There’s an unspoken deal between me and my Sunday school students: If they’re doing any sort of craft or activity, the Frozen soundtrack needs to be playing in the background. It’s important to them. They adore the songs, and so do I (or maybe I just like seeing how much they adore the songs). And, of course, they belt out “Let It Go” with the passion that can only be found in a Disney-infused 8 year old.
For those of you who haven’t heard the single (and suffered the inevitable weeks of song-in-head syndrome) or seen the movie, it goes something like this:
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see Be the good girl you always have to be Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” Well now they know
Let it go, let it go Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don’t care what they’re going to say Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway
Context: Queen-to-be Elsa is cursed to turn everything she touches into ice. She lives in hiding for years and years to spare the world from her so-called destructive quality. When the curse which she has suppressed for so many years is unleashed, she “can’t hold it back anymore” and begins a process of embracing who she is and the curse she has (first by running away, then eventually by using the power of love to use her so-called curse to save the day).
My girls sing this song, and I can’t help but smile. Not because I think running away and locking yourself away with your problems is a good move, but I am so grateful that they’re learning this definition of the words “let it go.”
Because you know what definition I learned?
I learned that “let it go” was synonymous with “behave.” These were words I heard when I happened to be sad about something longer than I was supposed to be (God forbid!).” Or when I cared about something more than I should. When I was suffering. When I needed to pretend something wasn’t bothering me.
“Let it go” was always about hiding. For those three words to become a call to emotional honesty and an empowerment of true identity…that’s huge. It’s huge for my students, and it’s huge for me.
Essentially, the “IT” in let it go has changed.
When I was growing up, let it go = let go of your feelings, let go of your history, let go of your dreams, let go of your true self.
For the Frozen generation, let it go = let go of expectations, let go of trying to please everyone, let go of hiding. Oh, and love everyone else through their truth, too.
Guess which one is a way, way better message for our kids?
Watching those same words which used to assault me into “moving on” encourage my students to move inward and to express themselves? Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Frozen soundtrack, you are welcome in my classroom any day.
Music just lost a great hero. Folk artist and activist Pete Seeger passed away at age 94, leaving many of us confused and heartbroken. For some reason, Seeger just seemed like the type of guy who was going to live forever.
I’m guessing that’s because his legacy is so powerful that he kind of is going to live forever. At least, I hope so.
94 years is a lot of time to do and say awesome stuff. Pete Seeger definitely used his time on this earth to teach us some important lessons, especially when it comes to the power of music. Although it would take hours and hours to recount all the wonderful things Seeger has passed on about how to do music (and life) right, here are 7 highlights.
It might seem weird that the internet is expressing discomfort–nay, outrage–at Macklemore cleaning up ALL the rap categories at the Grammy’s last night. For those of you who missed it, the independent Seattle rapper won Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Rap/Sung Performance (he also got Best New Artist). It was a huge night for him, and a controversial night for hip hop.
After all, the National Post said that this year’s Grammys “marks a high note for hip-hop.” Rap artists made an appearance in some major categories, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. And Macklemore himself defended his controversial nomination by saying “I think that hip hop can be at times resistant to change…[but] hip hop has always been about expansion, about pushing the genre, about challenging the listener.”
So what’s the real story? Are Macklemore’s wins really that big of a deal? Are people just upset because the guy is white, or because his lyrics are “clean,” or because he’s too mainstream, or because (*gasp*) he isn’t Kendrick Lamar?
Short answer: Kind of, yeah. Long answer: Kind of, yeah. BUT-BUT-BUT, there is a really solid historical reason why. This article does a great job of explaining it, but I know for non-rap fans it might be a little dense.
So I’m going to try to lay it out as best I can.
First, a quick early history of rap in ‘murica.
Rap and hip hop music have existed for a pretty long time…long before getting their popular due, and WAY long before being recognized by the Grammys. It’s a pretty typical story, actually:
West African musical traditions are full of rap (that is, people talking rhythmically over a beat).
West Africans came to ‘murica via the slave trade. They brought their musical influences with them.
Rap became a part of American folk music– African American folk music, in particular.
In the 20th century, the genre was embraced by low-income urban communities which had largely African American populations (and were thus influenced by their traditions).
This is important. It’s important because, for some reason, people seem to think that hip hop magically appeared out of nowhere in the 80s. Not so much. For example, you can still buy this Folkways recording from 1959 of preteen boys busting rhymes on the streets of NYC:
Yeah, 1959. This was a cultural phenomenon before we started calling it one, and WAY before the Grammys started paying attention.
The difference is that, unlike other traditionally African American genres (blues, jazz, banjo folk music, early rock ‘n roll), it took a long while for rap to be considered “sellable,” or even “musical.” It was not packaged or patron-ed in the same way these other styles were. So while jazz musicians were given legitimacy by powerful white Harlem Renaissance patrons, while banjos became a quintessential American instrument, while the blues built its fan base…rap pretty much stayed on the streets.
And honestly? It was probably better off staying on the streets. Historically, once those traditionally African American genres and musical influences were packaged and sold, they also tended to get pretty whitewashed. Why? Because the early 20th century. Because racism and capitalism are not a good mix.
Now, from a contemporary standpoint, there is nothing wrong with white people buying into, participating in, or being influenced by African American folk traditions. But there is something wrong with how it has been approached historically.
We’re still paying for it. We’re still talking about it. And we should be.
Essentially, there are two major ways the packaging and selling of traditionally African American music was first approached (spoiler: they both sucked).
1)The “dance monkey, dance” approach. In the early 20th century, music became increasingly seen as a product with mainstream selling power. When this happened, a lot of traditionally African American entertainment was marketed to white people as roots-y, even primitive. Patrons would create a “product” out of black artists and their oh-so-exotic background, but not actually invite them to participate in their own musical culture.
(Example: In the 1920s Harlem Renaissance era, white-only bars were decorated to have an “African” theme, and black people were invited to play music but could not come for any other reason. Traveling minstrel shows would entertain audiences with music and comedy designed to caricature black people–first with blackface performers, and later with actual black entertainers. And by black entertainers, I mean music legends like Ma Rainey and father of the blues W.C. Handy. The only way these musicians could be legitimized at all was by being good enough to impress the people who had come to laugh at them. And even when they were given a shot, they often became someone else’s product…and were rarely invited to the after party.)
2) The “we’ll take it from here” approach. Just watch from 8:15 on this below video, and you’ll get the idea on this one.
, What does all this mean? It means that when rap finally was packaged and sold, this history was incredibly relevant. Artists were constantly weary of the influence and ownership of record labels and mainstream consumers. While rap was a great way to express what was happening in urban communities, to push mainstream boundaries (and hey, maybe to even bridge a few gaps a la Run DMC and Aerosmith) many people were and are tentative about the “dance monkey, dance,” and the “we’ll take it from here”-type histories.
Now let’s talk about the Grammys, shall we?
To make matters more sensitive, rap does not have a very positive history with the Grammy awards. Like the American music industry in general, the Grammys weren’t very good at embracing rap…until it started making a crazy amount of money, that is. And even then, not much was done to understand the socioeconomic/historical/cultural context of rap music. The hip hop community is rightfully wary about how the Grammys treat their genre.
However, they are equally aware that Grammys are incredibly influential in the music scene, and even more influential in how the music scene appears to mainstream audiences. So it’s a tough spot, and one that needs considered critically.
Not because hip hop can’t be embraced by different individuals and cultures as a means of expression. Not because Macklemore isn’t musically awesome (I could probably recite every word of The Heist, let’s be honest). But because having Macklemore as the popular sound and face of the rap genre–which is exactly where the Grammys have placed him with all these awards–is questionable to people who care about the past and the future of rap music.And because we as a society have severely screwed up with approaching similar musical movements before, so red flags get raised pretty easily.
But why don’t we let the artists speak for themselves?
Now that we’ve gone over that background, I’m going to hand the mic over to some of rap music’s biggest players. It’s probably best to explain the last couple decades of Grammy-rap relations through their eyes.
After several years of serious commercial success, the Grammys finally start adding rap performance categories in 1989. But they were untelevised, barely mentioned, and their choice of winners was controversially soft and even confusing (Parents Just Don’t Understand? Really?). In these 1991 lyrics, TuPac is in no way subtle in addressing how the Grammys were “cashing in” on rap without respecting it at all:
“The Grammy’s and American music shows
They pimp us like hoes; take our dough but they hate us though”
(…remember that “dance monkey, dance” history I talked about? Yeah. That’s this.)
Naughty by Nature:
In 1996, the Grammys FINALLY (finally, finally) established a Best Rap Album award. Naughty by Nature won…and, as you can tell by this interview with the trio, they didn’t even know how to even comprehend it. When asked why they didn’t just say “Thank you, but no thank you,” to the so-called honour, DJ Kay Gee joked “They didn’t air our part anyway, so we didn’t have a chance to.”
FYI, they still don’t air these rap categories on the televised award show.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard (of the Wu-Tang Clan):
The year is 1998. Wu-Tang Clan gets snubbed on the Best Rap Album award. And OH-MY, this happens:
I think it’s relevant to note that this video has over 4,600 likes (only 100 dislikes) on YouTube. This snub was just plain poorly timed–this is only the third ever Best Rap Album award, and rap artists still weren’t getting proper stage time in general.
Jay Z has boycotted the Grammys on several occassions. His tipping point was when DMX was denied a nomination in 1999, but he also boycotted in 2002, saying:
“Too many major rap artists continue to be overlooked. Rappers deserve more attention from the Grammy committee and from the whole world. If it’s got a gun, everybody knows about it; but if we go on a world tour, no one knows.”
Oh my millenials, who could forget these lyrics from The Real Slim Shady?
You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me
“But Slim, what if you win, wouldn’t it be weird?”
Why? So you guys could just lie to get me here?
So you can, sit me here next to Britney Spears?
Ironically, Eminem did win the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance with the single so…there is that. Interstingly, this article actually cites white privilege as the reason for Em’s Grammy success (relative to other artists).
Fast forward to 2004. Like Ol’ Dirty Bastard before him, 50 Cent takes a stand for what he considers a snub…this time in the “Best New Artist” category.
Okay, so his “stand” was a lot more subtle (actually, it was more of a cameo). But his statement afterwards was interesting: “I think that the board is a lot older and they’re conservative, so some of the content in the music is offensive on some level. There’s a lot of people that don’t accept that hip-hop culture is now pop culture.”
I know, I know. But you can’t talk hip hop versus the Grammys without talking Kanye. Specifically, you can’t talk hip hop versus the Grammys without citing the New York Times interview where he said this :
I don’t know if this is statistically right, but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person…I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate. I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: “Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.”
The 2013 Grammys roll around, and Nas–with 18 nominations in his career and 4 that year–sits down with Dave Grohl to talk Grammys. Nas (who has never been outspokenly critical nor supportive of the award shows) had this to say about how they STILL, still underrate the Hip Hop genre in 2013:
Oh, and Macklemore himself:
Perhaps the person who is most aware (and most vocal) of how these things seem to go down these days is Macklemore. Yes, really. Let’s start with his 2005 song “White Privilege,” shall we?
I give everything I have when I write a rhyme
But that doesn’t change the fact that this culture’s not mine
More recently, he addressed race relations and public perception of rap music in his song “A Wake,” saying:
These interviews are obnoxious
Saying that it’s poetry is so well spoken, stop it
I grew up during Reaganomics
When Ice T was out there on his killing cops shit
Or Rodney King was getting beat on
And they let off every single officer
And Los Angeles went and lost it
Oh, and he also instagramed this message he sent Kendrick Lamar after last night’s Grammys:
The “speech” he was referring to was his acceptance of Best New Artist.
Why? Because he wasn’t even able to accept the controversial Best Rap Album award.
Why? Because Best Rap Album is still not a part of the main Grammy award show. Despite the fact that half the nominees are popular enough to be performing. Despite the fact that for years now rap has been the ONLY genre which has seen an increase in record sales. Ay-yi-yi.
So, what does this all mean?
Musically, I think Macklemore deserves an award–if not the rap honours, then at least that Best New Artist he was handed. And I congratulate him on his wins, genuinely. I don’t think he is bad for hip hop–his ability to break out as an independent artist is actually a huge step away from the “dance monkey, dance” history, and he has spoken out several times against exclusivity and race issues. I don’t think that just hating on Macklemore’s Grammy wins is an overly informed response.
BUT, I don’t think that just pushing criticisms aside as silly or ridiculous is informed, either. And it’s certainly not informed to talk about Macklemore like he’s some sober messiah who has swooped in to save the hip hop culture from its sexist, homophobic, gang-banging, drug-pushing ways.
That’s not fair. It’s offensive to the diverse and culturally rich history of rap music. I don’t know Macklemore, but it’s probably offensive to him, too. And the more people talk about him that way, the more rap fans are going to despise it when he gets these wins.
(Which is too bad. Because while being critical is good…I think we should really be more critical of the fact that Macklemore wasn’t even able to accept his awards because all those rap Grammys still aren’t on the main show.)
Either way, I hope this helped clear up some of the confusion people might have over all these very intense responses. If you have any thoughts on this, or if I missed something super important to this conversation, let me know in the comments!
I was sitting on the train; alone in my section, as far as I could see. I had given up wrestling with the strings, and was resting my head on a soft area of my backpack. An older woman came by, saw the instrument and asked if I wouldn’t play a song. “It’s super out of tune,” I explained, sitting up and fiddling uselessly with the knobs. “My little brother got a hold of it.”
That was a lie. My little brother hadn’t touched the uke. The screechy, stringy sound was entirely my fault–I had tried to tune it by ear in Toronto, and failed miserably. But, oh ego, I didn’t want to admit that. “Maybe I’ll just get the musician to help me tune it when she’s done her set, if she knows how.”
“The musician?” The lady asked. I smiled and explained. Along with wine tastings and trivia-filled talks, Via Rail hosts Canadian musicians who perform shows throughout the commute. My train had enlisted a retired postwoman from Kingston, Ontario who played folksy guitar.
I found the musician sitting in the “Activity Car” after her set, and approached her cautiously. “‘Scuze me. Can I ask you something, maybe?” As if she could say no. As if we weren’t stuck on a train together for two days.
“I have this ukelele, with me, I’m trying to tune,” I stumbled, repeating the lie about my brother. “Do you know what notes the strings are supposed to be?”
She looked confused. “Oh! Um, well, the bottom string is an A, and…hold on.” She dug into the seat beside her, pulling out her own small ukelele case.
“I could bring it here, if that’s easier?” I offered. “It’s just in my car, back there.”
She nodded in my direction. I power-walked to my seat, snatching the pale brown uke. I gave it a quick strum–wow, that is really, embarrassingly bad. Like, I can’t believe I’m even going to show this to someone bad. I braced myself for condescension, the way I do when I’m going to the dentist and haven’t really been flossing, or when I go for a haircut with major split ends.
“Oh, wow, this IS out of tune,” she said, twisting the strings into sanity. I sheepishly agreed and apologized because, well, that’s what you do when someone smarter than you shakes their head and tells you what you already know. She just laughed at me. “No, I mean, it’s fine, it’s just really out of tune. It happens.” She finished screwing a few knobs and handed the uke back to me. I exhaled, relieved to have a working instrument. I strummed a C, then a G, then an A. In response, the musician produced her own ukelele–the same type as mine, a Mahalo, but hers was green. She picked a few strings. “Wanna jam?” She asked.
Shit. I DID want to, of course, but now I really had to paint myself amateur. When I told her I was new to the insturment–really, really new–she smiled at my insecurity once again. “So then, you want to learn something?”
And so we sat, for thirty minutes (probably longer), patiently strumming through folk songs. She sketched out chord diagrams and we played and replayed. I finally mastered “Home on the Range.” We hi-fived.
“You know, George Harrison always traveled with two ukeleles.” She said. “He would just hand one to someone in an airport, or something, and they would play. Can you imagine that, being that person, doing this kind of thing with George Harrison?” She grinned, satisfied that we were somehow part of a great tradition. Later, I would hear her recount our lesson to another passenger and cite the same Beatles story.
Beautiful meals, on board wine tastings, champagne and h’ors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, and now a free music lesson…that train ride was the real deal. Most of this was because I was traveling in “sleeper class,” which is a big step up from “economy class.”
When I told her about my trip, my friend Caitlin all but demanded that I travel in sleeper class, because “Shauna, it’s SO worth it.” I refused at first, my budget was too tight, but there was a sale and the trip from Toronto to Winnipeg included two overnights, so I splurged for that portion of the trip. I’m riding Economy the rest of my trip (en route to Saskatoon as I write this!), and it’s more than fine. Still, “sleeper class” was a serious experience.
When we reached Winnipeg, I really didn’t want to get off of the train. I was having way too much fun aboard, and the city outside looked dingy and construction site-esque. I struggled to find a Tim Horton’s upon arrival (somehow, I thought it would be easy), and struggled more to find a place which sold bus tickets. Finally, I made my way to the bus–I was staying with a woman from Couchsurfing, whose house was about a 10 minute ride from downtown.
I sat myself down at an empty seat near the back. The bus was nearly full, and it wasn’t long before someone sat down next to me: a young boy, maybe a year or two my junior, with sharp aboriginal features and faded brown skin. He struck up a conversation by showing me his hand, which had scabs all over the knuckles: “See this?” He grinned. “Don’t drink and drive. Not any vehicle.”
“Oh. Dear. Ouch.” I threw him a polite smile, then looked out the window as the bus tumbled down a rough-looking Main Street.
“Yeah, yesterday was a shitty day for me,” He continued, clearly wanting a conversation. I motioned politely to his hand.
“Because of your accident?”
“No, no, that was last week. Yesterday, I was about to smoke a bowl, right, and I had it all packed and everything, right, and then, like, I just dropped my bong right there on the floor,” He mimed the accident.
“Oh. No. That…sucks. Was it expensive?” I had no idea what else to say. The woman across the way shot me a look; you aren’t from around here, are you?
“Naw, it was maybe like 30 bucks but like man, I was about to smoke a bowl and then–” He acted out the accident again. I watched as others on the bus nodded sympathetically, and tried to nod the same way. Unfortunately, I am a terrible actress.
“Well, I guess, I mean, that gives you an excuse to buy a new one?” I offered. The world’s most house wife-y response to a broken bong.
He shrugged. “Guess, but it sucked. Where you from?” At this point I was pretty sure this kid was high, or drunk, or something. Even through his haze, he could tell that I was no local.
“Ottawa,” I said, then quickly added. “I’ve been here before, though. Visiting a family friend. Just busing to her house.” The lie slid off my tongue and covered me uncomfortably, like a heavy invisible armour. I hate lying. Between the uke story and this, I was up to two falsehoods in one day. I contented myself that this was just a safety precaution, that didn’t want to publicly proclaim my vulnerability. The woman across the way finally spoke up.
“Well, be careful ’round here. Like, y’shouldn’t go walking down Main Street by yourself any time of day, especially at night.” She said. I looked out the window at the street in question. Her advice was pretty self evident. “Winnipeg isn’t the most dangerous city in Canada anymore, but like, I’m pregnant right? So I’m still pretty nervous walking down the street after I babysit my niece.”
I wanted to congratulate her on her pregnancy, or thank her for her local insight, but instead I just sat there looking like a frightened kitten. I pounced off the bus like one, too, scurrying towards the street my host lived on. I saw the street sign and turned.
Houses. Pretty little houses. Cut grass. Laughing children.
You guys, I have never been so excited to see suburbs. It was ridiculous.
A French couple opened the door upon my arrival. They were staying under the same roof–live in travel buddies!–and had actually been on the same train as me. The host had left a note and snacks for the three of us in the kitchen. My room was cosy and comfortable. I felt safe. And when you’re traveling around, talking to strangers, STAYING with strangers, and sleeping on a different air mattress every other night…feeling safe is something you never take for granted.
You don’t take showers for granted, either. And you certainly don’t take live-in travel buddies or beautiful, free-spirited hosts for granted. Getting clean and walking about was just about all I did in Winnipeg, but I was fine with that (most of the time, anyways).
Now for a series of confusing images which sum up my time in Winnipeg:
I never did fall in love with Manitoba. This sucked more than it should’ve, mostly because I have silly expectations and want Canada to be magical and beautiful and happy all the time. Sometimes, though, it’s just real. Or weird. Or even a little dangerous.
But I wanted to see all of Canada, even the STI ad campaigns and rough streets and suburbs and shopping malls. And it’s nice to know that, no matter where I seem to go in this country, no matter how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the place, I always seem to find somewhere to temporarily call home. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
An update on the “vagabond chic” look: My original “disheveled at the airport” collection is so last week. Make way for the super-sexy “laundromat after a rainstorm,” fashion fans…
Features of the collection include a messy ponytail, rolled up jeans, and tired, wet feet. I’m also pretty sure there’s sand in my backpack–a souvenir from two beachy days in Prince Edward Island.
I modeled the collection in Moncton. The small, humid laundromat was stop #2 on a quest for clean clothes, and I greeted it by getting barefoot and playing the ukelele with a friend I met two days ago. Stop #1 had been a shop on the corner with a large sign reading “LAUNDROMAT.” That place, they told us, was actually not a laundromat. It was a cool-kid cafe/bar called “Laundromat.”
I’m not hip enough to understand these things.
When we finally found a place with quarter-devouring washing machines and dryers, we made ourselves nice and comfortable. Waiting for our clothes to wash, we braved the stormy (and very empty) streets to seek out cheap pizza, shitty wifi, and a compact, Disney-themed umbrella from the drug store.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to my new friend and jump on a train to Quebec. I actually jumped, you guys. It was a thirteen hour train ride and, oh-my, was I ever excited for it.
The train is the real heart of my trip. All these big adventures and bigger revelations are just spaces in between.
I made small talk with the cute guy in front of me at the station (“Oh, you’re from Ottawa? Me too!”) and, as he briefly disappeared from sight, I jumped on board with a wicked smile on my face. I bought a ham sandwich and little container of white wine on the train, and “je m’excuse, je m’excuse” passed by the friendly French man beside me. The man smelled like smoke and had a giant skull and crossbones inked onto his leg, but his voice was gentle and his smile was genuine and –yes! He kept speaking French to me even after hearing my troubled accent.
And so begins my life for the next month:
The train reached Quebec at 6 am, and I dragged myself through the tourist-covered streets until hostel check-in time and–oh! Here I am! Sitting at a hostel bar in la belle province, reflecting on the last two days.
(That’s a lie. I’m actually sitting here feeling way-too conscious of my feet, way-too happy about this beer, and way-too guilty that I fell asleep during a bus tour today. For the sake of the segue, though, let’s just say I’m reflecting on the last two days.)
In the days since my last post, I finished up in Halifax and headed to Prince Edward Island. I arrived in Charlottetown at noon(ish) Wednesday, and left at 8:15 Friday morning.
Translation? I had 44 hours in PEI. Ready, set, go.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I scheduled my trip. I’m pretty sure I was bitter–I always hated labeling the damn province in grade school geography. Or maybe I looked at the province on a map and said “Psh, that’s small. I could walk across that in 44 hours.”
Either way, I didn’t give myself enough time on the Island. Not even close.
Thanks to the people I encountered, however, it was (limited) time well spent. I suppose that’s part of this whole traveling thing, right? “What was your name, again? Right. That. Let’s do something cool.” My people-luck went as follows: I crashed on the air mattress of a wonderful girl I knew in high school (thanks, Alex and Danny!). I adventured with another girl I met on couchsurfing, Amy, who was being toted around town by a local named Bob.
(Amy was crashing in Bob’s spare bedroom. Everyone, it turns out, crashes in Bob’s spare bedroom. If you’re ever in Charlottetown, you should too. More on that later.)
On Thursday morning, I walked past an old Protestant cemetery. An artist, Carl Philis (potter by trade), spotted my interest right away. Carl had a paint can in his hand, and was working on the cemetery’s restoration. “If you come by some time later when you’re free, I can give you a tour around.”
I knew there would be no later. “Well…I’m free now, I guess. Can you give me a tour now?”
And he freaking did. His boss stood by smiling as he spent at least an hour showing me the history of PEI, stone by stone. I wasn’t used to such unscheduled hospitality.
“In Ontario, everyone’s just in a hurry to be late,” he explained. “It’s not like that here.”
He was right. When I arrived an hour later than expected to visit my Islander aunt, she was only happy I was there at all.
Bob was most flexible of all. From beginning to end, his main priority was for Amy and I to have a good PEI experience. I told him I was an Anne of Green Gables fan as a kid, and he happily drove us to Cavendish for the day. He showed us the tourist-y “Avonlea Village” and the trails around Green Gables in the after-hours, saving us from paying for the tourist traps. Bob was a Green Gables tour guide in a past life, and is an expert host in this life.
People-wise, I hit the jackpot in PEI. When my aunt told me she had sending me prayers for “travel mercies,” I practically fell all over her.
“It’s working! It’s working! Keep it up!”
To recap, a few pieces of advice if you ever visit Charlottetown:
Stay with someone awesome and central.
Look up Bob. Seriously. I will put you in touch personally, just drop me a line.
Eat potatoes. And seafood. And donair. Dude, just eat.
Go to the beach. This will be easy, since it seems that a good chunk of PEI is straight beach.
Clap your hands and stomp your feet at a Ceilidh. If you don’t know what that is…look up what a Ceilidh is first. Then go to one.
Talk to any and everyone. Chances are, they will talk to you right back (and then some).
For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why. My other writing gig is all about music , and I just finished interning at a record label. I’m obsessed with my instruments. I have even pitched and completed musical multimedia projects for university history classes–twice–in lieu of old fashioned essays.
Recently, I have sensed a “lost cause” attitude when people talk about the music biz. Money just isn’t flowing the same way, to the same people, or for the same reasons it used to.
In this case, that might be a good thing.
I offer you five (admittedly optimistic) reasons I’m excited about where music is heading…artistically, ethically, and even economically. Seriously. I only wish I could say the same thing about writing and journalism.
1) Fans and artists take control.
Some people are complaining about how the music industry is going, mainly because the “industry” part is becoming less and less relevant. The success of artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis has confirmed what a lot of us 21st century kids have known for a long time–technology is changing the game, and musicians who are genuine and business savvy shouldn’t need to answer to anyone but their fans.
How is the game changing? It looks something like this:
. Maybe I’m being naive, but even though I would love to work in music, this doesn’t scare me. It excites me. Paper pushers, marketers, and managers will of course remain important–Amanda Palmer’s success came from her wide fan base, much of which was acquired while she was signed to a record label. I know how much blood, sweat, tears (and luck) go into promotions. That manpower is valuable, and will stay valuable. But as the umbrella “record label” organizations become less relevant, people will partner up more independently; artists will begin hiring consultants, ad agencies, designers and agents themselves. This will put musicians/producers in charge of their art rather than just requiring them to be someone else’s product. Game changing time.
2) An access-based economy.
With the internet and streaming sites, music itself is now less of a product, more of a service; not about ownership, but about access. That doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to pay, it means they aren’t willing to pay just to own things. The millennial generation are not as interested in ownership as previous generations. Instead, they are interested in renting, streaming, experiencing, and/or consuming. So yeah, buying a CD or even downloading an mp3 is less and less appealing…streaming on YouTube, Songza, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, and other websites is on the rise.
Streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are particularly fantastic. With these services, listeners pay a monthly fee (similar to Netflix) or in some cases just sit through a few ads, in exchange for access to a massive library of all the music they could want. Users can even download the songs they like to their mobile devices for offline listening and take them on the road. It’s portable music on demand. Not only that, but these services use ad revenue and membership fees to pay artists royalties for song plays. Other ways artists can make money? Becoming a YouTube partner (thereby sharing in advertising revenue, though in my opinion YouTube needs to up the royalties it pays), starting a Kickstarter project, or organizing fan patronage through a site like Patreon.
3) Sustainable printing and touring.
Because people are purchasing access more than anything, less stuff has to be made. The only product that seems to be selling more these days are vinyl records, because they’re the only thing that genuinely sound better than an mp3. So what products are being made? Essentially we’re whittling it down to LPs and their packaging, t-shirts, and promotional materials (stickers, posters, etc).
Compared to before, that’s not much. You’re welcome, trees.
Moreover, smart decisions can be made with what is being produced. While pressing new vinyl isn’t a particularly “green” call, smart packaging can make an impact. As an intern, I discovered (and fell in love with) PURE labels. The stickers they print are gorgeous and affordable…not to mention 100% tree-free with a sustainable adhesive (‘sup, technology). The availability of products like these, along with fair trade clothing options, will help with the positive impact of lowered production.
With the focus on live performance (in Canada, the live music industry just had a record breaking year), of course, comes the question of a tour’s carbon footprint. The good news is that artists will have a lot more power over the decisions made with stage performance than they did when merchandise production was king. Musicians like K.T. Tunstall, Radiohead and Pearl Jam are among those who actively use eco-friendly touring options, and organizations like Julie’s Bicycle have heavily researched sustainability in the live music industry. For more optimism, check out this list of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “15 most eco-friendly artists”: www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/the-15-most-eco-friendly-rockers-20101216/
4) Music sampling meets international development.
Pop music sampling, you have destroyed enough 80s songs. Seriously. Time to get creative.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if ethnomusicologists hooked up popular artists with musicians in poorer areas of the world for some sweet collaborations. Organizations like Smithsonian Folkways record and distribute music from communities around the world, and pay extensive royalties to artists for these works. An example? All the royalties from Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music, and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda go straight to an education fund for children in the community where the music was recorded. If a commercial or film featured a song from that album, or an artist sampled from it (and paid royalties), that would mean a great deal for the community.
With African music-inspired indie artists like Vampire Weekend, rapper J. Cole’s sample of music from Guinea, and up-and-coming success of A Tribe Called Red, there seems to be a market for a more worldly sound. I would like to see popular artists looking for an exotic beat, new style or even just a choir in the background consider what those royalties and exposure could mean to a disadvantaged community.
5) Grassroots charity links.
Big musicians like U2, Springsteen, and Neil Young have been instrumental (…hah. pun.) in connecting the star power of musicians with charitable and fundraising ventures. This is awesome. However, a lot of those projects have been connected with BIG national organizations. While these are no doubt valuable, many of today’s artists are tapping into the power of connecting directly with communities and grassroots projects.
Because live performance (read: going on tour) is basically where the paycheck is coming from for musicians these days, two things are more possible than ever. Firstly, artists have been able to catch and affect their fans literally in their hometowns by connecting with local charities and encouraging activism. Secondly, being on the road make it far easier for artists to spread the word about important issues and ask for participation from their crowd. Take the band Fun., who created The Ally Coalition. They not only donate a dollar off each ticket sold to local LGBT and equality groups, they also set up an “Equality Village” at every gig where people can declare their support for the cause. Sheryl Crow has done the same by creating an “Eco-Village” wherever she performs, and like the band Phish (who are super philanthropic), she encourages carpooling to her shows. The bottom line is that if you are in a lot of cities, you can impact a lot of cities, individuals, and grassroots organizations.
There was a monkey in the picture, you guys. A monkey.
No one was quite sure what to expect. I’m not used to that. My fellow interns are uber-cultured musicians and ethnomusicology students (dammit, spell check, ethnomusicology is a word) who seem to know every nuance of every genre.
…though really, all I can confirm is that they know a whole lot more than me. Which means I’m always learning.
Much like my own field (history), with music there is always-always-always more to discover. And the more you listen, the more you realize how much you have yet to listen to.
Like this band from Denmark with a monkey, for example.
And so we went. We took the metro. We filed into the packed Grand Foyer. We stood at the back, since all the seats were taken–clearly, word had gotten around that the Danish monkey-band was coming to town. Inside our programs was this short description of what we were about to see:
Oh, “of course.”
AFRObeat? C’est quoi ca? Can someone point me in the direction of their favourite soul/jazz inspired acid-power-beat song, please? And “almost-punk” just sounds like how I feel when I jaywalk or accidentally sleep through church. [Insert rebel yell here.]
In true millennial fashion, I googled the band before going. Specifically, I watched this mezmerizingly weird music video of a song entitled “Blue Balls.” The album is called “Absinthe.” And the music is rad.
(At least, it’s rad enough for me to try to bring back the term “rad.”)
Yeah. That. Don’t do drugs?
The show was fantastic.It isn’t that I didn’t expect it to be fantastic….just that I didn’t know what to expect at all. The music (whatever it was, exactly) was an awesome, awesome discovery.
I make lots of awesome discoveries these days.
Finnish tango. Hardcore conjunto. Underground folk revival. Central Asian pipa. Autoharp country. Banjo masters. Those French Canadian songs that people assume I know (and I never do).
It’s almost overwhelming. Reading through the “Events in Washington DC,” trying to figure out what I can make it to…or what I should make it to…or what I can connect to, even just a little bit. Finding that balance between learning new things and maintaining/expanding on what I’ve already got. Searching through the Folkways catalogue, working out what to listen to next.
You would think that the daunting excitement of “where do I start?!” would be second nature to me by now. History student stuff. Curator problems. And yes, I have spent long days awkwardly navigating books, journals, and microfilm. Having all this new music at my fingertips is no different, really. But for the first time, culture is my every day–my work, my play, my social life, my background, my foreground.
And I still don’t feel a sense of “competence.” Not in even a sliver of it.
Oh, I don’t always do “new things.” I still can’t seem to stay away from Ottawa. I even showed up to a Canada-US Relations event last week…and ended up being live-broadcasted on CPAC, asking a question about the Keystone Pipeline. Yeah.
“New things” can find you, though. They can creep up. It’s called “opportunity,” and it’s always hanging around–especially in a place like DC, especially if you make the first move. One “new thing” can breed familiarity with another. And another. And another.
Case in point: A friend and I showed up to the Kennedy Center to check out Finnish tango music (because, why not?) and some dude gave us his extra tickets to this:
We didn’t ask questions
Though to answer yours: It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. Seriously. “Bird in Magic Rain with Tears.” Who would’a thought?
Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post – “You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”
As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right. Here’s how that one ended:
[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]
What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”
This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up. Seriously, if you only read one of these, read this one.
The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced. The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational. Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”
W.G. keeps it real.
A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.
“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”
Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar. But…I’m not any good.”
You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line? The chatter stopped. One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.
“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’ Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”
“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.
“Then you’re a musician.”
You know what? He’s probably right. Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents. I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.
It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay.
The fact is, I listen to, learn about, and talk music all day. I get inspired. When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me. It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :
A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”
Is that not the most beautiful thing? I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.
6) Curling mousse
What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.
My hair. Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?
Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.
Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC. It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.
Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.
The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks. If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak). Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating. My hair doesn’t define me. Imagine that.
Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too. One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly. It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight. All I have time for is a mousse.
When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off. The only option left is to join ’em.
7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash
What it taught me:Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.
New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.
I first discovered this trick in high school. I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself. I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.
I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances. I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.
Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.
(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)
Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!
This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.
I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.
I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project. I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes. And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.
This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school. I’m a new media diehard. I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school. And, obviously, I blog. Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.
It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do. American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter. It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.
This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs? How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink. You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis. Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment. Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U? So much fun to play with.
I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity. I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways. How cool is that?
I know the exact conversation we will ALL be having in exactly two days. It’s the same conversation we had last year. And the year before. And the year before that. You know, this one:
“Wait…wasn’t it just Halloween? Why is there Christmas music on? Why is there tinsel on that cash register? It’s NOVEMBER FIRST, you guys! What gives?! ”
I’m a big ol’ holiday season nut, I’ll admit it, but the commercial transition between seasons is always a bit over-the-top. Truth be told, I find November pretty boring. It’s a bit too far from Christmas for decking any halls, so I just see it as the mellow spot between Halloween season fun and Christmas season fun. Mellow is alright, I suppose, but…I kinda like my fun.
Luckily, Ottawa is full of fun no matter what. I know this. I know this firsthand. I know this in spite of people telling me it isn’t, because after living and breathing this city for a few years I can assure you that it’s anything but boring.
My proof: A calendar-esque list of 20 things happening in throughout November that are worth checking out. I’ll also be tweeting these out each day as a reminder that cool stuff is happening.
Yep, that’s right, cool stuff in Ottawa. In November. Don’t even question it.
November 1: Thursday nights from 4 to 8, admission to Ottawa’s national museums is FREE. It should be an interesting time to check out the Museum of Civilization, as it (controversially) prepares for rebranding into the Canadian Museum of History.
November 2: I’m all about those Halloween leftovers, like Pheonix Players’ presentation of The Death of Dracula. It’s only $15 for students, and is on until November 3rd.
November 3: Last day of the Haunted Walk Halloween season! If you want one last taste of Halloween, take a special evening tour of Ottawa’s creepy past. The 3rd is also the last chance for the Zombie Adventure at the Diefenbunker. Yeah. Shooting Zombies in the Deifenbunker. Amazing.
November 4: If you have never seen the Ottawa burlesque scene, here comes a chance to check it out! Ottawa Burlesque Playground Presents Movember Mahem at the Elgin Street Yuk Yuks. These shows are always such a creative, brilliant, sexy, entertaining time–and a portion of your $10 ticket goes to a Movember drive!
November 5: Hit the market for some local talent with The Rainbow Bistro‘s Monday night open mic.
November 6: Get your hockey fix! The Ottawa 67s play Kingston at Scotiabank Place at 7 pm.
November 7: My favourite local improv troupe, GRIMprov, holds a show on the first and last Wednesday of each month at The Imperial on Bank Street. $5 is a small price to pay for some side-splitting hump day hilarity.
November 8: Check out WWII play, Padre X, at the Canadian War Museum. $7 for youth, $10 for adults. Runs from the 8th to the 11th.
November 9: Opera Lyra’s presentation of Cinderellapromises to be a great introduction to Opera for performance fans young and old. I’ve heard great things about OLO lately! (Note: If your budget’s too tight, or you want to introduce a young’un to the scene, a 20 minute excerpt of the opera for kids will be performed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the 25th.)
November 10: Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street presents its monthly late-night showing of The Room, aka the worst movie of all time. This also makes it, of course, the best night out with your friends of all time.
November 11: Remembrance Day in the capital is always a big deal. Be sure to go early to get an okay view of the national ceremony and pay your respects at the War Memorial.
November 13: Back to the Mayfair for an epic double feature tonight: Kill Bill Vol 1 and Kill Bill Vol 2 hit the big screen at 7 and 9:15, respectively.
November 14: I feel like Wednesday night karaoke at the Bytown Tavern is Ottawa’s best kept secret. There are always a handful of really fun, spirited, off-key singers from all walks of life every time I go. Not too full, not too empty. Cheap drinks and a total judgement-free zone? It’s a party.
November 15: All Gershwin, All Pops is the latest installment of the NAC’s Pops series. I have gone to see Pops shows several times since moving here–$12 student Live Rush tickets for the best seats in the house are hard to resist. World-class talent backed by the full NAC Orchestra always makes for a brilliant show.
November 17: Photojournalist Louie Palu will be at the Canadian War Museum from 2:00 to 3:30 to talk about his experience in Afghanistan. Admission to Kandahar: Photographing the Frontline is free.
November 18: The Ottawa Vintage Clothing Show is happening at the Convention Centre all day Sunday. If you’ve never been to a show at the Convention Centre…it’s awesome. So is vintage. So, this is double awesome.
November 20: Tuesday is open mic night at the Laff. I know the place had quite the rep back in the day, but as far as I can tell the 2012 Laff is one of the chillest, cheapest places for a beer and some tunes…places really don’t get any more come-as-you-are than this.
November 24: Saturday Night Drag @ the Lookout. ’nuff said.
November 28: Wednesdays are Pro/Am night at Absolute Comedy. I’ve been to Absolute on a Wednesday more than once, and I have to say…a solid comedy show for $6 makes eternally grateful that I don’t have classes Thursday mornings.
November 29: Anyone else down for geeking out to old war stuff? The Canadian War Museum is hosting a special presentation of Hamilton and Scourge: Archaeological Exploration of Two War of 1812 Shipwrecks. The illustrated talk starts at 7 pm, and it’s free!
There you go, Ottawa–twenty things to keep your November exciting. Hopefully, this will tide me over until Christmas spirit can be in (guilt-free) full swing. I promise you, come December, I will be outrageously jolly. Till then I will just be…well, out!
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November Events Added by Readers (aka YOU!):
November 2: Shannon Lecture Series presents Dr. Barbara Lorenzkowski’s “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-194.” Dr. Lorenzkowski will be at Carleton University (303 Paterson Hall) at 3:00.
All month: Mo’vember is here. Personally, I’m not usually a huge fan of the mustachioed look…but, hey, it’s for a good cause right? Register now!