Saturday, July 9, 2016

I Don't Eat Animals, And They Don't Eat Me

I don’t eat meat these days. And I don’t eat fish. In theory I could call myself a “vegetarian.” I don’t, often. That’s mostly because I only just started doing these things, or not doing these things, recently. So, especially compared to many people I know who have been vegetarians all their lives, it feels sort of presumptuous. I prefer to tell people simply that I don’t eat meat or fish, or that I’m “on a vegetarian diet.” This puzzles people of course. But I was not put on this earth to settle peoples’ minds.

Sometimes people ask me why. Not often. And it tends to annoy me. I’m not sure why. I think it’s just because it’s difficult to explain without getting on a soapbox. “I decided that I don’t like eating corpses” does in a pinch, but then people just think (correctly, undoubtedly) that I’m demented.

Then there a people that don’t ask me why. That tends to annoy me too. Like Hey! I’m making a statement here! Don’t you even care?

But I am having great time. I now have 8 vegetarian and vegan cook books, with names like The Vegetarian Cookbook (great title, that), The Accidental Vegan (Ouch! Are you ok? I think so, but now I’m a vegan!), and The Part-Time Vegetarian (though, as my intrepid daughter pointed out, the last named could have meat recipes and still be accurately titled). I make recipes with tofu and miso and broccollini. I make quinoa salad and lentil burgers and salad with cashews and capers and poppy seeds. I make things that my kids will never eat.

Oh, kids, right. I still have these kids around. I have a tendency to feed them too. And I decided that it wouldn’t be fair suddenly to deprive them of the meat and bones and gore (did I say that out loud?) that they’re so used to. So I still cook chicken for them Friday night, and the odd hot dogs, though doing so actually violates all the principals I’m trying to stand up for here. But eventually they’ll all move out and I’ll clean up my kitchen for real.

So no, I don’t miss eating meat. And no, not eating meat does not make me tired. And yes, I do miss eating fish, a bit. And yes, it takes more effort to plan meals. And yes, I get funny looks. And yes, people think I am senile.

And yes, I’m hungry all the time. But I’ve always been hungry all the time.

And remember, chips are TOTALLY vegetarian...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Life In 100 Songs: Song #77 - Diamonds And Rust

The unwashed phenomenon
The original vagabond

It is a truism that you either get Bob Dylan or you don’t. The fact that it is a truism does not mean that it is not true. It is true. But more, you either get those who don’t get Dylan or you don’t. The Bootleg Series, vol 1 – 3 was released in 1989. There was a song called Moonshiner. The liner notes proclaimed that this ought to still all those voices who claimed that Dylan couldn’t sing. "...If anyone should dare question Bob's ability as a singer, play them [sic] this track." I don’t know. To me it sounded like everything about it exemplified exactly why the “not getting Dylan” crowd said he couldn’t sing.

John J was my classmate in law school and he was a Dylan fan. John J was one of those short-hair types, probably voted conservative. But he was a Dylan fan and the owner of some interesting bootlegs. And John J let me listen to those bootlegs, because Dylan fans stick together, even when their political agendas clash.

It was about that time that Shot Of Love was released, and neither one of us having been enamoured with Dylan’s pin-headed expressions of Christian faith, we were both somewhat relieved to note that at least some of the tracks had secular themes. He lent me his copy of that too.

I got my first Dylan bootleg in Toronto in 1979. It had a plain white cover and with a piece of paper under the shrink wrap, with fake song titles, and the artist's last name was "Dillon.". I guess that gave it away. I remember that it listed a song as “Masking Tape.” That was the Carnegie Hall bootleg; all but one of the tracks had never (then) been officially released.

Later I went to a record collectors’ convention and I got what I thought was the Albert Hall bootleg. It wasn’t; it was a live recording of Dylan’s UK concert from 1965, one year too early. Still, a Dylan bootleg was a Dylan bootleg, and I owned it.

I did finally get the Albert Hall album. This was before it became legally and commercially available. I got it at Into The Music, the last real reliable source of used LPs in Winnipeg before I left. Now, of course, you can buy it, it’s called The Bootleg Series vol 4, and the fun is gone.

The whole Bootleg Series thing started just a few years after Biograph, which started the ball rolling really. Biograph was a self-contradictory mix, a greatest hits package which would appeal to newbies, with previously unreleased tracks that would appeal only to seasoned fans. It was the first appearance of I’ll Keep It With Mine, recorded c. 1964, and Abandoned Love, recorded for Desire and shelved. We knew that Dylan didn’t release all his good stuff, but this was incendiary.

And so came the legal bootlegs: the Rolling Thunder Review concert from Montreal, A Philharmonic Hall concert from 1964, outtakes from Self Portrait, outtakes from the mid-60s, demos, rehearsals, studio talk. It goes from revelatory to incestuous.

And all that past parallels an increasingly demented present, as Dylan records an unironic Christmas album, a radio show, a standards album, and who knows what next. I lost track after Oh Mercy.

So there are those of us who claim to get Dylan and those of us who don’t. And Dylan himself has dedicated his entire career to turning everyone into someone who doesn’t get him. And I think that he has succeeded...

You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Life In 100 Songs: Song 67 - Fish And Whistle By John Prine

I been thinking lately ‘bout the people I meet
the carwash on the corner and the hole on the street

The people I meet talk about Netflix. Or else they talk about their overseas vacations, with emphasis on package tours, hotels, costs, and food. We meet in restaurants and order dinner, beer, wine, and coffee. We meet in groups that talk about books or current events. But Netflix rules.

The carwash on the corner is attached to a gas station whose prices fluctuate every day. I am imagining a world where all the prices do this, where you never know how much change to bring to the store because the price of milk is so volatile, where a basket full of groceries could cost you $100 this week and $175 next week, and $85 the week after. But I’m also imaging a world where oil companies are made to act responsibly, and the corruption of the gas price game is seen for what it is. While I’m at it, I’m imagining a world where banks can’t charge 20% on credit card balances and insurance companies have to pay for medical procedures whether they want to or not. And imagine what might happen if someone woke up and realized the implications of a financial world that’s based on speculation, fear, and panic.

The way my ankles hurt with shoes on my feet

I take off my shoes in the morning. I do this at work, while I sit at my desk, usually with my feet tucked under me. I am short enough to do this, which is one advantage to my lack of height. The other advantage is fuel efficiency.

And I wonder if I’m gonna see tomorrow

Tomorrow will take care of itself whether I see it or not. Meanwhile, I need to worry about my blood pressure, so I need to make an appointment with my cardiologist, because I’m lucky enough to have one, and he will yell at me for taking so long to get back to him, and for sure he will scold me for not buying a monitor, and all that yelling is really bad for my blood pressure, so I probably shouldn’t go...

Father forgive us for what we must do

Yes. Forgive us. Sometimes we cross when the light says don’t cross. Sometimes we sneak a peek at Facebook during work hours. Sometimes we eat food with trans-fats. We shop at Wal-Mart. We eat meat and eggs which supports factory farms which promotes cruelty to animals and the brutalization of the people that work there. Forgive us.

You forgive us, we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ‘till we both turn blue

We’ll forgive you for creating banks and insurance companies. We’ll forgive you for the bone-headed city engineers that don’t know how to co-ordinate traffic lights, which encourages people to run red lights and to cross when it isn’t safe. We’ll forgive you for creating food that tastes good and makes us unhealthy. We’ll forgive you for cancer and murder and terrorism and death.

And we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven

I’ll pass on the fishing, and even on the whistling. Give me all the music I want, and give me coffee, and give me some really good pastry with no trans-fats, and something good to read, and give me the ability to read and listen to music at the same time. And I’ll be happy for all eternity.

I was in the army but I never dug a trench
I used to bust my knuckles on a monkey wrench

We guys have all these expectations thrust upon us. I couldn’t use a monkey wrench either, nor barely a pair of pliers or a screwdriver or a hammer. I’d hire someone. I do my building with words.

I’d go to town and drink
Give the girls a pinch
But I don’t think they ever even noticed me

I wasn’t in the army but I was in school, and we weren’t drinking much then, but for sure the girls didn’t notice me. If I pinched them they’d slug me. Or worse, they’d just whine “stop it!” real loud.

Fish and whistle, whistle and fish
Eat everything that they put on your dish

Giving up meat, fish eventually. Buying free range eggs. I no longer want to eat eggs from chickens who have their beaks ripped off to prevent them from killing each other because of stress caused by lack of space which is necessary to reach an economy of scale.

And when we get through
We’ll make a big wish
That we never have to do this again,

Sometimes (often) I wonder where my years have gone, and yes it’s a cliché, but being a cliché doesn’t make it untrue. But it also doesn’t mean that I’d go back and do any of it again...

On my very first job I said ‘thank you’ and ‘please’
They made me scrub a parking lot down on my knees
Then I got fired for being scared of bees
And they only give me 50 cents an hour

On my very first job I had to account for my time by results, and I got a bonus if my results exceeded the hourly expectation, but the bonus did not double the pay for double the results, so that left me having to play games. It was an auspicious beginning.
And being scared of bees was the only thing I didn’t get fired for...

Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us, we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ‘till we both turn blue
And we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven
we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven
we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven...

We'll whistle and go fishing in heaven...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

10 Ways To Improve The Quality Of Your Life (for non-materialists only)

  1. Get a library card and use it
  2. Find a place that has a pleasant ambience, outdoor tables in summer, good pastry, and good coffee. Go there, order said refreshments, find a comfortable table, pull out the book that you got at the library, and make yourself at home. If weather permits, find an outside table and sit there.  Do this as often as you can, particularly when there is much to do at home.
  3. Listen to music that is sublime and well-respected, like John Coltrane, The Beatles, and Gustav Mahler symphonies recorded by Leonard Bernstein.
  4. Listen to music that is corny and despised, like The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits, John Denver, Donovan, and Gustav Mahler symphonies recorded by Leonard Bernstein.
  5. Feel free to dance to said music, anytime and anywhere, with the possible exception of funerals and religious services, but especially in public places like bus shelters.
  6. Live in a big city, and walk a lot.
  7. Get into the reality of the weather; don’t keep wishing it were different.
  8. Eat pecan buns.
  9. Cook, especially vegetarian recipes, like lentil burgers, chick pea stew, and black eyed pea soup.
  10. Drink soy milk
  11. Create your own daily routine, and if people laugh at you because you have your coffee at 9:30 every day, screw ‘em.
  12. Promise 10 things, and deliver 12. Accuracy is overrated

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Last Word On The Charter

My girls attend a school called Beth Jacob. It’s a private Jewish girls’ school. Every year they do a musical, and every year I am barred from attending the performance because I am male. This bothers me. I do not understand the “religious” reason they use to justify this and I don’t care what it is.

I’ve heard that Hatzalah, the Jewish paramedical organization, does not permit women to join as paramedics. This bothers me. I do not know whether they use a “religious” reason to justify this nor do I care.

I know for a fact that in certain Hassidic communities, women are not allowed to drive. I also know that in Haredi communities generally, women do not have the same career opportunities as men, though, to be honest, the opportunities for both men and women are limited, as secular college  / university is considered out of bounds. All of this bothers me.

I do not speak here of gender separation, nor of gender differences in the context of religious services. That’s a whole other discussion. We leave that for another day.

I now quote from the preamble of the English version (surprised that there is one? So am I) of the Parti Quebecois’ Charter of Values:

The purpose of this bill is to establish a Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men…

Later on it says:

…obligations are set out for personnel members of public bodies in the exercise of their functions, including a duty to remain neutral and exercise reserve in religious matters by, among other things, complying with the restriction on wearing religious objects that overtly indicate a religious affiliation.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the charter, about its discriminatory attitude, and about its divisiveness. The response seems to be:

  1.        Gender equality is already entrenched in Quebec law
  2.        The “religious symbols” provision is an instance of unjustifiable discrimination, and contrary to Quebec’s values, and the values of western society as a whole.

But let’s do a little bit of thinking here and see if we can come up with a way to make sense of this. I mean, we know that discrimination is bad. Despite the untold numbers of people among us who continue to practice it, nobody seriously argues in its favour. And yet, religious groups (I cite Jews as an example because that’s the group I belong to and that’s what I know best, but other groups have their own issues) seem to do it with impunity.

So maybe, just maybe, the PQ has a problem with groups that practice gender discrimination, and maybe that’s why they don’t want people advertising their allegiance to such groups on their turf. And I’m not sure I totally blame them.

If that’s the case, then I’d say that Marois and her useless band of lowlifes actually have a case. And if so, then I wish they’d be honest, say what they mean, discuss the problem openly, and let’s find a solution we can all live with. Taking a heavy-handed approach to anyone who wears a kipa or a hijab or a crucifix or a shtreimel for that matter will make the situation worse, not better. Discrimination can’t be fought with more discrimination. But it ought to be fought. Marois knows this. But if she were smart, she’d find a better way to do it. I don’t think she’s very smart.

There is, of course, also the reality that not all religious groups are equal. And not all adherents to any one group agree with every value of the group. There’s much that needs to be discussed, but nobody is discussing it, because the (now defunct) government is hiding behind the façade of “neutrality” and “secularism,” neither of which is an accurate description of the real issue.

So let’s be honest...

And I think next year I’ll make an issue out of that musical. BJ, you’ve been warned... 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Long And Winding Road To Nowhere,,,

So today is February 9, and it’s the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan, and I may have watched it, and if not I saw the one the week after or two weeks after. I remember, seriously. I was 7. But all that talk has got me thinking not of the beginning of their career, but of the end. That’s the way I am.

The Beatles recorded most of what would become Let It Be in January of 1969. It was a fiasco, and in the end they were left with tapes featuring hundreds of hours of musical chaos that nobody wanted to touch.
A few months later they got back together and recorded what would become Abbey Road. This was released in the fall of 1969 and took its rightful place in the canon of Beatles masterworks.

In January of 1970, George Harrison went back to the studio to put some finishing touches on one of the songs recorded the previous year. Then the whole mess was given over to Phil Spector to sort out and render presentable. This is an over-simplification of a complicated history. There was a promo version of the soon-to-be-released album, called Get Back, which I heard on the radio as a “CFRW Exclusive,” and which had the pre-Spectorized versions of some of the songs, but what ultimately hit the stores was an album called Let It Be, named for the song that became the first (of two) hit singles from the LP, though the single version was somewhat different from the album version. (That’s important; if you don’t know why, you probably shouldn't be reading this.)

The album came packed in a box, with a big book, which accompanied the film, also called Let It Be, that was released to cinemas at the same time as the LP, but by the time I got around to buying the album, which was in August of 1970, not a single copy of the book version was to be had, and I had to settle for the LP, sans book, but with a red apple label. (The film didn't do very well, and it’s on YouTube if you’re curious. I was.)

It was the last Beatles album. I emphasize that because I've read so many latter day discographies that put Let It Be before Abbey Road. They do this, presumably, because the tracks for Let it Be were recorded earlier than the tracks for Abbey Road. This may be so, but that doesn't make Abbey Road the last Beatles album, the poetic correctness of ending that album with The End notwithstanding.

Abbey Road was well ingrained in our minds before Let It Be made its public appearance, the neural pathways of our brains permanently altered by the bang bang of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. This is important information for all the no-brains who insist that Let It Be came before Abbey Road.

But the most important part of this story is that I bought the album in Minneapolis. I was 13. My hair was short, much shorter than I wanted it to be. It did not feel right to be buying a Beatle album with such short hair, but there was nothing to be done about that. I had to buy it anyway, and I scoured the downtown area for a copy with the book, unsuccessfully. I bought the copy without the book, with the red Apple label. I was familiar with most of the songs from the CFRW exclusive, which I had surreptitiously taped on my Sanyo portable cassette recorder, but they had not played Dig It, Maggie Mae, One After 909, Across The Universe, or Two Of Us, though I had heard Two Of Us on the promo that the featured on Ed Sullivan earlier in the year, the last such appearance of the group on the show, on which Paul looked as if he hadn’t slept (or washed his hair) for a month.

I want to know who’s playing bass.

And The Long And Winding Road, which became The Beatles’ final hit single, sounded quite different from the version I’d heard, having all those strings and angelic voices added by Maestro Spector. Paul was, reportedly, incensed. Paul, though, not surprisingly, has had the last laugh. He has redone the song, changing the arrangement each time, and never quite scaling it back down to basics, on Wings Over America, Give My Regards To Broad Street, Tripping The Live Fantastic, Good Evening New York City, and Back In The USA, just in case we didn't get the point.

And then there was Let It Be Naked, consisting of remastered takes of the tracks from Let It Be, at the behest of Sir Paul, without M. Spector’s overdubs, released in 2003, and which seemed to take the world not exactly by storm.

If you want to hear The Long And Winding Road the way I heard it back in early 1970 coming from the promo copy of Get Back on the radio, listen to the version on Anthology 3; that’s it.  

So let’s hear it for Let It Be, the last Beatles album...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One Apostrophe More Or Less...

I have this CD by Matthew’s Southern Comfort [sic] called The Essential Collection. It wouldn’t do to have called it Greatest Hits, because the group (actually called Matthews Southern Comfort) didn’t have all that many hits – one, in fact, if by “hit” we mean a song that did better than number 96 on Billboard. If we are more liberal, then the group can be said to have had three “hits.” So their greatest hits would have made for a very paltry collection indeed, especially given the fact the “greatest” is presumably a selection from a bigger selection, which I don’t know how you’d manage to do with only 3 tracks to begin with.

So The Essential Collection it is, and here is where it gets interesting. The selections are taken from 3 albums, released in 1969 / 1970, and this is a bit odd because the group only released 2 albums. The 3rd, which was actually the 1st (confusing, see?) was a solo LP by Ian Matthews, called Matthews’ Southern Comfort. Good title, so good that he adopted it for his band (minus the apostrophe – though Whitburn included it), a six-piece unit which went on to record, as I said, 2 albums, one called Second Spring and one called Later That Same Year, the latter of which yielded Woodstock, the one real hit, and both of the other chart singles, which were, in case you are curious, and even if you aren’t, Tell Me Why, a cover of Neil Young’s song from After The Goldrush, and Mare, Take Me Home.

Another interesting point is that whoever put this collection together didn’t seem to have listened to it. The liner notes make several reference to this being “country rock,” which it decidedly isn’t – acoustic, yes; folky, yes; country, no.

And being the odd type of person that I am, I do this thing where I like to post YouTube videos of music I’ve been listening to on Facebook (no, not listening to on Facebook – go ahead, you reframe that sentence). And what I found in my quest to find some suitable postable content by MSC was this: 1. There are, altogether, not many songs by MSC on YouTube; 2. Most of the songs posted are not on The Essential Collection, and this makes me wonder how Essential the collection really is; 3. There are no live videos from the original group; 4. There are live performances from 2011, some in someone’s living room, and some in some concert hall somewhere, by group calling itself Matthews Southern Comfort, which patently and obviously is not Matthews Southern Comfort, having only 3 members (the original group had 6), one of whom is female (there were no girls in the group), and none of whom is Ian Matthews. Now it could be, possibly, that one or both of these guys were at one time in the original band, but so what? Imagine Ringo Starr picking up a kazoo player and the two of them touring as The Beatles; 5. There are more videos of Woodstock than of all the other songs together.

None of this is bad, I say. Their music is nice to listen to in the same way the Joan Baez’ early stuff is nice to listen to, well played, easy on the ear, not especially engaging. But there are exceptions, and if you’re going to post something, I suggest you start with their cover of James Taylor’s Something In The Way She Moves…