England: You don’t get to just walk away.

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London.  Hauling gear through the streets between the venue and accommodations.

I suppose it’s not cool in these modern days to be thrilled by traveling to different parts of the globe.  It is kind of standard fare now for many.  Or maybe not…officially, its been just over 100 years that commercial aviation has been around but just about 65 years or so that it has been feasible to wake up in Bristol, England and fall asleep in Guelph, Ontario that same very long day…a cab, a train, and a car ride from my brother thrown in there.  Or travel within a relatively short time to the other side of the planet!  (I’m convinced that nothing is more inhuman for a human body than jet travel.)  A figure has been floating around for a while that only 5% of us here on the planet fly on planes, so maybe this zipping around is not as natural as it might seem.  Which may be news to those people who travel a lot by air and make noise about “passenger rights” as if our flying through the sky in a metal and plastic tube garners the same attention and vigilance as, say, freedom of thought, clean water, clean air, or food.  Or those insufferable people who complain about the food…while they fly…through the sky…above the clouds…like it was a god-given right.

Aaaaaaanyway…

As a younger man, I managed to shoot myself in the feet pretty good when a German record company came calling to have me tour over there with The Stickpeople…club and promo dates in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other parts of Europe.  I asked him what kind of shows we would be doing for TV and he replied, “Gameshows.”  Gameshows.  All I could think of was performing on something like Definition and I burst out laughing, assuming he was joking.  It was no joke, and there would be no European tour (a sensitive bunch, those Germans– who knew?).  Regarding the USA, I had determined for myself that I wasn’t interested in being–and I quote myself here–wiped off the chin of America.  Translation: I am scared shitless of the place and am ignoring the fact that good people can live in lousy countries and I’m too stupid or scared to figure out how to do it so I will tell myself I’m better off not playing there.  With the exception of a thing here or there, my playing days were confined to Canada and the only way anyone from anywhere else could see me was by seeing me here in the north.

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Stephen and I boarding in Tasmania…I think.  Photo by our good man Aaron Berger.

So, you will forgive my childish excitement as I write this, having just returned from a short but intense tour to the UK on the heels of a lengthy tour in Australia, fairly jet-lagged and wrecked, feeling satiated and sort of hung over…and hankering for more.  I’ve never taken anything for granted in this singer/songwriter thing: not the chances to record (I always think the recording I am currently working on will be my last); or perform (I’m fairly aware that each performance might be, for any number of good reasons, my last); or write a new song (I’m always amazed and downright confounded when I write a new song…every song is the last song I’ll ever write); shit, I’ll even admit that every time I climb on my motorcycle I’m aware that it might be for the last time.  Point is, it’s best not to take these things for granted.  I’ll confess that I had begun to wonder if I’d ever get to travel on the back of the songs I wrote, a thing that was an expected dividend when I started out and is less likely for young artists these days.  Since the fall of 2015, though, I have performed in over 30 cities in five countries on three continents as a part of Nights of Grief and Mystery.

The tour through England– small cities mostly– was the first we would do on land that had not been colonized by the British Empire.  I was excited by this because in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand the air can be thick with the guilt of thievery and exhaust fumes of the fevered and mostly impotent and childlike attempts by descendants at redemption.  This stuff hangs in the air between us and the audiences, is there in the murmuring in the halls before we start, and is there when we are done…though there are a few moments immediately after, quiet and wordless ones, that feel different.

Turns out that the air in England is thick with guilt, too, laced with a great deal of shame and topped off with quiet confusion as to how to make amends for its’ various offenses…or sins…or transgressions.  Unlike its’ predecessors the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires, the British Colonial Empire birthed some ideas (most having to do with the rise of the mercantile class) that seem to threaten the life of the planet itself.  I say “seem” because I’d like to think the planet is a tough old bitch that will figure out how to deal.  The British Colonial Empire was the largest the planet has seen to date:  that is a lot of blood, a lot of ruin.  You don’t get to just walk away from that.

So all this stuff is floating around, bombs have exploded and will explode again, people have been maimed and killed and will be again, and we are driven by car mostly by our good man Buckingham (who you sort of see in the first photo) from city to city.

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She placed her hands over her breast, then to my chest and said, “From my heart to your heart.”  It reminded me of this photo I took…my mother’s hand on my father’s chest.

After a show in Totnes (180.3 miles from Reading) I was shoveling some food into my mouth in the evening air outside the theater.  It had been a while since we had ended, I had just finished packing up, and there were still a few folk loitering around.  A very small, very old woman appeared in front of me, her skin translucent, her small hands wrinkled and soft.  She simply looked at me for a moment, placed her hands over her breast, then to my chest and said, “From my heart to your heart.”

Now, there are all kinds of people who come to these shows.  As in any audience anywhere, some folk are more lost than others, and that sense of being bereft can make itself known in a quick back and forth.  There was none of that here.  Quite the opposite, actually.  The gesture felt so natural, the phrase innocent and genuine.  “I’ll take that,” I said honestly and found myself covering her tiny hand on my chest with my free hand.  We stayed like that for a couple heartbeats.  She stared up at me and held my gaze for another moment then walked away.  Later, I mentioned the old lady to a couple of the concert organizers and they said they knew of her, that she was dying, and she had brought her grand daughter to the night.  I realized I had looked out into the audience at one point in a bit of a daze while playing and part of my brain had logged the fuzzy image of an older woman sitting beside a younger woman who was crying, their hands interlaced in the old lady’s lap, the image replaced by that of my own fingers wrapped around my guitar neck as I shifted my attention back to whatever it was we were playing.  A Night of Grief and Mystery has a good amount of coming to terms with dying and what the world might look like if we lived in the knowledge of our dying and I guess the old woman and her grand daughter were swimming in that pretty deeply.

These nights with Jenkinson on three continents, these nights are my bid for redemption.

Fish(es) out of Water

Photograph by John Launer

Last Friday I was preparing to take the stage with The Art of Time Ensemble which included Andrew Burashko, Stephen Sitarski, Drew Jurecka, Rachel Mercer, Joe Phillips, Mark Mariash, Doug Perry, Rob Piltch, special guest noise maker Don Rooke, author/poet Michael Ondaatje, and actor Rick Roberts.  Other vocalists on the shows were Andy Maize, Tom Wilson, and Suzie Ungerlieder.

Some of these folk I have known for some time now, and a couple I am lucky enough to consider close friends.  I don’t get out much, and I’ve never been a social creature.  I failed spectacularly at being part of any scene.  I was pacing back and forth behind backstage thinking how funny it was that these AoT gigs are the one place I get to spend time with artists I’ve only orbited around…Tom, Andy, for intance…or meet for the first time: Suzie, for instance, this time out.   The thing about these gigs is…for some of us more, um, roots/pop inclined singers or musicians… is that we are in strange waters, or fish out of water altogether and it sort of levels a playing field we aren’t even aware exists and we get to see each other make peace with performing things that stretch our own understanding of ourselves.  That sounds a lot more lame than it is.  Put another way, there is not a lot of ego on these shows and that is as refreshing as refreshing gets.

It was the second time I got to work along side of Michael Ondaatje and I finally got the chance (and nerve) to tell him how Coming Through Slaughter has danced on the fringes of my creative consciousness since the day I turned the last page on it.  A couple years ago I got to work with Margaret Atwood and that led to a weird and wonderful night at the opera with her and her family (a shitty version of Don Giovanni, I was told…I wouldn’t have known because I was just happy to there and was kind of geeking out).

Renowned dance company David Earle Dance did an inspiring piece on a show I was on, and it introduced me to the world of modern dance, a world I hadn’t paid much attention to.  Out of our mutual admiration from those nights grew dance pieces to two songs of mine that members of the company, Suzette Sherman and Georgia Simms, choreographed and performed.

Most of my performances with the Art of Time have had me singing at least one arrangement done by Jon Goldsmith. Jon produced my first two recordings for True North and we have been friends since.  He also arranged strings for me on the live concert recording we did almost 10 years ago called Pleasure & Relief (a couple years before I met Burashko and started singing with the AoT).  I admire many of the arrangers whose songs I get to swim in when I sing with the AoT, but none more than Jon and getting to sing a chart of his makes me want to try and make my own songs more…well, more.

I met Don Rooke…inventor, soundologist, and progenitor of Tornto cult faves The Henrys…on an Art of Time gig not so long ago and that led to me singing on The Henrys last recording, 2015’s Quiet Industry, a collection of songs I would urge everyone to check out without reservation.

I’ve learned a great deal watching members of the Art of Time negotiate the rehearsals, speaking in, what is to me, a foreign tongue, having never learned how to read music myself.  I have a great respect for Burashko and his carving out a career in the arts.  This is no small feat.

And nowhere else could I practice pacing the stage guitar-less, singing words that are not mine, trying to figure out who I am in the thing while I’m doing the thing, and all the while wearing a hat and a wee bit of bling.  Thank you , Art of Time Ensemble:  I hardly recognize me.

In the Doghouse…roses. Singing Steve Earle with The Art of Time Ensemble.

For tickets, go to http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/artoftime/events/index.cfm?id=8104&festival_id=226

A great band featuring my friend Don Rooke (of The Henrys and Quiet Industry fame) on lap steel etc for the evening.  I sing four songs: four American God, American Way, America Lost, American Love songs.  It is a lot of America for this singer.  I’m a fairly linear guy and not much of a lyric “interpreter”,  so when I sing “I expect to touch His hand”, I know the intention and can’t pretend otherwise.  Likewise a bit of a thing to sing any line with the words “our forefathers”.  I’m having a good time finding my way through these songs, though, and I know the shows will be great.  A ton of talent under the roof.

Worry, Australia, worry.

Gregory Hoskins (L) and Stephen Jenkinson (R) somewhere on the Great Coastal Road, AUS.

A few thoughts on the recently completed Nights of Grief & Mystery Oceania Tour 2017.

First off, a flurry of thank you’s to the intrepid people who organized the thing on the ground in Australia and New Zealand.  It is no small thing welcoming a small band of tired men into your busy lives for a few days, tending to all the details that need tending to, sending us on our way, and rejoining the regular broadcast that was your life before signing on to promote one of these gigs.   It is my hope is that some echo of your efforts comes to your ears every now and again…something good.  Things are felt for such a short while it seems these days.

The land was beautiful, there were good people met (there were some challenging folk, too), and there was  the rare empty seat in all the halls we played…something astounding to me considering the night can detonate a kind of sorrow that makes ovations unlikely but, still, there were always those who hung back to connect, struggling to find the words to acknowledge the night and our part in it.

Here’s the thing:  what I wasn’t prepared for (besides the vicious jet lag on my return home) was feeling like the alien from that postulated theory “what would an alien say if it landed here”.  So much of what I saw and heard felt foreign under the skin but nothing more so than the phrase “No worries.”  Even typing it gives me the shivers.  At one point, I thought my head would explode if I heard those two words together on more time.  Mysteriously chosen to replace “you’re welcome” in the English language, the phrase found itself concluding almost every single transaction one might have in Australia.  To utter “thank you” guaranteed a “no worries”.  Really?  None?  I gave you $10 for a $4 coffee, you give me $6 change like you are supposed to, I say “thank you”, and you tell me I shouldn’t worry about it.  About what, exactly?  All the trouble you went to in getting me the correct change or my Long Black (an Americano down there)?  The impact on the environment of the cup?  The carbon footprint of my plane ride to and from the country and the 10 or so in-country flights we took?  The shady trade practices that makes a good cup of coffee so easy to find down here?  The exploitation of baristas and the worse treatment of 7-11 employees?  The quiet despair that is crushing the developed world?  The harsh awakening from the dream that whatever we want we can manifest?  No worries about dying, either?  Not the after part we aren’t around for, but the actual doing of the thing…no worries about that?

My niece tried to tell me the French (in Canada) have the same kind of phrase with “de rien” which is roughly translated to “it’s nothing”.  However, there is also “bienvenue” which is widely and respectfully used and means, quite literally, “welcome”.

Australia, there are worries: small, niggly little worries and HUGE FUCKING BADASS WORRIES that should keep you up nights.  You would be well advised to carve out some time to carve some worry sticks because sometimes worrying about something can sometimes lead to some kind of action.  I’ll admit I’m being pretty vague there, given the fact that worriers are more likely to be seen as ineffective lumps of worthless worry, but worrying could be the first step in changing something.  Your political landscape, for instance.

I think that—without you knowing it—the phrase “No Worries” has become your national motto.  Deeper than just a phrase uttered at every cash register in the land, it just might have been spoken aloud soooooo many times that it has become a real cornerstone of the colonial Australian culture.  I’d definitely worry about that.

Something from nothing: Illuminate Me 2016

It’s hard to describe what the nights we call “Illuminate Me” are like, so this video goes a little way towards that.  Essentially, I sing and Tina Newlove paints on a canvas that has a camera trained on it and the feed is projected over me on to a large screen behind me.  The night starts under the stark glare of the white projector light and ends drowned in colour.

As to the “why” of it…well, why not?  There is no plan when we begin and often a quiet collective “Huh,” at the end as the echoes of a night of song die away and we all look at a huge painting where there was none 90 minutes before.  It’s a rare way to watch the collision of two art disciplines and experience the chaos of making something from nothing.

December 1 and 2, The Pearl Company Theatre, Hamilton, ON.  Tickets

Vain + Alone: The heart broken a thousand times, reassembled a thousand and one.

Vain & Alone, December 25, 2015. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Vain & Alone, December 25, 2015. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

With my father hovering somewhere between worlds, I am firmly Vain but somewhere between Alone and not.

These were days infused with a kind of poetry that crushed us,
days burdened by an unbearable beauty…
that broke the heart a thousand times and reassembled it a thousand and one.
These were days when I was not much of a father to my children,
not much of a lover to my wife, not much of a friend to the few friends I have.
Only a son in service to his father.
In return, he told me with scathing honesty what he saw in me,
and located that nurturing part of me I’d thought long dead.

I’ve held on to this photo for a bit, unsure of it, not trusting its’ origins.
But in the life I have created for myself,
these kind of moments are all I have to weave into the work I do.
So, I wonder aloud here at what this man gave with his dying
to his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and his friends:
shattering the inane noise of the world for us with his ragged breath,
lubricating this arid desert of a place
with tears that leaked from his eyes in his final moments,
and finally binding us together with his absence…

This is the gift he gave us:  how it could be when it is our time to die.

The poetry, the heartache, the laughter, the songs,
the courage, the fear, the healing,
the forgiveness, the goodbye, the wrenching loveliness of it all—
this is what we can give to our own sons and daughters, lovers and friends.

I was alone in the house when I self-consciously set up the phone to capture singing a song to him, a song we had crafted together.  It was a song that came to be when he declared his pride in what I did for a living even though, as a father, it worried him to no end.  He was firm in the pride he felt but asked if I couldn’t at least write something “light”— not my strong suit, to be sure.  So, we spoke of his great love for my mother, and his growing love for the simple beauty he would see outside the window — the trees, the sky, the sun, the birds — that left him speechless and dumbfounded as to why the whole world seemed not to notice.  A song was woven together over time.

On this night, I sang it to him as I had done dozens of times in the previous weeks (along with his favourite cowboy tunes and a few from the hit parade he used to sing to us as kids) but in a self-conscious way, too aware of the camera, wondering what kind of man would film himself like this? as I sang looking down on his unmoving body.

When I stumbled into the bridge,
and the line “Love comes for you”,
he surfaced and opened his eyes to me,
raising his arm slowly to rest his hand on my forearm.
I continued picking through the solo
and at the first line of the last chorus, “Mary, Mary, in the yard”
he chuckled, then slipped back to where he’d come from, gliding out on
“Through the trees the sunlight slips/
To steal a kiss from Mary’s lips.”

This photo, taken after I put the guitar down,
is less a record of my singing to him
and more that of a son who owed his father everything,
learning here how to say goodbye,
and deeper in debt
when all was said and done.

Would that it could be this way for everyone who reads this.

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A Singer and a Painter: Encore Concert Presentation with Tina Newlove, Dec 12, Hamilton, ON

Buy Tickets:

https://gregoryhoskins.bandcamp.com/merch/ticket-to-pearl-company-hamilton-december-12-2015

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I first met Tina Newlove at this time of the year in 2012 in a factory loft art space (sadly no longer there) in Kitchener, ON.  We performed as part of a series that curated a visual artist and a musician for an evening.  Not content with just singing in the midst of art hanging on the wall,  I thought maybe live painting would be an avenue to look into and Tina had had plenty of experience with painting on stage.  Then I thought it would be a lot cooler if somehow the painting and I could interact more, and that’s when I proposed training a video camera on to Tina’s canvas and projecting the feed over me onto a screen behind me.  The singer and the song become sort of subservient (nice alliteration) to the “hand of god” and the brush as the audience watches the birth of a painting, the mess of it all, the seeming disorganization and the sometimes horrifying white-ing out of a part of the image that one might have grown attached to…

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The singer, the screen, the hand.

It.  Was.  Amazing.  The painting sold (you would be advised to bring along a chequebook), the audience was exhausted, and we had done something a little off the beaten path.

We are very excited to try this again in the lovely factory confines of The Pearl Company in Hamilton, Ontario.  Please join us.

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gh and artist Tina Nelove and a piece of the finished painting still being projected.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 40 years on.

I didn’t know today was the 40th anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald going down.
A few years ago, on a magical night, I was lucky to be in the company of some of the finest musicians a man could find himself in and one of the songs we did that night was Lightfoot’s iconic retelling of the sorrow of the misfortune of the men aboard. Here is a link to that performance.

The arrangement, by Aaron Davis, is worth plugging your computer/handset into a stereo worthy of the endeavour.

http://artoftimeensemble.com/media/music?id=33

An Epistle from The Road

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**A couple weeks ago I was asked to write a little note about my time on the road with Stephen Jenkinson.  We were in Austin, it was hot, and I was having trouble describing the half dozen nights we had done. Here’s what I came up with.  Is it unbecoming that I quote my own lyrics?  We continued on through Oregon and Washington State and finish up Halloween night in Duncan, BC.  It has been an honour.

Beneath the Truth
Lie the bones
Of a Truth
More complete
And I’ll bet everything I own
It’s a Truth that’s bittersweet.

Tonight I will walk on to a stage with a remarkable man in a theater built in Austin, TX, in 1871. It will be the sixth time I​’​ve done so on this tour, and the first time I’ve ever strapped on a guitar in Austin. After the whistles and clapping die down, he will start talking, and I will wait.

I will make a few tentative sounds,
my fingers trying to find the spaces between his words.  My listening will turn into the kind that forgets the moment that has come before and is unaware of the one coming next.  And I have a suspicion that this is the way it is f​or many in the audience, too.

At some point he will make room for me to sing and I will try to remember to sing softly so as not to break the spell cast on the room.  It has taken me a while to understand that long, liquid, and legato notes are the order of the evening. Time will dance on through the night, or, in this case, will move properly and headlong toward the past.

The end will come, long book signing lines will dwindle, and we will ask each other in a stolen moment, “Well…how’d we do, Boss?”

You’d have to ask Stephen himself what these night “are” to him. To me, they are art and subversive acts of the highest order. Sometimes it is the building itself that is subverted: a recital hall, a stately ballroom, a modern concert hall, a conference room in a State Capital building, a bookstore, this opera house come Masonic ​temple…but mostly it is the thing that passes for Culture on this continent that is subverted, and most of what stands for Counter Culture, too.

It is not the kind of art designed to distract or entertain, nor is it the kind that takes some kind of severe gymnastics of the mind and heart to trust. It is the kind found on cave walls that simply and skillfully tell the story of the day with all of its’ sorrows, horrors, and chall​e​​n​ges along with its’ tenderness, victories, and graces. Over the course of the evenings, the pendulum swings a wide arc…sometimes unbearably so…and standing firmly at the center is Stephen​ Jenkinson​, more with the people than separate from them, w​h​ether they want him there or not. And given our proclivity to throw heroes up the pop charts and teachers onto crosses, the resistance to simply seeing him as a man of hard won truths and a gift for singing them is sometimes shocking.

From up where I’m standing on stage…slightly up stage left in a muted pool of light…there is only one way to measure the evening:

Was every moment,
Every vein opened,
Every chest cracked
Every word spoken,
Every note struck,
Every clunker hit,
Every word sung,
Every story told
True?

To a point, the answer is…and has to be…and IS,

Yes.

So here’s to the highs
And here’s to the lows
The human heart endures
And so it goes…
The bittersweet highs and lows.

​Gregory Hoskins​
Oct​ober​ 16, 2015
Austin, Texas

Vain and Alone all over the place.

It started, actually, as a bit of a lark:  when you’re travelling alone, how can you make it seem like you’re not?  That, indeed, your travelling companion is snapping off intimate shots?  In NYC, you can’t point the camera anywhere without the backdrop being amazing (unlike the cities I frequent in Canada).  However, selfies are a drag.  So, while in NYC, I placed my phone on the ground, set the timer, ran away, and strolled nonchalantly toward it, trying several times.  I posted the result, called it “Vain and Alone in NYC?”, describing how the shot was taken.  Then I just kept trying to see how far I could push the un-selfie selfie.  Each post on Facebook was accompanied by a little anecdote of shooting the thing…you had to at least be able to not be embarrassed being obviously vain.  Someone suggested I hash tag the stuff.  So, #vainandalone

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NYC, New York
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NYC, New York, in restaurant attached to Chelsea Hotel
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Boulder, Colorado
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Berkely, California
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Boulder, Colorado
#vainandalone
Sacramento, California
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Austin, Texas
Somewhere Up There
Somewhere Up There
Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
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Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington
#vainandalone
Berkely, California

The Almighty Inbox

A small arty clip from a vid for a song we like to call Glow Fonder but is actually called The Almighty Inbox from the new Henrys recording.  Its a beautiful song–I think of it as a prayer, but I didn’t write it so you’d have to ask Don Rooke.  Quiet Industry from The Henrys will be available June 11, 2015

Quiet Industry

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At the end of 2014, I spent some time in a small room recording vocals for 11 songs written by Don Rooke, the man behind The Henrys.

The recording features Don on guitars, baritone uke etc, Andrew Downing on bass, Davide DiRenzo on drums, John Sheard on pump and electric organs, Hugh Marsh on violin, Jonathan Goldsmith on muted piano (plus a string arrangement) and harmony vocals from Tara Dunphy.

It’s an odd thing these days, the making and releasing music: it kind of feels like yelling from behind a waterfall. The task this time was made sweeter by the fact that the songs are inventive, emotive, and accessible; the players are all from the “A” team; and the attention to detail on Quiet Industry is a rare thing these days (the record took more than a year to make and most of that time it was one lonely man spending unending hours in a little room in Toronto on the edge of a forest, toiling and tinkering…thus the title of the recording).

The Henrys are an institution in Toronto and have been critically lauded around the world since their debut in 1994. I’m totally impressed with myself that I got to sneak in and hang with the cool kids for a while.

I’ll keep you posted on how you can check it out, concert dates and what not.  Please let your music loving friends know about this record.

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A man toiling in the quiet of a room in an industrious manner.

 

 

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Taking a run at “When That Far Shore Disappears”. The first song we got a complete take on, top to bottom.

 

 

The Backhand of Fate

Waiting, from the concert DVD “Pleasure & Relief”.  A rare song, written quickly on a Korg piano in the second floor apartment of Lynn Simmons, recorded first with The Stickpeople and then again years later with a beautiful string arrangement by Jon Goldsmith, accompanied by Gary Craig and George Koller, with Jon on piano, and The Beggars String Ensemble in front of a live audience.

When Will I Dance 2

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I don’t dance.  Which is to say I don’t dance well, so I tend not to dance.  If life or love is on the line I will rise to the occasion but its an entirely self-conscious affair.  Which is why I’ve decided that 2015 is the Year of The Dance— kind of a solemn vow to lubricate whatever psychological joints need loosening, and tend to the physical ones, too.

Truth is, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  In the summer of last year, Suzette Sherman   ( Senior Artist, Founding Company Member, Associate Artistic Director at Dancetheatre David Earl) choreographed and performed a dance piece to “To Be Open”.  I’d never seen a song of mine interpreted in movement.  It was humbling, moving, and inspiring.  In the early fall of last year, on a whim before heading to the city,  I set up a camera here at the shop and danced around like a fool, to no music, just whatever was in my imagination.  I was curious to see what I’d look like.  I thought of it the same way as I view recording my voice to see what I sound like singing a particular song. To ease the shock, I filmed it in slow motion…much like smothering a voice in reverb and echo to make the performance more palatable.  The pics up at the top are from that video.  In slow mo, it looked…probably better than it did in real time. Everything looks better in slow mo, though.

Then this New Year’s Eve I danced with my daughter after playing a set with The Dogs.  I’d tried to move while playing, but the most I could put together was a pogo of sorts.  Now my daughter, she could move, as several patrons noted.  As for me, a voice in my head tried to assert calm when I realized people might see me dance— “Honestly, Fuckhead: no one cares.”  I’d have preferred a more benign approach, the gentle assurance of a quiet farmer saying, “That’ll do, Pig.  That’ll do.”

So here’s to the Year of The Dance.  It’s a beginning.

When Will I Dance?

A still from the music video for “Let The World Call You Crazy” directed by Tim Hamilton. From The recording “Raids on the Unspeakable”, Gregory Hoskins and The Stickpeople, True North Records, 1993

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I’ve never had a plan, really, when it came to music. The only plan—and this, by definition, is not a plan, per se—was “I’ll just keep going.” This meant write more, record more, try more, dig more…see? Not a plan. I realized I lacked foresight while making Moon Come Up, my first real recording. I had vision, but no foresight. After the first day recording, I stayed alone in the control room while the rest of the band was in the residential part of the studio. I was listening to a song called Neighbourhood, looking around the control room at all the gear, all the lights a flashin’, listening to the song off the two-inch machine, and that’s when it hit me: beyond this point in time, exactly, I had no clue how to proceed.

I was 26 years old and had been quietly working toward the day I could make a real record, with real musicians, in a real studio, for a real record company, with a real producer. I had lived the best life I could, learned the best lessons I could, wrote the best songs I could, played with the best musicians I could, tried the best I could…and here I was doing the thing with no idea about all the other stuff that would come along with putting out a record: what I would dress like; what I would talk like; what I would say, what I wouldn’t say; what my “persona” would be; how I would act…

I thought about this while watching an old music video a friend had reminded me of, cringing my way through it, mocking what I was wearing (except the cool do-it-yourself-superhero outfit), how I was lip-synching, how I moved, how I mugged…how utterly uncool I looked.

CRAZY6_smallLynn Simmons, for the record, looked amazing, like she was beamed down directly from heaven or a very pious spaceship. I’ve never really gotten a grip on feeling comfortable in front of a camera or in an interview and I haven’t quite learned how to just not give a shit. Maybe that’s what the punk band is for.

Its only now, all this time later, that I’m beginning to pay attention to the theater of it all—trying to find that place where humble genuine mingles with off-planet alchemy. I’m looking forward to the next year.

It Took Fifty (50) Years for Me to Become a Passenger

PASSENGER The facts are clear.  So “Passenger” didn’t come out until ’77 and that’d have made me 13.  It still means it took me 37 years to hear that song.  Thirty-seven years!  That is just so…wrong.  While I am ever grateful to The Monks of Weston Priory and the editors of The Greatest Pop Hits of The 40’s, 50’s And 60’s for my musical education,  I have to wonder what might have happened had I not been so afraid of music.  Actually, I wonder what might have happened had I not been so afraid. Period.

Take A Knee: How to Sing Without an Axe

Seeing as most of my stage time down through the years has been spent with a guitar slung across my shoulder, the experience of being free to move about is cool and a little unnerving.  So far, doing the stuff with The Art of Time Ensemble is the only chance I get to eat up some real estate without the distinct possibilty of falling over a monitor wedge or unplugging my guitar. One has an idea in one’s head how cool one might look, only to be confronted with the awkward truth: one has no fucking clue how to feel comfortable with all that freedom, let alone look even remotely cool.

So imagine my surprise when during a song at a recent performance I went down on a knee.  The good thing is that I did it.  The weird thing is that I was almost mime-ing the lyrics: Bewildered by your beauty there/ I knelt to dry your feet.  In the world of dance and movement, I’m just going to assume that mime-ing in a play-by-play fashion the lyrics of a song is just really, really bad form.

I could have stopped myself.  I mean, I remember thinking to myself, wow…you’re really gonna do this.  But I think the response was something like, dont be a pussy and just have some fun, for fuck sakes, and stop thinking or you’ll forget the next line

So I could have stopped myself, but I didn’t.  And here’s the pic to prove it.  It’s a good thing the stage was high because I think I remember having the inclination to remove the shoes of the person in the front row and pretend to attend to his/her feet in a Christ like fashion.  Yeah…I have a ways to go before cool.
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Late to the Bling Party: An Evening of Poetry, Music, and Shiny Things with The Art of Time Ensemble

AOT2014COMPSo, that was fun.  From left to right:  Thom Allsion, Margaret Atwood, Me, Karla Huhtanen.  Shots were taken during the dress rehearsal on Friday, so I’m not wearing my bling…not like Thom is wearing his bling.  Learned a lot about bling.  Made up some rhymes backstage with Margaret about bling.  Bling was a real focal point for the concerts.  Bling for the ears, bling for the eyes.  Amazing performance from Andrew Burashko, and incredible playing from the band: Barry Shiffman, violin; Rachel Mercer, cello; Andrew Downing, bass; Rob Piltch, guitar; and John Johnson, Sax.  All “A” players in a 2-night performance that explored the intersection of music and poetry. And bling.

T&GB&WBlingRock Couture. Or Blue Steel?  Thom lent me some bling from his Big Box of Bling stashed in the dressing room.  I never knew how hard it was to get just the right amount of bling to peek just so over the shirt.  Holy shit…it drove me to distraction.  Still, I’ve got my eye out now for some bling to call my own.  I’m always late to the party.

blingcoatEarlier in the day, when Thom wasn’t in the dressing room we shared, I tried his jacket on and snuck a couple selfies.  I dont know what to say about these except that I said on stage I would put them up here.  I fessed up before the show Friday night, and that’s when he took pity on me and opened his Bling Box…in a manner of speaking.

Singing on The Henrys…holy crap.

 

The Henrys are a critically lauded band led by Don Rooke.  Too many “lauds” to go into here…Google them.  They are well lauded.

I was surprised and excited to be asked to sing on a brand new Henrys recording, a slot usually saved for female vocalists like Martina Sorbara, Becca Stevens, and Mary Margaret O’Hara.  Eleven tracks, all words and music written by Don Rooke.  If the stars align, we’ll get to do it live.
Here’s a piece from one of the tracks, a work in progress:  Far Shore (one of my faves).