I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had said they had a great opportunity for me. I’d likely be living above the poverty line. It amazes me how many times that opportunity has to do with performing for something I just don’t want to align myself with. I mean, I agree we all have great causes out there, and some I hold close to my heart, some I disagree with and for the majority of these causes I just don’t understand them. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know whose interests are at stake. I don’t know the people involved or which way their moral compass points. I DO understand humanity and for that reason assume their compass is pointed due south. I’m not talking south of the 49th either. What about the repercussions for the other side of this cause? I just spoke with my niece about shipping food to Africa and she said it’s ultimately hurting them in the long run as they are essentially losing their farming skills. Even feeding the starving people of Africa has repercussions? Then tell me what cause is so noble? I don’t know… it all gets to be too much. The only thing I believe in these days is writing, playing and listening to music and even that has deep and potentially catastrophic consequences.

Think about it. Of all the musical heroes who’ve come and gone many have decided to take on big causes. Bruce Cockburn comes to mind. I’m sure even Bruce Cockburn would likely admit to some wonky moral compass behaviour which keeps him awake at night? I mean, if you really believe in solving the world’s problems, I would think rocket launchers aren’t the first choice for the UN. Well, strike that, maybe they are – the Security Council anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I still listen to Sunwheel Dance and a few of Bruce’s albums from that era. They resonate with me. His mid-career political ramblings are something I’ll take a flyer on. I’d rather get my propaganda de jour from dinosaurs like Reuters who have a seemingly endless amount of fertilizer for our national papers – let’s just call them Pravda and get it over with. It’s like when Bob Dylan and Van Morrison explored religion. That’s fine guys go as deep as you want in that regard just spare me the recorded musical insights.  I bought into ‘With God on Our Side’ and ‘Cypress Avenue’ but I didn’t buy into much on Slow Train Coming or Enlightenment. But don’t take my word for it, I’m the guy who bought Paul Simon’s ‘Capeman’ the work he put out to accompany the play which flopped miserably. I told everyone I knew to race out and buy that record. I loved it. Let’s just say my credibility for recommending others artistry waned.  At least Paul wasn’t singing about a cause. He was just telling a story.

What about John Lennon? When I first heard Plastic Ono Band I refused to listen to it ever again. Then one day someone gave me Lennon songbook which included ‘God’. Google THAT song! It still gets to me.
The ending is the best part where he sings “I just believe in me…Yoko and me and that’s reality!” Pretty cool way to look at it I’ve always thought. Hell, he was lucky to have someone else to believe in with Yoko. Notice how Yoko has never remarried? I guess it really was true and everlasting love. I can deal with Lennon’s version of causes: they’re simple, completely idealistic, romantic and often very raw. Unfortunately focusing more on the musical side of these sentiments would have served the songs better – but who in the hell am I to criticise John freaking Lennon?

Why do I bother writing this? For two reasons:  One, I’ve just written a song about George W. Bush. Yup that’s right. It’s not really political per se but it’s about a political man. I hate when people assume my politics and so for that reason, you’ll have to wait until it’s released. I guess I’m feeling somewhat sheepish for writing about such subject matter.

Secondly, this weekend I am playing a Toronto folk festival called Winterfolk and when I logged on to their website this morning it brought me to a site called ‘A Better World’ (The Association of Artists for a Better World – We can use our voice to change the World – There is magic in our words). Really? Is this possible?  Can we really change the world with our words and voices? Who said I want to make the world a better place? Not me. I’m just trying to cultivate my own little garden. (This from a guy who can barely take care of a cactus!) We’ll see what happens.

For the record… I believe in apples.

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4 thoughts on “This Fascist Kills Machines…or something like that

  1. Wow you and Conrad Black would have some interesting dinner conversation. In fact we might have some of the same, as I relate to your perspective. (Jeff Harding and Maria Henriques friend)

  2. Jay,
    Folk music is all about the garden. Sometimes the garden needs weeding and sometimes the garden merely needs to be enjoyed for it’s simple beauty. Like life, I suppose.

    But there has always been something real and relatable in folk music for me and most who appreciate its style. I believe it’s the purity of it. Historically, I identify with the barn dances of rural people. They were left to their own vices to entertain themselves on a Saturday night. Before Hockey Night in Canada, if there is such a time. They told stories about the characters they knew or their parents talked about. These stories, if they were relatable to enough people, became standard fare every Saturday night. They weren’t always meant to have a heavy political message, although they did manage to hit the mark sometimes. The ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ comes to mind. As a kid, I didn’t think Burl Ives (he sang a cleaned up version) meant to be political with his version. Kids sang along, as though listening to a nursery rhyme. Today, in the same song, I hear a strong political message; an anti-idealistic stance. Dump on the lazy dreamers of the world. No respect for the requirement of society to have people who idealise. Steve Jobs, for example, although hugely respected, he was definitely a dreamer.

    John Prine reminds me of the writers of the TV show MASH. Mostly light and funny, yet every now and then, smack! square in the face with a wet fish of reality. Sam Stone is a ‘smack in the face’ with reality. It talks about PTSD before the psychiatrists recognised such a condition. Who knew…Prine was there before the psychiatrists. That is what folk songs should do. Point out the irony of a life taken either too seriously or not seriously enough.

    Carry on. Apple Pickin’ is as light as they come. Garbo and Hepburn (one of my favorites), speaks to the tragedy of the human condition. The world needs dreamers and society needs to support the dreamers. They are the ones that say ‘what if’?

  3. Hi Jay. Well you really got the wires burning on this one. I’ll only speak to what I know which is Africa. It is Ok to give food to someone starving in a famine. Skill training and advice don’t help a farmer and her family who are starving to death in the hot sun, they need water and food in that order…now. It is of course better if the food is purchased regionally and in a continent the size of Africa there is always food around. The Canadian government stopped dumping years ago. Nowadays, most non-emergency aid is actually going towards building food security through skill training of African farmers so your donations there will be well spent on long term solutions. So, it is noble just and ethical if you donate to support Africa (NB Africa is not a country which may be a topic I take to task at some point!). So don’t get too cynical, there’s plenty of good out there. Just keep your eyes, mind and heart open.

  4. I love folk music but I’m not really a political animal so I’d have to say that the spiritual spinnings of Dylan or Van Morrison at times have resonated with me (I loved Enlightenment) while I’ve never really become interested in Bruce Cockburn’s music. It’s a case of different strokes for different folks. I don’t think any cause is too noble if it’s approached from a place of compassion. As a songwriter, I think you have to write for yourself first and foremost and not worry about whether or not your song will resonate with the masses. I’m a poet so I think I can say that. We write poetry mainly for ourselves for a plethora of reasons. Ultimately, what resonates with us will also resonate with other people, just not everyone.

    The bottom line is that folk music has something in it that will resonate with most people and sometimes it’s the particular singer’s voice in combination with his or her words and sometimes it’s the chord structure of the song. I’m a huge Van Morrison fan and love John Lennon and his romantic & hopeful vision of a world that lives in peace (how can anyone not want peace?) and one of these days I’m really going to give John Prine a serious listen too.

    As for Africa, I’ve followed Bono and Bob Geldof for most of their careers so I know a little bit about this subject from their perspective, and they’re quite well-informed. I’ve actually read The Commissioners’ Report on Africa (2005), a panel on which Geldof sits (http://www.commissionforafrica.info/commissioners) and that was some dry reading, I’ll tell you. However, we can’t stop giving Africa food, drugs and aid until the day comes that its people are able to sustain themselves and that day may never come. Africa’s problems arise from a combination of corrupt governments/political figures and climate but its people are just as important as any other on the planet and those blessed to live in other parts of the world where most of us have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge and access to medical care, just need to remember how lucky we are, and show some compassion for those less fortunate.

    In my humble opinion, John Lennon intrinsically knew what matters most in life. Peace, love and compassion. That’s all there is.

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