29 September 2011

On Profanity

Profanity is fucking awesome.

On Mediocrity

If you've read my previous post, you'll know that I'm a big baseball fan.  Baseball, particularly the Toronto Blue Jays, my hometown team, has prompted this post. 

The Blue Jays finished the season having won as many games as they lost.  81 wins, 81 losses, which begs the question, "Was this just a mediocre season for the Jays?"

Well, if you look at the numbers, you would probably have to say yes.  Their record is exactly even.  In major league baseball this year, 14 out of 30 teams finished with an even record or better, placing the Jays almost exactly in the middle of the pack.  The team gave up 19 more runs than they scored (which meant that their actual outcome in games was slightly better than could be expected). 

So, were the Blue Jays mediocre this year?  For me, mediocre is not just "average."  For me, mediocre is what happens when a person, or team is happy with being just "average."  In my mind, this Blue Jays team is not mediocre.  They strove for excellence.  They weren't happy losing a close game to a good team.  They want more.  This team wasn't mediocre.  They were inconsistent.

Anyone who follows baseball will tell you that it is a game of failure.  The best hitters in the game fail 7 out of every 10 times they come to bat.  A pitcher fails every time a hitter jacks a hanging breaking ball out of the park.  A fielder fails every time he gets handcuffed by short-hopped ground ball.  But they try.  Again and again.  We get better by trying and failing.*

In the world, there is too much mediocrity.  I hear it every day when I hear the songs coming out of the radio.  This music isn't bad because the artists involved aren't talented or creative.  In fact, some of it isn't bad at all.**  But these musicians are being asked to operate inside a small box because the people who control the money behind the music industry are afraid to fail.  They have too much money invested to take risks.

This is why the really great music exists in the undercurrents of a music scene.  Without millions of dollars involved, musicians take risks.  Some of what they do is dreck***, but some of it is truly great and adventurous and amazing.  But these musicians fund their own CDs with the money they make teaching music lessons, or working a day job, or these days, through independent fundraising websites like Kickstarter.  They are free of the boxes that the music industry places around artists.

Mediocrity sucks.  Step out of the box.


* Trying and failing with a bit of rational situational analysis to figure out why you've failed.  Duh.

** This stuff usually goes into my "guilty pleasures" playlist.

*** My attempt to add some Yiddishness in this "Adventures in Klezmer" blog.  Dreck is Yiddish for shit.

28 September 2011

On Baseball

No sport causes one to stop and wax poetic like baseball does.  You don't see an ode to a hockey fight, or read epic poetry about a fast-break.  Baseball has the ability to be mythologized unlike any other sport. 

Baseball makes for the best movies.  I mean, really.  How many good basketball movies are there?  No.  White Men Can't Jump doesn't count.  How many good soccer movies are there?  No.  Bend it Like Beckham isn't really about soccer.* 

So what is it about baseball?  Those of you who know me know that the summers of my entire life have been taken up with baseball.  Whether it was as a player up until my late high school years, or as an umpire in the years since I was 17, few summers went by that weren't touched by this game. 

For me, baseball just feels like home. The smell of the leather of the glove.  The feel of a ball smacking into the glove.  The crunch of the dirt under your cleats.  The way the seams of the ball feel under your fingers.  The feel of hitting a ball just right is something that can't be duplicated in any other way.** 

In many ways, striving for a perfect throw, or hitting the ball perfectly is pretty much what us musicians do with music.  We search for the musical space where there is only a perfect feeling, where we don't even feel our instruments in our hands, and when we metaphorically "hit it out of the park."

So why have I been moved to wax poetic myself?  Today the baseball season ended for the Blue Jays.  They're the team I grew up with, and were my companions throughout my springs, summers and into the autumns.  I've always felt a special bond with the Blue Jays, having been born in the same year that they began playing.  I never felt even tempted, living for 2 years in Boston, one of the real Meccas of baseball, to switch my allegiance.  

All sport can be seen as a metaphor for life, and it goes beyond the mere "ya win some, ya lose some" sloganeering.  Baseball's long season (162 games is a lot of baseball) is not for the action junkie.  Baseball makes you take the long view.  Baseball makes you focus on one pitch at a time, but also teaches you not to dwell on the result of a bad one, because you've got the take the ball back and throw it again.  If you have a bad game, there will be another one tomorrow.  If you had a good day, you can't get too excited because the baseball gods might not smile on you tomorrow.

As Jimmy Fallon's character in Fever Pitch*** says (to paraphrase), "Life may kick you in the nuts, but baseball will always be there for you."  Baseball was there during two World Wars. It was there through good and bad economies.  It was there after 9/11 to show America and the world that life goes on. 

And so, with another baseball season over (at least for the Blue Jays), we will wait for the first news from Spring Training, when pitchers and catchers report in the middle of February.  For me, it's what gets me through those cold, short February days.  Nothing says spring is coming more than Spring Training.

The weather will get cold.  The snow will come.  But baseball will be back next year. It always is.

* Good movie, but not really about soccer.  It's about a young British girl of Indian parentage trying to find a middle ground between her dueling identities.  Seriously.  How dramatic is kicking a ball without that subtext.

** In my playing career, I hit one home run (over the fence) in a game situation.  I didn't even feel the contact of the ball on the bat.  It just felt . . . . perfect.

*** Yes, I know that Fever Pitch was based on a book about soccer, which was made into a movie about soccer.  The American version about baseball is better.

7 September 2011


I live in a (theoretically) quiet residential neighbourhood in North York.  Lots of Orthodox Jews and Filipino people here.  Yet, my (admittedly delicate) acoustical sensibilities are frequently assaulted by the hordes of gardeners, landscapers, and construction workers who spend their daytime conducting their business.  Note:  I am all for a ban on gas-powered lawnmowers, and not only because of their harmful emissions.

At my grandfather's house (where I currently reside), things have not been different this summer.  So far, a new home two doors down was constructed, the driveway, walkways and sundry other problems at our place have been fixed, and my brother-in-law uses the garage (directly beneath my room) for his workshop.  Yes.  Every time he hammers, saws, bangs, crashes, etc., it reverberates into my being.  Note to Brother-in-law: Sound moves more effectively through solid objects than through air!  On the bright side, the screamo band that used to rehearse across the street is no longer around.

I've been finding that the people who inhabit this earth are not particularly sensitive to their aural environment, something that Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer has written about - I believe he coined the term "acoustic ecology."  I've noticed this more and more.... (you want examples, you got 'em!)

A couple of weeks ago, at one of the branches of my gym, when I asked the staff member at the front desk to turn the music down so that I could drown it out with my iPod, I was told two things that raised my ire.  1: Everyone else asks to turn up the music, and 2: I should get noise cancelling headphones.

While I was somewhat polite in the moment, my response to those comments in blog form go something like this:  1: Fuck everyone else. I shouldn't need to destroy my own hearing just to keep myself from hearing the SHITTY FUCKING MUSIC that you pump into your gym! and 2: The fact that you suggest I purchase NOISE cancelling headphones is an admission of guilt to polluting the air of this gym with NOISE!

This experience aside, I'm also continually frustrated with Cineplex Odeon's latest bumper reels that tell us that what is "coming soon," or that we've finally arrived at our "feature presentation."  It appears that they've spent a lot of money on the CGI effects and animation for us to look at, but went all cheap-ass on us when it came to the music/sound.  To my (albeit trained ears), it sounds like the composer didn't have the budget to actually pay real people to perform the music, and they have a shitty-sounding synthesizer that sounds all muddled and borderline distorted.  This just proves to be one more example of our society becoming more and more visually stimulated at the expense of the aural world.

Finally, I have one message to all out there who might like to share their music with the rest of us.  DO NOT SING ON THE SUBWAY.  Yes. That means YOU, GIRL WITH THE PURPLE HAIR.  Keep it the fuck to yourself!  I don't care how nice your voice is.  I don't care how important it is that you sing along.  Or maybe you're writing a song.  I DON'T CARE.  DO NOT SING ON THE SUBWAY!!!*

Thank you.

* I'll allow one exception to this rule: Flash Mob.

6 September 2011

Visa (not the credit card)

Tomorrow, I'll be heading down to Germany's consulate in Toronto to submit my application for a 1-year work visa. 

Fortunately, as a Canadian under 35, I qualify for this FREE visa under the Youth Mobility Agreement that Canada and Germany has.  Clearly, Canada and Germany are all buddy-buddy and want young people from their countries to get out and see the world (or at least some of it), and have made it very easy for their citizens to spend a year abroad in the other country. 

There are 4 categories of the visa under the Youth Mobility Agreement (YMA . . . not to be confused with YMCA):
a: Work and Travel
b: Young Professionals - who have employment lined up
c: Post Secondary Students - who want to work on an academic break
d: Internship - for people who want to do an internship as part of their studies or training

I'm applying under the "work and travel" section, which basically gives me carte blanche (or Weisse Karte, for those wanting to keep it German) to work wherever and in whatever capacity I can.  It also means that I would be free to legally tour and gig in Germany, or work in at a cafe, or whatever comes up.

What is necessary for this?  Not a heck of a lot, to be honest.  Basically, there are 3 "declarations."  The first is that all the information I'm giving is truthful.  The second is that I have enough money to live off of, and I'm using the "work" part of the work and travel visa to supplement my savings, and the third is a declaration that I will be covered by "Personal Liability Insurance" for the extent of my stay in Germany.  This last one was a bit confusing, but I was assured that this insurance will cover me if I cause damage or destroy stuff while in Germany.

Of course, you also need to fill out the application form, which is 4 pages (not too onerous).  Then you need to have a valid passport for the entire length of the stay in Germany, a passport photo for them to have on file, you need to have a booked plane ticket into Germany, and a booked place to stay (or a letter saying that you'll stay where you're staying).  

You also need health insurance for your entire stay.  This was not all that easy to find, as most travel health insurance plans only cover you for up to 6 months.  However, going through some "ex-patriat" plans, I was able to find one that offered decent coverage for what I needed, but also wasn't too expensive!  You also need to describe your intentions within Germany (I intend to ROCK!) and prove your "bonds" to Canada (names of family members).

And that's it!  Not a whole lot in the long run!

And so, tomorrow, I begin the process.