Friday, December 29, 2006
I haven't had a great deal to say about international politics of late. Since the US invasion, I'm one of those who has sort of sunken into despair - protesting doesn't do much good, caring doesn't do much good, even knowing what's going on doesn't do much good. I've committed the sin of looking away, mostly out of a feeling of hopelessness. It's odd, though, to note that Saddam Hussein is going to be executed soon.
The press seems relatively restrained in its reportage, at least compared to what you'd expect. You'd think this would be front page news on every newspaper in the world; it should be a momentous event, a symbol of justice being meted out, a sort of triumph - but it seems instead more like people are ashamed and uncomfortable about it. Maybe this will all change tomorrow, I don't know; but right now I'm struck by how nothing at all was mentioned on the Independent site today, where I usually check for world news; and today is the first day since the sentence was handed down in November that I noticed an article on Yahoo, which prompted me to poke around. Znet, my usual source for left-leaning political commentary, doesn't have much that I can see; the political bias is so heavy there that any events in the world that don't immediately lend support to leftist causes aren't really mentioned, in much the same way that news stories that don't lend support to the war effort might not get that much time on Fox News. (It's kind of odd that with Hussein's execution impending, Znet is devoting time to articles on Mel Gibson's new movie and on the late Joe Strummer; it actually reminds me of my own aforementioned desire to look away. But maybe I've missed something). After the Independent and Znet failed me, I was forced to look at an American source, hence the CNN article linked above - it's the one country in the world where the news can still be spun in the right direction, without too many awkward questions being raised.
Turns out that not all leftist websites are so devotedly blinkered, though. Common Dreams - a site pointed out to me by Gerry Hannah during a recent interview - fares quite a bit better than Znet, with an article by a former chairmain of the British Iraqi Foundation. Burhan al-Chalabi writes:
The US presents the Iraqi people with this phoney act of accountability, but no one has been held accountable for invading and occupying Iraq or the mass human rights abuses carried out in the process. If this generation of Iraqis is not able to get justice, future generations will make sure they do. They will look to the established system of international justice to recognise these atrocities and hold people accountable retrospectively.
The occupying forces continue to peddle the nonsense that they cannot withdraw immediately - that this would only spark civil war. I am convinced that the opposite is true: when the occupiers leave, the prevailing civil war will subside. Ordinary Iraqis will have to choose between killing each other or rebuilding the country - which they can only do in an independent, sovereign Iraq.
I am not convinced that the remedy to Iraq's problems is the departure of the US; while I don't think the US presence there must be maintained at all costs, lest anarchy and fascism reign - I'm not Christopher Hitchens -- I also suspect that if the occupiers left, the violence would escalate, not subside, at least in the short term. That doesn't necessarily mean that they should stay, though. Peace might well arrive faster if the US and Britain got the hell out.
Riverbend hasn't posted anything on her blog for a couple of months, but wrote after Hussein's sentence:
I’m more than a little worried. This is Bush’s final card. The elections came and went and a group of extremists and thieves were put into power (no, no- I meant in Baghdad, not Washington). The constitution which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the Puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges, security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the ‘Execute the Dictator’ card.
Iraq has not been this bad in decades. The occupation is a failure. The various pro-American, pro-Iranian Iraqi governments are failures. The new Iraqi army is a deadly joke. Is it really time to turn Saddam into a martyr?
...It’s not about the man- presidents come and go, governments come and go. It’s the frustration of feeling like the whole country and every single Iraqi inside and outside of Iraq is at the mercy of American politics. It is the rage of feeling like a mere chess piece to be moved back and forth at will. It is the aggravation of having a government so blind and uncaring about their peoples needs that they don’t even feel like it’s necessary to go through the motions or put up an act. And it's the deaths. The thousands of dead and dying, with Bush sitting there smirking and lying about progress and winning in a country where every single Iraqi outside of the Green Zone is losing.
She also notes that after the verdict was announced, two television stations carrying reports of pro-Saddam demonstrations were shut down by the government (and, we assume, the occupying forces).
To me, it all speaks of ridiculous black farce. Saddam Hussein appears to be a ruthless, but not particularly dangerous, figure - a dictator of the sort the US routinely backs if it serves their business or political interests, probably not much worse than the guy who boils people alive in Uzbekistan, a US ally (see Gerry's song about that here). I have no doubt that there are crimes that Hussein could rightfully be sentenced to death for. To be executed, however, as the result of an illegal invasion by an occupying power that has no moral or judicial rights in Iraq - this is bizarre, a kangaroo court where the big criminals try the little ones. The folly seems so extreme, so perverse that I actually end up feeling some degree of sympathy for Hussein, monster though he may be; what a strange, strange death he is being dealt; it's the stuff of black comedy, not martyrdom. There's a terrific satirical novel to be written about all this, perhaps with the dictator whistling and singing and cracking absurdist jokes on the way to the gallows. We could commission VS Naipaul, maybe...
I mean, stop me if I sound like a Baathist, but the CNN article mentions some of the crimes for which Hussein has been sentenced: "his role in the 1982 killings of 148 people in Dujail, a mostly Shiite town north of Baghdad" - a crime which pales against the 50 000 or more Iraqi civilians killed as a result of the invasion (admittedly, I wonder - is Iraq Body Count tabulating deaths caused by sectarian violence, as well, as being the result of the invasion? I don't think so, but there's some argument to be made for including them as being at least PARTIALLY the result of US actions, since civil strife of the sort we now witness was widely predicted and offered to the US as a reason not to invade). Hussein has also been found guilty of "torture" (like at Abu Ghraib? Isn't it bizarre that this news article saying Hussein will be hanged there never once mentions Americans torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib? How can they NOT mention it, though? Maybe the authors hope that ignorant readers will assume that any torture they've heard about at Abu Ghraib was perpetrated by Hussein himself?) He's also accused of "forced deportation." Hm - seems like I've read a few stories about that happening in the US, too. (And we won't even mention Maher Arar. Hey, who was that other Canadian Muslim who got sent someplace where the CIA outsources torture? Damn, I forget. What's on TV?). It gets stranger and stranger the more you think about it, until you simply have to stop. Continuing through the CNN article, we read that "550 men, women and children were arrested without warrants" in one episode that Hussein was tried for; eerily, about 500 detainees are currently held without legal representation, charges, or any date of release in Gitmo (that's a Wikipedia article; more here, at Amnesty International's site. Some prisoners have been held for over five years).
To be clear, if Saddam Hussein could be fairly tried and sentenced, perhaps by an international court, of war crimes, or if his own people had deposed him and tried him, none of the above would be so jarring, so puzzling. As things are, the execution of Saddam Hussein will stand as a symbol of something - I'm not quite sure what, but certainly NOT the triumph of the rule of law. Somehow the death of a tyrant will become something like the symbol of the triumph of international lawlessness - everything has been stood on its head. And if there seems something wrong with this picture to ME... well, imagine how Iraqis must feel.
I fear what will happen next. I don't want to know. There is a horrible future looming that I don't want to think about. Denial, decadence, distraction. Can we have some music? Does anyone have some pot?
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Saturday, December 23, 2006
After confirming that the movie had been wrecked, I watched the majority of the tape on speed search, to get the actual runtime and note any other obvious changes; while I didn't catch any - certainly all gore and violence has been left in - the film played for a few seconds over an hour and thirty minutes, as opposed to the listed runtime - on the video box, even - of 100 minutes, suggesting there were other chunks cut - perhaps the subplot about Harry's guilt over the death of his alcoholic father? I would imagine the hacks who trimmed the film didn't understand the importance of any of that; I'd be surprised if they left in it, frankly... Unfortunately for the film, it belongs to a disreputable genre, so that no one will get particularly indignant about these sorts of changes - or ever bother to restore it to its proper state, I should imagine; this adumbrated video version is the only way most people can currently see the film. It's a shame; it's one of the better commercial Canadian films I've seen, and worthy of more respect.
Post script: how about that, there's been a European PAL release of the "uncut" film, in widescreen format! There are also enough people aware of the cuts to the VHS version to have a little discussion on it on this forum, and the DVD is already being listed on eBay. Little did I know...! The runtime of the DVD is given at 95 minutes, but with Pal speedup, that should be just about right. Looks like people care after all!
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Too preoccupied with other stuff to write much but I'll be back, I'll be back...
Friday, December 15, 2006
After The Devils, to continue in a seasonally dark vein, it's Philip Ridley's neglected cult hit The Reflecting Skin - a perverse prairie David Lynchercise about a young boy growing up surrounded by evil, confusion, and twisted religion. We'll be screening a seldom-seen widescreen version (projected off Japanese VHS); features an early role by Viggo Mortensen, as the boy's brother, nearly returned from the bombing of Hiroshima. Vampires? Serial killers? Pedophiles? Exploding frogs? Yep, that's the Christmas spirit for ya! Hope to see you at Blim, December 22nd!
By the way, on the 23rd, Bela Tarr's Satantango will be playing at the Vancity Theatre, a 7 hour long Hungarian film about the decline of communism and the nature of evil. Shot in a lovely, transfixing black and white, it's one of the most significant works of film art of the last 20 years. This one is for the SERIOUS cinephiles, tho', folks. But you probably figured that out.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Top photo: Nick backstage at the Kyoto concert, during the band's summer tour. Photo by Fumi Shutoh. Below - the gig poster Ian emailed me. The "official" gig poster, up now at various local record stores, is way cooler and worthy of framing. January 6th, Richards on Richards - I'm very excited.
And if I haven't mentioned it enough times yet, there will be a huge Pointed Sticks article in the January issue of Razorcake, unfortunately not out until after the gig. Also check next month's Nerve Magazine for an interview with Tony Bardach.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Been thinking about the Tower this week - in more than one form. Someone started a discussion of the song on the Nomeansno Forum, mostly focusing on the coolness of the music (much as my fellow Nomeansno fans are a savvier bunch than, say, the Nickelback crew, literary and religious allusions are not their strong suit; no one even commented when I pointed out the allusion to Yeats in "Rags and Bones." Rob Wright is a big fan of Irish literature, especially James Joyce; the fact that anyone can read Ulysses stuns me. I have tried; it defeats me, time and again, and I somehow don't think his suggestion that I take a shot of whiskey before reading each page will help). Anyhow, I always thought the song on Wrong was one of Nomeansno's most successful ventures; it combines clear references to the above card ("from a burning building/a man leaps to his death") with a seeming awe/horror at sheer throbbing thrust of phallocentric industry, inner fascism, POWER... The song is one big erect cock, sticking out there for all to see. The conventional meaning of the card is well-explained on this site, if you scan through the card names on the left; phallocentric lust is not the main theme explored, but the card resonates with me, much like the Three of Wands was doing awhile back. I don't give a damn for divination but Tarot can be a useful tool for focusing. Creating the soul, doesn't Jod say? From the aforementioned site:
When you believe material objects are more powerful than spirit and mind, you
start building up a Tower of falsehoods on a very unstable foundation. If, by
some miracle of engineering, it does not collapse under its own weight, you will
eventually push it over yourself. The Tower falls not because Fate says so but
because something within can no longer endure the strain it must bear. Sooner or
later it will give out. This is a humbling experience because its lesson is that
no one is invincible. The problem for most people is that they concentrate on
the negatives and ignore the great opportunity that has been given to them.
Anyhow: my own personal tower is startin' to become apparent. I overindulge in film, music, literature, shopping, and food to comfort and entertain myself and distract myself from my own problems - including an expanding waistline, a substantial debt, and a growing sense that I'd like to do something other than my current job (ESL was always intended as a stopgap measure, a way to get some sense of control in my life, in contrast to the sinking murk, fear, and rather more destructive overindulgences of my 20's; and tho' as jobs go I don't mind it, it ain't much of a challenge anymore). Writing is perhaps a productive way to some other occupation, but it can also be a dangerous way of creating "false order" in my life - organizing ideas and thoughts about things OTHER than my own dilemma, which could use some dealing with. Been trying to slow down a bit, to find my own ass so I can pull my head out; as fun as writing is, on some level, it feels a bit of a distraction. Glorified Free Cell. Order for its own sake.
Anyhow, I haven't been writing so much lately on this blog. I DO have a ton of things coming out in the December/January Nerve Magazine and Discorder, though:
- My monthly Discorder column, focusing on some pretty dark and unhappy films to balance out the false cheer of the holidays.
- An interview with punk novelist Chris Walter, in Discorder (I loved his East Van and "just liked" his more recent Welfare Wednesdays; I've been poking around his Winnipeg memoir, I was a Punk before You were a Punk, and it seems to have more energetic prose than either of those. The plan is to interview Chris Walter for Razorcake, at some point).
- An interview with various people about the Portland Hotel Society and the Black Crow Project, again in Discorder (local artists supporting community-building efforts in the DTES, mostly focusing on social housing).
- an interview with Tony Bardach of the Pointed Sticks will also be appearing in the December/January Nerve. (Neither Discorder nor Nerve publish in the first month of the New Year, so I had to get this finished a lot faster than I expected - I just found out last week that the band will be playing at Richards on Richards on January 6th, as the follow up to their Japanese reunion tour. If you don't know about that, I'd suggest checking out Razorcake #36, due out in January.
Alas, none of this is going to help me lose weight, get a new job, or pay off my debts. In fact, since writing such things takes up a fair chunk of my time, it could be said to INTERFERE with the above - unless, of course, somehow this becomes lucrative. I doubt it will; the people who publish the stuff I want to write generally don't pay, and the people who pay generally don't want to publish what I want to write.
In the meantime, to return to the topic of Towers, I was reading this great little Howard Zinn article on the current state of the US vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and stumbled on what's got to be the quotable quote of the month:
Don’t people join Alcoholics Anonymous so that they can stand up and be honest about themselves? Maybe we ought to have an organization called Imperialists Anonymous, you know, and have the leaders of the country get up there on national television and say, “Well, it’s time, you know -- time to tell the truth.” It would be -- I don’t expect it to happen, but it would be refreshing.
Thought I would share. It may be a little while before I post again, so enjoy the snow...
Friday, November 24, 2006
So what the fuck wasn't he on that night at the Arts Club? The No Neck Blues Band were INCREDIBLE, Alex. It was one of those shows where the music was so intense, so beautiful, so precious that I struggled to keep my eyes shut while listening, the better to have my consciousness transformed. In vast juxtaposition to AV's take on things, I thought that the level of organic cohesion they arrived at was remarkable, given the improvisatory nature of their music and the exceptional strangeness of their approach, which steadfastly strives to actively eradicate most of the falser, more ego-oriented aspects of songwriting and performance - to strip things back to the roots, even if that means occasionally producing something that could be conceived of as pre-civilized. (I think it fascinating and significant that John Fahey was a fan and that they recorded for Revenant; it's something I hope to be able to discuss with the band someday - their feelings about primitivism and "roots"). Their show was as blissful a musical trip as I've seen these last few years, up there with Supersilent and Fe-mail and Fred Frith (and Giorgio's cool circuit bending show, which Alex didn't really like either, but wasn't as flat out abusive of). Maybe he needs to close his eyes more during concerts? It really does help. (Or mayhaps he needs a good psychedelic soul cleansing to open up his ear channels? I have connections, Alex. Get in touch). Whatever is it that he could be missing, that he would (apparently) enjoy NNCK on CD, while considering their live performance, very much of a piece with the sounds they make on disc, such a godawful mess?
I mean, it's really quite puzzling to me!
I sometimes worry about the Straight, you know? They're such an institution in Vancouver, so well-regarded and, well, indispensible, really, that it seems sometimes like they've formed an elite, self-regarding clique, based wholly on their mere BEING the Straight, and not on the quality of the perceptions or writing. I mean, their film section flat out sucks, for one; they spend so much time detailing local film news and offering meaningless reviews of meaningless Hollywood fare -- as if the relevant poles of cinematic production were merely Hollywood vs. Us, rather than Crap vs. Art -- that they neglect to report on really interesting and cinematically significant movies coming to town, and seldom run reviews that say anything interesting (tho' I give Ken Eisner points for trying; he used to piss me off, but not so much, lately)... A a further example of said cliquishness and self-regard: it seems like Mike Usinger gives the Tragically Hip a bad review because (gasp!) the Hip have snubbed the Straight, as if the band's opinion of the Straight is somehow significant to the quality of music they make... Bein' number one can make one lazy, but it's kinda odd, innit, that, though I look at the Straight every week, I am far more inclined to read the articles in the Nerve Magazine and Discorder?
(The reason couldn't be that I sometimes WRITE for the Nerve Magazine and Discorder, could it? ...And that the Straight haven't kicked down my door and leapt into bed with me yet, despite repeated, uhh, submissions to them...?).
Er... Shape up, Straight!
*FBB music geeks: fat, bearded**, and bald. I am of the opinion that the most intense music and film geeks anywhere are fat, bearded, and bald. So intense is our involvement in geekdom, so sincere our devotion to the arts, so vast our knowledge, that we do not need hair or a slim figure to have self-esteem.
**(We wear the beards so we can recognize each other).
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
I had been seduced by some of the pointed satire of anti-Semitism in clips I'd seen of Da Ali G Show to think that Borat might actually have a point to it; though no one has presented it as such, it seemed to me that Mr. Cohen was in fact taking the piss out of the less, uhh, likable aspects of Islam (the main religous demographic in Kazakhstan) and that the film might thus cleverly engage with the current political climate, mocking the intolerance of fundementalists both there and here, and taking on anti-feminism, homophobia, and so forth. Tho' occasionally Cohen does get a shot off that hits one of these targets, what we have in Borat is largely a series of profoundly embarrassing and awkward social situations engineered for no purpose whatsoever, with an underlying subtext of how ridiculous and ignorant people in the third world are. I hope the Romanian village where the Kazakh scenes were filmed wins the lawsuit, actually. I do not understand the popularity of this film. The audience were laughing uproariously. Critics have uniformly ejaculated over it. I felt uncomfortable, laughed from shock at some of the more vulgar and over-the-top bits, somewhat against my will, and in the end was bored and disappointed, upbraiding myself for having been foolish enough to actually expect something witty.
The Departed is no better. I hope at some point in the future Scorsese will be remembered for his very promising first feature, Who's that Knocking at my Door -- still my favourite of his films -- and for the somewhat lesser Mean Streets, and for his friendship with John Cassavetes; his subsequent career, viewed properly, is a long decline, masked as an ascendancy to the throne of American moviemaking. The Departed is a vaguely nihilistic entertainment that provokes no serious reflection or soul-searching in its audience; it is not a work of art, but of commerce, and though there is considerable craft in the film (particularly in the performances of the actors), it's in aid of nothing. I'd probably be happy to accept it as an entertaining exploitation film, were it presented as such -- but on this budget, with this degree of hype, skill, and PR being put into its manufacture, I expect something more. I think the last Scorsese film that I felt any degree of actual emotional connection to was The Age of Innocence. That was awhile ago.
Babel is a bit more interesting, but not much. For all its drama and seriousness of theme, a day later, I could vividly remember only one moment in the film - the scene where the deaf Japanese girl flashes her "hairy monster" at the boys. It was a fresh, exciting, daring moment and did something to change how I experienced the world. The rest of the film feels like a thinly disguised sermon where the point is not to change your behaviour or your perception of the world, but to identify with the moral integrity of the sermonizer and thus leave the church feeling more morally righteous than you did when you went in. That's actually unkind -- the film is a bit more complex than that, and deserves more attentive criticism, but my indifference to it is such that I can't be bothered. Tom Charity wrote well about it, here.
Hollywood sucks. We should stop encouraging them.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Alas, the Subhumans are either unhappy with me or so totally preoccupied with their lives that no one has gotten back to me about the article I wrote about them for publication in yet another big American punk zine (and one that does pay, at that). Kept in the dark, I wait for a call or an email. They have some reason to want to distance themselves from me, maybe -- I was getting pretty excitable about Gerry's past for awhile there, since it, alas, happened to correspond with my own adolescence and early politicization. Interesting as it may be, it affects people's lives...
....anyhow, none of this news seems very significant in light of the fact that my friend Elizabeth Bachinsky has been nominated for the Governor General's Award for Poetry. In a shortlist of five, with a jury that includes Evelyn Lau, the nomination is an enormously validating move for Liz, and she'll be contributing something to Discorder in celebration of my recent successes and hers. Governor Generals Award winners are normally notified before the award is announced; since said announcement occurs in less than a week (Nov. 21st), it is somewhat puzzling that no word has gotten out yet. How do you keep a poet in suspense?
Even if you don't like poetry, normally, I'd highly recommend checking out Liz's recent Home of Sudden Service, on Nightwood Editions. It's not every day young BC women get nominated for the GG!
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Things that sadden me: the Holy Modal Rounders appear to have only 2 friends, perhaps because they have simply neglected to add any. I have put their song up on my own page, to help promote them... tho' I see that they have been viewed close to 1000 times, where I have been viewed only about 100, so there is some justice in the world.
Cheers to the Holy Modal Rounders.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Winks new album is out this month! Samples of new songs here and here -- this is a more "rock"-soundin' album than Slippers and Parasol or their split CD with Tights, but there's some standout songwriting on it. Todd and Tyr announce: "We moved to Montreal and have a new line-up! Emily: drums, Adam: violin Soren: keys -Our Montreal CD Release Show is on Nov 23rd @ Casa Del Popolo." Best o' luck in your new home, Winks!
Saturday, November 11, 2006
The Tragically Hip show gave me a lot to think about. I enjoyed myself, and I’m glad I still can enjoy a rock and roll show – they’re few and far between, for reasons that will become obvious.
The No Neck Blues band was an amazing listening experience. I loved it. If I had to cancel out one of the two experiences, and only have seen one of these two acts, I would have seen the No Neck Blues Band.
A few thousand people went to see the Hip, at four sold-out shows. Dry ice and rockstar lighting were the order of the day.
88 people went to see the No Neck Blues Band, at a venue that was 3/4ths empty. The only accoutrement to their performance was a giant walking mattress in a vinyl cover that staggered around behind the band, fell off the stage, wandered about the audience, and then finally returned to the stage -- where the man inside it came out and began to play an instrument, blending in to their seamless 45 minute jam.
Thinking about the difference between these events, the different responses, the vastly dissimilar turnouts, the different styles of audience engagement -- it almost makes me think that I should swear off rock for good; something got stuck in my throat that night at the Commodore, and I haven’t quite gotten it out. I hope I can choke a bit of it up here; it hurts.
Nov. 7, 2006: The Tragically Hip at the Commodore
Even the scalpers are out of luck. They’re working the queue with more determination than the spare-changers, trying to find tickets to flip. One of the regulars, an intense-looking bearded fellow, is pacing the line with a look of stressed-out worry on his face. At one point he offers the people behind me a stack of cash, thrusting the money out, but it’s not the best offer they’ve received, and they turn him down – “we were just curious, anyway.” He gets angry. He tells them they shouldn’t fuck around with people, that they’re looking to get punched. He storms away, leaving them somewhat shocked and amused. A more professional fellow, with a website and clients waiting for him to call and an easy grin on his face, had offered the same couple $450 for their pair, and they refused that, too. It is just as well, at that point, that I am ticketless, since it would be very difficult to turn down an offer like this.
The stressed-out guy passes by a couple more times on low burn, grumbling, until finally people in the lineup start to notice. One heavy-set fellow affably calls to him, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, why? You got a ticket to sell?”
“No, I just thought you might need a hug.” The guy is pissed at this – or simply not interested, since no money is to be made. He turns his back; the line is starting to move, anyway. The heavy guy, emboldened by the titters around him, calls back, “It’s $400 for a hug!” And then, thinking a minute, adds, “For $500 I’ll give you a reach-around!”
I get as far as the ticket window. “Yeah, my name is Allan MacInnis. I’m, uh, media? I write for a couple of local papers? I talked to the girl at Bernie Breen about getting on the guest list. I don’t think we got that set up, but I figured I’d check.” The girl, during our lunchtime phone conversation, had unhelpfully called back after I’d returned to work and left me the number of someone else to call – someone who was long out of his office (in Toronto) by the time I got home.
“Bernie who?” The girl at the window is expressionless.
“Bernie Breen. The Tragically Hip’s management.” ”Oh.” She glances at her clipboard. “Nope, you’re not here.””That’s what I figured.”
I resume my place by the makeshift metal barrier the staff have assembled on the sidewalk. It’s kind of cold. I’ll wait a half hour more, I tell myself. It’s this or laundry. I watch a middle-aged woman ask one of the courteous and competent Commodore staff what's going on tonight. When he says the Tragically Hip are playing, she asks "Who are they?" It is a source of some amusement after she leaves.
I stand in front of the Commodore for over two hours until, by sheer virtue of the fact that I endure, I am finally hooked up with someone who has an extra ticket to sell. He only wants the cost. “It saves me having to deal with those guys,” he said, referring to the scalpers. I give him $80 and tell him to keep the change. I’ve never sold a ticket for a profit, myself, but then again, I’ve never had a ticket I could sell for that much money. It’s touching to see someone who values shared fandom more than cash, but I almost feel guilty, wondering if he knows just how much profit he’s missing out on. I thank him, and another fellow who helped set me up with the guy, and go inside. (Wisely, the Commodore staff set up the line so that once you have your ticket, you go immediately in – second thoughts of last-minute cashgrabs are discouraged).
I have never seen the Tragically Hip before. I am not wholly convinced, before the show starts, that this is going to be worth the $80. Though I have learned to enjoy Music@Work, the last couple of Hip albums that I’ve heard seemed to suggest a band meandering, in decline; neither was that strong, and In Between Evolution in particular suggested a group that had lost considerable energy and enthusiasm, resting mostly on past formulae. It was so boring that I gave it away before it’s corruption spread and dampened my enjoyment of the rest of their music, which I listen to seldom enough in the first place. I hadn’t rushed out and bought World Container, needless to say. I do not know, as the concert starts, that it has been produced by Bob Rock and is being called by many the best Hip album, their return to form.
Even after the band takes the stage, I am unconvinced. I tend to find big rock concerts odd, anyhow. The stimuli is so intense, there is so much happening, that it can’t but distract: there are screams and jostlings from the crowd, and their often bizarre gestures of rockstar worship to contend with (at one point during the night some yokel in front of me, with a complete lack of irony, holds up his lit Bic). Compared to the audiences at punk and jazz gigs, big rock show audiences tend to be an inattentive, self-centered lot who barely know how to listen.
I’ll stop to cry into the curtains and like the greats, before me, go on stage
And, if half-true, its good enough for this
Cuz the kids don’t get it
No. The kids don’t get it
If I ask you a question, ya gonna lie to me?
Ah honey is that your question? cuz that one’s easy
Kids don’t get it
Just how hard it is
Kids don’t get it
Just how much there is
And then, audience aside, there’s the performance itself to get over; there’s so much bullshit in the world of rock that it is actually not that easy to convince me that I’m not being sold a bill of goods. I walked out, the last time Jon Spencer played Vancouver – he was working hard, but seeing some guy do his job is not what I go to concerts for. When I saw Sonic Youth here, too, on the Sonic Nurse tour, they seemed so not to enjoy playing to the whooping, stupid mass assembled in front of them that it made it really hard for me to get into it – add to which the fact that the most interesting music they made was almost entirely drowned out by cheers and whoops. The herd have a way of making everything about themselves.
Even after the show starts, I worry. Gord keeps a guitar strapped around himself for the first few songs, safely distant. “You’re Not the Ocean” is a well crafted pop-song (meant to resonate off Neil Young’s “I’m the Ocean,” I wonder?) but it doesn’t quite get my blood going. “New Orleans is Sinking,” played surprisingly early in the set, is strong, but the band don’t seem to particularly be getting off, and all the roaring delight from the people around me only serves to underscore that I don’t feel anything yet. This is not my tribe. These are not my tribal rituals. I stand there waiting.
By odd confluence, the first holy-shit song, the first moment where the band really show me what they can do, coincides with the passing around of a joint, which I manage to get several hoots off. The song is “The Drop Off.”
There’s no swimming past the drop-off
Yea we don’t replace ourselves
Ya don’t go swimming past the drop-off
The fates are amok and spun, measured and cut, and the past is meant to please us
Yer a comet from earth in a Kiss Alive shirt saying, ‘holy fuck, it’s Jesus!?’
The surface is green and the dark interweaves in a lonely iridescence
It’s terribly deep and the cold is complete and it only lacks a presence
And nothing else
I blink: did Gord really just sing, “Holy fuck, it’s Jesus?” What a pleasingly shocking combination of words, what an image. The babbling stream of lyrics hits very, very hard and I notice that Gord’s shirt has become suddenly soaked with sweat. It glistens with a black sheen. The acoustic guitar is long gone; there is no question as to whether or not he is engaged in this.
Here’s an interesting observation about herd behaviour during rock concerts: one guy behind you singing loudly along with a song that you like is irritating as hell. The whole crowd singing along with a song you like (EVERY word) is a phenomenon moving beyond compare. I don’t join in, myself, when the band go into “Ahead by a Century,” though. I feel like I feel the odd time I do when I accompany my parents to church -- oddly fond of the sincerity of the believers, even protective of it, even though I am shut out from it myself. I stand there thinking of a girl I once listened to it with, with the pot spinning my mind into theorizing about how the mass nature of this act of choral singing can alone make it beautiful and valuable. Somehow this resonates with something Reg Harkema said when I interviewed him for Discorder about militant political action, part of the theme of his upcoming film; if activists have no mass movement behind them, if what they do stands out as unusual behaviour, it' s pretty likely that the rest of the herd will shy away from it, or look upon it angrily. Just like I regard the guy with the screechy voice standing immediately behind me, whenever he gets a chance to solo.
And yet when we all sing at once, how beautiful it can be...
In any event: the problem with rock and roll is amply illustrated by a bit of miscommunication Gord encounters with the audience just past the midway of the show. (Note: the following has been changed from the original post, since I was in error about a couple of details; thanks to Dana from the Henhouse list for keepin' me accurate). The band begins to play a slow riff, vaguely familiar. Gord announces that it's "Chagrin Falls," but it sounds quite like the riff of the Hip's signature tune, “Grace, Too.” The crowd cheers, and I suspect they think it is "Grace, Too," though it sounds different to me. Gord's announcement of the title had been drowned out by something-or-other, though. Gord gives a false start singing, then fades to silence, and, after a puzzled pause, begins a patter – something along the lines of, “Hey, you know what – can some of you help me? I seem to have forgotten the first line of this song. Do any of you remember the words?” He holds out the microphone and you can hear it vibrating up from the crowd: “He said I’m fabulously rich. Come on just let’s go.”
I'm not sure what's going on -- initially I think Gord is playing a game with the audience, and remain in error about this until I see a video clip of the performance on Youtube. He really has forgotten the words, but the herd don't even know which song he's trying to sing; diehard fans all, I hear a half-dozen clusters of people call out the opening line of "Grace, Too," as Gord pleads with the people in front to help him out. Unseen by me, I'm told that a roadie actually runs out on stage with a laptop to rescue him -- the "first time he's had to use a teleprompter," as he jokes afterwards:
By design by neglect
For a fact or just for effect
When they met where they connect
At the confluence of travel and sex
More a trip than a quest
Plunged into the deeply freckled breast
Where to now? If I had to guess
I'm afraid to say Antarctica's next or
Chagrin Falls, Ohio where the unknown won't even go
To Chagrin Falls, Ohio where the unknown don't even go
The mistake has illustrated something vividly; the audience, however enthusiastic they are, howevermuch they love the band, are in fact not really even paying attention; the great mass of them can't tell one song from the next. They're too involved in their own image, their own desires, too involved in celebrating themselves to get it right. Though, stoned, I follow things to my own incorrect conclusion, m'self: that Gord had deliberately set the audience up to reveal their ignorance, to taunt them with their inattentiveness. It serves to underscore and perhaps exaggerate the degree to which it seems to me the band are "putting down" the pop transaction during the night (and indeed, they play their song, "Putting Down," as part of the set: "I'm starting to fail to be impressed... I'm starting to choke on the things I say; I'm putting down...;" I'm reminded of Beck's song, "I'm putting it down/ but you're not picking it up/I'm putting it down/but you treat me like a clown...")
It makes the night more interesting, in any event – no wonder Gord sings about how we’re a generation “so much dumber” than our parents. What lost, easily distracted children are we, what sheep; and what an odd, obscure pinnacle people like Gord occupy. It must be really hard, indeed. There’s ambivalence here, hostility in his relationship to this mass. Stoned, I can’t but think of it. I lose myself in spirals of theory: the prevalence of self-awareness, of irony, in our popular culture is necessitated by the fact that the whole fucking transaction is absurd. We know we have cut loose from the planet, from each other, from reality; our culture feeds on itself, sells itself its own image, loses itself in illusion while reality goes begging. Even the reality of the illusion – the nature of the joke – is seen by very, very few. And those who make a living selling the illusion can condemn it all they like; it won't make any bit of difference, or seem at all self-contradictory. It's a spoonful of medicine to help the sugar go down. It's a swindle.
My interior theory-babble, under the pot, is intense, but the crowd keeps calling attention to itself and distracting me. Some dumb fat chick in front of me, with a dumb fat boyfriend in a baseball cap, is thrashing around wildly, out of step with the songs, and shouting over the music to her man how cool the Hip are. She steps on my feet. She flips her hair back into my face. She bumps into me. She brays inanities to her boyfriend as I strain to hear what the band is doing. She does this through song after song, heedless of anyone around her, obnoxious as hell. I finally lean over during a quiet part and say quite clearly to her, patiently, firmly: “It’s called music. You’re supposed to listen to it.”
She turns and screams something at me that I cannot comprehend; I think part involved her calling me a son of a bitch. I smile at her in return, with no malice whatsoever. Even a bit kindly. She turns her back on me in a huff, but behaves much, much better for the rest of the night, though she continues to dance and enjoy herself (which I begrudge her not at all, if that's what you're thinkin').
Gord begins to stalk the audience with a make-believe gun, and I smile. I fancy I understand exactly what he's feeling. During one long instrumental passage – I forget which song; they’ve all started to blend together – he performs an elaborate routine of hiding behind the guitarists and bassist, peering out over their shoulders, and pretending to take aim at us. He looks afraid, timid, confused; the imaginary gun is his only protection from the bizarre mob he is confronted with. Near the end of the game he comes to the edge of the stage and mimes chucking the gun into the audience. It’s no wonder he advises us to “eat that chicken slow;” he is abundantly conscious of how carelessly we gorge ourselves. I feel like I understand him better now – understand why his lyrics tend to be so densely coded; his position is a very, very tentative one, a difficult one to occupy for a sensitive and intelligent man – tho’ he holds his own quite well.
One day I’ll make some honest rock n roll
Full of handclaps and gang vocals
I’m gonna get all the children involved
We’re gonna get lost on all you locals
We’ll be a shade shy of true wickedness
We’ll be a shade shy of truly loving this, yea
There are other things we’ll rather be doing, sure
Even nothing... with you
(Doesn’t that “with you” seem kinda like a cop-out, like something that was added on later? Doesn't it remind you of Mick Jagger biting the bullet and singing, "Let's Spend Some Time Together?" Anyhow, I think I'd like the song better without it.)
Even tho' I can't deny that I have fun, I am forced to conclude that rock and roll, in this form, is not about the band or the music at all. It is an attempt on the part of the audience to reclaim some connection to their lost tribal/animal selves, some feeling of belonging, of being led, of being taught, of submitting to a charismatic authority that promises to deliver unto us desire, freedom, power, self-confidence. It is a vast compensatory mechanism, a neurotic adaptation: all the feelings we want that we cannot express or release in life, that are no longer attainable in our business-mad culture, we bring with us into the venue to artificially induce them.
Perhaps art – or any public spectacle – always has an element of that, of compensating for a lack. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just gets really complicated if you start to think about it. Imagine it: every single person in this venue turned down almost a hundred dollars profit per ticket to get into this show, choosing instead to pay to participate in this strange transaction, to be led and entertained and mock-shot-at by this little guy onstage. Why? They're just a rock band, for fucksake. It shouldn't BE this big a deal, good as they may be -- no?
But even while I observe it, I catch myself enjoying the show, too. As the band break into “At the 100th Meridian,” I find myself whooping along with the crowd, and briefly, everything goes Desmond Morris: I visualize the Commodore packed with chimps. Everyone of us, including me, watching a higher-status chimp posture onstage. I laugh aloud in delight at the thought, swaying to the music.
We’ve come so far as a species it’s amazing to realize that we’ve gone nowhere at all. We’ve just forgotten ourselves, distracted ourselves, put a whole lot of culture and consumer products between ourselves and our true natures. As long as we can consume the images, the rituals, the tokens of the tribe, we can forget that we live in a chaotic, orderless mess, spinning out of control into oblivion.
Rock and roll really is the devil’s music.
How about that.
Nov. 10, 2006: The No Neck Blues Band at the Granville Island Theatre.
Oh, hell, I don’t feel like writing anymore. But I could close my eyes and LISTEN to this show, and experience something like bliss, ambivalence-free. I haven’t had a perceptual adventure like this at a concert since Supersilent played here last. The band have managed to strip away every trace of the bullshit that clogs rock, to make something pure and primitive and unique (tho' in its own way, as self-protected as Gord Downie's lyrics; this is not music that the vast majority will understand or even attempt to). Their jams, at times, made me think of the Acid Mothers Temple, as did some of the music; but the Acid Mothers Temple are apparently fond of the bullshit poses and bizarre adulations of rock -- I see Kawabata Makoto onstage with a v-neck guitar, in the midst of dry ice, long hair swirling around him as he holds the guitar up over him as he plays, just like, well, Eddie van Halen. NNCK seem to have broken completely free and remind me on stage of pretty much no one but themselves.
I loved it when Dave played his cello upside down. The man has a bit of Dada in him (the walking mattress seemed to lean that way, too). The Japanese female member, by contrast, appeared to approach the music as if something sacred was transpiring; she was especially fascinating to watch, and clearly a formidable musician -- I'd love to know more about her. Their music seems to arise from equally strong impulses to create and to destroy. It makes for one hell of a trip.
Mostly I tried to keep my eyes closed, to quiet my thoughts so I could listen. It gets to be difficult to do, tho', particularly when there's a walking mattress coming down the aisle.
Anyhow, like I said, only 88 people came to the show. Those 88 people don’t need me to write about it. The rest of you are gonna have to figure out what you missed on your own.
There's only so much I can do.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The No Neck Blues Band will be appearing at the Arts Club on Granville Island on Friday, November 10th. This should not require explanation to those interested in avant-garde, experimental, or improvised music, but just in case, check out their Myspace page for song samples, or their official site. I am most excited. By the way, their excusion with Krautrock survivors Embryo, EmbryoNnck, is really really cool -- it sounds a little bit like a lost tribe from a rainforest'd country covering Can's Unlimited Edition on traditional instruments. Nuff said, tho' you can get more info about the actual gig through the Vancouver New Music site.
Also seeming to require little explanation or advertisment is Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, playing on Friday and Saturday at the Cinematheque in a new 35 mm print (so I'm told). (See this link for an interview with Tarkovsky on the film). At times, I find the film's philosophizing a tad overbearing, and it's heavy as a frozen mammoth uncovered in the wastes of Siberia, but nevermind all that: it's a stunningly beautiful and unique film experience, which you must see to believe. I am not sure what you need to do to understand it; I suspect it's a bottomless experience, and like the greatest of film art, the questions it leaves you with are questions about life itself. In any event, it's not to be missed.
Actually, I'd really like to go see Bonnie Prince Billy, too -- since I saw him in Old Joy at the VIFF, I've been enjoying exploring Will Oldham's music, which I'd never really done before. (The song "Blood Embrace" is chilling, tho' unfortunately not all his work is that powerful). Alas: all three nights are sold out, and I don't much feel like standing outside the venue, hoping to get a ticket.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Bela Tarr's 7 hour long masterpiece (or so I'm told), Satantango, about the decline of communism in Hungary (and/or the nature of evil) will be playing at the Vancity Theatre, Saturday, December 23rd! Starts at 1 PM, and it will only screen once. Mark your calendars.
PS. December's listings are up on the VIFC site.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
My interview with Reg Harkema on his terrific little film Monkey Warfare (starring Don McKellar and Tracy Wright, above) includes a discussion of Warren Kinsella and Gerry Hannah. (Those of you who haven't read Fury's Hour are directed to Chris Walter’s interview with Kinsella, for a bit of background; my interview with Walter will appear in next month’s Discorder). The article has drawn Mr. Kinsella’s fire (thanks to Reg for forwarding that).
Here’s the thing about monkeys: they operate in hierarchies. Monkeys at the top get the women and the respect. Monkeys at the bottom jerk off a lot. They also need to find a way to deal with the fact that they’re not the top monkey; it's hard on the ego, all this not getting laid. Some low status monkeys like to gain respect by challenging higher-status monkeys (which means occasionally getting beaten up). Some of them like to gain respect by ingratiating themselves (note Gerry’s song “Macho Tough Guy Act,” here, for relevant lyrics). Wherever you stand with Warren, recall that the status ape in this story is Gerry Hannah. (It sure ain't me, except maybe in my own head...). Interpret things accordingly...
Friday, November 03, 2006
Nothing in The Queen was equal to that moment.
This leads to the obvious idea that someone should make movies for dogs; which is subsequently followed by the thought that this is so patently obvious, someone must have already done it. Look: they have!
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
...I wish I knew if Carol J. Clover had seen this film. She never answers my emails...
Monday, October 30, 2006
Some of these are kinda cool (and one or two end up lookin' really good, by sheer chance, but I'm hopin' to use them elsewhere, so I can't very well stick'em here). Gerry, photographed thus, ends up lookin' kinda like some sorta tough guy, like he could be played by a young Clint Eastwood -- I mean, dig the chiselled facial features on this one:
Or in closeup:
They're kinda ROCKSTAR, despite the blurring, but the problem is they don't really look very much like Gerry! ...Anyhow, eventually I figure out how I can get shorter exposures; the trick is, there's this long unpredictable delay between when I push the button and the photo is taken. This makes the results of any attempt somewhat unpredictable: I end up with a great shot of Brian Goble, with his Insite t-shirt clearly readable, for instance -- but his head is missing. All the same, I manage to get a couple of reasonable, but not great shots -- of Jon:
And of Mike:
Of Brian :
And eventually, shots of Gerry that actually LOOK like him:
Sometimes shots that could have been fantastic are just a little too blurry:
But all told I'm happy with about six pictures, and may have a source for others. Sorry to stick my unusables here, but they're better than nothin' (and better than about another 30 completely worthless snaps I took).
By the way, there's a wry, intelligent, engagin' little film coming out soon that touches on some, er, peripheral history that I think people interested in the Vancouver punk scene (or concerned about activism) would really want to see: it's called Monkey Warfare, stars Don McKellar, and is directed by UBC film school graduate Reg Harkema. He's now based in Toronto -- that last link is from the Eye -- but he says the film is an "East Van movie at heart." Harkema has some very fond memories of his days on the early punk scene here; we didn't figure out any gigs we were at together but there must have been one or two... Check out my upcoming interview with Reg in next month's Discorder (which, for those of you downtown, reliably turns up at Scratch Records), and keep an eye out for the film -- it's a must see, if you were interested in th' above.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Well, add one more feather in Norway's crazy cap: they have a newsmaking museum display -- well, it's linked on the Fortean Times site, anyhow -- on animal homosexuality. I don't particularly concern myself with human homosexuality -- I'm at a bit of a remove from Vancouver's gay community, and other than standard liberal well-wishings, don't really have any interest in it; but animal homosexuality -- because it fucks up SO many preconceptions about what is and isn't natural -- absolutely delights me. I mean, think of it this way: two male humans fucking aren't going to do a single thing to shut a homophobe up, but two male MONKEYS fucking are gonna force him to actually sit and THINK a bit. So I'm all for it, this animal homosexuality thing... I even sometimes whip out a book I have on the topic in my ESL classes, to give my more conservative students something to ponder (fun review of that book here).
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I love volunteering at Vancouver New Music events: I've gotten to meet some very interesting people by doing so. I spent a couple of hours with Paul Dutton at the 2004 Vox Festival; he eagerly told me all sorts of details of his history as a performer, with Koichi Makigami occasionally weaving in and out of the conversation, sometimes doing weird spontaneous vocal improvs. I first met Maja Ratkje at that festival, starting a dialogue we were able to strike up anew when she and Hild came to town for the jazz festival. Last year, I was privileged to pester Fred Frith a bit (sorry, Fred!). This year, it looks like the merch table conversation of note will have been with Gordon Mumma.
Mumma's bio is here; he is one of the pioneers of electronic composition in America, designing his own instruments and, in the 1950s and 1960s, working with David Tudor, John Cage, and many others. He'll be doing something Cage-related with Vancouver born (but now Ontario-based) composer and performer Matt Rogalsky tomorrow at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, as part of the Silence Festival; I'd be more specific about the nature of the performace, except that neither he nor Rogalsky really know at this point what they'll be doing, either! After a brief chat about William S. Burroughs (a "survival source" in grim times, Mumma called him -- someone whose humour and irreverence and bravery were a source of great inspiration and fortitude), it turned out that Mumma's best story revolved around the Italian Marxist composer Luigi Nono. We were talking about vinyl fetishists -- that is, record collectors -- and I told him a rather fun story told to me by a guy named Brad about his attempts to secure a rare recording by Nono. It turned out that Mumma knew Nono; they were friends, having met at the Venice Biennale. Commence anecdote:
In 1964, the Boston Opera Company, under Sarah Caldwell, were looking to perform Nono's opera Intolleranza, a multimedia work that "attacked racial segregation and nuclear weapons" (it apparently provoked a riot at its 1961 Venice premiere). They wanted Nono to be present for rehearsals; he applied for a visa and was promptly refused, because, as Mumma put it, the US state department "thought he was gonna overthrow the friggin' government." Though very much a left winger, Nono was no particular friend to the USSR, and had long engaged in smuggling forbidden compositions in and out during his tours there -- they were almost as scared of him as the US; but his politics were radical enough to have him branded as an undesirable, no less. This was quite unfortunate for his wife, Nuria Schoenberg Nono, since she was hoping to visit her mother, Gertrude -- Arnold Schoenberg's widow -- in Los Angeles; she, too, was denied a visa. The Boston Globe apparently ran a headline that read, "State Department Says No No to Nono," whereupon several artists, intellectuals, and sympathetic politicians -- including Edward Kennedy -- began to protest, until finally Nono was allowed brief access, with strictly regimented flights to Boston and LA and then back to Italy, so that he wouldn't have the time or leisure to agitate. All of this is fresh in Mumma's memory because he has been digging through his correspondences with Nono for donation to the Nono Archive. (He expressed sympathy for Nuria Schoenberg Nono; between her husband and her father, she has two pretty daunting estates to manage!).
We then went on to talk about him discovering tapes of a performance of David Tudor's "Rainforest" in Rio de Janeiro, with Mumma and Todor and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, in the summer of 1968. (The booklet notes, minus the photos, can be downloaded here). This is on a recent CD that he's brought to town with him (he did mention that elements of Thursday's performance will resemble that composition.) I am greatly enjoying the Mumma I brought home, Electronic Music of Theatre and Public Activity; I'll probably pick up another of his CDs tomorrow. Matt Rogalsky's CD I have no idea about as yet -- I haven't heard it -- but I always liked the man when I knew him around SFU. He seems to have established himself in the world of avant-garde music -- I'm looking forward to finally hearing him play.
A final detail about Gordon Mumma: he's now local! Or close: he lives in Victoria, having left the US for a more politically comfortable environment (and for other reasons). He doesn't perform that often these days, he said -- but I've dangled the offer of an interview someday, if I can get our local papers interested (what the hell, I got Terry Riley in the Nerve Magazine). By the way, a photograph of Mumma, Luigi Nono, Robert Ashley, and Nuria Schoenberg Nono, taken in Venice, can be seen here. (I had incorrectly identified this photo in an initial version of this article as having been shot in the USA, but Mumma has written in a correction: "No connection or meeting with the Nono's was possible during their USA visit, due to legal restrictions and the constant monitoring and tracking of them by the FBI.")