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)


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



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.

I’m an adult now?


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Yeah, I guess so. As the old joke goes, I knew I’d get old; I just didn’t expect it to happen so fast.

Back in 1986, The Pursuit of Happiness rocked Canada’s 20-somethings with “I’m an adult now” a comical look at the bewilderment of unexpectedly finding yourself to be an adult.

What could go wrong with a song that begins with

Well, I don’t hate my parents
I don’t get drunk just to spite them
I’ve got my own reasons to drink now
I think I’ll call my dad up and invite him

Now, 30 years later, I’m still an adult. And I don’t know how that happened.


Nash the Slash


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Been enjoying some memories of the early 80s lately.

nash-the-slashIn 81 or 82 I made the trip into Edmonton to catch Iggy Pop at the Dinwoodie Lounge on the University of Alberta campus. The opening act caught me completely by surprise: Nash the Slash.

Nash was a Toronto-based violinist/mandolinist. He played looping tracks on his keyboards and drum machine, and just let it rip. His show was electrifying. I had never seen or heard anything like it.

Apparently Nash started performing wrapped in white bandages as a commentary during the 3-Mile Island disaster.

Anyway, has Nash floated in and out of my consciousness since that first show. He was never a big star, but he always made an impression and maintained a loyal following. Nash was fabulous because he understood that popular music is theatre. Everything about his show hit hard and deep.

Nash the Slash–aka Jeff Plewman–died in 2014 at age 66.

Here’s a fabulous TV performance from the early 80s. Nash is dressed as I remember him on that tour so long ago.

RIP Nash and thanks for the music.

Christmas in Canada: Dave Cooks the Turkey


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Stuart McLean is Canada’s storyteller. He tours the country with his show “The Vinyl Cafe”. The show is broadcast weekly on the CBC.

Perhaps Stuart’s funniest story is “Dave Cooks the Turkey”. I found a copy on Soundcloud.

Grab a cup of coffee, put your feet up and enjoy a great story, well told.

Christmas in Canada: The Huron Carol(e)


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The Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf arrived in what is now Canada in 1625 and set about to live with, understand and, of course, convert the people he met. He settled amongst the Huron, and after learning the language, wrote the first dictionary of the language.

More than a century later, a priest at La jeune Lorette, Qué heard a Huron man from the Eastern Georgian Bay area sing a Christian hymn to the nativity in his own language. The priest wrote it down, giving it the title Jesous Ahatonhia. Tradition holds that Père de Brébeuf wrote the hymn and taught it to the indigenous people of the area, and that they had passed it down. Evidence is scarce, but the story is a nice one.

The carol has been translated in English and French and has been a staple of Canadian Christmas for more than two centuries.

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim
And wandering hunters heard the hymn

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born
In excelsis gloria
Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty round
And as the hunter braves drew nigh
The angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born
In excelsis gloria
The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory
On the helpless infant there
The chiefs from far before him knelt
With gifts of fur and beaver pelt

Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born
In excelsis gloria
O children of the forest free
O sons of Manitou
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born
In excelsis gloria
Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa ‘ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa ‘ndi yaun rashata
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia

Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun
yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh ‘ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun
Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia

Asheh kaunnta horraskwa deh ha tirri gwames
Tishyaun ayau ha’ndeh ta aun hwa ashya a ha trreh
aundata:kwa Tishyaun yayaun yaun n-dehta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia

Dau yishyeh sta atyaun errdautau ‘ndi Yisus
avwa tateh dn-deh Tishyaun stanshi teya wennyau
aha yaunna torrehntehn yataun katsyaun skehnn
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia

Eyeh kwata tehnaunnte aheh kwashyehn ayehn
kiyeh kwanaun aukwayaun dehtsaun we ‘ndeh adeh
tarrya diskwann aunkwe yishyehr eya ke naun sta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia

In recent years, actor Tom Jackson has been mobilizing the Carol to bring relief to Canadians in need. This year, 2016, marks the 29th consecutive year that Tom has brought The Huron Carole on tour for Canadian Christmas. The show supports food banks and other sources of relief.

From huroncarole.ca:

 The Huron Carole brings “those we help” together with “those who give” for a night of breaking bread, breaking barriers, and celebrating our roles in the world of social responsibility.

The Huron Carole is a Christmas story.  A story filled with reflection, humor, passion, and the journey of a homeless man through darkness to light. Traditional, contemporary and signature music releases the spirit of Christmas into one’s heart.  Miracles do not go out of style.

Tom Jackson, founder of The Huron Carole Benefit Concert Series, is a musician, beloved TV personality (North of 60, Star Trek, Law and Order), and long-time champion for the marginalized. Having experienced life on the streets himself, he discovered music was a way to help others.

The Huron Carole is a project of the Christmas & Winter Relief Association whose mandate is to support organizations doing hands-on work with the homeless and hungry in Canada.

Christmas in Canada: The Hockey Sweater


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This week, I’ll give a few thoughts about Christmas in Canada. Today it’s Roch Carrier’s fabulous story “The Hockey Sweater” (“Le chandail de hockey”). The story was published in French in 1979 as “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” (An Abominable Maple Leaf on Ice).


Roch Carrier. From http://www.cbc.ca

Let me give some background to the story. The story is set, presumably, in Carrier’s childhood. At that time there were only two NHL teams in Canada. The Montréal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens had a monopoly on the best francophone players from Québec. Their sweaters were Liberal Red. And they were the greatest team in hockey. The Maple Leafs were essentially an anglophone team, wearing Tory blue. The formula was simple: the French Liberals cheered for Montréal; the English Conservatives cheered for Toronto. And Montréal won. Repeatedly.

More deeply, the story was published just three years after the first separatist government was elected in Québec, and one year before the first referendum on sovereignty. It was a time for Québec francophones to reflect on past injustices and their implications for the future.

On one hand, the story is nationalistic. On the other, it is a gentle and funny story about childhood, dreams and inclusion.

Here is a lovely short animated feature by the National Film Board of Canada. The Sweater.

The Marvelous Orange Tree


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In the mid-19th century the celebrated French conjurer Robert-Houdin produced a magnificent magic effect. He created an orange tree that produced flowers and fruit right before the audience’s eyes.

Here, British magician Paul Daniels reproduces Rober-Houdin’s illusion.