Bobcaygeon: Hidden in Plain Sight

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Sometimes as we discover the most amazing things we discover that we could have, should have known them long ago.

Canadian rock and roll icons The Tragically Hip released the song “Bobcaygeon” way back in 1998. I heard it from time to time without knowing the name of the song. It wasn’t that long ago that I managed to place the sound of the title “Bob Cajun” to the tune, but I never bothered to listen closely.

Perhaps it’s because I was old enough, and busy enough with raising a family in 1998 that I simply didn’t pay attention. Or maybe I wasn’t ready, and knew somewhere in the back of my mind that patience would be rewarded.

Just this week I learned that Bobcaygeon is a small community in cottage country north and west of Toronto. And when I learned that, I decided to give the song a closer listen. And was rewarded by a delight hidden in plain view.

The tune I’ve always found catchy. But the lyric!

The song touches a deep place in the Canadian heart. The latter half of the 20th century saw Canadians abandon the rural life and move to the cities. Yet part of our hearts, part of our imagination of ourselves is in the country. No, most of us will never leave the city, but our mythological universe sees us in canoes under the dancing auroras.

Bobcaygeon encourages a look into our rural hearts from our urban realities. Makes us yearn for the quiet solitude that makes us whole. The city is simultaneously homogenizing and dividing. We yearn for freedom, but also for order. And we are torn.

Bobcaygeon
Gordon Downie / Johnny Fay / Joseph Paul Langlois / Robert Baker / Robert Gordon Sinclair

I left your house this morning,
‘Bout a quarter after nine.
Coulda been the Willie Nelson,
Coulda been the wine
When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time
Drove back to town this morning,
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quittin’,
Thought of leavin’ it behind
Went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pullin’ down the blind,
Yeah, the sky was dull and hypothetical
And fallin’ one cloud at a time
That night in Toronto,
With its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback,
And keeping order restored,
Til The Men They Couldn’t Hang,
Stepped to the mic and sang,
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
I got to your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot,
Couldn’t get you off my mind
So, I’m at your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
‘Cause, it was in Bobcaygeon
Where I saw the constellations reveal themselves
One star at time

And as the constellations revealed themselves one star at a time,  I found the video for the song.

It’s hard not to see Bobcaygeon in the context of today’s continuing struggle with race, with exclusion, the tensions between civil order and freedom.

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The Eclipse

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The Eclipse

Monday, August 21, 2017, an enormous part of the USA will have the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.

Not a partial eclipse. We get those pretty frequently. The total is special.

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Consider this: we have special eclipses on earth. The apparent sizes of the sun and the moon are almost exactly equal. No other planet in our solar system has this lucky configuration. For some planets/moons, the sun appears much bigger, so every eclipse is partial. For others, the moon appears much bigger, so their eclipses are total, but lack the drama.

Ours are perfect.

Which brings me back to Monday.

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I’m in Canada, and only 70% of the sun will be covered by the moon. This means a two things. First, it means that I regret not taking a vacation to be in the totality. My bad.

Second, it means that the day will not get darker for me. In fact, if I didn’t know there was an eclipse happening, then I’d never notice. Still, for those of us out of the path of totality, we can still observe the eclipse either directly or indirectly. Indirectly is easiest. Take something solid, say, a piece of cardboard, and poke a hole in it. Stand with your back to the sun and focus the sun’s image through the hole onto a wall, or a sidewalk or other convenient spot. The eclipse will be perfectly visible. It’s really awesome. If you show anyone, they’ll object and say that the black spot covering part of the sun is due to the imperfection of the hole in the cardboard. Calmly rotate the cardboard to show that the spot doesn’t move. For kids, it’s a good idea to take the whole box and poke a hole in one end. Then the child puts the box over her head and stands back to the sun. The box is adjusted until she has a perfect little cinema inside. This prevents any risk of her looking directly at the sun in excitement.

You can watch the partial eclipse directly through welder’s glass, or through a properly filtered telescope. I’ll be out with my scope and filter.

For everyone who can experience the total eclipse, this is not something to be missed. Yes, I’ve heard a few soulless cretins complain that the eclipse is overrated. Don’t listen to them.

If you’re in a city, go to your local planetarium, science centre or astronomy club site and take the experience in with others. There will be telescopes, big screens and people who know what they’re talking about. Take advantage of this. (BTW this also applies to those experiencing the partial eclipse.)

But if you can get to a more natural spot, you are in for a special treat. Observe the coming eclipse, following appropriate safety measures. And BE QUIET. At the anointed hour, as the moon completely covers the sun (for between 30 seconds and 7 minutes, depending on where you are), feel the change in heat on your face. See the world plunge into an eerie darkness, rather unlike the night. Listen to the reactions of the birds.

Experience the wonder of the world experiencing our planet’s special treat.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!

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220px-shakespeareApril 23, the day we celebrate the birth of the Bard of Avon. Not surprisingly, we really don’t know when he was born, but he was baptized on April 26, 1564, so the date of the 23rd seems reasonable enough. Couple that with the fact that the 23rd is St. George’s Day, and that Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, it’s as good a day to mark his birth as any.

At right, we see the Chandos Portrait, generally believed to be of Shakespeare. But, as with so much of history, we are not certain.

In The Tempest, the spirit Ariel sings to Ferdinand, telling him that his father is drowned.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them,—ding-dong, bell.

And so, with Shakespeare, too. The bones he left behind have grown beyondhag_seed_5_17 anything he could imagine. All that was Shakespeare hath suffered a sea-change into something rich and strange. Consider, for example, what Margaret Atwood has done with The Tempest.

Atwood sets up the story in an almost embarrassingly simple-minded way–she has an egomaniacal theatre director get fired, and then take his revenge by taking a teaching job in a jail, where he has a class of inmates put on a production of The Tempest. And it’s amazing.

My purpose today is not to review Atwood’s book. You can read a very good review at The Guardian.

 

My goal today is to celebrate Shakespeare.

JudeMaris is a YouTube channel, responsible for a series of incredible Photoshop reconstructions of historical figures. Jude (A pen name for an M. A. Ludwig) takes existing drawings, paintings, sculptures, and verbal descriptions of historical figures, and set against a backdrop of his(?) own compositions, brings modern photo construction to their faces. The results are often breathtaking. I offer you Shakespeare today. But, trust me, if you grab a cup of coffee, you’ll happily spend the morning looking at JudeMaris’s creations.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!

April is the dirtiest month

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In Alberta, April is the time when the snow melts, leaving behind the sand and gravel that kept the roads relatively safe. The grasses are brown; the leaves not yet emerging. And the litter that slowly accumulated over winter comes into view.

All the junk that winter had buried from sight emerges, as though just dropped today.

T. S. Eliot might have had something similar in mind when he wrote “The Waste Land” in 1922.  Here are the opening lines..

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

You can read the entire poem here.

Let us see what the warming weeks bring us this month.

If I had a rocket launcher

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Back in 1984, in the midst of bad electronic music, and daily reports of government-sponsored atrocities in Central America, came the sounds of Bruce Cockburn.

Here comes the helicopter — second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher…I’d make somebody pay

Good God, how I felt those words. I don’t like violence. I don’t like revenge, but on first hearing, this went straight to my heart.

I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate
I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would retaliate

Guarded borders. Stinking torture states. 30 years later, here we are.

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation — or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would not hesitate

Cry. That’s all we seem able to do is cry.

I want to raise every voice — at least I’ve got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die

Can raising our voices make a difference? What is the good of a crummy little blog like this? I don’t know.

Let me leave the politics of this song for a moment and share artistry with you. Here’s Bruce Cockburn with Colin Linden punctuating the sound at Austin City Limits in 1992. It’s easy to overlook Cockburn’s brilliance on the guitar.

But don’t forget the message.

 

 

 

Les Vieux

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For the past few months, I’ve been obsessing with the music of the late Jacques Brel.

Brel was a an outstanding lyricist. But he is mostly known for his fabulously intense performances. A bit of a stop on YouTube will give you ample to experience.

One of the great things about Brel’s songs is the breadth of his work. Les Bourgeois is comic brilliance; Ne Me Quitte Pas is arresting in it’s direct plea for a lover to stay.

But today, I want to spend a few minutes with Les Vieux–The Old. Written when Brel was around 30 years old, it is a bleak and uncompromising look at the lives of many of the elderly he saw. They are trapped in a state of death-in-life.

Les vieux ne rêvent plus, leurs livres s’ensommeillent, leurs pianos sont fermés
Le petit chat est mort, le muscat du dimanche ne les fait plus chanter
Les vieux ne bougent plus leurs gestes ont trop de rides leur monde est trop petit

The old do not dream, their books are blurred, their pianos are closed.
The small cat is dead, Sunday’s wine no longer makes them sing.
The old do not move; their gestures wrinkled, their world is too small. (translation mine)

Bleak.

But more arresting is the recurring image of the Grandfather Clock, purring in place of the cat, constantly calling.

…la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui dit : je vous attends

…the silver pendulum
who purrs in the salon, who says “yes”, who says “no”, who says “I wait for you”
(translation mine)

 

Dance Me to the End of Love

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I’ve been touched again and again by Leonard Cohen’s poetry. Leonard has been a fellow traveler of my heart and mind for well over 30 years.

“Dance me to the End of Love” is a beautiful waltz, tinged both with tenderness and fear. Tenderness of the moment and fear of the end.

The video truly does justice to Leonard’s poem.

 

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh, let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Robert Burns Day 2017

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As a teenager, I was fascinated by Burns’s poetry. When I picked up a used “Collected Works”, I was dumbfounded to read his letters. His prose was clear, unadorned 19th century English. It was nothing like his poetry!

I felt cheated.

But not for long.

burnshead1After digesting the horror of realizing that Burns’s poetic language was not his everyday speech, I came to understand what he was up to. Burns was capturing something essential about a Scots country dialect, and finding the music within. More than that, he was using the dialect (how accurately, I have no idea) to express the burgeoning Liberal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. He wrote of the dignity and worth of country people.

And on that note, I give you a song of liberalism at its finest.

 

A Man’s a Man for A’ That
Robert Burns (1795)

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A Prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
But an honest man’s aboon his might –
Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ Sense an’ pride o’ Worth
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.