Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fighting Crime: Me and Douglas And Loreena McKennitt

I’ll never forget the day a single piece of music literally and without doubt turned what could have been an ugly and painful (for me) conflict into a happy and memorable afternoon.
At one point on that unforgettable day, I was certain a big guy was going to break my nose. Seconds later, he and I were laughing. And it was all because of music.
I’ll give you more details in a minute but here's something much more important.
Today, March 22, 2016 A.D.,  I came to understand that the incident has significance ranging far beyond my schnozz and downtown Toronto. It was in fact historic.   
But before I explain that, you have to know what happened.
The “near hit”  was in 1994 or ‘95, in the heart of Parkdale, an inner-city neighbourhood near our Toronto home.  I had just dropped my children Ewa, Ria and Michel off at a community centre. It was a Saturday.
After leaving the kids, I nipped back to our house for some reason. And yes, I was driving a minivan.
Returning to the gym, I had Loreena McKennitt on CBC.  I think she was singing  Lady of Shalott. But I wasn’t merely “listening”.
I was enraptured, and I didn’t know enrapture was a word until I just Googled it. 
McKennitt’s angelic voice was taking me by the ears, far, far away from Planet Dad and Parkdale. I also think I was falling in love. 
Still, I managed to navigate back to the community centre. I parked but stayed in the van a few extra moments to savour the rest of the song.
Except. Somebody rapped on my window. A dark-haired big guy with a moustache peered down at me. I switched off Loreena and rolled down the window.  
“Whattaya think you’re doin?” he said. “Ya can’t park here!”
Then I noticed.  My van was exactly at the end of his driveway, completely blocking him in. I hadn’t even looked.
“Geez,” I said. “I’m sorry. I was lost in the music. It’s Loreena McKennitt.”
Mr. Moustache: “Really?” Then--I’ll never forget what he said next:“She does it to me too.”
It actually happened that way.
We laughed, I apologized and drove to a suitable spot.
And here’s why you have to know that.
This very afternoon I was  with my friend the musician Douglas Perry, who not only knows more about music than any man I’ve  met, the lucky dog actually played as a session man on one of McKennitt’s records. 
But we weren’t talking about her.    
I was explaining to Douglas how--in my completely unscientific opinion--music has played a very significant and probably measurable role in decreasing crime across North America.      
True fact: Since the mid-'90s, the U.S. and Canada have enjoyed terrific drops in violent crime. It’s way more peaceful out there than it used to be.
You wouldn’t know it by looking. Exciting stuff still gets reported. But now, newspapers have to go further afield to find the drama, and everyday stuff we used to write off as non-news—puppies being rescued by the SPCA-- are reported as important events.
But U.S. gun crime peaked in 1993 and has been plummeting since. The western world is safer. Period.
Theories for why are many and varied and range from increased literacy to more access to birth control and the absence of leaded gas in cars. (True! Look it up!)
My theory? Music. Plain and simple.  
Douglas likes this, too.
We live in a far more musical world.
Music soothes the savage breast, right? (Douglas told me about research that shows that goats and cows milk more happily when the right music is played in the barn.)
And over the same period of time since the McKennitt incident, the entire North American population has immersed itself in music, everywhere, all the time, to an unprecedented degree. In the car, through headphones in school; in offices.  En route to everywhere.
When my dad was my age, he didn’t work with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. Music was played on special occasions; and often badly and through horrible sound systems.
Even car rides were unmusical.
When I was a kid our family made a lot of  trips between Sudbury and Toronto. A few miles south of Sudbury, the sole AM signals would fade and we’d be lucky to hear anything until we neared Toronto. 
Mostly? There was no music.
But now?
Everywhere. What’s more, piped-in music is far superior to the old brand. I recently chose to eat at a particular coffee shop in the Winnipeg Airport because John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers' Room to Move was coming from its in-store sound system.
This morning, I was driving in Toronto rushhour in the rain. We're talking some of North America’s most vicious traffic. 
On the radio was the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing a delightful piece of very happy music that I couldn’t identify.
 It occurred to me that if I had a close encounter with any other driver while I was engaged in this smiley music, ain’t no way could I so much as frown at him, much less get angry.
(Turned out it was the theme from the video game Tetris.)
Music makes us happier; it relieves stress and helps us think more clearly.  It calms us down. And it’s everywhere.
Now you know why there’s less crime.  You’re welcome.
But you know what my favourite part of this is?
When I shared my theory with Douglas, he sat back and reflected quietly for an uncharacteristic length of time before responding. Very unDouglas-ish, I thought. Then he calmly said, “Peter I think you’re on to something.”
Douglas is one of the smartest people I know. Not only that, he’s been in the same room as Loreena McKennitt. That's good enough for me.


  1. I suggest that music and Dairy Queen have a lot in common
    A person singing is obviously not hiding or creeping around your house at night and anyone eating Dairy Queen? No couldn't hurt a fly

  2. Be careful I read the papers and a lot of singers have died

  3. I'm going to think that most people now will arm themselves with The mummers Dance on insta play when they head into dark alleys!

    1. The Log Drivers Waltz is my favourite, when I Feel tough

  4. so touching and funny! wonderful writing Peter

    1. Merci Marie. Means a lot to get your feedback. As you might know, I've been divorced from the trucking magazine and I'm going out on my own. I'll be busking out here on the street where there's no safety net. Thoughtful comments go a long way.