Monday, August 24, 2015

The Sound of Music - Part 1

More than five years ago I did a quick little "Top 5" post in homage to the film High Fidelity. The post was a simple 45-word paragraph (including the subheader) that listed my top 5 albums of all time. Well, I've decided to update the list and while much of it is the same, there are a couple of changes. You might be wondering what's happened in the last five years that has led me to change my mind. If you think about it, that list should remain fairly static (I mean, seriously, could an album released in the last five years actually qualify as one of the "best ever"?)

Music is a big part of my family, not that any of us are particularly musically inclined (the kids tried to learn guitar at one point and I have taken voice lessons, but that's about it). We do listen to it frequently though and everyone has a strong appreciation for it. After my last concussion, I found myself feeling quite thankful for any memory that I was able to recall, and as it turns out, music happens to provide a great "jog" for the ole memory keeper (my long term memory is actually pretty good, but my working memory is complete shite). For me, so many factors go into what makes an album The Best of All Time, and one of those factors is the memories that are invoked when a song from the album comes on the radio or through my iPod when I'm in the car.

Andrew singing as part of the band Speed of Light Lab with Jason Cassidy on guitar,
Joshua Hofstetter on drums, Jason Dykstra on bass, and Robb Farago on cello/harmonica.
Other factors include:

  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
I'll list the albums in the proper Top 5 order when I'm done but for now let's take a more detailed look at one of them in the list. I'll do this for the next five weeks and end the last post with the ordered list. For now, in no particular order, let's take a look at one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time:


Released March 9, 1987
Track Listing:
  1. "Where the Streets Have No Name" (8/10)
  2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (8/10)  
  3. "With or Without You" (7/10)
  4. "Bullet the Blue Sky" (6/10)
  5. "Running to Stand Still" (8/10)
  6. "Red Hill Mining Town" (7/10)
  7. "In God's Country" (7/10)
  8. "Trip Through Your Wires" (6/10)  
  9. "One Tree Hill" (8/10)
  10. "Exit" (6/10)
  11. "Mothers of the Disappeared" (8/10)

I've ranked the songs (in parenthesis) so you can see how it stacks up in terms of the "number of songs I like on the album" criteria. Only two of the eleven tracks would rank low on my list and even then I don't not like them, I just don't find them as good as the rest of the tracks on the album.

As for the composition of the album I think producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois struck a good balance with the tracks. It has a great flow, with some ups and downs, while still keeping the overall tone of the album constant. The opening track "Where the Streets Have No Name" is, in my opinion, one of the most iconic opening tracks on any album ever and is featured as the opening of the band's movie Rattle and Hum movie based on their Joshua Tree tour from 1987-1988.



How does the album make me feel? Nostalgic and wistful. Contemplative and concerned. Listening to this album, and most of the individual songs on it makes me feel like I've lived a great life but still have great things ahead of me.

As for the memories invoked by listening to this album, well, there are many. I remember stuffing envelopes as a fundraiser for my hockey team and one of the coaches had a company that made binders and other back-to-school type stuff. He was licensed to sell Joshua Tree binders (black with a gold outline of the tree from the album cover on it). The team spent the afternoon listening to that album and stuffing envelopes for 5¢ a piece (or something like that).

I remember in the summer of 1987 I was at summer camp and there was a counsellor named Roop who wore a black Joshua Tree t-shirt. He was one of the coolest counsellors in the place and him wandering around in that t-shirt is burned into my brain. I can even tell you what cabin he was standing in front of the first time I saw him wearing it.

Most of all, I remember the craft hut at camp. The summer of 1988 I was in cabin 12. It's the cabin that, due to some large trees in the way, was set back from the others in cabin row. Of course, there were lots of stories about why the cabin was set so far back and they were all some variation of a serial killer / monster story set on scaring the pants off you. That didn't happen, we were all 14 and very little rattled us, but one effect this did have was to give cabin 12 a sense of uniqueness, rebellion, and outcast.

One day I had a free period and everyone went off to the rec hall to do something silly. It was raining and I wasn't feeling up to shenanigans so I wandered off to the craft hut. I was a scrawny kid with long blond bangs and still quite awkward. I wasn't exactly Romeo with the ladies and while not un-cool I never exactly achieved full cool status. The craft hut was filled with some girls from cabin 2 (same age as me) and I just walked in and sat down at a table with five or six of them and started working on a gimp bracelet. Didn't say a word.

The final riff from The Edge's guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two started playing I started to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the other girls started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full blown sing along. We spent the rest of the hour singing along and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can't recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I'm sure there must have been some, but it sure didn't feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple counsellors, and U2.

For 60 minutes in the summer of 1988, I found what I was looking for.

~ Andrew

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Little Flash Fiction to Get Back Into The Groove

It's been a lazy summer and I haven't done enough writing. Only one more installment of my serial novel was released (we're up to three now) and I haven't blogged in forever. So, with that in mind, I present a little flash fiction I entered into a contest over at the OCH Literary Society (the same folks who are kind enough to publish my serial installments whenever I manage to finish them). I didn't win, but I thought it was good enough to share. Also, I'm posting on Monday now. #MondayBlogs

The photo that inspired the words:















The words:

Greg sits down in the pew and looks up at the cross hanging above the altar when he hears a familiar voice.


Can I help you?

Unsurprised, Greg stares at the cross, then to his feet. “I don’t think so.”

Then why are you here?

Greg shifts his weight. “I’m not really sure.”

I think you are.

“I’m not.”

Yet, here you are. You must have known I could help.

“I don't know shit.”

Yet, here you are.

“For now.” Greg stands up and pretends to stretch.

You think I can help.

“I’m not sure anyone can help.”

I’m not just anyone.

“Says you.”

Says a lot of people.

Greg looks around at the sheer opulence of the cathedral. “I’m not convinced.”

Is that why you’re here? To be convinced?

“Hrmf.”

Greg leaves the church, gets on his bike, and rides home. Alone in his kitchen, he drops two slices of stale bread into the toaster, sits down at the table, and lights a smoke.

Will that help? Smoking, that is.

Greg smacks his hand down on the table. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! You again?”

You seem agitated.

“No shit! What makes you think that?”

You said you needed to be convinced.

Greg stands up and pushes his chair backward. It slams against the wall. “I never said I needed anything.”

Yet, here I am.

The toaster pops. Greg gets up to fetch it. “Is that how this works? Someone suffers a crisis of conscience and you just show up and follow them around until they…”

Until they what?

Greg waives his toast in the air. “Never mind.”

Until they…

Greg swallows a large bite of toast and sits back down at the table. “Until they do the right thing?”

In a manner of speaking, yes.

“In a manner of speaking. You’re such an asshole.” Greg takes another bite of toast.

Would it surprise you to know I’ve been called worse?

“Nothing surprises me anymore.”

When did that start?

“Jesus, what are you? My shrink?”

Again, I’ve been called worse, but I am here to help.

“You certainly got a funny way of showing it.”

I prefer the word ‘mysterious’.

Greg looks at his half-eaten toast and throws it across the kitchen into the sink. Muttering nonsense and sucking the last few drags out of his cigarette he walks to his bedroom and pulls out a black leather wrap tied together with a black silk string. Unraveling the leather pouch he can’t help but notice the silence. Such sweet, beautiful silence. More than anything else Greg enjoys the quiet. The voice only stops from the moment he pulls out his kit to the moment he wakes up. There used to be two voices, but the other one seems to have given up. Greg suspects it was killed by the voice that remains; the one that only leaves him alone when he’s like this.    

The rubber tourniquet pulling at the hair on Greg’s arm wakes him. Picking himself up off the bathroom floor he leans over the sink and splashes water onto his face. He looks in the mirror, half expecting to see someone else.

“I fucking hate you.”

You’ll get over it. See you tomorrow?

Greg vomits into the sink. Spitting on the mirror and clutching the porcelain basin he stares straight ahead. “Go to hell.”

As you wish.