the Blue Room reflects the work of Carlo Spinazzola
-by John Gillis
I can still remember where I was when I heard the sad news of the death of Cape Breton artist and musician Carlo Spinazzola.
It was 2003 and I was in Sydney for a concert seeing my friend Jimmy Rankin open for John Prine and his band at Centre 200.
I was in great spirits, looking forward to the concert, knowing it was going to be a great show and knowing Jimmy would be thrilled to be on tour with one of his musical heroes.
Then I heard the news about Carlo’s untimely passing, and it was a grim reminder of the fact that with life’s great highs come great lows.
I had come to admire Carlo’s music through seeing and hearing him perform on several occasions at Mabou’s Red Shoe Pub and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to jam with him on harmonica on a couple of occasions. Carlo had tremendous musical talents, but at that time I, like many, was unaware that he was also a poet and visual artist.
Spinazzola’s artistic work is the subject of a new book from Cape Breton University Press called the Blue Room.
The book came together from the efforts of Carlo’s brother Angelo, friends, family and peers and Cape Breton University Press.
In the preface to the book, Carlo’s brother Angelo writes:
“Carlo was the type of person who would give away all he had, asking nothing in return – that was just who he was. Now, his giving is coming around again. In this book, Carlo’s works have been made available by the very people who accepted his offerings all those years ago and who continue to hold them close, protecting his expressions and keeping them sacred. This book was an unfulfilled dream of my brother’s. Now – ten years after his departure – it has come to fruition. As a result of this journey, I see my brother in a different light and understand him in a much deeper way. For this I am grateful. Thank you Carlo for all you have touched – it has turned to gold.”
Otis Tomas was a friend of Carlo’s.
“To get a sense of the significance of Carlo’s work, it is important to see it in the context of the full breadth of the artistic undertakings he applied himself to. To see him as just a poet, or a musician, or a painter is to miss the spirit that ran through all his work. He was all of these things at once – rather than undertaking a rigorous study of any one discipline, his artistic output flowed naturally, taking any number of forms, but always expressing the same spirit,” writes Tomas.
Carlo’s blues came as both a blessing and a curse says Tomas.
“In the end, Carlo succumbed to his demons. In 2003 the blues carried him away at the age of thirty-three. Whether his inner torments instigated his creativity or were the necessary payment exacted for his gifts is a moot point. Today we are tempted to treat the blues as a medical condition, to be medicated away. Indeed, perhaps something could have intervened between Carlo and his demons. But perhaps, too, we would have lost that source or inevitable compensation for his creative genius. Whatever we may think of that, we wish the price was not so high. But Carlo and his blues lived together, and together they created for us a powerful legacy or words, music, art and memory,” Tomas writes.
“Carlo Spinazzola was an integral part of the Cape Breton art scene during his lifetime. As a songwriter and musician, he wrote, toured and recorded across the Island, province and throughout Canada. He opened for Colin James and the Little Big Band, Lawrence Gowan, Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts, Martin Sexton, The Barra MacNeils and J.P. Cormier, among others,” CBU publisher Mike Hunter writes.
Carlo also recorded three solo albums (Walk, Spinazzola, Release), was nominated for two East Coast Music Awards (Most Promising Artist and Roots Traditional Solo Recording of the year) and co-wrote All I Know with his friend and collaborator Gordie Sampson, which can be found on Sampson’s Sunburn album. Carlo also taught for a period of time in Margaree and later (at the time of his untimely death) in the Dene Tha Community School on the Chetah reserve in remote Northern Alberta.
Gathered from notebooks written throughout Spinazzola’s lifetime, the book is a complex portrait of a young artist of our generation.
the Blue Room will be launched this month through a number of events. Carlo’s brother Angelo, a popular local musician and entrepreneur, and friends are planning a musical launch and community event during the Celtic Colours International Festival. This launch and ceilidh – Tales from the Blue Room – will take place on Friday, October 18th, at 3:00 p.m. at the Gaelic Singers Hall, 43594 Cabot Trail, Breton Cove. The event is being sponsored by the Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival.
On Monday evening, October 21st, Carlo and friends will inhabit one of Carlo’s favourite venues, the Carleton Music Bar and Grill, 1685 Argyle St., in Halifax.
In Sydney, the Cape Breton Fudge Company will host an event on Thursday, October 24th, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
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