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.

SHOW: One Sixty Lounge, Toronto, Dec 12 2004

A last-minute invite brought me to the One Sixty Lounge above Metropolis Records in Toronto. The hosts were KA’rina and Gaspare, two local New Age gurus whose parties I had attended before.
However, I was a bit freaked-out upon arrival. Going up the dark empty stairs to the gig, I heard loud and mildly distorting choir music. The choir seemed to be repeating itself with an unpleasant tune. At first I didn’t know if it was real, and mixed in with it was some other droning music. But as I reached the door at the top of the steps, I realized my musician friend Michael Moon was in fact playing on the stage inside. The blend of his music and the stairwell’s pre-recorded music was an unnerving mix. Scary!
No matter — I came in and joined the small crowd. The place was decked-out with a variety of New Age paraphenalia: an altar covered with nik-naks, video displays, a computer display, candles, incense, a bed with all sorts of things attached to it, geometric structures, some groovy lights, and paper angels.
I barely sat down before KA’rina on stage invited everybody in the place to join hands in a circle. I wanted to opt out, but I quickly realized that I would be the only person abstaining. I didn’t want to be that anti-conformist.
If you wanted to stereotype what we looked like, you might say that it was some kind of Satanic ritual. Our hand-in-hand circle surrounded an altar. There were some “Omms”, some “Ahhs”, and some deep breathing with eyes closed. Once in the circle, I went through the usual thoughts of, “Is my hand sweaty to the next person?” and so on. By the time it was over I felt pretty good — I had been a bit grumpy before. We had concentrated on our heart flames and such things. It wasn’t my usual world, but I often try to drop my prejudices and accept everything with a positive open mind, and it was a positive experience indeed.
Shortly thereafter, I set myself up on stage, fighting a bit with the line mixer to get things happening.
I got the name of the woman closest to me in the audience (Johanna) and sang my Christmas song to her. She was really taken by it, coming right up on stage and hugging me quite genuinely. I think I blushed a wee bit.
Anyhoo, I did 3 more songs and that was it. I had chosen mellow ones to go with the mellow evening.
I chatted with magician Loran, a friendly Quebecois acquaintance of mine. He subsequently did some entertaining magic on stage. I said goodbye to Laura Nashman, my excellent flutist friend who was also there hanging out. Met some dude named Alex.
I said my farewells early, I had things to do that night.

SHOW: Clinton’s Toronto Dec 10 2004

I live very close to Clinton’s, so it was a very short bus ride to this gig. Clinton’s has some historical meaning for me — it’s where I used to hang out in my university days. Many evenings were spent there when I should have been studying.
I was added to the roster last minute, having e-mailed friendly Trevor of Solstice, the headlining folk/roots local act.
A Christmas benefit! I thought. I could play my Christmas song…
And that is what I did. The benefit was for the Daily Bread Food Bank. I donated two vegetarian organic items: one can and one carton of soup.
As is usual for most indie gigs, things were running late. I chilled out and watched the performers before me, including Canadian folk treasure Bob Snider. I chatted it up with my old friend James, my ex-girlfriend Simonee, her mom Neusa, and the soundman Fletch of Sex Without Souls fame (I had recorded that band some years earlier). Neusa told me while we were chatting that she had been laid-off from Kodak only a few hours earlier. Tough day for her.
I hit the stage. I mentioned that my Christmas song was kind of related to the night’s benefit. Christmas is so commercialized while people go hungry! (But you already knew that.)
I spent a full minute trying to get the attention of the girl nearest to the stage. Although I was loud and obnoxious trying to get her attention, she was the only person in the club not looking at me. Finally, I got her attention and her name (Judy), and sang my song to her. She was quite a good sport while I repented my love for her repeatedly in the song (I think she was on a date with some guy — sorry dude).
I got an encore from the audience (after 1 song? *stunned* — must have been friends), so I played a 2nd song, Generaligion.
Other acts followed me, including Virginia Dimoglou, whose Patsy Klein-esqe purity of voice just blew me away. I chatted with old friend Cathy, wife to James. Solstice finished the evening with some funky folky country twangy tunes. James joined them on a few tunes with banjo. They need a drummer to really complete the band IMHO, but I shouldn’t talk — I was playing solo.

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.

Almost a Blue Man

I auditioned for a lead role in a new theatre show opening up in Toronto. I even made it to the 2nd callback. The character? A Blue Man fronting the incredible Blue Man Group. I can talk about it now, since I just found out that I didn’t make it — only 1 Torontonian was chosen.
You have to check out Blue Man Group live if you ever get the chance. Their successful multiple productions now add up to a 500+ employee, multi-million dollar independent empire. If you’ve ever seen Intel T.V. commercials with blue-looking guys in them, those are the 3 original actors.
Describing one of their shows in print wouldn’t do it justice. The audience always participates, thumping music abounds, and there are a lot of laughs. The Blue Men are sort of like mute aliens visiting earth, and they like to drum a lot.
Two weeks ago, there was an open call for drummer/actors to play one of the three Blue Men characters for the show. I thought, “Wow, what a change this would be!” Agreeable hours, steady artistic pay, and an unquestionably good experience.
When I went for the auditions, I had a great time, and the Blue Man character was one that I felt I related to personally (should I say that?). In fact, I had so much fun playing the character that I’m currently thinking of modifying the idea and creating a Green Man or something. Before I even knew about Blue Man Group, I had already appeared as “The Holy Green Eco-Warrior” at one of my shows. Hmm, meant to be?
Anyway, better luck next time to be a Blue Man.
Although I doubt there will ever be a “next time” for something this peculiar.

Bryan Adams — by force

Looking for a place to just sit and relax in Toronto’s Eaton Centre today, I ended up in a Starbucks. I was trying to get away from it all. There are so few places to sit peacefully downtown without paying for something. But having paid for the privilege (1 peppermint tea, 1 evil cookie), I was still unable to relax — Starbucks was playing the latest record by Bryan Adams from start to finish.
Don’t get me wrong — I used to be a fan of Bryan Adams. But his latest stuff is just awful. Adams, like many artists who have seen the big time, usually end up putting out soul-less music because they have nothing more to strive for.
I bristled with discomfort several times while being forced to listen. The music had no life, no memorable sounds or arrangements, and all the musicians who played on it sounded like they were just going through the motions.
I like to call this sort of music “non-music”. Currently, you can refer to anything by Sting, current Celine Dion, current Alanis Morisette. All these artists have also released ballads (the most common sign of an ailing songwriter) — telling of how wonderful life is, how we all have to look through the smog, and how we will see that everything is beautiful if we just think about it. I have to agree with that in fact, but I can’t help feeling uncomfortable when I hear it bundled in a lifeless song.
But my personal conclusion after listening to Bryan Adams today was this: there is just way too much mediocrity in everything. (Yeah, I know you know that, but it really stood out today.)
Is it grooming us all into mindless entertainment slaves?

Farm Sanctuary Walk

On Saturday, I walked for an organization called Farm Sanctuary. When I showed up, there was somebody in a pig outfit and somebody in a chicken outfit, which made me smile — but I got anxious when I saw the protest signs. I like to live and teach through example rather than through protest.
I marched anyway.
Previous to the walk/march, I had to get some donations. You might be interested to know that I ended up omitting the word “farm” from “farm animals” from my general fundraising speech. Some people had reacted unfavourably when they realized that cows, pigs, chickens, etc. were going to be the recipients of their hard-earned cash. There was a big difference in reaction between saying “help for animals” versus “help for farm animals”.
Why was this? In short, I think people feel that if they eat a certain type of animal, then they aren’t worried about that species’ general well-being. The same person will admit that a dog is worth more than a pig if they don’t eat dogs.
The major “scientific” problem with this thinking is its inconsistency! Opinions on animal worth vary from human culture to human culture. Horse meat and dog meat are popular dishes in the Far East, for example.
The main thing that I would wish for all humans to have is some compassion for every single creature that lives on this earth. No creature should suffer needlessly.
Listen up: I can’t do too much about you eating animals — but please give a damn about its time alive and the way it’s slaughtered.
I appreciate these animal care standards, used by organizations such as PETA.
So was it wrong for me to censor the word “farm” in my donation requests in order to procure others’ money?

New Gear is New Fun

I went ahead and did indeed spend some $ on new gear over the last 2 weeks. I am now the very proud owner of one Godin LG P90 electric guitar, and one Yamaha Magicstomp effects box. Yay! I am quite happy about this decision, since I have really been uninspired to play solo lately. I do believe that a guy playing by himself with an acoustic guitar (for more than a few songs) can be a bit of a drag. The exception appears with already well-established artists, however. People will go to see Neil Young play 3 hours of solo kazoo.
An electric guitar with effects gives me some more sounds and some creative fuel. It’s easier on my hands, too. I did get my “new” equipment with some forethought: doing a lot of research beforehand, and then locating both items used but in great shape. At the very least, it will result in a few more dreamy songs and a few more heavy songs from my currently suppressed musical soul.
A good thing, methinks.

Gear Slut Admits Problem

A Gear Slut (from the Latin, musicus obsluttivus) is an obsessed individual who feels overly comfortable purchasing music or sound equipment that he or she cannot afford.
Today, I saw a guitar in Long & McQuade in Toronto, and I wanted it. Oh, did I want it.
I must have it.