Music history regards 1982 as the year American rock band Toto achieved its greatest success. Mainstream radio saturated airwaves with Top 100 Toto hits – Roseanna, Hold the Line and Africa. You didn’t have to like Toto, I changed the station when they aired but still knew every word by heart. Toto hits were a fact of life, songs destined to occupy supermarkets and customer service hold lines 30 years later.
Fast forward to the continent of Africa, Namibia to be precise. Namibian artist Max Siedentopf recently created an ode to Africa in his nation’s desert. Seven stark white pedestals, each with a solar powered mp3 player constantly looping Toto’s Africa. Siedentopf freely admits that despite using the most durable materials available, his dream of Africa looping for all eternity could be stymied by harsh desert conditions.
As I write my neighbours’ 16 year old son loops Sex Pistols Anarchy in the U.K. at high volume. Young neighbour prompted my speakers to blare Sex Pistols in solidarity. Truth is, neighbour kid made my day.
I was 16 in October 1976 when Sex Pistols recorded Anarchy in the U.K. Sex Pistols didn’t register in rural Canada, small town AM radio played top 40 mainstream rock sprinkled with Country & Western hits. A friend’s older brother home from university introduced me to punk rock, I was transformed. Anarchy in the U.K. expanded sheltered perspectives, broadened horizons, made every neck & arm hair stand at attention.
Over 40 years later another 16 year old discovered the Sex Pistols. Different time, place and circumstance, but no less impactful. Kudos to you neighbour kid, play music as loud as you like.
In 2011 Toronto visionaries Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman launched Choir! Choir! Choir! Twice a week, Clinton’s Tavern in Toronto opens its doors to anyone wanting to participate in a sing-a-long. Goldman and Adilman teach arrangements for one song, then film the performance. The results are magical.
When I watch Choir! Choir! Choir! videos my heart sings in harmony.
Choir! Choir! Choir! transcends race, religion and politics. Voices of everyday people erupt in inspiring song.
In May 2016, 1,999 voices filled Toronto’s Massey Hall to remember Prince with When Doves Cry.
On October 11, 2018 Choir! Choir! Choir! gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto to mark the first anniversary of Gord Downie’s death. Led by Goldman, Adilman and surviving members of Tragically Hip, Grace, Too enveloped the night.
For those who might not know Downey, the Hip or Grace,Too – I conclude with the Tragically Hip performing Grace,Too at Woodstock 1999.
Seventy two years ago today Farrokh Bulsara was born in British colonial Zanzibar. Eight year old Farrokh started calling himself Freddie when sent to a British boarding school near Bombay. At twelve Freddie formed The Hectics, a rock cover band with schoolmates. In 1964 the Zanzibar Revolution forced Freddie’s family to flee Zanzibar for England. The Bulsaras settled in Feltham, Middlesex, Freddie enrolled at Isleworth Polytechnic in West London to study art, eventually graduating from Ealing Art College with a degree in graphic design. Freddie sold second hand clothing at Kensington Market, fell in and out of bands and worked as a baggage handler at Heathrow. In 1970 he met Brian May and Roger Taylor, in 1971 John Deacon made it four. Dismissing reservations of band-mates and management company Trident, Freddie named the band Queen and officially changed his name to Freddie Mercury.
March 11, 1977 I stood front row at Pacific Colosseum in Vancouver for Queen’s Day at the Races concert. To this day the spectacle of Freddie Mercury gives me chills.
For weeks, baggage handlers at Heathrow practiced dance moves to celebrate Mercury’s birthday. Astonished travelers passing through Heathrow today were treated to a heart warming spectacle. Never mind amateur hour, this clip made my day and I hope it does yours.
For the record I don’t spend much time watching network television. That said, rare idle moments find shows like America’s Got Talent airing in the background. Why? Because the likes of 13 year old Courtney Hadwin might blow my mind. Ponder these clips. The girl is 13 years old!
Results of America’s vote aired tonight. Fear not – Courtney made it to the semi-finals.
Sometimes relaxation calls for a dance party, an uninvited solo dance off delivered with welcome acuity. Relaxation is subjective, a personal matter, to each his own. Me – when time to blow off steam knocks, it’s time to dance. No better place to start than Beastie Boys Hey Ladies –
This morning Canada woke to news of a nation without Gord Downie, tonight our hearts fly at half mast.
Tears ran down Justin Trudeau’s face as he said goodbye to “Canada’s friend”. Speaking not as politician, but a man who understood and shared the collective sorrow of a nation.
Others can write biographical paragraphs detailing Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie’s life. Tonight, all I can do is watch and listen to an undeniable presence in Canadian music history. Starting softly with Ahead By A Century, then Bobcaygeon –
Eventually finding my way to Tragically Hip performing Grace, Too at Woodstock 1999. Love it, hate it, get it or don’t – know this clip epitomizes Gord Downie – poet, performer, unabashed storyteller, improvisational wizard, musical savant and embodiment of Canadian grace. Tonight Gord Downie walks among the stars, his constellation will shine for eternity.