Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year Indeed

(photo by Dan Kibke)

It's cold and windy - the sort of wind that howls in trees and corridors, knocks a few things over here and there. I'm at my parents' apartment in Maple Ridge, the no-neck suburb where I grew up. In a few hours, I wake to go on a trip that I'm very apprehensive about; my mother's twice-monthly casino visits, postponed for the Christmas holiday, resume tomorrow. The plan was that she would go alone, and father and I would spend some "quality time" together, while I helped out around the place - did some grocery shopping or maybe a bit of vacuuming; but then the manager of the senior's building that my parents are live-in caretakers for returned from vacation, allowing my father, who has been filling in for him, to go with her. Of course, they want me along too.

All of this is a bit of an issue, you see, because my father is seriously ill - he has cancer, and has been undergoing chemotherapy, with one slight break, for over a year now. He's lost a lot of weight and looking very ill, but it's impossible to tell at this point what's caused by chemo and what by cancer; the two seem more to be working together than to be battling each other. He's finally starting to admit that he can't do the job like he used to, and has been resting more, and accepting my help more, which comes as a relief to me - but he's still proud and willful and stubborn; and he insists on accompanying my mother tomorrow, wanting me to go with them. Of course, the roads are awful, black ice everywhere, and - I haven't mentioned this part - the casino isn't merely River Rock or someplace close; it's on an Indian reserve in the States - Nooksack - with a bus that comes to our door and picks us (and various other seniors) up and drives us there. Great! So if something goes wrong, we're in the States - and no one goes about issuing insurance on cancer patients, so we have no medical coverage there whatsoever. If there's an emergency, his fantasy plan is to take a taxi to the border and then to a Canadian hospital, to avoid paying hospital bills. This, of course, reflects no serious thinking; it's based more in some sort of sense of his own immortality than anything else, the same sort of logic that has seen him set out in the snow to buy groceries on several occasions these last couple of weeks, even though he's been losing his balance and falling over (he almost lost his glasses in the snow the other day, not realizing they were missing until he made it to Extra Foods, did his shopping, and turned back; he found them on a snowbank in the corner). My father has always been a stubborn man - he settles on a plan and won't budge, like his insistence, when we sit down to Scrabble, that we play at least three games - but it's gotten absurd. I can sympathize with his desire to be with his wife and to not let his illness stop him - but there are just so many variables in taking this show on the road that terrify me. What if the bus breaks down and we're stuck overnight? There are certain medical supplies my father needs - I don't want to go into detail, but things could get very unpleasant if we were stranded. More probably, what if there were an accident at the casino - if my father falls over, or loses consciousness, and the casino has some sort of insurance-dictated policy of calling an ambulance? What if he simply gets very sick and weak, and wants to be home in bed (but the bus isn't scheduled to leave for hours...?). I'll have my panicky mother, my ill father (who is getting a bit foggy-of-mind), and whatever new variables the casino managers (or police or ambulance attendants, possibly) impose upon the situation, and we'll be a two hour drive from home without a car. I'd protest and refuse to join them on this folly, but the situation is slightly less dangerous for my being there - for one, I can help my father in the Men's Room, if required, whereas my mother would have a harder time of it. And I'd be more likely, I think, to successfully insist on one course of action over the other than my mother, who - dependent on my father all her life and un-used to making crisis decisions - tends to get very flustered and make bad choices when things get scary.

Maybe one last trip won't be so bad, I tell myself. It won't be the first we've taken since my Dad got sick (indeed, it was his sickness that prompted him to start going regularly with her, and me to join them). Plus I've actually won a fair bit of money at the slots, which has come in handy indeed. A little voice says I should just go along with it - it could be a perfectly nice family trip, at a time when it's important for us to be together - and besides, the chances of dissuading my father at the last minute are next-to-none. I'm terrified of locking horns with him, too - if I push too hard, he could lose his temper, and I have my own temper to keep in check. I still cringe with guilt at the thought of the last couple of ugly episodes between us, which I feel all the worse about since he's gotten ill. I don't really feel like I can win this battle, but if I go along, it might just give me the ammunition I need to win the next one. I suspect he'll come to agree with me at some point tomorrow that the whole thing was one hell of a mistake.

As much as there's part of me that is starting to think it's time for me to move back to Maple Ridge to help out all the time, part of me just wants to escape from this town and get back to my life in Vancouver and hide in whatever obsessive distractions I can lose myself in - writing, film, music, sex, drugs, or a combination of all the above. I want to seize my father's stubborn refusals to take what I say seriously and use them as an excuse to absolve myself of trying to further influence him: "screw this!" I gave up trying to educate myself about alternative cancer treatments months ago, since he'll have none of it. My only "success" thus far with him has been that he occasionally dilutes his beer with cheap de-alcoholised stuff. (In fact, I was suggesting drinking de-alcoholized beer instead of the real stuff, to give his liver a break, since that's where the cancer mostly is based, and since liver cancer + chemotherapy + drinking every day does not seem to equal "a picture of health," to me; but not even his oncologist will back me up on that. Everyone just wants him to be "comfortable" - no one wants to fight a stubborn old man, or deprive a sick man of his few comforts - however you want to spin it). He's very proud to report to guests

2009 is going to be a very unusual year for me, I expect. Perhaps quite a difficult one.

Anyhow, I won't post for a couple of days, most likely, so - Happy New Year.


EDIT! NEW MATERIAL BELOW...


...So I got cranky with my parents this morning. I voiced my strong disapproval of the trip and begged them to see reason. It did no good - it got heated, though not ugly. My mother pouted that I was trying to "jinx" or "ruin" the day, and my father told me that if I didn't shut up I couldn't come. In the end, I could do nothing but relent and go with them, keeping further worries to myself.

It turns out the roads were fine once we got across the border - there's barely any snow left in Washington State; it ain't like here. My father was much better than he was over Christmas, too - it's been awhile since his last treatment and he's nowhere near as rough as he was when last I was here on the 26th. He could walk without stumbling, didn't vomit up his lunch, seemed pretty energetic by comparison to last week. Feeling a little less worried, I sat down to play slots...

...and won $550 US on the first machine I sat down at (Double Dolphins - a favourite of mine, because of its colourful and generous bonus round; plus I'm partial to dolphins; during the free spins, dolphin "wild cards" dive about on the wheel, chattering happily as the points mount up). I tucked that away to cover expenses and my parents' cut - I was going to end up ahead, no matter what - and continued to gamble with slot tickets I'd already purchased. I then won another $550 US on the same machine. (Actually I won a bit more, but I pushed my luck and whittled it back down to $550). Now the trip was paid for and I had enough money to tide me over until my next paycheque, maybe even buy an LP or two. This was all before sitting down to the free buffet lunch (including steamed catfish! Yum!). I resolved to have fun with the remaining tickets, following my general philosophy of betting the utmost on penny machines that have decent bonus rounds - strategically raising and lowering the bet depending on whether I thought a payout was on the way; I sat next to my Mom at an American Originals slot, and, in one spin, won over $1000 US on it. Again, I gave some of that back to them, trying to make Even More, but after giving my parents a cut, at the end of the day, I was up $1100 Canadian. I often win at slots - my approach to them works pretty well, though its not foolproof - but $1100 is a record thus far.

At one point, when the mood had changed - me happy with my winnings, and my parents having had a chance to think over what I'd said - my father admitted to me that everything I said about the risks was reasonable and that he understood my concern. He reassured me that he would stop coming when he couldn't, anymore. Attempts to talk him into going to Canadian casinos instead didn't cut it - he doesn't like how blackjack is played up here, apparently - but at least he heard me; at least I know he's taking it seriously. I still don't think it's a good idea for us to be gambling in the 'States, given his health - we're gambling with a lot more than money -

...but with payouts like I received today, I have a hard time feeling that bad that we went. We gambled and won.

It won't always be like that, though.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Will The Wrestler Play Vancouver?


Though it is nowhere in our city at present, The Wrestler's US release appears to have started this week; it's the film that supposedly marks Darren Aronofsky's return to serious filmmaking after the embarrassing and expensive folly of The Fountain, and has a comeback lead performance by Mickey Rourke (whose turn in Sin City was about the only thing I liked or respected about that film). Roger Ebert's (highly praising) review here, official site here. I have a very good feeling about this film. It's an odd sort of excitement to feel, this quivering anticipation: I remember when I used to get similarly worked up to hear that there would be a new film opening by people like John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, or Jim Jarmusch. I'm far more jaded, more mistrustful now. There are American filmmakers who DO excite me now - Kelly Reichardt, Robinson Devor, Gregg Araki - but it's not quite the same thing; I know that when I go see The Wrestler, there will be a few dozen people in the same audience who REALLY want to see Mickey Rourke in it, and a dozen more who are curious to see what Aronofsky's next step will be, having seen all his previous films. It's the anticipation of a public event, as much as it is excitement about a new movie - the knowledge that you are going somewhere to be with other people who know just as well as you do what they're going for, who are in the same state of hope and anticipation, who will be watching as attentively as you.
...it probably won't even play here theatrically, right? I wonder.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Rodney Decroo at the Railway on Boxing Day

I've been enjoying my recent nights at the Railway - from seeing Nick Jones do Slim Whitman and David M. revise a certain old hit by Rick Springfield so that he's singing about how he wishes he had Santa's girl, it's been pretty easy to enjoy myself, even when drunken blondes are spraying saliva on my cheek as they hector me for not dancin' (a rare occurence, thankfully). I'm out in Maple Ridge doing family stuff for the holiday, but I may just make it back tomorrow; Rodney Decroo is having a birthday bash, and I've been meaning to catch him again for the longest time. I've chatted with him more lately than I've listened to his music, and feel like it's way past time I saw him play again. Rodney's offering a holiday discount on his CDs (and digital downloads) at this link. The show also features Mikey Manville and His Side Arms - Mr. and Mrs. Manville are apparently also celebrating a birthday or two - and Heather Griffin. Last time Mr. Decroo played the Railway it was a bit too packed for my tastes and I bailed; what with all the snow, I'm thinkin' this may be a good opportunity to see him from a seated position...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rude Norton Gig!

Hey, y'all! Any of you with a craving to hear a Vancouver punk "fuck band" cover "Gilligan's Island" or the theme from "Green Acres?" Do you have a secret fondness for "Tits on the Beach?" Here's your chance: Rude Norton plays January 2nd at the Cobalt! It's been a few years since any lineup o' Rude Norton has played Vancouver - to my knowledge, the last gig was at the Vancouver Complication show of 2004 or 5 or wheneverthefuck that was. The press announcement goes somethin' like this:

"A Merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate over this holiday season. While there is at the moment no new Subhumans news to pass on, there is an upcoming show, with a couple of Subhumans involved, taking place Jan. 2nd 2009 at the Cobalt hotel on Main St. in Vancouver. The band is called RUDE NORTON and has current Subhumans drummer Jon Card, and Subs singer B.R.Goble, performing with Darryl Licked ( White Trash Debs, Absinthe Boy, San Francisco) , Tim Rollins (harmonica virtuoso supreme) and wiz kid Mike Agronavich (Solemn Fist), filling out the line-up. Rude Norton's forte has always been massacring the classics, so steel yourself for a no holds barred night of ear puncturing, sense assaulting 'entertainment?'.....also playing will be the SPECKLED JIM, lead by Butch Murphy and the ever sought after, THIRD RATE."


Yowza. Might be a fun night. I bet the Cobalt smells much better in winter than in summer. Maybe I can finally pin down Brian Goble (last seen dancin' to the Frank Frink Five) for a bit more of a Q&A...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More on the woman who burned to death

A follow-up on the homeless woman who burned to death trying to keep warm. Her name was apparently Tracey.

Cold

Drunken girls stalk Granville Street with stocking'd legs exposed from high heels to thigh, sharp little steps through three inches of powdery white. They teeter shivering in doorways as I pass by, my scarf wrapped around the lower half of my face; I can hear them talking about Polish shopping sprees or men or - towards the later portions of the night - trying to flag rides back to whichever suburb they come from. "Ohmigod I'm fucking FREEZING" is a common refrain, offered in tones of giggly awe; but I also overhear - again in a female voice, but this one belonging to a woman in boots - "What's wrong with these people? Are they fucking retards? Don't they know it's the middle of December?"

En route to 1067 from Richards, I see a homeless man (I think) in a doorway, sleeping in his parka on a ledge. He lingers in my mind as I make my way to Megabite to spend some of my last $10 on two slices (overhearing, en route, a man bellowing to his friends: "The Fraser River has fucking frozen over!"). If he dies, am I responsible for it, by virtue of having done nothing? Thanks, Christianity. After eating, I go to Blenz at Nelson and Granville - the location that mysteriously closed and then re-opened - and, having settled on a course of action, make my pitch: "Hey, excuse me. I don't have a cell phone. There's a homeless guy sleeping a couple of blocks from here - I'm hoping I could use your phone to call the poilce, see if they can get him into a shelter."

The guy behind the counter looks uncomfortable. "Ah... well... we don't really have an 'office phone,'" he says. He looks a bit sheepish. I don't so much as raise an eyebrow - he's young and he has rules to follow, after all. I just go next door to the Pita Pit, where they oblige. I sit at a table with their cordless. "Police, fire, or ambulance?"

Soon enough, a police operator is asking me, "Does he appear to be injured or intoxicated?"

"No, he seems to be sleeping. He's wearing a parka." I don't think to say: I didn't look too closely.

"Sir, I'm going to give you another number to call..."

When the non-emergency operator takes my name and address, I feel bizarrely concerned that my gesture could be used against me at some point. "Keep an eye on this one - he intervenes."
I make my way to 1067, where, when no one is playing, I visibly register my concern with a few people - Femke, Dave Chokroun, Jeff Younger. "What do you do in a case like this? Is calling the police it?" I watch two sets, one a Fond of Tigers offshoot of some sort who at times sound like they haven't figured out how to play with each other just yet and at other times approach the sublime; then there's a brief set from a Darren Williams-less Semi-Sorrow and the Pity, with Stephen Lyons pitching in some skronky guitar as Dave rants and drums. Their version of "Apeman" kills. Lyons tense guitar reminding me, I dunno, of something you might hear D. Boon do (on "Base King," for example). I worry throughout: what if I go back in an hour and the homeless guy is still there? What then? Do I bring him back to my apartment? He could be nuts, a drunk, a junkie; I don't want him sleeping in my space, he could rip me off. What about the hallway? What if he rips off one of my neighbours, or what if I get in shit for letting him in?
On the other hand, what if he freezes to death?

One of the 1067'ers I ask remarks that the shelters are probably full by now... Eventually I decide to skip the FOT-offshoot's second set - following Dave and Stephen's - and make my way back to the corner where I saw the guy. I'm relieved he isn't there. I stand and watch snow sheet the city, then turn back. Drunk 20-somethings clutter the roads, laughing and shouting at cars that honk at them. I feel like telling one cluster that a guy got killed a few months ago, standing in the road in front of my building, mowed over by a drunk driver - likely some drunk suburban brat like them. I could warn them that standing in the road and making cars veer around them in the snow is dangerous. Their tone of voice dissuades me. "Fuggit," I think, adjusting my gloves as I tramp up Nelson. "Let'em get hit... teach'em a lesson."

I wonder if the Fraser is really iced over...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Alienated Christmas in Vancouver


Four fun shows for those of you with an interest in unusual music: at 7:30 PM, Solder and Sons will feature Set Sail to Sea, Burrow Owl, and the Italian Husbands - an ambitiously large gig for such a cozy space. I've already written about this below - check it out.

If you go directly to 1067 after the show, there's a special event there that will also delight, A Very Heartwarmongering Christmas, a project the details of which are a little vague to me; Fond of Tigers' Stephen Lyons will be involved, and I'm promised "a secret cameo appearance by the Sorrow and the Pity performing a cover of a Christmas song by an ostensibly socially-minded superband named after an adhesive bandage," which is enough to make me brave the moldy old couches. (The Sorrow and the Pity's Myspace is queerly hard to find, not turning up in my searches, but it's here no less. They DO have a CD out now, by the way - what other stocking stuffer will equally please Minutemen and Albert Ayler fans, I ask you? My past interview with their ranter/drummer Dave Chokroun, is here, and a fun read indeed).
No, that's not Mats Gustafsson, it's Darren H. Williams of The Sorrow and the Pity, by Femke van Delft


Gig three is at the Railway and I wish I had a gig poster for it! The Frank Frink Five play The Railway Club; it will be my first opportunity to see them, as I've managed to miss every other gig they've done. In fact, I only know the names of three fifths of them (assuming there are, in fact, five members): Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks, former Modernettes member and bluegrass mandolinist Randy Carpenter (who appears not to have a Myspace), and drummer extrodinaire Jon Card. Oh, do check out the Pointed Sticks' free Christmas downloads, if you haven't!

I do confess, delightful as the fact of the Sticks' new output may be, that these songs are a tad cheery for me. What with treestumps lining Granville Street, homeless women burning themselves to death as a remedy for our cold spell, and the dread that comes in knowing that we're only a year away from the Olympics, and nowhere near prepared for it - I'm in a bit of a grumpy mood and more inclined to watch one of those horror movies where Santa's got an axe. If I'm going to hear a large number of Christmas-themed songs sung by anyone this year, it's gonna be No Fun frontman and Chapters Magazine Guy, David M. I've been an attendee of his free Saturday afternoon Chapters shows on repeated occasions, which, since I'm at best one of five people in the audience and, more usually, one of one, can be quite intimate (David even let me hold his Gorgo once - starfuck your way above THAT, geek!). Hey, wait - is this the third Saturday in December?

Wow! It IS! Unless something has gone weird, there's a free David M. concert at Chapter's today! 1PM to 3PM! What an amazing coincidence! Check out David M's Ironic Acronym's toe-tappin' "Baby Jesus Drank My Blood" for free here, if you remain unconvinced. Then come say hi to me and David on the 3rd floor of Chapters - these one-to-one artist/performance ratios get stressful - you can't slouch on applause when you're three feet away from the singer and you're the only one there!

Isn't David's poster heartwarming?

Friday, December 19, 2008

"This just in..."

(Edited for accuracy after the story was updated online):

...a 47-year old homeless woman at the corner of Hornby and Davie has burned to death in a shopping cart she was using as a shelter. She apparently was trying to light a fire to stay warm when it went out of control. Let us hope her horrible death mobilizes the city to get homeless off the streets and into shelters, and to create more housing. Oh, and, um, FUCK THE OLYMPICS! (Did I say that already?).

Dream

I am going to the Hotel Vancouver with an envelope in my hand - some important business that I must complete. I discover that, due to economic conditions, the hotel is surrounded by women - workin' girls - desperate for money. I practically have to shake one off my arm on my way in the door, as she begs me to take her up to my room. I complain to the desk clerk - a very professional young man - about the aggressive solicitations and he says he knows, he apologizes, says things have really gotten out of hand. Maybe he even helps get this particularly needy woman to leave me alone. I drop off my envelope and leave...

...when somehow either this same woman, or another one - slim, blonde, in her 40's, with short hair and intelligent eyes - approaches me again and convinces me that she needs my help, and that the right thing for me to do is to have sex with her and pay her. I have no idea how she convinces me - I cannot recall - but the feeling is, afterwards, that "I'm on her side;" I have no doubt that this is what I want to do, because it will help her (for some reason just giving her money is not part of the scenario; my motivator, though, is altruism, not lust, or so it seems in the dream). The same young professional desk clerk greets me with great skepticism when I go back in (the blonde waits outside) and explain that I want a room for two. He is trying to dissuade these women from soliciting, he tells me somewhat sadly, since it's bad for business to have them plaguing every man entering the hotel; he understands that they can make some pretty convincing pitches, but I shouldn't feel obliged. He's clearly sighing inwardly, thinking, "They've got another one."

No, I lie, I want a room for me and my wife. She's meeting me here. She's probably outside now.

He looks at me, unconvinced, and I try to hurry him along, registering us. It takes some hassling. Then I go outside and find this woman, hoping she'll know to play along that we're husband and wife; she does. I put my arm around her and we go to the elevators, but the desk clerk follows us up. He is carrying the key. He is watching us. He won't relent. He follows us down the hallway. I turn to him: "Are you going to give me the key, or what?" I'm maintaining the pretense: THIS IS MY WIFE, this is the woman I love, why are you insulting her? He continues to haunt us. He makes comments. He won't leave us alone, it's apparent. Finally I fly into a rage and turn on him, beating him, screaming at him. How dare he - his snide implications, his sanctimoniousness. He cringes under my blows. My "wife" and I never make it into the room.

Afterwards - for reasons I cannot recall - we are outside the hotel, the prostitute and myself, and I am sitting with my arm around her on a bench. We're talking; we have developed some sort of bond. Another woman - more gaudily dressed, an obvious hooker, approaches, talking at me, desperate; I stick my foot up to block her approach - I get a POV shot in my dream of my shoe rising (just like in "Sock and Awe," except my foot is still in it) - and immediately feel guilty, wondering how the woman I'm with will feel about my so rudely turning away one of her own.

There is nothing more that I remember.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bob is outdone

Well, so much for Bob Ostertag's Throw My Shoes, Too: there is apparently a new online video game called "Sock and Awe," in which you can pitch virtual shoes at the disgraced President, who, presumably, ducks out of the way each time. I've seen a picture, too, of an angry Middle Eastern journalist holding up a shoe with "Bush" written on it. It's spreading worldwide, I'm sure. I almost feel bad for Bush, faced with such hate and disdain! Somewhere the poor fucker must have a soul, a conscience; surely something in him burns and trembles and feels shame, no? How can any one human bear the weight of the loathing and contempt of so many people on this planet? If he doesn't really feel it yet... surely someday he will, no?

It will not stop me from seeking out Sock and Awe and trying it myself, mind you. And I still plan to ask someone to photograph me with my shoes. But part of me still wonders -- how would the world react if Bush killed himself, or if, at the very least, he admitted vast wrongdoings - crimes against humanity, I think they're called - and actively sought out some form of punishment? Could the man even begin to atone for what he's done in this lifetime? Since I imagine the answer is "no" - despite all his crimes, how can one not feel compassion for such a miserable soul? Mocked, condemned, without hope of expiation... it's a horrible fate to contemplate, even though he richly deserves it.

Sock and Awe. Jeezis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Deep Listening, Vancouver Style; and an appreciation of Jeffrey Allport and Solder and Sons

Pauline Oliveros performs at FUSE, by Femke van Delft


Last month, Pauline Oliveros, pictured above, played two sets of dreamy avant-accordion at the FUSE event at the VAG, treating us to the experience of her Expanded Instrument System, a sort of surround-sound aural paradise (with a few snaps, crackles and pops thrown in for good measure). She then did two workshops at the Western Front. These were events that I was much excited about; I've listened to a few of the Deep Listening Band's recordings, and find them so profoundly meditative and enrapturing that, yes, folks, I've even used them as "mood music" for making out (beats the hell out of Barry White! ...I also highly recommend Zoviet France or LaMonte Young's more subdued piano works. I kid you not). Troglodyte's Delight, in particular, is a particularly interesting form of "underground" music, in that it's recorded in a cave - Tarpaper Cave, an "old limestone quarry near Rosendale, New York that had lovely dripping water sounds and Valhalla-like mists,” DLB member Stuart Dempster says of it - the band's improvisations interacting very quietly and beautifully with the environment and the musicians being highly affected by the unusual circumstances of their performance and their need to attend to ambient sound and space. Oliveros is not the only musician to experiment with caves and cisterns as environments for recordings, mind you - I'd recommend checking out the linked recordings by Lustmord (Heresy, I believe, is the most relevant), Vancouver's own G42 (The Cistern Sessions), and Don Cherry (playing the stalactites - or were they stalagmites? - in a cave on this Live from Soundscape DIW release, now apparently OOP)... all of which are pieces where the spaces become another instrument; feel free to comment below if you know others! Still, Oliveros - some of whose scores make up an exhibit at the Wack! event at the art gallery, as well - is the person whose work inspired the entire concept of "deep listening," and is an extremely interesting composer and artist; it was a privilege and a pleasure to meet her, to hear her play, and to partake in one of the workshops - thanks are due to Ben Wilson and DB Boyko for making the event happen (and whoever else at the Front I'm supposed to thank...). Oliveros' music exists in such a way as to make one even more aware of the silence around it, inviting you to expand your awareness into that silence, merging with something beyond the self - a kind of transcendent experience, which is what I go to these sorts of events in pursuit of, generally (doesn't everyone?).
Ione and Pauline Oliveros by Femke van Delft

For her Vancouver appearance, however, Oliveros came complete with her partner and collaborator Ione. Ione - an interesting character in her own right and someone many Vancouverites would have delighted to hear - Common Ground readers, say - is (it says on her website) a spoken word artist, an Ordained Inter-faith Minister, a Certified Hypnotherapist, a Certified Qi Healer, and a Certified Helix Therapist (the last being a domain completely unheard of by me). Her most interesting role, and the one most visibly brought to bear at FUSE during her spoken word performance, was that of "dream facilitator;" as Oliveros played, she sketched an indeed rather dreamlike narrative of travelling to a land of thousands (or was it hundreds of thousands?) of forgotten dreams, a strangely familiar place which we were encouraged to explore. Dreams are a fascinating province and her suggestion, at the end of the workshop, that we pay attention to SOUND in our dreams was fascinating and thought-provoking, since it made me aware that my dreams, while having narratives and visuals and meaning, do not seem to have sound per se: I have the understanding of sound - I register that people in my dreams speak to me, and "hear" what they say - but there is no sense of the sound having quality or existence on its own; I'm sure in order to really "hear" in a dream, I would have to carefully train myself into it through the sort of attentive behaviour she suggested, which would probably considerably enrich my experience of dreams - or even the dreams themselves. Interesting stuff, to be sure. I liked her suggestion of keeping a dream journal, too, and having workshop attendees share it with each other - I've kept dream journals at various points in my life, and am glad to see friends of mine explore the idea at her suggestion... though admittedly I didn't take up her suggestion myself, as I've been trying to recuperate from over-writing.
Ione by Femke van Delft

However, I must say, when I listen to quiet, meditative improvised music, it is uniformly done with the intent of escaping my normally dominant linguistic self - of getting away from words and thoughts, getting at something deeper, more profound; and so to have someone telling stories, however abstract or poetic, throughout Oliveros' improvisations - stories which required me to think and process language at a time when I really didn't want to do these things at all - was basically about as welcome and useful as having someone repeatedly tapping me on the back of the head throughout the performance; it did more to make any actual "dreamlike" state completely unattainable than to facilitate one. I liked it far better (and heard similar comments from friends in attendance) when Ione made tentative forays into vocal improv - clicks and tweets and trills which complimented Oliveros' fascinating, multidemensional sound explorations much more effectively and were thus much more welcome. As for the workshop - which had a charmingly unpretentious, dare I say "high-school-drama-class" feel to it - a good thing, with the 30-some attendees happily lying on the floor at its peak making a delightfully weird and quite unself-conscious group vocal improv together - I must further 'fess up that Ione's suggestion that we hold hands and close by making a sound from a "wonderful dream" that we've had also didn't really connect with me at all, as my best dreams are my most interesting and dramatic ones; the idea of "wonderful" doesn't really enter into things. (As I recall, I'd had dreams the night before of being stalked by a slasher, which were quite engaging, but by no means "wonderful;" a good dream for me is like a good horror movie - intense and thought provoking - but seldom even pleasant). Ah, well -the group improv was still really fun, and I look forward to acquiring the Deep Listening Band's new double LP - the first in their history, previously dominated by CDs - which features the Tarpaper Cave sessions and more.
Pauline Oliveros, by Femke van Delft

Jeffrey Allport and Tyler Wilcox, by Dan Kibke

In terms of "deep listening," tho' - which I understand as listening that requires and produces a profound attentiveness that transports one from the mundane into a different sphere - I got a bit of a better workout, I must confess, from Jeffrey Allport's set last weekend with Seattle's Tyler Wilcox at Solder and Sons (a hip little bookstore/ electronics shop/ music shop/ cultural space, located at 247 Main, near the Cordova intersection). Allport is a drummer, but calling him that in no way prepares the reader for what this man does with his instrument. It's like calling LaMonte Young a pianist, or Phil Minton a singer, or Derek Bailey a guitarist; while accurate, these designations are only a small slice of the story, and without more elaboration, get you nowhere; for instance, drummer or no, Allport seldom - at least during the performances I've seen - does anything so crude or primitive as to hit a drum with a drumstick. (Sometimes he'll hit a drum with a mallet, but odds are it'll be on the side of the drum or the rim, rather than the actual skin). The picture above is quite revealing of his method; we see him with an array of cymbals, in his hand or placed in different configurations on the drumskin; a mallet in his hand; and a reserve of bows and sticks on his lap. It's a tad too dark to see, but he also has a spring (I believe) attached to the rim of one of his drums, which will be used to produce subtle vibrations and buzzes, often happening in reaction to what he is doing elsewhere, as Allport hits or rubs his cymbals gently with the head of his mallets; rubs the mallets, or bits of tinfoil, on the surface or rim of the snare or floor tom; places a tinfoil plate upside-down inside the cymbal, itself lying on a drumskin, to let it reverberate as he bows the edge; or does other things with the sides or rim of the drum that one simply would not normally see a mere "drummer" do. He brings an intense, dare-I-say meditative focus to his investigations of his instrument, and is quite comfortable - as was Wilcox - in letting silence reign for long periods, choosing when to insert another sound into it, so that the absence of sound itself is a cue for attentive listening; when the Art Ensemble of Chicago talk about the "drum and silent gong" in "Illistrum," on Fanfare for the Warriors, it's come to be Allport that I think of. I'm excited to hear that he'll be curating a three-day event at VIVO in February - I believe featuring many people who will be playing at the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, whose artistic director, Gust Burns, is a past collaborator of Jeffrey's... Hopefully I'll have more on that later, as the date approaches.
Jeffrey Allport and Tyler Wilcox by Dan Kibke

And what a great environment for a concert! Fake Jazz Wednesdays suffers from the Cobalt's foul smells, sticky seats, so-so sound system, and occasional mood of yahoo-ism among the audience, who sometimes are more interested in socializing than listening. 1067 is among the least aesthetically appealing spaces I've spent time in - it looks like exactly what it is, a disused office space, and I can no longer sit in its thrift-store-quality furniture without fear of picking up bedbugs or such. The Western Front is great - probably my favourite venue for hearing live music in Vancouver, mostly due to the superb programming - but, unless one sits right up front, is not particularly intimate or warm. By contrast, what could be more comfortable than gathering with 20 or so interesting people in a flippin' used bookstore? I love used bookstores, and Solder and Sons is a good one, tho' it has somewhat quirky hours; last I checked, it's not open weekends, save for occasional evening performances. For quiet music like Allport's, it has the added bonus of being right on the street, so passing cars or even passing pedestrians can be unofficially "incorporated" into the soundscape, which is more charming than one might expect. You can even park pretty safely, knowin' the courthouse and cop shop are right across the street!


The show at Solder and Sons, by Dan Kibke

Good news, then: Anju Singh tells me that there will be another show at Solder and Sons this Saturday, December 20th. One Jake Hardy described the main act, the Italian Husbands - in the email that Anju forwarded to me - as "romantics of the trash-core," who "will bring you the deep pervasiveness in the form of ultra lo-fi ritualism and hippy nihilism." I'm really not quite sure what that means, but it sounds like it might be quite interesting (the "lo-fi ritualism" part, anyhow). Apparently these guys are affiliated with Sludge House in Alberta (see the link above, which has a video of them performing there) and have an album coming out. Also on the bill are Burrow Owl (Hardy: "harsh noise, pins-and-needles style;" I am unsure of their Myspace and unwilling to weed through websites about actual owls to find it); and Anju's project with Shearing Pinx guitarist/ fellow Her Jazzer Erin, Set Sail to Sea (Hardy: "Set Sail to Sea will dampen the walls and bookshelves of Solder and Sons with thick layers of down-tuned doom sludge" - which is not exactly how I would describe the one set of theirs I saw at the Cobalt awhile back, but it WAS the only occasion, of many at which I've seen Erin and Anju perform, where I thought briefly of Black Sabbath, so I do kind of get what Jake is sayin', here.) You are recommended to show up around 7:30, since things will begin early. You can always browse the books, or better yet, check out the CDs - Jeffrey Allport has a few (and an LP, too); I particularly liked Hawker's Delight, with Angharad Davies and Chandan Narayan on violin and autoharp, which I bought after seeing Jeffrey awhile back at 1067, with Arrington de Dionysio and Yamauchi Katsura.

PS: Single women in attendance at the Saturday show are encouraged to offer me sexual favours, or at least say hi. Do not be alarmed that I have shaved off my beard. I am growing it back.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Day the Cineplex Stood Still

I've always known people had shitty tastes in movies - I mean, I used to work at a Rogers Video, for one, so I know all too well what sort of crap people would favor; and I've seen critics get movies very, very wrong before. From Pauline Kael's legendary hatred of Cassavetes to Ray Carney's dismissal of the entire work of Hitchcock (among others) to Jonathan Rosenbaum suggesting Joe Dante's Small Soldiers is some sort of satirical masterpiece to - oh, hell, I don't know, about every fifteenth review Roger Ebert writes - I've known you can't place stock in even the most celebrated critics; one must rely on ones own judgment and view films very carefully, regardless of what anyone says. I would never prevent myself from seeing a film that interested me based on a bad review, or see a film that didn't interest me because of a good review; there is no critic whose opinions I trust that much. (Robin Wood, whom I esteem more than any of the above, admires Larry Cohen's It's Alive, for fuck's sake! His writing off of Cronenberg at least made for an interesting contribution to the discourse about that filmmaker, who deserves to be queried more than he is). Rotten Tomatoes suggests that somehow if you poll enough critics, you can abstract some sort of trustworthy judgment about a movie, but various recent films that I have genuinely enjoyed, like M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water and his somewhat less delightful, but still interesting The Happening, have gotten below 25% on the Tomatometer, while predictable, trivial garbage like Iron Man, morally bankrupt, politically unacceptable shit like The Dark Knight, and expansive follies like PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood (which presumes to write the politics out of an Upton Sinclair novel and re-inscribe the text so that it offers an intellectually hollow "false dilemma" choice between two flavours of greed, and not much else) have been praised to no end, all receiving over 90%. (My views on those last three films here, here and here). The vast success of these films at the box office further suggests that one cannot trust audiences, either. Shit will rise to the surface as often as it sinks, and not everything that sinks is shit. Though a sort of critic myself, I really think people should trust no one when it comes to what movies to see, but rather follow their own intuitions and keep an open mind. The best critics go very very wrong on occasion, and the vast majority of them are just newspaper hacks who wouldn't know a good movie from a grilled cheese sandwich.

Somehow, though - cynical as I am about what people write about movies - when actually watching a film, I can still be awestruck to know that people are so wrong about it. Case in point: The Day the Earth Stood Still, a consistently interesting reworking of the old SF classic that succeeds on any number of levels. It has a few problems - it takes a few too many shortcuts in the name of keeping a brisk pace, leaving more unexplained than it rightly should, and its CGI, when not spectacular, is embarrassingly bad - like the video game quality snake wriggling towards the floating sphere - but it is generally narratively engaging, visually striking, has some fascinating dialogue, interesting characters, sympathetic politics, and, even when it pushes too far in one direction or another, does so no more than almost any other Hollywood entertainment currently in theatres. People with a serious interest in SF, with a fondness for B-movie values - because this is basically a very expensive and very good B-movie - or who just want to see how the story has been updated will find even more reasons for enjoying the film. It's a tough one not to like, overall - I even choked up at times while watching it (try to guess when).


Despite all this, in what I believe is its opening week in Vancouver, it is playing to near empty cinemas - there were fewer than a dozen people in Cinema One at the Scotiabank tonight - and has a mere 21%, as of this writing, on the Tomatometer. It is going to be an expensive failure indeed. This is truly a shame. And while I can hardly complain that there were fewer idiots in the cinema than usual to distract me from appreciating the film, I have to say in the movie's defense that I had a great ol' time tonight - that it gave me exactly what I wanted and hoped for, and that I think it worth anyone's time. I doubt I'd see it again, mind you, and I'm not going to praise it as I would the works of Kelly Reichardt or Robinson Devor or other truly important contemporary American filmmakers - but I would suggest that anyone with a hint of curiosity about this film not be dissuaded by its bad box office, bad reviews, or so forth. Go see it for yourself; I think this film deserves a fighting chance, and if you're the sort to be bothering with actually reading what I write, you might find yourself in agreement with me...

Or not...

Bob Ostertag: Throw My Shoes, Too

Okay, folks, this is going to be fun. You'll need a digital camera, your shoes, and a willingness to make a statement in defense of free speech and in the name of truth. If, like me, you do not currently have a digital camera, you have a friend with one. Be ready to share this article with them (or this one!): because this is a chance to make a meaningful statement that may help a man who is in some deep shit - and a statement that, alas, may be as close to justice as the corrupt, evil motherfuckers who have been running the show in the United States for far too long now are ever going to get. (Harpers has a new article about the moral imperative of bringing the Bush regime to trial for their crimes. Would anyone like to take bets on the likelihood of that happening? I think a bunch of pictures of people with shoes in their hands is about as close to justice as we're going to get).

(Photo lifted off Bob Ostertag's Huffington Post article, more on which is below. )

Allow me a moment's explanation first. Bob Ostertag (pictured), for those who do not know, is an experimental musician, political activist and provocateur, and Yes Men affiliate. Along with Pierre Hebert, he's one of the men behind a brilliant live animation called Between Science and Garbage, available on Tzadik, which deals in part with the Iraq war, and which was performed a few years ago at the Western Front. He is also the guy who, a few years ago, made a decisive step to put his money where his mouth is re: the music industry by posting all his recordings that he owned the copyright to for free download online. (I see there's a new project on his site up for grabs, called w00t - an Ostertagian sound-collage, we presume, comprised of music from video games. It sounds fun, but I have some writin' to do tonight and will have to come back to it). Anyhow, Ostertag has created a Flickr group where people can post pictures of themselves with their shoes, in support of a 28 year old Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who threw his shoes at George W. Bush last week. Ostertag writes,

Know what Bush was saying when al-Zeidi threw his shoes? "The war is not over. But . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won."

And Muntadhar al-Zeidi lost it. Threw both his shoes, yelling that shoe #1 was " a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people!" His second shoe was "for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!"

This was a gift to the entire world. We all owe a debt to this 28-year old journalist who, for one beautiful moment, letting go of all rational calculation of the possible consequences, stood up and spoke truth to power.

He is currently being held by Iraqi security forces and faces an unknown fate. I would not want to be in his shoes right now. I have started a Flickr group called Throw My Shoes Too! I put up a picture of myself with my shoes... In support of Mr. al-Zeidi, I urge you to go to Throw My Shoes Too! and put up a picture of your own. You can also leave a comment.



I presume, based on Mr. Ostertag's feelings about copyright, that he doesn't mind that I have lifted a picture from his Huffington Post article with which to illustrate this.

Now: who wants to photograph me with my shoes?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Hanson Brothers in the Georgia Straight!

The Hanson Brothers at the WISE Hall, by Femke van Delft

By the way, avid Al-stalkers and idle local music geeks, I’ve got a little Music Note in the current Straight on the Hanson Brothers robbery scandal at the Portland show, if you’re curious about how that all turned out! (It ain't online and its only around til Thursday, so grab it while y'can!). It's a happy ending, tho' we have yet to hear if the guy who originally stole the poster met some unhappy karmic reward, as wrought on him by the referee's curse...

Would you fuck with these guys? I wouldn't. (Robbie Hanson by Femke van Delft)


Those of you who do not yet know that the Hanson Brothers have a new album, called It’s a Living, out, may be happy to further hear that Johnny Hanson’s Complete Guide To All Grain Brewing (an honest-to-God instructional video which also includes a few Hanson Brothers songs) is included on DVD with the CD version of the album. It is NOT, alas, on the double vinyl edition of the same. Johnny Hanson explains that he is “not sure how to press a DVD onto vinyl...” Those unconvinced that they need this album should listen to the samples on Myspace - these guys kick ass live! The CD and LP are not in stock at HMV, of course, but I've seen both at Scratch and Zulu, and I'd lay odds Red Cat has a few...

Welcome, Big Mike! (by Femke van Delft)

Further news, Hansons-wise: the Hanson Brothers’ cover of the song “Get It Right Back” is apparently slated to appear -- along with, Joe Keithley tells me, DOA’s new hockey brawl song, “Donnybrook” -- in the theatrical remake of Slap Shot, currently on the books or mebbe in production, I dunno. Johnny reported, when we chatted the other week, that the Hansons were “driving across Texas right now on our way to Austin for a show tomorrow,” and were “half way through this US tour now and looking forward to the 20 below temps in Chicago.” (Tonight the boys are in North Dakota). The Hansons “will be doing the rest of Canada during the playoffs in the spring with the exception of Victoria where we play on the 20th of this month.” Link to tour dates here. Johnny, when asked how the tour was going, reported, “Our van was towed in Oceanside. Lubbock smells funny. So does Tommy...”
Johnny and Tommy by Femke van Delft

Thanks to John Chedsey for facilitating all o' this (and Femke and the Hanson Brothers, o' course). Hurry back, boys, so we can have a new Nomeansno show and album! I need badly to mosh to "The River"again - it's about the only real exercise (and about the only significantly cathartic experience) I get in the year...

Oh, by the way: didja hear the demo for "Old," a new NMN tune, on their Myspace? Rob Wright's Irish roots are showin'...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Note: I am not dead.


...I apparently was so busy writin' for The Skinny that when I disappeared from that venue, rumours of my death started to circulate.

Please note: I am not now, nor have I ever been, dead. And unless there is a singularly eerie synchronicity in the next couple of days and I get hit by a bus, making this my last post, I have plans for some pretty cool stuff for this blog next week, and articles I'll be working on for a few other 'zines (the Skinny ain't the only people I write for). I've almost got my stamina back, writin' wise; I can feel gears turning even now... In fact, if you look in the new Georgia Straight Music Notes section...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Portable homeless shelters

Ah, human ingenuity! It's apparently too ambitious to work on ending the problem of homelessness, but inventing a stopgap shelter for the homeless is doable enough... Not a bad idea! If Gregor Robertson's promises to end homelessness in Vancouver don't bear fruit, maybe he can just order a few thousand and install them in back alleys, doorways and parks... They're so much more attractive than cardboard boxes and dirty blankets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pointed Sticks Christmas

Pointed Sticks by Femke van Delft

Here's some cheery news: the Pointed Sticks have put up two free Christmas downloads, "Power Pop Santa" and "Xmastime Again!" (EDIT: JUST RECEIVED A LINK FOR THE VIDEO FOR "Power Pop Santa!"). Also of note: Pointed Sticks vocalist Nick Jones' "other" project, the Frank Frink Five, play the Railway on December 22nd - I've never yet managed to catch them, so I'm pretty keen. From my old Razorcake interview with the Pointed Sticks, dealing with the Frank Frink Five:
Bill: Gord’s studio, that he owns with (Modernettes frontman) Buck Cherry, is the Paramount—and Gord’s the engineer. They record a lot of roots rock groups, and they record their own stuff there. Randy Carpenter does some work there.
Allan: Randy works with Nick in the Frank Frink Five.
Bill: Yeah. They’ve played maybe twice a year for the last eleven years. Actually, you just missed a show at the Railway. They do kind of like souped-up country songs and rock songs from the ‘60s. They’re quite hilarious.
Nick: Randy and I have been playing together in one form or another ever since the Pointed Sticks broke up. He’s an amazing musician. He knows the words to more songs than any human being alive! The best thing about the Frinks is that we never have to practice...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I keep missing the Subhumans

Members of the Subhumans apparently mobbed the stage at the Hanson Brothers concert the other week and engaged in a hockey brawl with the band. I missed it. I'd gone to the concert, but - exhausted from a week of work and too-aware of a stack of student papers that needed marking - I'd bailed as soon as I'd heard my two favourite songs ("Stickboy" and "My Girlfriend's a Robot.")

Members of the Subhumans - and Randy Rampage, too - apparently then got onstage at the Mint Christmas event ("Nardwuar Night") for a rousing finale of "Fuck You." I'd stuck around a bit longer for that one - Nardwuar is such a wholehearted enthusiast in all he does that it was fun as heck to watch - but I'm still pooped and burned out in general and wanted to go home and get a good night's sleep. So I missed that, too.

At that event, I'd run into Subhumans' vocalist Brian Goble. I've been talking about wanting to interview him again - I want to update a talk I'd had with him a few months ago about the situation in the DTES, where he works. He mentioned that he was going to be at the Bedouin Soundclash/ Black Mountain event yesterday, but I couldn't spot him. I left early from that one, too - I hadn't eaten and Femke's feet were getting cold from standing around outside. It's pretty unlikely that any Subhumans took the stage with Black Mountain, right?

No, don't tell me if they did. Hint, though: if you're at a gig, and you see Subhumans in the audience: stick around. Something may happen.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

In Defense of Insite

Stephen McBean of Black Mountain (photo by Femke van Delft). Black Mountain perform in front of Insite on East Hastings today as part of a free concert, also featuring Bedouin Soundclash.


First off, for clarity’s sake: heroin revolts me. The idea of shooting up revolts me. I am not writing this as someone who sympathizes with junkiedom as a "lifestyle choice" or somesuch. I admit that I’m speaking from a fairly middleclass space, but I have a hard time conceiving of anyone decadent, na├»ve, desperate, immature, ill-informed or self-destructive enough to violate the sanctity of their own skin by stabbing themselves in the arm for the sake of a high; I’ve seen people I knew and liked go down that road and felt disgust and horror at the sheer fucking stupidity of their choices - it’s not like the destructive nature of heroin was a secret to them. The social contract, by me, is such that if anyone is so blind to basic self-care as to allow themselves to become addicted to such substances as heroin (or cocaine or meth or whatever - “the harder drugs,” or maybe we should say “the dumber drugs”), they become a liability to society, and by making fundamentally antisocial lifestyle choices - whatever compassion we might otherwise show to them for the miseries and demons that have driven them there - they deserve to lose many of their rights and privileges as “members of society.” The question then becomes how to “manage” such people so that their fucked-up choices have the least impact on the rest of the population.

Case in point: ever gone to St. Paul’s Emergency Room at night? Ever sat in line with a real health complaint behind half a dozen junkies, three of whom have injured themselves in the course of getting high, and three of whom are feigning pain in the hopes that they’ll get opiated - while the doctors, who know exactly what is happening, engage in the charade of investigating their complaint, drawing out the process and forcing the junkies into complete self-debasement and whimpering protestations of agony? It happens that I live right around the corner from St. Paul’s, and have had maybe five occasions to go there over the years; it’s shocked me how routine the above scenario is, and how drawn-out these exchanges can be. At such times, invariably, I’ve thought: Jesus, just shoot them up and shut them up so people who are really sick can get treated! Why draw out the process? To what end do we play this game of denial and delay, pretending that something other than the obvious is going on? Who exactly benefits from organizing our society this way? Not the hospital system; not the junkies; not the people waiting to be looked at by a doctor. It’s insane, and all the players in the game must surely know this.

So though I strongly disapprove of the use of drugs like heroin, I’d go a step farther than safe-injection sites and needle exchanges and such, into dispensing free heroin to hardcore addicts. I’d go even further, to the step of providing them housing and food. To sound vaguely fascist about it, I’d suggest that this housing be somewhat at a remove from the general population, and have a somewhat of an institutional nature: part jail, part hospital, part “retreat” - but if people cannot manage their own lives, such that society is forced to step in, it makes sense that we manage their lives to our maximum comfort, and to theirs. Of course, I’d also support rehabilitation, Life Skills programs, work training, and other government initiatives to help people who wanted to get off drugs and re-enter society to do so. “Punishment” has nothing to do with this picture, however; the idea of “punishing” people for the crime of indulging in self-destructive behaviour is prima facie ridiculous. It’s rather like executing people for trying to commit suicide.

The Conservative government of Canada - here’s hope that we’re soon rid of the fuckers - seem to have a far more Darwinistic/ free market approach in mind to the problem of drugs, where we simply close our eyes and hope that these same people disappear - that they overdose, die of any of a number of diseases, or kill themselves in misery. The belief seems to be that any other approach than sticking our heads in the sand would express “sanction” of the use of these drugs, and remove “disincentives” to their use (as if for the majority of the population a life of addiction, shame and stigma itself isn’t a disincentive). The very rich, among whose echelons politicians normally dwell, can, of course, afford to insulate themselves from the effects of such policies: they can build big enough fences around their backyards that junkies don’t end up shooting up in them. To them, there is no need for a further solution to the problem, since it doesn’t impact them. For the rest of the population - especially if you're middle-or-working class and living in Vancouver - a somewhat more thought-out approach is called for.

Here are five arguments in favour of Insite - off the top of my head:

a) Insite is a first rational step towards managing the problem of addiction in a socially responsible way - to admitting that it exists and that criminalization alone is not a solution, and that something more needs to be done.

b) Insite provides junkies, many of whom are radically disenfranchised, with an avenue back into “normal” society, by putting them in contact with nurses, mental health workers, and others who would be more than happy to help them seek out rehabilitation. It provides a glimmer of normalcy and dignity to people who in many cases are deeply miserable and damaged - and would otherwise have little hope of re-enfranchisement; it provides a basis for change, should they choose to seek it out.

c) Insite, by giving addicts a place to go, keeps junkies from shooting up in doorways and alleys (like the one behind the building where you live, say: the ultimate NIMBY solution is to give people their OWN goddamn backyard to do what they gotta do in). Of course, our drug problem is so huge that even WITH the existence of Insite, I see discarded syringes on the street at the rate of one every couple of months (and I’m sure I’d see a lot more if I lived anywhere in East Van) - but I’d hate to think what Vancouver would be like if Insite were shut down.

d) Insite reduces the spread of disease, deaths by overdose, and other forms of self-harm that junkies inflict on themselves in the pursuit of their highs. It thereby also takes some of the stress off our health care system and reduces the health risks to the rest of us of maintaining a system where HIV, hepatitis and other diseases run unchecked among a portion of the population

e) And whatever my vaguely fascist side says - howevermuch disapproval I feel for drugs like heroin - I believe that every segment of our society has the right to a certain base level of dignity and comfort, even if it has to be provided to them. There is something intolerably degrading and shameful for all of us about maintaining a system where a portion of our society spends their time panhandling for money, rooting through garbage, or ripping stuff off, so that they can buy adulterated and damaging drugs with which to shoot up (with dirty needles?) in alleys or roach-and-bedbug infested rooms with bloodstains on the walls. Maybe it’s just my Christian upbringing, but I think we ARE our brothers (and sisters) keepers, to some extent, and for Vancouverites to allow any among us to live in such squalor reflects very poorly on us. It is not a system that it is in any of our long-term best interests to maintain. We should be ashamed to do so little about a problem that is so obvious - and we should be deeply embarrassed that it will probably take the disapproving eyes of outsiders, come 2010, for real steps to be taken (which may well be of the most ad hoc and short termed nature - the “bus them out of the city” approach; but perhaps not). Our denial is so entrenched that any steps taken to open our eyes and see what is really going on seem like a really good idea, or at least worth a try.

Given all this, the maintenance of Insite seems to be unquestionably in this city’s long term best interests. People with far more knowledge in these matters than myself have said so. It’s not a solution unto itself, but at least it provides us a starting place, a first step. Here’s hoping the doors stay open.
See you at the rally/concert today.
Postscript: more on the concert to be added - it was an impressive event indeed - but the banners around the stage and everywhere on the block reminded me of one other argument for keeping Insite open, that really should be added to the above (since I seem to have missed it): closing Insite will lead to the hundreds of preventable, unnecessary deaths in the very near future. As I believe one of the slogans put it: "In death there is no hope."

Free Concert in Support of Insite

Music fans take note! Bedouin Soundclash and Black Mountain are slated to appear for a free concert in support of Vancouver's imperilled safe injection site, Insite, today (Saturday), starting around 4pm. The event is to be held on the street at 136 E. Hastings, if I gather correctly. It was shut down once before, but if it goes ahead, it could be a major event... Read the Jon Card interview below for further insight into Insite.

Jon Card: Different Drummer, Same Drumkit

Jon Card and I goofing around at the Pointed Sticks "Summer of Love" event a few months ago. Thanks, Kyla! (photo by - you guessed it - Femke van Delft)


I keep running into Jon Card - current Subhumans drummer, also an alumnus of Personality Crisis/ DOA/ SNFU, and others. He was at the Hanson Brothers show the other week. Apparently, after I crapped out exhausted to slink home like the tired old man I seem to be in the process of becoming, he and Brian Goble mobbed the stage and had a brawl with the Hansons; wish I'd been there to see it! Saw him again briefly tonight at the Nardwuar Mint event at the Ukrainian Hall. I assume I'll see him again tomorrow, at the free concert in support of Insite, featuring Bedouin Soundclash and Black Mountain (starts at 4PM at 136 E. Hastings, I believe). Though this is one of the best pieces I did for The Skinny, it never made it onto their website; here it is.

By the way, the Subhumans' singles/EP comp, Death Was Too Kind, is available around town now (and can also be purchased through Alternative Tentacles). Nice to see a non-bootlegged version of this stuff - the original EP and singles, all of which I used to have (save "Death to the Sickoids"/"O Canaduh," which was already impossibly hard to find by the time I got on the scene) would run around $500 to collect.



Jon Card: Different Drummer, Same Drumkit
By Allan MacInnis

Drummer Jon Card was in his late teens when he founded Plasticine, later called Suburban Slag, in Calgary. One of Suburban Slag’s gigs was opening for Vancouver’s Subhumans at the Calgarian Hotel, in 1981, when that band was touring their legendary first LP, Incorrect Thoughts. “I was a huge fan, so I made sure I went down and talked to the owner and said, ‘We have to get on this bill.’ I got to meet the guys in the Subhumans - I hung out in their hotel room and smoked a bunch of black hash with them. I was thrilled!” Jon, of course, now drums with the Subhumans, and appears on the reunited band’s New Dark Age Parade.

Soon after the Subhumans gig, Winnipeg punks Personality Crisis played in Calgary. “I got there late, and I only ended up seeing either half a set, or one and a half sets. I can’t really remember, but they were a great band. They were different from anything I’d seen at the Calgarian. And then I heard (Personality Crisis singer) Mitch Funk say from the stage, ‘yeah, we’re lookin’ for a drummer!’” (Jon mimics Funk’s baritone growl). “At that point, I had real shitty job, and I wanted to play music. I figured, ‘Hey, I like this band, and if they really need a drummer, I’m willing to pack up my little Mustang, throw my drums in the back, and drive to Winnipeg.’ So I gave’em a copy of the Suburban Slag demo tape and talked to them briefly. Later on, I hurt myself at work - I actually semi-blinded myself with some lime. I was mixing plaster, and POOM, it shot up into my eye, and I went, ‘This job REALLY sucks, now.’ It happens that, that night, Mitch phoned me and went, ‘We’re still looking for a drummer,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come out.’ He didn’t think I was going to - I was, like, nineteen years old or something like that - but I loaded up my car and drove out there, and lo and behold - we rehearsed, and it worked. That was the first real good band I was in. It was a really, really great band, actually. From there, I went on to SNFU, to DOA, and then a bunch of bands, and the Subhumans now.”

Personality Crisis' one LP, Creatures for Awhile, was released on Risky Records, out of San Francisco. “Our first show down there was playing with Fear in the Elite Club, which is the old Fillmore West. It was like a dream come true, being a twenty year old kid down there. It was better than any drugs that anyone could ever do - just this euphoric moment. It sounded so good, we were playing so good, and the crowd was digging it. ‘Wow, who are these guys?’ It was a very memorable gig. And the record label guy had connections, so at that point we got the prime slots right before the headliner. We played with Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat - you name it.”
The stories of these gigs, and many others, are recounted in much greater detail in local writer - and former Winnipeg punk - Chris Walter’s Personality Crisis: Warm Beer and Wild Times, out now on Chris’ imprint, Gofuckyerself Press. If all goes as planned, Creatures for Awhile will see its CD release at the August 29th Vancouver booklaunch for Chris’ book at the Cobalt. Jon, of course, will be present, drumming with the re-formed Subhumans. He’s known Chris Walter since the Winnipeg days, back in the early 1980’s. “He was totally into the punk scene, and so was I. He was in the Vacant Lot, I think his band was at that time, with his brother Jamie - he’s a good friend, too. So I hung out with Chris back then, experimented with different substances, and drank a lot of beer. I always liked Chris... He hasn’t changed that much, it’s really weird: he’s clean, but some people on/off drugs are essentially the same person. Unless you’re freaking out trying to get money for drugs; that’s a different story...”

It always surprises me that the cleaned-up Chris Walter is as comfortable as he is hanging out in bars like the Cobalt (where he stocks his own supply of Beck’s de-alcoholised beer, his favourite brand) and writing about crack addicts and junkies on the downtown east side. Wouldn’t most people who get off booze and hard drugs want to distance themselves as much as possible from their old habits and haunts? “You can’t understand why, because you haven’t done it, but - I’ve done lots of drugs, too” - painkillers and opiates, in particular, Jon tells me - “and I work right in the middle of the downtown eastside. I work the night shift, three nights a week, twelve hour shifts, in a nine-bed care facility, and it’s me and a nurse, and people who are just out of the hospital, but not well enough to go home. They’re being treated with antibiotics, fighting infection. This is ninety five percent of them. I manage the place and do everything the nurses don’t do - serving them, giving them meals, keeping the place clean. If people need housing, we find housing for them. And one hundred percent of the people are there because of drugs, and are using drugs while they’re there. I’m around it all the time. It takes awhile, but once you get past certain urges, and physical and psychological needs, and get your head around what you’re doing, it almost gives you strength, in some ways, to be around it. I’m speaking for myself - I can’t really speak for Chris.”

Subhumans singer Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble - who has played bass with Jon in DOA, the Deadcats, Evil Twang, and the little known Garnet Sweatshirt (with Chris Houston and Randy Bachman) - also works in the downtown eastside, doing much the same job as Jon. The two compare notes all the time. “Usually the day before I’m coming in, I’ll phone up and go, ‘hey, what’s happening,’ which is great, because I know Brian really well and he can totally give me ‘the skinny’” - Jon inserts imaginary quotes around the name, in deference to a certain Vancouver paper - “on what’s going on: if we’ve got new people in, if people have been discharged, if there’s been a fight. And when we get together, work always comes up...” The Subhumans at the Lamplighter, photo by Allan MacInnis. Note Brian's shirt!

Unfortunately, government support for the care industry in this city “sucks,” Jon reports. “There’s so many people who need help, especially in the mental health area. There’s not enough beds - not even close! It’s insane. There’s just not the money or resources, and the Olympics coming up is a perfect example of money being misused. One example: I was with the Frank Frink Five” - a project with Pointed Sticks’ vocalist Nick Jones - “playing a wedding a few weeks ago, and I ended up meeting a woman who works for Strathcona Mental Health. She was interviewing over one hundred people, and there’s only four beds in this facility - four beds for a hundred people! And these are for the people who are actually seeking help; there’s so many who aren’t. Even the safe injection site... a lot of people go, ‘Oh, they’re basically just helping the drug user,’ but they don’t realize what the nurses do down there. People downtown have so many different skin conditions - they have so many different afflictions, and their legs are basically rotting off their bodies. So the nurses do dressing changes on wounds. If they stopped what they were doing, maybe one tenth of the people would get help. These people would have to go to walk-in clinics and wait hours and hours to get help, and possibly get it, possibly not.” Jon says he finds his work, though at times very stressful, quite rewarding. “They’re getting their treatments, and they don’t want to lose their leg or whatever the case may be. Just about every shift, I get a ‘hey man, thanks a lot for what you’re doing.’”

The curse of “rotting feet” - Chris Walter calls it “street feet” in his novels - is one of the evils mentioned in Goble’s “People of the Plague,” off New Dark Age Parade, a fast-paced, darkly humorous song about the plight of the DTES’ homeless. “Great song. I love playing that, and the lyrics are just fantastic.” A song on the Garnet Sweatshirt album addresses some of the same problems, “Meet the Bad People” (...because they want to meet you). “Randy came in and did all the guitar tracks in one session. The best part about that album is his guitar tracks!”

Bachman, of course, appeared in the rock video for DOA’s cover of the BTO’s Can-rock classic, “Takin’ Care of Business,” which was the first time I heard or saw Card. It shows the flannel-clad DOA taking on a team of suited CEO’s and kicking their asses on the ice. “That was fucking fun, getting to hang out with Randy and hear his stories - who else has Randy Bachman as your hockey coach, and you take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and win the game?” The gig portions of the video shoot were at the old Boy’s Club, where original Subhumans (and later DOA drummer) Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery used to live, “then the hockey was at Britannia. We had a guy with a camera skating around in a wheelchair, so we could get some of the follow shots and stuff,” a technique lifted from the movie Slapshot. “The stick down the team, we definitely lifted that from Slapshot, too. The old milkjug, which represented the Stanley Cup, just happened to be in the room. I picked it up and started shaking it and we passed it around. Beer went flying, and Randy got soaked... He was such a great sport, such a great guy to work with.”

Hockey was one of the “selling points” that prompted Card to leave SNFU, then based in Edmonton, for DOA. “I play hockey, and they had a team, the Murder Squad, and we ended up playing lots of games. We played CFOX, and some other radio stations and newspapers, and raised money for the food bank. One time, we had over two hundred people in the crowd, totally supporting us - we were like the home team, playing CFOX, and Bruce Allen was their coach. They were losing this game - we ended up winning all the games except one against CFOX. Anyhow, Bruce had ‘Bruce Allen Talent Agencies,’ right? So the crowd started chanting ‘Bruce Allen - Get Some Talent!’ ...I think it was Art Bergmann who actually started it, and he was with Bruce Allen at the time,” Card laughs. “Bruce Allen has this little baldspot on the top of his head and someone who was in the stands told me, it started getting redder and redder...”

I asked Jon about a brief “return stint” with DOA when the band were in need of a drummer last year. “The Subhumans weren’t doing anything, and Joe phoned me up. It was a blast. The songs came back really fast, and it brought back a lot of really good memories, and Joey and I had time to - I won’t say kiss and make up, but he actually apologized for the way a few things came out in the book,” I, Shithead, “and a few other things: it was all water under the bridge, and we shook and had a great time.” Jon Card by Femke van Delft

One of the more interesting details of Jon’s tenure with the Subhumans is that he is, in fact, playing the drumkit that belonged to Dimwit, who died of a heroin overdose in 1994. “This is a beautiful kit - it’s a Milestone kit with Rogers and Ludwig hardware, so it’s basically custom-made. Dimwit had several different drumkits, and this one was one of the coolest; he ended up trading this one in at Drums Only. When I joined DOA, I had this Ludwig set. It was a great set of drums, but they were smaller drums; it had a 22” bass drum, and I wanted a 24. Instead of a 16” floor tom, I wanted an 18. I wanted bigger tubs for DOA: big band, big guys, big drums, this is what Joe was saying, and I went along with that. We went into Drums Only, and I see this silver sparkle Milestone kit, and it ends up being Dimwit’s old kit. Boom - I grabbed it. It has a great history, and now it’s been with me for a long time,” over twenty years and nearly fifty bands, Jon reckons. “Let’s just say it’s seen a lot of blood, sweat and tears!”

Subhumans fans have at least two things to look forward to in the near future, in addition to the August 29th gig at the Cobalt. Alternative Tentacles will be releasing Death Was Too Kind, a compilation of early Subhumans’ singles and their first self-titled EP, in September. Jon, of course, does not appear on these recordings. However, he does appear on the Subhumans’ cover version of a song he wrote for Personality Crisis, “Piss On You,” soon to appear on the soundtrack to a documentary about the BYO label - who originally released the Personality Crisis version. “We changed the song around a little bit, added a chorus at the end, and everything turned out cool. There’s actually triangle on the song now,” Jon smirks mischievously. “It’s to represent the tinkle."

(Photo by me, again).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman, RIP

Having expressed my debt to Forry in an exchange a couple of years ago, I didn't, in fact, send a card. It is now too late to do so.

(See here for my previous post on this... Or scroll down...).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cinematheque delay?

Hmm... it looks like the Galas/ Lukacs/ Wong event at the Cinematheque today may start at 3PM, not 1PM. I don't really know what's going on - I just do what I'm told... Vancouver New Music's website still says 1PM, but the Cinematheque site and VNM volunteer-wrangler Linda, last night at the Diamanda Galas concert, say the time has been changed... Guess I'll see y'all at 3:00.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire through South Asian Eyes

I quite enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, and was most pleased to see that director Danny Boyle, whom I think has prodigious talents, had selected material that was worthy of them (which he does not always do). Indian viewer Parth's review off Ain't It Cool news will give you a better sense than I could of the pleasures of this film (and its limitations - I'm not so keen on corny formula, and have no interest in Bollywood, so the second half of the film - once the formulae were firmly in place and I knew what I was watching - was a little less exciting than the first). The only note I would add is that somewhere on the soundtrack there is a song that samples the opening riffs of the Clash's "Straight to Hell," which filled me with fondness, particularly since the song as a whole was a sort of Indian pop/ hip hop affair; I could easily imagine Joe Strummer being proud to hear this, and felt a brief bit of sentimental (but not corny) joy at the thought.