25 April 2014

Music Day - Reader's Digest

Where had this song been all my life? Seriously. Such sarcasm... Usually I have a hard time liking Larry Norman's stuff (his voice annoys me), but here the sarcastic delivery trumps the nasal droning voice. I mean, seriously: They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost $13 billion.
Must be nice rocks.
If it hadn't been quiet hours in the dorm when I first heard this, I would have literally screamed with laughter. This is exactly my take on so much of life... also, this song sort of reminds me of DA's Through The Speakers, musically.

I should clarify though, for all you people who are gaping at the screen going "She doesn't know this album and she calls herself a Christian rock fan?" rest assured that I know this album -- my father has the vinyl -- but I don't think I'd ever actually heard it all the way through. I'm certainly familiar with The Six O'Clock News, The Great American Novel, The Outlaw, Righteous Rocker #1, and (one of my dad's favourites to quote when the topic of rock music comes up) Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music. But for some reason, nobody talks about this half-rapped piece of dryly served rock genius:

Title: Reader's Digest
Artist: Larry Norman
Album: Only Visiting This Planet
Year: 1972
Label: MGM
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Much good. Very sarcasm. Enjoy.

24 April 2014

A Prodigal Goes Home

Well I came into town alone
And I sang my songs for free
I was three years away from my home
And low down as a lowdown soul could be...

Most of you who care about this sort of thing will probably have heard this already, but in case you haven't, Loyd Boldman (vocals/keyboards/songwriting for the band Prodigal) passed away the evening of 22 April. He had struggled for several years with some serious health issues, but as I understand it, it was liver cancer that finally brought him to the end.

I'm not really sure how to react yet. I only found out about ten minutes before I started typing this post.

The hazard of liking music created in the '80s means that the artists who created it were generally born in the '50s or maybe the '60s. This means that unless Rick Florian or Terry Scott Taylor lives to be 150, I will probably outlive every one of my favourite musical artists. I will have to watch as they, one by one, vanish from the earth. I knew that, but I pushed the thought out of my head... This is the first loss from the era that I've experienced with this kind of immediacy. I was not yet born when Mark Heard passed away, I didn't hear of the Lost Dogs or Adam Again until long after Gene Eugene's passing (the same situation again regarding The Call and Michael Been), and it wasn't until about two years after Dana Key died that I really began to listen to DeGarmo and Key (though I'd known of the band since childhood).

Back to Mr Boldman.

I believe I've probably talked before about this man's incredible voice. He's right up there with Rick Florian as one of my favourite vocalists of all time. Loyd had a huge, soaring, booming voice that for all its strength could carry a sometimes unnerving amount of vulnerability as the lyrics required. Two of my favourite performances are Future Now (1985) and Neon (1984). The former is a truly dynamic performance, showcasing both the loud, booming, powerful Boldman as well as a strained near-whisper communicating as if from within the quiet fear and heavy unrest of the 'everyman'; the latter brings out a more ponderous, poetic, melancholy, hopeful, yearning Boldman.

I also have a deep love for the songs he wrote. He could be just sarcastic enough to make one think about why we think the way we do (I get my good times from a laugh track... I got my news from professional smiles...)*, he could cast something 'everyday' in an entirely different light (Bobby - quarter in the box... Buy another try to beat the clocks... Bobby - growing up scared... Wired to your own electric chair...)** and he could paint a vivid -- nay, full-on 3D -- picture with mere English (I quote here the entirety of the lyrics to Neon). The world always seems clearer to me when I'm listening to Prodigal's music, no matter which member wrote any given song (three of the four members of Prodigal wrote songs for the band). I am deeply grateful to Loyd for his part in it.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that hardly anybody knows he's gone. We have lost a great artist (I do not use the term lightly) -- and hardly anybody even knows that he's missing. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy.

But... Loyd's death is not a total tragedy. Loyd is now in the presence of God. His spirit is at home. Prodigal's final album, in 1985, was titled Just Like Real Life. The title cut was a somewhat sarcastic (though sobering) look at how we tend to watch TV and think that's how life really is: It's just like real life... just like real life... But I can't help but think that this life on earth in comparison with the presence of God is somewhat analogous to that song's point. Compared to the abundant life found in the presence of God, this life we live on earth is 'just like' real life... but not quite exactly.

But now Loyd is experiencing real life.

There's a freedom to me now has come
From giving myself away
And Jesus I know is the one who has changed it
And made it worthwhile some way...

(Song quotes (bookending): Prodigal and Prodigal (Part 2), both from the album Prodigal, 1982. * from Electric Eye, from the album of the same name, 1984. ** from Bobby, from Electric Eye, 1984.)

20 April 2014

Music Day, Part II - The Traveler/Joy

It must be Easter -- I'm listening to Don Francisco. I don't know why... Don Francisco at Easter just feels 'right.' This is the influence of my father on my life. (Don Francisco is also one of the very few artists who appears to remember that Jesus was actually raised from the freaking dead. I have no trouble finding songs for Good Friday -- everyone has a song about the crucifixion. But precious few songs exist that attempt to capture the joy of the knowledge of the resurrection.)

Just imagine this song playing on vinyl, as it was originally heard. As is Don's method (especially on these earlier albums) he starts with a story (from the Bible: Luke chapter 24) put into song form, but then he segues the narrative song into an exuberant praise song. The second part of the song, the celebration, is the continuation of the story Don retells in the first part, but it's also very clearly coming from Don himself. You get the sense that he physically can't express more joy than he already is, but more joy most definitely exists, boiling fiercely just beneath the surface -- just listen to him cry out We have been redeemed!

Title: The Traveler/Joy
Artist: Don Francisco
Album: The Traveler
Year: 1981
Label: NewPax
iTunes here; YouTube here.
CD available at the artist's website here.

He is risen!

18 April 2014

Music Day, Part I - The Twist

It's Good Friday.

I'm featuring two versions of today's song. Both are worth the money.

First is the original, the rock version. The song grabs and doesn't let go for nearly five minutes. It's relentless. The electric guitar swirls around, pushing and pulling, desperate, flailing... Hang on -- believe...

Title: The Twist
Artist: Swirling Eddies
Album: Zoom Daddy
Year: 1994
Label: Alarma Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

And here is the heart-stopping live version. It's a completely stripped-down acoustic version. Normally I hate it when people do acoustic versions of their rock songs (I think this is the only one I don't hate), but the guys of DA are of such a high artistic caliber that they can pull it off. I love the slow build in this. You don't notice it unless you're specifically listening for it (and even then it sneaks up on you), but suddenly when the second chorus hits, you're knocked backwards -- when did the full instrumentation come in? The bare acoustic guitar at the beginning lays a velvet nest for Terry to thread a light, soft, barely-there vocal through that auditorium.
The other day I listened to this song literally six times in a row and every time I got chills at the three-minute mark. Every time. Even though I knew it was coming.

Title: The Twist
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Live In Phoenix
Year: 2011
Label: Independent release
Bandcamp here; YouTube here.

Lyrics (they're the same for both recordings).

Don't take this too lightly. I'm not going to get too evangelistic, but I will say this: you are either with Christ or you are not. There is no middle ground. There is no lukewarm. You don't have to be with Him, but then you must be fully aware of the fact that you're not. You cannot take both sides. You cannot walk the fence. I think the lyrics largely speak for themselves, so read them and ponder them. No matter which conclusion you come to regarding them, ponder them.

But know this: this was no phantom guest.

11 April 2014

Music Day - When Everyone Wore Hats

I was raised in the shadow of the world of the good old days, in the farm country of Alberta -- close enough to the 'big city' to know what was happening in the world, but far enough from it to still have real neighbours, real community. The actual time of old-fashioned gentility had long passed by the time I was born, but the scent of it still lingered in our neighbourhood. I remember it, vaguely, but at the same time I knew it was lost. I lived in its ghost.

For me this song is at once a trip down memory lane and a yearning for a time I never knew. The world of the good old days. The melancholic grace of the electric guitar so perfectly captures the wistful tone of the lyrics.

Title: When Everyone Wore Hats
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Songs Of The Heart
Year: 1995
Label: Brainstorm Artists International/Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

This song takes on a stronger meaning for me now, as I'm so far from home. I'm nearing the end of the semester, and I feel I can almost step into the small-town restaurant where my parents would sometimes take my sister and me for breakfast on Saturday mornings, as an occasional treat. I feel that would be the closest I could get -- the place where everyone really could wear hats and it wouldn't seem out of place.

This is really just an all-round beautiful song. It's five and a half minutes of that lovely DA blend of rock and melancholy and poetry. Perhaps one of their best.

09 April 2014

Looking Forward To The 'Different'

I'm downloading my advance copy of the new album from The Choir as I type (Kickstarter backers only... release date is 15 April for those who missed the project). Hopefully that means we're getting an album review on this blog soon... along with Music Day... and general life...

It's really hard to update a blog when your days are all the same. All the same classes, the same routine, the same people, the same locale. I don't even get to go on excursions to a different town anymore. I do a lot of walking every day, but it's all within the same two blocks. I seriously live in a bubble here. But exams are this week (my first one is tomorrow afternoon) and I get back to Alberta most likely next Wednesday. And then... then I will have a life again. Until next September.

And then... then I will be rehearsing the Nutcracker with my 'home base' dance school. Then I will be able to see my siblings every day. Then I will be able to work with my dad and the rotating cast of armchair philosophers who help him out on the job when he needs it. Then I will be able to drive myself around at dusk (and other times of day) again. Then I will be able to make Daniel Amos and White Heart references and people will understand them because I've painstakingly educated them on why it's so darn funny. Then I will be able to eat nachos with cheese. Heck, then I will be able to eat whatever I want whenever I'm actually hungry, not just when the cafeteria happens to be open. Then I will be able to linger after church on Sunday because I actually know the people there and I can talk to them. Then I will be able to sleep in if I want because breakfast doesn't close at a certain time. Then I will be able to see the city again... to randomly pick a day to drive around with my family listening to music and looking at downtown storefronts and running errands and, if we're there late enough, to watch the streetlights come on across the city as if I'm in a modern-day Mary Poppins.

I do like it here, but it doesn't offer a lot of blog inspiration (or time). And speaking of time... I need to study for a history final. I shall post when my life has a little more variety again.

02 April 2014

An Old Nemesis Returns... Also, Dancing

I suppose I should post something more than Music Day, huh? How about a brief and rather haphazard recap of my second semester of college?

Well, the semester started off with me feeling guilty and angry at myself and basically wanting to quit. I hated being here and I hated being away from my family. But then I started to develop some friendships here. Plus, dance class happened...

See, the college is just beginning to foray into dance classes. This semester, they were offering tap, jazz, and ballet. Of course, I registered for all three. This equals six hours of dance a week, in two three-hour chunks. I was perhaps more surprised than anyone that I can actually physically handle it (most days, anyway...).

Also, at the beginning of February I ended up in the emergency room because I couldn't breathe. Despite the fact that I was struggling even to talk for lack of air, I almost had to demand the prescription for the inhaler. Yay for The Great Canadian Health Care System.

The last week of February was a break week, so I went back home and took all the dancing back at the dance school there (which, by the way, I'm being allowed to rejoin when I get back to Alberta in mid-April so I'll be in The Nutcracker with them in June), however, on the day we were driving back to college, I developed a sore throat. No big deal, I thought. There had been a sore throat going around my family that week anyway. But by the time I went to bed in my dorm that night, I recognised all too well the unique ball-of-razor-blades-in-the-back-of-my-throat feeling. The next morning it was still there. And the next. And the next. In fact, it was nearly three days before I could finally get a ride into town to see a doctor so I could get the prescription for the antibiotics I knew I needed (the rattletrap remained in Alberta at the decree of my mother, so I couldn't drive myself). By that time, I was half-dead. I hadn't eaten (due to the agony of the mere act of swallowing) in four days, and I had two papers due. I managed to get the one done (in a rather thick Tylenol haze that did absolutely nothing to kill the pain), and I got an extension on the other. I managed not to miss any classes, but every second that I wasn't in class or in the cafeteria trying desperately to eat something, I was socked out on my bed. Last time I had strep throat, I was able to live a normal life (except I couldn't swallow a blessed thing), but this time it completely wiped me out. I have never been so tired in my entire life as I was for that week and a half.

So due to spending a week and a half dying of strep throat, I got behind on a 2500-word paper and memorising the entire book of Ephesians -- both due on the same day. The latter project was worth 50% of the course grade (hey, it is a Bible college...). I'll spare you the gory details, but let's just say I'm bracing myself to fail two courses this semester.

Also, I have a (completely unrelated) word of advice for you all: never get shin splints. They hurt like heck. And I can't even really complain too much about shin splints because at least I can eat through the pain of shin splints... you can't eat through the pain of strep throat. But back to my word of advice: if you do get shin splints, never ever ever run on an uneven cobblestone sidewalk. Even if you're late for choir. Don't do it. I did last Wednesday and I'm still paying for it a week later.

This weekend is performing weekend around here: dance rehearsal on Friday, choir rehearsal and dance show on Saturday, choir performance on Sunday. Yesterday was the last day of dance classes... I didn't know that till I got there. I thought there was going to be one more, but alas...

It's funny how the world seems to stop when the dancing is gone. It's only temporary -- by the end of the month I'll be rehearsing Nutcracker in Alberta -- but dancing seemed different here. Maybe it was the group of people, maybe it was the fact that it was six hours a week (in Alberta I'm usually only taking maybe two and a half hours a week because that's all the courses at my level that the school offers), maybe it was the fact that I learnt so much about myself and where my weaknesses (and strengths) are as a performer, maybe it was because I was doing more than just ballet. But it was different -- I don't know if 'richer' is the right word for it because the dance school I'm at in Alberta has a very rich community as well, but here in Saskatchewan there was a different feel to the whole experience. Maybe it was learning how to work with a completely new group of people. I've been with the school back home for over five years, so we're all pretty close friends already. To have to learn to 'read' a totally new group is a bit of a challenge because you can't coast into it (I mean, not that I would ever do that back home, of course... *cough*). I don't know. Basically what I'm trying to say is the fact that it's basically over is making me immensely sad and I miss it already. A bunch of people from the dance classes here at college are either moving, graduating, or changing plans and not coming back next year, so that means that we will never again be all in the same group, dancing together. Back home everyone comes back to the school every year (you might lose one person every couple of years), but not here... dance doesn't consume most of these people like it does me. Their lives go on. But mine kind of stops when the dancing does. It's like the breath is snatched away. Maybe that's why I need to do choreography so much -- it's a way of dancing, even if it's just mentally, and I need that. I don't know why... I just do.

I will update on the choreography side of things later, when I have more time (because despite all odds, I've actually completed almost three dances this year and sketched out lots and lots of others). Right now, though, I need to go to bed, and I also have to somehow manage a 2500-word paper over this performing weekend. Then finals, but as long as I study, I should be okay. (Famous last words...)