Thursday, May 28, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Cake’s “Prolonging the Magic”

After nearly two weeks of prodding, poking, and analyzing my musical genetic code I have realized that at this point in my life (over halfway through) there are 13 essential albums that sum up what I like in music. If I really thought about I could probably find a few more, for example I do like classical guitar, symphonies, funk, retro swing, bluegrass, and some pop, but I could probably live quite happily without these if I had to.

My final album is Cake’s “Prolonging the Magic” (but it could have been any Cake release) and this album and choice represents all the bands I love that don’t fit cleanly into a category. Every time I start writing these journals I think of another band I like, and I was usually able to fit them into one of the earlier sets, but I ended up with this list of bands that just didn’t fit anywhere. And that is why they are so special. The best music is the kind that cuts across boundaries, and surprises us, and challenges us, and isn’t always easily understood. I could say the same thing about the best people that I know.

Cake is a band from Sacramento, California led by a guy named John McCrea who looks like any regular blue collar hoser you would see filling up their blue Chevy with gas at Costco. He’s not a great singer, nor is he a great guitar player, but he creates magic with both and writes some of the craftiest, cutting, most vivid and sometimes impenetrable lyrics of any musician out there. Cake has never really broken through into the mainstream, and I think they like it that way because they command a small army of cultish, devoted fans. I’ve only seen them play once, at the Ottawa Bluesfest with my brother Marty. The singer was playing a guitar that he might have picked up at a garage sale on the way to the show for twenty bucks. But it was all he needed to make his point. The band is completed by a solid drummer, an amazing bass player and a trumpeter that completes the Cake sound.

I discovered Frank Zappa only after he had been dead for twenty years. I listened to a radio series called “Alpha Beta Zappa” on the listener-supported CKUA station out of Edmonton (best station in the world). I became a fan instantly and worked my way through his bizarre, scatological, sex-charged, profane, and anti-establishment catalogue, wincing with every new obscene discovery.  Despite the strangeness of it all, I learned that Zappa hired only the best musicians to perform with him and you can hear it in the music.

Listen to a Doors album. It sounds experimental and exciting, despite being recorded over 50 years ago. Not everything they wrote was fantastic, but much of it was so out there and so ahead of its time that it is timeless. No other band has been able to successfully pick up where the Doors left off.

The Mars Volta is (was, is?) an experimental, progressive, psychedelic rock band whose main members Omar and Cedric have produced such a massive quantity of music that it’s hard to comprehend. Their music is challenging and sometimes hard to understand, and it sounds like it came from another dimension.

The first time I became aware of Gogol Bordello was the soundtrack from the movie “Everything is Illuminated” which featured the singer of the band Eugene Hutz as an obnoxious but sweet Ukrainian tour guide who successfully butchers the English language. This New York City based gypsy-punk band is a collection of ragamuffin immigrants from all over the world that tours constantly and cause mayhem wherever they go through their passionate high octane live shows and revolutionary music that is thick with accordion, violin, guitar, and fire buckets. They tell the story of living as an outsider, trying to make it in the world, but struggling to stay authentic. Don’t all of us feel like that sometimes? I am infatuated with this band.

Lastly, Beck. Here is one outsider that has broken through to the mainstream, but still somehow feels like he is not really in the club. His sound changes from album to album, sometimes folky, sometimes electronic, sometimes country, sometimes rock, but always experimental. He sounds like he is persistently searching for something he never quite finds and leaves it up to us try and figure it out.

Music is one of the most important parts of my life. Just like the soundtrack to a movie can make all the difference, the soundtrack to one’s life flavours everything we do. Like art decorates walls, music decorates time. I attach myself to people who are also infatuated with music, such as my brother-in-law Mark who has turned me onto so many amazing bands and is a damn encyclopedia of musical history.

One day Magnus stopped me in my tracks with something he said. He told me, “Dad, I realized something about friendship. Good friends will tell you about cool things, introduce you to new people, and take you to new places. But great friends introduce you to new music.”

How true.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Bob Marley’s “Legend”

Reggae music is the sound of summer. My happy place is being on my sailboat on Lake Erie, anchored out for lunch with friends or family aboard, a cold beer in my hand, and Bob Marley playing on the stereo. Life is never better than during those moments and I treasure them every time they happen.

Reggae music was originally the sound of Jamaica, but the overwhelming popularity of reggae has spread far and wide over the years and you can hear reggae in pretty much any country on earth. Bob Marley and the Wailers were the biggest reason for this, and this global proliferation of Jamaican culture didn’t stop at reggae – it also included Rastafarianism, dreadlocks, and the love of the ganja weed. Additionally, there are massively popular offshoots of the reggae genre, such as dub, hip hop, dancehall, and reggaeton.

I really do not remember the first time I heard Bob Marley, but I do remember the last time – this week. And it’s always “this week”. There is no more popular go-to band in the Olson household than Bob Marley. When I think back to some of the most memorable times in my life, many of them were enjoyed to sounds of his music. I even started a reggae band last year with a bunch of friends and we jammed mainly Bob Marley tunes, buuuut we got too good too fast and the power and beauty of the music frightened us so much that we thought continuing on would lead to fame and fortune and jeopardize our regular lives, so we put that band in hiatus. Once we are ready as a group for this inevitable worldwide domination, we will be back.

To be honest, I have not dug deeply into the reggae genre, beyond other top shelf reggae artists such as Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and Burning Spear. But with the advent of these amazing online streaming services, I usually just pull up one of the hundreds of reggae playlists, crank it up, and don’t have a clue who I am listening to most of the time. But it’s all good.

Bob Marley’s music has led me to plenty of other artists that may not be strictly reggae, but certainly are cut from the same cloth. A British artist named Finlay Quaye released an album in 1997 called “Maverick A Strike” and this could very well be my favourite album of all time across all genres. It’s that good. Jack Johnston’s lazy, playful, mellowed-out tunes are no stranger to our playlists. For something a little bit harder, I love Sean Paul’s reggaeton vibes and one of my favourite albums ever is “Emigrante” from Cuban band Orishas, which is kinda reggae and entirely amazing.

Now excuse me while I crack a cold one, light up a spleef, and cue some Bob!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Corb Lund's "Five Dollar Bill"

I’ve never much liked country music. At all really. And it wasn’t for lack of exposure – as a kid there was plenty of country music around. My folks played an album by Alabama a lot, plus one by the Charlie Daniels Band with that crazy fiddle tune "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". And of course Kenny Rogers. And there might have been a bit of Willie Nelson now and again. But they weren’t big country music fans. As a kid I spent a lot of time in my parents’ home town of Foam Lake (population 1,123), where you’d think country music must run through their veins. But I heard a lot more Kiss, AC/DC, and April Wine than country back then, coming from the open truck windows of the vehicles cruising up and down Main Street.

But then one day in 2002 my brother Curt whipped out this cd and said I just had to listen to it. He said it was country, and the guys’s name was Corb Lund. I eyed him suspiciously, because I knew he liked country even less than me. Then I heard the opening lyrics, “I wrote my new song on a five dollar bill…” and heard the tale of an Albertan bootlegger running whisky across the border to the US, where he stole five bucks from a good ole boy who later stole it back. At first I wasn’t sure. Then something clicked. And I had found the first country album I liked, and would later come to love.

I’m still not entirely sure what I like about Corb Lund’s music. The lyrics are fantastic, rich with detail, clever, and each song tells a story. A real story, or at least that’s how it feels. Plus the music is good, with some fine guitar work and ripping stand-up bass. It could be his voice too. He sounds like a kid I went to Sunday school with back in Foam Lake. Actually he reminds me of everybody I went to Sunday school with in Foam Lake. Genuine. A bit guarded. Resilient. The capacity for craziness.

Where did my explorations of the country genre go from here? Not very far. I like some Johnny Cash stuff, but especially that album where he did a bunch of covers, including “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden which was a masterpiece. And Sturgill Simpson, who started out as a country guy but it was all a ploy because deep down he’s no country guy at all – he’s a progressive rock, musical explorer and made the best album of 2019 – “Sound & Fury”, which followed the best album of 2016 – “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”.

What I’ve learned from Corb Lund is that you may not like a genre of music, but if you wait awhile the genre might change to better suit your tastes. Or what’s more likely, is that you might change to better suit the genre.

In any case, you know when you hear good music, genre be damned.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Jarabe De Palo’s “La Flaca”

Ana and I met in The Bahamas in 1998 and after a wild and exciting 6 month courtship she decided to leave her apartment, quit her job, give away her cat, and say goodbye to Canada to come and join me on my next contract job - in El Salvador.

Neither of us had ever traveled in Central America, nor spoke a word of Spanish beyond “La cerveza mas fina” which is imprinted on every Corona beer bottle. I had never paid any attention whatsoever to Latino music as I really hadn’t been exposed to much of it and it simply didn’t interest me. Well, it doesn’t take long living in a Latin American country to realize that music is an integral piece of the social fabric and encapsulates so much of what it means to be Hispanic.

Since we were living a Marriot hotel room in San Salvador we spent a lot of time out and about in cafes, bars and restaurants and were soon saturated with Latino music. At first it all sounded the same, but as I heard more and more of it I started to recognize some of the songs. One song in particular caught my attention and I kept hearing it everywhere so finally asked a server in a restaurant what song it was. She told me, “La Flaca” then also said the name of the band but I couldn’t make out what she was saying, never mind try to write it down. So I asked my Spanish teacher Hugo about the song and he immediately started singing it and then we used it as a project to translate the lyrics into English. The song, by Jarabe De Palo is about a man who would give anything for a single kiss from a skinny woman he sees in the bar who dances and drinks all night long and never gets fat. I would soon realize that every Latino song is about love or dancing or usually both.

We lived in the Caribbean and Central America for several years and learned to love Latino music of all types – salso, merengue, bachata, Latin pop, Latin rock, reggaeton. Some of artists we discovered during this time were Elvis Crespo, Shakira (her first albums were amazing), Mana, Gipsy Kings, Daddy Yankee, Paulina Rubio, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Molotov, and so many more. The time spent in the Caribbean also exposed me to soca music and I since then I have been a closet soca fan – especially the music of Square One. And although he really doesn’t fit into this category, Jimmy Buffett has been a constant presence in my playlists for years. Nothing captures the magic of the Caribbean and the pull of the ocean quite like the ballads of Jimmy Buffett.

Our winter trips to Cuba give us an annual January dose of Latino magic and there’s nothing better than hearing that ping-ping-ping of the bachata as you enjoy that first all-inclusive drink while your pasty white skin sizzles from the powerful sun. Latin music is like an infection that never goes away once you catch it, but is a fine infection indeed.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Portishead’s “Dummy”

Trip Hop – “a fusion of hip and hop and electronica until neither one is recognizable.”
Trip Hop – “dance music for the head, rather than the feet.”
Trip Hop – “the Bristol sound”

It was 2002 when Ana and I set out on a round-the-world backpacking trip, and one of our early stops was South Africa where we spent six weeks exploring the country. One of many beautiful towns we visited was St Lucia, located on the eastern coast and the sort of place where you can see a hippo or crocodile saunter across the road and not be too surprised. We were staying at Bib’s International Backpackers – a beautifully stereotypical budget hostel where you felt like a member of the family as soon as you walked through the door. Now this was in the days before smart phones, when travelers used to actually talk to each other, and I remember one evening we were relaxing and chatting with others in the common gathering area of the hostel after a particularly long day of touring a local game park. I remember sitting in a big comfy chair, with a cold Castle beer, surveying my enviable surroundings, and listening to the creeped out sounds of Portishead oozing in through the speakers. Despite being past their commercial peak, during those months it seemed like every hostel we visited was playing Portishead on constant repeat. There is something about that music that strikes a chord with backpackers, and it certainly struck a chord with me. It is hypnotic, engrossing, gritty, and irresistible. The genre was called trip hop, but besides Massive Attack and Tricky, I didn’t dive too deeply into other trip hop bands. Portishead was enough for me. I think I bought my first Portishead album in the UK in 1996 and was somewhat of a fan before that trip, but music discovered (or re-discovered) and consumed during life changing trips tends to impact one’s soul more than normal.

It is hard to draw a straight line between Portishead and anybody else, but I’m going to going out on a limb and name a few bands that I tend to gravitate to before or after listening to Portishead. Morcheeba is another British group and was introduced to me by my buddy James Hooley, turning me into a huge fan. Bjork has done some amazing albums, but my favourite one by far is “Dancer in the Dark” – a soundtrack from the movie of the same name and one of the most impactful, sad, and tortured albums I own. On it she does a stunning duet with Thom York from Radiohead, a band I’ve been listening to since “The Bends” but went full scale Radiohead freak after the “OK Computer” and “Kid A” albums. I went through a phase in the 90’s with my buddy Evan when practically all we listed to was Enya, and despite her rarely putting out anything new, I still listen to her music all the time. The unmistakable Lhasa de Sela, rest her soul, takes me on a spiritual journey every time I listen to “La Llorona” or “The Living Road”.

This may be a stretch, but there are three bands I’ve been addicted to for years that somehow seem to fit into this category – Gorillaz, Beck, and Queens of the Stone Age. Gorillaz for their innovative hip hop vibe and surprises bursting forth on every album. Queens for the dense wall of instrumentation and somber themes, and Beck for his profound catalogue of mysterious sounds and visionary lyrics. These bands express the most vital elements of trip hop but are decidedly not in that genre.

Lastly, I love so many bands that fit nowhere else but in this category of music, such as A Tribe Called Red, Tame Impala, War on Drugs, Beast, The Knife, Vacationer, Roosevelt and especially Toronto based Austra. These are all my go-to music for the post-party late-night listening sessions, which don’t happen very often these days, but when they do, that’s what’s on the playlist…mixed in with some Portishead.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Dance Mix UK

I left Canada in 1995 as a 23 year old prairie boy ready to take on the world. After a whirlwind backpacking trip through Europe I landed in London, England and shacked up with my buddies Stillman and Colin from university. It was a time of great change in my life. Goodbye rye & coke, hello pints of warm beer. Goodbye jeans and t-shirt, hello business suit. Good riddance frigid winters, hello rain and lukewarm gloom year round. Goodbye peanut butter, hello Marmite. But mostly, I had to part ways with rock and metal and start experiencing new music. I realized quite quickly that living in a big city meant you went clubbing, and when you went clubbing, there was dance music. Of course I just called it “dance music” as a negative term because I had previously through dance music was for losers. But when you find yourself in the Ministry of Sound nightclub wearing classy club clothes, with the bass driving your heartbeat, mood-altering substances coursing through your body, surrounded by beautiful people, and dancing like nobody is watching, your opinion of electronic music evolves rapidly indeed.

I started to listening to electronic music regularly and discovered a world of exciting sounds and beats I never knew existed. Trance, techno, dubstep, house, drum and bass, downtempo, chill –it was all new and very exciting to me. But I happened to be in the UK right during the resurgence of Brit Pop, when British bands were sounding more British again, and carving out new sounds, rivalries, and fans across the Atlantic and further. Oasis was everywhere, with Wonderwall blasting out of nearly every bar you passed by. I also listened to Blur, Pulp, Ocean Colour Scene, Placebo, Chemical Brothers, Stone Roses, The Prodigy, Travis, The Verve, and Supergrass.

This led to a much better appreciation for "danceable" music and I found bands such as Chromeo, Daft Punk, and David Guetta whose music is perfect for those situations when you just gotta get on the dance floor.

It was an exciting time in my life and I’d probably never experienced as much new music as I did during those 18 months in London. And much of it stuck with me.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”

The Master of Puppets, he’s pulling your strings.

While I was deep into the 80’s hair bands, I slowly began discovering metal music. My brother Marty was way ahead of me as he had been introduced to Slayer and Metallica by his buddy Todd Tarasoff years before that. I didn’t care for it at first, but like all music, it starts to grow on you the more you listen to it. It was so much more powerful than the glam metal, and it seemed like these bands had more to say, and played faster, harder, and with more precision. I think my brother loaned me his “Master of Puppets” cassette, so I cut my teeth on that one and then consumed all the rest greedily.

After savouring Metallica’s discography, I moved onto Anthrax, Megadeth, Sepultura, Pantera and explored the thrash and groove metal genres. Then the grunge metal scene was born and after hearing Alice in Chain’s “Facelift”, I was obsessed. My buddy Evan Wappel was the first guy who bought that album and it blew our minds. It was slower than the metal music I was used to, but just as heavy, and the lyrics were darker, grimmer, and in some cases decidedly disturbing. I didn’t like all of the grunge bands and stuck mainly with Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, and the other Chris Cornell offshoots.

The death of the grunge era birthed a new genre of music called nu metal and I dove into bands such as Slipknot, Korn, Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine, Soulfly, and especially System of a Down. Our kids were barely walking when System of a Down came out and I’d take them downstairs and teach them all the classic metal moves – devil horns, neck rotations, the windmill guitar strum, the scissor kick, and mosh pit elbowing, usually to System of a Down cranked to 9 and I’d just scream over the music whenever the eff-shots came up in the lyrics. The kids loved it, although I’ve failed miserably at turning either of them into metalheads.

Along the way many progressive metal acts surfaced and I love bands like Ghost, Baroness, Animals as Leaders, Tauk, Umphrey’s McGee, Russian Circles, and Opeth, but truly worship Tool and Mastodon. In fact the Tool album “Undertow” was nearly the choice for this post…it’s so hard picking just one.

As I get older, my metal interests seem to be going in one direction – heavier. My morning playlists usually contain songs by Cannibal Corpse, Amon Amarth, Gorguts, Behemoth, Death, Slipknot, and always Gojira – my current favourite metal band.

I met a right cool dude named Chris T at a party our friends Dave and Silvia were having a few years ago and we started talking music and I learned he was the guitarist/vocalist in a metal band called “With Authority”. I was intrigued and we talked about his band and the metal scene in Toronto. I then asked him what metal bands he liked and he started naming off bands and genres I’d never heard of, so I grabbed my phone and started hastily taking notes. I then asked, “What other sorts of music do you listen to?”

“Just metal,” he replied.

“Just metal?”

“Just metal.”

“So you don’t listen to any classic rock, no progressive rock, nothing like Rush or any experimental stuff, or even any pop or electronica?”

He looked at me and said, “Just metal.”

Now there’s a guy dedicated to the genre!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Rush’s “Chronicles” and Primus’s “Sailing the Seas of Cheese”

You may be thinking, “Hey, why did he include two albums here?” I will answer this as well as I can. You see there is no need to differentiate Rush and Primus because they are the same band. You heard me right. But you may not understand, so allow me to elaborate.

The reason they are the same band is because once you discover Rush or Primus there is nowhere else to go. The journey ends at Primus and Rush. You never hear somebody say, “Yeah, I discovered Rush, but that just led me to (insert random band name here)”. Once you discover Rush, you don’t need to go anywhere else. You have everything you could ever possibly need. You may have thought of your musical journey as an infinite line that just kept expanding forever into the future, but the line stops at Rush. There is nothing else to move onto. Except maybe Primus.

I don’t even remember when I heard my first Rush song, but I do know the first cassette I bought was the double set “Chronicles” which was sort of a greatest hits package released in 1990. From there I moved on to a bunch of the early stuff then worked my way through the entire catalogue. And I don’t use that term “worked” lightly, because it is work. You don’t really get Rush the first time you hear them. It takes time and if you don’t devote enough of it to the band, then you will probably never get them. There have been times in my life where I have gone for months listening to nothing other than Rush, then I will put them down for a while, but it’s never long before I return for another fix. Sadly, the drummer Neal Peart died of brain cancer this year so Rush as a band no longer exists, saddening millions of fanatical, cultish fans all around the world. There is simply no other band that has put out so much challenging and original work for so long and kept it up right until the end, which was never going to be anything other than the death of one of the members.

I do remember hearing my first Primus song. It was during university and in the home of Jon Bath, who lived there with fellow North Battlefordians Evan Wappel and Ryan Tondevold. This place was such a dump that it would have taken 50 grand worth of renovations to upgrade it to a shithole. There was all sorts of weirdness going on in that house all the time, but I never heard anything weirder than when Jon put on “Sailing the Seas of Cheese” by this band called Primus and freaked us all out by making us listen to the whole thing. I started having clown nightmares shortly after that. But I grew to love the band dearly. And the bass player/singer Les Claypool has done things with the bass guitar hitherto unknown on Earth and probably throughout the rest of the universe. And who does he claim as his main inspiration? You guessed it – Rush’s bass player/singer Geddy Lee. See, they are the same band.

I will finish with a story. My first big backing trip was in Europe when I was 23. I was exploring Rome when I found out Primus was playing the next night in Vienna. So I jumped on the train and spent 15 or 20 hours traveling to Austria. I miraculously found the small club, but the show had already started. And worse, the concert was sold out and there were no tickets left. The best I could do was to gather with the rest of the unfortunate fans in the back alley of the venue with our ears pressed up against a set of locked doors listening to the sweet mayhem going on inside. One of the dudes couldn’t take it anymore and pushed everyone out of the way then ran at the doors and drop kicked them, breaking the lock, and we all watched in amazement as they swung open, spilling out hot human vapours and clouds of marijuana smoke. We pushed in as fast as we could and before I knew it I was riding the wave of bliss in the mosh pit getting pulverized. The place was so packed that some people had climbed the walls and were hanging off of lights and balconies. Les Claypool was up there with a giant fan blowing on him and he was ripping on the bass in a frenzy of madness and delight. I had never been happier in my life and it was the best rock show I’ve ever seen.

The music of Rush and Primus has taught me to never be afraid of challenging music. Within the challenge lies great rewards.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Extreme’s “Extreme”

Did you realize that you used to pay $56 for a cd back in the 80’s? Adjusting for inflation, this was the average cost of a single album cd when they were exploding in popularity. But the way I like to think about it is this - with a minimum wage of around $4 in 1984, a young person would have to work for approximately 5 to 6 hours to afford to buy one cd. Now, in 2020 with a minimum wage of $14 per hour, a young person can work just one hour and afford a month’s worth (that’s 730 hours) of unlimited listening to practically any album ever recorded, using a service like Spotify or Apple Music. Type in any song or artist and it magically pops up. That is so mind-bendingly incredible that it is hard to fathom, never mind explain this concept to a young person now. Buying a cd back in the day was a major decision because you could only afford to buy one or two per month, so you took the utmost care in what you chose because buying a dud could result in months of remorse and double shifts at the convenience store. In Europe, the prices were even worse – this weekend I came across an old receipt from when we lived in the Netherlands, and in 2002 I paid 22 euro for a Starsailor cd – that was something like $35 in Canadian funds!

The first cd I ever bought was Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” and I remember paying $25 bucks for it from Sam the Record Man in Saskatoon. My mom and dad had spent a fortune on a ghetto blaster with a cd player, but when I put that cd on and the opening guitar rang out, those long hours I had to work to afford it was were all worthwhile as the sound was so much better than cassette tapes (into which I had invested a small fortune).

When it comes to hair metal, I could easily list out dozens of influential albums I loved, but the one I am choosing to represent them all is Extreme’s self-titled debut. Their image wasn’t stupid like many of them (Stryper anybody?), the singing was solid and not off-putting, they didn’t wear makeup, the guitar playing was nutso, and they weren’t overly popular yet. During that time in my life I was spending most of my time with my buddies Darren Bessette, Martin Lepage, and Jemal Kobussen driving around in our crappy, yet awesome, first cars, blasting the music as loud as the stereo would go. I had also met a crazy dude from Denmark – Martin Olsen - who had been banished by his family for various misdeeds and sent to live with his uncle in Saskatoon. A damning punishment indeed – especially when his first month was February. He started hanging around with us and LOVED Extreme, just like we did. 

Remember, it wasn’t called “hair metal” or “glam metal” back then – I think we just called it hard rock. Many (most) of those albums haven’t aged that well (Tora Tora, Bulletboys, Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, Warrant, Bang Tango, Tesla, Britny Fox, Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, and Lord Tracy are a few that come to mind) but some of them have, including Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith. And don't forget Billy Idol. He's not exactly glam metal, not exactly punk, not exactly pop, but somehow all of these at the same time and was frequently spun on Olson family stereos. 

I have never lost my love of glam metal, but my tastes certainly have moved onto much heavier and more extreme rock genres. But without that early exposure to glam metal, I’d probably still be listening to Wang Chung and Tears for Fears.

Lastly, just this past week I made a startling confession to my family. I have this strange thing where there’s almost always a song playing in my head, over and over again. And there’s one song that’s stuck in there about 90% of the time. That song is Smoke Signals by Extreme. Specifically, it’s the guitar riff at the beginning of the song. Thankfully it’s a masterful intro, so I don’t mind it, but this is why Extreme is never far from my mind.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Van Morrison’s “Moondance”

Does anybody remember the sex scene in the movie “An American Werewolf in London”? I think it was probably the first movie sex scene I saw as a kid, but I was so young I probably didn’t even know what was going on. But I do remember loving the song that was playing in the background while they were rubbing up against each other in the steamy shower, although it took me years to figure out what song it was. You see, this was in the days before the internet, so you couldn’t just go to Google and type “song playing during sex scene in werewolf movie” and BANG, the answer magically appears. I didn’t realize at the time that you could wait until the ending credits to see the song names, so many years went by before I figured it out. It was “Moondance” by Van Morrison.

While there is no doubt that “Moondance” is a magnificent album, I feel that the greatest song ever written and performed in the history of mankind is on this album. “Into the Mystic” is a magical song and one that takes me on a spiritual journey every time I hear it. It’s a song about religion. It’s a song about sailing. It’s a song about enduring love. It’s a song about longing, but also hope. It is a song about death. The bass line is gorgeous, the piano is sparse but perfectly placed, the vocals are heartfelt and true, and there are maracas and horns, and guitar fingerpicking throughout, with simple guitar strumming layered in. The drums are understated and perfect, including the beautiful rhythm on the symbol at the start of the song that makes you feel like you are embarking on a long, difficult journey, but are ready for it. The mixing is incredible and there are sounds coming at you from all directions, at just the right time. The song builds, and grows thicker, and by the end instead of wanting for more, you feel fulfilled. If you are down, it lifts you up and carries you forward. If you are feeling good, it makes you feel better. When I listen to this song all my pain and worries drift away and I’m left with a sense of stillness. This is the song I want to be played at my funeral.

And Van Morrison did all this in three minutes and twenty-six seconds.

This discovery led me to purchase several Van Morrison albums (including the indescribable “Astral Weeks”), but also music from “Them”, his original band, whose monster hit songs like “Gloria”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, and “Here Comes The Night” really brought Van Morrison to prominence.  But the greatest impact the bluesy/soul/gospel/folk music of Van Morrison had on me was leading me into the world of jazz where I discovered the music of the jazz masters like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and John Coltrane, but also newer jazz influenced artists - especially Sade, who holds a prominent place in our family playlists. I’ve never become a hip cat, daddy-o, jazz buff that can list off the best jazz percussionists or saxophone players by memory, but I do love the genre, and if you’ve ever joined us for dinner at our home, you are well acquainted with Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” album whether you knew it or not, as that is my go-to standard for dinner party music.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Paul Simon’s “Graceland”

Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, released in 1986, was what one might now call a Black Swan - its success was totally unpredictable, it had a massive impact, and in retrospect its impact almost looked predictable. This album directly resulted in the birth of the term “world music”, a term that would stick hard and only now 35 years later, has finally become irrelevant.

As youngsters, my parents did play music at home and in the car, but they were not obsessive about music, nor were they really that picky, and they certainly didn’t make a point of exposing us to any particular style of music they wanted us to like. So we listened to a lot of generic, mainstream stuff such as Hall and Oates, Journey, Elvis, Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, J. Guiles Band, Steve Miller, CCR, and Nazareth but also Canadian bands like Loverboy, Chilliwack, The Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot and Bryan Adams. It was all good, but mainly a white bread musical diet.

But in 1986 my dad brought home this Graceland album and we simply didn’t know what to make of it. There was African chanting, elaborate percussion, hooting and howling, twangy and trebled out guitars, unusual chords, bizarre instruments, and lyrics thick with spine tingling imagery, exotic words, and stories so poignant that they cannot have been imagined. I can’t remember if we liked it right way (I suspect not), but we all learned to love it, and I distinctly remember air guitaring madly to the bass solo in “You Can Call Me Al”.

This album was, without a doubt, my first exposure to world music. And I think it really laid the groundwork for enabling me to appreciate so many different kinds of music. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to and lived in a lot of different countries around the world, and a highlight of these travels has been the music. While traveling it might be possible to bypass the local music and stick to your Guns ‘n Roses set list, but I think that experiencing the Graceland album as a kid helped me to absorb local music with an open ear and discover so many amazing artists from all over the world. I’ve discovered Eastern European gypsy music, Bollywood soundtracks, Punjabi dance music, Spanish rock, Jewish klezmer, Caribbean soca, Jamaican dub, Norwegian death metal, Mongolian throat metal, and Peruvian pan flutes. Just kidding on the last one – I HATE Peruvian pan flutes.

Several of my favourite "world music" bands actually hail from Canada or have strong ties to it. Jeszcze Raz is a Montreal based band that plays a mix of klezmer, gypsy and French accordion music and the singer Paul Kunigis bounces back and forth effortlessly between Hebrew, French, Polish, and Arabic. Lhasa de Sela was a genius songwriter who also bounced between several languages and released three haunting, beautiful albums.

With the advent of music streaming services now you don't even need to leave your comfy chair to discover new and amazing types of music from around the world.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Red Hot Chili Peppers “The Red Hot Chili Peppers”

One day, sometime in the mid to late 80’s, I paid a visit to my grandparents at their condo in Saskatoon. I was looking around in my grandpa’s office as he always had cool stuff in there – stacks of coin and stamp books, Life and National Geographic magazines, old war photos, and if I dug around in the drawers, the discoveries became even more wondrous. But during this particular visit, sitting on top of a filing cabinet were two cassettes, which I learned had been “stored” there (which probably meant “abandoned”) by my uncle Michael who has always had a keen sense of music and has turned me on to many amazing bands since then. The first cassette was Men at Work’s Business As Usual and I’d already heard of this band as they were getting radio play and I liked their music. In fact, the first concert I ever attended was a Men at Work show in Saskatoon with my mom, but it only happened because my dad got called out of town unexpectedly for work and couldn’t go with her. I only remember flashes of the concert, but  it really came full circle 20 years later when Ana and I attended a show by Colin Hay, the singer from Men at Work, at the Ironwood Bar and Grill in Calgary, Alberta. He put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (incredible voice and hilarious stories), for a crowd of less than a hundred people. After the show, I walked up and talked to him and told him about my first concert experience and he was so happy to hear it. I didn’t expect he would remember one show of the thousands they probably played, but he told me he remembered that show well because Canada was one of the first countries they played in when they started getting famous and they received an amazing reception in Saskatoon and everywhere else they played. He also said he I was very lucky that my first concert had been with my mom! I’ve been a huge Men at Work/Colin Hay fan since then.

The second cassette was the Red Hot Chili Peppers self-titled debut. I’d never heard of the band, but I assumed they must be pretty cool if my uncle bought it. Now, you’re probably thinking I stole the two cassettes from my grandpa’s office, took them home, and listened to them until they melted. But that was not the case. I wouldn’t really rediscover the Red Hots until years later, and I think the first album I bought was The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. After buying one, I was hooked, but not just me – my two brothers Marty and Curtis became rabid Chilis fans. For a few years those albums were practically all we listened to. We even had my grandma make us a blanket with the Red Hot Chili Peppers band logo on it which was awesome, but made even more badass when grandma accidently spelled it “Chile”. We also made a giant Chili Peppers banner that we used to hang up in the house and take to parties when we wanted to get crazy.

Their sound was fresh, vulgar, spastic, intense, and funny. The singer Anthony Kiedis couldn’t sing worth a damn and still can’t (although he tries much harder now), but what a front man! Of course Flea is one of the most famous bass players in the world and he took the slapping/popping technique to a different punk rock fueled level. The guitarists and drummers would come and go with the band, but all were epic players. The best Chilis poster ever made displays the band members totally naked except for the dirty  sport socks cloaking their packages, a move we would replicate many times over the years under the influence of alcohol, but never quite get right.

This band ignited the love of the bass guitar in me, and I started playing bass because of their music. Once you love the bass, it will be the first instrument you hear in any song. From the Chilis I’d dive into so many other bass-led bands such as Primus, Rush, Cake, Tool, The Police, and Morphine. I’d be lying if I said I’ve followed the Chili Peppers throughout their entire career, as I haven’t been interested in much of anything they have done after Blood Sugar Sex Magik and One Hot Minute, as their lost a lot of their youthful vigor and experimentation and stopped singing about magical dolphins, true men not killing coyotes, skinny sweaty men, purple stains, and police helicopters and instead started singing about love and other adult topics, which is way too grown up for me.

I’ve seen the Chili Peppers play live twice, the second time was in Amsterdam during the One Hot Minute tour, and it was nuts. The stadium with thick with marijuana smoke and got me instantly stoned without smoking a thing. The band played the latter part of the concert completely naked and I was so close to the front I was getting hit by droplets of sweat from Flea’s nutsack. It happened to be Flea’s birthday so at the end of the show some roadies came out singing Happy Birthday with a cake that they shoved in his face, which turned into a full band cake fight, and since they were in a violent mood they turned on their instruments and completely destroyed the drum kit by beating it to pieces with their guitars. Fucking punk rock!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Led Zeppelin Boxed Set

In 1990 a four CD boxed set of remastered Led Zeppelin tracks was released and it was a carefully curated collection of songs that chronologically tracked the band’s development and experimentation. I am sure my folks must have played Led Zeppelin albums at home, but the first time the band came to my attention was when I heard "Heartbreaker" on the radio. I asked my dad what band that was because I loved the song and wanted to buy the album, thinking it was a new release. Of course, he laughed and told me they had been around for a long time, but encouraged me to buy the album and said, “If you buy one, you will end up buying them all.” And I did. So by the time the boxed set came out I already owned every Led Zeppelin cassette (thanks Columbia House!) and listened to them all the time. But the boxed set was special because their best tunes were consolidated into just 4 cds, and you could pick a cd to match your mood. If you were in a party mood, you put on the first one and were hit with “Whole Lotta Love”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “Dazed and Confused”, and “Ramble On”. If you wanted to learn some new and interesting guitar chords and practice your harmonies, you put on the second one and could get absorbed in “Tangerine”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, and “Gallows Pole”. Feeling melancholy, suicidal, or just want to be alone for a while with your headphones on? Then it was the third one with “Kashmir”, “In My Time of Dying”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and “Achilles Last Stand”. And if you are feeling happy and chipper, then the fourth one was perfect with “The Ocean”, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, “Poor Tom”, and “In the Evening”.

Led Zeppelin was my first classic rock discovery, but that just drew me deeper into the genre and I dug into so many of their contemporaries such as Black Sabbath, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Rush, Fleetwood Mac and later on Van Halen, Queen, Aerosmith, AC/DC and the list really goes on and on. Saying that, I do not love classic rock as a genre carte blanche. In fact, some of the most popular bands during this time such as The Who, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan do not excite me in the least and I’m flipping to the next FM station whenever these tracks come up.

Zeppelin’s sound laid the groundwork for the many branches of rock genres and heavier sounds that would follow, in particular the world of metal – a world I love indeed. And a world that wouldn’t exist in quite the same way if Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and John Bonham hadn’t come together to create some of the greatest music ever recorded.

Several times during the university days I’d get together with a group of friends and we’d have a “Led Zeppelin Fest”. Everybody brought a bottle of rye whiskey to somebody’s house and we’d play the board game Risk while listening to the entire 4 cd boxed set from start to finish. We’d rarely get through the whole thing as somebody would pass out or an argument would erupt (should have stuck to beer) or we’d abandon the whole project and take off for the bar, pie-eyed and looking for action. Fond memories indeed – enjoying great music with great friends.

If I could only listen to the catalogue of one band for the rest of my life, it would be Led Zeppelin.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Colin James’s “Colin James”

The very first piece of music I ever purchased was a 45 of Elvis Presley’s “Devil in Disguise”. I loved that song the first time I heard it and after saving up some allowance cash I went down to Sam the Record Man at the Confederation Park Mall in Saskatoon and bought it. I would later discover the real early Elvis stuff through a cd boxed set my folks bought– and it was pure one man country blues. This helped plant the seed that would turn me into a huge blues fan. But the one album that really started this for me was Colin James’s self-titled “Colin James”, released in 1988 when I was 16. I bought this cassette at least two times, as I played it so much it simply wore out. The album still sounds great now and “Voodoo Thing” is one of the hardest rocking blues tracks ever written – quite an accomplishment for a young prairie punk from Regina.

But Colin James was just the appetizer. His music would lead me to discover the guy who discovered him – the one and only Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose albums I devoured, but led me deeper still into the blues, for example his hero Jimi Hendrix, but also the classic blues men such as Howling Wolf, Robert Johnson. Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert Collins and so many more. It was actually a classmate and buddy of mine – Leonard Saludo - who helped me to discover this music. Leonard and I were talking music one day during the dreary bus ride to school and I was showing off what a blues expert I was by name dropping Stevie Ray Vaughan. He then started rattling off all his favourite blues musicians as I sat there with embarrassed, dopey eyes, barely able to keep up. He made me a few cassettes jammed full of amazing blues tunes and I consumed them like candy. What music! The songs was so simple, yet so powerful. One year Ana and I went to the Chicago Blues Festival and we got to meet Otis Rush and see him play at a local bar. He was a bit past his prime by then, but had such an incredible aura about him, and was so at home on stage. In fact, I think on stage was his home.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in the early 90’s and most Thursdays of those years I could be found with my buddies at the most enduring blues bar in the prairies – Bud’s on Broadway. We were all flat broke so we could usually only afford one or two tall Rye & Cokes, so we made them last and sat there for hours listening to all the amazing blues bands that passed through town on the cross country blues circuit. They say the blues makes you sad, but I feel nothing but joy when I think back to those years hanging out with my pals listening to the scorching guitar riffs, the rock steady and rumbling bass, the snappy drums, the bitchin organs, and of course, the dirty growling vocals and distorted wailing of the harmonica solos.

This early blues exposure would lay the groundwork for my infatuation with so many blues rock bands over the years. Artists like John Campbell, Big Sugar, Tea Party, The Sheepdogs, The Cruel Sea, Jack White, the list goes on and on.

Blues is the root of so many musical styles, but Muddy Waters said it best when he sang:

All you people, you know the blues got a soul
Well this is a story, a story never been told
Well you know the blues got pregnant
And they named the baby Rock & Roll

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes - Fleetwood Mac "Tusk"

I think back and try to remember the first music I experienced as a child, but the memories don’t come easily. My earliest ones are of my favourite toy (battery powered trumpet), favourite shirt (The Fonz with two thumbs up saying, “AAAYYYY!”), recurring nightmare (falling backwards into a bottomless hole), and random scenes from elementary school (a solar eclipse, plants on the window sill, marbles at recess, my first friend Jeff). For music, I do remember one yodeling song that Sister Kathleen made us listen to in grade 4, which included the lyrics, “Man was made to do his best, work six days and then to rest. In a cheery way work is always play, yodel-e,  yodel-o, yodel-ey. With a happy tune work is finished soon…. yodel-e,  yodel-o, yodel-ey.” That damn song still pops up in my brain every now and then. I’m scared to look it up online because I’ll probably find it.

The first song and album I remember loving as a kid was Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. It was at 362 Pendygrasse Road in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. My mom and dad had this recording device called a Reel-to-Reel, which was this huge metallic machine with giant exposed tape reels that sat on top of the living room hutch. I don’t remember where dad got it from, or how long we had it, or even how he got the music onto the tape, but I do remember him putting on Tusk in the evening and cranking it up to 9. The song began very quietly, with almost background dinner party noise. Then Mick Fleetwood’s drums start, a hypnotic tom tom repetition that shook the plaster walls and continued until it was joined by the angelic harmonies of Lindsay Buckingham, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks singing “Why don’t you ask him if he’s going to stay? Who don’t you ask him if he’s going away?” accompanied by some innocent, yet somehow sinister guitar strumming. Then the unmistakable bass of John McVie leaps in with a powerful, shuffling riff that knocks over whatever trinkets and knick-knacks were left balanced tenderly on the fireplace mantle, not yet dislodged by the drums. The background noise, now including some screaming and moaning, continues and even intensifies. The entire band shouts out “TUSK!” At the midpoint, a short but intense drum solo breaks out, driving us nutty. By now my brothers and I are jumping around the living room like wild beasts, ramming into each other, and leaping from couch to coffee table to love seat. Mom and dad are laughing at us, having fun, sometimes dancing around too. The song continues, and my mind is filled with powerful images. A herd of elephants crashing through the jungle. A big brass band, marching, and blowing everything into it. A street war. A Roman Triumph parade entering the Forum, crowd cheering, and chariots with bloody wheels. By the end of the 3:38 song, we kids are sweaty and riled, ready to smash something up. Victory is ours.

I enjoy heavy and powerful music. And this song is as heavy and powerful as it gets.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Things I Notice About My Family

We are now in week 8 of quarantine which means our family has spent a previously unimaginable amount of time together as we have been working and learning from home. It has been a big adjustment, especially the first couple of weeks, but we have now settled into a nice routine and it’s almost feeling normal. I’ve also come to gain some deep insights into my family’s behavior I never previously noticed or considered.

First, in the land of flexible schedules, some huge differences have become apparent. My natural schedule is to wake up early, eat breakfast, and then get to work when my brain is most productive. My day begins around 6am and I get a couple of hours of work in before my regular work start time of 8:30. I then have breakfast, get showered, and am back on until around noon, at which point I take a long break to go for a walk, eat lunch, goof around, and then work 2 or 3 more hours in the afternoon. By 9:30 I can barely keep my eyes open so I either fall asleep on the couch or I stand up to watch a show with Ana, as that’s the only way I can maintain consciousness.

The girls like to sleep in and generally don’t appear until 8:30 or 9. Magnus usually does the same, but some days he is up shortly after me. But none of them eat breakfast in the morning! They start their work and then will wander into the kitchen at 10 or 11 looking for something to eat, which means nobody is hungry at noon when I am starving. Then they all eat again around 2 or 3, or sometimes they don’t really eat a meal and instead pick away at fruit, toast, or fridge findings in small doses throughout the day. Fortunately we all gather for a proper evening meal around 6 or so, and we talk about the day and the things we worked on or learned.

I believe I have inherited my sleeping and eating schedule from my grandpa Edgar. He was always an early riser, and only stayed up late when he was out dancing with his beautiful wife. Whenever you asked him if he was hungry, he would say “What time is it?” If it was 7am, he would eat. If it was noon he would eat. If it was 5:30pm he would eat. Outside of that, forget it. My wife and kids have inherited their eating schedule from feral cats. They eat whenever they feel like it, and only if there’s something good available.

Everybody seems to be more productive when they can fall back on their body’s natural schedule and rhythm. I now realize the only reason the kids eat breakfast at 7am during normal times is because they have to in order to get to school on time. They are not even hungry. And I think they are much more productive with the current schedule as they can focus on getting their school work and learning done when their brains are most receptive, not according to a schedule. Then just eat whenever.

Stella loves to ask random questions. But I think she is running out of material. During dinner the other night, she said “I’m going to give you guys a quiz on Stella to see how well you know me. First question, what is my favourite utensil?”

“Fork!” I said.

“Spatula!” Magnus yelled.

“Mixer!” said Ana.

“Nope, it’s a spoon. Next question. What is my favourite font...and size.”

“Helvitica 12!”

“Arial 16!”

“Cambria 14!”

The fact that we all actually knew the names of fonts is an indication of how the world has changed since the proliferation of computers.

“Nope. It’s Times New Roman 12. Last question. What’s my favourite food cap colour?”

“What?” Ana asked.

“Food caps. Caps on the bottles and jars. Look at the table,” she replied as she pointed.

Yes, the bottles of orange juice, tartar sauce, carbonated water, salad dressing, olives, and so on all had caps of different colours. Not that anybody had ever actually noticed.

“Uhh, white?” I guessed.

“Red, “ said Magnus confidently.

“Yellow?” tried Ana.

“Nope,” she said triumphantly. “It’s orange. You guys don’t know me very well.”

Magnus is now in grade 10 and has a newfound fondness for arguing with everybody about everything. It’s a normal part of growing up but annoying as hell because he doesn’t listen to reason, just like I didn’t when I got into epic battles with my father when I was his age. The other day he argued me into right into a corner, and everybody witnessed it. But first, the backstory. When the kids were younger, we used to pick up after them when they left crap lying all over the house. But after a certain age I decided that if I kept doing that then they would never learn how to pick up after themselves and do things properly. So I make them clean up after themselves. For example, the kids are playing outside and leave a tennis ball lying on the grass because they didn’t feel like picking it up, and know that if they leave it long enough either Ana or I will grab it. So when I see the tennis ball lying there, I will go inside the house, call them down, make them put their shoes on and go pick up the ball, instead of doing it myself which would take about 10 seconds. I do this to them all the time and it drives them crazy. Here’s another one. Stella will get home, hang up her jacket in the closet, then leave the closet doors wide open. Yes, I could shut them, but instead I call her down and make her do it. Magnus complains about my behavior and says things like, “Dad, what’s the big deal? Why can’t you just do me a favour??” I just tell him it’s more efficient and way faster to do things properly in the first place instead of being lazy and having to do it later or wait for somebody else to do it. It’s a good lesson to learn. Saying that, I do sometimes clean up after them if I just don’t have the energy to track them down, but I try to stick to my guns most of the time. Ana is much more forgiving and efficient – she will just clean up after them and forget about it…until it happens too many times in one day then she unloads on them and goes Portuguese-crazy.

So the other day Magnus was washing up his breakfast dishes in the kitchen and there was a dirty bowl and spoon there that Stella had used and abandoned. Magnus left those ones and was walking out of the kitchen when I said, “Magnus, why don’t you just clean those other dishes too so the kitchen is tidy?”

“They are Stella’s, she has to do her own,” he said.

“OK, but why not do them anyway since you are there.”

“What? You always say we need to clean up our own mess. Why would I do her dishes? She has to do it herself.”

I could sense I was digging myself into a hole, but I foolishly kept going. “Right, but sometimes you can pitch in and do a little extra to keep the house clean.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that! That’s not the rule!”

Then Ana chimed in, “He’s got you there. You always make the kids clean up after themselves. You can’t have it both ways.”

“Yeah Dad, you’re a hypocrite.”

I fought them for a bit until I realized the logic just didn’t hold, so I admitted I was wrong. But of course the next day, I came up to the kitchen and there was a nice pile of breakfast dishes left there by both the kids, perhaps set as a trap. Instead of taking the bait, I cleaned them and kept my trap shut. I don’t know. Sometimes peace trumps lesson delivery.

I’ve also recently noticed something very strange about the way Ana butters toast. It is really bizarre and I think this is a recent change, because I would have noticed it before, but I can’t be sure. When I make toast for her, I toast the bread, take it out when it is piping hot, then gently extract thin coils of butter off the top of the stick and tenderly spread it across surface of the toast being careful not to damage or puncture it, producing a photo-worthy toast that stands high and proud. If the butter is extra hard I will sometimes get the butter on the knife and hold it over the toaster to slowly soften it, making it easier to spread. When Ana butters toast, she carves a gigantic wad of butter off the hard stick and mashes it into the bread, totally destroying the surface and flattening it into the plate so that when she’s done it looks like a mini swimming pool with the high sides and a low bottom holding the pool of butter. It’s like a mini steam-roller prepped the toast for asphalt, or Marmite (nearly the same).

Another change is Ana and I have had much more elaborate arguments since quarantine began. Usually we’re so busy that when we argue it’s a rather short affair and over and forgotten even before we even figure who won. Now since we don’t leave the house it provides the time for well thought out and intricate verbal sparring. An argument we had the other day went something like this.

“The outside garden hose is leaking? When did that start?” I ask.

“I told you about that two weeks ago,” Ana replies.

“What? No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.”

“Oh no you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.”


“You just forgot.”

“No I didn’t. If you had told me I would have gone outside, looked at it, and check to see if we had something in the shed to fix it. That didn’t happen.”

“Well I told you.”

“Did you maybe tell me when I was unconscious and sleeping on the couch?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Ah ha! Well I do – that’s exactly when you told me. Which is why I didn’t remember. So there.”

“Could you just fix the stupid hose?”

I know, the complex arguments and structure of the logic is hard to follow, but with time on our hands we’ve taken our verbal sparring to a much higher level.

What have I noticed about myself? Well, I sure like the extended quiet time I get to myself in the morning. I usually have about 45 minutes to myself in the morning before having to wake the kids up and ride their asses to get them ready in time to leave by 7:30. It is exhausting and stressful and half the time we leave the house in a huff slinging accusations at each other over who made us late again this time. Now I have hours to myself since they kids don’t have to get up. I friggin’ love it. It’s the best. The longer they sleep the happier I am.

I’ve also realized I need a two-hour lunch. These lunches where you cram a sandwich in your face at your desk between emails is terribly unhealthy and just wrong. Now at home with my early starts, I can afford to take a nice long lunch break. My lunches have regularly consisted of not just eating a nice meal, but doing a variety of things such as taking a long walk, doing yoga or a core workout, taking on a bit of yard work, playing some guitar or banging on the drums, helping the kids with projects, and so on. When I get back to work for a few hours in the afternoon, it feels like a new day and I am fresh and ready. I’ve heard that many workers in France take two-hour lunches. Geniuses.

I know this quarantine will not last much longer, but I do hope that people and organizations have the vision to learn from this pandemic and perhaps adjust the way we do things. And maybe, just maybe, we will come out of this thing happier, stronger, and definitely more resilient.