musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Month: April 2018

Ouch! The I Want You Gets All Beat Up

TheIWantYou

Have you ever felt that life just keeps punching you in the face? Jim Gerdeman of the Boston band The I Want You knows that feeling well. Their new song “All Beat Up” was written as part of the annual RPM Challenge that has artists writing and recording an entire album in the month of February. The video portrays singer/songwriter Jim Gerdeman getting the sh*t kicked out of him. But no worries, kids, this was an entirely artistic and not physical brawl, conceived and directed by the band’s 8-string bassist and producer Blake Girndt (who is also a member of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. The video features some very realistic and disturbing “makeup” from violence artiste JoJo Lazar (also of the Broken Toys). It’s upsetting to watch, but as the protagonist readily admits, it’s his own fault.

As Gerdeman explains,

In a world of so much conflict and social media hosility I think it’s easier than ever to feel beat up by it all. But for me personally I tend to beat myself up worst of all and it’s impossible to get a restraining order on oneself.

The latest incarnation of The I Want You includes Gerdeman on vocals, Girdnt on 8-string bass, Jeff Norcross(Weisstronauts, Betty Goo, Paula Kelley) on guitar and drummer Chris Walsh(Speedfossil, Bittter Bastids). They’ll be releasing more singles and videos in the coming months. You can see their other inventive videos on YouTube.

You’ll find the “All Beat Up” single on Bandcamp, along with two interesting B-sides. “Come On’ was inspired by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students in Florida and their gun control activism, while “The Rise and Fall” is a very clever tribute to David Bowie. It’s a comprehensive biography in song that encorporates elements of his life, music and stylistic phases. Very nicely done, boys.

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Josh Knowles’ weaves violin magic on ‘Spin Without a Sound’

JoshKnowles

Passionately performed music can open up the heart and free the soul. Modern interpretative dance, in all forms, are the ultimate expression of the human form, in all its liberation and limitations. When the two combine in a symbiotic way, what’s created can be something quite extraordinary and deeply moving.

Josh Knowles is a Boston-based contemporary violinist and songwriter, with an impressive CV that includes violinist and arranger for the Boston Ballet; lead vocals, violin shredding and songwriting for Boston folk rock band Nemes; violin, voice and piano teacher at Boston School of Music Arts; co-founder, violinist and arranger for cello/violin duo String Along; teacher, composer and arranger for the Roxbury Youth Orchestra and collaborative work with professional dancers for Cirio Collective, in addition to arrangements for various artists and performances at Berklee College.

Even with all that, Knowles has found time to work on his own solo electric violin compositions, recently releasing Spin Without a Sound (which can also be listened to on Spotify). In this stark, poignant video for “Great Blue World,” his stirring and evocative music is beautifully interpreted in a powerful choreographed dance by former Boston Ballet soloist Sabi Varga.

Spin Without a Sound was inspired by and conceived during a series of marathon performances in the luscious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard. The recording seeks to capture the stateliness and beauty of that esteemed, sacred space, so that one might be transported to those special performances. For those concerts, Knowles used a D4 Loop Pedal to create multiple layers of improvised melodies from his violin, creating a constantly changing soundscape. The album was recorded from live sessions that gave the artist even more space to experiment, expanding upon the ideas he first explored at the Gardner Museum. The resulting work is “steeped in nostalgic intimacy.” The recording includes samples from his upbringing, such as audio from vintage home movies, childhood recital performances and answering machine messages from his late grandmother, for compositions that are deeply personal and intimate.

Knowles is currently working on his second solo recording, which will showcase his work as a singer and lyricist in addition to his violin.

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The Anniversary Service

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It was a favorite spot and they brought me here, once or twice, when I came to visit. This beautiful collection of pristinely manicured formal gardens with various themes were carefully tended by their caretakers to exhibit all the wonders of nature, only better. Trees, trails, shrubs, water and stone, guided lovingly to provide a welcome respite from the disorganized chaos of human habitation of the neighboring cities and suburbs. It’s a place that beckons all to rest, whether temporarily or, in certain special cases that are more secretive and private, permanently.

Mom and Dad’s favorite spot in this natural oasis was, or rather is, the oriental garden, with its serene pond, charming pagoda and elegant footbridge. Two poi dogs keep a watchful eye while birds, ducks and chipmunks hold court and bask in the kindness of visitors’ outstretched hands filled with oatmeal pellets and peanuts.

Elsewhere in the large, winding property, which I believe was once a private estate, is a child’s playground, humble but informative science center and outdoor aviary, and we would honor the vast assortment of ducks, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, peacocks and other feathered brethren. There is an owl and a marvelously handsome turkey vulture in larger cages, and some of the smaller birds simply walk out of their pens to scoop up the spare crumbles of feed that didn’t make it through the metal fencing. For 25 cents, you can buy a handful of beige-colored oatmeal pellets, to make your offering to the menagerie.

We made a sad pilgrimage in the spring, to scatter Mom’s ashes. It was the place of Dad’s choosing, as they would often drive there, a short distance from their home. And besides, Dad had no use of forced social events like birthday parties, anniversary celebrations — and certainly not funerals and memorial services. He preferred something quieter, casual and personal.

It wasn’t what our extended family wanted, but for so many years it was the three of us, and at a time like that, you want to keep it close. The only family member Dad would allow was my friend Victor, who brought along his trademark dark humor and expansive world view. I, of course, wrote the eulogy, and gave my best effort to deliver it eloquently, as insects nipped at my legs and bullfrogs boinked in the background of the pond. I was glad to have everyone there, for moral support.

Later in the year, Dad joined Mom for their next adventure, leaving decrepit, used vessels behind, and moving on lighter, freer. Once again, I kept the ashes in their bedroom closet, until the frozen ground came alive again and the park opened for visitors. That walk-in closet, still filled with their clothes, was a kind of “bardo” for what remained of the physical form — a way station, if you will, between worlds.

This time, it was just Victor and I, and I already deeply missed my dad’s sarcastic sense of humor that dovetailed so nicely with our own. I couldn’t help wondering how he would have contributed to the snarky banter.

It was earlier this year than the previous year’s outing for Mom, so buds were just starting to form on the rose bushes, after a hard winder and cold Spring. It was their 61st anniversary, which I felt was a fitting day to reunite them. In this world, in the next world, they would be together. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, my company wasn’t enough for him, to keep him comforted and content in this world — he was lost without her. As I realize now, the constant caring and attending to Mom in her fragile state is what kept him alive and feeling relevant. What was the point, now that she was gone?

So once again, I wrote a eulogy, a story of his life and their life together. This time, the insects were still dormant, the frogs quiet, and the fellow park visitors scarce in the chill of early Spring. I felt like an apparition, going through the motions of someone else’s life. I had been on autopilot since Dad passed, handling their affairs and going through items in their house, on the hunt for family remembrances and deciding what to bring back with me to Massachusetts. After the visit to the park, I would join relatives in New York for a wedding of a cousin’s daughter I barely knew and to see an old friend while I was there. All would be a blur.

But that evening, we dined at a favorite Italian restaurant of Mom and Dad’s and drank a toast to their anniversary and to their memory. In the warmth of good food and wine, I began to feel like myself again. It seemed an understated affair, for two lives so well and fully lived. But that’s what Mom and Dad would have wanted. Happy Anniversary. I miss you.

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What we leave behind: the importance of organ donation

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

Still image from official video of Sarah McQuaid’s “Slow Decay”, filmed and directed by Brett Harvey (brettharvey.co.uk).

There’s an amazing story behind this pretty folk song, “Slow Decay,” and its compelling video. Sarah McQuaid, a singer/songwriter, and Brett Harvey, an award-winning filmmaker, teamed up to create a heartwarming short film to raise awareness about organ donation. This sounds very important, but it doesn’t stir the soul — until you watch the video and learn about Bill Conner and his young daughter.

Five months after his daughter Abbey died at the tender age of 20, Bill decided to honor her memory by cycling from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation. He stopped off in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1,400 miles into his journey, to meet with the 21-year-old man who was the recipient of her heart, after being given just 10 days to live. After a long hug, the man put a stethoscope to his new heart, and Conner was able to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. He was given a recording to bring with him as he continued to spread awareness about the life-saving practice of organ donation.

The body fails / These bones won’t last forever / So I ask myself what are the things we leave behind – “Slow Decay”

In the realm of organ donation, this question touches on both the physical and the spiritual — that is, what do we physically leave behind that others can use, and what do we leave behind as a lasting legacy of our lives? Giving part of ourselves, literally, so that someone else may continue to live is one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow, and it’s an act that conveys tremendous compassion and caring.

If my organs are of use, I hope they find a happy home. – “Break Me Down”

In this line from elsewhere on McQuaid’s album, the meaning is more obvious and literal. In the film, a mother, warmly portrayed by Mary Woodvine (Eastenders, Doc Martin, Casualty, Poldark, Blight, The Lark), takes the long cycle journey, which is delicately intercut with flashbacks of her daughter’s life. After the final frame, links for donatelife.net, organdonor.gov and organdonation.nhs.uk appear, so that viewers can learn more and register to become an organ donor.

McQuaid, Harvey, Conner and all the fine actors in this deeply affecting video are based in Cornwall, England. This short film was a collaborative effort to shine a light on this beautiful act of generosity and shared experience, a quiet but important story that might otherwise have never been told. As Harvey explains, “I was struck by the simple humanity of the act, and the notion that we live on through others after we pass away. I had wanted to tell a version of this story for a while, and as soon as I heard Sarah’s beautiful song I knew it was the right fit.”

Sarah McQuaid - Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

Sarah McQuaid – Photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk)

“Slow Decay” is from McQuaid’s fifth solo album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, which has garnered rave reviews from publications around the world. She’s currently touring in the UK and Ireland, which will be followed by a U.S. tour in September and October.

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