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The Balm of Conspiracy

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

(Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.)

The idea of conspiracy sprang to life the instant the third shot found its mark in Dealey Plaza with such dispassionate viciousness. “They killed him!” screamed Abraham Zapruder as the Presidential limousine was swallowed by the shadows of the triple underpass, his index finger finally slipping from the trigger of his Bell and Howell home movie camera. Bent over her broken husband, Jackie sobbed “He’s dead – they’ve killed him – oh, Jack, oh Jack, I love you.”

The enormity of the crime demanded the cold calculation of organized menace.

Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s personal secretary, made a laundry list of suspects as she was riding on Air Force One back to Washington from Dallas: Lyndon, KKK, Dixiecrats, Hoffa, John Birch Society, Nixon, Diem, Rightists, CIA in Cuban fiasco, Dictators, Communists.  

The idea that the President could have been killed by a lone assassin working in isolation was just as incomprehensible as that fact that he had ceased to exist.

Bullet for You sets forth a list of would-be assassins representative of the myriad entities during the early 1960’s that would have greeted Kennedy’s death with relish. In so doing, the lyric of the song strives to convey the tangible animosity that hung heavy in the Dallas air and had many people surrounding Kennedy strongly urging him not to make the trip. It also reflects how the idea of conspiracy, perhaps even the psychological need for it, has persisted to the present day.

  1. Disgruntled Cuban Exiles: The first would-be assassin in the song is a Cuban exile, positioned on a roof top over-looking the motorcade route. Criticism of the President was bitter amongst the exile community where it was viewed that his lack of adequate air support at the Bay of Pigs led to the failure of the CIA lead operation to over-throw Castro. The failed operation was an embarrassment for the young administration and left Kennedy famously vowing to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” Reportedly, even Robert Kennedy harbored suspicions that the CIA had been involved in the murder of his brother. Click here if you are interested about learning more about the Bay of Pigs.
  2. The Mob: Means, expertise and motive converge on this popular choice amongst conspiracy theorists. It is alleged the Kennedys used mob contacts to have ballot boxes stuffed in Illinois to help secure the Presidency. The mob then grew incensed when Robert Kennedy pursued the organization aggressively as Attorney General once his brother was in the White House. In addition, it is not just conspiracy talk when historians such as Robert Dalleck confirm that Kennedy had an affair with Judith Campbell, mistress also to mobster Sam Giancana, introduced to Kennedy by Frank Sinatra.
  3. Right Wing Extremists/John Birch Society: When the President arrived in Dallas, he was greeted by a caustic full page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News sarcastically addressing him as Mr. Kennedy. The article was financed by John Birch Society member Joseph P Grinnan and accused President Kennedy of being soft on communism and a friend to Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito.  The name at the bottom of the ad was Bernard Weissman, a JBS sympathizer who had not formally joined the society because he found that many of its members were anti-Semitic. Ironically, the name at the bottom of the ad was a prime motivator for Jack Ruby to later kill Lee Oswald. Ruby, who was deeply sensitive to anti-Semitism throughout his life, was dismayed that the ad and the subsequent assassination of the President could add to the already strong anti-Semitic environment in Dallas that he faced on a daily basis. Besides saving Jackie Kennedy the pain of returning to Dallas to testify in Oswald’s trial, Ruby reportedly had said he killed Oswald to show the world that, “Jews had guts.” To view the original ad, click here:
  4. Fidel Castro: In the closing months of his Presidency, Kennedy was involved in secret, back-channel discussions with Castro which aimed to find a peaceful resolution to the tension between their two countries. Things had been going so well, according to Thurston Clarke’s JFKs Last Hundred Days, that Castro joked he would be happy to come out publically for Barry Goldwater if it meant keeping Kennedy in office. Despite these overtures, Kennedy had authorized Operation Mongoose, a covert CIA operation that aimed to over throw the Communist government in Cuba and assassinate its leader. Robert Kennedy was directly responsible for running the project. According to Evan Thomas’ Robert Kennedy: His Life, former CIA director, John McCone recalled Robert Kennedy asking him directly if the agency had killed his brother. Later, McCone wondered if RFK’s emotional devastation was caused by personal guilt created by the knowledge that in actively seeking the life of Castro, he may have brought about the death of his brother.
  5. Emasculated Lovers: Published conspiracy suspects range from the plausibly ominous to the scurrilously ridiculous – from well-trained assassins of the Soviet Union to a Secret Service agent who pulls a hand gun out of the limousine glove box and turns to murder the man he had sworn to protect in full view of the First Lady and Governor Connelly. The aggrieved husband whose wife has left him “for a look-a-like Kennedy working in a traveling show” is representative of the most implausible of those theories that themselves conspire to turn catastrophe into carnival.
  6. Lee Harvey Oswald – Killer or Patsy?: In the final verse of the song, two versions of Lee Oswald serenade the listener, vying for their sympathies. Is he the killer standing in the 6th floor window of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building, coolly awaiting the President’s arrival? Or is he the down-on-his-luck patsy, innocently sipping a Coca-Cola in the break room as the leader of the free world passes by?  

Inspiring and enacting change generates hatred. Palpable hatred. This is a reality for those chipping at the mountain of social prejudice in anonymity and those moving effortlessly through the rarified air of privilege. Through the romantic haze of nostalgia, it is difficult to appreciate from a distance of 50 years just how much President Kennedy was reviled by a broad range of adversaries. He was despised as passionately as he was adored. As Mrs. Lincoln wrote on the back of her note: "There is no end to the list of suspected conspirators to Pres. Kennedy’s murder. Many factions had their reasons for wanting the young president dead. That fact alone illustrates how the world suffers from a congenital proclivity to violence".

Though the assassination provides the context for The Kennedy Suite, this song cycle is not a “Who Done It?” Bullet for You is expository in its treatment of the many conspiracies surrounding the murder of President Kennedy. It is not meant to elucidate or accuse. My belief in conspiracy died with my interest in it. My interest in conspiracy died in this realization:

The identity of the killer is of far less consequence than the consequence of the victim’s destruction. Amidst all the mystery and metaphysical wonderings, that is a truth which is deep, sad, and immovable whether the life taken belongs to the President or a child bent worriedly over his times tables.

Endowing catastrophe with meaning diminishes its power to a point where our survival of its cruelty seems possible. That is the balm conspiracy offers.

Its failure to soothe may be conclusive proof in and of itself that Lee Oswald acted alone.

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“The past is prologue….”

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.

Once I had found my thread, I wrote three new songs in very short order.

The first would revolve around the life of the police officer riding in the motorcade directly beside Jacqueline Kennedy at the moment of the assassination. The next, from the perspective I imagined as the First Lady. It was upon finishing this second song that I realized slaying my Minotaur would involve the creation of an entire collection of narratives that, when strung together, would follow the chronology of that tragic weekend in Dallas. A suite of songs. The Kennedy Suite was a title that came almost immediately and involuntarily. That inspirational spark was closely followed by my first structural calculation.

Newton’s third law of motion states that “when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.” The same is true for physics of storytelling. The profound loss I had felt when I discovered President Kennedy had been murdered found its power in the deep sense of awe that had been generated in me as I explored his life. If I was to help the reader appreciate that same experience to any degree, songs addressing the assassination and its aftermath would need to be preceded by a vivid depiction of the palpable excitement and tangible possibility for change his ideas generated.

And so I set to work on a prologue.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…”

President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address was, and is, a thrilling listen. If you have never taken the time or had the opportunity to do so, you can treat yourself by clicking on this link: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BqXIEM9F4024ntFl7SVAjA.aspx.. Look through the transcript. Stunning. It was clear very early that nothing I could create could match hearing the President speaking for himself, and so it would be that both the demo I would set down with my friend Doug Telfer and the final recording produced by Michael would begin and end with him doing so.

Freed from having a rhetorical toe to toe with my hero and avoiding a disastrous Dan Quayle moment (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWXRNySMW4s ), I began to play – an activity that is, for me, the essence of the writing process.

One of the games I like to play most is to turn a phrase, especially a cliché – something I learned to love in Elvis Costello’s writing (“Who’s making Lover’s Leap safe again for lovers?”) Needless to say, one of President Kennedy’s most famous phrases from that speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” immediately piqued my sense of linguistic mischief.

One of JFK’s great qualities was his ability to question the status quo with skepticism and intelligence. In the final days of his presidency he was looking to extract the country from Vietnam, he had beaten back the hawks encouraging him to use military force in Cuba and was quietly pursuing a back-channel dialogue with Castro. The unofficial overtures had gone so well that Castro had joked he would publically back Republican Presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater if it would help Kennedy get re-elected in 1964. Furthermore, the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis had fostered a growing understanding with Nikita Khrushchev that, more than adversaries, they were partners in holding back forces within their militaries that were advocating for preemptive nuclear conflict and presenting that strategy as not only advantageous but reasonable. Kennedy’s challenge to instigate meaningful change and his ability to express that challenge with an eloquence and incisiveness that made change seem not only possible but inevitable was infectious. To put it another way, the new Commander in Chief was a shit disturber of the highest order, and his rhetoric, as audacious as it was erudite, was a clarion call for others to aspire to the same level of progressive insubordination.

Ask not what your country can do, ask what it’s done.”

I had turned the phrase, and in so doing, had found a probing disposition that I felt was not only representative of the times and of the Kennedy presidency, but would also weave its way through the writing of the entire project.

The prologue of The Kennedy Suite would be entitled Origami Peace Corps Mischief Makers. Its first and more succinct title was Make Us! My friend Adam Faux had encouraged me to trade it for interest’s sake with a line I had created for the chorus. Though the title changed, that spirit of “progressive insubordination” would remain integral to the song.

It was at this moment that the development of the lyric, as it began to take on a life of its own, took a funny turn.

I could think no greater example of steadfast courage, dignified resolve and unflinching defiance than in the stories of hundreds of ordinary Americans who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. The song began to head full stream in that direction. While there were references to Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon and his almost subversive use of diplomacy to resolve the Cuban Missile Crisis, references to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders and the murder of Emmett Till (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxK8u58PqTE) began to take over the page. What was interesting for me was that a song celebrating Kennedy’s zeal for societal change was running into an area where Kennedy was roundly criticized for his lack of action – the area of Civil Rights. For conservatives who were safely removed from the crippling degradation of racism, he was moving too fast – for those suffering the hourly indignities and horror of state sponsored brutality, he was inching reluctantly at a pace which was only exacerbating the suffering.

A confluence of events would push President Kennedy to conclude that the struggle for Civil Rights was, in fact, a moral issue that would need to be addressed, whatever the political consequences. He would lay his convictions before the American people on June 11, 1963, five months before his death. Two of those ordinary heroes, Vivian Malone and James A. Hood, were attempting to enroll in the University of Alabama and the state’s Governor, George Wallace, was blocking their way. Kennedy would be forced to send Federal troops to resolve the issue. In his speech explaining his actions he would say in part that, “…this nation, for all its hopes, and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.” (the full speech can be seen at: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/LH8F_0Mzv0e6Ro1yEm74Ng.aspx )

When the song had found its feet, it had aggressively turned the tables. The man who boldly challenged others would himself be boldly challenged. And sometimes political pragmatism would mean that he would not rise to meet that challenge until the actions of those less powerful, even powerless, forced his hand.

Was President Kennedy all I had imagined him to be?

The ode to the penetrating skepticism of a man I had admired since I was a young boy was now poking its thick finger in my chest, looking into my eyes, wondering if I was willing to go where it may lead me.

Its probing disposition had me wondering the same thing.

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The National

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

The National is Canada's premier national news broadcast. We were very honoured that they took an interest our little corner of the world and created a very substantial news item about The Kennedy Suite, which aired last Friday night. They came in to our studio during rehearsal for the Winter garden shows and went out to Scott's school and filmed him at work as well as doing extensive interviews with me, Scott and Andy. It's a terrific piece…, please give it a listen, if you have a few minutes in your day.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV%20Shows/The%20National/ID/2420128719/

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The Kennedy Suite – Trading Joe Pesci for Theseus

Friday, November 15th, 2013

(You can order The Kennedy Suite album now. The debut performance of The Kennedy Suite will be on November 22nd and 23rd at The Winter Garden Theater in Toronto. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)

Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.

Writing The Truth About Us (The Ballad of Lee and Marina) was a cathartic artistic and personal moment. It was a relief to give expression to some of my broken certainties, and I was later thrilled and humbled when the Skydiggers decided to include the song on their 1997 recording Desmond’s Hip City. With the passing of several years, however, I began to realize that I had broken out of one maze to find myself in another. The sense of freedom I had felt initially was replaced by an existential stone on my chest. What was I to do?

Write more.

“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” – Joseph Campbell

This quote eloquently crystallizes one of literature’s great comforts, and in my search for an exit strategy, I latched onto it immediately. If I wanted to avoid becoming Joe Pesci playing David Ferrie in Oliver Stone’s JFK , I had better play Theseus. The Labyrinth is dark, but the path well travelled. I needed to find the end of that thread, slay my Minotaur and follow it out.

Back to the beginning…

I dug out my copy of The Torch Has Passed… and turned again to the series of photos that had so devastated me decades before. I interrogated the images for information, pushing further and further with my imagination. Where was the thread? Pushing to get close. Young and old at Love Field, straining to shake the President’s hand. Opaque reflections framed in horned-rimmed glasses. A child giggling in a rain hat on the shoulders of an unseen parent. Jackie beaming – the recent death of her infant son Patrick lifted from her expression. Red roses. Pink Chanel suit. Fall sunlight glinting off flawless chrome. Straining to pull humanity from still faces. Find the thread. Tight knot on a thin tie. The turn from Houston to Elm. A shot. A shot. Hands to the throat. Mrs. Kennedy’s white glove cups her husband’s jutting elbow. She leans towards him. Questioning. Inches from his puzzled face. Back brace holding him aloft. Upright. In harm’s way…

A police officer rides directly beside Jackie Kennedy. His head turned sharply over his right shoulder. In between the second and third shots, his mind is in transition. Faint smile fades. Jaw clenches. I had found my thread.

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The Kennedy Suite CD – Available NOW!!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

(The Kennedy Suite album is available today. Also make sure to check out the deluxe folder that brother Pete has created. You can check out one of his collages below….. here is a link to the Exclaim review reprinted below.)

by Jason Schneider

9 out of 10

November 22 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and of all the events marking it, none is as unexpectedly poignant as this song cycle created by Toronto poet Scott Garbe, produced by Cowboy Junkies' Michael Timmins along with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers. Who would have thought that a bunch of Canadian indie rockers could encapsulate the ongoing mystique of what happened that day in Dallas so comprehensively? But that's precisely what these 15 tracks accomplish, with various perspectives illustrated by voices that include Sarah Harmer, Jason Collett, Martin Tielli, and the Junkies and 'Diggers themselves, the last of whom revisit the monumental "The Truth About Us," first recorded on 1997's Desmond's Hip City. On paper, the overarching concept might suggest a dour history lesson — or worse, another Oliver Stone conspiracy theory — but from the opening Who-like performance by Hawksley Workman and the Screwed, The Kennedy Suite's drama is rooted in the real hope for change JFK instilled, and how his killing was an act that irrevocably changed North American society — an act not repeated on a similar scale until September 11, 2001. In that sense, Garbe's words are perfectly measured, focusing on intimate encounters with major players such as Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, as well as unnamed JFK admirers and hospital workers. It adds up to an audacious statement that musically conjures memories of '90s CanRock glory. More significantly, The Kennedy Suite is a highly affecting portrait of a moment in time whose lingering effects still cast a long shadow.

The Cowboy Junkies Kennedy Suite can be ordered from Maple Music. The Cowboy Junkies and their friends are performing two shows at Toronto’s Winter Garden theatre on November 22nd (sold out) and 23rd. If you’re in the area, it’s not to be missed. Tickets can be bought from Massey Hall.

take heart

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The Truth About Us – Trading Perry Mason for Lewis and Clark

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

(We will be releasing The Kennedy Suite on Latent Recordings on November 12th. You can now pre-order the CD and Deluxe Package. The debut performance of The Kennedy Suite will be on November 22nd and 23rd at The Winter Garden Theater in Toronto. Please visit  Facebook page)

Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then.

****

Sandy was my Yearbook Sales Representative. Gleaming nails, a clatter of silver bracelets & bangles, and foundation make-up that shimmered on her face like condensation on a window pain. But her humour was every bit as sincere as her appearance was superficial. Hair of platinum, heart of gold. And when I told her that there was one place I was compelled to visit while I was in the city, she generously agreed to take me. My guess was that Sandy would have been 10-12 years old at the time of Kennedy’s assassination, yet she didn’t speak about her experience. In fact, though a Dallas native, her visit to Dealey Plaza with me would be her first. When the President and the First Lady had rolled through town that bright November morning, some students made welcome signs and lined the motorcade route to enthusiastically wave hello, others had teachers who steadfastly refused to release them and at least one, as described in William Manchester’s book Death of a President, did nothing to quell the rousing cheers that filled her classroom when the death of the President was announced. What was Sandy’s experience? She wasn’t volunteering, and I wasn’t about to intrude. I was a tourist, both in a physical and emotional sense. I had been impacted by an event that I had to wrestle with through my imagination. She had lived the moment, and it contained no poetry. It had come and gone without epiphany. But as I said in my previous entry, after visiting the Sixth Floor Museum and walking the grounds of Dealey Plaza, Lee Oswald had imposed himself as a presence. He tagged along during the remainder of my yearbook training. He carefully unfolded the wax paper around his sandwich as Sandy and I ate lunch in the publishing company’s cafeteria. After Sandy and I had parted ways, he sat tight-lipped beside me on the plane back to Monterrey. He lounged in the back of the taxi that took me to my apartment from the airport. And he calmly sipped a soda, inscrutable, as I finally had time to take a long, inquiring look into his eyes. Did he or didn’t he? Lee wasn’t saying. His brother Robert had tried to discern an answer in the same manner when he visited with him in the Dallas County Jail after his arrest. Noting his probing stare Lee responded glibly, “Brother, you won’t find anything there.” Meeting that silence forced me to turn a corner. Instead of waiting for an answer, I would explore the question, and that question was not one of culpability, but one of construction. Through his 24 years, Lee Harvey Oswald was a composite, a collage of aliases, fragmented story lines and false starts. What conditions created him? What materials were grafted layer by layer in his manufacture? What was his path? If traced it back, where would it lead? If extrapolated into the future, what would be its trajectory? The Truth About Us (The Ballad of Lee and Marina) is a document of that expedition. When I began writing, Lee had been looking over my shoulder. By the time I put down my pen, he was gone. I haven’t seen him since.

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(Here is The Truth About Us off of The Kennedy Suite sung by Andy Maize of Skydiggers)

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The Kennedy Suite – pre-order

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

The pre-order for The Kennedy Suite is now officially on. The album won't be in stores in Canada until November 12th and as of right now we don't have a release date for the album anywhere outside of Canada, we are still wrestling with what to do with it…so jump on-board and order from us directly.

As of now it is only available as a CD and in multi-digital formats. We also have a limited edition deluxe package, that we are only offering through the website, which includes 14 collages created by brother Pete each inspired by the lyrical content of The Kennedy Suite, printed on high quality 100lb, Lynx gloss paper, suitable for framing.

Also, if you place an order through our website before November 12th you will immediately get a digital download of Scott Garbe's demo for The Kennedy Suite which played a vital part in the making of The Kennedy Suite.

And don't forget the premier of The Kennedy Suite stage show on November 22 and 23 at The Winter Garden Theater in Toronto…we hope you can make it.

Enjoy the new music and thanks again for listening.

Bullet For You

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Lee Arrives Unannounced in Mexico – by Scott Garbe

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

(Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then)

Barging in” was a common method of arrival for Lee Oswald throughout his brief life. Whether it was confronting U.S officials in Moscow on Halloween 1959 with his wish to renounce his citizenship and remain in Russia or the fatal imposition of his will from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository in November of 1963, you never saw him coming; he simply appeared at your elbow.

My experience was no different.

It had been years since an encounter with a series of JFK assassination photos had left me with a palpable sense of vulnerability as a young boy. I was now a teacher, immersed in my first assignment teaching English at a dynamic international school in Monterrey, Mexico. In the interim, books, films and documentaries exploring innumerable JFK conspiracy theories had flooded the market, assailing the credibility of the Warren Report until its single bullet theory became the Magic Bullet Theory – a cultural/historical punch line.

In between lesson plans and theatrical productions I consumed what I could, but the notion of giving artistic expression to that initial loss of innocence and the layers of information acquired since would only begin to formulate itself when an additional assignment arrived on my desk. I was asked to take on the publication of our school’s yearbook, and my training would require me to travel to Dallas, Texas.

It was an incredible experience to find myself in the physical location that had occupied such a profoundly formative place in my imagination. Standing on the infamous grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza, moving quietly behind its picket fence, walking the wooden floor of the warehouse where Lee Oswald had methodically constructed his nest of cardboard boxes in preparation for the President’s arrival, and finally looking down from the sixth floor window with my own eyes – the compact geography and humanity that had been missing in my experience of the event settled on me.

I had understood that the historic ramifications of President Kennedy’s assassination were epic in their sweep, but I had not appreciated the intimacy of the violence that had taken place, the intrusive cruelty that occurred as one human being reached for the life of another – and took it. In that moment, I also came to understand how the power of that violation, caught second-hand in a photograph, could lay hold of a young boy’s sense of security – and break it.

And there at my elbow, unannounced, was Lee Oswald.

He had barged in, and the journey that was to become The Kennedy Suite had begun.

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Origins – by Scott Garbe

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

(Scott Garbe is the writer of The Kennedy Suite. He will be posting a series of blogs about the writing of the Suite, it is a fascinating journey and definitely worth following along…make sure that you check back in every now and then)

Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever. It must have been shattering, stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it.”

  • Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

When I think about the origins of The Kennedy Suite it really began when I was in the third grade. I didn’t start writing the songs at that time, of course, I had a formative experience that was to change my perception of the world.

President Kennedy was a hero in our home. The image attached here is of a vinyl record of his most famous speeches that used to lean against our family’s old cabinet stereo in perpetual view. Maybe your family had the same record.

Even at a young age, I was struck by JFK’s beautiful family and the ideas he had left for the world to consider, the stories of his courage during the Second World War (PT 109), of his longing to reach the moon, of his love for poetry. In a sense, I had all the romantic notions of President Kennedy as a young boy that many citizens of the world must have had in the early sixties, that of a man of great dreams and grace – almost invincible.

In the fall of that third-grade year, I was digging through my parents' bookshelf when I came across a commemorative book published by the Associated Press entitled The Torch Has Passed… Unsuspecting, I flipped through to a sequence of pictures of the assassination in Dallas. I hadn’t known the President had been murdered. In a double page fold of stark, black and white photos I saw for the first time that the world was not what I thought it was. It was a dangerous, frightening place where no one was safe, not even Presidents.

Especially striking was an image taken shortly after the shooting. Kennedy had fallen forward, unconscious, onto the floor of his limousine. The life of the bold leader of the New Frontier had been ruthlessly taken before my eyes – Secret Service Agent Clint Hill’s foot dangling hopelessly over the rear side of the car in a desperate attempt to steady himself as the Presidential party rushed in a violent blur to Parkland Hospital.

That’s when I realized, for the first time, that I wouldn’t go on forever.

And that’s why I had to write these songs.

Talk to you soon,

Scott

jfk-death-2

Kennedy LP Photo

 

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The Kennedy Suite: An Introduction

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

by Michael Timmins:

When I was eleven years old my older brother John arrived home with the album Jesus Christ Superstar under his arms. I still have a memory of him walking in to the kitchen and pulling it out of the bag and announcing it's arrival. I must have listened to that album a hundred times and to this day I can still sing every song (which is saying something because I can't even remember the words to my own songs).

Ours was a Roman Catholic household and although we weren't very strict Catholics we still attended Mass on Sundays and had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the church at an early age by the nuns that were our grade school teachers. At first I was shocked by the album title, the idea that someone could meld the words Jesus Christ and Superstar was outrageous, approaching blasphemy, was tempting the wrath of God and his mighty lightning bolt (I got God and Zeus mixed up a lot back then). And then I was hooked in by the songs, the word play and melodies. But ultimately I kept delving deeper into the album because I was intrigued by how this piece of music took the iconic event of our civilization (the crucifixion) and the main players (Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles) and humanized them. Jesus became a young man fueled by a cause, but also blinded by ego and filled with doubt; Mary, who had been marginalized in the Bible teachings, became a confidant, a source of comfort and an important part of Jesus' inner circle; Judas, who had personified the word “treachery”, became another young man conflicted by doubt and driven by confusion; Herod was shown to be the psychotic sociopath that he probably was; and even the ultimate evil-doer, Pontius Pilate, had a slightly more humane and shaded light shone upon him. In other words all of the people in this great passion play became human, they were not the good vs evil, black vs white cardboard cutouts that I had been taught. This may not seem to be that revolutionary in 2013, but in 1971, inside the mind of an eleven year old, in a Roman Catholic household in Montreal, Quebec it was pretty mind expanding. I was hooked….and by the way, the band on the album was rockin'. 

When I was first handed the demo for Scott Garbe's The Kennedy Suite, I had some of the same reactions. At first I was intrigued by the title and premise: the idea that someone would attempt to write a song cycle around one of the most iconic events of the 20th century. And once I began to listen I was struck by the intelligence of the lyrics, the way they blend and blur history and fiction, the way they play upon some of the mysteries and controversies surrounding the event, the way they easily bounce from the macabre to the enlightened, from black humour to empathy and pathos. And eventually what kept me hooked was the humanity of the whole thing. The way the songs took this catastrophe, an event that has been twisted and poked and prodded and until it has lost all sense of the actual horror and suffering that it entailed and scaled it back down to a simple human tragedy. The assassination and subsequent funeral may have been played out in front of the entire world, but ultimately it is about loss and grief and the horrible randomness of colliding worlds.

The Kennedy Suite is filled with acute insights into the human condition, black humour, profanity, moments of pure empathy, historical details, cultural references and self-referential asides.  Each song is written from the perspective of someone, real or imagined, that had a connection to the events of Dealey Plaza on Nov 22, 1963. JFK, RFK, Jackie, Ruby and Oswald are all represented as are; three sisters giddy with anticipation for the Kennedys’ arrival at Love Field; a motorcycle cop riding in the motorcade determined to protect the Presidential couple to make up for his own failure to save his own family; a police detective assigned to escort the suspect Oswald but caught up in a delusional reverie about his Senior Prom and many other assorted characters. In order to do justice to Scott's vision we decided to call on a number of our friends and collaborators in the Canadian music scene. The Junkies along with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers) took Scotts demos and recorded our own versions. We then invited more friends to join us and to add their voices and talents. Margo took on the role of Jackie Kennedy on board Air Force One returning from Dallas with her husbands body; Jason Collett is JFK singing from the horse drawn caisson making its way through the streets of DC to Arlington cemetery; Bruce Good does his turn as a profane and nasty Jack Ruby sitting in his club and contemplating killing Oswald; and Sarah Harmer performs a delicate, yet searing epilogue to the Suite. Many others joined us as well, including Hawksley Workman, Doug Paisley, Martin Tielli, Jessy Bell Smith, The Screwed, Harlan Pepper, Lee Harvey Osmond, The Potion Kings and Ivy Mairi.

The Kennedy Suite is an examination of a world changing event and the human toll that the assassination exacted. It is also a cutting look at our present day culture and times: it holds up a mirror to the circumstances, people and events of November 22, 1963 and reflects back a strikingly recognizable image, half a century later.

*****

Here is a taste….Jackie Kennedy (as imagined by the writer) sitting on Air Force One, heading back to Washington with the body of her husband, still wearing her blood-splattered clothes so that the world could see “what they have done to Jack”, wracked with survivors guilt and suddenly struck by the horrible realization that maybe the bullet wasn't meant for him, but for her.

 

 

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