Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Now We Are Three

It looks as if a new tradition is in the offing. Not content to let her dear husband Brian and I keep the omnivorous glories of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Deli to ourselves Judy joined us this evening for a round of samusas and chicken tandoori before we three headed off to Buddhism class. Judy was every bit as pleased by the fare as Brian and I had been the week before (see Spongy Corners Nov 28). So we’ve promised to return again. The owner – an Iranian-Canadian who gave up his thriving medical practice years ago for a more modest lifestyle – could not be happier.

The deli has also earned rave reviews from the street people who normally congregate outside Alex Goolden Hall across the street - some of their number waiting patiently for the owner to retreat to a room at the back of the deli before quickly sampling the wares for themselves and steadfastly refusing to disturb the proprietor’s peace by anything so crass as the paying of the bill. Short of scratching his head and staring vacantly down the street long after their departure the owner seems resigned to this arrangement with his transient neighbours.

Our dinner and class capped off a day in stark contrast to yesterday’s hectic schedule. Today: shopping for shoes and a leisurely read of Louis MacNiece and S.E. Venart (a new Canadian poet and very good). Yesterday: eight hours spent in two recording studios laying down guitar tracks and trying to pull my singing voice up out of my socks. Whenever I step into one of these low-lit, high ceiling facilities I’m reminded of those wonderful photos of the Beatles recording at Abbey Road studios back in the 60s and 70s. I remember thinking how glorious it all must be. Today, experiencing recording studios first hand, I’m mostly struck by how much hard work goes into recording music, a process that has its joyful moments, but is also painstaking and too often held hostage to technology.

In my case that process will be aided immeasurably by the addition of Jerry Adolph, a drummer we’re bringing in from Vancouver this weekend to record on six tracks. Jerry has a reputation for getting his parts done in short order, with a recording history that reads like the credit roll at the end of a Cecil B DeMille movie: Chilliwack, Roberta Flack, Melissa Manchester, George Fox, Booker T Jones, Jim Byrnes, Shari Ulrich, Valdi, Spirit of the West, Taj Mahal, the list goes on and on.

Other players who have promised to participate include slide guitar phenom Ken Hamm and pianist Karel Roessingh. Could I be more pleased? Don’t think so.

Friday, November 30, 2007

His Own Path

I know it’s part of parental territory to talk incessantly about our children. Still, when your kid does something really neat you can’t help drawing the world's attention to it just a little. Several days ago, Daniel called to talk about a song he’d just written. Apparently, friends loved it, calling this one the hit song. Naturally, I congratulated him - all the while wondering how anything could rival another song he recorded earlier this year called “Gone by 2040”. Truly, the guy knows how to write a great tune.

So, a few days later Dan is in my dining room, my Taylor 6-string in his hands, and he begins to play: Strong driving chords, hands moving fluidly across the fret board, unleashing a cacophony of minor, major and suspended figures as sophisticated as anything I’ve heard in quite a while. Then he begins to sing. Now, Dan has always had a strong voice, cultivated over years of lessons by Colin Doroschuck of Men Without Hats fame and the Canadian College of Performing Arts. But there’s something different here: an excitement in his voice that I’d never really heard before. And I very quickly begin to understand why: this really is a great song. Of love. Of struggle. With trenchant lyrics and a galvanizing melody. For several minutes I sit at the dining room table absolutely rapt.

Daniel finishes and quietly sets the guitar down. I know he’s always a little anxious about how I’ll receive a new composition. But for once fatherhood has escaped me. I am now mere Gushing Fan, and only manage to get out five words: “That is one great song.” Several times I repeat this, because nothing else will come. Eventually I regain my composure and the young man seated at my dining room table understands that the one person in this world he sometimes has the hardest time getting through to actually gets it. And Daniel is glowing.

My parental prerogative has been fully exercised. You’ll get a chance to hear Daniel's song after it’s recorded and I post it. Meantime, here’s that other tune mentioned above: http://www.myspace.com/danielkosub). Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ample Buddha

Off to the Bodhichitta Buddhist Centre last night with my dear friend Brian - but not before tasting the wares at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Foods, a little deli on Pandora across from Alex Goolden Hall. Me: lamb samusa (correct spelling) and four dolmades. Brian had chicken samusa and ditto on the dolmades. His review: “This is great! I have to tell Judy about this place.” Mine: absolutely delicious. We continue to talk about the food after we pay our bill and toddle off to the First Metropolitan Church around the corner.

It’s been over a month since I attended the Buddhist Centre’s Foundation Program under the able spiritual guidance of Kelsang Zopa. Warmly welcomed back, with queries about how the CD is coming (the reason for my absence) I’m momentarily surprised as a new Dharma text entitled “Eight Steps to Happiness” is thrust into my hands. It’s a slimmer tome than the previous book “Joyful Path of Good Fortune” we studied this past year. I peer down at the brightly coloured cover, interested, and as usual just a little apprehensive about what I’ll find inside.

Dharma texts range from the excruciatingly complex to the spare and arcane. I quickly discover that this book is not only accessible and less complex than most Buddhist texts, but actually pretty sensible. Its main thrust: that most of the suffering we experience in life is a result of what's going on inside, not outside, us. Hate your job? Angry that you’re not getting sufficient recognition? Frustrated because you can’t get your partner to be who you think he or she should be? The source for all this suffering, Buddha argues, is not our job, partner or the world, but ourselves. If we begin to understand that suffering is largely a product of our own projections, created from within, then we're one step closer to cultivating genuine happiness. The place to start is with ourselves, not others.

“(W)e can either try to change the whole world to make it conform to our wishes,” says Kelsang Gyatso, “or we can change our mind.” Buddhists prefer to change their minds.

Sound simple? Well, I suppose it is. Some truths are just that: elementary, usually soft spoken, and almost always incremental in their effects. By the end of the evening I have vowed to pick up where I left off the month before and return to our weekly Buddhist meditations.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Musings

A chilly few days, though the sunshine and blue skies are more than adequate compensation. It means a brisk walk to work each day, part of my recovery from back surgery this summer, and up until a few weeks ago regular jaunts with friends out to Oldfield Road for fruits and veggies and walks in the country. The truth is spring and summer can’t come soon enough for me, though I am chastened by the fact that we are blessed by short, relatively mild winters and that the cold is no excuse for avoiding the West Coast Trail, something to which my friends have promised (threatened?) to introduce me.

Work continues apace on the CD, though I have learned something interesting about the possible future of CDs. Some speculate that with the advent of “aggregators” or song brokers (i.e. people or agencies that distribute recorded songs on-line, potentially to millions of listeners) the CD could go the way of the old long playing album. The good news is that an artist who gains access and manages to sell to even a very small percentage of a large on-line audience can do quite well financially. The bad news: that as in the days of vinyl, large distribution companies are already beginning to dominate this nascent industry. So, although I’m exploring the on-line option myself my ambitions remain comparatively modest. Meantime, I look forward to happily displaying the CD at our gigs this spring.

Here are a few other artists worth checking out, too:

Corb Lund, rocky and irreverent, was recommended to me a few months ago and has a great new release.


Eliza Gilkyson has carved out a distinctive musical and lyric style that continues to amaze me.


Karan Casey is one of those artists whose talent sneaks up on you. A gorgeous voice in the Celtic tradition.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ahhh...the Largesse

The money's not huge, but it's nice to know someone's looking after the few dollars musicians do make from concert appearances, cafe gigs etc. A case in point: The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). I recall years ago receiving a cheque for $15 after a song of mine appeared on a radio station in Toronto. I had a music publisher at that time, so he would have received 15 big ones, too. Scroll forward a few decades, long after my publishing contract with that individual had expired, and I discover to my dismay that he's still listed as part owner of my song catalogue. No problem says the SOCAN rep. We have your contract on file. Leave it to us. Result: I am once again full owner of my songs. Yes, I know, we only play a few of those older tunes in 2007, but as I also learned to my immense pleasure playing these tunes and more recent ones live, as we did at the Dancing Bean Cafe, a few weeks ago (see Nov 11 entry), should provide me with a better than expected royalty. Nope, not about about to retire from my day job, but given the costs associated with travel, CD production, etc this comes as a welcome surprise.

Between Takes: Nancy, David, Rose

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Buyer's Remorse

"What do you think?"

"I think it sounds pretty good."


"I agree, I think it's great! Just fabulous!...but...do you think we could take one more crack at my vocal part in that last section?"

And that's how it went Tuesday evening. In fact, that conversation was pretty typical of how the CD recording has gone most evenings since we began six weeks ago. It's called "the cringe factor". No matter how often people tell you you sound great there's always something that bugs the daylights out of you. At some point, of course, you have to say "This is us. Now, let's see what the world has to say." And so we will when the CD comes out early in the New Year.

Between now and then, of course, we encounter the Christmas holidays. Once again we'll run the gauntlet of downtown retail stores, endless Christmas parties and gift giving. All of which reminds me of an eminently sensible suggestion made a few years ago, one that is both economic and easy on the environment: buying consumables. Chocolate goodies, flowers, organic foods, a really great bottle of wine, scotch or brandy - they all make great gifts. Best of all they are out of your life in short order. Eliminating or at least reducing the endless paper and shrink wrap relieves the pressure on the landfill and just as importantly cuts down on the inexhaustible clutter filling our shelves, mantle pieces and basements. A good resolution to entertain prior to the New Year and one I confess to not entirely living up to. But any kind of progress is still progress.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Poetry in Good Hands

Managed to grab a front row seat with my buddy Brian for readings by poets Christopher Taylor and Steve Thompson at Planet Earth Poetry (Black Stilt Cafe on Hillside Ave.) Friday evening. The latter is a member of the Tongues of Fire poetry collective which appears at the Solstice Cafe every second Thursday - half a dozen young, fired-up wordsmiths whose poems are reminiscent of the beats, Kerouac and Ginsberg, and who, like their predecessors, stress the importance of reading well in public. I have to confess when I first sat down to hear them I expected the gothic look and poems comprised largely of self-loathing and a contempt for anyone over thirty. Seems the only prejudices at work were my own. The group treated us to a rich collection of powerfully delivered poems and displayed enormous respect for the open stage poets who preceded them, for each other and for their audience.

That said, Thompson stirred up a lot of controversy at the national poetry slam competitions in Halifax last month when he delivered a poem about schoolyard racism, displaying the same candour around language that got Lenny Bruce into so much trouble years ago. You can get a taste of Thompson and his co-conspirators’ style at http://tonguesoffire.ca/, though, alas, that particular poem has yet to be posted. I did speak briefly with a few of his colleagues, however, about the origins of their poems. Out of that emerged a question about the study of meter and whether it plays or should play a role in the practice of poetry. Hard to go into too much detail in a crowded cafĂ© but we seemed to agree that some knowledge of stress, duration, syntax etc could help a poet bring some control to the writing of poems. I hasten to add that I am not a poet, but have an interest in understanding why some poems work well and others don't. My education proceeds apace.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Tried and True

Well, we're nearly finished recording the vocals for the upcoming CD. It's been a real ear-opener as we learn about some of the tricks that work - or, as is sometimes the case, don't work. There's a whole debate, for example, about recording "live off the floor", i.e. with everyone present singing their hearts out together versus the "layering" technique where individual voices are recorded separately and combined later in the "mix". The latter technique gives you more control over individual tracks. Unfortunately you risk sacrificing some of the natural dynamics that occur when people sing together.

Thus it was after labouring for hours trying to obtain individual performances that inevitably fell short of perfection, our trusty engineer Dennis suggested we return to the tried and true: singing together. Which we did. With gusto. Low and behold, magic occurs. I can't tell you what a charge it is to look across a bank of microphones into the eyes of the person singing opposite you, the two of you smiling, knowing you're nailing a line in perfect unison. This is what making music is all about.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Look out!

Whew! Now that was a close call. The last time I made my way down Highway 1 the culprit was a doe who'd followed her partner out into the middle of the roadway. Luckily that evening I managed to squeeze my car between the pair of them, the doe coming away with nothing more than a bloody nose after grazing my side mirror and passing unharmed to the other side.

Last night: a slightly different story...an adult human male this time, wandering drunkenly down the middle of the south bound lanes near Duncan. Once again, I swerved at the very last moment to avoid a horrendous collision. Pulled over, dialed 911 on my cell and learned that at least one other driver had had a similar close call and that police had already been dispatched. I continue to marvel at my fellow travellers.

Other than that it was a wonderful evening as the Quartet played for a near full house at the Dancing Bean Cafe in Chemainus. Rosie played a fine mandolini, Nancy's solo on the chimes was a marvel...and Kelly? Well, what can you say about someone who plays flawless bass on a song he'd heard only once before? Thank you, Kelly. Thank you guys. Now, if only I could remember all the words to my songs. I shall do better, I promise.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


At the top of the page is the cover photo for my upcoming CD "From Away". The photo was taken by area photographer Rob Destrube off Dallas Road here in Victoria. Actually, many were taken, but this one seemed the most appropriate for a first time CD. Frankly, I'm not crazy about the misty-eyed far away look and so we shot the photo straight on, with a background that reflects the maritime feel of the music. We're still in the recording studio, but with any luck I'll figure out how to feature a few of the songs on the blog shortly.