The Holy or the Broken

Episode 7 in Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast in July 27, 2016 was about his ideas about creativity, contrasting artists who revise and refine with artists who appear to produce their work whole. He illustrated his big idea with references to Elvis Costello’s revisions to The Deportee’s Club and the development of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah by Cohen, by John Cale, by Jeff Buckley before it became a pop standard and a secular hymn. Gladwell cites his sources on the Episode Web page, usually including books available from one of his sponsors. One of his sources was Alan Light’s 2012 The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”, which is also the a principal source for the Wikipedia entry (below). As the title implies, Light explores the tension between the religious exclamation and the biblical allusions, and the vivid, graphic memories of love experienced in sex acts.  Light comes close to saying that Cohen followed the Quebecois pattern of using the name of sacred objects as  obscenities.

The Wikipedia entry Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen song) agrees
Hallelujah was an obscure song from 1984 until 2001, when it became popular in recordings and performances:

  • the Buckley cover on MTV and in television,
  • the Cale cover in the movie Shrek,
  • the Rufus Wainright cover (for the Shrek soundtrack recording),
  • the k.d. Lang cover and her 2010 Winter Olympic Concert, and
  • television performances in singing contest shows The Voice and X Factor. 

Addenda: if you can get through the paywall, David Remnick’s October 2016 biographical article in the New Yorker on Cohen at 82 is worthwhile. The Cohen tribute concert in Montreal (filmed and curated) was good.

Islands Folk Festival, 2016

I camped at the Islands Folk Festival in Duncan BC. It was my first visit to this festival.

The festival is held at Providence Farm, a former convent of the Sisters of St. Ann, once a boarding school, now an organic farm. It accomodates a crowd of a about 2,000 (vaguely stated as a few thousand) comfortably. Site Map. There is trailer camping in the “Upper Field”, and tent camping on a treed hill – no parking spots or access roads.  There are a few wheelbarrows available for tent campers to move gear from the vehicle-accessible areas into the camp.  The tent area has shade and some shelter from the wind.

The main stage concert on Friday July 22 was opened by Matthew and Jill Barber, who performed songs from their new album.  They have a few original songs, but the album’s theme is songs that they have known and admired.  They did a cover of Ian Tyson’s Summer Wages, introduced with a story about summer jobs planting trees.  They shifted the emphasis away \to the reflective passages:

“… The dreams of the seasons are all spilled down on the floor”

“So I’ll work on them towboats in my slippery city shoes
Which I swore I would never do again
Through the grey fogbound straits where the cedars stand waiting
I’ll be far off and gone like summer wages”

Their cover (video on YouTube), like the cover by Tom Russell and Nanci Griffith on the Nanci Griffith 1998 album Other Voices Too (audio on YouTube), tours scenes of a working person’s life on the West Coast.

They covered The Song of the French Partisan, citing Leonard Cohen as their main influence, joining Cohen, Buffy St. Marie and other artists.  Joan Baez, then already an apostle of non-violent resistance, covered this song of armed resistance in her 1972 album Come From the Shadows. They also cover Neil Young’s Comes a Time, referring to the time their parents lived in Winnipeg.

Oysterband played a double slot – nearly two hours.  They performed, as they do in other concert performances, songs from a repertoire, written and polished in a 40 year career.  I don’t miss a chance to see them when they come to BC. They have changes their performing company.  John Jones, Alan Prosser and Ian Telfer are still performing.  Veterans Lee Partis and Ray Cooper (Chopper) left in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

I was impressed by the arrangements and ensemble work of Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, at their concert in the daytime Spirit Stage venue. The busy and versatile Moira Smiley was with Jayme Stone and the project for this festival.

2008 is over, Hallelujah

My story about my musical year starts with a short term obsession about a song.
The CBC broadcast a story about the popularity of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah in Britain on the National (TV news) on the Friday night before Christmas. The CBC was interested because the writer was a Canadian. The story was that two different versions of the song were topping the British charts in the week before Christmas. For the last few years, some kind of Christmas themed piece has topped the charts. There is no Christmas list as such, and the charts continue to track the popularity of modern popular music in Britain, on sales.

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Spinning the Golden Compass

The Golden Compass has been criticized for its negative presentation of organized religion. Its principal critic its the American Catholic League, a conservative body that speaks for conservative and traditional elements in the Catholic Church in America. The League says that the movie, like the books, promotes atheism, but their grievance appears to me to is that Pullman presents the history and traditions of Catholicism in a negative way. The criticism is a defensive reaction to Pullman’s presentation of the belief system and power structure of the Church as repressive, exploitative, manipulative, cynical, and dishonest. The League’s campaign brings to mind its reaction to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. It is incongruous for parents to take their children to this movie on Saturday, and then make them to Church and Sunday school. If you believe the Church is benevolent, why challenge your child or pay someone to insult your belief?
The shoe was on the other foot when the Christian churches in America were promoting the movie version of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories and defending Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
The challenge for self-professed faithful Christians is whether to deny their kids the experience of consuming the latest must-see fantasy product from the movie industry in the hope of consolidating their belief in the conservative Christian version of reality. It seems to me that parents who think they are insulating their children from secular ideology and popular culture by not taking them to one particular semi-animated fantasy film based on a coming of age novel are a little confused.

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Alternate Nobel Writers

The Alt-Reality Nobel prize for literature, 2007, would have gone to J.K. Rowling?
Ted Gioia’s list is pretty good. He would have given the award to several genre writers. He has a different theory of aesthetics and less impressed with old canons of high art and literary fiction. His Great Books Guide site is informed by the same theories and is pretty good too.
He has some comments about Heinlein, Dick, Rowling, genre fiction and some good reviews.
On related topic, here is an essay about SF Out of this World from the New Humanist, reflecting on why people who take the magic of out real life like fantasy in books and performances.

Wonder Books

From The American Scholar, a review of the style of popular and literary fiction based on healing journeys: Brooklyn Books of Wonder, by Melvin Jules Bukiet. It’s a savage assessment of my least favourite literature, sentimental fiction. It has a good explanation of why this stuff sellsit works: narcissistic empathy. Read it, weep and perceive yourself as a nice, sensitive person.

They’re kitsch, which Milan Kundera defined as “the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling [that] moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel.”
Serious fiction, literature, even if it’s fabulist, sharpens reality. BBoWs elude reality to avoid the taint of anger or cynicism or the passion for revenge felt by real people in similar situations. Instead of telling a story of brute survival, BBoWs indulge in a dream of benign rescue.

And yes, another hit from AL Daily.

Sir Joseph Banks

Through the SciTech Daily site, a link to “Master of the Enlightenment”, Andrea Wulf’s review of The Scientific Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks, 1765-1820, edited by Neil Chambers.
Sir Joseph Banks was Patrick O’Brien’s model for Stephen Maturin, a leading character in the Aubrey & Maturin novels. O’Brien drew on Banks in two ways. In real life, Banks was 50 years old by the time Napoleon came to power in France, and a man of influence in European science. Sir Joseph Blaine, a senior man in British Intelligence who is as interested in Maturin’s entomological specimens as his information on political affairs. Banks’s journey with Captain Cook serves as model for Maturin’s scientific explorations during his travels a naval surgeon.
In the movie, Master and Commander, Maturin has one his scientific raptures in the Galapagos, implying that Maturin could be modeled on Charles Darwin. HMS Beagle was build after the end of the Napoleonic wars, and Darwin’s voyage (1831-1836) was specifically devoted to scientific and geographical information. Darwin was closer to Huxley and the practical scientists of the British Empire than to the scientists of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.

The Wild Trees

Richard Preston recognized a good story when he heard about Steve Sillett, ninja climbs and the quest for the tallest tree. He told the story effectively in “Climbing the Redwoods”, written for the New Yorker (ninja version here), and republished in Best American Science Writing 2006. He has managed to write it again, even better, as a full book, The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring. [Update – September 5/07. See “Upwardly Mobile” by Robert Macfarlane in the Guardian, September 1/07 for review of other books about climbing trees.]

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The Ultimate Bourne Thrill Ride

This is not applause.
I wasted $8.25 and two hours on the theory that the team that created the Identity and the Supremacy could be trusted to deliver a decent sequel. The Bourne Identity was good. It was based on a Robert Ludlum thriller so I knew that I would have to surrender disbelief and enter a Manichean world. Ludlum was a reliable story teller, who could write a good character within the most fantastically paranoid story premises. In the Identity Damon was heroic, vulnerable and baffled, Brian Cox was a great scheming villain, Franka Potente stole the show and it was great fun. The Bourne Supremacy was good too. It had Brian Cox again, and Joan Allen added a strong character.

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Vancouver Island MusicFest 2007

Vancouver Island was good. It must be one of the large folk festivals in Western Canada, with enough sponsors, grants and fan support to be able to get the performers that attract more fans. The Comox Valley Fairground is a good venue, with enough room for half a dozen stages, and camping. The camping is close to the performing area. It seemed quiet to me, but apparently some campers arrived with a sense that they could drink and party all night, which made security a minor challenge. The infrastructure was good. They had lots of portable privies, which were cleaned frequently. The camping was in an open paddock, which seems to have good drainage, and they kept lanes open for people to walk to their camps.
There was lots of music. During the day, if one stage wasn’t entertaining, there were other options. The weather was good. I enjoyed the sun, or found shade when the sun was too intense. The temperatures didn’t get above the mid 20’s, the sun was often broken by light cloud, and there were good breezes. I could take or leave some of the headliners. The last couple of main stage acts are for dancing and excitement, and I chose sleep.

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