Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sarah McLachlan: A 17-Year Love Affair

What I'm reading right now: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson 

I just started the second book in the Mistborn triology. I don't have much to say about it yet, other than I hope it lives up to the standard set by Mistborn.


Sarah McLachlan: A 17-Year Love Affair

I have a special guest blogger today, my alter-ego, fanboy!

Back in 1994, I received a gift certificate to a local record shop (that’s right, a record shop) called Tom  Tom’s. I browsed the store for awhile, when I came upon a CD called Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, by Sarah Mclachlan. I had never heard of this artist from the great white north, however, I was drawn in by the cover art and the titles of her songs intrigued me. Titles like: Possession, Plenty, Wait, Hold On, Ice Cream, and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. I decided to take a chance on it. And thus began a seventeen year love affair.

Sarah is on tour right now and the logistics fell in our favor to put her in SLC on Feb. 14th, Valentine’s Day. That night my wife and I went to dinner and then attended the concert.

The ticket said, Sarah Mclachlan and Friends. Her friends turned out to be Melissa McClleland, her husband Luke Doucet, and Australian chanteuse Butterfly Boucher (rhymes with voucher) and it is her given name.

Instead of having an opening act by the friends, followed by Sarah and her band, Sarah’s band turned out to be her friends. They all performed together. Sarah would do a few songs, then turn the stage over to one of her friends and she would sing back up or accompany on the piano. They are all friends, they know each others’ music, and most of all you could sense a genuine love for their work. There was no ego on that stage. Everyone knew that is was Sarah’s show, but she didn’t have to tell anyone that. They were all there supporting each other and grateful to be a part of each others’ music. You may have heard of a little thing called Lilith Fair. Same concept, bigger stage.

The first time I saw Sarah in concert was the first time I saw Paula Cole. A complete unknown with her first album, Harbinger (which I think is still my favorite). My wife and I instantly fell in love with Paula and have remained fans to this day. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was Sarah’s third album and as it turns out her break out album in the States. She didn’t yet wield the power that she does now, yet still . . . Sarah told the story of how she wanted Paula to open for her and somebody who thought he was in charge said “no way” claiming that audiences wouldn’t come to a two woman ticket. To which Sarah responded, “Oh really? Then we’re definitely doing it.” I for one am glad they did.

To further connect with the audience, Sarah put a top hat by the merchandise stand where the audience wrote down questions and Sarah then read the questions and answered them on stage. She did this twice during the show.

Some of the questions were (I’ll paraphrase as best I can):

Q: Which comes first the music or the lyrics?

A: The music, always the music. Sometimes there’s a phrase or an idea which accompanies the music initially, but I work from such an emotional place that sometimes it can take me a month to do one song.

Continuing this idea, at one point she introduced a song by saying it was an older song that she’d stopped performing for awhile, saying that if there’s no emotional connection to a song then she can’t sing it. It doesn’t feel real; it doesn’t feel honest. In regards to that song, she said she’d recently revisited it and suddenly it all made sense again.

One of my favorite questions was:

Q: Is your love better than ice cream?

A: I don’t think I’m the one to answer that question. Then she said, yes.

Only two things came to my mind to ask her: 1) What would it take to get her to tour again with Paula and 2) to share something fun about her and her kids. She has two daughters. Fortunately, somebody else asked the latter. “Tell us about something silly you do with your daughters.”

A: We have a family bath so my daughters and I take a bath together and then chase each other naked around the house and smack each others’ bottoms. They have such cute little kid bottoms you can’t help but squeeze them.

Q: Ryan asks, “Are you really single?”

A: To this she responded that yes she is single and went on to comment about how this has been called the divorce album by some. But she also commented on how going through that difficult time has put her in a better place and she can now look back on it and be glad it’s behind her. She also commented on how she is enjoying getting to know herself as a single. She’s been with somebody since she was eighteen with the exception of about six months.

Which is interesting because on her last tour she talked about what happy place she was in and how her husband had really helped her through a trying time especially childbirth and those first few months after giving birth. She has some beautiful songs (Push, Answer) she wrote expressing her love and thanks to her husband.

In the second round of questions came this:

Q: My name is Allison. I’m eleven. I love your work. Can I have a hug?

A: “Oh, that’s sweet. Where is Allison? Sure honey, come on up.” They hug and it’s very sweet to see. “That was great. A kid hug is just right since I had to send my girls home for school last week and I’m missing them. Leslie followed Allison down to the stage also trying to get a hug, but security stopped her.

In a kind of follow up to Ryan, Leslie also inquired about her single status and gave Sarah her phone number asking Sarah to call her and if not would she please give her number to Butterfly. Somebody called out from the audience something about Ryan to which Sarah said, “Ryan didn’t have balls enough to give me his number.”

Little did we know that Ryan and submitted a second question where in he’d become more brazen. Sarah was sitting at the piano at this point. She read the question to herself then said, “Oh, Ryan. Ryan’s being cheeky. He says, Does the rug match the drapes?” By Butterfly’s reaction she seemed shocked but secretly approving. Most of the audience voiced their disapproval but I can’t help but wonder how much of that was just show, doing what they thought was the appropriate response when they too were curious to know. After the hubbub settled a bit, Sarah said, “No.” Her friends were surprised she said so but Sarah responded that her intent was to answer everything honestly.

I’m not one to gush, really I’m not. Behind the bright lights most “stars” are just people, like you and me. However, Sarah really inspires me. I love to see artists who beat the odds and are doing what they love to do. Sarah expressed her thanks for each of them to us, who enable them to perform and do what they love—how grateful they are to still have an audience. You can tell how much she loves it. When she sings and moves on stage you see the music just flowing through her as if it is a physical extension of her. I guess in a way it is.

But that is not all. I present to you other reasons to love Sarah:

She has done a lot of work with World Vision. She raised a ton of money for ASPAC, and the Sarah McLachlan Foundation whose sole mandate is to support and expand her music outreach program—a free music school in Vancouver, which serves 270 kids who otherwise would not have access to music lessons. At that she expressed her desire for all kids to have music in their lives of some fashion. I agree. If I had to name a regret in my life it’s that I didn’t do more with music than I did. I still want to learn the guitar and take voice lessons.

I tease my wife that if—God forbid anything were to happen to her—I could see myself with: Sarah Mclachlan,  Diana Krall, or Wynonna Judd.

As if any of them would have me. They are all beautiful women, but what makes them attractive is the emotion they put into their music. How much of themselves they put in their work. Hey, even my wife commented on how sexy Sarah is. (It broke my heart a little bit when Diana married Elvis Costello. Just knowing that there was now no chance, as if. Which only further proves that chicks dig musicians. I mean, have you seen Elvis? Let’s just say he has an unconventional look.)

And although I’m sorry for Sarah’s divorce, a little part of me is happy she’s single.

Of any person I’ve seen in concert, no one else connects to her audience like Sarah does. She is honest, personable, and as my wife says, genuine. She makes you feel like she’s singing only to you, showed up only because you personally were going to be there. Which explains the audience. I’ve never seen such a diverse audience. There were fans there from age 11 to 60, mostly couples, both gay and straight, and we were all simply happy and grateful to be there.

Sarah, as long as you keep singing, we’ll keep coming.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Colonies of Bacteria and the WHO Rides Again

What I'm reading right now: Popular Science March 2011 specifically, an article by Virginia Hughes called, Our Body the Ecosystem (hence the Colonies of Bacteria reference) with the amazing and iconic photography of Howard Schatz.

I once heard Dave Wolverton, aka Dave Farland say, parphrasing, "It always amazes me how many people tell me they want to write science fiction but they never read science magazines." Hence my subscription to Popular Science. I don't know that science fiction is where I want to direct my writing per se, but I certainly don't want to preclude myself from the genre either. I also have a long standing auto-recurring subscription to Psychology Today, great information in there about making your characters sound real.

(I'm eagerly looking forward to starting the Well of Ascension but I bought it on my Nook which I loaned out. I didn't realize how much I use it until I was without it.)

Plus, as a bonus, this month you get Howard Schatz. I would not have expected to find him in an issue of Popular Science. I have a number of his books.


To further our discussion on WHO vs. THAT, I've had some great comments and wanted to clarify a couple of things. I'm somewhat of a proponet of who clauses so I will generally lean to that side, however, before we go breaking any rules it is always prudent to know the rule.

Jordon was correct (as she usually is, check out her blog in my blog list to the left) in that sometimes you can use that when refering to a person, I just personally perfer not to and no one will ever fault you for using who instead of that (or likely notice), but I am a logophile and strive to use our maddening language to the best of my abilities. As a side note, the rules on WHICH vs. THAT are clear and immovable, but WHO vs. THAT allows for some wriggle room.

The following is from the reference book, A Grammar Book For You and I . . . oops, Me! by C. Edward Good.

p. 140

The Relatives: Mixing Them Up
We use who-whom-whose to refer to humans and that-which to refer to inanimate objects and abstractions. Thus:

          The woman who became CEO was admired by all.
          The idea that she suggested ultimately succeeded.
          The report that she wrote cinched the deal.

Living things closely associated with humans often receive the honor of who-whom-whose:

          Amber affectionately stroked her pet turtle, who curled up in front of the fire.


          Igor stomped on the cockroach that crawled along the floor.

Sometimes, however, we use that to refer to people, usually a generic type of person:

          The writers that learn these rules will improve their work.

Or you could use that to refer in a restrictive way to an identifiable person:

          The child that made the A addressed the class.

These days we never use which to refer to a person. Such usages as "Our Father, which art in heaven" are archaic.

< / quote >

As per the post in Wikipedia:

"[T]hat is found with both human and non-human antecedents. While some writers recommend reserving that for nonhuman antecedents, this does not reflect majority use. Examples can be found in Shakespeare (the man that hath no music in himself[1]), Mark Twain (The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg), and Ira Gershwin (The Man that Got Away)."

What most gets my attention in the quote above is ". . . this does not reflect majority use." That is the crux of my original post on WHO vs. THAT, the WHO is dying as the majority use THAT when it's appropriate and when it is not. I wonder how many realize the latter. I understand the evolving nature of language and that is one of the things I love about it, but there's also value in preserving our roots.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mistborn and The Demise of the Who

What I'm reading right now: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson 

If anyone is paying attention, you'll remember that my last post said I was finally taking on the journey called The Lord of the Rings. And although I did start that journey, I became sidetracked and took on a different quest, a quest through the mist.

For those who know, you know that Mistborn is a fantastic read. The magic system is terrific and there are so many plot points that are layered and planted and eventually come together that I can't praise Brandon Sanderson enough. From what I've heard, the same can be said for the series. People much more versed in the genre than I am have told me that Mistborn elevated the genre. What all this tells me as a writer is that this stuff takes practice.

I was once fortunate enough to take a lunch with Brandon Sanderson, just about the time that Mistborn was released. Elantris had just come out in paperback and he was doing a book signing. I bought Elantris and got it signed--this was before I really knew the brillance that is Brandon. During that lunch, prompted by our questions, he mentioned how he'd received such praise for his "first" novel--Elantris. The reason why his first novel was so superior to debut novels of other writers is because it was not his first. He said he'd written six other novels before Elantris. And that was his point, that writing is a skill and an art that must be practiced like any other. Should you actively promote your first novel and query those agents? Absolutely. Should you be doggedly working on your next novel at the same time--absolutely. 


People That Who Could Care Less

When I talk about the demise of the WHO, I'm not talking about the Pinball Wizard, that deaf-dumb-and-blind-kid will never die. What I am talking about is grammar.

I understand how language evolves and prescriptive vs. descriptive, I've done at least one post on both. However, there is one grammar rule that is consistently broken today that still grates on me a little:

Who vs. That

When I was in high school, I remember coming home from rehearsal and relating a story to my dad--something about someone. I don't remember the story or the event at all, but what did stay with me was when my dad corrected my grammar. I had something akin to, "So-and-so that did something." He stopped me and said, "No, people are whos not thats."

What I should have said was, "So-and-so who did something."

I hear this particular faux pas daily from co-workers, television anchors, and television shows, and I usually correct it--in my head. "Who" is elegant and appropriate for a person. When ascribing what is reserved for inanimate objects and metaphors to a person "that" is rendered vulgar.

Come on people, this was one of our earliest lessons taught to us by none other than the great Dr. Suess. I know I've whiled away many a day in Whoville, but I've never known a That from Thatville.

For an interesting look at the phrase "I Couldn't Care Less" and people who do or don't, check out this blog post by Brian A. Klems.

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