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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As many of you know, my beloved cat Muswell was diagnosed with kidney disease last November. He was in rough shape then and was put on a regimen of pills, powders and injections. With loving care and extensive veterinary treatment, his condition has stabilized and he's maintaining an excellent quality of life. We have truly kept Muswell well. But this treatment is expensive, and that's why I'm fundraising for Muswell's care.
Muswell is 15 years old, and he's an adorable, affectionate orange tabby. I've often said that he's a puppy in a cat's body. I have come to realize that he's more to me than a beloved pet. Muswell is my emotional support animal. He brings joy, warmth and comfort to my often challenging life. I aim to keep him well, and you can help. Any amount makes a difference. $5 buys a month of amlodipine, his blood pressure medication. For $10, you can give Muswell a month's supply of antacid and laxative. $20 pays for two weeks of mirtazapine, the appetite stimulant that ensures he keeps eating.
To learn more and give a gift of any amount to keep Muswell well, visit our campaign page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/keep-muswell-well. GoFundMe is secure, easy to use and accepts credit and debit card donations. If you'd rather donate by PayPal, cash or cheque, let me know and we'll make arrangements. All donations will go directly to Muswell's vet and medical bills. You will give a precious animal the gift of health and provide much-needed comfort and peace of mind to his human companion. Thank you!
In the fall of 2018 I embarked on my second micro-tour, a venture cut short by my cat's illness—from which, I'm happy to say, he's largely and miraculously recovered. Nonetheless, I played enough shows to produce a few audio highlights, which I've posted on my music page. Before we get into the meat of it, I give you the stats:
- Duration: 6 weeks, plus the final show a month later
- Shows played: 9
- Unique venues: 7
- Songs played: 30 (15 originals, 15 covers)
- Songs repeated: 1
- Songs debuted: 5
"This Magnificent Dare" (Stop 2—Don Heights Coffeehouse, Toronto ON, October 13, 2018)
It took over an hour to get here by transit, and due to my late arrival I was lucky to grab a spot (10th). I'd hoped to go on first, as always, but a few performers were far more eager—the sign-up sheet had a 0 and -1 as write-ins. Anyway, that 10th spot, which was really 12th, came after the feature's opening half-hour slot, so it was a long wait. Said feature (an accordion/sax duo) played impeccably, but I'm afraid I was born far too late to appreciate what sounded like a pared-down Lawrence Welk. I did, though, enjoy the host's singalong version of The Beatles' "All Together Now." Still schmaltz, I guess, but at least of my era.
I brought the dulcimer along to accompany myself on "This Magnificent Dare," which I've also performed on guitar. I really wanted to play the dulcimer at an open stage before the outdoor humidity dropped too low. Flubbed part of a verse but recovered quite well. It's taken a while, but over the years I've learned to shrug off the mistakes and carry on.
"Let Love Strum You"/"On the Bus" (Stop 3—The Tilted Dog, Toronto ON, October 18, 2018)
I didn't feel like playing tonight, but TTD is walking distance from home and I promised the host I'd show up, so no excuses. This, by the way, is almost always the right decision. In 30 years of live performances, I can count on one hand the shows I wish I hadn't played.
The cover I cannot shake—and will never attempt, as I can't stand it—appeared in the midst of an otherwise pleasant set by a mid-twenties singer/songwriter. Yes, folks, it's Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," one more time. On the plus side, the crowd was treated to two Dylan covers tonight. A charming old hippie played a truncated "Desolation Row" with wildly varying tempo, while a nylon-string guitarist did a nice job on "Tangled up in Blue."
As for me, well, is one of your old band's originals not penned by you a cover? I say yes. That band was Sour Landslide, and way back in the 1990s I accompanied my brother's killer tunes on bass and harmony vocals. I've always wanted to try one of, um, their songs, and this one seemed the quickest way in ... after I changed the key. See, I often joke that my voice didn't change till I turned 50. Not only were my high harmonies on the 1994 recording unreachable; I couldn't even sing Vince's lead vocal in the original key! So, my version is lower and slower, as befits an aging indie musician. I also did a little tinkering to make it my own. I managed to up the tempo a bit for my original this evening, "Let Love Strum You," the chorus of which was shamelessly lifted from a radio commercial.
"Groping to Victory"/"Skyway" (Stop 4—Hirut, Toronto ON, October 21, 2018)
This small, intimate open mic, hosted by the friendly, funny and talented Nicola Vaughan, is a little far-flung but right on the subway line (Woodbine, for you Torontonians). Unfortunately I have other commitments in the Sunday 3-6 time slot, so can rarely make it out. I feel a few pangs of guilt because this open stage needs support that I can't really give, but I enjoy coming when I can.
After Nicola regaled us with a few obscure Monkees songs, up came a parade of talented folk, blues and jazz players ... and me. Sometimes I envy the technically proficient, but I try not to compare. They do what they do, I do what I do, and it's all good. How dull these open stages would be if we all sounded the same, right? Now, I was quite taken by the jazzer's gear: an Ibanez electric with F-holes and a Bigsby vibrato, a tasty digital delay and a looper pedal. I was dying to hear him give the Bigsby a workout, but he barely touched it. Why, if I had a Bigsby, I'd be John Cipollina! (That's my delusion and I'm sticking to it.)
Delusions of guitar-hero grandeur aside, "Groping to Victory" went down well this afternoon, as did Paul Westerberg's delicate "Skyway," long a favourite of mine.
"Have I Been Expecting You"/"A Glimpse of Heaven" (Stop 5—Legends Sports Lounge, Toronto ON, November 1, 2018)
Tonight was supposed to be an out-of-town jaunt to Markham, but 25 mm of rain put a damper on those plans, you could say. I settled instead on this place, a block or so from Pape Station. Acoustics were a bit dodgy, as you hear on the recording, but I'd say overall this was my best show of the tour. As often happens at open stages, I was playing to two distinct (and small) audiences: fellow musicians waiting to play, attentive listeners all, and oblivious regulars chatting away, the latter faithfully captured by my Zoom H1.
I navigated my way through "Expecting," my somewhat tricky new song, then launched into this Strawbs cover that I do every now and then. For posterity I've preserved my exchange with a fellow musician at the end, who not only knew the tune but first heard it the same way I did, on an eight-track "best of" purchased at Woolco, circa 1981. Man, no one ever recognizes my obscure covers. I'm slipping.
"Mon Vrai Destin" (Stop 6—The Birch Bistro & Lounge, Bowmanville ON, November 8, 2018)
I took the 4:30 express train (no stops till Pickering), which was jammed. First time I've had to stand on a GO train. Even travelling express to Oshawa, it took the better part of two hours to reach Bowmanville. After a nice dinner at the local Mr. Sub, I head to the venue, early for once, and sign up to play first so I can get home at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately, the place started to fill up after I'd finished playing. So it goes.
The Birch has a pleasant, warm, almost-elegant ambience—far from the rough-and-tumble bars I associate with small towns. I'm allotted five songs, which is quite generous, and the stage sound is pretty good once the host turns down the guitar amp midway through my first number. I play reasonably well, though not at my blinding best. Halfway through "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," my new Beatles cover, I realize I should sing it an octave higher or change the key. Too late. This one, a Peter, Paul & Mary chanson, comes off much better.
Speaking of obscure covers, Sam, the young guy who follows me, tells the crowd that he traffics in them. I practically wet my pants when he announces "Broken," but no, it's not The Guess Who B-side from 1971. This is another "Broken," by ... Jared Somebody? Beats me. Then he says, "Here's a Catfish and the Bottlemen tune." Right. Uh, so, you know any Juff Gleento? Rufus and the Juts? The Ked?
"Liza Radley" (Stop 8—Dr. B's Acoustic Medicine Show, Free Times Café, Toronto ON, November 17, 2018)
Boy, that 1:00 start time is tough for me. I arrive late and sign up 13th, which is fitting. This has not been a good day. My front bicycle tire went flat around St. George, and I had to walk the bike from there. As I sip on the obligatory decaf coffee—at the Free Times you must order at least one drink, "no exceptions" as the sign says—I'm preoccupied not with my set but how I'll get home. It's possible to lug a guitar on the Carlton streetcar. Transporting a bicycle is more awkward, but I've done it. A guitar and a bike? No way.
Maybe I'll take the guitar home first, then come back for the bike. Or maybe not. That's four fares and besides, I'd like to get the bike in to my local shop before it closes. The other option? A 45-minute walk home, and the shop will be closed by the time I get there anyway. Unless I luck out with an empty streetcar that stays empty? Keep dreaming, pal. Not likely on a Saturday afternoon on College Street.
It's a good crowd, mostly performers, and Dr. B's is one of the city's higher-profile open stages. Hey, no pressure on a day that I'm feeling lousy. A grizzled poet named Dark Cloud takes the stage. I'm momentarily distracted from my dark cloud by his natty suit, walrus moustache, pork pie hat and ... seven-string guitar? I chat with him afterwards and yes, it's the G that's doubled with an octave string. He says it's a Martin, made specially for Roger McGuinn, king of the 12-string guitar. Roger must have tired of tuning the other five strings.
By now, I'm resigned to walking home. Wish I'd stayed in bed. When my turn comes, the host is genial, the sound fantastic—as the recording proves—and I play reasonably well. My stage patter is minimal, and I wisely decide not to whine about my flat tire. Inflicting a bad mood on innocent bar patrons is never a good idea.
What goes around comes around, I suppose, and this story has a happy ending. I unlock my bicycle and am maybe one minute into my long, dreary trek when I gaze up at a storefront and see the sign: Urbane Cyclist. A bike shop!
"We Howl" (Stop 9—The Tilted Dog, Toronto ON, December 20, 2018)
This was the gig I didn't expect to play, as a few days after the Free Times gig I cancelled the rest of the tour due to Muswell's worsening condition. About a month later, he'd made such a stunning recovery that I was able to make this, the scheduled final date. Kudos are due my veterinarian, clinic staff and the various medicines my cat has been on since late November, to be sure; but I'd also like to offer my thanks and gratitude to God for answering my prayers. I'm not a preacher, so I'll leave you with the words of James 5:16, should you feel so inclined. But I will say that in my experience prayer really works, often when nothing else does.
As seems to have been my custom this tour, I arrive just after everyone else has signed up. I'll be on seventh, which is a long way down the line because everyone gets four songs. It's a small crowd gathered here this Thursday evening, mostly performers. Host Robert Labell kindly dedicates "Embryonic Journey" to me, and continuing the Jorma Kaukonen theme, finishes his set with a couple of songs off the first Hot Tuna album. I really must offer to accompany him on bass sometime. Way back when, I learned how to play by copping licks off that record, among others, and I'd love to revisit it and get back into playing bass. I miss it.
Among my four numbers this evening is "We Howl," one of my older songs and probably the first thing I wrote that I actually liked. Some songwriters are innately gifted; the rest of us have to write a slew of bad songs before we start writing good ones. This was my first good one, and I'd never played it live till tonight.
And there you have it: my latest adventures in micro-touring. Look for my next micro-tour this spring, which will be upon us all soon enough.
Before I start: thanks to those of you asking about Muswell. He's doing quite well! I'm still having to give him various pills, powders and potions, but they're working.
Several years ago now, a friend of mine initiated me into jazz via the iconic, visionary trumpeter Miles Davis. And though I can't say I'm a jazz buff yet, I really dig Miles a lot, if I may use some dated hipster lingo.
As a pop-rock person, my entrée into the world of Miles was his fusion period. When I first heard In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, the language spoken there was roughly akin to some of the music I grew up with. What he's most celebrated for—and my friend's preferred iteration of Davis—is his 1950s work, culminating in the legendary Kind of Blue. For me this material has been a challenge to appreciate, and I'm still trying. In fact, the first time I heard Kind of Blue, which is universally acclaimed as the greatest jazz album of all time, I cheekily renamed it Kind of Boring. It's still not my favourite Miles album, but I'm slowly coming around.
Anyway, it's not just the longevity of Miles Davis' career that astounds but its dizzying breadth. From a Rolling Stone article: "Miles was once seated next to a senator's wife at a felicitation of various artists at the White House. The lady, obviously not familiar with jazz, asked Miles what he had done. 'I changed music six times, ma'am,' was the quick response."
Wanting to broaden my horizons, I went shopping for a career-spanning box set. Surely an artist of Miles' stature, active for 45 years, has been given the comprehensive overview treatment, right? Nope. Not unless you count the 70-CD Complete Columbia Album Collection. Comprehensive, yes; overview, no. So, I decided to make my own.
I took as my starting point The Essential Miles Davis, a double-CD collection that barely skims the surface and, in my opinion, glosses over some major works entirely. After a lot of research and digging through YouTube, I arrived at my version, which I'm calling ...
Even though mine is strictly an mp3 playlist, I curated it as if Columbia had hired me to create that career-spanning box. I've divided his work into six CDs, each representing one of the "six times" alluded to by the man himself.
A few ground rules I used:
- The material is to be ordered chronologically, by recording date.
- Each CD should be as close to full (80 minutes) as possible.
- Every major album is represented by one song, whether that song is three minutes or thirty minutes.
- Seminal, ground-breaking albums are allowed two songs.
Given those parameters, I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. Inevitably, some works are underrepresented and arguably, some are given more space than is warranted, depending on your tastes. Example: were my friend still alive, he'd probably split the periods much differently than I did. I can envision my Discs 3-6 crammed onto Disc 6 in his version, with the '50s/early '60s material taking up Discs 1-5.
Disc 1 (79:03): Hard Bop and Beyond—1945-1959
- Now's the Time
- Tempus Fugit
- It Never Entered My Mind
- 'Round Midnight
- Miles Ahead
- Stella by Starlight
- So What
- Blue in Green
Disc 2 (76:36): Post-Bop—1960-1967
- The Pan Piper
- Someday My Prince Will Come
- Once upon a Summertime
- Seven Steps to Heaven
- My Funny Valentine (live)
- I Fall in Love too Easily (live)
Disc 3 (76:35): Electric Cathedral—1968-1969
- Tout de suite
- Petits machins
- In a Silent Way
Disc 4 (78:23): Full-On Fusion—1970-1972
- Pharaoh's Dance
- Miles Runs the Voodoo Down
- Right Off
- Little Church
- Directions (live)
- Black Satin
Disc 5 (74:34): This Is Jazz?—1973-1975
- Calypso Frelimo (excerpt)
- He Loved Him Madly
- Prelude (live)
Disc 6 (76:55): The Man with the Horn—1981-1991
- The Man with the Horn
- Jean Pierre (live)
- Star People
- What It Is
- Human Nature
- Time After Time
- Mr. Pastorius
- Chocolate Chip
- Boplicity (live)
- Blues for Pablo (live)
And there you have it: the Miles Davis box that should exist but doesn't. If you'd like to re-create it, all the material is available on YouTube. Happy exploring!
My beloved cat Muswell is seriously ill with advanced kidney disease, among other things. I'm adapting to a treatment regimen that's time-consuming and constantly changing and also making frequent trips to the vet, at times in near-emergency situations.
As a result, the rest of the autumn micro-tour is cancelled. I'm hoping to play the occasional show here and there, but cannot at this time make firm commitments. Though the tour has been cut short, all shows were recorded and I still (at some point) intend to post the highlights on the music section of my website. Look for those in December or January.
If you'd like to send prayers and healing Muswell's way, here are a couple of photos of my beautiful boy. Heartfelt thanks, dear readers, for your kindness and concern, and blessings to you and your families.