The word itself means migration, or flight from danger and the songs are all about movement and restlessness.
On it, Neil Young — another Canadian — plays harmonica and the stunningly talented Brazilian bass player Jaco Pastorius makes this distinctively different from her previous work.
It was a tough year for me, my sophomore year at University of Toronto, both of my parents traveling far away, long before cell phones or the Internet, when a long-distance call to Europe or Latin America was really expensive. I was living on very little, freelancing as a writer and photographer while attending the country’s most demanding school full-time.
I dated all the the wrong men, (as Mitchell did, for decades), discarding them as quickly as I found them. Connection was both alluring and exhausting, a theme of that album.
Mitchell also has a home where my mother — also a fiercely independent traveler for many years — lived for a while, the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver.
I met a friend of spirit He drank and womanized And I sat before his sanity I was holding back from crying He saw my complications And he mirrored me back simplified And we laughed how our perfection Would always be denied “Heart and humor and humility” He said “Will lighten up your heavy load” I left him for the refuge of the roads
The book offers a great ride through her life, from her years in small-town Saskatchewan to her initial success in the coffee-houses of Toronto to playing Carnegie Hall and touring with Bob Dylan.
It offers insights into her addictions — to cocaine and to cigarettes — and her deep ambivalence about marriage, which she tried twice.
It’s a compelling portrait of a fiercely independent woman.
Sometimes you’re lucky enough to witness artistic history.
That happened to us last week at Carnegie Hall, in a fully sold-out audience, listening to 71-year-old jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.
That’s 2,804 people of all ages, listening for two-plus hours and three encores in rapt silence, as the show was being recorded, (so, eventually, you can hear it too!)
We were seated up in the nosebleeds, (aka the second-highest balcony); even those tickets were $70 apiece.
If you haven’t heard of him, or his music, you’re in for a treat.
The studio albums are modestly successful entries in the Jarrett catalog, but in 1973, Jarrett also began playing totally improvised solo concerts, and it is the popularity of these voluminous concert recordings that made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums released from these concerts were Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973), to which Time magazine gave its ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ award; The Köln Concert (1975), which became the best-selling piano recording in history; and Sun Bear Concerts (1976) – a 10-LP (and later 6-CD) box set.
I was in college when the Koln Concert came out, and I was introduced to it by a boyfriend. I still have that album and still cherish it.
This week’s entire concert was improvised.
Jarrett has commented that his best performances have been when he has had only the slightest notion of what he was going to play at the next moment. He also said that most people don’t know “what he does”, which relates to what Miles Davis said to him expressing bewilderment – as to how Jarrett could “play from nothing”. In the liner notes of the Bremen Lausanne album Jarrett states something to the effect that he is a conduit for the ‘Creator’, something his mother had apparently discussed with him.
That was Wednesday night.
I barely had time to process what a magnificent evening it had been when a generous friend offered two free tickets to hear authors Colson Whitehead and George Saunders read and answer audience questions at the 92d Street Y, another Manhattan cultural institution.
Back into the city!
I had never read either of their works, but had read rapturous reviews of their new books — Lincoln in the Bardo and The Underground Railroad. Each read for 30 minutes and it was mesmerizing. Afterwards, answering audience questions written on note cards, they were funny, insightful and generous.
It is one of the great pleasures of living in and near New York City — a place of stunning living costs — to be able to see and hear artists of this stature.
I’ve been writing for a living since college but this was Writing, fiction of such depth and emotional power it takes your breath away.
In a time of such political instability and anxiety, it was also healing to remember that art and culture connect us to one another and to history.
We escape. We muse. If we’re a fellow creative, we leave refreshed and inspired. We recharge our weary souls.
On Saturday, we went to hear Bebel Gilberto, a Brazilian singer. Our suburban New York town has a fantastic music hall, built in 1885, where tickets are affordable and the variety of performances eclectic. Of all the shows we saw, this one was the only disappointment. The rest of the crowd loved it, but not us.
You may never have heard of her — while those of us who grew up singing along to her work keep playing and re-playing her work — after all, there are 28 albums listed on her official website.
She officially retired in 2002, although you’ve likely heard one of the 587 (!) versions of her song “Both Sides Now”, written when she was only 21. Singers including Taylor Swift and Madonna have cited her as a major influence on their work.
A winner of eight Grammy awards, her classic album “Blue” was named one of the 100 best albums ever made by Time magazine.
She started out as a visual artist but got pregnant, gave her daughter up for adoption, and only by accident fell into her long career as a singer/songwriter.
She started out living in a small Western Canadian town, where her mother “raised me on words.”
She’s even inspired 47 songs by others, as recently as 2011 — including the classic “Our House” By Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young, yet another Canadian.
Many other artists have recorded her work, some of them making her songs into hits. A favorite, “Michael from Mountains”, off the 1967 classic by Judy Collins, “Wildflowers” is a song written by Mitchell.
I have so many favorites among her work, but Hejira is an album I could play all day every day and never tire of. The word has several meanings, one of which is “a journey to escape something dangerous or undesireable.” It came out when I was a second-year university student, living alone in a crummy small apartment in Toronto, struggling to combine freelance photography with full-time studies at a large and demanding bureaucratic institution.
(If you’re lucky enough to be in Pacific Beach, CA on November 9, 2013, a band called Robin Adler and the Mutts will perform the entire album. Wish I could be there!)
Hejira expressed the aching, overwhelming multitude of feelings I felt so powerfully then — joy and excitement at leaving my family home for good; fear I would not do so successfully; dating a succession of men, many of them unlikely; trying to define who I was as a young woman in the larger world.
I love this lyric — talk about the wrong man!
No regrets, coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I’m up all night in the studio
And you’re up early on your ranch
This is a verse from “Amelia”, nominally about Amelia Earhart, but which resonates for me, still, as someone happiest in motion, in flight, traveling somewhere new:
The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets thru to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture post card charms
Amelia it was just a false alarm
SOON after landing a job at a Manhattan law firm nearly 20 years ago, Sara Horowitz was shocked to discover that it planned to treat her not as an employee, but as an independent contractor.
“I saw right away that something wasn’t kosher,” Ms. Horowitz recalls. Her status meant no health coverage, no pension plan, no paid vacation — nothing but a paycheck. She realized that she was part of a trend in whichAmerican employers relied increasingly on independent contractors, temporary workers, contract employees and freelancers to cut costs….
Ms. Horowitz’s grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and her father was a labor lawyer. So it was perhaps not surprising that she responded to her rising outrage by deciding to organize a union…The Freelancers Union, with its oxymoronic name, is a motley collection of workers in the fast-evolving freelance economy — whether lawyers, software developers, graphic artists, accountants, consultants, nannies, writers, editors, Web site designers or sellers on Etsy.
I’m not a member of the FU (Hmmmm, nice abbreviation!), but I applaud her efforts.
Turns out that 87 percent of her members earn less than $50,000 — 29 percent of them make less than $25,000 a year.
God knows, freelancers/temps/contract workers need all the help we can get.
Certainty is a constant drive for the brain. We saw this with Hurricane Sandy. The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting. And the more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. So we are driven to create certainty.
I get up every day with no idea where my income is going to arrive from in three months from now. I usually work three months ahead — i.e. with enough income lined up to count on that my basic bills will get paid in that time and it buys me time to go line up the next batch. I live by the salesman’s motto: ABC — Always Be Closing.
Which means not just having coffee, sending emails, taking meetings or chatting to potential clients, but closing the deal — agreeing to a set fee, terms and deadline. Working retail, which I did for 27 months selling clothing in a mall, was extraordinarily helpful to me in this respect. I used to be too scared to ask for the sale. Not any more!
Now I’m much better at sussing out the tire-kickers and time-wasters.
Here are some of the many issues that face freelancers:
— How much will they pay me?
— Is this a lot less (or more) than that they are paying others at my level of skill and experience? (Networking and joining an industry-focused freelance group is essential to determine this.)
— Do I have a contract, and one with terms acceptable to me? If not, how much of it can I negotiate?
— When will I get paid? Some companies are playing truly nasty games — like 90 days after submission. Three months!? I work on 30 days, after which I start sending emails and phone calls.
–How many times will I need to sue in small claims court or hire a lawyer to write a threatening letter on my behalf? (Did it, it worked, from Kansas City to Vancouver.)
— How will I meet my monthly financial commitments when payment arrives late (or not at all?) A line of credit and low-interest credit cards, plus whatever savings you can scrape together.
— Who is the point person who will make sure, internally, that I do get paid? (Both my editors quit one company recently, leaving my payment much more vulnerable. Luckily, it did arrive and within six weeks.)
— When and how can I ask for a higher rate?
— What is the lowest fee I’ll accept, and why am I bottom-feeding?
— How soon can I fire this PITA client?
— Where can I find my next 5,10, 15 new clients?
—Which conferences, events and meetings are really worth investing my hard-won time and money in to meet collegial veterans and learn important new skills?
I grew up in a family where no one had a paycheck. My father made documentary and feature films and television news series. My stepmother wrote television drama. So whatever we earned was whatever our skill, talent and tough negotiation won for us.
Nothing was guaranteed. Just like “real” jobs — which you can (and many do) lose overnight with no warning at all.
I hate the stress of not knowing my annual income will be. I know what I hope to earn, but will I make it? The joy/terror of freelance work is that it’s all up to me.
But, having been summarily canned from a few well-paid jobs and having been badly bullied at a few as well, I know how stressful that is, too.
Those working in photography, architecture and graphic design have seen a 20 to 30 percent drop in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since August 2002, those working in the music field have seen their work opportunities plummet by a staggering 45.3%.
“A life in the arts…means giving up riches, making a trade-off to do something they’re passionate about,” Timberg said. “It’s become forbidding for a much wider group of people…I see some of the best getting knocked out.”
Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. But when someone employed in the world of culture loses a job, he or she feels easier to sneer at than a steel worker or auto worker.
As both a Canadianan, living in New York since 1989, and a member of the creative class, I’ve absolutely felt the sting of this terrible recession. My last staff job, as a reporter for the New York Daily News, the nation’s sixth-largest paper, ended in 2006.
My income the next year fell by 75 percent. Fun! It’s now barely back to 50 percent of that figure. In 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs.
It’s an interesting dilemma because being a creative professional — like those who choose law, medicine, dentistry — demands years of attention to one discipline. You start out with talent. You may invest tens of thousands of dollars in higher education, workshops, coaches and ongoing training. It’s crazily competitive and the criteria of success often utterly quixotic and subjective. A lawyer wins or loses a case. A dentist fills a cavity.
But a creative person, in any field, can languish in poverty/obscurity for years, if not decades, if their work or style isn’t fashionable or they just doesn’t know enough of the right people. To really make it financially, you often need to layer the daily hustle of a used car salesman onto the independence of spirit of the artist.
Many of us just can’t squeeze both personalities into one brain.
Yet we all hope to enjoy the basics of middle-class life: a home, a family, a vehicle, a vacation once in a while.
It’s a dirty secret but those of us who work creatively, whether we paint, sculpt, take photos, design buildings or play in a quartet also want the things that cube-dwellers do. Our groceries cost the same, our gas just as overpriced.
But, unlike many corporate cube-dwellers, we may have to purchase our health insurance in the open (i.e. costly) market; in 2003 (when I went onto my husband’s plan through his staff job) I was paying $700 a month. It’s now normal to pay $1,000+…adding an overhead of $12,000 pre-tax dollars just to avoid a medical bankruptcy.
Especially in the United States where corporate billionaires are lionized, creative folk — typically self-employed and working out of public and the media’s view — are seen as slackers, stoners, half-assed. (Author John Grisham earned $18 million last year — hardly typical.)
Very few creative professionals in any genre or medium will ever earn that in their lifetime — no matter their objective excellence, awards or peer respect.
Yet other nations actually pay their artists to help them quality work; the Canada Council hands out $20,000 grants every year to fortunate writers who have produced two books deemed worthy.
I rarely go through a day without listening to music.
As I write this, I’m listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Soundcheck with John Schaefer, now in its 30th (!) year on-air from WNYC, 93. 9, in New York. John always has something fun to offer — today’s show included a version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, sung in (of course!) Klingon.
Follow that link and you’ll find some of his shows, whether featuring Gaetano Veloso or Courtney Love.
My taste in music is pretty eclectic, from Baroque faves like Couperin to Japanese shakuhachi, a haunting bamboo flute you might have heard in tunes by Tangerine Dream, Dave Brubeck, Peter Gabriel and Sade.
My classical favorites include Erik Satie, Aaron Copland, Bach, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Rodrigo; I never tire of Concierto de Aranjuez or the Brandenburg Concertos.
I don’t listen to rap, hip-hop, country or Top 40 stuff.
Here are some of my favorites, some of which you’ll know and maybe some of which will be a discovery:
Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian whose music I’ve loved since the 1970s. Try to find some of his earliest albums: great guitar, haunting lyrics.
Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry are all Canadians whose music I enjoy.
Acoustic guitar music is a favorite: Leo Kottke, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson, Kaki King, David Bromberg.