Friday, May 30, 2008

Tom Holliston tour dates added!

Tom in action, by Jillian King

...actually, so far there's only one confirmed: Tom will do a solo show at the Main, September 20th. Woo! My old Tom Holliston interview is here. There's actually a buncha stuff I never did transcribe from that conversation - maybe I'll stick it on my blog sometime before the September show...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Customs Japan and the Great Free Marijuana Giveaway

You know, Customs Japan was pretty lax when I was living there - I would get waved through without even having to open my bags, most of the time - but they never were this generous.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 16th at the Cobalt: The Furies, The Green Hour, and Duvall Star

wendythirteen by Femke van Delft

You know it’s spring in Vancouver when the Cobalt starts to smell like a rotten apple stuffed into a dirty jockstrap. I slumped in at 10:30, slightly stoned and eager to blow off my week at work and attain some element of catharsis. Femke, Bev Davies, and Carola of the JEM Gallery and JEM Productions were sitting with John and Taylor of the Furies at the tables in the center of the bar, so, snagging a bottle of $3 Pacific - much less likely to produce a hangover than whatever’s on tap - I dropped my bag and sat down, as Siobahn Duvall, in an orange t-shirt with “New York City” on it, finished her soundcheck and started her set.

Siobahn Duvall by Femke van Delft

Tho’ it must surely seem like spoilsportism to say it, since Siobahn Duvall is clearly the real thing, and since the pool of Credible Women in Rock is fairly small, I can’t admit to any great enthusiasm for Duvall Star. Duvall enthusiastically slings a sort of tough-girl bubblegum guitar rock just this side of punk; it’s delivered with considerable charisma and not a trace of pretense, and, even in the stripped-down guitar-and-drums format we were offered at the ‘balt, got a couple of fans dancing. However, I'm a snob who doesn’t even own (no shit) any Ramones albums, because the songwriting is too simple and the lyrics too often stoopid. Duvall is anything but stupid, but you can seldom tell what the songs are about, for one - there is no strong central chorus to hook onto, no words you can make out as clearly as the snarl with which they’re delivered, no sense that they were crafted with utility in mind. Ain’t much you can do with ‘em but shake your ass, which I don’t generally do. It says something that of the three times I’ve seen the band, my favourite song they played was a cover (“Sonic Reducer” with Chris Arnett on additional guitar, a couple of years ago. Now THAT’s a song with an attention-grabbing chorus and abundant use-value! Who among us doesn’t want to be a pharaoh soon?).

Duvall Star by Femke van Delft

Funny moment: Siobahn made a comment about how she’d never noticed how bright the lights were at the Cobalt - she could really see how much she spits when she sings. Femke van Delft - who, like Bev, was documenting the night with her camera - called out, “Thank me!” Turns out Femke, arriving early, long-frustrated with the somewhat crappy lighting in the venue, did the DIY thing: she went down to the corner store, bought some brand-new home-variety lightbulbs, and installed them in the ‘balt’s spots. I wonder how many other bands will comment on the improved lighting in the next while... and how many other punk clubs across the continent owe their lighting to photographers tired of shooting in the dark?

The Green Hour, up next, scored a bit higher for songwriting, and a bit lower for authenticity; they’re another local band, with an upcoming eponymous CD to be distributed by Scratch. Great twin-guitar sound, a strong drummer, and an interesting variety of sources - ranging from early Pink Floyd to athletic Led Zeppelin, and covering a lot of UK psych-pop territory in between. I’m sure they have an audience, or will soon acquire one; personally, I couldn’t quite get past the elfish 60's haircuts, the floppy hobbit hats, and the odd paisley shirt, which combined to produce the effect of a band more interested in earnestly imitating their forbears and correctly mastering the cultural ephemera around a scene than in making anything particularly original. Which, I guess, is a silly objection to make in the oft-derivative, image-obsessed world of rock, especially in a city where recidivists like Black Mountain - for whom the Green Hour have opened - are the reigning champions; but at least Black Mountain dress in ordinary East Van attire. If Stephen McBean started getting onstage in a wizard hat and robes, say, I’d probably vomit. Here’s hoping the youthful Green Hour will become less green with age, and that the “force that drives the green fuse through the flower” will push them in more distinctive directions, as they build in confidence and courage. At this point, I can only say that they’re good enough that I’m sure they’re going to get better, weak praise tho’ it may be.

The Green Hour by Femke van Delft

But, I mean, fuck me: Adrian Mack likes them, and Chris Arnett of the Furies stood for their set and danced: that should be praise enough, because the Furies are the kings of no-bullshit; they’re the type of band that, when the guitarist breaks a string (unless he has Bill Napier-Hemy waiting in the wings to fix it), will say “fuck it” and keep going without sounding appreciably different... which, as a matter of fact, happened on this occasion. Arnett’s grimace, his shades (which are not bullshit so much as an ironic “bullshit catcher,” putting the bullshit right out in the open where you can see it and be amused by it, so you know that no one is trying to sneak anything by you) and the bulging veins in his arms delight me; it is a wonder that anyone with fingers as thick and meaty-lookin’ can play so fuckin’ hot as Chris. His solos - often played with his guitar slung below his knees, as he teetered at the edge of the stage, dripping sweat - sounded more and more like they were the reincarnation of the guitar sounds on White Light/ White Heat, veering as close as they could to the edge of anarchy without becoming an onslaught of noise; he's come a long way since the enthusiastic spazzouts I saw at the Vancouver Complication, now actually channeling his furies through his equipment, rather than assaulting his equipment with same.

The Furies by Femke van Delft

As steeped in The Tradition as Arnett may be, tho’ - because the VU, the Stooges, the MC5, the first Modern Lovers album, etc., all hover in the background of what the three-piece does - there is also something utterly unique about’em, some recombination of elements that is distinctly theirs. (Maybe I should reread T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Indivdual Talent" and apply it to the Furies' music; that would be fun, eh? "We dwell with satisfaction upon [Chris Arnett's] difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach [Chris Arnett] without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead [rock musicians], his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.") I didn't quite understand the references to Jimi Hendrix during the night, but no matter... The band didn’t so much as slow down when violence erupted in the moshpit, some guy knocking another down in a flurry of fists, which made a bit of extra space up front for seated folks like me to see the stage (I think it was wendythirteen I overheard saying, “there’s nothing like a bit of emo to thin the crowd.”) Looks like some people needed a more radical catharsis than I did...

Unflattering tho’ it may be, tho’, my favourite song in the Furies’ set is also a cover: their adaptation of a certain Moldy Peaches tune, “Vancouver is Like a Graveyard,” which - I think I’ve said this before - has gotta be THE song for the 2010 Olympics, the equivalent in wit and downtrodden moral righteousness of the Spores’ “Expo in BC.” Yeah, fuck these “tombstone skyscrapers” and Yuppie dreams: Arnett, with a troglodyte’s glee, provides a musical club with which to smash up some of the most contemptible of this city’s bullshit.

John Werner, Taylor Little, and Chris Arnett of the Furies, by Femke van Delft

After their set, a certain sometimes-editor of mine, his hair down and his breath smelling of eau du Cobalt, ranted outside the bar about wanting to leap around the venue slapping people: “DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LISTENING TO? DON’T YOU REALIZE WHO THIS IS? WAKE UP!” Yep. Bassist/drummer Dave Chokroun, leaning back with a smoke, commented that he’d never seen Furies’ bassist John Werner so animated. As I contemplated whether the Skytrain was still running, several of us were regaled with the random hostility of a Native woman who seemed to be growling at us, as she passed, that soon “the Europeans will be Gandhi.” (That’s what it sounded like she said; unless I was mishearing a word in her language, she must have meant that we’d be “gone,” tho’ frankly I can’t tell which is more unlikely - that we’ll all leave or start behaving like Gandhi. I wouldn’t hold my breath on either count). Given that the last time I’d seen Chris onstage, he was wearing a “No 2010 Olympics on Stolen Native Land” shirt, I’d have to say that her rage, understandable as it may be, was misguided in its particulars; in fact, in the one new Furies’ song Chris debuted as part of his set, there was even a lyric about how “the Indians are out to kill the white man.” Though that’s all I could really make out, I can’t imagine it was sung without sympathy.

The Cobalt is a font of grubby virtue, in our increasingly shiny, happy, nihilistic little town - as long as you don’t mind the occasional punch up, the occasional ranting streetperson outside, or the florid crotchy smell. Too bad I had other things to do on the 23rd, or I'd have gone to see the Rebel Spell there too - another local favourite o' mine. Having jokingly compared them to primates in my Skinny review, I have to confess, compared to the brute passions of the Furies, they might as well be playin’ fuckin’ Bach...

Duvall Star, wendythirteen, et alia, at the Cobalt bar, by Femke van Delft

Holy fuck: I referenced Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot in a fucking Furies' review??? I need to stop this journalism shit and get back to my English lit studies, I think I'm getting restless or sumfin'.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Good news for Omar Khadr and for human rights

The Canadian supreme court has stopped just short of declaring Guantanamo Bay an illegal institution, but it's moving in the right direction. I personally would like our country to be on the right side of history on this issue.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Soundproof, Joolz, and the New Model Army: 1980's nostalgia on Youtube

So, actually, Justin Sullivan of the New Model Army is not such a hard man to get hold of after all. We spoke this weekend and I'm in the process of transcribing the interview (while paying a buddy to transcribe Nels Cline, so I can get that off ASAP... please don't even ask about the Her Jazz Noise Collective piece...). More on that later. With the NMA on my mind, I did some surfing on Youtube and found three clips of note:

A) The original trio, of Sullivan-Morrow-Heaton (RIP), playing "No Rest," in 1985. This very video clip was my first exposure in any form to the New Model Army, when it was played on Soundproof, the Shaw equivalent of Night Dreams, a 1980's cable-access TV show that I used to watch religiously. I must have seen it shortly after it was filmed - because I was still in high school, I know that, and I graduated in 1986; I taped it on my parents' VCR, and rushed into the city to buy as many of their LPs as possible (No Rest and Vengeance, at that point; I bought The Ghost of Cain when it came out). Having fallen utterly for their raw/ rough/ real look, I was so immensely put off by the professional, MTV-friendly video of "Stupid Questions" a few years later that I decided, good punk that I was, that the band had sold out - and stopped buying their albums for several years, only picking up Thunder and Consolation and all subsequent albums upon my return from Japan, in 2002; hard to believe, because it's just great (as are The Love of Hopeless Causes, Eight, and High, my three favourites of their later studio output). To Sullivan's credit, he looks uncomfortable in the extreme in the more polished video... seems to be trying to keep his back to the camera, and positively blushing in embarrassment when it finds him. The contrast between his self-presentation between these two clips, filmed within five years of each other, could not be more dramatic. (They're still an amazing live band, btw).

B) I've also been thinking of New Model Army affiliate Joolz Denby (Sullivan's partner, the cover artist for most of their albums and singles, and - among other things, a poet, novelist, and tattoo artist). She was another person to whom I was introduced via Soundproof, where I remember her reading poetry and showing off her tattoos, which were plentiful and striking even back then. Turns out that there's a clip of the various antics of the Soundproof veejays and guests on Youtube, and that Joolz appears in it, briefly popping up around 3:40 in to say the words "the womb of some ghetto virgin," from one of those readings that made such an impression (truth be known, Joolz and the New Model Army were the only bands that Soundproof really broke, for me - I already knew about most of the other bands they played, or would find out about them elsewise. The show was still invaluable - as a teeanger stuck in Maple Ridge, I seldom made it to gigs, which usually weren't all-ages and often ended after the last bus left for the 'burbs. By the way, the guy who says "I'm sober" just after the split-second of Joolz looks to be Limey Dave of Tupelo Chain Sex, who sorely need to have their back catalogue - especially Spot the Difference - re-issued on CD).

Anyhow, I hope to have something on the Furies' show last weekend up in a day or two. But then I think I need to work on some non-blog stuff, so I may be a bit invisible here for awhile.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cool Patricia Highsmith auctions on eBay

I love Patricia Highsmith (links herein are to either Wikipedia pages or auctions). Described variably as a misanthrope, an alcoholic, a bisexual, a lesbian, an antiSemite*, and/or a very strange, cruel, impossible person, Highsmith was unappreciated in her home country (she was born in Texas) and relocated to Europe, where many of her works appeared in translation before being published in English. Highsmith wrote dark, subversive tales of murder and crime, where usually the killers are the sympathetic ones; her best known book is The Talented Mr. Ripley - a subtle and rich novel somewhat dumbed-down for the film adaptation - but my favourites of hers are the early novel Deep Water - a finely-observed and psychologically rich tale of infidelity, publishing, murder and snails; her blackly funny The Cry of the Owl, in which an innocent man - who just happens to be a peeping Tom - is persecuted for crimes that he did not commit (but perhaps in some cases would have liked to); and her various stories in which pets and other "tame" animals rise up and kill their owners (in The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder, for instance, but also in the stories "The Snail-Watcher" and - tho' the snails belong to no-one in this story - "The Quest for Blank Claverengi," both of which appear in a book most often titled Eleven, but originally published as The Snail Watcher. Anyone who has a motif in her work in which snails devour people is all right by me. If you haven't read it, you should check out my tale of a bizarre coincidence involving one of those stories). I have yet to read The Tremor of Forgery, considered her finest book by many. I'm saving it for a time when I need a really good book, and can do it justice...

Anyhow, there are a couple of really cool auctions on eBay at the moment for items pertaining to Highsmith. In the 1950's, she wrote a novel called The Price of Salt; it is usually described as the first lesbian novel in history to have a happy ending. Someone is selling a first edition of it here. There is also an auction for a Bulgarian edition of Strangers on a Train, her first book, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock (tho' I gather substantial changes were made to the story). Weirdest and priciest, there is a watercolour for sale that is apparently by Patricia Highsmith's mother.

What I would really like, though - a copy of Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda, a children's book she wrote with Doris Sanders of illustrated nonsense-rhymes involving animals (yes, there is a snail - "a snail in a veil"). I do not know Highsmith's relationship with Sanders - she had many brief relationships in her life, few satisfying (kind of like, um, me); I'm not even sure which of the two illustrated it. Alas, it seldom comes up on eBay, and never on the cheap, and the affordable copies on the Abebooks link above sound like they are soiled and DJ-less, which is no good for me. Anyone shopping for me for Christmas should note how I covet this book. Alas, her bio is not very revealing about this particular work - which, apparently, she did the illustrations for, not the rhymes; nor does it mention her contribution to Exciting Comics, and tales of the superhero Black Terror...

Ahh, and here's a treat I haven't thought to seek out: Youtube footage of Highsmith, talking about her work! ... I'll leave y'all with an image of Black Terror engaged in an act of anti-Japanese propaganda, from those startling racist days of yore:

*Highsmith scores no points by me for being an antiSemite, but I still feel greater kinship with her than with almost any other human female I have heard tell of.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Music of the Week

What's been spinning this week:

Eugene Chadbourne: New Directions in Appalachian Music (pictured), with Phil Minton and Paul Lovens. Absolutely great. Am following it up at the moment with Della 5 Banger, some of his solo banjo rambles.

Diamanda Galas: Guilty, Guilty, Guilty (her new CD of songs/piano - the "Long Black Veil" cover works.

Brian Jonestown Massacre: My Bloody Underground. I can't figure out if I like this or not. Interesting sounds, interesting approach - but it almost feels like someone "faking" a sound, making weird music not as honest self-expression but as some sort of attempt to appeal to a demographic. I like bits of it, but I don't trust it. Yet. See "Just Like Kicking Jesus" on the link above (their Myspace).

Erin of Shearing Pinx and Her Jazz Noise Collective: Les Beyond. Proof that women can wank, too! (Solo electric guitar noise, some inspired bits of textural skronk and squiggling, and some stuff that just sounds like any ol' session of guitar noise. Really neat packaging, tho'!). Erin's touring with the Shearing Pinx right now, but those interested in Her Jazz stuff can come see i/i, with Peter Plett and Anju of Her Jazz, at Pub 340 tonight...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten

Y'all are paying attention, right? The newest doc on Joe Strummer will soon be playing the Cinematheque.

I am deeply happy that I got to see the Mescaleros play Tokyo twice. Much further back, still in the 1980's, I'd guess, I saw Joe with the Pogues at the Commodore. And in my teen years, I even managed to squeeze in a "Cut the Crap" Clash concert (with Joe ridiculing the people sitting in the rafters of the Pacific Coliseum for being passive spectators, when the real action was on the floor; but I'd just scored an original pressing of Triumph of the Ignoroids for a mere $10 at that little collector's record shop that used to be across from the Kootenay Loop, and I wasn't about to take it down there with me). I am very happy to have seen him play as often as I have, and very, very sad that he's gone. I appreciated his later work - especially "Get Down Moses" and almost all of the first Mescaleros album - more than a lot of the Clash stuff, truth be known. Maybe I need to spin "Yalla Yalla" this weekend...

By the way, if the girl with the Joe Strummer tattoo who sometimes worked/ works at Foundation ever reads this, I never got to talk to you again to find out whether you liked the Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros Osaka bootleg I left for you, or if, indeed, you ever received it. I think your coworkers thought I was stalking you - they were very weirdly paranoid. Anyhow, hi.

What's wrong with this picture?

Thanks to Femke for sending this on (she took it, of course). In Seattle, for the New Model Army gig last month, wherever the hell that was.

Justin Sullivan is a hard fucking man to interview, you know that? Not that I need any new projects, but I am having no luck getting something set up with him. I think I give up.
It was still a good show.

Standard Operating Procedure opens Friday, May 9

More information can be found on Errol Morris' site. The film opens tomorrow at Cinemark Tinseltown.

A belated, corrected Daniel Johnston review

Hm. The Skinny #3 is on the streets, and alas, there are a few problems with my Daniel Johnston review as it ran. They omitted my paragraph breaks, turning it into one big block of text, and they also failed to run mention of Mr. Ford Pier, who was one of the local musicians backing Daniel up (Ford explained to me at Red Cat that the band were given a list of songs to choose from from Daniel's live favourites, spent time learning them before his arrival, and then played them in a quick rehearsal with Daniel before the show; or something very close to that process). The initial error was mine: I had somehow upfucked on recognizing Ford that night, maybe because there were no members of Nomeansno to be seen anywhere around, and I've only ever seen him play opening for that band, or with (Nomeansno guitarist) Tom Holliston's own project, the Show Business Giants. Anyhow, I didn't mention him at all in my first draft (nor any other members of the pick-up band, whose names, I admit, I don't have on hand now). Not sure what ultimately happened - Ferdy Belland, music editor, says he fully intended to give credit to Ford where due, and he's not sure where the glitch arose, but - the corrected version, acknowledging Mr. Pier, did not ultimately see print.

But let's do what we can: here's the correct version, as it was supposed to be read, with Ford-namecheck restored. Call it the "director's cut."

Daniel Johnston
Richards on Richards, April 19th

Never before has buying merch seemed so like a sacrament: people lined up to buy “Hi, How Are You” t-shirts at the sold out Daniel Johnston concert on the 19th like they were gathering to dip their hankies in the blood of a martyred saint. No other designs were on offer, just the froggy little guy with the stalk eyes, available in white, black, and a pale green: I immersed myself in the surge, wondering how many other people really just didn’t much care that Kurt Cobain once wore this design, too?

Daniel offered us something truly lovely that night. An audience member in a porkpie hat, up from LA, told me that it was his third time that he’d seen Daniel since the documentary - The Devil and Daniel Johnston - came out, and that he’d never been more confident. If there were any voyeurs come to watch the fragile singer-songwriter fall apart - a contingent that I suspect made up a very slight percentage of the audience, if any at all - they certainly didn’t get what they came for, because whatever his mental health issues, Daniel knew exactly what he was doing, and did it very, very well.

Through three permutations - solo, accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, and backed by a full pick-up band - including an energetic and happy Ford Pier on one of the guitars - Daniel sang powerfully, passionately, and with - of course - utter sincerity. This didn’t stop him from offering a couple of surprisingly showmanlike “How are you all doing tonights” in between songs, though; when the cheers he received in response threatened to freak him out, he raised a hand, in a clear boundary-drawing gesture, but he didn’t panic, and he didn’t flee the stage early, as he has been known to do. He joked between songs about having a dream where someone was sentenced to death for trying to commit suicide, “and it was me!” (laughter, applause all round); he shared an anecdote about shopping for comic books, because for him - oddly the saddest moment of the night - “Christmas is every day;” and he even offered a couple of prepared one-liners (“My mother makes pancakes that are so flat, they only have one side!”). When he ran out of jokes, he apologized to the audience, and someone called back, “That’s okay - the music is fantastic!”

Songs included an energetic “Speeding Motorcycle,” an upbeat “Casper,” and passionate versions of “Walking the Cow,” “Life in Vain,” “The Beatles,” and many more. There was even a cover, a moving reading of “a song by my friend, John Lennon,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” with Daniel belting out “Hey!” with surprising force. His hands shook, but his voice was strong.

By the time the encores came around - with Daniel inviting us to sing along with him for an unaccompanied “Devil Town” and promising that true love would find us in the end, the audience - rapt, enthusiastic, respectful, come not to gawk but to worship their own somewhat inaccessible, but abundantly sentimental hearts, as reflected back to them in Daniel’s songs - were obviously wholly satisfied. After he’d folded shut his white binder of lyrics and walked off for the final time, the Richards on Richards staff wisely left the lights down for a few minutes, so the singer could hear us chanting his name, applauding, hoping for even more.

It was nice to cheer and know that it really meant something to the person receiving it.

A sweeter night I have not had in years.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Her Jazz Noise Collective and Ghost Taco at VIVO

For fans of experimental music, noise, and weirdness: the Her Jazz Noise Collective will be performing as part of the all-female Women's Studies project at VIVO tonight. Ghost Taco, I gather, will be also on the bill, though I don't know if she'll be doing her "usual" routine (involving contact mikes and her vagina; Dan Kibke tells me that at the Shitstorm Noise Festival, her performance actually caused a speaker to catch fire); she's performing with Brooch Post. Vancouver New Music's Heather Jean McDermid, aka Lee Shoal, of Ejaculation Death Rattle and the Creaking Planks is on the bill, too, "doing solo stuff with banjo & saw." And as you see, there's a bunch more. The weird women of Vancouver unite! See you there - I believe things start around 8.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side, Standard Operating Procedure, and more

Finally watched Taxi to the Dark Side, playing at the Granville 7. It's yet another film where the content - Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and human rights abuses in the so-called war on terror - is important enough that it overshadows a ham-fisted presentation: the film has, like The Unforseen, a too-emotive soundtrack, and, more seriously, vastly overemphasizes the death of a single prisoner at Bagram Airforce Base in Iraq, using the old TV-news strategem of giving us a strong central character to identify with, in this case a victim. Alas, there is only so much the film has to say about the life and death of Dilawar, the taxi driver seized, imprisoned, and handcuffed with arms stretched to the ceiling, and beaten about the legs by US soldiers at Bagram until they turned to pulp: he was someone who didn't want to work on the farm, became a taxi driver, had a daughter, and, with no solid evidence even for imprisoning him, was killed by US soldiers who believed they were just doing what they were told, as part of interrogating him. He's no more or less important than the previous prisoner killed at Bagram, in roughly the same period, who is given about a minute of screentime, or any of the individuals tortured at Abu Ghraib, whose names are not mentioned; but we cut back to Dilawar's photograph again and again, to drill home some sort of emotional connection -- see? we killed this sweet-looking young man. See? It's a trite enough approach - condescending, really, as if we're too stupid to follow the story, or too apathetic to care about it, without one specific human tragedy to hook onto - that it distracts a bit from the amazing amount of information contained in this film, which connects the dots from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield to Gitmo and thence Bagram and Abu Ghraib.

Though in the end I'd recommend Taxi to the Dark Side to anyone interested, I'm really hoping Errol Morris does a better job with his consideration of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs, and what they mean: Standard Operating Procedure, not yet playing in Vancouver. I just bumped into an article co-written by Morris on Sabrina Harman, one of the reservists shown posing with her thumb up in the torture pics, posted to the right. She describes even this photo - why she is smiling, and how "bad it looks." (Wiki article on her here). She took many of the photos herself, and, I'm reading now in the Errol Morris interview in the new Cinema Scope, actually has images from Abu Ghraib tattooed on her arms. She seems a complex woman - she's also a lesbian, and, despite her grin in this picture, clearly knew what she was doing was wrong. I'm off to read the Morris article right now... I can understand his deep need to try to figure out what the hell these photographs mean.

The Unforseen is Worth Seeing

...though it's an imperfect film - too long, too digressive, with a rather overly-emotive soundtrack and a slightly overcooked earnestness (which actually gets in the way of the points it makes), I think people concerned with development in Vancouver, the Olympics, and the ways in which we are squandering what is left of this province's natural beauty and resources would find many things of interest and import in The Unforseen, playing at the Vancity Theatre for the next couple of days. It deals with the fight to save Barton Springs in Austin Texas against the short-term, money-oriented development interests that threaten it, which, of course, win out in the end. There is enough Malick-inspired beauty between the talking heads to keep in pleasing to watch, and the Wendell Berry poem that begins it will definitely perk up your ears.
Dig the turtle, too! It made the poster!

Dreams of Leeches and Burritos

So it starts out with some sort of war in classical times; we are armor-clad, buff warriors come in a boat to do battle, and somehow our strategy is to take large, hungry leeches from one area and introduce them to the waters our enemies swim in. My character emerges as one of two lower-level soldiers who somehow get stranded in the area where the leeches are being introduced. Unfortunately, the leeches multiply with lightning speed and soon are coming for us by the thousands. My friend and I - who have quickly turned into Cheech and Chong - have to climb these vast walls, crawling with leeches, to escape the area. The Chong character gets out first, but I'm stuck behind, as Cheech, naked, surrounded by leeches, trying to make it to this one little "doorway" at the top of the wall. There is some suspense: will I get there, or be devoured by leeches? They edge ever closer as I climb, I reach...

I make it, and get out, and suddenly - I'm in front of the building where I work; the ESL school where I teach is actually the building where the leeches are. It's breaktime and students are outside on the sidewalk out front. No longer Cheech, and I assume no longer naked, I check my pockets, find myself penniless, and look around to see if anyone will by me lunch. (I'm sure no one will believe me that the building is full of leeches, anyhow).

I see Will (his second appearance in one of my dreams). I ask him if he'll get me a burrito at Steamrollers. He says sure...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cashew Auction on eBay

Priceless, but I wouldn't bid on it.

Dreams of McBean

...the fuck?

I wake up at 3AM from dreams of hanging out with Stephen McBean, of Black Mountain, Pink Mountaintops, Jerk with a Bomb, etc. There are a couple of other people there -- a bunch of us are sleeping in the same room; I'm crashing there on a narrow couch, in preparation for something that everyone is going to do the next day -- and the bearded, personable McBean and I are chatting about various things, only two items of which do I remember. Though I have not personally met the man, I did a brief phone interview with him a few months ago, about his early days on the Victoria punk scene and his job, alongside Brian Goble of the Subhumans, with the Portland Hotel Society. During that interview he mentioned - for real! - that he had Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA on, or at least near, his turntable. And I meant to follow that up with him, but I didn't - because people need to justify listening to Bruce, you know? So in the dream, I do ("What was with the Born in the USA thing?") and McBean admits that yeah, "usually the man kills the music" (ie, overpowering it, dominating it, etc). Then he tells me - this is the second thing I remember - that he has his entire record collection listed online at - which, I have checked on waking, is not a functional URL, tho' it's a great domain name if anyone wants to get on it. A Yahoo search for "Stephen McBean's record collection" is also fruitless. At about this point, some motherly type comes in and starts helping make the beds, which are at weird angles to each other. Mine is so skinny I worry that I'm going to fall off.

Then I wake up.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Giorgio Magnanensi at 1067

Just got this from the 1067 mailing list. Giorgio is director of Vancouver New Music and a very exciting composer of avant garde music; this is a great opportunity to see him in an unsual and intimate setting, leading "a large electronic ensemble from UBC and VCC through an evening of excting improvisations":

Giorgio Magananensi with Large Improvising Ensemble
Saturday May 3, 2008
10:00 pm - 1:00 am

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Iron Man: It's a Scam

I wonder how many media flunkies, toured around on junkets and corrupted into giving positive reviews of the films they see, or flat-out paid to do same, currently bepeople Rotten Tomatoes critics' roster? Tame dogs, sensitive to where advertising dollars come from, who roll over for whatever drek the industry is most hyped to promote? Because I'm really at a loss to explain why Iron Man should have a 96% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes; in a way, I would feel reassured about the state of what passes for film writing in the mainstream to discover that at least a generous helping of the yay-sayers were in some way influenced (bought, threatened, begged, whatever) to stick their thumbs up - compared to the alternative hypothesis, that the majority of these reviewers genuinely thought that this formulaic, smarmy little non-contender merited a positive review. "One of the hippest, best-written and best-directed superhero movies ever!" raves Lou Lumenick, a RT "Top Critic" affiliated with the New York Post. Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald raves that Iron Man is "an absolute blast to watch, a consummate piece of popcorn entertainment made with wit and class, and it leaves you so pumped for a sequel that it is practically guaranteed to become a huge hit!" (tell me that that isn't written as advertising copy, folks; it's even trying to hype us on part two!). "One summer blockbuster that succeeds on brains, not bombast!" - this from the oddly named Colin Covert, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune... all for an empty, predictable comic-book action film, thin compared even with Robocop, bepeopled with one-dimensional, cardboard-cutout characters, formulaic plot devices, and predictable "funny moments" that telegraph themselves minutes in advance. (Robert Downey is trying on his "flight boots" for the first time; what do you want to bet that he'll be blasted into the back wall as soon as he flicks the switch?). About the only thing I had fun with was watching a vaguely Sterling-Haydenesque Jeff Bridges, trying on a new look, bald and bushy-bearded, as the bad guy. There were a few idle chuckles, the craft of the film suited its budget, and qua film - pretending it isn't accountable to a larger reality - there wasn't anything deeply objectionable about it, at least compared to most other Hollywood action films: but God knows it doesn't accomplish anything new or unusual... It's really hard to imagine 96% of this film's pre-release viewers being genuinely THAT enthusiastic about it.
...and when the issue of the wider reality in which the film participates is raised, the picture is even grimmer, because while the film DOES supposedly critique the American military-industrial complex, isn't it reasonable to ask that, at this juncture in history - with the US using, in recent memory, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, and napalm-by-another-name in its disastrous and ill-conceived military misadventures overseas - that the ultimate evil not be found resting on the shoulders of a "bad apple" breaking the rules; that the ultimate remedy not be through bigger and better weapons technology (the Iron Man suit); and that a government agency with the word HOMELAND in it - even if it's ultimately SHIELD, and not the Department of Homeland Security - not be numbered among the "good guys?" I mean, I realize we're talking about a comic book adaptation, here, but the film, in being partially set in Afghanistan, PRETENDS to deal with real issues, and probably represents the most thinking the majority of its viewers will do this week on the American weapons industry; isn't it reasonable to ask it to be just a little more honest, a little more provocative, a little more critical of the current administration than it is? I mean, it's no fucking wonder that George W. Bush got elected TWICE - if he did - if this is what people actually pay to consume in the United States; Goebbels himself couldn't do so well.
We can only hope, as the film enters wide release, the word-of-mouth will spread and the sharper-edged critics out there will speak up. It'd be interesting to see if the Tomatometer dips in the next few weeks, actually, as a wider audience gets out to see the film. My guess is that it will, but who knows?