Sunday, August 27, 2017

Some other writing: Robin Bougie, David Bash, and Hans Fenger (soon)

Speaking of Charles Bronson, I recently talked with (the immensely likeable and talented, snazzy-dressin') Robin Bougie about Eli Roth's new Death Wish trailer/ remake (and some related issues). That's here. Still haven't seen the trailer for the Roth film, since I know I want to see the film. Sounds like the trailer is meant to be a thing in itself, though - and Roth has a fun way with trailers - so I might take a look at it sometime. I liked the Hostel movies, especially the second, an awful lot, and had fun with Knock Knock, his under-rated Keanu Reeves vehicle, so I count myself a fan; it's fun to know that he's a fan of Robin's.

Also, I talked with David Bash about the upcoming International Pop Overthrow, starting this week at the Fairview, here. I will probably check in to see the Wednesday show, at least up til Pill Squad (interviewed here). I've done other stuff on Bash before, and want to meet him. The full schedule for the 2017 Vancouver IPO can be found on the IPO website... If you haven't seen Cass King yet, you should...

Finally, people should keep an eye on the BC Musician website; soon enough, I'll have an interview with Hans Fenger, of the Langley Schools Music Project, online, plus record reviews of the Zellots single and of Bison's new album. That mag is really looking great these days.

I lost another Bison shirt, did I mention? But I already posted about it on social media, so it feels like it was ages ago (changed out of it at the Thursday Descendents gig, since it was soaked in sweat, but it must have fallen out of my bag on the way home. Goodbye, Wizard Staff).

What else? Apologies to Tobe Hooper, but I'm  not going to do a separate blog entry on him. I loved the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies - the second is very, very entertaining, in particular, playing the original for laughs in very creative ways. Hooper had a rocky career, and some of his later films, while containing definite elements of his aesthetic - I'm thinking Mortuary, in particular - didn't really work for me, but I greatly enjoyed Lifeforce, The Funhouse, and The Toolbox Murders, and eventually I'll get around to Eaten Alive again (a film I didn't think much of the one time I saw it, I think in Japan, but am curious to revisit).

All for now. I have other writing projects cooking, but they won't be for here, I don't think.

Have I mentioned that I've fallen in love with the music of Marshall Crenshaw? (In town September 17th at the Rickshaw, with David M opening!).

Strange Dreams of my Childhood Home

So (in real life) I go to see Swans. I've caught 3/4s of their Vancouver reunion shows. I had intended it to be a show I took Erika to - that was kind of the point - but she wasn't feeling up to it. And their music is so intense, so potent, it might not have been her thing anyhow.

I ended up giving away her ticket and going alone. I'm glad I did. It made the Descendents the other night look like greasy kidstuff (though it was really fun to sing along with "Silly Girl," a song I had no idea I remembered so much of). There was even one song that got me dancing, the extreme volume of the music facilitating a very intense physical engagement. I wore no earplugs. My hearing seems fine (or no more damaged than is its usual state).

Anyhow, I come home, and Erika and I watch a Walking Dead; I have a hot lemon relief for my sore throat; and - around 2 am - we go to bed. Somewhere in the night I wake up to pee, then return to bed. And there have a vivid dream.

The first part of the dream isn't so interesting; it had something to do with names, a discussion around names and conventions shortening them (from David to Dave? I don't really remember. Call me Al if you like).

But the strange dream, the one that has me writing was quite vivid: because I woke from that first dream to find myself in my childhood home in Richmond Court, in Maple Ridge. In my old bedroom. In my old bed.

I woke up to (once again) go pee, but I was now walking down the hall where I grew up. Nothing about the dream felt like a dream, no more than any other walk down a hallway in the place where you live: except I knew I was in a dream, was - a very rare thing in my adult life, though it once was my norm - entirely lucid. I was my present age - not returned to my childhood - and knew everything that had happened since; I wasn't travelling back to my childhood self - I was myself, Adult Al, and knew I was myself, and knew exactly where I was.

And, thus lucid, I realized that my parents would still be alive.

So I went into their room. Mom was in bed, bundled in her dark blue comforter. I said something to her - "hi Mom, I love you," or something like that.

She stirred. Woke up. She hadn't had her stroke yet. She was sleepy, but she came to and looked at me, asked me sleepily, in her normal voice, her voice untainted by stroke aphasia, if everything was all right.

I said it was fine, that I just wanted to tell her I loved her.

"I love you too!" A bit sleepy and surprised to have been wakened.

So I let her go back to sleep. I didn't really have anything else to say, anyhow.

Dad was there too - not in the bed, but maybe watching TV downstairs. I think I interacted with him a bit, too; I woke from this dream feeling like I had - but I don't remember it as clearly.

Soon enough, I woke back up into the real place where I was sleeping, and began to make notes in my head about the dream I had had, until, yep, I had to go pee once again (That hot lemon relief really makes you need to go!).

I think I've caught a cold - my throat is sore and my head feels a bit stuffy.

Think I'll take it easy today...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Walter Hill: What the Hell Happened?

What the hell went wrong with Walter Hill? Was it money? Success? Cocaine? Marriage? Complacency? A combination of all the above? What derailed Hill from the trajectory he was on in the 1970's?

I've got Hill's first film, 1975's Hard Times paused, about twenty minutes into it, as I type this. It's great. It's the one "classic period" Hill I had never seen before, and I'm glad I've finally gotten around to it. Charles Bronson, who can seem so wooden in the wrong hands - or with the wrong material - is sensitive and expressive and in top form (amusingly, people keep remarking in the film that he's too old to be a tough guy, but this film was made near the start of his tough guy career). James Coburn, as a hungry hustler named Speed who makes money promoting back alley streetfights, is a terrific foil, George C. Scott to Bronson's bare-knuckled Eddie Felson. Visually it's reminding me of Aldrich's The Emperor of the North Pole - and is filled with convincing period details, evoking the Great Depression; some of the palette is similar to that employed in the Coen's Barton Fink, a film which surely has the best colours of any Coen brothers movie, with some lovely browns and greens in the flophouse Bronson ends up in (paying $1.50 a week for a room, which he slowly inspects, having forked over the cash: does the fan work? Yep. Does the water work? Yep. He nods, smiles to himself, and you can practically hear the thought in his head, in his voice, delivered as only Bronson could: Looks like I got a good deal). Even Jill Ireland - who, in the wrong hands, or with the wrong material, is often worse than Bronson, and often (as with the near-unwatchable Assassination) in the same film - is also believable, appealing and dignfied; there's a failed diner pickup between them (it really is seeming like The Hustler, but I forgive it) that risks cliche at every turn - or risks inviting you to judge the characters, because Bronson is transparently trying to get laid, and she's transparently curious (but reluctant, since, as we discover, she has a husband in prison: "it ain't easy," she tells us, and we believe her). But rather than lose us, the interaction ends up seeming convincing and appealing, making us want to see the two together again. A lesser film would just leap into bed with them and give us a boring formula lovemaking scene that evoked exactly nothing and made you wonder if there was something wrong with you for not caring. No: Hill gets credit for taking his time with their relationship, for making us believe and care and want to see what happens next. The film is unhurried and quiet in other likeable ways, too, right from the opening shot of a train, which takes in the whole progress of the train from being off screen to coming around the bend to arriving in front of us, when it could have been handled with a single image (Bronson hopping off a boxcar - which he eventually does, but only after several minutes - and credits - have gone by). I suspect Jim Jarmusch cribbed from this beginning for Mystery Train. I haven't finished the film yet but sometimes when I'm really enjoying a movie I am compelled to stop at about this point and enthuse to whoever is in earshot at how good it is; Hard Times - also known as The Streetfighter - is one such film.
Hill's next film, The Driver, is a bit too corny and pretentious for me - some of it is just so heavy-handed it's embarrassing, especially when Bruce Dern is waxing on about individualism - but it has plenty of cinematic moments; Refn's Drive is an obvious tribute. The Warriors, The Long Riders, and especially Southern Comfort are all great, must-see movies. Like Francis Ford Coppola, Hill, in 1982, was looking like he would turn out to be one of the most gifted and able American filmmakers out there, a man whose status couldn't be shaken, a heroic figure for American cinephiles with a taste for genre. Unlike Francis Ford Coppola - whose best films are undeniably works of great merit, even if he too suffered a mid-career fall from grace - I actually had great personal affection for Hill's movies. Come to think of it, I've probably seen Southern Comfort more times than Apocalypse Now. My wife had never seen either, before we met, and I still haven't played her the latter, which says something, but I played her the former, and, who knows, may see if she wants to watch it again sometime soon (because I'm nearly ready again).

So what went wrong? Making a lot of money on 48 Hours might have been the beginning of the end, because as we enter the 1980's, Hill's films start to get a lot cheesier (Streets of Fire has its admirers but I haven't seen it in 30 years so I can't speak to it; people like Mark Prindle and Robin Bougie have been singing its praises on Facebook recently, since the new Blu edition, so I might look at it again, too. If nothing else, the Blasters and Lee Ving are in it, and I have a guilty fondness for the songcraft of Jim Steinman). It is possible Johnny Handsome, Red Heat, and Extreme Prejudice have merits - certainly Trespass (which Netflix Canada put up shortly after Bill Paxton's death) was more watchable now than I found it at the time, but it hasn't compelled me to go back to those others. I do recall that all of these films - which I saw at the time - more or less maintain elements of Hill's aesthetic, including Ry Cooder scores, though they get a little more conventional in terms of the action movie conventions they employ, and a little less determined to take their time and get us interested in their characters. I can only say that I found each of them disappointing when I caught them first-run, so much so that I eventually gave up on Hill altogether, with 1992's Trespass being when I leapt off his train; it remains the last of his films I've seen to completion, though I've revisited his earlier films many times since then. I sometimes get curious about Hill'sYojimbo-Fistfull of Dollars film, Last Man Standing, which seems like it's right up his alley, but I've never heard anyone say much good about it, and while I'm amused that the film returns the Dashiell Hammett template more or less to Hammett's home turf, the problem is that I feel like I can infer every idea in the movie, including a few of Bruce Willis' one liners and facial expressions. Thinking I know what it delivers, I have never actually wanted to give it a shot.

I won't even bother going on about Hill's comic book :ultimate director's cut" version of The Warriors, which is the only one he'll let us see these days - a misguided miss that tinkers with a film a lot of people have great love for, and then says "fuck you" to them by being the only version Hill will license for Blu. I saw it once; it's not awful, actually, but I'll stick with my DVD of his original cut (played that for Erika, too). It was a perfect film as originally made, even if it got misunderstood.  I love these films so much that despite plenty of what seem like bad (if maybe money-making) decisions since his golry days, I have this fantasy - it's almost how I feel about the Blue Oyster Cult - that Walter Hill is going to somehow come to his senses, get hungry again, and make a GREAT new movie. I have I very hard time believing that a man with as much talent and promise could end up so uninspiring a figure. In fact, one of the first things I did when we got Netflix set up was to see if any Walter Hill films I'd missed (or wanted to revisit) were on it... Maybe I'd look at Extreme Prejudice again? After all, Powers Boothe is in it...

Nope. There was only one Hill film on Netflix Canada, at the time - before they'd added Trespass. It was the Stallone vehicle A Bullet to the Head. I had heard nothing about it, but I have nothing against Stallone; maybe THIS was a return for form?

Nope. I was able to get through the first ten minutes; when I stopped, it wasn't because I needed to rave about it, and I have no interest in going back. There's nothing of Hill visible, just action movie cliches and annoying hip hoppy music. It could have been made by 25 year old any rock video veteran, as their first film, and maybe would have been more forgivable if it had been.

Hill has directed one film since, 2016's Tomboy, AKA The Assignment, filmed in Vancouver, and while I would generally try not to judge a film I haven't seen, the premise is so strained that it's fuckin' laughable: a hitman wakes up to disover he's undergone gender reassignment against his will and is now Michelle Rodriguez. I kinda love Michelle Rodriguez, and haven't held it against her that I've only really liked one movie she's done (Girlfight). She has a star quality that very few filmmakers have been able to exploit, placing her in supporting roles when she's obviously meant to be carrying the film. It's nice to see her get a lead role for a change, with this movie, and I will look at it if it turns up on Netflix, why not? But critics haven't been kind and I have no reason to think that Hill will pull out of his 25 year tailspin to redeem himself with a film with so ridiculous a hook.

I realize Walter Hill probably has more money, power, and influence than I will ever have, and has no reason to care what some shmo like me thinks. And to hell with me, anyhow; who the fuck do I think I am? Walter Hill has made a handful of fantastic films; I just sit on the couch and have opinions about them. But if there's a more disappointing director out there, a filmmaker I have cared more about at one phase of his career and cared less about later, I haven't seen his work. Even Coppola has supposedly redeemed himself in recent years, not that I have any interest in seeing the results.

I'm going to go back to Hard Times now, and finish lovin' it. If you haven't seen it - it's well worth your time, even if it IS just The Hustler with fistfights. (I mean, Face Off  - NOT the John Woo film - is just The Hustler with hockey, and that's a great film, so what the hell).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Concerts, writing, and news: Descendents, Swans, Forgotten Rebels, Marshall Crenshaw

Am I actually going to go see the Descendents?

Mmmmaybe. Looking through their setlists I see sooooo many songs I like and have fond memories of that it's pretty compelling (and I am further happy to see "I'm Not a Loser" has been dropped, one of a few songs where the band indulged an adolescent homophobia that always seemed beyond the pale to me, but is especially so now).

I tried to not be excited about this show, but now, on the cusp of it, I discover that I kind of am.

Trivially, I shook Bill Stevenson's hand once but he didn't really care about my attempt to gush all over him - that was after an All show at the Cruel Elephant in the early 1990's, the only time I've seen him in any band ever.

Anyhow, my going will depend on tickets. I will definitely see Swans. There's lots coming up I care about, actually...

The Melawmen Collective and JUST, both with Meeka Noelle Morgan, are doing something Friday at Grandview Park for the opening of the Wild Salmon Caravan, from 5-8pm. I last saw Meeka doing a song by the Rebel Spell at the Rickshaw Rebels Sing event. (I believe she also had an opening thing for Pussy Riot but I missed that). I doubt they still do "I Am a Rifle" but I figure that would have been the most moving cover of all for Todd, that night. I actually missed most of their set, because a friend wanted to talk! But I said hello to them after and really liked their vibe. I dunno what the Wild Salmon Caravan is exactly but fish farms sound like a really bad idea - what was this about thousands of (diseased?) Atlantic salmon being accidentally released - "escaping" - into the Pacific recently...? So I will support the event!

Then - August 25th - it's down to the Smilin' Buddha for - no shit, the Forgotten Rebels are playing? I am going to get to see the Forgotten Rebels? Really?

Okay, I'll bite. Frostbacks open. I wonder if the Forgotten Rebels still do "Bomb the Boats?" It's also a ridiculously offensive song but it always struck me - maybe I'm rationalizing - that it was deliberately calculated to be so, akin to the work of Tesco Vee, say, or the Dead Kennedys' "Kill the Poor." I mean, you're not going to come away thinking the Forgotten Rebels are necrophiliacs, because they sing about fucking corpses ("Fuck Me Dead," on the same album), so why assume they're racists, because they sing about dropping bombs on refugees? It seems like a sort of cathartic pus-burstin' boilpop of a song, packing all the racism and insensitivity of society into a terse three minutes. Mickey De Sadist has said it was ironic - "I was making fun of rednecks" - and I will choose to believe him. (Some friends of mine do not).

Saturday: Swans, doing what is supposedly their final tour in this incarnation of the band. Michael Gira politely declined by interview request this time - he says he doesn't do interviews unless absolutely necessary - but my old Big Takeover interview with him, part of which is online, was fairly satisfying and deep-digging, so I didn't have much to add or ask anyhow. That first concert by them post-reunion was and is still a standout concertgoing musical experience for me. There is a recent interview with Gira online, however, for those who want it, and they talk about the Larkin Grimm accusation a bit. I don't know where to put that, to be honest; it does seem to raise questions about what gets called "rape" - because there is a lot of room in that word, a whole spectrum between 'we were drunk and [I] made a mistake,' which sounds pretty close to what happened (or Gira's version of it, anyhow), and someone with a ski mask and a knife attacking you in a parking lot (which is no one's version of events here, but is part of what gets invoked when that word is used). It seems an injustice to victims of the latter for the former to also get called rape; though it also does seem that Grimm is upset for a reason, about how things went down, and I can see that some Swans fans might be unsettled by it.

I dunno, is this free pass week? Human beings fuck up sometimes, and I want to see this show. More on the matter here.

There's lots else coming up. I talked at great length to Hans Fenger about the Langley Schools Music Project for an upcoming issue of BC Musician. I don't think he would have been quite so chatty had he realized I would transcribe basically everything (not that he said anything he's going to regret my recording - it's just he's a talkative guy and probably wasn't imagining I would spend a whole day typing out his words). If you don't know the Langley Schools Music Project - up there with Huckle and the New Creation in terms of cool BC private press record stories - this is a great page to look at. I am somewhat embarrassed, because it's so obvious, that I never realized the film School of Rock was inspired by the Langley Schools story until just recently.

I have things in the works with the Vegan Black Metal Chef, too, and just got questions off to Heather Haley about this Zellots salvage-job that Jason Flower is up to (lots of record store meet and greets for that, which you can probably find more info on on the Supreme Echo page).

I'm in touch with Marshall Crenshaw (and am a very recent convert to his brilliant popcraft). I am excited abou this upcoming show at the Rickshaw. If you don't know Marshall Crenshaw, try this for starters. That's some amazing songwriting, folks. I'm excited that my friend David M. got an opening slot for that show (he's a huge fan).

Lots of cool stuff in the fire. (Discussing an interview with Art Bergmann but there's stuff I have to clear off my plate first... the piece I wrote awhile back, which Art commented on, has gotten 900 views so far, which is pretty good for my blog!).

Oh, and Unleash the Archers... what a great new album. I am late to this party, I know - I had stuff going on when it was released. It's so exciting that this band is doing so well (and Brittney is such a nice, quiet, unassuming person, offstage at least...).

And then there's the Flesh Eaters in January... irons in the fire there too... plans percolating... more to come... Exciting time for a music fan... glad I'm momentarily off work so I can put some time into this stuff...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Yet another night where I didn't get to see the Still Spirits

Well, that was an oddly unproductive evening. I have been wanting to see the Still Spirits live for some time now. I interviewed them for the Westender awhile back, and have seen Jonny Bones' other band, the Bone Daddies, on a couple of occasions. I've really liked the recordings of the Still Spirits that I've heard, and am very curious about this development in the punk scene where suddenly 20something year old punks are playing ragtime, jigs and reels, country swing and other not-very-hardcore forms of music. It is somehow a pleasing dissonance to hear, at a show, canned recordings of the Descendents, Minor Threat and Husker Du between sets with bands featuring mandolins, fiddles, washboards and the like (but played with punk speed and energy). And I really like what Bones does onstage; I also like that he hosts midnight movie cult film screenings out in the boonies where I grew up, too, though I don't make it to a lot of those, either (one so far, to be honest). He seems like he's doing great stuff for his community, which I would be eating up if I were growing up there now, and I've enjoyed chatting with him at Haney Place Mall, where he works sometimes. But with the various complexities of life I haven't been able to catch the band as yet.

I made my best ever stab at it tonight at Pub 340. The place feels pretty much unchanged from its previous incarnation as a live music venue - I know I caught the Subhumans there at least once, some ten years ago, and a couple of other shows as well. It goes against the grain of wendythirteen's rather beautiful and true Subculture rant this month, about how venue attendance has dropped because of people being priced out of the city, but it was pleasing and interesting to see that the place was in fact pretty full, with the local drinkers gradually clearing out and being replaced by twentysomethings, mostly cute, mostly snazzily dressed, and all of them apparently having a really good time. I parked myself at a table and - once I learned there were no servers coming arround - went to the bar and attempted to order a pitcher of beer to myself.... which I quickly discovered is against BC Bylaws, which seemed kind of foolish, since I was stone cold sober and just didn't want to keep getting up and ordering fresh pints. Luckily an older carpenter/ drinker was on hand to volunteer to drink a bit with me. Bands started at nine, with Devil in the Wood Shack being first on the bill...

I had enjoyed interviewing Josh of that band around the time of their split EP with Still Spirits, but I had one misgiving in that first year of the band, which I didn't mention at the time: I didn't like that he was affecting an unnaturally Tom-Waits-y growl on several of the songs. Tom Waits is fine but his influence can aggravate me; he himself is so derivative - creatively, but still derivative - of so many other kinds of music that it's odd to hear him being taken as a primary source by people and borrowed from in turn. It was great to hear that Josh has dropped all that, that he's found his own singing voice, which works quite nicely with the material, and it was a relief to confess all that to him and discover that the band, too, has misgivings about aspects of that first split EP.  Despite their own apparent dissatisfactions with how they played this evening - Josh quipping that the band was called "Devil in the Shit Shack" at one point - I enjoyed their set a lot, which was high energy and tuneful and seemed mostly tight and all right to me, even if they were to their own ears struggling (it's only the second time I've seen them live and I was mostly happy that I liked Josh's voice so much better than the previous...). There were even a few familiar songs, like "Devil Does Do," which I see has been re-recorded for their vinyl LP (which I bought, and which Josh liberally gave a couple copies away of to people who rushed to the stage at the offer).

I would have probably left then if I'd realized that seeing Devil in the Wood Shack and talking about North Korea with the drunken carpenter dude were going to be the high points of the night.

Don't get me wrong: the Staggers and Jaggs gave a great performance. I bought their CD, too, and was pleasantly surprised that there was much more of the Hot Club of Paris - thanks largely to their violin player, a female whom I took to thinking of as "Stephanie Grappelli" - than Maritime folk in their music (I'd been expecting the latter, since their name is from Stan Rogers and "Barrett's Privateers"). The band had other surprises, too, including being half composed of women: having expected sea shanties, I also expected that it would be men singing them, since sea shanties are a pretty masculine form in my experience. I had actually crossed paths with the band before - serving as an extra in a short Clay Holmes film with the guitarist - but again, I'd never seen them and was glad I did; but by that point - they must have gone on around ten thirty or so - I was getting tired, having been up since seven, working and walking around all day, and I was finding the venue pretty hot. Plus my phone battery was long since dead, and though there is no table service at Pub 340 these days, there are definitely people who at one point in the evening come and clear AWAY the tables, including the one I was sitting at, to make room on the dance floor, so I wasn't as comfortably settled in as I'd thought I was.

I was no longer in the mood to be at a club at this point, to be honest. I would rather have gone home and listened to the Staggers and Jaggs on CD than stayed out, good as they were. But I wanted to hear the Still Spirits and I hadn't given up hope that I might.

Then next act came on, a touring band from Kelowna called Crowd the Joanna (not "Clouds of Joanna" as I'd previously written, suggesting perhaps that Joanna has been eating beans). By that point, I was starting to fall asleep in my new chair on the margins of the venue. (Thankfully no one was so bylaw-happy as to intrude into my night and tell me sleeping wasn't allowed; I have had that happen once at a Wolves in the Throne Room gig at the Venue where I nearly lost it on the security dude who "woke me up", since my "sleeping" was really more a matter, that night, of intensely trancing out with my eyes closed while listening to the band's rather meditative brand of metal, and his "waking me up" was more along the lines of "disturbing me:" grrr). I could see, between nods and jolts, that Jonny Bones was walking around in a pork pie hat and white shirt and half-considered apologizing to him and explaining that I was wiped out and had to go, but I hoped - though again, Clouds of Joanna or whatever were quite good - that they would get off the stage fairly soon so at least I could see ONE OR TWO Still Spirits songs, and still make the last fucking Skytrain back to Burnaby at 1:15 AM.

Nope. Crowd the Joanna, I guess enthusiastic to be addressing a Vancouver audience, kind of hogged the stage, playing four songs after their "just a couple more songs" announcement, and getting just a bit 1970's for their closer, like they figured they were the main act and could make a dramatic exit (actually, all three bands that I saw seemed to do that, playing longish, fullsome sets: there didn't seem any concern at all for wrapping up early on anyone's part - unless the Still Spirits found themselves butt-up against a curfew bylaw; I wouldn't know). They were good, they were good, I'm not pissed at them - but at that point I was (phone dead) in a state of "aggravated waiting," and I was starting to get worried about the time. I asked another older drinker I'd chatted with what time it was. At that point, Jonny was finally just taking the stage to begin setting up instruments and do soundcheck.

It was 12:35. Which meant if soundcheck went quickly, I MIGHT be able to see one song by the Still Spirits before having to run for the Skytrain station. But I also might not. More likely, it would take twenty minutes or so to set up. The bus service is unreliable at night, and I figured it would take ten minutes at best to get to Waterfront on foot. I spent a few minutes doing the math: if I left (by that point at 12:40, with Crowd the Joanna's drumkit still on the stage and only Jonny of the Spirits in evidence up there), I could definitely catch the train, but if I stayed any later, I still might not see a single song by the band, and end up on the dread drunk bus back to Burnaby.

There are few experiences in Vancouver I will try to avoid more determinedly than being on the drunk bus back to Burnaby.

So fuckit. Sorry, Jonny. I bought your new CD, too (and LOVE that it comes in a brown paper bag, though that's going to be a bitch to keep having to re-fold). I paid full price for everything, didn't cadge, tipped for my beer, tipped for my chips, and did everything a music fan is supposed to do to support his scene. I even washed my hands after I peed and, when a girl in an Alien Boys t-shirt asked me if I'd dropped five bucks, told her, since I couldn't be sure, that she should just buy herself a beer. I did every damn thing the way a scene-supporting music fan should.

I still didn't get to see the band I came to see.

My enthusiasm for experiences like this is running pretty low, to be honest. The scene might not actually be quite as wendythirteen describes in that column, but I sure am. It's nice that there were a lot of young people out at the show tonight. I hope they had a good time. But it might be awhile before I attempt another such gig.

(See my new Pill Squad interview in the Straight online for news about a show tonight, though).

Thursday, August 03, 2017

RIP Sam Shepard: Cold in July, Bright Angel

Always was a fan of Sam Shepard's. I've only seen a couple of film adaptations of his plays - True West and Fool For Love, and neither recently - but I've seen a few films he was involved in writing, most notably Zabriskie Point and Paris, Texas; seen at least one of two films he directed, Far North (if I have seen the other, Silent Tongue, it was on VHS thirty years ago and can't recall with certainty); own two freak-folk albums by the Holy Modal Rounders that he drums or plays tamourine on (Indian War Whoop and The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders, both delightful); and I have Bob Dylan's Knocked Out Loaded around somewhere - one of Dylan's shittiest-ever records, worse even than his Christian period, except for one ten-minute-long narrative, "Brownsville Girl," which he and Shepard wrote about a great old Gregory Peck western, The Gunfighter, which, after I fell in love with that song, I subsequently sought out and also fell in love with (thanks, guys!).

And then, of course, I have watched Sam Shepard as an actor more times than I can count, often in films I have great affection for, including some obvious ones like Schlondorff's Voyager or Apted's Thunderheart.  These films have gotten their due, critically (though if you haven't seen either, do seek them out). There are two films he's in that I particularly want to mention here, by way of paying my respects - Bright Angel and Cold in July - which you may NOT have seen, that I want to consider at some slight length.

Bright Angel is, I admit, a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it's one I can't shake, kinda like one of those really great songs that Bruce Springsteen has written, that make it impossible to dismiss him, no matter how much you want to (and I do, I do: cf. Richard Meltzer's "One Commie Wrong About Bruce" in  A Whore Just Like the Rest, if you're unclear why, but I bet Meltzer likes a couple of Bruce's songs, too). First off, Bright Angel is glaringly overwritten - by novelist Richard Ford, who gets no excuses from me for the screenplay's excesses, since he was in his 40's at the time the film was made (he might get absolved if he wrote it when he was 20; it feels like the work of a man in his 20's, actually). Said excesses begin with the title, a reference to Lucifer, the "bringer of light," who manifests in the film - not literally; there is no actual occult content - in the form of a character played by Lily Taylor. She's a young woman in trouble who comes into a small hick town and involves a young man (Dermot Mulroney) in a quest that brings him both an ordeal and a rich but thankless payoff in "experience." Of course, Taylor's character could only be named "Lucy," to cement the Biblical reference (maybe this seemed subtle and clever at the time, who knows?). The dialogue is a sort of philosophically-laced cowboy poetry with nuggets of, um, wisdom at every turn, served forth with great gravitas. Some of these have stuck in my mind for decades (including a line of Sam's, early on, that the meaning of all harsh words is "what about me?") It's the sort of film that makes a father washing his son's hands in the sink into a metaphor for something, but you're never quite sure what. I'm pretty sure, in short, that it is, all things considered, a BAD FILM; but it is a GREAT bad film, and an extremely actorly one, with one of the most jam-packed talent-laden character-actor-rich casts of 1990, which, besides Mulroney and Taylor and Shepard, also includes Will Patton, Valerie Perrine, Burt Young, Bill Pullman, Benjamin Bratt, Kevin Tighe, Delroy Lindo, Mary Kay Place and Sheila McCarthy (whew!). Lindo and Pullman in particular are given memorably unhinged, scenery-threatening roles and whopper lines of dialogue - but they pull them off (!). It's one of the most jam-packed actin' extravaganzas you've never heard of, available on DVD, and well-worth looking at, especially if all my above caveats make it seem more intriguing than horrible.

But Erika and I saw Bright Angel not too long ago. When Sam passed last week, it seemed appropriate to at the least watch a film he is in, as a way of paying respects, but it wasn't immediately obvious to me which to play (I don't have Voyager, and Thunderheart also is something we have seen not too long ago; she doesn't like to repeat films as often as I do). Erika and I after some discussion - choosing between a possibly boring visual masterpiece from when Sam was young and beautiful (surely everyone knows exactly which film I am talking about) or a lesser but more exciting crime film from his craggier final decade - settled on the latter course, and I got to see Cold in July for the second time. (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford never entered the equation because it was too long for the allotted viewing time; we like to be in bed by midnight at the latest.  It's also great, though it's more for Casey Affleck - or Nick Cave - fans than Sam's).

Truth be known, the genre machinations of Cold in July didn't really work for me the first time around, when I watched it with my Mom when it first came out on DVD. I had been badly prepped for the film, perhaps, since it had appeared on all these "best movies of 2014" lists; the high expectations led, as they often do, to a letdown. After an extremely fresh beginning, where Michael C. Hall - Dexter, here in an everyman role - shoots an intruder in his home, and has to come to terms with the changes this brings, both to his relations with his family, his community, and his sense of himself as a man, the film raises a huge red flag that it is going to turn into a Cape Fear knockoff, maybe with a bit of A History of Violence in the wings. This is initially disappointing - seeing a movie that looked like it was going to be totally original suddenly settling into an apparent formula - but it leaves you struggling with that for just long enough to force you to come to terms with it: "okay, I'll watch a Cape Fear knockoff, what the hell... I like Cape Fear..." Anyhow, you're gearing up to enjoy Sam Shepard as the bad guy, for a change, and just starting to get excited about the prospect - because Sam has some really menacing moments, early on in the film, including a bit as "the dark shape standing above the bed of a sleeping child" where he is absolutely terrifying, the stuff of nightmares. Then suddenly the film works pretty much a 180 degree turn - you can stop reading now if spoilers affect you - and before your eyes, turns ALMOST into a buddy movie, with the arrival of Don Johnson as a pig-farmin', hat-wearin' private detective, who unites with Sam and Dexter - sorry, Michael C. Hall - to investigate and right a wrong, turning the whole affair into a sort of "vigilante justice" meta-film and meditation on what it means to be a man (or something like that - I'll leave further plot details aside to not spoil too much but it would be a worthy addition to the book Killing for Culture if it ever gets updated again). Sam isn't a bad guy after all! It is still not a great film, I don't think - I preferred director Jim Mickle's Stakeland and We Are What We Are, which is probably his greatest accomplishment so far (though lacks Sam Shepard, so I won't discuss it much here; I think I blogged about it awhile back, when considering Southern Gothic horror). Cold in July tries to get away with too much, and while it has some very fresh and exceptionally engaging moments, it also has a few pretty silly plot devices ("how do we get them to discover the videotapes? Hmm..."). There's lots to like, don't get me wrong - it IS worth watching. But there is only one thing to absolutely love in the movie: Sam Shepard.

Not just because he's Sam, either. The film allows him to do some remarkable things as an actor - it boasts one of his best performances in any film ever. He plays a man whose backstory includes saving lives in the Korean war, who now - the film is set in the late 1980's - is an ex-con with an estranged criminal son, possibly dead. Sam's character is so disappointed and disgusted by what his life has become, from how his country and the justice system have treated him to what his own progeny have evolved into, most of which is left unstated or implied - that his coping mechanism is basically to just sit there looking off into the distance hopelessly, rage and sorrow flickering dimly in his face as he tries to decide who should be punished for everything he's experienced. (The above photo reveals SOME of that; it's the best example I could find online). It is a great performance in a film with many great moments; and while I'm still not sure it adds up into a perfect unity, it is well worth looking at, and better on second viewing, when you're not being too distracted by its various shifts in plot and genre. There is a Sundance interview with Mickle - mis-identified in half of the article as Jeff, weirdly - where the interviewer discovers that in fact Sam Shepard helped write one scene in the movie, but then doesn't follow through and ask Mickle which scene. But now I want to know!