Music from the Swamp – the ‘Warren Zevon’ edition

I have loved Warren Zevon ever since I heard Werewolves of London. Zevon, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, did not have a perfect singing voice. Regardless his music was respected by his peers. Zevon had an incredibly sardonic take on the world and it showed in his lyrics. His song ‘Excitable Boy’ off the album of the same name, which came out in 1978, is a case in point. There are very disturbing lyrics sung to a happy little tune:

Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
Excitable boy, they all said
And he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
Excitable boy, they all said
And he bit the usherette’s leg in the dark
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

He took little Susie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
and he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy
After ten long years they let him out of the Home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

Zevon’s most popular song was ‘Werewolves of London’ which was also off the ‘Excitable Boy’ album. It is also one of my faves:

There are a couple more standouts from ‘Excitable Boy’

‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’

‘Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner’ is about mercenaries in the African wars in the 1960s. This is a live version from 2003 on the David Letterman show. It was right after Zevon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Carmelita is one of my favourite songs from ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead:

Right before his death he put out another album, ‘My Ride’s Here’. There is a song he wrote for his wife:

Keep me in your Heart

After his death in 2003, Bruce Springsteen did a cover of ‘My Ride’s Here.’  This is off of a compilation of covers of Warren Zevon songs called: ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich.’ It is a fabulous version!



Music from The Swamp – the ‘Decemberists’ edition

I started listening to the Decemberists recently. Although I kept meaning to check them out, I never seemed to get around to it until Wandering Coyote introduced me to them. I have to confess that I don’t like all of their stuff – sometimes I find it is too loud and busy for me. However, there are songs that I absolutely adore. In no particular order here are a few I would recommend checking out:

Followed closely by June Hymn

The Crane Wife 3 is my absolute favourite! I love how it builds.

Foregone is another one of my favourites:

Now I am holding out for the live album due to be released on March 13th!

Music from The Swamp – the ‘David Francey’ editon

Welcome to what I hope will be a semi-regular feature here on Dispatches from The Swamp. I am passionate about music and I hope I can share some of the artists that make my heart sing!

David Francey

I was introduced to David Francey through a couple of sources. I first heard his song ‘Red-Winged Blackbird’ covered by James Keelaghan on the CBC. I immediately loved the song.[1] A couple of weeks later some friends of mine were over and they loved David Francey. While I really liked some of the songs I heard initially, it took until late last year before I started to discover some of the gems.

Francey is one of the few singers who still sings acapella. He has an amazing ability to build a song with just his voice. My absolute favourite is Torn Screen Door. The lyrics in this song are absolutely brilliant.

Here is a live version of Torn Screen Door:

Another stand out acapella song is the ‘Brakeman’s Daughter.’

Anyone who has ever had a school crush will immediately relate to ‘Broken Glass.’ Francey has an amazing ability to capture life’s moments in a way that listeners immediately relate to him. This is a live version. Francey is as amazing live as his studio recordings.




[1] I was seriously mocked for liking this song!

Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘update edition’

  • Things have been going relatively well at The Swamp. We had a minor roof leak that was caused by some shingles being too tight up against the chimney. The roofing company I called fixed it for free. They say we need a new roof but I don’t really buy it. Good news is that the leak is fixed.
  • We had a huge willow tree that had to come down. It had been dropping huge branches and I was worried it might just come down on our house or across the road. It was a huge liability. The Urban Lumberjack in Maple Ridge did a fabulous job of getting it down. However, one of the rotten branches fell on the hydro and cable lines knocking both of them out. Hydro was back on quickly but they decide to cut the cable line.[1] When I first called Shaw to get it reconnected they were quoting a date of March 2. Anyway, I worked my magic and they were here the next morning at 8am. I am really glad the tree is down now as it is really windy here today.
  • Tru has picked up. She is eating more often than not. Her stitches are out so she could finally have a much-needed bath. She absolutely reeked! Now we will know whether her swampy smell is coming from her needing a bath or her horrible teeth. Regardless, she is soaking up the love and companionship at The Swamp. She still likes to greet you by tasting your hand. It is cute.
  • We bought a home theatre system last week. We set it up without too much difficulty.[2] The speaker stands took much, much longer to set up! The system is amazing. It has solved the problem of the TV being too loud for Deb as I now have a speaker beside my right ear. Music sounds absolutely fabulous! Diamond Stereo is a fabulous place to get great advice and products.
  • We also decided I should get better car stereo speakers.[3] They went in yesterday and they sound so much better. The sound is much richer. I have actually heard things in my music that I did not know where there. Music is so important to my self-care that these investments in my sanity are very important.
  • I have been feeling much better the last couple of weeks. I really hope it is a result of some nutrition changes.[4] I have had more energy for work. Getting up and going has not been the burden it is at other times. I do seem to experience a winter improvement in my ulcerative colitis. I am hoping it is not just the winter bump.
  • All of the dogs are doing well. Zoe is a bit of a worry at times because she is old but she is fine. Kiefer gets a little sore after going to the park. Piper and Sawyer are such a bonded little duo. They love hanging out together especially in Deb’s truck. We are so lucky to have such a great crew of dogs! The Cat is still doing well. She is as demanding as ever and is showing no signs of being sick. She is still using her litter!

[1] Hydro says it was for safety reasons, tree guy said it was laziness. I am going with the tree guy.

[2] The only error we made was putting 2 of the speakers on the far right ports as per the diagram. However, our receiver can actually take 6 speakers (plus a sub-woofer) so the first 2 ports on the right are not used if you are setting it up as a 5.1. It took a little thinking to figure it out and we (buy we I mean Angelina) fixed it the next morning.

[3] And by we I actually mean Deb.

[4] I have started drinking smoothies made of yogurt and fruit in the morning. The suggestion came from my friend Lisa.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘coming up for air’ edition

  • The month of January has literally flown by for me. Usually I hate January because it seems to drag on forever. This January has been one of the best in recent memory. The first week sucked but a lot of that was my annoyance that the Christmas break was over and I really had to go back to work. Once I got passed that it was all ok.
  • As I have mentioned, I hired a research company to find my biological parents. At the beginning of the third week of January, she had located my biological father. I had almost forgot this was going on until I got an email from her with the information. We subsequently met a couple of days later. It was interesting because when I thought about my biological family, I really focused on my mother. I never thought about him. I was quite conflicted about the meeting with him. Although it went well in the sense that he did not reject me, I found the evening frustrating, as I could not get any real information. I will definitely see him again as I really would like to get to know him a bit. I also feel like he took advantage of my biological mother in that he was almost 10 years older than her. When I pointed that out she said she didn’t realize that he was that much older. Plus I get the sense that he drinks a lot[1] and it has really affected his mind. I really want to meet my half-brothers as I feel they may be able to give me more insight.
  • This week I was able to make contact with my biological mother! We talked on Tuesday and met on Wednesday. I was so stressed out when I was meeting my biological father; I was quite relaxed meeting my mother. We are quite alike in a number of ways. I really went from feeling like an alien[2] to seeing myself reflected in someone else. She clearly suffered for being forced to give me up for adoption.[3] I, of course, want to jump in spend as much time with her as possible but she is not there yet. So I am backing off and giving her time.[4] She said she has a lot of things coming up in the next couple of weeks that will make her too busy to spend time together. I think she also needs some serious time to process this reunion. She has never told anyone that she had a baby she gave up for adoption. She has told me she will tell people in her life. I am confident that we will have a great relationship once she has some time.
  • Deb, Angelina and the dogs are my rock. I have a safe place to come home to where I am loved and accepted no matter what. This is something my biological mother never had. I really want her to come here and share what we have.
  • I have been feeling so much better since I began to incorporate music into every day. Music really is the thing that keeps me sane, balanced and in harmony with the world. Lately I have been enjoying David Francey,  Richard Shindell, the Decemberists, Paul Simon, and Cara Luft. I am hoping to go to a house concert Cara is putting on in Maple Ridge.
  • Talking about dogs – Zoe is so happy in the morning. She runs like a puppy and if she can find a toy she is over-joyed. She goes out to pee, comes in for her treat[5]. I got some great pictures of her with my new iPhone 4S:
Zoe - looking like a puppy!
Zoe waiting not so patiently for my breakfast!

[1] He might have given it away by the 2 vodkas on the rocks he drank while we were at the freaking White Spot!

[2] I have several idiosyncrasies like not being able to stand the feeling of dirt on my hands and so does she!

[3] Her mother forced her to give me up as they would not have supported her in keeping me in anyway.

[4] Anyone who knows me will realize how difficult this is. I am not known for patience and waiting when it comes to something I want. I think this may be maturity showing.

[5] The only reason she will go outside and get her feet wet is for that little chunk of pupperoni!


I was very sad to hear that REM was splitting up. REM has been one of my favourite bands for many, many years. Every playlist I have has REM songs on it. There have been REM albums that have defined substantial periods of my life.

The first song I can remember hearing by REM was “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” When “Out of Time” came out in 1991 it became the theme music of my undergrad. I loved the whole album. “Shiny Happy People” and “Me in Honey” are still in regular rotation on my iPod. I can remember reading the REM fans could be divided into 2 groups those who liked material before “Out of Time” and those who became fans after. I definitely fall into the second group.

Very quickly, REM followed up with “Automatic for People.” I do not have words to describe the effect this album had on my life. So many songs from it spoke to me at different times. My absolute favourite was “Ignoreland.” Having lived through the Reagan years, REM’s lyrics captured the frustration of a generation. “Nightswimming” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I have no idea how many times I listened to this song – I am sure it must be over a thousand.

The next album, “Monster” was not my favourite. However, I did have some favourites. The stand out for me was “What’s the frequency Kenneth.” Somehow I missed “New Adventures in Hi-fi.” I think I was busy having my post Masters degree melt down when I realized I was not going to be able to find a decent job. I digress.

I absolutely adored “Up.” If I remember correctly, it was billed as a concept album, best listened to from the beginning straight through. I loved almost the entire album. “At my most beautiful and “Falls to climb” are the standout tracks for me on “Up.” In “Falls to climb,” Stipe’s vocals are outstanding. He holds a note for so long it almost seems impossible. Yet there it is.

I mostly didn’t engage with 2001’s “Reveal.” “Around the Sun,” which came out in 2004, was another great album. REM’s ability to capture complex political systems and ideas was evident again on this album. In particular, “I wanted to be wrong,” which astutely captured the state of American foreign policy was almost as powerful for the Bush Jr. years as “Ignoreland” was on the Reagan years. “Accelerate” is another album I didn’t really like. One song, “Hollow Man” was the only one I really liked. I found the album too heavy.

Clearly no band or artist can continue to churn new, creative material year after year. Many bands fade into obscurity after only a few a mediocre albums. REM’s brilliance has spanned over 4 decades. I think this speaks to the creative genius of REM. I think I will spend some time in their back catalogue where I am sure I will find some more gems.

What about you? How has REM affected your life? What are your favourites? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

The Plague Day 3

I woke up this morning feeling like I was hit by a Mack Truck. I was up several times in the night and I kept falling asleep before I pee and go back to bed. I spent a lot of time sleeping in the bathroom last night. So far, here are the symptoms I have had:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Tight lungs
  • Inability to breathe
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore joints and muscles
  • Dizzy
  • Weakness when I try to move

This thing really needs to fuck off now.

In other news, Matthew Barber’s eponymous album is fabulous. I heard a track from it a couple of months ago on the CBC and jotted down a note to look for it. Well, I was completely blown away. I loved the initial song I heard: ‘I miss you when you’re gone.’ The rest of the album is equally fantastic. Barber’s lyrics are mature and sophisticated. His voice has that little edge of imperfection that I love. I think he has a great career before him.

Checking out from the Swamp for the day.

The Musical Imperialist – Understanding Music

I know a little about music but not a great deal. I often find myself driving in my car and a song I really like comes on. Take tonight, one of my all time favourite songs is ‘Me in Honey’ by REM. From the first strains of Kate Pearson’s vocal introduction to when Michael Stipe begins singing, that song affects me. I immediately begin to feel my mood lift and the song makes me smile.

Other music, like jazz, where the singers scat it makes my ears bleed. I can’t stand it. I also can’t stand music that is over-produced and sounds too smooth. I really don’t like R & B or boy band type music. It doesn’t do a thing for me.

I am curious about why certain songs affect me the way they do. Another example of a song that really works for me is ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Rolling Stones. The opening guitar has effects me much in the same way as the REM song. There are many songs that do the same thing. Some new songs like Dan Mangan’s ‘The Indie Queens are Waiting’ starts off with him singing and then the harmony of a female singer[1] comes in and I melt. I feel the same way about the  Indigo Girls and their harmonies – they touch my soul.

I am pretty sure that there are reasons why people like certain kinds of music. I wonder if there are some mathematical reasons. Or maybe it has something to do with cadence or iambic pentameter. Anyone have any ideas?

[1] I don’t know her name.

The Musical Imperialist

Once upon a time, during my misspent youth, my best friend Joe and I went on a couple of long road trips. It was always my car, so it was generally my music that got played. It was actually Joe who christened me the ‘musical imperialist.’ When we drove long distances, I suggested he play one tape (Ok, it was the early 90s and I had an old car) and I would play one tape. The kicker here was that he wanted me to like what he was playing. I told him it didn’t matter if I liked it, he could just play it. Finally, he would give up because I hated everything he played. You have to wonder who was the real musical imperialist?!?

Anyway, I have a long history of imposing my music on other people. I am sure Deb will tell her story about how I tried to get her to like Ani Difranco to no avail. So, in the interests of continuing my long and sordid history of music imperialism, I thought I could use my blog to further my unholy mission. I have decided to make the ‘Musical Imperialist’ a somewhat irregular feature here at Dispatches from the Swamp. In the interests of learning about new music, I am going to open up the blog for guest posts for anyone who wants to profile some music they like.

Before I launch in and profile an artist or band I like, I thought I would discuss the type of music I like and what makes me like a song. Generally speaking I like folk or, as it is now called, singer-songwriter. I like artists who do not have perfect voices. I actually prefer a little edge. Artists like Celine Dion or anything over produced makes my ears bleed. I even go so far to like some artists who can’t really sing like Neil Young and Phil Ochs. I love music that says something. Love songs are great but I prefer a little dose of politics with my music.

In my next post in this series, I will pick an artist or band I like and talk about why it is that I like them. I will look at the albums they have put out and what, if anything, I know about the artist/band. Don’t forget about the offer! If you want to write a guest post let me know!



The Perils of Living with an Anxiety Disorder

As everyone knows my world has been stressful on many fronts for quite some time. To compound things, I also have an anxiety disorder. The symptoms of anxiety are very debilitating. I have trouble breathing, my heart races, I feel shaky and my bowel starts to quiver. Some other symptoms I get include not being able to swallow and intrusive thoughts about scary or stressful situations. Some anxiety attacks take me by surprise. Others, there is definitely a connection to something going on or thoughts I am having.

The attacks that take me by surprise are the most frustrating. There are times I will be sitting and relaxing and all of a sudden I can’t breathe. I start trying to breathe deeply but I really can’t get my breath. I feel my heart race and then my jaw starts to ache because I am gritting my teeth and jaw. These attacks are the most frustrating because there is literally nothing I can do about them. Sometimes I can get it under control.

Another kind of anxiety attack happens when I am thinking about stressful things or issues. In these cases if I am not too far gone, I can get control of it by stopping the thoughts. I find that listening to music in these situations. It allows me to focus my thoughts on something else and to sing along to the music, which gives me a stress outlet. Music has always been very important to me. There is something about the sounds and the timbre of some voices that really speaks to me. Even as a child, my favourite times were when we listened to music. My mother would play Jim Croce, the Lettermen and Three Dog Night. As a teenager I moved on to Queen, Supertramp and Fleetwood Mac.

The other kind of anxiety attacks I get are in direct response to something that happens. Today, I read an email and something in it set me off. I probably over-reacted but that is the problem with anxiety. Before I know it I can’t breathe, I’m shaking and I start to cry. This makes me crazy because it happens at the most inopportune moments.

I have always had issues with anxiety. However, a full-blown disorder is something new. I developed this as a result of my colitis. The combination of being sick, living in chronic pain and the unpredictability of my ulcerative colitis along with my underlying issues conspired to give me a generalized anxiety disorder. I am grateful that it does not debilitate me completely. Although, given a choice there are times I would not leave the house for long periods of time. In some cases, anxiety can prevent people from meeting their potential.

In taking a cue from Airdrie from Talking to Air, I think it is critically important that we talk openly about how mental illness affects our lives. We must remove the stigma if we are to deal more effectively with mental illness.

So, my faithful readers, what do you think? Do you personally deal with anxiety? Do you know someone who does? Do you need help with your anxiety?