The Boys Are Back In Town

Okay, maybe they’re not “boys” per se.  How about ganders (and geese)?

Heritage Hills Geese

After a relatively short and mild winter here in the hinterland, the migratory birds are starting to return.  These Canada geese have parked themselves on the edge of the local wetlands, squonking away like modal jazz saxophonists.  One presumes they are the reconnaissance skein of their flock, sent ahead to scope out the situation for the legions to follow.  Or perhaps they were just really keen to travel.

Geese are one of those creatures that mate for life, travelling and nesting in pairs.  That’s something noble to admire about our fine-feathered friends the next time you’re cursing them for chasing you off a golf course or messing up your lawn.

There was an item on 60 Minutes this week about people that are afflicted with face-blindness, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  The report also mentioned the reciprocal situation: people that can’t forget a face.  I don’t have perfect facial recall – or face blindness for that matter.  But I’ve often wondered if I have an unusual ability to memorize musical passages.  There are so many songs that seem to get imprinted directly onto my brain, as though I have a multi-track tape recorder lodged between my ears.  I can skip forwards, backwards, isolate various instruments, and pick out specific melodic phrases and beats and lyrics.  It’s also really easy to pick out instruments or voices that are slightly out of tune.  It’s a skill with absolutely no value when it comes to earning a paycheque in my chosen profession, but it thankfully seems to add to my ability to appreciate music.  Hopefully every music fan has some degree of this ability.

On Sunday, the weather was nice so I jumped on the Heel-Toe Express and did a loop around the neighbourhood.  My trusty Nike+ shoes and iPhone app tell me that I hiked 16.35 km in a tick over three hours, which is pretty decent considering the number of slushy sections that required careful navigation in the shade.  The music was on shuffle, and a bunch of great songs came up, but three of them have really stuck with me all week.

I’ve always loved the melody of “All The Right Reasons” by The Jayhawks.  That band has a knack for writing songs that seem so simple, pure, and effortless (but I’ll bet it’s really a lot of hard work).  I was probably thinking subliminally about the geese when my tape-recorder brain picked out this lyric:

Like a tired bird flying high across the ocean
I was outside looking in, you made me live again
From the mountains to the prairies little babies

As far as I know, geese don’t migrate across oceans.  But with a little artistic licence, there is something oddly romantic about the idea of pair-bonded couples settling down in a wide-open field to raise their brood.

A little while later, as I was climbing a hill, “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels really captured my imagination.  I’ve had those strings and palm-muted guitar sounds swirling through my mottled mind ever since.  Mark Everett, a.k.a. Mr. E, has found a way to turn his personal tragedies into stunningly compelling music.  The lyrics and quietly defiant musical tones of this song seem to implore the listener to put on a brave face and make the best of a bad situation.  “Maybe it’s time to live”, indeed.

Near the end of my stroll, just as my feet were getting sore, “You Were A Kindness” by The National came on.  It’s one of the bonus tracks from the extended version of 2010’s masterpiece High Violet.  The whole song seems to rotate around an axis defined by Matt Berninger’s sombre lead vocal and a beautifully distressed piano motif.  First thing in the morning and last thing at night, as I’m chasing away the ghosts that haunt my soul, I can still feel the resonance of that piano.

You were a kindness when I was a stranger
But I wouldn’t ask for what I didn’t need
Everything’s weird and we’re always in danger
Why would you shatter somebody like me?


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