Random Notes on Divisiveness and the Death of Discourse

Over the past few years, I’ve watched discourse decay.

I’ve seen social activists be labelled racists in quibbles over language or best routes to enabling civil rights. I’ve seen diehard environmentalists get shouted down for critiquing methodology of change. I’ve seen food activists condemned for introducing peer-reviewed science.

And when someone doesn’t have the knowledge and experience to couch differing viewpoints into the prescribed linguistic codex, the response is usually swift and vehement.  It is usually ostracizing.

In many activist circles, it’s become rare for people to ask about why a contrary (or even slightly differing) belief is held or to try and understand that viewpoint.  The instinct has become to react without listening. We’ve constructed us vs. them dichotomies where the “them” is often utterly surprised to find that they are the “other.”

I’ve become used to scathing online rhetoric from people who would never use such language in person or in public. The internet seems to invite and perpetuate anger.

I’m used to witnessing prejudice cast upon good people who are trying their damnedest to do good things in a world of rapid social and linguistic change. Falling short has become a crime.

I started writing these little thoughts on the death of discourse a few months ago.  They belong to a pre-President Trump world – and it is definitely a new world today.  They may definitely read differently to some today than they would have before the US election. Not to me, though.

They are notes. Often jotted on the fly. Reactions, often.

random notes on divisiveness and the death of discourse:

the more we react without listening, the less our opportunity for learning and the poorer our base of understanding.

the more we stifle viewpoints, the less understanding we gain about the greater why’s of our societal problems — be they racial, political, environmental, economic…

the more we morally judge others by the standards of our own cultural capital, the less respectful we are of experiences different than ours.

the more we shout at people about inclusivity, the less inclusive we are.

the more we make assumptions about others, the less we validate diversity.

the more we assume we are right, the more wrong we are.

cherry picked science, reports, and research can often reflect convenience rather than accuracy. a deeper dive into research usually reveals a fuller picture.

poverty is cyclical. abuse is cyclical. fear is cyclical. prescribed social norms are cyclical. hate can be cyclical.  some escape cycles. some remain trapped in them.

we cannot assume intent without knowledge of understanding and experience.

knowledge is a form of capital. ownership of it is a form of privilege and power.  we have the choice of whether to wield it or share it.

just as violence is a last resort, so is lashing out with language.

the first step to a civil society is civility. anger and action are necessary parts of activism, but they are rarely effective as first forms of resolving conflict or exploring different sides of issues.

creating real social change involves having discussions and working with people who are different than you – and will likely speak and act very differently than you.

people that you disagree with are still, in fact, people. and they deserve respect and kindness.

expect dire and unpredictable (to you, but perhaps not to others) results when the fears of others are not validated or addressed. 

our own personal truths are not universal.

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Gord Downie’s Farewell Show: National Catharsis

Photo via Toronto Star/Mike Homer/The Tragically Hip.

Photo via Toronto Star/Mike Homer/The Tragically Hip.

You could tell that he was struggling.

You could tell that he was off his game.

From the first blown lyric of “Fifty Mission Cap” to a heavy reliance on the TelePrompTers that were hidden strategically across the stage, you could tell that Gord Downie was playing hurt.

But as captain of Team Canada — the guy who made the Prime Minister the second most important person in the room — he dug deep.

It wasn’t always pretty. Gone were the concert-long poetic rants that once showed nimbleness of mind. He probably walked, danced, and strutted a few kilometres less than he once used to during a performance. His body also seemed to lack that fluidity.

But Gord poured every ounce of himself into that last show — into that last tour.

And he didn’t take the easy way out. He and his bandmates, Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, and Gord Sinclair, treated the night like any other. They didn’t pad the final performance with special guests. They played several cuts from their new — and for most of the audience unheard — final album, as well as a handful of selections that had seen very little radio play. They went out on their own terms.

One of the things that gutted me the most was watching Gord be helped offstage. It was after the second intermission and Johnny Fay took him, first by the hand and then by the elbow, as he led him down the stage stairs. But Gordie toughed it out. He returned for one last set to offer the last of his legendary artistic energy.

No, it wasn’t always pretty. But watching Gord Downie gut it out was nonetheless beautiful. The passion was still there. The words still united us all in one voice. Most of all, though, his performance was honest. It was hard working. And it was humble.

That, I think, is one of the keys to the great Canadian success of The Tragically Hip: they mirror the way we see ourselves, both as individuals and a nation. Honest. Hard-working. Humble.

But also caring.

In his own inimitable way, Gord put pressure on Justin Trudeau to take action on the plight of First Nations people in the North. Hidden in what seemed like praise was a warning – a million Hip fans are now watching. It’s time for action. And for care. For the country to care.

He also spoke of the need for inclusivity. He joked that he wasn’t sure who had finally brought women back to the Hip audience, but that it was oh-so-welcome. It’s 2016. Bro’s need not apply.

Here’s the thing about The Hip: they gave and gave and gave. They spurned global financial success by sticking to their roots – and to the roots of the Nation that they eventually came to represent. They played countless benefits, lending their music and Gord’s voice to countless causes. They took so many artists, bands, and musicians under their wings, offering mentorship, advice, and perhaps most importantly, gigs.

Last night, the Tragically Hip gave and gave and gave some more. Gord Downie, in particular, gave until it hurt — until he ached, both physically and emotionally.

By the time they got to the encores, they were the Tragically Hip of old. Gord’s voice refound those familiar melodies. He hit the notes he couldn’t hit earlier in the evening. He looked less like he was fighting the performance than truly enjoying it. Like a wounded hockey legend, he played through gut-check time and brought pained beauty to his efforts. And then he won it in overtime. The never-before-performed third encore, to be precise.

During those last songs, Gord and his bandmates became what they had always been: the house band for a generation. Damned good rock and rollers.

It was a tough show to watch. It was a glorious show to watch. It was a show we all had to watch.

The likes of which we will never see again.

It was Courage. And Grace Too.

Thank you Gord Downie. Thanks for being a hero and a national treasure. Thanks for one last night.

It is obvious that you love and are loved.

And that you will be missed.

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#TrentVoices Podcast Interview with Yann Martel

My interview with Yann Martel is the second episode of the #TrentVoices Literary Series. Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Your summer weekend listening! My interview with the one and only Yann Martel wanders through the spiritual, the philosophical, and even the comical. It’s part of our ‪#‎TrentVoices‬ Literary podcast series, featuring a who’s who of Canadian writers — all of them Trent University alum — including Leah McLaren, Linwood Barclay, Richard B. Wright, and Janette Platana.

In this episode I talk with the Man Booker prize winning author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel. His latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, is equal parts bizarre, beautiful, and tender.
 
Our interview explores Yann’s creative process, his unique use of imagery and symbolism, his fascination with the human/divine relationship, and — something he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for — his strange yet tender sense of humour.
 
It was a huge honour and thrill to chat with one of Canada’s greatest authors — I do hope you enjoy the resulting conversation.
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I am extremely excited to stream our summer #TrentVoices Literary Series. The impressive alumni lineup, which includes a who’s who of Canadian authors, is perfect listening for the dog days of summer. Tune in from your dock, deck, patio, or summer sanctuary.

We hope that you’re as excited as we are.

This is a Trent University Alumni Association Podcast.  Please visit here for more great interviews.  And be sure to follow the Trent Alumni “From the House” blog for future episodes.

This Week:

Yann Martel

From Penguin Random House Canada: “Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.”

His most recent work Is this year’s New York Times Bestseller The High Mountains of Portugal.

 

Also in the series:

Leah McLaren: August 5th — click here for the the full interview.

From the Globe and Mail: “Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with Harper Collins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. Leah is the Europe correspondent for Maclean’s and is a regular contributor to the Spectator magazine (UK) as well as Toronto Life for which she won a gold National Magazine Award in 2012. She’s been writing a column in the Globe since1999. She lives in Ontario and London, England where she shares a home with her husband and two boys.” 

 

Linwood Barclay: September 2nd

From linwoodbarclay.com: “Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of thirteen novels, including Trust Your Eyes, A Tap on the Window, No Time for Goodbye and that novel’s follow-up, No Safe House. Last summer, his thriller Broken Promise, the first of three linked novels about his fictional upstate New York town Promise Falls, was released. Book two, Far From True was released earlier this year.  The finale, The Twenty-Three, will be released this fall.”

 

Janette Platana: September 9th

From Tightrope Books: “Janette Platana’s cheerfully disturbing, gleefully outraged, and chillingly beautiful stories break open the lives of apparently ordinary people who struggle and sometimes succeed in living without compromise, refusing to sacrifice the world they sense to the world they see, and where things can be true without ever being real. The range of this accomplished and poetic voice may cause vertigo, owing, as it does, as much to the Clash to Stephen King, to Caitlin Moran as to Flannery O’Connor, and something to David Sedaris. A Token of My Affliction will make you laugh while breaking your heart wide open.”

 

Richard B. Wright: TBA

From Simon and Schuster: “Richard B. Wright is the author of thirteen novels and has won the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the CBA Libris Awards for Author and Book of the Year. His most recent novel is 2016’s Nightfall. He lives in St. Catharines with his wife, Phyllis.”

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Broadcast Dates for #TrentVoices Literary Series, Featuring Leah McLaren, Yann Martel, Linwood Barclay, Janette Platana, and Richard B. Wright

yanntrentWe are extremely excited to announce podcast stream dates for our summer #TrentVoices Literary Series. The impressive Trent University alumni lineup, which includes a who’s who of Canadian authors, is perfect listening for the dog days of summer. Tune in from your dock, deck, patio, or summer sanctuary.

Keep your ears peeled, both here and at trentu.ca/alumni, for the full interviews.  This is a Trent University/Trent University Alumni Association podcast series.

We hope that you’re as excited as we are.

Podcast Air Dates:

Leah McLaren: August 5th

Photo courtesy of: Leah McLaren/Twitter.

Photo courtesy of: Leah McLaren/Twitter.

From the Globe and Mail: Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. Leah is the Europe correspondent for Maclean’s and is a regular contributor to the Spectator magazine (UK) as well as Toronto Life for which she won a gold National Magazine Award in 2012. She’s been writing a column for [The Globe and Mail] since 1999. She lives in Ontario and London, England where she shares a home with her husband and two boys.

Yann Martel: August 12th

Photo courtesy of: The Toronto Star.

Photo courtesy of: The Toronto Star.

From Penguin Random House Canada: Yann Martel is the author of Life of Pi, the #1 international bestseller and winner of the 2002 Man Booker (among many other prizes). He is also the award-winning author of The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (winner of the Journey Prize), Self, Beatrice & Virgil, and 101 Letters to a Prime Minister. Born in Spain in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs—tree planter, dishwasher, security guard—and traveled widely before turning to writing. He lives in Saskatoon, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.

His most recent work is this years New York Times Bestseller The High Mountains of Portugal

Linwood Barclay: September 2nd

Photo courtesy of LinwoodBarclay.com.

Photo courtesy of LinwoodBarclay.com.

From linwoodbarclay.com: Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of thirteen novels, including Trust Your Eyes, A Tap on the Window, No Time for Goodbye and that novel’s follow-up, No Safe House. Last summer, his thriller Broken Promise, the first of three linked novels about his fictional upstate New York town Promise Falls, was released. Book two, Far From True was released earlier this year. The finale, The Twenty-Three, will be released this fall.

Barclay’s novels are huge successes — both with critics and on the bestsellers lists.  Stephen King calls him a “suspense master” and says that his “idea of a sweet ride is three days of rain, a fridge filled with snacks and a new Linwood Barclay.”

Janette Platana: September 9th

Photo courtesy of Esther Vincent.

Photo courtesy of Esther Vincent.

From JanettePlatana.com:  Janette was born and raised in Saskatchewan and now lives in Small Town, Ontario, where she writes, plays music, and makes short films. Her writing has been published in Canada, the United States, and Turkey. She is grateful for the support of the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council, and the Chalmers Foundation.

From Tightrope Books:  The range of this accomplished and poetic voice may cause vertigo, owing, as it does, as much to the Clash to Stephen King, to Caitlin Moran as to Flannery O’Connor, and something to David Sedaris. A Token of My Affliction will make you laugh while breaking your heart wide open.

A Token of My Affection was a finalist for the 2016 Trillium Book Award.

Richard B. Wright: TBA

Photo courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

Photo courtesy of Simon and Schuster.

From Simon and Schuster: Richard B. Wright is the author of thirteen novels and has won the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the CBA Libris Awards for Author and Book of the Year. His most recent novel is 2016’s Nightfall. He lives in St. Catharines with his wife, Phyllis.

Do to scheduling conflicts, our air date for Richard B. Wright will be announced later this summer.


 

Be sure to check out some of our other great interviews from last season, including:

Christopher Ward

From ChristopherWard.ca: Christopher Ward has written songs for Diana Ross, Hilary Duff, Wynonna Judd, The Backstreet Boys, Meredith Brooks, Tina Arena, Amanda Marshall, Roch Voisine and many others. His best-known song is the worldwide # 1 hit for Alannah Myles, ‘Black Velvet’, recently included in Bob Mersereau’s book ‘The Top 100 Canadian Singles’.

Previously, Ward was a member of the ‘Second City Touring Company’, based in Toronto. In 1984, as Canada’s first ‘VJ’, he helped launch MuchMusic, where he interviewed artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Tina Turner.

Ian Tamblyn

Ian Tamblyn, has recorded 38 albums, written 13 plays, and been honoured as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic. He’s also a wonderful conversationalist and storyteller. We caught up with Ian while he was in town playing a show at Folk Under the Clock. This is part one of the interview with a true Canadian Treasure.

Jack Roe

Jack Roe has been an on air presence for CBC Radio, 680 NEWS, CKPT (now Energy 99.7) and (back in 1973-5) Trent Radio, where this interview took place. The conversation ranges across his 40+ year career in radio and captures memories from the magical to the manic: from interviews with Chris Hadfield to interviews with a guy who traveled North America blowing himself up at county fairs, from carving out community radio to almost getting arrested in pre-unification Germany. Roe also gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the one of the most demanding radio studios in Canada, and then offers views on the state of modern radio — as well as advice for media studies/journalism students on how they can find their own way in the shifting media landscape.

It’s an honest, intimate, and often humorous conversation that shines the light on an individual who is much more used to shining the light on others.

Maryam Monsef

TRENT Magazine sat down for a one-on-one with the newly minted Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef. We discuss her first days on Parliament Hill, the life-altering experience of becoming a cabinet member, and how the position of Minister of Democratic Institutions will help shape future governments of Canada. Here is an excerpt from that discussion. Look for the full story in the February edition of TRENT Magazine.

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A Penalty Breakdown of the Trudeau/Brosseau Benchclearing Brawl

884850Things heated up between the Liberals and NDP when Grits scoring captain Justin Trudeau had an altercation with fourth-line Dipper, Ellen Brosseau.  Players spilled from both benches to join in the fray.

Now that the refs have broken things up, this is how the calls should break down: no suspensions, though there should be plenty of time in the sin bin.

NDP: two minutes for interference (you can give this to any one of four MPs running that pick play at the blue line), two minutes for delay of game (bench minor), ten minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct (bench penalty); ten minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct (Mulcair), two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct — diving (Brosseau); Liberals: two minutes for charging (Trudeau), two minutes for holding (Trudeau), ten minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct (Trudeau).

No penalty called on the elbow, which was incidental contact.

Game on!

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Owen Pallet: Baroque Rock for the Jonny Greenwood Fans

Photo courtesy of MacLean's Magazine.

Photo courtesy of MacLean’s Magazine.

Great to see Arcade Fire’s Will Butler showing the love for Owen Pallett in his review of Radiohead’s Moon Shaped Pool. As much as I love what Jonny Greenwood has brought to the table with his knowledge and arrangement of strings (and you can colour me gaga), he’s hardly the only classically steeped kid on the block.

Pallet has blended classical leanings, orchestration, and virtuosic mad skillz for years. Dude picked up the violin at age three and I’m willing to bet he was hybridizing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with Mozart soon after (ok, I’m cheating here; see Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman“).

As a fan of baroque fiddle-flingers (my adoration of Andrew Bird knows no bounds), I find Pallet to have the most traditionally “classical” head of the bunch — even if he is also most willing to bend that knowledge and training to its furthest extremes. And if you’re looking for that exquisite blend of electronica and strings, well, again, Pallett is your man.

A good entry point is his 2006 Polaris-winning He Poos Clouds (released under his former Final Fantasy moniker). Here Pallett is joined by a pseudo-chamber ensemble and sings songs about what I’ll classify as confessional geekery. Trust me, it sounds better than it reads on paper (or computer screen).

Oh yeah, and if you’ve got yourself a strings boner over Greenwood’s use of col legno (whacking the violin with the wooden side of the bow) on Moon Shaped Pool’s “Burn the Witch,” dive on into Poos’ “Songs Songs Songs.”

And enjoy.

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Feeling the Music: Writing from the Cusp of the Scene

Portrait of the author as a young man.

Portrait of the author as a young man.

I don’t get to write about music nearly as often as I used to — or nearly as much as I would like.  Really, its always been a small part of my output/income as a writer.  But whenever I’ve been brought on to do promotional writing for an artist/band, it’s always been an absolute pleasure.  As a songwriter who long ago stepped away from the stage, I know that my work describing sounds is the only way I’ll ever hit the audiences that I once longed to play for myself.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be associated with some great local projects.  The first bio that I was ever asked to write was for The Silver Hearts — sometime back in their early days when they were just planning their first major touring forays.  It was right before the Hearts established themselves as a Peterborough (and Canadian) institution.  I’ve long since lost that piece — and would love to take a peek if someone ever does unearth it — but do find that some of the verbiage that has followed The Hearts around for years reads as stylistically familiar.

The Silver Hearts (a much smaller version of the band than in their early 2000's heyday). Photo by Dave Gillespie.

The Silver Hearts (a much smaller version of the band than in their early 2000’s heyday). Photo by Dave Gillespie.

A Facebook post from earlier today tells me that my most recent one-sheet was used to promote what is now the #1 Canadian College “International” album: The People Hold the Power by Dub Trinity.  The one before that was for Rick Fines‘ stellar Driving Home.  Rick, a Juno-nominated, Handy-nominated, Maple Blues Award-winning artist, scaled the independent charts and topped the Canadian satellite/digital blues radio charts with that one.

When projects like these drop onto your lap, you take the utmost care in writing about them.

And you savour the process.

driving-home-coverMy process for writing promo pieces begins with a deep dive into the music.  I usually start off by hiding away in my office or some other dark corner — headphones on, cold beer at the ready.  I then take a serious listen to the artist/band/album that I’m writing about.  No rewinding, no fast-forwarding, no note-taking, no nothing.  Eyes closed.  Fully attentive.

I then take a second trip through the recording, this time jotting down impressions.  By my third listen, I’m fully into writing mode.  There’s usually no need for a fourth.

My first notes usually tend to capture the overall sound, rather than the details.  I pride myself in inventing new genres — new ways to interpret an artists’ style.  My favourite example of this is from Rick’s bio, where I describe his music as a “unique blend of warm-hearted blues, juke joint folk, and dockside soul.”

When I asked Fines what “juke joint folk” made him think of, he immediately responded with “The Band.”

Which meant I was on the exact right track.  There were elements of his performance that conjured up memories of Roberston, Helm, Danko et al., and it was definitely them I was thinking of when I coined the term.

My third listen finds me searching for a combination of fine details and for what the music is trying to say.  For Dub Trinity’s The People Hold the Power, my first notes were about the band embracing sounds from outside of their musical wheelhouse of reggae and ska.  So while I eventually noted their use of “Stax-style soul, 60’s-influenced rock, and experimental alternative,” it was what I wrote down in the third listen that kicked off my description of the disc:  “activist funk” and “revolutionary R&B.”  With Dub Trinity, you see, their message rings as loudly as their instruments.

After repeatedly listening to a project all they way through, I start to jump to individual tracks and drill down more deeply into the lyrics and arrangements.  It is then that I start stringing sentences together.

The-People-Hold-The-Power-CD-cover_536px-400x400Dub Trinity: “”Run For Cover kicks things off with a sound that blends modern alternative with driving Detroit soul before exploding skyward into pure anthemic rock. Socialize harnesses plastic soul to driving horn-section funk in a call to political and economic revolution. The reggae and ska feel of the band are more pronounced on several other tracks – but even then, with some stylistic shifts. The sway of Gone Clear features snaking guitars and keyboards; the Kevlar Clad Jamaican rhythms erupt into a tower of power chords; while the Land of Look Behind takes on a head-bopping storytelling vibe.”

Rick Fines: ““Buttermilk Falls” kicks things off with a sunny goodtime vibe, while “Driving Home,” with its distorted lead and weeping lap steel, conjures memories of a 70’s Neil Young. Where “Why Do We Treat Love Like That,” a duet with Grainne Ryan, blends 60’s pop with thick-stringed country guitar, “When the Rain Ends” is a folk gem that threatens to chase the blues away altogether. An album standout, “The Winds of Time” is lyrically poignant, with solos that search for, and eventually reach, the sky.”

Once I’ve written the entire piece, I let it breathe.  I put it aside for a week or two and continue to listen to the music in the meantime — I let the music grow on me before taking another shot at the writing.  It’s funny how different music can sound after repeated listens and a bit of time.

After that, it’s a matter of presenting it to the artists and making any changes they request — which, if I’ve done a good job, aren’t too many.

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My working relationship with Trent University has me has also allowed me to dedicate a bit more time to promoting the local scene.  As managing editor of TRENT Magazine and host of the #TrentVoices radio show and podcast, I go out of my way to share a healthy dose of Peterborough and Trent music (see my editoral from 2010 here).

This is what has allowed me to really get to know Canadian folk icon, Ian Tamblyn.  Ian, who has released close to 40 albums, is also an accomplished playwright and Canadian explorer.  My first interview with him was over tea in my music room back in 2010.  We chatted for a couple of hours, which led to this article.

A couple of years later, I sat down with Ian again, this time for radio.  The result was a 2-part show that Trent Radio general manager, John Muir, calls “the definitive Ian Tamblyn interview.”

The success of radio/podcast interviews stems from some of the same processes as writing bios for artists — you start by doing some serious listening.  And then you do some heavy research.

That research is essential — and noticed.  Broadcast journalists such as Christopher Ward and Jack Roe have remarked on-air about my interview prep (or the prep work of my assistant producer, Jenna Pilgrim, for those particular pieces).  Musicians take particular notice when you are able to talk knowledgeably about their music.  The result is a more free-flowing conversation and a markedly better interview. And that is the part your listeners will notice.

I then craft questions.  I may not use all of the questions — and may stray away from my original plans in order to capture what my guest is excited to talk about — but interview structure is needed in order to hit the topics that are most relevant to any given show.

I’ll be doing a post on radio/podcast interviews in the near future but, in the meantime, here are a smattering of local music interviews that I’ve done over the past couple of years (with descriptions from the podcast feed).   What you may (but shouldn’t unless your looking for it) notice is how I allow the guest to go off on their own tangents before nudging them subtly back to the direction I’m trying to make the interview take.

Nick Ferrio

“We explore his collaborations with The Weather Station, Evening Hymns, Julie Doiron, Gavin Bradley Gardiner (from The Wooden Sky); his upcoming gigs with The Lonely Parade; our mutual musical crushes on Dave Tough, the Silverhearts, and the Trent and Peterborough music scenes in general; the impact of Trent University academia on his songwriting; and his grizzly near death in the Trent Nature Areas.”

Dave Tough

“From More Nasty Reds to the Weak Knees to The Silver Hearts to his own impeccable solo work, Dave Tough has been a fixture on the Trent/Peterborough Music scenes. We catch up with Dave and chat the present, past, and future. Plus we spin one of his earliest recordings as well as his latest.”

Christopher Ward

“With tales that take us through an awkward Much Music debut with Bon Jovi to a strange encounter with Diana Ross’ hair to a Robert Plant dinner that takes a turn to the strange, Christopher Ward offers an hour of entertaining talk.

Ward has written songs for Diana Ross, Hilary Duff, Wynonna Judd, The Backstreet Boys, Meredith Brooks, Tina Arena, Amanda Marshall, Roch Voisine and many others. His best-known song is the worldwide # 1 hit for Alannah Myles, ‘Black Velvet’.

Previously, Ward was a member of the ‘Second City Touring Company’, based in Toronto. In 1984, as Canada’s first ‘VJ’, he helped launch MuchMusic, where he interviewed artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Tina Turner.”

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Which isn’t to say I don’t pick up the guitar to perform anymore.  I do.  I still write plenty of songs (even if most of them remain in the “demo” stage) and I try to perform at least one or two gigs a year (even if these are, primarily, for kids).  I also stick my nose into studios now and then to record — such as this children’s’ song I recorded with Peterborough aces Beau Dixon, Curtis Driedger, and Glen Caradus a few years ago:

That particular recording hit Peterborough gold — being used by (I believe) every school in the area as part of a school board-wide transportation program.  It was also the theme for a touring environmental music/comedy/education production, The Cool Captain Climate Show and a radio jingle.  I’m told its still in heavy rotation for local kids.

*          *          *

Alas, music and performance aren’t my calling in life.  And while a part of me wistfully wishes I had made some efforts to establish myself as a songwriter earlier in life, I’m still mostly OK helping push other artists to greater recognition.

Which means that I’ll continue to take on the odd promo project for local artists, continue to interview local musicians, and continue to create on the cusp of the scene.

But I also have other plans.  I’m early in the process of designing a music podcast that will be national in both scope and (hopefully) reach.  Because I currently have a whole lot on my plate, I’m taking my time with the project.  I really don’t anticipate launching it for at least a couple of years — that’s how slowly I’m taking it.

It will, however, keep me writing about and talking to musicians that I admire.  And it will ensure that I remain a creative part of the musical process.  Even if I’m not the one writing the tunes.

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Whitewashing Rob Ford: How we Helped Build a Folk Hero

Photo by Greg Stacey, the Torontoist.

Photo by Greg Stacey, the Torontoist.

Back in 2013, I wrote that we “might be laughing a little too hard” at Rob Ford — not for moral reasons, but because I felt that backlash to all of the negative attention might lead to him being regarded as a martyr/folk hero by a considerable portion of the population.

Today, the death of Ford will be the top story for news outlets around the world. The racism, the misogyny, the contempt for so many members of our society, the ties to violence (and perhaps even murder) will be airbrushed for the time being. We’ll hear terms such as “maverick” and “real guy” — and be reminded that he was a populist revolutionary.

Similar to my point in 2013, we’ll run the risk of elevating him to the level of martyr and/or folk hero.

When I saw the Tweet that Rob Ford had died, I felt that sucker-punch loss of breath that occurs when someone close to you dies.

Truth is, I didn’t know Rob Ford. I probably wouldn’t want to know Rob Ford. But he sure took up a lot of space in my mind. Enough that I physically felt his death. That’s how much the media – and social media — made him a part of our lives.

Of which I am implicitly guilty.

I was called upon a few times to comment on the behaviour of Rob Ford — and I did so on TV and in print. I did so on my own social media. I tried — not always successfully — to keep my commentary to the dangers he represented to the political process and to the fact that his behaviour made him unsuitable for leadership. I’m not ashamed to admit that I often slipped. Ford’s antics made it far too easy to make jokes.

Here’s the thing though: Ford’s cartoonish personality invited us to poke fun. His behaviour was almost too out there to seem real. Similarly, it will be just as easy, for many, to place him on some kind of pedestal in the hours and days after his death. Once again, the cartoon outlandishness will hide the truly scary. As the obits come in — and they’ve been pre-written ages ago — we’re already witnessing this.

And this, too, is wrong.

Rob Ford left behind too many victims for this to be allowed.  There were the firsthand sufferers — the ones who personally felt his legacy of physical and verbal abuse — and then there are many others whose cultures, social status, and ways of life were belittled and maligned. In short: by whitewashing Ford’s past, we do great injustice to the victims and the disempowered.

So, how do we respond to death of a major public/political figure that was unapologetically racist, sexist, homophobic — one that did not fear violence as a solution to situations?

How does the media?

It’s a tough question. and one that I don’t know that I have an answer to. But this I feel for certain: you can’t sweep the dangerous elements under the rug.

They don’t get buried with the body.

And — in celebrating his fame — you cannot ignore that for which he was most famous/infamous.

Me? I’m going to take a moment to ponder what it is that caused Ford to evoke such powerful feelings and responses from so many people. How it was that he was equally capable of raising anger, ridicule, and respect.

I’m also going to ponder how it is that I felt compelled to help make a folk hero out of a very dangerous man.

God speed, Mr. Ford. I don’t wish ill on anyone in death.

May we learn something about ourselves from your difficult time among us.

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Forget About the Joneses

IMG_3899Why Hand-Me-Downs Make for Happy Babies

This article originally appeared in Local Parent magazine. The full magazine, their regularly updated website, and series of blogs can be found here. Donald Fraser’s fathering column appears bi-monthly.

Clara got tissue paper for her birthday. She got even more of it for Christmas. We’re really looking forward to Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter so she can get even more to add to her collection. We may even start a Family Day tradition!

Oh, it’s not like she doesn’t get real gifts – she does, and some nice ones – it’s more that, at the tender age of just over a year old, the tissue wrap from the gift bag is far more exciting than any toy inside.

It’s a pretty good indicator that Clara has no desire for the latest fads. Babies, you see, are often amused by the simpler things in life. We don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, because Clara has absolutely no clue as to who they are.

As for new toys, it’s always interesting to watch which ones she’ll gravitate to in the long run. While flashing lights and electronic songs will capture her attention in the short term, toys that require thought, exploration, and imagination are ones that she’ll keep returning to.

Her current favourite toy? That’s a toss-up between a dozen or so mega blocks that came for free with a walker or a second-hand miniature kitchen that Krista bought on Kijiji for $15.

Her fascination with the kitchen is particularly fun to watch. She runs food and dishes under the make-believe faucet to clean them, and then follows it up by “washing” her hands in the sink. She also takes great pleasure in sorting various pantry foodstuffs and dishes. As for the mega blocks, she’s managed the extraordinary feat of stacking them five-high – an accomplishment that babies aren’t expected to hit until they’re a good six months older.

There’s something to be said for replacing flashing lights with imagination.

Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Baby Books, has a reason why.

“Some toys can only be used in one particular way,” she explains. “You push a button and the toy makes a beeping sound. That gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Your child will get a lot more enjoyment out of a toy that can be used in all kinds of ways — a toy like a puppet, a set of building blocks, or a set of art supplies, for example. And because your child is in charge of deciding how the toy will be used, she will enjoy it more and will have greater opportunities to learn and grow through play.”

And unlike electronic toys, most traditional ones will last for generations.

We’ve noticed a similar pattern when it comes to clothes. While Clara has been given some very precious and special outfits during her short life, the biggest compliments usually come when she’s wearing old, woolly hand-me-down sweaters and second-hand baby jeans.

Holding out that she’ll be somewhat of a tomboy, I tend to say it is because they’re more her style. The truth of the matter is that they’re probably a whole lot more comfortable than new dresses or fussy outfits. Babies like soft things. Comfort keeps smiles are their faces. And there is nothing cuter than a smiling, happy baby.

Of course the best reason for not keeping up with the latest and greatest baby trends is because kids grow out of them so darned fast. In our group of friends, the same clothes and playthings have been circulated through countless newborns and toddlers – often being returned to the same family for multiple children. I’ve seen many of Clara’s outfits on a good four or five different babies before her. And there’s still not much wear or tear to them.

The same can’t be said for the tissue paper her newest outfit came wrapped in. That got destroyed when she tried to wear it as a hat.

Some toys, I suppose, just don’t last forever.

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#TrentVoices Podcast: Medical/Environmental Scientist, Innovator, and Tech Entrepreneur Andressa Lacerda

andressa
Andressa Lacerda is in mid-career stride, despite being only 26. She’s a founding partner and the CFO of Noble Inc., a company that will manufacture and distribute filtration systems to remove nanosilvers from wastewater. Also on the Noble Inc. agenda? The introduction of pharmaceuticals that will cure cancer and diseases caused by virus’. Her partner in this is Adam Noble, a science prodigy who has set both the Trent community and academic world on fire with research that he accomplished while still a high school student.

Andressa helped mentor Adam into becoming one of Canada’s “20 Under 20” in 2014. Together they have just signed on as cornerstone tenants of Trent University’s new Research and Innovation Park, with a $20 million, 50,000-square-foot production facility to be built soon.

Her own research has shed new light onto neurological disorders – in particular how mutations of LITAF protein cause the genetic Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

It’s a fascinating discussion – and one where another of Andressa’s talents shine: the ability to take complex ideas and make them relatable to students and laypeople.

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  • Previous Clients Include:

    Trent University, Peterborough Economic Development, Peterborough and the Kawarthas Tourism, Trent University Alumni Association, City of Peterborough, Fish'n Canada (Global Television), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, PRHC Foundation, Electric City Culture Council, Market Hall, North by Northeast, Kidz Ink Corp, and many more!