Tuesday, September 30, 2014

memory of today

William - Shawn William Clarke

There's an alluring sense of nostalgia that wafts through Shawn William Clarke's sophomore album, William. Brought on partly by an old-timey waltz rhythm that drives several of the tracks, partly by the strong sense of place that permeates all the songs, a feeling of wistfulness always seems float just below the surface.

From the melancholy horns of its opening notes, the lead track Ten Years Ago conjures up the nostalgia of a particularly pensive New Year's Eve. Clarke is sitting there at that abandoned party table with you, pushing toothpicks through the red wine stains on the white tablecloth, commiserating over yet another wasted year. There is immediacy mixed in with the nostalgia, helped along by the closeness of Clarke's warm rich voice, which pulls you into the story.

The tracks on William feature plenty of warm finger-picking, but rather than being a simple backup to a standard singer-songwriter offering, the guitars on this album are part of a vastly fuller sound. There are horns aplenty here, and they are used with considerable authority to instill that old-time sensibility. Even the richly instrumental piece Bellwoods Park feels transported from another era.

It's easy to get lost in the narrative of these songs. And it's easy to forget what year you are in. Especially when a lilting waltz like Forest City references the Zombies and the Clash, the Cars and the Kinks. It's deeply satisfying stuff.

So all you can do is straighten your shoulders, look your partner in the eye and with great stateliness, begin to sweep around the darkened ballroom, perfectly in step.

video: I Blame the Loyalist Ghost

Friday, September 26, 2014

open-ended lives

Open Secrets - Alice Munro

Imagine my joy to find a book of Alice Munro short stories, that I had never even read, in a used book store a few months ago. Once I started reading, the discoveries did not cease. 

A perfectly preserved hand-written boarding pass pressed between the pages fired my imagination, and seemed a particularly suitable accompaniment to a collection of stories about lives revealed yet never fully exposed. Much the way lives really are. Or at least they way they were prior to Facebook.

I have always loved Munro's sense of place, the way she uses a particular town and the community who live out their lives there as a lynchpin that links the short stories into a cohesive unit. Although a story may not actually take place there, in fact can take place half a world and half a century away, it is still somehow informed by the sensibilities of the place. Somewhere in the tale is always a reference, overt or sly, to that central place.

The stories in Open Secrets are richly told, in true Munro fashion. I have heard her short stories referred to as "shrivelled novels" and there is a lot of truth in that. These are not slices of life, no mere descriptive passages of an afternoon affront. These are fully embodied lives, lived simultaneously with gusto and with reserve. The way lives often are. Many of the stories in Open Secrets end quite abruptly, causing you to turn the page just to ensure that there is not more. 

The way lives often do.    

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

abandon schedules, all ye who enter here


The jug of milk left casually on the counter is a reminder that, left to its own devises, this coffee morning can easily stretch on into early afternoon.

Time moves differently here. City time is discarded with the wrist watches abandoned on bedside tables. Lake time is measured instead in the movement of the clouds, the shifting of the prevailing wind and the barely perceptible passage of sun over water. Fishing boats setting forth and later returning to shore are the only concessions to human circadian rhythms.

Tucked into the far corner of the kitchen, the microwave - with its digital face - inserts its timekeeping only enough to heat a forgotten cup of coffee grown tepid, or to acknowledge the persistent growling of a tummy in search of a snack.

It’s not perfect, of course, this abandonment of big city time. The casual disregard of furnace repairmen who promise to show up and never do quickly loses its charm. But the seasons don’t care. The drama of the clouds will continue to strut across the stage of the enormous sky, sunlit ripples will forever play across the open water, fish will continue to hunt and spawn and die. Even if the pipes do burst or the house burns down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

new wild

We meet up during times of half-light, me rising with the dawn, she only stirring when the lengthening shadows merge into a single cloak of darkness. Only then, when the full moon on the lake provides the only light, does she feel safe enough to come out from her hiding places. She is not enjoying her trip to the lake place.

As darkness descends, she emerges to do all the normal cat things - eat, drink, explore, express a keen interest in finding a way out that door. Her use of the cottage litter box is a highlight reel in toilet etiquette. We thought by now she would have become more comfortable, but instead it appears that she will spend her days in hiding until it's time for us to tranquilizer her for the 1100 km road trip back home. 

It's such a shame that she won't get to have fun with all the birds and bats, the snakes and chipmunks, that call this place home. Less of a shame that she won't encounter the giant fox and its mini-me counterpart that have been meandering through.

Perhaps cat psychotherapy will be required before next summer.