Betty Burke

AM signals from a parallel present

Archive for the ‘Oh, and by the way…’ Category

Taking it All Back, Now (Austerity Measures): four free songs by Betty Burke

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Taking it All Back Now: photo by Jennifer Rowsom

“Taking it All Back, Now: Austerity Measures.” Four Free Songs by Betty Burke.

“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:

Songs (c) 2010, 2011 by Maggie MacDonald (SOCAN)
Recorded and Produced in 2011 by James Bunton at his home studio
Mastered by Matt Smith

The Players:
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.

I know a guy, he’s got a lot of friends
Now let me tell you about his Problems
pestilence comes and grabs him by the collar
Who will come running when he Hollers?

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

Caught at the crossroads, watching
My mistakes shake, resonate
Making waves until the bridge breaks
If I cross, will I be saved?

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

He told of a hole where a servant died
With Caligula’s stamp by the seaside
Best laid plans dissolve in Messianic time
When the lava runs down the rock No one can hide

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.


Solo show Tuesday May 15 at Toronto Fluevog Store

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I’ll be playing two sets as myself, Maggie MacDonald, at the Toronto Fluevog Store on Tuesday, May 15th. Jo Snyder will be backing me and also playing a few songs of her own too.

Come by the store anytime. The music is free, and it’s John Fluevog’s birthday so there will be balloons and other surprises!


Written by bettyburkeband

May 13, 2012 at 2:32 am

Stevie Wonder in the vitamin aisle

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photo credit: Dr. BertramTales 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.

More soon,
Intials B.B.

Written by bettyburkeband

November 27, 2011 at 5:18 am

In the studio with James Bunton

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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!

Written by bettyburkeband

September 13, 2011 at 12:25 am

Got the power of the AM

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When I was sixteen, my friend Margaret Ann and I decided to take a wild road trip down Highway 2 to Belleville, Ontario. We had friends living there, but didn’t know their phone number or address. Somewhere around the Quinte Mall we stopped at a sandwich shop to exchange worried looks and twiddle our thumbs. The green haired fellow behind the counter started up a conversation with us, brainstorming ways we might find our friends. His name was Ian, and it turned out we knew some of the same musicians (Shotmaker of course, the best band in Eastern Ontario in those days). Ian welcomed us to stay in the sandwich shop as long as we liked.

Our mood had already lifted when the door opened, and in walked three of Ian’s friends- a girl in a powder blue polyester suit, and two guys, her henchmen, if you will. The girl’s name was Michelle Kasprzak. She had a fat cigar, and a tweed cap, and was clearly the ringleader of Belleville’s motley youth posse. We exchanged mailing addresses, and when I got back to Cornwall, I sent Michelle a package- or did she send the first? We were penpals for two years.

Michelle was obsessed with Glenn Gould at that time. She sent me a mixtape, and a photo of the magical scarf-and-glove man, in one of her decorated envelopes. I sent Michelle zines, and mixtapes too, it was 1997 afterall.

The limited number of highways in Canada means that most people travel either East or West, so it’s no shocker that I’ve had several unplanned run-ins with Michelle over the years. Now she is living in Europe, and I haven’t seen her since the morning after a show at which the Arcade Fire opened for The Hidden Cameras– which should give you a sense of how long it’s been!

Michelle’s career as an artist has taken off over the years, and another member of her Belleville posse, Daniel Cockburn has found success as a filmmaker, recently winning the prestigious Chalmers Award. Growing up in Belleville is probably a lot like growing up in Cornwall, and maybe just a little bit like being young in Espanola or Weyburn too. Teenage artists and art appreciators have the internet to connect with now, but in the past, we met by chance along the East-West highway.

Echoes of other places were always traveling to us though, through the night, on the other side of the dial. No gloom of night can stay the power of the AM radio, for which the signal is only stronger in more isolated places. As Jonathan Richman sings in Roadrunner, “Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on…got the power of the AM…rock & roll late at night…”

Michelle Kasprzak’s beloved Glenn Gould also praises the power of AM radio; in the 1974 essay “The Search for Petula Clark,” Gould describes a stretch of Highway 17 on the North Shore of Lake Superior where the AM radio reception is especially clear, bringing Petula to his ears from thousands of miles away. In the documentary No Direction Home, Bob Dylan speaks to the power of the AM signals that reached his ears at night, in his boyhood home in Hibbing, Minnesota, where the furthest headwaters of Superior trickle down towards Duluth. Drifting over hills and prairie, the songs of Hank Williams and Elvis were carried from stations in Memphis and New Orleans, to the children of remote towns and outposts who spent their solitary hours of darkness by the radio.

Distance and isolation amplify the power of music, radio resonating loudly in the hearts of the lonely, transforming anonymous lovesongs into transcendental breakers, slicing through the everyday to that other realm where parallel worlds ring together in a single chord.

Imagine yourself driving West on Highway 17, alone in the dark, with Lake Superior to the left, and ragged rocks to the right. You hear an oldies station, but do not recognize a single song. The announcer makes reference to the biggest artists of the 50s and 60s, and the names of the dead are spoken of in present tense: Otis Redding and Buddy Holly, two old men in America.

The news isn’t all good, however. Slight variations in the government, wrong turns in a war, floods where the well is dry, all of it adds up to a warning of what could be, what will be, and the temporary and delicate state of what already is. In that other world, there is no Highway 17, because the North Shore is just a sprinkling of mining pits. In that other world, Lake Superior is dry, because something had to be drained to keep the wheels turning. That other world is close enough to touch you through that break in time, the AM station so faint it can only be picked up on remote roads, when you’re all alone. And through the news from that other world, our own world is reflected- the systems and powers we behold and obey as permanent fixtures are only as strong as the belief that they’re endless. And the song of the distant station tests that belief, shaking its foundations with the vocalization of a lonely announcer, who faithfully waits for better days, and spins old 45s to comfort the world in the meantime.

Though we’re far apart, and we may live in isolation, we can pick up these signals and hum along to the songs that shake the foundation of the everyday, to let in the light of another, better future.


Thank you for braving thermageddon

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An extra special thanks to all of our friends who braved thermageddon to attend Thursday’s show.

It was the hottest July day ever for Toronto, the hottest day of the year so far, and close to 50 C with the humidex. But not our “hottest day ever” – which some forecasters had been predicting. We were 2 degrees shy of that landmark.

Ian Daffern remarked on the smell of asphalt rising in the air- not typical in Toronto. Rarely does a wall of heat so heavy sit on top of our city.

Considering the above, I was impressed with the number of friends who managed to make the trek to the Gladstone to catch our set. Thank you for braving the extreme heat to share a night out with us.

See you again soon,

P.S. The next BB blog post will be a mini essay with reference to Glen Gould, Northern Ontario, and Adorno, and our next show will be August 14th at the Summerworks Festival.

Written by bettyburkeband

July 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Ticket Giveaway for Open Roof Fest screening of Trigger, with Betty Burke!

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We are giving away two tickets for Thursday’s Open Roof Festival screening of Trigger, with yours truly as live musical openers. To win a ticket, visit our facebook page and answer one of the two quiz questions.

If you are first to answer, you will win a ticket!


Written by bettyburkeband

July 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm