Brian Kotler admits his kid sister Donna at first really wasn’t into Pink Floyd the way he was as a teen, but as the big brother who kept a lock on the stereo cabinet she had to follow along.
Donna, three-and-a-half years younger, preferred younger synth-pop groups like Depeche Mode and Duran Duran.
But he endlessly played the 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon until he and Donna bonded over its moody metaphor-filled lyrics that delved into such heavy territory as materialism, mental health, the passage of time, and mortality.
And together, brother and sister ultimately attended Pink Floyd’s last-ever Montreal concert, at the Olympic Stadium in 1994.
The siblings, the only children in a Côte St. Luc family, became exceptionally close, and so Donna’s untimely death last year from ovarian cancer at the age of 52 left Brian devastated by both her loss and the suffering she went through.
An independent music producer, Kotler turned to what he knows to ease his grief and memorialize his sister, while doing something to combat “the silent killer” that claims the lives of about 2,000 women in Canada each year.
Kotler, co-founder and executive producer of Montreal-based Indie Rootz Records, has put togetherthe album The Dark Side of Venus, which has an all-female vocal lineup performing an updated take on the Pink Floyd original.
The album will be launched at a concert May 11 at La Sala Rossa with all proceeds going to Ovarian Cancer Canada. May 8 is World Ovarian Cancer Day.
“This project represents many things to me,” said Kotler, “most importantly, closure for the passing of my little sister Donna. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was something that I leaned on all during my teenage years. Doing a cover of it has been on my bucket list from ever since I got into music. As the old man at the end of the original album said ‘There is no dark side of the moon; as a matter of fact, it’s all dark’.”
Donna Kotler died on Aug. 18 just shy of her 53rd birthday in Ottawa where she had been living, leaving her sons Ocean and Phoenix and parents Alice and Michael Kotler, as well as Brian.
“My parents were planning to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Aug. 14; instead they buried my sister,” said Kotler. “Like many Jewish parents, they were professional worriers, especially our mother. I remember when I got a motorcycle as a teenager, she would say she was getting ready to sit shiva for me.”
Donna’s ovarian cancer diagnosis in early 2022 came as shock. She was very health conscious: ate well and kept fit, loved the outdoors, didn’t smoke and drank no more than the occasional glass of wine, he said.
Although Ashkenazi women run a higher risk of contracting ovarian cancer due to a BRCA gene mutation, Kotler said no other relatives had the disease that he is aware of.
Getting a diagnosis was complicated by the pandemic. When she began feeling unwell the year before, Donna could initially only get a telemedicine appointment.
After her symptoms became worse, she finally was seen in person. Two large tumours were found, and she underwent surgery in late 2021. The following January she received the grim prognosis that it was cancer and she had two to three years to live at most, Kotler said.
Sadly, that proved to be overly optimistic. Still, when Donna entered hospital last July, no one – but she – thought the end was so near. Her screams of agony still haunt Brian. “It was such a terrible way to go.”
She would have opted for medical aid in dying, but was at that point too medicated to give consent, he said.
At 19, Donna left Montreal to attend acting school in Vancouver, and had some walk-on movie parts in that city before choosing another path as a yoga teacher, a career she pursued until her health would not allow it. She loved to travel, cook and garden.
The Dark Side of Venus features four vocalists who perform in diverse genres: Bella Forté (rhythm and blues), NeeNee Knightly (opera) and SLM (hip-hop), and, from Woodstock, Ont., Prestige (reggae).
At the launch there will be a live band and DJ Lady Savage keeping things lively, with musicologist Duke Eatmon of CBC hosting.
The lyrics on the new album have not been changed, but as Pink Floyd did on The Dark Side of the Moon, the 10 songs are laced with political and philosophical sound bites. The commentary is relevant to the cause, like the right to die or, conversely, the right to live with appropriate care at life’s end.
Tickets are $21 in advance, or $25 at the door. Following the launch, The Dark Side of Venus will be available on all digital platforms through distributor Distrokid.