Saturday, January 28, 2017

This evening's violence, plus a surprise guest at the Rickshaw, and, yes, RIP Paul Leahy, John Hurt, and HMV

Walking from the car along Main Street with Erika, I could hear someone raving and roaring, like he was begging for a fight. I was carrying two empty cups of coffee, since we'd just stopped at Tim Horton's. There was a garbage can ahead and I ducked across the street to tuck the cups into it; I could see there was a blonde man, about 50, short and tough-looking, walking towards me, but it looked like there was plenty of room for both of us to pass each other unharmed. Suddenly I realized that the short blonde man was the one who had been raving and roaring; and before I knew what had happened, he sidechecked me in the right shoulder, with great force, sending me careening into a tree planted at roadside, or something (I would later notice that, whatever it was, I cut my arm on it, just a tiny scrape really but it drew blood).

Stunned, I didn't understand immediately that he had done this deliberately. My first, automatic reaction was confusion and apology, as tends to be my go-to place when I unintentionally bump into a stranger: "Sorry!"

He rounded on me, bellowing, a small crowd around us taking notice, including my girlfriend. I didn't register most of what he said but "DO YOU WANT TO DIE?" was in there. "Sorry," I repeated. 

He moved closer to me, screaming something along the lines of "What did you say?!" Like maybe he'd get a fight out of me. 

Understand: I don't back down from confrontation, when I'm motivated, invested in it; but here, I wasn't. I was a mess of conflicting impulses, in fact. "Be polite to the person you accidentally bumped into" was still lingering, except it was coming clear that this guy had rammed into me deliberately, so that wasn't in fact appropriate (thinking fast is not always my strong suit). "Feel sorry for the street psycho" was also on the menu - a reaction which once led to my getting a long story about the troubles of ANOTHER guy, this one on Robson Street, who introduced himself to me by saying, "I am going to kill you," though in no means as hostile a manner as this fellow. (Turns out, after I asked him why, that he thought I worked for the TV station that was using government mind control technology on him and his mother; I commisserated, and assured him that I didn't work in the TV industry. I've run into this dude more than once, in fact, and both times his opener was "I am going to kill you," said in a neutral way; it's his version of "nice weather today," apparently). 

Trouble was, with this guy tonight, the violent one, I didn't think I was going to be able to console him, no matter what I said. It was far more likely I was going to set him off, that anything I might say would be an excuse for him to swing. Plus somewhere in there was "avoid violence/ avoid exposing my girl to violence," and also, of course, "get to the Rickshaw for the Paul Leahy Super Duper show," because, to paraphrase Elliot Gould in Little Murders, I want to do what I want to do, not what this psycho wants me to do. 

Nowhere in there could I begin to feel anger: there was just nothing to take personally. So lamely, flinching a little, as he screamed "WHAT DID YOU SAY?" at me, I tried again, a bit uncertain: "Uh, sorry?" ...Like it might be the wrong answer, but it was all I had. 

He stormed off in disgust. 

That done - and my heart pounding a little in my chest - my girl and I proceeded quickly to the Rickshaw, where we had already missed Finn Leahy doing David Bowie's "Kooks" and China Syndrome's whole set. Swank were taking the stage, with two members of Big Top, Scott and Gordon; they introduced their hybrid as Swank Top. The event was, of course, in honour of Paul Leahy - who, David M. had informed me earlier in the day, had died peacefully at the hospice the night before, around 10pm. I was glad my girl was getting to see Swank, and they were great as ever - though it sure sounded like they introduced their opener, Paul's "Uptight and Anxious," as coming off NO FUN's box set, Swivel. Later, when I told David M. about it, he referred to the band as Snank.

He is a fast thinker.

Anyhow, Swank (or Swank Top, or, if you like, Snank) did great readings of everything they touched, tho', uh, I think they made an error or two in the lyrics for "Dead Flowers," too, later on (a song I have video'd David doing with Pete Campbell, incidentally). It was easier on the Slip Ons, who filled in forgotten lyrics with Johnny Thunders-esque solos and did an all-round fantastic job of their short, delightfully sloppy American-glampunk set (no Replacements covers were in it, by the by. I know they've done whole evenings of Replacements covers, but a bandmember I complemented after me told me they just do that for fun, and have, in fact, an album of original material they're working on, which I'm excited to hear; they were great, ripping it up tonight in particular to one of my favourite New York Dolls tunes, "Pills.")

I visited the merch table and bought the Polly Package and said hi to Kristina Mameli, who was manning it (womaning it?). Somewhere in there, I ran into event organizer Richard Chapman, who I'd spoken to for my Straight feature, and was told, by he and Nick Jones, that indeed, NO FUN's David M. - who performed with Paul for something like 30 years - was around and might be doing something, after all. David had reached out to Richard shortly after I'd interviewed the man.

This was delightful news. I've been telling M. he should do something for quite some time, but he had reluctances. I'm glad they fell away: he offered a moving, short set that kicked off with an interpretation of what I took to be a mod on a Paul McCartney tune - I video'd it, and received a comment from Mr. M as to who actually wrote it and when - to fit the event; plus "Dangerous Business" and "Winter Holiday," the first (I believe) from Ishtar, and sung by Paul on the CD Baby Paul-centric NO FUN comp, and the second a Paul original (from The New Switcheroo, I think, but, modfied from its original form as "Summer Holiday;" M. tells me there are several seasonal variants)  Then David did two really potent takes on Bowie's "Fantastic Voyage" and "Boys," which he has pointed out in his Bowie salute are in fact the same song.

Oh, he also did "Work Drink Fuck Die" ("WDFD 2016") to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which I suspect most people didn't get, since 1894 is not exactly in heavy rotation anywhere these days. And he wanted to do one more song, but couldn't. In any event, he was sort of doing a next-level set, in terms of potency and intimacy, and I think most people in the Rickshaw could SEE that. But the night had to progress - the MC, from the Vampire Bats, declined his request to do one last thing; plus he had to get to work, and rather than stay, Erika and I elected to give David a ride, back to his apartment to drop off the guitar, and then to his jobsite. 

We exited the building to a police scene - the first Vancouver murder of 2017, apparently, at least in Vancouver proper. The whole front of the Rickshaw was a mess of cop cars, lights, yellow tape, and heavily armed cops, two of whom were fitting gas masks over their heads. Some big guns were present, too. Apparently there had been a fatal shooting at the Savoy next door; we didn't stick around, were being hustled out the tape by a uniformed officer, though a giant "what the fuck is going on" flashed in neon over the whole scene. I ended up writing Charlie Smith about it, though apparently no further details have emerged than what was in the CBC article (which does have a few photos, though they don't capture how startling it was). 

Fuck me, that was quite the night. 

Anyhow, we are okay, David is okay, and I'm glad he got to perform to more than an audience of ten-to-twenty regulars for a change, which is usually what seems to happen. He's an amazingly talented guy whose unwillingness to pander or modify his act can exclude outsiders a bit (he still advertises a lime candy, NO FUN's ironic corporate sponsor, that went out of production sometime in the 1980's, say, though his set for Paul's event was 100% Gorgo-free).

I had bought The Polly Package mostly just to donate the money to the cause - I have two of the three albums in it already - so I asked David if he had it, and he didn't, so I gave him mine.

(a donation by I, Braineater, Jim Cummins, for silent auction at the gig)

I am sad that Paul is gone. Not many musicians have exited thus from the Vancouver scene, it occurs to me. I mean, sure, there's Lenore Herb, but mostly musicians in Vancouver tend to die of overdoses, sudden heart attacks, overdoses reported as sudden heart attacks, or - well, Elizabeth Fischer went off to Switzerland for assisted suicide. The whole hospice-and-diminishment thing is relatively unusual here, and really, kind of a painful way to go, by comparison - though it was really great to see so many people wringing so much positivity and joy out of the evening. And just as Elizabeth Fischer's pointy boots overlooked the Red Herring show we went to last New Year's, Paul's hat stood on a microphone stand on the stage thoughout the evening (except when one guy from Swank tried it on). It's in both of the stage shots above, to the right. 

Also sad to note the death of John Hurt, who was one of my favourite actors. And I'm quite surprised that HMV Canada is going entirely out of business. They don't do much to compete with the "real" music stores in Vancouver, but they do do a pretty good job of bringing in interesting movies, and are much, much more conveniently located for me than Videomatica (with locations a short walk from both my apartment and my dayjob, and another en route to Maple Ridge, where I still find myself now and again). 

At least when HMV dies, they'll have a big sale. (Though they won't have a huge party/ rock concert in their honour, and no one will be donating money to help them out of receivership. You can still donate money to the Paul Leahy SuperDuperStar GoFundMe here - I have not, but I bought the Polly Package, did press for free, and both Erika and I paid to get in to the gig last night, so I hope that counts as something).

As I say below, contact David M. after you donate and you will receive a free 1986 digitization of a Vancouver cover-song comp, Van-Cover

All in all it was an eventful night, which I'm glad has given me something to write about, as I sit here at 5am, unable to stop coughing, delaying going back to bed so my girl can get some sleep. Apologies to the Pointed Sticks: I've missed another of your shows, and this one I was actually in the room for a short time. (Also apologies for any typos I haven't caught, but I'm in rough shape).

Finally, of course, my condolences and regards to all who knew and loved Paul. Rest in peace, Mr. Leahy.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Still sidelined, plus Paul Leahy, wendythirteen, and the Van-Cover cassette

It's funny, views of my articles here are at an all time high - ranging from hundreds to thousands of views, depending on the piece, according to blogger's stats - and I find myself barely able to write: with warehouse work, carpal tunnel syndrome, some tentative forays back into ESL, plus wedding plans, I'm about as removed from this as I've been, and may remain so for awhile.

Plus I have a cold.

But I do have some articles out there at the moment: for instance, in the Straight this week, on Friday's tribute to Paul Leahy, whom I knew best for years as David M's cohort in NO FUN. Fact is, I was always more of a David M. fan, when it came to the songwriting in that band, drawn in my David's sardonic wit more than Paul's odd tunes or his guitarcraft (tho' David M. has said the two were equal collaborators in everything, and I like Tim Chan's observation that, "with NO FUN, people laughed at David M's humour and smiled from ear to ear at Paul's lead guitar playing"). Turns out that Paul's songs stand up quite well, though, like "Uptight and Anxious" or "When She Has Her Coffee," which you can buy through CDBaby, if you like, with proceeds going to the Paul Leahy GoFundMe... You can also get a nice bit of recompense, if you donate, direct from David M. (as I mention in the Straight article) as he'll send a download of a digitized version of the 1986 "Generic Drivel" rarity, the Van-Cover cassette. (I haven't actually ever heard this, though I'm very curious who "the Wallflowers" might be - no relation to Bob Dylan's progeny, I assume - or what their cover of that Dream Syndicate song might be like). Poster by David M:

Anyhow, back in the day, I kinda treated Paul as the "straight man of NO FUN," for the most part. Then when Polly's first CD came out, I was mostly listening to the occult electronica of Sistrenatus, plus a bit of death metal and black metal, about as far from joyous glam as can be. I recognized the skill of his songcraft and the richness of his guitar in my Straight review - and one song, "Put a Little English On It," managed to get through to me - but mostly I really wasn't in the mood.

Sad, then: I'm actually in a space to enjoy Polly now, listening to a lot more upbeat music than I was a few years ago, and the band is done, Paul in hospice in Surrey. I'm glad I got to see him play in Polly once (with the Pointed Sticks, last year, also at the Rickshaw). I'm glad I got to meet him - we chatted a bit after that show - and that I put the article out there while he was still around, though I doubt he'll be able to take it in. In fact, part of me wonders if Paul may have already passed, and there's a quiet conspiracy to keep the news public until after Friday's show, to not put a cloud over it... or if, on the other hand, Paul is just hanging in there so the show can go off before he turns to the light, y'know?

I didn't go into detail in the Straight article, which had to be lean and mean, but Tim Chan of China Syndrome points out how to pre-order copies of the Polly Package, in order to be guaranteed to get a copy (featuring Paul's otherwise unreleased Pleasure Suit project, and signed copies of All Messed Up, among other things).

For PayPal, use this link: log into your PayPal account and click “Pay or send money.”

Click “Pay for goods and services.” 
When prompted for an e-mail, input: Click “Next.” Enter $35.00 as the amount.

In the “add a note” box mention that it is for the Polly Package Box Set. 
For E-transfer, send electronic transfer through online banking to

The Polly Package will be available for pick-up at the Super Duper Show on January 27th with ID. E-mail if other arrangements need to be made.

You can also read Kimiko's thoughts on the passing of her partner on the Scattered Sacred blog.

Writing on all this, I can't but think of my father, dying in hospice in Maple Ridge in 2009 - how he seemed mostly to be sleeping that last day, wasn't really able to respond to what was going on, but how in his last minute he seemed to wake up and open his eyes, seeming to look far into the distance as his breathing slowed and his body fell away from him... I hope he could hear me, and Mom, that he knew we were there with him, but I don't know that he could; his attention, if that's what it was, seemed focused on something far beyond (and I have inwardly called bullshit on any movie I've seen since that has people closing their eyes to die; based on that one experience, I have it in my head that you open them).

Anyhow, I'll be at the Rickshaw on Friday, though I may duck out to check out Crackwhore down the street at Pat's Pub - because I have written about wendythirteen for BC Musician magazine (copies at the Rickshaw and with Wendy, at present, though I'll be distributing more of them around town at present... maybe I will guerrilla-distro a few at the Cobalt?). It's a pretty interesting issue, actually: it has a venue guide for touring musicians, so if you're tackling a tour of BC that takes you out of the cozy confines of Vancouver, you can find out places that might welcome you.

That's it for now, though. The only gig I have planned for the forseeable future will be in June, and it will be one I'm deeply involved in, since it will celebrate my wedding (which is actually happening in May). Before then, I might put some of the "outtakes" from that wendythirteen piece up, but they might be a bit on the contentious side (there were various things that got removed from the article, like Clay Holmes' calling the lease Wendy was offered in the last days at the Cobalt "the slumlord version of the Necronomicon" - people just don't wanna get sued, I guess!)

Meantime, if I'm not at work, I'm probably watching Outlander on the couch with my girl. (She was sport enough to survive six and a half seasons of The Walking Dead, plus the one and a half of the spinoff, so she deserves the break - but I'm actually enjoying the series, and come to think of it, we might take in the Real McKenzies come March, with all this Scottish stuff around, especially since she is gearing up to take my name).

See you Friday?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sidelined, plus Sunday Morning

Remember how I was having problems with my hands?

Apparently warehouse work - constantly using staple and tape guns, and safety knives, building boxes and packing them - was NOT what the doctor ordered for this condition. I'm looking at pretty aggravating carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms here - major tingling in both hands and arms, which gets so bad that it wakes me up at night at times, especially if my hands end up in the wrong position. It's making a bit of a dent in my writing. Consulting a doctor, considering a chiropractor, and taking a bit of a break from the warehouse - but between FB and email and such I am doing all the typing I can hack.

There is stuff I am already reporting on Facebook - that I am engaged to be married to Erika in May, and that I am considering putting on a gig in June, to celebrate the date. (The actual wedding will take place on Vancouver Island, but I want to have a celebration over here so my friends this side of the water can come). But I can do neither justice here just yet. I might have a piece on Hamm's involvement with this Sunday Morning project (with a gig on the 20th at the Cultch), but I might not; it reunites Hamm with Bruce Wilson from Tankhog, a seriously underrated grunge-era Vancouver band, though the project has more to do musically with the Velvet Underground song that inspired it than grunge... There is some question as to what Hamm will be able to get to, however, so I may just direct y'all to Mike Usinger's piece here.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Al's Disenfranchised Top 5 Films of 2016

So UBC won't have me in their film studies MA program, and no local papers want to pay me to write about film at present, but fuckit, here's my top five list of 2016 movies.

Disclaimer: there's a bunch I have yet to see. Bear in mind that I have limited access, since I don't make this my living, have limited time, etc. My impression is that it's been a pretty good year for movies - where Hell Or High Water counts as one of the disappointments, you know the bar is pretty high. There's plenty I'm interested in that I haven't gotten to as of yet, that maybe would belong on this list, from The Interior - tapped by Mack in his list - to the Korean thriller The Wailing. Or The Handmaiden, for that matter.

Also, I'm highly tempted to cheat a little, because a couple of my favourite film experiences of the year were films I only caught up with on home video. They're technically from 2015, but since they saw no theatrical distribution here - since there was no other way to see them in Vancouver, at least by legit means, until they showed up on DVD - it seems almost fair to include them; those being Bone Tomahawk and He Never Died. The first is about as old fashioned a western as can accomodate scenes of graphic disembowelment and cannibalism, the kinda film that will inevitably get called "The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes," but it's not altogether an unreasonable description. It is the sort of film you kind of want to protect from a political analysis, because it is essentially, inherently, at its fundaments a "whiteman versus the savages" film, which it (rather slyly) tries to excuse by having one good (token) First Nations character on hand to disown said savages' savagery and differentiate himself and his people from them. It's kin to having the "one good Japanese" signaling the kids from the cockpit to run and hide as his Zero closes in, in Pearl Harbor, or giving Schwarzenegger a "good" sidekick of Middle Eastern descent in True Lies; it's an obvious "see we're not racist" ploy. But it's skillful enough as a ploy that it sort of shimmies by your bullshit detectors on first viewing.

But to heck with it. Most thrillers are reactionary, politically problematic things, across the field - from the inherent racism of King Kong to the subtext of Die Hard that women should not have careers, thrillers, because they tap into common social anxieties, tend not to be the most progressive things. (Don't even get me started on The Dark Knight). You can either disown such films or admit that you like them, noting the problematic aspects, perhaps allowing yourself to be colonized just a little in the process. Sometimes I am offended enough (as with The Dark Knight) that politics trump pleasure, but in the case of Bone Tomahawk, so much of what is fresh and enjoyable about the film is NOT dependent on its inherent racism - especially Richard Jenkins, and the relationship between his character and Kurt Russell's - that I was inclined to give it a pass. Plus the best late career use of Sid Haig this side of Captain Spaulding.

Anyhow, I liked Bone Tomahawk a lot. He Never Died, meanwhile, is a funny, strange, gory little tour de force for Henry Rollins - also, coincidentally, involving cannibalism - who demonstrates that the key to his being good in a movie is apparently for the movie to be built entirely around him. He's been crap in any support roles I've seen him in (Johnny Mnemonic, Morgan's Ferry, The Devil's Tomb), but he's so great in this I actually tried to interview him about it. He turned me down, but I'm glad Hank is enjoying a sort of career high these days, regardless of what billboards he agrees to appear on. (I missed his manic rant the other day at the Vogue, am told it was pretty great).

But anyhow, those are really 2015 movies, so let's no cheat. Here are my top five films from 2016:

The Lobster. I keep describing it to people as Bunuelian, but all this is doing is demonstrating to me that most folks have no idea who Bunuel was, anymore, which makes me a bit sad. But people who like the idea of a darkly-humoured, surreal exploration of the dating scene - the curious totalitarianism of relationships - should see it; I've given away seven copies now as Christmas gifts, as befits my role of Lobster Claus (see previous). Colin Farrell used to irritate me, but he generally chooses film roles quite well, such that I've come to like him a lot; he's been in too many films I've admired - The New World, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths - for me not to (and will also be in Yorgos Lanthimos' next film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). I like Rachel Weisz a lot, too (Constantine, Agora, The Whistleblower, Denial, and, hey, whattaya know, she's in an upcoming fictionalization of the Donald Crowhurst story, which is kind of fascinating; see the doc Deep Water if you can, or, for another fictional treatment, read Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach).

I have seen a bunch of films beyond that that I liked - Hell or High Water, The Arrival, Midnight Special, The Witch, Don't Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, De Palma, Denial - but not enough to go "top five" with them (maybe The Arrival). I would actually consider Ti West's In a Valley of Violence above any of those, but it's better to enter it expecing a small but enjoyable film than some best-of masterwork. It's a somewhat uneven homage to spaghetti westerns and classic westerns, with a generous helping of Unforgiven laid in. I would have liked it better if it had upped the spaghetti quotient, because it seems to me that you can't really make obvious nods to the subgenre (in the title sequence, say) while getting other elements wrong (the music is almost completely unspaghettilike). But Ethan Hawke is good (gets better as he gets into it), John Travolta has his moments, and the story is engaging, and people who like westerns will like it. Beats the snot out of that Magnificent Seven remake, anyhow (except for Vincent D'Onofrio, who contributes the only great element to that latter).

But definitely Green Room gets on my list, for getting so much right, and for having at least one brilliant moment (involving a loyal dog, which I think is wins the prize for "most unexpectedly touching moment in a movie this year").

Also, I loved The Neon Demon, which is the most purely cinematic, "scopophile heaven" film expereince, trumping Only God Forgives (which I also really liked).

Train to Busan was fairly linear, and fairly conservative, but I loved it, best zombie feature I've seen in awhile, and the angle sheds an interesting light on Korean culture.

Tickled was pretty great, too - a documentary dealing with "endurance tickling" and, apparently, an unusual, bullying fetishist. It's a small but strange little film that kind of lingers in the mind.

I guess The Arrival trumps it, though. Okay, there:

Al's Top Five Movies for 2016, in order:

1. The Lobster
2. The Neon Demon
3. Green Room
4. Train to Busan.
5. The Arrival

Still want to see: Elle, Swiss Army Man, Sausage Party, The Greasy Strangler, The Interior, The Love Witch, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Red Turtle

Don't get the fuss: The Nice Guys

Disappointed by: Blair Witch

Don't care: Birth of a Nation, La La Land, Kubo and the Two Strings (am I wrong on that?).