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Archive for January, 2017

One night when I was 14, I was doing my homework at the desk in the downstairs basement of my parents’ house. My transistor radio was playing, but I wasn’t paying close attention. The radio station was playing far too much Chicago and Elton John, for my liking, and not nearly enough Eric Clapton or Bob Dylan.

Suddenly, guitars kicked in, and a woman started singing, her voice mildly eerie and like no vocal performance I had ever heard, “True Thomas sat on Huntleigh bank / When he espied a lady may.” I strained for the words for a few stanzas, and then a rock beat struck up in utter contrast, “Harp and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer…”

At the time, I had never heard of Thomas of Ercildoune, aka Thomas the Rhymer, the Scottish prophet who met the Queen of Elfland and was carried off to her realm for seven years. I hadn’t even heard of Steeleye Span. But the arrangement and the words haunted me, and eventually – this being pre-Internet – I realized what I was hearing was a modern version of a seven hundred year old song.

This continuity of culture fascinated me. Folk purists claimed to be outraged by Steeleye Span’s efforts in this direction, but as am adolescent raised on stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood who was trying to reconcile these interests with modern politics, I was entranced. I became a lifelong fan of Steeleye Span, and to this day, songs that modernize old songs are among my favorites.

I remember, for example, just before twilight at the Vancouver Folk Festival hearing Oysterband doing a rocked up version of “Hal-an-tow,” the centuries old Morris dance. I played it for Paul Zimmer, one of the SCA founders, a few weeks later, and I remember him doubling over, his laughter ringing out like a cannon shot when he heard the refrain, “Summer is a-coming in / And winter’s gone away.” A harpist from Denver condemned it as sacrilege and an affront to her ears, which only made Paul and I laugh harder.

Years later, Oysterband, in its “Ragged Kingdom” collaboration with June Tabor, would do much the same with “The Bonny Bunch of Roses,” converting the conversation between Napoleon’s son and widow about the dangers of England from a slow harp arrangementd into a magic altogether quicker and more electrified. Again it was condemned by the purists, and overwhelmed the open-minded.

Over the years, there have been other updated songs that have enticed me, among them: Pete Morton’s acapella, punk-tinged version of “Tam Lin,” Tom Lewis’s setting of Rudyard Kipling poems to music, and Loreena McKennitt’s similar treatments of “The Lady of Shallot,” “The Stolen Child” and “The Highwayman.” There was even the Corries’ tongue-in-cheek explanation of how they were restoring “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to its original Scottish form – which was really the story of a modern bar fight described as a Western brawl.

What all these songs have in common is the idea that the past is still alive, and still worth knowing. I am very far from a conservative, but in our era of throwaway culture, something pleases me about this assumption.

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Several weeks ago, I bought myself the Christmas present of a Fiio X7 portable stereo. Since then, I have raved about the quality of the sound to the point that old friends are surely contemplating crouching behind hedges and trees when they see me coming.

My one complaint is how the screen gathers finger print smears. The X7 is packaged with a protective film, but I have yet to apply one of those films without air bubbles I cannot remove. I much prefer a glass screen protector, which are sold separately. I have one for the music player I carry on the bus and Skytrain, and it is far preferable than a protective film.

On Amazon.com, the American site, a glass protector for the X7 screen costs $11. Allowing for exchange on the Canadian dollar and extra postage, I would be willing to pay about $20 for it. However, on Amazon.ca, the Canadian site, the same glass protector sells for $69, plus $17 shipping – about four times a reasonable price. Apparently, the glass protector is being sold by a third party that is using its monopoly to set outrageous price.

After paying for the X7 and Bluetooth speakers, I suppose I shouldn’t complain about aother $87. But I dislike being taken advantage of, and I determined to see if I could do better.

My first thought was to buy from the American Amazon site. But the postage to Canada was unacceptably high. Somehow I balked at paying more for shipping than for the glass protector itself.

Feeling stubborn, I contacted DISAGU, the company that had made the glass protector for my about-town music player. It didn’t make one for the X7, but its representative said that, if I send the dimensions, they would start to. Moreover, they would send me a free one.

At the same time, I contacted Fiio, the manufacturer of the X7. I explained the price difference on the two Amazon sites, and asked if the Canadian price was a mistake. The Fiio representative replied that her company could do nothing, since the price was set by a reseller. However, she also gave me the address of Aliexpress, a Chinese site that sold the glass cover for $10US and shipped free world wide.

Suddenly, I had two solutions. Naturally, I was pleased to save money, but what pleased me more was that I had stood up to consumer exploitation. I’m going to remember this small incident and the lesson that I can never know what might happen if I stand up for myself, and complain to the right people.

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