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Healing Power of the Blues

Even very early in life, spirituals and blues music spoke to me on a very deep level. But why? I was from a middle class family of non-African descent, and most of my family memories involve games and laughter. What was it about blues music in particular that has always resonated with me?

Despite the family joyfulness and comfortable life I remember having, there was also always a deep unspoken sorrow that rarely surfaced. As the youngest in the family, born when my parents were older, quite a few years after the rest of my siblings, I was insulated from much of it.

My dad was born in 1918 in the Crimea, and as a result of the political instability that came along with the Russian Revolution he would lose his father when he was barely a year old to bandits who were aligned with the Bolsheviks. The family ran a store, and later when the store burned down all of the records of their debtors burned with it. The creditors, however, managed to remember the debt the family owed, and they lost the store not long after losing their dad. They were among a group of German-speaking pacifists who had been invited to farm in Russia in 1763 by Catherine the Great.

Robbed of their dad by bandits, and left without financial support partly by the machinations of their own community, my father and his 5 brothers and sister and mother were soon displaced and began their long journey as refugees. Eventually they came to Canada, and were granted land to farm (another story) by the Canadian government – just prior to the Great Depression.

They survived near-starvation and ultimately most of them moved off the farm and found work in cities. A fresh wound would be opened for the family in 1956, however.

I knew my dad’s brothers growing up, but never met his sister. One day when I was quite young and we were visiting with the uncles, I asked about where she was. Nobody answered. Everyone just turned ashen and looked away. It would be quite some time before I would find out that my Dad’s sister, her husband, and daughter were murdered in Vancouver. David and Helen Pauls and their daughter Dorothy were brutally killed and the identity of their killer was never discovered. Helen had worked at the docks, and her bosses were Russian, so one source of family suspicion was that Russian spies had been behind the killing when they discovered that Helen understood something of the Russian language conversations they had. Another source of suspicion was a member of their faith community, who had demonstrated violent tendencies and emotional instability but had escaped consequences due to a somewhat misplaced notion of ‘forgiveness’.

In any case, this was the subsurface emotional reality in my household, and I wonder if I sensed it. When my mother died of cancer when I was 12, I experienced a personal loss as well. The only grandparent I had ever known, her mom, had died about a year or so prior. So maybe that has something to do with why I always loved the blues. The blues, unlike other music, recognizes the reality of loss and injustice and wrong, but true blues music doesn’t glorify any of that. It’s like a recognition of realities that many of us prefer not to see, and bringing that reality into ‘the light’ allows for a feeling of relief and of peace.

Here are my lyrics;

Healing Power of the Blues

Your words exposed a wound
that I’d denied was there.
At first I thought the pain
was more than I could bear.
But when, what I’d been hiding,
was in the open air –
it finally started healing.
I got back some feeling.
The power of the blues was everywhere.

The blues, they have a power
to purify a soul-
like an old-time gospel hour
or like losing all your gold.
When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of the blues.

The analyst may say I need some sessions-
that my nature needs some nurture,
or my soul requires confession.
Bruised ego may be what behind my trauma,
or unconscious childhood forces may be causing inner drama –

But when I’m in the darkness,
clouds hanging ’round my head-
I’m drowning in my misery
while lying there in bed-
I’ll put aside the bottle,
take up the blues instead.
There I’ll find a peace,
like a prisoner released
from the chains those faithful blues helped me to shed.

When times were good, I could fool myself
that everything was fine-
while I was dying a bit at a time.
Then suddenly, the ground broke away,
and I was falling through-
when I was saved by the power of the blues.

The blues, they have a power
to purify a soul-
like an old-time gospel hour
or like losing all your gold.
When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of the blues.

When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of…
the blues.

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Writing Whenever You’re Ready

When I listen to songs on the radio, I listen for message and tone.

The ‘love’ songs I often hear often are trying to present some urgent need for accepting love as an immediate adventure, something that could pass at any moment. There are few songs that consider patience a virtue. So I decided that I needed to write a different sort of love song, one that would be accepting of the time and space of the other, and yet would indicate the desire and caring of the lover’s voice in the lyrics.

That’s where ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ comes from. (The ‘meet the dawn’ line is meant figuratively; to help the other get through a ‘dark’ time).

WHENEVER YOU’RE READY
Lyrics and Music by Art Koop (last revised May 7, 2018)

You’re feeling the weight
of a wildly spinning globe
upon your shoulders…

and right now you see
love as another complication

But look at me-
I’m not asking you
to help me carry on…
If you let me in,
I’ll understand
and help you meet the dawn

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved…

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

The burden you carry
you need not carry all alone. (2x)…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

So I say again
lie down, let me
massage your tired limbs –
and if you sleep,
some hope and faith can
shine into your dreams (2x)

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (4x)
I’m ready to love ——
you.

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Avoiding the Letter S (and others) in Lyrics

Writing lyrics for songs is different than writing poetry, or writing a speech. One way is in the choice of words, and letters, to include, and leave out – and why – depending on who is singing and the style of the song.

One of my goals when I write songs for myself is to let my voice shine through, because my low voice is unique and in that way distinctive. One way in which I do that, is avoiding ‘non-voiced’ consonants as much as possible, especially the ‘s’. I would rather have the listener ‘fill in’ the letter s where it belongs psychologically, than write it in. That’s because the ‘s’ is not a voiced letter (f, t and p also fit in that camp), and so it tends to disrupt the flow of sound in singing. Sure, it’s a subtle point… but subtle points count, especially if often repeated.

So it’s true that I don’t sing my lyrics in the same way that I would speak my sentences, but that’s okay with me. Word (and letter) choice depends on a set of priorities, and balancing those priorities matters if I’m going to put out unique music for others to hear. If I were just to put out what people could find anywhere else, in a way that would not be respecting the listener, because I would not be giving people something new to hear. It also would not be respecting any message I would wish to put out, because if something is worth saying then it is worth saying in a fresh way, so that people may have fresh ears for it too.

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The Writing of Get Back Up (Resilience)

I wrote the song ‘Get Back Up (Resilience)’ partly in response to a friend going through a difficult life transition which was not under her control. I wanted to write a song which could be encouraging. One thing I have in common with this friend, is that we are both parents. I’m not sure the song provided the necessary encouragement, actually – her situation is way beyond anything I have ever experienced, and I really hope it doesn’t come across as a ‘pull up your socks’ message, because it isn’t intended that way at all.

Kids are incredibly resilient. Aided by a very short memory, little children try to walk, and they may wham into some furniture and bruise themselves something awful, but before you know it they are up and trying again. Their determination to walk seems to be far beyond their experience of the pain of trying. So, watching little kids trying to learn is inspiring to me, because they don’t know quit. My hope is that others are also inspired.

The lyrics go…

When you see a little baby learning how to walk
at first she fall a hundred time a day.
She will not say maybe this wasn’t meant for me –
she get back up until she learn the way.

She got dirt on her hands, bruises on her face,
but she know deep down that she has got the power.
She don’t know quit, she stay with it
until she find her pace,
and then she go at 50 miles an hour.

She get back up. Don’t you see she’ll never stay down –
she get back up every time she fall.
She may be half the size of anyone else around,
but she get back up and she show ’em all.

Been quite a while now since I was a baby,
but I still stumble, sometime I still fall.
I don’t always know how (I’m) gonna make it through the day,
and I just lean my head against the wall.

I got dirt on my hands, bruises on my face,
but I know deep down that I have got the power.
If someone offers help, okay, but I am gonna find a way,
and then I’ll go at 50 miles an hour.

I’ll get back up. Don’t you see I’ll never stay down?
I’ll get back up every time I fall.
I may not reach the mind of everyone else around,
but I’ll get back up and I’ll show ’em all.

We’ll get back up. Don’t you see we’ll never stay down?
We get back up every time we fall.
We may not reach the mind of everyone else around,
but we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em,
we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em,
we’ll get back up and we’ll show ’em all.

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Seeing Value

In the past year, I met a goal I had set about something trivial. I have a point to this story… you’ll have to be a bit patient, though, to get to it.

I wanted to be the top-ranked Facebook Scrabble player in my peer group, in all 3 categories of highest ranking, highest word score, and highest number of 7+ letter words, all at one time. I did it by taking an approach to the game that most people have never tried, as far as I can tell.

The key to doing well at Scrabble when you break it down, I figured, is to get more point value out of your letters than your opponents do.

If you were to take a superficial look at the value of Scrabble letters, you would probably say that the 5 most valuable letters are the Q and the Z (worth 10 points), the X and the J (worth 8 points), and the K (worth 5 points).

The way I play the game, the most valuable letters are S, R, E, I, and D, in roughly that order. Why? Well, I figure that since players get 50 bonus points for using all 7 of their tiles at once, the best way to get the most out of your letters would be to get the most 7 letter words. And, the way to do that would be to use word-extenders (plurals, suffixes, prefixes). And so, the letters that show up most often in plurals, suffixes, and prefixes would be letters to hold onto, in order to get the most out of them. S is the letter most used for plurals. -er and -ed, -ier and -ied are common suffixes. re- and de- and dis- are common prefixes. There are other letter combinations I consider after that, but you get the idea. In addition, if you add an s or an e or an r onto many existing words, you get a new word or version of the existing word, providing a connection point for your word placement.

So when I play, it’s more about the letters that I don’t use in a turn than the letters I put down. I will often sacrifice the opportunity to score more points on one turn, taking the chance that by holding onto my more ‘valuable’ letters I can score a ‘bingo’ bonus for using all 7 of my tiles in a turn to come, depending partly on luck to do so.

I reasoned that, while many other players may have a larger vocabulary than I do, and while some players (not likely in my peer group, but among ‘random’ opponents that may be chosen for me) may be tempted to purchase the ‘Teacher’ app on Facebook Scrabble (which shows you the highest possible scoring word from the previous turn), if I was willing to play in an unorthodox way I could potentially win games by giving myself more opportunities to score large numbers of points.

And, long story short, it worked. I had a theory, based on reasoning; I applied my theory; I met my goal. The reason it worked was that I was able to see value where others did not, and was willing to take chances that others were not willing to take.

There are applications here. Sometimes we may be tempted to take the easily measured values of our society – amount of money, titles and status, letters behind names – as gospel for how we ought to measure the value of people. But all people have contributions to make in our lives and in society, and maybe what really needs to happen is that we need to take a different point of view in order to see the value that is being overlooked. Maybe if we can work as a community, we can all extend our abilities in order to add up to more than any of us as individuals can achieve alone.

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Living With A Non-Linear Mind; Making Yourself Useful (Final Segment)

You are walking down a pathway on a sunny day. Suddenly, someone bursts out of some bushes beside you, bumps into you, stops long enough to say “I saw a bird over there”, and continues walking.

That is how linear thinkers often experience non-linear thinkers. This is not to say that non-linear thinkers have to completely conform to the world around them… but a certain amount of compromise will be required in order to foster the sense of community, acceptance, trust, and teamwork to make it possible for anyone to even be willing to listen to the kind of unusual ideas that tend to emerge from non-linear minds. We have to make ourselves useful – to establish that we can and do contribute to our societies, and do not merely disrupt and disturb the calm progress of our friends and neighbours.

Part of communicating effectively means organizing your thoughts in presentation to others, whatever form that presentation may take, so that they can follow along with what you are trying to express and see the purpose in it. The fact that thoughts do not come to a non-linear thinker in a ‘pre-organized’ fashion does not in any way create license for those thoughts to be presented as they come, vomited out in a massive unsorted stream. Other people should not be required to do the work of sorting through a non-linear thinker’s ideas and figuring out what to do with them, and they won’t.

It took me until I was in university to learn that I could write an organized essay – just not by following an outline. I would read a lot, take many notes, write down many ideas, being careful to take note of all the necessary information about my sources so that I could quickly reference them later on. I would frequently refer back to the main topic, to make sure that I wasn’t getting too far off track and working super hard on something I hadn’t actually been asked to do. Then, having gathered a critical mass of material, I would lay it all out on an enormous table, and cut it into pieces. I would lay out the pieces in the way that they made the most sense, numbering them.

Frequently, I would find that some transition was required. I would ask W5 and How about each sentence, to see if terms needed to be defined or if I had skipped explanations that reflected a logical sequence of thought, and write the transitional paragraphs necessary to fill the gaps. I would number the new paragraphs, with letters, to fill in spaces (for instance, if the paragraphs fit between piece 6 and piece 7, I would number the paragraphs 6a, 6b, etc.). Then I would tape pieces back together in order, and type out the essay. That was how I got my best marks.

Now, with the proliferation of computers, it is technically possible to eliminate the scissors and tape. However, a single screen might be insufficient to look over all of the necessary information and bear it in mind simultaneously, so it may still be worth doing such a task in the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

My point is that, even if a thinking process is non-linear, the final product of any kind of project or presentation will need to make sense to people and will need to be properly thought through. Only organized work is likely to receive the acceptance and approval of a majority of stakeholders, and may be the only way that all those great ideas ever see the light of day. It will take work, but as I used to say to my high school students, “The question is not “Is it difficult”, but “Is it worth it?” – and I believe it is.

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