1. I have a songwriting hobby, and by this I mean that I am completely obsessed with the songwriting creative process. I am a writer who is also a musician but I do not have a good-enough grip of music to set words to melody. I am fascinated by the ability of those who can write a 4-minute story that sometimes rhymes and touches million of people’s hearts. Nothing cracks me open like a good song. Should it come as a surprise then that one of my favourite podcasts is Sodajerker on Songwriting?I was especially thrilled with their interview with Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriting husband/wife team behind the Frozen powerhouse. In the podcast, they discuss the back-and-forth with the scriptwriters and how their songs changed the nature of the characters of Elsa and Anna. I doubt that the movie would have enjoyed its lasting success had the two princesses remained what they were meant to be in the original script. It was also a geeky treat to learn that in Life is an open door Anna and Hans never sing in harmony. We knew that right? But it was done on purpose! This is how gifted songwriters can build a story with details that you hear without hearing. Magical! You can hear the full interview here. A note for parents: the podcast is slapped with the “explicit” rating because Robert Lopez explains how the rhythm pattern for a certain song came from the title of a porno videotape he saw on a friend’s shelf one day. The title is quite crude. If you listen in the car with children there might be a 30-seconds of awkwardness. Forewarned is forearmed.
* BONUS FREE NUT: If you were a teenager in the 80’s or 90’s, the podcast interview with Glen Ballard will be a giant, crimped, glitzy treat. Listen to it — and its accompanying Spotify playlist — here .
2. Speaking of Glen Ballard, he happened to write Man in the Mirror for Michael Jackson, a song which message is always on point. You’ll notice some interesting footage in the music video from the rescue of baby Jessica McClure in 1987, a toddler who had fallen down a well on her family’s property. She was rescued after 58 hours of harrowing work by paramedics and mining engineers. That was back in the days when criticism was directed at the media circus rather than the grieving parents; and the heroes of the story were given more attention than what the parents should have done to avoid the tragedy. Fancy that…
3. Speaking of songwriting, the Canadian political class deemed it desirable to re-write the Canadian National Anthem to replace “in all thy sons’command” by the gender-neutral “all of us command.” Now, I have to declare myself as one of those bleeding hearts liberals who believes that language and culture walk in lockstep; but I also want to declare myself as one of those hardened conservatives who don’t think our historical heritage should be re-written, warts and all. There is always room for adding diverse voices and clearer context to our history. As Dan Carlin puts it — pardon my shameless paraphrase — it’s as if history had a CNN and a Fox News but only the CNN version of everything had survived. History always benefits from a diversity of sources, it gives it colour and texture. Perspective doesn’t right wrongs but it puts them in context. History never exactly repeats itself: the lessons are in the nuances, in how humanity faced want, pain and desperation, how it failed and how it succeeded. Stripping history of its offensive bits is tantamount to spitting upwind: it only feels good for a second. On the other hand, our National Anthem is not merely a piece of historical artifact: it lives in our schools, our churches, our sports halls and institutions. We are not rewriting history as much as making our anthem more representative of our culture as we sign it every day. How do you feel about changing the words to our National Anthem? Are we shaping culture to make it more just or are we rewriting history? Andrew Coyne explains here how the meaning of words can change even when the words stay the same.
4. Speaking of writing, I started writing a novel set in the intersecting worlds of healthcare, law and biomedical ethics, in other words my academic background. One day I decided to stop joking that my Master’s degree’s specialization in biomedical ethics had been a waste of time and the next day the idea had come to me. For two years while at McGill University I was a fly on the wall in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units where I learned more than I ever expected about humanity, tragedy and what’s found in the space between the two. My novel is written from the bedside of a critically ill infant and explores the evolving relationships between the infant’s family, his medical caregivers and a cast of lawyers and administrators who are drawn into the medical decision-making process. I love how this poem communicates the chasm of perception that often exists between patients and their caregivers. It touched me in a profound way. To read and let sink-in.
5. If writing never amounts to anything, I could become an astronaut. I have the right blood pressure.