Saturday, July 26, 2008


In our world society where change sometimes just for the sake of change seems to be increasing, it shouldn’t be surprising that change (or its imminent prospect) is now dominant in every aspect of our lives. We who have seemingly paid our dues and think that with our maturity we can sit cross-legged on our haunches and contemplate life from a Tibetan mountaintop whilst drinking a Coke® (OK, a Dr. Pepper®) are delusional. The journey isn’t over until we are planted and can contemplate no more.

With an ever volatile world economy and the harbinger of the effects of global warming, our lives are getting set to change even more. It’s going to be a calamitous, mind-bending experience with no end in sight. It will be well beyond scrapping those big gas guzzling SUVs in favor of the more economical scat backs that will most assuredly litter our highways in the near future.
That will just be the start.

The changes that we will ultimately see will be mind altering, sweeping and affect our overall quality of life. We need to be prepared at least for the prospects of change so we can act appropriately and with vision when the time comes for action (yesterday?). Plant your gardens now.

As one who had just gone through some major changes in my life, I thought it appropriate that one Alexander Graham Bell, the Scottish born, American inventor and educator thought to pronounce that, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” No, there’s not a lot of luck going on. The Boy Scouts have it right.

Bell was also the genius who noted that, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Your writer and host is a hopeless idealist who will long ponder the foibles of life though he needs to be ready to recognize that open door and slip through to the other side. The path is well trodden with the words of long gone poets and philosophers extolling us on to accept that change.
I get the message.

After all that, though, we must resist the selfish temptation of frivolous change and the prospects of an even more disposable society where at a whim or at the point of midlife crisis at the exclusion of all others we turn our world and others in it on their heads because we feel that we might have or will miss something. More often than not we find out that there’s more to life than transitory hedonistic ramblings that offer no future comfort and probably only ultimate regret.
Nothing wrong with being comfortable...

Thanks to a dear Friend from North Carolina I found out years ago that some country music can offer solace, refuge and even some good advice. That’s certainly the case with the triple sensation, The Osborn Sisters, now known as Shedaisy. In Another Door Opens they wax eloquent,

It takes time (here in this crazy life)
To find what I've been looking for
This dream of mine (burnin' inside)
Has seen its share of slammin' doors
I get closer everyday
With every single step I take

Oh one door closes another door opens
Love or money it all keeps going on
World keeps spinnin' and I'm beginnin' to find my
way (find my way)
Smart moves, mistakes, big breaks, heartaches
They've all made me who I am today
(I'll keep going on) One door closes another door opens

Just when I believed (I've really got it all)
I'm right where I wanna be
It's not as it seems (I tend to fall)
And when I get back on my feet
Before the tears dry on my face
I see I'm in a better place

I don’t know about you, but I’m already through the door and walking towards the light.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, July 19, 2008


On October 7, 2007 I posted a commentary on my Blog entitled Proud to be a Canadian??? in response to a piece of sophomoric rubbish generated for worldwide consumption on the Internet. It’s purpose was to denigrate Americans and up the flag for Canadians at whatever expense by citing ad nauseum a bunch of half truths, outright lies and absurdities about so called Canadian inventions, accomplishments, etc that included everything from the Zamboni to Smarties. The article was sent to me by a dear Canadian Friend who was as non-plussed as I. I had positive responses to my commentary until I received an anonymous reply on July 9, 2008 as follows. I took the liberty to correct the misspellings.

“Assuming your facts are accurate, it looks like there is not much for a patriotic Canadian like me to me proud about in terms of invention and their impact on society. However seeing as though the title of this article questions the legitimacy of Canadian pride, then there is much to be argued.

I’ll keep this plain and simple; the thing about being Canadian that makes me proud is being able to say that almost everywhere I go on this vast planet of ours, I am greeted with smiles and open arms. Since there is not many physical differences between Canadians and Americans, I am often mistaken for an American while in a foreign environment. If not for the Canadian flag that I bear proudly on my shirt or backpack, then I would most likely be seen as an enemy or a target to hate upon. Yes, Americans have much to be proud about as you guys were on the forefront of the industrial revolution, have maintained superpower status for quite sometime, and, of course, have the right to bear arms.

In the end, being able to proclaim that I am a Canadian on every corner of the Earth without being the subject of hate is more that enough for me to be proud about.”

It’s regrettable that the author of this piece chose to remain anonymous and apparently failed to read the context with which my post was written. I usually don’t respond but I happen to have many dear Canadian Friends and cherish those relationships and my close lifelong association with Canada. By the way, the tartan you see heading this piece is the proud Maple Leaf Tartan of Canada.

This back handed slap at America’s stand against world wide terrorism was equally offensive. In addition, for this so-called proud citizen of Canada to summarily concede (tongue in cheek or not) that there is nothing about Canada save to be able to be befriended by the Community of Man without being killed is the ultimate cop out. Canadians have distinguished themselves in many arenas and their accomplishments are legion. They have a right to stand proud!

Canadian Guy Cramer, President/CEO of HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp made a great point about inventions and the attribution conundrum in 2007 when he stated that, “With the Internet we find any Joe can write a story and their incorrect interpretation of history can make its way into the general population if the story is picked up by other sources and used as reference for further stories or articles. We also find prior to the internet, claims of historical significance of one nation could be unheard of in another country. Thus you will get two or more nations claiming to have done something first.”

The big lesson here is that when you see something that doesn’t seem to jive with reality or just deserves some additional scrutiny, don’t hesitate to go to or poke around and do some independent investigation on your own. The truth is generally just a click away.

Don’t let some false sense of pride diminish your ability to always seek out and embrace the truth.

It’s nice to know that in some circles that the United States is so highly regarded for their part in the Industrial Revolution which commenced in Great Britain in the 1700’s and spread to North America in the 19th century. It’s also gratifying to be a major superpower (?) and of course, embrace that old standby - the right to bear arms.

Think I’ll go and in a Kum Ba Yah spirit count my bullets.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I was born in 1943 and at about aged ten fell head over heels in love with an older woman, one Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko who was born in 1938. That five year difference was probably too vast a chasm to navigate and surely points to the maturity gap between ordinary male and female of the same age which is estimated to be from ten to twenty years or more and greatly in favor of the fairer sex. No doubt Natalia was proof that the male of the species remains an inferior life form. Natalia understood this when she stated, “The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he is a baby.” Must be like training a puppy…

Since I was ten and she was fifteen and our first real cogent relationship was the result of the viewing of a still highly replayed Miracle on 34th Street, I seemed to always be at least five years behind this blooming star. I finally did catch up to her by the time West Side Story was filmed and released in 1961. I was doomed from that point on.

As you have already guessed Natalia evolved into Natasha Gurdin and eventually morphed into Natalie Wood courtesy of director Irving Pichel via of producer Bill Goetz who announced to an eight year old Natasha while she was filming Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) that her name was being changed for “marquee value”. We understand that Natalie apparently never legally changed her name from Natasha for as an adult she would sign letters to Russian Family members and old Friends as Natasha.

Sidebar: In order to further engage this cathartic post I will have to admit that in the mid 1950’s I had a short though well documented fantasy affair with Annette Funicello (another older woman by seven months) who in 1955 started her Disney career and evolved as the most popular of the Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Show. To this day I remain forever indebted to Annette for her presence on this planet and the incredible work she has done to combat and find a cure for neurological disorders. God Bless you, Annette.

I never really strayed too far from Natalie though. Her incredible beauty seemed summed up in her haunting brown eyes, incredible laugh and that turned up perky smile that charmed generations of gawky adolescents like me. She acted with an unbridled passion and commitment to her characters that seemed to consume her to the point of exhaustion and breakdown.

In 1961 Splendor in the Grass was filmed and the public saw yet another mature look at Natalie, punctuating her critical success in Rebel Without a Cause. That was followed one year later by Love with the Proper Stranger, probably one of the finest films ever made. As Angie Rossini, a Macy's sales person, she finds herself pregnant and while trying to extricate herself from that predicament finds love. Her interaction with Steve McQueen remains a classic film relationship. Two years later came Inside Daisy Clover, and though the movie was panned Natalie was nominated for the Golden Globe for best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical.

The fact that while she was recognized many times for her exemplary body of work, Natalie never received an Academy Award despite three nominations. Orson Welles’ early observation that, “She is so good, its terrifying.” seems to be right on and sums up her persona and career. She never did anything half way. Much of the failure to recognize her incredible talent seems to have been the hypocrisy of a patronizing Hollywood hierarchy who envied her success and was eagerly awaiting this child star’s inevitable sink into oblivion.

Like many child actors Natalie had been victimized by her overbearing and self-serving Mother, Maria, who would stop at nothing to market her meal ticket. I remember one of Natalie’s quotes that seems to punctuate how her Mother victimized those around her. When asked what her Father died of? she replied: "My mother, I think."

Her Mother would stop at nothing to pursue Natalie’s career and in the process feed the phobias that would haunt Natalie for the rest of her life. During the filming of The Green Promise (1949), an eleven year old Natalie was called on to cross a footbridge over turbulent waters. As part of the plot the bridge had been rigged to collapse and Maria agreed that Natalie shouldn’t be told because, “It might frighten her.” Well, the bridge broke on cue and Natalie nearly drowned and suffered a disfiguring wrist injury and a deep lifelong fear of drowning that literally consumed her. The irony seemed that according to Natalie, “I've been terrified of the water, and yet it seems I'm forced to go into in on every movie that I make.”

Ironically, it was an accidental drowning in the dark, nighttime waters off the coast of Santa Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend 1981 that ended Natalie’s life at aged forty three - just when she seemed to be restarting and evolving her life and career. She was on her yacht Splendor appropriately named after the movie believed my many to be her greatest performance.

A piece of me died that day though we are left with her stunning legacy and body of work that will once again take us back to more simple times and remind us all what a great actress she really was.

We will always have to return to Splendor in the Grass in order to properly rekindle our relationship with this special Lady. William Wordsworth in 1807 provided the inspiration for the film with his romantic Ode, Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood that presages her ultimate passing and sums up our feelings for this special Lady.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, but rather find
Strength in what remains behind. best summed up Natalie’s life, “Reduced to its basics, Wood's life followed a familiar show-biz arc: Obscurity is swept aside by fame and fortune. That turns up the heat on personal demons. Then a hopeful new beginning is cut short by cruel fate. “

Maybe she really was Zenda’s Prisoner, after all…


Ned Buxton

Friday, July 4, 2008


As we contemplate July 4, 2008 and the 232nd anniversary of the United States of America's Declaration of Independence we realize even more the power of the written word. Companion documents to our own Declaration include the Declaration of Arbroath and the Iroquois Constitution which have literally inspired the birth of nations. Pair meaningful lyrics together with a good melody and you magnify the emotions that it evokes and its overall effect on society and, aye, the Community of Man.

Songs that come to mind without much pondering (and for different reasons) include The Star Spangled Banner, Amazing Grace, La Marseillaise, The Lord’s Prayer, Imagine, We Shall Overcome, Dixie, Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Eyes of Texas, Highland Cathedral (written by a couple of Germans), Ireland’s Call and the incredible The Minstrel Boy, among many others.

Music can be a great unifier and one song born innocently in the seventies could some day join the august company invoked above. Once in a great while someone approaches the alter and that’s what this piece is all about.

Scots and most Scottish-Americans are well familiar with Dougie MacLean the former teenage musical prodigy who played off and on with the august and seminal Scottish groups Silly Wizard and the Tannahill Weavers. Those folks were part of his adolescence and we correctly surmise they remain good Friends as he approaches his maturity. A multitalented and prolific composer, singer, songwriter and musician (guitar, fiddle, harp, banjo, mandolin, viola, bouzouki, bass, didgeridoo, keys, whistle, bodhran, harmonica and percussion, for now), Dougie went solo in 1981 and then formed his own independent record company, Dunkeld, in 1983 and hasn’t looked back. With his own record label, recording studio, publishing company and now Pub and Hotel, Dougie and wife Jennifer remain very busy.

We luckily can’t seem to get too far away from Dougie mostly because of his great body of work that beckons us to meet frequently on radio, TV, computer, CD, MP3s and in person. Dougie has been described as the mainstay of the modern Scottish Folk scene though his music is appreciated across all genres. It was an easy predict for me to embrace MacLean given my appreciation for the offerings of James Taylor.

Dougie MacLean’s music is emotional and he writes endearingly of his Perthshire home and native Scotland. He has written many songs that have received great play in the United States. In 1989 Dougie embarked on a tour of the United States in conjunction with Fiona Ritchie's National public radio (NPR) show, Thistle & Shamrock. If the members of the US Scottish Community didn’t know him before, they sure knew him now. The Thistle & Shamrock remains one of PBS’s most popular shows and Fiona one of the lynchpins of the US Scottish Community, music and otherwise.

Dougie has toured the United States since then to include stints with Grammy Award winning country singer Kathy Mattea who has blossomed further as a performer since this West Virginian “discovered” Scotland. MacLean has co-produced albums and written songs for Mattea while also playing guitar and singing harmony on Mattea’s 1993 Christmas album, Good News.

Most folks don’t know it but one of MacLean’s most recognizable works is The Gael which appeared on his 1990 album The Search, a collection of instrumental works originally commissioned for the opening of the Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition. Adaptations of this piece by composer Trevor Jones were used as the main theme for the 1992 Last of the Mohicans soundtrack and another in the Mohican Promontory piece which made a later notable resurgence as part of a Nike advertisement entitled Leave Nothing. The advertising world has been good to Dougie as we shall learn later. In 1993 MacLean received a gold record/disc in recognition of his achievement for the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. The recognition given MacLean is too numerous to note here and will ultimately be addressed by his biographers.

Dougie MacLean has become a Scottish icon and International star - the stuff that legends are made of. I have always been a fan and have been mostly content to listen to his CDs and especially to appreciate now how other artists interpret his music. That brings us to the core and purpose of this commentary.

In 1979 MacLean released Caledonia on an album of the same name. Though no one seems to know for sure when Dougie wrote the song (Wikipedia states, “somewhere between 1974 and 1977”), from what I have been able to piece together MacLean wrote the song in 1977 while in Brittany touring (busking) with two Irish lads. In today’s world it seems ludicrous that we don’t know for sure though I haven’t found any more specific references in any of my searches. Dougie, if you read this, thanks for letting us know when Caledonia was written.

It does seem fitting that he wrote the song off Scottish soil evoking emotions not unlike Scottish Soldier which was adapted from the pipe tune The Green Hills of Tyrol written during the Crimean War (1853-1856) by John MacLeod, a Pipe Major in the 93rd Highlanders who was yearning for the auld sod. The river runs deep as the emotions evoked here mainly by Scots away from home are similar to those put to paper by Dougie MacLean. One thing we do know is that Dougie MacLean’s personal testimony and lament at being away from home helped launch his solo career and created what seemingly has become, “the new voice of Scotland.”

Quite a few artists and groups to include Frankie Miller, Dolores Keane, Lisa Kelly of Celtic Woman, Derek “Fish” Dick, Celtic Thunder, Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Mary Black, The Stationary Willberries, Amy MacDonald, Paolo Nutini (terrible!) and Alex Beaton, among many others have attempted Caledonia with varying degrees of success. As a side note Paolo Nutini and Amy MacDonald, even though MacLean protégés, offered two of the worst versions I have heard. Nutini tries to emulate a stoned Dylan while MacDonald appears detached and/or should fire her sound mixer. The earthy and very Irish Keane is very good though her version drags badly at the end. Aoife’s version was a bit ethereal with her flutter vibrato though I liked Brendan Monaghan’s uilleann pipes.

Caledonia first went to number one on the Scottish Music Charts when it was sung by Scottish rocker/singer and MacLean Friend and Confidante Frankie Miller in 1992. Ironically, the great success of that recording of Caledonia is partly attributable to the impetus prompted by the airing of a Scottish TV commercial for Tennent's Lager, where Frankie Miller's rendition was first aired.

No one is surprised that Dougie’s original version is far superior to most all other singers. There are a couple, however, that have equaled and even surpassed the author.

The highly successful “Celtic Woman” show which aired on Public Television (PBS) in 2007 took America by storm. Sales of their Celtic Woman: A New Journey DVD and CD have been monstrous. Brother David gifted me with this album last Christmas and it remains a much appreciated and well used gift. No doubt that the Riverdance phenomenon and artists like Enya and Clannad and the resurgence of the world Celtic Community helped prop open the doors for this group and their success. The album opened at #4 on the Billboard’s Album Chart, selling 71,000 copies in its first week. The album later hit number one on the World Music Chart. Shouldn’t we take pleasure that Simon Cowell wasn’t involved with the formation of this group?

Performers in Celtic Woman include classically trained Dubliner Lisa Kelly who sings this most popular song on the album. stated, “There is just something about this song you just can’t put your finger on. It is filled with warmth, love and romance…” The bottom line is that Lisa nails the song and you have to give kudos to the arrangers who kept the sprit of the song intact tweaking it enough to keep it “fresh.” Her performance, though, is almost too perfect, too choreographed. If you haven’t noticed, she is also drop dead gorgeous. We also noted that she is very happily married and the Mother of three. Gees…

But just as we run Lisa up the proverbial flagpole I have to nominate another artist who performs the song even better. Not possible you say? It does seem improbable though one Alexander William MacLeod Beaton does just that. Yes, I’m talking about baritone Alex Beaton. This native Glaswegian who born to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, immigrated to the United States in 1965 after beginning his musical career as a member of the highly acclaimed The Cumberland Three, one of Britain's top folk groups in the early 1960s.

Alex served in the U.S. Army, entertaining troops in Germany. During the 1970s, he wrote and achieved success performing “American” country music like another good Friend and accomplished Scottish singer, Colin Grant-Adams. Though he would have been a great success in that genre we thank God that Alex has since focused on Scottish folk music. He has become a highly sought after entertainer at Scottish Highland Games and Celtic Festivals around the United States, Canada and the rest of the world. He has collaborated with such luminaries and good Friends as Margaret Gravitt and Alasdair Fraser.

Alex has worked hard for four decades and in that interim has created his own label, Glenfinnan Music, nineteen very successful albums and a triple feature DVD, Alex Beaton's Scotland: A Musical Travelogue of Scotland.

Wherever Alex performs, he brings another huge element into play. He personally engages his audiences with a great sense of humor, a rich baritone voice, impeccable timing and right-on interpretations of both contemporary and traditional Scottish songs that seem to carry from his soul. And that leads us to Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia.

During a performance, Alex may share some fascinating bit of Scottish history to bring the music to life. Alex did just that when he was kind enough to play Caledonia for me at the most recent Glasgow, KY Highland Games explaining to a large and appreciative group that “Caledonia” (Wooded Land) was the Latin name given by the Romans in the first century to that northern part of Great Britain that was later applied to that area we now know as Scotland further comments about Caledonia and their capital Dunkeld, “As its name implies, Dunkeld was a ‘capital’ of the Caledonii, a Pictish-Celtic people. Kenneth MacAlpin made Dunkeld one of two capitals, along with
Scone, when he united the Picts and Scots in 844 CE.” Aye, that’s the area where Dougie MacLean was born and raised.

Alex sings the song deliberately though with great passion and bravado. His baritone voice seems perfectly suited for this song. His timing and delivery combines the best of Dougie MacLean and Lisa Kelly and brings the song home. Caledonia is on Alex’s 1995 album,
The Water is Wide.

One of the wonderful aspects of Caledonia is audience participation. Wherever the song is sung, audiences from Scotland and Ireland, to California, Texas, New York, Canada and the rest of the world sing along. They know the words to what has fast become the unofficial national anthem of Scotland. In short, this song has inspired a nation! In a recent conversation the multi-talented musician, singer, music historian and Director of Music at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Flora MacDonald Gammon, explained that, "Caledonia has literally synthesized the feelings of a nation."

Believe it or not, Scotland has no national anthem and those that outrageously offered God Save the Queen are now disgraced and out of power. Flower of Scotland and Scotland the Brave remain the two most popular choices. Caledonia doesn’t seem to be in the mix though the folks at Holyrood need to properly poll their Scottish constituents. I might add here that, not surprisingly, Dougie MacLean is a very active dues paying member of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and strong adherent of Scottish independence. With his gift of song he continues to inspire a nation and the Scottish Diaspora.

Thanks to all the entertainers who perform Caledonia and appreciate its significance to native Scots and those of Scottish origins. As one Scot has stated, “This is powerful, emotional stuff. It’s enough to make any Scot, ex-pats in particular, weep into their beer.” I can testify that this Scottish-American cried in his Syrah.

In 1703 Andrew Fletcher, Scottish writer, politician and patriot who opposed the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England demonstrated his consummate understanding of the power of music by commenting, “…if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws.”

Thanks, Aye, especially to Dougie, Lisa and Alex.

Ned Buxton