You Are Here


When I was growing up, in the late 1950s and early sixties, it was very important to me that I know exactly where I was living, to know what was my place in the world. I would inscribe not only my name on my school books, but my ‘full’ address. as 10904-98th Street, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, North America. Earth, the Milky Way…

My world was the length of the streets that I could walk. If I walked several blocks, I would be at my school. If I walked several more blocks, I would be on Edmonton’s main drag, where The Roxy Theatre (why are all little cinemas with big dreams called The Roxy?) had Saturday afternoon matinees. For $0.25 my sister and I could spend several hours watching cartoons, episodic westerns, and a main sci fi feature that inevitably featured some mutation of Godzilla, followed by an hour of competitive games – with prizes!

rox and jodi edmonton 1963 001My grandparents lived several blocks to the west of us, and if my mum, sister and I took a bus for about a half an hour, we would be at an outdoor public swimming pool, where we could take swimming lessons, and watch each other’s lips turn blue.

These were the parameters of my world. My sense of self was very much tied to where I lived, and to where I could walk or be driven to. Nothing else had much relevance. Nothing else felt like it really mattered, or made much difference to my world. I was here. Here I was.

My sense of geography was so skewed that I once naively believed that a soppy Irish song’s lyrics were, “If you ever go across the street to Ireland. ” I literally had no sense of how big my own province was, let alone a concept of the expanse of Canadian lands. And I most certainly could not conceive of going across a sea.

city-of-edmonton-signs3We had a globe in the house, but I had little use for the countries on the lower half – I had no emotional investment in what went on below the equator, even if the nuns at school did collect our pennies for the orphan babies of China. The 185 miles between Calgary and Edmonton spooked me, because those two cities looked so close together on the map, but I had heard they did things very differently there.

When my grandmother came to Canada from Great Britain in 1900, she came by boat, as did most of the early settlers to our country. My paternal grandmother walked from South Dakota to St Albert, Alberta, as part of a covered wagon convoy. Travel might have been necessary, but it was rarely convenient.

WagonTrainIt’s probably hard to imagine how incomprehensible long distance travel was for many people, in those days. Our access to the world has changed significantly in the last several decades, through improvements to the methods of travel, and through the technology by which we come to know other countries.  Now we can see the attractions of ‘faraway places with strange sounding names,’ in living colour, and visit nearly anywhere in the world on a whim.

living in bubblesBack in the day, the average person was physically and emotionally isolated, based on where they lived. There were clear differences in attitude and behaviour between rural and urban groups. And yet, no matter where a child was, they believed that they were at the centre of the universe, and that the beliefs with which they were surrounded, were the only true beliefs.  Even today, there are many people who never veer from that belief. This is who I am, because this is where I live.

By the time I was ten years old, I had taken the four day train trip back and forth to the very much more cosmopolitan Montreal several times, but I had never met anyone who had been on a commercial airplane.

It would be another several years before I myself would finally set foot on a plane, travelled abroad, and crossed a sea. Air travel was considered something that only the wealthy could enjoy, a major financial indulgence that also required a special travelling wardrobe.

I was lucky enough to tag along with my grandmother on one of her trips ‘over ‘ome’ to England, when I was just 19 years old.

boac stew 1970Perhaps there are people who feel relaxed and at ease on a plane. I am not one of them. The idea of floating above the clouds, no matter how comfortable the ride, puts me in a dead panic. We flew British Airways, of course, and the stewardesses were wonderful to my gram, treating her like a queen. I was in awe of their cool uniforms, and their Beatle-ish accents.

Arriving at Heathrow, I entered another world, that couldn’t have been more different than the Montreal we’d left behind, only eight hours before. For the first time in my life, I was rootless. I was no longer bound to the earth on which I’d been born or raised. It was an epiphany.

Better writers than I have spoken of the merits of travel, and of how important it is to experience people and worlds that differ from what we have always known. I have always believed the same. No matter how much one travels within one’s own country or continent, there is something magical about walking the streets of other countries, far from our own, populated by people who are like us, but not like us at all.

Did you know that you have an accent? Probably not. But people in England think that Canadians and Americans have very pronounced accents. It’s all about perspective.

If a traveler is open to the experience, something magical snips the mental umbilical cord that tethers us to a local groupthink or speak. And you are never the same again.

I felt a sense of wonder, while walking the streets of London, or pacing the wilds of Epping Forest. For the first time in my life, I was completely outside of the physical parameters I believed defined my life and my thoughts.  Leaving the corporeal confines of my reality allowed my mind to look outside of the restrictions that had been imposed upon my thinking.

Today, travel is rather taken for granted. My kids and grandkids think nothing of jetting away on vacations. The only thing that stops them from roving globally is financial shortfalls.

overhead compartmentBut ironically, this new freedom to travel as we will is not necessarily accompanied by a concurrent openness of mind. It is possible to take one’s prejudices and beliefs to anywhere in the globe, packed in the overhead compartment, to be pulled out at inopportune moments.

Perhaps this relative ease of travel makes it harder to step outside of ourselves, and to feel that sense of wonder. That would be a pity, for it is in those magical moments, when we are truly off balance, and our minds adrift with what might be, that we realize both how alike and how different we are from one another, no matter where we find ourselves.

 

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,

 

When Love Takes You By Surprise


I have a friend who’s been bit by the love bug. He wasn’t looking. Meeting her was unexpected, … a bolt out of the blue that could not have come as more of a surprise to him.

“It whapped me upside the head,” he told me.

pepe_le_pew_fanartAnd just like that, my friend, who’s closer to 60 than 16, is suddenly feeling like a giddy teenager; smiling instead of scowling, laughing instead of cynically noting human frailties, floating on air like a lovesick Pepe Le Pew.

It’s a gift, a jolt to the system, to fall head over heels with someone after years of emotional stasis. Maybe you’ve been coasting along, disillusioned with the dating games, uninterested in revving up your heart for yet another brief relationship, disappointed in your past romantic choices, and sadly but pragmatically resigned to living single.

Then you meet him, or her. And no matter how young or old you are, you suddenly understand why McCartney couldn’t have enough of “Silly Love Songs,” and why Van Morrison wrote “Crazy Love.” Obviously, he wrote it for you and your love.

“It feels so right. There’s no awkwardness. It’s like it’s always been,” he says. My friend’s been around; he’s led an interesting life. He has a plethora of friends and interests, and commitments that keep him busy. And yet, new love has come into his life. And he’s reveling in it.

When two people ‘click,’ something odd happens. Love takes you by surprise; you can’t help but smile, partly because you feel so good, and partly because you’re laughing at yourself. You forget to eat, it’s hard to concentrate on your work, and everything you see or hear reminds you of them. You work their name into every conversation – casually, you think – but those who know your secret, if they are romantics, can’t help but smile at how smitten you are.

kids in loveEven when your heart is steeled against intrusion, and you’ve resisted the very thought of losing your independence and cool, you find yourself falling down that rabbit hole again, and it feels just like the first time. You’re awash in endorphins, you can’t know enough about how your darling thinks or feels, you want to know everything about them. Even having perspective on the situation, even fearing the loss of control, and the possibility that it might not end well, can’t deter you. You just love the way you feel being in love.

You want them to love you as hard as you do them. You want to be ‘a better person,’ to not make the same mistakes you did before. But meanwhile, you’re short of breath when you see their phone number light up on your cell, and you’re counting the seconds until you can see them again. Mistakes will be made, but you’ll chalk each one up to knowing how not to make that mistake again.

mixtapeThe tritest love songs take on deeper meaning – maybe you even try your hand at capturing the magic in poetry. You’re leaving them little love post-it notes, and there’s a skip in your step. You finally decide on ‘your song,’ which almost seems to describe the two of you. And you are no longer criticizing other people’s public displays of affection, because you’re now the most public displayer of them all!

Falling in love again, after years of not having someone near who comforts your soul, quiets your fears, and makes everyone else in the room invisible, is just as powerful, if not more so, than the first time. Hopefully, you are not two broken people trying to fill up the gaps in each other’s lives, Hopefully it’s about two whole people, older and wiser, coming together to make one new, solid and wonderful entity.

It takes courage to let go of certainties, to allow yourself to fall into those waiting arms without being afraid your heart will be dropped. But if you’re lucky enough to meet someone who makes you feel that giddiness, that light-headedness that finds you cycling between tears and laughter, you’ve found that sweet spot that turns even the most hardened cynic or reprobate into a dreamer of what might be. And nothing can make you let it go.

You truly have never felt like this before, yet it feels like it’s always been meant to be. You assume that your love must be obvious, that everyone can tell that you are taken, under a spell, connected by an invisible silver cord that pulls you across a crowded room, or a city, or across a continent. whatevers good for your soulIt doesn’t matter where they are, as long as you know they’re in your world.

Love slips in to even the most hardened heart; it whispers in your ear, and tickles your neck with it’s scented breath. It reaches into your chest and holds your beating heart in it’s clutch. Love is the prize in the Crackerjack box of life, the open door that leads to new adventures, the promise of Spring. And the greatest gift a person can receive.

Just speaking their name gives you a thrill. If asked, you could rhyme off a litany of your beloved’s virtues, of what gives them their beauty, and you could tell them how just being near your love makes you feel sheltered and secure. Sometimes you don’t even wait to be asked … you have to tell the world how wonderful they are.

middleaged loveLove. At any age. It brings the strong to their knees and breaks down the emotional barriers so many of us defend. Love is all encompassing, and yet indefinable, a combination of smells and sights and sounds, of the power of touch and the joy of two people coming together.

My friend found an unexpected gift, a chance to once more fall madly in love. He and she, long past a time when they expected this to occur, held their hands and hearts out to each other, and took a leap of faith. I wish them all the love in the world.

(first published @ bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/roxanne-tellier-when-love-takes-you-by-surprise)

Put On Your Dancing Shoes!


jennieJennie is a party. Jennie will brook no voyeurs on the voyage. You must be involved, you must eat, you must drink, you must dance! You must participate, because “fun doesn’t just happen! You have to make it happen!“ Jennie turns the world on with her smile.

I love Jennie. I met her last night at the Rally, where Pat Blythe and I had gone to see the sold out Beatles’ tribute, “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” The place was packed, the dance floor jammed. Everyone sang along to the timeless songs at the top of their lungs.

Like Jennie, everyone was there to make fun happen. And much fun did indeed ensue, as we danced the Swim, the Frug, and countless other dance variations until our feet ached.

yeah yeah yeah the bandThe Yeah Yeah Yeahs are Frank Russel on drums, Kevin Rolston on bass, Bruce Nasmith on keys and guitar, and Don Maclean and Frank Zirone, also on guitar. Everyone sings. Everyone is a top-notch, well respected musician. And clearly, every one of them loves classic Beatles music.

Their tribute, complete with screen presentations, appeals to a wide age range, but skews mainly to the boomer base. Although the group has performed only infrequently in the past year, every outing is a sold out success. And at each event they gather more fans who can be counted on to spread the word, and anticipate their next appearance.

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davidceliaFive years after releasing his third CD, “I Tried,” David Celia is back with another eclectic mix of country folk, pop pedal steel, and reggae infused whimsy. The new CD “Double Mind” is a wander through a poet’s thoughts; by turns gleeful, introspective, determined or questioning, but always with Celia’s patented quip in the tale.

Following a successful European tour, David kept a low profile, with limited exposure, prior to Thursday’s CD release at the Great Hall. What a beautiful venue! The room lives up to it’s name, with a soaring ceiling ringed by a second story walk around balcony.

The musicians for this showcase gig were the venerable Cleave Anderson on drums, Tim Jackson on bass, Jay Swinnerton on keys/vocals and Burke Carrol on pedal steel. Ariana Gillis joined the group briefly, contributing vocals to the title track, as on the album.

I’ll be honest; I prefer hearing David’s songs in a more intimate room. His songs are thoughtful and intelligent, and beg to be front and center, not background music. Listen to the whole CD at http://exclaim.ca/music/article/david_celia-double_mind_album_stream

The Grind, from “Double Mind.”

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xprime-pm-coverI’d been looking forward to Xprime’s CD release gig for months, particularly after the sneak preview we’d had just before CMW. And as always, the boys didn’t let me down.

I can hardly believe how far the group’s writing has come in just a year or two. The new songs on PM reflect a maturity and craftsmanship that is both of the moment, and yet timeless. You’ll wonder where you heard earworms like “All to Myself,” or “I Can’t Take No More” before, but it’s all new baby, and it’s infectious pop at it’s best.

Don’t take it from me – stream the whole CD at http://xprime.ca/

Rube GoldbergGab Sid, Neil Carson, Steph Mercier, and Phil Taylor are all lead singers, but skilfully work together to create distinctive harmonies within each song. Live, you can’t take your eyes off the stage, as they bounce and pogo and careen in a controlled frenzy. An Xprime gig is not just a concert, it’s a well-oiled Rube Goldberg impossibility machine.

So I was already smiling before even arriving at the Rivoli, where we ran into Neil and Phil on the patio pre-show. They were heading off to grab a bite … hey, they’re growing boys! … whilst Pat, Bob Segarini and I were in pursuit of adult beverages.

xprimeRivoli Jun 2015We’d barely had a chance to grab a bevvy and snag a place to park our gear before the guys bounded on stage, and hit their marks in an explosion of energy and aural goodness. They pounded the maddened crowd into submission with great tuneage and an inexorable visual onslaught. I couldn’t stop grinning and singing along as Pat slunk through the crowd, taking photos of the group in action. (She’ll have those photos for you on Wednesday.)

And, inevitably, Pat and I braved the standing crowd to bust some moves. I’ll never understand why Toronto audiences refuse to dance. You’ll see the toes tapping, and the hips swaying, but apparently actually dancing to your favourite band strikes fear into the hearts of those too frightened to blow their cool by giving in to the beat.

xprime runningIt’s like Jennie said. “fun doesn’t just happen! You have to make it happen!“ Xprime opened the fun door and laid down the boogie, and a few brave souls followed that funky music. Toronto, you’ve got nothing to lose but your dignity and a little shoe leather. It will be worth it.

By set’s end, I was a little breathless, but exhilarated and clutching an Xprime tee shirt. The boys will be criss-crossing Ontario through the next month, with stops in Kingston, Peterborough, Sarnia, Windsor and London. Grab any chance you get to see them. Catch them at your local venue before they’re a big ticket experience. This is a band on the move, ripe for the plucking by some impresario who can pair them up with a major headlining act. It would be criminal not to get Xprime’s music and energy in front of international audiences.

And when you do go to see them … dance, for gawd’s sake!

(originally published http://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/roxanne-tellier-put-on-your-dancing-shoes-toronto/