Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tongue stuff

So my job involves speaking. The school where I work has been very facilitating, here - I've been allowed to work from home, so as to keep me safe from COVID (for example) until I can get into surgery (scheduled for the end of September) - but there's no way around talking with students when you're an English tutor. And whatever-it-is growing on the side of my tongue - or growing "into" the side of my tongue, since it seems to be intruding from without, not extruding from within - is different from my last round of cancer: it hurts in similar ways, but it's bleeding more, and seems more sensitive, and is having more of an impact on my speech. It's maybe not as bad if I favour it and speak like a mush-mouthed lush, barely opening my jaw, but I have to speak clearly with students, you know?  

Friday last, I had eight students (plus a few breaks). Suffice to say, it hurt. It felt good at the time, in a way, to power through work, but here's a measure of how bad it is in my mouth right now: yesterday - without having been too talkative at all - I took half a slice of apple off Erika and popped it in my mouth to suck it for a second before biting off the edge with the peel. After I bit, I took the peel out of my mouth - not trying to prove anything, just removing something that would require effort to chew - and we could see that there was a patch of blood on the bits of apple still connecting to the peel, corresponding to the sores on the side of my tongue.

That's a bit scary. A bit distracting. Though weirdly, it doesn't taste like blood in my mouth - it tastes a little bitter and chemical, not coppery. 

I am thinking I might be wise not to save all my sick days for my recovery, but to use a couple for the run-up to surgery. Have cancelled my tickets for the Paul Pigat show. Had made plans to eat out tonight - Downlow chicken, which Erika and I both love - but I'm thinking I might be better going next door to the fish and chips place, because... ouch. 

Lot of writing to do this week, so forgive me if I don't blog about this much. I probably wrote in great detail about what this was like the first time I went through this in 2017 - the fear that I'll wake up tongueless, the oddly sore throat and stuffy nose and even mild earache that go along with the cancer and leave you wondering if it's spreading... I'm not quite as terrified as I was, because I had the living example that my terrors LAST time were hyperbolic: after my surgery I was (more-or-less) fine (for a few years, anyhow). But on the other hand, whatever's on the side of my mouth now, it feels a bit worse, I think, seems a bit bigger, "hotter," more tender.

I should go write work about taking a couple more days off.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fun, Fast and Greasy: Paul Pigat on Let's Go and on the Cousin Harley show at the Rickshaw, September 25th

All photos by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

Even though Paul Pigat is a local fella, it was a Texan, the Reverend Horton Heat, that turned me on to him. Jim Heath – the Reverend – brought him up in a Straight interview I did, telling me how Paul was his favourite Vancouver guitarist; I hadn’t, at that point, heard Pigat play. A tour or two later, Jim would have Paul join him onstage at the Commodore for a show I sorely wish I’d been at, after an afternoon the two men spent eating sushi together and socializing, which Paul discussed in a subsequent interview, here...

While I missed my chance to see them onstage together, having now seen both men separately on a few occasions, it's obvious to me that musically, the two are deeply kindred spirits. And while not every track on Pigat’s new album – Cousin Harley’s Let’s Go – is in the same muscular hard rock-meets-rockabilly vein that Heath is known for mining, it contains some of the hardest-rocking music I’ve heard Pigat make – especially the title track, “Let’s Go,” which (I think) is as close as Cousin Harley have come on album to living up to their nickname, the Motörhead of rockabilly. (Live, they live up to it effortlessly, but their recordings have been a bit stronger on the country-swing/ rockabilly / roots music end of the spectrum than the Motörhead one, that I’ve noticed – and indeed, those genres are all present on Let’s Go, as well, but in a context overall toughened up by the rock tunes).

Pigat has a birthday show lined up for Cousin Harley at the Rickshaw on September 25th. With other gigs (like Heavy Trip, the night before) getting cancelled or postponed due to COVID), if you’re craving a little burst of live music while you can, you might want to seize the opportunity - this is going to be a hell of a show - also featuring local supergroup The Imperial, who I spoke to here - and there may not be that many in the near future!

Questions and answers with Paul Pigat – who kindly assented to an email interview - follow.

Allan: How have you weathered COVID? (How was your income as a musician affected? Did the government step up to bat?). Is the new album something you had in the works since before the pandemic?

Paul: Well, it’s been interesting to say the least. It’s the longest I've ever gone without working as a musician since I was 15, I think. I'm not one to sit around and enjoy the leisure of time off though – I've been building and restoring guitars throughout the pandemic. It’s something I've always done but to say I was adequate before would be an overstatement. I've really learned a lot (thanks to the tutelage of Warren Murfitt) and I'm building some really nice stuff now. I also finished up the Cousin Harley CD as well as an all-instrumental project called the Shut-Ins with Kevin Breit, Damian Graham and Tommy Babin. The Shut-Ins was all recorded remotely (LA to Ontario) and I mixed and mastered it myself. It was my first time doing all of it on my own. Exhausting but fun! The Cousin Harley CD was recorded just prior to the lockdowns so everything was there, we just had to mix it and send it off for mastering. Erik Neilson and Marc L'Esperance did a great job and I'm hopeful we will get a chance to tour it soon!

Financially, it was tough but I've always taught as a second source of income so I was still working. Unfortunately, I was about a hundred bucks a month over the allowed income, so I wasn't really able to get assistance on a regular basis. I think I was able to get two months. All in all I've done OK though. I've been poorer than this in the past!

I gather Jim Heath made some folks angry by not cancelling shows due to the pandemic, early on. At the time, I could sympathize a bit - you gotta work, and there were all sorts of ideas out there about levels of safety and so forth. I thought he was making a wrong call but also felt sad to see him getting pilloried online for it... Any contact with him? How is he doing?

I haven't spoken to Jim in awhile. I think there were a lot of folks that just needed to keep the wheels turning. It’s really hard to stop doing something that has been your only focus for decades like… well, I guess, like both of us. I went through SARS in China so when it jumped over to North America I knew it was time to ease off the gas. I think that experience made the decision pretty easy for me, but… I like Jim. He’s a ton of fun to hang out with. We don't talk politics or religion and that’s cool with me. And he’s one hell of a guitar player!

Cousin Harley, L-to-R: Paul Pigat, Jesse Cahill, Keith Picot. Photo by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

I gather last year you had a mishap last year and suffered an injury... What happened, and are you fully recovered? Were you afraid it would impact your playing?

I fell off a ladder cleaning gutters. It just proves that I'm not much good at anything but playing guitar! I was pretty bruised up and had four broken ribs. When I finally got my wind back right after the fall, the first thing I did was wiggle my fingers and toes. They were working, so it certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been. I knew I had broken a few ribs right away but I still wish I went to the hospital that day! I could have used those painkillers!!

So many people helped me out when I got back to town with food, chairs to sleep in, CBD gummies to help me sleep. I even had some friends I've made touring over the years that all congregate on the Gretsch Pages (a Gretsch appreciation website) do a fundraiser for me. It was great and I can't thank them all enough. I'm pretty lucky on many fronts.

Glad to see you're back in action. What informed the decision to go in a harder-rocking direction for this album?

We've always dabbled in heavier sounds than the status quo rockabilly thing. I'm an old metalhead and you can't just give that up! Also, I don't like my music pure. I like to mix things. This is just what I was feeling when I started writing the disc.

I sometimes wonder if the niche of rockabilly keeps you from reaching the widest possible audience - if this album is, like, a calculated move to reach a larger spectrum of hard rock listeners, or if you just wanted to swing in the other direction after making a very rootsy album
(Blue Smoke:The Music of Merle Travis) or...

I think that this has always been a bit of a barrier for us in a way. We are too rockabilly for the rock crowd and to rock for the rockabilly crowd. That’s why I never introduce us as a rockabilly band. It’s roadhouse music: it’s fun, its fast, and its greasy. Sometimes it’s sophisticated and sometimes it’s lowbrow. It’s all the music I like, so I put it all together. If people like it, that’s great! if they don't, well, I still have fun playing with the band.

Looking at the album, then… Do I detect a narrative arc in the lyrics? Someone shows up who brings trouble: "Right Back with the Blues" - then you roll with it - "Let's Go" even though you know it's a bad idea, have some fun ("El Swartho's Big Adventure"). Then you SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES ("Rained like Hell") and have your baby thrown in jail or such ("She's My Baby...)" I haven't been able to completely devote my focus to it - how does the story end?

I think that next time I need to put song order together, I'm going to get you to do it! That would have been a great way to format the disc. [Editor’s note: actually, it kind of IS the track listing for the first few cuts of the album, so I’m not sure why Paul is getting hypothetical, here]. It would have been like an audio play then! I guess, as a whole, this is a bit darker a record for us, so I was tapping into that when writing the lyrics. Many of these tunes started out very differently – more trad hillbilly/ rockabilly stuff. That’s an easy way of writing for me, but I wanted to get away from that for this CD. We've done trad rockabilly, hillbilly and western swing CDs and I just wanted to do something different, with different lyrical content, new progressions and more challenging forms. I've said it many times but I get bored doing the same thing over and over. Some bands are great at it and it establishes their sound. I go the other way: the sound is the performers, not necessarily the material, so I get a lot of leeway with this group.

I guess if you want an ending to the story it’s “Gone Gone Gone.” That seems to be how most things end. Our disc It’s a Sin is similar in concept but not quite as cohesive as Let's Go.

The story seems to be straight out of vintage noir - maybe a classic killer-couple on the run flick like
Gun Crazy or They Live By Night? Are you a fan of that sort of film? Are there any movie influences in the lyrics?

It certainly has a bit of that vibe to it. I'd been listening to a lot of Big Lazy when I started writing the disc. If you aren't familiar with them check them out – an all instrumental band from NYC; it’s amazing what kind of imagery you get from a music without lyrics. Although this CD sounds nothing like them, I can't shake the feeling that their music was influencing my lyrics.

I used to read a lot or Raymond Chandler so I'm guessing there’s inspiration from that as well. I'm not the fella that writes about rainbows and unicorns. These are all stories of the trickier parts of life. Let’s be honest, we all make crazy decisions in our youth and have to deal with the consequences! Or is that just me??

Nope! ...So, "Who's That Lyin'" is one I haven't been able to figure out. What's going on in that song? Was it consciously a lyrical riff on "John the Revelator," where instead of revelation you get lies...? (It sure seems like a musical riff on that song.)

The beginnings of that tune had been bouncing around my head for quite a while before I decided to finish it for Cousin Harley. I originally started writing it with the intention of giving it to the Sojourners when I was working with them – it had more redemption in it then. I guess it’s like the little angel whispering in your ear, while all you've been listening to is the devil on your other shoulder. Only the lucky get redemption. There’s lots of other stories where they don't… I guess its up to the listener to decide which it is. And yeah! Its definitely a take off on “John the Revelator!” Son House is awesome!!!! (I was thinking of the Blind Willie Johnson version but the Son House is awesome too).

"Let's Go" has a real fun video. Was Keith [Picot, Cousin Harley bassist and sometimes filmmaker] involved in the making of that? That's my favourite song on the record - are there particular inspirations? Is it (correct me if I'm wrong) the hardest "rock" song you've done?

Its definitely one of the most "rock" songs we've done but not the only one. The main riff was something I used to use on a cover of “Built for Speed” years ago. I never like to cover something too close to the original and that riff really changed the tune and always reminds me of race cars. It’s such a fun riff that i thought it deserved a tune of its own. It’s a pretty saucy lyric with very thinly veiled innuendo that keeps things fun and on the edge of appropriateness The video was done by Adam PW Smith – I can't take a shred of credit for that. He offered to do it, came up with the concept, found all the footage and put it together. I was expecting something fun from him but the final product blew me away!

Curious when you write with the band - do you demo songs for them? Do you record all the instruments at that time? Do you play all of them? I wonder about the drums, because Jesse [Cahill] is really versatile and driving and really propels some of the songs - I noticed this on "Rained Like Hell" in particular. So did you come up with that drum beat and demo it yourself, playing all parts, or is it some plug-in, or...?

There were a few firsts for us on this disc. I wrote all the tunes at home and recorded guitar beds. I formatted and arranged them all before the guys even got a chance to hear them. This is also one of the few CDs we did to a click. It had to be done that way for them to play to the guitar bed tracks; it’s kind of ass-backwards as the drums and bass are usually the beds. I did the first Boxcar Campfire record this way and I find I can really hone down the tune before we get in the studio. That being said, playing to the click can be very sterile for me and everyone swings differently, so I went back and re-recorded all the guitar tracks to the band. So I guess they played to me and then I played to them.

I always wonder about things like the words "full frequency stereophonic sound" on the album cover - I am assuming that is a design element to give it a throwback feel, or, like, does it actually mean anything? (Are there a lot of CDs being recorded these days that are not "full frequency stereophonic?"

Rich Katynski did a great job on the cover. I gave him free reign to do what he wanted and if you look closely there’s a lot of references to the lyrics there. The "Full Frequency Stereophonic Sound" is kind of a nod to those early stereo recordings, so its purely design. That being said, when I mix a record, I like the stereo spred to be quite narrow. This one is a bit wider, so it’s as "stereophonic" as we've gotten to so far!

Aha. Okay. So... I might have asked before, but who are your favourite local guitarists?

Man, Vancouver is filthy with great guitar players!!! I couldn't possibly list them all but here’s some of my faves off the top of my head

Stephen Nikleva

Jimmy Roy

Paul Rigby

Gord Grdina

Scott Smith

David Sikula

Don Alder

…man I could go on and on.

Setting aside rockabilly, who are your personal guitar heroes in the world of metal and hard rock? Have you crossed paths with many of them? How have they had influence on you as a guitarist?

Metal and hard rock? Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Angus and Malcolm Young. I've loved a lot of other players over the years (Vai, Van Halen, Malmsteen etc) but I don’t think i will ever tire of listening to these guys. I've never met any of them (RIP Malcolm) but man, I would love to get the chance one day!! Funny that I would choose double guitar bands. Maybe I need another guitar player to work with!!!!??

Cousin Harley by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission. The Rickshaw's page for the event is here - Cousin Harley, the Wheelgrinders, and The Imperial, September 25th. Thanks to Paul Pigat for fielding my questions!

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The cancer is back (or something equally bad): tongue surgery vs. COVID

Well, here we go again, folks. 

I've been having some pain when chewing - my tongue has felt sore, burnt, even like its been sliced open.

My tongue has been sliced open, of course. Sliced open. Go back to 2017, if you like - the early spring - and you can read on this very blog about my previous cancer surgery, which removed a strip of material along the left side of my tongue - a piece of tissue maybe around the size of my little finger (maybe a bit smaller) that was afflicted with squamous cell cancer. Like the recurrence, that involved visible, painful sores, though they looked different from the new ones and were in a slightly different place. My oncologist says that what he did in my mouth was "real ugly" during that surgery, that he was cutting into nerves and rebuilding them, so the fact that it has continued to hurt all these years has not been taken as a sign of anything - it was an expected side effect of a partial glossectomy. Of COURSE you never heal fully from something like that, and you learn to live with it; a little pain is a welcome trade for getting to have a tongue. 

And of course there are "shoulda coulda wouldas," now that he tells me I need another surgery. I mean, every time I went back there over the last four years to get checked out, and he looked and told me it was nothing - probably that might have led to my not being quite as worried about the alien in my mouth as I should have been this time, because I've been feeling wrong about the tongue, feeling like it's getting worse, for a couple of months now, and didn't actually rush to get it looked at, because, well, it wouldn't be the first time I was being paranoid about cancer coming back. You sometimes just don't know until it is too late that you weren't taking something seriously enough...

But eventually the pain got constant enough and bad enough that I went to see my GP; and my GP was worried enough by what he saw - the grey patches along the side in the photo below - that he sent me back to my oncologist, and... well, here we are. 

My oncologist is optimistic - we caught it early, he says. "We don't need to bother with a biopsy - it's either recurrent cancer or it's severe dysplasia, which leads to cancer, so either way, it's gotta come out. Why waste time on a biopsy?" 

He poked it with a tongue depressor, for the record, and it bled. It's that tender. 

And here's the thing: one of the reasons he's skipping the biopsy step (with my full assent) is that time is of the essence. There could be delays enough already, getting me into the hospital: I'm being told that COVID trumps cancer in terms of hospital beds. My cancer doesn't put anyone else at risk, but people with COVID could spread it to others, so they get priority. All of which is fair enough, but COVID numbers being on the rise again makes it very likely I will have delays getting into surgery. As my oncologist's assistant put it, "Well, if you know anyone who is unvaxxed, tell them to get vaxxed, because they are taking away your surgery time - COVID trumps cancer and everything else."

There is a whole universe of fear that opens up when you discover you have to have part of your tongue cut out, especially when they won't know exactly how MUCH to cut out. It's not made better by knowing that the key issue behind how much of my tongue I get to keep is tied to how long the wait is for a hospital bed. I mean, I know from long experience - my kidney stone ordeal, before that my mother's death, before that my reactive arthritis - how strained-to-breaking our medical system is. COVID creates an added layer of delay. 

...and here we are. Gives me a perspective to share with my vaccine-hesitant friends, I guess. The photo below is a bit gross, note. But see them grey patches...?

Wish me luck, folks - I might need it. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Back to your caves!

Right, so... that was briefly an exciting window where we all got to taste going back to "normal" for a couple of weeks. If you are at all like me, you excitedly made some plans for things you hadn't done in awhile - like to go concerts... 

...Then the numbers shot up and it turns out living in fear of COVID is normal, again. I am crossing my fingers that Paul Pigat's birthday gig will go off as planned, on September 25th, because I really dig his new album (and am working on a blog interview about it, coming soon), and really want to go see SOMETHING at the Rickshaw again, even if it's at a mandated 50% capacity; I haven't been there since I saw Paul open for Coco Montoya in early March 2020, which I noted in my "What Were You Doing When the World Ended" post when the first COVID shutdown started.... but 15 days seems like a very long time indeed, and that's how long it is going to be before the show; a whole lot could happen in that window...

...and though I still notice things that excite me, like Bishops Green and the Spitfires being added to the DOA Hardcore 81 bill, I am highly skeptical that any of the other gigs I've been eager to attend (or actually got tickets for) will go off as planned. I mean, I was getting really, really excited about the Sparks show in March, having recently joined the legion of converted fans, but when I got to choose my rather crappy seats from the floorplan of the Vogue, it sure didn't *look* like they were being sold at 50% capacity. It *looked*, rather, like the whole venue was almost sold out. So what will MRG do? I've heard various dodgy things about their refund policies, and watched the Residents show they had booked into the Imperial get postponed, then postponed, then postponed, then cancelled, and I'm pretty sure I noticed a two-tier pricing scheme, the last time I contemplated going to that show, where you had to pay extra for an "insured" ticket if you wanted a refund. I sure don't recall doing  that when I paid for the Sparks tickets. I also didn't read the fine print, because, like, COVID was over, right? We were all vaccinated, right? The vaccines work, right? We can GO BACK TO NORMAL!

No. No, we can't. Meantime, society seems to be dividing itself between a small but very vocal minority of people protesting assholishly outside hospitals and an equally vocal majority blaming these so-called anti-vaxxers for ruining our plans to reopen. None of it really adds up, as I've mentioned on Facebook - if we're so sure these vaccines work as promised, and 80% of the province has received them, then our reopening SHOULD have gone as planned, too... it does not seem to have. And while some people have weighed in that it is all down to Delta, that doesn't really make sense to me, since BC had (supposedly) factored Delta in when it announced this reopening, and the PHO was sticking to its guns that, despite rising numbers, we were "on track." 

We are clearly not on track - at least, not to any station I'm hoping to arrive at - but things were set in motion, so just like last March, I am back at work, washing my hands often, hoping for roomy Skytrain cars. Unlike last March, I now wear a mask in public spaces (and try to make sure everyone else is, too). COVID fatigue is real. 

I guess I should go see a movie or two, as well, before the lockdowns return...

Friday, August 20, 2021

Another Crummy interview, plus Stab'Em in the Abdomen: apropos of Saturday's show

1. Bert Man/ Crummy

So what do you get for a punk rocker whose family's history extends back to those dark days in Chile - sometimes called "the other September 11th" - when a CIA-supported military coup supplanted the country's socialist Allende government and installed the torture-happy Pinochet regime? I'm talking about Bert Man, of course - my first Straight interview with whom is here, and my second here - and you get him Ariel Dorfman's How to Read Donald Duck, equally of course - a rather famous book in the history of cultural studies, in which Allende's cultural advisor Ariel Dorfman and Belgian leftist Armand Mattelart decode the capitalist propaganda in Disney comics. I mean, a) there's not much else I know about Chile, besides the film Death and the Maiden (based on a play by that same Dorfman, and touching on the same hisotry), and b) it helped that it just happened to be there on the shelf at Carson Books and Records on Main Street, where I was hanging out shortly before the last time I went to see Crummy play at LanaLou's

Anyhow, as the fates had it, it ended up being a strikingly fitting gift, because Bert was wearing a Condorito shirt - also a bird-themed cartoon character, but one that emerged from Chile. I had no idea about Condorito - it was my first exposure - but I snapped a pic of Bert in the shirt, holding the book - this one, actually: 

Commence interview.

So Bert, can you explain about Condorito?

Condorito is a cartoon condor very popular throughout Latin America. Kind of our Mickey Mouse but he is very much 'of the people.'  His house has a corrugated tin roof with tires on it to hold it down. His pants are patched.  He wears flip flops at all times, even when he is wearing a suit (court, funerals etc).  He works a different job in every story. He strikes a chord with people.

Shortly after that gig, Crummy undertook a tour of Japan, which I haven't heard much about. Any stories?

Japan was one of the best experiences in a life full of great experiences. We toured not in a van but hand bombing our stuff on the Japanese trains. We had a first class rail pass for the long hauls (295km/h!) but the local stuff was done on busy Japanese commuter trains. No mean feat I assure you. We were trapped for a couple of days in Kobe because of the hurricane. We took the opportunity to eat back to back luxurious three course Kobe beef meals.  We stayed in capsules, went to temples, visited Ochanomizu the Japanese guitar neighborhood. It was so good and we just got it under the wire before eveything went to shit. For that I shall be eternally grateful.

How is Goony doing these days? 

The Goon is doing great . I work with him so I see him a lot. He was instrumental in booking the Japan tour and has been helping me a lot in bringing Crummy together into a viable project. Gotta love the Goon.

Was Mr. Chi Pig a figure in your life? What's your history with SNFU? Any stories you want to share? 

We opened for SNFU once as the Strugglers. [Video here, I believe; Chris Walter was launching his SNFU band bio - which I helped proofread - and I'm pretty sure that Todd Serious was in the audience that night, which I think was my favourite-ever SNFU gig]. I met Chi in 90 or 91 when I was working as an attendant at the China Creek bowls. The young firebrand version. Very cool and approachable. He did 25 one footed nose 360s and blew my mind with his freestyle skateboard abilities. We were more aqcuaintances than 'to the bone' friends.

I gather you work in the restaurant biz, but either I've never known or I've completely forgotten what you do. What do you do? How is that? Do you feel camraderie with other foodie punks? (Willy Jak, say, who was playing bass at that SNFU show?) 

I did spend a lifetime working in the restaurant industry to the point where I grew totally sick of it. As far as camraderie with foodie punks, a lifetime of working with food has led me to loathe food and eating. As far as I can tell it is linked largely to the fact that me working in the food industry is a direct result of my being unable to sustain myself playing music. My 'failure' at music if you will. Still, I appreciate greatly that I have a fabulous job that allows me to live relatively well in a time of hardship.

How have you gotten by through COVID? How did it affect your job? Was there any bad weirdness (dealing with the maskless or visibly sick?). What wisdoms have you gained from this pandemic (or are you still the same person as before?). 

I kept working throughout the pandemic. My job involves dealing with at risk people with a series of challenges so there were many daily incidents haha. As far as wisdoms I've gained, sadly it was merely the realization that many of us are real selfish assholes. Some might say I fit that bill, fair enough. I'm certainly a flawed individual.

How have you used the pandemic as a musician - were you grateful for the time off to recalibrate and write and such, or were you really impatient to get back to it?

My playing improved 100% during the lockdown if not more. Many will claim that to be easy since I was so awful to begin with. Fair enough, they are not wrong, but over the last 6 or 7 years I have assembled a killer band. The next two songs we record are going to be the shit!

We talked about the apocalypse last time I interviewed you, apropos of the song "Apocalypse Blues" on Even If It Kills Me - do you feel like we're getting closer to it? 

It takes my breath away and makes my blood run cold. I fear I do not have the strength to withstand the terrors that are most assuredly coming.

Is "Andy Warhol" still in the set list? Are there any new songs, or new covers, we should talk about? 

"Andy Warhol" is certainly still in the set and we are killing it better than ever. We have a series of covers we cycle through. Most of them fall in the category of "Man it would be so cool to do this as a cover someday" - no "Mustang Sally" here. "Clones" by Alice Cooper, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges, "Hybrid Moments" by the Misfits. We do a pretty good version of "China Girl" but I guess that's a song that will be cancelled. Fair enough.  I totally understand. Plenty of other songs to cover.

That interview with Orchard actually stemmed from my being amused by his tales on Facebook of of pre-gig nerves and bathroom trips. Is that a regular phenomenon? I kinda wish I'd now asked every major musician about their bathroom habits before a show. Did LEMMY get pre-gig nerves and have to go to the can? (He sure didn't SEEM like he would).  

I am always very nervous before shows. I've been playing since I was 13 and still it happens before every show. 

It evaporates as soon as we start the first song but it is something i can't escape. It is probably a little worse since I became sober because I can't preoccupy myself with drinking and c-c-c-c-c-cocaine.

2. Ed Hurrell/ Stab'Em in the Abdomen

One of these men is not Ed Hurrell (Ed with Eugene Chadbourne, shortly before COVID hit)

My 2016 interview with Ed Hurrell about the history of Stab'Em in the Abdomen (and his then-tenure in Pill Squad, before he was sent to the gulag) delves deep into his past, so I mostly focused on the upcoming gig and the weird circumstances around it (coming out of a pandemic, maybe?). And while normally I go through people's answers and edit'em up and add punctuation - I put at least five commas into Bert's stuff, above - Ed's kinda made a creative statement about the way he's answered my questions, so who am I to tidy it? (It would take a helluva lot more than five commas). Besides, this way he gets to correct ME, since I (as you will see) get confused about the lineup for this gig and that of another band he is in). 

You will also notice that I doubled-dipped on a couple of the questions I'd asked Bert, but the ones I sent Ed were: 

1. What's the current lineup of Stab'Em?
2. What's your history with Terry? [I had heard that Terry Russell of Slow would be drumming for this show, but it seems like I was thinking of some other band that he and Ed are in, Rocket #9 - look'em up yerself!] Since leaving the country, coming back, and having all his possessions stolen... what are his current plans? (You're welcome to just forward that to him, if you like).

3. How has the pandemic treated you? How has the lack of live music affected you - did you get into doing other things, or...?

4. I know your pal ARGH! has drawn cartoons of Slow (and DOA and others) but did he ever do ones of Ogre or any of your other bands?

5. Any notable songs that are going to be on the setlist? I don't know my Stab'Em songs so well - are there any that you chose as being perfect for a (post-?) pandemic gig?

6. I am under the impression Eddy is NOT singing for this show, but he's been posting about it. Is he involved?

7. My interview with Orchard [see a couple posts ago] stemmed from my being amused by his posting on Facebook about pre-gig nerves and having to go to the toilet. I've asked Bert about this too - I'm totally curious how normal a phenomenon this is. I have missed out my chance - I could have asked every musician I interviewed about toilet needs before the show (did LEMMY get pre-gig nerves and hafta take a dump? Now we'll never know!).

8. Do you feel at all nervous about returning to public performance, with numbers on the climb? What do you predict will happen in the future? (Further lockdowns?).

Here are Ed's answers, verbatim (because this is PERFECT and says more about Ed than my tidied version would. It'd be like adjusting Hubert Selby's paragraphs in Last Exit, or adding uppercase letters to an e.e. cummings poem): 

Hey Al... here goes....1/  Line giut.Vocals)   Eddy dutchman.(Bass vocals)..
).Shane davis (Tankhog).(Lead guit)...Johnathan Moogk..drums..///2//  RE: Terry...He's planning on moving away from Van..hates the high rents and shitty winters...I've known Terry since early Slow days...Played in Ogre with him...And Liquor kings..This Rocket #9 band, Is Liquor Kings with out Dutchman..All new Songs..garage rock type stuff..////3/..Pandemic wise...I've woodshedded with R #9 and Stab'em...Really miss playing gigs...It's what WE DO!! Gives one a sense of Purpose..reading books and drawing is fun but one forgets Who one is.. sorta..Imagine if you weren't allowed to write!!..."But it's WHO I AM!!"....//// 4/  RE: ARRRGH!..
An early Band ...Diseased (our 1st band which didn't go any where...other then that NO..////5//  RE: Pandemic..Weirdly almost all of our songs deal with some kind of DOOM!! I', thinking "Worried (About you)" is pretty good...Worried about the general state of affairs in the mean ol' world..6/....RE: EDDY D.  Dutchman is totally singing..(he's NOT in Rocket #9!!)...But he IS in stab'em...Hence the confusion pehaps..(PLUG!..Rocket #9 IS looking for an Opening slot with some one...If anybody needs a Kick ass opener...we're Availble!!)7/  WEllll....takin' a preShow whizz is pretty Par for the course...Don't wanna be doin' the Pee-Dance 1/2 way thru yer for Bowel Movements..not a problem fer me..However eating Before a show IS a No-no for me..Nerves I guess..8/....NO not really...had both my VAXX soo..playin' safe..No Huggin' or that sort of thing..Distancing...The future?? Hmmmm...Probably be up and down..I'm ALWAYS suspicious of ANYTHING that Conveniently Aids the Power's  that be!!..OK..thats about ALL I to clear things up...Rocket #9 is a Totally different project from Stab'em...Mike laviolette, Guitar extraordinaire...Me bass...Steve graf Other guit.(Riff monster)...Terry Russell Drumking!!..WE are looking for an opening slot as we have a 35 minute Rockin' set...And we're just starting..anybody need an opening act?? ....Thankx AL...

Got that? Anyone who wants an opening slot for a Rocket #9 gig - and what a great name for a band - should either write Ed at his Facebook page or go see him at the gig tomorrow night at LanaLou's, where the food is good, the beer is plentiful, and the masks are few! (Turns out to be an ill-timed gig for me, since I will be visiting a purposefully unvaxxed senior citizen in less than two weeks, and can't risk bringing anything with me...). 

Knock'em dead, Bert and Ed! 

(Photo by Bob Hanham, lifted off Ed's Facebook page). 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Orchard Pinkish on Playing During Plague: an interview

All concert photos by Gordon E. McCaw, of Betty Bathory's Daddy Issues band, featuring Orchard Pinkish. Orchard Pinkish in black on the left; I am the bald guy on the right. 

Something weird and interesting took place two weeks ago at the Betty Bathory birthday bash: I was able, consciously, to set COVID out of my mind for a few hours and have a great night at a rock show. I enjoyed myself immeasurably, but there were - before I just shrugged and went with it - definitely a few moments of nervousness early on, as I entered a reasonably large group of people, none masked, and proceeded to slosh back beer and socialize, almost like I was secure that the COVID vaccines were going to protect me. Everyone else seemed on the same page too; other than LanaLou's staff members, about the only person I saw with a mask was the estimable Orchard Pinkish, onstage with Betty, wearing - at least when he first came out - black robes and a Plague Doctor mask of considerable menace.

Since he stood out, was perhaps of a like mind about the relative safety of the evening, and was amenable to my bugging him, I thought I'd ask Orchard how he felt about the night, and how well he's been weathering COVID. The following is the text of my email interview, only slightly tinkered with for clarity. 

How has COVID impacted you personally? Have you been keeping safe? What have you been working on during the shutdown?

Certainly the initial lockdown shut down any musical endeavors that I was involved in, had an impact on my job in that it caused a real slowdown and ratcheted up my already high level of stress about the state of the world today. I've been following provincial health guidelines, wearing a mask 8 hours a day at work and anywhere that I am in public for the duration.

I spent about 2 months with a light workload, no rehearsals and no social interaction. I was bringing my acoustic guitar to work just to keep sane and keep my hands moving. As someone who likes to play a lot and whose social life revolves around music, this started to take a toll on my mental health. Fortunately my work neighbor (Don Binns) noticed the guitar one day and suggested that we do a little socially distanced playing in the parking lot out back of our workplaces. The following Friday, he pulled out his upright bass and I my guitar and we stood in the parking lot and played our asses off for about 6 hours. The following week we were joined by his colleague Jamie Wilson on drums and 'The Lot Lizards' were born. We even recruited R.D. Cane to do this little video for us.  

Screen grab from RD's video

Another fortunate thing that happened was a call I got from Scott MacLeod about a month before the lockdown. Scott asked if I would be interested in joining his band 'The Imperial'. I had been a fan of Scott for some time and knew and loved his bandmates Cam Alexander, Michael Nathanson and Richard Katynski. My first thought on this was 'what the hell would I do in this band... ' Rich was obviously on bass. Scott is just a killer guitar player who needs no second in my opinion. Mandolin didn't seem like a fit for what they were doing. I was a bit perplexed. When I asked Scott his response was a bit shocking : Synthesizer. I pointed out that I have no keys skills and no gear. He said something like 'great, when can you start?' Naturally this gave me a real mountain to climb and I have done my best to catch up to these absolute giants. I have gone from non-keys player to shitty keys player in a mere 18 months, and the guys have been super supportive and seem to like what I am doing.

How do you feel about the government response to COVID? What has impressed you?

I think the government response has been adequate. I was not impressed by any aspect of it, but they did act. They did provide supports; they did not politicize it. It was just ok.

3. Have you entertained any skepticism or concern about:
a) the safety or efficacy of the vaccines

No, the vaccines went through the standard trials etc, so they are certainly as safe as any other drug that we approve. It was impressive that they happened so quickly. It make you wonder how quickly we could deal with other health issues if we were willing to put these levels of resources towards them.

b) the level of fear inculcated in the media

I don't think this sort of fear mongering was evidenced in Canadian media. I think some propaganda networks in the US really fucked their viewers by turning this into a political issue.

c) the need for lockdowns

This was a new thing, that was quite obviously a potential epidemic. That our governments were willing to shut down was a glimmer of hope for me. They were willing to at least pay lip service to saving the lives of their constituents over keeping the economy running in a business as usual manner.

d) any "hidden agendas"

I think this is just silly. If there is some sort of deep state or shadow government it is synonymous with wealth: Corporate interests or the interests of the uber rich. The last thing these interests would want is to stop the up syphon of capitol. If you look at their PR branches in the US, they have been literally fighting like hell to stop the shutdowns. Its sad that people are willing to believe in bullshit conspiracies when the real conspirators operate in the light of day.

e) the influence of anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, etc

Fear is the enemy of logic. When I think about masking I look at it this way... If masks dont help, I will have worn a piece of fabric on my face for no reason. If they do help I may end up responsible for someone dying. How can this even be a question. Who is so weak that they can't tolerate a fucking mask. I do it all day long. I literally forget I have it on sometimes. Sometimes my ears hurt a little. Boo fucking hoo. Talk about snowflakes.

f) whether we will need to go into lockdown again at this rate (care to speculate on when?).

I think we are in pretty good shape to be honest [case counts were around 300/day when Orchard was writing this, note - things change! But he may still feel the same way]. The MRNA vaxes are 95-97% effective at keeping you from getting the delta variant (and alpha), and 99.99% effective at keeping you out of the hospital if you do have a breakthrough infection. If we can get to the mid 90's percentile for fully vaccinated we should be ok, and we are on track. The caveat here is variants. Delta+, Lambda, we just don't know. This is where the politicization of the response in other countries is hurting us. It creates low vax rates in places and thus breeding grounds for mutation. Its incredibly frustrating. I was lucky in that I qualified for a shot early. I happily waited in line for 5 hours in the spring for my first shot, and have been double vaxxed since June 21. I will absolutely get a booster in 6 months if it is available and recommended.   

Thanks - let's get to the show: when and where did you acquire that Plague Doctor costume? Was it specifically for the show?

Yes and no. About 10 years ago I found this mask shop in Vic. I grabbed a fantastic masquerade mask and a equally wicked Plague Doctor mask. I used them a couple times with the Strugglers I think. Going into this show I had a lot of trepidation and concern about whether any of the new guidelines were a good idea. I thought it was absolutely necessary that I wear the Plague Doctor get-up as a statement of my concern. Despite my guarded optimism and favorable data, I still have a level of skepticism and worry about all of this. We are in uncharted waters and no one really knows for sure.

Back to the mask. As you know, I recently moved. Most of my show costuming is in storage and I am in that early move state of chaos. I spent a couple hours searching for this mask to no avail. The day of the show I actually had to source a new one that was perhaps not as great as the one I can't find, but it said what I wanted to say.   

Would you agree that the mood was one of just completely blocking out all thought or worry about the pandemic, throwing caution to the wind? Were you aware that that would be the case before you took the stage, or was it a surprise...? Did you feel safe? did you feel worried? Are you changing your behaviour now (avoiding immunocompromised friends or such...?).

It was a non-prophylactic event for sure. I kind of expected this. A real show, booze, that awesome lineup, friends.. It all just adds up to people really letting loose. I think we all needed that for our souls, but the though of it being a dangerous thing was in the front of my mind the whole time. Betty's birthday and Daddy Issues shows should always be considered dangerous events, but hopefully not life-threatening.   

While it was in line with guidelines (which seem to be 'go for it'), it was uncomfortable for me. I have not been in a crowd in almost two years. That felt weird and anxiety inducing, but I'm not super wild about crowds to begin with. There were no masks which also felt weird after the past two years. I kept reminding myself that there were 23 cases the day before in the VCH region (2.3/100000 cases/pop) and that masks are encouraged indoors at 8.8/100000+. I kept telling myself that most of us are double vaxxed and that I trust this group to be vaxxed if interacting (for the most part?) I cleared my schedule and got tested 5 days afterwards. (clear).

Would you do it again? (I mean, no question - it was an immensely fun night and I kinda felt like I NEEDED it, but, like, I didn't go to Crummy. I considered it but like I say, I didn't want to push my luck...

I have bookings in September and October but I'm just playing it by ear. Things are really uncertain and this one was a litmus test for me. I'm not sure how I feel about it all really, so I am going to see how things are playing out and try to err on the side of caution going forward.


Thanks to Orchard Pinkish and Gord McCaw. Now: do I go see Crummy and Stab'Em in the Abdomen at LanaLou's on the 21st? Hmmm... let's see how my test results go...

The Asian Persuasion All-Stars talk about their "Racist Friend": an interview with Tim Chan, Eric Lowe, and Tony Lee

One of the most interesting courses I took as part of my undergrad degree was a seminar in Asian-Canadian literature at SFU - especially since activist/ poet Roy Miki, who taught the course, was able to get almost everyone who wrote the stories and books we were reading to come into class. Fred Wah read from and spoke about Diamond Grill, his memoir about his childhood spent in the kitchen of his father's Chinese restaurant - and explained how, because his mother was Scandinavian, he had, for much of his life, the guilty luxury of passing for white, at least until people noticed his last name. Jim Wong-Chu, poet and editor of a terrific anthology of Chinese Canadian short stories called Many Mouthed Birds, talked about protests and riots in Chinatown and the history of anti-racist activism in Vancouver. And Hiromi Goto, author of A Chorus of Mushrooms, talked about her frustrations when strangers would assume, because of her facial features, that she could explain to them how to cook all things Japanese (at a grocery store, for instance: "Are these skinny eggplants different from the fat ones?' She seethed a little at recounting the experience). 

That kind of thinking had come up before in class, when talking about the race-based presumptions that Asian Canadians have to vault over regularly - from being good at math to being able to read Chinese characters to having a fondness for congee (or what-have-you). It was strikingly underscored when a fellow student asked Professor Miki to explain some of the Japanese phrases riddled throughout A Chorus of Mushrooms. She was clearly shocked and confused that he couldn't translate them. She didn't actually say, "But... but... you're Japanese!" But Professor Miki is from Canada, his first language is English, and his connection to Japan was, at that point, anyhow, fairly remote. I still remember his raised eyebrows as his student proved his point for him.    

Top Row L-R: Tamla Mah. Ashton Sweet. Ron Kenji. Mike Chang. Second Row: Eric Lowe. Brooke Fujiyama, Tim Chan. Norine Braun.Third Row: Felix Fung. Greg Hathaway. Gabe Ng. Kevin Tang. Bottom Row: Brian Minato, Tony Lee, Norah Holtby.

That was one of my first questions, then, in interviewing the Asian Persuasion All-Stars, a mostly all-Asian Canadian supergroup consisting of Tony Lee (drummer and percussionist for Kele Fleming, EddyD and the Sexbombs, the New Black, & Hard Rock Miners); Eric Lowe (drummer for the Vanrays and former 64 Funnycars member); Tim Chan (guitars and vocals for China Syndrome and Pill Squad, also formerly - or should I say "occasionally?" - in 64 Funnycars), Mike Chang (China Syndrome); Tamla Mah (Abel Collective); Gabe Ng (Abel Collective); Brian Minato (SLIP~ons, the Deep Cove, and formerly Sarah McLachlan); Ron Yamauchi (Kele Fleming); Brooke Fujiyama (the Shit Talkers, Swinging Hammers; Greg Hathaway (Roots Roundup, Hathaway Brothers); Norine Braun (Norine Braun and Alice Fraser); Ashton Sweet (Balkan Shmalkan, Babyface Brass, and many other bands); Kevin Tang (Camaro 67, Big Easy Funk Ensemble) and producer Felix Fung (Sunday Morning, Les Chaussettes, producer of many others!).

Over the course of an email exchange with Tony, Tim, and Eric, I asked them what kind of assumptions they have to play past, as Chinese Canadians? Do people ask where they're from? Do they encounter other bits of subtle, othering racism in daily life? 

Tim: I've rarely been asked if I was from somewhere else simply based on being Asian. For sure, I have had people assume that because I'm Chinese, I know everything related to China or Chinese things or how to say certain words in Cantonese or Mandarin. I can speak rudimentary Cantonese (mostly to my mom) and know a little bit of Mandarin but that's as far as it goes. It is annoying when certain people continue to think I know these things and I keep telling them I don't know but they keep asking me anyways!

Eric: I've personally never been asked where I'm from as far as I can remember. Very, very rarely something racist might be directed my way and then I'm reminded of my heritage, but it doesn't happen too often. This doesn't make me special, it just makes me lucky. This could all change in an instant. Growing up though racist slurs and nicknames seemed to be the norm in elementary and high school (yes, elementary school) starting as early as Grade 1. It's easy to dismiss it as sign of the times but looking back it's pretty sad that six-year olds were calling me "Chink".

Tony: I've also been fortunate not to have been directly confronted for years and years. Our joke in high school was, "Those people should go back to where they came from...East Van!"

Mike Chang, left, and Tim Chan, right

Chan explains that the project was designed "to spotlight our Asian musician friends, adding that "we do have some non-Asians in the collective too who are very supportive." Their first release is a cover of the Special AKA's "Racist Friend." The Asian-Persuasion All-Stars' video for their cover of it will debut on August 20th, here, but you can hear the audio-only version on their bandcamp page

It is unusual, Chan continued, for the band members to shine a light on their identities thus. (He's explained in a past Straight interview what the name of his band China Syndrome was as much a reference to late 70's movies as to he and Mike being Chinese). But with anti-Asian racism on the rise, the musicians saw an opportunity to lend support to - "a Vancouver organization working to interrupt, dismantle and eliminate anti-Asian racism at all levels through an approach that affects change via education, media representation, policy changes and community organizing. All proceeds from downloads and streams of "Racist Friend" will go toward supporting Elimin8hate, the advocacy arm of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival."

So who in the Asian Persuasion All-Stars has worked with whom, before, exactly? How was the recording done? Was it challenging, with so many bandmembers and so much worry about COVID?
Tim: For sure Eric and I have a long history indeed, which you've already documented elsewhere. I've played with Tony a number of times as well, as part of Brent Kane's birthday band, guesting with EddyD and the Sexbombs at Bowie Ball 2019, and he played with China Syndrome at the last live Bowie Ball in 2020. Of course, Mike is in China Syndrome with me. Otherwise, this is my first collaboration with all the other musicians. All the recording was done at home by each of us and we sent the files to Felix, who put it all together and mixed it. So we actually haven't been together in one room as yet - I haven't even met some of the group members! We have a live gig booked at LanaLou's on September 19 so we will finally be meeting in person soon.

Eric: A few years back Tony (also a drummer) and I decided to form Secret Asian Man. Based on the slightly humorous (possibly misguided) idea that two Chinese drummers join forces and play duets. That would be the first time I collaborated with Tony. Secret Asian Man plays mostly empty venues to very polite applause. Sometimes Tim joins us as the ringer who can actually play guitar.

Tony: I am a fan of Eric and Tim in the VanRays, China Syndrome, Polly, and Swank. I am often playing on a bill with one or both of them. EddyD and the Sex Bombs adopted Tim for the Bowie Ball one year, and China Syndrome had me aboard the year after. I thought of this supergroup recording after seeing the umpteenth anti-Asian incident on the local news. I knew we had enough talent amongst our friends. Eddie Lam was too busy, and I didn't hear back from Johnny Wildkat of The Furniture.

Tim: Tony Lee is the one who initiated this project -- he messaged Eric and me about doing a benefit recording to combat the rising anti-Asian racism we are seeing in Metro Vancouver. Tony chose the song as well, the Special AKA's "Racist Friend," originally recorded in 1984. We very briefly bandied about the idea of playing They Might Be Giants' "Your Racist Friend" but stuck with the Special AKA song because we could feature a variety of vocalists and also pay tribute to Leslie Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican and a huge influence on the creation of reggae. He produced Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," and early Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the Maytals records. Hence the subtitle for the song, "Felix Fung King Kong mix," with the amazing Felix Fung mixing it and the reference to Leslie Kong.

How has racism impacted their families, historically?
Tim: Racism has absolutely impacted my family historically on my father's side. My grandfather paid the $500 head tax to immigrate into Canada from China to work in Canada in the early 1920s; his economic prospects were better here than in impoverished South China. He was already married but was not allowed by the Canadian government to have his wife (my grandmother) with him in this country because he was Chinese -- this was when the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. So he had to come here alone and was only allowed to visit his wife in China every seven years. Of course, guess what? My grandmother had a child every seven years - all my dad's siblings were seven years apart. The act was finally repealed in 1947, but my grandfather was not able to bring my grandmother and my dad's younger brother to Canada until 1950. Unfortunately, my dad was left behind in Hong Kong because he was over the age of 18 and immigration to Canada for Chinese people was restricted only to wives and children under that age; only Chinese people had this restriction imposed on them and this was not lifted until 1967! My dad was finally able to join the rest of his family in Canada, so he had almost as long a wait as my grandfather did. Anyways, the Canadian immigration laws at that time were rooted in racism and my family's story is unfortunately very common to many other Chinese families of the same generation.

Eric: My great grandfathers on both sides came over to work building the railway and it's well documented how poorly and unfairly they were treated compared to white workers. Both were also subjected to the head tax but fortunate enough to be allowed to stay in Canada. My father was able to join his grandfather in Canada but had to come into the country as the child of another family because at the time grandparents were not allowed to sponsor their grandchildren. He settled in and eventually corrected his status which made it possible for him to sponsor my mother to come to the country.

Tony: I am not as well versed in my family history as I would like. My dad got a business degree from UBC in the early 1960's. His classmates were offered much better job offers than him. He started out managing the lighting department at Eaton's at Brentwood Mall, which was a first for an Asian Canadian man.

Tony Lee

Had the band seen incidents of COVID-related anti-Asian racism? (I told them that I saw one homeless-looking guy yelling at a group of Asian girls once, but that was about it -  the girls kept their cool, and I checked in afterwards, and it seemed like they were okay).
Tim: I have not experienced racism during the pandemic nor have I witnessed any incidents. It appears, as a male of decent stature, I'm not in the target group for the attacks - the perpetrators have been primarily targeting more vulnerable people such as seniors and young women, which is very unfortunate and disgusting, really.
Neither Eric nor Tony have experienced anything directly; Tony adds, "As loud-ish Asians we attempt to speak on behalf of more reticent people." 

So what should I do, I asked Tim, Eric, and Tony, about my 90-something year old uncle, who has taken to calling COVID the "Chinese virus?" (He started doing this after seeing videos put out by the Epoch Times - a Falun Gong-associated newspaper with a pro-Trump, anti-Communist bias - which blamed the Chinese Communist Party for COVID's spread; Epoch Times were calling it the CCP virus, and he "shortened" the phrase, probably with a little bit of old-fashioned "yellow peril" racism in mind, akin to the attitude parodied in the old couplet by Phil Ochs, "they speak Chinese/ and they spread disease"). What would you say to him?

Tim: I would ask him why he is specifically calling it the "Chinese Virus." How did the article from Epoch Times or any other information he has come across convince him to call it that? I would try to have a civil discussion with him about it and try to get to the root of why he is saying this and perhaps reflect on his biases and perceptions he has had over the years. As he is 90+ years old, it may be difficult to convince him otherwise, but it would be a very interesting and enlightening conversation to have.

Tony: I doubt that any Asian Persuasion would be effective on your elderly uncle.

Eric Lowe, Tony Lee

Does the band have any special relationship to the Specials, the Special AKA, or ska? Are there other songs out there germane to, or specifically about, anti-Asian racism, that they considered covering?
Tim: As you know I'm more of a power pop kinda guy, but I've always enjoyed the Specials/Special AKA and I own their albums... I'm not aware of any specific songs about anti-Asian racism [but see his mention of They Might Be Giants, above]. Again we are performing live on September 19 and have put together a set list for the gig, all covers, and some are other anti-racism songs. We encourage people to come to the show to hear what we end up playing!
Tony: I am a fan of the late seventies Two Tone movement (Specials, Madness, Selecter, Beat). I know less about early ska and rocksteady, but it's pretty great. Third wave ska is less interesting to me, except Fishbone. We are busting some other covers for a gig in September, some by Asian artists and some about general togetherness.

Then there's the question I'm dying to ask: what the heck does the band make of the Payola$ early single, "China Boys?" Is it some sort of glib racist anthem, or is it taking the piss, or what...? I've always enjoyed the tune, but never felt comfortable with the lyrics - it's undeniably catchy, maybe one of the Payola$' greatest moments musically, but, I mean, Skrewdriver are pretty catchy, too, musically. Have any of you had a chance to take it up with Paul Hyde or Bob Rock? What would you say to them?

Tim: To be honest, I've always enjoyed "China Boys" as a song, though I've always been bothered by the phrase "ten billion people." That is SO far off the mark of not only the population of China (1.4 billion, and much less when the song was written) but also of the entire world (7.7 billion people)! This rather outrageous number, not to mention the ridiculous lyrics of the song (e.g. "I hear them laughing/ I know where you are/ I don't want your TV/ I want your car") leads me to conclude that they are singing in the character of someone who is paranoid about a "Chinese invasion." In context, the song was written in the late 70s around the time of the Vietnamese-Chinese "boat people" who were forced out of Vietnam when it went under a Communist regime post-Vietnam war. So I am erring on the side of satire for this song, though their video and faux-"oriental" riff somewhat negates this! And how about "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors?!

Eric: I don't mind "China Boys" all that much. Can't say I was big Payola$ fan so never paid much attention to it really. Now Mitsou's "Les Chinois"...

Tony: I never thought 'China Boys" was racist. I'm a Payola$ fan. We decided that "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas is too problematic to play live, even though I love that probably racist song.

 Ron Yamauchi (AKA Ron Kenji) and Kimiko Karpoff

What comes next? Is this a one-off project, or will they do an album, or..?
Tony: APAS was definitely created as a one off. If no one had asked us to play live, we probably wouldn't. I've never met some of our band members in person, but I look forward to it. I would love to write a classic anti-racist anthem, but I suspect I might not.

Tim: As I mentioned, we'll be playing live on September 19 at LanaLou's. The show will be a benefit for Elimin8hate and will also feature four other APAS-related bands: China Syndrome, Swimming Hammers (with Brooke Fujiyama), Norine Braun and Alice Fraser, and the Hathaway Brothers (with Greg and David Hathaway). Not sure about other live gigs and other recordings after this, I believe there's a chance we will play as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in November as well, but that hasn't been confirmed yet.
As for the great anti-racist Asian-Canadian rock anthem, I'm hoping it will be written at some point, maybe by one of us or, even better, by a younger Asian musician! I wrote a song a number of years ago when I was in 64 Funnycars called "Something Real" that was ostensibly about being in a mixed-race relationship and how difficult it was to be open about it, and how we could continue the relationship in secret but it would not change societal attitudes: "you'd think they'd learn from experience that it's not such a big thing anymore, can't they see that we're in love, and it makes no difference how I am, what I am, who I am..." I deliberately wrote the lyrics to be more universal as it could apply to other relationships (e.g. LGBTQ2+) but my original perspective is from the point-of-view of being in a mixed-race relationship. Of course, I am married to Sarah, a non-Asian, and Tony and Eric are also married to non-Asians, and I know several members of APAS are of mixed heritage.
Brooke Fujiyama

What else have the bandmembers been doing during the pandemic?
Tim: China Syndrome has been relatively quiet over the pandemic period. We start practicing again in September and will be looking to play live in the Fall. Mike and I have done some iso-collaborations of our songs during the pandemic ("Nowhere to Go," "Footsteps on the Roof," "Empty") and also covered some Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mike and I also did a couple of iso-collaborations with Eric and Gord Rempel of the Vanrays (combined we are the ChinaRays) on covers of Squeeze and Joe Jackson songs. Pill Squad is rehearsing again, and we will be playing live in the fall as well -- we released an EP online earlier this year, Kissan Silma, and will have a CD release party for it on Oct 1st at LanaLou's.

Eric: The Vanrays have just mastered 16 tracks, enough for an LP, EP and single. We hope to release the LP very soon with the other recordings following that. We've also recorded a video for one of the LP tracks called "Hard Times," but that will stay under wraps until the release. Otherwise we have a couple shows at Lanalou's scheduled for Nov, details to come.[Check their bandcamp page for updates?].

Tony: EddyD & the Sex Bombs recently released a second album, Yikes!, and will play in October. Sparky Spurr and the Wretched Sinners play in mid August and might record soon. The New Black has an album in the can, but won't always return my emails. Kele Fleming is writing songs for a new album. The Hard Rock Miners' Singalong has repurposed itself as The South Trout Orchestra for outdoor gigs.

Kele Fleming and Tony Lee

Thanks to Tim, Eric, and Tony for taking time with my questions and their answers, and for putting together such a cool project! Get tickets for the Elimin8hate fundraiser/ Asian Persuasion All-Stars gig here. For updates, check out their Facebook page. To learn more about Elimin8hate, visit their website

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Monday Music in the Park - New West...

 David M. drew my attention to this, and I'll be there to see him play, but Stephen Hamm? Jimmy Roy? Ian Tiles (resurrecting Buddy Selfish with Mike Van Eyes???). I'm goin'. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Vancouver Arthouse return! With specific focus on He Ran All the Way and Mandibles

It wouldn't be a real Vancouver summer for movie-lovers without the Cinematheque's Film Noir series, and lo, it has returned, with a usual mixture of tried and true favourites, including a couple of films that tend to appear on my list of favourite noirs: Gun Crazy, Criss Cross, and In a Lonely Place (yes, basis for that Smithereens song, and one of the saddest noirs ever), a couple of historically important films that I've seen but don't have much to say about (like Kiss Me Deadly, which will forever to me be a footnote in my fandom for Repo Man) and a nice sampling of "deep cuts" that I've never seen, like City That Never Sleeps and The Glass Key, based on a terrific Dashiell Hammett novel (one of the few vintage crime novels I've read twice, and one of the sources for the plot in Miller's Crossing, which mix-and-matches a few Hammett texts in a way that I'm sure they would consider homage, but has always seemed - tho' I like the film a lot - to be borderline plagiarism).

The one that I have never seen that really stands out for me is He Ran All the Way, for a few reasons that have nothing to do with the story itself (which does sound compelling): because, first off, I'm kind of fascinated by young Shelley Winters (who I grew up watching play cranky "broads" in movies like The Poseidon Adventure, The Tenant, Bloody Mama, or Kubrick's Lolita - which seems the turning point between her sex-bomb years and her later mode. Unaware of her early career, I used to find her kind of gross, to be honest, since these characters were often kind of vulgar and none-too-bright. then realized at some point that in fact, that grossness was something she was performing, and suddenly found myself feeling deep respect for her. She went from this, back when she was hanging around with Marilyn Monroe:

To this, in what has become my favourite of her "broad" roles, The Poseidon Adventure:

...And kept working well past her "best-by" date in a system that didn't have much use for real actresses, except as eye candy. Truth is, I still find something kind of nails-on-a-chalkboardish about her later roles (she's just so frumpy and unpleasant, in films like Polanski's The Tenant, for example) but I realize now that she's TRYING to get under your skin there...

Even more of a reason I'm keen on He Ran All the Way: I haven't seen many John Garfield movies, and never this one, though that morphs into another issue that, in fact, cineastes out there can help me with; I am convinced that I have heard reference to He Ran All the Way in some other film, or some other film-related place, like an interview with a director I respect... but I have no idea where. Did a character in a Martin Scorsese film talk about it? That seems like it could be the case; maybe the Harvey Keitel character in Who's That Knocking At My Door, since he's a film buff? That would be pleasing, because the late Bertrand Tavernier, when I interviewed him about the blu-ray release of Death Watch, likened Keitel to Garfield:

I find him very moving, very interesting--totally immature. I love that quality in Harvey. And from the beginning, the moment when he entered the restaurant, when I met him, I said, “this is Roddy!” Especially when he was smiling. And I had seen many of his films, post-Taxi Driver, and in many films he was always tense, never smiling. Sometimes very effectively, like in Fingers, which was a very underrated film. But he was never loosening up, something he could do; he also could express the immaturity of the character, the guilt. I told him, “you remind me of John Garfield.” He had a kind of Garfieldian quality.

...All of which is enough to make me interested to see Garfield's final performance, as is the blacklisting of various people involved in this film (co-written by Dalton Trumbo, who was the subject of a pretty good movie himself a few years ago) but like I say, I've had a "pin" in my memory about this particular film for a long time, long enough to have forgotten where it came from. I should go see it, for sure, but it probably won't help me recall WHY I think I should go see it. Help me scratch my niggling itch!

There's also a return to open for the Vancity Theatre - now and in the future to be called the VIFF Centre, also now boasting a new "studio theatre" on the side. They have a few films that I am very excited to see. I will be seeing Gunda alone, sadly. I described it to Erika, who doesn't resonate with black and white so much, and who is not actually a cinema lover, per se - she likes movies, but, like, that amazing opening sequence of Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse did nothing for her but give her a point of reference to tell me what not to play her in the future ("Is it like the movie about the guy walking the horse up the hill?" ...we didn't even finish it, only got as far as the potato-eating scene, which is to my mind the greatest potato scene in film history, but... you know, I can't entirely blame her; either your scopophilia kicks in and you are compelled beyond reason by such images, or it doesn't and you aren't).

To me, though, Gunda sounds amazing: a gorgeously-photographed black and white Norwegian documentary about the life of a pig.

I haven't seen Quentin Dupieux's Mandibles, but I have seen his telekinetic killer tire movie, Rubber, and that film, if you've missed it, is both insane and very fun to watch. On the strength of that film alone - which I am sure Erika would also enjoy, note - I'd be game to see another Dupieux. Then I read the description from the VIFF website:

The gig couldn’t be more straightforward: Manu is to hotwire a car, pick up a briefcase, deliver it straight away, absolutely no peeking, no diversions, discretion guaranteed. Inviting his best bud Jean-Gab to come along for the ride is not in the remit. But then, who could have foreseen what would turn up in the trunk of the yellow wrecker he chooses at random…? A housefly the size of a dog. Naturally, the two friends are bemused. There must be real money here, if they can only figure it out. Jean-Gab has an idea: tape up its wings, earn its trust, and train it to pull a bank robbery…

Um, what? A giant fly robbing a bank? Um... okay. Not quite sure how Dupieux comes up with his ideas. It feels like they could have begun as one sentence or phrase (which also applies to "telekinetic killer tire"). You get the sense with some of the more outlandish films out there, like Kevin Smith's idiotic but unforgettable Tusk, the film's premise emerges from a contest between very stoned friends to see who can come up with the most batshit ideas for movies; what's remarkable is not that drug-fond filmmakers might have such conversations, but that they actually follow through on the ideas that arise in them when they're sober. In any event - whatever Dupieux's inspirations or intent - Mandibles sounds like a must-see to me. (The title surely is a riff on Jaws, eh?). 

There's lots else to see at the Vancity, coming up - also Annette, a rock opera made with the deep involvement of the Sparks brothers. Sparks - coming soon to Vancouver, and subject of a well-regarded recent documentary - is a cult band I respect but haven't done justice; I do love their song and video for "I Predict." Have not yet heard their soundtrack to Annette (listening to this one song as I type). Bears looking into!

 I'm also very keen to catch La Piscine, an erotic French thriller starring Romy Schneider, whom I loved so much it the aforementioned Death Watch. Udo Kier fans will want, meanwhile, to check out Swan Song. I've missed both these cinemas (and the cinema itself) a great deal, and am excited by the prospect of seeing all of these films in a cinema. The opportunity may not last long, here, so...