Monday, April 15, 2019

The situation in Maple Ridge is being framed in dishonest and misleading ways

I don't live in Maple Ridge anymore, but I did for most of my life. I was born in Vancouver, but my parents moved out to the suburbs in 1970 or so, because it seemed better to them to raise a baby in the 'burbs than the city; and I lived there with them until 1996 or so. I spent a couple of years in the late 1990's living in Port Moody (but still going to Maple Ridge regularly to visit my parents); then I moved to Japan, from 1999 to 2002. When I returned, I moved first into Vancouver, and lived for a few years there, but eventually - in 2009 - when my father was dying of cancer and my mother was suffering the effects of a stroke, I moved back to Maple Ridge, so as to be with them, and spent six or seven years, after my father died, living a few block from my mother, so I could be there if she needed me. Eventually the reality of needing to find work in Vancouver meant that I relocated - this time to Burnaby, where I moved in with my now-wife, but I still spent a ton of time in Maple Ridge, to visit Mom and take care of her various needs (she was pretty hale, but needed help with shopping and other household chores). I know the city well - would say that I've spent 35 years (of my 51 years alive) there.

And here's the thing: for reasons I do not fully understand, you are not being told the full story about the homeless crisis in Maple Ridge. The news stories are being very selective in what they report - so much so, you could almost say that they're lying to you. Consider this story from yesterday. (I'm going to reprint some of the story here, in case it gets changed or taken offline, and I'll intersperse some commentary):

Hundreds protest in dueling rallies over Maple Ridge modular housing
by Taran Parmar and Monika Gul
Posted Apr 14, 2019 7:27 am PDT
Dueling rallies in Maple Ridge Sunday, both centered around where people living in the city’s homeless camps should go.
Hundreds packed Memorial Park demanding the province rethink plans to expand modular housing in parts of the city. “Our city, our choice,” was their rallying cry. 
Just a few blocks away, supporters and residents of the Anita Place Tent City held their own rally, calling for compassion and more modular housing units and low-income housing options in the city. “Homes not hate” was their chant of choice.
Thoughtful people might ask what the "Our city, our choice" slogan refers to - what choice, in specific. If there are homeless living in tent cities in Maple Ridge, and the local housed people don't want to provide them housing - well, what utter assholes they must be! Would they prefer to keep the tent cities intact, for some bizarre reason? (And why are there tent cities in Maple Ridge, anyhow? Isn't it unusual for a small sleepy community to have a large number of homeless? How did these people get there?). 

Maybe there's an answer in the next couple of paragraphs...?
Supporters of the tent city wanted to raise awareness about hardships homeless people are facing — some living in the camp told their stories and talked about why they support modular homes.

Ivan Drury, an advocate for tenants, says the group wants “homes not hate” and community support when it comes to low-income housing options.
“The province announced recently plans to build an additional 53 units of modular housing in Maple Ridge,” he says. “And it’s provoked a mob response from anti-homeless in the community.” 
If you were confused by the start of the story, you'll be more confused now. "Supporters of the tent city" are actually the people who want to build modular housing. So the people being accused of hate don't want the tent city and they don't want housing; what is it that they DO want? Just how anti-homeless are they? (What the hell does it mean to be anti-homeless AND anti-housing? Do they just want the homeless exterminated or something?).

Given the way the issue has been framed, in this and in almost every news story you read, you can only assume the residents of Maple Ridge are hateful, heartless bastards, on the wrong side of the story. That's the tone I see, time and again when looking at such stories in the news; you get a different story talking to residents or business owners in Maple Ridge. Their story, by and large, is not being represented; it occasionally sneaks through in a quote, where they're allowed to speak for themselves, or sometimes in a comment after a news story. It is a little more complicated than just hating the homeless, for no reason, and yet perversely not wanting to house them.

You can get some of it by continuing with the news story mentioned, above.
Another, opposing rally was held by those who didn’t want the supportive housing in their neighbourhoods.
Neighbours speak out against housing project for homeless 
Cassandra was just one of the hundreds of people who rallied at Memorial Peace park in Maple Ridge. She claims drug use and crime have surged in the last two years since the tent city popped up — adding that as a resident, it’s her right to be concerned. 
“We need to face this problem, because it is only going to get worse. Maple Ridge is dying. We can’t just house the drug crisis, we have to treat it,” she says. “I hate my children seeing people use drugs. I hate the crime that goes along with addictions. I hate what it has done to my family, and I hate what it’s done to the city that I love so much."
Garth spoke at the rally and says he’s struggled with addiction himself, but adds the province need to provide better resources for those who may be homeless. 
“Without detox treatment, recovery, life skills classes, and finally reintegration into the job force, this really is merely a handout,” he says.\
We are beginning, maybe, to get somewhere, but there are still unanswered questions: like where the tent city "popped up" from, or why there is so big a drug problem in Maple Ridge. This is where some actual journalism would be of value - beyond what I'm prepared to do for this blogpiece, but some things that might be worth investigating (or at least mentioning) include that the tent city has been an ongoing problem for years in Maple Ridge, as this 2017 news story will attest; that the issue is really about low-barrier housing - that Maple Ridge is being  used to create shelter spaces for people from the DTES (and elsewhere) with serious drug problems, who are being housed without any requirement to clean up - who are basically being given a free place to do drugs in; and that the effects of shipping people with meth, crack, heroin and cocaine problems into a small bedroom community with lots of seniors and children have not been pretty.

It's not a question of whether poor people deserve housing or whether Maple Ridge residents hate the homeless - these are totally dishonest ways of framing the issue. It's about whether one specific community should be used as a dumping ground for people with intractable drug problems, which has been what's happening in Maple Ridge, and which impacts far more than the people living in the tent city. Look at comments from people on this petition - people speak of drug addicts going through their cars at night, about theft from their property, about having to nail down their belongings to keep them safe. The comments from this news story - so much more informative than the actual news story! - speak of drug addicted prostitutes using 223rd as a stroll (something I wrote about here, actually - maybe a bit insensitively - back in 2012, when it was a relatively new phenomenon); of having to scour parks for needles to keep children safe; there are even stories of people shitting in residents' back yards. Some of that might be hyperbolic, but I've witnessed things like this myself - sketchy, sometimes really messed up people staggering down the sidewalk, or riding bicycles to get around; people breaking into my parents' building to sleep in the communal spaces (my father worked as a caretaker at a senior's building, and had to deal with this himself, "evicting," one time, a couple that had made their way to the 11th floor TV room, and had on their possession a long metal pipe that was presumably either a weapon or a B&E tool; another time, someone was found sleeping in the building's utilities shed). There are also stories about endless dumpster diving; pawnshops and gas stations getting robbed; and the general unpleasant spectacle of scraggly, desperate, and deeply unhealthy people shrieking at each other on the sidewalk - all of these things (and more) being things that have happened with increasing frequency from 2010 to 2019. Try going to use a bank machine when there are two junkies with sleeping bags sleeping in it. It's not a comfortable experience. Nevermind my Mom not feeling safe on the streets of Maple Ridge: sometimes *I* didn't. It's shocking, in a community where you've grown up, to see it, over the course of a few years, so radically transformed.

When Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden got in trouble the other day for speaking about addicts "raping and pillaging" the community, he was being, yes, a bit hyperbolic, but it's a known figure of speech, that doesn't require a literal reading. It's actually pretty accurate, and it's more than telling that is this phrase (above anything else he said) that was seized upon. But move hundreds of addicts into a small town, where they have no stakes in the community at all; don't require them to clean up; give them carte blanche to use; and what the hell do you expect will happen? 

I can't know, of course, whether all the people doing such things are from the community or not, or how they ended up there; Maple Ridge DOES have its own addicts - there's a guy I know from high school who apparently got into meth, and I see him around sometimes when I visit. And it has its own homeless, not all of whom have drug problems. But I can say that ten or fifteen years ago, NONE of this was a fact of life in Maple Ridge. In the 1990's, my Mom would sometimes walk, by herself at night, to and from the bingo hall that used to be on 224th street; by 2007 or so, she was afraid to walk the streets alone in the daytime, and spent most of her last ten years in Maple Ridge afraid of her own community, only going out of the apartment if I or someone else was with her. And I don't blame her. The only other locale where I've ever seen quite as many severely damaged, desperate people in one place is on the East Hastings strip - which is much, much worse than it is in Maple Ridge, in terms of the intensity of the poverty and misery, of course. But the tent city in Maple Ridge - I would guess more than half of the people there are from East Van.

I actually can understand the logic of that - if you want to help people get off drugs, move them out of the area where drugs are most readily available. If you're going to help people get clean - which is not what low barrier housing seems to be about - that makes some degree of sense. But what's been done is not working. And for all the accusations of NIMBY whining, there's something not being mentioned - a "do it to Julia"-type betrayal of Maple Ridge, and the flipside of the NIMBY coin. You don't want addicts in YOUR backyard - but fuckit, you don't live in Maple Ridge, so why not send them there?

And through it all, there is one detail, oft-repeated (and again, usually in the comments section, not in the main story) - that Maple Ridge already has triple the amount of low-barrier beds than any other neighbouring community. I wouldn't know where to fact-check that, but it flies in the face of the picture that news stories paint of the hateful locals in Maple Ridge. It seems pretty reasonable to conclude that this is NOT a matter of "homes versus hate." It's a matter of solving the twin problems faced in the DTES, of drug addiction and homelessness - of doing something to get at the underlying causes. Homes may well be the first step in solving the problem, but there also needs to be a second step, and a third, in place; and there needs to be some thought of protecting the people who live in the community where you house these addicts, to avoid the sort of outcome that these policies have been having for my hometown.

I don't have time for more, here, but Mike Morden's full speech is apparently on Youtube. I'll be listening to it later today. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A word to the wise this Record Store Day

Do you, like me - even though you are trying to, perhaps, cut back on new acquisitions - religiously look through the list of Record Store Day releases every year, in case there's something you just really need? Or, well - maybe no one really needs a record, but I seem to see something I want about every second RSD. It'll be like: blah blah blah blah Anne Briggs reissue! (That was my one purchase last year, I think. The one before that I think I skipped, but before that, it was a Joe Strummer and the Pogues live album).

As befits my usual pattern, I see nothing that I need (or want) this year - somewhat to my relief. If I was inclined to play 7"s more than I am I'd grab Motorhead covering the Ramones' "Rockaway Beach" but I don't really break out singles very often. It's kind of an appealing one, tho'. Wait, now I'm thinking about it, maybe I need it. Want it. Um.


But the one item that I'll mention here as a public service - if you like the Velvet Underground, and/or the idea of a California "Paisley Underground" band doing a slightly amped up, slightly garage-y take on the VU's legacy, check out the Dream Syndicate's Days of Wine and Roses reissue, which comes packaged with their original EP. I'd be tempted by it just for the new liner notes - including some material from Chris D., who produced the LP,  which I never got around to asking him about - if it weren't for the fact that I have the original album and EP both, already. The Dream Syndicate is a great band (whose later recordings from back in the day went a little too far into the realm of Americana for some people, but whose recent LP, How Did I Find Myself Here, is actually head and shoulders above most "comeback" records.)  And this EP and LP combination represents (along with their new stuff) some of their strongest, most thoroughly rockin' material - really fresh, potent, lyrically smart, exciting stuff, with just enough noisiness in the guitars to justify their taking the name of (basically) a noise band (because the other, original Dream Syndicate was one of those legendary LaMonte Young projects, also known as the Theatre of Eternal Music; John Cale was among the avant garde luminaries - also including Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, and Jon Hassell - associated with it, so there's a direct lineage to early VU, there, which is presumably what the other Dream Syndicate is riffing on).

I mean, there's also a Trout Mask Replica reissue, but...

Happy (belated) Birthday, Max von Sydow!

Yesterday was Max von Sydow's 90th birthday! (Thanks to Aaron Chapman for pointing it out on FB). I love Max. From the wounded recluse who gets sucked back into dealing with people in Bergman's A Passion (wrongly titled here as The Passion of Anna) to the cultured, quiet hitman in The Three Days of the Condor to the mute renter in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I've always delighted in his characterizations and always loved his voice, even when he's acted in shamelessly bad stuff (would I have watched Flash Gordon twice if not for Max as Ming the Merciless? Hell, no! And I sometimes watch The Exorcist just up to the confrontation in the desert between Merrin and the statue of Pazuzu, then turn it off). Since I just posted my remembrances of Seymour Cassel below, let me use a post here to celebrate someone who has not yet died. I'm really glad Max von Sydow is still with us! And still working! I mean, I don't follow the recent Star Wars films and I don't do Game of Thrones - but I hope his recent roles are not boring for him; I know he does get bored of playing within the same range, which may explain some of his more outlandish acting choices...

Two of my favourite, under-rated Max von Sydow performances, if anyone is looking for a way of celebrating his birthday, are Dreamscape and Death Watch. The former is a rather batty, high concept SF film in which a young, irresponsible psychic (Dennis Quaid) is trained by a slightly ethically compromised doctor (von Sydow, alas well within that aforementioned range, but embodying the character perfectly) to enter the dreams of people with traumas, to try to help them resolve them; Christopher Plummer - von Sydow's Oscar rival from a few years back - is the heavy and  his (also psychic) thug is played by David Patrick Kelly ("Warriors... come out to play-ayyy"). There's a lot more, including an American president who is terrified of nuclear war, and a stop motion snake man! (Not a man who handles snakes, but a snake-human hybrid. What's not to love about a snake-human hybrid?). It's actually a pretty good 1980's SF thriller, if a little cheesy at times (the love scenes in particular seem to come out of the fantasy life of a 14 year old boy). 

The other relatively unheralded von Sydow film is Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch - also ostensibly an SF film, shot in Wales in the 1980's. It tells a story of an ill woman (Romy Schneider) on the run from what we would now call a reality TV show, aired by a station run by an amoral cynic (Harry Dean Stanton); she wants nothing to do with the show, but doesn't realize her fellow fugitive travelling companion (Harvey Keitel) is actually a plant foro the station, surreptitiously filming her, using cameras he has had implanted in his eyes. Max plays her ex-husband, and has a couple of great stories at the end of the film (again, acting well within his range, but, I mean, go watch Flash Gordon if you want a departure). It's slightly aged as SF - you'll guffaw at a couple of its clunky, dated visions of the future, like "computerbooks," which are an attempt to imagine how technology will infiltrate our lives - but if you get involved with the human aspects of the story, it's really quite moving. I mean, there are other, more esteemed von Sydow performances, but those two are in films I figure at least some of my readers haven't seen, that are pretty pleasing films to discover (I used to recommend Death Watch, in the old, truncated VHS version, to all my customers at Rogers Video in Maple Ridge, and they all liked it).

Horror movie fans who haven't checked out The Virgin Spring are also urged to do so. It isn't as brutal as the film it inspired (The Last House on the Left) but it's the Bergman film I think most genre fans will appreciate (and has Max's only nude scene that I'm aware of - not that, I'm like, "gay" for Max or anything). Plus he wrestles a tree!

I gotta watch The Quiller Memorandum again... another great von Sydow performance, in an otherwise fairly pedestrian cold war thriller.

Happy (slightly belated) birthday, Max von Sydow!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

RIP Seymour Cassel

I didn't get to blog about it, and people tend to turn to Facebook for RIPs these days, but Seymour Cassel died the other day. I loved seeing him in any films - even kinda not-so-good ones like Staten Island, which is actually worth seeking out if you're a fan (but only for him!) - but he was never used as well or thoroughly as he was by Cassavetes, and especially in Cassavetes' Faces. If you haven't seen that film, you are missing out on one of the very greatest films made in America. It's not my favourite Cassavetes - it's too harrowing! - but it's probably his most important film. And Cassel and Lynn Carlin play off each other beautifully.

Anyhow, I'll miss having Seymour Cassel turn up in movies. Rest in peace, man - and thank you for all you brought to the screen.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Chip Kinman, the Dils, and Three O'Clock Train (featuring Ron Reyes!)

All images by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

I was sketching out a long piece the other night kind of focused around the lack of Shameful Lack of Attendance at the Dils/ Three O'Clock Train event on Friday, but I have decided not to run it, since I don't want to rub salt in anyone's wounds, or too righteously signal my virtue for having been there, when it is one of only a small handful of gigs I've gone to this year. It would have been nice if the Rickshaw had been full, if people - even people who don't know the Dils or Rank and File or the Kinmans, but who have been feeling the loss of Zippy Pinhead, who was supposed to play - had chosen to turn out in droves to support the event, as a way of coming together and consoling each other and maybe sticking one in the eye of death, seizing something positive out of the loss - but it is sometimes hard to deal with news of someone's passing, and everyone copes in different ways. Maybe some people were just too damn sad to make it out? In any event, I would be an asshole to get too righteous or indignant here...

...though not as big an asshole as the guys who stood in the middle of the floor at the Rickshaw and talked loudly throughout the video that was played about the making of the Three O'Clock Train EP that was being launched, featuring Zippy Pinhead, Mary Celeste, Ron Reyes, bev davies, Bob Rock, Mack MacKenzie, Chip Kinman, and others... great little film. I was able to hear most of it...

In case you aren't up to speed, the event was conceived by Mack MacKenzie of Three O'Clock Train as a tribute to Tony Kinman (and as a fundraiser for Tony's widow, to help pay off Tony's medical bills). It also served as a launch for the CD version of Cuatro de Los Angeles, recorded in Vancouver, which features covers of the Dils' "It's Not Worth It" and Rank and File's "Lucky Day" and two Three O'Clock Train songs (You can get more of the backstory via Alex Varty, here).

The Dils by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

There were challenges from the outset: the legendary stature of the Dils as a west coast punk band is ill-served by the lack of recorded evidence in local shops, where you almost never see Dils albums (Rank and File is another matter, but you have to have a taste for country music, and not all punks do). For most of my life as a music fan my knowledge of the Dils boiled down to DOA covering "Class War." (Original here). To  fully appreciate the band, it seems like you kind of have to have been around in 1979, when they were most visible up here. Three O'Clock Train, meantime - the headliners, from Montreal - have even lower visibility, locally, and I heard more than one person having hushed conversations, seeking reassurance from others: "I've never heard of these guys, do you know who they are?"

Brian Melendez on bass for the Dils, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

...And then there was the possibility that it could have been an embarrassing shitshow. I mean, the band doubtlessly had to rally pretty hard to pull this off. The lineup (I believe) of Three O'Clock Train was to feature Zippy Pinhead on drums, and Mary Celeste - AKA "Mary of the Modernettes" - on bass. When Zippy died, suddenly and unexpectedly, the other week, and Mary - who has suffered more than her fair share of loss in recent years - dropped out, the event organizers (mostly, I think, Mack MacKenzie) had to scramble to assemble a new rhythm section and get them up to speed. Mary's absence alone would have maybe given me pause - I haven't seen her onstage since she did background vocals for Slow when they opened for the Cramps in 1985, and she was actually part of the draw when I bought my ticket. (If I'd realized Ferdy Belland would be replacing her, though, that would have been all alright; he's a great bassist). With little news circulating (that I read, anyhow), about their attempts to rally, and a Rickshaw listing continued to mention Zippy and Mary right to the end - like there were no other names that could be added in their place - there seemed at least a good chance that we would be seeing a poorly rehearsed, emotionally-stricken band, deep in grief, struggling to get through an obligatory set: a trainwreck, if you'll pardon my pun. So was it an act of faith to buy a ticket? If - never minding the "paying respect" part - what you were going for was a night of great music, would you have a right to be a bit hesitant, fearing embarrassment and awkwardness (and maybe people breaking down crying?).

Well, these are reasonable concerns, in fact. They flickered in my mind too. But guess what? YOU TOTALLY MISSED OUT. It was a magical evening, and the 70-odd people in attendance got to have a lot of fun. Wasted Strays kicked things off with a countryish set (of which I saw at least one whole song, but I enjoyed it). Chip Kinman - who fronted a mini-version of the Dils with two vastly more youthful musicians whom he said he had known since they were four - very quickly demonstrated with his stories and manner why everyone who knew them seems to love the Kinmans; he was utterly sweet and positive and funny (telling a story, for example, about playing "The Sound of the Rain" - with a line about how the singer wishes all the cops were dead - for Zippy's Dad, who was in the RCMP). He did an anecdote-rich set of Dils songs, too,  jokingly described "Class War" as a DOA cover, and added a couple of very fun actual coves to the night, opening with Brian Eno's "The True Wheel" and ending with a messy, sprawling, but very fun jam around the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On." (Chris Arnett would have especially enjoyed the solos).

Mack MacKenzie of Three O'Clock Train, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

As for the main act, Mack MacKenzie's charisma alone carried Three O' Clock Train through the first couple of songs, which is all it took for them to find their groove. From the (inspired, well-chosen) cover of Mike Watt's "Big Train*" - about the third song they played on down the line, the band was in great form, and gave some very sweet renditions of Rank and File's "Sundown" and "Amanda Ruth" and a few other numbers I'm  not quite sure of (the one I had never heard before that most struck me was called "Fingers." I'm not actually sure what that was, but it was great.)

Ron Reyes with Three O'Clock Train, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

It was also singularly fun to hear my neighbour Ron Reyes - whom I'd last chatted with in a shopping mall parking lot, on the way to pick up groceries - singing, because it turns out he has more than just a fearsome roar in his toolkit; he can do country-style vocals quite beautifully. I gather there will be a new incarnation of Piggy coming up at this Iron Road anniversary event, which Orchard of Wasted Strays will also play, among many others.

Three O' Clock Train with Chip Kinman, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

The high point, of course, was when Chip Kinman joined up with Three O'Clock Train to do a version of Rank and File's "Lucky Day" (also on the EP) and to do a song he'd already performed that night with the Dils, "It's Not Worth It." I did shoot some video of that! They had a video camera onstage for some of that, so I'm not sure if they had things planned; they're welcome to use my stuff as "B-roll," and I'll happily take it down if they would rather not have it out there. I was already enjoying the night, but that was the moment that lifted things to the next level, that really stood out as the high point - especially "It's Not Worth It," which is my favourite Dils song, I think.

So I'm glad to have been there, and was very happy to see how well everyone onstage had grappled with the emotional blow of losing Zippy and dug down and found positivity and love and music to share with us. If you weren't there - if you missed out - maybe you could use the Gofundme link and donate something to the cause? I'm sure they'd appreciate it. I mean, I'm broke as heck and yet paid my way in, bought the EP, and threw $5 in the "donate" jar (and snagged three pics of the Dils by Bev, who printed them up for the merch table, at her own expense).

...Speaking of whom, thanks also to bev davies, for providing photos of the night, and for sharing "Sound of the Rain" with me and getting me out of the house for this show. I'll have a feature on Bev in the next issue of Big Takeover (probably not out for a month or two, though). Look for it!

Three O' Clock Train with the Dils, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

*Actually, Ferdy Belland has pointed out since this article was published that "Big Train" in fact is a Kinman song! I always just assumed - it's so Watt-y - that Watt wrote it. Wrong! 

Friday, April 05, 2019

My top dozen local clips on Youtube, in terms of views

The Rebel Spell, Lillooet, 2014, by Gabrielle Kingston

I like to put clips of bands I like on Youtube. I don't mean to be a pain in the ass by shooting at shows, and I don't shoot at every show I see. Plus I'll happily take something down if asked (hence the absence of my Slow clips!). But it means something to me (I think you know) to share about music, and I do mean this as a gesture of support for performers I think are excellent and sometimes under-appreciated (or under-represented online - because, for instance, the Minimalist Jug Band isn't on Facebook or Gmail or Twitter or Instagram, but he sure as hell is on Youtube!). Plus it's always interesting to me to see how many views something gets. Such things don't necessarily correlate to quality, of course, and it is not all about popularity, but I am often surprised when a local band ends up with 500 or more views over the course of a few years, while a relatively well-known touring artist gets 56, say. Even relatively well known acts have surprising numbers, sometimes. Compare 882 views for Midnight Oil, versus 2,185 for Pere Ubu at the Cobalt. There's no question Midnight Oil has the larger fan base, so does this mean that Pere Ubu just has more fans likely to access them via computer?

Anyhow, I'm going to share my top dozen clips here. Before we start, why not take a guess... Who do you think, of the local bands I've shot, got the most views? The top 12 local artists that I've shot, IN THE WRONG ORDER, are:

Kitty and the Rooster

Ford Pier

Art Bergmann

David M. of NO FUN

The Rebel Spell

Red Herring

Gerry Hannah

Sore Points

the Pointed Sticks

Rich Hope and his Evil Doers

Paul Pigat with Cousin Harley

A Japanese busker named Yoji Kurosawa  

There is one tie among them. Also note that I've included Yoji here because I don't actually know whether he counts as a Vancouverite or not. I believe he says in the clip he's just travelling, but who knows, I shot that awhile ago, and sometimes travellers settle down; plus it feels strange to describe him as a "touring musician," since he's a street performer. Still, he scores a very respectable number of views, relative to my Youtube channel, and beats out a few people above (he's NOT in twelfth place). In any event, I've included him here, as well.

Take a minute to sort out your top twelve  Note that for the purposes of this blogpost, I've only put people on the list if a clip of them that I shot has gotten over 300 views (the perfect cutoff, it turns out; it's a number I've somewhat arbitrarily pulled out of my arse, in fact, but only eleven definitively local musicians have gotten more than 300 views with any one clip I've shot, with Yoji, as I mention, being ambiguous as to whether he should be included.

Ready? Got your list? Here is a picture of Jeff Andrew and Francesca Mirai, last night at the Heatley to make sure you don't peek ahead while you make your choices. Great set, and Jeff will have another show later this month at Lanalou's, so check those links out if you like!

Photo by Allan MacInnis

Here we go: by view count alone, here are my 12 most popular clips by local bands:

1. The Rebel Spell at Adstock, 2014, playing "I Am a Rifle": 2245 views. I am very proud that this is my most watched clip, for a ton of reasons: a) it's a great song; b) it was a great show - with Todd's quip, "Last chance to hurt yourself," saying all you need to know about the fuckin' concrete moshpit at Adstock; c) it involved one of my favourite ever "circle pits," where people (including Jonny Bones of the Still Spirits, Bonedaddies, etc) sprinted around the pagoda; and because d) it was a great day in my old hometown, maybe the most fun/ exciting show I ever saw there. It says great things about the Rebel Spell that they played there at least twice in the time I was following them; not many other bands not actually from Maple Ridge did that. And there's more to it, because, to celebrate that show, Erika and I cooked a big, Indian-themed vegan feast for the Rebel Spell and invited Gerry Hannah and his partner Michelle to join us, so, like, an hour before they took the stage, the whole band was in my apartment, just down the street. The meal was kinda dominated by Todd and Gerry talking to each other, but fuck, let's face it, that's a more interesting conversation than you usually get to see happening in your apartment. Erin was a bit shy, sitting on my futon. Elliott arrived late, and ate the most (and coldest) food. Michelle and I talked ESL a bit - we used to work at the same school, which is actually the reason I got to know Gerry in person, back before New Dark Age Parade came out. And Todd revealed that he had seen my favourite ant-consciousness SF film, Phase IV, of which I had a cool poster on my wall, back when he was 11. I gave him a Phil Ochs CD that day, too - we had corresponded a bit about Ochs - and recommended he watch William Friedkin's Sorcerer (which I also had a poster of; I don't know if he ever saw it). It was a pretty great day, all in all, and I'm proud people come to this clip (wish I'd shot more!). The Propagandhi cover of "I am a Rifle" must have really helped, because other clips of theirs that I've shot ("Last Run," 445 views; "Pride and Prejudice," 189 views) don't do nearly as well.

Photo by Allan MacInnis

Note: the Adstock pagoda is also the locale for this fun Jolts clip, which has what someone wrote on Facebook was the "best. moshpit. ever." It takes awhile to get started, so bear with it. This vid is not really in the top ten, though - a mere 147 views on this one; I'm just including it because of the Adstock connection. I miss the Jolts.

Photo by Allan MacInnis

2. David M has a few high scores on the board, but would you have guessed that he was in the top two space? Overall, he does best when there's a "Paul Leahy" in the description, like his Rickshaw appearance at a tribute to Paul (908 views), or 593 views for this one, doing "Ream Me Like You Mean It" and a couple others at a Paul Leahy-themed show. But this clip, with Pete Campbell, doing the Stones' "Dead Flowers," has over 1500 views, and this one, filmed outside the first Rickshaw David Bowie salute, where M. was busking, has 1400+ views (and is pretty fun as a little mini-movie, actually, featuring guest appearances from both my wife Erika Lax and photographer/ local legend bev davies). Meanwhile, part two of his Small Salute to David Bowie got 903 views, as well (with Part One getting slightly less). Ozzy, his beloved late dog, steals the show. Many of his other shows are in the 300+ mark, including ones that make no mention of Paul Leahy or David Bowie or the Rolling Stones or other possible extraneous draws.

This, of course, is a slightly odd thing, because often at these shows, there are two or three people in the audience who are not in the regular "cast" or else so well known to M. that he invites them up on stage (I've been there a few times myself, and not just to hold the Gorgo). The Princeton tends to have bigger audiences because there are drinkers and pool players there, as well as the tried-and-true fans and friends of M., but I have heard him tell of a Heritage Grill show where no one came, not even me, and some of these very clips might have only two or three non-me/ non-cast people watching with me. So how do we explain this disjunct? Either a) people would rather stay home and watch David M. on Youtube than see him live, perhaps because chances that he will sit on their lap are fewer - which  suggests I should stop putting these up, really, if I'm competing with the real thing; b) he has hundreds of fans who do not live in proximity to the Heritage Grill or Princeton, his two main venues of late; c) that many old NO FUN fans are curmudgeonly, stubborn, cantankerous shut ins, unlike all the joiners who flock to see the Pointed Sticks; or that d) he promotes the hell out of my clips online, which I don't think is true, since I am (of course) his Facebook friend. Anyhow, he's real popular on the 'nets. In any event, it's interesting to note. I guess e) he might just stay home and watch them again and again himself, but I doubt that, too.

3. Paul Pigat with Cousin Harley at the Rickshaw, 1,457 views. It pleases me that Paul has this many fans! New Boxcar Campfire CD out, I gather. (I almost wrote "Boxfire Campcar.") This was a great show and it's a fun clip, so I'm really glad people seem to like it.

4. Kitty and the Rooster score 782 views for this live clip from the East van Opry, even though it isn't very well-shot. They play a house party tomorrow night in Surrey (see a couple posts back for more), along with Jonny Bones. Weirdly, this album release clip of them covering the Minimalist Jug Band's "Lousy Lover" doesn't do nearly as well (under 200 views at present), despite being a bit better as a video (or is it? Faces seem a bit blown out... anyhow...).

(A capture from my video, featuring my finger, apparently). 

5. Yoji Kurosawa busking in Vancouver, 620 views.Like I say, I have no idea how local Yoji is. Maybe he's itinerant, on some sort of Japanese neo-hippie drift across Canada? I kinda hope he is. But I was really compelled by his street performance outside Granville Station a couple years ago, and someone somewhere is watching this clip, obviously (does he have fans in Japan who are looking at this?). He has a CD for sale, if you see him!

6 and 7. Did someone mention the Pointed Sticks? 428 views, live in New Westminster, and presently tied with Art Bergmann at the Rickshaw! (For some reason, Part Two of that, from the same show, got far fewer views). This is our tie, and a fitting one indeed, though again, isn't it strange, given how much bigger a draw both the Pointed Sticks and Art Bergmann's live shows are, that David M. outcompetes them online? I mean, seriously, folks, what's with that?

8.  Ford Pier at the Rickshaw, 420 views. I like Ford Pier a lot, but I think of him as Vancouver's most oddly rarified performer - like, if almost by design, he eschews the popular taste, strives to remain outside (tho' I saw the Vengeance Trio cover "Teenage Kicks" at a Car Free Day, once, which is nothing if not crowd-pleasing, and some of Meconium is pretty fuckin' catchy!). So it was fascinating to see a) how attentively Bob Mould's audience listened to him back in 2017 - the time of my giant interview with him - and how this clip I shot has ended up doing pretty damn well.

9. Red Herring are doing pretty well with this "If You Work for Me" clip, which has 377 views. Other vids of theirs get fewer watches, so either they shared this one, or else people are looking for songs of theirs that they remember from the EP. Newer songs of theirs (like my favourite, "The Monkey Song") do far less well (62 views as of this writing). Meanwhile, the one I like best as "film," of a sort, is this clip of "Check Your Posture," but it only has 38 views.

10. Gerry Hannah, "Living with the Lies," 364 views, at the WISE with the New Questioning Coyote Band. I hope Gerry comes back to town someday soonish; I want to hear his rendition of Steppenwolf's "The Ostrich!"

Gerry Hannah by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

11. Sore Points at the Astoria, 357 views. This one kind of surprises me, because it happened relatively recently, so that's a hefty count. Maybe they've been touring a lot, or maybe they plugged the video themselves? (That probably makes a big difference).

12. Rich Hope and his Evil Doers, live at the Rickshaw, 323 views. Which was actually partially the source of footage for their "Golden Clouds" video (a Flamin' Groovies cover), Mack tells me. Did everyone buy Rich Hope's recent album, I'm All Yours? I haven't heard all Rich Hope's work, but of the albums I've heard, this one is the best as a RECORD (whereas some others are like... hmm, it's kinda almost like seeing him live, but actually seeing him live is better!). In fact, this  is a pretty fuckin' great album.

Note: if you don't feel like counting Yoji Kurosawa as a Vancouverite - he may have been just passing through - and assuming we've already accounted for David M. (who has other high-performing clips, but has already gotten his mention), I believe the next place goes to Sex Beat, a local Gun Club cover band, at the time boasting Tim Chan on guitar. It was really fun to see Tim in Jeffrey Lee Pierce mode, tho' somewhat unfortunate that it's a cover band, and not China Syndrome (whom I've also shot, more than once) who get the prize, so to speak.

(And don't despair if you are in the bottom few, folks - remember, I have shot footage of a fair number of bands, and there's another fifty or so bands below you on the list, who have less than 300 views).

Anyhow, those are my top 12 videos I shot by local bands. Thanks for playin'.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Bob Mould Interview 2019: Of Zen Arcade, "The Biggest Lie," and being told he saved people's lives

Bob Mould at the Rickshaw, 2017, by Allan MacInnis

My Straight piece on Bob Mould is out this week, but of necessity, it mostly focuses on Mould's new album, Sunshine Rock, the new rock video for "Lost Faith," and his current band, who are playing the Rickshaw on Sunday. That contemporary angle is to be expected, but in fact, leaves out the stuff I was most excited to talk to Mould about - which is a whole other interview unto itself (appearing below, after I get over my need to preamble).

I'm stoked for the show, actually. I underwent a sea change in listening to Bob Mould's music, the last time he played Vancouver - which is the first time I ever saw him live, in any context; my one chance to see Hüsker Dü in my youth - a Luv-a-Fair show they played that I was old enough to get into, May 15th, 1986, two months after my 18th birthday - was foiled, as so many gigs in my young life were, by my living in the suburbs, with no car, no driving friends who cared about punk, and no public transit to get me home. Even then, the band would have been touring Candy Apple Grey, which I owned and wasn't that excited about. For me, in my youth, Dü was all about Metal Circus, Zen Arcade, New Day Rising and, to a slightly lesser extent, Flip Your Wig. By the time their major label debut came out, I was already losing my enthusiasm. I mean, no single rock and roll album has ever packed the emotional whallop that Zen Arcade did, for me; I played the hell out of that record when it first came out, and still love it - it's up there with Mission of Burma's vs. as one of the greatest albums in American punk history. By comparison to its immensity, I wasn't even ready for New Day Rising, and - great as that record is - remember that when I first heard it, I was disappointed, because it wasn't Zen Arcade, and all I wanted was more Zen Arcade. Flip Your Wig was even LESS Zen Arcade than that, and starting with Candy Apple Grey - while Grant Hart remained more or less consistent - Bob started off on a musical journey that I was in no way prepared to follow him on. I simply didn't get his songs on Candy Apple Grey or Warehouse, didn't understand how to listen to them, and (a confession within a confession) I still haven't done the work to revisit them, honestly. Suffice to say, after Dü disbanded and I heard a bit of Workbook or a bit of Sugar, I was non-plussed. I was - like a Motörhead fan who never progressed much beyond Ace of Spades - frozen in my moment of peak enjoyment. That Luv-A-Fair show was probably great - but the combination of my suburban disadvantage and my already waning enthusiasm made me decide not to bother. I feel pretty stupid about that, now, actually.

I have had a couple of chances to see Sugar or Bob Mould solo shows, since I skipped that Luv-a-Fair show, but shrugged them off. To my own surprise, now that I've finally caught him,  I find, in anticipation of Sunday, that I'm most excited to hear material off Mould's last four albums (Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin, Patch the Sky, and Sunshine Rock), whereas, before last year, the only reason I would have even considered going to see Bob Mould would have been to hear him do some Hüsker Dü songs. The idea that I would ever be excited to see that Sugar's "A Good Idea" pops up in a few of his current setlists - and thus may get a dust-off for Vancouver, too! - would have been foreign to me as recently as a few years ago.

So I guess I've done Bob Mould an injustice, which I get to apologize for now.  After basically three decades (!) of more-or-less ignoring his output, I'm glad I finally got over it. Starting with Patch the Sky, last year, which was the first of Mould's solo albums to sink a hook, I've been voyaging backwards, and I'm pleased to discover that I love everything Mould has done so far this decade, with his current trio - the ones playing the Rickshaw this Sunday. I've also gone back and "rediscovered" that some of the very albums I ignored at the time (Workbook, or the amazing, grungy Black Sheets of Rain) are great, too. I had been missing out - and suddenly this is the stuff I want to hear. I see that in his recent setlists there's nothing from Zen Arcade, and I'm just fine with that. (He does still do "I Apologize" pretty often, though - it's not that I object, it's just that I've known that song for a really long time, and right now, I'd rather hear "The Descent"). He's just not the same young man who needed to write something as savage as "Indecision Time," and guess what? I'm not the same young man who needed that song so much. It's great, but it's past time to move on.

I offer this to anyone who loved Zen Arcade like I did, who hasn't caught up with solo Bob Mould: there are still some tickets left for Sunday's show, I think. I'm pretty excited to be there. And to offer you a bit of conversation with Bob Mould...

Bob Mould (with  Hüsker Dü) at the Smilin' Buddha, June 7, 1982. Photo by bev davies, not to be re-used without permission!)

Allan: It seemed to me at your last Rickshaw show, you were really amping up the Hüsker Dü content for that show, maybe because Grant had just died, that night. Is that something you ever want to leave behind, or do you have fans that demand you go back there?

Bob: Well, I mean - I let go of those songs when I let go of that band in '88. And for many years, all through playing with Anton and Tony, and all through Sugar, we didn't touch those songs. When I'm playing, like, a solo show, I think anything I've written is fair game. Y'know, now, I think - maybe '04 or '05 with Body of Song, where I would put bands together to tour my current records, we started bringing a few of the older songs in, from  Hüsker, Workbook, Black Sheets of Rain, and Sugar. I would bring those forward into the live shows with bands, so they've come back over the last fifteen years. I love a lot of those songs. They're easy to play, they're fun, people have fond memories of that band and those songs and I think more of that period in their lives, so it's like a gimme: just play the song, everybody's happy!

I say this as someone who for years never paid attention to your solo career. I was a Zen Arcade guy.


I wanted nothing else, maybe I'd go as far as Flip Your Wig, but once Warner Brothers got involved, I just stopped paying attention.

Fair enough.

But shortly before your last show here, I was like, I should really listen to some of these Bob Mould solo albums. They're great! I Suddenly, seeing you live, I found myself going, "ah, he's playing 'Chartered Trips,' but I want to hear the new stuff!"

Well, the set that we're playing now is pretty representative. We're really focusing on things that we've done with the four records (Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin, Patch the Sky and Sunshine Rock). There's a couple of Hüsker songs, but not as much - I think last time around in 2016, we were playing a little bit more of the old stuff, because we were in a total punk rock mood. But yeah, I mean - I totally get where you're coming from, that's all good. But this band, this decade's work, has been real solid, and I think a lot of good things are happening, whether it was the autobiography, the Disney Hall show and the stuff with Dave Grohl, who was very kind to share a little bit of his light, yeah, all those kind of things that add fuel to file and get things going... Jason (Narducy) and Jon (Wurster) being constant with me as a band, watching that grow, playing all these shows, seeing what we're really good at, how that effects the writing... it's been a really great decade. I did not forsee this decade happening at all, so I feel grateful for that.

Something a lot of people said to you after the Rickshaw show - I heard at least two people say to you, "thank you for saving my life," or "your music saved my life." That's quite a compliment. I presume they're also talking about Zen Arcade - but - how does that feel, being on the receiving end of that? Do you get that a lot?

Bob Mould with a fan, Rickshaw 2017, by Allan MacInnis

Yeah, I hear that regularly, and I'm always grateful that people share that. If you were eavesdropping, you see how people do that - they come up and sort of mention the album or the show. Some people say Workbook, or some people say "I saw you at the Buddha in '81 with DOA." And they lead with their entry point, when it got to them. It's always amazing. It's almost like [being] a sociologist again, doing a survey at the end of the night: "Where did you come into this, what did it do?" But seriously, I'm always grateful, because it's the stories - the stories I tell, or that people tell me, an abbreviated version of their story and how it fits with mine. I mean, that's the community of what we do, the difference between me and a streaming service. You actually know it's me.

You say in your book - I forget how you preface it exactly, but you say that you feel nervous about saying it, but that Zen Arcade probably means more to other people than it does to you. I wonder if you did get any backlash from saying that - if anyone reacted?

Mm-mm. No, no, I think what I was trying to get at - what I said is what I said, but it's such a cornerstone for people who like my work, and for me it was like, "ohmigod, we're making this double album, I'm writing these words in a hot minute in the back of a van out in the street in Torrance, California, because we have to make the record in two days... it's this visceral rush of hormones and, y'know, angst and homelessness or whatever, and it's all those things, and it just dumps into the work and comes flying out... like, I barely remember making that record, I barely remember writing those songs, but - that it has this effect on other people... For me it was really important to get it done, but the end result for other people, they're living with it, and they're absorbing it, and the words that I wrote and that Grant wrote, telling these stories and what it meant to people... it's, yeah, I think it's way more important to other people. I don't say that to discount anything, it's just, man - I was just sort of running on fumes and food stamps... (Laughs).

It meant a lot to me, Bob. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you a couple quick questions about Zen Arcade.

I'll try.

So, "The Biggest Lie." I didn't realize at the time that you were alluding to a gay relationship in that - you'd been with a straight guy, that didn't work out, and he's going back to his girlfriend (note: the Pansy Division cover of that makes much of that line]. 

Yep, yep.

So on the other hand, Grant, in "Pink Turns to Blue," is writing about a girlfriend - "she was no whore but for me." So I'm curious if that was ever a discussion you had, when writing the album, whether to write from a queer perspective or a straight one, or if you regret not having made it more overtly gay, because - I don't know what it would have done, but it's kind of an alternate universe fantasy - what if Zen Arcade had been more overt?

That is a good question. I think it would have - I think given where America was in the summer of 1984, with all of the hysteria and all of the Bible thumping, I dunno, it would have been very controversial. Um - that's a really good question... there were very overtly gay records back then, whether it was Bronski Beat of Tom Robinson, people who were really doing the hard work... I dunno, uhmm... I'm trying to rewind the tape here in my head and see what that would have looked like...

Did you and Grant have any discussion about that, about whether or not to be out in song, because - you're moving in different directions, in a way.

Nope. There was never - we wrote songs and we played them, that's the beauty of that relationship as principle songwriters, is there was no... you write what you write, you write it and you sing it, it's yours. Let's do it. There was never - I think Zen Arcade would have been the album where there might have been the most amount of thought put into how to present the record, but not in terms of sexuality, but in terms of, 'this is sort of a concept record.' These are things that we are experiencing that other people experience, two of the three members were from broken homes, me from a unified but violent home, y'know... those themes, and the idea of the kid's search, the guy who is going to be a video game developer and move to California and he's got this game called "Search" [the overriding narrative of the album, discussed at greater length in Mould's autobiography, See a Little Light). That was - we were talking about those kinds of ideas, in terms of sequencing the record and how to present the record, but in terms of like, "are you writing about straight stuff?" "Are you writing about gay stuff? What are you doing over there?" There was never any of that. That was not how we did stuff. More the idea of how to present this as a concept, as a unified, sort of story that could be adapted for other media. It could be a stage play, it could be a movie, it could be other things, it could be fleshed out in a lot of different directions. But not that granular I think.

Husker Du gig poster for the Buddha gig photographed above, from Phil Saintsbury's collection

Something that a lot of people said in interpreting the album is that it's all a dream. I never read it that way. Was it meant to be all a dream?

Not really. There's so much dream stuff in it - side four [dominated by a 14-minute long jam called "Re-occuring Dreams"], and all those little interstitials that were just sort of floating moments, sort of like connective tissue between songs and ideas... I can't remember if we decided it was all a dream or not, I can't recall if we came to consensus on that, so I guess it could be anything. There's a lot of dream stuff in it.

Do you have recurring dreams - do you have a pattern that you dream?

Yeah! I have dreams that start in houses I used to live in, and then they turn into these giant houses filled with complexities and other people from the past. That's a dream thing that I have - ending up in a house I used to be in, but the next room has nothing to do with the house I used to be in, which is sort of crazy. But those are like fun dreams, because they're, like, escapades...

Are you exploring, are you lost, or..

Sometimes I'm revisiting, sometimes I just turn up there, for no specific reason, but sometimes it'll be like I'll be revisiting something, and I'll run into someone that I would revisit if I were at this place, and then it morphs into something, like, I open the door and the next room is completely different, it has nothing to do with that specific room or that specific place. So those are recurring dreams that I actually have. I file those under 'real estate dreams.'

Were you having those back then, when you recorded Zen Arcade

No... I wasn't even sleeping!

Bob Mould (with  Hüsker Dü) takes the drums at the Smilin' Buddha, June 7, 1982. Photo by bev davies, not to be re-used without permission!)

Something I'm curious about - bev davies was at a show of yours in 1982, and one of her photos clearly depicts you taking the drums. Which I've seen people do - I saw Paul Westerberg take the kit at a Replacements show at the Town Pump - and I've seen Grant Hart play guitar - but I wasn't aware that that's something Hüsker Dü ever did, switch up instruments. What's going on there? 

I saw that photo! [In a private correspondence; it has never been published before]. That's crazy!

So that's not something you did?

Maybe at soundchecks we would do stuff - we would just switch around on instruments. I would never say that I'm a drummer. I can keep a beat, but I wouldn't say I could play drums. So that was probably the soundcheck, and I was probably just goofing around, and Bev happened to get an amazing photo. I'm really grateful to have it, it's sort of a crazy photo. It's very uncommon!

(End of interview)

[[BUT NOTE: but the story gets stranger, because this is the second to last photo on Bev's roll of film for that night, located AFTER her other shots of the band performing; the next photo is of Grant on guitar seems to confirm that for the end of that evening, Grant and Bob changed places. (These pics and more will be coming up in a two part feature on Bev in Big Takeover, btw). Plus Bev says she never shot soundchecks at the Buddha. So if anyone was at the show on June 7, 1982 at the Buddha, and remembers seeing Bob and Grant switch instruments, and/ or what songs they played, PLEASE leave a comment below! Very curious about this - and I'm sure Bob Mould is, too!]

Zen Arcade selfie!

(Thanks to Luke Meat of storc for his help with research, bev davies for digging up some unseen photos of Hüsker Dü in Vancouver, and Bob Mould (and Zack, his publicist) for their patient wrangling of a geeky, too eager journalist!) 

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Gigs of the weekend!

So this Saturday, Jonny Bones of the Bone Daddies and Still Spirits, Steady Teddy, Kitty and the Rooster, and the mighty SLIP~ons - a great live band with crappy internet presence - are playing a gig out in Surrey,  all ages, no booze/ no drugs, at what sounds like a totally fun little space - a house turned cafe turned all-ages community hub on the Fraser Highway called the Centric. There's lots else going on this weekend - and I'm presently working on a piece on the Bad Beats, who are doing an album release at the Railway. But I'm actually kinda bending towards going to Surrey for this house gig - I love a bunch of the bands, the space sounds really fun and community-minded, and I think my wife (and driver) will enjoy it more! (Plus as much as I loved the Railway in the past, the layout of the venue is not ideal unless you get there early enough to get a seat, and I'm sure my first time there since it reopened will be bitterseet). Of course, Bob Mould is at the Rickshaw on Sunday, and I promise, there'll be more to come on that, but meantime... maybe I'll see some of you in Surrey on Saturday...

Unless I see you at the Three O'Clock Train event at the Rickshaw on Friday, first, that is. I wasn't really into the Dils, just out of lack of exposure but bev davies turned me on to "The Sound of the Rain," and I really like some of the other stuff I'm hearing by them - "It's Not Worth It," for example. Plus it seems like a good way to pay respects to Zippy Pinhead (as well as Tony Kinman), and I've never yet seen Mary Celeste/ Mary Armstrong/ Mary Jo Kopechne do anything live - I was thinking I'd see that last Monster Baby gig at Funkys, but then it was cancelled due to Brad's untimely passing. So it's kind of a way of paying my respects to a few people. (And seeing some great music played live - still don't know who is sitting in for Zippy).

Anyhow, leaving one job out of two means I actually have time and energy for shows. Too bad I don't have money for them, but...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The new Meat Puppets album: an appreciation, buried in a long-winded essay about commercial radio and punk rock

There is a joke that one of my favourite university professors, Tirthankar Bose, told once in class that I remember well. He told it about Bengalis, because he was from Bengal, and thus allowed to crack a joke at his own group's expense, but it could as easily apply to any group that you want to target.

Since I identify still, sort of, as a punk - at least an old one - I will tell his joke, but repurpose it to be  about punks:
A man (nevermind why) is being treated to a tour of hell. (In my mind, as Dr. Bose told his version of the joke, I imagined the man and the Devil in a sort of golf cart-like vehicle, driving through red-hued caverns). Satan, serving as guide, is pointing out different fates people are suffering: drowning in feces, roasting in flames, hanging from hooks, that sort of thing. Most are shackled; all are miserable. Then suddenly they pass enormous vats of boiling oil with no lids on them, and you can see the arms and legs of the condemned splashing around at the top. The man looks to Satan and says, "hey, everyone else here is shackled, but they seem to be free to try to escape; why are there no lids on that pot?" 
Satan grins: "oh, they're punks. As soon as any of them start to climb out, the others pull them back."
...which brings us to my wife Erika, and a step closer to my writing about the Meat Puppets' new album (I'll get there eventually). Whenever Erika has to listen to me rant about the shittiness of this hit song or that, or the bafflingly persistent lameness and conservatism of commercial FM radio (the only place in the world where Aldo Nova's "Fantasy" is still relevant or remembered), I know (or suspect) that part of her is judging my crankiness skeptically. Because for her - as an outsider to the subculture, exposed mostly only to it through the filter of, uh, me - punks are hairshirt-wearing weirdos, who disguise powerful and important messages in perversely inaccessible packages. Compare, say, Drum and Bell Tower's version of "Pride and Prejudice" to the Rebel Spell's original - or compare, say, Crass to Jeffrey Lewis doing covers of the same: she'll vastly prefer the folkier, more accessible, more-listener friendly version, and has been heard to say things like: "If you have a message that powerful and meaningful, wouldn't you want to package it in a form that has the widest appeal imaginable, to get your message out there? By making it so aggressive, strident, and noisy you're limiting your message to just a narrow club, aren't you? It's like they want to be heard, but only by people who are already part of the club."

I'm paraphrasing, but of course, she has a point. I do see it. I generally rebuff it a little, saying that the noisiness and aggression of punk are best understood as a reaction against bloated, self-indulgent "Comfortably Numb" bombast of classic rock radio, on the one hand, and the sort of perverse mutations of popular music that happen in radio land - which I think of as a sort of bizarre parasitic tributary (if you don't mind some badly mixed metaphors) off to one side of the enormous flows of human creativity and music.

It wasn't always that way, for me. Like, I think, Erika, I used to think of the world of music as being some sort of subcategory, some sort of function or subset of, the world of the radio. Radio was the primary source, the umbrella overhead, the "heaven" from which the angels of song descended, if you will. A generous host, it offered you a range of options, and you chose among them: and that was the world of popular music. I think some people - maybe mostly people who came of age before the internet - still think that way, which – I think - is why when "straight" friends of mine hear some fantastic song that they've never heard before, by a band they've never heard of before, their reaction is (sometimes) “why isn’t this on the radio?”

The answer, I suspect, reveals some degree of confusion on their part. It isn’t on the radio because the radio is not a benign monarch over the realm of music, is not a hallowed hall of learning and beneficence, devoted to offering its listeners the widest possible range of musical knowledge. It can be that, in its more public-spirited forms, but most generally, speaking specifically of commercial radio: it’s not about “playing good music” at all, at present. Radio as we know it now is closer to being a parasitic growth off one tiny limb of the realm of popular music. Over time, the parasite has developed an odd symbiosis with the host organism. Both have mutated, and mutated each other, while striving further to mutate those – the third party to the symbiosis – who enter into the sort of trust relationship, as listeners, with them, accepting the radio’s confirmation of their identity and values, and being soothed by it. You have to accept the range of options offered – you have to agree to the deal, which may come at a cost - but if you do, the radio will serve to bolster your limited choices and affirm that they are right at all turns by offering you nothing that challenges them. You will belong. You will be able to answer phone-in trivia questions about all the same bands, and feel yourself superior to people who can't answer them. You will, if you phone in to request a song, have the good sense to request a song that is already on the radio, and not one from "outside;" don't waste the DJ's time by requesting Big Star or some other band that has been written out of radio history, because no matter how pretty or poppy the song is, it's not going to get get airplay. Instead, you will accept that Aldo Nova's "Fantasy" is still relevant, and maybe request it, or perhaps some Billy Squier. In turn, the radio will cater to your tastes: you will hear nothing offensive – nothing too noisy or abrasive, nothing too political or outspoken, nothing too foreign or thought-provoking. You will be guarded over by Bob Seger and Corey Hart and Aldo Nova and Bon Jovi and Nickelback, who will set an outer limit on your tastes and expectations; you might get the odd bit of classic rock, maybe even a few songs from back in the day when real music actually made it onto the radio, but not so much to keep you from hearing the Police sing “Every Breath You Take” on a weekly basis. As long as you streamline your tastes to fit within the radio's parameters, as long as you accept its conditioning, it will affirm, celebrate and nourish those tastes. You will belong, you will fit, you will have a comforting sense of fellowship with everyone else who listens to the radio along with you, and erase all other genres, bands, and music fans from your field of vision. You will never, ever know what you're missing - because if you do, you might jump ship.  

I mean, I was there once, myself. I know people like that, I remember being - when I was a suburban kid of 12, like that too; and I remember the trauma of discovering (at about age 14) that the radio was not what I thought it was, at all, that it in fact had been betraying me. I remember phoning CFOX, for example – a Vancouver radio station, for those reading this in other cities - back in 1982, to ask why DOA’s War on 45 didn’t get any airplay. The album had just come out, and was fantastic, and I was having to fit my head around why you couldn't buy it at chain record stores (which were all I had access to in the 'burbs), couldn't hear it on the radio, could be forgiven, even, for not knowing the band or the genre it represented even existed (which was the case for me, up until age 14). I earnestly asked whichever DJ answered to explain the situation to me. “It’s great, they’re a local band, they’ve got a lot to say, and the songs are terrific, so why not play it?” The DJ explained (off air, of course) that the music made by independent bands wasn’t up to snuff in terms of production quality; it just didn’t sound good enough to play on the radio. Even at 14, I was pretty sure that that was a crock of shit. War on 45 sounded pretty damn good to me (and you do sometimes hear songs off it on CFOX, now, to boot, if they're having some weird special program that allows for it). The lesson I was learning at the time was that radio wasn’t to be trusted, that it was NOT the benign library of musical knowledge it presented itself as being, and that, in fact the world of music was the larger “umbrella” category, with radio being a tiny subset. I’d mistaken the tributary for the ocean, the parasite for the host. 

In a way, saying of a song, now, "this is great; why isn't it on the radio," seems as naïve as suggesting surprise, confronted by a singularly delicious or exotic food, that it is not sold at McDonald’s. The answer is, "because it's McDonald's, stupid." 

The idea that there are market-driven cultural institutions that siphon off, channel, and distort offshoots of the flow of human creativity – however we should call it – has various implications that are begging to be explored. Because T-Bone Burnett’s superb and essential SXSW keynote address is still echoing in my head, I’m inclined to apply this understanding to the internet. Like music before commercial rock radio took its present form, like cinema before network television, the internet WAS once a vast, complex, flowing thing. Various corporations – Burnett calls them “surveillance capitalists” - have found a way to channel and siphon that flow, in ways not dissimilar to the ways that commercial rock radio has channeled and siphoned the flows of human popular music, so the diverted energy – it’s kind of like building a dam, really – can be used to benefit them. As Burnett observes, we’re not even really on the internet anymore, we’re just on Facebook or Google or whatever narrow tributary we've been directed into; the idea of a vast and free realm you can explore and find different information in and connect with different people through - the "ocean" of the internet - has been replaced by these narrow channels, these for-profit corporate websites and apps where we are no longer the kings, but the serfs. And just like with commercial rock radio, the people who have assented to the symbiosis with Facebook and Google and so forth - who grew up with it, without having been jolted to question it - accept that it is a benign sort of “parent,” a given, a fact of life. John Oliver, in a rant about Facebook, noted that in some countries (Burma, I think, is the example he used), "Facebook" is now synonymous with the internet: and really (for me, too), on a de facto level, that's the case everywhere. It's deeply disturbing, and - I agree with Burnett - something needs to be done about it.

That said, I came here to write about the Meat Puppets, and I'm going to. The thing is: when I'm engaging in rants like the above, bashing the radio, in particular, I think that Erika - who listens to the radio vastly more than I do - suspects that I'm one of the punks in the vat of oil, mentioned above. When someone from the world of punk gets signed to a label, modifies (or "commodifies") their sound a bit, and tries for a hit, she thinks my railing against it - my growling about sell outs, commercial compromises, watered-down sound, or whatever - is mostly perversity; I'm grabbing the person climbing over the lip and dragging them back into the vat with me. And it is true, of course, that there are a lot of examples of bands I loved at one point, who began at least with a toe in punk, who changed their sound to get on the radio and please their corporate masters, who I then stopped listening to. I was part of the dogpile on X's Ain't Love Grand,  for example -  not their first album on a big label, but the first that really reached for (and, if I recall, briefly achieved) the brass ring of radio play (I think "Burning House of Love" played on CFOX back in the day). I genuinely liked some of the songwriting on that record - the live version of "Burning House of Love" kicks ass, say -  but I hated the way it sounded. It's not that I was a Manzarek loyalist, because I actually didn't like the production on More Fun in the New World that much, either, in different ways; it's X's masterpiece, in terms of songwriting, but it has a thin, tinny, under-developed quality to it, not fully capturing the liveliness or richness of the music (or so I thought at the time; I'm repeating a feeling I remember from when the album came out, without having really done the work to check if it is still valid, but I suspect strongly it is). And even still, More Fun in the New World still sounded way better than Ain't Love Grand

There are other cases. From every band (Sonic Youth, say) that made a painless transition to a major label and kept putting out quality material, with little or no appreciable change, there are probably five I can name whose bid for radio success turned their music into watered-down drek. I mean, compare the Payolas' "TNT," for example, to any of their hits. Compare Doug and the Slugs' "Not on the Corner" to the songs of theirs that you'll hear in the waiting room of the dentist's office. But the thing is: that doesn't mean I didn't WANT to hear those bands on the radio, that I didn't want them to have hits and houses and "commercial success;" I just didn't want it to come at the cost of EVERYTHING I LIKED ABOUT THEM. I remember struggling for a whole year to find a way to like the Replacements' Don't Tell a Soul - but it wasn't that they'd gone over to the majors or tried to write songs with some hit potential that was the problem, because they'd done that with Pleased to Meet Me, too, or even Tim, and those are probably my two favourite Replacements records. So the difference isn't the label, it's that Pleased to Meet Me still sounds like the Replacements, whereas Don't Tell a Soul - is like a glass of gin that you've added milk to, to make it easier to digest. It was like after Pleased to Meet Me the band pulled up their suspenders and took stock: "Well, we made our most commercial record to date, and it still didn't get us any airplay. Guess we'll have to start listening to the label, maybe they can make us some money... Maybe we can just compromise a little..."

(Remember that line from Paul Sorvino in The Gambler? "Once you ain't a virgin, you're a whore?")

I mean, when X sings, "Will the last American band to get played on the radio please bring the flag," and namecheck DOA, Black Flag, the Flesh Eaters, the Minutemen and the Big Boys - or when they write a song about punk called "The Unheard Music" - they're not saying they don't want their music heard on the radio; they're not celebrating that they're living in a musical ghetto, saying that the vat of boiling oil is where they belong. They're complaining. They feel like they have every right to have the music they love (and the music they make) heard on mainstream broadcast media, without substantially changing it (as they would eventually do, but no matter). It's not the punks' fault! It's not that they delibrately make inaccessible, poorly produced, noisy music, designed to alienate listeners; I mean, in some cases, that's true - it's not like I'm saying CFOX, say, should play GG Allin or Flipper or such - but there are tons of bands - X included - that make music that is very easy to listen to, that COULD have a mass mainstream audience, if they were given the opportunity, that you'll simply never hear, then as now, on mainstream rock radio, and it's not a matter of the music at all; it's because mainstream rock radio is hopelessly conservative and run by coin counters who won't risk playing anything that could upset their safe little deal. As soon as you start playing real music, you risk breaking the spell of recycling the same old shit over and over. The trance created, the soporific bland safety of Bob Seger's "Against the Wind," is actually a delicate one, that can be broken, and radio execs know this. I mean, I remember liking that song myself, when I was 12. I owned the single. I believed. Two years later, I discovered punk, and never looked back, and wince that I still hear that fucking shitty song playing on radio stations in public. 

Anyhoo, let's come to the point, shall we? No band I love, associated with punk, has had as complex or strange a history regarding making music with commercial appeal as the Meat Puppets. While it is no surprise that their first album didn't get them much commercial radio airplay, or even, masterpieces that they are, their second or third, starting with 1987's Mirage, the band began an on-again-off-again romance with the idea of making music that at least could have commercial appeal. (When Curt Kirkwood sings on Rise To Your Knees about stupid stars that kept getting in his eyes, that's what I've always taken him to be referring to). Mirage is a quantum leap from the trippy, tingling, southern-fried acid folk of Up on the Sun towards polished, glistening psychedelia, of a kind unrelated to other musics usually described as psychedelic (except maybe some of the more countrified output of the Grateful Dead, but even that’s not quite right). I've never fully been able to embrace the album - it is too clean, too polished, and I'm glad they took a step backwards with the follow up, Huevos, towards something rougher and rawer and more in keeping with their live sound. But I never regarded Mirage as a "sell out" or anything. It was more polished and mainstream-sounding than their previous output, sure, but it didn't really seem like the band was compromising its vision, since it was still plentifully weird and unique, enough so that there was never much threat that it would get radio play. Without that possibility - reinforced by the fact that they were still signed to SST at that point, when everyone knew independent labels like that just couldn't get their stuff on the radio, no matter how good it was - it seems more of a conscious experiment with a cleaner sound than it does a dilution of vision. Their songwriting is preserved, and the cleanness and crispness of the production is actually in keeping with the band's MO of reinventing itself every few years, since no two Meat Puppets albums ever sound exactly alike, anyhow. 

No, the album of the Meat Puppets that seems to show them starting to compromise their presentation a little is Forbidden Places, their 1991 major label debut, which, while still remaining weird - I mean, there wasn't much threat of "Sam" getting on the radio - does seem like they're deliberately digging into classic rock roots at time. The monster riffing on "Nail It Down" makes it sound like it was written after a marathon session of listening to ZZ Top, Aerosmith and Skynyrd and drinking tequila. It sounds like rednecks in a pickup truck could blast it on their way to the construction site - like it would fit right in on a mixtape between "Walk this Way" and "Just Got Paid." It's about the furthest, to that point, the band had gone in that direction, and while it's still enjoyable, I have to admit that I struggled with Forbidden Places. There are some giddily great moments on it, but in 1991, it raised questions about integrity and direction. Were the Meat Puppets on the cusp of selling out? Would their next album do to their legacy what, in 1992, Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union - the shittiest of all the major label/ radio hit sellout albums, and ironically maybe the most commercially successful - did with Soul Asylum, and retroactively sully the band's entire back catalogue? (It took me 20 years before I could listen to Soul Asylum again after Grave Dancer's Union, and I'm not talking about their "new material," but albums of theirs I actually had loved previously. "Runaway Train" suddenly managed to travel back in time and taint "Cartoon," which was one of my favourite songs when it first came out: oh, is THIS what the band was aiming at? Suddenly I could hear things in "Cartoon" that I hadn't noticed before, the "incipient sellout," percolating under the surface. What have I been party to? Guhhh....

Neverminding that Forbidden Places actually came out before Soul Asylum's sell-out, I was very afraid that if I stayed with the Meat Puppets, if I let myself accept "Nail It Down," I would be participating in a process of dilution and diminishment, and that, if they followed the album up with a commercial sell-out, I would have been somehow complicit in the process, and feel even more disgusted with them and with myself. I didn't want to ever lose respect or love for the Meat Puppets, and Forbidden Places made me nervous that someday I would... it worried me, even though I liked a lot of the songs on it.

It was never that I didn't want the Meat Puppets to succeed, though - to climb out of the vat. It was that I didn't want them to succeed by substantially compromising their values. It's a different thing, and the proof I can offer is that Too High to Die, their next album, is actually even more of a commercial-sounding, radio-friendly record than Forbidden Places, and yet it's actually a kind of masterpiece. If I were doing a Mark Prindle survey on Facebook about the most successful attempt (artistically, not commercially - we're not talking about Nevermind, here) by an underground band to reframe their sensibilities, in order to court a more mainstream audience (including radio play), I think I'd pick Too High to Die as the album (after which I'd probably give a nod to the Butthole Surfers for Electric Larryland, which in a way is more impressive, because it's so much more unlikely). While I am not wild about every song on it (I've somehow never gotten into "Violet Eyes") on a whole, the popcraft on Too High to Die is so engaging and charming (and still so true to the band's quirky aesthetic) that, had it somehow worked to get them noticed - and it sort of did; it got them closer than they've ever been before or since, I think - I would have been overjoyed. I mean, the single "Backwater" is one of the least interesting songs on the album, but I was delighted to hear it on the radio occasionally and see the video on MuchMusic, and when, shortly thereafter, Kurt Cobain brought the Kirkwoods onstage for "Oh Me," "Plateau," and "Lake of Fire," I was really, really, really happy for them, and really pleased with Kurt; I was no fan of Nevermind by that point and had sort of tuned Nirvana out, but I thought that was a stellar, and really touching, use of his celebrity stature. It was fun to hear "Lake of Fire" on the radio, even if it wasn't one of the Pups' recordings of it. (There are two - one on II, and a hidden track after "Comin' Down" on Too High To Die, which I'm guessing the band deeply regretted not listing on the back cover, once Kurt made it an unexpected hit). 

Things got complicated after that, of course. Cris developed his drug problem, the band put out an album (No Joke) that I somehow never bothered with, then kind of fell apart and reformed in a very different lineup in 2000 for another album, Golden Lies, which I ignored at the time and am only just now getting into. It seems a pretty odd, ambitious record, incorporating even elements of rap; I've read Chris Walter, also a huge Pups fan, saying on Facebook that it's his favourite Pups album, and that has perked me up to check it out. It didn't capture my attention back in the day, but I was in a weird place, musically, at that point, living in Japan and dividing my listening between avant garde jazz and noise, on the one hand, and reggae, and, as far as punk went, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. I probably would have ignored whatever the Meat Puppets did, but it didn't mean I didn't like it; I just wasn't in the mood.  

No: the real return to full on pups obsessiveness began with Rise to Your Knees - the CD that reunited the Kirkwood brothers, even if Derrick Bostrom wasn't on board anymore. I love that album, and reviewed it when it came out for the Nerve Magazine thus. I was feistier then, bit of a cunt, really, but I'll stand by it. This is the long version, that never saw print: 
Meat Puppets: Rise to Your Knees (Anodyne)  
In the name of love for what is great, let’s be ruthless, shall we? The Meat Puppets, before now, in their whole sizeable catalogue, have put out two AND ONLY TWO great albums, Meat Puppets II and Up On the Sun, on which their entire importance hinges (I’d be prepared to concede Meat Puppets I has greatness in it, for all its sludgy singular sputter, but, uh, great meals generally have to be cooked, and it ain’t, so I leave it off the list). Yes, there are other moments in their back catalogue that I am fond of. I’d be willing to concede in a minute that “Forbidden Places” or “Evil Love” or “Look at the Rain” or “Liquefied” or “Not Swimming Ground” or so forth are damn good rock songs, if the competition is Nickelback or, say, your standard advertising jingle; but if you compare them to Meat Puppets II and Up On the Sun (and mebbe Meat Puppets I), you’ve got (on the one hand, like) great vital people’s culture, raw and authentic and heartfelt and worthy of the attention of a 22nd century Harry Smith; and then, spread like pieces of silver across the other hand – the one you jerk off with, perhaps – you’ve got some stuff that mighta shoulda coulda been on FM radio, almost, or, say, the Left of the Dial compilation. Which you’re free to like or not, and sometimes I do, and silver is nice, and I jerk off too, but in the long view, who fuckin’ cares? If it weren’t for mebbe I and cert. II and Up, I wouldn’t, probably. Whether it hurts to admit it or not, most of the Pups later discs are, face it, TAINTED BY THE MARKETPLACE, period. They are Ain’t Love Grant compared to Wild Gift – or, sigh, Three Way Tie (for Last) compared to Double Nickels; they ain’t toxic, but they ain’t that great, either. Judged by recorded document alone, it’s the gargantuan undisputable greatness of their second two albums that, up til now, have made the band worth noticing at all.
 Now: my great joy that Cris Kirkwood has cleaned up and reunited with his brother PROBABLY biases me, dig? I’m a sentimental schlub at heart, and I don’t 100% trust my own judgment on this’un: BUT it sure does seem like the reunited (if Bostromless) Pups, having actually LEARNED FROM EXPERIENCE – a joyous but impossibly painful thing, as anyone who has “risen to their knees” will affirm - and having taken similar stock of the situation, decided they really don’t give a fuck about that ever-promised commercial breakthrough that never quite happened, blown a whole bunch of shit out their asses and, revitalized and rejuvenated and ten pounds lighter and grateful as hell that they can make music again, have recorded a third (or fourth, if you count I) great album, perhaps as good as or (yes, I’m willing to say it) maybe even better than those others. The album is Huevos-direct (no endless fuckin’ around with songs to polish’em up), but with better sound and better songs; and the lyrics have that epic Blakean quality that sometimes taps so deep it makes you wanna weep. In "Island," Curt sings, “you’re the grass, you’re the trees/ you’re the thing that makes the wind/ you’re the roots of the sky (?), you’re an island;" there are other songs about spitting into the wind and such that seem to put more on their sleeves than their crypto-mystical lyrical tendencies normally allow for, which may account for the slightly melancholy tone of much of this disc. The solos are spacy psyched-out desert-scorched journeys; and the general feel is like somethin’ you might hear comin’ out of Mescalito’s ghetto blaster as he dances around a cactus, with his genitals out, kinda like the strange prehistoric bird ref’d in Zabriskie Point, soaring through the canyons o’ yr. soul. I bought it (only $11.99!), and I stuck it in my Discman, and I listened to nothin’ else for four whole days; when I finally gave it a breather, it was to put in a different Pups disc for the purposes of taking stock, and now I’m goin’ back to Rise and being staggered all over again. The Meat Puppets have, as they sing, taken the “stupid stars” from their eyes, and, doors of perception righteously cleansed, are staring out at you with this album, completely open and accessible and THEMSELVES, man, makin’ music from their cacti-fed souls. Whether the world is brave enough to meet their gaze remains to be seen, but I sure hope so, because I LOVE THIS ALBUM, full stop. I am so happy. It is better than anything you were expecting, and maybe even better than anything you were hoping for.
 It’d be a happy irony if THIS were their breakthrough, eh? 
That commercial breakthrough never happened; the album was probably a bit too artful and odd and demanding to ever have much of a chance. While I don't listen to it as often as I do than Too High to Die (which I weirdly don't even mention in that review), it's still a near perfect album. It kinda reminds me of my favourite Neil Young album, Zuma, actually - seems of that era, that sensibility. And if it's maybe a bit to blame - by setting the bar a bit too high - for the fact that it didn't "break" the band - that is not true for anything they've done since. Sewn Together, Lollipop, Rat Farm, and now Dusty Notes are all beautiful records, worthy of vastly more notice than they've gotten, carrying forth the torch of 70's rock and roll in an intelligent, rich, creative, and playful way (with maybe a smidgen of roots and country music creeping in around the edges, not that that's anything new for the band). It no longer feels like the Pups are consciously trying to get on the radio with any of these records, so they're, none of them, remotely describable as "sell outs;" it feels like they've accepted their lot and have resolved to just be the best Meat Puppets they can be, but (especially with Dusty Notes) they're now (apparently effortlessly) crafting stuff that COULD be on mainstream rock radio, or in some cases mainstream country radio, without diminishing their identity in the slightest. They've learned exactly the perfect balance of elements, and they SHOULD be filling arenas with music this good. 

The ongoing neglect of this band - the degree of divergence between critical esteem (and actual stellar musical accomplishment), on the one hand, and commercial neglect and listener indifference on the other - continues to astound me, but none of it is the fault of the Meat Puppets. And as often is the case, I find myself cheerleading wholeheartedly, with Dusty Notes: maybe THIS time, the mix of elements will be right, the stars will line up, and suddenly the Meat Puppets will be elevated to superstar status, and get the payoff (and comfy retirement) they so richly deserve? 

I mean, to hell with the vat joke, I'd be delighted if that came to pass, especially if it happened around an album this good. Dusty Notes captures pretty much the entire range of the Pups' musical expression; from the delightful, bouncy twang of the opening rock tune, "Warranty" to the Hal David/ Paul Hampton cover of "Sea of Heartbreak" - the best "country" song on the album, which mostly faithfully captures the flavour of Don Gibson's original (which is actually several magnitudes weirder than what the Pups do),  there's not a remotely compromised moment on the record, and only one song that is actually probably too heavy for radio play ("Vampyr's Winged Fantasy," which, after a Crime of the Century-esque keyboard intro from new member Ron Stabinsky - goes full on "Attacked by Monsters" or something, giving the album its sole trip to the land of heavy riffage). Other favourites include "Nine Pins," with Cris on banjo, and the mellow, Dead-like "The Great Awakening," "Nightcap," and "Outflow," which almost sounds like some sort of traditional folk song, so effortlessly perfect are its rhymes and choruses. There's an ethereal, noisy, plateauing grandeur to the Curt's solos, too, that takes me right back to Rise to Your Knees. There is so much sheer pleasure to be had from this album - even if it's a bit mellow and melancholic at times, and maybe gives a hint that the band are getting, like all of us, older - that it deserves every ounce of commercial notice that it gets, and probably quite a bit more than that, too. 

And DERRICK BOSTROM is back! He left the Meat Puppets for the longest time, even ran a competing website; I never really got to the bottom of why that was, but he's amply welcome back in the fold (and I'd like to thank him for having the sense not to grow a beard to rival the Kirkwoods; it would just be too much hair for one band, if he did).

Anyhow, there are a few great rock records out now for old punks like me - the Flesh Eaters' I Used to Be Pretty and Bob Mould's Sunshine Rock are two others that I've been enjoying. But the band I'd most like to see get notice is the Meat Puppets. It's long past time for them to be widely regarded as one of the greatest American rock bands of the last four decades. If you've somehow missed out their recorded output (or if you've been neglecting them for the last while) starting (anew) with Dusty Notes would not be the worst move you could make. And if you like the Meat Puppets, you'll probably agree: this is one of their best-ever albums - maybe not up there with those aforementioned landmarks, but at least in the top five albums they've recorded (II, Up on the Sun, Too High to Die, and Rise being the others, by me, though the exact order I'd stack them in depends on my mood of the moment).

Now all we need is a Vancouver show...