Jennifer Connelly’s Eyebrows

I’ve had a tab open in my browser for the last 2 weeks for this song by The Midnight and every day I listen to it several times on repeat, you’ve got to check it out!

“Sunset”, the Retro Synthwave song itself is pretty good, but a fan named Kaz on YouTube took it to the next level by putting her own fan made video – and it’s actually better than anything I’ve seen in a long time!

It’s not every day that a fan made video gets over 500,000 views.

She put together scenes from Career Opportunities (By John Hughes: Breakfast Club etc) where Jennifer Connelly, who rocks her 80’s eyebrows like a babe, and some guy who clearly hates his job are stuck in a Target store after dark. Cheesy love story premise – but with the song and video put together, it somehow becomes a homerun. I’m feelin’ it.

A fan named Shotec summed it up nicely in the Youtube comments:

“In my opinion this music video in way better than the movie itself. It’s like this movie was created to be a video for this amazing song. It’s incredibly well put together. Thanks for this!”
– Shotec

You should watch it 🙂

Are you Antifragile?


Tim at Cartems Open Mic

I’ve been rocking my performance goal – 52 performances in 2018!! That has me thinking a lot about how useful the concept of “Antifragility” is, I’ll explain in a sec in case you haven’t come across this brilliant idea.

The Morrissey in Vancouver hosts an open mic. Which, given the name, is naturally where you’ll find all British expat musicians named Paul.

I’ll be heading there tonight to give it my 9th performance for 2018.. Not bad since I’m just getting started.

Although in the basement I’m hard at work on my electronic set, and it’s coming along well, I’ve jumped back on guitar for the sheer ease of showing up just about anywhere and taking the stage for a few songs.

Back to my initial question, are you Antifragile? I’m trying to be. A few years back I read a NYT bestselling book called “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Not the one about the ballerina with Natalie Portman, but the one about totally unpredictable events and how they continually drive change and history around the world, specifically because we assume they can’t happen – until they do.

I loved how Taleb writes, and he made so many great points while being totally unafraid to go deep. But the book was dense and I couldn’t really figure out how to *APPLY* any of what he was saying in any tangible way. I get bored when things stay in the realm of theory.

It’s as if he read my mind. And then wrote another book called Antifragile.

He’s developed his ideas so completely. He considers this one to be the full realization of everything he’s written about up until now, and it shows. The book contains a grand canyon of tangible, every day, USEABLE ways to engage with his work. I recommend checking it out.

If I had to explain it to someone on the Skytrain only 3 stops away from home, I’d say that Antifragility means that instead of being fragile (hurt by random stress and chaos) or being robust (protected from random stress and chaos), something Antifragile GAINS from random stress and might even require it for survival. Taleb had to invent that word, because we don’t have a concept in the west for gaining from chaos rather than merely being immune to it.

Which is part of the problem itself. Especially here in Canada. Things are safe, we’re doing relatively well. Cool, let’s play it safe and nobody rock the boat. Agree? Good, what could possiblaie go wrong?

Well, according to Taleb there’s always a Black Swan on the horizon, something we never saw coming, until after the fact. The Atomic Bomb in Japan, the stock market crash, getting laid off at work, the sinking of the Titanic.. you get the picture. Things that blindside us, and therefore destroy us.

Those are negative Black Swans, but there are exciting positive ones to consider. Meeting the love of your life, winning the lottery, being inspired by an idea that changes you forever, being in the right place at the right time to save someone’s life, having your work selected to be featured in a respected publication. Unpredictable things that might change your existence in untold ways.

You can bail and quit reading here if this stuff bores you to tears.. but I can’t stop digging into things like this. Principles that allow you to make slight adjustments to your life decisions that have huge potential upsides. And that might shield you from catastrophe with just a little tinkering up front in how you were already going to set up your dominoes anyway.

Taleb talks about life strategies laid out in terms of a dumbell metaphor. (big on both sides, but skinny in the middle). Especially in the west, we do the opposite and live by reverse dumbell, we stay in the middle. Which makes us vulnerable to calamities. We protect against predicable downsides to things that can be expected, but those are generally things that do little harm even in the worst case scenario.

To put it another way, we’re in the habit of putting all our eggs in one basket. Just before the great depression, it turns out that by storing all your money in the bank, it meant that you no longer had access to cash and your family went hungry.. no matter how much you had in savings. We tried to protect by putting our eggs in the biggest, strongest basket. But being the biggest and strongest was in itself part of the problem. The bank itself was fragile, and collapsed.

You can think of Antifragile as a comprehensive guide in how to put your eggs into many baskets, not only to protect from randomness, but to start gaining from the wonderful upsides it can offer once you’re no longer depending on calm seas to make sure your boat doesn’t flip.

Taleb’s personal favourite Antifragile behaviour is walking European cities on foot, exploring without any particular destination. “Flanneurism” as he calls it. Who knows what you may discover when open to the world in a random way.

Perhaps you find a niche book shop in your neighbourhood that quickly becomes your favourite place to visit on the way home. You can stumble across a new friend, love interest, idea, businessmen or job opportunity, poster for a concert that inspires binging on an entirely new musical subgenre (U.k. Garage Grimestep- here we come?), or seeing a travel sale ad that gives you the courage to finally book that summer trip to the Netherlands you’ve always promised yourself you would take.

Open mics and other performances are my version of that right now. I’ve met so many cool musicians in just 2 weeks, have been offered a gig (which I turned down until I have my electronic set up and active), have been tipped off on a half dozen more places I can play, met a new friend from Germany, discovered new ways of playing old songs, etc etc etc.

I’ve found that letting a little chaos into my life (if I’m also strategically protected from the downsides), can let a slow trickle of wonderful things in that didn’t have a window to hop through before! And although I can’t predict what it might be, or when, that same open window might be a portal for something truly astonishing to poke it’s head in. Something dream fulfilling and mind blowing. Maybe.

But only if I keep that window open 🙂 … so, onward, to the Morrissey tonight where *nothing* might happen – but technically *anything* could.

52 Donuts.. errr.. Performances in 2018

I came to an important conclusion this week as I played the open mic at Cartems Donuterie. (When I have donuts, they’re seasonal eggnog donuts) Jess Vaira hosts the weekly shindig and was kind enough to show me all the tech specs on her PA system so I can bring my keyboards and electronic nerd gear next time.

My conclusion came in the form of committing to a new goal – to perform 52 times in 2018! That’s once a week for a year, and I’ve got some weeks to make up – consider it my late-in-the-game New Year’s resolution.

Actually, this is an old goal. In 2013 back in Winnipeg I was determined to overcome my major stage fright once and for all with my homemade brand of exposure therapy. I got the idea from my Sports Psychology class at UofM, which could have just as easily gone by the name ‘How to Use Behavioural Psych To Train Anyone To Perform Well Under Pressure’.

And it worked! Big time.

Studies show (my eyes glaze over when sentences start with this phrase, but it’s true) that athletes (performers) who engage in deliberate practice in environments as close as possible to the way things will look and feel on “game day”, benefit multiple times more from their training. Makes sense – get the real thing burned into your habitual mind so there’s less to process when it counts.

So, playing in front of real strangers, singing into a microphone, hooked up to a PA, plenty of noisy interruptions etc etc.. that’s high quality practice compared to playing in my basement. And in 2013 when I put this method to the test, the benefits became clear.

Not only did I get over my stage fright, but several other invaluable things happened that I never could have predicted in my wildest dreams – all stemming from what I thought was a minor personal aim.

The first 10 performances were the hardest. They killed me. I had played in plenty of bands in the past on guitar and bass, but singing – and singing songs I wrote myself – *and going up there alone* is a different level of vulnerability.

Most of the first 10 were at the Le Garage Café open mic. I showed up an hour early every Tuesday night just to get that flood of anxiety to wash over me early, to get it out of the way. Then once I actually had to go up, I had been there for a couple of hours so it felt a little more gradual. A little more voluntary.

Le Garage Café Open Mic in Winnipeg, MB

(***If you want to get geeky about it, that approach allows the parasympathetic division of your autonomic nervous system to kick in which relaxes you, and lets your brain experience the thing you fear while also being kind of relaxed. Which can neutralize the fight/flight response over time. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

But it still felt like jumping out of a helicopter from 10,000 feet in the air. My hands and legs were shaking. I would forget which chord comes next. I forgot entire sections of songs I had been playing for years, and all the lyrics from others.

I survived. And it was a messy gong show. Accented with the occasional sublime moment of connection. Accidental beauty beyond the fumbling and struggle. Which was enough to keep me going.

It didn’t get any easier, until about the 15th time. I was still shaky and forgetful.. but something changed. I had been up there enough times that.. well.. being afraid of performing started to get old.

Fearing the worse case scenario was a huge expenditure of mental and physical energy, one that my brain started to rev up but ultimately say “Meh..” to, and plop back down on the couch with it’s bag of dill pickle chips to watch another episode of Storage Wars.

I had conquered the sharpest point of my fear. Ground it to a dull edge through repetition. Something I don’t think would have been possible without doing it again and again and again. It started to become as fun as it was terrifying.

By the 20th time, people took notice that I was playing a lot. I was out there. For better or worse, I was looking for excuses to play to rack up the numbers in my goal. It was around that time that two killer musicians in the folk scene, Patrick Boggs (standup bass), and Donovan Locken (mandolin), agreed to form a trio with me to play shows (thanks of course to an introduction by Dianne Martineau).

Tim and the Twelve String Band
Tim and the Twelve String Band at Frame Arts Warehouse

It was way more fun than playing on my own.

Because we were so active, all kinds of doors opened up to us. We started getting invited to play coffee shops, bars, house concerts, and showcases. I don’t remember “applying” for single gig, but inevitably one gig would lead to the next through someone that saw us play.

By my 40th performance, Tim and The Twelve String Band (our trio) was all tuned up and ready to play a full set gig at the Frame Arts Warehouse.

It was there that I met British expat Emily Senyk (Wood). She showed me some ukulele cover songs she had been working on. We shared an obsession for all things UK music and DCI Gene Hunt from Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes. So naturally we formed an acoustic duo on the spot.

We played a number of gigs and even filmed some videos, like this cover of The Decemberists we shot in the St. Boniface Cemetery. Which wasn’t us being gothy, it was lyrically relevant to the song. 😉

By my 50th performance, it was hard to contextualize how far I had come as someone with major stage fright, to now being able to perform in front of a crowd of any number with relative confidence.

To use the helicopter metaphor again… if the 1st performance was like jumping out of a helicopter at 10,000 feet, the 50th was like stepping gently out of a grounded helicopter into an abandoned Salisbury House Restaurant parking lot in the summer and being handed a refreshing Dr. Pepper Slurpee from 7-11. Anyone from Winnipeg knows what I’m talking about here.

Mission accomplished!

It’s crazy to think how something as simple as setting a time limited goal can lead to so many intended, and unintended wins. So why would I commit to 52 shows in 2018? Why do pretty much the same thing again if I already got what I wanted?

The reason is because of everything great that came along from pursuing my goal back then. The very act of trying to crunch the numbers of those shows gave me momentum. People sensed that. The world seems to open up when you’re on a mission. When you’re on your way somewhere specific and that you know to be important, people want to help you, and more than that, they want to come along for the ride.

At the end of the day, that’s one thing I’ve found to be better than the music itself. The people who care, too, who I might not have met otherwise.

So, 51 more shows to go in 2018. What changes, lessons, and friendships might await me on the other side? It will be fun to look back on this writing next year and be able to answer that with specific examples.

Wish me luck!

Synth Britannia and the disconnected scene

I’ve been trying to find a music scene to stick my nose into at home in Vancouver. It seems to be that if you want anything electronic – it’s going to be dance music. If you want *songs* – well that comes along with guitars. Only.

That’s why I was excited when I came across the video from this local act called Humans. Did I just hear arpeggiated synth accents over someone singing a song? Yes I did! Drum machine? That too!

So when I saw that they had a show coming up at the Imperial to kick off their tour and brand new album I grabbed tickets.

I went to the show, made a couple of new friends, and generally had a good time. But as for the music – Humans and their 3 openers were all dance music. Beats without vocals. And the few songs that the lads from Humans did sing over didn’t make up most of the set.


Back to the drawing board in my coastal search.

A documentary called Synth Britannia gave me an unusual kind of hope. It’s a BBC thing on the explosion of synth music in the 80’s UK.

It turns out there was never any unified music scene. People were experimenting in isolated in pockets all around the country, Liverpool, Manchester, London, you name it.. but they didn’t have each other. A genre was brewing in basements, bedrooms, and garages, hundreds of miles apart.


That makes me feel a little less lonely about my lack of colleagues here on the west coast.

Martyn Ware of The Human League (“Don’t You Want Me”, “Fascination” etc.) said that they were all about punk music back then. 3 chords and the truth. They loved the songs and the attitude and the shows, but guitars and drums just felt old fashioned. They wanted to write good songs, but they also wanted to make something no one had ever heard before.

As electronic risk takers felt like they were all in their own world, a guy named Gary Numan came out of nowhere to hit number 1 on the charts. Breaking the floodgates open for everything that had been building. Uniting the network of basement synthists as a new north star to aspire to.

Numan never meant to make electronic music. He didn’t know what it was when he went into the studio to record his next punk album with songs he had written on guitar.. but fate smiled on him when he found a Moog synth keyboard sitting in the corner of the control booth from a previous session.

He had no idea what it was, but when he pressed and held one of the keys it made a swelling analogue tone that shook the building. It sounded like.. the future. His eyes went wide. Couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Today he credits whoever left the Moog on that particular sound preset for his career, and quite possibly for the entire genre of synth pop.

Naturally, the label hated the album. They wanted loud guitars. What they got was.. strange electronic noises they wouldn’t be able to sell to the public. Through sheer determination he would finally break through with his cold and robotic future punk. In North America we probably all know him best for this one:

New Wave and Synth Pop were globally successful genres that started without a home. No scene or support system for the bands within it. Acts like Depeche Mode were laughed at by critics in the UK for not being “real music”. They would never really find an audience in England, instead they broke into the US market where fans were captivated by the “Britishness” of it all, going on to play stadiums.

What I’m saying is.. electronic music has always been a mess. Dance music has Berlin. Pop is almost exclusively electronic now, sure. But there’s a divide between that and what doesn’t want to be pop. And it can be hard to convince anyone to stand in the middle.

So when I find middle standers… I pick them up where I find them. And I may just have to accept that I’ll never find a local “scene” of people that like the same stuff I do. But I can certainly put together a show, and cram it onto bills with other bands.

Ahhh the ‘ol cram n slam. The only mullet at an afro convention. The only waffle in a pancake stack. Bring on the blueberry maple syrup.

Here are two of the artists I’ve been nerding out on lately. First would be Robert Delong, a midi device mad scientist! My hat goes off to anyone who plays an old gaming joystick like an instrument for a solo like he does in this Jam in the Van video. Plus, he’s in a van.

Second is Rachel K Collier. She’s less about bouncing around between instruments and more about triggering different sequences in Ableton and layering vocals in real time. Her earlier videos inspired me to get my own APC-40 MK II which she used to play (the light up coloured button thingy she keeps pressing, except her old version).

I loooooove me some Paper Tiger. The Mini Brute bass in the “oooooh’s” chorus gets me every time.


Destiny and her two boys
Destiny and her two boys

I intended on sitting down today to write about the song I just finished working on and to show you the equipment setup that I’ve been piecing together to play live since getting back to Vancouver.

But those words aren’t coming. And I know that’s because something really bad happened. A tragedy. I’m not sure if its my place to write about it, but for the past few days it’s been hard to think about much else. So I guess those are the things that have to be written, and I hope that these words land by illuminating rather than stepping on anyone out there who is suffering and mourning.

Brett is a friend of mine back in Winnipeg that I’ve made music with over the years. He’s got two awesome kids with his ex Destiny.

On the morning of Dec 31st, Destiny tragically passed away in a fire.

Yesterday was her funeral. The outpouring I see from her friends and family is astounding. Nobody can believe she’s gone. And they’re reeling in pain. I don’t know all the details of what happened and part of me doesn’t want to know. The point is that she’s a kind and hilarious woman of 30, in her prime.. and now she’s gone. The waves of sadness keep creeping up on me.

Everything she has ever set out to do in her life, is done. Left as it is. Wherever it stands. To be carried on without her.

Her two young boys are going to continue growing up, without a mom. She’ll never see the great things they accomplish (these kids are total weirdos and super smart) or meet the families they may end up themselves having one day. It’s just.. done. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, everyone around her is devastated, and I don’t even want to know how hard it is for Brett to be a dad right now.

For their kids to have to process something this senseless and absolute, it astounds me. Their course plotted on the map of life has now been slammed 100 degrees off course, nobody knows what it’s supposed to mean, and everyone touched is helplessly lost.

Anyone willing to put up with a houseful of musicians practicing the same 9 songs day after day, is already a saint. I remember practicing all summer long for the Forks Market busking license competition with Brett (we won an A class license!) and she never wavered in her patience while we occupied the living room.

She told me her secret strategies for flipping garage sale items on Ebay.. and how much she loved her (then) new job as a paralegal.

One night Destiny and a group of us friends and family sat around the kitchen table playing songs – Brett has always been a human jukebox and will play just about any existing song on command. Their oldest boy came downstairs right before bed and he was in a bit of a mood. Destiny said that she’d let him sing along to his favourite song if he promised to go to sleep immediately after. He was 100% into the idea. Everyone at the table went into a special rendition of Pumped Up Kicks just for him – his JAM! – he sang… er.. more like yelled the chorus at the top of his lungs. Cranky kid crisis averted and turned into the highlight of the night for everyone, thanks to her.

I didn’t know her that well but she’s always been.. around. There in periphery of my Winnipeg life. Doing things. And I thought it would always stay that way. Until eventually the Langoliers come to feast on the best and brightest of our (one day) elderly generation.

In my teen years I was out for coffee at Salisbury house with my friend Dale and his closest pals from school. Long before Destiny and Brett had ever met. She was there with another group of kids, with her bright coloured hair, being a goofball. She was cool. Dale told me that he knew her, and he felt cool.

I wish there were more meaning around this, some kind of purpose to what happened. But it reminds me of the book Slaughterhouse Five (WW2/aliens/timetravel)..

“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’

‘So it goes’, the narrator also says this throughout the book anytime someone dies. Which is often. And so where there might be a lack of understanding and meaning in a real life tragedy, a river of meaning can still be visited in the memories and moments that came before. Intact.

I probably shouldn’t end with this story but it makes me laugh. During a mid-practice break Brett looked into his kitchen sink and his face turned beet red. “EVERY TIME!! She leaves the dishcloth soaking wet in the bottom of the sink. Every. Time. It has stuff growing on it and smells so bad.. how am I supposed to wash my fork with this?”

I tried not to laugh, but I knew that feeling. Of a room mate, a friend, or a lover who you’ve known for so long and can make almost anything work with… but there’s always that ONE thing they do. It creeps up on you, and it shouldn’t bother you. But inside it makes you want to tear out your hair and karate chop through a brick wall.

It’s usually a little thing.. and we know it’s small. But it gets us. Maybe because they’ve been around and doing it for so long, that the assumption is – they’re going to be around and doing it FOREVER. How are we supposed to take a FOREVER of that wet dishcloth in the sink?

Only, we don’t get forever. And sometimes we don’t get tomorrow.

I can only speak for myself, but I feel like everyone who knew her would gladly keep a wet dishcloth in their sink for the rest of their days if it meant we got to say hello to her face again. Or at least, a proper goodbye.

So it goes.

Destiny’s cousin Crystal is running a “Go Fund Me” campaign for her two kids during this brutal transition because the house fire didn’t leave the boys with much. It has over 20 donations and more than $1,500 in support as of this message. Click the link if you have $50, or even $5 to pass along and help lighten the burden on two cool kids.

The illegal music scene in Kyiv

And…… I’m back. Home in Vancouver! A little jet lagged and ready for some rain in my Christmas, just like nature intended.

I’ve been listening to Super Besse on Spotify, an electronic/guitar band that I stumbled upon in Kyiv at a show.

There’s a big underground/illegal music scene there. Errrr… I think it’s more so a rave scene. Promoters won’t reveal the location until that night, and if all goes well, kids will dance the night away without police intervention.

It doesn’t always go as planned. Because what’s youth culture without a healthy gust of oppression by a corrupt government to fan the flames.

Reminiscent of when American (Chicago) Acid House dance music infiltrated England in the 80’s and hundreds of cops would beat and arrest those who *dare* participate in banned music. “Characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” (actual legal quote lol)

I went to a show, not knowing what to expect.. It was put on by a couple of record labels, one had several bands I loved the sound of. I don’t get the impression that this show was hiding anything, but you wouldn’t know it navigating the warehouse maze to get in.

Super Besse took the stage second in the lineup. They were hands down the best of the night. Hailing from Minsk, Belarus – a country north of Ukraine.

Guitar and bass with electronic Cold Wave soundscapes (New Wave.. only.. colder?).. the songs were good, but what sold me was how powerful the energy was in person.

It filled the room, (on a killer sound system) and everyone in the packed venue was on their feet dancing. Their lanky lead singer with a weird mustache and a jerky robot aesthetic somehow charmed the audience.

Dozens were even singing along with the choruses. Maybe they knew the words. Or maybe the lyrics were infectious and easy to sing.. I…….  wouldn’t know the difference, my Belarusian is a little rusty. Come to think of it, they probably sing in Russian.

The other dude’s bass guitar literally shook the building. I still can’t get over how good the sound was at this show! It was like we were all getting hit in the face with a bass cannon. Like the guy in the chair from those old Maxell ads. (Fun fact: the guy in the chair is the singer for the 80’s band Bauhaus)

Nothing I can find on YouTube conveys the energy that was in the room that night, the roof was coming off the building when these guys hit the gas.

But this is the song I remember where things started to get out of control, mainly with the chorus at the 2 minute mark. EVERYONE was singing and bouncing around like maniacs.

After the first 2 bands they had a DJ play a set.. which I thought was a nice interlude between bands. Only it wasn’t an interlude. On a dime – the night had transformed into a full on rave.

Special awards for my entertainment go to “dancing girl in trench coat and aviator sunglasses who actually dances like Columbo” and “girl who dances like she’s about to sneeze but can’t and is also on a continual search for her lost contact lens”.

I didn’t get home until 7 in the morning.

To be fair, I did take forever trying to find my way out of the warehouse maze and across the surprise train yard that Google Maps doesn’t believe exists.

i-D Did a great mini doc on Ukraine’s “underground rave revolution”.

Hello London, goodbye unlimited perogies

I’m writing this in Gatwick Airport in London surrounded by giant Christmas trees, and for the first time in 5 months, ACTUAL NATIVE ENGLISH CONVERSATION.

Ahhhhhhh, I didn’t expect that to be so refreshing.

I finally figured out why there are two spellings of Kyiv/Kiev, the first is the Ukrainian spelling and the latter is Russian.

They’re understandably trying to rebrand as Kyiv while the death toll rises in the east vs. Russia.

So Kyiv is fighting a war in the east, and its government is also fighting a war against its people in the capital.

This week in Kyiv

To recap, protesters took to the streets Occupy Wallstreet style in 2015 for two months to kick their President out of office. It worked. But many lives were lost at the hands of police against the people.

And now their new President is trying to vote out the Anti-Corruption laws put in place to make sure the same mistakes never happen again.

And so now the citizens are once again taking to the streets. There’s a protest camp set up in front of city hall. And people are digging up bricks from the sidewalk to arm themselves against police.

That sounds like a good cue for me to head to the airport early.

Not to get super political, that’s not what I enjoy writing about usually, but it’s what I came across here in this developing country. And now it’s what I’m trying to understand. In my naive Canadian way.

Ukrainian Governor leading protest was illegally arrested, then broken free by supporters (but has since been arrested again)

Oh yah, and before I left Ukraine I saw this incredible Cold Wave band perform live that some people on Twitter are accusing of being Kremlin agents for Russia lol, but I’ll save that for next time.

An America without Walmart

Ukraine and Canada have had strong ties for most of our history. There are over 1.2 million Ukrainian immigrants in the prairies, I grew up around a lot of perogies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

I don’t know if it goes both ways, are there Canadians over here too? I found an awesome flea market where just about everything is $1 (~20 hryvnia) and 9/10 items of clothing were Canadian made.

In fact I think the cardigan I bought is.. let me check..

Er, no it’s German. Fine then.

Like most countries in the world, the United States have a big presence here. There used to be an embassy building for government affairs, but the embassy itself has moved on to a swank upgrade.. and the building they left behind has been converted into an American cultural center.

It’s called America House. And it’s awesome.

They have fresh food being cooked all day in the kitchen for cheap (yes, perogies) and a café, there’s a co working space with fast wifi, and an art gallery. There are items you can take out for use like laptops, a hoverboard, one of those VR headset things, and devices to make music.

Best of all.. it’s all FREE. Well, after you factor in the cost of your dignity going through a metal detector and airport-like security any time you show your ID to enter the fortress.

America House

Check out my sweet ID card, I feel so.. American.. in Ukraine… from Canada. This is all so meta.

Oh I didn’t mention the best part of America House, there are several rooms where they host daily workshops and activities. People come to give talks, they screen documentaries, and from what I heard they throw a mean 4th of July party!

I saw that they were having a group movie night and showing ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ with Steve Martin and John Candy. Classic American meets Canadian comedy, there was no way I was going to miss it!

It felt way more dated than I thought it would. What year was it made anyway? The pace of the movie was so much slower than what we’re used to today. But a handful of the funniest scenes still hold up. So well.

We had a group convo after the movie. It was a packed house, I was one of the only 3 non Ukrainians there so I felt like I was obligated to raise my hand and speak up when people were off base, like when someone called John Candy a “famous American actor”.  I can’t just let that happen. RIP Johnny.

I shared with the group how John’s mom was Ukrainian. He was a fellow lover of perogies, so much so that a Ukrainian restaurant in Winnipeg’s North End called “Alycia’s” got him obsessively hooked.

Her perogies were SO GOOD that he had them flown to him to eat on set while filming movies abroad. Whaaaaat?! I need to try some of those, stat!

(If anyone goes looking for Alycia’s, her family reopened it further north in Gimli after Alycia passed away)

The convo was winding down with a conversation about Black Friday, what the holiday is all about, and what you might see in how it’s celebrated. LOL. I pointed out that you can search YouTube for crowds trampling each other at Walmart for a minor bargain on flat screen TVs.

More than one person gave me a puzzled look. A guy in front of me raised his hand and said “Until last week, I didn’t know what Walmart was. So I don’t think people know what you’re talking about.”

My eyes opened wide.

Didn’t know what Walmart was??

I had one of those moments where the camera zooms into an actor’s face as their jaw drops and the background accordions in towards the foreground to give a sense of the world radically changing in a single moment.

You mean.. this is untouched territory? Your cities haven’t been ‘Walmarted?’ and your local small businesses swallowed into the cold pit of future progress? You don’t even know what Walmart IS?

I hesitated. And made a choice. I backtracked.

“You aren’t missing much.” I added. And left it at that.

I looked around me, all of these young people excited to learn about the finer points of American culture. It’s really beautiful. Because as complicated as the US can be, the ideal version of itself that it aspires to be is fun and kind of magical.

And so here, in eastern Europe, as the battle of Black Friday raged on halfway around the world.. I got to visit a different United States. A kinder one. An America without Walmart.

Well, this isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing

Last time I wrote, I was totally on track to share my latest track on Oct. 31.

Promise! But life, especially life on the road, has a way of introducing plot twists just as everything is operating at its smoothest 🙂

The night I arrived in Lviv, Ukraine.. if there were a magic button to press that would have reset everything – to instantly warp me back home in Vancouver, to tap out and give up…

I would have pressed it.

I was maxed out. Stretched 150% past my available energy, 48 hours without sleep, after having been stuck in Budapest for several days trying to hitch a ride into Ukraine.

More on that later, but let me get to the music part first!

After a 9 days stint of Salmonella poisoning in Belgrade (Serbia is truly fantastic! Minus the sick part) I dragged myself out of bed to setup a makeshift mic stand and record the vocals for my latest song – “All I Need”

I had a plan. It was airtight.. I can do production and recording on my own, but the technical challenge of making music comes in the mixing stage.

Basically that’s when you take all of the ingredients of a song, stir them up in the same bowl and throw them into the oven.. trying to end up with a palatable dish on the other side. There are limits to what is possible when you only have what fits in your suitcase.

Solution? I hired a guy. Easy right? His work sounded great, checked all the boxes for me. So I’ll work on my songs in an AirBnb, then this guy will take them to the next level. What could go wrong?

Well… aparently a lot. I got the mix back.. and I wasn’t hoping for a miracle. In fact I resigned to the fact that it may only be one step better than what I can do on my own, and if I’m lucky, he’ll surprise me. Medium standards with room for greatness lol – I think that’s a fair deal.

When I listened back, it was like hearing my song in the Upside Down (Stranger Things reference, the world that’s like ours but everything is upside down and dark and wrong)… all the loud parts were quiet, and all the quiet parts I hoped would fade into the back – were LOUD lol. oiiii.. and the vocals are drenched in a weird reverb/delay effect that I wish I could just mute.

It’s like taking a photo you’re quite proud of.. and then someone throws the tackiest Instagram filter over it, and posts cat emojiis over everyone’s faces. Dude, stop!!!

It wasn’t one step better than my own rough mix. It was two steps worse. Of course better and worse are relative.. but the point is it sounds like the opposite of what I had in my head, and what I communicated to the mixing engineer.

And although I’m seriously disappointed and not keeping the mix for the future.. I’m forcing myself to share it here anyway.

The reason is a quote that I think is important.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman

Launch early, and launch often, as they say. Or something to that effect.

I’m embarrassed of the current state of this song, but whether in art or business or in relationships, we’ve got to take small steps forward as often as we can. Bigger breakthroughs come from the weight of enough tacked on small bits. Rough edges and loose ends can become greater than the sum of their parts..

So one day I’ll have a proper mix, but for now, here’s a song I wrote called “All I Need”. It’s one that I’ve been playing for years on guitar, but today it sounds a little different –

Click here to check it out…

The valuable lesson for me here is that mixing is still part of the creative process. And if I want to see that vision through, I may just have to take the extra time to do the mixing myself. That means a bit more learning and a bit more gear – but if at the end of the day I can be proud of what the result is.. it’s worth it 🙂

You know in the past few months in Czech and Serbia, I’ve made the most wonderful friends. They know who they are. They’ve been super helpful in this last little attempt to get to Ukraine by train.. but I made a miscalculation.

Sometimes the expensive flight (relative to the cheap Euro flights) to the next city is the better choice. But the lure of adventure and possibility of saving major travel cash is alluring.

For me it’s mostly the challenge I love. I like to see what I can get away with. If it’s $200 to fly to Ukraine.. I wonder if I can do it for only $25, enjoy a train ride across Hungary, make some new friends, and discover a bunch of hidden gems in the process.

Often the answer is; “the adventurey one please!” This time the answer was… OMG TIM JUST TAKE THE PLANE!!!!

I got stuck in Budapest for several days and my friends Fernando and Kati were saints to put me up and hang out with me as I calculated and tried to hitch the next ride.

It was exhausting, but doable. Everything was fine up until I got to Chop, the Ukrainian border town right after Hungary where a sleepless Tim had to wait almost 12 hours for the next train.. I figured I would just find a seat to crash on for a few hours.. but I got a text from my Ukranian friend Ruslana who said..

“Oh.. you’re staying in Chop? Be careful. That town is full of Gypsies. You’re going to get robbed.”

Ugghhh now you tell me LOL

Now I can’t tell the difference between a Gypsy or a Ukrainian, and I’m pretty sure Gypsy is a racist term of some kind. For who? From where? I don’t know. I don’t know enough to be politically correct. I just know she was right about the sketchy nature of this tiny town.

A dozen people in line for a single ATM, which took 8 minutes to process one person’s transactions. And a train station filled with uncommonly beautiful Ukrainian women soldiers in full army uniform. But equally filled with wandering people with sticky hands.

And a new cab driver that would approach me every 6-10 minutes hoping to score a tourist on their way out of town. It was exhausting trying to convince them I really didn’t need a cab, so I eventually resorted to saying “YES! Thank you, yes, I take London. England. We can leave now?”

For some reason, none of them were eager to take me up on my request hehe.

I needed sleep so bad.. but I took refuge in Mayo Chix.

That’s right, Mayo Chix.. Your friendly neighborhood cafe where you can also buy women’s underwear – obviously. The barista was super kind.. and I sat there with her for 12 hours, getting a cheap and very good coffee from her every hour. A steady drip of caffeine to ensure I was “awake” and my luggage was still with me.

From Belgrade to Lviv, Ukraine.. I took a total of 6 trains.. and lost a total of 2 1/2 nights of sleep.

When I finally arrived to the Lviv trainstation, I was so tired. So ready to find my AirBnb and sleep the next 24 hours away. Only one problem…

Buses don’t really work the same way there.. when does the next bus come? I don’t know.. Neither does Google Maps. Or at least the times presented don’t actually relate to buses on the ground. You just kind of wait until it comes. And if it’s a good day – it does come.

Long story short.. no busses.. I texted my Ukrainian friends to ask them what’s up?

All I get in reply is the laughing face emojii plus “lol, welcome to Ukraine”

Then yesterday my Airbnb had no running water for the whole day..

“lol, welcome to Ukraine”

Then I had no power another day…

“lol, welcome to Ukraine”

..Ukraine is harsh, man! I came here actually because I found that inspiring. Ukraine and their history is really harsh. Lots of death. Lots of oppression. But the people flourish and are kind, and strong and courageous despite that. Maybe because of it.

My soft Canadian composure has been tested.. and as I said.. if there were a “go home” button, I would have pressed it. After a couple of days to get caught up on sleep and readjust.. I’m doing far better.

At the same time there’s sadness in the air. There’s poverty yes, but that’s not it. It’s that I see people in military outfits everywhere, in the city or in between cities.. they’re at war with Russia in the east. (The west here is fine fyi) And almost every day the death toll rises and they loose more of their friends and family.

It just makes me wonder what life would be like if that were the reality for me and everyone I care about at home. I can go home any time I want. But for these people – this is home. And the fight for an independent Ukraine, free from the crushing oppression of a not so distant soviet past, is not only at their front door, it’s in their living room.

This is a bummer to read and I don’t want to get political or talk about a war I know almost nothing about.. That’s not the point.

But I bring it up because for those of us who live in a country we’re proud of, that is stable and affords us a life as boring or exciting as we wish to live it; man.. we won a really important lottery.

Canada.. the US.. most places in the European Union… we’ve got a good thing going. And Ukraine is fighting and dying for the chance to be part of the EU. But for today, they don’t qualify.

Politics in this part of the world doesn’t pose the question “Who did you vote for? Let’s argue on Facebook about it” The question is.. “In 2018, will your country still exist, and what will you have to sacrifice today to give it the best chance?”

If you’re at all interested in learing more about Ukraine, there’s a Netflix documentary called “Winter on Fire” about the 2014 revolution. Yep, definitely didn’t hear anything about that on the news in Canada.

Coles Notes – The people successfully used non-violent (mostly, kinda) protest and blockades to force the resignation of their President after he refused to sign on for the application into the EU (meaning potential for a stable economy and opportunity for young people in Ukraine who want to work).. and instead pushed his agenda for a Russian future.

In it we can see on the ground footage, up close and personal, with protesters and police, as the President’s forces move in to attack, and eventually kill unarmed protesters with brutal beatings and eventually gunfire.

I’m not a fan of the violence, but I suggest the doc because the courage and unity demonstrated is breathtaking. The people from all around the country who came to Kiev to take a stand, and who wouldn’t back down for almost 2 months in the dead of winter. They formed a small resistance city behind barricades, occupying the Maidan in the capital city.

It was messy, and according to everyone I talk to here – it was tragic and too much was lost.. but the courage is undeniable. And it’s inspiring.

War can kill individuals, But nothing has been able to oppose the intensity with which these people have stood for independence and the freedom of their families in this country. Everything is on the line.And it still is.

Makes me sit back and wonder… what do I believe in that’s worth putting everything on the line for? Maybe higher ideals as expressed through music.. the connection I have to my firends and family.. one thing is for sure, I’m a lucky person to have the luxury of exploring that question – rather than having it thrust upon me on the wrong side of a gun.

And with absolutely no segway from topic to topic – here’s the link to my song again!

It is what it is, for now 🙂

Secret café discovered!

I’m peering out the train window as it leaves Budapest station – on the way to Belgrade as I write this. Faaaar from where I started in Vancouver.

More on that in a sec!

I’ve been working on several new tracks! Recording them in my European Airbnb’s as I go.. I’ve decided to coin a new genre to describe the sound of a guy surfing from city to city with a laptop, a mini keyboard, and a cheap vocal mic;

“NomadPop” lol

I’ll be posting the first finished one on October 31st! 🙂 It’s a song called “All I Need” which is one you may have heard me play before, but I promise, it’s super different – in all the best ways .

The inspiration to head to Belgrade of all places came from a conversation with a Slovakian friend I met in Prague. She asked me if I knew about the secret café in city center.

Of course I didn’t (being Canadian), and of course I hounded her to show me because everyone likes being in on a good secret.. especially when it’s in a new city and there’s delicious coffee involved.

She led me a few streets north of Wenceslas Square and into a run down building that looked… nearly abandoned. The further we walked into the building the less it seemed that anyone was supposed to be there at all.

We walked around a poorly lit corner and up to a locked fire door. There was a dirty security panel like the one you find outside your apartment building, and she pressed on the very last button – the one without a name beside it.

We waited.

Annnnd we waited. I gave her a look like – “Are you sure about this? This definitely seems like practical joke people play on unsuspecting foreigners.”

She motioned to just wait..

Success! The door buzzed and we pushed our way inside. To the stairs. A LOT of stairs. Up.

One story….. two stories…. and up … and up … and for real I can climb a lot of stairs but at a certain point there becomes a clear need for an elevator. BAD.

I had to ask… Is there REALLY a cafe up here? Does anyone else go up here? Do they climb the whole way every time? I seriously doubt it.

We reached the very top. Huge flights of stairs seem an eternity when you’re not exactly sure what you’re climbing TO.

When we pushed our way into the main door, I was shocked!!

It was an apartment. But… converted, clearly, into a café with a bar.. with great music playing, and multiple rooms as you walked in. And there were people, LOTS of people!

It strangely reminded me of the kind of cafe you’d find in Winnipeg, occupied mostly by students.

In one room folks were tapping away on their laptops around a big table.. another room in the far back had big couches with people strewn across reading books and sipping their coffee. And a main room with a half dozen people socializing at their tables.

There was even a big stack of vinyl with someone digging through the music collection to keep the tunes rolling.

We grabbed our coffee at the bar… & she asked for pickled cheese. …… which is a thing here. But they were all out (because obviously it must be a top seller?? hmmm)

Once we had our drinks we sat down and she told me the story of her epic 3 month trip through the Balkans. She just got back!

Balkans, if you don’t know (I didn’t) are east in Europe.. south of Russia and…. yah I don’t know – I can vaguely point it out on a map. If you’re in Istanbul, you went too far lol.

Her eyes were lit up with the stories of what she encountered and the excitement of being away from Slovakia for such an adventure.

And I had to ask, partially for selfish reconnaissance reasons, and also because she was so excited.. “Be honest. Out of the whole trip, where was your favourite place?”

She didn’t hesitate.

“Hands down, it’s Belgrade. The capital of Serbia. The students, the people, the kindness, the art, the food, the history, the music… I had more fun there than everywhere else combined!!”

Strong testimonial! And it was good enough for me.

So I booked my next AirBnb apartment in Belgrade.

And here I am now, on this train.. staring out into the Hungarian countryside after visiting a couple of friends in Budapest for the night (and by the way I’m DEFINITELY coming back here again if I can, what an amazing city!!!).. on my way to Belgrade.

They say it’s the new Berlin, as it was 15 years ago… plenty of music, but way cheaper.

Wish me luck 🙂