Review: ‘Forgotten’ documentary disappointing

“The act of uprooting children and sending them, alone, across the ocean to work in a strange land… must be regarded as one of the most Draconian measures in the entire history of children in English-speaking society. Its impact on the life of a sensitive child—even one who was placed in reasonable circumstances—is difficult to measure, sometimes even difficult to imagine.” —Kenneth Bagnell, The Little Immigrants[1]

The real reason poor British children were brought to Canada—to work. From the image on the 2010 Canada Post stamp. Image: Library and Archives Canada

The real reason poor British children were brought to Canada—to work. From the image on the 2010 Canada Post stamp. Image: Library and Archives Canada

  1. Digging Deep vs. Going Shallow

Competent but shallow—a kind of Coles Notes version of the history of the British Home Children in Canada. That’s how I would describe Forgotten, the new documentary directed by Eleanor McGrath. Like a capable actor, she hits all her marks and gets her lines right—hitting all the essential points of this shameful chapter in Canadian history—but never manages to fully connect with the emotional core of the issue. In fact, at times, she seems to deliberately pull back from the raw emotion lurking just beneath the surface.

'Laying the Children's Ghosts' cover. Courtesy Hagios Press.

‘Laying the Children’s Ghosts’ cover. Courtesy Hagios Press.

What’s telling here—and in the 7 years of research I did for my own book on the subject, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest[2]—is just how close to the surface that woundedness is for many British Home Children and their descendants. Often the same is true of war veterans—it’s well known that trauma changes neural circuitry in the brain, so the emotions associated with a traumatic event are easily triggered when the memory is recalled, even a half-century later. For me the single most powerful moment of Forgotten is when an elderly gentleman is recalling his arrival at his Canadian host’s farm. “The sense of loneliness…” he begins, but grief chokes off the rest of his sentence. Yet even here, McGrath quickly cuts to the next scene, as if afraid to linger in the full potency of that moment.

Certainly not all of the Home Children were badly treated, and McGrath seems to focus heavily on the positive experiences in her interviews. To her credit, she includes an interview clip from one such individual, Harry Thompson, who admits that while he was one of the lucky ones, many of the rest were treated “like slaves.” Another poignant moment in the film comes with the interview of Peterborough Home Children advocate Ivy Sucee, whose father was a ‘Barnardo boy.’ (Barnardo’s, founded by Dr. Thomas J. Barnardo, was responsible for sending to Canada some 30,000 of the 100,000 total child immigrants.) She tells the story of him being forced to sleep in the barn and having to go out in pre-dawn darkness to dig vegetables to feed himself. This was far from an uncommon experience for these children.

Child emigration was a poor solution to the poverty created by the Industrial Revolution. Image public domain

Child emigration was a poor solution to the poverty created by the Industrial Revolution. Image public domain

Also to her credit, McGrath interviews Home Children descendants who note the lingering sense of loss due to the separation from their families of origin. Many only discovered their Home Child connections in late middle age, by which time family members in Britain had passed away, robbing Canadian descendants of the potential to reconnect. Even among those who did learn the story before Home Child parents or grandparents died, some seemed to suffer an emotional hollowing out. In this regard, Sandra Joyce’s story of a father who gradually became more and more distant carries a deep tragic resonance. A common theme amongst descendants is that their Home Children parents seemed incapable of expressing affection or love, a legacy of being treated as servants at best, beasts of burden at worst.

McGrath also makes no mention of the Home Children who suffered sexual abuse. Just this week while I was selling books at a local Christmas craft fair, I had an elderly woman come up to me and confess that her uncle had been a ‘Barnardo boy’ who was molested and subsequently molested her as a girl. Multiply that across the 100,000 original Home Children sent to Canada and their four million descendants and I’m willing to bet you’ll find a lot more such incidents. But the deep shame that comes with sexual abuse has kept them mostly silent. In Children’s Ghosts I wrote about two such scandals, one at the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School on Vancouver Island[3] and another with Barnardo’s former Canadian superintendent of operations Alfred Owen,[4] both quickly hushed up by perpetrators and government alike.

To be fair to McGrath, she is not a Home Child descendant, so connecting with these emotional legacies may be difficult. Her interest was sparked by an encounter with the aging Fegan’s distribution home building at 295 George Street, Toronto that had been slated for demolition. (Fegan’s was one of the many child emigration agencies in Britain that brought children to Canada.) Still, it’s the filmmaker’s job to use their creative and empathic powers to connect with emotions that may be foreign to them. She gets close to this with Home Children interviewees who speak of the pain of being stigmatized as children, called “street rats,” and “gutter rats.” Yet she misses a golden opportunity to give an in-depth picture of what it would have been like for a Home Child living and working on a Canadian farm. There’s no shortage of primary source material for these experiences—most notably Phyllis Harrison’s excellent The Home Children,[5] composed entirely of the words of the Home Children themselves.

  1. The Value of Apology

Although McGrath in her recent TV Ontario (TVO) interview with Steve Paikin[6] claims to take no position on an official government apology to the Home Children, she loads up the final reel of Forgotten with those who say they don’t want one. If she was truly striving for a balanced narrative that allows viewers to make up their own minds, she should have interviewed equally those who are for an apology. And instead of only interviewing MP Phil McColeman, who sees no need for an official apology, a balanced approach calls for equal face time with MP Alex Atamanenko, who championed an apology motion in Parliament before his retirement, or with his successor, Richard Cannings, who brought the motion forward as one of his first acts as a newly elected MP this spring. McGrath also avoids mentioning that two of her interviewees, Lori Oschefsky and Sandra Joyce, are circulating apology petitions. As Oschefsky aptly points out in the film, “Britain was the richest country in the Empire. They should have cared for these children in their own country.”

And where is McGrath’s research into the responses to the British and Australian official government apologies in 2009 and 2010? In Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest, I wrote of the reaction of Marjorie (Arnison) Skidmore, who was sent to Canada with the Fairbridge Farm Schools program: “When Patricia and her mother attended Prime Minister (Gordon) Brown’s apology in London, a reporter asked Marjorie where she felt she belonged. In recent years she had become close to her English relatives, rebuilding family ties that had been lost. ‘She had to think abut it,’ Patricia recalls, ‘and with determination said, ‘I belong in Canada with my children.’ It took her 73 years to be able to say that and it was Brown’s apology I believe that allowed her to move forward in this way, and accept her past.’”[7] Skidmore is just one of many Home Children who felt a sense of closure as a result of an official apology.

Early group of girls at Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in Duncan, BC. Courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

Early group of girls at Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in Duncan, BC. Courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

This isn’t rocket science, it’s a basic principle of human psychology. “Apology is not just a social nicety,” writes Beverly Engel in Psychology Today.[8] “It is an important ritual, a way of showing respect and empathy for the wronged person. … While an apology cannot undo harmful past actions, if done sincerely and effectively, it can undo the negative effects of those actions.”[9] It’s also a founding principle of restorative justice programs, which treat crime not with punishment but with restitution between perpetrators and victims, starting with an apology.[10]

In psychological terms, what you don’t feel, you can’t heal. Most victims of trauma or abuse had to repress their feelings as children in order to survive psychologically. Thus, the work of recovery is facilitated by bringing long-repressed feelings back to consciousness, so that they may be fully integrated in a healthy way. In Children’s Ghosts, I wrote about the science of epigenetics, first established in cross-generational studies of Holocaust families[11] and now being extended to First Nations survivors of residential schools.[12] These studies have established that the expression of the gene is impacted by social environment, so that PTSD victims transmit symptoms to their children who were not exposed to the original trauma.

By pretending an apology has no effect, we merely fall into the trap of perpetuating the misguided Victorian ethos of, “We don’t talk about feelings here. Just suck it up and get over it.” This was the very ethos that justified everything from the slave trade to child labour. With any such justification, the essential question is: Who benefits? In Children’s Ghosts I write that in the case of child migration, it was quite clearly the architects of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, who offloaded the costs of their pursuit of profit on society. And from an epigenetic standpoint, the ‘No Talk, No Feel Rule’ merely perpetuates the effects of trauma down the generations.

First group of Fairbridge boys on a farm school still forming, 1936. Photo courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

First group of Fairbridge boys on a farm school still forming, 1936. Note how young some of the boys are. Photo courtesy Ron Smith / Fairbridge Chapel Society

So why is it okay to offer an official apology to Native residential school survivors, or the survivors of Japanese-Canadian war internment camps, but not Home Children families? This year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even apologized for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, when a boatload of Sikh immigrants were turned away from Canada.[13] Why the double standard?

Sadly, the no apology ‘consensus’ implied by Forgotten reinforces the status quo. MP Richard Cannings recently sent to me the response of the Parliamentary Secretary to his apology motion.[14] It reads, in part: “It is generally agreed that their living and working conditions were poorly supervised in Canada, leaving the children vulnerable to abuse and prejudice. It is only right that Canadians remember the Home Children/Child Migrants and the contribution they and their descendants have made to the development of our country.” But then, as if saying, “We think we’ve done enough on this issue,” the statement points to the Canadian government declaration of 2010 as the ‘Year of the Home Child,’ the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp the same year, the installation of commemorative plaques at the former receiving home in Stratford, Ontario, and historic sites and museums at Grosse Isle, Quebec and Pier 21 in Halifax. “Library and Archives Canada,” it continues, “has worked in cooperation with Home Children stakeholder groups to make key archival information available to former Home Children and their descendants,” and that is certainly a strong mark in their favour. In addition, “The Canadian Museum of History and Telefilm Canada have also worked to document the history of the child migrant movement in Canada,” and some years ago the CBC produced a documentary.

What McGrath does get right is the fact that no child in a Canadian school should grow to adulthood ignorant of this important aspect of our history. Something that affects 1 in 10 Canadians cannot be consigned to the dustbin of history. But if all we learn of this or any history is ‘just the facts,’ stripped of context and impact, then our understanding of it remains shallow. And the possibility of learning to avoid the mistakes and crimes of history is lost. If that’s how history continues to be taught, no wonder kids hate it. Surely we can do better.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Kenneth Bagnell, The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1980, p. 242.

[2] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014.

[3] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, p. 252.

[4] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, pp. 142–43.

[5] Phyllis Harrison, editor, The Home Children: Their Personal Stories, Watson & Dwyer Publishing, Winnipeg, 1979, out of print but available through abebooks.com.

[6] http://tvo.org/blog/current-affairs/bringing-forgotten-british-home-children-out-of-the-shadows

[7] Sean Arthur Joyce, Laying the Children’s Ghosts to Rest: Canada’s Home Children in the West, Hagios Press, Regina, 2014, p. 273.

[8] Beverly Engel, ‘The Power of Apology,’ Psychology Today, July 1, 2002, https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200207/the-power-apology

[9] See also Benjamin Ho, ‘A Theory of Apologies,’ Stanford Business School thesis, 2005: “Beyond the use of apologies in daily interpersonal interactions, apologies appear in organizational design, political reputations, legal litigation, international relations, corporate governance, and beyond.” http://web.stanford.edu/group/peg/Papers%20for%20call/ho-apologies-mar2005-draft.pdf

[10] According to the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation: The foundational principles of restorative justice have been summarized as follows: 1) Crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm; 2) the people most affected by the crime should be able to participate in its resolution; 3) the responsibility of the government is to maintain order and of the community to build peace. http://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/lesson-1-what-is-restorative-justice/

[11] Charles Portney, ‘Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma: An Introduction for the Clinician,’ 2003; Melissa C. Kahane-Nissenbaum, ‘Exploring Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in Third Generation Holocaust Survivors,’ 2011, Scholarly Commons; Margaret McNay, ‘Absent Memory, Family Secrets, Narrative Inheritance,’ 2009, University of Western Ontario.

[12] To cite only one such study: Bombay, Matheson, and Anisman, ‘Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations peoples in Canada,’ Carleton University Institute of Neuroscience / Department of Psychology.

[13] ‘Justin Trudeau apologizes in House for 1914 Komagata Maru incident, CBC News, May 18, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/komagata-maru-live-apology-1.3587827

[14] Private email to the author, December 2, 2016, with attachment, Parliamentary response to Private Members Bill M-51, available upon request.

Posted in Barnardo's Homes, Film, Home Children, social commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shattered Hallelujah: Tribute to Leonard Cohen

Shattered Hallelujah

 

Darkness closes its fist

over the season, November rain

clamps down the sky, the day

awash in night’s wreckage.

Summer’s cumulus gone, clouds

prick my bones with steely fingers,

a flute straining for music.

 

One by one, the great voices

leave us—Bowie,[1] Cohen,[2] Emerson,[3]

Squire[4]—shards spun

from the wheel of light,

setting the mind’s borealis aflame.

 

When shadows are hip deep,

do we keep walking? Or learn

to swim, eyeless in the depths?

If we befriend grief, will it leave

a bread crumb trail out of the forest?

 

How will we sing when we can only

cry? O voices of the holy word,

the holy song, strike flint in my marrow,

lend your breath to a starving flame,

warm away the moisture

that creeps beneath the skin.

 

Teach us again the shattered Hallelujah,

that we may fling its broken body

in the face of remorseless gods

and starless nights.

 

©2016 Sean Arthur Joyce

 

[1] David Bowie, musician, actor, artist, 1947–2016.

[2] Leonard Cohen, poet, musician, 1934–2016.

[3] Keith Emerson, keyboard player/composer for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1944–2016.

[4] Chris Squire, bass player & founding member of the band Yes, 1948–2015.

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Trumplandia: The Shadow’s Ascendancy

“An enemy is like a treasure found in my house, won without labour of mine; I must cherish him, for he is a helper in the way of Enlightenment.”[1] —Santi-Deva

“Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” —George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Art has its reasons that reason doesn’t fully comprehend. I’m sure someone has said that somewhere, or if they haven’t, they should have. (The actual quote has to do with the heart, the famous Woody Allen quip.) With the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, the great irony is that this living embodiment of the human shadow may well act as catalyst for some truly revolutionary art and—let’s hope—social change. The decades-long hegemony of postmodernism and obfuscation in art and literature may well be given a much-needed kick in the ass. This is the final nail in the coffin of the hoary adage that politics has no place in art—a notion undoubtedly perpetuated by the economic elites themselves, for obvious reasons.

As Dan Piepenbring of the Paris Review wrote the day after the election: “The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope.” (italics mine)

Despite the shock and horror now being voiced around the world, Trump’s election shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, given the state of America’s body politic and corrupted electoral system. Donna Luca, Board President of Nation of Change, put it astutely: “Some of our friends and colleagues were utterly shocked by the election results last night. We only wish that we were. In fact, we have anticipated all too well that the actions of the DNC—most poignantly cheating Bernie Sanders out of the nomination—would position Trump as the ‘anti establishment’ candidate running against the ultimate establishment candidate in an election year like this one. … the DNC has played the ultimate game of chicken with voters—and lost.”

From a Jungian and depth psychology perspective, Trump’s rise to power is predictable. ‘Between the ideal and the real falls a shadow’—sometimes a very long and deep one. Jung wrote of the ‘shadow’ side of the human psyche, all those qualities and fears we consciously or unconsciously repress. The more the shadow is repressed—at either the individual or national level—the more it takes over. He argued that the way to balance is through integration of the shadow, which can simply mean bringing it to consciousness, acknowledging it as a fundamental part of our psyche. By now this has been tested out over the past century and is now a well-established principle in psychology. From this perspective, the worst monsters of history—the Hitlers, Stalins and Idi Amins—are those whose shadow is most deeply suppressed in the unconscious. (Of course, they’re probably also psychopaths, and psychopathy is a whole other discussion.) Unable to acknowledge that they possess any such dark, potentially evil qualities, they set themselves up for a kind of reflex reaction—the shadow kicking back powerfully. Hence the phenomenon of the most self-righteous religious leaders leading some of the bloodiest crusades and jihads of history.

Sam Keen.

Sam Keen.

As Sam Keen writes in the anthology Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of the Human Shadow: “From the unconscious residue of our hostility, we create a target; from our private demons, we conjure a public enemy. …Our best hope of survival is to change the way we think about enemies and warfare. Instead of being hypnotized by the enemy we need to begin looking at the eyes with which we see the enemy. …we need to examine in detail how we manufacture the image of the enemy, how we create surplus evil, how we turn the world into a killing ground. …We need to become conscious of what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow.’”[2] (italics mine)

And so we have the spectacle of American self-image, which claims the moral high ground as the ‘cowboys in the white hats’ riding to the rescue, while at the same time maintaining more armed garrisons around the world than any power since the Roman empire. A so-called bastion of democracy that has no compunction about using its covert intelligence agencies to depose democratically elected governments in foreign nations in the most bloody manner imaginable. None of this is news. A so-called just society that continues to unjustly imprison political prisoners designated ‘terrorists’ and even to torture them in defiance of international standards and treaties of justice. You get the point. It’s a textbook case of shadow repression erupting into the light, big time. As Keen writes: “We so need to be heroic, to be on the side of God, to eliminate evil, to clean up the world, to be victorious over death, that we visit destruction and death on all who stand in the way of our heroic historical destiny.”[3]

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders.

If at any time during the presidential regimes of the past 40 years or so Americans had been willing to own up to this shadow, things might have been different. If the Democrats had allowed the democratic process to play out without interference and outright fraud in the primaries, we might have had Bernie Sanders as president instead of Donald Trump.  Guantanamo Bay would long since have been permanently shut down. “(I)f the United States government were willing to take a more open and honest stance with respect to its actual power needs and ambitions,” writes Jerome Bernstein in Meeting the Shadow, “and if it had been willing to face the arguments that some aspects of that power stance might be inconsistent with its own professed ideology and traditions, a significant portion of the unconscious power shadow could have been redeemed…”[4]

For awhile during the Vietnam era it looked as if this might be a genuine possibility. The nightly newscasts of bombing raids on civilian villages, the photojournalism laying bare its atrocities—all were a slap in the collective face, a wake-up call for the American shadow. Even the military—both officers and the rank and file—realized the travesty of that war. Find a copy of the documentary Sir, No Sir to watch, the best description yet of why the U.S. government was forced to abandon that conflict. Simply put, the chain of command dissented and finally broke down. The corresponding protest movement at home added the necessary civilian dissent needed to reach the critical mass for pulling out. But then came the knee-jerk conservative backlash, historical revisionism and corporate free-for-all that led us to where we are now. An era when the richest billionaires can literally buy the presidency, set policy and resist the will and needs of the majority of the American people.

If indeed the Trump vote, as with the Brexit vote, was a ‘protest vote’ against the elites, it only serves to underline how thoroughly broken are our electoral systems. Clearly there’s an appetite for change, at least among the 99 percent. But just as clearly, the mechanisms for change are seriously lacking. Electoral reform must be Priority One before anything else can change. Social advocacy groups will need to hone their strategic skills, targeting Republicans who are ‘soft’ Trumpites when it comes time to pass bills through Congress.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

But the spiritual and psychological dimension can’t continue to be neglected if we’re ever to see meaningful change. “If we desire peace,” writes Keen in Meeting the Shadow, “each of us must begin to demythologize the enemy; cease politicizing psychological events; re-own our shadows; make an intricate study of the myriad ways in which we disown, deny, and project our selfishness, cruelty, greed, and so on onto others; be conscious of how we have unconsciously created a warrior psyche and have perpetuated warfare in its many modes.”[5]

George Bernard Shaw got it right in one: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Thomas Merton added another layer to this truism when he said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” As the Paris Review editor quoted at the beginning of this essay noted, the best antidote to the despair of looming Trumplandia is to create, and to cast off the shackles of hidebound tradition in the service of the human spirit. George Orwell once said that he wrote best when he was angered by injustice. Indeed, in his 1946 essay Why I Write, he gave that as his raison d’être for writing. His allegories managed to seamlessly blend political satire with escapism, to achieve what Merton spoke of in taking us out of the world while simultaneously sharpening our view of its often bitter realities.

From a Jungian perspective, the psyche is always in search of balance, and often our artists feel this urge more keenly than most. They are after all our pioneers of the human spirit, going where few dare and casting illumination on the heart of darkness. As the late psychotherapist John Weir Perry put it, “even if we fail to acknowledge our predicament in a conscious way, the psyche does register its recognition of it on deeper levels, and makes moves to generate new possibilities of outlook and ways of living that might allow our survival.”

[1] Quoted in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1991, p. 194.

[2] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 198.

[3] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

[4] Jerome S. Bernstein, ‘The U.S.-Soviet Mirror,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 216.

[5] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

Posted in politics, social commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

YouTube launch of Dead Crow and The Muse

Well, let’s hope it’s true that it’s better late than never. Today marks the launch of my first poetry video, The Muse: Chameleon Fire, on YouTube—15 years after it was made. The poems were originally part of a limited edition, handmade chapbook that combined original graphic art with a series of poems published in 2000 by Chameleon Fire Editions. I’m also premiering the much more recent production, Dead Crow: Prologue on YouTube at the same time. This video is part of a project planned to eventually include a full one-hour touring show. Right now I’m touring the Prologue plus several poems from my recent book of poems, The Price of Transcendence. Noel—truly the musician’s musician—does a set of his own superb original songs for the show. In honour of the late great David Bowie—a lifelong influence for me—he also performs his versions of Starman and Life on Mars.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

The Muse took as its starting point a different theme for each poem: Work, Family, History, etc., using a prose poem form with arbitrary line breaks. I wanted to break out of standard lyrical verse forms and challenge myself and it seemed to work. The break from habit produced not only a chapbook of poems, but a series of masks that were exhibited in the Mildred Erb Gallery of the former Nelson Museum. The introductory poems Chameleon and Fire set the stage, exploring the nature of the creative process. (Chameleonfire also happens to be my personal ‘brand.’)

That led me somewhat naturally to the idea of also creating a poetry video for the series. With the help of the late Tony Salway, I obtained a $10,000 production grant from the BRAVO TV BravoFACT Foundation, then in its early days. At the time I was living in Nelson—quite possibly the creative capitol of British Columbia’s southeast interior—it wasn’t hard to find top-notch collaborators. My dear friend Dawn Scott (now Dawn Bird) was eager to get into film and I was lucky enough to pair her with another young talent, dancer and choreographer Jasmine O’Brien. With advice from veteran Nelson choreographer Tamasine Drisdale, she choreographed the dance you see in the video. Guitarist/composer Steve Montgomery of Skip Rock Productions did a fabulous job on the soundtrack based on cues I gave him from the music of Peter Gabriel and Dead Can Dance.

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

You’ll notice that The Muse features a mask prominently in the sequence. Masks have been used for thousands of years both as ritual objects and important tools for artists and actors since the earliest Greek chorus plays. There’s an innate magic to the mask: an object that is lifeless and inert, yet when worn on a human body it acquires a sudden animation that can be compelling, even eerie. So the symbolism of Jasmine (‘The Muse’) handing the mask to Dawn at a critical moment is a metaphor for both the artist’s license to create and her tool for doing so. Dawn’s character is a young artist just beginning to come into her creative power, so her somewhat tentative movements as a dancer further illustrate this point.

Why did it take 15 years to see the light? This is where the story veers into the personal. In 2002 I suffered a major health collapse that left me unable to work for some years. At the same time, my personal life was in a state of sudden upheaval. I decided I desperately needed a change from Nelson and tried living in Vancouver and Victoria before finally settling in the Slocan Valley in 2003. For me, the city was no place to rebuild a life. Both literally and figuratively, it was my ‘Wilderness Years’ period. I needed to regroup and reconstruct myself both physically and spiritually. That left little energy for mounting major productions, tours or promotions. Unfortunately The Muse fell victim to those circumstances, and gathered dust in the boxes of my various moves. Sadly that meant that along the way, any photos and production stills from the video seem to have been lost. At least I managed to hold on to the video!

The history of The Muse is as much a history of recent technological changes as it is a part of my own history. When we made it videotape was still in fairly common use, although the newer digital media of DVDs were already on the horizon. At the time Bill Heath, a maker of renowned ski films, had set up a state-of-the-art digital editing studio in his Nelson home, and graciously cut us a generous discount. His young protégé Jeremy Grant was a whizz kid editor and if it hadn’t been for his efforts, it’s unlikely the final result would be as fine you see it here. But just to illustrate how far digital technology has come in 15 years, the cost for editing alone ate up roughly three-quarters of my $10,000 budget, and that was with a discount. Nowadays the same editing job could be done for a fraction of the cost. Remember, this was still pre-YouTube, pre-iTunes, pre-iPads. Napster was still the most exciting thing in digital music online, and there was as yet no equivalent for video. Consequently, in the confusion of my various moves, I had a VHS tape only for all our efforts, and eventually that was transferred to DVD, and finally this year to MP4. Welcome to the 21st century! Just a reminder of how quickly we take current technology for granted—in historical terms it’s all still brand-new.

I’ve already written fairly extensively about Dead Crow: Prologue in a previous post (here: https://chameleonfire1.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/introducing-dead-crow-the-video-launch/) so check that out if you’re interested in what motivated me to create such an offbeat character. In European mythology and fairy tales, the Crow is often a harbinger of death, a haunter of battlefields, as with the Celtic Morrigan goddess. I wanted Dead Crow to go beyond that connotation, to balance the yin/yang energies of light and shadow, hence my drawing on the First Nations traditions of Raven as a Creator/trickster figure. And being a great fan of film noir movies, I couldn’t resist giving him a jaded, been-there-seen-it-all kind of voice. All of which seems particularly apt in this time of collapsing empires and economies.

And once again I’ve been blessed to work with superb collaborators: Noel Fudge, who composed the soundtrack to Dead Crow: Prologue, and Isaac and Orsi of ICandy Films. So call me a late bloomer. See if I care. And enjoy!

LINKS: The Muse: Chameleon Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC_04Fo3Z_g

Dead Crow: Prologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC-mOdDygto

Posted in Arts & Culture, mythology, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holly & Jon interview: The A–Z of the Blues

Holly Hyatt. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly Hyatt. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

INTRODUCTION: I’ve been following the music of Holly and Jon for about 10 years now, ever since being utterly gripped by Holly’s clarion voice and Jon’s pristine blues picking. In the Kootenays they’ve become something of a blues institution along with Lazy Poker Blues Band and Bill Lynch. Sadly it may be that their evolution as a father-daughter duo came just a little too late to capitalize on the blues booms of previous decades. Still, in an era when the market has changed drastically toward electronic trance music on the one extreme and ‘Newgrass’ or New Folk on the other, their latest album Shufflin’ the Blues has hit #12 in Canada on the Roots Music Charts and #2 on the Acoustic Blues Charts. Not bad for homegrown Slocan Valley talent! But then, we always suspected we were world class…

SEAN ARTHUR JOYCE: First things first. Gimme your influences! It may sound trite but in the blues especially—or any music for that matter—it’s ALWAYS relevant. Tell me why, Holly, you like Bonnie Raitt but not so much Big Mama Thornton. Or Jon, why you favour Albert King more than BB King, if you do. Talk a little bit about what makes their technique the one you like, the sound you love.

Bonnie Raitt has inspired many women to play the blues.

Bonnie Raitt has inspired many women to play the blues.

HOLLY HYATT: Some of my biggest blues influences are Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, Maria Muldaur, Delbert McClinton, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I remember watching a video of Stevie Ray when I was a kid. He was sweating and playing his heart out and it just shook me to the core. That was the real deal, soul and passion. I had the same feeling when I first heard Bonnie Raitt’s voice, and to see a female guitar player really expanded my ideas of what a woman could do as a musician. I love that Susan Tedeschi and Robert Cray create such great original blues songs.

I’ve based a lot of my vocal style and phrasing on jazz singers like Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Karyn Ellison, and Ella Fitzgerald. Just hearing what these women can do with their voices is so inspiring, and I’m a big fan of hanging out behind the beat vocally. Etta James has also been a huge vocal influence for me, I learned a lot of Blues Mama phrasing from her. I love Eva Cassidy and how she uses her voice to convey the emotion and story of the songs she sings. I am also a huge fan of Jewel and Neil Young, their songwriting and poetic lyrics have inspired many songs I have written. I love Willie Nelson for his beautiful melodies and his ability to blur the lines between genres. He is just so unique. Esperanza Spalding is my number one pick, for an amazing singing and playing bass player. She is phenomenal!

JOYCE: Jon—same question. Influences?

Jon Burden performing in 2009. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon Burden performing in 2009. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

JON BURDEN: I think the first time I heard the blues was The Rolling Stones recording of Little Red Rooster. I didn’t know it was blues, I just knew it sounded different than all the other music on the radio at the time. It was darker, edgier and sexier than She Loves You or I Wanna Hold Your Hand, but at the same time it sounded a bit contrived, like it was an imitation of something else. It was only later, after hearing blues played by black musicians, that I realized that there was a difference. So the early Stones with Brian Jones were my first blues influences.

Then, when I heard Hendrix’s live version of Red House on the In the West album, I finally got what blues was really about. He was the first black musician I heard doing blues. And then I heard Freddie King. Johnny Winter then became an influence. It’s My Own Fault from Johnny Winter And Live was played endlessly at my house when I was in junior high, so I guess Rick Derringer was also an influence because he was the other guitarist in the band and played great rhythm behind Johnny. He was also a fantastic blues soloist in his own right.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Then it was The Allman Brothers version of Stormy Monday on Live At The Fillmore East. I guess I had an affinity for live albums, which is fitting, seeing as our latest album is live. In the early ’70s when I acquired a friend’s record collection, which was all black blues, is when I really became interested in that style of music. It was Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Otis Spann, Freddie King etc. Muddy Waters, at that time, was not my cup of tea. It was only much later that I learned to appreciate what Muddy was all about. Now he’s my man! I even drove all the way to Rolling Fork, Mississippi just to see where he was from and walk where he had walked.

I did the typical thing that serious guitar players do, and that is, I started listening to the rock players and then followed it back to the roots and I’m still discovering older players today that I’ve never heard before, So the influences keep changing.

JOYCE: So what about it, Jon—Freddie King, Albert King or BB King—which is it for you?

The late great, underrated Freddie King. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The late great, underrated Freddie King. Courtesy Wikipedia.

JON: I liked Freddie King more, as opposed to BB King at first, because Freddie had a rock edge and BB was too show biz or something. Now I appreciate what BB was. He was so classy and could say so much with one note. When I first heard Albert King, I didn’t get it. Then I listened to Live Wire Blues Power (another live album) and I got it! Big Time!

JOYCE: It sounds like we have the same blues collection!

JON: That album was a huge influence along with Freddie King’s Texas Cannonball. I wore out copies of those two albums. Buddy Guy, I always thought, played too fast, although I think Junior Wells kept him in line. I gravitate to the slower, ‘say it with one note’ players. Now I really appreciate the jump blues players, like T Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, Ronnie Earl Earl, Hollywood Fats and Anson Funderburgh.

JOYCE: Let’s talk about your evolution as a musician. Jon, being Holly’s father you obviously have a lot more experience to draw on. But both of you, trace for me how you see your musical arc having developed over the years to where it is today. What pushed you this way but not that?

Holly & Jon recording at home, circa 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly & Jon recording at the Burden home, circa 2010. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

HOLLY: I started performing as a child; I would sit in with Dad on his gigs and sing a few songs. This developed into me singing more songs and accompanying him on bass. Eventually I taught myself to sing and play bass at the same time. It was a painful and frustrating process for me, because I felt like I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to, vocally or as a bass player. It got better with practice though, and now playing and singing is very harmonious. In my late teens we started billing ourselves as ‘Holly and the Hippie’ and then ‘Holly and Jon.’ I began songwriting more and we started to incorporate some original material into our sets. In my early to mid twenties we toured a lot, playing mainly bars and cafes. We performed as an acoustic duo and a full band. All the performances helped me to get more comfortable on stage and develop my skills as a musician. I started to get pretty burned out and discouraged though. I didn’t want to be another cover band or background singer. I wanted to perform original music at concert venues, where people would sit down and listen. I wanted to engage the audience and connect with them. So I took a step back from touring, focused on starting a family and defining my goals as a musician. I discovered that music is in my soul. I must sing and share my songs, but I need to be selective in how I do that. We began focusing on promoting our original songs and performing primarily at concert venues. I have been enjoying this process and love connecting with people through music. I am excited for the next evolution in my musical life!

JON: I started singing My Old Man’s A Dustman, There’s A Hole In My Bucket and Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight, and Lonnie Donnegan skiffle stuff when I was 5 or 6 at community concerts that my maternal Grandmother would organize. She was kind of a pillar of the small community in our village in England when I was young and bought me my first guitar. Then, after moving to Canada, I sort of lost interest in it for a while. I went through a cowboy phase. Then I got back into music and got serious about the guitar as an adolescent. The first song I learned to play and sing was Paint It Black and then I joined a band as a rhythm guitarist/backup singer, who sang a couple of leads. I was earning money performing before I could really play. I could play enough to strum a few chords. I was very undeveloped but music is an eternal learning experience. You just keep discovering and growing.

Blues, folk and the rootsier styles of music have always appealed to me much more than mainstream stuff. Mainstream, commercial music was nice and happy, bright and hummable, but it always seemed shallow to me. I wanted something deeper, darker, earthier. When I played top 40 bands I would always bring in the obscure songs and blues material to learn. When I played in country rock bands, I’d bring in the southern rock stuff to do as well as playing as much original material as you could get away with: Which wasn’t much, as you had to be a human juke box for the most part and play songs that your audience had heard.

Jon performing at the Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon performing at the Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

I’ve always been attracted to the singer/ songwriters and love the early Neil Young, Jackson Browne and James Taylor albums (not much blues in those, although Steamroller Blues by Taylor is probably the best rendition of a blues song by a singer/songwriter that I’ve heard). Later, I got into the Texas songwriters such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt (these latter two were very influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins) and James McMurtry. I love it when a song can paint a picture in your mind when you listen to it.

My musical taste, vision and direction haven’t really changed a great deal as I’m still embracing the obscure and like to go against the grain. I guess what pushed me in the direction I went, musically, was just trying to keep it real and say something that means something. It’s much more important to me to use music and songs as a means to make people think and open their minds, than as purely entertainment.

Another of the great blues pantheon: Lightnin' Hopkins.

Another of the great blues pantheon: Lightnin’ Hopkins.

JOYCE: How have changes in the music industry affected you? Jon, you especially have been around long enough to have seen plenty of changes, especially in terms of musicians’ earning capacities. What do you see that’s negative? Positive?

JON: I came into music in the early stages of the BC bar scene. Before the mid ’70s live music was only played in Legions, community halls and cabarets. Then BC changed their liquor laws to allow live music in beer parlours. Alberta and Ontario had allowed it for years but BC has always been behind with their liquor laws. One of the people that taught me a lot about the guitar, like playing bar chords as opposed to open chords, said to me: “When they start allowing music in the taverns, I want you to be there.” And I was.

At first the scene started off very gradually. A venue would try it for one night a month or something. Then they started building dance floors and stages in the venues and it exploded. Bars were hiring bands 6 nights a week and every venue had entertainment. Strippers in the daytime and live music at night. You could stay on the road continuously or get a 2–4 week residency in your hometown and then rotate. I stayed on the road. First doing a solo act, then a duo and later a full band, while still doing solos and duos on the side. I made a living through the ’70s and ’80s. In the ’90s, venues started cutting back to three nights a week, then two nights a week and then one night. Now venues don’t have an entertainment budget, so you play for the door or for tips.

But, there is a positive side to these changes. By playing for the door and doing concerts, you get to play the kind of music that you want to play because the people who come to your shows come to hear and see what you have to offer and they pay attention. You’re not background music for somebody’s night out on the town drinking, carousing and fighting. Back when I was playing full time in smoke filled bars, it felt like hard work. It was a grind and there was many a gig that made me feel like packing it all in. Now that I’m able to play for respectful, listening audiences, I don’t want the night to end.

Holly performing in 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Holly performing in 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

HOLLY: During the past 15 years I’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of venues that have live music. One of my first regular gigs was at the Prestige Hotel. I played there every Sunday night, and they had music on many other nights of the week as well. This was a common practice for venues and it enabled us to play multiple gigs in one week. The pay scale is about the same, there may be a slight decrease but it depends where you’re performing. On the positive side I think there are more community concert events and local arts councils that are supporting live music. The second biggest change for me is the lack of music education in elementary and post secondary schools. I started performing in band in grade four and continued to do so until I graduated. School band was one of the most positive musical influences in my life. I discovered jazz: Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and the upright bass, because I was in two different big band ensembles in high school. The music composition course I took in grade 12 sparked my desire to become a songwriter. It makes my heart break that my children may not have these same opportunities during their schooling years. The high school I attended currently has no music programs at all; this is a huge disservice to our youth!

JOYCE: Where do you see your art form going in future, both personally and as a genre?

HOLLY: As a genre I hope Blues will open up to more diversity and be discovered and loved by the younger generations. The standards need to be shared and appreciated, so people learn the history behind the music. I hope younger artists will take that knowledge and create their own original blues songs, and then push the boundaries of the genre with those songs. Indie Blues, people! For myself, I want to focus on creating music that connects with many people and withstands many years. I want to blur the lines of the genres and mix old and new sounds. I want to sing my heart song, with soul and joy!

JON: We have to find a way to draw a younger, fresher audience to the blues, as the folks that listen to blues are the baby boomers, which are an aging demographic. But, in all honesty, I think there will always be people of all ages that want to hear honest music, played by real people.

JOYCE: Amen to that! To quote ‘Uncle Neil,’ long may you both run…

Visit their website at: http://www.hollyandjon.com

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Review: Shufflin’ the Blues by Holly & Jon

The third album from Holly & Jon features classic, smouldering blues.

The third album from Holly & Jon features classic, smouldering blues.

This is classic blues, all down the line. Jon gets his guitar tone exactly right, no small achievement in a live setting, where even the most rehearsed songs can be subverted by bad acoustics or unexpected PA system fails. There’s a sweet fatness to his tone, not ripped up fuzz like Johnny Winter but just a little south of B.B. King’s clean, lean and pure guitar tones. Holly’s bass work is the engine of the duo’s rhythm section with drummer Marvin Walker. But where she really shines is in her interpretations of old standards. As if born to the blues, she nails it every time. Resonant, rich and deeply expressive, Holly’s vocals propel these songs to another level. Having been in the room the night this set was recorded at the old Silverton Gallery three years ago, I can safely say this recording captures the swing, the sweetness and the soul of that special evening.

Jon Burden at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon Burden at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon too on that night was in probably the best voice I’ve ever heard him. And I’ve been hearing these guys live for the best part of a decade, all over the Kootenays. Holly and Jon are dealing from the Classic Blues deck, reminding us why generations continue to be inspired by it. In addition to Muddy Waters’ Blow Wind Blow Jon uses a nimble slide to pull Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen out of the battered body of a guitar known as Gonzo. Holly’s originals Let’s Boogie, Lowdown Blues and Get Your Own Man swing and sway as naturally as if they were themselves old blues standards. When she gets into the scat vocals on Slushy Blues, the room warms up yet another notch. Here she’s as good as any blues torch singer ever was. Moving to a fast shuffle beat, this is no slow seduction. She’s astutely taken her cues from her heroines—Eva Cassidy and Bonnie Raitt—and has made of them something distinctly her own.

Holly Hyatt at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Soul Bliss ‘n Blues: Holly Hyatt at the Silverton Gallery, August 15, 2013. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon’s social conscience is often subtly reflected in his song choices on their three albums. Memphis Slim’s Mother Earth Blues and Left-Handed Soul tip his hat toward a concern for the planet and the impact of consumerism. Yet he manages to avoid making you feel like you’re listening to a sermon, achieving a languid groove and soul-inflected vocal to lull you into the dance. Its refrain is in perfect tune with the blues spirit: “I feel so cold / living in this right-handed world / with my left-handed soul…” Blues, by making social problems deeply personal, roots them in the real. This takes them from something esoteric to something anyone can relate to. It’s something black people have known since the earliest field chants, with their coded messages about ‘the man.’ In that respect, Son House was wrong: it ain’t all just about a man and a woman. Read between the lines of the early classic blues songs and coded messages of slavery and abuse practically leap out at you.

Jon gives Gonzo a workout. Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2014. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Jon gives Gonzo a workout. Silverton Gallery, Aug. 15, 2014. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Black Crow is an utterly wonderful original with a lovely acoustic guitar line anchoring and propelling the song. The lyrics represent a fascinating growth in their songwriting: “So much possibility / so much probability… So many questions / so many answers / will they meet up in the end?” This is a questing, questioning soul, keen to make the most of possibility. And aware that it requires a crow’s watchfulness, its legendary ability to shapeshift to a new form to meet life’s challenges.

Holly takes us gracefully shuffling home in Slushy Blues, leaving you wishing there’d been time for about 10 more songs. This is the magic of the blues—you walk out half on air. That it’s taken three years to bring this impeccable performance to record is an indication of just how tough it is for blues purists trying to make a living at their craft.

WATCH for the supporting tour this fall for Shufflin’ the Blues at: http://www.hollyandjon.com

Shufflin’ The Blues CD Release Tour

  • Friday, November 18, 7:30 pm, Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre, 1007, Vernon Ave, Revelstoke, BC
  • Saturday, November 19, 8:00 pm, Lorenzo’s Cafe, Mable Lake, Enderby, BC
  • Sunday, November 20, 8:00 pm, Firevalley Concert Series, Legion Hall, Edgewood, BC
  • Friday, November 25, 7:30 pm, Silverton Memorial Hall, Silverton, BC
  • Saturday, November 26, 8:00 pm, The Front Room, Front St., Nelson, BC
  • Saturday, December 17 7:00 pm, Studio 64, 64 Deer Park Ave, Kimberley, BC

NEXT POST: Holly & Jon Interview: A–Z of the Blues.

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Introducing Dead Crow: The Video Launch

Imagine a character tens of thousands of years old, a changeling capable of appearing both as a human or a crow. His name is Dead Crow—a demigod changeling with a bad attitude. Now he’s decided for the first time to share his story—imagine the tales he could tell, with a lifespan like that! Exiled to Earth for a sin of pride by a mysterious godlike race known only as The Makers, his sentence is to act as their Watcher. Essentially immortal, he has the long view of history. His trickster nature constantly tempts him to interfere in human affairs. The Prologue gives us his backstory, introducing audiences to this quirky, sharp-tongued yet highly observant character cloaked in black feathers. Today I’m releasing the video production of Dead Crow: Prologue and will be following up the release with a small tour of the West Kootenay. The Prologue and its soundtrack will be performed live with musician/composer Noel Fudge, and was premiered at Kaleidoscope Arts & Culture Festival in Kimberley, BC this August.

Dead Crow gets animated to make a point. Kaleidoscope Arts Festival, Kimberley, BC, August 10, 2016.

Dead Crow gets animated to make a point. Kaleidoscope Arts Festival, Kimberley, BC, August 10, 2016. Photo by Anne Champagne. Mask by Isaac Carter. Headdress by Sweet Pea Creations.

The story is excerpted from a book-length manuscript titled Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine that has been a work-in-progress for seven years now. Composed of two prose stories and a long sequence of narrative poems, its unorthodox structure veers from human prehistory through the rise and fall of empires and finally to the present. Along the way Dead Crow has plenty of time to ponder the great mysteries and attempt to reconcile the contradictions of corporeal existence. It’s a spiritual journey we all must make. My goal during the next year is to obtain funding to create a full one-hour show based on the manuscript.

Although I’ve recited original poetry to audiences since the 1980s, this is my first foray into performance poetry complete with a costume designed by local artisans. There are elements of both ‘black box’ one-act theatre in The Prologue as well as current trends in spoken word that combine music and sound effects with poetry. I wanted to take poetry into another realm altogether, one that combines elements of sci-fi with the grand narratives of ancient mythology. We’re hearing a lot lately about the need for a ‘new mythology’ that better serves 21st century values so this is my stab at that. The great myths transcend cultures in a language that speaks across generations and across the ages. And mythic stories are in the midst of a revival. Witness the mass popularity of such TV series as Once Upon a Time and the many feature films produced in recent years re-imagining the classic myths and fairy tales.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

Dead Crow at Kaleidoscope Arts Festival. Photo Anne Champagne.

Thus, in Dead Crow: Prologue, audiences will thus hear elements of West Coast Raven mythology—the Trickster god; and the Celtic Morrigan—a shapeshifting goddess in Irish mythology associated with battlefields and the underworld. Added to Dead Crow’s poetic ruminations is the film noir drawl of a Philip Marlowe, another character who struggles to reconcile a jaded view of human nature. A draft of the poems was evaluated by Gary Geddes at an Oxygen Art Centre workshop in 2011. “Your Crow seems to me the voice of a more apocalyptic time, prepared to take on larger issues than (Ted) Hughes or (Robert) Kroetsch’s raven poems and What the Crow Said took on, and doing it equally well. Dead Crow is the Grim Reaper’s clean-up squad, customer at the Roadkill Cafe with a B.A. in philosophy, a sort of lower-case Satan-cum-Nietzsche on a rant.” Given that Hughes’ classic book of poems Crow has always held pride of place on my bookshelf, I consider this a great compliment, one I can only hope I merit.

Freya performing at the 2016 Hills Garlic Festival, New Denver, BC. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Freya performing at the 2016 Hills Garlic Festival, New Denver, BC. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

For now, live performances will include the Prologue, original songs by Noel Fudge, and poems from my latest collection of poetry, The Price of Transcendence. (Poet Tom Wayman offered editorial assistance on the book, for which I’m very grateful.) My poetic ethos has been to try to reflect empathically the voices I hear around me in nature. Living in a remote corner of British Columbia next to Valhalla Provincial Park, a wilderness reserve with an intact mountain ecosystem, I’m given an intimacy with wildlife that seems to be fast disappearing from our urbanized world. Biologists are making incredible discoveries about the innate language capacities of birds, whales, dolphins, and land animals. What if they also had their own millennias-old cultures, just as humans do? What would those look like? As a poet I try to imagine those cultures into being. At least, until the day we can better understand them on their own terms.

Dead Crow mask by Isaac Carter. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Dead Crow mask by Isaac Carter. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Meanwhile poets have shown a remarkably accurate intuition about such things well in advance of science, even before the 19th century Romantics. This year I published my poetics thesis, A New Romanticism for the 21st Century, in the University of Western Ontario journal Canadian Poetry. In it I argue that the time for a poetics of obfuscation and art for art’s sake is past. With the environmental crises now upon us, it’s time for poets to return to their pre-industrial role as what Lawrence Ferlinghetti called “the conscience of the race.” In an age of Narcissism that also implies learning to turn our ears outward again, from our own inner voices to the voices crying out to us from the wilderness (what’s left of it). For writers this acquires a new sense of urgency as global cultures become more and more urbanized and further removed from nature.

Nelson writer Brian D’eon wrote in a review of The Price of Transcendence: “Joyce’s language is often haunting and his insights powerful. In reading his most recent collection of poems, I often find myself in a trance-like state, letting the sheer musicality of the language wash over me.”

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Noel performing with Freya at Songs for a Winter Night, December 2015. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

And now some words about Noel Fudge, the composer of the soundtrack to Dead Crow: Prologue. I can honestly say I’ve waited a lifetime to meet and work with a creative collaborator like Noel. Thoroughly professional in his work ethic, capable of playing guitar in any style, and bursting with originality, it has been an incredible pleasure to work with him on this video. His portfolio ranges from film scores to choral and orchestral works, to singer-songwriter and instrumental music. He holds a BFA in composition from Simon Fraser University, and wrote and performed with the band Crop Circle, a group that received extensive radio play and toured Western Canada, opening for ZZ top and Bif Naked. Noel and his partner Martine denBok form the popular West Kootenay-based guitar/violin duo Freya. Martine is a classically trained musician currently serving as second violinist with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. A debut Freya album is due out this year. WEBSITE: http://www.fortheloveoffreya.ca

Finally, a word about ICandy Films, comprised of Isaac and Orsi Carter. Isaac trained at the Vancouver Film School and has travelled to Europe to create promotional films for artists from Bulgaria to France and the Netherlands. He combines his training with a natural talent for imagery that takes it far above average. Although his ‘bread and butter’ includes making promotional films for realtors and other businesses as well as enchanting wedding videos, he confessed to me that films like Dead Crow: Prologue are what he really lives for as a filmmaker. The results speak for themselves. Be sure to check out their other short films at these links:

Thanks guys—it’s a pleasure working with you all! And last but never least, I credit the unflagging support of Anne Champagne, who remains my greatest ally in life and art.

TO VIEW DEAD CROW: PROLOGUE VISIT THE ICANDY FILMS VIMEO CHANNEL HERE (Please note, your Internet bandwidth—or lack of it—may cause some ‘clipping’ in the sound): https://vimeo.com/185383029

dead-crow-tour-poster-dates-low-resDEAD CROW FALL 2016 TOUR DATES (all tickets at the door):

  • Bonnington Arts Centre, Nakusp, BC, Friday, October 28, 7 pm
  • Café Langham Inspired Ideas Series, Langham Theatre, Kaslo, BC, Thursday, November 3, 7 pm
  • The Front Room, 901 Front Street, Nelson, BC, Thursday, November 10, 7:30 pm
  • Bosun Hall, New Denver, BC, Saturday, November 5, 7 pm

P.S. FOR THE LATEST EXCITING DISCOVERIES IN BIRD AND ANIMAL LANGUAGE, VISIT: http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/the_real_twitter_feed_that_we_have_lost_track_of/

Posted in Arts & Culture, Music, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments