Sunday, December 6, 2015

Song #49: Occupy (2015 52-song Project)

This song feels like a complicated one to me.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about the Occupy movement. I felt there were some parts of it that some parts of me really agreed with and also some parts that other parts of me really didn't agree with.

I think the Occupy movement stirred up a lot for me in terms of my own privilege as a university-educated white woman who has some strong feelings both for and against capitalism.

To break the song down a bit, the first verse, about getting beaten up by a police officer, is my expression of my understanding of the callousness and cruelty that was meted out against the Occupy movement and other anti-capitalism protestors, and in particular, the experiences of a number of friends and acquaintances who were involved in the G20 protests in Toronto. Many of the protesters there had their rights severely violated and I felt the response from the majority of people was a big "who cares".

Which is often what I felt myself about the Occupy movement – who cares. Sorry the middle class dream is evaporating, kids. Suck it up. I'm not sure how much of this sentiment was a product of me being manipulated by the media, which certainly showed a lot of petulant and obnoxious behaviour from Occupy protesters and how much of it was just me being a little too old and entrenched in the status quo. This is the thinking that comes out in verse 2.

And yet, I still had some ideals and protested stuff around the time of the Occupy movement. Verse 3 is inspired by an experience I had where I went to join a protest with some friends, and when the secret location of the protest was revealed, I realized I couldn't participate because it was my workplace. This is when I realized that I was in a deep conflict between the part of me that thinks capitalism is a lousy system and the part of me that makes my living within that system. I am one of the bloody tourists who gets called out in this verse.

Verses 4 and 5 make the point that there are terrible injustices that have been going on in Canada for generations and are still going on. Attiwaspiskat and similar aboriginal communities that struggle for clean water and acceptable housing seem to me like a more valid situation to protest than a lack of good-paying jobs for middle class college graduates. I've often been interested by the lack of a civil rights movement in Canada and a general disinterest in aboriginal issues and confronting racism and racist government policies.

Hopefully, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission findings and a new government that says it is interested in nation-to-nation relationships and eliminating racist, paternalistic policies, Canada and Canadians are going to enter a new era.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Song #42: The Election Song (Please Tell Me)

I wrote this song over the weekend and posted it yesterday, but it took me hours to record, and I was too exhausted by that process to write the blog post that I wanted to write about it.

I think that the Canadian election campaign that has lasted for the past 11 weeks (which ends today) has felt difficult for a lot of people; I know that it has been a challenging one for me.

There has been so much wrangling and hostility. Complaints and accusations. Mud-slinging, slagging off "everyone who doesn't agree with me" and grasping at "all the marbles".

And I have found many of the hot-button issues either misguided (the economy, militarization) or offensive (terrorism, whether two women should be allowed to wear the niqab during their citizenship ceremonies, "Barbaric Practices" tip lines).

And meanwhile, the issues that mean the most to me: justice and reconciliation between all Treaty People (i.e. all Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada), drastic reform of environmental policies and a massive overhaul of Canada's internal mentality (regarding conservation, racism, greed, etc.) and our international relations, have seemed mostly side-lined, making way for personal attacks and pandering to "middle-class Canadian families".

Anyway, I tried to put all that in a song and this is the result:

The overarching theme is that I desperately hope Harper and the Cons get voted out today.

In verse one, I object to the Conservative Party's attempts to manipulate Canadians' beliefs using greed and fear – and I express my hope that a majority of Canadians are not going to fall for their ploys.

Verse two talks about my disillusionment regarding Canada's lack of racism. As a child, I lived for seven years in a multicultural neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. It was the idealistic seventies and I believed Canada was awesome, open and accepting of all. I had no idea about residential schools. I had no idea about my own embedded racist biases. In a long (and continuing) journey since then, I have come to believe that establishing respectful nation-to-nation relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is something that needs to be done immediately. And it is absolutely do-able. It only requires good faith, open minds and hearts and an understanding of our true shared history, as Joseph Boyden states compellingly in this excellent interview. It will take time to reconcile, heal and grow together, but the process can begin immediately – as soon as there is a political decision to do it.

The bridge is my little, cynical sorrow about how there is not a lot of purity in politics. But that no matter the choices, I desperately hope that in this election the Conservatives are not an option for Canada.

And the final verse is about how I think that all of the parties are headed in the wrong direction, anyway. They are all waving their little prosperity flags – more jobs, more money, bigger flat-screen tvs for everybody, instead of more sharing, more generosity, more community, more happiness, more conservation, more care, more mindfulness.

I know that's not really the politicians' faults. If the majority of people want affluence, that's what politicians are going to offer them. But I think our culture is barking up the wrong tree. And sometimes that frustrates me. And it seems like this sideshow of an election campaign has been a distraction from thinking about real things, like climate change, environmental degradation and how to not be selfish jerks.

But given that it is highly unlikely that we will ever have the type of government I want for Canada, I am hopeful today that we will at least acquire a better, less mean-spirited and savage government than I feel we have had with the Harper Conservatives for the past 10 years.

Please tell me.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Song #34: Stalking (2015 52-Song Project)

It's been a while since I have felt the need to write a blog post about one of my 52-song Project songs. Many of them have felt self-explanatory, or in a couple of cases, I just didn't feel like I could find the words I wanted to say about the songs, so I left them to speak for themselves.

But this song feels like it could use a little discussion.

The song was inspired by the experience of harvesting wild mushrooms. This is something my mom started doing more than a decade ago. Many times I have gone out into the woods with her and my stepdad.

Mushroom hunting is a very focused task. One's eyes have to be sharply tuned for variations in colour and shape. Mushrooms have excellent camouflage among the rotting wood and fallen leaves of the forest floor. Meditation teachers know well that focusing one sense can set the other senses and the conscious mind free. It is no surprise that harvesting wild mushrooms can be a deeply meditative activity.

This song came out of the thoughts that rose up on several mushroom hunts I went on in the mid-naughts. But the bridge that I originally wrote for the song didn't work very well. And because of that, the song languished for a number of years without being played more than a handful of times. It was only in the summer of 2013 that I came up with the current bridge:

We said we came for one thing only
Ah, but I guess it's no surprise we lied
Something 'bout the light
And the silence here
Quiets the troubles that we hide


Just a few additional notes on the lyrics: the line Death trumpets herald our meeting is a reference to Black Trumpet mushrooms (Craterellus cornucopioides), which in French are known at trompette de la mort, or trumpets of the dead.

The line: At sight of porcini so regal refers to the porcini (Boletus Edulis)'s status as the King Bolete.

And in the final verse, the line The fire and the frying pan are waiting, is a reference to the Lord of the Rings, hobbits' love of mushrooms and Tolkien's use of the expression "Out of the frying pan and into to fire" as a chapter title in his book The Hobbit. I was a HUGE Tolkien fan for many years and I rarely hunt mushrooms without thinking about what a very Hobbit-y activity it is.

Here's the song:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Song #30: New Day or The Morning Song

This is a new departure for the 52-song project - a co-write and a duet!

My friend Trevor Marty asked me if I would be interested in writing a song together. Via the magic of the Internet, we engaged in some cross-border collaboration this past winter. 

Trevor brought the initial verse and chorus for the song, but in keeping with the bluesy sound - and my mood this past winter - it transitioned from Trevor's original love song into a breakup song - albeit a hopeful one. I contributed the bridge. The coffee is all Trevor's idea! As those who know me know, I do not drink coffee – or even make coffee. 

When it came time to record, Trevor generously offered to do the video editing for a virtual duet. 

I'm super happy with this song! Thanks to Trevor for your interest in my 52-song project and for being a part of it!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Song #26: Tapestry

I wrote this song at some point in the late 90s or early naughts.

There are a couple of things going on here.

The weaving metaphor has been a favourite of mine ever since reading Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain when I was a kid. The characters of Orwen, Orduu and Orgoch, the fates who live in the Marshes of Morva and weave the patterns of peoples' lives, have always been compelling ones for me. The story of Taran, the protagonist of the Prydain Chronicles, is one of free-will, of exploring, experimenting and choosing the sort of person he wishes to be.

For me, the process of psychotherapy was about that same process. It was about gaining insight about the ways I had been shaped by my genetics and upbringing, deciding what I wanted to change and finding the skills to grow into the type of person I choose to be.

And that is what this song is about, essentially.

There is also a little tongue-in-cheek in-joke in the title, Tapestry. At the time that I wrote this song, I was a HUGE fan of The Simpsons. There is an episode of The Simpsons (Episode 114, the Internet informs me) in which Marge goes to a therapist to help her with her fear of flying in an airplane. At the end of the episode, the therapist dismisses some additional memories that Marge brings to her with the words, "Yes, yes, it's all a rich tapestry," whereupon Homer dashes in and grabs Marge, pulling her out of the room with the words: "We don't need her perfect, we just need to get her on a plane."

Since perfectionism was one of the many qualities that I was trying to work through in therapy, these lines struck me as HILARIOUS. Through my years of therapy, I learned that some of my personality traits and archaic feelings are a lot easier to shift than others. Some things about myself I am more or less stuck with, and the best I can do is learn to accept who I am and where I'm at.

Some days, my perfectionism or my other unresolved feelings (some of the big ones are: humiliation, fear, anger) raise their ugly heads. And I have to remember that it's okay to be imperfect at being imperfect. Sometimes I wish that therapy could have "fixed" everything about me that is challenging or makes me feel uneasy, anxious, depressed, scared, angry, etc., etc. I have to remember to accept that that just isn't how it works. I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be. Most of the time now I'm able to enjoy being alive and I can feel good about who I am and how I'm choosing to be.

And that is good enough.

(And it's good to have a sense of humour about it all – Yes, yes, it's all a rich tapestry.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Song #25: Strychnine (2015 52-Song Project)

This is one of the many songs I wrote in the wake of my longest relationship.

In 2008, I recorded an entire album of those songs, called Love Bites. And then I wrote an entire second album worth of songs. That album has not yet been recorded, but in my mind it is entitled "(un)Mutual Street".

This is one of the songs that will go on that album, if I ever record it.

The idea for this song comes from two true stories: the story of Lorena Gallo Bobbitt and a amazing true story that one of my dear friends told me about one of his university friends who was actually poisoned by his girlfriend. She put strychnine in his coffee after she found out from someone else that she was not his only lover. He almost died, but did not. He did not stop having multiple simultaneous lovers, but he did switch from a don't-ask-don't-tell policy to a full-disclosure policy. She sought professional help.

Combined with these ideas, this song explores the difference between using our angry feelings to create art and using them to inflict pain on another person. What this song is trying to say is that there is a big difference between wanting to kill or harm someone and actually doing it. And that creating art can provide the type of catharsis that enables us to resist the urge to harm another person.

Another theme explored in this song is the merit in deciding to leave a difficult situation.

This reminds me of one of my favourite stories. Years ago, I used to play squash at the St. Lawrence Community Recreation Centre. There was an after-school program there and one day, as I walked up to the counter to pay for my court time, I overheard the recreation worker at the desk and a pre-teen after-school participant talking:

Preteen: But she said–

Rec Worker: I don't care what she said. When–

Preteen: No, but she started it. She was–

Rec Worker: I don't care who started it. I know you know what you're supposed to do when something like that happens. I know you know that you are supposed to Remove Yourself From the Situation.

Preteen: But, she was–

Rec Worker: No. I know you know enough to Remove Yourself From the Situation, and you didn't.

Preteen: You don't understand.

Rec Worker: Yes, I do. It doesn't matter what she said or did. You hit her and that's why you are up here with me.

Remove Yourself From the Situation has been one of my mottoes ever since. When something is really getting my goat and making me angry, I know that I have to remember what that preteen was struggling to learn:

If you can't do or say something nice, get outta there.

P.S. I can't believe that in 25 songs, this is only the second one that I have felt I have to age-restrict because of inappropriate language. Who knew I had so many "PG13" songs?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Song #20: Falling Apart (2015 52-song Project)

This is a very sad song about some of the many different sorts of things that can drive a relationship into the ground.

I think this songs is mostly self-explanatory, but I'd like to say more about one of the lines:

"We don't want to fall apart
So we'll use anything as glue."

The "glue" is a direct reference to alcohol and the trap that one can so easily fall into when living with an alcoholic – the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" trap.

From what I've seen, it isn't a solution for a troubled relationship – just the cause of more problems.

Here's a link to my 52-song project playlist: