Tag Archives: music

I will miss you, Gord.

Larva

Saw the Tragically Hip play the last date of their Man Machine Poem tour online. Thank goodness for the CBC for streaming the show for free online, especially for expats like myself. It was a bit of an odd online experience, as I was watching and messaging to my friends online during the show. I imagine it was like that for many Canadians around the world, a collective experience for one of the greatest acts the world doesn’t know.

I’ve been listening to the Hip since I was a teenager and I saw them play in Winnipeg during their Phantom Power tour back in 98. I have always admired Gord Downie’s ability to meld the Canadian experience with history, grief, love and hope. I believe whoever wrote Prime Minister’s Trudeau said it best, “Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years.” The band never exploded south of the border the way Canadian pop acts often do. They’ve done concerts, played in Woodstock, and was even featured in Saturday Night Live, but they just didn’t take off. The Tragically Hip was a band that it seems only Canadians truly got. I tried explaining this to my wife, and how acts like Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber are not what Canada is about. And that often music acts like them take away from the soul of what is actually good and substantive Canadian music.

It was great to see the band play but ultimately it was sad knowing that this could very well be the last time Gord Downie plays with the band. Back in 2012, he talked about dealing with his wife’s breast cancer, and how it takes a toll not just on the person afflicted, but also to the people helping them through it. His wife recovered but her struggles have influenced the band’s album ‘Now For Plan A.’ And now Gord has been diagnosed with an aggressive terminal cancer. While the show was a celebration of the band’s history, it was also a sad farewell to a great artist. It was Canada saying goodbye to a dying man, a dying man that we love.

I still have not recovered from my mother dying from cancer. I can talk about the subject lightly and even joke about it now and then, but it is still a sore wound. I’m sure most people’s lives have been touched by the disease in one form or another. I myself have given up to the fact that I would probably die from cancer myself. The show over the weekend is a celebration of life in the face of inevitable death. However, it is also a reminder that cancer, death, will take away all of the beautiful things in life, all of them, and that we should appreciate them while we still have them.

Hug your loved ones, watch your favorite band, go out and play sports, do things while you still can. Love and appreciate things while you still have the chance. I guess that was the big take away from the weekend. And as a Canadian, I’m glad to have known the beauty that is the Tragically Hip.

You really missed out, America.

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Killing (Mostly) Women in Song

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They’re a tad misogynistic (and a wonder that rabid feminists haven’t attacked them yet), but I’ve always been fascinated by murder ballads. It’s almost akin to the Aboriginal traditional of passing their culture and tradition through storytelling. Only in the case of murder ballads, it’s immortalizing a tragic event through song. What fascinates me is that while tribute songs will often reference an event, either directly or indirectly, murder ballads will use what many might argue are morbid details of an event and put them into song.

Two of my favorites are Tom Waits’ version of “The Twa Sisters,” which I believe was an old English tune, around the 1700s…

…and the murder of “Poor Ellen Smith,” here sung by the Kossoy Sisters. Apparently, the song was based on a real case back in the 19th century. It would have been forgotten had it not been put into song. My favorite banjo player, Frank Proffitt, did a cover of the song as well. But here he sings another murder ballad.

Again, Rose Connolly was probably based on an old Irish case. But if you didn’t know that, you’d assume Frank Proffitt just made a confession into a song, or he just fantasized about murdering a women, to which everyone in the room applauds to.

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Drawing Alone

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The problem with art compared to music is that artists usually work alone. Its very nature lends to being lonely. Art is for the loner. Just look at movies with artists. They’re often portrayed as misunderstood, loner geniuses.

Despite music having its fair share of loner-type musicians, music by its nature is more social, musicians get in a group, they get to form bands. Artists get to spend time by themselves. Despite artist groups and shared studios, the process of creating great art is often solitary. Even if a person is making art in the same room, what’s hung on the wall is often from one person alone. This is not the same as music. Great music is often the product of a collaboration; the combination of people’s talent in a band.

I regret not having that form of camaraderie. I regret not taking guitar-playing more seriously.

 

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Let’s talk K-pop, Musicals, and Street Cred, Yo!

prepubescent

 

Whenever someone mentions the word “Zorro” to me, the first thing that comes to mind is a prepubescent Asian boy wearing make-up.

A problem with K-pop is that it’s all basically manufactured. Real artists are rare, and the songs, the dance, the clothes, are all engineered products. And while the banner is that of a musical, it still runs into the problem of men in K-pop which Abigail Covington over at the A.V. Club eloquently explains:

“The biggest problem with K-pop’s boy bands is that they are as equally manufactured as the girl groups but much less convincing. Manufacturing charm is feasible. Manufacturing sex appeal is a no-brainer. But manufacturing grit (a relatively necessary quality for men if you are working within the heteronormative boundaries of a conservative culture like South Korea’s) is nearly impossible. It always turns into cheese. ”

And cheese is exactly what you get, especially when Korean music companies manufacture hip-hop. While the west makes stars out of people with a bit of, for a lack of a better word, “street cred,” here it seems they make stars out of anyone with good looks and a ton of choreography. There is no grit, just “cuteness” and clothes that were carefully chosen by a fashion coordinator. How clueless could a person be about grit and rapping when they have to pay Coolio to be a hip-hop teacher for a day? (http://noisey.vice.com/en_ca/blog/bts-american-hustle-life-coolio-k-pop-hip-hop-school) Isn’t the medium supposed to be an expression of truths and real life experiences?

I’m not saying that western music is immune to such corporate products, after all; I’m from Canada, the country that produced Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber. It just amazes me how some people buy into it.

Anyway, back to “Zorro.” Aside from the lameness of incorporating K-pop into the production, I notice that the recent local musical productions have been on properties and stories that are all already long established in people’s psyche: Three Musketeers, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula. It seems like the only way to get musicals in here is to have it already be popular in other mediums. I don’t think local productions of “Chicago” or “Dreamgirls” would have been made here if they weren’t already popular years ago in film. Not many people know Jennifer Holliday. They do know Jennifer Hudson. And this is not a condemnation of local tastes, but rather the unwillingness of production companies to trust their audience and their own musical talent. They fail to truly believe that a musical production would succeed by its own strengths. Instead, there has to be familiarity or a gimmick. In both cases they both appear to be cynical marketing crutches.

I don’t think there would be a local production of “The Producers” anytime soon, which is probably for the best. I wouldn’t want prepubescent Asian boys playing Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

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No English For Me

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I’ve been trying to learn Korean on and off for the past few years. I’ve taken Korean classes, listened to tapes, did the whole Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur thing. My problem is there hasn’t really been many opportunities for me to practice speaking Korean, and my level remains pretty low. My wife and I speak English to each other, and I don’t need to use any Korean at work. I suppose it would be easier if I was interested in any Korean media, but there’s really nothing on television that interests me at all. As for K-pop, no. No, just no.

So what’s the plan now? From now on, the rule will be to use Korean exclusively whenever I’m home. It will be a frustrating experiment but it will hopefully force me to learn more Korean and get used to speaking the language, or at least get me used to speaking key phrases that couples use all the time. People on average use 5000 words out of the 50,000 to 250,000 words in their personal vocabulary. I figure most of those words combine to a handful of routine conversational phrases which I really should be practicing more (I guess that’s a bit of a sad state of affairs regarding conversation between married people).

Well, good luck to me, I guess. Hopefully I don’t get too bored, lose my sense of humor and personality, or just stay quiet the rest of the time I’m home.

I actually think my wife has a crush on one or two of the foreigners on Korean talk shows who speak fluent Korean. I suppose that’s natural, and I really can’t fault a person for that. It just boggles my mind however the extent that the foreigners on television who speak Korean fluently also pander and adopt behavior that for lack of a better word, is so alien to their home country (at least in my opinion) They also entertain topics of conversation that would at the very least get my eye rolling and at most, enrage me. Is this what happens when you learn Korean? Or at least when you learn Korean for Korean television?

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Yay Dancing!

We passed by this one arcade during our vacation in Osaka. This dude and his group of dancers were always there. My wife suspects they are paid by the owners of the arcade in order to draw a crowd. I say it’s passion.

Back from vacation. I need to get back to working and making art soon. Unfortunately, reality hit me hard with a vengeance, along with a case of food poisoning the first meal I had when I got back. Of course, the doctor suspects days of alcohol plus heat fatigue might’ve contributed as well.

We’ve been to Tokyo several times but my wife enjoyed Osaka more than our Tokyo trips. It was her first time there and she finds the people friendlier, more relaxed, which is not to say that people in Tokyo aren’t friendly and relaxed at all. Osaka is also a bit more tourist friendly, with many attractions within walking distance to our hotel. The only time we really had to take deal with the confusing subway system was going to the Matsuri Festival. We had a good time. Some random observations though:

The Japanese really love their western music. Previous trip, I kept hearing Green Day in places I went to. Now it’s mostly pop peppered with 90s/2000 punk and ska.

The problem with ska is that it never really evolved to anything interesting. I love early ska and would listen to Skatalites now and then. But the last time ska became popular, it was the same rift applied to 80s covers. Lame. (You know what’s lamer? When punk bands cover 80s music.)

Pet peeves: Westerners in foreign countries calling attention to their western-ness. We get it. You’re white and Canadian/American/British or whatever. Everyone can tell. No need to act or dress like a douche in public in order to be seen. No one is going to scout you and ask you to be some guest in some Asian variety show.

Whale meat is overrated.

Raw chicken and raw liver actually tastes like fish. Or maybe that’s just the “taste like chicken” quality in reverse. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t catch salmonella.

I could really use a pet owl.

There were lots of interesting things during the trip and the Japanese delight in things that are odd. But one of the oddest things I saw was when I passed by this wedding. I’m not sure why they would choose Putin, especially with what’s happening right now in Donetsk.

Putin

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