Thursday, October 29, 2015

Random (but not very weird) dreams of hanging out with the Shearing Pinx' drummer

So I live (in the dream) in the same building as Jeremy, former Audiopile clerk and drummer for Shearing Pinx, and he's actually there, instead of engaged in nomadic wanderings as is presently the case. I visit him, and we talk - about the environment, about my being Facebook friends with Gary Floyd, and other things. It's mostly quite straightforward and realistic; it's not one of these dreams where things are only loosely pieced together following tangled dream-logics. We decide to go outside together, using the stairs in the building, which are designed so that for certain flights of stairs, you actually find yourself in someone else's apartment, and have to use their door to exit into the hallway, which, in fact, is what we do. I am glad that my apartment - in the corner - isn't designed this way; I think as we walk through someone else's living room that it must be weird to have people cross through your space in the middle of the night.

In any event, we're walking around in Maple Ridge (not where I presently am, as I dream this, nor where I now live, since I've moved in with my girl in Burnaby). He releases into the air a mobile made of balloons, colouful rubber gloves, and bits of plastic, with a framework of dowels and fishing wire, and it floats up into the sky; this is his hobby - making mobiles that float in the air. But one balloon breaks off, and the others deflate, and the whole thing, I see, comes down, threatening to get caught up in a tree. I oblige and pick it up, asking, what do we do now, is it garbage?

He's a little incensed that I suggest this, since that would be wasteful. He wants me to carry his balloon-mobile. I do, though the fishing line is cutting into my fingers a bit. "So isn't this stuff bad for the environement," I ask.

"It's biodegradable," he replies. Well. I'm thinking to myself that it's still going to take a long time to biodegrade, but mostly because I don't want to be carrying his balloon mobile. But I think of another question about his curious hobby, and ask him, "so can you patch these? Because if I know someone who can repair a balloon, it's got to be you."

He gets even more upset at this, and starts to explain that if he'd only known how hard it was to repair balloons when he was  in St. Petersburg (ie., Russia), he would have done something very different with the mobile I'm carrying.

That's when my alarm wakes me, as I'm asking Jeremy to explain...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GHOSTS... of the Civil Dead

I was, it transpires, unable, due to circumstances of some slight perversity, to preview GHOSTS... of the Civil Dead, screening tomorrow at the Vancity Theatre, despite an Australian DVD of it briefly passing through my hands earlier this week. This greatly limits my ability to plug the event, but it also lets me off the hook for blogging much about it, so there's that. All the same, all you Nick Cave fans, it's the first feature film he was involved in (as far as I know), he co-authored it and acted in it, it was directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road, and Lawless), and it got much buzz at the time of its theatrical release. It's also not at all easy to see in North America, AND the Vancity Theatre is bringing in a 35 mm print of it (at some expense, you might imagine). Beyond that, I know it's an Australian prison drama and that it's mentioned in the Jem Noble film screening just before it. Which has something to do with why it's screening here (for ONE NIGHT ONLY!). More than that I cannot say, however. (Adrian Mack might have some comment on it in the Straight tomorrow).

Speaking of perversities, I would be going to see it, except my girlfriend won Hawksley Workman tickets. So I will be at a Hawksley Workman concert when it plays! I actually have no particular objection to him or his music, and a free concert at the Commodore is a free concert at the Commodore, so I don't mind (plus I plan to drag her into the heart of East Hastings for a show on Halloween night, so I want to be obliging here). Hell, I might even get to see Alice in the Cities at the Cinematheque before the concert. Eventually Ghosts will get released here, right?

However, YOU might still want to go see it at the Vancity tomorrow... right?

Monday, October 26, 2015

This Halloween, Unleash the Archers (Heavy Metal Halloween Extravaganza)

There is much to do this Halloween weekend. Poison Idea at Funkys on the 30th? Maybe, though I expect that will be packed and rowdy. (Haven't heard their new album yet, by the by). And since I will be watching movies at the Vancity Theatre until late (see below), I don't think I will even attempt it.

Saturday, however, I think my pick will be the Heavy Metal Halloween Extravaganza, showcasing Unleash the Archers - uplifting, empowering, guitar-virtuoso power metal from Vancouver (originally Victoria). I have had great fondness for them since I caught them in Maple Ridge a few years ago, at one of those weird church gigs I wrote about awhile back. Mostly I liked them for the fact that they PLAYED Maple Ridge at all; their music didn't immediately sink hooks, and listening to their first album, I can see why - it's not half as cool as what they would eventually become.

But since that time, they've released two albums, and each is a giant leap forward in terms of songwriting and musicianship. The new one, Time Stands Still, is their pinnacle thus far, the sort of metal that people who long for the days of vintage Priest and Maiden should be able to embrace wholeheartedly. (They also have a fun Mad Max-y rock video, if you haven't seen it. Someone is spending some money on these folks!). Their gig at the SBC Cabaret on the 31st seems like a must attend (and I'm told will be their last local show for awhile).

Not sure what to expect of the other bands yet - haven't seen one of them - but be gentle on my girlfriend, okay? I want her to at least last until Unleash the Archers take the stage...

Note to David M: I have not received, and have no plans to receive, any considerations from Unleash the Archers or the SBC Cabaret or anyone for this announcement (no comps, no merch, no nothin'). Tho' if and when I get them in the Straight (again), if they want to comp me into something and shower me with gratitude, I will happily accept (within reason). Like Paul Sorvino says in The Gambler, "Once you ain't a virgin, you're a whore."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Passive consumption

How do people use the internet these days?

Back before I used Facebook, I used to actually go looking for interesting things to read. I would regularly check in on various websites, by bands or writers or movie reviewers of so forth that I enjoyed. Sitting down on the computer had the quality of an investigation, and I was always turning up new stuff to pay attention to.

Mostly now I just scan Facebook. There are a few pages I visit otherwise, on my own accord, but not many. I don't go looking very far afield; oftentimes, I let the information come to me. I have become much more passive in terms of my use of things.

I sure as hell don't read many people's blogs, I tell you that.

But then I never did. Typical hypocrisy on my part: I do a fair bit of writing for magazines, too, but I almost never buy the things...

Of Wim Wenders

Not sure how to write about the ongoing Wim Wenders retrospective at the Cinematheque.

Some great films are playing. I love Wenders' adaptation of what really amounts to a couple of Patricia Highsmith Ripley novels, The American Friend. It's not that faithful a representation of Highsmith, but Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are fantastic, and there's all these bits of clever intertextuality for knowing cinephiles, from cameos from filmmakers like Sam Fuller and a very charismatic Nicholas Ray to having Dennis Hopper quote dramatically from "The Ballad of Easy Rider." If you like restrained, intelligent European neo-noirs made with self-reflexive wit and great craft, it's essential viewing; even if you don't get the in-jokes, Ganz is great as an innocent frame-maker who is pushed into serving as a hitman, and Hopper - who was in one of his darker periods when making this film - pulls off a great turn as Ripley (yes, the same Ripley played by Alain Delon, Matt Damon, and John Malkovich, among others).  
Equally essential is Alice in the Cities, which is one of Wenders' most important films - a sad, slyly funny, and ultimately rather gentle tale of an alienated German photographer, adrift in America, whose angst is to some extent healed by his travels with a young girl, who is abandoned in his care. Accused by some of coming too close at a few points to Paper Moon, it was one of those key films of my teens and 20's, which I watched over and over again, trying to tease out implications, treating it like a sacred text, the understanding of which would raise me above my maddening suburban imprisonment. The relationship of Wenders' lost German wanderers to American popular culture echoed my own hunger to find meaning and direction in images and art, groping in a landscape that seemed then (and now, really) to be pretty culturally desolate, and at times even hostile to reflectiveness. 
The trouble comes because it's difficult to really praise, or even write honestly, about films that were once incredibly important to you, that you have long set aside and almost forgotten. My relationship to the images no doubt will have changed greatly since I last saw this film, some twenty or more years ago, and I don't really know what I would make of it now. Plus I worry that, as with Kings of the Road - Wenders' other early masterwork, scheduled to appear in part two of the retrospective, later this winter - some of the music may have been changed due to copyright issues. The soundtrack to Alice is in fact composed by Can, but the problem with some of these films is that Wenders also used popular rock of the 50's and 60's, either outside of copyright or in arrangements that have now lapsed; this is what makes Summer in the City so difficult to see, I gather, and has led to the few DVD releases internationally of Kings of the Road to have one key song, in particular, replaced with something far less meaningful...
Then there's Paris, Texas, which is for me one of the hardest films to come to terms with in this programme. As popular as Harry Dean Stanton is these days - and as little as I would want to dissuade cinema lovers from going to see the film, which has beyond a doubt Stanton's biggest, best role, and some gorgeous cinematography - it is actually a Wenders film I have no plans to ever see again. It marks, for me, what was the beginning of a huge shift in Wenders' cinema, from the days when he was a German filmmaker and peer of Herzog and Fassbinder to... whatever it is exactly he's become now, which is something I don't really understand. It's his first full-on American movie, for one thing (Hammett doesn't really count). The Cinematheque programme describes it as "one of Wenders' finest achievements" but even back when I was a huge Wenders fan - back when I hadn't had to grapple with The Million Dollar Hotel and The End of Violence and so forth - part of me found it (sorry) a little bloated, a little false, a little too aware of and in love with its own artistry. Wenders international success seemed back then to have gone to his head, and the obviousness of that fact managed to always insinuate itself between me and the things about the film I was trying to like. There were many powerful, moving moments; there's a great Ry Cooder soundtrack, a surprising little cameo from John Lurie - but I never could quite convince myself that the film was as big a masterpiece as both it and everyone else seemed to believe itself to be.
If I were going to attend any of these films, in fact, I think my choice would be The State of Things - one of Wenders most cynical films, made as a side-project when he was struggling with his first attempt to make a film in America - an ill-fated biographical thriller called Hammett, which is not screening (the only version of the film that I'm aware of is apparently more the work of Francis Ford Coppola, the producer, than Wenders). The State of Things comes in three movements, all represented in gorgeous black-and-white photography (from Henri Alekan). It begins as a film-within-a-film, a science fiction movie that is being shot in Portugal by Wenders' representative within the film, played by Patrick Bauchau - the blind guy from Carnival, if you've seen that series.
Then the film runs out, production stalls - reflecting the hiatus that Wenders was in fact on while making the film - and we get the "European arthouse" segment of the film, with the cast and crew (including Sam Fuller) talking about their lives and so forth, meandering about while waiting for the production to get back underway. The third and most despairing section of the movie happens when Bauchau travels to America to try to find out what's gone wrong with the production of the movie, finding corruption and betrayal and a very scared producer, played by Alan Garfield in his Alan Goorwitz days, pictured below (Roger Corman also cameos during this section of the film). The film has, no shit, one of the grimmest endings I've seen, taking in the state of cinema as of 1982. It's not a happy survey.
Weird, then, that since that time, with one or two exceptions, Wenders has mostly either made movies in America, or as big international co-productions. With the exception of Wings of Desire - another one of those films that mattered a lot to me once, that is hard to come to terms with now -  Wenders has made only one film since The State of Things that I've actually cared about and wholeheartedly enjoyed: Lisbon Story, which, guess what, is a SEQUEL to The State of Things, despite having been made a very long time later, with Wenders' doppleganger, Rudiger Vogler of Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road, investigating the events of the previous film. I liked it. It's a small film, but smart, and without overweening ambitions or a sense of its own import.
Besides Kings of the Road - which boasts the most moving, beautiful defecation scene ever seen in cinema, that I'm aware of - there's only one other film that I'm really keen on in the Wenders' retrospective: the massive, five hour long version of Until the End of the World, which I have never seen. (It's not on the schedule yet but will be, I gather). As much as I was let down by the "short" version of the film (a mere two and a half hours long), people keep saying that the long cut is the one to see, and I'm willing to give it a shot. I'm really not sure what to make of Wenders, and the weirdness of his later trajectory makes it really hard for me to wave the banner that vigorously for this series, but if you haven't seen Alice in the Cities, The American Friend, or The State of Things, don't miss the chance. (And Kings of the Road, when it plays). I wonder if the soundtrack to Kings has been fixed yet?

Fucking for pancakes

My girl and I are both on the spectrum for Type II diabetes (a recent discovery, for me - my fasting blood sugars were around 7 the other week). We're working on it. 

But I foolishly burnt up the last of the Cob's Low GI bread the other day (the tastiest and healthiest way to watch your carbs and eat what presents as white bread). We now have no other bread in the freezer, unless you count the whole wheat Kaiser buns or the various wrap-things, neither of which sound very appealing for breakfast.

We do have pancake mix, however (and no sugar added syrup). That's the good news. The bad news is that the allotment of carbs we are allowed, measured out and expressed as a cup of pancake mix, looks like it's going to make for a pretty piss-poor, puny pancake (to have with eggs and yoghurt and other stuff, mind you, but it's STILL NOT ENOUGH PANCAKE, dig?). And we're neither of us ready to get dressed and go out for breakfast, so...


But my girl has tested her blood sugars before and after sex and found that, apparently, sex lowers her blood sugar levels. So she just made me promise to help her lower her blood sugars after breakfast, as a condition on getting bigger and better pancakes.


Okay! Let's have pancakes...!

Friday, October 23, 2015

My history with Dar Williams' music, plus Dar and the Berrigans: outtake

One of the main reasons that I wanted to talk to Dar Williams - and certainly the main reason I got into her music - was because of her song about the Berrigan brothers, "I Had No Right." (Click the first link for the Wikipedia articles on two of them, Catholic priests who stood up against the war industry; I'm not going to explain my admiration for them here). That was the song that started me on what was a sort of positive slippery slope of admiration for Williams' music...

I mean, yes, part of my enthusiasm for Dar is that my girlfriend Erika Lax likes her a lot. But Erika likes a lot of female musicians - including ones I also like (Nina Simone, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Koko Taylor - all brilliant, and hey, wait a minute, not a one of them white), but there are also ones I do not have any strong feelings at all about (Florence and the Machine, Adele - neither offensive nor interesting to me). There are even, yes, a few for whom I have little tolerance (such as Sarah McLachlan: note that I did not write this, but...). Still, I was listening to Dar Williams (or at least the song "I Had No Right") before Erika and I really got together, so it gave me a point of musical common interest to latch onto with her, which seemed, in a semi-Machiavellian, this-will-be-a-good-thing-for-our-relationship kinda way, to be a wise thing to have. To put it crudely, if we're gonna be listening to white women now and then, unless I can get Erika into Patti Smith, Carla Bozulich, Nina Hagen, the whole Riot Grrrrl thing, or Laurie Anderson and such (no great successes so far on those fronts, and even I don't listen to Laurie Anderson much these days), it's going to make it wayyyy easier for me if we have one we both like!

Well, there's Ellen McIlwaine, Erika digs her, but I mostly only like her early work (see also here). And I don't listen to Mecca Normal much at home, truth be known, though Erika enjoyed the concert I took her to...

Anyhow, when it comes to Dar, for pretty much the first two years of my knowing about her, it was all about the one song on the one CD (The Green World). Had played the rest of the CD and not really paid close attention; I just didn't need it. Sometimes it's like that, you know? Ask any fan of Motorhead who only has Ace of Spades and No Sleep Til Hammersmith in his/ her collection: sometimes the stuff you like by an artist is so good that you simply have no need to dig deeper; you literally do not know what you're missing. Or take Larry Norman's "Six Sixty Six," that song is so great (thanks to Frank Black for bringing it to my attention!) that I have no real need to delve into Norman's other work (plus he's one of those Jesus People hippies, and I'm a little afraid if I dug around too deeply I'd find things that are offputting, y'know?).

But I didn't mind other Dar Williams songs I heard, even if I didn't pay close attention to them. I picked up a couple of her CDs during my thrift store scrounges to give to Erika, and sometimes (on "white woman nights," heh) I would put them on.

Then sometime really recently - maybe after I discovered that Dar Williams is coming to town - I heard and actually paid attention to "The Christians and the Pagans." It's an amazing song. It brings tears to my eyes. It's a powerful, very funny, and thoroughly enjoyable bit of songcraft.

Then I heard Williams' new album, and there's this ridiculously catchy, infectious pop anthem on it, "FM Radio." Which I can relate to completely, even though the references to early 70's culture, by co-writer Jill Sobule (who is a few years older than either Dar or myself) sort of predate me.

Anyhow, the slippery slope picked up steam heavily after that, and now there's a bunch of Dar Williams songs I'm in love with, spread throughout her career, and I'm totally excited that Erika and I are going to see her on Saturday. There's "Buzzer," about the Stanley Milgram experiments. There's a more recent song, also off Emerald, called "Mad River." There's "The Mercy of the Fallen" - that's a great live version of the song, by the way, and it's popped up on some of Dar's recent setlists, so here's hoping she plays it Saturday. Even songs like "The Babysitter's Here" are amazing to me, in spite - no, because - of the fact that it is about experiences I have nearly no reference point for, since I am not female and never really had any babysitters that mattered to me that I remember... It has ceased to be about sharing with Erika, or wanting to have common ground with her, or whatever; Berrigans or not, I'm now a full blown Dar Williams fan, convinced that Williams is way up there as a songwriter, maybe not QUITE on the level of Townes van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, or, say, Phil Ochs... but very nearly (I'm just not going to deal with Bob, here, okay? Let me off the Bob hook). And, like, Townes and Ochs are dead (and Kris is feeling mortal), so I'm getting close to being able to say, male or female, Dar Williams is one of the greatest American singer/ songwriters alive today... in fact, I think I say that in the intro to an upcoming Big Takeover piece that I did, with material that didn't pop up in my article for the Georgia Straight.

The irony is, I didn't manage to find room in either article for the part of the conversation that dealt with the Berrigans - the main reason I wanted to talk to her, but maybe not the best-known of her songs. Here are a few outtakes then, from my October 12th conversation with Ms. Williams (she is a great interview, by the way). Very excited about Saturday's show!
Allan: I’m an admirer of the Berrigan brothers, and that I know of, you’re the only person who has written a song about them.

Dar: I don’t know if I’m the only one! That’d be nice. But they are a pulse, and I’m glad I did it, because everybody knows them. It’s like, you read about them, but everybody knows them and knows their family and their work.
Allan: Absolutely. I grew up as a punk kid in Vancouver, and there were some people here who went to jail for so-called terrorist actions. And there was some graffiti that was spray painted on a wall on Commercial Drive for a really long time, “Jail the Real Terrorists - Litton, Hydro, Red Hot Video,” who were companies this group had done direct actions against. And it seems to have been paraphrasing something that Phil Berrigan wrote about them. He apparently said that blowing things up is wrong, but at the same time, you had to bear in mind who the real terrorists were. Jail the real terrorists.
Dar: Perfect, yeah.
Allan: Did you ever play the song for them? I mean, Philip’s gone now, but…
Dar: I played the song at Daniel’s 80th birthday.
Allan: Oh wow.
Dar: I met him, and I know Phil’s son. I’ve met all three of Phil’s kids, and I met Jerry, the oldest brother, I just met his daughter in Syracuse New York. Actually, can I tell you something great? Catholic Worker Houses were founded by Dorothy Day, so there’s an AIDS hospice Catholic Worker House that these guys work at, that these two men founded, and it’s called Friends of Dorothy. Which is great. So half of the décor is Dorothy Day, and half of it is Wizard of Oz. So all of that wonderful gayness is right in there in a Catholic Worker House, and it’s just the most beautiful thing. And that is the place that served as a hospice to Jerry Berrigan where he died [in July of 2015, at age 95]. He was the oldest, the one who didn’t get arrested [at least not til 2011, at age 91, protesting Reaper drones].
Allan: And your birth name is Dorothy, too…

Dar: Yes! (laughs). And… Friends of Dorothy is code for gay! I don’t know if you’ve heard that expression before. If someone’s a friend of Dorothy, it means he’s gay.

Allan: Did Daniel Berrigan have any particular reactions to hearing the song?

Dar: He said in some ways he liked it better than the action itself!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Little Shop of Horrors: Directors Cut to screen in Vancouver (plus links to recent writing)

The Vancity Theatre's Tom Charity asked me today if I'd seen the director's cut of Little Shop of Horrors, and I looked at him blankly.

You might be surprised to discover that I love Little Shop of Horrors. (I'm talking about the 1986 film by Frank Oz, not the original Roger Corman film, which I've never seen). I don't normally show much enthusiasm for musicals, for one thing, unless you count Marat/ Sade. But Little Shop of Horrors is up there with the original, non-African Americanized version of Death at a Funeral as being one of my very favourite Frank Oz movies. It's sick, subversive, funny, inventive, and beautifully designed - it's sort of a period piece, referencing the culture and fashions (and musicals) of the 50's and 60's. If you can forgive some hamminess from Steve Martin (as a sadist with a dream job) and Bill Murray (as his masochistic client), it's even actually pretty restrained, all things considered, telling the story of a loser named Seymour (Rick Moranis) who, in order to win the affections of the girl he loves, Audrey (Ellen Greene) ends up feeding a couple of people to a carnivorous houseplant - it's sort of a leafy deal with the devil. Said plant is actually, as the songs have it, a "mean green mutha from outer space" (whose singing voice happens to be that of Levi Stubbs, of the Four Tops). It's come to earth as part of a plan for world domination, and has played poor Seymour perfectly.
If the above sounds entertaining to you, I guarantee you, it is. If the idea of people singing songs about discovering that they have to nurture their favourite plant with blood - before proceeding to do so - sounds perversely appealing, you need to see this film, if you haven't already. And if you like your musicals to end happily, with love more-or-less winning out over carnivorous botany, the theatrical version of the film will be screening as part of an October 31 matinee (4pm actually) at the Vancity Theatre, ahead of a trippy-sounding documentary about slime molds (The Creeping Garden), an artful Chinese/ Taiwanese/ Hong Kong martial arts movie called The Assassin, directed by the esteemed Hou Hsiao-Hsien; and for the evening's close, John Carpenter's must-see anti-captialist fable They Live. Those without plans for Halloween who like the idea of sitting in the most comfortable theatre in town taking in four great movies in a row should be sure to be there.
But if you want to see THE DIRECTOR'S CUT of Little Shop of Horrors, with its vastly darker, sicker, weirder, and much, much funnier ending - which includes nods to the Ray Harryhausen classic, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, with giant killer plants stalking the streets of New York...  then you need to go to the 10:30 screening on the night of the 30th. I watched it tonight - went right out and bought it, after learning of it from Tom, and ooh, is it a treat. Test audiences in the 1980's decided it was a bummer, and the final 20 minutes were completely rejigged (while salvaging most of the "Mean Green Mutha From Outer Space" sequence, thankfully), but it's a much more daring, playful, ridiculous, and movie-geek-friendly ending (because who doesn't love a good Ray Harryhausen reference?).
More to come on upcoming film and music fare. People following my other writing can read four other things online today: my reviews of DOA's new album, the Binz' new EP, my interview with Dar Williams about her show on Saturday in Vancouver, and my feature on War Baby (playing tomorrow at the Hindenburg; War Baby highly advise you to attend early - get there by 9 - since the openers will be doing some really fun stuff, apparently... which I will not disclose). Suffice it to say, it's been a busy week.

More to come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Elizabeth Fischer's final posts

Elizabeth Fischer with the Animal Slaves, by bev davies

Hey, I didn't know about this. The last few Facebook posts from Elizabeth Fischer weren't on her page, but here. It was a private group until very near the end. Presumably she kept her appointment and is no longer with us; people have asked me for more details, but until now, I haven't heard any.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth. (Um, does anyone have a CD rip of Dog Eat Dog I could bum?).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Congrats, Mr. Trudeau!

What a dignified and inspiring acceptance speech last night!

I won't tease you any more about Triumph of the Ignoroids, promise. In fact, I'm feeling quite hopeful. It's almost like Obama deja vu...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why I want Justin Trudeau to win...

...Because I really like the idea of his Mom's beaver having been on the cover of a DOA album!
Apparently Nardwuar was flashing this album at Justin Trudeau when they spoke. I haven't looked at the video of it yet but it is online. I suspect there may be hip flips involved. There are also links of Nardwuar with Thomas Mulcair and on his inability to get Stephen Harper to play along. All future elections in Canada should be decided by how well people respond to Nardwuar.
By the way, the new DOA album is really pretty good! It's not classic DOA, but you know what, I've had enough of classic DOA to last me, I think. I'd kinda like it if DOA did a "Best Of" show of their post-1984 material - if they opened their set with their "Folsom Prison Dirge," say, followed by "Burn It Down" and maybe a couple of the better songs off Let's Wreck the Party ("Our World," say. Great song, never heard it live.) Or what about some of the forgotten songs of yore? Haven't seen them do "Rich Bitch" at any show I've been to in the last ten years. Don't recall ever hearing Chuck Biscuits' "Last Night." Or - what the fuck was "Kill Kill This is Pop," off the Vancouver Complication, anyhow? I don't even know who sings that one (Randy? It doesn't sound like Joe). And I guess Joe must be embarrassed about some of his recent stuff, like his Star Trek song, "Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty And Bones," which is actually really quite fun, because that doesn't seem to end up on set lists either... I just don't really need to hear "2+2" or "The Prisoner" or "World War III" again, y'know? Although the new lineup is pretty blistering, actually, so I'm sure they'd do these songs justice, and I wouldn't complain about stuff off War on 45, of course. I might just make it to the Rickshaw for the show November 7th...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Strategic Voting With Gerry Hannah: 2008 interview redux

Since, God help us, the article has become relevant once again, I am electing (with Gerry's blessing) to re-post it.

The last time I put this interview on my blog, back in 2008, a shitstorm ensued, with various hostile/ stalkerly/ defamatory comments following from people with a bone to pick with Mr. Hannah. It was pretty interesting, but also crossed various lines, and I ended up removing a whole bunch of stuff - this interview, and follow-ups - from sight.

A polite note to commenters: this time around, I won't publish anything defamatory or hostile that you might write - so save yourself  the typing, eh? I wasn't actively moderating comments back then. I am now. Feel free to address any of the political issues at hand, but venture into waters ad-hominem, and you will be filtered, you will be censored, you will be shown the door. No one will read them but me, and maybe Gerry and/or his legal representatives, if it should come to that!

You can read Gerry's current declamations against Stephen Harper (which focus on Harper's relationship with the state of Israel) here. You can still buy his most recent album, Coming Home, at Red Cat - they have a couple of copies on CD; you can hear the songs on his bandcamp page. Gerry and I talk about that, the end of the Subhumans, and other matters of note here.

And now, the old interview. I'll skip the previous preamble. Once again, this is from 2008, but there are some things that clearly haven't changed much...
Gerry Hannah at the WISE Hall, 2015, by bev davies

Allan: Do you normally vote strategically? I normally would vote for the Greens or the NDP, but “strategic voting” in my riding means voting for Hedy Fry and the Liberals, which I probably wouldn’t be doing. It’s not what I think of as my politics.

Gerry: Of course, but let’s assume that the NDP jibed quite nicely with your politics three years ago. Does that mean that the NDP will always jibe quite nicely with your politics, or is it possible that the party that you choose as being closest to your politics may vary, with your politics, to some extent, as time goes on? For me that’s a valid question, that I always consider, you know.

Allan: You don’t want to be too loyal to any one party.

Gerry: Yeah, I’m not loyal to any one party. I’m still a card-carrying member of the NDP, and there are lots of people in the NDP that I really admire and respect, and if you asked me who I was voting for eight years ago or ten years ago it would have been the NDP... although I did always reserve the right to vote strategically if it really mattered. Here, where I live, we’re fucked anyways - I mean, the Conservatives are going to get in, no question about it, but the next party that comes closest to being able to mount a challenge to them is the NDP, so I probably will be voting for the NDP candidate in my riding this time. However, in this particular election, if the person that was closest to being able to provide a real challenge to them was a Liberal, I would vote Liberal. If it were a Green Party person, I’d vote for them, though normally I wouldn’t vote for the Green Party, because I like the “green” aspect of their policies, but that’s the only aspect of their policies I really like; I don’t think they really have an understanding of worker’s rights and things like that. I don’t think they have a, a kind of a -

Allan: A fully-developed platform.

Gerry: A fully-developed platform, or a real historical analysis of class struggle. And I think that it’s really important to have that, when you’re talking large-scale politics. But anyways - this election I feel that it’s so potentially dangerous, there’s so much at risk here - moreso than there has been in Federal Canadian politics for a long, long time... I mean, we have the most right-wing political party potentially about to form a majority government that we’ve had in my lifetime, probably, y’know? I mean, one could argue that Mulroney’s government was quite right-wing, but they were right wing in a different way. Their economic policies were definitely what’s called neo-liberal - they had that whole kind of “free hand of the market, free trade, let the chips fall-where they may” thing going on -

Allan: “Small government.”

Gerry: Small government, yeah. Small government is such a bunch of bullshit! When they’re talking “small government,” they’re not talking about “small military” or “small police force,” they’re talking about small regulatory agencies that actually try to deal with corruptness in our society, to make sure that robber barons don’t spring up all over the place and bilk everybody. When they’re talking “small government,” that’s what they mean.

Allan: “Let’s just get out of the way of business and let them do what they want.”

Gerry: That’s exactly what they’re saying. Until such a time as business really horribly screws up, in their infinite greed, and then let’s bail them out with your money.

Allan (laughs): A very timely observation.
Gerry Hannah with the Subhumans at the Lamplighter, by Allan MacInnis

Gerry: So one could argue that Mulroney’s government had neoliberal economic policies - no doubt about that; in fact, they introduced them, probably, in a forceful way, for the first time on the Canadian stage - the most forceful way, probably. Now, of course, the current Conservative Party under Harper have the same policies - probably even more extreme, I would think. But they also have an axe to grind, unlike the Tories under Mulroney. I think the Tories were basically businesspeople, who wanted to help businesspeople, and they were rich, and they wanted to help rich people - their class, their friends, the people they went to college with. With the Conservatives under Harper, and with people like Stockwell Day and stuff, it’s a different animal altogether. They have an axe to grind with the 1960’s and everything that came out of the 1960’s. They want to roll back everything that happened as a result of the 1960’s. When the rest of us were sitting around in the rec room listening to Jimi Hendrix or Deep Purple and smoking dope, the people that are in that party were sitting their with their hands folded with their bowties on listening to a speech by Preston Manning and worshipping the ground he walked on. They’re a different animal altogether. They have this incredibly strong ideological desire to turn around all of the progressive gains in the ‘60’s and since the ‘60’s in our society.

Allan: Yes.

Gerry: And even before that. If you look back at Stephen Harper’s old comments that he was making in the late 90’s, he was attacking the health care system in Canada. He obviously has a real hate-on for Tommy Douglas, and the CCF and even the Liberals, where they were prepared to implement some of what Harper and Preston Manning and so forth consider to be “socialist” policies. Which is interesting in my mind, because the Conservatives always talk about how they’re staunchly pro-Canadian and they want to maintain a distinction between Canada and the United States, but the truth is, all the things they want to get rid of, basically, are the things that distinguish us.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Like universal health care and our tolerant attitude towards new ideas - not these kind of rigid puritanical notions of sexuality and so forth. So I think this is a very dangerous time. I don't want to appear to be alarmist, but I feel we really could be in for a very nasty surprise should the Conservatives form a majority government. People have been criticizing them in the media lately for not outlining their poltical platform to the extent other parties have done, right, but I think there's probably a reason for that: were they completely and honestly outline their platform, I think a large majority of Canadians would throw their hands up in horror and say, "We're not voting for these fascists!" ...so that's why you don't hear much on the policy front, I think - you know?

Allan: Part of the problem may be that I travel in a fairly small social circle of people that are like-minded, but it seems to me that everything you saying about Stephen Harper just screams out from him. These are all very obvious and true observations, and it really confuses me that he has support. What the fuck are people thinking?

Gerry: Well that is an interesting question. And the problem is, it's really hard to find that out in a factual way, like, to do some kind of scientific survey, and find out why he has even any support. But certainly there are a few contributing factors that we can look at, that are pretty obvious. One of the main contributing factors is that the Liberals and to some extent the NDP have shot themselves in the foot so badly. The Liberals shot themselves in the foot horribly when they decided to get Stephane Dion to be their leader. Nothing against the man - you know what, I think he's probably a really nice guy -

Allan: (giggles).

Gerry: I'm quite serious! I'm not fooling around, I think he's probably a really nice guy - and I think he's very politically aware; he probably knows his history quite well, and he probably believes (and I think this isn't a bad thing to believe) that he can, or that the party can, under his leadership, give the greatest number of Canadians the kind of government that they want. But the problem is - unfortunately; this is a horrible thing; this is what the world has become - he's not very saleable to the Canadian public. And that unfortunately damaged the Liberals in a big way, and the media of course has had a field day with this. They've done everything in their power to make him look like an absolute nerdy git, who is kind of bumbling, can't speak English very well, is kind of clueless and fumbling around... I haven't looked into it very carefully, because I'm not a very big Liberal supporter, but I suspect that the guy is probably not at all like that. He probably knows his way around the issues as well as Jack Layton does, and obviously far better than Stephen Harper could ever imagine knowing his way around the issues. Because Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day and that whole little gang of cronies, besides their little ideology that they know a great deal about and have got together so tightly and well-rehearsed, they know nothing about anything else. They've just closed their eyes to anything that's outside their tiny little narrow sphere of interest. But I think somebody like Stephane Dion, I get the sense that he knows a lot about the world and what's going on around him; he knows a little bit about the Middle East, and the history of American foreign policy and the history of democracy in Canada and things like that. But I just don't think he's saleable. And there's a couple of reasons he's not saleable besides the fact that he doesn't speak English fabulously - to me, that hardly matters, but it's something that the opposition and media to play on. But I don't think it was the right time to ask Canadians - particularly Canadians in the west - to accept another Francophone leader. I don't think it was well-timed. It would have been better to put a little bit more distance behind Jean Chretien before eastern Canada asked western Canada to swallow that pill again. Again, to me, it doesn't matter - I don't give a damn whether the leader of the country speaks great English or whether their first language is French or not. But I can see that it matters a lot to a lot of western Canadians. They're mistrustful of the fact that every second Prime Minister, practically, in Canada, ends up being Francophone. They see that as Quebec getting more than its fair share as a province of political favours...

Allan: So we get Harper as "the voice of western alienation."

Gerry: That's right, even though he's from Ontario, oddly enough... So I think the Liberals chose the wrong leader, and that really fucked them up.

Allan: How are you doing with Jack Layton these days?

Gerry: Well, we'll get into that later, that's a big issue. There's going to be something going up on my blogspot in the next few weeks about that. You know where I'm going with that one... but just to finish off with the Liberals: I don't know if Lloyd Axworthy was interested in the position or not - probably not, but I don't know - but if they had selected a leader like Lloyd Axworthy or maybe even Bob Rae, I think they would have gotten way further. I don't think there would even have been a question of whether the Conservatives were going to get a majority or not - I think the best the Conservatives could have hoped for was a minority. And its quite likely it would have been a Liberal minority government...

Allan: Right.

Gerry: But the majority of Canadians... When you add the Liberals and the NDP and the Greens together, the majority of Canadians prefer something at least slightly left of centre. And here we are about to get an incredibly right-of-centre government. What it means is that if the Conservatives do end up getting a majority government, they'll govern as if they have an incredibly strong mandate. I mean, Stephen Harper even said in the press the other day that if they got two minority goverments, that's a pretty strong mandate. I say bullshit - it's not a strong mandate at all. The first time they got elected as a minority government, it was basically because the Liberals were doing so horribly because of their scandals from the Paul Martin/ Jean Chretien days; they were doing poorly in the polls, and that's precisely the moment where the NDP and the Bloc Québécois decided to conspire with the Conservatives to bring the Liberals down. And that's how the Conservatives got their squeaky-thin margin of a minority government. There's no mandate there at all. And if they get voted in this time around, again, it'll be a pathetic mandate. This is a scientific experiment, this is laboratory stuff - this isn't just Gerry Hannah voicing his bizarre airy-fairy opinion; just look at this as if it's a scientific experiment in a laboratory. The three parties - the NDP, the Liberals, and the Greens together make up a much larger percentage of the Canadian vote than the Conservatives do, right, and they're all slightly left of center. Or you could say the Liberals are centre and the NDP and the Greens are left of centre. So we're talking centre or left of centre - that's what the majority of Canadians want.

Allan: Except it's split three ways.

Gerry: Yeah. I mean, basically, the left of centre parties are facing the same problem that the Reform Party and the Conservative Party faced, whatever it was, six years ago... Now they're in the same boat. But basically my point is that even if the Conservatives get a majority government - a squeaky-thin majority government - still, the majority of Canadians don't favour a far right government. That's clear - all you have to do is look at the percentages that favour which parties. It's clear from looking at that. Only a person who has some serious mental deficiencies could look at it any other way.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Or a liar. Somebody might look at it and lie straight-faced about it... So if Harper gets a majority government, he's going to pretend that he's got an incredibly strong mandate, just like George Bush did back when he got elected in 2000. He immediately governed as if he'd had the strongest mandate that a president had ever had, and he had no mandate.

Allan: He had basically stolen the vote.

Gerry: He stole the vote, or even if you don't want to say he stole the vote, he barely got elected. The popular vote was definitely not in his favour. So these people that just barely get into office and then promptly proclaim, "Now we have an incredibly strong mandate from the Canadian people to make abortion illegal, to make same-sex marriage absolutely illegal across Canada, to slash-and-burn arts funding, to put a gun in every house in Canada and to fund the military beyond our wildest dreams" and so on and so forth - it's a bunch of bullshit. They don't have a mandate to do any of that stuff. All one has to do is look at the percentages. They would be wise to be humble about their position and realize that the only reason they're in there is because the other parties don't have their shit together.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: And that brings me on to the NDP, and why it wouldn't bother me so much if I had to vote Liberal right now to keep the Conservatives out. It wouldn't bother me so much, I wouldn't be going, "Oh my God, the NDP is my chosen party and here I am having to vote for a Liberal because I'm so desperate to keep the Conservatives out." I feel strongly that the NDP under Jack Layton's guidance have really shot themselves in the foot and, not only that, have let down the Canadian public, in a big way. And that was when they conspired with Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois to bring down the Paul Martin Liberal government, with the Conservatives. To me - there are a lot of ways to go about becoming the official opposition for the first time in history, but to bring in the most right wing government is not one of them. That's going way too far. That's no longer - in my mind, that goes beyond the dynamics of trying to build a party and it goes into the "raw ambition" mode.

Allan: It's speaks of opportunistic careerism and "Canada can pay the bill for my political career."

Gerry: Very well put! You should be doing an interview with yourself - I could not have said it better, probably no one could say it better! That's exactly what it is - it's a very self-serving move. He's not serving Canada by doing that - he's serving Jack Layton. And maybe the NDP. And I am really disappointed about that. I think it was just a terrible, terrible thing to do. People that have supported NDP for years and years - I mean, my family has supported the NDP since before I was born; my Mom's father was a CCF'er from way back when. My Dad could basically be considered a small-left socialist way back when. They were total NDP supporters, through thick and thin. And not only did the NDP let down Canadians in general, but they let down NDP supporters who would never have dreamed that an NDP leader could conspire with a basically fascist-lite leader ot bring in a fascist government! I mean, that is just bullshit - it's totally unacceptible. I'm not trashing the NDP here and saying they could never be a viable party again, but I'm saying, "Give your head a shake!" This is a betrayal.

Allan: By the way, as you're saying all that, I would love to hear the Subhumans perform "Behind the Smile" someday and dedicate it to Jack Layton.

Gerry (laughs).

Allan (laughing): Sorry.

Gerry: I don't want to get too personal about Jack Layton... Although unfortunately, he's getting pretty personal (in his campaign), that's what I see. I mean, I don't approve of Gilles Duceppe's strategy either, which is basically "busting the country up." Although if you overlook Bloc Quebecois being basically a separatist party and look at their take on class analysis and things like that, they're actually fairly brilliant. I agree with a lot of their policies. I can see why Margaret Atwood said if she was in Quebec she'd vote Bloc Quebecois. I don't think, as the right-wing pundits are trying to make her out to be, that she's trying to break up Canada at all - that's not what she's saying at all. She's saying that they're very progressive on many levels.

Allan: Yeah.

Gerry: Oh, I just wanted to say something more about Jack Layton. Somebody said - one of the Liberals; it might even have been Stephane Dion - referred to the current state we find ourselves in - the current state of the Conservative party and the fact that they're the government in Canada right now - as "the House that Jack built."

Allan (laughing): Great!

Gerry: It hits the nail right on the head. Jack Layton would argue that this he's trying to build a party that one day can form the government of Canada. But what do you have to do to justify the process? The ends do not justify the means, in my opinion.

Allan: Well, you know what... if he ends up the Prime Minister and starts providing a whole lot of progressive policies, maybe the ends DO justify the means, but I just don't think that's how this story is going to end.

Gerry: That's never how these things work out. They never work out like that. By the time you do a bunch of things that aren't really morally acceptible - by the time you sacrifice other people's freedoms and rights and well-being, so that you can make this wonderous thing come about - in the process of doing that you taint yourself forever. And so by the time you become the Great Leader, you're no longer the person you were, twenty years ago, when you really did have some really progressive sharp ideas and moral integrity - you no longer carry that with you, because you've tainted yourself, you've sullied yourself by making these basically ambitious moves. That will be the end of the story. I think that's what has to happen... As long as America is pursuing the kind of foreign policy that it's pursued in the last 60 years, there isn't a hope in hell of the NDP forming a government in Canada. Not one that would last more than a year, and then there'd be another no confidence motion. The Republicans, for instance, could just not tolerate the NDP being their nextdoor neighbours. There's no way. But let's imagine in some kind of bizarre fantasy that the American empire falls apart and has no power to meddle in Canadian politics - and the NDP somehow did form a government: the only way that could happen would be if people - Canadians! - actually became more politically aware, and they actually knew who was serving their best interest, and who wasn't. Who was just talking trash, and who was willing to go out on the line for them. And then they might go, "Oh, the obvious choice is the NDP." And that's the only way the NDP is going to become the government in this country - and it would probably require a string of flukes - fluky, unforseen catastrophies. Maybe Stephen Harper would be caught servicing the current American president in the Oval Office, like Monica Lewinsky, or something like that. And that might turn some heads in the more staunch bastions of Conservative support in this country... I'm being silly, but I mean, there would have to be a series of unforseen things happen -

Allan: Acts of God.

Gerry: Yes. That would actually open people's eyes, and they'd go, "oh, this party doesn't speak for me. Okay, I agree with some of things they say, and on a couple of levels they're willing to talk about things that other parties just won't even talk about, because they're not afraid of being politically incorrect - and maybe that's a good thing, on some levels - but their agenda behind all this is horrrendous, and I don't want this for my country, right? Whereas this party, I think would be answerable to me, if they were in government." And if that were the NDP, I could see that would be the time the NDP maybe got that position. I don't see the NDP as weaselling their way into this position now. In order for the NDP to be the next government of Canada, if they have to become as wishy-washy as the Liberals or as downright brutal as the Conservatives, then why would a person like me, or you, or whoever else - progressive people - want to vote for them anymore?

Allan: Out of belief that they might actually be more progressive once they're in power.

Gerry: That's a huge gamble.

Allan: I agree. But I really don't want to vote for the Liberals...

Gerry: Everybody's gotta do what they've gotta do. It's too bad Libby Davies wasn't in your riding, it'd be a simple vote. You're saying you're in Hedy Fry's riding?

Allan: Yeah. The NDP candidate is Michael Byers, who is a new guy.

Gerry: He doesn't have that much support in the riding?

Allan: I don't think so. I don't really know.

Gerry: But it's a contest between the Liberals and Conservatives?

Allan: I believe so.

Gerry: Then I'd vote Liberal without batting an eye. I only say that, Allan - I'll reiterate it - because I feel that this is a crucial time.

Allan: Would rather see Stephane Dion in than Jack Layton?

Gerry: No, I wouldn't say that. I'd way rather see him in than Stephen Harper. I'd rather see the Rhino Party in than Stephen Harper, or the Marijuana Party! Anybody but them, practically - anybody but them!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Vangiv'er: Benefit Concert for the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Well, TWO interesting things are happening on October 15th. Elizabeth Fischer is checking in to the clinic (Swiss time) to make her quietus, and there's a vastly under-promoted show at the Biltmore featuring a whole cornucopia of cool local bands, including Roots Roundup, Ford Pier, and Joe Keithley...! Spread the word, because this show is not so well known about...

Gang of Four Tuesday

So I got invited to the Gang of Four show at the Venue on Tuesday (technically tonight as I write this). I hadn't planned to go, but now am very curious to see what it might sound like. It's arguable whether it's "really" Gang of Four, anymore - it's Andy Gill and three other people, none original members, very different from the reunited lineup that many Vancouverites saw a few years ago at a very memorable show at the Commodore... though the process of replacement was gradual, reminding me of an old lecture from SFU's Norman Swartz, as part of his metaphysics class, where he posited a circumstance by which a ship, restored many times over the years, has lost all its original pieces, but is still, because of an unbroken continuity of identity through time, the same ship; whereas if someone took all the discarded pieces and re-assembled them, it would not be. Regardless, it's been interesting catching up on their recent history: apparently after their previously mentioned comeback tour, the rhythm section left. That included Dave Allen, later of Shriekback; his basslines were a big part of the appeal of both bands for me, I must admit (especially on Shriekback's Care, say; he's right up there with the Animal Slaves' Rachel Melas for me, as one of my favourite bassists). Having recruited new members, Gill and original vocalist Jon King recorded a comeback album, Content, as Gang of Four; then King - who memorably treated a microwave oven as a percussion instrument at the Commodore, beating the shit out of it with a baseball bat - decided he didn't want to tour anymore and left as well. So sayeth Wikipedia, anyhow; there might be more to the story. Gill recruited other singers, and recorded yet another Gang of Four album, which, of course, a bunch of people have said shouldn't be called a Gang of Four album at all.

Maybe not, but here's the interesting bit: of the comebacks, I'm actually more drawn to the one WITHOUT King, What Happens Next. (You can hear the whole album here). I think it's a stronger album - dark, danceable, and compelling, a very confident album considering; King actually seems a bit tentative, weirdly enough, on Content (understand that I have listened to both albums only in part and for the first time just today). There's one or two tracks on the new one that I don't like too much ("The Dying Rays"), and it doesn't much sound like any version of the Gang of Four that we've had in the past (though there are a few different versions of the band to choose from, remember, some of which also didn't much sound like the others)... but people who want smart, potent music to dance to could do a lot worse. And the Venue would be a great, uh, venue, for this kind of music, really.

So now I'm thinking this could be a really cool show, whether or not it's really only Gang of Andy Gill. I mean, who cares? I've seen the Gang of Four reunion tour already. If this is something else, so be it - as long as it's something GOOD, which I'm kinda feeling it might be...!

More to come...

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hinds, Black Lips, and Ariel Pink - a brief show review

Jeez, I gotta get my head out of the death-spin here... Went to see Hinds, The Black Lips and Ariel Pink at the Rickshaw the other night. Hinds were a lot of fun - they're a Spanish band who changed their name from Deers after legal issues with Montreal band Dears, remember that? Their stage presence was every bit as charming as their letter announcing the change, and any band who ends the night with a cover of Thee Headcoats' "Davey Crockett" is going to make me love them no matter what. Seemed like really, really nice people, very friendly and happy to be onstage. Maybe they're not exactly the most deft musicians out there, but it's garage rock, and hell, their drummer looked barely fifteen (super cute, though - am I allowed to say that? I don't mean it lecherously, I mean she looked young enough for me to imagine her through paternal eyes). Apparently Nardwuar - present through the night - did an interview with them at a tiki lounge, which I'm sure will be out there somewhere in a few days time... (Happy Thanksgiving, Nardwuar! Enjoy your dinner!).
Black Lips only did a couple songs I could recognize. Believe it or not, I'm relatively new to them, one of a few great bands I'm playing catch up with lately - but they are obviously great at what they do, inspiring lots of crowd-surfing and enthusiasm in the packed pit and performing with all the enthusiasm of, uh, a performing rock band. I was suffering a hella allergy attack, prompted by the dry ice, I think, so maybe didn't do them total justice; fun as the encore of "Bad Kids" was - with bev throwing her arms up above her head when it came on and announcing the title to me, though it is one of their songs I know - I kind of enjoy listening to their albums in the living room more, since the whole of their creativity is more apparent when you can appreciate the lyrics and the sonic details, which are actually pretty rich considering they're also more or less a garage rock band. Great band, anyhow. My fogeyism is now sufficient that I think things like, "it's nice that so many young people are listening to good music these days." Aww.
Ariel Pink debuted with an ethereal, transfixing piece of abstract art that appealed to me as much as it alienated bev, who was shooting; then moved to something far more like a conventional pop song, which was the mode he stayed in for the next while. I had found my way to a seat to close my eyes and listen, so cool, complex, and weird was that first song, but then ended up leaving early - allergies, and I'd had my fill. He's obviously a very creative/ unique musician but the personal hook just wasn't there (though if he'd stayed in the mode of that first song, I'd have signed on as a lifer, I think; it was one of the most singular and strange musical experiences I've had, sort of New Picnic Time Ubu meets Shockabilly to do a fusion jam). Apologies to "the other David," because other than the creative stage sets - blue and yellow polkdot cardboard mountains and a matching bust of the Virgin Mary (briefly typo'd as "matching bush!") - I saw no sign of the promised Zappa parallels. I mean, there's nothing of later smartass rock Zappa, nothing of classical composer Zappa, nothing of Hot Rats 70's jazz jam Zappa... maybe there's a smidgen of ironic 60's pastiche, as with We're Only In It For The Money, but even that... naaaah. Ariel Pink and Zappa, you're going to have to explain it to me sometime. Which Zappa are we talking, for one? And which Pink?
Apparently Anton of Brian Jonestown Massacre doesn't like Zappa at all, did you know? But bev, who told me this, didn't know why. Anyhow, a great show. Apparently Black Lips will be playing Seattle on a bill with a bunch of Chinese bands this week (also something bev told me). Wish them a fun set, wonder if Carsick Cars are playing. Sorry for the bad pics - bev's are better but I only got what I got, Rickshaw security was actually policing cellphone pictures!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

RIP Steve Mackay

There are certain bits of rock and roll that end up buried so deep in your brain you don't even remember they're there, but they always are: indelible marks on the soul, but in a good way. Iggy Pop bellowing, "Blow, Steve!" in the Stooges' "Fun House" is one of them. That song boasts one of the greatest uses of saxophone in rock ever, by me.

Rest in peace, Steve Mackay. It's hard to believe that of the Stooges lineup I saw in Seattle a few years ago it's only Iggy and Watt that endure.

Really feel mortality creeping up these days...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

An early memorial for Elizabeth Fischer!

Animal Slaves by bev davies: L-R Rachel Melas, Ross Hales, Elizabeth Fischer

This is odd, but I guess I'm writing an obit for someone who is still alive, and might actually get to read it. Very startled to discover that The Globe and Mail ran an interview with Elizabeth Fischer yesterday talking about her terminal lung cancer and her decision to opt for assisted suicide in Europe, which will be happening in a few day's time (October 15th). I had somehow missed the news previously. I don't know Elizabeth well, but I wanted her to know that I'm kind of floored and very saddened by this news, and that:

a) I still spin Animal Slaves' Dog Eat Dog from time to time, my favourite of the albums she's done, an artful, danceable, totally unique version of punk. If you don't know it, try here and here for starters. It's one of those slabs of vinyl you can get for fairly cheap at almost any Vancouver record store, and frankly I don't know why everyone in town doesn't own it, it's just great.

b) I have always found her an inspiring (if famously kinda cranky and slightly intimidating!) person, and have frequently read her writing when I come across it, in Western Front catalogues and such; besides her music, I've always admired her devotion to her art, her self-respect, her fortitude...

c) she and I have had many peripheral acquaintances and passed each other many times, starting at a house on Victoria and 33rd where she and the Animal Slaves used to jam, where I first met her, when I was a teenager; I remember her and Rachel Melas and a few other people trading Dr. Seuss-y rhymes about liking dykes, sitting around a kitchen table... That might have been the day I crashed there, after a Slow/ Cramps concert I went to. Fischer kind of intimidated me even then, but I had a few formative experiences at that house (as when the lesbian couple who lived there - and edited Open Road, an anarchist paper I sometimes read, during the time of the Squamish Five - traded me something-or-other for what turned out to be my first ever Minutemen album, The Punch Line). As a kid from Maple Ridge, that was one of my earliest experiences of that side of Vancouver culture, and it made a big impression...

d) Elizabeth is one of a few people in Vancouver whose presence at a gig always makes me feel like I'm at the right place, and I have a bit of a history of pointing her out to friends in slightly hushed tones (at the New Model Army show, at the first Red Herring reunion gig, at the Steven Nikleva show... "hey, look... it's Elizabeth Fischer"). It always cheers me up a little to see her. I mean, sometimes I say hi to her, but mostly not, since we don't really know each other or anything...

e) ...but I'm kind of kicking myself now for having not seen the Khats fest DarkBlueWorld performance. I forget why I missed it! Wish I hadn't.

I've always admired your strength to live on your own terms, Ms. Fischer, and I guess I admire your decision to die on them, too. It makes sense; I've watched my father die of cancer and it's not a good way to go. I've cried a little while writing this, to my surprise. Hope it's a great last week, that you're having a great time in Iceland, if that's where you are now.  Thanks for having been such an inspiring person. I'll miss pointing you out at shows.

Thanks, Billy Hopeless!

Thank you, Billy Hopeless, for recommending Dr. Donald Shuen (on West Broadway near Cypress, if anyone needs a skilled dentist). There's such a curve with dentists - there's some total hacks out there, indifferent and incompetent - so having a good one means a lot. Billy, you are now no longer "the guy who almost hit me with a thrown skateboard," but "the guy who recommended a killer dentist." Cheers.

(BTW Billy has a new split single coming out with the Hip Priests. Great song. It's held up at a pressing plant in Texas I gather. I have some writing pending on it, so I don't want to say more, but you can hear the song here).

Friday, October 09, 2015

Sicario is fantastic

Beautifully restrained, very dark, utterly gripping thriller, superbly photographed (Roger Deakins) and scored (Jóhann Jóhannsson). If you liked Prisoners, say, this is in a way a similar film, in that it uses a smaller-scale crime-centred canvas to make a film about post-9/11 America, with huge political implications; only this time - since the film involves the FBI, the CIA, and the "war on drugs," the politics are much more overt. Do not hesitate to see it (though there is some violence you may find objectionable; three people left the theatre where I saw it after a key scene at a dinner table...). It's the most artful film you're likely to see at  a megaplex this year, a total anomaly in some ways; Denis Villeneuve is quickly proving to be one of the greatest living filmmakers working in a commercial medium. Mexicans have been complaining about it a bit but the real "bad guy" of the movie, properly understood, is the United States, so I don't think they should take it too personally...

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Into the Forest plus Anomalisa (a late entry in the VIFF - attention Tom Noonan fans)

Finally caught up with Into The Forest today, which screened just in time for me to make it to work by 1pm. Nice film. It's kind of understated, but has all sorts of likeable things in it - from beautiful images of the Pacific Northwest to a politically sympathetic story of two sisters surviving after the lights go out, apparently for good. Ellen Page gives a strong performance, and gets to disembowel a pig (it's going to be fun for the interviewer who gets to ask her to tell that story; apparently it was a real dead pig, and she actually learned how to butcher it for the film, which takes... guts). Callum Keith Rennie is always welcome, too, though he basically is just a nice-guy dad, an easy enough role to play. I can see why the film has had underwhelming reviews, however; there's something about it that failed to engage me as deeply as I would have liked, a bit of an odd lack of impact, given how dramatic the subject matter is. There was nothing much to think about in regard to either of the main characters, who are quite straightforward and somewhat thinly-drawn; there was nothing much new or provocative said about environmental crises; and in key scenes, some of the music seemed to be overstating the emotions of its characters in ways that actually ended up flattening the effect (the most powerful scene takes place solely to the ticking of a metronome, but that's soon replaced by lush, melancholic strings... though the cover of Bowie's "Wild is the Wind" was pleasant enough to hear, I admit). My girlfriend loved it, but I can only say it was okay, a feminist-friendly, very Canadian end of the modern world movie. The best moment for me, in terms of appreciating the storytelling, was the "Pumpkin" envelope. Otherwise, well... it was merely okay.

Sorry, Ms. Rozema!

More intriguing is a late addition to the film festival, an animated (but not kid-oriented) feature directed by Charlie Kaufman where all voices, male and female, save that of the leads (David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh), are performed by... Tom Noonan? What?

I mean, I love Tom Noonan. I actually interacted with him briefly by email a long time ago, asking him about his more-or-less unscreened film Wang Dang and discussing a possible interview. It never happened. Both his films as director that you can see - What Happened Was and The Wife - are really worth it; and he's always interesting when he turns up as an actor, from Wolfen through Manhunter through recent genre fare like House of the Devil and Late Phases (where he's the best thing in either film). I believe there's even a direct Cassavetes connection, that Noonan acted in Gloria, but it's been a really long time since I've seen that film...

Anyhow, I'm probably not going to see Anomalisa, described above, since I have dental surgery tomorrow - and possibly a complex procedure,  at that, involving the removal of a tooth that I a) had filled decades ago; b) lost a big chunk of to an unpopped popcorn kernel last year; c) had, when the infection flared up anew, filled by a dentist I will never see again, who thought he had solved the problem (wrong!); and d) since have discovered is infected anew, with soft pus-filled swollen gums and a definite heat/cold sensitivity. I've taken far too many antibiotics in the hopes of taming the inflammation before getting it pulled. Hopefully I don't end up with septicemia or something. But it's there as an option for people looking for a VIFF film, at the Playhouse at 4pm. And you have one more chance to see the terrific Green Room, too.

That's probably it for me and the VIFF - but I was really glad to see a few films this year. Thanks to the VIFF people, to Tom Charity, and to all the volunteers and partners and supporters.

While I am complaining... where is my Hammer Halloween? Whaah.

...is it really true that no cinema in Vancouver is going to programme a bunch of classic Christopher Lee films in honour of his passing and/ or Halloween? (Or did the Rio do something? I didn't notice it, if so). The Wicker Man played not long ago at the Cinematheque, sure - but it's not actually a Hammer film, and Lee was still with us! So what about The Devil Rides Out and Taste the Blood of Dracula? Those are the two most fun Christopher Lee films I know... the Hammer version of The Mummy is pretty amazing, too, and Peter Cushing is in it with him...
By the way, tho' The Devil Rides Out is absent, all four of the films on the new Hammer Blu-Ray box are fantastic; Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is a must-see, as well, though it's Cushing-no-Lee. Somebody should be stocking this for Halloween (though that's a scandal, too: you can't even find a single Hammer Blu at HMV, what's with that? But I bet Videomatica is on the ball on this).
On the other hand, Hammer-philes,  you can find a really decent DVD of Revenge of Frankenstein at almost any London Drugs in Vancouver for a mere $5 (it's in their 2/$10 rack). A totally solid, enjoyable movie, again with Cushing. And speaking of cheap horror DVDs, as much as I don't want the competition for the good stuff, the Dollarama at Metrotown appears to have brought in a couple hundred cheap horror DVDs, which they're selling for $2 and $3 each; I bet other Dollaramas are following suit, too. Titles they have include the fascinating, evil semi-documentary S&Man, which features the horror-geek-beloved Carol J. Clover and is one of the few films I've seen that actively theorizes about itself while it's going on. And, say, I scored Grabbers, which is an Irish extraterrestrial invasion film where the locals of a besieged town discover that having alcohol in their blood protects them against the invaders. Like I say, it's Irish. There's a lot more - Tom Charity, I snagged an extra of Xan Cassavetes' vampire flick for you, Kiss of the Damned, which, despite the awful box art, looks to be pretty great. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Dear Viff...

First off, thank you for all your hard work in bringing all these wonderful films into Vancouver and letting me see so many of them. It's a great festival this year, and the only film I haven't enjoyed - High-Rise, seen today - was a film I was pretty much going to have to see anyhow at some point, no matter what. And I knew what I was in for, really, having read a few of JG Ballard's books and seen at least one Ben Wheatley film before, so it's not your fault (though more on that below).

However, I have a couple of suggestions. If, as with Into the Forest, a screening involves 45+ minutes of speeches and awards before the film proper starts, make sure that ticket sellers know this and tell buyers of it. I had allowed myself two hours before an early gig at the Biltmore was scheduled to start to see Into the Forest yesterday. I had no time beyond that to spare, was going to have to leave the theatre by 8 at the latest to make it to the venue, and even then would probably miss one of the three bands playing. At no point - and I asked the guy who was selling me the ticket, which I paid $16 for - was I told that I was going to be seeing 45 minutes of speeches; I asked, in fact, about the gala nature of the event, and he didn't even know if guests (like director Patricia Rozema) would be present (she was) or that they would be speaking both before and after the film, let alone that I was buying a ticket to an award ceremony. As it happens, I ended up having to leave the show before the film started, to make my show. Turns out that the gig was running late too - border messup, so I could have stayed; but I did not, could not have known this. It also happens that, along with a few other people whose schedules made it impossible for them to stay, that I got a couple of comps in exchange for the one purchased ticket, which is fine with me. But just so people can plan their schedules effectively, try to give ticket buyers a heads up when a film is to be prefaced by lengthy presentations; make sure vendors KNOW to point this out. I would never have bought the ticket in the first place had I known I wouldn't be able to see the film!

A second issue was raised by the digital projection of High-Rise at the Playhouse this afternoon. This one is actually a bit more serious, since as is not the case with Into the Forest, it was NOT handled well. About twenty minutes into the movie, the projector began to malfunction so that the previous five minutes of the film started to play as a sort of ghost image layered over the actual movie - a trippy, confusing, but mostly unwelcome effect that only really really stoned people in the audience (you know who you are) could have possibly thought deliberate. This ghost image layering went on long enough that the film actually caught up with the point when the misprojection began, I believe, and started playing the double layered image over the main image - three layers of movie, with the same characters at different points in the narrative (though only one layer of audio, mind you). It was totally confusing; the film isn't necessarily an easy one to follow even without such glitches, so at least some people - ie., me - were, by about ten minutes into the multiple-layered image, COMPLETELY LOST as to what was going on, what plot points had transpired, etc.

Okay, so glitches happen. Bizarre as this one was, we get it. We're prepared to forgive. But here's what you should know to do in such cases:

1. Stop the film ASAP, for Pete's sake! Don't assume that because one of the layers of the film is actually advancing the narrative, it's still possible or desirable for us to follow the film in this flawed state. As soon as the image of a film is MARKEDLY COMPROMISED, shut down the projection.

2. If you are doing this, promptly ANNOUNCE that you are stopping the film to deal with the damage; if you're not doing this, still let us know you're working on it. Don't let us sit there wondering if anyone knows what's going on for ten whole minutes, getting increasingly shaken and anxious as the problem is not resolved, and then brusquely brush off audience members (like, uh, me) who come up to check out if you realize what's happening. First stop the film, then say there's a technical difficulty, and ask us to wait. We will. We're nice people. We will understand.

3. When you restart the film, in this case, it's very important that you do it from a point BEFORE the damage rendered the film confusing and unwatchable, so we can re-enter the flow from the last point where we actually saw the properly projected image, where we were last following the story, where the confusion and stress of seeing things going wrong and helplessly wondering if anyone is doin' anything about it were not factors in our enjoyment of the movie.

Do not do what you did today: nothing, for ten minutes, then, when the problem was resolved, just let the film continue playing from whatever point it had gotten to, as if nothing had gone wrong, or as if maybe we hadn't noticed.

Mind you, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoyed High-Rise even if I had been able to follow it. All the same, my viewing of it never recovered from this glitch. Anything I didn't understand, from that moment forward, I wondered if it was because of a plot point I missed (it didn't help that the audio at the Playhouse isn't the greatest, such that I couldn't make out several lines of the British-accented dialogue, or that I eventually started doing the sleep-nod, finding it very hard to stay awake through the film once I'd gotten thrown from it).

I mean, thanks again, VIFFpeople, it's a great festival, but the last couple of screenings I've made it to could have been handled a little bit better... just some feedback, okay? No offense.