Friday, February 27, 2009

Pontypool tonight! Bruce McDonald in person at the Cinematheque... plus Zbigniew Karkowski at the Front

Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, Roadkill, Highway 61, The Tracy Fragments... and many others) will be on hand to introduce his new film, Pontypool, at the Cinematheque tonight! Based on a well-praised novel by Toronto's Tony (not Anthony) Burgess, it's some sort of zombie movie with what sounds like an oddly Burroughsian twist, dealing with a radio shock jockey - played by Stephen McHattie, a fine character actor best known to current movie viewers, I suppose, as the thug who gets his face blown off in Viggo's coffee shop in A History of Violence - whose broadcasts may or may not be contributing to a town being overrun by zombies, caused by a language-related virus. Or something like that! I ain't seen it yet, either, but damn it sounds promising! A theatrical release will follow shortly, but Bruce is only around for tonight's screening, that I know of...

Of course, those of you off to see Zbigniew Karkowski at the Western Front this eve are excused from attending... EDR/ G42 member Dan Kibke recently played on a bill with Karkowski and former Vancouverite Kelly Churko in Vancouver. As for tonight's show, the RITA and a Japanese guy whose name I have not yet internalized with also play... Should be really good. I will not, alas, be there... Karkowski is doing something else on Sunday - a workshop at VIVO, I think - but you'll have to track that down on your own. Fact is, I'm having internet connectivity issues and may not be around to blog this weekend... This may be it for now!
Rich Hope was great last night!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Mini-LP Format

You know what feels really silly now that I've gone back to owning LPs? The "mini-LP" CD format. I mean, I got all excited, f'rinstance, to find the Stooges' Fun House in an exact-repro gatefold (but shrunk down to CD size); I bought it even though I already had Fun House around on CD, just for the packaging, because it came so close to duplicating the original LP's art and such. But now I *have* the original LP again (or at least a nice 180 gram repress of it, which suffices), and I wonder, given how easy it is to get the LP, why I ever cared about getting a mini-version of it? What sense does buying a reproduction of the artefact make, when the artefact itself is still available? It's kinda strange...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Noteworthy Docs New on DVD

Ukrainian miners, Workingman's Death

Two very interesting, and highly complimentary, films have just come out on DVD, which anyone interested in documentaries should seek out. Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death shows workers in harsh conditions - like a Nigerian open-air slaughterhouse or an Indonesian sulfur mine. The film is, on the one hand, disturbing and depressing, as you contemplate the conditions that working people are enduring in our current state of globalized industry; feeling a twinge of shame to think of the times you've complained about your cushy job (and perhaps a new sense of gratitude for your class privileges, such as they are) will be one inevitable reaction to seeing this film. As unsettling as some of its images may be, however, Workingman's Death is also highly compelling, showing you (with at times gorgeous cinematography) much that one simply does not see, or think about, otherwise. It is often also strangely beautiful, in much the same way as Burtynsky's images of industrial sites are beautiful. As I remember the film - I have also written about it here - there is little commentary; it is before all else a visual document, a work of cinema, an invitation to look, and to learn by looking; Frederick Wiseman's films are positively talky by comparison. There is, however, a really cool soundtrack by John Zorn, for those whom that might excite... I'm very happy this film is out on DVD, tho' it isn't being stocked locally in many places as of yet, so I haven't had a chance to see it. (I believe Happy Bats has a rental copy). Now for domestic releases of Slumming and Megacities...

Nigerian slaughterhouse, Workingman's Death

Also fascinating is the German doc Our Daily Bread, which is being stocked at Videomatica and HMV and perhaps elsewhere. Director and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter captures images of the industrial production of food; the fascination lies largely in how utterly alien and alienated most of the labour we see seems, even in the treatment of apples and potatoes (tho' there are lots of images of dead animals and/or animals caught up in utterly unnatural, mechanized, desensitized processes that Just Seem Wrong: so if you're squeamish about such things, or outraged by them, or such, you might want to bear this in mind.) This film, I'm sad to say, looks nowhere near as good on DVD as it did when projected on film at the Cinematheque, a couple of VIFFs ago, but it's still a striking and compelling experience. Even better than a John Zorn soundtrack is the fact that the soundtrack is almost entirely comprised of the sounds of the machines, tractors, animals, and such being depicted - not quite as engaging as the soundtrack for James Benning's RR, which is a lush aural banquet (mostly of train sounds), but a very interesting experience no less. As with Workingman's Death, it is a film that is no less beautiful and compelling for how strange and horrible it is at times. If you enjoyed the images in Manufactured Landscapes but thought there was too much exposition, you will admire the choices made by the filmmakers for both of these films... regardless of how else you might feel at the sometimes bizarre and objectionable things you see.

Pigs, Our Daily Bread

Movie News

A few bits of news of relevance to cinephiles:

1. New Yorker Films, an important distributor of foreign and arthouse fare, has gone under.

2. Zabriskie Point, a favourite film of mine and a hard-to-see Antonioni, will finally be distributed on DVD in North America. And some cool Criterions have been announced - In the Realm of the Senses, The Friends of Eddie Coyle...

3. If you've missed it, Bruce McDonald will be introducing his new film, Pontypool - a zombie/ language virus movie (?!) with Stephen McHattie (!) - at the Cinematheque on Friday. Hope to have more on that soon! Also upcoming at the Cinematheque: a one-day only screening of Carol Reed's terrific Odd Man Out, starring James Mason; and a screening of the Canadian experimental film Wavelength, which I'll be happy to see cinematically. The Cinematheque's new website is a bit odd for me still, so I'll note more when I snag the new program (out now); there's probably stuff I'm missing.

4. Vancity Theatre-wise, it might be interesting to see Miller's Crossing on the screen again - it's been a long time - tho' my enthusiasm for that film soured when I discovered just how much it owes to Dashiell Hammett, a debt not acknowledged in the film's credits. And then there's the Hockey Nights in Film series, opening on March 9th with Slap Shot, a film I have not seen in years, but would love to experience communally. There's more to that, too - check the link... Tom Charity has replaced Mark Peranson as programmer for the Vancity, so it'll be interesting to see what April holds at that theatre...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DVD region codes are a pain in the bloody bum

I will end this piece of writing by tellin' y'all about a relatively easy way to get a decent region-free DVD player. Feel free to scroll to the bottom to get at it; the rest is just me giving some background and venting an opinion or two.

First off, do y'all understand what I mean by "regional coding" of DVDs? Skip this paragraph, if so - I figure I need to set up some sort of explanation. DVD distributors (or whomever the exact capitalist culprit is here) want to be able to control what you can see. If a big American film that has played here and made it onto DVD has not yet been theatrically distributed in Europe, or Japan, or Australia, for instance, they don't want Europeans, or Japanese, or Australians, etc., to be able to just buy the American DVD for the film online and watch it, since that could cut into the profits for the theatrical distribution of the film in that region, and undercut local DVD distribution deals; they want Japanese to buy Japanese DVDs, Europeans to buy European DVDs, Australians to buy Australian, and Americans to buy American, when the film gets its official release in that country, and not before. So regional coding has been introduced to most DVDs; almost every DVD you rent or buy has been coded for the region that it is bought and sold in, and can only be played on DVD players that have that same regional code (which, in North America, is "region 1"). All DVD players are technically capable of playing any DVD - the coding is something that is programmed into the player after it is manufactured, to correspond with the area where it will be sold, and can thus be also removed, if you know how to do it; but this information is not made "officially available," and it appears that when hacks that do unlock certain DVD players make their way online, some companies actually go so far as to alter the way the coding is programmed in, so the hack no longer works. There are cheapie DVD companies that circumvent the entire process and offer region-free DVD players, like VJ Tech (the best price for which I've found is Konbiniya, the Japanese convenience store/ video rental shop on Robson near Bute - though you have to be a member to get the best price, which is around $75); but players like these are made in China by small companies without much of a reputation to maintain, and seem like a dodgy product at best. My one experience with VJ Tech soured me on the idea of using any such equipment, since the machine "swallowed" the DVD I put into it, due to shoddy manufacturing; the DVD tray took the DVD in, refused to play it, and when I pressed "eject," the tray came back out empty again, the DVD being stuck so firmly in the guts of the machine it couldn't be removed without opening the machine up and forcing it out, ultimately destroying the disc (which, thank God, was cheap and easy to replace). A friend whose VJ Tech did work had it die after about a year, so they hardly seem built to last. I have heard that many European DVD players are now programmed to be region-free, since the European market for DVDs made in the USA is sizeable, but in North America - where consumers are ignorant and mostly content to choose between the products that are easily available to them, regional coding remains the rule.

None of this would be an issue if it weren't for the fact that many movies that I care about have never been distributed in North America, and may never be. I currently own about five non-region-1 DVDs: an English DVD of Sir Peter Brook's King Lear (with Paul Scofield as Lear); a French DVD of Bertrand Tavernier's terrific La Mort En Direct (aka Death Watch), with Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton, and Max von Sydow -- the European cut of which is substantially different from (and far superior to) the old American VHS/laserdisc release; an Australian DVD of Gregg Araki's Nowhere; a French DVD of the Italian film Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain, a gritty, violent romance that John Cassavetes got Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands co-starring roles in when seeking financing for Husbands. (I also have a Japanese version of Brian de Palma's The Phantom of the Paradise, but that is available here; I bought the Japanese version because it was cheap!). There are various other DVDs that tempt me from other regions that I have not yet bought - there have been European DVD releases of Cassavetes' Husbands, Love Streams, A Child is Waiting, and the out-of-print-in-North-America Minnie and Moskowitz, none of which I have as yet, and a release of an intriguing-sounding Billy Wilder film with Marlene Dietrich called, if I recall, A Foreign Affair. There's even been a (possibly illegitimate) Euro release of the Canadian horror film Rituals, with Hal Holbrook, which is a film I'm very fond of, tho' last I checked it was out of print and pricy; that film is only available in North America in a hacked up "public domain" version that is best avoided. Some of these films I've held off on buying - I'm convinced that eventually the Cassavetes films will see release here, for instance, and have VHS editions and such to tide me over in the meantime - but in the cases of the ones I have bought (through international sellers on eBay or via Amazon France), I'm simply not willing to wait however many years it will take for a proper region 1 release. I mean, why the hell should I? - so an American company will get my money, rather than a European one? Why would this matter to me at all - particularly when it's often the American company that has decided not to bother with the local distribution of the film?

Since I don't want to gamble with cheap region-free players, when my previous DVD player died a few weeks ago, I was left with the option of finding brand name players that have hacks available online. The best site to look for player hacks is probably this one, DVD Video Help; however, there are tons of machines out there that have no hacks available, and of the hacks posted, it turns out many won't work - perhaps because the hack only applies to a certain region where the machine is bought, perhaps because the manufacturers have changed the leaked codes to protect their product, or perhaps because some of the hacks provided are untested and wrong, or flat-out disinformation posted by someone who wants you to buy the machine, but doesn't *really* want to tell you how to hack it. I attemped to hack a Samsung DVD-6800 that I'd bought at London Drugs because I'd found a supposed hack on the DVD Video Help site. It didn't work. I got on the phone with Samsung - their 1-800 help line -and found them utterly unwilling to help me; I talked to two different operators, and was treated like I was trying to do something illegitimate or immoral. Both refused to give me any other phone number I could call; there are surely people in Samsung who know the hacks, but they will not share, since "it is not something we support." (Such care for customer satisfaction was truly touching). For two past DVD players I've used - a Curtis and an Akai, both now defunct - I was able to piece together the hacks by following those for similar models and brands, but not the Samsung. Two hours of frustrated attempts to unlock the machine left me fuming, and I had no choice but to return the player to the store, vowing never to buy Samsung products again.

Today at Future Shop, I picked up an LG player (the DV380H-N), having been assured that it would be hackable. Unfortunately, the hack for this one was a little more complicated. There are several people who suggest for this and similar models that you can reprogram the player by entering various combinations of numbers on your remote control, but none work; the hack that does work requires the downloading of a file from the Internet, which you have to burn onto a CDR. The file is identified as KPCJ-19_1.dvd; you can find it here or here, at least until those sites go down (in which case I'd just do a search for the file name, since I imagine, given how useful it is, it will continue to surface online). Download the file, unzip it as necessary, and burn it onto a CDR (not a DVD-R) using Nero or other burning software; Windows will apparently not burn it correctly. I asked a buddy with more IT experience than I have to do all this for me, since I lacked a CDR and was having trouble opening the file, but the remaining steps are apparently as follows:

- place file "kpjc19_1.dvd" in folder "SCARLET" (case sensitive)

- place folder "SCARLET" into folder "RMTM0000"

- write the CD-R in ISO format (again, using Nero or such).

- put the CD-R in the DVD player

- when the menu appears, select '0' for region free code (it will ask you the 'new region' you are switching it to)

- finally, as you will be instructed, press PAUSE to save the new region coding

This seems to work just fine - I tested one of my Region 2 DVDs and it played (which it hadn't done before I applied the hack), as did the Region 1 DVD I tried thereafter. It seems ridiculous to me that I should have to go through all this subterfuge to be able to watch the movies I want to watch - regional coding really makes no sense at all, unless perhaps one is talking about some blockbuster film that a given distributor could stand to lose millions on if it leaked to an overseas market ahead of its release; these are hardly the sort of films that cinephiles are seeking out from other regions, however. One hopes that companies like Samsung (or Sony or Toshiba or whomever you wish to name) will eventually realize that they are only hurting themselves by not meeting consumer demands. And if you want to offer them a little fuck-you, next time you're shopping for a DVD player, make sure you CAN find a workable hack for it to make it region free, so if there ever is a European or Japanese or Australian DVD release that you care about, you can watch it without any corporate asshole interfering. If the player has no hack, or if the hacks don't work - take it back to the store, and make sure the sales clerk and the product support people at the company who made the machine KNOW that that's what you're doing.

The LG player seems pretty nice, actually, if you're in the market for a player you can easily make region free. They're at Future Shop for $75. The product support guys at LG didn't actually help me unlock the player, but at least they didn't register their disapproval that I was trying to do so! (The guy I talked to had a region-free player himself, apparently...).

(Oh, by the way, there is also the possibility that your TV will reject a PAL-formatted disc - your DVD player may play it, but the picture could roll. There isn't much that can be done about this, alas! Some TV's just don't like PAL formatting, which is standard in Europe. I don't have the wherewithal to explain all that, tho'; there's nothing that can be done, in that case. I'm lucky to have a TV that's both PAL and NTSC friendly).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers: are you ready for the country?

Rich Hope and his Blue Rich Rangers by Marc L'Esperance

Thanks to my parents, my first musical love was country music. They'd brought me to see Johnny Cash (yay!) and Charley Pride (boo!) long before I ever dragged them to a concert of my choosing (like, say, Billy Joel or Styx, believe it or not - I mean, I was 12 or sumfin', give me a break). Before getting my first ostensibly "rock" album (Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits), I'd owned, in my preteen years, three different Johnny Horton albums and knew all the words to "Sink the Bismarck," "North to Alaska," "Whispering Pines" and more. I didn't really know what a honky tonk was, but it was through Horton's song, "Honky Tonk Man," that I first heard the term - years before I knew Hank Williams' tune, "Honky Tonkin'," or Townes Van Zandt's cover thereof. When I finally discovered metal and then, around age 13 or 14, punk rock (via the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks), I grew so embarrassed of my childhood fondness for country music (and almost anything else that my parents liked - I was that sort of teenager) that I disowned the form and spent most of my teens and twenties dissing it, and anyone associated with it: Kenny Rogers my ass. It took years of hearing great country covers by the likes of Eugene Chadbourne to lure me back to the fold. (Jonathan Richman's Jonathan Goes Country played a small role, too).

Surprisingly, given his obvious reverence for the form, Vancouver guitarist and bluesman Rich Hope has charted a similar path. "My dad was totally into Willie and Waylon and the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo when I was young. Willie and Family Live was a staple in my house. I always really dug it. By way of that, I was exposed to all the old Nashville stuff, too. I went through a period in my 20's when I didn't listen to it much, but when I met Chris Read and Adrian Mack" - from Rich's previous band, John Ford - "back in '97, they were totally on that trip and it came full circle. It hasn't left me since."
Rich Hope and His Evil Doers by Cindy Metherel

Rich's bandmate Adrian Mack, too, was turned on to country music by his father. "We moved to Toronto from England in '68 and he got to catch George Jones, Buck Owens, a lot of the greats, which he still brags about. Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were enormously important to my dad. So I caught the bug from him and honestly it never really left me. There was no 'return' for me. We moved back to England in '78 and I was a punk but I didn't ever stop with the country music, which just baffled my friends. Then my dad laid Gram Parsons on me when I was 17, and I still remember the day. He had this weird comp that I've never seen again with liner notes by Elvis Costello, and suddenly my thing for country wasn't awkward and perpendicular to my thing for punk. They could live together."
Evil Doer Adrian by Cindy Metherel

Adrian drums with Rich's main project, Rich Hope and His Evil Doers, a bad-ass blues boogie/rock band that would be at home in any honest-to-goodness honky tonk. The band have a new CD coming out this summer on Sandbag Records. "I think the record is the most focused one I've made," Rich tells me, "as far as being a statement of what it is that I do. We had a two-take mandate. With what we're doing, anything else just kills the vibe. As Neil Young is wont to say, 'if you think, you stink.'" Rich's favourites on the new album include "Death Bed Blues" and "When My Light Comes Shining". "The first one came out of a riff that had been plaguing me for two years. By that I mean that liked the sound of the chords, but the refrain in my head didn't make any sense. I would occasionally play it in a show and vamp the lyrics. On the day I was to sing the track in the studio, I worked out what it meant and wrote the lyrics over coffee and breakfast. The other one is a gospel song, for all intents and purposes. Again, another great riff with a lyric that didn't quite have a home. I put up the antennae for a while and the lyrics came on the day I was to record it. We did that one right off the floor, top to bottom. Then, The Sojourners came and sang backups. They're this fantastic gospel trio and they just made it."

Rich Hope and His Evil Doers have "a big gig as part of VANOC'S Cultural Olympiad at The Biltmore with The Sadies on March 14" - he jokes about how the band will be "going for the gold." Rich is a powerful live performer, a hot guitarist, and I'm sure it'll be great; this coming Thursday night at the Railway Club, however, you have a chance to hear Rich do a set of country covers (and the odd original) with his "for fun" side-project, Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers, who, I must confess, actually excite me quite a bit more (sorry!). Tho' I have watched many a finely-formed female ass shakin' enthusiastically to Rich's workouts with the Evil Doers, and appreciate their energy, chops and enthusiasm, the country tunes Rich plays with the Blue Rich Rangers carry a greater - shall we say - existential payload, and are more condusive to ruminating over a beverage than ass-shaking, which is more my speed (tho' people are known to two-step to their songs, hence the tendency to call Rich's Railway gigs "Two-Step Thursdays").

Besides, the Blue Rich Rangers set comprises an invaluable education to relative country noobs like myself. Far from it counting against the band that most of their set is comprised of cover tunes, I'm getting to hear great songs that I never knew existed. The only tune I can remember actually identifying the two times I've heard Rich and His Blue Rich Rangers play was "Wallflower," by Bob Dylan. I have to ask Rich who wrote most of the others. "There Stands the Glass" is by Webb Pierce (who?) and "Blue Eyes" - the song about marriage, with the lyric about having "chores to keep me busy," is apparently by Gram Parsons' first band, The International Submarine Band, whom I confess, at the risk of ruining all credibility with Rich and Mack, to never having heard of (I only know my Flying Burrito Brothers at all because Eugene Chadbourne, when he played the Cobalt with Han Bennink, did a cover of "My Uncle," the song about a draft dodger heading to Vancouver to hide out; hearing Eugene do it prompted me to buy my first and only CD with Gram Parsons on it then. Yes, folks, I don't even own any Byrds records. None!). As for other covers, Rich informs me, "We've been doin' 'Why Baby Why' by George Jones lately," he thinks the band may do "Girl on a Billboard" by Del Reeves, "and our unofficial sixth member, Jenn Bojm (Jenny Bomb Ranger) has been ripping out a version of 'Jolene' that'll make a man weep." (Isn't that a Dolly Parton tune? I think I know that one through the Geraldine Fibbers. Coincidentally, my appreciation of Willie Nelson derives almost 100% through ex-Fibbers Carla Bozulich and Nels Cline's Red Headed Stranger CD; almost all my country music is second-hand).
Rich Hope and His Evil Doers by Cindy Metherel

In addition to Rich, Mack, and Jenn, the Blue Rich Rangers include John Ford's last guitarist, Scott Smith, on pedal steel and electric guitar, and Ben and Tony LaBorie of The Still Creek Brothers, another band I don't know (though they're playing March 13th at Falconetti's).
Opportunities for further investigation are staggering. To get a bit of direction, I asked both Rich and Adrian what country album they would recommend to punks and music freaks who have been reluctant to embrace the form, and are seeking inviting waters in which to dip their toes. (My recommendation, incidentally, is Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs by Marty Robbins - his songs have great craft to them, and much charm, even if they may produce the odd chuckle or seem a bit dated or naive to the more jaded ear. "El Paso" is the single, and has a cool video of the extended version, but I prefer the pathos of "They're Hanging Me Tonight" or the storytelling of "Big Iron" or "The Strawberry Roan" - a song almost entirely about getting thrown from a horse!)

Mack, faced with the question, says, "the answer needs to be tailored for each individual, but since it has traditionally been my job to turn young, rock-loving men and women on to country music, then Waylon Live is an excellent starter because it has so much badass, coked-up energy, and sounds like nothing else on earth. It sits well with other less polite genres. It's cool." Mack once had the privilege of watching Waylon Jennings from backstage, he reports ("Security wasn't all that tight..."); he also managed to talk his way into meeting Buck Owens in 1980's London. (Wasn't he on Hee Haw?).

Rich, meanwhile, recommends John Fogerty's Blue Ridge Rangers record - the name of which project bears a non-coincidental similarity to that of the band Rich will be playin' in on Thursday (click the link to further compare the album cover with the Blue Rich Rangers poster). "He did it all himself in about '74 or so," he tells me. "It's all covers, but he brings that kind of rock thing to them that only he could bring. Most kids end up being fans of CCR and I think it would be good transitional album."
It's a shame my father's not much up for travelling these days - I get the feeling he'd really appreciate Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers. We spent the weekend listening to old-timey, big band jazz and country tunes as he and my mother and I played Scrabble; I even played them one of the songs off Rich's Myspace, and my Dad liked Rich's voice. Hm... Maybe I could lure Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers out to Maple Ridge sometime? There's gotta be a bar out there that books country bands... It's Maple Ridge, for godsake!

Thanks to Marc L'Esperance for the use of his terrific pic of Rich, above; check out Marc's domain here!
See y'all Thursday!

Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers by Mya Brown

CD Reissues of Note: Flipper, Volcano Suns (...and the Spores!)

Funny about CDs: now that I'm "back on vinyl" (thanks largely to Dan Kibke and Mats Gustafsson), they suddenly feel like an archaic format. I mean, people will still be using them years from now, to be sure - they're useful as a means of data-storage and transfer, handy as a way of playing music portably if you lack an MP3 player or such, and they're a cheap way for bands to present their music to people, as a sort of "audio calling card" - but compared to vinyl, they feel oddly outmoded and unworthy of respect, small crappy little plastic things that have had their time and are on the way out. It's kind of strange that they're still being manufactured - I can't really say "sold" - in such number. While I understand why specialty shops like Zulu, Scratch, and Red Cat continue to do okay, as I assume they are doin', catering to hardcore music freaks like "us" who are a) often artifact-oriented and b) always on the prowl for "new stuff" - I walk through HMV in a state of wonder that it's still even open; they've lasted longer than I figured, but I sure I hope they aren't counting on their scanty customers to pay their rent! At least 75% of the CDs on their shelves is stuff I can't conceive of people buying in the first place, mind you: mainstream product from the fat end of the long tail, or the simple product of ossified corporate non-hipness (they don't have an "avant-garde" section, but they have a pretty big "easy listening" one - do you figure there's a lot of people on the prowl for Lawrence Welk these days?). It amuses me even more that they're stocking vinyl and books now, too; the Virgin Megastore, in that location, used to, but they were both things that HMV got rid of when they moved in...

However, there are still occasional CD reissues of note to old punks like me. Flipper's back catalogue came back into print late last year, much to the chagrin of eBay sellers. There was a time when they were being hailed as proto-grunge (and their upcoming album features Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, though I gather he has since left the band). Really, though, Flipper - noisy, sludgy, sloppy old Flipper - seem more of a genetic aberration than something that spawned successful progeny, a branch of the punk evolutionary chart that has very few sub-branches. The buck stopped with Flipper, and that's probably not a bad thing; they were pretty messed-up! Still, it's great to have Gone Fishin' and Public Flipper Limited again, both of which I always preferred to Generic Flipper, which is a tad obnoxious at times, for all its grand moments ("Shine"). Not that I didn't snap up Generic Flipper as well. My favourite Flipper moments are the overproduced (relative to their sound) art-rock of Gone Fishin' - check out "Survivors of the Plague" or "One by One" or "In Life My Friends." And I'm really fond of the depressed, depressing, epic slouch of songs like "Hard Cold World" and "If I Can't Be Drunk" on the live album; lyrical images talking about being a ship "half-sinking, half-sailing" worked their way into my angsty teen self-definition, and the sheer masochistic joy of a song like "The Wheel" (with its screamed sole lyric, "I am the wheel") somehow has an ultimately strengthening effect - character-building, say, like beating yourself with a belt (I did that when I was younger, sometimes, too). None of it sounds quite as exciting to me as it did then, I confess - at least some of what seemed "musically adventurous" to me in the 1980's now seems dangerously close to "really bad playing" - but having this stuff around in some format or another is essential; it's like re-growing a missing limb, so the phantom itches and twinges are finally attached to something again. Now: do I want to get the vinyl reissues too? (4 Men with Beards put out great stuff and should have 180 gram Flipper vinyl out in early March).

Much as I'm grateful that Flipper's back catalogue is back together, there are a couple of other re-releases this month that I'm even more excited about: the Volcano Suns' Bright Orange Years and my fave of theirs, All Night Lotus Party, which I bought in the 1980's at Odyssey Imports simply because I liked the cover (above). The Volcano Suns were a spastic offshoot of Mission of Burma, led by drummer Peter Prescott. When reviewing Mission of Burma's last show in town for The Skinny, I called Prescott a "perverse and fearless tribal imp whose algebra devolved at a slightly faster rate than the rest of the bands’, sucking them down into the maelstrom like an anchor plunged into insanity for long mid-song freakouts of pure spazz," in a sentence I remain rather fond of. Unlike those of you who might know of them only as a MoB side-project, my primary association with the Volcano Suns is, in fact, the Volcano Suns, whom I caught at the Cruel Elephant back in the day, touring, I think, Bumper Crop (the next album of theirs I hope gets a CD reissue, though it may be asking too much. Career in Rock, their other essential album, is in fact available on CD, though you'll have to scour used stores for it or such). I saw lots of bands at the Granville Street location of the Cruel Elephant: the Dwarves, the Melvins, Tankhog, All, Helmet, and more. Of them all, the only gig that I still talk about, or have anything like a clear memory of, is the Volcano Suns. The place, not long for that location, was literally falling apart; water was streaming from the roof from the rain outside, dribbling into big white buckets spaced about onstage. The overhead lights had burned out - the show was mostly floor-lit, and steam was rising from those lights - and every now and then the stage or the pit would receive a glop of sodden insulation, plopping down from the ceiling. Amidst this all, heedless of the possible (and highly tangible) danger of electrocution, the band played, shirtless and damp and fearless and ferocious, with Prescott singing from the drumkit (a feat I always find amazing); it was one of those concerts that feel forever like more than a concert, and I can still remember my happiness to hear some of the songs from All-Night Lotus Party (like "Walk Around") being played. I think I can fairly say that I remember that show more vividly than I remember the first time I had sex (sometime thereafter, truth be known) - it was certainly the more intensely physical experience. So no matter that I've already snapped up All Night Lotus Party off eBay on vinyl: I've got the CD reissue, too, now, and man is it good. There are abundant outtakes and bonus cuts - including a deeply twisted "dub" version of "Walk Around" that has to be heard to be believed - and I've been walking around singing "Room With a View" to myself, almost feeling like I'm 19 again (except nowhere near as depressed or confused, thank fuck). I barely know The Bright Orange Years, so that's a fun experience, too. Now how about a Volcano Suns tour, Peter? (I even have an old Volcano Suns t-shirt I can wear, though I'd have to lose 50lbs to fit into it).

And to pay tribute where its due, all three of the Flipper CD reissues that I bought and both the Volcano Suns ones were snapped up at HMV. (They appear to have gotten them before anyone else, believe it or not).

I'll have more to say about CD reissues next month - it's approaching time that I publicly enthuse in a local format about the Spores' News Weather and Spores comp on Sudden Death, which I'm even MORE excited about than the CDs above - but I'll wait until a certain magazine publishes my Spores piece, so I can plug two birds with one blogpost. Besides - fungus needs to grow quietly in the dark for a long time before it's ready to stick its head out into the world...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chris Walter article in the Georgia Straight, plus New Creation, Rich Hope

Chris Walter reads at the Cobalt, by Femke van Delft

Hm! This week's Georgia Straight is just chock-full o' content by me: an article on Chris Walter plus a Music Note on the New Creation (which details the surprising results of the auction that I let people know about here. I personally crapped out of bidding for that album around the $300 mark, by the way). Right now, tho', I want to read what Sir Adrian Mack has to say about Bruce Springsteen...
Speakin' of whom: fans of Mack or of country music are further advised that there's a Two-Step Thursdays at the Railway coming up on the 26th, with Rich Hope and his Blue Rich Rangers (w/Mack on drums); nevermind the badass bar-band blues boogie of the Evil Doers, this is the project o' Rich's (IMHO, o' course) that gets at the meat, the bleedin' heart and soul of things - the heartbreak and alcohol and struggles with love and life: if it ain't therapeutic, then you ain't been around long enough to need it.

Muntadhar Al-Zeidi update

Muntadhar Al Zeidi has appeared in court in Iraq. He's the journalist who threw his shoes at Bush, and now faces a possible fifteen years in jail, despite all manner of public support. I actually never did submit photos of myself to Bob Ostertag's "Throw My Shoes, Too" Flickr site - I had an opportunity to get a pic taken, and I missed it, because I wasn't wearing the shoes I wanted to throw... Anyhow, I'd read somewhere that Al Zeidi had fled his home country for France, but it's clearly not true; he has been in Iraqi custody the whole time, and says he has been tortured... I wonder if Al-Zeidi would be facing the same sentence if he'd thrown a pie?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Masturbating, Shitting Animals of Youtube

Pardon me for noting it, but y'know, Youtube can get pretty strange? I mean, "Kangaroo Self-Pleasure?" "Koala Masturbating?" Fucking "Walrus Masturbating?"

Then there's the subject of hippo poo. Apparently, hippos rapidly wiggle their tails from side to side to disperse their feces. See here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples (the last two are underwater!). How could I never have seen this before?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wendy and Lucy - a great American film that I won't recommend to most people

The audience at Cinemark Tinseltown didn't seem to appreciate Wendy and Lucy very much tonight. Throughout the screening, most of the handful of fellow attendees offered misplaced titters and chuckles, and even an unfortunate "eww" during a scene where Wendy (Michelle Williams) "kisses" her dog (something I'm sure every dog owner has done - hardly abnormal behaviour; alas, this gesture from the heckler came at a heartbreaking moment in the film, serving as an index of just how little emotional attachment the person felt to what was going on on screen and taking any of us who were connected to the film emotionally somewhat out of that sacred space). Afterwards, indignant mutters of "four stars?" - querying some critic's view of the film - could be overheard, as well as some female viewer in the wings complaining to her friend about how it wasn't sufficient that "you're supposed to feel sorry for [Wendy] because she has no money." I guess they won't be recommending this film to their friends, and its just as well: chances are that the audience members tonight who felt antipathy to the people who told them they should see this film spend their social time with other no-neck types who would likely feel the same way. "We came here to be entertained, not to watch a sad slow film about a broke woman looking for her dog! How dare you tell me I should see this!"

Critics have been kind to this film, but for good reason: it's one of a very small handful of American feature films in current distribution (that I know of, anyhow) that counts as a serious work of cinematic art, and in the age of immoral, valueless shit like Iron Man and The Dark Knight (or ridiculous and intellectually bankrupt "critical favourites" like There Will Be Blood) that's no small measure of praise. I was actually a bit disappointed when I first saw it, during the VIFF, because I was hoping for something as fresh, as complex, as moving and as rewarding as Old Joy; it's a far more straightforward affair, following a very simple arc, and many of the things it does very well were already done by Old Joy, so there's really no way it could live up to my hopes. I downplayed mention of it during my VIFF coverage, praising Lance Hammer's Ballast instead. I still admire Ballast, but much of its drama, given a bit of distance, seems rather melodramatic; I couldn't get myself excited about seeing it again, during its recent run at the Vancity Theatre.

Wendy and Lucy, on the other hand, has grown in my estimation. It's evocation of place is amazing, trumping even Hammer's careful consideration of the Mississippi Delta; no one I know of captures so well what America looks like - or at least the America I know, including the corner of Canada where I live - as Reichardt. I still can't quite figure out if that's because she's looking at small towns in the Pacific Northwest, not unlike the suburb where I grew up, or if it's due to her finely attuned perceptions; I'd almost like to see her make a film set elsewhere, to see how well she captures other spaces - for her to become the next John Sayles, say, documenting different American regions through stories. Her eye is far more sensitive even than Sayles', tho', and besides, I only say that I'd "almost" like to see her undertake such a project: there's also a great power to the fact that she's making films about the place where she lives, capturing its moods and colours, its beauty and squalor, and if they remind me of the place where *I* live, so much the better. (Funny that my other favourite "new" American filmmaker, Robinson Devor, is also making films in the Pacific Northwest. I wonder if they know each other?).
I've been cautious, myself, in recommending Wendy and Lucy to people. I've been ridiculed so often for liking weird, sad, painful, or serious films that I've grown tired of it, and it's my unfortunate estimate of most of my friends that they would be rather bored by this film. I know exactly how it would go: I'd try to describe the film - I've taken to telling people it's about being without money in America, or maybe about the effects of compassion and/or its absence, rather than saying it's about a girl and her dog - and I can see in my mind's eye exactly the skeptical look I would get, inevitably followed by, "Would I like it?" In most cases, I'd have to sigh and honestly answer, "probably not." If only they asked me, "Would I find truth in it?" "Is it beautiful?" "Is it honest?" "Would I respect it?" "Would I profit from seeing it?" "Would I respond to it emotionally?" -- then I think I could honestly answer yes; but "would I enjoy it?" -- I mean, maybe I underestimate my friends, but I suspect that most of the people I know would side with the hecklers sitting in back of me tonight. "What, that's it? So what? I paid money for this?"
With apologies to Ms. Reichardt, then, I'm not going to try very hard to get people to see this film. I hope she understands. She has my profound respect and I hope that the positive critical response that the film has thus far garnered makes it very easy for her to make her next film. I am very curious as to what that might be. Anytime she wants to do an interview, by the way, she's welcome to contact me. I'd love to ask her the simplest questions - why does Wendy have a bandage around her ankle? How did she choose locations? What's her history with Lucy, and will Lucy be in her next film? Who is Smokey Hormel? What the hell is blowing Bill's mind, exactly? Has Ms. Reichardt herself ever shoplifted? Oh: and is the record shop that Kurt mentions in Old Joy a real place?
I fuckin' bet it is.
Hey, maybe she answers some of those questions in this online interview = a chat between her and Gus van Sant. I think I'll go read it and see.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mecca Normal... hm!

Not that I want more things to listen to, but it looks like I'm teetering on the verge of becoming a Mecca Normal fan. Last night at the Sinking Ship gig, Jean Smith offered observant, funny, sung poetic narratives, pretty easy to access but with many a clever phrase (which she would usually repeat a couple of times, 'cos she's smart) and many moments of quirky, engaging observation of human psychology and life... as David Lester played guitar, doing these odd moves where he'd raise the neck over his head, either for dramatic emphasis, undetermined musical effect, or because he's got some sort of tic. It was again accessible without bein' dull - a music of the thinkin' everyman/woman, and I found myself goin', "Hmmm... maybe I should buy MORE of their music while they've got a suitcase full of it over there." I'd enjoyed my chat with Jean, and I *was* tempted - there's a good reason why this band have managed to keep their fans interested for some 25 years - but I stopped myself (I'm trying to stop myself, lately, since I've been on a vinyl-buying binge). I contented myself with Sitting on Snaps, a 1995 LP Jean recommended as a favourite of hers, and their newest recording, The Observer. I almost winced when she handed it to me, since, she explained, "it's about online dating;" and I've been on and off PlentyofFish these last few years, coming back to try again and again with the frustration of a losing slot machine player determined that THIS NEXT BET well pay off. ("How can I lose again?"). I didn't know if I was ready for a CD's length of commentary by on the topic - particularly not from a woman's perspective, since I find my OWN sense of my behaviour online tedious and disappointing enough...

Anyhow, I've just caught myself lyin' in bed on a lazy Saturday morning, laughing aloud to one of her lyrics. I thought I'd share - you can find these and more, including those from last night's set, here:

I'll Call You

I want cold and impersonal sex
during which I'll be pretending I'm with someone else
I only care about my satisfaction
I will jerk you around
to get as much for myself as I can
If you object -- I'll be on my way

If you dare to communicate with me after I've let you know
where you stand
I will belittle you
I will disrespect you with comments
that I call 'joking' --
if you don't get it
you need to lighten up

You will play by my rules
and I'm not into telling you what my rules are

I'll call you
I'll call you

I'm very highly evolved
I'm very attractive
I have a lot of options that I am keeping open
so don't expect me to treat you as if
you're someone special
-- you're not

I'll call you
I'll call you

I'll let you know when it's your turn again
until then, let's be friends

I'll call you
I'll call you

...I hope Jean Smith doesn't mind my posting these! Though obviously the ambiguity of gendering is deliberate, I rather presume that the first couple of verses represent the male in the situation while the last represents the female. Maybe that's just the kind of women I've been hanging out with.

At one point, Smith sighed and chuckled, between songs: "I'm not bitter. I'm just single... which is probably for the best, given the options." And believe me, I know exactly what she means.

I felt the slight urge to direct her to my PlentyofFish profile (Pemmican), but thought better of it, and made my escape. People are so much easier to take when filtered through the lens of art... If you agree, you should probably go snap up Mecca Normal's The Observer. I presume it isn't that hard to find around town - and bear in mind that they have a gig coming up March 28th at the Vinegar Factory.

I'm not sure where that is, either.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Free Saturday Afternoon concert: Stockhausen's YLEM at the Culch

Almost forgot to mention while surveying the weekend's gigs - Saturday at 4:00 in the afternoon, there's a free performance at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre of Stockhausen's YLEM and other works - more info here!

Mecca Normal et alia at the Sinking Ship, Friday

Ah, gigs. Lots to choose from this weekend in Vancouver - I'm planning on taking in the "hockey improv" exhibition game between Team Sweden (headed by Mats Gustafsson) and Team Canada (led by Francois Houle) tonight at the Ironworks. Tomorrow, meanwhile, the Sinking Ship - the cool little gallery space where Mats played last Sunday, at the corner of Pender and Richards, with an alley entrance - will be hosting a gallery opening for the surreal collages of Jesse Gentes. Performers include Mecca Normal, Robots on Fire's Jonathon Wilcke, and others; Scott Aitken tells me he will be"premiering/ performing/ presenting a collage work of some of the recordings I made in India, called 'puja' which means a prayer or blessing" - this sounds pretty interesting to me. Saturday, meantime, there's a cool little Valentine's day gig at Vancouver's favourite backalley, "off the map" venue for improvised music. I'm going to leave the name of the venue unmentioned, since they've been getting hassled by the cops lately, but y'all know the place I mean, right? Members of the Sorrow and the Pity, Ahna, and Shearing Pinx appear in a "mix and match improv blender." Hopefully the cops elect to go hassle some crack dealers or monitor drunk driving teenagers or something else socially useful that night...

Dyatlov Pass

...a brief digression for those of you who like creepy stories: the Dyatlov Pass incident, as appears in the Fortean Times. (It's a bit more detailed than past articles I've read).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Holy Fucking Shit! ...Art Bergmann returns!

Your Hit Parade comes to VIVO

Here's one to check out. Curated by percussionist Jeffrey Allport (whom I've written about here)and featuring a host of improvisers and avant-gardists from Vancouver, Bellingham, Winnipeg, Boston, Paris, Berlin... and elsewhere!

VIVO Media Arts Centre and Father Zosima Presents:
Wednesday, February 18 - Friday, February 20, 2009
Tickets Available at the Door
$10 per night-$25 for three nights
VIVO Media Arts Centre
1965 Main Street Vancouver

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Sickbed of Snails

Having spent most of the morning at St. Paul's Hospital, and much of the afternoon sleeping, I woke from strange dreams involving snails. I was in Australia, visiting friends, but as they were having some sort of party I chose not to join - and since I could not quite figure out how to work the computers comfortably - I went on a walk, seeking out rare species of snails. I found an enormous one in a ditch, and picked it up. Another seemed to slip out of its shell and reveal a body like a sea slug. Later in the dream, I awakened the wrath of wild dogs, and had to run quickly back to the house, imagining myself pursued... but the highlight of the dream was observing the snails.

Of course, there is a short story by Patricia Highsmith - equally my favourite misanthrope, my favourite lesbian, and my favourite alcoholic (not to mention my favourite writer!) - about a scientist pursued by snails on a desert island. Called "The Quest for Blank Claveringi," the story was once the hub of a strange coincidence which I wrote about here. It's something of a black joke - a comeuppance for colonialist hubris, in which a scientist eager to make a name for himself by attaching it to mythical giant man-eating snails on a Polynesian island is outwitted by said snails and devoured; it's sort of the antithesis of "Lienengen Versus the Ants." I still remember my indignation on reading this bizarre story in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology that I got out of my Elementary School Library - thinking, in effect, "They put stories like this in books aimed at children? The snails EAT THE SCIENTIST! What the hell...?" (whereupon I read it again - all this years before I knew who Patricia Highsmith was; what a wonderful way to have begun my history with her writing). Highsmith - who may or may not have had Asperger's Syndrome, and certainly seems to have been a bit of an odd duck - had elsewhere written of animals kiling people, in stories where she was clearly on the animals' side; since she was, herself, a snail-breeder, given, it is said, to occasionally bringing her pet snails about with her in her handbag, it is no great stretch to imagine that she is on the snails' side in "The Quest for Blank Claveringi." Somehow this story fills me with fondness and sympathy for Highsmith - or perhaps I might even say love. I suppose I'm a bit odd, too. Anyhow, my dreams prompted me to re-read it.

And now - since my DVD player remains busted and I don't feel like digging through my boxes of VHS tapes - I'm watching snail footage on Youtube. (Can you think of a better way to spend the time when ill?). Here's some lovely, tasteful footage of snail love; snails, I've heard, are hermaphroditic and often impregnate each other during intercourse. (I've also heard, but cannot substantiate, that this process sometimes can be harmful to the snails; I'd love to know more, if any snail experts visit this site). Then there's this bizarre clip of a giant snail that must be some kind of fake, but is pleasing no less. The strangest things do not need to be faked - check out this zombie snail clip (but for god's sake steer clear of it if you're on psychedelics - you will freak).
Finally, I am unsure if this is real footage of not, of enormous snails on a person's arm - but a real giant African land snail can be seen here, in this instructional video on keeping snails as pets. I like the last line: "Have fun with your snail!"

Shit Conquers All

(This is a follow up to "On His Food Poisoning," below).

So Wednesday night, I spend puking and shivering, tossing sleeplessly in my bed.

Thursday I stop puking but am weak and achy. I manage to eat and hold down a rice cake.

Friday I eat an egg sandwich for breakfast and hold it down, but I'm noticing a certain degree of incontinence. I cough, I sneeze, I burp - and suddenly I need to change my underwear. I go through about three pair on Friday before I simply start trying to mop up the little puddles in my shorts, so at least they're dry-ish - I can't change my shorts every time, or I'll have no shorts left. Friday I feel well enough to make it to work and leave materials for my sub. Later, after a nap, I make it to McLeod's books to sell a few books, and I manage to take in a full meal at a Japanese restaurant, and hold it down; I'm assuming that things have run their course - as past experiences of food poisoning would teach.

Friday night, the symptoms aren't gone, though: they've morphed. I'm shitting yellow-green liquid every twenty minutes. My stomach gurgles and a fart threatens and by now I know that odds are 50/50 that that it will be in liquid form, so I make it to the toilet and shoot hot liquid out my ass, usually ending on a dramatic, lengthy burst of flatulence. My ass is raw from wiping. I have to wipe little bits of shit-liquid off my bathroom floor, from when I stand up to wipe and it drips off me. I end up cancelling all plans and staying home, watching Lars von Trier's The Kingdom on VHS, because my DVD player is fucked (fuck!). Then I watch George Carlin on Youtube for awhile. I try to keep hydrated - first with Gatorade, which is usually recommened to balance electrolytes; then with water, when I begin to worry that the sugar in the Gatorade is aggravating things.

Saturday morning, I wake up with the typical signs of mild dehydration - drymouth, a slight headache - and trek to the toilet, and shit still more of my endless supply of yellow-green liquid. (Was Job ever visited with food poisoning?) Poison Control tells me via the phone that it's time to go see a doctor, so I'm off for a trek to St. Paul's. It's 7AM, so hopefully the lineup of street people and addicts wanting pain meds will be thinned out a bit and there will only be truly bloodied and broken types in the waiting room with me.

St. Paul's is one of the most depressing places I've been, but no matter. I'll bring a book - This Sweet Sickness, by Patricia Highsmith, I think. It's a coincidence that the word "sickness" is in the title.

So far, all plans are off. I was supposed to be gambling at a casino today with my parents. No can do. I am still hoping to make a dinner that's planned for Sunday, but I can't be sure that it'll be possible. Two Slices of Acoustic Car, on Sunday night? Questionable. Work Monday? Well, we'll see.

Just thought I'd keep y'all posted.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Of Tony Bardach, Part Two: Slowpoke and the Smoke tonight at Falconetti's

Tony Bardach by Marc L'Esperance

Doo-wop, huh? I have no problems with it, per se: working the odd shift at Carson Books on Broadway, I've sometimes spun a copy of the Spaniels' Great Googley Moo! - a delightful experience indeed (and we've lost the cover of that record, so it'll never sell! Yay!). Listening to Slowpoke and the Smoke's loving, slightly Zappafied (but mostly pretty sincere) doo wop CD, however, the main question that struck me was, "Why?" Why would Tony Bardach - bassist for the Pointed Sticks, Vancouver punk of long standing (he was even in Victorian Pork!) and conceptual artist of repute - do doo wop?

"Because its fun!" Tony tells me. "And they let me play the guitar. I love those old songs and nobody does 'em like us either..." I've not yet seen Slowpoke and the Smoke perform live - hence my enthusiasm for the Falconetti's gig this evening. Closest I've come is watching a very smooth Bardach do a couple of songs - Johnny Rivers tunes, if memory serves - with the Frank Frink Five a few weeks ago at the Railway. It was fun - cheesy, sleazy, slightly silly, but no less delightful for any of that (and no stranger than seeing Nick Jones do Slim Whitman that same night).
Tony Bardach with the Frank Frink Five, by Femke van Delft

Late Vancouver musician Ray Condo was a strong influence on Slowpoke and the Smoke - their early material was "drawn from songs I thought he would have enjoyed," Tony explains. "We got together at his last gig. My plan at the time was to have him let us back him up; we were old friends and bandmates - but then he passed away. I think of him often when I'm singing because he was one of the only guys who would actually sing tenor. Most guys are afraid to," Tony opines, and resort to a "shit baritone" that he hates. "So thats also why I do it, because it's different. I don't care if I look funny or sound like a girl or whatever."

Frank Zappa - who himself was a lover of doo-wop, and recorded at least one doo-wop album, Cruising with Ruben and the Jets - is also a big influence on Slowpoke and the Smoke; his music serves as "a unifying link between Brad, Eric and I as bandmates," and there's at least one Ruben and the Jets cover tune on their CD, which contains two short "albums" with separate titles, Tonite Two Dollars and The Poor Side of Town.

Slowpoke and the Smoke at Pat's Pub, by Femke van Delft

Like Victorian Pork or Rude Norton, Slowpoke and the Smoke are located within what has been called the "fuck band" tradition of Vancouver punk, where members play different instruments than is their norm and generally just have fun. "I think maybe Dimwit or Shithead coined the phrase- or Brian?" Tony speculates. "I say we're a fuck band because that takes a lot of the pressure off." Normally a bassist, he's played guitar in other fuck bands (such as Pino Rogeletti and the I.U.D.s, who I assure you I've never heard of prior to this interview) and briefly with Braineater ("Jim had built a cool princish bass and wanted to play it, but he went back to guitar pretty quick"). Other Slowpoke members Brad and Eric "are on their first instruments still," which troubles the nomenclature a tad, "however, Brad uses a challenging stand up drum kit and both he and Eric dress very stylish for the shows... When you tell people you are a fuck band suddenly they no longer expect you to try and sell them anything and they just relax and have fun." Most of Tony's bands have started out as fuck bands, in fact. "Its easier to hang out with guys you like and then force yourselves to play some music than to get together with guys that you end up having to force yourself to like just so you can play your music!"

Tony doesn't know exactly what to tell people to expect at Falconetti's tonight. "We can't plan these things really. It's all on the fly, off the cuff... but the boys can get pretty silly if encouraged!" (not Tony, tho' - he says he is "the model of sincerity"). I'm not exactly sure who the "two bones and a tenor" section is that Tony promises will be joining them onstage ("two Andys and a Coat" - we have to assume Coat Cooke, for that last, unless there are a lot of other musicians around named Coat...). "This is the same band we will be doing a full on Zappa tribute with at the Anza, Feb 12th, on Dapper Dave's Valentine Tribute nite." The lineup will include "The Next Pistols, Slowpoke and the Jets, Husker Dude and the Manglers" and more... There will also be a February 28th gig at Pat's Pub. Me, I'm only thinkin' as far ahead as the Falconetti's show; I can't miss the "hockey" game on the 12th - much as the Zappa nite sounds promising. Now, I wonder where I put that Slowpoke and the Smoke CD...?

Slowpoke and the Smoke at Pat's Pub, by Femke van Delft


Pointed Sticks-wise, Nick Jones tells me that the new album will be out by June. "It's going to be amazing - thirteen brand new songs, written by everyone in the band." The title is as yet a secret, but Tony adds that "Ian broke his glasses again; Bill skipped school to play guitar parts," while Tony "got lost in the fog and wound up at Mintos. Gord and Nick were there..."

Mintos? Isn't that some sort of candy?

On his food poisoning: divine retribution's a bitch

I'd only eaten a single dry ricecake for breakfast on Wednesday, so there's not much question as to where I picked up the bout of food poisoning I currently labour under: Megabite Pizza off Robson. I had two slices there on Wednesday afternoon. I suspect that, in fact, it was not poor food hygiene on Megabite's part, however, that caused this two-day bout of puking, shitting, achy misery that I've been experiencing, but, in fact, divine retribution: for, as I enjoyed my ham, salami, and sausage pizza, I found myself experiencing a flickering feeling of smug superiority to a group of Muslim students seated outside, eating artichoke and olive pizza - studiously having avoided all meat dishes, lest they be contaminated by pig flesh. Ha-ha, I thought to myself: they can't eat this fine pork because of their antiquated dietary laws. Ha-ha, aren't they missing out? I idly considered taunting them with a piece of salami.

Clearly Allah has zapped me in the bowels, to teach me a lesson. And if I read that lesson in the "narrow" sense ("don't eat at Megabite Pizza off Robson"), I'm the only one who really stands to lose, right?

Attention Mats Gustafsson Fans!

Mats Gustafsson with Robots on Fire (but Dave isn't visible)
(a side gig at the Cobalt, after the last jazz festival)
by Femke van Delft

Anyone serious about improvised music will want to be there: Sunday night there will be an event featuring Mats Gustafsson, peripheral to the Time Flies festival goin' on: Two Slices of Acoustic Car, with Mats and guitarist Christian Munthe. Also on the bill is Raw Kites (Calgary-based percussionist Chris Dadge and Vancouverite baritone saxophonist/clarinettist Shane Krause). Between a killer bout of food poisoning, tonight's Slowpoke and the Smoke show, and a planned trip to a casino on Saturday, I'm missing the Time Flies stuff this weekend - but I won't be missing this. Event takes place Sunday, February 8th, 2008 at 8pm 440 Pender Street W. (backdoor entrance). And don't forget about the Team Sweden-Team Canada "Exhibition Game" on the 12th at the Ironworks!

Mats Gustafsson with Dave Chokroun (but Robots on Fire aren't visible)
by Femke van Delft

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thoughts on the Cramps

Poison Ivy and Lux Interior, by Steve Jennings

I interrupt my two-part interview with Tony Bardach to pay homage briefly to the newly late Cramps vocalist Lux Interior, who died earlier today of heart problems at age 62.

My fondest memories of the Cramps are actually peripheral to their music. The first involves the repeated occasions where I would argue at length with my Goth/punk friends of yore about the meaning of "Garbageman," back in Maple Ridge. We were all naive, sheltered suburban types, attracted to the music and the fashion of punk, but hardly living on the street; in fact, we were all living with our parents. Though I was a complete stranger to drug use - and actually quite judgmental about it - through my teen years, I had read Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries, and knew a little bit about the language of heroin: so when Lux sang, "You ain't no punk, you punk/ You wanna talk about the real junk?" I knew what he was talking about. No one else believed me! Even when I pointed out that Lux is plainly seen holding a syringe as he sings the song in the rock video - which we taped on VHS and watched over and over, back in those pre-Youtube days, when exposure to this sort of thing over the airwaves was rare and precious - my big-hair'd Skinny-Puppy-listening female compatriots refused to be swayed; meanwhile, I was experiencing one of my first moral objections to a punk rock song, since heroin hardly seems something to glorify ("Do you want the real thing or are you just talkin'?" he taunts; at least the Velvets' tune presents the substance with enough of its self-destructive baggage to give people pause. Lux seems to just want to gloat that he's cooler'n everyone else because he shoots up - an irresponsible sentiment indeed). Objections or no, I kept my Cramps albums - I had Songs the Lord Taught Us, Bad Music for Bad People, and Psychedelic Jungle - and when they toured through Vancouver on (I believe) the Date With Elvis tour, playing out at UBC in nineteen-eighty-something-or-other, myself and these same Skinny Puppy types, we bought tickets and went.
Once again, my most cherished remembrances of that night did not involve the Cramps per se. The sweetest involves sitting on a wall waiting for the show to start, and having some other black-clad, big-haired, white-skinned Goth/punk types come to talk to us. (Note: I did not, myself, have big hair; I favoured a prison surplus workshirt and for awhile had a quasi-mohawk). My black-attired female friend, sitting next to me, made the comment to one of the newly arrived girls: "You're so pale, it's disgusting." And I watched this newcomer's face fall, as she took this in.

Somehow I apprehended what was the matter. "She means she's jealous," I chimed in (Allan to the rescue!). And then everything was okay again - the girl visibly flushing with relief that she was not, in fact, being verbally abused by "one of our own."
I also vividly remember one of our party piercing her own nostril with a sewing needle that afternoon, so she could wear a stud to the show. There were far fewer places, I imagine, that would do it for you back then - or else it was prohibitively expensive. It was fun to see her walking around with the needle jutting out of her schnoz at a right angle. After the show, waiting for buses to take us back to the house off Victoria where we were crashing (an old three-story where the Animal Slaves used to practice), I remember dancing with a young male punk on the grass as he sang "The Mad Daddy" and then lying exhausted on the grass, watching a star that seemed to be moving - a satellite or a UFO or some damn thing - in the clear sky above. No one else could see it - I tried to point it out to them, this little dot in the heavens - but as I recall I was the only one who actually could spy it. This moment is clearer than anything Lux did that night.
Sometimes with musicians whose image much precedes them, it is fairly difficult to actually believe you're there watching the show happen; you end up doing reality checks all night, wondering what anything means, and can't quite enter into the spirit of things. I felt that way seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse; I felt that way a couple of years ago, seeing Iggy and the Stooges. It was thus on this evening. I struggled with the mosh pit, and wondered if Lux resented the audience's chanted demands that he strip; news reports had circulated that he'd taken his pants off at the previous Cramps' concert in Vancouver, and people really wanted to see his weenie, I guess. He did not remove his pants on this night, and encores - I vaguely recall "Surfin' Bird" - were brief. I was disappointed, truth be known - not by not being treated to an eyeful of Lux's cricket-set, but because I'd expected the uninhibited wildman of the "Tear It Up" clip, and got, instead, a polished performer whose personal connection to what he was doing remained a bit mysterious to me. I recall reading an even more negative show review in Discorder, where the reviewer claimed that Lux had thrown a fit and trashed his tape recorder when he tried to get an interview, afterwards (it's quite possible the interviewer was being a dink). Opening act Slow left a far better impression, performing in blood-spattered nurses uniforms; it was the only time I got to see Slow play.

All the same, I did not give up on the Cramps. I have, to this day, a Cramps CD in my collection (Gravest Hits/ Psychedelic Jungle). I imagine people who use them as a "gateway drug" to rockabilly and garage punk revere them far more than I do - in the way I revere Peter Stampfel, say, for turning me onto the joys of oldtimey. I'd probably be a much bigger admirer if I'd progressed on to Hasil Adkins, say. Still, I almost always smile when the Cramps surface in the local urban ambience; I highly enjoyed watching Little Miss Risk at the Biltmore's burlesque Kitty Nights last Sunday do a "mad scientist" striptease to the tune of "Human Fly," for instance... even if her performance (and truly, all others) was ultimately eclipsed by the excellent and unexpected singing voice (to say nothin' of the soft fleshy curves) of Yvonne Le Monstre. I'm glad the Cramps have endured, and that there's a whole lot of tattooed, pale, shockabilly-lovin' "Goth Girls 2.0" who love their music; my condolences to Poison Ivy Rorschach, Lux's bandmate and widow, and my hope for Lux that the REAL void is as pleasant to repose in as drug-induced ones.

Eerily, yesterday, I was listening to the Cramps' cover of Sheriff and the Ravel's surf-doo-wop-garage hit "Shombalor" yesterday (coincidentally, the original was introduced to me by Peter Stampfel - things have a way of connecting). I was briefly struck by the thought that Lux was going to die, which I dismissed. When I checked the Wikipedia Recent Deaths page this afternoon and saw that a punk musician named Erick Purkhiser had died, I knew before I saw his band who it was.
So I needed to pay my respects: even though I guess I'm not the most devoted Cramps fan out there, there are few punk bands who have done their homework so well, or had so big a cultural impact.

There's much on Youtube to allow you to pay your own respects to Lux tonight. Check out the Cramps' excellent "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" - one of the better rock videos out there; or Lux in PVC and red high heels in the video for "Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs." There's even the whole Live at Napa State Mental Hospital show, it looks like, divided up into clips.
Beats the hell out of having to break out the videocassettes.

Of Tony Bardach, Part One: The Pointed Sticks Return to Vancouver by Way of Japan

Pointed Sticks, 2006 by Cindy Metherel

The following is, roughly speaking, the article that used to be on the Nerve Magazine website - now, alas, crashed, gone, kaput - in which I interviewed Tony Bardach of the Pointed Sticks (Myspace, with songs, here) about the band's Japanese tour and their first reunion concerts in Vancouver a couple of years ago. I thought I would reprint it in full, prior to putting up a new interview with Tony. Bear in mind that this took place in 2006... and that Tony's side project, Slowpoke and the Smoke, will have a performance at Falconetti's on the 'Drive this Friday! More on that to follow... here is:

The Pointed Sticks Return to Vancouver by Way of Japan
An Interview with Tony Bardach (and Ian Tiles, too)
November 2006, written for the Nerve Magazine by Allan MacInnis

Tony Bardach, photographed in Japan. Provided by the Pointed Sticks.

Everybody knows about the “big in Japan” cliché, but I think the Japanese take their pop culture pretty seriously. And since theirs agrees with mine, I’d say they have great taste!

- Dale Wiese, Noize to Go! owner and Waiting for the Real Thing compilation producer

Japanese promoter Toshio Iijima, of the collectors’ record chain Record Base “couldn’t believe (his) ears” when he heard, after long negotiations, the Pointed Sticks had agreed to come to Japan for a reunion tour. The band’s energetic and cheerful brand of power pop makes them a favourite of Japanese punks, along with DOA, the Modernettes, the Subhumans and the Dishrags; the Japanese market accounts for 80% of the Sticks CD sales worldwide. Toshio had been conspiring with the band’s label owner, Joey “Shithead” Keithley, for a long time to make the tour a reality. We owe Toshio and Joe, and the bands’ Japanese fan base, a big debt of gratitude for their enthusiasm; the Pointed Sticks will be playing their first Vancouver concert* in over 25 years, on January 6th, 2007. Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu, guys!

(Gord and Tony at Richards on Richards, 2006. Photo by Nick Jones, we think!)

Details are unclear at press time, but I’m told there will likely be two shows, an afternoon all-ages gig and an evening one, both at Richards on Richards – the selfsame street where the band had their debut gig, at the Quadra Club, back in the summer of 1978. The band – including original members Nick Jones, Bill Napier-Hemy, Gord Nicholl, Ian Tiles, and Tony Bardach – are discussing possible future gigs, and have even talked about putting out a new single.

Pointed Sticks’ bassist Tony Bardach, instrumental in organizing the Vancouver show, was happy to talk to the Nerve about the bands’ experiences in Japan last July. “The most impressive thing to me was how prepared and aware the crowd was,” he told me. “They knew all the words to all the songs and sang them in key – with a Japanese accent – which blew our minds completely. Then secondly, the places were jam-packed, to the rafters, and everyone was smiling.” The number of fans crammed into the smallish Japanese clubs was “a recipe for disaster,” but to Tony’s amazement, the band “had no problems at all. People were crowd-surfing and the crowd was just falling over itself and swaying all this way and that, and nobody got hurt. It was completely benevolent. No elbows, no tough guys, no bullshit – it was all just like pre-hardcore. It was like early punk, like it had never stopped.” The tour went by pretty quickly, but for Tony “it was wonderful being there. It’s a fantastic place, and the people are so stylish. Even the guys have all got great hair!”

Their Japanese fans. Photo provided by the Pointed Sticks

Drummer Ian Tiles was similarly impressed. “The experience was so intense. We had a pretty tight schedule, though. We were like an amoeba, we did everything together!” The band managed a trip to Harajuku and to a temple, in-between concerts.

Bardach and Tiles’ history on the Vancouver punk scene dates back to the early days, before either DOA or the Pointed Sticks were formed. “It was only about 100 people doing it, basically, and 1000 people looking at it,” Tony reports. “We were all over the map – you can hear that by listing to the Vancouver Complication album. There was no paradigm - it was an every-person-for-their-own-idea kind of time.” Tony was introduced to the idea of punk when Ian arrived from Ottawa with a Sex Pistols single in tow. “We kinda listened to that and we thought, y’know, we gotta find some punk rockers, let’s get something going. They were hard to find, though. Finally we saw this show, ‘Punk Rock with the Skulls and Victorian Pork,’ at the Legion, so we went there.” The Skulls were Joey Keithley’s pre-DOA project, and Victorian Pork was their “fuck band” spinoff, involving most of the same members, playing different instruments. After a short time in their own band, the Tuney Loons, with Tiles singing and Chuck Biscuits on drums, Bardach and Tiles “amalgamated” with Victorian Pork. Brad Kent, Randy Rampage, and Dimwit were involved at various points, as well. DOA arose from this incestuous gaggle of punks, after a failed attempt by the Skulls to make it in Toronto; shortly thereafter, the Pointed Sticks formed.

The Tiles/Bardach rhythm section, by Femke van Delft, Aug 2007

There are missing pieces to the puzzle – I haven’t had a chance to talk to Bill or Nick about their path to the band – but the original lineup was Nick, Bill, Tony, and Ian (Ernie Dick was the original drummer, before Ian took up his place at the kit – hence the original name, Ernie Dick and the Pointed Sticks). Keyboardist Nicholl, who currently runs Paramount Studios with the Modernettes’ John Armstrong, would join up later, coming in from Active Dog. The Sticks were still a four piece when they won the Battle of the Bands at the Commodore. This led to the first single, “What Do You Want me to Do,” produced by Bob Rock in 1979. Tiles would eventually pass the drumsticks on; they went quickly from Chuck Biscuits to Active Dog’s Robert Bruce, before finally landing with the much-missed Dimwit.

Tiles, still a key figure on Vancouver’s rockabilly scene and member of the Hard On People and Coal, tells me that “Playing with Bill changed my approach. Bill was brilliant. I was more attentive when I played with Bill – well, I tried to be, anyway!”

Bill Napier-Hemy teaches guitar to dyslexic children in real life, and is a calm, polite man with a warm smile; Japanese fans I talked to particularly took a liking to his moderate, Japanese-friendly self-presentation. I got a chance to ask Bill about his favourite gig from the band’s youth. “We got to open for the Buzzcocks in San Francisco, when they had decided to call it quits and played their last gig for about a decade. They were spectacular. The Dead Kennedys were also on the bill and they rocked.”

Tony filled me in on a surprising detail when I asked him if he had any special memories of that gig. “Mostly I was thinking about Jonestown,” he chuckled. “It was at the Geary Street theatre. That was where Jimmy Jones used to have his parish... That was pretty cool!” The Sticks also opened for Devo, the Clash, and many others.

Every Stick you talk to has a different interpretation of why the band broke up. “I think we all wanted too much too quickly,” Tony offers (though he notes that he wasn’t actually in the band when they finally called it quits, in 1981). “Nobody had the patience, nobody had the foresight. We made a big mistake with Stiff, obviously, because we had no Canadian release [other than the independently produced Perfect Youth, on Quintessence, which disappeared when the label folded]. There was nothing guaranteed at all, and certainly no American release, whereas if we’d gone with Sire, you’d find us in the Value Village or the Sally Ann with a hole in the side of the record. You know, there’d be tons of them, thousands of them, all over the place. Maybe in retrospect it was good, though, because if the record had been all over everywhere, who would give a shit about it now?”

Tony Bardach by Cindy Metherel

There was a lot more from Tony – including a terrific anecdote about being chased through London by angry, glue-sniffing skinheads (“they really reeked of the glue, too – it was just gross”) to play with the Soft Boys and the Psychedelic Furs in front of a “sea of Adam and the Ants fans” in full punk regalia at the Electric Ballroom, during the band’s one tour of England; but there is simply no more room. Check my blog,, for more as the date approaches, and while you’re online, look for Torontonian Mike Ramone’s Pointed Sticks video clips on Youtube, of the band performing in Japan (Mike was at all three shows). Also be sure to check out Slowpoke and the Smoke, Tony’s solo project, where he sings as Tony Twilight. “It’s a mixture of doo wop and Frank Zappa.”

Tony says hi to Japanese fans, photo provided by the Pointed Sticks

One final note for Pointed Sticks fans: Todd Taylor, formerly of Flipside magazine and now the editor of Razorcake, has been a long-time fan of the “polished bone snap (with sweet candy marrow)” of Pointed Sticks songs. He will be devoting nine pages to an article on the band in Razorcake #36, due out in mid July; it includes in-depth interviews with Nick, Bill, Ian, Toshio, Dale, and Joey, and reports from both Canadian and Japanese fans who saw them play during their brief overseas tour. Local record store owners might want to take note and place orders now. Tony sends out a shout to Nardwuar, who also regularly publishes in Razorcake; Nardwuar has been a longtime Pointed Sticks advocate, and will serve at the Sticks MC on the 6th, tho’ he is not the author of the upcoming article. Thanks to Todd for permission to lift a couple of quotes as a teaser!

As for the Vancouver gig, Ian Tiles is delighted that it’s come together. “We’re excited as heck, we’re just really stoked!” he tells me over the phone. “It’s gonna be great!”

(A well-attended show - from the closing songs of the 2006 homecoming gig. Photo by Cindy Metherel).

* Okay, yeah, sure, Bill and Tony performed “The Marching Song” with the Dishrags on backup vocals at the Vancouver Complication gig last February. It was one song, it wasn’t the full band, and the Dishrags stole the show, anyhow! Don’t be anal.