Music Makes the Moment

May 31, 2010 § 15 Comments

It was a typical Saturday morning as I was getting ready to walk the dog.

Our weekend morning ritual begins with sitting in the hot tub listening to some tunes and guzzling some freshly-brewed java. The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun came on as I re-entered the house for breakfast before hitting the trail.

What a perfect song to begin the day! Mr. Sun smiled down on a great trek.

And who better than the Beatles to provide the background music to an uplifting day? They are arguably the most important band of all time. Their music is timeless – often imitated, never duplicated.

As I walked, I began musing about how important music is to me, either making my day when I am already happy or helping me come to terms with life when I’m down.

It’s only natural that either Wendy or I would write about music in this blog. We often use a lyric from a song or the name of a tune to describe a situation or an idea when we speak. I began an earlier blog with a lyric from Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway.

My wife says I use musical lines at the drop of a hat.

She’s right. Where better than stories told through the lyrics of music to find a handy comparator? Over time, every conceivable situation has been described in song.

Although I’m a good old time rock and roll fan, the blues and jazz are also favourite genres.

Different music suits varying situations.

While a pop tune from the Fab Four is perfect to spring out the door on a walk with the dog, I prefer nothing more than the gritty, cutting words of Warren Zevon in songs like Lawyers, Guns and Money while cleaning up in the kitchen. Not sure why. Perhaps getting involved in the late singer/songwriter’s ballads is a good way to forget that I’m doing a task that no one relishes.

I have seen many of my beloved performers in concert, including Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Healey, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, and Colin James.

Some of my favourite lyrics have come from these artists.

When I say or do something on the irreverent side, Thorogood provides the perfect line … Bbbaad to the Bone.

Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac bring hope with Keep Your Eye on the Prize (The Boss did a remake of the Pete Seeger song on his tribute album to the folk legend) and Don’t Stop (a song from the 1977 Rumours album) respectively.

Taking care of Business from Bachman’s BTO days was a perfect anthem for my time operating a communications firm.

Other songs have even deeper meaning.

Simon and Garfunkel’s hit Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a song I think of when I’ve brought peace to a situation or helped someone in need of a friend. It was also chosen by my Grade 7 class for confirmation.

My eyes well up when I hear the Beatles Let it Be because of its gripping inspirational quality.

What could be more heartening than John Lennon’s Imagine? Ironically, this peace-preaching musician would die at the hands of a crazed gunman.

Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s Complicated song reminds me of how I’ve put up barriers at times with new people in my life.

Billy Joel’s Innocent Man was important to me when I began the relationship with my best friend and now wife.

I’ve used the Trooper song Raise a little Hell to remind people who are bemoaning their lot in life that it is up to them to take matters into their own hands:

If you don’t like

What you got

Why don’t you change it?

If your world is all screwed up

Rearrange it

Raise a little Hell …

There is no better way than music to pay tribute to someone you care about. We recently said goodbye to Frank Drodge of our Facilities Department at the City of Grande Prairie. He died far too young at age 50 on May 10. Frank was also known as the drummer and promoter of the local band Anywhere But Here.

Frank was remembered for his hard work, kindness and good cheer and I loved exchanging yarns of favourite concerts and bands.

I bid you adieu, Frank, with a favourite song title from Bob Seger.

Rock and Roll Never Forgets.

Other songs bring back happy memories.

My father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I can remember him often reciting a favourite song written during the First World War, There’s A Long, Long Trail – A Winding.

I remember little from my high school graduation – come on now, it was 32 years ago – but recall vividly Queen’s We Will Rock You belting out at the bush party I attended (I wonder if my Dad ever discovered that I lifted a bottle of rum from his liquor cabinet for the occasion).

Nothing is more memorable than the prank I pulled on my wife-to-be at the 1983 St. Paul Journal Christmas Party. I bet her dinner that the “next song” would be Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.

Little did she know that the DJ was also the bus driver for the hockey team I covered for the paper, and I’d rigged the wager. Mmm, that was good Chinese food. I later reciprocated with a spaghetti dinner.

There are campfire songs to enjoy with a bunch of friends. Show tunes such as those from the Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island are fun to sing along to while making a long trip and needing to stay awake.

That was a fun memory during our overnight trip to the West Coast from Grande Prairie in 1987.

It was time to pull over for an early morning meal when we started into Raffi’s Down by the Bay!

So, music really does make the moment – sometimes it makes a sad moment happy. Other times, it helps makes sense of a situation.

At other instances, it is good just to take away the Sound of Silence.


Are you a rock? Are you an island?

May 17, 2010 § 1 Comment

What’s your typical response when dealing with a situation?  Do you clamp down and not let anyone know what’s going on?  Do you think you’re strong enough to weather it all on your own?  Do you feel gratification when you’ve proved to yourself that you can handle anything?  That you don’t actually NEED anyone?  If you answer ‘yes’ to all of the previous questions… well, you and I were so very alike not that long ago.  I had a need to prove to myself that I was strong enough, I was good enough and I could accomplish anything on my own.  I could deal with any situation.  Life couldn’t bring me down.  I was a rock… I was an island.

At some very recent point, I pulled my head out of the sand long enough to realize just what it was I had done.  I took a moment to step back and admire all that I had accomplished.  I’ve done well with my career, live in a decent neighborhood, I’ve dealt with some pretty big life issues and I’m still standing on my own two feet.  And I did it all by myself. The puzzling part was that the rest of the world wasn’t cheering me on when I emerged.  Why weren’t they happy for me?  Why couldn’t they see the struggles I had been through to get where I am?  Why couldn’t they understand the reasons I had been working so hard for so long?

Because I was a rock and I was an island.  Tough to the core.  Unwavering.  But here’s the thing: Rocks are hard to work with and islands are difficult to get go.

Nobody was cheering me on because none of them knew what was going on. My self importance, my need to prove something to myself had a much larger impact than I could have foreseen. And it’s an impact that I want to reverse.

I’m still proud of myself for my accomplishments, but I wonder how much easier everything could have been if I had taken the approach of a more malleable, connected material?  As I opened up and began to share more with those that were once close to me, I found something extraordinary happened.  All of those struggles, the trials and tribulations I sought to handle on my own didn’t seem so hard to deal with any more AND there were people applauding me along the way for everything I was trying to do.  

So the questions remains – will I do it differently next time?  You betchya.  Except for me it’s not just about next time, it’s about every time.  One day, one person and one situation at a time to create a new shape for me and a new connection in the world.

Investing In Community Pays

May 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Okay, so when I began co-writing this blog, my intent was to keep to topics that are not at all related to my job. I prefer to explore ideas and thoughts that are more from my creative side – that are inspirational or motivational.

However, I couldn’t help but touch on a subject that has some relevance to my position with the City of Grande Prairie after MoneySense Magazine recently released its fifth annual Best Places to Live list. On its website, this past week, the magazine focussed on the bottom 10 and referenced them as the Worst Places to Live.

I’m not going to discuss the merits of the placement of the communities or the rating criteria. I’ve lived and worked or attended post-secondary in four of the cities on the list, and visited many others.

I do find it unfortunate that a place would be dubbed a “worst place to live” by people from the outside who’ve likely never set foot there. Raw data, statistics and analysis only go so far.

It’s also disappointing when people who live in a place cited on the list, or anywhere for that matter, make negative comments about their community when they have no thought or desire to be part of the so-called solution.

I sometimes ask myself why people remain in a community if it is so bad.

I love my country and I am proud of what it has to offer. I’ve enjoyed every place I’ve lived across three provinces and don’t compare one spot with the other – some things are better in one and vice-versa.

A community is really what you make of it. The results of surveys and polls are what you make of them, too.

Certainly, they can present opportunities to spur improvement through the information they bring to light. They also provide the impetus for people to look at where they live and say, “That’s fine information, thanks. We are proud of our community.”

Let’s face it, not every city or town can be rated as Number One.

Throughout my career, I’ve adopted more of a ‘home is where you hang your hat’ philosophy. There has only been one location with immediate family present and just for a short time, at that.

My focus has always been in staying in that place on its own merits and for employment reasons, of course.

I’ve volunteered at every stop along my career path and believe that if you expect to get anything out of the community, you should do your part to invest in it.

Essentially, we have four choices: we can be satisfied with our surroundings. We can work for the betterment of the place, we can do nothing and just complain, or we can move on, hoping for something better elsewhere. Some people will always find negativity with their situation.

These published ratings do reveal some remarkable data. However, there are even uncontrollable aspects like weather factored in to the ratings. While some things like household income are tangible, how do you measure culture?

Sure, it was a feather in the cap of Grande Prairie when it was fourth in the MoneySense Best Places list in 2006.

I chosen to move here from a location I also loved – Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. When I moved here in 2007, that very favourable MoneySense rating from the previous year provided some greater insight into the community since I was last here, but was not an influence.

Does the fact that Grande Prairie is now much lower in 2010 make it a far worse place to live? No. For one thing, the number of locations being rated has grown significantly. As well, new facilities and projects have improved recreation, culture and social services offerings.

There are always possibilities for any community to better itself, for the quality of life to be enhanced. Even the top-rated cities can score higher in some categories in ensuing years.

However, I don’t know how many times I have heard people wonder what difference they can make individually.

Poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron reminds us: “Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.”

If you could improve your community, how would you go about it?

Celebrating Our Fortune

May 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

I love to drive, particularly when there’s interesting terrain. It doesn’t get any better than going from Banff to Jasper along the Icefield Parkway, and then north via Highway 40 to Grande Prairie.

One reason I enjoy getting behind the wheel is that I find it relaxing, a great time to contemplate life, particularly on a beautiful, albeit long journey.

This past weekend, my thoughts turned to just how fortunate we are to have such a spectacular playground in our backyard – a photo opportunity around every corner of the highway – as I passed by one fabulous vista after another on my way home through the Mountain Parks.

I can’t wait to go back this summer and spend more time, camping and hiking.

We in Western Canada are certainly lucky to have Banff and Jasper National Parks so close. Countless tourists flock to the region year-round to take in their splendours and share our fortune for a few days, or longer, for sightseeing or recreation.

Then there is Rena, a young, effervescent New Zealander my wife and I met while having lunch at the Jasper Brewing Co. on Sunday. The pub is a good spot for her to earn cash and check out a country she’s already fallen in love with after six months.

What a great opportunity!

I also had a reason to consider how blessed I am in another way while on my trip to southern Alberta, which included a visit with my brother and his family in Canmore and taking in the Alberta Municipal Communicators Conference, held in High River on Thursday and Friday.

My brother was telling me about his close friend, Dave, who doesn’t have long to live because of a terminal brain tumour, but is managing to live with dignity, grace and a sense of humour.

It is a second time in recent weeks I have learned of someone so full of life but whose time is cut short.

Here in Grande Prairie, Samuel, who had been a political prisoner in Uganda for seven years, died a few weeks ago, shortly after learning he had a brain tumour.

Samuel, whose daughter was born while he was in prison, only knew this child for 14 months.

Why does it seem that often the people with the most reason and desire to live have their lives end far before their time?

There is no logic. The only sense we can make of it is that we need to make the most of the time we, ourselves, have.

When people like Samuel pass on so quickly, it’s a reminder that we should celebrate the fortune we have. We may not feel like getting up in the morning or have a minor ache or pain, but there are always people who are worse off.

What will you do to celebrate your fortune? I think I will plan my next trip to the mountains.

Where Am I?

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