Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holiday from my blog

I will now spend a few days doing other things and, barring news of overwhelming importance, check back in with my blog next weekend. Come see Eugene Chadbourne on Wednesday! Femke's show on Thursday! See below for more on both!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper

Jesus. Dennis Hopper just died of prostate cancer. I'd missed that he was even sick. He figures in a couple of articles on my blog - with John Lurie, who fished with him in Thailand, and, to a much lesser extent, with the Pointed Sticks, about the Out Of The Blue shoot. (I also have Bev Davies on tape somewhere talking about meeting Hopper, but it's not transcribed yet). I remember seeing a really funny photograph of Hopper in Vancouver, standing in front of a Shopper's Drug Mart sign so that he was obscuring the "S" - I wonder who took that? It was brilliant. So was Dennis Hopper. Rest in peace.


You know, I think that there's a big, big hole that's been left in American cinema today, a major severed connection between American film as we know it and American cinema of the 1960's and early '70s. Not that everything he touched in recent years lived up to, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 ( - anyone else remember Hopper on Letterman, back when he was getting tired of Letterman asking him substance abuse questions, relating that he suspected that that film "probably wasn't very good...?" How wrong you were, Dennis - how wrong!)... but hell, even fucking Hoosiers, man, is worth seeing for his performance...

Dennis Hopper's passing has lingered all day - so much so that I even want to see The Last Movie again - know what I mean? Anyone got a good DVD of it?

Hell, I may even rewatch Out Of The Blue again. For those Pointed Sticks fans out there who don't realize it, that film - his third directorial effort and a rather, um, "loosely assembled" piece of cinema - is pretty easily available as a letterboxed, public-domain DVD, double-billed with a fairly unwatchable version of the early Robert DeNiro vehicle The Swap. Go look around dollar stores or cheapie DVD markets like the one in Kingsgate Mall (if it's still there) and you'll find it eventually. It is by no means a very good film, but it has many very interesting things about it, not the least of which is the footage of Vancouver circa 1980 and the Pointed Sticks appearance.

All Hail Femke van Delft!

It was in 2007. Eugene Chadbourne was onstage at the Cobalt with Han Bennink and three members of Robots On Fire. I had a Eugene Chadbourne interview written and ready for publication and needed a photo - if I recall correctly, the gig was happening just before the publication of the forthcoming issue of The Nerve Magazine; the issue would promote Chadbourne's upcoming jazz festival appearance, which this gig was an early forerunner of. Problem: I didn't have a camera, and even if I had, I knew from past experience that, in the low light atmosphere of a rock concert, any photos I tried to take would look likely be completely unworthy of print - as this photo of mine of Doc Chad at the Cobalt in 2009 amply demonstrates (compare with Femke's pics from the same show, a few posts back). It's so far along on the "bad" scale that it borders on coming out the other end as beautiful, like an abstract impressionist rendering of the artist, but I assure you, all beauty herein is completely accidental:

(Photo by Allan MacInnis

but don't you dare credit me;

in fact, don't show anyone.

Don't even look at it)

Then I noticed this tall, skinny blonde woman was intently photographing the whole set, from a variety of locations around the club. I had never seen her before, and I'd been to my share of shows locally. It seemed at least possible that if she were taking pictures, she might want someone to see them. The only question would be, "Hey, do you work for free?"
I mean, at least I could grin widely and follow that up with, "...because I do!" (Or I did back then, anyhow. I try to avoid it where possible these days...).

Luckily for me, Femke didn't laugh in my face, and a copy of the Nerve with Fem's picture of Han Bennink at the Cobalt went back to Amsterdam with the drummer, who was most pleased with it. I still remember then Nerve Music Editor Adrian Mack's reaction when I offered him the photo: "hey, I'm even impressed that you know someone named Femke van Delft!"

Suddenly, Fem and I were on assignment together for the Nerve. I met her at her skytrain station and she drove us out to cover Under The Volcano. Due to a spat rendered irrelevant by the subsequent death of the paper, my Nerve Magazine review of that day omitted my lines about the Rebel Spell's performance (largely focusing on how strange it was to see punks moshing on green grass on a bright summer's day), to say nothing of Femke's photos - though I think some of them ended up being used in my Razorcake interview with the Rebel Spell (issue number 42, also featuring a Chris Walter interview with the Tranzmitors, so it's a good backissue for fans of local bands to buy). I love how, if you look carefully at most of the pics from that show, you can see Bev Davies and Carola of the Jem Gallery lounging against a tree in the background - it was, in fact, the first time I met Bev Davies, though pictures of hers had complemented my writing, too, by that point.

Photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

After that day, we worked together in a variety of contexts; I got full exposure to Femke's finely-honed sense of the absurd (ask her about the llama sometime), and I got to know how community-minded and committed to her work she could be. Take, for example the time when, since she needed better light to work with at the 'balt and realized they didn't have the time, staff, and possibly the moolah to do anything about their many burnt out bulbs, she trundled off to the grocery store down Main Street to buy some kitchen lights out of her own pocket and did the job of installing them herself, much to the benefit of all those who like to be able to actually see the bands onstage. I've seen Femke stand on a chair beside a mosh pit at a Subhumans show where she could have gotten careened into at any moment, taking photos without the slightest concern for anything aside from her subject; I've also seen her in pretty much every other possible posture or place for a photographer save for hanging upside down from her ankles over the stage, though I don't rule that one out as a possiblity if it means getting the shot. I've witnessed Femke being assigned near-impossible lighting conditions and a three song limit - at this Animal Collective show, say - and pulling out amazing photographs. Fem's been stepped on, insulted, forced to shoot covertly from the back of the venue, harassed by security, and asked to do far too much for too little reward - but she continues to do it, and any casual look through the last three years on my blog will turn up amazing photo after amazing photo by her.

I've seen various art projects of hers as well as photos, too, the most memorable of which was an easy chair punctured by pencils, clustered around the areas corresponding to the human heart and the crotch and almost entirely bypassing the brain - a comment on television. Her capacity for critical engagement with her photography, and with the form in general, is one of the most interesting things about working with her - she has lots to say about her work, about music, and about the representation of musicians in photographs, especially in her "Light Parasite" series. Acknowledging that concert photography is a "form of tourism," with writers and photographers feeding parasitically off the aura of the celebrity, she adopted a very interesting approach by which she sets her camera to a long exposure and then shoots in the hopes that there will be a flash used elsewhere in the venue - a more literal form of "light parasitism," which, when it pays off, creates a very unusual and quite lovely ghostly effect, as this picture of Stephen McBean of Black Mountain, adjusting his gear at Richards on Richards, will illustrate:

Photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

To date, Fem's pictures have run alongside my writing in The Nerve, The Skinny, Razorcake, Ox Fanzine, Bixobal, The Wire and elsewhere. Where my writing would be without her contributions is a questionable thing - she has made my work look very, very good over the years, and she's been a supportive and reliable friend and cohort; enthusiastic and articulate collaborators like her are hard to come by. She'll be the subject of a show at the Railway Club - their first ever concert photography show, I'm told - with Fraulein Fanta, Marko Polio, and Yellowthief performing on opening night, next Thursday, June 3rd, from 7pm to midnight. When I last checked in with Fem, she was unsure if she'd do a series of all-local shots or not; images hadn't been printed, so she wasn't 100% sure what would be included. There was talk of running pictures of Swank, Black Mountain, Bison BC, Ejaculation Death Rattle, the Subhumans, and a Creaking Planks she likes (perhaps this one?) because "it's just so Rembrandt." (I agree!) - there will be at least 18 pictures, to my understanding/ Fem's photos are also appearing in the Chapel Arts rock art show, alongside the work of Bev Davies, Adam PW Smith, and others (their site doesn't seem to have been updated recently but I'm sure committed folks can find the information they need somewhere online). Those interested in rock, the local music scene, or photography - or combinations off all three - should check both of these shows out, and if you see Femke, be sure to get her talking about her work; she always has interesting things to say...!

Nashville Pussy by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission!

Soulfly review - Max Cavalera interview redux

Max Cavalera of Soulfly by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Having interviewed Max Cavalera for the Straight meant getting comped into the Soulfly show at The Venue a couple of months ago - an experience that would have been a lot better if I'd been able to stay for the whole show! Soulfly had barely done five songs before I had to leave, in order to catch a bus to get back to Maple Ridge. I'm told that later in his set, the band played "Roots Bloody Roots," and given the astonishing energy of the crowd - who were very, very excited to be there - I'm sure that it would have been a great experience to see that (and say what you will about Sepultura's Beneath The Remains and Arise and such - I'm a Roots man, am staggered by the creativity and passion packed into that album, which everyone with an interest in creative rock, metalhead or no, should check out).
While there's a lot I'm not wild about about The Venue - from being told that night by two coplike security guards with Starbucks cups in their hands that I couldn't bring my own Starbucks beverage into the place, to being informed by another of the "Venue police" that I wasn't allowed to take my footwear off (I was tucked into a corner writing and resting my feet, bothering no one and not being particularly stinky) - I have to hand it to whoever renovated the club: it sounds bloody amazing compared to its former incarnation as the Plaza. Also, when there's a packed crowd - as was the case on this particular night - and the lights are down, the ambience in the black-on-black room is that of a "miniature stadium rock concert," not a bar gig. It'd be nice if it were a little less zealously policed, and when the lights are up the vibe is a bit upscale for my tastes, but if you can overlook these things, it's definitely not a bad place to see live music...
...and thankfully, there had been some pretty interesting opening bands to make up for the fact that I couldn't see Soulfly's whole set. Rotting Corpse, a somewhat neglected Texas band from, I gather, the first wave of crossover thrashcore, were missing a member - some reprobate barred from crossing into Canada - but this led to the rhythm guitarist, by way of compensation, punctuating the set with jokes and anecdotes (none of which do I still remember, but he was definitely an engaging storyteller, telling us the band's history and making a couple good- humoured jabs at the relative lameness of Canadian metal - until someone from the audience called out "Razor," which impressed the dude... I'm sure Anvil got a nod, too...). They were probably my favourite band musically during the night, not counting the headliners. I always wonder about people who swing their hair like that and play at the same time, tho': don't they get dizzy?

Rotting Corpse by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Incite by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Incite had a strong presence and the lead singer had a truly menacing air to the way he scowled from the stage, making threatening "bring-it-on" hand gestures to the crowd. I couldn't really make out what he was singing - there's a buffalo-throatedness to a lot of metal singing these days that I haven't figured out how to decode, having grown up on Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson - but there was definitely a compelling theatricality to the way he glowered at us. Or maybe I couldn't stop watching him because I was afraid he might leap into the stage and start beating people up?
Incite's bassist had the coolest look of the night: photo by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Prong by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Prong were a stranger experience: while they had superb musicianship, the mien of seasoned pros, and a charismatic stage presence - mostly centered on guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor - they seemed, in a way, not wholly reconciled to their genre. The song I liked most in their set didn't even sound like metal, but more like a Goth/industrial pop tune (I have no idea of the title, sorry). While I couldn't fault their playing, when they used it in the service of more "metal" numbers, it seemed like the form was limiting what they could do, like they were straining to sound more like a conventional metal band than they actually are. Maybe I just didn't get what they were doing, though. The crowd certainly dug them; the Rotting Corpse guy had namechecked Tommy Victor from the stage as being a prince among men, or sumfin' like that, and Victor collaborates with Max on "Lethal Injection," on the new Soulfy album Omen... so fuck me, anyhow.

By the time Max hit the stage, in any event, the audience was well-primed and receptive. I've had so many people I engaged in conversation about Soulfly say they preferred early Sepultura and/or barely knew Soulfly's stuff that I figured maybe Soulfly didn't have that enthusiastic a following, but from the way the packed house sang along with "Blood Fire War Hate" - the opening cut off Conquer, the album they were touring - I guess I'd just been talking to the wrong folks. The crowd cheered wildly for "Back To The Primitive," a few songs later, too, so they clearly knew their stuff. And no matter what songs they'd come to see, the crowd fucking loved Max, centering on his every gesture. The vocalist from Incite should perhaps consider Max as a counter-example of a metal image; his charisma was in no way lessened by his looking rather, uh, "soft and cuddly," and - as anyone who has seen the Global Metal documentary will understand - he seems more like a friendly, well-adjusted, and good humoured guy, offstage or on, than someone who is going to suddenly start beating you up. I'd leave my kids with Max, if I had any, but I'd lock my door if Incite knocked. None of this interferes with Cavalera's presence one whit; he outdid even Lemmy as a compelling bandleader and focal point.

Max Cavalera of Soulfly by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

I can't really review the set, mind you, since by the time they were really starting to cook, I was walking towards Hastings Street, cursing my luck. Instead, since Omen, the new Soulfly album, has hit the stores, I'll offer you some outtakes from my Max Cavalera interview (thanks to Max for being gracious and taking the time to talk to me while on the road!).

Allan: Curious - do you have any feelings about people who fixate on, say, Beneath The Remains and the early thrash stuff as a high point in your career?

Max: People have different records that they like. I don’t agree or disagree - I just play them all; I’m proud to have made them. Life goes on. I gotta keep making records, because that’s what I do.

Allan: It seems like you're actually returning to that sound a bit on the last couple of albums...

Max: I really like that era and that style of music; it’s really exciting. It’s got a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy. And part of that to me was missing in the metal scene, so I started to get that thrash sound back. It started with Dark Ages, and continues with Conquer. It continues on too with Omen, the new album, it still has that thrash sound.

Allan: It's a really aggressive-sounding album - you say somewhere in the press release that “murder is this records’ state of mind.”

Max: Yeah, it’s definitely full of murder, from songs like “Jeffrey Dahmer” to “Bloodbath & Beyond,” there’s a lot of death and destruction to go around, on the whole record.

Allan: And yet it’s dedicated to God! It seems like a contradiction -

Max: Yeah, I believe in paradox!

Allan: I guess it depends which God it is - some Gods are more death-oriented.

Max: It could be the God of war, right.

Allan: Let me ask you about “Off With Their Heads” - I'm not sure where the beheading stuff came from; it got me thinking of Al Qaida or something, though that might just be current events influencing my perception of things...

Max: No, the inspiration actually comes from Alice In Wonderland! I have a mirror in my house that’s an Alice In Wonderland mirror and it says “Off With Their Heads” on it. And I just thought that would be a really cool name for a song - “Off With Their Heads.” So it’s not really related to Al Qaida - nothin’ to do with that kinda shit! It came more from the Alice In Wonderland kind of vibe. It’s more about society in general - like, off with their heads, whatever is wrong -

Allan: Any particular people you want to behead? The rich, politicians, or...

Max: Yeah, a lot of them!

Allan: There also seems to be quite a lot of stuff on the album about the fall of the west, in songs like "Bloodbath & Beyond." Is that something that you want to see happen?

Max: It’s not that I want it. I think it’s just gonna happen, because every hundred or two hundred years, a new empire is gonna be gone. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, France was the most powerful nation, and then you had Germany, WWII and whatnot, and right now it’s America. 100 years from now it could be China - it’s just going to happen, no matter what. It’s not something that I want, it’s just a comment on something that I think is gonna happen.

Allan: You live in America now, though. Do you like it?

Max: Yeah, I do - I like the vibe of Phoenix. When I’m up there, I’m not on tour, so I’m just living a regular life. It’s in the desert, so it’s a little bit away from civilization. I’ve got a house in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert. So it’s cool. I like that kind of peace and quiet.

Allan: Do you ever miss Brazil?

Max: I kind of learn how not to, because I still miss it, but life is so different now for me, and I’ve adjusted myself to the new life. So you learn not to miss those things anymore. It’s cool - I haven’t been in Brazil in 14 years, and uh, I know I’ll go back there sometime. But for the moment, I haven’t been there for awhile...

Allan: Why did you relocate, initially?

Max: I was still in Sepultura when we moved there. Everybody lived there - the crew lived there and Gloria and everybody. It was a decision that was made that the whole band go and we left Brazil. That’s the place that we all went, except for my brother Iggor. He didn’t like the desert, he didn’t like the sun, so he went to San Diego. But the rest of us were in Phoenix. And I just liked it and I made it my home and I’ve stayed there until now.

Allan: Of course, the stuff with you in Global Metal is NOT filmed in Brazil, though they make it seem like you're there...

Max: No, they only contacted me to do the interview and they came up to my house. I did actually a two part interview, one part was in Germany at the Wacken Open Air festival, and then the other part - they needed more, so we scheduled to come to Phoenix, Arizona and then they meet me in the desert in my house and they finished the interview there. But I didn’t know they were in Brazil - I found out later when I saw the movie. Which I saw thought was a really good movie.

Allan: But you’re representing Sepultura, they aren’t in the movie!

Max: It’s because I was so heavily involved with the lyrics and the albums - I was a huge part of Sepultura, so people still ask me to this day about Sepultura. So it’s kinda normal, I’m okay with it - it’s my past, I cannot deny my past, I don’t have reason to deny it. I embrace it. I move to the future, but I embrace my past. I’m proud of all the records I’ve made. They left a real huge legacy to the fans. But I keep moving on.

More to be read online here! I imagine Max is back in studio now recording the new Cavalera Conspiracy album; look forward to hearing what he and Iggor come up with!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vinyan: A DVD Review

Caught up with another PV'd DVD I'd missed theatrically, Vinyan, which is a bit of an oddity - a sort of "arthouse exploitation" film set in Thailand and Burma, about a young Western couple (Emmanuelle Beart and Rufus Sewell) who are mourning the loss of their only child in the tsunami that devastated that region six months prior. The film charts their journey "up the river" in hopes that a boy glimpsed in a video of refugee children might be their son. The wife grows increasingly unstable and the husband's ability to keep the situation under control grows more and more fragile; they're unable to trust the locals who are "helping" them, unable to negotiate the journey on their own, and not even sure if their son really is alive...

It's kind of unfortunate, given how richly cinematic Vinyan is, but you can't stop thinking of other films when you watch it - the lush, damp jungles and tropical rainstorms and the whole Heart of Darkness river journey bring to mind Apocalypse Now and the jungle films of Werner Herzog, or maybe Barbet Schroeder's La Valee, with hell at the end instead of utopia (if that is indeed what one finds at the end of that film). Since there is a tribe of jungle children - improperly described in some writing about the film as "feral," since they are clearly of a human orientation, not wolf-kids or such - one obviously considers Lord Of The Flies. There were even times where I was reminded of the absurdly gore-drenched recent Rambo film, insofar as Burma seems to have become the west's current #1 cinematic symbol of lawlessness and savagery.

Spoilers mount if I try to talk about the film thematically, however, or to assess what it adds up to. Even to mention these next two films is to give a vast deal away - neverminding the tropical jungles, the real points of comparison for Vinyan seem to be Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now and Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (with perhaps a bit of Harlan Ellison's short story "Croatoan," which follows a playboy up a sewer into a kingdom of aborted foetuses, creeping in on the sides).

As with Don't Look Now, the husband's desire to both protect his wife and his own hope to find his child alive lead him ever closer to his undoing. As with Antichrist, the wife's hysterical surrender to her emotions around the loss of a child becomes a very urgent threat to her husband's well-being.

As with both those films - especially Antichrist, obviously - it would be fairly easy to make a case for Vinyan being a misogynist text; at the very least, the resolution is deeply gynophobic. Though initially the instability of the wife seems a secondary issue, the conclusion of the film suggests otherwise. Ultimately, all the rather nicely handled details about the cruelty that follows on poverty, and the thought-provoking querying of the western couple's attitudes towards the Third World (as when they are given the opportunity to "buy" a child who is not their own) turn out to have been digressions, to be swept aside so the husband (and the audience) can look upon his wife with the horror she merits.

I suppose one man's misogyny is another man's archetypal working through of "woman issues," so I won't actually condemn the film on this count myself, except to say that I was rather disappointed to see all the interesting things the film was doing suddenly being subordinated to terror at the ultimate manifestation of the female's wrath - which is extreme indeed, bringing to mind certain scenes from the cinema of George A. Romero (I'll protect the ending just slightly by not telling you which ones). I had hoped for something less sensationalistic, for one thing. But I also felt kind of morally uneasy about what the film saw its conclusion as being. Just as it's kind of politically sick to subordinate the realities of the Vietnam war to a cartoonish expression of human darkness, in Apocalypse Now - find Jonathan Rosenbaum's writing on that film for more - it is more than a little grotesque to use the misery left in the wake of the tsunami as a mere background detail in yet another horror film about how women can getcha killed. There were many possible ways the film could have ended, and while I suppose I'm glad that it didn't end happily - with the cheap Hollywood feelgoodism of having them actually find their son - I'm not sure that the ending that is fashioned isn't a copout of another sort.

There's no denying, though, that there's a resonance to Vinyan that lingers. Most of the films it reminded me of were pretty good ones, and some of the individual parts are more interesting than the whole they add up to... See my review of Fabrice Du Welz's previous film, Calvaire, here.

Eugene Chadbourne returns to Fake Jazz (via Music Waste)

All photos by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission!

I've seen Eugene Chadbourne twice at Fake Jazz, once with Han Bennink on drums and once with Doc Chad doing a stunning solo set that ranged from originals like "City Of Corruption" and "I Hate the Man Who Runs this Bar" - dedicated to the Cobalt's owners, since wendythirteen was being evicted at that point - to Captain Beefheart's "Orange Claw Hammer," which some drunken heckler thought sounded like Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." (I did an advance-press interview with Doc Chad for The Skinny for that show that I also ended up blogging, here; I also have a brief plug for next week's Fake Jazz/ Music Waste show at Lick, June 2nd, in this week's Straight, talking with saxophonist Darren Williams about collaborating with the Doctor). I can think of no more appropriate an out-of-towner to play Fake Jazz - just as there's a John Cassavetes award for independent filmmaking, at some point there should be a Eugene Chadbourne award for independent musicians, since Doc Chad has been self-distributing his own music (in addition to appearing on a variety of labels) for some 35 years, putting out Volume One: Solo Acoustic Guitar in 1975 on his own Parachute imprint (which also released early LPs by John Zorn, Bob Ostertag and others).

Eugene and Darren Williams at the Cobalt, 2007, by Femke Van Delft (the gig that marked the beginnings of my collaborations with Femke). Not to be reused without permission

...but just because I interviewed Darren Williams about the gig for the Straight (to cover the local angle), that doesn't mean I didn't also interact with Doc Chad... Since Eugene has been prefacing next week's show with various smalltown BC gigs, I asked him various questions about the differences playing in a bar in Nelson, say, versus underground music venues like Lick and/or the larger, more prestigious festivals and concerts where he gets invited, here and in Europe. Doc Chad responds:

....What is difficult about playing outside the big cities and college towns in North America is that there tend not to be any music venues at all, at least not for performing music such as mine and in many cases any music at all.

Last year, I was on the train between Chicago and Bloomington ILL, which makes a lot of local stops and in each one I looked at the local bars and thought about how in the old days before television was invented there were probably bars with live music in each of these towns.

So the big difference with European tours is there are venues and festivals and possibilities to perform outside of big cities and/or college towns so one really gets to go around and play in all kinds of different locations.

There is no connection at all in this discussion between the locale and the type of club, that is a completely different discussion that would come down to the club itself, no club is one way or the other just because of the type of club it is, at least not in terms of what makes the gig enjoyable for me.

I cannot comment on Lick because I have never been there but of course you were familiar with the place I played last year, that was I guess a typical punk club but also had some particular drawbacks to it--location!--as well as some advantages in terms of ambience and the kind of people that would arrive.

I play the same program pretty much wherever I go however when one gets off into the hinterlands I watch the arriving audience quite carefully to see if I can figure out any way to pull the whole thing off. Performing for example at the little North seaside town of Husen in Germany, I noticed some older couples coming in expecting to hear their idea of country music so then I start out on banjo rather than electric guitar, which in the end did not make any difference because they thought my banjo playing was so freaky.

Playing in Butte, Montana, which is something that would probably never happen again, it seemed like the few people there were all male prospectors, they looked like they had been dragged in out of the dust and rocks. I had no idea what to play and in the end had no success whatsover getting them to stop paying attention to their "red beer" (beer mixed with tomato sauce.)

Recently a well known jazz saxophonist (talent deserving wider recognition in last year's Downbeat poll) wrote me a letter complaining that his agent was booking him in too many far away, small places in Europe rather than the major towns. I explained to him that the same people move around from place to place and in the end the audience can only be reached one person at a time, everyone has different ears and the guy in the front row in a village could actually be from a big town, or vice versa. But the thrill of travel and getting to isolated places and reaching an audience there in what can be a beautiful and charming setting is one of my favorite things about touring.

Eugene Chadbourne plays Fake Jazz/ Music Waste next Wednesday, starting at 10pm; there will be a solo banjo set and then a trio with Williams and Kenton Loewen. See you there!

Eugene signs some of my EC vinyl! Thanks to Eugene Chadbourne for participating in this. Photo by Femke Van Delft, goddamnit!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Machine Gun McCain to come out on R1 DVD

Gli Intoccabili, AKA Machine Gun McCain, is coming out on region 1. I thought I'd do DVD buyers a favour and post a review where it might actually make a difference!

By the way, most of my reviews on that site are old news, written while I was in Japan (1999-2002), before I was blogging or freelancing. That might make them curiosities, but I'm not sure I want to be judged by them! Please bear this in mind if you peek.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nothing bloody works

So within a week of a plastic clasp snapping on my nearly-new backpack, I've had the stitching unravel from two pairs of pants in different spots and had my microchipped, high-security debit card suddenly drastically limited to a maximum withdrawal of $1 (with no warning, even though I was at a bank shortly before I discovered it) because it's been "compromised" - for the second bloody time in three months. Nothing bloody works anymore! Ideas of craft and quality have been replaced by finding the cheapest sweatshop labour to make things, making the greatest possible profit on the sale, and either outsourcing or automating complaints and customer service. Even the bank computer that supposedly phoned me to alert me that I needed a new bankcard didn't have the courtesy to leave a voicemail. The bank dings me anytime when I fuck up - if I forget a payment, go over my credit limit, or so forth there's inevitably a penalty; how about compensating me for the fact that I suddenly have no access to my bank account for the night?

And hey, has anyone noticed, now that the Olympics are over, there are suddenly a whole lot more people sleeping on the sidewalks again? I mean, maybe it's just because it's warmer outside, but it wasn't that cold this winter, and it's not that warm now; did someone decide to shut down a few temporary shelters, now that the eyes of the world aren't on us?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Leslie, My Name Is Evil: A Review

Just a brief note on Reg Harkema's Leslie, My Name Is Evil, now playing: if you're interested in keeping abreast of Canadian film, if you're interested in the Manson family or the 1960's counterculture, or if you're just an avid cinephile who likes thought-provoking, richly imagined cinema, it needs to be seen, but, at least as I remember it from its VIFF screening, it comes across as a very strangely "personal" film that might be a little confusing to viewers who don't know a bit of the background - the filmmaker's background, that is.

Maybe it's just that I know a bit about Reg - Monkey Warfare, too, which I spoke to him about here, contains huge swaths of his personality: he's an-anti car bike rider, a record collector, a thrift store detective (which is how he stumbled across his first edition of Helter Skelter, at a Vancouver Value Village), and has an interest in punk, leftist, and radical politics, all of which enter the film. He lives in Parkdale, where Monkey Warfare is set, but has a connection to Vancouver (as do his characters). And his love of the cinema of Jean Luc Godard infuses the film (and Leslie, My Name Is Evil) stylistically, with characters addressing the camera, words flashing on the screen, and other Brechtian/ meta-cinematic effects that highlight the artifice of the film and ask you to think about it as something crafted, rather than just passively accepting it as a story. The injunction to "write about what you know" seems to really apply to Harkema's cinema - bits of his personality seem to find their way into all his films, maybe a bit more transparently than with some filmmakers: finding the author in these texts doesn't take much digging, because he's right there on the surface.

With Leslie - which views the Manson family trial through the eyes of a conflicted male juror fixated on Leslie Van Houten - I can't be sure, but I suspect that it really helps to know that Reg had a Christian upbringing, which he wrestled with a bit. (My Motorhead-related interview with Reg shows how troubling that was - he destroyed signed Motorhead albums over the song "Don't Need No Religion," which has gotta be the best head-slapping "why I don't still have it" story any collector has told me. I mean, I don't have Nomeansno's uber-rare Mama LP anymore, but that's because Ty Scammell offered me $85 for it and I needed the money, not because I found the gender politics of "No Sex" objectionable or threatening). The chat I had with Reg for a Straight Music Note drew a direct parallel between Leslie (a "hot Dutch Christian chick") and his Mom, who was also the same: so how does someone like his Mom end up in the Manson family? This inspires an exploration into what we call evil in society, with the Manson family apparently filling in for those elements in the counterculture that both attracted and repelled the young Christian Reg as he went through experiences no doubt mirrored by his young juror protagonist, arguing with his conservative Christian father and trying to make sense of his attraction to the beautiful young murderess...

...all of which is somewhat problematic, actually, because:

a) It's not exactly fair to the 1960's counterculture to represent them with the friggin' Manson family, an extreme case and an aberrant spawn if there ever was one; but to some extent that's what Reg seems to be doing. His ambivalence about revolutionary change seems to cause him to fixate on extreme examples (much like I have fixated on Direct Action/ "the Squamish Five" - again, look at that big Monkey Warfare interview for more on that). It's not that this is exactly invalid, mind you - it's just bloody eccentric.

b) ...but if the film is an argument about mainstream culture versus counterculture, the film's conclusion (that there's nothing that bad about the Manson family compared to the socially sanctioned manufacture and use of quantities like napalm) thus becomes a bit strange: because while it IS an interesting and provocative way of pointing up hypocrisy in society and saying that we tend to punish others for our own sins, it might ALSO be read as a defense or endorsement of the Manson clan. Which I don't think is intended - last I saw Reg, he didn't have a swastika carved in his forehead - but Manson followers would probably actually kind of like this movie, which has been described as anti-American hate-speech by some less contemplative critics. Manson himself, who made lots of gnomic statements about how he was being punished for the sins of society, would probably like this movie, too. I'm not sure that counts as a glowing endorsement of it!

c) Finally, to some extent, there is probably an Oedipal reading of all this possible - something you wouldn't guess unless you realized that Reg saw Leslie as a parallel for his Mom, which was a bit of a missing puzzle piece until I talked with the filmmaker the other week. I won't do Reg the disservice of attempting to psychoanalyze the film or filmmaker in depth, but to some extent the movie ends up being more interesting as a portait of the filmmaker's identity-formation than it is as a statement about society... an identity formation that to some extent (as with everyone, I might add) isn't complete; Reg takes us to the limits of what he understands about his personality and drops in our lap questions, not answers, using the Manson family iconically, for what light they cast on his dark places - or what dark they cast on his light...

...all of which is a really fucking weird thing to do in a feature film, you gotta admit, but it's still a pretty interesting (and really fucking unusual) bit of Canadian cinema: an Oedipally-inflected working through of Harkema's attraction/repulsion to the Manson clan - tell me that's not more interesting than, well, any other movie playing in Vancouver right now?

I have other quibbles with the film, mind you - I strongly suspect based on the acid trip scenes that Reg either hasn't done acid, or hasn't done enough acid - and I didn't actually care for his Manson-actor so much; but it's definitely an interesting piece of film and a must-see. So: 'nuff said: trailer for it is here.

Reg Harkema is currently working on a film adaptation of John Armstrong's book Guilty Of Everything.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Sorrow And The Pity album release Wednesday!

The Sorrow and the Pity by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Right, so: I was instructed to keep the real name of a certain member of The Sorrow And The Pity a secret in my Georgia Straight review of their new album on Soldier Pumps. So, uh... does that mean that I shouldn't show you the link to my old interview with that guy, who is named therein? Hmmm...

Well, fuggit, my blog's a backwater anyway, let's not kid ourselves. Anyhow, I'm told that the album release party for the new disc is happening this Wednesday at Lick, for those of you who, like, live in Vancouver...! (And if Dave goes on his rant about "doing it to someone else," could someone please shout out "Do it to Julia" on my behalf? That Julia's a real bitch, man).

Art Bergmann in Trouser Press

Hey, the same blogger linked below - the Vancouver Redux girl - has alerted me to a pretty good career overview of Art Bergmann on the Trouser Press website. The guy has perceptive things to say about most of Art's albums...

Another take on Bloodied But Unbowed

Another Vancouver blogger has posted thoughts on Bloodied But Unbowed... well worth reading!

Friday, May 21, 2010

What a fucked up week...

Yikes. I skipped the Art Bergmann event on Wednesday, electing for an early trainride home... and then the West Coast Express was stopped due to trees and powerlines across the train tracks, forcing me to take the bus anyhow; leave Vancouver at 4:30, get home after 7...

...then today, one of the cheap plastic clasps on my nearly-new backpack just flat-out snapped in two while I was shopping. I just happened to be carrying a glass blender I'd bought for makin' smoothies in it; luckily the blender survived, but I had to gingerly carry the pack around all day by the li'l handle at the top and now my fingers are killin' me...

Meanwhile Marc Emery, a Canadian citizen who has committed no major crime here - and a victimless crime by any standards, involving only voluntary transactions and a relatively harmless and generally socially acceptable substance which will inevitably be entirely legalized - is being sent to the United States - a country recently governed by one of the worst war criminals in the last two centuries, note, a man responsible for countless deaths and enormous sorrow, who has gone completely unpunished - to serve fucking prison time by our gormless fucking government (protest Saturday, May 22 at Victory Square, eh?)...

I mean, what a fucked up week!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Nomeansno and beer, plus Femke show

It's a longshot that there are any Nomeansno fans reading this blog who are so diehard that they would order a German magazine, but just in case: Ox Fanzine has just published a recent interview I did with Nomeansno drummer/co-vocalist John Wright, talking (in German translation, of course) about parenthood, punk, the squat scene in Europe, and, especially, beer. (Wright is a brewer, and it seemed especially fitting to delve into that topic with him for a German magazine). We discussed his preference for fresh beer and his excitement at visiting brewery-rich Bamberg on the current tour. For the benefit of any German readers coming to BC, I asked him if he had favourite places to drink in Vancouver. Wright responded:

"Ooh. Hm," he replied. "I quite like Steamworks beers. The Yaletown Brew Pub has very good beer - Ian, the brewer down there does an awful good job. On a good day, Storm IPA. It’s not always a good day for Storm IPA, but on a good day, it’s a great beer. The thing about when I’m home in Vancouver - I just drink my own beer. But what is it - Big Kettle, out in the valley somewhere? I had it on tap at the Railway Club. I might send them to the Railway, because the Railway has a pretty good selection of beers and they keep their taps clean. And that’s not a bad atmosphere to enjoy a brew..."

Thought Steamworks, the Yaletown Brew Pub, the Railway and such would appreciate the plug! (By the way, I'm also highly partial to Steamworks and the Yaletown Brew Pub and often recommend them to my students; ditto Six Acres in Gastown, for a very interesting selection of bottled beers - John, if you ain't been, check it out!).

The Ox article comes with a photo by Femke Van Delft, as yet unseen in any local publications; she took the li'l pic of John to the left, above. Nomeansno play the Biltmore July 1st - other tour dates here; and speaking of the Railway, Femke will have a show of her rock photography there from June 1-30th, "The F-Stops Here," with the opening on June 3rd, from 7pm til midnight, featuring Fraulein Fanta, Marko Polio, and, I'm told, Yellowthief. More on that later, prolly!

Isis calling it quits after this tour

Fans of Isis who haven't gotten a ticket for their May 31st show yet - assuming it isn't totally sold out - may want to note that the band will be calling it quits after this tour.

Art Bergmann/ K-Tels tonight

With apologies to all involved, I don't think I'll be at the event tonight - which, by the way, is Little Mountain Gallery's screening of Doreen Grey's K-Tels/ Dead Kennedys video (with the DK's OPENING for the K-Tels!) shot in 1979 at the Cultch (see a couple of posts back for links). Art Bergmann will likely be in attendance. There might be other guests, and maybe other stuff - there was talk of a punk rock wedding, with Femke taking photos, as well as a possible appearance by Jim Cummins, and maybe a phone-in from Jello Biafra... dunno which of these things will actually materialize. It all sounds great - even if it's just Art in attendance, it's a very rare opportunity to hear him speak; but I have responsibilities I can't shirk, and it's a long bus commute back to Maple Ridge, which means a late night, a bad night's sleep, and a very tired day at work tomorrow. Add it all up, and it just seems better if I skip this one.*

Those of you who actually LIVE in Vancouver have no excuses!

*Actually, I'm also a bit worried that there will be fallout from my Bloodied review, below - but mostly I just have more important things to deal with. I mean, it's just punk rock, for fucksake...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

RIP Ronnie James Dio

One of the first big rock concerts that I went to was Ronnie James Dio, who just died of cancer, fronting Black Sabbath on the Mob Rules tour back in the early 1980's. I'm not exactly sure how young I was, but I went with my father, which says something. We had a bit of a mixup outside - he thought I was going to meet him in front of the Hastings Park racetrack entrance - he'd been betting on the horses - but I was distressed and crying and wandering around in front of the Coliseum, having forgotten where he'd told me to go. Eventually he found me. My memories of that stressful moment are more vivid than the show itself. I also remember him complaining about how loud the opening band, The Outlaws, were, and perhaps remarking on Dio's relative lack of height once Sabbath took the stage, but that's about it. He didn't get the show much, but he enjoyed my enjoyment of it and indulged me and bought me a Mob Rules t-shirt, which was the first ever t-shirt I completely wore out, wearing it on occasions for days on end, until it finally stank so bad I had no choice but to put in the laundry.

I remember very little else from the show - vague memories of the band in black, dry ice fogging the stage, a long-haired, biker-looking audience that I found vaguely scary, and this strange sweet smell in the air after the lights went out that I'm sure my father had to explain to me (it was quite possibly my first actual encounter with marijuana smoke and perhaps even with the idea of marijuana). I listened to that album quite a bit, too, and Heaven And Hell (which I actually liked less) and some of the Rainbow stuff, poring over the lyrics to "The Man On The Silver Mountain" and trying to figure out what they meant (I still don't know). Before my recent re-discovery of metal, I'd tried spinning the Dio-fronted Sabbath albums again and found them unlistenably cliched, though suddenly, now that I can "speak metal" again, Mob Rules fills me with warmth and nostalgia. And of course, I greatly enjoyed Dio's appearances in the Sam Dunn movies, especially Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, where he seems charming, funny and intelligent and completely without pretention. Suddenly I feel sad that I missed out on seeing Heaven And Hell when last they played here.

I don't believe much in heaven or hell, mind you - but I strongly suspect Dio was one of the good guys. RIP, Ronnie.

Thoughts on Joe Dante: Matinee and more

Truth be known, I've never been a huge Joe Dante fan. Though I have only seen a few of his films, and many of those not for some time, I made a point - when I read Jonathan Rosenbaum's praises of it - to check out Small Soldiers, which Rosenbaum describes as a savage, sly and subversive satire of the military. It may be that, but it seemed more like a histrionic "junior Spielberg" slapstick action comedy loaded with genre in-jokes, to me; I found it kind of grating, and it didn't move me to check out the rest of his cinema. When I briefly interviewed Dante about his shot-in-Vancouver "zombies-vs-Republicans" Masters Of Horror provocation The Homecoming - back before I knew what I was doing as a writer, so that the review actually saw print after the Vancouver screening of the movie - I kinda ended up giving him bemused shit for not having zombies disembowel and eat then-president George W. Bush, a payoff I had taken as a given. (I'll post that article below, since it's never been online in its full version).

While I'm most curious about Dante's upcoming 3-D film The Hole, also shot here, and hope it gets decent representation theatrically, the real news this week is that Dante's 1993 film Matinee, starring John Goodman, has just gotten release on DVD. This, too, is mixed news - but not because the film is anything less than a masterpiece. What Small Soldiers didn't do to make me want to check out all the rest of Joe Dante's films may well have been done last night, by Matinee. It's a brilliantly conceived and presented piece of Cold War metacinema starring John Goodman as a William Castle figure, rigging a theatre to give extra shocks and surprises to a young audience of horror fans come to see a sold-out screening of his film mANT! - about an ordinary guy turned radioactive giant "man-ant" mutant. The action of the film takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Dante uses to give exploration to the relationship between real-world fears and the role of horror cinema in helping us process them. The film is also one of the most honest and likable representations of young people that I've encountered - usually American genre movies dealing with high schoolers end up getting things very, very wrong, emphasizing sex and drugs and cynicism; Dante is much, much better at depicting his characters as real people with real emotions and a certain innocence as to how they express them - something I rather remember being an aspect of Gremlins, too.

The bad news, alas, is that, as good as it is, Matinee has been given a completely indifferent presentation by Universal, who ignored Dante's wealth of possible extras - including a complete version of the film-within-a-film, mANT!, which previously appeared on the Laserdisc. This is gone into at some length by DVD Savant's Glenn Erickson, in an interview with Dante online. (Erickson also reviews Matinee here, for those who want to know more about the film).

This absence of extras is sad news indeed, and probably bodes ill for all upcoming DVD releases - as distributors get more and more excited by Blu-Ray, any movies NOT yet on DVD are likely to be given short-shrift and pumped out without commentaries or extras of any sort. In the case of the Matinee, which certain cinephiles have been waiting a long time for, this really does seem a shame. Before I'd seen the film, I was rather skeptical to read in the interview Dante's hope that the film might be released by Criterion - it seemed an unlikely match - but in fact, it would be a very, very good thing for Criterion to do: this is a film every cinephile should look at, and worthy of a far more respectful treatment.

Meantime, for the first time ever appearance of my Joe Dante article, which ran in a mangled version in The Nerve Magazine, missing the last sentence (my Shakespeare-meets-zombies joke, years before Pride and Prejucide and Zombies started that particular highbrow/lowbrow literary mashup trend) and with a caption that many found in horrible taste.

...and now I think I'll go rent Gremlins...

Guts, but No Intestines:
Joe Dante’s Homecoming

I was drooling to see Joe Dante’s Homecoming. Soldiers killed in Iraq and shipped home in coffins break free and rise up against neoconservatives and the religious right? From the minute I heard about it, I was hot to see George Bush, Ann Coulter, and Jerry Falwell, all of whom are lampooned in the movie, disembowelled and eaten by war dead. I figured that both the inner logic of the genre and a powerful need for cathartic, bloody justice among liberal viewers made such scenes necessary; and what better fate for Bush than to have his intestines ripped out and chewed on by undead veterans, perhaps while he gurgles “stay the course?” Imagine my surprise, then, when viewing the film at the Vancity Theater, to discover that there isn’t a single intestine on view, and that Bush and Falwell escape uneaten! (Ann Coulter does get shot in the back of the head, but even there – you don’t get to see her brains). It seemed a shortcoming, and I had to ask Joe Dante about it. He chuckled.

“I don’t think that having the president dismembered is really what we’re looking for, here. It’s not about hanging people from trees, as much as it often is on the other side; it’s a sort of wake up call… It’s such an obvious polemical movie that a lot more time is spent on politics than on horror, and of course that’s been a bone of contention with a lot of horror fans, because they go, you know, ‘if you got a message, send Western Union’… but that’s part of the appeal of Masters of Horror, to me – you’ve got 13 episodes, 13 different directors, and people have different things on their minds.”

All the same, the reader might wonder, what do the zombies in Homecoming do, if not kill and eat people? True to the pre-9/11 short story on which the film is based, “Death and Suffrage,” by horror writer Dale Bailey – which takes gun control as its issue, since the second Iraq war was only a neoconservative/PNAC fantasy at that point – the zombies come back to vote. The year is 2008 and the decomposing vets pose a problem for politicians; at first, when it’s assumed they’ll vote Republican, they’re hailed as heroes, but when it’s discovered that they intend to vote against the incumbent, they’re herded into pens as a public health threat. (It’s one of the nice touches of the film that the zombies are forced to wear Gitmo-style orange jumpsuits). The problem is that the only way to kill them is to let them cast their ballots, and more keep arriving from Iraq every day. Finally, the government has to let the dead have their say – since, being Republicans, they don’t intend to count the ballots anyhow.

The lack of gore might confuse some viewers, but for Dante, the only truly puzzling thing about Homecoming is that it stands alone as the only movie thus far – documentaries aside – to directly deal with the Iraq war and its effects. ”I mean, don’t you think it’s a little odd that the only dramatic examination we’ve had of this thing is a zombie movie? That a fucking b-movie is the only thing anybody’s done about an issue that’s killed 2000 Americans and untold numbers of Iraqis? …The media has been so complicit in getting us to where we are that, when I took the film to Europe, they were shocked that America would make a film like this. There was, like, a five minute standing ovation – not because they thought the movie was so great. I think they’re just relieved that there are some people in the industry in America who haven’t drunk the Kool Aid... That’s one of the reasons it’s not subtle. There’s no reason to be subtle if the only movie anybody’s going to make about the subject is this one – then you might as well just go for it.”

”Death and Suffrage” author Bailey was happy to see his material adapted thus, by screenwriter Sam Hamm and Dante. “I'm no supporter of G. W. Bush or his disastrous foreign policy. I didn't have any input, though, on how the story was altered. I wouldn't have objected, though. It's nice to know somebody is willing to take a stand on this stuff! …I really liked the scene with the zombie in the diner – I think it's the best scene in the film, because it really highlights the sacrifices families who have loved ones in the service are making. I totally disagree with the war in Iraq, but I respect the soldiers on the ground enormously, and I didn't want the episode to make light of their sacrifice, so that scene really worked in that way, I thought.” The scene, in which a couple who have a son in Iraq welcome an undead soldier into their shop, at some cost to their business, has no parallel in the story and may bring a tear to the eye of sentimental zombie fans.

Dante acknowledges that the success of Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck – and, indeed, of Homecoming – are signs of “some receptiveness” to left-of centre views, “but it’s hardly a groundswell, like in the 1970’s, when there were a lot of pictures made that criticized the war.” Given the “bungling incompetence” of the current administration, the lack of an outcry in the mainstream media is deeply disturbing. “Forget about the ideology and forget about their plan to remake the world in their own image; the sheer stupidity with which they’ve conducted themselves is enough reason for them to be impeached.” They would be, too, Dante believes, without “the prop of corporate media.”

Here in Canada, where it’s more or less publicly acceptable to speak of Bush as a war criminal, to express bewilderment that nobody has assassinated him yet, and to step on his effigy on TV, it may be difficult to comprehend this, but to make a film like Homecoming in the United States right now takes guts. “There’s people who hate me. I’m a traitor, I should be hung up from a tree. You know, it’s a free country, up to now, and if that’s their opinion, they’re entitled to it, but I’ve already lost one job because of Homecoming. I can’t tell you the specifics, but I can tell you that I was up for something and I foolishly gave them a copy as an example of something I’ve been doing, and the guy who was running the place turned out to be quite a Republican. It was not the right move on my part…” Negative reviews online speak of Homecoming as a “disgusting piece of partisan propaganda,” which only makes things seem stranger, since to my eyes, however on-target it is as satire, it’s pretty mild compared to what I’d imagined.

Like other episodes in the Masters of Horror series, currently showing on Showtime in the USA, Homecoming was shot on a shoestring budget in Vancouver during last year’s teacher’s strike. There are a few local cues – Terry David Mulligan plays a Larry-King style talk show host who fawns over his right-wing guests and reads their own press announcements back to them, and Queer as Folk star and Victoria resident, Thea Gill, plays the Ann Coulter character (Dante notes that “ours is better looking;” amusingly, Coulter is depicted as having a taste for kinky sex, which somehow fits). Those of you who missed the series at the Vancity Theatre will be able to catch it as part of a box set DVD release sometime in the upcoming year, from Anchor Bay.

Even though he hasn’t made a horror film proper since 1981’s The Howling (scripted by liberal favourite John Sayles, who also penned Dante’s 1978 Piranha), Dante remains fond of the horror genre. “In times of paranoia and times of turbulence, horror movies have always been very popular, for example, during the 1930s and 40s, or during the cold war. I mean, if you want to look at societies and see what they’re thinking, look back at their horror movies. It shows you what’s going on politically.”

Here’s my vote, then, Joe: make a sequel to Homecoming and do justice to the genre. It’s not too late: have the White House itself surrounded by walking corpses, as the President, family, and staff nail tables and planks to the windows. I even have a title for it: Homecoming II: Dogtags of the Dead.

We need to see Bush eaten, Joe. It’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Attention Subhumans fans: rare demo in CD with Mongrel Zine 8

So: generally speaking, as a music journalist, my favourite stories to write are comeback stories, especially when the comeback is local, and even better if it's somewhat unlikely (the New Creation, Tunnel Canary, the Pointed Sticks reuniting to tour Japan... all of these were wonderful to research and write).

My second favourite kind of story to write is a story about a very smart or creative band that doesn't get a lot of attention - to help spread the word. This can take various forms - writing about Nomeansno for a Japanese fanzine, for example, since the Japanese don't know Nomeansno that well, or getting the Minimalist Jug Band or The Sorrow And The Pity into the Straight and thus introducing them to a whole new potential audience. People tend to appreciate press the more it stands a chance of helping them out, and God knows, I like to feel appreciated.

If the band has a colourful backstory or a point of view I sympathize with, all the better.

Add this all up, and it makes perfect sense that the Subhumans end up being the band I have written most about in my life. They're local; their reunion in present form took quite some time to get off the ground, with Brian leading a couple of faux-Subs until both Mike and Gerry's participation could be secured. They have left-leaning politics that echo and, truth be known, were a formative influence on my own, and really solid, classic punk songcraft - Brian, Mike, and Gerry are three of the best songwriters in Vancouver, up there with Art Bergmann and on par with the very best songwriting of Joe Keithley. Still, they somehow just don't have as big an audience as they deserve - more kids seem to get out to see the Furies than the Subhumans, which is kind of strange to me, since, cool as the Furies are, they're nowhere as unique or sophisticated as the Subhumans. I wonder if the sheer intelligence of the Subhumans lyrics ends up working against them? To see the band joking about whether they "seem to be relevant" in the Tabata doc (see below) is kinda sad, all things considered. Hell yes, they're relevant! I must demonstrate this to the world...
The Subhumans at the Lamplighter a few years ago; photo by Allan MacInnis. Note Jon's head in the corner!

In the service of this mission, I have done articles on the Subhumans for The Straight, Punk Planet, The Nerve Magazine, Ox Fanzine, The Skinny, and now, Big Takeover (see issue #66, out soon!) and Canada's own Mongrel Zine. And while that Mongrel article is probably one of the lesser ones, writing-wise - it's a rather brief thing I pieced together a day before the 'zine went to print from talks with Mike and Brian on a visit to the Hive, where they were recording Same Thoughts, Different Day - it's the one that diehard Subhumans fans need most to seek out, because the band has given Mongrel a demo from the No Wishes, No Prayers session to put on their CDr - a slightly rough but indubitably powerful version of "Slap In The Face." I also got Brian talking a little bit about what happened with the uber-rare No Wishes, No Prayers, which will be appreciated by Subhumans fans slathering to hear these tunes again. The rest of the CDr is very fun - lots of really cool bands getting noticed by Mongrel! - but the Subhumans track is sheer punk geek gold.

Note to the Subhumans: whenever Card gets back from his shtick with SNFU and you get a gig together, please practice up "Slap In The Face!" ("For The Common Good" would be another one off that album that I would love to hear live... or "Canada's Favourite Sport"... or "Mobile Electric Chair..." or...). I promise you: there will be at LEAST eight people in the pit who go fucking wild to hear these songs live. I will be one of them!

There Will Be Art?

(Photo of Art with Subhumans/Trespassers/SNFU drummer Jon Card at the Summer of Love a couple summers ago, taken by Femke Van Delft. Not to be reused without permission!).

Okay, y'all: see the comments from the "Punk Addendum" post below: Bill Scherk informs me that Art Bergmann himself will be in attendance at the May 19th event at Little Mountain Gallery. Like I say, I've gotten a couple of different stories about what that night will include, and I've also recently been told of another Art-related event that fell through at the last minute, so I'm not going to bank on him showing up. But I sure as hell am going to be there in case he does!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bloodied But Unbowed: a review

Well, that was quite a night. Never have I been in a room with so many first generation Vancouver punks, and I'm not sure I've ever seen the "big" theatre at the Granville cinemas genuinely and truly sold out; more people, young and old, made it out to this film than the last three Subhumans shows put together (which in a way kinda doesn't make sense, but...). And it's a very rich, but somewhat complex, experience; by the time my reactions to Bloodied But Unbowed are done percolating, the weekend will be long over.

1. Holy crap, is there an amazing wealth of archival footage in this film. LOTS of stuff I've seen before, but wayyy more stuff I haven't (a photo of Joe, Brian and Gerry in elementary school?! Stone Crazy photos, I guess, of the DOA and Subhumans guys as hippies?). I will forever be grateful to Susanne Tabata for rescuing this stuff from semi-oblivion and showing it to the world thus. I mean, I've seen the "Slave To My Dick" video before, dig, but it was likely something that had been taped on someone's VCR in 1982 off Nite Dreems or Soundproof and then left in a damp box to degrade for 30 years, until someone took the trouble to convert it for posting on Youtube; here, it's as big as the screen, with sound and image quality vastly improved over anything I've encountered before (a friend who made some rather unpunkrock comments about the uneven sound quality of some of the footage has clearly not watched enough of this stuff via badly degraded VHS; it's not perfectly presented, but by damn is it a whole lot better than anything I've seen before). A lot of the footage is a nostalgia trip for those who were there - the guy to my right cheered when the Plaza got mentioned, in such a way as to suggest he'd been there on more than one occasion. All this footage is sharply edited together with current interviews into a very dynamic and engaging whole, a vibrant, energetic collage of Vancouver punk. It may be, perhaps, a little confusing to people who don't know the history - it's so jam packed that a viewer who didn't grow up here might feel him-or-herself being pelted with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which he or she is then expected to assemble for him-or-her-own-damn-self - but this was not a problem for me, or probably for most of the saltier folks in attendance tonight; it's a measure not of a lack of craft but of the sheer volume of material that Tabata is cramming into her lean 75 minute movie.

Most of the tone, for the first 3/4s of the way through, in any event, is quite celebratory and positive. It's very easy to get a bit of a contact high from all the exuberance of the musicians on stage, and the ease and humour with which the people interviewed (especially a bickering, joking chorus of Rampage, Zippy Pinhead, and Brad Kent) relate their tales. Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, and Duff from Guns'n'Roses are on hand, too, to provide an American perspective on the Vancouver scene, which may not be that enlightening to those of us who were here in some form or another, but is plenty flattering...

3. All of which is great - even Biscuits' big black box is interesting, if kinda weird - UNTIL YOU GET TO THE LAST QUARTER OF THE FILM. The huge head of positive steam that it has built up completely dissipates at the end of Gerry Hannah's interview about Direct Action - which is brave, revealing, insightful, and honest, but also highly sobering and, in the end, quite depressing. The Subhumans may or may not have let the air out of Warren Kinsella's tires some 30 years ago, but Gerry sure deflated the audience last night - you could almost hear the whole raucous bunch, having been pelted with prizes by Billy Hopeless and given a chance to act out a bit when the initial projection of the film fucked up - sort of sink into a rather pensive silence, contemplating the futility of trying to change anything through radical action, which rather circumscribes the whole domain of political punk: what's any of it worth?

Or maybe they just weren't sure where the film was taking them, but sensed a downward trajectory - which indeed is what we get. From Gerry's imprisonment, the film goes on to deal with even less cheery topics, like violence, heroin, death, and Art Bergmann - who is given more-or-less the last word, talking about how history favours winners, that failures really have no voice and are forgotten, referring to himself and to everyone in the scene previously documented. The film ends rather grimly and sadly - TOO grimly and sadly, given both what has gone before in the film and the actual history of the bands in question; we're being offered Bloodied And Bruised, not Bloodied But Unbowed. I overheard two audience members - guys, punks, men who must have been about my age when the scene was at its peak - talking about how one of them actually cried at the end of the film. I didn't go that far, but I was really rather bummed out.

And again, for those of us who know the history, it might not be a big deal, but for those who don't, they're going to miss out on a few important details: like the fact, say, that punk rock survived in Vancouver even to this day, in some form or another, the first generation being replaced by a second generation, and a third - many of whom, including cameraman Danny Nowak, are people who greatly respected and admired the originators of punk in Vancouver. Even more significantly, what about the fact that of the bands documented, the Pointed Sticks, Subhumans, Dishrags, Furies, and briefly even a semi-Modernettes have reunited and returned to performing and, in many cases, recording? That the Pointed Sticks have toured Japan and the USA and have recorded a new album? What of the Subhumans' return to the studio for the vastly under-appreciated New Dark Age Parade - to say nothing of the "new" new album? That the Dishrags are joining the Sticks to go to Japan? That the Furies first record came out not in 1978 or whenever they started, but last-bloody-year (or was it 2008?). Fucksake, even the amply damaged and depressed Art Bergmann got back onstage to a packed Richards On Richards in 2009; it still may not be the happiest time for Art, but the film has him stumbling off down the road like a man broken, lost, and hopeless... it's a hell of a note to conclude on. There's been such a huge resurgence of interest in the vintage Vancouver punk scene in the last few years - which this film itself is a part of - that one would think that there'd be some attempt made to dig back up out of the pit that the film ends up in, some attempt to say that it wasn't all for nothing. ...Because if it was, why the fuck were we watching the film?

For those in attendance on Sunday, one tip: a vastly better "last word" on the first wave of Vancouver punk can be found AFTER the credits roll, in a lengthy sequence of unused interviews that Susanne, I guess, wanted to stick somewhere. There, Gerry Hannah talks briefly about how the "reward" for making music in a community doesn't need to be wealth or riches or fame, but simply HAVING a place in the community as a musician, being a respected part of it, and contributing something of value to it. (I'm very crudely paraphrasing - I don't recall exactly how he phrases it but I think that's the jist). This seems a very healthy and positive attitude towards being a musician - and neverminding the relatively recent and unnatural phenomenon of rockstar-as-God, one that is in keeping with how musicians are regarded in most cultures and at most other times in world history. Don't leave your seats when the credits roll - it's a conclusion that the film rather needs.

I really, really enjoyed Bloodied But Unbowed, but the ending left me rather sad, which is not how I feel about the scene it documents, nor how most of its members or admirers seem to feel about it now. Good film, important film, necessary stuff, and congrats to Susanne for gettin' 'er done (and to Knowledge for having the enthusiasm and taste to program it); but... jeez, those last fifteen minutes...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Punk addendum

By the way: there'll be a K-Tels concert screened at Little Mountain Galleries on May 19th, which may or may not also involve special guests, a punk wedding, a webcast, and so forth (I was given two different versions of what the night will hold and omitted everything not common to both; fuggit!). Also, I've got an amusing Music Note in the Straight about the upcoming Reg Harkema Manson movie, Leslie My Name Is Evil, and a review of the Sorrow And The Pity's new album. (I actually had a bit of back-and-forth with Dave about drawing a connection to the Toronto band Braino, by which people might have figured out his SUPER SECRET REAL IDENTITY; he cleared it, and the Straight axed it, but - hey, didja know Dave was in Braino?).

Bloodied But Unbowed, No Fun City: repeat screenings added!

(Susanna Tabata interviewing Art Bergmann. No photo credit provided on the DOXA site, but I'm guessing it's by Randy Rampage, who took a similar shot; otherwise, it's probably by Danny Nowak, the former Spores frontman and Hard Core Logo cinematographer who, along with Susanne, shot the film...).

Good news: there has been an added screening, on May 16th, of Bloodied But Unbowed at the Cinematheque! Anyone not on board for tonight's event can check that out. Y'know, folks, I really did plan to do something MORE to support that film, but even if I were still writing for The Skinny (whom astute readers will realize dumped my big, Olympics-related Chris Walter interview onto their website without actually printing it in the paper - the cads!), they haven't published in three months, as they get more involved in promoting shows in East Van. (I'm told that they will eventually re-emerge, but not in time to plug this film). The only other people I'm writing for locally at the moment are the Straight, but Mike Usinger himself did the Straight piece ...and did a fine and prudent job of NOT plunging into any of the fascinating, DEFINITELY bloody politics behind the film, which has more than earned its title, surviving funding issues, internecine disputes between some of the major players, and... well, more than we'll ever know, God willing. It would be all too easy to get distracted from what the film is actually about, in delving into such things (which John Mackie gets a little closer to... but not much).
That's another reason I didn't do more to plug the film. Y'see, I'm a scab picker at heart, who associates journalism with peeling back hardened crusty things and poking my finger into the sore spot. This tendency of mine has led to some fairly ugly action on this blog in the past, particularly in regard Direct Action, AKA the Squamish Five. Things got ugly enough the last time I opened that door that I ended up deleting almost all the relevant posts - 'cept one: I kept my Terry Chikowski interview up, out of respect for him, and because it actually has stuff in it that hasn't seen the light of day elsewise - it's an important read for anyone who cares. (Most comments have been removed from the post, note; I would remind people commenting on this blog that I will not publish arguments ad hominem or attempts to slander people, no matter what you feel your grievances are). I'd actually futzed around with doing something along these lines, about the Direct Action section of the film - but after I discovered the Straight had matters covered, ultimately decided to let it die.
Last excuse for not doing more than I did - no one appraised me of the press screening, and I was too caught up in my own bloody life to get on DOXA about wanting to be there or getting a screener. I snoozed, I lost, and it's just as well; I haven't had time or space to do much of anything journalism-wise lately, save for a handful of music notes and reviews for the Straight and a few articles on the Subhumans' new album, including feature interviews for upcoming issues of Big Takeover and Mongrel Zine. I'm still very excited about the movie tonight and urge anyone who cares about the Vancouver music scene - even if you aren't a punk - to get a ticket for the Sunday screening, if you aren't going to be there tonight.

Oh, and there's an additional showing of No Fun City, too. I actually didn't make it to that one the other night - I was too exhausted, and ended up giving away my ticket to come home and get a good night's sleep. Life's like that, these days.
...And now it's time to shower and get to work...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Geography vs. cinema, plus DOXA note

It's tough for me to know if my lack of excitement at much of the cinema programming visible for the next couple of months is just due to my changed location. From Maple Ridge, even the Pacific Cinematheque's screening of Kiarostami's Close Up - a highly praised film by one of Iran's most respected directors - doesn't get me excited, since it means staying late after work to see it, and then catching a late bus home. Pardon my griping, but living in Maple Ridge makes this really inconvenient - if I were still a few blocks away, I'd be all over it.

I don't think that geographical distance is the only problem I'm facing, though. Much of the upcoming Cinematheque programme is devoted to a Kurosawa retrospective that I wouldn't be excited about if I lived next door to the theatre; given how widely-seen and easily-available most of these films are, it seems a bit wasteful to devote space to them yet again. True, there are some masterful films here - I really enjoyed Throne Of Blood last time I saw it, Kurosawa's adaptation of Macbeth - but that was at the Cinematheque just a couple years ago. Good as it was, are we really in need of another screening of it so soon?

For Shakespeare on screen, it's a bit more interesting that the Vancity - who have a nice new web design, by the way - are playing Branagh's Henry V and Orson Welles' Chimes At Midnight. (They'll also screen a 1974 version of Antony And Cleopatra that I don't know in the slightest, featuring what must be a very early performance by Ben Kingsley). Again, if I lived downtown, I'd possibly come see a couple of these films, especially the Welles, and would probably make it out for Encirclement, about the damaging effects and driving ideology of neoliberalism. But as things stand, about the only thing on the program that sounds fresh and fun enough to make me even consider enduring a bumpy long busride back to the burbs is The Socalled Movie ...

Sigh. This is depressing - having lived a few blocks away from both of these theatres for years makes it difficult to deal with my newfound distance from them. Maybe it's just as well that they're not playing a lot of films that I feel a strong need to see - because I probably couldn't make it out to a lot of 'em, anyways...

There are only two films I *know* I'm going to see theatrically this spring, and both are at DOXA, the ongoing documentary film festival: Bloodied But Unbowed (see also here), local filmmaker Susanne Tabata's much-anticipated Vancouver-centric history of punk, which Mike Usinger writes about here; I'm told that the initial screening, this coming Thursday, has already sold out, but that a few rush tickets may be available at the door, and that a second screening may be added (let's hope!). The gala premiere will feature various interesting guests, however, so that's the night to be at, no doubt... The other must-see is tomorrow's screening of No Fun City, about the difficulties faced by musicians trying to find places to play in Vancouver, which I think will centre largely around the Cobalt "closure" (ie. the decision to screw over and displace wendythirteen, since the venue remains open under another name).

There's lots else to see at DOXA - including a free seminar from filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer, whose film about Andy Goldsworthy, Rivers And Tides, is one of the most moving and compelling documentaries I've seen. (By the way, when Fred Frith led several Vancouver improvisers in performing a composition of his here a few years ago, I believe that the piece he chose was from the Rivers And Tides score). But again, my perspective on the whole thing is changed by geography. A Belgian doc on soccer referees might sound really interesting if it didn't mean two hours battling motion sickness and trying not to inhale the body odour of your stinky bus co-riders. You are where you live, I guess.

Anyhow, thank God for DVD players. Maybe I should start guzzling stamina drinks?