Psychic Chocolate


I‘ve heard it said that what you resist, persists. Maybe my present obsession with chocolate, then, has something to do with the way I've been resisting it (or at least, trying to resist.) Ever since that call from the doctor—come back in for a test result, post-physical.

Turns out, she wanted to warn me about my cholesterol. Not terrible, she said, but then, again, “Not good.” In the list of things we discussed, cheese and such, she mentioned chocolate was bad, for one who, all my vegetarian life, had heard how my cholesterol was amazingly low. Now, “Not good.”

Well, thank you, I said. Good to know. And left determined my butterfat consumption would shrink (I was having a great many ploughman‘s lunches—bread, cheese and an apple.) And chocolate, those “diabetic“, no-sugar chocolate bars we were having at home—those should really, really, stop. Dumb of me, knowing fat can be just as bad as sugar, but going through, come to think of it, quite a few of them . All right, no problem.

But once resistance was offered, the siren song of chocolate really grew louder. I'd go to Caper's for organic greens or apples and find myself eyeing the bakery counter at agonizing length, leaving the store without any treats, but fixated on them. Then, on the theory of indulging the urge to make it dimish I'd get a single chocolate scone from Cobb's, or a chocolate-almond croissant at the café where I'd bought nothing but morning coffee, for years. Every few days, there would be another sacrifice on the altar of the Cocoa God, hoping to quieten the behemoth.

It came to me, all of sudden, my strategy was off. The more I fought or tried to mollify this mania for fatty treats, the less control I enjoyed. What I really needed, for small pleasures, was a saner substitute . I needed—I need—some psychic chocolate. A break for the self, not the stomach, a treat that goes straight to the basal ganglia, without passing Go or collecting 200 calories.

Well then, what is most like chocolate, for body and soul? In my case, that's easy—it's music. Instead of $2.99 for a pastry, why not lay down $.99 for a ballad on iTunes, or go through my collection to sample something already found bittersweet or satisfying? I enjoy a lot of very different musical genres: nothing seems to run as a theme through them, except maybe duende—the Spanish concept of an intense and transient spirit brought alive between performers and audiences.

I used to share moments of heightened musical enjoyment with my male budgie, Zacky, before he died last year. I would see him devote his attention to something I had on, cocking his head and squeezing and opening his eyes in the subtlest and most responsive manner, usually listening quietly but occasionally adding his own warbles and trills.

Sometimes I feel like a dazzled bird, myself, at concerts of my favourite choir, the 12-person ensemble "musica intima." This Vancouver group is fine to hear in recordings, as in the Franz Biebl "Avé Maria" below, but even more, they are exquisite and often thrilling in live performance. Their web site:

1 musica intima - Ave Maria - Franz Biebl

Speaking of live performances, this year I attended Bizet's Carmen for the first time: high time, given I'd been listening to this music since my teens, when I was down in the basement, wearing out the vinyl grooves of both Bizet and The Beatles. The Vancouver Opera performance was wonderful, with Rinat Shaham as Carmen, but here's "my" original Carmen of the '60s, Victoria de Los Angeles, with the Habanera (L'amour est un oiseau rebelle / Love is a rebellious bird.) I think I owe Carmen and de Los Angeles for my continuing love of lower voiced singers—mezzo sopranos, baritones and basses-the muscular voices of opera, who are neglected and underappreciated, I think, beside all those high-toned sopranos and tenors.

2 Victoria de Los Angeles - La Habanera - Bizet's Carmen

I'm an opera dilettante, though, with spotty knowledge, and recordings mostly of arias and highlights. I'm learning a little more and enjoying this varied genre more than ever, since a member of the Vancouver Opera chorus joined our office. I look forward to a high definition live screening of The Metropolitan Opera's "La Cenerentola" at a local cinema, in a few weeks' time. I'm gearing up by listening to a good recording of the Rossini Cinderella.

A Vancouver Symphony Pops concert about five years ago sent me into movie music-collecting mode: hearing well-known film soundtracks in the concert hall, played with all the panache of a good orchestra reminded me how often film or television scores move or please me as much as, or more than the material they grace. The examples below are John William's theme from Empire of The Sun-another choral number, "Exsultate Justi", plus Jeremy Northam's delivery, as Ivor Novello, of "I can Give you the Starlight' in Robert Altman's "Gosford Park.

3 Exsultate Justi - John Williams - Empire of the Sun
4 Jeremy Northam - Ivor Novello's I Can Give You The Starlight - Gosford Park

Friends, lately, have been attending concerts of folk music legends passing through town, such as Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez. I saw Baez years ago and haven't otherwise seen many of my favourite folk artists live, but I'm listening to recordings of my longtime favourites and others new to me-even though they may have left this world some time ago, such as Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention. Her "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" is belog, along with a live, alternative version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" are below. (Dylan and the Band sound a lot better than I did as a teen with my self-taught, solo guitar version.)

5 Sandy Denny - Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
6 Bob Dylan & The Band - Blowin' In The Wind (Live)

In the grab bag of music I've picked up in the past decade are anomalies that stand out in my mix of jazz, "world" music, choral, and classical. That includes these two, very different fellows: Sting performing the Elizabeth songs of John Dowland, below, "Have You Seen the Bright Lily Grow?" My other copper bright balladeer of a very different stripe is Tom Waits. Hard to pick a favourite among all those growled and half-spoken Waits ditties, but I choose "Time" for its mood and the poetic non sequiturs.

7 Sting & Edin Karamazov - John Dowland's Have You Seen The Bright Lily Grow
8 Tom Waits - Time

Most basic of all music, I think, is that which we make ourselves for ourselves, distracted or paying homage, whistling and humming in odd corners of the day. In tribute to to the psychic salve that comes from making our own music, even though my voice is weak, my audience small (two tiny blue birds—who join in, a bit), here's a song recorded on the PC mic 4 or 5 years ago.

9 EBG - Singing with the birds


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