Thursday, May 26, 2016

Anger Dream: "How stupid are you?"

In the dream, I have a friend over to my house. As often happens in my dreams, the location is my parents' old condo at 21555 Dewdney in Maple Ridge. As they often did when friends stayed there, my parents' main concern was serving food to the guests. They carried it farther than any other parents: in fact, I recall having a female friend stay over - platonically - and she reported waking from dreams in which my father had her tied up and was bringing her food, making her eat it. There was none of that in my dream, but my Mom was making a giant wokful of fried rice (a wok just recently thrown away by me, here in real life, as it had gone to rust underneath the sink).

But there was a catch: some of the food had been bought - I cannot say why, but it was so - at an adult novelty shop. Not a sex toy store, mind you: there used to be a real "joke shop" Dad would take me to, when I was a kid, that sold things like whoopie cushions and soap that turned black and such. I forget the name of it - something like Krazy Korner? Anyhow, it was that sort of shop, not a sex toy shop or anything, but some of the novelties they sold were themed around sex or drugs or such; it might have been actually a restricted shop, the sort I needed my Dad with me to be able to enter. Because of this, my parents were worried that my guest (who I think was female, in the dream, though I'm not entirely sure) would get in trouble with her parents - or get US in trouble with them - if she ate food from an adult novelty shop without them having been consulted. There was nothing "adult" about the rice, but... my parents wanted her to go home and bring a note from her parents saying it was okay for them to feed her.

I confronted them both in the kitchen, full of rage: "How stupid are you? No, seriously, HOW STUPID ARE YOU, I'm not joking. You need her to get a NOTE?" I could be furiously indignant and unkind with my parents. One of my father's comments that haunts me from the last month of his life was observing after I snapped at him that I was often "harsh" with him. It's true: I could be a real asshole. I used to have a sort of disturbing fascination for Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge," because I could find my own relationship with my parents inscribed in the relationship between the mother and son therein.

Anyhow, it was an uncomfortable dream and brings back memories of an uncomfortable time for me, times I was an asshole to my parents. There were plenty of them. But I remembered it when I woke up - as I was standing in the kitchen, chiding them for stupidity - so I wanted to write it down.

Interestingly, for once, my dream memory has a better memory than I do; it usually fudges details, but I hadn't thought of the layout of my parents' old kitchen in years, and yet it put the stove in exactly the right place. If you'd asked me yesterday where the stove was, before I had the dream, I'm not sure I would have remembered.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Times I saw the Rebel Spell

Posting this a day late for Todd Serious' birthday, but what the heck, I feel like thinking back.

The first time I saw the Rebel Spell was in 2007, when they opened for the Furies and DOA at Richards on Richards, on February 10th of that year. I was blown away, hadn't heard about them before that. I fell in love, might have bought their CDs then and there; back then, they had only released Expression in Layman's Terms and Days of Rage, and they sold them for $5 each. I was impressed that they sold them so cheaply.

I saw them at the Cobalt, under wendythirteen, at least two or three times after that. I think for sure I caught them on August 11th, 2007, because the Vicious Cycles were on the bill, and I remember that gig. Sometime in there, I did my first interview with them at a house they were, I assume, sharing in East Van. I vaguely remember walking there that evening. Todd, Erin, and Chris Rebel were all present, Stepha wasn't; my recorder was behaving weirdly, so we taped it on a machine that Todd provided, all of us sitting around the living room. Some of Todd's quotes got mutated into a later piece I did to promote their Dutch tour, since they were still relevant, but the full magazine piece is not online in any way, as far as I know. Chris Walter, who might have been selling books at a table the first time I saw them at the Cobalt, and whom I was just getting to know - I had only read East Van at that point, and remember him selling me Welfare Wednesday - hooked me up with photos of the band, courtesy of his partner Jennifer Dodds. I was probably working with Femke van Delft around that time, too, and some of her pics probably made it into Razorcake, as well. I can't really remember (magazines I've been in are boxed up in storage somewhere, so I can't easily check).

Todd Serious by Jennifer Dodds, not to be reused without permission

But people who don't have Razorcake should note, that the original interview - which ran in 2008, a few months after I talked to the band - was really funny and fun to do, and there's a lot that hasn't appeared anywhere else in print, with Todd and Chris teasing Erin about growing up with Angus and Slash as early guitar heroes and Chris and Todd nearly getting into a fight about some conspiracy theory (I think) that Todd wouldn't even let Chris mention, totally shutting him down when he tried to bring it up (I assumed at the time that it had to do with 9/11 but I don't really know). In any event, they were quarrelsome, poking fun at each other, and a bit at me; but they were all obviously also tight with each other. You can still buy back issues (#42) of that magazine from the Razorcake website, it looks like, for a mere $3 plus shipping. There are a few irritating typos (not my fault - there's an editorial comment I made about Gerry Hannah, addressing some other mistake, that ends up IN THE ARTICLE, because the editors there just aren't that attentive, or have other things on their mind; it was kinda part and parcel of dealing with them, which is part of why I no longer do). Still, there's also a Chris Walter feature on the Tranzmitors, who get the cover, so it's not a bad issue to have, if you're a fan of local music.

Besides Cobalt gigs, one of the next times I saw the band was at Under the Volcano, August 12th 2007 (the day after I saw them at the Cobalt the first time? Maybe!). I think Four Songs About Freedom had just come out at that point, because I remember all these kids - they were performing to an open air moshpit - getting frenzied to "I Am a Rifle," as well as jokes about how strange it was to see punks moshing in the sunlight. Femke took great photos of that day. I don't feel comfortable using her photos anymore, since we don't really have a working relationship, but there's one here, one here, one here, and one here.  Chris Rebel was camera shy at that point - "the government is watchin'"-type paranoia, I think - so I avoided posting shots with him in them, at the band's request. He had sunglasses and a hat on, anyhow, as I recall. As you see, Todd is wearing a "homes not games" t-shirt, apropos of the upcoming Olympics; Stepha is on drums, and if you look in the background, that's bev davies leaning against a tree, with her then friend Carola of JEM Gallery, now defunct as far as I know. That was how I met both women. I reviewed the show for the Nerve Magazine, but there was a bit of a feud between the Nerve and the Rebel Spell at that time, and their passage got cut, which bummed me out a bit, because I'd intended it as a gesture of reconciliation. I have no access to that passage at present or I'd print it here...

Not sure what the next time I saw the band was, but I was at the July 26 2008 Seylynn Hall gig with the Subhumans, again with Femke. I remember Brian Goble wearing a curly wig, and that half the kids who had come for the Rebel Spell didn't stick around for the headliners. Plus I remember Femke standing on a chair beside an unruly moshpit to get pics.

 I was probably at the May 22nd 2009 Cobalt book release for Chris Walter's Wrong. In fact, I know I was, because I think that that was the gig when Chris Walter got me confused with Ty Stranglehold and had to cross out an inscription in the novel that he was selling me, but addressing to Ty (Ty would later laugh with me about it that about the only thing he and I have in common is that we're both "white and large," but it was enough for Chris to confuse us).

A few months after that, in late summer, my Mom had a stroke, and then, in November, my father died. I was back in Maple Ridge at that point, so gigs came fewer and further between for me. I missed the band's shows with Propagandhi and Bad Religion, but I think I was at the July 9th 2010 gig at Funky's. I'm not sure, though. I might not have been, may have only seen them at Funky's once.

But who needs to go to the Rebel Spell when the Rebel Spell will come to you? On July 11th, 2010, I saw the Rebel Spell at the Hammond United Church Hall, on the outskirts of Maple Ridge (most gig posters for events there omit the word "Church," rendering the word "United" somewhat confusing, making it sound like the room belongs to a football team or something). It was a dark room that night, but Femke and bev both came out, at my invite, and did some Maple Ridge tourism with me. I took pictures that I guess are now lost, Femke took pics that I think I have never seen, and bev took this photo - that's Erin, the only visible member of the band. Like I say - dark!
Photo by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

The room was so bare - a church hall that doubled as a gym - that Todd quipped, at some point, that you could just tell that nothing fun was ever supposed to happen in it. (More shots of that odd little venue here.)  The band had an interim bassist, at that point; I believe I ran into Todd and Erin at a Nomeansno gig in a Vancouver rental hall around that time, and he told me that they were between bassists and "balls deep" in recording a new album, which would prove to be It's a Beautiful Future. About the only other thing I remember from the Hammond gig was buying my hard copy of Four Songs About Freedom there.

I didn't really like Four Songs About Freedom, to be honest. "They Know" has grown on me, especially after having seen it live a few times, but I always thought that EP was their weakest release, song-wise. There, I said it.

April 23rd, 2011, I saw the band open for the Dreadnoughts at the Rickshaw and left before the Dreadnoughts came on, probably to get a bus back to Maple Ridge. December 9th, 2011, I had written about the Rebel Spell's gig in support of A Better Life Dog Rescue, who were in legal hot water, and had a very interesting night showing a Danish filmmaker friend the town, drinking beer with him - more than I usually drink, in fact, since he wasn't comfortable with pot - and talking with Todd and Erin about animal rescue, anti-fascism, and other topics. I had a copy of Werner Herzog's Cerro Torre/ Scream of Stone - a rock climbing film - for Todd and a copy of Ox Fanzine for them, a German mag that I'd helped get them on a CD sampler for ("All We Want"). That was the night I fucked the Steam Clock: photos here.

No, no: I didn't really fuck the steam clock, it was figurative. I slept in the scummy jamspace that night, the one Todd thought it was "pretty punk rock of me" to sleep in, when I ran into him at that SNFU show that I mentioned, a couple of posts ago.

I don't think I saw the Rebel Spell at all in 2012, but it doesn't look like they played many shows locally, that year. I think I only went to one of the two "DOA Farewell gigs" at the Rickshaw where they opened - the one on January 18th, 2013. Here's a pic from bev from those shows that I don't think has seen print anywhere:
Todd Serious by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Also there's this one of Elliot from one of those shows, again by bev, again not to be reused without her permission:

When I caught them May 24th 2013, for Todd's 40th birthday at the Russian Hall, I remember being in a bad mood and leaving early; I felt like an outsider to the punk scene at that point, had had a cranky exchange with someone from Not Yer Buddy at the door, but mostly I just wasn't much in the mood for a concert. Early bus home, again. I think it's the only time where I left a concert by the Rebel Spell before the band had finished playing; the crowd was loving it, but I felt totally apart from the spirit of the evening.

Somewhere in there - April 2014 - I wrote this thing on the veggie oil bus for the Straight, and had an interesting experience. (This was my "lost Todd tape" where he talked about writing a song with Jeff Andrew, so this article may be all that's left of it). I had scavenged a bit from Razorcake about it being hard for Todd to stay vegan on the road. I let him know I was using it - I was actually checking to see if he still downgraded from "vegan" to "vegetarian" on the road - and he replied, by email:
"It's funny you ask actually that interview haunts me. By that time that made it to print I had gone totally vegan and have never looked back. I really like that interview it's funny and intelligent and overall probably the best written thing ever published about us but I regret saying that. It takes a little knowhow to find decent food in places like Saskatchewan but once you get past that learning curve it's no problem."
I promised to fix the quote, but on consideration, I addressed the issue not by omitting it, but by appending something about how Todd had corrected himself totally, since then, even using his words about never looking back. I thought it was revealing and interesting to do it that way, but it also wasn't so easy to address the problem by just snipping the quote entirely, because it set up the whole veggie oil bus issue (he'd also said, in the same quote, that being in a band was why he owned a vehicle, which I guess in 2008 was still burning fossil fuel). Anyhow, the piece ended up online, and it got back to Todd, and the day it was published (or maybe one day later) he called me - I was walking to a bus loop in Coquitlam at the time, on the commute home - to ask what was going on. He was worried, I think, that I had kinda fucked him over, said I would do something and then didn't, or did it in a half-assed way. We talked for about fifteen minutes about it, during which time it came to light that he hadn't actually read the piece - he was calling based on someone's report of it, said he found it kind of trying or embarrassing or such to read articles written about him. I assured him that I wasn't trying to mess with him at all, argued that I thought I'd "fixed" it in a totally appropriate way, showing that maybe in 2008, he wasn't wholly vegan, but by 2014, he was, had corrected himself where he once had made excuses for falling short of his ideals. I mean, it's not like you were born perfect, you're human, and subject to learning and growing, like any of the rest of us, I argued (I am paraphrasing, here, who knows what words I actually used but that was the jist). It makes you more approachable, more someone people can identify with, rather than this perfect figure. I offered, as I recall, to amend the piece further if need be, but that I'd like him to at least read it first, to make sure he felt it necessary; I didn't know that he would.  The conversation was conciliatory, and he seemed all right with me/ the article by the end of it; maybe he wasn't, but he never asked me to do anything further about it, if not.

I didn't see the Rebel Spell again until I had the band, Gerry Hannah and his wife Michelle over for a vegan dinner in Maple Ridge, on the date of Adstock, July 6th, 2014. Erika and I made about five dishes, on an Indian theme, including yellow lentils, green beans, a salad, and a couple of main-course curries that I forget the exact contents of, but it was a bit of a feast. Mostly Todd and Gerry talked outdoors stuff that day, then Gerry and Michelle joined us to see the band play. I shot video, took pics. Another sunny, open air gig, only there the pit wasn't on grass, like Under the Volcano, but concrete, which is why Todd introduces that clip with "last chance to hurt yourself!" No one did. The "circle pit around the gazebo" is probably the funniest thing I've seen at a gig (see the photos). I remember getting a kick out of Todd trying to pay respect to the "no profanity" rule, too; it was like he'd forgotten which of the Rebel Spell's songs had the word "fuck" in them until just before the word came up, so he had to fake his way through. He was still recovering from a back injury from a rock climbing accident at that point - which we also talk about, I think, on that lost tape - and I remember being worried that someone who was grabbing at him from the pit was going to cause him further pain.

By the by, Adstock 2016 will happen on July 10th this year - it's free, it's fun, and it looks like Ninjaspy are headlining. I don't think the full lineup has been announced yet.

Then I did the article for the Straight, promoting Last Run, the full transcript of which I put up after Todd died. In fact, it wasn't full, though; there were a couple of things I didn't transcribe, because they were irrelevant/ distracting/ etc. One of them was Todd digging out what he thought was my first article on the band - the one he calls "funny and intelligent and overall the best written thing ever published about us" - and it was THE WRONG FUCKIN' MAGAZINE, an article by a different person, with glossy pics (I don't recall which mag it was but Razorcake only did B&W). He'd told me he liked the Razorcake piece before - that it was "us," if embarrassing at times, since I had forced my editor to leave in some of that aforementioned in-fighting - but it kinda called the whole thing into question, like maybe he'd been thinking of a different article all along!

Ah, well. Anyhow, I saw the band October 11th, 2014, at 333 for the album release of Last Run. Pics here, video here. I missed their next Vancouver show, the last one with Todd, at the WISE Hall.

After that, you know about, it's recent history, though note that I skipped the gig at 1739 Venables, because I had spent the day cleaning out Mom's apartment and just wanted to relax with my girl. But what a fantastic band. May Vancouver see another as good, someday.

...Now, what was it that I was supposed to be getting accomplished today?

Dealing with a death, the practical side

After a death, the checklist of stuff to do stretches for a long time. You're floored, you're in mourning, and maybe you feel like shit because suddenly all you can remember is your failings with the person in question - times you spoke harshly, things you could have done better or more of - and maybe you miss them terribly, but hey, welcome to it, you now have a mountain of stuff to contend with (especially if you're the executor, or the only family member in the province; in my case, both apply).

First, the remains: there's a protocol by which the Death Certificate is arranged by the funeral home. In order to do this, you need, obviously, to contact a funeral home, which often means paying through the nose for services that you might not be able to afford and may not even need (there's some sharks in this water that want to take advantage of your grief to sell you the Deluxe Package, "prove your love with this lovely mahogany box" kinda thing). For some (me) that's not an option. The absolute cheapest way in Maple Ridge - and I believe in other parts of BC - to deal with a body is a service called A Simple Cremation. At present, it costs just under $1000 for their most basic package - which is what both my father and mother requested; their wish was always that their remains be scattered together, at a place of my choosing (and, it turns out, at a time of my choosing, which will be sometime LATER than now; might do it on their anniversary in October, dunno - I believe it will be their 58th). When father passed in 2009, the cremation was about $850, so there's an inflationary aspect to this, too; it's the same service, but six years later, it's $150 more expensive.

Whatever your feelings on this matter - whatever your plans for a funeral are, or if you plan to have one at all - you have to do SOMETHING to get the Death Certificate, and it won't be free. The CPP and Old Age Security and such DO send final cheques for the month in which a person died, but most of that money will go to the last month's rent in their building and to the Funeral Home, so it makes sense to have something set aside to cover these expenses.

I didn't.

Anyhow, once you have the Death Certificate, you're ready to deal with the bureaucracy, the second big step. Each government office needs to be notified separately, because they don't interact: Service Canada, Service BC, Canada Revenue, and any other organizations that the person has a pension with, say, all need to be brought or sent copies of the Death Certificate (banks will certify "true copies," so you don't need more than one of the original, but that one, you have to keep). Pensions and ID need to be cancelled. To help with expenses, there's a Death Benefit that maxes out at $2500, but will only amount to that much if the person worked a lot and paid into CPP and such. My Mom didn't, but boy did my father ever have pensions lined up - all set to take care of Mom for the rest of her life, which they did. What I didn't realize until after she died was that almost all her pension benefits came from him, from the good old days when pensions were for life and survivor's and spouse's pensions were commonplace. She hadn't worked since the 1950's - he never wanted her to get a job outside the home; that was how it was for their generation - so whatever the benefit will be, it'll be piddling.

In any event, there's paperwork to do, people to notify. I still have a few stops to make on the checklist - have to go stand in line at the Passport Office, for instance. Meantime, hey, what do we do with all this furniture? This is also still an ongoing issue for me: Mom's apartment is still her apartment for five more days, and there's still stuff in it. Not much, mind you: mostly now it's stuff for recycling and thrift stores, because I was able to lose almost all of her furniture by posting notices ("free furniture!") in her building, where everyone else is kind of broke, too. There are a few boxes of (mostly) junk to sort through, but the seven-foot couch that was a concern is now the couch of a high-functioning autistic fellow whose mother lives in the building; he also got our TV, TV stand, a dresser, a table, a toaster oven and a microwave. Another guy got Mom's easy chair, blender, and the other toaster oven we had, plus another table. We were even able to get rid of her box spring (to one guy) and her mattress to another, who is using it as his de facto box spring, under the mattress he had been sleeping on. One carpet went to the thrift store, one went to someone in another suite. The freezer I was able to sell; the pine cabinet Erika thought nice was simply given away, when it was determined it couldn't be made to fit in her car. Several boxes of stuff went to storage, a few items made their way back here. There is still a bit of stuff that has some sentimental value that I really would like to just junk, like a horrible oil painting - an incompetent landscape, of a river and some trees - that has been in the family longer, I believe, than I have; it's awful, but it's got too much memory wrapped up in it for me to lose it too blithely, especially when I know no one else will want it...

In any event, I'm relieved that I won't have to hire a truck and/or pay to dump any furniture.

Once the suite is empty, you can deal with the cleaning; luckily, Mom's suite is being totally renovated before the next tenants move in, so this won't be too too bad (though there's some burnt-in  melted plastic and other substances caked on the bottom of the oven that might not want to come off too easily).

The one thing I've kind of let slide is notifying relatives. Most of mine, on Mom's side of the family, are in the Quebec area, as far as I know, but because of her 2009 stroke, Mom had memory issues, so she couldn't tell me with certainty who her surviving brothers and sisters were; on the day she died, she said her brother Billy was still around, for example, but he apparently died twelve years ago (more on that below). With sisters, good luck - because they'll probably have different last names - but Mom has at least one surviving brother, as far as I know, Peter, whose home I remember visiting some thirty years ago, on my one and only trip back that way; maybe he is the only one of her brothers and sisters left. The trick there is that the last phone number and address I have for him - the address on his last Christmas card to Mom and the corresponding phone number on - don't work anymore. I tried calling, and when that failed, I tried sending a letter, which was returned in the mail with the word "moved" written on it. What the heck to do? Government agencies won't help; they probably have access to the information, but confidentiality reigns - they will basically only give you the address if you are the person whose address you're asking about, which isn't much help at all.

Nonetheless, when my letter to Uncle Peter came back in the mail, I spent about an hour trying to reach his (former?) borough in Quebec, waiting on hold to see if they could help put me in touch - at least call him for me, if they had a number, and pass on a message. It was preferable to the awkward first attempts I had made to find him, which involved calling total strangers with my mother's maiden name, to see if they might be relatives. In a scam-hardened age, it's a little awkward to call someone out of the blue claiming you might be family: it took me about three such calls to resolve to try to find another way to do it.

After an hour on hold, tho'. I looked up her name on and called seven more numbers, before I found myself on the phone with someone who turned out to be my second cousin, driving in Quebec. His father was my mother's brother Billy, who died 12 years ago. He was wary at first, but I think he believes me now, since I knew his father's name, and his father's brother, and he might have even recognized his Aunt Helen's name, though she's as strange to him as most of them are to me (blood isn't very thick with my family, what can I say). Trouble is, he was driving, so I get to call him back later tonight, to see if he has updated contact information for Peter.

I don't think I even told him my name. 

Cool gig Thursday: Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll, Defektors

So here's a below-the-radar gig that could be fun. The Red Gate - redubbed the Red Fate, and moved, but I can't exactly say where (Hastings somewhere, ask someone cooler'n me) - will be hosting a gig Thursday night. Nic and Jeremy of Shearing Pinx will be joining members of Heavy Days and Psychedelic Dirt (so the little flyer sez) to put on a set of Neil Young covers, under the band name Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll - and not a noisy, ShPx-style version of Neil Young songs, either, but a respectful tribute, I'm told. (I saw these guys at the last Neil Young and Crazy Horse show in Vancouver, so I know they're fans). The Defektors will also be playing, with friends, doing a set of Gun Club covers. The little flyer sez it starts at 10pm, though the last time I tried one of these sorta gigs, it was 11:30 and the first of four bands hadn't started yet; take that as a caveat, but I might try this one no less.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Titus Andronicus at the Biltmore, May 28th

Speaking of great punk bands, I loved the Titus Andronicus show last year at the Biltmore, though I kinda thought Spider Bags stole it, a little! Doubt I'll go but they're playing again May 28th, ie., next Saturday.

Incidentally, I sometimes have used "Dimed Out" with ESL students to see if they can figure out what the phrase "dimed out" actually means, knowing only the various implications of the particle "out" and that "dime" refers to "ten." Some get it, most don't, but it's always a helpful teaching point, and a fun way to introduce phrasal verbs, which are always tricky.

The Rebel Spell at the WISE Hall, May 20 2016

Well, that's interesting. I post a giant Gerry Hannah interview and a small piece of outtakes from my Rebel Spell interview on the same day, and - as of this writing - the Rebel Spell is beating Gerry in views at a rate of 428 views to 298. (Larry Fessenden is at a mere 66, and my post about catchin' snakes is at 25, if anyone is interested). It kinda reminds me of seeing the Rebel Spell open for the Subhumans at Seylynn Hall and half the crowd cleared out after the Rebel Spell were done - a scandal!  Plus I snubbed Gerry, opening for Art Bergmann, to be at the Rebel Spell show last night, myself...

By the by, Gerry, I said hi to Stepha for you, but it kinda backfired into a if-he's-in-town-why-isn't-he-here kinda thing, since it seems the Art Bergmann show finished plenty early, but... well, I said hi, anyhow. "He's probably driving back to Chilliwack," I said, and Stepha said, "Boooooo."

Fantastic night last night, in any event. I'm thinking the Rebel Spell should do this every year. Many big surprises, maybe the biggest of which is that Travis, the Rebel Spell's drummer, makes a fantastic frontman. Absolutely great to see the band again, and nice to see that everyone seemed to be having a good, positive time (no meltdowns that I saw, though I left at 12:50: Skytrain time). Plus holy crap, Lexi Marie was magnificent, and has one hell of a song she wrote about Todd, "We Sing Louder," which will be coming out as part of the download, at the very least, for this Todd Serious tribute album in the works; moving as hell, even if her attempts to get the talkers in back to STFU only brought them down to a dull roar. (Shot some video of it, and of other stuff, but I don't know when I'll be able to upload it; things are a bit complex on that front, since the computer I usually work from is at Mom's, and Mom's is being dismantled).

But whoa, the real treat last night was Drum & Bell Tower, AKA Brent Norton. Todd Serious made a bit of an unwitting mistake when he plugged Drum & Bell Tower to me in our final interview, since - not knowing my prejudices - he compared him to Pink Floyd; a quick investigation showed it wasn't Syd-era Floyd he was talking about, either.  But mid-70's Floyd, to me, has to be some of the most over-rated, over-played, over-valorized music on the planet: I've been on the "Wish You Weren't Here" page for 20 years now, can find no music more tedious to my ears short of dropping the needle on "Stairway to Heaven." It's not an entirely inaccurate comparison, mind you - tonally, there are similarities - but Brent's passion when performing is stunning, and his total re-arrangement of the Rebel Spell's "Pride & Prejudice" was a real eye-opener last night. It was great to finally see what Todd was talking about; the guy is one powerful performer, and seeing him live was a great way to be introduced to his music. Which I hope to write more about.

Anyhow, here are some photos. Think I'm going to go to the Venables gig tonight as well, but I have to go deal with Mom's apartment, too, today, so... Anyhow, below: Drum & Bell Tower, then with Lexi twice, then two dudes I don't know who I think are from Saskatchewan, fronting the Rebel Spell, and then Travis and Elliot. I have video of other stuff, too, but like I say, it may have to wait awhile...

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Rebel Spell outtakes: in which we get creepy, plus more on Alien Boys

 Todd and Elliot by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

There's more to come on the Rebel Spell - the band is done, as of this weekend, but there's a Todd Serious tribute album in the works, Travis and Lexi Marie have both written songs about Todd, and most intriguingly, there is apparently enough footage for a documentary film - some 500 hours, taken mostly from the Last Run tour, along with interviews that Erin did with Todd on the veggie oil bus and vintage footage of the band courtesy of Chris Rebel (who has reconciled with them after a period of being on the outs; he'll be around tonight, apparently, and will sing a song or so, as will Erin, whom I've never heard sing before). I have no more time to transcribe the conversation I had at Lanalou's with the band, but there were a couple of outtakes from the Westender piece that are already typed up that need to be read...

...for instance, when I asked what they make, now, of all the weirdly prescient foreshadowing of Todd's death on their final album? The record is called Last Run, to start with, and their final tour the Last Run tour - though as Serious himself explained to me in a past interview, that was only because they expected their veggie oil bus to conk out soon.

Song after song, however, like "Hopeless" and "I Heard You Singing" have Todd singing about "leaving": "it hurts to be here/ but I can't leave," or in the latter song, hearing the call of nature to abandon the so-called civilized world but being "too scared to leave."

It kind of reminds me of Keith Moon on the cover of Who Are You?, sitting on a chair that reads "Not to Be Taken Away," or the Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors cover, that shows the band in flames, shortly before half the members died in a plane crash.

And, I mean, it's a bit chilling - and I'm sorry if this upsets anyone - that there's a line in "Let's Roll a Storm" about being "smashed to bits" at the bottom of a cliff (Travis pitches in when I mention this that that line was actually the contribution of a good friend of his, and that it's more about a jump than a fall, but it's still disturbing in hindsight).

I can imagine Todd's impatience with the question, but I have to ask the band: it all gets a bit creepy, doesn't it?

I am relieved that his bandmates all chuckle and nod at my question, because I expected them to kinda slap me upside the head. 

"No, a lot of the songs have taken this weird angle," Elliot admits. "Even in 'Breathe,' where he says 'it never gets easy/ unless you give up/ and if you do, you won't know/ because there's nothing after death.' Y'know, when we were recording it, that just seemed like an atheist fuckin' lyric, but for him to die half a year later... a whole bunch of the songs and lyrics..."

"The album cover," Erin says, nodding.

" 'Bring Em In,' off an earlier album," Elliot continues, "he sings about the pain of being around for such a short time, and the immortality you seek by being a part of something more...? It's weird. Most people in their creative pursuits would not drop so many references to the brevity of life."

Elliot can't but think how "pissed off" Todd would be for dying from a stupid mistake. "And talking all this heavy handed stuff about him being a role model - he was also just a fun guy who was our friend. And it's been weird rehearsing, along with the loss of Todd as a friend, we've also lost this band that we put all this energy into, and it's like, the three of us are still here, the bass drums and guitar are still there, and we're still killer, we've fuckin' played hundreds of shows together... and rehearsing, it just sucks, because even though there's some anger and sadness in some of the songs, to me, overall the experience of the band was a lot of fun, and the experience of playing a show is like - all of our favourite thing. It's super weird to get together and jam, and 'well, that was fun, but where's that guy?'"

As for life after the memorial... are the members of the band planning anything new after this weekend?

Travis says that he's "just continuously threatening to start bands all over the place but nothing has come to fruition yet." 

Elliot tells me he feels "like I'm in, like, six half-bands, but no big things... it takes a long time, and for me at least, this made me want to not play music for a little while. It threw something in that wheel."

Erin agrees that she was definitely burned out for a bit there, too, but as it happens she's the only member with a new project in the works. "We're probably going to start gigging at the end of June. Elliot's going to record our album or demo or whatever. We're called Alien Boys." 

Are you all girls? 

"Yep! Their intent was to be a D-beat band, but I don't know if that's what we really are, but that was the genesis of it. When Todd was alive, I told myself that if the Rebel Spell ever ended, that was it for me, I would not be in a band again. But I just fell into it. It's a lot of work, y'know, a lot of stress - but I'm taking it a lot easier this time around."

Looking forward to tonight's show a lot! Didn't get to transcribe much of Travis' part of the interview (he said about one word for every hundred of Elliot's, or twenty of Erin's; he's gotta be one of the most quiet, attentive drummers out there, mostly just sitting and listening to his friends). He's written a song about Todd, though, "Solemn Eyes," which can be heard on their bandcamp page. And he gets the last word: that tonight "is gonna be a riot, that's for sure."

See you there.

Jeff Andrew, the Rebel Spell and the Todd Serious Memorial gig, plus Todd Serious on Phil Ochs

 The Rebel Spell at Adstock, Maple Ridge, summer of 2014, photo by me...

I wouldn't know about Jeff Andrew if it wasn't for the late Todd Serious (singing, above). As I say in my Straight piece with Andrew, he's one of a few local musicians whom Todd pointed out to me as being someone worth following - not because Todd was so concerned with what I listened to, personally, but because he knew that having press connections would be useful for Jeff, and that I was interested in writing about music that mattered.

I think Todd was a bit wary of me, in fact. I make an unconvincing punk; I'm no communist or anarchist; I have a hard enough time climbing a ladder, neverminding a cliff face (Todd had a passion for rock climbing); and I'm no sort of vegan, not even a vegetarian. Plus I'm connected to a media machine that makes good sense to approach cautiously. Add to all that that never once did I really, in my own mind, feel myself to be his equal; I praise his idealism and his walking his talk in my recent Westender article about the Todd Serious Memorial Shows, tonight and tomorrow, but in part that's because I don't feel like I've done that, myself. If things were a bit distant between Todd and I - if we were never anything I could call "friends" - a part of that is probably on me. But I love the hell out of the Rebel Spell's music, and my two big interviews with Todd - here and here - are among the most interesting I've done. (There are lots of little ones out there, too).

We did have a few personal interactions over the years, mind you. When he ran into me at an SNFU gig at Funkys - a Chris Walter booklaunch - we talked a bit between songs; I remember that I told him I was sleeping over in a crappy little jamspace rented by a friend so I could be at the show, and he replied, "that's pretty punk rock of  you, actually."

That's about the biggest compliment he ever paid me, aside from his saying, the last time I saw him, at the Vancouver record launch for Last Run, that my last feature on the band before he died was the least embarrassing piece of press he'd ever received (I think the exact quote was that he "winced less reading it than anything else that had been written" about his band). High praise!

The Rebel Spell at 333, the last time I saw them (photo by me)

But since I brought up Phil Ochs in my Jeff Andrew piece, here's one little personal exchange between myself and Todd that people don't know about, from back in 2011, that centers around Ochs - another departed idealist, but from the 1960's. Knowing Todd's interest in Latin American politics and revolution, I had sent him a link to a somewhat obscure Phil Ochs song, "Bullets of Mexico." This was apropos of a conversation about the Rebel Spell's covering a Leon Rosselson song, "The World Turned Upside Down," which Todd knew through Billy Bragg (I gave the band a Leon Rosselson album I found in a thrift store around this time, too). I thought "Bullets of Mexico" would make a pretty good cover tune, as well, but mostly thought the guy would like the song.

He did. He wrote to me: "I wasn't familiar with Mr. Ochs' music. Quite interesting, he's like a modern bard, totally lyric driven music. Amazes me that people can pull that off."

I replied that Billy Bragg himself had written a song, to the tune of the old protest number "Joe Hill," called "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night." He told me that Joey Only had done a similar thing, too, with "I Dreamed I Saw Dudley George Last Night." And that's it, the end of the conversation, though he did also mention in there that "we" - he and his girlfriend? he and the band? - "saw Leon Rosselson at the Vancouver folk fest and he did some new songs that were totally relevant and totally pointed at current events. The sound and the narrow and direct themes of the songs are a lot like this Phil Ochs' track."

But that's all I've got from Todd, really. (I have some nice stuff of him talking about the collaboration with Jeff Andrew, but I can't find the tape; it was the basis of this interview, from before Last Run came out, but was perhaps mislabeled or not labeled at all; I had no luck in my search for it, shortly after he died - and now all that stuff is in storage). 

However, I have a lot of stuff from Jeff Andrew that didn't make the Straight piece. Jeff, as far as I know, will be at both of the Todd Serious Memorial Shows, to join in "The Tsilhqot'in War," and will do an opening set tonight at the WISE. He's a hell of a songwriter in his own right. People who don't like punk, but like Phil Ochs, say, or any socially engaged folk stuff, would do well to check him out.

Jeff Andrew by Amanda Bullick

Allan: So you're up in Lillooet. treeplanting...?

Jeff: It's a day off. We're actually staying - I'm living in a cabin out by Goldbridge, which is about a hundred kilometers Northwest of here. That's pretty far out there. But I came into town  - sorry I was late, I was at Lordco getting new headlamps for my truck.

Does Todd still have people up there?

Yeah, there's tons. That's partly why I'm here, why I took the job - I wanted to be close to here. Like, Anna and Stepha live here. Travis doesn't anymore, but they still do, and there's a whole crew of people here sort of connected with the band. I spent a bunch of time here last summer, as well. It's a really cool spot - the whole landscape, and it's a bunch of my favourite people in the world.

It's interesting, because I've got photos of the band posing with some machinery out in Lillooet.

Yeah, that was out behind Todd and Anna's house, on the east side of town, east of the Fraser River. There was a trailer that they lived in. Anna lived there until last month, now she's living outside of town a little bit. We did a big hike from there, as well - on the one year anniversary of Todd's death, March 7th. There's a big ridge that sorta goes up behind their house, outside of town, and about fifteen or twenty of us got up there and hiked up to the top, and took some of his ashes up there and buried them near the top, made a little rock cairn for him. I'm looking at it right now, actually - I'm just sitting on some railroad tracks, looking over the Fraser River, and there's a great big range. It was a pretty gnarly day actually: there's no trail, so we just bushwhacked up really steep scree slopes, and then (________) a jagged ridge, like sketchy loose rock climbing, up to the top through a bunch of snow. I checked out the elevation, and it was about twice as tall as the Chief up in Squamish. It was a fitting thing, because it was totally Todd's hiking style, just go out there and pick a spot and, 'ah, just fuckin' see if we can get up there,' y'know, walking through waist-deep snow, nobody's dressed for it, it's freezing cold, and we're all getting soaked...
Photo by Gabrielle Kingston

Who all was in that group?

Anna and Stepha and Travis, Erin, Elliot... then a bunch of people from around here, and friends from Vancouver. There's a lot of people from Vancouver that were part of the scene in the older days that moved up here in the last few years.

Are you still practicing veganism?

Yeah. That was definitely something that Todd inspired. I mean, I almost already was vegan at the point when he died, and was thinking about it, like, I should just go the rest of the way. I was still eating cheese and eggs and stuff, here and there. But it was a few weeks after he died, I just woke up and said, 'fuck it, I'm doing it.' His influence wasn't the only factor, but it was definitely a big one. We never talked about it a lot, but, like, it was a big thing for him, and it was something I'd been thinking about it for awhile, and it was a good way to do something to honour him, when, at that point we were all grieving really hard. And it was something I needed to do for myself, too; I'd been trying to change my whole relationship with food and get out of bad habits and just really start taking care of myself better.


That was the big thing I got out of his life, and his passing: to step up and start taking care of my own body, basically. I started rock climbing in the summer, as well. I got really into that, and spent all winter doing that in the gym - eating well and going to the climbing gym four of five times a week. That's sort of the way he tried to be: you're in your body, you've got to take care of it and you want it to last a long time, especially as you're getting older. I'm in my mid-30's now. I want to keep getting stronger, and not start deteriorating over time, stay strong and fit and active.

The rock climbing thing wasn't ever something I really talked to him much about. 

He kept a lot of things close to his chest, in some ways. Like, climbing was this whole other half of his life that most of us from the music side didn't know much about. We were sort of vaguely aware that he did it, but... It's sad now, to think that I didn't get into it until after he died, because we'll never get to go up on the rocks together, but now that I've gotten so into it, this last year, I totally get it now, what a big force it was for him. I see how good it's been for me, so I understand now why it was so important to him...

 Photograph: Mary Matheson

Are there other ways that Todd inspired or influenced you?

Yeah, tons! It's hard to put into specifics, but like, the force of of his message was so strong, he had such a clear vision of what he was trying to say. That comes through a lot, and just the power of his voice, and the way he was able to sing so clearly over a big loud raging punk band, was something I always admired, because my own voice... I've gotten a lot better at singing over the years since I started doing it, but it's hard enough to sing over an acoustic guitar!

I have a stupid question, actually. I should have Googled it, but I don't know the difference between a violin and a fiddle. It's always mystified me. Which do you play?

It's the same thing. It's the same instrument, it's just two different names for it - it's more just the style. If you're playing classical music, people call it a violin, and if you're playing folk music and trad stuff, everyone calls it a fiddle. But they're interchangeable, they're the exact same instrument.

So I can call you a fiddler?

Yeah! It's not an insult - "you play the fiddle, oh sorry I meant the violin!" It's not a derogatory term or anything!

Thanks, I always wondered. So are you working on new material?

I've got about an album's worth of songs kinda sitting around. Some of them are things that I wrote years ago, that I never played much, and I've been kinda going through and like, actually playing them and working them out and changing keys on them and figuring out how to sing them. And I've written two new songs in the last year... At some point in the next year I'm going to try to make a new album...

(At this point, Jeff and I talk at length about his writing "The Tsilhqot'in War" with Todd, but that can be read about on the Straight website; there's also a quote from Jeff in the Westender article). 

Thanks, Jeff... Okay, I think we have enough...

But I wanted to say one more thing... In the last year, I've listened to the Rebel Spell a lot. I listened to them before he died, when we were friends, but I never really dug in super deeply. It was just, a friend's band I really liked, but since then, it was part of my healing process, since losing him: I've listened to his music a lot. Mostly in my truck, driving around to treeplanting contracts. And I started to realize what a brilliant songwriter he was, and the whole band was, too. Like, the way they put together songs, with all the words and backup vocals and... the songs are so full of hooks, it's one cool thing: a lot of this pop songwriting but also catchy stuff, metal and loud, rowdy punk stuff - kinda the two put together in a really powerful package with a lot of energy in it. But it also has this really strong message to it. That's been really inspiring, for the last year, and it's also changed how I've written songs.


And a lot of their songs sound like big raging punk songs, but they also work just as well as folk songs. A lot of their stuff - you can strip everything down and just bang out the chords on an acoustic guitar and they sound amazing. It shows how good of songwriters they were, they are. We've had quite a number of really epic Rebel Spell campfire jams, especially at all the festivals we're all at, sitting around the fire with Elliot and Erin and Travis, rockin' out with acoustic guitars and twenty people singing along. And there's been a lot of people covering Rebel Spell songs as well, at shows that I've seen in Vancouver. So that's something to say - that the legacy of it is going to live on.

Photograph: Mary Matheson

Click here for more information on the WISE Hall show (May 20th - today! - for which tickets are still available)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Larry Fessenden on Kelly Reichardt and the River of Grass restoration

I'm kinda glad Larry Fessenden - the one lying on the car, above - appears to have a good sense of humour, because when I suggested that we use his line about "flappin' gums" in the title for my Straight piece about River of Grass, I didn't really think they'd take me up on it!

In any event... friends and followers of my writing know that I love Reichardt's film Old Joy, opening tonight at the Cinematheque, as part of their Kelly Reichardt retrospective. A beautifully meditative, lovingly shot piece of Pacific Northwest cinema that I read as mourning the loss of the spirit of 1960's idealism - though it's more complex than that - it's a film I've been able to watch a dozen times, and was happy to be able to show my father shortly before he passed; he too found it moving. Will Oldham - known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy to music fans, but he's also the Baptist preacher kid in John Sayles' Matewan - is great in it, the Yo La Tengo soundtrack is transfixing, and there's lots of great "road movie" stuff - lots of shots out car windows, the original and best steadicam. Plus the dog from Wendy and Lucy gets her first starring role here, and there's a really nice shot of a slug crawling along the forest floor. It's a simple story: two old friends, grown apart, go to a hot spring in the woods, and try to find a way to communicate with each other. They don't succeed, exactly, but what is revealed runs as deep as you want to take it.
Old Joy is the big must-see in the retrospective, if you've somehow missed it, but I also gave a very positive review not too long ago to Reichardt's Night Moves; that's an underrated, under-seen film, which won my admiration - and probably alienated at least some of its presumed target audience - by taking an unexpectedly critical stance on the actions of idealistic eco-saboteurs. It's a "when things go wrong" movie, and I've always wondered if it was in any way inspired, Pacific Northwest-wise, by the story of the Squamish Five/ Direct Action (see my interview with Gerry Hannah immediately below this post). Certainly that group had things go very wrong. Those - Old Joy and Night Moves - are probably my two favourite Kelly Reichardt films, though I've found things to admire in all of her work.
It was somewhat of a surprise to talk to (long-time Reichardt associate) Larry Fessenden at all, and especially about someone else's cinema, but I've found attempts to interview Reichardt a little challenging (I've tried a couple of times to no avail), and I love Larry Fessenden's movies as well, though they're very different from Reichardt's. Probably my favourite of his films is the moving, low-key horror movie Wendigo, though all of the ones I've seen are well worth seeking out (I have yet to catch Beneath, or any of his very early films, like Experienced Movers, but I enjoyed No Telling, Habit, and The Last Winter, and recommend them all). I also have a fondness for things produced by Glass Eye Pix, his company, who have been behind some of the most entertaining low budget/ indy horror films of recent years; I even watched one last night, Ti West's lesser but still interesting The Innkeepers. So what the heck, sure, I'll talk to Larry Fessenden! Besides, Fessenden's performance in River of Grass is one of the most entertaining things about the film...

Be sure to read my Straight article, for more, because the following is more or less outtakes; some of the high points of our short chat are there, not here. 

Allan: Is it just an accident, or are you deliberately channelling a young Jack Nicholson in River of Grass?

Larry: No, that's just a trick of birth. I've been compared to Nicholson ever since I was born, and as I get older, I look like Nicholson growing older, so it's more of a curse. But I mean, I can't even get through an airport without people saying I look like Nicholson.

Oh jeez. This is the only film where I've actually thought that!

I'm surprised to hear that.

Maybe I'm just not that perceptive... So how did you meet Kelly Reichardt?

Well, all of this is going to be a little hard to dredge up, but - there's a local [ie. New York] restaurant and I knew the restaurateur was also a filmmaker, interested in film; and his brother was Kelly's compatriot at the time, and had written the story of River of Grass with Kelly. So we were all in that circle of friends. And I met Kelly. And she saw an early film of mine called Habit - not the one that has made its way into the world, but the one that I made when I was in college - and she liked it, and wondered if I would audition for the character of Lee Ray Harold. And so we struck up a friendship, slowly over time, and then I went down [to Florida] and made the film and stayed on as the editor and as her champion. We worked almost a year together, in a very un-traditional way, very low budget. We worked on 3/4 inch U-matic videotape...

It's an interesting first film. It seems like a neo-Godardian take on Badlands, but I don't know - was Badlands discussed, a conscious reference point, or...?

Certainly! Badlands was a major influence, particularly in the voiceover.  And I think it's fair to say that Godard was also an influence. I think the numbers that we use in the film come from a Godard movie, I can't remember which one, but I know it has an element of Breathless, and basically it's a deconstruction of American noir movies like Gun Crazy and The Honeymoon Killers. So there was a lot of influences that we spoke about. Some of them make it onto the screen and some were just in our conversations.

You had made a couple of features - Experienced Movers and No Telling, at least, before you acted in this film?

Yeah. I was always interested in acting, and then I drifted into directing. I made Experienced Movers in 1985, on video. It was an epic and somewhat preposterous, sprawling caper film; but I learned a lot about film, or about storytelling. And then some years later in the early 1990's I made a film called No Telling, which had a large crew, and it kind of turned me off the filmmaking process, because it got so big, and the role of the director got so managerial. And I felt I had, a little bit, lost my way. And as I was licking my wounds, that's when I met Kelly, and I was very excited to help someone else make a movie, because I have great passion for the medium. I just needed a break from carrying the whole show on my shoulders. So I supported her vision, and that was a nice way for me to regain my footing. And eventually I made Habit, with some of the things I had re-learned from her, like working with a small crew. And even some of the cinematic approaches, like shooting streets with a very flat lens, just straight on: some of that you can see in Habit, and that came from sort of seeing how she was framing stuff.

I'm curious about the process of making the film, because there's a lot of wonderful stuff that happens in the editing, where you're driving, say, and you glance to the side and there's a dog running, say, or she's looking at the album covers from the records Lee steals from his mother, and then we cut to the different album covers... so how much of the film was done in post-production? Did you start editing and then shoot new material, or was that all thought out beforehand?
 The only material we shot after the fact was some of the opening montage, some of the closeups of the postcards, the super 8 of the woman chopping up her husband... that's a direct lift from an old super 8 movie of mine that we used as a slug for a long time, but Kelly wanted to switch up the sexes, so she wrote that voice-over. All the voice-over was added in post. The film style was basically the way she shot it, but we had a lot of conversations as we editing about the point of view and cinema, and we worked together to find the rhythms of the movie. I tend to be the more flowery editor, so it was fun for her to sort of slow me down and find a groove. And of course, I also made a lot of hay about the editing of the sound. And we used a lot of car-bys (carbides?) and other sound design components, with a very crude system... but it became also the personality of the movie. And she had the drummer already as part of the story, so some of the rhythms of the drummer and those montages, all of that was very much in her mind, was all how she designed the film.

One of the challenges of the film is that the characters really aren't that appealing! 

Heh heh.

And I wonder if that was by design - did she want these characters to seem like losers you can't really like?

Clearly that was the agenda! I mean, she wanted them to be engaging, but they really are inept. They can't fall in love, they have no real passion for each other, and they sort of think they've committed a crime, but you're not really sure... then at some point you notice that Lee figures out they didn't, but he doesn't tell Cozy. And then they seem to imagine that they're on the lam... 

It's a little misanthropic, compared to her later films. Her distaste for these characters... I don't know, I want to like them more than it's possible to do...

Right. Oddly enough, I think some of the secondary characters are appealing. There's Stan - I think that's the characters name, but the heavier guy who is sort of a Rodney Dangerfield character, who always tells jokes, and then his partner, the African-American dude, they're sort of appealing, because they're sort of just going about their business, and I think that was some insight that Kelly had, because her father was a crime scene detective, so she knew characters like that growing up, and they have, of course, a very jaundiced view of their job. As you have to, if you're seeing murder scenes every day. So I think there's a sort of noir cynicism on top of the film. I think all of Kelly's films are about how we don't, sort of, live up to our view of ourselves: obviously, Old Joy, those two guys can't quite hit a friendship, that they're striving for. People aren't quite living up to their potential in Kelly's movies. This was the start of it, but she needed to find her voice and her confidence. This was a journey towards that, but maybe she didn't have it all sorted out yet.

Do you know anything about the restoration process? I'm looking at the old Wellspring DVD, and some of it is quite dark...

Well, I get a call in the middle of the night where they asked if the night scenes were supposed to be dark. I recall saying yes, because they were actually day-for-night, or dusk-for-night. But I haven't seen the transfer myself. I understood it was quite lovely. I don't know if some of the scenes went dark - we had a small crew and a small lighting package but I also think there was a realism Kelly wanted, and some of those scenes might have gone a little dark. But I think it was a transfer from a negative, so they had the best options. I'm not sure Kelly was involved; she was working on Certain Women. It's certainly director-approved in the sense that she was happy for them to put this all together, but I don't think she actually oversaw it.

Do you have a favourite scene in it?

That's interesting. Well, I love when my character tries to rob the store and fails miserably. (Laughs). That's actually the one that comes to mind.  The two dudes who run the store were really just last minute substitutes, and they were just so charming... we had a lot of fun doing that scene. But a lot of it was really seat-of-the-pants. And of course the scene when they try to go through the toll was very exciting. It's not like we had a lot of permits or anything, we had to shoot a lot of stuff on the fly... We did watch it together (Kelly and I) to do the commentary, which is really just a funny chronicle of two aging people saying, "what happened that day?"

Let me just ask about yourself, in closing - is there anything you or Glass Eye Pix are up to that I should mention? 

Glass Eye Pix has movies in almost every stage of production. We're about to shoot something now that I can't speak precisely about, but we're editing a few movies, and I'm looking for money for a film, so... we always have irons in the fire, but until they're ready for the public there's no point to go on about it, just to say "keep an eye on us,", there's all the news that's fit to print.

Note: people interested in exploring Larry Fessenden's work might want to check out the Larry Fessenden Collection, from Shout! Factory. And the Cinematheque's Kelly Reichardt retrospective, Nomadic Gestures, runs this weekend, to May 23rd.

Gerry Hannah: Of Punk, Pornography, Politics and Prison

This is an expanded version of the piece I did with Gerry Hannah for the Straight online awhile back, since he's playing the Fox (NOT the Commodore!) with Art Bergmann this weekend. I won't be there, Gerry, sorry! We talk about Todd Serious a bit near the end. The intro comes from an article I did for a German magazine... Enjoy...
 Gerry Hannah by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

That I know of, there's no story in the annals of punk rock more interesting, inspiring, or disturbing than that of former Subhumans (Canada) bassist Gerry Hannah. Back in the early 1980's, he followed his commitment to punk politics - his radicalism, his environmentalism, his feminism, his anti-war agitation - to the extent of dropping out of society and training as an urban guerrilla, something generally unheard of in recent Canadian history. Nevermind GG Allin flinging poo, this is the real dangerous edge of punk, the shit-or-get-off-the-pot decision to go all the way as a revolutionary.

There's revolutionary posturing throughout the subculture, of course, and certainly other sincere punk anti-fascists and anarchists committed to trying to better society; the late Todd Serious, of Vancouver band the Rebel Spell, was one such person (and a friend and fellow admirer of Gerry's to boot). But there's also a lot of "we mean it maaan" image-building in the subculture that, let's face it, is about as sincere as Slayer's Satanism.

No questioning Gerry Hannah's sincerity, though; in Vancouver, no one took it farther than he did, "walking the talk" of punk until he ended up in prison, serving five years of a ten year sentence, imprisoned with his compatriots in the group Direct Action - better known in the mainstream media as "the Squamish Five," after their 1983 takedown on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, just south of Squamish, BC. That's where the group had been training with weapons and planning to rob a Brinks truck, to help finance their life underground, while the RCMP built a case against them. 

The story is disturbing precisely because the Five - also including Hannah's then-girlfriend, Julie Belmas, who had briefly played in the Vancouver punk band No Exit - took it so far. A security guard, TerryChikowski, was nearly killed by a bomb set off by Belmas, Ann Hansen, and Brent Taylor, as an unintended result of their blowing up a building at Toronto's Litton Industries, where guidance systems for US Cruise Missiles were being manufactured.

Hannah was not charged with involvement in that particular action, but he still catches heat for it - most notoriously from Canadian political pundit, speechwriter, and former Hot Nasties member Warren Kinsella, who rather viciously smears Hannah in his 2005 book, Fury's Hour. But Kinsella is not the only person who questions the Five's methods. Even Hannah himself, in Susanne Tabata's documentary about the Vancouver punk scene, Bloodied But Unbowed, says pretty decisively that their actions were misguided, reasoning that if one group on the radical left claims the right to break the law and blow things up in response to sincere political commitments, surely equally sincere groups on the right - anti-abortion activists, say - can also claim that right? And nobody wants that…
The Subhumans (Canada) are no more. Hannah left the band in 2010, after what was perhaps their best-attended show since reuniting, opening for Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine at the Rickshaw Theatre, photos from which can be seen on the Big Takeover website (“Jello TakesVancouver”). The remaining members considered getting a replacement bassist, which is what they had done for their (excellent, under-rated) 1983 LP No Wishes, No Prayers, recorded when Hannah left the band the first time, in 1981; but it never happened. A few years after Hannah’s departure, in December 2014, Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble, their lead singer, died of a sudden heart attack, at age 57 (RIP, Wimpy).

Gerry Hannah continues to perform with his folk-rock group the New Questioning Coyote Brigade, named after a pre-Direct Action activist group he was involved in, which practiced low-level political vandalism. That’s something Gerry is no longer involved in, but he retains a fondness for the name. The band's live repertoire includes re-workings of at least two Subhumans songs ("I Got Religion" and "21st Century" - rewritten slightly by Gerry, I believe, to avoid seeming to refer to premature ejaculation, though coming quickly and coming suddenly are pretty much equally problematic, by me, so he mighta just as well stuck with the original!).

Much else of their material is drawn from two solo releases of Hannah's. The first is a cassette-only, acoustic 1985 release, Songs From Underground, recorded while Gerry was in prison; the most famous songs on it are "Living With the Lies," which appeared on the soundtrack to Zale Dalen's cult film Terminal City Ricochet, and "Sure Looks That Way," which was memorably covered by Codeine, pushing the gloom-and-doom elements of the song to the fore. 2014 saw Hannah issue a full-band expansion and augmentation of several songs from that cassette, entitled Coming Home. The response from the punk community has been underwhelming, despite the appearance of Subhumans guitarist Mike Graham on a couple of tracks, so here's hoping this interview goes some way towards getting more people interested in the album, which can be purchasedthrough CD Baby.

The following interview took place in the summer of 2015. 

How did Songs from Underground end up getting recorded, originally?

It was recorded on a 4 track cassette tape recorder that was in Matsqui prison, that was purchased by the Matsqui Musicians Association with the help of the Sports and Recreation department. We raised money by having socials in the prison, where basically you'd have friends or relatives come out to an evening of music, or an afternoon of music. They'd pay $10 to come inside the prison and see the show, the concert, and that money would go towards the Musicians Association's budget. With that money we would buy various pieces of equipment. Among other things, we bought a 4 track recorder, and I recorded on that, with a single Dynamic microphone, and I also had access to a Poly-800 synthesizer. And I had my acoustic guitar inside the prison at that time, and the Musicians’ Association/ Sports and Recreation department already had a bass guitar. So I did bass, acoustic guitar and vocals myself. I played some synthesizer on some of the songs, and I got a couple of people who were also in prison with me to help out on background vocals and harmonica.

Did any local notables perform at these socials?

Not people that I knew. People later played Matsqui, like,  DOA played Matsqui and stuff, but not while I was in there. But we did get people -  Connie Kaldor and Roy Forbes [AKA Bim] came out and played at one social. I played at that one, as well. Those were probably the most notable celebrities we had. 

What are the oldest songs on Songs From Underground? Were any of them written before you were in prison? 

Yeah, "Like a Fire" was written before I went to prison, not long before. I think I wrote that shortly before I left the Subhumans for the first time in 1981. I think that maybe "Holy American Empire" was written around that time, too, and maybe a couple of others, I'm not sure. My memory is somewhat cloudy. But "Like a Fire" was written really a long time ago. And oddly enough, the style of the song was kind of based on David Bowie [Note: Bowie was still alive at the time of this interview]. You know the song "Andy Warhol," it was kinda similar to that, a similar style, or at least that's the way I envisioned it. As far as acoustic music went at that time, I was really into that sound, of Bowie when he did acoustic stuff. I guess it was kind of long ago. And I have to admit I was a huge Doors fan, so I think there's a bit of Doors in there too, probably. 

It's a powerful song - it's always been one of my favourites. But I wonder, that song, and "Cold Kechika Wind," both have a lot of youthful angst in them. I assume that last one didn't make it onto Coming Home because it's a little overwrought? Do you know what I mean?

Maybe. I definitely write songs a lot differently now, lyrically, than I used to back then, and I've probably got a different musical style too, to some extent. But yeah, "Cold Kechika Wind" did not end up on Coming Home, even though, the last time the Subhumans were in Quebec, we were in Quebec City and this person came  up to me who had heard the tape, Songs From Underground, from when I was in jail, and that was her favourite song. She sang the thing to me in the dressing room! It was quite moving, actually. But I wasn't that keen on the lyrics to "Cold Kechika Wind," I thought they needed quite a bit of work to be presentable at this stage of the game, and I wasn't willing to rework it for the album. It fell by the wayside, as did a few others, like the song "Waiting.” I took the songs that I thought were the best, that I felt the most comfortable with, happiest with at this time in my life.

Do you feel more attached to the material on Coming Home than you do to your Subhumans songs? Does it feel more personal, to you?

I wouldn't say that, no. It's obviously a different style of music, and it has a different emotional impact on me, but there are songs I wrote for the Subhumans that I feel passionately about. It's different, but one isn't more powerful for me than the other. It's just that I'm really not that interested in playing punk rock anymore; I don't like playing so fast that I feel, like - what did John Lennon - or, uh, Chuck Berry - say, in "Rock'n' Roll Music," about losing the beauty of the melody because they're playing it "too darn fast?" The other thing is, the formula for writing lyrics in punk rock - and I'm a slave to the punk rock formula -  is really in your face, there's no ambiguity whatsoever. "This is what we're telling you, and it's black and white." That's not really where I'm at it terms of lyric writing at the moment, I want to move beyond that. I'm not saying I do move beyond that, but ideally I would like to. And I think the songs on Coming Home are... there's a little bit more room for the listener to move around in the lyrics, without being hit in the head with a sledgehammer and told how to think. 

In fact, there's one I'm pretty sure I don't understand. You mention pornography in the liner notes, in regard to the song "Half-Life," but it's not really about pornography, right?

It's much more complex than that. It's more about the objectification of humanity. It's about viewing people as commodities and objects as opposed to having some kind of intimate, almost spiritual intercourse with someone that you care about or are affectionate with or love or whatever. It's more about that. That, to some extent, has fallen by the wayside in mainstream society, and we have a much more objectified view of what is attractive, and what deserves our affection, and what we should desire sexually. It has a lot more to do with objectification that it does with actually seeing a human being for who they are and how they feel and what they experience and what's going on inside their head, what their spirit is all about... it's about that. In the liner notes, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned pornography, because I'm not just talking about pornography that you go on the internet to see, or buy a video or something, I'm talking about pornography in its more general widespread sense, even in the way we sell clothes and cars and commodities. We use pornographic imagery, practically, to sell that stuff. And even our entertainers now practically have to be pornographic, in order to gain an audience. Or maybe they like being pornographic? But it's a whole different thing. It's only half or what's required in a real relationship. Certainly you want to have lust in a relationship, I think, that's great, in an intimate, sexual relationship. But you also want to have connection. What's behind those eyes, when you look into their eyes? 

And I'm not pointing a finger and going, "you guys are a bunch of fuckin' assholes, get your shit together." I'm looking at myself, and how all of this affects me, and how I end up looking at women. And it scares me, I don't like it, it freaks me out. (On stage, Hannah has drawn parallels between "Half-Life" and his Subhumans song, "Slave to My Dick.") 

I gotta segue into a question that you might not like, but how did you feel about the Wimmin's Fire Brigade? Did you support what they did? [Hannah's then-partner, Julie Belmas, participated along with other women in Direct Action in the 1982 fire bombings of three locations of Canadian video chain store Red Hot Video, who, in the early 1980's, were allegedly taking advantage of the lack of regulation of VHS tapes in Canada to distribute some fairly vile porn, including, or so it was rumoured, snuff]. 

Oh yeah, I supported it, because I knew what was going on at Red Hot Video, I knew what kind of films they were selling, and I thought they were horrendous. I'm not into aiding and abetting guys getting off on either the simulated or real murder of women. Why would I support that? I don't support heroin dealers getting kids in schoolyards hooked on heroin; why would I support helping to get men hooked and addicted to pornography that was all about torturing and murdering women? Of course I supported the Wimmin's Fire Brigade, because they were challenging that in a fundamental way. Nobody else was willing to go that far, but apparently that was what was necessary, because up until that point, nobody did anything about that. 

Yeah, it's interesting. I have a bit of history of working at video stores in the 1980's, and I remember getting lists of movies - and not just porn, it was everything from John Waters' Pink Flamingos, say, to Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS - that we were supposed to pull from the shelves, because they had been deemed offensive, pornographic, politically unacceptable or what-have-you. I've often wondered if the start of the classification of porn and other movies, if our current system of reviewing and regulating movies in BC, was a direct reaction to the Wimmin's Fire Brigade - if the authorities figured, "we better start regulating this, because we can't have this sort of thing happening." It's a bit of unwritten history.

I don't know anything about that... obviously somebody was making decisions about what movies were appropriate for a young audience and which weren't - the "restricted" thing at movies - long before the Wimmin's Fire Brigade attacked Red Hot Video. But... I really don't know! Censorship is one of those really tough calls. Most people who want a free and democratic society don't want censorship, but on the other hand, sometimes it seems necessary.
I have heard it said that one of the things the Fire Brigade was reacting to was an enema rape film - I think Julie said something about this, and I'm pretty sure she said the title was Water Power. Which is interesting. I haven't seen it, but that's a film that actually has a cult following among fans of extreme cinema, people like Robin Bougie of Cinema Sewer, or, I think Stephen Thrower has written about it...

I did an interview with BC Musician magazine not too long ago, and Leanne Nash asked me about the whole Red Hot Video thing, and I mentioned that we had seen a journalistic piece on Red Hot Video on BCTV, I think it was. And they actually showed footage of one of the films you could get from Red Hot Video, and it simulated a woman getting murdered by a forced water enema, tied up and basically being given an enema until she died, while she pleaded with the person who was giving her the enema to please stop. And eventually she goes limp and she dies. And when we saw that, we thought, "Okay, that is totally beyond the pale. Guys are renting that and going home and jerking off over that? That's disgusting!"

So what do you make of extreme horror movies, now? Because commercial cinema is almost that bad, now. 

Well, I think it's shit! I don't watch it. I try to avoid watching movies with gratuitous violence in them, unless it's outrageously tongue-in-cheek. For instance, Fight Club, which is about as far down that route as I go. Fight Club, I still like that movie. It's not one of my favourites, but it's got redeeming qualities for a mainstream movie. Or, well, I call it a mainstream movie. Some people might say it's got a lot of violence in it, but the violence in it is pretty tongue-in-cheek; it's not like somebody is gleefully torturing somebody else, and there's no explanation in the movie of why that's happening, and there's no redeeming factor for it being in there. Those kinds of movies I'm not interested in, and it disturbs me that lots of people really like those movies. I think, "maybe you ought to do an analysis - what is it that you like about watching someone suffer? Why do you like that? Would you like that in real life? Would you like to watch someone tortured or beaten to death in real life?" So yeah: I'm not big on that stuff. I'm not saying that we should be going and censoring all that stuff, I don't care for it. Michelle, my wife, and I, watched a movie not too long ago, about three young people, kinda hipsters, who share an apartment, I think in Scotland, and it has whatsisname from Trainspotting in it?

Ewan McGregor? You're talking about Shallow Grave. 

I didn't like that movie at all. I thought the violence in it was gratuitous and over the top. I'm sure lots of people thought it was a great movie. Maybe you liked it, because I know you like those offbeat, fairly violent movies...?

I do!

But I thought the violence in it was gratuitous. Did I really need to see from the inside of a bathtub what it looked like for a man to be forcibly drowned, and what his face looked like after the life had gone out of his body? I don't need to see that! What do I need to see that for? This shit's really happening, man, all over the world: people are being beheaded, people are having primer cord wrapped around their necks and having their heads blown off by ISIL. I mean, I know that terrible things are happening, and I don't think I'm the kind of person who would hide my head in the sand if I had to deal with really brutal acts happening in my face. In the past, I've sort of been able to deal with that. But I don't need to go and spend money to watch that happening. But that's just me. 

There are a fair number of people who would agree with you on that, though.

Well, I know I'm supposed to be this vicious terrorist guy who society should be protected against, because I'm ultra-violent - "look out, I might blow up your high school," or whatever the ultra-Conservative rhetoric is about Direct Action/ Squamish Five right now. But it's ridiculous, because actually I don't like violence. I don't like it at all. That's not to say that I don't crave justice to the point where I can be vengeful, practically. I am that way. I'm very passionate about my beliefs. But I don't like violence, I hate violence. It's horrible.

Let me segue into the topic of Julie. 
I want to ask about the song “The Woman Reborn” (The song deals with Belmas turning against her former comrades during her sentencing appeal, an action that infuriated many people on the radical left in Vancouver; graffiti shown in the book Lost History: Vancouver Street Art in 1985, by Ron Kearse, includes the slogan, "Crucify Belmas," on one wall]. Has she responded to it, at all? 

(Laughing): Nobody's responded to the record. Why would she bother responding to the song? Maybe Julie's gotten wise in her old age and she realizes when there's a point in typing on her computer keyboard and when there's not. To my knowledge she hasn't responded to it, she probably doesn't even know it exists. Last I heard, she hated my guts, and basically everybody in Direct Action’s guts, and, y'know, that's fine. I can't do anything about it. I've tried over the years to connect with Julie and talk with her and try to find out where she was at, and explain to her where I was at, and one minute she would be, like, "oh yeah, let's get together and talk," and the next, "I don't want anything to do with you," and tell my parole officer, "I don't want Gerry Hannah ever phoning me" and so on and so forth. It was almost like two personalities. For a long time there, Julie was saying it was all our fault that she was involved in Direct Action; that it was largely my fault, and that I should have done something to stop her. And now... I don't know what she's saying. 

There was a blog interview with her that's kind of disappeared from the internet, that seemed like she was actually endorsing direct action again, but I don't really remember what she said. It was kind of confusing. But were you at all ambivalent about putting this song in the world, were you worried that she might be upset, or...?

I can't say that it didn't cross my mind that she might have something to say about it, because she had something to say about a song that actually had nothing to do with her, and that was "Living With the Lies." She thought that I wrote that song about her, and I didn't. That song was written about three fellow prisoners, these three doofuses who shared a table with me at Matsqui, when I first got there, who were constantly putting me down and laughing at my political position, of how we believed in trying to bring about a revolution in Canada, and at my desire to keep alive my relationship with the person I was in love with at that time [ie, Julie]. They laughed at that stuff, they trashed it, they were sarcastic, they were dicks. They would tell me what was no doubt happening with Julie in Kingston Penitentiary (across the country from where Hannah was incarcerated), about how she was no doubt getting it on with women prisoners and how her love of me was no doubt completely forgotten. They were so negative and cynical that I ended up moving to a different table and taking my meals with some other people, who ended up being really nice, and great people. The first three guys were who that song was written about. "Living With the Lies." "You guys are so jaded, so cynical, that you can’t even see, you can’t even get close to being able to look at the truth anymore, you’re just hiding in this miserable, angry little world that you live in, and of course as soon as you get out, you’re going to go and fuck up again, and you’ll be right back in here, where you hate being." But Julie thought it was about her, and her sister actually wrote me a letter talking about how she was upset about that song, and I heard other people talk about how Julie felt it was really wrong for me to write that song about her. And she came onto my blogspot, Another Useless Subhuman, anonymously, but it was obviously her, and trashed that song, and it was never written about her!


The song that I did write about her was called “The Woman Reborn.” That song was written years later. And I know what you wrote about it in your review of Coming Home, and as I indicated to you, I disagree with your analysis. I don't think it's angry at all. It’s sad. And I don’t think it’s unfair or harsh to her. I say clearly in the song that I pity her and feel bad about what happened to her. I’m watching this person basically come unraveled before my very eyes. They’re in so much fear and pain that they’re basically inventing stories to try and get out of the horrible hellhole that they find themselves in. And I pity them! But at the same time, I can’t accept the stories that they’re inventing, that aren’t true. And that’s what that song’s saying. It’s not saying, "You’re a fuckin’ bitch, I hope you rot in hell," you know? I don’t say that, that’s not what that song says at all. That song says, "This is how I feel about what happened with my ex-girlfriend."

The angry part, to me, is coming out and saying that in public. 

It's history, man. It's Canadian history. Like, what happened in Romeo and Juliet, they made some fuckups, too, and it ended up in both of them being killed, but we want to know that story. The more we know about how human beings function and how they interact and what can happen in relationships, the better. Like, how does betrayal come about? It's like watching a movie about the dilemma that Palestinians find themselves in who end up being thrown in jail by the Israeli army, and being told, "look, you can either rot in jail for the next twenty years, because we know that you were involved this action against Israel, or you can go back to the West Bank or Gaza and you can be informer for us, and we'll pay you. Not only will we not keep you in prison, we'll pay you to tell us what we want to know." That is a very real situation, and I'm not one of those people who go, "they're rats, shoot'em all." Sometimes I'm angry with people who rat out and betray people, for sure, and I don't condone it, but it's a complicated situation, isn't it? It's not black and white, it's a difficult position to find yourself in. And I think the song "The Woman Reborn" explores that. And if I'm angry at anybody in that song, I'm angry at the authorities. I'm angry at CSIS. I'm angry at Kingston Prison for Women staff, that basically bamboozled her and made promises to her when she was in a desperate, fearful state, and they basically turned her against her own ideals and her own friends. That's who I'm angry with. I'm not angry with Julie... or, I'm angry with Julie, but not because of that. I'm angry with Julie because of all the horrible things she's said about me since then. I'm not angry with Julie because of what happened. I was at one time, I'm not now. She was put in a horrible situation, right? She didn't know what to do, she didn't have a support network to help her out, she was 2,000 miles away from her family and friends, and she was bamboozled and pressured to make a decision that was a bad one. In order to get her sentence reduced, she was supposed to say she was actually frightened for her life to leave the group. Which was absolute bullshit. There was no reason to be frightened. In fact, she did leave the group, one night, and then she came back. Her Dad met her somewhere in New Westminster, they had ice cream, and she decided "I'm not going to leave the group after all," and she came back. So she was not afraid. There was no pressure, other than, "Oh, come on, you're going to leave? Come on, we put all this work into it." That kind of pressure. That's as far as it went. I don't know if that clarifies my position at all... I'm trying to explain how a person that you care about can be taken from you and turned into someone you do not know, by forces that are completely beyond your control.

I have to beg your indulgence Gerry, because - and I think I speak for a lot of people here - I haven't been in a relationship remotely like yours with Julie. Ever. I haven't had a life remotely like yours. So listening to this album, I'm listening to it as an outsider trying to make sense of it. I think you're right that it has historical value - but it's also really kind of remote from me, y'know? But I'm curious - are there people who have picked up and bonded with you on this material, maybe people in prison, political radicals, who have "gotten" this material in ways maybe ordinary people can't? 

Well, I told you I met that woman in Quebec City who could sing "Cold Kechika Wind" to me word for word, and English was not her first language. And she loved that song, and she got the whole message behind that song. Which is actually another kind of allusion. Even though that song is apparently about the wolf cull - the old wolf cull, the one that was happening in 1982, as opposed to the current one in BC - even though that song is using that as a metaphor, it's also about losing your partner to the authorities. That image creeps up in that song as well. And this woman knew exactly what I was talking about. And my wife and I watch a lot of movies about Palestinian prisoners and south American prisoners, we study guerrilla history, and we read about, even, people who were guerrillas in Chile, after Pinochet took power - people who ended up settling in Vancouver. There's a great movie called The Legend of Rita [German title Die Stille nach dem Schuß]. I don't know if you know that movie or not, which explores the whole dynamics of being in a guerrilla movement, and what happens after that, and how one tries to hide in society. It's of interest to me, because I've been there, but there are people who have been there a hundred times deeper than I've been there. And I find it fascinating, because I think you learn a tremendous amount about humanity when you study that stuff, when you look at how people function in very difficult, very challenging, very isolated situations, where they basically depend upon a little tiny group of people for their basic survival. And what happens when those relationships sour? Or things get really heavy, and there's the threat of jail or death. I do think about these things. I guess they're not that remote, to me. People are going through this stuff all over the world right now, there are conflicts raging all over the Middle East, people are being taken prisoner, people are being killed, people are fighting guerrilla wars and conventional wars, if you will... this stuff is happening. Yeah, sure - we're removed from it, here in the Lower Mainland. But a huge part of the world is going through this shit every day.

Yeah, it's true... do you ever get tired of being under public scrutiny? Because in a way, I was almost surprised this album came out. When you left the Subhumans, I thought, "that's it, Gerry's had enough of being under the microscope." There's a lot of shit that's been thrown at you over the years...

It goes back and forth, to be honest with you. I'll get sick to death of the attention. I don't get that much, but the little attention I do get, I'll get sick to death of that, and go, "to hell with this, I'll just go out and do a long haul job on the highway, I'm not going to bother with music or art or whatever." And there are other times when I crave it, when I go, "I'm not hearing the analysis of this situation that I want to hear, where is the voice? Where is the public voice that I want to hear out there, saying the things that need to be said about this subject?" And that's when I suddenly go, "Well, I want to say it, then." I don’t want to have to build myself in any way, or pretend to be somebody I’m not, which is inevitably required of you if you want to be some kind of public figure, but on the other hand, I look and go, where is the real analysis of climate change, and what that will really mean in terms of lifestyle changes for us? If we really want to face what we need to do – when are people actually going to start talking about that? What are we really going to do about overpopulation? Whatever happened to that - you don’t even hear that word anymore, and that was a big thing in the 1970’s. It was on the tip of many people’s tongues – the earth is overpopulated, we’re stripping the planet, and it’s going to get way, way worse, and we need to do something about it. But everybody now, even progressive people, they seem to feel that it’s their sacred right to have as many kids as they want to have. And I’m thinking, how come nobody’s talking about this.


And let’s face it, if we really want to start talking about climate change, we’ve really gotta dramatically change our lifestyles. We’ve gotta dramatically alter the way we relate to the earth and nature. We cannot function on anywhere near as the same level as we have to. For one thing, we’ve got to stop pushing internal combustion engines on the population. I know it’s not true among the intellectuals and progressives in East Vancouver, so much, but everywhere else in the province, everybody wants to have a personal watercraft. Everybody wants to have a 200 horsepower speedboat with a stereo system that blasts across the lake, mounted on a bar across the top. Everybody wants to have skidoos. Everybody wants to have a fifth wheel trailer pulled around by a Dodge diesel. They’re still completely in that mindset. Everybody wants to have an ATV. Everybody wants to be able to drive everywhere, nobody wants to walk anywhere. Well, when are we going to start talking about this? When are we going to start going to people who sell internal combustion engine machines, for so called outdoor recreation, and say, you know, “this is the same as selling tobacco. This is the same as selling heroin. You’re encouraging people to go out and burn fossil fuels just for the fuck of it!

But hang on, Gerry – you’ve got a song, “Winding Ribbon of Dreams,” about how much you love driving!

I don’t mention the word driving, I say “the highway” (laughs). For all you know, I’m hitchhiking, buddy! Or maybe I’m riding a horse. But yeah, things are going to have to change. I’m going to have to curtail my travel; everybody’s going to have to curtail their travel. We’ve got people jetting all over the world. And at the same time talking about how they want to shut down the pipeline. You can’t shut down the pipeline and make twenty jet flights a year, and not have “hypocrisy” in a big glowing neon billboard over your head flashing off and on.

Right, right… Look… I’ve gotta ask you a question, it’s going to sound like I’m putting you down but I’m not, I enjoy talking with you, I agree with most of what you say, but I’ve never really understood where you’re coming from in this one line in the song, “Living With the Lies.” You have a line there, “because I don’t talk/ about everything I know.” And jeez, Gerry, that doesn’t fit my experience of you. Where did that come from? You are so articulate, and you do talk so passionately, what were you referring to?

Do you think I talk like this when I’m at work? Do you think I talked like this when I was in prison, sitting with a bunch of hardened criminals at a dinner table, chowing down on the crap? (Laughs). And I’m a different person, too. I’m a lot more in your face, now, than I was. A lot more. And with people like you, who I think can understand where I’m coming from, to my friends, again, who can understand where I’m coming from, I don’t have any problem saying what I think and why I think it and what historical fact I can pull out of my ass to back up my thoughts. But it depends who I’m talking to. With some people, I really have to pull in my horns, I have to dumb down my language sometimes, there’s certain topics I can’t really talk about, or at least not talk about the way I would talk to other people. The other thing is, that even people who understand what I’m saying, or should understand what I’m saying, they think I’m an idiot, or disagree with what I’m saying, or maybe both. So maybe they do think I’m an idiot, maybe they do think I don’t know shit. I would wager that there are people in Canada who are intellectuals, maybe at one time were progressive intellectuals, who now believe that if you criticize Israel and their occupation of Palestine, you’re anti-Semitic. Well, those people are going to dismiss me as being a dolt, and not knowing what I’m talking about, or worse – that I’m anti-Jewish or whatever. And I can’t pull out all the reasons - you know what it’s like when you’re in a discussion with somebody and you’re trying to make them understand why you disagree. They’re not going to really hear what you’re saying. They don’t have access to the historical stuff that you have access to necessarily, so your whole arguments lacks any context to them. So in that sense – “just because I don’t talk/ about everything I know” – well, you can’t talk about everything you know in a ten minute debate. You can’t usher in all the facts in a conversation, necessarily, that you need to usher in to make people go, “okay, I see what you’re saying.” Y’know? And maybe I am an idiot. Maybe my positions on some issues aren’t that together, maybe not? But I’m not a computer, I can’t store all the information from all the books I’ve read and usher it up in my argument. Some people are really good at that, and I really admire that they can do that, it’s amazing. Like, Noam Chomsky is pretty good at that, but I’m not that kind of person. I’ve got the passion but I lack the ability to read like an encyclopedia when necessary.

It’s just hard for me to imagine you censoring yourself. All my conversations with you go to like this. But we all kind of live with lies, to some extent. It’s kind of a pre-condition to living in the world we’re in now.

You have to be in denial. You have to be on some level of denial. Some people are extreme about it, of course.

Let me ask you about another song on the album, “You Can Take It From Me.” That’s, I think, the best song on the album that I’d never heard before in any format, it’s probably my favourite of the new songs. There’s another line I don’t understand, about how “at last the dead are living, it seems.”

It was referring to the possibility of creating artificial human beings, at least physically artificial. We’re to the point where technology is like – do you remember Barney, the heart patient? Maybe you were pretty young at that time, but this artificial heart was created for this person named Barney Clark [Clark, a 61 year old dentist, received an artificial heart in 1982 and died 112 days later, in 1983]. And his doctor was showing the world how well the heart was working, to have this heart transplant. And he gave his patient a beer, and he was having a beer after this heart transplant. And there was something about that… I was already kind of anti-technological. Back when we were in Direct Action, we were kind of anti-technological; we didn’t have that figured out too carefully, but we had some kind of instinctual understanding that this belief that technology was going to set us free and solve all our problems, we had some instinctual feeling, the five of us did, that there was something horribly wrong with this idea, right. And in fact, we needed to simplify our technology, we needed to go back to the basic technology that served to make people’s lives not pure drudgery. But we needed to not go too far with technology, and not make it a new religion, and that’s kind of what’s happening in that song. I’m kind of using Barney and the artificial heart as a metaphor for how we’re going to solve everything with technology, so that eventually, we’re not going to die anymore. We’re going to basically just have artificial bodies. That’s what I was talking about in the line “at last the dead are living, it seems.”

But the overall song is about being led into your parole officer’s office and being lectured by him, right?

Right… it almost is two separate ideas in one song. But the difference is, in both instances, it’s someone saying, “Hey, this is how it is, I know, I’m an expert on the subject, and you can take it from me, you don’t need to take it any further.” One is the technocrats, the technocracy, saying “we’re going to be able to feed the world’s population ten times over with this new genetically modified wheat that we’ve created. Technology is going to set everybody free,” right? They don’t bother saying that they could have fed the world two times over already, twenty years ago, but nobody’s going to do it, because it’s a capitalist society and we want money for our wheat. It doesn’t matter how much wheat we can grow, we want money for it, and if you’re some starving beggar in some third world country, and you can’t pay for the wheat, you’re not going to get it; it doesn’t matter how much we can create, it’s irrelevant…


But that’s a side issue. So verse one is talking about technology and poking at the idea that technology is going to set us free, and… it’s almost free-form thinking: from technology, we go to the marketplace, and have a stockbroker who is thankful for the invention of nuclear weapons, because devices are now going to be invented for the delivery systems of nuclear weapons, just like artificial hearts are going to be invented, and this helps fuel a capitalist system and makes some people a lot of money. So okay, then the voice says, “this is what I’ve found, you can take it from me.” This is the voice of authority. The predominant voice of authority on our system is saying that capitalism is good, it’s good that technology is going to set us free, it’s good that people are employed at Boeing and Lockheed, even though they’re making jets and bombs to kill people over in other countries… and then when it goes to the parole officer, he’s saying, basically, “the way you want to do things is completely wrong, you’ve got to do things the way I say you’ve got to do them.” Again, the voice of authority is telling you how you should think. I realize it’s a slightly convoluted song, but somehow the emotion ties it together. It’s basically attacking, questioning the things authoritative voices tell us. It’s questioning those things, and it’s questioning the voice itself, and saying, “should we be listening to this voice, or should we be thinking for ourselves? Maybe there’s a problem with all of these ideas?”

I’m nodding.

Are you nodding out? (Laughs).

Heh. No. But I have to ask about a few more things - leaving the Subhumans, Brian, and Todd. Why did you decide you didn’t want to do the Subhumans anymore?

I guess – there were a few reasons of course, but I guess the main reason was, I was starting to find it embarrassing. I was embarrassed to have to ask clubs like Lee's Palace in Toronto and other people for guarantees of $1200 and $1500 dollars when I knew that we would be lucky if we could draw a hundred people to the show. And in fact, the last show that we played at Lee's Palace, we drew 99 paying customers, and we had been given a $1200 guarantee. I got tired of that! Because you gotta hype the band. We didn't have a manager. I kind of served to some extent as the manager and to a large extent as the booking agent. So that meant I had to sell the band across the country, tell everybody why the Subhumans were relevant, why they mattered, why they deserved a $1200 or $1500 guarantee. And I felt pressure on me to get top dollar, because we were legendary – in a few people’s minds. And I got tired of doing it, because I really could see... In every city in this country, there's a handful of people who think the Subhumans are really great, were really great. They still might not come out to a show, because they got other shit on the go. They might have to take their kids out to, y’know, hockey or maybe they're tired at night because both the husband and wife worked, or the husband and husband worked, or the wife and wife worked, or whatever, right, and they don't want to go to a show. But the point is, attendance had just dropped through the floor. And there comes a time when, you're trying to sell the band for all they're worth so you can make enough money to pay at least most of the expenses for a tour or such, but you realize that it's like trying to sell a car that doesn't run, and you're trying to make it sound like the greatest new car that's just rolled off the assembly line, and after a while it feels kind of fraudulent.

That’s sad, man. The Subhumans were a great band.

Well, you think so. But the majority of Canadians do not. The vast majority of Canadians don't even know who the Subhumans are, and of the ones that do, only a handful of them think the Subhumans were good. So we have to face facts. And if I'm going to play tiny audiences, I'd rather play my acoustic guitar, you know what I mean? I don't want to sell THE SUBHUMANS. That was the biggest reason.  

I was really happy – one of the things that really touched me at a concert in the last few years – was seeing Jello Biafra standing at the Rickshaw saying, “I never thought I’d get to see the Subhumans again.” And how happy he was to be seeing you guys play. I was really happy for him, that he got to see you guys. And you were in top form that night. That was the last show you ever did, right?

That’s right. That was really a great show – I thought we played really well. Although Jello was kind of unhappy with us after the show because we didn’t do enough political ranting in between songs. He felt like we should have been ranting and raving about the oil sands and whatnot, but that’s just not the way it worked. Brian wasn’t really into giving long political spiels from the stage in between songs. He would do kind of a slapstick thing, or make some kind of joke, but Brian was never that good at doing a real long political analysis, verbally, onstage, between songs. He did a lot of other things really well, but – that’s kind of his job as a frontman, and because we were a politically charged band. We were probably one of the most political punk bands in North America, and Jello kind of felt that was our job. But Brian wasn’t that good at it, and me not being the frontman, it guess it didn’t really seem appropriate for me to be doing it. And I know that some people in the band just wanted to get going with the songs, they didn’t want to have a bunch of talk between songs.

I mean, I don’t mean to run him down, but [Subhumans drummer] Jon Card has gone on record as saying you talk a lot

All I’m going to say there was a little bit of pressure from in the band, definitely for me not to go into some kind of long winded talk onstage. I think Brian could have got away with it, but it wasn’t really his forte.

Did you see Brian in the last couple of years of his life? Did he hear Coming Home?

No, he never heard Coming Home. I don’t think he necessarily would have liked it that much, but he never heard it. He died, I believe, December 7th, and Coming Home came out December 2nd. So no, he didn’t hear it.

So you weren’t in touch with him in the last while.

No, not really. I think we exchanged one email in the last year prior to his death. I mean, he was kind of involved in the Trespassers with Jon Card, and whoever else was in that band [The vocalist was the Scrambler’s Howard Rix, also since departed].

Let me ask, then: how close were you to Todd?

I wasn’t super close to Todd. I knew Stepha in the band, their original drummer, better than Todd, because Stepha’s mother is an old friend of mine, who I’ve known for many years. But I’d run into him now and then, and we both had a lot of respect for each other. We both had kind of a Williams Lake connection. He came from Williams Lake, and I lived in Williams Lake for a few years, and I loved Williams Lake, I loved a lot of people in Williams Lake. And then we were both in political punk rock bands, and he felt the Subhumans were an important band. But I wasn’t super close to him.

You didn’t do outdoors stuff with him?

No. I wanted to. I was thinking of moving up to Lillooet – I still am – and one of the things that appealed to me was that Todd was living there, and he was really into the outdoors, of course [Todd Serious, born Todd Jenkins, was an avid rock climber, which is how he died, on March 7th, 2015]. And he was also really into political ideas and alternative music, so he seemed like a good ally to have in a small town. But then that didn’t happen. We had a few conversations that I felt were good conversations and stuff, but I didn’t hang out with him much. I would have liked to.