Sundry Bits of Dabble: a Lifetime’s Artistic Resume

This is probably a total Exercise in Self-Indulgence, but anyway… JKN thought it was a good idea, so who am I to argue? Maybe he’s just trying to get me razzed or something… but it will be cool to see what others have to report on this subject, if they care to.

The idea was to recount a lifetime’s artistic activity, an artistic resume, if you like. In my case, that involves mostly writing, music and theater.

After grade school choir, nothing happens until Grade 11 (1975), when I get into acting. At my small rural high school, we staged the first two plays of James Reaney’s classic Donnellys trilogy, Sticks and Stones and St. Nicholas Hotel.

In between those two came the First Watershed Event: My Fair Lady in Grade 12 (1977). I had never intended to get involved with a musical, but somehow or other was invited and convinced to try out for the lead part of Prof. Henry Higgins – and got it! The production went very well, and I had a great time. This. Changed. Everything.

By this time I had determined that I was going to be a writer, so my orientation changed from math/computer nerd to artistic wannabe – although the computer thing (as far as it goes) still comes in pretty handy.

After My Fair Lady, next year’s musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was a big step backwards but, as most of our major talent had graduated, it was all we could manage. It was OK, but if I’d known that it would cost me a place on the soccer team, I probably would have passed.

My three-year university career was dominated by a comedy performance group which I started and administered, which played mostly Monty Python, a handful of Saturday Night Live bits and some originals.

There were also frequent open mic nights in our college, for which I played solo or teamed up with various friends. Memorable songs that I can recall playing include: Horse with No Name (America), Let It Be and Here Comes the Sun (Beatles), Flowers are Red (Harry Chapin), The Eagle and the Hawk (John Denver), Lucky Man (Greg Lake), Imagine (John Lennon), Circle of Steel, If Children Had Wings and Endless Wire (Gordon Lightfoot), Rivendell (Rush), and Stairway to Heaven (yeah, yeah) with no guitar solo.

Our comedy group also played a couple of these, with fairly infamous results. The most memorable was probably the night only two of our six guys could attend, for which we prepared all the classic Python two-handers (Parrot Sketch, Cheeseshop, Travel Agent, Nudge Nudge, etc.). A friend of mine in the audience, unsolicited, played the part of a howling mole, and definitely upped the ante for us.

I left university a year early (1981) to join a rock band with my then-best friend. I was the drummer, with a carbon copy of Neil Peart’s Tama kit to prove it. We played lots of Rush, and songs by Led Zeppelin, Max Webster, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Frank Zappa and others. Without a keyboard player, we did interesting arrangements of ELP’s Lucky Man and Yes’ Starship Trooper. My favorites were the first four songs from Rush’s Moving Pictures LP, along with their La Villa Strangiato and Yes’ I’ve Seen All Good People.

That lasted about four years, so now we’re into the mid-1980s. Married life intervened shortly thereafter, but there was still time for try out standup comedy at a Toronto comedy club’s open mic night. I went twice and thought I did pretty well, but gave it up in disgust, as the common taste ran to what I would politely label “toilet graffiti”. I think Bill Cosby would have a much tougher slog if he started out today.

In 1989, I started up a vocal duo with a friend, which later grew to a trio. Our instrumentation was just my guitar. This lasted about two years, and memorable songs that we played include: A Sort of Homecoming (U2), Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Silence, Bookends and Scarborough Fair (Simon & Garfunkel), Bluebird (Paul McCartney), If You Could Read My Mind and Rainy Day People (Gordon Lightfoot), Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin), Nowhere Man, Blackbird, Across the Universe and She Loves You (Beatles).

Apart from a few guitar ideas, none of the stuff that I wrote up to this point has survived – with good reason. The earliest writing that I’ve kept is what came next. My separation and divorce led to a period of introspection and exploration, punctuated by occasional poetical eruptions (1993-96). Therapeutic venting in the form of free-associative wordplay. Most of them are more or less embarrassing now but a few of them still stand up, which I published here as the Divinations series.

Time for the Second Watershed Event: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Music By the Masses workshop in 1997. A small fee bought me guidance from a real composer (Martin van de Ven, from the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band), while I wrote a three-minute trio to be recorded by TSO musicians. I was quite pleased with my Trio Galactique for violin, viola & cello, which timed in at a modest 2:37. It dabbled in, and hastily disposed of, enough ideas for a handful of pieces. Already the influence of Arvo Pärt, whom I’d recently discovered, can be heard. When I can wrench the audio out of the cassette, I’ll post it here.

This turned me irresistibly away from wannabe writer, to wannabe composer/musician. Around this time I took up mantra meditation. After a few more years of acoustic guitar noodling, which now took a more contemplative and devotional turn, I discovered Steve Roach and the ambient/electronic universe (2001). Everything. Changed. Again.

In 2004, another cocoon split and eyes cast down emerged. And here we are.

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