A Song For You

Leon Russell died this week, yet another addition to the long, sad list of musical legends who’ve moved on this year (not to mention the potential end of the world as we know it, but I won’t get into that right now). I can’t say that I’m super familiar with his oeuvre, but one song of his has been a longtime favourite of mine.

I first heard this version by the Carpenters. The cheese is laid on pretty thick (there’s even a sax solo), but the beauty of the song cuts through, both in Karen Carpenter’s inimitable voice and the strength of the song itself.

I saw by looking on the record that Leon Russell had written it, but I wasn’t too aware of his career. Later, my friend Matt Collins made me a mix CD that had his original version on it. I always felt that his vocal affectations were a bit over the top, but it is his song, so he can sing it however he wants, and if you don’t like it… that’s what covers are for.

 

My favourite version is by Willie Nelson, a version I discovered some years later on a country mix from Montreal’s DJ Luv.

Why do I love this song so much? I’m not sure. In the Carpenters version, I always loved the sentiment in the closing line, “And when my life is over, remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing a song for you.” But in the Willie Nelson version, the part that always hits me is when he sings “…if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, for my love is in there hiding.” In the Carpenters version that line is delivered with a very schmaltzy flourish, but Willie brings to it his famously subtle and understated phrasing, and it really drives home the beauty as well as the melancholy of the sentiment expressed in the song. When he adds a simple melody to the word “melody” itself, it’s slightly corny, but somehow perfect…

Because it’s a song about songwriting (normally a bad idea) and the inability to capture a feeling perfectly with lyrics (“if my words don’t come together, listen to the melody, for my love is in there hiding”), it strikes a chord with me as a songwriter, aside from how I might feel as a listener. And ironically (or appropriately?), this expression of being unable to capture the feeling is, in itself, the perfect expression of the feeling. If that makes any sense.

RIP to Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, and the American Dream…

Note: some of these thoughts are taken from a response I sent to Carl Wilson for his Crying Over Art project. I’m not sure if my words were ever used for that, so I thought it was probably OK to repurpose them here.

Zev Asher, R.I.P.

zev asher

Image from Alienated in Vancouver

I was sad to find out a few days ago about the death of Zev Asher, who I had crossed paths with a number of times on the underground music and film circuits. He played noise music with Nimrod and Roughage, and had a parallel career as a documentary filmmaker.

I first met Zev through a friend of my wife’s. We were doing film projections for music shows at that time, and our mutual friend told us that he had a similar project, where he played music and screened films. So we ended up booking him at a show we organized with a bunch of like-minded people. I think he played last as Roughage. I just remember him yelling “Born free! Free to wave my dick in the wind!” while noise and images swirled around him.

 

Around this time he was making the documentary on the Nihilist Spasm Band. It was hugely inspirational and probably influential on my own docs in the respectful way it treated its subjects, never stooping to make fun of them as many might have. Great Canadian fogey Robert Fulford wrote an article in which, with typical hauteur, he mocked those who called the decades-strong, influential Spasm Band “legendary.” Zev responded by sending him his autograph, “from one legend to another.”

His next doc was Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. The film, about some art-school kids who killed a cat as an art project and the fallout that ensued, caused controversy when it screened at the Toronto film festival in 2004. (A pretty good summary of the events can be found here). Watching the film was an experience that Zev himself described as “unpleasant.” The title’s obscure word refers to unsound reasoning, and what I remember most about it was how ruthless Zev was in the way he let all the subjects hang themselves with their own rope. His stance was apparently excessively subtle, since he was protested by animal-rights activists (none of whom had of course bothered to see the film).

We reconnected later in Montreal, where we had both moved. One day we made a plan to go for coffee. I arrived at the appointed time and left after half an hour when he hadn’t shown up. Later when we connected, he was genuinely confused, and made fun of me, for the fact that I arrived on time and only waited half an hour. This was my introduction to “Montreal time.”

Zev was an imposing figure. He towered over me (I’m 6’3”) and gave the impression of someone who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Like a lot of people on the noise scene, he had a strongly distinct way of looking at the world and clearly didn’t care about mass opinion. But in spite of this sometimes intimidating presence, he was always very kind and helpful to us and other people in the music and film communities.

After Casuistry, Zev made a few more films, artistic experiments on a much lower-profile tip. I hadn’t been in touch with him for a while when I heard that he had cancer. I’m told he was full of plans for future projects, and had been documenting his experience with the hospital system for a film to be completed when he got out.

He died following a stem cell transplant on August 7, 2013. He was 50.

Zev was a one-of-a-kind person and a genuine, fearless artist.

R.I.P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adieu Fabbie

We played a gig last night at the DARE-DARE Gala. It was pretty sweet… not a lot of our usual audience of old friends there, but instead a bunch of drunk dancing kids. Almost like playing in another town in a way. Also, the venue (Studio Juste pour rire) was of a calibre we’re not used to. Big stage, good sound, proper dressing room, a loading bay and trollies to haul the gear… nice.

Before our set I had a cameo with Donzelle, performing our song. It’s always fun to play with Roxanne and her crew, but this time was a little bittersweet for me… the first time I’d played with the crew since the loss of one of its members, Fabbie Barthélémy.

In addition to performing with Donzelle, Fabbie was a journalist known for cultural reviews and criticism here in Montreal. She also hosted a feminist radio show on CISM with the hilarious name of “Les gynocrates attaquent.”

I was coming home from a family wedding this summer when I got a message about Fabbie’s death. I quickly called a friend who informed me that Fabbie had committed suicide.

Needless to say it was pretty shocking. She and I were never really close, but our paths intersected at different points: in my other life as a film critic, we’d see each other at press screenings, and then there was our connection through the Donzelle crew. We lived in the same neighbourhood, so we’d often share cabs back from Donzelle shows, chatting about films and life in general. In person as in her writings, she always just struck me as funny, smart and charming.

We certainly weren’t close enough for me to know what she was going through, but it’s upsetting to think that whatever it was, that this was her solution—that her life was so bad that she figured being dead would be better.

I remember Fabbie telling me about an impulsive decision to quit her job, even though she had no other work lined up. I’m a big fan of quitting jobs that you’re not happy with, so I enthusiastically supported her decision. Now of course, I can’t help but wonder if that was a warning sign, in the way that all past events get coloured by something like this.

I remember the last time I saw her, in the neighbourhood café. She came in as I was in the middle of doing a radio interview. She gave me a big smile and we made vague plans to call each other soon. Of course we never did, and now we never will.

At the video store where I do a few shifts a week (yes, I have a lot of day jobs), I felt a bizarre impulse to look up her file. There was a note saying she couldn’t rent any more movies until she paid up her late fees. An absurd thought popped into my head: Fabbie, if you come back I’ll give you free rentals for life.

 

One time after a WP show, years ago, a woman told me that my show had inspired her in her work—she was involved in some kind of suicide prevention initiative for teenagers. I often think of that after I get a shitty review or something—that if I could contribute, even indirectly, to some kid not killing themselves, that’s worth a million bad reviews. But in this case I couldn’t help.

 

As I’ve discussed with other friends, when something like this happens it’s important not to blame yourself or to get too caught up in what you could have or should have done. All I can really do is say, to anyone who’s having any kind of trouble big or small, is that I’m there if you want to talk.

RIP Fabbie, I miss you.

A Facebook group with links to a bunch of Fabbie’s writings and radio appearances can be found here (en français seulement).