Today marks what would have been my mum’s 75th birthday. She died at the age of 69, though, so she’s missed the ‘big birthdays’ that everyone seems to love to celebrate: the 70th, the 75th…and so on and so forth. I posted some photos of her as a beautiful young woman on my Facebook page, as well as a clip of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I am blessed (sometimes cursed) with a keen, photographic memory. I suppose I ought to be thankful, in so many ways, because it’s come in handy in my creative and writerly life. I can harvest images, scents, sounds, and echoes from my memory to fuel my own writing. At the same time, it’s like there’s a vivid movie constantly running in my head, and it isn’t always lovely. (Happy endings are for Disney princesses, I often think, and not so much for Hobbit-poets.)
Listening to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made me think of how music has framed my life. I truly respect the songwriters amongst us because I recognize them as fellow poets. I love songs written by people like Sarah Harmer, Glen Hansard, Ron Sexsmith, Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, Joni Mitchell, and revel in songs by bands like Blue Rodeo, The Pogues, Great Big Sea, Dala, The Skydiggers, and Coldplay. I have a pretty diverse love of music. (The other passion I have is traditional Irish music, and any East Coast music with bodhran and tin flute, but that’s another story as Hammy Hamster used to say.) Anyway, back to the Judy Garland song. My mum always sang it to my sister, Stacy, and myself when we were about to be tucked in for bed. It was either that, or it was Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.” (Man, if only I’d learned how to take the advice of the second song to heart and not spent most of my youth, my 20s and 30s, worrying my head off for no reason.) Mum had a beautiful voice, but I only really recall her singing us to sleep or singing along to ABBA on long summer road trips in the old van. We crossed from Manitoulin to Tobermory on the Chi-cheemaun Ferry (the word is Ojibwe for “Big Canoe”) so many times that I can’t keep track. I just remember that Stacy was often car sick, so it made for dramatic scenes in cars. If my Gram Ennis was traveling with us, she often got the giggles and had us in stitches over little things that struck her as funny. I have grand, sweet memories of those summer trips. On days like today, on Mum’s birthday, I’m glad for that photographic, cinematic memory.
I went to HMV at the mall tonight. Just needed to get out and be distracted by mall noise. I like to people watch, and where better else to do it than the mall. I love that HMV has the whole “2 for $25″ thing going on, but I’m a bit out of control with CDs. I still love CDs, heaven help me. I love unwrapping them like little presents, and I especially love opening the little booklets and reading the liner notes. I know: nerd.
I picked up Blue Rodeo’s “Five Days in July,” which, for me, conjures up my early 20s. Actually, if I think about it, the first boy I ever loved introduced me to Blue Rodeo, The Police, The Housemartins (and The Beautiful South), The Cure, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, and Elvis Costello. If I can thank him for something, it was for introducing me to a wider variety of music than I’d listened to in my teens. In my teens, I was transfixed by U2 (Bono was my first “secret husband;” others have now joined the roster, of course, but he was the first one that I can recall), Crowded House (I thought I could marry Neil Finn, delusionally speaking) and The Pogues. I pretty much was the only person I knew who loved The Pogues in my teens. I went to a Catholic girls school where The Pogues weren’t “top of the pops.” Anyway, first boyfriend, first love. He shall remain nameless. He arrived in my early twenties, at university. “Our song” was Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together.” Yeah, I know, gag me with a spoon. Looking back, it should’ve just been “Bad Timing” instead!
When I went to Carleton University in Ottawa to do my Master’s in Literature, in 1994/95, I met a whole bunch of cool poet types. I had a Dodge Neon, a real lemon of a car that I named “Maude” (after Yeats’s love, Maude Gonne). Five of us–me, Jamie, Leanne, Dan, and Carolyn—hung out, read poetry, and did strange things like walk to the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in the middle of the night, after drinking Irish beer at The Celtic Cross on Bank Street. I don’t even know if that bar’s still there, but I was in love with the bartender (who was from Ireland). His accent killed my heart. (Later, Newfoundland accents or Nova Scotian accents, or Australian accents would all have the same effect on me, to my own detriment, I’m afraid. A couple of the owners of those accents broke my heart in a couple of places, but what can you do?) So, back to Ottawa.
The bunch of us once piled into Maude, heading into the pitch black of an empty Gatineau Park. We stopped at a lookout overlooking a lake that we couldn’t see by moonlight, and howled at the moon. I know, poets….what can you do about them???? I still remember the park police pulling over, thinking we were all stoned, and asking us to leave. Dan had a huge longwinded, but very believable explanation, telling them that we were students of literature and poets. Whaaaatttt? The cops just shook their heads and told us to leave. What I remember about that night is letting Jamie out to pee. I can still see him standing in a field, the bunch of us laughing hysterically until he returned to the car. The songs that were playing on the cassette player that night, in the Dodge Neon named Maude, were all by The Skydiggers. Remember Andy Maize with his glasses and beard? I thought he was cool. I also thought Andrew Cash had great hair. It was the mid-90s after all. Regardless, the music was fantastic. We blasted “I Will Give You Everything” and “A Penny More” over and over again. Then, we drove back to Jamie’s apartment and stayed up to see the sun rise. Yup….those were the days.
My fascination with Great Big Sea started in Ottawa, too, when I saw them perform in 1994/5 in a small cement amphitheatre just outside the National Art Gallery. There might’ve been forty of us. The band was selling their self-titled first CD. They played alongside a Celtic rock band from London, Ontario called Uisce Beatha. That’s when I started digging into Irish and East Coast music. My thesis was on Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, and my undergraduate thesis had been based on the work of W.B. Yeats, another great Irish poet. Guess you can see the pattern here, eh? :)
Anyway, my 20s really were about The Skydiggers, The Pogues, Tori Amos (when I felt depressed or was infatuated with a boy who didn’t seem to see me), Blue Rodeo, and Great Big Sea.
Coming home tonight, putting that Blue Rodeo CD into the car’s stereo system, I took the overpass home and drove fast through the night, singing along loudly with “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” “Cynthia,” and “Bad Timing.” I miss Mum a lot, but I’m glad she introduced me to good music as a child. Sometimes, you can fight sadness with good music. Tonight, it helped a little bit, to lessen the missing of her….I imagine heaven must be full of music, art, good food and fine wine. I imagine she’s having a fine time, kicking up her heels with my dad….listening to Johnny Cash or Stompin’ Tom Connors or maybe even Elvis. I hope she’s so blissfully happy. I hope, for fun’s sake, that she can actually swing on a star, if she wants to….and travel with her favourite Little Prince through space and time continuums.
Well, people, if you’ve read this, and you still have your parents, give them a hug. They really aren’t around forever…I can tell you that.