Notes on 2014’s German adventure

I have apparently hit the point where I am incapable of writing anything longer than about 500 words these days, so herewith is a collection of quick observations about our experiences in Germany and the Netherlands last month, vaguely in chronological order. Pictures are here.

The hegemony of English. As generally happens when I go aboard, I’m amazed at the way in which English speakers are accommodated. You can walk into pretty much any restaurant in Japan, for instance, and ask “英語のメニューがありますか?” and actually get something beyond a blank stare; I am, however, extremely skeptical that a Japanese person could walk into a random restaurant in Canada and be treated in a similar fashion. This may help to explain why the Japanese seem to do all their touring in large groups, but it also underscores that speaking English represents a privilege or an advantage that other linguistic groups don’t have while moving around the planet.

Everywhere we went we managed to get by with English. Because the trip was thrown together in a very short period of time, I had basically no opportunity to learn any German, beyond the usual politenesses and, because of the little guy, “Haben Sie ein Autokindersitz?” I speak even less Dutch, and every single person we met in the Netherlands spoke better English than I do. I can’t say that German- or Dutch-speakers with a poor command of English would do as well in the United Kingdom or North America. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair…

Dachau. We’d debated whether we wanted to go out to Dachau. It’s an easy trip from central Munich on the S-Bahn, but because the little guy was still having timezone problems, he was very fussy (and had a really annoying habit of having crying fits whenever we were in a museum or somewhere else quiet). Still, we went out on our last full day in Munich, which turned out to be Corpus Christi and therefore a holiday in Bavaria (so nothing else was open). I’m glad we did. There are few places I’ve been in the world where I’ve felt the weight of so much history pressing down; though it is a sterile place, and the barracks and “infirmary” have been destroyed (the two that exist are reconstructions), and they’ve put a museum up, it still feels evil. Worse, it feels deliberately evil. Walk around for a while in the museum section and you’ll eventually come across a large desk that kept detailed files on every prisoner in the camp. People did this, and they were very, very systematic about it.

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Soundcheck Sunday: Rose Cousins

You get two tracks today from one of my very favorite artists — Rose Cousins.

“For The Best”:

“All The Time It Takes To Wait”:

It’s perhaps a bit unseemly, at my age, to be a devoted fanboy of anything. As a certified member of Generation X, hip jaded cynicism is the way to go, and one should never get too excited or overly enthusiastic about anything, lest it all turn to crap later on. But I am a devoted fanboy of Rose’s music, and why the hell not? It’s awesome, in the truest meaning of that word. She’s got this way of making music that just cuts right down to your core — it’s lovely, lovely stuff. Granted, it’s also some of the saddest music you’ll ever hear, but so what?

The really weird part is that, in person, Rose is a damn funny woman. Her shows are hilarious, and of all the artists in the world who I wish would make a live album, she’s at the very top of the list.

I’m not totally out to lunch with this. “We Have Made A Spark,” her latest album, won a Juno last year so there’s even mainstream approval. Part of me hopes for the biggest, most ridiculous kind of success for Rose (I suppose she might say that getting “Go First” on “Grey’s Anatomy” probably makes her career, but then again, maybe not), but part of me hopes she’s able to keep on doing what she’s been doing, so I can keep seeing her shows in tiny venues with 70 or 80 people who really, really, really get music.

PS: You get two videos today because, as this posts, I’m pushing back on BAW086 heading for EGLL. See you on the road!

Spend all your time waiting

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Last fall marked the 20th anniversary of the release of “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,” Sarah McLachlan’s attempt at the difficult third album. It was the record that catapulted her to international acclaim, and with good reason — it was something so different, so remarkable, so excellent that the world pretty much had to sit up and take notice. Though her subsequent albums, “Surfacing,” “Afterglow,” and “Laws of Illusion” may or may not have been more commercially successful, I’ve always felt that “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” was the high-water mark. In the past I’ve complained, bitterly, that the three follow-ups to “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” all felt very much the same, that I have problems distinguishing between the various tracks, and that they aren’t really that good.

I marked 20 years of having “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” in my life by going to the ballet — Alberta Ballet had put together a meditation on a young woman’s experience with love and loss as told through Sarah McLachlan’s music. I started to write a long post about the performance itself, and how it held up from a music fan’s perspective, but was interrupted by the arrival of my son about a week later, so that post never really got finished. (Note to self: finish that post.) Six months after that, I discovered that Sarah was releasing a new album, and my first thought was, “Oh dear, here we go again. I’m going to buy it and be disappointed.” Because, you know, I’m always thinking I’m going to run into the next version of FTE. It’s what I want. I want to spend a year and a half listening to one album over and over and over again. I’ve had Rose Cousins and Ruth Moody and Hannah Georgas to obsess over recently, but I’m on the hunt for something new, and by new I mean something old.

So along comes “Shine On,” the seventh (eighth, if you count “Wintersong,” which I don’t, so seventh) studio album. Will “Shine On” break the curse of the samey-sameness of the previous three albums? Will I finally find something worthy of my devotion to this artist after twenty years of pining for an old feeling?

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