“No Drums No Masters!”
It’s not an ideological slogan- it’s a sign of the times. Musical austerity measures. Forgo the rehearsal space and cars that real drums require, and just lay it down with some cheap beats from a rented drum machine. As usual, the songs are all based on true stories. Low Budget- even lower than last time! But rich with imagination.
About the photograph: Jennifer Rowsom took this shot. I pitched it to her as a “feminist art project.” I’ve also re-enacted this shot with my theatrical collaborator Stephanie Markowitz. I love the musical genealogy of the original image by Daniel Kramer. In staging this version, I hoped to pay proper homage to the roots of each of the songs and to my artistic community, as well as to place the songs in historical context. Radioactive fallout is still a concern, but now the cover story on the magazine is about peak oil and climate change. On the mantle Bo Diddley, the originator, presides over all of the music that descended from his inspired playing. Beside Bo, there is a piece of art by Will Munro. Will passed away around the time I wrote “When the Wind Blows,” and the song reflects upon time spent with both him and with the writer Adam Gilders, as they were each dying of brain cancer (Adam died in 2007.) Will’s Vazaleen and Peroxide parties were the well from which my own musical community sprang. Among the records on the floor there is one anchor piece from the original album cover we’re aping (a special thanks to my father David for finding that, it’s rather rare!)
For more of Jennifer’s work:
Jo Snyder: Guitars
Maggie MacDonald: vocals
Sheila Sampath: keyboard, shaker
Paul Mathew: Bass
with backing vocals by Jo Snyder, Sheila Sampath
Thank yous: Cribbing from Fugazi we’re going to leave it at a simple “Thank you.” Imagine how many friends Fugazi had? We probably don’t have as many, but, imagine?
1. The Man in The Middle
This is an imaginary duet. At our gigs Gentleman Reg often sings this with me.
2. No Sympathy
When I’m feeling down, I throw on Between the Buttons. Picture it, track one- Let’s Spend the Night Together. And it’s skipping. Then the phone rings…
3. When The Wind Blows
Every era has it’s plague. I knew a guy with a lot of friends, then pestilence came. Some friends became activists and caregivers, others walked away.
The lesson of the plague is that the person with the pamphlet doesn’t always “answer the call.” Very often it’s that seemingly apolitical person who, when called by thoughtless, selfless “brotherly love,” does the right thing at the right time.
Guilt is a cargo with no value
Competing regrets shout and argue
I pull my weight in Guilt and I press on
Slowed by my doubts and questions
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
Then you will know
Only then you will know
I stop in my tracks to read me a letter
From 79, signed “Pliny the Elder”
Sayin’ “Things will get dark before they get better
Don’t look back, at your creator
The song of the wind I mistook for wise laughter
The sound of the leaves, an accident of matter
The angel of history only sees looking back
The debris of catastrophe is piling up fast
When the wind blows
When the wind blows
Then we will know
Only then we will know
4. The Giver and The Taker
You can outrun punishment, but you can’t outrun the judge.
Come by the store anytime. The music is free, and it’s John Fluevog’s birthday so there will be balloons and other surprises!
I will be playing a solo set tonight, backed by Holly Andruchuk and her main collaborator Simon Elliot, as part of Not So Soft, presented by The Crush Project. It will be a short set, with a Q&A. Lisa Bozikovic, Vag Halen and other talented people will also be playing sets.
Vag Halen is an AMAZING new band featuring the talents of Stephanie Markowitz and the proprietors of the Hen House, as well as a guitarist who is basically a young female Marc Bolan, minus the wizard look. Wow.
Here is a link to more info about the event:
Perhaps I’ll see you later at The Gladstone (1214 Queen Street West). Prepare for a Saturnalia sing-song situation.
Tales of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood feature all sorts of musical collisions: Neil Young and Rick James in a band together- wearing yellow, the ghost of Richard Hovey mingling with the memory of Joni Mitchell before the fame.
It was a different world 30 years ago. Now it’s the site of four star hotels and high priced boutiques where movie stars shop with sunglasses on. Every now and then mystical forces get their fingers mixed in the threads of time, and the past and future intermingle, recalling the spirit of those storied days. My DJ friend Mizz Brown was in the Yorkville Whole Foods with Dr. Bertram, when such a slit in the universe opened, and light from a parallel world struck her eye.
Chewing on a sandwich, Mizz Brown raised her head. Directly in front of her, Stevie Wonder was browsing the vitamin aisle.
“When he spoke, it was as if his voice was coming from a parallel world. We hugged, and it was like we’d hugged before… I felt as if two dimensions were crossing, and it was the most natural thing, as if he’d always been there…”
He wore a black silk shirt with “Just be You” embroidered on the pocket, both in Latin alphabet and in Braille.
“I’m your biggest fan” she told him.
“Oh no, you’re not” he said, feigning modesty- or perhaps the man is truly modest.
This was no ordinary celebrity encounter. If it were, it wouldn’t be in this blog. This is the story of two worlds colliding- the world of inspiration and the realm of the real. Stevie Wonder is a material being, yes, but his endless creativity is beyond worldly, and his materialization in the vitamin aisle is a testament to the ever-imminent possibility of a mystical encounter, just beyond the sandwich in your hands.
The photo above is Mizz Brown with Mr Wonder, taken by Dr Bertram.
Mizz Brown spins at the monthly BORN TO RUN DMC night at Parts and Labour in Toronto.
It’s been a few weeks since our last post, so what have we been up to? BB has gone underground- into James Bunton’s basement studio- to record a few songs. We’ll let you know when they’re ready to share.
In the meantime, I’ll soon post a true story about my friend Caitlin’s encounter with a visitor from a parallel world.
Thanks for checking in. See you again soon!
Pretty soon Betty Burke will play a show that charges admission, but this Sunday you have another chance to see us for zero dollars. Since we have taken on austerity measures (see the post about Max Weinberg’s replacement jumping on stage), we are able to pass on a significant savings to you, the music consumer. All we ask is that you laugh at some of our jokes- and support the Summerworks Festival!
In revoking Summerworks’ Heritage grant at the last minute, the federal government has given the fest a whole lot of community goodwill from audiences that aren’t usually drawn to theatre. I like to be optimistic about these situations, so I wonder, could this be a moment that politicizes an art form that has been… low on activism… in recent years? My friends in the orbit of the notorious Vinge & Mueller theatre circle might protest, but I am speaking of the Canadian context. I don’t doubt the confrontational cred of the creatures currently inhabiting Berlin’s Volksbuhne. Their last Ibsen show caused a national debate about arts funding in Norway.
In any case, art is a route to the truth, and if it offends on occasion, that’s further proof that we have witnessed something greater than mere entertainment. Here’s to Summerworks for giving us more than entertainment.
We hope to see you at the Summerworks closing party, this Sunday, August 14 at 6 PM in the MOCCA parking lot, 952 Queen Street West, Toronto. We play early, so don’t doddle!
People sometimes ask me how I know so many musicians from Ottawa. As a punk and fanzine writer in Cornwall in the 90s, attending shows in Ottawa and hanging around the zine rack at Five Arlington, was an important part of my life. Though I am not “from Ottawa,” I was more than a tourist/less than a resident to its music scene, and I continue to be friends with many of the great people I met in those years.
Ottawa-born Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine zines and book are a big influence on Betty Burke. I consider Ghost Pine’s guiding principle “All Stories True” to be words to live by, and reading Jeff’s tales about friends and fellow musicians taught me that you don’t need science fiction to have a good time.
Ottawa has given me friends, literary influences, great music, and a distinctive accent. But that’s not all: this summer, Ottawa is giving Betty Burke a film screening! The Ottawa International Film Festival (OIFF) is happy to include Cornwallites in their definition of local filmmakers. It is just a hop, skip & jump; a jump away, after all! So this local filmmaker will be having a big screen debut on Sunday, August 21st at the Babylon club on Bank Street, as part of a music video program that runs 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM. The film of Betty Burke’s “You Can’t Wear Suede in The Rain,” a collaboration with Joseph Clement, will be shown along with other music videos from the Ottawa area.
There is a lot of talent in the valley, and I am proud to be part of a festival that celebrates this rich little land of storytellers, musicians, and film and video artists.