Category Archives: Music

I am Two-Face to Maynard James Keenan’s Joker


Last week, I bought a few music CDs. Like, CDs with music already on them. And not MP3s. I know, totally old school, but I’m an old school kind of guy. Anyway, a couple of them were from a band called A Perfect Circle which features Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool. I had never heard any music by this band, but I like Tool and Keenan has a distinctive and strong voice so I took a chance. But the band isn’t what this is about.

A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth StepThe CDs I got were their first and second albums Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step. On the back of the Thirteenth Step CD case, it says “Copy Controlled”, which I assumed was some technology to prevent people from making copies of the disk. It never occurred to me that this would prevent the tracks on the disk from being ripped by programs like iTunes, because everyone uses iTunes or Windows Media Player or something like that, right? I mean, considering the number of iPods and other MP3 players out there (recent surveys say there are approximately 4.23 gazillion of them), no record company in their right mind would knowingly put technology on an audio CD that prevented it from being imported into iTunes. Would they? Yes. Yes, they would.

(Note that I’m giving the record companies the benefit of the doubt here. It’s possible that they’ve done this so that people who wanted MP3 copies would be forced to buy the album twice. I’m going to assume that the copy protection is there solely to prevent piracy and not as a way to rip off consumers.)

Neither iTunes nor Windows Media Player can read the disk at all. I can’t even play the disk on my computer. So now I have an audio CD that I legally own and yet I cannot listen to it on my computer or iPod. If I’m in the car, I could use the CD there (if it works on that player), but that means either leaving it in the car all the time or deciding in advance what music I’m going to listen to when driving. That’s a pain, and avoiding that is the reason I bought an iPod in the first place. I sometimes listen to music at work through my iPod, but this album would be unavailable. The other A Perfect Circle album rips and plays fine. Keenan’s voice is obviously a big part of it, but the songs are shorter than Tool, and a little more mainstream. There is far less ambient stuff – one of the songs on Undertow (a Tool album I also bought) (and successfully ripped) contains almost ten minutes of near-silence. But the band isn’t what this is about.

So what are my alternatives? I’ve searched the internet and have found some instructions on how to rip such CDs, so I may try one of those. I could just buy the album digitally, but that means paying for it twice and since I haven’t even been able to listen to it yet, I’m a little reluctant to pay again. But there’s another alternative.

I could steal it.

Music pirate

I could probably search the internet and find an illegal copy of the album someplace and download it in ten minutes. Make no mistake, I realize that this is theft, but I already paid for the album, so the band / record company is not really losing out on anything if I download it. At least, I could use that logic to justify it to myself. But I’m not a music pirate.

I work in the software industry. The software package I work on is not a huge piracy target, but the concept is clear – people downloading SQL Anywhere and not paying for it are stealing from my company. Similarly, downloading A Perfect Circle would be stealing from the record company and, indirectly, the band members themselves.

I’m also a little gun-shy. A few years ago, I downloaded some torrents of TV shows (just episodes I missed of CSI or something from network TV, not PPV or anything), and I got an email from my ISP saying “we’ve been told that you’re downloading copyrighted material. You’d better stop.” I did stop, and so if I decide to look for A Perfect Circle’s album online, I’m a little concerned that I’ll get caught and they’ll cut off my internet.

So integrity and fear means that I probably won’t steal it. If the methods I’ve found of ripping the CD don’t work, I’ll probably just buy the damn thing online. I’ll grumble and I’ll complain, but I’ll fork over the $10. And I’ll probably buy their third album as well. But the thought of downloading a pirated copy of the album did cross my mind, and not just for a few seconds. I seriously considered it.

The record industry is trying to prevent piracy, but the method they’ve chosen (this type of copy protection) is making a non-pirate like me consider stealing the album. They have taken a law-abiding citizen who is against piracy and turned him into a potential criminal.

Talk about unintended consequences.

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Sad songs say so much


When I was a kid, between ages 7 and 10, I was a Wolf Cub (now called a Cub Scout). I had the Cub Book which contained a list of all the badges and stars, ideas for things to do at camps or outdoors, lyrics to campfire songs, and lots of other Cub-related stuff. One of the campfire songs was My Darlin’ Clementine. I only knew the chorus of the song, which included the lines “You are lost and gone forever, oh my darlin’ Clementine.” I didn’t know the rest of the words, so I figured it was about a man whose wife or girlfriend had left him, a theme not uncommon in songs. One day I read the actual lyrics and found that Clementine was actually the guy’s daughter and she didn’t just leave, she drowned in a river. She died. I was stunned. This was about the saddest thing I’d ever read and from that day on, I hated that song for making me sad. I didn’t even want to look at that page in the Cub Book again. No word of a lie, I memorized what page it was on and intentionally skipped it when looking through the book for anything.

That experience taught me at an early age just how much of an effect music can have on a person emotionally. Here are a few other (non-campfire) songs that tug on the ol’ heartstrings.

Hold on – Sarah McLachlan

This is a heartbreaking song about a woman tending to her dying husband. She switches back and forth between hoping that he’ll get better and accepting the fact that he’s not going to. Sample lyrics:

So now you’re sleeping peaceful
I lie awake and pray
That you’ll be strong tomorrow
And we’ll see another day
And we will praise it
And love the light that brings a smile
Across your face

Oh God, the man I love is leaving
Won’t you take him when he comes to your door

Castle on a Cloud – Les Misérables (young Cosette)

I wrote about this one many years ago, when I said “No child should ever have to feel that much despair”. It’s sung by Cosette, a young girl whose mother died when she was a baby and has lived in poverty and neglect ever since. She dreams of a place where she would experience none of the terrible things that happen to her on a normal day.

There is a lady all in white
Holds me and sings me a lullaby
She’s nice to see and she’s soft to touch
She says “Cosette, I love you very much”

I know a place where no one’s lost
I know a place where no one cries
Crying at all is not allowed
Not in my castle on a cloud

4AM – Our Lady Peace

This one is about a man with a strained relationship with his father, who is filled with regret after he passes away.

Walked around  my good intentions
And found that there were none
I blamed my father for the wasted years
We hardly talked
Never thought I would forget this hate
Then a phone call made me realize I’m wrong

If I don’t make it known that I’ve loved you all along
Just like sunny days that we ignore because
We’re all dumb and jaded
And I hope to God I figure out what’s wrong

The River – Bruce Springsteen

A ballad about a young couple who married young when she became pregnant. They then watched their dreams fade away and their lives pass them by.

We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle
No flowers, no wedding dress

Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister, they vanished right into the air
Now I act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin

Possibly the quintessential tearjerker song. It’s about a father who never makes time for his son only to find that once he’s older and finally wants to spend time with him, the son has no time for his father. Excuse me for a minute while I go hug my kids. <Muzak> OK, I’m back now.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m gonna be like him”

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

A Month of Sundays – Don Henley

This is a retired farmer talking about his life, some of the hardships he’s been through, and how different things are now. The song touches on politics but doesn’t get preachy (unlike a few other Henley songs), but the last line (listed below) is the one that really gets to me.

I’ve seen dog days and dusty days,
Late spring snow and early fall sleet
I’ve held the leather reins in my hands
I’ve felt the soft ground under my feet
Between the hot, dry weather and the taxes and the cold war
It’s been hard to make ends meet
But I always kept the clothes on our backs
I always put the shoes on our feet

The big boys, they all got computers
Got incorporated too
Me, I just know how to raise things
That was all I ever knew
And now it all comes down to numbers
Now I’m glad that I have quit
Folks these days just don’t do nothin’
Simply for the love of it

I sit here on the back porch in the twilight
And I hear the crickets hum
I sit and watch the lightning in the distance
But the showers never come
I sit here and listen to the wind blow
I sit here and rub my hands
I sit here and listen to the clock strike,
And I wonder when I’ll see my companion again

Man, is it ever getting dusty in here. <sniff>

\m/


This is an actual conversation that took place at my house tonight. Note for the record that Nicky is 9 and has been playing the guitar for about a year and a half.

Me: Nicky, can you practice your guitar please?
Nicky: I can’t find my song sheet. It’s not in my book.

We searched his room and the office for a while, no luck.

Nicky: Can we look on the internet for the music and print another one?
Me: Sure.

Me: What’s the name of the song?
Nicky: Master of Puppets.
Me: O_O

Nicky and some friends, when his hair was longer.

What song has the most "na"s?


The question that everyone has been wondering in the back of their minds for decades has finally been answered. What song has the most “na”s in it?

NASongs

And the winner is…. Centerfold by the J. Geils Band, which has 221 “na”s, one more than Hey Jude.

No, I did not google this, I actually did my own research, as any good journalist would do. This consisted of listening to each song, typing an ‘x’ whenever they said “na”, then counting up the x’s. Why, how did you spend your Thanksgiving?

The night Blue Rodeo saved my life


I have lived in or near the largest city in Canada, Toronto, pretty much all my life. But in my 42 years, I have only been to Canada’s second-largest city, Montreal, twice. Once was in 1980 when my family travelled east to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and I remember bits of that trip (I remember it was 1980 because we saw The Empire Strikes Back in Halifax) but nothing about Montreal. The other time was shortly after I moved to Ottawa after graduating from the University of Waterloo in 1992. That one was more memorable.

I started listening to Metallica in about second-year university and by the time I graduated in 1992, I was a big fan. Faith No More’s album The Real Thing was one of my favourites during my university years, and while not a huge Guns ‘n Roses fan, I liked most of their music. So when I heard during the summer of 1992 that all three bands would soon be coming to Montreal, I was very excited. The radio ads said “seven hours of heavy metal!” I had moved to Ottawa in June to work at Corel, and Ottawa is only about an hour and a half away from Montreal. I called my girlfriend Gail (now my wife of fifteen years) and asked if she wanted to go. She’s not the metal fan that I am, but she liked Enter Sandman and a few GnR songs, so she agreed. Plus we decided to get a hotel room and stay over, so it was a mini-vacation.

We drove to Montreal the morning of the concert, which was on a Saturday. A friend of Gail’s lived in Montreal so we visited with her in the afternoon, and then walked down from our hotel to Olympic Stadium for the concert. I remember seeing an Expos souvenir shop near the door where we came in. The concert started right on time, with Faith No More opening. We were at the far end of the stadium, on the left side. I think we were on the lower level. The first thing I noticed when the show started was that the sound was terrible. Forget deciphering the lyrics, I couldn’t even figure out what half the songs were. Faith No More played for about 45 minutes, then they were done and we waited for Metallica. The tour was a “co-headlining” tour, and I don’t know if the order of the bands changed from night to night, but on this night Metallica was second and GnR third.

I don’t remember how long a delay there was before Metallica came on but I don’t think it was outrageous, maybe 30-45 minutes. I hoped that someone had fixed the sound problems, but alas, it was not to be. The first song they played was my favourite Metallica song ever, Creeping Death, and it was half over before I even realized what song it was. Sound problems aside, they put on a great show for about 45 minutes before it all went to hell. They started into Fade To Black, and about a minute into the song, after some pyrotechnics at the front of the stage went off, the music just… stopped. Dead air. Nothing. The smoke from the pyro cleared and we could see that the stage was empty. What the hell happened? Where’s the band? There was a lot of talking in the crowd, but the house lights didn’t come on, and nobody knew what was going on. It was several minutes before bassist Jason Newsted came out onto the stage and grabbed a microphone. He said that James (lead singer Hetfield) had been hurt by some pyrotechnics and he couldn’t continue, so they’d have to cut their show short. He apologized on behalf of the band but said that they would come back to Montreal and they hoped we’d come out and see them then. (Apparently they did come back the next year, with tickets under $20 each as a sort of apology.) On came the house lights, and a disappointed crowd waited for Guns ‘n Roses.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I’m guessing that the show was scheduled such that Faith No More and Metallica would each play for a pre-determined length of time, and enough time was set aside for two stage switches, so Guns ‘n Roses knew when their show was scheduled to start. GnR singer Axl Rose is not known for being flexible and… well, let’s just call a spade a spade. Axl Rose is known for being an asshole. I have no proof, but I have assumed since that day that Axl decided it was too bad Metallica’s show ended early, but GnR were scheduled to go on at whatever time, and that’s when they would go on. Those fifty-odd thousand people out there would just have to wait.

Two and a half hours after Metallica’s show abruptly ended, Guns ‘n Roses finally took the stage. After the high-energy Metallica show, we found that Guns ‘n Roses just didn’t have any energy. I have no memory of what songs they played, but Gail and I quickly got bored. Our feeling was “They made us wait 2½ hours and this is what they’re giving us?” After only about twenty minutes, I was bored enough to suggest that we take off. I was there to see Metallica anyway, Gail didn’t much care one way or the other, and we had discovered earlier that night that Blue Rodeo was playing a free concert across the street from our hotel. We were both big Blue Rodeo fans as well, so we left and took a cab from the Big O back to the hotel. We walked across the street and enjoyed the second half of the Blue Rodeo show.

While driving back to Ottawa the next morning, we listened to a Montreal radio station for a while. The DJs were taking phone calls from listeners who were all answering the question “If you could talk to Axl Rose right now, what would you say?” All of the callers had very negative things to say and we assumed that the majority of fans were as disappointed with the GnR show as we were, though maybe not enough to leave early as we did. After a while we lost the radio signal and turned it off, still blissfully unaware of what had actually happened. I didn’t find out until the next day, when I returned to work and my co-workers asked about the riot.

My response was “The what?”

As it turned out, Guns ‘n Roses played for a total of about 55 minutes before simply leaving the stage. Axl Rose later claimed that his throat hurt, and indeed a few shows had been cancelled over the previous couple of weeks for that reason. But on this night, to my knowledge, there was no announcement of any kind. The band just left the stage and the lights came on. The remaining crowd were less than impressed with this. The promised “seven hours of heavy metal” turned into maybe 2½ hours of music and over 3 hours of waiting. This displeasure resulted in people going down to the floor and throwing chairs, and then destroying whatever they could on the way out of the stadium. I saw pictures on the news of the very same Expos shop we had seen on the way in, which had been smashed and looted. When the crowd got outside the bad behaviour turned into a full-fledged riot, with the rioters looting stores and using Guns ‘n Roses T-shirts to set several fires including at least one car. The Montreal police had to use tear gas and shut down several subway stations. It even made the New York Times. This was the reason for the questions about Axl Rose on the radio the next morning, and it was big news in Ottawa as well, so everyone knew about it – except us.

Aside: According to an interview eighteen years later with GnR drummer Matt Sorum, the reason for the delay was that Guns ‘n Roses wasn’t even in the building. Actually they had not even arrived in Montreal yet. They were on their way from Toronto and were well over an hour away before they heard about the problems. (The text of the interview says that it had been 4½ hours, not 2½, but I don’t remember it being that long.) I’m not sure I buy this argument though. Opening act 1 was done and opening act 2 was on stage, and not only was the band not at the stadium, they weren’t even in the city? Good planning, people. Apparently the unexpected scheduling change caused other audio problems that contributed to the GnR show being cut short, but I’m not sure I buy this either. Sure the sound for the previous two bands sucked, but I have since heard from a number of people that concerts at the Big O always had bad sound. Plus, instead of the normal 45-60 minutes to switch stages, they had somewhere between 2½ and 4½ hours and still couldn’t it working properly?

The Montreal riot wasn’t the insanity that was downtown Vancouver after the Stanley Cup final, but I’m still very glad that Gail and I weren’t part of it. And we have two bands to thank: Blue Rodeo for being free, and Guns ‘n Roses for being boring.

CD Review: Paul Cusick "Focal Point"


The moral of this story: Sometimes you do get a second chance to make a first impression.

While perusing ye olde Facebook back in April of 2010, I was shown an ad for an album by a guy named Paul Cusick. I have Dream Theater listed among bands that I like, and the ad said something like “Do you like Dream Theater? Check out Paul Cusick!” So for the first time in recorded history, I clicked on a advertising link on Facebook. It took me to his web site, and it turned out that Paul Cusick is an English multi-instrumentalist who had recorded a progressive rock album in 2009 called Focal Point. I’m a fan of progressive rock and I’m always impressed by multi-instrumentalists, so I figured what the heck. The album was available in digital-only format for about ₤5, which is less than $10 so I gave it a shot. Since the ad mentioned Dream Theater, I was expecting some pretty heavy stuff – but by the end of the album, I have to admit being a little disappointed. It was pretty good, but much of it wasn’t nearly as heavy as I was expecting. As a result, I might have listened to the album maybe once more over the next six months or so – every time I saw it in the iPod listing, I remembered “Oh right, that wasn’t very good, was it?” Then recently I gave it another listen but this time I kind of forgot about the Dream Theater link (which ironically brought this guy to my attention in the first place), and found that I enjoyed the album a lot more.

No, this album doesn’t sound much like Dream Theater, other than the frequent time signature changes. But as I said, once I stopped the comparisons, I realized that this is quite a good album. Cusick is a talented musician with a quiet voice – no screaming here. He plays all the instruments except drums, and proves himself to be a good guitarist and bassist but particularly a keyboardist. There are a lot more keyboards than guitar on this album. The Dream Theater comparison didn’t work, but some tracks (Fade Away, Touch, Senza Tempo) remind me of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s On An Island album. This is a good thing, as I love that album.

Mini-reviews of each song:

Focal Point – Cool keyboard-based prog-rock instrumental track.

Everblue – This song has a very full sound – it’s hard to believe it’s just one person performing this (other than drums). Yes I know how multi-track stuff works, but still.

Fade Away – This ballad reminds me a lot of the Gilmour album.

Soul Words – Funky song with some nice bass and guitar work.

Scared To Dream – Starts off slowly with just piano and vocals and then the guitar and drums come in, but I like how he keeps the piano riff in the background. Very cool.

Touch – Similar to Scared To Dream – starts off slowly, then gets faster. Great drums on this track.

Senza Tempo – Paul found the guitar! There has been lots of rhythm guitar up to this point, but not much lead. This one is a very melodic solo guitar piece.

Big Cars – Fast hard-rocking guitar track. No keyboards anywhere to be found. This one reminds me of Porcupine Tree.

Hold On – Sounds like it was written to be a single. Not bad but not my favourite.

Hello – Piano and vocals only. Slow and kind of haunting.

Cusick’s second solo album, called P’Dice, is being recorded now and you can pre-order it here. The first 500 people to pre-order will have their names listed in the CD sleeve, and also get a “personalised limited edition postcard”. If you look, you’ll see my name there (along with “The Edge”! Is it The The Edge? I dunno), though there’s no release date or even an estimate. But I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Movie review: Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage


I am a huge Rush fan, and have been since the early ’80s. I had heard some of their songs on the radio, but my real introduction was the first side of Moving Pictures, which someone copied onto a tape for me. Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, YYZ, and Limelight. Four unbelievably fantastic songs, which I played over and over again. Imagine my surprise when, at least a year or two later, I realized that there were more songs on that album! And they were really good too! I eventually got most of their older albums as well, and I remember Signals being one of the most popular albums when I was in grade nine. Hearing the opening of New World Man still reminds me of early high school. I started to lose interest with the Grace Under Pressure album, and wasn’t too thrilled with the next couple of albums. It wasn’t so much that they started using more keyboards (Signals had lots of keyboards and I love that album), for me it was more that the keyboards seemed to replace the guitar rather than complementing it. I didn’t even buy Hold Your Fire (or Test for Echo) for many years, which meant that Rush had been removed from my list of auto-purchase bands – when a new album was released by bands on this list, I would immediately go and buy it, even if I hadn’t heard anything from it. Dream Theater has been on this list for years, and Linkin Park was, up until the most recent album A Thousand Suns, and now I’m not so sure about the next one. But I digress. Presto was pretty good, and rekindled my interest in the band. For Christmas, Gail bought me the DVD of the new movie Beyond The Lighted Stage, a documentary about the history of Rush. I have heard (on the radio and twitter) that even people who aren’t Rush fans are really liking this film, so I figured I would love it, since I am a Rush fan. I wasn’t disappointed.

There was lot more footage and pictures from the very early years of the band than I would have expected, including video of early concerts at local high schools and such. There was even video of a teenage Alex Lifeson sitting at the dinner table at his house, arguing about why he should be going to school when music is what he really wanted to do. Why someone in his family was recording that conversation, I have no idea. I found it funny that to this day, Geddy and Alex still refer to Neil Peart (who joined Rush in 1974) as “the new guy” because he wasn’t there for the beginning of the band and didn’t appear on their first album. There was a fair bit of discussion on each album up to and including Signals. After that, they mentioned that Rush entered a period where they used lots of synths which nobody but Geddy seemed excited about, including many fans. They squashed the Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, and Presto albums into fairly one short segment, and I don’t think they even mentioned the names Grace Under Pressure, Hold Your Fire, or Presto. Roll The Bones and Counterparts were touched on briefly and Test For Echo was almost ignored before a section focussed on Neil Peart and the tragedies that befell him in 1997 and 1998.

Within a year of each other, Peart’s daughter and wife both passed away, and Peart took several years off from the band to ride his motorcycle around North and Central America. (He wrote a book about this trip called “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road” which is now on my must-read list.) After returning, he had doubts as to whether he would be able to continue in Rush because he’d been away from the drum kit for so long. It seems amazing that someone as talented as Peart (widely regarded as one of the best rock drummers there is) could have such doubts about his own ability. A couple of people in the film described Peart as a perfectionist, so he’d likely be unhappy performing at 80% of what he used to be able to do – even though 80% of Neil Peart is still better than a large percentage of other drummers. They also talked about how private a man Peart is, and how he really doesn’t like meeting with fans who gush or fawn over him, and is uncomfortable with his fame (for reference, see the lyrics of the aforementioned “Limelight”). Neil, if you happen to read this, just know that I think you are an extremely talented drummer and lyricist and your music has meant a lot to me over the last thirty years. And I promise that if I happen to see you at a restaurant or store or something, I will leave you the hell alone.

Funniest scene: Alex and Geddy are sitting in a diner (the scene looks pretty recent, i.e. 2005-2010 time frame), and the waitress recognizes Geddy. She said that her son or nephew or something is a big fan, and asks if he can give her an autograph. He says sure, and she basically elbows Alex (who she obviously does not recognize) out of the way to give Geddy something to sign. Geddy asks if she wants Alex to sign it as well, and she just says “Thanks a lot” and walks away. Alex is laughing the whole time.

A number of prominent musicians were interviewed throughout the movie, including members of Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Dream Theater, Metallica, and Kiss, as well as musician / actor Jack Black. Sometimes Jack Black can be really funny while other times a little goes a long way, and I kind of found that here. A few interviews with him were fine, but I almost wanted to fast-forward over a couple.

I guess it’s not surprising that I really enjoyed this movie, since I am such a fan of the band. But as I said, I have heard a couple of different people talk about how much they enjoyed the movie despite not being Rush fans. At least, they weren’t Rush fans when they started the movie.