Changing tunes and Missing lyrics

Adrian Chamberlain
Times Colonist

Saturday, January 4, 2004

Poet Susan Musgrave jokes that she doesn't intend to become a North Saanich version of Elton John.

She's referring to the fact that Sir Elton -- in the most notorious master-stroke of opportunism in pop music history -- transformed his 1973 Marilyn Monroe ballad, Candle in the Wind, into a Princess Di ditty as occasion demanded.

Let's back up a little. Musgrave was miffed over a recent e-mail distributed by a Victoria organization for sex trade workers. The Jan. 14 missive from Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society (PEERS) -- sent to me and others -- stated that a composer was required to compose the "musical score" for lyrics Musgrave wrote commemorating missing women in Vancouver, Victoria and across the country.

The curious thing is Galiano Island composer Brad Prevedoros has already written music for Musgrave's lyrics, and recorded the folk song, titled Missing. It was even played on CBC radio last summer. Missing is a poignant piece, with Musgrave's melancholic lyrics (You left to chase the wind on high/and the rain rained down to stay) set to acoustic guitar strumming, drums and keyboards.

So what gives? The Victoria man who hatched the idea of a song commemorating the missing women is Jack Cummer. He is the grandfather of Andrea Joesbury, who went missing in June of 2000, and whose remains were found on the Pickton pig farm in February 2001. It was Cummer who first approached Musgrave and got the ball rolling.

Cummer, whose name is listed as a contact on the PEERS e-mail, says he likes Prevedoros's song fine. However, he became concerned when Prevedoros put Missing on a CD containing the musician's other compositions. Cummer was not consulted.

"This isn't what I wanted," he said, declining to discuss the matter further.

Nonetheless, Cummer and PEERS have now decided to abandon plans to enlist another composer to craft a new song using Musgrave's lyrics. In fact, he changed his tune after Musgrave had a firm chat with him. The poet said she wasn't interested in having her lyrics used by another composer. As well, while she knows PEERS is a perfectly good cause in its own right, her original intent was to have any proceeds raised via her lyrics to go to Legacy House, a rehab centre for prostitutes in Maple Ridge. This was the original agreement.

Musgrave says Cummer was interested in using her lyrics for a new song aimed at missing women in general. Again, she had reservations, seeing that her words specifically name women missing from Vancouver's downtown East Side.

"(My lyrics are) not recyclable the way Elton John recycles songs when somebody dies. It's written for these women," she said.

Musgrave figures Cummer's bid to find a new composer was linked to his annoyance over Prevedoros's move to include Missing on a full CD of his own compositions. Prevedoros says he made the suggestion to Val Hughes, the founder of Legacy House. The musician says he didn't push the idea, but merely believed a full-length disc would sell better than a single. He will receive no money from CD sales.

It's all a bit of a tempest in a teapot, of course, although it's interesting to see how even the best-intentioned of projects can be subject to behind-the-scenes spats. There are no bad guys (or gals) here. At issue, perhaps, is the fact artistic endeavours -- songs, lyrics, paintings, plays -- are not commodities as easily transferable as cash donations or tins of baked beans.

There is a happy ending here. The full-length Missing CD with Musgrave's lyrics and Prevedoros's tunes will be released April 7 at the Clark Theatre in Mission. The event corresponds with the premiere of a new play about the women, also called Missing. Hughes says those interested in receiving a copy of the CD can send a $20 donation (suggested) to Missing Women's Legacy, 22617 Hinch Cres., Maple Ridge, B.C. V2X 7H5.

Missing marks Musgrave's first official foray into lyric writing. She's penned others over the years, but never collaborated with a composer before. Far from being deterred by the behind-the-scenes squabble surrounding her debut, Musgrave is keen to set more of her words to music.

She notes: "Now that I see how much music can add to it, I think I should do something with my other lyrics.... It doesn't have to end up as a brawl."

 Copyright  2004 Times Colonist (Victoria)

Jack: No grudges whatsoever. Let's all just "let it go" and celebrate what we have

I hope you will be coming to the event in Mission on April 7th. MISSING will be played at the end, with one white candle burning on stage.

I've said this before: you have done a wonderful thing by initiating this project. You have left a legacy for your granddaughter, and 61 other women. What more could anyone do?

Kind regards, Susan




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016