January 31, 2006


Category: Life — Cranky @

This past weekend somebody I know lost a son in an auto accident. He was 15 years old. Being relatively young, death has not been hugely present in my life. I lost a brother 10 years ago, and I’ve attended a total of three funerals. This death has me thinking.

What makes a person?

There’s an old adage that claims that a loved one who passes stays with you forever. I always filed it away as a platitude meant to console, with little truth to it, but the more I think about it the more I realize that this might be true in a very fundamental way.

Far more than a bundle of cells, we are a bundle of complex interactions. We are made up of our thoughts, our feelings, our dealings with others. What do we miss when somebody leaves? Not the body, necessarily. We miss the way they smile and the associations it brings. We miss their humour. We miss the way they speak, or the care they show towards others. We miss their quirks, their habits, the way they make us feel…

We miss our experience of this person. The body remains, but the person is gone.

What we are is also dependent on those around us. I am a combination of my own characteristics plus the sum of my experiences with others. Every single time we interact, we change one another. I may be more inclined to behave because I would hate to disappoint my mother. Perhaps I’ve seen somebody who is simply a better person than I, and I desire, if only subconsciously, to improve.

Even in the smallest of ways we affect those around us. A genuine smile at the cashiers stand may improve that persons mood, and consequently the moods of those who experience the second-hand smile. Those who make others happy start a chain that just keeps going. And over the course of a lifetime – even a very short one – we interact with many people, directly and indirectly. We all affect each other, every single day, and the world is changed by our presence.

Another way to put it is that each of us leaves an imprint on society – a social footprint that is an extension of ourselves. The way we change people outlasts our lives. In a very real way, that footprint is permanent. We affect others, and it affects the way they relate to their future children. A person who lived their life in a meaningful way lives forever in the lives of others.

We are stones cast into a pond. The stone may sink, but the ripples live on.

People, especially our loved ones, really do stay with us forever. I guess the platitude was right.


January 30, 2006

The Live Album

Category: Music — Cranky @

I don’t even know how many people have told me they prefer studio tracks to live albums. I can understand this preference a little bit… after all, often the studio track is of superior sound quality. Things are clearer, and more precise.

Problem is, the studio track is also usually lifeless by comparison. Some bands record together, and retain some of the wonderful sense of fluidity that real performance carries, but many record the music in distinct tracks. The drums are laid down to a click track, then the guitar, or the bass… but each one is a separate performance, and it shows.

There’s a rhythm and vivacity to a great live performance that simply doesn’t show up on the originals. After all, the track laid down in the studio is simply the first “acceptable” version of the song. Every song has a life. It’s born as an idea, or perhaps a riff. It quickly grows through its childhood into a teen, continually changing. Around the song-age of 18, it hits CD, and the world is introduced to it. But the song isn’t done. There’s a lot of growing to do.

A touring band plays the tracks over and over, but the song isn’t simply repeated. It ages. Nuances come out that weren’t there on the original. The bass grows funkier, or the vocals more emotive. The song is like a brand new apartment with brand new furniture. Nice… but sterile. The band has to settle in, mess things up a bit, and make themselves comfortable. The grooves get strengthened, and the whole song comes together. Eventually the performance of the song becomes far superior to the original.

The live album is a chance to hear how the songs you love have grown up.

“Babylon By Bus”, by the late, great Bob Marley, is one of the finest live albums ever made. I must have listened to it a hundred times. The songs are realized perfectly. When you hear “Lively Up Yourself” recorded at the Paris Pavilion, you realize that this is how the song was supposed to be heard. The original is a pale imitation. “War” is a golden moment in music. “Jammin'” leaves you simply happy, and is one of my favorite finales. I have the originals of all these tracks but I seldom listen to them. Reggae is best when the massive bass is pounding through a live venue. Bob Marley set the bar awfully high.

The live album is supposed to present what the band is all about. Some bands simply play their studio tracks as is, like clockwork, and I’ll concede that these bands have no need of a live album. But when you hear Peter Frampton’s classic, “Do You Feel Like We Do”, performed immaculately in a 14 minute triumph of musicianship you realize that performance trumps cleanliness. Sure, the originals are cleaner… but that doesn’t mean they’re better.

Pass me the live album, please. I’d like seconds.


January 27, 2006


Category: Life — Cranky @

Tomorrow the last of my generation of relatives walks down the aisle. That makes me the last man (or woman) standing. All of the others have succumbed… some more than once. I have a really good feeling about this wedding tomorrow. I think they’re two wonderful people with a terrific future ahead of them… even if the groom DID call me “ignorant about the environment” during a spirited debate. Now, I’ll agree I can be a politically incorrect chain jerker who’ll happily agree to horrendous acts in the spirit of progress… but ignorant I ain’t! But I forgive him. He’s a good man, and she’s a good woman. He’d just better be fond of scented candles, because his future is swamped with them.

My mom and I were in the car one day, and she suddenly said, “You’re never getting married, are you?” It was a resigned tone… not really a question. I replied, “Probably not.” She said, “Well, as long as you’re happy.”

Then there was a long pause, and she said, “Why should YOU be happy?”

Now we laughed, because it was funny. But there is a sad side to it. If I don’t get married, there are no grandchildren from me (at least, on purpose!). Thankfully my sister has stepped up in that regard, contributing three progeny. My brother also had a son. But in that regard, my decision to avoid marriage is a selfish one.

I’ve reached a point where I am happy pretty much all of the time. Everything is going my way, and I’m content with things as they are. Add on the fact that I get really grumpy if I don’t get at least two nights a week to spend entirely on my own, and you get somebody who is completely unsuited to marriage. I’m lousy at compromising. I walk away from arguments rather than resolving the issues. I can be a right egotistical bastard. In short, I’m a divorce waiting to happen. When I see some of the train wrecks around me when it comes to relationships, I sometimes think to myself, “Man, Cranky, you really do have it figured out.”

But then I watch as my nephews and second cousins grow up, and the reasons for seeing out the problems are much clearer. I sometimes think that the only really good reason for a formal marriage is to give your family recognition as a unified entity. This is the reason I think hyphenation of names, or the retention of separate names, is a stupid idea. A family should have one name. I’m not hung up on it being from the father. As far as I’m concerned, either is fine. But your family should be unified in name.

“I’m a Smith, my Mom is a Jones. My step-dad is a Johnson. My brother is a Smith-Jones. And my sister just changed her last name to Wimooway-Raspberry.” This doesn’t impress me.

Some people are suited to marriage. I’m definitely not. Imagine… if I had a family I wouldn’t have time to write a bunch of articles about half-baked theories and the deaths of cartoony spokespeople. For that reason alone I owe it to the world to stay single! Fill in the obvious jokes here.