Snow Forts

A major snow fall on Jan 17 halted the return to classes in Toronto schools resulting in a couple of extra days of play for the kids. This resulted in a boon of snow fort & tunnel building. These are all east-end Toronto in the Greenwood/Coxwell/Danforth area. Brought back memories of snowed in days in Cape Breton & building snow forts.

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Gunn Mann

Soundtrack composers are easy to dismiss for the mass appeal of their work – populist & therefore shallow. Henry Mancini is one such composer. The range of his musical ability is staggering when one looks at the span of his career. Academy awards only testify to the popularity of his work not of its quality.

Also with time, even his timeless pieces have taken on a sort of nostalgic campy quality. A song like Moon River seems quaint. I have always loved his music for Peter Gunn & have the original TV soundtrack. When you get past the Arch of the Cue Balls you have a fine, state-of-the-jazz art album that can stand with anything by, say, Horace Silver.  Quincy Jones Plays Mancini is a great set of covers. I love Baby Elephant Walk.

I guess I am a Herbie Mann fan, at least of his work up to the mid-70’s. The first Herbie Mann I heard was Push Push way back in 1971. I loved it & the use of harp in jazz was a revelation. I had that lp & replaced it with the cd. I found the double lp Evolution of Mann remaindered at Zellers & it covered the earlier part of his career, eventually I did the conversion from lp to cd. Stone Flute, & Gagaka I also had as lps at one time & both are stunning sets.

As mp3 I have by Herbie Mann:  Flute Flight 1957, Flute Soufflé 1957, Do The Bossanova 1962, The Complete Latin Band Sessions w Chick Corea 1965, Impressions of the Middle East 1966, Gagaku & Beyond 1976, Two Amigos 1990 w Dave Valentine, Beyond Brooklyn 2004 w Phil Woods. Stand-alones: lp to cd transfer of Evolution of Mann: a sort of hits collection; Stone Flute 1969 meditative with strings includes stunning take on The Beatles ‘Flying’, Push Push 1971 w Duane Allman Gene Bianca on harp. 

Mann was a world music fan before it was on trend. He explored Latin, Japanese, Northern Africa music with musicians from those areas. He steeped himself  in the sound & sensibility & co-created memorable music. I love the Gagaku work. Where to start? I’d go with Push Push. Don’t let his hairy shoulders put you off.

Rounding out the Mann mp3 cd compilations are: Wes Montgomery: Fingerpickin’, Moving’ Along. Early work by Wes with his trademark fluid jazz guitar. Stanley Jordan: Magic Touch – modelled after Wes, another deft guitarist. Art Pepper: The Trip – excellent sax with more of a hard bop edge. Some mid 50’s sleaze adventures, where you feel the tassels twirling around your nose as you listen: Strip Tease 50’s Classics: by the likes of Dave Rose, Sonny Lester – songs like Strip Poker, The Stripper; Buddy Bregman: Swinging Kicks. Burlesque A Go-Go: various rock-a-billy for peelers.

Perhaps the ultimate Bond soundtrack by John Barry: Goldfinger. Shirley Bassey delivers the best Bond title song of all time. Finally as a break from all that:  Don Slepian: Electronic Music From The Rainbow Isle – a moog, computer music pioneer; Szatvari Csaba: Galilei’s Nightmare – new ageish sound textures.

Take The Plunge

the room was full

maple leaves sumac oak

aspen poplar beech

more leaves than the eye could see

could gave names to

rose lilac no flowers just leaves

stacked

each one tagged 

ready to be discarded

<>

leaves fluttering chafing rustling

at each breath I took

whispering to each other

that I was there

shuddering 

at the sight of my rake

they feared the rake

<>

the brown big bag behind my back

wasn’t going to hold them all

I’d need more bags

more rakes

<>

the leaves trembled in anticipation

to be stuffed crammed

longing to be taken outdoors

to become compost

for future leaves

<>

I didn’t know where to begin

were there stairs

the house was crammed

floor to ceiling

nothing could be seen

leaves crumbling 

stumbling 

over one another

more arrived every minute

squeezing though cracks in the wall

down the chimney

<> 

it was an endless task

I began raking 

pulling them from under chairs

bag after bag

line the curb

yet the house never emptied

all around me 

the swirl of leaves

green red black pointed waxy

I couldn’t get down the stairs

my rake was useless

they no longer had fear

no bags left and there were more

<>

catalpa palm smoke tree

I climbed out to the porch roof

the street was an ocean

the bags I had tenderly packed

had all broken open

children where running and playing

diving through the leaves

never touching the ground

unaware of the dangers

beneath the glorious tempest of leaves

<>

I took the plunge

(2008)

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Annoying Children

Annoying Children

the children had no clean clothes

they had no clean drinking water

they had no direction

they walked walked and walked

around the particle accelerator

<>

it cost millions

needed clean water to keep cool

it had direction

it had a film crew

to make a documentary

about the important work

about the progress of science

<>

these annoying

children in dirty clothes

were in the way

these selfish children 

in the way of the cameras

wanted the water

the accelerator needed

<>

even worse 

they were in the way of progress

I can’t recall if there was an actual incident that sparked this piece or if it was a response to the oil-pipe line protests. Or perhaps it was the paradox between the cost of political party advertising what they do to help the less fortunate vs using the advertising money to end child poverty. If there was no child poverty what could they use to score compassion points?

When I see documentaries about space exploration & how it is furthering our understanding of the universe & hear the cost of the exploration I wish we recognized that cost in more human terms. Today in the midst of the pandemic it is the countries that cannot afford health care that are suffering the most. Often the same countries industry counts on for cheap labour.

One of the Olympic factoids I was dismayed at was the removal of the homeless, the destruction of shack towns solely to make the location more presentable to foreign press. More money spent on that process than actually spent to improve those lives. Who wants those dirty, shoeless, children in the background of their vacation selfies?

Progress is for those who will profit from it, not for those who are used for the labour to make progress for those who will profit from it. You want better wages? Better working conditions? Health plans? Stop standing in the way of progress.


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Piaf Pink

Some voices sound real, not studio manipulated for emotional resonance. One of the realest voices is that of Édith Piaf (1915-1963). You don’t need to understand French to feel the emotion in her Ne Me Quitte Pas. In my collection I have as mp3: Absolutely (a hits collection), Live in Carnegie Hall 1957, Recital 1960 (at Olympia a comeback following a two-year illness) lp to cd transfer, Mon Legionnaire (another hits collection) a stand-alone & the La Vie en Rose Soundtrack.

She’s an acquired taste, like Yma Sumack, well worth developing. Her version of Le Marseilles gave me goose bumps. I’d love my memorial service to to start with her Je Ne Regrette Rien & as people leave, Ne Me Quitte Pas should be played. If you are unfamiliar any hits collection is a good starter.

Rounding out the mp3 collection is, naturally, Jacques Brel: Ces Gens-La, 1967, Ne Me Quitte Pas. More fine French melodrama with some unexpected production flourishes like an ondes martenot on some tracks. Tino Rossi: Vintage 2010 – a hits collection of similar vintage French, non-rock, pop. Liane Foly: Reve Orange, Lumieres – two sweet slightly jazzy adult pop albums; finally Barbra Streisand: Je M’Appelle Barbra (1966) – well-sung but not as melodramatic as Piaf or Rossi.

Piaf recorded under rather limited conditions whereas current vocals have an arsenal of studio gimmicks to amp up the emotion. But not all of them rely on that, though they may use them. Pink is one of those who doesn’t need them. I have as stand-alones: Can’t Take me Home 2000, Mizzunderstood 2001, Try This 2003, I’m Not Dead 2006 & Fun House 2008. I like the emotional rawness of her voice & the fact that, unlike Adele, she doesn’t feel the need to sing the shit out of very song. If you are unfamiliar with Pink, start with a hits collection & then hit the trapeze.

Smoking Gun

I have to confess

there seems no way around this

even though I’m not so clear on it myself

on what did happen

true I was there

I was not really paying attention

you know how the mind can wander

for a few brief seconds

I was wondering about the weather 

at a time like that

can you imagine

when there were such vital things going on

things that needed my full focus

suddenly I was preoccupied 

with the weather 

noting that it wasn’t as cold 

as it has been

that the chill yesterday was really something

I could hardly breath

and I was standing there 

with all this going around me

wishing I had a worn warmer coat yesterday 

not that the coat I have on now

isn’t warm enough

and wasn’t that cold

despite the wind factor

but I knew it was going to get worse 

the cold I mean

and well that’s why I’m not sure what went on

during those few seconds

yes I know how critical it is 

that I remember

I’ve told you everything that went on

but at as for those few moments

I can’t swear 

I can approximate 

it couldn’t have been that much different 

from what else was happening

it all happened so fast 

I didn’t have time to catch my breath 

let alone fix it in my mind

if I had known it would be so important

I would have been more attentive

one doesn’t make notes constantly

on every little event and circumstance

I didn’t even have time

to get out my cellphone

it was over before I could take picture

yes I feel bad about not being able 

to tell you more

in point of fact I’m merely a bystander

I had no obligation to be more attentive

we’re not watch guards 

of each other

if we were 

who would feel comfortable

everyone spying one each other

taking pictures of every moment

I’d never leave the house

I’m no criminal

the fact that I w as inattentive 

for a few brief moments

doesn’t make me one either

I’ve told you all I can

all I’m going to tell you

nothing can make me any clearer 

I did say I was there

I was looking

I didn’t see anything 

I didn’t look away 

I just drifted off

for those few moments

what did I miss

(2008)

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Hover

Hover

don’t hover

please don’t hover

in fact

please go to another room

the need for appreciation

that is so apparent on your face

drains the moment of all pleasure

I can’t enjoy

what you want me to enjoy

while you are glaring at me

daring me not to enjoy it

just go away

let me eat in peace

let me find my satisfaction

on my own

because as long as you are so eager

I’ll keep my pleasure

to myself

I won’t let on if I like it or not

I know the power of the poker face

in the face of your anticipation 

before you leave

please pass the salt

your croquembouche has lost its choux

I love most competitive cooking shows. I’m amazed that these chefs can cook with cameras all around them, with close ups of their hands as they chop, close ups of their sweaty brows, of them slipping & falling, dodging around each other as they scramble for the ice-cream machine. I’m sure audition process includes some sort of screen-test. Cooking in your own kitchen with maybe the kids or the partner, or no one, watching is one thing, but in fronton cameras, lights, judges it must be quite stressful, to say the least.

The other side of the proposition is the judging, as the food is ultimately sampled by the panel under the expectant gazes of the chefs. I’ve learned phrases like: depth of flavour, unctuous, umami (I have no idea how it is spelled), caramelization, croquembouche. ‘Mmm these bacon & eggs have great depth of flavour.’

I don’t envy these judges, usually ‘celebrated’ chefs themselves, who have to render instant opinions – actually I don’t know how instant, as their savouring time is edited out & we rarely see how they come to their ultimate decisions. Chefs usually lose for technical issues (undercooked) or for lack of imagination. Rarely is there a blind tasting – where the judges don’t know whose food they are sampling. 

The piece is also about approval seeking – on the TV level the chefs don’t take the judging that personally but on the ‘home front’ it’s little more awkward. ‘I made this just for you.’ or even worse ‘I bought this just for you. I saw it & knew you’d love it.’ Yikes – more than once I’ve been given something I never like but one has to grin & be grateful. It’s the thought that counts, right? 


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2021 Recap

Over the past year by TOpoet.ca following blog grew from 445 to 468! Doesn’t sound like much but I did a cull of followers who are no longer active on WordPress. The WordPress map show my hits have come from over 70 countries around the world. USA still tops the list but that China & Bangladesh are in the top 10 is a surprise. Nigeria in the top 20 – but behind Malawi! Kazakhstan! Still no hits from North Korea 😦 My Tumblr is at 346 followers. 229 Twitter followers.

My top ten posts of the year include 2 out of the archives! Born To Be Blown – from 2014 – https://topoet.ca/2014/01/24/born-to-be-blown/; & Sydney Academy 2 from 2019 https://topoet.ca/2019/08/12/sydney-academy-2/.

I made a few changes in my blogging routine to give me more time for actual writing 🙂 At the start of the pandemic blogging daily was an excellent way to get through the lockdown. Then it became work I had to keep up with & was no longer fun, so I cut way back.

In 2020 I did 322 posts; in 2021 I only 260 blog posts – of course having no live poetry readings or Stratford show to review reduced the quantity. Though on of the highlights of 21 was seeing Three Tall Women on stage in Stratford. Martha Henry’s tour de force final production.

Picture Perfect: Picture Perfect:  98 sections, about 142,000 words posted so far with approximately 45,000 to be edited then posted. I’ve been enjoying the slow process of edits & have made some major cuts in the final set of rough drafts. As usual my biggest issue is keeping names straight – what did I call that rcmp constable a hundred pages ago? I’m really enjoying creating the weekly graphic for each section. I do have an endless supply of frame & paintings that people have thrown out.

Like many people I’m weary of the pandemic, of people’s reactions, of the roller-coaster of restrictions, & now the paranoia. Is it allergies? A cold or covid? How ‘sick’ does one have to be to get tested? Who pays for it? By the time you get tested, have the results, early onset treatment is too late. How long before neo-citron markets a neo-covid hot lemon drink?

Highlights of the year: contributing a forward to Philip Cairns book Hollywood Poems; having some pieces of mine included in Pandemic Poetry. Extensive work on my garden. Deep house cleaning in a lock-down pandemic purge of the house top to bottom, in particular a basement full of stuff – some not touched since we moved into the house some 40 years ago. 

I did get used to zoom recovery meetings & now seriously doubt if I’ll go back to face-to-face. I do meet up with fellow recoveries for face-to-face conversations & sharing. Going up to my room for a zoom is much easier than getting ready an hour or so in advance to get there with the hope the TTC hasn’t shut down. 

What am I looking forward to in 2022? Good question. Travel out of the country is out of the question. Even for travel within Canada testing rules can change while I am landing so I might never get off the plane or end up living in a tent on the runway until I can get an appointment for the right test. But I am considering another week or so in Cape Breton if pandemic travel rules loosen up enough. Stratford has a tentative season with a couple of shows we’re interested in seeing but will it end up a repeat of last season’s open air productions?

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Peters and Pixies

By Swedish indie pop/rock band Peter, Bjorn and John I have stand-alone’s Writer’s Block (2006), Living Thing (2009). I read decent reviews of the band & having Swedish roots myself I felt it was time to nurture those roots with some music. There are many bands with a similar sound – wry lyrics, sweet melodies, song nicely with a solid, if gentle, rock beat. Think a slightly more rock, folk-rock Simon & Garfunkel. Two cds were enough to satisfy my roots.

The next on the shelf is Peter and Gordon: The Ultimate Collection. Tight harmonies, radio friendly songs & a direct line to The Beatles via Peter Asher’s sister Jane (who nearly married Paul McCartney). They had hits written by McCartney & charted too many songs to list here. The cd collection is a rich introduction to the British sound off the mid60’s. 

Though at the time they were regarded more as bubblegum than serious like, say, The Yardbirds, thanks in part to their often lush orchestral arraignments. The production work is still amazing on songs like A World Without Love & Woman. Once their moment passed Peter Asher went on to become one of the most influential music producers in California with several top of the charts lps by Linda Rondstadt, James Taylor, Cher.

Further along the shelf are Pixies who were critical darlings in the early 90’s. They influenced bands such as Nirvana & Radio head with their alt-rock sound that as a fun mix of surf, punk & experimental with surreal lyrics. I had as cassettes Doolittle & Bossanova – but, as all too often happened, both tapes stopped working. I eventually replaced them with a stand-alone best of compilation. 

Tracks from the first couple of lps often show up in movies, TV shows to quickly establish a character as a nerdy nonconformist who is more hip than the room. My favourite track is This Monkey Wants To Go To Heaven. Quirky fun music & worth tracking down if you want to be more hip than my blog 🙂

A Convenient Truth

it was the truth

at the time

I believed what I said

I believed your body told me

this would last forever 

but every moment comes to an end

<>

it all was so promising

the vast endless tract of future before us

hand in hand

heart to head

pushed to whatever was there

the opportunity was to discover

not to solve

<>

when it came down to solutions

neither of us was prepared 

to do more than we had done

which was enough for the moment

not enough for a life time

perhaps that moment

wasn’t meant to last forever

only to seel like it could

the comfort of hope

not the fulfillment of every demand

<>

I felt I could do and be all that

I know now I can’t

was I lying just to get more of you

while you faked it 

to keep from being alone

were we caught up 

in romantic fantasy

the Hollywood scam

of the right lighting

the perfect delicate song 

floats in the sunshine

<>

a song about fragility and sensitivity

a plaintive voice

plucks of an acoustic guitar 

a hum of harmony

one that makes it to weddings 

<>

we were never heading for a wedding

were we

that was what neither of us realized

something neither of us wanted

breaking dishes breaking windows

breaking hearts

rather than facing the truth

(Jan 2008)

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Gift

Gift

what am I accepting

when I accept this gift

is it a sign of an emotional bond

one that I’m not interested in

that I haven’t instigated

it’s not that I don’t like you

but I’m not that invested

<>

I know the gift comes from a good place

that one cannot have too many friends

but at the same time

one can be 

shall we say 

discerning

the gift comes without strings

I can accept it

say thanks

but never 

you shouldn’t have

Actually that last line is a lie. I said ‘you shouldn’t have’ recently when someone I handed me a bottle wine as a Christmas gift. Being a non-drinker I declined as graciously as possible. He was more distressed at not knowing me well enough to realize I don’t drink. It never came up in the context of our friendship. Neither of us ever needed a few to loosen up.

I am a fairly generous guy partly because of recovery – one of the slogans is ‘to keep it you have to give it away’ Recovery continues by sharing it with ours when called to do so. Though the thing with gifts is often the the strings are attached by the getter not the giver. The kind gesture is mistaken for something more promising. 

People project an agenda when there isn’t one & then get sort of huffy when there isn’t one. So as a giver I’ve become a little more aware of what I give to avoid unnecessary complications. Socks are a fun neutral gift, underwear, though fun, is not so neutral, a jockstrap is fun but clearly not neutral. A wrestling singlet? Well, that’s a whole different blog post.

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