March 12, 2015 - My Happy Trip To Vancouver - Part 3 - Where I find life at Afterlife and introduce you to Emily

Okay, for 3 weeks we talked, planned, and practiced.  Next it was time to get some of this work recorded for some demos that I will use to apply for funding and to shop around to labels. My other two albums were made for Mint Records but they were not able to pick this one up.  Mint Records and Randy Iwata in particular have been very good to me and there were absolutely no hard feelings following this decision.  I know from past reviews of my albums that some music writers found it curious and even frustrating that a label with a history like Mint's would sign an artist like myself.  I always took a fair bit of pride in being the oddball on the label by virtue of not being an oddball, but I also always knew that Mint couldn't continue taking chances on artists like myself, particularly in the industry environment today where independent labels' viability is being challenged by downloadable and streamed music.

Paul Rigby suggested that I record my demos at a studio that he had worked at before, Afterlife, not only because he liked the rooms and equipment but also because of the engineering skills of John Raham.  Once again Paul was right on the mark.  Afterlife is full of all kinds of vintage equipment and the main studio space is a strangely proportioned and beautiful sounding room that John knows every square inch of.  John has a knowledgable and straight forward approach to recording and he ensured that no time was wasted - so long as I kept him fuelled with San Pellegrino sparkling water and herb chicken sandwiches he worked tirelessly at making sure I got the best bang for my buck.  He and Paul worked really well together to coach and coax the best performances out of all of us.  John is particularly adept at giving people instructions without them noticing that they were receiving instructions.  I am really looking forward to returning to Afterlife to record my songs in earnest once I am able to raise the funds.

As promised last week, I am going to introduce you to another of my new songs, this week's song is:

Emily

The day the plane arrived 
South Indian Lake was alive with an ancient song 
Then promises were made 
There were lives there to be saved and brought to God 
And saved and brought they were without a whisper or a word
They flew like birds 
And still the elders search the sky through the tall and solid pine 
For their return 

Who are you Emily
What is the name that they hid
Who are the people they kept from your life 
And where's your family  
Among the dead and wasted  
The hated and raped and tossed aside? 

They wouldn't let you speak 
Until The Word and kerosene had wiped you clean 
And then the World War came along 
And took the only man you loved away to sea 
And then your children's haunted doorways 
In those dark and drunken dog days 
Would set the table 
With more than one life's worth of bottles 
Empty now but not forgotten 

Who are you Emily
What is the name that they hid
Who are the people they kept from your life 
And where's your family  
Among the dead and wasted  
The hated and raped and tossed aside?

Sometimes songs start with a lyric but this one started with a progression that was partly ripped off from my pal Gary Anderson and partly influenced by the song Please Don't Let The Starman Come Again by Dougie MacLean. Years ago I had given it lyrics that were adapted from a short story I had written but I was never comfortable with them. Sometime in 2013 I cannibalized some old poems I had written years previously while living in Winnipeg and made them fit a lyric for this song. 

I will often plumb the reams of old poetry I have written over the years to fashion lyrics. The poems I based this lyric on were written to celebrate the life of a Cree woman I met in Winnipeg's notorious North End.  The events that dominated her life are unfortunately all too common for Native American people across Canada.  Whenever I perform this song I feel it is necessary to point out that it was inspired not by tragedy but heroism. 

I do not have any Native American ancestry and do not always feel comfortable telling stories that are not my own to tell; I try very hard to ensure that I am writing as a witness rather than any sort of authority. I feel it is important to recognize the historical and contemporary conditions of marginalized people and to combat genocidal practices by speaking about these practices and their effects on the people they target - sometimes art can do this.

Here are some voices that should be heard:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Cree Culture and History
American Indian Movement
Idle No More
Hidden No Longer
Urban Native Magazine


There are some excellent links in these website to tons of great information so please, fill your boots!

I will also share you here the 2 poems from which I stole some lines and images:

Emily (I)

she contained
was set strong
under flesh worn callous
gentle Cree scrubbed in kerosene

    (What is your name Emily?)    

an angry wooden tongue shapes the moon’s song
around the sound of sorrows
of war-lost love
its name left behind and held
where darkness is the war alone
of closet-blackened eyes
the open wound of her children’s fears
where names are lost and forgotten
in fiddle memories and drunken dog years
when love became too hard not to be true

but tonight Emily sings
and tall and solid shadows
at South Indian Lake
sway with her song

Emily (II)

“…so I told him to get the – and you know I don’t say this very much – but get the fuck outta here!”

it would be someone
who was not welcome to
but none the less was
drinking too much
and her rye to boot
someone who’d stir that low burning memory
into hot tongues of hate
saying 
one day I’ll kill those bastards, I’ll…

but he’s dead
beaten and river bloated
and legend is stood on its head
the children grow wise and die
their stories silent
his paintings of moonlit cats
dark faces submerged in black
his photograph
that turns up out-of-date
whispering through the late news
him urging children
to pull their beautiful brown faces
from the wrinkled mask of paper bags

but he’s dead, fallen
to the blunt whip of fists
and they’re still dying
and she says
get the fuck out!

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