Saturday, January 30, 2016

Heads up, punk (re: Westworld Recordings)

Photograph of the Ruts by Jackie Jet

People who like punk should know: there is a label putting out some super-cool UK punk stuff right now, called Westworld Recordings. Not sure their distro in Canada - links below are to their UK distributor, I believe - but I've checked out promo downloads of a couple of their albums by under-appreciated bands, The Ruts - a double album of live stuff on one record, and studio on the other - and Infa Riot, a North London streetpunk band I did not know previously (but doesn't the guitar that opens "Emergency" remind you of Erin of The Rebel Spell?). They're high-quality and exciting releases, and they seem like a label worth supporting! They've also put out stuff by the Damned that I want to hear, and releases by the Business, Chelsea... It all appears to be UK bands they're releasing, but it's still all great. Maybe some local record stores could look into getting their stuff?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Revisiting Robyn Hitchcock: Popcraft of an Outraged Rationalist

Listening to "The Man with the Lightbulb Head" by Robyn Hitchcock and re-discovering how feckin' good it is, how much better it is than I really realized or appreciated, say, the last time I was listening to Robyn Hitchcock, circa 1990 (where I thought he was all right, passably entertaining, and so forth, if not exactly what I craved then; I had a few of his albums, then I sold them, then I forgot about him, more or less, until the announcement of his current tour). Man, what popcraft! Nevermind that obvious Syd Barrett thing, this particular song owes more to Eno's idiot glee days than I recall realizing; it would be interesting on a mixtape after "Back in Judy's Jungle," say. Or, like - listen to the very next track on this side of FegMANIA!, spinning as I type, which is "Insect Mother," and try NOT TO THINK of the Meat Puppets (I don't know which song exactly but try "Severed Goddess Hand," say; doesn't that even sound like a Robyn Hitchcock song title?).

And this isn't even my favourite Robyn Hitchcock album; that would be, of the five or so I've heard, "A Globe of Frogs," the title track of the album of the same name, and my favourite song on it, for its unclassifiable, playful strangeness. This guy is an important figure, who has influenced as much as he has been influenced. I bet Robert Pollard likes him. I sure do, but I had nearly forgotten it. Why did I ever set him aside for so long?

And speaking of the strangeness of his lyrics, have you heard "Wax Doll" lately? I mean, "if I was man enough I'd cum on your stump?" WHAT did you just sing, Robyn, exactly? Actually, some people have complained of the excessive absurdity of that line - as if the absurd needs to be carefully leavened with reality, lest it become just plain silly - but it's actually almost a political manifesto, innit? It's practically clear, accessible, meaningful (with a bit of work), or at least moreso than you'd maybe expect, on first blush: the song seems to address aspects of the British character that stifle and limit, maybe, though it's sung from a somewhat melancholy, pitying outsider's perspective (or is that contempt he's feeling...? Hmm. Does he want to cum on stumps as a sort of, "ha ha, I ejaculate on your lost limb" or, "what a lovely, arousing stump you have?" Would cumming on the stump be a gesture of dominance, or, like, sharing? Is it, "Am I man enough to love your stump," or "am I man enough to revel in your defeat?" It can actually be read either way!). Suffice it to say that it's relatively penetrable, as opposed to agreeably opaque (but resonant), which is usually the best you can hope for from him; and it's kind of sympathetic, too, I think (either way you slice it). Seems to me I remember Hitchcock saying  - in an interview on Much Music, I think! - that he wasn't really a wigged-out acidhead, so much as he was an "outraged rationalist," which immediately made strong intuitive sense, but has never made any other kind...

Still, I feel like I almost understand this song. 

Or do I? Hard to know after balloon man blew up in my hands. (Great little video, that - it's like The Prisoner meets the Residents in a film by Kenneth Anger, but minus all the queer occultism. There's definitely something sexual going on in there, too, though, though it's a little less transparent. The Elusive Onanism of Robyn Hitchcock?).

I saw Robyn Hitchcock once at the Town Pump, y'know? Around 1991, on the Eye tour, solo acoustic, with NO FUN (in trio form) opening. The highlight - certainly my strongest memory - was when the rather dryly-humoured singer quipped to the audience, "any requests" (or such), and received back, amongst the calls for particular songs of his, some wit's cry for "And the Wind Cries Mary." Which Robyn proceeded to ACTUALLY, SPONTANEOUSLY perform, more or less knowing the words, but, since he was neither practiced nor prepared, having to get some help from the Hendrix fans in the audience, who called out the chords. It's a singular moment in my concertgoing experiences, and also my favourite ever cover of Jimi, mostly because you had to be there to appreciate it - it's one of those concert going moments that only come once, that stand out in a world of rehearsed moves and memorized patter, where the audience taught a song to the performer.

Sort of.

Anyhow, he's coming back, Mr. Hitchcock is. March 10th at the Biltmore, which is about as close a venue to the old Town Pump as Vancouver has right now, in fact, if you think about it. My girlfriend will decide if the Reverend Horton Heat wins out, that night - we both enjoy him, but I haven't really shared Robyn Hitchcock with her until this week, because I literally have been ignoring him for 25 years. He's sort of my pick, though I could live with it either way. Thanks to David M. for enjoyably covering "My Wife and My Dead Wife" at a show last fall and preparing me for my rediscovery, seeing the ground, as it were; fruit has sprung, Mr. M.

There is far too much semen in this post.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Speaking of Vancouver... upcoming at the Cinematheque

Harry Killas is continuing his series of BC films at the Cinematheque. The one I'm particularly excited about screens February 1st: Zale Dalen's under-appreciated Vancouver cult film Skip Tracer,  a pointed, politicized, slickly paced dramatic thriller of continuing relevance, about debt collection and capitalism and such. I wrote about it here when it last screened at the Cinematheque, courtesy of Michael Turner, and incorporated some original interview material. I haven't seen it since that time, but I'm ready, and it's nice to note a poster has popped up online.

Of Killas' other choices, Deserters also sounds interesting, but I haven't seen it. I haven't seen She's a Boy I Knew, either; and while I have seen My American Cousin - which I remember as a colouful, charming Okanagan girlstory - I have no particular memories to share (though note, I was an extra in the sequel, American Boyfriends, in a scene shot in the Hollywood Theatre, though when I rented it on VHS I couldn't find myself in it).
Also at the Cinematheque, fans of Charles Bukowski will maybe want to look at Al Purdy Was Here. Setting aside all the Canadian literati that apparently grace the screen - I gather this is a somewhat testimonial-rich film - he was a friend of Bukowski's, which is kind of pleasing to note, and Buk was the person who turned me onto him, in fact. Maybe it's a bit of an ass backwards way for a Canadian English lit student to discover one of our better writers, but so be it. It was amusing to Google one of his more entertaining poems, "Flat Tire in the Desert," hoping to quote it, and stumble across my old Amazon review of a previous anthology of his writing (there have actually been three such books, released over a bizarrely short time period; there's a fun piece by Rob Taylor online on the last one). There is a small selection of Purdy's writing on the U of T website but they don't have any of my favourites, which tend to be his funnier, earthier moments ("When I Sat Down to Play the Piano," "The Winemaker's Beat-Etude" - the first about Purdy being menaced by shit-eating sled dogs while attempting to poop in the Arctic, the second about being investigated by cows when picking wild grapes, if memory serves; you can kinda see why Bukowski liked him, eh?).

The Core: silly fun for Vancouver film geeks

Okay: so, there's the 2003 thriller The Core on DVD, sitting in a bin of DVDs at a consignment store where, if you buy 10 of them, they're $1 each.
I love bins like that. 
I've seen pretty much every other major Hollywood disaster film from that time. Armageddon? Deep Impact? They're crap. But I missed this one. Standing in the store, I flip over the box: who directed it? (Jon Amiel, who, it turns out made the clever, entertaining serial killer flick Copycat, with Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney and Harry Connick Jr - but I don't recognize Amiel's name right off, so it means nothing to me).
So who's in it? Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo... okay. Richard Jenkins, Alfre Woodard, good... Stanley Tucci! Bruce Greenwood! 
That's about all the enticement I need to buy it - the cast alone is a dollar's worth of entertainment - but it's not til I'm watching it, and Tom Scholte pops up, do I realize that it was filmed in Vancouver. There's even a scene on the steps of the art gallery, that most iconic of Vancouver locations. I watch for Gabrielle Rose, and don't see her, but then in poking around IMDB I see Hrothgar Mathews, her partner, is in it. I was living in Vancouver when it was filmed, so I even keep an eye open in case I spy myself in the background. 
Unlikely, but what the hell.
For me, even an utter piece of crap would be made more entertaining by virtue of the local content, but here's the treat: as silly as its premise is, The Core is a really fun SF/ adventure/ disaster film, less insulting to its audience's intelligence than Armageddon and heaps more engaging than Deep Impact. The premise: the Earth's electromagnetic field is failing because the core of the planet has stopped spinning; global cataclysm looms. Scientists and astronauts - redubbed Terranauts - voyage into the planet in a combination drill (think At the Earth's Core) and laser, which blasts a hole ahead of them as they go. It's completely implausible, and the special effects, which I presume were state of the art back in 2003, aren't very convincing now, but  the film was clearly made by movie lovers, raised on a diet of 50's SF, so much so that you kind of expect dinosaurs to pop up (I'm not quite finished yet but presume this will not happen). Plus there's a rather Hitchcockian sequence where a crowd is menaced by birds. 
Roger Ebert wrote of The Core, back in 2003, that "I have such an unreasonable affection for this movie, indeed, that it is only by slapping myself alongside the head and drinking black coffee that I can restrain myself from recommending it. " I have no such problems. In fact, I'd much rather see the movies Ebert deems he has an "unreasonable affection" for than the ones he thinks are good, most generally. (Though neither category has quite as many masterpieces in it as the movies that Ebert thinks are immoral and dangerous).
Anyhow, if you want more description of the film, here's Roger. You can probably find your very own DVD of this for $1 somewhere, if you go lookin'. I promise you: it will be a dollar well spent - especially if you're a Vancouver movie geek. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Time to release The Linguini Incident properly

David Bowie fans need to see The Linguini Incident. Ideally this should happen because a proper Blu-Ray release of the film occurs. There's nothing out there at the moment (though it briefly popped up during the Austin Powers days on DVD as Shag-O-Rama). Both the 1990's Laserdisc David M. showed us the other night and the weirdly covered, now apparently OOP DVD he stumbled across in a cheapie bin at London Drugs - which features a very different Bowie on the cover from the one in the film, and steals from the box art for Barry Levinson's Diner, bizarrely enough, despite there being no diner in the film - were full-frame. There is also, apparently a UK and a US cut of the film with different runtimes (the UK version, longer, can be found on Youtube). Here's hoping someone decides to capitalize - an ugly word, but what can one do? - on the current interest in Bowie by finally doing this film justice. It's not a GOOD film, exactly, but nor is it bad (exactly); it's quirky, unique, playful, and, I suspect, will prove to be strangely memorable to anyone who sees it; it has everything a good cult movie needs, except, maybe, a cult.

...Or at least that's the impression I get. It wasn't, perhaps, the most focused audience the other night, where people, including me, wanted to be social and faded out of the film occasionally, chatting through certain scenes, but I saw enough of it to sense its merit. It's a sort of New Wave/ punk rock comedy without any punk rock in it; think Alex Cox at his most anarchistic - say, Straight to Hell, except, instead of playing with spaghetti westerns, director Richard Shepard takes on the "ambitious NY wannabe" romantic comedy, maybe with an end product that's a bit akin to After Hours, but  very, very light. Shepard writes an entertaining article about the time he spent in "movie jail" when the film bombed, and provides a few behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the making of the film (" "Shelley Winters showed up drunk on her first day of shooting, and I had to fire her") and the fallout when studio execs saw the film and hated it, leading to the utter humiliation and pariah status of the filmmaker (he writes of that time that at one point, he "saw Rosanna Arquette at a party and hid behind a plant.") He seems to have ultimately agreed that the film was no good, has decided (unlike Alex Cox, after the tanking of Walker; don't you just love that Criterion Easter Egg where he feeds the film's reviews into the fire?) that it was, in fact, his fault that the film failed.

I don't think I agree! Certainly The Matador - Shepard's most noted comeback vehicle - was a better made film in conventional terms than The Linguini Incident, but The Linguini Incident is much more, uh, singular, curious, piquant. If it's (maybe) a mess, at least it's a hot mess (or at least a pleasantly warm one), full of energy and originality and silly ideas (combat bras? Escape artists with stage fright?). Compared to The Matador, it's the film I'd be more interested in revisiting, though as I say, it would be nice if there were a chance to see a cleaned-up presentation of it, before I do that... Bowie is at the peak of his glass-spider stardom, handsome and charismatic (if not particularly asked to stretch his abilities or do much of anything but be cute, which he does effortlessly). Rosanna Arquette and Stranger than Paradise's Eszter Balint are both fun, and Andre Gregory's energetic comedic performance is an eye-opener, The film deserves better than it's gotten, and Bowie fans should make their voices heard!

But not me, I mean, this is all I'm going to do. Someone want to start a petition?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bowie Tribute Night at the Rickshaw, Feb. 26

My understanding is that there will be a plethora of bands each doing two songs. That might be inaccurate but it's a great idea.

2016: Year of the Living Room, with Red Herring and David M.

So far my two favourite concert experiences of 2016 have been in people's living rooms. I'm not sure anything I might go to at a proper venue this year could equal these experiences. 
The first, on January 1st, was seeing Red Herring at Id Guinness' place in New West. It was a very intimate night, where Enrico Renz signed my Gleebs of Wizagon and Erika Lax and I got treated to some of our favourite Red Herring tunes, including unreleased ones, like "Consuela" and "The Monkey Song." (The latter is discussed to some extent in my Red Herring interview of last year). The band had put everything in their repertoire, including a few Stephen Nikleva solo tunes like "Macedonian Polka," on a numbered list, and had us call out numbers to decide which songs they were going to play, though they let Erika and I cheat a little. "The Monkey Song," my pick, is a pretty heartbreaking number, actually, in which a lab animal sings of his gratitude to the superior race for making him useful, and contemplates the relative lack of utility of his old, free ways ("to think I was just swingin' through the trees"). I think Erika raised an eyebrow that I requested such a downbeat song at the peak of what was, after all, a fuckin' New Years' Eve Party, ferchrissakes, Al (profanity mine, not hers, but you get the idea). She has a point, but for me, it was a perfect way to release some of the darkness and sadness of 2015. Todd Serious - passionate about animal rights - would have approved of it.
Red Herring photos by Allan MacInnis

And speaking of people who aren't with us anymore, the most touching moment of the night came when Id explained to me in the kitchen that the boots sitting on a window ledge (top left) during the show belonged to Elizabeth Fischer. Someone had bought the boots off her at a garage sale and they felt it was the perfect way to include her in the evening - "it would have felt wrong without her." No doubt it was my last show ever with Elizabeth Fischer in attendance, which is pretty fitting, really, considering my last two were Red Herring's first reunion show at the Prophouse and Stephen Nikleva's solo show at the Waldorf Tiki room.
David M and Ozzy photos by Erika Lax

Then there was David M's show last night, paying tribute to David Bowie - though it wasn't a Bowie tribute (see below) but a "small salute." It's odd: a person in my circle chose to go to a faceless "Bowie Tribute" at a local venue, paying money to dance to DJ'd David Bowie songs, despite having been invited to this intimate, private, and money-are-you-kidding evening in what turned out to be, yes, David M's living room. I guess I don't understand that! But it was a real privilege seeing David perform a personal selection of his favourite Bowie songs - beginning with "The Laughing Gnome," from way back, but also including "When I'm Five," "Five Years," "Absolute Beginners," "Moonage Daydream" (aka "Elf Toymaker,' in David's Christmas repertoire), "Fantastic Voyage/ Boys Keep Swinging" ("the same song," as David demonstrated), and "Suffragette City," which turned into a singalong with the one member of the audience who a) knew all the words and b) could harmonize perfectly with David. There were probably a few other songs that I missed. Ten people filled the couches and chairs, and Ozzy went between them, wagging his tail, occasionally pausing to gnaw on a chew toy, obviously happy to be part of such a warm, social night (though not a socially mediated night: no cellphones came out, so if you weren't there, you weren't there).
The whole thing confirms a thought I've been having more often lately, that Erika and I (and people in general) should entertain more frequently at home. Why spend large sums of money to sit/ stand among strangers and consume culture, when it can be shared among friends in a living room? Maybe 2016 should be "the year of the living room." I will get working on it (though it also occurs to me that it might be fun to host a film event again this year, with live music, so we'll see how that goes).

Incidentally, I just stumbled into this documentary of Vancouver independent music circa 1984, with footage of a host of bands, including first-gen Red Herring in 1984, at the 27:30 mark (same lineup as now but prettier).

Thanks to all involved for these two memorable evenings!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

David M's small salute to David Bowie...

Details here:

You have to RSVP him to attend! (Kinda private event but don't be shy).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Slightly less impressed with The Revenant

I'm reading Michael Punke's The Revenant and wondering about some discrepancies between the story there - a novel, which takes some liberties with the truth, which Punke details in an afterword - and the film, which looks very different when you realize how far it is removed from what is known.

Punke's departures from the historical record are in many cases inevitable; there is controversy, for example, as to whether the young boy who, with Fitzgerald, abandons Hugh Glass - the Leo DiCaprio character - was in fact Jim Bridger. Some say yes, some say no, and many simply don't care, but in writing the story, Punke has no choice but to weigh in; either he's going to make the character Bridger, or not. So he does, and mentions having done so in his afterword, explaining that some historians would disagree. He also admits to inventing some peripheral characters, also out of a storyteller's necessity. All seems fair and above-board; I mean, it is presented as a novel, not a work of non-fiction, and when we're talking about events that took place in 1823, there's only so much help the record will provide.

Here's the thing, though: one of the major plot points of the film involves Glass' son with a Pawnee woman. Glass was married to a Pawnee woman, in fact, but there's no mention of him having had children with her at all on Wikipedia, and presumably none in the book, either; he certainly has no son with him when he's mauled in the book. In the film - SPOILERS, note - Glass' revenge is mostly motivated by his rage at Fitzgerald, the Tom Hardy character, for having killed his son, when the son interrupts Fitzgerald's first attempt to kill Glass. None of this is in the book. The son would appear to be a wholesale invention, designed to further motivate Glass' revenge: it's not enough that he was left for dead, it's not enough that Fitzgerald took his rifle (a unique and prized design, according to Punke): to motivate Glass' bloodlust, nothing less than a you-killed-my-son hate-burn is sufficient.

And it works in the film, no question; it boosts the drama a hundred fold over the you-took-my-rifle-and-left-me-to-die reality, which maybe one might expect Glass to get over, given that he really did seem to be dying ANYHOW, and that there really was danger in hanging around waiting for it to happen. The son is a great plot device, and helps tie Glass in with the various First Nations characters who appear in the film, giving him a much more sympathetic bond with them. It's kind of too bad it's all a lie, though! It seems just slightly condescending - a Hollywoodism - and it distorts the impression of the actual history, misleading those who don't do their homework, and take the "based on a true story" thing as gospel. It kind of also does an injustice to the historical Fitzgerald, who may have been a bastard in reality, but would appear not to have been a murderer. While not as dramatic, the true story is actually interesting: Glass tracked down both men, but forgave Bridger (if it was Bridger) since he was young, and got his rifle back off Fitzgerald, who had since joined the army. It's kind of funny that a film so concerned with reality that DiCaprio allegedly slept in animal carcasses and ate raw meat, for authenticity's sake, is so comfortable with falsification in other ways...

I wonder if Man in the Wilderness, also a telling of the Hugh Glass story, lies thus, too? It's too bad that the video industry has fallen into disarray; there was a time when a movie like The Revenant would have automatically meant a home video release (or re-release) of Man in the Wilderness, to capitalize on the success of the current film, and it's a film I'd like to see... apparently it did come out on DVD at one point, but I won't hold my breath for a Blu-Ray...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing about David M. again: a "Small Salute to David Bowie"

NOTE: DATE CHANGE - the event David is speaking of appears to be happening on the 16th instead. We still don't know where. 

Is David M. even more alienated than I am?

David is brilliant, funny, and sometimes, um, a little unsettling as a performer, but he's totally unique and talented. He's also not so well-appreciated, these days. People will come out in droves to see other figures in the first generation of Vancouver punk do a show - not that NO FUN was ever really punk - but the last show I saw of David's had eight die-hard fans there who were not with the band, including myself and my girl. Granted, it was a Ukrainian Christmas-themed show where David performed a number of his Christmas songs two weeks after Christmas had passed - which is expecting a lot from Vancouverites, maybe - but it was also a vastly entertaining experience. Mind you, his more timely Dec 23rd concert at the Railway had at least a few dozen people in the audience, so he's not THAT under-appreciated; and the Straight had me do a feature on his well-received Khats fest appearance last year...

But still, this is a guy who is not getting his due. I mean, the first time I wrote about him, for The Skinny some ten years ago, it was apropos of the experience of turning up to see him at one of his monthly shows at Chapters Robson where I was the only person in the audience, ferchrissakes, at least until a woman turned up and joined us who proved to be his wife. I've been to a lot of concerts in my day, but never elsewhere have I been to a public performance where the ratio of performers been one-to-one. While I've heard a few disapproving groans from audiences at his more off-colour moments, I've never seen anyone go to one of his shows and not have a good time. I do not entirely get it, why he doesn't have more fans.

Anyhow, David is doing a "small salute" to David Bowie this Friday. The venue remains to be determined. I mistakenly described it, when shooting him some questions about it via email, as a tribute show. This is David's reply:

DAVID M: It’s not a “tribute”, it’s a “small David Bowie salute”. I’m not much for tributes (see “Tribute To NO FUN”), benefits (see my song “Tsunami Benefit”), or other self-serving venue-fillers, though they do provide good value for money for audiences, provided they don’t just sneak in or get on the guest list.
My original thought was a way to do one particular David Bowie song that I didn’t think anyone had ever tried to do in the way I had in mind. After that, I thought that the various David Bowie songs I’ve worked up over the years might add up to 40 minutes or so, and I’d never just played a bunch of his songs one after the other before, so there was that. And then I figured that after a modest little set of David Bowie songs, watching “The Linguini Incident” would be fun and cheerful for any sad David Bowie fan who had or hadn’t seen it. That already added up to a little evening somewhere, even before considering enjoying other items from my vast Bowie audio/video collection (official releases only, YouTube is so common), which suggested a small event, easily arranged right here in the Levellers common room, possibly even just in my apartment for a few people who wanted cheering up.
I prepared what I thought was a suitably humble poster (leaving off any specific venue information so as to stay off any Yelp “Neighbourhood Spotlight” e-mailings) and posted it on Facebook. There was an immediate “I’ll be there wherever it is” reaction, so I’m considering an alternate way of doing my “small David Bowie salute”. I see that LanaLou’s is having a Bowie karaoke night tonight, which should attract a hard-drinking crowd. Maybe any local David Bowie-related event, even mine, can’t help but be crass and cheesy.
Anyhow, all will be revealed shortly. Answering your questions:

1. When and where did you first arrive at Bowie?
1) I first heard of David Bowie by reading John Mendelsohn’s Rolling Stone article about him in 1970, when “The Man Who Sold The World” was released in the States. Bowie was in America, wearing a dress, promoting the album, and the article made him sound interesting. But I didn’t actually hear him until “Hunky Dory” came out in early 1972, and was available in Canada. I spotted it on a record shopping trip to Kelly’s in New Westminster with my friend (and first bass player) Mike McKenzie, and we both thought it was great, with no hype whatsoever. Then “Ziggy Stardust” came out that summer, and that, too, was great, and that fall RCA reissued Bowie’s first two albums (including “The Man Who Sold The World”) in the now-familiar Ziggy-photo covers, and they were great in their own, different, ways. Then David Bowie was everywhere.

2. Did you ever have a "glam" period yourself, putting on makeup or such?

2) The song “Do The Girl” (it’s on “Snivel”, but it was first recorded in 1975 for the initial NO FUN album) is about the early 1970’s phenomenon of chubby bearded heterosexual rock musicians putting on glam clothes and make-up. This was very common at the time, and hopeless for those musicians. Bowie was inimitable, and very thin and pretty. Teaching fans how to dress is probably the most important function of rock stars, and no rock movement ever succeeded if fans couldn’t dress up for it. I did dress up as the Rocky Horror Picture Show guy one Hallowe’en in the early 80’s, though. 

3. Are you going to be mutating any of the Bowie songs on the tribute - into Gorgo ads or "Elf Toymaker" or such - or will this be straight-up?
3) We’ve done lots of Bowie Gorgo ads over the years, including some medleys of them (“Lime Spider Tour”, “Glass Gorgo Tour”, “Lime + Vision Tour”), and I’m not ruling anything out yet. There are NO FUN songs, like “Do The Girl” and “It Pays To Be Glam” that would be relevant, and my new song “So Long, Hey, Kid” is meant to work both ways, as a “My Way”-style kiss off and as a fond farewell to someone that’s gone. There are other Bowie-infused cover songs I do like “So Young” (Suede), “Rent” (Pet Shop Boys), “Heartbeat” (Jobriath), and Rufus Wainwright’s “Vicious World” and “Vibrate”, and those would fit. But I’m thinking that just the Bowie songs makes it more different for me, and there’s a mood to doing it that way which seems worthwhile to me.

4. Do you have any favourite Bowie memories or stories? Ever see him live? Ever meet him?

4) I saw Bowie at the Coliseum on February 2, 1976, at the Gardens in Iggy Pop’s band on April 7, 1977, at B.C. Place on August 9, 1983, at the Coliseum on September 12, 1983, at B.C. Place on August 15, 1987, at the Coliseum on March 15, 1990, with Tin Machine (at what was their final show) at the Commodore on December 21, 1991, in Tacoma at the Tacomadome with Nine Inch Nails on October 24, 1995, and at the Plaza Of Nations on September 6, 1997. All of these shows were great, and memorable. Some even have stories (like being with the girlfriend I was breaking up with in the medical room when the show started on September 12, 1983). We almost got backstage at Tin Machine, but as we were waiting in front of the stage long after the show, local rock writer Greg Potter was being so loud and unpleasant that they threw us all out. Penny was INCENSED. And, of course, there’s the May 20, 1990 Railway Club (“Meet rock superstar David Bowie”) matter, covered on “No Fun: The Beatles Of Surrey” a couple of days ago [editor's note: where?]. I never had a more meaningful Bowie moment, though, than the day in 1997 when I played a version of “Absolute Beginners” (just singing and guitar) at the wedding of my dear friend Kent Lindsay (who requested the song) as they came up the aisle. I really hammered the “the rest can go to HELL” in that nice little Anglican church, rather than swallowing it. My perspective was different than anyone else’s that day, but I’ll always remember it.
 5. What are the most meaningful Bowie songs/ albums for you?
5) As I said, I am about as well-versed in the David Bowie oeuvre as anyone you’ll meet who isn’t a professional about it. So I like it all, even the maligned parts of his career, as aspects of a whole. I know his major albums so well that I hardly need to play them (this also applies to the Beatles with me), but there’s lots of other stuff to listen to with Bowie. After he went from the World’s Biggest Cult Hero to “Let’s Dance” Stadium Rock Superstar, he did some albums that people don’t like much (even Bowie hated “Too Dizzy”, which he removed from “Never Let Me Down” after its initial pressing), but I listen to them all regularly. I’m even going to rebuy sometime (on iTunes) all the pointless 12” singles from the 80’s that Penny ended up with after we broke up. Anyhow, David Bowie never made a “better” album than the first two I heard (“Hunky Dory” and “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars”), but I’ll recommend a few individual songs that others might not: “Atomica” (from the deluxe “The Next Day”), “Fall Dog Bombs The Moon” (from “Reality”), “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” (from “...hours”), “The Buddha Of Suburbia” (from the album of that name), “Get Real” (bonus track on “Outside 1”), “Dead Man Walking” (from “Earthling”), “Goodbye Mr. Ed” (from “Tin Machine II”), “Bus Stop” (from “Tin Machine”), “Beat Of Your Drum” (from “Never Let Me Down”), “That’s Motivation” (from “Absolute Beginners”), “Chilly Down” (from “Labyrinth”), “Tumble And Twirl” (from “Tonight”), “Shake It” (from “Let’s Dance”), “Alternate Candidate” (bonus track on “Diamond Dogs”), “God Knows I’m Good” (from “Space Oddity”), “Ching-A-Ling” (from “Love You Till Tuesday”), and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” (original version from “Early On”).
That’s quite enough.
NOTE: DATE CHANGE - the event David is speaking of appears to be happening on the 16th instead. We still don't know where. But see his Facebook page for more, I guess!).
AND ONE MORE TIME: No, it's on the 16th, it looks like! Venue TBA.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Punk Gone Green this Friday

Ah, my poor Mom... I was tellin' her I'd come see her Thurs-Sunday but now I kinda want to sneak away Friday night for this gig! Nice to see Floor Tom Jones - I have officially forgotten his real name - drumming with Joe again, and bev will have some new photos... I've been wanting to see Joe do is acoustic thing for awhile now, because believe it or not, I never have!

Monday, January 11, 2016

More on Bowie

If I weren't awake when I didn't want to be, I probably wouldn't write this, but it feels like more needs to be said on David Bowie, even though I wasn't exactly a fan. 

There was a big-haired Goth girl I liked in the 1980's, back in Maple Ridge, who loved David Bowie. I tried, in part to please her. I owned the Changes compilation albums, and at various points bought actual albums by him, but I didn't ever quite get it, and as a young man, I was more threatened/ confused by his sexual fluidity than inspired by it, frankly. Part of me could identify with gays for their being excluded from the mainstream, and I had moments of attraction for other guys my age, but I never really wanted to put on make-up or embrace those odd moments of queerishness as part of my identity, especially in my teen years, when Bowie - with Let's Dance and the Serious Moonlight tour - was at his most visible. He seemed someone who was performing to people other than me. Which was fine; it wasn't like he needed my fandom...

Also to please my friend a bit, for awhile there - when there wasn't much to see - I watched what I could of Bowie as an actor, even seeing the fairly obscure Just a Gigolo, at one point, which you used to be able to get at Videomatica on VHS. It didn't leave much of an impression. Of course I loved Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, and loved Bowie's performance it; I've read Walter Tevis' novel on a couple of occasions and it seems almost to be written with Bowie in mind. But that was about it; The Hunger is a film for people with pointier boots than I've ever owned, Labyrinth seemed like a kids' film, and despite repeated tries, I never really fell in love with Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, though images of Bowie's kiss to Ryuichi Sakamoto in that film are fairly indelible. I let myself stop making a point of seeing his films at some point, but he would still pop up here and there. Casting Bowie as Warhol in Basquiat was brilliant, and he was great in the role; casting him as Tesla in The Prestige was interesting, too, but the performance wasn't, as I recall. About the last time I deliberately tried a film because Bowie was in it was when I stumbled across a spaghetti western he made in the late 1990's, with Harvey Keitel (!?), that came out on DVD some ten years later. It was called Gunslinger's Revenge. It made no mark; I don't remember liking it, but that's exactly all I recall. 

Some of his songs have always stuck, despite my non-fandom. "Life on Mars" and "Ashes to Ashes" are two of my favourites. I presently own Hunky Dory, and there's bits of Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs I really like, and always have. I spent at least some time last year wondering where the Ziggy Stardust vinyl repress got to, in stores, since by the time I had resolved to pick it up - having seen it dozens of times at London Drugs, even - it had been discontinued. I would own both albums - Ziggy, Dogs - on vinyl, now, if they were easier to actually buy; by the looks of things on Amazon, they're both fetching collector's prices even on CD (someone has Diamond Dogs listed at $179.99). I'm assuming they're off the market by design, so people have to buy OTHER Bowie albums, but sorry, those are the two I want, and want in nice new 180 gram vinyl presentations; I'm not going to buy different albums by him because the two I'm interested in aren't out there, and I'm irritated that whoever owns his catalogue is playing these Machiavellian games with it. Bad faith to the fans, no?
I doubt I'll get Blackstar, either, frankly; I listened to a few minutes of it this morning, and had what seems my typical Bowie reaction: "this is interesting, but..." It's music for people who are part of the club, and I'm not, so... I can only observe it from the outside. It's great that he went out on an album that by all reports is a significant one, great that he used his last year creatively, but I'm content to leave David Bowie to those for whom he resonates. As ever, David Bowie does not need me.

All the same, my respects. 

RIP David Bowie (!?!)

Wow, I wasn't expecting that.

You know, I was never a huge Bowie fan, to be honest. There are some great songs in his discography - "Life on Mars" is probably my favourite - but I haven't ever really done him justice. I had nothing but respect for him, though. And I liked him a LOT as an actor, actually, at least based on The Man Who Fell to Earth. It's one of those performances that make someone a great actor even if they never do anything else (not the case, here, obviously).

All the same I think I'm going to stay off Facebook for a bit. It's going to be a bit of a morbid January, I think... Lemmy, Angus Scrimm, David Bowie... jeez.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Carol: also meh

Carol was strangely disappointing, I'm sad to say. I'm not sure I can fully articulate why. Though I have not finished the novel, I love Patricia Highsmith, generally, and was definitely excited to learn that Todd Haynes was taking the project on, because I like Haynes, too (though never more than I did with Safe, which, made in 1995, is getting to be a rather long time ago now). There are certainly inspired and moving moments to the story, to say nothing of the gorgeous cinematography and terrific production design. Somehow, overall, tho', I found the film uninvolving, overly simple, even a bit dull, lacking both a Sirkian flare for melodrama that you might expect from Haynes and the sort of psychological complexity and attention to detail that you get from Highsmith. What I have read of the novel - the first quarter or so - makes clear that the focus of the book is Therese, her sense of alienation from her co-workers, her fears about her future, her inner conflicts about the people in her life; she's a believable portrait of a young woman alienated from mainstream culture, to say nothing of hetero-normative sexuality, and full of anxieties and doubts and ambitions, none of which really is done justice to in the film, where she is very nearly a cipher, a passive eye through which to gaze at Carol (I'm cribbing a bit from Naomi Fry in her New Republic review, here, but she's right!). Haynes is much more interested in Carol, the Cate Blanchett character, and what she represents to Therese. But Carol, too, is also somewhat of a surface creature; other than providing the camera,  Therese, and the audience something to gaze at, and serving as a vehicle for the film's politics ("how hard it was to be a lesbian in the 1950's"), she never really comes to life as a human being, never really is interesting save as an object of desire. Maybe it's just that I have a hard time imagining Patricia Highsmith - a bold, outspoken, cantankerous, difficult, and rather irrepressible woman, by most accounts - being as restrained and inhibited as these women end up being; I imagine her as larger than life and fearless, spilling a messy humanity out wherever she went, ranting about Jews, smuggling her pet snails around in her bra, what-have-you. Therese, by contrast, is boring, and Carol, while gorgeous, is hollow, a symbol of something-or-other whose inner life never really shines on the screen and whose reality outside what she represents to Therese seems pretty limited. In the end, the film Carol reminded me the most of of queer-themed cinema I've seen was, god help me, Brokeback Mountain - it has a similar sort of self-pitying, woe-is-me, being-queer-is-so-hard subtext that rewards its audience for being evolved enough to feel sorry for its characters, but doesn't really take them anywhere daring or provocative. It kind of feels like a pretext for audience self-congratulation, mostly. I'd hoped for so much more!

But maybe the problem is precisely my own hopes? I had, for one, hoped that Todd Haynes would make the film a sort of a homage to Patricia Highsmith - a remarkable, unique weirdo and a fascinating writer. I'd dared to hope even that he might include a couple of snails in the film, say, since she loved her snails so (story goes that Highsmith once brought a handbag full of them to a party so she would have someone to talk to; how can you not love someone who does such things). Anyhow, fat chance, if what I was looking for was something of an homage to one of my favourite writers. Rooney Mara looks a bit like young Pat, below, but that's about as far as the film goes, that I could see, in trying to mine parallels between Therese and Highsmith - neverminding, of course, that the novel contains autobiographical elements.  
Anyhow, now I've seen it, and I didn't much care for it. There ARE some effective moments, some nicely structured places, some powerful emotional payoffs. Overall, though, I wasn't much interested, don't recommend it, feel more of the same meh I keep feeling when I go to the cinema, lately.

And that would appear to be that. I'd wanted to interview Haynes, before the film came out, but my attempts led nowhere; now that I've actually seen it, I'm kind of relieved.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

RIP Angus Scrimm

In a strange way, I was happy for Lemmy that he got to die before he got too old and infirm. He got to bow out when he was still Lemmy, which I kind of think was important to him. So I didn't really mourn much; 70 years was a pretty good run for a guy who lived that large!

But now somehow, I'm really sad to learn that Angus Scrimm died at 89 today.

Of Pete Campbell and the Sweaters, part two, plus a trip to Krazy Bob's in Langley

I had a rather depressing day poking around Surrey yesterday, doing a once-productive route between Gateway Station and Surrey Central. The Value Village is gone (so is the one at Edmonds, incidentally, where Abriosis' Alxs Ness used to work). There's an uninspired DVD and game store, near Surrey Central, where I'm pretty sure the guy behind the counter thought I was shoplifting, even though he had nothing in his cases; I left without buying the one DVD I actually kinda wanted, because his implications annoyed me. I netted almost nothing poking about the DVDs at the pawnshops, ended up buying exactly two things: a used DVD of Three Days of the Condor, for my girlfriend's parents - bought at the MCC thrift store, with the help of some guy who actually had a monkish tonsure - and a Turbonegro concert DVD for my friend Danny that I dug out of a pawnshop for $2. There were a couple of other items I considered - I had a couple of chances to replace my cheapie public domain DVD of Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue, which appears, somehow, to have erased itself - it will no longer play - but nothing really exciting. I came home pretty clear that there was no point poking about Surrey anymore, ever again.

But I still felt the desire to explore, and my girl has never been to Langley, so today we trucked off in that direction - ironically, going by way of Surrey once again. Langley, however, is much nicer; they've preserved a bit of a rustic, small-town vibe there, making it seem (my girl agreed) like small towns on Vancouver Island, like, say, Duncan. Besides a still-extant Value Village, where my girl lucked into some nice fabrics, there are all sorts of neat shops, plentiful thrift and book stores, and there's a place I've heard about for some time: Krazy Bob's. Which is just jam packed with vinyl, and plenty of CDs and DVDs to boot. There was very little I wanted, but I also didn't want to look too deep, trying to keep myself focused on things I actually really want. Do they have any original Australian Angels LPs? No. Do they have any Townes van Zandt? No. Do they have any interesting horror movies? No, at least none I don't already have. And then it occurred to me: do they have any Sweaters?

Because I just wrote about my discoveries about Pete Campbell and the Sweaters below, and, afterwards, interacted with Pete a bit. He informed me, among other things, that there were three Sweaters releases, one of which - The Pop Thing - he does not have extra copies of; it's their first and best, apparently.

But Krazy Bob's is an interesting place. It's the sort of store Vancouver can't really afford to have, these days, where they sprawl a little, opting more for quantity than quality, and taking full advantage of a fairly generous floorspace. They don't have a lot of hot collectibles that I could see. They don't even HAVE a punk section (I asked). But they do have a nicely organized assortment of items that you simply wouldn't find anywhere in Vancouver these days - stuff that is not quite hip enough or in demand enough to be worth stocking at Audiopile or Red Cat or Neptoon or..., but also not common enough to be easily acquired anywhere else. I mean, you're probably not going to find Sweaters CDs at Audiopile or Red Cat or Neptoon or so forth, nowadays. You might have found them at Zulu once upon a time in the bins of cheap, roughly alphabetized CDs that they had, except they've opted to get rid of most of those, opting for cheap LPs instead. But Krazy Bob's seemed like JUST the place where I might find such a thing.

Guess what?
 Photo by Erika Lax

Gaspar Noe's Love to screen at the Vancity Theatre

Ooh: Love is coming. In 2-D, mind you, not 3-D, as it is meant to be shown, but I'll take what I can get, eh? The writeup - linked under the title - is quite entertaining in itself, as someone (Tom Charity, perhaps?) takes critics to task for under-appreciating this film. Gaspar Noe is not someone whose cinema I trust much - I agree with those who hold that Irreversible is deeply and problematically homophobic, and even his easiest to watch film, Enter the Void, has a streak of unsettling conservatism (particularly in regard to the abortion; Noe practically rubs our noses in the discarded fetus). But whatever one makes of his politics, there's no denying he's making some of the most arresting and energetic cinema out there, and the idea of him making a big-screen "adult" movie is VERY interesting. Some of the posters actually have ejaculating penises (peni?), and the titles seem to be fashioned out of running sperm. I do want to see this film! (Wonder if it will be more or less entertaining than Nymphomaniac? I've yet to see the director's cut of that... Hmmm).

See The Revenant in the theatres

It's strange. The Hateful Eight is not worth seeing, but it was rather interesting to write about.

The Revenant is absolutely worth seeing, but I have nothing much to say about it, except to note that it would have been nice if they'd made more use of Brendan Fletcher! I think his role is almost as small as Gabrielle Rose's in Timecop - a very talented local actor being under-used. But that's minor, I guess. The film is, on some level, not that different in spirit from various blockbusters that try to use astonishing imagery to dazzle viewers, except that the astonishing imagery is being made by and for ADULTS. And I was, indeed, astonished and dazzled, much moreso than by noisy spectacles like The Hobbit or The Hunger Games or The Avengers or such - which are films I don't hate, but which are nowhere as rewarding, strictly in visual/ cinematic terms, as The Revenant. You should definitely see it on the big screen.

Edit: my initial write up mentioned that I was disappointed with the projection of the film at New West Landmark, and discouraged people from seeing it there, since the red exit lights on either side of the screen actually cast red pockets of light onto the screen itself and the whole projection seemed kind of muted and under-lit, compared to the trailers. In an email the other morning, I called the Landmark management's attention to the matter, and they have just now confirmed, with a courteous and informative written reply, that yes, there was a problem and that they've called in a technician to fix it. (It was apparently NOT a matter of playing a 2-D film through a 3-D screen or lens, as I suggested here, note). So they're on it, and I trust from the seriousness of their reply that they'll fix it presently. Landmark New West is one of the nicest megaplexes you can catch a film in Vancouver, so I'm pleased to retract my non-recommendation (though you might want to give them some time to fix the equipment...!). 

Friday, January 08, 2016


Am I uninspired, or just lazy? Which is the chicken, which is the egg? Do they amount to the same thing?

Need work, money, something like stability. Not wanting to re-invent myself. The last thing I feel like doing is assembling resumes. There are three sources of actual earned income in my life lately, besides what I cadge off Mom: writing, scouting for books, and teaching. Not one of them do I feel passionate about at the moment, for various reasons: I've gotten good at all three, but I've also established just how unlikely it is that any of those paths will amount to much in the long term, just more of the same water-treading. It feels a bit like a waste of time to devote more energy to any of them, actually, except I don't know what else to do, and I need cash to live on. All three lead to occasional flickers of satisfaction - but only occasional ones, y'know? And the money I make goes quickly...

I have a free afternoon but, feeling uninspired, I kind of just want to squander it. The most likely thing that I'll do is head out on a scout, which is also the thing least likely to amount to any meaningful financial return, and certainly it won't lead to a long-term solution to my money worries. It won't even lead to much of a short term solution: I can't remember the last time I found anything on my runs worth more than $10.

Oh, no, wait, I can. But it was something like five years ago, when I found a signed Allen Ginsberg item at a thrift store (!). I don't think I'll find anything like that today.  

But I'm not teaching, and I can't find the tape I was thinking of transcribing, so I gotta do something besides sit around the apartment. Maybe if I take a nap, I will wake up more inspired?

Of Pete Campbell, the Wardells, and the Sweaters, re: David M.'s Ukrainian Christmas Alone in No Fun City 2016

Well, that was fun!

Before last night's Ukrainian Christmas Alone in No Fun City gig, backroom at the Railway, David's frequent co-conspirator Pete Campbell did that unsettling thing that happens sometimes of saying something that reminded me that people sometimes actually read what I write here and remember it. He'd noticed my outing his cheat sheet, for one, for "Claus Will Tear Us Apart" (he wouldn't need a cheat sheet if he got to perform it more than once a year, he quipped, after having to remind me what he was talking about, because I just write this shit and forget about it, folks). He then laughed at my observation in the show review for David's December 23rd gig that a "creeping professionalism" had manifested itself - actually not a phrase I seem to have used, unless it was in an early draft and then got edited out, as sometimes happens (But it might have been Pete's phrase, too). Anyhow, I asked him if he had, in fact, been in The Wardells, because, y'see, I had had the experience of contemplating buying a Wardells album, based solely on wanting to check out Pete's songs in a non-David-M-related context, and being non-plussed that all the band members were, in the mode of the Ramones, listed as Wardells; even if he had been a Wardell, he might not have been IN THE BAND at the time of the album, based on the back cover, so I didn't bother. Apparently, Pete confirmed, he was Jim Wardell - he explained that the band had crafted an entire fictional bio around their characters, which you can find in the liner notes for (one of?) their album(s?). (I am hesitatingly providing a plural because if the album I saw is the one I've found a cover for, I surely would have recognized Pete on the right).

So I should have bought that album. Damned if I know where I saw it.

Anyhow, here's the thing. I have long loved a song that I know nothing about, by a band I know nothing about, that pops up on Johnny Hanson's Puck Rock Vol. 1. It's one of those brilliant moments of popcraft that you stumble across and, because you know nothing about it, and can't easily find out anything about it, you just give up and appreciate it as a mystery. It's the Sweaters' "Hockey Sucks," a very smart and funny number about being a full-on Canadian (like me) who is nonetheless completely alienated by hockey culture (like me! I too am "on the outside all winter long"). The song is not on Youtube, and good luck finding any Sweaters songs on Youtube, or anywhere else, in fact, because you know what you're going to get if you Google "Sweaters," knowing nothing else about the band?

And if you Google "Sweaters Hockey Sucks," you get pages directing you to Johnny Hanson's Puck Rock Vol. 1, which, hey, you already know about. So you just give up and allow life to have a mystery.

But if you Google "Sweaters Pete Campbell" - well that's the magic decoder ring, folks, which brings you to this page. And I only know to do that once I discover (this very morning) that the Wardells morphed into the Sweaters, somewhere back there. And that's how I discover (THIS VERY MORNING) that I have seen the guy who wrote and (presumably) sang one of my all-time favourite mystery songs on a dozen occasions, never knowing who he was. In fact, you can find out a lot about Pete Campbell (who also, note, has a not-very-Googlesmart name; lots of Pete Campbells out there) by Googling "Sweaters Pete Campbell," or "Wardells Pete Campbell."

I also discover that Pete does something that I knew nothing about, performing at Long Term Care/ assisted living facilities across BC, as part of the Sing Along With Pete project... which is kind of funny, because I was thinking of asking David if HE ever did something like that (because I didn't end up bringing my Ukrainian-Canadian mom out to the show last night, though I contemplated it; too hard to get an 85 year old from Maple Ridge to Vancouver by bus and back). My Mom's building is not quite the same thing as what Pete performs at - it's an independent living facility - but it's not entirely different, either. There's a common area, and it had been used for concerts occasionally when my father was the caretaker, though it hasn't been, to my knowledge, since he passed on in 2009. 

Photo by Erika Lax

So anyhow, that's a productive morning of discoveries. It kind of outshines whatever it was I was going to say about David M's show last night, though I might note:

A few lookie-loos aside, eight people came and stayed, including my girl and me.

David did a stripped-down version of his Dec. 23rd show, sans Ed, and with a couple of new/ different songs (like a cover of "Money"). Mostly he forced the word "Ukrainian" into his Christmas songs, heedless of whether it scanned, and occasionally donned a Ukrainian accent and attitude towards life (Eastern European cynicism and world-weariness).

David and Pete did a great version of "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," one of the few straight-up, respectful covers of the night.

Lester Interest's reading of "The Green and Red Plague" was quite brilliant and entertaining, and pretty much the same as the one on the 23rd.

Hologram Paul Leahy sang "The Little Drummer Boy" and David menaced us with a creepy Li'l Baby doll and evil skull-light affects, attacking Hologram Paul with it (the "Paulogram"), one of various times during the night when Dave Dedrick (the Paulogram assistant) ended up on the floor.

David obviously feels comfortable with Erika now because he did both "Why Are We So Fat" and "I Liked You Better When You Were Fatter," both of which he has typically omitted from sets when I have brought Women of Any Size to his shows (though he's never seemed sensitive about MY being fat).

...And in fact, during his surprise encore, by-popular-demand invitation to harass and sit on the audience and such, he even sat on Erika briefly, making her part of a truly elite Vancouver group whom no one is paying much attention to at present.

Where the show on the 23rd was actually really quite polished, no traces of "creeping professionalism" were observed last night. Maybe it's the difference between a suit - even a torn one - and the Scrooge drag that did it? Mere anarchy, tripping hazards, lyrical gaffs, and the aforementioned forced addition of the word "Ukrainian" erased whatever traces of "slickness" were to be found in the show on the 23rd.

All in all, a fun show, and the only time I have seen two David M./ NO FUN Christmas shows in one season, I think. 

Anyhow, I'm now going to stop writing and listen to the Sweaters sing "Harder," which fits with things I've been thinking about lately, remembering how passionate I was about Becoming a Music Journalist back when I first interviewed Lemmy, compared to, say, now. Then I'm going to see about acquiring some Sweaters CDs, and seeing if Pete wants to come play for my Mom's building.

...Oh: "The New Reindeer" turned out to be Dal Richards.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Italian film festival at the VIFF: The Mercenary, Pasolini

So there's an interesting opportunity: the Vancity theatre is screening Sergio Corbucci's The Mercenary as part of their Italian film festival, opening this weekend. It's interesting for a whole raft of reasons.

1. One of the writers involved was no less than Franco Solinas, who, besides writing or co-writing almost every notable Gillo Pontecorvo film, including Burn! and The Battle of Algiers, has a very wide-ranging and interesting resume, including projects undertaken with Nicholas Ray (his very entertaining Inuit drama The Savage Innocents), Costa-Gavras (Hanna K, Stage of Siege), Francesco Rosi (Salvatore Guiliano), and Joseph Losey (Monsieur Klein). He also co-authored various other notable spaghetti westerns, including Quien Sabe?/ A Bullet for the General, Tepepa, and The Big Gundown. His spaghettis link directly to his more serious work, thematically, mulling questions about the difference between a criminal and a revolutionary, and asking when and if a bandit's actions can be seen as having political meaning. That's the whole point of the Rosi film I mentioned, but is also very much present in The Mercenary - so it's an idea-rich political spaghetti western; you can't appreciate Solinas work without having seen it.

2. There are some great performances in it, especially Tony Musante as a Mexican bandit/ revolutionary, who outshines Franco "Django" Nero, the title character, a Polish hired gun. There's also Jack Palance in a fairly special role. Remember how his character in City Slickers was called Curly, with no explanation given? He certainly didn't have any curls in that film. Well, it's probably some geek's insider reference to The Mercenary, where he plays (if memory serves) a gay gambler/ gangster/ dandy with curly hair, whose nickname, indeed, is also Curly. He's fairly nasty in this as a bad guy - and he gets a nude scene, if anyone out there wants to see Jack Palance's ass (I personally did not, but who knew he did nude scenes?).
3. The filmmaker, Sergio Corbucci, is considered a hero of the spaghetti western form, perhaps the most praised filmmaker under Sergio Leone. That reputation, to be honest, rests on better films - my favourites of his classic period are Django, The Great Silence,  and The Hellbenders. But this is a significant film in the canon. (Edited to add): Quentin Tarantino ranks it as his fourth favourite spaghetti of all time. And it does have more than its share of ideas and entertaining moments; it's just a bit uneven...

I mean, okay, to be totally honest (sorry Tom), The Mercenary is possibly my least favourite Corbucci (and I've seen Super Fuzz!). It's definitely my least favourite project involving Solinas. I think someone should restore / screen Tepepa, frankly, which eats this film for breakfast (and features Orson Welles in brownface, as a corrupt Mexican cop, as well as Marat/ Sade's John Steiner and the great Tomas Milian as the revolutionary/ bandit in question there). But when was the last time a Solinas spaghetti screened in Vancouver? I sure can't remember it! And if you care about Solinas, political exploitation films, or like the taste of spaghettis in general, you will find LOTS to like, amidst the clunky bits.
What else can I plug? I liked Love and Anarchy, but have no vivid memories of it. Film devotees will further want to catch Abel Ferrara's film about (Pier Paolo) Pasolini, with Willem Dafoe in the lead role, while they can... or, say, Pasolini's Arabian Nights. Incidentally, a little bird tells me that there will be a screening sometime soon, outside the festival, of Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom. Oh, and for spaghetti fans, make sure to hunt down the DVD of Requiescant: Kill and Pray. It's also not the best spaghetti I've seen - but Pasolini ACTS in it! Yep!

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Lemmy memorial article

With the help of bev davies, who took the picture (maybe more in the print edition, I don't know), this is my Lemmy memorial, with bits and pieces from three interviews I did. A few quotes haven't appeared in English before, I don't think!

The Sam Gopal album mentioned is here, by the way. Essential!

Monday, January 04, 2016

David M's Ukrainian Christmas Alone In No Fun City

Guess what? Christmas may be over, but David M. is at it again, playing a Ukrainian-themed Christmas show this Thursday in the Railway Club back room. "O come all Ukrainians," he writes on Facebook:
 The 13th day of Christmas means a "Український Різдво на самоті в найближчі Fun City" to die in the snow for! Join D. Matychuk (a/k/a David M.) and his guests Pete Campbellchuk, Dave Dedrickchuk, and Lester Interestchuk as they bring Ukrainian Christmas to a boil, with sour cream and chives. 30 years of Vancouver NO FUN Christmas shows have come to this: OH COME ALL UKRAINIANS! And after the show, we'll all go around the corner to line up for A&B Sound's legendary Ukrainian Boxing Day Sale - DOORCRASHER: new Mickey & Bunny LP, $2.99!
Didja know I'm half-Ukrainian? Obviously my father's side comes from Scotland - by way of Nova Scotia - but my mother's parents, Nicolas and Pulahia - forgive me for not sharing their last names, but it ends up as a security question in various places - met on a boat in the early 20th century, fleeing the Ukraine for the promised land of Canada. They settled in Quebec, and started a family. My Mom was born in 1930, and though she retained no great ties to the old country, would occasionally cook cabbage rolls for us as a family, following, I presume, her mother's recipe. I sometimes will go to the Ukrainian Village on Denman for dinner, and occasionally have brought her, though it's hard to get her into the city these days.

Tempted to drag her out to see David's show, though... And I'll definitely be there myself.

Of recent Arnold Schwarzenegger

So has anyone else out there been curious what the Governator has been up to since he left office? I have been.

It's a bit odd, actually, because there are very, very few early Arnold films I liked. Neverminding his limitations as an actor, he's too cute, too smug, too often miscast as some sort of American everyman, and, worst of all, the people who preside over his films have an almost insulting prediliction for playing on his past successes by repeating aspects of them. Nevermind all the sequels: it's the whole 80's tag-line thing, in particular, that dates and diminishes so many of his films. Like, when "I'll be back," from the first Terminator film, caught on as a (natural, authentic, and obviously pre-internet) meme, someone apparently decided that - nevermind repeating that exact phrase, which I believe happens at least a couple of times in his filmography - giving Schwarzenegger corny one-liners was an essential aspect of his success, that had to be forced into every film to guarantee its bankability. He can't defeat villains without a closeup and a smarmy punchline: "you're fired," at the end of True Lies, say. These moments become as indelible an aspect of his presentation as "Yippee-kay-yay motherfucker" was (is?) to Bruce Willis' character in the Die Hard franchise. I guess catch phrases have a venerable history in comic books, and I suppose it's a reasonable surmise that people who go to sequels aren't exactly hungry for originality, WANTING to see certain formulae repeated from film to film, but what pleases an audience during the initial run of a film, by making them feel like they're participating in some mass phenomenon (groaning en masse at the corny joke), often ceases to work outside the context of mass participation, years later, on home video. The catch phrases cease to catch anything, seem dated and unnatural, threaten to take you out of the context of the film and into an imaginary behind-the-scenes meeting room where producers and studio honchos and such sit scheming: "what can we have him say here? Hmm. How about..."

Anyhow, Schwarzenegger's filmography suffers from such phenomenon more than most. It's actually kind of a rare treat to stumble across one of his films from back in the day that actually feels FRESH still, that DOESN'T seem dated, DOESN'T seem like it was written in a boardroom. My favourite is probably Commando - a film that holds up far better than I could have imagined. Seeing it recently reminded me that there were actually things I genuinely ENJOYED about Schwarzenegger when I was a kid, before they got ruined by repetition, over-formulation, boardroom manipulation and such. 

So I've been watching some of his other movies, made since he returned to acting full-time, and what do you know, I've enjoyed two out of three of them!
The Last Stand is directed by Kim Jee-Woon, who made a terrific, if nasty, Korean revenge film called I Saw the Devil awhile back.  ( I haven't seen Kim's A Tale of Two Sisters. I was less fond of his spaghetti western tribute, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, but I generally don't care for homages to spaghetti westerns, unless they're directed by Alex Cox). While this is very much a formula film, it believes in itself and its characters and manages to have fun with them, without feeling like it's pandering. It kind of reminded me of the movies Walter Hill went on to make after his classic period (1975-1982), except it actually works: you like the good guys, dislike the bad guys, and get invested in the final confrontation. Along the way there's a fun supporting cast - Johnny Knoxville plays his character like he's Brad Dourif's understudy, Forest Whitaker and Luis Guzman do what they do well, Harry Dean Stanton has a fun cameo, and Peter Stormare does the best job I've seen him do of disguising his accent as something almost believably American. Schwarzenegger is at least believable as a former big city cop trying to find peace by policing in a small town, and not being allowed; interestingly enough, he actually refers to himself as an "immigrant" at one point, which is kind of refreshing, given how many films he's acted in where he's been given implausibly American names and somehow supposed to represent the average Joe. 
Escape Plan - the title is usually stupidly presented so that the word "plan" almost vanishes  teams Schwarzenegger with Sylvester Stallone, who is actually the star. It's maybe not as a satisfying a formula film as The Last Stand, but there are tons of interesting aspects to it, not the least of which is seeing two men associated with some of the most conservative and reactionary films of American cinema of the last thirty years playing prisoners who suffer in a maximum security lockup alongside detained Muslim jihadis; who are subjected to the equivalent of waterboarding and other Gitmo-ized torture strategies; and who - especially as their tortures get worse - embrace, apparently, an anti-government, anti-authoritarian worldview, with Schwarzenegger being associated with a character plotting to bring down the banks, worldwide, and Stallone - whose character is seen originally co-operating with a privatized penal system designed to replace extraordinary rendition, which is explicitly mentioned - eventually becoming his ally. It's not the first time either actor has played characters who were at odds with authority, of course, but it's still dizzying to see the star of True Lies - one of the most harmful/ dangerous/ racist propaganda films around - fighting alongside a radical Muslim against a common enemy, and still being one of the good guys. Even more interesting is the fact that Schwarzenegger does something that I don't recall ever having seen him do in a film before: he has a freakout scene where his character, so distressed by the tortures he's experiencing, REVERTS TO GERMAN for a several minutes. Correct me if I'm wrong: I don't think he ever did that when he was trying to sell himself as Mr. America.  Hell, they even give him a believably foreign name - Emil Rottmayer! 

There are plenty of things that don't work so well about the movie, mind you. For one, the prison guards all wear masks, for no reason that is ever explained, presumably because it looks cool, and so Stallone and Schwarzenegger, when they team up, can use their powers of observation to figure out who they are despite the masks. But the surprises the film offers are striking enough that I enjoyed it immensely no less. Jim Caviezel, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Vinnie Jones pitch in ably, and Sam Neill pops up in a role so minor you wonder if he's had a career setback or something (still always good to see him in a movie, though).  
Last and least; Sabotage. Skip this dog. Confusing story that seems unclear what it wants to accomplish or what its moral centre is; it's not even clear who or what is being sabotaged. An elite DEA team steals money from a cartel, but the money goes missing, then members of the team - mostly unsavory characters - start turning up dead; is it the cartel exacting revenge, or is one of them betraying the others to get the money themselves? The film doesn't know how to make you to care about or identify with them; only one, played by Joe Manganiello - a werewolf in True Blood - manages to be vaguely charismatic in his bad-assedness, but he doesn't get to do much with it. The film even provides alternate heroes and points of identification, in Olivia Williams - whom I best know from Polanski's The Ghost Writer, where she played Pierce Brosnan's wife - and Harold Perrineau (under-used as usual; I like him, but he's wasted here). They play internal affairs types investigating the murders. Williams very nearly makes the film worthwhile, but the star power is with Schwarzenegger, who heads the corrupt DEA team, and he seems as confused as anyone as to whether he's supposed to be a hero or villain. Maybe at some point people thought of him as a Hank Quinlan character, whose larger-than-lifed-ness will impress even as his evil dismays? They don't really pull it off, if so, and it's not the only thing about the film that seems a bit bungled. I've respected (though haven't loved) all other David Ayer films I've seen - he also directed Harsh Times, Training Day, Street Kings, and End of Watch (and Fury, unseen by me) - but he seems to have lost his way on this one.   

All of this leaves me kind of curious to see Maggie, the only recent lead role of Schwarzenegger's I've managed to miss thus far - and a zombie film, no less! But I'll hold out until I stumble across it for $5 at a pawnshop (or less at a thrift store), which I'm sure I will eventually. I didn't miss Schwarenegger at all while he was off being a politician. I'm kind of surprised to discover that I'm glad he's back. 

(No reference to The Terminator intended). 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

The Hateful Eight: Meh

The Hateful Eight is at once Tarantino's talkiest and dryest film, and his bloodiest. It is definitely not his most entertaining. In an odd way, it repairs my respect for Tarantino a little, which has been foundering for awhile; but I can't really say I enjoyed it.

A friend of mine who will go unnamed (and whose icon is on another computer, but hint, he's playing the drums in it) has described it as a play - not in the sense that it ever had or was intended for a theatrical run, but in that it basically IS a piece of theatre: its limited sets and action and dialogue-driven, character-heavy story suggest a stage play far more than cinema. It could easily be staged, would be perhaps more fitting to the stage. His observation is that it's absurd and unnecessary to shoot such a film in 70mm; my only theory - cooked up before I saw the film, and maintained now, since it's all I've got - is that this is, in fact, part of the joke. Cut-and-pasted from an email exchange: "Tarantino is playfully encoding the luxury of his present circumstances into the very technology of his film, like he's striking an absurd superhero pose, a Michael Cimino pose, or what-have-you, and doing it publicly so you can appreciate the absurdity of it: lookit what I can get away with, folks! Nuts, right? Undercutting the gesture by making the film as stagey and indoorsy as possible fits with this reading. This is the sympathetic reading of the gesture, the one that endears him back to me, because, I discover, i would actually like not to have lost Tarantino to Darkside, USA."

...that latter being, kind of, a reference to Django Unchained, a film I really did not enjoy, and have not revisited, finding it self-indulgent, obnoxious, and derivative (of big chunks of Mandingo, and probably films like The Legend of Nigger Charley, though I don't know such movies well). It was the weakest of a run of films by QT that I did not enjoy much, also including Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino having won a couple of Oscars for Django put the worries in me, that he would, as seems to happen, lose all bearings and humility and, having decided he was a Great Artist, make a movie to revel in his success, to validate his ego.

In fact, he has done just that, except his ego apparently wants to be appreciated less for crowd-pleasing, spectacular action films (Kill Bill, say, the last film of Tarantino's that was actually easy to like) than for being a great writer. The Hateful Eight is his most self-consciously writerly film, where the main pleasure of the film is in its dialogue, where if you're not coming to the party to appreciate his way with words, you're going to be left sitting in the corner, bored and frustrated. And the thing is, I kind of agree with Tarantino's ego on this one: that is where his gifts are greatest. And I can't deny having respected the film, and having been engaged by its language, until, say, the last half hour, when the various situations he sets up ("who poisoned the coffee?" "What is Daisy's plan?") come to their pay offs.

What didn't I enjoy that much? For one, there's a distracting amount (as aforementioned friend also observed) of violence directed against its main female character, Jennifer Jason Leigh; it's so brutal and so frequent that it would appear somehow to be thematically significant, but I have no great ideas what is being said ("men are pricks?") or why Tarantino is saying it. It doesn't ring as particularly truthful or provocative. All other female characters are killed off within minutes of appearing on screen, as well, and never really get to be developed or stand on their own. There's a lot of nasty bloodiness, in general, that sits slightly at odds with a story that seems to be, on some level, a comedy. And the ultimate question of what it all amounts to, what we've been asked to participate in, is not an easy one to answer.

Mild, thematic spoiler: perhaps the most curious thing about the film is that it seems to directly address itself to questions of plagiarism, of forgery, of lying. Since Reservoir Dogs - the film of Tarantino's career that The Hateful Eight most resembles - Tarantino has been interested in questions of how to lie well, but he's also been accused of stealing other people's stories and presenting them as his own - for example, see the whole kerfuffle with City on Fire and that Who Do You Think You're Fooling? video. He has skillfully reworked material from other films, other genres, into his own, from the start; he's the only major filmmaker I'm aware of whose movie soundtracks are often comprised predominantly of soundtracks from other movies. Those who haven't praised him for post-modern manipulation of codes and genre savviness and such have occasionally talked of plagiarism in this regard, or at least regurgitation. It doesn't help matters that his girlfriend (at the time, anyhow - no idea what's what, now) was caught red-handed in a plagiarism scandal awhile back, involving film journalism - an odd genre to even consider plagiarising, since really, these days, who cares?

The question in The Hateful Eight - still a mild spoiler alert, here - is not plagiarism, but forgery, but it still seems to be pretty significant to the film, and it does seem to be self-referential, pointing not out there into the world, so much, but backwards onto the film's creator. That's curious, I suppose, but I'm pretty sure that people who are not close observers of accusations of plagiarism around Tarantino will have absolutely no reason to give a fuck, anymore than they will find it interesting that he sometimes puts closeups of women's feet into his movies (also apparently revealing and personal). To end the film in discussion of forgery, to privilege this element so much, seems kind of strange, ultimately - a sort of grand-scale, lint-picking bit of navel gazing that is on the one hand personally rich and revealing of the author, but on the other really too small and unimportant to merit the extreme luxury (in terms of talent, budget, technology and runtime) in which the question is raised. Two hours into the film, you'll be thinking: well, this is dry, but I'm hooked; I wonder where it's going? An hour later, when its last act plays out, I challenge you not to be disappointed, underwhelmed, wondering what the point of all that was.

Many people, mind you, had similar questions of Reservoir Dogs, but I think there are really interesting, provocative answers to be given to that question. I'm less sure about The Hateful Eight. Unless your main interest in life is Quentin Tarantino - unless you're some film scholar who has chosen QT as your main area of study (hi to UBC's Lisa Coulthard!), unless you're okay with the idea of seeing a movie the main purpose of which is to shine a flashlight into the psyche of its creator, you're going to leave the theatre a bit non-plussed, I think. The Hateful Eight reminded me of the way that Woody Allen shines flashlights onto questions of unpunished guilt every now and then, because apparently he has things in his life he feels guilty about. It's a 3 hour long, 70mm piece of self-examination that really is a bit too small in what it accomplishes for the effort it will take most people to consume it.

But it is writerly, and entertaining, in a way. I didn't enjoy it, but as self-indulgent gestures go, I've seen worse. (Atom Egoyan's Calendar, for instance).

Proceed with caution, folks.