Timing is Everything in Music

Last Sunday, after a lovely ladies weekend, I met my friend Tricia at an Open Mike event to sing together. Now, we have performed together before, but only once this year, and of course had not rehearsed anything. We got very lucky.

It reminded me a time in the late 1970’s when I came home one evening and my sister introduced me to her new friend Fred Mandel. He said “Your sister tells me you play the piano – why don’t you play something?” Now my sister was totally setting me up (as usual). My piano skills at the time were BOTH parts of Heart & Soul. “No” I said to the very young looking guest “You first.”

Well I didn’t know it, but at that time, Fred Mandel was playing with Domenic Troiano and was about to tour for four years with Alice Cooper. Oh yeah, he also went on to play live and record with Queen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd and little gigs like LIVE AID with Sir Elton John. No biggie.

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Fred sat at my parent’s little apartment size piano and played the absolute crap out of it. Amazeballs. After about an hour of stunning rock and roll, my Mom came out to say goodnight and thank him for playing. He made as if to stop, and she beseeched him to continue, (“I didn’t even know that piano could SOUND like that “) He instantly switched to Cole Porter and gentle swing for the rest of the evening. I’m glad he went first.

It was a less dramatic event on Sunday. Tricia and I got up and sang a song. They liked us and asked us to sing another which we did. They wanted more and we said no and that is always the best way. Then the next group got up. Four black guys – they sounded like 3-1/2 guys from Santana. You know when a band kicks in full throttle, completely in sync, from the very first note? It was like that. I bet they rehearsed.


My first fan letter.

In November, 1978 my sister called and invited me to go to a concert with her. This was quite remarkable as she didn’t like me very much. She said it was someone I “had to see”. As an older sister, she felt responsible for my musical education. I had never heard of him. It was Bruce Springsteen.

Well this was in the Concert Bowl at Maple Leaf Gardens – Bruce left the stage, came through the floor crowd and sang several times right beside our seats in the stands. It was a stunning,  4+ hour show and I left sweaty and completely satisfied. That was more than 37 years ago and I have since seen Bruce many times. Maybe 17? I stopped counting. Rochester in 1978. Chicago in 1999.



Everyone knows that on a scale of 1 – 10 a Springsteen show is a clear 17. Every one a remarkable experience.  And each is different. When I took my husband to see Bruce at the CNE in the late 80’s, the sky was threatening rain. Bruce opened up with “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. It worked.

When my sons were about 7 and 9 I took them to see Bruce. This was the 90’s and I really wanted them to see what it was like when a human being wrote every word, and every note, and then had other humans all play it together. It’s magic and at that time it was very rare.  It still is.

It was different then, when you couldn’t share things with the ease that you can today.  I remember driving down Avenue Road quite late one evening in 1980, and Q107 had a sneak pre-release preview of one song from Bruce’s new album “The River”.  There were no cell phones – I couldn’t share the moment with anyone.  They played “Drive All Night” and I was so overcome I pulled over to the side of the road.  Bruce is playing the entire album on Tuesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it when he sings that song.

I love  Bruce Springsteen.  He has never asked me for anything in all these years except to pay attention politically and to bring food for my local food bank to every show.  Like thousands of others, I submitted a response to the “3 Words about Bruce Springsteen” for the remarkable documentary SPRINGSTEEN AND I. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVQUeCi9V0s )  I don’t remember what my three words were – I am guessing one was “Authentic”.  Whatever.  I end up saying the same three words that most of the fans say, and that I still say today:





If you can’t play it live, I don’t want to hear it.

The Grammy Awards were on last week.  I didn’t watch.  When I was younger, the Grammy Awards were an event not to be missed. I would gather with several like-minded friends and tune in religiously. With no PVR in those days, we would actually wait until the commercials to get a drink or go to the bathroom. My sister would call me to talk about it, but again, only during the commercial breaks.

I was really a fan. It was primarily a chance to see Springsteen. Not even perform, I was excited just to see him sitting in the audience. (“He’s with his mother! Awww….”). There was also performances that would blow you away – Neil Diamond coming out and joining Streisand in singing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo8dCD-4S08 (you know it was a disc jockey who first put that together). Or Tina Turner walking down a loooong stairway in super high heels and a ridiculously short dress for “What’s Love Got to do with It?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEQVSnzQPXc

The Grammy Awards fell into a lull a few years back – I am guessing it started about the time AutoTune made its debut. I have always felt that a musical act doesn’t really make it for me unless the person can perform it live. And unplugged. The totally synthesized  bands and commercially produced cookie cutter boy bands just didn’t break through into timeless classics. Go figure. The best example of this was, of course, Milli Vanilli in 1990. It’s one thing to lip synch. It’s quite another to not even come close to matching the words on the tape – which, by the way, is not even you singing! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILpAJHYwFqQ   they beat Indigo Girls for best new artist. No wonder the audience lost respect and the numbers dwindled lower and lower.

Now, if I watch,  I spend the bulk of the evening asking “Who’s that?” Nothing makes me feel older, or more white, than watching this show. I wasn’t a big rap fan, though I did love their acceptance speeches “and I’d like to thank Jesus for all the success of our big hit
Ho Bring That Thang On Up On Me.”

But something started changing a few years ago. In 2009 When Christina Aguilera did “This is a man’s world” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZltsUE_GhM she stunned the crowd. There is no doubt that this girl can sing. There was a great moment last year when Adele sang Rolling in the Deep – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmdcD22VrAU wow.

And this year, there were some incredible performances again. iTunes, downloads, the so called ‘death’ of the music industry. I don’t think so. And with Justin Timberlake bringing out a new album … well all signs for the future look good. Want to know how you can help? Here’s how:


One Hundred Word Challege – “Murray was just about to serve for the Championship”

Murray was just about to serve for the Championship when he remembered the chant of the crowd over the last few weeks “Timmy! Timmy!”
Like Murray, Tim Henman had been the great hope of the Brits to finally give them the home grown champion they had been denied for seventy-six years.
But the Brits didn’t love Murray. His antics on court and comments off court had never endeared him to his fellow countrymen.
Now, at what could be his moment of glory, he chose to deny them. The Hero of Britain in an instant became again that lousy Scot.

Cosmopolitan? Sadly, no.

Last week I participated in an incredible event. A large multi-national corporation celebrated it’s 60th anniversary by inviting the top executives, together with their spouses,  from every country that they do business with to a three day symposium in Vienna. For those spouses who did not wish to attend the international speakers (similar to the Davos Summit), they arranged an incredible variety of exclusive cultural events.

I was torn with which to attend, so the first day I did cultural events (including a tour of Vienna, the castle, and a small Master Class with the Director of the Vienna Symphony) and the second day attended the speakers. Every evening was a fantastic dinner with all attendees – once held in a museum – closed to the public – the other time in a castle. While the seminars were conducted in English, with spontaneous translations, the tours were offered in several languages. Multilingual tour guides held up signs “Spanish” “Farsi”, etc. It was here that I began to feel rather provincial.

6:00 flight to Frankfurt on the trip home

You see, I can only speak English. Well, because I live in Canada I have had years of French – both in school and by reading every package sold in this country. I know that FREE is GRATIS in French and SORTIE means EXIT. In fact, if I had to I could both order in a restaurant and shop in a somewhat bungled version of the French language. And in France, anywhere but Paris the locals greatly appreciate your trying to speak their language. In Paris, as in Montreal, when you try to speak high school French they roll their eyes and speak English.

Now I was one of the very few who could speak only English. (The other uni-linguists were all guests from the U.S.A.) The vast majority of attendees were fluent in at least three languages, and often four or five. They could be conversing in Swedish, greet someone in Italian and then order their drink in German. More than just the language, most of these people had lived in many different countries. A woman whose husband now works for Coca Cola in Atlanta was originally from Australia and had lived in Dubai and Istanbul. My host had lived in Sweden, Mexico and Switzerland, before coming to Canada. The first evening I spent with an entire group from Saudi Arabia – only one of whom was an actual Saudi – they rest were from all over the world.

I have lived my entire life in Canada. In fact, except for a brief sojourn in Montreal (in 1970 – not the best year for Montreal). I have spent my entire life in the Greater Toronto Area. My husband moved several times with his family growing up and we made a conscious decision that our children would live in the same town until they finished high school. I have no doubt that this has been both a good and bad choice for them.

Certainly  spending a year Lisbon, or Shanghai, would dramatically enhance my children’s experience in dealing with the world and the people in it.  They would have experienced different languages, culture and an incredible array of food options.  However, the fact that they would have attended an International school wherever we lived perhaps would have given them a skewed and privileged  version of the both the world and country they lived in.  On the other side, my son is getting married in June and two of his groomsmen are friends from the first grade. I don’t imagine that would have happened if he had lived in 7 cities before he finished grade school.

Fan does come from the word “Fanatic”

I think I am the only person who feels sorry for Mariah Yeater, the young woman who has claimed that Justin Bieber fathered her baby, in a bathroom backstage after his concert in Los Angeles last July. First of all, this girl was 20 years old and …this is key… she was at a Justin Bieber concert! That is incredibly sad, whether she was there by herself or whether she was babysitting a bunch of 11 year olds and left them unattended while she had sex in the bathroom with Justin.
Now I don’t think she really did have sex with him – but she does. “She believes Justin Bieber is the father,” her lawyer told Chicago TV channel WGNtv on Wednesday. My guess? A 20 year old girl at a concert, perhaps had imbibed something which affected her judgement. You think? Now add in a guy, say…one of the maintenance staff at the venue or, even better, a creepy young man who has enhanced his slightly similar appearance to Justin’s by clever use of hair products and large sunglass. This guy follows the Justin concert schedule and for the price of a ticket is able to hang around near the stage doors and entice young women into thinking he is the real deal. Perhaps Justin’s management even pays him to act as a decoy to enable our young star to disappear into his limousine unmolested at the end of every show – which is what he maintains he does after every show.
Young female fans are particularly vulnerable. From the girls swooning over Sinatra at the Paramount in 1952, to the girls screaming at La Guardia as the Beatles arrived in 1964, to the hordes of screaming girls who trampled me in the summer of 1976 trying to get close to, wait for it, the Bay City Rollers. Good Lord. I get it, I really do. It’s fun to have a bigger than life idol that you can spend lots of time and money on. Hey I’ve been to more than 15 Springsteen concerts – but that’s different. It’s Springsteen for heaven’s sake!
Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame (did I have to say that on today of all days with Breaking Dawn Part 1 opening in just a few hours!) has been approached by hundreds of girls asking him to bite their necks. It freaks him out, as well it should.
So, while the young mother in the Bieber saga has dropped her lawsuit, her lawyer says she intends to pursue it privately. I have to agree with Bieber’s spokesman Matthew Hiltzik who called it “sad that someone would fabricate such a malicious, defamatory, and demonstrably false claim”. I think it’s even sadder that this chick had sex in the bathroom with some guy after a concert – whether it was Justin Bieber or not.

From a Book to a Movie ( the non-Comic Book Kind)

~Well that should be non Graphic Novel for my nerdy followers. (i.e. my own kids)~

Well the movie wasn’t as good as the book.“. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that. I would have about $8.35 and I could use it. Of course the movie isn’t as good as the book! If movies were filmed being entirely faithful to the book you would have to give up your day job, or at least your summer vacation, to see any of them. And with our short attention spans we are not likely to invest 27 hours into one. The Help was a big hit this summer, on the heels of being read by half of the book clubs in America. I thought the film did a good job of capturing the gist of the story, and the essence of the characters. That’s all you can ask for.

Occasionally, the movie can actually be better than the book. Some cinematic magic occurs to elevate it above even the author’s best efforts. But they are few and far between.  Usually, you have a picture in your head as you read the book – certainly the main characters but often the setting and overall ‘feel’ of the film.  Sadly, that is not what the director has in mind and the end result often disappoints.My favourite novel of all time, Beach Music by Pat Conroy, would make a remarkable film.  However the story is immense and would need to be a mini-series – and we don’t seem to make those anymore.  I guess the viewing audience today is far too fickle to commit.  Oh for the days of Roots and Lonesome Dove!

Now that CGI and other effects are so effective – and prevalent! –  we can revisit all of the books whose very subject matter made them impossible to film.  That is why there is such a resurgence of comic, wait, Graphic Novels being made into films.  The incredible stories can be brought to life in a much more realistic way.  No longer does superman have to lay across two chairs with a fan blowing his cape to simulate flying.

The next big movie coming our way is the novel Cloud Atlas. (insert gasp and/or shudder here). One of the most complicated stories ever, Cloud Atlas is a brilliant novel that involves six inter-related stories.  These stories are all dramatically different, and cross from the mid-19th Century through to a post-apocalyptic future, passing through Korea, Belgium, New Zealand and South Florida. Promotional materials for the film state it features an ‘international’ cast – but the top billed in Tom Hanks. Hmm. On the upside, it is being made by the Wachowski’s – who used to be the Wachowski Brothers when they made the Matrix movies. Now Laurence Wachowski has left his wife for a dominatrix, and become Lana. I guess if anyone can handle the mind-bending story of Cloud Atlas it’s these two.