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Glen Burg: Bio

The Really Early Years - or, "Life Before Junior High"

In an attempt to get as much of me as possible onto this website, I thought it would be a good idea to share my personal musical history which brought me to this path today. And I figured I'd begin the story with how I got to be so wrapped up and passionate about music.

It all begins before I can even remember, actually. From what I understand, I was six months of age when my mother discovered a baby's gift for mimicry. While changing my diaper one day, she repeatedly kept singing a specific musical pattern, with the only syllable used being "la". Upon the ending of said musical phrase, I would invariably coo and giggle... until I caught on. Mother started the musical phrase with seven staccato eighth-notes, with an eighth-note rest to complete the beat.

And I joined her, pitch-perfect and on time, for the last three staccato quarter notes.

Mother, not entirely sure what had just transpired, chose to scream, alerting my godmother and cousin in the next room.

I, too, followed suit.

The next episode would not be quite as traumatic. Again, my mother told me about this, although today she says she cannot remember. Once my godparents and cousin moved into their own home (as they'd been staying with us until it was ready), my mother had enlisted the services of a family friend in her late teens to take care of me while my parents were both at work. The babysitter being your typical, social, '70s late teen, she would watch TV, listen to the radio, and bring records over to play on my parents' stereo.

One fateful day, at the age of eleven months, it would seem I toddled over to my mother, after the babysitter was gone for the day, with what would become a prized possession, time and time again: an LP copy of Boston's debut album.

Those old, porcelain-doll ads from the '80s spoke of a long-held Chinese tradition in which they would lay three toys in front of a child on his first birthday, and the one which the child would pick would become his trade. It would seem I picked mine a month early.

And so instruments started coming into the household as toys. Mind you, both my parents had been performing musicians while in their early adulthood: my mother, a piano accompanist for Scotch fiddlers in the area, and my father a country-singing guitar player (who, I have to correct a once-spoken mistruth: he guested with short-lived local quintet the Silver Five, and not the famous Dave Clark Five). Of course, I seemed to have little grasp on how to really manoeuvre these instruments: I spent the best years of my first guitar walking sideways, up and down its neck (I don't think even Jimi Hendrix did that). A toy drum with actual paper head (with a drumming elephant painted upon it, if I recall correctly) was unceremonious broken in with my tushie, beneath the kitchen sink. (I plead I was following the example of Keith Moon, of whom I'd seen a brief news report late one evening on the news, with the annihilation of his drum kit, I presume accompanying word of his death.)

The piano would prove a much more enduring instrument, remarkably resilient to my whims (moreso than the family record player which bore many a toothmark from my attempts to reach over the side and watch the record spin as it played... and to eventually manipulate the tonearm, the outboard 8-track player, the radio, the tuner's levers which functioned as buttons). In fact, my trusty Bontempi keyboard made it all the way to my senior high school years, and was my first experience in complex chords (as many a major 7th, 9th and 11th chord could be accomplished by pressing several of the Bontempi's "auto chord" buttons at once).

It would take until the summer following kindergarten for me to discover another joy in music: composing. A cousin was now babysitting my younger sister and I, and although she was not the first babysitter to possess musical knowledge, she was the first to show me piano chords. And so, at the age of 6, I wrote my first song, "Children Scared of the Darkness" (I kid you not), basically a one-verse song with denouement, a bouncy, 4/4 D-minor vamp with a bass hand which moved between root, fifth, root and fifth again before landing on C to be joined by the right hand. Perhaps a week later, it grew another chord: a paused B flat major (who knows how I could play that one). The handwritten lyric sheet (yes, I could write a that time, as can many a child when given the chance) has since disappeared. Few people have heard the song to this day; I prefer it stay that way.

But I was bitten by the bug, and I was soon keeping notepads full of song lyrics, some as short as four lines of text. The Bontempi was proving to be a remarkable chalkboard on which I could scribble my ideas. And with a small tape recorder I'd inherited from my cousin (the aforementioned godparents' daughter), I began recording some with a "shoebox-styled" portable cassette deck (the old ones which ran on C or D batteries, and had one speaker directly above the tape holder) onto normal-bias, Sony cassettes (back in the day where the label on the tape was reflective and green in color). One I wish I had kept: my mother had been vaccuuming around me while I dabbled, and got the couch's throw blanket caught in its bristles. Her cussing rhythmically punctuated my annoyed ostinato as I waited for her to move on, then gave up and stopped the tape. The final 15 seconds of that recording became my newfound favorite. I eventually played it so much that my mother confiscated it, returning it only once I promised I would record over it. (Why did I? Did I? Do I still have any of those Sony UX-or-whatever cassettes at home?)

Soon accompanying my joy of writing songs would be my joy of assembling and designing "albums": first index cards folded into two to form a makeshift "mini-album", then folding 5-by-8 sheets stapled together into something that prophetically was the size of a digipak CD. Suddenly, albums were being created by the proverbial truckload. It somehow made no sense for all of these albums to carry my name... and so, taking my cue from all the stuffed animals combined between my room and my sister's, bands were born. I believe the first was Aqua, which consisted of three stuffed dogs (two nearly identical) and an oversized rabbit, all won through summer bazaar games. The sound (as heard only in my head) was close to Pink Floyd, but would ressemble more a band whose music I would only discover much later in life: Tangerine Dream. The rabbit in the band (who, being the biggest stuffed toy of the group, was naturally the drummer) also served as bandmember and album cover icon for Bunnybear (for whom I only remember creating one album, with an oddly kid-Storm Thorgeson-in-monochrome-red-marker-outline motif in which said rabbit was awoken, then annoyed, then traumatised and finally overpowered by a symbol beside its ear which seemed to radiate some sort of raw energy). The dogs also became Three Dogs, then Four Dogs, then Five Dogs as our stuffed toy arsenal expanded throughout the years. My sister's toy ponies became Neigh (with a taste for Prince-styled funk), and the rather unlikely duo Oink Bot was formed between a piggy bank and an actual robot bird whose once-trademarked name I'll avoid listing here. Of all the groups, only one was made of completely fictitious models: Doremi Lasido was modelled on Quebec singer Raoûl Duguay.

This practice of creating albums out of thin air continued on throughout my elementary school years, with new stuffed toy additions bringing new bands, such as Snuggly (two radically different teddy bears, one of which we'd always considered to be a dog... Well, he looks like a dog) and Da Gang (the aforementioned bear-dog and all his brethren).

From the cassette player side came other musical prospects: from time to time, I would create bands with myself as one of the main musicians. One such group was Still Available, coined from a squarish banner-box I'd seen on the back of a book flyer we'd get from school every month, filled with selections aimed at a young reader market. Another one was Eyelashes, and revolved around myself and either of two classmates and friends, who seemingly wanted nothing to do with each other at all. And so some of the "albums" were recorded between myself and classmate #1, others with myself and classmate #2. Then, one fateful day in fourth grade, I intentionally invited them both over to go tobogganing. I was happy to see they eventually warmed up to each other and got along. (I did not foresee that, the next day at school, they would announce that neither wished to be my friend anymore. And thus began dramas between three, and soon four, classmates/'friends' which lasted until our high school graduation year.)

One joy that happened accidentally involved the remote on/off switch of an aunt's long-discarded portable tape deck (also a "shoebox" model, a term I thought I'd just coined minutes ago until a web search clearly showed not only was this the correct slang for such a tape deck, but was also in clear prominence online). A cousin with whom I normally clashed found it in our common grandparents' house, and we began recording any rude word or bodily noise we could think up. One particularly infectious little ditty which kept reappearing in revised form was named after a certain type of snack cake and was quite scatological in nature. But the pièce de résistance came upon the discovery that switching the mic on and off while the cassette was engaged in recording would cause rather dramatically alluring pitch shifts as the tape transitioned between fully stopped and full speed. My sister being a late arrival to the party, I asked her to laugh overbearingly into the microphone as I switched it off and on. Then came the playback. A comical hit was born. I wish I'd kept a proper copy of the recording, but to my knowledge only currently exists as a "cut-up" version through a subsequent recording love: pressing and releasing the pause button as quickly as possible while recording. This in turn would lead to the unknowing continuation of the '60s and '70s legacy known as the "party record", when snippets of commercial recordings would be interspersed and compiled into spoken-word collages with our voices mixed in. (These would culminate into a series of comical cassette interludes in my high school years with aforementioned classmate #4, and a few other unintentional cohorts, repeatedly sampling from Madonna, Samantha Fox, the Singing Nun's "Dominique", community television and other TV sources (including recurring use of '80s sitcom The Golden Girls), various read-along cassettes and "borrowed" school instructional recordings (I refuse to point fingers), all culminating in a climactic and uproariously hilarious send-up of Quebec legend La Bolduc's perennial song of naughty intent, 'La Pitoune'... the results of which even drove my usually disapproving mother laughing to tears.

While all this tape insanity would eventually be left aside sometime after the first summer home from university, I would be humbled to find out that our antics would later be championed by people we'd never known and who most likely never knew us, an audio form which would eventually be called Plunderphonics. And who knew that musical legends such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney had explored very similar audio pursuits back in the '70s? We surely didn't.

Returning to our discussion of more traditional musical instruments, my fascination of the piano was enough to encourage my mother to enroll me in piano lessons, which I somewhat lazily pursued until my freshman or intermediate year in high school. Although I loved music with a passion, I just could not build up and maintain dedication to perfecting my craft. Mozart I was not. Mind you, when I tried playing a piece at what I perceived to be the appropriate tempo, my excellent and lovable piano teacher always chastised me into playing it at a slower tempo, even during "last check" (the third and final time we would go through a musical piece, usually six months to a year after first being introduced).

The next instrument that would see proper use in my hands was the acoustic guitar. The first time I actually brought notes out of it was when I decided one summer to play the root notes along with the Moody Blues' "The Best Way to Travel". (This foreshadowed my discovery, less than two years later, that I was a seeming natural on the bass guitar.) This may have been the summer before entering junior high, as I soon was enrolled in music classes, which I'd just learnt had been made available to us with the arrival of a new teacher who was well versed in classical guitar. He was a bit more demanding than my piano teacher (with whom I was still practicing piano at the time), although still quite far from university standards. It comes as little surprise now that I scored the highest average in both years we were given the opportunity to take music classes: although classmates #2, 3 and 4 were all in the class, I was clearly the most musically obsessed (read: desperate) and had formal piano training to boot, which gave me an edge on sight reading. Oh, yes, and I was also the one with the least of a social life.

Then came the bands. I would like to say many, but musicians in high school were few and far between, yet we all knew who each other was. Given the fact I've been typing for about 90 minutes straight here, maybe I should leave that for another chapter: bands in which I actually played. Off the top of my head, I can list thirteen, ranging from high-school and pastime to touring and recording groups. Those should be more than enough for my next chapter, presumably next month (Hey, these things are _long_...).