Category Archives: Music

The Karaoke Cowboy

No pictures of this time period in my life exist so best I can do is a really bad composite I made.
Greg Glazebrook @ GMGPhotography

The Karaoke Cowboy

Every week Fandango over at This, That and the Other posts a provocative question. Everyone is said to get there 15 minutes, Fandango’s question asks us to explore fame and expose our claim on it. This week’s question is…

“What is your claim to fame?”

Back when I attended Lakehead University I would take the train back home. You don’t really get a feel for how big Ontario is until you try and cross it. The trip from Toronto to Thunder Bay, itself the amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur sitting at the western end of Lake Superior, is a 20-hour train ride. That only moves you from two points within Ontario. There is still another ten hours from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border in the west and six from Toronto to the Quebec border in the east. Alaska and Texas are small in comparison to Ontario’s vast geographical area.

As odd as it sounds VIA Rail (Canada’s Amtrak equivalent) did not pass through the City of Thunder Bay. It ran along CN Rail’s northern route through the small logging community of Armstrong situated about 250 km and 3 hours north of Thunder Bay.

Chris Wilson via

At the time, Armstrong was home to about 1300 residents, about 100 more than call it home today. The town had two bars, both nothing more than one-room dives. The first location played classic rock music through an old Jukebox and the other played country and western through a karaoke machine. This was 1993 so Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, and Reba McEntire were filling the airwaves and with the advent of Soundscan to properly track record sales, the genre was seeing a resurgence fueled by young and charismatic artists across North America. My girlfriend and I were listening to “New Country” as it had been dubbed, hitting up local rodeos on weekends and spending nights cutting a rug at the local honky tonks.

Anyway, here we are in this tiny bar, me in my deerskin cowboy boots, blue and black Garth Brooks cowboy shirt and a black ten-gallon hat. Naturally, my girlfriend insisted I go up and sing her a song. She even picks out the Randy Travis’ classic “Diggin’ Up Bones” and me being a fool in love agrees to make an arsehole of myself for all to see. For my efforts, I may have spent some time in the back seat of a fogged-up car before hopping on the train back to Hogtown, but my memory is a bit fuzzy.

So here is this fool on a makeshift stage crooning to the ball boppin’ across the screen of the Karaoke display. The room is full of about 25-30 mostly Aboriginal Canadians from the nearby reservation. When the music finally ends and I set the microphone back on the stand the room erupts into applause, a few so moved they even jump to their feet to give me a standing ovation. Later on, as we were sitting at our table sippin’ on Molson Canadian, the only beer they served, one of the patrons who was clearly three sheets to the wind stopped by our table and insisted I should consider starting a career as a singer/musician, he even suggested he could talk to the owner of the bar to get me a gig for a few nights.

FYI, you will be happy (or at least your ears will) that my singing career has remained largely confined to an empty car or the bathroom shower!!!

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The Suicide of René Lévesque

The Suicide of René Lévesque

Every week Fandango over at This, That and the Other posts a provocative question. This week’s question deals with memory and the things we believed to be true. Although my post does not deal in absolute truths and likely veers from Fandango’s original concept, it does speak to a realization of something I believed would happen but never did. This week’s question is…

“Have you ever been sure that you knew something to be true only to find out that what you thought you knew to be true was, in fact, not true? If so, what was it and how did you find out that it wasn’t true?”

Canada has always been divided along language and religious lines. A legacy left by the British who conquered the French on the plains of Abraham but allowed the French communities to retain their language and customs in Lower Canada, mainly for political reasons back in Europe. The province of Quebec would eventually include most of Lower Canada within its boundary at the time of Canadian confederation in 1867.

Its French heritage has always made Quebec unique within a united Canada, especially when compared to the other nine predominately English-speaking provinces. The most obvious difference is language and this idea of Quebec being a distinct society or a nation much in the same vein as the Aboriginal populations of North America such as the Sioux or Iroquois Nations. The truth is a lot of that rhetoric is a thin veil that the pure laine1 francophone minority holds onto like a security blanket, designed to hide their xenophobic and often racist agenda.

I was only five or six, too young to remember the FLQ crisis in the early 70s but I was certainly old enough to remember the first of two referenda held in Quebec’s deluded attempt to (kind of) separate from Canada. I say kind of because many Quebecers believe the Federal government would continue to financially support an independent Quebec and continue to provide the transfer of tax monies collected to the new nation after succession. Bwahhh ha ha…

The first referendum, spearheaded by the Parti Québécois (PQ) and then Quebec Premier René Lévesque was held in 1980. Lévesque was a stereotypical chain-smoking Québécois who grew up in the Gaspé. Although his father was a prominent lawyer and he did not grow up impoverished, he was raised in a region of Quebec where the French-speaking population was dirt poor compared to the English, most of whom were descendants of British Loyalists who had fled the American Revolution. This would have a profound effect on his life and his politics. Quebec’s national aspirations would be rejected by 60% of Quebecers in that first bid for independence and although Lévesque would not live to see it, the province would hold a second unsuccessful vote in 1995.

My Grandmother was French Canadian born and raised in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the western tip of Île de Montréal. She would marry my Grandfather, an anglophone of English and Irish descent and move to Mississauga, Ontario but she would maintain a deep connection to family in La Belle Province. That first referendum tore her family in two, a line drawn between Nationalist and Federalist allegiances, the wounds not fully healed even to this day.

As a kid, I recall a particular evening at my Grandparent’s house. We were off playing in the kitchen, foyer or den while the adults discussed politics in the living room. Lévesque and the coming referendum dominated the conversation. There may have even been some of the Federalist faction of my Grandmother’s family visiting although my memory is less clear on those facts.

What I do remember is my Grandfather getting very heated and stating rather emphatically that René Lévesque would realize his treachery and in some display of remorse for his actions hang himself. I admit, right up until his death of heart failure in 1987 I fully expected to wake up to the news of Lévesque being found, hanged by his own hand from the rafters of his garage. I know a weird fascination for a kid but the memory of my Grandfather’s words have stuck with me for almost half a century.

As for Lévesque, friends and foes alike remember him as a giant of Canadian/Quebec politics. In my view, he was nothing more than a traitor to the values this country holds dear. Separation for Quebec seems more unlikely today than ever. Immigrants continue to flock to Canada and settle across the country. Many hold deep-seated allegiances to the federal government that provided asylum from whatever horrors they left behind in their native lands. As such they tend to have federalist leanings and as the population dynamic continues to evolve in Quebec federalist voices continue to outweigh the desires of the separatists.

Still, many of the policies born from the early PQ and the separatist movement are present in modern-day Quebec as is evident in Bill 96, yet another attempt to eradicate secondary languages and in particular English from the province and the blatantly racist Bill 21 designed to force public servants to remove all vestiges of personal religious symbolism in provincial workplaces.

Although the bill is written to include the removal of all religious symbolism, and sold to the public as an effort to separate church and state. It is advertised as promoting secularism in provincial institutions, but in reality is an attack on minority groups in the province, especially those who have more outwardly visible religious attire such as turbans or hijabs and will have little effect on the province’s Catholics. Most Christian symbolism such as crosses or crucifixes are normally small or hidden beneath clothing and the line between their religious roots and secular prominence have long since blurred making it less likely to be enforced.

1. The French term pure laine (lit. ’pure wool’ or ‘genuine’, often translated as ‘old stock’ or ‘dyed-in-the-wool’), refers to Québécois people of French-Canadian ancestry, especially those descended from the original settlers of New France who arrived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Citation: Wikipedia.

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Good Music is Good Music

Good Music is Good Music

Every week Fandango over at This, That and the Other posts a provocative question. This week’s question has a musical theme…

What is your favourite music genre? Why is it your favourite? If you have more than one genre that you prefer, what are they?

I listen to just about any genre of music.

My playlists are mostly filled with alternative sounds dating from the 80s to the present. They say someone’s musical path is determined by the beats they listen to from the onset of their teenage years and into their early twenties. For me, that was the sounds of the 80s although there was influence from older cousins and friends who were rooted in the classic rock sounds of the 70s. Depeche Mode, The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, U2 and early REM are some of the seminal bands of my generation that found a place on my turntable, along with other influences like Love and Rockets, Roxy Music, Brian Johnson era AC/DC, and the Madchester sounds of the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses.

As I left college and embark on adult life SoundScan began to change the music scene. Where recorded sales of music were somewhat of a murky business the introduction of the point-of-sale inventory/sales system made it impossible for promoters and music labels to pay off retail outlets to fudge sales for whatever artists they were pushing. In the olden days, the music business could give Hollywood and possibly the mob a run for its money when it comes to being shady.

SoundScan levelled the playing field for Artists. Music sales that had been suppressed began to gain acceptance. Sales numbers could no longer be skewed as accurate barcodes and point-of-sale data collection took over the industry. Artists who were being ripped off now had data to prove it. Backwater sounds like Country and Western benefitted from the change. For years the industry had cannibalized sales from the genre to prop up other acts across other genres. Actual numbers showed that sales were stronger than anyone imagined and where there is money there is investment and marketing and new artists ready to cash in.

As such I found my taste expand through the 90s and artists like Garth Brooks, George Strait and Brooks & Dunn found their way into my 6-disc Pioneer CD player. I even donned cowboy boots and hats and headed out to the local bars to boot scoot and boogie. It wasn’t hard to go there considering the Grunge and Britpop sounds of the early and mid-90s, had run their course and the airways were filled with Top 40 shite from acts like the Spice Girls, Brittney Spears, Mariah Carey and the like. Most of that was an autotune assault on my good senses.

I have always enjoyed Jazz and the Blues and even R&B and early hip/hop. Even today I can listen to acts like Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys and K-os. But Gangsta Rap is an assault on one’s ears. How in a society where we are so willing to cancel someone for an inappropriate comment or a differing opinion, we find it okay for racially charged, misogynistic and downright anti-social music to permeate our airwaves is mind-boggling. My oldest son would disagree with me as he spins the likes of Eminem, Snoop, Post Malone, Dre and other giants of the genre 24/7. I know “spin” is an antiquated term when it comes to music in the streaming era.

Today my alternative tastes have mellowed to a more folksy feel. Vance Joy, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford and Sons fill my playlists but I still often find myself back at my musical roots. The stomping beats of Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode), the gyrating riff of How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths) or the dark overtones of Lullaby (The Cure) will always have a place in my soul.

Isn’t that the beauty of music though? There is something for everyone, a myriad of sounds to tickle the senses. Even my likes and dislikes are not absolute. Ihave dabbled in Big Bands, Rockabilly, Bluegrass, Industrial, Classical, Opera, Metal, Thrash, Punk, Disco, Trance, Ambient, and even thoughtfully written Hip/Hop. On the other side there are Alternative sounds that aren’t worth my ear. I guess the old adage of “good music is good music” rings true. Happy Listening!

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End of the Roll

Back in the day, Bushboy’s Last on the Card challenge may have been called Last on the Roll. Film cameras and the silver halide strips we put in them are pretty much relics from a bygone era. I have a huge collection of both negative and positive (aka slide) film packed away along with two Minolta and one Pentax cameras. The task of converting the volume of film into digital files will be monumental should I ever get around to it.

Today we take pictures from our phones, by the hundreds. All of today’s camera systems take images using a charge-coupled device (CCD). Believe it or not, this terrific device led to Eastman-Kodak’s Steve Sasson inventing the first digital camera in the early 1970s. The images were stored on magnetic cassette and would be available to view on any television screen. When he presented the technology to the company they were less than impressed. Sasson discussed management’s reaction to the invention in a New York Times interview years later:

“They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set. Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so why would anyone want to look at their picture on a television set?”

Kodak was the dominant U.S. photography brand and they didn’t want to cannibalize their own film business. A shortsighted decision that prevented them from filing patents and when they did make the switch to digital eighteen years later it was too little, too late.

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The Tin Man Dreamer

The Tin Man Dreamer

How many times have you heard an artist wax poetic about a song they thought was headed straight to the top of the charts, but never achieve the lofty goals they expected?

I am running a couple of days behind for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday but I say better late than never. So getting to it, Jim at A Unique Title for Me has asked us to explore songs that just missed their climb to the top of the charts, great expectations that ultimately missed the mark. I have chosen to explore two such songs, one from British rockers Supertramp and the second from Country superstar Kenny Chesney.

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The Man Who Stole the Golden Fleece

The Man Who Stole the Golden Fleece

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday, Jim at A Unique Title for Me asks us to explore songs whose lyrics mention or display amazement, astonishment, curiosity, shock, surprise, and/or wonderment.

Once again, I have chosen a song that doesn’t explicitly mention any of the keywords however one would have to agree that the things the protagonist does in the song are all of those keywords personified. Plus, the song is ridiculously fun and the video is a riot, literally!

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are the Ohio duo known as the Black Keys. Their influence on music over the last two decades is immeasurable. From a series of best-selling records to production, recording, and mixing credits for countless other acts.

For today’s song they teamed up with rapper, actor, filmmaker, and record producer Robert Fitzgerald Diggs aka RZA of Wu-tang Clan fame for the track, “The Baddest Man Alive” taken from the soundtrack for the Tarantino film “The Man With the Iron Fists.”

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No Ray of Sunlight’s Ever Lost

No Ray of Sunlight’s Ever Lost

Have you ever experienced that feeling of excitement when you’ve met someone new? All you can do is think about them morning, noon, and night and when you are away you just gotta get back to them.

This week Jim at A Unique Title for Me asks us to explore the primary emotions of excitement, pleasure, sentiment, or spirit for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday. The song I have chosen doesn’t explicitly mention any of the keywords defining this emotion but the singer himself exudes the excitement he feels about getting back to that someone knew he has met.

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Been a Long Time…

Been a Long Time…

A hypothetical conversation between old Rockers in rockers; a typical day at the Association of Retired Rock and Rollers (ARRR) Seniors’ Center.

“The business has changed so much” Plant lamented. “Back in the day, we needed to record start to finish.”

“Could you imagine all the spliced tape if we recorded like they do today?” Jimmy shot back laughing.

“I know, we laid down tracks and layered them on top of each other. The new artist builds loops and mixes it all together in segments on a computer.” John Paul continued, “Shit for some tracks I could pound out six notes on my bass and be done. Let the mixer do the rest.”

“The nuance of a song is lost because every drum beat, every riff, every hook, and every chorus is recorded once and used again and again, reuseable and replaceable across multiple tracks on the same record. Identical in every way. The human element is lost.” Page postulated. “Not to mention the shit that stolen, I mean sampled from other people’s works.”

“What’s worse, auto-tune makes any pretty-faced Frankenstein sound like Fitzgerald. Imagine how pitch-perfect I could have sounded on Stairway. 🎶And she’s buying a…” Plant finished by singing the final line badly out of tune.

“You know what I miss the most, besides John smashing away on drums, jamming together in the studio. Now we can record the parts in our basement studios and email it in. I guess there is one positive though, I never have to see any of your ugly faces!”

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Shameful Desires

Shameful Desires

There are times in our lives we do shameful things for which we feel no remorse. Slinking around in the shadows seeking instant gratification without caring who our actions hurt or the consequences that follow.

This week Jim at A Unique Title for Me asks us to explore the primary emotions of Disgust, Embarrassment, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Shame for this week’s Song Lyric Sunday. The song I have chosen is much more literal than last week’s entry and deals with shame or lack thereof for our actions.

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She Just Looks That Way

She Just Looks That Way

We have all met that person at some point in our life. They appear like a god or goddess and we end up completely enamoured with them, but then something unexpected happens. They open their mouths and your realized they are shallow, materialistic, cruel, and not at all what they appeared to be at first impression. Unfortunately, it’s too late, we are trapped. Stuck in a toxic and often one-sided relationship with no way to get ourselves out.

I’ve missed Song Lyric Sunday the last couple of weeks, but I am back. This week Jim at A Unique Title for Me asks us to feature a song that deals with the concepts of appearance, image, likeness, object, picture, or photograph. While the song I have chosen does not specifically mention any of these terms the song is all about the appearance and image a person projects.

The Northern Pikes are a Canadian rock outfit hailing from the prairie town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The band includes Jay SemkoBryan Potvin, Merl Bryck, and Don Schmid. Although they still perform and record the period from 1987 through 1993 was the band’s heyday with songs like ‘Teenland‘, ‘Things I Do for Money‘, ‘Girl With a Problem‘, ‘Believe‘, and this week’s song choice ‘She Ain’t Pretty‘.

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