Friday 21 June 2013

Running on Ellmen

I was visiting my parents in another town and walking up Lake Street when I realized that this was the very building where I first met Eugene Ellmen sometime in the mid-late 1970s. In a small town like St Catharines it was perfectly reasonable to just "pop in" by just showing up at someone's house. My chaperone was the delightful Barb Seiler, who I was dating at the time. Among the dramatis personae in the room behind that bay window were Pat Rich, Eugene, and a chap whose first name was, I believe, Dave. Dave (David?) had been mugged the night before taking a shortcut past the Carnegie Library (since demolished) and the then-abandoned White Mansion (since demolished). Given that I was still in a collegiate (scheduled to be demolished) meeting these erudite sophomores was immediately oxygen to me.

Through this group I soon met Laury Cumming and probably was introduced to Mary Raudßus. Later still Richard Guitar. Richard is important to the story because he has the truck.

David (Dave?) introduced an interesting moral dilemma when he announced he was going to Kenora to scab at a pulp mill that was under a strike. While all agreed financially it was attractive, the natural left-leaning of small-town liberal arts college students found it morally challenging. Worker Solidarity and all. Also there was every chance that Dave (David?) would get yet another whupping.

Laury and I each moved to Toronto and remained fast friends up to my first marriage. Eventually we drifted apart. Eugene I have run into many times over the years with our children in tow at Toronto's CNE and the Ontario Science Center among other places. I suppose I really should take him out for a pint. His children must be nearly grown, as are mine. I am filled with nostalgia for Barb, and her family has made some remarkable contributions to the cultural history of St Catharines and its early Welland Canals. I think I saw Pat Rich on LinkedIn once, although it could be a posting on Ellmen's wall.

If I absolutely need to commune with their spirits then I surf on over to YouTube and crank Jackson Brown's  Running on Empty. That was our song. And for 4 minutes and 28 seconds they are back in my life, just like that holographic Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for help.

A tiny fuzzy projection of a time in my life that was a huge warm hug of great friends.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels 
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels 
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through 
Looking into their eyes I see them running too*

*Music: Jackson Browne
Copyright: Swallow Turn Music

Song: Running on Empty

Monday 10 June 2013

Just in time for Canada Day

 "North" has a moral value, perhaps as "Marianne" means something profound to Parisiens. For a Canadian, especially from Southern Ontario, North is always a time of childhood excitement. We take our vacations in the North. All the youthful excitement of discovery is in the north. It's where you first caught a polliwog. It's where you picked blueberries right off the bush. It's probably where you had your first kiss.

And in Canada, especially de l'Ontario, North means rock, roches, pierre- pine and spruce trees growing straight up out of solid granite.

"Au nord de notre vie", the first movement of "À la poursuite du nord", has been exciting me for thirty or so years now. Part of that is that it was an "alternative" song in its day. It used to come on the radio station CFNY and suddenly we would be listening to a song in French. This is impossible to imagine today. English stations play English songs, et le stations de radio français capter le chants en français. Since we all had taken French in high school, we could follow the song.

So going back to the first movement of "À la poursuite du nord", you have that core central image - "The North of our lives". I have already spoken about what North means to a Canadian. Then we have the "of our lives" part, which is very Québécois. OUR lives. This sense of community is almost oxygen to the Franco-Ontarien. And this is what makes CANO interesting. As a Sudbury-based ensemble, they bridge le deux solitude of English et Français.

Finally, we have the glimmering beauty of Rachel Paiement's vocal. Almost a "pure tone" singer, she carries the first movement like Cleo Lane.

Here are links to ten songs that make me proud to be Canadian. The land is strong.

CANO - Au nord de notre vie
Neil Young - Helpless
Ian Tyson - Four Strong Winds
Gordon Lightfoot - Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Rush - Lakeside Park 
Bare Naked Ladies - Lovers in a Dangerous Time
Murray McLauchlan - Down by the Henry Moore
Feist - 1234 (the most perfect pop song since Sir Paul McCartney joined that skiffle band)
Nelly Furtado - Hey, Man! (Anybody else hear Stephen Reich?)
Fraser and Debolt Them Dancehall Girls (more Brecht und Weill than Lightfoot)

Special thanks to guest blogger Richard RJ Guitar LCdr RCN (Ret'd) for his suggestions.