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Maxed out

The soundtrack to the winter of ’09

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"Can we visit Washington D.C., now?" asked my Perfect Partner.
Despite the myriad attractions of the U.S. capital, the monuments, the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the smell of power tinged with a whiff of desperation, the answer to that question has been a resounding, "Only if you want to go without me," for the past eight years. I didn't want to be anywhere near the epicentre of George Bush's nightmarish war on America and, seemingly at times, the rest of the world.
But watching in amazement as a crowd estimated upwards of one million people pixellated the horizon from Congress to the Washington Memorial, in a sea of colour, excitement and tears of joy, I felt a heavy weight I'd grown accustomed to begin to drain from my shoulders. It was, once I began to focus on it, like my best day ever at physio.
I can only guess whether President Obama, the various elected and unelected people who make up government and our brothers and sisters living south of the border are up to the challenges ahead. Hell, I don't even know what those challenges are, other than reviving a country running on financial fumes, reinvigorating or marginalizing a dispirited and delusional generation of baby boomers who mostly engineered this mess - and of which I am reluctantly one - and turning the reins of power over to a new generation whose hopes haven't been compromised to rust.
We can only carry hope into the future; if we don't, we're just making the trip as baggage.
The new president called on the American people to step up to the challenges ahead, suggesting the road back to whatever prosperity looks like after this crash of excess won't be as easy traveling as his predecessor's call to go shopping in the face of war. Sacrifice and service - two words boomers may vaguely remember from the old Peace Corps days... if at all - underscored his sober assessment of what may lay along that path.
Sobering, but the new dawn will have to wait until he can level with a nation still unwilling to hear the crushing truth: Tax cuts? Fuggeddaboutit! Righting the ship of state will, sooner or later, require tax increases that'll leave 'em feeling mugged.
Amid the pageantry, the pomp, the rhetoric and the poetry, notably missing was the music. Where's the soundtrack to the Obama presidency. No Sister Sledge singing, We Are Family; no Happy Days are Here Again; no Buddy Can You Spare a Dime (or a few trillion bucks).
I think I noticed the lack of music because music was the second thing I thought of when asked about going to D.C. The first was whether to put Zippy the Dog in suspended animation or take him along. He's not big on sightseeing but I'm sure he'd enjoy a swim in the reflecting pool. The idea of taking him along led, naturally, to contemplating a road trip which led, naturally, to wondering what music to take along.
While such questions used to be hard to answer - even a Volkswagen camper can only carry so many CDs - it's both sobering and uplifting to grasp the fact that a lifetime's worth of music now fits in the palm of my hand. Or at least it would if I could warm up to the shortcomings of iPods.
I moved a step closer last year when I finally stopped deluding myself that I could hear the difference and embraced MP3. While the format has undeniable drawbacks, notably its foreshortened sonic range, it more than makes up for them in convenience and accessibility. And after a lifetime of lugging around boxes of vinyl and even more boxes of cassette tapes, having thousands of songs filling a hard drive and shuffled randomly on iTunes has rekindled a love affair that had grown burdensome.
A number of years ago, a guy I worked with, having discovered old school rhythm & blues through the soundtrack to the film, The Commitments, was enthusing about the music. "Ya oughta hear the originals," I commented.
"The Originals?" he said, puzzled. "Who are they?"
"You are soooo young, dude."
One by one, we played the songs off the soundtrack, followed, after a bit of searching, by Aretha's Chain of Fools, James Carr's The Dark End of the Street, Otis Redding's Try a Little Tenderness. Most of the tracks were there, even Clarence Carter's Slip Away.
The experience was an eye-opener and underscored the timeless nature of great music. It also foreshadowed the decision to once again, move a tonne of music to a new home.
When my Perfect Partner and I knew we'd be leaving Toronto and moving to Whistler, we wanted to travel light. Over the course of a few years, we garage-saled just about everything we owned. Everything, that is, except music and art.
I tried selling music. At one garage sale, a guy asked if I had any records I might be selling. In a moment of weakness, I took him inside, saying I hadn't decided but guessed I would. He rummaged through albums, slipped out the Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request, an original with the very cool 3-D cover.
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Can't sell that one."
He pulled out a rare John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers disc. "Yikes! Not that either."
This scene played out half a dozen times until he eyed the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers. Embarrassed, I agreed to sell it to him for a couple of bucks. "But no others," I quickly added.
An hour after the garage sale was over, I rushed out and bought the CD of The Blues Brothers soundtrack. Some things are sacred.
Sharing great music is one of those things. That's at least part of the impetus behind next week's kickoff of the Turn Up Winter concert film series at Millennium Place. With a cozy theatre, incredible sound system and great music, Scott Pass and I are hoping to show some incredible concerts. If we'd have had any idea how difficult it is to get the rights to do this simple act we probably wouldn't have bothered.
But we wanted to share these concerts with people who've maybe seen them before or only heard about them or never heard of them at all. We're starting off with Jonathan Demme's incredible film of Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. Even Pauline Kael, the staid film critic of the New Yorker magazine, had to admit it was the best concert footage ever packaged. If you've seen it, you know it's true. If you haven't, you're in for a treat. An inexpensive treat on a slow winter's night... for a good cause.
So come out next Wednesday and hear the music, feel the love and Turn Up Winter. You won't be disappointed.

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