Remembrance Day

(a slightly different version of this post appeared on my facebook page last year.)

The neighbourhood where I grew up has been a community of German immigrants since the before it was even part of Edmonton, back when the cycling path in Mill Creek Ravine was an active railway, and a local community-minded German would go meet new immigrants at the station to welcome them and show them around. Even during and after the wars, Germans would come, and the Lutheran church still offers German services.

The Canadian veterans in my life, mostly old relatives, carefully avoided talking about war. For me, the most visceral stories came from my neighbours. This should not be taken as entirely accurate, because it’s my own memory of someone else’s memory.

In about 2007 Dad and I were renovating our house, building a concrete foundation for an extension to go on top. Our house was originally built in the late forties by our neighbour Paul, who himself was a boy in Germany during the war, and the grandfather of one of my childhood friends. One day Paul came to inspect our work, as he often did, and say that he wasn’t sure it was going to work out, as he often did (when the extension was completed, he told us it looked beautiful), and he brought with him two other elderly German men. After my Dad and I introduced ourselves and described what we were doing, one of the old fellows spoke up, and he began, without any prompting at all, “people ask us why we let it happen.”

He told us the story of the day that the Nazis marched into his town, and his whole town marched out to meet them. Lines were drawn in the town square and the villagers defiantly jeered and chanted. The SS officer walked out in front of the assembled troops, staring unflinchingly at the crowd and said “Fuck Off.”

The crowd roared.

The S.S. officer turned and signaled to his men, who uncovered machine guns mounted to the backs of trucks. He stared out into the crowd again and said “Fuck Off.”

The crowd roared, but not as confidently. Small children were sent or carried home, but the villagers held the line and responded in contempt.

The S.S. officer signaled again and the machine guns boomed across the square, over the heads of the villagers.

“what would YOU do? We fucked off.”

This 70-odd year old man, probably no more than a teenager during the war, carried that story around with him every day. At no provocation, he brought himself to tears in front of strangers, for the shameful crime of being afraid of machine guns and not wanting to get shot. What would you have done? I would have fucked off.

When I think about war, I think about my neighbour, in a country that invaded his own, surrounded by immigrants from a country that his country invaded (My neighbourhood is also a historic French community, many of whom came as refugees during or after the war) and the necessity and impossibility of letting go. I think about how few people can be considered winners in a war, and how there are victims and heroes on each side. how the circumstances that lead to tragedy always seem to be intractable. I think about how you can’t blame a person for wanting to forget about war. We remember because it’s our responsibility to the many who will never have the option of forgetting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Top 10 Albums of 2015

There’s this weird thing about music appreciation, where, in our cultural reaction to emotional and subjective pieces of art, we sort music into lists. The 100 best guitar players of all time, best albums of 1975,  top 5 track 1 side ones, greatest accordion album of the century, that sort of thing. Here’s an activity for you: think of a situation, any situation. Break-up, quitting your job, graduation, shopping, sports victory, whatever. Now type “best (situation x) songs” into Google and see what it spits out.

The best thing about these lists is that, by design, every single person who reads one will disagree with it. Obviously, individual writers have stupid opinions unique perspectives, but more importantly, the list is inherently a critically vacuous tool that attempts to describe value not through actual merits but placement relative to other music.

Year-end lists are probably my favourite in this regard. At every step, the list-maker undermines the very premise. The list claims to consider all the music released in a year, but is published in early December, so as to get more hits from Christmas shoppers. Oops, you’re a human experiencing time linearly, you’re not physically capable of listening to all the music produced in a year. Stick to major label releases and other albums that hit a moderate level of success, because a personal connection to music isn’t important unless other people share it. Under no circumstances should the list include an a bestselling album, though. Anyone who listens to more than a few albums will be comparing apples to steak anyway, so the numbering comes out arbitrary.

Anyways, here’s my top 10 albums of 2015: Continue reading

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Not Too Early To Call The Greatest Accordion Album of the Century

Quick, what music do you remember from 2001?

This song broke records that year, and until I started doing research for this article, I had forgotten about it. I find music is harder to forget than it is to remember, but honestly I  Janet’s uncanny smile from the video stuck in my mind more than the song. It’s not a bad song, outside my genre alignment, sure, but a passable pop single that totally ruled 2001. At least, according to its wikipedia page. I would never have guessed. Continue reading

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Flying Canoe Part 2: Aftermath

The worst thing about the Flying Canoe is that I’ve basically never been there. Every year I get there before it starts, play for four hours, finish breaking down long after it’s finished, and then I do the same thing the next day. As a consequence, I’ve enlisted twitter to help me out with the visuals on this post.

The last three or four years, the first weekend in February has been colder than -20°. There are many brave souls that venture out, but the ravine tour goes pretty quickly so as to keep circulation up and also to return to La Cité Francophone a little bit faster. This year, temperatures ranged between 0 and -5°, and all of the sudden there were a kabillion people.

Continue reading

Posted in Music, Stuff I made | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cold Weather, Métis Dancing and Problem Solving

For the past couple years in February my family and I have had the pleasure of providing music and dance instruction for the Flying Canoe / Canoë Volant Festival. You can see us briefly in this video at the 50 second mark.

That’s my dad Dave on mandolin, my sister Tahnis on violin, and myself on the guitar.You may notice that we’re playing in a tent, and you might guess from all the visible breath that it’s pretty darn cold out. If you look really close, you’ll see that I’m actually wearing a pair of those fingerless glove/mitten convertible dealies. Continue reading

Posted in Stuff I made | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Activity: Fake Christmas Songs

I’ve been working retail during the most christmassy time of the christmas. Constant Christmas music has rotted my brain. Without using google, guess which of these songs are real and which ones are fake.

  • Takin’ Care of Christmas – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • Everybody Wants a Little Piece of my Christmas – David Wilcox
  • Gifts are for Giving but Family is for Keeps (the Christmas Cookies Song) – Ludracris feat. Dr. Dre and Ludacris’ mom
  • Honky Tonk Christmas – Alan Jackson
  • Reggae Christmas – Bryan Adams
  • Salsa Christmas –  Tito Puente and his Orchestra
  • Heavy Metal Christmas – Twisted Sister
  • It’s a Polka Christmas – Frankie Yankovic
  • Funky Funky Xmas – The New Kids on the Block
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Santa – Little Joey Farr
  • Punk Rock Santa – NOFX
  • Dubstep Santa – Katy B
  • The Be-Bop Santa – Babs Gonzales
  • Soul Santa – Brook Benton
  • Trap Santa – Fetty Wap
  • Funky Santa (is Comin’ to Town) – Jean Knight
  • Back Door Santa – Bon Jovi
  • Jingle Hell – Christopher Lee
  • Mrs. Claus Ain’t Alone Tonight – Mötley Cruë
  • Christmas in Hollis – Run DMC
  • Christmas in Prison – John Prine
  • Christmas in the Swamp – Clifton Chenier
  • Christmas in Connecticut – Barry Manilow
  • California Christmas – the Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Christmas All Over the World – Walk Off The Earth
  • Jing-a-Jing-Jingle, Jing-ga-lee Jingle – Nat King Cole
  • Santa Won’t Bring Me A Girlfriend – Simple Plan
  • Santa Dabo Dabo Bah! – the Minons feat. Gru.

Special thanks to Snoozy P for helping me out with these.

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This is also a music blog now, I guess

Let’s talk about a funny thing that I hate.

That video by the Axis of Awesome is legitimately hilarious deconstruction of I-V-vi-IV, probably the most common chord change in popular music. It’s well done, and I really like the goofy tangent on Five for Fighting’s Superman. My problem with it is just that it approaches the music from the wrong angle. Axis of Awesome looked at I-V-vi-IV and concluded that everyone was just being lazy and derivative. Granted, I-V-vi-IV is just a safer version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D with simpler chords and a more regular resolve, but that’s still not the point. How amazing is it that millions of songs from hundreds of countries from thousands of bands and hundreds of years share identical or nearly identical structures while remaining distinctive? How did that happen? I-V-vi-IV shows up in every genre, but even if it originated in classical music, pop-punk has held indisputable squatter’s rights for years. Why is that, and how come the change still regularly escapes into new genres? And how does it work semiotically to use the same form for so many different meanings? How can a chord progression be considered “reliable”? what could that possibly mean?

Continue reading

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protest Songs of the 2015 Election, Reviewed

Now that the votes have been counted, the victory champagne and consolation whiskey sipped, and the school gymnasiums returned to their regular functions, it’s time to get some serious analysis on one of the most important issues of the 2015 election: Which protest song was the best?

Continue reading

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Refinishing my ukulele

Back in 2009, before I rode my bike from Edmonton to Thunder Bay, I went to the now-defunct Gordon Price Music and purchased a $20 ukulele. The idea being that I’d have something to practice on, loosen up my hands after a day of riding, and if it got crushed in transit I would just buy a new one.

It was the chosen one of $20 ukuleles. The variance in the factory tolerances, so lenient that the usually only generate crap, had aligned: The tuning pegs held tune, the bridge was at just such an unsquare angle that the shoddy intonation was compensated for, the pine plywood just dense enough to generate a loud, bright tone.

This uke travelled with me far and wide, and although I did eventually buy a more professional uke with a properly made neck and a pickup and everything, I’ve made sure that the blue uke stayed in rotation. It’s so tiny and light, it fits in most bags and it’s almost good enough to be a real instrument. Canadian standard tuning, too, which gives it a different range than my concert uke. Continue reading

Posted in Bikes, Music, Stuff I made | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homemade Wire Brushes

I made these prototype wire brushes!

Brire Wushes

They’re made from derailleur housing with the plastic casing stripped off, and the handles are a cut-down aluminium tent pole. The hockey tape is just for grip. They look pretty good, but I think they might sound better with longer wires. I’m not a percussionist at all, though, so really who knows.

Posted in Music, Stuff I made | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment