Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!


, , , , , ,


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:
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


, , , , ,

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


, , , ,

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


, , , ,

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


, ,

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?


, , ,

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


, , , , ,

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.