Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Back Home, Days 5 - 7: The Rest of The Story


First, my apologies for dropping out of sight for the past several days; aside from the whirlwind that was my trip back home, I have taken the past few days, since being back in Vancouver, to emotionally regroup and gain some perspective on my latest experience with my family.

Mama Didn't Lie

The day after Father's Day, we went to visit my surviving (paternal) grandmother, whose was of English ancestry, at the care facility she was living at. Similar to the situation with my now deceased grandmother, this grandmother had spent some time shuffling around between different facilities and battling severe health problems. In this case, however, Alzheimer's did not seem to be an issue.

The senior's facility was in an old hospital building in the nearby neighbourhood of St. Michel, about ten-fifteen minutes away. My grandmother's room was on the top floor of the sixth floor building. Hardly any staff (a few custodial workers and one care worker) were to be found and the hallways and help desks were generally empty and unoccupied. Although very clean, well lit and quiet, the atmosphere was still eerily isolated. When we got to her room, it took a moment for my grandmother to realize who we were, and in particular, who I was. Once she did, however, she seemed very pleased that I had come. She was just finishing her lunch on a tray which a staff person soon came to collect.

As we chatted over the next couple of hours, mostly about the wedding (which she had not been well enough to attend), my grandmother asked me the usual questions: "Still working at the same place?", "Have you gained any weight?",  "Are you eating meat, now?" Something else she said nearly threw me off: "You're wearing a scarf in your hair, the way a lot girls are wearing them these days." My stepmother pointed out that a lot of guys were wearing their hair that way, too. I nodded, swallowing the irony of the situation.

The surrounds became a little disturbing when a elderly woman a few rooms away began screaming in anguish. There was also an elderly man in a wheel chair who kept trying to get into my grandmother's room. Apparently, he was notorious for barging into everyone else's quarters on that floor, even sifting through other people's belongings. My father put up the velcro barrier over the doorway to the room to keep the mam out.

My grandmother generally seemed content, expressing only minor complaints about things like not having a breadbox for keeping the sliced bread that one of my aunts brought her. Folks at the end of the lives, like my mother and other grandmother had years earlier, tend to find contentment in simple things.

Later that afternoon, when my father, stepmother and myself were out for a smoke meat dinner several blocks from our apartment, I thought about what a good visit we had had. I had also planned to have the Conversation over dinner. But, it somehow just did not seem like the right time. I could not resist kicking myself for my perceived failure of nerve. On the way home, through the Italian flag wavers and honking drivers (Italy had just won against Ireland at the Euro Cup in Poland), I tried to put it aside for the time being.

Kettled

The omnipresent heat wave, even unusual in Montreal in mid-June, and the resurfacing of our old family patterns and roles made for a very cooped up experience. My folks seemed quite paranoid about going downtown for fear of being caught in the midst of a student demonstration (which the local media had already suggested was becoming less and less common) and they tried every way to convince me that going too far away was dangerous. I had also forgotten my father's tendency to become obsessed with gloomy news reports and histrionic call-in talk shows. It was the household atmosphere of my youth. We left the apartment together, shopped together and came back home together. When I bought anything, my father rambled on about what it cost. At home, I began to retreat into the spare room that I slept in, playing songs on Accuradio or YouTube for escape. I was reverting to old patterns.

Fortunately, there were two outings on Tuesday to go to. One was a lunch get-together with an aunt and uncle at a nearby Italian restaurant; my father and stepmother had received several gift certificates for the restaurant among their wedding gifts. The food was fantastic; I ordered a linguine dish in an arrabiata sauce (my favourite) with mushrooms, Italian sausage and Kalamata olives. My father and uncle each had the all you can eat mussle special (in a marinara broth). The wine was also flowing. When tipsy, I tend to crack jokes. At one point, I leaned over to my stepmother and, pointing at my father, said "Well, you wanted a guy with mussels, and there he is!"

A great lunch was had by all.

That same day, a good friend of mine who was studying journalism at Carleton University drove down from Ottawa to do some freelance business and also to touch base for dinner that evening. When, she came by, I introduce her to my folks; I had already told them how important this friend had been in helping me through my bad patch a few years earlier.

My friend and I went to a Chinese-Japanese-seafood buffet in a strip mall a couple of blocks west of the apartment. While there, I filled her in on how difficult it had been trying the breach the subject of my transition to my family. I actually could not believe that they could not see a change in me: my face, my lack of facial hair, my longer head hair. They had asked me no questions, none. Though my friend made a valid point, that usually parents do not think of their "son's" subtle physical changes as evidence of "him" transitioning, I still had trouble believing it. I had no idea if I was even going to be able to tell them. One thing became clear, that staying with them had meant a loss of my personal boundaries; I no longer felt safe to have an important discussion about anything.

Catching up at the buffet, however, was great fun and I was glad that my friend could make it down. That night, for the first and only time since I had arrived, the temperature was cool enough to sleep well in.

Go Where You Wanna Go

My last full day in Montreal had nothing scheduled, so we had lunch at a local Italian bakery/cafe and then, walked over to the strip mall to do some window shopping. While in a kitchen store, I suggested my father think about getting his mother a breadbox. "It would make her happy," I said.

That night we had macaroni in homemade sauce, the way we used to years ago.

The next day, I packed my two bags and we left for the airport around noon. We spent a few hours at a Tim Horton's nearby, during which I was certain that the Conversation was imminent. It was not. And maybe just as well. I decided that I could only do this from the safety of being across the country, in my home of seventeen years with most of my friends and my support network. I could write and blog without the sense of and eye looking over my shoulder. I did not have to hide taking my hormones or other medication. I would be better this way after all.

I hugged my father and stepmother at the Domestic Departures drop-off at the airport, wishing them well and knowing full well they were missing me already. This was how it had to be.

I sighed with relief as the plane lifted off over the West Island through the layers of extreme heat and haze. When I landed back in Vancouver, it was chilly and cloudy. But, it was home. It was mine.




Sunday, 17 June 2012

Back Home, Day 4: Colour Him Father


Not one, but two special days in a row. The day after the wedding was none other than Father's Day, something I had pointed out to him over the phone when I was first invited back east. I had blown my gift budget on the wedding gift (a handmade table cloth with tiny mirrors sewn in, from India, two similarly made linen napkins and two handcrafted napkin rings), so I sought out a card for Father's Day instead.

Today was actually much hotter than yesterday, with a daytime high of twenty-nine degrees, but there was also a gentle, cool breeze. I woke up very well rested (although the tension in gut was also alive and well) as I had, like everyone else (my father and stepmother as well as their pets, a budgie and a guinea pig), slept in.

I gave my father his card just before having breakfast. The front of it said "dude" with a print of a sporty convertible followed by "dad" with a more practical 4 x 4. "You STILL rock!" the inside said. We hugged warmly and firmly. My stepmother looked on, pleased. I kept myself in check; this day was for him.

After and errand, we took a long walk in the sun to the neighbouring muncipality of Ville D'Anjou, stopping at the public market for lunch before heading to the Galleries D'Anjou shopping center across the street. I had been there often as a child, many of those times with my father, and had not been there since I was about eighteen.

Walking through the mall, I could see how much it had changed and much of it was (is) under renovation. But it was the memories of going grocery shopping at Dominion or Steinberg's with dad, going to Laura Secord's chocolate and candy shop for an ice cream cone with, being handed to Santa Claus on his throne in front of Eaton's by dad and getting a toy bought at Toyworld by dad. All of these places now gone.

This evening, after my father and stepmother showed their photo album from their trip to Italy last August, I treated my father to dinner knowing full well that he has treated to much much more over the years. I may have shown much gratitude, but here it is, dad. And, yes, you still rock.

Shall we take the next step?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Back Home, Day 3: All You Can Eat


Prior to waking up on my third day home, I had a strange, feverish dream. I was back in Vancouver, dressed as female and making out with a male friend of mine. I left the room to get ready for more action when, suddenly, two very stern psychiatric nurses arrived with a kind of beige slime which paralyzed anyone that got near it. The next thing I heard was my friend suffocating. I began to feel myself slowing down, but overpowered the slime and the nurses. It was a hollow victory, though, as I survived alone.

*
So the day finally arrived. After twenty-five years of being together, my father and stepmother got married officially. The wedding itself was happy and low-key with close relatives from either side of the family.

Most of today, leading up to it, was spent hanging around the apartment in the sweltering heat and haze. The tension of the previous day having eased somewhat. Still adjusting to the time zone change as well as the difference in climate, my appetite was sporadic: a light breakfast followed by a snack for lunch. I had moisturized my hair so that straightened out and lay flat on my head. I then pulled it into a pony-tail and held it in place with one of the thick bands I bought yesterday at the drug store. I stayed in shorts (cut offs) and a t-shirt for most of the afternoon. My head was swimming, knowing that once this wedding was over, the space would open up for the Conversation to happen. My thoughts swirled. Between this and the heat, I felt fatigued and took a mid-afternoon nap.

Soon afterwards, a few of my stepmother's relatives arrived to help her get ready. Groggy, I got up and went on to the balcony for some fresh air. After about fifteen minutes, my energy had come back and I went to get dressed. I had packed my white linen jacket and pants along with a short-sleeved, beige cotton shirt. Surprisingly, and by complete happenstance, most of us seemed to have some combination of beige, white and a darker colour (blue or purple) on. In my case, my shoes, belt, hair band and watch provided the dark contrast.

When it was finally time to leave for the restaurant where the wedding was going to take place, I calmed my mind and followed my father and stepmother out the door. As the restaurant was only two blocks east of the apartment building, it was only a short trip. My stepmother's relatives were gathered outside the restaurant, my father's were already seating themselves inside.

Meeting everybody was, in 60s parlance, a real trip. I was great to see everybody for the first time  in four years, since my last trip home; there were even some folks I had not met in years, or decades. Kids had grown into adults, adults had become seniors, former children now had children of their own. I felt my own age pretty acutely.

But the most awkward part was being complimented on what "a handsome man" I was. I smiled, trying to look appreciative (I probably came across as shy); inside, I felt very uncomfortable. My suit began to feel like armor: the evening's heat began to close in. I decided to use a mental technique I had learned years and years earlier: I shut myself down, cut my awareness off from the neck down. I, then, could carry on through the night. Afterall, this was my father and stepmother's night: my moment could wait, for now.

I took pictures of the short ceremony, including the marrying couple, the officiate (a notary), two young relatives who were holding flowers and bearing the rings, and an aunt and uncle who were witnesses. Then, I sat down and drank and ate with my family (new and old), sharing laughs, and catching up as best as I could (leaving out some big details, of course). At some point, my father made a brief announcement thankinh everyone who had shown up. Then, the meal courses were served, the cake was cut and handed out and the pictures continued. The favors, candied almonds in paper boxes shaped like grooms in tuxedos (for the guys) and brides in dresses (for the ladies), were handed out to guests as they left. I hugged each relative goodbye, promising to keep in touch. By 9:00 pm, it was all over, and my father, stepmother and myself, all tired, headed back home.

Back at the apartment, I nearly tore my jacket off in desperation. I sat down at the computer for a while and did some of what I call YouTube therapy, playing favourite songs on the various channels as a DJ would mix tunes on a turntable. Then, I took a shower and put on the sweatpants and oversized t-shirt that I have been using as makeshift pyjamas. Secretly, as I have been the past three nights, I popped a Spiro pill with some apple juice (I changed my Estradot patches last night) and sat down at the computer again. I began to write my next post, feeling slightly bloated and very drained.

As always with food and emotional issues, I knew how to pack it in when I wanted to, but you can only eat for so long.

To be continued ...

Friday, 15 June 2012

Back Home, Day 2: Crossing The Falls



As I write this, Nik Wallenda is about to cross Niagara Falls on a tight-wire. Apt metaphor, n'est-ce pas?

Today, I got to soak in my old, but rapidly changing, neighbourhood. My father and I took a walk to the bank to settle a few things (I had some bills to pay), before walking over to the supermarket so that I could buy some produce for the rest of my week. Then, I got some things to keep my growing hair in place for tomorrow's wedding.

It was a very hot, humid day (summer at last!). As I continued to rehearse the Conversation in my mind, I got a glimpse of my father in a way that I had not before. Always quick to both joy and anger, it struck me that he was (is and may always have been) a prisoner of his own rather harsh judgements of others. I no longer so much saw someone who was tyrannical, but someone sad and in need of fresh air, in the emotional sense.

I grew in the shadow of his explosive emotions, as well as those of the other side of my family. Yet, I was always supposed to be the quiet one. It had never occurred to me, however, that any of them may have been prisoners to themselves (my mother was the only exception to this).

And not as if I have never been there. I know that freeing yourself can be a death defying tight-wire walk. Necessary, maybe, but I can also understand someone's hesistation to step out into the vast chasm of new relationship possibilities.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Back Home, Day 1: Touchdown



And so, after a smooth flight over the mountains and prairies, and a very turbulent one over northern and central Ontario, I landed in my hometown at 4:45 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time today. By contrast with the damp, grey delayed spring of the Wet Coast, Montreal was (and is) sweltering. As I type this, at 11:00 pm, it is twenty-one degrees and partly cloudy.

I have been going over and over in my head for weeks, months, how to not only come out to my folks, but how to make a new, adult place for myself in my family: that is, if it is truly possible to do so. I hope for the best. But, old habits and perceptions die hard. This afternoon, as I was waiting for my father to pick me up outside the airport arrivals area, I felt every bit the lost, small child with bags packed, and father coming to the rescue. We were on the expressway not five minutes, in the sweltering heat no less, before becoming entangled in rush hour traffic, something my father does not take kindly to. Out came the expletives (English, French and Italian). I found myself marvelling at how different our worlds actually were and wondering how I would ever get my message through to him. How would I do it? I knew when (after the wedding, of course), but how? We spoke, literally, quite different languages (although I have been known to swear a blue streak, here and there).

This thought nagged me for the rest of the afternoon and evening, through dinner and, later, as I presented my folks with the wedding present I had bought them. And until I have the Conversation, I will be sleeping on it.

To be continued ...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

À Bientôt


In less than twenty-four hours, I will be landing in my hometown for the first time in nearly four years. Much has changed since then.

When my story last left off (in terms of Montreal trips), I was back home in the aftermath of my shattered relationship. Starting to put my life back together again, I was invited to fly east instead of my father and stepmother flying west to see me, what they were originally going to do for my wedding to my ex. There was still much inside me covering the turmoil.

A year later, it was another story. With many of my post-engagement goals in tatters, there was no longer anything to hide behind. The past few years since then have been roller-coaster-ish to say the least. And all of it happening three time zones and thousands of miles away from my folks. I am not sure if they have been able to pick up on anything over the phone during our bi-weekly calls (my voice has begun to change), but it has not come up; or more accurately, I have never brought it up because of a certain tense conversation from years ago.

So, as I fly home for my father and stepmother's wedding, I do so looking forward to a celebration, but also to some tense, but necessary, conversation. So much catching up to do. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Living Twice

The song over the last few minutes of Sunday's season finale of Mad Men got me thinking about how apt the lyrics of the song were: not only to the show's characters, but to me on the threshold of my dream:

"You only live twice, or so it seems,
Once for yourself, once for your dreams ..."

And now, here's the whole song:



Sunday, 10 June 2012

My Favourite Year ... 1966-67, Transitions and Mad Men



No surprise to anyone who's spoken to me within the past couple of months or so that I've become a Mad Men addict (Maddict). And this season (which wraps up tonight) took place over the latter half of 1966 and early 1967. My favourite pop cultural year (and a half) of all time. This post is about why.


*

1965 had marked the end of the old and beginning of the new in pop music. 1966, with new musical styles crystallizing all over, was still very much a transitional year.

1966, musically, had everything. In rock music, the British Invasion had settled down somewhat, but was still going fairly strong with a new wave of bands, louder and more delirious sounding than those of a couple of years earlier. The Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Kinks were joined by the likes of the Who, the Troggs and Them (featuring Van Morrison). Lesser known in the US at the time, was the explosion in bands playing a post-mod/pre-psychedelic style known nowadays to music collectors in this genre as freakbeat. Hanging out on Carnaby Street in London would mean hearing songs like "Making Time" by the Creation with its screeching electric violin, the angry, snarling "How Is The Air Up There" by the La De Das or "Midnight To Six" by the Pretty Things. Even the music of the bigger names was on the move: "Don't Bring Me Down" by the Animals, "Mother's Little Helper" by the Stones, "Shapes of Things" and "Over Under Sideways Down" by the Yardbirds. The warped guitar, the endlessly reverbed voices, the encroaching sitar-influenced chords, all mirrored by the increasingly polka-dotted, candy striped, flowered and paisley-ed clothing, seemed to be signs of things racing forward.

And as has been increasingly clear over the course of seasons four and five (thus far), the drug culture of the time added fuel to the acceleration. It, specifically marijuana followed by LSD, began to blur the boundaries between things, not just in the minds of its users at the time, but also between musical and artistic genres. The early British Invasion pop of the Beatles and the Searchers had already cross-fertilized with the folk music of Bob Dylan and other artists to create folk rock, played by artist on both sides of the Atlantic: the Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful in the US and Donovan and the Seekers (England via Australia) in the UK. Folk rock guitar playing, by 1966, could be heard throughout the rock and pop landscape.



But, by far the angriest music that year came from a new rock mutation, borne of the above styles plus the frat and surf rock styles of the early 60s. The blues rock moving back and forth between the UK and the US, the wall of sound production of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson and the stomping beat of Motown began to crystalize around snarling vocals, fuzztone guitar and harmonica, and cavernous Farfisa organ into garage rock, a proto-punk style named so as its main participants were the countless teenage and young bands rehearsing and recording (or so it was perceived) in their garages. Some of the music sounded amateurish, much of it sounded for from it. Garage rock could be found from coast to coast, in Canada, and in various other parts of the world. Stateside, bands included the Standells, the Shadows of Knight, Love, the Leaves, the Seeds, Count Five and the Syndicate of Sound. The Tex-Mex border produced groups like ? and The Mysterians while eastside LA sent forth bands such as Thee Midnighters, the Premiers and Cannibal and the Headhunters. The Pacific Northwest had already had groups like the Kingsmen, the Wailers (no relation to the Jamaican group) and the Sonics since the early 60s, but 1966 brought others like the Daily Flash (who relocated to LA), the Shockers and the Nocturnals. From the San Francisco Bay area came the Mystery Trend, the Chocolate Watch Band and the Stax soul influenced Sons of Champlin.



The midwest garage band scene included everything from the poppy Outsiders to the grungy MC5. In New York City, the arty Velvet Underground and the radical-political Fugs set their edgier lyrics to a very stripped down, minimal garage rock foundation. Gradually, the influence of psychedelics began to warp the sound of some of these bands. The average teenage garage band member did not quite take to the LSD experience the way a university-educated hippie, ten years his senior, did. There was not much Eastern religious inspiration here, but instead, dark, hallucinatory trips through jealousy, paranoia and B-movie beasts. The 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me", The Bees' "Voices Green and Purple", Gonn's "Blackout of Greteley" and The Humane Scoiety's "Knock, Knock". The stuff of movies like Riot on Sunset Strip and Psych-Out. By 1966-67, psychedelic garage bands were beginning to chart: The Electric Prunes, The Blues Magoos.

Their influence on Top 40 pop at the time could not be underestimated. Even, a pre-fab TV band like the Monkees incorporated fuzztone guitar ("I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone"). Sixty percent of American youth were in a band of some kind. In the years following the original British Invasion, a revolutionary shift had taken place; rock music had not only become the corner stone of youth, but of modernity itself. Bands influenced by garage rock or the British Invasion, or both, could be found all over the world: Europe (East and West), Latin America, Japan, Thailand, the Middle East. This legacy lives on in the form of indie bands worldwide.


*


 
In 1966, the world seemed, as it did to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to go from black and white to colour. The first all-colour prime-time season on television aired that fall although there were still a few black and white series, like the northern gothic Dark Shadows. As sure as the metallic mini-dresses designed by Paco Rabanne and the vogue for silver clothing, make-up and accessories, the future was very, very in on the small, but colourful, screen with Batman, Star Trek, The Green Hornet and The Time Tunnel all debuting that season. The first reincarnation of Doctor Who happened in October. More earthly, although edgy, content included Family Affair (dealing with a broken family) and That Girl (a single woman making it on her own). BBC's contribution came in the form of the sitcom 'Till Death Do Us Part, the prototype for the American 70s series All In The Family.

Top grossing films included The Bible: In The Beginning and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? However, some of the films that caught the zeitgeist in 1966 were Blow-Up, Wild Angels, Chappaquah and the Czech film Daisies. 1966-67 also announced the beginning of a renewed Western film genre with classics such as Django, A Bullet For The General, The Good, Bad and The Ugly and Fistful of Dollars.

In bestselling fiction, while speculative and sci-fi works such as Isaac Asimov's Fantastic Voyage, Phillip K. Dick's The Unteleported Man, Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master ruled, the contemporary world was also fair game in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot '49.

 
Album oriented FM radio began on shaky footing in July 1966. New York City's WOR-FM began its broadcast life while its disc jockeys were on strike: managers spun records and played commercials through the first few weeks. The official, post-strike debut was on October 8, 1966. Playlists were diverse and loose with very little talk presaging the progressive rock formats of just a year or two later. Radio, along with its growing legions of counterculture audience members, was morphing like much else that year.


*




Soul music came of age in 1966 and 1967. A genre for which there was never an official beginning, it had simply grown out of the gospel and rhythm and blues of the postwar years, began to be called soul around the time of the Beatles' arrival in the US. A couple of years later, with Motown firmly established and pumping out regular hits, the Chicago sound of the Impressions and Chess Records, Atlantic Records making inroads into the regional southern soul market and James Brown turning soul inside out by putting his rhythm section upfront and making lyrics into punctuation, soul was beginning to grow up.

This paralleled the turning point in the Civil Rights movement that summer when, during the Meredith March in Mississippi, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began to insist on indigenous marches and that white supporters form their own, supportive movements. "Black Power" as a slogan gained currency and a rift formed between SNCC and Martin Luther King, Jr. 's organization the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC). The first Black Panther Party, an African-American third party slate in Alabama, ran its candidates for the first time that summer. That fall, the other Black Panther Party was cofounded, in Oakland, California by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. For soul music not to absorb these radical, new developments somehow, even in mood, would have been well nigh impossible.

Perhaps the best Motown song ever, The Four Top's "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" brought Dylanesque lyrics and delivery, a galloping forward drive, an eastern music influenced bass-line and woodwind undercurrent together into a musical hurricane to the top of the R&B and Hot 100 Charts. James Brown oscillated between the fairly conservatively arranged "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and the full-on assault of "Money Won't Change You". Brown's polyrhythmic influence could be heard far and wide (Jamaica, Nigeria, Belize). Chunkier basslines and sparse horns could be heard on records like Don Covay's "Sookie, Sookie", Dyke and The Blazer's "Funky Broadway" and Rodger Collin's "She's Looking Good". The Hammond B3 organ based jazz on labels like Blue Note, Prestige and ATCO was not insulated from these developments either as Brother Jack McDuff's take on the standard "The Shadow of Your Smile" made clear.



Sultry southern soul scored high on the charts: Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman", Carla Thomas' "B-A-B-Y" and Sam and Dave's "When Something's Wrong With My Baby". The themes in each of them, very adult, the adolescent stylings of early rock and roll and doo-wop gone. Music for growing up.


*


A musical transition of a different sort was happening in Jamaica. Ska, the unofficial national music (it never got played on the national radio service ) for some years by now, had grown out of the imported sound of early rhythm and blues, particularly its swampy, New Orleans variant. Its fast, busy pace had kept young people skanking up a storm, that is, until the sweltering spring and summer of 1966. The unusually hot (even for Jamaica) weather as well as other factors (economic dislocation, political turmoil) led to the music's radical slowing down and increasingly sparse, bass and rhythm guitar dominated rhythm. Over the top, crooners crooned and vocal groups harmonized. At first, almost in keeping with 1966's dark undercurrent, the songs focused on the increasing violence on the streets of Kingston's Back-O-Wall district and at dancehall's between gangs hired by the two national political parties. The Valentine's "Blam Blam Fever" was cautionary, Prince Buster's "Judge Dread" punitive and the Wailers' "Treat Me Good" almost spiritual. By early 1967, however, most of what was now being called rock steady music was romantic ballads, using doo-wop and Chicago soul as its source. As new groups made records, new musicians (many of them ex-members of the ska supergroup The Skatalites which had broken up in 1965) discovered new ways to play the rhythms and a new generation of entrepreneurs started and ran indie labels.


In 1967, Desmond Dekker's "007 Shanty Town" charted in the UK, US soul singer Johnny Nash met Bob Marley for the first time and Prince Buster had an R&B and Pop chart hits in the US. The world had not heard the last of Jamaican music.


*




Perhaps it is only fitting that such a transitional year would see the beginnings of the trans rights movement. Mere weeks before Harry Benjamin's book The Transexual Phenomenon was published, trans and gender variant youth, discriminated against by the Tenderloin outlet of the San Francisco area Compton's Cafeteria chain, revolted early that August (others had done so at Dewey's Restaurant in Philadelphia the previous year). The first ever LGBT youth publication, Vanguard, published its first issue that summer. Public awareness of the full spectrum of human sexual orientation and gender identity would grow exponentially in the decades to come.


*


So, as Mad Men winds down this evening, I will remember this season, with its own deaths, rebirths, brave souls charting their own paths forward, as one of my favourites.



 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Over 5,000 Visits! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

At some point over the past few days, this blog broke 5,000 visits! I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you (yous) for stopping by and having a look around. I am especially touched when I hear that my blog has impacted or inspired someone in their life, trans or not.

Thank you and you're welcome!


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Season Of Birthdays





This past Friday, June 1, would have been my late mother's sixty-fifth birthday. That day was mostly taken up with a staff development day at work followed by having an impromptu dinner with a friend in my neighbourhood. Then, I did an hour long spot on CITR, as part of their Rainbow 24 hour LGBTQ programming. I was thoughtful for much of the day. Late-May and early-June, the season of maternal birthdays.


My late grandmother (mother's mother) would have been ninety-three this past May 22. Today, June 3, my surviving grandmother turned ninety-one; my father and stepmother, both of whom are getting married this month, took her out for dinner and called me from my stepmother's cell. I spoke to my grandmother for the first time in nearly four years.

"So, how does it feel?" I asked.

"Oh, you get slower," she answered, sounding disoriented, but feisty as ever. The grandmother that I wished I had had more of a relationship with.

Last Christmas, I had dinner with my landladies, some of their friends and one of their mothers, in her late eighties. During a round of toasts, this very elderly woman, who had long ago accepted her own daughter being a lesbian, toasted me in a shakey, but determined voice, "for having the courage to be herself." Round of applause.

Of course, I always wonder if my mother would have come around were she still alive. And my Caribbean grandmother, with her fire and brimstone religious upbringing? And my surviving grandmother, of working class British ancestry?

As the season of birthdays draws to a close, hope springs eternal.