Friday, November 30, 2012

Will the real hipsters please stand up?

Some comments generated by my Bison article on the Straight accuse the band of being hipsters.

To be perfectly honest, the present use of the label "hipster" as a term of abuse confuses the hell out of me. The term as I grew up with it, through the 80's and 90's, was, at least to my understanding, more or less value-neutral, or even positive: a hipster was someone who was aware of what was happening, to be differentiated from, say, jocks and rednecks, conformists and conservatives, or other members of the dreaded "mainstream." Maybe there was a little bit of an implication of "trying" to be cool, but hipsters as I knew them had interesting tastes in the arts, agreeable, progressive politics, a certain sense of style, and aspirations to cultural awareness over-and-above the norm. The definition of hipster one finds at the Urban Dictionary more or less conforms to these ideas, where hipsters are portrayed as cultural pioneers - sensitive, educated, aesthetically sophisticated people with an eye for the new and exciting. In 1998, if a clerk at a CD store flipped through my purchases - stack of Tzadik CDs or something - and said, "you're quite the hipster," I would probably have taken it as a compliment, even if I probably lack the requisite level of fashion sense for the term to really be a good fit.

What I find now, in Vancouver, is that the term seems to have pretty much replaced the old punk pejorative, "poseur." "Poseur" is a term of abuse that I have no problem with, because I can understand there being something wrong with posing, as opposed to being hip. A bit of history becomes necessary here: as a punk in the 'burbs in the early 1980's, I was occasionally laughed at, assaulted, or otherwise abused for having strange haircuts or funny clothes or tastes in music that were somehow deemed socially offensive. Probably the peak expression of that was when I was 16 or 17, walking home from high school with The Exploited playing in a shitty little Realistic tape recorder that I carried around, dressed in military/ prison surplus clothing with a buzzcut, and the longhairs smoking up in the park, with their Led Zep and AC/DC long-sleeved t-shirts, started chucking rocks at me. I felt the first one pelt my calf, saw another couple skittle by me on the road, and turned to see about twenty of these kids lined up en masse. These were people I didn't even know - mostly older kids who went to my high school, and who were throwing rocks on me on principle, because of what I represented, not because I was so unpopular or anything. If they had been driving by me in their muscle cars they would have rolled down the window and yelled "faggot" - I got that now and then, too. I stood there for a minute, glowering at them with my best "you gotta be fucking kidding" stare, as they continued to chuck their pebbles, then turned and walked slowly on my way. After the first one that got me in the calf, not a single rock actually hit me anywhere that hurt, and most missed. It was the thought that counted, and we all knew it; they didn't actually have to try to hit me. Actually, in the end, they did me a favour, in providing me a single clear image to express what being a punk in Maple Ridge in 1985 was like.

That was shortly before the time, though, that things shifted - the crossover between punk and metal started to happen, pop-punkers like Billy Idol and The Clash had been in heavy rotation on Much Music for a few years, and suddenly, in 1986, people started to turn up with funny haircuts at my high school, who had no idea who DOA, the Subhumans, the Dead Kennedys or even the Sex Pistols were, who had very obviously adopted the FASHION of punk without having EARNED it. That chapped my ass a bit. I actually remember chuckling at some kid's sudden tinted fauxhawk fin - not actually that dissimilar from the one I'd sported myself three years previously, when I was 15, except when I did it, I was the only guy in my junior high school with a punk haircut; I was actually listening to punk music; and I was prepared to pay the price for having a different look. I remember confronting this kid shortly after he got the new hairdo; I don't remember the actual words, but I asked him about the music he listened to, which is how I know he had no idea who DOA (etc) were. I was a little indignant, but mostly confused: why do you want to look like a punk when you aren't one? I walked away shaking my head and maybe humming "Dead at Birth" to myself.

...So I have no problem with the term "poseur" - even though that's what I sometimes felt like myself, when passing street punks in the city, say; I was a little too comfortable and suburban to feel entirely secure in my cred, myself. I suppose the term opens its own cans of worms, raises questions of how hardcore someone has to be before they can be secure they're not a poseur in someone else's eyes (there's a Tesco Vee/ GG Allin anecdote of relevance here, where Allin called Vee a poseur, and he replied something to the effect of "compared to you? Guilty as charged!"). How low does a punk have to get before their cred goes unchallenged - and what the hell is that all about, anyhow?

"Hipster" just doesn't work for me, though, since it seems to imply that there is something wrong with being hip. On that basis alone - that of superficial connotation - it seems a fundamentally conservative term, a term by which "mainstream" types, whoever they might be these days, might condemn all counter-cultural sorts. That would already be bad enough, except THAT'S NOT HOW THE TERM IS BEING USED. How it's actually being used is that people who themselves have a counter-cultural orientation are using it to accuse other people with a counter-cultural orientation of not being sincere. I'm sure, for instance, Bison BC have some very definite opinions who the hipsters on the Vancouver scene are - because I've stood with James at a gig by another band (who shall go nameless) as he complained about how good-looking and youthful and happy everyone in the audience looked, saying that it suggested that they were there for the wrong reasons. And while I'm not sure who the guys that wrote the comment on the Straight site about Bison are, they're obviously members of the Vancouver music scene themselves, who think they are COOLER than Bison, more sincere, as opposed to, say, aspiring young accountants from Richmond. The term as it is actually being used seems like a free-floating insult, a way for people within the scene to express their mistrust and disdain for other people in the scene; what the actual term denotes is just vague enough that anyone with non-mainstream tastes can likely apply it to anyone else with non-mainstream tastes, even if they're consuming more or less the same things.

That disturbs me quite a bit, actually. Maybe it's just me, but when I go to a gig, I don't actually spend a lot of time evaluating other people in the room with me, unless they force me to. I get pissed off when people are talking loudly enough that I can hear them over the music - if you're going to talk at any length in a room filled with people who are paying to listen to music, then fer fucksake, go somewhere else; doing otherwise is just ign'ant and shit. I also get pissed off when people mosh too violently or aggressively - the pit at certain metal shows, in particular, has an uncomfortable level of primate stoopidity to it, where the pit stops being a place for group bonding, cathartic, chaotic physicality, the dissolution of identity, and other such forms of wholesome shared fun, and becomes an excuse for two or three angry young men to patrol and control some territory. It's not what it's supposed to be about. So I question the intelligence and tact of both groups of people - the talkers and the thugs. What I don't do is look around me at a gig at how people are dressed and decide on that basis that they're somehow engaged in something inauthentic. It's weirdly shallow, divisive, and seemingly needless behaviour; in fact, it seems like the sort of thing that only someone who feels insecure about their own sincerity might do with any regularity - as if there is no surer badge that someone is a hipster than them spending a lot of time and energy labelling other people as hipsters. Seems to me that people who are actually sincere and secure in their engagement with something don't actually need to spend a whole lot of time or energy casting aspersions on their peers and calling their sincerity into doubt. I mean, Fritz Lang's classic, paranoid thriller M makes an interesting example here: a child murderer is on the loose, and since no one knows who the murderer is, everyone starts accusing everyone else, since doing so is the surest-fire way of throwing people off looking too closely at YOU.

Note: all the above applies even in the case of bands that annoy me - I'm not a big fan of Destroyer or Flaming Lips or a lot of those kinda whiny-sounding, overly precious indy rock bands; and after having seen them live, I've decided I don't really like the whole Animal Collective scene very much, however interesting their recordings may sometimes be. All the same, I assume that the people on the stage and in the audience for such shows are sincere in their engagement with the music; just because I don't care about the same stuff doesn't make me need to insult or label'em. I'm just not interested in what they're doing, and am content to pay no attention to it, thanks. Seems to me the people who truly AREN'T hipsters really just aren't that worried about what other people think or do or listen to - they just go about doing what THEY want to do, listening to what moves them, wearing what they like, without real concern for how they look, versus how everyone else looks. If a hipster is someone who is just the opposite - who really IS worried how they look or concerned about listening to the right music or wearing the correct uniform or whatever - even that doesn't seem that much of a crime to me.  At least they have aspirations: I mean, for all I know, the kid I chuckled at in high school for his tinted fauxhawk fin grew up to be a pretty interesting person. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - well, hell, maybe even posing isn't THAT bad.

There's probably a clever Biblical allusion to be worked in as a punchline, here, about how we should let those who have never sinned cast the first stone, but I can't quite get to it... NOTE: (edited to add - ) none of the above is meant to apply in any direct way to Bison but is basically just my irritation at apparent hipsters who go around calling other people hipsters... And now, if you'll excuse me, the kettle is black, and the pot is calling...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's Bison time!

My new interview with Bison BC is here. I really like interviewing Bison BC and am very happy with this article and excited about their December 1st concert at the Rickshaw. My old interview with them with terrific photos by Femke van Delft is here. The lead single off their new album is here. Also, for those of you who aren't trapped in some sentimental "anti-Fauxbalt" tribal alignment, James' pop-punk side-project, Scarebro, plays the Cobalt tonight!

Question re: the Georgia Straight

How many other freelancers for the Straight stay up late checking the website every hour or so on Wednesday night, when an article of theirs is coming out the next day? Is this the Mark of the Noob, or...?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Come disagree with me!

I have contributed a snooty, nasty comment or two to the Straight's news article, re: Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen (the latter will be joining the former onstage tonight). Please, friends, take time to visit the Straight site and DISAGREE with me! Teach me a lesson!

Christmas Alone in No Fun City!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mr. Merde returns!

Anyone who saw the anthology film Tokyo! a few years back will have at least some memories of Monsieur Merde, the sewer-dwelling, flower eating, impossibly rude, possibly dangerous, and yet undeniably provocative and compelling creature who provided the film both its most unsettling and funniest moments. Those who now nod and smile should - if you've somehow missed this - rush off to the Vancity Theatre this upcoming Tuesday/ Wednesday to catch Leos Carax' new film, Holy Motors, which features, among other things, the return of M. Merde, played once again by Denis Levant (one of his many roles in the film). Holy Motors has received a glowing review from the Straight's Mark Harris and kept a packed house well-entertained last week, when I caught a screening of it. I confess to having loved it a smidgen less than Mark Harris - it's an uneven film, and its moments of brilliance are somewhat balanced by moments that left me slightly non-plussed; but perhaps I missed something? ...because other than superficial similarities to Cosmopolis and the somewhat obvious Eyes Without a Face reference, and maybe a gesture towards the fatal film of Theo van Gogh, I confess that I did not see "cinematic references by the bucketful" in Holy Motors, as Mark Harris promised. Nor did I see it as a parable about digital media vs. film, which the Vancity Theatre description suggests. In fact, for the most part, I'm not really sure WHAT I saw, except that it was compelling throughout, plus it was nice to spend some more time with Mr. Merde (his segment alone is worth the price of admission!).

Maybe someone could introduce Monsieur Merde to Stephen Harper? Bring M. Merde to Canada, Monsieur Carax! Merde for Prime Minister! Vive le Merde liberte!

Petunia passes through! Plus Dire Wolves, Eat 'n Holler

Canadian roots musician Petunia (whom I interview here) plays with Eat 'n Holler's fiddler Ben Strong as part of a Wednesday (Nov. 28th) show, also featuring the Dire Wolves and Eat'n Holler themselves, described as a "punk folk freight hopping trio (from eastern Canada)." Head to Slickity Jim's Chat n Chew, 3475 Main Street for dinner and you'll get a good seat (show's at 8:30)!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Likely Rads farewell gig!

Come to Maple Ridge to see the Likely Rads, the Bone Daddies, and the Belushis with no cover charge at the Wolf Bar, December 22nd! (The Likely Rads will also be playing with the Golers on Dec. 15th at Funkys). I wonder if the Wolf will be serving rum and egg nog?

Punk rock shopping list

Hey, Christmas shoppers. Anyone want to get me a real cool record? Here's my punk rock shopping list. Vinyl only, please - help me fill some gaping holes!

I crave:
This Eastern Front compilation album, mostly for the messy live version of the Lewd's "Suburban Prodigy." Studio version here, but it's not as good; the anarchic sludge of the live version takes it to a whole 'nother level. DOA do a couple great songs, and the version of Flipper's "Ever" on this album is interrupted by a fight, presumably between a member of Flipper and the audience, while another member of Flipper (Will Shatter?) starts to cheerlead in rhyme: "all right/ let's have a fight! Beat on his ass/ with a piece of broken glass/ bust his fuckin' skull/ he's void and null/ kill him! Kill him!" Then - after the rant fades off and the fight and show ends - someone lectures Flipper for "beating up on little kids," and someone ELSE in Flipper makes the point that when you fuck with Flipper, you are no longer a little kid, "you are a fuckin' adult!" (I wonder if you can find it on Youtube - ummm - YES, YOU CAN!). The real humour here is that the compilation would actually use THIS track of Flipper's set to represent the band - they barely even get through one verse of the song!

The Plugz' Electrify Me. Yep - the title song was used on the soundtrack of the now-illegal adult film New Wave Hookers, back when Traci Lords was a minor with really good fake ID (all her films from that time have been declared child pornography and pulled from legit distribution in North America). There's actually a shocking clip from it on Youtube, which is probably the best way to hear this song, and one of the only (legal?) places you can see Traci in her devil costume. I never knew that when I was masturbating to this movie as a teenager that Traci Lords was MY AGE at the time... I would have masturbated harder...

But nevermind Traci Lords: the Plugz are fronted by Tito Larriva, also of the Cruzados and of Tito and Tarantula - the bar band at the Titty Twister in From Dusk Til Dawn! (Yep, that's him singing in that clip, of the song "Angry Cockroaches"). AND Tito was formerly a member of The Flesheaters; AND the Plugz' music was used in Mark Romanek's quirkly independent film Static AND in the Alex Cox classic Repo Man! Oh, I'd also happily receive the Plugz' second LP, Better Luck. Both tend to circulate on eBay with huge buy-it-now pricetags, but when they turn up for actual auction, almost always sell for around $60, which seems to be the going rate.
Speaking of the Flesheaters, I sure could use vinyl copies of No Questions Asked and the Tooth and Nail compilation. Steve Berlin, the sax player for the Flesheaters, was just in town playing with Los Lobos! (Don't this Flesheaters song and this Los Lobos one sound kind of similar at the start - or is it just me?).

What I really need more than that, though, is the Big Boys and Dicks split LP, Recorded Live at Raul's Club. Shh, there's one on eBay. Don't you dare bid against me. Check out the Dicks' "Shit On Me," with some great photos of Gary Floyd! (More on Gary pending...).

Can-punk wise, I could really use a copy of It Came From the Pit (with a live version of Nomeansno's "No Sex" and SNFU covering Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"). And it'd be fun to have a copy of The Spores CASSETTE ONLY News, Weather and Spores tape (not on Discogs, but on Kill From the Heart). I used to have that, but who knows what happened to it... Someone finally put some Spores songs on Youtube, by the way. This is the original 7" single version - which I already have, note - of "Narcs In My Pants," with the original lyric about the narcs being in the singer's bedroom. That has since been changed: Danny, the lead singer (and Hard Core Logo cinematographer!), explained to me that he was always dissatisfied with the lyric ("now they're in my bedroom, now they're up my ass") since the reference to the narcs being up his ass had been MEANT to evoke cavity searches, but because of the proximity of the word "bedroom," brought to mind something more, er, sexual. Myself, I always kinda liked that - being busted as being buggered - but when Danny was preparing the CD version of News, Weather and Spores (NOT the same as the tape - he just reused the title, since so few copies of the tape were made), he went into the studio and sang one word - "suitcase!" - and had the word "bedroom" replaced. You'll have to just go ahead and buy the CD from Sudden Death Records if you want to hear the new version of the song. Who the hell is the girl in that picture under the Sudden Death link, anyhow? She ain't a Spore...
They're not Canadian, but I'd love a copy of The Crucifucks: LD Eye on vinyl! Doc Corbin Dart's Black Tuesday cassette would be cool, too (also not on Discogs). I've been fascinated by Doc Dart for awhile now - see this article to understand why. Here's some classic Cruficucks, with Steve Shelley, later of Sonic Youth, on drums - let's do "Cops for Fertilizer," shall we?

...And speaking of right wing Christians, how about Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra's Road Gore: The Band that Drank Too Much? I know, I know, but "Colour TV" is a fun song, and this is the only way to get it! Check out their "Bad Idea" tune on Youtube, also from that album... they really are right-wing Christians, and GUESS WHAT PROVINCE THEY'RE FROM?

Oh, I'd take the It Came From Canada comps, too, but I'd need all three volumes to feel complete...

What else? Has someone reissued The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs? I'd like THAT on vinyl... and maybe the Peter Laughner solo album... Ummm....

Please release Clearcut on DVD!

One of the most interesting Canadian-made (if Polish-directed) films of the 1990's was a seldom-seen gem called Clearcutshot in Ontario and directed by Richard Bugajski. The film has never been properly released on DVD, and almost never screens theatrically; the only versions you can find are a VHS tape and a probably bootlegged DVD of the VHS version, which mixes and matches horrible pan-and-scan with stretched images that really mangle the compositions (check the opening of the film on Youtube for an example - you can watch the whole thing there, too, if you're so inclined; it's really not much worse than any of your other options, at present). I got my hopes up to hear that Graham Greene presented the film at the TIFF awhile back - as I recall, he cited it as his favourite of the films he has acted in, and I thought that a revival of interest could mean that a DVD/ Blu-Ray release was forthcoming. Alas, since then, there's been no news: I do Google searches every couple of months, and other than the odd German or French TV screening (under titles that translate as "the revenge of the wolves") - and a Spanish website that somehow has widescreen screengrabs! - there's been nothing...
The story goes like this: a well-meaning, liberal lawyer, Peter Maguire (Ron Lea, above), arrives at a protest in the forest on unceded First Nations land. The band he's representing has just lost a court case, and are about to have their land logged (this is an elaboration on MT Kelly's source novel, A Dream Like Mine, which takes as its "issue" the pollution of reservation drinking water, due to industrial dumping of mercury, rather than logging; but the film is nonetheless a more-or-less faithful adaptation of the book). Maguire sees cops and bulldozers and guys with chainsaws squaring off against both men and women with drums and banners; esteemed and now departed actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman - he of the Lakota ad - plays Wilf, an elder who, despite being in charge of the protest and being abused by one of the Mounties, seems surprisingly relaxed about things, reassuring the lawyer that he did his best (not everyone present is so forgiving). The demonstration turns ugly: tempers flare, chainsaws start, trees fall and blood spills, and Maguire, the lawyer, gets the hell out, cadging a ride to a nearby hotel with some media people. Along the way, he curses the government and the lumber mill and the police and the indifference with which his clients' case has been shrugged aside, saying things that start to sound like a cry for direct action, or perhaps revenge: "somebody has to pay!"
This is singularly unfortunate, because someone overhears his cries - someone who may or may not be an elemental force of rage, a spiritual being who rises from beneath the waters in the opening shots of the movie. Or he might just be a pissed off Indian named Arthur. In either case, Arthur takes the white liberal lawyer at his word and begins to tie up, threaten, and torture various people who have incited Maguire's wrath, which places the lawyer in an uncomfortable position; he can't stop Arthur without tacitly admitting that he prefers ineffectual posturing to real action, and he can't join in without people getting hurt and laws getting broken. He ends up occupying a middle-ground between accomplice and kidnap victim, as Arthur drags both he and the owner of the mill in question - the delightfully-named Bud Rickets, perfectly played by busy Ontario actor Michael Hogan - into the forest for one of those transformative ordeals that forests sometimes can provide in the movies. Rickets spits reactionary cliches at Arthur, then pleads with him, and finally just suffers at Arthur's hands; here's a capture from the infamous "debarking" scene (click on it for a much better view):
I probably shouldn't say much more about it, but Clearcut fascinates me for several reasons. One is that it plays with tropes borrowed from slasher cinema, making Arthur a sort of embodiment of the "return of the repressed;" slashers always represent the unacceptable, disowned drives of the viewer, but usually these are sadistic, sexual drives, not political anger. Further, because Arthur is (at least possibly) an extention of Maguire's rage, he becomes a sort of "imaginary Indian" - a conscious querying of what First Nations characters in films actually represent in the minds of white viewers; the relationship of Maguire to Arthur is not too far off from the viewer's relationship with him (presuming the viewer is a white liberal like me, anyhow). It would, of course, be even more radical for the film to speak FROM a First Nations perspective, but since its authors are, I believe, all white folks, at least it's got a level of honesty, here, admitting that Arthur is a figment of their own minds.
Mostly, though, the movie appeals because it has more ANGER in it - especially at the abuse of the environment - than one generally finds in non-documentaries; Arthur has some really nasty moments, which we're constantly being encouraged to think about, querying both his violence and our/Maguire's ambivalent reaction to it. I know from firsthand experience that Clearcut actually pissed off some politically active First Nations people at the time of its release; a Lakota pipe-carrier that I knew in my 20's was of the opinion - I paraphrase - that the film was irresponsible, portraying First Nations causes in a scary, unsympathetic light that would likely win land rights claimants more enemies than friends. I disagree, in fact; I think the film actually brings us very close to feeling Arthur's frustration, and invites us to enjoy his excesses, sometimes in spite of ourselves. He's a very attractive character. And a very scary one.
In any case, Clearcut is a  thought-provoking movie - and it really is Graham Greene's best role. Arthur is angry, expressive, articulate, and rather funny (especially if you enjoy your humour rather dark, bitter, and incisive). There's also some terrific landscape shots, including footage of actual clearcuts - something you would think would have been represented widely in Canadian cinema, given our still largely resource-based economy, but which in fact seem to be very, very rare. (One suspects the crew shot the clearcut in question guerilla-style, without permission - it's seen from a plane, overhead, as Maguire is being flown in at the beginning of the movie).
Come to think of it, not only are clearcuts rarely seen in Canadian cinema, so is mention of First Nations land rights issues. They certainly don't pop up often in films designed to reach a wide audience, which Clearcut - essentially an exploitation film, if a very intelligent one - certainly is. I wonder if it's the Canadian discomfort with the topic - our apparent desire to forget, to deny, to erase - that has led to this remarkable film disappearing between the cracks to the extent that it has? If so, that alone should count in its favour, that is should push buttons to such an extent that people prefer to look away. Clearcut is one provocative, uncomfortable piece of cinema, and the wounds it probes are anything but healed.
Here's hoping someone somewhere is working on a DVD release of Clearcut. It's well past due. Here's another blogger that thinks so, and a rather exhaustive, entertaining hodgepodge of quotes from the film on IMDB.

I guess I should go try to figure out if there's actually been a Spanish DVD release of this film, now, from which the image below might have been lifted... I always wondered what that composition would look like in widescreen...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The music of Hyapatia Lee

Well, who knew about this? Former porn actress Hyapatia Lee - one quarter Cherokee, and namechecked in Mike's No Doubt article - has a musical career (or did, in the 1990s; not sure there's much goin' on these days). This is the best of her songs on Youtube - hold out until the 3 minute mark, at least! She comes off as a slightly more generic, pro-porn Patti Smith. I'd wondered what she'd been up to since she retired... her official site is here; apparently there is a film coming out about her and her struggles with dissociative identity disorder!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Videomatica Sales 1 year anniversary sale!

Celebrating their first year in Zulu Records!

Doc Pomus documentary at the Ridge

Tomorrow the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival is screening AKA Doc Pomus; Ken Eisner's review of it is here, the trailer is here. Very few contemporary songwriters have had their work covered in so many genres by so many artists through so many decades while still sounding fun and fresh. Here's "Save the Last Dance for Me," as done by: The Drifters, Emmylou Harris, Aaron NevilleThe Troggs, and The Forgotten Rebels; "Viva Las Vegas" as done by Elvis, ZZ Top, and the Dead Kennedys; "This Magic Moment" by The Drifters, Lou Reed, and the Misfits; "Sweets for My Sweet" by the Drifters, the Searchers, Chriss, and CJ Lewis; and "Little Sister" by Elvis, Ry Cooder, the Blasters, and the Incredible Staggers. Oh, and here's Doc Pomus himself singing "Teenager in Love," which later was a hit for Dion and the Belmonts; and check out this delightful big band drug ditty sung by the Doc, "My Good Pott." Talkin' about a versatile musician - he may not have had the best legs in the world, but his songs sure do...

Interesting action over at the Straight site

Two threads I've been following and commenting on on the Straight website - Mike Usinger's provocative article on the No Doubt video, and Alexander Varty's review of the Neil Young show.

Usinger's article looks at the overreaction to the recent No Doubt video - a video that I have "no doubt" is offensive to First Nations peoples, but that I can apparently no longer see to judge for myself. I don't exactly agree with his point of view - it sounds like it's a video that should not have been made and that deserves some outcry - but on the other hand, I find it really curious that if you Google "songs offensive to First Nations" or any variants, you end up with a billion hits talking about the No Doubt video, and almost nothing dealing with any of the hundreds of OTHER examples of western popular music that cross the exact same lines, or worse. It's not like this sort of thing hasn't been going on for a very long time, in music, film, fashion, and elsewhere. No Doubt seem to have picked a REALLY bad time for "Looking Hot;" given their instant apology and the video's withdrawal, EVERYONE seems to be talking about it... 
I guess part of the reason I don't object so much to Mike's article is that I've gotten used to thinking of him as a provocateur who occasionally likes to stir the pot by writing articles that might seem tasteless or offensive or deliberately controversial - like his Amy Winehouse obituary. Or his defence of Nickelback. Or his article on the Scarlett Johansson nude pics... I sort of sit back and try to appreciate his, um, aesthetic with these things, which, at the very least, is kind of ballsy. I'm not sure how much of ANY of what he writes he really believes, mind you - if he's just not exploring controversial positions for the hell of it (and for the attention it generates). I don't think some of the commenters on the No Doubt thread GET this, since they're getting pretty hostile and taking things rather seriously - a couple seem to be making unsubtle threats, even... 
And alas, one of them appears to have mistaken ME for HIM... 
Meantime, I pretty much jibe with everything Alex Varty says about the Neil Young show; what's interesting is that there's someone ELSE out there - a commenter named Gerald - who bought tickets hoping to see the Americana tour, who now feels kind of ripped off. I'm tryin' to help him work through that... 
Really there's other stuff I should be focusing on, but...
Note: I just found the No Doubt video online. I have now seen it, and indeed, it seems a pretty minor example of something that has been going on throughout the 20th century - the trivialization of First Nations' experience for the sake of fashion and amusement. It's politically problematic, but it also doesn't really deserve a lot of serious comment - it's obviously just a bunch of silly, misguided crap, which, unfortunately for the band, has become a focal point for the sort of extreme overreaction that the internet sometimes can facilitate. Compare the above video with any and all of these - the actual context of the video; the No Doubt video is just a drop in a very large bucket:

"The Waters of Minnetonka" by Desi Arnaz, Carol Richards, and Lucille Ball:

"Mr. Custer" by Larry Verne:

Johnny Horton's "Cherokee Boogie":

Johnny Preston: "Running Bear":

Sheb Wooley's "Indian Maid":

Hank Williams "Kaw-Liga":

Loretta Lynn's "Your Squaw is on the Warpath":

Bill Haley's "Ten Little Indians":

...There's lots more. Yep, No Doubt made a tasteless video. They should have known better. Does it really deserve this much attention, though, this much outrage? People are writing things like "we'll be watching you" at Mike... if anything, such reactions make me more sympathetic to his point of view (or the one he has adopted for the sake of this article...).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Life, plus live

According to Wikipedia, the least successful studio album of Neil Young's career is Life. It was the final album Young released on Geffen Records, after four very poorly received albums for that label, the poor performance of two of which inspired their infamous lawsuit against Young. What's saddest and strangest is that the most problematic aspect of Life is that it tries too hard to have commercial appeal - even the best song on the album, "Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll" (a stab at the label which covers similar ground as the Clash's "Complete Control," presently only on Youtube in a live version) is somewhat marred by the "big 80's drum-sound" which dates it, suggesting a band trying very, very hard to be current. The weaker songs on the album - "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks," say, which has some nice harmony vocals but not much else - sound like they could even be calculated attempts to get on light AM radio. Life seems to be trying so hard to be liked that it's rather a sad, telling paradox that it did so poorly (tho' it may be the overtly political content on side one that really sank it, I don't really know).  

That said, there ARE some really interesting moments on the album. People in an excitable state after the awe-inspiring concert last night might want to know that there is presently a used vinyl copy of it at Red Cat Records, very reasonably priced at a mere $10. It's worth that much just for "Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll," and, while it has no collector's value (yet), its actually a fairly uncommon find in vinyl - I haven't seen it in years, and its not at Zulu or Audiopile...

Thanks to Erika Lax for her company at the Crazy Horse show and the pictures she took of the band, which kick ass on mine. Set list for last night's show here; Alex Varty review here, complete with a comment by me with a spelling error in it (egads!) and a counter-review by someone who was at last night's show and actually didn't like it... if you can believe that...!

Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Vancouver, by Erika Lax

Monday, November 12, 2012

26's "Animals" (Crucifucks-related)

Vegans, animal rights activists, and animal lovers might find this an interesting punk song - off 26's album The Messiah. Of course, 26 is the artist formerly known as Doc Corbin Dart, who used to be the lead singer of the revered Michigan punk band the Crucifucks. I'm kind of fascinated by him. He seems a bit troubled now - according to the reports one hears, he's basically boarded up his house, which Tesco Vee tells me is close to the swanky part of Michigan, has been eschewing relations with the outside world to focus on spiritual exercises, and has made many raccoon friends for company (you see one of them in the image for that song, his most recent album cover). Oh, and he apparently has declared himself the Messiah, and, while rejecting his former band's name, as being too confrontational - he now calls them the Christmas Folks - has been publicly advocating infanticide (perhaps not seriously - he always was a provocateur). I suppose some people would say that writing songs like "Cops for Fertilizer" wasn't all that strong an indicator of good mental health, back in the day, either, though in context (1980's hardcore) it really wasn't THAT extreme... well, maybe a little. Personally, I would very much like to discover that Doc Dart - err, 26 - is in a good mindset these days, feelin' happy and in-control, and is staying creative... because this song is stunningly good, and the sentiment - that we have to "get right with the animals" - is very true. 

Read more on 26/ Doc Dart here. And if you don't know, listen again and try to guess what more famous rock band the drummer for "Cops for Fertilizer" went on to play with...

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, November 11, 2012

Last night's Neil Young concert outdoes Iggy and the Stooges for the hardest-rockin' show by a senior citizen that I've seen (unless you count Tunnel Canary). Awe-inspiring live version of "Fuckin' Up" was the high point, for me, though it was sweet to see a smiling Frank present Neil with a gift of a scarf for his birthday, and then exhorting the audience to sing the birthday song to Neil (who, for his own part, had led the audience in singing "O Canada" as the set commenced). The Sadies were great - shitkicker country meets surf meets psychedelic pop; Los Lobos were professional but less musically exciting (tho' at least I've now got to see ONE Flesheater in action - Steve Berlin plays sax). Most amusing moment: I sent the above photo to a buddy, unfamiliar with the giant-amp Live Rust set-dec of Neil (which last night repeated, only it was lab-coated technicians, and not those little Jawa-guys, who ran about the stage, directing the raising and lowering of the props and such) and he responded, "Holy shit those are some big amps!" Honkin' big microphone there, too...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weird stress dream which I'm trying to do a demonstration lesson for a classroom and discover that no one is listening to me.

Do I take myself far too seriously? I'm suddenly embarrassed - here I am, holding forth ad nauseum about stuff no one much cares about. Don't I know that the way of the internet is to say a) something trivial with b) great wit and verve, while expressing it c) in two pithy sentences or less and then d) posting it on Facebook or Twitter? Whereas here I am, saying stuff that's also trivial, but at great length, with little wit, on a site almost no one reads. What's wrong with me?  I'm like that George Carlin joke about an man who has barricaded himself inside his house: he's "unarmed and no one is paying any attention to him."

Shut up, Al.

A week of genre films: a handful of DVD reviews

Caught up with a few genre films this week on DVD.
Finally saw Morgan's Ferry (2001), notable for having one of the larger film roles of Henry Rollins. Hank can't act - anyone who saw The Devil's Tomb knows this - but he can channel a great deal of intensity into a role, so he's kind of perfect as a vicious escaped convict who - along with co-escapees Billy Zane and Johnny Galecki - hides out at the farm of a lonely spinster (Kelly McGillis). The main surprise the film boasts is that it's a chick flick - written by a woman, narrated by the McGillis character, Crazy Bonnie (tho' if the credits are accurate, the narration is voiced, for reasons unknown, by a different actress), and essentially revolving around Bonnie's romance with one of the convicts. There's an archetypal simplicity to the film that actually had me thinking of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," except in this case, it's the bears that come to Goldilocks (here please overlook the usual association of the term "bear" with fat, hairy gay men): Henry is the rough, cruel, violent "bear;" Galecki the immature, pre-sexual, whiny one; and Zane, in the middle, is "just right." Female viewers (or those other bears) seeking a moderately spicy fantasy will likely appreciate a beefcake scene where all three men bathe naked in McGillis' yard; oddly, Rollins' back is lacking his giant Search & Destroy tattoo, which I'm pretty sure he had when the film was made, so they must have put make-up over it or something (I bet ol' 2.13.61 did special exercises so his nekkid ass would look good). Not a great film, but I find the psychology of chick flicks somewhat fascinating and novel (since I don't watch many of them), plus the late Roscoe Lee Browne has a small role (tho' not much is done with him), so I kind of enjoyed the experience, overall. I won't go so far as to recommend it to anyone else. 
Thanks to the Fuck Yeah Henry Rollins page for a memorable illustration - they're of the opinion that the tattoo was airbrushed out...
More surprising than seeing Henry Rollins in a chick flick is seeing a good Uwe Boll movie. Rampage, from 2009, is actually very, very entertaining, tho' in a nasty, misanthropic, socially irresponsible way. The star is a talented young Canadian actor, Brendan Fletcher (above), whose past roles include a rather great, Robin Wood-admired, queer-themed youth movie called Rollercoaster, as well as the latter two Ginger Snaps films, and Terry Gilliam's unwholesomely strange film Tideland - where he plays the slow young man who makes out with the prepubescent main female character, in scenes which are both brave and upsetting. Boll casts Fletcher as an angry, elitist twentysomething with a plan, which involves dressing in a homemade suit of body armour and going on a killing spree in a small Oregon town - though IMDB lists it as being shot in Vancouver, and certain scenes (especially the bingoplex) appear to have been filmed in Maple Ridge (the bingo hall is actually one I've been to, playing bingo with my Mom a few times during my childhood). 
As an alienated, pissed off, powerless teenager, growing up in the town where Rampage was shot, I occasionally indulged in shooting-spree fantasies myself (tho' I never actually planned to survive the shooting spree, which just wasn't done back then; good taste required you to turn the gun on yourself at the end, or let the cops shoot you, or something). Admitting to such fantasies (note: this was thirty years ago, so relax!) is something that no longer seems very safe to do, given the number of people who make theirs reality nowadays - but this aura of danger makes Rampage pretty effective as a horror film. Not sure if it deserves to be taken seriously as anything more than that - if it has anything real to say about  politics, overpopulation, or such, despite some decorative speechifying by Fletcher -  but I admit to being thoroughly entertained by the film, and somewhat shocked at its craft. 
Just for the record, I'm not one of those contrarian trolls who goes around talking about how In the Name of the King (2007, also Uwe Boll) was a good movie; in fact, watching a scene in Rampage where the "protagonist" burns a great deal of money, I wondered if Boll was somehow referring to his past experiences with that filmwhich reportedly had a budget of $60 million...

Much as I enjoyed the Ontario-shot Skinwalkers (2006), it is also not really what I would call a good movie. It's utterly ridiculous, in fact, telling the story of two rival factions in the world's werewolf population, one of which wants to remain werewolfish, and one of which wants to pass for human until such a time as they can be relieved of their curse - a turn of events that werewolf prophecy (?) indicates is coming very soon, and depends entirely on a very special 13 year old boy. It sounds a bit like a True Blood subplot, minus the sex and the humour, but it's packed into an hour and a half, and presents information about its rather elaborate backstory at a breathtaking pace, so that you feel at times like you're watching the sequel to a movie that has never been made. Still, this actually manages to register more as a gutsy faith in its genre-loving audience than, say, incompetence, at least if you're feeling generous (something which the film somehow inspires in me, though I admit to being in the minority here); which is to say that if this all sounds like silly fun to you - you'll probably enjoy it. Skinwalkers also boasts shots of werewolves on motorcycles, though unlike Werewolves on Wheels (thanks go to Adrian Mack for turning me on to that one), they don't actually ride on motorcycles when in their wolfish state (a missed opportunity). A high point is when the bad werewolves ride into a small town that is actually a haven for the good werewolves and start shooting the place up; for creatures with claws and fangs, they rely an awful lot on guns. 
Fond of it as I am of it, Skinwalkers must be a career low for Elias Koteas, who plays the uncle of the 13 year old and the leader of the werewolves who want to become human. I like Koteas a great deal - it was his name on the DVD box that convinced me to pick it up, and it presumably IS him acting under werewolf make-up in key scenes. He does just fine (ie., he doesn't manage to telegraph that he feels trapped in a piece of shit, like Burt Reynolds does in In the Name of the King), tho' Koteas fans looking for gems that he's involved in would be better off seeking out the underrated neo-noir Hit Me, based on Jim Thompson's A Swell-Looking Babe. Other Canadian actors pop up in Skinwalkers, too, tho' in smaller roles; just like you can tell that the BC-shot In the Name of the King is not actually a Canadian film by how quickly Gabrielle Rose's character is killed off, you can tell that Skinwalkers isn't actually a Canadian production by the half-minute of screentime granted Julian Richings, right at the film's end. 
Does anyone else get happy whenever Julian Richings - Hard Core Logo's Bucky Haight - pops up in a movie, even briefly?
Final film to mention: Grace, from 2009, is a sort of monster-baby movie which I had ignored until I spoke with Gabrielle Rose and discovered she was in it (more on my conversation with her at a later date). Not only does it boast one of her largest roles in a non-Canadian production, she recommended it as an effective horror film, so I pretty much had to see it. It is, indeed, quite artful and creepy and has more than one effective/ sickening scare in it (especially if you find the thought of breast milk kind of gross). I couldn't quite fit my mind around aspects of the film, however: there is a too-frequent-to-be coincidental reference to veganism, for one, and a few intercut animal cruelty scenes - cows being slaughtered and such - that don't seem to bear any great relevance to the story being told, and occur at shocking, confusing junctures. The denouement of the film is even briefly viewed from a cow's point of view (don't get excited, the Grace cow has nothing on the one in Kingdom of the Spiders). The film also makes reference to midwifery, mistrust of hospitals, and other aspects of New Age/ holistic health and dietary practices - from soymilk to wheatgrass and beyond - but I couldn't really deduce what it was saying with any of this, at least some of which seems strikingly beside the point. Since the image on the DVD box is of a blood-spattered baby bottle, I don't suppose I'm spoiling anything to reveal that the film is about a sort of vampiric infant, and since infants usually drink milk, and cows are a primary source of milk, I suppose there could be some poetic attempt to say that the film is really a horror film about what we eat - as if our dependency on flesh foods and animal products is also a sort of vampirism. This doesn't, alas, account for any of the main action of the film, which involves a possessive, controlling mother (Gabrielle Rose) trying to steal her granddaughter (apparently born dead, in one of the film's more heart-rending moments) from her daughter-in-law (Jordan Ladd - Shanna in Death Proof), without realizing the baby's special dietary requirements; nor does it dovetail very neatly with the main horror of the film - which involve bloody-nipple sucklings that flinch a bit on the gore, but in terms of emotional impact, still put the explicit tit-biting in Burial Ground to shame. Even if I can't quite piece it together into a coherent whole, there are plenty of unsettling moments in the film, and fans of horror movies will certainly want to seek it out (one wonders what Robin Wood, with his fondness for It's Alive, would have made of it?)
All for now. See y'all at Neil Young.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Al with tunnel

I've been enjoying taking photographs involving dirty or otherwise distorting glass, with reflections on the inside AND a view on the out. These were taken on the Canada Line between Cambie and Waterfront...

Psychedelic Pill

Relief: the new Neil Young is quickly growing on me. (I can even invent an excuse for the extemporaneous-sounding,  rather dumb lyrics to "Driftin' Back" - that they were part of a live take that in retrospect was too cool to mess with. Good enough for me - the jams on the song are extraordinary!). Woke up this morning with "Born In Ontario" on my mind...

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Rio Grind holdovers

Some chances this weekend to catch films from the Rio Grind Film Festival that you might have missed... More on Manborg here... Too bad there's a conflict with the Neil Young show for some of these...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Goddamnit: vote! (And not for Romney!).

Any Americans reading this?

I wish I could have taken a photo, on the bus ride from the Tsawwassen ferry to Bridgeport Station, of the giant Obama 2012 sign someone paid to put up, so Americans visiting BC might be swayed. It seems like a lot of Americans are slumping into apathy this election - I'm seeing references to Bill Hicks' "puppet on the left/ puppet on the right" routine, references to Obama's darker side (drones, assassinations), a general attitude of "it makes no difference."

This is, of course, bullshit. Ask any gay couple in America that wants to get married. Ask any woman concerned with the right to choose what happens in her own body. Ask anyone who wants access to inexpensive healthcare. Ask anyone internationally terrified of the possibility of another four years of Republican plunder (funny how Americans seem to almost completely forget about George W. Bush - short memories indeed). Privilege, apathy, complacency are not moral principles, and don't deserve to be tricked up with arguments about how voting makes no difference. There is a huge difference between Obama - whatever his faults - and Romney. There is no honest argument for saying otherwise, unless you're secretly on the side of the Republicans - if you LIKE the idea of the USA as a pirate nation, a rogue state, ripping off the world in the name of liberty.  

Hell - even Lemmy Kilmister wants you to vote for Obama.

Please, you apathetic, spoiled, over-priveleged assholes: go vote. And don't vote for Mitt. The rest of the world is in terror that we're going to see a right-wing Mormon wingnut in power in the United States. YOU might not remember George W. Bush - or the party he headed - but we do. Please don't let a Romney presidency come to pass. Get off your asses and vote.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Zabriskie Point to screen at the Pacific Cinematheque

The Pacific Cinematheque will be screening a series of films under the title State of Mind: California, Conceptual Art, the 1970's, and Cinema in November, and are including in the program one of my all-time favourite film experiences, Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, which I now must have seen at least fifteen times. I've written about the film here, here, here, and here, and don't have anything new to add, but I highly recommend the film for people interested in film experiences that are immersive, psychedelic, impressionistic, relevant to the hippie counterculture, and possessed of  stunning images and music (courtesy of Pink Floyd, Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, John Fahey, Roscoe Holcomb, Patti Page, Jesse Colin Young and others). It will further help your appreciation of the film if you're really curious what the counterculture and youth movements of the 60's looked like to a sentimental, anti-American Italian Marxist, who, after a surprise success, found himself bankrolled by a very trusting studio, eager to cash in on the "youth market,"  who had no idea just how big a flop Zabriskie Point would be (it appears as the Z entry in the book The 50 Worst Films of All Time; most cinephiles scratch their heads over that, today, and talk about how time has been very kind to Zabriskie Point). The DVD release of the film ends on the incorrect song - a crappy, studio-commissioned Roy Orbison tune that replaces Antonioni's soundtrack choice, a reprise of the Pink Floyd freakout that accompanies the apocalyptic explosion that occurs (in Daria's head?) at the end of the film; seeing the film in 35mm is about the only chance you've got of hearing the film end properly. (All previous screenings of the film in Vancouver in the last six years have had the right music at the end - because I was there for them! - so I can't imagine this'un ends any differently).

Also in the program are Roman Polanski's fine film Chinatown and Thom Andersen's highly praised documentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself - a title which has inspired a fair bit of imitation in Vancouver. There's also a bunch of films I know nothing about, but if this is the company they keep, they've gotta have something going for them...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Pigeon Eviction: My Birdshit Weekend

Birdshit Al: a self-portrait in a friend's birdshit-encrusted sunroof

Some of y'all may remember my shocking discovery a few months back - that pigeons were nesting in my chair on my balcony. Since I couldn't bear to disrupt a nest with a baby in it - whatever the hell a baby pigeon is called - I left them be for the summer, resolving to get rid of them when fall came - because surely the baby would be grown and flown, by then. And beside, they're birds, they migrate south, right?

Wrong. Pigeons don't migrate, and they mate all year round, so when the one baby was flown, they had another, which was cheeping and peeping on my balcony through early October. When my deadline came around for dealing with them, I had to extend it, until the NEXT baby had flown. During these last few months, I've given them free reign on the balcony, stopped even trying to shoo them off, as I once did, since the nature of their investment in the space was clear to me. Know what a balcony looks like when pigeons have been pooping on it fulltime for months?

Something like this:
Anyhow, last night I decided that it was well past time. I'm procrastinating on some writing, and nothing is better for procrastinating than getting your cleaning done: you can be productive and cowardly at the same time! I bought some gear - tools for shitscraping, shitscrubbing, and the like, and, last night, served my pigeons notice: with no warning, I stormed out onto the balcony and tilted my armchair on its back, and two terrified birds - their two progeny have long since flown - took off like, er, bats out of hell. There was no egg, no baby, nothing but the mound of shit, feathers, and nesting material that you see above (an inch thick in some places - you don't really get a sense of its DEPTH or CONSISTENCY from that photo). I left the chair on its back overnight, and the pigeons did not return; and this morning, I set about the first phase of cleanup.
I dressed appropriately: disposable, torn-up dress pants, disposable plastic gloves, two divorcee socks that haven't seen their partners in eight years, lingering optimistically in my "single socks" section of the drawer, and a pair of easily cleaned Crocs. The eye and mouth mask was probably overkill, but they were only a couple bucks at the loonie store, and if there are two places I don't want pigeonshit, it's my mouth and my eyes; bad enough that I had to inhale the stink of it.
It took me an hour, kneeling on the balcony, first scooping, then scrubbing, then splashing cleaning product and hot water around and mopping up the milky grey excess with a paper towel. At the end of the process I just threw away the pants and the socks. There are still mounds to scoop up from behind the chair, but that has to be cut up and hauled down to the dumpster; I'll get to the remaining shit-corner in a few days. Right now, though, I've got to take a shower, because I can still smell the pigeon shit on me. There's still a patina of residue on the balcony but I think mostly I've done a pretty good job, for Day One.