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Japanese government battling the bulge

Recently, on a weight loss support web forum, there has been a lot of outrage about a Japanese government program that has started and is fining businesses for encouraging unhealthy lifestyle habits.  The following video started the controversy.

Being Fat Now Illegal in Japan

The fact they are basing it strictly on waistlines is horrible, there are many other factors in determining if someone is “overweight”.  However I see this as a positive direction for a company heading the way of North America due to the influx cheap, fatty and easily accessible food with little nutritional value.

Typical Japanese take out meal – low fat, high in protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber – 600 calories.  Typical Amerian take out meal – high fat, moderate protein, high in starches sodium and sugars, low in complex carbs and fiber 1300 calories.

However the government promoting healthy eating and exercise and penalizing businesses for encouraging unhealthy practices (serving unhealthy calorie and fat laden food and promoting long hours of sedentary desk work) is heartening to see.  It is also very enlightening to see Japanese corporations mandating excercise and activity programs – this is good practice for team-building and also avoiding occupational health and safety issues.

It’s not illegal to be fat in Japan  the title of the video is highly misleading – this is a country where sumo wrestling is considered a sport and a national treasure – the government is just wanting business and industry to see that a healthier population means fewer dollars being spent on health care and charging companies that support an unhealthy lifestyle accordingly.  Something MANY businesses in North America should learn from IMO.

little pieces of awesome

Okay, I’ll admit it! My name is Myke and I love shopping. It must be the gay genes working their sparkly rainbow brand of magic in me, but I’ve always loved shopping. I especially enjoy poking around stores to find the right item for the right person. I especially love exploring independently owned stores that have eclectic selections of unique items. It’s the thrill of the hunt, folks! Craft shows are also favourites of mine because they allow me to connect with the artisans themselves and meet the people who are responsible for the wares that catch my eye.

While I try to avoid overtly conspicuous consumption, it’s nice to know that the items I do purchase for myself and others could be as unique and individual as the folks that I buy for are.

Malls and big stucco boxes do not give me the same amount of enjoyment. They exist for a reason, I understand, but I’m not interested in purchasing items cheaply made in Chinese factories and sweatshops, delivered by cargo ship to a conglomerate in Arkansas and distributed at a price that ensures the employees of the conglomerate cannot earn a decent living wage.

I also try to support local independent restaurants and cafes as well. I find dining all the more enjoyable as I have established a personal rapport with a number of businesses and their staff is able to make recommendations and suggestions of items that I should try. It is also nice to be able to talk to the owners who know where their supplies and ingredients come from and a good number of them take pride in sourcing their supplies locally too.

When I travel, I try to get off the beaten path and find the unique haunts that locals go to.  I ask hotel staff, cab drivers and others where they eat and shop.  If I’m going to buy a souvenir of my voyage, I want it to be something actually made in that area by a local craftsperson and not just a branded item…

The moral of the story is to shop locally folks! Support your local independent craftspeople; support your local independent retailers; support your local economy! Your community will be all the better for it and you may well just meet some interesting and friendly people while doing your shopping.

desert island

As I’ve been inspired as of late to wax poetically, ad nauseum, about things musical that have tickled me, I’ve decided to highlight my eleven (sorry ten just isn’t enough) “desert island” discs, which I could not live without. These discs were formative in my start and growth as a musician, songwriter and artist, each shaping and honing my voice and vision to where they are now. Listen without prejudice folks, you may find something you connect with yourselves here.

The Who “Tommy’ – The first album I learned note for note as a budding bass player. The album that cemented my reputation as a bass player in high school and John Entwistle’s playing/tone which has informed everything I have done since as a bass player.

Rush “2112” – Rush was the band that made me want to become a professional musician. They wrote the music they wanted to hear and was able to eke out a career for themselves, even when their record company did not believe in their direction. This album was the pivotal release for them as a recording artist and set the foundation for later triumphs such as “Moving Pictures” and “Permanent Waves.” Not a bad track on this album, despite the first side being taken up by one song!

Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here” – the record that made me want to learn how to play guitar. The broken arpeggio played against the sustained G minor keyboard pad in the earliest minutes of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was simple and earth shattering. Not to mention the first song I learned in its entirety on guitar: “Wish You Were Here.” David Gilmour’s tone on this album is why my first guitar was a Fender Stratocaster. The guitar which remains my heartfelt favourite to this day.

Led Zeppelin “III” – the often overlooked third album with lots of acoustic guitar and some incredible song writing, this album means a lot to me to this day. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” was the first song where I felt comfortable improvising a solo on bass while the guitar and drums held down the rhythm and it brought the house down! “Tangerine” is a song I play in my live shows to this day. Such a simple song with such beauty…it is just one facet of this complex album.

Mike Keneally “hat.” – Mike Keneally was a member of Frank Zappa’s last touring band, playing guitar and keyboards with equal ease and finesse, all while singing and doing a mean Johnny Cash impersonation. He is also an incredible songwriter and composer, “hat.” is a CD, which showed me that an artist with a definitive vision can create a career for themselves and find their niche audience, given perseverance and a strong belief in their abilities.

Frank Zappa “Hot Rats” – is it jazz? Is it blues? Is Captain Beefheart’s contribution necessary? Who cares? Frank Zappa’s album again shows that music can transcend boundaries imposed by industry types and people wanting to pigeonhole their songs into comfortable boxes. This album is freewheeling disc of musical improvisation played by a group of musicians each at the top of their individual games.

Phish “A Live One” – the summer of 1995 was a formative one for me, as I had moved away from home and was exploring the outer reaches of music, especially live improvisation. Phish showed me that interesting things can happen when four like-minded musicians perform as one and push each other to new heights creatively.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones “Live Art” – another 1995 summer album prompted by my seeing this band live in a small club and being shown that virtuosic level musicianship means nothing if the shit doesn’t groove and BOY do the Flecktones groove! Thanks Victa, Futch and Bela!

Terry Bozzio, Mick Karn and David Torn “Polytown” – Three iconoclast geniuses, each known for pushing the limits of their instruments walk into a room and improvise an album of ambient music and sonic soundscapes. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, however the ensuing tour proved otherwise, astounding musicians and music fans alike with an evening of mind opening exploration and sheer creativity. This CD is still a touchstone for me and always manages to pick me up when I’m feeling lost and at an impasse. Mick Karn’s fretless bass weaves and slithers throughout Torn’s soundscapes and Bozzio’s hypnotic propulsion and makes me WANT to play my bass even more than ever.

The Residents “Wormwood” – “Wormwood” combined my love of avant-garde composition, performance art and an interest in the parts of the Bible that you rarely got told about in Sunday School. Sometimes the “good book” was actually the “not so good book” indeed! They took this album on the road and produced an incredible live show, depicting the darker tales and parables in the Bible and some of the lives that were destroyed to teach Christians and Jews alike a lesson about disobeying G*d and personal sacrifice.

Oceanship “Oceanship” – I’ve talked about this one before, I’ll talk about it (albeit briefly here) again. A CD of concise, well crafted song writing with incredible production values, making it something equally as inspiring to listen to on headphones as it is on a loud sound system.

oceanship

Last night, I finally got a chance to sit down with a talented artist, songwriter and philosopher and just talk with him for a few hours.  I have been a fan of Brad Lyons, also known as Oceanship, for about 2 years now after seeing him perform at a local café.  Yesterday’s conversation both impressed me and left my mind reeling with images, words and thoughts and not wanting to head into the office this morning.

It all started when a person whose opinions I respect recommended that I see this guy performing on the upcoming weekend.  I had heard that this local singer-songwriter was recently signed to a major label and was going places and was intrigued.  I had also noted that his recently released CD was nominated at the Hamilton music awards and had seen a video produced for his song, “Hotblack.”

If this or any of his songs is familiar to you, you may have heard them on Degrassi the Next Generation, Rookie Blue or any one of his currently 11 television placements.  Irony at best as he professes to watch little television.

I went to the café early, as it was a dull grey day and I knew it would be packed with university students socializing and doing their homework.  I staked out one of my favourite places along the wall and set up my latte, Moleskine, pens and proceeded to begin writing.  Mid afternoon, this thin guy walked in and began setting up a small PA system and acoustic guitar.  He grabbed a stool from the coffee bar and proceeded to tune up, when he began singing, I dropped my pen and was transfixed.

His songwriting was heartfelt and just real.  His voice carried over the chatter of the students, forcing them to stop and take notice.  He ably accompanied himself on his guitar for over an hour.  I was hoping to hear Hotblack, the one song I would recognize, but found myself wanting to sing along with songs that made me want to listen more.  Towards the end of his set, he broke out Stone Temple Pilots’ “Plush” – a favourite of mine since the 1990’s – and I got up, and immediately laid my money down and purchased a copy of his CD.

The CD was different than others, it was packaged in a simple brown paper bag emblazoned with a winged lion (Sphinx?  Hippogriff?) on the front and the song titles on the back.  I went back to my table and finished watching his set.  When he was done, I finished my coffee, packed up my stuff and raced to catch the bus back home. 

I got home and, not being one to wait, I turned on the stereo in the living room, took the Oceanship CD out and popped it in the player.  I turned up the volume, sat down and pressed play.  What followed was perhaps the best “headphones to infinity” album I’ve heard since Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” as the first sound you hear after starting the disc is the sound of rushing water – or is it the surf or is it rain?  The album unfolded and I continued to be transfixed by it.

This is where I interject that when I hit on a CD that intrigues me, I often fixate on it and listen to it until I can stand it no further, I performed this with the Oceanship CD and also downloaded his EP and recent single from iTunes.  Since February 2010, these recordings have been high on my playlist and get called upon when I need to relax or focus my thoughts and energies.

This past year, after Larry’s health stabilized and I was able to focus on other things, I reopened my house concert series and began looking for artists that intrigued me.  High on that list was Oceanship, so I emailed Brad.  After much coaxing and discussion he agreed to do a house concert, which I ended up having to cancel due to unexpected difficulties, however we have since kept in touch.

Brad did a house concert in the late summer/early fall and was energized and invigorated by it.  He is now working towards doing more of them and recently contacted me to begin discussions about his doing a concert for me.  I was honoured and agreed, we met last night to talk about concerts and for him to show me his demo.

A warning to some friends whom I have done house concerts for:  I’m sending you some promo CDs and a DVD soon in hopes that you’ll listen without prejudice and see if Brad’s talents are something you can support.

We sat at another café and talked shop as two musicians normally do, exchanging war stories and philosophies.  Then we began discussing movies that we have watched and enjoyed and books that we have read.  Which then became a full on discussion about personal philosophies and outlook in a world where we are seemingly bombarded by the lowest common denominator.  This conversation led to a discussion of our art and the medium which we both choose to express our voices, thoughts and feelings and how we define ourselves as artists.

What seemed like a relatively short conversation actually ran closer to three and a half hours, only interrupted by DH calling me to ask where I was (oops!  Sorry Hon!)  I sheepishly had to cut our further conversation short and rushed home, my head swimming with ideas and items to explore.  I look forward in hearing more from Brad and truly look forward to hosting him for a concert in 2012.  This time it WILL occur and I hope that my local readers will take me up on the offer to hear an extremely talented artist at work in the comfort and solace of my home.

inspiration

People seemed to respond to my Myke from A to Z post so I’ll delve a little deeper into things, people and places that have inspired me and changed my life for the better.

DB – I met him through his writings in a magazine for family entertainers.  His articles on humour, entertainment and musical parodies struck a chord with me and confirmed that I was not alone in not wanting to accept mediocrity in entertainment.  He was articulate, opinionated and able to support his opinions with experiences and examples from other entertainers.  His song parodies were insightful, funny and spot on.  I started corresponding through letter with him (pre-email days) and continued the correspondence until our paths crossed in the late 1990s.

At some point, our conversations really connected and he invited me to perform with him in 2000 as we shared several musical influences in common.  This came about at the perfect time, as I was seriously reconsidering my life as a musician and entertainer as I really had lost any interest in performing.  Somehow, he saw something in me that I did not see in myself – he still does to this day and I thank my lucky stars for his honesty, his refusal to let me settle for the lowest common denominator and his constant kicks to the rear.  I am forever indebted to this man.

DM2 – A local Christian family entertainer, DM2 represents the kind of spiritual individual who practices and lives what he preaches.  While we don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of things, he understands that different people have different views and he is willing to hear them out before adding his two cents.  This is precisely what he has taught me:  to listen with an open mind and an open heart before filtering through my views.  He has also taught me that true Christians will NOT pass judgement on their friends; they will love and pray for their friends and people they hold in high regard, regardless of their beliefs, politics or personal situations.

He, again, welcomed me to Hamilton as a friend, clown and brother.  He supported me through thick and thin and is constantly popping by for coffee, conversation and just to check up.  Much like DB, DM2 seemed to have seen something in me that I never saw within myself and has provided me with inspiration to become a better person.

DM2 is a true rarity – a non-judgemental, non-preachy, open-minded and forgiving Christian.  This man lives what was taught in the New Testament.  More Christians can learn from him as I, a spiritual humanist, have!  I am forever indebted to this man.

MK – I first discovered his music reading a guitar magazine and was intrigued by the description of his first CD.  I immediately went to Sam the Record Man’s on Yonge St. in Toronto and looked for it, happily purchasing it, forgoing my lunch for two days in return.  I was astonished, shocked and amused by the music that flowed, ranging from vignettes that were mere seconds long, to a full-tilt multi-tracked monstrosity of a country-western epic named “Lightnin’ Roy.”

I wrote my first and only fan letter to MK soon after and began to explore the music he recommended in his reply, starting with his work with Frank Zappa on the 1998 tour.  We have since continued our communication and he still refers to me as his “first Canadian fan.”  He has also helped me with gear issues, hooking me up with a cool guitar company as an artist.  I am truly honoured by his assistance and support. 

He continues to explore his world musically, including having written a symphony as well as toured with bands large (up to 8 pieces) and small (the classic rawk power trio).  He has backed other guitarists on both guitars and keyboards.  I eagerly anticipate the next adventures he brings me.

The Hopi People – in university, I was afforded the opportunity to first study the Hopi tribes and, later, to work with them on their land.  I learned about their culture and respect for all life and the land they lived on.  They view their land as sacred and their agricultural work is an important part of their culture and, in fact, part of their religious practices.  

The word Hopi is a shortened version of their full description Hopituh, Shi-nu-mu; meaning the peaceful people or peaceful little ones.  It is defined as “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite and adheres to the Hopi way.”  Sounds like a way to live one’s life, doesn’t it?   The teachings and culture of the Hopi people changed my views dramatically and have influenced my views on man’s connection with each other and the world itself.

The Residents – Yes, the unclassifiable musical group/art collective from the San Francisco Bay area.  Best known for wearing tuxedos and eyeball head masks, this group has shown me that given a distinctive artistic direction, despite the choice in medium, it is possible to eke out an existence, while maintaining your integrity and individuality.

The sheer mutability and reach of this group (music, visual art, performance art, video, multimedia, computer software, interactive media) has inspired me to continue along the paths I have trodden since grade 8 – for better or worse.  I never cease to be impressed, shocked, astounded by each new project and journey this eclectic group of artists sends its fans and followers on.

Hamilton, Ontario – My adopted home town and base of creative operations.  Hamilton has the reputation of being a ne’er-do-well dying city, due to its industrial roots and close proximity to Toronto.  It has been through some tough times recently, with recent closings of factories, historic businesses and industries going bankrupt or moving and the recent protracted lockout of steelworkers.  These factors combined with a historical focus on growth and development of the outskirts of the city and ignoring the downtown core since the 1980’s, have led to the near devastation of the downtown core.

Yes it is gritty, yes it is edgy, yes it is tired and worn looking in areas.  However it has provided a place where creative industries can afford to operate and the people who work in these industries can afford to live.  When I moved to Hamilton ten years ago, I was at a creative impasse and was focused more on my “day job” than anything else.  I was also in the early stages of a relationship with DH, whom I continue to love and respect dearly – I look forward to a lifetime with him.  Toronto’s art and music community seemed so closed and close-knit and I could barely make my knocks at the door heard, let alone be let in to the “club.”  Hamilton’s doors are open to new voices and visions and welcome outsiders of all stripes – including confused, unhappy musicians with a strong need to express himself through his music, words and visual art.

Durham, North CarolinaDB lives in Durham and has provided me shelter and sanctuary on a number of occasions.  His home is a place of creativity, art and spirit that always spurs me to greater heights.  On a greater level, the Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill area is a center of creativity with a welcoming community.  Since my first visits, I have met a number of musicians, artists and artisans, all of whom have welcomed me into their community and provided me with another “hometown” where I can express myself as a musician, performer and visual artist.

Sedona, Arizona – The first place where I felt truly at peace in the world as an adult and individual.  On a class trip with the university, after a long day of travel (delayed flight, van rental troubles) one of the professors dragged a bunch of his students to go on a back road trip with him to head to Sedona and see the sun set over Oak Creek Canyon.  We grumbled as all youth would, however when the sun began setting over the canyon and the lights of Sedona below began to show, I felt at one with the world, it was a truly magical moment that I will always remember.  Photographs could never capture the beauty of the sun setting over the fall leaves and red rocks.

It wasn’t until later work with DH did I understand about the energy vortexes and spiritual epicentre that Sedona represents.  Since that first visit, I know that when I visit Sedona, the same feeling always returns and I will be at ease, creative and at my best.

So that is a good start for now.  I will now return you to my usual meanderings on food, coffee and bitching about crummy music!