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Loss

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Image by Tabercil on Wikimedia CommonsA sad evening last night…

Way back in the mists of time (actually somewhat earlier this year!) it was announced that the ‘Legendary Gordon Lightfoot’ would be coming to Victoria this fall for a couple of concerts at the McPherson Playhouse.

Wikipedia says of the great man:

“Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music, and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.”

Now – it is probably fair to say that for many of us who hail from the UK (and elsewhere ‘abroad’) familiarity with both Mr Lightfoot himself and with his oeuvre are somewhat limited. The name I knew, of course, but I could not bring to mind any of his classic songs.

For the Kickass Canada Girl, however, it was a different matter. She grew up on Mr Lightfoot, and his compositions – as for so many Canadians – were woven into the tapestry of her upbringing. Not a second was wasted, therefore, in placing an order for two tickets for the aforementioned show, so that she might revisit old favourites and stir some memories in the process, whilst introducing me to something that I had previously missed.

So where – the gentle reader will doubtless be wondering – does the sadness come in? Well – the Girl and I did something that we virtually never do: we left at the interval!

Mr Lightfoot used to have a beautiful rich haunting baritone voice but sadly – on last night’s evidence at least – it is no more. In a form in which the words are pretty much everything, the strained croak with which we were greeted at the McPherson yesterday struggled to render many of the lyrics intelligible. In addition, Mr Lightfoot’s four-piece band were obviously under instruction not to provide too much competition and were dialed back almost to comatose. Given that none of them provided backing vocals either the man’s voice was left painfully exposed.

Checking his history on the InterWebNet I gather that over the years (Mr Lightfoot is 78!) illness has taken its toll and – though I would be one of the last people to suggest that he should not indulge his love of performing to the many appreciative fans who were clearly willing to overlook such frailties – I can’t help but think that he needs a little help. The Girl and I saw Burt Bacharach some years back at the jazz festival in Perugia. He was 80 at the time and – recognising that his own voice was shot – had surrounded himself with three gorgeous young vocalists (male and female) to handle such ‘chores’ whilst he amused himself (and us!) on the piano. It made for a stunning concert!

In the case of Mr Lightfoot the Girl was – understandably – really quite upset.  When the tenderly preserved memory of something that has played such a key part in one’s life is delivered such a rude awakening it can leave one somewhat shaken.

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My post of yesterday concerning the poignant death of Gord Downie was necessarily brief – because:

– the occasion was just too sad and I could not find words to adequately express the sense of loss…

– because in many ways there is little more to be said…

– because there is much more to be said but there are many considerably more qualified (and way more eloquent) than I to say it…

Canadians doubtless need read no further but for others – particularly those across the ocean in Europe – I sense that it may be important to add something more for the benefit of those wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

I posted this missive on the occasion of the Tragically Hip’s farewell concert last summer, which might give the puzzled reader some insight into why it is that the premature but expected death of a rock singer has so traumatised a nation. That it has indeed done so may be confirmed by watching Canada’s premier – Justin Trudeau – failing to hold back the tears as he pays tribute on national television. “It hurts”, he says. “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it”.

Given the almost total lack of interest in the Tragically Hip outside Canada this may seem somewhat over the top. All I can suggest is that the gentle reader spends ten or fifteen minutes reading some of the many tributes to Downie, in order to gain just some insight into why he was so loved and respected. For example,

‘The place of honor that Mr. Downie occupies in Canada’s national imagination has no parallel in the United States. Imagine Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Michael Stipe combined into one sensitive, oblique poet-philosopher, and you’re getting close. The Tragically Hip’s music “helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”’

As Vozick-Levison suggests, Downie was much more than just a singer. He was a writer – a poet – an occasional actor – a philanthropist – an activist on behalf of indigenous peoples and much, much more…

Above all, perhaps, he was a Canadian.

 

 

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Gord Downie

 

1964 – 2017

 

 

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

 

“First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk,
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life”

 

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Detail from a portrait by Jenny C HallI find myself moved to an unexpected degree by the recent death of that giant of the British theatre – Sir Peter Hall – at the age of 86.

It is a fact of life I suppose that, once one enters one’s autumnal years, the deaths of those with whom one is familiar – whether actually close or not – will have a cumulative and increasing impact. There have been losses over the past few years amongst that small group whom I personally hold to be ‘heroes’ which have been hard to take. Inevitably that number is only going to increase.

Peter Hall was not – for me – directly among that coterie. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I saw few of his many productions and – with rare exceptions – they do not feature in my personal canon of influential experiences. This is not in any way to denigrate the value of his vision, talent or achievement; in such matters opportunity and circumstance set us all on our own particular paths.

It is impossible, however, not to be overwhelmed by his impact and influence on British and international theatre during the post-war years. Consider:

  • he introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett in 1955 with the UK premiere of ‘Waiting for Godot’ when he was only 24.
  • in 1960, at the age of 29, he founded the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, which he ran triumphantly until 1968.
  • he became the director of the National Theatre in 1973 and oversaw its protracted, painful but ultimately successful transfer from the Old Vic into its permanent complex on the South Bank in London.
  • he built an international reputation in theatre, opera, on TV and in film.
  • he was the founding director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2003.
  • he was – throughout his career – a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

The news of Sir Peter’s death stirs a couple of thoughts and memories.

The National Theatre’s new home was opened in 1976 with a production of Howard Brenton’s ‘Weapons of Happiness‘ in the only one of the three theatre spaces then operational. I see from the InterWebNet that it ran for 41 performances – at one of which I was present. I marveled at the still unfinished building and at the wonderful standard of the production. The National was to become a most important venue for me – I have seen many productions there over the years; done the backstage tour more than once; participated in youth theatre workshops in its rehearsal rooms… and met the Girl for our first proper date in the bar outside the Lyttelton Theatre.

I am also a fan of the Rose in Kingston. Having been at school in Kingston and subsequently involved with youth theatre in the surrounding area, I was only to keenly aware of the lack of a theatre of any sort in what is an important centre to the south of London. I am delighted that the Rose now so splendidly fills that gap.

One sadness regarding Sir Peter’s last years was his diagnosis with dementia in 2011. Having observed my mother’s decline over her final years it must have been particularly poignant to witness such an intellect brought so low for so long.

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“Hard times require furious dancing”

Poems by Alice Walker

Sometimes it is difficult to know quite what to write…

There was a relatively brief period – of which my recollections are still very clear – back towards the end of the last century during which it seemed that a corner had been turned and that the world was after all going to become a better place.

The Berlin Wall had fallen and the Iron Curtain had been rent asunder. Apartheid had been consigned to the trashcan of history and there was hope of a long-awaited resolution to the Irish question. Reaganism and Thatcherism had been kicked – if not actually into then certainly in the general direction of – the extremely long grass.

Things could only get better…

Then came the millennium… and we all know what happened next!

The further that recent history descends determinedly into farce the harder it becomes to conceive any rational view of it.

In the UK the tory party – clearly considering its brilliant strategy of holding (and losing) an entirely unnecessary referendum on leaving Europe to be an unqualified success – repeated the exercise by calling (and losing its majority at) an entirely unnecessary election. Seems that the tories – believing that they currently face no viable opposition from other parties – have determined to do the deed themselves and have emptied the barrels of the shotgun into both feet simultaneously.

One might take some pleasure from the unexpectedly reasonable performance (certainly with regard to its recent history) of the UK labour party, were it not for the fact that they seem to be enthusiastically celebrating losing the election by some fifty seats! Strange days indeed!

Then – of course – there is Trump! Trump!! How on earth did the world get from Obama to Trump?!

Of recent terrorist atrocities throughout the world it is also hard to know what more can be said – though it is clearly important to say something if only to reinforce that which we all know already – that this too shall pass. However painful for those directly involved, in retrospect it will become clear that in the grand sweep of world progress these small tragedies will be shown up for what they truly are – utterly meaningless and mindless.

One of the truest things I have read recently concerning these hideous events was penned by Guardian journalist Hugh Muir under the banner “This is a war on joy“:

“There is no obvious or significant ambition to destroy the pillars of the state: the men who use cars and vans as weapons and strike at random with foot-long knives aren’t obviously seeking to obliterate army barracks or police stations or the Bank of England. Theirs is a war not on the foundations of a free society or on our vital infrastructure, but on people enjoying the benefits of a free society. It is, in many ways, a war on joy, motivated by a warped sense of piety.

We go out and dance and drink and eat. To zealots, these things are decadent and trivial. Yet they are in themselves small acts of political symbolism: we go where we like, do what we like, wear what we want, we love whom we choose, because we have a social framework and a political system that largely allows us to do that. If the extremists cannot dismantle the system, or the foundations that underpin it – and they know they cannot – then they seek to strike and terrorise ordinary citizens who benefit from the gaiety it offers and the freedom it brings…

But there is a bigger danger, and it is that we now start to think twice about the things that bring joy – the night in a pub or a music-filled bar or club, the evening of shared experience in a public place, the mass sporting events, the standing-room-only concert halls, the shopping malls, the cinemas, the theatres – the many experiences that give life texture and richness. The risk in those places isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, for they seem to encapsulate everything the murderers hate. But the risk will always be minimal; we are going to have to price it in. How we work, how we play: they are two sides of the same coin. Even at a time as painful as this, the biggest risk is that we let the zealots rob us of what makes us who we are.”

You heard the man… Go out and spread joy!

 

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt was with great sadness that we heard the news over the weekend of the passing of that wonderful British actor – Tim Pigott-Smith.

Still performing on the stage in his seventieth year, Tim Pigott-Smith was amongst the very best of his generation of thespians and was duly awarded an OBE in this year’s New Year Honours for his services to drama. His career encompassed film, TV and stage – with wide screen appearances in films such as ‘The Remains of the Day’, ‘V for Vendetta‘, ‘Clash of the Titans‘ and ‘Quantum of Solace‘, and starring stage roles in (amongst many others) ‘King Lear‘, ‘King Charles III‘, ‘Enron‘ and ‘A Delicate Balance‘.

It was a TV role, however, that was to make him a household name; the part of police superintendent Ronald Merrick in ITV’s 1984 adaption – under the title ‘The Jewel in the Crown‘ – of Paul Scott’s epic quartet of Raj novels. Pigott-Smith deservedly won a BAFTA award for his portrayal of this complex and flawed character, standing out even amongst the glittering array of talent that had been attracted to this vast and ambitious project.

I was certainly far from alone in declaring in 1984 that this be the finest television drama that had yet been made; beautiful filmed and acted, thoughtful adapted and deeply thought provoking to view, complex, stirring and heart-breakingly moving. This was television drama as the highest possible art form. In the three decades since the series’ first showing I have still seen nothing to compare with it.

We were fortunate enough to have met Tim Pigott-Smith on a number of occasions through friends of ours. For once the old adage that one should never meet one’s heroes seemed simply not to apply in his case. He was a complete gentleman, generous with his time and attentions and an excellent conversationalist. There is no question that he will be greatly missed.

I think that it is perhaps time to re-watch “The Jewel in the Crown“…

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I was greatly saddened to hear yesterday of the death (at the grievously early age of 61) of Beau Dick – master carver and hereditary chief from the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.

Beau Dick was the subject of a posting on these pages back in January 2015 – composed before we had even moved to these shores. I make no apology for again referring the gentle reader to that item – which hopefully gives just the slightest hint as to the nature of the man and his craft. We were lucky also to have been able to see some of Beau’s work at the “Box of Treasures” exhibition at the Bill Reid gallery in Vancouver in the September of that year.

Of course, my words could be no substitute for viewing the works themselves, or – in Beau’s case – to hearing him speak of his art and culture. To that end I am including a couple of video clips that should enlighten and delight the novitiate.

(Note: Should you have received this post by email circulation you may not be able to see the embedded video clips. Should that be the case this link will take you to the original post, in which they should render correctly)

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Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

William Ernest Henley

On all too many occasions over the past five years I have found myself eschewing the gentle whimsy with which these meanderings are customarily imbued and instead penning some heartfelt lament for the state of a world in which acts of violence and horror have become almost commonplace. Watching from afar such scenes being played out on streets and in locations that are beyond merely familiar takes on a particular poignancy. My deepest condolences and sympathies to all those who have been affected by this latest atrocity, played out at the gates of the mother of parliaments in London.

I find it impossible to imagine what could possibly go through the mind of someone who could commit such a heinous crime. What I do know is that – should such a creature have any means of rational thought whatsoever – their reasoning could not possibly be that the act that they are about to perpetrate could make the slightest difference to – or to advance in any way at all – whatever cause or belief it is that they espouse.

Put simply, terrorism – the purpose of which is presumably to sew fear in the minds of a population – does not work! Further – I can think of few places (other perhaps than Glasgow!) that it might work less than in London. I had drawn to my attention this morning these two headlines following yesterday’s incident:

You’re not even in our top five worries, Londoners tell extremists

Londoners show defiance by remaining unfriendly and quite impatient

This stoic response should come as little surprise. The gentle reader will recall that during the second world war Blitz some 32,000 lives were lost, 87,000 persons were seriously injured and more than a million properties destroyed or damaged in London alone. What might be less well known is that over the decades since the IRA’s mainland campaign started in the early 1970s London has been subjected to in excess of two hundred different terror assaults.

There is little more to say. Didn’t work then… Won’t work now!

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Image by Alana Elliott on Wikimedia CommonsBefore I came to Canada in 2015 I was entirely unaware of Stuart McLean, or indeed of the much loved weekly CBC Radio show – The Vinyl Café – that he hosted for more than twenty years.

I am absolutely certain that the Kickass Canada Girl – who has long been numbered amongst the humourist and storyteller’s many fans – had for my benefit at some point extolled his virtues long before we crossed the pond for keeps, but I am a bear of advancing years (as well as very little brain) and there has been such a lot to learn (this is called “getting your excuses in early”!).

Once in Canada, of course, and having had the opportunity to experience the show ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak) I rapidly became a convert too. It was therefore deeply saddening to hear the news this week that Stuart had succumbed to the melanoma that he had been battling for more than a year.

I am way too much of a Vinyl Café neophyte to be able to indite anything remotely apposite at this point. I urge the gentle reader instead simply to ‘Google’ “Stuart McLean” and to peruse some of the many tributes to the man. This page of twitter reactions gives a good idea as to just how deeply loved he was.

For myself all I would say is that there was something about his writing and on-air manner that reminded me of how radio used to be when I was growing up in the UK, where my earliest exposure to the outside world came exclusively from the BBC’s ‘Home Service’ (later Radio 4). That’s pretty much as good as it gets in my book.

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Leonard Cohen

1934 – 2016

 

Image from Pixabay

I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?

Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled King composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Well, your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Baby, I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Well, there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do you?

But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Well, maybe there’s a god above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah

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