Author Archives: philbravo

Nostalgic Contemporary Twists

A few weeks ago, I was washing the evening dishes and listening to Adele’s latest album and I started to wonder how many other recording artists are experimenting with this same nostalgic, jazz-influenced blues, something that’s obviously pop music but with a contemporary twist – somewhere between the Brill Building sound and jazz/blues singers such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.   Amy Winehouse and Norah Jones  were obvious candidates, and Madeleine Peyroux has produced five albums well worth listening to.  But who else is out there?

So as soon as I finished the dishes, I wandered over to the computer to browse the library’s website.  After a few clicks here and there I learned that this mix of nostalgia with a contemporary twist is an international phenomenon.  Artists in France and Portugal have been busy mixing Jazz/Blues and popular influences with European  folk traditions.  French singer/songwriter Zaz, who has been called the reincarnation of Edith Piaf , is known for her Romani/Jazz influenced music that topped the charts in France and Europe.  Try to imagine Django Rienhardt mixed with Piaf and then swirled together with a punk attitude. Agnès Jaoui is also interested in a hybrid of Romani and French influences but adds rhythms and sounds from the Americas and Iberian countries that cross the lines between Cabaret, Jazz/Blues, and pop music. My last discovery was Mariza, the most famous Fado singer since Amalia Rodrigues, who mixes Fado and infuses it with all of these elements and influences from Mozambique.

Curiosity and the library’s website led me to number of interesting artists and resources available using my library membership.  Unfortunately my experiments were cut short when my children asked me to turn down the music! Kids these days!!

-Phil B.

Wicked Musicals

Fans of musicals are eagerly waiting for Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of OzStephen Schwartz‘s musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel , to arrive in Winnipeg on Aug. 24th.   Although Wicked received mixed reviews in the New York Times, the musical won three Tony Awards in 2004 .   Since then, it has become a favourite with audiences worldwide. 

Prepare for the show by checking out the novelscore, and audio cd which features  Wicked’s original cast, including Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth (Glee fans will be familiar with both Idina & Kristin). Even a parody of Wicked is available at the library. 

For more information about musicals in general try:  Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim and Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater by Larry Stampel.  Finishing the Hat is Stephen Soundheim’s intimate recollection of his stellar career.  Sondheim offers the reader surprisingly frank descriptions of his successes and failures.  Sondhiem’s  discussion of true rhyme and differences between writing pop songs and musical numbers is priceless.  Stampels’ Showtime is a beautifully written and illustrated history of Broadway musicals.  It was fun to compare Stampel’s assessment of Sondheim’s work with Sondheim’s thoughts. 

Other great material about musicals include:

 I’m the greatest star : Broadway’s top musical legends from 1900 to today by Robert Viagas.

 Or if you need a break from reading a book try the PBS documentary: Broadway: The American Musical 

What are some of your favourite musicals?


How to spend your summer vacation: urban and rural daytrips

Summer usually means road trips across provincial or international borders to explore the sights and sounds of rural and urban destinations. Families and friends pile into vans, RVs, and cars eager to explore their chosen destination. But if you’re tired of putting the pedal to the metal, why not plan a summer vacation of day trips to hidden gems scattered across Manitoba?

Find them in A daytripper’s guide to Manitoba: exploring Canada’s undiscovered province by Bartley Kives, or the Manitoba Vacation Guide (online version).

Urban hikes are a great way to explore Winnipeg’s many diverse neighbourhoods. Winnipeg Walks by the Prairie Pathfinders has many interesting suggestions for urban hikes. History buffs will enjoy Walking in Wolseley by the Manitoba Historical Society, which takes you on a fascinating tour of notable homes in the area. In addition, the MHS website offers great self guided tours of a number of Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods and some other towns in Manitoba. Other guides available at the Library include a West Broadway Walking Tour and Winnipeg’s Exchange District : a heritage guide to one of Canada’s most celebrated neighbourhoods.

This summer, come take a guided tour of Bruce Park  and discover its unique features and fascinating history. The tour begins at the St. James-Assiniboia Library and concludes in Bruce Park. Wear comfortable footwear and enjoy the sights and stories!  You have two chances to catch a tour:

• Wednesday, July 27 at 10:30 a.m.

• Thursday, August 25 at 7 p.m.

Phone 986-3424 to register.

Or, you can walk over to the Local History Room at the Millennium Library to discover the past of your own neighbourhood or home.


Call*Response – Winnipeg’s Calling

Call*Response: past, present and beyond vol. 1 (edited by John Toone, Nathan Terin, and Michael Sanders) charts more than three decades of Winnipeg’s punk scene. Conceived at a benefit concert for Kids Help Phone, the book is packed with images of concerts, posters, and fans. The stories embrace the mix of activism, passion, and attitude that characterizes the scene.

If you’re passionate about writing, photography, and/or music, keep an eye out for the chance to join John Toone and Michael Sanders for a workshop at the Millennium Library this fall. And while you’re waiting, why not prepare by reading a few books about punk?

Chris Walter, local poet and novelist, has written Personality crisis: warm beer & wild times – a biography, about Winnipeg’s punk rock pioneers. 

Two books about punk or hardcore bands from Minneapolis that enjoyed critical success in the 1980’s are:

Hüsker Dü: the story of the noise-pop pioneers who launched modern rock by Andrew Earles and The Replacements: all over but the shouting – an oral history by Jim Walsh.

Speaking of the 1980s, check out Bradford Martin’s latest book about the relationship between  punk and political activism in the United States:

The other eighties: a secret history of America in the age of Reagan.

For a photo-essay of punk and its offshoots, see
Punk: the definitive record of a revolution by Stephen Colegrave & Chris Sullivan. Published in 2001, this book offers great images and descriptions of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash and other seminal bands.

The Encyclopedia of punk by Brian Cogan is a comprehensive resource about punk and its culture. Punk fans will appreciate the list of 100 essential punk albums and brief descriptions of subgenres and bands.

If you’re interested in fiction, try A visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The novel is about an aging punk musician and his tortuous relationship with a young, but troubled woman. Egan’s evocation of the excitement generated in San Francisco‘s punk scene in the 1970s and the impact of the passing of time is haunting.

This is just a sampling of what the library has to offer about punk. Don’t forget to look for CDs and concert footage on DVDs.


A walk through the “Story of Civilization”

Often someone will talk about a book that has had a significant impact on their lives. I don’t have one particular book, but an entire series that influenced my life: Will and Ariel Durant’s eleven volume Story of Civilization.

All eleven books in the seriesThe Durants’ passion and commitment to documenting and celebrating the origins and traditions of the Western experience transcends other books about the topic. The language is slightly chauvinistic and very politically incorrect to our ears, but the sincerity and spirit of the project still shines through.

The other quality of this labour of love is the urgency of the enterprise. Begun in 1935, the early volumes were Will and Ariel Durant’s attempt to reconnect with the grand civilizing experiment of the West in the face of the irrationality of Nazism and Fascism, and the impending darkness of the Second World War.

Over the years I stumbled upon volume 3, Caesar and Christ, then volume 2, The life of Greece, and finally The age of faith. Every random encounter was an adventure as I got ‘lost’ and ‘found’ in each book. Although the series wasn’t completed until 1975, the pinnacle of this labour of love was reached in the tenth volume, Rousseau and revolution, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

What I loved most about the ‘walk’ were the contradictions, including many examples of the Dark Ages being not so dark and the Age of Enlightenment not so enlightened. Yet the history this series describes is worthy of praise. As this was my introduction to Cervantes, Rabelais, Milton, Voltaire, the Gracchi family, and more, I will always hold many fond memories of my random stroll through Will and Ariel Durant’s epic series.


Sit, listen…I have a story to tell you…

One of my favourite pastimes is listening to a good story. Storytelling at the library, however,  is usually associated with programs for children. Opportunities for adults to listen to expert storytellers in any setting are rare. Fortunately, Winnipeg has two non-profit groups devoted to spreading the word and storytelling.

The Storytelling Guild and Stone Soup share great stories and encourage budding storytellers to develop their skills by offering workshops and events at a variety of venues. The library is proud to present Stories at Lunch. On Friday, May 6, Mary Louise Chown & Anne Morton present: Folktales and Reality: Why are we still listening to old stories? Four weeks later, on Friday, June 3, Karen Toole & Justin Jaron Lewis present: Spiritual Storytelling. So bring your lunch and enjoy listening to a great story.

To learn more about storytelling, check out these books:

The Triumph of Narrative: Storytelling in the Age of Mass Culture by Robert Fulford.

Fulford considers storytelling to be the mother of all literary arts.  Narrative, he says, is how we explain, how we teach, how we entertain ourselves-and how we often do all three at once.

Burning Brightly: New Light on Old Tales Told Today by Kay Stone.

Stone explains storytelling through the tellers themselves; included are discussions of storytelling communities, analysis of tellers, and the text of 8 stories.

The Art of Storytelling by Nancy Mellon.

Mellon outlines the essential energies of every good story and teaches how to use visualization and imagination to evoke them.

Improving Your Storytelling: Beyond the Basics for All Who Tell Stories in Work or Play by  Doug Lipman.

For those who have already tell stories and want to learn more about the art.

The World of Storytelling by Anne Pellowski.

A classic work that offers a history of the oral tradition in diverse cultures, discussions on the importance of storytelling, and examples of folk, religious, therapeutic and other types of stories.


Grammar Smarts

Grammar has become a hot topic recently. When I was a university student during the end of the Cold War many professors lamented that students, including myself, didn’t have a firm understanding of English grammar. At the beginning of each year these professors would dutifully suggest that we read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to help us decide where to place a comma, how to avoid a run-on sentence, and how to elude the terrible split infinitive. Fans of this brief book are legion and I own at least two well-worn copies.

Devotees of Strunk and White’s compact guide will be disappointed by Stanley Fish’s critique of the venerable classic.  Fish, a controversial professor of English, reviled and denounced by many of his colleagues for his provocative ideas, has written a guide to help us all compose the perfect sentence. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One is a beautifully and clearly written examination of writing and the structure of language. But this isn’t a dry checklist of rules, Fish has produced an erudite and entertaining exploration of great writing from the usual suspects, Shakespeare, Austen… and a few surprises, such as Elmore Leonard.

I’d be remiss not to mention Lynne Truss’s bestseller: Eats, shoots & leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation. Oddly, an edition with lovely pictures was published in 2006.  These books, including those Truss adapted for children, teach grammar with a sense of humour, which explains, I suppose, how a book about commas became a bestseller.

Jila Ghomeshi, a professor of linguistics at my alma mater, the University of Manitoba, argues in a book titled, Grammar Matters: The Social Significance of How We Use Language, that proper grammar doesn’t exist. Ghomeshi discusses the book in an interview published in a local newspaper and suggests that consistency of language is more important that grammatical correctness when it comes to “good” writing.

After countless hours of proofreading to avoid split infinitives and misplaced commas, I’m compelled to wonder: What’s the matter with grammar? Why do some people take grammar so seriously? Whose grammar counts as good grammar?

Luckily, the Winnipeg Public Library, Arbeiter Ring Publishing and the Manitoba Editors’ Association will present a panel discussion that will explore grammar and the politics of language. Participants include Jila Ghomeshi, journalist Morley Walker, editor Bev Phillips, and the panel will be moderated by Jenny Gates. The debate will take place on Thursday, April 14th at 7:00 pm  in the Carol Shields Auditorium at the Millennium Library. Please join us for what will certainly be a lively discussion about grammar, one of the hottest topics in town!