by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Well look what the wind blew in.

Hi there. I've missed you. But my travels are far from over, so it'll be a while till I'm making regular appearances. This epistle comes to you from Dublin, from the bank of the Liffey, from an internet cafe with bright orange signs and the maddening inability to let me rotate images (you will understand the significance of this later).

It's been about a month and a half since I last wrote. I've been on the road, in the air, over the water. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Eire. Friday we leave for Finland.

Jordan's struggling with time and technology, but he's been doing wonderful, wonderful things here. I'm jealous of all of you: I don't get to play the mp3s. (Hi Jordan!)

But I did play Glenn Gould as I stood on Brighton beach at five a.m. I listened to Nick Drake as a bus pulled into Cambridge. John Coltrane in Edinburgh. The Arcade Fire on the northern irish coast.

I've bought some CDs (too many, too few), stuffed them into my backpack. Inexpensive surprises, immediate must-haves... records by Lou Reed and the Flaming Lips, the Go Team and The Frames. A Leslie Feist single. A compilation record benefitting a Leeds animal shelter. I heard Shostakovich's 8th string quartet in England's oldest music room. Bobby Watson gave a master-class. Bodhran and pipes in Doolin, then sitting on rocks by the sea.

It's a good thing, travelling. Clears the blood. You feel lighter, feel the wind stronger. You suddenly find that you can climb mountains, or get lost on them. That a familiar song sounds suddenly better, that Leonard Cohen goes with wine and cheese even miles away from Montreal.

I've met fine, kind people. Readers here (Hi Ross! Hi Matthew! Hi David and Adrian and James), and a few new friends.

On Halloween in Dublin there was fog and firework smoke. Around statues and the Spire you heard bangs, shouts, strange laughter.

Last Saturday was Julian's birthday, and we went to see Joanna Newsom at a red-lit place called the Sugar Club. It was a fine, fine thing. I'll answer some of your questions:

1) Yes, she does!
2) No, she speaks like a normal person. A west coast kinda drawl.
3) Actually, she's a babe.
4) I mean it!

Such superficialities aside, she was a little marvel. She sung and yowled her wise and complicated words, she grinned and bore it, she clapped her hands and played with pluck (ha). Her fingers bounced all over that big ole' harp, they pulled high notes from unexpected places. She sang a killer "Sadie" and an even better "Book of Right On". She sang a new one about "kith and kin," where at least fifteen times she sang her chorus and broke things in our chests: "OH DON'T I MISS YOUR PRECIOUS HEART!?"

She sang the b-side from her new Europe-single (which I couldn't find). She said it was about the USA, and the election, and an impending "crisis". I think she might have cried a bit (and I'm sure she cried a bit more today). It was a song about porpoises in their "snatch of sea".

And then, in encore, there was the following exchange of beautiful absurdity:

Joanna: Oh, I don't know... Any requests?
Random heckler: Play some Zeppelin!
(I expect he was not requesting a spangled, whimsical song about giant balloon-boats.)
Joanna: Ooh. I'll do you one better... (Pause) How many of you have seen the movie The Last Unicorn? Or read the book by Peter S. Beagle?
My own weak, solitary voice: Woo.
Joanna: Well it's a wonderful movie, and the band America did an absolutely beautiful soundtrack. So I'll play a song from that.

She then, in an act most definitely advanced, played the song "A Man's Road," from the animated Last Unicorn movie, which is terrible.

But you know what? Her version was pretty good.

Here is a picture of her, sideways. See how she swooshes.

And so, awkwardly, we're brought to Tuesday.

Ireland is five hours behind central Canada and the american east coast, so we bought biscuits and crisps and stayed up till six a.m., watching the u.s.a. presidental election.

Four more years?

I'm not angry, I'm not even surprised, I'm just disappointed. Disappointed in America, I guess, but really disappointed in humanity. Bush could have been elected anywhere - in Britain, in Germany, in Japan, in India. He speaks the language of human beings in the twenty-first century - the language of surety, of confidence, of 'righteousness'. We invented human rights and the categorical imperative, responsible government and karma, but ultimately we're dazzled by the firmest handshake, the straightest stare, the biggest boom.

Democrats aren't categorically different. They'll be complaining that Kerry was a poor candidate, that he didn't show enough resolve. They wanted him to out-bullshit the president, to repeat the same empty rhetoric. They wanted him not to flip-flop.

But I want a leader who flip-flops. I want someone who changes their mind, who adapts to circumstance, and isn't afraid to revise their thinking. This isn't a quality of Democrat or Republican, Right or Left - it's the quality of those who consider compromise, indeterminacy, the world's smear of greys. Kerry couldn't project W's unwavering assurance -- well, good on him.

Now the Republican White House will go back to its smirks and bargains, its pigeonholes and xenophobia. The Democrats will pull out the tapes, put them up on their screens, and work on mimicking Bush's straight strong stare -- for next time. And America (like the rest of the world) will return to the economics of daily life, of work, of worrying about family; they'll sleep and eat and shop and type, vaguely disquieted, not quite content, and turn to their leaders - their bosses, wives, presidents, - turn to them for that blank and confident look. They'll be reassured that all will be ok, that the scary bits can be eviscerated, that the cancers aren't complicated. And we'll go on, stumbling into sudden hatreds, avoiding eye contact with the people in the street.

I woke up on Wednesday with tight springs in my shoulders. I had slept fitfully, dreaming of red maps. I went out and walked. There were knots of cloud over the Dublin skyline, the newspaper vendors were closed. I had my headphones on and I put the iPod on random. I waited to be distracted from Bush, from my molasses pessimism. I wanted to forget that stuff. I went into Tesco. I bought yoghurt and carrots, put them under my arm. And then outside in the sunlight I was listening to the song "Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison, and even though I was in Dublin not Belfast, the shaker set something loose in my joints, the rhodes lit up in the back of my skull. As I waited to cross the road, waited for the pedestrian light that makes a sound like a laser-gun, I noticed my foot tapping, the birds in my eyes, the guitar that had creaked open my heart and let all that sleepy nonsense sadness out. I noticed I wanted to dance, to dance as I walked, to smile and let the strings throw me, catch me. I swayed a little.

Forget protest songs, I thought. Forget funeral songs. Forget that Van is singing about love or laughter or reincarnation. Maybe if I just played this song for people they'd see the birds and hear the bass, they'd stop voting against gay marriage and start clapping their hands, they'd do good things and not worry about the best things. Maybe they'd open their windows and sing, or break them and run, or stain them, or make them, or stare right through them. Maybe they'd listen, and think, and love, and lean back on the cool glass, the blue sky glass, and use it as a cool and blue sky pillow. Maybe things would change a little, one brave kindness at a time.

There's a song in which a xylophone rings and an electric guitar makes mountains. Win Butler sings, in a big brave voice, that "I GUESS WE'LL JUST HAVE TO ADJUST."



Tomorrow I leave with Julian for Finland. We will be visiting Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Italy. I am trying to buy a CD in every country I visit... If any of you want to recommend Truly Great Albums from any of these places, national classics or should-be-classics, I would appreciate it very much. Folk, singer-songwriter, pop, jazz - you name it. Who is the Leonard Cohen of Zagreb? The Amalia Rodriguez of Slovenia?

I'll try to say hello again before Christmas. Happy winter.


Posted by Sean at November 4, 2004 7:26 PM

Sean, from a frightened bright blue state, from the top half of a well of disappointment (as opposed to yesterday's bottom half), I salute you. Good to hear travelling's treating you well.

Apologize to Europe for us. Maybe the next four years won't be as dark as we fear. Maybe the red-dwellers will learn their lesson in the same time (and not too many people will have to die to do so). Maybe this is just what we needed to get truly inspired to fight 'our' President and his deceitful policies. Maybe four years from now we'll be a lot smarter, a lot less frightened. Maybe Democrats will remember that pretending to be a Republican is not the way to defeat a Republican. Maybe it's not too late.

I hope, at least. We have to. Until then music and art is going to get even better. And here's hoping they'll keep taking us away, over, above and beyond.

Cheers. Thanks for the rant-space, everyone.

ps: Joanna Newsom, for want of a better term, rocks.

Posted by chris at November 4, 2004 2:48 PM

good on you sean; i enjoyed your rant for joy and openness. glad your trip goes well, still don;'t know when i'll get there myself, but march is the most recent proposition for getting to england.

Posted by gareth at November 4, 2004 3:31 PM

That was a great piece of writing Sean. Huzzah!

Posted by dustin at November 4, 2004 3:42 PM

it's good to see your well Sean.

Enjoy your travels.

Come back to us soon.

Posted by Keith TTIKTDA at November 4, 2004 4:04 PM

sean, thanks for checking in from your travels & sharing your beautifully articulated thoughts. and the arcade fire reference was perfect - wake up, people. and yeah, tell the rest of the world that we're sorry, or at least almost half of us are.

far too many people in the "faith-based community" thought it was important to have "god" in the white house - forgive them, they know not what they'v done. so we'll have four more years of probable incompetence & arrogance for everyone to sort out. whoop-dee-doo.

take care of yourself out there on the road & in the countrysides. have fun walking the earth, & get in some lovely adventures...

Posted by mr g at November 4, 2004 4:18 PM

and kerry isn't to be hated on. i'm proud of him, frankly...

Posted by mr g at November 4, 2004 4:41 PM

that was lovely. miss you.

Posted by anne at November 4, 2004 5:02 PM

In Finland (assuming you will be in Helsinki), head for Digelius Music -- http://www.digelius.com -- phone + 358 9 666375. You will find far too many great records in there!

Posted by Drew Miller at November 4, 2004 5:16 PM

Good to hear from you! And it was good to meet up with you both when you hit Cambridge. Enjoy your time "on the Continent" :-)

Posted by Adrian at November 4, 2004 6:06 PM

That was beautiful. I've only recently started reading StG, so I haven't ever experienced your posts, but I can't wait. Thanks for this post.

Posted by Alia at November 4, 2004 7:14 PM

Good to hear from you, I wasn't around at the time to wish you well on your European adventure, so now, have a good trip!

And thanks to Jordan for picking up the ball and running with it.

And we'd better get year-end lists from you both (Sean and Jordan) or I will feel seriously ripped off.

Posted by caley at November 4, 2004 7:29 PM

that was an enjyable read! have a nice trip

joanna newsom does rock, ey yes.

Posted by milap at November 4, 2004 8:53 PM

Good to hear from you, Sean. Glad your travels are treating you well.

And yes, the hating of Kerry for "flip-flopping" assumes that the world is much more clear-cut than it probably is. Or maybe I just need some faith-based re-education. ^_^

Posted by Tuwa at November 4, 2004 11:04 PM

They need to publish you, Sean.

It's always a treat to read your thoughts.

Posted by Paul at November 5, 2004 5:32 AM

I've been forwarding your post to almost every people I know (I'm half-american but I always lived in Europe and nobody's really excited by the outcome of the election here).

Excellent ideas and excellent writting my friend (you're my friend right, since you spoke clearly and loudly what I was muttering alone in a dark empty room). Enjoy your trip.

Posted by Alex at November 5, 2004 9:28 AM


In the Czech Republic, look up a band called Psi Vojaci. Either get "Narod Psych Vojaku," which is sort of their greatest hits (re-recorded, since they didn't really get to under communism), or "Filip Topol and Agon Orchestra," which features the lead singer of the group with this amazing avant-garde orchestra. Also, check out Iva Bittova--whose work ranges from like children's christmas albums to really bizarre screeching world music. That's'n what I think is the best of the Czechs, anyways. (and if'n anyone wants to hear anything, you can go to tamizdat.org, which covers just about every damn bit of good music in eastern europe).

Posted by Will at November 5, 2004 11:39 AM

If you can find any CD/Vinyl/Cassete by Siekiera (especially "Nova Aleksandria") in Poland, purchase it!

Have a nice trip!

Posted by Paulo at November 5, 2004 1:08 PM

great to see your writing on my screen on this windy fall afternoon. i miss your humanity
and i'm jealous you are in Ireland.

Posted by bmr at November 5, 2004 2:17 PM


So good to check in and see your post! I spent the night in Boston's Copley square.. I am broke but I wanted to celebrate the end of the "bush era" all I got was a 140$ bar tab and another 4 years.. don't think I can take it. Let me know where to move!

have fun, live it up ok?


Posted by bw at November 5, 2004 9:43 PM

shit I can't believe you were in Cambridge and I missed you. What did you think of this slumbery student town?


Posted by kieran at November 6, 2004 8:01 AM

my mom is from serbia. let me know what you find from the eastern europe area!

Posted by kathy j at November 7, 2004 9:24 PM

Jordan is doing an excellent job, but wow it's great to read you again. Oh, and the bodhran is probably my favourite drum sound in the world.

Posted by Michelle at November 8, 2004 11:00 AM

your words make me feel happy!

throw me an e-mail back when you have a chance.


Posted by dana at November 8, 2004 5:55 PM

Hi Sean! Nice thoughts, good news, have some neat travels.

Posted by Matthew at November 9, 2004 6:18 AM

I've realized I miss you more without having your writing to read every week -- but I'm glad you're having a grand ol' time.

Posted by amy at November 14, 2004 1:35 AM

We LOVE you'r writing. It is so informative and nice to read. Keep it up !!
Luv ya !!

Bubbie & Zaidie

Posted by Bubbie & Zaidie at November 17, 2004 12:07 PM

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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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