Monday, July 25, 2016

     ..."you see a light and then another"...

                                         Stay - The tragically Hip

In late August '96 I had just moved to Penticton BC, from the rez in Alberta and was about to begin art school. I was so excited to be living in the Okanagan and the road ahead seemed to stretch out before me in infinite directions. I had spent the better part of the Summer in Europe and had actually made some money part of which I used to buy one sweet guitar. In my new room I sat nursing beverages while strumming away then turned up the volume on the television to hear Gord Downie telling the interviewer what the best thing was about being the singer for the Tragically Hip. He said that besides getting to spend so much time with his friends the best part was being able to make a living from his imagination. What a wondrous thing. I've never forgotten that sentiment.

In the work-a-day, 9 to 5 world it's easy to take people and things for granted. I admit that with the Hip it was easy to do because they've always been there. Their first record came out in '87, the year I turned 18. All told, they've released 14 albums and I honestly can't recall how many times I've seen them in concert but as I head to Rogers Arena tomorrow night to see them it seems that it just may be for the final time as lead singer Gord Downie has been diagnosed with inoperable and terminal brain cancer. Reviews for the shows previous to this one have been stellar and I head there not for goodbyes or sentimental reasons, The Hip aren't that kind of band. They are vital and robust artists and musicians who have collectively harnessed a creative energy that has sustained them over a career and given us, their admirers, a hell of a lot of good music. I'll go see The Hip for perhaps the last time and strum my air guitar at my side as usual. I'll rock out, I'll be thankful and it will seem important that I am there in the same large room with them doing what we were both meant to do...

...but tonight as I write this I can't stop listening to this song over and over again...

© 2016 Champsteen Publishing

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Game (song)


this recording made when I was 19 or of the first two songs I ever wrote...which means I've been writing and singing bad songs for nigh on 26 years!

Yesterday, in court details released from a plagiarism trial involving Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, it was revealed that the song Stairway To Heaven has so far earned $526 million dollars - that's from ONE SONG!!! you see, as I've been saying for as long as I can remember, all I need is one hit.

...this probably ain't it.

I'm singing and playing acoustic, Ben's bass and background vocals, John's on lead guitar and Jason's on drums.

The Game

There's a picture of you in my head
that'll never fade
and your voice plays like a record
over and over again
 when you look into my eyes can you
see what might have been
this game that we keep playin'
we'll never win...

When it hits the fan it seems like
I'm always to blame
when the sun is shining for you 
you don't remember my name
if there's room in your heart for me
I wish you'd let me know
you always say that you're thinkin' of me
but it doesn't show...

I play the game and you pull my chain
either way, baby, it's always the same
you make the rules and I play the fool for you
I play the fool...

© 2016 Champsteen Publishing

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Humming Bird Dreams Press launches BROKEN MAN

New publishing concern Humming Bird Dreams Press launched Raul Gatica's poetry collection Broken Man (Hombre Roto) at Vancouver Public Liberry, Saturday November 14, 2015. A co-presentation Hummingbird and Spanish-language online magazine, Cencerro, the author and friends gathered to celebrate the new collection. Several speakers were on hand to sing the bi-lingual book's praises and to celebrate. Gatica, a Oaxacan political refugee and now exile, living in Vancouver since 2005, has remained a high profile activist for social justice and various causes. His activism in his native country led to 13 arrests, torture and the need to flee his homeland in fear for his life. Throughout the formal refugee process, Raul has continued to write, organize and speak out against oppression and tyranny.

The poems chronicle every aspect of a doomed relationship. A jagged sense of romance and the fallout of a love betrayed are the primary features of this literary litany of the Hombre Roto (the Broken Man). Raul read selected pieces from the book and after each I read the same poem in English. A lively Q and A followed the reading. If you like your love poems bloodied and your poets bruised and battered, Broken Man will speak to you.


©2015 Champsteen Publishing

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Maybe it's about being there...(article)

"Long and Wasted Years"
It's been such a long, long time
Since we loved each other and our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day, I was the man for you

Last night I heard you talking in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn't say
Oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday

Is there a place we can go?
Is there anybody we can see?
Maybe, it's the same for you as it is for me

I ain't seen my family in twenty years
That ain't easy to understand
They may be dead by now
I lost track of them after they lost their land

Shake it up baby twist and shout
You know what it's all about
What are you doing out there in the sun anyway?
Don't you know the sun can burn your brains right out?

My enemy crashed into the dust
Stopped dead in his tracks and he lost his lust
He was run down hard and he broke apart
He died in shame he had an iron heart

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes
There are secrets in them I can't disguise
Come back baby if I ever hurt your feelings I apologize

Two trains running side by side
Forty miles wide, down the eastern line
You don't have to go
I just came to you because your a friend of mine

I think that when my back was turned
The whole world behind me burned
It's been awhile since we walked down that long, long aisle

We cried on that cold and frosty morn
We cried because our souls were torn
So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years

_ _ _

For me, there is something to doing things out of posterity. That is, documenting here (on the nebulous web) snippets of my life and my times, simply for sake of the future. It may be important to none other than me but in that it seems very important.

In conversation people who know me understand the importance of music, poetry, art in general and Bob Dylan specifically. It’s merely a perspective but I do believe that Bob Dylan is the Shakespeare of our time and will be immortalized through his recorded work. I challenge anyone to give me the name of someone, anyone born in the in 1560’s…Go ahead…


It’s challenging to make a mark in our own time, our own LIFE. But to have the grace to have been the creator, maker, author of so much creative material astounds. As one who has tried his hand at poetry, prose, music and lyric making I am simply amazed at the notion of the volume of material coming from a single source, a single person. I think we are conditioned to think it’s easy. Turn on the radio and you are inundated with songs, hits, chart-toppers. But how many of these are one-hit wonders? How many will last - how many aren’t simply frivolous articles of fashion? A 50 year recording career, a novel, a biography, at least 3 films, several books of drawings, exhibitions of his paintings all over the world, art installations and a never-ending tour beginning in 1988 that has seen him tour every year since. To say that is creative output is prolific and varied is well below understating it.

On this blog I’ve conceded to the notions of taste and preference and I will do so again – for some, Dylan’s voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I love the sound of his weathered and distinctive wail. However, as with Shakespeare, I believe posterity will have the final word. Not only did people in his time appreciate the Bard’s (Shakespeare's) work, but as time went on more and more did also. This I believe will be the case with Bob Dylan. There will always be an audience of admirer’s of exhibitions Picasso’s paintings and drawings. In any given city there will always several productions of Shakespeare’s dramatic work under way. And I believe there will always be an audience of listeners and musicians to appreciate Dylan’s songs and recording artists continuing to include their versions of his songs on their records. Sure, a person can have a hit. Some have several. Some have greatest hits packages one and two. But no recording artist of our time is as universally covered as Bob Dylan. This means that among his fellow craftsmen and women he is more revered than anybody. Imitation is the purest form of flattery it’s been said. The people who write and record songs themselves consistently dip into the well created by Dylan. I won’t delve into the cultural significance of the artist here because I believe that to be of less import than his truest legacy - an immense body of songs of depth and power.

So it was that last October I waffled though I knew Uncle Bob was playing 3 consecutive nights in Seattle WA., a 3 hour’s drive across the border and south. Could my finances bear it? Who could go with me on such short notice? Were tickets yet available? And now several months later I am so glad I seized upon what may be the last chance I’ll have to see him in concert though I said the same thing in Oct 2001, when the lights went down at the start of his show then, when he was a sprite 61 years old.

I am including his performance and the lyrics to Lost and Wasted Years from TEMPEST, his most recent album of original songs. It’s a wonderful thing that in his 70's he is still composing original songs of startling lyrical intensity and still traversing the world modestly to perform night after night like an old bluesman, like a troubadour. What else was Bob Dylan put here on earth to do? And unlike Shakespeare or Picasso, I got to be in the same room with Bob Dylan several times over the years as he did his thing. There'll never be the likes of him again.

©2015 Champsteen Publishing


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What's In A Name? - Hip No More or The Tragically Idle (editorial)...

* what's a blog for if not to get a few things off one's chest and as I've always said: you'll never please everyone - I've also come to embrace my contrary nature, as I've also often said: if everybody's doing something it can't be that good - this is more of a flippant generalization but seems unfortunately to hold true often enough from the lens through which I view the world. 

The Tragically Hip? Great band, terrible name. I'd bet my left one they (the guys in the band, that is) feel the same way. There are those of us who could never figure out why they could never crack the American market, but with a novelty name that seems to go for the ironic, detached aloofness the guys are well-known for, I remember early interviews with Gord Downie (see, me and my pals saw them at a hotel club in Calgary way back when they were a mostly cover band and we had gone because of the ironic name, they had to be a novelty act) after a couple records when taking the world by storm seemed imminent and he would decry the fact that, at that point, playing in the US always meant a loud and demonstrably proud contingent of Canadians seemed to follow their every move. He was already by that point clearly less than enthralled by such solid support from fellow Canadians, he seemed in fact to take it for granted that, critically speaking, Canadians were blindly cheering fellow citizens rather than responding in the affirmative to what they might be regarding as good music. Well, all these years later, and The Tragically Hip could easily sellout multiple dates at every fifteen  thousand seat arena in every major city in Canada (all 10 or so of em) yet they have failed to garner a notable following in the US market outside of Detroit/Winsdor, a single American city that geographically is actually located north of Windsor Ontario by strange circumstance and Hip shows are comprised mainly of Canadians. Everywhere else in the states, the Hip play small clubs the size of The Commodore ballroom or smaller. But it's hard to market a glib-sounding name like The Tragically Hip, what does a name like that do to your imagination? And, let's face it, Downie's stream-of-conscienceness, likely, meaning little-or-nothing lyrics are hard to find real meaning in. Yeah, I know, patriotic hosers at this point will defend their heroes as representative of pure Canadiana, that is, lyrical content full of references to Hugh Maclenan, hockey, hockey players and various if obscure Canadian geography (I'm sure Bobcaygeon Ontario is prepared to name a street after them if they haven't done so already) - but the references are vague and if people want to write university papers on Hip songs citing their relevance and importance, be my guest, but I'll bet my right one, Uni professors won't be as open-minded on the subject - don't get me wrong, some of their songs are timeless, original and they have a vibe full of ominous character and vitality - and they rock!. If they haven't by now, it seems less than likely that The Hip (as they probably wish they were called) will break ever internationally or have any notable following outside Canada. It is tragically so.

Now, the one that's going to have people all across Indian country PO'd  - Idle No More? Great time in history for a movement, absolutely terrible name for one...Idle No More is poor choice of name for any kind of active political or cultural movement (or this one in particular). It's because, without subtext, the phrase Idle No More implies so many negative ideas and notions and seems to validate so many ill-formed and preconceived conclusions about Native people already at work in the mainstream consciousness. If I didn't know that the movement's name came about because a few individuals spontaneously called their message thread Idle No More on the Internet, I'd almost think it was created by non-native media manipulators with an agenda. First off, the name implies (that means: seems to mean) that Native people have been idle (not-active) until this point in history. The mainstream mindset believes this about native people anyways and it is the rhetorical argument you always have thrown out in any discussion with someone who's mind is already made up and is completely unwilling to consider any historical background, circumstances or cause and effect scenarios. In my mind countless Native people have been working their asses off lo these many years (and generations) to defend, educate, protest and ensure that there is ANYTHING left of Indian people, culture, history and that there is even a need to not be idle any longer as the name seems to imply. The idea that in 2012-13, Native are perhaps, for the first time, somehow, coming to an awareness that things are not fair and injustice is manifest must come as a surprise or a symbolic slap in the face to the families of George Manuel, Vera Kirkness, Elijah Harper, Big Bear, Jeanette Armstrong, Harold Cardinal, Alanis Obamsawin, John Trudell, Winona Laduke, Vine Deloria, Anna Mae Aquash, Luthee Standing Bear, Louis Riel and so many others. For anyone not to acknowledge the tireless commitment to their own and all Native people by so many before our time is ignorance pure and simple and disrespectful. 

That the current groundswell (though, it's debatable whether at the time of this writing the movement is already a spent force) seem to believe they invented activism is not surprising. Every generation seems to believe they invented indignation, seems to think they are the first to experience inequity, injustice, intolerance or any other socially negative experience or circumstance. Idle-No-More in my neck of the woods seemed to represent more of an opportunity to see and be seen rather than a hot bed of ideas around organizing and political or grassroots strategies. The idea that Native people are generally waking up for the first time to racist, exploitive and inhumane policy is simply not true. And one also need consider the men and women all across the land who today educate, organize, heal, nurture and demonstrate either within their own sphere of influence or in some larger communal capacity or those who simply live exemplary, dignified lives and work hard each day to do so.

It is always a good thing to get lots of Indians together so in this regard I love what Idle-No-More represents - but mostly, I believe, there are tons and tons of Native people out there who have NEVER BEEN IDLE.

© 2013 Champsteen Publishing

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sir Paul in Seattle

...The age old question: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? can't be both (you can't) and my soul was won over by the swagger, menace and sheer defiance of The Stones a long time ago. But one cannot argue with the immense cultural significance that the four lads from Liverpool had on contemporary society and culture as we know it.

I have only ever owned a single Beatles record, have never owned a Wings record and though I did have tickets to his show in Rotterdam in '89 (didn't go, thought the fall of the Berlin Wall happening the same time as McCartney's show in Holland would be more of an was!), I had never given much thought to attending a Paul McCartney show all these years. But the chance to see him in Seattle this past summer presented itself and knowing that the man is 71 years old, I knew there wouldn't be too many more opportunities and I went. A warm Friday night in July, me and my baby, an enthusiastic crowd, about 40 songs and the chance to actually hear the man who wrote some of the most familiar and popular songs of our time, sing them - Yesterday, Hey Jude, Eleanor Rigby, Get Back, Back In The USSR. I did see Ringo Starr perform many years ago and it was sublime but McCartney is surely one of the most influential, prolific and popular song-writers in human history and just the chance to be there was sublime. As usual, the philosophy frequently stated on this's about being there.

© 2013 Champsteen Publishing

Friday, June 28, 2013

What Matters (audio poem)...

   What Matters

music: Spiegle Im Spiegle by Arvo Pรคrt

on a lawn
we sit across from one another
in conversation
veiled by circumstance

the scent
of fresh-cut grass and your skin
rid the well of tedium
and half-truths

as behind you
a summer moon
arcs it’s way
to a distant tomorrow

in these moments
i am struck by the essentials

it’s not the thought
of the small of your back
though it does confound me

nor is it the delicate steel
in your gaze
when it’s true
i feel strong

it isn’t the memory of your body
rising at the hint of my breath

it can’t merely be
the silhouette of your bareness
during nights with you
in soft light
though, at times,
it is


what matters
are the lines in your face
which speak of things
you can and cannot say

it is that you understand
losing everything
still means
you can always lose a little more

it is the fresh wind of your voice
which blows through my hands

it is that
although we are born here
and we’ll die here,

you still feel
the sweet ache of things
we’ve never wanted
so badly

© 2013 Champsteen Publishing

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elegy by A Cree Sojourner (poem)

I am not afraid of being poor, being homeless…I’ve done that…
I am not afraid of breaking ribs (twice), my neck, my ankle, my skull…
been there done that…and feeling much better now
I am not afraid of having a gun pointed at me (3 times)
cause only one ever actually pulled the trigger…and he missed

I am not afraid of my mother going away, or my father or all my grandparents…
for those things happened a long time ago

I cannot say if in his lifetime, my father ever knew freedom
but in mine…he is free

It could be true that like history, it is by now well-established
that I am, as they say: an open book
and thankfully subject to revision
brother can you spare a dime?
hey man, change comes from within!

There is no longer fear of a broken heart or abandoned love
I know what those things are
I confess to the mercenary intentions
of having her soft lips on mine
there, I said it
what am I but one among this rogue species

like the mountains I have been shaped by time
in fact, I am here because of those long-gone, graceful ones
who somehow walk beside me still
in memory, in spirit
guiding me safely
through the no man’s land of my own good intentions,
to yet more meaningful ways of being
helping locate a measure of grace
during damp arthritic coastal mornings
learning to care for this temple bruised and battered through 43 winters,
grasping that there are surely now more sunsets
in the rear-view mirror than lie before me…
(but you never know)
yes, their presence comforts me
as I experience these fearsome markers of time

most days I have transcended my ancient wounds
free of that kind of pain
though the psychic tissue of scars will always remain,
just out of sight
clung to and kept in my own place of sacred things
summoned when needed to inform, to illuminate,
to be together during your own long dark night of the soul
for why else are we here?

and I stand shoulder to shoulder with front-line helpers and healers
who do the heavy lifting,
who understand that we will only heal together or die one by one
alone as individuals

as a man of the plains it is ironic that I am once again at the frontier
only this time at the borderline of the imagination
standing opposed to ones who elevate human constructs above the natural world
people unable or unwilling to understand
that the way you think about something changes the way it works –
I oppose worshipers at the altar of the holy market
with their inflationary interest in histories’ latest empire
they seem induced by some archaic voice stranded in time
a voice spouting authoritative versions of events
tenure-tracked versions of events
second-hand, borrowed and stolen knowledge
with concerns somehow vested
in salacious accounts of quote-unquote history

ideas are the currency in my trade
in this most crucial reclamation project

for some reason
the challenge seems to be to respect the ancestors and celebrate the living

do you see that it is the very rugged and elemental nature of this hard land
that makes the Indian heart and spirit so pliable?
It’s tough love from our first mother
I have no illusions of permanence and little time for regret,
despair is a sin against the imagination in places like this

my destiny is no longer shaped by others without shame
or without reverence for the things I am…I am the elements…
my life is a subterranean call, no – it is a demand for justice

I am not…but the way? -
the way is righteous
the truth is righteous

even in the city
I know places where can I sit alone among stones polished by mild-mannered rain
I can always locate a vantage point to watch the crows
and be moved by their nightly, spectral pilgrimage
through the great nation that is the sky

even in the city
I hear creator
in my daughter tapping keys on a piano in the next room

there are stations, thresholds and bridges
constructed by others before me that I cross
to arrive in places I could not possibly have gotten to on my own

I keep frequent company with other ways of thinking
road men and matriarchs who have all walked the long road
when necessary developed other modes of orienting themselves in
social and spiritual space
I seek counsel with those happily immersed in old-growth forests of the mind
who may yet teach me other ways
of interacting at all times with the earth itself
I am touched by these warriors of the heart and road

in this company there is space for you
in this company may you find watershed thoughts
of the sacred heart of the world –
come know what love is really like

and dream of worlds to come

© 2013 Champsteen Publishing