As many of you know, my beloved cat Muswell had been ill with kidney disease for nearly a year, and sadly, he lost his battle on October 23. A memorial service was held on Thursday, November 28 at St. George's Chapel, St. James Cathedral, Toronto, and this is the eulogy I gave:
I'd like to start with a short poem by Christopher Smart that was sung by the Cathedral Choir on Trinity Sunday this year: "For I will consider my cat Jeoffry. For he is the servant of the living God, duly and daily serving him. For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way. For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness. For he knows that God is his Saviour. For God has bless'd him in the variety of his movements. For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God."
Welcome, and thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here for Muswell and me, and a special thanks to Reverend Andrew and everyone at the cathedral for making this service happen. We're here to honour and celebrate the life of my beloved Muswell, an extraordinary cat and the best friend I've ever had.
In the winter of 2006, I adopted a cute little stray cat. Or more likely, he adopted me. Over the next 13 years, we grew closer through good times and bad, forming a bond that was deep, loving and profoundly healing for us both. He was my boy and I was his human. Muswell was like a dog in a cat's body. He'd follow me around everywhere. When I came home from work he'd greet me at the door, hop onto my desk and lick my face. At night, my furry friend would snuggle into bed with me. I only encountered the term "emotional support animal" recently, but Muswell fit that description perfectly. In short, he brought joy, warmth and comfort to my often challenging life.
As befits a companion like me, Muswell was a quirky boy. When I'd shower, he'd sit at the foot of the tub, meowing and scratching till I emerged safe and sound. Most cats hate getting wet, so I can only assume he wanted to spare his pop this dreadful fate. And when I'd towel off, he'd climb up beside me and stroke me with his paw—always on my left side, never my right. In Muswell's world, pop had a proper side and an improper side. Once he'd gotten situated on my proper side he'd groom himself, as if he were trying to show me the better way to cleanliness.
Muswell was a beautiful soul, inside and out. His orange coat was luxurious, and he had a little crown on his head and light orange stripes that cascaded down his back. The boy was skittish around anyone other than me, but the few lucky people who did interact with him all agree that he was gorgeous, gentle, affectionate and adorable.
It's been said that we grieve because we love, and it follows that the bigger the love, the bigger the grief. Muswell taught me so much about unconditional love, giving and receiving. I mourn so deeply because I've lost so much, because he selflessly gave so much. I used to joke with Muswell that I must be his pet human, because at times it was hard to tell who was taking care of whom.
In my grief, I remind myself that I'm experiencing a temporary separation from Muswell. I truly believe we will be reunited someday. So, where do pets go when they die? I'm no theologian, but what I'm about to present is one possibility that's been circulating since at least the 1980s. I can't tell you that I know this is real, but it sure sounds like the kind of place that a God of infinite love, mercy and compassion would create.
"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigour; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing: they each miss someone very special to them who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly, he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, gone so long from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge, together."
Little buddy, you are forever loved and so profoundly missed. What a bright light you were. Your pop is blessed to have known you, and someday I'll see you at the Rainbow Bridge. Until then, eat, play and scamper, healthy and pain-free, and enjoy the company of your blessed animal friends. This is not goodbye, boy. This is till we meet again.
An audio recording of the full service is available on Muswell's page.
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It's with a heavy heart that I present this one, having learned of the passing of Jefferson Airplane founder and singer Marty Balin last night. I'll have more to say about Marty in a moment, but to pay tribute I've worked up this gem from Surrealistic Pillow that I'll debut during my upcoming micro-tour. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, "'Today' stands as one of the most beautiful love songs ever written," and I can't disagree. Haunting and ethereal, it's a timeless ballad revolving around a simple but effective chord sequence.
Before I get to those chords, a few words on Marty Balin and his legacy. Without him, there would be no Jefferson Airplane, period. The band was his idea and vision, and after recruiting its members one by one he created a venue, The Matrix, in which they could hone their craft. It's not an overstatement to suggest, as former band manager Bill Thompson did, that “Marty was the one who started the San Francisco scene."
The first two Airplane albums were largely a product of that vision—love-fuelled folk/rock about to bust out into the wilder frontiers of psychedelia—and Marty's sweet-as-honey tenor led the charge. But by the third album, After Bathing at Baxter's, Marty had retreated somewhat (as a songwriter and lead vocalist; his harmonies permeate all their best work, Baxter's included). Jefferson Airplane was a group of strong, disparate personalities, each beginning to assert themselves, and in the chaotic ferment of the late 1960s no singular vision could dominate for long.
As the '60s careened into the '70s, drugs, egos and musical differences led Marty to leave the band he founded. And tellingly, the Airplane crashed without him. Marty's romantic, soulful musings, often the source of his bandmates' ridicule, were a necessary balance to Paul Kantner's sci-fi polemics, Grace Slick's icy sarcasm, and Jorma Kaukonen's blues-based excursions. And indeed, that corrective is what enabled spinoff band Jefferson Starship to scale the heights it did in the '70s. Red Octopus, their 1975 release, once again saw Marty at the helm; his "Miracles" topped the charts that summer. Simply put, he had a radio-friendly touch that for the most part eluded his compatriots. In Paul Kantner's words, "Marty has the ability to express really simple emotions that most people might be embarrassed expressing. He's able to get away with singing 'Ooh, baby,' and meaning 'Ooh, baby.'"
Here's an excerpt from Jorma's moving tribute: "I always felt that he was somewhat guarded … the quiet one. His commitment to his visions never flagged. Times come and go but his passion for his music and his art was never diminished. He was the most consummate of artists in a most renaissance way. I always felt that he perceived that each day was a blank canvas waiting to be filled."
Rest in piece, Marty Balin, and thank you for your life, your music and your vision. And with that, here are the real chords to Jefferson Airplane's "Today," written by Marty Balin and Paul Kantner:
- Intro: D5 C (grace notes: BCD) A5
- Verse*: D5 Am7 C D5
- Chorus: (Cmaj7 F Em C D C D) x2
- End: Dm Am Bb Am Dm Am Bb Gm7 (grace notes: EFEC) D
The online tabs for the song had, well, some of it right, but missed two key chords which were dead obvious to my ears: the Cmaj7 in the chorus and Gm7 at the very end. Nobody heard the Am7 in the verse, either, which I admit is more implied than played on the recording. Tip: for a lovely variation, substitute an A7sus chord in the intro in place of the A5. That's not how they play it, but I quite like it. The fingering for A7sus, low to high, is x02030.
* Note: On the live version from Monterey Pop, the band plays a slightly different arrangement. Grace plays the rhythm on harpsichord, and her verse chords are F Am C D5. I'm sticking with the studio version for my transcription, but either will work.
If you follow baseball in Canada at all, you know who I'm talking about. The title alone gives it away. That's how deeply and ubiquitously the voice of Jerry Howarth permeated baseball culture in this country. With last week's retirement announcement, the baseball world has lost one of its golden voices.
Stephen Brunt's warm, insightful tribute, which I urge you to read, says it best: "What will summer sound like now?" For legions of Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians, myself included, Jerry was the Voice of Summer for 36 years, especially after assuming the Jays' lead announcer role when his long-time partner Tom Cheek died in 2005.
Baseball and radio are made for each other, and as a primarily auditory person, I'm wired to lap it up. The best broadcasters keep the listener informed, entertained and when necessary, amused. Beyond that, the cream of the crop—and Jerry is certainly one—are gifted storytellers, taking on the persona of a wise, kindly uncle who slips in a life lesson or two amidst the grand slams, gold gloves and chin music. Sometimes I think the reason I've spent so many summers with Jerry, all 162 games' worth, is more about palling around with the uncle I never had than the race for the pennant.
As we sit on the cusp of spring training and a new season of Blue Jays baseball, we don't yet know who will take the reins as lead radio voice. But we do know who we'll miss. To the man who opened every broadcast with a warm "Hello, friends," I say farewell, friend, God bless, and enjoy your well-earned retirement.
On a related note, Leo Cahill, legendary '60s and '70s coach of the Toronto Argonauts, passed away earlier this week. Flamboyant, outspoken and quick-witted, Leo was a larger-than-life personality on Argonaut teams that had more than their share of outrageous characters. I can't recall any coach or GM, save perhaps the Leafs' Harold Ballard, who so thoroughly dominated the local sports scene. Cahill's brilliance as a coach was often overlooked, and as a recruiter he had no peers. Among his many accomplishments, Leo lured Joe Theismann away from the Miami Dolphins to lead the 1971 Argonauts to the Grey Cup, a game which left quite an impression on a certain 10-year-old.
Cahill never won a Grey Cup, but as a CBC colour commentator he got to call the second half of the Argos' 1983 victory, the one that broke Toronto's 31-year championship drought. And it's somehow fitting that the Boatmen won the last Grey Cup game played during his lifetime, last November's 27-24 victory over the Calgary Stampeders, the very team that beat Leo's squad in '71. Ironically, the heavily favoured Stampeders blew the 2017 game in a manner eerily reminiscent of the 1971 Argos.
Goodbye, Leo, God bless, and thank you. We won't see your like again anytime soon, and whenever I don my Mike Eben jersey—which arrived in the mail the day you died—I'll remember you, double blue forever.
Was shocked and shaken this morning to hear of the passing of Walter Becker, bassist/guitarist and co-founder of Steely Dan. Apparently he'd been ill for some time with an unspecified ailment. I didn't know that either, but that's not surprising; the man was an artist, not a celebrity.
If you came of age during the '70s, the Dan were the soundtrack to your wayward youth, literate misanthropes in soft-rock clothes whose obscurantist musings somehow crept into the Top 40. When some hipster tells me '70s music was dreck until The Ramones, Sex Pistols et. al. righted the ship, I point them toward Steely Dan. In the words of songstress Rickie Lee Jones, they're "the beginning of college rock."
As a kid, I bought the singles: "Do It Again," "Reelin' in the Years," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." These slivers of wax sounded like nothing I'd ever heard, and listening to them now, they still do. Becker and collaborator Donald Fagen were originals. Jazz-rock was in vogue then, yet Steely Dan steered well clear of the pack, whether on the rock (Chicago, BS&T) or jazz side (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report). I can tell you what they weren't, but I'd need a musicology degree to tell you what they were. As I understand it their influences are mostly jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, with dashes of R&B—yet without exception, their oeuvre consists of pop songs, albeit with a jazzy sophistication underpinning those great hooks.
I've long envied their songwriting, but their style is hard to emulate without serious chops and a knowledge of jazz harmony, both of which I lack. Why, for a few seconds today I entertained the thought of working up a Steely Dan song in tribute to Becker and quietly nixed the idea. In the past I've tried three or four of their "easier" numbers (the ones with fewer tricky jazz modulations), and they simply don't come off with one guy and an acoustic guitar, at least not this guy. The Steely Dan influence has, however, shown up once in my music—fittingly in an obscure way that only a pedant would appreciate. "After You," one of the songs on my forthcoming album, features a pedal steel part in the bridge—actually a sample that I plied, twisted and manipulated in a week-long bout of studio obsessiveness that would make Walter Becker proud—that I think gets the official Steely Dan Award for Best Use of Pedal Steel in a Non-Country Song. (Check out Jeff Baxter's gorgeous steel work on Can't Buy a Thrill or Countdown to Ecstasy, their first two albums, to hear what I mean.)
In any case, you will be missed, Mr. B. May the afterlife treat you well. Won't you sign in, stranger?