Archive for March, 2010
Friday, March 19th, 2010
(Jason Lent has forsaken the island paradise of Hawaii to follow us around for a few months. I have happily placed the tour diary in his capable hands. It should bring a new perspective to our ramblings.)
Welcome to the Aloha Diaries. Mike is still polishing the gold medal he borrowed from Jonathan Toews in Vancouver so I’ll be keeping you posted on the happenings of the 2010 Tour. I’ll be following the tour until I have to go back to Hawaii and find a job or the band gets sick of me practicing the ukulele in the parking lot. This could get interesting!
The tour kicked off in the quiet village of Saugatuck tonight. Started as a lumber town, the village has retained its charm and every summer brings flocks of weekenders from the big cities to play on the Kalamazoo River. Today’s quiet streets and the fresh, crisp air will be replaced in July with the smell of fried dough and humidity. The 1,000 or so residents who remain through the winter were quick to wave and strike up a conversation with me as I wandered the empty streets. I think they appreciate the quiet, too.
The show was sold out and the crowd gave the band room to knock some rust off the live show. Just as they did in Montreal a few months ago, the band thundered through “Dragging Hooks” to get the blood flowing through the amps. Not wanting to keep anybody in suspense about the new material, three of the new tracks were played early and sounded ready for release.
It’s the texture in the songs that changes ever so slightly from time to time. Tonight, Margo’s delivery of “Floorboard Blues” came straight from a juke joint in the delta while Mike’s lilting guitar on “Witches” carried it to promising places. As far as first nights go, it felt relaxed and everybody had a laugh during the encore when the boys started “A Common Disaster” without realizing Mike was still waiting on a guitar. His cord twirling skills won’t steal attention from Margo’s snake dancing anytime soon. Two shows in Chicago tomorrow and one of the llamas mentioned deep-dish pizza. Let’s get after it!
Friday, March 19th, 2010
Latent’s latest release by the Hamilton band Huron is officially released in to stores in Canada next week. They got a great review in Toronto’s Now magazine this week : http://www.nowtoronto.com/music/discs.cfm?content=174098
They are on the road for most of the month so if you live in Southern Ontario you should check them out, they’re a great live band. If you haven’t listened to the album and you like great melodic guitar rock..have a listen:
Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Sunday, March 14th, 2010
Every city, town and village in China has a Renmin Park. Translated it means People’s Park and it is in the park where the community’s social life is conducted, it is where the rumours start and where the lovers meet, it is from the heart of the park where all things real and human and important exist and grow. We spent a lot of time in Renmin Park in Jingjiang. There was a rusted out old playground that was probably built in the 50’s and had some of the most rickety and dangerous looking slides and rides that I’ve ever seen. Our kids loved it, I was thankful that they had all had tetanus shots. Every Tuesday and Thursday I would wake up at 6am and head down to the park to play some badminton with my 80 year old friend Mr Liu and all of his friends. He would kick my ass every time (I once tried to play ping-pong against him and was completely humiliated). Mr Liu had flown for the People’ Liberation Army airforce in the 1950s. His squadron had transported Mao on occasion and he had flown missions in Tibet and Korea. He had spent 16 years in a labour camp in the 60’s and 70’s for speaking the truth to a class of cadets: an amazing man who I feel privileged to have met. After our badminton game we would go back to his apartment and he would serve me a breakfast of eggs, rice, ginger and hot fresh milk.
When I would arrive at the park at 6:30am the place would be hopping. There would be multiple games of badminton going on; the roller rink would be full of people dancing on their roller-skates; there would be large and small groups going though their tai-chi and exercise routines; hundreds of people walking around the man-made lake in the middle of the park, taking their morning constitutional, the place would be packed. We were always out of place in the park. We always felt welcomed but we were always strangers. The staring and gawking never stopped. As unusual as it felt, it just became part of our existence and Renmin Park slowly became our park too.
Here is my demo of another song off of the album, Stranger Here….
Monday, March 8th, 2010
When we first got to China one of the first things that struck me, aside from the poor air quality, were the sounds. Not only was it loud and unrelenting, but there were so many textures to the sounds that were completely foreign to these Western ears. So I wrote back home and asked brother Pete to pick me up a high end portable digital recorder. I had it, along with my camera, wherever I went. I’d spend hours in the park walking around and recording music and conversations, exercise classes and badminton games; in the streets I’d record the intense sound of the traffic; at the school I’d wander the halls and sit in on some classes and record the students chanting their lessons, or capture them at their morning exercise where the entire school of three thousand students would do their calisthenics. Even drifting by our apartment window were the calls of various hawkers, selling everything from vegetables to propane. I recorded it all.
When I got home I knew I had a treasure trove of really interesting and unusual “field recordings” and I knew that I wanted to somehow use them in the making of music, but I really wasn’t sure how to go about it. Eventually I bundled them up and sent them West to our friend Joby Baker in Victoria. I gave pretty vague instructions; create loops out of these sounds, let them spur your imagination. Alan, who lives on Vancouver Island, also got involved and the two of them proceeded to build musical structures with some of the field recordings as the foundations. They then sent them back East, Pete and I set to work on them in our studio, taking out elements that didn’t work for us and adding our own elements. And then I sat with them and wrote melodies and lyrics. Finally Margo came in and transformed them into Cowboy Junkies songs.
Five of these songs will appear on Renmin Park. Here is a taste of how two of them sounded about half way through the process:
Friday, March 5th, 2010
In late 2008, my family and I were given an opportunity to spend three months in China. We were boarded at an elementary/middle school in the small town of Jingjiang situated on the Yangtze River, about two hours from Shanghai. My wife taught English at the school, my three young kids attended a few classes and I spent my days exploring. We also did as much travelling as my wife’s schedule would allow. On one massively intense trip we journeyed to the birth villages of each of my daughters (two of my three children were adopted from China). But, mostly, we inserted ourselves into the day to day life of Jingjiang.
When I say that Jingjiang is a small town I mean that in relative terms. Its official population is 650,000, but its real population is closer to 1,000,000: a mere speck on the Chinese demographic landscape. We were welcomed with open arms by anyone in the town who could put three English words together. Homes were open to us, we were feted at every possible occasion and in every possible style, we created friendships that are only possible under such intense and foreign conditions and had adventures that have already become part of our family lore. It was a storybook experience, overwhelming to say the least, perhaps even life altering for my daughters.
Renmin Park is a reflection of that adventure. It’s a fictional love story about two people whose two worlds will forever keep them apart. It’s a thank-you letter to an obscure city and the people who opened up their lives to five very strange strangers. It’s a personal document about a bewilderingly complex culture that is, once again, experiencing a massive upheaval. It’s another chapter in a band’s ongoing twenty-five year journey.
Here is a rough mix of the albums title track:
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
I’ve always loved the Winter Olympics because all of the sports are slightly insane. They are all played on blades or boards; they all revolve around challenging gravity or completely throwing oneself at its mercy; and all of the sports (let’s exclude curling) are played on such an edge that the slightest miscalculation can lead to serious injury or even death. And then, of course, there is hockey.
So when my sister Suzanne (who is a big-wig at the Hudson Bay Company and who is in charge of the design team that put together all of that groovy Canada merch that flooded the streets of Vancouver) came to me and brother Pete and said that she had an extra ticket for the Gold medal hockey game…well, Pete and I started to salivate. The decision as to who would go was decided by a coin toss….tails, I won.
What can I say…it has been a bit of a fairytale Olympics for us Canadians. We watched as a series of mishaps and one enormous tragedy caused the event to stumble out of the gate. The entire Canadian team seemed to stumble along with it, the hockey team in lock step. And then there was a slow change in momentum, gravity was defied and then gradually became our friend and we ended with such an intense, dramatic, victorious rush that I think our collective psyches have been altered forever. This narrative arc, this unbelievable journey that the Canadian Olympic Team went on over these past 17 days is not something that us Canadians are use to. (I’m not just talking about the hockey team, but their story is the story of the Games distilled for the entire Olympic team). It is the type of story that is commonplace in the history of our friends to the South, but not up here above the 49th parallel. We don’t usually find ourselves rising from the mat, struggling to our feet, the dramatic come-from-behind victory. It’s not because of a lack of will power or a lack of character, but because we rarely stick our chins out and therefore we rarely get knocked down, in the past we have preferred a victory (or a loss) “by decision”….a little bit boring, a little bit safe. Perhaps that has now changed. Perhaps now when our champions, when we, step, slide, run, jump, walk on to that world stage, in any and all fields-of-endeavour, we’ll be saying to ourselves, “shit yah, of course I can do this, of course I belong here, hell, I’m a Canadian…give me your best shot”.
And I was there to witness a small moment of that transformation…how cool is that…..LUUUUUUUUU….