This happened…

October 2015 edition. Check out all the things that have happened.

The leaves began their final farewells.

I celebrated yet another year of marital bliss.

Oktoberfest war wunderbar!

We visited our favourite apple hangout.

The babysitting zombie apocalypse occurred (I survived).

A sad day as we bid farewell to our birch tree.

I saw Sound of Music at Stratford.

The first hint of winter came a-knockin’.

The fall harvest got phallic.

Saw a performance of Crime of the Century (but not by Supertramp).

Our pumpkins were spooky and goofy.

See you next month!

Hippie wannabe ode to a tree

This morning, armed with the kind of hardware that our forefathers didn’t even dream of, a group of four young men arrived at our house and removed our birch tree.


It was kind of a sad day. The tree needed to go, and it was a long time coming, too. Birch trees don’t have a particularly long life in urban yards–20 years is pushing it, and ours was older than that. Our neighbours were here three years after the house was built, and they said it was there when they got here 21 years ago. I assume that birch was one of the first trees in the neighbourhood, planted by the first people to live here. It’d be cool to be able to know why they selected it–maybe there was a story there.

I’d have loved to keep it–it was a very lovely tree. I liked the way it stood in front of our house like no other tree on the block. All I needed to say to people who wanted to come for a visit for the first time was “It’s the little house with old birch tree out front”, and no one got lost. I loved to hear the sound of the wind through its branches on cold autumn days like the ones we have been having:

Its branches were lovely, and from them hung the little twig-like branches with all the leaves that reminded me of Suzanne’s hair on the rare occasions when she wears it down. The tree used to tickle me with its little twigs whenever I went to unlock our front door. It was playful, and it seemed to like me as much as I liked it. It had as companions the spring tulips and hostas of the summer, and these small plants snuggled around its feet. They were all very happy.


It really pained me to have it removed.

But the last couple years were quite hard for it. We had three or so ice storms in that time, and each time, in spite of how staggeringly beautiful it could be, I could have sworn the poor tree was going to come down with the weight of the ice.



We lost a lot of branches in the ice storms, and the tree was dying from the top down to the point where it was bare at the top, even in the height of summer when it should have been green and happy. The tree looked sad at the top, and often the birds in the neighbourhood would seem to take some kind of pity on it, and perch on its highest exposed branches and sing. It was the place this spring where I saw my first Robin:


I knew that in spite of its stalwartly growing leaves each summer as well as it could, it was tired, and it was getting to the point where it couldn’t withstand another winter. So, today was the day.


The house looks somehow smaller without it there. It seems like we’ve lost something bigger than just the tree. We can see a lot farther up the street now when we leave the house, but it feels more exposed and less cozy, somehow. I wonder if the house will be colder this winter without it standing sentinel out there against the elements. I know I did the right thing, but sometimes the right thing doesn’t feel right. Sigh.

But, we’ve decided that rather than letting the tree service take the tree away, we’re going to use what’s left of it in our yard. The branches and most of the rest of the tree went through their wood chipper, and we’ve kept those wood chips to use in our garden as mulch and ground cover next spring. Our yard is mostly clay, and so a good portion of it has gone into our compost to break down and make the soil in next year’s flower beds (the same ones where we transplanted the tulips and hostas from around the tree) that much healthier and nicer.

And we’ve also kept the trunk. We had it cut into “cookies” as the tree guy called them. We want to use them to make a nice little pathway in the back yard around the shed. So, although our tree no longer stands, it also isn’t leaving. It gets to stay at its home. It gets to stay in the company of its master and mistress, and it’ll turn into the plants and trees in the years to come. We’ll remember it. The tree guy was amused. He said, “it’s not often we leave the whole tree behind when we cut it down”. Yeah, I can see that. But Suz and I are weird, and always have been. I like to think our weirdness comes from a good place. After all, who the heck writes an obituary for a tree? I guess I do.

Ave atque vale to our lovely birch.


NaNoWriMo Prepwork

I’ve decided to try to take on the NaNoWriMo again this year. There’s a few new things for me. I’m going to write in a genre I’ve never attempted before (fanfic, as well as fantasy–this should be interesting–if you’re interested in a synopsis it’s on my NaNoWriMo page, but basically, it’s a story set in the world created by Tolkien for Lord of the Rings), and I’m also going to try a new writing platform this year.

I thought I’d write a little bit about how I intend to use this new platform, Ulysses, to help me achieve my goal of the 50,000 word novel this November.

Ulysses released a major update to its software late last year–too late to help me out with the NaNoWriMo, but the minute it was released, I knew this was going to be a godsend to me. The sheer fact that I could seamlessly move between my two writing rigs was worth the price of admission right there. Last year, I used my iMac to write at home, and my iPad+Bluetooth Keyboard to write remotely. I write a surprising amount remotely, both because I like to write in the many awesome cafés that dot my little white-bread town, but also because I enjoyed attending the writing events that the kind folks at NaNoWriMo put on last year. I imagine this year will be no different. Having a way to sync so seamlessly was pretty amazing.

As it happens, I acquired a new little MacBook this past year, so the iPad is no longer my portable writing rig, but it’s nice to know it’s an option, and the fact that Ulysses syncs so perfectly between all of my devices means that the transition from desktop to laptop will be completely frictionless.

While I’m looking forward to taking the whole process for a spin this November, I’ve been kicking the tires by setting up my novel in preparation to write. Doing this has made me realize that I have so found my tool. If Ulysses hadn’t been around for years already, I’d have sworn that it was designed specifically for NaNoWriMo.

Without further adieu, heres what I’ve accomplished so far:

I decided last year that it was probably a good idea for me to try structured writing as opposed to discovery writing. My first outing in the NaNoWriMo, while successful, was problematic because I didn’t know what I was writing toward, and so I eventually wrote myself into a corner that I still haven’t figured a way out of. Last year, thanks to having a good structure in place, I had absolutely no troubles. I hope to do the same, but even better this year. It’s in the structuring of the novel that Ulysses has totally shone.

A few words about story structure: I am taking my process directly from the excellent talk on story structure given by Dan Wells a number of years ago. This talk is available on YouTube here, and I totally recommend watching it. It’s an hour or so of your life that will revolutionize your writing–or at least, it did mine. :)

So, with that lesson in mind, let’s take a look at how I structured my novel:

StructureTo the left is my starting point. I use Ulysses for pretty much all of my writing, including long form fiction, short stories, journal entries and blog posts (I’m told Ulysses will someday be able to publish to WordPress right out of the app, which is killer–I can’t wait). My long form fiction is housed in an intuitively named place in my list of projects. Within this are all of my NaNoWriMo novels, divided by year. There’s a group for every year. Within the project, I’ve created the following sub-groups:

  • Ideas, which I used initially to get together an idea for a story this year, but is now housing every last crazy idea I have that might become a plot point, so I don’t lose them.
  • Settings and Locations, which contain notes about all the places in the novel where the action takes place. Since I am writing within an established world this time around, it helps to have some notes that I collected from the canonical text so that I can know where and what my characters are seeing and experiencing.
  • Character notes, which is where all the information about characters I’m creating, or the known information about existing canonical characters resides.

Note that within these groups, there’s a new sheet for each idea, location and character respectively, so everything is extremely well organized and neat.

Finally, I have a group for the Raw Manuscript. This is where all the magic will happen. You can see in the graphic above that within the Raw Manuscript group, I’ve created one sub-group for each of Dan Wells’s seven points. This makes sticking to a structure super easy, and what’s more, allows me to structure even further into the manuscript.


By this, I mean that within each of these, I’ve broken the plot structure down even farther. To the left is what my current midpoint looks like. There’s four sheets contained within this midpoint. Each one will eventually become a chapter that satisfies the needs of a story’s midpoint. My character will achieve the first part of his journey, but will then decide to find the courage to complete the quest, even though it means even more peril. You may ask why there’s four sheets? That one’s a question of simple math:

Your NaNoWriMo novel must be 50,000 words in length. There’s seven points in the story structure. 50,000 divided by 7 is 7143, so each section needs to have that many words. But then I further divided this number by four so that each sheet needs to be 1786 words. Why did I do that? Well, 1785 words times 30 is 53,571 words. So that means that if I meet my word count for one sheet each day, I win! The math isn’t perfect, as there’s only 28 sheets in the project not 30, but I’ve found that invariably I’ll add a chapter here and there or go over word count in another few, so it’s close enough for me. It also gives me a little buffer if some of the sheets fall short of the word count.

As a digression, last year, I used the more broken down structuring outlined by Katy in this video. I didn’t do it this year because I found it constrained me too much, but I’ll leave a reference here for those who might benefit.

I can tell you though, there’s no way that this is how it’ll work in practical terms. I’ve done NaNoWriMo enough times to tell you that some chapters will have way more words while others will have less. The point of this is so I can feel going in that I’ve got it all covered by way of what I plan to do, and that’s one less thing to worry about! This structure is simply a starting point, and something to allow me to keep my eye on loose metrics. For specific metrics, Ulysses has me totally covered.

If you right click on any project, section, or sheet, you’ll get a pop-up menu, and one of the options is Goal… This is a godsend. See the little circles next to the Raw Manuscript heading, as well as the in the heading of each sheet? These circles will fill in as I write, and let me know when I’ve achieved the word count for any given sheet, and the Raw Manuscript one will give me my overall number for the novel (I could have set up each of the seven points to count too, but I felt that was less necessary). The main point is, with things set up like this, I’m confident that meeting the word count will be a breeze if I just get my butt in the chair and write every day.

The last little trick that I find handy is that Ulysses allows you to keep notes per sheet. For example:

Notes are great!
Notes are great!


See that lovely little pane on the right? Everything there is for your information only. Any text that you want to add, any photos for inspiration, any word count information, and even tags (I’m not going to go into the rabbit hole that contains all the cool things Ulysses can do–go to the site to get the lowdown). The point is, I use the space to write notes to myself about what needs to happen in this particular sheet so I only have the stuff I need to reference right now on screen, and I can corral my ideas per section so I know I’ll have enough ideas to write about, and none of the stuff here impacts the word count.

And the great thing is that it’s all seamlessly and painlessly synced across all of my devices and I don’t even need to think about it. The backups are automatic because the information is stored in the cloud. I’ll never have a catastrophe that’ll set me back. the only downside is that you need a Mac to get in on this party. If you have one though, I can’t imagine a better tool for winning the NaNoWriMo. I’m mightily impressed, and I haven’t even told you about how excellent the minimalistic writing canvas is while using this software! Maybe next time. :)

* and no, I’m not at all affiliated. I just love good design. The Soulmen have knocked it out of the park with this software. Worth every last penny.

I still imagine

John Lennon would have been 75 years old today. Amazing how time flies. I knew his music before I knew his story. My life’s been richer for his work. That’s a good life–one that can touch so many for so long, even if it was too short. It’s hard for me to believe that I am older now than John was when he died. I’ve now outlived Christ and John Lennon. Totally crazy.

Anyway, thanks, John. The world needs more people like you.

Islands in the stream

Apple Music Subscription ends

For those of us Apple faithful who jumped right on the bandwagon of Apple Music when it was let out into the world, the three-month trial ends today. Much as I’m a pretty strong Apple nerd, I will not be resubscribing. Thought I’d write a little of the journey to this point.

I’ve had this weird relationship with music as I’ve aged. I think I long ago stopped being cool and up on what’s new in the world of music. As Douglas Coupland once said, (to paraphrase) you sort of reach a certain age, sometime in your late 20s or early 30s when you kind of just have your box of vinyl and that it–you don’t stray too far. I’ve found that to be very true. After I left University and I wasn’t steeped in all the latest and greatest being blared from all the University hangouts, I went back to what I knew best. I went back to all the beloved 70s and 80s tunes that I grew up with, and that ushered me into my adulthood. I really don’t stray too far from there. And even though it hurts me when Suz points out that many of my favourite “Yacht Rock” songs sound like opening music for sitcoms, I’m not going to justify or apologize anymore–it’s where my heart lies.

What has changed, more through duress than anything else, are the ways in which I consume music. I started at an age where it was perfectly normal to have a collection of 45s that you’d take out and play, and a healthy addiction to Top 40 radio. I grew up on Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 charts. I sat in front of our family’s 21″ CRT TV and watched Marilyn McCoo sing cover tunes on Solid Gold, and I taped everything I could so I could hear it again when I wanted to. It didn’t matter a whit that the quality was crap.

I guess it all changed when CDs finally came around in the mid to late 80s. They were something wholly different. Even before I got to the music part of the experience, I loved the look of them. That shimmery, rainbow-glinted silver disc. I couldn’t believe, looking at it, there was actual music on there. I remember pining for a CD player for a good long while before I somehow scraped up the cash to buy the absolute bottom-level one I could afford. I spent literally all of my money on it–I couldn’t even afford to buy a CD to play in it when I got it home. My dad took pity on me and fronted me for one CD. I didn’t even think about it–I ran right out and bought Dark Side of the Moon. I just had to hear my favourite band’s most awesome record in all that crystal clarity. Gone was the hiss, gone was the horrible dolby noise reduction that made everything on my tapes sound like it was being played on the other side of a pillow. Gone was the crackle-pop-skip of the vinyl (which I would later come to love for what it was). From that time, for the next number of months, any time I had the money, I’d buy a CD. I thought they were the cat’s ass.

The next change came when people actually were able to record to CD. That was something–I recall following my friend Jake to his office where his boss had the only CD burner we knew of, and he let us try it. It took hours, but I did get a disc of music out of it. Amazing. We listened to the CD we created on Jake’s car CD player (another rarity at the time) on the way home. It felt like the future was here.

Finally came MP3, which didn’t do a thing for me until the rise of Napster, at which point I and everyone else I knew turned into a kid in a candy store. It was the first time music was ubiquitous. I could get whatever I wanted. I heard songs then I hadn’t heard in forever. And it’s been that way ever since.

The only change really is that the physical media slowly went away. My extensive CD collection sits boxed up in the basement, having been ripped to iTunes years ago. All new music (what little I buy) I still get on CD, but I rip it almost immediately and stock the disc. I can enjoy it on my iPhone that way anytime, anywhere. I also sometimes just buy the album directly from Apple and there’s no physical media at all. This totally removed the ritual aspects of listening to music for me, but I think that’s another post sometime.

That was a hard hurdle to overcome for me. For a while there, I was arguing that we as consumers were paying for a sub-par product. The lossy MP3s sold on the iTunes Music Store only contain a third of the data on the CD. It couldn’t possibly sound as good. But then, I realized first of all that the humble record store was becoming extinct, and I couldn’t get the CDs anymore if I wanted to (unless I went to Amazon, which is my current go-to), and second that the music I grew up listening to–the very same that has the strongest emotional hooks into me with the most powerful nostalgia connections–sounded like crap when I first heard it. When I was a kid, it was about the song, not about how good it sounded. It was icing on the cake if it sounded awesome, but it never stopped me from getting my music any way I could. I was never snobbish enough to say, “yeah, I’m not going to tape it–it’ll sound like ass behind all that hiss”. I took what I could get, and I was far richer for it. I’ve been seriously rethinking my audiophile snobbery of late. The equipment I have sounds every last bit as good to me playing a 320 kbps MP3 as it ever did playing a CD. The argument has always been that the equipment clearly isn’t good enough then. But honestly, the more I think of it, the more I think that even if that is true, it’s not going to make me feel any happier or better to get that miniscule improvement that I wouldn’t ever even know I was missing.

So I guess you could say that I’ve been becoming much more happy with having my tunes with me in the quality I can get, which let’s face it, is probably plenty good enough–certainly far better than what I had when I was a teen. To that end, I’ve been thinking more about streaming music. The only thing I still don’t like is that I don’t own the music anymore. If I stop paying, the music is gone. Somehow, this is still a hurdle for me, although I can’t see why. I own most of what I like to listen to, and the rest is supplementary, and a good way to shuffle play what I enjoy. It’s taking time, but that hurdle seems to be going too.

It’s Apple’s fault. Streaming music isn’t anything new, but it took Apple to give me a taste to bring it into my mind on any kind of serious level. As with most things, it took longer for the services to get to Canada–Spotify and Pandora still reign in the States, and their Canadian offerings are only now getting good. I don’t even want to wade into the hell comprised of the reasons why Canada can’t get good streaming media. Apple seemed to have it mostly together though, so I tried it. I liked it, but the focus on Beats doesn’t do it for me (because I’m apparently an old fart and not the demographic anymore) and the way the service works its convoluted little self around my local library of music, my music stored in the ‘cloud’ and the streamed music was just too damned confusing to me. Finally, they didn’t really have everything. As I said, my little demographic has been left behind more than others by Apple. They absolutely want the 13-25 crowd. I’m thinking that’s where most of the energy goes. I decided it wasn’t for me.

But I did like the streaming. I mean imagine it–a library that is literally millions of songs large. Pull up almost anything you want to listen to from the newest to the oldest and enjoy. And all from something the size of an iPhone? Yes, please. The same setup that required tens of square feet of my space in components and media gets reduced to an iPhone. That’s kind of nuts. So, I thought I’d look around to see what is available for us here in Canada. I think the best bet, and the way I went ultimately, is Rdio. They have as good a selection as any (and in some cases better–no one else could give me Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”, although their omission of anything by Ben Folds is a tragedy–but I’m willing to bet that’s more Ben’s fault than theirs). And their UI is really pretty, and I like the way they implemented making playlists.

Actually, the playlist thing is one of the funnest parts so far–I have been remaking the mixed tapes I created along the way as playlists in Rdio. It’s working about 95% of the time–not everything is there.

That’s really the only place it falls over. Some of my musical loves aren’t going to be in any streaming service. Canadian one hit wonders are particularly susceptible to being missed, to say nothing of the just plain weird stuff I found and loved during my stint on RGD. But, that’s what I have iTunes for–I mean, the local library and the songs that I keep in their ‘cloud’ as matches.

Overall, I’m happy with the way it looks right now. I have come to a place where I can’t really imagine wanting more. And the cost per month is about what I paid for a CD. If I could afford more than one of those a month back in the 80s, then I can afford it now. Pretty decent deal when you think about it, in fact.

So yeah, stream on!

This happened…

September 2015 edition. Check out all the things that have happened.

My commute got pretty wet.

A new nearly full-contact board game was tried.

Our backyard harvest started to come in.

Parkdale Plaza felt the burn.

RIM started to come down.

Suzie flipped me the bird.

Autumn started firing on all cylinders.

Melissa Etheridge rocked Centre in the Square.

Aliens invaded our garden. Thankfully, they were friendly.

iPhone day came for Suzie, and I finally got a new toaster.

The harvest happening made feeling blessed pretty easy.

The Supermoon Eclipse got clouded out.
Super disappointment

Spiders and rain made my home office window art throughout the month.

See you next month! :)

The coming of the harvest

Ah, autumn.

Seems it’s finally here. In the past few years, I’ve had largely mixed feelings about autumn, and it’s entirely because I weigh it based on what comes next. Yeah, I really don’t like winter, and autumn seems to be the “get ready–brace yourself” moment. That is, it is when I actually stop to think about it.

Last year, I got through almost the whole of autumn without knowing it, and that was a damned shame. I got up, I went to work, I came home, and as the days got shorter, I stayed inside more and more. The changing of the leaves (arguably one of the very best things about this time of year) seemed to happen overnight for me. One day they were green and lush, then they were colourful for a weekend, and then they were gone, leaving only the depressing gray tones of winter that seemed to stretch into forever. In my mind, it feels like autumn is a week, and winter is about a half year.

This year, I wanted to change that. I knew when I saw that my autumn was ruined last year that it was a simple lack of mindfulness. I didn’t pay attention. This year, I felt autumn coming in subtle ways before it even was obvious, and that’s made a good difference. It has also helped that I have been bicycle commuting for the last number of months.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is just how ‘on time’ nature seems to be. In addition to this blog, one of my other writing projects is a daily journal/photo. I took a picture of the trees outside my office last year at this time, and they look exactly the same now. It’s pretty amazing that down to the day, things look the way they do. Nature moves on a very set schedule, even though you’d think that it doesn’t with all the ‘most brutal winter/most dry summer’ talk. This past week, I went for a walk out on the Avon trail. I like to call it the Wideman Trail, because the trail head for me is just where Wideman road ends at Wilmot Line. Going here was truly lovely. It was autumn at its very best. The best part was a pause I had in a meadow that looked like this:


I mean seriously, how could it be any more quintessentially Canadian autumn like? All that goldenrod and asters. And the place sounded just like this:

It’s so nice to stand out in a field like this and hear nothing but the buzzing and look at the plants and know that although the garden at home is very much on the decline, there’s still a lot of life on the go.

When I was a kid, I never put together that things have their time, even within a season. For me, summer meant robins, and apples and cherries and grass and thunderstorms and biking and it all just wrapped itself into a huge homogeneous thing. But there’s nuances that I never put together until I got into my fourth decade on the planet. Seems so stupid to have never noticed, but the Robins are only truly active and singing in spring, and there’s no grasshoppers until September.


The season for strawberries is shockingly short and the ash tree leaves are the first to show, and first to fall. I never noticed these things before. They were always just wallpaper. I am trying more and more to look at this stuff. It’s important because it grounds me in time, and stops me from thinking that any one time is longer or shorter than it really is. For me, the emotional and psychological effects, both good and bad, come in how things seem more in how they are and I think that’s the lesson the seasons are trying to teach me.

If any of you want to check out this lovely walking trail, here’s where I was:

Where I was

Overall, I feel a true sense of gratitude at this time of year. The harvest is such a wonderful time. It’s appropriate that it’s called Thanksgiving. I feel like I’m finally more in tune with why it’s good to give thanks.

My heart had abducted my mind

View from the cheap seats
Melissa Etheridge at Centre In The Square September 21, 2015

It all began with very little fanfare. The lights went down on the stage and you could see the six lava lights they’d set up in various colours (I have the exact version of one of them) along with a few other candles on shelves in the back of the stage. In front of these were a very wide assortment of guitars, behind a grand piano (a Steinway, apparently). Out in front, close enough to the edge of the stage for the audience to grab it, a single drum and a mic set up.

The lights went down at 8, and a single chord rang out through the theatre, and then there she was. Melissa Etheridge wandered out from behind everything, her signature Ovation 12 string slug over her shoulder. She stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight, and with a single “Hello!” by way of greeting, launched into a fully acoustic version of “Ain’t It Heavy”.

So began Monday night’s concert at Centre in the Square. Melissa Etheridge has been a favourite of mine since she broke onto the music scene in 1988. I’m not sure how I got deeply into the music–I’m not really her demographic these days–but the gateway drug was likely “Bring Me Some Water”, like it was for almost everyone else. I liked what I heard enough to buy her CD though, and that was a big deal. In 1988, CDs were a substantial investment, and music wasn’t just grab and go. Her self-titled album was probably among the first 10 CDs I owned. I played the hell out of that disc. I loved the rawness of her delivery. I loved the way that she was able to just put it all out there in music, and it felt so cathartic to experience it. The album was uniformly awesome too. People stopped after the big hits, but I enjoyed the whole thing. One of the best parts about the concert this week was her performance of “Don’t You Need”, which to the best of my knowledge got no air play, but stood out as a great little tune on the first album.

This was the third time I’ve seen Melissa in concert. The first time was at the Molson Ampitheatre in the summer of 1995 for the “Yes I Am” tour. That concert lives in my mind as one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was a brilliantly hot and beautiful day. Melissa appeared in tight fitting black leather pants, and decreed in the middle of a song, to the beat, that her legs couldn’t breathe. It was really funny if you were there. That concert also featured her doing a cover of AC-DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”, which rocked just about as hard as I could have imagined. All that firepower and passion. There was one time in the latter part of the concert where she was introducing her band, and when they got to the drummer, the bassist and guitarist ran to the kit, held up thier instruments and he actually played the strings. I have seldom had my mind blown like that. It was a truly incredible concert. As I recall, it went on for something like 3+ hours. I’ve never had value like that out of a concert since. This week, during one of her chats with the audience between songs, Melissa said she had the best job in the world, and that nothing made her happier than performing. I guess that has never changed.

Last night’s concert was a little more laid back. The Centre In The Square is not open-air, and is more intimate. A suitable venue for the show she was putting on. This concert interested me more because it was the first time I ever saw Melissa solo. She’s pretty much always been backed by a full band the times I’ve seen her, and her albums are always that way, too. I was interested to see what stripped down versions of the songs sounded like, and I was really hopeful to hear the classics more than the new stuff, which I haven’t kept up with as much.

It was a both great and okay. I’m a fan, so it’s hard for me to be critical of her. I’ll gush first and get it out of the way: Melissa sounds as good today as she did in 1988. I mean, seriously, her voice is such that absolutely no time has passed at all. She’s still got the rawness, still got the passion and the subtle tones that her brand of folk-rock is just so perfect for. I couldn’t be happier. And, she’s an absolute rock veteran. She’s completely no-bullshit. That is, she sounds live exactly like she sounds on the recordings. It’s an honest sound, and you can tell it springs from raw talent. This woman needs no help from fancy electronics or vocal modifiers or anything. I have a feeling if she were in my living room with a 12 string on, and no amps or mics, she’d sound just the same. I love musicians who are like that. Melissa is like that. The setlist was brilliant. Again, I could not be happier. I went in hoping for the classics and I got a heaping helping. In fact, she played only two tracks from the new album, which may have been selling herself short, or may have been simply catering to the reality of what her fan base wants. If it’s the latter, it’s a mature artist who can do that. She knows what the fans want, and she gives them what they want. That kind of egolessness is rare. It’s hard for her to hit all the highs given the length and success of her career, but there were many highs hit: We got to hear “Like The Way I Do”, “Come To My Window”, Bring Me Some Water”, “No Souvenirs”, “I Want To Come Over”, as well as the less-known but much loved “I Take You With Me”. She performed “Like A Preacher” and “Monster” from the new album, and peppered in the lovely slow tunes “The Letting Go” and surprizingly “Don’t You Need” (which is a lesser known from the first album, that none the less was awesome). She even threw in a beautiful cover of Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness In Me”, telling us that it was one of her favourites for a long time because it spoke to her, and I totally get that. And it so worked as a solo performance.

But there were tradeoffs to having Melissa on stage alone. For some reason, she felt that just her and an acoustic guitar wasn’t enough. Or it’s possible that they tried it at some point and it felt enemic. So, she turned, as many musicians do these days, to what she referred to as “magic” but what was really something known as Live Looping. The first time I ever saw live looping performed by a band was years back at some club whose name I totally forget. I was there in Toronto to watch Ember Swift perform with a few friends. On stage, Ember used the gear to create harmonies and extra layers to her music, and I thought it was just great. It added to the music in a wonderful way. I’ve seen it done since to greater and lesser degrees and honestly I’m still on the fence about it. In the case of Melissa, she had what looked like a standard Djembe to create some good bass hits, a Tambourine for the high end, and a Cajón for the rest. Throughout the concert, I’d say on about 2/3 of the tracks, she’d build a beat with these three items that would then loop throughout the song offering a structure and backdrop that would otherwise have been provided by a band. Honestly, I don’t think it works for the type of music that Melissa makes. A live loop provides an extremely rigid structure, and it forces her to perform in it. The kind of passion that Melissa puts into the music is in no small part nuanced. Her music flows like a river, not like an assembly line, and I felt that nuance was lost each time she stood there whacking away at the tambourine to create the beat. It reined in the passion–in performance it felt like she was holding back where even she didn’t want to.

(Digression–I’ve noticed on more than one occasion–including this one–that artists refer to the act of live looping as ‘creation’. That is, they couch it in terms like, “the music I will create for you”–it’s a deliberate attempt to step back from the term “sampling” because many artists who have real talent like Melissa probably don’t want to be bunched into the talentless hacks who abound these days and subsist entirely on their reliance of software and re-use of existing material to ‘make’ music. Like I said, it’s a hairy line, and I don’t know where I come down on it with regard to ‘classic rockers’. I think it can and sometimes should be used to augment performances, but in the case of solo acts, it probably defeats the purpose. The only place I would have seen it used perfectly for this concert was in her version of “Chrome Plated Heart”, whose beat is that of a military march anyway, and it worked great.)

Melissa also used the live looping on her guitar to create a more rich loop which she could then use for soloing. That explained the myriad guitars behind her. She went through most if not all of them, selecting a different one for each song that had a full live loop created. At the end of the song, the looper would loop away, and she’d solo overtop of it. Honestly, this didn’t do it for me. Melissa, bless her heart, is not the world’s best solo guitarist. It was all rudimentary, rough picking. I’ve seen and heard far better from people with far less fame. Melissa isn’t in her element soloing, and all these long drawn out looped song endings did was exemplify that.

Thankfully, we didn’t see that all the time. I honestly still think Melissa is at her very best and most honest when she’s got that beautiful Ovation slung over her shoulder and a microphone in front of her. I just love the way the light glints off those 12 strings and they shine so you’d think there were no frets under them. The sound is insanely rich, and a handful of Supertramp songs aside, in my mind that sound belongs to her. Her voice, as I’ve already said, is timeless. There is nothing better than that moment in “Chrome Plated Heart” where she sings, “And I’ll dance in time/and the time is rough/ and I’ll pay the price/ and I’ll pray that it’s enough” and then she does this awsome 7 beat strum of that chord on the 12 string and the whole world just goes SQUEEEEEEE!!! with awesomeness as she sings with such honest force and passion about polishing the scratches and stains on her chrome-plated heart. True artists live to be able to reach out and just grab someone else by the raw strings of their emotions and pull them in so that they can vibrate at the same level. Melissa does that so well, so much better than the vast majority–man, that’s the shiznit, Melissa. Take my word, you don’t need to loop a damned thing if you don’t want to.

All that said, my review is overwhelmingly positive. I think the ticket prices these days are nuts, but I paid to see this happily and I got a great show. What Melissa did up there this week–that was hard, and it was magic, and I’m so glad she’s still out there doing what she does. Third time was definitely a charm for me.

Vox Humana

cassette tape
From such humble beginnings…
My voice has been recorded for longer than even I can remember. That sounds like a exaggeration, but I kid you not, I have a recording of me when I was probably barely able to speak, and I don’t remember making that recording. Back then, my dad had a cassette recorder, which looked a lot like this. I think he had a weakness for new tech that he passed on to me after I was born, because at that time, he mostly stopped buying tech, and I in turn started to lust after it big time. He was among the first to have a Super-8 movie camera, and even had a medium format film camera a while back. Now that I’m thinking of it, I wonder what ever became of that thing? Hm. Before the cassette recorder, he even had a reel to reel recorder. I don’t know that I ever really used that one, but I know my older brother did. There’s unplayable reel to reel tape of him singing when he was just a kid.

I don’t know why dad bought these things. I’m glad he did, but to me, they seemed entirely underused. We didn’t really have a purpose for them, and buying them given our mostly blue-collar family income that was strained with trying to keep the house paid for, seemed extravagant. It was out of character for my dad to be extravagant, but there you go. I recall that on a handful of occasions, we sent tapes to my relatives in Germany, and they would send tapes back. It was a good way to send a lot of news in one fell swoop, and a heck of a lot easier than letter writing. I’d say there’s a good chance that’s what he was thinking when he bought these cassette recorders. But honestly I don’t remember doing that much.

What I used them for was to tape things off the radio–songs I liked and wanted to listen to again at will. I remember for a couple years my brother would record the whole of the “Best Top 40 Songs of the Year” on new years eve from one of the local radio stations. On one occasion, I set up the mic in front of the TV and recorded “A Charlie Brown Christmas“, and then listened to it over and over until I had the silly thing memorized.

Those things aside though, I also used it to simply record my voice. Something about being able to play all that back was really cool to me, and it made me happy to listen to things I’d said. One year when I was something like 11 or 12 I think, I asked my Oma if she’d be willing to buy a little boombox for me for my birthday. Then I would have the ability to play tapes and record them in stereo (which was quite a novelty). She did, much to my delight (although I imagine the poor old woman had zero idea what she was getting for me–she only knew that it made me happy. Bless her heart for that forward thinking). I seem to recall it cost 60 dollars from K-Mart back in the day–a pretty big ask (thank you again, Oma, you’ll never know how much joy that thing brought to me). Once I had that, I would often rope my friends into making recordings, and those times were some of the funnest I recall from my childhood. Thank all the gods, I still have those recordings–most of them survived, remarkably enough. I think I need to create a better backup strategy for those–they’re too precious to simply be sitting in one place on a hard drive, and another on a cassette tape (a technology for which I am sure the days are very numbered).

There was a slight pause in voice recording in favour of video in the late 80s and early 90s for me. Most of that stuff is still around too, but I’ve found in trying to archive it (an arduous task if ever there was one) that there’s a lot of filler. I can usually distill one event, like say Christmas eve, into something like 5-15 good minutes from more than three hours of video. Video is a hard beast to manage–maybe fodder for another entry sometime.

Voice came back though in the mid 90s when audio recording came to computers in a huge way. I discovered that it was possible to create multi-track recordings using the computer. Given that I was always interested in music and recording, I started to do that. That stuff continues to this day. It’s so much fun to enter “the studio” and put down some tracks to create a cover tune or something. It feels so great when it all comes together.

And then in the late 90s, there came radio. I got in on Radio’s last death-rattle gasp. It’s been limping toward its end for years now, and I imagine it’ll linger on for some years yet, but the internet is making radio virtually obsolete. You can pretty much have on demand anything you desire these days, and room for radio shows is just not there anymore. No one wants to allot time to simply listen to a transient creation like a live radio broadcast. But for a time, it was glorious. I was a DJ and on the air for just over a decade when it became clear that there was no one out there anymore, and that no one cared. But for that time, every week, I’d plant myself in front of a board of sliders and a mic, and I’d send my voice out there. I just loved it.

After radio ended for me, I sorta became lost. I wanted to try podcasting… I still do. At the time the radio show ended it was prohibitively expensive by way of bandwidth to host a podcast though, so I never did. I could easily do it today, but I’ve never found a focus, and I do not have anyone to share the journey with. I’ve found when it comes to shared audio, it’s always better with two or more. It’s still on my list of things I’d sorely love to do. Maybe someday. Hopefully someday.

Recently Suz started listening to audio books. She likes older works of fiction–Brontë, Austen, Wilde, etc. and read all of them years ago, but sometimes she likes to revisit that time. She went out and found a site called LibriVox. This site is devoted to older works of fiction, poetry, text books, journals and whatnot that are over a certain number of years since publication and have thus entered the public domain. So that means that anyone can download or read them for nothing. Librivox has taken this a step farther, and sources volunteers to read these texts and then houses the finished audiobooks so that anyone can download and listen. It’s a great little resource.

When I learned of it, my antennae immediately went up, and I thought about possibly doing some readings for them. It’s a fun way for me to get back to recording my voice, and it’s for a good cause. Since the radio show ended, I haven’t volunteered my talents (such as they are) to anything, and this is a good thing. I have all the equipment I could ever need for this, and by and large it has sat around for years. I also have some time to do this. It allows me to scratch the itch for recording and for editing and at the end of it, unlike my dubious forays into music creation, someone might actually enjoy it.

So, this past week, I went through the process of signing up, and going through their vetting process and I am now set up to read a couple chapters of a book called Demos. I’ve never heard of the book or its author, but I aim to give it a try. It’s going to feel so good to scratch this itch. :)