Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Some photos: early winter, 2014

These are all kind of obvious, I suppose, and somewhat sentimental, but sometimes you see a sunrise that you just have to photograph, y'know? And I really like the ones taken out of train windows; the dark blurs are trees we're passing. Taken en route to Vancouver from Maple Ridge via the West Coast Express, except for the last ones, not sure where that is. Click for larger images:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Going to the cinema: why don't people do it more often?

Is everyone's life as complicated as mine? I have to zip back and forth between Maple Ridge, Burnaby, and Vancouver, commuting daily, spread thin all over the map. That's MY excuse for not getting out to see films at the theatre. But what about people who live in Vancouver? Do they even go to the theatre anymore? I hear that the Crime Fest at the Vancity Theatre hasn't been so well-attended, despite a really fun-sounding programme. A couple of feature films I've caught in theatres in the last few months have had surprisingly spare audience turnout - like Jodorowsky's Dance of Reality, say, at the Cinematheque, or even a recent screening of John Wick that I went to in New West (not exactly first run, but it wasn't THAT long after its debut). Is it the shitty weather? ...Maybe there's simply so many options for entertainment ? There are tons of great movies being made, but maybe there are too many, and people are exhausted from having to consume them all the time (or is that just me?).

Carson Books and Records to take over They Live video space

I have an article in the online edition of the Straight about the They Live closeout and the Carson Books and Records re-location to Main. Thanks to Olinda Vriend for taking some pictures...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Child of God tonight at the Vancity Theatre

I'm predisposed to dislike James Franco, and I'm not exactly sure why. I have enjoyed most of the movies I've seen him in. I am impressed that he has undertaken to adapt William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying) and Cormac McCarthy (Child of God) for the big screen. I even read, when researching my own writing about the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab's Leviathan, a piece that Franco himself had written on the film, and found myself in the odd position of being interested in his insights ("James Franco wrote this???"). I am, I admit, a little irritated by some of the press he gets, like the stuff around his homoerotic images of Seth Rogen, say. I admit that it's passably interesting stuff for an artist to explore, especially if he's actually totally straight, but the trouble is that it only gets attention because it is occuring within this weird sphere of celebrity culture that I generally try to steer clear of. The fact that both men are famous is vastly more important to the attention this work is getting than anything inherent in it; in fact, you can't even divorce its celebrity-culture aspect from its content, so interlaced are they, so that more than boundary-pushing art, it reads more like the Internet age equivalent of a pulling a weird, queerish stunt on Letterman. While I admit a certain respect for the desire to push boundaries, I don't care about James Franco and Seth Rogen's art bromance any more than I care about the Kardashians, the best and worst beach bodies, or who is cheating on whom.
I can anticipate intelligent objections to all of this, mind you. Franco and Rogen and company are not at all reticent to take every last drop of piss out of celebrity culture that they can get, in films like This Is The End (which, incidentally, I totally loved and have now seen three times). And they ARE celebrities, and they DO exist in the internet age, so why not pump shit out there for people to click on and leave clever comments about? Why not make self-aware fun of their own celebrity and provoke other people in maybe uncomfortable ways? It's the nature of the beast at the moment, the nature of the world we're in, and even if I'm not exactly a fan of either man, these are very timely, very smart people we're talking about (I think). The annoyance I feel, perhaps, is more visceral than intellectual. I can't really explain it.

In any event, to know that, with Child of God, playing tonight at the Vancity Theatre, James Franco has adapted into a film what is beyond a doubt one of my top five most admired, most enjoyed novels - one of the few books I will be periodically driven to re-read over the years... it fills me with pause, with concern. I have been reluctant to see it, and am going to miss its theatrical debut  But I've been given access to a screener, so here I am writing about it, and my verdict is that, well, it's not actually all that bad, based on the thirty minutes or so that I saw.
It's not particularly good, either. It has an obviously modest budget, so the period costumes are never quite convincing, and the cinematography has a bit of a Dogme-ish humility and simplicity, which is more limitation than virtue, though it does work at times. Probably the worst failure of the way that the film is constructed is that the music used for scenes of musicians performing is simply canned recorded stuff that is obviously not being played by the people on screen and that does not entirely ring true to its amateur context (as when what I believe is a recording of Clarence Ashley's "The Cuckoo" is played by the musicians as they're trucked up the hill; it's a pretty famous and polished song to try to pass off as something being sponaneously performed in the back of a truck going up a hill). Franco also doesn't have the means at his disposal to really turn the image into something memorably cinematic, intercutting between, for example, each individual musician; he just gives us the scene in a long shot, obviously because it's easier and cheaper to do it that way, if vastly less visually interesting. But all of that can be overlooked; more important is that Franco is very faithful to McCarthy's source material, to the extent that when McCarthy describes Lester Ballard taking a crap and wiping his ass with a stick, Franco provides a rather startling close-up of just that happening. For a moment, as the turd extruded and fell screenward, I actually thought I was looking at some sort of pale pink chocolate ice cream dispenser. Wrong!

Anyhow, that's kind of bold stuff to put in a film, and I respect that boldness; plus it's an interesting story, which would be hard to fuck up by someone with competence and craft (which I grant Franco and his cast and crew all have). A mentally deficient dispossessed hillbilly takes up necrophilia, preying on a community and collecting female corpses, so he can have a love life. He remains, however, a source of some fondness and sympathy on the part of the author, and we find ourselves invited to identify with him, to find something true about ourselves in his story, though we might prefer not to. That's interesting stuff, and Franco presents it with the respect and sincerity that the BBC, for instance, might adapt a novel to the screen. Nothing wrong with that.

No, mostly the film's worst crime is that it is totally unnecessary. So much of the pleasure of McCarthy, and especially early McCarthy, and most especially this novel and Blood Meridian, his two greatest works, lies in the prose, in  both the way he captures rural American vernacular and in the ornate, erudite beauty of his descriptions - that even if you read the odd passage aloud to us at times (as Franco has his narrator and some of the voice actors giving witness testimony to Lester Ballard's lifec do) - you're still essentially removing the most essential aspect of the story - the writing - and presenting it in an easier to consume, less artful, less impressive way. While that's no crime when you're dealing with a stripped down bit of storytelling like No Country For Old Men, Child of God the movie plays like the colouring book equivalent of the King James Bible. There's nothing cinematic enough or skilled enough about Franco's adaptation, faithful though it may be, to call attention to itself as cinema (unless you count the turd-and-stick scene, which you're welcome to do); to take a great novel and make an okay movie out of it is some kind of crime, or at least a waste.

Still, uh, it's not bad, based on the first half hour of it I bothered to watch, but you'll pardon me if I don't finish it. I might re-read the book, though!

How's THAT for gettin' bums on seats, Tom?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Devil's Knot: weighing in

Boy is Devil's Knot a piece of worthless shit.

Just wanted to weigh in, for the benefit of anyone curious who still has not seen the film, and for what therapeutic value doing so might have. It's awful - or rather, it's MEDIOCRE, which, when it comes to cinema, is far worse. I have great love for early Atom Egoyan films, love Family Viewing and Speaking Parts, and I still think The Adjuster is one of the greatest movies to get made in Canada; and I have tried and mostly succeeded to at least like some of Egoyan's later films, like Chloe and Where The Truth Lies. Even though Adoration was an unwatchable, ham-fisted, painfully self-conscious PC wince-fest I admired him (a little, anyhow) for at least attempting to make an old-style Atom Egoyan movie long after his arthouse cred has ceased to mean much. But Jeezus K. Rist, is Devil's Knot - which I finally caught up with on DVD, thanks to the They Live video closeout sale - ever one limpdick, bland, obvious, gutless, and totally tepid piece of filmmaking. If this is what Atom Egoyan is reduced to he should retire now, or get a job directing infomercials or something. True, the film was made under the guidance of the utterly mainstream, fuck-your-artistic-pretensions-we-want-to-make-MONEY Weinstein Company, whose very trademark is synonymous with watering down and compromising real cinema, but ANY FOUR of the documentaries about the West Memphis three story are better (to say nothing of the book its based on, which I have read and do admire). And the real shame of it is, there's no reason that the film had to fail as badly as it did. If it had taken some creative license, it could have made very interesting commentary on the smalltown fear of the different. If it had some balls, it could have offered a provocative poke at the mendacity of the American legal system and how badly it can fail (you actually get the feeling that the film is trying as hard as it can to retain our sympathy for the cops, whose incompetence it conceals until well into the story, though it appears to have pervaded the case). Even while sticking to the historical facts, which it more or less does, it could have tried to breathe some life into its main character (though how safe and predictable to make middleclass whiteman investigator Ron Lax the focus; how much more interesting could it have been if the main character had been Damien Echols?). Instead of stirring the pot, it takes one of the more noteworthy injustices of 20th century American justice, cause for outrage and introspection, and makes a trite, safe, lazy NOTHING out of it, a film-by-numbers snoozefest worse than your average made-for-TV movie, which does nothing so well as depress you for having wasted nearly two hours of your life watching it. It squanders all the talent associated with it (including Colin Firth, Bruce Greenwood, and Elias Koteas; if any have been in a worse film I have not seen it). Reese Witherspoon deserves a bit of credit for being brave enough to appear frumpy and unattractive, but nothing interesting is done with her character; you get long shots of her in mourning that are blatantly designed to draw sympathy, but instead just seem maudlin and TVish and repetitive, Egoyan pandering to (and capitalizing on) the sentiments of the audience. There are even some really amateurish bits of writing, dialogue so clunky that no actor should have to deliver it straight faced. I had no reason to think Devil's Knot would be good, but all the same, I'm actually disappointed. Blecch.

The Flesheaters: an appreciation (and a show in Seattle January 13th!)

Was it the Georgia Straight that listed it? As a young man living in Maple Ridge, in the days before the internet, I was utterly dependent on concert listings in the Straight to find out what shows were playing in the city, and I would particularly pay attention to certain venues, like the Cruel Elephant - a long-since-closed Vancouver punk rock club where I caught, among other things, the Dwarves on the Blood Guts and Pussy tour or the Melvins in their first few incarnations (as I recall, they had a different bassist each time, with Lorax being the second one I saw). I saw the Supersuckers (when they were a punk band!), Hamm's grungy Slow offshoot Tankhog, the first couple of Vancouver shows by Helmet, various Seattle-scene bands like Love Battery, and - most memorably, when the Granville street location was very nearly falling down, Mission of Burma alumni the Volcano Suns, a power trio led by one of the more demented drummers in rock, Peter Prescott; they played a set of tribal fury, shirtless and sweaty, as great sodden clumps of insulation fell from the ceiling around them and rain poured into steaming industrial-sized buckets on the stage. (How no one was electrocuted is beyond me). But the show listing I got the most excited about at the Elephant - I must have seen it in the Straight - was when I saw that the Flesheaters were scheduled to perform there, in what I guess was the summer of 1991. I was 23 at the time.
The Flesheaters (or Flesh Eaters, if you prefer; I like it better as one word, but both variants seem to be in use) have always been my favourite California punk band, pretty much from when I first discovered them at Odyssey Imports back in the day. Sure, I liked X, Black Flag, Flipper, the Circle Jerks, and the Dead Kennedys, but none of them provoked the same degree of enthusiasm or personal resonance. Chris Desjardins (AKA Chris D.) was a Slash magazine editor and movie freak who filled his lyrics with B-movie romanticism, liberally borrowing references to films noir, spaghetti westerns, and the sleazier horror and action films of the day (many of which I heard about for the first time in his songs), packing them into poetry of youthful angst and doomed romance. And he sang like a wounded coyote, yelping and bellowing in a way that's totally unique; he's up there in the pantheon of "utterly unique rock vocalists" like Doc Corbin Dart, but he's nowhere near as painful to listen to). His songs can pretty accurately be summed up as Gun Crazy distilled two and a half minutes (on average) of slashing punk fury. The lyrics to "Eyes Without a Face" (which appeared on the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack, which I had, and on Hard Road to Follow, the first album of theirs I picked up, based on its extraordinary cover; I'm honestly not sure which I had first) were always among my favourite:

Born into a world that I don't understand
Try to get a foothold in drifting sand
Every time I look someone in the eye
They trip up and start to fall
I've been burning a candle for you oh
Private bedroom and a naive altar
Of unswerving faith
A tarnished wedding bracelet 
In a forgotten drawer
Darling, what are eyes for?
Good for love-talk inside a storm
Fucking unnoticed in a crowded room
Someone in my sight
Someone else by your side

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write up their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Sometimes your eyes look at me and see destiny
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Sometimes your eyes can't see no matter how close they get to me
Writing me a history of misery
My eyes without a face
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Eyes without a face
Oh my eyes without a face
Oh my eyes without a face

I got blistered fingertips split open with blood
Unbutton my top button, my shirt is in shreds
Up for eight days straight, a trip to drop dead
Til history crashes to a stop
But I kept going and didn't end
I didn't end because I can never ever end
I can never ever ever ever end
This happiness turned around inside out
Alone in the beating heart of night
Pumping blackness into my veins

Until any light
On your beautiful face becomes the dirtiest word

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Your eyes won't go away
They follow my trail down that twisted road
Right into that world I don't understand
A bedroom buried in drifting sand,
Can they catch me? How close can you get?
Because what waits here are two burning eyes without a face
Eyes without a face
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Eyes without a face
Eyes without a face

And yes, I knew that song before the Billy Idol one, though they came out around the same time (1983). Both lift their title from a rather infamous French horror film about a plastic surgeon killing women so he can steal their face for a graft on his disfigured daughter. You'll notice that that has utterly nothing to do with what Chris D. is singing about, however; he takes the phrase "eyes without a face" and owns it, transforms it into the experience of an alienated youth who sees so much more than he himself is seen by others. Its one of their greatest songs - though I would direct those who don't know the band to, say, their super-cool video for "The Wedding Dice" (and if Chris looks a bit like one of the contras in that Kevin Costner Cold War thriller No Way Out, it's because he was; he acted a bit, also starring in a kinda-not-so-great rock movie called Border Radio, which was put out by Criterion). Or check out the songs on their first single, like "Twisted Road," "Disintegration Nation" - or "Digging My Grave," off what for some is their most esteemed album, A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (recently reissued on vinyl), featuring an all-star lineup including members of X and the Blasters, and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos on sax.  
That's a great album cover, but for my money, and attempting to be objective (eschewing my baby duck fondness for Hard Road to Follow and the sheer awesomeness of their very best songs on that album, like "Life's a Dirty Rat"), their greatest moment overall is probably Forever Came Today, which is more cohesive than Hard Road and more muscular than A Minute to Pray (and features the actual song "A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die," which takes its title from a spaghetti western, though again, Desjardins completely transforms the phrase, gives it new/ different meaning; that one is not on Youtube). But all those early albums were great. I got off the boat around the Ashes of Time release, which just didn't grab me, and I didn't have much love for 2004's Miss Muerte (sorry!), but I was totally down with 1991's Dragstrip Riot , a double album on SST that slows down the tempo a bit but has not a bad song on it, and even some really cool covers, like a version of Mott the Hoople's "The Moon Upstairs." It was that lineup of the Flesheaters that were slated to perform at the Elephant. I had plans to record the show on my shitty little Realistic tape recorder. It had disappeared from the listings soon after I first saw it, and I could find no confirmation in the weeks that followed that the show was going on as scheduled, but I still bused in from Vancouver on the off chance that it was going on, tape recorder tucked in my bag. I wasn't exactly surprised, but my heart still sank when the doorman confirmed that indeed, the show had been cancelled. I bused home, sad, on a Pacific Coachlines bus, my tape recorder unused in my bag, the entire trip having been for nothing.

I recall later discovering - not sure how - that that whole branch of the tour got cancelled because Chris D. had to go to Japan to work on a film-related project. He's written several books now - including novels and an authoritative look at Japanese gangster and action cinema, called Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film. Fans of Fukasaku Kinji should get the book for sure, though I will confess here that Mr. D's knowledge of Japanese crime and exploitation so far exceeds mine that I barely know the work of 70% of the filmmakers he writes about. I did get a copy of his vampirism-as-addiction feature film directorial debut I Pass For Human (it's interesting but inessential; I love Desjardins most as a punk poet and film reviewer, and I don't respond to the whole heroin-addiction thing so much, though it pops up in his lyrics elsewhere from time to time).

Anyhow, folks, there's news. Don't get up your hopes about a Vancouver show by the Flesheaters, because that will probably never happen; the size of their fan base is just not large enough to merit the trek across the border, I would imagine. But the Flesh Eaters - a revamped version of the Minute to Pray band, featuring John Doe and DJ Bonebrake - will play Seattle on January 13th, co-headlining with Mudhoney. (I don't really follow Mudhoney but the one time I saw them, playing the Commodore, I liked them way better than the other band on the bill, who happened to be Nirvana). I am thinking on catching the Amtrak 513 (I think it is), which leaves Vancouver early in the morning that day and costs a mere $63. I may see if there's an early train back, too, and just pull an all-nighter, to save money on a hostel or such. This will probably be my only chance to see the Flesheaters, ever.

And not that you care, necessarily, but it will probably be YOUR only chance to see them, too, Vancouver...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

They Live video is closing down and selling off its stock

I really liked They Live, though it's nowhere convenient to me, so I never rented anything from them. I've bought the odd video there from time to time and I have occasionally perused their shelves as an impassive observer and been impressed by their stock. I know people who frequent it as renters and they're all really bummed to hear it's closing down, with good reason: they were a good video store, and their community deserved one.

So pardon me if this sounds insensitive, but: the close out sale is now going on and there's LOTS of decent cinema still on their shelves, for those of you who are still into owning DVDs. Most of the Blu's are already snapped up (a couple by me) and I alerted a few serious videophile friends today, so things won't last for long, folks. If you're interested in movies, I'd get down there now (next to Red Cat, more or less). I will be heading back on Friday so I would advise y'all to act soon...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gerry Hannah's new record, Uwe Boll's Rampage II, plus Crime Fest at the Vancity Theatre

Won't have much to say for a bit, but it's surely a sign of the end of the world that Gerry Hannah has joined Facebook. He also has a new blogpost and a bandcamp page, where you can hear streamed versions of the songs on his new solo album. I love some of these songs, which I know from his Songs from Underground cassette, and I'm eager to hear the new ones, but I don't want my first listen to it to be online...  Don't let that stop you, though, if you don't know these songs or don't know for sure yet that you want this album. It's not punk rock at all, by the way, but mostly a moody folk music; most people know only "Living With the Lies," because it survived, mastered from the original prison tape, on the Terminal City Ricochet soundtrack, but there's also the Codeine cover of "Sure Looks That Way," which - lookee - someone has put the orignal of on Youtube, too. We gather the new recordings are much improved.
In other news, Uwe Boll's Rampage II: Capitol Punishment is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now. It's a pretty gleefully irresponsible movie (and features no images whatsoever, box art aside, of our "hero" shooting up the US Capitol, by the by). It is the umpteenth Boll film that centres on a shooting spree, and one of various attempts on his part to make a angrily political exploitation film, but fans of the first Rampage will not be disappointed. The progressive politics and overt misanthropy are a bit of an odd fit, but the directness of Boll's anger is welcome, and there are some fun rants from superb BC actor Brendan Fletcher, as Boll's violent avenger of political ills. Mind you, it's hard to buy complaints about the decadence of the rich and powerful as mouthed by a man on a gleeful mass murder spree, since random killing just isn't an appealing answer to the problems of the world. And Boll really missed an opportunity when he cast himself in his own movie: he needed to be shot down like a dog by his antihero, but he probably realized some people in the audience would cheer. Instead, his appearance in his own film serves merely to allow him to watch his hero on video and have him say, "I totally agree with this guy," which, believe it or not, Uwe, we already knew.
Incidentally, it was weirdly touching to see Boll pay homage to the now-closed bingoplex in the centre of Maple Ridge, the surprise appearance of which, in the first film, totally dominated my past writing on it. It's just around the corner from where I live, and was closed down a year or so ago when the nice new big casino got opened across town. Boll's armoured gunman looks sadly in the window at one point and mourns its demise ("no bingo?")... If I'd know they were shooting that day I would have hung around and gawked. Someone should seriously do a "best of Boll" festival at a theatre in Vancouver. Even his naysayers must admit, he's kept a lot of Vancouverites employed!
In other news, I'm excited to catch whatever I can at the upcoming Crime Fest at the Vancity Theatre. They're playing what is bar-none my favourite Tarantino, which was Jackie Brown; I have always thought that the (relative) failure of this (relatively) mature, rich film to find a mass audience at the time set Tarantino off, when he finally got over it, on a trajectory of pandering, and that if the film had succeeded we would have gotten a very different kind of filmmaker: one whose movies I would still get excited about. Watching it again has become kind of bittersweet for me, a cause to contemplate lost opportunities, films that Tarantino never made that could have been so great (like, what if he'd been inspired to adapt other classic American crime writers, and his films since Jackie Brown had included an adaptation of a Parker novel, or writers like David Goodis, Jim Thompson, George V. Higgins, Charles Willeford, or James M. Cain? What if he'd teamed up with James Ellroy to bring American Tabloid to the screen? Instead we've had to settle for re-boiled riffs on and reimaginings of movies that already exist, like Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained, none of which rate very highly with me at all. Jackie Brown was Quentin Tarantino's last great film; sadly, this will likely remain the case).
If the other films in the fest live up to the bar set by Jackie Brown (and by the other vintage selection, Polanski's Chinatown), we're in for a treat. Mystery Road sounds distressingly relevant to our city's recent history. I have mixed feelings about James Franco, but I definitely do want to catch his adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Child of God, my favourite McCarthy novel, and certainly his funniest, despite its very dark content (it concerns a dispossessed hillbilly necrophiliac; its idea of humour is having a peripheral character name his daughter out of a medical textbook, picking words for their sound - like Urethra. It's the funniest bit in McCarthy since Harrogate took to fuckin' those melons). I've seen Cold in July on some ten-best-of-2014 lists, and I liked Jim Mickie's earlier film, the apocalyptic vampire movie Stakeland, well enough. And I'm a big enough fan of Dexter that I'd be curious to see what I assume is Michael C. Hall's cinematic breakout, and can enjoy Sam Shepard in almost anything, so I'll go see that. Salvo, the Italian hitman thriller, also sounds compelling. I'm not the biggest Sam Fuller fan - his cinema, even when it is full of ideas and new images, like the male bathhouse in 40 Guns, say, is often just a little too anarchic and startling for my tastes - but I might make time for his daughter's documentary about him, he's an important enough figure in the annals of low-budget American filmmaking (and thanks to Wim Wenders' occasional casting of him in movies, I got to really love Fuller's face; he and Nick Ray both pop up in The American Friend). Hell, if I can make time, I'll go see every one of these movies, they all sound interesting.
By the way, horror fans note that I have heard nothing but great things about the Australian supernatural thriller The Babadook, also upcoming, but I have not yet seen it. Nothing much else is going on for me right now - just work and life, keeping me busy. I would rather see some movies, over the next while, than write about them.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Voting? What?

I will fail in my civic responsibility to vote this weekend. I'm spread too thin - I likely won't even be in the town I'm supposed to be voting in. But if I could vote for David M....

Looking for life in the mainstream

I don't know if it's a feature of my age, of having moved back to a conservative town, or if I'm just running out of steam, but where I once was looking for inspiration and freshness in the avant-garde, outside, and extreme, I'm finding myself, at age 46, much more interested in seeking sustenance in stuff that is somewhat, uh, normal and - no offense intended to anyone mentioned below - average.

Take, for instance, Goddo. They're not some crazed metal band writing about disembowelment and mutilation (probably my last stab at excess was my brief flurry of interest in death metal and black metal a couple of years ago, but it's since run out). They're not the punkest of punk, they're not politically radical, they don't make bizarre and alienating noises, they don't masturbate or self-trepanate or so forth on stage. Good as they are, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking or challenging about their music - it's a heavy power trio, a guitar bass and drums, writing meat and potatoes rock songs. But what meat! What potatoes! They're utterly creative, sincere, and invested in what they do, and they do it very, very well. The fact that it's really quite mainstream (without being some falsified commodity; I don't mean to say they're mainstream in the way Bryan Adams or shit like that is mainstream - I don't mean mainstream to mean "spoon-fed to the masses") is actually really appealing to me, really comforting, like there's inspiration in just how sincere and full-of-life it is, while being in many ways quite (again, no offense here, I don't mean this pejoratively) average. Like my enthusiasm last year for listening to the Angels or, occasionally, the Kinks, I suddenly find myself listening to Goddo over and over. I get some weird comfort from revelling in how good it is, without being excessive or extreme or storm-the-barricades aggressive in any way shape or form. It's still great music, without needing to dye its hair purple or punch you in the face, you know? That seems really life-affirming, somehow.

I've been going through a similar thing with film, too. I've spent a lot of time in the past looking for worlds to conquer, applying myself to arthouse, experimental, and foreign cinema like I've been compensating for a deficiency, but mostly these days I crave comfort food and the pleasures of genre. There are still foreign films that I want to see - I'm on a bit of a Francesco Rosi kick at the moment, having been blown away by Many Wars Ago, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hands Over The City in my mailbox, plus I want to take in some more Sion Sono - but I'm a lot more excited lately to sit down to something like a Sidney Lumet (or Sydney Pollack!) movie than I ever used to be, even if I've seen it before. Even movies that I admit aren't that great - like, say, Lumet's Q&A, which I watched with Ma the very night after I stumbled across it in a thrift store, or, say some of the Scream Factory horror obscurities that have popped up in recent years, like Final Exam, Death Valley, Without Warning, or The Nest - all of which I have ingested hungrily in the last few months - are giving me a ridiculous amount of pleasure to contemplate, not because they're particularly groundbreaking or fresh or even that good - Death Valley is probably the best of those, and it's still only a B+ effort - but precisely because they are rather average, rather ordinary, rather un-remarked upon and unremarkable films, that nonetheless have a lot of craft to them. That they're alive without being in any way really remarkable seems in itself remarkable, and a cause for hope. Maybe this is all just my way of reconciling myself to what seems to be a pretty average life I'm going to end up leading - I don't see myself climbing Everest anytime soon - but to heck with it, it's the path I seem to be on at the moment, I might as well enjoy it...

Friday, November 14, 2014

PIGGY tonight at Pat's Pub

Talked briefly to Ron Reyes for the Straight about Not Yer Buddy and the current state of PIGGY, who play the release of the newest Not Yer Buddy compilation tonight. I have the first three of these and really like them - great documents of local punk. Might turn up tonight, don't know - Ron says there will be a couple of songs off the EP that will get played, which I reviewed here, though they have a new singer and a second guitarist, so some of this is being left behind (I hope not "Your Face," though).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

David M.'s Fall, in Love, in No Fun City 2014 THIS SATURDAY

This year has seen the highest concentration of David M. musical activity in Vancouver since I don't know when. And it's not done yet! Those of us who would like to see some classic No Fun songs performed without those pesky Christmas references have (at least!) one more chance to see the man do his thing, this Saturday at Slickity Jim's Chat'n'Chew. This time I will be there ! (Tho' I may poke my nose in to catch Mecca Normal at the Media Club, first). I have requested "Ambivalence." Or was it "Ream Me Like You Mean It?" It sure wasn't "Toll for the Troll."

Mecca Normal: Jean Smith mini-interview on Empathy for the Evil, KRAMER, and Unforseen Changes that Change Everything

Mecca Normal by Sean Raggett

Don't know much about KRAMER, but I have a bunch of albums he's on (or distributed on his now defunct label Shimmy Disc). I love Shockabilly, love Bongwater, still listen to both bands.  Never much expected that he would produce an album by Vancouver's (smart, writerly) art-punk duo Mecca Normal, though. I reviewed the new album, Empathy for the Evil, for the Straight here - though they left out my observation that Jean Smith's sense of humour is very much intact and that for those of you who loved The Observer, the band's previous album, themed around the sad realities of contempoary dating, there is one song that could practically be an outtake from that, "Naked and Ticklish." (Ah, lovers with pets). I interacted with Jean Smith a bit about her experiences working with KRAMER and Rat Bastard, so what follows is a mini-interview, exclusive to Alienated in Vancouver.

Allan: I gather from a few places that KRAMER has alienated some people - I've heard that the Bongwater splitup was particularly acrimonious, and I don't think he and Eugene Chadbourne and he get on so well these days. What was he like, anyhow? Also - what exactly is "Between Livermore and Tracy" about? [The album's most textured and haunting track, and also its longest]. I felt like I should understand it... but I didn't.

Jean Smith: Working with KRAMER was great. Rat was great too – he’s a very generous and helpful guy. No problems. KRAMER is smart and funny and a very hard worker. He wants things how he wants them, but whatever... who doesn't? He just happens to have the goods to back up his way. Not that he got his way on everything, but really... there were no problems and ideally we’ll go back and make the next record with them.

Here’s evidence of the studio dynamic. I think I'm the most irritating one out of three at this point.

As far as the meaning of “Between Livermore and Tracy” it would be impossible for anyone to figure out, I think. In addition to the album title, it’s another Rolling Stones reference. Altamont, California is between Livermore and Tracy. The death – a murder – during the Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway fascinates me. I’ve speculated on what that must have been like as a musician on stage to have someone killed during a song – the loss of control and a sense of responsibility. What they were doing in performance had nothing to do with that outcome. In a way, it makes performance seem very ritualistic and static as opposed to fluid and responsive to what’s happening in front of them. They were stuck repeating their songs wearing their rock star garb – prancing and flaunting – and there is no relationship between that performance and the murder. I mean, did anyone ask what Mick was wearing to provoke a man to kill a person?

For the weeks leading up to going to Miami to record, I was going back and forth to the Langley hospital after my dad had a few heart attacks and strokes. Unfortunately, while he was in hospital he suffered a type of delirium that had him hallucinating wildly. This is evidently fairly common in elderly patients. I think it has a lot to do with them not getting enough water, strangely enough. I was the only family member that was into dealing with him in that state of mind. My brother was on the scene dealing with administrative stuff, so that was great, but neither he nor my mother were very keen on listening to my dad's frightening episodes which included him being convinced he was in the Navy, stationed in Asia, helping Stephen Harper (who he despises) deal with the issues of the day. It was heartbreaking, scary and just plain weird to see him like that. He’s a totally brilliant, lucid guy with impeccable verbal skills.

I hated leaving here while he was still in the hospital. I haven’t had a drink in fifteen years, but while we were getting settled on the plane I came close. I was drained from all that had been going on and I started to feel very claustrophobic. Actually, just telling Dave that I was thinking about having a drink seemed to reduce the anxiety. I’d been going to the hospital early most mornings to make sure my dad felt OK, that he wasn’t wondering where he was – or who he was, for that matter. I just wanted to get off the plane and go to the hospital to be with him.

There are more details in the weekly column Mecca normal creates for Magnet Magazine.

This was the first piece we did when we set up to record. I’d been writing about the whole thing and posting on FB, so I had all that material with me. Dave started playing something I'd never heard and I played piano to that in another room, then I added vocals. In a way, it was a gesture from David to help me claim the state of mind I needed to get down to work. I tend to sing about things that are going on in my life as a way of processing what’s happening and this song needed to happen.

“Between Livermore and Tracy” represents the state just before something unforeseen changes everything forever. I didn't call home for the time I was in Miami recording. I didn't want to have to deal with death while I was in the studio. We were only gone about a week and he was back home when I got back. He's fine now. He’s 89 and my mom is 94... somehow.
Mecca Normal will open for Mirah at the Media Club on November 15th.

Nerdfest 2014: some photos!

I may have missed Bison and the Misfits this weekend, but I briefly checked out Nerdfest 2014, curated at the Rickshaw by the former "oboe of death" from Scythia, Morgan Zentner. If you're looking to buy chainmail or a polished, sterilized horn to drink your mead out of, Nerdfest seems like a great place to go; it was also quite amusing as a voyeur. My experiences with Zombiewalk (and the odd Halloween costume) have taught me the power of the costume, so I'm endeavouring to be a little less judgmental when it comes to things like the SCA, LARPing, and so forth. Turns out I was actually pretty entertained by some of the manifestations of nerdiness on display - including a costume contest that I  caught only a portion of.

There were cool demonstrations of fencing and swordfighting from Academy Duello, who let people who visited their table pick up the swords and see how they felt.

There were skillful firedancing routines from Vesper Sephony that I had a poor view of and did not photograph, and there was a quirky striptease in reverse from Diamond Minx, beginnning pretty much nude and then adding layers (which she presumably took off again later).
There was also a miserable, drunken clown, Sir Buttercup Von Dingus, whose deadpan negativity and joylessness I'm pretty sure was meant to place him in some category of meta-clown humour, in the vein of Shakes the Clown or something that Andy Kaufman might have done. Where the joke is that you're not at all funny, it's hard to know how to respond, and I was most curious to see what he would do  when people started shouting things like "you're not funny" at him - which eventually they did - because his routine did seem to invite heckling. (He just told the heckler to shut the fuck up. I don't know what I'd expected, frankly. A homicidal rampage?). Briefly, somewhere in there, the sheer grim badness of some of his (mostly circus-themed) jokes - about falling in love with Minnie the Midget, and being "nuts over the girl," for instance - actually struck me as really, really funny, but I kept being nervous through the remainder of the evening while he was moping around the audience, flopping his big clown shoes as he walked. You never know what a grim clown, in character, is going to do.
There was one band I did not really understand, the Runaway Four (formerly the Tasty Animals), who really brought the nerd to Nerdfest, since they appeared to be playing video game music, with a bit of added jazziness and maybe at least a smidgen of awareness of the realm of Frank Zappa. I personally have nothing invested in video game music, and unlike many audience members, did not cheer when their performances - to judge by what was being projected on the Rickshaw screens - veered towards the realm of Super Mario, which - gasp! - means very little to me. The smiling white cloud on their keyboard stand was probably some sort of video game reference too. Did I get it? No. The Runaway Four may have successfully out-geeked me. There were certainly some people dancing through their interminable in-joke of a set. And, uh, they did it well. The drummer's cap looked like a big amanita muscaria, but that was presumably some sort of Mario reference, too?

There were also lots of cool merchants. My favourite by far was Makosla Creations, who had super-cool fimo dragons on display. If I were wealthier and the dragon type I would have gotten one. Ragnar the Trader's drinking horns - which gave the MC ample opportunity to joke about the time he spent polishing his horn - were what caught my girl's eye, but we ended up going home hornless. We didn't really need one: I found a horn of my own later that night, and shared it with her.

As far as music, I much preferred the music of the second act, Blackberry Wood, who did a swing-tempo rendition, for instance, of the Cure's "Love Cats," and who had pretty cute stripy costumes, complementing the substantial curves of a couple of their members. They kind of reminded me of the Creaking Planks, but in a peppier, zippier mode. It was fun!

With apologies to the Whiskeydicks, I missed the rest of Nerdfest - I was going to try to catch some of Bison's show down the street, but the cold rain and my poor choice of jacket interfered with that decision, too, so my girl and I ended up going home. I got to drop in at the Electric Owl and nab the new Bison EP, so I was happy. Still, Nerdfest seemed like a pretty entertaining event! Let's hope a good folk metal band gets added for their fifth year next year, I'd like an excuse to take the girl to a folk metal show...