Saturday, June 12, 2021

Staying on the topic of unmarked burials and mass graves...

Yet another thing I've posted first on Facebook, but am re-posting here. Not really caring about writing about pop culture lately - have another project in the works, maybe, dealing with this (AFTER I clear John Wright). It was a bit of an ugly week for me on Facebook - I got annoyed with a trivial meme that called for "arresting teachers, priests and nuns" who worked at residential schools - hardly "the next step," here, and not even something that I think should be done. Had a couple of idiots describe me as a Nazi sympathizer because I don't think having been a priest or teacher or nun at one of these schools is ALONE enough to warrant "arresting" people, but whoever wrote the meme - it was posted by Chris Walter - probably wasn't really seriously thinking about what the next step should be; the point was that the next step SHOULDn't be "lowering flags," which is kind of useless symbolism where there is a need for action, and more what you  might think would come of the Liberals. (That part I agree with). 

Anyhow, after some ugliness on FB and one person being unfriended/ blocked, I've posted this - about all I've got right now, but there might be more to come on the topic, once I get John Wright squared away:

(Commence verbatim Facebook post): 

Been accused of being "tone deaf" for a comment on a thread. Going to try to be careful here - not wanting to give offense or hurt anyone. Talking about the 215 children. Mostly I've been reading. Some people might be interested in the following; even if you're not interested in my opinions, there are links to websites I didn't know about that other people might profit from visiting.

What the discovery at Kamloops mostly brings home is that there are apparently THOUSANDS MORE undocumented/ unmarked graves of indigenous children across Canada, on the sites of former residential schools. In 1914, apparently a department official said, "Fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received therein." The Liberal minister quoting that, Gary Merasty, characterized the residential schools as "places of disease, hunger, overcrowding, and despair." That's on page 4 of the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials volume of the TRC report.

While not disputing that abuse happened at these schools, some of the burials would seem to be due to large outbreaks of tuberculosis and influenza in the early 20th century. I am still unclear if what was found in Kamloops was a "mass grave" or an "unmarked cemetery;" the two terms have been used interchangeably in the media, but it's a distinction that newspapers don't seem to be being careful about. A mass grave suggests many people dying in a short time and being buried in a very undignified fashion, especially by a church that places a lot of ritual and import on what happens to someone after they die. There is, it turns out, some precedent for this, a mass grave mentioned in the TRC report - as many as 78 bodies in Ft. St. James. From page 119 of the report:

Several of the schools were overwhelmed by the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. All but two of the children and all of the staff were stricken with influenza at the Fort St. James, British Columbia, school and surrounding community in 1918. Seventy-eight
people, including students, died. Initially, Father Joseph Allard, the school principal, conducted funeral services at the mission cemetery. But, as he wrote in his diary, the 'others were brought in two or three at a time, but I could not go to the graveyard with
all of them. In fact, several bodies were piled up in an empty cabin because there was no grave ready. A large common grave was dug for them.'”

There's not many other mentions of common graves in the report - only one other that I can find, again tied to an outbreak of disease, roughly in that same section of the report. That's why the language around mass graves is so disturbing (and the lack of media distinction between mass graves and unmarked burials is so annoying, since the latter suggests people dying over a much longer period, as part of a business-as-usual secret practice; that may actually be the more horrifying scenario, and the one that seems more likely to correlate with deaths from abuse). But whether mass graves or unmarked burials, if there are an estimated 4000-5000 burial sites out there - they need to be found, and there needs to be some urgency around it, because - does anyone out there, at this point, trust Justin Trudeau to do more than SAY the right thing?

That raises the question: what IS being done? The government of Canada, it turns out, has a "Missing children and burial information" page: It lists the Calls to Action in the TRC report around locating these sites. Almost every call to action has the same language in the answer - variations on the following paragraph:

"Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has begun discussions with various partners, internal and external to the federal government, towards collaborating on an engagement strategy to gain a better understanding of the range of Indigenous family and community needs and interests and about how best to move forward in a comprehensive manner on all of the calls to actions regarding children who died or went missing while attending Indian residential schools (Calls to Action 72 to 76)."

As one expects, the language is vague and prompting of skepticism, suggesting a slow process with many politicians talking, but apparently things ARE being done. Budget 2019 apparently "announced $33.8 million over 3 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register and work with parties to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries." That website is here:

I am no sort of activist. I don't know what to do to impress upon the federal government how imperative it seems to locate other sites like the one in Kamloops (there are residential school sites all over BC, including one in North Vancouver and one in Mission. There is an interactive map online to see if you live near one: ). I don't really even know how "ground penetrating radar" works, let alone how to pressure the government to make sure every community has the resources to access it. If people have suggestions, I'm all there - mostly all I'm going to be good for is reading and writing, but... there seems some urgency here. It's going to be a tough year or two, though, because - if there are anywhere between 3300 and 5000 other burial sites across Canada... what percentage of that is 215? (Not very good at math, either, but it's not a very large percent).

Monday, May 31, 2021

Mass graves? My Catholic background, the 215 children, and a striking paucity of detail

Last March, when I packed up at my job to come do it at home, I brought a few books with me. One of them is the copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Report summary - the first volume of several, I believe, all of which, I believe, can also be found and accessed for free, online. I've had cause to turn to it this week, as there is ample mention in it of unmarked graves, and calls to action to find these graves, and "work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children." There are calls to action to "develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register" and for "the federal government to  ensure that appropriate measures have been taken to inform families of the fate of their children and to ensure that the children are commemorated in a way that is acceptable to their families" (that last is not one of the numbered "calls to action" but appears on page 260 of the Volume One: Summary segment of the book-form report). There is also discussion of how "the residential school cemeteries and burial sites... are abandoned, disused, and vulnerable to disturbance," that these graves are typically "unmarked," and there is a call to action "for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries... [including] the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children." (I haven't given the exact location of each quote but the section of the book in question is "The Challenge of Reconciliation," pages 258-263, a section entitled "Missing children, unmarked graves, and residential school cemeteries.") There may be more in the book about graves, but that - and a brief entry on page 19 - are it as for what is indexed.

What there is not mention of, as far as I can see, in said book, is "mass graves." (There is also no mention of mass graves in the original Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc press release about the discovery). And there seems to be an important distinction between forgotten cemeteries and unmarked graves, on the one hand, which is what is mentioned in the Summary, and "mass graves." It may not be important to some of you, and if you're already bristling with anger that the distinction troubles me, maybe you just want to skip what I write below. I am not seeking to make anyone angry, or to seem insensitive (I probably will do both). I just want to wrap my head around this story, and I'm having a bit of trouble doing it, because the news stories I've read so far - about half a dozen - are lacking precisely the details I need to feel like I know just how disgusted and outraged I need to be. 

Allow me to backtrack a bit, and give some personal context. I was raised Catholic, with Catholic parents; I went to catechism classes, read Bible stories in children's books, prayed regularly as a boy, and at around age 12, received first communion - the "body of Christ," placed in your open mouth, a kind of taste-free papery wafer that kind of fascinated me (about the only part of Catholic ritual I liked). Shortly after receiving first communion, however, things began to turn for me; I was questioning the idea of an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing Deity (and remember apologizing in prayer to God for not really believing in him, asking him to forgive me if I was wrong). Mostly, though, I didn't want to have to go to confession, which was seen as part-and-parcel of receiving communion - because, as a pubescent boy, I was sinning pretty regularly back then, sometimes several times a day, and had the wisdom to not want to talk about what I was doing to a priest in a dark booth (this being years before I had heard anything about Catholic priests sexually abusing young boys). Plus I didn't feel the slightest bit contrite about what I was doing with my body; it didn't feel sinful, which got me questioning why the hell I would want to "confess" it in the first place, just because the church thought (presumably) that it was sinful; it was the last thing I wanted to talk about with any adult, something private, about me and my body. So without mentioning that real reason to my parents, I stopped going to church, only going a handful of times after that, to humour Mom and Dad on Christmas, for instance (and once because a Muslim acquaintance of mine asked me if I would be his "guide," because he was curious about what a Catholic service looked like, never having seen one - fun story, but a bit besides the point). I heard, occasionally, of Catholics who I respected - the Berrigan brothers, for example, who embarrassed the church with their committed anti-war activism - but mostly, in terms of culture and literature, it was lapsed Catholics (Robert Stone, Graham Greene, even, uh, Georges Bataille) who spoke to me - to the extent that I thought of Catholicism at all.

What really disgusted me about the church, however - in terms of my personal experiences - was that the parish priest in Maple Ridge, who gave my father the last rites, refused, after Dad died in 2009, to perform a full funeral service for my father unless his body was intact (maybe even present, I forget). My father - a good man not particularly versed in the rules of his faith - had requested there be no coffin, no plot - just a cremation; the thought of his body lying dead underground disturbed him ("no bugs on me," was how he put it in hospital, making various nurses around him chuckle). Rather than a burial plot, he wanted his ashes to be scattered with my mother's, when she should pass (which was also what she wanted). He asked me to choose a place, which I still am hemming and hawing about. But the priest made very clear, as I explained these wishes to him, that this was all objectionable to him - I can't explain why now, exactly, but it was breaking the "rules" of the church, and he told us that if my father's body was cremated, there could be no funeral. He could mention his passing in a service and say a prayer for him - and later did, with Mom and I in attendance, which was the last time I was in a Catholic church - but no full ceremony could be performed without my father's body being intact.

Well, fuck you, buddy: the audacity of standing face-to-face with grieving people, telling them that the rules of your institution are more important than the needs and wishes of the bereaved, angered me (and Mom, too - she stopped going to church after that, though she did continue to pray). Plus, y'know, coffins are expensive (cremations, too, but less so) and we didn't have the money for much more than a cremation, which itself cost around $800 in those days. Doing it the priest's way would have not only been contrary to my Dad's wishes - it would have cost us a few thousand dollars we didn't really have, at that point. Great way to follow the teachings of a man whose primary moral concern was ministering to the poor!   

That's a roundabout way of pointing out that I know from personal experience that the Catholic faith has definite ideas about what should be done with bodies - who can be buried in sanctified ground, what sort of state their body needs to be in, what rituals have to be performed so that the soul may enter heaven, and how important all this stuff is to them. So when the first reports broke a few days ago about 215 children buried in a mass grave outside Kamloops, I was very curious: what was the state of the bodies? Was this an unmarked, forgotten cemetery, with individual plots and signs that the bodies had been, whatever else might be said, "respectfully" entreated to the rituals that Catholics have around death? Or was this basically just - sorry - a pit that bodies had been thrown into? 

That's the definition of "mass grave," by the way. If you go to Google, and type "mass grave definition," what Google comes back with is, "a pit dug in the ground to receive a large number of corpses," giving the example sentence of, "2,800 civilians were massacred and buried in mass graves." 

Facebook friends seem to think I'm weird for caring about this distinction ("does it matter?" one wrote), but in trying to visualize what happened in Kamloops, trying to understand it, and how to react to it (I mean, horror and grief and shame and rage aside), yes, it actually makes a huge difference to me to imagine an unmarked cemetery, where maybe there WAS some Catholic ritual around each burial, showing the priests at least attempting to care for the souls their charges, albeit on their own strange and questionable terms, or a pit with multiple bodies piled inside. Either way, it's wrong and bad, but it's one thing for someone supposedly trying to convert children to the same religion, to treat their body - when they die of the abuse your religion justifies/ facilitates/ permits and/or turns a blind eye on - with the respect that your religion DEMANDS; and quite another to disrespectfully discard of them like garbage. And while the former scenario allows for the practice of burying children to have gone on for a long time, the second (215 people in one grave) suggests a mass wave of death - a massacre, the definition above offers, or perhaps, more likely in this case, an outbreak of disease. Either way, the children are dead, and a great wrong has been done - I am not defending the Catholics or the residential school system or the Indian Act or so forth - but the latter is, to me, a more repugnant scenario, one much harder to fit my mind around, one that is somewhat (to my knowledge) unprecedented in the known history; one requiring much more of an explanation. 

None was provided, that I saw, in those first articles I've read. The first few news reports I saw on the CBC and News1130, made no mention of the nature of the site. They talked about how the bodies were located, but not if we were talking about individual plots. It gave no indication of how the count had been arrived at. It offered no information as to how long the bodies had been buried, or even if any had yet to be excavated. Presumably, some of this is yet to be determined, but it's information I still haven't been able to find online (if you have read an article that has some of these details, please share it. The most informative I've found thus far has been from the National Post, which provides some historical context - it begins a bit glibly, but strikes the right notes by the end). 

But since those first few, cautious, information-scarce stories I read, newspapers everywhere have moved to talking about a "mass grave" in Kamloops - which, if they are using words carefully, is the more troubling scenario by far, by me. Like I say, for a school that operated as long as the Kamloops one did, a cemetery filling slowly over time is one thing, but 215 dead in a short period... is quite another. (As is the idea of throwing bodies in a pit for a long period - like this could somehow have been a normal practice, which no one questioned...?). But these news stories are using the language of a mass grave without explaining it, without it being clear if they are just using the term in a sensationalistic, inaccurate way. It seems to have crept into the journalism around this crime - from not being used to being used routinely - without anyone having gained or offered more information. It raises more questions than answers have been provided for.

I still don't know what the situation was in Kamloops. Like I say, the volume of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee report I have at home makes no mention of mass graves. But volume 4, devoted to missing children, does have a section on burial practices, where we read this, about a different school:

Several of the schools were overwhelmed by the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. All but two of the children and all of the staff were stricken with influenza at the Fort St. James, British Columbia, school and surrounding community in 1918. Seventy-eight people, including students, died. Initially, Father Joseph Allard, the school principal, conducted funeral services at the mission cemetery. But, as he wrote in his diary, the 'others were brought in two or three at a time, but I could not go to the graveyard with all of them. In fact, several bodies were piled up in an empty cabin because there was no grave ready. A large common grave was dug for them.'

This passage appears on page 119. There is mention of another school in Red Deer where, due to lack of funds, children who died in that same flu epidemic were buried "two to a grave." That, however, would appear to be it, all there is on record previously about mass burials at residential schools. I have not read the whole volume yet, but doing a CTRL+F search for incidents of the word "mass grave" together turns up nothing; mass whippings and mass floggings, yes, but no mass graves. "Common grave" turns up only the entry above. It seems quite likely that it could have been the same influenza epidemic that caused a wave of deaths in Kamloops - that could be one explanation for 215 people dying in a short enough time to be buried together - but the sheer number of dead still staggers the imagination, if the largest mass grave previously on record on residential school land contained 78 people. 

Maybe this all seems like weird quibbling, I don't know - like I say, some of my Facebook friends seem to think so. But the details here trouble me, and I want to understand them. I think reading the whole chapter on the report of the TRC about "Missing Children and Unmarked Burials" is pretty essential now, for all Canadians. I hope I haven't offended anyone in my attempts to make sense of this. There's a lot more I need to learn, obviously. There's a lot more I want to understand. 

Whatever the case, it is clear that the Catholic church needs to be held to account here, in particular, and the government of Canada needs to truly devote some resources to finding and documenting any other such graves - mass or not - on residential school land. I don't much trust Justin Trudeau to "do the right thing" here (I do trust he will say the right thing, but that's a different matter). I certainly don't trust the church. But since, as the Globe and Mail says, this is "just the tip of the iceberg," I think it's important to understand exactly what we're talking about here... 

Preparing for my colonscopy (part three)

 Okay, so if anyone is reading this hoping for useful information - helpful tips - for preparing for their own colonscopy, here is the wisdom I have gained, based on things I did wrong (or woulda done differently had I known).

1. You may hear horror stories about how awful the prep fluid tastes - especially Colyte (Peglyte seems like it might be better) - but you may think, after your first few glasses, that it isn't so bad. Wait until you've drunk 3L of it before you decide that - it gets nauseating and very hard to down. It may be a good idea to START THE PREP EARLY - especially the evening prep - because otherwise, you may have major trouble finishing it.

2. You may think that people are exaggerating about getting baby wipes. They are not. They are very welcome as you near the end of the process: your ass will be raw. 

3. Once the prep starts working, do not sneeze, fart, or vomit without your ass being on a toilet. (I have found that pinching my nose shut can help stop a sneeze in its tracks).

4. If you begin to feel nauseated and headachy near the end of the process, and start thinking, "I can't drink any more of this bile," do NOT try to compensate by slugging it back with renewed vigour. That's what I did - followed by slugs of Gatorade Zero and no-sugar-added apple juice for hydration. Big mistake. Do not slug ANYTHING back with vigour near the end of the process, or you will probably find yourself vomiting...

...which is what I was doing, on-and-off, from 11pm to 12:30pm. I ended up not being able to finish the Peglyte. I do not know if they will go ahead with the colonscopy, given that there are about two full glasses of Peglyte still sloshing around in the container (and that maybe as much came out of me as vomit, prior to my stopping). The 811 nurse confirmed my feeling that there was no point drinking the stuff if I was just going to barf it out, but had no idea if they would be able to go ahead with the procedure. (The fluid is supposed to clear all shitty residue off the walls of your colon - since shitty residue can obscure polyps and other such things). 

Anyhow, that's all I have about getting a colonscopy. I don't even know if I WILL be getting one, given the above. Really hope I don't have to repeat this procedure ever again, though. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Preparing for my colonoscopy (part two)

It is closing in on 11pm. I am so sick of this Peglyte solution. 3.5 litres consumed over the course of the day, and the not-particularly-objectionable taste has grown nonetheless tiresome; I want no more liquid in my stomach this evening, but there's a half-litre left to go. 


All in all it was an okay day. I sneezed once and had an accident; Erika spilled Thai soup on herself; and Tybalt barfed on his blanket, so there's been a little more running down to the laundry than I'd planned... but I always made it back upstairs in time to get to the toilet (with the exception of that time I sneezed). My evacuations have "gone clear," I believe the term is; the last five trips looked like increasingly thin chicken bullion, maybe with some cloudy dark undissolved bullion powder lurking at the bottom of the bowl. But it is no longer like passing a solid at all; I'm just shooting liquid out my ass (the last blast got surprisingly frothy). All the same, I'm holding up better than some of my friends seem to have. Biggest irritations have been just how much of this "drink" I gotta choke down, a mild headache, and that sneeze. 

Oh, and I've actually gained weight, somehow, having had nothing but liquids and jello all day. Seems unfair - I'm up to 319, last I checked. But I'm sure I'll be down again in the morning. 

There's a bit of nausea settling in - maybe I should call 811. 



Preparing for my colonoscopy (part one)

 Because my father died of colon cancer, I was contacted last year by the Cancer Society to say that I should undergo a screening for the same (I'm not sure they also realized I myself had had cancer, a few years ago - though in my tongue, not my colon). With everyone distracted by COVID, the paperwork sat around long enough that they sent it a second time, suggesting I get my stool tested and included a lab requisition for the same. I actually intended to comply all along, so with the second requisition in hand - I still had the first somewhere - I got a stool kit at LifeLabs, when there on other business - and brought it home.

I didn't really need it. That morning, as happens every now and then, there was visible blood in my stool - actually a puddle of it around the turd that sat on the paper I'd stretched over the toilet bowl, to collect my sample. It seemed purple in that context, which disturbed me a little; bright blood in poop is, I am told, a sign that is coming from the outer realms of your, uh, anal mechanism, while dark blood suggests it is coming from further up the tubes. 

Anyhow, I stuck the stick in the bloody poop, brought it to the lab, and was contacted about a colonoscopy. My doctor - whom I was contacting about my Astra-Zeneca panic, described below - suggested he have - pardon the pun - a hand in things, because he could speed up the process. Soon enough I was lying on a table in his office with my pants around my ankles and my ass sticking out, and he was feeling my opening with lubricated fingers (he checked my prostate while he was at it). He felt nothing (as in, no lumps or bumps or so forth) - but contacted a local doctor (a proctologist, I guess?) and they contacted me, quite promptly, for a colonoscopy. Arrangements were made for mid-June, and then they had a cancellation - and arrangements were made for today, instead.

The prep, everyone tells me, is the hard part: I can't eat at all today, and instead have to plow through four litres of a prep fluid called Peglyte. It's one of the alternate methods; the other, more common one is Colyte, but I have been assured by so many people that it tastes AWFUL that I opted for one of the other brands on the doctor's prep instructions sheet.

I've mixed up the powder with water, and have it in the fridge, cooling. In a couple of hours, I will begin to drink it - I'm supposed to plow through two litres around noon, with the recommendation on the bottle itself being to use a straw, and to put it as far back in my mouth as I can, so as not to taste this stuff. Sometime after that - unclear how much - I will commence to crap, and I will crap all day until I am cleaned out. Apparently. The remaining 2L of the Peglyte will be consumed through the course of today and tomorrow morning, and 11:30 I will go and get as sedated as they will let me get and have a tube with a camera on it stuck up my ass.

This, I gather, is a procedure that can go wrong. Remember Mr. Hands, the guy who died after being fucked by a horse in Enumclaw? (Subject of my first major interview, with Charles Mudede; it appeared in different form in both the Straight and Cineaction, my first time in either publication). He died of perforated colon, which caused internal bleeding. Colonoscopies carry the same risk, apparently; the camera doesn't always go where it is supposed to, and there can be tears and discomfort. I am, actually, pretty curious to see up my own arse - why not? - but have a mild bit of anxiety that, say, I might die, with my big feature on John Wright unwritten, with all other personal business out there unresolved. 

But just like with vaccines and COVID, I deem the risk to be worth taking. My father's death is on the official medical record as being caused by colon cancer, but the reality is, it was caused mostly by a sluggish medical system (and his own willingness to trust it to get round to him eventually). He had severe constipation and pain for weeks before he went into get tested - bad enough that when I found Screamin' Jay Hawkins song "Constipation Blues" and played it for him during one of our family Scrabble games, he was clearly not amused. My father had a pretty good sense of humour, but it just wasn't funny - he realized I was trying, but it didn't work. I read tons of articles online about constipation and its causes, sitting at their computer, and urged him to go to the doctor; when he finally did, the doctor said, "It was probably just polyps," and unlike my doctor, did NOTHING WHATSO-FUCKING-EVER to speed up the process by which my father got tested properly. His colonoscopy took weeks, maybe even months, to get scheduled, and by that time, the "probably just polyps" had grown into full-blown colon cancer and spread into his liver. 

And yes, that was why he died - two gruelling years, a colostomy, and countless chemotherapy side-effects later - but in my mind, I have always held, more than the cancer, that it was that delay that killed him. If the medical system had acted sooner (and if my father had been quicker to enter it - he was always the type to put off going to the doctor, if he could), the polyps could have been removed quickly, and thereafter, when my father announced that he had a "shitty story" to tell, it would have been about something OTHER than a colostomy accident.

And, um, he'd quite possibly still be a live. 

Anyhow, it's my intent to be proactive here. I don't care if I have to refrain from eating all day, and have hours of discomfort in the toilet; it's gotta be worth it, because - while I realize I'm going to die - I don't think I want to go through the two years of humiliation, suffering, anxiety, and dread that my father had to endure. Bring on the Peglyte! Lock me in the toilet! 

I may have some shitty stories of my own, soon. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

On finally re-visiting Event Horizon

...This is another one I've also posted on Facebook, but want to keep here, as well. (Pardon my laziness but there just isn't time enough to do better at the moment...)

Man, Event Horizon truly is a curious film. I don't know that I've ever seen a film as bad as it is that is nonetheless so full of interesting ideas, that comes so close to greatness and yet somehow fail so utterly. I mean - in a way, while it is not as STRANGE as Battle Royale 2 - that bizarre confection of Taliban-loving Japanese anti-Americanism and masochistic teenage dreams of being slaughtered on the beach like in Saving Private Ryan - it is almost on that level of "boy, this doesn't work." But it's far more thought-provoking than that film - you don't just recoil in horror, wondering, "what were they thinking," but you actually come away wanting to think about it MORE. It raises very interesting questions about science (Sam Neill's character, who is expected to be a voice of authority about what's happening, lies to himself and everyone else because what's happening does not appear to be within the bounds of scientific possibility, because accepting it would actually sabotage his authority) but also morality and narrative, because, in a way, the narrative of the film, like the ship in it, "folds space," by having a ship captain who feels guilty about leaving his crew to die, in the past, redeeming himself by himself being left to die... Sam Neill's trajectory from belief in and dependency on scientific order to his desire to live in a realm of pure chaos is also kind of fascinating and space-folding (or at least mirror-imaging; there's even an image reminiscent of the end of Prince of Darkness where things happen with mirrors). There's ALL SORTS of interesting stuff going on in the film, in fact - and some really striking visuals -
- but in terms of storytelling, in terms of engaging you with its characters AS CHARACTERS (not as ideas or representatives of ideas), getting you emotionally invested in what's happening - which is what my wife likes most about a movie, I think - Event Horizon falls short, even, of the movie we watched LAST night, which, God help us, was Army of the Dead - a film that keeps you happily watching for 2 and a half hours without having a single interesting idea to its name, acknowledging it is bad but still being entertained... (Actually, Erika thought they were both about equally bad, but... they're bad in different ways, I would say... Event Horizon is far less entertaining, but it's WAYYYY smarter). David Thomas of Pere Ubu once called it (or joked about it being?) his favourite film, adding - I approximate from dim memory - something to the effect that it was because it was just good enough that you need to come back to it every few years to see if you can appreciate it THIS time. Having just watched it, I gotta say, I kinda see what he means. I could see myself watching it again, for a similar logic, in fact. Part of me wants to re-watch it right now, with a notepad handy...

Anyhow, there - given that the "movie pitch" has come up in regard Army of the Dead, as well, let ME make an idea pitch to Netflix, here, too: SOMEONE SHOULD REMAKE EVENT HORIZON. People have talked about the potential in a "restored" long cut of the film, despite the fact it probably can never happen; in lieu of that, the next best thing is to do it justice. Develop it as a limited series for Netflix. Get us actually involved in its characters. Keep the same basic storyline, the same basic idea, but make sure that each person's arc works in exactly the same way that the two main characters' arcs do: having to face and embrace your EXACT OPPOSITE in order to redeem yourself. (It's actually a pretty Jungian SF film, I think, based on what little I've read of Jung). Hell, you could even give Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburne cameos, if you wanted to (I don't really mind either way).

Anyhow, it's the most interesting bad movie I've seen in a long time. Too bad it falls short, as a story, because whew... there's a lot of potential in it.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Second dose Astra-Zeneca anxiety: what the hell is BC doing?

[I just posted this on Facebook, but it seems like a good rant for the blog, as well.]

There must be other people out there in the same boat. I got my first dose of Astra-Zeneca a few weeks ago, and as soon as I heard that it was being removed as a "first dose" choice, started inquiring about whether I could get my second dose moved up - because a) I want to be as protected as possible, because b) I want my second vaccine dose to be the same vaccine as the first, and because c) I trust that AZ is almost completely safe - that the blood clot issue is rare and unlikely and far less of a risk than catching COVID. However, as a result of phoning around trying to get clarity, I have discovered something that has not been reported widely and that is freaking me out: Astra-Zeneca has, apparently, been COMPLETELY REMOVED from the table pending results on a study on mixing vaccines. When government missives on AZ say it is being "held" for second doses, that doesn't mean "reserved," it actually means - two nurses have confirmed this - that it is being "held back." This is apparently being done not because there is any new information about Astra Zeneca - it has not been found to be any more dangerous than it was when I got my first shot, or at least not that anyone is telling us - but for political reasons, as the government waffles and succumbs to people's hesitations and tries to govern as if this is some sort of popularity contest, not an issue of public health and safety.
I can understand people's reticence around AZ, actually, but here's the thing: I DON'T WANT TO MIX AND MATCH VACCINES. I am willing, given the circumstances, to be injected with a very new drug, to risk side effects or as-yet-unrevealed long term effects. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to be worried about these things, but in the circumstances, I much prefer the idea of NOT GETTING COVID, and hastening by whatever means I can the return to "normalcy," or something approximating it, by getting the first vaccine offered to me (which turned out to be AZ). That is exactly what the government of Canada was advising as recently as three weeks ago. What I will NOT do, however - especially when there is a plentiful supply of Astra-Zeneca - is mix the stuff with some other vaccine, and trust that it is going to be safe and effective. It just seems a bad idea! While the BC government has been very quiet about this, this is EXACTLY what they are hoping to do, however - to get us to take not ONE vaccine, but TWO, hoping the combination magically works to protect us. Not one but two 811 nurses have confirmed this horseshit/ chickenshit decision, but if you're skeptical, look on the BC government website linked below, where it reads, in the section on "Information for people who got the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine," that "B.C. is waiting on the full results of the Oxford Vaccine Group's Com-Cov vaccine trial and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will use the results from the trial to inform second dose recommendations." So not only can I not move UP my second dose, I might not be allowed to get it at all; they might be en route to trying to make us mix-and-match with some other vaccine, which I EMPHATICALLY DO NOT WANT TO DO.

Look, you folks in power: I made an informed decision to get AZ, when you were saying it was ALMOST completely safe, three weeks ago. Were you lying to me then? If the answer is yes, then WHY THE HELL WOULD I TRUST YOU NOW when you say that it is safe to mix-and-match? If the answer is no, then WHY THE HELL WILL YOU NOT HONOUR THE PLAN THAT WAS SET IN MOTION THREE WEEKS AGO when I had AZ shot into my arm? I signed on for two doses of AZ - don't change the plan in the middle of the contract, for no good reason whatsoever. You're moving up Pfizer and Moderna, great, but you've stuck those of us who received one dose of AZ in an anxiety-producing limbo where it is hard to get a straight answer. If this is the result of cowardly bending-to-the-will-of-the-people-so-you-can-get-more-votes - which is sure how it smells - rest assured, YOU ARE HAVING THE OPPOSITE EFFECT ON ME; you're making yourselves look incompetent and/or dishonest (haven't figured out which yet, exactly). Quit fucking around! If you're giving us first dose AZ, let those of us who want it get second dose AZ, and as soon as possible, without this waffly bullshit (unless you have a good reason for this waffly bullshit you're not telling us; I mean, that's the question, isn't it: "Is it safe?")

Unduly anxious and VERY disappointed in our leaders.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

A visit back to the Lower Alouette River

One of the places of my childhood was a river within walking distance of the condo I grew up in at 216th and Dewdney. It's an impressive three mile walk, I would guess, but I would make the trek there regularly with friends on weekends, often carrying fishing rods - though there were other things I did there, too, from turning over rocks to catch crayfish and/or catching minnows in baggies (this in my childhood) to meditating from dusk well into the night with a joint, sitting cross-legged on the banks of the river, watching bats skimming the surface of the water (this in my mid-20's). After a month long misadventure in treeplanting in the mid-1990's, I planted a sapling I'd brought home there - sadly, it seemed to get washed away after a periodic freshet-season flood. On one of my final visits, I came without a rod - I never liked killing fish and catching them "for fun" seemed sadistic - and just got in the water, walking several miles up to my crotch, using the river as a road, just for the experience of it - shoes slipping on underwater rocks, glimpses of shimmering trout in patches of sun below the surface, occasional eagles overhead. There were a lot of magic moments, and a few weird ones, along that riverbank, and it meant something to bring Erika there yesterday. Delightfully, a beaver - something I haven't seen in the wild in years, and that Erika has seen far less often than I - swam by at one point. A fisherman coming out said you could still catch fish in the river, which pleased me, and there were visible minnows in the water. It was pretty un-fucked-up, given that almost every other childhood bit of local forest I valued has long since been condo-ized. One clearing wasn't as I remembered it - but it was nearing sunset, so we didn't delve too deeply.

Anyhow, not really up for a big piece of writing at the moment, but here are some photos of our trip. You can see Erika's trepidation about her footwear (inadequate for a dirt trail) as I urge her forward... there's a wee narrative here, I hope! 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

British Columbia Cryptids - stories of giant salamanders, horned lizards, and other weirdness you find online at 3am

Awake at 3am - CPAP mask crapped out on me, and now I'm down a cryptozoology rabbithole. 

I remember my father reading a strange story to me from The Province when I was a boy, about a prospector exploring Pitt Lake and finding a "lost world" hidden in a valley. It made quite an impression on me, and for awhile, I would actually ask my father about it: "Was there anything more in the paper about the hidden valley with the giant horned lizards?" There never was, and after a few years, I stopped asking my Dad if he'd read updates on the story. 

At that point I had read Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and - as a dinosaur-and-horror-movie obsessive and childhood Sasquatch enthusiast - I loved the idea that there might be something akin to it, a hidden valley with prehistoric creatures only a short drive from where I lived.

Later on in life, I used to spend a lot of time with some friends who lived on Pitt Lake, and the story, I'm sure, is one I mentioned to them. But it kind of disappeared from the forefront of my consciousness, since nothing was ever there to feed  it. It would surface from time to time, however, and I sat down some time ago online to see if the internet could help me track down the original story (and again, to see if there had been any follow-up). 

As close as I came was mention of horned lizards in an article about another really interesting BC cryptid, a rumoured, but un-proven species of giant salamander, from 6 to 12 feet in length - many times larger than the known-but-endangered Pacific giant salamander, which is only a foot long. (I might have seen one of these fellas as a kid - two neighbours, knowing about my love for reptiles and amphibians, showed me a really big salamander that they'd caught under a log while fishing in the lower Alouette - a place I also fished as a child; I remember it being almost a foot long, and like nothing I've seen before or since).   

Well, being kind of Peter-Stampfel-centric lately, I read something he posted on Facebook about hellbenders - a known, proven-species of Appalachian giant salamander. It reminded me of all the above, and sent me down a Google rabbithole, where I found another story related to this, which had only gone online after my last round of searching. 

But what about those mysterious horned lizards?

Good news! The story - not original article my Dad read to me in The Province, but one that captures some of the details - is recounted here, on the BC Prospectors' website, excerpting and altering a longer version of the story here, apparently by the same author. It talks about a "Mr. Scott, of Haney BC," informing the news media of a lost valley he'd discovered, that "had a tropical climate where extinct vegetation grew in abundance. Inhabiting the valley were 6 foot long meat eating horned-lizards, huge white frogs and a 150 year old man."

I don't remember the 150 year old man from the original story, but I do remember that some of the captured horned lizards were supposedly sent to a university for study. Warren Scott, whose name is mentioned in some articles about this lost valley, also pops up in some stories about the giant salamanders, it seems, and looks from this forum discussion to also have been a Sasquatch enthusiast.

It's kind of interesting that this Warren Scott fella connects some of these stories. Wonder if he's still around? There's mention in that forum discussion that he was interviewed on a show called Alden's Outdoors in 1977... if he was an adult then, he'd likely be in his 80's or 90's now... Hm. Barrie Alden seems to report from hospital occasionally on Youtube videos.... it's a pretty odd Youtube channel, but the most recent post is here, about cougars. I've posted a comment to see if he can do something on Warren Scott - if he can share his memories of interviewing him, say...

Anyhow, I'd rather be asleep - I have to work today - but... it's been an unusual couple of hours!

Monday, April 26, 2021

Addendum: vaccine recovery process

 Awakened at 3am by my wife's CPAP machine - her mask must have come off or something because it just sounded like rushing wind beside me. I told her, she adjusted it, but I didn't think I would be able to get back to sleep... here I am. I spent all of today in a giddy-but-weak condition, like that lightheaded, high-energy state you sometimes enter into when you've had a fever. Had a vague ache in my left armpit, as if from a swollen lymph node, and some tenderness at the site of the injection, but otherwise felt pretty good (giddy weak feeling aside). Fever is gone, headache is gone, chills are gone. Yay!

Still glad I arranged a day off work - broken sleep and weird psychological states do not make for sound tutoring choices. No traumatizing nightmares in which I doubted my own sanity, anyhow - just some leftover questions rattling around my head for Peter Stampfel. Like, whenceforth came the "swamp" in "Black Leather Swamp Nazi?" What story inspired "Diarrhea of a Madman," which seems to be built on fact - because it would just be weird to have a story about someone who "shoved poop-filled bags down his victim's pants" if it had no relationship to the truth...? 

Maybe he explains that in the liner notes to The Ordovician Era? He probably does. Most of his CDs come with great liner notes. He probably also explains what "Ordovician" means - I haven't looked it up yet.

Anyways, I guess I'll read The Stand for awhile. Oh, speaking of books: I had a fun score at a local Value Village today. Having chatted briefly with a fella with an awesome Igbo name at Save On Foods - I cannot recall exactly what it was but it reminded me of the "shadooby" in the Rolling Stones' "Shattered" - I was attuned to African literature when shopping, noticing a few Chinua Achebe's and such. Then I saw a Wole Soyinka title I'd never seen before, and - if Abebooks is any indication - quickly established that it was actually a fairly rare book, a translation of a novel written originally in Yoruba, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. It's one of the first, maybe the first, novel written in an African novel, by D. O. Fagunwa, translated into English much later, and there's exactly one copy of what seems to be this edition - a paperback first, if Abe can be trusted here - on Abebooks, which has an asking price of $249 US. There are later editions that are much cheaper, and a library hardcover that maybe is not the true first? It's hard to tell. I guess I can do some research. I might flip it, if someone offers me something cool in trade. Or maybe I'll keep it?

Oh, and I found Rocket Norton's Lost in Space, which is always a good find. Nice to do a little thrifting - it's been awhile. Maybe I should read it? 

Oh, speaking of reading, if anyone read it, I fucked up when writing my previous post about the vaccine and in the initial edit said that the vaccine itself was worse than COVID, which is exactly the OPPOSITE of what I meant. Oops! No, no, no - I had relatively unpleasant side-effects compared to many of my friends (not as bad as one guy I know), but I'm still glad for it. I feel mostly okay! I was just so wonky the night I wrote that I picked a totally wrong word. Oops!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Terrifying nightmare

I just had a very confusing, very traumatic dream - one which will make no sense to recount, but which - the notable part is - was VIVIDLY real. I had this while still feeling the effects of my COVID vaccination.

In the dream, I leave Maple Ridge, where I'm working, and drive to Chilliwack, where I hang out with Gerry Hannah. I don't really remember that part so clearly.

Then I drive back to Maple Ridge, buying bread and Chinese food to bring to my Mom, who is still alive, and still living in my childhood home at 216th and Dewdney Trunk. But I realize that I have forgotten something, and violated a travel ban to boot. I have to go back to Chilliwack for some reason, to take care of this thing I have forgotten. But... how can I do this? 

Somehow, I decide that the best thing to do is to start the car, then get out, and let the car go on its own. Which is what I do. 

The car drives off without me. In fact, it might be more than one car! I remember watching three or four cars drive off, unoccupied, heading up what looks like a real bypass in Maple Ridge.

I have second thoughts. How can I let the cars drive without me? I change my mind, and - I am not clear on this - either drive or run after the cars, trying to find them. Recall, I don't drive in real life, so I have no idea how my "dream" can have felt so vividly real. But I cannot FIND the cars - I get all the way to a ferry terminal, then decide to come back home. I remember walking down a row of cars, waiting to get on the ferry (which is way off in the other direction) - looking at the cars and the contents of the cars; no, they're not mine. 

Somewhere on the way back, I start to wonder if I am getting confused - if I made the trip to Chilliwack at all. Nowhere does my dreaming brain twig to the possibility - as it sometimes does - that I am dreaming. I call my Mom on my cellphone - I tell her that I think I might be delusional or something, as a side effect of the medication - and ask her if my car (I have never owned a car in reality) is still in the garage. I haven't lost her car, have I?

She takes a long time answering. I am, it seems, still carrying bread and Chinese food for her, but I no longer have a car with me. She tells me that the cars are still in the garage. Was I delusional the whole time?

I get the bright idea that I will call Gerry Hannah and ask him. His wife answers, and we talk briefly about movies, but I tell her that it is  urgent I talk to Gerry, who apparently is hanging out with Id Guinness, another musician I have interviewed. 

Gerry listens as I frantically ask him, Did you see me today? Was I in Chilliwack? Did you see me anywhere today? Abbotsford? Agassiz? 

I tell him I think I am delusional, because of a vaccine I am on. Actually, I think I tell him that I am delusional because I am on Valtrex - an anti-herpes med I took once (it's a long story - I thought I had caught herpes; I didn't). Gerry listens patiently to my fevered ranting, then must have hung up on me. 

I go to a Walmart, sit on a small chair in a cafeteria-area, and put the bags of bread and Chinese food in a basket while I try to sort out what is going on. I type into my cellphone, does Valtrex cause delusional thinking? But my cellphone will only bring up the Walmart home page. They have taken control of my cellphone. I can look up Valtrex on their search engine to see if I can buy it at the store, but that's it.

I remember that I've said I won't shop at Walmart anymore  (or at least not the Burnaby location). That's also a detail from reality.

That's when I realize that my stapled-shut paper bags of bread and Chinese food for my mother have been TAKEN FROM THE SHOPPING CART in front of me. 

I see a guy with a similarly wrinkled paper bag of groceries in his cart, and stop him - "Did you just take that from my cart?" 

He is surprisingly patient with me and shows me that he did not. I explain back to him that I might be delusional. I have a feeling of terror spreading in me: did I actually HAVE groceries? I didn't go to Chilliwack. I didn't set cars to drive without me. Maybe I didn't have groceries at all?

I feel horror at the thought that I have completely lost my mind, cannot trust it, then wake up in a panic and realize I had been dreaming. 

Was the dream itself - the most vivid and harrowing I've had in years - a side-effect of being vaccinated? Jeez. I don't know... but I'm so glad to be back in Burnaby, with my wife making breakfast. It smells great. Holy shit, what a night!

I slept for eleven hours. I still feel a bit achey. Whatta vaccine this is!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Peter Stampfel, John Wright, and my vaccination

As I hinted in my previous post, I have a John Wright interview to transcribe (Nomeansno, the Hanson Brothers). I don't know if you have an idea what's involved in my weird little hobby, but trust me - it's a lot of work - listening back to three hours of conversation, selecting the parts that are relevant, organizing them, selecting photos, etc. I spent an insane amount of time on this gigantic Peter Stampfel piece I've just put up. This is an amazing history lesson for anyone who cares about popular music - not just the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, but musical history, and Peter is plenty pleased with it - this is the uncropped version of a photo that's used in the piece (I'm out of other photos). 

Alas, despite a fast-encroaching deadline, I may not get to John Wright today - it's going to depend on how I feel. Y'see, I just received my first shot of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and I have a full spectrum of the expected side-effects: aches, mild nausea, fatigue, and worst of them all, the shivers.

I hate the shivers. I just got out of bed at 4AM - first to pee, put socks on (ccccold f-f-feet). My wife was awakened by my shufflings, as I did this, and took my temperature, which was 37.4 - I gather that's more-or-less normal, though I suspect it may be on the way up.

My hands are also feeling pretty cold on the keyboard. Anyhow, no transcription for now. I dunno if I'm gonna meet my target or not, but I'm going to bundle up on the couch and continue with my first-ever read of the unexpurgated version of Stephen King's The Stand. He really is a fine novelist, sometimes, and though I haven't read everything he's done, I would be surprised if this isn't his best book. 

I am not 100% trusting of vaccines, note - I don't entirely demonize the anti-vax movement, and think there are some sincere people associated with it - but fuckit - the side effects of the shot I got are way better than COVID-19 [Note: I actually wrote the wrong word in there when doing this last night - "worse" instead of "better." Oops. My mind wasn't working so well, I guess]. I would have rather have had Pfizer or Moderna (which Erika got), but this was what I was offered.

Real easy, too. I registered online then, that same day, called the pharmacy closest to me, Inwell - just a small place by Metrotown - to ask if they were giving the vaccine. They are, and could fit me in this week. 

Good luck out there! (PS - check out Jeffrey Lewis' new vid, "I Wanna Be Vaccinated," to the tune of a certain Ramones song, here - it's great!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bison at the Rickshaw - featuring THE RETURN OF "WENDIGO PART 1!" (And a Blue Öyster Cult interview snippet)

Bison L to R - Eugene, James, Evan, Dan

Preamble: When I interviewed Eric Bloom of Blue Öyster Cult last year, I asked him a question that had been on my mind for awhile. Y'see, I've heard a few artists complain about songs that they've played vastly too many times, until there was no life left in them, and I've seen encores where people have, to all appearances, fulfilled contractual obligations by trotting out their best known songs for an encore, while practically rolling their eyes at the tedium of it (Lou Reed dampened an otherwise amazing concert the night I saw him in Tokyo on the Ecstasy tour by doing a perfunctory, sped up, lets-get-this-shit-over-with run through of "Perfect Day," "Sweet Jane," "Dirty Blvd," and "Walk on the Wild Side." Personally, I'd LOVED the whole rest of the concert, which bypassed any such obvious moves, so we could hear Lou jam with Mike Rathke on songs of Ecstasy, which were clearly ALIVE and fresh and fun to play for both men; that was not the case for any of the songs in the encore. I don't care if they're his "hits" - if I coulda replaced that whole bored encore with a 20-minute jam of "Possum Day," I would have, and had a better night for it). 

Now don't get me wrong - I loved the last Blue Öyster Cult concert I saw; I'm not bored of their big three hits; and the band gave no signs that they were, either, unlike Mr. Reed. But if you consider that they've played "Don't Fear the Reaper" at pretty much every concert they've performed since 1976 (unless there was a power outage or something totally unforseen, Bloom told me), you gotta wonder: Wouldn't it be more fun for them to trade out "Don't Fear the Reaper" for, say, "Flaming Telepaths" or "I Love the Night," or "Lips in the Hills" or some similar deep dive into their catalogue, just for a change? I want them to be having fun too! My question to Eric: is it a challenge to keep "Don't Fear the Reaper" fresh for themselves, after all these years?

Bloom's response: "No, not at all. That song is always fresh, everybody likes it, it puts a smile on everybody’s face and everybody’s happy. If we can do that, and everybody feels good about it, we’re fine with it... I hear stories about certain bands – I won’t mention names, I don’t want to cast any shade on’em – that don’t want to play the stuff that everybody wants to hear; they won’t do it, or they change the arrangement. I went to see somebody, it was a British 60’s invasion person, at a great club setting, and I had a great seat. Couldn’t wait to see this act. And they played most of the hits, but they had re-arranged everything. And I said to myself, 'Why the hell would they mess with hits? These songs are not supposed to go that way! Play them the way they were a hit! Why’dja change it?' It just annoyed the hell out of me. The whole audience wants to sing along with what they remember!"

Which is fair enough - I'm glad for the band that they feel that way - and if that's what they feel, may they never stop playing that song. I mean, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is one of those few songs in the world that it is very difficult to burn out on. Certainly I've never gotten tired of it, so it may be a testament to that song's magic that it still feels good for them to play it. 

But as a listener I DO get burned out on some songs now and then. The thing about retiring something for awhile is that it can bring life BACK to a song that you've burned out on. It certainly feels that way for me as a music fan - I mean, since COVID struck, I've discovered, happily, that I can listen to Pink Floyd's The Wall (or Dark Side of the Moon) and Led Zeppelin IV again, after a decades-long personal moratorium on playing any of those albums in full. Imagine my delight to discover that instead of rolling my eyes and clutching my ears for "Stairway to Heaven," I could feel it again, after three decades of being sick of it? 

(The second-to-last time I saw Bison, in 2018; photo by me!)

End preamble. I, for one, am totally stoked to hear that my favourite-ever Vancouver metal band, Bison, will perform their retired crowd-pleaser, "Wendigo Pt. 1," as part of this weekend's livestreaming event. It's an amazing song that I have only had the privilege of hearing half a dozen times or so, and that I've been secretly hoping they might bring back any of the last five times I've seen'em... but I'm gonna shut up and let Bison's James Farwell tell you about it. I sent him an email asking about what old or new songs they were going to break out for this weekend's concert streaming event, what lineup of the band we'd be seeing, and so forth. What follows is 100% Farwell:
The current line up is Dan And - gits and vox / James Farwell - vox and gits / Evan Joel - Bass / Eugene Parkomenko - drums

We have a plan to play songs from our entire catalogue - including a very special song we are exhuming for this stream - "Wendigo Pt. 1." We retired this song about 8 years ago, determined we had played the life out of it. Due to the excitement of performing after more than a year, we thought it would be appropriate to dust off this favourite for the occasion. It also gave us an opportunity to have our friend  Emily Bach playing the violin for the opening instrumental of the song. We also Invited Terence O'Shea, who recorded violin for our song "Tantrum," to perform that song with us.
We felt so grateful to be performing and documenting this night, I thought it important to acknowledge how honoured we are to be making our music and doing our good work in this part of the world. I've invited Cease Wyss, a local indigenous artist, to perform a land acknowledgement and a drum song welcoming us, and supporting us in our music being made on the unceded, ancestral, traditional homelands of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ, Xʷməθkwəy̓əm, & Sḵwx̱wú7mesh peoples in Vancouver, and the shíshálh, Kwikwetlem, q̓íc̓əy̓, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, and Sto:lo Nations of the Lower Mainland.
James is stoked to see Mo and the Rickshaw staff again "after all the time away," he adds. "They are indeed the most welcoming and professional crew around. Long live The Rickshaw Theatre! And long live LIVE MUSIC!" 

For more information about the Bison streaming event this weekend, see here! (Maybe if we move the couch, I can get my wife and cat to mosh with me?).  

RIP Jim Steinman

It is no surprise to me that Jim Steinman proves a divisive figure among my friends on social media. I think it all has to do with how old you were when you discovered Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell

I was about 12. I got the album at a long-since-closed record store in Maple Ridge. At that time, for me it was actually a pretty heavy album - not as heavy as the cover suggested, but still; I mean, besides my parent's Charley Pride cassette and other country classics, I was, by my own choosing, mostly listening to Simon & Garfunkel (their Greatest Hits was my first record-of-my-very-own) and Billy Joel. In fact, I saw Billy Joel on the Glass Houses tour with my Mom, and knew every song he played; that tour was in 1980, so it's possible I was even younger than 12 at this time, by which I had all his solo albums except Cold Spring Harbor. Out in the suburbs in 1980, I had not even heard of heavy metal or punk, or figured out where the "real" record stores were; a year later I would be neck-deep in the Who, the Kinks, and the Blue Oyster Cult, and at age 14, two years later - in 1982 - I would be listening to DOA, Nomeansno, the Cramps, the Subhumans and the Dead Kennedys, and making trips into Vancouver to go to Hot Wax (I was there a couple of times) or Collector's RPM or D&G Collector's Records, or whatever it was called, across from the Kootenay Loop. I was a fast study, I guess, but when you're in that 10-to-12-year-old age range, you don't know anything about anything - it's all new, and your idea of "good" has less to do with what's actually good and more to do with what you have-or-have-not heard previously.

I hadn't heard much. I thought Bat Out of Hell, purchased at that vulnerable age, was pretty great, actually. I didn't know show tunes from shinola, had no concept of "campiness" or "kitsch," and I didn't understand all the sexual references in the lyrics (they creeped me out a little, actually - what, his swollen Levis are bursting apart? WHY? Is this some sort of fat joke, or - how big is his thing, anyhow? I would try to visualize it, and shudder; now, I just chuckle). But that album - especially the epic opening track - was as hard a rock as I'd heard at that point, and though I didn't care about the music half as much as I did the Richard Corben cover art - I followed Corben from Warren Magazines like Creepy and Eerie - I not only WANTED to like it, based on that cover, but I DID like it. (The Corben cover art was a stroke of genius - as I recall, it was what first got my attention. Corben also died fairly recently, note). I mean, if you want to understand the inner life of a 12 year old, just study the album cover above and these two book covers below, all by Corben. 

I'm guessing that my lasting fondness for the album has everything to do with this history. If I'd been an older kid when I first heard it, I might have snubbed it. I mean, there was a time in my teens when, hoping to sculpt an identity or declare tribal affiliation or something, I purged pretty much every album in my collection that wasn't punk (or Neil Young, the BOC, or Motorhead - I kept some of that!). Meat Loaf did not survive that purge; and if I'd first discovered him at that time, when I was about 15, I probably would have howled my derision. When Gerry Hannah quips on Facebook that "the only thing I like about Meat Loaf were his sexy man-boobs in Fight Club and they weren't even real," I mean, that could have been me, if I'd "discovered" Meat Loaf a little bit later in my life. 

But once Bat Out of Hell is in your system, it has, um, effects. You see, Jim Steinman, the songwriter behind every song on that album, has a pretty powerful "signature" as a musician, which you can hear in all of his songs: high camp, kitschy, adolescently-angsty rock'n'roll showtunes, the lot of them, from Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Holding Out for a Hero," from Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" to Fire Inc.'s "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" on the Streets of Fire soundtrack, there's a definite way with language and phrasing, a definite identity. I mean, they all sorta become one song, to me. And I bought and heard a Meat Loaf album that Steinman had nothing to do with - the one with actual meatloaf on the cover - and thought it was godawful, so I knew that it was the songwriter, not the singer, that was the person I liked (which also caused me to pause and reflect a bit). Then the next Meat Loaf album came out, with cover art by Bernie Wrightson, who was sort of a distant number two-or-three-after-Corben in terms of my favourite comic book artists, and then Bad For Good, with a Corben cover again! 

And the thing here is that by 1981, I must have developed some sense of "taste," because I could tell that Bad for Good was, in fact, pretty bad. It occurred to me, I think, at that time, that the title may even have been referring to this, acknowledging this "badness," though I don't think it came to me until a few years later that Steinman may well have been gay, and deliberately indulging a taste for campiness, pushing it to its utmost, in fact. That's my favourite reading of Steinman - that he was gay, and that all of this should be read as high camp; which may not be the case, but if the cover art doesn't make you think maybe I'm onto something, take a look at the rock video - which I only discovered yesterday, when reading that Jim Steinman died. It's almost as funny as that parody video of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." RuPaul's Drag Race contestants could do wicked lip-synchs of any of Steinman's songs. It's a perfect fit. (If the filmic ambitions that Steinman mentions in the interview linked at the bottom are any clue, it seems like there might be a bit of a Peter Pan going on here, with Wendy being menaced by the Lost Boys or something).  

I know nothing of the real Jim Steinman - there are no public statements that I can find about him being gay, just a conspicuous lack of mention of any relationships at all - but the Jim Steinman I imagine in my inner life loved that parody video almost as much as the real thing. Whatever his orientation, I hope he had a hell of a sense of humour about himself. Don't tell me if that it ain't so, okay? If he was taking all this seriously... if he was describing himself in his bio (using a quote, but still) as "the Richard Wagner of rock" with a straight face - then I don't want to know about it. 

To my friends who are horrified by the mention of Steinman or Meat Loaf, then: I don't blame you. No, this is not cool music for an ostensible punk, even a 53-year-old-one, to admit to liking. It is not good rock, and it is not good taste, and it is probably flat-out not good, in any "objective" sense of the word (though it may be good musical theatre). Even if I'm not entirely alone in my fondness for this music (Billy Hopeless also posted some Meat Loaf in honour of Steinman's passing, and I like him more for it), I don't expect anyone to agree with me about any of this - may I never attempt to convince someone that the songs of Jim Steinman are actually worth their time, if they feel otherwise. Maybe you gotta be 12 years old and living in Maple Ridge when you read that line about how "nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole, and everything is stunted and lost" for the hook to sink - I dunno. But I'm thinking I'm going to make a "Jim Steinman's greatest hits" playlist for myself for me and Erika to listen to (she gets it, too). 

It can't all be punk rock, folks. 

Rest in peace, Jim Steinman. 

PS: A friend (thanks, Elliot) points out Steinman's website - it's quite something. Amazing that a website this current - still talking about tour 2021 dates for Bat Out of Hell: The Musical - can look this vintage. There is a wealth of material on it for a Steinman fan, much of it odd and excessive - like this 1981 interview, for example, describing Steinman as "the Loaf behind the Meat." What? (No author is credited, and it sure feels like a self-interview, but...).

Friday, April 16, 2021

My immense backlog, and lots to do otherwise

 Jeezus, talk about a backlog!

I revere Peter Stampfel (member of the Holy Modal Rounders and the first lineup of the Fugs, and Jeffrey Lewis collaborator). He put out a giant 5CD box set covering one song for every year of the 20th century, and OF COURSE I had to interview him about it. We talked for an hour and half. Still transcribing it - gonna buckle down this weekend, no matter how good the weather is. Peter is, like, 82 or something, so everyone else has to wait, because I would be crushed if something happened to him  before he got to see the finished interview go up, and he's already been waiting weeks (the album came out in February, I think, so it's past due!).  

The second thing is more complicated. The whole story would make a great, fun blogpiece but so far the Germans are the people who are getting it, once it is written. Y'see, I made a possibly-slightly-irresponsible trip (I mean, *I* think it was safe, but numbers have started to peak again...) to visit this guy:

...during which I got to fulfill a long-time rock'n'roll dream of mine, as seen in the pic below (it was actually way better than I ever dreamed; I thought that because he knows his beer so well, he'd make stuff that only an elitist beersnob would fancy - "the Emperor's New Beer," y'know, which is what I kinda felt about a Czech Pilsner he recommended to me in a past interview, but holy heck, his lager is YUMMY):

...and that story suddenly takes a front seat to everything but Peter, because it's for a magazine with a deadline, which looms large this week, and fuck me, it was a three hour long conversation! Aaargh! 

Oh, and I also became an uncle, which was the pretext for the above trip. News there, too, of a more personal variety. See the quilt my wife made the new baby? It's AMAZING:

I mean, "stay home, don't travel," fine, but what were we gonna do, stay home for a baby bein' born? The first new baby born to the Laxes since Erika, and the first time ever that I've become an uncle? Heck no. We didn't travel for Christmas, and Erika hadn't seen her family for six months. But while Christmas comes once a year, a baby is born only ONCE, and the trip to family allowed us to visit a couple of friends, too (and lose one, it seems, but that's not a story that really bears telling) so... well, sorry, folks, we travelled a bit this spring. 

Speaking of which, there's also a potential blogpiece to be had about our walk with the Hanhams through Ross Bay Cemetery... Bob ain't the only one who gets to photograph Kevin: 

...or my visiting my buddy Mark, a painter who lives on the island, who has resumed painting after a long hiatus (those are his Klaus Kinski and Frida Kahlo paintings, and William S. Burroughs and Yukio Mishima peeking over his shoulder - they were awesome to see again (Mark, too): 

...but who knows if I'll be writing anything on any of that anytime soon, because all of this gets added to a backlog that includes a Kirk Brandon piece that I gotta do more interviewing on (because it was too awkward trying to talk to him before Theatre of Hate played the Rickshaw), plus a Black Halos piece that I guess the time has come to finish, plus a Stephen Nikleva interview, a Rob Nesbitt/ SuiteSixteen interview, and interviews I haven't even DONE yet, but would like to, like something on the Willie Dunn anthology and the new Salt Spring Underground album and the new Paul Pigat album and the new EddyD & the SexBombs album and... shit, I dunno. There's lots of stuff out there I like, but I'm married, working full time, and trying to survive COVID, and SOMEONE has to clean the kitty litter (my wife works looong hours so that sorta thing tends to fall to me).

So sorry, gang - there's LOTS MORE TO COME, eventually, assuming COVID doesn't sweep me away. Meantime, the English-language version of my Paul Leary interview will be appearing soon in Big Takeover, and the one on the Blue Oyster Cult is already on the shelves, if you've missed it. 

Have a good spring, and stay safe! See you when I can.   

Saturday, March 06, 2021

No Neck Blues Band redux: my 2006 (or 2007?) interview with Dave Nuss

One of my earliest major interviews was with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band, in late 2006/ early 2007. I was barely getting published by magazines or newspapers at that point; it ran in the underground zine Bixobal. My lack of experience with "professional" writing (later something I would be sort of schooled in by the Straight) may have appealed to the band, who also didn't really do many interviews. I haven't read this piece in fourteen years - probably very few people have - and times sure have changed, but there is, in fact, a relatively new release by the No Neck Blues Band being put out by the record label associated with that magazine, Ri Be Xibalba - see here (or also here, for a previous 10"). 

Since this is an interesting conversation, not in print anywhere at present - with the permission of the Bixobal publisher and Dave Nuss, I'm posting it on my blog. I have no photos of the Vancouver show, or photo credits for the images used (provided by the band at the time of the interview and miraculously saved on my computer). Thanks to Vancouver New Music for permission to reprint the flyer from their Vancouver show, which is where this started, and thanks to Dave Nuss and Eric Lanzillotta for supporting this republishing. It has been mildly edited for errata and such. 

No Neck, No Bullshit

An interview with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band

By Allan MacInnis

No Neck Blues Band played a single Vancouver gig to a sparse crowd in November 2006. They weren’t that unusual to look at, if you don’t count the giant walking mattress that staggered around the peripheries of the stage, fell off, and made its way into the audience, eventually to disgorge a bandmember. Really, though – their music – trippy, multifaceted, and strange, at times building up into something resembling an intense Krautrock jam, at others creating utter (subtle) chaos for the listener’s mind to assemble into whatever order it liked – was best appreciated with ones eyes closed, anyhow. It’s the shifting coloured map of interior space the sound provokes that merits contemplation, not the mattress, even if it walks.

Now that Ri Be Xibalba have issued a recording of the Vancouver concert on vinyl [note - this has not been done, but portions of the full-length linked above may me drawn from parts of the Vancouver show], it seemed an opportune time to present a lengthy (rare) interview I did with Dave Nuss, in early 2007.

Allan: I know No Neck tend not to give interviews. Have you had many articles about you published in papers like The Wire or Signal to Noise before?

Dave: No, no. Those guys usually stay away from us, for some reason. I mean, they usually do reviews, but somewhere in the past, there was some place where we went one way and they went another way. We had some difficulties with the Wire around the time we did the Revenant album. They wanted to do a feature story about us, but that was at a time when we were very much not doing interviews, and we said, “We’d be happy to do something for your magazine, but it has to be sorta on our terms,” y’know? Issuing more of a statement. And we didn’t want to have photos, and – you know the Wire, they’re kinda a little tabloidy. They’re really big on personality stuff, I always feel, and at that time, we were very much into anonymity.  

Allan: I see.

Dave: So let’s see what it turns into, but... You’re talking with me, and I don’t want to tell you so much about where I grew up and what makes me tick as a person. We can definitely talk about the band, and keep it more general about that kinda stuff. Or maybe about upcoming plans or something. We try to keep No Neck Blues Band as an entity unto itself, and not my name, or Keith’s name, or anybody else’s name. We try to keep it as general as we can.

Allan: You seem to be the contact person – is there a reason for that?

Dave: I guess nobody else wants to be, and as with any kind of undertaking, everyone goes into the role that they’re comfortable being in, y’know? From the beginning – the band was already going when I first met these guys, back in 1993, and it was Keith and Jason and Pat, and this other guy named Dave, who left the band when I joined it. I saw them play a show, and they were real underground guys – like, they didn’t talk to anybody. They all grew up in Brooklyn, and they had their Brooklyn scene, but – I’d moved to New York thinking, “Oh, I want to be involved in the music scene!” I was much more outgoing and more social in those regards, so just naturally, when I joined the band, I went into that role.

Allan: Right.

Dave: But I also never wanted to be the kind of guy – like in a jazz sense, I never wanted to be the kind of guy who’s putting my name out there, like, “the Dave Nuss Group.” I never responded to that so much. But I ended up, because of personality stuff just [adopting a spokesperson’s role], and some of the other guys are a bit more introverted or whatever, so it’s not really in their nature so much.

Allan: Is that the reason why the band prefers to keep a low profile? Is it because of introversion, or because – like, it doesn’t sound like you’re that fond of the current state of music writing.

Dave: No, no, no – I don’t want to give that impression at all. I think the low profile probably just has to do with the music itself. It’s just not a pop kind of music, so part of our sense is that there’s just no reason to run around ramming this down people’s throats, with a kind of promotional attack... It’s not (laughs) – we’re never going to sell that many more than maybe a couple thousand CDs, and we don’t really have aspirations to do that, because it’s not really appropriate... So the low profile comes maybe as much from that. It’s not so much a deliberate statement, or that we have a problem with these certain things. I think it’s just not, um, appropriate for what the project is about. Does that make sense?

Allan: It does, but... I’ve read some of the band’s stuff online, and this thing that was in the Intonomancy CD case. “Hell exists on earth? Yes. We won’t play in it. That’s us.”

Dave: Oh yeah! (laughs).

Allan (laughs): Which I think is brilliant. I mean, you guys seem to have put yourself in a certain position in regard the marketplace, where there are certain forms of success that you’ve decided you definitely don’t want anything to do with.

Dave: Like what? Like Britney Spears? I’m trying to think of someone in our scene that got more popular. You mean like Animal Collective or something like that?

Allan: Or, well – John Zorn, without doing a whole lot of press, seems to have managed to become sort of a celebrity in his own way.

Dave: I think that goes back more again to the jazz question, where you get your name out, you write lots of insane music, you appropriate lots of people’s styles, and you regurgitate it out your own thought process... and then you make a name for yourself. Thurston does that, O’Rourke does that. They use other people’s things, like David Bowie or something. I kind of think of all these guys in the same way, all these personalities. O’Rourke is a perfect example, because he’s such a musical genius. He could hear any kind of music and play it, or reproduce it. So there was a certain period where he was into this AMM stuff, then he was into his Fahey stuff, then he was into something else, and he could do it all perfectly! And you see these shows, and you think, “Wow, this guy’s really great.” I think guys like O’Rourke or Zorn or Thurston, those guys, they use other people’s stuff, and they’re always feeding off other people’s scenes, but they make it their own, they have their own thing...  And so, by the time that whole process happens with No Neck Blues Band, it comes out as No Neck Blues Band. It doesn’t come out as Dave Nuss. It doesn’t come out as somebody else, you know? It’s like – that’s the entity that we want to take the foot forward into the public eye.

Allan: Okay, I think I get it.

Dave: So therefore - because it’s a collective, it’s not the project of a single person – it stays a bit looser, and less defined, and sometimes maybe more difficult to pin down. Although I think we have a very defined aesthetic, and I think it’s quite recognizable. It is comparable to the Zorn thing – No Neck Blues Band has a sound, John Zorn has a sound. But he made it into, like, an empire. And I think that we know him because he had a certain intention to be that way. It has not been our intention – not because we’re against cats like Zorn, it’s just not what we do.

Allan: Yeah.

Dave: It’s a bit more esoteric. And I think because of that, we wanted it to be a little bit more shadowy. Or it just is much more shadowy.

Allan: I like how with the CD packaging there’s very little there to respond to, other than the music.

Dave: We usually try to get a singular iconic graphic. Like, Intonomancy has that diamond, Qvaris has the eggplant... little things like that, one image you latch onto. And yeah, of course, I think what you’re saying is right. It’s about the music. With John Zorn, you’ve got his music, which spans a gamut of about a zillion kinds of things – and then you have his personality, you have his biography, and you have his image –

Allan: It’s almost a brand recognition thing.

Dave:  Yeah. Like, when Sonic Youth did Washing Machine, I remember reading interviews around that time, and that was what Thurston talked about a lot. He was like, “It seems like our band name has become sort of a brand name, a reference point that you put down,” and he was making a comment about that. I don’t think that that’s ever happened with us, or will happen with us. As much as there are some other bands that we have an associated sound with, I don’t think it’s really going to happen that way.

Allan: How successful are the CDs – you sell a couple of thousand?

Dave: Yeah, it depends. Like, the Revenant or the 5 Rue Christine stuff, those sold maybe three to five thousand, or something like that, and then if we put something out ourselves, its more like a thousand to two thousand. And then the records, we usually keep them limited to around a thousand or so.

Allan: Who does the art? It all seems like it’s comin’ from one guy...

Dave: Keith does all the art. The music is all selected and chosen and obviously played collectively, but then we leave it to him to sort of conceive it. Just because in the beginning, he naturally took on that role. And we all like his aesthetic, and feel it represents pretty well what we do. Jeff Ryan (aka John Fell Ryan), who split off earlier to make Excepter, used to be involved with Keith, and they used to collaborate on some of the earlier stuff, but that’s already been six or seven years...

Allan: In terms of money –

Dave (chuckling): We don’t make any.

Allan: You guys have to support yourselves with other things.

Dave: Yeah, yeah, we all work.

Allan: And you have jobs where it’s flexible enough that you can take time off to tour.

Dave: Yeah, sure. In New York, it’s pretty common to land these kind of jobs. And it’s a bit of a stress – a couple of us have kids, different things come in – but we have not really ever thought of the band as something that’s going to put food on the table. But now when we tour, we actually do come home with money sometimes, and we usually just put that back into our rehearsal space, paying the rent up there for a few months, depending on how much we have. But basically we’re not thinking of it that way.

Allan: You guys just got back from the Netherlands. Is the European reception way different?

Dave: Oh, yeah. I mean, you notice we don’t tour in America. I mean, we tried one time a year ago – it was exactly a year ago, I guess. Before that it had been five years. In general, though, we can go from town to town all around Europe. Last year, we did a six week tour all around Europe, from May til June. People just come out, they’re interested, they respond. It’s always a wide variety of people – old, young, different races, men, women... There’s a community there that seems to be in place, ready to embrace the kind of thing that we do. America? Not at all. I mean, we can head to Chicago, we can go to San Francisco, Vancouver was cool, Montreal and Toronto... And then everything else, we pretty much can’t play. It’s not feasible economically. Because these cities don’t really have subsidized things, the way they do in Europe, it’s just not feasible to move seven people around and make that worth our while. I mean – as much as we aren’t in this band to make money, we also don’t go into projects which will deliberately lose money!

Allan (laughs): Right.

Dave: We’re not that stupid.

Allan: What about Japan – you have a Japanese member. How did that come about?

Dave: Michiko? Okay. So, on our first, Letters from the Earth, there’s this guy playing on it called Shiraishi Tamio. He’s a saxophonist, he’s from Japan; he played a lot with Keiji Haino – I think he was in the first incarnation of Fushitsusha. He came from that scene, but he was living in New York, working this regular job. He used to come around to some of our early shows, and he used to ask, “Can I play before you guys?” I remember the first time he came and did this, it was like, “Well, who is this guy?” And he said, “I only have to play for like, fifteen seconds,” y’know (laughs). And we’d be like, “What?” And he’d get up there and he’d just blow the highest note possible on the saxophone, and then he’d be like (adopts a formal tone) “Thank you very much.” And that would be it, and it was completely devastating and bizarre. That kind of eccentricity is the kind of thing we really respond to.

Allan: (laughing).

Dave: So anyway, he eventually was doing shows with us, and you can hear him on the second CD, blowing that one note that he blows. And his girlfriend is this woman named Michiko, and so he was doing stuff with us and eventually she started coming around. And she’s a trained Butoh dancer from Japan, and she started coming around with the idea that, “Sometimes I’m gonna do weird performance while you guys play,” and we had some really, really intense shows with her early on, where she was more in that kind of role, as the Butoh dancer who was doing stuff with No Neck. And y’know, Butoh, you can do anything. It’s not like you walk out and do some kind of interpretive dance; she was doing really weird shit with the audience and with props and all kinds of stuff, and making everything very challenging, and really took things to the next level. We were always really excited about her, but then as the years went along, she kind of got a saxophone of her own and she kinda started throwing pots and pans around. Before you know it, she’s more like a musical member. And she still does some performance oriented things, and we’re always happy when she does, but many times she participates just as a vocalist or as a fellow musician.

Allan: She seemed to have a more – I don’t know how to put it – a more musical approach; watching her play, when she was on saxophone, it sounded more like she could have come from a jazz background.

Dave: Yeah, she’s classical, she’s a classically trained pianist. When she sings, and, I don’t know about the sax, but when she does piano especially, where the rest of us often work with textures and really simple rhythms and stuff, she often comes in and plays a melody or something. It’s just a different element to factor in.

Allan: It worked beautifully –

Dave: It’s interesting, that Vancouver set. What I’ve been doing over my Christmas break is going through all the recordings that we made out there, number one of that show. Number two, we stayed an extra couple of days at the Sun City Girls’ studio, and recorded on their ethnic instrument collection. I’ve been going through that stuff – we’re making an album for that guy, Eric Lanzillotta in Seattle, and man, that show in Vancouver was good. I just listened to it last night with Keith, and we were really happy with the way that show came out. I think we’re probably going to use it and make a whole record just out of that show, because there was something special about it: the sound was really clear. What happens with our band sometimes is that, if someone is coming in with a certain kind of energy, it makes shit go completely haywire, and it becomes quite chaotic. And that’s really great, and that’s part of it, but that show somehow, there was a certain kind of carefulness. Not tentativeness, but a care, I guess, is the way I would say it, that we heard in that music, that allowed all this amazing stuff to happen. It was quite a quiet show. It wasn’t like blown out noise at all, and the clarity of it and everything was just really lovely to us. The recording off the board also came out super, super good, so – yeah, you’ll be hearing that again, probably on vinyl.

Allan: I thought it was an amazing experience, myself. I’d eaten a pot cookie before I came out, and that always changes things, but it was an incredibly organic experience to me, it was one of the shows where I was struggling: as interesting as you guys are to watch, I was trying like hell to keep my eyes closed, which seems to be the appropriate way to listen to that sort of music. 

Dave: That show was not about some crazy performance, but it was more about making this music which embodies all the sort of things that we value. A lot of times when we’re playing a show, and the music isn’t getting there, somebody does something wacky from a performance standpoint, but I don’t think it was as much about that. I think you’re right – it was about closing your eyes and checking that out. Because now just to listen back to it without any visual element, it’s really complete. It’s all there.

Allan: Although, you know, there was the walking mattress.

Dave: Oh, the walking mattress! (laughs). I forgot. Okay. Well – he wasn’t miked.

Allan (laughter): It created quite a conflict in me: I just want to close my eyes and listen, but there’s a mattress walking around!

Dave: Thanks for reminding me about that. I totally forgot about that. The mattress eventually sat down at the drums, right?

Allan: It sat down on the floor. I don’t remember which member it was.

Dave: It was Matt.

Allan: Of course. Matt the Mattress!

Dave (laughs): Exactly.

Allan (chuckling): Okay, well... I’m curious about critical reception. One of our local critics, Alex Varty, was there, and what he has to say is just so fucking different from what you’ve said, what I’ve said, what – like, everyone who I talked to really got off on the show and we all seemed to feel the same way, but Varty, who writes for the Georgia Straight, was just really really harsh. Like, I can read you some of it, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Dave: Yeah, please! I love to hear bad reviews! What was the nature of his critique?

Allan: Okay. I’ll go through it quickly here (thanks to Alex Varty for permission to quote):

Let’s get right to the point: in its Vancouver debut, in front of an undersized crowd in the capacious Arts Club Theatre, the No Neck Blues Band stunk out the joint.

Dave: Wow! Holy smokes!

Allan (giggles): Yeah, I know! (continues reading):

It’s unclear whether the members of this near-legendary New York City collective are normally this unfocused or whether they were merely dismayed by the poor turnout, but in any case they delivered little of the visionary noisemaking on which their reputation has been built.
Dave: Whoa!

Allan: It’s so strange, because I mean, he knows your music, and he didn’t enjoy the show. It’s like – what weren’t you on that night, Alex? (Note: Alex wasn’t on anything. We chatted later, and he agrees that that might have had something to do with our very different perceptions of the night. Anyhow, his review continues):
Consider yourself lucky you weren’t there.

Dave: Heh-heh-heh.

Allan (quoting still):

Now, I should explain that I’m not entirely opposed to studied incompetence as an aesthetic principle. The current vogue for performers who can’t really play their instruments is a perfectly valid and understandable reaction to an overabundance of machine-tooled sexpots and clinical virtuosos...
Dave: Hmm.

Allan (quoting):
—but what No Neck peers such as Wolf Eyes or the Nihilist Spasm Band lack in technical command, they supplant with collective intensity.
Both intensity and any sense of communal purpose were lacking from the No Neck Blues Band’s set, however. The evening’s high point was a long drone-rock rave-up that sounded like a clumsy imitation of what German avant-rockers Can were doing circa 1974;

Dave: Right, right.

Allan (Varty):
...the rest of the time, the performers wandered in solipsistic circles, blind and deaf to each other’s input.
Dave: Interesting.

Allan (finishing off):
It is possible, I suppose, that their disconnected twanging, banging, and clattering is intended as an extended metaphor for urban alienation, but that’s a stretch.

Allan: So, that’s the meat of it.

Dave: Is that online?

Allan: Yeah, I can send that to you.

Dave: Yeah, please do – I’d love to send that around to the band. It’s really not often enough that people step out and say that we’re complete bullshit, so it’s really nice when someone does that, because – you know, it’s more helpful to hear something like that. I’m really stimulated to hear what this guy has to say. It’s interesting to hear that impression.

Allan: Going back to Intonomancy, there’s something here in the notes about bullshit, too. “What is that sound? Intonomancy. Intonomancy? Bullshit! – And maybe that’s true, and that’s what we said, but listen here – what is this? This is a piece of sound. Listen to what we’re going to tell you now.” 

Dave (laughing): It’s also funny, this bullshit thing, because when we played a show in Haarlem, in Holland, just a couple of weeks ago. It was in this little classical music recording studio – a very intimate space. It was a sold out show, meaning like 70 people, I think, was the capacity; it was a very small room. Interesting set, you know – maybe not as good as Vancouver, but maybe along those same lines, and as soon as the last note rang out, someone from the audience just yelled, “BULLSHIT!” (Laughs). And we were like, whoa, that’s a pretty strong response! That never happens, you know? So we stopped the music, and we just said – because it was so small and intimate – “So, the person who said that, let’s turn the second half of tonight into a discussion. We’d like to know why that person thinks this is bullshit.” And we weren’t being confrontational at all. We’re curious about it, y’know? We were really trying to be like, “We’re not trying to start a fight, but this is really interesting.” But the person didn’t step forward and say, “I said it.” So now it’s nice to have to have this writer coming out...

Allan: Yeah, Alex steps right up.

Dave: One important thing about our band is that it’s not that we’re non-virtuosic. Each one of us knows how to play our instruments really, really well, and we each have our own side bands, aside from No Neck, where we completely play our instruments in the way their supposed to be played. With No Neck, we have a different approach to it. I would say it’s not – we’re not being deliberately being non-virtuosic, we’re just playing the sound that has developed that seems to work in the context of that group. We’re not being deliberately anti-music or something.

Allan: Is that true, though? Because I remember you doing things like playing your cello upside-down...

Dave: Ohh! That’s a good point, so... One of my things I sometimes like to do is to create a situation wherein it is difficult to play an instrument in a normal fashion – like, put the drum sideways, or the cello upside-down. Yeah, so what’s that about? I guess maybe you just nailed me on that!

Allan: (laughs).

Dave: I’m not thinking of, “I’m going to do this so I can’t play like Yo Yo Ma,” or something – it’s just kind of more fun to do it that way.

Allan: It seems like you guys want to challenge notions of what music is. There’s stuff you really don’t want to do. Like, in anything I’ve heard, you tend to stay away from is singing, say, although there’s some on the Sticks and Stones CD...

Dave: Well, one of the things we do try to stay away from is frontman-ship, you know? And that was one of the issues we had with Jeff, who left for Excepter, because he naturally was this figure – do you know who I’m talking about? Jeff Ryan. He was in our band from ’94 to ’99, and he left and he made his own band called Excepter, which is a really good band. They’ve got a bunch of albums out, it’s worth looking up. But in our band, he wanted to be a frontperson. He used to take off his shirt and grab the mike and be like a lead singer – he wanted to be Robert Plant or something. And he was crazy, so I really liked what he did, because it was always really bizarre, but then when we went into the studio to do Sticks and Stones, he was kind of saying, “You guys lay down the backing track and I’ll go in and overdub my vocals on top,” and that was – suddenly we all realized that’s not what this band is about, you know?

Allan: Hm.

Dave: This band is about doing something as a collective in that moment, but it’s not about going back and revising and working on something, to create something else, other than what happened originally. So he was always stepping outside the collective a bit to be in that role of center of attention or frontperson, and that eventually was something that we said, it doesn’t really work for this band as much. And it’s great that we parted ways; he’s the only person that’s ever left the group, and it was a great thing for him, because he started his own band. He controls it, he gets to be that person that our band was resistant to allow him to be. And we’re really good friends and we play shows together and there’s no bad blood, because it was totally appropriate that he left. 

Allan: The singing on Sticks and Stones is actually his, though. 

Dave: Yeah, most of it. Like, there’s one little track – the last track, I think, is kind of like a little hidden track, and he’s lead-singing on that. Yeah, and there’s other stuff which is more wordless vocal, that we all do – chanting things and stuff. And Michiko often sings now, too, wordless chant-style vocals, and that stuff is cool because it’s all in the music. But I think if someone grabbed the mike and started doing a hip hop rap or heavy metal thing, putting words to it and stuff like that, it wouldn’t be appropriate.

Allan: I’m curious. Musically, you’re very dissimilar, but do you ever get looked at in light of the post-rock thing, with bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and such?

Dave: Not that I’ve read – what do you think?

Allan: I’m just wondering, because – for the longest time, what I saw them doing was totally not trusting popular music, not trusting the whole rockstar personality-centered egocentric bullshit that’s out there. I saw them play, and Efrim Menuck – who is sort of the frontperson now, for Thee Silver Mount Zion, his hair was like, hanging down in his face – you couldn’t see his face through the entire performance. And there were no vocals at all, nothing like that – they tried to keep a great deal of distance between themselves and that kind of thing. In some ways it makes sense to look at both you guys as a reaction to the marketplace and the state of music now.

Dave: I suppose so, yeah. It’s interesting that you say that. I don’t think I or any of us have a problem with the idea of that, of someone being a frontperson, of someone engaging with the audience, or singing, or becoming, like, a star. I just think we all just felt for what this thing was. It was not how the No Neck Blues Band developed. But now look at Jason on the side, he’s got his band called the Coach Fingers, and it’s Jason singing and playing his guitar, and he plays live and he’s like the frontman who sings all these country songs. And Dave, also from the band has a new group that’s the same thing, and I have a metal band on the side that has, like, two female lead singers – more traditional stuff. I don’t think we’re against it.

Allan: Oh.

Dave: It’s interesting about the Godspeed thing. We played a gig in Austria last year with Thee Silver Mount Zion. Maybe there might be some philosophical thing, but musically I don’t think there’s any relation (to No Neck).

Allan: No, no. And what they do now is radically different from Godspeed, because now they are singing and presenting themselves as people.

Dave: That’s what was funny – we played first, and then they played, and we had a friend who was backstage; it was, like, a common backstage area. And he was telling us later that, “Oh yeah, while you guys were playing, all the Silver Mount Zion people were in the back being like, ‘God, this band is such a bunch of bullshit!’ (laughs). ...To get back to the bullshit thing, saying it about us. ‘Cause we had a really whacked-out show that night, dragging instruments across the stage and throwing shit into the audience. Fake blood, and – it was a very theatrical show, and I think those guys were like, “We really can’t relate to what’s going on onstage right now.” And by the same token, when they played, too, we were like, “Well, this is kinda a nice friendly sound, but it’s not really speaking to us.”

Allan: Do you guys have any affinity for Dada, or art movements like that?

Dave: Absolutely, yeah! Now we’re talking – that’s much more of an essential influence, Dada and early Surrealist stuff. Yeah, for sure – that’s the kind of performance and art that I and a lot of the other guys look at and find a common sense of purpose in. There was a great Dada show here at the MOMA here, I don’t know if it travelled... I’m sure you’ve seen a bunch of that stuff.

Allan: Not as much as I should or would like to. But, uh – so – a couple more questions – I want to ask you about John Fahey, and then I want to talk about Krautrock a little bit. How did you get hooked up with Fahey?

Dave: The Fahey thing happened – let’s see, I gotta rewind the tapes a bit. He was around, let’s see – he started doing those shows again, when was that – in the late ‘90s, and he was hooked up with Thurston and O’Rourke and those kind of people, and we were all hanging out with those guys too at that time. Keith and a couple of other guys in the band – Jason – are huge Fahey fans, and Thurston was like, “Yeah, you guys should come – I’m gonna be driving with Fahey to do this show in Philadelphia,” or DC or somewhere, and me and Keith just like drove around with Fahey and Thurston doing stuff. Eventually it came to the point that he needed a place to stay in town, so he stayed at my apartment. I had kind of a big loft at that time, where our rehearsal studio is, so he stayed there. And we had this building in Harlem called the Hinthouse, and I was on the top floor. The place was filled with these amazing, beautiful women all the time, for some reason. We were close to the art community... Fahey fell in love with the place. He fell in love with Michiko, first of all. Then he fell in love with the woman downstairs, this photographer. And then he fell in love with somebody else. And so he was just in hog heaven in this place, and he would hang around while we rehearsed. He just sort of became part of the community. And then from that point, all that stuff, mixed with the common sense of musical purpose – when he was checking out what we were doing and how we were living, and what the whole scene was about, he just said, “This is what I’m into. We’re the same.” It was a great, great meeting. And then from that point, he said, of course, “You guys should do something for Revenant, and we should travel together.” So of course we did all that stuff.

Allan: Was there a conscious attempt with the Revenant recording to make something that had a connection to primitive folk music? With the singing on it, it sounds like more of a roots album – and I think a banjo pops up at one point –

Dave: That’s what’s funny. We said – we made that album with Jerry Yester, who’s a great producer. We went down to Arkansas to record there for three days in his little basement studios. Jerry made these interesting records in the ‘60’s – you might look him up. He played in the Lovin’ Spoonful, he produced Tim Buckley albums, had an album under his own name for the Straight label – Zappa’s label – so he’s an interesting figure. But we really went down there pretty blindly. We sent him some demos of our stuff, and he was kind of like, “I don’t know what the hell you guys are doing” (laughs). And we said, “Look, just trust us, we’ll come down – we don’t know what you’ve got, either, but we’ll see what happens.” And we showed up in his studio, and everything was there – banjos, dulcimers, a piano, a drum kit, which we had never used before in the band. Y’know, stuff like that, and it was like, “Whoa, let’s see what we can do with all this stuff!” It was very much unpremeditated. But it was the first time we’d been in the studio, so we could hear each other for the first time – which was kind of an exciting thing – and then second of all, there’s all these acoustic instruments. It really came about quite spontaneously and unpremeditated.

Allan: Huh.

Dave: But then what came out was this kind of weird, kind of folk, “American Primitive” thing, because we were not virtuosos on those instruments at all. We could only play them in very rudimentary ways.

Allan: It works perfectly for the Revenant record to sound that way.

Dave: I think so, yeah. If we were gonna do one, that’s the one we should do it for. And it’s interesting now, I’m mixing the one we recorded down at the Sun City Girls’ place on all their ethnic instruments, and I was thinking, “Whoa, this is kind of a mix between Sticks and Stones and the Embryonnck record.” It’s kind of got that feel because, again, we’re playing on a lot of acoustic instruments which are unfamiliar to us, so it’s quite primitive. But it’s not related to banjos and dulcimers so much as it is gamelans and other kind of things. So I think it’s going to end up being somewhat related to both of those records, but hopefully the next step beyond, because I think we’ve just gotten better at playing together since then.

Allan: In terms of premeditation, when you guys sit down to play, do you have themes or ideas that you’ve discussed? Just how improvised is what you do?

Dave: It’s all 100% improvised. That’s the main premise or thrust of the group since its inception, is that there will be no discussion. Very, very rarely, we’ve said “Okay, start with two drums.” Maybe once every two years, somebody says something like that. And everybody else looks at that person and says, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself? I’m gonna start however I wanna start!” (laughs). It just doesn’t really work. The personalities in the group don’t allow for someone to tell someone else what to do. You know, every band has a dynamic: there’s someone who writes the songs, and there’s someone else who’s really good at playing a lead solo, but is not the guy who writes the chords. Everybody has a different role, but not everybody can be a Bob Dylan or a big leader-figure, or it’d just be a pile up. No Neck is very close to that, because everyone is our own sort of leader and type of personality. It doesn’t ever go very well, for someone to try to dictate how things should go. So we never have, and that’s how we’ve figured out how to get along, is just show up and play. We don’t know how long we’re going to play for, we don’t know if we’re going to do a second set, we don’t know who’s gonna play what instrument – nothing. We didn’t know Matt’s gonna come out with a mattress on his head. It’s totally 100% improvised. If we had a rule, that’s it.

Allan: So there’s never an attempt to replicate anything?

Dave: No no no no no. Never. That was the one thing, also, in the studio, with Revenant, that was the only time that came up. First off in the studio, Jeff said, “Let me overdub some vocals,” and we were like, “no overdubs” – which we still have never done – and second of all, there’s that little kind of rock tune at the end, the last piece, and we played that just by accident, and I sort of said, “Gosh, if we tried to play that again, we could probably do it a lot better.” And everyone just said, “What the fuck are you talking about? We can’t try to replicate that again!” That was the last time that ever came up.

Allan: And the vocals on that aren’t overdubbed, he did that live?

Dave: He did that live, but – it’s kind of half-ridiculous, in a way! And that was the thing: are we gonna be this kind of band, that’s going to do this sort of stuff? If we are, we definitely know how to play a lot better than this. But it happened spontaneously in the moment that we just started doing that thing. The point of the band at that time was more a documentarian thing: we’ll just document it, and let it be that.

Allan: Okay.

Dave: And then eventually you have Keith and Jason and Dave breaking off to make that band called Suntanama. I don’t know if you know those records on Drag City.

Allan: I don’t know the solo side projects at all.

Dave: They had two records on Drag City that are much more like, rock-folk songs. From the Revenant thing, some people got really interested in doing that, but not to do it in No Neck: to make a different band that would do that.

Allan: What’s your metal band called?

Dave: It’s called Under Satan’s Sun. We’ve only been together for a year, we’re just starting to get out an do gigs. There’s another – Pat and Matt have a black metal band that’s called Malkuth, and they have a record that’s about to come out on Hospital. And then Dave’s band is called D. Charles Speer. So we all have these solo things going on the side...

Allan: Metal, huh?

Dave: I really love metal, Pat really loves metal, but it’s not really appropriate to start bringing out the bar chords in No Neck – it just doesn’t sound that good. Although hearing the Vancouver thing, it’s funny to hear back, because there’s a certain part where... Pat’s a singer in a black metal band, and you know what that singing is like, and there’s a part in that Vancouver set where he starts singing like that, but it’s not over a heavy metal guitar chord, it’s over a thumb piano and a cello. So it’s really weird, you know? So people bring that stuff into the band, but it stays non-idiomatic, because there’s not a backing band that’s in the same style. Jason is playing his folk stuff, and someone else is doing something else, so it gets to be a weird conglomeration. And I think that makes it something really entirely new, which is exciting for us.

Allan: So, Embroynnck (I pronounce it “EmbryoNeck.”) Or (I remember his pronunciation, and correct myself: “Embryonic.”). Sorry. How did that come about?

Dave: Yeah, it’s okay, it’s not really clear how to say it. It’s kind of like a play on “Embryonic,” the word, just spelled a little differently. Embryo has always been one of my favourite bands, personally, and a couple of the other guys in the group really liked them too. Some of us liked them for their music, some of us for the legacy of just who that band is, and what they represent over their 35-year plus history. Early in the 1990’s, when No Neck started doing vinyl, I started sending records to Christian Burchard, the main guy, and just kind of saying, “What’s going on? Here’s our calling card – what have you got?” Not expecting anything; they’re this totally untouchable thing. Amazingly, he wrote and started sending records back, just as if you would send a record to the Double Leopards or something. And that’s part of their thing, although they’re quite well-established, in some ways – historically, at least – there’s no kind of pretension; there’s always a will and an interest and a connection in what’s going on in the underground. And our early records are pretty fucking weird. They’re a lot of long-tone, like, drone shit and scuttling percussion – pretty esoteric stuff, and he was definitely writing back, being like, “this shit is great, what are you guys up to?” And so we just kept a communication over the years, and we talked sometimes about trying to get together, going to Europe... but this was before email or any of that kind of stuff. Everything just seemed such an impossible dream, you know? You remember the days before the internet?

Allan: (chuckles). Not well, to be honest with you. It changed things quite a bit. What time period are we talking about?

Dave: This is like, ’93, ’94, ’95. I think I’d just gotten an email account, and maybe he did too, so maybe we did that, but mostly we were writing letters and trading records and all that. But the idea of booking a tour in Europe was just, like, inconceivable. And they had also never been to America before, so it just seemed like our relationship was going to be by mail only. And then as time went on, we did a few tours, we got used to that – then we started talking about Europe as a possibility. We said to him, “Hey, can we do some stuff with you?” The first year we went to Europe, we couldn’t put it together, but the second year, we did, and toured together for a week over there, and then he booked a couple of days together in a studio in Nuremburg, and that’s where that album was recorded. Do you know their music?

Allan: To be honest with you, I always though of Embryo as one of the more obscure Krautrock bands. Like, they’re one of the ones a lot of people don’t seem to know.

Dave: Yeah, what I like about them is that they made some quote-unquote “mistakes.” They made kind of one interesting definitive record, in ’68 (Opal), that, you know, you could be, like, “Oh yeah, that’s as good as Ash Ra Tempel, that holds up against all the other ones.” But then they made all these really completely ridiculous albums where they’re writing strange pop songs. It sounds a little bit like Steely Dan or something... And then they did all these weird records where they travelled to Afghanistan, and India, and recorded with Indian drummers and Moroccan whoever, and they made this whole smattering of stuff like that, then they came back and made some jazz records. They’re all over the fuckin’ place! And again, I like that. I think that’s why they’re not referenced as much, because they’re just so hard to pin down. They’re so constantly creative, and so constantly seeking out new things – it’s about the lifestyle, for them, and the product is sort of an afterthought. It’s like something that kind of gets spit out of the machine, rather than being a deliberate attempt to portray a particular thing. It’s like, “Oh yeah – record! Here it is.” ...And so now, they tour all the time – they have this ambulance that they drive around in. They never stop, they’re just – from one city to the next, playing in front of three hundred people or playing in front of three people, it doesn’t matter. They’re just out there, and he just records his shows on cassette, puts them into his computer, and makes a CDR; makes a black and white Xerox cover and puts it in there and just sells CDRs out of the back of his van all the time. It’s just funny. It’s like some kind of strange entity, but I have a lot of respect for it, not because everything they’ve ever done is the best shit ever, but because the whole project is just so overwhelmingly ambitious and dedicated to this kind of esoteric and abstract music and exploration. That’s what I like about it. Christian is constantly inspired by stuff that he sees and hears, and constantly wanting to be a part of it, and constantly wanting to make more music and connect with more people. I’m just so inspired by that guy.

Allan: Yeah.

Dave: And so our record with them was just another blip on the radar screen for him. For me it was like, “Whoa, this is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me!”

Allan: It’s an amazing album, and it had an amazing affect on the way I listen to your music, because I didn’t hear a whole lot of Krautrock in it, when I first started listening to your music. But somehow listening to Embryonnck, it’s really upped the amount to which I’m conscious of Krautrock in your music.

Dave: Great.

Allan: It’s an amazing recording.

Dave: Well, what they did for us is, they brought in melody to what we do. The Krautrock stuff is great, because it’s psychedelic and freaked out, but there’s also this incredible sense of melody. That’s always what I feel about Ash Ra Tempel, and Can and everything – you can go back and sing those songs and you can really latch into it. Although they’re not constructed in a typical popsong format. Playing with Embryo really did that. We were there kind of scratching and scraping along and doing stuff that we usually do, and then there was Christian playing the vibraphone. No matter what you do to a vibraphone, it always sounds like a melodic instrument! Or there he was playing the dulcimer, and there’s this other guy playing the oud, and – it just brought in a certain thing. And they had these melodies that they’d rehearsed. They’re 100% improvised, too, but because they play all the time, there are these melodies they latch into, and when they’re in the van, Christian plays for them African music and whatever and says, “Let’s try to do this kind of melody tonight.” So that’s what they brought in, and I just think it makes that record more listenable than the average No Neck record.

Allan: And has it has an effect since, on Qvaris, like?

Dave: . To me it was interesting because we got into 16-channel recording, and so I really like Embryonnck because it had a really clear sound. But other than that, no. I think it was a particular moment in time, for us, that we did that, and Qvaris was more sort of back to our thing. And the Sun City Girls recording, some people will say this is another version of Embryonnck, but it doesn’t have those kind of ethnic melodies in it. Maybe the answer to that is probably no

Allan: Qvaris, what does it mean? Is it just a made up word?

Dave: Yeah, it’s just made-up.

Allan: Okay. How about playing on wharves and in odd public spaces – um, is that like, an apocryphal story, have you done that, do you still do that?

Dave: We have this guy that has a lot of footage, and we made a DVD out of it, because it’s all that – it’s us playing outdoors and all that stuff. He needs to put it out! We love to do that. For whatever reason, we don’t seem like we do it as much anymore. It’s quite a lot of work – New York really changed, let’s start with it that way. New York in the 2000’s is very different from New York in the ’90’s. The ‘90’s is when things kind of started to change... The city really went into a lockdown when Giuliani became the mayor. And it was like, you couldn’t do anything without having a permit or some official statement saying, “You can do what you’re doing.” New York before that was very free – which is why there was more crime, but also you could just take your instruments into the middle of the park and play. Now if you do that, the SWAT team comes out and says like, “What’s going on around here,” and searches your pockets for pot and makes you disperse.

Allan: Ah.

Dave: As I’m saying that, it’s sounding a little bit like an excuse. I mean, I think, also, we found other outlets for our music. The way our band originally was, we tried, in the beginning to play in clubs a couple of times, and literally, the clubs would be like, “You can’t play here anymore,” you know? And so we had to think: where can we play? We want to present our music to people. We did some stuff in little theatre-type spaces, and then we said, lets try taking this out of doors. So between ’94 and 2000, we did these yearly things at this boat basin on the Hudson River, and we did stuff in this park in Chinatown. It became this fascination for us, to do this in public places.

Allan: Were these promoted gigs? 

Dave:  Kind of. Sometimes they weren’t, sometimes they were. We would let our friends know. And then other than that – we didn’t put it the papers, because you never quite knew what was going to happen. We couldn’t really promote that stuff, because it wasn’t quite official. There was one of these years where we did it in this boat basin, and there was a restaurant nearby and someone called the cops, so there were a few interruptions like that. We couldn’t exactly take out an ad in the Village Voice. And also, we didn’t ever charge admission, so there wasn’t a budget.

Allan: What about audience members screaming bullshit?

Dave (laughs): We didn’t have too much of that kind of stuff! It’s funny – in the outdoors, our music kind of drifts away, sometimes – like if you’ve heard some of these recordings, The Birth of Both Worlds, and there’s another one – Parallel Easters – they kind of document some of our outdoor experiences. Our first CD, Letters from the Earth, was recorded on a rooftop, and so was our second CD. The sound doesn’t fuck with you. Even if you hate it, it’s not directly confrontational. Whereas if you go see, like, a noise show now, often noise musicians assault you with a high treble or a low bass. Sometimes our music was like that, occasionally it still is, but when you’re outside, the frequencies don’t operate on the listener in that way. Sometimes people would just walk past and be like, “We don’t really know what that is.”

Allan: (laughs).

Dave: More often than not, we’d have curiosity seekers who would say, this is kind of interesting. I don’t think we got new fans from it or something, but I think people would say, this is interesting, that this is happening in a random public space. And even if someone’s playing a high pitched feedback, that sound is just going up to the clouds. It doesn’t really confront people like that.

Allan: The Taj Mahal Travellers, the Japanese band, were also famous for playing in odd public spaces.

Dave: Yeah, they got around. I saw some film about them recently...

Allan: Any other antecedents? I sometimes think of Don Cherry as a distant affinity, because he was very bohemian and primitivist and getting away from established structures...

Dave: Yeah, when he went to Scandinavia, I love all those records – the Gamelan stuff, and there’s one record called the Organic Music Society, and everyone in the band was like, “Oh my God, that’s the greatest record.” And in fact, it’s interesting, at the Sun City Girls place, they had a piano that Michiko played a lot, and I was saying, “This is a little bit Don Cherryish.” For sure. So more names like, antecedents?

Allan: Yeah!

Dave: Well, we toured with that Swedish Band, Trad Gras Och Stenar - do you know them?

Allan: No.

Dave: They have a site, I think it’s, like, or something like that. They’re an old Swedish band from the late ‘60’s into the ‘70’s that kind of still exist, kind of communal rock-style stuff, really great inspiring music. Fahey of course. In terms of New York, in the early period, we were influenced by some jazz things – Charles Gayle, and William Parker. Although we never got asked to interact with jazz festivals. They kind of ignored us. But we were very inspired by that kind of music. That’s such a staple in New York, the free jazz scene.

Allan: Do any of those guys seek you out or listen to your music?

Dave: Well, there were these two guys early on that we interacted with a lot, Daniel Carter and Sabeer Mateen. Both those guys – like, me and Matt used to live together with Sabeer, and we made some records with him and Daniel early on, free jazz-oriented stuff, when I was playing drums and Matt was playing acoustic bass. Some of the other guys were more into rock stuff, like, a band called Circle X, that was a weird New York rock outfit, kinda damaged rock stuff. And I really like that guy Rudolph Grey, who had this band, the Blue Humans. He was pretty interesting. And of course, the first No Neck concert I went to, when I wasn’t even in the band, they were playing with Borbetomagus.

Allan: Oh cool!

Dave: So those guys were on that scene too.

Allan: Okay. Two final questions: do you guys ever alter your consciousness before playing or when playing?

Dave: We – I think we only attempted to actually take acid and play music once. It was not necessarily successful. We played for hours and hours, but it ended up being kind of just throwing shit all over the place, not really very musical that much. Oh. There was one other time, too. Actually, there’s a 7 inch, that’s inside this one record we did called Ever Borneo, an LP – the green one – there’s one of two different seven inches in each record, and there’s one, I think we used the bandname Montana Morning, but anyway, we were on mushrooms when that was recorded. So not so much. Sometimes people smoke grass before, but we usually agree that even that doesn’t work. We try as much as we can to have a pretty strong awareness of what’s happening. Of course, in the earlier years, we were trying to experiment with that more, because you think, definitely the way to play great music is to get really fucked up and do it. But I think that things just kind of started sounding the same after awhile, and people wanted to be more active and aware. You know, people will have a few drinks or something, before...

Allan: This guy Alex Varty, who didn’t like what you did, who used the term “solipsistic” – “the players wandered in solipsistic circles” –

Dave: I like that, yeah.

Allan: It’s a good turn of phrase. But you guys do really listen to each other, right? Or in a backwards way, is he onto something – do you guys sometimes try not to listen to each other?

Dave: Well, the whole notion of trying doesn’t really come into effect so much. And it’s interesting in hearing that show – I was thinking a lot about that. He liked the part where the drum jam comes together, and often in our music, a repetitive rhythm is the kind of thing where we get united. But that’s also the kind of thing that puts you in chains, as a performer, you know what I mean, because you’re like, “Oh, I guess I gotta play along with that drumbeat now.” So I think it has a certain role, but what happens the rest of the time – when the music is more abstract and free, I think “solipsistic” would be a term that would be wholly inaccurate. We are listening to each other, but we’re creating, quite consciously, a different kind of vocabulary for music to use. So the interaction is not in a familiar way. We’re not playing in the same key, we’re not playing in the same scale, and generally we’re on the same dynamic. It’s more about – I actually don’t know, that’s why I struggle to define it, but it’s definitely not “Oh, I’m just going close my ears to what Matt’s playing.” I mean, it’s impossible to do that, it’s not there. I don’t think any of us exercise any kind of will, when we’re onstage, to do something with or against someone else. We’ve played together for so many years and so much, it’s like a natural way of being right now.

Allan: An organism.

Dave: So when I heard back the Vancouver recording, I was so happy, because we seemed completely linked up, but not because someone was playing something, and everyone else had to play along to it. It was completely linked up in terms of that weird No Neck thing, and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t think anyone will ever really quite describe it. But I think it’s our own particular way that we’ve figured out. That’s why I’m excited that he said “solipsistic,” because if it seems that way, I feel – oh good! He doesn’t understand it, I don’t understand it, it’s not the right term: but it’s moving in the direction that I like! It’s implying that we each get to maintain our own individuality as performers, as musicians, but at the same time, we’re together as a collective. It’s walking that tension, you know?

Allan: The Nihilist Spasm Band, of course – they can’t play anything, conventionally.

Dave (laughing): Yeah, we played with them once. I noticed that. I liked it, but yeah...

Allan: They made a statement that when you get rid of sort of notes or chords or keys, when you get rid of all that stuff, the only thing you’re left with is each other.

Dave: Ohh! Uh-huh. Interesting! Nicely said, yeah, nicely said.

Allan: Okay, well – last question. Why do you think some people do say, “Bullshit?” Where does that come from?

Dave: Well, I wish the guy would have said. That’s why I’m happy to hear what your writer said, because I’m as curious as anybody else. Sometimes I can understand saying “bullshit” if something is deliberately confrontational. I don’t often think that our music is confrontational. So they’re making a clear thing, saying, the art that you’re making is shit.

Allan: The emperor is naked.

Dave: One of the obvious things is that it’s not hanging together in a familiar way, so they might be just like, “Well, it’s unfamiliar, and I don’t get it, so therefore it’s not good.” Which is a valid reaction. It’s all I can really think of. It sounds like your guy said, “What they’re doing didn’t fit into the definition of a band,” ‘cause we’re on our own trip. Something else I’ve heard, reading our reviews, is that “These guys should edit themselves a bit more, it goes on too long, it’s a bit noodly,” or something. And I think sometimes that’s a fair critique. Because we play together, and it’s all improvised, not every moment is the magical moment it all hangs upon, and the earlier years, we were always putting out double CDs and double albums because we just loved it all. Looking back, maybe I would have edited some of that stuff a bit more. But it serves a certain function.

Allan: And noodly parts are unavoidable.

Dave: What’s interesting about that Vancouver set is that I didn’t hear any noodly parts. It was right on, the whole time. I’m going to listen to it again today – maybe I was crazy.