All entries in the society category

A Dead Music Stars Discussion

This blog post was delayed longer than I would have liked (from being published) because one of my family members has been lying on his deathbed.  I wanted to minimize the whole, y’know, death thing.  So, here it is, tardy after the early-mid January 2016 hype around the frequency of music star deaths.

dead music stars bowie lemmy cole frey weiland

In the last short while, we’ve lost music stars such as Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Natalie Cole, Lemmy (Motorhead) and David Bowie.  As I began writing this blog post, Glenn Frey (Eagles) appeared in my social media feed as another one gone.  For a growing 2016 current list, click on this labour of love.

As part of the music networking group Balanced Breakfast (Toronto chapter), a small group of us were compelled to talk about Dead Rock Stars.  Questions:  What made these particular music stars stand out?  Why might the public acknowledge them more than other types of celebrities?  Why was there arguably more attention after their death, rather than when they were alive?

This is the re-cap of the discussion.

A tweet that received much attention after David Bowie’s death and has been re-posted through numerous sources:

During our group discussion, we came to see it as truth.

“What they said [during their careers] affected me,” said Veronica Kutt, an independent booking agent in Toronto.  The lyrics in the artists’ songs or the words they spoke on stage or through interviews was something that all of us acknowledged.  For some reason, the artists said things that we ourselves might not have been able to convey on our own.  Maybe we were living with a certain thought or emotion that couldn’t be translated, or perhaps we wanted to express something through speech that wouldn’t come out of our mouth.  These artists were able to refine and state what we couldn’t.  And we liked it.

“The expected trajectories of music’s evolution might be different if they had lived.  And today would be different if they hadn’t already contributed,” said Alborz Mohtashami (a.k.a. Crossword) in reference to hip-hop artists like 2Pac and J Dilla.  We all wondered about the templates that Dead Music Stars made for us.  They would be forever-references for anybody involved with music.

Particularly youthful deaths like those of Janice Joplin or Amy Winehouse stand out because we think of what might have been.  Would they have had more hits?  How would they have influenced the music landscape later in their lives?  Imagine if Jim Morrison was at the Grammys last year.  Would he have made a canned joke for us to giggle at?  It’s thinking about the unknown that we get uncomfortable over.

“The interest in these deaths might stem from the hopes we put on them, which they never had to live up to.  It’s a bit of a fantasy,” said Ryan Cameron-Clark, a Toronto promoter, DJ and curator of dark electronica sub-genres.  Indeed, fantasy was a key discussion point.  Most of us have fantasized what it would be like to be a music star — loved by the public for showing their particular style of creativity.  As well, some of us have even fantasized about having an artist’s (supposed) lifestyle, image or good looks.  Could that be me?

“In my case, I don’t usually get emotionally attached to an artist because I tend to separate the music from the person,” said Josh Bowman, a Toronto-based audio engineer and music producer.  Our perceptions of music stars could decidedly change due to one comment, one photo, one video or one live performance.  The living band Metric was mentioned by someone as ruining their image for him by having a (faux?) big ego on stage.  The living artist Joan Jett was mentioned by someone as impressing them unexpectedly by “owning” an audience of 40,000 attendees.  In both of these examples, the listeners had preconceived notions of who / what they were, but it all changed.  The point is that we are very sensitive to what a music star does across their entire careers.

“I felt very sad after learning of certain music stars’ deaths,” said Richard Leko of punk-based melodic alternative band Broomfiller.  Indeed, just talking about the topic of Dead Music Stars in our group created a high-tension, high-emotion environment that was unusual (and probably unpleasant) for folks who were otherwise upbeat.  Eyes welled up and our talk had that serious tone that usually comes with a universal reflection of death.

We threw around a few names of current living music stars that could garner much attention when they pass away:  Kanye, Dave Grohl, Taylor Swift, Beck, Justin Bieber, Bono, Andre 3000.  Certainly this is the sort of list that many people would expand or disagree with because numerous ticket or music sales might not launch them into “legend” status at death.  In addition, we wondered if the impacts would be smaller than those of yesteryear because music these days is so much more fragmented.  There will never be another event as massive as Live Aid, for example.  That’s merely one of many indicators of society supporting more music performers holding smaller portions of the proverbial pie.

As more music stars die in the future (everybody dies eventually), certainly those that will affect us emotionally should trigger our gratitude, too.  A music star is a music star because he or she stimulated us in a meaningful way.

Dyniss is a singer-songwriter from Toronto who also manages Balanced Breakfast, a music industry networking group.  Also present in this meeting was Ryan VanDrie, rock singer-songwriter.

balanced breakfast toronto butler's pantry music

Our Balanced Breakfast chat talking about Dead Music Stars at local eatery Butler’s Pantry.

A Song about Depression – Mirrors and Smoke

When I play my song Mirrors and Smoke — a song about depression — applause at the end is usually sparse. Most folks prefer uplifting feelings over introspection when it comes to entertainment, songs and/or music. Here is a new bootstrapped and slightly artsy music video to support the song:

#SorryNotSorry, folks — I believe that a dark song from time to time (not all the time — see below) can be good for mind and spirit if it gives you something to relate to. Additionally, if art (i.e. a song) is supposed to be an expression of the human condition, then it should also be okay to express something that isn’t all rainbows and flowers.

One great thing about being a performing songwriter is being able to have discussions with folks who are pleased to discover that you think a little bit like them (and vice versa). If you’ve ever felt alone in your thoughts or mental struggles, then maybe you can relate to Mirrors and Smoke, whose lyric outlines how professionals like doctors and engineers looked down on my music career. Their pessimism negatively affected my self-confidence, which I subsequently faked.

It’s generally uncool to talk about mood depression. Socially, it makes us appear weak. Although I was a sufferer, I admit that I have “unfollowed” several people in my social networks over the last few years who posted about their own suffering frequently. It’s not that I didn’t care or wanted to avoid commenting on it — it’s that I can be negatively influenced by receiving too much of that type of information. These days, I use several disciplines to ensure that I keep my spirits high. You can listen to the audio speakquel (a spoken prequel to Mirrors and Smoke found on my current album) linked below regarding this topic, which says more than I have written here:

All said, I believe that there is a time and a place to talk comfortably about depression or other dark topics. Balance is the key. In my daily personal life, I choose to limit my complaining and focus on the positives as much as possible because it contributes to a sense of well-being. It’s also easy to see that people want to be around me more when I’m in that mode.

I’m releasing this video and blog post immediately before the holiday season because statistics say that mood depression increases around this time period. My hope is that those who might be suffering can see that there are others who have the condition, which can actually make a person feel better for the short run. For the long run, there are ways to get out — I offer some neutral advice within the speakquel above.

Happy Holidays. 😉

depressed depression sad struggle

Depression can be treated and/or defeated.

Fight the Power(lessness)

Why I love these 2 merged photos from this morning: The humans (myself on right) are feeling powerless over the raccoon’s situation. We got back into my car after concluding that we could not rescue her effectively and safely. Although we could almost touch her from the street, we failed to coax her down and knew forcing her down could create a worse scenario. By telephone, no specialized help could come (and we could not blame them) from any of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the Toronto Humane Society, the City of Toronto, or 3 private pest removal companies. Our intentions were good, and we hope that the raccoon will safely remove herself from the traffic-laden street when it becomes darker. Other people’s reactions on the street as they saw the raccoon included joy, disgust, fear, interest. What I will learn from this: It’s OK when you cannot improve a situation or a somebody — the universe is a chaos where we have only glimpses of control.
Raccoon and Humans

Office Activism

Up until today, not playing shows has made me feel somewhat restricted from being an activist. This is because many of my songs have activist angles to them, and I believe people can potentially begin thinking about new things when they see/hear the songs.
But recently, I’ve had some micro-results in the mega-corporation office I work in — which has given me some solace. A guy I work with today told me he purchased his first organic produce — oranges. “It was tastier!” he exclaimed. I know his purchase took place in part thanks to my blabbering about the benefits of eating organic food. We discussed the topic a little more after he told me.
When I conveyed this phenomenon to an organic-eating friend of mine she said, “I try to tell people things like that, but they frown or want to discontinue the conversation.”
I replied with sympathy, since I used to receive the same responses as well (and still might), but I’ve been learning how to “work somebody up” to my heaviest thoughts over a period of time.
At work, I have had some other micro-successes, including having our shoes people consider buying non-leather shoes for our stores (we are a retail department store chain) after my mention of it.

Here’s how I suggest trying to micro-influence others positively in the workplace.

1. Don’t mention heavy-heavy things in a topic the first time a topic comes up. In my white-collar environment where people usually only talk about the weather, offering a strong set of beliefs to anybody usually gets received poorly.
2. Make stereotyping your advantage. I am quickly stereotyped when I give somebody even relatively harmless info on a touchy subject like meat eating. I don’t begin with, “Meat is bad!” or, “You know animals suffer needlessly everywhere, right?” Such strong statements upset people and shut them down. Instead, I approach people with something like, “I enjoy being vegetarian.” Such discourse is very non-chalant, very downplayed. I might even try to steer the conversation AWAY from the topic thereafter and return to the exciting topic of weather.
3. Give your co-worker heavier info (but friendly) at the next comfortable encounter. People will often without my encouragement ask me more about the topic I had opened. This is thanks to the “friendly” stereotype of me they created. And by empathizing with the person, I can determine just how little I should say, and ALWAYS favour saying less over more.
4. Give your deepest thoughts on a topic by the 3rd or 4th encounter. Only do this if it feels right. There may of course never be such an opportunity, and some people will reject your information no matter what. But more often, people by now have an open mind and do not reject the information. Things that are unusual can be intriguing to others, and your activist perspective is unusual, right? Put yourself in a curious person’s mind and approach them with this awareness in your own mind.

Convincing somebody to buy organic oranges for the first time may not be a big deal to some people, but I’m trying to feel good about succeeding small where I think it will help the planet.

Two Corporate Years = One Dwindling Green Guy

I recently accepted a 2nd promotion at work, which means I must be doing something right there. But my artistic activities continue to dwindle as my focus shifts further toward my job. There has been increasingly less time for songwriting, recording, show bookings, or website maintenance.
When I first started at Corporation X, I had trouble adjusting to the culture. Take the average worker’s attitude toward green thinking. I could not believe how my white-collar co-workers disposed of so many coffee cups every day. 1 or 2 per worker? And not even recycle them? So I strode around with my travel mug, quipping about its benefits, and dutifully/proudly bringing it to the coffee shop myself each morning, hoping everybody would notice and catch on.
(insert loud buzzing game-show loser sound here)
I’ve always said to people, “Environment supports itself” — meaning that if you’re surrounded by people who like to walk around picking their noses, they will likely continue to pick their noses. If somebody says to a room full of nose-pickers, “Hey, you know that’s unhygienic,” they will tend to ignore the upstart because majority rules.
Here is the sad part of my story: I have joined the corporate majority in various ways, and I justify it regularly. Thanks to two years of influence, I now buy my tea from the coffee shop in disposable cups. I do recycle the carboard body of the cup, but the plastic top — which I at first out of guilt carried regularly to the plastic recycler — now gets thrown in the garbage.
How can this change of attitute be?
My hypothesis:
1. Desire to earn money through stable employment;
2. Willingness to join corporate environment;
3. Subsequent desire to increase work output to increase rate of earning money;
4. Loss of personal time as a result.
I believe that it is the shortage of time that has ultimately sucked me into the herd mentality.
There is an expression that says, “time is money”, which I am living now, as do most people I work with. You can never do “enough” work in the sort of job I’m now in. Anything that distracts you from your work is a bad thing.
In the good old days after university when I had erratic/fewer hours producing audio, I had the time to be the Green Guy I wanted to be. Hey, I could wash that travel mug! I could make that extra walk to the recycler! I could ride my bicycle instead of getting on a motorized vehicle, or I could participate in more pro-environment activities like clean-ups or marches, and I could have more personal time to do creative things.
My focus on money has sucked me into the part of society I always wanted to avoid. I even catch myself looking at people like the “old” me with a bit of, “Oh, grow up”. Unbelievable! I don’t believe I have only grown up.
So — I still want to follow point (1.), even after my personal debts have been eliminated. But I’m not willing to work for peanuts just to do something eco-friendly, and I’m not willing to work so hard that I can’t have the extra time to be the responsible creature I want to be.
Oh Green Guy, how will I revive you?

Corporate Advertising Rules Toronto

If you walk around Toronto, you will see that the city is inundated with corporate advertising. The ads are big, colourful, and are everywhere but our public parks. (And did you know that advertising in our public parks is now being discussed?)
I was utterly dismayed when I heard of Toronto City Council’s recent decision to outlaw postering on 98% of public utility poles. If you think postering is just an eyesore, think of this: There are no other good ways for important community messages to be shown in public. No more music or art show announcements, piano lessons, babysitting, community get-togethers or celebrations. Toronto now says that if you can’t pay, you can’t be seen.
This is a great prejudice against community in general. The streets of Toronto now only show corporate advertisements for the public to look at when they leave their homes.
Toronto the very bad.
See where the war was being fought through this website.

Tsunami vs. Rwanda vs. Darfur

We can read and watch lots of info covering the recent Asian tsunami disaster. It happens to be mixed up with a lot of other “virtual” negativity around — from the Iraqi war to local killers. I say “virtual” because it’s not like most of us can see these things for ourselves — we are disconnected and discover them through the same box that gives us comedies and action movies.
That’s why I was kind of numb to the tsunami disaster — all this negative information insulated me from reacting with any oompf. However, my own local exposure to two events inspired me to donate to the Red Cross:
1. My friend Michael Moon, who falls under the “working musician” category, said he personally donated $50 to relief.
2. While renting some gear at my fave Toronto music store Long & McQuade, one of their employees was going around getting personal donations from other employees there.
It struck me that people around here were really taking the disaster seriously. They weren’t as disconnected as I was. May I say that I was pleasantly surprised and happy about this?
I’ve since seen many more additional inspiring charitable efforts.
Of course, our own money is given in addition to the money we are already donating through our taxes ($80 million currently allocated from Canada). Since we don’t actually see the taxes physically coming out of our pockets and going to Southeast Asia, we feel comfortable making further personal donations.
My wish of course is to take the same attitude with our local homeless and displaced (or anybody’s local homeless and displaced), and pay attention to other problems that don’t get the hype that the tsunami crisis did.
Hype is everything.
Did you know about the Rwanda genocide 10 years ago? TWICE as many people died. But the event didn’t get any major press, I couldn’t find out how our goverment donated (I spent a half-hour searching on the ‘net), and I don’t recall anybody else donating anything at the time. It follows that I didn’t donate. Was it just the media’s lack of influence? A friend of mine suggested that the current tsunami disaster is getting more coverage than the Rwanda genocide did “because you can’t blame anybody for a tsunami”. I thought that was interesting.
See some FAQ’s on the Rwanda genocide here.
And if you haven’t heard of Darfur, you hopefully will. More than 30,000 black Sudanese in the province of Darfur (Sudan, Africa) are believed to have been murdered or starved by Arab militias in the past year, and thousands more have been raped or tortured. Nearly a million refugees have fled to outside camps. The U.N. currently officially estimates that if significant aid does not arrive soon, the death toll may quickly jump to 300,000.
Read about the Darfur genocide situation here.
It goes to show that high human death counts will not necessarily get international attention like the Asian tsunami disaster is.

No Toys from Santa

I really enjoyed the 100th Toronto Santa Claus Parade this past weekend. Floats rolled by and marching bands strutted their stuff. The energy was excellent and some of the bands were pretty good (the all-black marching band I saw near the end of the parade really kicked some a**). It felt good to stand near the bands and feel the music in my chest. Kids and adults watched with glee.
But what left the strongest impression in my mind is what the parade left behind.
Santa Claus himself is always the last thing the public sees in the parade — standing on top of a float, waving and wishing “Merry Christmas” to everybody. I thought, “Hmm, I wonder will be behind him after his float passes?”
A few support ambulances and vehicles followed, and then then I walked into the instantly crowded street. I looked in the distance and witnessed an approaching army of garbage trucks and garbagemen.
Obviously, organizers knew better than I just what a parade like this leaves behind: tons and tons and tons of GARBAGE. There was so much crap lying around! Most of it was recyclable coffee cups and bottles and cans. RECYCLABLES, people! At least they were cleaning it up right away.
I shook my head in disbelief. Am I one of only a few geeks who actually bothers to carry the empty cans or bottles I drank from with me until I find a good place to recycle them?
As I followed the parade as it progressed, the waste remained thick. We’re talking about being unable to walk anywhere without stepping on something.
I thought Santa was supposed to leave toys behind.

Decline this way Comes

This will be my one and only comment on the 2004 U.S. Federal Election. Please forgive me beforehand. And no, I will not even mention my beloved yet under-promoted Green Party.
When I think about the Republican win, I feel a wee bit numb. I believe that the results of the election hold a significance which is greater than the details most people are talking about. You might think I’m overreacting, but I truly believe that it represents the inevitable future decline of our society.
Try to think of those types of people on this planet who possess very long-term perspectives (let’s say 25 years+) on a variety of things like government, society, economics, environment, and personal relationships. If you know the sort of person I’m talking about, I am sure that they would agree with the following statement: If the Democrats had defeated the Republicans, it would have indicated that the majority of people in the U.S. were, on a very basic level, showing that they cared about something more than the short-term future.
If the Democrats had won the election, not much would have changed in the average day of the average American, but it would have represented some of the following things: the feeling that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq, the feeling that the old ways of doing things needed to change, and the feeling that a lot of the world’s negative attitude toward America needed to be addressed.
Unfortunately, it appears that we (all people in general, represented pretty nicely by Americans) continue to think a lot about ourselves. We still like to focus on money and power, and we strive to avoid change. Suggestion: listen to or read the lyrics to my song, People are Afraid of Change.
I am numb because this election has shown me for the umpteenth time that dangerous long-term consequences are beyond the cares of the average person. Is that OK? I try to force myself to be content with the fact that this can only be the natural unfolding of things, but my very own animal instincts fill me with discomfort.
I believe that the future only holds decline for all of us wealthy Western folks, and we should not be surprised when we feel the loss of our wealth, our status, and our freedoms.

The Death of Tooker Gomberg

Gosh, I was extremely upset at hearing of the suicide of activist Tooker Gomberg this week. I shook his hand and chatted with him once, and had seen and read about him many times. This guy was a real-life go-getter for all things green. He hated cars and passionately rode his bike everywhere. He made friendly political stunts and promoted forward-thinking lifestlyes. He actually made changes, too. To find out he killed himself drew very particular feelings from me. Since I, too, suffer from depression, I must admit that I related to him on more levels than I feel I should admit to. I’m sure that the thoughts he harboured also course through my own mind. It sometimes seems hopeless trying to change things to the degree that our planet needs. It’s one of those fights that the majority of humans don’t really care too much about. It’s against a passive and ignorant population. But mark my words: I don’t disrespect anybody in that statement. The phenomenon simply happens to be the result of public education and influences.
People in general only react to immediate and tangible occurrences. For example, in Toronto, if there is a dog attack, there will be police, ambulance, and animal control all upon your doorstep within 10 minutes of the reporting phone call. This is because a dog bite is something immediate. People can see it and react to it right away. There’s nothing subtle or hidden about it. And of course, it threatens the “all-important” human being.
But take the destruction of an entire ecosystem — say, a forest. The only officials to show up are the police, and they only come to enforce the forest’s destruction and keep away its eco-happy defenders. Unfortunately for the forest, humans don’t think about the long-term harm to themselves, let alone the other creatures killed instantly in the process.
I firmly believe that this backwards thinking comes from our ease in turning a blind eye to things that don’t affect us immediately. A polluting truck, food containing steroids, or a lake you can’t swim in are other examples. Incredibly, most people would agree that these things are all “bad”, but they do not threaten them with the immediacy of a dog bite. Therefore, they usually don’t care enough to do anything about it.
So, I think Tooker Gomberg took his own life because he couldn’t hack the relentless and never-ending frustration with the awful way that our world works. I’m amazed that most of us do.