Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chris Towers of The New Creation: Witness Testimony

Chris Towers normally shuns the spotlight (photo by Femke van Delft. All photos on this blog are used by permission of the photographer and not to be reproduced without the same).


I didn't tell many people who my musical guest for my belated birthday event at the Vancity Theatre was last week, and not just because I wanted it to be a surprise: Chris Towers of The New Creation had agreed to perform at least one song - "Wind," my favourite tune off The New Creation's debut, Troubled - but I knew he was nervous, not having performed publicly for something like forty years; and there were other complicating factors. For one, the audience was comprised in part of punks who might object to the content of Chris' music - since all of The New Creation's material is explicitly Christian; further - sadly - Lorna Towers, Chris' mother and one third of the band, now in her mid-80's, had taken ill (and is still, to my understanding, not doing so well); there was a chance her condition could turn for the worse, and I wanted Chris to have the option of cancelling without feeling he'd let anyone down.

Chris did not cancel, nor did he let anyone down. Guests can attest that he could be seen pacing and practicing in the concession area of the theatre right up to soundcheck; when people were finally let in to the auditorium, I briefly introduced him. The backstory bears repeating: The New Creation's first album, released in Vancouver in a run of 100 circa 1970, was completely neglected, until it was recovered from oblivion by the late Ty Scammel of the Vancouver Flea Market, who found a copy in a thrift store some time in the late 80's. This sole copy, which Ty, an expert in psychedelic rock, thought had some very promising moments, would be played for hip customers, and thus came to the attention of an "outsider music" scout, James Brouwer. This led to the album being re-released on CD some thirty years after it was recorded, as the debut release on Companion Records - a rediscovery that shocked the Vancouver-based band and brought them, for the first time, to the attention of music geeks worldwide.

Chris Towers (photo by Femke van Delft. All photos are used by permission of the photographer and not to be reproduced without the same).


There's more to the story, too: as I wrote for the Straight, a single copy of their debut LP surfaced last year in England, apparently part of a collection belonging to Sir Cliff Richard; it sold on eBay for over $1700 US, being finally snapped up by a Belgian collector, showing that some people indeed value The New Creation's music a great deal. In 2003, the band got back together and recorded a follow-up CD, themed around the Rapture, mostly as conceived by Lorna Towers; I interviewed the Towers about the album for The Nerve Magazine a couple of years ago - an article you can read online here. Despite a Catholic upbringing and an admiration for aspects of Christ's life and teachings, I am not, myself, a Christian, and am highly suspect of the concept of the Rapture and what I regard as the pernicious, non-Christian right-wing fantasies of the Left Behind series, which I discussed briefly with Ms. Towers in the interview (without, I admit, challenging her much; Lorna Towers is a strong-minded, outspoken individual and certainly the most intimidating senior citizen *I've* ever met, and I didn't want to get into a fight with her -- particularly since there seemed no likelihood either of us would sway the other in the slightest). All the same I can appreciate creative music, and in some cases (the song "Wind" off Troubled, in particular, but also "Calamity World" off A Unique Disaster), can find myself very much moved by the band's music and message. I was delighted at the idea of introducing at least one of their songs to a select crowd of Vancouverites.

Erin, guitarist of Vancouver's The Rebel Spell, described Chris' appearance as a "slightly less dramatic Susan Boyle moment," referring to the somewhat frumpy British spinster who shocked TV audiences this April by proving to have a golden voice. (It was so perfectly apt a comment, which she emailed to me, that I didn't chase her down for more). The Rebel Spell's new album, which they are busy putting together even now, has a working title of It's a Beautiful Future, and probably won't be released until the fall; anyone interested in smart, fast, tuneful political punk should come see their May 22nd show at the Cobalt ("a book release for Chris Walter's latest opus Wrong," Erin reports). Members and fans of the band might be interested to know that Chris Towers currently has my copy of Walter's East Van, and that a few years ago, he attended my screening of Glen Sanford's film about Gerry Hannah, Useless, part of an old Blim triple bill I did also featuring two films about Christian activists the Berrigan brothers - The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and In The King of Prussia, both of which I heartily recommend for people interested in the anti-war or anti-nuclear movements or in non-violent models of direct action. The Berrigans can be seen torching draft records on Youtube with the Catonsville Nine; there's also a documentary, Investigation of Flame, that can be found. I hadn't realized there was even such a thing as Christian direct action until I heard about the Berrigans, who have been a topic of conversation between Chris and I on more than one occasion (though I won't presume to represent his views here!). (Photo of Erin by Femke, at Under the Volcano a few years ago; again, not to be used without permission).

Anyhow, Erin's sentiment re: Chris is reflected by Tony Bardach of the Pointed Sticks (who have new demos here and a new album in June) and Slowpoke and the Smoke (gig notices here). He says, "at first I listened with my eyes closed - the voice was beautiful. When I finally looked around there was still just a slightly ungainly middle aged man singing alone on the stage. Great!"




Femke, like Tony, has done some very interesting and provocative work in the fine arts, and will be curating a show this summer that I will give her press for at a later date; in addition to those on view here, she has provided the majority of pictures that have accompanied my writing over the years and has proven a tireless and insightful compatriot. Femke says of the April 24th performance, "I watched Chris pacing and practicing. It was obvious that this was a difficult thing for him to do... Chris' story and music force me to face my own prejudices born out of my 'born again atheist' up-bringing." This is not all that unsettles Femke about phenomenon like the popularity, among some, of bands like The New Creation, however. "This is the music equivalent to the cool and recent obsession in the art world with Outsider or Art Brut," she writes, "which has spawned magazines, exhibitions, curatorial statements using any/all of the following words : discovered, raw, naive, pure, untrained, genius, insane. I really don't trust what motivates this outsider movement. It's a 21st century freak show." Nonetheless, Femke says "it was a privilege to witness (Chris') first performance in years." By the way, the pic of Femke above is by Adam PW Smith, and, once again, is not to be used without his permission, or Femke's!

Racan of Scratch Records, says, echoing Femke's sentiment, that he "definitely felt privileged to be able to witness a member of the New Creation perform in any capacity - especially in such a great venue (the perfect movie theatre). Even getting to hear a single song was probably a bit of a miracle. Chris was soft-spoken, but charming and quite moving. Most of the staff at Scratch are fans, particularly Keith Parry. I hadn't listened to either of the albums in quite a while, and didn't realize the extent of the band's early obscurity. Frankly I'm still shocked that an album that began with an initial pressing of a mere 100 copies could eventually find itself in the right hands and get reissued. I only wish Chris had played longer, but hopefully that will happen eventually." Racan, a filmmaker, has completed what he describes as "a silly movie" that will have a screening as part of Khan Con, a Star Trek mini-con at the Rio Theatre on Saturday, May 16th. Info about the film can be found here, with more info on Facebook; I'm told you can rent Racan's film for free at both Black Dog locations, and Happy Bats on Main. (Photo of Scratch by Femke van Delft).

Local musician and man of mystery Michael Carrothers - who performs live around town with slightly more frequency than Chris Towers, but has no Myspace or Facebook page that I might link to, and no shows upcoming (though I gather he has a stellar songwriting partner urging him on), reports of seeing Chris that "what still sticks out in my mind now, is that it was one of the most honest performances that I've ever seen, he was genuine and sincere from the moment he walked up to the mic, and it was easy to see that he was really pushing himself past his nervousness after such a long period of not performing. He even commented that he was there out of his desire to play a song as you'd asked him to, out of gratitude for the help you've given him and other artists through your writing. I think his words were 'when Allan MacInnis asks you to play a song, you play a song.' I don't think I've heard such honest and humble stage patter before. I was genuinely surprised when he started to play, I got goosebumps listening to him perform, and found myself singing the chorus for days afterwards (it's running through my head as I'm typing now.) His guitar playing and voice may not have been perfect and precise, but his sincerity, songcraft and the delivery of the song itself were inspiring, not to mention the courage it took to get up there alone, without his band and play in public after such a long absence. I never thought I would actually be inspired by, or go out of my way to see someone play Christian-themed music, it's just not really my thing, but I'd be the first person in line if he ever decided to play a full show, or even if he just were to sing one more song at next years birthday celebration."

Michael does a good job of summing up what I felt, listening to Chris Towers; Chris' sincerity and humility are moving things - rare qualities indeed in the so-called music biz. I wonder if everyone would agree that these qualities alone make The New Creation's songs remarkable or worthwhile, though? Dissenting rumbles about what transpired before the film last week have been heard among the people that I've contacted for this article - though they didn't want to go into it publicly. Chris' guitar playing was certainly below the standard that any professional performing musician would aspire to; he himself - his own harshest critic, of course - admits that he was dissatisfied with his playing. Then again, the musicianship on Troubled itself, the album The New Creation is most famous for, is not perfect by far; he even bungles a lyric on the recorded version of "Wind," attentive listeners will note (which he got right live!). Similarly, I personally find/ found his singing voice beautiful, even if his delivery wasn't without its "rough edges," and perhaps indeed because of them. Might it seem the standard of beauty that I'm using - which deals in sincerity of expression - may not in fact hold Chris accountable to any sort of technical standard at all, though? In what sense am I praising him, then? Femke's comment about outsider art as a "21st century freakshow" starts to echo in the back of my mind; am I guilty of exploiting Chris - taking advantage of his lack of guile and desire to please and encouraging him to embarrass himself in front of people? (Don't I kind of get a back-of-the-hand chuckle out of some of The New Creation's more outlandishly odd songs, like their creationist pop tune, "Dig," off Troubled, or "From the Roman Shores," off A Unique Disaster, which has Lorna Towers describing the rise of the Antichrist with Chris providing a catchy, singalong chorus of "666?" I mean, "Wind" moves me as much as any old-timey gospel tune, but that's not the case with all of The New Creation's output; at least some of it appeals because of its bizarre novelty value. I've got nowhere else to put it).

If this is a freakshow, then - am I the barker? "Step right up, folks - see this touching artefact of old-school Christian worship! Be amazed at his sincere unrefined passionate expression! Vicariously revel in his lack of ironic distance! Watch him try to play guitar after 40 years of non-performance!" ...I mean, I don't think that that's what I'm doing, and I don't think it's why the people who provided their comments above generally seem pretty positive. I'd go see Chris again in a second, if he had a show lined up, which most people I spoke to said they'd do. Frankly, I'd love it if he put together a whole set of music. I'd bring friends. I'd enthuse. I'd give him press.

And then again, I really dug Daniel Johnston's show here, too...

In any event, I figure the final word for tonight should go to Nathan Holiday of Tunnel Canary - my second-favourite Vancouver comeback story, after The New Creation's (and topping even that of the Pointed Sticks, at number three). (Pic of Nathan and the reconfigured TC at the Shitstorm Noise Festival by Dan Kibke - again, not to be used without permission). "I thought it was interesting, first of all," Nathan told me over the phone, "because it was a religious song, or a spiritual song, and it took a lot of guts to just get up there with a guitar and no backing and do the thing... but it was very short, and it was pretty simple. I didn't know if the album was like that or not; I guess it's more flushed out, because there's a drummer - I don't know if the other woman plays. I was waiting for something more 'psychedelic,' because you had mentioned the album was psychedelic. But I kind of listened to it and thought, 'That was interesting,' and then that was it! The song was there, and he actually presented it well; and I thought the guy was very humble and very genuine in his presentation. Apart from noticing the song was well-crafted and apart from his personality, I didn't really have any other thoughts about it!" Nathan has, however, expressed interest in hearing The New Creation's CDs sometime, which I will definitely facilitate. I wonder if Nathan - whom I would describe as a very spiritual man - would be able to find much common ground with Chris? (What would the world make of a Chris Towers/ Nathan Holiday collaboration, I wonder...? Good Lord, what a thought...)


Chris Towers (photo by Femke van Delft. All photos are used by permission of the photographer and not to be reproduced without the same).

Chris, whatever else may be said, I think the above sampling of my audience reveals that another live set by you would be welcome in this town, if you wanted to do it. Readers are welcome to make offers or suggestions in the comment section below; if you were there for Chris' song and have anything to add - or wish you had been there - do chime in. Meanwhile, I'm already scheming on what to do for next year's b-day film event (last year, Cassavetes, this year Phase IV... must do something completely unrelated next year. I've got a pretty good idea, I think - and I know just who I'm going to ask to perform in front of it). Thanks to everyone who came out, and congratulations to those who won the prize draw!
Photo by Femke! (I do kind of look like some sort of barker, or tout, or something. Hmm...)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Art again

If you've missed it, here's a clip of Art doing a cover of "Sin City" live in Toronto last weekend...

A Scanner Darkly special latenight Vancity screening - plus Cockfighter

Dickheads rejoice: by far the best adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly - Dick's poignant and painful fictionalization of his ambivalence towards drugs, in part inspired by his experiences drying out in this very city, will get a special late night screening on May 8th and 9th at the Vancity Theatre (Vancouver's nicest theatre by far, in terms of seats, people, and projection technology). The film is a brilliantly Rotoscope'd animation that updates Dick's story - of a burned-out narcotics agent undergoing a drug-induced identity crisis who is given the task of performing surveillance on himself - replacing Dick's 60's and 70's drug culture types with their contemporary slacker equivalents (played brilliantly by Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr, Winona Ryder, and the under-appreciated Rory Cochrane, as Freck). The film doesn't rend you apart quite like the book - which is both extremely touching and very funny - but it's compelling viewing no less. More info on the novel on the PK Dick site, including a kickass cover art gallery (especially check "cover 3," for a French paperback - I've lifted #7!). Anyone interested in Dick or in the backstory behind this novel, which is almost as interesting as the book itself, is directed to Emmanuel Carrere's bio of Dick, I Am Alive And You Are Dead, which I can't recommend highly enough. (The UK edition has a cover - pictured to the right - that kicks butt on the American version, and can be easily bought online, by the way).


Hmmm.... looks like the Vancity is going to play a Warren Oates movie I've never seen, too, as part of their Cinema Salon series: Stan Douglas will be introducing Cockfighter, by Monte Hellman, director of the terrific Two Lane Blacktop. I think I need to check that out - I love Warren Oates, and they're sayin' it's his best performance!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chris Walter on Motorhead

Vancouver punk novelist Chris Walter (pictured) -- who recently published Wrong, his follow up to East Van, and a fine, fun, fast read in its own right -- just sent me a link to a new documentary on Lemmy of Motorhead! I've been on a Motorhead kick lately, so this film sounds utterly great. Chris relates the following Motoranecdote:




I was at a Motorhead show once, and Nashville Pussy was warming up. In between songs, I yelled to a longhair behind me, "IF YOU THINK THESE GUYS ARE LOUD, JUST WAIT TILL MOTORHEAD COMES ON!" The guy nods wisely and says, "THEY'RE PRETTY LOUD, ARE THEY?" Then Pussy busted into the next song and we couldn't talk anymore. Anyway, Motorhead finally take the stage, and I see the longhair I'd been talking to get behind the drums. He was Mickey fucking Dee! So they're loud as hell, of course, like an extended bomb blast, and Lemmy asks between songs, "IS IT LOUD ENOUGH!" And Mickey Dee is pointing at me with a drumstick and laughing. Ha ha, very funny, Mickey.


Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Maurice Spira show/ sale this weekend


Those of you headin' up the Sunshine Coast this weekend might want to check out the show/ sale by Maurice Spira, Sunshine Coast painter, anarchist and shit disturber; his work ranges from the brilliant, beautiful and funny to the silly and scatalogical, with many an shot at religious institutions along the way - some of which hit the target resoundingly and others of which merely seem puerile. My interview with Spira, from a few years ago, is here - check it out!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Art Bergmann in Toronto, country music in Vancouver

Damn, man, I wish I was in Toronto this weekend, to catch Art Bergmann opening for the Great Lake Swimmers on the 25th. (Read the Ray Fulber piece below, if you've missed it - it looks like it may in fact be a bit early to pronounce Art's guitar slinger days as bein' COMPLETELY finished, given that we assume he'll be accompanying himself for this show, albeit acoustically...).

In other matters, those of you who like (real, good) country music should consider the followin' gigs this weekend:

a) Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers at the Railway on Thursday (my interview with Rich and Adrian Mack here): a fine time will be had by all!

b) Joe Stanton and the Precious Littles - the other release by Bearwood Music, who put out the Lost Art Bergmann CD, on the 26th at the Backstage Lounge - Ray and Susann Richter of Bearwood and Poisoned have both praised these guys to me, tho' I have not given them a proper listen as yet...

c) Or if that doesn't move you, go see the Minimalist Jug Band and Petunia, I think on Sunday at Cafe Montmartre (review of a past show o' theirs here, with abundant other links).

All I can say for sure about my plans this weekend is that I'll be hosting my Phase IV screening on Friday! 10PM, Vancity Theatre, free with invite (please do contact me to let me know you'll be comin', tho'!). See some of y'all there: and be sure to read up a bit on the film beforehand. There's some very useful backstory linked here; at the very least, check out "Lienengen Versus the Ants" and the Ken Middleham doc... The trailer is very cool, too...

Friday, April 17, 2009

No more goddamn blogging for a few days!

My father and I playin' cards in Maple Ridge, back when I had short hair. Photo by my mother?

Speakin' as a writer, I am wiped out! It's nearin' 5 AM and I've just finished putting up my Ray Fulber interview. I've promised a piece on the upcoming Subhumans show (May 15th) to The Skinny; I've told Josh I'd review his Magneticring album, which hasn't been possible with my hearing buggered; and I haven't even gotten to the three main projects I took time off work to do (Mats Gustafsson - in town May 1st with The Thing at the Ironworks, which is a must-see show; Nels Cline and Mike Watt, who are cookin' up a new Black Gang project; and a bigger thing on the Subhumans the dimensions of which will indeed be impressive but cannot be revealed as yet). I will NOT BE BLOGGING until next Wednesday at the earliest! Don't even ask!

Meantime - remember to come see my PHASE IV screening, April 24th at the Vancity Theatre, 10PM (see below, and remember, there will be a surprise musical guest!). And remember - it's a belated birthday bash, so do feel free to bring me cool shit, as long as I don't have to review it...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ray Fulber and the Lost Art Bergmann sessions: Art Bergmann Week Redux

Ray Fulber and Susann Richter from the back of Crawl With Me (Duke Street Records, 1988)
(inscribed to a "Dr. Gribble," I think...).


Art and Ray, by Brian Roche, Richards on Richards, 2009. Note: photographs on this site are the property of the photographers and are not to be used without their permission).

1. The demo tapes, Crawl With Me, and the Lost Art Bergmann CD

Ray Fulber is the former manager, then bassist, for Poisoned - Art Bergmann's band - and is currently the man behind Bearwood Music, Gibson's Strait Sound studios, and the new Lost Art Bergmann CD release. Ray spoke to me at some length about Art, Poisoned, the March 27th show, and the 1986 demo tapes that are represented on the CD. As I mentioned in my Straight review of the CD, I've been waiting to hear these demos since I bought Crawl With Me in 1988 and read in Discorder or such that the demos were supposedly way better. (The actual phrase I use on the phone with Ray is "I’ve been waiting 20 fucking years to hear this stuff!")
Fulber chuckles in reply. "They were in my basement," he says offhandedly. "They almost were gone," deteriorating with age. "I put them on and they squealed and they started shedding. The magnetic emulsion had gathered moisture, so it’s density changed, so it didn’t work as the two elements properly. It stiffens up." The thought of losing sound quality on the tapes was frightening to Fulber, who has a fair amount invested in them, psychically. "I’ve lost different parts of my life for different reasons," he says. "Any one regret is not a good one, you know? And I just thought - I’m going to try to do this at the highest level. I read up on them. I found the same Studer machine that Bob Rock [who mixed the demos] worked on. I got a good mastering engineer and I found old photos," also from his basement stash. And then Ray took the risk of baking the tapes, a last-ditch effort that runs the risk of destroying the tapes permenantly. "If I didn’t, it would have been a shadowy, 'Oh yeah, that’s kind of cool' curiosity, right? But I really wanted to try to get what I felt when I first heard them." The process of baking calls for a food dehydrator, running "at about 130 degrees, and then you flip it over every half hour, and - I think I did it for six hours," Fulber tells me. In the end, it worked; the final CD, based on tapes originally mixed by Bob Rock and produced in part by Poisoned and in part by Rock's fellow Payola$-mate Paul Hyde - sounds great, especially considering the recordings were originally demos. "They were never meant to be an album," Ray says; "1986 demos" is clearly written in the Lost Art Bergmann notes.
The quality of these demos is something for which Fulber gives Bob Rock abundant credit. Rock had long been involved with Art Bergmann, producing the legendary Hawaii EP and Art's first release with Poisoned. Rock's initial fame locally was as the guitarist for The Payola$ - later Rock and Hyde - but by the time of the Crawl With Me demos, his reputation as a producer was extending beyond Vancouver. "Bob Rock used to mix as loud as a concert, at Little Mountain," Ray remembers. "You could actually have a stomach ache, sometimes, when you went in there. Bob mixed louder than anyone I have ever heard. I have a feeling that he might not be like that anymore, but the Little Mountain main room, when you went in there, it was like, 'Whoa, what the fuck is going on in here!' He had these big Yuris and the decibel level in there was hurtin’ - it was really, at least, like being in the Commodore, plus! People had no idea, and that’s how he was making those albums. He was like a live sound man - he would do it on the fly, and it was goin’ right on to the two-track tape. That’s why people like Aerosmith and Motley Crue, they came, because it was an easier translation from their live show," Ray believes. "I know there’s more to it than that - Bob has whole other production skills and stuff - but all I know is that when we’d walk into a control room with Bob mixing, it was a rush. You didn’t need dope - it was a huge sound rush. And that always excited me."

This excitement translated into the mixes for the 1986 demos, Ray feels - and Rock, according to Fulber, agrees. "He phoned me a couple of years ago about this stuff and told me how proud he was about it, even to this day. I mean, it was a demo, so he was very bold - the effects are way out there, over the top. He was just throwin’ it up, like, 'Wait til we get in there and REALLY do it.'"
Rock's growing success outside Vancouver, ironically, may have had something to do with Art's decision to go with John Cale as the producer for Crawl With Me - his much-anticipated debut as a Canada-wide recording artist. "The knee-jerk reaction Art had was to reject Bob Rock because he was starting to get some mainstream success," Ray says. "There’s that rebellious thing in Art, y’know? Me and Susann, we didn’t see it, we tried to talk him out of it - we just thought, Bob knew about Art as being the guitar guy. That was one of the reasons we recorded the second batch at Mushroom, because Rolf Henneman worked there, and he did all that Heart stuff and he could really record guitars. And then Bob mixed it for a few cases of beer and cheap studio time on downtime at Little Mountain, y’know? And I thought it sounded great the way it was - but I was the one who paid for it and all that kind of stuff..."

Ray's attempts to shop the tapes around Los Angeles, where he had previously toured extensively with The Scissors, had garnered some interest - Ray suspects the glam band Poison lifted their name off one of his blue Poisoned tapes that he was handing out, which Paul Hyde had co-produced - but there was no US record deal forthcoming; the band's new manager, Sam Feldman, who had taken over when Fulber started playing bass, ended up signing on with Canada's Duke Street Records. "From a business point of view, I think the record companies at that time had their way of doing things and I guess they wanted to start an album from scratch and everything," he shrugs. Proposed producer John Cale sounded great on paper; he was a former member of the Velvet Underground, had produced several legendary rock albums - Patti Smith's Horses; the first Stooges and Modern Lovers LPs; and several of Nico's most highly esteemed releases, like The Marble Index - but he had also undergone a rather radical lifestyle change, from the angry and self-destructive screamer one finds on Sabotage - his rawest, roughest, and in my opinion his finest solo album, recorded live at CBGBs in 1979 - to the sober, healthy, reflective, and much quieter figure found on (rather, alas, forgettable) albums like Artificial Intelligence (1985). Fulber suspects that the prestige of recording with Cale was a big draw for Bergmann. "A part of the inspiration of a lot of artists, I think, is when they look at other people’s successes and fame. It’s part of what drives them a little bit. You hear the odd famous name in Art’s songs, and other artists do that too." Ray laughs to remember that when the band was doing pre-production for Crawl With Me in his basement studio in his house in East Van, "John Cale was napping on the couch between working, and Art put on his hat and trenchcoat - because he’s all New York, right? - and Art’s, like, walking around while he’s sleeping, pretending he’s John Cale - mimicking and taking the piss out of him."
Fulber wants to avoid any sense of "sour grapes," and acknowledges that Feldman and Cale and Duke Street "all did what they thought was right at the time," and that Sam Feldman has been very supportive of the Bearwood project. All the same, no one - critics, fans, or the band - was that excited by what ultimately came out as Crawl With Me. While certain songs ("The Final Cliche," and "Inside Your Love," say) stand out as having a lot of strength - undiluted by a big radio-friendly studio treatment - many ("The Junkie Don't Care," "My Empty House") are markedly inferior to the original demo versions, and the single off the album, "Our Little Secret" - about incest! - sounds to me like someone was envisioning a future for Art as background music in dentist's waiting rooms, or on QMFM, God forbid.
According to Ray, the problems with the production were apparent as soon as they heard the finished product. "I mean, Art will dispute it, but I clearly remember this. We grabbed the CD - I was having a complete mental breakdown from my drug use; I was hospitalized slightly just before we went out there to record, and I was in very serious post-cocaine psychosis, so there was a lot of insanity and everything. But I remember the night we got the mixes, and we were in the rental truck - I mean, Duke Street was flying us around first class and all that, and we had this really nice rental van, and the band - the four of us - went onto the 401, slapped in the tape, and cranked it up. I think we were about two songs into it. I was driving; Art’s in the passenger seat - and I looked over and I saw tears rolling down his cheek. Like, he knew. We knew. But by that time the money’s spent, and dah-dah-dah, and we kinda had to go into denial."
Though it is by no means terrible, the Duke Street album failed commercially and critically; it is now long out of print, and is growing quite scarce, as is Sexual Roulette, the second and final CD that Ray, Susann, and Taylor Little would join Art on (though Ray and Susann both made songwriting contributions to Art's next album). "The band kind of broke up because of substance abuse stuff between me and Art, and Susann thought, well, this is looking fatal. Because we had had a lot of friends of ours dying. All those songs are little vignettes and documents of what was going on around us;" those familiar with the material know how dark it can get. Art would continue on to record solo albums with Polygram and Sony, winning one Juno, but never quite getting the success he deserved - leading to his ultimate withdrawal from the music business, also spurred on by the onset of serious health problems, especially arthritis. Fulber reinvented himself as a studio guy and family man. All the time, though, he tells me, the awareness that those tapes were in his basement was "festering" within him. "Susann would say every once in awhile, 'Shut up about that shit,' y’know? And then when I tried playing them, after all these years, they were deteriorating. And I had to figure out how to put’em together. I had a chance to kinda go back to that moment in time. For me, I always had it in the back of my mind that THIS was the shit, for Art, and everyone kind of missed it. So I get my I Told You So out of it."
Ray takes a step back, however. "...So there’s that part of it, but by the same token, I don’t want to belittle Art, because I understand, he was looking for what he thought was going to be an international career." Art and Ray "had this out years ago, and I don’t want to make it as a negative thing; I’d just like the CD out there as a document, and people can draw their own conclusions."
My conclusion: Ray Fulber was right.

Art Bergmann in rehearsal at Strait Sound; photo provided by Ray Fulber and Susann Richter. "Wait a minute - he's playing the guitar!" Note: photographs on this site are the property of the photographers and are not to be used without their permission.

2. The Concert at Richards on Richards

The decision to put together a concert to promote the CD release (and to convince a somewhat reluctant Art Bergmann to participate) came together quite casually, Ray says. "The promoter that put that together with me is basically my son-in-law, David Hawks. And the whole thing came together when we’re having dinner up here once. I said, 'I’m going to release this stuff,' and David said, 'let me do a show,' and away we went." The question was: given Art's complete withdrawal from the music scene, his arthritis, and his recent spinal surgery: could he pull it off? Until reading Alex Varty's piece in the Straight, the day of the show, I wasn't sure: would Art be able to play guitar, even?

"The first day he came to rehearse," Ray tells me, "we played through a couple of songs, and he was crabby and all that... We thought, 'Oh man' - all the same scene: it was the band again, in one room! With another person in it, to witness it, which was Tony (guitarist Anthony Walker, AKA Tony Balony), because I wanted that net, right? But we played 'Gambol' and a couple of songs, and I went, 'Shit, man - when he gets into the song, he creates the excitement,' and we went, 'the shit’s THERE.' I mean, we’re not playing as good, we don’t have the energy and detail that we used to have, but there was a rush that he brought in when he played the song through."
The initial excitement that things could possibly work out better than anyone imagined was quickly dashed, however. "After a couple of hours with the strap hanging over his neck, he couldn’t make himself move properly anymore," Ray says. "I guess when he was playing at home, he was sitting down, y’know - he didn’t have any idea that coordination [would be an issue]... Finally after a few rehearsals, we were up here, and -- it was mostly Susann; she was kind of the person who disbanded the band in the first place, the 'voice of reason' in a way. And she said, 'Art, if you play like that, I’m not playing. You can’t play the guitar. Let Tony play the guitar the best he can and put that thing down, because it ain’t happening.' He was really getting pissed off about it, and he was making more and more noise, he was behind the beat - he couldn’t do it. When Susann really said, 'What are you doing, listen to that - it sounds like crap!' I guess the amp was facing at her - he had the hi-watt cranked - and I had one of his old guitars that he’d smashed years ago, that somebody put back together in my studio, and he was just wailin’ away on this thing and it was just like, fuckin’ somebody stepped on the cat. And it was heavy. And yet there was something about it, and that moment of letting go for him - I mean, that’s a heavy thing, for an artist like him. It was easier for him to just put it down and never have to make that acceptance, which is what I think the last few years were, him putting off [that realization], 'My body is failing me.' He had to accept the fact that [he could no longer do] what he worked on so hard for so many years, to be able to play to and fuckin’ sing at the same time. And he was a really good singer, let alone being able to do it at the same time. It was great playing with him, because he had that heavy excitement that he could bring into a song. But that part of him that could play and sing, y’know, he sort of had this flash - pretty late in life, compared to a lot of us - that the guitar slinger days he had are not happening anymore."

Ray pauses, thinking. "I should have really flown out to Calgary and sat down with him" when planning the concert, he says. "We did it all over the phone, and one of the things he did say to me, he said, 'You know, I thought I was in better shape.' He had no idea that when he stood up with a guitar it was going to affect his spine and his legs again."

Susann Richter describes this as "me hiding behind the keyboard after I told him I wouldn't do the gig unless he stopped playing guitar. A painful moment." Note: photographs on this site are the property of the photographers and are not to be used without their permission).

This realization that Art wouldn't be able to play guitar, if I understand Ray correctly, took place the Saturday before the show was supposed to happen. "I mean, I gotta tell you," Ray says, "really right to the day of the show, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, 'How much is this going to cost me if the plug is pulled?' I had it already calculated how much it was going to cost me for instigating this, if he didn’t get up there. And literally, to the last rehearsal, it wasn’t until the very last time we got together and played, I thought, 'You know what, that bugger’s going to pull it off.'"

The stress didn't let up once the band got on stage, though. "At any moment," Fulber explains, he was aware that it could all fall apart. "At one point, I thought Art was going to throw himself into the crowd, which would have been just fatal."

Art has a reputation for being somewhat inclined to self-destruction, and if you talk to any of his fans who saw him live in the 1980's or 1990's, you will probably hear at least one or two stories that touch on these matters ("the time Art was so drunk he fell off the stage," "the time I saw Art puking under a bridge," etc). Fulber thinks that substance abuse has, in a way, turned into "part of [Art's] art - just like somebody writes, and they express where they were; Edgar Alan Poe without laudanum is what? That kind of thing. Not necessarily saying that if he wasn’t stoned out of his head, he couldn’t write, but I think it’s an artistic place that he went." Indeed, on the night of the concert, I was not alone in assuming that Art was a little bit wasted onstage, as he accepted shooters from the crowd and swigged the occasional beer during the set. "It’s very easy to think that he’s drunk and out of it, but I think, when he was accessing that part of his brain during the performance, that was a familiar place to go to," Ray says. But he assures me that, though Art may have been exhausted and ill and weak, he was not bombed. "He’s on a cane, he’s quite sick. To do his surgery on his neck, they put a bar in his upper vertebrae, and they moved his trachea... When I went to settle up with him the next day - I think he might be getting ready to head back, and we sort of said our goodbyes - Art looked at me and said, 'I don’t know where I got the energy to do that' - that the energy came from the people out there, what they were radiating at him."

"Definitely I think he was maybe a little worse than he was at home lying around at the farm, with no stress." Ray opines. "Arthritis is not good under stress. I think it was a tremendous amount of stress. I think it freaked him out when he got here, it’s like, 'What the fuck am I doing?'"


Art and Art, by Brian Roche, Richards on Richards, 2009. Note: photographs on this site are the property of the photographers and are not to be used without their permission).


Tony Walker laughed aloud when I told him at the Turbonegro show the other night that I "admired his fortitude" onstage, playing Art's guitar parts while Art fumed and micromanaged him; I wish I'd had a recorder handy as Tony recounted a few choice anecdotes about playing with Art back in the day. Ray confirms my impression that Tony was bearing the brunt of Art's frustration at not being able to play the guitar. "The reason that we picked Tony was because we knew that was going to happen," he tells me. "Tony has been hanging out with Art since he was about 13-14; Tony was, like, a young kid that came around that group of people - the early stages of what turned into the Pointed Sticks and Los Popularos and all that; Tony was there as a high school kid, and Art’s guitar playing influenced him a lot." When it started being evident in rehearsals that Tony was going to receive at least a bit of abuse, Fulber tells me, "I talked to Tony, and he says, like, 'Shit - it’s like when you go over and your granny asks you to move the TV and you’ve got it halfway across the room, and she says [Ray adopts the voice of a cantankerous old woman], ‘No, you fuckin’ idiot! I want it over there!’ That’s the way he took it," Ray laughs (Ray then tells me this is not an exact quote from Tony, but I like it so much I'm leaving it in).

"Tony’s an artist in his own right," Fulber continues. "He did the Real McKenzies stuff - that was all his writing, pretty much, I think. There was a big Green Day hit... Green Day, in San Francisco, used to hang out with the Real McKenzies and got some of their Vancouver punk rock/ celtic-ish thing and made huge amounts of money off it. There’s one song where I go, 'Man, Tony - that’s your tune,' right? Anyhow, he has his own band, Walker, and he just released an album of his material, which is pretty good" - a history of music in the 20th century, available through CD Baby. "He’s a good songwriter. And he covers 'Vultura Freeway' in his band. He played with Art in one of the tours for one of the record companies, in the ‘90’s, and he said Art didn’t show up for the first three rehearsals, so - Tony can play those songs and sing’em. He can fake it, y’know. I mean, we were at the point where Art was very much freaked out by this, and he goes into anger when he’s trying to get himself going, as part of the vitriol he’s trying to access. Susann said when Art walked out once to have a smoke - he’s pissed off, he threw everything down and we’re all standing around - and Susann quoted one of his album titles, only she changed it - she said, 'Oh, what fresh Hell’s Kitchen is this?'" Ray laughs, but I don't have a TV, and miss the reference. "Like the Chef Ramsey thing? He’s got this reality show on TV called Hell’s Kitchen, where he yells at all the cooks? He just humiliates them... Art has this thing that really pisses me off," Ray says (though there is fondness in his voice). "I think I read a book once on Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the German filmmaker’s life, and one of the big things in his method of production was, he would play the crew off against each other. There would be knock-down, drag-out fights because of rumours and shit - he would just cause a disturbance, so it would create this tension. And Art has some of that in him as an artist," something attentive audience members at the Richards on Richards show no doubt noticed.

Art Bergmann, photographed by Sabine Fulber. Tony Walker is at the far right. Note: photographs on this site are the property of the photographers and are not to be used without their permission).

After the show - which I'd left as soon as it had finished - Ray tells me, "Art sat at the back for an hour and a half, signing CDs. The last thing me and Art did when we parted ways and split the dough and all that stuff was, he held on to me and said, 'I love you man, and thank you for doing this.' It got him off the couch. Now, whether he’s gonna go back up there... At least maybe he’s going to maybe do something. Self-acceptance is a big deal for Art, to be able to say, 'Okay, this is where I am.' That means you can kinda move on, whether you’re a writer or painter or whatever." Bob Rock and Paul Hyde, I'm told, were both in the audience that night, and Ray's son, Rhys Fulber (a successful producer in his own right and a member of Front Line Assembly and Delerium), flew in from Los Angeles. Lots of people got to show their appreciation for Art, and more than a few - including myself - got to see someone they'd heard a lot about, but had never seen live before. "There were lots of people that were happy that we did this," Ray acknowledges. "And all those people got a reunion out of it."

The story doesn't end there: Ray Fulber tells me that Art is playing an opening acoustic set with the Great Lakes Swimmers in Toronto at the Queen Elizabeth Theater on the 25th of April at the request of their manager - amazing news, suggesting that he enjoyed himself at the Vancouver show. Art has also hinted that he is writing a memoir, which I'll be excited to read. Fulber, meantime, is contemplating another step, CD wise: the Lost Art Bergmann tapes are not the only thing in his basement, it turns out. "I’ve got a benefit thing that we did for Terry Jacks - it was called Save Howe Sound and it’s got 'Soul Power," Ray informs me. "Susann and Art have some really good vocal stuff and the Jazzmanian Devils horn section is on that! It’s good! What’s the big hook line that I love - 'I’m searching for soul power, but all I get is your face.' It’s an Art thing, you know?" he laughs. Ray also has the old Poisoned EP (pictured; thanks to Scott Beadle's Everything-You-Need-to-Steal record sleeve gallery for the image). This EP was recorded back before Ray and Susann were in the band, though Ray was managing Art at the time; he baked those tapes, too, just in case. There are also two videos that Ray had a hand in, that could end up on a CD release. "A friend of mine who produced the video for “My Empty House," Ted Herman - he’s been doing commercials; he’s been a producer for years. He’s moving up here, and he’s building a house not far from me. We’ve been hanging out. He’s going to pull out his archives... 'My Empty House' is like done on 35-mm handheld film, so we have that material." There's also the video that Ray helped make for the Poisoned EP, "Yeah I Guess," a low-quality version of which appears on Youtube. "There used to be a club downtown called Ms. T's, and it was an old transvestite bar - I think it started in the 1960s. We did a video there and it’s got tons of tough drag queens that have tattoos and moustaches. They’re real! I did a little Much Music thing, and I got Terry David Mulligan out - 'come on down to this club and we can have an interview backstage with Art while we’re shooting,'" Ray chuckles, remembering. "I could see when he went in there - there’s a bathhouse on one side, like an early 80’s bathhouse before AIDS - and all these transvestites and Art and those guys are on this little weird stage with fake cactuses on it. Which was always there - we didn’t set-dec the place at all. That’s a funny video!" With luck, these two videos, the Poisoned EP, and "Soul Power" will be enough to assemble a second Art Bergmann release. It's a tidy irony that, since most of Art's studio catalogue is out of print, Ray Fulber may end up with the last word here: right now - the Young Canadians CD and licensed Euro LP sold by Sudden Death aside - the only way you're going to buy a new Art Bergmann CD is via Bearwood.

I've got no more I plan to put up on Art for the time being - but I'd like to just thank him for having performed again for Vancouver audiences (and to thank Ray Fulber, Susann Richter, et alia for making it happen and answering my questions). The show meant a lot to me; I've met Art a few times - once when I was in full zombie makeup, and once at a video store in Maple Ridge, where I pressed him into autographing a rental copy of Highway 61 - and I've listened to many of his records, but I've never heard him perform live before, and had assumed I never would. The show had a level of raw excitement that I haven't experienced in years at a rock concert - maybe since the last time I saw Joe Strummer in Tokyo, in 2001, I think - and it's got me hooked on both the Lost Art Bergmann CD and Sexual Roulette, which I'm very happy to discover are great fucking albums (like Crawl With Me, the radio-friendly production had put me off the latter, back in the day, but the Lost Art Bergmann CD and the concert have "taught" me how to appreciate these recordings and have me thirsting for more). Even Art's crankiness - which I make perhaps too much of in the above, neglecting to mention times he smiled or danced onstage or just threw himself passionately into performance - was in an odd way inspiring to see. People spend far too much time trying to be nice to each other, but great art - or great rock music - cannot come from "niceness." It wasn't a nice concert, last month at Richards - but it was powerful as hell, and has been damn fun to jabber about, both on my blog and elsewise.

Here's hoping that it was good for Art, too, and that his set in Toronto goes well!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Turbonegro

Wasn't this the cover of the Nerve Magazine once upon a time?


Okay, so... back before I listened to old timey and avant garde music, before I listened to free jazz, before I even knew who the Sex Pistols were and situated myself firmly on one side of the tribal division between punks and metalheads, I liked metal. At age 13 or so, you'd've found me with several AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, KISS, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest albums. I saw the latter two bands on the list live, as well as Krokus, Fastway, the Blue Oyster Cult, Van Halen with David Lee Roth, and the Ronnie James Dio incarnation of Black Sabbath; when I was 13, arena rock was what live music meant to me, since I couldn't get into bars. Though I retain a fondness for the Blue Oyster Cult (and am considering actually going to see them - with only two of their original five members - at the Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam, October 23rd), and own a few Motorhead and, um, Danzig albums, these count now as somewhat "guilty pleasures;" and there was a period where I disavowed the form completely, partially because the long-haired potsmoking classic rockers and metalheads in my high school were sometimes violent and abusive to punks, and partially because the lyrics started to seem, as I worked through my adolescence, kind of disgusting, when they weren't downright stupid. I mean, check out the words to AC/DC's "Squealer" sometime -- it's kind of what a female friend of mine at the time described as "rape-headed," innit? (I mean, you tell me: what does Bon mean with the "fixed'er good" line, the stuff about how she'll "never ball no more" now that he's done with her? Yikes). I began my 13-year undergraduate degree at a time when there was a fairly active and vocal feminist movement, and since there were women of this sort whom I kinda wanted to fuck, it seemed in my best interests if I distanced myself from such styles of being male; which was pretty easy to do, because that didn't seem like the kind of guy I wanted to be. And fuck, I mean, Jello Biafra's lyrics (or Gerry Hannah's or Mike Graham's or Brian Goble's or Joe Keithley's or Penny Rimbaud's or Chris D's or Will Shatter's or Danny Nowak's or...) were just a lot more interesting than what you generally encountered in the metal camp. I'd rather listen to Crass' Penis Envy - with the women of Crass stepping to the fore - than most of the metal bands on the above list ('cept maybe Motorhead). That was true when I was 19, and is still true today.
Pause. Do you know Turbonegro's song, "I Got Erection?" If not, acquaint yourself. Their most famous tune, it's passably amusing, one must admit - at least as much fun as Iggy and the Stooges "Cock in My Pocket," and certainly much wittier than anything AC/DC are likely to produce. Turbonegro embody a sort of horny nihilism in their music that is rather attractive and repulsive at the same time, like the flopping man-tits of decadent lead singer Hank Von Helvete. (I say this as someone possessed of man-tits of approximately the same size and hairiness; it was interesting to contemplate the spectacle of a chubby bearded guy posing and strutting shirtless on the Commodore stage, singing these sorts of songs, being a chubby bearded guy myself. I'm not sure I could do what he was doing, but I wonder if I'd get fellated more often if I did? Can y'all see me in leather pants?). There's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the band that makes it all fairly engaging - like they're simultaneously celebrating and satirizing their own grossness, turning themselves into one enormous dick joke. Their humour is perhaps my favourite aspect of their self-presentation: Hank taunted the audience between songs about being "mashed potatoes," offering them a special sort of "gravy," with a hip-level hand gesture -- then later got them singing along to a spoof "Canadian national anthem" ("Canada-da-da-da"), almost as if inviting them to expose their bovine enslavement to his patter. All of which I found amusing.
Somehow it was hard to really care, however. Their lyrics, after awhile, start to remind me of exactly what I didn't much like about the phallocentric metal of my youth - I mean, "We're Gonna Drop The Atom Bomb?" We need songs like this? Plus I suspect I would have enjoyed myself more if I knew exactly who or what Turbonegro likes to have sex with. It seems most likely to me that these are (at best) horny, debauched straight guys satirically posing as gays; such are my liberal politics at this point in my life that I think I'd prefer them if they really were gay, or, indeed pretty much anything "other" than straight white males -- necrophiliacs, skullfuckers, bestiality freaks, you name it. While their image fits, I suppose, with a certain glam tradition of gender-bending, and is inseparable from their "gross joke" appeal, there's also an assertion of straight white male privilige that comes from straight dudes donning sailor suits and so forth; by posing on the margin, they're reaffirming their security in the center of things. It's not so very interesting, ultimately - more adolescent than subversive; stuff for sniggering teenagers.
So as I stood observing my enthusiastic fellow-audience members bopping along to "Denim Demon" and singing along to "Rock Against Ass," I wondered: why do I want to wait around to watch this dude stick a lit firework in his arse and wave it back and forth, exactly? Because I personally think I would enjoy doing such a thing myself, and can get a cathartic thrill from seeing it done by someone else? Because he might cut wind and badly burn his ass cheeks and I'll feel like I've missed something for not having stuck around? Because he might do something even more rude and shocking and memorable that I will regret not having seen? ...Maybe he'll take out his cock and waggle it around?
On the other hand, I reasoned, I can go get a slice of pizza, lie in bed, and read this book of Bill Hicks routines I've picked up.
By the time the band got to "Fuck the World," the latter option won out. Never did get to see "I Got Erection" performed live, but there's always the Youtube clip. Good band, enthusiastic show; I'll still spin Ass Cobra and will probably pick up one or more of their other albums at some point. I just don't care enough to stand around at the Commodore while they play. High points of the night were talking before the show to Spores Danny and Sandy Beach (also in Aging Youth Gang!) and receiving an enthusiastic spiel from Anthony Walker, aka Tony Balony, about Art Bergmann. He's got a new solo album comin' out, under the name Anthony Walker. Think I'm gonna check it out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A film event! PHASE IV and Al's belated birthday bash


Saul Bass was a graphic designer and short filmmaker who is best remembered now for his remarkable title sequences for many of Hitchcock's films. In 1974, he made one feature film, a hard SF movie called Phase IV, involving scientists battling super-smart (but regular-sized) ants. Thematically it seems to me more about paradigm shifts, but I don't want to spoil too much by talkin' about it now; it's long been a favourite SF film of mine, though it was also made an object of ridicule by the MST3K people. I'll be hosting a free private screening of the event on Friday, April 24th at the Vancity Theatre at Seymour and Davie - ostensibly a "birthday celebration," happening a tad late, since I couldn't get it on to organize the event for March 7th (my actual birthday). It's by invite only, but feel free to contact me through my blog and I'll invite you, no sweat. It starts at 10:00 PM, after The Godfather III lets out; I'd advise getting there a few minutes early, since there will be a surprise musical guest, and I'll have some opening remarks. The event should finish by 12:30, after which we can convene elsewhere for a beverage or such.
If you feel ambitious, here are some links that will enhance your appreciation of Phase IV and get your cinematic salivary ducts workin':
1. A must-read short story by Carl Stephenson called "Leiningen Versus the Ants." Though once a staple of elementary school curricula, this tale is deeply politically problematic, and it fascinates me to discover that it was written in Germany in 1938; ostensibly an adventure story about a plantation owner in Brazil battling army ants, it's all-too-easy to see it as a tale of colonials versus "the black hordes" coming out of the jungle to challenge his rule. It was adapted for the screen in 1954 as The Naked Jungle, a film which serves to "correct" its problematic political implications somewhat by subordinating bullying Lieningen (played by Charlton Heston) to his male-order bride, who is shocked to discover that he is sexually insecure and terrified of her greater "experience." Phase IV, too, serves as a corrective to "Lieningen Verus the Ants," and makes a clear reference to the story at one point.
2. Some really cool screen captures from the DVD (thanks, Goof Button!). These make bitchin' desktops!
3. A trailer for the film on Youtube. It's one of those trailers that sort of tells you the whole story of the movie in brief, so I don't necessarily recommend seeing it before the film, but it contains a few images from the psychedelic denoument of Phase IV - I think of it as the "long live the new flesh" phase - which was apparently cut by the studio; these make it essential viewing. Alas, there is no other way to see these images, to my knowledge - no "fully restored" version of the film is available.
4. Also on Youtube, "Filming the Invisible," an excellent two-part documentary (one, two) on the late Ken Middleham, who photographed the ants in Phase IV; he also was one of the key photographers for the apocalyptic insect porn pseudodocumentary The Hellstrom Chronicle (viewable in completion on Youtube!) and for Bug. There's also a little thing on the music for Phase IV, composed by Brian Gascoigne.
5. Techgnosis author Erik Davis' excellent essay on the film, which perhaps is best saved for afterwards, if you don't actually know the story.
The film will be projected off the (widescreen, excellent-looking) DVD release of Phase IV. More on that here! (A DVD Savant review). See you April 24th!

Rafe Mair on the environmental record of Gordon Campbell

An important little article on the "piratization" of BC's energy resources. Thanks to Nick Jones for forwarding it to me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

RIP Marilyn Chambers

I have some fondness for Marilyn Chambers. Behind The Green Door is a curiously artful and remarkable - if dark, creepy and morally/ politically suspect - porn film, which I'm told was filmed in the same space where Sun Ra and his merry men were simultaneously shooting Space Is The Place. Chambers was, of course, also excellent in Cronenberg's Rabid. I have no real acquaintance with her recent work - I saw a bit of her 1990's softcore and found it bizarre and embarrassing - but I'm saddened to hear she's gone. The Dead Porn Stars index lists her cause of death as "unsure," saying that the 56-year old actress "was found by her daughter, McKenna, in the mobile home where she had been living the few months leading up to her death." Goodbye, Marilyn.

My Ears, Creem, and Mouse Poo

The ear in question, photographed back when I had short hair...

I've finished a run of antibiotics for my ear infections, but the net result, it turns out, is that I have a fluid buildup behind my right eardrum. My left ear - I think due to aggravations in my inner ear caused by my CPAP machine - has long had variable hearing, but now my right ear is also (temporarily?) damaged; until the fluid in my eustachean tube drains, I am having a hard time hearing things indeed. Listening to music at home has actively become displeasurable, since there's a constant tinny whoosh of distortion that muffles and mutilates the sound; however, the infection, at least, has passed, so I'll resume that promised Ray Fulber piece tomorrow.

Do I have other complaints? Yes, I do. I saw another mouse in my apartment the other night, and just today discovered that the top of my refrigerator, underneath my toaster oven, is littered with mouse poo. Apparently the mice have been climbing up the back of the fridge to try to get at the breadcrumbs inside my toaster oven. I pray that it never should happen that I throw toast in and turn it on without noticing a mouse inside; that could get ugly indeed.

One must take consolation where one can: the Robson and Granville Chapters has that cool, uber-covetable hardcover Creem coffee table book remaindered in the art section on the 1st floor for only $12.99!
And if $12.99 is beyond your budget, you can always go check out David M.'s free Saturday afternoon concert there this coming weekend...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Isabella Rosselini's Green Porno

Never mind David Lynch, Guy Maddin, et alia: left to her own devices, writing and co-directing "Green Porno" for the Sundance Channel, Isabella Rosselini reveals that she is one strange cat in her own right, adventuresomely - and quite charmingly - illustrating some of the odder aspects of biology with deadpan narration and a definite taste for the perverse. Patricia Highsmith, we are sure, would appreciate her snail video; given a decent costume budget, imagine how you would enact the following narration, before watching: "If I were a snail, I would have one big slimy foot. I would twist my body to fit inside my shell. My foot would end up at the bottom, allowing me to crawl. My anus would end up on top of my head, unfortunately..." I'm also quite fond of her earthworm, her bee, her mantis, her fly... heck, they're all great, check'em out. I find they load a bit more reliably (for people with crappy internet connections like myself) if you seek'em out on Youtube, rather than visiting the Sundance Channel, though much of Season Two, apparently devoted to sea life, hasn't made it to Youtube yet. Thanks to Dan for turnin' me onto this stuff - apparently we're only about a year late...

By the way, I am told my Green Porno name is Yam Hawkmoth, and that - based on the Green Porno quiz - I am a Praying Mantis (video here): "You take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. Sure to satisfy your Green Porno lover no matter what the cost, you'll keep giving and giving until you literally can't give anymore. If only you knew when to pull back, you might avoid repeatedly losing your head in relationships. It's a pity that your lovers don't always appreciate your generosity and attentiveness. Needless to say, you're always ready to get back on the stick and give it the best you've got despite the inevitable odds."

Correction: Minimalist Jug Band and Petunia this Sunday

I somehow got that wrong, previously: Al Mader, aka The Minimalist Jug Band, performs this Sunday, the 12th, at Cafe Montmartre, with Petunia, then again on the 26th...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Art, Ray, Nomeansno... and my bad ear

Nomeansno at the Royale Banquet Hall by Femke van Delft. Not to be used without permission.


Since I had some unused material from my Japanese Nomeansno articles, and since I'd never done a live review of a Nomeansno show before, I ended up submitting something to the Skinny, the new issue of which we presume is out around town now-ish. I'll be lookin' for it today. A couple of clips from the show are on Youtube: "The Day Everything Became Nothing" and "Oh No Bruno." There's a few so-so clips (short, bad sound) of their March Japan tour up, too - like this portion of "All Lies," or this of "Rags and Bones," which gives you a bit of a peek at the Japanese Nomeansno audience...
I am still grappling, alas, with ear infections, a head cold, and my body's reaction to the antibiotics I'm using. Putting on headphones and transcribing anything is work I do not want to be doing at the moment! There's at least one really cool Art Bergmann article (actually a Ray Fulber interview) still to come - but I'm going to wait until I feel healthier to get started. Sorry to keep y'all in suspense.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Strange Dream

I've started teaching at an American ESL school. I'm new to the school - I have my binders of material from my "previous" job (in waking life, my current one, which I am now on a temporary leave from). I have, in some regards, the confidence of a seasoned teacher; but I also don't quite know what's expected of me, I haven't had a chance to personalize or adapt the curriculum, and am not so sure of myself in the new environment. I'm told only in the vaguest terms what to teach, and so I go in and improvise; sometimes it works okay - and sometimes it doesn't. In the dream, on this one particular morning, I arrive at work without having prepared anything at all, to discover that I'm going to be observed by a supervisor, and that I'm to teach about politics. I start out with a warm-up activity where individual students report about a topic they've been assigned previously, and since it's going along okay - and I have no idea what to do next - I stretch it out to ridiculous lengths, hoping to buy myself time to figure out what to do. It carries on so long, however - and is ultimately so not like an effective ESL exercise, since most students sit silent while individuals report, in sequence - the supervisor steps in and says - her word - that it's becoming "fornicatery." She takes over deftly and stirs things up, provoking the students with some new material (I forget what, but I think, in the dream, sitting back and watching her, that she's good). It inspires me - I decide that, if the topic is politics, I'll get the students to discuss a few different political systems. Democracy and fascism and communism and so forth. How many different kinds of political systems are there that they need to be able to talk about? Maybe I could get them started, then assign them homework, to bring in the names of different systems and explain how they work? At break, I rush to my locker and flip through my binder, looking for material I can use to round out the class. There's nothing. I end up improvising again. As the break ends, I tell my supervisor that I'll take over and I point to the word "democracy" by a painting that includes a faded image of Ronald Reagan and ask the students what "democracy" is.

Of course, the students just sit there. They're not comfortable with the situation and don't want to volunteer answers in front of a stranger, especially when it's not clear what I expect of them. Or maybe they just have no idea about this word - such a cliched, empty word - or in discussing it. I try to get them to give me something but most of them just look at me blankly, apologetically. I start to sweat, to panic. I try a couple of different angles, hoping to reach them. I can't.

Finally I just say "fuck it, I quit" and walk out. I hear the supervisor behind me say my name - only she's got my name wrong, and calls me (sorry, man) Will. Bitch can't even get my name right. I stalk off down the hallway, simultaneously feeling relieved and wondering how soon it will be before I start really regretting my decision, which was more about rescuing me from the immediate situation than a reflection of my feelings about the job.

As I walk, the hall becomes a trail through a field, and I see a strange lizard - almost cartoonlike in its dimensions - sitting in something on the trail; perhaps an overturned hat, perhaps a curved rock, I really don't know. I do a double-take and move closer to observe this odd animal. The lizard, sensing my interest, leaps up, runs briefly around in a panic - moving at amazing speed - and dives into a hole in the path. I am standing looking down the hole when my alarm clock goes off and I wake up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Acid Mothers tonight



(Almost?) As cool as Kawabata: Acid Mothers Tsuyama and Higashi, above, taken last year at Pat's Pub by Femke Van Delft (not to be used without the photographer's permission). I didn't realize til after the Acid Mothers show at Pat's Pub last year that I'd previously seen Tsuyama with Ruins/Hatoba (a fusion of Ruins and Omoide Hatoba, featuring Yamamoto Seiichi of Boredoms fame) at Star Pines Cafe in Tokyo, back when I lived in Japan (1999-2002). He's got a fun personality - a mainstay of the Acid Mothers' tour roster the last few years, a member of Zoffy, a cool vocalist/bassist/"little instruments"-dude, and the prankster of the band onstage. He's on an uber-goofy project with Kawabata and Ruins mastermind Yoshida Tatsuya called Stones, Women & Records (by Acid Mothers Temple SWR, not the incarnation playing tonight; for a sense of how silly these guys can get, check Tsuyama and Yoshida out playing with their zippers as Akaten. Stones, Women & Records is a postmodern collage/nervous-jukebox-breakdown that is more orchestral, more hyperkinetic, and more (I guess) "serious" than that clip - but equally as zany. Music to bug out to). Higashi, meanwhile, has cool CDRs of solo electronica that he'll be selling at gigs; fans of Magneticring, BCVCO, or Sinoia Caves would get something out of these. Kawabata is the "star" of Acid Mothers and a very interesting musician and nice guy, but Higashi and Tsuyama are uber-cool too! (So, we assume, is Shimura Koji, whom I don't know as well; Forced Exposure tells me he's been in Splendor Mystic Solis, White Heaven, High Rise, Mainliner, and Miminokoto - pardon me if I leave you to track down your own links for those).
So obviously I'm plugging this gig, tonight at the Biltmore, by sticking this up, and I think any of you who like heavy psychedelic rock owe it to yourselves to go, especially if you've never seen them; but as I've said, live, the Acid Mothers just plain rock out too much for me. I mean, I don't blame them: performing musicians have to please their audience, and rock audiences in North America are simply not very subtle listeners (Kawabata and I discuss this in our interview, here, endless thanks to Alan Cummings for translating. May there never come a day when I don't feel like I need to include that statement - or don't remember to re-link to that interview when AMT are comin' to town). For the same reason, I have mixed feelings about seeing Sonic Youth live in North America. The one time I've seen them here, at least, at the Commodore on the Sonic Nurse tour, whenever the band got into their really subtle or out-there "noise" jams - exactly the part of their show that I'm most excited about listening to, and that I think they, as musicians, are themselves the most excited by - the audience chose to cheer, hoot, holler, and clap throughout, all of which are activities that interfere with careful listening and are so beside the point of what the band are actually doing that I wanted to run around the venue slapping people. (I recall no such problems the one time I saw Sonic Youth in Japan, note - or during any other concert I went to where there were lengthy quiet passages, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Liquid Room; people listened attentively, in a way you simply don't get at rock shows here). This sort of behaviour, of course, is just fine for a lot of bands; yelling between songs or even during them is just great at a Reverend Horton Heat show, a Motorhead show - or a Rebel Spell show, a Subhumans show, even a fucking Nomeansno show, jammy and musical as it is (that last link is to last week's concert - more on that from me in this week's Skinny, btw). There's a jazz-oriented tradition of cheering hot solos and enthusiastic performances whenever you too feel most enthusiastic about them - to kick out and let the spirit move you, and give whooping and welcome feedback to the artist; it just doesn't work in ALL situations. People who don't go to anything but rock concerts, however, may not have had the chance to figure this out; they've never seen minimal/ambient noise, or "free music," or vocal improv, or so forth performed before, and know neither how to listen to it or how to show appreciation without wrecking the show. Medeski Martin and Wood's audience is equally as bovine, really; I sincerely believe they'd be a much better band, live or otherwise, if they had a better audience.

This is a shame, though, because the Acid Mothers Temple - to return to them - can be really a fun project! They have some terrific recordings (of those available through FE, check out Univers Zen ou de Zero A Zero, say). And it's not like they don't occasionally try to get "out there" live. There was a moment last year where Tsuyama started to fuck around with vocal improv and little instrument stuff, in a kind of goofy Akaten way -- but one that could have led somewhere, if the band had had an attentive audience willing to follow where they went. Insteaad, the audience laughed, hooted, made sarcastic comments and so forth, until the gesture had to be dropped with a shrug and a smile: we now return to our regular scheduled programming of Kawabata hoisting up his guitar and laying into ripping rock solos. Kawabata is a helluva performer, don't get me wrong, but it's only part of what he does, and even in terms of guitar improvising, there's only so far "out there" he can get to stay within the "North American rock guitar solo idiom;" better to "give the people what they want," if you want to be able to tour in North America every year or so. I understand - but frankly, I'd rather stay home and listen to his brilliant and constantly engaging early electronic music (thanks, Dan) than sit thinking about how much better the show could be if only the audience weren't ignorant, drunk and stupid. Grr!

But they're touring all the way from Japan, they're really nice people, and even when they're rocking out, there are moments where it grabs me, you know? I would probably enjoy myself at least a little, and there might be... women... there; maybe even (shudder) women like me (I all but stiffen at the thought). Besides, what else am I gonna do tonight, stay home and do my taxes? Transcribe Ray Fulber, with my ear still infected? Hell no! I want to relax, to unwind. I've just spent the weekend in Maple Ridge and the day doing laundry, putting my apartment back together after bedbug fumigation, and spending a frustrating hour with Telus trying to get them to actually send me certain documents that I've been requesting since March 9th. It would probably be at least, oh, a little fun, if I got my cantankerous ass out of this chair. Now I know how my friends feel when I try to talk them into coming to concerts with me that they aren't really that excited about: I'm running some of the same arguments down on myself.
Frankly, I'd feel better about not going if I knew all my readers were going. Would you do me a favour?

I mean, you might really not be as anal or difficult to please as me! You should go!

Sigh.

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....By the way, did you actually click the Zoffy link? They're performing "Smoke on the Water." If Captain Beefheart were Japanese...