Sunday, April 18, 2010

On reletavism

With the growth into adulthood comes a personal reflection into the basic framework of how we choose to live as individuals. Out of our parents control, we are given the chance to examine the many elements that formed our upbringing, and can then pick, choose and generally make up our own systems of morality, judgement and behavior in general. The post modern perspective is that we are all constructions of various elements; genetic, societal and otherwise, which determine our identities, outlook and lifestyle. The amalgamation of these elements, which can be harmonious or conflicting, lay the groundwork by which we navigate adulthood. Some basic universal tenets, like the golden rule, are manifested in various traditions and permeate divers segments of society, while other seemingly equivalent tenets, like the notion of “shame”, are approached objectively and consequently phased out.

The website, offered a lecture suggesting that the application of various scientific fields to the subject of morality, could create a universally accepted body of truths on the subject. Somewhere between the porn-stacked reading sections of every convenience store and the burka clad oppression of the middle East, lies an awaiting balance of happy and balanced individuals and societies, to be attained by the application of psychology, ecology, biology and any other area of study which may be relevant. A self-reflective examination of contemporary western morality world will prove to be riveting and probably discordant. Dissecting erroneous practices from out Judeo-Christian framework will make for a radically altered state of group consciousness. That’s not to say the system of morality will be voice of tradition; in the age of information we have the capacity to examine and borrow from For example, in countless traditional cultures around the world, unlike in the west, the sight of human genitals, in any circumstance, is an entirely benin experience. When turn the microscope onto ourselves, what will be the behaviors that exists for the benefit the earth and all it’s inhabitants and which ones for the convenience of a domineering mythological patriarchy? The distinctions will undoubtably become obvious as science continues to cary out it’s long standing tradition of reshaping the way we think about the world.

Performing at a funeral

This story starts on a tuesday, mid afternoon, at the Ottawa Folklore centre. I was picking up my a repair done by my friend Brian, who runs the shop. As I was leaving the repair room, Brian asked me if I knew anyone that could play a funeral the following Friday; I suggested a few names, then offered up my own services. A young man named Mike Doucet had recently died in a single car accident, they had to crane his car out of the Rideau river. Mike had apprenticed with Brian while in high school as a co-op placement; Mike’s dad called Brian in search of a musician for the memorial. There was a need for transportation and room in the budget for another musicians, I gave my friend Gareth a call and he confirmed right away. Later that evening, I had a long chat with Mike’s dad Jack, all about Mike’s life and passions. The similarities between our own live’s we interesting, he was only a year younger then me, performed music often, was athletic and worked in restaurants. After his shifts at bistro he worked at, he would wear an old straw hat and play ukulele for the customers. Jack and I talked about the moments that music would be appropriate during the ceremony and talked about styles of music that Mike enjoyed. When I received an email from Jack detailing some artists that Mike had on his Ipod, I knew the show would go well; it was all country, folk and blues.

Then came the song choices. I made a list of tunes I thought would work then scanned the internet for songs and lyrics. I’ll show you the list as I present the tale. Around 5 on thursday evening Gareth came over and we went over the songs. The two of us have similar sensibilities when it comes to music, so the jam went surprisingly well. Gareth has made some some life decisions recently that were are of no real issue to either of us, but are considered taboo by some, I enjoyed chatting about his life and passions. After a few hours I was confident about our show the next day, I spent the rest of my night memorizing lyrics. My friend Lefty McRighty has put out an invitation to his musical friends to join him live on his show at CHUO for the sake of the funding drive. The rain was thick so I didn’t make it out, but I bet though would have been hella fun.

Ten AM friday, G picked me up and we were on our way to Manotick. It was grey and a bit rainy, typical funeral weather. On the drive to the outskirts of town I noticed an old field that my pals and I used to cut through to get to an old scout camp fire, it was know covered in homes that were all identical. Further down Prince of Whales drive was the house a friend of mine used to live in that over-looked the Rideau River, I was surprised how close the country side was from there. Manotick seems like a beautiful little town, there’s so much to explore outside the city.

The parking lot was packed as good looking young people in nice dark clothing jogged in to avoid the rain. The church looked big from the outside, but the main room wasn’t huge, with little effort my voice rang out. We met with the minister in the office to the side of the main room and discussed when to perform during. He used the word, “celebration” which I quite liked, a celebration of a beautiful life. We tuned up our instruments downstairs and took our place at the back of the church, which was almost completely filled a half hour before the start time.

We all stood or sat in silence for a while, until finally the priest lead the pall bearers, wheeling the casket into the room. A quick prayer was made and we broke into our first number as they advanced.

Bro Hymn by Pennywize. They’re a california punk band that I listened to quite a bit around the age of 12 and 13. Bro Hymn is a memorial song about a friend who took his own life that was re-released on a second album for another friend who died. It’s message is of unity, togetherness in a time of great pain and a general declaration that we’re all bonded. It’s a song that’s always touched me and that speaks honestly about young pain. I slowed it down considerably from the original, found a comfortable key, slightly reworked the melody and included Mike Ducet’s name into the lyrics. That first sight of the coffin brings the realization that what we’ve heard is true and a group pain is tangible. Gareth and I sang together on the “whoa-o-o-o” chorus which is like a sorrowful wailing, the minor melodies made my spine tingle. Slowly they advanced up the isle and waited until the song was over. I knew I had made the right choice and that everything was going to work out from there on in.

The minister spoke, prayed and Mike’s best friend delivered a eulogy. I got the impression that mike was something of a golden child, the type of person who brings joy to all those around and who’s sharp intelligence was balanced by a relaxed yet exuberant attitude. Death is one of those instances which forces you to question your own sense of spirituality or metaphysical approach to the world. It’s impossible to believe that all the wisdom, love, personality and energy of a person could come to any abrupt end. Energy can’t be created or destroyed, so what happens? I consider this one of the many incredible mysteries that makes up life. Death is an inevitable occurrence that we have no way of totally controlling or understanding. It is something we can always learn from though and celebrate. The theme of music was running through the preacher’s sermon, how it’s the artists that inform and enrich society. That during the civil war, songs of hope were what sustained the populations. He mentioned that even the pope agreed that the Beatles have influenced culture in a massive way. It seems like Mike influenced many people through his personality and music. He could speak intelligently about a million different subjects with a million different people. The stories about him made me think of the few people in my life who, when conversing with, open up brand new sides of my personality and way of thinking about life. I think Mike was probably one of those people who opened the minds of many.

After the eulogy and a few more prayers, we sang Bob Dylan’s “you ain’t going nowhere”. This song was chosen for a few subtle reasons. Firstly the tittle is repeated through out and I though that was apt, as long as Mike’s remembered and celebrated, he isn’t going anywhere. Secondly, the melody, especially in the chorus, is one of the most beautiful I’ve heard. The lyrics are a bit cryptic, but seem to generally refer to loving relationship, especially, “tomorrows the day my bride’s going to come. Were going to fly, down in the easy chair.” The list I was given showed the Mike had a strong taste for well written songs, I think this is one of Dylan’s best.

There was some reading from the bible, some chanting along, some standing and sitting. Throughout was the message of a greater power that connects us, with all the usual Catholic locutions holding it together. I question the masculinity of god and that we should be forgiven. I think viewing ourselves as powerful spiritual beings is the next step in human evolution. The Christian framework does provide a stability in this time of grief, but all cultures possess some kind of death ritual. I wonder what the various similarities and differences are?

3 I do however, love quite of bit of christian spiritual music, mostly in the black traditions. We sand “will the circle be unbroken” which is the story of about a person who’s mother dies and one verse at a time, describes the process of their loss. The chorus, on the other hand is uplifting. “Will the circle, be unbroken, by and by lord, by and by. There’s a better home awaiting, in sky lord in the sky” we had the benefit of my dear friends Kara and Brian singing along, this gave the audience the clue that they could sing along as well. With each chorus, more people joined in creating a powerful wave of voices that seemed to wash over me. I sang with gusto, it was a powerful feeling leading that group of beautiful voices. After the ceremony, a woman came up and told me how wonderful she thought that song was. She said she was mouthing the words and didn’t know if she was singing or not, but it felt like she was in a choir and it was a wonderful experience. It was strange and wonderful hearing my own voice get mixed in, I’m getting shivers thinking about it.

It was time for the sacrament, which feels slightly naughty writing down, since “sacrament” in french has always been a swear word in my house. The priest asked those not in the catholic church, who wanted to take part in the ceremony, to come and be blessed rather then eating the body of christ. This stuck out to me for some reason, it’s not that I want to eat the body of christ, but it felt a bit exclusionary. What if I needed a jolt of jesus? or something...

4.As the congregation lined up to eat the wafer, I played some traditional fiddle tunes on the banjo. Nice and slow, with passion and pauses, the instrument was uplifting. The banjo has often been described as angelic, that description was particularly fitting as the notes bounced off the ceiling, over the bustling crowd. St. Ann’s Reel, Whisky Before Breakfast and Black Berry Blossom, were all mixed together in my rhythmic and harmonious, (rather then melodic) way of playing claw-hammer versions of those tunes. The banjo sounded great, churches should give up organs and have banjos.

There were some final words, (I was thinking about the words I was going to sing, and the procession began the slow exit, being lead by Mike’s body in the casket. For a final song I chose...

Love is what I got, by Sublime. This song has been the corner stone of many a camp fires over the years and although I’ve never really discussed it with anyone, I think it’s THE song of my generation. It is a simple reggae/bluesy/ hip hop tune that rivals “Santeria” as Sublime’s most notable song. On the recording, the opening few acoustic guitar notes are catchy and immediately recognizable, Bradley’s voice is soft and sweet but with a bit of an edge, in the way that you can tell he’s a really cool guy. The lyrics are about all the crappy things that can happen in life, but it’s the few simple positive ones that make us deeply happy. The song song never settles on a genre, just like the band and that represents who us young people are of this generation are; constantly changing our outlooks, identities and relationships. We don’t have religion like our parents did, it’s music, in it’s many forms that is the metaphysical object which binds us together. “Love is, what I got” was repeated over and over again as the mourners left the main room and filed downstairs for the reception. We ran out of words eventually and started to vamp/jam away, I felt right doing it and it sounded good. As the last few people left the room, we repeated the chorus without instruments, our voices were the perfect cap. As we exited, people kept coming up to us used words like “perfect” and “so mike”. Some were shocked that we hadn’t been friends and that I’d picked the tunes myself because they were bang on. Mike’s dad said he half expected his son to jump out of the coffin and start dancing when he heard the group singing. I had the impression from a number of people that the music was the most healing and moving part of the ceremony. I though of those negro spiritual that my grandmother sang to me as a child, songs that offered hope, salvation, redemption and sorrow. Music is a powerful tool for healing and I think another segment or layer of my life’s work has been cracked open. That was one of those performances where I know in my core that I was at the right place at the right time, that my journey is progressing in the most beautiful way possible. Brian, who connected me with the gig said that Mike would have like it, but to bad about all the talking parts in between....



Friday, April 9, 2010

Pittsburgh, Philly and NY

There has been some positive feedback on the blog of late, I supose it’s one of those things like bboying or playing the banjo, that is enjoyable to engage and consequensely brings joy to other people, who would have thought. The last bit of writing came from west virginia, the drive out was sweet then the weather turned grey and the whole party got a bit stressed, but were were still having fun. Pitsburg was rainy, but I got a cool red hat at the good will store, there was pizza for us at the gig as well as some interesting hipsters. The indoor smoking was pretty gross by mid-evening, everything stinks, throat hurts more then usual, but there were cool lights up near the ceiling fans where the smoke was whisked around, it made for groovy atmosphere. Philly was an in and out deal, a young finger-style guitar player named Derreck Sammack We became pals instantly and talked some good shop. The kid has momentum. The crowd was there for the rock bands that were playing later that night, the throat singing/banjo medley was well received. We left that night for NYC, pulling into the limits, NLX was our tour guide. I arrived at my friends house in Queens and was expecting the door to be open, but it was not, so that night was one I’ll not soon forget. The temperature was dropping, luckily I brought my big mits the whole way, seemingly for that occasion. I attempted to make a shanty/lean to out of some tarps I found in the back yard, but they were soaked, so I took a stroll to a near by convenience store and read magazines for a while. The staff was eyeing me funny, so back I went to my buddy’s place, the door was still locked, so this time started testing out various doors in order to sit somewhere and wait out of the cold wind until the sun came up and the dunkin’ donuts opened for the day. The next door neighbors had a shed type structure that covered stairs leading to a basement apartment, I huddled in there from about 4 to 7 Am, it was a nice little shelter. There was a bit of a draft coming in under the door, a spare shirt came in handy to stuff it up. However it was still pretty cold and was looking right into what appeared to be a warm kitchen. I tested the door, and it was open, but I hesitated, the kitchen was too clean and orderly, I could tell that who ever owned it liked things exactly the way they expected them. Waking up to some bearded guy crouched in the corner of your kitchen might not be the most reassuring sight, heck, being spotted on those steps might have unnerved the resident.

Eventually the sun started to come up, but it was still chilly, plus noises started to come from the basement apartment. It was like a game... was that someone getting up, or just the furnace? I faced no one and trekked off to the coffee shop. Drinking coffee is a strange practice when you’ve not slept in a day or so, and I rarely drink coffee. The gitters came, but I was happy, it was warm in that shop. I was reading a book given to me by a hare krishna monk I’d met in Austin, apparently they travel with the warped tour, dang. The introduction was all about how other books on a similar subject were all based on the biases of the authors, I didn’t think much of that book. As the sun rose more, the day started heating up. Sitting in the sun, one was actually comfortable. Back at Sean’s, I sat on the front porch and basked, the rays of sun were good, the trip had been grand, and I wasn’t that cold anymore. Eventually Sean’s roomate Max showed up with two pretty ladies, they had been up all night partying and planned on continuing. They were a great sight, soon I had beer in my belly and we were watching a documentary about mistysism in nazi germany. Max sings in a the cramps cover band, he enjoys wearing fishnets and pumps so much, he does so around the house. I like Max. Rudely, I went to the other room and fell asleep without excusing myself, ladies, it was a pleasure to meet you. At one point, the parents of the other room mate showed on account of his birthday and everyone had a loud conversation in the hallway. Max was drunk and in fishnets, good times.

Sean came home later that day and we went to a rock and roll show feature some quite cool garage/punk bands. The wellington ladies welfare league were extra fun, their singer showed up in a suit and gradually took off all his clothes, I felt right at home. They have one song about alternative sexual acts, I liked that one.

The next day I ventured around the subway system with my banjo, without any particular direction or focus. At nearly every stop and junction was a busker or some sort or variety. There was an old man playing the same somber melody on the acordian all day; he had a foot pedal attacked to a maraca that was hitting a beat on the suit case on which he was sitting. Eventually I heard a drum kit and a loud speaker, I had to investigate. It was a middle aged man named Prince who was drumming and singing away. He had on a pink dress shirt with a tie and drank honey in between songs to keep his voice soft. He was a happy man, preaching away about the love of jesus, being palm sunday an all. I started dancing and a crowd would gather, the the trains would come and things would shift. Prince would call out, “do james brown”, play “I feel good”, and I would do my best impression. It was nice bboying in NY, I was in harlem, not brooklyn, which was the epi center of hip hop, but it was still magical. A fellow named Dente showed up and showed me up, good. He asksed me to do my thing, I aquiested, and he proceed to do multiple back flips on the spot. I asked how long he’d been at it, 20 years was his response.

The next day, again wandering without purpose, I found myself in grand central station, looking at the installation on the ceiling. I ran into Nadine, a woman from the east coast of Canada who was selling earings she’d made with feathers. We hung out for the rest of the day in Williamsburg, walking, talking, drawing. A young hasidic jew asked me if I was jewish, I said yes and he gave me a ziplock bag full of motza bread and invited me to a passover celebration later that night. With a little salt and pepper, motza’s not that bad.

Later a dive bar, a fellow said he was coming up with a form of DNA for the planets. Like a perl necklas, but with perls going in every direction. Raphael I think his name was.

The next morning was tuesday. I met Amanda outside the Hilton Millenium at the base of ground zero. Apparently the city/country is stiffing the hundreds of 9 11 rescue volunteers who are now dying of respiratory illnesses. Anyway, we rehashed the whole trip, had some heart to hearts and remarked on the utter geographic similarities of the two different countries. The 1000 islands seems to be a great place to sneak through if need be.

Back in Ottawa, I was playing banjo on the bus and one fellow actually came to the back just in order to hear me play. Open mike that night, joint hosting with Fabian, it was fun, but I want to be on the road again.