Blind River 1962 – Long May You Drive

In Neil Young’s hit song, Long May You Run, the second verse opens with the phrase, “Well it was back in Blind River in 1962, when I last saw you alive.”  Sault girl as I am, the words stir up memories of family trips to Sudbury in which we passed through this quaint little town located along the north shore of Lake Huron.  I can still recall one spot in particular, the cozy little restaurant named Carlo’s.

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Now, I can’t say what Blind River was like in 1962, that was before my time.  What the song really conjures up however, is the image of Glenn Gould driving north along Highway 17.  “His destinations of choice were almost always north, and included Manitoulin Island, in Georgian Bay, as well as Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and other towns along the rugged, lonely north shore of Lake Superior, where he admired the ‘Group of Seven woebegoneness’ of the countryside.”   (Kevin Bazzana, Wondrous Strange:  The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, 2003).  For Glenn, small towns represented ideal places in which to write, study and think.  In his own words, they offered a kind of “blessed isolation.”

In the spirit of a Gouldian road trip along the rugged landscapes of the Cambrian Shield, I’m going to hang a left here and take a slightly different route from the direction in which this post is currently headed.  That is to say, that this is not a post about the philosophy of Gouldian solitude.  For that, one need look no further than The Solitude Trilogy, a quasi-autobiographical collection of radio documentaries created by Glenn.

That song of Neil Young however, has me on a completely different path.  Have a listen:

While the song makes me think of Glenn driving through Blind River in the 1960’s and 70’s on his way further north (hey, that’s the name of my blog!) it also has me musing about what this scene might have looked like.  I am referring of course, to Glenn’s choice of car.  As any fan will tell you, Glenn was quite fond of his cars, or, as Bazzana puts it, “He was one of those North Americans who are in love with their cars.”

The cars Glenn liked most were American made.  I’ll admit that a trip to the Glenn Gould Archives at the National Library of Canada would probably put me in touch with a host of details about the specifics of Glenn’s various ‘apartments on wheels’ however, right now I’m feeling more of an inclination to put myself in the hands of the folks at Lincoln Continental and take a ride back in time.  While Glenn’s cars were many, in his later years it was his Lincoln Town Car of which he was particularly fond.

Google the phrase, “Glenn Gould’s cars” and you’ll find pictures of him at the wheel of his beloved Longfellow (Lance was the nickname he gave to his Chevrolet Monte Carlo.)  While I’m hardly knowledgeable about cars, I do so love to look.  Here’s a commercial for the 1970 Lincoln Continental.  This may not be the precise year of Longfellow (talk about a pun and a half) but you get the idea.  He sure did like a big car.  I like to think that Glenn identified with the epic proportions of this car.  Witness for example, his own extensive note-taking, recording splices and even his lengthy telephone conversations.  Short-winded he was not!

Measuring 225 inches in length, this car was sure to get a person out of Toronto although, by the time the head lights got to Blind River, the tail lights were probably still just getting onto the 400.  But I digress.  Luxury is the motto of this car and with it’s “sweeping expansive wood tone,” and optional AM/FM stereo radio integrated into the instrument panel (“eliminating the floor adaptor”…!!) this car must have really lived up to Glenn’s need for an apartment on wheels.  Incidentally, when you look up the photo of Glenn driving, you’ll note that he’s not wearing a seat belt.  For goodness sake, Glenn, buckle up!  I guess it’s just another sign of how much things have changed.

One of the things I find most amusing about this car is the way in which things are hidden.  Advertised in the commercial are the “concealed headlamps” and “concealed windshield wipers.”  And don’t forget those “fender skirts”.  Of particular interest to the car is the “improved sound package,” designed to “reduce outside noise.”  So, when you’re driving past the Big Nickel and conducting along with a Mahler Symphony on the radio (yes, Glenn did this) you don’t need to worry about being heard.

The various selling points of this car are in themselves rather Gouldian, the intensely private Glenn having tried very hard to conceal himself from the public.  Talk about concealed head lights and windshield wipers.  I realize that my attempt at humour here is about as successful as Glenn’s Karlheinz Klopweisser skit.  My sincerest apologies.

More than thirty-five years later (Glenn died in 1982) and the folks at Lincoln Continental have slimmed down the 1970 behemoth to a modest 201.4 inches.  So, today’s model is basically two feet shorter than Glenn’s but still nearly twenty inches longer than a Honda Civic.  St. Aubert, my own little gentleman (now blushing in the garage) is bursting his buttons.  Have a look at what Glenn’s choice of car looks like today:

In all fairness, this is a nice looking car but boy those fender skirts sure had personality.  If Glenn were still alive, I have a hunch that while features such as the heated seats and automatic window screens would be a delight for keeping him warm and rid of unwanted sunlight (not to mention what I suspect is a much more powerful engine for getting out of the GTA) this car has a few un-Gouldian features, namely the backseat passenger audio controls.  While out for a drive with Glenn, nobody but Glenn controlled the audio.  Nobody!

The long and short of it is that while styles change, the basic function of any automobile is to get us safely and comfortably (and hopefully with as little a carbon footprint as possible) from point A to B.  What really matters is the location of those two points and, if you’re like Glenn, then point B is likely going to be somewhere along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Safe driving and remember to fasten that seat belt!

1982 Times Two

 

This year, artists from around the world used 2017 as an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Glenn Gould (1932-82).  Marking the would-be 85th anniversary of his birth and the 35th anniversary of his death, the year lent itself well to celebrations.  This year also marked the 150th birthday of Canada.

With 2018 just around the corner (60th anniversary celebration of Glenn’s 1958 Boston debut anyone?) and the holiday season upon us, we might take a moment to mark yet another milestone, that being the 135th anniversary of The Salvation Army.  In June of 1982, just a few months before Glenn’s passing at the age of fifty, Canada Post issued a stamp honouring the centennial of this important charity and one for which Glenn held in high regard.  Canada Post issued their Millennial Collection stamp honouring Glenn in December of 1999.

Last night while out shopping for groceries, I dropped some money in the Salvation Army Christmas kettle.  I give a little bit every year however this year, having myself participated in a Glenn Gould 2017 event here in Mississauga, I felt a closeness to Glenn.  Not only was I helping those less fortunate than myself, but I was also remembering and celebrating Glenn in perhaps the best way possible.  People and animals in need.  These were causes dear to Glenn and, to that end, he left his estate to The Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.

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The bell ringer was a pleasant fellow who, in exchange for my modest gift, offered me a smile, a “thank you” and a wish for goodness.  This is so very Glenn.

When you pass by The Salvation Army kettles and bell ringers this holiday season, drop in a toonie or two and think of Glenn.  I’m positive that he’d have liked that.

Good tidings of love, health, peace and happiness to you.

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Glenn and Corduroy

Corduroy

The funny thing about being profoundly influenced by someone you’ve never met, is that whether you realize it or not, they’re almost always on your mind.  Just when I think I’ve parcelled away my Gouldian ideas for the night – ideas about voicing in the music of Bach, or about the similarities between Art of Fugue and Walden  a seemingly unrelated yet strikingly appropriate connection comes to mind.

One such moment happened when, after opening the drawer to my nightstand, I found the cover of one of my favourite story books, Corduroy by Don Freeman.  I am comforted by the sweet and innocent cover of this 1968 classic, it’s no wonder I keep it where I can see it before bedtime instead of hidden away on the top shelf of my bookcase.

While I’ve no way of knowing whether or not Glenn ever read Corduroy, I’ve a hunch that he’d have found in it, a simple depiction of some of his deepest values.  If you aren’t familiar with Corduroy, then I highly recommend checking out a copy from your local library (you’ll find it under “X FREE” in the Junior Paperback Picture Book section).

Corduroy is the story of a wee stuffed bear, living amongst fancier toys in a department store.  While out shopping with her mother one day, a young girl named Lisa, passes by and walks up to the bear.  Longingly, she looks at Corduory and pleads with her mother that this is the bear she has always wanted.  Lisa’s practical mother has no time for the bear, remarking that they’ve already spent a great deal of money and furthermore, the bear has lost a button to one of his shoulder straps.  Exit mother and daughter.

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Thinking that if he could only find a button for his overalls then the pleasant little girl would come back for him, Corduroy sets out in search of a button.  After store hours, when all is quiet and the lights are off, Corduroy travels from department to department, up and down the escalator where, after seeing a mattress button, attempts to pull it off only to have an accident in which he knocks over a lamp.

The adventure ends when, after hiding under the comforter of one of the beds, the night watchman shines his flashlight on two little ears poking out from under the covers.  Dutifully, the watchman carries Corduroy back to the toy department and places him next to the other, mainstream stuffed animals.  Poor Corduroy, his plan to find the missing button in the hopes that he would no longer be neglected, had failed.  He would forever remain shabby and therefore unloved.  Or so he thought…

Having emptied her piggy bank, Lisa returned to the store the next morning to buy the bear.  Refusing a gift box, she carried the buttonless little friend in her arms back home, where she gave him a new home and a button, too.  “I like you the way you are,” she said.

On the one hand, this is a story about the simple life, about helping others and being a good and generous person.  These notions are very Glenn, however, what I want to point out is the way this story relates to Glenn’s penchant for turning to neglected creatures and things, as if opening the door for many little ecstatic experiences and meaningful communication.

Glenn’s choice of repertoire, for example, favoured the works of neglected composers such as Orlando Gibbons, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg.  As for the music of J. S. Bach, let’s be clear that it was not crowd-pleasing works such as the Italian Concerto or the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which Glenn admired, but rather, the composer’s thorny, old-fashioned and unconventional final work, Art of Fugue.

Let us not forget how as a boy, Glenn would bring home every stray pet in the neighbourhood, including a skunk.  Glenn’s obsession with solitude and neglected northern landscapes and remote highways, is not unlike Corduroy and his trip through the abandoned department store.  We might even go so far as to say that Glenn’s preference for polyphonic music symbolized a desire to give all voices equal attention, to undo them from the neglect that results from homophonic textures and their dominant solo part or melody.

This aspect of Glenn having given his attention to the neglected, can also be seen in the spirit of his compassion for those less fortunate than himself.  That is to say that he left his entire estate to two charities, the Toronto Humane Society and the Salvation Army. Since Glenn’s death, many neglected people and animals have benefitted from his generous spirit.

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As intellectually stimulating as Glenn’s recordings, radio documentaries and philosophical writings are, his human side – made evident by these seemingly random, unmusical connections to things like children’s storybooks and 1970’s television shows (see blog post #2 “Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) – is an aspect that we might do well to contemplate.  Whether your artistic role model is Glenn Gould, Pablo Picasso or Tina Turner, look for the unexpected connections that bring these people close to us.  All of the great minds that have come and gone have much to tell us in their own unique and unconventional ways.  Like a finely tuned radio (I know, another Glenn reference) we ought from time to time, to tune into the human frequency, adjusting our receivers accordingly and picking up some truly meaningful connections.

 

 

 

Harnessing Gouldian Thought in a Distracted Age

Autumn in Ontario

In my first post, I explore ways in which twenty-first century artists might use Glenn Gould as a career role model.  The moral fibre of Glenn’s creative output, his pursuit of solitude as a means for ecstatic experiences and his efforts to remove himself from the centre of a society in order to see it more clearly, serve as the backdrop to this audio essay.

Listen here: