Monday, May 30, 2016

Getting Stiff over Wreckless Eric, June 1 at the Astoria

...sorry about that title, I've been having a bout of Stiff Records nostalgia these days, but I don't actually have an erection at the moment.

I saw Wreckless Eric when he was in town for the Big Smash! festival at the Cinematheque, one of Kier-la Janisse's programs, all of music films. I'm not exactly sure what his role in things was, but Kier-la was supposedly making a movie about him at the time - so was Flick Harrison, if I recall, though I've seen nothing of either film - and as a special guest to the fest, he curated and introduced Godard's Rolling Stones film Sympathy for the Devil, AKA One Plus One, and hung around the Cinematheque in the lobby, mostly talking with Kier-la. He seemed kind of oddly cranky, actually. I came up to him at one point and enthused at him about how I'd had Big Smash!, the album the festival was titled for, as a kid, and loved it. He glowered and muttered something "civil" and kinda walked away as quickly as he could, leaving me non-plussed as to his reaction. It still has one of my favourite-ever album covers:

I seem to recall someone - maybe Kier-la? - explaining his somewhat puzzling response to my gushing fandom by saying that Eric was a bit bitter about how he's been recording albums constantly since his Stiff Records days, but no one knows any of them; he's ambivalent about people praising those albums. Okay; certainly true of me, I hadn't heard a thing he'd done since his Stiff days. Plus I gather he was somewhat annoyed with Stiff on that album, too, or around the time of that album, or something. I don't know if any of that's so, but as I recall, when he performed at the Railway that week - unless my memory is totally faulty - he didn't do a single song off that record - not "It'll Soon Be the Weekend," not "Tonight is My Night," not "Pop Song," though he did do a show closer of "Whole Wide World," his hit single off the previous record (tho' it appears on the double album version of Big Smash!, as well). But I didn't care; though I didn't know a lot of the songs, he gave one hell of passionate and memorable performance, made even more electric when he wouldn't get off the stage, despite a somewhat hostile interaction, it seemed, with the Railway management; I gather they were shooting him signals that it was time to call it quits, that the show had reached its curfew or whatnot, and he was saying on mic, with a somewhat demented gleam in his eye - mid-song - that he wouldn't stop, that they'd have to pull the plug, it felt too good, a-ha-ha. Which made the last song even more potent, a moment of pure punk defiance (good thing no one actually pulled the plug, because it could have gotten nasty...).

Anyhow, that's how I remember it, it was something like ten years ago. I bought one of his most recent albums that night and considered buying his book, which was on the merch table, but wasn't in my budget. But Bungalow Hi has some great songs on it, too - like "Local," which is a searingly dark anthem for anyone born in a town that they don't really want anything to do with; I could certainly identify (that's a link to a live performance from around the same time as his Railway show). It's good stuff - and he's still maybe my favourite performer on the Stiff roster, after, of course, the late, lamented genius that was Ian Dury. (Though wait, the Damned recorded for Stiff, too... uhmmm... don't make me weigh Wreckless Eric against the Damned, okay? Maybe I'll throw Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe under the Wreckless Eric tourbus, but the Damned...?).

Anyhow, the guy isn't exactly "on the radar" these days, despite what seems to be quite a bit of burning genius left in him, but according to Facebook, Wreckless Eric plays the Astoria, with the Tranzmitors opening, on Wednesday, June 1st. I don't imagine there's a curfew there! See his "really short bio," here, a longer version here, and see the Pitchfork review of his current album, AmERICa, here. Or one of the songs off it, here. It's a mid-week gig, so let's hope it starts kind of early for those of us who a) need to commute home and b) have jobs, or at least c) girlfriends with jobs, but music fans in Vancouver owe it to themselves to check this gig out...

Wreckless Eric by Karen Keats

Weird dream

In the dream, I was working at a bookstore - not the same as the one I do the odd shift for, but not exactly different, either. A friend would visit me, who, depending on what point of the dream you caught, was either Henry Bugler (beloved eccentric Maple Ridge high school teacher, now retired) or David M. of NO FUN. I was telling him that writer Hubert Selby Jr. (now deceased, in reality, and not gay that I ever heard, and I've seen a documentary about him and read a few of his books) would sometimes pick up men at the store, and that I knew he had a secret stash of "gifts" to give away to them, hidden behind the books on a shelf next to the front counter. On said shelf, I found that he had a copy of his short story collection, Song of the Silent Snow. This is all probably on my mind because a) I have a party planned in memory of my Mom, in Maple Ridge, and David M. is going to play there, and b) I read a short story to my Mom when she was in the hospital from that collection, "Fat Phils Day," the first story in the book, about a chubby kid who goes on a winning streak, shooting dice with his friends, and gets so beat up by them that he prays to lose...

...anyhow, I see Hubert Selby outside the store, and run after him, leaving the counter unmanned or only manned by my variable-identity teacher-musician friend.  After encountering the wrong person, and nearly getting distracted, I catch up with Selby and give him a hug, saying he should come back to the store. He does, and I proudly tell him I know where his secret stash is; I produce Song of the Silent Snow - the same Marion Boyars edition that I have - and discover that he has ALREADY INSCRIBED IT TO ME, "Dear Allan," with a message about not giving up hope, right there on the front cover!

Then we cut to another part of the dream, where I discover, I guess having seen Selby off, that my replacement - a young woman - has taken over at the counter. She's asking me if she should close up now, and I say something like, "no no, it's allright, my parents are dead and I have nothing to do, I'll close, you can go home."

That's all I remember from the dream. By the way, those who are interested in coming to a small sendoff for my Mom, it's this Saturday at her building. Pete Campbell and David M. will perform a short set. It's mostly going to be seniors and people who knew my Mom, so it's not exactly a public event, but if friends in Maple Ridge are reading this and want to be there...

Friday, May 27, 2016

Scrounging for cheapies, plus Killers, Uninhabited, The Boys Next Door

I still miss going through the cheapie bins of PV'd movies at Rogers Video, y'know? So many odd little gems did I find, often for $3.99... it used to be one of my favourite ways to shop for movies, back when there were still video chain stores out there. Things were so inexpensive you could take chances, and often discover a little gem you'd never heard of before. You could pick up the box, examine the art, flip it over, read the blurbs, check the fine print to see if there were names you recognized; streaming and torrenting movies can never match the tangible, physical reality of poking through a bin. You often knew that you were taking a chance, when you took your little stack of films up to the counter, but the low stakes inspired a bit of an adventurous spirit, and often there would be a pleasant payoff when you got the DVDs home. Pawn shops and used DVD places just don't compare, in part because many are too expensive - Lely's, say, or that Vintage Media place on Granville; if they even have discount sections, it's only for stuff they have a dozen or more copies of already, so there are no discoveries to be had. On the other hand - especially if you get out into the suburbs - there are shops where you can find DVDs and Blu's for $1 or $2; but such stores generally only get in mainstream stuff, because that's what people bring them, because that's the sort of shit that you generally FIND in the suburbs, and because that's what they mostly prefer to sell, anyhow - items they know there's a market for. Even Value Village is hit or miss if you're shopping for items in the long tail, and they're the place most likely to have the DVD missing from the case, or else scratched to hell.

But cheap movie hawks like me can still find the odd gem, if you know where to look. The most interesting place to shop these days - though it's hardly reliable, and hasn't netted me much lately - is Dollarama, believe it or not. I've found Blu-Rays of Adam Wingard's The Guest - which I'd been eyeing up earlier that day at a HMV for $25 - and that great insect microphotography documentary from a while back, Microcosmos, getting them for $3 each. There have been a few "can't resist" classics (Smart Money, with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, or something with Robinson and Bogey called Bullets Or Ballots - I never knew Malcolm X had borrowed the title of a gangster film for his most famous speech!). And a few months ago I stumbled onto a DVD copy of a memorable "right to die" drama from the 1980's, Who's Life Is It, Anyway?, with great performances from Richard Dreyfus, John Cassavetes and Christine Lahti, for only $2; it's a film I've had long fondness for, and fully intended to buy someday, so getting it on the cheap was a delight. It's almost the same as the Rogers bin, because you're generally more inclined to be kind to a movie you've bought if you didn't pay enough to feel ripped off by it. I mean, around Halloween, at the Metrotown Dollarama, I found an Australian ghost story with an outdoor survival edge, Uninhabited, that I would never have considered for $20, and may not have even enjoyed at that price - but was delighted with when the cost was only a couple bucks. It's a film even those inclined to steal movies via torrent probably would never come across; it has no real cult following, has no one advising you to seek it out, has mostly negative reviews. But there in the $2 bin, the physical object itself has an attraction that the movie more than lives up to. (Once again, as per a pet peeve of mine, the box art nowhere lets you know that it's an Australian film, except maybe in the fine print, because the people packaging it wrongly figure that everyone wants Amurrican movies only).

The big disappointment, however, when it comes to thrifty gamblin' on movies is HMV. They have all these 3/$15 titles, which, depending on atmospheric conditions, you can sometimes mix and match with other twofer or threefer titles and sometimes can't (they seem to keep changing that policy, or else it's really just at the discretion of staff, because I've been told both that it is and isn't possible, sometimes on the same day by different employees).  Problem is,  those bins are stocked, generally, with the most obvious, crowd-pleasing items you can imagine - big hits from five years ago that have peaked, tapered off, and now can be moved out at the lowest price imaginable, because the herd animals out there will buy enough of them that even at $5 per, there's plenty of money to be made. There are sometimes good movies in the bins - Chronicle, Starship Troopers, The Men Who Stare At Goats, even Polanski's Chinatown and The Ninth Gate sold that way for awhile, and in Blu, too! - but more often than not, lately, I don't even bother. It's been simply too long since I found anything I wanted.

Until yesterday, that is. With no intention to buy, just killing an idle moment, I was flipping through their actual DVD section (because they persist in bringing in some horror movies in DVD but not Blu, for some damn reason) when I saw a box set of Donnie Yen thrillers, filed under "S" for one of the films in it, Special ID, priced at 3/ $15. What? I loved Yen in the first two Ip Man movies, which is all I've seen of his work as yet; two of the films in the set got pretty mixed reviews, but one of them, Flashpoint, is apparently considered a classic - so what the hell!

And though I resent it, having found one item at a price I couldn't miss, I turned my weary eyes on the 3/ $15 DVD bins (because there really aren't many 3/$15 Blu bins left). I fully expected the same crap - "oh, look, it's Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell!" - but was happy to pick up and examine any title I *didn't already know.* (Because that's how you find the fresh stuff).

And what do we have here? Killers: a Japanese-Indonesian horror movie with tons of rave reviews on the box?  How can I possibly resist that? I didn't even realize until after I got it home and started watching it - I have an hour left to go as I type this - that it's produced by Gareth Huw Evans, of The Raid: Redemption fame; that it's directed by the Mo Brothers, who co-directed with Evans the cult compound gorefest "Safe Haven" in the movie V/H/S 2; and that it co-stars the cult leader from that film, and from The Raid 2, Epy Kusnandar, who is one of the most ridiculously charismatic and unquantifiably appealing actors out there, these days (may more movies be made with him!).
And yes, folks, taking the movie home and playing it, I'm filled with that cinephilic "Scratch and Win" joy that is all too rare these days. For $5, Killers is just fantastic; it would have been fantastic at $20, too, but I never would have done a blind buy at that price, which is why it's such a great idea for HMV to include a few obscure movies like this in the cheapie bins, alongside all the "safe" titles that I turn my nose up at. It has a great story: a Japanese serial killer who brutally murders women posts footage of his crimes on the internet. An Indonesian journalist, frustrated and defeated by his attempts to bring down a corrupt businessman named Dharma, watches the videos, and - after a chance moment of brutal violence falls upon him and pushes him over the edge - is inspired to start killing the corrupted bigwigs (including a pedophilic lawyer, played by Kusnandar) who have laid his life low. He's a moral vigilante, not a sociopath - at least for the first half of the film; not sure where hour two will lead - but he posts footage of his crimes online, as well, and soon finds himself corresponding with the Japanese serial killer in question...

So that's two films - or four, if you count that one of them is a box set of three - and usually that means a frustrating hour-long hunt for a third purchase, especially if they've toggled back to the "no mix-and-match" policy that sometimes is in effect - but lo, there in the very bin with Killers is The Boys Next Door. This is a film I've thought about for years, since I first saw it as a teenager on VHS, which I remember as being an effective little horror/ drama. Penelope Spheeris made it somewhere between Suburbia and Wayne's World, and it has a lot more of the former in its DNA than the latter. I'm not at all interested in revisiting Dudes, her other in-between film, where she reversed her Suburbia-era judgment that you can't teach an actor to be a punk but you can teach a punk to be an actor, and (boo!) cast professional actors as punks, but The Boys Next Door is a film that has haunted me for thirty years, that I've wanted to revisit for awhile. It's about two California teenagers (one of whom is played by a very young Charlie Sheen) who end up on a killing spree. I remember it both for its mood of despairing nihilism, which unsettled me when I saw it first, and because it features on the soundtrack Iggy Pop and James Williamson's song "I Got Nothin'," which I hadn't heard before, from their album Kill City.
So that's a nice experience, all too rare: HMV has delighted me. They should think of me when stocking their cheapie bins more often. By contrast, my two blind buys there this month - a Scream Factory Blu called Cherry Falls, which I shelled out nearly $30 for, and an unremarkable Ti West movie called The Innkeepers, which is packaged as some sort of Gothic ghost story but which proves to be a half-comedic portrait of messed-up millenials - have both been disappointing, lesser films, and are soon to make the trek with me to Videomatica to be traded in (for Sssssss, if you must know).

Videomatica is great, too, of course, but Killers - for five bucks! - is still the find of the month.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Anger Dream: "How stupid are you?"

In the dream, I have a friend over to my house. As often happens in my dreams, the location is my parents' old condo at 21555 Dewdney in Maple Ridge. As was often the case when friends stayed there, my parents' main concern was serving food to the guests. They carried it farther than any other parents: in fact, I recall having a female friend stay over - platonically - and she reported waking from dreams in which my father had her tied up and was bringing her food, making her eat it. There was none of that in my dream, but my Mom was making a giant wokful of fried rice (a wok just recently thrown away by me, here in real life, as it had gone to rust underneath the sink).

But there was a catch: some of the food had been bought - I cannot say why, but it was so - at an adult novelty shop. Not a sex toy store, mind you: there used to be a real "joke shop" Dad would take me to, when I was a kid, that sold things like whoopie cushions and soap that turned black and such. I forget the name of it - something like Krazy Korner? Anyhow, it was that sort of shop, not a sex toy shop or anything, but some of the novelties they sold were themed around sex or drugs or such; it might have been actually a restricted shop, the sort I needed my Dad with me to be able to enter. Because of this, my parents were worried that my guest (who I think was female, in the dream, though I'm not entirely sure) would get in trouble with her parents - or get US in trouble with them - if she ate food from an adult novelty shop without them having been consulted. There was nothing "adult" about the rice, but... my parents wanted her to go home and bring a note from her parents saying it was okay for them to feed her.

I confronted them both in the kitchen, full of rage: "How stupid are you? No, seriously, HOW STUPID ARE YOU, I'm not joking. You need her to get a NOTE?" I could be furiously indignant and unkind with my parents. One of my father's comments that haunts me from the last month of his life was observing after I snapped at him that I was often "harsh" with him. It's true: I could be a real asshole. I used to have a sort of disturbing fascination for Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge," because I could find my own relationship with my parents inscribed in the relationship between the mother and son therein.

Anyhow, it was an uncomfortable dream and brings back memories of an uncomfortable time for me, times I was an asshole to my parents. There were plenty of them. But I remembered it when I woke up - as I was standing in the kitchen, chiding them for stupidity - so I wanted to write it down.

Interestingly, for once, my dream memory has a better memory than I do; it usually fudges details, but I hadn't thought of the layout of my parents' old kitchen in years, and yet it put the stove in exactly the right place. If you'd asked me yesterday where the stove was, before I had the dream, I'm not sure I would have remembered.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Times I saw the Rebel Spell

Posting this a day late for Todd Serious' birthday, but what the heck, I feel like thinking back.

The first time I saw the Rebel Spell was in 2007, when they opened for the Furies and DOA at Richards on Richards, on February 10th of that year. I was blown away, hadn't heard about them before that. I fell in love, might have bought their CDs then and there; back then, they had only released Expression in Layman's Terms and Days of Rage, and they sold them for $5 each. I was impressed that they sold them so cheaply.

I saw them at the Cobalt, under wendythirteen, at least two or three times after that. I think for sure I caught them on August 11th, 2007, because the Vicious Cycles were on the bill, and I remember that gig. Sometime in there, I did my first interview with them at a house they were, I assume, sharing in East Van. I vaguely remember walking there that evening. Todd, Erin, and Chris Rebel were all present, Stepha wasn't; my recorder was behaving weirdly, so we taped it on a machine that Todd provided, all of us sitting around the living room. Some of Todd's quotes got mutated into a later piece I did to promote their Dutch tour, since they were still relevant, but the full magazine piece is not online in any way, as far as I know. Chris Walter, who might have been selling books at a table the first time I saw them at the Cobalt, and whom I was just getting to know - I had only read East Van at that point, and remember him selling me Welfare Wednesday - hooked me up with photos of the band, courtesy of his partner Jennifer Dodds. I was probably working with Femke van Delft around that time, too, and some of her pics probably made it into Razorcake, as well. I can't really remember (magazines I've been in are boxed up in storage somewhere, so I can't easily check).

Todd Serious by Jennifer Dodds, not to be reused without permission

But people who don't have Razorcake should note, that the original interview - which ran in 2008, a few months after I talked to the band - was really funny and fun to do, and there's a lot that hasn't appeared anywhere else in print, with Todd and Chris teasing Erin about growing up with Angus and Slash as early guitar heroes and Chris and Todd nearly getting into a fight about some conspiracy theory (I think) that Todd wouldn't even let Chris mention, totally shutting him down when he tried to bring it up (I assumed at the time that it had to do with 9/11 but I don't really know). In any event, they were quarrelsome, poking fun at each other, and a bit at me; but they were all obviously also tight with each other. You can still buy back issues (#42) of that magazine from the Razorcake website, it looks like, for a mere $3 plus shipping. There are a few irritating typos (not my fault - there's an editorial comment I made about Gerry Hannah, addressing some other mistake, that ends up IN THE ARTICLE, because the editors there just aren't that attentive, or have other things on their mind; it was kinda part and parcel of dealing with them, which is part of why I no longer do). Still, there's also a Chris Walter feature on the Tranzmitors, who get the cover, so it's not a bad issue to have, if you're a fan of local music.

Besides Cobalt gigs, one of the next times I saw the band was at Under the Volcano, August 12th 2007 (the day after I saw them at the Cobalt the first time? Maybe!). I think Four Songs About Freedom had just come out at that point, because I remember all these kids - they were performing to an open air moshpit - getting frenzied to "I Am a Rifle," as well as jokes about how strange it was to see punks moshing in the sunlight. Femke took great photos of that day. I don't feel comfortable using her photos anymore, since we don't really have a working relationship, but there's one here, one here, one here, and one here.  Chris Rebel was camera shy at that point - "the government is watchin'"-type paranoia, I think - so I avoided posting shots with him in them, at the band's request. He had sunglasses and a hat on, anyhow, as I recall. As you see, Todd is wearing a "homes not games" t-shirt, apropos of the upcoming Olympics; Stepha is on drums, and if you look in the background, that's bev davies leaning against a tree, with her then friend Carola of JEM Gallery, now defunct as far as I know. That was how I met both women. I reviewed the show for the Nerve Magazine, but there was a bit of a feud between the Nerve and the Rebel Spell at that time, and their passage got cut, which bummed me out a bit, because I'd intended it as a gesture of reconciliation. I have no access to that passage at present or I'd print it here...

Not sure what the next time I saw the band was, but I was at the July 26 2008 Seylynn Hall gig with the Subhumans, again with Femke. I remember Brian Goble wearing a curly wig, and that half the kids who had come for the Rebel Spell didn't stick around for the headliners. Plus I remember Femke standing on a chair beside an unruly moshpit to get pics.

 I was probably at the May 22nd 2009 Cobalt book release for Chris Walter's Wrong. In fact, I know I was, because I think that that was the gig when Chris Walter got me confused with Ty Stranglehold and had to cross out an inscription in the novel that he was selling me, but addressing to Ty (Ty would later laugh with me about it that about the only thing he and I have in common is that we're both "white and large," but it was enough for Chris to confuse us).

A few months after that, in late summer, my Mom had a stroke, and then, in November, my father died. I was back in Maple Ridge at that point, so gigs came fewer and further between for me. I missed the band's shows with Propagandhi and Bad Religion, but I think I was at the July 9th 2010 gig at Funky's. I'm not sure, though. I might not have been, may have only seen them at Funky's once.

But who needs to go to the Rebel Spell when the Rebel Spell will come to you? On July 11th, 2010, I saw the Rebel Spell at the Hammond United Church Hall, on the outskirts of Maple Ridge (most gig posters for events there omit the word "Church," rendering the word "United" somewhat confusing, making it sound like the room belongs to a football team or something). It was a dark room that night, but Femke and bev both came out, at my invite, and did some Maple Ridge tourism with me. I took pictures that I guess are now lost, Femke took pics that I think I have never seen, and bev took this photo - that's Erin, the only visible member of the band. Like I say - dark!
Photo by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

The room was so bare - a church hall that doubled as a gym - that Todd quipped, at some point, that you could just tell that nothing fun was ever supposed to happen in it. (More shots of that odd little venue here.)  The band had an interim bassist, at that point; I believe I ran into Todd and Erin at a Nomeansno gig in a Vancouver rental hall around that time, and he told me that they were between bassists and "balls deep" in recording a new album, which would prove to be It's a Beautiful Future. About the only other thing I remember from the Hammond gig was buying my hard copy of Four Songs About Freedom there.

I didn't really like Four Songs About Freedom, to be honest. "They Know" has grown on me, especially after having seen it live a few times, but I always thought that EP was their weakest release, song-wise. There, I said it.

April 23rd, 2011, I saw the band open for the Dreadnoughts at the Rickshaw and left before the Dreadnoughts came on, probably to get a bus back to Maple Ridge. December 9th, 2011, I had written about the Rebel Spell's gig in support of A Better Life Dog Rescue, who were in legal hot water, and had a very interesting night showing a Danish filmmaker friend the town, drinking beer with him - more than I usually drink, in fact, since he wasn't comfortable with pot - and talking with Todd and Erin about animal rescue, anti-fascism, and other topics. I had a copy of Werner Herzog's Cerro Torre/ Scream of Stone - a rock climbing film - for Todd and a copy of Ox Fanzine for them, a German mag that I'd helped get them on a CD sampler for ("All We Want"). That was the night I fucked the Steam Clock: photos here.

No, no: I didn't really fuck the steam clock, it was figurative. I slept in the scummy jamspace that night, the one Todd thought it was "pretty punk rock of me" to sleep in, when I ran into him at that SNFU show that I mentioned, a couple of posts ago.

I don't think I saw the Rebel Spell at all in 2012, but it doesn't look like they played many shows locally, that year. I think I only went to one of the two "DOA Farewell gigs" at the Rickshaw where they opened - the one on January 18th, 2013. Here's a pic from bev from those shows that I don't think has seen print anywhere:
Todd Serious by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Also there's this one of Elliot from one of those shows, again by bev, again not to be reused without her permission:

When I caught them May 24th 2013, for Todd's 40th birthday at the Russian Hall, I remember being in a bad mood and leaving early; I felt like an outsider to the punk scene at that point, had had a cranky exchange with someone from Not Yer Buddy at the door, but mostly I just wasn't much in the mood for a concert. Early bus home, again. I think it's the only time where I left a concert by the Rebel Spell before the band had finished playing; the crowd was loving it, but I felt totally apart from the spirit of the evening.

Somewhere in there - April 2014 - I wrote this thing on the veggie oil bus for the Straight, and had an interesting experience. (This was my "lost Todd tape" where he talked about writing a song with Jeff Andrew, so this article may be all that's left of it). I had scavenged a bit from Razorcake about it being hard for Todd to stay vegan on the road. I let him know I was using it - I was actually checking to see if he still downgraded from "vegan" to "vegetarian" on the road - and he replied, by email:
"It's funny you ask actually that interview haunts me. By that time that made it to print I had gone totally vegan and have never looked back. I really like that interview it's funny and intelligent and overall probably the best written thing ever published about us but I regret saying that. It takes a little knowhow to find decent food in places like Saskatchewan but once you get past that learning curve it's no problem."
I promised to fix the quote, but on consideration, I addressed the issue not by omitting it, but by appending something about how Todd had corrected himself totally, since then, even using his words about never looking back. I thought it was revealing and interesting to do it that way, but it also wasn't so easy to address the problem by just snipping the quote entirely, because it set up the whole veggie oil bus issue (he'd also said, in the same quote, that being in a band was why he owned a vehicle, which I guess in 2008 was still burning fossil fuel). Anyhow, the piece ended up online, and it got back to Todd, and the day it was published (or maybe one day later) he called me - I was walking to a bus loop in Coquitlam at the time, on the commute home - to ask what was going on. He was worried, I think, that I had kinda fucked him over, said I would do something and then didn't, or did it in a half-assed way. We talked for about fifteen minutes about it, during which time it came to light that he hadn't actually read the piece - he was calling based on someone's report of it, said he found it kind of trying or embarrassing or such to read articles written about him. I assured him that I wasn't trying to mess with him at all, argued that I thought I'd "fixed" it in a totally appropriate way, showing that maybe in 2008, he wasn't wholly vegan, but by 2014, he was, had corrected himself where he once had made excuses for falling short of his ideals. I mean, it's not like you were born perfect, you're human, and subject to learning and growing, like any of the rest of us, I argued (I am paraphrasing, here, who knows what words I actually used but that was the jist). It makes you more approachable, more someone people can identify with, rather than this perfect figure. I offered, as I recall, to amend the piece further if need be, but that I'd like him to at least read it first, to make sure he felt it necessary; I didn't know that he would.  The conversation was conciliatory, and he seemed all right with me/ the article by the end of it; maybe he wasn't, but he never asked me to do anything further about it, if not.

I didn't see the Rebel Spell again until I had the band, Gerry Hannah and his wife Michelle over for a vegan dinner in Maple Ridge, on the date of Adstock, July 6th, 2014. Erika and I made about five dishes, on an Indian theme, including yellow lentils, green beans, a salad, and a couple of main-course curries that I forget the exact contents of, but it was a bit of a feast. Mostly Todd and Gerry talked outdoors stuff that day, then Gerry and Michelle joined us to see the band play. I shot video, took pics. Another sunny, open air gig, only there the pit wasn't on grass, like Under the Volcano, but concrete, which is why Todd introduces that clip with "last chance to hurt yourself!" No one did. The "circle pit around the gazebo" is probably the funniest thing I've seen at a gig (see the photos). I remember getting a kick out of Todd trying to pay respect to the "no profanity" rule, too; it was like he'd forgotten which of the Rebel Spell's songs had the word "fuck" in them until just before the word came up, so he had to fake his way through. He was still recovering from a back injury from a rock climbing accident at that point - which we also talk about, I think, on that lost tape - and I remember being worried that someone who was grabbing at him from the pit was going to cause him further pain.

By the by, Adstock 2016 will happen on July 10th this year - it's free, it's fun, and it looks like Ninjaspy are headlining. I don't think the full lineup has been announced yet.

Then I did the article for the Straight, promoting Last Run, the full transcript of which I put up after Todd died. In fact, it wasn't full, though; there were a couple of things I didn't transcribe, because they were irrelevant/ distracting/ etc. One of them was Todd digging out what he thought was my first article on the band - the one he calls "funny and intelligent and overall the best written thing ever published about us" - and it was THE WRONG FUCKIN' MAGAZINE, an article by a different person, with glossy pics (I don't recall which mag it was but Razorcake only did B&W). He'd told me he liked the Razorcake piece before - that it was "us," if embarrassing at times, since I had forced my editor to leave in some of that aforementioned in-fighting - but it kinda called the whole thing into question, like maybe he'd been thinking of a different article all along!

Ah, well. Anyhow, I saw the band October 11th, 2014, at 333 for the album release of Last Run. Pics here, video here. I missed their next Vancouver show, the last one with Todd, at the WISE Hall.

After that, you know about, it's recent history, though note that I skipped the gig at 1739 Venables, because I had spent the day cleaning out Mom's apartment and just wanted to relax with my girl. But what a fantastic band. May Vancouver see another as good, someday.

...Now, what was it that I was supposed to be getting accomplished today?

Dealing with a death, the practical side

After a death, the checklist of stuff to do stretches for a long time. You're floored, you're in mourning, and maybe you feel like shit because suddenly all you can remember is your failings with the person in question - times you spoke harshly, things you could have done better or more of - and maybe you miss them terribly, but hey, welcome to it, you now have a mountain of stuff to contend with (especially if you're the executor, or the only family member in the province; in my case, both apply).

First, the remains: there's a protocol by which the Death Certificate is arranged by the funeral home. In order to do this, you need, obviously, to contact a funeral home, which often means paying through the nose for services that you might not be able to afford and may not even need (there's some sharks in this water that want to take advantage of your grief to sell you the Deluxe Package, "prove your love with this lovely mahogany box" kinda thing). For some (me) that's not an option. The absolute cheapest way in Maple Ridge - and I believe in other parts of BC - to deal with a body is a service called A Simple Cremation. At present, it costs just under $1000 for their most basic package - which is what both my father and mother requested; their wish was always that their remains be scattered together, at a place of my choosing (and, it turns out, at a time of my choosing, which will be sometime LATER than now; might do it on their anniversary in October, dunno - I believe it will be their 58th). When father passed in 2009, the cremation was about $850, so there's an inflationary aspect to this, too; it's the same service, but six years later, it's $150 more expensive.

Whatever your feelings on this matter - whatever your plans for a funeral are, or if you plan to have one at all - you have to do SOMETHING to get the Death Certificate, and it won't be free. The CPP and Old Age Security and such DO send final cheques for the month in which a person died, but most of that money will go to the last month's rent in their building and to the Funeral Home, so it makes sense to have something set aside to cover these expenses.

I didn't.

Anyhow, once you have the Death Certificate, you're ready to deal with the bureaucracy, the second big step. Each government office needs to be notified separately, because they don't interact: Service Canada, Service BC, Canada Revenue, and any other organizations that the person has a pension with, say, all need to be brought or sent copies of the Death Certificate (banks will certify "true copies," so you don't need more than one of the original, but that one, you have to keep). Pensions and ID need to be cancelled. To help with expenses, there's a Death Benefit that maxes out at $2500, but will only amount to that much if the person worked a lot and paid into CPP and such. My Mom didn't, but boy did my father ever have pensions lined up - all set to take care of Mom for the rest of her life, which they did. What I didn't realize until after she died was that almost all her pension benefits came from him, from the good old days when pensions were for life and survivor's and spouse's pensions were commonplace. She hadn't worked since the 1950's - he never wanted her to get a job outside the home; that was how it was for their generation - so whatever the benefit will be, it'll be piddling.

In any event, there's paperwork to do, people to notify. I still have a few stops to make on the checklist - have to go stand in line at the Passport Office, for instance. Meantime, hey, what do we do with all this furniture? This is also still an ongoing issue for me: Mom's apartment is still her apartment for five more days, and there's still stuff in it. Not much, mind you: mostly now it's stuff for recycling and thrift stores, because I was able to lose almost all of her furniture by posting notices ("free furniture!") in her building, where everyone else is kind of broke, too. There are a few boxes of (mostly) junk to sort through, but the seven-foot couch that was a concern is now the couch of a high-functioning autistic fellow whose mother lives in the building; he also got our TV, TV stand, a dresser, a table, a toaster oven and a microwave. Another guy got Mom's easy chair, blender, and the other toaster oven we had, plus another table. We were even able to get rid of her box spring (to one guy) and her mattress to another, who is using it as his de facto box spring, under the mattress he had been sleeping on. One carpet went to the thrift store, one went to someone in another suite. The freezer I was able to sell; the pine cabinet Erika thought nice was simply given away, when it was determined it couldn't be made to fit in her car. Several boxes of stuff went to storage, a few items made their way back here. There is still a bit of stuff that has some sentimental value that I really would like to just junk, like a horrible oil painting - an incompetent landscape, of a river and some trees - that has been in the family longer, I believe, than I have; it's awful, but it's got too much memory wrapped up in it for me to lose it too blithely, especially when I know no one else will want it...

In any event, I'm relieved that I won't have to hire a truck and/or pay to dump any furniture.

Once the suite is empty, you can deal with the cleaning; luckily, Mom's suite is being totally renovated before the next tenants move in, so this won't be too too bad (though there's some burnt-in  melted plastic and other substances caked on the bottom of the oven that might not want to come off too easily).

The one thing I've kind of let slide is notifying relatives. Most of mine, on Mom's side of the family, are in the Quebec area, as far as I know, but because of her 2009 stroke, Mom had memory issues, so she couldn't tell me with certainty who her surviving brothers and sisters were; on the day she died, she said her brother Billy was still around, for example, but he apparently died twelve years ago (more on that below). With sisters, good luck - because they'll probably have different last names - but Mom has at least one surviving brother, as far as I know, Peter, whose home I remember visiting some thirty years ago, on my one and only trip back that way; maybe he is the only one of her brothers and sisters left. The trick there is that the last phone number and address I have for him - the address on his last Christmas card to Mom and the corresponding phone number on - don't work anymore. I tried calling, and when that failed, I tried sending a letter, which was returned in the mail with the word "moved" written on it. What the heck to do? Government agencies won't help; they probably have access to the information, but confidentiality reigns - they will basically only give you the address if you are the person whose address you're asking about, which isn't much help at all.

Nonetheless, when my letter to Uncle Peter came back in the mail, I spent about an hour trying to reach his (former?) borough in Quebec, waiting on hold to see if they could help put me in touch - at least call him for me, if they had a number, and pass on a message. It was preferable to the awkward first attempts I had made to find him, which involved calling total strangers with my mother's maiden name, to see if they might be relatives. In a scam-hardened age, it's a little awkward to call someone out of the blue claiming you might be family: it took me about three such calls to resolve to try to find another way to do it.

After an hour on hold, tho'. I looked up her name on and called seven more numbers, before I found myself on the phone with someone who turned out to be my second cousin, driving in Quebec. His father was my mother's brother Billy, who died 12 years ago. He was wary at first, but I think he believes me now, since I knew his father's name, and his father's brother, and he might have even recognized his Aunt Helen's name, though she's as strange to him as most of them are to me (blood isn't very thick with my family, what can I say). Trouble is, he was driving, so I get to call him back later tonight, to see if he has updated contact information for Peter.

I don't think I even told him my name. 

Cool gig Thursday: Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll, Defektors

So here's a below-the-radar gig that could be fun. The Red Gate - redubbed the Red Fate, and moved, but I can't exactly say where (Hastings somewhere, ask someone cooler'n me) - will be hosting a gig Thursday night. Nic and Jeremy of Shearing Pinx will be joining members of Heavy Days and Psychedelic Dirt (so the little flyer sez) to put on a set of Neil Young covers, under the band name Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll - and not a noisy, ShPx-style version of Neil Young songs, either, but a respectful tribute, I'm told. (I saw these guys at the last Neil Young and Crazy Horse show in Vancouver, so I know they're fans). The Defektors will also be playing, with friends, doing a set of Gun Club covers. The little flyer sez it starts at 10pm, though the last time I tried one of these sorta gigs, it was 11:30 and the first of four bands hadn't started yet; take that as a caveat, but I might try this one no less.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Titus Andronicus at the Biltmore, May 28th

Speaking of great punk bands, I loved the Titus Andronicus show last year at the Biltmore, though I kinda thought Spider Bags stole it, a little! Doubt I'll go but they're playing again May 28th, ie., next Saturday.

Incidentally, I sometimes have used "Dimed Out" with ESL students to see if they can figure out what the phrase "dimed out" actually means, knowing only the various implications of the particle "out" and that "dime" refers to "ten." Some get it, most don't, but it's always a helpful teaching point, and a fun way to introduce phrasal verbs, which are always tricky.

The Rebel Spell at the WISE Hall, May 20 2016

Well, that's interesting. I post a giant Gerry Hannah interview and a small piece of outtakes from my Rebel Spell interview on the same day, and - as of this writing - the Rebel Spell is beating Gerry in views at a rate of 428 views to 298. (Larry Fessenden is at a mere 66, and my post about catchin' snakes is at 25, if anyone is interested). It kinda reminds me of seeing the Rebel Spell open for the Subhumans at Seylynn Hall and half the crowd cleared out after the Rebel Spell were done - a scandal!  Plus I snubbed Gerry, opening for Art Bergmann, to be at the Rebel Spell show last night, myself...

By the by, Gerry, I said hi to Stepha for you, but it kinda backfired into a if-he's-in-town-why-isn't-he-here kinda thing, since it seems the Art Bergmann show finished plenty early, but... well, I said hi, anyhow. "He's probably driving back to Chilliwack," I said, and Stepha said, "Boooooo."

Fantastic night last night, in any event. I'm thinking the Rebel Spell should do this every year. Many big surprises, maybe the biggest of which is that Travis, the Rebel Spell's drummer, makes a fantastic frontman. Absolutely great to see the band again, and nice to see that everyone seemed to be having a good, positive time (no meltdowns that I saw, though I left at 12:50: Skytrain time). Plus holy crap, Lexi Marie was magnificent, and has one hell of a song she wrote about Todd, "We Sing Louder," which will be coming out as part of the download, at the very least, for this Todd Serious tribute album in the works; moving as hell, even if her attempts to get the talkers in back to STFU only brought them down to a dull roar. (Shot some video of it, and of other stuff, but I don't know when I'll be able to upload it; things are a bit complex on that front, since the computer I usually work from is at Mom's, and Mom's is being dismantled).

But whoa, the real treat last night was Drum & Bell Tower, AKA Brent Norton. Todd Serious made a bit of an unwitting mistake when he plugged Drum & Bell Tower to me in our final interview, since - not knowing my prejudices - he compared him to Pink Floyd; a quick investigation showed it wasn't Syd-era Floyd he was talking about, either.  But mid-70's Floyd, to me, has to be some of the most over-rated, over-played, over-valorized music on the planet: I've been on the "Wish You Weren't Here" page for 20 years now, can find no music more tedious to my ears short of dropping the needle on "Stairway to Heaven." It's not an entirely inaccurate comparison, mind you - tonally, there are similarities - but Brent's passion when performing is stunning, and his total re-arrangement of the Rebel Spell's "Pride & Prejudice" was a real eye-opener last night. It was great to finally see what Todd was talking about; the guy is one powerful performer, and seeing him live was a great way to be introduced to his music. Which I hope to write more about.

Anyhow, here are some photos. Think I'm going to go to the Venables gig tonight as well, but I have to go deal with Mom's apartment, too, today, so... Anyhow, below: Drum & Bell Tower, then with Lexi twice, then two dudes I don't know who I think are from Saskatchewan, fronting the Rebel Spell, and then Travis and Elliot. I have video of other stuff, too, but like I say, it may have to wait awhile...

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Rebel Spell outtakes: in which we get creepy, plus more on Alien Boys

 Todd and Elliot by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

There's more to come on the Rebel Spell - the band is done, as of this weekend, but there's a Todd Serious tribute album in the works, Travis and Lexi Marie have both written songs about Todd, and most intriguingly, there is apparently enough footage for a documentary film - some 500 hours, taken mostly from the Last Run tour, along with interviews that Erin did with Todd on the veggie oil bus and vintage footage of the band courtesy of Chris Rebel (who has reconciled with them after a period of being on the outs; he'll be around tonight, apparently, and will sing a song or so, as will Erin, whom I've never heard sing before). I have no more time to transcribe the conversation I had at Lanalou's with the band, but there were a couple of outtakes from the Westender piece that are already typed up that need to be read...

...for instance, when I asked what they make, now, of all the weirdly prescient foreshadowing of Todd's death on their final album? The record is called Last Run, to start with, and their final tour the Last Run tour - though as Serious himself explained to me in a past interview, that was only because they expected their veggie oil bus to conk out soon.

Song after song, however, like "Hopeless" and "I Heard You Singing" have Todd singing about "leaving": "it hurts to be here/ but I can't leave," or in the latter song, hearing the call of nature to abandon the so-called civilized world but being "too scared to leave."

It kind of reminds me of Keith Moon on the cover of Who Are You?, sitting on a chair that reads "Not to Be Taken Away," or the Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors cover, that shows the band in flames, shortly before half the members died in a plane crash.

And, I mean, it's a bit chilling - and I'm sorry if this upsets anyone - that there's a line in "Let's Roll a Storm" about being "smashed to bits" at the bottom of a cliff (Travis pitches in when I mention this that that line was actually the contribution of a good friend of his, and that it's more about a jump than a fall, but it's still disturbing in hindsight).

I can imagine Todd's impatience with the question, but I have to ask the band: it all gets a bit creepy, doesn't it?

I am relieved that his bandmates all chuckle and nod at my question, because I expected them to kinda slap me upside the head. 

"No, a lot of the songs have taken this weird angle," Elliot admits. "Even in 'Breathe,' where he says 'it never gets easy/ unless you give up/ and if you do, you won't know/ because there's nothing after death.' Y'know, when we were recording it, that just seemed like an atheist fuckin' lyric, but for him to die half a year later... a whole bunch of the songs and lyrics..."

"The album cover," Erin says, nodding.

" 'Bring Em In,' off an earlier album," Elliot continues, "he sings about the pain of being around for such a short time, and the immortality you seek by being a part of something more...? It's weird. Most people in their creative pursuits would not drop so many references to the brevity of life."

Elliot can't but think how "pissed off" Todd would be for dying from a stupid mistake. "And talking all this heavy handed stuff about him being a role model - he was also just a fun guy who was our friend. And it's been weird rehearsing, along with the loss of Todd as a friend, we've also lost this band that we put all this energy into, and it's like, the three of us are still here, the bass drums and guitar are still there, and we're still killer, we've fuckin' played hundreds of shows together... and rehearsing, it just sucks, because even though there's some anger and sadness in some of the songs, to me, overall the experience of the band was a lot of fun, and the experience of playing a show is like - all of our favourite thing. It's super weird to get together and jam, and 'well, that was fun, but where's that guy?'"

As for life after the memorial... are the members of the band planning anything new after this weekend?

Travis says that he's "just continuously threatening to start bands all over the place but nothing has come to fruition yet." 

Elliot tells me he feels "like I'm in, like, six half-bands, but no big things... it takes a long time, and for me at least, this made me want to not play music for a little while. It threw something in that wheel."

Erin agrees that she was definitely burned out for a bit there, too, but as it happens she's the only member with a new project in the works. "We're probably going to start gigging at the end of June. Elliot's going to record our album or demo or whatever. We're called Alien Boys." 

Are you all girls? 

"Yep! Their intent was to be a D-beat band, but I don't know if that's what we really are, but that was the genesis of it. When Todd was alive, I told myself that if the Rebel Spell ever ended, that was it for me, I would not be in a band again. But I just fell into it. It's a lot of work, y'know, a lot of stress - but I'm taking it a lot easier this time around."

Looking forward to tonight's show a lot! Didn't get to transcribe much of Travis' part of the interview (he said about one word for every hundred of Elliot's, or twenty of Erin's; he's gotta be one of the most quiet, attentive drummers out there, mostly just sitting and listening to his friends). He's written a song about Todd, though, "Solemn Eyes," which can be heard on their bandcamp page. And he gets the last word: that tonight "is gonna be a riot, that's for sure."

See you there.

Jeff Andrew, the Rebel Spell and the Todd Serious Memorial gig, plus Todd Serious on Phil Ochs

 The Rebel Spell at Adstock, Maple Ridge, summer of 2014, photo by me...

I wouldn't know about Jeff Andrew if it wasn't for the late Todd Serious (singing, above). As I say in my Straight piece with Andrew, he's one of a few local musicians whom Todd pointed out to me as being someone worth following - not because Todd was so concerned with what I listened to, personally, but because he knew that having press connections would be useful for Jeff, and that I was interested in writing about music that mattered.

I think Todd was a bit wary of me, in fact. I make an unconvincing punk; I'm no communist or anarchist; I have a hard enough time climbing a ladder, neverminding a cliff face (Todd had a passion for rock climbing); and I'm no sort of vegan, not even a vegetarian. Plus I'm connected to a media machine that makes good sense to approach cautiously. Add to all that that never once did I really, in my own mind, feel myself to be his equal; I praise his idealism and his walking his talk in my recent Westender article about the Todd Serious Memorial Shows, tonight and tomorrow, but in part that's because I don't feel like I've done that, myself. If things were a bit distant between Todd and I - if we were never anything I could call "friends" - a part of that is probably on me. But I love the hell out of the Rebel Spell's music, and my two big interviews with Todd - here and here - are among the most interesting I've done. (There are lots of little ones out there, too).

We did have a few personal interactions over the years, mind you. When he ran into me at an SNFU gig at Funkys - a Chris Walter booklaunch - we talked a bit between songs; I remember that I told him I was sleeping over in a crappy little jamspace rented by a friend so I could be at the show, and he replied, "that's pretty punk rock of  you, actually."

That's about the biggest compliment he ever paid me, aside from his saying, the last time I saw him, at the Vancouver record launch for Last Run, that my last feature on the band before he died was the least embarrassing piece of press he'd ever received (I think the exact quote was that he "winced less reading it than anything else that had been written" about his band). High praise!

The Rebel Spell at 333, the last time I saw them (photo by me)

But since I brought up Phil Ochs in my Jeff Andrew piece, here's one little personal exchange between myself and Todd that people don't know about, from back in 2011, that centers around Ochs - another departed idealist, but from the 1960's. Knowing Todd's interest in Latin American politics and revolution, I had sent him a link to a somewhat obscure Phil Ochs song, "Bullets of Mexico." This was apropos of a conversation about the Rebel Spell's covering a Leon Rosselson song, "The World Turned Upside Down," which Todd knew through Billy Bragg (I gave the band a Leon Rosselson album I found in a thrift store around this time, too). I thought "Bullets of Mexico" would make a pretty good cover tune, as well, but mostly thought the guy would like the song.

He did. He wrote to me: "I wasn't familiar with Mr. Ochs' music. Quite interesting, he's like a modern bard, totally lyric driven music. Amazes me that people can pull that off."

I replied that Billy Bragg himself had written a song, to the tune of the old protest number "Joe Hill," called "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night." He told me that Joey Only had done a similar thing, too, with "I Dreamed I Saw Dudley George Last Night." And that's it, the end of the conversation, though he did also mention in there that "we" - he and his girlfriend? he and the band? - "saw Leon Rosselson at the Vancouver folk fest and he did some new songs that were totally relevant and totally pointed at current events. The sound and the narrow and direct themes of the songs are a lot like this Phil Ochs' track."

But that's all I've got from Todd, really. (I have some nice stuff of him talking about the collaboration with Jeff Andrew, but I can't find the tape; it was the basis of this interview, from before Last Run came out, but was perhaps mislabeled or not labeled at all; I had no luck in my search for it, shortly after he died - and now all that stuff is in storage). 

However, I have a lot of stuff from Jeff Andrew that didn't make the Straight piece. Jeff, as far as I know, will be at both of the Todd Serious Memorial Shows, to join in "The Tsilhqot'in War," and will do an opening set tonight at the WISE. He's a hell of a songwriter in his own right. People who don't like punk, but like Phil Ochs, say, or any socially engaged folk stuff, would do well to check him out.

Jeff Andrew by Amanda Bullick

Allan: So you're up in Lillooet. treeplanting...?

Jeff: It's a day off. We're actually staying - I'm living in a cabin out by Goldbridge, which is about a hundred kilometers Northwest of here. That's pretty far out there. But I came into town  - sorry I was late, I was at Lordco getting new headlamps for my truck.

Does Todd still have people up there?

Yeah, there's tons. That's partly why I'm here, why I took the job - I wanted to be close to here. Like, Anna and Stepha live here. Travis doesn't anymore, but they still do, and there's a whole crew of people here sort of connected with the band. I spent a bunch of time here last summer, as well. It's a really cool spot - the whole landscape, and it's a bunch of my favourite people in the world.

It's interesting, because I've got photos of the band posing with some machinery out in Lillooet.

Yeah, that was out behind Todd and Anna's house, on the east side of town, east of the Fraser River. There was a trailer that they lived in. Anna lived there until last month, now she's living outside of town a little bit. We did a big hike from there, as well - on the one year anniversary of Todd's death, March 7th. There's a big ridge that sorta goes up behind their house, outside of town, and about fifteen or twenty of us got up there and hiked up to the top, and took some of his ashes up there and buried them near the top, made a little rock cairn for him. I'm looking at it right now, actually - I'm just sitting on some railroad tracks, looking over the Fraser River, and there's a great big range. It was a pretty gnarly day actually: there's no trail, so we just bushwhacked up really steep scree slopes, and then (________) a jagged ridge, like sketchy loose rock climbing, up to the top through a bunch of snow. I checked out the elevation, and it was about twice as tall as the Chief up in Squamish. It was a fitting thing, because it was totally Todd's hiking style, just go out there and pick a spot and, 'ah, just fuckin' see if we can get up there,' y'know, walking through waist-deep snow, nobody's dressed for it, it's freezing cold, and we're all getting soaked...
Photo by Gabrielle Kingston

Who all was in that group?

Anna and Stepha and Travis, Erin, Elliot... then a bunch of people from around here, and friends from Vancouver. There's a lot of people from Vancouver that were part of the scene in the older days that moved up here in the last few years.

Are you still practicing veganism?

Yeah. That was definitely something that Todd inspired. I mean, I almost already was vegan at the point when he died, and was thinking about it, like, I should just go the rest of the way. I was still eating cheese and eggs and stuff, here and there. But it was a few weeks after he died, I just woke up and said, 'fuck it, I'm doing it.' His influence wasn't the only factor, but it was definitely a big one. We never talked about it a lot, but, like, it was a big thing for him, and it was something I'd been thinking about it for awhile, and it was a good way to do something to honour him, when, at that point we were all grieving really hard. And it was something I needed to do for myself, too; I'd been trying to change my whole relationship with food and get out of bad habits and just really start taking care of myself better.


That was the big thing I got out of his life, and his passing: to step up and start taking care of my own body, basically. I started rock climbing in the summer, as well. I got really into that, and spent all winter doing that in the gym - eating well and going to the climbing gym four of five times a week. That's sort of the way he tried to be: you're in your body, you've got to take care of it and you want it to last a long time, especially as you're getting older. I'm in my mid-30's now. I want to keep getting stronger, and not start deteriorating over time, stay strong and fit and active.

The rock climbing thing wasn't ever something I really talked to him much about. 

He kept a lot of things close to his chest, in some ways. Like, climbing was this whole other half of his life that most of us from the music side didn't know much about. We were sort of vaguely aware that he did it, but... It's sad now, to think that I didn't get into it until after he died, because we'll never get to go up on the rocks together, but now that I've gotten so into it, this last year, I totally get it now, what a big force it was for him. I see how good it's been for me, so I understand now why it was so important to him...

 Photograph: Mary Matheson

Are there other ways that Todd inspired or influenced you?

Yeah, tons! It's hard to put into specifics, but like, the force of of his message was so strong, he had such a clear vision of what he was trying to say. That comes through a lot, and just the power of his voice, and the way he was able to sing so clearly over a big loud raging punk band, was something I always admired, because my own voice... I've gotten a lot better at singing over the years since I started doing it, but it's hard enough to sing over an acoustic guitar!

I have a stupid question, actually. I should have Googled it, but I don't know the difference between a violin and a fiddle. It's always mystified me. Which do you play?

It's the same thing. It's the same instrument, it's just two different names for it - it's more just the style. If you're playing classical music, people call it a violin, and if you're playing folk music and trad stuff, everyone calls it a fiddle. But they're interchangeable, they're the exact same instrument.

So I can call you a fiddler?

Yeah! It's not an insult - "you play the fiddle, oh sorry I meant the violin!" It's not a derogatory term or anything!

Thanks, I always wondered. So are you working on new material?

I've got about an album's worth of songs kinda sitting around. Some of them are things that I wrote years ago, that I never played much, and I've been kinda going through and like, actually playing them and working them out and changing keys on them and figuring out how to sing them. And I've written two new songs in the last year... At some point in the next year I'm going to try to make a new album...

(At this point, Jeff and I talk at length about his writing "The Tsilhqot'in War" with Todd, but that can be read about on the Straight website; there's also a quote from Jeff in the Westender article). 

Thanks, Jeff... Okay, I think we have enough...

But I wanted to say one more thing... In the last year, I've listened to the Rebel Spell a lot. I listened to them before he died, when we were friends, but I never really dug in super deeply. It was just, a friend's band I really liked, but since then, it was part of my healing process, since losing him: I've listened to his music a lot. Mostly in my truck, driving around to treeplanting contracts. And I started to realize what a brilliant songwriter he was, and the whole band was, too. Like, the way they put together songs, with all the words and backup vocals and... the songs are so full of hooks, it's one cool thing: a lot of this pop songwriting but also catchy stuff, metal and loud, rowdy punk stuff - kinda the two put together in a really powerful package with a lot of energy in it. But it also has this really strong message to it. That's been really inspiring, for the last year, and it's also changed how I've written songs.


And a lot of their songs sound like big raging punk songs, but they also work just as well as folk songs. A lot of their stuff - you can strip everything down and just bang out the chords on an acoustic guitar and they sound amazing. It shows how good of songwriters they were, they are. We've had quite a number of really epic Rebel Spell campfire jams, especially at all the festivals we're all at, sitting around the fire with Elliot and Erin and Travis, rockin' out with acoustic guitars and twenty people singing along. And there's been a lot of people covering Rebel Spell songs as well, at shows that I've seen in Vancouver. So that's something to say - that the legacy of it is going to live on.

Photograph: Mary Matheson

Click here for more information on the WISE Hall show (May 20th - today! - for which tickets are still available)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Larry Fessenden on Kelly Reichardt and the River of Grass restoration

I'm kinda glad Larry Fessenden - the one lying on the car, above - appears to have a good sense of humour, because when I suggested that we use his line about "flappin' gums" in the title for my Straight piece about River of Grass, I didn't really think they'd take me up on it!

In any event... friends and followers of my writing know that I love Reichardt's film Old Joy, opening tonight at the Cinematheque, as part of their Kelly Reichardt retrospective. A beautifully meditative, lovingly shot piece of Pacific Northwest cinema that I read as mourning the loss of the spirit of 1960's idealism - though it's more complex than that - it's a film I've been able to watch a dozen times, and was happy to be able to show my father shortly before he passed; he too found it moving. Will Oldham - known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy to music fans, but he's also the Baptist preacher kid in John Sayles' Matewan - is great in it, the Yo La Tengo soundtrack is transfixing, and there's lots of great "road movie" stuff - lots of shots out car windows, the original and best steadicam. Plus the dog from Wendy and Lucy gets her first starring role here, and there's a really nice shot of a slug crawling along the forest floor. It's a simple story: two old friends, grown apart, go to a hot spring in the woods, and try to find a way to communicate with each other. They don't succeed, exactly, but what is revealed runs as deep as you want to take it.
Old Joy is the big must-see in the retrospective, if you've somehow missed it, but I also gave a very positive review not too long ago to Reichardt's Night Moves; that's an underrated, under-seen film, which won my admiration - and probably alienated at least some of its presumed target audience - by taking an unexpectedly critical stance on the actions of idealistic eco-saboteurs. It's a "when things go wrong" movie, and I've always wondered if it was in any way inspired, Pacific Northwest-wise, by the story of the Squamish Five/ Direct Action (see my interview with Gerry Hannah immediately below this post). Certainly that group had things go very wrong. Those - Old Joy and Night Moves - are probably my two favourite Kelly Reichardt films, though I've found things to admire in all of her work.
It was somewhat of a surprise to talk to (long-time Reichardt associate) Larry Fessenden at all, and especially about someone else's cinema, but I've found attempts to interview Reichardt a little challenging (I've tried a couple of times to no avail), and I love Larry Fessenden's movies as well, though they're very different from Reichardt's. Probably my favourite of his films is the moving, low-key horror movie Wendigo, though all of the ones I've seen are well worth seeking out (I have yet to catch Beneath, or any of his very early films, like Experienced Movers, but I enjoyed No Telling, Habit, and The Last Winter, and recommend them all). I also have a fondness for things produced by Glass Eye Pix, his company, who have been behind some of the most entertaining low budget/ indy horror films of recent years; I even watched one last night, Ti West's lesser but still interesting The Innkeepers. So what the heck, sure, I'll talk to Larry Fessenden! Besides, Fessenden's performance in River of Grass is one of the most entertaining things about the film...

Be sure to read my Straight article, for more, because the following is more or less outtakes; some of the high points of our short chat are there, not here. 

Allan: Is it just an accident, or are you deliberately channelling a young Jack Nicholson in River of Grass?

Larry: No, that's just a trick of birth. I've been compared to Nicholson ever since I was born, and as I get older, I look like Nicholson growing older, so it's more of a curse. But I mean, I can't even get through an airport without people saying I look like Nicholson.

Oh jeez. This is the only film where I've actually thought that!

I'm surprised to hear that.

Maybe I'm just not that perceptive... So how did you meet Kelly Reichardt?

Well, all of this is going to be a little hard to dredge up, but - there's a local [ie. New York] restaurant and I knew the restaurateur was also a filmmaker, interested in film; and his brother was Kelly's compatriot at the time, and had written the story of River of Grass with Kelly. So we were all in that circle of friends. And I met Kelly. And she saw an early film of mine called Habit - not the one that has made its way into the world, but the one that I made when I was in college - and she liked it, and wondered if I would audition for the character of Lee Ray Harold. And so we struck up a friendship, slowly over time, and then I went down [to Florida] and made the film and stayed on as the editor and as her champion. We worked almost a year together, in a very un-traditional way, very low budget. We worked on 3/4 inch U-matic videotape...

It's an interesting first film. It seems like a neo-Godardian take on Badlands, but I don't know - was Badlands discussed, a conscious reference point, or...?

Certainly! Badlands was a major influence, particularly in the voiceover.  And I think it's fair to say that Godard was also an influence. I think the numbers that we use in the film come from a Godard movie, I can't remember which one, but I know it has an element of Breathless, and basically it's a deconstruction of American noir movies like Gun Crazy and The Honeymoon Killers. So there was a lot of influences that we spoke about. Some of them make it onto the screen and some were just in our conversations.

You had made a couple of features - Experienced Movers and No Telling, at least, before you acted in this film?

Yeah. I was always interested in acting, and then I drifted into directing. I made Experienced Movers in 1985, on video. It was an epic and somewhat preposterous, sprawling caper film; but I learned a lot about film, or about storytelling. And then some years later in the early 1990's I made a film called No Telling, which had a large crew, and it kind of turned me off the filmmaking process, because it got so big, and the role of the director got so managerial. And I felt I had, a little bit, lost my way. And as I was licking my wounds, that's when I met Kelly, and I was very excited to help someone else make a movie, because I have great passion for the medium. I just needed a break from carrying the whole show on my shoulders. So I supported her vision, and that was a nice way for me to regain my footing. And eventually I made Habit, with some of the things I had re-learned from her, like working with a small crew. And even some of the cinematic approaches, like shooting streets with a very flat lens, just straight on: some of that you can see in Habit, and that came from sort of seeing how she was framing stuff.

I'm curious about the process of making the film, because there's a lot of wonderful stuff that happens in the editing, where you're driving, say, and you glance to the side and there's a dog running, say, or she's looking at the album covers from the records Lee steals from his mother, and then we cut to the different album covers... so how much of the film was done in post-production? Did you start editing and then shoot new material, or was that all thought out beforehand?
 The only material we shot after the fact was some of the opening montage, some of the closeups of the postcards, the super 8 of the woman chopping up her husband... that's a direct lift from an old super 8 movie of mine that we used as a slug for a long time, but Kelly wanted to switch up the sexes, so she wrote that voice-over. All the voice-over was added in post. The film style was basically the way she shot it, but we had a lot of conversations as we editing about the point of view and cinema, and we worked together to find the rhythms of the movie. I tend to be the more flowery editor, so it was fun for her to sort of slow me down and find a groove. And of course, I also made a lot of hay about the editing of the sound. And we used a lot of car-bys (carbides?) and other sound design components, with a very crude system... but it became also the personality of the movie. And she had the drummer already as part of the story, so some of the rhythms of the drummer and those montages, all of that was very much in her mind, was all how she designed the film.

One of the challenges of the film is that the characters really aren't that appealing! 

Heh heh.

And I wonder if that was by design - did she want these characters to seem like losers you can't really like?

Clearly that was the agenda! I mean, she wanted them to be engaging, but they really are inept. They can't fall in love, they have no real passion for each other, and they sort of think they've committed a crime, but you're not really sure... then at some point you notice that Lee figures out they didn't, but he doesn't tell Cozy. And then they seem to imagine that they're on the lam... 

It's a little misanthropic, compared to her later films. Her distaste for these characters... I don't know, I want to like them more than it's possible to do...

Right. Oddly enough, I think some of the secondary characters are appealing. There's Stan - I think that's the characters name, but the heavier guy who is sort of a Rodney Dangerfield character, who always tells jokes, and then his partner, the African-American dude, they're sort of appealing, because they're sort of just going about their business, and I think that was some insight that Kelly had, because her father was a crime scene detective, so she knew characters like that growing up, and they have, of course, a very jaundiced view of their job. As you have to, if you're seeing murder scenes every day. So I think there's a sort of noir cynicism on top of the film. I think all of Kelly's films are about how we don't, sort of, live up to our view of ourselves: obviously, Old Joy, those two guys can't quite hit a friendship, that they're striving for. People aren't quite living up to their potential in Kelly's movies. This was the start of it, but she needed to find her voice and her confidence. This was a journey towards that, but maybe she didn't have it all sorted out yet.

Do you know anything about the restoration process? I'm looking at the old Wellspring DVD, and some of it is quite dark...

Well, I get a call in the middle of the night where they asked if the night scenes were supposed to be dark. I recall saying yes, because they were actually day-for-night, or dusk-for-night. But I haven't seen the transfer myself. I understood it was quite lovely. I don't know if some of the scenes went dark - we had a small crew and a small lighting package but I also think there was a realism Kelly wanted, and some of those scenes might have gone a little dark. But I think it was a transfer from a negative, so they had the best options. I'm not sure Kelly was involved; she was working on Certain Women. It's certainly director-approved in the sense that she was happy for them to put this all together, but I don't think she actually oversaw it.

Do you have a favourite scene in it?

That's interesting. Well, I love when my character tries to rob the store and fails miserably. (Laughs). That's actually the one that comes to mind.  The two dudes who run the store were really just last minute substitutes, and they were just so charming... we had a lot of fun doing that scene. But a lot of it was really seat-of-the-pants. And of course the scene when they try to go through the toll was very exciting. It's not like we had a lot of permits or anything, we had to shoot a lot of stuff on the fly... We did watch it together (Kelly and I) to do the commentary, which is really just a funny chronicle of two aging people saying, "what happened that day?"

Let me just ask about yourself, in closing - is there anything you or Glass Eye Pix are up to that I should mention? 

Glass Eye Pix has movies in almost every stage of production. We're about to shoot something now that I can't speak precisely about, but we're editing a few movies, and I'm looking for money for a film, so... we always have irons in the fire, but until they're ready for the public there's no point to go on about it, just to say "keep an eye on us,", there's all the news that's fit to print.

Note: people interested in exploring Larry Fessenden's work might want to check out the Larry Fessenden Collection, from Shout! Factory. And the Cinematheque's Kelly Reichardt retrospective, Nomadic Gestures, runs this weekend, to May 23rd.