Archive for the 'music' Category


The ipod mini that got run over by a car

One day last winter, I watched in horror as my beloved and ever-so-faithful iPod mini got run over by a car.

It happened as I was leaving the Hamburg’s Abaton cinema after wife K and I were through watching Untouchable, one of the best films we’d seen in ages.

It was dark and rainy, and I’d been fiddling with various zippers and clasps getting everything just right before mounting the bike and heading home.

But just as I was heading out onto the street, I hit a bump.  Pothole maybe, perhaps it was just the fall from the curb.  But then I heard a clacking sound as another cyclist who was coming in the opposite direction shouted that something had fallen out of my bag.

I turned around in time for the light to catch the silver outline of the iPod just as the left front tire of a passing car ran right over it.  I saw it bounce up and clack back down again on the wet pavement.   By the time I realised what was happening, the back tire caught it as well.

I swore, propped my bike up against a lamp-post, ran out into the street, scooped up the iPod, swore some more, thrust the iPod into the jacket pocket I should have stashed it into in the first place, and headed home, all the while contemplating what kind of iPod I should start looking for on eBay. Perhaps a used iPod touch?  Or maybe one of the new nanos?  Because the way that thing bounced off the road, there was no way it was going to be good for anything more than a paperweight.

But after I got home and told my tale, I took it out of my pocket, touched the click wheel, and I couldn’t believe it.  It still worked perfectly.  OK, it’s a little scratched up now.  The metal casing’s got a nick or two it didn’t have before, and in places it looks like someone hacked away at it with an ice pick, but by some miracle the screen stayed clear and the click wheel – the Mini’s most sensitive part and one most prone to breakage – is still intact.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Those things are all screen on one side, and I’m sure they’d never have survived such abuse.

It’s also a good thing it was only a car, and not a cement truck passing by.


Busking at the Christmas markets

The red-haired girl and a friend went out busking today, he with his saxophone and she with her clarinet.

Although they’re schoolmates and so see each other every day, they’d not had much time to practise their Christmas songs.  He lives far away south across the Elbe river, and they’re both busy kids.

But they did have time for a couple of sessions before hitting the Christmas markets.

She went out last year with another friend who also plays the clarinet, and that time I watched them both very closely the whole time.  But this year we left the two of them to practise at our place, catching up with them after we’d come back from having lunch down in the harbour.

They’d been playing for about a half-hour by the time we’d stopped by to watch and say hello.  First thing she told us was how a woman had just come up to them and told them to stop because they sounded awful!

I thought that was pretty mean, but the red-haird girl was smiling broadly.  She didn’t care.  They were out there in the crowds playing away, and coins were dropping into her clarinet case.  I added a couple.

“We’re heading downtown if the weather stays nice,” she chirped.

I hadn’t counted on them venturing so far away, and felt a free-range kids moment coming on.

“Uh… really?” I said.  “All the way downtown?”


“OK, but watch out for yourselves,” I said.  “Not everyone down there is going to be friendly.”

“It’s OK,” her friend said. “I’m pretty athletic.  If anyone tries anything, I’ll run after them.”

As wife K and I left them to play some more, I told her of my anxiety, just letting them go all the way downtown midst the crowded madness of Saturday pre-Christmas shopping.

“Just remind me a couple of times that everything’s going to be OK,” I said.

Then I added that I didn’t want to be lurking around the corner all the time, they’re close to 15 and mature for their ages and could take care of themselves, I didn’t want to be like some sort of helicopter parent because that’s not the way I am.  But it felt very strange to just start walking away and let them go.

“They’ll be OK,” K said.  “And don’t forget. We’ve got to give them roots, but also let them have wings.”


Time to confess an addiction

Before we set off for a long-awaited three-week trip back home to Canada, I’d like to confess something. I only confessed it to myself the other day, and after much contemplation, am now doing it here: I’ve started up a habit I’d thought I’d grown out of long ago and let go for good.

Back in my teens it was all so easy. By the time I was 15 I had pocket money from a few odd jobs, so I’d sneak away at lunchtime to buy some from one of only two sources in town, savouring the anticipation of school’s end when I could enjoy my purchase either by myself or with a couple of close friends. Because the subjects I took were so stimulating, I was always a good student, so the time spent on my habit didn’t affect my grades at all. That was a good thing, because my parents during one phase in Grade 11 became really worried I was spending far too much time alone in my bedroom.

Growing up in my little village perched on a mountain sliding into the sea, there was no chance of getting some closer to home unless friends were offering, so I’d go into Vancouver, where there was a lot of choice. Granville Street, seedy back then and not much better today, held good possibilities to score. I didn’t feel bad about it because I enjoyed it so much, and besides, a lot of my friends were into it way more than I was, and they were doing OK.

It didn’t end with High School though. When I started to earn some real money on summer break while going to university I’d buy even more, branching out into different varieties as the possibilities – and my wallet – broadened. I remember thinking each time I shouldn’t, but was unable to resist the urge.

Then all of a sudden in the early 80s – just when my enthusiasm for it was peaking – my addiction was no longer cool. Even though there was still tons of it going around out there, the world was moving on, and I figured that if I didn’t change, it would move along without me. Then, little by little, the supply started to dry up.   What had once been so easy to find was no longer on every streetcorner.  So, facing reality, I slowly let it go, relegating that period in my life to the musty reaches of the back shelf. I think the last time I bought some was in 1986.

But then a couple of years ago, I came across a dealer in downtown Hamburg, some guy in a back alley of the university quarter near where all the students hang out. I’d always known there were dealers in this city, and that it would be so easy just to go out and get some, but I thought: no. Leave it in the past. You’ve got a family now, a steady job you’d like to hang on to, and the money could be put to such better use, like one day putting your growing daughter through university, for example. When you get older, frivolity should be left behind, right?

But I can’t help myself. I go back every once in a while and pick up some more.  In Paris three weeks ago across the street from Gare St Lazare I spied a dealer and thought of an Oscar Wilde quote – the great man buried only a few dozen blocks east – that the best way to rid oneself of a temptation is to yield to it. So with what bit of cash I had  left over from my trip, for the first time in 25 years I bought three brand new slices of that lovely stuff I just can’t seem to get enough of.


Is there any cure once you’re hooked?


Will you still need me, will you still feed me

I still remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking what an incredibly long way away it seemed.

Soon it will be only 13 years – about as long as I’ve lived in Hamburg.

Or does a really cold winter just make you feel old?


Canada in Dire Straits: Ban this!

Canada bans radio play of Money for Nothing after receiving complaint.

I want some…

I want some Sa-ni-ty….

Now look at them losers, that’s the way you do it
They ban a song and say it’s good for me
Now that’s just stupid.  That’s a load of bullshit
Banning some music – next they’ll come for me

Now that’s just senseless. Still they’re gonna do it.
Lemme tell ya: they’re just plain dumb
Maybe save a sister from some hurting feelings
Maybe save a sister from some bum

A lotta pissed off radio DJ’s
Can’t play that music any more
Gotta groove on shit like Patio Lanterns
That kinda music make you wanna just heave

That little redneck with the earring and the make-up
Yeah buddy, that’s what he wears
That little redneck’s got his own pickup truck
That little redneck he’s been puttin’ on airs

Canada should learn to drop the PC
They shoulda learned that songs don’t kill
Look at that loser, he’s gotta whine to some bureaucrat, man
And we all pay the bill

And he’s up there.  What’s that? More whining noises?
They say it’s to protect sensibilities
Now that’s just stupid.  That’s a load of bullshit
Banning some music – next they’ll come for me


How I got to know a neighbour, stole his music, and gave it back again

Bert lives in my neighbourhood one street up and one street over in a small apartment one floor up.

I didn’t know Bert before a couple of weeks ago, but even before I met him, I knew a lot about him.

I knew, for example, that he was a fan of the Bielefeld German Football League team and had recently been to one of their games.  I knew that he was a fan of the Beatles, old Dr. Hook, and the German one-hit-wonder Nena, that he collected old magazines and 45 vinyl records, and that he buys books and CDs on

How did I get to know so much about a stranger before even meeting him?  By stumbling upon the contents of his softcover suitcase, which lay strewn in a jumble in the lane behind our place.  It was 6:30 in the morning and as I looked over the rain-dampened disarray I thought, this guy probably left his bag in his car, someone saw it and smashed the window, brought it over here, rifled through everything, took what they thought was good for re-sale, and took off.

I gathered up the lot and brought it upstairs to our apartment.

Now what?

I go through the bag and discover a receipt from for some books he’s recently bought.  I look up his name on an online phone book but he isn’t in it, so I write a note to the guy, then walk over to his place thinking I’ll just leave the bad news for him in his mailbox.

I ring the bell just in case, and he’s home.  Half-way into explaining who I am he buzzes me in and I walk up the stairs.

A slim man with short hair in his early 30s is at the door to meet me, curiosity and suspicion on his face.

“Uhhh… I think you’ve been the victim of a theft,” I tell him.  “I found this along with a lot of your clothes and stuff in a suitcase behind our place this morning.”

“Ohhhh, shit! he says, raising his hands to his head, his face clouding to shock.  “Oh my God.  I got home so late last night and had to park a few streets away, and I didn’t feel like carrying home my luggage in the rain.  Shit, shit shit!”

I let him know he can come and pick up what’s left of his stuff back at my place, so he throws on a jacket and we start to go over.

We fill the time walking down the street and waiting for the crosswalk lights with the kind of talk you have when you’re forced to be with someone until it’s over.  Like riding an elevator for 20 floors with a colleague you vaguely know, so you feel compelled to make small-talk.  But in this little vignette there’s an element of accidental intimacy.  He knows that I’ve had a look into his private life, however indirectly.  But does he know that I’ve looked through everything?   I guess the thieves overlooked the selection of  um…adult entertainment DVDs I found tucked in a side pocket.  In the whirl of activity since discovering he’s a crime victim, does he even think of it?  If so, does he even care if I know or not?  Is porn now part of the travel checklist along with toothbrush and wallet?

I’m not going to mention it, but in the conversation’s pauses I get to thinking about what airport security people get to paw through and what they find, only with them it’s different.  They rarely get a chance to put a face to a name, and if they do, it’s all in a day’s work.

We get to my door and I show him in.  I gesture to the floor and his bag and its jumble of contents I’ve put back in as orderly a fashion as I can.

“I guess you should be checking on your car now,” I tell him as a way to say good-bye as he’s on his way out again.

The story doesn’t end there.

I’d told my wife about the find as she was heading out the door that morning, so she had a look around the same spot, too.  She comes home that afternoon with three CD boxes, one of which is “Time Flies” a beautifully crafted and obviously expensive 4-disc boxed set of Oasis music and videos.


“I guess I’d better head back over there,” I tell her.

First though, I fire up iTunes and proceed to copy the three Oasis CDs, contemplating as the discs are spinning how I’ve come to be stealing a great collection of music from a famous British band thanks entirely to the misdeeds of some anonymous smash-and-grab thief.  I start to wonder if what I’m doing is actually theft twice over, because neither Bert nor the band has said I’m free to rip it into iTunes.  But then again, does my giving it all back to him – the same day and no questions asked – absolve me?  Does copyright theft even compare to original theft of the actual goods?  And should I tell him that I copied the disks before giving them back to him?  Would that taint his enjoyment of them forever?

I pack up the boxes and head for the second time that day to the home of someone who 12 hours before was a complete stranger to me.  He answers the buzzer right away and again, I walk up the stairs.

“You were right about the car,” he tells me as I approach the door.  “The back window was smashed in and my blue overnight bag is missing.”

“My wife found these near where I found your suitcase,” I tell him, holding up the CDs.

He takes the Oasis box and holds it between his fingers as delicately as if it were made of fine crystal.

“My God,” he says. “I thought it was gone forever.  This album is almost like a holy relic to me…. Uhh…wait here.”

He disappears into his apartment and I can hear him rummaging around.

“I’m not much of a connoisseur, but if this is anything it’s to say thanks for all that you’ve done for me today.”

I laugh a little awkwardly and take the bottle of wine, telling him it’s nothing, really, and that I’d hope that if something like that ever happened to me, that someone out there would do the same.

And that was that.  Haven’t seen him since.


Duisburg love parade: don’t let a few deaths stop the party

Maybe 19 trampled to death weren’t enough?  What about 110?  Five hundred?

I was so sickened by the spectacle last night unfolding on our screens.

One one side, a stampede resulting in the deaths of 19 people, with injuries to hundreds of others.  Here’s what it looked like in the aftermath inside the tunnel:

On the other side while that video was being shot, sealed off by a wall of techno-sound only a few metres away from the frantic efforts of rescue workers to remove the dead, revive the unconscious and care for the injured, the party went on.

And on.

And on.

It went on for hours until way past nightfall.  The lights, the sound, the dancing.

Smiling faces carrying on as if nothing at all was amiss.

I don’t buy the excuse that they were afraid there would be another panic if they put an early end to the party. 

Hours before the music ended around 11pm, the fences and gates that had channelled everyone through this one tunnel and sealing off all other exits, thereby creating the perfect conditions for a deadly crush of people, had long since been removed.  As soon as the exits were open, they should have stopped the concert.

They’re also throwing up the excuse that cellphone networks were down, so those partying on had no way of receiving calls from friends or loved ones.  

In fact, they had every way of knowing, but the organisers simply chose not to tell them.

I don’t know what disgusts me more, the scenes of carnage, or the complete insensitivity of those who let the party go on for so long.


Hamburg construction site to be a world-class landmark

At least that’s what the city of Hamburg is hoping its new concert hall will be: an iconic structure to rival the Sydney Opera House in sweep and grandeur.

For now, the immense brick and concrete mass jutting out into the harbour of this northern German city at the mouth of the Elbe is a tangled mess of scaffolding, cranes, support beams and butt cracks – nothing unusual as concrete gets poured and sets the same way all over the world.

Nothing unusual about the tangled mess of financing it has become, either.  We taxpayers are going to be on the hook for upwards of a half-billion euros by the time the first violin string is heard in 2013, a cost explosion that’s pissing off Hamburg citizens no end as we ride along crumbling streets dodging the potholes, witness cutbacks at daycare centres, schools and other social services, and on and on.

But there’s no turning back.  It’s going to be there, it’s going to be stunning, and it’s a must-see – not just for the architecture itself but for the new vantage point upon what Germans call Germany’s most beautiful city.  Especially when compared to Frankfurt.

I got a look behind the scenes at the work in progress on a tour with 25 colleagues the other day.   After signing papers saying we knew we were entering a construction zone and the dangers involved, and agreeing not to make any audio or video recordings or pee in any corners, we donned gumboots and hard hats and set off for the walk along the quay to the site.

The first thing you see is the first rows of what will be nearly 1,100 huge one-tonne glass panels, each one individually curved in a random pattern to give the impression of choppy seascapes, and shaded with patterns of miniscule round dots for protection from the sun.

It’s so huge, it took nearly three hours to see it all, but it may have been because we lingered so long at the midpoint: a wide, open space several storeys above ground that anyone will be able to enter without so much as a ticket.  You’ll get there by stepping at ground level upon a long, sloping escalator similar to those long causeways we now take for granted at airports.  At the top of the escalator you’ll step out at the west end, where the building juts out to its narrowest point.

From there you can hang out and enjoy the view in any direction, go to a restaurant, check into the hotel, settle into a seat at one of the three concert halls, or simply head home –  if you’ve got the bucks to already put a down payment on one of about 45 flats that will be selling for about €17,500 a square metre in what will be the city’s highest living spaces.

What will make the huge public space unique is that it will be a wide-open sandwich slice half-way up the building.   The lower half is actually a reinforced refurbishment of an old brick warehouse.  As you walk around the open public space – for now a stark jumble of dangling wires, stacks of insulation, piping and cement mix – you will be able to walk under and around what looks from below like a concrete soup kettle to feed 1.5 million – with leftovers.  That’s the underside of the main concert hall, and it’s going to remain bare and white, a stark reminder of the building’s main function.

The open middle space is quite windy, though, and on stormy days I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to close it off.  Either that or have ropes along pathways so you can keep from getting swept away into the river. :-)

Err, umm, speaking of which, I should mention that when one of our group asked if they’ll let just anyone go up there to hang around if they’re worried about terrorism, our guide said they’re already thinking not of terrorism, but that because it’s such an open space – with very little in the way of barriers and with such a huge drop-off to the water below – that it will become a magnet for jumpers much as the Golden Gate Bridge has sadly become.

Moving right along…

Up and around, through a wide doorway, suddenly you’re standing on stage – or the area that will be the concert hall’s stage.  Though you’re looking right now at its raw concrete and metal skeleton,  your jaw drops – it took my breath away – just looking at the scale of the 2,160-seat main hall.

Pulling ourselves away from the open space we walked the steps up another dozen or so floors – where the apartments will be – to the highest point.  For the first time I saw the entire sweep of the lower Elbe from the harbour all the way down to Wedel, my usual cycling target about 20km away.  It’s an amazing sight and one I won’t forget soon.

Anyone can take tours if they book far enough in advance.   Hint-hint, people! You don’t reeeeaaaallly want to meet up this year in Frankensteinfurt, do you?


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Michael Jackson dead at 50. Fans in mourning. Jackson Five reunion tour to go ahead as planned.

A Definitely Not the Daily News semi-exclusive

Los Angeles (DNDN) Enigmatic, eccentric entertainment eminence Michael Jackson exited earth earlier today, sending distraught fans of the pop singer, moonwalking inventor and Plastic Surgery Fail icon into a frenzy of mourning.

“I’m down here to show….just how much I loved him,” blubbered Christie Anderson, 42, of Mountain View, California outside the singer’s Neverland ranch.  “He’s now out of my life, but not my heart.”

Michael Jackson Live tour website

Sales of flowers, teddy bears, frilly hearts and other nauseating knick-knacks in a 50-mile radius of the singer’s California hideaway have skyrocketed as fans fight to bring whatever they can to lay at the front gates.

One woman stopped beating her chest and tearing her hair out long enough to complain of how area stores were price-gouging.

“They wanted 50 bucks for a key chain at the 7-11 just down the road,” said one middle-aged woman who declined to give her name.  “I bought it anyway, cuz y’know, just imagine being caught on YouRube showing up here with nothing to give.  It’d be unthinkable.”

One nearby 7-11 employee said stocks had already been depleted in the wake of the death of Farrah Fawcett only a day before.

“It’s supply and demand.  Everyone’s doing it,” said 7-11 stockboy Pim P. Lee from behind the counter. ” See that rack of scandal sheets over there?  You think they’re not going to make a killing in sales over this as well?”

Millions of fans who purchased tickets for Jackson’s sold-out This is It comeback tour in London are now being asked to return them for refund.

“We thought of presenting a hologram, doubling the price, and calling it Michael Jackson That was That,” said Jackson publicist James J. Goff, “but that would be about as tasteless and insensitive as posting a fake Jackson news piece within hours of his death.  We’re asking everyone to at least give it a 24-hour grace period.”

Organisers of a planned Jackson Five reunion tour scheduled to get under way in March, 2010 say they’re still going to go ahead with the show, despite the death of the former quintet’s most famous member.

“Michael would have liked it that way,” said brother Jermaine Jackson from his home in Los Angeles.  “Sales were strong, but we’re sure to get a sellout now that prices have been slashed by 20%.”

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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