Posts filed under ‘Music’

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous in 17 Days

Slam poetry to blow-up beavers; kd lang’s Hallelujah to Michael Bublé’s Mountie striptease. Eccentric Muse shares some final thoughts on the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

My friend Lynne asked me if I was going to write a follow-up piece on the Vancouver Winter Olympics closing ceremony as a kind of bookend to my Valentine To Canada.

I’ve been thinking about it (the closing ceremony, the Olympics in general, what they meant to Canada, blah blah blah) and reading/hearing a lot of commentary on it.  Yes, I agree they have heralded in a new spirit of Canadian patriotism, but like someone else said (I think perhaps it was Lloyd Robertson, grandpère of Canadian news broadcasting), there has been a gradual build to it.  It may have blossomed and borne fruit over the past 17 days, becoming more tangible and more focused, but it has roots going further back (much further back, given many Canadians’ dislike of their current government, which many–including me–do not see as facilitating that burgeoning sense of pride but rather eroding it).

And yes, as others have mentioned, this newfound spirit of national pride will likely fade again.  Maybe not to levels as faint as they were before, when we were consumed with penis envy of our bigger, brasher, bolder and more bragalicious U.S. neighbours.  When, no matter how much we aimed for self-definition that was a positive and not a negative (read that as a visual metaphor, not an emotional one), we came up–ahem–short.

Probing the sub-text of the opening ceremonies, we even came up short in Shane Koyczan’s poem.  As much as I love it and him (more on that below), and as much as I’d point to that as the true highlight of the opening ceremonies–the big surprise, the flaunting of the very best of our idiosyncratic and oft-unheard art & culture–the performance of We Are More (generously, edited; cynically, censored) was still riddled with images that define us against the stereotypes commonly held of Canada and especially the differences between Canada and the U.S.

But all that aside, the opening ceremonies, although criticized for containing hackneyed Canadian images, appropriating and stereotyping native culture, excluding Eastern/Quebec content (oh, please … get your heads out of your asses, Ontario and Québec), I thought set exactly the right tone for the opening of the Games.  Artistic, but accessible.  Symbolically powerful, emotionally resonant, meaningful and aspirational.  Enough “we’re likeable-don’t you like us? You like us, you really like us!” head-puffing and heartlifting emotional triggers to satisfy the sternest cynic and quell the qualms of the most insecure citizen.

The opening ceremony was not the time to be too shocking or controversial.  We needed to be welcoming, not weird.  Nor was it the time to be self-deprecating–a trait that is woefully misunderstood, much like irony, these days.  Self-deprecation is the true mark of the Canadian character.  Not a lack of self-confidence, or a lack of self-definition.  Not a confused and wavering sense of self-identity, rather the opposite.  So much confidence and the courage of our convictions about who and what we are that, yes, we are able to make fun of ourselves.

The closing ceremonies were, however, that time.  The time to do something a little more revolutionary and even more self-definitional–with humour but also with that closeted Canadian delight in over-performing after being underestimated.  They shot for it, but they did not score.

Instead of satire, we got silliness.  Instead of edgy and progressive, we got amateur and hokey.

Perhaps everything, simply everything, would be a disappointment after the singularly spectacular, nationally-unifying moment on the ice a mere three hours earlier. Thank God for the mercy of having clasped that men’s hockey gold medal to our collective breasts that afternoon.  (I am of the ilk who believes that of all the medals we won, including the record-breaking golden 14, that was the only one that truly mattered. )

If we had been forced to endure the travesty of those closing ceremonies after suffering the unthinkable disappointment of losing the gold in our national game, well … there would not have been enough beer in Canada to cry into.

It started well.  Mocking and rectifying the failure of the fourth phallus, err, cauldron arm, to rise was a stroke of genius.  William Shatner, Mary Catharine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox hit the right balance between spoof and sincerity.

Still…still…leaving aside the expectedly stilted speeches and sad hand-off to Sochi, the inexplicably surreal blow-up moose and beavers (I’d actually put that in the “plus” column, simply for sheer absurdity and strangeness), it was the musical acts that were the greatest disappointment.  No, no … not Neil Young.   He was beautiful, standing in stark relief against the burning flame (better to burn out than to fade away), strumming Long May You Run. Brought just the right homey hootenanny feel to it.

Can we pretend that the entire high-school musical episode, replete with a bumbling Bublé, walking canoes and 30-foot cardboard Mounties, never happened?  Please?

After Neil, things went downhill even faster.  With the exception of the French Canadian bands, there were too many commercial acts who are too well-known…and too well-known as Canadian.  Presenting the best of Canada’s commercial music scene, already recognized and rewarded on the world stage, was a tactic for the opening ceremonies, not for the closing ones.  The closing ceremonies should have presented the rest of the best of Canada.

Also, choosing some camera angles that didn’t emphasize the thinning crowds and empty seats would have helped.

I suppose I should be grateful that we didn’t have to suffer through Céline.  My heart really could not have gone on.

Canada’s indie music scene is a national treasure.  We keep it to ourselves and we don’t export it, much like the French do with their best wines.  In fact, as soon as it’s exported, it becomes, by definition, mass market and infinitely less interesting.

After the jump, I present the musical line-up as Eccentric Muse would have done it, plus a special surprise from Shane Koyczan.  Enjoy the show.

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March 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm 4 comments

Personal Landscapes

It’s Fall and I am nesting. Soup’s on (quinoa salad, actually; plus roasted beets for a risotto later tonight). Puffy clouds in a blue sky above a vista of red and gold. So what if I am gazing at it out of the western exposure of my 9th floor window in a city.

Autumn makes me conscious of the changes to the planet that go on with us or without us, and that we are at the mercy of these changes. These feelings, I think, are strong for Canadians. “Hewers of wood and drawers of water,” as I learned in grade school; making many of us hyper-conscious and protective of our abundant natural resources. Certainly for me, as a child raised in Northern Ontario, I feel a kinship with rocks and trees and lakes. I recoil from the strident frenzied chant of “drill baby drill” as I would from the jagged slash of a chainsaw against my own hide.

Our greatest singer-songwriters regularly use the Canadian landscape as metaphor and context. Here are two fine examples, one newish and one legendary:

Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine

Neil Young (from The Last Waltz) – Helpless

I’ve been looking for New King, by The Constantines, but can’t find a video to post. This song also pulses with Canadian landscape as metaphor and saving grace. A clip is here but doesn’t do it justice.

“Your mother and father / walked out of the city / bound together as they were bound to be

To pull a fortune / from the river / to drink the syrup from the trees

Kith and kin when the ice gets thin / we’ll forage and we’ll fend

As you delivered, will begin to deliver them”

October 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

Still Down The Rabbit Hole …

A.E. Jackson, illustr., 1914

I’ve come across a marvellous review by James Schellenberg of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass here. It offers an interpretation of the real power of this story: the character of Alice herself, and the rich visual nature of her encounters with the strange creatures and startling events in Wonderland.

This, indeed, is what most appeals to me, both as a kid and now as an adult. Even when illustrated sparsely, as some editions are, the descriptions are so marvellously evocative that you can’t but help–if you are at all creative or visual–to form vivid impressions of them in your mind. This may be why the movie versions of Alice sometimes pale in comparison to the book. It’s definitely why I’m so looking forward to Tim Burton’s take on it. There is no other director whose artistic sensibility is as well-matched to the story.

Among the tidbits I’ve picked up from Schellenberg’s site is that Salvador Dali himself illustrated an edition of Alice in 1969; as did Ralph Steadman, most famous as illustrator for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Dali’s hookah-smoking caterpillar is extraordinary, pictured below at left. The frame on the right appears to reference the White Rabbit’s “I’m late, I’m late” refrain, with Dali’s iconic melting clocks. How perfect.

Salvador Dali, illustr. 1969

Steadman, on the other hand, seems to skip over the adventures in Wonderland to focus on Carroll and his relationship with the real Alice, Alice Liddell–one of the three sisters who accompanied the author and a friend on a rowing trip in which Carroll first spun the Alice tale. I haven’t yet found any other of the Steadman Alice illustrations, so it could be that the cover and one illustration shown below are misleading on this count. At least, I hope so.

The allegations of Carroll’s paedophilia have been hotly contested and seem to be based on flimsy, circumstantial evidence, possibly betraying a misunderstanding of the role of the child in Victorian times. Carroll’s photographs–which show young girls in various poses as themselves, and as fictional characters, are provocative in any number of ways. I am no expert on this topic, but Schellenberg and numerous other Carroll scholars have addressed it directly. The conclusions are inconclusive, to say the least.

Ralph Steadman, illustr. 1967

To me, trained in the New School-style of literary criticism, it’s authorial heresy to read too much of the author’s personal life into his work. The story stands on its own, and those that have turned their hand to illustrating it have invariably brought another layer of richness to it. This site has an excellent list of the artists who’ve illustrated Alice over the years, including links to their work. And this site–Bedtime Story Classics–presents the full text illustated with selected artwork from the many illustrators who’ve created representations in oil and ink of this feast for the senses.

And this song deserves to be playing in the background as you peruse them all:

Love Tommy Smothers introducing “Grace Sick … I mean … Grace Slick.” hehehe

Feed your head. Feed your head.

August 16, 2008 at 8:40 pm 5 comments

Current Mood: Civic

Happy Holiday Monday!

The holiday that occurs on the first Monday in August throughout most of Canada is a complete and utter farce. A non-holiday. We are celebrating absolutely nothing–but, like the good Canadians we are, we must overlay some kind of veneer of respectability on top of it, to overcome the WASP guilt of actually–gasp!–taking the day off. So, in various places, it’s named after the province (British Columbia Day, Saskatchewan Day, New Brunswick Day) and in Ontario, it changes by municipality to honour some local, long-dead colonist of wig-and-breeches vintage.

Being in Toronto, my non-celebration revolves around: Lord John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. I dunno what the hell he really did for us, but I think he was in the British Navy, and possibly repelled some Yanks from the northern shores of Lake Ontario. Oh, wait … it says here that he introduced “institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure and [abolished] slavery in Upper Canada long before it was abolished in the British Empire as a whole.” (source: Wikipedia — where else?)

Well, then … my hat’s off to ya’, Johnny! In your honour, I’ve:

  • updated the Mindgames page with a new jigsaw puzzle and a new brainteaser. Try the jigsaw puzzle, they’re much easier on a holiday Monday;
  • added a new widget from goodreads.com — this is a fabulous site for readers that I found just last night. You can click on the little pictures of book covers over there to the right in “On My Nightstand”, and you’ll be taken to plot summaries, readers’ reviews and rankings. You can engage in discussion groups about what appears to be a vast number of topics. And so far, it looks like there is something for every kind of reader, and in particular me. Meaning, the entire thing is NOT dominated by people whose only experience with literature is Harry Potter. What a relief. (I’ve never read it. I’m never going to read it, nor am I ever going to see any of the movies. Ever. I could, and perhaps sometime will, write an entire rant about Harry Potter and how it has contributed to the denigration of critical thinking among today’s youth. Later. It’s a holiday, for goodness sakes. I’m celebrating Johnny.)

My first eccentric musing of the day, in which I take you on a trip from Joshua Allen to Leonard Cohen, with stops at goodreads and Johnny Depp along the way, after the jump.

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August 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm Leave a comment

On The Mark

Tonya Plank, a blogger on the Huffington Post, does the best technical reviews of SYTYCD that I have seen/read. About Mark Kanemura, she has said:

…even though he doesn’t do any athletically astounding acrobatics or flashy moves during his solos, Mark is a true original. He is insanely creative. I think, even if he doesn’t go all the way to the end in this competition, he’ll make a name for himself, perhaps as a choreographer. It’s hard to tell from seconds-long solos what he is capable of, but if he has a sustaining vision … with all his pent-up weird energy that could be genius.

Top 8, and Desmond Richardson, Tonya Plank, HuffPo

This week, on Mark’s departure, she predicts he’ll have a huge future in dance, possibly as a dancer or choreographer with a company such as NYC’s Misnomer, which led me to this extraordinary video:

BTW, that’s a Leonard Cohen song they are dancing to: Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. Brilliance. Back later with more commentary on this dance and the lyric accompanying it, possibly. But right now, I must get out in the summer sunshine.

August 3, 2008 at 11:54 am 3 comments

Le Rêve: A Collection of Imperfect Dreams

Surrealism (sə-rēə-lĭzəm): (n.) 1. A 20th-century literary and artistic movement that attempts to express the workings of the subconscious and is characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter. 2. Literature or art produced in this style.

Traipsing Through the Internet on a Saturday Afternoon

I’ve watched several of last week’s SYTYCD performances multiple times now, including one of my faves: Jason Gilkison’s paso doble set to music called “Filet” from the Le Rêve soundtrack. (The Katee/Josh video is in the Top 6 SYTYCD Recap post, below this one, if you want to have another look).

There was very little info given about the music used for this routine, so a-googling I did go. What I learned was … the subject of a surreal, and eccentric, musing. After the jump.

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August 2, 2008 at 5:48 pm 7 comments

Mia Michaels’ “Ave Maria”

As I wrote in a previous post, the use of the English lyric of Schubert’s Ave Maria was critical in enabling the meaning of Mia Michaels’ SYTYCD Top 5 Girls piece to be ‘heard’ by much of the audience. Even I–long a vociferous opponent of my countrywoman, Celine Dion–was able to overcome my distaste for the treacly chanteuse (like one habituates to a unpleasant smell) and put aside my existential atheism to appreciate the beauty and remarkable artistry of this routine. After the jump, more commentary on Ave Maria, including an attempt to sort out the confusion around the two separate versions (different melodies, different lyrics) in Latin, English and German. There were many choices Michaels could have made but, given her long association with Dion, the choice she did make was not only understandable, but also shrewd. Do I smell an Emmy nomination?

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July 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment


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