The End of the Lineman

I was so saddened to hear of Glen Campbell‘s passing today at the age of 81. He is right up there in my list of favourite musicians whose voice and songs could hit me like an emotional kick in the guts – but in the best of ways. He was one of those artists who some see a coiffed country cliche, in fact the “Rhinestone Cowboy”, but if you listen to his music and understand the influence and contribution of his life’s work to many other artists and hits, you begin to understand his importance in popular and country music.

HCover of Burning bridgese was one of 12 children born to a sharecropping Arkansas family. As a boy he was obsessed with the guitar playing of Jazz great Django Reinhardt and he became a stunning guitarist in his own right. He lent his talent to many hits as part of the Los Angeles based Wrecking Crew, the unsung heroes of hits for big stars such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Monkees, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and many of Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ productions. In 1963 alone, he appeared on 586 cuts and countless more throughout the decade, including The Byrd’s Mr Tambourine Man, Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas, and the Righteous Brother’s You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.

He was a touring member of the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson stopped touring in 1964, and in the late sixties, began winning Grammys and hosted his own TV show. His big hits, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Where’s the Playground Susie and By the Time I get to Phoenix were all taking off around this late sixties period.

I can never decide whether Wichita Lineman or By the Time I Get to Phoenix is my favourite, I can never get through either without a tear in my eye. It’s writer Jimmy Webb’s words sure, but it’s Glenn’s soaring plaintive voice and his wondrous guitar solos that also add so much to the sadness and longing in both songs.

Burning Bridges by Debbie Campbell is a biography by his daughter, who toured with him for years, and is an account of not only the good times, but also the drugs and drinking and family struggles that seem to so often come with a musician’s fame and life on the road.

The documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me”, released in 2014, is well worth hunting out, following him on what was to be his last tour, as his his battle with Alzheimer’s began to affect his ability to play and perform.  (late edit: Prime TV have announced they will screen this at 8:30pm on Thursday, 10 August).

His last song, “I’m not Going to Miss You”, won a Grammy this year for best country song.

Glen Campbell is survived by eight children and was married four times.

Find out more

Lumber on an epic scale

cover of BarkskinsI discovered at the weekend with a rapidly beating heart, that one of my all time favourite writers,  Annie Proulx, has released a new novel.

Thirteen years since her last novel, Barkskins is, by all accounts, a rip snorter. According to what I can glean from good old Mr Google, it is 736 pages long, spanning 3 centuries, and tells the story of two French immigrants in the new land of America. They are bound to a feudal lord for three years and are sent to work in the dense and remote forests of the New World in exchange for a promise of land. The book follows them and their descendants from 1693 through to the 21st century and various family members travel all over the world, including to little old New Zealand.

Annie Proulx first caught my eye when I read The Shipping News, another great story of families, set in Newfoundland. I have never forgotten the ways she described snow and ice and barren landscapes and the families and eccentrics who lived amongst it.

Cover of The shipping news

Accordion Crimes was also a favourite, charting the lives of immigrants settling in America through the life of an accordion that is handed down through families; Jewish, Irish, Italian and many others.

Both The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain (a short story originally), were also made into movies, both well worth watching.

Ms Proulx, now in her eighties, was a bit of a late bloomer, with her first short stories published in her 50s and her first novel in 1992. She has gone onto to publish 13 works and win over twenty literary prizes, including a Pulitzer prize for The Shipping News.

Her novels and short storys are filled with hard bitten complex characters and landscapes that are wonderful described, I find I get immersed in her stories and I think this is because she herself has led a full and intense life, always on her own terms. She has been married and divorced three times and has raised three sons alone. She worked as postal worker and a waitress, and early on a writer of magazine articles on everything from chilli growers to canoeing.

She has two history degrees, drifted the countryside in her pickup truck, can fly fish, fiddle, and hunt game birds. But for all her life experience, she has said that she likes to write about what she doesn’t know, rather than draw on what she has already experienced. If you haven’t read her books, I strongly recommend them.

So, I’m on the library waiting list, hoping the book arrives quickly so I can again revel in her wondrous prose!

Five minutes on a Thursday afternoon

Libraries have changed; everyone knows this. There are no shushing fingers, aisles of silence and stern librarians imparting knowledge (not sure there have ever been these, especially wearing spectacles down their noses and tweed skirts). The library is used by people from all areas of the community for so many different reasons.

Fendalton Library
Femdalton Library, Flickr CCL-2012-09-24IMG_7917

Libraries are true community spaces, and I decided to test this out by wandering around Fendalton Library on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm. Here is a list of what I found in 5 minutes… It reads a little like the twelve days of Christmas:

  • 9 people playing board games
  • 10 knitters knitting
  • 4 browsing the recent returns
  • 7 using the wifi on their laptops
  • 5 people reading
  • 6 in the non-fiction section
  • someone skyping in Italian
  • a mother reading to her child in our oversized chair
  • 5 students studying
  • a tutor teaching a young child maths
  • a group practicing conversational English
  • 4 people issuing books
  • kids returning a mountain of picture books
  • 2 people using the wifi on their phones
  • 8 people on the public computers
  • 1 on the photocopier
  • a boy making origami
  • 1 shelver shelving
  • two trolleys being emptied
  • two help desks being used
  • and someone asking where the toilet is

Whew! All over this fair city, libraries are full, librarians are working hard and people are finding what they need, interacting with others, enjoying themselves and gaining and imparting knowledge. Not a bad place to work I guess.

Avian Flu and the ‘Quiet Days of Power’

It started with the destruction of the world via avian flu and ended with mind control and memory loss via music. My last few weeks have been filled with two books from my go-to genre, dystopian science fiction, and both were rip-snorters.

Cover of Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a classic post-apocalyptic tale. A deadly flu that kills within hours sweeps through the entire world population, laying waste to all but a few hardy souls. We follow a group of survivors, whose lives intersect at various stages throughout the book. The interesting decision by the author to switch between the time when the flu hit and then twenty years later to see how society survived, coped and altered gives the story movement and contrasts, and I loved seeing where and when the characters met and re-connected.

The main story centres around a band of actors and musicians who travel through mid-west USA performing Shakespeare and classical music to the few survivors in scattered outposts: people eking out an existence without any infrastructure, centralised government and dwindling resources. Holding onto history, art and culture in such a bleak landscape seems both foolhardy and wonderful in equal measures.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill is a very different animal. Yes, people are struggling, living in a London very different to the one we know, but things are very different from Station Eleven. There is a power in charge, a cloistered order that have developed a powerful weapon they use on their own people to keep control. The weapon? Music.

Cover of The ChimesThe Chimes are sent through the air and there is no escaping them; they wipe people’s memories and keep them subdued: you almost feel music has become an opiate that makes the populace feel safe. With no written word, people use music and song to remember things, such as how to travel from one place to another. They also keep objects that help them remember family, places and their history.

I love the use of musical terms in their language, many of which I had to look up, such as Lento, which means slow and Tacit, which means a sudden stop in a piece of music. I was fascinated by the way music was both their prison and their saviour, the way the protagonists in the story used music to keep themselves alive and to try to bring down those in power.

The run was tacit. Clare and I followed the first of the two strange, twisting melodies. Ours moved straight into the fourth chord and pushed on presto, skipping and meandering and returning almost completely on itself  before branching straight out in a modulation to the dominant.

Simon, our main character, is an orphaned young man who soon discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.

Both books fit my ideal of dystopia. People struggling in an alien world, even if it is our own in a different time or altered state. Heroes, villains and fascinating ideas to transport you and challenge you. Both books get the Purplerulz  purple seal of approval… read them now!

To learn more about the writing process and ideas behind The Chimes, read Masha’s great post about her interview with Anna Smaill.

Honey, Hives and Hierarchy

I don’t believe I have ever read a fantasy book before, science fiction sure, but not fantasy.  After a long reading hiatus, I was perusing a list of books nominated for various recent awards to kick-start me into reading again.

Cover of The BeesI must confess it was the cover of The Bees by Laline Paull that hooked me in – embossed and golden. Only when I started reading did I notice ‘fantasy’ on the spine. I always think about witches, dragons and ‘far away lands’ when I think fantasy, so a book about a plucky and rather magical bee and the hive she lives in didn’t fit the narrow idea I had of the genre.

The book is a debut novel for Laline Paull, a playwright and screenwriter, and was shortlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, with judges calling it “an Animal Farm for the 21st century”.

We meet Flora 717 at her birth, fighting her way out of her hive cell.  She is of the worker class, destined to clean and tidy after others for her short life. But this wee worker is different. She speaks, unlike others of her class, and she has an intelligence that soon sees her crossing antennae with those in the hive of higher classes. As the seasons progress, changes in the hive bring on new challenges to both Flora and the hive.

As Flora’s tongue unrolled toward the head of nectar, tiny particles of orange pollen tingled against her fur. The taste of the nectar was so bright and the energy release so sudden that she almost fell off the flower head.

I didn’t think I’d find myself rooting for a humble bee, but I was willing her on to achieve, find joy, survive the horrors of wasp attack, disease and resentment from those who believed she was getting above her station.

Well written, tense in places and tender in others, it’s a great read. I recommend you add it to your list. Oh and it gave my husband and me an excuse to have silly pun duels. “Honey, I’m hiving trouble bee-lieving you.” “I shall wax lyrical.”


What to do about winter

Mid-July is here already, how much more winter can you get? I spent a whole day this past weekend where I never left the house. Well, I did go down the drive to get the paper, but that was hardly adventurous.

Book cover of Soup

I quite like spending a day slouching about, not achieving much, not expecting to achieve much, but  relaxing and unwinding and trying to cast aside the thoughts that try to surface on a Sunday, thoughts such as, “I can’t believe the weekend is gone so fast AGAIN.”

So what did I do? Slept in until 10, then threw some ingredients into the slow cooker to make pumpkin soup.  A notion to eat Bacon Butties while reading the paper was satisfied as we had the crucial ingredients of bacon, bread and even the butty bit.

A check in on Facebook, my shameful addiction, took longer than I thought it should, along with the usual email mass deletion along with my background habit of randomly finding tunes on YouTube to listen to as I do other things.

I downloaded some songs I wanted to keep on Freegal, and checked my library holds, which seem to be stubbornly taking a lifetime to arrive. Librarians suffer from the same curse as many of our customers. You put a heap of items on reserve and then you wait and wait, then they all arrive at once!

I did a bit of reading; I’m almost finished I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, which I suspect is not the author’s real name.Book Cover of I am Number Four

Lunch was pretty haphazard, then my husband and I settled in for a Breaking Bad fest. We are probably the only two people in the known world not to have seen this so far gripping series, and we have luckily avoided knowing what happens at the end of the sixth season.

I do enjoy looking out of the windows at the weather on a quiet weekend. If it is rainy and horrible, then I can feel cosy and grateful I have a warm house to settle into for the day. If it’s sunny and bright I look at the garden and try not to feel guilty for not being out sorting the garden.

The afternoon meandered on with not a lot of purpose. I made some scones in the afternoon, to keep our strength up, you understand, and for dinner we had some pumpkin soup.

And so the day was over… not much to show for it, but that’s OK with me, we felt relaxed and revived and ready for whatever the next week would throw at us…bring on next weekend.

Songbirds Coming to a Library Near You

Ngā Manu Tioriori (The Songbirds), the Christchurch City Council Waiata group, are embarking on a couple of ambitious tours, aiming to spread the joy of song and Te Reo to as many libraries as possible during May Music Month.

The first tour is this Wednesday, 7th May.

They will be heading out to the North/ East side of town and will be visiting the following libraries:

  • Linwood Library 9.30am
  • New Brighton Library 10.00am
  • Aranui Library 10.20 am
  • Parklands Library 11.00am
  • Redwood 12.00pm
  • Shirley 12.40pm

On May 21st, they will head out to libraries on the other side of town, times and library locations are still being confirmed, but these libraries will be resounding to the sweet sounds of this talented bunch.

For times, keep an eye on the Christchurch City Library events page, or contact the library on 03-941 7923




With a Song Not Just in my Heart

cover of The Best Singer in the World
I love to sing. It’s a relatively new found passion, but I’ve sung like  no one was listening all my life;  in the car, in the shower, in the garden, at the supermarket or mall to accompany the piped music… I’ve just stepped it up a notch or two in the last couple of years, by getting involved in the lively and thriving Christchurch singing and music scene.

When I joined my first group singing class aimed at people who think they can’t sing, I wasn’t aware of all the great classes and groups that were out there.  There are workshops, choirs and ensembles all over town and where ever I have gone, I have found  everyone to be welcoming and supportive.

You can sing virtually anything from world music and gospel to waiata, show tunes, contemporary songs and barbershop. Whatever you fancy, there’s a group for you. If you are 5 or 105, you’ll find kindred spirits to sing with. You can also go to open mike nights at a variety of venues around town when you get braver, take individual lessons to improve  or even join an organised rock band course.

“But I can’t sing”, I hear you say? After thinking I couldn’t either, I now believe everyone can sing. So many of us were told we couldn’t by parents, teachers or siblings and often build up a fear or a belief that we are terrible singers. While we all may not be able to be or indeed want to be a Te Kanawa or a Pavarotti, we can all enjoy singing.  It’s wonderful to be in a large group where you can hide in the crowd while you practice and gain confidence.

You can choose to just sing casually at practice each week, or join groups that also perform at events and concerts around the town and even overseas.

I’m sure it’s good for my brain as I age, as I now retain dozens of songs in my head from the different groups and activities I do each week in a variety of languages and styles, and have learnt to sing harmonies.

Cover for Sing Your Heart Out

I’ve found it to be a wonderful mood lifter. On my choir practice night, I sometimes force myself to go after a long work day because I know I will leave feeling happier and invigorated.

I’ve met a whole new group of wonderful people, and we get together socially as well as support each other’s solo efforts. You also find out about live music events, workshops run by internationally renowned musicians and singers and spend time with positive, happy people.

I’ve discovered new artists and songs when hunting for songs to work on and the library has a huge collection of music on CD to borrow, so you can search for songs you’d love to try and you can download your favourites on Freegal. Musical scores are available too for those who can read music, which, by the way, is not essential to be involved in singing.

The Christchurch City Library CINCH Community Information site has a wide range of choirs, singing teachers and classes listed, and the library catalogue has books to help you on your singing journey.

My journey has led to so much fun and laughter, while gaining skills and confidence and great new friends. I can’t recommend a good warble enough  for you mental well being and sheer joy!

Music – When it Hits You, You Feel No Pain – Bob Marley

There are few people who don’t have some kind of relationship with music. I have always been quite passionate cover of The Man Called Cashabout all types of music. I’ll listen to pretty much anything, except for thrash metal, most hip hop (but some I like), trance and, as I am a heathen, most classical music. I’ll also sing like no-one’s listening. Sadly for some, they actually are.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Berhold Auerbach

My particular passions at present would have to be Appalachian music (part of the Bluegrass genre), Johnny Cash, those with interesting voices such as Iris Dement, Gillian Welch and Tom Waits and many New Zealand artists. I’m a sucker for a sad song or a good love song, and it has to take me on a journey, just like a good book.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent – Victor Hugo

Luckily for me, Christchurch City Libraries caters to just about musical taste and not just in the traditional CD format.

Cover of Clawing at the Limits of Cool

Online resources available to library members range from downloadable songs from the latest artists through to obscure academic tomes for the study of even more obscure genres and artists in Classical or Jazz.  Below is just a taste of what you can find online through our web site.

  • Freegal: lets you legally download and keep  MP3s from the Sony Music Catalogue. You can download up to three each week.
  • Naxos: The largest online streaming of classical music. Anything from libretti and synopses of over 700 operas to 164 full length videos.
  • Smithsonian Global Sound: A virtual encyclopedia of the world’s musical and aural tradition, including spoken word, natural and human made sounds. Here you’ll find anything from Calypso to the sound of a frog being eaten by a snake.
  • Fine Arts and Music Collection: Magazines, academic journal, audio, images and news for music as well as drama, art, history and film making.
  • Music Online: Contemporary World Music from every continent, you can find everything from Bollywood to Arab Swing and Gospel.
  • Oxford Music Online:  A gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple musical references.
  • American Song: A history database that allows people to hear an feel the music from America’s past

Add to these online resources our catalogue of CDs from Opera, through to Jazz and World music,  Pop, Blues, Musicals and Country. We have concerts, operas and classical music on DVD to watch as well.

There are musical scores, biographies about well known artists, and books on the history of music.

So come searching through our catalogues, or pop into your local library and find some treasures.

Who do you love to listen to? Which artists from which genres and time periods? How do you choose to listen to music?

Prequel, Sequel, Hopes Dashed

So much anticipation, so much excitement. You’ve read a new book and loved it, and then you discover  there’s a sequel or even a prequel or five other books in the series, and you almost salivate over the keyboard as you search the catalogue and place your hold. You receive the long awaited email or letter telling you the wondrous tome is waiting on the holds shelf at your favourite library. You take it home, you crack open the spine and start reading, but a few pages or even one or two chapters in and your heart is broken, it’s just not that good, in fact it may even stink.Cover of Shift

This kind of literary trauma has just happened to me. I had read Wool by Hugh Howey, I even blogged about it. I loved the concept of a community living in a silo underground, the characters and the suspense and slow revealing of the deceptions and lies behind it. But so much was not revealed about how the silos came to be, and when I learned of a prequel, I got a tad excited. But alas Shift was not what I’d hoped. So about 50 pages in, I decided life was too short, I cared not for the characters populating this book, it was wordy and boggy and I decided to perform the ultimate betrayal…I Googled a synopsis and found out the basic reasons behind the silos and deposited the book into the returns slot.

So I gave up, I wimped out, maybe it was the coward’s way out. Should I have stuck with it, read all 569 pages?

The latest and final instalment, Dust is due out in October, but sadly it will not be waiting for me on a holds shelf.

How do you decide when enough is enough? Do you always read to the end once you’ve committed to a book, or do you, like me, give it a certain amount of time then say ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’ and move on?

Are there series, prequels or sequels you have been disappointed by?