Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nomeansno's New Demo


Rob Wright by Jillian King. I think.

It's not a prank - Rob Wright really has provided a new Nomeansno demo, "Old," for fans to listen to on Nomeansno's Myspace page. It's a promising song - there's a bit more of Ireland in it than usually is visible in his songwriting... The band has no plans, to my knowledge, to do anything in Vancouver soon, but Tom Holliston has a couple of solo shows coming up in Vancouver, and there'll be a Hanson Brothers live album out in September. I'm enjoying my break from them, as I saw them do six separate Ausfahrt shows (the Anza Club Small Parts gig, the Commodore Jazzfest gig, a Red Room show and three shows in Ontario, including the Horseshoe in Toronto); it was enough Nomeansno to tide me over for awhile!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beep!

My buddy Michael has a malfunctioning cellphone; the microphone died awhile ago. He can hear other people's voices, but they cannot hear his. They can, however, hear the beep of his cellphone keys when he presses them. We have worked out an ingenious code, thus: "one beep yes" (which I think would be a brilliant band name); "two beeps no;" "three beeps fuck off;" and "four beeps other/ I don't know." It requires, of course, that his interlocuter frames everything as a yes/no question. A typical phonecall between us just occured:

I answer the phone, and seeing it is his cellphone on my call display, say, "Beep."

He beeps once in greeting.

"So are you joining me for the Chaplin film?"

"Beep." Good!

"You're okay with the 7:15 showtime?"

"Beep."

It is now on me to figure out where and when we might meet, so that he can beep his assent or demurral. We must start by establishing his location. "Are you downtown?"

"Beep."

"Are you in the west end?"

"Beep."

"Are you getting food?"

"Beep beep."

I decide I don't really need to know what he's doing. "Do you want to meet here before the movie?" He lives four floors above me, so we tend to meet, if we're going out, at my place.

"Beep."

"Do you want to meet at 7?"

Four beeps.

"Do you want to meet at 6:30?"

Four beeps.

"Do you want to meet at 6?"

"Beep beep beep beep."

"Okay, I'm not going to bother with 6:15 and 6:45 or such. You don't know when you want to meet."

"Beep." (We follow the Japanese method of assent here - he agrees to my negative, rather than indicating that "No, he doesn't know," by beeping twice).

"We will meet whenever you get back to the building?"

"Beep."

"Sometime before 7."

"Beep."

"I'll see you here, then!"

"Beep."

"Goodbye."

"Beep."

If all cellphones were like this, they probably wouldn't annoy me as much.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Must See at the Cinematheque

There's a jaw-dropping Charlie Chaplin film at the Cinematheque, a film so dark, morally complex, and beautifully crafted that it has elevated my respect for Chaplin's artistry a hundredfold: Monsieur Verdoux. It plays twice more this week, on Monday and Wednesday night, and I highly recommend seeing it; it will delight you even more if you know little about it, so I will say little, though you can always click that link - to the Cinematheque's site - if you want some idea what's in store. The "little tramp" on Chaplin's shoulder in the image to the left is false advertising, by the way; a bit of physical comedy aside, this film, made in 1947, bears little to no resemblance to Chaplin's earlier comedies. Truly a must-see.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When Catfish Walk

I'd like to see this.

The Dark Knight (of the American soul)

Why are people flocking to see The Dark Knight? Sure, I know - Heath Ledger’s death, a clever advertising campaign, and the general herdishness of the herd all play a role, but... do people actually enjoy this experience? Why? It’s a profoundly well-crafted and generous movie, to be sure, spending a great deal of time, considerable expense, and the efforts of a remarkably skilled cast and crew to tell its story - unlike the idiotic and contemptible Iron Man, the previous blockbuster hit of the year - but does ANYONE, critic or lay, actually emerge from The Dark Knight feeling that this is an experience worth recommending to others?

On what basis do they arrive at that valuation? Someone explain it to me, for I am vexed. Is it somehow consoling to certain viewers - American viewers, say - in its implicit messages that state-sanctioned vigilantism, torture, surveillance, official lying to the public, disregard for due process - cf. the Joker’s spiels about just wanting his phone call - and other such relevant evils are all necessary evils, and that American virtue, however troubled it may be, however questionable its recourse to such methods may render it in the public eye, is still virtue, and will eventually be recognized as such (even if not in the course of the film?).

What, then, of the persistent grimness of the film, its hopeless, joyless, ultimately enervating slog from one terrible situation to the next? If the purpose of the movie is indeed as it appears to be, to comfort and console us that “we” are the good guys - just as our hero and primary source of identification in the film remains a good guy despite all - what is also served by making “heroism” such a bleak, thankless affair? The film simultaneously appears to tell us that everything is okay - we’re still good people; and that the world itself is terrible and will remain so. (The crude game theory situation that the film crafts involving two ferries, given the choice to blow each other up, is little consolation; neither ferry destroys the other, but both come so close as to nullify any inspiring platitudes about basic human goodness; we are required to contemplate just the opposite, for far too long, for such a message to be the ultimate result). This is a remarkably hopeless film, an ugly, dark experience. Who could have ever expected it to be a huge hit? Who would think audiences would be so masochistic?

Truth is, the experience of watching The Dark Knight left me talking to the friend who accompanied me about the Deep State, MK Ultra, and the vested interests of the very rich and powerful. I was forced to paraphrase another friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, more than once, since I lack my own language for such things. The film appears to be a remarkable feat of propaganda, both reassuring us that the US government is, all appearances to the contrary, doing the right things in the world since September 11th, and sapping us of the will to do anything at all to try to change things as they are. Its ultimate effect would appear to be that of encouraging passive consumerism and depressed, despairing acceptance - there’s not much else to feel as you slump out of the theatre, drained and tired. It arrives at such a place so skillfully that it is nearly impossible to me to accept a Chomsky/Herman sort of “free market” analysis - that the ideology of the wealthy engraves itself in such a text as if writ by an invisible hand, the better to manufacture consent and so forth; the film so thoroughly, consistently, and cynically works to deplete and pacify its viewers, to numb them and disempower them even as it appears to “entertain,” that I can only conclude one of two things:

1) that it was designed to do such by some vastly evil force with a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo; it is a deliberately and finely crafted act of propaganda, that carefully reads the current political climate and injects exactly the sort of message that both the mass audience, and their owners, are craving right now, to allow things to continue as they are. IF there exists a cadre of powerful, wealthy, malignant "rulers," behind the scenes, and IF they had a propaganda wing, a film like this would SURELY be their crowning achievement; if they didn't produce such a thing, they would at the very least feel jealous of - and indebted to - those who did. I mean, if I wanted to control the minds of Americans and get'em to vote Republican (or such), The Dark Knight would be how I'd do it, no doubt about it. I bet George W. Bush himself can derive consolation from this film, seeing himself as a "misunderstood hero."

Or:

2) that it was cynically designed as a money-making vehicle by people who figured that this is the sort of shit that Americans need and want right now; it exploits and agitates American bad conscience, and offers a self-punitive, self-pitying palliative - “a cure for what ails you” - simply because the filmmakers figure that a lot of people will buy it. Everyone hates us, but we're still the good guys: now go back to sleep.

In either case - snake charming or snake oil - there is not the slightest thought in my mind that The Dark Knight’s design was ACCIDENTAL. (Apparently the previous Batman movie by Nolan had Batman square off against a cave-dwelling terrorist; I didn’t see it, but imagine that I would feel much the same about it). In the first scenario, it’s designed to have a political effect, and the resultant blockbuster payday is secondary; in the second, the payday is the point. I suppose we could craft a third scenario, combining elements of both, but in any case I cannot but see this film as an extremely smart, calculating, and self-aware move. Who is making the move, and to what end, is not strictly relevant: it’s scary as fuck, and deeply objectionable, either way, as is the fact that most critics will surely come nowhere close to acknowledging any of the above.

At this point, I find myself seriously entertaining the thought that there IS a conscious Mind War afoot here, perferring it to the thought that ultimately it was all just about the money. Grandiose evil is less depressing than mundane: hence the argument that conspiracy theorists are “comforting” themselves with their theories. Is this film really just an indicator of how cynical Hollywood can be? How sad and dull, and how scary; I have more respect for the DTES' crack dealers than I do Warner Brothers tonight.

What an experience I have had at the theatre this evenings, friends. Why is this film a hit? It's a dull, relentless, "one-ordeal-after-the-other" celebration of NOTHING, a boring, grim, nihilistic burp of sloth, cynicism and despair. THIS is a superhero movie?

Hey: if you saw and enjoyed The Dark Knight, can you explain what the hell you got out of it to me? Because I don’t get it in the slightest.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Writing Comedown

Guhh. Here it is: the depressive, unfocussed slump left in the wake of a particularly intense period of writing. I wrote four articles last week - something for Xtra West, in their current issue, about an unofficial "Peanuts" derivation that explores, in part, homophobic bullying ("Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenaged Blockhead," in its final night tonight at Havana); and three articles for the Skinny, on Shearing Pinx, Tunnel Canary, and the Rebel Spell/ Subhumans show (see below). I negotiated all that while also making a weekend trip to a casino in the States with my parents; finishing a somewhat intense final week of marking and report cards at work; and cutting sugar almost completely out of my diet, on the advice of my endodontist (who started work on my root canal two weeks ago). There's an excitement felt, writing that much, putting that much focussed effort into things; but there's definitely a comedown afterwards. Having set aside a weekend to NOT write, to just relax and recharge my batteries, I suddenly am all too aware that my apartment's a mess, that I feel fat and exhausted, that I'm still single, and that I have a larger-than-usual pile of laundry to get to; and all I want to do is flop back into bed. All my hard work should be rewarded with a blowjob and a massage, at the very least, but none are forthcoming! And so I pout. What fucking good is this writing stuff anyhow?

Garnet Sweatshirt?


...the fuck? Any of you heard of this? It's a CD with Brian Goble, Jon Card, RANDY BACHMAN (???) and CHRIS HOUSTON on it, often co-writing songs; I was in Japan when it was released (2000), so I have a pretty good excuse for not knowing about it, but... the fuck? Brian just sold me a copy after his set at Slickity Jim's tonight (imagine: an acoustic version of "For the Common Good," where you can understand the lyrics!). I'm too pooped to listen to it right now, and I must confess that, while I'm curious, my expectations are, um, kinda low (tho' the one song on it solely written by Goble, "One Thing to Fear," was one of tonight's highlights; there are more songs by Goble that I have never heard before than I'd previously realized). I'm kind of shocked to discover this CD exists, without my ever having heard of it before.

Funniest moment of the concert (barring the singalong choruses for "Fuck You" and "Slave to My Dick"): I shouted out an encore request for "Green Acres," and Femke, takin' pics, burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the suggestion, not realizing that it is indeed in Brian's repertoire. She laughed even harder when he started singing it... Good thing I didn't request "Gilligan's Island."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Subhumans singer goes country - tonight at Slickety Jim's!

Photo by Allan MacInnis

For anyone not payin' attention, Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble (pictured above with Mike Graham and Jon Card from a Subhumans show a few years ago) will be doing a solo country set (!), alongside, I believe, Beatrice Smartt, at Slickety Jim's Chat'n'Chew tonight, starting around 8:30 or 9. The Subhumans are really busy guys these days - their website has yet to mention either of their two planned summer concerts, and I haven't been able to hail Brian to talk to him about tonight's set - but I'm pretty excited to see what he'll be doing.
You can read a bit more about the benefit for Darfur that the Subhumans will be playing, also featuring the Rebel Spell, here - it's on the 26th at Seylynn Hall in North Vancouver. I didn't manage to work in mention of the country set, alas...
Oh, and in case you didn't pick up the Skinny, the article on Tunnel Canary, who perform tomorrow night, is here.

Chilliwack Bigfoot Sighting

Been awhile since I heard tell of a BC bigfoot sighting...

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Rebel Spell and the Subhumans: all ages show in North Vancouver


Also in the Skinny - a brief chat with Todd Serious of the Rebel Spell about the situation in Darfur (for which the July 26th North Vancouver show with the Subhumans is a benefit). We also talk about activism and Direct Action, the Olympics, and other juicy topics. These guys are two of my favourite punk bands ever from the Vancouver scene and the gig has great, great promise...

Tunnel Canary: two upcoming shows


The major piece of mine in the new issue of the Skinny will be on Tunnel Canary, a band that would be considered a legendary part of the Vancouver underground music scene in the late 1970s/ early 1980s, if only more people remembered who they were. No time to write about' em at length here, suffice to say that my interview with Nathan in the Skinny is one of my favourite things I've done so far this year, and that I highly urge those curious about experimental music to check out:

a) my piece in the Skinny, not yet online.


b) Tunnel Canary's record release show at the Sweatshop on the 19th, which will also feature a screening of Eric Lohrenz' documentary on the band, including wild footage of Nathan Holiday, their guitarist, and original vocalist Ebra Ziron, doing an aggressive and scary "street theatre" piece at the corner of Granville and Georgia, as a crowd of fascinated, intimidated people look on. The new version of Tunnel Canary, performing at the event, will feature a different vocalist, Mya Mayhem. The Mutators and Flatgrey will also be performing. There are two LPs versions of the record coming out - a single and a double - including stuff already on the Jihad CD, and previously unreleased material. Contact Josh at Run Down Sun for ordering info. (Their Myspace is here, btw).

c) And if that leaves you wanting more, Nathan will be performing again at Blim on the 25th, I believe, again with a screening of the documentary.

Meantime, aren't these gig posters cool?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Disappearing Act

Okay, folks - I'm swamped again, writing projects, family issues, work issues, medical issues, a messy kitchen...

Bear in mind: Tunnel Canary perform two upcoming shows, July 19th (the Sweatshop - a record release party with the Mutators and Flatgrey) and July 25th (a much smaller event at Blim). Working on something on them, may have more here later.

Right now, I have to crash. A man must sleep. No blogging this weekend... Does anyone care?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Melodic Energy Commission gig, July 13th!


Hey, gang - to promote the July 13th WISE Hall appearance of the Melodic Energy Commission, here's a piece of writing I did for Discorder a few years ago, when I was just getting started at this being-paid-nothing-for-talking-to-local-musicians game.

Time Slips Away: The Resurgence of the Melodic Energy Commission
An interview with Don Xaliman and Randy Raine-Reusch
by Allan MacInnis


I was a young punk kid into DOA and the Subhumans when a friend lent me a decidedly odd local LP, The Migration of the Snails, on which his relative, George McDonald, had played. A theme album, it featured song titles like “Gastropods in Transit” and “Escargot,” and had bizarre, snail-related album art. The music reminded me of progrock and Tangerine Dream at times, psychedelic rock at others, but had an arty, ethereal quality that defied easy pigeonholing, and I had no idea what some of the instruments listed on the back were (khaen? Gas and steam bass? Delatronics?). The strangeness of it stuck with me – but I didn’t spin it more than twice, and went back to listening to the Dead Kennedys.

Flash forward 23 years – 23 years filled with musical and psychopharmacological experimentation – and I’m standing at Cathedral Square, listening to a city-commissioned art project by Mercury Theatre III. George McDonald is playing a homemade Theremin as part of a space-noise jam, but I don’t recognize his name. A few months later, local musician Dan Kibke introduces me to George, in the audience at an Acid Mothers Temple show at Richards on Richards, but I’m preoccupied with practicing my Japanese by offering Makoto Kawabata a “special” cookie and still don’t clue in. A few months later still, Dan plays me a disc George is on, and the penny drops: “Wait a second – didn’t these guys once record an album called The Migration of the Snails?”
And so the old adage is proven correct: when the listener is ready, the musician will come, in this case in the form of the Melodic Energy Commission. Vancouver’s best-kept psychedelic secrets re-released their first two LPs, Stranger in Mystery (1979) and Migration of the Snails (1980) on one disc, Moonphase Compendium, in 1997. Last year, the core members of the band, Don Xaliman, George McDonald, and Randy Raine-Reusch (alongside a host of non-local collaborators) released a well-received new CD, Time Is a Slippery Concept, on Xaliman’s “indy audio video studio” label, Energy Discs They’re now set to actually try to get heard in the city that spawned them.

Describing their music is no easy feat. It’s pop music, to be sure, and spacy, but difficult to pin down otherwise. Raine-Reusch, who makes a “full-time career in the music biz,” as composer, musician, and writer, lists influences from “the Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Dead,” to “African and Indian music, jazz, and blues.” He’s fronted a 30 piece didjeridu orchestra and has associated or played with avant-gardists as diverse as John Fahey, John Cage, Eugene Chadbourne, Mats Gustafsson, Jean Derome, and Pauline Oliveros. If you think you’re getting close to being able to categorize him, note that he also played various world instruments on Yes’ The Ladder and on Aerosmith’s album Pump (!), organized festivals in Borneo and has collaborated with Cirque du Soleil, Ann Mortifee, and Alpha YaYa Diallo. Like Don Xaliman (who recently “performed on faglung – a Filipino stringed instrument – for the governor general of Canada at the Chinese night market”), he is fond of traditional instruments from other cultures. On the new album he is credited with playing flutes, saling, balimbing, shakuhachi, dizi, duduk, and more – a pretty diverse list, given that the overall texture of the disc is electronic.
In case you still aren’t clear on just how difficult the MEC are to type, there’s a rap tune, too (“Beehive Jive,”) and a track, “For Sure,” that evokes Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore,” with Xaliman’s mystical vocal stylings – at least up until it starts to sound like an Indonesian gamelan orchestra. These guys are slippery, indeed.

Raine-Reusch, as accomplished a musician as he is, points out that Don Xaliman is “really the core of it all. We all do our own thing and get together when Xaliman calls us.” Xaliman, who also plays guitar, keyboards, and writes the band’s lyrics, described his process via email: “Over the years Commissioners at improv sessions have been enticed to display a heightened state of creative bliss and it’s sonically frozen in time,” and added to Xaliman’s sound library. Xaliman “restructures the cream to form a composition that never existed before. It's really an extraction process. Harmless, but capable of enhancing or distorting reality. That's why some people refer to our music as psychedelic: we have found ways to create psychotropically appearing musical soundscapes with and without actually consuming the elixir. ‘Psychedelic’ refers to the experience the listener receives, rather than the experience the musician is having. It's really just about painting mystical, magical, sonic scenery… At times the sound is made up of many layers of almost subliminal instrumentation. I use that method to create full and unusual ambience rather than just throw a bunch of reverb effects into the mix.”
Xaliman’s sources for the new album were recorded over a 20 year period, and include recordings he made of “2000 drummers at the Plaza of Nations and 100 people chanting Ohm in Kits House,” to which Randy added dulcimer and George, Theremin. As he says, “there are well over 2000 musicians on this album.”

The band owes much of its popularity in “European space-rock circles” to Del Dettmar, who, Xaliman explains, “learned his chops from playing sheets of synthesized sounds with Hawkwind for their first five albums.” Dettmar was in BC to make some money planting trees when he struck up a friendship with the MEC, and “helped put the music together for the first two albums. He had a British analog EMS Synthi and is a true wizard with a wand – a woodsman double headed axe with a big bass string clamped to the handle… Melodic Energy Commission was fortunate to have a brief ride on his cloak-tail, and even though we never sounded much like Hawkwind, we were well received for our imaginative textures.” Their long out-of-print LPs fetch hefty collectors’ prices in Europe, and their CDs are easier to find in stores there than here.
Another reason Vancouverites may not be so familiar with the MEC, as Xaliman explains, is that they’ve “rarely performed live as the Melodic Energy Commission, either here or anywhere else.” In 2005, they did a “music and laser improvisation at the Planetarium,” called 'Nearly See Clearly,’ which Xaliman recorded and may yet release. Otherwise, they hadn’t performed with all three core members since the mid-1980s, when they opened for Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band on their farewell tour, at the Commodore Ballroom. Xaliman proudly reports that the band got a “heartfelt standing ovation and an encore,” got to say hello to the Captain, and were compared to Gong by one of the band members. They also had fun eating the food and drinking the beer on the Captain’s rider.

I asked Xaliman about his philosophy of music. “Music has the potential of moving energy within our being and altering moods. It's like a movie where you get caught up in the comedy, adventure and dramatic ride. We want you to leave the theatre feeling that you experienced a good story and will come back someday. Like after an invigorating sonic massage. A refreshing vacation to the space between particles of time.”
As one might gather, there is a fondness for hippie culture in Xaliman, who likes “its tribal integrity and [the way it’s] morphed itself into a colourful street and village culture.” He says, “along with every other cultural influence that's swayed me, I am part hippie, part techno-traveller, and an alien crossbreed.” Raine-Reusch concurs: “a lot of the ideas of the early hippie movement I still live with: peace, harmony, the need to preserve nature.... I have a hard time with all the greed and war in the world at the moment.”
Given their music and values, one might be surprised to discover that the members of the band I talked to are not, in fact, big fans of drugs. Raine-Reusch’s mother was an alcoholic, so he “stayed away, except for a short and disastrous foray.” A Taoist since age 15, to enhance his perceptions he has “focused on deep meditation and trance.” Xaliman likewise says that he is “not into doing drugs,” and prefers thinking of their music as “Otherworld Music,” rather than “psychedelic.” (He coyly adds, however, “I sometimes partake in sacred herbs with psychoactive properties.”) During the peak of their live performances in the early 80s, they did drink a fair bit of alcohol, Xaliman notes. This phase was documented on a cassette called M=E/C2, and a rare 45 rpm single, distributed mostly in California and Scotland. “I never liked the mixes but the music truly rocks,” Xaliman says. “Recently I transferred the raw tracks to digital and am looking for a spot of time to mix them properly. They are so different that I may think up another band name for that project…”
George McDonald is “presently working way up north in Alberta, searching for oil,” and could not be reached for comment. Don says “he's built the most amazing Theremin and is anxious to perform with it and his electric guitar,” and will definitely be involved in future MEC projects. One release to look forward to, Congenial Twist, will be coming out this summer. Xaliman describes it as “joyous, mysterious instrumentals made with unusual sounds and instruments… composed for a magic and reptiles show. It will have an accompanying storybook for kids.”
Xaliman is also interested in video and visual art, and has been “intermittently exploring photography and graphics for posters and album covers, recently for Mantravani Orchestra, Orchid Ensemble, Richard Hite and the recent designs for Melodic Energy Commission.” Some of his work can be seen on their website, http://www.melodicenergy.com/. The band is hopeful that the Internet will pave the way to their becoming better known; though Neptoon and Zulu stock their discs, most of their sales have, as of yet, happened through their site. Raine-Reusch’s website is at http://www.asza.com/. MP3s of a few of their tracks are available at http://www.myspace.com/melodicenergycommission.

Shearing Pinx show moved

It's no longer at the Sweatshop, it's at Pub 340, and it runs from 3PM to 1AM. It is no longer all ages. Don't know much else, except that Anju regrets the change...

A few internet peeves

Random gripes:

Suddenly, Myspace has banners with tits and "fake chat" imagery everywhere, and gigantic ads for God-knows-what (Toxic Garbage Island?) that slow down the loading time on my creaking "hi-speed lite" connection.

My main page for Hotmail is starting to look like a supermarket tabloid rack (today, headlines pronounce "Lenny Kravitz Consoling A-Rod's Wife?" I have no idea who A-Rod is; I assume "consoling" is a euphemism for "fucking").

Yahoo are getting cagey with their celebrity headlines. They announced today, "The original 'Ghostbusters' cast will appear in the new video game, except for one key star." But they won't tell you who unless you click! I couldn't care less about anything related to Ghostbusters... so why does this headline actually make me curious? The thing is a video, too, so you can't even get the information unless you watch an ad or two... (It's Rick Moranis. I didn't realize he's basically retired from movie-making - his wife died of liver cancer awhile back, so he's a single parent; and he's made enough money that he doesn't really have to act to support himself. He's also released a comedic country album, The Agoraphobic Cowboy. Well. Okay, now I know more about Rick).

I don't like the new design for Znet at all!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Signed Daniel Johnston Frogs for sale!


Right, well, apparently the little froggy guy to the left is known as "Jeremiah the Innocent;" the Daniel Johnston site is now selling plastic models of them, with the box signed by Daniel, for $150. Personally, I'll make do with the t-shirt, but some of you maybe need this, or at least think you do, so...
You should at least click the link to see'em, they're kinda cute!

Friday, July 04, 2008

On the lack of good mistakes in my students' papers

Contrary to what you may expect, there are very few entertaining or intellectually stimulating errors in the papers handed in by my ESL students.

A sample of an intellectually stimulating error: when we were studying about food, I made the point to my students that when using foreign words - for instance, when talking about foods like dduk bokki, a sort of Korean rice-noodle dish almost unknown in North America ('cept among Koreans, of course) - they should be italicized in typing or underlined in handwriting. This is not uncomplicated, however: what if that same student mentions kimchi? Most North Americans do know what kimchi is, and I'd normally consider it a word that we have "borrowed" into English (the English word for kimchi is kimchi, and needs no fanfare or italicization). Ditto for common Japanese food names, like sushi. But what about okonomiyaki, or even lesser known foods like natto? And what if the student is listing their country's foods, going back and forth between words that we have borrowed into English, and words we haven't? Do we underline them all, and treat them all as foreign, for the sake of consistency on the page, even though they aren't equally foreign to the reader? This is intellectually stimulating - to at least some extent - because it reveals that such conventions are simply asserted at some point in history, when a word becomes familiar enough to be treated as such; and that, as cultures mix and awareness grows, more and more words will be crossing the line between the foreign and the familiar, with many lingering in a grey area.

You may reply: "but that's really not very interesting, Al," and I would understand. The case remains that in six years of marking student papers, it was a high point; relative to most of the mundane mechanical mistakes people make - beginning sentences with "and," using the base form of a verb when they want a gerund, dropping articles or prepositions or plural markers, not knowing when to begin or end a paragraph, etc - the question of when to underline or not is absolutely fascinating. "Hey, one of my students made a mistake that I actually had to think about for a second! Wow!"

There are, however, occasional cheap chuckles to be had. For example, on Chuseok, Koreans make an offering at the grave of their ancestors; which is very different from "making an ancestral sacrifice at the cemetary," as one student wrote. I would rather, you understand, encounter intellectually stimulating errors than cheap chuckles... but one makes do with what one has.

In that spirit, then, I thought it amusing to note the rendering of a certain teenaged Canadian pop singer's name as "Avril Ravine," which I noted today while marking a student paper.

Hyuk hyuk hyuk hyuk hyuk. Sigh.

A Great Summer to be a Cinephile in Vancouver


Hey, y'all. Looking like an exciting summer, filmwise (it's almost like the Gods noticed that I haven't been going to the movies that much lately and set about to influence the VIFC's and Cinematheque's programmers into putting together a two month program especially for me...).
Tuesday, July 8th: George Bowering, Canada's poet laureate, will be introducing The Battle of Algiers at the Vancouver International Film Centre, as part of the Cinema Salon series. Pontecorvo's film is a serious look at the use of guerrila tactics, terrorism, and torture in the quest for Algierian independence from France. It is remarkably timely and extremely compelling; members of the Algerian resistance participated in the making of the film.

Also next week at the Vancity, there will be a series of American independent films, including two features by Andrew Bujalski. I haven't yet seen Funny Ha Ha, so I'm really keen on that. Mutual Appreciation, starring "that guy from Bishop Allen," Justin Rice, definitely bears the mark of Cassavetes' influence, but where Cassavetes' characters erupted and struggled and exposed themselves in all their rawness for all to see, Bujalski's young neurotics pace in tense little circles, wincing and cringing and hiding - often embarrassing themselves and the audience, but seldom getting to really cut loose of their oppressive self-consciousness. The film is very funny, but also squirm-inducing... and there ARE a couple of songs in it, which are fun to hear, though I don't know Bishop Allen's work well. I also don't know any of the other films in the "Generation D.I.Y" series that these are playing in, but I will probably check them out. (The term "Mumblecore" kind of annoys me, btw).

The Cinematheque, too, has some very exciting fare. I admit that I'm more excited by the prospect of seeing Andy Warhol's film about the Velvet Underground on the screen than I am by Philippe Garrel's meditation on his failed relationship with Nico and his heroin addiction, J'Entends Plus La Guitar - but they play as a double bill on a couple of nights (July 12th and 17th). Maybe I should buy advance tickets for this one? You can also catch the Garrel film in a double bill with Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, but while I like many filmmakers who have been influenced by Godard - Reg Harkema and Gregg Araki, in particular - my last attempt to watch one of his films, La Chinoise, left me with a bit of a headache, which is not the only time this has happened in my attempts to enter his cinema. Maybe I'm just not watching the right Godard films? (I like Weekend...). I recall once writing Jonathan Rosenbaum a rather silly fan letter in which I asked him to help orient me... Of course, he never wrote back...

But there's more! More, I say! Carl Theodor Dryer's Passion of Joan of Arc, which "stars" the amazing, expressive face of RenĂ©e Falconetti, above, but also features a notable small performance by Antonin Artaud, will be running at the Cinematheque in mid-July; it's one of the most powerful movie martyrdoms I've seen, and since they're projecting the DVD version, I'm assuming you'll get to see it accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, a striking opera/oratorio (or so I'm told on the Criterion site - I wouldn't know an oratorio from an oreo) that was inspired by the film. It's beautiful, indeed transcendent piece of music (whatever the hell you call it). I keep thinking that a "movie martyrs" series would be fun: I propose a double bill of The Passion of Joan of Arc with Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, say. (Did you know Werner Herzog is making a what he insists isn't a remake of that, with the same title and Nicolas Cage in the lead role? WTF?).


We then get into the realm of weird, noisy music, and Vancouver's legendary and dangerous Tunnel Canary. There will apparently be two screenings of Eric Lupe's documentary on Tunnel Canary, which includes a survey of the Vancouver noise scene past and present, tons of amazing footage and engaging interviews. The first, I'm told, but cannot easily confirm, is on July 19th, at the Sweatshop; the second will be at Blim, and will feature a performance by Nathan Holiday. BRING HEARING PROTECTION! (Oh - Josh at Zulu was apparently putting out a limited edition 2XLP compilation of rare Tunnel Canary stuff. I wonder if that's happened yet?).

Also weird, but not necessarily that noisy: Crispin Hellion Glover, whom I do not profess to understand at all, will be making an in-person visit to the Cinematheque, bringing his film What Is It? for several screenings, beginning July 18th. I have not seen this film. I once owned a signed, limited edition artefact by Glover - a bizarre little book on rat catching, which appeared to be some 19th century text that Glover had gone through with a felt pen, modifying it, crossing out words, blackening things. I have no idea what happened to this creepy little art object, but I do know that I no longer possess it, which is a bit of a relief. I am not, you understand, recommending that anyone go to the Glover event, but if you're like me, you will be compelled to be there. I accept no responsibility for anything that transpires, just because you read about it here.

There's lots more, of course, at the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre - click and explore. I'm not really a Jacques Tati fan, but I'm very excited about the return of the Cinematheque's film noir series, later in the summer (but which doesn't have its own link yet, but if you haven't seen it, don't miss Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, in particular!). I'll probably check out the Guy Maddin film and the documentary on Harlan Ellison (whose writing I dearly loved as a teenager). Vancity-wise, the docs on Marcuse and McLuhan may get me out of the house, and as someone terrified by GMO's, I'll be sure to check in with The World According to Monsanto.

So much cinema, so little time! Thanks to the Gods of cinema for whispering in folks' ears for me...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jonathan Richman in Vancouver: Here There be Jackasses

Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkins by Bev Davies


Jonathan Richman continues to mature and evolve as a songwriter and performer. Gone are the days of rather silly and childlike tunes like "Abominable Snowman in the Market;" they've been replaced by deliberately simple, sometimes almost embarrassingly direct and sincere, but very serious and moving meditations on experience. Songs with joy and life and humour in them - he's no brooding "suffering artist" - but also considerable wisdom; for instance, "He Gave Us the Wine to Taste It," off Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love:

He gave us the wine to taste
not to talk about it
He gave us the wine to taste
and not to discuss
so let's taste it, let's taste it
don't criticize it and waste it
He gave us the wine to taste it
yeah yeah yeah
So take a drink, take a drink
don't talk about it and think
try a drop, try a drop
and stop if you want to stop

Interesting advice for a critic to encounter, but I couldn't keep myself, even as he was singing this very song, from scribbling notes about Jonathan's performance at Richards on Richards last night, where he played with drummer Tommy Larkins and an extremely minimal setup (two microphones, a drum kit, a strapless acoustic guitar, a few percussion instruments for Jonathan to toy with, and cables feeding into what I guess was Jonathan's own mixer, leaving the soundman - he complained after the set to anyone who would listen, which was mostly my friend Kevin and I - with nothing to do). It was a very strange and unsatisfying experience, but I'm not sure how much of the blame should be placed at Jonathan's feet. The problems were manifold:

a) For some reason, Richman, whom I'd always thought a cult taste, attracted a vast horde of 20somethings to the show. Why? Some surely were real fans drawn by his legendary work with the Modern Lovers, or loyal listeners of his later output - which I tell myself shouldn't have been a problem; "real" fans surely would know how to listen, how to be attentive and respectful, right? But a vast number of the kids packed into the full Richards on Richards must have known him only peripherally, from his appearances on Conan O'Brien or in There's Something About Mary, or just have gone because they'd heard it was the place to be that night, because:

b) said kids, for the most part, didn't listen worth a damn to what Jonathan was doing. Sure, they sang along enthusiastically, when invited by Jonathan to join in, to "I was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar," or his delightful anti-cell phone song ("You Can Have a Cell Phone if you Want," I guess was the title - followed in the chorus by "but not me," Jonathan explaining that if he wants to walk, he wants to walk, and you can't call him there, or anywhere else that he goes when he's not around a phone. As a non-cellphone user - I very nearly loathe the things and the transformations they've had on people's behaviour - the song was very pleasing, though I didn't join in the choruses, myself). They cheered his little dances or his flourishes as he spun the guitar or picked up a percussion tool to twirl or shake or bang. But these same kids also screamed his name, yelled requests, whooped or hollered like assholes, or did other such annoying things while he was trying to sing the songs, cheering him with such fervor between or sometimes during numbers that it started to seem a bit ridiculous ("like he was the fucking Beatles or something"). And of course, this was happening at Richards on Richards - the loudest, most "glass-clinking" establishment in the city, where everywhere you go, you're surrounded by drinking talkers and talking drinkers, who are paying no attention to the songs; or you're forced to listen to too-audible transactions at the too-close, too-open bar. It was no wonder Jonathan's face looked a little haggard, or his wide, deerlike eyes seemed a tad puzzled at times; what can you do with an audience that loves you so much that they threaten to dwarf and crush you, so that everything that is gentle and reflective about your music is bludgeoned down and the event turned into some noisy festival of narcissistic celebrity-worship and idiotic acting-out? Whatever Jonathan does or is was so overwhelmed by what the kids in crowd needed or wanted him to be (or their flat out need to get loud) that the disjuncture was at times painful to behold.

c) And this just wasn't a source of irritation to the more mature or older audience members; it was clearly a source of irritation to Jonathan, as well. Several times, he greeted too-loud cheers with what Kevin suspected were ironic reprises, meant to tease the audience a little, as if to say, "Okay, if you like it THAT much, here it is again." When he came onstage for the encore, he was greeted with minutes of screamed requests that lasted so long, were so loud and rude and selfish that it left him speechless and silenced, staring out at the crowd somewhat unbelieving as it went on and on. It could have been boos or curses, for how aggressive it all seemed; it was completely out of step with the tone of his songs. I wondered what he could be feeling, but then he told us: he shrugged and said, "I might as well go!" And then made to walk offstage. The cheers and hoots and bellowed requests faltered a little, but when he walked back to the microphone, they renewed again at full force, such that he had to make a second gesture at leaving the stage ("I was going to play you another song, but...") before people calmed down enough to hear him. Whereupon he did two numbers that in their own way seemed to upbraid the audience - one about how his baby loves him even more than he prayed (a problematic condition indeed!); and another - which finally shut people up - about the death of his mother, "As My Mother Lay Lying" off Because Her Beauty is Raw & Wild, his newest recording.

I kept thinking throughout the night how much I would have loved to see Jonathan Richman perform in a small cafe to a crowd of respectful, attentive fans, say in the manner of the Minimalist Jug Band/ Petunia show I saw at Slickety Jim's awhile back. I don't care for everything Richman does (I don't really need to hear his observations about painters he loves - though I also admire Vermeer; and his Spanish and French songs didn't make much of a mark on me, though I rather liked the idea of telling a story in Spanish about a 19 year old boy who doesn't want to be at the bordello that his friends have dragged him to - it was nice of Jonathan to at least explain it a little to us). Some of his more slice-of-life songs might have worked better if the roar of the audience hadn't kept me from really entering his music. As it was, it was only his most philosophical moments - his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Here It Is," or "When We Refuse to Suffer" - or his most emotionally charged and complex numbers ("Let Her Go into the Darkness") that cut through the cheers and hoots to really leave a lasting impact. (I liked, too, what Kevin and I agreed was a "revisionist," quasi-flamenco version of "Pablo Picasso" - Richman using the song as a teaching tool, to tell audience members not to worry if they aren't handsome or beautiful; look at Picasso - short, bald, unimpressive to the eye, but confident and charismatic and compelling, and a success with women, because of who he was and how he felt himself to be. A nicely-made point, if rather different from the original). As it was, though, I spent more time gritting my teeth and wincing - and feeling bad for the people on the stage - than I did enjoying myself. What a shame!
Maybe we should raise the drinking age?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July Fourth Toilet July Fourth Gig



July Fourth Toilet's new album is very strange, rather dark, quite fun, and a tad bipolar, veering unpredictably between pert-near straight up Canuck rock to weird noise experimentation of a most playful sort. Believe it or not, Friday will be my first July Fourth Toilet gig! I am excited. I, perhaps, will see you there?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mishima on DVD

The most interesting new DVD that I'm aware of is a film directed by Yukio Mishima, Patriotism: The Rite of Love and Death. Mishima was, of course, a Japanese novelist of considerable complexity: narcissistic, widely described now as homosexual (though this is not uncontroversial, especially in Japan), obsessed with physical perfection, and immensely prolific and gifted as a writer. His ideas, too, are complex - he is fixated in some of his later works on idealistic youth who die young, for a cause, which seems to carry an erotic charge for him. As he grew more successful, he organized a small right-wing "shield society" around him, drilling them as bushi; the right wing and militaristic factions in Japanese life saw him, for the most part, as an ally - until, in 1970, after completing his masterpiece (the Sea of Fertility tetralogy), he and his private soldiers took over Jeitai headquarters - Japan's "army by another name" - where Mishima insisted on addressing the troops, holding one man hostage as he argued for a coup to restore the Emperor to his former glory. At the end of his speech, which was met with jeers, he disembowelled himself. As is customary, one of students hacked off Mishima's head (it actually took two of them and several tries) with a sword; a friend in Japan tells me she still remembers the shock of seeing his severed head on television.

It is my impression that Mishima became somewhat of a complex embarrassment for many Japanese thereafter.

Now: Paul Schrader's film about Mishima - Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters - is definitely an interesting experience, and worthwhile; it has also received a Criterion release this week. It restores the Roy Scheider narration mysteriously absent from the previous DVD edition, has an excellent 55-minute long BBC documentary on Mishima, and an essay about why the film was banned in Japan, among other useful extras. Perhaps because I've seen Schrader's film so many times before - and because I've grown a bit weary of his obsessions - the must-see, between these two releases, for me, is Patriotism. In highly stylized, spare black and white images, the short film - just under half an hour - deals with a Lieutenant, played by Mishima, who is torn between his loyalties to a group of young idealists who have attempted a failed coup, and his duty to obey the Emperor, who has ordered the coup be put down. With no other way of reconciling himself, he decides he must die; his wife, Reiko, vows to die with him. They spend a last night together, making love, then come together under the banner that dominates the minimal, Noh-like set, which reads "Wholehearted sincerity." (These characters confront the viewer through much of the film). The climax of the film is bloody and uncomfortable, but also oddly like a lecture - Mishima using his own imagined hara-kiri to upbraid his viewers for their decadence, their laziness, their love of comfort. (He is shown in an interview also on the disc saying with a slight smirk that despite such moments in his work, glorifying ritual death, he would probably die old in his sleep, a death, he felt, with no dignity or meaning). Since similar motifs appear in his writings - in the short story from which Patriotism is drawn, or, most significantly, in Runaway Horses, the only Mishima novel I have in fact completed - it seems bewildering that anyone would be surprised by Mishima's choice to actually kill himself as he did. After his suicide, Mishima's widow made sure all existing prints of the film inside Japan were destroyed, and it was only after her death two years ago that the negative re-surfaced; this is the first time this very striking and uncomfortable film has been widely available in North America. If you think, based on the above, that you will be interested - you will be; it is compelling indeed, and a very nicely-priced Criterion title, at $19.99, complete with a booklet that contains a critical essay, an account by Mishima on the making of the film, and the story itself. Not to seem like I'm encouraging anyone to shop, but this is a pretty impressive offering.

PS: My buddy Dan laughed aloud when I described Mishima as "the G. Gordon Liddy of Japan," and insisted I make mention of it here... So I just did!