Friday, February 26, 2010

Yay, Team

Last week, I strolled among the crowds on Granville Street, watching people drunkenly cheering like lunatics after we'd won some other significant hockey game. There was dancing and shouting in the street, Canadian flags everywhere, music and laughter and wild yelling whoops in the air (this was before the city decided to close liquor stores early to curtail the unruliness). It was infectious, I have to admit - you can't walk through a crowd of people that happy without a bit of it rubbing off. But I also must confess - I am not part of the party. From my point of view, we've sunk our province to the tits in debt to host an event entirely devoted to questions that mean nothing. Who cares what region can produce the best skier, or speed skaters, or figure skaters, or lugers, or hockey players, or so forth? Why is everyone so excited about this shit? With the Olympics coming to an end, I have to briefly just register again my otherness from it all. I do not care that Canada has won gold in hockey. Please don't beat me up.

I have never been good at identifying with a team, understand - especially a team that I wasn't on. The closest I ever came to personally embodying the sort of hysteria one regularly witnesses at sports events was when there was a "battle of the air bands" contest at my high school, in which a group of fellow students "performing" songs by The Who squared off against a kid "performing" as Michael Jackson, whose Thriller! was, back then, a matter of recent experience. I was adamant that The Who win, but not because of any objective assessment of their performance: it was a matter of what they represented - intelligent, passionate, real rock music, versus meaningless commercial pap. Though I was - save for the kids onstage, perhaps - the biggest Who fan in the school, I was hardly alone in feeling that something was at stake; The Who people cheered with such vigor, fury, and abandon that I recall various authority figures looking on, worriedly, which only stoked the fires further. The Michael Jackson people would not be outdone, cheering back even louder for his performances. In the end, as I recall, a tie had to be declared, because anything else would have possibly gotten ugly. The Who vs. Michael Jackson was a competition I could get passionate about: I understood the principles at stake, and righteousness required one side win over the other.

Team Canada vs. __________? Couldn't care less. At the same high school, I also recall the Canucks (aka King Richard's Army) squaring off against the New York Islanders during the big na-na-na-na-hey-hey Stanley Cup game of the 1980's. To prove my indifference, I bet $5 against the Canucks with another kid in my class - in part just to flaunt how unattached I was to the outcome, but in part because I'd actually seen a bit of the games (my father watched sports regularly) and it seemed clear to me on short exposure that the Islanders were the better players, which it grieved me not at all to admit. Since there is no inherent meaning in the act of playing hockey - the question of who skates, shoots, and scores best is a meaningless question, since skating, shooting, and scoring has no value outside itself - the only way I can understand the involvement people feel in such sports is one of regional identification ("our tribe of people from this territory is better than that tribe of people from that territory.") That's a question that in other realms might have resonance for me; I'm not immune to harbouring a certain resentment of the United States, for instance, and enjoy it when Canada one-ups them - say, back when they were sending troops to fight an immoral war in Vietnam while Canada was sheltering draft dodgers - but to construct a meaningless symbolic event to "prove" which country is better makes the whole thing ridiculous. Canada is better than the US - or at least used to be - because of the more progressive social policies we have, the more moderate, rational political climate, the greater value we as a people place on culture, compassion, courtesy and communication over our gun-totin', money-grubbin', flag-wavin' social Darwinist bretheren below, NOT because we skate, shoot, and score better. Even if they skate, shoot, and score better than we do - it doesn't change anything. To the extent that regional differences matter - and pick whatever region you like - I do not agree that we can settle them through sports. It's preferable to WARFARE, natch - but it's still bloody silly.

So: I have no clue how many gold medals Canada has won in the current Olympics; it does not matter to me in the slightest. I gather that Team Canada got gold in some hockey game the other night, and I suppose I'm happy for those people who have made a symbolic investment in the game, since I do realize that for some Canadians hockey is quite important, and it would be embarrassing for them, given that it is perceived as "our sport," for us to lose on our own turf. It'd be like Team Texas losing a chili-making contest in Texas, or Team Russia losing a borscht competition held in Russia. Bully for them, then, that their team won - but personally, I couldn't give less of a damn. SOMEBODY had to win the gold - its the nature of the competition. What difference does it make what territory they came from? Put another way, given all that is good and all that is bad about Canada - what difference does it make that we can produce the best hockey team? It's a silly question, unfitting mature, thinking adults. It changes nothing, proves nothing, resolves no questions beyond itself.

Team Canada won gold in the hockey? I scratch my ass and roll over.

Yay, team.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lunch with my mother

King's Kitchen is my favourite Chinese greasy spoon in Maple Ridge - a wholesome, unpretentious little restaurant with tasty food and decent prices. I'm grateful it's here. I brought my Mom there the other day, snapping photographs along the way with my cell phone. Here are my favourites.

Mom insists on putting artificial sweetener in her Jasmine tea!

Fortune reads: "You are sensitively tuned in to loved one's creative talents."

Fortune reads: "Fortune is on your side. Play it for all it's worth." Mom had stuck out her tongue while posing, but the camera caught her the moment after...

Mom gets to laughing as I try to take our picture together...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do all fat men look alike? Bison, Chris Walter, and a Vancouver record store note

Waiting for a bus to take me away from the Bison gig the other night - see my new interview with Bison here - I found myself approached by a punk who asked me if I was "one of the geniuses that work at Audiopile," a commercial drive record store where I sometimes shop. It's possible that he had simply seen me chatting there with someone and mistaken me for staff, but I've got the sneaking suspicion that he mistook me for the proprietor, the spelling of whose name is likely either Geoff or Jeff (given the nature of this post, I won't be calling him to ask!). Now it is true, that Geoff/Jeff and myself share certain attributes: we both have facial hair, we both are gettin' kinda baldish up top, and we're both record geeks. But we also have various dissimilarities: Geoff/Jeff has blondish-brown hair, whereas mine is quite dark; Geoff/Jeff wears spectacles, whereas I do not; Geoff/Jeff's facial hair emphasizes his moustache, while mine is all piled on my chin; and I'm a bit taller. Based on past experiences, I suspect the main reason buddy mistook me for G/J is that I am fat, and he is fat: it is really the strongest common denominator.

It is passing strange to me that this is turning into a repeated experience. It started a few years ago, when Chris Walter - with whom I also have a new interview in The Skinny - at a book signing, mistook me for punker/ fellow writer Ty Stranglehold, since - other than our both being, as Ty himself would later put it when we chuckled at Chris' error at the Cobalt - "white and large," we look pretty much nothing alike. Chris was in the process of inscribing a book to me at the time - I still have it, with "To Ty" crossed out by Chris when I caught him. Since then I have also been mistaken for the guitarist for Aging Youth Gang, back when I had long hair - and while it was nice to be complemented on "my" cool playing, again, I look, to my mind, nothing like that dude - maybe a bit moreso than the other two characters above, but still not really. (Granted, I did kinda mistake that dude for Tad Doyle once, tho' not to his face; and fuggit, that guy LOOKS a lot more like Tad than I do either of them, and they both are guitarists. I think it's a bit more defensible). I seem to dimly recall someone asking me at a concert if I was Alex Varty, once, too. So what the fuck, folks: do you all have a "fat file" in your brain where you dump people with this attribute, sometimes getting them jumbled up?

By the way, Audiopile had an interesting box of records the other day - a damaged collection someone sold them, the covers of which had gotten soaked and thence mildewy. The covers simply must be trashed, but they can easily be replaced with generic sleeves, and what mildew is on the records - with generous applications of record cleaning solution and a groove-sensitive scrub with a chamois or microfibre cloth - can be easily gotten rid of; not all of them even have mildew in the vinyl, which is generally in VG shape. Once the gunk is off, a bit of smell lingers, but the sound is great, and of course, Geoff/Jeff was selling them very cheaply. I pillaged the box for almost every Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen LP I care about. The only one I couldn't snag was a Freewheelin' with one of the misprinted front covers (tho' all the proper songs), which was in fact salvageable enough to be worth selling as a collector's item - which G/J and I both noted; I fully understand his desire to sell it for more. Also scored some Tim Buckley, John Hammond, Sonny Terry, Big Bill Broonzy, a jugband/washboard anthology, and other cool folky stuff that I am very happy to have gotten on the cheap. More significantly for y'all, there were, left behind by me, a few lesser Dylans (including obscure stuff like Self-Portrait), a rare Lenny Breau, and cool albums by Dave Van Ronk, The Fugs (later stuff, as well as a scarce Ed Sanders solo LP), Son House, and more. There was even a Dead Boys album in the box that I passed on, because it was too badly damaged for me (and I'm just not that hungry for Dead Boys vinyl at present). Not likely that you'll find these sorts of things on the cheap anywhere else anytime soon, and as long as it's the music in the grooves that matters, and not having the artifact in the original cover - this is a great opportunity to beef up your collection without goin' broke.

On another note, for people interested in early folk, blues, and folk blues, at Carson Books and Records, on the 3400 block of West Broadway, there are still quite a few records selling - presently at a 30% discount, and modestly priced to begin with - from an extrordinary collection Tim Carson, the proprietor, picked up awhile ago, from which I snagged early Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Reverend Gary Davis, Roscoe Holcomb, and several anthologies on labels like Yazoo, Folkways, and especially Rounder. There's lots left, also including some cool bluegrass, country, and world music; to my recollection, the entirety of a sizable Bill Monroe collection was still on the shelf. Also, sometimes - depending when you go there - you might even be treated to DJ MJB, Al Mader, spinning and selling records (tho' you might want to be there when Tim's there, if you have questions about what else came in with that collection - he has the more authoritative knowledge). I don't know how many followers of this blog are into oldtimey stuff, but while Tim has his 30% off sale going, it's a great opportunity to get your hands on some real gems at a very decent price.

And geez, folks - to return to the original point - can you, like, start mistaking me for Richard Meltzer or Lester Bangs or someone? It would be far more flattering to have "music writer" on my file, rather than "fat dude." And Bangs was kind of chubby, wasn't he?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sorry, Hal!

My apologies to Hal Willner. If I'd been able to set up an interview, I would have devoted a couple of thousand words to your Neil Young Project, somewhere and somehow, to complement Alex Varty's deft overview of your work in The Straight. Granted, the piece might have had a thousand-or-two fewer readers than the Straight's article, but they'd have been pretty devoted Vancouver culture geeks (because who but the devoted picks up The Skinny or, hahahaha, finds this website?). They'd have been the sort of people who knew your work and maybe had a Weird Nightmare lying around. They likely already had tickets, anyhow, if they could afford'em.

Anyhow, rest assured that I did try to get in touch with you!

I'm still itching to see what your Neil Young Project will bring us, tho'. Since, on your past projects, you are not beneath bowing to utter necessity - like having Tom Waits do "Heigh Ho" or Nick Cave do Blind Willie Johnson's "John The Revelator," both of which are great choices precisely because they are absolutely obvious, Of-Course-It-Hadda-Be choices - I am assuming you will end the night with Lou Reed doing an electric, full band cover of "Cortez The Killer." I mean, I have no idea what to expect; I hope it's not rude to guess; and I'm sure you're not taking requests at this point - but that's what I imagine, in advance, the Maximum Attainable Musical Experience you might offer us might look like. It is very exciting indeed. (Do I gather Elvis Costello is now going to take the stage, too? What Neil Young song could he possibly cover?). The potential for this event (February 18th and 19th at the Q.E., by the by) is so high that I am scared to even let myself hope, lest I be disappointed...

Mind you, I know almost no one else that is going to perform during this project. I've heard a bit of Broken Social Scene and I kinda know a few of the names (Ron Sexsmith, Sun Kil Moon, etc) but I couldn't tell you what they sound like; I mean, I hardly follow pop music that's actually POPULAR these days. I do know the music of James Blood Ulmer; it seems to me that he is no longer mainly into harmolodics, a style of playing developed by Ornette Coleman (and check this clip of him with Don Cherry and Rashied Ali!), but has opted - presumably for career reasons - to tour and record in a more traditional blues style. I saw him do a set of his blues songs at the Yale a couple of years back. It was very easy to listen to - laid back, polished folk blues played effortlessly and engagingly - but was quite a bit less adventuresome than his earlier work with Ornette or his early solo albums, which had a much more challenging take on the form... The Yale audience ate it up, tho', and I was only a wee bit disappointed...

Now what Neil Young song could HE possibly cover? ("Revolution Blues?").

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Egoyan's Adjuster to screen at the Cinematheque

I have mixed feelings about Atom Egoyan. His early films have nowhere near the obsessive interest they had for me when I was just starting my inquiries into serious cinema; the questions about the morality of the use of images posed in films like Family Viewing and Speaking Parts - once my favourites of his films - seemed of overwhelming significance to me in the 1980's, when I was asking questions myself about how to view/represent the world. They were good films for a young person at the time to see, and seemed of a piece with various films I was watching by Wim Wenders (The State Of Things); Bertrand Tavernier (whose Death Watch is a greatly underappreciated piece of cinema never distributed in its proper cut in North America; the film stars Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton, and Max von Sydow - a cast so good that that alone makes its relative neglect here somewhat puzzling); Egoyan collaborator Peter Mettlier (for The Top Of His Head); and even Steven Soderbergh (whose first feature, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, was a film I utterly loved, and seemed very compatible with Egoyan's early work; he has proven, for all his industry success, even more disappointing than Egoyan, such that I don't think I would revisit a single of his films, with the possible exception of Schizopolis. And yes, I tried to watch Che - I found it gutlessly "factual," Soderbergh seeming unwilling to risk interpreting or even identifying too deeply with Che, sticking passionlessly to events, often at the expense of ideas or emotions. It is quite an accomplishment to make a boring film about guerrilla warfare, but Soderbergh has done so). Plus, back then, I was a university student being exposed to film criticism for the first time, reading Laura Mulvey and the like; and cinema in the 1980's was in a much different position from the cinema of the 21'st century.

Not exactly sure how to summarizes those changes, but the same films that I loved so much then now seem far too controlled; while some images still resonate over and above the text, generally, I feel too aware, watching Family Viewing or Speaking Parts now, what their program is, with each character's assigned value leaving little room for mystery, discovery, or fresh emotional insight, and each line spoken seeming too loaded, as Egoyan's thesis inevitably unfolds. While I have no idea if Ray Carney would agree, for me, they're the best example that I can think of of what Carney has called "the decoder ring" school of filmmaking, where a filmmaker has an idea, translates the idea into images, and the cinema literati then unpack the images, translating them back into the idea, having had little cause to investigate their own values or emotional responses en route (but applauding the filmmaker no less if they happen to agree with his or her idea). Put another way, the last time I tried to watch Speaking Parts, I felt bored to death; about the only thing I felt was the same old stunning charge at the scene where Gabrielle Rose engages in mediated masturbation with Michael McManus, which I hold to be one of the sexiest and most striking moments in Canadian cinema, right up there with the "cunnilingus attack" of Bruce Sweeney's Dirty. As you may gather, I'm a bit perverse...

Egoyan may well feel stifled by the too-narrow focus of his earlier films now, too, mind you, since his subsequent career has shown him struggling with expanding his cinema to bring in larger questions - of history, of memory, of racism and genocide and terrorism. Idea movies, still, for the most part, and still often concerned with questions of representation and mediation - but the ideas are bigger, and the films more likely to instill emotional, rather than intellectual, responses. I've enjoyed and admired some of his later films (Exotica, Ararat), been annoyed and embarrassed by others (Calendar, Adoration), and thought some interesting failures (The Sweet Hereafter). I've also flat-out ignored a couple (Where The Truth Lies, say). There is only one film of his that still holds a great deal of interest for me - a film of his that, while seeming to cohere, is so rich in ideas that it seems Egoyan himself might not fully understand what he is up to; even though you sense that on some level it all makes sense, however you fiddle with your decoder ring, there seems no one final text to arrive at that will explain all the images in it, let alone the connections between them. And what images they are! There are scenes in this movie that are compellingly surreal, having the capacity to startle and strike chords deep within that continue to reverberate long after the film is over: the homeless guy staring at the family through the picture window and masturbating; Maury Chaykin, disguised as a bum, putting his hand between Gabrielle Rose's legs on the train, and her subsequent smile; the moment where Chaykin, masked, asks Elias Koteas if he's in or out, as he pours gasoline over the furniture... even the question of why people sing in the shower somehow tickles something in back of your brain and sets it quivering. I haven't looked at the film in six or seven years, and have only seen it to completion, I believe, thrice, but these moments are scored in my subconscious, never to leave. The film is beautiful, creepy, and profoundly unsettling, and has a very interesting cast (also including Don McKellar and Arsinee Khanjian, whose scenes as porno censors also linger, though owe perhaps the most to Egoyan's earlier work and come to a too-pat resolution). I won't even try to explain what the film is "about;" I'm not sure I could. Yet - contra to my feelings after seeing a later David Lynch film, say - I feel certain that it all makes sense, in ways I cannot articulate; and because I sense that the film could ultimately BE made sense of, I am not stymied or annoyed by the difficulties of reading the film... though I am almost tempted - as Lynch would advise, no doubt - to just accept the pregnancy of the images and my intuitive response to them, without arriving at any clear conclusions as to what it all means.

In any event, there will be three screenings of a new 35mm print of The Adjuster at the Cinematheque in March. If you haven't seen the film, this would definitely be a good way to do it. Here's hoping - as with some video versions - the masturbating bum's huge hard cock (fake anyhow, no doubt) is not excised from the print. The audience really needs to be confronted with his suburban-townhouse fetishism (and taste of a violation of the censor's code) for the full impact of the film to be felt - especially considering he may well be a stand-in for the audience, a voyeur confronting voyeurs... Never has a homeless man's cock been so symbolically laden, so potent..., really...

Bison BC interview, plus Rickshaw Gig and Skinny article

Apropos of Bison BC's upcoming album, Dark Ages, and their February 19th show at the Rickshaw, I caught up with Dan And and James Farwell - or Gnarwell, or Guitarwell, or whatever you well please - for the new issue of The Skinny; I haven't seen it yet, but I also have pieces in it on Chris Walter and Nomeansno, and gather there will be a fun little update on former Cobalt proprieter wendythirteen. It should be findable at hip coffee shops, live music venues, and record and CD stores, mostly around East Van, in the next few days.

Not in the current Bison article - actually an outtake from my previous thing on them - was the question, posed to both Dan and James, of influences. Both immediately mentioned Black Flag, whom James admired for the "crudely political" quality of their songs, which "draw young people to the real base things that were going on - ie., power struggle, living on the fringes of society, fuckin’ cops, the government, mental illness - things like this that later possibly evolve into a more heady political ideal." Other influences on James included "The Descendents who taught me everything I know about girls. And there’s Bad Brains, as well, and Bad Religion," though he would later joke about their tendency to use the same chords over and over again - "which I’m totally fine with," he added, "because I love those three or four chords; you can put them in any shape or form and I will always love them."

Bison's music is anything but three-chord thrash. Though they have moments of sheer joyous guitar interplay - where, heavy and dark as their music can be, their absolute love of what they are doing radiates out through each hot lick - there's often a halting, chugging, jerking quality to their music, alongside a capacity to shift unpredictably, that puts me in mind of The Melvins. Dan And is pleased with the comparison. "I love the Melvins," he tells me. "The Melvins were such a bizarre band to come out of the Seattle scene, or whatever the hell you want to call it, in that they were so experimental and heavy and sludgy and all over the place. I’ve heard people make that kind of comparison before, and that’s, like, the most flattering thing in the world to hear... I would love to be able to write a seven minute song like Soundgarden, kind of head-bobbin’ ‘yeah, cool, groovy metal’ - but I can’t really do that. I just don’t know how to write like that, I get bored really fast, and I think James is the same way. We’re kind of, like, really picky people, and when we’re playing something - unless it has a hypnotic quality on us, we’re like - ‘okay, this part’s way too long, let’s take it in a totally different direction. Though we will have some long repetitive parts, too. It depends on how it grabs us."

And continues, "The punk that I grew up on was, like - Black Flag, Born Against, Rorschach, and I listened to a lot of crusty political punk. And I loved old Metallica, Sepultura, Slayer - that kind of stuff. But there was a lot of crossover too, bands that were kind of punk and kind of metal, like COC. Even Rorschach was pretty metal for that time..." He and James have considerable overlap in tastes.
James, Masa, and Brad by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

James tells me that there is "no medieval reference at all" to the title of the upcoming disc. He'd wanted to actually call it New Dark Ages, but the idea was vetoed, perhaps because of the similarity to the Subhumans' New Dark Age Parade. (Subhumans fans are advised to watch this space in the next while and to keep their ears to the wind - things are stirring, and I don't just mean an upcoming gig). The meaning is literal - Farwell is worried about what he sees as an ongoing collapse of our society in favour of something much more Darwinistic. He has more to say on that in the Skinny interview...

With the release of Bison's previous album, Quiet Earth, on Metal Blade, and the widespread positive reception of that album, I wanted to ask if “success,” such as it is, had changed anything for the band. “When it first kind of happened, I’m sure some people were weirded out,” Dan acknowledges. “But once they talked to you they realized that it changed absolutely nothing, for us - besides that our buddy doesn’t have to go into debt for our record to come out, y’know. I’ll be at the bar sometimes and people will be, like, ‘I can’t believe you’re just hanging out here.’ ‘What the fuck do you think I do?’ Like, ‘Oh, you still have to work a dayjob?’ Yeah! What the fuck...”
Dan And by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

The concern about the corrupting influence of money, which so often seems to have something to do with mediocre rock albums, is a reasonable one, though, James admits, "because once you start making money, your work ethic goes to hell. And that’s just a natural human thing - you get fuckin’ lazy. You know? I think bands that are on the road and eating shit that can still handle it and still find that real base enjoyment of getting into a van and travelling around and playing music for not much money, getting by, y’know - I think that sometimes makes the difference between why musicians are musicians. I never became a musician to make money. I became a musician because I was like - 'ah, fuck - Greg Ginn can’t fuckin’ play guitar, so *I* can play guitar! I’m just gonna play noise shit, and it sounds awesome - it sounds rad!' So it’s inspiring, right. I dunno..."

We pause. "Really, if you want to make money, especially in this city, become a politician or a real estate agent," he continues. "Don’t start a fuckin’ metal band, man, or a punk band, or whatever we are. It’s not money. It’s a lot of hard work and sitting in a van with the same dudes that you love and you don’t want to strangle.”
Bison will be not wanting to strangle each other for some weeks, as they commence their spring tour. If you're not from Vancouver and haven't seen these guys, check their Myspace for dates. If you're from Vancouver, and like creative metal/punk, performed with passion and enthusiasm, it is well worth braving the crowds to come out to The Rickshaw on Friday.

...Assuming there are tickets left.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Furies - "Olympic Madness" and more

The Furies at Richards on Richards (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

I've returned to the Music Note section of The Georgia Straight this week with a brief piece about The Furies' new anti-Olympics anthem, "Olympic Madness." In addition to being a great garage-punk guitarist and shades-wearer par excellance - the closest thing to Lou Reed this city has produced - Chris Arnett is a pleasure to interview, an articulate, generous guy whom I talked to previously here, and who has also been the subject of a gig review on my blog and a substantial Furies' interview by Kristina Mameli in issue 39 of The Skinny (not presently online that I could see, but it might pop up at a later date). While our talk about the Olympics was fairly short, there was more where it came from that I couldn't fit into the Note, about the genesis and recording of the song.

The Furies at The Cobalt (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

"I wrote it about two and a half years ago," Chris says of "Olympic Madness." "I was talking to my son one night, and he had gone walking along the beach at Jericho and saw a homeless guy lying down beside a log. So he went off and jogged for an hour or so and came back, and there's all these parameds and cops and so on, and the guy was dead. So we talked - and this was when there was a lot of stuff in the press about hotels being shut down and people being forced to sleep outside, so I just got pissed off with that. And a few weeks later, we were driving in town and we were down under the Cambie bridge, and I saw this couple - like, the line in the song is, 'I saw a couple clutch each other in despair in the dogshit-covered grass by the side of the road in the rain and cry,' and I saw that - this couple in anguish, on a pouring, horrible night on the dogshit-covered grass of Vancouver. So when I went home, I wanted to write a song. And I also wanted to write a pop song, because I've been really stoked by the reunion of the Pointed Sticks, you know? I really wanted to do a pop song, because The Furies' songs are all sort of caustic and rock and roll and over the top. So I went home with these experiences of seeing what I feel the Olympics are doing to our city, and I put the two of them together, and I plugged in my guitar, and the song just came out like that - I did it all in one take. And then later I talked to (Pointed Sticks' guitarist) Bill Napier Hemy on the phone and said, 'we've just written our first hit single!'"

The Furies at The Cobalt (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Since then - two and a half years ago - the song has been performed at a multitude of Furies' shows. With the games approaching, the decision was made to record it. "We had an opportunity to go to Paramount Recorders, which is the famous studio in the Downtown Eastside run by (Pointed Sticks' keyboard player) Gord Nicholl and (Modernettes' frontman) Buck Cherry. We went in and did it in one or two takes, and then did the b-side ("Sorcery")," putting them both on their Myspace on February 1st.

Is the reason Chris put it out for free download rather than tryin' to sell it connected to concern that the Olympics trademark police might crack down? "No, not at all - we knew from the lyric that it's never going to be played on the radio! Tho' it's going to be on some podcasts and things around the world - a few different places have picked up on it. There was no way we were going to make any money on it, anyway. I don't make any money (off music) - I just got my royalty check from SOCAN, I think I got $24 for the last quarter! So we're just rolling in it - I might be able to get a case of shitty Canadian beer, for all my efforts!"

As for the Olympics, "I'm a fourth-generation Vancouverite, which I like to brag about, because there's so few of us," Arnett says. "And all I can see is, here in 2010, we have all our priorities totally ass-backwards. I don't feel like I'm in a minority" in thinking this way. "Maybe 20 years ago, if we were all sitting around, maybe we'd be all stoked about it, because it would have a different context, but in today's world, this thing is just kind of obscene! I see these ghastly ads on the buses, 'You will never be able to perform as well at so-and-so, so don't even try!' And stacks of gold at McDonalds, y'know - you're just going to get a stack of cholesterol..." (More of Chris' rant can be found in my Straight piece."

It's been far too long since I've seen The Furies play."People say we're in top form," Chris tells me. "We played at Malones a few weeks ago. Packed audience! ...My kids are all BMX'ers and rock and rollers. They're into the really cool garage scene that's in town - bands like Dead Ghosts and Indian Wars and Time Cops. These are all bands that are up-and-coming now. They're all in their 20's, and influenced by Black Lips and all this sort of garage stuff that's been big for awhile now. They all sort of hang out at the Biltmore and places like this - there's quite a scene, and they like us!" So do I! ...and I gotta hear me "Olympic Madness" live!
The Furies at Richards on Richards (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Wire article on the Vancouver music scene and the Olympics

Major edit! Some of you may have read my Global Ear scene report - "Off The Grid And Under The Radar In Vancouver" - in this space on this blog over the last two days, about the effects the then-oncoming Olympics were having on the experimental music scene here. Turns out The Wire, the magazine in which it ran, would prefer things that run in their mag NOT to run online on their writers' websites, which I am totally okay on... I had actually asked them if it was okay before I put it up, but it took them a couple of days to get back to me, and the Olympics were fast approaching, so I stuck it up anyways. Now that they have gotten back to me, I'm taking it down. Sorry, gang! If you haven't seen it already, and you want to read my scene report, you're gonna have to buy the back issue (issue 291, May 2008) or something...

Meantime, I don't want to just totally delete this entry, since there are a couple of valuable comments below, put up in the last couple of days while the piece was up. Here are, then, some links to cool musical projects in Vancouver that are dealt with in the article, and some photos of the bands, as a teaser to those of you who might want to learn more about our scene. Various music clips of the bands that I wrote about in that article are online here, first off, on the Wire's website.

The bands mentioned in the article are:

Shearing Pinx, no-wavy experimenters who rocked, last I heard in a bit of limbo since their guitarist, Her Jazzer Erin, has moved; the closest Vancouver has come to producing an answer to Sonic Youth - back when Sonic Youth actually had passion for their band.

The Mutators, RIP! Leif Hall of that noisy punk/ no wave spazzband is now in a couple of other bands; I particularly recommend Glaciers, a much more minimal project with Jeffrey Allport and Robert Pedersen.

The Rita - harsh-ish noise guy who was ubiquitous on the scene at the time of my writing)

The Sorrow And The Pity, spazz-jazz punk duo (or spazz-punk jazz duo) whom I still have yet to see cover Nomeansno's "Self Pity."

The all-female, open-ended Her Jazz Noise Collective, who, last I heard, were working on an anthology of their music and organizing new workshops for the city's weird wimmen to attend

BCVCO, an analog-synth band headed by Josh Stevenson, sometimes featuring Black Mountain/ Sinoia Caves keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt. Amazing music - lush improvised psychedelia that might really excite Terry Riley fans, say. For the more historically minded fans of electronic music, you might also want to check out early Buchla experimenter Philip Werren, whose SFU-based synth stuff has been released on Josh's label. (Both Josh and Jeremy of Shearing Pinx/ Fake Jazz were involved in the recent Vancouver/Victoria Jandek shows, by the way).

BCVCO by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

Josh Stevenson by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

The Creaking Planks by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

More on the fun side are The Creaking Planks, aka "the jug band of the damned," featuring Lee Shoal, pirate twin to Heather Jean McDermid of Vancouver New Music, a non-profit organizaiton who have put on some of the best shows I've seen of unusual music in this city. The Planks often cover songs by Al “I’m a Lousy Lay” Mader (also known as the Minimalist Jug Band - who will be performing with Sheila Gostick and Petunia at Cafe Montmartre as part of a Valentine's Day show on the 14th). I'm particularly fond of the Planks' arrangement of "Dead Man's Pants." Shoal's other band is Ejaculation Death Rattle - also featuring Dan Kibke of G42, Sean of Noobie Noobinson, and Ross Birdwise of god-knows-what-all-Ross-is-doing-right-now-he-sent-me-a-big-file-but-I-haven't-opened-it-yet. EDR has been on hiatus lately, but will be reuniting for the upcoming Fake Jazz festival.

I also plugged more noisy stuff, like Flatgrey and Sistrenatus; I mentioned the horror movie and metal influences on the latter's music (noise with an industrial tinge), but I didn't really do justice to the more ritualistic elements of his performances. Well worth seeing. I think the main guy in Flatgrey is out of town at the moment, alas. I don't always go for harsher stuff, but he was definitely one of its most interesting proponents.

Ejaculation Death Rattle at the Cobalt by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

I also made obligatory references in The Wire piece to Coastal Jazz favourites like Peggy Lee, Ron Samworth, and Dylan van der Schyff, but frankly - speaking a couple of years later, and speaking now solely for myself, since I say none of this in The Wire - I've grown a bit fed up with how every Coastal Jazz event in Vancouver showcases the music of these three (or that of Tony Wilson, or Torsten Muller or Francois Houle or Brad Turner or perhaps two or three other members of the club),while completely ignoring younger, newer improvisers, no matter how talented or hard-working. This may connect with the fact that you rarely see anyone from Coastal Jazz at Fake Jazz or Solder and Sons or below-ground venues (tho' you do catch a couple of the cooler members at the Western Front now and then). I don't want to fault the musicians, mind you - all have done things I've respected and enjoyed over the years (sometimes, admittedly, to my surprise!) - but Coastal Jazz sorely needs some fresh blood, I think, musician-wise (maybe Team Canada and Team Sweden could swap apartments for a few years?). The youthful improv scene around here is creative, varied, and inspiring enough (something apparent to a good many people, including visiting musicians, note) that Coastal Jazz is starting to seem a bit out-of-touch by virtue of not acknowledging it, a club so exclusive they may start seeming irrelevant. (Tho' hm, I see they're bringing Rene Lussier to town... I like Lussier, but do I want to see him play with Peggy Lee, Francois and Vivian Houle, and Dylan Van Der Schyff? Nnnngh. Frankly, I'd rather see him solo with an acoustic guitar, as when he last came here for Vancouver New Music...).

Anyhow, I was happier to include mention of various people I associate with 1067, like Fond of Tigers, Coat Cooke, J.P. Carter, and The Inhabitants. I'm glad that 1067 seems to have survived - I numbered it alongside The Cobalt (RIP) and Richards On Richards as an imperilled venue. It was never really my scene - it feels too much like an abandoned office space, for obvious reasons, and the constantly tentative arrangement of the venue seems to contribute to the fact that about half the time I go there I feel like I'm watching people jamming in their practice space, rather than putting on a planned public show - but it still is a necessary space in a city that has fewer and fewer outlets for creative musicianship, and every fourth or fifth gig I see there is fucking great. Not that I can really go there anymore, now that I live in the suburbs...

JP Carter by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

The Sorrow And The Pity by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission.

Anyhow, let's call this post a "tourist's primer to experimental music in Vancouver," in case some Olympics attendee was curious about the scene here. If you want to know what else I have to say about any of these bands, or what any of them say about the Olympics - you should buy that backissue of The Wire! Almost everyone on the arts scene in Vancouver that I've spoken to has been either openly hostile to the approach of the Olympics or at best nervous about the effects they may have - which was the case long before all the arts cuts were announced, tho' they're something more likely to affect Coastal Jazzers than Fake Jazzers. Still - happily - a lot of the bands mentioned above are still playing - still in hard-to-find, off-the-map venues, often with little recognition from the local press and only a handful of people attending, with the omnipresent risk of cops shutting down shows. But the scene is surviving. There is no cause for despair. Once we scrape all the Olympics advertising off the surface and send the tourists home, there will still be something real and vibrant and honest happening in the Vancouver arts scene... if you look for it.

See the comments section for more on the upcoming Fake Jazz festival and such...!

"Welcome To Vancouver," by Allan MacInnis. Use it how you like, I don't care.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Conflicted Feelings Re: Friday

Should I commute to Vancouver to be part of the anti-Olympics demonstration on the 12th, meeting (of course) in front of the art gallery at 3pm? I have to come into the city in the next couple of days regardless, but it doesn't have to be Friday. Much as the idea of taking back our city appeals to me, I can't quite make up my mind on whether to go to this one.

Arguments in favour:

1. I should turn out to be physically present to support the "side" of this whole sorry plight that I THINK I most sympathize with - the people I perceive as the good guys.

2. If things turn ugly - and I am almost certain they will - good people may need my help, and history will need witnesses, since the mainstream media is biased as hell.

3. Part of my disinclination to go stems from laziness, apathy, despair, and a sense of the total pointlessness of the gesture. These are not states of mind I ideally want to base my actions on.

4. We live in an age where real, organic human community is being discouraged and dismantled left and right. People - including myself! - stay in their own little cubicles (apartment, workplace, car, whatever), expressing their need for community and communication to an increasing degree online, through various new technologies that - while they do reinforce your own identity - often do so at the expense of extracting you from the people who are actually physically around you. The various lines out of our cubicle both compensate for our alienation and reinforce it, and because they're gadget-dependent, require participating in the marketplace in a way that getting to know your neighbours simply doesn't. Better yet, thanks to cellphones, laptops and such, you can now bring your cubicle with you everywhere you go - so you can not only ignore your neighbours, but damn near anyone who isn't on your contact list. ...In such a world, there is something fundamentally healthy and pro-social about the idea of getting together with other human beings to work towards a voluntarily shared goal; protest marches can be one such manifestation of this, important in what they do to bring you together with your fellows, even if the cause is long lost. There is catharsis, fellowship, empowerment to be had. Rare things, these days, not to be underestimated.

Mind you, my own personal favourite way of amassing with others is the Zombiewalk; but if you look at that great Zombiewalk photo of me from a couple of years back - if you can read through the fake blood on my shirt - I have "Tombs Not Games" written on it (you might have to take my word for it):

Photo by Femke, Zombie by Kyla

5. Finally, in the event that things happen of some weightiness, I'm not sure I really want to be left out, y'know? ...sitting here in Maple Ridge watching a fuckin' riot on TV...

Arguments against:

1. In terms of doing any good for the city itself, it seems a pointless gesture. The Olympics are here. It's a done deal. While protests and actions leading up to the Olympics may have had the effect of encouraging VANOC and the city to tread carefully and be mindful of the Wrath Of The People, at this point, there doesn't seem much that a mass protest can accomplish for this city, ESPECIALLY if it turns ugly. The old "Battle In Seattle" argument was that the protests empowered smaller voices to speak up against things they didn't like in the WTO agenda, but the only thing we'll be able to stop IF we take things to that level are fucking sports events. Big woo.

No: the damage, as I say, has been done. We have a massive debtload, imperilled or cancelled funding for socially-minded or arts-oriented programs, and a divide between the "enfranchised rich" and the disenfranchised average folks/ poor that seems as bad as it's been in my lifetime - tho' I'm thinking of the ideological divide more than the economic one. We have an unrecognizable, mutated Granville Street and an unnecessary rail line to the airport and so forth, screaming as testimony to the misplaced priorities of the city. We have countless unique little businesses and venues closed; never mind my constant weeping about Noize To Go, Richards On Richards, The Cobalt, and other victims of the city's vast greed-driven real estate/ development shakeup that I will forever associate with 2010 - I even miss Macks' Leathers! Not being gay or into bondage, I never once went in there until they had their 'closing out' sign up, but I was well used to bemusedly peering at their constantly kinky window displays. I quite liked knowing that gays into S&M had, basically, a store for them - not many cities in the world do, and Vancouver has now joined the number of cities in the world that don't, making it less unique, less like the Vancouver I knew and loved - which is the case with so many of the changes the city has seen. We also have a plethora of private security guards directly charged to serve the interests of capital, on the one hand, while on the other, we have a miserable and disenfranchised homeless/ mentally ill/ addicted population that are still in many cases not being given the help they need (tho' depending on who you talk to, the situation can be spun as being better or worse now than it's been in the past. My own subjective impression is that there have been a lot fewer people sleeping in doorways this past year than there were in years previous, but maybe they've all been made into Soylent Green?). Like it or not, this is the new Vancouver, wounded deeply and hastily sprayed with thick makeup to keep the bruises from showing. The tourists will never know the difference, but surely those of us with an attachment to the city should be thinking about healing our wounds and rebuilding, not about increasing the costs of the games even further. We're the ones who will be paying them, after all, not the IOC or VANOC or such...

2. So never mind what good demonstrations could do for Vancouver, at this point: not much good CAN be done. But what about showing the IOC and other cities faced with the choice of hosting the games in the future that people won't stand for being pushed aside and gagged? Assuming that's a desirable goal, it seems to me that in order to achieve it, to really make the point, marching in the street isn't enough - as I imagine the disenfranchised anarcho-cheerleaders who have been spraypainting "Riot 2010" around the city would agree. Marches and chants don't merit a minute of media attention, however sincere they may be; count up the number of millions people who marched against the US invasion of Iraq - me included! - and place your total next to the fact that the US is still occupying that country, to see how meaningful marches are. In the current climate, they're a joke, in terms of producing any sort of tangible result; the system has long since figured out how to compensate for whatever inconvenience they cause, through a clever policy of both facilitating them (with police escorts and planned routes and such), and ignoring them (in the media, say). They might make you feel good - and yeah, raising some shit about the Olympics might do my heart a bit of good - but they don't change much, otherwise.

No, if you want to make an impact, if you want the protest to be noticed (for good or bad), you've got to go further than walking the approved route. Seems to me that you have to actually disrupt shit, which I've read in the news is something various activists are for doing with their protests. While I don't advocate this position myself, it seems so self-evident to me that I cannot but imagine it is equally evident to at least some of the people who are coming out on Friday. It is a view the city certainly seems well acquainted with; they seem prepared to get very heavy-handed if they should need to suppress such gestures. And jeez, man, that polarization scares me a lot. I don't want people to get hurt. I don't want an excuse for riot cops with truncheons and tear gas to descend upon a crowd of protestors. I don't want small businesses and private property to get trashed. And I certainly don't want to get clubbed or gassed or trampled or such, if things descend into chaos. Even if it could possibly do some good - even if there is some point to putting our bodies themselves in the path of juggernaut and saying we will not be moved - the price could be very high indeed. It's easier and wiser at this point to just let them have their fucking games. They've won - they won a long time ago. It's fucking depressing, but they are simply stronger than we are, and there's no point in pretending otherwise.

3. Besides, I have my Mom to look out for. If I don't really want to be here in Maple Ridge watching Riot 2010 on TV - I don't much want her watching it on TV and knowing that I'm in the city while it's going on.

4. And there'd be reason for her to worry, because if I were to go - I could seriously see myself getting neck-deep in shit. I have a lot of anger in me at what has been done to our city these last years. I have anger at a lot of things, actually, from the fact that Vancouver city council hasn't made it illegal for landlords not to tell tenants that they're moving into a building with bedbugs, for example, to the fact that the culture that seems most vital to me in Vancouver, the punk and underground culture, is something I can barely ever get paid to write about... A lot of my anger has nothing to do with the Olympics by any stretch - that medical neglect played a role in my father's death of cancer, that I can't find a speech therapist in Maple Ridge to work with my mother, that I'm in debt and single and living in the town where I grew up, and that I had to throw out tons of my stuff for fear of bedbug infestations to get here... If circumstances aligned themselves so that some of my anger could come pouring out, at the moment, I fear what I might do. When I lose my temper lately, it's pretty ugly. It's probably best for me not to attend a demonstration that I fear might turn into a riot.

5. And I'm not even sure a violent protest WOULD do good - or would be the "right" thing to do. In the eyes of the media, if things did get bad, Vancouver's anti-Olympics camp would be portayed as pathological, loonie-left spoilsports and thugs. And as much as I sympathize with the anti-Olympics voices in this city - I'm not sure that there isn't some truth to that portrayal, to be honest. A student of mine once explained a South Korean proverb to me, that translates roughly as "lie on the bed and spit" - meaning, you snipe at the efforts of others from a position of passivity and comfort. We west coasters are a soft, catered-to bunch, given to taking for granted the many bounties nature bestows on us here - the nice warm climate and the lovely scenery - to say nothing of having all the pot we can smoke and, compared to a lot of places in the world, a reasonably tolerant, benevolent, and responsive state (the fact that Vancouver has kept InSite open for so long, against the obvious wishes of the federal government, is testimony to this). I wonder if our relative comfort - along with our maximal disenfranchisement from the European sources of our dominant cultural values, here on the fringes of the great push westwards - has something to do with how bitchy punks like me are? We're lazy, soft creatures on most days, we Vancouverites, and there's nothing that lazy, soft creatures like to do so much as complain. Vancouverites as a whole seem to be anti-progress, anti-development, anti-business, anti-growth. We respond to news of such things with a deeply ingrained knee-jerk cynicism, mistrust, and anger. Nothing has yet pissed me off so much about the Olympics as the fact that I was woken up by the torch coming through Maple Ridge. Maybe that says something about me?

And fuck, who knows... Maybe there's some good side to the Olympics that I'm simply not seeing. It seems so insane to me that any city would consider this orgy of capital and falsehood a desirable thing, at this point, that I clearly have missed some element of their appeal - maybe part of what I'm not getting is essential to appreciating their value? Certainly my ESL students almost unanimously have thought that having the Olympics in Vancouver is just peachy. There are a lot of people who do, who ally themselves with the side of capital and say what's good for them is good for us, that we all will profit from our six billion dollar debtload in the long run. What is it they're seeing, that I'm missing? Maybe the fault is with me?

The last time I went out to a protest was when some lawyer was trying to get Bush arrested as a war criminal when he came into Canada; I have no doubt in my mind that Bush IS a war criminal, so as silly as that movement appeared - since not even AMERICANS have been able to bring that sonofabitch to justice - I got my ass out the door, to show my support. I'm not personally happy with the perceived negative costs of the Olympics, but I'm not quite as convinced of their evil, as an institution, as I was of the evil of the Bush regime. (Their folly, yes, but not their evil). Am I prepared to get clubbed on the principle of decrying the evils of the 2010 Olympics? Am I prepared to take this one to the man?

Maybe if I'd read Five Ring Circus, I'd feel differently, but right now, my inclination is to sit this one out.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Vancouver Mixtape

Destroyer at Richards On Richards (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

I have been told of a fine Vancouver mixtape, showing the creative peak that local artists reached before the Olympics wave washed over them. Who will be strong enough to survive?

I would have put a Minimalist Jug Band song on it...

Monday, February 08, 2010

Once more, with feeling - plus a bit more on the Furies

(The new Furies song is my new favourite thing in the world). The Furies rock!

Photo of Chris Arnett at Richards On Richards (RIP) by Femke Van Delft, not to be reused without permission

...Oh, uh, read my old Chris Arnett interview here.

Goddamn bloody motherfucking assholes

Jesus fucking Christ.

I am awakened at 6:30 AM by the sounds of Kool And The Gang's "Celebration," playing at about the volume that I would play music in my own living room. Except it's not coming from my own living room, so it must be booming loud. I open my eyes and look over at the clock. What the fuck?
It's amazingly loud, this music. I listen. What, some asshole with a clock radio downstairs is waking up? (But wouldn't he turn it off by now?). I live in a concrete building, so that can't be it... Are there drunks partying in the parking lot with their car radio blaring? What the fuck is going on? I'm half-asleep, so my main response is confusion. The music is followed by enthusiastic shouting into a microphone, which lasts for several minutes - too distorted for any words to make sense. It appears, I realize, to be coming from the center of town, half a block away.

Another song starts. About this time I'm up, stepping out onto my balcony to see people walking on the street below towards the center of downtown Maple Ridge. It's as dark as night. Have I slept for an ungodly amount of time, and it's now nearing 7pm? What the fuck is going on?

Goddamn, what day is it, anyhow? Monday, February 8th: is something important happening today? Hm. It's not a national holiday. I scan my memory banks and come up blank. I come into my office and phone the non-emergency line for the Maple Ridge police.

When I finally get someone on the phone, I am stunned to hear what the explanation is. Apparently it's been going on since 5am. "They're playing music THIS LOUD at seven in the fucking morning?" I half-shout at the person on the line. "This is a fucking noise complaint!"

I get no satisfaction.
After I get dressed, I make my way to 224th, intending to make my noise complaint to someone with a little more authority. What I see, as I approach, makes me aware of how futile my gesture is. Hundreds of people - HUNDREDS of motherfucking people, including what must be all the children of the community, their teachers and parents and cousins, are standing up and down the street to see the torch come through town.

The Olympic torch. Am I even allowed to say the word? (You fucking cocksuckers). A giant Canadian flag is hanging over the street.

There are surprisingly few cops.

The "Spirit Square" in the centre of town is a covered pagoda-cum-stage in the public square that is usually home to two or three bored teenagers smoking cigarettes or pot. Five or six times a year, some public function makes use of it and there's a band or a clown doing magic or some other such people on the stage. Today it is surrounded by people and some asshole is explaining that the spirit square wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the Olympics. But Jesus, that pagoda's been in the community since the 1980s or earlier... I lived here as a kid when it was put up. Granted, it's been moved a few yards since, plus there used to be a pond beside it back then, when the grass-to-pavement ratio favoured grass. I liked it better, then, when you could see the odd dragonfly zipping about in the centre of town and hear frogs at night.
The woman shouting into the microphone and pausing for cued cheers - "the 2010 Olympics are coming to VANCOUVER!" - keeps using the words "all of us." All of us want this. All of this support this. All of us are here to welcome the Olympics torch.

Oh, sister: not me.

She's promising a visit from government officials and talking about how in a few minutes the "Spirit of Wood Carving" will be unveiled. I scan the people around me. Shouldn't there be more cops?

Finally I see one, a mature-looking RCMP officer in full uniform. I approach. He's helping someone else but I wait.

"I'm going to ask you the stupidest question anyone is going to ask you this morning," I tell him. My heart is pounding in my chest.

He blinks and says "Okay."

"Is there any way we can TURN THIS DOWN?"

His approach is to tell me that "Now is not the time to worry about this." Why not? I was asleep in bed minding my own business and this woke me up. This is causing a disturbance.

He explains to me civilly that "it's the Olympics."

"I don't give a fuck about the Olympics!" I say, half-spitting the words. "I don't support the Olympics! I want to sleep!" Surely Satan himself gleams through my eyes. "I live in this community. I pay taxes. I have rights. This is incredibly fucking loud!" - I gesture in impotent fury at the pagoda. "It's not even 7 AM! I want to sleep!"

He advises me to "put some earplugs in." I ask if there is anyone else I might talk to - someone with their hand on the "volume" knob, maybe. There is not. I say savagely that I am making a noise complaint. He tells me he has received my noise complaint. In his great wisdom, he does not try to make the slightest threat that I will face trouble if I continue in my rant; he is most respectful, and thus, so am I. I thank him and stalk back through the crowd. Having made my complaint, I am going home.

I half-mutter to myself in disgust as I round the corner to my apartment. Apparently if you have enough money to buy the police, you can play music at your party as loud as you fucking want. Goddamn bloody motherfucking assholes. No matter how much public money has been sunk into this, no matter how many government pockets have been padded, this seems to me to be a private party for a motherfucking sports event. A motherfucking SPORTS event. And every idiot in the town and his children are out to see it. "A historic moment," as a flaming stick is run through the center of our town! Give me a fucking break. A private function for private profit (and immense public debt) has NO SPECIAL RIGHTS OVER MY LIFE. They can take their flaming stick and go shove.

By the time the torch comes down the street, I am back in my apartment, writing this.

By 7:30 AM, the noise appears to be done, and the sun is rising. Guess I'll go back to bed. Oh, but wait - I should listen to the new Furies single first, "Olympic Madness."


Friday, February 05, 2010

The Good Mother DVD review: under-appreciated 1980's melodrama

I remember vividly hearing Roger Ebert's review of Leonard Nimoy's The Good Mother when the film first came out in 1988 (the link is to his print review, since I don't imagine I can find video of Siskel and Ebert discussing it in the balcony of yore). As a teenager, I'd seen the film theatrically on first release, and greatly appreciated it; though I hadn't the language to talk about it then, I had a taste for melodrama, and was well aware (as an inquisitive and intelligent kid) that the form could be used to explore social values, which is what The Good Mother does, with all the intelligence of the best Douglas Sirk films (tho' little of the cinematic craft or visual splendour; it's a wholly average-looking, if thoroughly competent, experience visually. If Nimoy brings a particular talent to the picture, it's in getting very honest performances from his cast, not filling our eyes with opulence). Ebert even had the temerity to call the film "confused" - as if he knew what the film was about, what it should be about, and how it should tell its story better than the filmmakers did, which seemed more than a bit arrogant of him. It stuck with me a long time, and obviously is still with me today, in part because I was a fan of his show (and still check in with his site, over twenty years later, whenever a film I'm interested in opens). It was probably the first time in my life that I fully realized the power and responsibility of a critic. Ebert seemed to completely misunderstand The Good Mother, and proceed to write a negative review of it based on his misunderstanding, which no doubt contributed to the film's commercial failure. How unfortunate for the film - and how unfortunate for Ebert, to have his own failed perceptions made a matter of public record (mind you, these were in the days when Michael Walsh, writing for The Province, called Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire "long and boring;" but no cinephile took Michael Walsh seriously).

The Good Mother is worth looking at on several counts: as a melodrama about male-female relationships and parenting; as a query into the state of post-sexual revolution sexuality and female identity in the late 1980's; about a certain hypocrisy that surrounds sexuality in North America; and as a film about how the law can intrude into human relationships. It also has an interesting lesson to be learned about the perils of compromise. It's aged so well that I'm sure a contemporary youthful audience, seeing a character listening to music on headphones, would assume he had an MP3 player in his pocket - not a Sony Walkman, ie., a cassette player, which was still, I imagine, the popular choice for portable music players in 1988 (the discman had only been invented four years previous). The questions it asks are still relevant today, too, since little in the attitudes it documents has changed.

Without revealing too much, the story goes as follows: Diane Keaton is a "good girl" from a family dominated by patriarchal authority. She has lingering memories of a sexually rebellious and independent aunt, who died when she was young; but her own marriage - recently ended, as the main action of the story begins - has been sexless and conservative, and she is by no means a liberated woman. Perhaps in part because she has been denied it herself, she encourages expressivity and uninhibited playfulness in her young daughter, with whom she is very close; there is no question that she is indeed a good mother, and much of the first half of the film is spent getting to see what kind of mother she is. Enter a young and very charismatic Liam Neeson, in one of his first lead roles in Hollywood; he's a sculptor and a bit of a bohemian, and - as can happen in a good relationship - once things get underway, does a great deal to open his partner up sexually. We see her overcome her self-consciousness at dancing, then at what we presume is her first experience of cunnilingus, and from the horny glow that radiates from her whenever she's in his presence - and Keaton can do the horny glow very well - it's clear that she is pleased indeed with what is happening. Gradually, he becomes a part of the life of Keaton and her young daughter, working very hard to win both of their trusts, because, we sense, the relationship is just as important to him; he's a good man in love with a good woman, though their relationship is not without its bumps. In one key scene, he challenges her for not having a passion of her own - just a boring lab job and a mundane paying gig as a piano teacher, rather than something expressive and creative, like him - and she leaps angrily and articulately to her own defence, saying that it is in motherhood she has found her means of self-expression, creativity, her connection to purpose and meaning, and it's a chauvinist male cliche to invalidate that, to think she is somehow lacking because she's not an accomplished artist. He is chastened - but the argument serves a dual purpose for the audience, who come to appreciate, through her passionate, articulate self-defence, how important to her sense of self being a mother is to Keaton.

A very important scene occurs shortly thereafter, though we have no reason to realize its importance at this point: Keaton and Neeson are in bed, on about their lovemaking, when the little girl wakes up - she's had a nightmare - and as children will, she comes into her mother's room and gets in bed, where, after a few soothing words, she falls asleep. Neeson and Keaton don't uncouple, and we can presume that they may well continue their lovemaking - it's not shown, but an attentive audience would no doubt be able to pose the question of whether they might; we discover later - in court - that they did. The scene is interesting in light of what follows; Nimoy has very cleverly seduced us by showing us these images in the context of what seems a wholly healthy, indeed damn near ideal sexual partnership evolving, and I suspect most audiences won't react to these images at all, going along with the story. Even if they do continue their lovemaking, the viewer might feel - it wouldn't really be a bad thing, would it? I mean, I don't know that *I* could be so sexually unselfconscious in that situation - I feel a wee bit uncomfortable having sex if there's a cat or a dog in the room, let alone a sleeping child - but bully for them for being so un-hung-up; the scene presents the moment as normal behaviour between them, and seems not in the slightest damaging or traumatic. It becomes one of two key episodes in a custody battle that ensues, when Keaton's ex-husband gets wind of his wife's new relationship, and the rules by which it is unfolding. The other episode - which again we learn about without seeing, which, for some reason, really got on Ebert's nerves - is best left to viewers to discover, but it is of a piece with the previous - normal, wholesome, if rather uninhibited behaviour that, in later light, comes to look malign and suspect, from the point of view of a jealous ex and a legal establishment dominated by straight, patriarchal, sex-negative values.

The film asks various questions of its audience: what their values in fact are when it comes to the body and sexuality and how these things should (or shouldn't be) represented in front of children. It also asks whether, once we know what are values are, we would have the courage of our convictions to defend them against all comers. I'd as soon not say any more about it, not even to quibble with Ebert's review, since I assume none of my readers have seen this near-forgotten, seldom-heralded film, and such quibbling would be meaningless indeed. One thing I will do is invite Roger Ebert to revisit the film, to watch it with fresh eyes, and to possibly atone for his critical faux pas (it seems more likely that I'll be able to get him to rethink his position on this film than on the original Death Race 2000). Seeing Ebert in error at that time was probably very useful for me, in encouraging attentive viewing of films, so I bear him no ill will. In an odd way, Ebert should be quite proud that 22 years later, his review of this movie still annoys me...

Meantime, cinephiles looking for an interesting, emotionally-charged, provocative melodrama should check The Good Mother out. It's a DVD cheapie, indifferently dumped onto the market with the same terrible art and idiotic tagline that was on the movie poster, without commentary or indeed any extras, at $9.99; it is not widely distributed and probably not even in many specialty rental shops. However, Chapters got it in for me within less than a week, and it's probably easy to order through most chains. There are also some very skilled supporting actors, including Jason Robards and Joe Morton. Diane Keaton is at her sexiest; and its a pleasure to see Liam Neeson at work at so young an age (and to get away with speaking with his own accent, in an American film!). It's damned hard to find films this good on the shelves of most video stores these days (or at least out here in the suburbs!) - so I hope a few of my readers will jump at the invitation to see a really good movie.

I mean, who are you going to trust, me or Roger Ebert?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Criterion News

DVD Beaver has posted a list of Criterion titles licensed through Studio Canal which will be going out of print this spring - possibly all to be reissued by Lion's Gate in the future, but even if so, I assume without the Criterion extras. If you've been contemplating buying any of these, it might be a good time to act...

Monday, February 01, 2010

In Praise Of Recent Motorhead

Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister notes occasionally in White Line Fever, his autobiography, a puzzling attitude that certain Motorhead fans have towards that band's work. While asserting how great Motorhead are, there are lots of fans whose awareness of the band's recordings ends around Iron Fist (1982), some fourteen studio albums ago. That was the year that Fast Eddie Clarke left the band, and the year (by coincidence) that I first discovered Motorhead. For a long time, I was myself one of those troublesome fans who didn't venture much past Iron Fist; my explorations of the band's remaining catalogue went mostly backwards from that point, not forwards - though I did follow their next couple of releases. I liked, but didn't love, Another Perfect Day, at the time, liked Orgasmatron less, and didn't much care for the few new studio tracks on No Remorse, the compilation. When Rock'n'Roll came out, I didn't even bother to pick it up, assuming the album would be a further dimishment of the vital energy I perceived in those first few Motorhead albums; for years, when I spun Motorhead, it was Iron Fist or No Remorse, the only two albums I had of theirs. (I also owned at different times Ace Of Spades, Bomber, Overkill, or No Sleep Til Hammersmith - but nothing, until 2009, of their post-Orgasmatron catalogue, despite considering myself a fan of the band to some extentthroughout the period from 1982 to 2009).

It is somewhat reasonable, if wrong, to assume later Motorhead might not be as good as early, in fact. A simple survey of other noted bands in the history of rock music would set one up to expect as much, because there aren't many rock bands who have kept a 30+ year career alive and continued to produce important, energetic, enjoyable albums. Consider the later recordings of the Blue Oyster Cult, say, in this regard - they still play their old material well, and their last studio album (Curse Of The Hidden Mirror) was, at the very least, much better than anything they'd released since the 1980's - but for the most part, owning or listening to their later catalogue (Imaginos, Club Ninja, Heaven Forbid... there are others, so widely ignored and shitcanned by even fans of the band that it seems to do them little cruelty to name them) could do nothing but tarnish the glory of their first few recordings. It's the phenomenon chronicled so well by Randy Newman in his very funny "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It):" "each record I'm making is like a record that I've made/ just not as good" (I would love to hear some 30+ year rock band cover that song, though it would take some bravery). There are countless other examples of rock bands that put out great albums in their peak and then continued for years thereafter to pump out mediocrity. We all know more than a few bands like that. Why should Motorhead be any different?
Here's the news, then, for those of you who have not been paying attention: Motorhead are at some sort of weird creative peak at the moment, and if you haven't noticed it, for fuck's sake, if you like heavy rock music - punk, metal, or ANY genre, as long as you really like rock - you owe it to yourself to pick up their last three studio albums - and likely their next, slated for release later this year. Inferno, Kiss Of Death, and Motorizer are all terrific albums - all produced by Cameron Webb, on board for the next disc, and all featuring the excellent musicianship of guitarist Phil Campbell (who has been with the band since the mid-1980's and has become a far better player than I remember Fast Eddie being) and Mikkey Dee - one of the great rock drummers currently working and a really fun showman to boot (I'm so glad he made the Vancouver gig...). I've spun these discs countless times and have not worn them out; their songcraft, musicianship, lyrical content, production, and overall energy levels are astonishing, and make Ace Of Spades seem (to me, anyway) a humble early effort by a band who had lots of growing yet to do. I almost never listen to Ace Of Spades, but barely a week goes by that I don't spin one of my recent Motorhead mixes (made, note, off the original CDs - I don't just download this stuff; that's how I introduced myself to their recent catalogue, but once I discovered how good it was, I went out and bought the actual discs, which you should do too). I've also developed a great fondness for their 1993 German release Bastards, and really like several songs off Sacrifice (1995) and Hammered (2002), though there are songs on all three that aren't quite as amazing as the material since Inferno...

Don't just take my word for it, though - check out John Chedsey on Kiss Of Death and Motorizer. Or try Mark Prindle on Inferno, Kiss Of Death, and Motorizer (which he's a bit harsh to... I don't agree with quite a lot of Prindle's reviews, but by God, can he turn a sentence! "Lemmy still sounds like an evil drunken pirate ahoying your mateys" - exactly!). Everyone I've shared this later Motorhead stuff with - including people who got stuck in their first lineup like I had - has agreed with me; these are great albums, waiting for a much wider audience to discover them (which, with the upcoming Lemmy documentary, might just happen sooner than later).

The band has had a few so-so albums in the last twenty years or so, mind you - albums where more songs don't work than do. Overnight Sensation (1996) and especially Snake Bite Love (1998) I regard as lesser efforts. We Are Motorhead (2000) is better, but bogged down by what seems an unnecessary, slightly plodding cover of "God Save The Queen" and the decent but rather solemn and downbeat ballad (?), "One More Fucking Time." It was really with Inferno (2004) that the band really entered their golden age, every song on that seeming some sort of classic - from the extremely fast, testosterone-rich "Fight" to the lyrically fascinating (if rather gleefully evil) "In The Year Of The Wolf" or "Smiling Like A Killer." (Or check out the acoustic blues number, "Whorehouse Blues," which the band played for their October encore in Vancouver). Kiss Of Death shows the band reaching a new level of musical complexity on the song about death, "Kingdom Of The Worm," and has Lemmy's most successful rock ballad ever, "God Was Never On Your Side," which easily beats "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me," "Lost In The Ozone," and the aforementioned "One More Fucking Time" as a slow, reflective, emotionally-charged piece of highly traditional songwriting - you know exactly where each rise and fall should be, but find the journey no less satisfying. And if Motorizer is perhaps not quite as ambitious as Kiss Of Death or Inferno, it's still a great album, relying a bit more on blues-rock conventions, but still crafting some very heavy, morally complex songs (like "Heroes," one of Lemmy's many fascinating recent songs about war). I am very eager to hear what the band come up with on their next album; based on the recordings, they've never been better than they are right now. There are exactly four rock records I am looking forward to in 2010: the new Subhumans Canada album (which sees them revisiting some certain old favourites); Mike Watt's long-awaited new record with the Black Gang (yay Nels!), which I hope will get released this fall; what I hope will be a new Rocket From The Tombs release (since they've been in the studio and completed a single); and this new Motorhead disc. I cannot wait. I am most eager. I love this band.
In summa: if you like Motorhead and haven't heard their last three albums, I strongly recommend checking them out. This is a band that has gotten better with age (maybe it has something to do with the whiskey in Lemmy's bloodstream). Trust me: you will not find yourself saddened by how a once-great band became a bunch of boring old farts repeating themselves, but something quite the opposite - a band that took thirty years to blossom fully and are now in full flower.

I guess it's kind of strange to liken Motorhead to a flower, but you know what I mean.

Motorhead in Vancouver, by Femke Van Delft. Not to be reused without permission.