Writer’s Notebook Entry 3 – “Swell”

Swell

The sounds swell about you
and all is building
to the untrained ear, cacophony
but to you, it is filling

Each and every facet with light
and glorious joy abounds
those who don’t know, this bliss you feel
can’t comprehend the swelling sounds

You are serene
you are peace and calm
this moment hangs in stasis, all yours
you are the swell

The swell is you
you and those around you
are making something , something more
than mere sound, brash noise

The song is you
and you swirl about in the swell
you tense, relax, all at once
and you feel the song in you

A tremor courses through
your entire being
It is the swell, the song, and it is you
and you are filling

Each and every facet with light
the glorious joy you feel
transcendent bliss
incandescent swell

The music swells about you
and all is building
notes emanate from your very self
melodious

The music swells about you
and all is building
there is nothing but you, the music, the swell
pure, clear, harmonious

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Writer’s Notebook Entry 2 – “She.”

So, this entry is actually a set of lyrics to a song I wrote some three or so years ago. I realize that the lyrics themselves aren’t particularly plentiful, but what is important (and is the part that I like) is the story they tell, the images they conjure. “She” is about, in its most basic form, a girl suffering from depression because she has been taken away from the one place she felt she could be happy (a lakeshore place where she would vacation). The song was loosely based on the withdrawal I would always feel in the week or so after I came home from the band camp I attend every summer (incidentally located by a lake). I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was depressed to the point of being suicidal, but I was always sad to leave.
“She” reflects and intensifies those feelings, projecting them onto a young girl who feels that she can no longer find happiness in her life, and commits the ultimate act against herself.
If one was interested enough, a recording of this song does exist, from around the same time it was written.

LYRICS:

She
loves it here
troubles fade
far away
Her
Eyes can barely
see the world, but when she’s
here, things are clear
She
Walks down to the
sunny shore
sings along, to her favourite
song
and it goes:
CHORUS:
la-la, la-la-la-la-la
la-la, la la-la-la
la-la, la la-la-la
la-la

Before long the
city calls
with its lights
so alive
But to
Her, it is
dark and cold
clouds her eyes, she’s dying
inside

Oh
Where is the
serenity?
peace of mind, she can’t seem to
find
so she sings:

CHORUS

Soaked in all her
bitterness
drowns her pain,
her sorrow and shame,
Oh
Slowly she
ascends the stairs
to a room, she thought she
knew
As her
Fingers tremble
across the page
a song to all,
in her fall
It goes:
la-la-la-la, la
la-la-la-la, la-la
la-la-la, la
la-la-la
(repeat)

She
loved it here
wasted away
her favourite
place
And if you
Walk down to the
moonlit shore
so faintly,
a melody,
And it goes:
CHORUS

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Writer’s Notebook Entry 1 – Finding Forrester

In class, we did a writing exercise in which we were given the first few pages of a novel and told to copy them out, word for word, but to stop copying and start writing our own original ideas within the story when the mood struck us. Here is my adaptation – see if you can spot where the author’s writing stops and mine begins!

Ian shoved his hands deep in his pockets and scowled down the length of the empty subway platform. His hands were freezing, he was in a bitch of a bad mood, and he had no idea why he’d agreed to meet Coreen at her apartment. All things considered, neutral ground might have been a better idea. He shifted his scowl to the LED clock hanging from the ceiling. 12:17. Thirteen minutes to get from Eglinton West to Wilson Station, six blocks worth of bus ride, and then a three block run to Coreen’s. It couldn’t be done.

I’m going to be late. She’s going to be pissed. And there goes our chance to make up. He sighed. It had taken two hours of arguing on the phone to get her to agree to a meeting. Maintaining a relationship with Coreen might be time-consuming, but it sure as hell wasn’t boring. Lord; but the woman had a temper. . . His lips curled into a smile almost without him willing the motion; the flip side of that temper made all the effort of staying on the roller coaster worthwhile. The smile broadened. Coreen packed a lot of punch for a woman barely five foot, two.

He glanced up at the clock again.

Where the hell was the train?

12:20.

Be there by 12:30 or forget it, she’s said, completely ignoring the fact that on Sunday, the Toronto Transit Commission, the ubiquitous TTC, drastically cut back on the number of trains and at this hour he’d be luck to get the last one they ran.

Looking at the bright side, when he finally got there, given the time of night and the fact that they both had an eigh o’ clock class, he’d have to stay over. He sighed. If she’ll even let me into her apartment.

He wandered down the southernmost end of the platform and peered into the tunnel. No sign of lights, but he could feel the wind against his face and that usually meant the train wasn’t far. He coughed as he turned away. It smelled like something had died down there, smelled like it did at the cottage when a mouse got between the walls and rotted.

“Big mother of a mouse,” he muttered, rubbing his fist against his nose. The stench caught in his lungs and he coughed again. It was funny the tricks the mind played, now that he was aware of it, the smell seemed to be getting stronger. He turned and shuffled back up the platform.

12:23. Well, shit, Ian thought. There was no way he’d make it in time. He briefly debated abandoning the trip altogether, and his thoughts drifted to his own apartment only a couple of blocks away, his warm bed that he could be in within minutes…

But Coreen had no intention of leaving Ian’s head. He rubbed his palms together and stared down the tunnel once more. He felt a gust of air against his face, a stronger one this time. He thought he heard a bell, but he couldn’t be sure if it wasn’t just his mind playing with him again.

Suddenly, there was an unmistakably real sound. The soft thud of footsteps could be heard coming down the steps to the platform.

Jesus, Ian thought. I thought I was the only one crazy enough to take the train on a Sunday night.

            A figure appeared at the bottom of the steps, paused a moment, then slowly walked over to the edge of the platform, a few feet away. Curious as to who the stranger was, but reluctant to stare at them head on, he continually glanced over in that inconspicuous way people do when they wish to see, but not be seen.

The figure was bundled head to toe in a long winter a coat, a hat and scarf tied up around their face. Their hands were stuffed into the pockets of the coat, which looked like it had seen better days. Unable to see the stranger’s face as Ian was, he guessed it must be man, noting the broad shoulders and the way the coat was just a little too short for the figure’s tall stature.

Just as he was noticing a small hole in the corner of the man’s coat pocket, Ian was startled by the sound of the subway bell echoing around the station. Thank god, he thought. He looked up at the clock one last time. 12:27. He ‘d come too far to turn back now, he’d just have to face whatever hell Coreen threw at him for being late.

Suddenly, the station was thrown into light as the train pulled in. As it came to a stop, Ian stole one last glance at the man. His scarf had shifted a little, and in the new light, he could just glimpse the man’s rough and unshaven face before he stepped onto the train. Ian decided that at this hour, it was probably best to not get involved in any way with this man, and took a a seat at the opposite end of the car from the man.

As the station melted away behind him, Ian settled into his seat and pulled out his iPod. As he picked through various songs, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He lifted his eyes and saw the man in the shabby coat staring directly at him. He quickly averted his glance back to the screen in his hand and widened his eyes.

Jeez. He continued to see the man out of the corner of his eye, waiting for him to drop his stare, but he never did. Ian put his iPod away, and tried not to shudder. The gaze of the man across the car was unnerving.

He glanced at the map on the wall of the car. There were plenty of stop before Wilson. Surely the man would get off at one of them. But even as he thought this, Ian found himself not quite believing it.

As the train pulled into each station, no one entered their car. As far as Ian could tell, no one was even waiting on the platform. He noticed one woman get out of another car a couple of stops before Wilson. He began to get the feeling the train was deserted, save for them.

As the silver snake of the train slithered into Wilson Station, Ian stood up slowly. Sure enough, without taking his eyes off Ian, so too did the man. Ian hurriedly stepped out onto the platform and made for the stairs. As he climbing, the unmistakable sound of footsteps followed him.

As he emerged onto the street, he looked around. The intersection was strangely dead for Toronto, even on a Sunday night, and in this instance this fact was much to his displeasure. He spied the bus stop on the other side of the street and made to cross. He had only a few minutes before the last run of the night.

He could hear the man crossing the street just a few steps behind him, and was compelled for a brief instant to turn around and bitch him out, find out just what the hell his problem was. But Ian knew even in broad daylight, that was a stupid course of action. He continued on to the other side of the street, and stepped into the bus shelter. As he pretended to read the schedule, he suddenly realized that the footsteps had not followed him in! He peered around the corner of the shelter wall. There was the man, slowly shuffling down the street.. Ian breathed a sigh of relief. The whole thing had just been a weird coincidence.

He sat down on the bench in the shelter and pulled out his phone. He looked at the time. 12:44. He considered calling Coreen, contemplated trying to explain to her just how hopeless taking a train on a Sunday night is. But, trying to explain such a fact would be just as hopeless, he concluded. He slid his phone back into his pocket and waited. He would just have to deal with whatever shit Coreen was going to give him, if she even bothered.

Far more reliable than the train, the last bus pulled up right on schedule, 12:46. Ian climbed on, flashing his UofT student card, and proceeded through the bus. He was pleased to see no one else occupying it. He chose a seat in the middle of the bus, leaned back and closed his eyes. With any luck, the bus wouldn’t have to pick up anyone else and it would be an uninterrupted ride from here to his stop.

Far too soon, Ian felt the bus shudder to a stop, only a few blocks away from where he had boarded. He wondered again why so many people were electing to use public transit at this ungodly hour, then reminded himself that he too, was one of these odd people. He lifted his head to see who was getting on.

As soon as he saw the grubby coat sleeve reach out to drop some money in the till, Ian’s heart sank .How could it be? How did the get that many stops ahead of him and still wind up on the same bus? Ian looked around, as if for some form of assistance, but none came. The bus began to move again, and the man sauntered over, siting down a few seats away.

Ian was afraid to look up, anticipating the man’s disconcerting gaze. He chanced it, raising his head up, and sure enough, the two eyes sticking out between the man’s hat and scarf were rigidly fixed upon him.

This was way too creepy. It was like something out of a horror movie, Ian thought. Like this guy was some axe murdered who was just waiting for the right moment to kill him. Rationally, Ian told himself this was impossible, that that was a crazy, ridiculous thought, and yet he couldn’t shake the feeling. It was like Wes Craven was directing his night.

Ian was now seriously regretting his decision to visit Coreen. It was almost one in the morning, and even if he could get away from his new found stalker, he would face a vengeful ex-girlfriend once he did.

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Behind the Blues

As a part of these blog posts, I was expected to make comments on other blogs that focused on my book. Unfortunately, no such blogs exist. So, I took to the internet and sought out some source material on the novel that I could comment and expand upon. I was fortunate enough to discover this, an interview with Esi Edugyan, the author herself, done by AbeBooks.com
http://www.abebooks.com/books/author-interview-half-blood-blues/esi-edugyan.shtml (the interview itself)

I thought I’d mention some things Edugyan said, and attempt to exand upon and add some of my ideas too them.

-Edugyan states that the title, Half-Blood Blues, was not a real jazz song (and this is true), that she came up with it from her imagination. Now, I’d like to examine this, the title. “Half-Blood Blues” is the title of the track Sidney and his band record in the novel, however, I think it isn’t actually a particularly good name for a jazz song. It is derived from the group’s trumpeter being half-Black and half-German, which makes the title sensible, however, based on my working knowledge of jazz in the first half of the 20th century, I just don’t find it sounds like a name that would have actually existed at that time. Songs that actually contained the word “blues” were reasonably common in the early days of jazz (say, the early 1900’s to around the early 20’s) – St. Louis Blues, Basin Street Blues, Tin Roof Blues. However, as jazz matured and expanded, titles got a little more diverse than simply the name of a place or object with the word “blues” tagged on at the end.

In the time of the 30’s, great standards were coming about, like “Body & Soul”, “My Funny Valentine”, “All the Things You Are” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it ain’t got that swing)”, and  “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (see my previous post). Names of jazz standards were becoming more inspired and thoughtful. So, for Sidney and his group to record a tune in the early 40’s and call it “Half-Blood Blues“, seemed to me like a bit of a musical misstep. While the title is still clever, and still suits the name of the book, it isn’t as historically accurate as it could be. This is not Edugyan’s fault, as to know the details of naming jazz compositions decade-by-decade is not typically part of the research done for a novel. It is merely something I noticed.

-Edugyan states in the interview that, pertaining to characters, Chip Jones was the most fun to write. Chip is the obnoxious and abrasive drummer for Sidney’s group, and he was is most definitely a source of comic relief throughout the novel. I can most definitely see why he would be a favourite character of Edugyan’s to write. Chip often gets the punchline in jokes, has many an “expressive” outburst, and maintains largely light-hearted and free-spirited throughout the novel. I believe that such a character would indeed be one of the more fun to bring to life.

-When asked what she might have done had she not become a writer, Edugyan suggests she would have enjoyed pursuing something creative, such as dancing or singing, saying she wishes she had “trained her voice up”. She implies here that she had potential to be a singer, and this makes me wonder if she wrote a bit of herself into the character of Delilah, an aspiring jazz vocalist who become friends with Sidney’s gang and sets them up with jazz great Louis Armstrong. Delilah is described as a good singer, but has never really taken her talent anywhere. This seems similar to what Edugyan says of herself, so it seems to me like it is perhaps more than an interesting coincidence, and that the author may very well have been channelling a little bit of herself into the character.

Those are some of the things I wanted to remark on after reading AbeBooks.com’s interview with Esi Edugyan. I encourage you to read the whole interview (link above), as well as watch their video review:

Enjoy!

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The Jazz Age

I thought I’d provide a little more context into “Half-Blood Blues”, and offer up one of my favourite tunes performed by one of the great trombonists of the Swing Era, along with his band – Tommy Dorsey, with, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”. One of my favourite trombonists, and my favourite songs. This kind of music reigned supreme in the years before and leading into “Half-Blood Blues”. Sid and his band certainly would know this tune.

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Swing Heil!

I know they meant well, known they was our audience, but man, most ain’t known two strokes about jazz, come out only ’cause of the ban.” (151)

Sidney is talking about Swing Kids, a movement of German teenager who took in jazz shows because jazz music was being oppressed by the Nazis and they wanted to express their defiance. In the book, Sidney denounces them, saying they didn’t truly know jazz, they only listened to it for rebellion. This is interesting, because there was a movie made in the early 90’s about those same Swing Kids (indeed, the movie shares the same name), but in it, the teens are made out to be the protagonists.

In Swing Kids (1993), a group of German youth use swing music, largely imported from the states as means of rebellion against the Nazis and the Hitler Youth. In the film, the clear antagonist is the Nazi party, while the audience is expected to cheer for the Swing Kids themselves. I thought it was interesting how simply depending on who’s describing the Swing Kids, they could be viewed as either a positive or a negative party. To German youth, they were a force for freedom and good. To “true” jazz musicians, they were posers and fakes. An interesting lesson in perspective.

More on the Swing Kids film:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_Kids_(film)

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D.S. al Coda

So, I have recently finished Half-Blood Blues, a novel by Esi Edugyan that centres around jazz in pre-war Germany. The story is narrated in the first person by Sidney Griffiths, a bass player with an up-and-coming jazz group based in Germany.

The book is interestingly structured, as it is narrated from two different points in time – that late 30’s, as well as the early 90’s, over 50 years later (but still narrated by Sidney) If we adopt the assumption that Sidney is telling his story in the “present”, (or, the 90’s), then it means he is speaking from memory when he narrates the parts set in the 30’s/40’s. Working on this assumption, I noticed something interesting.

When describing a particular place or event, Sidney very often makes a reference to the scents of those things around him – rooms, pieces of furniture, himself, etc. I thought this was interesting and as well, a clever move by the author, because it has been studied and determined before that scent and sense of smell is one of the senses most tied to memory:
http://psychology.about.com/od/memory/ss/ten-facts-about-memory_8.htm

Sidney is trying to remember things that happened 50 years ago, and because scent is so closely associated with memory, he is able to describe the smell of a situation, sometimes before the actual events. The use of this device by the writer greatly enhanced the realism of Sidney and his recollections, and I thought it was very well-executed.

(oh, a quick note about the title of this post: in a piece of music, D.S. al Coda means to return to a certain part of the music and play it again, until a symbol indicates to take the coda – the final part of the piece of music. I liken this to Sidney’s situation – he goes back in his memory to a certain part of his past, until he reaches a certain even that brings him back to the present, and the end of his story.)

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