Pat’s Top 40 Before 40: Albums 11-15

If you’re just tuning in, this is what I am up to.

11. The Artistry of Christopher Parkening (1993)

The next few albums on this list relate to a specific time in my life governed by the anxiety of Columbia House and the urgency of the guitar. The first CD player I ever got was a Hitatchi boom box, still functioning in the room it has been in since 1990. I needed to feed it. CDs were expensive and the Columbia House deal was too good to pass up. The secret shame of receiving a selection from them, their choice, and having to send it back still pains me. I wanted them all. But out of those first 11 or 12 came some critical albums for my young ears.

Classical guitar was the road I didn’t take. The great Bulgarian guitarist Kolio Kolev bears mention. He left the complete Bach lute suites and three Ted Greene books at my house during the only lesson I ever had with him. I never saw him again. I remember working on Asturias. The books are still with me.

Mom had a brutal plastic acoustic guitar that I tinkered with. Eventually I upgraded to a Washburn classical guitar, purchased on a family vacation to Baltimore. Gary Davis, to this day the best guitarist I know, looms large in my life. Not that Gary Davis. This one. He is pictured above on bass in The Sermon with Denis Driscoll and Mac Barfoot. After a few lessons with Gary, I admit I wanted to quit. I wanted to learn Extreme and Nirvana tunes. It wasn’t until Gary showed me these two chords that I saw a future for me on the instrument.

These chords took the cloak of mystery off the guitar. It could be an instrument of great beauty and not just a means of fitting in. I practice piano constantly but my harmonic mindset is steeped in fretboard logic. Gary is a member of The Four Freshmen fan club. His mind is spilt into four part harmony always. His mind is vast.

At MUN, I did all my chamber music credits on guitar because – and I’m sorry if this offends anyone – trumpet duos are boring. There were about 10 trumpet players at school and not many guitarists. I was pleased to play guitar and flute duets with Sarah Comerford and some Dowland with Michelle Noftall.

This is a compilation of early LP recordings by Christopher Parkening previously unreleased on CD, featuring two of Parkening’s signature pieces, Bach’s Chaconne and Ravel’s Empress of the Pagodas. I listened to his Chaconne over and over. At UVic I hear many violinists working on it and I always compare them to the Parkening transcription. My classical guitars are in Newfoundland and I really should get them shipped out. Nothing quite like that vibration against the belly.

12. The Commitments Soundtrack (1991)

My family never had a VCR until 1996 when I was in grade 12. It’s still plugged in, blinking 12:00 and hasn’t been used in this century.

Close friends know I really don’t enjoy films. Movies take too long. I feel bad for film makers for going through such cost and effort to create imaginary landscapes when my own imagination is, in my opinion, easier to access. There are exceptions. I saw King Ralph in the theatre on the day it came out. To date, I am the only person I knwo to compare this film to Designated Survivor. I think Catch Me If You Can is the best movie ever made. Recently I saw American Splendor and thought moments of it could’ve been a Pat Boyle bio-pic. And anytime Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is on TV I must sit through the whole thing.

Amazingly, the only Irish record to make this list. The Commitments appealed to me for many reasons, notably Imelda Quirke. There are other reasons.

It felt real, like I had already met the people in my life. Joey “The Lips” Fagan was an early influence on me and I did take a habit of naming all of my instruments because of him. The music on the soundtrack were forever linked to the film images, making it a richer listening experience. I even thought of this film as I was reading passages in Soulsville and walking through Stax records in Memphis.

13. Nigel Kennedy – Beethoven Violin Concerto (1992)

Adrienne Clarkson Presents was an important program. Through it, I heard this punk violinist Nigel Kennedy play his version of The Four Seasons. I was really on the search for something back then. Some type of identity. Kennedy represented some type of likeable, talented, arsehole quality I’ve tried to maintain over the years.

I read his book and learned what had come easy to him and much that did not. Someday I hope to meet him and tell him how much I appreciated his daring to not care what other people thought of him. Another early influence was his jazz album with the late pianist Peter Pettinger.

On the Beethoven record, one of the encores became all I listened to more that anything else for a while. It was one of the first performances through which I could see music – an amalgam of unconnected images that created a sensible narrative in my mind. That doesn’t mean the story and images made sense, the mostly didn’t. White fluffy snowflakes slowly falling. Trenchcoats. Very small things.

It reminded me of a feeling I rarely discuss. In Grade 4, some cop came to talk to our class about vandalism or grafitti or drugs. It doesn’t matter. In my mind he looked like Richard Moll from Night Court (which, by the way, is an unsung program. Terry Promane and I are die hard Markie Post fans). Anyway, this cop was so boring my mind wandered far. I mean farther than ever before. For a while I called this feeling “phasing” because I was so effortlessly not in the moment that I was convinced I was in a dream creating the reality (boring as it was) I was in. It’s a feeling I still have and can control. Maybe I am just pretending that the reality around me isn’t real and I am dreaming it. But this music, this performance, has the ability to magnify that feeling exponentially. Man, the west coast is affecting me.

14. The Blues, Volume One (1963)

The Arts and Culture Centre Library was a great hang. I got the Robert Johnson tapes there, a lot of Miles, and Sonny Boy Williamson. I was obsessed with harmonica and Sonny Boy, more than any other, was my favourite. So I got Volume One and Volume Two of this set through Columbia House.

Howlin’ Wolf endures in my life. Only a few times have I been afraid of music. Early exposure to Wolf was one, and Avashai Cohen live was another. At York U, there was a a wonderful guy named Steve Gash who wrote his thesis on Wolf.

There’s almost no reason to talk about this record. I was in the right place at the right time with music like this and Bix to engage foundational music in each genre.

15. Telefon Tel Aviv – Map of What is Effortless (2004)

CBC Radio late at night opened doors to strange, dangerous places. Full respect to the Ceeb. I like quite a lot of the changes that have taken place. But the station is not as dangerous as it once was. Two New Hours with Larry Lake. That’s where I first heard of this interesting man named Clark Ross who I took composition with. The piece I heard was Cool Stream for piano and percussion. Sunday nights were urgent. They made you excited to attack the week ahead.

You can’t count how many times I smushed headphones up to my ears listening to Brave New Waves, Nightlines, Radio Sonic. I can still hear how Patti Schmidt would ever so slightly let the “mmm” of “I’m” kiss the “P” of “Patti” (i.e. I’mmmmmPatti Schmidt).

Dave Bidini points out the importance of late night weird radio in the age before conspiracy AM radio. The gig is over. The car is loaded up with the extra bass you didn’t need to bring. You drive home and you hear David Wisdom or Grant Lawerence tell you about something you’ve never heard of on Nightlines. I know for sure David hipped me to some key material, like Telefon Tel Aviv. I ordered the Japanese edition of this record through Fred’s.

It’s the sound of being a little too drunk. A little too happy and sad at the same time, when the little voice inside your head is a little too loud and either makes too much sense or not enough. Strangely, this is the second selection that involves listening to music in total darkness on this list.

If that’s too serious, crank this when you’re having a great day. Better yet, send it to that person you work with you can’t stand.