Thursday, June 21, 2018

Scott McCaughey?!

Whoa. Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, with guests Carolyn Mark and Mike Mills, played a set - including several YFF songs - at the Imperial in Vancouver last night, opening for M. Ward.

I didn't find out about it until I was already in Surrey to work. And really, I wouldn't have been able to take the night off, so it's just as well.

Anyhow, Scott - come back soon, so I can see you! Glad you're touring again! I still really would love to see the Young Fresh Fellows....

Thanks to Tim Chan for passing on the news that Scott was in town... 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Car-Free but not Cold-Free

Just what I needed: a health problem. Again!

Just a cold, mind you, but I feel crappy. Taking time off work to recuperate. Erika is out for the day so I'm hanging out with the cat, blowing my nose, sweating, and listening to music most of you wouldn't approve of (Terrapin Station by the Grateful Dead at the moment, but maybe some Tragically Hip or Robert Plant next).

By the by, I finally got up the courage to check out Gord Downie's The Secret Path and was, as expected, cryin' all over myself in response. Real moving late gesture by him. I still haven't processed his death, really. I wasn't a huge fan but I do like some Hip and really enjoyed seeing them live the one time (at the Commodore on the World Container tour).

I have pretty much nothin' else to say at the moment, though. I did do this for the Straight, about tomorrow's Car-Free Day celebrations. They didn't credit Rowan's photograph or say who it was a picture of - Katheryn Petersen - but otherwise the article is pretty much as written. Rowan later winced to realize that actually he does know a bunch of people playing - he's not THAT out of the loop - but he was otherwise a sport about not bein' credited and appreciative of the press.

I got not much else at the moment. Hoping my cold will pass a bit so I can enjoy a few shows tomorrow. I will possibly also make it to the DOA Fight Back festival, in July, since I like the new DOA album quite a bit, and want to see David M., Ford Pier, and Doug Andrew supporting Joe. Did you know that DOA's Triumph of the Ignoroids was recorded on David M's four-track? He's thanked on the back. He has fun stories about the battle of the bands that DOA, No Fun, and Doug and the Slugs all were in when that was recorded (none of them won; the bands that did are totally forgotten now).

...Ah, here's the chorus: "Terrapin!" I remember Ty Scammell at the Flea Market declaiming "terrapin" as he recommended the album to me over 30 years ago. It was the first Grateful Dead album I ever heard. Now it's the only one I have - but I like it a lot, especially this side. Though it's not actually a side, since I'm listening to it on CD.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Hereditary yes, Cineplex No

I seldom have good experiences at Cineplex movie theatres, but I still occasionally go see movies there. Sometimes - as with Hereditary, yesterday - I really enjoy the movies that I see at Cineplex. But going to Cineplex often also means:

1. Having staff walk in front of the screen to perform some sort of obscure security check, more than once during the film. They send an employee cross the screen to do whatever they do at the box on the far wall. I've seen this happen more than once during a screening, and since I tend to sit somewhat close to the screen, that usually means a bobbing, capped head ghosting along the bottom quadrant of the image. Not sure what purpose this practice could possibly serve, other than distracting viewers from the film; if it is meant to reassure me that my security is being looked out for - it does not. 

2. Having the lights go up in the movie house before the film is over. I've had this happen more than once, including during a film where there were still images on the screen, accompanying the credits: blam, as soon as the credits rolled, the lights were full on. It doesn't always happen this way - but sometimes it does. They don't have a very good sense of timing. I tried to explain why this was problematic to a cinema manager, last I encountered it, and was blinked at by him like I had come from another planet, with no apparent comprehension of why this would be a problem.

3. Watching a constant barrage of annoyingly shouty "advertorial" trivia, pitched at the rock-bottom of the barrel of cinema consumption, usually about very pretty stars whose names I can't even remember as I write this and can't be arsed to look up. This followed by an onslaught of ads, with the whole experience lasting at least half an hour before the trailers even start. Sure, that's part and parcel of the commercial movie experience nowadays - except I don't have to watch A SINGLE FUCKING AD if I stay home and watch Netflix or a Blu-Ray (except for movie trailers, of course, which are fine, though it would be especially nice if cinemas made sure these trailers fit the film they're playing; the trailers for Hereditary yesterday were a random mix of other films distributed by Elevation Pictures, including what seemed a cringeworthy Afro-American telemarketing comedy and two other non-horror movies which have passed, thankfully, from memory, but which were about as far from the content of Hereditary as could be imagined). Nor do you have to watch ads, generally (except for a few trailers) if you go to the Vancity Theatre or the Cinematheque. As I recall, even the Hollywood 3 discount chain, which serves second-run movies at half the price, is ad-free, except for trailers. When I see Hollywood movies theatrically, these days, this is usually my preferred means. Caught I Feel Pretty and Rampage with Erika as a double bill out in Surrey not long ago. Neither of them were great movies, but some of the sting gets taken away when you're paying less than half what you would for a Cineplex screening, and not being bombarded with car ads to boot.

4. Paying exorbitant prices for films. We paid $13.25 per ticket for what I considered a matinee yesterday of Hereditary at Metrotown, and that wasn't even with all the annoying bells and whistles - 3D, hi-def, seat shaking gimmicks, smell-o-vision - that they use to justify charging even more. $13.25 for a single ticket of a film screening at 4:25 PM seems obscene to me (especially when I can wait a few weeks and see the same film for $5 or so at the Hollywood, or pretty much for free on Netflix).

5. Being serviced by robots. This, again, is the way of the world lately - Landmark New West, which has vastly better seats, also has a predominantly kiosk-based service - but I was still shocked by the latest manifestation, again at Metrotown: the front-of-house human tellers have all been replaced by automated tellers, with the people who previously took your cash now running back and forth between the machines, helping you work them. This is ridiculous and alienating, but worse, it isn't even an improvement in service, because Cineplex Metropolis, in their wisdom, have also removed the kiosks that were PREVIOUSLY to the side of the human tellers, so you still have to line up, to be served by the same number of machines as they used to have human employees. There are, I believe, in fact FEWER places to buy tickets now at that cinema, for their "technological improvements" - though of course you can order online, something I never do; I would rather buy a ticket from a person, personally. Maybe I have questions. Maybe I enjoy the social exchange. Maybe I like the idea of people being paid to work somewhere, so I feel less like a pawn in a profit-generating machine, and more like a human being myself. Maybe I just like to be thanked in person, rather than read words on a screen (somehow being thanked by a computer seldom seems sincere). Note that there is apparently an option of lining up somewhere else at Metrotown if you want to pay by cash, but it would have involved following an usher's vague directions and finding the appropriate teller, in some nebulous other region of the cinema. I had someone to meet at front-of-house, and I wasn't paying cash, anyhow...

In short, going to Cineplex at all, ever, these days means holding my nose. But there are still some things they get right. It's great that they're even playing Hereditary - a singularly ambitious weird-ass horror film that will appeal, say, to fans of Zulawski or people who know about The Evil Within, except you won't see Zulawski or The Evil Within at a mainstream movie theatre. To see such a culty, odd film in a 3/4 full house at a mall cinema was bizarrely appealing - a sign of a smarter, more demanding, or at least better-informed audience, maybe.  It also must be said that Cineplex has never yet, that I've seen, misprojected a film. I have had cause to complain at competing chains that the images have seemed under-lit, so much so that - a problem at Landmark New West - the red lights of the "exit" signs, reflected on the screen, were actually brighter than the film itself, so you could see red patches at either extremity of the image. This has never been an issue at Cineplex. So I have - up until yesterday - still been willing to pay them money, occasionally, even if they're pretty much LAST on my list of cinema choices (which are, in descending order, the Vancity Theatre; the Cinematheque; the Rio; any location of the Hollywood 3; Landmark New West; and finally, anything run by Cineplex. Bear in mind that I live a five minute walk from Metropolis, so it really is quite significant that I feel this way; the least convenient movie theatre to get to, for me, is in fact my first choice, and the most convenient, my last).

Hereditary, let me mention - by way of setting up my final big complaint - is really a worthwhile film. People are saying it's on the level with classics like Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist (a film I have mixed feelings about but it certainly deserves its rep). I'm not quite sure about any of that, but it's at least as good as or better than the last few cult horror movies to rise to the surface in recent years, like It Follows and The Babadook, and will definitely warrant a repeat viewing. It is inventive and original, has some genuinely scary and disturbing images, and it will keep you guessing as to where it is going. (It is another good film to watch with as few spoilers as possible, though I was pretty impressed that the one trailer I saw didn't even reveal that Gabriel Byrne, the film's biggest star, was in it). There's a whole boatload of suspense built up by the end of the film, as it draws to a climax that pays off in terms of both meaning and action (which is to say, the last big scare is also the point where you finally get to understand what's been going on; a friend has quibbled rightly that they get a bit too spoon-feedy there, with a voiceover from an offscreen character that explains more than it needs to, in case you are lost, but I must admit, there were bits I had not caught in that explanation, myself.) It's brilliant to have a film that pits your desire to understand what you've been seeing with the fear that something really scary is going to happen; I'm not even sure how to begin to describe that inward tension, but it's about as potent a confrontation with the fear of the unknown as you can get. You cannot understand UNLESS you face your fear. I like this. (And I like that, as is not the case with most films, I have absolutely no handy interpretation as to what it all REALLY means; I can't begin to suggest what the film is about thematically).

Here's where Cineplex Metropolis REALLY blew it yesterday. At the very peak of suspense of the film, four cleaning staff, pushing two giant carts with garbage bins, opened the doors, rolled up the aisle, and stood at the margins of the cinema, waiting for the movie to end so they could get to work. Not only were the credits not rolling, THE FILM STILL HAD NOT REACHED ITS CLIMAX. It was in the very process of doing so. It was OBVIOUSLY not over. And yet, not only did they not stop what they were doing as soon as they saw the film was going on - leaving the carts and waiting outside; they continued up the aisle and just stupidly stood there, doing NO WORK AT ALL, so it wasn't even aiding them much. It had the overall effect of making their waiting to clean up the spilled popcorn a part of the cinema-going experience, and our still being in the theatre an inconvenience to their jobs.


One member of the audience - because there was some discussion about this afterwards - said he actually jumped when the garbage carts rolled up the aisle, like it was somehow manifesting the scary things going on on screen. There was a minute of sheer confusion on my part as well - oh no, the movie is coming up the aisle! (Thoughts of William Castle's The Tingler flickered).

Admittedly, as soon as the credits rolled, I got angrier than I perhaps should have. I lost my temper, as I sometimes do when confronted with gross, blinking incompetence. I addressed the staff directly: "Are you dumb, or is this policy?" I applaud the guy who had wit enough to respond, "Well, we're not dumb, so you should probably go talk to the manager" - which was a pretty composed smartassed reply, even if it had the effect of escalating my irritation and having me repeat my question, louder, to the other staff, who stood there stupidly (and possibly not understanding the question; they didn't seem to have much in the way of English-language skills, seemed to have that look of complete impartiality you get when being yelled at by someone using words you don't understand). On the way to actually talking to the manager, I got chewed out in turn by a female audience member, who admitted she also thought the cart manifestation was ridiculous and unprofessional, but who emphasized that you cannot be so disrespectful to the staff ("do you know what they're being paid?" To which I really should have replied that *I WAS THE ONE PAYING THEM,* because in a way, that was true; certainly I was being paid NOTHING to be there, myself, which, whatever paltry wage they receive, is still a smaller amount. They were plus at least $20 for the two hour runtime of the film, while I was down $13.25!).

When I found her, the manager - a chubby woman in her fifties, who looked like she could be as easily managing a Canadian Tire - manifested that same blinking indifference that I have seen so frequently when complaining at Cineplex. She did say, in the most neutral terms possible, that she was sorry; she did say that the staff was not supposed to wheel in the carts before the movie was over. She offered me no recompense (maybe because she rightly assumed I would have told her to shove it). I told her I would never again come to the Metrotown Cineplex (which was true, especially after I had made a scene; I'm really good at such moments at burning bridges). As she stood impassive, I then told her in fact that I would think twice about seeing any movie at Cineplex (which in fact is what I already do). She maintained her impassivity - she may have repeated, lamely and neutrally, that, again, she was sorry and shouldn't have happened, but again, her blandness gave me no satisfaction. "It's disrespectful of the audience!" I shouted. "It's disrespectful of your paying customers! It's disrespecful of the film." I probably waved my arms a little, as she stood there, blank and blinking. "In fact," I declaimed, digging out my wallet - "here, I've got 600 points on it, and you can KEEP it." I threw my Scene card on the floor. She made no move to pick it up, made no move to say or do anything further, so, having said my piece, I walked away.

(Note: I didn't realize til after that a friend of the friend I was with retrieved said Scene card for me; thanks, man. I got a bit worried after I walked away that maybe someone would use the card to access my information in a nefarious way. It was very considerate of you).

So here you go, dear Cineplex. Since you seem confused about it, THIS IS WHY your revenues are down. It isn't just that you mostly play giant shitty blockbuster movies. It isn't just that you gouge every penny out of your customers, or speak to them with your ads and pre-show trivia like they're total idiots, or that you generally strive, with your automation, to make the experience as impersonal and robotic as possible. It's that you send the message loudly to your audiences that you respect neither them nor the movies you're screening; that our love of cinema and desire to intimately engage with it is in fact an inconvenience to you, a necessary evil at best, rather than THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THE ENTERPRISE. And then, when we get annoyed with you, you blink stupidly, say you're sorry, and wait for us to leave. 

Boo, I say. Bollocks. There's lots of other ways to see movies, and they're ALL better than doing business with you.

Repent and change your ways.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

An Angelic Coincidence: No Exit Twice in One Day!

I've been mildly obsessed with artful 1970's Australian pub-rockers the Angels for a few years now - since their original frontman Doc Neeson commenced his ultimately losing battle with brain cancer. I spent a year listening to them almost non-stop on my phone in the hopes that somehow appreciating Doc's music might help - superstitious nonsense but whatever - in his recovery. In fact, my revisiting them in a big way dates back to even before hearing Doc was sick: there was a brief period maybe ten years ago where he was reunited with the band and they were touring Australia, and I had hopes they might make it this way. The band had, after all, a brief period of success in North America, back in the early 80's - though their label (Epic, I believe, at the time) had them redub themselves Angel City, for North American consumption, lest they be confused with that glam rock band Frank Zappa was so mean to, Angel. I was following news of that reunion tour on Myspace, back when Myspace was the social media site of the moment, long before Doc was diagnosed. They never did make it back this way - so I never did get to see them live - but it was a definite return to my roots, rock music-wise, and the beginning of several years of backwards-looking music consumption for me - because as a teenager, I had Dark Room, Face to Face, Night Attack, and Two Minute Warning, and thought they were all fine rock albums, creative and thoughtful but also riffy and tuneful and fast. They're just this side of punk, with a definite Australian flavour, which made it really easy to imagine them in the company of bands like Rose Tattoo or even AC/DC; except their lyrics were way smarter, with Neeson occasionally getting downright Dylanesque (see "Wasted Sleepless Nights/ Darkroom," for instance.) Turns out what I liked as a teen sometimes has become what I love as an adult. Since getting back into them, I have spun their North American releases more frequently than I ever did back then, and even stumbled across a few Australian releases of their early albums, sometimes in quite unexpected places (including a Coquitlam thrift store). They're terrific albums, under-appreciated, and way up there on my list of favourite underdog rock bands, along with Goddo or, I guess these days, the Blue Oyster Cult...

Anyhow, when I started to actually hear some of their Australian releases - and started to explore online - I also began to realize that some of their best songs, like "Save Me" and "Mr. Damage," weren't even included on those North American LPs, which freely cannibalized the first four Angels albums, presenting the songs that most appealed to record executives, but in different orders, with different recordings of them, and sometimes moved from album to album. Their first album and No Exit, their third, got the worst of it, since - unlike Face to Face, Dark Room and Night Attack - there was actually no corresponding North American release; about half the songs on No Exit end up spread out on the Angel City Face to Face and Dark Room releases, replacing songs that I guess the execs didn't like ("Outcast," say, which is on the Australian Face to Face but not the Angel City version). The changes were sometimes painless - "Ivory Stairs," which closes No Exit, ends up the second cut on the North American Dark Room release, but is great on either album. But why not, as a fan, hear the albums as they were first released, in the country the band actually was based in, as their original fans heard them? (And check out all the songs that didn't make it over here, to boot...?).

It certainly hasn't been a hobby that I've had any competition in. There are a few other local fans that I've run into, including Billy Hopeless, wendythirteen, and Steve Newton,  but I should imagine they are all content with the Angel City releases. If they have original Angels albums, they haven't been trading them in; I've only seen (and bought) three of them since I took an interest, tho' I've seen plenty of the Angel City albums while I looked, diligently peeking every time I go to Audiopile or Red Cat or Neptoon or Noize or Zulu or any other used record store, in case they had something. I finally wearied of the search a few weeks ago, and asked to see if Red Cat could get in No Exit on CD. There are people selling the LP on eBay, but they want $25 for shipping from Australia, and none of the sellers I've written are willing or able to combine shipping to send me OTHER Angels albums that I want, to make an order more practical. I even wrote an Australian record store, Clarity Records, who told me that the Angels were enjoying an upsurge in popularity over there and they had nothing in at the moment (which was disappointing on the one hand, but on the other, it did my heart some good to hear that the band was enjoying a resurgence in their homeland. I wonder if Canadian kids will ever get back into Goddo?).

Anyhow, yes, Red Cat, I was told, could bring in the album on CD. I'd really rather have it on vinyl, but to heck with it. I resign myself to the fact that I will never, ever see it at a Vancouver record store, and that I just can't justify ordering it from Australia. I can make do with it on CD.

It takes about two weeks. There's a side story to all this where Dave Gowans, I think, leaves me a phone message in a pretty convincing accent pretending to be a member of Tears for Fears, to tell me that the CD has come in. I still don't really understand what that was about. It was pretty funny, but a bit random; I mean, Tears for Fears? They aren't Australian, are they?

That was earlier this week. I made the trek today to pick up the CD (via Ford Pier, who revealed that the "sexist" album cover for Expensive Tissue people are complaining about below is in fact an image of David P. Smith's armpit - but again, that's a side-story). So now I have it. There are no bonus cuts, sadly, and it even looks a bit burn-on-demand, but fine.

While I'm in the neighbourhood, I mosey down to Neptoon, to see if they have other albums I've been hungrying for, and, like I always do, I check the section, just in case.

Guess what they just got in?

Brawl in Cell Block 99

I like S. Craig Zahler. Haven't read his novels, haven't seen all the films he's associated with, haven't met the man personally, but I've said plenty about Bone Tomahawk (here, for example), a very fresh genre film that shows intelligence at every turn and makes choices - especially the casting of Sid Haig - that suggest Zahler is a kindred spirit as a movie fan. Zahler can be outlandish - for example with some of that film's gore - but MOSTLY operates with a restraint that makes you feel confident that his success (should he have a mainstream hit) won't go to his head, unlike certain other movie geek filmmakers we might mention (one of whom, hint-hint, is mentioned on the poster above). I'm pretty excited to see his upcoming, Vancouver-shot police brutality thriller, Dragged Across Concrete, starring Mel Gibson; I'm seriously hoping it gets a theatrical run. Meantime, I felt trusting enough to buy Zahler's new film, Brawl in Cell Block 99, having read nothing about it, when I stumbled across it at Sunrise the other day.

I was most pleased. Some of its gore is extreme enough that it made not only my wife but ME flinch - I actually missed one of the varied "head/ face crushings" on display because I yelped and looked away when it happened, and didn't want to rewind and see what I missed (I am confident that it was very, very gross). But if you can take that sort of thing, and if you don't mind very male-centric, violence-heavy prison films, and (best of all) if you want to see someone completely and utterly rehabilitate Vince Vaughn from his smarmy/ cutesy / smirky tendencies and make a credible, menacing tough guy out of him, this is a movie that will please you. There are maybe some quibbles possible - Jennifer Carpenter's character is under-developed a bit, perhaps because Zahler didn't want to get too distracted from the film's ruthless trajectory, and there are unanswered questions about Vaughn's character that will leave you wanting more... but it's still really, really good - terrific craftsmanship, gripping set-pieces, and a very likable dark humour throughout. Plus the Sid Haig this time is Udo Kier. (Have those two ever been in a movie TOGETHER, I wonder?). It kind of reminded me at some turns of the Barbet Schroeder remake of Kiss of Death - which holds up a bit better these days than it did on first run, by the by - but it is, I think, a better film. (Or at least doesn't have Nic Cage going off the rails in it; Zahler, you get the feeling, insists on restraint and discipline from his cast, and gets great performances out of them. Especially Vaughn, though Don Johnson is pretty fun, too).

I have said almost nothing about the film, mind you, in writing this. That's by design. I am sure there are lots of reviewers out there who will describe it in detail, if that's what you want. You should just trust me (and S. Craig Zahler) and see it fresh, though. It's a good film to see that way. Like, when Vaughan goes inside the house at the start of the film, what's he going to do?

I think the suspense there is pretty important to maintain. To say nothin' of the rest of the film...

Awesome reversable cover on the Blu, too.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Life; a Disturbing Dream; plus Jordan Peterson side-note

It's been a busy life lately. I tutor college students in English by day (some days), teach English to lower-level immigrants in the evening during the week, and higher-level immigrants during the early parts of Friday and Saturday. Since the locations I am at are geographically remote (two sites in Vancouver, two sites in Surrey, and me still living in-between in Burnaby), I end up commuting long hours. Since the immigrant-teaching job runs on a CLB/ PBLA model, I also have to spend a lot of the time when I am not at work planning - because there are no CLB textbooks; the government would rather spend its money on theory than practice, apparently, creating a complex model of teaching that comes complete with a 200+ page document, saying what approach you should take, but not going so far as to design a textbook, curriculum, or lesson plans, so all the actual practical, what-do-I-do-in-class-today work is outsourced to the teachers (thanks a bunch!). PBLA/ CLB also requires weekly testing of the students, but again, you gotta design (or at least find) those tests, then you have to mark them; the government model again tells you HOW to test them, but it no more tells you WHAT to test than it does what to teach. Lotta work, in short. At least the tutoring gig is zero prep, zero take-home.

Anyhow, with all of that, and daily life stuff like housework and very occasional writing gigs, I have very little downtime. Saturday evening and Sunday are my only real days off. Yesterday, Erika and I went to the Cloverdale Flea Market for a road trip, where I found a few LPs and CDs that fill some holes in my collection. It was a pleasant day, despite a rocky sleep the night before. My insecurities about identity that I'd been having while suffering from my kidney stone ordeal of the last few months have pleasantly faded, and I'm shoring up my sense of myself with stuff I love, listening to a lot of stuff from my teen years (like the Blue Oyster Cult, say), acquiring some fun vinyl items, and interacting a bit with the great John Terlesky (AKA Brother JT, of the vastly-underrated American rock band the Original Sins). I feel pretty good, actually, especially now that I'm not pissing flaming blood. Plus being busy is better than being idle; and it's nice having a little money to play with (I mean, I'm still living paycheque-to-paycheque, but I get to go "whee" a little for a few days after each arrives).

So if life is, all-in-all, fairly good, why did I have this creepy-ass dream last night?

In the dream, I am a mentally challenged person (perhaps inspired by my recent watching of Tropic Thunder, where one of the lead character's past acting roles is in a film called Simple Jack). I am in a strange town, where I have to wait for someone or for something to happen. It's a variant on my old recurring dream, I guess, but instead of being responsible for rescuing someone, I seem to be the one who is to be rescued. I am in some peril, but being a bit simple, I don't realize it. I'm staying in a hotel, while my rescue is orchestrated from without; my only company is a pet animal, some sort of strange ferret/ possum creature who (make of this what you will) rides around under my pants and sometimes peeks up and smiles at me from below. (Note that in the dream I am both the main character and, as myself, a member of an audience watching a movie about the character; I find the animal as adorable as anyone). I am not in a very good part of town, and someone seems to wish me ill, so it would be wisest - and I believe the person responsible for me, coming to rescue me, or such, tells me this over the phone - that I stay in my hotel room.

Of course, I go out. I forget why; I walk around a few stores, look at things in shop windows. There is a diverse and busy crowd on the sidewalks, paying no attention to me; there is one particularly menacing looking guy, but he is ignoring me. This changes when a woman - possibly a prostitute, trying to start a conversation - approaches me and says, "hey, do you want to listen to music with me?"

I brusquely indicate that I do not. She takes offense, and says to the menacing-looking guy, "That guy over there just insulted me. If you were a real man, you'd kick him!"

So he does; he comes over, and kicks me really hard, aiming at the crotch or the gut. Then he walks away. Except it is my animal, not me, that takes the blow. It looks up from my crotch, and at first seems to be fine, but - concerned - I pull it out, and its guts are hanging out, it is all bloody, it is in pain, and is obviously dying.

As the viewer of this story, in the audience, I am crushed. We all loved this friendly animal and its smile. We are crying. The main character of the movie - also myself, but I will shift to third person here, as my dream also does this, sort of - is on his knees on the sidewalk, cradling his dying animal friend, as people gather round, observing. Then my character places his hand on the animals head and - this is heartbreaking to watch - he takes out a knife and stabs into the head - putting it out of its misery, we in the audience assume.

Except not exactly: he continues to cut a generous chunk of the animal's head away, including the left eye, and then pops this rather large piece into his mouth and begins to chew. Suddenly the audience has gone from crying to gagging; and though I am mostly watching this from without along with them, I am able to taste and feel this chunk of my friend in my mouth as I chew.

And then - as the kneeling man, the protagonist - I say, loudly, so everyone can hear: "Saves me breakfast!" And I grin around my "food."

I do not why I say this; maybe it is calculated to disgust and frighten, so people leave me alone. Maybe it is some twisted way of coping with grief. I am, in my role as an audience member, as grossed out as anyone by what I've done and said.

Maybe this is all informed by going off the vegetarian diet I was on for a bit? Erika and I did six months without meat last year, some of which was near vegan; but that has fallen away, something I am not so happy with, but am kind of having to accept at the moment.

Anyhow, that's when I wake up, unsettled, "saves me breakfast" echoing inside my head. ...And what will I make for breakfast for my wife and I, today?

In other news, I am presently taking some interest in the work of (academic/ clinical psychologist) Jordan Peterson. Peterson's ongoing ascendancy is an interesting phenomenon; there's suddenly a billion pundits out there - including an apparent (former?) friend of Peterson's - getting as much attention as they can from slagging him. Save from occasionally reading such articles, decrying his supposed cryptofascism, I had no idea who he was or actually thought, or if he was being fairly represented by his "ideological enemies," at least one of whom has made a very public ass of herself for willfully misinterpreting him. (If you haven't seen this clip, do so. With friends like Cathy Newman, feminists/ leftists don't NEED enemies, actually...). Save for some vague awareness that he was against Bill C-16, the only thing I knew about Peterson was that he was controversial. Eventually I got curious enough by the fuss - since, as a friend used to say, "no one kicks a dead dog" - to buy his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos.

...which I will talk about in a minute, but first, a bit more on C-16, however, in case you've missed some of the controversy. That bill - now either law or in the process of becoming law - adds transsexuals and people with non-normative gender expressions to groups protected from hate crimes, hate speech and so forth. It may be interpreted - and certainly this is where Peterson has gone with it - as mandating that people be required by law to call transpeople by their preferred pronouns, lest they be accused of hate speech/ a human rights violation. He has said he will not be compelled by law to do this - because having any politically-correct language mandated by law is frightening to Peterson, who has - I believe sincerely - pointed out the free speech implications of this, and drawn somewhat hyperbolic parallels to Maoism and Stalinism and such, essentially saying that Bill C-16 places us on the slippery slope to totalitarianism. 

I think that's wrong, personally, believe - as do other commentators on the case - that his reaction to C-16 is a bit histrionic, and at the very least a good-faith misunderstanding of how human rights legislation works. It all looks - from my less-than-expert vantage - like just another example of a conservative chicken-little backlash to a fairly unthreatening and probably very positive progressive change in the law, akin to the old rage from some quarters against Sikhs wearing turbans in the RCMP or gays and lesbians being allowed to marry, both of which changes spawned ample slippery-slope speculation in their day. He may be smart and articulate, and his worries about politically correct speech and identity politics may be reasonable, but he's overreacting to C-16. I doubt that bill will ever lead to people who make a simple pronoun error - which is very easy to make, especially when you're being asked to refer to a single person as a "they" - being called up before a tribunal or such; human rights violations tend to require something more extreme than slipping up with a his/ her/ their/ zir - especially when given that that sort of error often has nothing much to do with transphobia but the ability to count. For something to classify as "hate speech" - which is what the bill is designed to protect the transgendered against - it has to be clearly deliberately motivated by bias and hate. As a human rights lawyer has explained it to me, context is very important. If someone calls me a "fag," for example, that MIGHT be hate speech, if it occurs during a random attack on the street - but it might not; even if it is meant hostilely, if the context is a heated argument or fight that has devolved into name-calling, the term is no more hate speech than someone calling me an "asshole" or such. It's not a human rights violation; it's just a fight. So if you slip up and call someone by the wrong pronoun, without meaning to, even if it embarrasses them, it surely won't be counted as "hate speech" unless there is some proof that it was ill-intentioned and not just a mistake. Any other implementation of the bill would be ridiculous and could never stand up in court. I mean - try conversing with someone for half an hour about Joshua Ferguson, born a man, transitioned to being a transwoman, and now identifying as neither male nor female, while appearing as the latter and having a name that suggests the former. Ferguson prefers to be a they or them, but if you can consistently call them "them" over the course of a natural conversation, and never revert to either "him" or "her," I applaud your conscious command of the language. It's beyond me to do this (though I am embarrassed that I revert to "him" when I slip; no doubt "they" would prefer "her," if I'm going to get it wrong).

All this does speak to the absence of (and need for) a gender-neutral single pronoun in English, but that also is a can of worms, since it will be (I think) a very long time before any one single gender-neutral pronoun is agreed upon and comes into common usage, even if it is legislated. I'd be all for a single gender-neutral pronoun if one should be settled on, but in the absence of a common practice, as Peterson has pointed out, having dozens of different variants to choose from makes requiring well-meaning people to use whichever one someone chooses simply untenable, ungainly, even idiotic. As my wife quipped: "So if I want to be called 'potato,' you have to call me 'potato?'" Yeah, exactly! Language is simply too complex, and too based on habit, to accommodate every personal taste or whim in this regard; in the absence of a common practice, at the very least, we need to legislate a correct pronoun for people to use. It might not catch on, but it might; I mean, I've been calling police officers "police officers" for most of my life, having been raised on "policemen," so who knows? Just pick a single pronoun we can all agree on, and not only will I attempt to re-train myself, I will even teach my students to use it as well (good luck revising all those textbooks, by the way). 

The thing about all this, however, is that it has almost nothing to do with Peterson's actual work, at least as far I see it. It may be what has drawn some of the attention/ notoreity he's received - and it has probably helped sell his book - but, having read only the first chapter, so far, of said book, I have seen a) nothing remotely phobic of any group; b) nothing speaking to the controversy over Bill C-16, in his writing (though don't rule out that he'll get there sometime); c) nothing even that controversial; and d) nothing that I actually disagree with (yet). His first chapter focuses for a good part, as some of you may know, on dominance hierarchies among lobsters. He basically argues - as he explains to Newman - that hierarchical impulses are deeply ingrained in our biology, and not a mere artifact of any social system, so that if you want a better life, you should try to stop slouching around like a one-clawed defeated weak lobster and look at helping yourself through improving how you carry yourself, how you stand, how you walk, and how you think of yourself. Treat yourself (and behave) as someone who deserves respect, and you will find you get more respect, feel more respect for yourself, and be better equipped to make other productive changes in your life. 

It's pretty straightforward, and it is not bad advice at all - and if you think that there's no need for advice like that in today's world, I would argue that you've come from a very privileged position - maybe not financially; but you've obviously been spared some of the huge existential/ emotional/ political and personal insecurity of modern life, if you can't see how advice like the above might be useful. Y'see - I write all this as someone who, through much of my 20's, was deeply, deeply lost in the world, confused about how I should be. Even back in the early 1990's, my head was filled with identity-politics, feminism, socialism, punk rock, and - maybe even more destructively - Nietzsche, Robert Anton Wilson, and Tim Leary. I was a virgin. I was fond of certain psychoactive drugs. I had self-harming habits, cutting crosses into myself with razorblades (since a Catholic upbringing was also part of my baggage). I watched way too much porn. I was in bad health. I had dropped out of school, and when I took jobs, they were shitty, gas-station/ convenience-store type jobs, at the low end of the employment spectrum. I had no idea what I was going to be, or how to face the challenges ahead of me, and was filled with fear and confusion and self-disgust. Chaos - which Peterson sees himself as offering a remedy for - was a very real and very destructive companion to me, back then, and I was probably headed down a very unproductive path, maybe even mental health issues, so much so that I volunteered at Riverview for awhile, to see if I might have insight into what patients were going through, that I might use to help them (I considered being a psychiatric nurse before I ever thought to become an ESL teacher; ultimately I decided against that).

Being given a whack upside the head really helped, back then. In my case, it came from a Lakota "teacher" I encountered, a rather remarkable (and very much conservative) man who kind of reoriented me, kicked the shit out of some of my weird pretensions, and encouraged me towards a "Life Skills" training course. He basically changed the direction of my life, around age 26; without his input, I might never have completed my degree, picked a profession, gotten published, gone to Japan, gotten married, or made any of the changes that lead me to my current state, which is vastly superior to where I was at back then. I'd be an artsy, stoned, maybe institutionalized, certainly marginal weirdo/ loser. Or I'd have killed myself. Because the fact of it was, at age 26, I had lost all grip on how to be in the world, how to live a good, productive life. I had no idea what such a thing would look like. The core values of how to be a good person in the world were all eclipsed by noise and bad weirdness. This fellow helped me immeasurably, and I owe him a great deal.

And posture was indeed part of what he talked about; in fact, much of what I gather Peterson discusses, while coming more from an academic/ Jungian-Campbellian point of view than that of Lakota warrior/ pipe carrier, reminds me of stuff said guy taught me (later reinforced by that Life Skills class). Since, as I mentioned above, my last few months of bad health - to say nothing of other major life changes in recent years, from the death of my mother to losing a chunk of my tongue to cancer surgery - had me feeling a bit lost and confused as to who or how I should be. Getting back to the basics - looking at our biology, our psychology, our traditions, and our myths and literature, all of which are concerns of Peterson's - seems welcome and productive. I absolutely understand why so many young men have described his writing as "life changing." It isn't, for me, but nor does the amount of rage against him we are seeing make sense to me, yet. I mean, maybe there are things he's going to say later in the book that are going to raise my eyebrows, but he hasn't so far, and mostly what I'm seeing in places like the Newman interview or the commentaries by pundits are misrepresentations or evasions of his ideas. (Or are comments written on social media by people who haven't read ANY of his book; at least I've read the first chapter).

So far, my reaction to Jordan Peterson is pretty positive, actually, even if I think he's wrong about C-16. And rather than write further - since I am allowing myself a few more hours off this morning before I get down to lesson planning - I am now going to go back to bed with the 12 Rules for Life and see about finishing chapter two. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Nomeansno: the Rob Wright Interview

I sure do miss Nomeansno. I wish they'd done a farewell show. 

Truth be told, I missed their last big Vancouver gig, at the Rickshaw (though I went twice to a three night stint, I think it was, at the Biltmore a year or so previous). One of the best bands ever to come out of Victoria/ Vancouver, ever. Wayyy up there. And Rob Wright is a much less intimidating guy than you'd imagine from his lyrics and/or the intensity of his playing. He's a pretty easy interview, actually - generous, funny, patient, and frank.  

So - without much preamble, here is a giant interview I did with Rob, around the time of All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, and never before seen online in completion before now. We miss you, Rob! Hope you're enjoying your retirement. 

T-shirt reads: "I have the body of a God. Unfortunately it's Buddha." Photo by Jillo, at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto (I believe at a show I was at!). 

I’m starting my recording device.

Oh boy. Here we go. Huh huh huh huh.

Gotta confess that  I’m a just a bit nervous, here. If I ask any stupid questions try to forgive me…

No. I’ll just hang up, that’s it, cold. I’ll be gone. (laughs).

That sets me right at ease… The first question, I’ll try to be cute: Are you now or have you ever been a Catholic?

Catholic? No. I’m Irish, but Black Irish. All my relatives came from Northern Ireland. Protestants…

So the Mr. Wrong persona – I take that as sort of a Nazi and a Catholic priest?

Also a lawyer, cop – it’s just basically all the authority figures rolled into one. It’s funny how when you get all these respectable figures and put them into one little… it ends up looking really really ominous.

Particularly if it holds a shotgun…

Well, yeah. A few props don’t hurt.

Are you aware of any animosity between Catholics and Protestants in your family history?

No, no, not at all. Actually I lived in a neighbourhood in Richmond Hill early on where the Protestants fought the Catholics, but I was a newcomer there and I never really understood what that was all about, but it seemed to be a common occurrence in the Northern suburbs of Toronto, for some reason. But no, I – the significance of the priest collar and all the other gear, it’s just a conglomeration of those figures who are well respected and in authority, in terms of characterizing – caricaturing them.

And caricaturing yourself as a performer?

Oh, absolutely. Being onstage one must remember, always remember that one is in some sense a clown. And I thought, you know – a clown costume. That and Robbie Hanson there – it’s all clown  costumes.

Hm. I gotta admit, with all the guilt and moral heaviness of Nomeansno lyrics, I’d always assumed you were a Catholic – sort of the Graham Greene of punk.

(Laughs) Oh Good lord. No, more like the John Knox of punk. My heritage is more puritanical than Catholic, so I get that kind of moral outrage and sternness from the Lutheran side of my family.

John Knox?

John Knox is the inventor of the Presbyterian faith in Scotland. He was the one who rose to fame after the English, of course, killed all the druids and Catholics.

Nietzsche was raised Lutheran, wasn’t he?

He could very well have been, there were many Protestants in Germany, but that’s something I don’t know, it’s a good question.

So... uh, the new album. It has quite a different feeling from past releases. It’s a lot of fun...

I think so. I think, the last album in particular before this one, ONE, was a very dark album. And, uh, this album is sort of is basically, it’s sort of in a sense like WRONG was, because WRONG was sort of, after we did SMALL PARTS, we thought, well, no more epics, let’s just throw a bunch of songs together and whatever comes up and seems to have a good beat, we’ll put that on. This one kind of has that bent because for one thing, John, my brother, wrote the majority of the music, and I ended up putting lyrics on the majority of his music, in fact, I think, all of it.

So the music came first?

Yes, in the main cases. Only a few songs… “Til I Die” was mine completely… Oh God, I can’t even remember the ones.

I’m Dreaming and I Can’t Wake Up?”

That’s one of mine, yes, you’re absolutely right. But I think most all of the others, if I’m not mistaken… No, uh, I think “Mr. In-Between” is all mine, and so is “In Her Eyes.” But then the rest of those are all combinations of me and my brother, and actually Tom as well, especially in the song “The Hawk Killed the Punk.”

Tom was more involved in writing the music this time out, right?  

Yes, he had more of an input, even in songs he didn’t write. His guitar parts often – often in my songs I don’t have any guitar parts. A lot of songs were combinations of him and John putting riffs together. It was very loosely done, actually. A lot of it just came in with people bringing in parts and sticking them together and then about a month before the recording session we had, like, eleven songs that didn’t have any words, and I thought well… (laughs). So I just kept going to the practice space early in the morning and boom, writing lyrics, which is a lot of fun. I find it very easy in a sense to put lyrics onto other people’s music – easier than writing my own songs.

You seem to have really indulged your fondness for nursery rhymes in “Mansion in the Sky.”

That one is a total jam. That one is not - the music is really not written by anybody. It’s a rhythm set up by John, with a bassline that, I kind of did with the feel that he asked me, and then Tom’s parts are all over. The only part that’s really set were the, is the sort of melodic disco part in the middle, which is all John’s music and all my melody and words…

Why hasn’t Tom written much before?

Basically, Tom has always written his own music for his own work, which is his solo albums and his Show Business Giants albums, so basically his material, which is uniquely his, always had that avenue, and… a lot of it would have sounded very odd on a Nomeansno record. Not many of his songs would fit on a Nomeansno record, simply because they’re all Tom, really. Show Business is really unlike a lot of ---- music, and his solo stuff is even better I think, the latest things he’s done. But in the nature of this album, it was just because the songs were being put together quite loosely, and he had a chance to be involved… Often in the past I would just come and say here’s the words, here’s the music, learn it, and John would do that as well, although often in the past I wrote the majority of the songs anyway, so… But he would do his guitar parts, and a song like “A Little Too High” off the last album, that’s all my riffs and lyrics but all his guitar stuff is his own.

Is “The Hawk Killed the Punk” his own?

He started off with the riff, and John decided we were going to do something exotic, so he started playing in 5/4 and they decided I should play in ¾, and – no, yeah, so it’s 5/4, 3/4, and 4/4,  John Tom and me respectively, so… If you listen, if you turn your balance from one side to the other, so you get more guitar or more bass, you’ll find that one is a swing number and the other is a straightforward rock and roll number, and John’s just going in between. It takes the whole verse for it to come around together mathematically and end all at once. (laughs) It’s fun, because I think… it does… people know there’s something wrong but they don’t really know what it is, and the song rocks so well they don’t really care, but everyone is like, what the hell-? Are they making mistakes up there, what’s really going on in this song? It’s just very odd time signatures, let me tell you.

You wrote the words, though.

Yes I did, actually, but that one again is kind of a combination, because I had an idea for words for a poem I had written, and we decided to change it to “The Hawk Killed the Punk” – before it was about something else – and then we just – I wrote the words but basically on order, people would come up with ideas. Tom and John would come with ideas of what we should stick in there and then I just sort of made it rhyme, put it into a syntax that scanned, right.

What’s it about? What is “the hawk” supposed to be?  

The hawk is a Mohawk.

Ah! I see!

If you’ve got the lyric sheet you’ll see that the… it’s a list of things that are generically punk, and basically what this person is doing is channelling himself into being a nonentity, a generic figure, with a Mohawk, tattoos, listening to thrash music. And it’s a way of actually freeing yourself. Monks do the same thing. One way, if you’re trying to get away from the self, is that you put on a uniform and look like everyone else and therefore you become part of group which is more of your identity than any single identity you would have.

So “nothing of himself remains” is a positive state?
Yes, it can be taken that way… The trick is there is what reason you’re doing it for. People who escape from themselves because of the pain of who they are, that’s usually not the right solution. People who escape themselves to try to have a better perspective and to cease being concerned only with their own personal problems and peccadillos, those people are often the wisest of us all. (laughs)

Talking about making people feel more alive, with the darkness and pain that Nomeansno seem to dwell on, with songs like “He Learned How to Bleed,” I’ve often suspected the band of having a streak of masochism.

No, it’s basically the fact… a lot of the reasons people don’t feel anything at all is because if they do they have to come to grips with a lot of pain. Being alive involves a lot of pain, and what most people do is basically dull their senses to escape that, so a lot of people’s efforts psychically go into repressing pain and concerning themselves with day to day activities, y’know, eating, drinking, smoking, watching TV, saying little or nothing
of importance to the people around them, but talking at all times, um…And there’s an undercurrent of course of pain, and if you want to really be alive you have to experience the pain. And that’s not a masochistic thing, that’s a growth thing. Growing is painful, and if you don’t go through that, you don’t grow, you just kind of get sort of older and deader, and I’m afraid that’s kind of the situation many people will end up in.

But people can indulge their negativity too much.

Suffering can be self-indulgent, but often that’s not the kind of suffering that… Often again, that’s…People who choose to suffer in a certain outward way involving their faith or the personality they’re trying to project are also in that way avoiding true pain that they do not want to face, because there’s a lot of fear involved and a lot of challenge to who one is… I mean, a lot of people have secrets, they have dark and painful secrets and by not going through them they don’t learn how generic they are and how everyone has these same secrets and basically the only way to get rid of them is to grow out of them, and I think, a lot of people, you know, self-flagellation and self-denial involved in the Catholic or other religious faiths are also just a way to avoid true pain.

How does punk fit in as a way of embracing pain and connecting with emotion? Through moshing, through communal experience?

Through communal experience, for sure. I mean, music has always been a way for people to connect emotionally, I mean, that’s what it’s been doing since before they grew food or built houses… Music and musical expression. There’s studies now where people believe that singing, that vocalizing predates speech and language, which makes sense. It’s a true connector for people, um. And punk rock is sort of a way of doing that, that’s why it has such a community, that why music can sometimes have such a strong community feel to it, why people band together under the banner of musical styles and tastes. It seems rather odd when you think about it really, but they do, because music is a communal event and it does bind people together. I think punk rock was… In the early 70s rock and roll had become the pantheon of the Gods and the people making music were technical geniuses who employed huge stage tactics and stuff. It had become a bloated and unreal thing with very little relationship to the real lives of people who were listening to it. I think that punk rock – as it came, gritty and primitive and streetwise and showing all the negative sides of life, either inner city or from suburbia, there was combination of both – it touched a chord in people that a band like ELO would never do, you know what I mean. And a lot of people like I say have their dark secrets, a lot of people felt inadequate, a lot of people felt like they were nobody and nothing and a lot of people felt dead inside, like that they weren’t alive, weren’t allowed to be alive, and again, punk was the negative expression of that, a way of saying no to… a way of saying yes to life by saying no to everything, if you know what I mean, and Nomeansno is part of that. There’s strength in saying no. You know, just saying, “Eat your vitamins!” and, and -- “No!” “Why?” “Because I don’t want to! You know, there’s a power in that, if that’s all you have, especially young people who don’t have any answers, don’t know what the hell’s going on with themselves or anything else, but they do know what they don’t like and that’s why punk was such an allure for a lot of them, I think. And still is! Goddamn it, you still see the Mohawks and the bleached hair and the heavy eyeshadow and it’s just amazing to me how the style of music and style of living has survived for 30 years.

Nomeansno fans seem a little more fanatical than the average. I gather people recently came from as far as Poland to see you play the jazz festival, here.

One of the reasons that is because the internet brings these people together and contact and gives them information and again it’s another way of community getting together. So I don’t know if, I think this happens with other bands as well, but I think we get rabid fans, people who love us a lot basically because I think we’ve always tried to be honest.
We haven’t put our personalities on the covers. I think in the music, the people we are shine through. And I think people relate to that, at any rate. They know it’s not, we’re not doing it to be famous, we’re not doing it to be rich and we’re not doing it to be celebrities. Um. And so I think there’s a basic humanness there and the things we talk about I think strike a chord with a lot of people. And that’s good. You know you’re doing something right if what you say has a semi-universal you know, chord to it.

Yeah, it seems like a good thing that people are flying from so far away…

Although I think they’re nuts, I always tell them that. “Why are you doing this, you know, this is crazy? There are bands in your hometown that you could go see. Well, I hope you’re having a great vacation, but it’s a little embarrassing, really, it is. ‘I flew all the way from-‘Don’t tell me, it’s not my fault, I didn’t make you.’

 Also by Jillo!

One of the interesting things in lyrics is that you seem uncomfortable with authority role you’re forced into – in “My Politics,” for example... But you do believe Nomeansno offer a positive thing to fans…?

It is, and I think… it’s nothing to do with personality. That’s one of the main things that the band has always tried to stick to, it’s a firm sense of, this is not about us, it’s about what we do. And I always try to want to emphasize that to people and… in the way we present our work to take as much of the personality (out of it), by either making fun of it or making caricatures instead of ourselves…We’re in the process now of trying to get a video together in which we will not appear. (laughs). I truly think that, y’know, the most important thing that people do -- about people’s lives is what they do, and the most dead end search about those important things is to find out who those people are. I don’t think it really matters. In some extreme cases it might. But, again… In some people, what they do is who they are, and they put their whole personality as a part of their craft. I’m thinking of a person like Johnny Cash – who he is was as much his craft as the songs he sang, and his whole image, it was a part of the work, y’know? But that’s absolutely not true with us. We don’t have that kind of --We’re not trying to do that and we don’t do it and I think anyone who’s sort of, ‘I’d like to know, y’know what John’s really like – I know it (laughs). And it doesn’t matter what any of us are like. We’re just basically pretty boring dudes, middle class white dudes, getting rather old in the tooth, I tellya, too. So basically, y’know, if you want to get something out of us, listen to the albums, or better yet, come and see the shows.

All right... so how do you guys go about touring?

Pretty basic, since day one. And we’ve been doing it about the same with various degrees of size. We once toured with two vans and had a few employees. But it’s always been basically, we drive, we load, we load up again after the show and drive again the next morning. It’s very -- low expenses mean better pay at the end. And this is definitely us, just breaking even, making money…Small time cottage industry – Nomeansno.

John Wright had mentioned to me at one point that leaving A/T was about getting wider distribution, but ironically, with the change of labels, everything disappeared.

Everything did, yes. Y’know… It’s always the danger especially with a band on our level. It’s not like there are people waiting to snap up a band that sells maximum of 10,000 to 15,000 copies of their records, y’know? That’s not a big profit margin for anyone, even a small company. Um… But having said that, yes, I uh, didn’t have a great deal of problems with A/T, I loved AT, I loved the people there, but again, it just got to be a relationship that got old, and as they had their fights and battles we found that they were not ours and to be involved with them was only hurting us. And we also just wanted to, basically, at our age, gather everything under our own wing, under our own control. And in terms of getting wider distribution, I’ve always liked to have that but I didn’t ever want to be involved in the large scale corporate large scale, music, show business… and of course, working with Greg Werckman and Ant-Acid is the perfect medium between the two – between not being available and, y’know, having to do in stores at HMV, so… like we’re the kind of band anyone would show up to that, anyway. And we work with Southern in Europe, and they’re also… John Loder used to work with, of course, that famous band I can’t remember from England… That punk band, yeah…who was, uh, do it yourself philosophy and they’ve become the biggest and still the most solid and long-standing independent record maker and distributor in Europe. So we’re, uh, I think we’re, uh, kind of settled after years of being sort of in the wilderness, we’ve got a few good homes again.

Is there any potential for Ausfahrt to be a hit, do you think?

There’s a chance, I mean, it’s not as a dark, and there are -- it’s hard hitting, shorter songs, rockin’er stuff, uh, but you never know what people are going to like or don’t like, I know people who just love the 15 minute epics in which all the albums had like four songs, y’know, and then there are people who (whines) ‘Why don’t you make another one like Wrong, you know, ‘oh no bruno’” Ah, yeah, but… We’ll try. So we end up doing a mix of both and nobody can like it, so… (laughs)

Would it be accurate to say that the Hanson Brothers are more present this time out?

They got… They basically just took over there for awhile and it got ridiculous. This band… We were doing more work for the Hanson Brothers than we were doing for Nomeansno. But that happens, you know. You release a record and people say, why don’t go to Europe, and it did really well, so we went again another couple of times. Pretty soon the year is over and all you’ve done is put on a hockey mask and run around like an idiot all year, but I have a lot of fun doing it. And yes, I believe they’re a big interest on the new record. And that’s only natural. If you rekindle your interest in three chord punk rock, especially since NMN never really indulged in that side of their musical aesthetic, it just kind of brought back home how nice it is to make short loud, punk rock pop songs. It’s totally fun, and things like “No Solo” – we just had a great time. Who cares what it means? Put in a hook! I like that!” (laughs)

I admit, I love the album, but there’s a lightness to it I wasn’t expecting… I go for the most morally heavy songs, myself. I mean, I’m 38, and I nearly give myself a heart attack attempting to mosh to “The River.” I find the new album a bit light!
You’re absolutely right. Again, we’re gonna get this. All the people who used to yell us for not doing short punk rock songs, now all the other half of the audience is gonna yell at us for not putting out, y’know, ‘Bitches Brew 2.’ Though I don’t think anyone really wants that. That might be straining the bounds of that… That might have singly sunk the last record. I can’t think of anyone listened to that song all the way through. I think it was one of the best things we’ve ever done, but you cannot expect a punk rock audience to sit and listen to a fifteen minute rehash of a reworked jazz classic.

But you did it with Luca (of Zu) at the Commodore.

That was so much fun, so much fun.

But it’s true, I think some of the audience were going, “I wanna mosh...”

Yeah, I know, I know. Well, that’s the thing, you... Bands do that, I mean, bands set up their own limitations. We’ve always respected that, because, you know, people pay their money and the come wanting to see and hear what they expect to see and hear. Now, you can shake that up a little but you don’t want to piss people off. You don’t want to make them feel like, well, that’s not what I paid for. You know… I, I think you should push your audience but I don’t think you should bully them.

I loved it.

It’s the encore, man, that’s it. All bets are off.

Tell me about this recording with Zu.

I have done a bit of stuff, in fact I’m working on a couple of more tracks. We’ll probably put out an EP together.

You’ll meet up in NY?

We may do, yes. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. I’m the last to hear about these things. I know we’ll meet again in Italy the next time we go over.

It’s gonna be a Zu release?

I think so, I think so. It’s just me, it’s not the rest of the band. I wanna insist on the title, A Visit to the Zu with Mr. Wrong, and you have me in a monkey cage passing a joint to a chimpanzee.

I bet this is close as you guys have come to Eugene Chadbourne.

(Laughs) Yeah, I didn’t really like that release. It’s too much, it’s insane, you need them to play with someday who’s like... That’s what I’ve done, I’ll tell you what, I’ve straightened them out. I’m puttin’ a couple of lyrics on and make them sound like a blues band. I’m going against strength. There’s no way I’m gonna try to outdo them in their 13/7 time signatures, 12 parts here 2 parts there. Unh-huh. I’m just going to lay over some rock and roll on top of that.

Reel ‘em in… John Chedsey tells me you found turning 50 liberating?

I was thinking of finally getting a tattoo across my forehead saying I DON’T GIVE A FUCK, but that, that’s antisocial, I dunno… No, I think I’ve learned the hard way over the course of the years that anger and frustration and perfectionism and… it’s, it’s not worth the effort. It really does just spoil the fun, and I’ve gotten to the point now where I just basically worry about golf, playing bass, and playing on the computer, that’s about it.

So you do spend time online...?

Shopping on Amazon for books on Buddhism, or playing trivia. No, uh, yeah… I do virtually nothing and I’m trying to make an actual art form out of it.

Do you spend time on Nomeanswhatever?

Not unless there’s something upcoming. Although I… it occurred to me after 25 years of being a musician, you know, maybe I should practice, and I’ve actually started practicing the bass. Maybe I’ll learn how to play the piano. Now it’s just whatever. Whatever comes to mind, I’ll give it a go. But mostly I’m a very avid golfer and everything else comes second to that.

I thought they were pulling my leg when they told me you were a golfer...

No, no – I’ve become a golf fanatic. Sunshine, trees, air. It was a revelation to me. I started at the age of 45 and I realized, y’know, that I’ve spent my entire life going from one room in a car to another room, and the discovery that there’s another world out there that’s quiet, it doesn’t involve a lot of talk and you just hit a little ball into the trees and go in there and look for it, I love it, it’s great.

It’s gonna take me awhile to process that.

(laughs) I told you folks, it ain’t too exciting in there, don’t worry, you’re not missing anything.

Nomeansno by bev davies, location unknown, Sept. 7 1984, not to be reused without permission

If I can ask... “Wake Up” is filled with statements of desire, wanting three ways and whatnot, whereas “Mondo Nihilissimo” is about as anti-hedonism as a song can get. I like them both, but the interaction between them seems a bit, uh, contradictory...

There are strange occurrences in there, man. The thing about “Wake Up” you have to remember is that the continuing refrain is WAKE UP, wake up from all this I WANT I WANT I WANT, smell the coffee, smell the roses, and “Mondo Nihilissimo” is the same. It’s like… I think Jerry Falwell would like that song, if he understood it. I doubt if he did… But… It’s just that… people who just indulge themselves in the pleasures of whatever are basically people who don’t care about anything and who are basically in a state of despair, and all the booze, sex, drugs, money, celebrity – whatever it is that feeds your little engine, it’s just nothing, it’s worth nothing, it doesn’t mean anything, and I’m afraid that it’s all that people these days, more and more, I’m a 52 year old man, but even to me over the course (of life) I can see people just more and more and more not giving a damn, but not in a good way, in a sense that they don’t think anything’s worth anything so why not do anything you want, and it doesn’t matter who you hurt, yourself or others, because it’s all meaningless.

Hmmm. Have you read American Psycho?

I haven’t read the book but I saw movie – I thought it was great.

Book is even better.. I should fess up, I’m the guy who bugs you about James Joyce at shows (Rob, when I pestered him at a gig, told me that his favourite book was Ulysses, or “anything Irish.” When I spotted him at a Jello Biafra/Melvins gig sometime later in Vancouver, I approached again, confessed that I’d tried Ulysses, for the third or fourth time, and had been, once again, defeated. He recommended drinking a shot of whiskey every page).  

Oh (laughs, sounds surprised/amused).

Andy Kerr by bev davies, same gig, not to be reused without permission

Tell me about “Heaven.”

Yeah, I think that’s one of the strongest, a lot of people have pointed that out.

It’s about embracing a simple life in the face of death?

Well, also… the song is basically about, people look for the great meaning of life in religious profundity, in intellectual profundity, in great thoughts, in great spiritual revelations… To me, the most profound aspects of life are all on the surface, they’re in the dust under your feet, they’re in the candy bar in your hands, they’re in the air that you breathe, the morning sunshine. To me… People often search inward, too, into themselves, searching for a true self or a perfect self or the God within or whatever. And, um… To me, it’s all out there, it’s out there in the simplest things. It’s washing the dishes, it’s changing the bed, it’s picking up your kids from school, it’s talking to your friends. Um… That’s where the sacred is to me in life, and that’s where you’ll find the transcendent, not in the Vatican, not in huge Cathedrals, not in great spiritual or intellectual opuses, it’s virtually there under your feet… It’s the ground you walk on, and that  is what that song is trying to express. And it’s flawed. Even the flaws carry that weight. To me, if you’re looking for the inner truth, you’re just going to find more surfaces, but don’t be frustrated, because that’s where it is. It’s on the surface, it’s right in front of your face (chuckles)… Is that too much?

No, but… how does that play against the worry about nihilism…? On the one hand meaning is in what’s at hand, but in the US, people are so caught up in their little selfish pleasures and lives that they’re completely ignoring what their country is doing to the world. You seem not to want to comment too directly on politics…?

No, because we’re musicians, and a) I have no power and b) I have no real knowledge of what’s going on. So, y’know, every man has his opinion, it’s just, very few man’s opinions are worth anything, because most of us are completely uninformed. Which mine are. I’m gonna sit here and talk about Iraq, what the hell do I know about that? Or, uh, American imperialism, I could make a few glib comments about that, but basically, I probably don’t know the half of it, right or wrong, y’know. But what you can comment on is the life you live around the people that you live it with, and all these things, these big problems you can see around you, like you say, you can see disregard, disrespect, self-disrespect, disrespect of others. And also you can see people who live with a simple compassion who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and you can often learn from people you hardly know. By seeing certain simple acts. You know, I work in a church, in a soup kitchen every Thursday at a local church here, to dole out the soup, basically, and I work with three disabled kids, and who they are is written on their face, and in dealing with them and talking to them I’ve learned more about, you know, the good and bad about people than watching a thousand news reports or thinking a thousand great thoughts about politics or religion. So. That’s the thing we like to write about, or I like to write about, anyway.

If I can ask about “A Little Too High” – are you fairly anti-drug?

No, I’m not, because drugs, like anything else, can be used in a certain way. You can use a drug to break down a calcified and hidebound view of reality. But if you use a drug simply to anaesthetize pain or to liberate yourself from compunction and conscience, and allow yourself to live in a state where nothing matters and what you do to yourself or to other people just doesn’t concern you, you don’t even feel the consequences of that, then of course against it. But… I’m also against that on the level of people who spend their entire day making money. Those people probably do more harm in the world than any ten crack addicts. I guy who sits there and makes dollars by ripping off and destroying the lives of people around him… I mean, the people who ran Enron, they did more harm to society than 500 000 junkies stealing your cassette deck from your car, or whatever.

So what about Jello? He DOES presume to offer his opinions on everything, especially politics.

Yep…Well, he’s informed, that’s his passion, I mean, he goes out of his way to find out. And… that’s what interests him, you know, so that’s what he becomes an expert about. When you hear him talk… I don’t agree with everything he says, and I may argue with the conclusions that he comes to, but he’s full of…You’re going to learn a lot of stuff if you listen to him. You’re going to hear a lot of the other side of the story if you listen to him. And that’s because he’s done the research, he’s done… he keeps his eyes and ears open, and he finds stuff and he puts it together, A plus B equals THIS, and he does it in a passionate manner, which is really what makes it worthwhile, it’s not, you know, he’s not a school teacher trying to methodically trying to teach a lesson to bored kids. He’s a man who is extremely passionate about what he believes in, and wants to intrigue and incite the people around him with his knowledge… See, again… It’s not the substance of what people do, it’s the passion and the way that they do it, I think that’s the whole thing. I really don’t think the outcomes of what you do are so much as important as the methods and your procedures. That’s really what the value is in doing stuff. Like me, playing music, I mean, you play a song, you disturb the airwaves for awhile with your vibrations and you stop and it’s done, and what have you accomplished really… but in the doing of it, that’s the accomplishment.

Uh, yeah…!


I’ve often wondered if “the beast has arisen” in Rags and Bones is about the mosh pit experience... Some of the lyrics in that song are quite puzzling.  

You know, that’s one song where… uh… It’s sung… There’s another song like that song, even moreso, which is my favourite song on the new record, which is “Slugs are Burning”… That song wrote itself, and a year and a half (later? Ago?), I remember coming up to someone I was working with, going, Eureka, I finally know what that song means! But for the life of me from that time to this I’ve forgotten exactly what revelation I had about it. But… I’m sure if I thought about it again I might redo it… but some songs have a meaning you don’t know until after awhile, like “Slugs are Burning,” it took me a long time to figure out why that song got written the way it did and what the hell it was about… I think I have some idea now. It’s a song … I was talkin’ to somebody else the other day about this. It’s about the joy of savagery, and how really no intellectual or spiritual institution, religion or political ideology can deal with that or has dealt with that successfully. They all deny it, they all want to get out of it, they all want to get away from it. They condemn it overtly or they dismiss it as being a mistake, ignorance… Even the Buddhists who I think are most wise of the established religions really want to get out of that, but it’s the crux, y’know… Fucking, eating, dying, and the joy and relish with which all beasts, including the human beast indulge in that, is, is, is the fire of life, basically, um, and it’s dark, it’s disgusting, it’s frightening, and yet it is alluring, seductive, fiery – your appetite, being satiated, it’s what produces children, and what kills them off eventually, y’know, and that’s what that song came to be about.. And it’s a very joyful and very simple song, and yet includes with in it, of course, very horrific, natural… I mean, the slugs themselves crawling over dead bodies, I mean, These symbols revolt us, because we’re afraid of this, and yet at the same time, it’s the lifeforce, basically.

The slugs are burning with desire, not pollution, then…

No… I mean… the slugs, like everything else, are on fire. We all are creatures who are burning, we’re full of energy and eventually that energy will burn itself out and leave us as dust, that and… and… And all inanimate objects are the same. They all contain a channelled energy which eventually will burn itself out and they will dissolve to the last remnant of static heat, you know, the theory of entropy in the universe, but… we all are burning, and that burning involves fire, desire, and it also involves destruction, and it has no morality and (laughs) it has its own agenda, a very simple one and it doesn’t care, give a damn about ours and any of our more sublime and sophisticated thoughts, and like I say, it’s really something that no religion is able to deal with successfully, except to call it the Devil and dismiss it and ban it, forbid it. THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. THERE SHALL BE NO TEEN PREGNANCIES. Okay, fine, say that from now to doomsday, it doesn’t make any difference, the weeds come through the cracks.

Nomeansno by bev davies, Sept 7 1984, not to be reused without permission. Anyone know what venue this is?

How about Satanists?

Absolutely true. They do it the other way, the other extreme, they’re equally foolish. They think they’ll escape the horror of it by embracing it, by owning it, by being the master of it, but of course, the pain…They’re still dying, y’know. It’s all a defense, both the rigid virtuous and dedicated demonic are all just trying to defend themselves against the life that’s going to, like a tidal wave, just wash them away, like it does everything.

You were talking about songs that write themselves...

Well, I like songs like that, I really do, to me they’re the most valuable because I get the most out of them. The ones that just drop out of the blue, and once you start into them, and even as you work them out, if you don’t fuck with them, if you don’t fuss with them, if you don’t censor them, you’ll end up with a little jewel there, and it may not be something that you’ll even appreciate until a long time afterwards.  

Do you have any favourites?

Usually the long epics, “The River” is a standard, yeah, “Rags and Bones,” “Heaven” from the new album, it’s hard to pick favourites because there’s a bunch that I like and then over the years I think they sort of, the mix changes… I really loved doing “Bitches Brew,” that was something I really enjoyed doing. But in some senses that Hanson Brothers’ song, “A Night Without You,” might be the best song I ever wrote. To write a hooky, three-chord pop song with a romantic lyric that is somewhat bent, uh, it’s very hard to do, because you’re so limited. It’s such a stiff discipline, there’s not much you can do there. And songs like that – people who write songs like that impress me a lot. And in some senses I think that’s the best song I ever wrote.

What are your tastes in film?

I like the Italian neorealists. I like Antonioni and… I’ve gotten into DVDs serious, the quality of restorations in some of these movies is just gorgeous, it’s just amazing. So, uh…I follow that pretty standard arty sorta thing, I avoid all Hollywood movies.
Are you a Cassavetes fan?

Somewhat, not lately. I sort of liked him a lot when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. But right now it’s mostly the Italians and Werner Herzog, people like that.

Any other last minute comments? Is the band planning its retirement?

If we ever do we won’t say so.

(...and they didn't).