Jay's Musical Notes

Song: "Without a Dream" 

(My preachy pop song)

You generate your own dreams. They aren't magic. They don't need magic to prod you into action. No one else can give you your dreams. Others only have their own and you have yours. Find yours. Choose them. Own them. Work the dreams that will work. Yes, there's risk involved. There's so much that isn't within your control. Figure out what is within your control and do that. Make new dreams as you travel down your road. And if you don't know where you're going, you won't know you have arrived when you get there.

Here endeth the sermon for today. Amen.

Song: "Jack's Inspiration" 

Jack Layton was a political leader in Canada who died too soon. I usually agreed with his social-democratic, progressive values and his party's agenda. And Jack didn't just talk the talk - he walked the walk. He was truly a good man. He was the kind of man that was respected by his adversaries because of his integrity and goodness. When it came time for him to die, he published a letter to all Canadians and I used some of his words in this song.

After he died, his wife told some stories of Jack's encounters with regular folks. She spoke of how Jack got his inspiration from these people and how he was influenced by them. One of those stories was about a homeless man, Eugene, who spoke with Jack one winter day on the street. Jack thought of him over the next few days and went back to check on him. He discovered that Eugene had frozen to death on the street the night before. These stories became my inspiration to write this song.

Song: "Venus" 

True story. I really was driving home from Montreal, heading west into the setting sun and seeing "Venus hangin' in a pink sky." It's a long drive and I was really missing my lover. The song seemed to fall into my head as I was driving. The main east-west highway in Southern Ontario is the 401 - ten or eleven hours from end to end. Most people around here have to use it from time to time. I sometimes wonder about the many songs that got their start while cruising down the 401.

Song: "My Son, My Son" 

This is an intimately personal song. The lyrics tell the whole story. It's hard having children that live far away. You don't see them nearly often enough. The times you can be with them become so important when you know it will be many months before you see them again. When you are painfully aware of the shrinking remaining years, small gestures, recounting a familiar memory or uttering a few loving words can mean so much.

Song: "Unwed Fathers" by John Prine 

I was once was an unwed father but I didn't, as Prine said, "run like water from a mountain stream." I'm glad I didn't. My son is 46 years old now (2020) and I'm grateful to him, to his mother and to myself for having a loving son in my life.

Song: "Little Spark of Joy" 

There is a lot of unhappiness in this world. Some people look in familiar, accessible places for solace and those places often don't provide what's needed. This song is about that suffering and the lack of an end to suffering for many in this life. 

When I first performed this song, a member of the audience after the show said, "You gotta give that song a positive ending. You have to tell us that everything will be OK. You can't leave us just kicked to the curb like that." I decided to leave the song as it is. It's the truth for so many who never get their happy ending.    

Song: "The Troubles" 

One set of grandparents were Irish and came to Canada after World War I. Although we were close to my Irish "Nana and Papa," the situation in Ireland was never discussed in front of the passel of grandchildren. In 1969, I was eighteen and I heard the news of violence erupting in Ireland and I began to get a picture of what was going on. I always understood from childhood that the Protestants in Ireland were "the good guys," like us but, later, I began to put various pieces of the puzzle together like Papa and some relatives going to the Orange Day parades to support the Protestant cause, why he didn't like the Catholics "taking over" the steel plant and why he wanted to go see the Irish preacher who came to Canada to whip up international fervour to fill the Protestant coffers for war back home. Ugly stuff.

The song is not a true account of my grandfather's experience but it is inspired by the situation that seemed close to home for me. One element that actually happened was my grandfather's change of heart from pride to shame about his homeland. He displayed many Irish artifacts and symbols around his home and one large item was the sign on the front lawn in the shape of a large shamrock that presented his family name. He was so proud of this oversized, bright green, plastic shamrock that hung on chains from a post and swung in the breeze for all to see. In 1969, when the Troubles started up again, he took it down. He said he was ashamed of his country and he didn't want the world to know his name. The sign sat on the floor in his garage until he died. As a young man, I learned some very important lessons through my grandfather's change of heart.

Song: "We Will Find Our Way" 

Mature love. To a young person, an old couple may appear to have it made when it comes to maintaining a long term relationship: all problems solved a long time ago and clear sailing for years. Right? Wrong! Granted, having some experience under your belt and knowing your partner really well go a long way to finding solutions to problems but it's never without work, without risk, without compromise and without care. I'm still learning. I have a good foundation to my relationship and I have a partner who's wise. Despite that, she still loves me. Lucky me! Like I said, I'm still learning.

Song: "The Little Church" 

The cover of the album contains a photo of Ottawa Street North in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I guess the photo would have been taken about 1955. If it was a Sunday, then I might have been inside the little church building on the right in a Sunday School class. So much of my childhood pulsed around this little church with the strict dogmatic beliefs that thrived in this congregation. I was related to half the people in the church. I was taught that life wasn't worth living if it was outside this protected enclave of believers. Satan controlled the world and my mother always reminded me that "We are only IN the world - we are not OF this world." To say that my eventual awakening was rude is a vast understatement. None-the-less, I survived and a quote from St. Paul in the King James Version Bible puts it well: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child but, when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Song: "Carolina Sky" 

Visiting the U.S.A. from Canada, you observe that so much is very similar in the two countries. You'd think it would be easy for a Canadian to forget he is a foreigner. Not me. From the outside, it's a strange land. Oh, it has its appealing features, elements that dazzle and get held high and sometimes look like what everyone wants but there is baggage - heavy baggage. When I was in Virginia, a server in a coffee bar asked, "So, how's Canada?"

"Different," I said.

Sometimes, it's good to have dreams and sometimes it's good to create some different dreams. As for the American Dream, I would ask my American friends, "So, how's that workin' for ya?"