When Is A Lamp Just A Lamp?


by Roxanne Tellier

Humans are incredibly narcissistic. At least one of the many writers of the Bible understood this when they wrote,

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
if-god-created-man-in-his-own-image

That is some kinda entitled privilege, your basic eminent domain mandate, right there. And since Genesis was telling us how much we have in common with the Supreme Being, and that we have ‘dominion’ over all of those other creatures, it was probably only natural that we would assume our own sort of godliness by conferring human traits to these creatures, and then assigning those traits that we perceive and like or dislike in them, to other humans.

It’s called anthropomorphising. We gaze into the faces of our pets, our cats and dogs, and believe that they reflect back our same emotions. But when animals behave in ways we dislike, we can find their actions ‘catty,’ and then apply that characteristic to someone who is devious or spiteful, or view the simple but steadfast hound as “dogged,” which we then use as a compliment for someone who is stubbornly single minded.

politicians before and aferWe call a fool “asinine” because we believe that donkeys are stubborn and stupid. A hawk, with it’s razor talons and sharp beak doesn’t wait around for prey, and so the bird’s tendency gave the epithet “hawkish” to warmongers, with their aggressive, attack-prone natures.

Sluggish, slothful, fishy, chicken, sheepish, squirrelly …. we see parts of ourselves in each of these creatures.

I’m not the only gardener that talks to her plants – it’s been a ‘thing’ for as long as we’ve been hunters and gatherers.

Proving we crazy plant-talkers right, in 2019 the Royal Horticultural Society researchers discovered that talking to your plants really does help them grow. And they also found that plants prefer a female voice over a male’s, growing faster when spoken to in dulcet tones.

Even the most humble amongst us just can’t help thinking that inanimate objects have human characteristics. Remember Tom Hanks and his volley ball buddy in Castaway? That was a great deal more than just an interesting plot device – it capitalized on a desperate human need for company and some sense of feeling known and understood.

Or perhaps you recall this commercial from 2002?

Of course, the commercial mocked our need to anthropomorphize things. (It was also a paean to gross capitalistic commercialism and a throwaway society, but that’s a tale for another day.)

And – 16 years later – that lamp did indeed find a home.

Because .. again … anthropomorphization. We just love to think that every thing, living or inanimate, shares the same emotions that we do. We are wrong. But that need for connection is the way that we try to sate our craving for social connection.

Since the caveman days, we’ve had the option to either work with or against other humans. We weigh up the pluses and minuses of creating tribes, and usually decide that avoiding loneliness, and of course, enjoying the strength of numbers, is worth putting up with the foibles of other people.

We feel ‘lonely’ when our actual social relations fall short of how much social connection we want. The whole sensation of ‘feeling lonely in a crowd’ has to do with a lack of social bonds within that crowd of people.

pet rocksWe perceive human qualities in non-human beings or objects when we believe we can intuit a human quality that might apply, like when our cell phone suddenly goes on the fritz, right when we’re supposed to make a call we don’t feel like making. Or maybe our car starts making a weird noise and we want to understand what has ‘upset’ the car, and provoked the object’s behaviour.

But mostly it’s when we crave social contact. Lonely people, people with a high empathy level, or people who need a lot of stimuli in their personal space, are more likely to perceive human qualities in inanimate objects.

In psychological studies, they have found that less lonely people were less prone to anthropomorphizing.

So – does a cure for anthropomorphization lie in the flitting of a ‘social butterfly’ ? If we can assuage that social connection craving by other means, will we stop seeing humanity in inanimate objects?

clocky alarm clockIn one psychological study, participants were shown descriptions of four gadgets, inventions that purported to make their lives easier. One was an alarm clock that rolled around, so that the waker would have to chase and capture the clock to turn off the alarm. Another was a “Pillow Mate” – a pillow that could be programmed to give you a hug. Another was an air purifier for people with allergies or respiratory problems.

About half of those participating in the study were told to think about an important and meaningful relationship that they have with another person, and about how they could count on that person not abandoning them. The other half were told to think about a casual acquaintance.

They were then asked how they’d rate the items based on human-like traits, for example, if they thought the item had a ‘mind of it’s own.’

tom hanks and wilsonIt turned out that those people who had been thinking about an important and close relationship prior to being asked about the gadgets just didn’t see as many human qualities in the inventions. Their need for social connection having been met, they didn’t feel a need to have a gadget that replaced human contact.

Which means that Tom Hanks’ soccer ball would never have become his best buddy, if there’d been another human on that island. Poor old Wilson.

talking toasterA lamp cannot be sad, but people can be lonely. Loneliness is when we deny our human need for companionship, and if we can’t find another human to bond with, to care about, and to share our lives with, we’re far more likely to see a reflection of humanity in the chromed smoothness of a toaster or the sly sideways glance of a fox.

Just ask the cartoon industry.

 

Montreal, Cemeteries, and Donovans


by Roxanne Tellier

My family has a tiny burial plot on Mount Royal, in the Cotes de Neiges cemetery, and that’s where the bones and ashes of my ancestors have been interred for over a hundred years.

It’s been two months since my aunt’s passing. The clan will gather this week to bring her ashes home.

Patricia Donovan, daughter of Freda (James) Donovan and Denis Patrick Donovan, the last of her generation, died March 29, 2019 in Ottawa. Born in Montreal, Patricia lived most of her life there. She enjoyed travel, and worked for a time in Washington, D.C. She moved to Toronto and cared for her mother until her mother’s passing. 

aunts and uncles 1970 001

Patricia was a writer, painter, and sculptor who pondered life’s big questions.
Auntie Pat had fifteen nieces and nephews and enjoyed a unique relationship with each of them. She is survived by the clan, and will be missed by them.”

My family has always had an easy relationship with death; when I was young, my mother would often take my sister and I to the mountain for a picnic in the graveyard. We’d loll on the well tended grass while we ate lunch, and then wander around the tombstones and mausoleums, looking for famous names.

Michael Donovan A shamrock_in_the_snowI believe that my cousin Michael Leo Donovan, a man who loves the city of Montreal with a fervour I’ve never seen excelled, wrote a book about one of the cemetery’s denizens, the statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee, after repeatedly seeing his tomb on family visits.

darcy mcgeeIn 1867 he became a Father of Confederation. It was said that if Sir John A. MacDonald of Ontario and Sir George Etienne Cartier of Quebec were the architects of Canada. D’Arcy McGee was its prophet. He was murdered on April 6, 1868, in Ottawa, while returning home after a session of the House.” (A Shamrock in the Snow, 1996)

Other well known Canadians resting in peace at this, and the neighbouring cemetery, include the Reverend William Squire, the first person buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, who died of cholera in 1852, after performing a religious sick visit to a local merchant; Thomas Lee Hackett, a young Irishman shot during a fight between the Catholic and Protestant Irish on July 12, 1877, the day that the Orangeman had chosen to parade on the streets of Montreal; and Sir Arthur William Currie, Commander of Canadian Troops during World War I, and Principal of McGill University from 1920-1933, whose death in 1933 drew a funeral procession with a crowd estimated at 20,000 people, consisting of politicians, diplomats, military bands and hundreds of veterans. The Cross of Sacrifice, a military monument, marks his grave.

Here you will also find David Thompson, surveyor and explorer, who died very poor with no grave marker. The grave languished for seventy years, until, in 1926, the Canadian Historical Association erected a monument to him with the epitaph, “To the memory of the greatest of geographers who for 34 years explored and mapped the main travel routes between the St Lawrence and the Pacific.”

joe beef tavernMontreal’s revered Joe Beef has a place of honour. “His real Irish name was Charles McKieman. He owned the famous “Joe Beef’s Canteen,” located near the port. His 3-storey building held a tavern, a restaurant with free food for the homeless, a dorm of 100 beds and a basement full of strange menagerie. He died in 1889 aged 54. His six sons and his wife organized a very impressive funeral for him. Every office in the business district closed for the afternoon, and there were representatives of workers from all classes in the procession.”

Several more souls were added to the site in 1912, when six victims of the Titanic‘s sinking were buried there, including Charles Melville Hays, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. (A further five lie in the Notre Dame de Neiges Cemetery, and one in the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery. Montreal was, sadly, well represented in the tragedy.)

laurier palace fireThere is also a section dedicated to some of the 76 small children who died in the Laurier Palace Theatre fire in 1927, an event so horrific to Montrealers that a law was summarily passed forbidding the entry of children under 16 to any theatre or cinema screenings. That law remained in effect until 1961

Calixa Lavallée, the man who, in 1880 wrote our national anthem, “Oh Canada,” was born in Verchères, Quebec in 1842, but enlisted as a musician with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He died a respected composer and conductor in 1891, from tubercular laryngitis, in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was buried until 1933, when his body was brought to Montreal for reburial.

More recent interments include Celine Dion‘s husband, René Angélil; journalist and politician, Nick Auf der Maur; Gratien Gelinas, actor; hockey players Doug Harvey and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard; Pierre Laporte, politician, who was murdered by the FLQ in 1970; Robert Bourassa, 22nd premier of Quebec; and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, who truly made the city world class, by organizing Expo 67, along with playing host to the 1976 Olympic Games, and giving it an amazing Metro service.

Small wonder the place is considered one of the most haunted spots in Montreal. Often described as a “City of the Dead overlooking a City of the Living“, ghostly spirits are believed to roam the grounds after sundown.

Not to be forgotten, other mortal remains lie outside the cemetery boundaries. Most famously, the tomb of Simon McTavish is located in the dark forest above Peel Street. The angry Scottish fur baron died unexpectedly in 1804 while overseeing the construction of a magnificent castle on the slopes. Stories of his ghost tobogganing down Mount Royal in his own coffin terrified Montrealers during the 1800s. To make people forget, city officials demolished his abandoned castle and used the rubble to literally bury his mausoleum. Archaeological work a few years ago disturbed his tomb and now rumour has it he is haunting Mount Royal again.”

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.But the most common ghost spotted on the mountain where First Nation peoples were also known to bury their dead is that of an Algonquin warrior.

I’ll keep an eye open for that lonely fellow when I’m there.

I always look forward to visiting Montreal, the city of my youth. These are the grounds I stomped, my neighbourhoods, my restaurants, my mountain, my Canada Life Weather Beacon, first lit up in 1956, that let the city know what weather was on the way. It is and ever will be the city of my heart, no matter where I roam.

I miss my city, but it is inevitably, my family ties that pull me back when I have been too long gone. You can’t stay away from Donovans for very long.

Oh, ‘céad mile fáilte’ they’ll greet you down at Donovan’s
As cheery as the springtime, as Irish as the conovan
The wish of my heart is if ever I had anyone
That ev’ry luck that lightens life …. may light upon the Donovans”

the uncles 001Growing up, I think I always took my family a little for granted. Maybe I just assumed that all families were graced with so much talent, in so many fields. We grew up with my uncle Dennis , co-creator and writer of The Beachcombers; my uncle Leo, whose majestic land and seascapes graced our homes; my uncle John, who was possessed not only of great writing skill, but also of a deep, radio friendly baritone speaking and singing voice; my aunt Pat, a writer, painter, and woman of enormous intelligence; and my own mother, who was a superb dancer, writer, and editor.

cousins 001With that sort of heritage, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the 15 children they brought into the world also possessed many talents, not only in the arts, but in social and computing skills. We just never thought that we wouldn’t be able to do whatever we wanted to do with our lives.

daisy circusMany of us write. I mentioned Michael, above, but there’s also Kieran, the poet and singer-songwriter; and Rita, who has won multiple awards for her nine books, short stories and essays.

Michael also wrote and produced a fine video series on the origin of Montreal street names, now available on youtube. (And yes, those are his kids getting in on the act as Ms Kayleigh and Complete Stranger. )

 

 

dianne donovan beat divasWe all sing. Dianne toured with a Harry James tribute for years before settling down in Austin, Texas with her husband, where she also hosts Classical Austin on KMFA radio, produces a weekly vocal jazz show, “Voices in Jazz” for CKUA Radio in Edmonton, and has a new CD release, “A Musing,” featuring mostly original compositions. She also teaches a cooking class with her jazz trio, The Beat Divas. (dianne donovan beat divas.jpg)

aileen paintingSome of us draw, sculpt and paint. My cousin Aileen took her dad’s painting skill and crafted it into a long career as a well known animal portraitist during her years living in the North West Territories with the Inuit peoples. She now focuses mainly on past life regressions for both pets and people.

I could literally go on and on, listing the accomplishments of this talented group. I’m extremely proud of my family, with good reason.

cousins 003And I’ll get to see some, though not all of them, this week. While the occasion is solemn, visits to my city and my family are never terribly formal for more than a few minutes. We are a group that cannot be repressed for long – laughter, good humour, and our love for each other guarantees a boisterous reunion.

The passing of the last of our parent’s generation seems so final, and yet there’s a part of me that can’t believe that my cousins and I – even as we develop deeper ‘laugh lines’ and grey hair – will ever really age enough to become the ‘grumps’ of the family.

cousins 002I’ll bring that up with the clan at the wake next week, and see if anyone’s pencilled in a date for when we can get to the ‘growing up‘ part of life. With any luck, we can keep putting it off forever.

So far, so good.

 

 

Britney Spears Scares Pirates


by Roxanne Tellier

I originally wrote this column in April 2015.  Woke up today unable to write about the things I find so depressing in 2019, so … this retread will have to substitute for new thoughts on ‘interesting times.’

sexy-music“If music be the food of love, play on!”  Like food, music can be comforting. It can also be stimulating, annoying, or cloying. Music releases dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone, just like sex and actual food. Music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving. Dopamine release is at “peak emotional arousal” during music listening, so you really ARE getting a bang for your musical buck.

Although there are exceptions – whether you consider them cursed or blessed, 5% of the population is indifferent to music, and feels nothing when they hear it.

But for the rest of us, music is much like a drug. When you’re listening to music that ‘speaks’ to you, you are completely dialled in to your brain, and that changes your brain chemistry. Music will change or augment your good or bad mood, and can cause you to slow down and relax, or jump up and dance.

brain-on-music-scienceComplex changes occur in our brains when we hear our favourite songs. We can be unconsciously manipulated through sound; studies show that listening to sad music can lead to a wide range of complex and partially positive emotions, like nostalgia.  Listening to particularly sad or happy music can change the way we perceive the world.

When you’re watching a film, you’re unconsciously processing the background/soundtrack tones and tempos which signal to our brains that what we are seeing should be experienced in the way the writer intended.

britney-scares-piratesThe sort of music we want to hear at a given moment has much to do with what we’ve heard before, the sounds that we’ve absorbed through our lives, the sounds that feel familiar, that work within the tonal range that defines what is ‘popular’ in our culture.  Which is why Britney Spears’ music has been used by the British Royal Navy to scare off Somali pirates.

Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens explained the tactics: “Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can’t stand western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect. As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.   (metro.co.uk)

The inherent nature and power of music affects the animal kingdom as well. Cows produce more milk when listening to relaxing music, and 3% more milk listening to slow music over fast.  Birds and whales compose musical creations very like man’s, combining rhythm, length, patterns and pitches we can recognize, and both will sing complex songs to communicate with each other, and during courtship.

music-dogs-loveIf your pet has a tendency to overeat in stressful situations, or suffers from separation anxiety, quiet music playing on the radio may calm their anxieties, relax muscles, improve digestion and increase restful sleep. Dogs are particularly sensitive to music, with classical music having been shown to actually calm pups prone to epileptic seizures, and stimulate and release endorphins in the brain that aid in pain reduction.

Our brains love repetition. The first time we hear a song, our brains are processing the input, constantly predicting what will happen next, based on a pattern. And brains are a little lazy … we love repetitive choruses. In fact, for each repetition of a chorus, the chances of a song reaching the top of the charts rise by 14.5%

no-stairwayBut there’s a limit to how much repetition we can take. Although hearing a song again and again makes your brain happy, because it’s already done the work to figure out what comes next, after a while, overexposure to songs causes an actual irritation. Like when you can’t bear another chorus of “Jingle Bells,” or break into hives at the ten millionth rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”

One thing that I always find hilarious is how easily we mishear lyrics. As we listen, we’re actually Interpreting and anticipating what will come next, a combination of hearing and hope. And once you’ve misheard a lyric, it becomes more difficult to process the actual lyrics, especially if a part of you is tickled by how witty you find the misheard version.

cheese-mondegreenThere’s an actual term for misheard lyrics – mondegreen. It was coined by writer Sylvia Wring, in a Harper’s piece in 1954. She admitted to mishearing a piece of ancient English poetry her mother had read to her in her youth. Instead of hearing, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And laid him on the green,” she heard, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.”

Makes sense, right? Even though it’s incorrect, it fulfills the two-step process of hearing – the physics of sound entering your ear, and the part where your brain takes the sound and interprets what you’ve heard. When communication breaks down between sound and meaning – you’ve got a mondegreen.

We take what we’ve heard and shape it to what works for us. Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Rap City. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “bad moon on the rise,” becomes a ‘bathroom on the right.”  It makes more sense to imagine Jimi Hendrix kissing a guy than the sky.

brain-on-music-smileMondegreens work so well, in poetry, music and everyday life, that the misheard can become a new reality. “Spitting image” was originally “spit and image.” (Spit meaning likeness.)  It drives me batty when I see a writer refer to an all-intensive purpose, but they’ve come there from ‘for all intents and purposes. “.It’s not ‘tow the line, ‘ it’s ‘toe the line,’ from the early days of the British Royal Navy,(those guys again!) at a time when seamen fell in for inspection barefoot.

It’s a ‘dog eat dog world,’ not ‘a doggy dog world.’ We ‘champ,’ not ‘chomp’ at the bit, and we ‘nip it in the bud,’ not the ‘butt.’  Perhaps these misinterpretations are ‘blessings in the skies.’ No, wait, that would be a ‘blessing in disguise.’ You’ve got another ‘think’ (not ‘thing’) coming if you believe these expressions are really “one in the same,” (one and the same.)

For some reason, Cat Steven’s classic, ” First Cut Is The Deepest” seems to be a mondegreen buffet, no matter who has recorded the tune.

People hear the lyrics, “First cut is the deepest.” and mishear it as ….

First time as a DJ.

The First God is a DJ

First cousin of Jesus

The first God was a teapot.

The first god is a demon.

The first guy is the deepest

The thirst god is the deepest

The first dive in the deepend.

And, ” And I’m sure going to give you a try.” as  “And I’m sure going to give you a child.”

And, ” But if you want, I’ll try to love again ” as “But if you want, I’ll try another man.”

And, ” When it comes to loving me, he’s first.” as ” When it comes to love in need he’s the worst.”

People …. enunciate!

But even the grumpiest and most contrary Grammar Nazi can get a chuckle out of misheard lyrics. This video, apparently made as a birthday gift to a friend, captures every nuance and mondegreen that listeners heard in Joe Cocker’s classic rendition.

And the folks at pleated-jeans.com have a ton of terrific videos you can enjoy on Youtube, starting with this one:

and then there’s this :

 

As a prize for getting through all of that science, here’s my  gift to you. SketchShe, the models-turned-comedy act from Australia, released a new video this week. Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington, and Madison Lloyd debuted their latest ‘Mime Through Time’ sketch – but this time they decided to go topless.  Now that I’ve got your attention … here’s a lip sync medley that romps through seven decades of music. Enjoy!

 

The Trappings of Fame


“Fame … makes a man take things over …. puts you there where things are hollow”

If you were a baby boomer in the sixties, you most likely never knew anyone who was ‘really really’ rich. There was a kid in my school whose dad was a famous football player, but I didn’t know her well. And there was another friend who came from Texas; they had a big house, and even had a maid, who let us make chili and mess up the kitchen.

I had relatives who had oil patch money – they didn’t come around to many family parties, though. They likely got tired of being hit up for loans that would never get repaid.

USA - 30th Anniversary of Elvis Presley's Death - GracelandWhen you think about it, one of the most famous, and presumably wealthiest, person with a high profile, back in those days, was Elvis. And by today’s standards, Graceland isn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. Not with all that shag carpeting. But for the time, it was high glam.

As a child, I knew, through reading, that there had been times in history when some people had attained obscene wealth, usually by conquering another country, and by subjecting those natives to their will. Those people were called kings, and whatever they wanted was granted to them, for their skill in warfare.queen of sheba

England had a royalty, but they wore sensible shoes.

I didn’t look up to those people; I never wanted to be ‘royal’ It seemed a pretty high price to pay for a life lived entirely in the public eye. And back then, there were a lot of people who wondered if the trade off of privacy for public adulation was a good one.

Now, of course, people will do anything to be seen, hopefully to be admired, for whatever it is they can do to be different. Tattoo a snake on your face? We’ll only be impressed if you’re the first to think to do so.

“Could it be the best, could it be? Really be, really, babe?”

I don’t know if it is a Canadian way of thinking, but I remember how most people I knew, growing up, adhered to the ‘tall poppy syndrome‘ … that meant that you didn’t want to stick your head up too high, or blow your own horn a little too loud, because you’d be sure to get cut down to size if you did. The syndrome is basically a way of sneering at those who revel in having a ton of money – which we assume is ill-gotten gains – or of seeking fame in public life.

william shatnerIn the seventies, you’d have been more likely to hear someone snigger, “geez, who does he/she think he/she is!” when a Canadian even got a mention in American media.

We did not put many Canadians on pedestals for their achievements, though we’d often get a little warm feeling when we felt like we’d snuck a Canadian through, behind America’s back. Like that William Shatner guy, with the weird way of talking. His mum had an acting school on Girouard in Montreal, so he was one of the good one’s.

We had our own awards, our Junos instead of Grammys, our Genie awards instead of Oscars, and by geez, that should be good enough for any Canadian! Just look at that Walter Ostanek fella, and all his polka Grammy wins! Does HE look happy? Now, you just go practice your accordion, and try not to get all stuck up and big headed!

“Fame …. what you like is in the limo”

And then came …. rock and roll hedonism.

“In the seventies … There was more excess, more hedonism, more drugs, more attitude, more sex, more style, more enthusiasm. Just?… more.” (The Telegraph, UK)

mudsharkI’m not saying that the days of mud sharks, Whovian displays of hotel trashing, and the deaths by overdose of nearly every icon of the day opened the door to the pedestaling of the rich and famous….

but it helped.

The austerity of the post war years, and the drive and eventual success of the lower class kids, who knew the only way to get out of soul crushing poverty was to get into sports or rock n roll, became the envy of those who wondered what it would be like to literally have the world and all of it’s glories at their feet … drugs, drink, the most beautiful women in the world … it could all be yours, if you just cracked the Top Ten Charts.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Some of the luckier and richer rockers listened to their dear old dads, or to the managers and accountants who flocked to help funnel some of this largesse into safer investments, like property. And sadly, some of those ‘helpful’ advisors turned out to be there with the intention of taking advantage of the silly geese now laying multiple golden eggs.

Fame and wealth are on a sliding scale, as the wiser of the nouveau riche artistes soon learned. And if those musos wanted to keep at least some of the moolah that was coming in, in order to pay for their growing entourages, they’d have to learn to manage, manipulate, and increase their funds, just like the robber barons of the last century had done.

And off they went, to the tax havens…. and began to grow their own little dynasties …

“Fame, “Nein! It’s mine! is just his line … to bind your time, it drives you to, crime .”

We aging hippies, especially those of us who chose careers in the arts, might not have prioritized the acquisition of wealth, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t drool a little when these new ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ were dangled before us, in the mid eighties.

make it rainMTV glommed onto that envy, and promoted the lifestyles of celebrities in shows like “The Fabulous Life Of … “ and “Cribs.” These quasi reality features pretended to give the plebes a glimpse into the opulent homes, glamorous lifestyles, and vacation playgrounds of those musicians who had ‘made it.’

FAME … and wealth, were now what everyone wanted to achieve, by any means possible. Oh yeah, it was all about the Benjamins …

“Fame … what you get is no tomorrow … “

And we bought it .. oh yes, those of us who looked on and envied the lifestyles of those who had cracked the money and power code, wanted in on the fun.

“Americans are accustomed to talking about fame using the heady language of the cosmos: the celebrity as a celestial truth, situated above us; the superstar as a force in the firmament, all heat and light and gravitational demands. Michael Jackson’s environmental form of fame—music that permeated people’s lives, iconography that saturated American culture—anticipated the intimate version of celebrity that is the default today. It is fitting, in that regard, that celebrity itself functions as a spectral character in Leaving Neverland. Jackson was acutely aware of the affordances of fame; he leveraged them, the documentary suggests—and, ultimately, he weaponized them. Joy Robson, Wade’s mother, recalls Jackson making a request of her; she recalls, as well, that when she refused it, he coolly informed her: “I always get what I want.”” (The Atlantic, March 2019)

This year has seen the release of several documentaries that question what the pedestaling of fame has done to our vulnerable young women and men. With the allegations in Leaving Neverland and Surviving R. Kelly, we also need to be aware of what fame does to the psyches of those who wield that much power.

camp followersThere have always been camp followers, disciples, those who believe that proximity to what they covet, for even a few moments, raises their own profile and value amongst those who have not had the same access to the royalty of their time.

When those who possess power of any potency use manipulation, a righteous fear, and their fame/perceived authority to get what they want, they are abusing that power in order to exploit vulnerable people for their own advantage or gain. And even if those people go willingly to the abuse, it’s still abuse.

Now, the funny thing is that, somewhere along the line, we all started to think that those who achieve fame and financial reward for being good at one thing, like music, or business, could translate that magic to other careers.

And strangely enough, in a culture that appears to embrace a meritocracy, those who seek fame and power somehow manage to drape the mantle of unique talents upon those whose rise to fame may well have simply come from a well placed endorsement, a reality television episode, or a sex tape featuring some very, very large buttocks.

kardashian buttWe would never expect our dentist to take out our appendix or fix our plumbing, but for some reason, we think that someone who has managed to acquire – by hook, and likely crook – a large amount of money, should be given free reign to guide a country, or should be allowed to tell us who and how to worship. The mind boggles.

The political ‘base’ of a country is as subservient to a populist politician, as a congregation is to a hyperbolic preacher, or a groupie or ‘musical prodigy’ is to a music mogul. There’s a parallel in the abuses.

rewards just aheadDangling the promises of future prosperity, they will assure their acolytes that there is a brilliant future awaiting them, if they’ll just listen to their master’s advice. The prey might wonder at what is asked of them, if they follow this path, and they may be reluctant to give their all, without the assurances, as false as they may be, that their faith will bring them enormous rewards in the end.

The followers will put that preacher, or politician, or musical ‘genius’ on a pedestal, and make that person their whole world, believing that their devotion and loyalty is as strongly returned.

But eventually, and inevitably, that faith is abused.

Our adoration of those with fame and wealth blinds us, and when those whom we’ve put on a pedestal are toppled, our beliefs in our selves is fractured.

toppling idolsWhat goes up .. must come down. At some point, the blinders fall off, and we see that those we call gods and kings are just selfish, spoiled, narcissists, and that we are the toys and pawns they use to satisfy their own whims and urges.

2011 … “A new study co-funded by the Gates Foundation, however, portrays the ultrarich as lost souls burdened by the fears, worries and family distortions of too much money.

Yeah yeah. Cry me a river.

 

 

Observations on a Birthday


agingSpeaking from experience, I can tell you that it’s not necessarily true that you’ll get a whole lot wiser as you age. I’m just grateful to have had the chance to have a good number of years to get experience in dealing with the range of circumstances and individuals that have crossed my path.

If you are very lucky, you might live long enough to begin to get a sense of how others see the world. Having empathy for the different types of people you’ll encounter thru the years will smooth the jagged edges of most circumstances.

You will experience times in your life that will be confusing. Some moments might even be terrifying. Still others will be so delightful that you won’t want to ever move on from that pleasure .. and that, ironically, can impede our ebb and flow through the years we get to experience. A life is the sum total of a kaleidoscope of emotions, both good and bad.

kaleidescope

Nobody gets a smooth ride from start to finish – well, nobody that you’ll ever know. Some begin their lives from behind the starting line, while other’s get a huge head start, and a leg up over the first obstacles.

Some even get carried to within mere feet of the finish line. But one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that there’s nothing to be gained from pointing out how badly or how well others are running this race. The only contestant that matters is YOU.

I’ve also had to take my lumps learning to enjoy where I am ‘right now,’ as opposed to where I’ll be at another time. As a young girl, I’d often pin my hopes on a day when I’d be old enough to make my own decisions. Of course, it never occurred to me that being a kid without responsibilities also had it’s up side.

take responsibilityIt was probably right around that time that I also began to understand that responsibility works both ways, and that to blame others for my happiness or unhappiness was a mug’s game. I’m the only one who governs my beliefs and behaviours, as much as I’d like to point a finger at someone – anyone! – else.

Now, blaming drink or drugs for behaving badly… that I’ve done. But, no matter how much I’d like to slough off that truth, the plain fact is that I’m the one who decided to indulge in the drinks or drugs, so .. yep, still my fault.

In the same context, my better angels know that I should rise above judging others for what they do, since I not only have no idea what drove their decisions, I have no idea when I might need to beg their understanding for some shortcoming of my own!

There’s an old saying in show biz, that goes, “be nice to those you meet on the way up, because those are the same people you’ll meet on the way down.”  And though most of us would prefer to believe we’ll never be on the way down – life has a way of opening our eyes to reality.

It’s probably best to just be nice to everybody. After all, being easy to get along with never hurt anyone in the long run.

Though, I’ll admit .. I can’t swear that I am advising that way of life from any real or personal knowledge; I’ve had my share of diva moments.

silencio

Sometimes I speak from experience, other times, from a sad point of observation.

Time is a tricky thing, and refuses to do what you think it should; when we’re young, we want to be old, and when we’re old, we wish we could be young again, but with the knowledge we developed through all of those long years.

Human nature makes us want what we do not have. Sometimes it drives us to personal betterment; sometimes it just drives us crazy.

When we’re working at a crummy day job, we can make the mistake of asking only to be able to hang in until it’s time to clock out, or until it’s the weekend, or our next holiday. Dreams are great .. but never dream your life away.

baba ram dassI have known people that kept on deferring any enjoyment of their life, always believing that better days were coming. Sadly .. they were wrong. And even if they HAD won that lottery, or married that model, what they’d have found was that anticipation and hope are always much more fun than getting everything we thought we always wanted. Those millions often come with strings attached, and supermodels aren’t necessarily all they appear to be. You just never know.

We live our lives day by day, not in giant gulps.  It’s best to be like the Buddhists, and ‘be here now,‘ letting each moment have it’s due and it’s time … tomorrow comes much sooner than we expected.

Which reminds me – gravity sucks. I know this because it has effectively made some bits of me larger that I preferred smaller, while other bits are now much closer to the ground than previously. I’m even shorter than I was when I wasn’t all that tall to begin with. But things could be worse; none of my career aspirations, then or now, have ever had height requirements.

rox pow wow bday lunch dec 3 2018While there’s not a lot I can do about the sagging and bagging, I know that a big, warm, and heartfelt smile makes anyone more pleasing to the eye. I’m not gonna make any magazine covers, but I’m happy with who I am these days.  And you’re not so bad yourself!

This aging stuff has responsibilities. There are many that will look to their elders, and assume that they are the keepers of wisdom. That’s not always true, of course – aging doesn’t guarantee wisdom. But if our years of experience have given us some knowledge and experience, it is incumbent that we share our best strategies, if we are asked.

I like to go a step further and share my ‘wisdom’ whether you like it or not. You’re welcome.

All I can say is, I’ve been a ‘senior citizen’ now for nearly a week, and it’s not anything as scary as I thought it was going to be. If that helps anyone who’s nearing the big day and feels a little nervous .. consider the alternative, and remember that there are many who never get the chance to grow older.

We ain’t done yet …. and with any luck, we never will be …

never too late

 

 

 

Stuff Is Hard


scott shelson teddy boysI didn’t have the best week, to be honest. On Tuesday, I learned that a very dear friend had passed away after a series of health setbacks. Scott Shelson was a good man; look up ‘mensch’ in the dictionary – his photo should be there.

Scott was not only a fabulous musician, he was movie star handsome, smart, funny, athletic, a great husband, and an amazing dad. He ran a courier company for years, and many a musician found a temporary or long term job there when they needed it.

scott shelson sexy shirtAt the family’s ‘Celebration of Life,” the scores of those who had come to honour Scott praised his commitment to his family and friends, saying that he was a man who had never been heard to raise his voice in anger, or have a bad word to say about anyone – even those who might have sinned against him in the past.

A good man – a big loss for those of us who loved and respected him.

Two days later, the world mourned the loss of another irreplaceable human being, when Aretha Franklin succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I can’t remember a world in which she was not a force to be reckoned with, not only in music, but in civil rights, and in her position as senior female spokesperson. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. baby…

aretha franklin youngEvery musical entity on the planet .. and many non-musical entities … have written glowing tributes to the Queen of Soul. So, of course, the Orange Mango waved away the importance of her life and works when he dismissively referred to her as someone who once worked for him. Sigh. Money can’t buy class.

I do know that she was asked to perform at Dead Clown Walking’s inauguration, and vehemently refused to do so. Maybe in the fantasy carnival ride of his mind, he thinks she accepted. Who knows? Or cares?

“Though she largely refrained from publicly criticizing Trump during or after the 2016 campaign, two individuals with direct knowledge of her political opinions said she was repelled by the Republican standard-bearer, his policy prescriptions, and his rhetoric. One source close to Franklin told The Daily Beast that after the election, she confided to associates that “no amount of money” could convince her to perform at the inauguration.”

Orange Condom represents the worst America has to offer, but Miss Franklin showed the world the heights an American could achieve with a real love of her art and her country.

Rest in well deserved peace, Queen … we are richer for having had you in our lives.

While I’m not all that into astrology, August 16 is a very interesting and auspicious day for comings and goings. We lost Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll, on that day, as well as Aretha, seminal blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, and baseball giant, Babe Ruth, while Madonna, Steve Carell, James Cameron, Angela Bassett and Kathie Lee Gifford were born on that day. And … August 16 is also National Bratwurst Day, National Roller Coaster Day, National Rum Day, and National Tell A Joke Day.

Things that make you go .. hmmm … and then pour a large rum and coke to go with your bratwurst, while you tell a joke about roller coasters.

In other news – the world just keeps getting more chaotic, and honest to pete, guys … can we just stop with the getting all up in our own selves, cherry picking facts, and doing a lemming-like march to every available cliff?

Being ‘woke’ is great when we’re in progressive mode. But when a huge slice of the electorate is obsessed with real and made up reasons to be frightened and angry, it’s time to get back to the middle-right, not the Middle Ages. People care a great deal about jobs, the economy, health care, education … and why their kids can’t make enough money to move the hell out of their basement.

Trying to get them to be more interested in deep states, conspiracy theories, and fiery deaths from either an apocalypse or a nuclear war is just asking too much from us on an every day basis. Especially in the summer. Especially this summer.

titanic sinkingIn a time when populist leaders like Trump and Ford are being voted in with self-proclaimed mandates to do whatever evil their warped little cerebral cortices coax them to do, we’ve got to pull way back from the sinking side of the Titanic.

There are days when I wonder if the ascent of these fools was engineered to wipe out the last of the intelligent baby boomers by having them stroke out, thus diminishing the costs of elder health care costs. But then I remember .. thee and me are still here.

There are other days when I look at America’s underbelly supporting the 72 Year Old Toddler, with their cries of “lock her up!” replacing, “She’s a witch!” and wonder just how very different things are today from how they were in the Dark Ages.

After all – it was the time between the fall of one Empire and the beginning of a renaissance. It was also another time of rejecting science and truth, and of painting bothersome women as witches or animals, with no rights.

Fake News? Oh.. the medieval scribes had an excuse for that!

TitivillusTitivillus the Error Demon: Some in the Dark Ages believed that the blame for any scribe’s error—big or small—fell squarely on the shoulders of this Muppet-lookin’ monster. The Titivillus ran with a bad crowd (aka Satan), so it made sense he’d do such devilish work.

And how very different are the most rabid anti-abortionists beliefs from preformationism; the belief that “sperm carried homunculi, tiny versions of a fully-grown human. It had organs, eyes, a brain—everything a baby had when it was born. In the womb, this little thing just grew from microscopic to baby-sized.” (boredomtherapy.com)

You wanna know what brought about the end of the Dark Ages? It was the black plague, the development of the printing press and the decline of the Catholic church.

So … I guess we’re just waiting on that plague now?

History doesn’t repeat itself .. but sometimes it rhymes … or ..

gbs quote on history reepeating

 

Mother’s Day, CMW and This is America


mum with r and j 1960.jpg 001My mother has been gone since April of 1992 … 26 years now. There are days when it feels like we were playing a spirited game of Rummoli only yesterday, and other days when I can’t remember what it was like to have my own little family. After my mum and grandmother died just days apart in that horrible year, the tenuous link we had with Montreal was broken. While I’ve been ‘home’ a few times since then, Quebec hasn’t really drawn me back for decades.

I thought of my mum on Thursday, when I spoke with a small boy who was waiting for the bus, holding a plant pot with one pansy growing in it. He told me, with great joy, that he also had a poem written in French for her, and that he’d drawn her a card. His face lit up as he told me “she’s gonna have so many presents!

mum with r and j 1964 001There was such a lot of delight in his expression as he counted up the riches he’d prepared for his precious mother. We forget, over the years, how good it used to feel to be able to gift our loved ones with something that we’d made specially for them. It might have been a paper plate with some glittered macaroni pasted to it, or a wobbly cut out paper heart, with our shaky handwriting telling them, “I LOVE YOU,” but it was what we had to give, and we gave it from our hearts.

Mums never ask for all that much, when you’re growing up. Maybe they ask you to help with the chores, or keep your room clean, but most mums know that you’re growing and learning, and that all they can try to do is to get you from the day you are born until the day you two say goodbye, with as little heart ache and heart break as possible.

Missing my mother, and wishing my two beautiful daughters a very happy Mother’s Day.

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My butt is dragging today, even after collapsing into a solid ten hours of sleep last night. I spent the last several days doing all things Canadian Music Week, including working as a ‘day host,’ expediting the conference panelists, and getting out to a few of the events under the CMW banner. I straggled home last night from a long day at the show, followed by a scrumptious buffet at the Rivoli, where Music Nova Scotia and the Dreaming Out Loud groups were presenting the annual TIKI LOUNGE extravaganza.

CMW Greg Lefsetz et all May 2018

During the conference I spent most of my time onsite in the Speaker’s Green Room. In this pic, our long time associate Greg Simpson confers with his speaker registration aides, Sue Mills and Cassandra Tari. Behind them, propping up the wall, is Steve Lillywhite, uber producer and musician whisperer of U2, the Rolling Stones, XTC, Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel, the Talking Heads and a host of other worthies, as he chats with Ralph Simon, who is is acknowledged as one of the founders of the modern mobile entertainment & content industry, and Bob Lefsetz, music industry analyst and critic, and author of the Lefsetz Letter.

In May of 2015, the last time that Bob Lefsetz had spoken at CMW, I had asked him if we could meet, so that I might interview him for this column. Although he agreed at the time, circumstances conspired, and I missed my window of opportunity.

So when I saw him seated towards the back of the Green Room on Saturday morning, I seized the day, introduced myself, and reminded him of the last time we’d almost connected. He immediately said that he’d be happy to talk with me ‘later’ – but he’d be leaving the Conference around four p.m.

So I waited patiently, hoping for a time when he might have a minute free. But shortly after Steve Lillywhite left the room, Eric Alper flew in the door and plonked himself down for a chat. Meanwhile, my duties as Day Host kept me rather busy, and I spent a lot of time getting speakers organized and then off to their panels in a timely manner. By the time I realized I’d once again missed my interview, it was about 3:10 p.m. I’d just finished introducing legendary music journalist Larry Leblanc, who was about to begin an interview with Marcie Allen, a trailblazing entrepreneur who is known as the Queen of Brands and Bands. My duty done, I set off to try and find the elusive Mr Lefsetz.

About an hour later, I conceded defeat. Apparently, this interview was not to be.

PostScript: If you are one of the many who receive the Lefsetz Letter, then you will have received his CMW wrap-up when it arrived last night. In his p.s., he mentions that he’d spend his last half-hour on the site at …. the Larry LeBlanc/Marcie Allen seminar I’d introduced.

Wrong Way Roxanne strikes again.

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We have to talk about Donald Glover/Childish Gambino‘s new video – This is America. Firmly in the tradition of protest songs such as GrandMaster Flash‘s White Lines, the song/video demands multiple, critical, and admiring viewings.

This video is almost enough to make music videos relevant again, rife with symbolism and casual observations that nail the truth of the racist gun culture that America, as distracted as a kitten by shiny strings and dance fads, chooses to ignore.

jim crow character this is americaThe main character, stripped to the waist, pulls facial expressions and uses bodily movements that seem to be modeled on Jim Crow, a minstrel show caricature, which white actors would perform in blackface, acting out black stereotypes. His movements distract from the chaos that plays out in the background, as behind him, people on cellphones film the action while ignoring the violence and rioting going on all around.

(The Jim Crow Laws were put into place after the Civil War, and were a system of racist local and state laws to keep the ex-slaves in their place, and designed to enforce segregation and oppression in the Southern American states.) this is america imageAfter both of the shootings, the guns are treated with care and respect, and gently wrapped with red cloth. The guns are valued over human lives, as the victims are either dragged away or left lying in their own blood.

Between shootings, the exaggerated dancing seems to be a commentary on how America prefers to focus on entertainment and distraction rather than to have a discussion on gun control, while dismissing the dead with an airy assurance that they are sending “thoughts and prayers.”

this is america commentIn the background of one scene, Death, riding a pale horse, and a biblical symbol for the apocalypse, gallops by, pursued by a police car. Everyone is too caught up in dancing or in their own anarchy to focus on the bigger picture of the violence going on.

In the last scene, Gambino, surrounded by vintage cars representing America’s economic stagnation, lights up a joint, and it is then – rather than during his gun rampage  – that the police begin to chase him. In the tradition of black American history, he has to run to save his life.

This Is America is a strong, artistic statement that will stand as valid commentary on today’s Divided States of America.