You Asked “Why Can’t We All Go Home?”

In presenting Vladímir Putin’s 21st Century equivalent to Khruschev’s “We will bury you.” the CBC last night failed to read Putin’s macho but desperate attempt to show the whole world that no one, not even the US, can come out of  a nuclear war unscathed.

Our CBC only approximated fairness last night. Still the same, implied, refrain meant to be innately picked up by couch potato feelers:

“See? Putin is, as we said, ruthlessly scary etc.” A deliberate misread, in my opinion.

The real NATO threat that has forced Russia’s hand: America’s broken promise not to expand NATO Eastward beyond Germany, made to Eduard Shevardnadze by James Baker in 1990 and illustrated by this brilliantly sarcastic image:

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The answer to a friend’s worthwhile tweet question “Can’t we all just go home and respect others’ need for security?” is, I believe, in Simon and Garfunkel’s “people talking w/o speaking” (the weaponized mainstream media) and, since 2001, largely for profit FBI and CIA: the “Neon god they made.”

Disturbed’s inspired, intensely visual, version of Simon and Garfunkel’s amazingly prescient (so clearly now) The Sound of Silence

And the original by Simon and Garfunkel… with high praise for their poetic insight.

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My Attempt To End War Like Arlo Guthrie

This key statue, called Canada Bereft, confirms Vimy’s sense of “never again” and not of “glory.”

This is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans’ Day in the States. If you’ve never seen the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge, it is an enormous, beautiful, monument that pays tribute to the courage of  the Canadian and allied soldiers who died there 100 years ago in and around deep trenches fighting the Imperial German Army. I visited it in 2009 and took the above photo. Then, it was about “never again.” Now we have politicians using Vimy to glorify Canada’s coming of age. Having “come of age,” Canadian troops are  part of a super-aggressive NATO in – wait for it – Latvia. Latvia, for Pete’s sake! ‘Nuff said here. I digress.

Anyway, this post is about a song I wrote in 1983, when I learned that the Russians  had so many ICBM missiles pointed at them so close that a Russian human could never respond to an American first strike in time to retaliate.

Vulnerable because of this proximity, Russia was forced to develop a computerized “launch on warning” system that would virtually, for them, take the decision out of human hands. Very scary…

The Nuclear Doomsday Clock got to 3 minutes before midnight in 1984.

So, to “save the world” like Arlo Guthrie, I wrote this country blues song called Radiatin’ A-bomb Blues and started contacting publishers. In those days we mailed them cassettes

In 1984 this light-hearted song was pitched by Mark Altman of Morning Music to Doc Watson for his Sugar Hill blues project, but it was heard too late to be considered. I performed it also live on the CBC’s Metro Morning radio program and was interviewed by its host Joe Coté, one of my all-time favourite CBC Radio people.

Then by 1991, the Cold War over, the Doomsday Clock had been moved back to 17 minutes before midnight.

I stopped singing this song, and look whats happened since!

Its now two and one half minutes to midnight, just 30 measly seconds farther than the closest it’s ever been!

So here is my 1983 song, which I sang again on Thursday. I asked the audience to sing the chorus with me and they DID. One of my listeners reminded me that Arlo said “If you want to end war and stuff, you gotta sing LOUD.”

So it would be lovely if, while you’re listening to my song you can sing along as loud on the chorus as you can:

I got the low down, radiation’ A-bomb blues…

Sing anything you want. Just sing, and LOUD…

Here’s Arlo’s Alice’s Restaurant

And Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda is, to me, the finest anti-war song ever written. Have a listen…

 

Lili Marlen 1915-2017 – A 2015 Repost

Photo Credit: Corley Padgett

With Remembrance Day in Canada tomorrow (and the Doomsday Clock at 2.5 seconds to midnight) I’m reposting this famous song with my 2015 words, more faithful to Hans Leip’s 1915 poem:

This video, Lili Marlen 1915-2015,  is my new, and lyrically different, English version of the hugely iconic song, originally recorded in German by Lale Andersen in 1939. Her recording was much loved by soldiers from both sides in World War II and became the sign-off song for Radio Belgrade in German-occupied Yugoslavia.

The song was originally a 1915 poem written by Hans Leip, a teacher who was conscripted into the German Imperial Army. It was set to music in 1938 by Norbert Schultze. It was so loved by soldiers from both sides that Andersen recorded it in English in 1942.  Soldiers relate deeply to this wistful, iconic song.

The version I offer here tries to be faithful to the original German lyric, though I have modified it slightly for poetic and other reasons. It is quite different from Vera Lynn’s English version and, I think, has a better resonance with what Hans Leip originally wrote 100 years ago. This version also tries to completely express a broader set of the subtle complexities associated with precarious, long-distance, wartime relationships.

I didn’t start out to write yet another version of this piece, already done by stars like Vera Lynn and Marlene Dietrich. It just happened. Here’s how…

I sing songs in different languages and just wanted to know the meaning of the German words. A patient in a local hospital sang it for me in German while I accompanied her on the guitar… M’s performance moved me very much and I wanted somehow to honour what she had felt. I had trouble finding a literal translation, and entering it whole left Google Translate, and me, thoroughly confused. After a long time “parsing” each individual word the stuff started to make sense and making it rhyme accidentally became part of the process. Listening to the German performance by Marlene Dietrich was very helpful, as I had not yet found Lale Anderson. Happy with the result, I recorded it and asked Corley Padgett (Flicker: hornedfrog4life) if she would let me use her superb, copyrighted photo as background for the lyrics. Corley immediately agreed to help, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And, speaking of history, 2015 is the 100th Anniversary of the writing of the poem.

Bobcageon Lyrics and Chords

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Watched The Hip’s August 20th, 2016 Kingston concert, rear-projected, live on a beach in Ontario Cottage Country

Worked on this great, upbeat song by Gord Downie. I have been as faithful as I can to the placement of chords over where they should be played in order to duplicate this iconic piece. Red indicates mostly words that were multitonal or timing alerts for the performer. The body of the song can be played to this YouTube version.

I put it together like this to teach it to a large group of folk musicians in a short time.

The intro is simplified. The first four bars of the intro riff are actually the following riff repeated twice:

Am              G                                       Am

[   /  /  /  /    /  /  /  /    /  /  /  /    /  /  /  /        /  /  /  /   /  /  /  /   /  /  /  /   /  /  /  /  X2

You change from Am to G on the seventh beat (blue) of the first bar. Hope the colour helps.

In the strum pattern at the top of the lead sheet, U is up, D is downward, and the dash indicates a beat that is not sounded (a rest). It is a strum pattern that can be used to cover fast calypso or soca pieces.

The Hip is part of my children’s generation, not mine. But, like so many other Canadians last summer, I found myself at a summer cottage with my friend, his daughter and son-in-law on a beach near Perth (not too far from Kingston) on August 20th watching, live, the wonderful concert of The Tragically Hip.

 

Caring for the Soul of Syria

Windows of the Soul, Damascus

I can’t write about Damascus without feeling jasmine climbing upon my fingers…

I can’t utter its name without tasting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, and quince…

Can’t remember it without sensing a thousand doves perched on the wall of my memory, and another one thousand flying…

I am haunted by Damascus even when I am not residing there…

Its ancestors are buried inside me, its neighborhoods intersect above my body…
Its cats love, marry, and leave their kittens with me…

Do not ask for my identity card, I am a hundred percent Damascene, like wheat, plums, and pomegranates. Like brocade, Aghbani and Damasco. Like copper pitchers, and the armoires decorated with mother of pearl; all of which are part of my history and the trousseau of my mother…

A tree of Arabian jasmine that my mother left on my window, its white moons grow every year…

by Nizar Qabbani

The magnificent, deeply touching poem, Windows of the Soul, Damascus, was written by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). The video in the above link is a reading in Arabic of the poem. The photography is truly uplifting.  It was published by a group of Syrian students on their website called Syrian Students for a better future studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I heard part of this poem quoted by the inspiring Ghada Alatrash on the podcast, Saving Syria – Keeping War-torn Culture Alive by CBC Radio’s Ideas. This podcast was produced by Naheed Mustafa. I was hooked by the podcast’s introduction, featuring Maamoun Abdulkarim‘s heroic fight to save thousands of irreplaceable Palmyra treasures from Islamic State destroyers and moved to tears by the music, poetry and stories of tragedy and hope that followed, from contributors Ghada Alatrash, Alia Malek and the music of Aya Mhana.

Oh, how a special place like Syria, in so many present, ancient and artistic ways, shows the best we can be as a gifted, precarious, human “episode” of the history of Mother Earth – a true reason to keep hope alive.

Newfoundland 2005.7 “God Guard Thee, Newfoundland”

The Arches Park, n. of Rocky Harbour
Tuesday, July 26: Englee, Arches and back to Rocky Harbour

Englee is a beautiful little community about 2 1/2 hours south of St. Anthony on the east coast. The drive from Englee to Rocky Harbour is another 4 1/2 hours. St. Anthony to Rocky Harbour is 4 1/2 hours, so our Englee visit added about 2 1/2 hours of driving to our Tuesday. If you climb up the long steps on Barr’d Island, you’ll be treated to one of the most beautiful views in the world – i.e. it was worth the extra driving.

We then drove back to Rocky Harbour, stopping at Arches Provincial Park for some more beautiful scenery. Our last, since we were flying home from Deer Lake on Wednesday at 15:15. We visited the Cemetery and the Lighthouse in Rocky Harbour before we left for Deer Lake Airport, about 55 minutes from Rocky Harbour on NL 430 South. Returning the car at the airport was very smooth. Boy, did we get our money’s worth out of that car!

Wednesday, July 27: Home to the GTA

One more heartwarming story about Newfoundland. We checked our bags at the airport. Then security noticed my Swiss Army Knife on my person. I thought, “I’ll be sorry; I’ve had it for a long time.” But they offered me the chance to put it back in my suitcase, which meant retrieving it from the storage area.

Now, a real treat for reading down to the bottom. A Newfoundland language lesson!!! With Mark Critch, Candice Walsh and Travel Yourself.

I will return there. That’s a promise. Note: I kept my promise, returning there in 2014.

God guard thee, Newfoundland!

Ram Goat Liver

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Leighton “Pluto” Shervington

Born in 1950 Jamaica, a talented bass player and songwriter, Pluto Shervington, had this really big hit song, Ram Goat Liver, in the mid 1970’s. It is one of my favourite Jamaican songs and I occasionally do it for some of the people I sing for in the local hospital. It gets anyone within earshot moving and, if they know it and some do, singing and smiling along.

The song’s “singability” (making its composition seem deceptively effortless) and Shervington’s gift for telling a superb, hilarious, naturally colloquial story, set it apart for me.

It took him a week to write, after getting the idea from a fellow Kingston songwriter, Ernie Smith, who had already had a couple of hit songs of his own. On his way to the old Federal Records studio Ernie had watched a minibus hit and kill a goat on the road.  A fellow observer said, casually “All we need now is a pound of rice…”

Verse one really pulls me in:

Sunday gone I jump on a minibus; I really late but it’s not my fault

An as we nearly reach by de terminus, I feel the bus come to a halt…

‘Ee lick a ram goat down by de roundabout, an’ just as if dat would not, suffice

A bredda run through de bus an’ start to shout

You shoulda dead mek we buy a poun’ of rice!

Then the chorus:

Ram goat liver good fi mek mannish water.

Billy goat teet’ mek de earring for your daughter.

Curry goat lunch put de bite in your bark;

It mek your daughter… it mek your daughter walk and talk.

Like many songs from the West Indies, there’s some double entente in the chorus. For example, mannish water is considered a male aphrodisiac.

Anyway, in the song a cook-up actually occurs, and the storyteller ends up suffering some discomforting embarrassment after consuming some of the pot’s contents:

Before too long you no ha fi ask – a runny belly like a Judgement Day…

You can find the YouTube version with lyrics here.

Another hilarious song from Pluto: Your Honour. In it he is in court for “fooling around” in the wrong bedroom. His defence:

Me two hands dey was occupied: me shirt in me lef’ an’ me pants in me right!

And why not check out his 1974 hit, Dat, about a poor Rasta who could only afford to buy pork at the butcher shop but has communication problems because he will not let the forbidden word pass his lips…