it is mostly important to ensure we come to terms with our ability and not their judgement. Any day we resolve this dilemma within ourselves is a positive day to look towards being the person we’ve always wanted to be. That is what is at the core of this movement. To resolve these feelings within ourselves first, and all the rest is what comes from a changed perspective.
Shane’s answers to the same six questions I have asked numerous times are characteristic of the person we know from the stage. He has curated a public persona very close to the heart which persists into his approach to the realities of living. Our group in attendance at the Saturday evening church venue was swept away by his sincerity with story, wisdom, and acceptance of what cannot be changed. He has graciously accepted his past as inspiration, not something to be ashamed or apologetic over.
Q1: what is a favourite piece (of your own)?
Q2: what is a ‘cover poem’ you particularly like to perform and/or hear?
Q3: while touring, is there a road trip go-to album/artist/podcast/etc?
Q4: what has been an outstanding place to play a show (venue and/or location)?
(+ where would you like to go that you have not yet been? )
Q5: what is a spirit animal you identify with in your performance, life?
Q6: when in recent memory, or ever, have you laughed the hardest?
JK: On your career, success, vulnerable storytelling, and connection to many:
JK: Your gracious presence is called heroic by many, SuperShane being a popular graphic to accompany the popular To This Day poem.. “For the bullied and the beautiful” sums up the audience you’ve built. How has this changed perspective affected how you relive each poem motivated by memory?
JK: What do you envision/hope for Poetry’s future?
JK: Did you get a Halifax donair?
Shane’s performed words dance lightly among some of the hardest subjects. They have become definitions our human experience of pain, rejection, bullying, shame, and romantic desire. As an audience we continue to use these moments to reflect on our own identifications and come to understand the rooted human nature in the experience. It is not just our problem, but a cultural one. Perhaps it’s not a problem at all, it’s just life. For actions which are problematic – bullying attitudes, fearful rejection of each other, and dismissive anger, these words are our tools to fight against the anger which boils up in us.
These words he has curated for personal release has been met with ongoing support and resonates deeply with other artists. One amazing production is the graphic novel “Silence is a Song I Know All the Words To”, filled with beautiful illustrations by Gareth Gaudin of some choice favourites of Shane Koyczan’s profound work.
Thanks to Shane, and all poets among us for inspiring active words of healing. Release is often the most valuable form of growing past our problems, yet is one of the hardest things to do. Spoken work brings a visceral appreciation because one must be present to hear each word, not allow your eyes to dart across the page as one often does through reading, which is why myself and others familiar with ADHD often appreciates this live performance’s intensity.
This National Poetry Month, I have been inspired to keep the octopus appeased – let’s produce useful ink!
2 years ago, give or take a wrinkle in space time, she met a pale blue dot of galactic gravity.
He helped her find mirrors to shine sunlight into the deepest part of her caves. with eyes that shone like diamonds and a track record of defeat, he knew he may be more than she could handle. still he offered two diamonds shaped by a hard world, polishing her as reciprocity for being tough enough to shape complicated carbon into mantles of trust and collaboration. Neither had any plans for living next to despair forever, wondering how long this game could last. Pompeii had no time for rest or vests, Vesuvius claimed active history; our humanity swept away by more forceful dust.
She used bars as litmus tests of emotion. Radio at a high frequency promised highly metamorphic metaphors sustaining sympathetic cymbals on well timed existence. We hardly know our selves, we’ve always learned through others. Jesus can’t help you find the mental health you lost. Mocking you from the dismantling foundation of certainty in hospitality you’ve always celebrated. Stumbling into another’s shared third place; another Monday for the books. The first day of creation, Gregorian decided. The first step on collaborative connection with this environment. Culturally shared geographical spaces become places. How many of our shared stories have taken place similarly? There is earthly consistency for destruction bringing new life.
This undercover spiritual scientist had other intentions in mind, not just our collective best. Challenging this, our upbringing, against understanding synechdotal synchronicity. We mustn’t put up a fuss for the end to arrive just in time for grief. It’s all been a dream, one that plays out in patterns and smiles. We keep using words like good and bad, pretenses for emotional evacuation posing for sympathy. Forging our own ways through habits of forgetery.
It’s hard to believe this is more than a dream. A hard world, a heavy bag, the weight of how it all seemed. Next to happiness and enjoyment. Falling through cracks and finding a rabbithole of generosity and communal city.
Released from fibres of a familiar weave, this freedom from winter’s sleeves challenges everything I knew about creating seams in time’s fabric. No longer tethered to expectations of next. No longer disappointed by a withering eternal ‘yet’.
SAVOUR IT. The love, the feeling of peace. Compliments + congratulations. Beastial pedestals of ceremonial competitive complacency.
SAVOUR the moments of simplicity as record of potential, of patterned culture. Even on days when every movie seems like yesterday’s script; you hardly had time to memorize the lines before fame’s curtain closed. They say try again tomorrow, with less enthusiastic repose. Yesterday’s script inspires today’s always. And never. We know we can always be better.
One such movie, The Giver, narrates this well: “it is the memory which keeps me going.” “Life. The More I Experienced, the more I wanted.”
Triggering self statements of actualizing truth:
I treat those around me like dirt, thinking I am the greatest seed. But I tend to myself, and plan to leave after sharing pollen with other flowering seeds among common weeds.
Unhealthy avoidance of these truths and fears bleed us out, organically faltering, continually altering, each thing we pretend to consider.
Narcissus waited for the Echo to guide him home. Familiar moments of faith, lust, diminished fifths, and captive in reflection.