Give Me Shelter

Chances are if you’re reading this, you have a roof over your head and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in on a cold winter’s night.   But what if you were reading this on a computer at the library and after the closing announcement is made, you have nowhere else to go.   Do you join the other homeless people sleeping on the street?   What if you decided to stay right there in the library, which after all is for the Public. 

That is the premise for the movie, The Public, a 2018 entry at the Toronto International Film Festival.    (We have a local theatre which shows TIFF selections the following winter.  It’s nice to see some of these lesser known indie films.  I need to add TIFF to my bucket list).  

The Public video   Homeless

After one of their friends is found dead from hypothermia, a group of homeless people decide to stage a protest and occupy the library in downtown Cincinnati to escape the freezing cold.   Starring an ensemble cast, the film was written and directed by Emilio Estevez, who plays the role of the head librarian.   While the movie is a Hollywood version with perhaps not the best acting (with so many characters there’s not much time for character development), it’s worth a look, if only for it’s focus on such an timely topic.    (see Trailer at the end)

Homelessness is a growing problem everywhere, fueled by the increases in drug addiction and mental illness.   In many cities, rents are high and vacancies few.   Even in my own small city the homeless shelters are often full and they are planning extensions to meet the demand.   When there’s no room at the inn, the city has to cough up money to pay for stays in motel rooms – 99 people in total last year.   Sometimes the shelters don’t have any female beds.  Sometimes they’re not centrally located.   Some have strict rules on drugs and alcohol, some don’t.   It’s a complex problem and one not likely to get better anytime soon.

My first glimpse of a homeless person was decades ago looking down from the window of my hotel room near Times Square.   There was a man rooting through a garbage can and another one curled up sleeping in a doorway.  I remember being horrified.    (I’m reminded of the opening scene of the 2006 memoir The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, (link) where the author is riding in a taxi cab in New York City and sees her mother going through the garbage cans.  If you’ve not read this book it’s a riveting read about her escape from a childhood of poverty, much better than the movie version).    Homelessness used to be a big city problem but now every city and town is dealing with the same issue and the ones you see sleeping on the street are just the tip of the iceberg.   Many times the problem is a hidden one as the couch surfers and car sleepers are not as visible.      

The street people are not so common in my city that I don’t notice them.  Although they seem to congregate in certain areas downtown where I seldom go at night unless to the theatre, I have noticed a few about during the daytime with all their worldly possessions loaded onto a cart.   Once I was at the farmers market and a woman was approaching people outside asking for money to buy food.   I gave her ten dollars but wondered if it would go for food or drugs?   A friend of mine gives out Tim Horton’s gift cards for this reason.  Recently a Tim Horton’s franchise was in the news after posting a notice on the door that patrons were not to linger longer than thirty minutes.  There was such a backlash that it was quickly taken down.  Of course the senior men’s coffee club members were upset, but it wasn’t aimed at them.  It was aimed at the homeless.  They had overstayed their welcome.   I remember seeing one young man, looking like hell on a bender, begging in front of the mall – someone’s son.    Last March there was a middle aged man holding a cardboard sign – Need Money for Food and Rent – at a busy intersection near Walmart.   He was there for weeks, with all the cars driving past him in the pouring rain, and the sad thing is there was a church just down the street which I’m sure must have tried to assist him.   Imagine how destitute you would have to be to resort to that.    Can you help people who don’t want to help themselves, who are just looking for the next fix.   While our Canadian government finances free injection sites and naloxone overdose kits, funded by tax dollars, we don’t even have a Rehab program for those who do want help.    They’ve been talking about it for years. 

Obviously there are no easy answers, but the homeless shelter here is working on solutions.   It has programs which will try to find affordable housing and help with rent and utility bills.   How many people are just one pay cheque away from being evicted?   You can get food from the food bank or the soup kitchen and clothes from the thrift store, but the rent must be paid and a little financial assistance with overdue bills just might keep another person off the street.   A Circles social program has also been started, aiming to break the cycle of poverty by means of personal support for a family or individual.   It’s a small dent in a big problem but at least they’re trying.  

When I returned the DVD to the library, I asked the library staff about their personal experiences.   While not really an issue at my small branch, those who worked downtown at the main branch mentioned them coming in to get out of the cold and using the washroom in the mornings to clean up, (a scene depicted in the movie).   They said there was always a box of donated gloves, scarfs, socks and toiletries for anyone to take if needed.   One even told me they gave someone a ride to the homeless shelter one night as the buses had stopped running by the time the library closed.   In the opening sequence of the movie there’s an old 50’s black and white newsreel, which talked about careers and the role of the Public library.    I’m sure no librarian back then envisioned that particular type of social assistance would one day become part of their job description.   

If you enjoy a movie with a message, you might enjoy The Public, and no matter how good or bad your day has been, when you go to bed tonight be grateful for a warm bed to sleep in.       

PS.  (Be forewarned, there are a few scenes in the movie which some people might find objectionable).             (1100 words)

Trailer for The Public:

 

 

  

 

 

 

Linda Ronstadt – Tribute to a Female Music Icon

Once upon a time in the golden days of the music world, there were female singers who were known primarily for their songs and their voice.   Those were the days my friends.  No gyrating around like a porn star in barely-there costumes and thigh-high hooker boots.   It was all about the music.   

On New Years Day CNN aired a documentary special, Linda Ronstadt – The Sound of My Voice which takes a look back at the forty year career of this music icon, one of the first female rock stars.   Here’s the trailer:

While I was not a big fan back when she was popular, I found the documentary interesting for its take on this trailblazing woman who flourished in what was basically a male universe.  Although I remember her mostly from her 70’s rock songs, her 80’s American standards phase, and her legendary performance in the operetta The Pirates of Penzance, I found her early folk days in LA during the sixties to be the most interesting.   Not yet famous, she toured with the likes of Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Glenn Frye and Don Henley of Eagles fame.  By the late 1970’s she was referred to as The First Lady of Rock and voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the decade, appearing six times on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

She arrived in LA at the age of 18, joined a band called the Stone Poneys, and was on her way after their first hit, “Different Drummer” which was written by Mike Nesbitt of The Monkees.   I always liked that song, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s certainly an ode to the early days of women’s lib.    The LA music scene was basically a man’s world, but shortly thereafter came an onslaught of popular female singers, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Emmy Lou Harris, Carly Simon and Stevie Nicks.   Of course, even back then, good looks and costumes helped with the performance (think Stevie Nicks floating around the stage in her gauzy creations singing Rhiannon), but can you imagine any of them prancing around the stage dressed like a porn star?    How about Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand or Julie Andrews?   Linda Ronstadt was a cutie and she wore cute outfits (it’s worth a fashion look back) but she didn’t rely on her looks – her voice was the star.    Eventually she got tired of playing in big arenas and the “rock chick” image they packaged her into (including some racy magazine covers she didn’t approve of), and branched out to different genres – country, old classics, light opera and the Mexican music of her childhood. 

LR didn’t write her own songs, but she had a knack for picking good ones and could basically sing anything, and while Dolly Parton may have called her the Beyonce of the days, IMO there is no comparison.   I am probably one of the few people in the universe who thinks Beyonce is highly over-rated.  An okay voice but no good songs to show for it.   Strutting around in high boots and black leather at the Superbowl does not a memorable performance make – well maybe for the guys.   My Canadian TV station refused to air one of her award show performances (the one with her equally over-rated husband), as it didn’t meet the Canadian Broadcasting Standards for decency on a Sunday night.  Maybe we’re prudes up here in Canada. 

I used to think Taylor Swift was a classy gal, (good songwriter, not so good voice), but lately even she seems to have succumbed to the racy trend.   Is Lady Gaga, ladylike?  Would a real lady sit at the piano in her underwear?   As for Miley Cyrus, Niki Manaj and all the rest – do they need attention that badly?   (It must be difficult to raise daughters and sons, these days if these are their musical idols).   While female singers may argue that it’s their choice and they now have the freedom and right to act as they please, is it a choice or is it just what is expected now.   Show the most skin possible has become the new norm.    Is that how they want to be remembered some day?   I recall  Prince’s brilliant performance at the Superbowl but Beyonce’s skimpy outfits.   Whatever happened to just standing in front of the mic and singing the song in the best voice possible.  Oh yea, that’s just for the guys.  It’s still a double standard folks.    

When is it time to hang it up?   Would you still want to be shaking your booty at fifty even if you’re in great shape?  Are you listening Madonna?  Jennifer Lopez?  Shaina Twain?   The last one is the most disappointing based on the snippet of her Vegas show I saw during the New Years Eve countdown.  Slithering around in a tight leopard skin outfit detracts from the music, unless you’re in a production of Cats, and even then it’s distracting!    Sorry ladies, but past a certain age it just gets to be an embarrassment.   Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?    While you might argue that no one cares if wrinkled old Mick is still prancing around the stage at age 75, the stage moves of the Rolling Stones were never the focus of their show – it was the music.    Personally I think Mick should hang it up too, same with Paul McCartney – his voice is gone – I cringe every time I hear him sing as I am comparing it his glory days.      

LR seems like a grounded, level headed person.  It was interesting to hear her discuss the pitfalls of the business even back then, and why music idols often self destruct.   She’s a class act all the way.

Sadly, she has developed a form of Parkinson’s disease and has not sung professionally for the past decade.   She may no longer be able to hear the sound of her voice, but we can as her music legacy will live on.

PS.  If you missed it, CNN tends to show their specials over again, but it ‘s also available on Amazon and Apple Music.   It’s worth viewing if only for the clothes.   I do wish shag haircuts would come back in style, but those 80’s perms – never!     

PS.  In 2013 she published her memoir, Simple Dreams A Musical Memoir (link) which looks like it would be an interesting read for music fans.  (1000 words)

   

They Shall Not Grow Old – a WW1 Documentary

They Shall Not Grow Old is a 2018 documentary produced by Peter Jackson which debuted last year on the BBC on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of November 11 1918.    Now available for viewing in North America, the film  was created using original WW1 footage from the Imperial War Museum’s archives.   Most of the video has been colorized and transformed with modern techniques and sound effects to better reveal the soldier’s experiences, rather than the sped up blurred clips of vintage newsreels.   Intended to be an immersive experience of “what it was like to be a soldier”, the film crew reviewed 100 hours of original film footage and 600 hours of interviews from over 200 veterans to make the film, including audio from 120 of them talking about their war memories.   The director Peter Jackson,  dedicated the film to his British paternal grandfather who fought in the war.  The title was inspired by the line, “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old” from the 1914 poem, “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which is often quoted on Remembrance Day, especially the famous fourth stanza.   The poem was written in Sept 1914 in the early days of the war when the first deaths were being reported…..there would be millions to follow.         

The Movie Trailer

Note:  I have not actually seen the movie yet, but have it on reserve at the library.   (Edited to add – it was powerful and moving to watch these young men go off to war as if on a grand adventure and to see the actual footage of the sad reality – I really have no words.)

I have blogged before about my Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet.   Like many of his generation, he never talked about his war experiences, other than being gassed and convalescing for six months with the Spanish Flu before being shipped home, but I have tried to reconstruct his war journey through his WW1 memorabilia.    (link – Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet)

Poppies - AMc

Being the faithful library patron that I am, the staff requested one of my mother’s paintings (above) for their Remembrance Day display.   I spied this book on the shelf and skimmed through it.   It’s quite gruesome in parts, so not for the faint of heart – but that is the reality of war. 

A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great WarA Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War by Sebastian Faulks

A collection of of personal WW1 diaries and letters, this book is an an unforgettable read for history lovers. Lest We Forget.

 

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.