Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Ron Reyes interview plus Piggy farewell gig, May 6th

Good God, have I really only seen Piggy once?

I'm thinking back on it, and I think that may be the case. It's a little foggy, because I've seen a few related gigs - like, I saw Alexa Bardach, near the end of her tenure as Piggy vocalist, join the Bonitos onstage for some Stooges-worship at the Japan tsunami relief gig at the Venue, back in 2011 (she barely sang anything, for the first few minutes of the song, but the charisma between her and Billy was palpable). And I have met Ron Reyes on several occasions, and saw him unleash his fearsome pipes at his 50th birthday event, where he first reunited with Greg Ginn.

But unless I'm forgetting something, I think the only actual Piggy gig I have attended was at a Neptoon Record Store Day event, also in 2011. Mostly I remember from that day that people were stressed that Alexa was running late. Once she got there, I remember enjoying the show - but that's about it. I like Ron, and I liked Piggy's debut album, Undignified - which I gave a positive review to at the Straight, neverminding the negative title someone hung on it -  but I have seen no other incarnation of the band, to my knowledge. I feel kind of embarrassed to admit this...

But here: I put together an interview with Ron for the Straight website, and I have some outtakes to share. 
Photo: Sharon Steele

You're of Puerto Rican background, right? Is it a part of your identity that's important to you? Were there any important bands or artists from Puerto Rico that influenced you or that were on the LA scene?

Yes that is right. Sadly, it was not a big part of my upbringing. My mom was a single mom and moved to New York when I was young. My step dad, who came on the scene when I was young, was German, and in our home it was SPEAK ENGLISH OR DIE. He was a cranky Archie Bunker-type, but I do miss him. So I never even learned Spanish until later in life, though I picked some up along the way. In 2013 I was able to Play Puerto Rico with Black Flag and even though the BF thing was so far off the rails by then it was an amazing time.

Wikipeda says you grew up listening to your father's jazz albums... What sort of jazz? Do you still listen to jazz? (How did your father react when you started listening to heavier, angrier music?)

I don’t know who did that Wiki thing - not me - but I think someone must be mixing me up with Dez, whose father was a great jazz musician and producer. I split home when I was like 15 or so, so my parents were not subjected to any punk rock torment. I think they visited me at the Church once or twice. But my mom and dad were pretty cool and had only love for me.

Sorry, the Church? Is that an LA punk house or something...?

The Church was made famous in the movie the Decline of Western Civilization. It was an old Baptist church that was almost abandoned and uses for storage and some hippies did arts and crafts there. At one point Greg Ginn had part of his electronics business there then I moved into a room in the basement and we started jamming there it became a punk party/gig place and a key transitional destination between the emerging Orange County scene and the Hollywood scene.

Ron Reyes in a still from The Decline of Western Civilization

Aha. I should have known that - I haven't seen Decline in awhile. So, uh, when did you first start listening to punk? PIGGY seems to owe some debt to proto-punk and garage rock - are there any bands you would namecheck as inspiring stuff you do? (Is there a dream band you'd want to share a bill with?).

I was listening to the early first generation of punk thanks to Rodney Bingenheimer. Again, it's all the usual suspects but I have very little love for any of what we call hardcore punk. My punk was colourful and fun and inclusive. It had wild guitars and long or short hair. It was played by women, queers, black or white and it had some swing to it - what came later is awful in comparison. Dream band? I don’t know perhaps a cross section of the Dolls, the Stooges, Alice Cooper, The Damned, the Germs, MC5, Flamin' Groovies….

Who were your favourite bands on the Los Angeles scene? Do you still keep in touch with anyone from back then? If you had to pick a handful of albums as favourites from that time and place, what would they be?

The Germs, X, the Screamers, The Weirdos, the Zeros, the last, the Descendents and from the OC side, TSOL, the Adolescents and Agent Orange. I don’t really keep in touch that much, ‘cause to tell you the truth, I was and am still to some degree antisocial. I was the guy at all those early shows who loved the bands but pretty much kept to myself.

Where did the name PIGGY come from? Any connection to
Lord of the Flies?

No connections to anything that I am aware of. The name was suggested by our first singer Alexa. And I loved it as at the time I saw it as an empty vessel with no particular meaning so we could just keep it mysterious and pour whatever we wanted into it. I did a Google search at the time and surprisingly there were no other bands with that name so it stuck. I never wanted to associate it with images of pigs because I thought that was too obvious and then all the posters would be cute little pigs you know. So I pretty much insisted NO PIGS. But I eased up on it a little and came up with the snout and cross bones logo that was only used internally until this final show where I used it.

The band has had a few vocalists. Is Ange Trash still the current vocalist? (Are you still in touch with Izzy or Alexa?). How did you connect with Ange? What is her character like? (She looks kind of formidable!)

Our singers were Alexa, Pat, Izzy and Ange. I love them all and really miss Alexa who we have lost touch with. Ange is our current and last singer. They were all a little different. I wish I could just put them all in a jar, mix them up and pour out the best singer ever.

Can you walk me through the songs on... is the CDEP called Fit to be Tied? Is that the most recent PIGGY release? Are there going to be any copies at the show? (I want one!).

The Fit to Be Tied project was a quick almost last minute low budget attempt to get some new songs out in time for the tour. There was no money or time for a proper album so we thought let's do a special package with a handful of new songs, throw in the songs from our first vinyl only release, add a demo and a live interview conducted by none other than IZZY herself. I think we pressed 100 copies most of which we gave away on tour and I think we may have like 5 copies left. Although some band members and Ryan who recorded it haven't even got a copy yet.

Have you seen
The Other F Word? (A documentary about punks who are parents, which Ron appears in). How did the filmmakers end up picking you? Is it tough, being a parent with a punk background?

That movie was an adaptation of the book written by Jim Lindberg (singer from Pennywise). I was a fan of the book and wrote Jim a letter of appreciation. We became penpals and when the movie project came up he asked if I was interested. My story was significantly different than the others in that i was the only one in the bunch who 100% put family first from the beginning. All of the other dads tried to juggle both family and touring. I knew that would not work for me. And I never have regretted that decision: my marriage is super solid and my kids don't hate me as far as I know ;).
Still from The Other F Word

What kind of music do your kids listen to? Do you like it? (What do YOU listen to these days?).

My girls - including my wife - are not huge music fans. Its weird. I think they all enjoy music but it does not appear to be a significant factor in their lives. All us boys however…. Both of my boys have an eclectic appreciation of music which I admire. And both are pretty good musicians. Way way better than me and one of my boys is in a few bands two of which I have seen and really like, OAF and Crumb. 

Anything you want to tell us about the gig at the Astoria? Who else is on the bill? Do you have any special plans for the night...? 

We actually tried to put something together at the Smiling Buddha for sentimental reasons and also to utilize Cecil English’s Mobile recording setup. But we just could not nail down a date or line up and I began to fear that the longer this went on the more difficult it would be to pull off. Ange is moving away and other members will no doubt start going in different directions so I was contacted by Sexy Decoy and asked if we would join them on their final show as well. I don't know why that are breaking up but I really like them so I thought yeah how weird and wonderful is this. The other bands are Spring Breaks and Scotty P and the Virgins. Ive never seen them but from what I can see it's gonna be a fun show. Our special plans are all about bringing back Izzy, Craig, Doug and Nick backup for one last round... Also to finish with Jenn is a dream come true. Our first and last show with a proper keyboard player. Geesh. I would also love to encourage 4 Beer Ronnie to show up [Ron’s slightly less sober alter ego] but I ain't got a roadie and since it will be me packing most of the gear and driving home I guess 2 beer Ronnie is all ya get.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Stressful time

It's a stressful time.

We've got to clean out Mom's apartment, for one. Hoping a furniture giveaway to people in the building, later this week, will clear out much of it. A lot of it is obvious garbage, some of it is marginally useful, and some of it - like the seven-foot long couch that my parents have had with them all my life, that they liked enough to have re-upholstered back in the 1990's, and that I slept on when visiting Ma's, much like my father once slept on it - is going to be an enormous hassle to even fit through the door, if we should be so lucky as to find a taker. (I'm attached to it, actually, but Erika isn't, and a seven-foot long keepsake is a bit much to make a case for; plus there's no room for it even in the storage locker).

In between, I'm baffled what to keep. When father passed, we saved a lot of stuff, because it would stay with Mom for what comforts it provided, because she had closet space we could use, and because Mom was living in the same building as she and Dad both lived in - the same suite, even, that they first moved into, twenty years or so ago. But the relationship to the space is changing, now. The building - the whole connection to Maple Ridge - is about to be a thing of the past. What I don't give away or throw away I have to put somewhere, and I only have so much room. I've saved obvious things - family photos; and a few odd things with sentimental weight, like the coat/ scarf she most often wore (pictured above; it joins my father's old coveralls, boxed up and stored away for no known future use). But I also look at a lot of stuff and think, well, really this is just garbage, even if I do feel some sentimental connection to it... I don't feel as attached to Mom's stuff as I did with Dad, and in fact don't really want to be reminded of her passing at all. Some photos I cannot look at now without crying, like, say, this one, taken by Erika on the 11th floor of our building; I love the picture, and I even showed it to Mom a couple times during her hospital stay - I keep it on my phone - and it made her smile, too, but I don't know when I'll be able to really look at it again without getting incredibly sad.

Incidentally, one of Mom's last requests was to go up to the 11th floor, presumably to see the view - but she was pretty confused, on that last day, thinking at times that she was still in her apartment. (She also at one point, when I suggested that she and Erika and I "just rest for awhile," after an hour or so of telling her jokes and reading her stories and playing her music and having little conversations with her, began to ask us, "which bed will you choose," which, we finally figured out, meant she thought we were going to nap with her in the Intensive Care Unit, have a little sleepover... it wasn't really what I had meant!). 

Anyhow, I've done plenty of crying for the time being, and I don't really need anything to help it along. I did some just yesterday, when cleaning up - loading bags to the thrift store, bags to the dumpster, sorting through papers, and so forth: I stumbled across something or other that brought the loss home again full force, leaving me slumped on the floor at the foot of the aforementioned couch, sobbing and saying "I miss you."

It's good to cry, I know - better than storing it inside - but after awhile it just wipes you out, and you kinda want to move on to other emotions...

Meantime, if that's all not enough, there are money worries. There's no more money coming for Mom in May (and the Death Benefit she gets will be piddly; in her entire life, she barely worked - besides being my mother and a homemaker - and most of the work she did do was some fifty or sixty years ago, with the majority of her pension coming through because of father's extraordinary pension deals, as ex-Air Force/ ex-BCGEU).  Mom's final cheques went mostly to cover her cremation, and what little money Mom had in the bank now is tied up until the estate is settled. I have income from some writing I'm still pushing myself to do, but I'm now on a medical EI claim, and any money you earn on such a claim is deducted dollar-for-dollar (unlike regular EI, where you keep a portion). Things will no doubt work out - I have some stuff I don't really want to part with, that I might be able to sell to cover a couple of these outstanding expenses - but it's one more worry to add to the pile...

Anyhow, I think that's going to be it, as for blogging about Mom and me. I have more to tell but maybe I'll be able to write something longer about the experience, I don't know. Really right now I just want to try to recover from the last couple months. I'm exhausted, raw, and have a life of my own to re-adjust to, here in Burnaby with Erika. She has been (and continues to be) very supportive through all this - she has my back, quite literally. It's a good, not entirely familiar feeling. Love her lots. 
...and that's all I have for the time being. I had minute to kill while waiting to make a phone call, so I blogged this. Now I'm going to grab a shower, make that call, and get the show underway - back to Maple Ridge, to sort out what's garbage and what isn't, and to try to make the space look presentable for furniture-seekers.  

Sunday, May 01, 2016

RIP Daniel Berrigan

Just noting the passing of Jesuit radical, poet, and one-time fugitive from justice, Daniel Berrigan, who led protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear armaments, among other things, and who inspired, with his actions at Catonsville, both a film (The Trial of the Catonsville Nine - highly recommended, but hard to find) and at least one song ("I Had No Right," by Dar Williams). He also has a cameo in The Mission, about Jesuits in Latin America, where he can be seen walking alongside Jeremy Irons. Father Berrigan was 94. RIP.

I have more to write about my Mom but I also have a lot of work to do this month, from sorting her estate and cleaning her apartment to doing some writing work. I think I'll have something pretty cool in this week's Westender, in fact - I was committed to write a couple of articles over the next while and have been grateful for something to do, when not fretting, crying, or riding to and from Maple Ridge.

But I won't be blogging a whole lot, I expect...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

RIP Helen MacInnis

Mom didn't make it.

I'm doing okay. It's not the worst way to go - with a month of her and I being together every day, plus a month before she got sick where *I* was sick and crashing on her couch while I went to the hospital for my foot infection. There was a lot of love, a lot of time spent together, a lot of chances to cry; I discovered that - comparing this to the loss of my father, where denial kind of reigned - it's much better to get your crying in before someone passes, when they're there, than after. It was all exhausting, and I'm no doubt not through it (or through the work I have to do, dealing with her estate, apartment and so forth), but I'm actually doing pretty good, I think.

I'm kind of glad it happened like it did, actually. Wednesday and Thursday were progressively more dark and depressing, as Mom faded away. Friday morning, with my consent, they'd tried a more aggressive measure to assist her breathing, in the hopes that there could be something more done to save her; there wasn't, but it had the wonderful benefit, for me, of WAKING HER UP, so we could spend one final day with her. (Selfish, but she got to laugh and say a few things and hear a few songs and see Erika again - her face lit right up when she arrived - and even ate a little vanilla pudding. So it could have been worse for her, too).

But Mom passed on Friday night, sometime around 10pm, I guess, if the call from the hospital was an accurate indication (I had gone home after about twelve hours at her bedside, because it was clear she was in her final sleep and would not be waking up). She was in no pain. My girlfriend Erika was there with me, until that last sleep started, and at Mom's request - almost Mom's last request - helped curl her hair before she got her final meds. Then I asked if I could take her picture with Erika, and she, as she loved to do, stuck out her tongue for the picture (though I missed it, in fact. But I have lots of pics of Mom with her tongue out).

 It was difficult, and painful, but it was also a sweet, sweet final day.

And that's all I'm going to say for now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Pete Campbell Interview: of Pink Steel, the Wardells, the Sweaters, and Coach StrobCam

David M. left, Pete Campbell right; NO FUN Alone at Christmas (photo provided by Pete Campbell)

So I've seen Pete Campbell a dozen times at NO FUN's David M. at his Christmas shows (and elsewhere). Seen him do a few originals, too, at these shows. I absolutely love at least one song he wrote, the Sweaters' "Hockey Sucks," which appears on Johnny Hanson Presents: Puck Rock Vol 1. It's very funny,  very smart, very Canadian, and very true to my own experience as a non-consumer of hockey; but I never realized, until earlier this year, that the Pete Campbell credited with writing that song was the Pete Campbell I'd seen live so many times beside David onstage.

Anyhow, I wrote about all that here and here. The song isn't online, so I can't link to it (though another great Sweaters song, "Harder," is). People trying to find out about ANY of Pete Campbell's bands are faced with somewhat of a scarcity of information online, so with him debuting a new band this Saturday at the Princeton, Coach StrobCam, I thought I'd get some of Pete's backstory down, as much for my own edification as yours. What follows is an email interview we did this week. 

Truth is, I doubt very much I'll be at the Princeton on Saturday - or even at the Northwest Horror Show, the way things are going (I had thought maybe I could meet Lynn Lowry and still make the show, but I suspect I'll be in Maple Ridge; a small irony of the piece below is that I just sang "You Are My Sunshine" to my Mom in the hospital today, albeit without a guitar). Pete informs me that Coach StrobCam will be the second of four bands on the bill, with Whiskey Karma headlining. Pete says his new band will likely hit the stage around 9pm... There's no cover, so there's no risk; check it out!

Pink Steel, photo provided by Pete Campbell (second from left)

AM: You started in the Victoria music scene, right? What's your backstory? What was your first band? Are you on the All Your Ears Can Hear compilation?

PC: Ah, Victoria in the late 70's...a cultural oasis if there ever was one...albeit an oasis with fuck all to drink for the most part...Pink Steel was formed by me and a bunch of my high school drama friends...we had this very inspirational drama teacher named Tony Burton whose aesthetic criteria was: talent and skill are not as big a deal as energy and drive...pretty much the ethos of punk rock as it turned out...we came up with the idea for the band when a drama practice was cancelled and we decided to get high instead of heading home...we somehow started doing an improvisation based around the idea of a cool radio DJ who was the only person who had contact with the greatest band of their era:the enigmatic and elusive Pink Steel...yeah we were pretty months later we followed through on the implicit threat and 3 of us got together for a 'jam session'...Jeff Carter was the musician of the group as he had taken a few piano lessons as a kid...the bassist and I had rented gear that week and couldn't play at all..we wrote our first song at that rehearsal:a 2 chord wonder called "We Get High On Music" that became our theme song and we played until the band disbanded in 1982...we added friends to the group as needed until we were finally a full band of 8 members...we formed before we ever heard punk rock...cover songs were too hard for us to play so we wrote our own music...over the next couple years we released two 7- inch records...a 4 song EP called 'A Taste of Pink Steel' and a single called 'It Won't Come In Your Hand'... one of those songs from the EP, 'Here We Go Again' appears on the All Your Ears Can Hear compilation... Everything you would ever want to know about Pink Steel can be found here:

Not to be confused with the gay metal band from Germany of the same name that formed later and stole our name......yes you read that correctly...

The Wardells: John, Rich, and Pete

Did you ever identify as a punk? What was the state of the punk scene when you were coming of age in Victoria?

Well that one is a bit tricky: we all loved punk rock, especially The Clash, The Ramones and all the amazing Vancouver bands of the my mind, however these were just great rock bands, never mind the label they were given..we got to see the 3 piece version of DOA at some hall in Esquimalt and they blew our fucking mind...Pink Steel had an incredible drummer, Dave Robbins, who later went on to be one of Canada's premier jazz musicians..he actually went up to Chuck Biscuits after the show and told him "I used to be faster than you, but now you're a bit faster than me..."....Dave eventually caught up with him...

The scene in Victoria was interesting and diverse: many bands were cutting their teeth at the same time in different parts of the city, but were unaware of each other's existence...NoMeansNo was already happening, in one suburb, The Sickfux, who would later become The Dayglo Abortions, in another...Pink Steel played a show at our old high school and apparently we were so bad that we inspired the Infamous Scientists to form!... The I- Sci's as everyone called them were the coolest band in the city, pretty much from the day they started...I saw their first gig at a house party and they were already a great band..Andy Kerr, who later joined NoMeansNo, played guitar and Kev Lee, always the coolest guy in town played bass...he later went on to form one of my fave all time bands: BUM...John Wright joined the Scientists in the next year and they ruled the scene and were universally worshipped...the first speed-core band on the west coast, The Neos, recorded two EPs at NoMeansNo's basement studio and were an unbelievable fast and powerful live act as well...

Over the next couple years bands popped up all over town,most of them quite good, renting halls and putting on gigs...fanzines started to appear and records were the spirit of punk rock, many local bands released their records on a co-operative label called Alandhiscar Records which was a label in name only, but was reflective of the spirit of solidarity in (most of) the Victoria scene...
Pete rocking out with the Sweaters

Since Pink Steel was formed before we ever heard punk rock, we felt it would have been disingenuous to 'dress up' so we never adopted the visual style associated with punk...and our music was all over the place: some of our shows would have an acoustic set in the middle where our sweet voiced co- lead- singer John Robbins would make the girls swoon, backed by the band's often terrible but heart- felt 'harmonies'...but we had an amazing rhythm section that allowed us to play as fast and hard as any punk band when we felt like it...which we increasingly did as time went on...

Maybe I just hang around Tim Chan too much, but I get the impression that while Vancouver leaned mostly more towards punk, there was a bit more of a "pop thing," so to speak, in Victoria - that there was more love for bands like Seattle's Young Fresh Fellows and such... would that be accurate? (I think of the Wardells and the Sweaters as included in that, as power pop bands, really - yes?). 

With our deeply held belief in the 'authenticity' required to make great 'rock and roll' or 'punk rock' or whatever you would call it, once Pink Steel disbanded John Robbins and I decided to start a band called The Wardells...we billed ourselves as "Victoria's Pop Sensations" and we kind of made the first movement towards the sound that you associate with the Victoria scene....Victoria was a government town, with a firmly entrenched suburban middle-class, so I would say that for many of the kids at the time,the energy of punk rock had great appeal but the politics not so much...I think The Wardells gave some local kids the idea that they could make melodic music that still 'rocked', as it were...and as a result bands of that style began to emerge: probably the best of them being 64 Funnycars who were just a terrific band, both live and on record...3 great songwriters (Tim Chan, Eric Cotrell and Eric Lowe- all still shining lights in the Vancouver music scene) and a breezy, effortless command of the 'power-pop' genre....and yes, when The Young Fresh Fellows first started coming to town they were treated like rock gods....I saw them play in Vancouver a couple times and the audience response was less than overwhelming...however, they were The Replacements' favourite band, so I think we Victoria folks had it right...

Screencap from the Wardell's "In a Hurry" video

I would agree! So... what were the high (and/or low) points of being in the Wardells?

The Wardells had one pivotal gig that changed the trajectory of our 'career' and brought us out of the backwaters of the Victoria scene: we opened for Stevie Ray Vaughn at the Royal the audience that night was our old high school friend Woody Turnquist who at that point was the advertising director of The Georgia Straight....he was impressed by our performance and offered to manage the band...within a few months we were signed to Zulu Records and were opening for many of the great bands of the era: we played with Soul Asylum and Husker Du in the same week!!...shows with X, Rank and File and many others followed over the next year or so...I think many of the Vancouver bands felt - somewhat justifiably - that we didn't deserve these gigs and so never really became fans of The Wardells; and as you say, it is true that Vancouver was much more of a punk than a pop town...I have to mention in our defence though that after a gig with The Enigmas, during which I basically told the audience to go fuck themselves if they didn't like us, Paul McKenzie told me that I was "The craziest motherfucker in town..."...a badge of honour that I proudly wore through our many poorly attended Vancouver shows...

The low points: well, when our manager decided that he'd had enough of pouring his money down the drain trying to 'break' the Wardells into the national scene, he chose to resign...within weeks our 'connection' to the music business in Vancouver evaporated...our agent Laurie Mercer told us that we could easily book our shows ourselves and Zulu Records let us know that our next release would not be with them...our rock solid drummer Rich Lang decided he was going to go to music school back east....we did find a new drummer and released a cassette called Back To The Drawing Board but by then John Robbins had had enough of both me and the trudge through the muck that being in an indie band was all about...when he quit the band my heart and spirit were pretty much broken....but James Richards ,who played drums in the final year of the Wardells as 'cousin Dizzy Wardell' wanted to keep playing so together we formed The Sweaters...

Screencap from the Wardells' "Under the Johnson St Bridge"

What were the high and low points of being in the Sweaters?

The Wardells always prided ourselves as being able to play songs in pretty much any style, which we eventually came to see as a weakness as much as a strength, so James and I decided that The Sweaters would focus on one particular style: fast punk-pop...there were really no bands playing that style in the late '80s that we were aware of and we felt that someone should be carrying the torch that The Ramones had lit and carried for so long...we had no idea that there were bands in California with basically the same idea...when bands like Jawbreaker and Green Day first started to come to town and performed at The Nappy Dugout (!!) there were really no other bands in town playing that style so we always got the opening slot...we opened for Green Day 3 times over the course of a year or so...with my never- failing sense of what worked and what didn't I made the proclamation to some friends at one of the Green Day shows "What a great band...too bad they will never make any money!" least I was half right...

The high points and low points of The Sweaters were both pretty much the same: we became punk rock road warriors and crossed the country numerous times playing anywhere we could get a some cities we had quite a large following and were known as 'Vancouver's Punk Pop Kings'....In Edmonton we even had kids waiting for us outside the venue when we pulled into other places, including Vancouver we often had more people on stage than in the audience!!...I remember one gig at the Railway Club, we were playing our last set and my buddy Jeff Carter stayed even though he had to work in the morning because he was the only patron left in the club...that is a true friend!!

The Sweaters; "Pete, Turk and some clown"

...I also should mention that our fortunes in Vancouver changed quite drastically when Kuba started playing bass with The Sweaters...he was from Winnipeg and punk rock from head to toe....Winnipeg had always had a pop element to much of their punk scene and Kuba brought some of that punk legitimacy to the group...there was also a huge expat- Winnipeg community in Vancouver and they welcomed us with open arms...suddenly we were playing after hours shows and parties and were part of the hugely talented Van East punk rock scene...Kuba was an awesome bassist, especially live and later went on to play bass for a few years with DOA...

The Sweaters' family portrait: Pete, Kuba and James

Tell me about the "Hockey Sucks" song! I love that song! Is it totally autobiographical? Does it appear on any Sweaters albums? How did John Wright contact you? 

Of course we knew John Wright form the Victoria scene and we heard about the call for submissions to his hockey- themed anthology...we all loved the Hanson Brothers, maybe even more than we loved NoMeansNo and really wanted to be on the record...I had been a huge hockey fan as a kid but that enthusiasm kind of waned as I become more a 'music' than a 'sports' guy...not that the two were mutually exclusive as the compilation would certainly prove to be the case...

Anyway I was looking for an 'angle' to participate and the intro to that song kind of fell out of my head onto the guitar and the page...once I listed all the NHL teams and realized that Mighty Ducks rhymed with Canucks I pretty much had the meat of the song sorted out...I have always been a contrarian by nature and it seemed to me that an anti-hockey song would be pretty much the 'punkest' thing that could appear on a punk rock hockey themed compilation...NoMeansNo's manager Laurie Mercer did not want it on the cd but John said it was a great song and insisted it be included...we were thrilled to be a part of it...

Screencap from the Sweaters' "Do Anything You Want" video

How did you end up a collaborator of David M's?

To tell you the truth I can't really remember how that first started...I should say though that I was a huge fan of NO FUN during my formative years...the partnership between David M and Paul Leahy was pretty much perfect in my opinion and their songs were as good as any ever written!...I bought every cassette they released, including the Snivel box set and played them all to death...I went to every show they ever played in Victoria..David has photos of me sitting on the floor in front of them at a show at Uvic...

At some point I reconnected with David when I was doing solo shows around Vancouver...we played a show together at The Main and he asked me to get up onstage and play a couple songs with him...The Wardells used to cover 'Ream Me Like You Mean It' so I knew that one and was more than a little jazzed to accompany one of my idols...the next time he did a solo show David and I got together and worked out a few songs: I am not even half the guitar player that Paul Leahy is so in the beginning of our collaboration we mostly played cover songs or songs where I didn't have to try and then fail to fill Paul's lead guitarist shoes..David always welcomed whatever I brought to the table and in time I became a fixture at his shows...he is a ridiculously undervalued member of Vancouver's musical history and I consider it a great privilege to play with him whenever he asks...

Sing Along With Pete at Christmas

Tell us briefly about Sing Along With Pete? How did that start? Did you get exposure to these older songs through anyone in particular? What are your favourites that you've learned how to play?

During my years as a musician I always had a day job at long term care homes as a janitor, laundry guy etc...I owe a great debt to The Hospital Employees Union - of which my mom was a regional vice president for a few years - due to the fact that because of the union I never had to be a 'starving' musician..the work environment completely suited my personality and I loved working with and getting to know the seniors in the places that I worked...when The Sweaters finally tired of touring I decided to try my hand at playing music at care homes...most places have a weekly pub day or birthday party where they hire a solo performer to provide budgets means they can't usually afford a whole band...I had seen many of these musicians over the years and thought to myself "I could do that"....and so I just started doing it...I would take requests at my shows and learn the songs for the next gig...over time I amassed a catalogue of about 600 songs from the 1920s to the 1970s...I play between 40 and 50 shows every month and that is now entirely how I pay the bills....most of the songs are not the cool, obscure material that hipsters would learn to impress their musician friends but rather the popular songs of the era....even though most of the material I play is not 'cool' I have learned and internalized so many chord progressions that most rock musicians and even many singer- songwriters have never heard, and elements of them come out in my own songs... the most popular song is 'You Are My Sunshine'....I must have played that song a couple thousand times and it has some sort of strange universal appeal...I have a love- hate relationship with that song...audiences love it , so I play it at every show...I think I know how Sting must feel about 'Every Breath You Take'!!

In starting 'Sing Along With Pete' I unknowingly stumbled into my vocation....I perform often in units where people have various forms of dementia and to be able to make these people who have lost so much, happy for a while is one of the great joys of my much of a 'music career' is about 'me' , 'my pleasure' and in short, 'my ego' be able to put the focus squarely on making the people in front of me happy is extremely liberating and deeply fulfilling...I tell people ,often and completely sincerely that I have the best job in the world...

Who or what is Coach StrobCam? That's a strange name and a strange graphic, what's the backstory? What kind of music is it? Who is in the band? Oh, and will you be incorporating any Wardells or Sweaters material into the show?

Well, Coach StrobCam is the name of my new band....and of course, it goes without saying that to call something 'strange' is really a personal judgement call...

I formed the band with a couple of fine musicians I met through my involvement with Clancy's Angels...The Angels were a group put together by Clancy Dennehy: a smoking hot rock band fronted by a fourteen to eighteen member choir....we did a show at the Wise Hall every Christmas for the last 10 year...this past Christmas was our final show so I decided to raid the group and put together my own band!!

Rachel Strobl has become one of my best friends and is a fabulous singer and also plays the guitar...just a couple of days ago she ordered a 'singing saw' online, so that will definitely be something to look forward to...

Greg Kelly was the keyboardist for the Angels and now plays and sings with Coach Strobcam....he is an extremely versatile musician and a hell of a nice guy....

We had musical chemistry right from the start and I was inspired to write about twenty new songs over the last six months or so...our style is hard to pin down: describing music with words is kind of like dancing about architecture, as some smart mouth once I suggest you come see us play and decide for yourself...

The name: when my little brother was about 3 years old he used to have this stuffed baseball player doll ... he used to carry that thing with him everywhere...even though we told him the real name of the doll was Mickey Mantle he insisted on calling it by the name that he chose for it: Coach StrobCam....we still tease him about it to this day!!

Once the time came to name our band, for some reason that name came into my head and it kind of Coach StrobCam it is....

The graphic was designed by former 64 Funnycars' dude mentioned above, Mr. Eric Cotrell who runs Thinkwell Graphic Design and is kind of a genius in my humble opinion...

But really when all is said and done, who cares what a band is named as long as the music is good?

We are thrilled to be playing our very first show this Saturday, April 23 at 9pm at The Princeton Pub on Powell Street, so if you really want to know about Coach StrobCam I suggest you come check us out and see for yourself... We will not be playing any Wardells' or Sweaters' songs as that is in the past and I am all about the future!!...oh, and a bit about the present as well, I guess...

Pete screams: screencap from the "Do Anything You Want" video

Mom, movies, me

Well, I made a bit of time this week to see Midnight Special and, just tonight, 10 Cloverfield Lane, which has hit the second-run screens. I enjoyed, but wasn't that impressed with, both films: Midnight Special has interesting ambitions and its share of effective moments, including a strong performance from Joel Edgerton (who I best remember as Gordo from the "victim's revenge" movie The Gift, though he was also in Zero Dark Thirty; I briefly mistook him for Stephen McHattie's cohort in A History of Violence, but that's some other guy). One trouble is, too much of its suspense lies in the witholding of information, which, when you think of it, is a fairly easy trick to accomplish when its the filmmakers who have all the information in the first place. In the end, something stops it from being a fully satisfying film (unlike Nichols' earlier Take Shelter or Mud, both of which maybe have flaws, but work, and make a mark; it's been too long since I saw Shotgun Stories for me to really evaluate it.)

On the other hand, 10 Cloverfield Lane is thoroughly engaging and invenitve  as a continuation of Cloverfield - it is the maybe least sequel-feeling sequel ever made - but feels kind of, ultimately, trivial, with no real interest value on the level of its meaning (spoiler: "what if the crazy survivalist was right all along?"). While I don't regret the time I spent with friends during both films, I wonder if I really needed either movie in my life when my Mom is doing so poorly.. I mean, sure, "I needed to recharge my battery" and all, "I needed to take a break." I've said both, but... doesn't that all smack of rationalization? It was nice to have a couple nights out of the hospital but, you know, I would feel pretty guilty if Mom died while I was off watching a movie.

Today was day 26 of Mom's stay in the hospital. Each thing that has gone wrong, and/or the treatment thereof, has led to further complications, requiring further treatment; the gallstone that started everything was removed on March 30th, but she's still in hospital, with no sign of immediate release.  At present the biggest scare is damage to her heart. It hasn't been a strong heart since 2009, but now, signs of congestive heart failure are running rampant: cold hands and feet, swelling legs and ankles which are weeping fluid, deep wet coughing, kidney pain, dropping blood-oxygen levels when she's not receiving oxygen, a lowering of blood pressure... They say that her vitals are good, but she's not in ICU anymore, so I'm not sure how thorough they're being in monitoring them, and there have been a few moments when I doubt that the system as it exists is up to the task of giving her what she needs. I may just be being oversensitive - the doctors and nurses genuinely don't seem that worried about her, and are trying to reassure me - but there is no coming back from congestive heart failure, slow a process as it may be; I was told that years ago. And there was a terrifying half hour this afternoon where Mom was gasping and crying and clinging to me while her body was wracked with shivers and muscle spasms, mostly in her right arm - the not-a-heart-attack arm, but still. We were both telling each other we loved each other and I was trying to say comforting things, while praying inwardly that the nurse would hurry up with whatever he was bringing, but it took a long time and put us both through the wringer, as I tried to get her to calm down and breathe through her nose (and turned up her oxygen supply). I only let go of her hand to bring a photo of Dad closer, so she'd be able to see his face smiling at her...

Anyhow, the nurse came, meds were given - some sort of steamy inhaler to help her breathe and a painkiller - and the spasm passed. She was a little trembly for a bit, but all the same, we spent the next several hours listening to music - Kenny Rogers, Jim Croce, Charley Pride, and the odd mix I've made, including ones she and Dad and I used to play Scrabble to - and doing jigsaw puzzles (I think we got five done today!). We've done one or more of them each day, since it occured to me to bring the first one on the weekend - the day of the Residents show, in fact. These are some favourite pics I've taken, and I've put them, I believe, in the sequence of the puzzles we have done so far. I go quite a bit faster than she does, so when I find a piece, or put together several too quickly in a row, she growls at me and and says, "you're good," jealously, or maybe, "you're pissing me off!" Sometimes she just growls and glares and makes a fist, of course with her fine sense of wry humour behind it.

I always let her do the last few pieces by herself.

There have been a few other delightful times with Mom, despite the hospital setting - like the first time I took her out to explore the grounds in a wheelchair, and we ran into Teddy the Therapy Dog. He was so friendly! I think this was before "contact precautions" were declared (or at least before they were explained to me).

Another sweet moment: our one day in the garden out back, maybe a little over a week ago, where I wheeled her to a very pretty spot and we sat in the shade, watching the branches blow in the trees, drinking diet pop, and observing one squirrel that came by, showing only the briefest flicker of curiosity towards the banana peel I offered him (it was all I had). At a couple of points Mom remarked that it - the garden, the breeze, the whole moment - was so wonderful, she didn't mind being sick. I was glad that she felt so happy, though that seemed a little hyperbolic to me!

Sometimes there are just photo ops I can't resist, like the "what is that" pic from the day they got their wires crossed and served her food pureed (she's pointing at the green mounds, which, it turns out, were pureed broccoli. Nice that they give you a card telling you what everything is, because, barring tasting them, I never would have guessed). There are a few other pics I really like, below.

Perhaps my favourite moments of all came tonight, however, and I have no photographs to accompany them. I had brought a stack of movies I thought would be appropriate for her - Michael Apted's Nell, for instance, plus some films I only just picked up off a friend yesterday: Elaine May's A New Leaf, Sirk's Magnificent Obsession, Mazursky's Harry and Tonto, a Marlene Deitrich set. I figured they all might appeal to her, or that at least one would. She was kind of shrugging at her choices, though, so I glanced over at my backpack, where I had a few other options tucked away. "Um... do you want to watch a horror movie?"

"Yaaah!" she said. Y'see, I had, thinking I might bug Lynn Lowry for signatures this upcoming Saturday, packed three of her better known films along with me when I left from Burnaby this morning, in case I actually end up at the Northwest Horror Show. I contemplated the options - Mom is sick, she's experiencing plenty of "body horror" moments, so why not go for Cronenberg?

Yes, folks, Mom and I watched Shivers in the lounge area this evening. She laughed aloud several times: when the "poor little birdie" hit the umbrella, when the parasite was worming its way out of the mailbox, and maybe most entertainingly, when the infected old lady grabbed the bellboy, saying "I'm hungry! I'm hungry for love!" I shared what anecdotes about the making of the film that I could - like the one where Barbara Steele took umbrage at Cronenberg slapping one of the junior actresses (but at her request, to help her get into character as an abused housewife). Usually Mom rolls her eyes at my horror movies but I could tell she was entertained aplenty by this one. Even if she remarked at the end that it was the stupidest movie she'd ever seen (that one's for you, Robin Wood), she admitted she enjoyed having watched it.

It's, I guess, not the worst way to end a life, if that's what's happening here, though I wonder if I'm storing up all these positive moments to help balance out what I imagine will be a crushing sense of guilt and failure when she's gone?

Then again, maybe the doctors and nurses will surprise me and prove right and she'll pull through. I hope so. Meantime - I have an article promised for Friday and I have to be up at 8:30 AM so I can get to the hospital nice and early, with a new assortment of jigsaws in tow, so no more blogging for now.

Hang in there, Mom. I'll be there soon.