Music, more than anything, has been the throughline of my life. As a teenager it was The Police then Sting, U2, a Pink Floyd phase, the Sugarcubes and so on. I dove into Jazz in a very big way with Miles, Coltrane, Wynton and Branford and many a night spent at a jazz club upstairs on Bloor street whose name escapes me. A stint working in a CD store saw plenty of shows and backstage passes: playing pool with Hothouse Flowers at the Diamond was a highlight, and Lawrence Gowan still owes me a pen he stole while meeting Depeche Mode was...boring.
The first real live show I went to was Steve Earle's Copperhead Road tour at the Masonic Temple. A raucus, no doubt drug and alcohol fueled show packed with bikers I had packed into my mother's Dodge Aries and driven downtown to see it. It was...astonishing.
What was once Alt-Country, then Roots then suddenly Americana became my home. Oh sure there was lots of other stuff in there--as a teenager in Toronto in the 80s I was a Rush fan, and the The Hip...oh the Hip, whose Roadside Attractions had me seeing Hothouse Flowers, Midnight Oil, Daniel Lanois and..well...Wilco live and outdoors. I have a rule about The Hip: I only see them outdoors, and preserving that purity is why I skipped their last shows.
2020 has not been kind for music lovers. The pandemic we're currently living with has claimed a lot of lives--Ellis Marsalis, scion of New Orleans jazz. Little Richard. Kenny Rogers, whose Gambler was the sound of my father's car as a child. Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider. Bill Withers--"Imagine", said Donovan Woods when Withers passed, "having written Lean on Me. Just imagine." Well said Donovan.
I gravitate towards singer songwriters and it's because of this that John Prine's death may be the one that hits hardest. Prine was perhaps less famous but certainly no less talented than many in his generation of writers: a generation that includes Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and the already departed Townes van Zandt and Guy Clark to name just a few. Well crafted lyrics are the backbone of modern music...the rest is important, but without the lyrics there's nowhere to start.
2020 is half over, the pandemic isn't done yet, and I hope the back half of this year sees far fewer losses than the first half. No matter what there's one thing I know to be true: the music will still be there, recorded at home or in a studio, on tape or a computer, streamed online or played live (even if we have to sit in cars) the music will still be there for us. That, we can count on.