Thursday, January 31, 2008

Japanese Nightmare

I woke up from disturbing dreams at about 7AM. I decided I wanted to remember them, and have been trying to store them while lying in bed in a half-sleep. It's all a bit fuzzy... I'd returned to Japan to collect some award or a prize, but not connected to my being an ESL teacher. I think, in fact, that in portions of the dream I was the singer Randy Newman; I think I gave a brief concert. Afterwards, however, I ended up somehow lost, stuck at a garage in the city where cars were being taken apart and put back together - some odd quasi-industrial, quasi-scrapyard space where a young Japanese man was excited about showing me things. But he left me alone for a long time, and I wanted to get to the airport, so I wandered off. I ended up in a department store, but the Japanese there were regarding me with a great deal of suspicion and fear; they had me picked up and taken into custody by three black police officers (one woman and two men), who had a brief conversation with me in an office, established that I was allright - though the process was unsettling - and turned me loose. Somewhere during these phases of the dream, I heard about some foreigner being dismembered, but I paid no mind. I set out to find the train station, conscious that I hadn't picked up souvenirs for anyone yet. Strangers - including fellow foreigners - weren't particularly helpful when I asked where the train station was; one woman was flat-out hostile. A current co-worker of mine, Will, suddenly appeared in my dream, and gave me directions; however, instead of finding the train station, I found myself walking on the train tracks -- it was some sort of overhead light-rail, closer to our Skytrain than the Japanese trains. Soon a train was coming, and I was running on the tracks away from it; then I was leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Finally I ended up in some sort of weird gondola, not knowing where I was or what was happening, only able to see the blur of the landscape as I was carried into some other industrial scrapyard and deposited on the ground...

...where a large machine, like some huge piece of farming equipment, ran over me. My point of view shifted to a space in front of the vehicle, so I could see myself being run over. Workers ran over to me, but I was a mess of blood and guts (I could also see, oddly, that I had become a Japanese person, myself - as in, the pile of blood and guts on the ground was now Japanese). I was still alive, but the workers took out knives and began to cut me up. I could see my severed head, blubbering, dying. The dream ended with my point of view, perilously unattached, shimmering in the air above my body parts, watching a worker throw my severed fingers onto a pile of other dismembered fingers. The thumb, with the meat at the base, looked oddly like a chicken thigh.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Public Money, Private Security

As far as "fuck the police" gestures go, the NPA have done Ice-T proud by electing to give public funds to expand the Downtown Ambassadors "unofficial" security patrols (run by Genesis Security) in the Granville street clubzone. Surely other security firms elsewhere in the city will be lining up at the trough in short order. Police unions are pissed, and should be; I'm annoyed enough by the presence of private security firms (usually by another name) in our city, but the idea that taxpayers should be subsidizing their expansion is offensive indeed. I've had my share of negative experiences with police - and no, I don't mean when breaking the law - but I certainly would prefer cops to be public employees, accountable to elected officials and the public trust, than undertrained, underpaid quasi-vigilantes accountable primarily to vested business interests. How about using the $900,000 Genesis Security will be getting to simply hire more police, and/or to provide better equipment or training? Or perhaps the city should let police officials decide how the money can best be spent to make Vancouver a safer, kinder place?

Hell, maybe we could just hire Blackhawk to lay some napalm down on Granville on a Friday night and be done with the whole fucking area?

Thanks to Kevin for bringing this to my attention. If such matters concern you, spread the word that this is being done... There's GOT to be a better way...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Daniel Johnston to play Vancouver (maybe?)

Daniel's Myspace page suggests an April 19th show in Vancouver, venue TBA. His last scheduled appearance here got cancelled, so I'm not holding my breath, but still...!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sleep Apnea and Ear Infections

Turns out I'm not alone. People using CPAP machines are prone to ear infections.

Sleep apnea, for those who don't know, is a breathing problem that affects people when they sleep. Tissues in your throat close off, airways in your nose are too narrow, and you end up having interruptions in the flow of oxygen that occur repeatedly through the night. Snoring -- loudly, and at times gaspingly - is one sign. Night sweats, waking up frequently to go to the bathroom, and daytime fatigue are other common symptoms. If I recall, men tend to suffer from apnea more than women; and the likelihood of developing apnea is higher in men in their mid-to-late 30's, getting worse as you age. Being overweight - which I am - also increases the risk. In very severe cases, people can die from sleep apnea.

I was diagnosed with "severe obstructive sleep apnea" about five years ago. Surgery -- cutting out part of your soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and etc. -- is sometimes recommended (see picture, below, which I took of a friend's throat four days after her surgery); but the most common and effective form of treatment is something called a CPAP machine. One wears a mask over the nose, hooked up to a machine which blows air - just ordinary air - into your nasal passages. The continuous pressure of the air keeps your nose and throat open, so you can breathe when you sleep; you don't snore, don't gasp, and wake up much more refreshed and alert. It takes a little while to get used to the mask, but once you do, your CPAP machine becomes a close friend.

Using a CPAP machine has side effects, though, which nobody told me about: in particular, the constant air pressure can affect your middle-ear. Whether it's just the pressure, or if bacteria and such are getting blown around inside my head when I sleep, I don't know, but I've had about four or five ear infections in my left ear - the side I breathe best through - since I started using the machine. (Like most people, I've barely had ear infections otherwise in my adult life). And either these, or changes brought about because of the pressure inside my head, have led to a gradual loss of hearing in my left ear. It's gotten worse over the last couple of years, so that I would guess that my hearing in my left ear is now 40% or lower; I've had to start retraining myself to talk on the phone with my right hand and ear, since when I try to talk on my left side - my preferred ear, for phone conversations - I have trouble hearing them. I have to try to remember to sit with my friends to the right at movie theatres, in case they want to whisper something to me. Whispering in my left ear means I won't be able to understand what you say, period.

Since I love music, and since I need to be able to hear my students' English as part of my job, the prospect of further hearing loss in my left ear scares the hell out of me. The idea of surgery is also pretty distasteful; I'm partial to my uvula, in particular (and am not sure the surgery really works). Looks like it's time to lose some weight and to start with some serious breathwork. I don't much want to choke to death in my sleep, but I don't want to go deaf, either.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Last Minute Bidding Adrenalin: and again I lose

Ah, eBay. I'd sworn it off for months, took my credit card info offline, and then something like item number 310015728172 comes along: a first edition of Patricia Highsmith's The Cry of the Owl -- what certainly seems her most morbid, misanthropic, and blackly funny book, based on the ten or so I've read -- being sold by an antiques dealer who a) hasn't bothered to authenticate that the signature in the book is Highsmith's (it sure looks right); b) hasn't bothered to mention in her item listing that the book is signed; and c) probably has no clue that signed firsts of this book go for $450 on fixed-price sites. I LOVE EBAYERS LIKE THIS - it's almost as good as the people who would misspell Bukowski as "Bukowsky," which led to my getting some very good deals on signed & rare items (strictly for resale), back before eBay started offering spelling suggestions... Anyhow, all week, the book has been sitting at below $20, and I've been attentively waiting for the end of the auction. In the last minute, a bunch of nickel-and-dimers bump it up just past $30. With 12 seconds left in the bidding, heart pounding, I swoop in and bid the maximum I can conceivably afford, $88. And at the same time -

- two money'd sharks quickly push it well past my limit. The book ends at $159.06. Ah, well. It's more than I could have ever afforded anyhow, so... what the fuck.

The Most Vancouver Issue of Razorcake Ever?

Five great reasons why Vancouver punks and music fans should buy the new issue (#42) of Razorcake:

1. Chris Walter interviews the Tranzmitors, with photos by Bev Davies and Femke van Delft, with a great Bev Davies cover photo
2. I interview the Rebel Spell, with photos by Femke van Delft and Jen Dodds
3. Nardwuar the Human Serviette interviews Hilary Duff (is anyone else so unplugged from the Matrix that they have no fucking clue who Hilary Duff is? I, personally, am proud of shit like that. Here's her Wiki, though, if you care).
4. Tons of reviews, as always, including notes on DOA's The Black Spot, with John Wright of Nomeansno on drums.
5. And even tho' it ain't technically Vancouver-related, the article on the US Air Guitar Championships by Joe Evans III looks like it'll be really fun to read. Makes me glad I gave Femke an Air Guitar Nation for Christmas.

I have nothing against Hunchback or Wounded Lion, note: I just don't know who they are. Yet.

I'm proud to be involved with this magazine. This is good shit that they're doin'... locally you can buy Razorcake at Scratch Records and I-ain't-sure-where-else-yet.

Pardon the self-promotion!

Bee Death Fears in Britain

A British article on Colony Collapse Disorder...

Monday, January 21, 2008


My building has bedbugs. It's been an ongoing problem, even in the west end, which I live on the fringes of; a couple of years ago, there was talk of the bugs travelling from apartment to apartment through connected storage spaces once used for Morris beds, but things died down after a spraying and I thought the problem was licked. Recently, though, some tenants - across the hall and several floors up - are complaining of massive infestations, and people have lived in the building for years are moving. I'm told one tenant had their apartment sprayed more than a half-dozen times, to no avail. A recent article in the Georgia Straight about the spread of bedbugs in the city gives me little-to-no hope that the problem will be resolved; and after having read about the little bastards for the last hour, and heard from a friend in the building just how bad things are, my skin is now crawling with phantom tingles and itches, almost as bad as that herpes scare I had... Jeezus, I don't want bedbugs! I don't want to have to throw out my furniture! I don't want to be fed on by bloodsuckers while I sleep! ...things... crawling... on... meeeeee...: Fuck! Get me out of here!

At least the mouse problem got solved...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Circle Jerks versus SNFU

Photo of Mr. Chi Pig and SNFU at the Cobalt, taken in October by Femke van Delft

Keith Morris’ lyrics have almost always been more overtly political than Mr. Chi Pig’s (tho’ not as articulate or charmingly smarmy as Jello’s); his best songs, while cleverly phrased and funny, tend to revolve around punk politics, either directly assaulting the status quo with threats of class-rage-spawned violence (“I Wanna Destroy You,” “Letter Bomb”) or deferring things one safe step into fantasy (“Wild in the Streets”) or geographically removed locales like that of “Coup D’Etat” (which Keith took pains to explain was a song about a Latin American condition, giving me time as he introduced it to make my sole venture into the mosh pit). Fitting, then, that between songs, Keith gave little quasi-political rants, even offering an ironic chorus of “Oh Canada” and a reference to the maple leaf after “Stars and Stripes.” It was the only thing about Canada that he really appeared to know (unlike Jello, who, between songs, will tell you things about Canadian politics that YOU haven’t heard about yet); but still, it’s nice that he did a little bit of homework, didn’t just take us for Americans by another name – kinda like musicians who learn how to say “arigatoo,” and nothing more, when touring through Japan.

In terms of lyrics, SNFU’s Mr. Chi Pig, rather than speechifying about corruption at the top, tends to write more on the level of the “politics of experience,” looking at what’s absurd and disturbed in suburban/urban life from a ground-view perspective, sketching little vignettes of outsiders trying to cope in a society not made for them. Chi’s quasi-narratives, fictional or not, invite us to join him and varied downtrodden sorts in a welfare line (“One Legged Bridge Jumper Breaks Good Leg in Plunge”); to meet his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease (“I Forget,” with which his current version of SNFU opened the Red Room show last night); or, more frivolously, to contemplate a restaurant that serves human body parts (“Cannibal Café”), or the plight of a dismembered zombie who just wants to be buried in one piece (“Where’s My Legs?”). They’re generally anti-authoritarian and alienated, but on the level of someone for whom alienation is a personal matter, not just something to bitch about. (I wonder if Chi’s lyrics get praised for their intelligence and craft as much as they should? He’s actually one of punk’s better storytellers).

So what does Chi do for stage patter? Mostly he jousts with his audience. He gives them the finger, mimes fellatio and rimjobs, or holds up a loose screw he found onstage and asks them, “Wanna screw?” His audience clearly loves him, and he clearly loves what he’s doing, but there’s some sorta faux-homophobic male bonding thing that dominates between him and the guys in the front row. For example, he often holds the mike out for people to sing along on the choruses, but will, at times, hold it between his legs like it’s his cock, so the guy singing along looks like he’s blowing him; or, even better, spinning around, bending over, and sticking the mike out from between his ass cheeks, again to be sung into. This jousting, mocking, teasing relationship appears to go both ways, too, if Chi’s requests not to be punched in the balls anymore are to be taken at face value. The closest he came to overt political commentary was cracking a couple of bad jokes before “Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump,” a song set at an Alberta landmark of import to First Nations people. For instance: Q: “Why did the Indians get their land back?” A: “They had reservations.”

Hnyuk hnyuk hnyuk.

All of that, actually, was very fun to watch. If I hadn’t actually been there, based on a written description, I think I’d assume I would be more interested in a concert with li’l political speeches between songs over one where the singer makes an asshole with his fingers and then waggles his tongue at the audience through the hole, but I guess I’m getting younger, because in fact, I didn’t really give a damn about anything Keith said between songs the other night. In fact, I couldn’t hear what he was talking about so well, which was part of the problem, but his manner suggested someone who really was just a little bit bored with the whole transaction, who knows that there are much, much more important things to do than be in a punk band, even if it pays the bills. His voice is still great – there were some amazing growls and roars - and he didn’t give a bad performance; I was particularly pleased that he namechecked a bunch of other great west coast bands -- saying hi's to Zippy Pinhead and Randy Rampage, both at the show -- before doing his version of "I and I" by Chris D. of the Flesheaters and Tito of the Plugz. It just didn’t necessarily seem like singing punk songs to a bunch of kids is his life’s passion these days. At one point, when the band fucked up, he even joked about how it was “just punk rock.” It kind of took me out of the performance, a bit, made me feel like I should be doing something more “mature” with my time, myself: there I was, rapidly nearing my 40’s, watching men in their 40’s (?) make music for teenagers. Kinda embarrassing, wot? He even undercut one of the songs people most wanted to hear; he prefaced the final encore, “Nervous Breakdown,” with an anecdote involving Bob from Thelonious Monster, that led to him quipping something about how he’s going to be singing this song for the rest of his fucking life; and finished the song by offering an alternative to the angsty collapse of which the song speaks – that he could just grow up. He roared “grow up” at the audience rather fiercely, like it was a command.

Yeah, jeez, Keith, you’re right – this is all a bunch of hyperconsumerist bullshit; why the fuck do I come to punk shows anymore at all? It’s a fucking wax museum of old folks trotting out their hits for cash, pretending that they haven't matured in the interim; it's like the Who singing "My Generation" into their 70's -- it's become exactly the lie it sought to replace, as safe and as false a consumable as anything else in rock. I shoulda stayed home.

Those sorts of thoughts were never anywhere near my mind watching SNFU (who did a much, much more cutting cover of “Nervous Breakdown” themselves for their final encore, alongside a version of Britney's - I think - hit "Wild World"). If Chi has something he'd rather be doing with his time than being the lead singer of SNFU, he didn't let on. Passion, playfulness, a genuine love of the music - SNFU had it over the Circle Jerks in a dozen ways, which is kind of ironic, because I should imagine their income is far lower; certainly the crowd was smaller (compare a near-sold-out Commodore to a barely-half-full Red Room). Maybe that actually helps, though? Punk rock really wasn’t meant to be played at venues the size or prestige of the Commodore: it’s an underclass music by definition, best consumed in small dingy pissholes (no offense) like the Cobalt. Even the Red Room is a bit upscale: in-between joking about how everyone had to leave early so the venue could turn into a disco – which spawned a brief riff on “Disco Sucks” – the emaciated, scarecrow-like Chi told the audience, “This is an unusual place for us to play – people usually don’t bring dates to our shows. And I bet every one of you here took a bath in the last day or so.”
I bet, so did the Circle Jerks.

Did some weird reading on cartoonist Shawn Kerri, who designed the Circle Jerks’ “Skank Man” icon. Can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of what follows, but there’s an Amazon review -- that of Christopher Grayson -- with a disturbing story about how the Circle Jerks came to own that image; and two conflicting reports about the fate of Kerri, one saying she’s dead and the other that she’s a brain-damaged alcoholic. If anyone knows the real deal, do post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vancity Theater - upcoming excitements

The new Vancouver International Film Center schedule is online, and there are things I'm very excited about. It's been far too long since I've been there.

I don't really need to see CE3K, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Tron again, but hm, 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen, eh? Kinda tempting; I feel quite done with that film, but I've never seen it thus. We'll see. And the 1933 King Kong in a double bill with Jason and the Argonauts? I'm there, a shameless, excited kid again.

Along with his Mahabarata, Sir Peter Brook's Meetings with Remarkable Men is a feature of his I have not seen, and I know a few members of the local Gurdjieff discussion group who might be excited about that. Thanks to Yosef Wosk for his selecting it for Cinema Salon. Brook's King Lear and Marat/Sade are favourite films of mine, and I was fortunate enough to see his staging of Hamlet in Japan. Count me there.

Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind is essential viewing for anyone concerned with labour history, admirers of Howard Zinn, or people interested in an unusually lyrical and reflective documentary. It's a narration-free pilgrimage, primarily, to the tombstones of those who died in the struggle for equality - labor movement martyrs, murdered civil rights activists, and many others. I'll be there to see it again, and I'll be letting my co-members of CUPE know all about it (Chris Towers, are you reading this? This is a film to bring a delegation to). I loved that the last stone shown is the grave of Philip Berrigan. More reading on the film in CinemaScope, online here.

There's not much else I know well enough to recommend at this point - I'm sure there are other fantastic films. The complete schedule til March can be viewed here.

Marc Emery agrees to five years in Canadian prison

I thought this was an important read. Emery's site here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Dave Chokroun: the Olympics, The Sorrow and the Pity

Photo by Femke van Delft

Dave Chokroun, pictured on the right playing a Fake Jazz Wednesday with Han Bennink and Eugene Chadbourne (not pictured) at the Cobalt prior to the last jazz festival, is a member of the 1067 collective, a double-bassist-about-town, the front man for the Sorrow and the Pity and a member of Robots on Fire. As part of an article I’m doing for a music magazine, I got to talk to Dave about his history and his feelings about the changes he’s seen taking place in Vancouver. Thanks to Femke van Delft for the picture, as always, and to Dave for being so articulate...

A: So you started out on the Toronto scene. What differences have you noticed between there and Vancouver?
D: Toronto, well, it’s interesting, because I get the sense that it’s changed a lot since I was there – in the last seven years – because Toronto has kind of grown toward what Vancouver is like now. Which is to say that people who are involved in straight ahead jazz, and contemporary classical music, and the noise scene, and the non-jazz improv scene, that kind of microsound improv – everybody actually works together quite a lot. It’s very fluid, how people move around like that, and TO is a little more like that than it used to be. When I was there, I remember it being a little like – the guys who came out of jazz would be in one corner, the guys who came out of industrial, punk or noise would be in one corner, the non-jazz improvisers would be in one corner, and they never quite mixed it up. As far as I can tell – I’ve kind of observed this at a distance and from what my friends back there tell me – a lot of this is the result of just a few people who made a really concerted effort to build bridges in that scene. My buddy Mike Friedman, who’s in New York now, I think, takes a lot of credit for that. He started a few bands where he pulled people together and they found that they really liked working with each other. But, uh – that’s the impression I get. I’m not there, but that’s what it sounds like from a distance. Which is very cool.
A: And then you moved to Victoria?
D: The great thing about Victoria is that it’s a college town, and there’s always a transient, arty population, which means you can put on a show, and people do, of the most out-there, bizarre stuff, and you can consistently get about a dozen people out. The problem is, if someone like Jean Derome comes to Victoria, he also gets about a dozen people out.
A: What punk bands were you in Toronto?
D: The one that played the most is kinda called Morning Glory, a sort of pop-punk-emo kind of band. Maybe I shouldn’t say emo. This is like, emo of the early-mid 90’s; it’s different from emo today.
A: And did you start out with that, or bass, or...?
D: I started playing bass seriously having fucked around with guitar and drums and electric bass – I got drawn to the double bass in about ‘94 or ‘5 or ‘6. I started playing kind of late. I didn’t own a bass until I was 21, but by about ‘96 or ‘7, that was turning into my main instrument. And I actually went back to music school. I did two years of music school at York university in Toronto thinking that I would go and study jazz there. Because I’m sort of contrary, I realized once I was there that I didn’t really want to study mainstream jazz, and came out of there as a classical bass and composition student, which is what I pursued when I moved to Victoria when I moved there to finish the degree.
A: So you’re primarily a bassist?
D: The drums were a primary instrument for a window of three or four years. I was in a bunch of bands with great names that never played very much. There’s Rosemary’s Babies – played one gig. Bald Evil only ever played in the basement. The other thing I was doing all through my early 20’s, which I don’t really do anymore, I did like tons and tons of home recording. I’ve got hours of home recording where I did the kinda Ween one-man-band thing. One of the sort of progenitors of the Sorrow and the Pity is this cassette under the name Naipaul Death. It’s kind of a one-liner. I was heavily under the influence of Naked City, and it was 30-second kind of genre cut-ups. That’s sort of a thread that continues down into a lot of projects I do now – that sort of parody and deconstruction.
A: Do you have a bone to pick with Naipaul?
D: No, I like VS Naipaul actually, and as a person of colour and a postcolonial person, I’m interested in issues of representation and hybridity and shit like that.
A: You’re of Algerian-hyphen-what background?
D: I’m Algerian-Japanese.
A: Wow. How did that come about?
D: It was the ‘60s. I don’t really know.
A: And that comes into your work? Hybridity?
D: Not really in any choate form. Some of the sort of “serious” music I compose, I’ve worked with texts that address stuff like atomic bomb victims, but... the question of identity is in a way at the heart of a lot of things I do, in ways that aren’t specifically connected to being half-Japanese or not-half-Japanese or whatever. It’s more about questions of representation and how people derive meaning from how they represent themselves. The problem of being of a completely uncategorizable ethnicity, as I am, is that you don’t necessarily belong to anybody. You have no automatic affiliations. Which is bad and good. It doesn't apply so much with the Sorrow and the Pity, but when me and Darren Williams started playing the project that turned into Robots on Fire, which is almost ten years ago, we were almost, well, looking at archetypes of melody and form. You can find an Albert Ayler head that is sort of really pared down and sounds not unlike “Blue Monday” by New Order. So if you play the melody from “Blue Monday” in the Albert Ayler style, what are you doing? What are you confusing people with when you do that?
A: Right.
D: Unfortunately, in the last ten years, it’s kind of like the “new standard” thing has taken the wind out of the sails of any sort of serious critique you can do – stuff like the Bad Plus, or shitty bands like that. The thing about the new standards, as jazz people like to call it – it’s like, Brad Meldau plays Radiohead and Mats Gustaffson has his sorta punk cover band, and – the Bad Plus is a band who I really wanted to like, but they don’t do it for me. I wanted to like them in concept, but I don’t find them that good... but that’s historically how jazz works. It’s essentially a hybrid music, it’s always taking stuff that has currency out of the popular field, so I don’t know – I think it’s kind of a red herring to look at that... I’m rambling. Ask me something.
A: I’m trying to understand – you’re interested in exploring hybridity in a critical way, but it’s become so frivolous that there’s no place for it?
D: Well, let me rephrase that... The problem with jazz and improvisation generally, I mean, like – Ornette’s first records are 50 years old. Brotzmann’s Machine Gun is 40 years old this year. '68, right? What does it mean to be playing in the style of Ornette or Brotzmann, and not using that as a starting point, but really kind of grabbing on to the things they sonically signify, the sound of those groups? What does it mean to be playing that 40 years later, almost in a conservatory model? When I get hired to play jazz bass on a straight-ahead standards gig – and I find it appalling to say something that Wynton Marsalis would also say, probably, but – I know that I’m playing a classical music, in the sense that jazz as we practice it is a historical music. It’s not current, it’s codified, it’s standardized. And so to kind of bring it back to what I do, the Sorrow and the Pity is one of the ways I’m kind of happiest bringing aspects of that that I like back up to 2008, and sort of every influence that I have from hardcore through to free improvisation is there, but in a way that is not identifiably either hardcore or jazz or improv or anything. I think that’s what sort of keeps me really interested in it. The sort of general question of treating that thing of representation and adaptation frivolously – that’s not exactly the way I’d put it, but it’d be more like, there's a lack of criticality. I don’t see a lot of groups – and I’m saying this about people whose music I really, really like – that are breaking critically from the model of free jazz in the 1960’s or Euro improv in the '70s and '80s. So what are you doing? What are you doing when you’re doing this? It’s a question that I ask myself constantly.
A: It's a good question.
D: If you want a good quote... there’s a lot of stuff like, the Bad Plus are not even really worth picking on, because they’re major-label in a non-major-label situation, or whatever the hell’s going on with them – but stuff like those beautifully packaged Winter and Winter CDs, where people like Uri Caine does his Goldberg Variations record and stuff like that, I listen to that, and I know people who really like it, but that kind of updating and genre mishmash and populist kind of work, it grabs me for a little bit, but this is kind of like the Creed Taylor of the thousands, this is like the Claude Bolling of the 2000s. I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of staying power. I think it’s going to date and sound like mood music, a lot of that stuff.
A: The elevator music of the future.
D: The elevator music of the future. What we aspire to.
A: Okay, well, let’s talk about the Sorrow and the Pity, then – there’s a playful, novelty-music element to it, but also a serious edge.
D: It’s about 80% extremely serious, but it also has what I have to describe as utterly stupid joke songs. I have to admit, I like utterly stupid joke songs. But you know, there’s some bands that kind of work that balance really well. The Minutemen, you know, who I love, are a kind of influence on the Sorrow and the Pity, in the writing especially. So many of their songs are written in the first person, in this kind of naïve but sort of savant kind of voice that’s telling you something very direct. Or I think of Sore Throat – you know this band, probably?
A: I don’t know Sore Throat.
D: Sore Throat is a late 80s, early 90’s UK grindcore band and they were not quite a joke band. Well, they were sort of a joke band. But that was a band that would use humour and parody without being a joke band in the way that, like, Anal Cunt is. For example, Sore Throat’s DRI song – they’re all, like, 10 seconds long (adopts accent): “Who are we? DRI! What label are we on? EMI!” That’s the song. The humour is always pointed – like the fuckin’ “Rice Cooker” song, although the secret to that – maybe you shouldn’t put this in print – is that it’s sort of intertext to ____________________. (The first person to correctly guess Dave’s secret wins a free rice cooker! Offer does not apply to Dave Chokroun or his friends and affiliates, and expires January 31st, 2008).
A: (laughs)
D: I mean, the Sorrow and the Pity has this really portentous name for a reason. I mean, it is named after the documentary, which I love, which I’ve seen like half a dozen times. And the part of the songwriting that is serious in it is kind of inspired by the questions that come out of that film. A lot of the writing has to do with problems of violence and coercion and complicity, and what’s the kind of emotional or visceral reaction to that. So a song like “Eating Shit,” which kind of a big hit for some reason. The problem of eating shit is a metaphor for any sort of coercion in any way. But it also channels for me de Sade and Abner Louima and Abu Ghraib and so on and so on....
A: That makes sense.
D: ANother thing to mention that the text, as well as the music, has a sort of skeleton, but it’s always improvised; it’s always largely improvised at the gig. Sometimes the songs are more verbose and overtly connected to something in the world, and sometimes they’re not. I think one of the devices in the Sorrow and the Pity that I think, on a good day works kind of successfully for me, is that the emotive and the performative part of it kinda tells you as much as the words to any piece. We really wanted it to be an over-the-top extreme aesthetic, with the sort of cushion of it being a little bit self-referential and funny. But the moments when we’re both freaking out and losing it are real, at least for me.
A: Really? It’s – you don’t retain an ironic distance? You seem like you’re kind of smirking through even the most spastic assault on the drums.
D: I do? Oh shit!
A, D: (laughter)
D: Well, it also depends how drunk I am at any given show. Sometimes its gone into utter fuckin’ caveman mode, and sometimes it’s a little more controlled.
A: But there’s such a prankster element to your personality with that band...
D: There definitely is. That’s in a lot of projects that I do, though. It’s part of the way how I frame how I work with music, which is, uh... (Thinks). Let’s not say that it’s about fucking with people, or fucking with the other musicians, or whatever, but it’s about pushing in a constructive way, I hope. And sometimes its really obvious, if you watch the Sorrow and the Pity onstage, that me and Darren are sort of trying to fake each other out.
A: Yeah, yeah. There’s a bit of a tug of war.
D: There totally is. Though any time anyone plays with him, it’s a little like that. He’s like a monster truck on the saxophone.
A: (laughs). Yeah. Some questions about coercion and eating shit, then. Talking about Vancouver, any rants you want to go on about the Olympics, poverty, homelessness, addiction, or the state of our government?
D: Oh. I mean, where to start with that? I mean, the Olympics thing, like... Jesus. There’s actually a line in a song that you didn’t hear on Wednesday, called “The Support System,” which, a little more explicitly than you heard, is sort of about compromising yourself for a job or for whatever. The line is like, “All I ever wanted to do was make a movie about the Olympics, and I thought, ‘When is this ever going to happen again?’ But I don’t know, where do you start with it? In the circle of professional musicians and career musicians that I’m sort of on the fringes of, as a working double bassist, in my serious music career, there are people who are either well-established or who are jobbers, who are saying, ‘God, 2010 - there’s going to be all these gigs, there’s going to be live music, tourism is going to go amazingly well and there’s going to be hotel gigs and convention gigs and this and that, and there is public money being marked for stuff in the arts and that, but it’s like – come on, it’s not going to be new money. Corporate money coming from that, I don’t see how it’s ever going to be new money. It’s only ever going to be redirected from somewhere else.
A: It seems that way.

Dave goes on to explain a little bit about his own feelings about working the Olympics - he doesn't plan to. I plan to quote this in this piece I'm writing, so you'll have to get along without it. Jump to a somewhat related bit:

D: Do you want to hear a story?
A: Go.
D: I live on East Broadway, pretty much across a main road from the Fortune Happiness restaurant, which was the site of an actually kind of John Woo film style, one assumes gang-related, shooting this summer. The police presence in the neighbourhood is always constant, because it’s a poor neighbourhood that’s on its way up – Fraser and Broadway – and is kind of getting continually gentrified all the time and filling up with little rural-house condos and so on and so on; but the police presence after this shooting incident was, you know – there’d be unmarked cars going by every fifteen minutes, all night. Anyhow, I’m taking a video back to the video store, and I walk down the back alley, not the main road, and the unmarked car goes by at the end of the alley and the guy sees me, stops, backs up, shines the light and says, “Where are you coming from?” And I say, “I’m coming from my house.” And the cop says, “Where are you going?” “I’m going to the video store,” and I hold up the video. He says, “Why are you walking in the alley?” And I said, “I’m walking in the alley ‘cause it’s shorter.” And I’m putting this kind of “I’m-not-taking-shit” attitude in my voice because, come on, I’m walking in the alley behind my building. And the cop, who is very young, kind of looks at me and pauses, and he says, “So are you a bad guy?” And I say, “No, I’m not a bad guy! Goodnight!” And I keep walking. But I actually had a moment where I almost shit my pants, because I thought, “This is a fucking dangerous moment,” because – okay, I’ve psyched out the cop, so I’m cool; but that’s a weird thing to say, and I can only conclude the cop is nervous; and if the cop is nervous, that’s very dangerous, because in Vancouver and the lower mainland, we seem to have this problem where the police are incapable of subduing people without killing them, you know...
A: Yeah. The powers that be seem a little jumpy lately.
D: A friend of a friend of mine was sent home from school for wearing a shirt that said, “Taser me, I don’t speak English.” And the vice principal phones the mom and says, “This is inappropriate,” and the mom to her credit says, “Fuck off. It’s funny. What, you don’t want the kids to think? I think it’s a great shirt. It’s real. So fuck off.”
A: Right.
D: I don’t know if she actually said ‘Fuck off,’ but that’s the jist of it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Olympics Sasquatch needed

Welcome to post number 666 on Alienated in Vancouver. By coincidence, the theme today is the Olympics: Cryptomundo reports that actors are wanted to dress up like the Sasquatch (or one of the other Asian-friendly mascots) for the 2010 games. Hail Satan!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I feel compelled to weigh in.

I was very excited to see There Will Be Blood this afternoon. I've found things to admire in all of PT Anderson's films, was eager to see what his first project in over five years would look like, and was very much looking forward to seeing what Daniel Day Lewis -- who was compelling throughout the vastly disappointing Gangs of New York -- would do with the central character of a ruthless oil man. The source material - the work of muckracking American socialist Upton Sinclair - sounded interesting, too; I'm currently venturing into the book, the trade paperback reissue of which may be the best net result of this movie having been made. Of course, the buzz for it is good; There Will Be Blood is the sort of film middlebrow critics will buy into more than happily, since their standard of comparison (eg., whatever else is at the mall at the moment) is so abysmally low.

I don't have that problem. And frankly, I can't recommend this movie. Day Lewis is terrific as oilman Plainview, Jonny-Radiohead-Greenwood's score is eccentric and compelling -- really exciting at times, in the choices he makes -- and the film is beautifully shot; the feeling of anticipation that it will develop into something staggering stays with you for at least the first hour, as it sets up its business with great craft, period authenticity, and an admirably slow and restrained pace. The peak, about midway through, is where the lonely Plainview confesses to a stranger who claims to be his brother that he has almost no fellow-feeling for the people around him, that he's entirely a creature of hate and ambition, wanting no one else to succeed but himself. This taps into something sociopathic, ugly, and very much present - though seldom honestly spoken about - in the contemporary condition and, given that it is almost a cry of pain and self-loathing on Plainview's part, is quite moving. There was a shudder of self-recognition and compassion that ran through me at that moment, and it almost felt like I'd learned something about myself - the only moment of surprise or self-reflection that the film really inspired.

Alas, it was all downhill from there. Up to that point, I was not entirely interested in or convinced by the peripheral characters, most of whom (including Plainview's adopted son, who seems like he is supposed to be a central figure) are very thinly developed - but I was confident that something would emerge in the final hour that would actually DO something with the material, to justify the investiture of faith and time. A character, after all -- however interesting a portrayal of "American ambition" as Plainview may be - is not the same thing as a story, and I expected a narrative to develop that I would care about or learn from, or at least be INVOLVED in, dramatically. Maybe even something that had relevance to the current state of the world, where we see the impact of Plainview's ambition on the community.

No such luck. There are various plot developments in the second half of the film, but none really seem to amount to anything than reiterating what we've already come to understand about the single central character. The "brother" is dispatched, underscoring Plainview's isolation and mistrust. The relationship with his so-called son goes through some changes, but because we never for a minute feel anything for the character - who exists solely to shed light on his father's cruelty - we don't really care; there's a big scene where Plainview informs his son, with evil glee, that he's really an orphan, but other than dashing any hopes we might have that Plainview might redeem himself, it falls surprisingly flat, since the kid seems a nonentity throughout. There are subplots involving Standard Oil and a pipeline that equally amount to nothing much at all, seem like dramatic business that Anderson is inserting to fill out his film, because he has nothing else on offer. Only two scenes, after Plainview's confession of hate, pack any emotional punch, where the oilman is blackmailed into subordinating himself to a corrupt and ambitious preacher, and where he gets his revenge; but while these moments are entertaining -- the audience was laughing aloud during both scenes, though the comedy may have been unintended -- they also carry with them this sinking awareness that the faith and hope with which you have been waiting for the film to actually amount to something have been squandered: that "this is it," no story, no theme, just, in the words of Homer Simpson, "a bunch of stuff that happened." (And a great performance by Daniel Day Lewis).

Unlike No Country for Old Men, I actually expected to like this film. I'm quite disappointed, and eager to simply forget it. Maybe it's time to start avoiding the multiplexes again...

Edited to add: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Proceed into the comments section, featuring input by film critic and VIFC/Cineamatheque projectionist Jack Vermee, only if you've seen the film or don't care about having plot details ruined. (Really, if you have interest in the movie, I don't recommend going further).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Co-Op Radio Under the Gun

Imagine the dumbest possible reason the CRTC could crack down on Co-Op Radio (or the dumbest pretext they could offer for doing the same, if you prefer). Take a minute on it.

Did you get it?

Bear in mind that Co-Op Radio is one of the only radio stations in Vancouver that actually is accessible to the community, and that they genuinely play a role in supporting the arts and culture of Vancouver - whereas commercial stations like CFOX are more or less just corporate monoliths whose primary function is to find ways to get money from advertising, by pandering to the middlebrow desire for entertainment (or traffic reports or whatever). Co-Op is radio by the people, for the people, reaching into all sorts of different communities in Vancouver and giving them a voice, a forum, a means of staying connected, and, to the extent that they venture into playin' songs, supporting and strengthening the members of the musical or cultural communities they speak to - Canadian communities that are deprived of any media presence at all in corporate-radio-land, from ethnic minorities to lesbians to radical punks to Rastas to what-have-you. (Check their programming schedule for an example of the wide range of Vancouver communities Co-Op serves - I mean, find me a "Kurdish Voice" program on CFOX). Their politics might sometimes be a tad hostile to the status quo - and might attract the wrath of the suits - but their programming is very much an expression of the values and needs of a very large portion of Vancouver's populus - people who are not reached at all by your standard rock station.

So what's the dumbest reason you can think of for calling their license into question?

That's right: they don't play enough Canadian content. Which is presumably defined as Yankee-wannabee pop music. (Kurds, obviously, are not Canadians. Or Iranian women, or Palestinians, or "former Yugoslavians," howevermany of them live here; multicultural as Canada is supposed to be, "Canadian content" means pop songs by and for white people).

Co-Op Radio doesn't play enough CanCon. Is that not the stupidest fucking thing you've heard this week?

They better break out the Bryan Adams, and fast.

Delays, Movies, etc

So I've not been blogging much. If anyone is actually waiting, watching, feeling impatient and annoyed, I admit that I still haven't gotten to Blake Nelson, Keith Parry, or Bev Davies -- other than what already saw print in the Nerve Magazine, that is; I've had too much going on, pieces for pay, commitments to friends, family stuff, etc. If it makes you feel better, I also owe Razorcake a couple of pieces I've long been promising (my Rebel Spell interview will run in their next issue). There's other stuff I'm working on that I can't go into at the moment. Which leaves us here -- me, you, and my blog. I have the time, but not the energy or inclination, for transcribing tape, so in lieu of that, let's consider a few upcoming movies, shall we?

I'll be seeing Todd Haynes' remarkable and creepy film, Safe, at the Cinematheque, this week. Anyone interested in cinema should see it, though there's a chance it will annoy the hell out of you (friends of mine sometimes have that reaction, and I don't think less of them for it, though I do think MORE of the film for this). It's about an upper-middle-class woman (Julianne Moore, in the role of her career) who becomes "chemically sensitive" -- "allergic to the 20th century," I believe is the line. Her family indulge her, suspecting she's just gone loopy, but her insistence that she is sick becomes the beginning of a sort of rebellion, which leads her to a New Age self-help retreat (which is really more than you should know, already, so if this catches you a virgin to the film, just go and see it, without reading anything else on it, okay?). Audiences reacted in such different ways when the film initially ran at Sundance - some badly misunderstanding what Haynes intended - that he actually changed later prints of the film; there's a one minute sequence where Moore and husband briefly consider the home of the leader of the retreat in the second, which was used for the Japanese video release, as well as post-Sundance US showings. Not sure which version the Cinematheque will show. I think I can safely describe this as the most important and exciting American film of the 1990's - I certainly value it more than any of the work by Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, or Gregg Araki that I'm fond of from that decade.

Also in regard to Haynes, I'm actually kind of pleased that I'm Not There is not ready for them, and is beign replaced with Masked and Anonymous. That film baffled and annoyed me when I tried to watch it on video, but I feel quite excited about taking another run at it. It'll even be in a double bill with Haynes' Velvet Goldmine - another movie I didn't like much at first, that I'm eager to reappraise.
That's about it that really excites me at the Cinematheque for the next couple of months (unless you want to take your kids to Spirited Away on February 10th, that is; it's a delight, tho' listings are not yet online for it). Hara Kiri, upcoming in February and also not online, is a great film, and well worth seeing if you haven't checked it out - it's more of a devastating attack on bushido and the hypocrisies behind Japanese feudalism and class structure than it is a swordplay venture - but other than that, I think I'm ready for a five year moratorium on samurai films in the city. If you haven't seen The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, et alia yet, this really is not my problem.
Meanwhile, at the Vancity... well, actually, their February program is not yet online. Autohystoria, from the Philippines, sounds kind of interesting, but I haven't been there for a scandalously long time (and I see that I am missing a Cinema Salon screening of Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity tonight. Nuts! I love Billy Wilder!). I wonder if their new program is out in the print version? Hm, I might just take a walk.
Friends and stalkers, meantime, are encouraged to keep their calendars free for March 15th. I'll have a VERY SPECIAL film event going on for my 40th birthday, the details of which -- film and venue and such - you're more than welcome to ask me offline. Trust me, you'll want to be there.

A precedent for waterboarding...

Thought this was important. In the 1960's, a Russian defector, believed to be a spy, was subjected to some of the same torture techniques (I hope no one objects if I call them what they are) that current terrorist suspects are experiencing... The name Nosenko vaguely rings a bell, but most of this story was new to me. Thought it might be of interest.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

They Say Die, Some Say Racism. You Say...

Hm. Three bands on this bill, apparently; I don't know Jaxes or Taxes or whatever the least of them is supposed to be. You Say Party, We Say Die!, the one time I saw them live, were energetic, hooky and professional, but nonetheless fairly derivative of pop musics past (I thought of the early Manchester scene and British pop-punk/"New Wave" of the 80s), and not particularly exciting to me. Despite having sniped them in the Nerve for stepping on Femke, I can appreciate the snottiness of Fake Shark, Real Zombie! a bit more - their gender-bending spastic ripoff of the New York Dolls (with a pinch of NY No Wave thrown in) seems sincere enough, since the kids in it are probably living a devoted, drugs-'n'-debauchery rock lifestyle - and the fun they have on stage is reasonably infectious. Still - I don't really care. Neither band is as boring as the New Pornographers, say, but they're definitely on my "skip this gig" list.
Other than registering that there were two bands I didn't want to see on the bill, tho', I barely blinked at the poster. "Some black guy... grinning... looks vaguely familiar... bomb in his hair. Hm." My mind drifted when I saw it to a Last Poets song, "Black Rage," which likens angry black youths on street corners to "bombs waiting to explode," or something like that. Probably if I'd realized that I was looking at an exaggerated caricature of Isaac from The Love Boat, I'd have been amused: Isaac wants to explode. Well, who doesn't? Odd for a buncha white kids to use this image, but insofar as the invitation seems to be to "explode along with Isaac" -- that we're invited to identify with the "rage" of the once-servile, now bomb-bearing, black man, returned from his token-happy-darkie status on The Love Boat to get some payback -- I don't think I would have been particularly offended. There's enough overt, uncomplicated, obvious racism around - and, possibly thanks to the influence of the snotty/ironic humour of South Park (which I have a love/hate relationship with), enough confusion about where lines should be drawn or what should or shouldn't be taken seriously - that a gig poster such as the one above basically just gets filed under "weird urban noise," and forgotten.
Some people are having a harder time of forgetting it. A friend has been trying to convince me by email that it's a racist image, pointing to the ways Isaac's facial features have been distorted (which I didn't notice, initially, because I didn't realize it was Isaac) and the connection between the bomb-in-Afro and the bomb-in-turban motif of those offensive Danish cartoons of Mohammed (which I also didn't think of at the time.) Now, like I say, in the current melieu, I have a fairly hard time figuring out what ANYTHING means: are those Danish cartoons themselves even racist? I can see why they're offensive to Muslims - for whom even representing the prophet is a blasphemy - but they seem to be in a different league, say, from cartoons of yore (which, alas, I cannot find online) mocking the various Indian immigrants who tried to enter Vancouver on the Komagata Maru in 1914, back when Canadian law was set to keep them out. Those cartoons mocked the refugees seeking shelter here as dirty undesirables, and seem outrageously offensive and shameful now -- the act of a priviliged majority sneering hatefully at an underpriviliged minority and asserting their superiority. Given the degree of intolerance and oppression in the name of religion that groups such as the Taliban have wrought - to say nothing of the violence of Al Qaeda - and the extent to which, in the worst excesses of political correctness, certain stripes of liberal strive to censor both themselves and everyone else, stifling free discourse with a demand that everyone conform to their definition of what is tasteful and sensitive, at the very least, the Danish cartoons seem to have a point to them. Should they be defended as an act of free speech, or should their perpetrators be assassinated like Theo van Gogh? There's at least some grounds for discussion. But what the fuck does it mean to stick Isaac from The Love Boat in Mohammed's place, though? Goddamned if I know. If there's a point to this image, OTHER than creating jarring noise and attracting cheap attention, I don't see it, and without having the slightest clue what the image means or was intended to mean, it's hard for me to call it ANYTHING: racist, offensive, whatever. For all I know, whoever designed it was a person of colour, listening to the Last Poets, and wanting to stir up shit... I'd be very curious what other people make of it, tho'. I'll be soliciting comments from friends - but anyone who reads this is encouraged to post!
I'll say this: my friend's emails have definitely got me thinkin'. Am I just another complacent whitey, so secure in my position of privilige that I can't see racism staring me in the face...? Hmmm...