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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Feeling LOW on New Year's Eve

Have a good night, everyone.  If you've got nothing else going on, listen to this song:


Laina & Low

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wheat Kings (and pretty things)

Oh, the Tragically Hip. I love them so much.

Picture from

This was not always the case. As a tot, I remember despising Gord and co. with all I could muster. There was just something about their earnestness, their all-out, unapologetic Canadian-ness that I couldn't stand. The singer's voice was funny, and that guy with the long hair... just... why was his hair so long?? I couldn't comprehend it.

My feelings towards the Hip started to shift around high school. Maybe because the coolest boy in my band class showed up to school one day in a Fully Completely t-shirt. Who knows. I decided they couldn't be that bad.

Now I can say with pride that they're one of my favourite bands. It's hard to choose favourites when it comes to Hip songs, but Wheat Kings, Fireworks, and Music@Work are most likely my top three. And what the first two of those have in common is the very reason I think the Tragically Hip are so great.

Picture from
Wheat Kings is a heartbreaking number that at first listen appears to be little more than a gentle ballad. If you're familiar with your Canadian history, however, it's clear that it's the story of David Milgaard, one of the most shameful cases in the history of Canadian justice. Milgaard was wrongfully accused of the 1969 murder of Gail Miller. He spent 23 years in prison before his eventual release.

Picture from Wikipedia.

Fireworks weaves together the story of Paul Henderson's nation-uniting goal against the Soviets in the 1972 Summit Series with the collective feeling of Cold War paranoia. Sound like heavy subject matter for a rock song? You'd think so, but it's actually one of the most poignant love songs in the CanRock canon, if I may be so bold.

Take a listen and see what you think:

"You held my hand and we walked home the long way/You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr." Brilliant!

Rabid Hip fans often scratch their heads and wonder why this great band just can't crack it south of the border. They pack arenas in Winnipeg, but play to a handful of folks in a dive bar in New York. With music this good, it just doesn't make sense.

But, I mean, it sort of does. I'd wager a good third of Hip songs are about hockey. Another third are about esoteric events from Canadian history. Would Americans really enjoy that sort of thing? Maybe not. But us Canucks certainly do.

Picture from the Abbotsford Times.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Amazing Grace

Well, here I am. It's the first official day of my holidays and I'm awake before noon. And blogging. Rest assured, however, that I am in my pyjamas and intend to stay in them all day.

Now that it's less than two weeks away, it's hard not to think about Christmas. I love Christmas. I love hanging out with my zany family, playing games, and eating too much food.

I also love Christmas carols. Primarily for the nostalgic value, I think. I remember going to my school Christmas concerts as a tot and belting out the words to Joy to the World, even though I didn't really know what it was about.

My favourite Christmas song isn't traditionally considered a Christmas song. Sufjan Stevens does a beautiful cover of Amazing Grace that's included on his 2006 five-disc whopper of a Christmas album, Songs for Christmas.

My mom took me to New York a few years ago, and Sufjan Stevens (my favourite artist at the time) happened to be playing while we were there. I frenziedly bought tickets, despite my mom's protests she would be the oldest and least cool person there, and wouldn't be able to relate to the "weird hippie" music at all.

She was wrong on all counts.

Umm, you can't really tell, but that's Sufjan Stevens. It's the best picture I could get from our upper upper balcony seats.

Sufjan Stevens, or "Surfjam" as my family affectionately calls him, is now a Hughes family staple. Especially around Christmas-time. Our love of him, and my particular love of this song, goes back to what I've mentioned in previous posts about good music being universal.

Surfjam does make weird, hippie music, but it's undeniably good. I enjoy it. My classmate Kristin enjoys it. My middle-aged parents enjoy it.

Amazing Grace is a religious hymn.

It's also a simple, beautiful song.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Avoid TNT while studying

I made the mistake of listening to Tortoise's TNT the other night while trying to study.

My reasoning was if I listened to something without words, I'd be able to concentrate more on my notes. According to this flawless logic, I would ace the exam.

No dice.

Tortoise makes some of the most interesting, innovative, intricate music out there today (hooray for alliteration!). Definitely hard to concentrate on anything else while listening to them.

Hopefully, one day I'll find the time to write a proper blog about them. Until then, here's a song:

If you ever have the chance to see them live, do yourself a favour and go!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Sometimes I want to go home and stay out of sight for a long time."

A picture I took some years ago.

It's no secret I'm a modern-day hermit. The fact I have to drag myself out of my cosy little nest on a daily basis often fills me with disgruntlement, especially in winter.


Midlake provides the perfect soundtrack for this state of being, especially their 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther. I try not to toss around words like 'ethereal', but sometimes it's hard to avoid - especially when describing this album. It's like a contemporary, woodsy version of Rumours, and you really can't go wrong with Fleetwood Mac comparisons. 

I picture Thoreau listening to this album while tending to his bean fields. There's just something about it that reminds me of living in the woods with little else than your modest home to your name.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prog-rocking out in Italy

In my last year of high school I went on a trip to Europe with a bunch of other kids. My school didn't sanction international trips after September 11th, so this was technically just a large group of students and teachers who happened to be traveling to Europe together at the same time

Picture from

We took in London, Paris, Florence, and Rome in the span of nine days. It was kind of a goofy way to see a continent, but in a way it was good. I know I'll go back to Europe one day, and now I don't have to go to all the cheesy tourist traps that we rushed through on that trip.

ANYWAY. I was absolutely obsessed with Pinback at the time, after hearing them on this radio station one evening while reading in my room. I listened to Summer in Abaddon on my discman as our tour bus rumbled through Tuscany.

There was something remarkable about listening to contemporary, progressive music while coasting through this beautiful, history-soaked country. But when the acoustic guitar comes in at the end of this song, it all just made sense.

Kind of a lame "video", but the song is lovely.

PS: I wouldn't really consider Pinback prog rock, but Wikipedia seems to think so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't know anything about flamenco? Neither did I.

I'll admit that going to a flamenco concert has never been a priority for me.

But last week I had the chance to head over to one of my favourite venues in Winnipeg to witness a musician Guitar Player magazine named as one of the top three guitarists in the world. As a fan of music, and one who is constantly trying to expand her musical horizons, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Juan Martin played to a crowd of mostly middle-aged flamenco fans on Nov. 17, 2011 at the West End Cultural Centre. For a cold, snowy Thursday evening in Winnipeg, the theatre was impressively about three quarters full - a testament to the skill and appeal of the 66 year-old Spaniard.

Picture from the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times.
From the moment he took his seat on stage, Martin had the audience in the palm of his hands. He started the show off solo, playing a medley of flamenco styles on the acoustic guitar. With a quiet, commanding stage presence and friendly but minimal banter, Martin proved he could easily carry a show all on his own.

But he chose not to.

Martin soon invited two backing musicians to join him onstage, though the term 'backing musician' doesn't seem fair here. Martin is at ease with his virtuosity, but hardly hogs the spotlight. He seems most comfortable when allowing the woodwind and percussion duo to shine.

Favouring restraint over flashiness, the musicians left the theatrics to dancers Raquel and Miguel. The pair stomped, writhed and pouted their way across the small stage. The hard, percussive nature of their traditional dancing was the perfect complement to the fiery music.

Completing the crew was a singer dressed in a long, black dress. She took her seat beside Martin, and belted out heartrending lyrics in Spanish whenever Martin gave her a musical cue.

Her voice was haunting and eerie, but oddly fascinating.

"It reminds me of a David Lynch film," my companion said. "It's certainly beautiful, but somehow off. It's almost frightening."

After a 15 minute intermission, the crew picked up where they left off.

Instead of stealing the show, Juan Martin chose to sit back and recreate the feel of a warm Andalusian evening where a group of musicians, dancers and artists might spontaneously gather at a small cafe to celebrate the history of a beautiful tradition together.

The audience was obviously on board. After a standing ovation, Martin and company came back for an impromptu encore.

"We look forward to returning to Winnipeg before too long," said Martin with a smile, as he and his band left the stage for the last time.


Good music is universal. Though I may not rush to see another flamenco concert anytime soon, the power of live music from skilled, passionate musicians is undeniable. Juan Martin could easily fill a room the next time he comes to Winnipeg.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


SHOOT, this is a good song.

A couple years ago I was splitting a pitcher with some friends at Cousins. One moment we were attempting to teach each other French, and the next thing we knew all the tables had been cleared and a full-blown dance party was in force.

Not something you typically see at Cousins.

The barkeeps were blasting everything from Madonna to Michael Jackson to the Knife. It was fantastic.

This song is perfect for riding your bike through empty streets in the middle of the night. Or, going for a walk first thing in the morning, just because. Or blasting on your headphones right after you've just failed a test or blown an interview or otherwise made a fool of yourself in a public setting.

In any case, it will make you feel good.

José González does a pretty lovely acoustic cover of it as well. Some days I think I like his version better, but ultimately, the Knife has my heart. José's version is beautiful, but in a different way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take Five

You said it, Schroeder. Picture from

After a battle with the omnipresent flu earlier this week, I decided to cheer myself up during a break between classes by heading down to the local music store. Into the Music is the best record shop in the city, and for a poor student like me, its proximity to school is downright dangerous. The above cartoon is pasted to their cash register and it gave me a much needed smile when I walked in.

My plan was to indulge in only one record, maybe two if I was feeling especially nutty, but I walked away with five records for a clean 50 dollars.


Still, while spending money usually leaves me racked with guilt and self-loathing, I felt okay. I felt like these records were real investments, as necessary to me as food or rent or all them bills.

And I was lucky enough to have a real expert on hand.

See, I've been trying to broaden my horizons lately and start listening to more than the old stand-bys. I've always had an appreciation for jazz, but am just so clueless about it that I don't even know where to start.

So there I was, flicking aimlessly through stacks of Miles Davis, when a friendly gent asked what I was looking for. He didn't even work there; he was dressed in a nice shirt and tie and told me he worked nearby, but had to "escape the office" to come check out the new releases (or, old new releases, as much of the stock is used).

He told me that jazz was "just a hobby", then proceeded to walk me through the aisles and tell me which albums were worth it and which were self-indulgent nonsense. He had no ulterior motive; he was just a jazz nut eager to pass on his knowledge to someone who wanted to know more.

I'm no expert on music, but I've always prided myself on knowing a few things about it.  I can name some Beatles albums and tell you which famous rock drummers died and from what, yet here was this man who knew something about every jazz record in that store. And it was just a hobby. Holy smokes.

It was humbling.

Anyway, I realise I haven't mentioned a 'song that's saved my life' lately, so...

Dave Brubeck is about the only jazz artist I know. He deserves a post all to itself, and hopefully one day I will.

Just listen to this song, though. Listen to it on a rainy (or snowy) evening, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and feel content.

Thanks for reading. And if anyone out there has some great jazz to recommend, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sad men with guitars

I'm a sucker for a sad man with an acoustic guitar.

Mark Kozelek. Picture from

I'm not sure how it happened, but most of my favourite artists fall comfortably into this category; Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Hayden, Bon Iver, Richard Buckner, to name a few.

This begs the question  - am I sad because I listen to depressing music, or do I listen to depressing music because I'm sad?

The answer to which is tricky, because I'm not actually depressed. And I don't think these artists are, either. In fact, I've seen many of them perform live and was surprised at their sheer jollity.

I mention this because one of my favourite sad men is coming to town on Friday. Mark Kozelek, of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, is playing the West End Cultural Centre for a mere $20ish dollars on Friday, November 4th. Unfortunately, the concert conflicts with another major stud who has an event that night, but I've made my choice.

I literally stumbled across Sun Kil Moon when I was at work a few years ago. I was putting some CDs away and found Ghosts of the Great Highway misfiled in the opera section. Instead of putting it away in its proper place, I brought it home and gave it a listen.  It's been a musical staple for me ever since.

Listen, and enjoy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fitter, Happier, More Productive

The other day, I decided to relax after a long day at school by plonking myself down on the couch to watch some TV. I had homework to do, dinner to make, and a shower to take, but all that stuff could wait. I just needed to turn off my brain and watch some mindless television.

Three hours later, I was in the same spot on the couch.

I wasn't just watching TV. Somewhere over the course of three hours, I had acquired my laptop and left it open on my lap to the Facebook page of someone I didn't even know. I clasped my smart phone in my right hand as I thumbed idly through Twitter updates. I'm pretty sure a strand of drool dripped from my mouth as my glazed eyes took in hour two of the W Network's Love It Or List It marathon.

Who even watches this show? Me, apparently.

My brain had turned off, alright, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to turn it back on.

I remember glancing out the window and thinking what a beautiful day it was for late October. I should go for a walk, I thought. But then another episode started, and the vicious cycle continued.

What have I become?

I only recently got cable. When I first moved out of my parents' house, I decided not to get a TV. I lived TV-free for two and a half years, and I can truthfully say I didn't miss it. I wasn't one of those preachy "Oh, I don't have a TV because I don't need one, that stuff rots your brain" types. My first apartment was simply too small for one, plus I didn't think I could afford any extra bills.

My boyfriend and I moved to a bigger apartment this past summer. And when I started school, I found out I could get a sweet student deal where we could get high-speed internet and cable TV for about the same price we were previously paying for slow-ass internet. We figured, what the heck.

It was also around this time I got my smart phone. This is another thing I lived happily without up until recently, but now I'm not sure how I ever survived without one. How did I live without being able to read Miss Lonelyhearts on the bus every morning, or play a rousing game of spider solitaire while waiting in line at Tim Hortons?

Consuming media is no longer a conscious decision for me, and that makes me sad and disappointed in myself. Watching TV was once a reward for a long, hard day, but it's now automatic. I turn on the TV as soon as I get home, and that's just the way it goes.

I recognize that TV has incredible value, and it is indeed part of the industry I hope to join. But I really need to limit my intake, and maybe watch something more intelligible than hour after hour of home-decorating shows.

All this thought of media consumption made me think of one of my all-time, top five, most favourite bands ever: Radiohead.

Picture from Wikipedia.
My favourite album of theirs is 1996's OK Computer. I feel like it encompasses so much of what I'm feeling about technology, the media, and my own ambivalence therein.

I used to hate track seven, "Fitter Happier." I thought it was gimmicky, and I would always skip over it. I now find it one of their most important songs, though it's still not easy to listen to. Singer Thom Yorke described it as a checklist of slogans for the '90s, though its faux-cheery message is just as applicable today.

Next time I feel the need to unwind, I'm going to try my hardest not to touch the remote control. I'll leave my laptop in its case, and let my phone charge in another room. I'll put OK Computer on the stereo and look at the window.

Maybe I'll even go for a walk.

Wish me luck.

Such a beautiful song. Please listen to it. You'll feel better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

YEAH (feat. Lil John and Ludacris)

 Everyone has guilty pleasures.

This is something I've struggled with over the years. I used to think I could only truly enjoy music that was genuine, pure, outside the mainstream. I scoffed at anything they played on the radio, and turned my nose up at MuchMusic (when they still played music).

I believed real musicians actually wrote all their own lyrics and played their own instruments, and anyone who did less was a pawn set forth by the corporate machine.

Such convictions are hard to shake, and, truthfully, a lot of my favourite bands do write and play their own music. But I also think that if a song is catchy, you can't deny that. No matter how shallow or talentless you may perceive a musician to be, a good song is a good song.

I hated when I liked a pop song. I would deny it and hide my true feelings as long as I could. I'm not sure when it happened, but I eventually realised that no one would hate me if I admitted to liking a popular song. And if they did, they weren't worth the time of day (sorry for the cheesy life-lesson, but it's true).

Usher's 2004 smash hit "Yeah", featuring Lil John and Ludacris, is one such song.  It played on the radio and TV in a seemingly continuous loop when I was an angsty teen. Due in part to its ubiquity, but mostly because it's a fantastic song, I just loved it.

And after repeated viewings of this video, I realised that Usher isn't a talentless doofus - the man can sing and dance like nobody's business. I'm not sure how many of his lyrics he wrote himself, but... I don't care.


Also, if you have ever had the pleasure of seeing me dance, this video is where I got most of my sweet moves. Except, you know, the awkward white girl versions.

What are your guilty pleasures, readers?

Should we even feel guilt about things we enjoy?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Almost Ready

On my morning bus ride to school, I'm usually content to sit back and enjoy the relative silence of the ride. I leave my music device in my bag and absently listen to the murmurs of my fellow commuters and the hum of the bus rumbling along.

Last Friday, however, this early morning solace was disrupted. As I took my seat near the back door, it became apparent that the fellow behind me was blasting music on his personal listening device.

And not just any music. Guns N' freaking Roses.

Now, I'm not totally against Guns N' Roses. I just think there's a time and a place for them. Unfortunately, 7:30 AM on a packed downtown bus is neither that time, nor place.

I decided I had to fight fire with fire. Or in this case, rock with rock.

Dinosaur Jr. was the obvious choice. These guys can rock the pants off Axl and friends, but they do it in such an articulate, melodious way that it's not nearly so jarring first thing in the morning.

I generally try to avoid douchey language when describing music, but J Mascis freaking shreds on the guitar.

I don't even know if that's the proper way of saying "shreds" - do you shred on the guitar, or just in general? Anyway.

I saw Dinosaur Jr. at the Pyramid a couple years ago, and it was quite possibly the loudest show I've ever been to. I mean, there's only three guys in the band, but the stage was completely crammed with gear - their amps were pretty much the size of redwoods.

And just because they're that awesome, here's another video:

Needless to say, Dinosaur Jr. significantly improved my day last Friday.

Actually, it's safe to say they've significantly improved my life. Thanks, guys.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Say It Ain't So

When I was 13, I was an unfortunate combination of raging hormones, debilitating social anxiety, and terrible fashion sense. I was terrified of boys and spent most of my lunch hours in the school library.

Not much has changed since then, but I digress.

When we were growing up, my big brother was always my idol. He started playing the bass guitar as a teenager, and I thought this was just about the coolest thing ever (don't tell him that).

His music school celebrated the end of the year with a big concert, where students would join together and form one-night-only bands to showcase their prowess on their instrument of choice.

I would sit in the audience with my parents, jealous I wasn't on stage rocking out with all the cool kids.

I decided I had to change. I could be a cool kid too, and my instrument of choice was the drums.

It was so simple! The drums would be my ticket to popularity. With each pound on the skins, I would shed my awkwardness, my loneliness, my braces, and quickly become the coolest girl in school.

Unlike many of my harebrained schemes, I actually stuck to this one. Within a year I had a cheap set of drums and was taking lessons (little did I know it was fundamentally uncool to take lessons. It was hipper to be self-taught, but I just didn't have the discipline).

My drum teacher had me practice by playing along to things like Britney Spears, as the beats were so basic it was easy to keep up and add my own flair where the studio musician lacked.

After some time, my teacher encouraged me to play along to music I actually listened to. I was intimidated at first, as I could never see myself going crazy on a set of drums like Stewart Copeland of the Police.

Like many awkward teens, one of my favourite bands was Weezer. One day, I decided to plunk the Blue Album into my discman and try my best to play along.

The first song I ever taught myself was Say It Ain't So.

Even though I listened to it about fifty thousand times when I was learning it, it's still one of my favourite songs.

And no, as you can probably guess, my drumming didn't magically transform me into Mr. Cool. Not even Mrs. Cool.

I'm still a huge dweeb, just a dweeb that can play the drums.

But look at Rivers Cuomo. He's king of the dorks, but in the best possible way. He's made a lucrative career out of being a nerd.

Maybe I can too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'll miss you, Bert Jansch.

One of my favourite folk heroes died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 67 years old.
Picture from the Guardian.

Bert Jansch was a huge inspiration to generations of musicians. Artists such as Nick Drake, Led Zeppelin, and Devendra Banhart wouldn't be who they are/were without the influence of his work.

Jansch was one of the leaders of the British folk music revival of the 1960s, and he released 23 albums in his lifetime. His virtuosity at the guitar made him stand alone in a sea of wannabe folkies.

I was lucky enough to see Bert Jansch play when he opened for Neil Young last year at the Centennial Concert Hall. I hate to be melodramatic, but I had tears in my eyes as he commanded a room full of rowdy Neil Young fans with his soft voice and gentle yet impressive strumming.

One of my favourite Bert Jansch songs is his cover of "Black Waterside", a traditional folk tune that many artists have recorded.

I remember hearing it on the radio a few years ago. The announcer mistakenly introduced it as "Bert Jansch's laid-back version of a classic Led Zeppelin song." I was so enraged I tried phoning in to correct her, only to discover it was a pre-recorded broadcast.

During intermission at the Neil Young show, my brother told me he thought Bert Jansch sounded like Jimmy Page. I promptly replied, "No, no, no - Jimmy Page sounds like Bert Jansch."

Rest in peace, Bert.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm So Tired

This song was playing in my head all day as I dragged my sorry self from class to class.

My classmates and I had an assignment to write last night that was due today at the crack of dawn. As soon as I handed it in, I collapsed on a couch in the hallway and willed myself to stay awake even though my body was shutting down.


Hopefully I survive my shift at work tonight, so that when I get home, this will be my theme song instead:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Eli the Barrow Boy

My street. September 30, 2011.
I love this season.

Though the weather has been all over the place lately, fall can be put off no longer. In the span of one week, the leaves outside my living room window have gone from green to yellow to, well, gone.

There are certain artists that I can only listen to during a specific time of year. And despite their name, the Decemberists are strictly an autumn band for me.

This is probably because I discovered them when I was starting my first year of university; that magical time when I was meeting new people, learning new things, and perhaps most importantly, hearing new music.

I remember listening to the Decemberists on my discman while walking home from my evening class (Intro to Astronomy. I'd been so excited about that class, thinking I would learn about constellations, and aurora borealis, and maybe Zeus or something. Unfortunately, it was pretty much all physics and math. Though the many Carl Sagan videos we watched certainly sweetened the deal).

Wolseley Avenue. Some time ago.
This song always reminds me of crunching through the fallen leaves on a dark, cool evening. I loved walking home from school. I didn't have to worry about anything except putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how much reading I had to do or how many essays were due the next day, all I had to do at that exact moment was walk.

It was nice.

I don't listen to the Decemberists much anymore, but they sure helped me during that weird transition phase from kid to slightly-bigger-kid.

This song has been going through my head all week. The stress of school and work and trying to find money when there is none to be found has been getting to me. Listening to this song makes me feel better. It reminds me of walking up my old street, to my old home, where I knew my parents and cat and a warm meal were waiting for me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good Times, Bad Times, the New York Times Have Had Their Share.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but Bill Keller feels fine.

At the end of Page One: Inside the New York Times, the former Times Executive Editor (he stepped down earlier this month), addresses his staff from a makeshift podium on the staircase in the middle of a full newsroom. It’s a powerful image: one stoic man in a sea of frantic faces.

Picutre from here.

The newspaper industry is not as stable as it once was, and the Times staff know it.  But when their leader tells his people, “Journalism is alive and well and feisty, especially at the New York Times,” the crowd roars with approval. You can't help but feel reassured.

The film did not start out on such a positive note.

On Friday, myself and 70ish other eager communications students crammed into the snug Cinematheque theatre to watch a screening of Page One. The atmosphere was vibrant. We were there to see a film about the field we all hoped to enter. We were there to watch our future.

The energy changed, however, as we watched as the first few scenes of the film.  We saw empty newsrooms and weeping journalists, embracing each other on their last day at the office.  We saw news reports declare the death of many major American newspapers, and we felt slightly less secure about our futures.

Such images did not inspire confidence in a room full of kids hoping to find a career in this industry. I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but I was starting to feel anxious.

The decline of print media is nothing new. I certainly wasn’t shocked by the stats that Page One threw at me from the opening credits, but they were still upsetting.  Being a journalist is no longer a steady career. To paraphrase David Carr, Times reporter and key player in the film, seasoned journalists have less to worry about than those just starting out. For Carr and his contemporaries, a comfortable retirement is just around the corner. For beginners like Brian Stelter, things are direr.

Stelter, however, represents a new breed of journalism. He got his start as a blogger and completely embraces social media.  “I don’t know why anybody who’s a reporter isn’t on Twitter,” he tells a room full of media hopefuls in one scene. The film often shows him at his desk, his laptop in front of his desktop computer, and his smart phone in one hand as he dials the office line with the other. A small TV sits on the corner of his desk amid stacks of paper.

If Stelter is the new face of journalism, then the industry has nothing to fear.

Brain Stelter. Picture from Business Insider.

Times are constantly changing. In my first few weeks of school I’ve been overwhelmed by the flood of social media pouring into my brand new smart phone.  With the pace at which new media is created, however, who’s to say these technologies will still be relevant when I graduate? Will there be room for me in the industry two years from now, or will a new species of pre-programmed media cyborgs make me obsolete?

Should I try to make a crack at this business? Or, just give up now and run off to a shack in the woods to spend the rest of my days taming woodland creatures? Sounds pretty tempting.

We may be witnessing the decline of print media, but the New York Times remains optimistic. The Times welcome change and adopt digital media. The industry is changing, but if a 160 year-old newspaper can change with it, I’m sure I can too.

The New York Times is not giving up, but another giant of American culture called it quits last week. REM announced their breakup on September 21, putting an end to a 30 year career. As I left the theatre Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of this tune.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Glen Downie Did Not Have a Minor Role in "Reservoir Dogs"

I must admit, when Glen Downie began his Thin Air reading on Thursday, September 22, I momentarily thought I was listening to "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies."

Downie's voice was uncannily similar to that of the deadpan radio DJ from Reservoir Dogs, voiced by Steven Wright.  Did anyone else get that?  Just me?  Okay then.

Not Glen Downie.
Not Steven Wright.

Downie's gravelly voice became a powerful instrument for poems from his recent collection, Local News.  His pain and disappointment were palpable in works about failing neighbourhood shops, dusty attics, and old dogs.

Glen Downie's Local News.
I've been to poetry readings before and am generally underwhelmed by the reader's interpretation of their own work. Too often, readers try to jazz up their poems by shrieking or whining into the microphone. Such theatrics were not necessary for Downie.

Poems are short bursts of creativity, but for me they often lack the narrative interest of prose. If there's no discernible story going on in a poem, I get bored fast. Downie's poems painted vivid, juxtaposing scenes of decay and gentrification. He didn't need to shout or thrash his arms wildly to tell his story. The deep timbre of his voice was a perfect backdrop for sadness, confusion, and occasionally, hope.

 Glen Downie believed in his poetry, and he got a room full of college students with short attention spans to believe in it too.

His poems were the embodiment of "Show, Don't Tell."  He described a mom and pop store whose storefronts hadn't been painted in decades, where the spiders lazily spinning their webs were the only signs of activity. Instead of saying "The store was depressing and no one had been there in years," Downie's imagery lets readers draw their own conclusions.

Downie lamented the changing face of his Toronto neighbourhood, where he suspected corporate giants such as Starbucks and Home Depot would soon replace the old shops. He seemed stuck, trapped between the old ways and the new.

Stuck in the middle.  It's a weird place to be.

You didn't think I'd be able to tie the Reservoir Dogs reference back in there, did you? Well, I did. In a really lame way, but I did.

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Can Call Me Al

... But, don't actually.

Graceland is one of those albums that's followed me since childhood. It was the constant soundtrack to family dinners and road trips while I was growing up, which basically made Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo honourary Hugheses.

Picture from The Guardian

Of course, I hated this album as a child. Mostly because my parents liked it so much. Therefore, my knee-jerk reaction was to despise it with every fibre of my tiny being.

As years went on, I found it harder and harder to deny this album's appeal. Simon's earnest and prose-like lyrics, combined with the upbeat and eclectic musicianship, make for an excellent collection of songs. Try as I might, I could not not like it anymore.

Though not without its controversy, this album is undeniably catchy. My dad gave me his old LP when I got my first record player last year, and it takes me back to my youth whenever I give it a spin. I can't help but smile and swallow my pride a bit when I remember how much I once hated this fabulous record.

Now, here's the adorable video for "You Can Call Me Al", featuring Simon and a dashing young Chevy Chase:


It turns out my parents were right about a lot of things I disapproved of as a child. Vegetables, Peter Mansbridge, and going to bed on time are just a few of the things I used to think were ridiculous, but am now quite fond of.

What do you think, readers? Did you ever end up liking some of the embarrassing music you grew up with? Were your parents ever right about something you hated as a kid? I swear, I won't tell them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Year

I used to be one of those folks who was so completely overwhelmed by Twitter I didn't even bother with it. When I learned that having an account was a requirement for the program I'm in at Red River College, I had a brief moment of panic. I wasn't sure I'd be able to successfully navigate through a world filled with #s and @s and RTs and OMFGs.

I decided that Twitter must be okay when I started following the tweets of one of my favourite musicians, John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats. In my opinion, Darnielle is one of our greatest contemporary songwriters, and his tweets are no exception to his lyrical mastery. Each 140 character snippet provides an insight to his humor and genius. If Twitter's good enough for John Darnielle, it's good enough for me.

I now follow many of my favourite musicians, comedians, and other public figures. I've realised Twitter's a great tool for communication - it's an easy way to stay on top of current events and breaking news, as well as getting a much-needed laugh in the middle of a busy day. You can choose who to follow, so your home page isn't bombarded with messages like "omgzzzz tuna agin 4 lunch?!?! WTFFFF @mom!!!"

Now, here's a song* that's sure to get me through a hectic year at CreComm:

Also, I urge you to check out this clip of two of my all-around favourite people and Twitterers, John Darnielle and Stephen Colbert.  You may have to do some digging to find a clip that's available in Canada, but it will be well worth it when you do.

Photo from here.

So, what do you think, friends? Do you find Twitter useful? Who are you following?

*Yes, I realise this song is about much heavier things than school-related stress. I just like it is all.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Everything You've Done Wrong

Ten years ago today, something bad happened. We all know what it is. We all know that it was terrible, life-changing, and tragic. We all also know that terrible things happen all over the world, every day. Things that are equally tragic, but for many of us, the events of this day were the first time that such things could happen on our happy little continent.

I was 14 years old on September 11, 2001. Up to that point, my world was a pretty tiny place. I was aware that things went on in other parts of world, but at that time, unless something scary happened within the cozy confines of my neighbourhood, I really couldn't care less.

Everyone has their own 'where were you when you heard' story, and I'm sure mine is no more interesting than anyone else's. I was just as scared and confused as my classmates, except maybe the girl whose dad was in New York at the time (she soon found out he was okay).

I remember feeling deeply unsettled. I suddenly wasn't as invincible as I thought I was.

We stayed at school til the end of the day, and though no one knew what exactly was going on, the rumor mill was in full force. One girl said there was a war going on in New York that was making its way to Winnipeg, and that we might all be enlisted to fight. Even this seemed plausible in the uncertainty of the moment. And though I didn't really believe her, there was some truth to her thought - the fear would make its way to Winnipeg, and things would never really be the same.

When I got home that afternoon I instinctively put my favourite CD on the stereo. I needed something familiar to remind me that things had once been normal, that I could still feel safe though my peaceful little world had been rocked.

One Chord to Another. murderecords, 1996. Photo from Wikipedia.
The album was Sloan's One Chord to Another. I'd become obsessed with Sloan after overhearing one of my friend's cool older brothers listening to them one day. They reminded me of the Beatles, my mom's favourite band (a band that practically raised me), and I could relate to their simple Canadian-ness and pleasant hooks.

On that day I needed comfort. Everything You've Done Wrong is my favourite song on that album. It has nothing to do with terror or death or politics, and that's exactly why it helped me feel a bit better that day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The First Day of My Life

Welcome, loyal readers.

As my sub-header suggests, this blog is all about songs that saved my life. That may sound insanely dramatic, but I know I'm not alone in this one. The perfect song can make your day go from bad to better, from good to great.

I'm going to tell about my favourite songs. Maybe I'll tell you about when I heard it live and it blew my mind. Or maybe how I heard it for the first time while surfing in Tofino.  In any case, I'll try my darnedest to make it interesting.

As this is my first post, I only thought it appropriate to name it after one of my favourite Bright Eyes songs.  Now, Bright Eyes isn't one of my favourite bands.  Far from it, in fact.  While my music-snob girlfriends swooned over Conor Oberst's poetic lyrics and big brown eyes, I found the Nebraskan indie hero precocious and slightly annoying.

Nevertheless, I agreed to go along to his concert when he played in Winnipeg four years ago.  The only Bright Eyes album I had was one of the latest ones, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, which my friends scoffed at.  Apparently "it just wasn't as good as the early stuff" (the typical music snob's lament).  I enjoyed the folkie, alt-country feel of the album and remembered being particularly smitten with the painfully adorable love song, The First Day of My Life.

Bright Eyes. Garrick Centre, November 2, 2007. Photo by me. He is pretty dreamy...

The concert was held at one of the Garrick, one of the most unfortunate music venues in Winnipeg.  The slanted floors of this converted movie theatre make for an uncomfortable standing experience, and given that I was squished between hoards of crazed 16 year-olds, I was not the happiest of campers.

Gradually, I began to relax.  I realised I didn't have to impress anyone there, and I eventually forgot that my back hurt and my feet were aching.  As the night went on, the obnoxious crowd collectively shut up and everyone just listened, mesmerized. The fast songs were fun and the slow ones were gentle and sincere and heartbreaking.

Conor Oberst famously doesn't play First Day live.  But the lack of it made me feel it all the more. After the show, my friends hit up a local bar in hopes of tracking Conor down and wooing him.  I declined, and instead drove home, locked myself in my bedroom, and listened to I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning from start to finish about five times through.

The next year, I finally got to hear this song live. My boyfriend played it on his guitar one morning while I was lying semi-conscious in bed.  I'm not sure if he played it for me or if he was just practicing, but it at that moment, it was even better than it could have been that night at the Garrick.

Yes, cheesy. I know.

Thanks for reading.