performing arts

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

Mary Tyler Moore and Workplace Equality

When Mary Tyler Moore passed away this week at the age of 80, the world lost a very talented performer. But the world also lost a woman that made a difference for other women. In the 1970s, through her TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she co-created and co-produced, as well as starred in –  Moore helped to change attitudes about workplace equality.

Dan McGarry, who teaches human resource management at Seneca College in Ontario, sent me this post, which he also put on his course website. He wanted to tell his students how important Moore’s television show was in depicting the barriers that women faced at work.

Mary Tyler Moore’s name may mean very little or nothing to most of you, except that you heard that she passed away yesterday. However her television show, which used just her name, was a groundbreaker when it was first aired starting in 1970. Her character of Mary Richards was the first ‘career woman’ portrayed as the primary character in a TV show. 30-something, unmarried and unattached, she demonstrated something new in the mass media: a woman who could ‘make it on her own’. (more…)

20 Years of ‘Heavy’: An Interview with Eric Matthews

In 1995, there was an “adult alternative” radio station in Bellingham, Washington – just south of the Canadian border – that played pretty much everything and anything. One day when I was listening to this station on my car radio, I heard a song called ‘Fanfare’. The song was so distinctive and powerful that I knew I had to get the record – but I missed the name of the artist.

I went to the largest record store in downtown Vancouver and asked one of the staff, “Do you know a song called ‘Fanfare’?” His face absolutely lit up, and he said, “Do we ever. We love that song!” And he handed me a copy of It’s Heavy In Here by someone named Eric Matthews. The album was on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, but the cover photo showed a neatly groomed and stylishly dressed young man – the complete opposite of the beard-and-dirty-flannel grunge that Sub Pop was famous for. It was then that I knew I had found something very different and very special.

After writing about music for nearly 30 years, I can’t really clearly articulate why I love It’s Heavy in Here and ‘Fanfare’ so much. It’s Heavy in Here is an unconventional album in many ways, with its non-linear lyrics and ornate instrumentation. But instead of coming off as self-indulgent, it’s a grandly confident and fully realized individual vision. ‘Fanfare’ is both intimate and epic at the same time, and its emotional vulnerability and honesty are profoundly moving.

Matthews released one other album on Sub Pop, and then seemed to pop up every few years with a new project, in addition to guesting with other artists such as the Dandy Warhols – that’s him playing the trumpet on ‘Godless’ – and Pugwash. A couple of months ago, on a whim, I searched Matthews’ name on Google to see what he was up to. Much to my delight, I found that It’s Heavy in Here was being re-released for its 20th anniversary, and that Matthews had joined a band named SheLoom that was just releasing a new record. And not only did Matthews have a Facebook account, but he also responded to messages through that account. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed about the process of creating the It’s Heavy in Here re-release. (more…)

I Say It’s Love

I first noticed the country duo Sugarland not from hearing their music, but from reading about them. Whenever I came across interviews with Jennifer Nettles or Kristian Bush, I was really impressed with how they spoke about music. When they described whatever they were currently listening to, they had very intriguing choices, especially for performers in a genre that has a reputation of being restrictive and conservative. And I could tell that they weren’t just namedropping trendy acts to build their own credibility – they were talking about music that truly inspired or challenged them.

A few years ago I was on a very long airplane trip, and Sugarland’s album Live on the Inside was one of the choices on the inflight entertainment. I remember looking at the track listing and thinking to myself: (more…)

Business and Creativity: Cautionary Tales

When I worked as a music writer, one of the most fascinating things about the job was getting to see the business side of the music industry. While I met many people who genuinely believed in their company’s artists and did all they could to support them, I also regularly saw musicians and creative people get exploited. Even as a lifelong music fan, the scope and extent of this exploitation was a shock to me. Many artists’ contracts were astoundingly one-sided – and not in the artist’s favour –  and it was very easy for artists to quickly get into financial trouble, even if they were successful and smart.

Those experiences left a lasting impression on me. During the contract negotiations for the first edition of my textbook, I asked questions that my publisher’s representative later told me he had never had an author ask before. I had to explain to him that after seeing things like all the “recoupable expenses” that record companies routinely deducted from artists’ earnings, I wanted to be absolutely sure of what kind of contract I was getting into. And I also wanted to have at least some chance to make money from my work.

I don’t hold any illusions that things have gotten any better for artists in the years since I wrote about music. Taylor Swift recently got a lot of attention for boycotting Apple’s new music streaming service when she found out it wasn’t going to pay artists during its first three months of operation. Good for her for speaking up  – but there’s many, many other creative people who get ripped off and who don’t have the public profile or commercial power to demand fair treatment. Here’s two examples I recently encountered. (more…)

A Step Forward

As an adult figure skater, and an avid skating fan, the world figure skating championships are always an incredibly exciting event for me to watch. The 2015 world championships in March were particularly interesting, because they were the first world championships of the four years leading up to the 2018 Olympics. As usually happens after every Olympics, many recent world and Olympic competitors have retired or have decided to take a break from competition. So the 2015 world championships were one of the first opportunities for skaters to begin establishing themselves as potential contenders for 2018.

But something else important occurred at the 2015 world figure skating championships. It’s something that didn’t get a lot of attention in the media, but it should be acknowledged. And that’s the fact that Eric Radford, who won the pairs event with his partner Meagan Duhamel, is the first openly gay skater to win a world championship. (more…)

Bigger than We Ever Dreamed: Some Covers of “Royals”

I first heard Lorde‘s song “Royals” the same way I hear a lot of music for the first time – at the skating rink, on a CD made by one of the younger skaters. I remember being struck by the unusual lead vocal, and by how the song was so stark and sparse – with only drumbeats and snapping fingers as instrumentation – but also so rich, with the chiming backing vocals.  However, as with many CDs at the rink, that particular CD had no label, so I couldn’t find out who did the song. I tried to describe it to one of my friends, and she said, “Oh! That’s Lorde! Her record is phenomenal, you really have to get it.” So I bought Pure Heroine, and my friend was right – it is phenomenal. And “Royals” has since won Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and has charted all over the world.

One of the signs of a great song is (more…)

Seeing Kate Bush

On the morning of March 21, I looked at my email and saw a message from katebush.com with the title “Pre-Sale Code”. That’s weird, I thought, an obsessed fangirl like myself would know if Kate Bush had a new record coming out, and I haven’t heard anything. What could possibly be going on sale? So I opened the message – and I screamed.

Kate Bush was going to play live.

To understand why this was such momentous news, you need to know that (more…)

The Problem of Too Much Talent

This week I needed some distraction from things that are keeping me busier than usual, so I was very happy when this CD arrived in the mail.

Jellyfish are a hugely underappreciated band, and Stack-A-Tracks – the instruments-only backing tracks from the songs on the band’s two albums – just reinforces how magical it was when Jason Falkner, Andy Sturmer, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Chris Manning worked together. Some fans argue that what sunk Jellyfish’s career was the onslaught of grunge music in the early 1990s. Clearly grunge wasn’t the place for four guys dressed in 1960s psychedelic gear and playing melodic power pop – but I’d argue that what ultimately doomed the band was that it contained too much talent. (more…)

An Appreciation of “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”

As a Stephen Colbert fan, I was very happy to learn that Colbert will be the new host of The Late Show with David Letterman when Letterman retires in 2015. However, I was considerably less happy to learn that Craig Ferguson – who once was rumoured to be next in line for the hosting job on Letterman’s show – will be leaving The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in December of this year. (Apparently he has a new gig as a game show host starting this fall.)

I am a big fan of Ferguson and of The Late Late Show. And so is John Doyle, the TV critic for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. Doyle wrote a column that pretty much nails all the reasons why Ferguson is such a great host(more…)