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!

 

A Disney World


The cats and I love spring and summer .. and even some of fall. Winter is too snowy and cold, and we’re not too keen on rain; cold rain is particularly nasty.

front porch july 2018But having so much lovely, balmy sunshine to enjoy in the warmer months … ahhh! that’s the best! By 6:30 a.m. most mornings, Lord Farlsworth, Lady Jade, and I are on the front porch, where I sip a coffee, and they survey their kingdom.

It’s a time when the world is calm and quiet. You might hear the odd dog bark off in the distance, or listen to an old clunker trying to make it up Vic Park before the muffler falls off, but overall, it is a peaceful time.

squirrel beggingAt the beginning of this summer, I began feeding a squirrel. She’s a bit of a celebrity on the street. They call her “Mama,” and you can recognize her by the fur she’s missing on her sides. Mama squirrels pull out their own fur to line their babies’ nests.

Anyway, it was probably inevitable that some of the other squirrels would want in on the peanut action. Who could blame them? Free food! And sure, they can be a pain in the butt, when they dig up my flowers to hide the nuts for leaner days, but I like to watch them enjoy their treats.

And they’re so damn cute, with their little paws and interpretive dance poses.

And a whole bag of peanuts is only .99 cents, so what the heck.

squirrel buddy closeupThe cats don’t mind too much; they’re old. Sometimes the Lord will snarl a little, if they get too close to him. But it’s all good.

I was kind of surprised the other day, though, when something new was added to our morning.

As I tossed peanuts to my adoring fans, I noticed a few tiny sparrows, heads cocked to the side, watching the action.

And then, to my enormous surprise, the little birds began to imitate the way that the squirrels moved and behaved.

The birds were mimicking the actions of the squirrels, in hopes of getting a handout. It was something to see.

cat filing nailsI had no seeds to give them, and wasn’t sure how to respond. So I went into the kitchen and found some fresh raspberries, which I washed and dissected into bird-sized pieces. And then I scattered the pieces in areas where the little ones congregate. Not too near the house, because … Lady Jade may be blind, but she’s still a cat.

So now I guess I’m gonna be feeding the birds as well.

On the plus side, I’m hoping there will soon be lots of help with the household chores!

But then again, after all these years, my cats still won’t so much as clean their own litter, the ungrateful buggers.

Dressed Cats Cleaning HouseSee, this is what happens to those of us whose early childhoods were shaped by Disney cartoons; we are very comfortable with the idea of animals deserving to be treated with respect, and being part of the family.

We whistle while we work, and know that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. We believe in magic, and of an enchanted land that can be found by travelling to the ‘second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.’

We are always ready for an adventure, and would be quite happy to follow a rabbit wearing specs and a vest down a hole, or to open a tiny door at the base of a tree to see what’s inside.

door in treeWe are, it would seem, the last of the dreamers. In a cold world where it is everyone for themselves, and “I got mine, Jack,” replaces, “how can I help you?,” those of us who can’t shake off that Disney spell are ill-equipped to live in a world ruled by vengeful, egomaniacal, bigots.

We grew up when ‘men were men,’ and manly men like John Wayne were our heroes, stand up guys, who did what they said they’d do, and kept their promises. At least – that’s what we saw in the movies.

It might not all have been real, and maybe we kids of the 40s and 50s were naive and innocent of the real ways of the world.

But we did know right from wrong, and as we grew up, we learned to call out wrong when we saw it. We expected people to act honourably, even if it cost them, financially or emotionally. We took a person’s word as their vow, and believed them when they told us what they intended to do.

fool me onceWe called a liar, a liar, and blamed ourselves if we kept on believing anyone who continually lied to us. We expected consequences for misdeeds.

We kids of the 40s and 50s grew up to be the hippies of the 60s, and again, we may have been naive, and innocent of the ways of the world, but there was something beautiful and pure about that innocence.

Those days were good days. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would end, killed, as all beautiful things seem to be, by those who put money and their own desires and egos over the good of the many. Some of us even enjoyed being exploited. We really were very young, and not very wise.

woodstockBut for many of us, we will always be those Disney kids, the ones that are a little bit off kilter, and a little too blind to ugliness. The ones with good hearts, that still ‘pay it forward,’ even when they might not have enough for themselves. The ones that see an animal in the wild, and gasp in appreciation of that natural beauty, rather than reach for a gun to kill it. The ones that will still take the time to pick up after those who would mindlessly despoil the planet, unaware of their own place in the cosmos.

It was the beliefs and the strength of people like the Disney kids that pushed forward every good thing that ever happened in our lifetimes, from the programs of the New Deal, to the establishment of civil rights, and the beginnings of universal health care. Our beliefs and marches ended a war. Progress comes from those who were nurtured to BELIEVE .. to believe in the goodness of the world, and the right of all of us – human or beast – to exist harmoniously on this planet.

There will always be the bad guys, the despoilers, the ones who want to bully and control, the ones who believe that strength is power over the weak. Always have been, always will be. What they can never understand is that their power is only temporary, and as nebulous as a dandelion seed; there is always someone with a more powerful weapon, ready to take it all away from them.

Dandelion seeds blowing away in the wind.The truth is that It takes wisdom and what is called “ego strength” to actually be powerful. The part of our brain that processes threats commands us to ‘flight or fight,’ and for many, our sense of control ends there. Ego strength allows the person to tolerate feeling uncomfortable emotions for long enough to process the fear or rejection, without having to ‘discharge’ the emotions in a knee-jerk compulsion to ‘fight back. ‘

Aggressive reactivity is not strength, it’s a lack of impulse control. It is the behaviour of those who cannot see a bigger picture that is based on building alliances. They cannot recognize complexity.

darwin theoryIn a populist world, politicians who use diplomacy are often seen as weak and indecisive. However, assuming that only brute strength can protect our lands can have grave consequences, especially in a world where nuclear weapons are ubiquitous.

These days, we’re hearing that a lot of people are having second thoughts about the vote they cast for Trump. Turns out that his repressive, regressive, and bigoted ways are having actual consequences on them, and that’s not what they voted for .. they voted for bad things to happen to ‘other’ people.

They voted for bad things to happen to ‘other’ people. And then they were shocked when it turned out that THEY were the ‘other’ people upon whom they had wished bad things.

Karma’s a bitch.

I’ll stick with my ‘naive’ Disney ways.

 

 

 

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,