Saturday, June 27, 2020

In which I dream of Peter Stampfel

There are few living American musicians whose body of work I revere more than Peter Stampfel, of the Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders, Bottlecaps, and lately a host of bands, from the Velocity Rounders to the Atomic Meta-Pagans to the Worm All-Stars to the Deposit Returners to the Ether Frolic Mob (most of which are sorta technically backing bands, as in Peter Stampfel and..., and some of which feature his daughter Zoe). If I had free tickets to see Bob Dylan, but could pay $100 to see Peter Stampfel across the street the same night, I would pay the $100 to see Peter Stampfel - that's how much I revere him (though in a somewhat irreverent, casual way, but damn does his music bring me joy, you know?). I think I would also (shh) choose Stampfel over Eugene Chadbourne, though part of that is because I have never seen Stampfel and have seen Eugene a dozen or more times. Though I suspect I will in fact never see him perform live, I had the great privilege of interviewing him at some length and have occasionally interacted with him since, and am in the process of catching up on his discography, since it turns out he's been rather crazily productive since that interview, putting out a dozen or more albums since the last one I bought off him (Dook of the Beatniks, from 2009), and collaborating with everyone from Jeffrey Lewis (naturally) to Shelley Hirsch (!!!). You can read about some of these albums on Robert Christgau's site, where it becomes quickly evident that Christgau is a fan of the Rounders and Stampfel too; or you can order the most recent of Stampfel's solo records via Don Giovanni Records, like this one:

Anyhoo, I dreamed of Peter Stampfel last night. I was (in the dream) at a house party in Seattle where Peter was performing. It was very casual - a large living room with a small, relaxed crowd of people. To everyone's surprise, Peter rode in on a horse - a white one - wearing cavalry gear and maybe brandishing a sword, while performing Johnny Cash's "Big River" (which is actually in Peter's repertoire, though the horse-uniform-and-sword stuff is not). This part I mostly emailed to Peter on waking, since I thought it might amuse him; but I didn't tell him the whole dream - that I spent most of the concert distracted by my cell phone, really, really wanting to make a Youtube video of his set but not being able to find the "video" function, because my phone had been updated and everything was messed up; or that after the concert, I bought some records from him, but as I was walking away down the alley behind the building - explaining to a homeless person about Going Nowhere Fast - I realized that I had forgotten to ask Peter to sign my records. That was imperative, so I ran back to the building, got inside, but - before finding Peter, decided I really needed to pee. I went to an elaborately decorated, expansive, kinda like Elizabethan-or-something bathroom and began peeing in the first receptacle that I could, which, alas, turned out to be a small, half-filled, decorative antique bathtub. Why there was water in the bathtub I could not say, but as I stood with a vaulting arch of urine splashing into it, I realized I was probably going to have to find a way to drain the water out of the tub, so no one, like, bathed in my pee. This, alas, would be contemplated by the lack of a drain in the tub - I was going to have to pour it out manually, somehow, and this was going to delay my quest to get my albums signed.

Then I woke up, needing to urinate. I hope Peter Stampfel is still writing his memoirs and that he's included a hilarious anecdote about an enormous booger he had hanging out of his nose at one point, which he posted on Facebook, asking us to support him against his wife's opinion that the story was in bad taste. It was funny! Then again, I just posted about a pee dream.

You can stream the whole, crazed cornucopia of The Ordovician Era here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

WTF: Samsung worldwide blu-ray player crash?

(Update below).

Okay, so on Thursday around 7pm, I was halfway through watching a blu-ray. Machine - a Samsung Home Theatre J4500 - was working just fine. Then I stopped the movie, did something else, and came back to it around 7:30 - and it was screwed, going through an endless cycle of stops and starts, so that as soon as you powered it on, you could barely get the screen to stay stable, as it immediately started going from the home screen to seeming to select the "photos"option to powering down to returning to the home screen in an endless manic loop, each screen lingering for less than a second. Turning it on and off didn't work. Tried unplugging it, attempted a hard restart (which I couldn't even make happen, as it cycled from screen to screen): the machine seemed to be busted.

I took this for an isolated incident and tried to get a sense of what my options were. I didn't want to have to buy a whole new home theatre system, since, you know, the speakers are all fine and in place. Spent this afternoon making inquiries of Samsung Canada and London Drugs (where Erika and I bought the system, a few years ago). Some suggestions, nothing very exciting.

So I looked online and soon discovered that on Thursday night, my time, apparently all over the world, Samsung players all went on the fritz in exactly the same way. The discussions I've found are most prevalent in the UK, but there are similar reports from Germany, the United States, Brazil, Toronto... a vast number, if not all, Samsung blu-ray players have gone crazy in the same way at the same time.

People are speculating that it's the result of a some sort of update or patch from Samsung that has had unintended effects. I have no idea. Can there be viruses that do this? Some sort of industrial sabotage, maybe from, say, North Korea? I don't understand these matters enough to do anything but speculate.  What's most interesting is that the Samsung Canada rep I spent half an hour on the phone with earlier today apparently hadn't heard about this yet.

So hey, folks - is your Samsung blu-ray player on the fritz? Is it on the fritz in the way described above? Welcome to the club. There is apparently a petition to pressure Samsung into taking action. I have no idea if that's necessary, but it's definitely one way to make sure Samsung knows that there's a problem, here. (They have said that they're investigating, apparently).

I guess it's all for the better I haven't been using streaming sites very much lately, since it may be awhile until I can watch my blu's and DVD's again!

One week later: update: 

So I've now written customer service, who didn't let on there was a global problem (though I mentioned it, linking to one of the tech news articles about this crash). With no help there - they just suggested I get it repaired - and no updates on any of the sites I've seen, I called the main Samsung 1-800 line and had a chat with a support person, who sounded maybe like she was in a call center in Mexico. I said at first that I was "one of the people affected by the Samsung blu-ray player crash," and she said she didn't know what I meant; I then explained the symptoms and she told me that, ah yes, she was aware of this problem. (I'm not sure if she had been being coy or thick). After several minutes of delay (where presumably the troubleshooter was going over the script to use), she told me that Samsung was aware of the problem and working on it, that there was no timeline for a fix, and that no one knew what had gone wrong, none of which is new or informative.

End of week one without a blu-ray player. Erika and I are streaming The Man in the High Castle.  Should keep us going for awhile. I frankly would be surprised if Samsung actually took action - they're no longer making blu-ray players, so there is no real motivation for them to do anything, except, of course, the suspicion this failure will cast on EVERY OTHER SAMSUNG PRODUCT. I will wait another week or so, then start looking at my other options...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

RIP Aunt Jemima

I was making pancakes recently and wondering about Aunt Jemima.

I have fond brand recognition for Aunt Jemima - it's a product that has been around since my childhood. My parents were more likely to buy the syrup and make pancakes from scratch, but I vividly recall her smiling face on the bottle from back when, kinda like the Quaker Oats fella (same company, by the by). I actually recall being troubled by it, confused by it as a child, though I'm not quite sure I could put my finger on why it was disturbing to me back then.

As a married adult, I generally prefer healthier pancake mixes - Coyote, say - but for Erika, Aunt Jemima pancakes have a comfort-food status, so we've been buying them occasionally. Like I say, I was making some for breakfast last week, while in America people were rioting about systematic racism, and wondering about the brand. How has it gotten a free pass?

I mean, Aunt Jemima looks like she might be a slave. A happy, servile one - a positive image, I guess,  if you are a member of the "owner" class, but one that serves as a reminder for most people not only that once in America people owned other people, and had a pretty definite idea what a "good slave" might look like: basically, as far as women are concerned, Aunt Jemima was it.

I figured that maybe there was some history I was unaware of that explained the continued existence of the brand. I mean, I had no idea who the actual person on the pancake box was. I sometimes have an all-purpose Caribbean spice mix on the shelf with the brand Auntie Bev's, and I'm pretty sure I've met the actual Auntie Bev at a Caribbean festival in Maple Ridge, selling her stuff; but I doubted very much that the woman on the box (or bottle) of Aunt Jemima's was, for instance, a businesswoman who came up with a good pancake mix and marketed it. Maybe there was some other excuse for the brand's persistence?

Turns out, no. The history of the character goes back to minstrel shows. The Wiki suggests that the original Aunt Jemima character - not associated with pancakes at the time - may even have been a white man in blackface (!). Even the first actress to play her and lend her face to the brand, Nancy Green, was born into slavery. So there's good reason to view Aunt Jemima exactly as she seems: a racist caricature of an acclimatized, happy slave.

Of course, I read this morning that after 130 years, the brand is finally being retired. Erika and I had a fast pancake breakfast in her honour. 

Since Quaker Oats likes to use faces on its products, apparently - I wonder who Aunt Jemima's replacement will be? Will Quaker Oats replace it with a less fraught image of happy servility, like housekeeper Alice from The Brady Bunch, perhaps? That image still speaks of a time - the one we live in, as a matter of fact - when some people have so much wealth they can hire others to do the cooking for them, while other people have so little wealth they might gladly take this job, and find a way to be happy in it. Maybe they would be wise to avoid any class implications, and find a face and name not in any way associated with actual kitchen help...?

Well past time for a re-brand, in any case. Reading about this this morning, I discover there is an actual book on the topic: Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima. Or you can just go read the Wikipedia page.
RIP, Aunt Jemima.

Something Something Ostrich: a strange time to be alive

Fauci is quoted somewhere in a headline today observing that people keep saying a second wave is coming while we're still in the first wave... At the same time, almost, as Trump is saying that the increased number of cases is due to an increased amount of testing.

A friend put a comment about that on Facebook - does that mean that if I throw away my bathroom scale, I can eat all the pasta I want? - and was horrified to discover that it drew comments of its own from a FB friend who, apparently, was a previously closeted Trump supporter.

I do not have any love for the man, but dear God, people mocking him for implying that all we have to do is stop testing and the number of cases will go down... he didn't actually MEAN that, did he? People are being unfair here, RIGHT? Please tell me he really isn't THAT stupid, people are just being uncharitable in their interpretations...?

Just now I read a bit of a credible article someone had on Facebook on how Trump might win the next election in the States. Four more years of this? Some people really want that?

(I'm not going to even get into the part about the riots and so forth. Keep that border closed, please, folks!)

Meanwhile, the playground outside my window that for two months was roped off has reopened and is full of kids by day... there are school announcements and children's voices in the playground and the sounds of basketballs bouncing off pavement, while I still work at home during the day because my workplace (also a school, and not for young children) has deemed it unsafe to reopen at capacity just yet.

There's a certain amount of cognitive dissonance created by such things.

And yet, there I am, too - back out in the world, poking about thrift stores that are opened, shopping at record stores... my wife and I have eaten out half a dozen times - like, not on a park bench but inside restaurants... The mall is open again, even though the world is not markedly safer than when it was shut. Sometimes I put a mask on, but more to protect other people, in case I have it, than myself, because I don't think my mask WILL protect me much.

But, like, there's still a virus out there, folks. It's not under control. We may be a bit better prepared to handle it, but... the easing of restrictions does not mean that everything is safe again, you realize?

Like, I feel the strong desire to be back to normal too, but also a fear that that's partially about denial. And the desire for the comforts it affords: something something ostrich. (What was it wendythirteen said on FB - something about "fecal ostriches?" But all in caps, of course). (Wait, no, I remember now, it was "rectal ostriches").

Speaking of Wendy, Mr. Chi Pig was briefly back in the ICU, I gather, by the way. Seems to have stabilized, but no visitors, because COVID.

I see there's a petition that Mo put online pressing the government to allow venues to reopen for concerts. I sure do miss shows at the Rickshaw, but cue the eternal voice of Sir Laurence Olivier in my head: "Is it safe?" I actually am hesitating.

Then on the other hand, I know that there's a show (somewhere - pardon me if I don't say where) this Friday. I might go. I am not mentioning the what or where of it lest it get anyone in trouble, but even without this consideration, I would be tempted to not say or do anything to get other people to go to it, because, for once, I WANT the crowd to be really, really small for this show. (Sorry, gang!). If it's small, it's safe to go, right?

It's a confusing time to be alive.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Tales from the Cave Part Two now online

The Cave sounds like it was a pretty cool venue. Never went there myself, but I've collected stories from people who played the Cave for two features from Montecristo now. Here's part one, and here's part two! Thanks to everyone who contributed (but especially bev davies, Rob Frith and Aaron Chapman).

Friday, June 12, 2020

Scratching a TAD itch: Who the hell was Dick Johnson, anyway?

I interviewed Tad Doyle, of my all-time favourite grunge band TAD, a few years ago for a German magazine; the English version of that article eventually ran on my blog. I knew from the outset that Tad was more interested in talking about Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, so I didn't try very hard to come up with good TAD questions - most of which probably would have been answered in the course of the fairly authoritative Tad documentary, anyhow, or in books like Grunge Is Dead. But if Tad had wanted to talk TAD, I would have surely come around to the question: Who the hell was Dick Johnson, anyway? (And why can't I find his book?) 

Understand, I have heard about Dick Johnson in a few places - for example, on the back of TAD's 1989 opus God's Balls, which I have owned in the original a couple of times, and actually presently have three versions of (original LP, the reissued/ remastered LP, and the shortened version on the original pressing of the Salt Lick CD). Flip over to the back cover of that first pressing and read it with me:

I can't track down every reference to Dick Johnson I've heard, but I can say for sure that that was the first: "This record is lovingly dedicated to convicted felon Dick Johnson." And then there's also this fantastic Pussy Galore song, off my first and still-favourite, Pussy Galore album, 1989's Dial M. for Motherfucker, called "Dick Johnson," Whatta song! Whoever this Dick Johnson guy was, he must be pretty impressive to be the chorus of a song that rocks THAT hard, on an album that looks like THIS:

I also had read, back in the late '80's/ early '90's (but before Nevermind broke and ruined it all for me) mention elsewhere about a suppressed book, called something like, Let's Blow Up the Heads of Today's Youth, that was what had gotten Johnson in legal trouble. Someone else I was heavily into back in 1989 - was it on a Sonic Youth lyric sheet, an issue of Forced Exposure, or some other TAD or Sub/Pop related project that I no longer have kicking around? - had quoted from the book, riffing, I gather, on something Dragnet-related, saying "Marijuana is the flame. LSD is the fuse. Heroin is the bomb." Or something like that. There may have even been mention of a Dick Johnson Legal Defense Fund on someone's album somewhere.

But as notorious as Dick Johnson apparently was, at no point in my life have I ever been able to FIND A COPY OF THAT BOOK. And, I mean, I'm pretty good at finding books. I've owned everything from Cormac McCarthy first editions, some worth hundreds of dollars, to signed Patricia Highsmith - or signed Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and Charles Bukowski, if you prefer. Even semi-suppressed books like Klaus Kinski's grotesque, rapey memoir, All I Need is Love, or, for instance, Mindfuckers (AKA Mindfucters), a hard to find book about Charles Manson, Mel Lyman, and "the rise of acid fascism" have graced my shelves at various points. Eventually I sold all of that stuff off (or, in the case of Mindfuckers, traded it for a Monkey Warfare "I fuck the man" t-shirt from Reg Harkema, who was doing Manson research for Leslie My Name is Evil.)  I wonder if Lemmy ever saw the cover of this book?

But if Dick Johnson ever actually published a book about blowing up the heads of today's youth with drugs, I have never seen it, never been able to find it on eBay, on Abebooks, etc. Occasionally, during those odd nights when I find myself awakened at 3am, and decide to burn off excess brain-energy online before going back to bed at 6am, it's the sort of thing I search for information about. I mean, that's what the internet is for, right? - scratching old itches at 3:30 in the morning?  I did a search of Abebooks and Google the other night, in exactly those circumstances, and the only reference to this particular Dick Johnson that I could find was a Pussy Galore interview, where Bob Bert (who also drummed on Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising) explains:
Pussy Galore did a tour of the west coast with Tad from Seattle opening on what was their very first tour. They had a friend come along whose job was to find pot in every town and his name was Dick Johnson. I think Jon got a kick out of the fact that his first and last name were both names for a penis. That song is musically based around Neil's killer guitar riff.
That's it, though. No legal defense, no mention of a suppressed book, so... what the fuck?

I wrote Tad. Tad, who still I guess doesn't want to talk about TAD, told his web manager or someone to write me back and put me in touch with Kurt Danielson, former TAD bassist, who could give a fuller answer than he could. There was a tiny bit of back and forth, and then suddenly Kurt was filling in the blanks for me.

Kurt Danielson, 2019, by Alma Saucedo-Valadez

Here is what Kurt wrote back!

Hi Allan,

Well, it's a rather long story, but I'll condense it down into its essential elements. Dick Johnson - aka Rich Johnson - is my former brother in law. He used to be our Squee Master on tour; that is, he was in charge of scoring weed in every town along our tour itinerary. During our first ever tour, with Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer met Dick and admired his name so much that he wrote a song about him, as you know. To build on the myth that was quickly coalescing around the mysterious persona of Dick Johnson, we created a fictional identity for him, including a controversial and transgressive book, and we perpetuated this myth in the Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears documentary, claiming that this non-existent book had landed him in legal difficulty and that all the proceeds from the sale of the DVD would go to his legal defense fund. In reality, Rich is an English teacher and a father, and he has no legal problems stemming from said book, because it doesn't exist.

I'm sorry if the reality of the situation disappoints you, but we simply couldn't resist the impulse to weave a myth around our friend, who is a good-natured fellow, and I appreciate your interest. Many people have wondered about this mysterious book, but you are the only one to have actually formally inquired about it. You deserve kudos for asking, because it was a joke that was meant to provoke discussion, and yet little real discussion occurred at the time the DVD came out, and that surprised us. I'm pleased that someone finally thought enough about it to ask.

As for what I'm up to musically, I play bass in several bands, including Mythological Horses, which worked with Tad as the engineer, producer and mastering engineer on our last record (YYYMF). We'll be working with Tad again for the next record. Another band I play with, Purple Strange (which features Jack Endino, Ron Rudzitis, Matt Vandenberghe and Jared Stroud in addition to myself) just finished a new record that will be available soon (produced, engineered and mastered by Jack and recorded at Strange Earth Studios). Ron and I have another band called Vaporland, which has a CD out already (also on Strange Earth). We're planning another for the near future, and we plan to work with Tad on that one. I also play bass on records by Sky Cries Mary (Thieves and Sirens, produced by Jack) and Nerd Table (Nerd Table vs The Galactic Turkey, mastered by Tad). Those records are out there, on the net, if you can find them.

Cheers, and thanks again for your interest,


Note, Kurt: I'm far from disappointed to discover that this book never existed! I'm totally amused that I have probably, since 1989, devoted at least three hours of my life trying to find it (usually in fifteen minute segments on Abebooks and eBay). And now I learn not only that this is not about my failure to locate a rarity, but that I'm the first person to actually pursue the question!

BTW, if I have this right, Kurt isn't on this Mythological Horses song, but it has a pretty great little rock video. Check it out!

Saturday, June 06, 2020

A spring trip to Pitt Lake

Erika and I took a drive this afternoon out towards Pitt Lake. We didn't quite get there - the last leg of the road was fenced off - but we found an access to dykes around Widgeon Marsh. I don't really have anything to say of moment, but we did get some very nice photos of our day. Here are the best of them.

A new profile pic

Friday, June 05, 2020

America is exhausting

I want to write something topical and relevant about what has been going on in the US (or teach a discussion skills class again where we can talk about "Cop Killer"). But I just don't have it in me. I feel like I have to say something, but... errrgh...

People sometimes try to characterize what living here above the United States is like - the most common variant is that it's like having a nice apartment above a meth lab - but it's more tiring than that, because,  you know, there are things about the 'States (and plenty of Americans) that I love! I want to see them get through their problems and find a better way, I really do. But every school shooting, every black man shot and killed for some minor infraction...

I mean, re: George Floyd, you know why the officer was kneeling on his neck, right? (Beside being a racist piece of shit, I mean). Floyd had tried to buy something with a bad $20 bill.  Here's the thing, though: *I* have tried (unknowingly) to pass a counterfeit bill - a bad ten dollar bill I was given in change at a 7-11 on Granville Street, which I tried, a few days later, to buy a slice of pizza with, not having noticed - as I am sure is the case with the 7-11 clerk, too - that the colours and details were a bit off. No one kneeled on my fuckin' neck for it - hell, the clerk at the pizza place even gave me the bill back, so I could use it my ESL classes as a warning to students. I still even might have it around somewhere (with the word "counterfeit" written across it in red pen, so no one mistakes it for real).

So, I mean, yes, right, black lives matter. It actually, truly needs saying, I guess. Seems like it shouldn't. Seems like it should be, like, "the earth is round" or "gun control is a good idea," or other kinda strangely contentious issues of the contemporary world. Seems like, actually, WE SHOULD BE BEYOND THIS RIGHT NOW, or, well, sorry folks, but America, it seems like YOU should be beyond this now, doesn't it? I mean, what, the LA riots were in 1992, right? (And say what you will about the Rodney King beating - at least they didn't KILL him!).

I mean, yes, I know, First Nations, Canada, etc. We're fucked up up here, too, I don't deny it. But, you know, I can recall two shooting rampages in Canada - one that ISIS-wannabe guy who had previously tried to rob a McDonald's with a stick, and this thing in Nova Scotia. There have probably been others, but there are none in my recent memory, which is quite different from the USA, where you just sort of give up trying to keep count. Another school shooting? Another black man killed by cops for some minor infraction?

And, you know, yes, Chantel Moore. Or Colten Boushie, or Jon Styres, or... It happens here, and if you want to say it's an aberration, then pick a story about white people wanting to build pipelines or flood or mine or log First Nations land. You have a range to choose from, from the Tsilhqot'in versus Taseko mines to the unresolved, ongoing struggles at Unist'ot'en camp to Site C damn to the Trans-Mountain pipeline to... It's all, undeniably, business as usual here in Canada -  we have our own stories, our own racism, our own inequities. How does Matthew 7:5 go again? I get it.

But it's just not the same degree of intensity that you see down south, the same degree of outrage. I mean, we riot here over fucking HOCKEY games, folks. As grotesque and trivial as that is, this week I've been thinking fondly about it. How luxurious, how charming, how sweet to live in a country that riots over fucking hockey, like we have nothing more serious to get upset about. Maybe it's just the plank in my eye, but it just seems worse in the United States - doesn't it? And it seems like THEY SHOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW. Should have done something, should have fixed themselves...

Remember when Barack Obama was elected? I went to a fuckin' party to celebrate. There was more than one, I'm sure. I remember sitting there, I think at Cafe Deux Soleils on the Drive, being somewhat puzzled, thinking, why am I at a party to celebrate the election of a president of another country? But I get it now: people thought America had finally fixed itself. Finally, we thought. We don't have to worry for them anymore - they have found the way. How can it have gotten worse since that time? How does a country go from electing Barack Obama - flawed as he is - to electing Donald fucking Trump?

(Please fucking tell me they're not going to re-elect him? They can't, right? [They re-elected Bush]. What kind of psychotic decision-making process does an electorate have to display, here, that we have to actually worry about this possibility?).

It's like some sort of fucking caregiver fatigue sets in for Canadians, like you've got this errant relative that you really want to see get his life together, but who somehow finds ways to fuck everything up. Seeing Obama elected was like seeing a perpetual fuck-up relative clean up, get a job, and get married: finally their life was on track. For a few years, you didn't have to worry about them very much - give or take a few school shootings, the odd targeted overseas drone strike, it was a definite improvement for awhile... Then your relative goes on a meth binge, robs a convenience store, kills a security guard, and you're getting a call from jail...

So I have nothing to say, I'm wiped out. I am going to spend today seeing if I can track down a Velvet Underground CD box set with an awesome 36-minute jam of "Sister Ray" that came out five years ago, that a buddy posted about on Facebook. I'm not even gonna listen to Body Count!

It feels somewhat surreal, even irresponsible, after what we've been seeing all week on the news, to go about ones life like everything is normal...

...except, I guess, for America, this IS normal. How can it be? (And how can it be that it seems to be getting WORSE?).

How did that Clash song go again?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Not Now, Folks

Many things cross my mind these days, and occupy my reading. Questions linger, like, "The Epoch Times versus the Chinese Communist Party: whose side is the CBC on?" or "Jesus, will America ever learn?" or "How soon until we start to see the number of COVID-19 cases ramping up again?"

I've got nothing on any of the above. I have one major new piece, informed by nostalgia for going out to shows: people telling stories about the Cave. I'm working on a part two. It's not important by comparison to other things going on in the world, right now, but there are some really fun stories, and more to come. Thanks are due to Aaron Chapman and Rob Frith on this...

Otherwise, life, work, and a few trips to reopened thrift stores (and dine-in experiences at restaurants). All for now, all for awhile. Good luck out there. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Happy Nirvana discovery: the 2013 Steve Albini remix of In Utero

During the two months of our COVID-19 shudown, I have done very little record shopping. One trip to Neptoon, one trip to Audiopile. Otherwise the only vinyl I come across is when my wife and I are  at a local mall that features a London Drugs.

I have gotten to know the vinyl at that London Drugs quite well. I've been tempted by a few items, disappointed to see that certain others are not available. Occasionally I am pleasantly surprised: like, I wasn't expecting to find a double-45rpm version of Nirvana's In Utero the other day (and for a few bucks cheaper than the lowest price on Amazon, which as of this writing is $42.79). If I had seen it on the shelves before, I failed to notice that it was, in fact, a 2013 20th Anniversary remix, helmed by the man who originally recorded it (Steve Albini) at the request of the band. Albini had been somewhat famously dissatisfied with studio meddling with the original album, and though this is another thing altogether, it was very interesting to me to hear how he might reconstruct this album now...

I have a complex history with Nirvana. I had already defined myself as a punk for ten years by the time anyone cared what Kurt Cobain thought about anything, and didn't need Kurt to introduce me to the Meat Puppets or Flipper or Daniel Johnston (though I was pleased that he got all three more recognition). As a Pacific Northwest music fan, I was all down with Seattle independent music before Nevermind, had been listening to the Young Fresh Fellows and the U-Men and other bands, and once it got started, I was a member of the Sub/Pop singles club, getting exclusive 7" singles from the label by subscription. Best yet, I could see shows sometimes, since I was hanging with some people who would actually drive into the city for gigs at places like the Cruel Elephant, and there was an expansion, I think around this time, of bus service to Maple Ridge, so I was going to see tons of shows by heavier bands of the time, some of whom got tagged "grunge," and others who could have been. In the late 80's and early 90's, mostly at the Cruel Elephant, I got to see Tankhog, the Melvins, Helmet, TAD, Love Battery, Supersuckers, the Dwarves, Facepuller, the Volcano Suns, and, one night at the Commodore, Nirvana and Mudhoney. But I was left uncomfortable at that show: Kurt seemed self-destructive and negative and stoned, and I didn't really enjoy the vibe I got off him; while everyone else was wowed, I came away saying that Mudhoney was the superior band.

I wasn't wild about Nevermind, either. It had just come out a few days before the show, and I was trying to get to know it. I had liked Bleach a lot  - and I had Hole's "Retard Girl" and Pretty On the Inside, and liked them even more - but Nevermind sounded quite different and wrong: not necessarily poppier, but flat, lifeless, polished until it began to lose feature. Some of the songs were okay, and being the loyal type, I wanted to like it, but even before it became this huge hit album, before I saw the show, I had mixed feelings about it. It was like the Replacements' Don't Tell a Soul for me, or X's Ain't Love Grand, or Husker Du's Candy Apple Grey. "I would like to be able to enjoy this album, but..."

Then something happened. It's hard to explain. Somehow - maybe because of the company I was keeping, or the acid I was dropping, or the inner turmoil I felt as a young man not sure what he would become, I kind of left rock'n'roll behind, and spent most of the rest of the 1990's listening to free jazz, noise, and experimental music. There was a point where I stopped following a ton of bands I'd been devoted to, because I was too busy checking out John Zorn or Fred Frith or Don Cherry or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Numerous bands I had followed closely before suddenly dropped off my radar, and I stopped buying their records. I stopped following the Original Sins in 1992, when Move came out; I wouldn't own it until decades later.  Having bought every album and one or two singles by the band previous, I had no interest in Tad's Inhaler (1993), either. I had enjoyed Sonic Youth's 1992 album Dirty just fine - and still like it more than a lot of the people who describe it as some sort of grunge sell-out - and had everything I could get by them otherwise, but after Dirty, I skipped their next two albums, and still barely know them. I also dropped Dinosaur Jr. after 1993's Where You Been, and Soundgarden after 1991's Badmotorfinger. And I think now part of what was happening to me was that after 1991 and Nevermind, when "underground" rock music suddenly became above-ground, it stopped being fun for me. Maybe I needed something obscure - needed to be a member of a more exclusive club, to prop up my shaky identity and give me self-definition... but it didn't help that some of those commercial cash-grab records by bands emboldened to reach for the brass ring really kind of sucked, like, say, Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union. I had loved everything they did up to that point, even as they grew more commercial, then suddenly a) they have a hit single and b) they have an album that totally blows. Coincidence? I really didn't like the changes to Soundgarden's approach, either, by the time "Black Hole Sun" put them on the charts...

In any event, be it heartbreak at commercial sellouts, the desire to impress artier friends, some weird punk need to rebel against popular tastes and/or "success," or because my mind was going wild with neurotransmitters, by late 1993, I was listening to free jazz and avant-rock almost exclusively. Grunge seemed like greasy kidstuff. I had matured, was eager to leave my past self behind, like I could somehow climb out of the pit of my suburban youth by listening to more sophisticated music... I never even bothered with In Utero back then. I figured it couldn't possibly be good. I had already had problems with Nevermind, which had been recorded before anyone had figured out that the band could actually succeed; so now that they were on the corporate radar, now that people with money were hoping to make more money off their music and Kurt and Courtney had sizeable drug habits to support... how could the album not suck? I was annoyed that bands like Soul Asylum and Soundgarden had watered down their sound; why wouldn't I feel the same about Nirvana? I just didn't care. I heard the singles on MuchMusic and didn't really dig them - "All Apologies" had interesting lyrics but sounded like pop fluff. Then a few years later, I read an interview with Steve Albini in Tape Op bitching about the way Geffen had fiddled with his original vision for the album, and it confirmed my bias and kept me away. When I finally did hear In Utero on CD a few years ago - at the urging of the Georgia Straight's Mike Usinger - I was surprised that, even in the toned-down studio presentation, it was still obviously a pretty raw and difficult and surprisingly ambitious album. Still:

a) I didn't the way it sounded very much, maybe in part because I expected not to, having read Albini griping about it at some length

b) I was more interested in hearing the original Albini mixes and masters. (There's a very complex history which you can read people argue about here, as to what the exact differences between the original 1993 tapes, the officially released version, and the 2013 revisitation.)

Now, the 2013 In Utero mix is not the same as Albini's original version - which I still have not heard - but it IS Albini's vision for the album 20 years on, when he's being given the respect and creative control he deserves. And having grabbed it on a whim at London Drugs, I am kind of stunned at how rich it is. You can get a song-by-song comparison with the 1993 release here, or you could try yourself, say if you want to compare (to pick a non-hit fave) the new Albini version of "Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter" with the original (also an Albini mix, apparently, but remastered from his original vision, if I understand this correctly, by people at Geffen). I vastly prefer the 2013 version, and notice more things, from being able to clearly understand what Kurt mutters at the beginning ("What's your name?") to how there seems to be a different spatial construction and a lot more detail when you get to the noisy solo (say around 3:30-3:45; compare, in particular, the high-pitched chirps on the guitar, which are tinny, anemic, and barely noticeable on the 1993 mix, while you can hear them as part of a struck chord on the 2013, much fuller and more satisfying. That might boil down to "more body," as the author of that previously linked comparison notes, but there's also sonic detail added or re-added not present in the 1993 mix. In some cases, I gather - on other songs on the album - there are even whole different solos!).

What I'm realizing is that I had, back in 1993, ignored Kurt Cobain's masterpiece; that, contrary to my intuitions, Nirvana had faced down studio expectations and massive fan attention and all the pressures that come with hype to come up with an album that is at times as raw as Bleach, but which pushes the songwriting vastly further than one sees on Nevermind. It's a great album, and the 2013 Steve Albini mix, I think, is going to become my definitive version of it. Looking forward to listening to nothing else, and very happy to know that Kurt managed something this fantastic even as the end was approaching.

So thanks, London Drugs!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Core: shameless, delightful, Vancouver-shot idiocy

I have written about the shot-in-Vancouver 2003 film The Core before, but it is on Netflix Canada now, and Erika and I just re-watched it... so I must write about it again, especially for followers of locally shot cinema (Robert Dayton, this one is for you - and also for Stephen Hamm, since there's some interesting electronic soundtrack stuff, courtesy Christopher Young, who kind of goes for a punchy Tangerine Dream thing at times). It is very, very entertaining. It is not a great movie, and it is not quite a so-bad-its-good movie, because it realizes key aspects of its premise are beyond ludicrous, and this knowingness interferes with it being truly bad, since (I think) for a film to be truly bad, it must have delusions about itself. The Neptune Factor, which it resembles in some elements, is truly bad (also not so-bad-its-good, exactly, though its sheer badness makes for the best parts of it). It fails to recognize its own absurdity, and plays it straight. The Core - similar to the recent Rock movie Rampage does not have this problem. Any film that includes lines like, "As long as we can surf these magma flows, we'll be okay" has too much of a sense of humour about what it is doing to really belong with the likes of Tommy Wiseau and Battlefield Earth - tho' at the same time, the film is not trying to be bad, either. It's just trying to have fun with its ludicrous premise, and tell an entertaining, suspenseful, Hollywood-action-movie story to boot - fun that is enhanced for people from around here by the very much undisguised Vancouver locations that allow the film to leap from Boston to Chicago - for its first and second scenes - in the course what you can't help noticing is about a fifteen minute walk, the locations used being mere blocks from each other.

Made before Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich had cornered the market on big-budget, giant-spectacle global disaster films, back when the Rock was still a wrestler, in the days when pretty much every science fiction film about the end of the world involved giant meteors, and global warming was barely in the news, The Core presents the loopiest possible premise for its popcorn-slinging apocalyptic spectacle: the molten outer core of the earth has stopped spinning, and a group of intrepid terranauts consisting of Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tchéky Karyo and homeboy Bruce Greenwood drill into the planet in a giant vibrator on a literal journey to the centre of the earth. They bicker and argue and sacrifice themselves one by one. Heroes emerge. Emotions are roused. They crew find themselves briefly trapped in a ginormous geode. There are "diamonds the size of Long Island." Whales become an important part of the tale (though alas, Netflix subtitles the sounds of their singing as "whales whining."). Mission control on the surface of the earth - led by Richard Jenkins and Alfre Woodard, with DJ Qualls as a hacker named Rat - loses faith and tries to pull the plug. Will our heroes survive? Will they complete their mission? Which of them will be required to sacrifice themselves? And most importantly, WILL THERE BE DINOSAURS?

Spoiler: there are no dinosaurs, not even fossil ones. No giant fish, either, you Neptune Factor fans. But the science is ridiculous enough that you wouldn't have been entirely be surprised should such things have popped up, and having to settle for mega-geodes, magma, and Long Island-sized diamonds is a smidgen disappointing. 

But things blow up! A lightning storm destroys Rome! There is a scene involving birds gone wild that is likely the most intense bird-horror scene since Hitchcock! And fans of filmmaker, actor and professor Tom Scholte should note: he has one of his bigger roles in a major Hollywood production. It's not like he's in a Bruce Sweeney movie, here, but it's still fun to see him on screen. (Local Rekha Sharma is in it, too, though I confess  to not knowing her other work). I kind of loved watching The Core again, and Erika liked it too; if you have Netflix, check it out.

Do bear in mind that I didn't say it was actually good. But it sure is fun! 

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Tales of Skittish Tybalt

So it is about midnight, and Tybalt and I are inside, having a night to ourselves. The Hunt is on the TV, and he's diving his time sitting beside me, receiving a petting, and exploring the apartment, visiting the stations of his "indoor cat" cross: the water bowl, the litter box, the food dish, the bamboo. (He likes to go panda on our bamboo). I am also a bit distracted, pausing the film to write a bit. At one point, as I sit in my office chair, he meows at the door to the hall outside. "Do you want to go out, buddy?" He rarely does, but sometimes - I think when he smells another cat out there - he makes a request.

I walk over to the door and open it. He runs away almost as soon as the door is open. Curiosity will not kill this cat, he seems to say, staring at me. "You sure? Okay." I close the door.

A few minutes later, I have gone back to my computer to write, and he meows again at the door. I go over and open it once again. He approaches it, and then turns and runs away, deeper into the living room, looking back at me. "Do you want to go outside, buddy? Go check out the hall?"

I step outside and wave him towards me, door wide open. He just stares. I have stared at him through the door before. 

I step back in, shut the door and go on about my business, when a few minutes later, I hear the cat meow again. He is looking at the door, standing beside it. I open it for him. This time he runs outside, quickly scratches the carpet to mark his territory, then runs back inside. Which is usually all he does, especially since that time when he darted out as Erika was coming home, and we didn't notice it, and the door closed on him. He was locked outside for about ten minutes until a neighbour knocked. His trips into the hall have been few and far between that. 

He is done with his scratching, but I still stand there, door open. I step outside and look back at him. "Don't just mark your territory, cat - come on out and explore a little! It's okay..." 

He stands watching me from the kitchen, mistrustful. 

Erika disapproves of my encouraging his curiosity about the hall outside, a little, but I for one would like him to come outside into the hall tonight, for a change. He almost never does. He's the sort of fragile fella who still hides, after over ten years of being with Erika, and five of being with the two of us, when we vacuum; it's so tragic that we generally just let the carpet dust up, so we don't have to watch him sprint for the safety of the underside of furniture. 

But I remember how, after we got back from our last big trip, when Erika and i put him in his carrier and took him to her parents, he was much more alert when he got back - and calmer, too. I think the new experience freshened him up a bit, and made him braver, to boot; he's less inclined to flee from a crinkled plastic bag, for example, or run away if we put some blanket on him. He will even play with cat toys that previously scared him, like the mouse-on-a-string. The vacuum is still traumatizing, and if I start loading laundry into the big blue Ikea bags he does a runner, but he's a stronger cat for the odd adventure, I think, and I feel like providing him a new one tonight. 

It's gotta be good for him. Surely one of the reasons old people decay cognitively is the lack of new inputs. You need to get out of the house once in awhile - the same routine, day in and day out, dulls the brain. Maybe cats, even indoor cats, are like that, too. He's getting older, and Erika occasionally describes him as having "senior moments." Perhaps a trip into the hallway now and then is the answer?

Eventually, as I stand there in the doorway going "here, kitty!" he comes out into the hallway. I let the door close behind us. 

Immediately, he spins around and starts scratching at the door to be let back in. I try to lure him further out, but he continues to scratch. After a couple of minutes, I open the door. He rushes back in, far into the living room, then turns to watch.

I'm not done. I get a cat treat to help lure him back outside. He comes out for the treat - but he doesn't go much past the door, once again. I walk down the hall, and drop another treat on the floor several yards away, to see if he will come to it. He stays where he is, and looks for the treat near the door.
I pick it up and drop it again and point at it. He continues to look around the floor where he is.
"No, it's not over there, buddy." I pick it up, drop it and point at it again. Eventually he comes down the hall, takes the treat, and runs back to the door. 

Variants on this happen one or two more times. At one point, a neighbour comes down the stairs chasing her own cat. Many of the cat owners here let their cats out now and then - but this one - a small female calico - has escaped without permission. Our neighbour treks down the hall in her pink bathrobe and slippers, observing Tybalt and I, narrating her kitty's jailbreak, and then scoops up her own cat. "There you are. Come here!" She goes back up the stairs, saying goodnight to us as she passes. Her cat briefly meows, and Tybalt hears it, but that one item on the wishlist, that Tybalt will get to hang out with other cats, has yet to materialize. 

One time I opened the door for him, at his request, to find another cat - perhaps this same small calico - peering in curiously. The two of them were nose-to-nose for a minute, then Tybalt swatted her face, abruptly ending the visit. It's his only interaction with another cat since we've had him. 

Eventually, as the night goes on, I figure out that maybe Tybalt will be less inclined to run back to the door if I prop it open, so he knows he can get back in. I put one of Erika's shoes in the door and leave it there. He makes one trip out, and comes back. He meows at me, standing at the door, which I have shut behind him. I open it again and decide that to really foster his independence, I should just let him do his thing for awhile - to go explore the hallway or not, his call. It's not like he can get into trouble. I leave the door propped and sit down at my computer.

A few minutes pass where I have no idea where the cat is, when I hear Eric, one of our neighbours, in the hall. I recognize his voice as I sit in my office chair, and he's saying something like, "Are you locked out, buddy?"

The door is propped open, so I'm not sure what Eric means. I see Eric is coming down the stairs to talk to me, so I step out, and Eric beckons me up and shows me what's going on: Tybalt has, bravely, gone all the way up one flight of stairs, which he has NEVER DONE BEFORE - 

- but he's gotten confused: the apartment door directly above us looks pretty much exactly the same as the one below, and he's scratching at it to be let back in, hunkered down close to the floor.

I mean, what does a cat know about doors and floors?
Just because he went upstairs doesn't mean this is not the same door he left behind, right? Maybe the same door is on BOTH FLOORS. In this universe of mysteries, this human world not made for or by cats, why shouldn't it work that way?

Eric, who is ahead of me in the hall (and who knows our cat, from occasional catminding requests), scoops Tybs up and brings him to the stairway, saying "poor guy, did you get confused?" He remarks to me that his cat does this too, sometimes - doesn't know which door he's at. As we turn the top of the stairs, Tybalt spots Erika's shoe, wiggles in Eric's arms to be released, and quickly sprints down the stairs and into the apartment.

Eric and I chat about our cats. I come back in, sit back down at my computer, and the cat comes over for a scratch on the cheek. Then he settles down in his spot on the couch. 

I guess that's enough adventure for tonight. Tybalt has stopped meowing me over to the door, so I guess he agrees. Maybe he'll watch the rest of this movie with me?

He seems a bit more alert for his adventures - but maybe that's in my imagination. Poor guy.

Friday, May 08, 2020

See The Hunt

Have you gotten bored of movies? 

I've gotten bored of movies. I feel less and less of the excitement that I used to most associate with cinema - the excitement of discovery, the feeling of freshness, of sitting down to something I've never seen before and being taken on a ride into uncharted territories. There are shows Erika and I watch that I enjoy, especially the first half - which is usually the freshest half of any film, before it settles into playing out the inevitable patterns it has set in motion. Even with films we both enjoy, there's almost always a feeling (for me, anyhow) of having seen bits of it before. 

Take The Decline, say - a well-made, crisp Quebec film about survivalists at war with each other. It was entertaining enough - moreso watching it with Erika, who has seen fewer movies than I and is less jaded, less desensitized; but it did do a couple of things that surprised me, too. Still, it was nothing so fresh or interesting that I need to revisit it. It has "passed through me and is gone," as Nick Cave sings of a girl somewhere (perhaps one he has eaten?). Maybe it's an effect of the new paradigm, but of the films I've seen theatrically in the last five years, I think I've gone out and deliberately bought ten of them (not counting ones I buy because they're cheap, or buy because I want to see them once, like The Meg, and it's cheaper to wait to find it on a used DVD than pay for a theatrical release). Of those, I have probably since sold or given away or sold five of them (like, say, It Follows; do I ever need to see it, or Spotlight, or Don't Breathe, or Under the Skin, or that movie with JK Simmons as a music teacher,whatever it was called, again?) The keepers in recent years have been Midsommar, Nightcrawler, The Babadook, Green Room, No Escape, The Evil Within, Bone Tomahawk, Under the Silver Lake...  there's actually a pretty short list of movies made in the last ten years that I've seen and wanted to own and revisit. I pray for something fresh, exciting, new, something that doesn't remind me of five other films, that doesn't just riff on genre conventions but exploits them to tell a totally new kind of story, but that is also important and rich enough that I'll want to see it again, maybe more than once. There seem to be more movies made these days than ever before, but precious few of them really succeed at making me care about them. I am - I think I said this already - bored of movies.

The Hunt does remind me of a few other films, but in ways that are audacious enough that I'm willing to call it a fresh experience until something fresher happens by; I am  not sure how it will play once you see where it's going, because it does rely a lot on elements of surprise that won't be as surprising the second time around. But I'm definitely thinking I'll want the blu-ray come June. I am currently paused around the halfway mark - the fulcrum of the film, where the excitement of discovery is usually replaced by the satisfactions of seeing the inevitable play out. I am more of an "excitement of discovery" kind of guy than a "satisfactions of the inevitable" one, so I'm savouring the moment, and a bit reluctant to proceed. There may well be a few delightful surprises yet to come, since there are things that happen within the film that you simply will not see coming; just when you think it has settled in to its story - when it's stopped fucking with your expectations and chosen a path, after a very bloody first half hour, it will do something like give Macon Blair a two minute cameo, where he walks into the movie with a friendly wave - almost seeming like a meta-level reference, like he's saying hello to fans of Jeremy Saulnier films and/ or I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Then within two minutes, his role in the narrative is decisively brought to a close, in a way so ridiculous and perfect you will cheer. At such moments, it's almost like the filmmakers know me, know how jaded I've become, and know that jaded cineastes out there are all Macon Blair fans, tired of watching films that don't even bother to try to surprise you anymore. At such moments, you - meaning I - feel spoken to. Waved at, so to speak. Literally. 

Here I am, waving back. 

I don't want to say anything else about the film. It's politically relevant; it owes - I think this much is obvious - a bit to The Most Dangerous Game (and its varied spawn); it's very funny, and very violent. It has been cheated of a fair release, first by a mass shooting in the US that prompted distributors to delay it, and then by the COVID-19 shutdown, which happened the week of its release. It did briefly get a run at the Twilight Drive-In, but that was weeks ago. It gets a legit release on blu in a couple of weeks. To preserve the freshness of which I speak, I strongly suggest that you read no more about it; trust me; and enjoy it. Easily my favourite new film since Midsommar, unless I've forgotten something... but chances are, if I've forgotten something, it's for a reason.

Okay, now for that second half...

Thursday, April 30, 2020

DOA's Treason: Potent and Timely, plus a new video with Mayor Mike Hurley!

DOA's new album Treason has Joe, Mike Hodsall, and Paddy Duddy - the fiercest lineup of DOA of the 21st century - continuing to mine the sweet spot they found on Hard Rain Falling and Fight Back, making tight, fast, lean-and-mean, guitar-driven political hardcore without frills or false steps. There's a savage version of "Fucked Up Donald" which is easily the most welcome-and-appropriate reworking of "Fucked Up Baby" since the days of "Fucked Up Ronnie." There's a revamp of "Just Got Back from the USA," one of the catchier tunes from Fight Back, and another song about corruption in the Trump regime, "All The President's Men." (Almost all of the political songs are directed at the current situation in the USA, with even "Wait Til Tomorrow," about the plight of refugees, taking in US treatment of them, talking, for example, about children ripped from their mother's arms on arrival in the USA). And there are plenty of killer licks from Joe, like the one behind the title track, "It's Treason," which, at 1:42, is the second-shortest song off the album ("Fucked Up Donald" is 1:11). If I had Chain Whip's 14 Lashes around, it would be fun to compare the runtime, to see which album presents a full hardcoremeal in the shortest amount of time. Treason is a fast, fun, gut-punch of a record...

...and it even breaks new ground, which is impressive for a band that's been around over forty years: Paddy Duddy takes the lead vocal for a song about the experience of playing in DOA ("It Was DOA") which is the funniest self-referential DOA song since Wimpy wrote "Big Guys Like DOA" some decades ago (if you missed that, it's at 23:52 on this rip of The Black Spot; as someone constantly hoping for 3XL t-shirts at shows, and often being disappointed, I was kinda delighted to discover someone had written a song along these lines. BTW, Joe, if you're reading this, I still want a 3XL "repent you fucking savages" War on 45 t-shirt!). Keithley wrote the lyrics for "It was DOA," and plays himself in the song, but it's narrated  mostly from the point of view of a long-suffering DOA member. Fun to see that Joe is comfortable poking fun at himself: "I’ll only give you five bucks a day/ but if you’re any good, you’ll get a raise in pay/ Your bed’s all ready on the floor of the van/ if you need to take a piss, just grab a beer can.”

Another first on Treason: DOA covers a Neil Young tune. DOA's reading of "Hey Hey My My" is nearly perfect, and, believe it or not, is almost better than Nomeansno's, with one small reservation.
Much as I love Nomeansno, when they covered that tune for the FUBAR soundtrack, they made a sort of mid-tempo dirge out of it, focusing on the feelings of mortality present in the lyrics; just like "Victory" (as Rob Wright once observed when playing the song live) is actually about failure, Nomeansno emphasize the mortality behind that song's denial of mortality, making it kind of a depressing experience overall, befitting the period in which it was written (around the time of One, Nomeansno's darkest, heaviest album). DOA goes simpler, faster, tighter, playing the song like a straight-up rock anthem - but, like that other great "conflicted anthem" of Neil Young's catalogue, "Rockin' in the Free World," that's kind of how it's supposed to be; when Rob Wright, on the FUBAR soundtrack, sings, "rock'n'roll will never die," you think about dying, but when Joe sings it, you think about rock'n'roll - which is truer to the song's point, making you complicit in the denial at hand, if that makes sense. The only thing that holds DOA back from beating Nomeansno's version is that - in the spirit of lean-and-mean, I guess, or maybe because it would be hard to replicate a lengthy solo live without a rhythm guitarist - DOA rips through the song in just over three and a half minutes, with a very brief, almost shy-seeming guitar solo; Tom Holliston does a much better  job of capturing the flavour of Crazy Horse-style guitar worship, soloing energetically throughout the Nomeansno version, which lasts a full two minutes longer, most of which is down to soloing. That is the only thing that keeps the DOA cover from owning the Nomeansno cover hands down: the longer, more Neil-ish solo.

That said, "Hey Hey My My" is going to be one hell of a welcome song to hear live if DOA get back on the road (their Treason tour. meant to lead up to the American elections, was interrupted midway through by COVID-19, and 22 dates had to be cancelled, Joe tells me). Maybe he could team up with a second guitarist so he could do a Crazy-Horse sized solo? (BTW the new Neil Young and Crazy Horse album is sounding pretty good, too).

In any event, this is three absolutely killer albums from DOA in a row, now. (Great cover art, too!). It is maybe a little less packed than Fight Back (the best of the three, if you wonder), but it's still pretty fresh. I gather the vinyl pressing of Treason has been held up a bit, but it's open for pre-orders, here; the CD, meanwhile, is already pressed and should be available for online orders soon.

One other bit of news for DOA fans is that Joe has enlisted Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley (DOA's newest bassist?) in recording a new song, "We're All in This Together," apropos of the COVID-19 crisis. Usually Joe's music career is the thing that bleeds over into his political life, but it's neat to see it happening the other way around this time. I met Mike Hurley at a pre-election rally, was impressed, and voted for him (and Joe, too). Joe explains, "I wrote the song as a rallying cry to help keep people's spirits up during the pandemic and also to thank our front line workers. We also emphasize social distancing, as you will see from the video." There's a short version here, and a longer one, with a second verse, here.

Mayor Hurley adds, in the press release for the song, “Joe wrote this great song, and I hope it energizes and fortifies people to stay strong. It captures the community’s grit and determination that we see all around us today, and calls on us to double down on our commitment to each other and beat COVID-19.”

Some decent bass playin', there, Mayor!

Monday, April 27, 2020

My COVID-19 test story

Anyone have this experience? You have a scary health problem. Let's say you have a chest pain, say - a sudden, unexpected one that disturbs you - and you end up being taken very seriously by doctors, given preferential access to medical equipment, rushed to the front of the queue at the emergency ward, because it could be your heart, and medical wisdom rightly decrees that they have to take this seriously. You end up strapped to monitors, running stress tests, and, afterwards, peeling sticky shit off your chest where the diodes or doohickeys - the thingamabobs, man - were attached, and find that the doctors are reassuring you that YOUR HEART IS FINE...

...except you actually didn't go to the doctors to be told that. You went there because you had a sudden, unexpected pain in your chest. You didn't ever actually think it was your heart, in fact; you were just actually hoping that they would be telling you what was wrong with you. Instead, all they were able to do was to rule out the biggest, scariest possibility. "What was actually wrong with me, then?" "Sorry, we don't know." And not only don't they know, they aren't all that interested. "But I didn't go to you to rule out my heart, I went to you to explain the pain I had." "We can't, sorry." "Isn't there something else you can do?" "Well, if you get the pain again, come back and see us. Otherwise..."

That's the nature of medical wisdom right now. There's actually a lot of stuff doctors don't know, but the behaviours that are in place are based on what little they do know. It's a dark universe, and medical wisdom is a small flashlight indeed. And the thing about the experience above is that afterwards, there's always a sort of disappointment that kicks in afterwards, where you realize that in fact, our systems are only really good at dealing with things that they recognize. Otherwise, there are limits to how effective they are, blind spots galore, and often the things that they do tend to look at overshadow the things that they don't.

That's why Google can be useful, still, even in the decade of fake news. As much information is out there, if you are sick, it's useful to do Google searches for your symptoms and see if other people are reporting them widely, especially if your symptoms are not usual ones. It's why I still get comments on a post I did fifteen years ago on sleep apnea and ear infections; doctors didn't know that there was a correlation between the use of CPAP machines and ear infections back when I first when on CPAP, and I got some killer ear infections from following my doctors' advice to the letter. The anecdotal evidence has since accumulated sufficiently that some ENT doctors have heard the news, but I still get comments on the post - because people who find themselves in a medical blind spot are turning to the internet and, weeding through the bunkum and the supplement-sellers, are finding support for things medical professionals didn't know about, that somehow got overlooked.

Similar things are happening with COVID-19, though at a faster clip. For example, there was no mention for the first couple of weeks of the shutdown, while everyone was trying to figure out what COVID-19 did, of the loss of taste and scent, which are now known to be common symptoms. Their inclusion in the list of symptoms came from mounting anecdotal evidence, not from a laboratory or university; it was people reporting their symptoms in sufficient numbers until they finally got noticed.

But while loss of taste and smell have now been, uh, "canonized" as official symptoms,  interestingly enough, the gastrointestinal manifestations of COVID-19 are not being written about so often, still. Almost every article on the disease lists the known symptoms for the most DANGEROUS type of COVID-19, which is the respiratory variant, where dry cough and difficulty in breathing are things to look out for. But vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea are also symptoms of COVID-19; and in some cases, are the only symptoms, not being accompanied by any of the usual respiratory ones. If you've had an upset stomach and a couple of weeks of diarrhea, absent of other symptoms, you might still have COVID-19 and not realize it, because in fact unless you Google "COVID" and "diarrhea" (which is what I did), you might never hear about this at all. 

Fittingly, even the two articles linked in the previous paragraph seem to contradict each other, with the first seeming to suggest that patients with gastrointestinal symptoms are less likely to be cured, while the second suggests the form of the disease is "milder" for patients who don't have the respiratory variant. (I am hesitating to say that the difference in symptoms is caused by different strains of the virus, note, because I don't know that this is known, yet, though there is, indeed, more than one strain of COVID-19 out there, and some behave differently from others). I've been asking doctors about these things, because, you see, on Wednesday morning of last week, I woke up nauseated and aching, and spent the first hour of the morning alternating between rounds of vomiting and diarrhea, trading bathroom occupancy with my wife, who has also been battling nausea and diarrhea. We both have other health issues, and are on meds that can have side-effects, so at first, it didn't seem a big deal; in my case, I thought that the symptoms I was suffering from came not from COVID-19, but as a delayed reaction to the Metformin I've been taking (I have type-2 diabetes). Nausea and such are common side-effects of Metformin, so I was pretty confident that that's all I was experiencing.

My doctor, when I called him, was less sure, and suggested I go in for COVID testing. Turns out the facility we've seen being erected on Boundary Road, a few blocks from us - with white tents and signs limiting admissions and telling you to keep your windows up until told to do otherwise - is a drive-thru testing site. Within an hour of my phone consultation with my doctor (doctors are doing phone consultations now), I had a confirmation email telling me to report to the site between 12 and 6. At her insistence, Erika drove me; we gloved up and made makeshift bandit masks for ourselves, with Erika stapling parts of a former bedsheet around our faces, since even if we were not in fact infected, we would be going to a space where, presumably, there would be some actual sick people. We checked in at the gate, were given sheets of paper with test results and instructions for how to proceed while waiting (it would take three to five days, we were told), and got in a line of vehicles waiting for their turn at the main tents. I snapped a few photos, up until we got to the sign that said we weren't supposed to be taking photos. Oops! 

When we got to the front of the queue - which was operating just like a restaurant drive-thru, though with more protective clothing for people staffing the tents and the option of doing walk-ins - we asked the nurse if Erika could get tested too. "Do you  have symptoms?" We said yes, and both went through the checklist, the nurse checking off some boxes and not others. I don't recall if diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea were on her list, but the usual suspects - fever, aches, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath - all were. Finally, we drove up, and Erika was tasted first. They swabbed us - sticking a long, thin swab not much like a q-tip so far up our noses that our eyes watered - and made no mention of the fact that if you have the gastric variety of the disease, you really also need (apparently) to provide a stool sample.

When I finally got through the number we got, the nurse I spoke to explained that at the moment, stool tests were not available, nor were antibody tests. She said something that amounted to "we're doing the best with what we've got," and told us we should still self-isolate for ten days since the onset of our most serious symptoms, since the test result might not be entirely conclusive.

However, the results were, indeed, negative. We don't have COVID-19.

I have no idea, in fact, if that's good news or bad news. If the "diarrhea version" of COVID-19 is the milder version, and confers immunity, it might actually be kind of desirable to have it and be done with it, since when it is gone, we might be immune to the more serious version. But those are big ifs, and in the face of so many unknowns - as a Facebook friend pointed out - we're probably better off with the negative results.

And so it goes. When I woke up the next morning with nausea, again, just to test it out, I went off Metformin for a day, and found the day after that I had no nausea at all, and that my stools had returned to a normal consistency. It probably was the Metformin all along - confirmed by my having gone back on it last night and having an upset stomach and diarrhea again this morning. Meantime, we're doing our best to stay in: we've skipped exercising, taken no walks, and have ordered our first groceries-by-delivery, which are due tomorrow, I believe.