A sad day for Candian music fans.

How Did I Miss That? Tragic Loss; Maine Squeeze

Steve Russell

When I saw a teaser informing me that a musician dubbed the “unofficial poet laureate of Canada” was about to walk on, I had several bittersweet thoughts. Sweet in the sense that such news causes an examination of the body of an artist’s work, an examination that leaves you feeling lucky to have been touched by such an extraordinary individual. Canada has been fortunate in the quality of Canadian artists and the U.S. has benefitted from proximity to such a trove.

I thought it might be Gordon Lightfoot, who I just saw touring in Austin at age 77. National Public Radio interviewed him to celebrate 50 years of his music and he wrote a tune that’s been called “the unofficial national anthem of Canada.”

Lightfoot, it turns out, is still on tour and playing this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Then I thought of Leonard Cohen and the guitar in my closet I’ll always keep to remember the night Cohen played it. His early muse, Marianne Ihlen, walked on from leukemia last month. His letter to Ihlen on her deathbed anticipated his own mortality:

Well Marianne it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don't need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.'

No, Leonard Cohen is still with us. When we were young, he had all the right words. He’s proving he still has them.

We don’t count Neil Young, right? He skipped south and became a Californiac. He still has a fan base in Canada, but you don’t get called unofficial poet laureate for going ex-pat.

To my surprise, the poet that brought Canada to a standstill to say goodbye is Gord Downie, a youngster at 52, frontman for the Tragically Hip. He has terminal brain cancer, but according to The New York Times he’s still able to rip though a three-hour set of blues-rock.

The last concert in the Hip’s farewell tour with Gord Downie was played in Kingston, Ontario, where they were a hometown band that went on to win 14 Junos (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Hip fan since high school, skipped out on the Canadian Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro to be present for a moment that will be much more significant for Canada than any gold medal.

Downie singled out Trudeau for praise twice during the concert, reminding the Prime Minister (and the world) of the promises Trudeau has made to deal with the concerns of the First Nations. The Huffington Post Canada called Downie’s linkage to First Nations issues “equal parts admiration and challenge.”

Downie’s challenge sent Ojibwe columnist Jesse Wente to Twitter: “I hope our politicians can have the integrity of our rock stars. Are you up to it @JustinTrudeau? #TheHip #TrueReconciliation.”

Squamish Nation decolonization advocate Khelsilem tweeted his appreciation for the Hip, and then added: “Indigenous ‘Sovereigntists’ aren't supposed to admit the things they love about Canada, but there are a few things for me.” He followed that with “P.S. Ketchup Chips are also on the list. #LOLZ” Proving, I suppose, there’s no accounting for taste.

On the establishment side of the Twitterverse, the Toronto Police tweeted on the day of the last concert: “Dear World, Please be advised that Canada will be closed tonight at 8:30 p.m. Have a #TragicallyHip day.”

For their farewell tour, the Hip leaned heavily on their stash of Canadian hits, most of which never made it to the U.S. Their last encore in the last show on their last tour, “Ahead by a Century,” seemed appropriate:

First thing we'd climb a tree and maybe then we'd talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life

And that's where the hornet stung me
And I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight we smoke them out

You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century

Since ICTMN readers are as capable of digging into YouTube as I am if they don’t know the Hip, it seemed to me appropriate and respectful of our northern neighbors to link not to the band but to the audience reaction.

South of the Canadian border—but not very far south—the Westbrook, Maine Police Department issued a press release with an attached photo. Since June, Mainers have been on the lookout for a giant snake said to be over 10 feet long and dubbed “Wessie.” The witness who reported the first sighting claimed that the snake slithered off into the Presumpscot River.

Maine is pretty far north for a snake of that size, and the Wessie story provoked a lot of laughs. Until this week, when a shed snakeskin over 10 feet in length was found…near the Presumpscot River.

The laughter died down. The police bagged and tagged the skin, from which they hope to determine the species. Speculation has centered on a pet python that either escaped or was turned loose. If the sighting were in Florida, it would be no big deal.

Since that report, another Mainer claimed to have photographed Wessie, but it was as uncertain as the shadowy portraits that publish now and then of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster.

If a snake that big can live that far north, what’s next? Maybe a tropical bird?

Great Big Story introduced the hyacinth macaw by calling it “the biggest and bluest parrot in the world.” It’s an eye catching animal, but the purpose of the introduction is a warning that the species is endangered by habitat shrinkage and poaching for the pet trade. A pet hyacinth macaw can set you back over $10,000. No word if any have been spotted in Maine.

In a quest as difficult as hunting for pythons and parrots in Maine, The Washington Post spent quite a bit of effort tracking down charitable donations Donald Trump promised to make from his own money as he fired people from Celebrity Apprentice. The Post tracked down 21 separate promises of personal donations totaling $464,000.

In one case, the money never showed up. In two other cases the charity refused to confirm or deny. In the other 18 cases, donations appeared not from Trump but from the production company running the TV show or the Trump Foundation.

Trump has not given a dime to the foundation that bears his name since 2008, unless you count an appearance fee Comedy Central paid to the foundation in 2011. In 2012, NBC (the network that aired Celebrity Apprentice) made one large gift to the Trump Foundation that would have been enough to cover all of Trump’s promises. Asked whether that was the purpose of the gift, NBC declined to comment.

Had Trump released his tax returns, as is customary, all his charitable donations would be in a nice list on Schedule A.

I don’t listen to the show, so I got this one a week later when Rush Limbaugh posted it on Facebook. Limbaugh is sounding the alarm that Barack Obama is paying lesbians to become farmers and so infiltrate the last bastion of conservatism. Everybody knows The Gay is contagious.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that students opposed to the new law that permits carrying pistols on campus will protest until the law is repealed by attaching sex toys in a variety of colors to their backpacks. Honors student Ana López called the protest “fighting absurdity with absurdity.”

The organizers’ call for donations of dildos amassed over 4,000 of the fake phalluses. On a Facebook page devoted to the protest, the dildos are called “(j)ust about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play.” The rallying tweet for the protest is #CocksNotGlocks.

KVUE reported on a new app I wished for when I was teaching full time called Pocket Points. Aimed at students, it scores one point for every 20 minutes the user stays off the time sucking smart phone. The app is in use at over 100 college and high school campuses. It does not feel good to be presenting what you believe to be challenging material and see half of your students texting or surfing the Web.

Pocket Points was created in 2014 by a student at Cal State-Chico. The quality of the prizes depends on the businesses that sign up in the vicinity of the school. Students at Cal State-Sacramento, for example, can choose among four locations of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. When I started to freak out over the impact on my weight problem, my cousin Ray Sixkiller reassured me about my diet, “There’s an app for that!”

This report would be viral if “viral” referred to meatspace media, so I won’t attribute it to one outlet. Ora Golda Weinbach posted on Facebook that a funeral was to take place the next day attended only by her father—the presiding rabbi—and the funeral director. About 30 people showed, including people willing to be pallbearers for someone they never knew.

Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach regretted he could offer no eulogy because he knew nothing about Francine Stein, who had walked on at age 83. He learned later that she had been a musician and had taught at the Julliard School of Music. Props to the people who showed up to bury a stranger and R.I.P.

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