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BANG Music Review: James Hill – The Old Silo

 

the old silo james hill

Y’all already know I’m an ardent fledgling ukulelist and, as such, a James Hill fan. (Actually, I was a James Hill fan first.) Therefore, I need to tell you that his new album, The Old Silo, was released on Tuesday. Even better, you can stream it live, RIGHT NOW, at jameshillmusic.com.

As it happens, I have already had my signed copy of this album for a few weeks, as co-crowdfunder of its production (if I sound smug and boasty about it – yes, I totally am), so I’ve had lots of time to listen to it and ponder it.

If you’re familiar with James’s other original albums, you will find this one different. From the first chord, it’s harder and rockier. The uke is still in the forefront, but for the most part not the shimmery, folksy acoustic sound. Not exactly the same sound I fell in love with, but so much fun. (A few songs feature the baritone ukulele, whose sound I did not even recognize as a uke at first.)

Also, Sean and I agreed – there is a certain Plaskettesque quality to the sound. Joel Plaskett, famous Canadian rock sailor (whom Sean and I also enjoy), produced the album and performed in seven of the eleven songs, and although the songs are James’s, the influence is audible. (I mean… it is if you know it’s there.)

Here’s what I love about the album as a whole: it has this epic, image-rich, brimming-with-history feel to it. Listening to the whole thing in order, to me, is like watching a movie – my imagination runs away with me and there’s so much drama.

You’ll notice on the album cover, above, that there’s an hommage to American Gothic going on.

american gothic

Right? Not just me?

So, in my mind, The Old Silo is flashbacks and alternate realities that this couple might have experienced. Did you ever look at this picture and wonder what it was like when these two fell in love? What they looked like when they were young? What would have happened if they hadn’t found each other? What secrets of their past they kept from each other? What their sex life is like? What will happen when one of them dies?

It’s all here, guys. I’ve completely lost count of how many times I’ve listened to The Old Silo straight through, and I can’t get tired of it.

A few other notes:

  • A silo up close looks like a giant fretboard, what?! Effing brilliant.
  • Several songs sounded similar to each other the first time I heard them, and sort of overlapped in my head. The more I listen, the less alike they sound.
  • I finally looked at the lyrics for the first song, “New Moon”, after I’d been singing along for a couple weeks. It’s “My faithful Datsun Bluebird”, but I’d been hearing “dachsund“. It never occurred to me I had it wrong, but actually Datsun makes a lot more sense in the context.
  • The entire album is very singable. And danceable.
  • The one we like to sing most in our house is “The Village Belle” – it’s such a foot-stomper. One of those Stan Rogers-ish songs that sounds like it must have existed for over a century already. LOVE IT.
  • (Also, E asked what “village belle” means, and I told him it’s the prettiest girl in town. He thought about it and said, “Mummy, you’re the village belle. Actually, you’re the galaxy belle.” He often speaks galactically. Oh little-boy mama-bias, I cherish you.)
  • E’s fave is “She’s Still Got It”, which makes me giggle. Since, you know, he’s five, and it will be at least a few years before he figures out that it’s about sex. Between elderly folk. ūüėČ
  • There are no purely instrumental songs on this album, which surprised me a little. But there are a couple of delicate, quiet ones that might just break your heart.
  • As in Man With A Love Song, there are lyrics that make you shake your head because they’re so astute, not to mention neatly-rhymed. (“Are you with old money or the nouveau riche? Did they put you on a throne, or on a leash?”)
  • The song that has grown on me the most is called “Tie One On” – and it’s actually about the old silo. It didn’t particularly grab me the first time I heard it, but I like it more with every listen. Mysterious, haunting, bitter, raucous enough to hint at violence in the backstory.¬†Because there’s definitely a grand backstory, if I only knew what it was.

So, to sum up:

If you didn’t already do this at the beginning of this post, go on over to jameshillmusic.com and take a listen. The worst (and best) thing that could happen is you’ll become obsessed.

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Canucks Rock a Romantic Mainstage: David Myles and The Good Lovelies

I know it’s almost a week since Valentine’s Day, and my excuses for this delay are no more scintillating than usual.

But I wanted to let you know THIS: my Hubbibi and I had a DATE. On Valentine’s Day, which has basically never happened. (We always figure it’ll be too crowded to do anything, planning to pick a different date for dinner, and then usually forget about it.)

Auntie Em generously offered to look after our kids not just for the duration of the concert we had tickets for, but also for dinner out. ALONE. What?? I know.

Of course a dinner reservation on V-Day is hard to get. Here’s my tip: try a vegetarian restaurant. That’s where we got in (the Magnolia Cafe). And it was tasty, too. (It’s always weird for me to look at a menu and know I could order anything on it. I have trouble deciding when there are lots of options.)

We enjoyed having time to walk around downtown a bit in the snow, passing our old apartment building and reminiscing about how much sex free time we used to have back in those days.

Then, we got to go see David Myles and The Good Lovelies in concert!

David Myles

David was up first, and his rapport with the audience was immediate. He’s full of energy and charm. He got us all singing right away.

In case you’re not familiar, David Myles is the guy with the glasses and the melody in Canada’s most successful rap song ever (so far), “Inner Ninja.” One of my favourite stories of the night was about a pseudo-fan saying to David, “Hey! You’re the guy who plays the nerd in that video!” and him being all, “Um, no, I don’t play the nerd. I AM THE NERD in that video.”

Even better, he played a bit of the song onstage, and since Classified wasn’t there to rap, David made eye contact with a kid in the front row who “looked like he would know the words” – and he sure did. Ryan was maybe ten years old, and he hopped up onstage and just rapped a verse with David Myles. Whatevs. It was awesome.

Sean’s favourite number was “Drive Right Through”, for all the New Brunswickers out there ūüôā (David lives in Nova Scotia but is from NB originally).

David is a self-professed sentimental romantic who dropped out of a career in political law to write love songs (much to his dad’s chagrin). He was unabashed about his attachment to Valentine’s Day. Two of my favourite love songs were “Tell Me What” (Level 3 Audience Participation) and “Turn Time Off” (the guys in this video and the above are the same two who performed excellently with him that night); but he also sang “How’d I Ever Think I Loved You” for those feeling not-so-mushy.

good lovelies

The Good Lovelies were indeed good and lovely. And pretty, and funny, and cute. And preposterously talented. I adore their music: three beautiful voices (those of Kerri Ough, Sue Passmore, and Caroline Brooks) that create even more beautiful harmonies often dubbed “retro” (think 1940s, Andrews Sisters-ish)… plus thoughtful lyrics, some of my favourite stringed instruments, friendship that can be strongly felt in the music, and, in the case of this concert, plenty of endearing – and sometimes quite odd – anecdotes. (And backup bassist and steel player with serious skills.)

Last summer, I listened to my own Good Lovelies CD (containing their eponymous first full album and their second, “Let the Rain Fall”) on repeat in the car while driving to Camp. They helped keep me calm through an insane rainstorm in hill country where the visibility sometimes ceased altogether. Who could be stressed listening to a song like this?

I was really glad they played “Down Down Down” (“for the guilty Catholics out there – which is all of them”) – it’s one of my favourites, being so sweet/simple and hard-hitting at the same time – and “Sleepwalkin‘”, which makes a lot more sense now that I know it’s about taking the leap from a stable government job into a music career. (E is partial to this one, for the line “I’m a little fish in a big ol’ pond.”)

And even better was the Good Lovelies AND David Myles and all the backup folks singing “Lie Down.” Basically a perfect song, IMHO. And on Valentine’s Day, it was good old Canadian music love-in, since each act made no bones about being thrilled to share the stage with the other.

The only dumb part was how, just like at the last concert we went to, I was seized by shyness. I didn’t exploit the opportunity to chat with any of the artists out in the foyer… sigh. Maybe next time.

So, to sum up: if you have the chance to go see any of these awesome people, DO IT!

And hurray for date night!

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Singin’ and Dancin’

In our house, we like music a lot. Our family favourites include Raffi, David Francey, Vampire Weekend, Great Big Sea, the 3 Bs (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms), The Good Lovelies, The Lumineers, and The Beatles.

Right now, here are some selections we can’t do without:

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E and AB and I fell in love with this album while my Hubbibi was working evening shifts for three weeks in a row. We listened to it basically every night as dinner music. Our favourite song is called “Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” but we call it “Sad to Say Shay!” because that’s what it sounds like during E’s favourite part, near the end of the song (about 3:10). (It’s actually “They sail the same strait”.) Now even Baby AB sings “Say say SAY!” Check out these lovely young ‘uns.

Then there’s Mika – The Origin of Love.

Mika_The_Origin_Of_Love

We’ve always been Mika fans, and when I discovered (thanks to Rdio) that he’d gestated and birthed another album right when I was doing the same with my daughter (released September 17, 2012), I was very excited. The album did not disappoint. It’s one delightfully-poppy-and-subtly-complex song after another.* There’s one we especially like because it’s about an Emily, and we love an Emily. There are a bunch of great songs in French (Mika/Michael lived in France from age one to age nine). Overall, it’s unique and epic, and most importantly, it makes all of us dance.

I’m pleased as punch that my kids both have a sense of rhythm and some rad moves. (All that pregnant bellydancing ain’t for nothing.) And it tickles me that AB automatically bops around when she hears music, since she gets that DIRECTLY FROM ME. That, and a disproportionate passion for popcorn.

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*Unfortunately, there are a few wee lyrics that aren’t fully appropriate for kids… I’m just hoping hard that E never latches onto singing “I Only Love You When I’m Drunk”. So far he still has no idea what words most singers are actually singing… and gosh darnit, this one is just one of the funnest, catchiest songs ever.

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Glennon Melton, Vampire Weekend, Iron Man 3, and other news bites.

I had a grand plan to craft a beautiful essay, rife with linkativity, proving the essential similarity of these three items:

Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Carry On, Warrior,

carry on warrior glennon doyle melton
A great read.

Vampire Weekend’s new album “Modern Vampires of the City”,

modernvampires
A great listen.

And Iron Man 3.

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A great flick.

You see, this one time, in high school, I got perfect on an essay. Yep. My English teacher could find nothing wrong with it. (I am STILL proud of this, eighteen years later.) But I’m actually a little rusty, believe it or not. My skills have gone soft from too many bullet points.

Lacking the essay chops, I was gonna say something short but insightful about the use of irony or alliteration or metaphor, and the role of artistry in our modern lives. Then I thought that might cause a few too many folks to go Uggghhhh Dilovely, you’re scraping bottom, and proceed over here to cry with laughter.

Instead, we’re going to try a News Bites formula. For fun, because what could be funner than news bites? They’re like Fritos, without the fat content.

 

Blogger’s Book Insanely Popular Even Before Being Read

Glennon Doyle Melton is the creator/author of Momastery.com, a personal blog that exploded into the online world in January 2012 and became a community for people who passionately agreed with Glennon’s messages, including but not limited to “Love wins,” “Life is brutiful,” and “We can do hard things.” (I have been reading Momastery since then, and although I don’t usually participate in the comments, I have read some, and I am always gratified by the respectful, loving, open approach of those who identify themselves as “Monkees”.) I bought Glennon’s book, Carry On, Warrior, for myself and my mom on Mother’s Day. It contains some of her most popular blog posts and lots of new essays, forming a quasi-life-story that’s fascinating. Frankly, I ate it up. Loved it. Didn’t want it to be over as soon as it was. It’s funny, heartbreaking, wise, and deep without being heavy. Makes you want to be a better person, whilst also making you feel better about the kind of person you already are. WORD.

 

Household Attacked by Vampires

“Modern Vampires of the City” is the third album of one of our household’s fave bands, Vampire Weekend. We are listening to it obsessively around here, ever since Sean got it for me for my birthday. It’s a departure from their Africanesque/world sound; at first listen, it seems a bit more mainstream. Most of the lyrics are not as overtly oddball as those of the first two albums. But now that it’s becoming ingrained in the fibre of our lives, I can assure you, it’s just as original as ever. Maybe even more so. Their sound is simple but not. The lyrics completely baffle me but I love them anyway. As with the last album, Contra, my favourite song changes every day. (Currently it’s “Everlasting Arms”, but “Diane Young” is best for dancing to and “Unbelievers” is best for singing along to and “Yeah Hey” is the catchiest.)

 

Tony Stark Rendered Speechless by Pepper Potts

Sean wisely had me watch Iron Man and Iron Man 2 before we went to see Iron Man 3. They are all pretty epic and exciting, filled with witty deadpan remarks (mostly delivered by Robert Downey Jr.) at times of great stress and suspense. All the movies were good – I enjoy the scientific conscience and moral questions, as well as the effects so cool that you’re more than happy to suspend your disbelief. I think I have a bit of a crush on Tony Stark’s talking computer, Jarvis. But really, it’s all about RDJ and how he manages to portray an egomaniacal jerk who is also a heroic person with a lot of love in his precarious heart. This movie had it all: some slapstick, some suspense, some acrobatic midair humanitarianism, some laugh-out-loud moments, a small but great part for Rebecca Hall (whom I love), an evil part for Guy Pearce (who doesn’t love a Guy Pearce villain?), Gwyneth Paltrow kicking ass, a spunky little fatherless kid… And, forget about Gandhi. THIS is Ben Kingsley’s best role ever. Plus, the ending was very satisfying. {N.B.: I think there were just four of us left in the theatre by the time the post-credits joke scene came up. All those early leavers missed out on a good chuckle.}

 

Vampire Baby is Also Child Prodigy

So, not long ago, Baby AB cut her first two top teeth, and both were second incisors. If you got a view of her upper gums, she looked like a vampire baby. (Too much Vampire Weekend, undoubtedly.) Now, tooth #5 is coming in between those two, so she’ll just look like she was in hockey fight instead. BUT! The important thing is, she is totally talking, at eight months of age. When she’s in the mood (which is all the time except when you’re taking a video or otherwise trying to show her off) she waves her arm and says “Hi!” And I’m virtually certain she knows I’m “Mama” and Daddy is “Dada”, based on the frequency of those syllables in relation to who’s holding her. So she’s pretty much got the language thing in the bag. Amazing, yes??

 

Four-Year-Old Boy Becomes Father

E’s big birthday present from us, upon turning four, was a baby doll, as he had expressed interest in having one, specifically one whose clothes he could change. The search for, and subsequent giving of, that baby is gonna be its own whole blog post, but for now let me say: Awwwww.

 

Whole Family Flies Through the Air

On Thursday, my dad’s whole side of the family shall converge upon New Mexico (near Albuquerque) for my cousin’s wedding! First plane trip for the kids! (Trying not to think about how stressful that might turn out to be. I’m sure it’ll be nothing but fun, right? Especially the layovers.) We actually have passports for all of us! (Baby passport = ridiculously cute.) CAN’T WAIT to see the clan!! Two more sleeps, you guys!!!

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A Review of All Things Misérables

So I finally got to see the new Les Mis movie in mid-February, when it had been in theatres for a month and a half.

les_miserables_movie_poster
Just learned this awesome word: “oscaris√©”. This director has been previously Oscarized. Way to go, Tom Hooper.

This is rather a travesty. I’m a musical geek. I could sing you most of the soundtracks for about a dozen different musicals.* I was also a French major; I studied much French lit, loved the Romantics, and I’ve even been to the Victor Hugo museum.

As you can imagine, this movie gave me a lot of feelings.

First, some back story. (Victor Hugo would want me to include this.)

Dilovely’s first exposure to Les Mis in any form was on a visit to family friends in Toronto. She was about 11. This family had the piano music for the Sch√∂nberg-Boublil-Kretzmer musical, and the dad was playing it while another friend, a girl around my age, swished her long skirt around and sang “Master of the House” and “On My Own”. She knew all the words. Mini-Di wished she were like this girl: confident, knowledgeable, able to sing in front of people. And the music… it was compelling. There was obviously great drama behind it.

It was the spring of 1990 when a copy of the Original Broadway Cast Recording,¬†with Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, came into Mini-Di’s household, via her aunt. It was a home recording, on cassette tape, of course.

She and her sister Emily became totally obsessed. ‘Twas in the days before lyrics.com (or anything .com), so Em transcribed the lyrics by hand in a little spiral-bound notebook, and Mini-Di read them and listened for the parts she couldn’t get. They knew every word – and every inflection, every quirk of accent, every nuance of instrumentation. They were of an age where they understood the concepts of poverty, prostitution, homeless people, revolution, and death – but only superficially. Suddenly this story, with its gorgeously sad music, was making tragedy real.

Soon, Dilovely would see the musical live at the Royal Alexandra Theatre – twice – and receive a Les Mis T-shirt for her birthday.

Fast-forward ten years. [That’s a Hugo tactic too.] In 2000, Dilovely was in France, having finished her French degree during which she was, inevitably, moved by Victor Hugo’s poetry. That year, the musical version of Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris was a wild success in Paris, starring Canadian Pierre Garand (a.k.a. Garou) as Quasimodo.

Dilovely found a copy of Les¬†Mis√©rables in the original French at Dunkerque’s Virgin Records store: two hefty paperback volumes totalling 1,948 pages (not counting appendices). She decided to make it her Everest.

Cosette-sweeping-les-miserables-emile-bayard-1862
“Cosette Sweeping” by Emile Bayard, 1862.

She spent over three months reading this chef-d’oeuvre (in between teaching and gallivanting), with her French-English dictionary close at hand. She adored it. She cried frequently over the story. When it was over, she mourned its finishing and missed the characters terribly. They had become family.

As you can imagine, she was rather stoked to find out that there would be a new movie of Les Mis, the first to incorporate the music from the musical, and the first movie-musical to use live (rather than pre-recorded and lip-synched) singing by the actors. She anticipated great things.

Then, poor Dilovely wasn’t sure she would even make it to see the movie in theatres.

It ended up being almost a covert op: get baby to sleep just in the nick of time, leave the house in a hurry to arrive less than two minutes before the opening scene, keep phone in bra for whole movie in case of emergency text from Auntie Em, return home as swiftly as possible once the movie is over, before baby remembers that she doesn’t know how to drink from the bottle. (She was chewing on the nipple happily enough when we came in, so it was better than nothing.)

So, here are my thoughts as a francophile/Les-Mis-devotee.

Firstly, A Note About The Book:

To be honest, after I’d read Les Mis√©rables, I returned to the musical’s soundtrack and found it lacking. The book is incredibly rich, teeming with history both real and imagined.** Every character, major or minor, is endowed with a superbly crafted, heart-wrenching personal history. And Victor Hugo knew what he was doing; though I haven’t been able to find it for you, I remember reading a quotation from him in which he admitted that he strove to evoke powerful emotions in his readers – something on the order of “If y’all don’t cry reading this book, I’ll eat my hat,” but in erudite, Romantic French.

It was gratifying to see the movie and realize it recaptures some of the depth that was lost in the stage play.

General Notes:

  • This movie thoroughly impressed me: the performances, the singing abilities, the method acting, the sensitivity of the adaptation, the sound mixing (bonjour, Oscar!), the makeup (Oscar again), the costumes, the set design, the overall vision.
  • This movie contains some of the most raw acting I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean raw as in under-done – I mean naked, harrowing, bare-your-soul-to-the-camera acting.
  • The main actors are apparently all Les Mis geeks, for whom playing these roles is a dream come true.
  • Their dedication to their roles is remarkable. For example:
    • Hugh Jackman drank no water for 36 hours prior to filming his convict scenes, to achieve the “gaunt” look;

    Film Religion

    • Eddie Redmayne sang 21 takes of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” to be satisfied with his work, even though the director was happy with take #12;

    eddie redmayne empty chairs at empty tables

    • and Anne Hathaway had them actually cut off her real hair, on camera.

    anne-hathaway-haircut-les-miserables-fantine

  • Sean, without previous exposure to the music, was not as thrilled with the movie. There were many scenes where he felt it would have been better if they’d spoken the dialogue instead of singing. I think that’s an unsolvable issue with movie musicals: when you put them onscreen, it’s just kinda strange that they’re singing. The same is true of Rent: when it’s a movie, you expect them to speak their dialogue, not sing it.
  • To combat this, I recommend listening repeatedly to the soundtrack until it’s part of the fabric of your being. Then it doesn’t seem incongruous at all.
  • While watching, I had occasional glimpses of how the movie might seem to an outsider, how it could be perceived as maudlin. I mean, the pathos is so thick you can chew on it. But that’s part of why we love it. I believe Hugo would have approved.

Comparison to the Stage Musical (spoiler warning, if you don’t already know the story… but who doesn’t?):

  • I noticed every time the music differed from the soundtrack in my head – alternate lyrics, more delicate instrumentation, and lots of abridged songs. (“Dog Eats Dog” was all but eliminated.)
  • The grit and sordidness of the time and place really come through on film. From the dizzying nosebleed section of the Royal Alex, you can’t fully appreciate how filthy everyone is. (Teeth especially.) On a movie set, one can achieve truly repulsive squalor. “Look Down”, “Lovely Ladies” and “Master of the House” are outstanding examples of this.
  • Similarly, the intimacy of film allows for plot subtleties that aren’t possible in stage format. Suddenly certain realities are clear:
    • Fantine’s dawning acceptance, as her hallucinations dissipate, of the fact that she is dying and must give up care of her daughter;
    • the poignant youth and¬†na√Įvet√© of the students;
    • Valjean’s jealousy and panic when he realizes Cosette will not always be his;
    • the gendarme’s regret after shooting Gavroche;
    • the pathetic haphazardness of the barricade, and indeed the “revolution” as a whole.
  • I loved the new song, “Suddenly”, sung by Valjean when he takes little Cosette into his care. This was one of the book’s plot points missing entirely from the musical: rescuing Cosette completely changes Valjean’s outlook and priorities. His love for her is immediate, intense, beautiful, and drives basically all of his subsequent actions. He is fiercely protective and fearful at the same time, as parents are. I was very glad they reincorporated this element.

Specific Notes:

  • The opening scene blew me away. “Goosebumps” doesn’t remotely cover it.
  • Hugh Jackman made me cry, especially in the Soliloquy at the beginning. I loved almost every aspect of his performance.
  • My only quibble was that I wished “Bring Him Home” were more wistful/delicate. But it’s, like, one of the hardest solos in the world, and he sang admirably.
  • Anne Hathaway made me cry multiple times, even though her character lasts for less than half the movie. I’m glad she won the Oscar.
  • I’d been warned that Amanda Seyfried as Cosette sings like a Chipmunk. I understood the reference immediately – it’s true that her vibrato is very trembly and the part is written super-high – but her pitch is right on and I thought she did a good job overall.
  • I was also warned that Russell Crowe as Javert was the weak link. I can’t disagree; his singing – especially his consonants – were tentative where they should have been full of conviction (no pun intended). His performance was lacklustre. But again, his pitch was good, and his duet with Jackman was solid – especially the low note on “Monsieur le maire, you wear a different chain” – so I forgive him.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Th√©nardiers were appropriately gaudy and repellent, although I didn’t love Sacha’s constantly mutating accent. But I guess accents are his thing.
  • Eddie Redmayne is totally endearing as Marius. Earnest and freckly and boyish. He completely won me over with his delivery of the line, “I’m doing everything all wrong.”
  • Colm Wilkinson! Was in it! As the Bishop of Digne. I didn’t even recognize him – or his voice – while I was watching… so I guess I’ll have to see it again.
  • I appreciated the parts that recreated certain stage moments, like Valjean’s burdened silhouette in the sewer, and the angle at which Enjolras dies. My inner geek-self was tickled. (If you’re thinking, Um, Dilovely, what other self do you have? then yeah. Touch√©.)
  • I also appreciated the bits that gave us information from the book that was not in the stage version; for example:
    • we get to see the elephant statue that, in the book, is home to Gavroche and a bunch of other urchins.
    • we also catch sight of young Cosette’s doll that looks like a bundle of rags tied together; readers know she has wrapped up a little lead knife to be her doll. (I KNOW – how heartbreaking is that??)
  • I was confused for a moment by the enormous barricade that appears in the finale, with the whole cast singing atop it. I guess it’s probably reminding us that less than 20 years after the end of the story, in 1848, the French people would rise up for real and force King Louis-Philippe to abdicate – using a MUCH bigger barricade.

Notes on Revisiting the Story After Many Years:

  • As my understanding of the world increases, this story seems more and more relevant – and sad. There are people all over the world who still face tragic circumstances like those in Les Mis√©rables, even though as a species, we should know better.
  • Fantine’s story touches me more now that I’m a mom. The idea of being obliged to give my child to someone else to look after and just hoping for the best, yearning for her all the time… Furthermore, knowing I’m going to leave the mortal plane and never hold her again… Just awful.
  • Hugo’s own story also hits home a lot more. His firstborn son died in infancy, and his second child L√©opoldine drowned at age 19, shortly after being married. He knew all about pain, and also about passion, and politics. And he observed poverty all around him – the conditions he describes in the Les Mis√©rables were not imagined. No wonder it’s an amazing book.
  • I need to read it again someday, even though it would probably take me… an embarrassingly long time.
  • And if you enjoyed the musical or the movie or even just the plot, I highly recommend reading it yourself.

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  • BONUS Factoid/Recommendation:
liberty-leading-the-people-1830
La Liberté guidant le peuple, by Eugène Delacroix.

This is one of my favourite Romantic paintings, commemorating the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris. The little boy right beside Lady Liberty is said to have inspired Hugo’s Gavroche. I fell in love with this after seeing it discussed on video by Sister Wendy, and later had the privilege of seeing it at the Louvre. Sister Wendy is amazing and so is the painting.

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*West Side Story, Showboat, Cats, Evita, Les Mis, Joseph, Miss Saigon, Assassins, Falsettos, A New Brain, Once On This Island, Rent, Parade… Sisters, what am I forgetting?

**For example, there is a section entitled “Waterloo”, a gruesome 70-page depiction of battle and its remains, related to the story only as historical context – and a vehicle to introduce Th√©nardier in the last few pages. I wrote a paper on it,¬†about Hugo’s manipulation of time, during my M.A. That’s how much I love Hugo.

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James Hill – and Anne – Concert, with baby in tow

On Friday evening, Sean and I had the good fortune to see ukulelist James Hill in concert with his cellist fiancee, Anne Janelle (Davison)… in the company of our not-quite-four-week-old Baby A.

We had debated about whether to go, since we would have to buy our baby a ticket, and then there was always the possibility that she would fuss and we would have to take turns missing the concert anyway. She has gotten past the stage where she falls asleep on a dime and continues sleeping no matter what.

But Sean said, “Oh, come on, we should go! It’ll be fine.” The tickets were not that expensive – still totally (potentially) worth it. I have wanted for years to see James Hill perform.

I was kinda nervous about the whole scenario – especially when A cried most of the drive to the concert venue – but she had calmed down and was actually sleeping when we took our seats. I allowed myself to get giddily excited looking at my program insert for a few minutes before the show began. Then, of course, A woke up and squawked just as James and Anne took the stage. Thank goodness for magic boobs – I got her on there and she barely made a peep for the whole first half. The only real drawback to this was that I couldn’t applaud – had to settle for grinning my face off. (There were several times when, if I’d been able, I would have initiated/elicited some more enthusiasm from this rather timid audience.)

As you may know, James Hill is the artist who inspired me to take up the ukulele (well, he and my husband – Sean’s the one who bought me my first uke). I thought (and still think) his instrumental-only album, A Flying Leap, is pure brilliance – exactly the kind of music I’d want to write if I were a ukulele virtuoso. (That sounds like a dumb thing to say, now that I’ve written it… but really. I deeply relate to his chord combinations.)

james hill a flying leap
A Flying Leap

Then we bought Man With a Love Song, and I realized this guy can write, AND sing. Frickin’ awesome.

Then I put myself on his email list, so I personally received the email announcing that he and Anne were engaged. Which means we’re, like, practically buds. (We’re like THIS.)

James and Anne started off – after saying how glad they were to be in our city – with a story about being in quarantine in Singapore during the swine flu debacle (it was actually kind of a funny story). You’d never guess, listening to it, that those were the circumstances under which the “Assam/Like a Bird” medley was written. I adore this number – makes me so happy whenever I hear it. E loves it too – calls it “fair music“; sometimes we dance to it together in the living room.

I guess the concert was only billed as “James Hill” because most of the songs played were ones he wrote, and he is the guy with the melody most of the time – but really, James and Anne are a duo on stage. You can tell they’ve been playing together for many years, so seamless is their interaction, both musical and conversational. Seamless, affectionate, and full of humour.

They mostly played material from Man With a Love Song (all my favourites – ‘cuz, you know, we’re buds – but with dazzling uke solos added);¬†it was interesting to find out that James uses a capo to play “Hand Over My Heart” on the ukulele (was it the tenor uke? I’m not sure – in the video, his banjo uke has no capo); during “Heart-Shaped Tattoo”, I wished – hypothetically, since I’m still not that great – I had my Lady (and no baby in my lap) so I could play too. James told us that the song “You Should See Me Now” – a gentle, wistful tune I’ve dubbed a lullaballad in my head – was inspired by the inane catch-phrase of the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia: “You Should See Us Now!” (The duo lives near Truro, NS.)

I was stoked that he asked us to sing along for the “ooohs” in “Man With a Love Song” (pretty much the most gorgeous song ever – I listened to it about five times in a row when we first got the album). He explained that he thinks of it as fatherly – or, in his case, avuncular (yes, he used the word avuncular, with great relish) – advice to a daughter/niece. Suddenly that song makes way more sense – and is somehow even more charming.

james_hill_man_with_a_love_song
Man With a Love Song

They also played a few from their collaborative album, True Love Don’t Weep, and a couple of Anne’s own songs, which I hadn’t heard before. They were lovely. I found I could hear Anne’s voice more clearly and individually in the live setting; it’s like a clarinet, very sweet, and pitch-perfect. (If you visit Anne’s website, you can listen to some of her music; you can also discover as I did that she is a photographer and modern dancer in addition to cellist and singer. Ridiculous in the talent department, I tell you.)

true love don't weep james hill anne davison
True Love Don’t Weep
anne janelle beauty remains
Beauty Remains

We were also fortunate enough to witness the playing of “Billie Jean”. Folks, it’s CRAZY. No looping machine, just one guy with two hands. I’d seen it on YouTube already, but now having seen it live, in its component parts, then put together… I still cannot figure out how it is accomplished.

Similarly, during the encore, they played some traditional East Coast fiddle music (“Smash the Window” and “St. Anne’s Reel” – no fiddle in sight, mind you) and James tried to teach us in the audience how to do the also-traditional galloping triple-stomp foot-tap thing (seen above at the end of “Like A Bird”). I like to think of myself as a coordinated person, being a dancer and all, but I could not do this foot-tap for more than a few bars without messing up. He did it flawlessly… and then added this wild, complicated uke-playing on top of it. I was blown away.

Baby A did very well, in general. She mostly nursed/dozed; a few times she surfaced and just looked around, seeming to enjoy the music (as well she might, since she’s been listening to it ever since she grew eardrums in utero). During intermission, we’d taken her out to the lobby where she was adored by the usher ladies. It was a good thing, too, because some of those ladies were very helpful, guiding us to seats by the “secret” exit for the second half, just in case. And A did run out of patience and start fussing about two songs from the end, so Sean scooped her up lightning-quick and took her out the secret door, where he could still hear the music and sing to her along with “Hand Over My Heart”. Another usher ferried the diaper bag out to them, and carried the car seat down to the lobby at the end of the show, just out of kindness – well, and also a confessed obsession with babies.

At the end of the show, James and Anne were all, “Hey, we’re going to be out there in the lobby, and we’d really like to meet you all, so please come say hi.” As if we’d be doing them this great favour by keeping them company out there. HA!

Of course, this would turn out to be one of those situations where my shyness and social insecurities – which I so often squelch – come rushing to the forefront. A time when I’m unable to assert my turn in the midst of an awkward clump of fans… when I’d love to say something scintillating and memorable, and instead can only think of things that would sound cheesy, like “I love your music!”, “Great show!”, or “You inspired me to take up the ukulele!”, all of which are true, but come on. Boring.

A little girl had them autograph her shiny red ukulele. James noticed it had already been signed by the Good Lovelies and said, “Yeah, they’re good friends of ours.” One of the many reasons to be a Great Canadian Musician: you get to hang out with other Great Canadian Musicians (the likes of David Myles, Stephen Fearing, Melanie Doane) and, you know, jam and stuff! Sigh.

I did manage to get James and Anne both to sign our ticket stubs (all three of them), and told them it was a great show. I also mentioned how much my colleagues and students who got to see¬†his educational performance last year loved it (I was really envious about that because I couldn’t go). And, Sean took my picture with James. I’d like to think James won’t mind me posting it, since I know from his photo galleries that he understands the urge to have one’s picture taken with artists one admires.

Di and James Hill
Dilovely with James Hill.

Then, luckily for me, Sean had to go get the car from its faraway parking spot, which meant I was waiting in the lobby for quite a while – long enough for the crowd to have basically dispersed, so that chatting with James and Anne became much easier, almost inevitable. I got to congratulate and talk with Anne about the upcoming wedding (next September – several international celebrations happening), and found out that she and James have been together for ten years, having met while studying music together at UBC (University of British Columbia). They both met the baby (she was sleeping, but it still counts), and did not seem to mind that she had created a disturbance or two.

Then Sean returned and jovially shook hands with James – he has never been subject to shyness, that I know of. He was the one who mentioned I’d been learning to play the ukulele, leading me to admit that I’ve been learning a lot by playing along to his album. When I mentioned that I’d first heard him on CBC and found that video of him playing “Down Rideau Canal”, he looked kinda sheepish and said he’s not sure he can even play that one any more – that was back when he was “young and foolish”. (I’m sure that’s not really true – if he can play “Ode to a Frozen Boot“, which he did, his fingers are obviously still pretty nimble.)

When we got in the car and Sean found out I hadn’t even talked about my ukulele with James, he chided me (gently) for wasting such an opportunity. I guess if it had been up to him, I would have told him all about belly dancing to his music, my musical background, my progress with the Lady, etc. Ah well, maybe next time. ūüėČ

If you have read this and now wish you’d been at the concert, well… sorry ’bout your luck. But there’s lots of cool stuff to hear/see/read on jameshillmusic.com and annejanelle.com. Teachers (and all other interested parties), check out Ukulele in the Classroom and The James Hill Ukulele Initiative – you’ll be inspired!

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Evidence that after seven years of marriage, my Hubbibi and I are OLD

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all your good wishes! Sean and I had our li’l getaway, and it was really, really nice.

AND, it was perfect for retirees.                Huh?

We went to check in at our B&B, which is a beautiful house in the country run by a very nice guy named Shane. It has a nuttily eclectic mix of decor, and is “canine-friendly” to the point of having a dog bath that magically folds out of the wall – for guest use. (Not sure whether you + dog counts as double occupancy.)

That evening, we went for Indian food in town, and then saw a movie. You know, like a date. And my date, even though he has been wanting to take me to see Batman (I mean, The Dark Knight Rises) ever since he saw it the first time with the guys, looked at the movie listings and suggested we might want to see something more anniversarial. (Well, he didn’t actually use that, um, word.) Very sweet of him, n’est-ce pas? So we saw Hope Springs.

hope_springs_meryl-streep-tommy-lee-jones

That’s Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones trying to reignite the spark of their 31-year marriage. Steve Carell plays the marriage counselor who works on it with them.

We both liked it a lot: Streep and Jones are both just wonderfully talented; there were lots of really chuckly moments; there were also quite a few poignant ones; Steve Carell is uncharacteristically subdued but sincere in his role – and we felt it worked for him. And it was interesting, and probably a good exercise, to look at our young little marriage and imagine it in 24 years. To say, “We’ll always have real conversations together, right? We would notice if we somehow stopped touching each other, right?” And to feel confident that, thanks to the Robot-Face, we will always share a bed. Continue reading “Evidence that after seven years of marriage, my Hubbibi and I are OLD”

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