kinda at peace

Don’t get me started
On the matters of the heart
I looked far and wide
And found this ebbing tide

all consuming
Then nothing at all
But on any given day
You’re still my Wonderwall

Afterall this time
You still have a hug that is lovingly mine

same, as always
but growing, changing, caring still
for the silent tears we don’t dare confess, yet
I keep asking for guidance from the powers at be
And they keep pointing to fears
I’d pushed underground
Echoing gasps of ‘its time’

Be the early bird that catches the best of the worms,
Appreciate your energy enough to know nurturing

Lip service is only worth it
When it’s followed by tough love
The kind that turns into a dove
Crossing the battlefield so lit

flitting through pain

with anxious bravery
with curious enthusiasm

with reserved instinct to make choices otherwise too much to grasp
Supporting characters’ rage and fear don’t know what will come next.
being the lead in this story has been a misfit’s misfortune turned into blips of success
turned into blips of success
i’ve been tricked into others selfish versions of happiness
the same way as i have swept aside others in service of my own
and none of this matters if we don’t appreciate what it’s worth
crafting familiarities within uncertainties is one coping trick
our memories are tough fabric, the stitches hold well
but in all the places you may go and see,
people pleasing doesn’t do much good when they keep leaving
or when you decide it’s time to service another’s joy elsewhere
even though
home keeps being redefined as ‘here’ when certain folks are near
it’s tough to prioritise self-care when you’ve been taught to empathize + stay aware
who gets the love, and how much, and why?
is the limit of dedication truly past the sky..? how high?
sometimes it’s best to let lyrics explain, or at least try:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1163394460/playlist/2bT0YZjRcSLLsTmm1NV30C

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘love is a mixtape: life and loss, one song at a time’ by Rob Sheffield

*some small plot detail spoilers contained in the description below*

When I found this book on the stacks of Halifax Public Libray, as I navigated through the careful architecture pathways – looking for inspiration in environment or education or both – I noticed in the Table of Contents that the second chapter (all named after playlists and important songs to the story telling) was titled Hey Jude.  So, naturally my interest was piqued, if i am to play into this Beatles ascribed identity for this life. As I read the story at the beginning of chapter 2, Rob describes building a mixtape of only Hey Jude for the entire length of the cassette by repeating portions of the record into an album of filler “hey” “na na na nanana” and “JudyJudyJudy” – I knew the storytelling would continue to balance musical entertainment with heartache and joy in careful harmony to tell his story.

The story of his wife unexpectedly dying, and his coming to terms with their romance’s untimely end is eloquently explored by describing their relationship in a series of mixtapes from their life together. The mixtapes were evidence of their mutual adoration of music at the time, and the changes in the alternative-punk legacy with albums which had in the duration of the track length, each contributed to this love story.

His wife, Renee, completed the music part of his life, and soon filled in the gaps he didn’t know he needed filling by a southern accent and sassy comments. Their love feels so true off the page, being in their company must have been a simple treat.

And so, while reading this comfortable love story, the despair of her loss being within each story about his memory, I am comforted by the peace he has found in the joy they shared. It’s their love story, and it has ended – in the sense of no longer continuing into the future. but I can understand the need to preserve what was, for the sake of the beauty of the story. for the perseverance of our belief in love.

Reading into their life together, i was cheering for the happy couple the same way they were living it – until, as abruptly as it happens, Rob carries you into the truth of the situation. that in less than a minute, his wife dies from a brain aneyursm.

In the flurry of the grief and frantic planning of memorializing her body + memory he recalls not sitting with the immensity of the loss until later, on solo drives in the days following when music on the radio (no matter the station) would remind him of her. Stating what I feared was true, “I knew I would have to relearn how to listen to music, and that some of the music we’d loved together I’d never be able to hear again.” (149)

Soon after, this thought is followed by the assurance to the reader that as the story began, it continued:”mix tapes were the life raft I held onto” – and understandably so. It seemed this was what was happening while they were living and falling in love, but now more than ever, it would be the best self-made therapy to keep creating new memories in the style of the old ones.

—-

Where this hits home the deepest, is how there are plenty of unwritten stories kept within my personal memory of music intersectionalities. And how I share some of the songs with this tender couple’s experience, but how many of the songs were briefly popular during the late 80’s and into the 90’s – and they never made it into my working memory of the time period (okay, I was a small child living in a rural place..). Even with the missed association with the value of some of these songs I could appreciate their organization together as even song titles creating simple, abstract poetry of shared living in a globalizing community of shared stories.

And how, the era of the mix tape is unique all in its own. But we still understand the value of compilations, of sharing collections of music; track order does, and sometimes does not, matter. In many senses, technology is advancing faster than our ability to make use of it in our own time. When i was a kid I used our family’s CD/tape player to record copies of my sister’s CD tracks into a mixtape for the car (which only had a tape deck) or create strange CD mixes based on whatever music I had used our computer to download via Limewire, Napster, and whatever software at the time was able to translate a cool song into a digital file. As a child, I didn’t believe anything could happen by copying music in this way, because it’s just like making mixtapes and sharing music across the street, it’s just across the world now.

My history with music as a transition aid has been the most valuable part of the loss of places, people associated with those places, and the soundtrack we build underneath it all will be what holds us together when the rest falls apart. That’s where Riverhouse/Heartwood are a foundation – or atleast two deck posts- of my grief; layered with changing places (“we’re not us anymore”, unfortunately) and the loss of people who created them.

So I have an undercurrent of favourite songs which have and will continue to guide me along the path of getting over yesterday and growing into tomorrow. It’s in reading this book that I can put my experiences into the greater context of loss, and understand them to be far less consequential than the abrupt end of a marriage due to the loss of the person while the love remains. And then, it clicks, that’s what I’ve been chasing. Closure from the love that never ended, rather the physical presence was removed. So, I’ve learned to love the music and people of the place differently, without necessary discussion of why we are all connected, because it hurts too much.

And, some songs stick with you even after the loss is fresh. Hearing the song by the Replacements mentioned in this book brought back memories of the first year of infatuation with my Edmonton interest – who made sure I knew to listen for Unsatisfied during their set at Osheaga. But I didn’t, I slept through. And that was some cosmic joke played to remind me of a number of ‘read between the lines’ meanings. But also to remember that it is a song worth listening to, because of its legacy, and great lyrics, and weight. Hearing Leonard Cohen sing on a recording, and knowing you’ll never hear new music by him again. Or, in the heart of the loss, the warm fatherly baritone of Bobby Gibb recite the ode to the haggis on Robbie Burns day. Or see Shotgun Jimmie with Mark Kroeker – though the year he came through the prairies we each caught a show in our respective cities and congratulated the other on accomplishing that Bagtown goal. Some people are always going to be memorable. And if they’re lucky, they’ll get a mixtape of memories all to themselves. Keep the music makers close and the family of appreciators closer. (sometimes outdoor concerts are chilly!)

The nostalgia coded into a song’s storytelling and melody is crucial for its soul to come through, but it needs to transcend an individual’s nostalgia and become ubiquitous into the human experience. That’s where mixtapes – good ones- can communicate more than a kiss in some scenarios. They can be better than a therapist. (not a replacement, but enough to know why you’re unsatisfied, perhaps)

And if you’re lucky, you get to have someone narrate all the reasons why they chose the songs they did to you, with introductions and stories. Appreciating the community this music has created on the airwaves alongside the chaos of living.

I’m not sure if this book was an antidote or an amplifier for my retrospective tendencies, but flipping back through pages of the book now completed seem as familiar as floating backwards into my own memories – smiling at experiencing that joy with the lucidity of deja vu. flashes of curious familiarity mimicking past emotion.

And now, in the phase of my living where I am finding more courage to start learning music and developing unique style + character in playing piano and guitar, I understand the challenges involved with creating a ‘new’ sound, if only for the immediate frustration involved with the pain of not knowing how to get the sound you don’t know you need. So, my gratitude meter is restored with each new song, and each time I pick up a guitar and default to D chord, because it’s the transition from uke to guitar and I feel comfortable there. But i’m getting really sick of that note in particular. Thankful for all the sharers of music ability and advice. Without them my inspiration meter would have no traction against the current of modern life. With them, i have a memory of a time of my growing up and out of naivete.

“a mixtape steals those moments from all over the musical cosmos, and splices them into a whole new groove. … I’d rather hear the Beatles’ Getting Better on a mix tape than on Sgt. Pepper any day.” – pg 23/24

there’s more of my story to be told – about radio synchronicities and mix tape ironies. but for the moment i’m glad to have indulged in someone else’s. Highly recommend this read to you, internet person; if i haven’t spoiled it for you with the plot leaks.

Ch-Ch-Changes on the same Theme

I was making this playlist on paper, then spotify, when i decided i needed to think a bit more deeply about 2016 so I called up my grand-family friend. We talked about his life, and about mine. And all the things I think of when I’m offline, i’ve discovered, are key pinpoints of my brain’s inner workings that I’m thankful i have.

I support the conversations with elders in our personal story. For wisdom, for kindness, and yes… quickly witted comments about the state of the world. But also an informed sweetness, to know the benefit of reflection,  to have moved on from so much until this point,  the memories which remain are not only valuable.. They’re all you’ve got.

Having a conversation with this grandfather-figure  not too long ago, he  told 3 separate stories to make a point about serendipity.  Each of these stories  (snapshots of moments – 1000 words to paint a picture) involving himself and our dearly missed MB. Their lives crossed over in odd ways for 20 years,  living separate lives, with reason to interact  at first – then contact became sparse,  as needed but always welcome as the years went on. He recalled: “It was around the time my father died, I called her up, as I hadn’t done in quite some time. I rang and she answered.” He said, in a particular manner, ‘I knew there was something the matter with her the moment I called.’ … “then you find out why”

Her father had also died.

She says: ‘oh my god it’s you’

With that, no need to go into details. You go straight to empathy.

That moment, and a few significant others, were moments of that serendipity.  He explained, now, after her end and our grieving: “There’s truly a chapter for each one. {45 years from now., ago} He continued, how a previous instance, he courageously decided to mention the importance of their interaction, on the cusp of her marriage. I’m going to have to say some things to you.. ‘I have no interest in getting in the way […] I really care for you. And the reason I’m telling you now is that it doesn’t matter’ And she never took me up on that dinner. But I was there, at the beginning and the end, in moments

The transition .. If you want to know…” And I did.

so, we continued to talk about the distance they survived, by means of networks of community and places of important beauty. Both in storyline and landscape.

From this chat, I reflected how this version of the same synthesis In my context Has not been easy but it has been kind many times over. This transition, is twisting the story in  important ways Until the time comes to demand we accept our capacity ..for foolishness of love, for impatience, for cruelty, for fear.

And in that appreciation of oneself, we see without astigmatism.

In this conversation, we also talked music and how Leonard Cohen had passed away. How on his latest album everything was softer, darker, still so characteristic of his style. And that he was reflecting on the end of his life, and produced a summation album of his wisdoms as he collected them and made a career out of it.

‘make sure you listen to Treaty, and include that one in your list,’ he says.

and so i did, track no. 13. in a Dan Mangan sandwich with Gord Downie alongside some modern favourites closer to the heart, within local networks. i’m honoured and delighted to be able to collaborate favourite memories next to each other. And within modern streaming, to create and share a mixtape with the people making the music in real-time.

and a little bit, of all of it, is the Beatles too. and that’s cool with me. especially on days when the weight of the world is a bit too heavy on my aching shoulders (i.e. mapping laptop)..

Gay Nineties “Decadent Days”

I’ve had the pleasure and delight of meeting the band members of Gay Nineties a few times, thanks to the years I lived in Edmonton, AB. The year Parker came through on a tour with Mounties bandmates Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays, and Ryan Dahle I recieved a signed drumstick from a friend over at SONiC 102.9. I had no clue who this Parker Bossley  was who drew the cutest of hearts near the end of this gift, but soon after his partnership with the Mounties dissolved his band Gay Nineties began to tour. When they came through Edmonton I made a point of attending, and visiting the merch table after the show to chat. No matter if i was attending alone, or with a friend, it was a great night filled with posivibes.

That first album, Liberal Guilt, meant so much to my mental health – to understand sexuality next to anxiety, to appreciate success in love and earthly experience. When I learned they were playing an early afternoon show at SONiCBOOM 2015, I jumped at the chance to swoon once more. The psychology of their lyrics are encouraging:

“it’s like we’re living in a dream //

let me get you into my life, i don’t wanna have to think twice”

the timing of these lyrics into my life was a perfect way to send my wheels of productivity out the window. I got wrapped up in the serendipity of dream-like events narrating my goals. I didn’t know what i wanted, so i responded accordingly to that which was happening around me. I pursued that which was producing these moments of synchronicity: real and honest people behind the music I loved. Whether that meant supportive friends with new music to suggest, or radio friends connected to the industry, or the musicians themselves… i fully engrossed myself in the curation of the moment to its fullest capacity.

Parker describes an album by Grace Jones (interview: My Favourite Things) as a “sexy, surreal, androgenous” production – similar reasons to why I enjoy parker’s contributions to my music awareness. That, as creators of ideas, the personalities are extraordinary.

The dream-like state of the entire experience from 2014 until now has been pretty incredible. The personal transformation narrated by these lyrics and simultaneous stories is something i didn’t know how to appreciate or make use of at the time. But now, a few steps from the place in that time, I feel refreshed by it.

Parker is a name that perks my ears up – I just assume if Mr. Bossley is involved it’s gonna be psychadelic and strange in the most delightful reassuring way. I often stop by Parker St. in Halifax and talk to the trees in the park nearby; the moon and I communicate with silent glances while the streetlights and traffic movement serve as melody to the synchronicity.

The last time I was there was on a walk yesterday evening alongside some best buds on a happenstance of a mid-winter, mid-week meetup. Previously, I was alone, with an iPod for company, and shuffle landed on “Jude” by Dan Mangan. It’s a song with a lot of weight – even if my chosen name didn’t mirror the title, or the Beatles references serving as an undertone in the commonality.

Lyrics in that gem offer similar thought-stimulating comfort:

“so much for bones to pick; so much for fear//so much to fill you in on, now that you’re here// timing is everything, moments arrive//it ain’t no accident, planets align”  (Dan Mangan)

as I think about how this is a perfect summary of the past few years the responsibility to be more of a Jude and take on the world. All kinds of echoing musical advice follows those thoughts too: don’t make it bad, don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, and well, you know it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder. (oh, hey Beatles…)

I’ve gotten by with quoting these lyrics as a way to network quickly. I still ponder the true message of the whole thing. It’s a call to action as a leader, but also as a lover. We want to care, and empathize, and contribute to the community around us. But we are also haunted by the demons of failure, fear, and vulnerability.

at the intersection of Parker and Jude, i am strengthened to take on the world.

But even more important, I’m empowered to allow myself to love as honestly as I am capable. In the face of the angry, hateful fear ruling political decisions, the hope created by these interactions with music and the rest of living are critical for keeping sane.

I’m all for documenting our intersections into each other’s lives, and making those collaborations better, but I’m also about keeping out tsunamis of disaster.. as the moon got too close, my cosmic awareness was a tide that washed out some of professional rhythm.

As much as I love Parker’s music, i have had to distance myself from the community which introduced his beauty in the first place. That letting go has been cleansing. The dream which introduced inspiration into my life was something that (now, I see) was temporary.

The future is still to come, and I am more careful now with attachments. But Parker is still one of my top 3 potential kid names… and i’m ever so grateful for the empowerment which resulted from learning how to talk to musicians as publically real people, thanks to those dear radio friends.

I’m working on acceptance, appreciation, + civil duty to address that which needs improvement and/ or radical change. I’m committed to growing a career which will support this interest in thoughtful responses to the world. Whether that’s in map, music, or hugs, I’m not comfortable staying silent in a world in such distress.

to those who have contributed to this vulnerable strength, I thank you. for those who continue to fight louder, stronger, and more deliberate, i support you. for those trapped by new systems of rules, i want the world to accept diversity for you and us all.

as for the Gay Nineties: try on this new music video for size. great new work, team! in honour of those decadent days which sustain our lust for luxury..

http://www.sonic1029.com/2017/01/06/listen-gay-nineties-decadent-days-new/

 

rest in peace,2016

electionjohnoliver

There’s been a lot of talk about how 2016 is the worst year ever. I’m not about to argue that the deaths of 50 beautiful + inspiring souls has created a dampened spirit in the hearts of global networks. These individuals we look to for inspiration, and eagerly appreciate any newsworthy actions from high profile celebrity of great respect.

Is it really the worst year ever? We haven’t experienced a global war this year, nor have we seen great amount of disease. There have been unfortunate and unnecessary massacres all over the world, so yes, it has been filled with tragedy. Including that time Donald Trump stole the US Election….

However, these statements of “worst year ever”are not about the syrian refugee crisis or about climate change becoming a worsening problem. These are statements fuelled by a presumed loss of hope by the bringers of musical, artistic optimism meeting the end of a fruitful, wonderful life. We collectively mourn in status updates and meme-ingful displays on social media. However, this does not well reflect the affect such art has had on our living. I have chosen to show gratitude with each of these stars’ passing, as many others around the world have as well – in a burst of reliving their collective bodies of work. Celebrations of their living do more than bursts of mournful sorrow. Both are expected, but to summarize the sudden loss of our heroes in the statement of the ‘worst year ever’ while cursing the power 2016 has had is to discredit the opportunity we have had to indulge in these magnificent authors of our culture. Celebrity Deaths of 2016 (Summary)

To name a few ways from my own experience, I would not have seen Die Hard with the same interest or conviction (for the first time) had Alan Rickman not passed away in January, nor would i have conducted an interview with an Edmonton connection about the impact of David Bowie had his passing . I was reminded of the power and strength of Leonard Cohen’s beautiful poetry as I relistened to his most mournful classics next to strangefully hopeful ballads. Prince’s death came as a surprise, and because of social networking, I (like many others) learned more about his life than we ever knew because of his untimely death.

Leonard Cohen’s passing, on Remembrance Day of all days, hit me particularly hard, as I realized so many of his iconic words were in the soundtrack of my upbringing. Moreso, they were sung by a family friend who is already gone. I’d already lost my favourite baritone version of So Long, Marianne, before the original was taken by time. The magnificence of his poetry will always be on the ‘to read’ list because there’s always going to be something new to discover..

Most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away with a day of each other – epitomizing the heartbreak we are all feeling as a product of grief, especially as the year draws to a close. Star Wars defined the feminists, the fragile, the Force… In our growing culture of understanding instead of condemning difference, Carrie was a guiding light to help us be more real with ourselves in facing mental illness and addiction. As an icon she was revered but sought to be respected as an individual.

we all loved you, Princess. rest easy. your legacy and inspiration will continue to guide us. #carriefisher #confidence #action

A post shared by hey, i'm jude (@judelovesquestions) on

This is a theme which has been of great prominence in my personal appreciation of public figures. Until thorough examination of personal patterns, my default was to idolize and place people of high regard on pedestals, away from the unsavoury entrapments of humanity. But they are individuals facing health concerns and uncertainties in similar ways. Like our aging parents and grandparents, they too will face memory loss, poor health, and death. Psychological distress can happen to anyone, particularly those facing Life.

This year’s personal and public ripples of community have informed a change of heart –  that our humanity is continually enlightened as we move beyond struggle. Art is the end of confusion and beginning of refocusing beyond pedestals. Our connection to the importance of an artwork means that the creator of the work is simultaneously more and less valuable. The potential for them to create more enhances their worth, but since the idea is released they do not need to be as present

Each one of these celeb deaths invited us to reflect on our connection to their work, to enjoy the company of this public identity once more as conscious enjoyment informs our appreciation. Yet, the irony of timeliness is funny, how the presence of their genius has been preserved in technologic time capsules – consecutive flat pieces of camera film or circles of plastic vinyl grooves allow our memory to rest in the peace they have left for us.

I think part of this anger and confusion that is projected through social media as many stars leave the earth in droves is a reminder that we have loved their work and never been able to tell them about it. So together, we find ways to honour the memories they have helped us create together – wthout them. It begins a new era of their fame – posthumous adoration is out of their control. In a way, it gives us more power to define their legacy once the work has reached completion.

As this ‘horrific’ year comes to a close we must remember that however 2017 comes to us, the loss of this aging. trailblazing generation is natural as time rolls on. The work they have produced has informed our growth and is not going anywhere so long as we continue to access it.

It is a blessing to know the world at the depth we are able, so, thank you 2016 for reminding us of all the inspiration which keeps this pale blue dot a beautiful place to live.

Going forward into 2017, the things that worry us have become the problems we can solve: displaced war refugees, unjust seizures of power under the guise of democracy, basic human rights for our neighbours identifying as something other than heteronormative, and ecological instability which will inform our activism.

Surprisingly, i’m not entering into 2017 blindly optimistic that it will reach some sort of normal. Because once this kind of shit starts, it often spirals out of control. Unless, as in the famous words of Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not gonna get better, it’s not. 

So, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to care a whole awful lot about the things we CAN change. And let the stuff we can’t simply wash over us. Take it in, surf the wave, and breath in every new day without the weight of despair. Take care of yourself, and let others take care of their own self. Ask for help; offer help.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this year is that no one makes it out alive.And dwelling on nostalgic wishes will only keep us depressed. Whether it’s a race to the bottom or apologetic anxiety encouraging a clamour to the top, there’s still going to be someone who calls it soda when you call it pop.

Some advice, if you’ll take it? Calm down, wave au revoir to whatever disaster you may have caused in 2016, and remember to tell those whom you appreciate that they matter.

This has been the year to remember to let [her/him/they/them/it/us] into our hearts, to make a sad song just a little bit better, to sing the NANANANA’s just a little bit louder. This has been the year of embracing the strength of your vulnerability.

2016 has cracked but is not yet shattered, let the light pour in.

In memory of all those we have lost. In honour of all we have been given. Goodbye, 2016.

**header image: screenshot of Dan Mangan’s music video for Race To the Bottom, Youtube 2016.

Unmaking Fear, Remaking Happiness

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.

DanMangan_Unmake_3000x3000-web.jpg

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.

 

6Q with Old Towns (Robbie Shirriff) in Halifax, NS

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:

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and keep an ear out for more shows @ http://www.oldtowns.ca

Thanks for listening!

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Conversation with Dan Mangan [December ’15]

In followup to the 6Q interview, Dan offred some insight to a few more wonderings I’ve had about his career.

JK: which comes first: music or lyrics?

DM: my process has changed over the years. when i started i was better at playing guitar than i was at writing songs. now i’m basically the same level of a guitar player as i was then, but i’m better at writing songs, so sometimes the words and melodies hit first. i like writing on the piano too, or just messing around with noisy synths or midis and then seeing what comes from there. i’m trying to break away from the familiar places that my hands go on the guitar which influence the songs in similar ways.

JK: would you liken Mouthpiece (a song of statements) to Jeopardy (a song of questions), as a response? Or.  ending with New Skies, is the growth parallel stronger there?

DM: interesting connection. i suppose, to some extent, both songs are the opposite of what they are. jeopardy is full of questions, but feels rhetorical and manipulative, because there are answers implied (“what happens when all flags burn together? is that unity?). mouthpiece is chalk full of statements, but there’s a bit of a self awareness to the onslaught of self indulgent musings (even calling it mouthpiece), which opens up questions about where all those statements come from and how much should we be critical of their certainties? i guess what i’m saying is, questions or answers, it’s all a bit in the air, isn’t it

JK: similarly, how does set list writing compare to an album order, in flexibility and in permanence?
(How often does a uniquely political song like ‘starts with them, end with us’ end up in a show?)

DM: albums are totally self serving indulgences. it’s important to never ever think about what people might like because most of the time you’re wrong about what people like and you just need to trust your gut and try to imagine the rest of the world doesn’t exist. live shows are the opposite,.. you might not want to play particular songs but you have to check your ego a bit and realize that people are reserving an entire night of their all too short lives to be with you, and that some of them actually love your work (whether or not you think that work is worth loving) and they deserve some reciprocation.. so you play a mixture of what you want and what they want and hopefully there’s a lot of overlap.

– Aside from NNVN in its fifth year, are there any “career anniversaries” you celebrate? 

We played in Toronto on October 28th of 2010 and also October 28th of 2011. That level of consistency alone is worth adopting some OCD over.

– working with Dave Grohl.. what was the greatest takeaway? 

He likes microwave burritos

– who/what was one of your earliest connections to help you find your place, musically?

my first cassette was The Simpsons Sing The Blues. I’ve been trying to “Do The Bartman” ever since

– how do you navigate? google, tomtom, paper map.. 

phones and tomtom. mix of both. if anybody out there is younger than 50 and using a paper map, they’re trying too hard

– where do you still want to go/play that you’ve never been/played? 

Japan. Totally.

And, from the stage in a few capacities..first while reflecting on + Blacksmith during his solo tour, and again with the Nova Scotia Symphony behind him in Halifax:
– to any aspiring musicians out there, the best thing you can do to challenge yourself is to play with people better than you! (crediting + Blacksmith men, symphony partnerships, and variety of collaborations to continue pushing the limits of these simple guitar melodies)

Thanks again, Dan!!

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Dan Mangan weaves Baskets of Forgetery with enthusiastic subtlety & activist melodies

Philosophical wonderings have been Dan Mangan’s blessing and curse for the extent of his career. he’s redefined what we can or should expect from radio play by questioning our expectations of ourselves. Self-indulgent lyrics became self-aware serenades with longstanding teamwork alongside the men of his complete band (newly titled + Blacksmith). 

This fall he forged a solo version of newest compositions as offerings of growth next to old favourites and softened his setlist with proper introductions to songs not often given the spotlight. Focusing on admonishing others producing valuable music, the tour focused on returning to bard-with-a-lute songmanship. Dan reflected on the importance to leave the band behind for this quick low-key tour. “i like that people can hear all the lyrics. i think it’s important to have variety. you go crazy doing the same kind of show over and over again.” Balancing solo shows with monumental orchestrations (Halifax January 2016), this philosophy is given life.

Whether referring to leaving Robots to fight for their own love, or revisiting the humble power of a single guitar, these words are penultimate to the work Dan has created. His intention to contribute a voice with value to the maddening soundscape informed Club Meds, the 2014 touring break, and film scores for Hector and the Search for Happiness and The Valley Below. 

JK: how does set list writing compare to an album order, in flexibility and in permanence?

DM: albums are totally self serving indulgences. it’s important to never ever think about what people might like because most of the time you’re wrong about what people like and you just need to trust your gut and try to imagine the rest of the world doesn’t exist. live shows are the opposite,.. you might not want to play particular songs but you have to check your ego a bit and realize that people are reserving an entire night of their all too short lives to be with you, and that some of them actually love your work (whether or not you think that work is worth loving) and they deserve some reciprocation.. so you play a mixture of what you want and what they want and hopefully there’s a lot of overlap.

On stage between songs, Dan’s poignant storytelling recalls moments from early solo tours as being less forgiving. These boyish habits of sneaky-kind-of-selfish double-sided comments informed 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice; but figured out honest success comes from giving it everything you’ve got. He’s not everyone’s favourite pop star. His “sweet summer jams” aren’t professing love or pretending to. Comfortable in uncertainty, his voice resonates from dark, vulnerable places of personal anxieties wry with clever wit. 

In present day, he supports as he was supported. By individuals who give a damn. Always making time for a chat and an autograph, it is with sincere gratitude and a moments of human connection he still sustains his fan base. An audience extending to digital connection thanks to insta-updates and quick twitter quips, fulfilling our need for internet chatter.   

JK: Does it get overwhelming? 

DM: “It can. Everyone loves receiving compliments. So I take it in, express thanks, savour that moment.. When I’m home I set the experience aside and savour the present, try to forget about the rest…”

A friend to melancholy lyrics and experimental sound, the emotion rising from Dan’s growing discography resonates with hope. And despair. But a despair offering comfort, in the humanity of it all. My curiosity and attachment to this soundscape was due to this vulnerability exposed and explored, resonating with my own insecurities.

I grow more curious about the intent of messaging in each fragment of lyrics I choose to digest. When I first began absorbing the complicating statements of this discography, they eroded such damning complacency of sociocultural patterns from adolescence. Existential, intelligent lyrics promised hope, beyond stifling rural simplicity and shrouded media messaging of the early 2000s.

I asked Dan about the particular lyricsm and context of his body of work relating to the dynamic changes involved in this newer album’s composite flair since adding + Blacksmith as an equalizing moniker. His response reaffirms a progressive songwriting style, as well as having independent value and meaning.

would you liken Mouthpiece (a song of statements) to Jeopardy (a song of questions), as a response? 

interesting connection. i suppose, to some extent, both songs are the opposite of what they are. jeopardy is full of questions, but feels rhetorical and manipulative, because there are answers implied (“what happens when all flags burn together? is that unity?). mouthpiece is chalk full of statements, but there’s a bit of a self awareness to the onslaught of self indulgent musings (even calling it mouthpiece), which opens up questions about where all those statements come from and how much should we be critical of their certainties? i guess what i’m saying is, questions or answers, it’s all a bit in the air, isn’t it

Club Meds’ casual genius reflects personal and professional growth in musicianship. It doesn’t sound recycled from anything else, yet is a simple culmination of influences. He cites Margaret Atwood as post-apocalyptic literary guidance for lines “books we tried to burn” and claims his spirit animal is a bookshelf. (link) His art remains smart, with a smattering of self-indulgent reflection… bringing clarity to those of us on the receiving end overwhelmed by conflicting biases of living.

Dan’s hope carries political musings as rooted storytelling to various niche baskets of ‘wicker-enthusiasts’ around the world, and exposes vulnerability and acute awareness of our sedation. If it means spending the next 5 years with Club Meds underscoring our cultural understanding in an updated version of Nice Nice Very Nice pleading love for robots, I’ll buckle up for the ride.

“‘Cause when I taste it – just one moment of TRUTH – what I’m wishing would linger seems to leave me. And I fear that distraction ever near me. So I’m open and broken. Feels like teething. The sweet pain of the PROCESS. Forgetery. Forgetery alive and well.” – Forgetery, CLUB MEDS. (2015)

synergy of the sol

When you arrived, it was with a breath of goodness and a hug of love.
Now with a reminder of our love in recent memory (you stepped out this morning)
I’m smiling with your grace and joy, it’s a part of me again
Active progression of thought and rhythm keep this life enthused
Daily breaths of life kept taught (inform the confused)
Keep apologies next to gratitude
On the bedside of your anxiety
Distribute as needed, generosity of spirit can live quietly.
In hearts of bitter experience, allowing sublimation
Cleansing, resting, refined joy in captive times
Moments of honest love, touching toes
As toughness grows ever gentle the sensation
Soulful rhymes overwhelm the boy
With the problems of the nation
Sneaking requests into beauty you hadn’t known yet
getting misty at mangan’s phrasings
finding new sound always, individual grazings
Requests for change, demanding an honest stage

Where’s freedom to live when captive strange holds tight
Where’s struggle to remain if competition is no longer the game.
In remeeting ourselves in these fresh eyes
(swirls of entropic destiny aligning lottery’s prize)
You speak of distant loves with reasons to be by their side
And many more meetings left waiting for a ride
An energetic resilience will save us from our failure
Not our addictions or our saviour
Obsession dissection is overthinking our true forte
Of gentle love and brightened song
With great desire to sing song along
Pretend until you get it
Break it til you fix it
Of all the deranged masses’ screaming insanity
Freak meetings of synergy are all too often met with hostility
Until serene reminders joining anxious and peace
As mirrors of the same, well brought up poor and alone
Are you an echo of a grief living deep?
Is all this life just waiting to be buried by sleep?

Let’s get to it then, move on move up move out.
Find the ‘worth it’ in every sigh.
Grip tightly what keeps you “I”
Introspection is often too nearsighted, distance meaning fear
Extrapolate these meanings, go forth without tears

When you find softest tears from your pupils
Wrinkled pages keeping score
These are the moments of true brilliance,
This is the forgetery of poor
Stains of our so(u)l(e) making statements among the ink
Showing off emotion without closing off or out
Applying devotion as travellers’ idea grout
Is love just pity in a pretty box of sugar?
Do we know how to taste it, finding truth in disgust
Understanding beyond our meditation, instead medication
Insulin of apologizing can’t fix rooted indigestion
Turgor required for movement
Stalled in periphery and genuine limits of capacity
Each moment of change brings us closer to home
The one we’ve never known
The hope we’ve never shown