The Kids Are Alright


My kids are Gen Xers, the ‘middle child’ of generations. Praise the lawd and hope the creek don’t rise, they’re safely ensconced in solid careers. They’re good people, with good hearts and a firm grasp of reality, if at times, perhaps a little jaded from growing up in this society and as our kids.

millennials who why

The grandkids – well, that’s another story, yet to be written. Caught between two larger generations, the Gen Xers and the Boomers. the Millennials are poised to officially take over as the major demographic in North America in 2019, surpassing Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation.

And I couldn’t be happier.

It is time to marvel at how capable, thoughtful, media savvy, and socially conscious most of them are. It’s also time to be aware of what kind of country and world we want to live in, as, when this generation takes the reins, they will eventually becomes ‘the boss of us’ AND of our own kids, their parents.

Too many people of my age and slightly older still direct the course our governments have followed for decades. In an allegiance to slash and burn capitalism, and an inability to cede power, we are seeing a spastic, greedy final grasping at mining the best our countries have to offer in an effort to line their own pockets. It’s as though the physical siphoning away of these riches invigorates them like an infusion of virgin blood. That group of supposed fiscal conservatives have little consideration of the current or future environmental or financial welfare of the real inheritors of our countries – the kids.

Or in the case of America, of the fate of most of their citizens. The decisions made by the current government reward the wealthiest of the people, at the expense of the social safety net.

child will burn down the villageWe can plan for our futures, and keep our fingers crossed that we get from cradle to grave without too many inconveniences, but we have to acknowledge the truth – the quo rarely stays statused.

Stuff happens. People get sick, and people get old. Some will lay down their lives for their countries, while others will never have the wherewithal to become productive members of society. No one can really plan for the catastrophic effects of extreme social or climate change, but there are towns, cities, and countries coping with it anyway. Natural disasters and human frailties take lives, and leave calamitous after-effects.

This is the core of community, the reality of a society that places it’s trust and bets it’s life that everyone in the community will work together for the common good, that the strong will lift up the weak, and that every human being has equal rights.

tax cut bybacksThat kind of thinking seems foreign and weak to those that have made their fortunes, and risen to power, with a dog eat dog attitude that screams, “ME FIRST! ME ALWAYS!”

But the Millennials have grown up watching this lascivious corporate greed and disregard for the well being of others. They have looked on as the ruling class redefines what we call ‘normal‘ – and they strongly disagree.

These Millennials simply don’t have the moral apathy of their elders. They are becoming fully fledged adults,  at a time in which the world has never appeared more off-balance, and they refuse to acquiesce to the attitudes of those that made it that way.

They’ve watched as we, their elders and supposed advisers, snidely point to the law breaking, insanity and inanities of the left and right and tear each other apart politically, and they have seen that a lack of diplomacy and the inability to negotiate, in politics or in business, endangers all citizens, not just those who will profit from posturing and aggression.

They’ve watched as political leaders plop their nuclear insecurities onto the war table, and wondered why these ammosexuals cannot see that the use of nuclear weapons would kill millions of their enemies, but also slaughter their own people.

trump crueltyThey’ve watched in disbelief as America’s president, with all of the class of a cornered rabid dog, exhibits a cruelty on a Grand Guignol scale, with no perceived opponent too big or too small to publicly crush and humiliate. He exhibits not a shred of compassion, no ability to feel or even acknowledge the pain of others, and considers his brutish, meaningless, contempt and cruelty for all of his subjects to be a feature, not a bug, of his reign.

Incompetent, ignorant, and unable to comprehend his own ineptitude, he and his equally vile henchmen have begun the normalization of social instability, as psychological distress, along with housing, medical, and food insecurity, ramps up to a fever pitch.

And the kids have been watching.

They have watched as their natural inheritance has been squandered and poisoned in service to those too married to greed to acknowledge their own incompetence and complete abdication of sanity, morality and ethics.

They have watched as we have asked them to consider it ‘normal‘ that a president of the United States would advocate the death penalty for those who produce or sell opioids. A president who casually dismisses countries with a largely black population as ‘shitholes, and who believes that the police system should violate due process whenever due process is inconvenient. A president who tells police officers to unleash their own brutality on prisoners, guilty or not.

They have watched as the president of the United States demands complete fealty, as he makes sweeping decisions of national consequence that he later upends and denies ever having said, all the while assuring his citizens that he never lies and must be trusted unconditionally.

A president who, despite already exhibiting signs of dementia with a little over a year in office under his belt, muses aloud about the possibility of extending his term in office to ‘unlimited.’

sessions justiceThey’ve watched as this normalization of the abnormal extends to what would appear to be treason – an allegiance to a foreign power – even as mounting and incontrovertible evidence proves that Russia is attacking American democracy. His refusal to impose sanctions nearly unanimously agreed upon by the House and Senate – hell, his refusal to so much as mildly rebuke the Russian intrusions – point to a president that is severely compromised, and should be removed from power.

They have watched as everything that we claimed to believe and to pledge allegiance to is overturned… and they have judged us, and found us wanting. And they are right. We seem to have caved to those who seek loopholes that would pervert the rules of law, and unbalance the scales in the hands of Justice. They cannot, and will not, live in that world. We didn’t raise them to live in that world. And now they’re holding us to what we promised them.

More than any previous generation, the Millennials have been taught to not see colour, religion or gender. They clearly see through the hysteria and misinformation the bigots and misogynists bray, and are politically engaged beyond the standards of our own youth. We led them to believe that they were capable, and nurtured their interests and abilities. They are doing what we taught them to do on the playground, in their class rooms; they are paying attention, and talking and listening to each other.

And ‘dying at the hands of a psychologically wounded fellow student ‘ was not on any to-do list that we gave them.

millenials voteIn the last election, 35% of Americans were willfully blind to the lack of ethics and morality, never mind good business practices, that were so evident, and they gleefully placed their X next to Trump’s name.

But this year, millions of Millennials will be eligible to vote.

And they’ve been watching us.

 

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a late addition .. I do love Randy Rainbow! 😉

 

Empathy and a God in Our Own Image


The holiday season is a good time to think about our interactions with other people. We really want to make our loved ones smile, so we’ll do as much as we can to please them. We search out gifts for giving that we think will delight our friends and acquaintances, hoping to strike that balance between spending too much or not enough. And, in the best case scenario, we find it in our hearts and pocketbooks to donate a little to those who have less than we do; some of us will do that because we think it’s right to share what we have with others, while some will do so because donations can be written off on next year’s taxes. Either way – our donations and caring will have some impact on those in need.

For most of us, that is all that the holidays require; a little thought for others, an attempt to ease some of the stress and strain that we humans navigate most days. Our songs and stories commemorate how we feel when we come together, in peace and joy, ‘heart to heart and hand in hand,” and lift the winter’s darkness for a short time.

lincoln empathyWe are driven by kindness and care, and empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings and emotions of others. The quality is usually strongest in children, who can be almost clairvoyant in their ability to feel the pain of others, either human or animal.  From a very early age, we can sense goodness and meanness in the intent of others, and even as babies, we instinctively dislike those who are cruel to others. Little children have yet to learn that most grownups are oblivious and indifferent to the feelings of animals. And many children, sadly, will grow up into adults who will, very often, be just as oblivious to the feelings of those who are different from themselves.

Different by virtue of skin colour, or gender, or by an accident of birth that sticks a silver spoon in one child’s mouth, and bitter alms in another. Children are born all over the planet, every minute of every day, but not every child will be welcomed by it’s family, or it’s people, or by those who hold power over the powerless.

So, here we are, with Christmas 2017 behind us. The days will get shorter now, and for many, the snow will fall far more than we’d like. The young, the old, the sick and the well – all of us will cope with good and bad events, to varying degrees, and with varying success.

The poor will suffer the most, since winter is hardest on those who live in inadequate housing, with uncertain heat, and even more uncertain nutrition. The middle class will struggle along, carrying the largest burden, since it is the middle class that invariably bears the cost of keeping society afloat. And the wealthy  … ah, the wealthy will have their own special burden, that of hiding their untold riches in ever more clever niches.

Inequality, already a societally crushing issue in the United States, was exacerbated last week when a group of old, mostly white, and mostly male Republicans forced through a bill looting the Treasury coffers, while enriching themselves and their donors. There is no other way to look at the tax scam perpetrated by the Trump administration than as the brutal rape of the American taxpayer, for the benefit of the wealthy.

tax scam 2017Every tax payer in America will suffer, and I say ‘every taxpayer’ because the wealthy were already well ahead of most Americans in the non-paying of taxes. Even as the rhetoric on American taxation being ‘the highest in the world’ (it’s not) crescendoed, the wealthy and corporations snickered up their sleeves, knowing that their trusty accountants and willing elected officials had long ago resolved that little problem. Very rarely do the tax bills of the 1% exceed 1% – it’s more likely that they’ll be coasting on credits from past corporate ‘losses,’ government grants, and well established tax havens in other countries.

The Republicans gathered to celebrate these cuts that were given to those who are currently sitting on trillions of dollars that they cannot be bothered to invest in their own employees and companies, and the corporations responded by cutting staff and automating the lowest paid jobs. And buying back their own stock. And giving themselves massive, million dollar bonuses.  Oh – and bemoaning a rise to minimum wage, as it would impact their bottom line.

trump tax ripoff

Meanwhile, the American people can look forward to death by a thousand tax cuts. There are cuts to pretty much everything necessary to live, not the American Dream, but a life not lived on the streets.

No sector of society has been left untouched. Health costs will soar, children will die from the loss of medication and treatments. The young, the old, the poor, the sick, small businesses, students, home owners, veterans, ‘dreamers,’ refugees and immigrants … all will pay the price for the corporations’ champagne dreams.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” says the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, but now, she’s beckoning them closer so that she can mug them, and then sell their blood and organs to the highest bidder.

The astonishing lack of empathy or fellowship shown in this tax scam is frightening. How do you explain to someone what it means to care about their fellow man? To care for their neighbour, not just because there’s something in it for them, but because their own laws say that all men are created equal?

I don’t know how to open the eyes of those who cannot see the suffering in front of them, or who do see the suffering, but brush it away with impatience. The greed and detached cruelty of those who have the power to ease the misery of others, to elevate the standard of living for all, and yet fail to do so, is astounding.

The gleeful joy and unbelievable callousness exhibited by those who passed this bill is beyond me. I think it’s likely beyond even our fictional monsters. It took Scrooge three ghosts to understand his perfidy, but I think the Republicans cut back the ghost jobs last year, and replaced them with automation.

I’ve got mine, Jack,” they gloat. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps,” they say, neglecting to mention that the bootstraps and ladders they used to climb to power were pulled up behind them, and the door closed to those who might use those means to succeed in the future.

There are practical, and even self-serving reasons, to make sure that all of your people have health care, public education or access to higher education, and better paying jobs that enable the masses to buy the junk that corporations have made in cheaper lands. But even that doesn’t penetrate the scaly skins of the elected officials.

minimum-wage-graphic Ontario 2017Years of recession, of belt tightening, of cutting staff to the bone, have weakened respect for workers, and tested our own belief in the value of what we do. After all, if we had any importance, surely our jobs and wages would not be treated with such disdain and indifference! When we are no longer valued for what we bring to a company, when corporations would prefer to pay as little as they can get away with, rather than pay a minimum wage that would allow their workers to have a decent life, the very idea of the dignity of work loses meaning.

When we see hundreds or thousands of jobs cut, and the CEO rewarded with multi million dollar bonuses for his/her skill at excising these workers, we begin to see our lowly place in the big picture. We see that minimum wage is, indeed, the lowest amount a company can legally pay a worker, but that they’d gladly drop that amount by even more, or welcome slavery, if only it would come back into fashion and usage.

Minimum wage today buys less than it did in 1950. That’s why some households have two, or even three, family members, all desperately working as hard as they can, just to bring in enough to cover their basic survival needs. That house of cards shivers every time something unexpected happens – an accident, an illness, an unanticipated expense … or the cost of an education that might allow a family member to dream of a better job.

min wage earnersWhen I see the memes of the self-righteous, those who sneer at those who fill these jobs that pay only a minimum wage, I cringe. It chills me, especially when those jeers come from someone who grew up in a time when there WAS a more level playing field, more opportunities for advancement, or who came from a middle class family able to pay for the speaker to get a leg up in life.

Those people are often under the false impression that it is only the young and incompetent that work for such a low salary. They are very wrong. And even when it is shown to them that they are wrong, they will defend their position, trotting out sexist, racist, or xenophobic tropes to bolster their words.

I don’t know if such an ugly and pitiless state of mind comes from the mindset of a political party, the real and imagined fears of the unknown or unknowable that plagues some as they age, or just a sheer bloodymindedness and complete lack of empathy for anyone other than oneself. I don’t know – because it is unimaginable to me.

Worst of all, those who propound these horrors, ‘for the good of the economy,‘ most often profess  to be good Christians, following the Bible, manipulating and misquoting it’s words to defend their deeds.

golden rule empathyIn all religions, there is one rule above all others, and the only one that must be followed. It is always some variation on the Golden Rule … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Somehow, the importance of that must have gotten lost in the conservative/right wing/Republicans’ bibles.

These people worship riches, not a God. They deify those who have amassed assets beyond any conceivable use, and spit upon those who have not been ‘blessed’ with wealth. And yet, they simultaneously and methodically put into place barriers prohibiting the vast majority of others of ever attaining a similar goal. It is inexplicable. Somewhere along the line, our justified laughter at the silly crassness of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” morphed into an adulation at the altar of the Kardashians.  And it ain’t pretty, folks, it ain’t pretty at all. In fact – it’s nauseating.

Religions tell us that we were made in God’s image. That we are little God mini-me’s. It suits their purposes, because they can then mold our thinking to what works for the benefit of the religion, the church, and for those who profit from the preaching of the tenets of the faith. If we are just like God, we must be right and just. What we fear or hate is rational, as it is God’s own fear. We must love those that believe as we do, and hate those who believe differently. Carrot and stick – behave in the way we’ve outlined, and you get to go to Heaven. Misbehave, and it’s eternal damnation for you, buddy!

In reality, we create our Gods in our own image. We decide what a God should be, and it would seem that we’ve decided that’s he’s a pretty nasty creature, who demands absolute adoration, and will strike down all of ‘his’ children at the slightest indiscretion. He needs money, apparently, lots of money, to build fancy places of worship. This faux God insists that he is the arbiter of faiths, and that all who profess different beliefs are infidels, and must be converted, or murdered so that our religion is the only one worshiped.

What a vicious, reprehensible, ugly, vile, bugger some have chosen to represent the Almighty! Is this really how an all knowing, all seeing being, capable of creating the heavens and the earths would wish to be portrayed?

A benevolent God doesn’t hate poor people – in fact, they are his best beloved, along with children, the sick, the lame, the blind, and all of the others that elected governments prefer to throw under the bus, in order to curry favour with those who already have too much wealth and power.

rich need bigger needleGod DID hate those who wielded money and power like a weapon. Remember when he threw the money changers out of the Temple? Or that bit about the camel and the needle? Were you aware that the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” and that, at the time of this usage, had no religious feature, but instead meant ‘the forgiving of debt?’

An omniscient God doesn’t hate gay people, or refugees, or those with a different coloured skin or language. A compassionate God loves all mankind, not just a neat subsection of people exactly like Himself – or yourself.

A Vengeful God that spits out vindictive words and bile about ANY other human being is a false God, created in the image of the fallible and power hungry.  When the likes and dislikes of those imperfect humans are foisted onto a deity of your choice, the only religion that can be carved out is one that reflects our own prejudices and fears of ‘the other.”

empathy religion. JpgThe essence of empathy is an understanding that we are all equal, and all deserving of love and compassion. When empathy is removed from business and politics, we are on a slippery slope to the collapse of an Empire.

A nation is built upon the backs of ALL of it’s citizens, all of whom must have a place at the table. When the political administration in power only caters to the wealthy, they have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of all of the people … and that their time in power is only temporary, and at the whim of those people.

This holiday season, the Republican party flaunted a lack of empathy and a slavish devotion to the upper class, all the while telling the middle class that they were giving them a ‘Christmas present.’  Those same smiling faces said that this year, you could once again say “Merry Christmas,” as though there had been some admonition against it while ‘the black man’ was president.  In truth, you could always say “Merry Christmas,” but after this tax scam, you just won’t be able to have one. strong people. jpg

The new year will reveal exactly how low they are willing to go in their abject fealty to these overlords. With luck, it will also open the eyes of those who’ve enabled their ugly, selfish, partisan goals, and lead us all to a world where fairness and democracy replace greed and apathy.

My wish is that 2018 be the year when we finally understand that ‘peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ was never meant to last for just a day, but rather, needs to be our goal, every day, every where, and for all people.

happy-new-year-quotes-2018

 

 

Making Your Own Merry Little Christmas


Calendar time between my birthday on December 4th, and Christmas Day, on December 25th, is just three weeks .. 21 days .. The calendar doesn’t lie – it’s 21 days, but somehow, it always flies by like it’s a lost long weekend, and into that time, we have to pack in all the festive frippery and chaos we can handle.

mum and gram xmas 1972Those three weeks fly by. The holidays just aren’t the same since my mum and gram died in 1992. Gram, who had hoped, but didn’t quite get the chance to celebrate her hundredth birthday, always had the gravitas and the gravy, along with the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, to guarantee that our scattered family would be gathering around her for the holidays.

Mum was the original Elf on the Shelf™.  That woman embodied the Christmas spirit. She loved Christmas like no one else I’ve ever known, and I’ve got the boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments and detritus to prove it.

xmas 1982 last tellier xmasIn the last several years we’ve lost loved ones, downsized, moved, and had less and less space or time for frivolity. Preparing for the holidays has been less about ‘joy to the world’ and more about ‘just getting through the holidays.” And that’s sad. It’s not so much about aging, as it is about the absent friends, and the growing up and out of our kids and grandkids. The frantic lives we all lead in the pursuit of romance, careers, and the necessary amenities to keep us all in one piece don’t help either. Our non-stop gyrations may be necessary – but they are not at all conducive to keeping families as close knit as generations before us.

I wish I could find the energy and spirit to bring out my treasured knickknacks, but somehow it always seems like there’s never the time to unpack, display, and then repack those fragile memories, all for just a few days that will fly by in a flurry of appointments, dinners, and gift exchanges. And that’s really sad. When did the holidays go from being a time of anticipation and good will to a season so many look forward to with dread?

I originally thought I’d write a cheery little post today, this last column before Christmas, but darker thoughts refused to be pushed away. So instead, I’ve tried to put together some past and present reminders of what Christmas can, and should be, about. christmas snow

I found this sweet little home movie on Youtube, quite by accident, of a completely ordinary Canadian family, filmed at Christmas, 2013. Ordinary people, doing the ordinary things that will, in time, become the priceless memories of their lives. Something about this two minute film spoke to me. Ah, the traditions; the tree, the groaning table set with our best china and crystal, the new and old ornaments, the geegaws pulled from a big box in the basement, or purchased at Dollarama, tobogganing, and faces glowing from the cold and the snow … if you get the mix right, presents aren’t even necessary. Oh – who am I kidding? There’s got to be presents!

Toronto, one wintry night in 2009. It’s fun to see the different neighbourhoods dressed in their holiday finery.

Here’s what you missed if you missed the annual Cavalcade of Lights/ firework display at Nathan Phillips Square last month.

And here’s how you can have some fun in Nathan Phillips Square this year!
“Back for its 2nd amazing year, Holiday Fair in Nathan Phillips Square celebrates the season with an enchanting artisan market, delicious food, festive drinks at the Jackson Triggs Polar Point Bar, live entertainment, and a winter midway, bringing excitement and charm to the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto, all in support of Epilepsy Toronto.”

December 1st to 23rd. Tuesday to Friday, 4-10. Saturday & Sunday, 12-10. Closing at 6:00pm on December 23rd. Closed Mondays.

If you’re still trying to find a few last minute gifts .. and your errant Christmas spirit … perhaps a visit to the Toronto Christmas Market is in order.

“Inspired by the Old World and influenced by the New, this is month-long event celebrates the sounds, sights and scents of Christmas. Set in the Victorian-era, cobblestone-lined Distillery Historic District, the Christmas Market brings together local craftspeople, musicians and artisanal food-makers for a truly festive experience. Sip on mulled wine and European Christmas cocktails as you peruse the selection of hand-made ornaments, wood carvings and crafts. Then cozy up by the fire or take in carollers, brass bands and authentic European dancers.”

Free admission Tuesday to Friday; $6.00 admission Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

TubaFest-2017-300x300Yay! It’s Tuba Fest! I couldn’t find which schools were participating this year, but just knowing that somewhere out there, someone’s tuning up a tuba, just made me smile.

“Celebrate Christmas by joining in the Holiday Tuba Festival. A jolly gathering of musicians creating some holiday cheer. In December of each year. tuba, baritone and euphonium players decked out in tinsel and Santa hats from local schools play alongside professional musicians at spectacular outdoor concerts to celebrate the holiday season. This year, we’ll be celebrating Tuba Fest on December 16, 2017.

Recordings courtesy of the Manitoba Band Association and Rob Monson, band director at Glenlawn Collegiate in Winnipeg. Arrangements are provided by Scott Irvine. Download your favourite holiday songs arranged especially for tuba here:”

https://www.musicmakesus.ca/celebrate/tubafest/

Man, there are a lot of Toronto musicians who’ve recorded holiday songs. Gordon Lightfoot first recorded this song for his 1967 album, The Way I Feel. It’s a tune that all faiths can enjoy.

From 2015, Walk Off The Earth‘s Feliz Navidad. I have a friend who has a very hard time at the holidays. It’s only by hearing this song that he keeps a smile on his face.

We all need to have some song, some film, some event that has that affect on our spirits. My Christmas never officially begins until I watch “Holiday Inn,” starring Bing Crosby, with some fancy footwork from Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds.

Be careful! It’s not my watch you’re holding – it’s my heart.”

Years after the break-up of the pop group Eye Eye, former front man/songwriter, Bill Wood resurrected his career as a singer/songwriter, recording and performing as Bill Wood and The Woodies. I met Bill at Graffiti’s last year, where he had a duo gig with that sharp dressed man, Chris Bennett, as well as a regular gig with The Woodies. This song was their 2012 Christmas single. Written by Bill Wood and Mark Shannon and performed by the Woodies, including Chris Bennett, Dino Naccarato and Mary Wood, with special guests Sean O’Connor – flutes and whistles, and Donna O’Connor – celtic voices.

For fans of the heymacs:

“Some solo Xmas tunage from Macky a few years back (Macky’s monkey soloing on the bells) and thanks to Roxy for putting together the slideshow . . ( she also made an appearance in the heymacs flick for ‘Hit The Road, Jack’ with Ms. Laurie and Lee von Blonde)”

Toronto’s Ron Sexsmith‘s performing “Maybe This Christmas” filmed by Virpi Kettu & Colleen Hixenbaugh.

And, last but not least, the 2014 release, IN2 The Spirit, an instrumental jazz,blues & rock Christmas CD from guitarist John Findlay, ably abetted by Bill Payne, Will Lee, Keither Carlock, Robi Botos, Gordon Sheard, George Whitty, Joel Rosenblatt, Ric Fierabracci and many others.

xmas 2016 at Relish Shawn Barb hapAh, the holidays … the holidaze. However you celebrate the season, I wish you peace, joy, somewhere warm to cuddle with loved ones, and sweet dreams for the new year. If you haven’t a family, it’s never too late to make a new one, with like-minded, good-hearted people. And we’re lucky to live in a city so rife with choice.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Merry Ho Ho’s to All! 😉

coexist-xmas

 

Touring Murmuration Nation with Emily Saliers


If you came of age in the 90s, you’ll likely remember Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as the Indigo Girls. Their music was the background music of the indie lifestyle, and indeed, they seemed to be everywhere, racking up Gold and Platinum records, receiving a Grammy in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and becoming part of our mass consciousness, referenced in such diverse environs as Stephen King‘s Rose Madder, and the television series, Will and Grace, South Park, and The Big Bang Theory.

With their first major hit, Closer to Fine, a collaboration with Irish band Hothouse Flowers, the Girls secured a place in the hearts of their followers. The first album was followed by a dozen more.

Flash forward thirty years, and Amy and Emily still keep the Indigo Girls flame alight, but both have also dabbled in other enterprises, including solo albums that allow each to follow their personal musical paths. While Amy’s on her seventh solo album, Emily has just released her first, Murmuration Nation.

Emily’s been involved in many non-musical ventures, including the co-ownership of Watershed, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and the co-writing of a book called A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice with her father, Don Saliers , a retired theology professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

With so many diverse interests and abilities, touring the Indigo Girls was enough to keep Salier’s  musical itch in neutral, until about two years ago, when she began to ponder the source of her musical inspiration. Born in Connecticut, but raised in Georgia, her ‘white girl in a folk singer’s body’ is still infused with her first musical loves; rhythm and blues, soul music, funk and hip hop, the sounds that are at the core of her rhythmic centre.

The new album, produced by Lyris Hung, a classically trained violinist who has worked with the Girls for years, was conceived when Emily sent Lyris some musical bits and pieces that Lyris cobbled together, just for fun, into something wonderful in her home studio.

Inspired by the directions Lyris had taken the ideas, a project was born, and grew into Murmuration Nation. Recorded with an all-star band—including bassist Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie, Tedeschi Trucks Band), keyboardist Rachel Eckroth (KT Tunstall), and drummers Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Will Calhoun (Living Colour)—and featuring guest appearances from fellow luminaries like Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jonatha Brooke, and Jennifer Nettles, the CD is an always moving aural river of sounds, ideas and rhythms.

With dollops of social commentary, a hard nod to social justice, and an eagle eye to environmental issues, the songs flow naturally, commenting wryly on our past, present and future, the personal, and the impersonal. Deep thoughts, yes, but also gentle musings on the fascination of relationships, and always with a beat you can dance to.

Spider” kicks off the album in an explosion of pop/art rock, before settling into a hypnotic groove, setting the pace for the songs to come.

Growing up in Georgia meant being influenced by a myriad of musical styles, and rubbing shoulders with other musicians, including the members of country vocal group, Sugarland. A vocal romp with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles dazzles on the most commercial tune on the CD, “Long Haul.”

OK Corral is specifically about our mental illness with our relationship with guns. Even as kids we knew about gunslingers. But the wool has been pulled over some people’s eyes because of a very powerful group like the NRA. Those of us who want sane gun legislation are not saying ‘take ALL the guns away,’ we’re saying that when you have a country of people, many of them ill, and they have access to multiple weapons all of the time … something sets them off, and in a moment of impulsivity, lives are lost. We have to deal with that, on a legislative effort, and we have to start talking to each other about what sane gun legislation means.”

murmurationFly” was written right after the presidential election. “‘Fly’ is kind of at the crux of the album, ” Saliers explains. “A murmuration of birds is practically inexplicable to scientists, but it’s a very powerful thing to watch, and I see it happening in our country in an amazing way right now. From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March to Standing Rock, there are all these grassroots movements starting to coalesce, and I take great comfort in the way people are instinctually moving together to fight injustice and hate.”

“I’m High I’m On High” looks to the roots of violent religious zealotry.

“Go find someone who’s got nothing left to lose
Brand him a hero, make him think he gets to choose
Between an earthly life of filth and apostates
Or a martyr’s lair where God and virgins wait”

This current tour takes Emily from Maine to Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Carolina, with a stop here in Toronto’s Mod Club on Tuesday, November 21. Expect an organic, audio/visual presentation, featuring stalwart player and producer Lyris Hung in a powerful five piece unit.

Saliers is looking forward to the Toronto visit, as she’s no stranger to the city. Her wife, former Indigo Girls tour manager Tristin Chipman, is an Albertan native who spent most of her adult life in Toronto, has also worked for CARAS, and was the Tragically Hip’s tour manager for their final tour.

“There are a lot of heavy, serious topics on this album,” says Saliers, “but there’s also a lot of whimsical groove and pop to it. That mix is important to me because it’s like the ebb-and-flow, peak-and-valley journey of life. I think this record is very reflective of my personality. I need fast and I need slow; I need grooves and I need a little bit of edge.”

Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s show, and doors open at 7 p.m. Saliers will be signing after the show, and hopes to see you there!

 

(addendum: This post was written prior to the Toronto show on November 21, and a terrible, no fun cold, prevented me from posting it in a timely manner, or getting to see the concert. However – the CD is terrific, and a worthy purchase. )

 

When Babies and Bath Water Fly


And once again, we’re having to dodge the flying babies and bathwater. Oh my, dear readers, when will we learn to take a collective deep breath before opining on the veracity and morality of what we read on social media?

The cause célèbre of the last several weeks has been the rash of sexual harassment/attack accusations being launched at some very powerful people. This is not a new thing, but it is a good thing, in how it is being conducted. For too long, pretty much every accusation put forward by a woman against a powerful man has simply been met with denial.

Anita Hill Clarence Thomas TIMEEven in the cases that were adjudicated in the courts, the female accuser would most often be slandered and humiliated, and the powerful male would walk away, legally unimpeded.

Not true, you say? Well golly gosh gee, why don’t you ask Anita Hill how she thinks the 1991 Clarence Thomas trial turned out? Pretty sure he wound up on the Supreme Court, and she wound up being condemned as a liar, despite there being four other female witnesses ready to testify, but never called.

jian ghomeshiOr cast your mind back to the 2016 Jian Ghomeshi trial. Like Miramax‘s Harvey Weinstein, Ghomeshi’s penchant for sexual harassment was legendary, an ‘open secret’ to most women in the Toronto media biz. Still, Ghomeshi walked, although his reputation was badly smeared.

But now, in the final months of 2017, a flood of accusations against bad actors in the entertainment, corporate and political world has been unleashed. It would be business as usual, except that this time around, we’re not waiting for the accusers to have their day in court. Instead, we’re actually believing the women who’ve come forward.

Since the first explosive charges against Weinstein, the hits have kept coming against other powerful men … this is, without a doubt, the biggest national conversation on sexual harassment since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas battle of the early ’90s.

Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck, Chris Sovino, Roy Price and then NO! not Mark Halperin! No! Not Matt Lauer! NO!!  Not Louis CK! Oh it’s just all too much!

What’s a liberal to do?

And then, the lowest blow of all … Senator Al Franken. Not Al Franken! This one had to be the worst accusation of all. Franken has been the only bright light worth watching or rooting for in the congressional vetting of Trump’s horrible string of nominees, each more disgusting, unqualified, and oblivious than the next.

Within hours of the Franken Fracas, the liberals on social media had staked out their martyr’s place, and had decided that Franken would have to take up residence on the cross, post haste.

Wisely, the Senator has expressed concern for how these events have been remembered and described, and he has demanded that a full Senate Ethics Committee investigation be launched .. upon himself.

What does the Senator know that his critics do not?

franken and tweeden USOI will not take a side on the LeeAnn Tweeden/Al Franken situation; there are simply too many reports, photos and timelines around the event to consider it anything but suspect.

I will say this, though – if it turns out that Tweeden’s accusations were more politically motivated than deeply felt, she will have done an incredible disservice to the brave women who are actually coming forward, at great emotional cost to themselves, against powerful people who have been abusing their power.

And there is absolutely no moral equivalency between Franken’s actions, and the criminal intent and pedophilia of Roy Moore. Franken’s crimes seem to have been a taste for low comedy and an over-abundance of Midwestern bonhomie. A prank, faked “boob grab” photo simply does not rise to the level of assault. Let’s not whinge on about slut-shaming and victim blaming if the reality is that the accusers are actually hard-core political operatives. The investigation will tell us which way that wind actually blows.

salem witch trialsI don’t care how ‘woke’ you are, it’s time to take it down a notch, because right now, this is all starting to look and sound a lot like the Salem Witch trials .. a whole lot of hysteria, self-flagellation, and possibly politically motivated accusations. And when it’s over .. just a lot of red, shamed faces, and the dead bodies of the innocent to show for it all.

Yes, we need to believe women. No, all offenses are not equal. You don’t get to be more offended than a victim. I get it .. we’re all giggly because wow .. finally! The bad guys are getting outed! But be careful what you wish for – the furor will die down, and Trump will still be president. That should tell you more than any other thing you read.

Here’s the thing, though …

trump grab em by the pussyThere have always been bad people accused of bad actions who simply chose to deny the claims. Trump did it last year during his run for President. Roy Moore is doing it now. Men like those are the sort that will continue to deny what they have done, even in the face of audio and video evidence.

(this just in … President Donald Trump now claims that the Access Hollywood tape on which he boasted of sexually assaulting women may not be genuine, according to a report in The New York Times. According to the Times, the president told a senator earlier this year that the tape was not genuine and repeated the claim to an adviser recently.)

The rich and powerful will always try to keep their victims powerless. Trump is in the process of attempting to rewrite history, and to rig the legal system in his, and other abusers, favour.

” The clearest example came in March. It received little coverage at the time. President Donald Trump reversed an Obama-era order that forbid federal contractors from keeping secret sexual harassment and discrimination cases.

The 2014 rule prohibited these companies, which employ about 26 million people, from forcing workers to resolve complaints through arbitration, an increasingly common method businesses use to settle disputes out of the public eye.” Huffington Post

So we’re in an interesting position, we liberal thinkers. On the one hand, we need to keep the pressure on, believing the courageous women who come forward with statements of abuse, and demanding justice; on the other hand, we have to beware of those who will subvert these times, and force us to throw our own best people under the bus.

We cannot play into the Republican playbook of deflect, deflect, deny, deflect. We have to be better than that. Right now, Roy Moore could be found with a dead 14 year old’s body in his trunk and he’d deny it. Not us liberals … we’d lead the blood hounds right to the trunk.

torches_and_pitchforksIt ain’t a level playing field. Don’t pretend that it is.

 

It’s asking a lot of us, emotionally. Perhaps this might be the time when we take a deep breath, and wait for a little more information before we take to the ‘streets’ of social media with our torches and pitchforks.

 

Thoughts on a Wintry Day


It’s Sunday. Column day. And I’ve got …nothing. i hate writing

 

It’s not that I’m ‘blocked.’ No, I can think of a million things to say, and even good ways to say them.

No, the problem is that there’s just too much to think about, in a world gone mad, in a world that’s mutating at warp speed, that requires not only the time and sense to read a good portion of the information and opinions and news and interesting tidbits, but to put it together in some sort of reasonable and understandable form.

There’s just so much going on, so much coming at us from all directions, too many unthinkable actions and angry words, too many people we once looked up to, dying, or worse still, living, but being found to have acted in ways that taint our respect for their life’s work.

We’re living in a time when we not only have to deal with the sins of bad actions and reprehensible people, we also have to juggle the idea of impending death by climate or nuclear war. And we are powerless. We cannot stop this runaway train.

dear diaryLuckily, it is not up to me or to you to figure out the answer to every trouble that lies before us. But I firmly contend that there are solutions for every problem. If we cannot find the answer, it’s not that there is no answer, it’s that the right person has not happened along with the missing piece of the puzzle. I believe that, because I have seen far too many people give up on a struggle without understanding that they are not always the owner of the solution. In fact, that sort of stance inevitably leads to bruised egos, and nothing of any substance being done about the dilemma.

It’s like we used to say when I worked in offices, “when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember your original intent was to drain the swamp.” (Damn! and I wasn’t gonna talk about politics this week!)

lizard brainToo much news, too many words, too many ideas. And too many people willing to tell us how we should interpret each of them. And when your brain hurts from trying to process everything going on around you, too easy to make decisions and take actions that stem from that part of our brain that never evolved past the lizard stage.

There are a couple of reasons why I, and so many others, are sometimes troubled by all of the concepts we’re asked to parse on any given day. One is our confirmation bias;  that’s “the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.” (thanks, wiki)

That’s one of the reasons we so often pass on memes that are untrue, but that tickle our funnybone, or inflame our angry elbow, or some such nonsense. In fact, if you see a meme that resonates so strongly that your immediate impulse is to ‘share’ it with everyone you know … it’s more than likely ‘fake news,’ and the work of paid trolls.

fake news

These memes, often rife with misspellings and grammatical errors, reach into our psyches and pull out the gnarled racist, misogynistic, and biased bits that people normally tend to hide from others.

But as soon as you share that meme … we know what and who you are.

 

The other reason why we can sometimes shy away from news that bothers us is our tendency to have a blind loyalty to those we admire. Whether those people are famous, or powerful, or our relatives, we find it hard to believe that news of their committing crimes could possibly be true, not just because we feel a bond with them, but because .. what does that say about us?

With the #MeToo campaign in full swing, and the accusations of horrible sexual harassment and assaults buzzing around, not just Hollywood and Washington, but every work place imaginable, half of the planet has to look at the other half of the planet and ask:

“How did this go on for so long? Why do so many people with even the most miniscule amounts of power think it’s okay to take what they want, sexually and emotionally, from those who cannot protect themselves, physically, mentally, or financially? And why do I still love/worship/respect the perpetrator of acts that morally sicken me?”

Is this mindshift something we can work forward from, or a distraction from the ‘business as usual’ mode that has pervaded all workplaces for eons? Do we speak the truth and shame the devil(s), or will we have a spate of accusations and reprisals, and then ignore the next wave of voices that ask for retribution?

rapepreventionI don’t know. I would like to think that society has evolved  enough to realize that there is nothing equitable about having half of the planet essentially living in a chronic state of fear that their bodies will be used by anyone who wants to take it. But then again, I’d think that Americans would be smart enough to realize that gun control would protect them from being killed by mentally ill mass murderers.

But what do I know, eh?

I’d also like to believe that it is possible for men to believe women when they speak, not because they have an army of people willing to confirm that they’re speaking the truth, but because they easily swallow the most moronic bullshit that flows out of the mouths of male politicians, preachers, and right wing newscasters.

Seems like the only way a woman is believed, no matter how impeccable her character and credentials may be, is if a male corroborates her statements. And that’s just heartbreaking.

So yeah, it’s column day, and I’ve got nothing. Nothing but a stew of thoughts and sadness at the state of our world, where there’s always a war going on somewhere, but our response is to lay wreaths at the cenotaphs honouring those who died in them, while we hold our breaths as a senile old man taunts a demented young man with a twitchy bombing finger on Twitter, and at least 2300 Canadian veterans are homeless and living on the street. This world, where babies in Yemen starve to death so that trillionaires in Saudi Arabia can amass more wealth and power, and where an  accused pedophile can take a seat in the U.S. Senate. A world where some of the wealthiest people in North America are about to enact new taxation to enrich themselves and their buddies to even more obscene levels, while they cut funds to women, children, the helpless and vulnerable, and veterans.

north-korea-bomb

I got nothing.

 

 

 

Pet Sounds Revisited


“The Internet is a lot like ancient Egypt: people write on walls and worship cats.” 

kittyon-a-keyboardCats, kittens, dogs, puppies, birds, horses, hedgehogs … you name it. The supply of animal pictures seems to be limitless. And nothing can draw an “awww” out of even the most hardened grouch’s mouth quicker than the sight of a tiny, helpless, pink-mouthed baby anything. We are helpless before their innocent charms.

People love their pets. Thirty-seven percent of Canadian households own one or more cats, 32% own dogs. As of March 2017, there were a total of 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats estimated to live in U.S. households as pets. Pets outnumber children four to one in the United States.

Of course, there are still way too many abused and unwanted animals, but for the most part, people take good care of their pets. The loss of a pet can be a traumatic emotional ordeal that takes as long, or longer, to recover from than losing a fellow human being.

It’s particularly difficult for those who are older, and may have lost a lot of their friends and family along the years. Many seniors have only a pet to call their friend. But many seniors also have a limited income, so when their companion animal gets ill, choices may have to be made that involve one of the two going without food or health care.

That`s why my friend Barbette Kensington, long time social worker and advocate, created the KittyPants charity six years ago, in partnership with Dundas Euclid Animal Hospital to assist their senior clients on fixed incomes with the cost of medications and grooming.

This afternoon, Sunday November 5, I’ll be one of several musicians performing for this worthy charity. We`ll be at Lola`s, 30 Kensington Avenue, Toronto, between 3pm and 7pm. Hope to see you there!

kittypants poster 2017
Since I’ll be busy today, I’ve revived this March 2013 column, brushed off the dust, and now present its slightly altered and hopefully improved, reanimated corpse ..

I often wonder if our lifelong fascination with pets has to do with most little creatures being smaller than ourselves. Perhaps having a living being in our lives, with even less power than we feel we possess, is our own first experience of authority, of being able to boss another living creature around.

Smart parents will guide the interaction between child and animal, and hopefully teach the child that having power over another is much less satisfying than having a companionable relation where both parties needs are met.

We start our relationships with pets when we are very young, and we learn to sing along to “B-I-N-G-O…and Bingo was his name O!,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and a song that was a massive radio hit, reaching #1 for Patti Page on Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1953, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?”

“On October 3, 1945, Elvis Presley at age ten sang “Old Shep” for his first public performance, a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, he stood on a chair to reach the microphone. He came in fifth place, winning $5 and a free ticket to the fair rides.” (Wikipedia)

Elvis recorded “Old Shep,” written by Red Foley and Arthur Willis about a dog Foley owned as a child, in 1956. The good ole boy loved dogs.

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Musicians have always seemed to have a special bond with animals. Pets have inspired many songs over the years. Dogs are especially memorialized. Some songs describe the human-animal relationship; some pick up on the innate characteristics of the beasts. You can dance to the “Stray Cat Strut,” mourn Tom Waits’ “Rain Dogs” wandering the wet city streets, or exult in Bowie’s post-apocalyptic future visions of “Diamond Dogs.

Nillson The PointgifSilly, happy songs like “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” (Lobo), Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog,” and “Me and My Arrow” (from Harry Nilsson‘s wonderful musical, The Point) celebrate the childlike wonder and friendship that sharing life with a beloved partner – who just happens to have four feet and a tail – can be. I’m constantly finding myself singing Jane Siberry’s “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog,” because I can so relate. “And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy, get along, get along, little doggy.”

i like big muttsNo genre is immune to the call of the wild. In 1968, Johnny Cash’s historic album “At Folsom Prison” contained the novelty song “Egg Sucking Dog.” Pseudo-Spanish cats have the stubble faced “El Gato Volador” to look up to. We all dance to our pet’s tunes.

Beatles cognoscenti argued over whether Paul McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” referred to his beloved sheepdog, or to his longtime ladyfriend pre-Linda, Jane Asher. “Jet” was McCartney’s ode to a horse. For years, scuttlebutt had it that Freddie Mercury wrote “My Best Friend” about his dog, but in reality, bassist John Deacon wrote the song, and he insists it’s about his wife. The lyrics work, either way!

Henry Gross’ song “Shannon” mourned a beloved dog, apparently Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s Irish Setter. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Get Down” isn’t about dancing, it’s a dog command, and when it was a radio staple, pooches would cower at the words “you’re a bad dog, baby.” Patty Griffin‘s “Heavenly Day” is a love song to her pup, but is frequently played at weddings. Norah JonesMan of the Hour”? Yep … her dog.

Got a taste for the surreal? Check out The Shaggs bizarre video for “My Pal Foot Foot,” which seems to be about a dog that just won’t stay at home. Kind of like the rascal Big Mama Thornton’s talking about in “(You Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Hound Dog.”

Walkin’ the Dog” written by Rufus Thomas, and recorded by acts as innocent as The Mousketeers, is actually a paean to heroin … go figure. The StoogesI Wanna Be Your Dog” is Iggy’s plea to be so caught up in the sexual moment that traditional male-female sexual roles blur. The song reeks of the desire to be dominated by a strong, controlling partner. Or so they tell me.

Led Zeppelin’s song catalogue includes “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” about Robert Plant’s dog, Strider, while “Black Dog” was named after a 14 year old black Labrador retriever who wandered around the grounds where the band was recording on a mobile studio.

Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” was originally called “Percy the Rat Catcher,” and yes, it’s about Syd Barrett’s cat, although many speculated that it referred to his then-girlfriend, Jenny Spires. David Gilmour’s 1987 blues “Dogs of War” sings about how money sinks its fangs into our collective necks through war profiteering.

Al Stewart could have referenced any animal when he wrote the lispy “Year of The Cat,” but the poetic lines weave a tale like a cat weaves around it’s master’s legs.

“On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the Year of the Cat.”

I have absolutely no idea what to think about They Might Be GiantsYouth Culture Killed My Dog.” Ah, the 80’s, which also spawned the New Wave songs, “Cool for Cats” (Squeeze) and “The Love Cats” (The Cure.)

One of the most sampled songs ever is George Clinton’s raucous “Atomic Dog,” with its funkadelic groove, released in 1982.

Michael Jackson sang about his love for pet rat “Ben.” Nelly Furtado was “Like a Bird,” while in “Little Bird,” Annie Lennox envies the bird’s freedom, and wishes she “had the wings to fly away from here.” “BlackBird” sings in the dead of The Beatles’ night. Everyone, including Joe Cocker, had a crack at “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

There’s even a whole collection of tunes about horses. Michael Martin Murphey eulogized the ghost of a woman and her horse in “Wildfire.” Wild horses, running free, unencumbered by society’s rules, are wistfully and frequently referenced in every genre. The Rolling StonesWild Horses,” has lyrics that have been credited variously to Keith Richard’s attempt to deal with the loss of a child, or to the words Marianne Faithful said to him after coming out of a drug induced coma.

And just for fun, country’s Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” asks …well, that’s fairly self-explanatory!

The clock in my house is governed by our pets. I rise far too early to tend to their needs, and we cannot be away from home for more than 7 or 8 hours at a time, lest their tiny dishes grow empty. We walk on floors that glimmer with pet hair, and try to ignore the dust bunnies. Tons of money has been spent on pet food and toys. The melting of the snow in Spring reveals a yard collection that has most certainly not been left by the Easter Bunny. The burning question is “Who Let the Dog Out?” Like alien overlords, our pets are our rulers.

And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy.

Tom Waits, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson, Lobo, Henry Gross, Cat Stevens, Jane Siberry, The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Joe Cocker, Nelly Furtado, Iggy Pop, The Stooges, Freddie Mercury, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, The Shaggs, Big Mama Thornton, Rufus Thomas,