respecting my reward

Had a beautiful exchange with Mendelson Joe today. I was relistening to his records in recent days and I think his last record, 2013’s Art is the Healer, is his best. It’s on Spotify if you want to hear it. He has always had an experimental side. I first knew of him through his collaboration with John Oswald where he danced Swan Lake at the Music Gallery. I think I’m right about that though I didn’t attend the show only saw the posters.
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My introduction was his cassettes on sale by the checkout counter at Ring Music on Harbord. Hand drawn pen and ink artwork and promo. The cassette was called Not Safe. I bought it and two songs particularly killed me. The title, a blunt anti-nuclear piece blaming Premier Bill Davis for setting up a nuclear plant too close to the largest population in Canada and another song that seriously addressed addiction, at least until it finished the first verse and turned out to be the addiction of scarfing pumpkin pie and really amazing cheese.
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His experimental nature reached a high water mark on Art is the Healer. I always liked that title and how you are making a true statement just by saying it. Art is a force of fixing. One of the songs questions who can you trust? A constant theme in his records. After all, in the 90s he started a series of paintings of those who disappointed him, mostly political people all with faces rendered as anuses. He included himself in the series too. Mulroney and Chretien stand out in my memory, seemed to fit them naturally.
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The experimental materials I’m referencing, cacophony mixed with melody. It’s the balance I enjoy, like surfing a decent wave. I’m playing on that record and at least three others, always an honour to play with him. I observe how intensely connected he is to each quarter note. That is perhaps why the balance of these differing soundscapes impresses me. In the studio he would be microscopic about details. He also addresses the listener a couple times, sort of lectures them. I recall him telling me this would be his last record about ten years ago. I don’t know his process or why he arrived at that conclusion but it is a lot of effort to write, record, promote yada yada. It is understandable to say fuck it. I think lecturing the listener felt like another experiment and he went with it.
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The best part of my talk with Joe today was playing him a nameless classical piano piece which made him laugh out loud. That’s about the best compliment I could get. After I explained my process of not being classically trained but traveling through this space like an idiot trying this or that he stopped me and said that’s your title. What? The Idiot. He was right, it feels a perfect title.

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