Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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An 8th of December in Paris, and long ago in Toronto and New York

December 9, 2010

I have always kept the same image in my mind of me walking down a snowy Toronto street, at Bathurst and Queen Streets, to be precise, and looking down at the slush and ice on the sidewalk, and up at the lights above the street, and thinking about the death of John Lennon. It was 8 December 1980, and I had had my own birthday the day before and I think I was basking in some strange sense of how I could be feeling good about my birthday – this is no longer the case – while Lennon would never reach another year, and the world – and I – was swamped by the tragedy of his death. How could such an icon die? Worse, be murdered?

In any case, who knows why we sometimes have certain banal images attached in our minds with big events (I mean, why Bathurst and Queen Streets? Right next to the Wheatsheaf Tavern, I think it was….) Of course, it’s the “where were you when John Lennon (or JFK or Martin Luther King etc) died?” question and phenomenon….

So last night, in Paris it was the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s murder, and not only did I have the memory of the snow Toronto evening in my mind as I walked to the Highlander to play in the open mic but I actually also had the same image of the Paris streets and sidewalk and streetlights: Paris was, as Toronto was 30 years before, under a blanket of snow and slush and ice. Where such a thing is banal in Toronto, however, here in Paris it means the city nearly stops functioning.

To Thomas Brun‘s great credit, however, the open mic went on. And it was quite a success, considering that most people had a hard time getting there – no buses, all taxis occupied, streets unwalkable, and metros full. While the Highlander went on, I learned later that the vocal jam at the Cavern was called off because some of the musicians could not get into town.

So it was that the theme at the Highlander was John Lennon. Just before he opened the evening Thomas told me I would go up after him – if I wanted – and began the evening singing three Lennon songs. I was rubbing my hands with delight at the thought that I would play second because I know only one John Lennon song, and that is, “Jealous Guy.” So I thought that I had a very, very good chance to be able to play it. If I went up in the middle of the evening, I was sure someone would play it before me. Oh dear, the third song Thomas did was… “Jealous Guy.”

But I did have a joker, and that was a song that Lennon did, and his rendition of it – rather than the original – is what really got me to thinking I should learn it. So I told the crowd that I would do “Stand By Me” as my Lennon tribute.

This was a night to remember as well, as it turned out, for Paris was SOOOO closed down that by the time I decided to go home the metro had stopped, all of the few remaining taxis were occupied – and every street corner had someone trying to flag down a cab – and all the hotels were booked. I finally managed to find a hotel room for a few hundred euros after a last minute cancellation by someone, and because I got to the counter before the many people sleeping on the floor and couches of the lobby…. Airplanes had been cancelled too, and people could not return to their homes so the hotels were crowded. Only in Paris!!!!!

Jealous Guy With Tom & Jerry

April 18, 2010

Went to Oscar’s again last night and did indeed get to play with Tom & Jerry again, and I did record some of it. But whereas I felt the previous night was a fabulous success and with the music together as it could be, the one song last night that I felt I had down and together with Tom, Jerry and Paul was “Crazy Love,” and by the time I finished it and returned to my Zoom Q3 recording device, I saw that the device was not turned on….

So I continued recording several of the other songs we did together, and the best was “Jealous Guy.” Unfortunately, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I messed up the words, repeating one of the key lines twice. And during the instrumental interlude, I lost my way and there was a moment where I floated about not sure where the thread lay. I’ve decided to put up the video here anyway, just to have a record of me playing with Tom & Jerry, and Paul Meredith in Shanghai.

That mess up is what playing live music is all about. It’s never the same thing. You aim for perfection, you aim for fun and emotion, and you aim for tight timing. But you rarely get anywhere near any of that – at least in a jamming situation like this when you have never played a song together with the other people – but you hope to frequently simply feel good enough to have fun.

A woman named Tia, who owns a nearby bar, had seen me at Bee Dees two nights earlier sing the same song, and she said it was much better when I was alone at Bee Dees, and that I was more relaxed. Too true. I had banked so many hopes into getting a great moment with Tom & Jerry, that I was overly nervous. Still, it’s never as bad as you think, and the video is not that bad.

I also learned another human lesson last night. We all have our preconceived ideas about people and no matter how open we think we are, we still have preconceptions that may only be broken if we open ourselves further, make an effort to understand, learn and open up. In the past few days I have spoken about Tom & Jerry, and said they came from Inner Mongolia. I drummed up this image yesterday of this guy, Jerry, sitting in Inner Mongolia learning bluegrass and country music on his banjo.

On Saturday night at Oscar’s by happenstance, I learned something about Jerry that I had not imagined. It turns out that Oscar’s Pub is a subscriber to the International Herald Tribune newspaper, the paper where I work as a journalist. I had known this from the first day I was there and saw the newspaper. So on Saturday evening I asked for a copy of the IHT in order to take a look at my special report on the Chinese Grand Prix, to see how it all ended up looking on the page in print.

Paul asked me to show him and the band the pages, and I did so. That’s when Jerry, whose last name I learned is Liu, is also a journalist. He works on a cultural magazine. He does mostly page layout and graphics and that sort of editorial work, but he said he also does the occasional story when he finds a subject that interests him. Of course, since it is an arts magazine and it covers all of the arts, he likes to write about music.

The evening ended for me with an interesting meeting with a friend of Paul’s from Hong Kong. This was Kung Chi Shing. He looks like Fu Manchu, but his hair and pointy beard are both very grey. And he is thin and slight. He lives in Hong Kong and he is a musical friend of Paul’s. He is a composer, in fact, and studied music, including a master’s degree in the U.S., mostly in contemporary and symphonic music. He has composed for films, and he is in Shanghai for the Exhibition, which starts next week, as he is handling a musical project for the Exhibition.

He was an intelligent and friendly guy, and he said he has lately been organizing street music events in Hong Kong, which the locals find difficult to accept or comprehend. But he is enjoying it, and said he rarely performs himself, and is much more at home in composition, and not very much at home in pop or rock music.

A wonderful meeting. Tonight, I have been invited by Jerry to go and see his band with Tom and a couple of other musicians playing at the Melting Pot. But I’ve also been recommended to go and play at the open mic at the Blarney Stone and at the jam at Anar. So whatever happens, I think I’ll have a busy night. On the other hand, hanging over the whole thing will be the worry and fret about whether or not I will make it back to Paris tomorrow on my flight, as the cloud from Iceland continues to create havoc in flights around Europe.

Here’s Tom & Jerry and Paul playing a great medley of trad music:

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