Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Part 2 - M is for Alanis, Joni, Sarah and Anne

     In my teaching career, I have had the honour of hosting student teaching candidates from various universities.  I have hosted approximately one dozen young men and women; each attempting to gain the requisite real-life teaching experience necessary to prepare them for the responsibility of running their own classroom some day.
     When I first meet with these fine folks, I stress that who they are is just as important as anything that they will teach to my students during their stay.  Being a role-model is important. Children are always looking for positive examples from those influential people in their lives. I find this to be especially true for the female candidates that enter my classroom.  It is soooooo very important for young girls to see intelligent, confident females being successful at what they are attempting to do.  It is equally important for young boys to see and respect strong female authority figures, too.  Being a good role-model doesn't always translate into high test scores but, it does impact young citizens who are attempting to navigate their way through the social minefield that is Life.  Therefore, having role-models to look up to is important.

     In 1995, a young 19 year old woman from Ottawa, Ontario, became that very role-model for countless women and young girls when she released an album entitled, Jagged Little Pill.  Alanis Morissette wrote her songs with an intensity and a vulnerability that blew through the Music Industry with gale force.  Jagged Little Pill was alternately hailed/decried as a feminist manifesto due to lyrics that spoke confidently about sex from a female's point of view, as well as, scathingly attacking men for their treatment of women, whether they be in relationships or in the general population.
    For many female listeners, Alanis Morissette put words to their feelings and thoughts. She came across as a strong female voice at a time when strong females where looked down upon by the Music Industry and, quite often, by society at large. She refused to be put "in her place".  She refused to still her voice. For that reason, Jagged Little Pill became a source of empowerment to thousands of young females; including singers Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson, who both cite Alanis Morissette as having had a major influence on their decisions to pursue a career in music at a young age.  I find that I hear the same clever word play at work in many of Taylor Swift's songs, as I do whenever I hear songs such as Ironic, You Oughta Know, Hand in my Pocket, You Learn, Head Over Feet or All I Really Want.
     Jagged Little Pill became Morissette's magnum opus, as it were.  The album has gone on to become one of the biggest selling and most influential albums in Music history.  Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as being one of the top 40 albums by a female artist of all time.  It reached #1 on the record charts in every English-speaking country in the world. It has, also, garnered for Morrisette multiple Grammy and Juno Awards.  As you read this post, Jagged Little Pill is celebrating its' 20th anniversary. Alanis Morissette is celebrating this milestone by being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
     Twenty years ago, Alanis Morissette became the voice for an entire generation. Her influence is still being felt today. When Taylor Swift recently challenged the mighty Apple Company's plans to withhold music royalties from artists, I am sure that Alanis Morissette was smiling. Having strong role-models is as important today as it ever was.

     Halifax has always maintained a vibrant Arts scene.  Even though my hometown of Glace Bay was a good four-five hour drive from Halifax, I grew up hearing tales of raucous times at venues like The Misty Moon. It all seemed so exotic back in those pre-internet times.  But, just prior to the internet taking hold, there came music videos.  Visual radio, as I like to call them, music videos allowed a broader range of artists to get themselves heard at a national or regional level.  Consequently, in the mid-late 80s, thanks to MTV and Much Music, music lovers everywhere were introduced to a singer from Halifax named Sarah McLachlan and a song called, Vox.

     Vox was quickly followed by Path of Thorns and Into the Fire and suddenly, a new, dynamic, angelic voice burst onto the Canadian music scene.   Sarah was artsy and beautiful and sounded completely unique. After signing with Nettwerk Records and moving west, to Vancouver, Sarah's career really exploded with an album entitled, Fumbling Toward Ecstasy.  That album spawned several #1 hits including the autobiographical song, Possession, about a man who was stalking her.
     Sarah McLachlan has won several Grammy awards, multiple Juno Awards and is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  In addition to the songs mentioned already, Sarah has had #1 hits with other songs such as, Building a Mystery, Angel and I Will Remember You.   But, as much as she is admired and respected as a singer/songwriter, many people still associate Sarah McLachlan with being the driving force behind a travelling music festival for female performers known as, Lilith Fair.
     Even at the height of her fame, Sarah found it difficult to convince concert promoters to book female acts to share the bill with her while she was on tour. Concert promoters, who were mostly male, contended that all-female bills would be poorly received by audiences. But Sarah refused to accept the notion that female performers could only succeed if supported by males, so she developed her plans for Lilith Fair.  Some of the performers who graced the Lilith Fair stages included, Sheryl Crow, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Indigo Girls, Meredith Brooks, Pat Benatar and many, many more.  Lilith Fair became a symbol of empowerment for female performers and Sarah McLachlan's stock as a powerful advocate for female artists grew exponentially.
     Sarah is still an active performer. She was part of the Opening Ceremonies for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. She, also, helps run a school for the Arts in Vancouver, too. When she isn't singing, Sarah McLachlan performs at benefit concerts for a variety of worthy causes and is transitioning into a more philanthropic personality on the Canadian Music scene.
     Whether performing for packed stadiums, teaching at her school or being a mother to her children, Sarah McLachlan remains one of the most important and unique musical voices our country has ever produced.  From Halifax to Vancouver Island and, all points in between, Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian success story of which there are few equal.

     One of the songs that I can first recall listening to on the radio was Snowbird by Anne Murray.  As I would sit at the kitchen table, eating cereal before school, the words, "Spread your tiny wings and fly away..."  would fill the room. I always assumed that she was singing those words for me as I prepared for my day at school. Little did I know that Anne Murray was singing a song that was reaching the lofty heights of #1 in the U.S., making her the first Canadian female solo singer to achieve such success.

     At that time in Canada, we were proud of our artists who achieved success in Canada but, when an artist like Anne Murray was recognized in America then, our level of pride went to a whole new level.  Her success felt like our success and each of us puffed our chests out a little more with national pride.  Anne went on to become a semi-regular performer on the Glen Campbell TV Show, as well as, appearing at the Grand Old Opry and even making a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live.  During that appearance, Anne was introduced by 70s superstar actor, Burt Reynolds, as having "...the sweetest voice in the universe."  All of Canada swooned at his words.
     Anne Murray's upbringing was not a precursor of success. She was born in a small coal mining town called Springhill in Nova Scotia.  Although she had dabbled in singing, going so far as to take formal voice lessons as a teenager, Anne Murray didn't actually begin her singing career until she graduated from university.  Although she had some modest success with her first album, Anne moved to Capitol Records and released her next album, which contained the hit song, Snowbird.  In the years to follow, Anne Murray would sell over 50 million records and score #1 hits with a catalogue of iconic Canadian songs such as, You Needed Me, Could I Have This Dance, Daydream Believer and Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.  
     Anne Murray has won four Grammy Awards, a record 24 Juno awards, countless awards from the Canadian Country Music Association, as well as, The U.S. Country Music Association, too.  Anne has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, as well as, having a star in Nashville Walk of Fame and in Hollywood, too. She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has received the Order of Canada.  One of the accomplishments she is most proud of is having sung our national anthem at the first ever Toronto Blue Jays game in 1976, as well as, the first home game of the 1993 World series. Murray, also, sang The Maple Leaf Forever at the final game ever played in the Carlton Street Cashbox in Toronto, known as Maple Leaf Gardens.
     Anne Murray was the first really big female music star to come from Canada. Because of Anne, singers like Celine Dion, K.D. Lang and Shania Twain found it easier to be accepted beyond the borders of our country.  Anne is, arguably, our biggest music star ever and, ironically enough, my first encounter with her beautiful voice was as I drank down my morning juice, swallowed my frosted flakes and believed that she was singing just for me.

     Our final featured performer is none other than the legendary Joni Mitchell.  Along with singers like Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young, Joni Mitchell is regarded as one of our country's best songwriters ever.  She is respected world wide for the poetic quality of many of her most famous songs such as Big Yellow Taxi, Both Sides Now and Blue.  

    Mitchell began her career in Western Canada and then, Toronto. However, for the most part, Mitchell is known for her work in the U.S.  Unlike someone like Anne Murray, who achieved stardom south of the border but, who always found time to "come back home" to Canada, Joni Mitchell left and, for the most part, stayed away.  She found her greatest level of success during the late 1960s in the Woodstock-era America. She travelled and collaborated with singers such as Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash and, later, James Taylor. As the 70s unfolded, Mitchell moved away from her folk-inspired roots and transitioned more toward jazz, working with the likes of Pat Methany and Herbie Hancock.
     Joni Mitchell was a singer, a songwriter, an artist and a poet. Distrustful of the business side of the Music Industry, Joni Mitchell withdrew from active performing and developed a more prickly relationship with fans and with Music executives.  However, despite this, Mitchell remains one of our country's greatest writers of songs; a musical poet and an artist extraordinaire. She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. Mitchell has received the Governor General's Lifetime Achievement Award and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, too. She has won multiple Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

     A big tip of the hat goes out to the following performers whose name begins with the letter, "M":

80s pop stars, Men Without Hats, "Irish" punk rockers, The Mahones, Modern day chart-toppers, Marianas Trench, 80s hitmakers, Martha and the Muffins, Folk act, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Top 40 rock band, Max Webster, Reggae stars, Messenjah, Family pop stars, The Moffats, Raspy-voiced rocker, Amanda Marshall, 90s rockers, Moist  and finally, world music performer and harpist, Loreena McKennitt.

     Tomorrow we put this baby to bed and meet the young turks of the "M" crowd.  Until then, thanks for reading my work and for your kind comments.  They are gratefully appreciated.  :)

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