Sunday, October 31, 2004

Thoughts on the upcoming US elections.

It's one of the stranger things about living in Canada: you care more about the politics in your neighbour's country than in your own. It seems to be a given that who is chosen for president in the upcoming U.S. election will have a much greater effect overall on us than who we choose in our own elections, which have a vaguely pathetic aspect to them. I'm very interested to hear what happens. There's a website for people who are not US citizens to vote in the upcoming elections, I discover -- I haven't checked it out yet, but I like the idea of being able to see just how strongly anti-Bush the rest of the world is -- it'll bring into sharp focus just how deluded most Americans are.

Anyhow, here's my opinion about the upcoming US elections. Bear in mind that I'm becoming a bit of a leftie and that I get more of my news from Znet than from Fox.

First off, let me make it absolutely clear that if I were a US citizen, I would vote for Kerry. I understand why some people get pissed off at lesser evilism and do ridiculous things like vote for Ralph Nader. I mean, I don't trust Kerry, either; he seems like "Bush lite" to me -- he represents the same class and corporate interests, has got a basically pro-war, pro-exploit-Iraq platform, and wouldn't dare, politically, to speak out against the War on Terror in any principled way: he'll say that Bush miscalculated, etc., but never that the whole war is wrong or immoral, because he needs to appease the same people Bush needs to appease and can't afford to be seen as "weak." He'll play the same game, perhaps with a bit more skill; but he's still corrupt, dangerous, a bad choice for a world leader. The fact is, though: there is no better choice one can realistically make. Nader will not get elected. The Green Party will not get elected. Casting ones vote for Nader or the Greens will do in this election what it did in the last: help Bush. One needs to finally embrace lesser evilism: the system is basically a two-party one, so Americans, however much they might not like either candidate, should vote for one of the two parties; Kerry is less evil than Bush -- so I'd vote for him, no questions asked.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think I'll mind if Bush wins. I think he's grotesque, evil, dangerous, indeed. Here are some reasons why it might be better if Bush wins, though, for whatever comfort they might offer, should it happen that the American electorate lets us down:

1. IF KERRY WINS, THE WRONG PEOPLE WILL GET THE BLAME WHEN THE SHIT HITS THE FAN. (I'm indebted to mate Alan P. for most clearly articulating this point of view in an e-mail correspondence). The disaster in Iraq has not yet completely revealed itself. We don't know what the worst possible consequences will be of it yet. There has been relatively little impact for the US thus far: some soldiers have died, some people have had their heads cut off in a horrible way, but the war has basically been "just more TV" for most Americans. There hasn't been a major terrorist strike on US soil since the war started, there hasn't been a draft instituted, there hasn't been any nuclear terrorism as of yet, and the terrorist actions that have happened, in Spain or Thailand or so forth, as responses to the war on terror, have been relately low key and not too apparent to most Americans. I am pretty sure that there WILL be another Sept. 11-type attack if the US government continues its current policies, whether it is a Bush government or a Kerry government -- because both will continue to do more or less the same thing in Iraq. I'm pretty sure there will be other big and bad consequences yet to be seen, including some of those mentioned above -- maybe even a draft. Unfortunately, when these bad things eventually happen, the government that's in charge at the time will be the one who will be blamed for it. I would rather Bush be in power, because then he'll get the blame. If there's a Kerry government, they'll be accused of mishandling the war on terror, and most Americans will be frightened and stupid enough to believe it, rather than putting the blame where it belongs. If the Democrats win, they'll be the ones to suffer the consequences when things go bad. Better Bush wins, so that he'll be in power to reap what he's sown, so that there is no confusion about who is to blame for it; it's better for long term change.

2. BUSH HAS BEEN A DISASTER FOR THE UNITED STATES, AND THAT'S A GOOD THING. This is something I was delighted to see John Pilger more or less agrees with me on, by the way. George W. Bush has united (or at least considerably stimulated) the US left, has destroyed any sort of positive international reputation for the United States, and has laid bare just how corrupt and fucked-up US foreign policy is. It was possible,under Clinton -- if you weren't paying close attention, since Clinton himself did some horrible things worldwide -- that the US was some sort of benign giant, who genuinely wanted what was best for the world. Just how self-serving and destructive their foreign policy has been for decades has been typically something perceived and written about only by a very small minority -- by the William Blums, Howard Zinns, Noam Chomskys, Michael Parentis out there -- who are regarded more or less as cranks by the mainstream. That has all changed under Bush, who has been so transparently an imperialist that he's done genuine damage to the US' reputation and brought to light quite a bit that was not being given mainstream publicity in the US. Bush has, paradoxically, validated radical politics and made it possible for "cranks" like Michael Moore to become world celebrities by articulating these minority views.

Kerry will not be as bad for the world or for the US as Bush, but maybe in terms of this election, bad is good. That is, maybe what's BAD FOR THE U.S. IS GOOD FOR THE WORLD; maybe if Bush wins and continues his project of miltary/capitalist adventurism abroad -- neverminding what he's done at home -- it will cause BIG enough disasters, stir up sufficient protest, galvanise the opposition to such a degree that there will be a more FUNDAMENTAL change in the United States in the future -- a change much, much bigger than the one we'll see if Kerry wins the election.

I'd like to see a bigger change than the one Kerry represents. However less evil he is than Bush -- and it is clear that he is -- he won't make any radical departures from Bush's platform. He can't, because he HAS TO REPRESENT THE SAME INTERESTS. Kerry can't afford to alienate the military industrial complex, the rich, or corporations like Lockheed Martin or Halliburton any more than Bush can afford to do these things; he is hardly committed to "ending US exploitation in the Third World." He'll be less obvious about things than Bush, will be more skillful, more diplomatic -- but that's not necessarily a good thing. In order for a fundamental change to happen in the way the world is run, it's probably for the best that Bush wins.

Of course, that means willing disaster on the world. I'm saying Bush is more likely to bring on the apocalypse, but -- as worried as I am by discovering the following sentiment in me -- maybe an apocalypse is what we need. The world -- America -- has grown too complacent; even Sept. 11 hasn't woken everyone up yet; the evil that makes Bush possible has become too entrenched in the US system for it to be driven out by a priviliged military nonentity like John Kerry. I don't want there to be further disasters like Sept. 11 -- don't get me wrong -- but I DO WANT CHANGE, and maybe if Bush wins, it will mean, in the future, there will be BIGGER AND BETTER CHANGES than the ones we'll see if Kerry wins.

That's how I'm preparing to console myself if we see a Bush victory in the US, which seems a very real possibility. Like I said, if I were an American, I'd vote for Kerry. VOTING AGAINST KERRY IS VOTING FOR THE APOCALYPSE. But the apocalypse might not be all bad, in the big picture. Even horrible, self evidently evil things -- from Sept. 11th to Bush's war in Iraq to the possibility of "another" Bush win -- can sometimes have good consequences. It's all a matter of perspective, innit?

Friday, October 29, 2004

On Losing a Blog

Oh my God that was painful. I wrote this fun little take on the second night of the Cinemuerte festival, linked all the stuff I was mentioning, and then lost it all when I attempted to publish it. It's a horrible feeling. "You mean I have to write it all again?" Not right now, I'm still mourning the death of the first one.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Bad Joke I came up with today

A man walks into an inn with a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other. The man at the front looks up. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here to sweep.”

The clerk looks at him, puzzled. “Pardon me?”

”You have wooms for went, don’t you?”

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Bookscouting, Vox Festival

Bookscouting find of the day: Improvisation by Derek Bailey, the 1980 hardcover first edition of the avant-garde guitarist's study of improvisation in various cultural contexts. Not worth a lot but not something I'd ever expected to see -- paid a dollar for it at the Salvation Army. I love making finds like that. Tried to sell it for $20 to drummer Jean Martin at the Vox Festival -- he thought it was an unreasonable price, but hell, I ain't even read it yet. Offered me $10. I kept it. Too bad -- I got no cash to do the laundry now, I spent it all on CDs. I considered approaching Ron Samworth, who, of the guitarists in Vancouver, might be the one most likely to be interested in it, but I couldn't think of a natural enough approach, particularly given that he might have happened to remember me walking out of his show the other night (I liked what he was doing, it was his collaborator that I couldn't handle).

The Vox Festival was fun -- I'm sorry it's over. Maybe I need to find some other group to volunteer with -- maybe Blim, a new venue for minimalist/drone/ambient noise stuff out near Tinseltown. The guy who I manned the merch table with tonight is involved with them; he's talking about trying to get Nels Cline to drop by when he's in town with Wilco (why is Nels Cline playing with -- oh, nevermind. I know the answer). Manning merch tables, it turns out, seems to be a good way to meet the artists. Paul Dutton sat and shared anecdotes about his career -- he was warm and friendly and very willing to share. Koichi Makigami joked with us and did a cute doodle for me on the liner of one of Tzadik CDs; he was exuberantly playful. Wish I'd caught his show -- Paul called him "the Derek Bailey of the theremin." (Had I known he had a theremin with him!). Ami Yoshida and Sachiko M. didn't seem to speak a lot of English, but they were amused by my bad Japanese and were, well, fun to look at -- they dressed pretty colourfully and had more o' the Japanese "cute" thing going than I expected from avant gardists (well... mostly Sachiko. Cuteness and piercing sine wave manipulation are kinda odd things to place in one package). The Norwegian Maja Ratkje --who, of the performers I'd never heard of before, was by far the most interesting and prolific -- was pretty intense, but likably so, and she hinted about a return to Vancouver; the intensity of her performance scared a few people out of the venue, which she seemed pleased by. Listening to Fe-mail's Syklubb fra Haelvete (Sewing Club from Hell) as I type, one of Maja's projects. It's quite cacophonous, but in an oddly soothing way -- check out the samples on the album's website. Comforting noise, the harshness somehow necessary, relevant. Of course, they're pretty cute, too, on the cover Maja and Hild Sofe Tafjord -- but it seems more likely an ironic cuteness; Maja would look more at home in black leather than girly clothes, I suspect. I assume the pigtails are a Pippi Longstocking thing -- apparently they have a thing for Pippi.

I ain't really got much to say about the festival, tho', other'n'that. Cheers again to Vancouver New Music for existing. Now I guess I'll return to contemplating my relative isolation...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Why I don't intend to write about local music on this blog

(Written in re: the first night of the Vox Festival. See the previous entry, below, for context).

Damn, Kate. I'm sorry. It's bad form to walk out on any performance. I mean, it's okay, I guess, if you really gotta go to the washroom or something, but we didn't. Liz was really tired and she did have to get up at six in the morning and she and Blake had to make the ride back to Maple Ridge and she is a difficult woman to say no to, as I imagine you might be, yourself, so perhaps you'll understand... But we could've stayed, regardless. I feel bad. Particularly since I got in free, and am a volunteer with the festival. Like I should've been more loyal, y'know? Local artist, and a woman at that -- how many female avant-gardists are there, anyhow? I could show some support for the few that are around, particularly if they're from this city (Actually, that was more Liz's guilt-trip than mine, but it's a respectable one). Really, I did like some of what you were doing. The first Campfire Songs thing -- I liked that one! And sometimes the subtler sounds you made blended nicely with Mr. Samworth's guitar effects. It would be interesting to try to articulate in detail why your performance overall didn't work for me, when superficially at least you and Paul Dutton (whose performance I greatly enjoyed, and who actually did enjoy what you were doing, unlike me) were doing stuff that was of a piece... But really I'd rather just keep my mouth shut and say I'm sorry I snuck out. Hope the rest of the show went well.

I did get one really important thing from observing my reactions to this evening. I've realized, to my shock, that I think there's an off chance someone somewhere (other than my friends and family) might actually read this blog someday. I had never really considered the possibility, or that my awareness of it might change how I wanted to present things. There's this unexpected feeling of responsibility suddenly settling on my shoulders: since I'm in a public venue, and since I intend fully to write about music on this site, I feel like I've got to weigh my words with a little bit more care than I'd initially planned on using when it comes to the local scene.

There's stuff I've been itching to express, stuff that pisses me off, though, that's hard to stifle -- taboo disloyal opinions about some of the performers here, complaints and whimpers and pleas; from wanting to beg Dylan van der Schyff to hit a little less forcefully to wishin' Peggy Lee would plink less and play more (sorry, Peggy! Actually, I own two of your CDs, really), I got all sorts of stuff I could run off at the mouth about. Maybe it would be good for someone to say some o' this in public. I seldom enjoy gigs by local musicians; perhaps a bit of diplomatic griping might serve to...

I mean, part of me just wants to screech out the most non-acceptable things, y'know? That Vancouver is a friggin' backwater and would do well to admit this to itself; some local artists seem to have the most grotesquely inflated opinions of the worth of what they're doing, presumably because their standards of comparison are so, uh, local. I mean, our inferiority complex has made morons and rogues of us... Even the population stats that we calculate the city's size on are based on lies, designed solely to push us into the top 5 list of Canadian cities, to put us on the map, as it were (because nothin' else will; trees and mountains do not a cultural mecca make). It's nice that we have aspirations, I guess, but we also have an abundance of mediocrity out there, and the worst offenders take themselves so seriously, are so precious (thanks for the adjective, Blake: it's a good one) about what they do that y'just want to slap them. Tell' em to go spend a weekend in New York or London or Tokyo or...

But who am I kidding? Ranting in this vein would do little more than to get me looked at in a nasty way by the few musicians out there who are actually trying to do something different and new; it would make me enemies and few friends and invite the question, who the hell do I think I am, anyhow? I mean, who cares if I, some shmuck ESL teacher, think the scene here is too small, too incestuous, too vain, too full of itself; if --

So you know what? The local scene is its own problem, not mine. I'm gonna fall back on the old saw about not sayin' anything if you got nothin' nice to say -- or occasionally enthusing about local music that I do like (I think the Pretty Sad Band were the last gig I really had any fun at; there's a band that understands the virute of humility). Sure, it would be great if our one real jazz club dusted off its notions of jazz and acknowledged free, funky, and avant-garde takes on the form; if there were more places where interesting music happened (note to self: must check out Blim); if people woke up and realized that it takes more than the pretense that one is an artiste to make a concert enjoyable. But there's only so much that I'm prepared to take on. It sucks that what this probably means is that I'll spend most of my blog time writing about visiting performers, instead of homespun ones... But so be it.

You know, I like living in Vancouver. Really. And it's been a good year, concert-wise. I'll keep y'all posted if I actually hear something from this town I like. Who knows, maybe tomorrow at the Vox Festival...

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Diamanda Galas, Paul Dutton, Vox Festival

Just returned from Diamanda Galas' performance at the Vogue theatre. I don't have much to say about the concert tonight -- it was intense; genocide sucks; she wasn't as skinny as I'd expected; the strobe lights were a nice touch; and I wish she'd taken me up on my invite to buy her chocolates and wine at Death by Chocolate after the show. Bought me a t-shirt and an extra signed pic for a friend who couldn't make it. Mostly I wonder if Ms. Galas will be sticking around to see Paul Dutton tomorrow night at the Vancouver New Music Vox Festival... I sincerely hope so. Dutton, who basically makes weird sounds with his mouth, has been the most exciting discovery of the year for me; he's been around for a long time, performing with CCMC, the Four Horsemen, Christian Marclay, and various other avant gardists. I've always been a fan of people who experiment with the human voice, but mostly it seems it's been women -- like Meredith Monk, say, or Diamanda Galas -- who have held my attention until now. Dutton offers something earthy, masculine, and most playful, and has amazing command of his instrument. He performed at last year's jazz festival in a jazz context (with drums and a horn player who I completely and unfairly forget) and I've been a fan since. Koichi Makigami, who has recorded on Tzadik and on a disc with Dutton, Phil Minton, and others called Five Men Singing, will be there too, and Kate Hammett Vaughan, whose more commercial work has kept me from wanting to see her til now... but it's only fair that I should finally give her a chance (typical of me to be reluctant to support the locals while I praise some guy from TO, eh? Bitching about the local scene in favour o' outsiders is, I suspect, a typical Vancouver characteristic, balanced out by those who take our teeny scene way too seriously). Hope there's a big turnout. The last time I volunteered for a New Music event I was able to score Yoshihide Otomo's signature... who knows what the perks will be this time, beside comp tickets? I wonder if Sachiko M. is single... ?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Bummed about Doug

My closest encounter with Doug Bennett was in the men's room of the Viper Room, a couple of years ago in Maple Ridge. (No, it's not that sort of encounter). I was waiting for a Doug and the Slugs concert to start. I was standing outside the stall, hoping to take a bowel movement before the show, but it was occupied. When the flush finally sounded and the door swung open, Doug Bennett came out. I made a little startled sound, and he glanced at me somewhat apprehensively, as if I would address him. I felt absurdly embarrassed, and hurried into the stall as he turned and left, me trying not to think of the nature of this particular encounter with celebrity as I sat ("why, just a few minutes before, his cheeks were pressed to this very porcelain ring.") So much of my concertgoing experiences have been forgotten over the years, it's bizarre to me that episodes like this stand out.

The whole night was a little strange by me, in fact. Having grown up a huge fan of Doug and the Slugs first two albums -- and I still maintain there are more than a few moments of brilliance on Cognac and Bologna, that it's as good a record as has been made in Canada -- I couldn't help but have mixed feelings about the show. Doug was clearly in decline. (I'd actually had to leave the venue the previous time I'd tried to see him play, in Port Moody -- it took me awhile to get used to the idea of someone who seemed so stylish and self-possessed at one point in his life -- I'm imagining the liner photos for the LP version of Wrap It! -- seeming so indifferently dressed, so cynical about what he was doing, so large). That night at the Viper Room, he abused his audience playfully, with considerable showman's skill (at least by the standards of a drinking establishment), but there were moments where it didn't seem entirely in jest -- he returned again and again to joking bitterly about his divorce, and talked about his hopes at various points in his career to "never have to play pissholes like these again," for instance. At one point he gave a pat answer to a heckler, "Shut up -- half our routine now is me talking about how fat I am." He made sure, whatever he was feeling, that his audience had fun -- doing his "Viagra" routine to the tune of "Gloria," engaging people in a singalong of the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction" (for which his voice was indeed perfect), and bringing audience members on stage for the "bum solo" at the end of the night - but I'm pretty sure he would have rather have been somewhere else. Or perhaps rather have been someone else. Someone who'd made money, who had been a bit better appreciated, whose success had meant more in dollars and cents. Perhaps someone who had albums still in print -- there isn't a single title of theirs currently available on CD, to my knowledge, and not even a file card on the shelves of local CD stores to mark their absence.

See, I don't blame Doug if he was cynical towards the end. I liked the guy a lot, even on that night -- he had humour and style and he did what he was being paid to do and did it very well -- but there was something heartbreaking about it all. Doug had a great voice, great lyrics, and wrote some very, very good songs in his day. Sure, they're not the ones you hear on the radio, now -- from Music for the Hard of Thinking on, the band grew considerably more compromised in their attempts to mine the top-40 and secure an income for themselves. It was never as bad as "Your Body is a Wonderland" or such crap, and when I'm in a waiting room somewhere being forced to endure some soft-rock station, it's a positive relief to have "Who Knows How to Make Love Stay" or any such lesser Slugs numbers come on, since they still retain just a little bit of the style and humour and intelligence of the Slugs at their peak. But those are the only stations that one still hears such tunes on, and that's not that much of a legacy -- not when meaningless meatheads like Bryan Adams are making millions of dollars churning out programmic pap. On the strength of that first disc alone, Doug SHOULD HAVE BEEN our Tony Bennett, our singin' Raymond Chandler, an icon, a man with secured fame and wealth. At age 50, he simply shouldn't have still been playing little clubs in the suburbs, entertaining bald men in baseball caps and women in tight jeans with 80's hairdos and tanlines on their exposed cleavage... Doug deserved better. We as Canadians failed him. The Province, this morning, hailed him as "legendary," but if this is what happens to our legends, we're in a sorry state indeed.

Anyhow, I'm sad he's gone. I'll spin Cognac and Bologna tonight and smile yet again at "Just Another Case" and shiver yet again at the mood evoked by "Tropical Rainstorm" and say some sort of goodbye. Maybe "Drifting Away" will take on a new meaning. I'll think about my own inevitable decline -- I'm just some shmuck ESL teacher, ultimately -- and wonder if I'll last any longer than he did. 52 is damned young. If we cared more about our artists, maybe he'd have had another 20 years to offer us...

Anyhow, now that he's dead, maybe some of Doug Bennett's discs will come back into print. It kinda sucks that nothing less would have moved us to acknowledge him, tho'.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Jandek on Corwood

Hey! Jandek on Corwood, the film about the reclusive avant-blues-folk-eccentric Jandek, is soon to be released on DVD. Preorders are being accepted here:

Exciting stuff, by me, tho' I haven't seen the film, and given Jandek's non-participation, I'm not entirely sure how interesting it will be. Still -- I haven't been as excited about a documentary about an artist since the film about Andy Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides, was released earlier this year. (Apparently that's available on DVD, too).

John Sayles' Silver City

This film is not being particularly well-received -- with even left-leaning film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum being particularly harsh to it -- but, after being initially somewhat troubled by a certain gracelessness to the first half of the film, I decided, watching it tonight, that it's one of the few Sayles' films of recent years that I can say I fully enjoyed. It does stand as a tapestry of things we've seen before in other Sayles' films -- a Shannon's Deal-style PI, played by the son of Chinatown director John Huston; a detailing of the negotiations and machinations of corrupt real estate developers, polluting industrialists, and political hopefuls, smacking of the deal-making in City of Hope; concern for Mexican migrant workers and illegals, as one saw in Lone Star; and an attempt, found in almost every film Sayles has made, to capture the way of life and landscape of a given region of America, this time Colorado. It's not a great Sayles' film -- it is neither as character-driven nor as enthusiastic about the slice of American life being documented as Limbo, my favourite of Sayles' films in recent years, nor as nuanced and complex as Men with Guns; and it does (for those of us who know Sayles' work) have the taste of formula to it -- something that made Sunshine State and Casa de Los Babys, Sayles' previous two features, quite uninteresting to me, both feeling, for their memorable moments, a little too much like manufactured products (as if Sayles actually wants to encourage brand recognition by assembling his films according to predictable patterns. Perhaps that's market savvy, I don't know -- it's made some of his recent films just a little dull to those who are well-familiar with their design, which the Rosenbaum review gives many further examples of). This time, tho', there seems to be something just a little more heartfelt at work behind the film, something Sayles sincerely wants to offer his audience. Surprisingly, given how the film is being marketed and received, that has very little to do with Bush-bashing.

Don't get me wrong: Chris Cooper is fun as a caricature of George Bush, and does the job well; and I would imagine the slightly rushed feel to the film has something to do with a desire to get it into the theatres before the US election -- there are certainly topical elements to the movie. All the same, there is no serious attempt to skewer Bush being made here that I can see; it simply doesn't seem like a point of interest for Sayles -- Cooper's scenes play more like comic relief than a crusade. It's a given, in the film, that Bush is evil -- his image appears early on with little devil horns drawn on in the office of Internet activist Tim Roth, and there are fairly clear references to the Republicans as bought-and-paid for representatives of corporate interests. To say that Bush is bad for the environment and a puppet of big money is, then, "old news," as Roger Ebert puts it. Whatever his starting point, it seems clear that what came to interest Sayles in making this film are questions about the overall political climate we all labour in, including those of us in Canada; though I don't find this a matter of "cynicism and resignation" (as Ebert says), as more a matter of despair, bound with an attempt to find some cause for hope.

The thing is: I agree with Sayles. It isn't a matter of cynicism or resignation to observe that we are pretty much powerless as wealthy and powerful destroy the planet as much as it is an accurate assessment of the current state of things. If you want any degree of security in North America these days, whether you're an illegal immigrant or reporter or pretty much anyone who wants to survive with a certain degree of comfort and ease, you end up compromised and subservient, whether you like it or not, to those with more power than you. Rosenbaum wants to take Sayles to task for "romantic fatalism" and lumps the filmmaker in with "defeatists who wouldn't know what to do with success if it hit them over the head;" but observing that the United States, and the world at large, are in a pretty dire position -- or that those who care enough to try to observe or change things are in for an uncomfortable ride, which will indeed bring them close to despair and hopelessness time and again -- isn't a matter of defeatism, it's a first premise for any possible comment one could make on the world today, if one is paying attention. And this seems to be where Sayles interest in his subject matter begins; it isn't, contra Rosenbaum, the conclusion Sayles reaches in this film, it's the problem that he is wrestling with, trying to find some cause for optimism and hope to offer an audience without cheating.

So this is why Sayles turns to the formulae of noir: the smart, cynical, world-weary detective, investigating a murder, as his own personal disappointments and failures mount, has to confront his demons (his despair) and overcome them. The best moment of the film comes when our detective/hero is told by the Karl-Rove-esque Richard Dreyfuss character that he's made it abundantly clear he's a loser (which seems to be the judgment passed on all those who don't play the game enthusiastically enough these days), so he could at least be a good loser -- to shut up and smile and accept his powerlessness gracefully. While Sayles doesn't duck out of his responsibility to acknowledge just how grim things look at this juncture in history, he does set his main character on a trajectory that is quite the opposite of the one Dreyfuss is suggesting; he moves from a position of considerable compromise, as the smiling creature of the corrupt politicians he ends up fighting against, to one of renewed faith in his ability to make some degree of positive difference in the world. (There are more reasons why I could argue that the ending of the film is a happy one, but not without giving away plot points).

Elsewhere recently in the Chicago Reader, Rosenbaum quotes film critic and filmmaker Thom Andersen as saying, of the films of John Cassavetes, that "his comedies face up to tragedy and reject it" -- a perceptive remark, tho' the bizarre judgment that Cassavetes' films are "comedies" seems based in a faulty binary that a text must be either comedy or tragedy. It's the marvelous thing about Cassavetes' films, though. Even at their grimmest -- and here I'm thinking of Faces and the bleakness, impotence, despair, failure and apparent inability, at the end of the film, to find any possible resolution to the problems the film poses for its characters -- there is an inspirational quality to Cassavetes' project, because his films, as determined as they seem to confront us with the weakness, fear, madness and pathology of his characters, do not end in a feeling of hopelessness; they challenge us to look at the reality of our situation and do something about it, and in doing so, suggest that something can be done. Sayles is a far less inspirational filmmaker than Cassavetes -- he is more interested in problems of simple survival, and the compromises that it sometimes requires, than the triumph of any particular idealistic vision -- but Silver City, too, is an attempt to face up to despair and reject it, to find some cause for hope. I'll leave out mentioning how it does this -- and perhaps it will be a matter of contention whether it does or not -- but I felt very happy with Silver City. By the end of the film, I felt lighter, cheered up a bit, strengthened.

It is possible that I'm just another romantic defeatist, tho', I guess...

Pic of my folks

...well. The software's not as scary as I thought, so I figured I'd post another pic, of my parents. They haven't had much presence on the internet until now (except for my father's racetrack betting accounts...).

My parents on the train Posted by Hello

Notes on Annie Sprinkle

(I wrote the following prior to starting this blog, to share reactions to Annie Sprinkle's recent Vancouver appearance with friends. I love Annie.)

Wow! Annie Sprinkle is SUCH a generous person. Just saw her give a performance at the Western Front. To a room of gays & lesbians, sex workers, gender benders, sex activists of one stripe or another, and a few people like me, whatever it is I am, she played a bunch of early porn clips, with her own narration, which was funny and cute and sweet; she talked about her transformations from a dumpy Jewish girl who had very low self-esteem into Annie Sprinkle; she shared how the losses of the AIDS movement moved her away from straight porn into becoming a sort of spiritual explorer combining meditation and masturbation, played clips of the first ever female-to-male transgendered porn film, which she starred in with her lover of the time, read thru (with colourful slides of herself and her friends illustrating the point) a list of reasons why whores are her heroes, and then GAVE OUT AWARDS AND HUGS to the sex trade industry workers (or any confessed sluts), who lined up one by one to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” to briefly introduce themselves and get their diplomas, awarding them for their hard work giving pleasure to people. (Liz's friend Michael was there and got a big cheer when he introduced himself, without further explanation, as Cookie LaWhore). (I would have loved to have had one of these certificates, but in no way merit one... Nice that she transformed being a sex industry worker into a position of merit!). She played a clip from her new film, called something like Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm, which I wish I could have shared with some o’ you (the clip, not orgasm) – I may have to get it on video. At the end of the performance proper, Annie did her “bosom ballet,” exposing her now huge breasts (she’s put on a bit of weight, as is only fitting for a woman of 50, and is just… enormous) and making them do a cute little dance to Strauss, I think it was… I seem to think it’s called the “Blue Danube Waltz.” Wild cheers all round. After a short break, she came back and did a Q and A. The audience LOVED her, cheered, thanked her – and I got to chat with her, recommending she see Dusan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. I also got to ask her about her name – I remember reading that “Sprinkle” had to do with her fondness for urine (later in the night she played us a censored relevant scene from one of her self-directed films -- a delight to be among those who have seen it). She basically said that she was fond of a lot of things evoked by the word Sprinkle, including urine, but in fact it was a “voice in her head” that told her to change her name to Sprinkle – a voice which only ever spoke to her one other time, telling her she HAD to quit smoking.

It was a great night. I’m not even bummed I missed the Tom Waits gig that happened t’night at the Orpheum. I AM shocked at myself – I’ve been feelin’ kinda in need o’ love lately, and IT NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME, when Annie was so willing to hug people, to try to hug her. I just recommended films! I could have felt the healing properties of her embrace and, even more, COULD HAVE BEEN PRESSED AGAINST HER BREASTS, however briefly, and I DIDN’T EVEN THINK OF IT in my enthusiasm to talk movies. No wonder I don’t get laid much. I hope she watches W.R., especially. I didn’t have the heart to check to see if she knew who Wilhelm Reich was – given her focus on orgasm and her PhD in human sexuality, it would have looked very bad had she not known. She must know. Of course, I figured she must know about Makavejev, too…

Just Al Posted by Hello

Al with Michael in Tofino Posted by Hello

Al with CPAP Posted by Hello

Al with birdshit Posted by Hello

Another miserable day in the city

Hi. Name's Allan. Some of you, depending on where you know me from, may know me as Pemmican, a web alias I've sometimes used. At the repeated insistence of Jetbert, a former SFU linguistics classmate and erstwhile Big Daikon poster, who is still in Japan, I have decided to create a blog. I'm entirely new to this and don't know yet what I'm doing -- but I've been mass-mailing things that interest me to friends for months and this seems like a natural extension of that.

What interests me, then?

1. Film. I'm a huge fan of John Cassavetes, in particular, with Love Streams slowly eclipsing Husbands as my favourite film of his. Other filmmakers whose work I've explored and enjoyed lately include Dusan Makavejev (though really of his major work I've only seen Sweet Movie, W.R., Mysteries of the Organism, and Montenegro -- if that counts), Miike Takashi (as inventive an exploitation filmmaker as one could wish for, and engaged, along with sometimes-collaborator Tsukamoto Shinya, in a sort of prolonged assault on the things that piss him -- and myself, as well -- off about Japanese culture, which is relevant to me because I lived there for three years), and Bruce Sweeney (I feel like a character in Dirty. Probably the guy from Port Alberni, tho' my temper's not as bad; I love that there's someone making local cinema, which seems quite a rare and precious thing -- I was absurdly pleased to hear people bitching about the uses to which the 1986 Expo site have been put in Last Wedding). Also in terms of Canadian cinema I'm excited to see what Lynn Stopkewich does next and love Egoyan's Family Viewing, Speaking Parts, and The Adjuster. Otherwise my favourite filmmakers are big, easy names to rattle off -- Antonioni, Wenders, Fassbinder. (More revealing to note that I also have a great, only slightly guilty fondness for zombie flicks, and am delighted that Romero is at work on a fourth Dead film). I'm not that interested in Hollywood cinema per se, tho' it can be fun to analyze and I sometimes love to hate certain films and filmmakers -- Steven Spielberg has come to fascinate me as a sort of pathological case-study, for instance. I don't make film, note -- I just consume it and sometimes read and write about it. It also interests me to note that Hollywood is busy plundering recent Japanese cinema for source material -- I hope they don't screw up Ju On (The Grudge).

2. Music, mostly of the weirder type. Back in the 1990's, wiith the help of mind-altering substances and a cool fella named Ian who gave me his LP collection, I made the plunge from punk rock and noisy postpunk like Sonic Youth into free jazz and avant garde music; initially I fell in love with the music of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I rarely listen to any of that anymore -- lately I've been listening to a fair bit of Haino Keiji, Zoviet France, and am very excited about upcoming performances by Diamanda Galas and Paul Dutton in Vancouver. (Might make it out to Supersilent, too). But I've also been listening to a lot of punk and related things again. The Ex are great. I may make the difficult hike to Langley to see Nomeansno on Nov. 19. I was very pleased to see Mission of Burma play in Vancouver this summer, as well... There are still a fair number of musical blind spots, bands I haven't gotten around to yet -- most shockingly Nurse with Wound and Sun City Girls -- but I'm always willing to listen. Pure free jazz doesn't do it for me much these days, tho' I sometimes do spin Peter Brotzmann...

3. Books. I work at a local used bookstore. I've bookscouted for years. I'm not a pro and I'm not a rank amateur. I've made some money in my day -- the most I've gotten for a single book involved an eBay Buy It Now purchase of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the Random House first, which I was able to own for almost a year before being forced to auction it off properly. I paid under $10 Cdn. for it and got $425 US (which was actually considerably less than it should have sold for -- it was in pretty nice shape. eBay sucks).

4. Odd cultural events in and around Vancouver. I just saw Annie Sprinkle at her recent Vancouver appearance and chatted with her briefly about how urgently she needs to see W. R.: Mysteries of the Organism. (I couldn't insult her by asking if she knew who Wilhelm Reich was, but I'm not 100% sure. She certainly didn't know Makavejev). She's such a sweet woman.

These are the things I probably intend to blog about, tho' I sometimes feel the need to share other things with friends: cryptozoological clippings, leftist political stuff, and the basic state of being alienated in Vancouver. (I have many rants about how fucked up life here is. It's quite possibly fucked up everywhere. I'm having a Last Exit to Brooklyn kind of week, which this is in part an attempt to remedy. At the very least, it may distract me from myself.

Anyhow, welcome to the blog. This'll do for a first entry.