Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Excessive Bed

Sigh. So, I haven't had a bed since October, been sleeping on an air mattress on the floor - quite comfortably, really (but what will people think?). Mom gave me $1000 to buy myself a bed for Christmas. Having comparison shopped a bit, my mind settled on a king size bed - I could get a decent new one for $800 at the Salvation Army, mattress and box springs and skip the frame, since - I reasoned - if I ever meet someone and couple up, we might want a bed for two, and this - going from a state of no-beddedness to a state of beddedness - would be the ideal time to plan for that eventuality. I could save money and waste in the future by buying a big bed now. In the meantime, I could roll about in the luxury of excess space.

It sounded great til I got it back to the apartment, which is when I realized just HOW BIG the bed is. Goddamn, do I now have one big bed! It's a good thing I made my bedroom into my office, because there's no way that that it would be fitting in here. The living room, now, is entirely dominated by the thing, huge and white and comical, lacking any sheets that will fit it.

Hm. Well. Maybe a queen sized would have done the trick. And what if I'm single for the rest of my life? I'll be eighty, lying alone with a mile of space on either side of me, thinking back to this moment of folly, my loneliness forever marked by the bed I never filled.

In the same spirit, the last time I got condoms I bought the jumbo box (it was the best deal!). I wonder how many will expire? ...at least when you by 24 rolls of toilet paper, you use them all...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bigger Than Life (...but aren't all movies, really?)

Nicholas Ray is one of my favourite "Hollywood renegades" of the 1950's and 1960's. I was first impressed by his charasmatic performance as the one-eyed forger in Wim Wenders' The American Friend (which also was my "official introduction" to the work of Patricia Highsmith, on whose middle Ripley novels it is loosely based - though followers of this blog will know that I had a formative childhood encounter with a certain story of hers about giant man-eating snails. It doesn't quite count, as I didn't really know or care who Highsmith was at that point, as I was in elementary school and only in it for the snails). Also being a fan of Wenders' Im Lauf Der Zeit (Kings Of The Road), I was very curious to see The Lusty Men, which that film quotes, and was most impressed when I caught up with it. It tells a story of rodeo riders and the woman who loves them (who is much wiser and mature than any of the men-boys in the movie; great Susan Hayward performance, for fans of hers - worth seeking out); it's unavailable officially on DVD to my knowledge, but bootlegs of it can be found. Johnny Guitar was a bit over the top for me (though it would bear revisiting), and I haven't looked at Rebel Without a Cause in years - recalling its social commentary as being somewhat broad (though I do retain a vivid memory of Jim Backus' ass waggling in the kitchen as, housewife-like, he scrubs the floor; why do I remember that image?). His first film, They Live By Night, is a terrific and inventive "doomed lovers on the run" noir which makes striking use of helicopter shots, rare at the time; but by far my favourite film of Ray's is In A Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart as a helplessly self-destructive screenwriter, modeled in part on Ray himself (who is storied, if I've got this right, to have once thrown a movie projector out of a window to register his disagreement with a producer). There aren't many American filmmakers of the 1950's whose canon I am so familiar with; perhaps only Billy Wilder rivals Ray in terms of films I've sought out, with Douglas Sirk and Sam Fuller in distant third-and-fourth place).

Bigger Than Life - soon coming out on Criterion - is not exactly my favourite Ray film, but that's partially my own fault: the idea of James Mason as a professor in the 1950's who succumbs to drug-induced megalomania is so damn appealing to one such as myself that it interfered with my being actually able to appreciate the film on its own terms, the one time I saw it. Good news, then, that I have a shot at catching a theatrical screening: it's currently playing at the Cinematheque, alongside an Elia Kazan film that I have not seen. Cinephile followers of this blog are advised to check it out!
Nothing else to say. Today would have been my father's 76th birthday. I'm going to spend it with Mom. Over and out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scars and memories (...in which I buy a damaged Dead Kennedys record and wax nostalgiac for my teen years)

I found something really special at the Audiopile Boxing Day sale today - a copy of the Dead Kennedys' In God We Trust, Inc. Not a great album by that band, in my opinion - some of their most aggressively thrashy songs are on it, which makes it a bit special, I suppose, and there are great moments (mostly on side two; "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" is indubitably a classic, and I must admit singular fondness for the "Rawhide" cover), but most of it's too aggressive for its own good, Jello's lyrics racing by in a breathless power-rant and East Bay Ray choosing, rather than deft, precise guitar lines, to just play really noisily. Nothing on it is as captivating or catchy as the songs on Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables or Plastic Surgery Disasters, and for the most part its far less developed or musically satisfying than the later Frankenchrist. It's kind of creatively on par with Bedtime For Democracy - but much, much briefer. The cover is the high point, memorable and eloquent; showing a golden Christ nailed to a folded-dollar cross, it's not necessarily blasphemous, just a critique of the church and the exploitation of Christianity by capitalist interests, but it was startling enough back in 1981, when it came out (my parents certainly didn't much like the T-shirt, which I would later buy, probably at the DK's 1984/1985 York Theatre "Fall Of Canada" gig). I've seen used copies of the album before, and passed it up, but this particular copy I absolutely had to get, because there was a tear on the cover - a white spot where the surface of the album art was ripped away when tape was affixed to it and then removed. This made this copy very very special to me. The reasons why require some explaining:

1. In 1982, I was a young and none-too-worldy teenager, for whom rock music was a world of great mystery and adventure. I'd previously, with my guitarist friend Greg Terry - with whom I'd sort of formed a band called Epicurean Nightmare, with me writing the lyrics and him the music, our songs never performed, to my knowledge, outside his room - listened to a lot of metal, as the most rebellious, potent, and energetic music we could find here in suburbia. I'd seen Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the original Van Halen lineup at the Coliseum at that point, I think with Greg. One day, though, he played me the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks - I don't know if it was a new discovery for him at that point, too - and it changed everything. I was still relatively new to cursing - profanity had lost none of its taboo - and "Bodies" was really a shocker, impressively so. There was no question that whatever danger and rebellion were present in metal were intensified exponentially and scarily by the Sex Pistols; there was something far more real, raw, and POWERFUL about punk, something I hadn't realized was out there in the world before Greg dropped the needle, and I needed to hear more. I don't remember if I bought the Pistols' album right away, or just listened to Greg's copy; as it was on a major label, it was one of the only punk albums you could find at mainstream record stores, which is all there were in Maple Ridge, or Coquitlam, or anywhere close by. I had yet to figure out about shops like Collectors RPM or Odyssey Imports or Quintessence (which I believe I actually would go into once, as a kid, during my early vinyl forays into Vancouver); I don't think I'd even put it together that you could find certain records in Vancouver, but not here, at that point.

2. But once I knew about the Pistols, I kept my ears open about punk; I read about it, connected a few dots from magazines and from Greg, and I gathered that there was a band called the Dead Kennedys that were even more rebellious and dangerous than the Sex Pistols. The name alone was compelling as hell. Neither Greg nor I knew where we could find such a thing as a Dead Kennedys record - this was long before the internet - and none of the record stores we knew could help us; they'd never heard of them (or DOA, or the Subhumans, or any of the other bands we asked about). Part of my deep desire to find one of their records, besides simple curiosity, was an adolescent manhood thing: I wanted to one-up Greg, by being the first to find a record by this seemingly mythical band, supposedly even more intense than the one he'd played me. Then one day, at D & G Collectors Records, on East Hastings across from the Kootenay Loop - a shop long gone, needless to say - I found In God We Trust, Inc., which I promptly snapped up, paying over $10 for it. A very high price for a record, in those days, but this was big stuff for me - almost akin to the first Playboy I bought, nervous as hell, at a Maple Ridge drugstore a couple of years previous. It was potentially dangerous stuff - the word "cunt" was even on the lyric sheet, right out there in view on the back cover! It would surely take Greg and I to the next level of our punkhood - a hard-won, long-sought initiation.
3. Now, it happens that on this day, I was on the way to the Pacific Coliseum, I believe to see the Blue Oyster Cult, on their Fire Of Unknown Origin tour. I had floor tickets - standing room; and for whatever reason - laziness, or fear that the record would get damaged or stolen if things got rowdy - I decided to leave it in the coat check rather than carry it with me into the crowd. The coat check person - glowering in disapproval at the artwork - affixed a tag with a number on it, and handed me a card with the same number; I could pick the album up after the show. While I barely remember the BOC - vague images of a giant Godzilla head blowing steam behind the drum riser - I have strikingly vivid memories of the experience after the concert, of going to collect my album and watching the coat check person take the number that was stuck to it with tape and RIP IT OFF, taking a generous chunk of the cover with it. I don't remember if I actually yelled or shouted in shock when this happened, but angry words got exchanged: they had permanently damaged my precious album, before I had even heard it! For years afterwards, while the record was still in my collection, I would feel a little shiver of dismay every time I contemplated the white patch on the front. It may well have hastened my selling the EP (probably to the late Ty Scammell, whom Jello used to buy records from when he was in town). Certainly by 1999, when I moved to Japan, it was gone - I had sold off almost all my records by then, as I didn't want to try to find a space to store them. I wouldn't start rebuilding my collection for ten years...

The astute among you will realize that this damaged patch was, at least to my memory, exactly the same as the one on the album I found at Audiopile today. I believe - I can't be 100% sure, but I believe - that this is the exact same copy of the DK's album that I first bought circa 1982. My first punk purchase on my own steam, which I never ever expected to see again, is now back in my collection. And suddenly, the torn white patch, which used to be a scar, a marker of an old wound, has become precious to me, because it's only by virtue of this scar that I recognized the record at all. If it hadn't been damaged in its own unique way, I would never have realized its imporantance - that it was in fact MY old record, come full circle. And suddenly the scar is a thing of great fondness.
Found me a signed Mojo Nixon, too.

Shame about the recent history of the Kennedys. If the Wikipedia page can be trusted, it looks like they may have finally stopped touring with their various ringer members. The title of their new "best of" album, Milking The Sacred Cow, is depressingly cynical, and seems to vindicate estranged, abused vocalist Jello Biafra in his various harsh comments about his former bandmates. Jello, meanwhile, has a strong, fun new album out, The Audacity Of Hype, with his new band the Guantanamo School Of Medicine. I gave it a slightly snarky review in the Straight - there's one song that flat out annoys me, and I sometimes find something in Jello's righteous manner that is akin to biting on tinfoil - but it's still a goddamn good album and will please any true punks out there (or people who just like good, smart rock). All of Jello's musical ventures since the Kennedys' broke up have been noteworthy, of course, and I'm particularly fond of "Full Metal Jackoff" on his album with DOA, Last Scream Of The Missing Neighbours, and all of Never Breathe What You Can't See, with the Melvins (the cover of "Halo Of Flies" off their next release is pretty damn special, too, even if the album is a bit "padded" with remixes of songs from the previous disc; it feels a bit like the Jelvins had a few leftover songs from the Never Breathe sessions and filled the album out with remixes and a live track...). Still, it's nice to see him with his own band; here's hoping there'll be a Vancouver show, eventually - they play Seattle and Portland in the next few days. Viva Jello!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Late Night Dining Options In Maple Ridge

I've spent the last four days spent intermittently moving my Mom upstairs - with the invaluable help of two good friends - and organizing/ outfitting her new apartment. Today the errands involved getting extension cords and a dish rack (since her dishwasher won't really fit in the new kitchen); rejigging some of the power bars and plugs in her apartment; and cooking dinner. Tonight, it was bison burgers; the last three days have been turkey leftovers from the feast Mom made our movin' helpers on Sunday, with Mom pushing aside the plate on the third day to announce she was sick of turkey. Pretty much everything that needs to be set up is set up; mostly the work left over involves going through the remnants of my parents' previous suite and deciding what is still useful, what should be boxed up, what should be taken to a thrift store, and what should be thrown away; but everything necessary to her life and comfort is upstairs already. I'm happy she's liking the new suite; it looks like this might work for awhile - she's independent and resourceful enough to maintain the space once I'm able to go back to work, and though she does make a few mistakes since her stroke, mostly they've involved forgetting which meds to take when, or getting confused about dates and numbers. She's quite able to take care of herself on her own (I think).

Tonight, tho' I'd planned to do more, the errand-running proved enough, and once dinner was done, after sharing America's Funniest Home Videos and a Family Feud, I found myself nodding off on the couch - I forget what was on TV at that point. She had a bingo game in the building to go to, anyhow, so I came home, read a bit, and passed out at 8pm, to wake up fully refreshed and unable to sleep further around 10:30, the bison burgers long since having been digested. Alas, my kitchen is bare, and my dining table cluttered with stuff I've moved back here; all my work has gone into Mom's place, lately, and I've been pretty much living there for well over a month, since my Dad went into the hospital, so I'm ill prepared to resume life in my suite. After killing an hour or so for my thyroid meds to go through my system, I faced a tough question: what's a guy to eat after midnight in Maple Ridge?

Since the Subway on 224th is closed, the options, far as I could tell, were:

1. A few different pizza places, all of which offer only the standard pizza toppings. Good luck finding sundried tomatoes, pesto, garlic, or carmelized onions in this town! I just had pizza last night, however, happily making it through 3/4's of a medium ham, pineapple and onion job until suddenly I felt the desire to gag. Which stopped my eating and greatly lessened my enthusiasm for having another pizza tonight.

2. The White Spot burger joint at the Chevron on Lougheed Highway, open all night. While it's greasy fast food of dubious nutritional value, I do eat at White Spot now and then and find it quite tasty, and there's no noticeable drop in quality between the Maple Ridge White Spot and the one I sometimes used to eat at in the Mac's on Davie Street. But it would have required a block's further walk on a very cold night, and I still have a bit of a limp from an old ankle injury, which left me to settle on:

3. Tim Horton's. This Tim Horton's location has made the news twice in recent years. One article suggests that it is used by local sex trade workers as a meeting place for prospective clients; alas, the john raped and brutally beat the woman in question in a nearby ravine after they met, getting a mere five years for the assault, hence the news story. More recently, a 24 year old was arrested after punching out said Tim's window. Reminds me of the guy who shattered the glass door of the video store I worked at years ago, a few blocks away - or the time, as a teen, that I put my own fist through a glass window to punch at a kid who was teasing me (I still have scars on my right wrist; it could have been very bad...). I've never really understood the appeal of Timmie's - the devotion that franchise spawns, as some sort of (formerly?) Canadian cultural institution, is rather beyond me, based on the quality of the food, coffee, and service, but one must learn to make do. The chicken salad sandwich, at least, is edible (I'm long since back to eating meat, thank God; I don't think vegetarian options exist at Tim's, unless you want to have a dinner of donuts). The chili, it transpires, is less so - it suggests low-grade meat shipped in in cannisters and heated up. After picking out the chunks of mushroom, I made a fair show of eating it, but then started to think about the stories about e. coli I'd seen in the doc Food, Inc, and decided to give it up. The worst part of the meal by far, tho', was the peppermint tea, which tasted like nothing so much as the plastic lid the Filipino worker so considerately put on the cup for me, though I had full intention of eating in and would have eschewed the unnecessary waste if given the chance. Plastic-flavoured tea - a holiday favourite. Mariah Carey Christmas music played overhead as I plodded through the meal and chased it down with a double chocolate donut, the adjective "joyless" coming to mind as I packed up my garbage and headed for the door... reminding me that when I lived in the suburbs of Tokyo, in Ageo-shi in the prefecture of Saitama - jokingly called "Dasaitama" by some, from the Japanese adjective "dasai," meaning something lacking in class or sophistication - just around the corner from my apartment was the Joyfull Restaurant (sic), also open 24 hours, and serving all manner of tasty dishes, both western and Asian. I used to enjoy their Salisbury steak, as I recall, and had plenty of teriyaki and yakisoba there, as well as slices of cheesecake with strawberries. Dasai or no, the suburbs of Tokyo make for better late night dining options than the suburbs of Vancouver. Go figure.

I think I need to buy some groceries.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Phil Minton's Feral Choir: Vancouver return

Phil Minton by Francesca Pfeffer, not to be reused without permission

With apologies to Paul Dutton, Koichi Makigami, Maja Ratkje, Jaap Blonk, and Maggie Nicols -vocal improvisers whose music has brought me great pleasure and whom I'm very happy to have met - my favourite vocal improviser is Phil Minton, especially if I get to see him at work live. I am thus utterly thrilled that Vancouver New Music is bringing Phil's Feral Choir (audio and video of which are at that link) back to town - tho' technically, most of the people who will be onstage are already here, as Mr. Minton will be organizing workshops and a performance for locals - musicians and otherwise - who might wish to participate chorally in this unusual art form (Ross Birdwise, are you receiving?). The sign-up date is mid-January and the performance will be January 24th. I'm pleased to promote it by posting my old Phil Minton interview, from Bixobal #2 - a fine little zine I dearly hope will get back on it's little webbed feet someday; for further reading, there's a fun Phil Minton anecdote in my recent piece about that Paul Dutton/ Alex Varty/ Coate Cook concert at 1067...

Meantime, I give you...

The Diminishing Doughnuts of Phil Minton
Interview by Allan MacInnis

One of the most remarkable performances I’ve seen was a small, free “Feral Choir” concert conducted in February of 2007 led by the UK’s Phil Minton at Vancouver’s Carnegie Center – located at Main and Hastings, the “Ground Zero” of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside slum. Various locals – often exhausted by a combination of poverty, drugs, alcohol, mental illness and misery – would shuffle into the tiny hall, filling up on free coffee and peering, occasionally, in various states of confusion and annoyance, at what was going on at front. Some stayed, and some left after about a minute shaking their heads. Of those, some came back to peer a little more intently a few minutes later, re-filling their coffees en route, as the bespectacled improviser led six Vancouver non-professionals through an ever-shifting series of trills, burbles, bleeps, moans, and chants. Each member of the choir – from a tiny plump white-haired woman adorned with brightly-coloured scarves and an expressive style that suggested Wallace Shawn, to a hugely bearded beanpole in a bandana – performed with his or her own distinct style, producing something organic, beautiful, and utterly bizarre over the course of a single thirty minute improv. The only false note was when one straightish woman attempted to inject a Bob and Doug McKenzie “cu-ru-cu-cu” into the proceedings; in the case of music already so infused with playfulness and joy, there isn’t much need to force humor onto the stage.

Minton would perform again during that trip to Vancouver, at the Ironworks, as part of a rotating ensemble organized by Coastal Jazz and Blues (later edit: the Time Flies festival, which I neglected to name as such in the original article), modelled on Derek Bailey’s “company weeks,” in which varied combinations of gifted improvisers were mixed and matched over the course of several nights. Said company included violinist Eyvind Kang, UK saxophonist John Butcher, Toronto drummer Harris Eisenstadt, Dutch pianist Cor Fuhler, and Danish guitarist Hasse Poulsen (who more often than not played his guitar with a bow or a slinky). Local cellist Peggy Lee and transplanted bassist Torsten Muller rounded out the pool and did Vancouver proud. As gifted as these musicians are, when he took the stage, the seated Minton stole the show, performing at a remarkable level of physical intensity, his entire body called into play; anyone watching his twitches, jerks, leans and lolls in another context might assume that Minton was quite nuts, or perhaps attempting an eccentric form of theatre, but his physical immersion in producing sound really betokens nothing more than his total devotion to his craft.

Thanks to Coastal Jazz’s Ken Pickering (who is an aficionado of the art of vocal improv, and often brings exponents of the form to our jazz fest), I’d seen Minton several times previous, both as part of the Dedication Orchestra and in a small group improv with Muller, Lee, and the delightful Maggie Nicols (who says of Phil, “I adore him and he's easily my favourite male singer.”) I was too intimidated by Minton’s unique and oddly charismatic presence to approach him about an interview until the February concerts, but when we finally got talking, I found him warm and tolerant of my at-times overlong, intensely inquisitive questions. When I stumbled once in my nervousness – calling him “Mr. Dutton,” thinking of Canada’s own master of vocal improv, Paul Dutton – he responded with a bizarrely guttural, but playful, growl that will remain ever untranslatable (which is probably for the best!). What resulted was an interesting, but brief, glimpse into the career of a most unusual performer. Those wanting more are encouraged to visit Minton’s homepage, http://www.philminton.co.uk/.

By the way, we Canadians (- because this was being published in an American magazine, dig? - ) spell it “donut,” too. I have followed Mr. Minton’s lead.

Phil: Hullo there.

Allan: Hello, Mr. Minton, it’s Allan MacInnis calling.

Phil: Hullo, Allan.

Allan: Is now a good time?

Phil: Sure.
Allan: Great... Let me start by asking you about a quote from Paul Dutton in the liner notes to
your solo CD, A Doughnut in One Hand, that you “eschew personal emotions” in your work, but that nonetheless “there’s an emotional content of riveting intensity, an exploration of feelings that elude ready (or perhaps any) verbal articulation, feelings sensed but not seized.” Everyone playing last night seemed to be working primarily with sound, but because you’re a vocal artist, it’s really difficult not to see you as expressing emotion, as well.
Phil: Yeah.
Allan: How do you feel about that sort of thing?
Phil: Well, there are so many sort of subjective associations with vocal sounds... I’ve just got to listen to them in an abstract way. I can’t get involved with the emotional associations. Most sounds I find are pretty positive, actually – I don’t actually use many negative sounds. I’m just hearing it just as sound and music, actually. I have to disassociate myself from any of the emotional associations.
Allan: How do you feel about audiences imposing those things on you? Anyone who sees you may talk about stuttering or stammering or trying to articulate inexpressible things – I’ve read praises of your performances like this. Do you think they’re on the wrong track?
Phil (chuckles): I’m probably not hearing it as “stuttering” – I’m probably hearing it as some sort of rhythmic riff, almost completely musically!
Allan: What’s happening inside you when you’re performing? You become very physical – I gather when you were a younger man you used to writhe about onstage.
Phil (laughing): I did do a bit more moving about. I’ve seen some videos and stuff of myself, and – I don’t like myself when I’m standing up, actually. I use my body to get out all of the sounds. I can’t get those sounds unless I move my body in a certain way. That’s why I move.
Allan: It looks like you’re playing yourself – moving your feet, moving your hands, like they’re part of your instrument. It’s quite fascinating. What’s going on in your mind when you’re doing that? Are you lost to the world, or -?
Phil: Yeah, but there’s degrees of lostness...
Allan: Do you have to consciously stop and listen to what people are doing, or is it more of an intuitive process?
Phil: I’m listening all the time.
Allan: And consciously deciding to do this-or-that, or...?
Phil: I make the decisions at the time, it’s spontaneous. There’s a whole repertoire of stuff that I can find somewhere... I think my brain is like a synthesizer. I have to find the sound that I want. Often I don’t find it, so I take on like a physical... uh... like a deep breath, perhaps, and I’ll do the body manipulations to get a certain sound, from changing the shape of my mouth, the shape of my larynx, and putting the voice to a different area in my body...
Allan: Mm-hm?
Phil: And sometimes it doesn’t actually happen. I get something completely different from what I intended, and I have to work with that material. There’s a lot of the time when new things actually happen. But, uh – it’s all intuitive. I don’t have any set plan when I sit down, nothing at all.
Allan: You’ve said that improvising is the most honest form of performance.
Phil (laughs): Yeah! It can be, without any plans at all. If I ever have plans I forget them in the heat of the moment.
Allan: I read that you started out being interested in improvised music by looking at Jackson Pollock.
Phil: Yeah.
Allan: And you were goofing around in choir, doing strange things.
Phil: I was in church choirs, yeah. I sort of left that at quite an early age, as my voice broke – or I probably said my voice was breaking! (chuckles). When it ended, my voice was breaking. It didn’t suit me at all, being in choirs. I started to get interested in music again when I heard jazz, actually. Especially Coltrane, was very powerful – he had that incredible energy. And some friend of mine who was an art student showed me some photographs of Pollock’s paintings, you know, and it just seemed to have some of the same energy. It was really a challenging form. The music at the time was hard bop and that, it was very classically crafted music, and somehow I didn’t feel I wanted to get into that sort of world. I could hear something after that incredible discipline, y’know – that it was about finding things inside your own body and your own instrument. And Jackson Pollock seemed like the visual counterpart of the sounds I was seeing. You just sort of think, and then you wait til you find other people who are thinking the same things, you know, a few years later – and you meet up... Of course, then there was a whole movement...
Allan: Yeah.
Phil: But I was never particularly involved, in the very early days, actually, of the London improvising scene. I was living in Sweden, at this period, with a family, working in a dance band.
Allan: Playing trumpet?
Phil: Yeah, and singing covers.
Allan: Conventional songs.
Phil: Yeah.
Allan: When did you start doing vocal improv in a serious way?
Phil: I would say in the late 60s. I was playing trumpet and working with some Swedish musicians, in Northern Sweden. As I was working in the dance band, I was also playing with the free improvisers, around the area at the time. There was a fantastic sax player called Lars Göran Ulander. I did a recording with this group in 1969 (Blue Tower CD07, Up Umeå, released in 1999). I think that’s the first time you’ll hear me doing what might be called voice improvising.
Allan: And it was done alongside trumpet playing?
Phil: I did both. It sounds pretty conventional, these days.
Allan: Were there other people around who you saw as antecedents? Kurt Schwitters, or...?
Phil: I didn’t know anything about Kurt Schwitters. I think Paul Dutton was the first person to introduce me to Kurt Schwitters. That would have been in the early 1980’s. I didn’t know much about the sound poetry scene. I was more into listening to saxophone players than voices.
Allan: How did the Feral Choir get started?
Phil: Well, I started doing some workshops with young musicians in Sweden, I think. It must have been fifteen years ago. There’s some musicians, some dancers, some actors – and then I started to get asked to do more of these workshops. I’d been told by somebody years ago that I was sort of a “feral singer,” and I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I found out about it. I rather liked this idea. And then I was asked once to do a workshop and they said, “Could we do a concert afterwards?” And they said, “What could we call the choir?” and I said, “We’ll call it the Feral Choir.” And then it started from there. I’ve done about fifty or sixty now, workshops through the years.
Allan: Wow!
Phil: I do about three or four a year. Quite large groups sometimes – I have done up to about 200 kids. And now I’ve worked in lots and lots of situations with homeless people, people in prisons, and – people from quite unlikely backgrounds. I did one recently with postgraduate scientists, which was quite interesting.
Allan: Where was that?
Phil: That was in England... What I’ve been trying to do is broaden it out. There’s a word for it – outreach, it’s called, these days, where you take art into the community. Because I was feeling pretty isolated, going around the world, and doing these workshops for, well, quite interesting people, but they were all into the music, you know? They weren’t the general public, and I just wanted to open it up and do it with ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds. A lot of people have said how much they enjoyed being part of such a thing. It’s not hard, and it’s for people who can’t sing – or say they can’t sing. I think if anybody can make some sort of positive sounds, it’s singing, as far as I’m concerned.
Allan: There’s a really egalitarian nature to it – everyone has a mouth.
Phil: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Allan: When working with prisoners – I know there’s not meant to be a cathartic or emotional element in your own singing, but do you ever try to tap into their emotions?
Phil: People do get quite emotional, yeah. I often start the workshops with laughter, because it’s like the most extreme thing the voice does, and it’s really vocally quite wild sometimes. So I start with laughter, and I start to explore what we do with our voices when we laugh, and a lot of people can get quite hysterical when we start on this.
Allan: Do you try to stick with more positive emotions, or do people ever explore screaming, primal scream, that sort of thing?
Phil: I don’t deal with that, no. People do it, though. I wouldn’t... I’ve never worked with psychotic people either, I wouldn’t trust myself on that level.
Allan: (laughs)
Phil: But for mildly neurotic people it seems great! People come up and say they hadn’t laughed for five years or things like that, or they’ve never tried to pitch a note before. They’ve never sung at all, hummed or anything, and they’ve started to do it after being in these workshops. There you go – for some people, it’s great. And it’s a great kick for me.
Allan: The performance seemed very liberating. There’s an element of play in it – it’s very serious, but so are the most earnest forms of play. When children are playing, for instance...
Phil: Yeah. I mean – it’s great. Seven middle aged and almost elderly people doing some of those things – God, I thought it was great! They were a great little bunch, actually, last night.
Allan: I was sitting in the audience, and quite a few of people listening were quite poor and down and out. There were some really different reactions around me. I could hear one rather gruff old man behind me saying, “Ah, they’re a bunch of cuckoos!”
Phil (laughs): Yeah...
Allan: But he stayed. And then there was this woman at the end who turned to me at the end and said, “I LIKED it,” but in this very, “I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks” kind of way.
Phil (laughs): Yeah, well... that’s rather good!
Allan: Do you do anything special to practice your singing?
Phil: I’m trying to do that all the time, much to the annoyance of my family. I’m yeah – it was – huuuuuummmnjoooe. I’m always aware of my voice! I can’t let it go. I practice in the middle of the night, apparently. Yeah.
Allan: Do you have any particular techniques that you use?
Phil: Just finding if I can hit things I’m hearing at a certain time. And I always use this yodel technique as a way of keeping my voice flexible. (Demonstrates): Eiuuuweuuuweeiuuu. Apparently I do this all the time at home, and I’m always being told off about it.
Allan: Is that something you devised specifically, or -?
Phil: It seems good for me. I don’t know if it’s good for other people.
Allan: But is it an actual official-type yodelling technique?
Phil: I don’t know if it’s “official.” I just always wanted to yodel as a kid. I’ve never heard of it as any particular practice for vocalists. If you want to yodel, practising yodelling – I don’t think it does much else.
Allan: Do you practice in public? Do you ever get funny looks from strangers?
Phil: Of course, yeah. All the time. I forget about it. And I’ve got to be careful in airports, especially in queues, when you’re not thinking about much, you know. I suddenly start with ooommmmmmuuuwooommuuuuuuwm or something. And I often mimic sounds around me – if I hear electronic stuff going on. (Whistles in imitation of an electronic beeping sound). Doing it along with it – different pitches that I hear all the time, I’m often joining in. Yeah.
Allan: Your whistling last night in performance was extraordinary to hear. You can do a lot more than most people with your mouth! I tried to imitate some of the sounds you were making, and I felt baffled by how developed your mouth is.
Phil: I don’t think it’s just the mouth... There’s a whole load of things going on.
Allan: Okay. Sorry! I don’t know what questions to ask, because it’s such a remarkable and small field, what you do...
Phil: There seems to be more people getting interested. There are people exploring these sort of things. I think I do it in a more – perhaps not an academic way, but there’s been some academic people researching voice sounds. I suppose I’m quite show-bizzy in that way, because I actually do it as performance, but I think other people are doing it in academic circles.
Allan: Have phoneticians or linguists ever shown interest in what you do?
Phil: Oh yeah... There’s a guy that’s written a book called 21st Century Voice, that sort of deals with this area of vocalese, or whatever it might be called.
Allan: And he spoke to you?
Phil: Yeah.
Allan: Okay... let me ask you about your solo voice albums, A Doughnut in Both Hands and A Doughnut in One Hand – is there a third doughnut album?

Phil: There will be: No Doughnuts in Hand. It’s a trilogy. I hope it will be released this year sometime.

Allan: Those albums are entirely untreated, right – no electronics?

Phil: Yeah, yeah.

Allan: Are there other vocal improvisers whose work you particularly like?
Phil: Of course, Maggie Nicols is great, and Jaap and Paul and David Moss, these guys.

Allan: How about performing with other vocal improvisers, versus other instruments? Do you have a preference?

Phil: Nope! Doesn’t matter what the instrument is.

Allan: Americans versus Europeans? You seem to be very European in your approach to improvising - there doesn’t seem to be a lot of the blues in what you’re doing?

Phil: Is the blues like, a flattened third interval? I don’t think I do any of those. But I don’t know if that is the definition of the blues, really... Ah... It’s sort of European, I suppose, but a lot of American improvisers don’t use the blues, either, I would say.

Allan: I’ve read critics say that a lot of Europeans are more interested in sound in a pure way, whereas blues scales are really pervasive in North America...

Phil: Well, last night – we were using stuff in between the notes as well. Stuff that can’t be notated, even – we’re not even on scales!

Allan: How do you feel about people like Maja Ratkje, who treats her voice with electronics?

Phil: I don’t know who she is...

Allan: She’s from Norway. She’s in Spunk and Fe-mail, and has done some vocal improv work with Jaap Blonk. How do you feel about electronics? Do you try to stay away from that?

Phil: Yeah, I’ll stick with my own stuff. It’s another instrument, it’s another way of thinking, but I’m trying to find sounds from my body... I couldn’t put it in a computer and store it and then try to find it. I wouldn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t be able to do it. I don’t want to do it. I have no interest in it... I find it hard enough to switch on a light!

Allan (laughs). Okay, well – one last question, then. You had said that you wanted to keep things positive, wherever possible, but... do you have any sort of philosophy of art, any particular effect you want to have on your audience?

Phil: I... (pauses; thinks, and states decisively): I want to be loved.

Allan, Phil: (laughter).

Phil: Just like everybody else, I think. It’s a strange way of going about it....

(Those interested should note that since this interview took place - in late 2007, I think - No Doughnuts In Hand has been released on the Emanem label. More information on that here).

Monday, December 21, 2009

RIP Robin Wood

I always had great regard for Canadian-based film critic Robin Wood, who died this week. His Hollywood From Vietnam To Reagan - subtitled "...And Beyond" for the revised edition - is one of my favourite, and most-referenced, books of film criticism. His chapter in The Shape Of Rage taking issue with the praises heaped on David Cronenberg and querying his ideology is the most thought-provoking and stimulating chapter in the book, and the short bit of back-and-forth between Cronenberg and Wood about Wood's criticisms is extremely revealing, in a way that the fawning (pseudo?)academic pose-striking that usually gets attached to Cronenberg never is. One of my proudest accomplishments as a writer has been to have my interview with Charles Mudede about Police Beat and Zoo appear in CineACTION!, a critical journal that Wood was intimately involved with and often appeared in -- I hope he read my article! (It's in issue 72, available for order online). As with any film critic, there are things he said that I disagree with, and I'm by no means a fan of all of the films he triumphed - he was very fond of Larry Cohen's It's Alive films, for example, but I find them almost entirely unwatchable, whatever Cohen's allegedly politically admirable intentions (...tho' I am quite fond of Q and various OTHER Larry Cohen movies; Wood just happened to have chosen some of his worst films to praise); but he was always thought-provoking and worth reading, and contributed much to my appreciation of cinema. Condolences to his family and partner and those who worked with him; film criticism is a poorer place without him.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Punishment Park upcoming at the Vancity Theatre, plus more

One of the most passionate political films I've seen - and also a startling experiment with film form, a pseudodocumentary that was mistaken in some quarters for an actual depiction of the treatment of radicals by the American government in the early 1970's - Peter Watkins' Punishment Park (see also here) is a fascinating, if painfully grim, look at the polarization of political discourse in the USA, imagining an America where longhairs, dropouts and protestors are rounded up, submitted to a kangaroo-court trial, and given a choice between serving a lengthy jail sentence or being herded into the desert to run the obstacle course of the title, pursued by National Guardsmen and police with little respect for the rules they are paid to enforce. It will play at the Vancity Theatre starting January 8th, in a new 35mm print. Mr. Watkins issued a self-interview to give insight into the making and meaning of the film, which I previously published here, prior to screening the film at Blim on video some years ago. I'm delighted that it's going to play in a proper film version here, and encourage all cinephiles of the city to check it out; bring people to talk with, after the film is over. Punishment Park is essential cinema for dark times; it won't cheer you up, but it might get your blood boiling, and it will definitely hold your attention...

More to see at the Vancity that I'm keen on - including The Yes Men Fix The World and Antichrist, in a double bill with Carl Theodor Dryer's Day Of Wrath. Nick Ray's Bigger Than Life is a great James Mason vehicle soon to screen at the Cinematheque - whose website I'm having issues with tonight, but check the Criterion Collection site for more, since the film will make its first appearance on DVD soon...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The World Makes A Space For the Pointed Sticks

The new Pointed Sticks' album, Three Lefts Make A Right, shows the Sticks maturing from bitter young men to pop craftsmen apparently more or less at peace with themselves; while I prefer the "blood, snot, and tears" of their youth, it's startling how much vitality and love of music they still put across.

At present, I don't have much in the way of insight into the album, since I'm not really in a mode to revel in pop craftsmanship, which was always and remains a big part of the pleasure of the Pointed Sticks; I'll make it to the Saturday gig (the afternoon one, at least), but I won't be spinning the disc much, nor have I done since I received it - followers of this blog will understand why. Still, it's interesting to think of on an afternoon "off." Though it's obvious to say, there's an almost-every-song-could-be-a-hit aspect to the album that makes one wonder if the band will be dragged further into the gaping maw of celebrity, which makes the whole experience a bit odd on a few counts - because there's an almost anachronistic quality to the "kind" of hits these songs could make, and because one wonders if the world of pop celebrity as it exists now would be prepared to accomodate the Sticks, or if they would be further prepared to accomodate it.

It will be particularly interesting to see how the reception of this album sheds light on the question of how much the relationship of so-called punk to the mainstream has changed since Perfect Youth was released nearly 30 years ago. Based on the songs - and knowing nothing about how widely distributed the disc is or how exactly something becomes a "hit" in the classic pop vein these days, which is what these songs seem to want to be - it seems entirely reasonable to imagine their new album getting spun on CFOX or such, and for all I fuckin' listen to CFOX, it may well be already. And lest we say that that's because - as some have said - the Pointed Sticks aren't really a punk band but a pop one, it need also be noted that even DOA's Northern Avenger (which, tho' it also seems almost CFOX-ready, is unquestionably a punk album) is on the rack at the Maple Ridge London Drugs at the moment. I KNOW from personal experience how impossible it was to find ANYTHING by The Pointed Sticks or DOA in Maple Ridge in the 1980's, as I was here, desperately looking. For the world to change enough that a band once rejected by the mainstream media because of their association with a taboo musical form can make a comeback and be fully embraced within their own lifetimes - that would be an interesting story, assuming the album gets embraced. It reminds me, queerly, of the folk revival in New York in the early 1960's - with the Sticks in the role of Mississippi John Hurt, say, wondering if the white people coming towards them with papers in hand are from the authorities or not ("I haven't done nothin' wrong!"). The parallels are actually quite odd to contemplate, even if the "white people" in this particular story are actually Japanese...

As for the songs... the Dishrags appear on backing vocals for one track, which, to my knowledge, is their first return to the studio since reuniting for a couple of shows. I still feel a bit bad about the snarkiness of my review of their second "reunion" concert, as it appeared in the Nerve a couple of years ago; it was actually NOT the version that I'd intended to see print, but editors are slobs and rascals (hi, Mack! - actually, he's the finest editor I've ever worked with, I just need to defer blame onto SOMEONE). Fans who have been paying attention will indubitably wonder if Nick and Gord's "She's Not Alone Anymore" is written about any of the same girls the Sticks were so pissed off at in the 1980's (and if any of them were Dishrags, for that matter). Anyone who has seen a Slowpoke And The Smoke concert will be able to guess without looking at the digipack that the doo-woppy/ croonerish "All Night" was written by Tony Bardach. Diehard Sticks fans will be likely able to peg the upbeat, bouncy "By Your Side" on Bill Napier-Hemy tune, too. I'm embarrassed to not immediately recognize which "Smith" has a cowriting credit on "Leave Me Alone" - Phil? - but it's my favourite tune on the disc, the most musically ambitious, and apparently is indebted to Art Bergmann's "Dirge" - it partakes of the same epic lope.

This is not to enthuse without reserve about the album, mind you. "I'm On Fire," which I've heard live, has a pleasing degree of garage infusion, but I like the verses far better than the choruses, which diminish some of the energy of the tune, and lyricially never seem as credible as, say, Bruce Springsteen's use of the same phrase. And energetic or not, "Wireless" seems to lend itself far too readily to being used as a mobile internet jingle; if I ever have to listen to it in movie theatres over advertising featuring cute exotic animals, I will swear off the Pointed Sticks forever. Finally, there's the question of snot: the Sticks did bitter so well at times that it kind of depresses me how darn wholesome and fun this album is. One of the tricks of aging, I guess: you find your place in the world (or the world makes a space for you).

Still: I'm deeply proud that these guys come from Vancouver; they're an excellent export, a better advertisement for this city than all the rainbow inukshuks thus far printed, and a damn fine band. So here's my old Pointed Sticks article from Razorcake #36! (Go buy the back issue if you want hard copy - it has different photos, for one. On that note: there's a Big Takeover with Pointed Sticks pics credited to me, that were actually taken by Cindy Metherel and Femke Van Delft - but guess who is to blame for that one?).

Bill, Ian, Nick and Tony in Japan - photo taken in Japan (by Gord?) and provided by the band

The Pointed Sticks Do Japan (with a little help from DOA)

Interview by Allan MacInnis (sometime in 2007!)

The Pointed Sticks were only ever active on the Vancouver punk scene for a few short years, breaking up in 1981. Less angry and less political than DOA or the Subhumans, the band offered an energetic, well-crafted style of punk-pop/ “New Wave” that seemed like it could actually catch on beyond the boundaries of Vancouver’s small scene and put the city on the map. Indeed, an EP was put out on Stiff Records, Out of Luck, and the Sticks toured England and recorded tracks for a Stiff LP that was never to be released. After they returned home, they would re-record some of these songs for Perfect Youth, distributed by the legendary local label Quintessence, but the disappointment of remaining a merely local phenomenon may have been too much. After the band broke up and Quintessence folded, there were many years when you could hardly even find Perfect Youth or the early singles in collector’s shops, and subsequent generations of Vancouver punk kids barely even knew the Pointed Sticks had existed. Only the most devoted record collectors and music freaks remembered just how fresh, fun, and tuneful the Pointed Sticks were.

The sort of devoted record collectors and music freaks you find in Japan, for instance.

The Dishrags and a mini-version of the Sticks at the Vancouver Complication; photo provided by Bill Napier-Hemy, not to be reused without permission

When Pointed Sticks’ Bill Napier-Hemy and Tony Bardach got onstage with members of the Dishrags in February of 2005, to perform as part of the record release party for the reissue of the famed local anthology, Vancouver Complication, there were still no plans for a formal reunion or tour. Bill (who is married to Dishrags singer/guitarist Jade Blade) sang “The Marching Song” in place of an absent Nick Jones, and that was, as far as anyone knew, all that anyone would hear from the Pointed Sticks live ever again. Perfect Youth had finally been released on CD, and the band’s label, Sudden Death, were working on a compilation of singles and unreleased material, Waiting For The Real Thing, but the offer to tour Japan in 2006 came as quite a shock to all concerned.

I was able to talk to various people involved in the mini-tour, from former Quintessence employee and current Noize to Go record store owner Dale Wiese to various Canadian and Japanese fans in attendance at the band’s three gigs. Since the chain of events that led to the Japanese Pointed Sticks reunion all started with Sudden Death capo Joey “Shithead” Keithley, it was also imperative that I talk to Joe. Joe’s a great storyteller; he was grateful to sit out loading in for the Vancouver Island gig that DOA were playing later that night and gab with me on the phone, to fill me in on some of the backstory.

Joey "Shithead" Keithly onstage with Randy Rampage a few years ago; photo by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

The Shithead Tapes

Allan MacInnis: So the Pointed Sticks reunion has its roots in the 2001 DOA Japanese tour?

Joey Keithley: Yes it does. We did about six shows down there (in Japan). It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Allan: There was a CD put out, too, wasn’t there, of Japanese bands covering DOA songs?

Joey: Yeah, we all just put two songs on there. There were seven bands, from Japanese pop band to noise bands, doing DOA songs, including us. They were all different, no repeats, so there’s like 12 different Japanese versions of DOA songs. It was just a riot listening to this, because they had the music down really well, and their singing is really good, right in tune, but of course with a heavy Japanese accent... It’s a great record, actually. It’s called We Still Keep on Running with DOA... Sudden Death has it on our website. Let’s just say it hasn’t topped the Billboard Charts.

Allan: What were Japanese fans like?

Joey: Aw, fuck, they were, like, nuts, right? They were so respectful—it’s funny. Well, it’s not funny, I shouldn’t say that, but, it’s like a very respectful culture. I don’t quite understand it, I’d have to know more about Japan, but, for instance... We were playing a show in... I forget what town, but One of the opening bands was on, and I was on the stairs, and all of a sudden these guys started fighting—these Japanese punks are having it out. I guess this was at the back of the hall, and the fuckin’ band that was on stopped playing and the whole crowd turned around and stared at these two guys. No bouncers came and grabbed them by the collar like they would here. Then they walked outside, and of course, I walked after, because I wanted to see what happened, right? And they were both mad, but they stopped fighting and they bowed at each other and they went back into the venue. I’m going, like, “Ohhh-kay, THAT’S a little different, isn’t it?” Usually blood is the order of the day, y’know? Some stupid and pathetic thing that we would do in our culture....

Allan: And Japanese fans were enthusiastic about DOA?

Joey: Oh, man. We had this show in Miyazaki, down south, and it’s like tropical down there, right? We were amazed at how fuckin’ hot it was. It was like bein’ in Hawaii, almost... but when we went there, there were screaming people at the airport, going “DOA wah wah wah wah!” and it’s like, “Oh my God, you’ve hit the home run in the World Series!” The fan devotion is amazing, and for those guys, it was unbelievable.

Allan: Sales of Pointed Sticks discs have been good in Japan?

Joey: They’ve been overwhelming. We’ve shipped over there something like five or 6,000 units, between LPs and CDs, of Perfect Youth and Waiting for the Real Thing. That’s like 80% of the sales worldwide. I mean, we get decent little orders from the U.S. and Canada, too. Some of the cooler fanzines like Razorcake and the Big Takeover in New York, they’ve gone, “Yeah, this is one of the fuckin’ great original bands”—some people realize that here. But, for some reason, they’ve got this fanatical following in Japan. I mean, if DOA went over there with them, we would be the support band. I’ve been travelling around the world for twenty-eight years, playing shows, and people ask me about friends and the old Vancouver scene, but never in this way. Japanese fans would come up to me and were like, “So—you know Pointed Stick? You know Modernette?” I’m sorry for my bad imitations... but I was just amazed.

Allan: ...and that was before any of the reissues, right?

Joey: Yeah. I came back and asked Grant McDonagh from Zulu Records (who previously issued a Pointed Sticks compilation) and he didn’t have any Pointed Sticks left, and he had some Young Canadians and Modernettes. After about three years, I finally talked Grant into letting me reissue and distribute them. I took up all his excess stock of Young Canadians and sold that and paid him and all that stuff, and then I talked to the bands. It took quite a bit of talking with the Sticks because Nick is a real kind of perfectionist, and he really wanted it to be done right, nothing slipshod—because even though he’s not playing music anymore—with good reason they had a lot of pride in what they did.

Allan: Wait a sec, Nick plays with the Frank Frink Five, with Randy Carpenter, doesn’t he?

Joey: Yeah, but that’s a cover thing, right? Nick’s a songwriter, and a good songwriter, and because of various circumstances they never did get their kick at the can. I’m not saying they would have been as big as the Buzzcocks, but you know, they could have entered the public consciousness a lot more than they did. A lot of bands of lesser quality got further ahead. But hey, that’s the music business, right? That always happens. Anyhow, Nick had a lot of pride in it and the other guys, too, but particularly Nick. I eventually talked Nick into it. It really came together after the Complication show, and the re-release of Perfect Youth. They all saw that this is a good cause, and it really helped that we’re still friends. I mean, I don’t chum around with those guys anymore, but there were no, like, sour grapes or professional jealousies or any of that bullshit.

Allan: And it made money?

Joey: It turned out good. They were surprised when we did the royalties and they all got good cheques out of it. It’s sort of like... you do records, and all of a sudden you realize, “Fuck, this is the first time I’ve ever gotten paid for being on a record!” I mean... Me and Wimpy, with DOA, the first time we made any money off DOA or Subhumans records, we went to London, England in 1990—this is twelve years after both bands started—and we sold singles and LPs to collectors and record shops, right? And we’re going, “Fuck, like, it’s amazing!” It made me realize how much we’d gotten ripped off by all those different record companies before, and the same thing with the Pointed Sticks—they never got a fuckin’ dime back then.

Allan: And now?

Joey: They got their first statement of royalties three months ago, and I’ll do them up again probably in the next month, and they’ll get a whole ‘nuther chunk of money. We pay them every six months, type of thing. It’s going very well. The Young Canadians and the Modernettes CDs we’ve put out, we still haven’t broken even on ‘em, which is fine. I’m really proud to put out all of these great bands, and you can’t make money on every record. But some things you do because it’s a labor of love. It just turns out that with the Pointed Sticks, because of this Japanese thing, has turned out really in the black.

Allan: They even got money coming back from the tour, right?

Joey: I couldn’t believe it. Their air flights came to $8,500, and the guy (Joe is probably indicating the show’s Japanese producer, Toshio of Record Base) was shitting his pants about the airfare price, because they could only go in the summertime, because Bill’s a schoolteacher. I was freaking out when I bought the tickets for them, because the price went up from $1,400 to $1,700 by the time the guy sent the money to me, and I couldn’t afford to carry it all at once. But it turned out that at the end. At the shop, Toshio and his partner Takahiro laid out a pile of cash and said, “This is what we have left over,” after three shows and flying them there and driving them around. I mean, this is a tiny shop, probably as big as your parents’ front room, stuffed with fuckin’ great records, and he puts all the cash out... And the Sticks went, “What’s your cut?” and he went, “You decide.” It’s that honorable business thing they do in Japan.

Allan: The band says they were totally taken by surprise.

Joey: The funny thing, Toshio kept askin’ those guys, “So! I want to put out Pointed Sticks record!” So Bill says, “Joe’s really doing good with our stuff and we’ll stick with him, thank you very much”—you know, very politely, so Toshio goes, “Joe is big boss?” [laughs]. “I want to be big boss!” It was just really funny. Pardon me, I’m not tryin’ to sound like a fuckin’ idiot, because I know absolutely no Japanese, but... “Joe—big boss!” It’s like I’ve got a fuckin’ big oak desk and a bunch of goons standing near me, and I’m like, ‘Go break his arms. He’s only sold 100,000 records. The guy’s a bum!’”

Allan: Well, it’s good to get respect... Thanks for takin’ the time.

Joey: Yeah, don’t mention it. By the way, how’s your slapshot? [Laughs]. Sorry, you must fuckin’ get that all the time... (Joe is referring to a famous Canadian hockey player whose name I share...).
Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks, photographed by Cindy Metherel. Not to be used without permission.

Dale Wiese

Vancouver-based Noize To Go record store owner Dale Wiese is a long-time friend to Pointed Sticks; Dale served as the compilation producer for Waiting for the Real Thing and wrote the liner notes for the Perfect Youth reissue. He’s been a fixture of the Vancouver record-collecting scene since his days at Quintessence, the store/label that issued the original Pointed Sticks singles and album. We talked at Noize To Go about the band’s Japanese tour and the revival of interest in their music. He tells me that “working on the re-issues has been a gas, and it’s really gratifying to read reviewer comments like ‘how did I overlook this band for so long?’”

Allan: What was your first experience of seeing the band live?

Dale: The first time I saw them, they were opening for Wreckless Eric at the Commodore, early October 1979. Dimwit hadn’t been in the group all that long, so he still had his ratty Subhumans kit. The drums were mismatched, color-wise, so you knew it was going to be an underground experience! I had only heard their “Real Thing” single and their cut from the Vancouver compilation (“Marching Song”) at that point, and I was knocked out by their song catalogue; one gem after another. As for the music, I loved it. It was the perfect blend of rawness and punk attitude with a pop sensibility.

Allan: How has the response been locally to Pointed Sticks reissues?

Dale: It’s been excellent. It’s just as tough to get attention now as it was back then, but lots of younger fans have be picking up both of the Sudden Death releases. Pointed Sticks are more popular now than twenty-five years ago, certainly on a global scale. It’s a cliché to say it, but that tells me their music is timeless, they are a band for the ages. It’s a real kick to play something from the Waiting for the Real Thing compilation for young kids that come into the shop. They are always surprised that it’s not a new band.

Allan: Why do you think their music holds up so well now?

Dale: Production techniques have changed, but great melodic songs and an identifiable personality to their sound; vocals, keyboards, punchy drums, and cool guitars, give Pointed Sticks an edge over dozens of their contemporaries. Call it punk, new wave, power pop, whatever you like, I don’t think there’s been a better Canadian album this year (than Waiting For The Real Thing), at least none with as many cool songs.

Allan: Why do you think the Japanese in particular are so taken with them?

Dale: Everybody knows about the “big in Japan” cliché, but I think they take their pop culture pretty seriously. And since theirs agrees with mine, I’d say they have great taste! The clips on youtube.com show that fans were genuinely thrilled to have the band play there. I think the Japanese promoter called it “the July miracle!”

Allan: Any other comments on the band or their place in the Vancouver scene?

Dale: Just that it’s cool that they are getting this chance to tie up some loose ends, have some fun, and remind everybody how creative that small scene was. There may even be another couple of projects to follow. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help out.

A Canadian Fan Reports from Japan

David from Vancouver, who had seen the Pointed Sticks several times during the Vancouver years, playing with the K-Tels (later the Young Canadians) and the Modernettes, managed to catch up with the band during their Japanese tour. This was sent in via email. Thanks to Janet Murie!

David: Freaking brilliant how a bunch of old guys could sound as good as they used to. It’s also spooky how the small venue was packed (hundred plus) with Japanese kids who were not even born when the band broke up, and yet knew every word to every song. Yours truly was the middle aged gaijin in the mosh pit at the front of the stage the whole night. Thirty plus degrees (centigrade) and I ended up sweaty, bruised, and happy. There were four foreigners and the rest rabid Japanese Sticks fans. Hard to believe how Nick Jones’s voice still has the same magic after all these years. Bill Napier Hemy had the dazed look of a college professor that had fallen down a rabbit hole. I think they were all amazed and somewhat flabbergasted at the fanaticism of the Japanese. They easily relived glory days long gone by. In fact, I am not sure Vancouver fans were ever as obsessed as the Tokyo fans. The opening act was a blistering three piece Japanese punk band, the Raydios, who sounded and looked like they had gone to punk rock school to get every note and snarl perfect. Damn, I feel retro!

Pointed Sticks

For those of you who weren’t around back in the day, you can see footage of the Pointed Sticks circa 1980 in Dennis Hopper’s movie, Out of the Blue. It’s by far the highlight of the movie, and, in addition to some vintage videos on Youtube, it’s one of the few film artifacts left of the band. I brought the DVD with me to the interview, at the Granville Street Templeton restaurant, where members of the band used to hang out a long time ago...

Allan: Is the stuff in Out Of The Blue an accurate representation of a Pointed Sticks gig at the time?

Bill Napier-Hemy: Yeah, that was actually filmed at some cultural centre on Hastings Street—it wasn’t an actual punk venue, it was something they rented for the movie. The people you see dancing in it are friends of the band; we called a bunch of people up to come down. That’s what the punk scene actually looked like in Vancouver back then—it was normal, geeky-looking people, people with long hair, wearing jean jackets and glasses and ordinary clothes. It’s funny, because if you look at the backstage scenes, there are all these mohawk and safety pin guys backstage—those were hand-picked folks that Hopper reckoned looked what the punks ought to look like. But it really wasn’t like that in the Vancouver scene at that time. Later on, that template arrived here, but back then it was pretty ordinary looking people.

Allan: Why did the band break up?

Nick Jones: The initial break up was born out of total despair. We’d spent the best part of three years starving, yet to all the world—well, to all Vancouver, anyway—we were a successful rock band on the brink of stardom. I think the last straw was broken on our one and only eastern tour. We were in Toronto, people were lining up around the block at 6 PM for an 11 o’clock show, and we were staying four to a room in some craphole hotel. Quintessence had gone bankrupt, and vinyl copies of Perfect Youth—five thousand of them—were on their way to the scrap heap ‘cause no one had enough money to pay the pressing plant. Stores in Toronto were willing to buy all they could get, but somehow supply never connected with demand. We got an offer from a Toronto booking firm to give us work four days a week playing universities—the perfect target audience for the band—if we stayed in Toronto. I remember being in the hotel and having a vote, “Stay or go back home?” The majority voted to go home, and that was the end right there. I think we played a few more gigs after coming back, but for all intents and purposes, the fate of the band was decided by a vote. Pretty democratic, I’d say.

Allan: How did the Stiff Records deal fall through? Phil Smith and Dale Wiese say different things in the liner notes... I forget which says which, but one says Stiff went bust and the other says they didn’t like the LP you recorded with them.

Bill: I think they’re both partially right. Stiff dissolved, and they weren’t interested. The producer wanted us to try and expand our concept, and we tried a lot of really odd stuff, but the results were kind of weak. The best songs from those sessions are on Waiting for the Real Thing. The fact is that back then, the Vancouver music scene was small and isolated and self-enclosed. That was one of the reasons it thrived, and it was an excellent music scene here, very varied—but it wasn’t really for export.

Allan: Ian, why did you leave the band?

Ian Tiles: I don’t really know why I left. I was being a punk rock idiot.

Bill Napier-Hemy on stage at the Red Room, photo by Femke Van Delft. Not to be reused without permission

Allan: Dimwit replaced you?

Ian: Actually, there were drummers between me and him, too. I handed over the sticks to Chuck Biscuits halfway through a show at O’Hara’s. That’s how I left!

Allan: He was also a Montgomery brother, right? Along with Bob Montgomery?

Ian: Yes. Charles Biscuits Montgomery. There were three brothers, of which there are now two. (Ian is referring to Dimwit’s death of a heroin overdose, at age thirty-six, in 1994.)

Allan: What did you do after you left?

Ian: I actually joined the Payolas, because of doing the single with the Pointed Sticks. Bob Rock, who had produced it, and later produced Perfect Youth, wanted me to play on this single that the Lamps were doing. That was the first name of the Payolas. I’m on the 7” of “China Boys.” Then for the EP I think they took me off and Taylor Little took the job.

Allan: What were the high points of “the old days?”

Ian: Well, I was only with the band for five minutes, and then they went on to much greater things, but what a great five minutes it was. That’s the truth. We won the Battle of the Bands at the Commodore in October of ‘78, and we hadn’t even been a band for very long, but we entered and won the whole thing, which was what led to our recording with Bob Rock.

Nick: We won over the Randy Bachman-sponsored “Carmel”—great name!—to the shock and horror of the Vancouver music industry.

Ian: We had a show of our choice opening for another band coming to town. We chose Devo, at the Commodore.

Allan: You were the drummer for that?

Ian: For the first show, yeah. Then they opened for them later on, after I’d left the band, but for the first one, yeah. I was with them for that... It was all that stuff that led up to the signing (with Stiff Records). It was pretty exciting.

Allan: Any other great bands who Pointed Sticks opened for?

Bill: We got to open for the Buzzcocks in San Francisco, when they had decided to call it quits and played their last gig for about a decade. They were spectacular. The Dead Kennedys were also on the bill and they rocked.

Nick: Our best opening spots were for Devo, the Buzzcocks gig, and the mighty, totally under-appreciated Avengers from San Francisco, at the self same Quadra Club. People have no idea how good that band was. I’d put them with the Ramones as America’s best ever punk bands.

Allan: Any other high points?

Nick: Hmm. Obviously, our first gig supporting DOA at the Quadra Club on Richards. It was a full-blown dyke bar at the time, and one of the few places open-minded enough to let punk rock in. That was August 22-23 1978...There was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at a club called O’Hara’s. It was a giant, gloomy, ancient barn on a pier at the foot of Main Street. It’s impossible in this day and age to imagine such a place even existing, let alone the fire department allowing people to get totally fucked up there. Did I mention the pier was rickety? Anyhow, the promoters expected about 250 people to show up, but there was a clever advertising campaign using the slogan: “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: Hit Someone you Love.” It succeeded in attracting 1,000 of the most violent, weird, alienated, curious people out from under their rocks for the night. It was the first time I ever took a running leap off the stage and got caught by the crowd and passed around. I was torn to bits really, and I owe (DOA bassist) Randy Rampage my life for pulling me out! God, I could go on and on...

Allan: Uh, Nick, I heard it said that you were an Abba fan.

Nick: [grins] I did and do love Abba. We once played “Knowing Me, Knowing You” for an encore, to the bemusement and wrath of some of the crowd.

Allan: Did you catch flak back then for being too much of a pop band? A lot of the Vancouver punk scene was pretty political, bands like the Subhumans and DOA.

Nick: But the entire scene, bands, fans, and all, was only about 250 people. We were all friends, even though they chose a different method of expressing themselves musically.

Pointed Sticks at Richards On Richards, photo by Cindy Metherel. Not to be reused without permission

Bill: But there was a little of that... Still, here’s an interesting point. As I recall it, anyway, this was in an interview, about ten years ago, with Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against The Machine, and the interviewer asked, “Aren’t you ever going to write any love songs?” His response was, “All our songs are love songs.” And I thought that was, uh, quite neat, because I think what he was getting at was that the songs were passionately felt songs about people, and that he cares about people, which, in a sort of large sense, is political, but on a more intimate level; where songs like that are about one person, we call it a love song.

Allan: Did the Pointed Sticks have any “overtly political” songs?

Bill: A lot of the songs are kind of, like, angry at some girl. There’s a lot of that. [laughs] Jealousy songs. But there are other songs that kind of gripe about iniquities of society. “American Song” is kind of a complaint about America, obviously. The thing about the lyrics for me, it’s not that there’s any particularly brilliant ones, it’s that they’re all sincere, they’re all genuine, and, um, even if they’re just kidding around, they’re real.

Nick: Pointed Sticks were always about the songs. We were sure we were writing hit singles at the time, so the fact that they still resonate with a lot of really young fans validates the approach we took. I mean, take a look at the two Pointed Sticks sites on Myspace...

Bill: A lot of the songs that we chose to revisit (for the tour) were ones that still sound genuine. Regardless of whether or not they ever manage to be brilliant, at least they don’t suck!

Allan: Do you have any favorites, of the songs you wrote yourself?

Bill: “True Love” is probably the best thing I wrote, but the one that I kind of get a kick out of now is “All I Could Take.” It’s just so poppy and bouncy and silly. I’m kind of proud of that one, too, and we do those two in our set. Those are two of the ones that survived!

Allan: You said “do” those two in our set! You used the present habitual!

Bill [grins]: You caught me.

Allan [getting excited]: Are there any plans for upcoming North American shows?

Bill: Well, there’s interest, for sure. We received a good offer to play New York, but the band can’t do it. We’d like to do something else, but we don’t have any plans. I mean, we didn’t really have plans to do Japan.

Nick: We’re thinking about a local gig around Christmastime.

Bill: We’re really limited by when we’re all in town.

Allan: How was the reception in Japan?

Nick: Our Japanese fans were truly awesome. I would say the crowds ranged in age from eighteen to maybe thirty-five, all too young to remember the band in its heyday. However, they did know all the songs, and many of them had original vinyl copies of the Quintessence singles from twenty-five years ago. Amazing.

Bill: Some people had records still in their plastic. With some of these things, there were only ever 500 made, and they opened them there in front of us so we could deface them with our Sharpies. We were signing autographs for something like two hours—finally we couldn’t anymore and we said, “We’ve got to go.”

Allan: Were there any big surprises?

Bill: I was standing backstage at one of the Tokyo shows when one of the opening acts, Liquid Screen, was on, and their guitarist started playing this riff that sounded kind of familiar. And then the singer started and suddenly it hit me, it was “Dying in Brooklyn” by Tim Ray and AV, off AVEP (a later version appears on the Vancouver Complication reissue, by Tim Ray and the Druts). I wrote that with him years ago. It was this totally obscure song. I hadn’t heard it in years, and they were covering it! It blew me away! They did a Subhumans song, too. It was quite touching, how much respect they had for the music.

Nick: We really want to wish the Subhumans all the best with their current reunion.

Allan: What about the other opening acts? Did you see any?

Nick: I didn’t really watch too many of them. I kind of like to be by myself before we play—I’ve always been like that. Everyone said they were good. They were all old school punk rockers.

Bill: The one I enjoyed most was called Psychotic Reaction. They sound like the New Pornographers—a man and a woman singing together—and I really like their whole sensibility.
Ian: We’re working on this DVD. We shot some footage over there with a Sony Camcorder, nothing professional, you know, but we’re editing it together, and I’ve asked that we include the opening acts’ CDs with it. We want to wrap things up in a tidy and respectful way, sort of following the Japanese model.

Allan: How did the tour get set up?

Bill: Joe contacted me, ‘cause I’m in town; he knew where to find me, and Nick was hard to reach because he’s on the road all the time. This all came about because people had been asking Joe about us, because DOA had done this tour in Japan. The reason he reissued Perfect Youth was because the Japanese encouraged him to. So we’d been hearing for years from Joe that there’s this market that we’ve gotta do something about, so he called me up and he arranged for the reissue, and when that happened, there was this interest in doing a tour over there. Joe, of course, wants to sell records, so he was encouraging us to do it. He’d had such a good time there himself, so he was pretty upbeat about it.

Allan: Did anyone require any convincing?

Ian: I didn’t!

Bill: Nick was a little bit reluctant at first, but after we got the ball rolling, he got really enthusiastic.

Nick: At first, I dismissed any idea of a reunion as preposterous. It was only when they offered to pay for everything—hotels, airfare, etc.—that we actually began to take it seriously.

Bill: Initially, we thought we’d be able to take our families over, but then we found out that wasn’t going to happen. We were quite keen on it anyway. I mostly just wanted to go to Japan again. I’d been there in 1993, setting up an art installation for a Canadian artist—for Rodney Graham—at the Setagaya gallery in Tokyo. It was a great time. I’d loved it, so I figured if someone’s going to send me to Japan, that sounds fun!

Allan: Were you in touch with the other members at that point?

Bill: The only one I’d kept in touch with over the years was Nick. I’d run into a couple of the other guys occasionally, but I hadn’t talked to Tony or Ian for years, so it was kind of like getting to know them again. There was a lot to get caught up on. We did most of it in the van from Kyoto to Tokyo. We had hours of just sitting there, chatting.

Allan: How was the first practice?

Nick: The first practice was very bizarre. I hadn’t even seen Tony for fourteen years, and none of those songs had been played by us for twenty-five years. I think it must be some kind of record for the longest time between gigs by any band. We were a bit slow to get going, but it was kind of like riding a bike. After a while it all came back.

Bill: We first got together to practice without Nick, ‘cause he was on the road, and we were taking it easy. The songs sounded pretty rough, pretty ragged, pretty sloppy, and slow and quiet. I was deliberately playing very quietly so I could hear what we were doing, so it was very tentative—but it felt really good. It was really nice to be with these guys, and after a few practices we slowly started to piece it together and make it louder and faster, and then eventually it started to sound like the Pointed Sticks.

Nick: We practiced six times with all of us, then the other guys practiced a few times without me when I went back to work. I flew from Amsterdam and met the other guys in Japan on a Wednesday. We went out and got drunk together that night, rehearsed the next day, then drove seven hours in a van to Kyoto for the first gig. We were all nervous before playing, not knowing what to expect, but the minute we played the first notes of “The Marching Song,” the fans went mental—dancing, jumping and singing every word, at least phonetically. After that, we knew we’d be okay, and just relaxed and smoked our way through the set. We really did play well!
Allan: Ian, how about you—you hadn’t really been with the band that long. Was it weird practicing with them?

Ian: For about two minutes. Only because of my doubts. I doubted whether I could do the job. I mean, you can imagine. Dimwit was the drummer on the recordings I’d been listening to, and I’m no Dimwit. Even though he was more powerful and hit harder and all that, he had way more chops than me. And he brings a different sensibility to it—just pure power pop.

Ian Tiles, photograph provided by the band; not to be reused without permission

Allan: You admired him?

Ian: He was just a great drummer. He really took it up a notch, y’know. I loved Dimwit. I played with him over the years and I’d seen him play and been friends with him. I actually quit drugs because of Dimwit. After he died.

Bill: I only recently learned some of the circumstances surrounding Dimwit’s death. It was very tragic. He was a guy who was always full of life. He was not a candidate for an early grave. As for drugs, I don’t really have much to say. Some people in the punk scene were into them. Some died. Some were in bad shape and then cleaned up.

Ian: Dimwit was a big part of the tour. His presence was always right there, and rightfully so. We were all friends of his and we were all big fans of his, so he came up all the time. We all felt it.

Allan: What did people do after the break up? Can you bring us up to date?

Nick: I went into a deep, four-year depression! [laughs]. But seriously, not much for the first little bit. I played with a rockabilly band called Buddy Selfish with Ian, then later a great unknown band called Hunting Party, with Randy Carpenter. We made two great tapes that no one wanted to listen to (one of which, as of this writing, is available on Laurie Mercer’s Coolforever site), then we broke up when I had kids and started working in the music merchandising business.

Allan: Bill, I gather you’re also still involved in music?

Bill: I teach music to dyslexic kids in a small school called the Fraser Academy, in Vancouver.

Allan: Really? Do you teach them to read music?

Bill: Well, I don’t. It’s really tough, because they have a hard enough time reading English, and reading music is more difficult, I think. So no, we do it from tabs and from memory. I mean, most people play rock music without reading anyhow. But I do some tabs, bass tablature, with piano some chord symbols, and diagrams. I teach from Grade Five. Their hands are just strong enough to make a sound on the guitar. Any younger and it’s very difficult to make a sound on the guitar...

Allan: Ian, how about you?

Ian: I’ve drummed rockabilly for tons of years. I played with Herald Nix in a band called the Yodells, with Howard Rix of the Scramblers. Then for years I was in a band called GI Blues, with Mike van Eyes on piano, from Harold Nix. The whole rockabilly scene was really cool in this town. It was kind of incestuous, but a lot of good stuff came out of it. Nowadays, I’m in a band called Hard On People. It’s just some has-beens that never were, so we’re goin’ for it.

Allan: And for work?

Ian: I’m what I call a studio supervisor at a games company, making Xbox games and such. I’m part of the support team there. I maintain about 250 people, and I make sure they have the stuff they need. It’s a great job.

Allan: What about Gord and Tony? I think I remember reading in John Mackie’s article that Tony is finishing a degree at UBC.

Tony Bardach, photo by Femke Van Delft; not to be reused without permission

Bill: Yeah, he’s finishing a BFA in creative writing. He’s been doing poetry, I believe. I got to read some of it while we were in Tokyo. He also does sculptures. I feel bad kinda speaking for him, but he’s making frames from street barricades, among other things. He’ll take a thing that’s been used to block off a road for construction purposes and it’s got the diagonal stripes on it, and he’ll make it into a frame. He’s also doing work with concrete, making concrete sculptures that you mount on walls.

Allan: Is there anything published by him?

Bill: He’s put out a couple of chapbooks. The poems I read deal with barriers, boundaries, and constraint. So there’s a consistency with his sculpture.

Gord Nicholl, photographed (I think) by Nick Jones, onstage at Richards on Richards; not to be reused without permission

Allan: What about Gord Nicholl?

Bill: Gord’s studio, that he owns with (Modernettes frontman) Buck Cherry, is the Paramount—and Gord’s the engineer. They record a lot of roots rock groups, and they record their own stuff there. Randy Carpenter does some work there.

Allan: Randy works with Nick in the Frank Frink Five.

Bill: Yeah. They’ve played maybe twice a year for the last eleven years. Actually, you just missed a show at the Railway. They do kind of like souped-up country songs and rock songs from the ‘60s. They’re quite hilarious.

Nick: Randy and I have been playing together in one form or another ever since the Pointed Sticks broke up. He’s an amazing musician. He knows the words to more songs than any human being alive! The best thing about the Frinks is that we never have to practice.

Allan: Is it difficult to go back to your straight jobs after having toured with the Pointed Sticks again? Did it awaken any dreams of rock star fame?

Nick Jones, photograph by Femke Van Delft; not to be reused without permission

Nick: That’s a tough question. Everybody would love to give up their job and become a rock star, but we’re all around fifty at this point, with jobs, families and lives to think about. That being said, I don’t think anyone wants to turn their backs on something that turned out to be so much fun, so we’re not closing the door on doing more gigs, and maybe even recording new material, if it’s up to snuff.

Ian [looks sidelong at Bill and Nick]: I want these guys to write a new single again. You guys are the songwriters!

Allan: An actual 7” vinyl single?

Ian: Why not?

Nick [mimes deep thinking]: Yeah, maybe we’ll make another single, and we’ll put it out on 7” vinyl only, just to be perverse.

Allan: Where did you guys play, exactly?

Nick: The clubs we played were Whoopees in Kyoto and Shelter Club in Shimatazawa in Tokyo. They’re all known punk clubs that have hosted lots of great acts.

Allan: Any thoughts on Japan?

Nick: Japanese fans rule! They’re a very advanced civilization. They’ve moved past so much of the bullshit that still clutters up our western lives. Plus, they do have the world’s best food and good beer.

Ian: There’s a pureness to the Japanese experience. It’s difficult to put into words. Nick was joking that we should have a T-shirt that said, “No sex, no drugs, just rock’n’roll.” That was true!

Allan: There was an innocence to it?

Ian: If you want to call it that. At the same time, though, it’s very sophisticated. Very sophisticated. There’s a real devotion and respect, and it’s expressed. They’re not just licking your face, y’know? They do it with grace. And they’re sincere. I love the way they assimilate American culture, because the bands they like are really good, y’know? The Buzzcocks, the Ramones, the Clash... it’s great to be in that group, of bands that they really like...

Nick: Japanese fans are truly awesome, though I’m sure they were somewhat intimidated by these crazy old gaijin!

Allan: You got some fan mail, right, Ian?

Ian: Yeah, it’s from a fan called Sho. she was about twenty-six. It really speaks to the club culture over there, and the proper and respectful way of doing things. It’s a homage to the Pointed Sticks, and there’s a collage and she’s photocopied a set list that Nick wrote out and there’s a little letter and she’s asked me questions, sort of in a teenaged format. I mean, it’s a little peculiar. She’s asked me my favourite colour, my favourite movie, my gender, and my blood type!

Allan: Oh, yeah, there’s a whole mythology around blood type over there. It’s a big deal.

Ian: Well, she’s looking for as much information as she can piece together. It really says something, because it’s perfectly acceptable for her to do this and it’s perfectly acceptable for me to answer any question I do like and not to answer any question I don’t like.

Allan: Have you responded?

Ian: I’m working on it. I’ll make sure she gets something special back.

Allan: Any comments on Toshio?

Bill: Toshio is a real gentleman, an honest dealer, a true music fan, and he put up with us doing vocal warm-ups in a small van with him! He’s the best promoter we have ever worked with. I made it out to his Tokyo shop. It is a small room on the second floor, absolutely packed with records. When I came in, the disc that just happened to be playing was a Pointed Sticks record, so I felt very welcome. He also has an outlet in Kyoto. He does a lot of mail order. Toshio has his act together and he’s a good guy.

Ian: We can’t say enough good about him. He’s a great guy.

Nick: Along with Joe and Dale, Toshio is the reason we’re even talking right now. I didn’t get to his store, but I will next time. If he’s listening, thanks again for making the tour one of the best times of my life!
Japanese fans with Tony; photo by Fumi Shutoh, I think

The Japanese Check in

From Japanese female fan Mami Mizukawa:

I like Pointed Sticks because their songs always make me happy. I think their songs have a great huge power. Every melody they make is perfect and they always make my face smile. I haven’t ever met such a wonderful band like them. When their show started, I was almost crying out for happiness.

From Fumi Shutoh:

A friend in Canada who’s lived in Japan for a long time introduced me to the Pointed Sticks, and I became a fan at once. When Japanese fans found out they were coming we couldn’t sleep from the excitement! Their shows were even better than I imagined and I sang along with all the songs. Their sounds are very catchy and easy to remember. Nick’s voice hugs my heart closely with the sound!

From Masao Nakagami, who runs the label Target Earth, which released the Raydio’s 7”, and who was in attendance at one of the Tokyo shows:

The several hundred people who attended the concert will forever remember that the Pointed Sticks came to Japan. The show was unforgettable. It was held on the same day as the Fuji Rock Festival. We were totally right in choosing to gather at Club Shelter instead (though I think most of us were not originally interested in Fuji).

An important factor in my knowing about the band was the film, Out of the Blue. In that movie,
I had the impression that Nick, the vocalist, was cool and Dimwit was wild. They made a good contrast with each other. Before I saw this movie, I’d imagined that Nick was energetic, bouncing around like a spring. After seeing the film, I listen to their records a little differently. Anyway, they were very cool in the movie.

Their appearances have changed because twenty-five years passed. I was most impressed by the guitarist, Bill’s, intelligence. It’s really great that such a guy performs punk. Nick was one of those who introduced punk to Vancouver from London and was the main songwriter of the group. He was almost bald, but he seemed really cool. According to Mr. Okutaki, who wrote an article in Doll Magazine about the Pointed Sticks, the Pointed Sticks were influenced by British punk, came back to Vancouver, and put their ideas into practice (editor’s note: well, it’s an interesting theory, anyway!). I think their talent is amazing. They didn’t play stereotyped punk, but played punk creatively. Their sound is so natural they must be matchlessly gifted musicians.
I really enjoyed Pointed Sticks’ live show! They did a great job of reproducing the sound off their records. They were cool and intelligent. Pointed Sticks will always remain in the memory of several hundred people who saw them. I will also remember them forever. It’s great that they reunited to please Japanese fans!

Toshio Iijima of Record Base, the Man Who Organized the Tour!

Allan: How did Japanese fans get to know the Pointed Sticks?

Toshio: Because of the Killed by Death compilation in the early ‘90s, some Japanese came to take interest in the worldwide punk bands that they didn’t know well but were active from the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s. As a result, the existence of Pointed Sticks spread by word of mouth. At that time, their records were hard to get, but the Stiff release, “Out of Luck,” was played by punk club DJs, and they became very popular, both among fans of hard punk and power pop groups.

Allan: What other Vancouver bands are popular over there?

Toshio: DOA, the Modernettes, the Subhumans and the Dishrags are also popular here. I want the Modernettes to tour! I really like the Teen City 12”. Their early discs are very expensive here; so are DOA’s.

Allan: What are your favorite songs by the Pointed Sticks?

Toshio: My favorite songs by Pointed Sticks are “What Do You Want Me to Do?” and “Somebody’s Mom” ...and all the rest!

Allan: Tell me the story of the tour.

Toshio: At first, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that the band had agreed to come to Japan. In the beginning, they were going to come to Japan in the summer of 2005, however, it was extended to the year 2006 because a Nikki Corvette concert was already scheduled. The dates of the concert were fixed for the days in late July due to their work schedules, so they couldn’t visit many cities. I wished they could have held more concerts. It was especially interesting that I was able to see in them something of their youth, even though they were older. Sorry! [laughs]. When I listened to “Out of Luck” live, I got goosebumps!

Allan: Were there any difficult aspects of the tour?

Toshio: I had trouble arranging for the keyboards. Their first choice of keyboards had really startling rental fees, but, though there were some in Japan, we couldn’t provide them in time, so we went with their second choice. They were vintage and also very expensive. While they were performing, the band sprinkled some water around the stage, and I was worried that the expensive keyboard might get wet! I broke into a cold sweat. Also, when they arrived in Japan, the vocalist Nick came from Europe and other members came from Canada. I traveled between Tokyo and Narita airport twice in one day. It was the first time I’d ever done that! I left home at six AM on that day and it was past 7 PM when I took all the members to the hotel! [laughs].

Allan: Anything fans should know about the Japanese scene?

Toshio: Japan also has many good bands whose members engage in jobs other than music, but continue to play good music. Foreign people don’t have a lot of chances to hear Japanese music, so if you’re interested, please contact us at Base!


The Pointed Sticks at their Vancouver homecoming show; photo by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

Thanks to Joe (and everyone at Sudden Death), Toshio (and everyone at BASE), Dale at Noize to Go!, Masao and Target Earth, David and Janet, the Pointed Sticks, Mami and Fumi and the Myspace and Mixi fans! Extra special thanks to my good friend Michiko Tomoyasu for her work as translator! Minasan, boku no nihongo ga hidoi desu ga, doomo arigatoo gozaimasu!!!


End 2007 interview. The Pointed Sticks play an afternoon and evening show on Saturday, Dec. 19th at the Rio Theatre. The Frank Frink Five play the next night at the Railway. I'll be at least one of the three gigs - hope to see some of you there!