Monthly Archives: October 2011

If You Wanna Make the World a Better Place…

man in the mirror

In 1992, Michael Jackson embarked on his Dangerous world tour, which ended up being his second-to-last tour ever and attracted 3.5 million fans over the course of its two years. At the time, I wasn’t a huge MJ fan. I had loved him as a kid, but by the time I was seventeen I considered myself “too cool” to be into his music. Somehow, though, my best friend’s parents got free tickets to the show in Singapore (where we were living at the time) and she invited me to go with her. Our seats were CRAZY good — like, unbelievable. Second row, centre. Yeah, I know. Apparently MJ had a special deal in place that the first 10 rows or something like that were reserved for fans under the age of 18. Anyway, the show was AMAZING — the best I’ve ever seen. It completely blew me away. I had forgotten how many great songs were in his repertoire, but it was more than that. It was a completely flawless performance, and I say that with honestly no exaggeration. It was note-perfect down to the very last detail — Jackson’s singing, his dancing, the choreography, the lighting…everything. You could tell that he must have put an unbelievable amount of time into rehearsing, but it all came off looking smooth, effortless…perfect without being rote or robotic.

I came away from the show shaking my head in awe at the sheer amount of talent that the guy possessed, and I never forgot his performance. I feel lucky to have seen an artist of such stature at the peak of his career. As we now know, the years following that tour were not kind to Michael Jackson. Allegations of child molestation led to a highly-publicized trial that took on the feel of a circus freak show. MJ’s final years were marked by increasingly erratic behavior and a dependence on prescription drugs, surrounded by a coterie of sycophants and enablers. His death in 2009, at age 51, provoked an outpouring of grief in the media as people remembered the “good” side of him — innovative creative genius, magnificent performer, humanitarian.

Jackson’s lasting legacy is a top-notch body of work. But when you think about everything he accomplished its hard not to view it all within the context of the high price he paid for success. Any semblance of a normal childhood was sacrificed in the pursuit of perfection. Driven by an overbearing stage father, his grueling life as a child star paved the road for personal unhappiness in his adult life. On the other hand, watching him perform up-close, the absolute joy he felt being onstage doing something he loved was obvious…so there’s that.

I’m not really saying anything here that hasn’t been said before, but I’ve been thinking about MJ recently because I’ve been listening to this song a lot. I love this song. I think it’s his best — at least, it’s my favorite. I’ve been thinking a lot about change, too. So often in life, change is thrust upon us. After all, the only thing that ever stays the same is the fact nothing ever stays the same, right? Oh, the irony. But sometimes the type of change that is necessary has to come from within, and that’s the most difficult. Have you ever looked at your life and realized that something needs to be different, but you’re not sure exactly what, and you don’t know how to make it happen? What do you do?

I wish I had the answers. I think MJ was on the right track here though. I guess, in the end, if you want to make a change there is only one place to look: in the mirror. If you like what you see, you’re lucky. If not…well, at least you know where to start.

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Please Don’t Put Your Life In the Hands Of a Rock ‘n Roll Band

BOOK REVIEW FOR: Oasis: The Truth: My Life As Oasis’s Drummer

Author: Tony McCarroll

tony mccarroll

What’s the Story, Morning Glory: from the mean streets of Manchester to the heights of Supersonic success

Who Are You: original drummer setting the record straight

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About: sibling rivalry, the agony & the ecstasy, the real Noel

Do Ya Think I’m Sexy: LG, I think I love you

Paperback Writer: a genuinely funny author with a knack for spinning a tale

Add It Up: a Spartan of a book

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Blue Peter & Chalk Circle: New Romantics and The Oshawa Tree

Saturday, October 1st — Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto

Tonight in the city there are no neighborhoods, only letters — A, B and C. Nuit Blanche has begun and the streets are coming alive with people ready to interact with art and each other. You have to decide which letter will begin your experience. For me, it’s B for Blue Peter and C for Chalk Circle. These names sound like Pop Art and minimalist paintings — I am obviously getting into the feel of Nuit Blanche.

I arrive at the Phoenix Concert Theatre halfway through Blue Peter’s set. On stage Paul Humphrey is sharply dressed. He looks like he could be on the set of Twin Peaks. His delivery is a collage of David Byrne, Ian Curtis and Bryan Ferry — so much coming at you at once, he is a compelling front man. I get to hear my favorites, ‘Radio Silence’ and ‘Don’t Walk Past’. These songs seamlessly fuse the condensed drone and angles of post punk with the smooth crooning of the New Romantic period. “Don’t walk on past”– you just wanted to whisper it to that girl in the hall, but it seemed so hard. A great, earnest, self-conscious love song. Check the video – it won Best Video of 1983 from the Canadian Film and Television Association.

Chalk Circle takes the stage and I overhear a group of people discussing how pleasantly surprised they are by the turnout. I am too. Chalk Circle recorded one EP and 2 albums during the 80’s. Their biggest selling record, The Mending Wall, was recorded at Quest Studios in Oshawa, Ontario and dubbed ‘The Oshawa Tree’. Is Chalk Circle Canada’s U2? Maybe, but only if you insist on viewing all things as derivative of others. If creating earnest, thoughtful and politically conscious rock & roll makes them Canada’s U2 then sure, it’s a fair comparison. But it always pissed me off when people would say that about Chalk Circle. It is so rare when an artist is able to create a new color in the spectrum — when it happens it is monumental and everyone is affected. I would argue (and I wouldn’t be alone) that The Edge created a new color with his guitar sound with U2. And yeah, Chalk Circle were inspired by that, along with millions of other people — but to dismiss their music as “U2-lite” does them a disservice. These are some great songs. Whew…looks like this show is stirring up lots of thoughts and emotions for me. OK, I’m done for now. But I will never stop taking the piss out of music snobs — no room for them.

I’m feeling fired up. Chris Tait is sneering away and Brad Hopkins’ bass is punching, pushing, and pulling me around. It’s nice to hear the bass way up front. As I’m getting my groove on I’m beginning to feel the political weight of the 80’s. It starts with ‘This Mourning’ with Tait spitting out the lyrics: “It’s 11 o’clock and they talk of him / About the eve of destruction / And a new ray gun / For my defense / A mended fence”. I’m taken down memory lane right back to “Ray-Gun Reagan”, Star Wars weapons in space, and the arms race. Later, they play the pretty guitar song ‘N.I.M.B.Y.’ — a term that was new to me in high school. Now that I am a land owner ‘N.I.M.B.Y.’ tests me, revealing things I didn’t know about myself and my ideologies. Wow, I am tripping now — loud music and politics filling my head. Then comes the hammer fall of ‘Sons and Daughters’ a seething indictment of Free trade: “They see gold in your trees and gold in your people / They’ll be panning for it in your water”. I begin to remember the uncertainty and anxiety during the 80’s about how Free Trade would change Canada. It felt like our sovereignty and economic future was up for grabs and the Americans were getting too good of a deal.

I leave the concert with a warm feeling and a head full of politics, and I like it. Election signs are all over the place, on people’s lawns and on store fronts. Election week is upon us, and this is the perfect time to think about what kind of politics we want for Ontario.


You’d Better Run, Better Run, Faster Than My Bullet…

pumped up kicks

Do you remember where you were on April 20th, 1999? I do. I was lying on a couch at my then-boyfriend’s house, having just had three of my wisdom teeth removed. I was flying high on laughing gas or whatever it is they give you for dental procedures (side note: it’s amazing). The BF was in the kitchen making me scrambled eggs and had switched on the TV to the local news channel. I was barely paying attention, until I started to focus in on what was happening on screen and realized it was absolutely the most freaking bizarre thing I had ever seen. A couple of kids had gone on a shooting rampage in the States and I was watching in real-time as the news cameras were trained on the school, capturing images of students and teachers jumping out of windows and the scenes of general mayhem and panic. The audio was a constant loop of the 911 calls that were being made by students from inside the building. The palpable terror in their voices was gut-wrenching, heightened of course in my doped up state. It was one of the most surreal things I have experienced, and I was nowhere near the scene of the crime. I can only imagine what it was like for the people who lived through it, and for the families of the victims.

The incident in question, of course, was the Columbine high school shootings, a truly sobering day in recent(ish) American history, and noteworthy on a few levels. First of all, it was the end result of years of bullying, a reaction to persecution played out in violent extremes. Let me be clear: I’m not condoning the actions of the shooters. Making the decision to murder innocent people in cold blood could never be anything other than callous and cowardly. However, there were real events and incidents that led to that decision, and those should not be discounted. Secondly, it was one of the first fully televised news events to unfold on screen in real time. People forget that up until Columbine, you didn’t really see the news as it was happening. There was the OJ Simpson police chase, of course, but other than that you usually heard about things after they occurred. To be watching the events of April 20th live was nothing short of astounding(ly horrible) at the time.

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You Make Me Laugh, Give Me Your Autograph

oasis

I’m currently reading a book called “Oasis: The Truth” by the band’s first drummer, Tony McCarroll (to be reviewed shortly), and it’s putting me in a ‘90s frame of mind. I remember so clearly when ‘Definitely Maybe’ came out…it was the fall of 2004 and I had just started university. As I was a mere 17 years of age, I had to resort to using my roommate’s ID to get into bars. This would have worked perfectly (we actually bore a passable resemblance to one another) except for the fact that my roomie and I became instant BFFs, so we rarely went to bars separately. Not surprisingly, trying to get past the bouncer with an ID bearing the same name as the person who has just gone before you is rarely an effective tactic.

Fortunately, the floor we lived on in residence quickly gained notoriety as one that excelled in booze-fuelled shenanigans and drunken revelry and we threw some pretty kickass parties at home, which saved me from having to go through the whole ID rigamarole too often. Even though we were an all-girls floor, we definitely raged as hard (or harder) than some of the male-only residences. I remember the first time I heard this song because my friend Michelle always made amazing mixes and she put it onto the mixed tape for our first party of the year. Ever since then, this tune has reminded me of the excitement I felt being away from home, meeting new people, and feeling the freedom to be myself (“I can’t be no one else”). It also reminds me of standing in a dingy residence hallway drinking disgusting alcoholic concoctions (Purple Jesus, Blue Lagoon, etc) out of plastic cups. By ’94-’95, grunge fashion was slightly on the wane and we were all wearing miniskirts or little dresses with those awful thigh-high tights. In retrospect we looked like idiots but at the time I just remember it being such a period of optimism and new adventure, living in an unfamiliar city, staying out ‘til the early morning hours drinking coffee with boys in all-night diners, sleeping through morning classes, rolling into the dining hall at noon with a raging hangover — and loving every single minute of it. I still get a little thrill of excitement when I hear the opening bars of this song, and I miss those carefree days of being a student (let me clarify: I don’t miss the homework, but I do sometimes long for the days of total lack of responsibility).

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I will be over twice the age I was when I first heard this song. Yes, it’s been eighteen years since I stood in that hallway downing jello shots, blissing out on mid-’90s Britpop (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Supergrass, Elastica, etc) and dancing all night. Unlike the bands we were listening to, we weren’t under the influence of any illicit substances (other than some underage alcohol consumption of course) but we didn’t need to to be. The music and the joyful folly of youth were enough of a trip on their own.

So my Song of the Day today is a ’90s classic, ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis. Happy Birthday to me!


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