Thursday, December 02, 2021

Yoko Ono: quite the show


Many of my friends love the Beatles. 

Many of my friends who love the Beatles, hate Yoko Ono.

I've never really understood it. Or, to put it more accurately - to the extent that I have understood it, it has not reflected well on my friends. It is really hard not to think of it in terms of media-manipulated, un-thought-out distaste for a non-white female - people allowing themselves to be seduced by the media's unreflective, knee-jerk bigotry and misogyny, without any sort of critical engagement or questioning. To some extent, I guess it might also manifest some protective influence on their part, a desire to "save" John from Yoko's influence - a kind of backwards expression of love - but given that he's long since departed, and did so while he was still very much with her, perhaps it's time to give it up and try to actually learn a little about Yoko Ono's work...?  


I mean, I'm not a Beatles expert. I haven't rushed to the Disney Channel to see Get Back. I gather it does not really support the argument that Yoko broke up the Beatles, but I can't weigh in. I don't know why the Beatles broke up, but I suspect the pressures of fame and success, and maybe a desire for more individual freedom to pursue their own creative impulses, untethered to each other, have a lot more to do with it than Yoko Ono. Of course, it is certainly possible that John Lennon found his relationship with Ono and the places it took her more interesting than the prospect of continuing to make music with the Beatles - but a) were that the case, would you really want him to continue working on music he felt he'd moved beyond? and b) seeing the VAG retrospective of her work, entitled Growing Freedom, makes it hard to blame him, on that count, because it's genuinely interesting (and very fun, and thought-provoking, and worthwhile). There may be a bit of 60's naivete and idealism to some of what they do, but maybe we could use some of that these days, if it motivates the masses in a positive direction? I enjoyed Growing Freedom more than any art gallery show I've seen since about 2002, when I returned to Canada from Japan, and - a first for me, with the VAG - plan to go back again this weekend, because it's more than you can fully take in in a couple of hours. 
 

And if John really did care more about where he was going with Yoko than where he'd been with the Beatles - you'd figure it all might make people who think they love John, want to understand what he saw in her...? Early on, it probably wasn't her vocals! 


Did that last sentence make you chuckle? If so, let me clarify: I love some of what Yoko does vocally, which I connect to free jazz and vocal improv - but I have at times in my life really enjoyed free jazz and vocal improv, and people doing unusual things with their voices in performance, or just flat out HAVING unusual voices. From Peter Stampfel to David Thomas, from Maggie Nichols to Koichi Makigami, I'm drawn to idiosyncratic vocal deliveries. So speaking just for myself, I really, really like some of what Yoko does - for example, on the album Fly, there is a cut called "Mind Train." (That's the 16:53 album cut; there's also a rock video for it, featuring John). If I ever get to chat with Damo Suzuki again, I'm gonna ask him what he thinks of Yoko, because to me, Fly sounds like vocal improv set to Krautrock, while being recorded at a time when neither of those were really widely known phenomenon outside their respective scenes. I do not blame people for not getting into this stuff. It is where Yoko is at her absolute best as a singer and musician - way more interesting than her contributions to, for example, Double Fantasy. She's got one hell of an instrument, for someone for whom music came as a secondary or tertiary interest, after conceptual/ performance art and film - but even people who really enjoy the current Yoko Ono retrospective at the VAG might not "get" it (or care for it). They still might want to try her better rock songs - "We're All Water" and "Walking on Thin Ice" are amazing, by me - but experience has taught me that maybe trying to get people to open their mind to Yoko Ono is not best served by directing them at her records. 


And since she wasn't really singing until after she was in a relationship with John Lennon, you probably have to factor that out as what drew Lennon to her. He is very clear, in talking about Yoko in a film that plays as part of the current exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, that early in their relationship, the couple thought that "Yoko couldn't rock'n'roll with me, and I couldn't avant-garde with her." Which - while ultimately proving untrue - as John also says - suggests that his interest in her, early in their relationship - they met in 1966 - had nothing to do with her singing; it was her work as an artist that was key, not her voice or her music, which if I understand correctly, really only emerged from his encouragement, as a sort of bi-product of their relationship. Seems a pretty good argument for wanting to make sense of her art, for wanting to see if maybe, just maybe, any prejudices we might have towards Yoko ARE rooted in sexism and misogyny and a longstanding unthought-out widespread bias. You might emerge from the Vancouver Art Gallery's ongoing exhibition on Yoko Ono still rejecting her, but by going to it - a remarkable, moving, exciting opportunity to consider her ideas, her work, her life - you will at least get the satisfaction of knowing you gave her a chance, tried to see what John saw in her. You might even start to feel that Lennon's pushing Ono towards the spotlight is his major post-Beatles contribution to the world... You MIGHT be surprised by your reactions. 




I certainly was. I had never seen "Cut Piece," for example - one very small sample of what's on display at the VAG, in which Ono sits onstage and men come and cut pieces of her clothing off her. Imagine her vulnerability, sitting in front of people, being stripped with scissors? Another film, Fly - a companion piece to the album - has a naked woman being crawled on by flies. Another piece - which I believe you actually can participate in yourself - involves bagism (mentioned in the first line of "Give Peace a Chance"); viewers are invited to strip and get into a bag (or if you're shy, to get into a bag and strip). There are two large body-sized bags on the wall. I contemplated doing it - though I was wearing the wrong boots, which are hard to put on once they are removed, and let that decide against undressing (maybe I'll wear different footwear on Saturday?). The women I was with were more nervous about the idea of public nudity than I was, interestingly enough (and also more moved by "Cut Piece" and the vulnerability that it exposed), so I suspect that female viewers will find some of this work more rewarding than male. 


There is also a room - the "Arising" display - where women are invited to write out stories of abuse, which was pretty heavy to enter, though the biggest trigger area of the exhibition for me was quite different - a room where you could leave a sticky note with a message for your mother. Just thinking about it, about what I might say, nearly brought me to tears. Different people will respond very differently to Ms. Ono's work, because you become part of some of these works. Your response isn't just important, it's essential.  




If that statement seems puzzling, there is a lot of context provided for making sense of it within Growing Freedom. As Yoko explains in a 12-minute, context-setting, multi-screen documentary film by George Fok that plays in one room, her wish is for "everybody to become an artist" - to not produce expensive fetish items out of her fine art, but to get people thinking, feeling, and creating themselves. This is why - I also learned - her first three avant-garde albums with John Lennon, Two Virgins, Life With the Lions, and The Wedding Album, are described as "unfinished music," because it is the participation of the listener that is meant to finish them. There are many other examples in Growing Freedom, also including being invited to "take a piece of sky," a jigsaw puzzle piece with the blue skies and clouds of that Plastic Ono Band Live Peace in Toronto album printed on it, placed in upside-down riot-gear cop helmets hanging from wires. You are also invited in one area to sit on the floor and stack stones... 






Another interactive display involves being invited to sit at a table and participate in the "Mend Piece," where VAG attendants provide constantly refreshed chunks of shattered China that you can tie together with twine, making small sculptures that you can put on display... 

There is also a "Wish Tree" where you can tie, in the fashion of Japanese New Year's customs, a written 
wish on a piece of white paper to a tree. (Both my wife's wish and mine involved my upcoming surgery, but as you can imagine, there was quite the range of expression on these trees, which you are free to peruse, even photograph).




The films and the interactive exhibitions were the most exciting to me, the most revealing, but there is plenty of conventional gallery stuff as well - a lot of art and writing by John and Yoko, most of which is presented in reproduction. There is even a turntable setup, if you want to listen to records! If you are inclined to hear interviews or music, the one caveat is that due to COVID, it is suggested you bring your own headphones. I might spend more time with those more "information-heavy" areas of the exhibition this Saturday - there is more than can be taken in on one trip. 

Now about those bags...  

Monday, November 29, 2021

Six great reasons to see Schlock!

Oh my friends. You must see Schlock! - streamable for free on Tubi - especially if you are at all a fan of John Landis. Not only is it his first film, and the first film he made with Rick Baker, who later did the practical effects for Landis' greatest film accomplishment, An American Werewolf in London, but it has echoes throughout his later career, the resonance of which - when viewed from the point of view of someone who has SEEN a bunch of Landis - make the movie really delightful. A few of these include:

1. All the See You Next Wednesday stuff here, a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey that appears in some form in many (or all?) of Landis' feature films, which my friends and I, back in the 1980s, delighted in spotting every time we watched a new Landis, in much the same way that my parents' generation delighted in spotting Hitchcock in a Hitchcock movie. It is even better to see it rooted in a film that explicitly attaches itself to 2001, which none of those other films did, making the reference increasingly gnomic. Schlock! is the river from which all future See You Next Wednesdays flow. It enriches Landis' later practice, makes it even more fun.

2. The start of the "Shirley" joke? Now, I have not untangled the whole history here, but the "Shirley" joke will be a familiar groaner to those who have seen Airplane! (Wait for Lesley Nielsen - clip takes a minute to get to it), and Zucker/ Zucker/ Abrahams, who wrote and directed Airplane!, got their start with Landis and The Kentucky Fried Movie. Is there a Shirley joke in The Kentucky Fried Movie? I barely remember it, can't even tell you where its See You Next Wednesday is. But there is a Shirley joke - not the same one - in Schlock! Again, it will be more fun to view it in light of Landis' later career than it would have been when the film was initially made, but the river Shirley's headwaters turn out also to be in Schlock!  

3. Not only did Forrest J. Ackerman write appreciatively of the film in Famous Monsters - calling attention to the scene mentioned in point five - he actually appears in the film! 



4. The ending of An American Werewolf in London is practically a remake of the ending of Schlock!, but minus the reference to King Kong. It may even improve the ending of An American Werewolf in London - which is my least favourite part of the film, an abrupt bummer that doesn't really do justice to the fondness you feel for David and his doomed relationship with poor, sweet Alex (Jenny Agutter). It rips a hole in the viewer that it doesn't prepare you to expect, and leaves a lingering wound, really: "Gee, why did it have to end like THAT?" Schlock! may or may not improve that experience, but it definitely provides some context. 

5. There is one scene in the film - I think it will be funnier if you watch it in context of the whole film - where Schlock! - a caveman, sure, but not a stupid one -  that is a comedy classic, involving a blind girl who mistakes Schlock for a doggie. This scene is on Youtube, but is actually funnier if you watch it with no expectations whatsoever. It is possible that even my alerting you to this scene - as Forry did with Famous Monsters readers all those years ago - will serve to lessen its impact. But it must be mentioned, so...! 

6. And while I am not actually a huge Blues Brothers fan (!) - I must acknowledge that its madcap keystone cops carchase stuff starts in Schlock!, too. 

Schlock! is a very, very funny  movie, very silly but very effective, though it probably requires you to be a Landis fan, to have seen a bunch of his other movies, and to have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey as well, before you will be able to appreciate it. Also, I assume Landis and his compatriots were all as stoned as Kevin Smith must have been when he made Tusk - that that's what Landis means when he says on the commentary that "it's a sixties' movie" - so it may be even more fun to watch in an altered state, if you're into that sorta thing; it may be less fun if you prefer your comedy stone-cold sober. 

It probably isn't the best movie Landis ever made - I'd go for An American Werewolf, I think, for that - but it may just be the funniest (I need to re-watch The Kentucky Fried Movie to really speak confidently there).  

Those of you who must see Schlock! are now prepared to do so. Those of you who remain unconvinced probably can afford to skip it. I am shocked more of my friends haven't seen it! 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

No World for a Night Owl: Burnaby vs. Tokyo

...So I am writing this from a doorway. It is 5:30 AM. The last time I wrote in a doorway, this late at night (or this early in the morning?), I was in Tokyo, and had just seen Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros at the Akasaka Blitz, touring Global A-Go Go (I have the gig poster on the wall beside my computer desk, a yellow-papered variant of the one below, so can tell you with certainty it was November 2nd, 2001, twenty-one years and twenty-five days ago). The last train to the suburbs of Saitama had long since left, as I knew it would. I had brought a notebook to write down my impressions - because it wasn't the first time I pulled an all-nighter in Tokyo, waiting for the trains to start running again. Back then, my notes were longhand. I didn't get a cellphone until much later.

I can't tell you what the other all-nighters were exactly. There was at least one, but possibly two. Most of the shows I saw (at the Blitz, at the Liquid Room, at Club Quattro, or...) ended early enough that I made it to my train, but there was definitely an all-nighter for a Boredoms rave (Nana-Bo-Nana, the poster said, which makes me think it was July 7th, 2001). I think the first time I saw Joe Strummer at the Blitz, on the tour Dick Rude documented in Let's Rock Again (for Rock Art and the X-Ray Style), I made it back to the station in time, grabbing the Takasaka-sen back to Ageo (kind of like commuting from Vancouver to Mission). But I also saw, during the three years I lived in Japan, Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, David Byrne, DJ Shadow with Cut Chemist, and a generous fistful of Japanese artists, sometimes playing in combination with each other, at the Shinjuku Pitt Inn and Star Pines Cafe and elsewhere - artists including Ruins Hatoba, Kazutoki Umezu, Natsuki Kido, Akira Sakata, Hiroaki Katayama, Ayuo, Yoshihide Otomo, Michiyo Yagi, Skist, Keiji Haino, and others. This is not to include shows I saw in Saitama (Bob Dylan!) or elsewhere (like the Fuji Rock Festival, where I caught Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Patti Smith, and Brian Eno, among others.) Whichever the other Tokyo shows were that ended too late - well, there were a couple of them.

All nighters on the streets of Tokyo proved pretty easy to navigate, actually. It's a big enough city that, in fact, night owls waiting for the trains to start up is not so unusual, and it's a safe enough city, for the most part, that you don't really feel all that worried about it. The seediest of districts - the brothel-rich Kabukicho, for example - feels quite benign compared to a short walk through the DTES. You don't see drug addicts or mentally ill people acting out on the streets, for the most part. The homeless people would never presume to spare change you. There are bars you don't want to go into - Yakuza-run tourist traps where you'll be charged a few hundred dollars for a beer, and threatened if you don't pay - but as long as you avoid being directed to those bars by the people paid to hook you in - you'll be fine. There are drunken salarymen passed out in doorways, and kids in from the 'burbs, wandering in clusters through the streets. There aren't many all-night places that I saw - and the only all-night fast food joint I stumbled across on my wanderings, on one of those nights, turned out to be filled, in the downstairs dining area, with Japanese teenagers, passed out on in their booths, slumped on the tiny formica tables, which I also eventually availed myself of, because the previous doorway I'd laid down in taught me that if you try to sleep in the wrong place - the only time I've ever tried to sleep rough - the security guards will nudge you and tell you to move on. That second Joe Strummer night, I spent three hours or more in a doorway, counting taxis and trying to figure out the ratio of taxis to other cars - it was at least five to one, maybe quite a bit more. I don't think I got any sleep in that doorway, but I had fun taking notes about the experience of BEING in it, not at all unlike the experience I am having now; someday, maybe, I'll stumble across my notes from that night, packed in some random box in my storage, and rediscover the details I have forgotten.

Laurie, Erika - you need to know that this is, surprisingly, the most fun I have had at (as I write) 5:52 AM (and counting) since that weird but memorable night in Japan, 21 years ago. Do not feel bad at my displacement - even though my ass is cold (and slightly damp) on the pavement and I kinda need to pee; my amusement at the situation is vastly greater than any such minor discontentments I might feel. 

Normally, you see, if I got out of bed at 4:40AM, I would go to the living room. I would work on the computer, pet the cat, read a book, try to quietly find a snack in the fridge. This happens fairly often now that I am off work. Many blogposts and Facebook posts have been made in what my wife and I have come to call, in reference to Bruce Springsteen (and Chuck Berry before him) "the wee wee hours," because they usually begin (har) with one of us wanting to get out of bed to urinate. But would I normally go outside during the wee wee hours? Fuck no! Wouldn't even occur to me. 

Except Erika's friend Laurie is over for a visit, and sleeping on our couch. As Erika and I were bedding down last night, I said to her, "Hey, wait a sec... What if I gotta wake up to pee and can't get back to sleep? I can't work on the computer, because Laurie is in our living room!" 

"Go to Tim Horton's and read?" Erika suggested. 

Seemed like a plan to me. I bundled up a change of clothes for myself by the bathroom door, for fast presto-change-o action, so I wouldn't have to wear the same sweaty t-shirt that I'd slept in. When the wee wee hours arrived at 4:40, after my quick bathroom trip, it took me about half an hour back in bed to give up on getting back to sleep. But as often happens, my mind was fully awake, so, silently as possible, using my cellphone light to navigate - I scooped up my clothes, phone, and the James M. Cain book that I am re-reading, snuck into the bathroom, and got dressed. Took a second pee, then got my shoes and coat on and, like the man says, stumbled down the stairs to greet the day, leaving the women to sleep.

Cold, but very fresh air. A mist of fine rain on my bald head, which I leave my hood off to appreciate. I figure I will walk to a nearby business, so my phone call does not disturb the sleepers in my building, call a taxi, and get a ride to Denny's, because - sorry, but fuck Tim Horton's - or at least the one near Metrotown Station; for reasons unclear, that particular location is like a magnet for the sketchiest of street folk. Which is fine - I am glad they have a place that they can afford and get warm and stay dry for awhile. Everyone needs a haven now and then, and given a choice between Tim Horton's and some shelter, I'd probably pick Tim Horton's, too. But I don't want to chill with y'all, generally. Hell, I tend to avoid that Tim's during the day...

Bonny's Taxi dispatch picks up on the first ring, as I walk towards the kid's Taekwondo place on the corner, where I can stand under the awning and stay dry while I wait. "And where are you going? " the dispatcher asks. 

"Hang on!" ...I consult Google for the Denny's address, just typing in, "Denny's near me." 

And then I see: Every address comes back with a red word beside it: closed. 

Uh-oh! Scratch plan A. Cancel the cab, chuckling ("I will call back when I figure out where I am going!"). Consult Google, standing on the sidewalk: "Tim Horton's near me." "Restaurant open near me." "24 hour restaurant near me." The first two all provide locations that are closed, while the third provides a sushi place with the words "hours unknown" in italics, which isn't enough to make me want to gamble on it being open, and, you know, I don't really want sushi for breakfast, or rice, or fish, or ANY of that bullshit - I avoided that experience even when I lived in Japan. 

In fact, were this happening to me right now in my neighbourhood in Saitama, my go-to would be the Denny's near Kita-Ageo Station (bizarre synchronicity: as I type this, at 6:33 AM, a couple of elderly Asians walk by me, and I hear quite clearly that they are speaking Japanese...). I could try a Denny's benny... but first I have to find one that's open!

I'm beginning to find the experience amusing. Surely the Denny's and Tim Horton's new hours are down to COVID, and it being sleepy ol' Burnaby? Maybe the answer is to catch a bus and go to Vancouver...? Surely there are restaurants, Denny's or otherwise, that are open there? I cross the street and stand on the sidewalk at the bus stop and use my cell phone to see when the next #49 goes to Langara Station. Not for over an hour - something like 7:20 AM. Try the 116 bus next to Edmonds Station, to similar results. I ain't waitin' an hour for a bus - hell, by that time, the Denny's will be open!

A bus does pass by at one point, its display reading "Sorry, not in service." 

So where to, Columbus? Cross back to the Chevron. The doors are locked, as always at night, but the business is open. The South Asian fellow at the till - almost everyone awake and working at 5am-ish turns out to be Chinese, Filipino, or South Asian - laughs when I look at the slot that he uses, kinda like the one in Hannibal Lecter's cell in Silence in the Lambs, to pass out change or cigarettes. "So how am I gonna get a cup of coffee through there?" I ask him, and get a laugh. I explain that my wife's friend is sleeping on our sofa and I'm basically stuck out in the rain with nowhere to go. He tells me he doesn't usually put on coffee until 6, but will, if I want him to make one early? "Nah, don't bother - mostly what I want is to get out of the rain, but even if you let me in, I don't really want to hang around in a Chevron, no offense. Do you know any 24 hour restaurants or coffee shops near here?" 

"There's a 7-11 down the street," he points in the general direction of Royal Oak. 

"Well... I don't really want to hang around at a 7-11, either," I answer. "But, uh, thanks - have a good morning."

I wander down the street, unclear where I'm going. Photographing some pretty Christmas lights, I notice a taxicab, light on, parked at a curb - the same company I had already called. I don't want to trouble their dispatch, but a cabbie might know where there's a place to have a fast breakfast. I could ask, and then get him to take me there. I walk over. The cabbie starts his car as I approach, and at first I think he's getting ready to give me a ride - until I approach the passenger side window and he proceeds to pull out and drive away, while I call, "Hello?" at him. He won't even look at me - the sole fellow white man I see has no desire whatsoever to interact with some random street fare, whether his lights are on or not. 

Wait a minute, buddy, I was just going to ask you where I can get breakfast! 

I start laughing and waving goodbye at him. I wouldn't describe my mental state as exactly normal, at this point, but I'm having a good time of it. I proceed down the sidewalk, contemplating how long it's been since I've had so much accident and happenstance informing my life. There's a freshness to it. How locked in habit I've been! How little I have even questioned my devotion to my comfort zone! 

There's a woman walking with an umbrella in the opposite direction, and I put on my best non-threatening voice: "Hey, do you happen to know if there's a 24 hour restaurant around here?"

She's completely unafraid, unlike the cabbie. "Yeah, but it's kind of far away - there's a Denny's" - she gestures.

"It doesn't open til 7am, Google tells me. The Tim Horton's, too!"

"Oh, well... sorry! I don't know."

"No worries - have a good morning."

We continue on our way, then she shouts back at me, pointing west: "Oh, there's a McDonald's that way!" 

"OK! Thank you!" 

I actually know about the McDonald's, but it's also a place I don't really care to hang out, and I am dubious that it is any more open than Tim's or Denny's, but  it was nice of her to mention it. 

Here we end the real-time doorway blogging - I'm tidying this up the next morning, this time just sitting at my computer at 7am while Laurie, who proves to be a fairly sound sleeper, softly snores on the couch. I ended up sitting in a dentist's office doorway, writing the above on my cellphone, until 6:27. At that point, about 24 hours ago, my thumbs were getting tired and the need to pee could no longer be denied. I called the same taxi I'd phoned previously. Maybe the morning shift is braver than the night shift? 

There is a hilarious moment when the next taxi I see, also with its light on, drives past me - driver glancing out the window as I wave at him - and I call the taxi company to ask if my driver just blew by me ("Maybe I look menacing?" - the dispatcher and I laugh about it; "I don't know, do you?" she asks back). But it's just the wrong taxi. The guy who finally picks me up doesn't really want to hear from the weirdly-wired, self-amused chatty big guy in his back seat, but, y'know, I'm a paying customer, and feeling inclined to indulge myself. 

I get to the Denny's before it opens, and end up hanging out at the Super Save gas station across the street for a bit, because apparently that is the only business that runs, late at night/ early in the morning, these days: gas stations. Burnaby sure isn't Tokyo, folks. There are two youthful South Asians, male and female, in the tiny shop - which is weirdly lined, above the coolers, with a display of cannabis-themed baseball caps, apparently an essential item for drivers these days. They pull the old "restroom is out of order" thing on me, which I never believe. "Well, you're stuck with me then... but I'll pay to play." 

I go over to the lotto counter and buy $47 worth of Scratch and Wins - but they've gotta be Christmas-themed, and they've gotta be in sets of three, for Erika, Laurie, and myself. Happy Pawlidays, decorated with dogs. Snowflake 777. I tell them, though I doubt they want to hear it, about the time when I was working nights at a 7-11, and these kids came in who had gamed the system in some way, asking to look at one of the folding accordions of 100 scratches because there was a pattern, they said, to the serial numbers - which were visible on the front of the tickets in those days: if you knew it, you could tell which tickets were winners! Shit, who could resist: I spent fifteen minutes watching them poring over the serial numbers, in between selling people coffee and cigarettes, curious if their system would pay off, and was most surprised when they selected a single $2 ticket that turned out to be a $75 winner. 

I don't remember the system now, I tell the two morning shifters at the Super Save - but it's obvious, anyhow, that they're just waiting for me to leave, so they can go back to talking about whatever they were talking about when the weirdly-wired white man walked in. 

Whatever: you're not gonna let me pee, you can put up with me for a few minutes until the Denny's opens.


...which I can see through the glass is finally happening. The old Chinese man who lets me in - his key briefly getting stuck in the door, injecting a final frisson of drama into my morning - says that yes, they stopped being 24 hours because of COVID. 

I am their first customer of the day. I use the washroom, show them my vaccine passport, and say yes to coffee.

Their benny is way better than I expected. I tell this to my waitress, and regret including the "than I expected part." I make fast work of it.


When I get outside, the sun is coming up, and there's a murder of crows gathering in the trees. I call a taxi home, and draw a driver who commiserates with me, telling me about how he's going to be stuck with his own brother in law, coming from India to stay with him and his girl. "I don't want him there, but what can I do?" (Laurie, not how I feel about your visit at all).

Best morning in ages.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Short Cancer Update, but with puppies

Tongue, April 2017, after my first surgery, at full extension: note that my centre line is not so central!

Tongue, Oct. 2021, after my second surgery: note that my centre line is even further to the left and that the tongue is not quite so long... damn I used to have a long tongue! Also note that the right side is much thicker than the left

Tongue 2022 TBA!

So here is an update on my cancer story, which is far from over: I went for a PET scan the other week, which is very much akin to the experience of getting an MRI. (Thanks for the great song about this experience, Derek Smalls! Harry Shearer, too. Did all you Spinal Tap fans get Derek's album? Red Cat can apparently order it in on vinyl still, and the CD is pretty cheap online. Very fun stuff!). 

PET scans go like this. You fast for six hours, get a radioactive sugar injected into you, then have to sit pretty much still, alone in a room, while your circulatory system distributes the sugar through your body. Cancer likes the sugar, so it "eats" it and makes it possible to see lumps when you get the scan - basically a big X-ray machine that you slide in and out of, strapped onto a slab, but, contra the boring interiors of the MRI, the one at the cancer agency had paisley line drawings and even little fish, looking like something out of one of those newfangled colouring books. Sorry, no photos there, but I got the cheerful female technician to snap a couple of me going into the machine, and one of my hand when she finally got the IV in. I gotta remember to shave myself next time in - I hate it when they rip off the tape!



After the scan, you are radioactive, and told not to be around newborns or pregnant women for 24 hours, because you can affect them. That sounds like hyperbole or just flat-out-horseshit, like when I joked that I was going to find a spider to bite, so see if I could turn it into humanspider, a new arachnid superhero... but it isn't. I had to hold back for a day or two while Erika went to the island to visit her parents' dog's new puppies and say hi to the family newborn.



After I stopped glowing in the dark, I went over myself for a weekend, just before our torrential downpours kicked off. After a day or two, I felt fit to hold a puppy myself. Amazing experience - only a couple days old, eyes still shut, warm and vulnerable and interested ONLY in sleeping and eating. Diehard puppy people can watch them suckling on Maeve, their mom, here.

The commute home was long, but uneventful, given that stretches of the Malahat would be washed out due to flooding the very next day. Soon upon our return, Erika and I went to the cancer agency to consult with the radiologist (?) - the person responsible for administering radiation therapy. The good news is - there are no tumours large enough anywhere in me for the PET Scan to catch (nothing as large as a centimeter across; tiny ones it won't detect). The bad news is - though I didn't fully piece this together until yesterday with some added explanation from the surgical oncologist who has operated on me twice before - that the margins of the materials cut from my tongue on September 29th, when biopsied, didn't show that they've caught it all; the cancer continued right to the margins of the removed material, which means it probably continues beyond those margins, as well. So I still very likely do have miniscule cancers in my tongue, which will grow. The doctor at the cancer agency, however, was in disagreement with my surgeon's recommendation of radiation therapy, which would be - she explains - extremely debilitating. I'd develop painful sores in my mouth. My saliva would dry up. Any teeth that weren't fully stable would have to be removed on the left side. A feeding tube would likely have to be inserted, and I would dramatically lose weight, including muscle. In the end, I'd be left an old man. "You're still relatively young," she said - I guess 53 is young, these days! - "and I just don't think this is the way to go. It would be better to treat this surgically."

She consulted with my surgical oncologist on a sort of conference call of experts earlier this week, and everyone agreed that surgery would be better, including my surgeon, ultimately. 

Yesterday I learned why the surgeon working on me was reluctant to go that route ("I can't just keep whittling away at your tongue," he had said). This time, it won't just be about removing a bit more of my tongue. He's taken as much of it as he can, and the next step will be to not only remove more of it, but to graft muscle tissue from my arm onto the tongue (and skin from my thigh to fill the hole in my arm). They also think a couple of lymph nodes in my neck should be removed and biopsied, to be on the safe side. Because this is a five hour procedure, and massively intrusive, the other thing I get to try to fit my mind around is, I'll need a tracheotomy - a temporary one, but still. 

Then there's a week to ten days in hospital while they monitor me for infections and bleeding. Good thing I'm still only halfway through Dune...

So be it. I'll roll with the advice that I'm being given, that this is the best bet, ultimately. Even if - the best case scenario - I get it done quickly, we're probably talking a few months' worth of recovery time. I'm probably out of commission until summer - though I do have some writing projects afoot, just for my blog, mostly email interviews. So I'm still going to be active here during my downtime. 

Good thing there are Black Friday sales at Severin and Vinegar Syndrome - I bought a healthy fistful of cult and horror movies to help see me through the recovery. Here's hoping I am well enough come March to enjoy the Sparks concert! (And EXTC - more to come on that!). 

Oh, by the way: the puppies have opened their eyes, started walking around and eating solid food, and they've probably tripled in size since the visit. Apparently Maeve is having to teach them that they don't need to stand in the food bowl to eat from it... I will probably get to visit them again before the next surgery, but it's looking like I'm gonna be out of commission through Christmas...

GRRLCircus: Hot and Bothered


R.d. Cane, Kitty Cane, and Lisafurr Lloyd from GRRLCircus at the Hardcore 81 anniversary, Nov. 20th, at the Rickshaw (as are all the photos here, all shot by Bob Hanham, and not to be reused without permission). 

I've chatted with R.d. Cane on a couple of occasions and admired his video and photography work in Vancouver, but I had never seen GRRLCircus, in any incarnation before last Saturday's set at the DOA Hardcore 81 anniversary show (which I took photos of here, and shot some live vid of here). I'd been told by Bob Hanham a couple of nights previous that they had a new frontwoman, but neither he nor I realized it would be Colleen Rennison of No Sinner fame. I'd had her on "people I want to see" list after hearing some of No Sinner's music and catching Colleen in a short film (One Last Ride, which she was very good in), but it had never worked out. My wife Erika and I once walked several blocks from a Crazy 8's festival screening of One Last Ride to an afterparty where Rennison was performing, but we underestimated the distance involved and by the time we arrived, she had completed her set, to our great disappointment. 


Colleen Rennison by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

So last Saturday was my first experience of both Colleen Rennison onstage, and of GRRLCircus. (I never caught any previous incarnation of the band, including the one fronted by the late, much-missed Gerry-Jenn Wilson). Turns out they're a slightly challenging band to write about. Kitty, the other guitarist besides R.d., is trans, but I'm not sure of her/ their pronouns; I have no idea of the gender identity or pronouns of  drummer Brad Mitchell (who I've seen in a couple bands and who once helpfully cleared up for me that no, I wasn't just trippin' balls that night thirty years ago when I saw the singer of Facepuller throw a running lawnmower into the pit at the Gastown Cruel Elephant; the trick was, the blades had been removed). 


The same is also true of bassist Lisafurr Lloyd (also of Ron Reyes' Piggy); she has a queerish aesthetic but, like, I haven't ASKED her or anything, because it's none o' my business - except, dig, I WANT her to be queer!  


Lisafurr Lloyd and Colleen Rennison by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission


...And that's kind of a weird thing to say about someone, because in some sense we seem to be moving to a world where these sorts of things - which box you are filed in - shouldn't matter. But I loved that GRRLCircus has such diversity of gender expression, and that it isn't all just a put-on. I mean, no offense to New York Dolls fans - I'm one too - but it's kind of a cool measure of how far we've come, that glam and hair metal has gone from having cis-men dressing up in female clothes, to having actual women, cis- or trans- or queer or WHATEVER, making music every bit as vital as their male dressup forebears. Men in costumes are no longer required; gender bending isn't just for show - it's a commitment. As R.d. Cane puts it - besides being a shit-hot guitarist - "Kitty Cane is the real deal, and a massive inspiration to so many of the young ones working so hard to figure out their place in the world."


Kitty Cane by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

But maybe I'm just PROVING how not with-it I am, how out-of-date, by even making an issue of any of this stuff? I think that there's some sense in which now the people who ARE with it are trying to live as if gender doesn't really matter these days. I've gotten the distinct impression that just treating people as people without bothering with categorizing them is an ideal that has gained currency, lately; I mean, I don't go around introducing myself as Allan MacInnis the heterosexual cis-gendered male, and would probably get pretty tired of hearing that as often as LGBTQ+ hear themselves filed into this category or that. As much as I come from a very different world - because Maple Ridge in the 1980's was no paradise for the gender non-conforming, and I had any of my own youthful queerish impulses threatened or beaten out of me by age 15 - I can see a sort of Utopian aspect to this, of entering a world where gender is irrelevant. As Nomeansno once sang - in 1982! - : "Everyone's got a hole. Everyone's got stiff little fingers. You don't have to know. You don't have to be so particular." 


Colleen Rennison and Kitty Cane by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

But none of that is as challenging as knowing how to tackle writing about Colleen Rennison the other night, however, where it's my boring old straight maleness (and its reaction to her veritably bursting female sexuality) that is the problem. It would be unfair to her talents as a singer to focus entirely on her talents as a performer, and unfair to either to focus ONLY on the sexiness of her stage presence, but, I mean, fuckit, folks, the last time I saw a performance remotely as steamy onstage, it was at the Cecil (don't judge me too harshly - I mostly used to go with a queer female friend, now a transman, so we could spy on human behaviour, undercover Sigmund Freuds the both of us). Ms. Rennison is a fine rock singer and a hell of a front person, but she also was fucking HOT, and there's no other fit way to describe it, especially when that hotness seemed as calculated and deliberate and knowing as it was, which made it, umm, even hotter, and damn near impossible to ignore (which I kinda feel is what I'm SUPPOSED to do here, but - Jeezus, I can't!).


Colleen Rennison by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Actually, scrap that about the Cecil (a former Granville Street strip bar, for those who don't know it): seeing Ani Kyd basically sit Jello Biafra in a chair onstage and do the equivalent of a clothed lapdance directed at him, while singing "The Sex Song," at his 55th birthday party, back in 2013, was pretty hot, too - and more recent than my last trip to a strip bar, unless you count seeing Slow at the Penthouse - but it was entirely directed at Jello, not the audience. His discomfort was palpable and entertaining! I've never seen Jello so STILL onstage; there is probably a joke to be had about how he was quivering (like, uh...). He sure didn't know what the fuck to do with his hands!


R.d. Cane and Lisafurr Lloyd by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

But Rennison, by contrast, belting out the Stooges' "Loose" in a schoolgirl skirt, cleavage misted with sweat even by the midpoint of the first song, thrusting her hips as she purred "I stick it deep inside" -  good gawd y'all, it was practically sex magick, and WE WERE HER TARGET. It was almost MEAN doin' that to an audience: highly audacious, fearless, and overt, and (seemingly?) clearly designed to raise libido, to make it impossible to DENY raised libido, blocking as it did any retreat to some safe non-threatening neutered safe space where I might NOT be accused of being an objectifyin' lech. Nope - we were well past that by the end of the first minute of "Loose" (actually the second song of the night; the band kicked off with an instrumental called "Manic," before Rennison took the stage). It actually kind of went against the grain of what I've been used to seeing onstage the last few years, where even burlesque shows seem more about pastiche and playfulness and commentary on sexuality than they do sexy per se. It was, like I say, a hot performance - so much so that when, later that night, Rennison sat in the row I was in, even bumping me at one point to get by - I felt kinda nervous about it, vulnerable as poor old Jello. Ulp! If I'd had to talk with her, I probably would have stammered and dropped my pen, or something.    


Colleen Rennison and Kitty Cane by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Maybe I am just an objectifyin' lech, I dunno, but it takes a whole 'nother level of courage to be as powerfully untamed as Ms. Rennison was at the Rickshaw. Impressive stuff indeed. And more significantly than any of the above, GRRLCircus played a very energetic, hooky set of rockin' tunes - that fans of the New York Dolls, or locally of CLONE - who seem to have some similar spirit - would really appreciate (tho' nothing quite as jaw dropping as the Stooges' "Loose" as sung by Colleen).   

Anyhow, I had sent R.d. some questions for an email interview BEFORE I saw the performance, thinking - as with the Spitfires article I wrote - that I could use it to amp up excitement for the already sold out show. He was too busy with preparations to get to it in time, but he's gotten to my questions now; and the good news, here, is that y'all have ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY to see GRRLCircus with Colleen Rennison, performing November 27th at LanaLou's, with Rebel Priest. 

Email interview follows (I'm in italics, R.d. is not). Thanks to Bob Hanham for providing the great pictures! 


R.d. Cane by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

1. Prior to seeing GRRLCircus

Allan: Not having seen the band before, I am told that there have been a few different frontpeople, and that the nature of things changes a lot depending on who is fronting. So who is the singer tomorrow? (What is the rest of the lineup....?). 

R.d.: We have had several singers and each one has been great... they all brought a different flavour to what we want to do..  each has helped us really zero in on what we want to do and how we want to do it. We have been getting progressively more interested in just being fun and entertaining... the world is a little dark these days and we want to keep it all as much fun as we can. We now have Colleen Rennison, from No Sinner, singing with us and we could not be happier; she fits right in, both on and off stage and that is a beautiful thing... I love watching and listening to her and Kitty Cane rip... Lisafurr Lloyd, Brad Mitchell, Kitty Cane, Colleen Rennison and I are GRRLCircus just my favorite people to have fun with..

What are your fondest memories of working with Gerry-Jenn?

Gerry-Jenn was a huge talent with a gigantic heart. There is no question that Gerry Jenn was authentic punk rock... I had only just met Gerry and we jammed out a couple of songs I had been working on. Somehow she managed to get us an opening spot for Slow at the Penthouse... she was so good that night, it was incredible watching work the room. She was a pro ..I really only knew Gerry for very a short time but it was a crash course in Punk Rock for sure... Others in GRRLCircus had very long histories with Gerry, we were all saddened by her tragic passing..She was a Legend, missed by many.

I know your work as a photographer and rock video director, but what's your history in bands in Vancouver? Who have you played with?


GRRLCircus is my very first band..I had messed around a little here and there but after battling back cancer and with the support of so many friends I decided to try something I had always wanted to do..I was 63 years old and I just said now is the time...Kitty Cane, Brad MItchell and Lisafurr Lloyd all had a ton of experience and they have been extraordinary at teaching how to do it..

I can find images of the band, and live clips - are there studio clips online where people can get a taste of your music? (No bandcamp site? No release history?).

You can find a cross section of my videos and still photography on my R.d.Cane people Page

You SEEM like the type who would throw a few cover songs into a live set, and I always find that interesting - to get a sense of a band by what they cover... what songs have you covered?


We have messed around with several covers try to find out where we land as a band and how best to give the audience their money's worth. We do an Iggy Pop song "Loose" and a Betty Blowtorch song "I Wanna Be Your Sucker". both are a ton of fun to play and both give Kitty and Colleen tons of room for doing what they do best.

Any cool history with DOA, DOA stories, memorable shows, etc that you care to share? [Note: this question was asked when I thought this would run in advance of the Hardcore 81 show].

Any of the cool DOA shows from way back are totally clouded by time and medication. hHaving said that...there is a spot in my heart for the couple of years I spent hanging with Dave Gregg... I knew him the best from those days...Somewhere there are loads of film cans and stills from our freaky experimenting with rockets, film and fire works. They were fun but dangerous times... man he could play guitar...I miss him...

What do you consider your very best rock videos, of the many you've made? Which one was the most challenging?


I have done hundreds of music videos over the years: Art Bergmann's "My Empty House" and "Bound for Vegas" started it all. I'm fond of what I have done in the last couple of years with Richard Duguay's "Take the Money," Sunday Morning's "Come the Rain" and TrailerHawk's "Don't You"...working with my friends in an easy "let's just see what happens" kinda way is my favourite thing to do. I have spent a life time over thinking and grinding to catch the next trend..Fuck it I say...let's go have some fun...

2. After seeing GRRLCircus

Does the band have a "philosophy of gender?" There's a real diverse range of "female" experience (and I'm not putting female in quotes because of Kitty, but because I have no idea what the gender identification of the other members are...).


GRRL started because I was looking to play more music. I had been doing solo guitar shows to support my photographs and I did well...I bought an electric guitar and started learning.. I met Gerry Jenn and went looking for Kitty Cane. What started as just something to do, very quickly turned into an extraordinary friendship between Kitty, Brad Mitchell, Lisafurr Lloyd and myself, we just fit for a crazy idea... Kitty found a way to explore something deep and personal and I was looking to try something I had never done before.. we supported each other's lifelong dreams... I produced and organized it like I was working on a movie and we began and it grew.. Gerry moved on and we went through several other very good singers but none really fit what we were about. We are inclusive without labels; we call each other by our first names...we have all had darkness and GRRLCircus is our light... Our last singer decided to move on and we were bummed. Colleen heard us rehearse one evening through the door of our jam space. and quickly learned one of our songs... she kicked the door in and sang like a motherfucker, crazy, and sparks flew...the only thing we all have in common is a desire to have fun, be safe and enjoy the shit out of this crazy ride... we do and it shows. We are posers and love playing... GRRLCircus are at Lanalous Nov 27th and Funky's for New Years with great hope for the New Year; the next goal is to find ourselves a spot for Pride...can anybody out there help us with that!!