Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Cockburn Conspiracy #43 – The Moranis Deception

Few secrets in Canadian history have been as closely guarded as the Cockburn-Moranis connection. Here now, after minutes of research and groundless speculation, I make the stunning claim that songwriter Bruce Cockburn and actor Rick Moranis are in fact the same person!

I offer as evidence the following:

1. Just look at them! These images have not been altered.

 25 Bruce Cockburn ideas | bruce, musician, musicStars: RICK MORANIS Stock Photo - Alamy

 "Bruce Cockburn"        "Rick Moranis"

 

2. Have you ever seen them together? I have not, and so I conclude that my premise is sound. Furthermore, should photographic evidence surface of the Canadian icons together, rigorous analysis will be necessary to establish authenticity. Deep fake technology and simple image editing programs could easily alter such documentation. Even if a photograph surfaces of the two together, I have made up my mind already.

3. “Rick Moranis” plays guitar! Look no further than this recently uncovered document of  Moranis – or is it Cockburn in his Moranis persona – playing with The Recess Monkeys at a high school dance. It is curious that Cockburn has never acknowledged his tenure as lead singer of The Recess Monkeys.




One might challenge the video evidence: “Wait. I’ve seen Bruce Cockburn play guitar. He plays right-handed, while ‘Moranis’ is playing left-handed.”

Good point, but consider that Bruce Cockburn is in fact left-handed. He claims to have never learned to play left handed.  Witnesses attest to seeing Cockburn sign autographs with his left hand. Add to this anecdotal evidence, the fact that he wears a watch on his right arm, which is common among sinistral people. 

Furthermore, "Moranis" uses two fingers for his G-chord in a manner similar to Cockburn, by placing a thumb over the top of the fretboard. 

Memoir | BRUCE COCKBURN

          Observe Cockburn/Moranis displaying his left-handedness in public.  Photo by Brent Reid.


4. “Rick Moranis” plays guitar about as well as Cockburn might left-handed after playing right-handed for 60 years. But Moranis is playing, like Elizabeth Cotten and so many other lefties, a guitar strung for a right-handed player. The high strings are on top. Jimi Hendrix played a guitar made for a right-handed player but strung it traditionally with low strings on top. Left-handed guitars were hard to find and players adapted. 

5. When given the opportunity to respond to these allegations, Cockburn did not deny the likeness. I phrased the question slyly, so as not to reveal that the charade has been exposed, by asking who might play him in the movie of his life: “Back when SCTV was on the air, everyone hoped that Rick Moranis would do a Cockburn impression,” I said.

The vagueness of Cockburn’s response is telling:  I seem to recall that having happened. It’s a hazy memory, which I don’t fully trust, but I have a mental picture of Moranis wearing a white leisure suit with a trio of female backup singers, singing a kind of lounge version of 'Wondering Where the Lions Are' against a hokey 'nature' backdrop. In my memory it was very funny. I wonder if I actually saw that or dreamt it...”

Notice his careful choice of language: “seem to recall,” “hazy memory, which I don’t fully trust,” and “I wonder if I actually saw that or dreamt it…”

I am willing to consider, based upon Cockburn’s obfuscation around the Moranis inquiry, that he may be unaware or only partially aware of his alter ego. Perhaps the songwriter enters into a fugue state in which he becomes Rick Moranis. Could this be the information that Cockburn suggests CSIS has on him at the end of the song “Slow Down Fast”? The investigation continues. 

Bruce Cockburn: 'I'm not particularly given to looking back' - The Globe  and Mail

 Photo as published in The Globe and Mail, credit unknown

 

Friday, February 19, 2021

NOTES on Song: "The Song of Wandering Aengus" by W.B. Yeats

                  "The Song of Wandering Aengus" from  An Appointment with Mr. Yeats by The Waterboy

These are just musings. I claim no expertise. 

I have been thinking of a poem by William Butler Yeats called “Song of Wandering Aengus.” It’s a ‘glimmering girl’ poem. Actually, it is the glimmering girl poem. Another term for it is the Enchanted Visitor, removing the gendered language and image. Irish literature, especially the old stuff, is all about fae infatuation and otherworldly visitation. Faerie folk snatch humans, humans cross into the Other Place while in the woods, or in a dream, or exiled from community. In this poem, the speaker and title character meets a strange figure in the woods and spends the rest of his life trying to find her.

The glimmering girl motif repeats through Yeats’ early poems. He was thirty-five in 1899, when he wrote “Song of Wandering Aengus.” For a Christian male of his era, thirty-five is a challenging age. It's two years passed the age of Christ. Two years passed the age of Epiphany. It's the age when Dante got lost in the dark woods, a time to take measure.  There is a well-known biographical parallel in Yeats’ life for the vanishing vision of desire: his unrequited love for the revolutionary Maud Gonne. “Song of Wandering Aengus” is about the ‘one that got away,’ if read biographically.

I don’t favour biographical criticism. Undoubtedly, the circumstances of the writer’s life will influence the writing. There can be no poem without a life to generate that poem. As Leonard Cohen once said, “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” Studying a poem to understand the poet’s life is reverse engineering, forensics. Studying the poet’s life to understand the poem is extrapolation, projection. Elements of these approaches can be helpful, but too much biography in interpretation and application gums up the works. It distorts reception and interferes with the mind’s ability to integrate the poem into one's understanding.

Yeats’ poem is remembered, mostly, for its last lines: “the silver apples of the moon / the golden apples of the sun.” Degrees have been doled out in the business of applying meaning to those phrases. Ray Bradbury borrowed the sun line for the title of a short story collection. In one of those stories, a ship with a giant scoop, like a cosmic backhoe, is sent to bring back samples of the sun. That is all I remember of the story and would have to track my Bradbury books to their hollow, which I am not willing to do at the moment, in order to expand on the story. So you’ll have to take my word for it. I must have read the story, or maybe a teacher read it to us in class as they used to do, because I remember gassing on the idea of being able to walk on the sun. Given the right boots, you could walk on the sun. If the sun was matter that can be scooped into a bucket, then it can be walked on too. I must have been quite young when I heard that story.

Aengus, the speaker in the poem, could be the Old Irish god Aengus, a lover, healer, and patron to the poet. Aengus appears in Yeats’ poetry frequently. The Aengus we meet in “Song” is restless:

 

                        I went out to the hazel wood,

                        Because a fire was in my head,

 

Yeats hits the reader with magick from the first line, although we might not see it at once. He leaves the lines open for magick, might be a better way of stating it. Hazel is strongly associated with Earth magick. It’s the dousing wand. Hazel finds water, in the old way of living in the world. The man who doused for water behind my childhood home [more on this later] used hazel branches. And doesn’t Sybill Trelawney, the scrying professor in the Harry Potter series I can never read, wield a hazel wand? Yeats gives Aengus a wand, too:

 

                     And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

                     And hooked a berry to a thread;

 

The four lines quoted above make up the first half of the first octave (eight lines stanza) in the poem. The octave structure is interesting because Yeats alters the rhyme in the last four lines of each stanza. The effect is to create internal quatrains (four-lined stanzas) within each of the poems three octave stanzas. The rhyme scheme runs ababcded in the first two stanzas, but Yeats breaks the pattern in the third octave. The effect of this structure creates a turn in the first octave. We get:

           

                      I went out to the hazel wood,

                     Because a fire was in my head,

                     And cut and peeled a hazel wand,                 

                     And hooked a berry to a thread;

                     And when white moths were on the wing,

                      And moth-like stars were flickering out,

                      I dropped the berry in the stream

                      And caught a little silver trout.

 

It seems easy enough. Aengus has a lot on his mind, wakes up early, goes fishing. But why, Aengus, why? “Because a fire was in my head,” he tells us. Where better to go with a fire in one’s head than to a forest of water-finding trees?

 Aengus makes a fishing pole might be a good way to describe the set up for the octave’s turn. Yet, it is not a pole, or a rod, but a wand, which points the reader to the ritual beneath the action. And when he baits the hook, we don’t see the hook. There is no hook; it’s the act of hooking a berry to a thread that we witness.

 White moths arrive to mark morning and to replace the stars as they fade. Here Yeats gives an internal rhyme, the only overt internal rhyme in the poem. It’s like he is offering a transition through the broken abab pattern in the first four lines: “[…] on the wing / […] flickering out.”

The last end rhymes bring it all together: “[…] flickering out / [,,,] silver trout.”

 Yeats has hooked us.

The second stanza introduces the “glimmering girl” everybody has been waiting for:

 

                            When I had laid it on the floor

                             I went to blow the fire a-flame,

                             But something rustled on the floor,

                             And someone called me by my name:

                              It had become a glimmering girl

                              With apple blossom in her hair

                              Who called me by my name and ran

                              And faded through the brightening air.

 

It’s a quaint idea, perhaps offensive in our age. The fish becomes a woman – “girl” -- with no less than “apple blossom in her hair.” And she knows the dude’s name! Calls it out, runs off, or vapourizes. Of course, he spends his life searching for her, the exemplar of beauty, a woman from a fish, a woman who knows him. We have to step back from the specifics. Yeats saw a “glimmering girl” because that is what the old stories told him to see. Likely that is what his libido wanted him to see as well: a magical woman pulled from a stream, the great fish of desire calling to him. This is the enchanted visitor. For another poet, it could be a man from an eel. From Yeats, we get the glimmering girl who fades in “brightening air.”

It’s not clear if “brightening” is from the sun as it declares morning, or if it is meant to describe a less literal transformation. Brighten can mean ‘to purify’ as well as to make brighter. Yeats applies the present participle verbs “glimmering” and “brightening” as adjectives to shine up the girl and the air, respectively. Light manifests in these lines, and the actions of glimmering and brightening are embodied in the fish-girl and in the air. 

The last octave tells us that the Aengus we’ve been listening to is looking back, although still actively searching for the girl he saw by the brook:

 

              

                        Though I am old with wandering

                             Through hollow lands and hilly lands,

                             I will find out where she has gone,

                             And kiss her lips and take her hands;

                            And walk among long dappled grass,

                            And pluck till time and times are done,

                            The silver apples of the moon,

                        The golden apples of the sun.

 

The reader misses out on Aengus’s adventures. We don’t know how long he has searched, or where the search has taken him beyond “hollow lands and hilly lands.” And maybe those descriptions are enough. The alliteration of hollow and hilly is quite lovely. There is also something jarring about the image of “hollow lands.” Were these places void of substance, or literally hollow? Both? To what degree? The lines in the last verse are beautiful, I think, and contrast the controlled narative voice in  the first stanza. Remember the “hazel wood” and “hazel wand”? These are not easily spoken. The word “hazel” alone requires some quick stretching. By the last verse, the voice is lyrical: “old with wandering,” “long dappled grass,” “pluck until time and times are done.” The poem demonstrates a song manifesting from events. By the end, Aengus is singing.

The verb “pluck” is an interesting one. If this poem were a limerick, “pluck” might give us pause to wonder where it is going. Yeats uses “pluck” with intention. The apples being plucked are metaphorical apples. These lines, the most famous of the poem, offer an apotheosis. The entire poem rises to these lines. It ends with the speaker looking into the future with his beloved. In his fantasy, they will be together until not only they run out of time but until the end of "times” as well. This brings another motif in the poem, a nod to the carpe diem motif that runs through western literature. Long translated as “seize the day,” the phrase carpe diem instructs to grab all one can. Robin Williams’ school master in Dead Poet’s Society instructs his students to "seize the day" to, quoting Henry David Thoreau, “suck all the marrow of life.”

But it is a subjective translation of carpe diem that has been adopted by the modern west. ‘Seize the day’ is the language of conquest, of war, violence. It’s the perfect motto for a culture obsessed with accomplishment and assertive action. However, “carpe” does not have to be translated as “seize.” It is more similar to the word, you guessed it, “pluck.” The original proponents of carpe diem were telling us to pluck the day, like a flower, like an apple. The phrase comes into English from Horace’s Ode I.11, in which he advises the reader: “[…] Time goes running, even / As we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.” The Ode reminds the reader to tend to the moment, to pluck the days like apples from trees.           

And that’s where Yeats has led us and led Aengus, being with a loved one, gathering the moonlight in the evening, the sunlight of the day, until “time and times are done.”

The Waterboys cover the poem beautifully on An Appointment With Mr. Yeats (2011, Proper Records), with Mike Scott changing a word or two. Scott’s revisions, I believe, make the poem stronger. He replaces the repeated “floor” from the second verse and alters the third line entirely. In Yeats, we have:

 

                     When I had laid it on the floor

                      I went to blow the fire a-flame,

                      But something rustled on the floor,

                       And someone called me by my name:

 

Mike Scott, lead singer and main writer of the Waterboys, refines the verse:

 

                       When I had laid it on the ground

                        I went to blow the fire a-flame,

                        But something made a rustling sound,

                         And someone called me by my name:

 

The rhythm is maintained, but the lines become more interesting with the modern “ground” rhyming with the “sound” of the fish becoming the “glimmering girl.” Scott’s alteration to the text also gives us another present participle in “rustling” to match the glimmering and brightening in the same verse. Altered too is one of Aengus’ plans upon meeting up with his infatuation. Yeats has Aengus “take” her hand, which has a degree of possessiveness to it and implies marriage. Mike Scott allows Aengus only to “touch her hands.” It is more gentle and more of a question than an act of conquest.

Poetry and song are indivisible. With “Song of Wandering Aengus” by The Waterboys, we have the poem’s full expression. It’s a rebirth for a poem that is usually remembered only for its last lines, and then, often, in mockery for its grandeur and antiquated diction. The song does not quite reach to the heights of emotion of The Waterboys “big music,” but Sarah Allen’s flute certainly helps bring the song’s energy to the mythic level it deserves.  

    Coming up:       Through Arawak Eyes by David Campbell

                             Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

                            and, "The Trouble With Musical Friends"

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

NOTES on Song: PS15 (Candy Rat Records, 2014) by Don Ross

PS15 by Don Ross, an album I loved so much that I bought the t-shirt, both designed by Kurt Swinghammer


Way back in the late twentieth century, with the mortal threat of Y2K looming, a youngish Canadian guitar virtuoso named Don Ross recorded his seventh album in a church in Berlin. Built between 1905 and 1908, Passionskirche (Church of the Passion) was for many years a renowned concert hall that hosted a broad array of acts between its Protestant masses. Produced by folk music legend Artie Traum, Passion Session was released in 1999 on Narada/Virgin Records as part of its aptly named “Masters of the Acoustic Guitar” series. The Narada label began as a purveyor of new-age music and expanded over time to include jazz and experimental artists like Hans Zimmer, Kate Price, Jesse Cook, Oscar Lopez, and Don Ross. Since that time, Narada has been absorbed by Blue Note Records with many of its original titles currently unavailable. The functional dissolution of Narada may have been a contributing factor that led a slightly less youngish Ross to retreat to another church – this time Trinity United in Cannington, Ontario – to record the album again, fifteen years later. 

It should be the easiest thing in the world to record an acoustic guitar. Place a couple of microphones near the sound-hole and start plucking, right? It’s way more complicated, of course. The angles of the microphones, their proximity to each other, and the placement on the instrument all affect the tone and clarity of the recording. Recording oneself is another struggle, or it can be. It must be like a painter making a self-portrait: it’s a mirror image that one sees as a reference, not a true representation. 

The challenge of self-recording may not have been such a big issue for Ross, though. He has self-produced many of his twenty-one albums and, from the sound of it, knows what he’s doing. For those unfamiliar with Don Ross’ style, think of a logging truck, fully loaded, barreling down a pretzel-shaped mountain road. Think of an orangutan swinging through palm forests, each branch bending but never breaking under its weight as the ape soars above the canopy. The music is like a large, graceful beast rising from the ocean. Godzilla in a tutu after some dance lessons. Ross’ solo guitar pieces are arrangements within themselves, at once percussive, lilting, and thundering. When I listen to Don Ross’ music I think of it as Don Ross Music ™, a style so unique it deserves a trademark. A Youtube tour of contemporary fingerstyle acoustic players reveals a modern fascination with percussive play and harmonics, a style that Don Ross truly pioneered along with his friend, the late Michael Hedges

Although the guitar is his main instrument, Ross comes at music like a composer. Of his unique style, Ross has said, “I have always felt that I am playing music on the guitar, as opposed to just playing guitar music. The guitar is a wonderful, gorgeous, portable instrument, capable of playing both melodically and harmonically, but I’m not a guitar head. I also didn’t grow up listening to solo guitar music” (“Don Ross,” Penguin Eggs, Spring 2018). 

 Over thirty-two years of touring, Ross has gained a devoted audience and revered status among guitarists the world over. He has won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship two times, which is two times more often than anyone else on planet Earth. When he enters the room, the theme from Rocky plays. Bruce Cockburn, not a bad little guitar player himself, speaking of guitar players he admires, said of Ross, “[He] can produce that effect in me. Especially when you see him live […] doing all these things and you can’t see what he’s doing. It’s like, ‘Oh-oh. I have some woodshedding to do’” (“Bruce Cockburn,” Penguin Eggs, Autumn, 2019). 

Despite universal praise for his innovative style and obvious mastery of the instrument, I have always suspected smoke and mirrors behind Don Ross’ playing. Without the least bit of evidence, and contrary to all valid data, as in the style of our times, I assert that Don Ross has been struggling these decades to play simple three-chord folk tunes. Viewed this way, admiration turns to empathy. I applaud his efforts and admit that, in his flailing after basic chords and four-four rhythms, Ross has stumbled upon a unique sound. Listening to Don Ross Music ™, one marvels that any of it is reproducible. And, yet, he usually manages to play the pieces as recorded. 

The new Passion Session, recorded by Ross in 2014, and released on glorious red vinyl as PS15 by the Wisconsin-based, guitar-loving label Candy Rat, contains the same eleven songs as the original with two tracks swapping sides. Having not heard the original version and without access to it, I cannot say how the recordings differ in sound and performance. But I would be willing to bet tomorrow’s breakfast that PS15 is the keeper. 

 It begins with “Klimbin,” which as the liner notes explain means “junk” in German. Talk about deceptive advertising! The tune is like walking, deep in thought, down Sesame Street. It’s a sunny day, of course. Big Bird is there. Susan, too. But something Oscar the Grouch said about capitalist consumption really gets you thinking as the tune takes a momentary introspective turn before popping back to its lilting pace. 

 “Michael, Michael, Michael,” the second song, was written to commemorate Don Ross’s friend, the guitar genius Michael Hedges who died tragically way too young in an automobile accident in 1997. The piece is joyous and restless, forward-moving, unstoppable, with a middle part that opens up for sorrow to have its way with us before returning to the funky main passage that reminds us all to dance. 

 Another highlight on PS15 is “First Ride.” As Ross explains in the liner notes, the tune is a tribute to Bruce Cockburn. Based around Cockburn’s lovely classic “Foxglove,” the opening riff reminds me of another Cockburn tune, “When You Give It Away.” Yet, because Ross wrote the piece in 1983, that would mean the tribute song would have had to influence Cockburn, which is a neat trick if true. I am not saying that is the case, only that the opening of “First Ride” resembles, maybe to my ears only, Cockburn’s “When You Give It Away.” Ross’ tune seems to quote a few Cockburn licks but is really capturing the essence of the man’s playing. It pays homage to Cockburn’s metronomic thumb work and the spider-like descending runs that weave through his playing. 

With You in Mind,” the third tribute to a guitar master on the album, is dedicated to Pat Metheny and has become a staple for Don Ross concerts, with too many chords and melodies to fit in the ear. 

PS15 is really an album of highlights and writing about each piece does little to add to their beauty. Check it out for yourself. Every piece demonstrates Ross’ prowess as a guitarist but also his gift for melody, and ability to transport the listener. Each piece is like a machine made for travel taking you in different directions. If one can stop wondering about how he does all this with a guitar, the album can function nicely as the mood-setter for gatherings, or as company beside one’s daily chores. There is no lyrical content to interfere with thoughts or reading and writing, just beautiful, impossible sounds. For musicians and those interested in the language of music, this is not passive listening at all, but it pretends to be.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Full Circle: David Campbell, magic, and new old tunes

 TOPICs: David Campbell, Vancouver, teachers, time

             
            Sleep has been difficult. For you, too? The isolation, winter, and a lingering imbalance in mood have been hitting hard. We, of course, share this experience. Whatever "this" may be. May your dark moments lead to light from unexpected sources.
            With stores on lockdown, The RadZone, my favourite record store of all time, is functioning with curbside service. Founded by Paul Muncaster way back before MP3s, before the genome had been mapped, before Elon Musk had built his first killer robot, The RadZone, source of music, movies, books, boards and gear, deserves a post of its own. For now, I want to share a bit of today’s magic.   The wonderful Melodie, clerk/manager/magician, posts videos of new albums and books on the Instagram feed, which i wait for like a dried out daisy waiting for rain. Today, as Mel flipped through the “Fresh Crate” of new arrivals, I saw the familiar face of a mentor flash by: David Campbell, poet, songwriter, teacher. Hardly believing what I’d seen, I texted Mel to ask if she'd put aside the album, Pretty Brown, David’s major label debut from 1977. At least, I thought it was his major label debut. It turns out I do not know as much about David Campbell’s music as I thought I did. For example, his early albums were released by major labels -- Columbia, for one -- before David started his own label based on Manitoulin Island. I did not even know David had a connection to Manitoulin! There is so much to learn.
            Not only did Mel and Paul have Pretty Brown, there were five more albums, including a German pressing of Through Arawak Eyes. All of this is new to me. Although I knew David – somewhat – this is the first time I have held one of his albums. These records have been rumours to me. David was famously prolific throughout his life, more books and albums than I know of, none of which have been particularly well preserved. And then, six albums, found in a box. Thank you, RadZone.
            I met David Campbell at a poetry reading in Vancouver in the early 1990s. The name of the venue is not important because, as I recall, the venue did not have a name. It was a pop-up reading with music organized by a young poet, a student I’d met at Langara College, and held in an abandoned retail space somewhere on the tired end of Main Street. I remember many of the people and few of their few names. There was a guy who recited a poem about a fish that lifted its head out of the water to spit at the writer. I forget the guy’s name. He was a white fella, probably in his thirties, tall, thin. We got to know each other a little, turning up at readings and open stages, coffee houses, and clubs. At that time, I was fairly shut down and could not make easy conversation with anyone. I could sing, if you gave me a guitar and threatened me, but I was not rushing the stage to read poems or strum out my very emo-ish early folk tunes. The guy with the fish poem – a poem that began with the line: “Nice trick, fish…” – was at the table with a few other open mic writers and performers. Although I can’t remember the fish poet’s name, I remember the expression on his face when David entered the room. And when Mr. Campbell sat with us, the fish guy became noticeable nervous.
            “Are you reading tonight, David?”
            “No. Just listening,” said David Campbell.
            I had no idea who David Campbell was. He had a heavy vibe, like someone who had seen and felt more than he could express, even after ages of expression. For whatever reason, David sat beside me. We started talking. I was a new face, maybe. Or my cardigan? [Fashion Fact: I wore a cardigan sweater long before Kurt Cobain made it a uniform for recalcitrant Gen-Xer would-be poets and songwriters. I don’t claim to have invented the cardigan or to have popularized it. My claim is that I was the only person I knew who had a cardigan, and that I wore it without posturing and without irony. It was warm. It had pockets for paper and pens. That is all that mattered]. It likely wasn’t the cardigan that had David sit at our table. Likely, it was the fish poet. They’d known each other.
            A few people were asking me to read and play. They asked not because they liked my poems and songs but because they had never heard me play. Who is this kid in the cardigan?
             I didn't know, how could they have known?
            I remember talking about music with David. Music, poetry, darkness. He was talking about the thing I’d felt around me but had not yet identified. I must have looked like something partially hatched to him, stunted, static. You’ll never be a tree, if you don’t start growing, I imagine him saying, having no memory of David having said anything of the sort. He didn’t say that. Let's be clear. I don’t remember what we talked about, but it must have been enough to make a link of some kind. Over the next few years – although I can’t say we became friends – we had interesting conversations, with David functioning as a sort of distance-ed teacher and me standing outside the classroom listening through an open window. We never played music together. He would play a song, and I would listen with everyone else. He would comment on a song I played that night, more about the energy than the songs.
          The room changed after David left that Main Street pop-up reading, like light and gravity had shifted in his absence. I stayed around, listening to the readers and singers, wishing I had the confidence to get up and sing, then started made my way to the SkyTrain station for home.
            Leaving alone, I walked the dark street. Rounding a corner, I heard my name called. It was David. He said he had stopped in to see a friend and was now going home. We walked together for a few blocks.
           "Did you play?" he asked.
           "No."
           "Sometimes, it's not the right time. You can't force it."
 As I recall the moment, I want to write that he said Spirit, but I don't think he did. He meant the song, most likely, in that moment, the performance. But the song, the enactment of the song in performance is -- or can be -- an act of Spirit. He was, I think, talking about performing that night specifically but also meant that the spirit of the song doesn't always want to come. Since that time, I have learned that songs can be coaxed but never forced. The audience knows when the performer forces the song. Sometimes the song just won't come. Although you've practiced it for years. There is something in that room, or in the moment, or in the performer's heart that will not allow that song to come through. So, as a drunk old heckler might say, play something you know when the spirit of the song won't come through.
            But he was right. You can't force it.
             My problem wasn't that it was the wrong night. Every night was the wrong night for me.
             That was the first time I met David Campbell. I had not yet heard his music or his poetry. I had not had a drop to drink.
            David Campbell was born in Guyana. His father was Arawak. His mother was Portuguese. In his live sets, he talked a lot about his family, about growing up in Guyana and moving to Canada. I likely had never heard of Guyana or the Arawak people at that point. Everything is new when you are new.
            From then on, David would show up at open stages. We continued our conversations. He, of course, had many friends to see, so it wasn’t like he spent all evening talking with me.
            The first song I remember hearing him play was “I Am a Harbour,” written in Alert Bay, a community, way up north in the Queen Charlotte Strait near the top edge of Vancouver Island. It’s Kwakwaka'wakw territory, I now know. Then, I substituted the place in the song for every place and person I missed. The song had a chorus “I am a harbor / and you are a sailor / with the sea in your soul.” David played it on a nylon string guitar, gently picking the melody. His voice was warm wind from the still part of creation’s engine, centred in the balance of the dancer.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
            It seemed that David was planning a return to performance at that time. He showed up at more coffee houses and open mics as the months went by. He asked a lot about my life. Where I was from? What I thought of this strange world? But he was guarded. I learned very little about the man. I knew the standard stuff, what he said on stage, and the legends people told: How he’d been signed to major labels; How the labels had abandoned him; and that his music can summon the Spirit of Creation for a moment.  People talked about dozens of albums and books, a mythical library of material. One of his books of poetry was titled Between Songs. I saw it in the window of a secondhand bookshop. At the time, I was living in a $150-a-month room in the basement of a house owned by a retired engineer. I help him with his junk gathering business and watched the house when he traveled. Books were beyond my budget, and I couldn’t very well ask David if he had any spare cassettes or books kicking around.
         So, I knew David Campbell’s writing and music from only what I had heard him perform.
         It’s funny that in the conversations we’d had, David had not mentioned Manitoulin Island. He knew I’d grown up near the lakes. I suspect that his perspective was too broad for geography. Maybe it was his way of keeping distance from a young writer. Maybe he knew it was the spiritual aspects of his history, what he saw beyond the senses, not the specifics, that could most benefit a new writer. Either way, the man is a mystery to me. Over time, his influence on my writing and thought have taken on a mythic scale that is more imagined than apparent.
            I do not want to imply that we were friends. As recently as 2008, I reached out to David, having found his astonishing YouTube channel with hundreds of poems and songs. In that message, I told him of his influence on my writing and consciousness. He did not remember me. How could he? What teacher can remember everyone who eavesdropped on their classes. I cannot call myself his student, but he was my teacher. There must be hundreds of artists with whom he has shared the magic of creation over these decades. Mostly, our conversations were invitations to open. He sensed my fear, reluctance, self-judgement. He knew I was scared and uncertain about allowing the songs to live in a moment. He sensed, I think, I would not let out my song.
          “Look at me,” he said once, skipping along. “I’ve given my life to Creation, and I am fine. You’ll be okay, too.” It must have been frustrating to talk of faith to the faithless.   
          I will post my thoughts on each of the six albums Paul and Mel have gathered. They couldn’t have come at a better time, truthfully. I was very low today, returning to bed between work commitments to lose myself in the oblivion of sleep. But something has shifted. We move toward light.
            This arc began a few days ago, when for no reason at all, I thought of David, of a concert he gave at La Quena Coffeehouse, the sadly defunct revolutionary cafĂ© on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, just at the end of the street from the engineer’s house where I sulked in my tiny rented room, wending my way around walls of old electronics and furniture. David had just returned from a tour across Canada as the resident storyteller and musician for VIA Rail. He was telling stories about people he’d met, sang a few songs, then launched into a cautionary critique against No Smoking signs.
            In the early 90s, many Vancouver venues were discouraging indoor tobacco use, and those red circles with the slashes running through burning cigarettes were everywhere. David didn’t say anything about the act of smoking, its dangers, or criticize Vancouver venues from trying to keep the air clean for staff and patrons. Instead, he was concerned by the symbol itself: the slash across the circle was blasphemy.
            “They don’t know what they are doing when they cross out a circle like that,” David said from the stage. “The circle is everything. The circle is life.”