By James Sandham

Well, music lover, it’s the end of the month and as November concludes so, too, will many novels. Or manuscripts, to be more accurate.

Yes, that’s right: November is National Novel Writing Month – or “NaNoWriMo” to those in the know – a period during which aspiring writers (and established ones, for that matter) attempt to circumnavigate procrastination, put pen to pad and pound out some 50,000 words, all in 30 short days. It’s quite the feat, really. So to salute those who have tried, this week we thought we’d take a look at some of the songs that great literature has inspired.

*****

RADIOHEAD – “2 + 2 = 5”

This song, the third and final single from Radiohead’s 2003 release Hail to the Thief, owes its title, of course, to George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel, 1984. It refers to the practice of “doublethink,” in which the novel’s characters replace their own conscience and beliefs with those of Big Brother, the dogmatic authoritarian party that rules the perpetually at-war nation of Airstrip One. The music video above gives you a basic idea of the theme – yet, strangely, seems to draw its imagery from Orwell’s other classic tome, Animal Farm.

*****

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE – “WHITE RABBIT”

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has inspired everything from movies to artwork to fashion, but perhaps nothing better known than Jefferson Airplane’s ode to everything psychedelic and surreal. “White Rabbit” comes from the band’s 1967 sophomore release, Surrealistic Pillow, and continues to blow minds all these decades later.

*****

LEONARD COHEN – “THE STRANGER SONG”

In this song, Leonard Cohen, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1991 inductee, references Nelson Algren’s Chicago-based masterpiece The Man With the Golden Arm, a book about a morphine-addicted card dealer. As Cohen sings: “O you’ve seen that man before / His golden arm dispatching cards / But now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger.” The track comes from Cohen’s 1967 debut album The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

*****

CRASH TEST DUMMIES – “AFTERNOONS AND COFFEESPOONS”

Ah yes, it’s the sound of Canada in the 1990s. This song comes from the JUNO Award–winning Crash Test Dummies and can be found on their 1993 sophomore album God Shuffled His Feet. The song’s title and lyrics are based on a poem by T.S. Eliot, titled The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a dramatic interior monologue described as epitomizing the “frustration and impotence of the modern individual” and “modern disillusionment.” But for me it just conjures up memories of ripped jeans and plaid flannel.

*****

RUSH – “2112”

Released in 1976, “2112” is the side-long title track of Rush’s fourth studio album. It is comprised of seven sections: “Overture,” “The Temples of Syrinx,” “Discovery,” “Presentation,” “Oracle: The Dream,” “Soliloquy” and “Grand Finale.” It is loosely based on the novella Anthem, published in 1938 by renowned American libertarian philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982). The song basically describes a dystopian, pseudo-Stalinist future in which all things – even technological innovation – are centrally planned, the result being that mankind has plunged back into a second sort of Dark Age. Heavy stuff – but that didn’t stop “Overture” and “The Temples of Syrinx” from being released as a single.


By Adam Bunch

Timothy Leary’s Millbrook Commune (left); Toronto Police shut down the Last Pogo at the Horseshoe Tavern (right)

MAYNARD FERGUSON DROPS ACID

In the early 1960s, Montreal’s Maynard Ferguson was one of the most famous trumpet players in the world. Soon, as one of the very first musicians to ever drop acid, he would also be one of the most stoned.

Ferguson was friends with Timothy Leary, a Harvard University professor who was doing research into the possibility of using psychedelic drugs as a way to expand consciousness. Leary believed that, with professional psychiatric guidance, drug trips could be used as a way of improving the lives of his patients – for instance, to treat alcoholism or reform convicted criminals. He would become most famous for his use of LSD, but his earliest experiments focused on magic mushrooms. In fact, Leary wouldn’t drop acid for the first time until 1962.

Maynard Ferguson was there when he did. In fact, Ferguson tried it first. Another Harvard professor showed up one night with some LSD-laced cake in a mayonnaise jar. Ferguson and his wife tried it and enjoyed it so much that Leary – who wasn’t convinced at first – joined in. It was a landmark in the history of drugs, sparking one of the most famous periods of psychedelic experimentation ever, and Ferguson was there for much of it.

In fact, during this week in 1963, Ferguson and his wife had just moved their entire family, with four kids, to live at Leary’s commune in New York State. Their daughter Lisa would later describe life there as “a fairy tale epic. I suddenly had this huge playground of forests and lakes and fields of sunflowers and corn. All the structures had been built to resemble Bavarian fairytale castles, exactly like the ones you had seen in all your favourite bedtime stories. There were waterfalls and deer roamed the property.”

Residents and visitors to the commune included some of the most famous musicians, writers and artists of their time: Allen Ginsberg, Charles Mingus, William S. Burroughs, Ornette Coleman and Aldous Huxley, among others. Ferguson would even end up making an appearance in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test after Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters showed up with the author Tom Wolfe in tow.

The three years that Ferguson spent living at the commune became a turning point in his career. His experiences there helped to inspire a year spent living in India. When he came back, he helped to pioneer a new genre of music fusing jazz with psychedelic rock. It became one more stage in a career that spanned all the way from the swing music of the 1930s to his death in 2006. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

MAYNARD FERGUSON PLAYS “BIRDLAND”

*****

THE DEATH OF PUNK IN TORONTO

It was billed as “the last punk rock concert in Toronto.” During this week in 1978, the Last Pogo was held at one of the city’s oldest and most respected music venues, the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street West. On the bill were some of the best bands from the punk scene that had been pogoing and spitting and bleeding their way through the city’s downtown music venues over the previous few years: The Viletones, Teenage Head, The Scenics, The Ugly and more.

When a riot broke out and the cops shut the whole thing down, the show became something of a Toronto legend – a quarter of a century later, it’s still a famous story – and filmmaker Colin Brunton was there to capture it all on film. Earlier this year, he released a brand new documentary – The Last Pogo Jumps Again – telling the story of that punk scene and the bands that helped to make Toronto one of the most exciting music hubs on the planet.

While that original punk scene might be long dead, the city now has a new generation of bands taking up the mantle of loud and raucous rock: from Fucked Up to Metz to PUP.

TRAILER FOR THE LAST POGO JUMPS AGAIN

THE VILETONES PLAY THE LAST POGO


By James Sandham

The winners of the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMAs) were announced last week at a gala event held in Calgary. CBC’s Shelagh Rogers hosted the gala, along with musician Benoit Bourque, and awards were presented in 19 categories.

It seems as though Ontario artists made out most handily, with seven artists from the province taking home nine of the awards. British Columbia and Nova Scotia were close on Ontario’s heels, though, with four artists from each province bringing four awards back. Quebec and Nunavut artists brought home one award each.

So who were the big winners? There were many, but here are a couple who happened to catch our eye.

Raucous instrumentalists Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything led the pack of winners, receiving the award for Instrumental Group of the Year, as well as the Pushing the Boundaries award. The Toronto-based group, appropriately described as “Tom Waits playing the fiddle, backed up by the Mahavishnu Orchestra,” features Charles James, Dan Stadnicki, John Williams and Robbie Grunwald, and is helmed by Jaron Freeman-Fox on his five-string violin. The song below comes from the group’s self-titled release from 2013, performed live at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.

Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything – “The Rabid Rabbi”

*****

In competition against Prince Rupert, BC’s Kristi Lane Sinclair, Toronto’s Diem Lafortune and Winnipeg’s Vince Fontaine of Indian City and Don Amero, Nancy Mike from The Jerry Cans walked away with the prize for Aboriginal Songwriter of the Year for Nunavuttitut. Her band describes their mixture of throat singing, country and reggae as “sharing a glimpse of life in Nunavut while challenging misrepresentation of the Great White North.”

The Jerry Cans – “Mamaqtuq”

*****

Mo Kenney is a singer-songwriter based out of Waverly, Nova Scotia. As of last week, she can also call herself the CFMAs’ New/Emerging Artist of the Year. She received the honour for her self-titled 2012 debut, which was produced by fellow Canadian (and rock hero to many) Joel Plaskett. The song below, which comes from that album, won her the 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize for the best song by an independent Canadian musician.

Mo Kenney – “Sucker”

*****

Lynn Miles is one of Canada’s most accomplished singer-songwriters. With 12 albums to her credit, she is already the winner of multiple CFMAs. Last week she took home one more, Solo Artist of the Year, for her album Downpour. Released earlier this year, Downpour has been described as “a remarkable collection of music celebrating our fragile, flawed and beautiful world.”

Lynn Miles – “More”

*****

There are so many other talented musicians who took home awards. For the sake of time and space, we’ll end here with Nova Scotia fiddler Chrissy Crowley, who was crowned the CFMAs’ Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year. Described by The Guardian as “a spellbindingly precocious talent,” she has a firm foundation in the traditional music of Cape Breton and is now bringing her music worldwide with performances in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as in Ireland, Holland, France, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The track below comes from her latest eponymous release, which came out this year.

Chrissy Crowley – “Last Night’s Fun”

*****

Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners!


By Adam Bunch

The New Pornographers (left); the Theatre Royal (right, via Wikimedia Commons)

THE ARRIVAL OF THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS

It was during this week in the year 2000 that The New Pornographers released their debut album. Mass Romantic had been years in the making: some of the first songs were written and recorded as far back as early 1998. The super-group brought together some of the best musicians in Vancouver, including A.C. Newman from Zumpano, Dan Bejar from Destroyer, alt-country singer Neko Case and Limblifter’s Kurt Dahle. At first, they just played their recordings for friends, but the positive feedback helped convince them they needed to put out a full album.

And was it ever a good one. Filled with memorable, catchy, power-pop anthems, Mass Romantic won immediate critical acclaim. It ended up in the Top 10 of countless year-end “best-of” lists (including the No. 9 spot on Pitchfork’s) and even landed the JUNO Award for Best Alternative Album in 2001. Since then, the band has established itself as one of the very best our country has to offer. They’ve put out four more albums in the time since, all of them well received. But it’s still their debut that’s the most loved. Thirteen years after the album first appeared on record store shelves, the praise is still growing. Blender named it one of the greatest indie albums of all-time.

They’re not wrong.

*****

CANADA’S FIRST MUSIC VENUE

Canada, of course, has a long history of music, stretching back thousands of years to a time long before the first Europeans ever set foot on this land. But if you’re looking for the first big modern music venue built for the exclusive use of the performing arts, well then you’re looking for the Theatre Royal in Montreal. It first opened during this week in 1825.

It was the beer baron, John Molson, who fronted the cash, spending $30,000 to build a theatre in the heart of what is now Old Montreal (on the spot where the Marché Bonsecours stands today). It could seat a thousand people and it had two tiers of fancy box seats and a gorgeous proscenium arch framing the stage. It was used for performances of music and operas by classical composers such as Mozart, Rossini and Bellini, and was also the home to a theatrical company of 50 actors who performed the works of Shakespeare and other classic plays. Charles Dickens even spent some time at the Theatre Royal on his trip to Canada in the 1840s, producing a series of plays under his own direction.

But maybe most importantly, the Theatre Royal gave Montrealers a venue of their own in which to stage plays and perform music. The venue helped the local artistic scene to thrive, building some of the earliest foundations of what would one day become one of the most celebrated musical cities in the world.


By James Sandham

Toronto is a great city for many reasons: not least of all its music. Music is everywhere, from the city’s art galleries (like the AGO’s David Bowie is exhibit, currently on display until November 27) to its theatres (the new staging of Les Misérables, currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre) to its clubs and cafés, where you can see any number of artists, both established and up and coming, as they ply their trade in innumerable genres.

It’s the diversity that makes this city so appealing. One of the most varied options is the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series. Inaugurated in 2006, the series presents performances of everything from dance to jazz to classical to contemporary – all free of charge – in the COC’s beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Most of the performances take place from noon until 1:00 p.m., so it’s a great way to spend a lunch hour.

This was basically my reasoning as I ventured down there last Tuesday. Not really sure of what to expect, I figured the surprise of the performance would be half its pleasure. I arrived at the Four Seasons Centre’s open sundrenched amphitheatre and found a spot among its bleacher-style seats. It was a beautiful day and looking out onto University Avenue through the building’s glass façade, the red and gold of autumn leaves could be seen drifting from the trees while the traffic below, both human and automotive, slowly lumbered by.

It was a perfect setting, in other words, for what was to follow: Meditations for Bass Veena, an Indo jazz–tinged performance by Monsoon:Synthesis, part of the Free Concert Series’ world music sub-series.

Featuring Justin Gray on bass veena (an instrument he invented himself that adapts the fretless bass to a form more suited to Indian classical and Indo-jazz music), Derek Gray on Tibetan singing bowls and cajón, Ed Hanley on tabla and Andrew Kay on saxophone and tanpura, it was an experience I can only describe as spirit-moving. The four performers cast a very special musical spell, the kind that, like all great music, seems to take you outside of yourself for a moment – or even takes you outside of time altogether, so that there is no moment, just the experience, the music and you: unaware of yourself, in the midst of it.

This seems to be the group’s explicit intention. Inspired by their time living in India, Monsoon:Synthesis aims “to infuse their music with the sacred and spiritual vibrations first revealed to the ancient mystic yogis and seers of India.”

Nada Brahma or “musical consciousness,” they explain, is “a powerful instrument of spiritual transformation.” By dedication and sincere devotion to these ancient spiritual teachings and music sadhana (practice), they aspire “to create art and music that inspires an inner journey of self-discovery.”

They seemed well up to the task last Tuesday. Spiritual enlightenment – and at less than the cost of a sandwich. I left feeling glad I had spent lunch at the COC instead of at Subway.

Justin Gray – “Grace”


By Adam Bunch

Photo: Montreal in 1800 (left) and the Stade Olympique in Montreal (right)

CANADA’S FIRST OPERA COMPOSER/GUN RUNNER

Joseph Quesnel had never planned to come to Canada. He was born in France during this week in 1746 and spent the first part of his life travelling the world. He sailed to India, Madagascar, the West Indies, French Guiana and Brazil, but all that came to an end in 1779 during the American Revolution. That was the year that Quesnel was in command of a ship headed for the United States when the British stopped it. They found it full of munitions and other supplies destined for the revolutionaries.

Quesnel was arrested. He would be forced to live in Canada, at least until the end of the war, and with bloody revolution soon to sweep through France as well he ended up choosing to live in Quebec for the rest of his life.

Quesnel would become a businessman and a volunteer for the local militia, but he was also an artist. He wrote poetry, composed music and founded a theatrical company with a group of friends in Montreal – a controversial decision at a time when some priests and newspapers were denouncing plays as the work of the devil.

It was in the weeks around New Year’s Day of 1790 that Quesnel debuted a new comedic opera, Colas et Colinette, ou le Bailli dupé. It was the first opera in Canadian history and it was a hit. It would be staged multiple times over the next few decades. Even 40 years later one journalist could say, “There is no Canadian with any sort of education who has not read at least some of… Mr Joseph Quesnel’s works.”

By 1809, Quesnel was working on another comedic opera, but he would never get the chance to finish it. That spring, he jumped into the cold water of the St. Lawrence River in the attempt to save a drowning child. They say it weakened his lungs. That summer, he succumbed to an attack of pleurisy and died.

*****

THE COUNTRY GOES STADIUM CRAZY

November 14 is a big day in the history of three different domed stadiums in Canada’s three biggest cities. In 1975 it was the day that the government of Quebec created a corporation to oversee the construction of Montreal’s new Olympic Stadium in the run up to the 1976 Olympic Games. In 1982 it was the day that the inflatable roof was lifted above BC Place in Vancouver. And in 1991 it was the day that the Ontario government sold the brand-new SkyDome to a private consortium just as the Toronto Blue Jays were about to win their back-to-back World Series titles.

In addition to their duties as sports stadiums, the three giant new buildings would also become three of the biggest music venues in the country. The Big O in Montreal is the biggest of them all: more than 78,000 people attended a Pink Floyd concert there in 1977. Everyone from Paul McCartney to Michael Jackson to Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young has played at BC Place. The Rolling Stones installed a water fountain in the dressing room. David Bowie turned it into a sushi bar.

Meanwhile, when Madonna played the SkyDome in 1990, her masturbation-simulation live act was considered to be so controversial that the police threatened to shut the whole thing down. Even when the Jays were on the field, the venue felt like it was meant to be home to a rock ’n’ roll spectacle. As ESPN would remember years later: “When you looked at the visitors dugout, you expected to see Bono in the on-deck circle. When there was a pitching change, you expected Madonna to walk in from the bullpen. When they played ‘Oh, Canada,’ you kept waiting for the fans to hold up their cigarette lighters.”


By James Sandham

VANCOUVER – BRENDAN CANNING WITH DINOSAUR BONES @ THE MEDIA CLUB – NOVEMBER 29

The force behind Toronto’s indie-rock darlings Broken Social Scene, Brendan Canning will be touring across Canada in support of his second solo album, You Gots 2 Chill, which just came out last month via SQE and his own Draper Street Records. He’ll be performing alongside fellow Toronto rockers Dinosaur Bones, so come see what the buzz is about. In the meantime, you can whet your appetite with this mellow little selection from the disc, below.

Brendan Canning – “Plugged In”

*****

CALGARY – SHAD @ THE REPUBLIK – NOVEMBER 27

The end of November can get pretty damn chilly out in Calgary, so why not turn up the heat with the blistering rhymes of one of Canada’s foremost MCs. The London, Ontario via Kenya rapper will be performing with We Are The City in support of his next studio album, Flying Colours, which just came out last month. Check out the album’s first single, below, which also features Toronto hip-hop legend Saukrates.

Shad – “Stylin’”

*****

WINNIPEG – THE GOOD LOVELIES @ CENTENNIAL CONCERT HALL – NOVEMBER 25

Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore are the JUNO Award–winning folk-country trio known as The Good Lovelies. Hailing from Toronto, they’ve recently been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award for their live album Live at Revolution. The track below, a cover of Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” comes from that album. I’m not taking sides, but they’re giving k.d. lang a run for her money with this one.

The Good Lovelies – “Hallelujah”

*****

TORONTO – SAID THE WHALE @ THE OPERA HOUSE – NOVEMBER 21

Vancouver’s JUNO Award–winning Said the Whale sound kind of like The Dandy Warhols and will be playing at The Opera House along with southern California’s The Mowgli’s and Nashville’s Kopecky Family Band. It’s all part of the Edgefest Jingle Bell Concert Series. The track below comes from the band’s latest album, Hawaiii. Check out the Most Extreme Elimination Challenge–inspired video.

Said the Whale – “I Love You”

*****

MONTREAL – THE CREEPSHOW @ CABARET UNDERWORLD ­– NOVEMBER 30

It’s a little late for Halloween, but if you’re still in the mood for ghoulish festivities at the end of November, why not check out Burlington, Ontario’s psychobilly maniacs The Creepshow. They’ll be performing their refried zombie rock at Cabaret Underworld in promotions of their new album, Sinners and Saints. You can check out the video for the album’s eponymous single below.

The Creepshow – “Sinners and Saints”


By Adam Bunch

THE ACTUAL WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD

During this week in November of 1975, a winter storm was brewing on the Great Lakes. It would prove to be one of the deadliest storms in the history of the region. The winds blew almost as hard as a hurricane. Gusts were hitting as high as 140 kilometres per hour. Waves towered 11 metres high. And in the midst of it all was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald.

When she was first launched in 1958, the Edmund Fitzgerald was the biggest ship sailing the Great Lakes. She carried tons of iron ore in her belly, shipping it across Lake Superior through the raging storm on the way to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. But she’d never get there. By 7:00 p.m. on November 10, she had only made it as far as a spot near Sault St. Marie. That’s where the storm overwhelmed her. She sank. There were 29 people on board. All of them died.

The sinking was big news. Two weeks later, it was featured in a Newsweek article titled “The Cruelest Month.” That article happened to be read by a future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee by the name of Gordon Lightfoot. He was inspired to write a six-and-a-half-minute-long song about it. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” would be released on his album Summertime Dream the following year. When it was later put out as a single, it would rise all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard charts and hit No. 1 at home in Canada. It was already well on its way to becoming one of the most beloved songs in the history of our country.

*****

THE RELEASE OF ONE OF THE GREATEST JAZZ ALBUMS OF ALL TIME

Miles Ahead has been hailed as one of the great masterpieces of jazz. It was a 10-track album fusing jazz with classical music and with influences from all over the world, performed by a 19-piece band fronted by the legendary Miles Davis and arranged by Toronto-born composer Gil Evans.

Davis and Evans had first met back in the 1940s, while they were living in New York City. Evans had a basement apartment behind a laundry, which became a salon for jazz musicians – including Davis and Charlie Parker – who wanted to experiment beyond the bebop that dominated the scene at the time. Evans and Davis teamed up to form a group called the Miles Davis Nonet. When the band got a gig playing with The Count Basie Orchestra it sparked a series of recording sessions that would end up producing the album Birth of the Cool. It’s considered to be a landmark in music history and the beginning of cool jazz.

It was nearly 10 years later that Evans and Davis collaborated again. The result was Miles Ahead, released during this month in 1957. The album was so successful that the pair would reunite again several more times, including for work on Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Quiet Nights. Their work together marks one of the great collaborations in jazz history and is one of the reasons that, in 1997, Gil Evans was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.