Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson

I picked the book, Of Song and Water off a shelf at a second hand shop.  I loved the title.  That was my sole reason for choosing it.  Quickly running my fingers through the pages, I decided it would be placed in what my father used to call ‘the throne room’.  You got it?  Something about the size of the font.  And…it seemed like it wouldn’t be a need-to-think-deeply sort of book.

In the end, this turned out to be a remarkable story, a book where music could be experienced through the written word and where colour could be heard.

Hearing Colour

As happens with similar narratives, I was seduced by the intimate disclosures revealed on this family line.  Coleman’s life, love of music and connection with water were woven through memory and the life of his father, Dorian. Given my years living on the edge of Georgian Bay, I also found the setting of the Great Lakes to be nostalgic in its description.  I’ve not spent time in Chicago or Detroit, but I can imagine these places, based on movies, media and books.

This review is my favourite and expresses my sense of the book.

“Joseph Coulson’s second novel, Of Song and Water, concerns a jazz musician coming to endings: a career on the skids because of hands that can no longer make the chords he needs; a boat, falling apart and weighted with memories of his father, and of his father’s father before him (both men casting long shadows); a divorce; a former love he walked away from for his music; and a daughter preparing to leave for school.”

Throughout the writing, there is evidence of an intimate understanding of Jazz…and sections that describe Otis and others in performance, are rich with the detail and process of the genre.

I am very happy that I came upon this book, quite by accident.  It was a rich and generous piece of writing.  There were many surprising moments for me.  Again, I like the intimacy of language and I am a kook about description.  This wouldn’t be a book for everyone, but really appealed to my taste.

“Coulson moves fluidly between the past and the present, and the novel is ultimately quiet, affecting and redemptive.”

Of Song and Water

 

 

 

 

Gordon Lightfoot, After All These Years

There are no photographs that I can find (we probably didn’t own a camera), of the days when Dad, my brother John and I used to play the ukulele.  There are just so many tunes to play around the campfire on a ‘Uke’ but I remember them including Yellow BirdMichael Row The Boat AshoreDown In the Valley and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Dad got us interested in stringed instruments very early in our lives.

Christmas St. Sylvestre

 

Whenever we gathered with friends or went camping, we had sing-songs.  In fact, we grew up surrounded by music.  Our military life took us on many family road trips and Sunday drives and all of it involved singing a repertoire of folk songs, big band era music like Abba Dabba Honeymoon,  Moon River and Mack the Knife and funny songs like “One Man Went to Mow“, There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea...well, you get the idea.

Dad also owned a beautiful Gibson guitar.  Nothing made me happier than listening to him sing songs, while playing that guitar.  There are no photographs of the Gibson, but I’m certain that my father and siblings remember it as though it was yesterday.  It was a family treasure.  Dad shared…

“I was given that beautiful Gibson from our neighbour across the street from us on Briar Hill Drive in Battle Creek, Michigan. I am sorry I cannot remember their names, but they were certainly good friends of ours throughout my tour there. He was a Lt.Col in the USAF Reserve and taught high school.  One of the humorous things I remember was Mom giving him a 1 quart and a 1 pint milk bottle that somehow came with us on the move. He was so excited since he would use them during his 2 hour course on Canada. That was the total length of time for their history of Canada.  Anyway he came over one day and had the Gibson with him. He told me that it had been owned by quite a famous country singer and was given to him. It honestly looked like it had just come from the factory it was such a beautiful instrument. I simply adored it and learned to play somewhat from a book.(just our usual camping songs.).”

Because of this inspiration around stringed instruments, when I got a regular summer job at The Deluxe restaurant in North Bay, Ontario, I decided to buy my very own guitar.  I spotted the one I wanted in a music shop window on Main Street and began saving up my tips.  By end of summer, I made the purchase of my Yamaha Classical guitar…something I decided on so that I could play with ease because of the give of the classical strings instead of the resistance of steal strings.  I’ve treasured that guitar for ever since.  Yes…it’s gone out with my own kids to campfires and parties…but, it hung in and makes a beautiful sound to this day.

At the day of my purchase, I also bought a song book of Gordon Lightfoot songs.  The thing about this particular book, the chord illustrations appeared above the appropriate words, so I figured, like my Dad before me, I could teach myself to play guitar.

From 1960 until 1963, Gordon Lightfoot became a household name in Canadian homes.  He was and still is a wonderful song writer…optimistic writing, surfacing during what came to be known as the Folk Revival (just before the huge movement of Beatles music across North America and the world.)  I wasn’t like my brother, John, who next door to me in Great Falls, Montana, in a neighbouring bedroom, played the Grateful Dead and Gregg Allman.  I was playing Dylan; Buffy Ste. Marie; Peter, Paul & Mary; The Mamas and the Papas, Pete Seeger and Gordon Lightfoot.

In the end, it turns out that my older brother, John, became a person I would always admire for his ability on guitar.  He had the ear for music and was a natural.  He felt the guitar and released its spirit, where I would be measured and predictable.  I think he spent some years playing at gigs as well, and given his home in Sault Ste. Marie, he moved towards a Bluegrass style.

Once I moved to Lethbridge and attended University, I continued to appreciate more mellow voices and music, enjoying Valdy, Bruce Cockburn, Bette Midler, Cat Stevens and Paul Williams.  Somewhere along the line, I bought myself a Three Dog Night album.  It seemed that I never really had a lot of money…still don’t…so accessing concerts and getting out for musical events didn’t really happen until I ‘grew up’.  I did, however, listen to other people’s music and so became exposed to a lot of Cabaret music in the day, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton and Grace Jones…on and on it went from there.

Summers and Christmases, traveling back home to share times with Mom and Dad, the guitars came out…and always there were sing-songs.  Mom always asked me to play and I did.

singing and group 4 Two

singing and group 4

Family reunions brought together a large group of very talented people, many of them sharing guitar during the programs.  Cecil, Jo-Anne, my brother, John…Dad…

singing

Kath and John Reunion 1984

There have been a lot of back yard, under-the-tree sorts of moments…sitting in the stair well at the U of L, singing my heart out.  Living in residence was isolating at times.  The guitar filled lonely moments.

 

Gloria

Singing at weddings…oh my gosh, I’ll never forget not being able to find my beginning note during Lord of the Star Fields.  But things went well when I played and sang I Will and also For Baby.

Gloria's Weding

There was never the chance or the opportunity to pick up a Gordon Lightfoot ticket before this recent purchase.  But, long-story-short (fail)…last evening I had the chance to attend a concert where 78 year old Gordon Lightfoot came to Calgary, I felt, to sing just to me.  I purchased the ticket some time ago.  Without a partner, I’ve had years to practice not being shy about attending events on my own.  Strategically, when something comes up on my radar,  I pour over the seating maps for the venues and select the best single seat that I can find for that event.  Last night, I ended up in the second row of the Grey Eagle Casino Theater, with an unobstructed view of Lightfoot.  A father and teenaged daughter duo were sitting to my right.  I felt a bit sorry for the daughter because after every tune, the Dad would turn to her and say, “Did you like that one?”

To my left, two Ya Yas sat down just as the show began, a little envious of the cold gin and tonic that I was sipping, having arrived in time to access the bar line before the performance.

DSC_0254

I felt that the performance last night was all about good song writing.  The lyrics, beautiful narratives, for the most part, were exquisite.  I was filled with admiration for this person…for a career of dedication, struggle, and sideways living-gone right.  I really listened to these lyrics for the first time and saw them as very positive.

I got teary at the point where Gordon Lightfoot began singing The Minstrel of the Dawn…and that continued until the end of the song. Many of his songs moved me, but this one, the most.

Lightfoot is good humoured about his abilities.  He has a great lead guitar that provides the thread of his former performances.  His voice is weaker than in the past, but has all of that quality that is endearing.  Some songs were performed as shorter versions of themselves, out of need to entertain the crowd with the ‘old familiars’, but Lightfoot performed his most recent writing in its entirety and with enthusiasm.  I was really impressed.

I can’t tell a lie.  As I listened, I thought about my Dad.  I thought about what a gift it must be (and I have some experience of this already) to be able to continue to delight in your talents after so many years.  Dad, at 86, is in a choir and continues to carry the magic of his Irish tenor voice whenever he interprets music.  I was impressed by Gordon Lightfoot last night and was moved in a remarkable way.  As we move into our later years, we need to do what we can to continue nurturing our gifts.  I’m posting a video here.  I hope you will take the time to listen to the interview and then, listen to the song.

Music is something we hold inside of us…like DNA.  The stories that we carry in us are, for the most part, bits and pieces of the music we have cherished in our lives.  Live music can never be underestimated for its impact on us.

Post Script: The Next Generation

 

Craig Cardiff, You ARE the BOMB!

If a person looks, they can find a Craig Cardiff lyric for anything they are thinking about…anything they are feeling.  He gave me a hug as I was waiting for dinner at the Ironwood the other night…that, after the hand shake, which, with creative people, is usually enough.  He passed me a book to write my thoughts down and then went about doing the same thing at most tables.  I drew a scene…it spilled out of me…and I thought about the full moon that was coming as I drew.

The music was so special.  I most appreciated that I had opportunity to share the music, good food and I nice bottle of Malbec with my cousin, Peter.  Our conversations are always deeply personal and all-encompassing.  We ‘don’t beat about the bush’, as some folk would say. Recently, I’m of the mind that life is too danged short to mess about contemplating whether or not you should or should not share your true feelings.  So, forgive me, if you’ve been the subject or the result of my tirades.  I’m not that great with boundaries these days, at least not where ‘the voice’ is concerned.  I’m speaking more.  I love Craig Cardiff’s music for  that very reason because I think that he’s ‘saying it’.

I like that he signed my cd…and spent time signing it, instead of thinking that the interaction was solely about his signature…instead, with this musician, it’s about the interaction.  I liked that.  I’m posting the song that spoke to me most remarkably, that is, after the When People Go thing…that one speaks to me the most.

Dance Me Outside reminds me of my love for the book The Diviners by Margaret Laurence…the moment in the beginning chapters when Morag’s daughter, Piquette, asks what a buffalo looks like…this, a question posed in the Manitoba landscape where once, myriads of buffalo ranged free.  That exchange was one of the reasons I became a landscape painter in the day…long story.

Photo Credit: Kathleen Moors

Photo Credit: Kathleen Moors

P1140121

 

 

This Indian girl walks out into traffic
The traffic stops then she’s causing havok and baby won’t you
Roll up the windows dial up on the cellphones
Get the cops to get out here
I just want to get home

She says, “Well, do you remember the all buffalo?”
And all the dumb white people say, “Do you mean Jimmy Neil Young Springfield?”
She says, “No”
But Cleveland isn’t the home of Indians
And not even Eskimos it feels like you just don’t want to know

She says; “Take me around
Dance me outside
Show me a place where we might hide
and oh, what I want I’m afraid that you can’t afford to buy”

This Indian girl
Spins like a toy top
And her hair spreads out like fire and it’s like she just can’t stop
And then the cops come
Donut guard state car
Rolling up along the side
With the fire lanterns burning
The sirens opened wide and they say
“Excuse me little miss I’m afraid its time to take this home”
And they try to get her address
She says, “Sorry I don’t have one
It’s only we and the feeding fields
And look where you are”
And she kicks at the hem of her skirt
And on go the cars

She says; “Take me around
Dance me outside
Show me a place where we might hide
and oh, what I want I’m afraid that you can’t afford to buy”

This indian girl
Feeling cold and tired
Wouldn’t mind some help then
But the cars go by it’s no wonder why
‘Cause all they want to do is go and get away
“All I wanna do,” she says, “is get away from here”

So she builds a fire
And all through her belly
And through her hair and bones
And to remind her that shes alive she stares at in awe

And she says; “Take me around
Dance me outside
Show me a place where we might hide
And oh, what I want I’m afraid that you can’t afford to buy”

“Take me around
Dance me outside
Show me a place where we might hide
And oh, what I want I’m afraid that you can’t afford to buy”

The Kelly Richey Band at the Blue’s Can

Here’s my little piece of film…I hope it captures the essence of how this music reached into my soul.

I bought my twenty dollar CD at the break.  I hadn’t heard of her…hadn’t heard her…and told Kelly just that.  And yet, at the deepest level, she connected with me and was fully present in that moment, although she was on a very short break after a very long set.  I can not tell you how her guitar playing impacted me…in fact, I sat through one song and found tears slipping down my cheeks. I had rolled into the Blue’s Can to meet my cousin…listen to a few songs…and then drive home.  I ended up staying until one in the morning and was shocked at this when the clock in my van lit up.

Kelley Richey, Blues Can, April 2013

Kelley Richey, Blues Can, April 2013

I think that Kelly Richey’s passion and her dedication to music and well-being was so apparent that I felt a glue take hold.  I felt a lifetime of investment and a focus that I hadn’t experienced first-hand in an individual for a very long time.  This, during that one song, spoke to my life as an artist and caused me to squirm a little in my seat.

I’ve taken a sabbatical from painting that now has to come to an end.  I need to re-dedicate myself to the process and practice of painting beyond my evenings at the Gorilla House and the dabbling I’ve been doing.  I have four bodies of work painted in my head, but not on the easel.  It is time to manifest.

For those of you who, like me, didn’t know Kelly Richey’s music up until now, here is a link to her comprehensive website.  I’m ripping off a photograph…hope that’s ok…to illustrate my post here.  Freekbass endorses Grove Guitars and the image comes from there.  Freekbass played a couple of bass solos that caused the chills in me!  Read his biography material here!  Superb bass player.

Kelly Richey

Music

Our father bought us each a ukelele when we were very young.  We had grown up with him playing the ukelele, banjo and guitar.  Someone had given him an old Gibson guitar.  Oh my!  How beautiful it sounded!  I wanted to learn how to play guitar!  I worked for The Deluxe in North Bay, Ontario that summer, the sort of place where we served ‘the regulars’ and knew who liked their coffee double-double.  We served rice pudding and a special at lunch, you know the sort of place I’m talking about.  You likely can imagine what my uniform looked like as well.  I wish I had a photograph to post! 🙂  It’s a pity that I didn’t live in the digital and phone-cam generation. Those of us from that generation do not have the photos of ourselves that you young folk have!  Back to the story, though! 

I had my eye on a guitar that sat in a store front window and I saved for an entire summer so that I could buy my Yamaha guitar.  As well, I bought a capo and a Gordan Lightfoot chording book.  I was in heaven!  Gordan Lightfoot taught me how to play guitar! ;0)

Listen, he’s coming to Alberta…or so I heard on the van radio this morning.  There are many concerts coming up.  Tomorrow morning Pearl Jam tickets come up for sale on Ticketmaster.  I’d love those!  Kings of Leon…Santana….sheesh….but, for some sappy sentimental reason, I think that my heart is with Lightfoot.  I’ll have to think on it.  He taught me how to play guitar!

Herald Nix

This guy’s art & music will amaze you!  I had the opportunity to stay in the Heritage Home he had been refurbishing in Salmon Arm some years back.  I had the chance to see his painted boards in his studio space, one at a time under nice light.  I was able to hear him play guitar out on his back deck in the evening time.

I like the ‘edge’ to his music…

“One hundred years from now, when musicologists attempt to trace the origins of British Columbia’s lake-country blues, there’s one salient moment they’ll be able to point to: the day Herald Nix, loaded his battered amplifier, his equally well-worn guitars, and a few dusty suits into the back of his old panel truck and headed east from Vancouver, back to Salmon Arm.

Nix was already almost a legend then, a shadowy figure noted for thrillingly intense concerts, sudden disappearances, and a handful of fitfully brilliant recordings. Now he vanished again, into the center of B.C.’s lush yet sun-baked Interior, whose rounded curves and rocky promontories have since seeped into his music , joining trace elements of Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell, Hank Williams and the Jimmie Rodgers.

The sound and the land, the land and the sound: inseparable now, they bring strength and dignity to Nix’s music in a way that, in the English-speaking world, is rarely found outside of the southern United States. Like Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel and very few other Northerners, Nix has become an honest bluesman, his lake-country sound a Canadian parallel to the hill-country music of the Mississippi Delta.

The comparison is not at all far-fetched. Like the hill country’s late champions Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Nix can hammer on a single chord all day while still holding the listener’s attention with subtle inflections of tone and timing. Like them, he’ll rework a song according to how he feels, and these themes grow in emotional impact every time they’re recorded. And like them he writes obsessively about women , about moving on, about hotel fires and bad decisions, liquor drunk and money gambled away.

But he’s no copyist, and no revivalist. That lake-country water is in his veins, keeping him true to himself and to the land where he was raised. He’s on the road from being a Canadian eccentric to being a Canadian pioneer, on the cusp of inventing a new musical idiom. The lake-country blues start here, but who knows how or when they’ll end?”

                                             — Alexander Varty