The Left Handed Post

I went for a manuscript review last week with the writer in residence at the CPL. His name is Bruce Hunter, and within 5 minutes I felt like I had made a new friend. We really hit it off. We even graduated from the same high school, although he was a few years ahead of me. I savour happy coincidences like that.

The first thing he asked me was, “Who edited “What Happened to Grandma?

“Nobody. I just wrote it and proofread it myself. Made a few revisions…”

“OK, then we don’t need to talk about writing. We need to talk about how to get your work out there and noticed. Your prose is clean. It has a sweetness and musicality to it. I wouldn’t discount pursuing the literary side of things. Do you write poetry?”

“Not intentionally.”

He gave me a couple of pointers and related some of his own experiences, then we talked about other things that were peripherally related to writing.

It’s nice when friends compliment my writing, but it’s not completely unexpected. Most of the reason that we’re friends is because we have shared tastes and values. We like the same music, movies, and books. I like the paintings and songs they make. They like my writing. It makes sense. With no disrespect to my friends intended, it’s more satisfying when a stranger enjoys my writing. When a stranger finds my writing to be well done, it’s purely an opinion based on the writing. They know nothing about me. The writing stands alone, and is judged on its own merit. I find that to be extremely gratifying.

I like writers and painters and musicians and comedians and actors. They’re my tribe. They contribute things to humanity that are so much more robust and meaningful than fat bank account balances. Some have money, some don’t, but ultimately it doesn’t matter to me. Their creative ideas are what interests me.

Business people don’t make any sense to me, and I’ve accepted that I’ll never fit in with them. I find their motivations to be incomprehensible, and so having an interesting conversation with them is all but impossible*1That’s why small talk is so important in business settings. I don’t give a shit if they hit their quarterly sales targets. I don’t give a shit how much revenue is being generated. That stuff seems shallow to me. Their uniforms*2Business suits and dreary hair styles are dull and predictable, perfectly reflecting their utter lack of imagination. Making money just for the sake of making money is a concept I can’t wrap my head around.

Tip of the hat to you if you make things for the love of it. Please keep building your model railways. Keep painting one-of-a-kind christmas ornaments. Keep playing your guitar for people. Keep making comic books. You are making the world a richer and immeasurably more interesting place.





I wrote this post entirely with my left hand. Alice has developed the habit of having me hold her chewy toys while she gnaws on them. Good thing I’m ambidextrous.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. That’s why small talk is so important in business settings
2. Business suits and dreary hair styles

Anything To Not Write

20 things I do to avoid writing:

  1. “I like staying in bed until 9 AM. I’m a night owl.”
    *Later, falls asleep watching TV at 10 PM*
  3. “All my favourite authors say that good writers also read a lot. So I’m going to read for an hour. Or two.”
  4. “I’ll just have a shower and get dressed first.”
  5. “I can’t focus of writing while I’m listening to this podcast, so I’ll just clean the kitchen until the podcast is over.
    *Podcasts can easily be paused, but why?*
  6. “I need to make a cup of coffee before I start.”
  7. “I’ll let Alice out first so she doesn’t disturb me mid-write.”
  8. “Alice wants in.”
  9. “I wonder what the temperature is?”
  10. “I wonder what the temperature outside is?”
  11. “I feel bloated. I’m going to do a few pushups and get a glass of water.”
    *Does 10 pushups. Falls asleep on the floor*
  12. “I hate checking my email, but’s it’s got to be done.”
  13. *Facebook*
  14. *Sim City Buildit*
  15. “This cat is soft and he’s purring. I need to enjoy the little things. I’m going to pet him for a while.”
    *Falls asleep with cat in lap*
  16. “I’d better order that book from the library before I forget.”
  17. “What’s the scientific name for a yellow lab?”
    *Goes to Wikipedia.45 minutes later I know everything there is to know about Queen May Hnin Theindya of Pegu trying to save her husband Tarabya’s life by tying her tresses with his.*
  18. “Ugh…I have coffee mouth. I need to brush my teeth.”
  19. “I’ll put a load of laundry in, then write while it’s happening.”
    *Contemplates the meaning of life while watching the clothes get washed. Falls asleep during spin cycle.*
  20. “I need a nice classical music mix to inspire me”
    *Goes to iTunes. 45 minutes later I’ve finished playing of Concrete and Gold again*
  21. “Bagel Bites…”
  22. “I’m going to play with Alice”
  23. “I should see if there are any available volunteer shifts at NMC.”
  24. “The clock on the microwave didn’t get rolled back! Honestly…people in this house will do anything to avoid anything that requires effort.”
  25. “I’m going to make a list of things I do to avoid writing…that’ll get me in the mood.”

Gravy Sweating Cousin Fuckers

I think that one day, most Americans will look back on their current gun problem in much the same way most Americans today look back on slavery; with shame that such awful things happened to so many people in the name of bigger profits for a select few.

The Americans that do not will likely be direct descendants of today’s gravy sweating cousin fuckers that need to carry a gun to feel like they’re whole. Violence is always the solution south of the 49th. It’s part of the vernacular. Songs are “#1 with a bullet”. Tie games are settled with “a shoot-out”. There’s a “war on drugs” and seemingly all the other fun things. The examples go on and on. Now that you’re aware of it you’ll see it every day.

It’s scary to live right next door to a culture that fetishizes murder on such an astonishing scale. It’s like playing that “Pie Face” game, but instead of the little kid getting hit in the face with delicious whipped cream, someone blows his brains out while he’s at school or church or the movies. And then everyone else gets murdered too.

The UIC Ski Team: Everything Is Interesting But Nothing Matters

I’ve been doing a LOT of thinking over the last few months. I feel like I’m at a major crossroads in my life. Unlike previous crossroads, there’s a significant time component this time. I’ll be 54 in a couple of months, so I don’t have the luxury of making poor decisions that can be fixed later. There might not be a “later”.

Here’s the crux of my situation: everything is interesting but nothing matters.

When I think of what I’d like to be doing with my remaining years on Earth, the answer is “everything”. I like to write. I like play and listen to music. I like landscaping. I like working on cars. I think training dogs would be fun. Flipping houses seems like it’d be interesting. You get the idea.

On the other hand, none of that shit matters. Nothing matters. At some point, the human race will go extinct and/or the Sun will end its life and consume Earth. Taken in that context, absolutely nothing that any of us does has any meaning at all. It’s all going away one day.

That leads me to one conclusion; all I’m looking for is a palatable way to kill time. I mean…I’m here, so I might as well be doing something until I’m not here anymore.

The first thing I’m going to try is inspired by Seth Godin. He blogs every day, and has done for years. Some posts are long and detailed. Some are only a couple of short paragraphs. Unlike Seth, I don’t have any insight to share with you that might improve your life. Instead, I’m going to write my autobiography. Maybe you’ll find it funny sometimes. Maybe it’ll be sad or inspiring, or relatable, or boring. You can do whatever you want with it. It doesn’t matter because it’s mostly for me. I’m going to figure out how to automagically get it delivered to your inbox if you like that kind of thing.

I’m going to limit myself to 15 minutes per post, and it won’t be in chronological order. Let’s see how it goes.

OK? Here’s entry #1…

It was about 3rd or 4th grade, and a girl we all had a crush on was having a birthday party. I was standing with a group of friends (all boys), and she walked up to me and gave me an invitation. I didn’t know how to react. I was flattered, but also embarrassed because I figured all my friends would roast me for “having a girlfriend”. So I laughed in her face and tore up the invitation.

Immediately, I felt like an asshole. It bothered me for decades that I could treat someone like that. Earlier this year, I saw her at our annual Christmas gathering of people who’ve been friends for 40+ years. I took her aside and told her the story, ending with an apology. She didn’t remember the incident, but the fact that I did and had hung on to it for so long made her cry. In an unexpected twist, she felt bad for me because I felt bad for her.

I feel better for having apologized, and it allowed me to better understand that my words and actions are just as likely to hurt me as they are to hurt the person on the receiving end. As the saying goes, “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words do permanent damage”. I just didn’t expect to be the one who sustained the damage. “Friendly fire”?

I hope I’m a better person now than I was in 3rd grade, but I honestly don’t think I am. I’m just flawed in different ways. We all are, but not enough of us seem to be aware of that. Fewer still are willing to admit to it and undertake any sort of steps to become better people.

It’s hard being human.



The UIC Ski Team: Readin’ and Writin’…no ‘rithmetic

*939 words = approximately a 5 minute read

“Reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found” – Kurt Vonnegut

This has been a pretty good summer, for the most part. I lost my job at the end of May, which couldn’t have been better timing weather-wise. It’s been hot and beautiful for three straight months, with only the odd cooler day. I’ve been out on the deck writing and reading almost every day.

When I feel like it, I take a break and play with Alice or go for a run*1I’ve dropped 10 pounds since I started running a month ago. It’s been relaxing and has given me the opportunity to be introspective and think about where and what I want to be for the next decade or so. Lack of income is definitely worrisome, but that’ll sort itself out sooner or later. When my only problem is money, I know I’m a fortunate guy.

I’m envious of people who are able to do real, tangible, good things for other people. Doctors. Farmers. Musicians. Aid workers who go to disaster zones and help. I appreciate the things they do keep us healthy, both physically and mentally, and wish I had whatever it is that they have.

The best thing I feel like I have to offer is words. I’ve given up trying to understand why some people like the words I string together, but I’m glad they do so I’ll keep on writing them. I’m struggling a bit at the moment, and the Z&TG stories are falling behind where I’d hoped to be in September. I’m not super worried about it. I’ll just keep writing until the words make me happy again. I don’t believe in “writer’s block”. I just think everything ebbs and flows and battling that is futile. In the end, it’s supposed to be fun. Beating oneself up isn’t fun, although it seems to be popular.

I’ve been doing a lot more reading. All my favourite writers insist that to be a good writer, one must be an avid reader. It makes sense. How can anyone be good at anything unless they observe what others in their field are doing, for better or worse? Even Mozart had influences.

My daily commute used to take about an hour. When I found myself with longer than a commute to read, I noticed that I had a degraded ability to read a book for longer than a half hour or so. I was favouring nonfiction articles I found online, because that’s what fit into my commute*2And my Kobo makes it very easy to queue anything interesting with it’s ability to synch with Pocket. I couldn’t concentrate on a book for hours like I used to be able to. I was a victim of something I’d spent a lot of time defending; short attention span due to digital overload.

I’d rather we all read something, so I still defend short offerings. They’re better than not reading at all, but I wanted to get back to longer books and longer reading sessions. Now that I’ve done so, I’ve found it’s akin to muscle memory*3Although I don’t play a lot of guitar these days, I can still pick one up and fairly adeptly bash out some scales and chords and EVH inspired finger taps. Within a couple of weeks, I’ve been able to get back into multi-hour, fully absorbed reading sessions. The kind where hours disappear. Just yesterday I polished off “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig. It’s about 250 pages and it took me two days*4It helps that Matt Haig is a fucking brilliant and highly readable author.

I tend to have 2 or 3 books on the go at one time. One fiction, one nonfiction, and one that can be savoured over time, where each chapter stands alone*5Einstein’s Dreams, Satiristas, Oor Wullie compendiums, for example. Non-readers sometimes ask how this can be done. I answer that it’s no different than watching the news on TV, then switching the channel to Brooklyn 99. Our brains are pretty nimble if we give them the opportunity

It’s a strange habit of mine – likely born of thrift – that I often only purchase books after I’ve borrowed them from the library and read them. Once I know the book has some value to me, I don’t mind spending the money to own it. I think “These words are magical. I’ll refer to this later, so I must have it close to me”. It usually sits on the shelf collecting dust for years because I rarely re-read books. That would take away from the time I have to discover new books. I keep meaning to re-read a few Vonneguts that meant something to me (Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5), but I get distracted by things I’ve not yet read.

I feel absolutely zero obligation to finish a book I’m not enjoying. That’s the same as forcing a shitty meal down my throat. Life’s too short. I’m not getting younger, so I’d rather invest my time in things I like and bin things I don’t.

To summarize: Reading is good. We should all do much more of it*6I suppose this post could have been 11 words long….

One final thought, apropos of nothing: I’m growing my hair out since I don’t have a dogmatic boss to answer to anymore. I hope. I’ve tried this before and always bail once it reaches that goofy stage where I have to wear a hat all the time. Not that I have anything against hats, but I like them to be an option, not a requirement.






Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I’ve dropped 10 pounds since I started running a month ago
2. And my Kobo makes it very easy to queue anything interesting with it’s ability to synch with Pocket
3. Although I don’t play a lot of guitar these days, I can still pick one up and fairly adeptly bash out some scales and chords and EVH inspired finger taps
4. It helps that Matt Haig is a fucking brilliant and highly readable author
5. Einstein’s Dreams, Satiristas, Oor Wullie compendiums, for example
6. I suppose this post could have been 11 words long…

The UIC Ski Team: Keep Your Eye On The Man, Not The Dog

I’ve been feeling pretty good until the last couple of days. Deep down, I still feel optimistic and believe things will turn out fine. Better than fine, even. However, nothing brings a person crashing back to reality like a lack of income.

I have another week or two until EI kicks in, but even when it does we’ll have a significant shortfall to deal with. I hate how much control money has over our lives. Imagine how much happier most of us would be if we didn’t have to be constantly thinking about money and how we’ll deal with either a lack of it or an excess of it.

There are no definitive numbers, but let’s be generous and say that 50% of us hate our jobs. That is an astonishing and depressing number. What if half of us hated our kids? You can bet there’d be some action taken on that. Yet somehow it’s acceptable that half of us spend most of our waking hours being miserable.

It’s absurd.

To those of you who have found employment that enriches your life and keeps you happy most of the time, be grateful. Never lose sight of how fortunate you are.

I’m now at a point where I have to do pretty much whatever comes along. That means I have to curtail doing what I love and am good at, and therefore pull back on something that has a positive impact on the world and people around me. That’s bumming me out more than the money.

On the upside, family and friends continue to be unbelievably supportive and encouraging. I’m fond of saying that the best thing about being me is having my friends, and this experience proves it, even if it doesnt pay the bills.

I believe I’m a talented and unique guy, and that will be my ultimate saviour. All I need is for somebody willing to pay me for those kind of fuzzy skills. I know this is just a data point…a temporary dip in an otherwise upward trend…but when you’re in the middle of it, living in the day, it feels so much more hopeless. Knowing that others have gone through it doesn’t help. Knowing that things will be OK again one day doesn’t help. Understanding that it’s OK to have a bad day, to acknowledge and give voice to that day, to know that it’s not weakness or self-pity…that helps. My climate is fine, I’m just in the middle of some short term bad weather.

I’ll finish off with a few things my friends have said to me privately, because I like the words and I feel like sharing them. After all, “it’s not bragging if you can do it.”

“Dig yourself. You are uncommonly groovy.”

“Most people think they’re really unique, but you’re the only person I’ve ever met who actually is.”

“I think you have more talent than I’ve ever seen. Creative and funny, and I mean that sincerely. Never change, man.”

“Somebody said of Gord Downie, “His brain goes to places that few others look. I think it’s his curiosity…his instinct to challenge the status quo. He knows you can love something and still see it’s flaws.” I think that applies to you too.”

Thanks friends. I don’t know where I’d be without you.

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain

The UIC Ski Team: 6000 Hours

Unlike most people who lose their jobs, I’m not really that upset. I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like my boss*1Incredible and generous understatement. I didn’t like going all the way downtown every day on a crowded train.

The commute to and from work ate up 2 hours a day, which is 10 hours a week, which is 40 hours a month, which is 480 hours a year. I worked there for 12 1/2 years, so I spent nearly 6000 hours of my life going to and from a job I hated. That’s an astonishing number, and it underscores the fact that I was brainwashed into accepting the status quo. Or maybe I was just too scared and lazy to change my role within it. I know I’m not alone.

Maybe I should be an outlier who reminds people that they could be wasting their only life. I’m an expert, because I have many years experience wasting my life. You need to have a plan, or you become part of someone else’s plan*2Be aware that what they have planned for you is probably not enriching or worth doing. I didn’t have a very good plan. At that point, I became a cog in the machine. I didn’t know what the point of the machine was, or if it did anything of true value, but I continued to spin as long as I got greased (AKA “paid”). Now I’m a stripped cog, because it turns out I was a metric gear in an Imperial machine.

I wasn’t making enough money to mitigate the misery caused by the awful job, awful boss, and awful commute. I’m not even sure there is a “right amount of money” to compensate for wasting my life. Sure, a regular paycheque and benefits were good things to have, but it always felt like a soulless transaction. There was no joy or sense of accomplishment or even satisfaction. I sometimes think that if I was making an exorbitant amount of money, I might be able to justify all the other rotten stuff because my material needs would be taken care of*3Do we possess our possessions, or do they possess us?.

That’s bullshit though, isn’t it? Doing something just for money paves a direct road to disillusionment and sadness for a lot of people. They find out that “having stuff” never fills the void in their life they hope it will. Unfortunately, most only discover that after several disappointing rounds of keeping up with the Jones’s. I’ve changed tactics and am now actively involved in dragging the Jones’s down to my level.

Money is a human construct that feeds one thing only; our greed. Money isn’t natural. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to be in a position where money isn’t a day-to-day concern, but I can safely say that a bigger house, nicer car, fancier clothes, etc. will never make me happier in the long term. It’ll provide a quick hit to the pleasure centre of my brain, then I’ll wonder who I’m trying to impress. After all, I spend fully 8 hours a day – a third of my life – sleeping in whatever house I live in. I’m not aware of how high-end my address is when I’m asleep, so I’d sleep just as soundly in a tent. To me, it’s not worth being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and it’s not worth 40 hours a week of chasing a bigger paycheque just for the sake of having bragging rights among my friends. Worse still; killing myself to have bragging rights among a bunch of people I’ve never met. Maybe it is to you, but not to me.

Aye Pancakes circa 1990

What I want most – what I perceive as having the most value – is to honour my inner third grader. I want to do things that are fun most of the time. I started my adult life that way by working radio. When it turned out that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I quit and became a working musician. It was pretty much what I expected, and I kept at it for nearly 10 years. During that time, I paid my rent and bought my food without taking on a soul-crushing day job for the most part. On the odd time I did, it was purely to fund my musical pursuits, and I quit as soon as the current money demands were met.

Did I become a rock star and get rich? Obviously not. In fact, in many ways I’m still paying for those days. I didn’t make enough money to buy a house or contribute to RRSPs or even save like most of my peers were able to…but god damn I was happy most of the time. I get the sense many of my friends are a little envious too. Ironically, some of them are semi-retired now. I’ll never be able to afford to retire. Fortunately, I look good in blue; “Welcome to Walmart”.

About the time I hit the age of 30, I figured it was time to “get serious”. I cut my hair, got a traditional job, went back to school, had kids, and bought a house. None of those things individually was a bad decision*4Except the job, in hindsight, but collectively they represent me quitting on my own dreams and giving the middle finger to my inner third grader. Had I been able to do them all while remaining a musician, I’d consider myself the most successful person I know. But I sold out because I wasn’t strong enough to resist societal brainwashing any longer. I gave up. I started pursuing the Jones’s.

As of the end of May, I was presented with the opportunity to re-build me. What you are reading represents a sliver of what I want to do with my life. I’m a good writer*5Not a great writer yet, but hopefully if I keep working at it and find a good editor…. It makes me happy to write. It’s satisfying, even when all I manage to write is junk. When I write something that resonates with someone else and they send me a note*6Thank you. You know who you are telling me how it made them feel true emotion, that’s a narcotic to me. I want to write more and get that hit again. It never, ever gets old.

The challenge for Aye Pancakes in the summer of 2017 is to figure out how to make a steady middle-class income from writing. Realistically, the Zeke & Tall Guy stories have slim to no chance of propelling me into the rarified air of Stephen King, JK Rowling, or John Grisham, but that’s OK. Maybe I can write better than average real estate listings. Maybe I can write a good guide on how to set up a website.

I’d be thrilled to be able to combine my love of music and comedy with my love of writing. Album reviews, concert reviews…I think I’d be good at that. But how? That’s what I’m spending my time on at the moment. I bet it doesn’t take me 6000 hours to figure it out, but if it does it’s certainly time well spent. It’s better than spending 6000 hours commuting to a job I hated.




Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Incredible and generous understatement
2. Be aware that what they have planned for you is probably not enriching or worth doing
3. Do we possess our possessions, or do they possess us?
4. Except the job, in hindsight
5. Not a great writer yet, but hopefully if I keep working at it and find a good editor…
6. Thank you. You know who you are

The UIC Ski Team: Life in Aye Major

I was listening to Mozart as I wrote this post. Classical music helps me focus.

Maybe you’d like to listen as you read?

It’s been interesting to discover how being completely miserable at work affected so many parts of my life. Parts that I’d never have expected. The best thing I can think to call it is “pervasive misery”.

I’ve stopped having nosebleeds every day. I’ve also stopped sneezing every few hours. I suspect the former and the latter are related, most likely caused by poor air quality in the office. I haven’t had a headache in 6 weeks. I’m sleeping the same amount of hours, but feel so much more rested. Those are tangible health improvements, but I’m also finding that other things in my life are correcting themselves. I hadn’t realized that my job*1More specifically, my awful, awful ex-boss had dampened my love of music.

I’m now listening to music again. Not simply hearing music. Listening.

For all the years I was taking transit to and from work, I heard a LOT of music. In hindsight, I was using it as a defence mechanism instead of food for my soul. I’d put in the earbuds*2Not known for having good depth or width AKA soundstage, close my eyes, and pretend I wasn’t where I was. It took conscious effort, and that effort distracted from hearing the music.

Since I do not currently have a scheduled bed time, I find myself staying awake a little longer*3Usually about 1 AM and listening to music on my good Sennheiser headphones. Really listening, like I used to when I was a teenager.

It’s become a bit of a ritual. I vape a little bit of Indica, turn off all the lights, and steady my breathing for a few minutes. Once Alice settles down and is curled up beside me, it’s “go time”.

I’ll usually pick an album instead of a mixed playlist, and listen to the entire thing in order. I’ve done two theme weeks so far: All six Roth-era Van Halen albums and all seven Bon-era AC/DC records*4including the 74 Jailbreak EP and the If You Want Blood live album. Next week I’m going all Biffy Clyro. The Beatles are on deck, as is Zeppelin.

On an individual album basis, I’ve re-discovered how great My Chemical Romance‘s The Black Parade is. And The Cars first album. And Pearl Jam‘s Ten. And Thin Lizzy‘s Thunder and Lightning. And Louis Prima and Benny Goodman and Robert Johnson and Beethoven and Little Richard and James Brown and Ry Cooder and NWA and The Clash and Streetheart and and and…

One beautiful aspect of this habit is that there’s no reason for it to ever end or repeat itself. There’s so much great music, with more being released every day. It makes me feel happy to be alive. Music is one of the best things humans have to offer.

It’s counter-intuitive, but I’ve really been dropping the ball with The Music Omnivore. When I was working full time, I’d post every weekday*5Pro Tip: Posts are scheduled for 12:34 PM mountain time, because that’s how musicians count in songs; 1, 2, 3, 4…. I guess I was using it as a distraction from the dreary day-to-day. The last few weeks, I haven’t stayed on top of it. I think maybe I’ll set aside an hour or so every Sunday and schedule MO posts for the following week.

With the help of my friends Drew, Parky, Ellen, and Paul*6The guy solely responsible for the Music Omnivore concept, the Omnivore has 572 posts over the last couple of years, with very few repeats. Drew likes Social Distortion as much as I like Biffy Clyro and Parky likes The Strypes, so I’m positive those bands have multiple posts. Let’s call it 550 unique posts.

I’m thinking of winding it down and focusing on this site and The Music Omnivore never really took off like I’d hoped. It feels like screaming into the void sometimes, especially on days where the site only gets 11 visitors. Maybe I’ll wrap it all up with Iron Maiden on post number 666. We’ll see. If you have any ideas on how I can get more visitors, I’d love to hear them. Or maybe I’ll just post less often and make it more of a “when I feel like it” proposition. Being dedicated hasn’t really made a difference anyway. I still really like the idea of the site.

There are certain songs that I can tell you note-for-note why I love them. Unintentional finger noise on guitars, particular drum rolls, vocal flourishes, etc. I’ve been thinking of adding an Omnivore feature called “Song Dissections” or something like that. I’ll break a song down into individual bars of music and point things out that make the music come alive for me. Things you may not have noticed before because you don’t have music OCD like I do.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

In my opinion, Merry Clayton recorded the best backing vocal ever on “Gimme Shelter” by The Stones. No contest. On many occasions, I’ve looped this 11 second section over and over for 15 or 20 minutes.

She is pushing so hard that her voice cracks, and if you listen closely you can hear Mick in the background yelling “WOO!” because he knows how great that little part is. A lesser talent would have asked her to do it without the “mistake”, but Mick knows greatness when he hears it. It’s not “perfect”, but it’s perfect. I can’t imagine this song without Merry. She made it hers, and I bet the boys in the band would acknowledge that without hesitation.

Two seconds later, Charlie puts punctuation on the whole thing with his kick/snare pattern, and Keith holds an E then plays four delicious notes (E, C#, E, C#) that are so simple and so beautiful it almost makes me want to cry.

If you listen to the whole song from the beginning, your markers are:
2:42 – Merry starts her “Rape, murder” lead
2:59 – She starts the phrase I’m talking about
3:01 – Her voice cracks
3:02 – Mick says “Woo!”
3:04 – Charlie
3:07 – Keef

In this clip, the markers are 0:01 / 0:02 / 0:04 / 0:07

Thanks for your time. I truly appreciate it.






Footnotes   [ + ]

1. More specifically, my awful, awful ex-boss
2. Not known for having good depth or width AKA soundstage
3. Usually about 1 AM
4. including the 74 Jailbreak EP and the If You Want Blood live album
5. Pro Tip: Posts are scheduled for 12:34 PM mountain time, because that’s how musicians count in songs; 1, 2, 3, 4…
6. The guy solely responsible for the Music Omnivore concept

50 Years and 150 Years

Not only is today Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s also the 50th anniversary of my family’s arrival in Canada after emigrating from Scotland.

I like being Canadian for the most part. I like our flag. I like that it’s peaceful and, for the most part, free. I like that our food and water supplies are clean and robust. I like multiculturalism. I like that we’re nice to each other, and in fact don’t take any offence at all when other nations jab us for being “too polite”. Sorry, I’m not sorry for being sorry.

I like that my health care is taxed off my paycheque so that it feels free when I need to use it.

I like the Canadian sense of humour. I like a lot of the music that Canadians have made and continue to make.

I like spring and summer.

I don’t like that many Canadians seem to wish they were American, and I don’t like how firehosed we are with American culture*1Other countries have been “Americanized”, but they don’t understand; in Canada, America is right there! If they fart in the wind, we smell it. They can be very challenging neighbours.. I don’t particularly like our national anthem, but I’m not a fan of that style of music*2Most national anthems suck, in my opinion..

I don’t like how far away we are – especially in the prairie provinces – from each other. Canadians measure the space between places in time, not distance*3I know that Edmonton is about three hours drive away from Calgary and that Vancouver is about an hour-and-a-half flight.. I’m sometimes envious of my relatives in Scotland who can fly to a different language and culture in 30 minutes for the same price as I pay for a Big Mac meal. If I want to go to Montreal it’s four hours and often more expensive than flying to Vegas, which is about the same distance.  In Canada, we’re a 5-hour flight away from anywhere that one might call “tropical”.

I don’t like the idea of “distinct society” in Quebec. I don’t like the exhorbitant cost of housing in Vancouver, Toronto, or Calgary.

I don’t like fall or winter.

On the first day of snowy or cold or generally bullshitty weather each year, it’s tradition for me to phone my parents. My mum doesn’t even say “hello”. She says, “Yes, I know what the temperature is in Sydney right now.” Although I like being Canadian, part of me will always be disappointed that my parents didn’t move us to a warmer part of the Commonwealth when they had the chance.

When my parents came to Canada, the economy in the UK was in poor shape. The government of Canada was offering interest-free loans to help people cover the cost of immigration because the country was booming and needed people to come and work. I think it was an incredibly brave thing that my parents did by moving so far away from home. The only person we knew in Canada was my dad’s brother and his wife*4They’d immigrated a short time earlier.

Click to embiggen

Mum and Dad were 28 and 31, and I was 3. They packed up, said goodbye to their parents and other family members, and left everything they knew. We hopped on the final transAtlantic passenger voyage of the Queen Mary, and after stops in NYC and Toronto, we took the train across Canada and ended up in Vancouver. There’s a picture somewhere of us standing on the grand staircase on the ship, me holding their hands and showing a big, cheesy grin. I can’t find it at the moment, so you’ll have to be happy with this reenactment that we took in Long Beach in 2008.

Moving away from home was a different thing in 1967. Immigrants isolated themselves because you couldn’t hop on Skype and touch base with the old country whenever the mood struck you. I remember my parents and my uncle saving all year so they could have a five-minute phone call to Scotland at Christmas. Long distance rates were something like $20/minute in 1967 dollars. That’s the same buying power as roughly $150 in 2017, so it cost my parents the equivalent of $750 to call Scotland for a five-minute chat with my grandparents on a phone line that was often staticky. You could actually hear the distance.

After a few years, things had stabilized a bit and we were able to return to Scotland every couple of years. Relatives came over here periodically*5Mostly my grandparents, but I never had any close family other than my parents. No cousins. No siblings. No grandparents. It was just the three of us.

In 1972*6I was 8, dad got transferred to Calgary. When we arrived at the beginning of January, I remember all of us looking at each other like “What have we done?”. It was -20 and the snowbanks were up to my shoulders in some spots. We had no idea how to deal with such harsh weather, but we learned quickly enough. Scots are tough.

I completed all my schooling in Calgary and made close friendships that have endured 45 years. My parents got active in the community and developed a love of camping. They even square danced in the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Hard to believe that was only 21 years after they arrived in this country.

It’s been a great life, for the most part. I can’t think of a place I’d rather live, and I’ll very likely die here. I do sometimes wonder what life would have been like if we’d stayed in Scotland. I’d have a way cooler accent, that’s for sure. I’d certainly have stronger family ties*7Hi Auntie Bain and Uncle Jimmy and Steve and Gordon and would have known my grandparents better. But I’d have missed out on so much of what defines me; the friends and experiences that are the result of growing up and living in Western Canada.

I guess if mum and dad had decided to stay in Scotland, or had moved to Australia instead of Canada, I’d probably still have had a great – and potentially much warmer – life. But they didn’t. They came here, and it all worked out pretty well.

I like to brag about being a Scot, but the fact is that I’m Canadian with Scottish heritage. I’m pleased with that.

Happy Birthday, Canada. Thanks for everything.

And happy anniversary to my parents and me.






Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Other countries have been “Americanized”, but they don’t understand; in Canada, America is right there! If they fart in the wind, we smell it. They can be very challenging neighbours.
2. Most national anthems suck, in my opinion.
3. I know that Edmonton is about three hours drive away from Calgary and that Vancouver is about an hour-and-a-half flight.
4. They’d immigrated a short time earlier
5. Mostly my grandparents
6. I was 8
7. Hi Auntie Bain and Uncle Jimmy and Steve and Gordon