Saturday, February 04, 2023

The John Otway Trickle-Down: Otway's SECOND EVER APPEARANCE in Vancouver, Feb. 3 2023

Photos by Allan MacInnis unless otherwise noted! 


"It doesn't work unless you pump it," David M. of "the Beatles of Surrey," NO FUN - whose back catalogue would probably appeal to fans of John Otway - has been wont to observe. And so a few of us in-the-know types pumped it last night, and a brief bit of magic happened, which probably caused confusion (and perhaps some unplanned delight) to the majority of people who had gathered at Toby's Social Pub for an open mic, which included some able musicians (Kelly Armstrong was my favourite), and some people who should practice for two more years in their bedroom mirror before attempting a public performance again (they don't know who they are and far be it from me to name them), but which meant a GREAT DEAL to the ten or so in-the-know types who descended on the venue to cheer on the SECOND! EVER! Vancouver appearance of said John Otway - a man who has performed over 5000 gigs, been produced by Pete Townshend, performed at the Reading Festival, and so many more cool things that I do not myself yet even know. 

It started with a conversation between Mr. Otway and a Vancouver Otwayphile named Ian McClelland, seen below receiving a headbutt -

(photos not be my, but provided by Ian McClelland. Selfies? Taken by someone they know?). 

It seems that Otway had told Ian in an online interaction that he would be coming through Vancouver. Ian, an uber-fan, suggested in a spurt of last minute inspiration that an open mike would serve as a possible way of putting Otway back in front of an audience here, for the first time since 1979, when Mr. Otway opened for Pere Ubu on July 27th at the Robson Square Theatre. Grant McDonagh of Zulu Records was at that Robson gig, and possibly Ian as well, though I did not take notes during Ian's telling (I seem to recall him being more Toronto-ish at that time, from what he said?). Otway contacted the venue and was added to the open mic. Step one!  

Steps two through five: Enter Toronto promoter Gary Topp, who designed a poster for the event, which was then seen on a laptop by one Al Mader, who does LOOK at the internet but is not ON the internet, if you see what I mean. Al is best known to some as the Minimalist Jug Band, in which capacity he has in fact OPENED for John Otway (in Toronto, some decades ago). He's also seen him numerous times and is a true fan (I have not asked him to weigh out his relative fandom for Otway and John Cooper Clark, but if you like the Minimalist Jug Band, you should check out both of those performers forthwith, because their influence on Al cannot be overrated). Al then called me (from the store where he works and uses the laptop) and - knowing I am at least a bit more internetsy than he is - urged my participation in plugging this event. I proceeded to blather on Facebook and even make a few phone calls (many of them to record stores in pursuit of Otway vinyl) wherein I ended up talking to the aforesaid Grant McDonagh, who did not have any Otway in his store, but was very happy to hear of this gig. The only Otway record I could find, in fact, was at Beat Street. There is probably one, I bet, at Noize to Go, but Dale was not answering his phone yesterday, and has been known to not arrive at his shop until well after slated opening times, as anyone (raises hand) who has stood outside it for an hour or so, wondering when he would get there, can attest (that was at the Seymour Street location, mind you). So I only had one record (and an Urgh! DVD) to ask John to sign (I have previously owned I Did It Otway, note, but it had skips in it, so I'm in the process of replacing it).  

At Beat Street, someone overheard the purchase (Deep Thought for $10!) and came over to ask if I had said I was buying a John Otway record, like it was something he never would expect to hear at a record store. I excitedly told him - saliva flinging from my mouth, as it does these days when I am excited - of the Otway open mic appearance, scheduled for the very next day. I did not see him in the audience, sadly. He may have taken me for a nutter, but, whatever, his loss! 

I did see, however, Edward Hurrell (interview here), Judith Beeman (interview here), Grant McDonagh (no standalone interview but see here for the Clash soccer story), and Dave Bowes, formerly of Iron Road, and my co-conspirator in occasional gigs and articles and the man behind THIS must-attend event, in early March, which will involve the appearance of said David M. Some of these people brought people of their own, most of whom approached John to give him a welcome and assure him that he was performing to a room with at LEAST six people in it who knew who he was. So Gary pumped it, Al (1) pumped it, Al (2) (me) pumped it, and Ed and Dave (and Doug Smith) pumped it a bit too, based on my pumping, and the result was, John was not just singing to Ian on his birthday! 

Note the look on my face, when Erika said, mid-photograph, that John should give me a headbutt (he didn't).  

Anyhow, I did shoot video, which I broke into two clips, for those who could not make it - see here for the first of them, here for the encore, and also see this clip from a different angle of the main set, as shot by Erika Lax! The songs were "Beware the Flowers ('Cause I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You, Yeh)," which Otway prefaced with a story that referenced this improbable accomplishment, "Josephine" (which he dedicated to Ian on his birthday), the "prophetic" "I'm Cured (And I Can't Catch Love)," and an un-heard-of open mic encore of "the hit" that Otway had had in 1979, "(Cor Baby That's) Really Free," which was somewhat to the disappointment of the people who were chanting for "Cheryl's Going Home" (a cover, but his best known tune, since here in Vancouver we mostly know Otway from Urgh! A Music War - which we might be forgiven given that Otway's albums are not ubiquitous and that Otway's live performances in Vancouver, in 1979 and 2023, have been, umm, sporadic? Highly infrequent? How should one describe this?). I think that Otway's question to us ("Do you want to hear my hit?") was in fact a bit of misdirection, since I suspect many people assume that "Cheryl's Going Home" IS that hit, but... well, anyhow, *I* know "Really Free." And it was GREAT! It was ALL GREAT!

Of course, I chatted with John a little - he's on the way to New Zealand and Australia. He is said to have performed over 5000 gigs in his career; I asked him at one point whether he would be counting last night as one of those 5000+ gigs, and he joked that he would tell me after it was over. I think it counted!
Thanks to Gary Topp and Al Mader, above me in the pyramid of pumping, for making last night happen and allowing me to play a small role, and to everyone who was below me (the "Otway trickle-down"), who made my role so gratifying. You are welcome.   

Above three photos provided by Ian! I think that's John's ladyfriend. Not sure who that other fan is but it's nice to know he was there!

Oh, and rest assured that Dave and I did go see some of the second set of Stick Men but I gotta say, virtuosic prog rock does NOT make the best follow up to a mad little night like the one we'd had in North Vancouver, though Pat and Tony were both funnier than I expected, in their own way, Tony joking that he'd brought the wrong book and had been playing the wrong songs all night, and Pat instructing the audience in a deliriously complicated clapalong that none of us could follow (though a few tried), which was a fun way of illustrating just HOW virtuosic these guys are. (I shot footage of them doing "Danger in the Workplace" here). 

Godspeed on your subsequent tour, John Otway! Photo below of Beeman and Otway, Ed and Ian and I, and any of ME (above or below) with Otway are by Erika Lax. Maybe we can make the NEXT John Otway appearance in these waters happen sooner rather than later? (He is not, as previously wished in the place of this sentence, returning from his NZ/Aus tour by way of Vancouver, so it won't THAT soon, note..). 

Friday, February 03, 2023

Got nothin' (but work and housework and kitten follies)

2022 was a busy year of blogging, while I recovered from my cancer surgery, but just a heads up, there's not much that's going to be happening on this page anytime soon. I'm not going away, exactly, but I have to adjust to being back to work full time, which has been very positive, but also quite exhausting, after a year of R&R and gradual "deconditioning" as I recuperated. I also have a new kitten, who is very high energy, and (since I was home all the time here, unlike my hard-workin' spouse) have become the de facto housework-doer, even more than I was before I got sick; hopefully I can get Erika involved in a bit more of that again, because holy cripes am I exhausted. Time to write? For no money? Uhhh.... nope. I feel like I'm in a Habitrail maze of work duties, laundry, dishes, cooking, grocery shopping, and (for light relief) the odd pleasures of chasing an escaped kitten down the hallway of our building... I often just scoop him up and bring him to the laundry room with me, so he can explore there while I get a load in.

Mind you, I might do the odd thing for the Straight or Montecristo or some other local magazine or paper, but only because there's compensation involved and I have holes to fill (credit card debt is a bitch and a year of reduced income on disability pay didn't help). There are a few things elsewise that I'm committed to - I have a big Rob Nesbitt piece that keeps getting shelved because I either get sick or have a computer failure whenever it approaches, and a big John Wright piece I've committed to do for a German mag (he's announced his new project, 3-2=1, and is talking about a release date sooner rather than later)... but... I'm not sure where I'll get the mojo or the time... 

What can I say in the meantime? People who like soulful rock should check out the Vanrays at the Fox on February 11th. CLONE, Vancouver's current glam champs, I believe, are opening. I'm excited to see Jonathan Richman again at the Rio in March, and there are a ton of very cool local bands playing a benefit for Ukrainian refugees in Poland shortly after that. I've grabbed a ticket to FEAR in April because, well, shit, how can I not? (DOA and the Vicious Cycles are opening, too). Got tickets for Erika and I to Lucinda Williams and Big Thief and hope to get a promo copy of Lu's book - the Lu's Jukebox series is amazing (tho' I didn't get the Tom Petty one, since I'm just not a big Tom Petty fan). Was very sorry to hear she had a stroke, very glad to hear she's recovering, and hoping to read her upcoming memoir. 

Oh, and I hear from David M. that Iggy Pop is coming and that's a definite maybe, too. But short of "reimbursement situations," I barely am going to have time to GO to these gigs, let alone blog about them. Just the way things are right now. Maybe something on Atomic Werewolf, who continue to release NO FUN stuff (I now have 1894 and Snivel on CD - I mean, I had them before, too, but just versions that M. put out on CRr.)

There are a few other things that excite me locally, mind you, but everything else that's happening in the next while is stuff I've pitched to the Straight (so I don't want to jinx it) or is something I don't really want to mention here for some other reason. So that's all I've got for now. Have a good spring, I guess. Maybe seeya at a show.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

John Otway in North Vancouver THIS FRIDAY!!!

UPDATED - So here's a weird thing: John Otway is playing a completely under-promoted gig - actually only a couple of songs, he's telling me - in North Vancouver this Friday night. Al Mader (AKA the Minimalist Jug Band) phoned me tonight to tell me of it, having found a single image on Gary Topp's Facebook page advertising the gig, which is the only news of it you can find anywhere online; apparently Otway is en route to New Zealand, has a stopover here, and decided to do a last-minute show at Toby's, at 8:30 pm, on a borrowed guitar, which absolutely no one is bothering to promote except Al and I. As it turns out, alas, Al is working that night and I'm going to Stick Men at the Rickshaw - have already bought my ticket - but given the situation, we both are trying to do due diligence to directing people the Otway way. He's an eccentric wildman/ true enthusiast of early British punk, sometimes grouped with the likes of John Cooper Clark, and best known to those who don't know him (prolly) for this clip from Urgh! A Music War... or for those who do know him (at least a bit) for eccentric li'l ditties like "Headbutts" or "Willy (in the Air)." For a taste of what Otway might look like now, well, he put out some Lockdown videos that are pretty darn entertaining. Toby's is, I gather, one of those places where you might be expected to eat or drink (they have Yorkshire puddings!) but it doesn't LOOK like there's a cover. There's none on the poster, which is literally the only info I can find. I mean, seriously, I'd consider going, but I've already paid for Stick Men, and I'm a bit too broke for a fancy dinner out for me and the wife. (Actually now we're considering it anyhow). 

YOU should go, though. ALL OF YOU! Or at least let everyone know about it. If you like your music playful, energetic, witty, and wildly performed... John Otway's your man. You may not get another chance! Two songs by John Otway! (Maybe three, if we're nice?). All I know. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Banshees of Inisherin vs The Forgiven (John Michael McDonagh's most ambitious film yet)

I liked The Banshees of Inisherin, don't get me wrong. Some witty dialogue, fine performances, interesting themes. It's just that I had kind of enjoyed the trajectory of Martin McDonagh's previous films, because he seemed, with Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards, to be bucking against the tendencies of independent filmmakers, in the face of success, to either lose sight of whatever values informed their early films in pursuit of Hollywood riches, or alternately, to disappear up their own bums with a Southland-Tales-sized exercise in unwatchably excessive ambition and folly. I loved that McDonagh kept his own wit and aesthetic intact and made two great, commercially successful films - Seven Psychopaths and especially Three Billboards - without losing sight of how to tell a story or what made, for instance, In Bruges great. I was keen for the next step - "Conquering the American cinematic landscape on his own terms" - so for him to retreat to a small island off the coast of Ireland to offer what is essentially a chamber drama (or a pub drama?) about two friends - even if they are meant to figure aspects of the Irish Civil War - seemed a bit of a step backwards, a step to safety. It's great that it succeeded, and I'll probably watch it again...

...But his older brother's 2021 film, The Forgiven, which I finally caught up with last night, is MUCH more interesting and rewarding, I thought. John Michael McDonagh is MAYBE not as gifted a storyteller as Martin is, all things considered, but I've enjoyed following his work, as well. The Guard is half-brilliant, and a great film for Brendan Gleeson fans to catch up on, but it also doesn't quite seem to know whether it wants to be an action movie or a spoof of an action movie or...; and its material about race and about Irish perceptions of America is more awkward than insightful, as I remember it. Calvary, which is the film that The Banshees of Inishiren most reminded me of and probably his best film before The Forgiven, is, like Banshees, a small-scale story, very Irish, about a Catholic priest "investigating" (in a laconic but concerned way) a death threat made against him by someone who had been the victim of a pedo priest (but not Gleeson!) years earlier. That's a fantastic film to check out if you liked Banshees, and also has a very strong lead role for Gleeson, but War on Everyone, McDonagh's next film and first attempt to "go American," was a film I was less taken with, found its comedy too broad, its ideas about America seeming to come more from the movies than anywhere else. I didn't finish it, but will someday.  

The Forgiven is a much bigger deal, certainly the older McDonagh's most ambitious film to date; I don't know if it's a better film than Calvary - that's a really hard comparison to make, since they're very different movies - but it's a lot bolder, and probably could take in a bigger audience than Calvary. The plot is very simple: a couple (played by Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) hit and kill an Arab boy on the way to a party held by a decadent gay couple in Morocco (Caleb Landry-Jones is one of them;' the McDonaghs often share cast members). It's an accident, but informed by Fiennes' being drunk, driving too fast, and being distracted by an argument with his wife. Consequences follow for Fiennes, as the boy's father - a Berber who has previously lost his wife - comes to the party to demand that Fiennes come to his home to see the boy buried and pay his respects, which he claims is a tribal custom; there is some suspense around what will happen, so it is truly best to know no more, but the story reminds one very much of the work of two writers, Patricia Highsmith (who also has a novel involving a white man "accidentally" killing an Arab, The Tremor of Forgery) and Paul Bowles (who has his share of stories involving westerners being called to account for their failings in the desert). Fiennes' is initially so unpleasant as a character that you rather wish him (and, really, all the other Americans and Brits in the film, who come across as decadent, spoiled, cynical, and deeply uncaring about each other) harm, but as the story progresses, your attitude towards the character changes (as does the character's attitude to what is happening). It's gripping stuff, a powerful drama with plenty of political meat to chew; and much more moving - especially if you're a self-hating westerner with a Catholic upbringing, like me - than The Banshees of Inisherin was. I'd be very curious what reception it has in the Middle East...

Mind you there are two things that are overtly, obviously wrong with The Forgiven, but they're small enough (and the film is otherwise so great) that you can kind of forgive and work around them. The fossils that the Arab boys sells are quite bizarre-looking, not seeming like fossils at all. Not sure what to make of them; I've never bought fossils in Morocco but I doubt very much they look like this. There is also some sort of atavistic, a-synchronic thing that happens with the costumes and attitudes, which in many ways evoke the 1940s or 50's, despite the film being set in the present day. Maybe McDonagh is deliberately trying to summon the days of Bowles, Burroughs, Brian Jones and so forth in the International Zone, which is a fine ambition, but one wonders why he felt the need to set the film in the present day; a couple of references to ISIS aside, there's really no reason for it (tho' there's a good Twitter joke, I guess). It's like he didn't quite have the confidence (or backing?) to make the period piece he intended. So you end up with fossils that don't look like fossils and a contemporary setting that feels in many respects like 1947. 

But if you're a McDonagh fan, don't hesitate with The Forgiven. I may even like it better than Calvary (which would be a very interesting film to compare it to, actually; even though there is nothing overtly Catholic about the Fiennes character, no reference to religion at all, there is definitely a role for confession and atonement in the film). I am not running down The Banshees of Inisherin - I liked it, too - but if you loved that film, you should check out The Forgiven as well. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

Marrowbone, The Nightingale: underrated (folkish) horror at a discount bin near you

Here is something unknown to the majority, but well-known to relatively serious cinephiles (those who prefer their media physical - people who go scrounging for DVDs and such, who perhaps remember the days of the video store "previously viewed" bins): often, the most interesting movies in any given department store, drug store, or (back in the day, when it was still a thing) grocery store video sections are to be found in delete bins. While regular blu-ray and DVD shelves tend to only have the obvious blockbusters, Marvel and Disney and Spielberg, oh my (with the odd welcome digression into Criterion or other boutique labels by London Drugs), the delete bin is the place where you might find an obscure film noir (I've scored Crime of Passion and Moontide for a few bucks each, the first at a Superstore and the second at a Shoppers Drug Mart), classic costume drama (like the black and white "first version" of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, or Henry King's Prince of Foxes, with a memorable Orson Welles role, both maybe even now at a Shoppers' Drug Mart near you). I've found 70's action films (like Death Hunt, with Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson - and a young Maury Chaykin! - sourced at a Save-On-Foods on blu for $6.99, at a Save-on-Foods, on a tip from Anthony Nadeau), or other obscurity (I got my blu-rays of the complete Last Chance to See, including the infamously Youtubed kakapo head-humping sequence, and Microcosmos, for $2 each out of two different Dollaramas). The finds that you find are never a film you expect, maybe sometimes not even a film you know about, but it will always come as a more pleasant surprise than anything in the New Releases stand, and not just because the price will be much lower. Indeed, the great Mongrel video dump of 2021 still sees multiple copies of some great films (Small Town Crime and Maudie were our favourites) at $1 each at most London Drugs. You don't always come away a winner, but the consolation is the win-to-miss ratio is surprisingly often in the film's favour, and if it is, indeed, a dog, it cost you less than $10 to find out. 

So here are my two new favourite delete bin finds of 2021-2022, films far too good for this to have turned out to be their main method of distribution (at least here in Vancouver; they may have had screen presence - or not been widely remaindered - elsewhere): Marrowbone (part of said Mongrel dump, but only now just seen by me) and The Nightingale. 

Marrowbone is not really a folk horror film. There are no actual supernatural beings involved - no more than there are in Session 9, with which it shares an obsession over spooky places that house bad memories, that become an extension of haunted minds - and there are certainly no religious elements (though some of the places are imbued with archetypal, quasi-ritualistic connotations). But given that folklore is often bound to places, and often haunted by "the ghosts of the past," as the characters in this film certainly are, there is still something folkish about it, as well as its American Gothic settings. There are even moments where I thought a bit of Lovecraft, though the film isn't really Lovecraftian, either... It is probably a bit too ambitious to have ever been a commercial success -- it is one of those films that holds its cards close to its chest, so it can pull a switcheroo or two on you later -- but the strength of its young cast is such that it probably will not be completely forgotten: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, and Mia Goth are all superb. It may be a film that works best a second time through; I have only done it once, and may not rush to a repeat, but I certainly recommend it, and recommend seeing it in a alert, focused state, because it does ask a bit more of its viewers than most current movies. Spoiler-free plot sketch: a family with a dark past in England arrive at a new home - in New England - and try to come to terms with their history, which is not so far behind them as they hope.  Directed by the fellow who wrote The Orphanage, there's really no more that can be said about the film without spoiling it, but it is one of the more successful films of its kind, really. 

Second recommendation: The Nightingale, directed by Jennifer Kent. Considering the success of The Babadook, the expanded scope and ambition of this project, and said film's timeliness at the present juncture in postcolonial history, you'd think this would have made more a dent on the public consciousness (and/or international box office) than it did. I've had a few distractions these past years, so it might just be me, but it still surprises me that I first learned of this movie when I found a DVD of it in a Shoppers Drug Mark standing rack (at Commercial and Broadway, if you must know, but there won't be any left by now). I flipped it over, and as usual looked straight for the director's name, because often this settles the matter right away (like when I found River Queen - a title that meant nothing to me - and flipped it over to see it was the new Vincent Ward, which has some similar ambitions, though set in New Zealand, not Australia). I didn't even need to read the box description, seeing Kent's name, but I did, and it turned out to be a violent rape-revenge film with a feminist angle intersecting with a postcolonialist one; it involves a Tasmanian Aborigine joining a female Irish settler in tracking down the British soldiers who harmed both their families. It's maybe slightly less gripping than it could have been, especially in the age of unsubtle crassness like Django Kill; you admire the film's "lack of Tarantinoism," but there are moments where the story seems to waver, with Kent preferring subtlety to full-on catharsis, where the average viewer might actually prefer a bit more of that catharsis. Still: it's a major film, and a powerful indictment of both racism and sexism. (Some fairly ugly violence in it, note, and potent depictions of racism; it's not a light entertainment, nor does it pretend to be). 

So that's two good films to seek out on the cheap. All I've got at the moment. Pretty swamped, somewhat ill (just a cold, I think) and needing some recovery time after all that Billy Hopeless transcription. Y'all know that FEAR is coming? And all you King Crimson fans are gearing up to see Stick Men at the Rickshaw? 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Is Cannibalism Vegan?: Billy Hopeless on the Black Halos (at the Rickshaw TONIGHT!!!!) candid Michael Monroe photo from Rich Jones, and Eating Miss Campbell, and...

My Straight article on the Black Halos went up on Wednesday; everyone's really  happy about it (as am I to be back writing features for the Straight - it is my first since the start of the pandemic). Ox Fanzine in Germany got another big chunk of the interview, and theyeach wanted exclusive content, so if you want to read what Billy had to say to me about "Tenement Kids" or his description of his nighttime dayjob in the DTES of how the Black Halos came to name an album after a lyric by Television (which seemed incongruous to me, because I think of the Black Halos as being more Dolls/Dead Boys than Television, but...), you'll have to learn to read German. But there's plenty left over for another feature for my blog. I'm stoked to see the Black Halos again tonight--last year's shows at the Rickshaw were awesome. Plus the Spitfires! Alien Boys! It's going to be one hell of a night... and How the Darkness Doubled is one hell of an album (My favourite tracks are "A History of Violence" - talk about coming roaring out of the gate! - "Forget Me Knot," and "Better Days" - and the cover of "Ready to Snap" (original here) with Michael Monroe on guest vocals, more on which below! Check'em out, if you want to know what to expect... 

All live photos are by Gord McCaw, from February 2020 at the Rickshaw. Thanks, Gord! 

Photo of Billy at the Cottage Bistro in Gastown, where our conversation took place before Christmas, are by me! 

And Michael Monroe photo by Rich Jones, I believe. None of it is to be re-used without permission! 

My conversation with Billy Hopeless began – as I finished a turkey-and-avocado sandwich and Billy tucked into his soup at the Cottage Deli, mentioned in the Straight - with my mentioning that it’s kind of startling to be back to work as an English tutor after my oral cancer surgery. I always feel like I need to warn people, in case they have trouble understanding me. But Billy was immediately reassuring about my weird new voice—“What are you talking about, you got this,” he says. It ends up being an interesting avenue into the interview, so—though it is an unorthodox starting point, that’s where we will begin. I am in italics, Billy is not.  

Allan: voice is okay, but some of my students need help with pronunciation, and I now have problems making some of the same sounds!

Billy: That makes it better, in a way, because, like, say we are touring and stuff—Spain is so great, but Spanish people mostly just speak Spanish, and the last time [the 2016 tour that reunited Hopeless and Rich Jones] we had Star Mafia Boy on guitar, and he was just starting to learn English. He had that embarrassment of, "I don’t understand," and we were using an app on the phone to translate. He’s laughing, and I said, "It’s a good way for us, too, because I should really know your language, coming here, y’know? And touring here, all I’ve ever learned the bad words – show me something good!" It was funny—I was looking for pet stuff for my dog. "How do you say pet store?" And he’s using the translator, and he’s like, "Oh, pet store!" "Yeah, now, teach me!”

Do you bring Bean [Hopeless’ much-loved little dog, and frequent subject of his Facebook posts] on tour?

No, but in Spain, everyone loves him: “Donde es Bean?” Everyone knows Bean – fans in Japan and stuff, people love him. He’s the real star power, but we can’t let him know that, because of his ego…

Is Spain where you have the biggest following?

No, it’s all over the place. Germany’s really been good to us, Italy, France… there’s patches everywhere; but in Spain, they love rock’n roll. They’ve got a Dictators street, named after the Dictators. They’ve got an AC/DC street in Spain. They love art of all forms. We’ve played festivals – we played with Danzig, Arthur Lee and Love, and Zen Guerilla; and there was a zydeco band on the bill, too. It’s all mixed up, but people don’t leave, they don’t go, “I’m only here for this type of music.” Europe’s a lot more like that. They openly appreciate art. While here, people have subdivisions, everyone gets into little groups here, makes little sects. There, like I say it’s more open, they’ve got Arthur Lee and Love, and I’m, like, going, “This is the history of rock, right here! I’m hanging out with Arthur Lee!” It’s all respected there – I like that.

I just did an interview for Spain, for Popular 1 magazine,  and the guy asked, “So why did you guys get back together?” And I said, “I was you, it was Spain!” I did that“Gutterball” solo single, and asked Rich to play on it. And he played on it—he said it was a good song, and we were back talking, so… “Why don’t I go tour Spain as a solo gig… Want to come? We’ll do some old Halos songs.” “Well, if we’re going to do it together, we’ve got some Spanish musicians who will play with us, who are willing to be the rest of the band.” We called them the Basque Street Boys. Great guys. And that was it—we went and played Spain, and we had such a good time, me and Rich were like, “We should start writing songs; this is really good, that fire’s back.” So it’s Spain, really, that got us back together.

Did you say “the Basque Street boys”?

Yeah, the Basque country is the oldest country in the world, basically, the separatist area in Spain. I love the Basque area, they’re really passionate. When they changed to the Euro, they were like, “No Euro! No European banks coming in here, no American banks coming in here! We’re Spanish!” They stuck to the pesada. But they get sometimes a bit too passionate. We played a festival in the Basque country, it was called “the Nights of Terror” on the news, and we’re playing, and this guy comes up on stage and he grabs the mike and starts going bah-bah-bah-bah in Basque, and he’s yelling; they’re pulling him off the stage, and I’m like, “No no, let him speak, I’m okay, we’re Canadian, we believe in freedom of speech!” “No, he’s saying he wants to kill you because you’re British.” And I’m like, “No, we’re Canadian, we’re from British Columbia. Our ancestors are, but – tell him we’re Canadian! What’s he pissed off about?” And yeah, it was the invasion of the British and the banks and stuff, taking over. And I said, “I can get that – fuck the government!”

And I got a rubber ball that the riot police were shooting at the protestors, who they called terrorists. I remember our tour manager came up and said, “Well, there’s the choice: terrorists or disco?” She walked us into this discotheque and there was this fucked up music playing and we were like, “We’ll take the terrorists and the riot police.” But we ended up going to a different bar and drinking with Charlie Harper [of the UK Subs] into the wee hours of the morning – we walked in and he was like, “Hello” [Billy dons a British accent]. “Charlie Harper! We’ll I guess since we’re not playing tonight, so we might as well sit and drink…”

I was thinking about the darkness you had in mind with the album title, because this is one of the most positive fuckin’ rock albums I’ve heard in awhile. Even “A History of Violence” is exciting and fun and joyful.

Well, there’s some positive, but there’s also the negative, right? It’s not all black and white, it’s the in-between of everything, how you look at things in life. There’s good and bad, so let’s focus on the mid. It’s like with kung fu, I always say… there’s the right wing and the left wing [Billy demonstrates, holding his hands out to either side]; well, I like breasts and legs, so let’s get to the body. Why are we so concentrated on these wings, everybody? I’m a breast and leg man, and thighs: let’s go straight to the body. I think that’s the problem. Everyone is so focused on right wing and left wing, but find that happy medium in-between. You know what’s right…

I want to dig into the darkness a bit, though. “You Can’t Take Back the Night,” is that autobiographical?

That was written way back, actually, during The Violent Years’ time. That was the last song we ever wrote with that lineup as the Black Halos. We recorded a demo of it that never got released, because we broke up. I remember that I was working at a store on Granville Street, Cheap Thrills – an oddities and punk clothing store—and there was a “Take Back the Night” parade going on, actually, out front [a feminist/ female empowerment march protesting violence against women, among other things] and the girl in the lead was like, yelling “this is our town! This is our town!” And I looked and they had black balloons: “Hmm, I want a black balloon.” I went up and said, “Hey, can I have a black balloon?” And she looked at me and said “No you can’t” and started going at me, saying “We’re taking back the night from men in this city!” And I looked at her and said, “You can’t take back the night – it belongs to lovers! That’s what Patti Smith said. It doesn’t belong to you or me, it belongs to lovers, to all of us, and you can’t take it back—you never owned it!” And she walked away: “Grrr!” 

But I was young and full of foolish fun spunk back then. I have grown to have more understanding and respect for people's feelings and causes. Though I still would want a black balloon.

And [the song] was kind of autobiographical, too, because it was around that time where we were so beaten down from touring: “Looking back now I'm sure you have your doubts,” and that. And the breakup, type-thing, me and Rich splitting: a lot of that was like, “You can’t take back the night, buddy.” It's a classic, tragic “person meets person,  person has disagreement with person, person loses person, person is left with the weight of the loss of a person” story. Everyone loves a tragedy except the ones involved… 

You seem like you’re a lot more solid than you were. I remember you being a little out of control.

A death in the family will set you off, and also just being on the road like we were, and drinking like we do, and you’re doing it every night… and the fact that we’re never home… it got to where it was two twenty-sixers a night, and you’re looking at yourself like, “Yeah, if Steven Tyler saw me, he’d be shaking his head! What are we doing to ourselves, living like this?” But it’s the best times of our lives, right?

We didn't check the pic, so you can't read the t-shirt, but that's for Eating Miss Campbell. Cool shirt! Photo by Allan MacInnis, taken at the end of the interview. 

[Billy, continued...] We’ve got to talk about this. [Billy points at the t-shirt he’s wearing]. Eating Miss Campbell. This is one of the thrills for us happening right now—the new album is one thing, but for personal thrills for us… [Liam Regan], this friend/fan from Yorkshire, England, it turns out, he got hold of us. He’s a big fan. He’d made this movie called My Bloody Banjo, an independent horror movie, and it did really great, toured and got cult status. So Lloyd Kaufman from Troma saw it, and went, “I love this.” So he went to Liam and said, “I want you to do a movie and I want to produce it as a Troma film.” Liam said, “Oh yeah? I want to do a sort of 80’s bad high-school-girl movie, like Heathers, but I want to make this movie about a Goth vegan girl in a school where they’re basically promoting suicide and murder because the population is so high, who gets seduced by her female teacher, gets into lesbianism, then gets seduced into cannibalism. And the question is, “Is cannibalism vegan?” But anyways, it’s a great Troma film, but Liam goes, “Can you guys write a song for the soundtrack?” He’s got all these great bands on the soundtrack. We were like, “Write a song for a Troma film produced by Lloyd Kaufman? Sure, Liam, of course! We’ll write a song only for that.”

It's coming out on vinyl this year on the soundtrack for the album. It’s one of the only places you’ll hear it, the song “Don’t Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Little girls are nasty, evil things—they’ll wear you down. Never trust them, especially if she’s smiling. I love that song, I think it’s a great song, but how is exciting is that, we have a song in a Troma film. Opening night was at the Prince Charles theatre, in London. It’s been touring, it’s getting great reviews. I watched it, it was over the top, repulsive, disgusting, totally un-PC, as any good B-movie should be. I just told Joe Bob Briggs about it, from The Last Drive-In, told him “You gotta check them out.”

It turned out Kaufman was a fan too, he tweeted when I did our first single that, “I can’t believe the Black Halos are back!” I went to Rich, “See? Lloyd Kaufman tweeted!”

Very cool. Could you talk a bit more about your job in social housing? 

I’m the overnight “Brother Wolf,” the all-night werewolf in a vampire shift, working with people who have gotten into zombie drugs, or with mental sickness. [Again, if you want to read about Billy administering NARCAN and waiting for the paramedics, you'll have to learn to read German]. And people seem to like me, they respect me. A lot of the time you get these young, fresh faces in there [ie., as staff], and people on the street see that a mile away, and they look at you and go, like,  “How can I relate to you? You don’t understand what I’m going through, you’re telling me what I’m going through, but also, you’re not street. And they see me coming in, and go, ‘Oh yeah, he’s one of us.’ 

I gotta tell you a story. I'm always amazed by how much community there is in the DTES. I was on the bus the other day, going down East Hastings, and some woman who had bummed a ride got back on saying she’d lost five dollars. She couldn’t find it, so she got back off, grumbling, but there was this old Chinese man, and he pointed under a seat and said “There it is!” And everyone looked to see if the five dollars was there, and he’s laughing at us. Then everyone is laughing with him - "good one!" - and telling stories, complete strangers telling stories about finding money, losing money. One woman had a story about finding balloons of cocaine. Everyone was having a great time sharing on the bus. You wouldn’t see that on a bus going down Granville Street. You wouldn’t see that kind of community anywhere else in Vancouver. 

No. When you’re down in the bottom, you have to. You still get people who don’t, the assholes, and part of my job is dealing with them. “Oh yeah, you called me rat goof again? Oh yeah. Go ahead! Do you know who you’re talking to? Google me!” I’ve had tenants look at guys and go, “Oh, no. You don’t want to go there with him.” When I worked security at Army and Navy with Geoff [AKA Caller of the Storms] from [Vancouver Satanic "war metal" band] Blasphemy… we’ve known each other for a long time, but I’d always say, if people were stealing from Army and Navy, “No, no, no, you don’t want to do that. Do you see that pit bull over there? [indicating an imaginary Geoff]. Do not poke the pit bull.” And at certain times, tenants have done that with me, jumping in, where I’m [dealing with a problem person] like, “I’m not legally allowed to do anything until you touch me, but I don’t even want to go there, why do you want to go there? I don’t need it, you don’t need it. I don’t want to have to call the cops, but I’m going to have to call them if you keep this up.” And then a tenant will walk in and jump in. But that’s the thing, I can’t do anything, but they can. Am I going to say anything, be like Willy Wonka: “Don’t—oh, please don’t, please stop?” And that’s my reputation. These young fresh faces, they can walk all over, but they look at me and, “Oh, that guy might go a few rounds!”

Let me ask about Michael Monroe’s guest appearance on the album. Did you get together physically with him?

No, originally I recorded it in Hamilton [Ontario] with Rich, but Michael Monroe was in Finland, and Rich went and played with him in Finland. They didn’t have a mike stand in the hotel room, so Rich set up one of those rolling suitcases, lifted the bar up, and they taped the microphone onto the bar, and you have Michael Monroe singing into this thing. Rich sent me a picture of it: “Look, Michael’s recording right now, that’s his mike stand!” It’s just beautiful, it’s so rock ’n’ roll.

For me it was huge. I mean, I know for Rich… like, Rich was the biggest Hanoi Rocks fans I’ve ever met in my whole life. If we saw an album at the time, he’d fight me over it, he’d grab it, even if he had multiples of it, so his playing and writing with Michael Monroe makes complete sense, because it’s like his dream come true. But I laugh, because even for me, I got to talk to him once on the phone, when he was on Century Media, when we were on Century Media and Hanoi did a comeback on Century Media, and even then I was like, “I got to talk to Michael Monroe! This is awesome” And now it’s like, “I did a duet with Michael Monroe! I know the guitarist! (Cough, cough). ” I joke about it, but really, it’s huge, right. Let’s face it, the guy’s amazing, and Hanoi Rocks...

Like, I thought Peacemaker was one of the best TV shows to come out in ages, one of the only superhero shows besides Deadpool that I thought was worthy, and when he’s going through all his old records, all this 80’s cock rock, and he puts on [Saxon’s] Dogs of War and then pulls out Hanoi Rocks and goes, “Best band in the world!” And one of the other guys in the FBI team goes, “Are you talking about Michael Monroe?” And he has an “11th Street Kids” tattoo on his arm, as a sleeve, and they start singing “11th Street Kids” by Hanoi Rocks. I’m like, “This is bloody amazing, not only did they play The Dogs of War, by my other favourite band of that era, but now you’ve just played Hanoi and said that Michael Monroe is the best frontman in the world!” 

(photo courtesy Rich Jones, not to be reused without permission)

I’m so happy for you and Rich.

It's so good. And having Jay [Millette] back… this whole new lineup, I gotta say. I’d been talking with Rich about who we wanted to ask back in, and I was like, “I don’t care, I won’t care. I don’t about anyone else really, some I might want, and some I don’t want, but I want Jay! Man, I miss Jay.” And Rich was like, “Me, too. ” Just having Jay around... I love that guy. I stay with him whenever I’m in Ontario, and it’s just the best. I think he’s everyone’s favourite Halo, probably mine.

Does he have another gig, too?

Yeah, he’s been doing a couple of things. He has his own solo stuff, he has a side band. [Billy says something about an AC/DC tribute band but the recorder kinda missed it]. He’s always up to something, but I think he knows that now it’s Halos time. 

Jay Millette, onstage with the Black Halos, February 2020, by Gord McCaw

So given that some of this was recorded in Hamilton, I'm assuming that "Frankie Come Home" was written about Frankie Venom...?

No! See, I didn't know either. You should talk to Rich about it, but it's this movie, about these two criminal, gangster brothers. I forget what it's called! [Rich and I end up interacting to clarify that the film is Legend, with Tom Hardy in the role of both Kray brothers - "It's a pretty good one!" Rich says, explaining that "Frankie is his wife (Frances), the song title is actually a line in the movie when she's finally had enough of his shit and she leaves him." I'm not sure which Kray is being talked about, but I agree with Rich, it's a great little film, if you're a Tom Hardy fan; it can be usually found for five bucks on blu-ray in Walmart DVD bins, note]. He goes, "It kind of reminded me of you and me." I watched it -- I'd heard of the movie but I'd never watched it; "It's a good song, but what's it about?" It makes complete sense if you watch the movie. It's a great song. It's something I would have written, which is exciting to me. Rich and me, we write really different, I think. When we write together, it's amazing, because the parts come together. But if I write a song, it's really different than when Rich writes a song. It's really cool.

Do you have a favourite lyric of your own on the album?

It's hard, it's like... I really like, "I was drinking til she looked like you." It's crazy, because we haven't put that song ["Forget Me Knot"] in the set yet, that song, and I keep bugging Rich. It's just such a great line, to point at a girl and go, "I was drinking til she looked like you." I've been there, right? I've had my times. when love has left, and I'm sitting drinking going, "Yeah, what am I doing, I don't love you, you're a rebound, you're a ricochet, and God - I'm just getting wasted with you because I don't know what else to do."

It's a profound line. Did you write that for that song, or was it kicking around for awhile?

No, it just came out. All the stuff just comes out. And I like "windshield trajectories" in "A History of Violence." It's the same, what came out of my mouth, and I was like, "Oh yeah!" Because I remember me and Rich and the guys in the van were in Washington DC or Colorado or somewhere and we're going down a spiraling road down a mountainside. And it's snowing, we have no brakes, and there's a hole in the bottom of the van, with the gas fumes coming up. It was freezing. I've got an old video of it somewhere. And I was sitting there in the front with Rich, everyone else was asleep; we had a Cliff Burton loft in the van, a little space where you could lay down, where we wrote "Cliff Burton Memorial Loft," after how he died in a car crash. And Rich is looking at me, going, "Well, this is it, we're gonna die." And we saw this semi-trailer truck on the side of the road that had tipped over, and there's this motorhome that had crashed into a tree, and this couple hugging, they were embracing each other in the snow, like, "Thank God we're alive," and I remember going, "Yep, this is it." So when that came out, "windshield trajectories," I was like, "How many times in this band have we felt that?" I think Matt [Charmichael, previous bassist] said once, in the van, "I wonder what the windshield tastes like?" That's it, "windshield trajectories." And pointing out of the van: "where are we going? THAT WAY!"

Ha. I had thought of both of those meanings, reading the lyrics, and I wondered which applied. Now I know: both of them! 

The things I’ve seen with this band—being the only guy who has stayed all the way through—are insane. What we survived personally, and then as a band… I look at it and go, ‘And we’re back doing it again? Are we too stupid to quit or too smart to say no? …Or just too in love?’ We’re trying to be smarter this time.

See you at the Rickshaw tonight? For tickets and more information, go here!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Jonathan Richman coming to the Rio!

I kinda wanted 2023 to be the year I saw Robyn Hitchcock again, but I think instead it's gonna be the year I saw Jonathan Richman again. I've seen both men twice, and Robyn more recently, so it's only fair. 

Richman is fascinating. I've seen him get unsettled, almost annoyed, at audience applause (at Richards on Richards) - he wanted to play a song and people kept cheering, so much that he almost walked off (or threatened to). I've also seen him looking directly into someone's cellphone and lecture them: "I'm right here, why are you watching me on your phone?"). Or words to that effect. His press statement is succinct, and probably all we'll see from him. It's probably also all we need: 

“The music we're doing now works well in quiet places like theaters and performing art centers. We still don't use a program or a set list so we don't know what we'll do until we do it. Please do not expect old songs. Many singers my age do a retrospective; this show is not like that. It's mostly stuff made up in the last 3 and 4 years. Some of the songs presented might be in different languages; this is not to be esoteric or clever, it's because the different languages help me express different feelings sometimes. One last thing, my idea of a good show has nothing to do with applause. It's about if all the songs I sang that night were ones that I felt.” - Jonathan

That quote is repeated on the Rio website for his March 9th concert (two days after my 55th birthday).

It would be a superb birthday gift to me if he did "Corner Store," which is my favourite Jonathan song of the moment, especially the Jonathan Goes Country version, but I really don't mind, I'll take whatever I can get. And I love that there's no setlist. I love that he does what he feels. Maybe he's feeling "Corner Store" too, wouldn't that be sweet?

Sunday, January 01, 2023

New Years' Resolution and vinyl "finite list"

Our new family member, Nicholas

Happy New Year's, folks! 

Resolution-wise, I dunno what I will be able to accomplish re: weight loss, paying off debt, or putting long-term writing projects to rest, but shopping-wise, I hereby declare my intention for 2023 to buy no CDs or LPs other than:

a) What I find at thrift stores (or other super-cheap dollar bins and the like)

b) Items purchased directly at the merch table of a band I am seeing, especially if I have a chance to get this item signed and/or am likely to never see it again

c) (Possibly) items sold or recorded by personal friends of mine. Facebook friends don't count, but if I have been to their home or they have been to mine, bets are off.  

d) (Possibly) items I need for the purposes of research, for example if I have a big interview to do; but this should only be if absolutely necessary, since it could lead to my writing about bands for the purposes of acquiring their albums. 

e) Items I purchase with money from stuff (books, records, CDs, etc) that I have sold (whether from my own collection or stuff I have picked up with the intention to flip)

f) That $6 record I still gotta pay Phil for.

g) Gifts for friends. That doesn't count.

That said, I will also now post my wishlist for 2023: records I will likely NOT buy, but that I would like, before I consider my collection complete. This is my long-rumoured "finite list," which Erika mockingly calls "the infinite list," though obviously this list does not include records that do not yet exist or things like the New Creation's Troubled, which I'd love in the original, but have no hope whatsoever of finding or affording. There may be one or two things I have forgotten about. Mostly I want these on vinyl, but sometimes CD will do. Ideally this list will still be good through my birthday and into next Christmas (hint, hint)...!

The Plugz' Better Luck - any edition, but vinyl only

Meat Puppets - Too High to Die on vinyl... maybe Huevos

Grateful Dead - Reckoning. The only live Dead album I've ever cared about, just a pristine C&W/ folk set, beautifully played, with lovely cover art. I lingered on buying a copy off the Sunrise Metrotown Wall for several months, then finally got up the resolve - I would LISTEN to this record! - to discover it was gone.

Mississippi John Hurt - Last Sessions

Gillian Welch - Boots vol ii and iii (any format, CD probably is more practical)

Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You (vinyl); perhaps other Guy Clark vinyl that I don't have

Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels (bought, sold, and regretted) and Essence on vinyl, if it is ever issued thus

Camper van Beethoven ii and iii on vinyl, and maybe Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart on CD 

Soft Boys: Invisible Hits and A Can of Bees, again on vinyl only. Had them both at different times, sold them, and regret it...  

New Model Army - Love of Hopeless Causes

The Eugene Chadbourne 69th Sinfunny 2lp

Nomeansno - You Kill Me 12", not warped; and the Generic Shame CD; and whatever "new" releases A/T and John Wright cook up

Zappa: I think I'm pretty good, but Waka/ Wazoo is pretty compelling, as are Wazoo itself and the Hot Rats box. CD fine on all of that. Still my favourite period of Zappa. 

Tupelo Chain Sex - Ja Jazz. Have owned it twice, and sold it twice, but third time will be the charm. 

Bob Dylan: I kinda think I'd like Shot of Love on vinyl, for some reason. 

Steve Earle: Ghosts of West Virginia - vinyl preferred but not essential. 

I also have Matt at the Full Bug in Duncan keeping an eye out for the vinyl off the Butts' Independent Worm Saloon for me, but unless it's that copy, which he and I have discussed many times, I can let that one go. There are a few other hardcore-related items I have mentioned to him, too - but I very seldom listen to hardcore these days. Still, it would be fun to have:

Articles of Faith - Give Thanks 

Red Shift - Worst Possible Timeline (ideally off a merch table!). 

Victim's Family - White Bread Blues and The Germ 

Toxic Reasons: an album of theirs with "God Bless America" and/ or "War Hero" on it. Could be a comp

...and that's it. The finite list. Could I possibly keep myself to this? At least I have a kitten to play with.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

RIP Tom Harrison

I got to talk briefly to Tom Harrison a couple of years ago when I was writing my article, "That Time the Clash Played Soccer with a Bunch of Vancouver Punks." I didn't actually use much of the conversation,  but I did run a photo of the young Mr. Harrison with Mick Jones, and the sentence of Tom's that I did incorporate seemed crucial to the article (which I hope y'all will go read). I had considerable respect for Tom Harrison, even though I never actually went the next step to see or hear Bruno Gerussi's Medallion, the band he fronted; but he was a stalwart champion of local independent musicians, a good friend to NO FUN, and an engaging writer -- a man of wit and taste; I used to also enjoy watching him review records live on Soundproof, when I was a kid out in Maple Ridge, though all I really remember of that experience is that he liked Lou Reed's Mistrial more than I did. I have not read an obit for Mr. Harrison, do not know the details of his passing, but all my music-oriented Facebook friends are posting their respects, so it seems apropos to say something here, as well. The world is lesser for your absence, Mr. Harrison. Condolences to those who knew you better than I...

Update: check out this great John Mackie article about Tom... 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Back to work...

 So my disability leave is over, I am back to work, aaand I am having computer issues again. Plus Erika and I got hooked into Gareth Evans' Gangs of London, which is great, if very brutal at times. No one films violence quite like Gareth Evans.

I will have other stuff to say here at some point, but I won't be quite as active as I have been. Plus: Christmas!

But I am doing well! Happy holidays, see ya at the Black Halos or Bison or Yob or something... 

Monday, December 05, 2022

Thinking more on Robyn Hitchcock

I've been listening a lot to Robyn Hitchcock lately, while I still wait for Shufflemania! to land in Vancouver shops (which I wrote a bit previously about here). I nabbed Invisible Hitchcock the other day at Red Cat, in fact, on CD, because I'd never seen it on CD before and because there were four bonus tracks on it, all of which I probably have somewhere else but perhaps not in the same version, who knows? ("Eaten By Her Own Dinner," I think, is the best known, and very Soft-Boys-esque, enough so that it's a slightly weird fit for this record, in fact, but what the heck). The LP of this was the first Robyn Hitchcock I ever purchased, probably getting it when it was brand new at Odyssey Imports, circa 1986, when I was 18. As such, I have quite a bit of attachment to it; there are some very fun songs on it, some very catchy ones, some very pretty ones. And even the cover speaks of Robyn's weirdness: why is he holding that radish and looking at you like that? It was one of my best blind or near-blind buys ever, perhaps fueled by my having read about Hitchcock in an early issue of Spin, but perhaps simply because I had to know what kind of music went with a photograph like this. I think that first version I had was the US pressing with "Grooving on an Inner Plane" on it; since I sold off my record collection when I moved to Japan, then re-acquired it, I ended up with the Glass Fish UK version, with "It's a Mystic Trip" - the better song, really, though both are fun. It always amazed me that the album is basically a collection of outtakes, demos, and non-LP tracks, because it's just so cohesive - can something be "consistently eclectic?" - and enjoyable to listen to; if I were assembling a Desert Island Hitchcock collection, this would be in the top 5 must-keeps, beating out such worthies as Element of Light (which the Glass Fish CD represents on the Invisible Hitchcock disc as the title of the album, for some reason) and Fegmania! and... well, lots of other Hitchcocks that I love less.     

And yet, as well as I know this album, having purchased in now three times in three different versions, having to listened to many songs off it as repped in the While Thatcher Mauled Britain anthology, it still yields secrets. Because I knew nothing of the Soft Boys' anthology Invisible Hits at the time I bought this record, it never occurred to me until YESTERDAY (26 years late, basically) that the title is punning on the other record's title, in the spirit of Groovy Decay, Groovy Decoy, and Gravy Deco (an example of a Hitchcock I don't even have or want - I had the Decoy version for a short time and sold it, deciding it wasn't bad but that I just didn't care; it has very little of what I'm interested in in Robyn Hitchcock's music, is more of a straight pop album. I see that one track on one version of it, "Falling Leaves," is now back in my home on my new Invisible Hitchcock CD).  

Which brings us back to "The Sir Tommy Shovell," previously written about in that aforelinked blogpiece. Robyn's love of witty wordplay is evident at least from the days of the live side of the 1981 release Two Halves for the Price of One, Lope at the Hive (recorded live at the Hope, get it? It's a venue I do not know, but which is also namechecked on Invisible Hitchcock, rhyming with "dope" in the withering put-down "Trash"). Despite being long aware of Hitchcock's propensities here, I didn't put it together that "Shovell" might be a pun on "Shuffle," since I was distracted by trying to figure out if there was anyone who actually has that name. It also occurred to me, in listening to the song for the dozenth - is dozenth really a word? - time that the lyrics might be more complex and subtle than Hitchcock merely crafting a fantasy pub, where one finds like-minded individuals, good beer, vegan food, and none of those "racist losers" he pokes at at the end. He might actually be subverting his fantasy a little, in that he sings about wanting to find people who "agree with everything you say/ every single day," which immediately reminds one of the echo-chamber effect we get on social media: if people disagree with you, if they have different ideas or values, it's become somehow socially appropriate to belittle them, insult them, craft ad-hominem arguments, misrepresent their views, and/or block them from further interacting with you. Maybe there's some slight commentary on that, and on the tendency to demonize your opponents (calling them a racist is certainly a popular way, these days). 

Anyhow, that song has been on my mind, while other songs - "The Feathery Serpent God," which has resonated against my recent Graham Hancock binge and the restrained, bluesy near-rocker "The Midnight Tram to Nowhere" - have risen in prominence since I first heard them (that latter has a stellar bit of wordplay in it, involving a recontextualization of the cliche that "it takes all kinds of people," but I'll let you discover what he does with that for yourself.) The climactic track on the album, "One Day (It's Being Scheduled)" also has some uncharacteristically (but apparently sincere) heart-on-sleeve, emotive writing in it, but I haven't really come to terms with it yet, so... The album continues to grow on me, as does Queen Elvis, which is by no means a recent album, but which I've been happily re-exploring, since it contains plenty of mysteries that I have not yet unravelled and gave me a nice Hitchcock to trade off listenings of Shufflemania! with (I've also been re-exploring Eye, which I like much better than when it first came out). ...

But sticking with Queen Elvis, a lyric on a song off it really hit me in an unusual way the other day: "Freeze." It would be folly, perhaps, to take any of Robyn Hitchcock's lyrics too personally - as I say in that other piece, he seldom asserts a value with undermining or at least complicating it - but, as people who follow this blog (or my Facebook posts) know, I had a tongue surgery last year that left me with a speech impediment and problems swallowing, which means that sometimes I have excess saliva in my mouth. So there I am, walking to Metrotown Skytrain, Queen Elvis on my headphones, and I encounter THIS lyric:

I know who wrote the book of love
It was an idiot
It was a fool
A slobbering fool with a speech defect and a shaking hand
And he wrote my name
Next to yours
But it should have been David Byrne or somebody

Hey, wait a second there, Robyn! I'll leave the issue of whether I'm a fool or not open - I mean, maybe, but jeez, just because someone is slobbering and has a speech defect, it doesn't mean that they're an idiot! Ableism! Ableism! 

It gave me a moment's pause, but mostly amused me, to discover a lyric that would have blown by unobserved and unremarked-upon in any of my PREVIOUS 53 years, but now in my 54th is suddenly kinda fraught. 

It's true, you know, we judge people, especially their intellect, by the sound of their voice. Come to them with a stammer, a slurp, a lisp, a cleft palate, or just some goofy-sounding, imprecise mumbling, and you will likely be deemed mentally deficient in some way, until you prove otherwise. I used to do it, too, never thinking to question it. It's been a surprising discovery!   

I didn't write the fuckin' book of love, either, there, Robyn. It ain't me, babe. 

I do wish Shufflemania! would hurry up and get here, but then again, I can't really afford to buy it right now anyhow, and I can hear the whole thing online, so...