Here is a super local moment on this global blog: I have recently been the Spin Time DJ on our local afternoon CBC radio show, Mainstreet. That means that on the Friday drive home, I got to choose 3 songs and talk about them as a way to close off the broadcasting week. My family joked that this makes me “local famous”–but to be fair, they do 50 of these a year! Leave it to an Island province to open the microphone of the Canadian Broadcasting Company up to friends and freaks from hither and yon–as long as they have a strong local profile or a story to tell! Truly qualified recent Spin Time DJs include leaders of the arts community, chefs and artisans, journalists, authors, community leaders like politicians and pastors, and brilliant local musicians like Joce Reyome, Vince the Messenger, Catherine MacLellan, and Logan Richard–as well as more globally famous folks who make PEI home, like Elisha Cuthbert and Lorie Kane.
Well, last week was my turn as a … well, that was the puzzling thing. What am I? I somehow doubt that my archival work on The Screwtape Letters is ringing many local bells–though I have taught dozens of folks in the arts scene over the years. I suspect I popped up on the producers’ radars because I recently won an L.M. Montgomery emerging scholar paper award, though it might have been the recent 1,000,000th hit party here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. In any case, with teaching and writing and being the parent of a punk teen with a hit song and the husband of the best kindergarten teacher in lo these many years, I’ve landed in the local spotlight for 20 minutes.
Besides the honour of being picked is the lively and generous hosting by Matt Rainnie–who truly is local famous. In conversation with Matt, I chose to weave together three songs that were meaningful encounters to me at different points in my life.
The 1st Song was Dan Fogelberg’s, “Leader of the Band,” which I connected with my father, who passed away while I was still young. Though my work is so different than his–he was a farmer and poverty-rights activist–and though I have my mom’s talents for writing, I still feel my dad’s blood running through my instrument (i.e., this keyboard, this platform, these stories I talk about).
The 2nd song was Sixpence None the Richer‘s, “Kiss Me.” This super-popular hit song was co-written and produced by one of my favourite artists, Steve Taylor, who was a new wave singer in the 80s and then led the alternative band, Chagall Guevara. Lately, he’s been doing film, including the brilliant indie film, Blue Like Jazz. Steve Taylor and Sixpence None the Richer, who turned on Lilith Fair with Sarah MacLaughlan, are able to hold together artistry, pop sensibility, social activism, and their faith. Until they met Steve Taylor, Sixpence None the Richer–named after a C.S. Lewis quote–were interesting but still had not reached their potential. Their 1997 self-titled album, however, was a cut above.
I had flown back to PEI in the fall of 1998 when my wife’s oldest sister, Kelly, died of a brain tumour here in Charlottetown. Filled with grief, I walked through downtown Charlottetown and found a copy of the album in a used record store. Returning to my wife’s family’s house, I grabbed a stereo and sat in the corner of the room, listening to every note and line, soaking it in and listening again and again as I enjoyed the liner artwork. It was one of the most healing musical experiences I have ever had, and the album is still a salve for the soul even today. This track, “Kiss Me,” is not the most musically complex, but it is sweet and poppy and still plays well on the airwaves.
The 3rd song is “Bad Day” by Canadian pianist Daniel Powter. This is a pretty shameless pop ballad, not my usual kind of music. But this song came to me during a deeply dark time. I had chosen the wrong path in my career with devastating consequences. I had made choices that had me spending all day, every day, doing the thing I was not made to do. It was good work, but not who I was. This song came on the radio, and it became a kind of mantra for me: “Cause you had a bad day / You’re taking one down / You sing a sad song just to turn it around.” Sometimes a sad song just has a way of lifting the spirits, as Sir Elton John has taught us.
You can hear the entire segment including my conversation with Matt by clicking here. I have also attached the videos of the songs I chose, which I quite like. I have also attached songs that I didn’t pick but would have liked to. The first is my kids’ band, Moment of Eclipse and a locally produced video of “Obsessive, Compulsive“–which has had well over 6,000 spins online. The second is a song by local artist and music guru, Andrew Waite. His “Faith” is a great rock tune, and Andrew has been instrumental in developing youth musical talent for the last decade (pun intended). And finally, I have been thinking lately about Walt Whitman’s “Barbaric Yawp!” and the cathartic nature of a great roar from time to time. The truth is, I usually listen to far more experimental or aggressive music than the songs that I chose for a Friday afternoon drive home. So I have included “Release the Panic” by Red–a brilliantly written and produced rock song (and a cool video)–if you dare.