Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Lyrics by Lesley Choyce
I'm probably not to blame
If I lost all track of you
And someone else arrived
to take away all your pain and make the sacrifice.
Who made all the rules?
Who changed the scenery?
Found reason in the night
To bring the Milky Way so close to being right.
Does anyone know where innocence goes?
Does anyone have a clue?
I thought I had an answer
But I asked myself, "Do you?"
It's probably just the rain
I'm just a tourist here
Can't find a place to say
I've been here once before
And it was safe and warm.
I can't believe it's been
So long since summer showed me how to catch the wind
And see the colour in my saddest day of the year.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Excerpt from Driving Minnie's Piano
By Lesley Choyce
So we had one song in our canon and no where to go but up. But we were not out of the basement yet. In my own head, I was formulating a “SurfPoet philosophy” in hopes that we might eventually become bigger than the Beach Boys or their arch-rival the Beatles and I’d actually have some profound ideas to share with the world. I was formulating surfing, poetry, music ideology and had configured love into it as well. Unlike the Beatles who proffered, “All you need is love,” I was offering a more complex recipe, something like, “All you need is love, poetry, music, and surfing.”
It was around that time that local radio was getting rid of DJs who were not at all cost effective and replacing them with walls of CD machines programmed to play music punctuated at plentiful intervals with commercials. DJs were being fired left, right and centre and that included a friend of Doug’s named Stan Carew, a.k.a. A.J. Stanley. Stan became a local legend on his last shift of live radio at rock station Q104. Just as he was about to be replaced by twenty-five CD players, Stan gave a distinguished sermon on air about how pissed-off he was that automation was taking over and then he left the building, leaving the radio audience to sample ten minutes of dead air.
With loads of free time on his hands, Stan was lured into the SurfPoet conspiracy still hatching in the recording studio basement of the same building where a young alternative group called Sloan had cut their first recordings. Sloan was already huge in a Canadian alternative sort of way and we knew that soon we’d go upstairs and cut similar hits.
Now, Doug surfed a longboard he had brought down from Toronto, which is only a semi-surfing town, if you count surfing on Lake Ontario. Surfer kids who come to Nova Scotia from Ontario say they like to surf near the nuclear power plant back home “because it’s warmer there.” Nova Scotia surfing, as you know, is very cold. And it’s the cold surfing experience that is primal to SurfPoet music. Stan Carew, however, has never surfed. But he was a lead singer in a country band. He also played acoustic guitar and ushered in two new innovative concepts to the SurfPoets. The first was the idea of adding a second chord to our songs.
I was opposed to using a second chord at first. I thought A minor was fine. But not Stan. I wanted to kick him out of the band but Doug, usually a sombre, quiet keyboardist, was militant that Stan was “in.” I was afraid that shifting chords on my guitar while trying to recite my poetry would throw me and the audience off. The compromise was that one of the chords be A minor and the second one also a minor chord – an easy one: E minor.
I had decided that it would be a cliché if all the SurfPoet songs were about surfing – not that we’d done any songs yet about surfing, just the one about cars – so I decided to use a poem I had written called “Beautiful Sadness.” It was a bittersweet, melancholy love poem about the concept of beauty and sadness. Sad things can be beautiful, it seemed to say. It was, I argued, a very Celtic idea inspired by sad Cape Breton fiddle airs. So Doug found a sampled slow hip-hop loop, I found my two chords, Stan would strum acoustic and sing backup. Doug also had sampled recordings of women in a church singing the Lord’s Prayer, which Doug added – only those recorded elements were played backwards, just like on the old Black Sabbath records.
And so emerged a kind of spoken word hip-hop love song that made you feel really sad – but good. During coffee break, Stan introduced one more concept that would revolutionize the SurfPoets forever. He took me aside and told me a song should have a chorus – if it was going to be a hit. It really should.
I told him in no uncertain terms that we were not in it for the money and if all he wanted was commercial success, he should get the hell out of the basement and out of the band. I actually camouflaged my anger and said this politely. But it was still a SurfPoet chastisement of monumental proportions. I saw the look on Stan’s face and then I remembered that Stan had recently been fired after his public on-air stand against automated radio and, suddenly realizing I had hurt his feelings, I relented. Okay, we could try a chorus. “You mean like ‘Help me Rhonda, Help, Help me Rhonda?’” I asked.
“Yeah,” Stan said. “Or ‘Round, round get around, I get around.’”
We were talking sacred texts here.
I mulled and mired over it. I did not want us to be “like every other band” using a flashy elaborate number of chords, harmonies, and choruses up the ying yang. But I had a fairly small pool of talent and realized I needed my band members more than they needed me. Okay, I said again.
I went out onto the street then to breathe in the diesel fumes from a couple of buses going by and watch kids spray-painting their names on empty store fronts. In my poem, I had already configured beauty as a character: the abstract represented by an ideal. She was a shadowy, beautiful woman who herself was the embodiment of beauty and sadness at once. She was a kind of fatal attraction as well. The narrator in the poem was me-but-not-really-me: also a sad, but not beautiful, character. Deep down I envisioned myself as a very sad, lonely person even though I really wasn’t. It was a pose like that of the public persona of so many other poets before me. Poets must really like to feel sorry for themselves even though they have nothing to feel sorry about.
The streets were slushy that day. Slush was good for musical melancholia. I would later enshrine that slush as well as my old car, an insanely unreliable Skoda, in the poem/song:
I was always afraid of Beautiful Sadness
Because I believed she was friends with despair and misery
But now, driving on the slushy Halifax street
I realize I want to know Beautiful Sadness.
I’m only driving a small Czechoslovakian car
But I want to stop and open all the doors to the beautifully lost
I want to drive them anywhere they want to go because someday
I know I’ll be one of them and I want to know what it’s like.
And so it was time to introduce a chorus. Something basic, Stan had said, something regular people could relate to. (I didn’t know what he meant by regular – people who were not SurfPoets, I figured.) I’m in love with Beautiful Sadness? I’m a fool for Beautiful Sadness?
Back inside, Stan suggested, “A date with Beautiful Sadness . . . Got a date with Beautiful Sadness.”
I didn’t know if people even still used the word “date.” I figured it came from the country music world Stan had been escaping to since he had stormed off the radio. Oh, what the hell. I gave in altogether. A chorus was born:
Got a date with Beautiful Sadness
Down by the corner of possible madness
Turn right at fear
In a desperate year.
Here's the video for Beautiful Sadness:
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Hands on the rim of all possibility, I’m haunted home
barricaded on four sides by darkness
while up above the universe, unhinged,
dazzles me like a rowdy all-night service station
with check-the-oil slingshot eyes
and how’s-the-air-in-the-tire politeness.
I know this feeling, this comfortable bucket seat of longing
’cause I’ve been harnessed here before, heading home,
pistons lighting up underneath the hood like nova stars
burning tips off spark plugs down
inside the throat of my ambition.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Driving Minnie's Piano
If you're interested in reading more about the skunks from the Skunk Whisperer documentary, there is a chapter about them in Driving Minnie's Piano, Memoirs of a Surfing Life in Nova Scotia.
*Autographed copies of Driving Minnie's Piano are available by clicking here.
Skunks for Breakfast
And there is a children's story: Skunks for Breakfast.
Both books are available through Nimbus or call them toll free at 1-800-nimbus9 to order direct.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Recently on a trip to Tokyo, I attended an extremely formal lunch with the mayor of one of the city boroughs of Tokyo, Itabashi. In the lacquered box before me was an assortment of what Sunyata would have called Klingon food – seaweed, tentacled things, mushrooms of extremely odd colours and a black fungal-looking delicacy that turned out to be pickled, well, tree fungus. Where I come from, people only pickle fish parts or garden crops. The black fungus, however, was delicious and I devoured it with chop sticks like I’d been hanging out in Japanese noodle parlours all my life. If my Japanese had been better, I would have told the mayor about lichen. Instead, we talked at length about singing Enya songs Karaoke style.
One of the “assignments” I had given to myself for my trip to Japan was to have several satori experiences. Awareness. Discovery, eye-openers for the mind and soul. There was no genuine satori at the lacquered box lunch where I had to bring “official greetings from my people.” I had not expected that. The mayor had done a formal greeting to me and I was expected to return the favour. I was a little taken aback. Who were my people? Lawrencetowners, Nova Scotians, Maritimers? Canadians? I had no time to consider who my people were so I said, “I bring you the warmest greetings from my people to everyone here in Itabashi and I know that we have so much in common.” My translator must have elaborated on this because her translation was a long eloquent event that pleased the mayor immensely.
The slightly off-kilter, counterpoint conversation that followed through my harried interpreter moved on to a discussion of Karaoke and food, especially seaweed. I boasted of the fact that I could collect seaweed from the waters where I surfed. I could eat it fresh from the sea while surfing or take it home and dry in the sun. “Most of my countrymen,” I said, because I kept reminding myself that I should speak for my people, not just me, “scoff at seaweed but I myself am a huge fan of dulse, Irish moss, certain chewy forms of kelp and rockweed.”
I think my long-winded remark lost something in the translation, for the mayor looked puzzled and consulted with his several deputy mayors sitting on his side of the table. I tried to restore the comradery with the innocuous remark, “The sea is such a wonderful provider,” and a quick translation brought smiles all around. I decided to become less loquacious and nibbled heartily at my fungus, making satisfactory noises that needed no translation.
*Autographed copies of Driving Minnie's Piano are available by clicking here.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Monday, January 1, 2007
By Lesley Choyce
The headlands are covered with white, the spruce trees on top of the hills are green and the icy rocks I have to slip and slide over to get myself into the sea are glistening like jewels.
The water is cold (who would have guessed?) – just hovering below freezing. February and March have the coldest water of the year. The air temperature is a semi-tropical minus ten. (I’ll surf down to minus twenty but after that I find that my face muscles freeze and I start talking funny.)
I push off into the blue sea, knee-paddling while above gulls swoop and artic ducks fluff up their wings as they float on the surface.
I take long, deep strokes into the sea and pull clean winter salt air into my lungs. Soon, a couple of friends will join me, but right now, I’m alone in the sea, with a big smile on my face. Even though my journey to the place where the waves are breaking takes eight minutes of paddling, I feel like I’m a million miles from the claustrophobia of mainland
These waves have travelled hundreds of kilometres from a brutal North Atlantic storm now wreaking havoc on fishermen unlucky enough to be working the tail of the
The waves are about two metres high – “head high,” as we’d say. They roll towards me, then arch up into perfect peaks as the offshore wind pushes up the face of the waves, making them steep and smooth until they cascade forward, top to bottom, some creating hollow sections big enough to tuck a surfer into.
I wait, dwelling upon the euphoria of it all. I’ve abandoned the warm inside-world of work and life tied to the continent. Now I am drawn into this other plane of existence. I see my own version of the perfect wave headed my way. Three deep strokes and I’m off, dropping down the smooth, angled hill of water, an easy take-off at first but then the wind pumps hard against me as the wave goes vertical and I pull myself up onto my feet. I’m jamming a bottom turn just as the tip of the overhead wave blocks out the morning sun.
I go left and pull up higher onto the wave as it begins to feather. Then I do the usual: tuck down as the lip of the wave starts to spill forward, a pure two-metre waterfall. I’m shrewd, cunning and all-powerful, a small sea god in my endorphin-charged brain as I speed across the face of this blue-green wall of water.
But for some reason, I discover I’m not as clever as I believed. Sure, I’ve escaped from my office, left the troubled and vexing world of publishing behind me for now, but the sea would like to remind me that I am only a vulnerable guest in this winter domain. I am a player in the game but t have no real control over the rules that can change at any time.
I discover that my speed does not match the speed of the wave collapsing behind me from the peak. I tuck lower, adjust my position on the face of the wave for maximum warp only to discover that I’m too high up and fading too far back into the hollow bowl of the wave.
I realize this just as the lip of the wave connects with the left side of my face. It’s cold, numbing and as powerful as a Mike Tyson punch to the jaw. I’m sure I release a colourful syllable but nothing more as I lose my footing and pitch forward into a thundering mass of whitewater as the collapsing wave throws its salty weight from on high down upon me.
I hit the surface spread-eagled and then get slammed by the impact of a ton of winter water. Just for the record, water is more dense in the winter. When it hits you, it carries more tonnage. If it could get more dense than this, it would be frozen and then it would hurt worse.
Winter wipeouts are not pleasant but they are temporary. The trick to minimizing damage when working your karma through a winter wipeout is to dive deep and then come up quick. The idea is to let the wave go past you while you sink beneath the vector of energy.
The only problem with this is that you have a sudden craving for oxygen and the cold water on your face is causing your brain to seek asylum elsewhere. When you come up gasping for air, your lungs hurt and you feel the first sign of the brain-wrenching ice cream headache that is exploding inside your skull. Evolution has not prepared the unprotected human face for even seconds of immersion in water below the freezing point.
I gulp air, tough out the minute or so of the brain implosion and then get back up on my board and paddle back out towards the sea. I go through the checklist: I’m alive, I’m surfing, I will be a little more cautious on the next wave.
Right about then, a great army of grey clouds advances from the north and I see the squall advancing from the land. The sun is swallowed and it begins to snow. Because of the strength of the wind, the snow does not really fall to earth. This is horizontal snow, blowing straight into the waves, straight into my face.
I can no longer see the headland and can barely discern the next set of waves approaching. I let two slide under me and then paddle for the third. Paddle, stand, drop, bottom turn and then slide up into the pocket again, only this time, going right instead of left. All I can see is snow pelting me in the face. It’s cold, wet and creates a crazy visual kaleidoscope since I can only see about three feet in front. It makes the whole event that much more interesting. I have to feel the wave and use intuition to decide what it will do next. Luke Skywalker on a surfboard. In winter.
© 2006 Lesley Choyce
Lesley Choyce is a writer, poet, musician and playwright in
Visit www.LesleyChoyce.com for more.
Driving Minnie’s Piano is published by Pottersfield Press, distributed by Nimbus Publishing. To order with VISA, phone toll free 1-800-NIMBUS9 (1-800-646-2879)
*Autographed copies are available by clicking here.