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Joni Mitchell – Not one of my personal favs but respected

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004

Joni Mitchell, performing in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joni Mitchell  (born 1943) is a Canadian folk, pop and jazz singer-songwriter whose hippie era lyrics speak volumes about the current situation:

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

–Big Yellow Taxi

We are stardust, we are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden


Mitchell has played, collaborated and recorded with many top pop, rock and jazz stars, to include James Taylor, Carole King, CSNY, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and the list goes on. Some believe she is the most important female pop artist of the 20th century.¹

Some of my female friends were really into her back in the day. But she never really turned my crank, for whatever reasons. As a kid and young adult I found the likes of Patsy Cline, Carole King and Annie Lennox far more appealing when it came to woman composers/vocalists.

Their music seemed less “involved” and more up front. For me, getting a good simple hook is the hardest thing to do. It’s less impressive to do long complicated pieces that never really fly. And I suppose I felt that Mitchell’s tunes, for the most part, were stuck on the ground or mired in drama. That’s an entirely subjective opinion, though, and it’s hard not to respect her for songs like those mentioned above, along with “Both Sides Now” and, I suppose,”California,” “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio,” and “Help Me.”


Related » Bruce Cockburn

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Alanis Morissette – Time smooths jagged edges

Alanis Morissette live at the Moon&Stars Festi...

Alanis Morissette live at the Moon&Stars Festival Locarno 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alanis Morissette  (1974 – ) is a pop-rock songwriter and performer born in Ottawa, Canada. Her wildly successful album Jagged Little Pill was in stores when I was doing my doctorate in Ottawa. So I felt a special connection to it. Also, I was happy to see another Canadian make it big.

Her style is a mix of Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. She’s been called the “Queen of alt-rock angst” by Rolling Stone magazine,¹ but there were other Alternative Queens before her, not too long ago.

Alanis Morissette: Live in the Navajo Nation

Alanis Morissette: Live in the Navajo Nation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of Morissette’s more recent melodies seem to combine Native American Ghost Dance music with traditional pop-rock influences. And it seems that her jagged edge has smoothed out a bit over the years.

As with many pop stars, Morissette seems to enter into another reality while performing. Raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, she now practices Buddhism.

Not really a global force in music today like Sia, Katy Perry or Adele, Morissette’s last album Havoc and Bright Lights (2012) did have limited success in North America and generated a hit in Europe.



Boy George

Boy George em sua apresentação como DJ na boat...

Boy George em sua apresentação como DJ na boate Pacha, em São Paulo, Brasil. O evento ocorreu em 14 de julho de 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boy George (George Alan O’Dowd, 1961- )

In the 1980’s this lead vocalist from the pop group Culture Club followed David Bowie‘s lead by cross-dressing and generally combining big business with political statement.

The single “Karma Chameleon” touched on spiritual themes, as did his less commercially successful later work.

In the 21st century he remains an outspoken critic of figures like Madonna, although he’s virtually gone from an 80s big shot to a new millennium dark horse. In 2008 he served four months in prison for the assault and false imprisonment of Audun Carlsen.¹

I only mention George here because, in his day, he did have something to say.


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David Bowie

David Bowie 2004

David Bowie 2004 (Photo credit: markjeremy via Flickr)

David Bowie (1947 -) is a British musician, record producer, arranger, actor and visual artist. Originally David Jones, apparently he changed his surname to avoid confusion with the popular Monkee of the time, Davey Jones.

Most would agree that Bowie is in a rare league of iconic rockers, including the likes of Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Madonna and Elton John.

His best music synthesizes existing idioms to create something fresh and often exploratory. And because of his considerable talent, his musical explorations rarely go off the grid.

Bowie the philosopher, if you like, also takes us to new dimensions often passed over by status quo thinkers. His song “Starman” (1972) ponders the idea of extraterrestrial life and its potential impact on humanity.

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile

And in “Loving the Alien” (1984) he sings:

Believing the strangest things
loving the alien…

Meanwhile, Black Tie White Noise (1993) looks to the meeting of spirit and the body, a topic that sometimes scares away so-called intellectuals who think they’re smart but really are quite narrow-minded:

Where the flesh meets
the spirit world
Where the traffic is thin…
You’ve been around
but you’ve changed me

In Bowie’s heyday the press often depicted him as “going away” from this world into some kind of creative journey and then “returning” whenever he produced a hit single.

There might be some psychological truth to this, as found in “Little Wonder” (1997):

Enter Galactic, see me to be you
It’s all in the tablets, Sneezy Bhutan
Little wonder then, little wonder
You little wonder, little wonder you…
Sending me so far away,
so far away…

Not unlike the Hindu Shiva-Shakti dyad, Bowie plunged into cross-dressing before this was considered chic in the music industry.

Cover of "Sound + Vision"

Cover of Sound + Vision

But there’s more to Bowie than meets the eye. Connecting him to religion and spirituality is far from spurious, considering his interest in parapsychology, as found in “Sound and Vision” (1977):

Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision…
I will sit right down,
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Within Asian systems paranormal abilities are known as siddhis, and in Catholic mysticism those which come from God are called called interior locutions, insights, perceptions and private revelations.

Bowie himself, however, is often critical of organized religion, as expressed in this chant from The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), released several years before the Catholic sex-abuse lawsuits hit the media:

Sex and the church
Sex and the church
Sex and the church
And the church
And the church

Bowie might someday be regarded not just as a musician but as a visionary or futurist. Considering the looming global water crisis the following scenario from “Looking for Water” (2003) doesn’t seem too far off:

Silver leaves are spinning round
Take my hand as we
go down and down
and down
Looking for water…

I’m looking for water
Looking for water
(Looking looking)
I’m looking for water
Looking for water…

The musician/visionary combination is not unheard of. Both Pythagoras and the legendary Orpheus combined music, philosophy and spirituality.

Pythagoras linked musical harmony to cosmic order, while Orpheus used his lyre to wrest his wife Eurydice from the underworld lord of death, Cerberus. But like Lot’s wife, and against a dire warning not to look back while escaping, Orpheus foolishly cast a glance backward, losing Eurydice forever.

This story speaks to the wisdom of accepting and trusting in the future, an idea summed up in Bowie’s tune, “Changes” (1971):

Turn and face the strange
ch ch changes…
time may change me
but I can’t trace time

Bowie has also ventured into acting and composing soundtracks for film and video games. For some time he hosted a lively, free internet forum called “Discourse” at, which now charges membership fees.

Although criticized for being cheap when it comes to charity, Bowie replies

I can never make my mind up, I’m so f***ing flippy floppy. I can see both sides of everything and it’s really awful. Source » “DAVID BOWIE – BOWIE’S CHARITY STRUGGLES” at

David Bowie & Band @ Area2 Festival

David Bowie & Band @ Area2 Festival (Photo credit: markjeremy)

Cheap or not, for his considerable import as an artist he was awarded the 2008 Andromeda Award at

Around 2004 Bowie suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency surgery. Since then he’s understandably kept a low profile, appearing here and there, and endorsing his son’s 2009 “Moon” movie.

All that changed when on his 66th birthday he released a new album, The Next Day (2013). Keeping true to form, one of his videos for the record upset the Catholic League. And so far it’s the fastest-selling album of 2013.

Other interesting things about Bowie:

  • he was offered but declined a knighthood
  • his actual religious views remain somewhat mysterious
  • he just wants to make records now (and not give concerts)
  • he’s apparently vowed never to do public interviews again’s Very First 2008 Andromeda Award!

Related Posts » Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Leonard Cohen

English: Leonard Cohen

English: Leonard Cohen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonard Cohen (1934- ) is a Montreal-born writer, poet and musician. Around the time of the release of his record, The Future (1992), Cohen was likened to an Old Testament prophet by a Canadian reviewer. And this might not be too far off. Cohen’s lyrics and retrospective asides seem to dance around the idea that he’s a mouthpiece for the Divine as well as a humble guy, just like anyone else.¹

Along these lines, Cohen seems content with his combination of Jewish and Buddhist beliefs.

Cohen lost his father when he was nine years old. But he was left with a modest trust fund so didn’t have to worry about money in his younger days.

He bought a house and spent his formative years in Greece, this influence discernible in much of his music. A former ladies man, he openly tells of forays into drink, religion and whatever else might have sustained him. He once held the unconventional notion that the Nazis were defeated by music. And he speaks of a creative spark that apparently those “who are there” know about and those “who are not there” do not.

The following lyrics from “Bird on the Wire” (1969) speak for themselves:

Like bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way
To be free.

And from Susanne (1967):

And Jesus was a sailor… Only drowning men could see him.

In “The Tower of Song” (1988) he sings:

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor.

And in The Future (1992) he takes an even darker route:

I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

However, The Future also contains some humorous and hopeful elements.

Apparently bilked out of his fortune in 2005 by former manager, Kelley Lynch, Cohen filed a suit and was also sued. Still standing, his comeback tour, cds and verse have proved that he’s a survivor. His latest album, Old Ideas, has received 4 and 5 star reviews from critics and fans around the world. Not bad for a guy nearing 80 yrs.

¹ See for example, “Going Home” from his latest cd, Old Ideas »

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Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn (album)

Bruce Cockburn’s first album, 1970 (Photo credit: Wikipedia – click on image for fair dealing rationale)

Bruce Cockburn (1945 – ) is a Canadian, Ottawa-born folk and rock musician. He sang about Christianity through natural metaphors well before it was considered cool to do so. Despite this, Cockburn managed to survive and even thrive in the Canadian record industry.

In one interview¹, he said that it’s fine to sing about God, but if the music’s not happening, then the message doesn’t really connect. This was probably an oblique reference to the contemporary Christian pop of the time, so much of it being formulaic and arguably not too original, musically speaking.

At he’s quoted as saying:

I am a Christian songwriter. I just don’t fit the Christian music scene.

As the years went by, Cockburn became increasingly critical of what he saw as hypocritical political and religious practices. In “The Gospel of Bondage” (1988) he denounces the selective use of Biblical quotations to justify questionable acts:

God won’t be reduced to an ideology…God must be on the side of right, not the side that justifies itself in terms of might.

Bruce Cockburn performing at the City Stages f...

Bruce Cockburn performing at the City Stages festival in Birmingham, Alabama, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps due to music’s unique ability to move the body and arouse passion, his “Rocket Launcher” (1984) single was sharply criticized:

If I had a rocket launcher… Some son of a bitch would die.

Cockburn responded to his critics by saying there’s a difference between (a) the artistic representation of anger and (b) advocating angry practices (see sublimation).

With regard to “Rocket Launcher” he claimed to merely represent his outrage in response to the bloodshed of innocents in South America.

Signing with the SONY label, Cockburn’s sound became bigger but he never really cracked the American market as, perhaps, anticipated.

Back with his former True North label, however, his electronically enhanced acoustic sound has returned, along with some noteworthy retro-style experimentation.

Like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morisette, Celine Dione, Glenn Gould, Justin Bieber and Drake, Cockburn is something of a culture hero in a country that is finally growing out of its national identify crisis.²

The following tune, “Wondering Where the Lions Are” is a reference to the Old Testament story of Daniel in the Lions Den and, according to Wikipedia, is his most popular single to date on the US but not the Canadian charts.³

¹ From a magazine article. Source cannot be located. Probably somewhere between the late 80s and the new millennium. In recent decades, Christian pop has undergone a serious reboot, some of which is arguably just as “cool” or “good” as anything else out there.

² This was especially prevalent in the 1980s, when entire university departments in the Humanities spent countless hours (and taxpayers dollars) looking at how Canada differed from the US and beyond.


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The Doors

English: Mug shot of Jim Morrison.

Mug shot of Jim Morrison, who had run-ins with the law on more than one occasion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Doors were a 1960s and early 70s rock band from Los Angeles, California, consisting of Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and lead man Jim Morrison.

Morrison was one of the bad boys of rock who also had poetic substance, charisma and exceptional singing ability. The group charted several classic tunes. Light my Fire, Hello I love you, L.A. Woman, Riders on the Storm and recorded other songs with lasting influence, such as Break on Through, Love Street, The Spy, The End, Soul Kitchen and the live epic Celebration of the Lizard.

Morrison is also a recognized poet, and his song lyrics advocate an inner journey to the psychological underworld, urging fans to “break on through to the other side.”

English: Jim Morrison Memorial in Berlin-Baums...

Jim Morrison Memorial in Berlin-Baumschulenweg. The Memorial has been set up among other by a Berlin merchant in 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Morrison apparently had a photographic memory. Biographers Danny Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins say that Morrison would ask his friends to open up and tell him the page number of any book in his library. Morrison would then apparently recite from memory all the words on that particular page.¹ If this story is true, it’s conceivable that Morrison was remote viewing and not necessarily reading from memory.

Like his sometimes melancholic (and depressing?) contemporary Jimi Hendrix, Morrison’s drug induced mysticism ended up in tragedy. He died at age 27 in his Paris apartment bathtub, surrounded by rumors of ongoing substance abuse. Despite his bad end, his music, personal philosophy and raw energy still inspires young and older fans to this day.

¹ Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive, New York: Warner Books, 1980.