Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Right, so - the Rebel Spell again, plus Carsick Cars cancels!

Okay, the god's honest truth was, listening to Rebels Sing: A Tribute to Todd Serious and The Rebel Spell my first thought going from track to track was something like, "cool, but Todd sang it better." The guitars and such were great (I'm sure - they're almost never the first thing that catches my attention about a song) - and I love the idea of the project, and I hope it succeeds - I hope this Friday's show at the Rickshaw is just packed - but mostly I liked the Rebel Spell for their message, not their music. They wrote great songs, and I like what they stood for and who they were, but if the lyrics hadn't been so engaging I probably wouldn't have cared that much, y'know? So hearing a bunch of other people do faithful renditions of their songs, but with voices OTHER than Todd's... I mean, I could just listen to the Rebel Spell! (After spinning it I played their first and last albums in succession and got my fix in). 

Maybe it's just me.

Still, there are some really interesting cuts on it, don't get me wrong. My faves are the ones that completely re-contextualize Todd's lyrics, especially those by Jesse LeBourdais, Ancient Grains, and Drum & Bell Tower, all of whom do something folky or at most folk-punky with the songs they cover. Speaking of which, who the hell are Ancient Grains, anyway? There doesn't seem to be a lot of information online about them. It's uke and violin and a girl vocalist (or two?), and they bring out a sort of nerdiness to the song they do (the apocalyptic "Last Run") that is quite endearing and effective, like, "this is a message so strong that we don't have to shout it." It's kinda Moldy-Peachy and fun, akin to Jeffrey Lewis covering Crass, another album I really like. So I like the album, I've preordered it, and I'll be at Friday's show, but other than those three tracks (and the new song by the Rebel Spell, and Lexi Marie's cut, included as a bonus, not on the double LP proper), the best I can say is, I sure hope it introduces this fantastic band, who are no more, to a whole new legion of people. Tho' I suspect most of the fans of the bands on it already knew who the Rebel Spell was.

Anyhow, it's got a cool cover. Plus I did an article for the West Ender, which you should be able to find here in a day or two. And I'm excited that I'll get to see Erin's new band, Alien Boys, at this show. That's all I gotta say on it that I didn't already say in the article, which is VASTLY more positive about the project (I mean, who cares what I say on my blog, 30 people will read this at best). 

In other news, my favourite band from Beijing - by which I mean, the only band I know from Beijing - was slated to play the Rickshaw next week: Carsick Cars. But they cancelled. Which makes clear why I was having so much trouble getting in touch with them. It's too bad; if they reschedule, you should go. 

Did I miss Petunia and the Vipers homecoming show? Shit. Joey Only and Gerry Hannah October 7th! Waah!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Film vs. life

Well, there's some pretty great stuff happening at the Cinematheque, in this Cinema of Cruelty series, except I'm too preoccupied with other stuff - finding money to pay bills, mostly by selling books and LPs - to do much about it and have missed the majority of it. Could be interesting to revisit the Twin Peaks movie. But I've got no payin' homes for writing about cinema, no sense of dialogue with anyone here or elsewhere... my blog name sorta seems apt when it comes to the Vancouver film community. I also don't understand the changes made to the VIFF and the Vancity Theatre website, which now redirects here; I'm not a big fan of change, actually - usually takes me a long time to catch up with it.

Anyhow, I may sit out the VIFF this year, I don't know. I said this last year. I'm available to write about film, if anyone wants to pay me to do it, but I have plenty of DVDs, a good TV, and a passion for Charles Bronson at the moment, so...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Adam Wingard's Blair Witch: well, it's not BAD, but...

I admire the first Blair Witch Project film all to hell. It's a truly scary film that uses minimal resources to maximal effect. I was in Japan when the hype broke about the film - when people were believing it was real, or whatever they were doing, with the help of websites designed to fake people out and, I gather, some very sly and misleading advertising, including social media. With the exception of Cannibal Holocaust, it was a pioneering film, well ahead of its time, and one of the most important horror films of the 1990's, maybe even THE most important. Even without being suckered in by any of that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, not just for its effective, visceral scares - tapping into those primal lost-in-the-woods vulnerabilities and using the heightened, frightened senses of the filmmakers to heighten our own senses ("what's that sound?") - but because it had thematic richness, involving the responsibilities of pointing a camera at someone. It belongs with films like Peeping Tom, Blow Out, The Passenger, David Holzman's Diary, The Connection and other classics of self-reflexive cinema - a sort of horror film for film studies students to analyze. Also, because the central filmmaker is a woman - the leader of the group that goes into the woods, who deals with two scared and quarrelsome men (to tell a story all about the rage of a wronged woman), it brought to play the whole idea of women as cultural producers, working in a hostile environment. There's lots of meat there, too, for feminist analysis, perhaps. It's deceptively simple, as many horror films are; it has a real richness to it, that makes it a lasting pleasure to revisit.

I also have to say, I don't mind Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows at all, because I can see, somewhere in there, that director Joe Berlinger, co-director of the (very relevant) Paradise Lost documentaries, had plenty of ideas that he brought to the film, which got (as he acknowledges in the commentary) a bit muddled when the film was changed against his wishes. It's not a genre classic, but I've seen it twice and thought there was interesting stuff in it both times. I consider it overly maligned, an interesting and engaging flop.

Finally: I'm a fan of Adam Wingard, having seen, besides his contributions to the first two V/H/S films, three of his features: A Horrible Way to Die, You're Next, and The Guest. All are interesting, effective independent horror movies; I won't review them here, but I liked all three, and despite the ongoing critical dogpile on the new Blair Witch film, would have seen it anyhow, as I expect good things from Wingard, and am interested in following his career. That hasn't changed; I'm prepared to forgive him the odd dog.

And Blair Witch ISN'T a dog, exactly, but - sadly I must say it - of the two previous Blair Witch films and all of Wingard's previous movies, I liked Blair Witch - the 2016 sequel/reboot, opening in theatres this weekend - the least.

There are things it does well. It updates the technology at the filmmaker's disposal from the first film, expanding the range of home video equipment to include earbuds with built in cameras and a camera-equipped drone. This expands the palette of effects which can be used to scare you, and some of this is definitely engaging. The audio/ video noise, in particular - the shakycam effects, the jarring edits, the bursts of static and distortion - produce a film that is as almost as hard to watch as the first Blair Witch, but in a way, scarier: you're so engaged in trying to figure out what the hell you're seeing and hearing, making so much effort to make sense of the varied inputs, that each burst of static is positively terrifying. It looks every bit as low budget and homemade as the first film does, but I should imagine this is very much a designed effect, and that a lot of what we see has much more craft to it - especially in the editing - than might be obvious. Smartly, nicely done: a technical success.

However, even there I can't fully applaud the film, because SOME of the technology goes almost entirely to waste. The drone is an interesting addition to the filmmaker's trick bag - except it really isn't used for anything except for a couple of aerial shots of the treeline, which don't really amount to much, even in terms of furthering the story (nevermind furthering the theme, because as far as I can see, there isn't one. There IS a scene where someone climbs a tree to recover the drone, but the drone footage itself really isn't that interesting, ever). There's a plot device by which a couple from the area who tag along have an old digital video camera, shooting on tape, which is mentioned; except it isn't used to amount to anything either - what thematic resonance is the new-versus-old technology supposed to have, exactly? (There is the possibility that some of the footage they shot - not the first film, but a Youtube video that they uploaded - was faked by them, but it doesn't really get developed beyond mentioning that). Plus a huge segment of the film takes place where the man with the DV camera breaks away from the main group and is lost, returning twice in the film, each time with the camera, up and running; yet no use is made at all of the video he shoots when NOT with the main group, nor is there any acknowledgment that any footage from this time exists, even though the material he shoots before and after he breaks away is included. There is one ranty speech near the end from him that might mitigate some of my concerns, here - I didn't understand a word he said, so there might be something I missed - but it seems like there are some serious lost opportunities here; maybe they'd make the film less parsimonious, if it tried to follow two groups into their ordeal instead of one - but at the very least, they should make some acknowledgement of WHY the footage, presumably recovered with the rest of it, is ignored.

It's also frustrating that the film pads out its cast with two characters (black, sadly) whose purpose seems to be to suffer and die and disappear completely from the movie to ratchet up the fear when the white characters must face their ordeal; and that the film initially proposes to be a sequel than a remake, following the brother of the female filmmaker into the forest, looking for his missing sister, but ends up being more or less a rehash, repeating various elements (noise in the night, stick figures left outside the tent, running through the woods, scary dilapidated house). There's a point where the film SEEMS to be going in a different direction - when it's discovered that the two locals who are tagging along with the film crew are faking parts of what's happening, for their own motivations - but almost as soon as the film raises the hope that it's going somewhere different, they more-or-less disappear, and everything we get from then on is very, very familiar.

That would all be fine, though - body count fodder, a few unanswered questions, some missed opportunities, ultimate repetitiveness - if there were SOME semblance of an idea uniting it all. It doesn't have to be the SAME idea as the first film (the responsibility of pointing a camera at someone,  the perils facing a female in a position of power), and in fact, CAN'T be, since EVERYONE in the film, more or less, has a camera at some point, EVERYONE is a filmmaker, and the leader is a man. The idea that Heather's brother is responsible for everything that happens, that he's led people to their doom in the quest for closure with his missing sister, IS tabled as a possible, alternative theme, except it's not developed at all: he barely talks about his sister, no one else had a relationship with her, no one else seems to have seen the first film, no one mentions the other people who disappeared, and no one talks about their own relationship with the past (or seems all that under the sway of James, the man looking for his sister; he just seems like another member of the group, more or less). If Wingard had his own theme that he was trying to introduce into the film - about throwing good money after bad, as it were - it looks like it mostly got left on the cutting room floor*. You're left with a film that is technically proficient at ratcheting up the tension and scaring you, but that doesn't actually seem to be about anything at all.

Which is okay, you know? It was fun to watch on the big screen. I got an adequate amount of sensory gratification, got that feeling of intense attentiveness that a good horror movie can produce. And I really enjoyed the dark ambient closing credit music, hoping that it might be Harlow MacFarlane's contribution (it did not appear to be, though the film, by the way, IS Vancouver-made, and Harlow may indeed have had a hand in it; his partner, Felix, certainly did. People who like the closing music should check out Funerary Call). But given a choice between re-watching Wingard's Blair Witch or re-watching a) anything else Wingard has done, or b) Joe Berlinger's Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, Blair Witch is going to lose every time. I think if I had a chance to buy it on Blu-Ray for $3, I would pass.

I can think of nothing more damning to say.

*Added a bit later: there was an interesting comment by someone who read the above review over on Facebook - a defender of the film - who said he took it to be about the futility of searching for truth, noting cyclical elements in the film (the lightning-blasted tree, the girl in the mirror). They're "down the rabbit hole," a motif given a very concrete expression later in the film; he thought it a very Zen-like film, and used that to connect to Wingard's other work He didn't elect to comment here, tho', and I remain unconvinced (and am not sure I fully understand what he was talking about). The main thing that lingered after posting my initial reactions was a confusion about whether the first film even was supposed to have existed, according to this one. Heather, the filmmaker from the first movie, is mentioned, as I note, but only, as I recall, in the context of a video uploaded to Youtube... it's a little puzzling. The other thing that stayed with me that I didn't note - I'm sorry if these are local actors, but no one in the movie was particularly interesting to watch. Maybe it's just that they weren't given very much interesting stuff to do...

Anyhow, Wingard I guess deserves some credit for having made a film that's still slightly irritating to me two days after seeing it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bronsonquest 2: Curse of the Movie Diet

I've been on a bit of a DVD diet, for various reasons, but mostly monetary. Much as there is still stuff I want, still stuff I'm just learning about being released on video, at my current level of employment, I can't afford to be spending $30 and $40 on DVDs and Blu-Rays, if in fact I ever could; even HMV 2/$20 deals have been seeming kind of expensive, given the nature of the market these days. At a time when you can often buy used DVDs for $2 or $3 at thrift stores, how can you justify EVER spending $30 and up for movies? I still haven't sworn off the cheap stuff, if I find cool movies for a buck or two, but spending more than five bucks on any given vid is an excess I can't really afford. I formulated a list of must-haves that allowed me to break my fast, but otherwise I swore off buying new titles back in June...

Then came Bronson. It started, as I said when I did my big, failed Bronsonquest to Surrey, with Robin Bougie, who turned me on to 10 to Midnight, a film I had not seen since my teen years. It was striking mostly back then for the scene where Bronson whips out a sex toy found in the apartment of a murder suspect and asks him what it's for, finally bellowing at the creep, "It's for JACKING OFF!" The first and only time in cinema history that I'm aware of that masturbation has been used as an index of homicidal tendencies. The scene made me acutely uncomfortable, watching the film with my parents at age fifteen, because those were my five-times-a-day years (not that I ever owned technology like that pictured. It reminds me a little of the baby in Eraserhead).

Anyhow, who knew: 10 to Midnight is a pretty great (if sleazy and lowbrow) film! I had kind of written J. Lee Thompson off as a hack, back in my snobby teens, in part because watching movies on VHS is a terrible way to try to appreciate the artistry of a filmmaker, and in part because I never had bothered with the films of his considered classics (I still haven't seen The Guns of Navarone). Watching 10 to Midnight on DVD, I was impressed at how well it held up. The whole NRA-lovin' vigilante conservatism of Bronson's persona is uncomfortable, of course, but what's exceptionally interesting about both this film and Thompson's other late, great Bronson vehicle, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects is that the films do a lot to undercut that image, to trouble it. In Kinjite it's harder to miss: Bronson's own desires to punish a man who sexually abuses young girls is unambiguously tied to his sexual attraction to his own daughter. But 10 to Midnight - which Bougie points out is referencing the murder spree of Richard Speck - sort of revels in its bad guy's perversity a little too much, such that Bronson's own ultimate turn to vigilante avenger seems less like a manner of punishing the guilty than joining them, breaking the law for your own sense of satisfaction. It's not quite as smart (or overt) about it as, say, Martin Campbell's brilliant Gary Oldman/ Kevin Bacon vehicle Criminal Law - the most intellectually stimulating vigilante movie that I'm aware of, even better than Peter Hyams' The Star Chamber, and complete with a very troubling (sub?)text about abortion - but there's more going on in this film then meets the average action-movie-consumer's eye. And Bronson, unlike steely-eyed Clint Eastwood, has a sensitivity to his outrage: he's not just punishing bad guys, he's positively scandalized by them, saddened, hurt, personally offended at the failure of the American justice system. He's righteous, but not JUST righteous; he's porous, human, vulnerable, even at times afraid...

And, you know, that desire for justice is a powerful thing, not to be taken lightly. It's often exploited in a sort of down-with-due-process/ up-with-private-gun-ownership American fascist kind of way, but there's still something there, some bleeding wound in our society that I'm not immune to feeling. Any time I read about a highly dangerous sex offender - the balaclava rapist, say - who is being placed back in a community I feel it. Why even have a prison system if people deemed highly dangerous are allowed to be out on the streets? There's an element of right-wing media manipulation behind such stories, but, sorry, if you behead a fellow passenger on a bus and eat bits of him, for instance, I don't care how well you respond to treatment, or how mentally ill you were when the episode happened, there's no way you should be allowed on unsupervised outings a few years later. I mean, Vince Li might be a really nice guy, and I'm glad he's doing better - I don't want someone to go all Bronson on him or anything - but I have faith enough in neither his meds nor his doctors to want to take chances. I actually personally know someone who had a brain trauma that led to him committing murder, and I've thought at times of sending him chess books or crime novels or other things that he likes - last I heard he's in an institution in Newfoundland, and may still have some of his wits about him, dangerous and damaged though he is - except that I would probably have to print a return address on the envelope, and in no way do I want this guy, whom I once counted as a friend, to know where I am, because I don't want him to turn up on my door with happy news that they let him out of the institution, you know? Again, I don't wish him harm (the family of the guy he stabbed to death might), I just think that once you demonstrate a capacity for criminal violence on a certain level, you gotta permanently lose the right to mingle at the mall. Movies like the Death Wish series give vent to the feelings of impotent disbelief and moral outrage that such stories can engender, when the system totally fails victims of crimes, totally fails to protect society, and I do believe such things happen fairly often...

Anyhow, I took a brief break from the diet to grab Mr. Majestyk, which proved a kind of disappointing outing, especially given the cast (Al Lettieri! Paul Koslo!), director (Richard Fleischer!) and author (Elmore Leonard!). The high points were a bunch of melons being shot by guys with machine guns - I mean, maybe Gallagher would like it? - and some rather impressive (and infamous) stunts with the titular character's Ford pickup, which takes such a beating (and keeps running) that it ended up being used by Ford in advertisements. The story kind of falls flat, though, and stretches credibility at a couple of points, as when Bronson kidnaps Lettieri and brings him to his hunting cabin; Fleischer - a man who made some terrific movies, but also a few dogs - seems to feel like the material is beneath him, and the result is an uninspired missed opportunity (though maybe it will fare better on second viewing, with lessened expectations? It was hard not to get my hopes up for the film with talent as stellar as the above-mentioned involved).

But then it's back on my diet, briefly, as Bronsonquest 2 took place the other day, with the object of finding cheap Bronson DVDs at thrift stores. I went out into the wilds of Burnaby/ New West and came back with exactly two Charles Bronsons. The first was Death Wish V: The Face of Death - which, shot cheaply in Toronto, and filled with some of the most cartoonish gangsters in cinema history, is a weaker film, but it boasts a terrific performance by Michael "Then Came Bronson" Parks as a bad guy, cutting people open with electric saws, menacing women, and cracking wise right to the end. He ends up pushed into a vat of acid by Bronson - who quips that he needs a bath - and melts on camera, so fans of melt movies might be amused, though it's quite brief and unspectacular, compared to Street Trash, The Devil's Rain, and The Incredible Melting Man. Still, I bet his role here had something to do with Quentin Tarantino rehabilitating him a couple years later in From Dusk Til Dawn. (Michael Parks fans should also seek out From Dusk Til Dawn 3, where he plays Ambrose Bierce!). Death Wish V came out on a crappy public domain DVD, full frame and lo-def, and the version I bought still had the original $2.99 (new!) pricetag on it - but it was an amusing, if somewhat distracted, watch, described in more detail here, along with an entertaining clip of a dramatic hit and run.

Also acquired: I upgraded my copy of The Mechanic, from this dull cover:

To this much cooler one:

Only $3 each for those, so I was back on my diet again... but then I discovered that Vintage Media on Granville Street had a whole bunch of Bronson movies, including Kinjite and Sean Penn's sensitive The Indian Runner, which features a very touching, late performance by Bronson as a sad old man, father to the film's main characters (David Morse and Viggo Mortensen). I went off my diet for those, too, though I passed up full frame versions of Death Wish 3 and 4, and Messenger of Death, which I haven't seen. From there I went to Videomatica, where they had a J. Lee Thompson, used, and priced beyond my price range, of Murphy's Law, a film I didn't even know existed. I didn't buy it, but discovered from BJ that there is in fact a Blu with Death Wish 2-4 on it, all in the proper aspect ratio.

Finally I could take it no more - all this thrift store and pawn shop scrounging, hoping I would find the films I want, when they're all right out there, available for the taking... The next day I broke down, and ordered the Bronson "triple threat" of Death Wish sequels via Amazon (I know, I know, Death Wish II is the censored version, but what, it's only missing two minutes of footage compared to the new Scream Factory release, AND they're asking $30 for the uncensored anywhere I've seen it, while I can get it AND two other Death Wish movies for under $20 in the triple threat pack. Plus, um, I ordered a Blu of The White Buffalo, via eBay, also unseen by me as yet (David M. tells me it's good). All I need now is Death Hunt (terrific Bronson-Lee Marvin re-telling of the Mad Trapper of Rat River story, with full sympathies going to the trapper); then I think I will be able to rest easy, unless I stumble across other Bronsons I have not seen on the cheap.

Bronsons I do not have and actually do want, if you got'em (preferably not full-frame) for less than $5: The Valachi Papers, Chato's Land, The Stone Killer, Chino, Breakout, Hard Times, St. Ives, Telefon, The Evil That Men Do, Murphy's Law, Assassination, and Messenger of Death. I realize there are more out there, but either I'm not interested or I've seen them and don't need to again... I think a couple of them might actually be on Youtube... Hmm...

This week at the flea market: Hong Kong exploitation posters!

Heads up movie collector geek-types: Nathan Holiday, who I previously blogged about here, tells me that he's scored a bunch of Hong Kong exploitation posters from the 1970's, and will be selling them at the flea market this weekend - including these posters, for The Killer Snakes and Virgins of the Seven Seas, and more. He doesn't let them go on the cheap, mind you - me like cheap - but he's open to a haggle, I imagine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Virgo a-Go-Go! this weekend (plus a small, digressive diss on Tom Waits that I'm sure will piss some people off, but I don't care)

There's a pretty fun-sounding show this Friday at the Russian Hall (600 Campbell Ave, Strathcona): it's Virgo a-Go-Go!, where every band that's playing supposedly has a Virgo in their lineup. That may be a bit thin for a premise, but it's a cute name (better than Pisces-a-Nice-Knees) and it's good music, with Paul Pigat - virtuoso Vancouver rockabilly guitarist, apparently celebrating his birthday that very night - headlining with Boxfire Campfire, his solo "acoustic roots Americana" project. Jim Heath - the Reverend Horton Heat - picked Pigat as his favourite local guitar player, calling him "one of the hottest rockabilly guys ever" when I interviewed him last. Having caught Pigat's other unit, Cousin Harley, opening for the Alvin brothers a few months ago, it was really easy to see why. iTunes users can hear Boxcar Campfire here, or there are a few short samples on Pigat's website. ("Bury that possum with the eyes looking down?" I think I smell a Tom Waits fan...* I like it better when Pigat's riffing on Johnny Horton, but what the heck, it's a good line).

Pigat tells me he also has an upcoming show at Hermann's in Victoria on September 23rd, the Smoking Jackets, a swing band he had when he lived on the island in the 1990's... Plus Cousin Harley will be playing White Rock on the 24th, and he's off to Inuvik tonight, for all my Inuit readers out there. His upcoming show listings here... if you like smokin' hot guitar licks, you gotta catch this guy...

I haven't caught Big Top, another one of the night's top-billed acts, live yet, but I did check out their CD,  Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy. (I think they might have put out something since). It was an oddly unclassifiable, brain-tickling experience: twangy, laid back roots rock, more-or-less instrumental, but with overlaid circus-themed spoken vocals (and some insect sounds and other stuff) that seem to cohere as a narrative (though I'm not sure what that narrative may be; perhaps this interview will clarify?). I still don't really understand what I'm listening to, but I like it. Not sure what leader Scott McLeod's sign is, but I gather Marc L'Esperance is the Virgo in that band (also celebrating his birthday, I'm told, and also playing in Neon Stars). There's probably a Tom Waits influence somewhere in here, too, but it's not overt.

Then there's (nuff-said-already) China Syndrome, who have put one of their strongest, coolest songs, "One Too Many" - which kinda reminds me of the more menacing-sounding songs by the Jam, but underwater, on a submarine - on their main page. (That may have changed, if you're reading this in the far future, since they're working on a new album, but check it out while you can). Frontman Tim Chan - who surely must be tired of being asked questions by me by now - says the band will do a short set focusing on new songs, and maybe a new cover tune (though I don't know what yet).

China Syndrome by Lil Drammer Boy

By the way, Tim also points out that the other band he's in, Pill Squad, will play the next night at Lanalou's, with Bubble11 and the Shadooby Rats (who?). I assume that any and all cool gig posters for these events are designed by Pill Squad's Scott Beadle, but I don't actually know.

And I don't really know most of the other bands on the Virgo A-Go-Go lineup, either, though I've caught Ana Bon-Bon doing her solo accordion thing a couple of times (not sure where) and had fun. And hey, isn't that Jimmy Roy (Ray Condo, Petunia and the Vipers) on lap steel in the Skillet Lickers video? All in all, it sounds like a helluva fun Friday night - eight bands for a pittance, a mere $12 in advance, with tickets at Bonerattle, Highlife, Red Cat and Zulu. It's so cheap I can't even presume to cadge a guestlisting. Music starts at 7:30 - Facebook page here.

*And yeah, yeah, yeah, Tom Waits is great, I've loved some of his albums, but he suffers from a certain over-exposure, doesn't he? When you're surrounded by someone and see his influence everywhere - I'm looking at YOU,  Devil in the Wood Shack - and have friends tellin' you what a genius he is - a GENIUS? - it gets a bit cloying, oppressive, disagreeable, especially when you're more interested in the people who influenced HIM than the people that he influences. I bet that, like me, Tom Waits himself would rather listen to Howlin' Wolf (or somethin') than his own music (let alone people paying homage to him). I mean, I hope so. The same thing could probably be said about the Cramps, I guess, since their presence and stature distracts people from listening to the music that the Cramps were actually enthusiastic about and acting to promulgate; they have plenty of fans, I suspect, who think "She Said" is great but don't know who Hasil Adkins is... except that, you know, Lux did DJ stuff, the Cramps did plenty of cover tunes that make their debts and forbears obvious, and there are all these anthologies of songs that the Cramps covered that make it pretty easy to get back to the roots of their music. It might have taken me thirty years of Cramps fandom to hear the original "Sunglasses After Dark" but I got there eventually, and you don't really get the feeling that the Cramps were re-directing tradition to call attention to themselves, rather than standing squarely IN tradition, & bringing it to a new audience, which is far preferable and humbler and more appealing to me (at least). I mean, Waits does the odd cover himself - there's at least one Leadbelly song he's done, and probably others - and no doubt he's done some radio too; I'm not saying he's totally to BLAME for his over-exposure, just that he IS over-exposed, and gets too much credit for being this great ORIGINAL when he's obviously drawing strongly - if oddly - on tradition. Too many people look at the finger when the moon is the point. I mean, he's fun, he has some great songs, but... y'know? I drag out Rain Dogs every few years, maybe Heart Attack and Vine or Swordfishtrombones, and really, it goes a looooong way... a looooooooong way...

Friday, September 02, 2016

Guided by Voices at Neumos, Seattle, August 26 2016

NOTE: I faced two choices with this piece: try to edit it down, or just to let it blurt. It seems appropriate just to let it blurt.... let's hope some of it is of interest. 

All photographs by Allan MacInnis

So I took my second road trip with David Ames the other day, to see Guided by Voices in Seattle. I've known David for awhile, but not well. I started getting to know him, slightly, when he was involved in putting on the Jandek show in Vancouver in late 2009 (or early 2010?). I missed it, since it came a few days after the death of my father, and I was in no state to attend. (I had seen Jandek twice before, anyhow, in Toronto and Seattle). But we went by car to see the Flesh Eaters a year or so ago, at Neumos in Seattle, and that was a good time; so on August 26th, we went south to the same venue, to see GBV.

David's an interesting traveling companion: he's a natural raconteur, and by far the most passionate music fan I know; he doesn't just weigh in, he takes action, which is to say that if he thinks a band is great, he'll promulgate them tirelessly, and if he thinks they've made a duff move, or were never that good to begin with, he'll have opinions about it (a few of which I can engage with him on, though sometimes his areas of interest and mine don't overlap: it may have been a mistake for Sparks to record with Franz Ferdinand, for instance, but I barely know the music of either band, so what can I say?). Sometimes I'm reminded of times people have looked at me in puzzlement about the things I can get passionate about, because I catch myself looking him in the same way. Get him talking about naming a live music venue the Hindenburg, or break out your Burzum records in his presence, say.... This has been the subject of some lively discussion over on Mark Prindle's FB page lately, in fact - people whose music you cannot listen to because of heinous or offensive things they've done. I've gotten a bit numb to that - GG Allin? Bring it on! - but I do wonder about people who walk around with Burzum t-shirts or tattoos or whatnot, and kind of appreciate that David doesn't take that stuff lightly (FYI folks, my record collection is completely Varg-free, with the possible exception of one Mayhem record; in case you don'\t know him, besides being a convicted murderer and church burner, Varg has been an outspoken anti-Semite and flirted with a kind of Satanic neo-Nazism, re-branded as "Heathen Pride." How people who are not neo-Nazis support his musical output I do not fully understand, but I've never actually SAID anything about it, in the spirit of live-and-let-live lazy liberalism, but I've seen David query people, and, y'know, I kind of admired it). As Homer Flynn observed, when David joined us at House of Dosas, you don't get a lot of intelligent conversation about rock music these days - it's the exception, not the rule, and David definitely is an exceptional guy...

Anyhoo, while the Flesh Eaters trip was something I was going to do one way or the other, without his promptings I wouldn't even have gone to the GBV show (and I would still think the Monks were the guys who recorded "Drugs in My Pocket"). He made it pretty easy, actually: he booked the hostel and the Bolt Bus and navigated us around the town, finding cheap eats, convenient transportation, and three pretty amazing record stores... these bear some commenting upon...

First off, in Fremont, near our hostel, was Jive Time (above, the picture before last), which had the nicest dude behind the counter, who bullshitted with us about Vancouver hippie culture and late great flea market record dealer Ty Scammell and Christian garage rock; then, closer to the venue, Everyday Music, which had a stunningly large collection of stuff, including movies. It's the must-visit in terms of size and selection, if you're in Seattle - bigger than anything we have up here, bigger even than Zulu at it's peak. Also a bit larger than Jive Time was Zion's Gate, which had a few offputting elements - they didn't even have a Guided by Voices section, as Mr. Ames also noted, though they DID have a GBV record (so no-record-no-file-card doesn't work as an excuse). Oddly enough, though, they also had the stuff I was most excited to get, particularly the Brothers of the Sonic Cloth album, which I'd reconciled myself to never owning (music publishers note that I have a fairly sizeable interview with Tad Doyle up for grabs, which so far is only seeing print in Germany). I was unable in any store to find the Young Fresh Fellows Topsy Turvy, missing from my collection for some time, or any Australian pressings of Angels LPs (always on my want list). But hey, I got to have some old-fashioned frozen custard ice cream, some pretty good tacos, and I nabbed two recent Guided by Voices albums that I haven't seen much trace of in Vancouver (The Bears for Lunch and Class Clown Spots a UFO, both wonderful names for albums, though I have not as yet made time to spin them. Alas, The Bears for Lunch is a mere CD, not vinyl). Incidentally, if any of you have an extra vinyl copy of Topsy Turvy, I want it!

Then it was time to see Guided by Voices live, something I had not as yet done. My first awareness of them was their second to last Vancouver show, I believe, which if memory serves was moved from the Commodore to Richards on Richards, around when they were touring Universal Truths and Cycles; I think they played the Red Room once after that, which remains (unless I'm wrong, this is all just stuff I've picked up casually) their last show in Vancouver. I was curious about them then, and eventually - maybe ten years ago - I got their greatest hits and one or two other albums, never really feeling the need to delve much further. Their greatest hits - Human Amusements at Hourly Rates - is probably my vote for the single best best-of CD out there, trimming away all the band's more self-indulgent moments and presenting a phenomenal collection of songs; if you don't know them, it's a pretty great place to start.

Flash forward to today and I'm hooked - buying vinyl, used CDs, even considering a t-shirt at the show... The merch table at Neumos was a bit disappointing, in fact: the only shirts that had 2XL t-shirts left were the really dumb-looking ones, read into that what you will, while two of the best shirts I saw the whole evening were on a couple who had made their own unique designs. CD/ LP offerings at the venue were disappointing, too: they only had the most recent GBV album for sale (why they wouldn't bring copies of everything I cannot fathom, with a room full of adoring, intoxicated fans they'd have cleaned up, but who knows how many of any of these things they're pressing; maybe they're being very cautious with numbers, as befits a band returning to a cottage-industry level of operations). In fact, after getting my wrist stamp and perusing the merch, all I wanted to do was go back out again and explore for awhile, rather than hang around in the somewhat stifling room. That's how I missed the first song or two of the opening band. We were distracted by a couple of punk bands playing for free at a taco shop up the street, one fronted by a guy in underwear who came pretty much as close as I ever want to get to the GG Allin experience (no poo was flung, never saw his penis, and no one got raped or beaten up, but his ass crack was sticking out his underwear and I got to contemplate his pale, flabby flesh -- not too dissimilar from my own, unless you count the clothes I had on over it). They weren't bad - noisy, punky, but fun, and GG wouldn't have minded them at all, though I never caught their name. I asked a few people.

Eventually, though, we made it to Neumos. The first band was a Pixies-ish pop band called Broncho, who were totally enjoyable, with a lot of echoey-reverby stuff and elements of surf and shoegaze in their music, but who did nothing so exciting or original as to overcome my general reluctance to make room in my life for yet another new band, because, fuck it, new enthusiasms start to get exhausting when you're my age, you barely have room, time, money or energy enough for the old ones. The female bassist's one-piece skirt made me think of Kim Gordon, and she'd probably like my having said that, though she looked a bit more like Mary Jo from the Modernettes, I guess (their music sounded like neither band, really).

Then Guided by Voices took the stage, walking on without much fanfare before a crowd that was already hot and sweaty, and launched into what was at least a two hour fifteen minute long set (maybe longer, since they came on sometime before ten, and finished at 12:15). I'm not up for a minute by minute review. Pollard swung his mike, made a few kicks, and sang with full commitment, when not visiting the beer by the drum riser or the whiskey to stage right. I only know Doug Gillard of the other band members, and am not so invested in lineups when it comes to GBV that his being there meant that much to me, truth be known, though maybe someday I will care; I know it was a big deal. "Everyone else played fine, too," is about all I have to say for the rest of the guys, hope you make it as far as the next album.

The setlist is not online for the Seattle show, but it was not too too different from what they played in Portland the next night, kicking off with "The Quickers Arrive," from Please Be Honest, their most recent album, on which everything was apparently played by Robert Pollard. The set was dotted with Pollard side-project stuff, including songs by Ricked Wicky, Boston Spaceships, and a couple of songs off Waved Out, a 1998 Robert Pollard solo album that I really want, based on  "Make Use" and "Subspace Biographies," both of which got played, Pollard doing a vocal part ("baahmp-baahmp-baah") where there are synths on the latter. David had taunted me a little with the lyric about there being "nothing worse than an undetermined person" back when I was prevaricating about whether to go to the show, but regardless, I've fallen in love with that song.

As for "Make Use," it is one of those rare GBV songs where I think I almost understand what Pollard is singing about:

A bold night for my new rock shirt
Expected a burn-hole
Expected the worst
Such shots in the dark I should not risk
I command you to speak to us
And be humble to our works

We have suffered the change again
And guess what they've been spreading
So very upsetting
But we're not forgetting
Pull up and lighten your load

Make use of the bold proposition
Make use the vast (back? mad?) fashions
The passion is soon to burn out
Make use of the boring young heroes
Their effort's not wasted
Reward them for what they turn out

Of this we are proud

In spurts of majestical will power
Impractical thinkers design the dream
These beast-like invincible machines
100 jacks in the road
Do you casually second the exit?
Are you into the easy way out?

A simple gut reaction is not to be found here
Don't come around here

Have a look
Its the freeway

Make use of the bold proposition
Make use the vast fashions
The passion is soon to burn out
Make use of the boring young heroes
Their efforts not wasted
Reward them for what they turn out
The pleasures of great GBV are all present here, despite the solo setting: there's an infectious, arresting melody; and Pollard's voice manages to be passionate yet soothing at the same time, inviting a certain dreamlike drift... While I don't get all of it - what freeway? what jacks in the road? - there seems in at least some lines to be a clarion call to things I approve of, an ideological position not dissimilar to that taken on "Kid on a Ladder," I think, though equally abstracted and poetic in its formulation. Who could argue with the idea of making use of the bold proposition, whatever exactly that implies, or refusing to second the exit, or at least not doing so casually...? (Why do I think of Elizabeth Fischer, there?). I would like to be one of those impractical thinkers, I think, though I'm maybe a smidge more practical than Uncle Bob, here, so I doubt I merit his praises... I mean, he gave up teaching to pursue a career in music; I haven't exactly done THAT, have I...? I'm not actually sure if it's "vast" fashions or "back" fashions that he sings, but using all resources at ones disposal before the passion burns out - ever a concern - seems like a good idea. And if sometimes young heroes CAN be "boring," there's almost a teacherly, protective attitude to the song, to encouraging and supporting folks, rewarding them for "what they turn out," presuming they're at least trying...

I can get behind all of that, and go to a pretty specific place with it, in fact. Devoted followers (do I have any?) know that I made quite a bit of space in my Westender IPO piece (linked in the previous post) for a young retro pop band called the Top Boost, playing tomorrow night. The truth is, I don't really have much interest in listening to the Top Boost's EP, you know? It's okay, that EP - I did listen to it, at least in part - but what I really like about it is the fact that a bunch of 18 to 21 year olds are making music like this. That alone is kinda touching, and I'm prepared to reward it on principle (may the Gods protect them from too much success, mind you; they're pretty enough that there could be danger that a-way). Making any sort of mark in the music world is not easy to do, and takes bravery and commitment and effort and all sorts of things that really should be admired (even if the music itself is only so-so).

This is just a subjective bias, no doubt, but some lines of the song actually make me think Pollard might be singing to music journos, in "Make Use," commanding us to be humble to their works. It's a ballsy thing to demand, regardless of who it is addressed to, but I like it. And if that's where I apply it, it's a good thing. How better can you read the phrase "boring young heroes" than by applying it to an idealistic, youthful rock band? How can you NOT want to protect and encourage them, regardless of your boredom? One of Todd Serious' greatest accomplishments, for a guy so passionate and intense, is that he was NEVER boring, at least not that I saw - but - what was that (God forgive me) Billy Joel lyric about the angry young man with his "fist in the air and his head in the sand," or "heart in his hand," or...

Anyhow, whether or not I'm equal to it, there's a magnificence to Guided by Voices for all their self-indulgence ("let's record EVERYTHING") that is very easy to be sentimental about, very easy to wax ecstatic about, very easy to see as something pure, precious, rare and endangered. They sure beat the living snot out of the Pixies.  Did you all know that Pollard was a teacher before he became a singer? I only found out recently. Or didja know that one of his favourite films is (saith Wikipedia) John Cassavetes' Husbands? He is, surely, one of the good guys.  I would walk over the Pixies, phsyically STEP on them, en route to shaking Robert Pollard's hand.

But I digress. 

Almost all of Please Be Honest - another great title, and also of application to journos, tho' being honest sometimes must be tempered with that humility Pollard speaks of - made the setlist on the 26th, spaced out with plenty of popular favourites. I really like that album, find some of its quietier, noisier moments ("I Think a Telescope") quite moving, actually, and some of its more anthemic moments ("Glittering Parliaments") hearken back to some of Pollard's catchiest songwriting. It's definitely a throwback to a rawer, purer, more off-the-cuff GBV, and I'm glad I got to know these songs a bit before heading down. There wasn't a false move or a troubling gesture in the whole evening... Pollard didn't seem to be the problem drinker I kinda worried he might be; and he was really, really warm to the audience as the evening drew to the end, clasping hands with the people in the front and grinning and obviously participating in a very, very special relationship with his fans, full of trust and love, which was heartwarming to observe and obviously totally sincere, going both ways...

All the same, it was clear that, much as I enjoyed myself, I was, by far, not the biggest Guided by Voices fan in the room. I got at excited as anyone for "Back to the Lake," "Game of Pricks," "I Am a Scientist," "Glad Girls" and so forth (and mourned the non-inclusion of "The Best of Jill Hives" and "Bulldog Skin," two favourites of mine). I did sort of sit out a couple of songs ("Jargon of Clones," "Cut Out Witch") because it was so bloody hot in the venue I had to take a break, hydrate, and air myself out by the exit. But there were a lot of songs I didn't recognize, which my audience mates were enthusiastically cheering and singing along with; and, while they're the band I've been listening to most these days, truth is, I felt a bit like an outsider at observing JUST HOW MUCH some people love them. While I may be on my way in that direction, myself, I've had a few reservations about them since I began listening to them, which still linger just a little in my mind; much as I'm falling in love with this band (I think I am), there are a few things that I haven't totally reconciled myself with.

The first is basic, obvious, almost so much so as to not need saying: they're too damn prolific, too damn willing to release EVERYTHING they do. It's part of their gestalt that you can get to like, maybe, but - and I say this buried in the midst of the most indulgent, rambling thing I've allowed myself to write in some time, wherein lies some irony - it isn't exactly considerate to their fans. There's a hubris to it, sort of. And I just don't have that much space in my apartment or my life for new music; in fact, I have records in storage, big chunks of which I've been selling lately, to be able to pay my bills, and I really don't need someone in my life who, as Pollard told us near the end of the night, has recorded 100 LPs over his career (really, Bob, one HUNDRED?). I'm intimidated and a bit resentful of anyone putting out THAT much music, particularly since it sure doesn't seem to me like every song on every album is a total winner. I'm no big fan of minute long, unfinished toss offs, and there frequently are songs that feel just like that, even on GBV records I like. Plus I haven't quite gotten the hang of Tobin Sprout yet, the other main GBV songwriter, absent from the present lineup; none of the GBV songs that have stuck with me have been his, though that might change.

...I mean, it was a bit of a struggle for me even buying one of the, what, SEVEN albums they've released since there 2012 reunion...? I mean, I've been wishing the fucking Meat Puppets would slow down ("But I'm not READY for a new Meat Puppets album yet!") and they've only put out four albums since the Kirkwoods got back together in 2007. GBV are going wayyy beyond that, and Pollard announced they're working on a new double album right now, so...  Standing there at Audiopile, making the decision - having just SOLD twenty albums there the week before - to get Motivational Jumpsuit - was kind of a big deal. "If I buy this, I may like it. If I like it, I may want to buy more. What if I end up wanting to own them all?" (since that decision, last month, I've bought three other new ones and downloaded one more).  How dare you disturb the universe so, Robert Pollard! How dare you eat SO MANY PEACHES!.I sense that liking this band could be exhausting, a full-time commitment, like if you let them get their hooks in deep enough, you're fucked, you'll be walking down the street singing about being too scared to run from the tiger, too dumb to hide in the bushes, and no one will know what you're referencing at all... hell, I do that already...

Then there's an aesthetic reservation. As compelling as some of Pollard's wordcraft is, I'm more of a populist than a poet, and like writing that is easily unpacked and obviously meaningful. I have no idea what a tractor rape chain or a cut-out witch or a man called aerodynamics might BE, and so it goes with many of their songs. When they sing a song I feel like I understand, I tend to latch on to it (like "Littlest League Possible," off Motivational Jumpsuit, which appears, without much ambiguity, to be about being a big fish in a small pond and enjoying it, while still making a bit of fun of yourself for your minor-league beaming pride). But more often than not, with their catalogue, you're left humming snatches of phrases that  have more mystery than meaning, that have resonance somewhere in there but are very hard to pin down and drag to the surface. That's not entirely a bad thing - it makes it harder to wear a song out, compared to something simpler; I mean,  even Gerry Hannah himself told me he sometimes felt a bit tired of performing "Fuck You," back when the Subhumans were still playing, plus as songs go, it's just not appropriate to all occasions. And there are other great bands (Pere Ubu comes to mind, or, um, Captain Beefheart) who also have fantastic songs where I have no idea what they mean, never had and probably never will. There's something slightly authoritarian in such gestures, though, and the tendency to be enigmatic lessens the listener's ability to identify with a song, to personally relate to it - especially if you know, as if often the case, that whatever interpretation you lay on the lyrics, whatever the song comes to mean to you (if indeed you lay meaning on it at all), it's only one possible interpretation and is quite possibly incorrect. How do you REALLY get to know a song, invite it into your life, and form a close emotional bond with it if you don't and can't know what the hell it's about, especially if everyone else is sleeping with it, too? It's a trick I haven't ever fully had the knack of. A song can be profound and deep and potent and still be totally coherent and applicable in many situations; I don't think there's a smidgen of mystery to Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," certainly nothing obscurantist or hermetic going on there, but it's gotta be one of the greatest feats of lyric-writing in rock history, no?

But let me focus on one song, for example - an undeniably great tune, "Tractor Rape Chain," off GBV's breakthrough Bee Thousand. It's a song you feel, a song that insinuates itself, and it's a song I found myself surprisingly able to sing along with, when invited to do so the other night (more on that later; I did not realize that I actually had gotten to know the words!). Still, I have no idea what it is about. Someone asserts authoritatively online that the central image of parallel lines refers to the tracks of a tractor in a field of rapeseed, but even if that relatively prosaic interpretation holds, it doesn't really help much. I mean, why a tractor at all, if it really is a tractor? Why rapeseed, if it isn't really rape? And what's the image, if it applies, meant to be an image FOR? The lyrics go as follows - it starts off kinda making sense, but soon enough you're lost:
why is it every time I think about you
something that you have said or implied makes
me doubt you
then I look into your cynical eyes and I know it
as if it never meant anything to me

parallel lines on a slow decline - tractor rape chain
better yet, let's all get wet on the tractor rape chain
speed up, slow down, go all around in the end

in the first place it's probably just paranoia
but there's a ghost in my room
and he says I better run
it's a thing I know - it's a thing I believe in
won't you tell it to go away?

parallel lines on a slow decline - tractor rape chain
better yet, let's all get wet on the tractor rape chain
speed up, slow down, go all around in the end
speed up, slow down, go all around in the end...

Having read it through, I can say with confidence that I have no idea what it's about. It doesn't sound like a very happy relationship that's being described. It starts out like it has a meaning, to be sure; "parallel lines on a slow decline" seem to suggest movement through life with someone, but it's a relationship that's growing more remote or strained. That second verse could be about trusting your intuitions - maybe the ghost in the room is one of the voices that is guiding you? It seems like a kind of fraught relationship, if so - if it's something you know and believe but want to go away. But that's about as far as I can get. Certain phrases just shut down my desire to interpret it further. I don't think "as if it never meant anything to me" can be unpacked much further than your average lyric by the Minutemen, say. What's "it," for instance? Pollard might know, but unless he provides a magic decoder ring, you can't go much deeper, even if you like the turn of phrase. It gets more forbidding, too: "better yet/ let's all get wet" surely is something written entirely for the sake of the rhyme alone, with no gesture at meaning intended at all. How does a strained relationship, cynicism, questions of failed meaning or doubt have any bearing on getting wet, ferchrissake? Even if we take the image of two parallel lines in a rapeseed field as a concrete image to tie the words down to - which is kind of more appealing than any other reading of a "tractor rape chain" that I can come up with; I mean, that word "rape" is pretty potent... even if we opt for the literal tractor-track image, why are you going to get WET on it? Sex wet? Farm wet? Which wet, and why? Again, maybe there's a personal meaning at work (no decoder ring), but maybe it's just a rhyme Pollard liked?

I mean, I like this song, I do, but how much work am I going to put into reading a lyric, trying to make sense of it, when it makes moves like that? Even if I do find some part of it infectious and compelling on a level I can't quite articulate - which is kind of where GBV hits you, most often - it will ever be a relationship that's as shallow as it is profound, where I just have to let it wash over me, trust it, and not think too much about it. I'm prepared to do that - to be guided, thus - but it's a little bit factory-sealed against interpretation, a little aloof, even as it enters you and moves you.  I like the song, a lot, but I don't love it, because I can never fully trust something I don't understand in the slightest.  think that's part of what the band is about, really - trusting those things. But it's not totally me, you know?

The reason I mention this, though, is to explain the most striking moment of the night for me, the one that had other audience members marvelling at my tolerance. It involved exactly the above song, "Tractor Rape Chain." There was a guy in the audience - bearded, maybe in his late 30's, wearing a white t-shirt as I recall, who took the whole "How's My Drinking" aspect of the band perhaps a little too much to heart: because this guy was one of the most falling down drunk people I have ever seen, rivaled only by a salaryman I saw once who was riding upright on the train from Tokyo to Saitama, held up only by the strap his hand was in, basically dangling and swaying with every curve, bump, and jostle, basically just dangling there. One of the Audiopile guys had remarked that when he saw GBV at the Red Room, "everyone was drunk, on the stage and in the audience," and I suppose part of the trepidation that I felt about going in the first place to this show was the presentiment that the whole crowd and band too would be like THIS guy. I actually don't care to be around drunks that much, you know?

...But say what you will about the dude - rude, uncivilized, needs to learn to handle his alcohol, needed to be cut off earlier - he LOVED "Tractor Rape Chain," because as soon as the band started playing it, he launched forward through the audience, getting as close to the front as he could before totally falling on his ass, knocking into about half a dozen people in the process, including both David Ames and myself. I stood back a little, at first, trading bemused-but-contemptuous, whaddaya-gonna-do glances with people in the area, who did more, initially, to help him steady himself the first time he fell than I did. Within a few seconds, though, he was down on his ass again, laughing to himself, twirling his arms drunkenly, and still managing to signify that he was REALLY getting off on the song, mouthing the words, his hands like some crazy conductor. The people who had helped him up the first time were in no rush to do it again; I mean, no one is paying them to babysit, are they?

So I reached down and helped him up, and suddenly, the dude clutched onto me like I was offering to support him for the rest of the concert. He grabbed at me, tighter than anyone I've ever fucked has grabbed me, and kept time on my head, while sticking his face deep into my zone to sing - not mouth, but sing - the lyrics to the song to me, to which my only response in reach was to sing along with him (and Uncle Bob, for whom none of this, I imagine, was visible, or new). It shocked me, but it turned out I knew the words - which is impressive, because, how do you learn the words to a song that you can't understand? What had they hooked onto to lodge in my brain, thus? ...Eventually the song ended; and half an hour later, after a similar round of staggering around and falling, during another classic GBV song, I saw the young drunk being escorted from the venue, and thought about him no more. But for the minute and a half that buddy and I were singing along to "Tractor Rape Chain" together, I was about as engaged in the concert as I got (with the possible exception of "Subspace Biographies," which I also sang along with and jumped around to, unassisted by any drunks). To the people who turned to me after the drunk had staggered away to fall down in front of someone else, and said that I was a very kind and generous man, for having put up with him, I can only repeat what I said to them, at the show, that ten years from now, that drunk will be one of the only things I actually remember about the concert... just like the moment I remember most about seeing the Cramps in the early 1990's was the punk kid who grabbed my hand and started dancing with me on the UBC lawn after the show was over, singing the lyrics to "The Mad Daddy." I had spent the whole show trying to understand what was going on, and now, thirty years later, I barely remember a minute of it, except that kid, who briefly reminded me of the proper way to appreciate the band.

(Well, I remember a couple of other things about that show, actually, come to think of it - a very young Tom Anselmi asking us in the parking lot before the show if we'd seen some guy around, with silver hair I think he said; about being disturbed by Hamm's meaty thighs when Slow opened, visible through the slit in his nurse's uniform; about how Slow seemed a lot messier live than they did on record; and a song that I thought Tom announced was called "Beat the Creature," which they never recorded, to my knowledge. I also remember how one of the girls I was with, before the show, remarked on the appearance of a stranger - a fellow Goth-punk type, also attending - saying, "you're so pale, it's disgusting," without realizing what that would sound like, requiring me to intervene, as I saw the stranger's face fall, by saying that "she means she's jealous," which made everything all right again. But I barely remember anything about the Cramps that night. A flash of Ivy's sneer. How stiff Nick seemed. The crowd chanting at the encore, "strip! strip! strip!" which I at first thought was a cry of "Cramps! Cramps! Cramps!" About feeling lost and uncomfortable in the mosh pit  ("why am I doing this?"). But did Lux do or say anything but sing? I do not recall. He had a whole lot more clothes on than he did during the Urgh clip I'd seen; he certainly did not strip. But that's about all I got.

Because y'see, the trouble with me is, or maybe one of the troubles with me is, I think about music way too much. I squint at it and study it and try to make sense of it - with "surgical focus" at times - but the moments at rock concerts where I lose myself totally are actually few and far between, and surely losing yourself is kind of the POINT of rock music, isn't it? Dave and Phil Alvin doing "Marie Marie" a few months ago at the Imperial is the closest I can recall myself getting in years - I danced, I sang, I fully engaged myself in the enjoyment of the moment, without ANY question of what I was participating in. There's no question of falseness or pretension or liking a song for the wrong reasons or being sold some version of a bill of goods when it's "Marie Marie," you know? Rock music doesn't get much more straightforward or trustworthy than that. But it does get a lot more straightforward than "Tractor Rape Chain," even if I have ghosts in my room, too.

Anyhow, I was actually kind of jealous of the people who sang along with almost every song, you know? I wonder what those songs meant to them. Maybe I should have drunk more myself, until it didn't matter to me, either. Maybe if I were more the type to trust my emotions and ride on their flows, and follow them fearlessly where they led me, I'd be a better Guided by Voices fan. I'd probably be a better writer.

It was still a great show.