Friday, August 31, 2018

From the Original Sins to Brother JT: a John Terlesky interview

(Above: the Original Sins, back in the day. Note: almost all links in the following interview lead you directly to clips of the Original Sins or Brother JT performing; as of this writing, many of the Original Sins' classic LPs are on Youtube in their entirety. DO check this stuff out, because it's pretty GREAT; but if you come to agree, BUY SOMETHING FROM THE GUY, here!). 

I sometimes wonder about choices I made in the early 1990’s – especially (though not exclusively) in regard to music. There were more than a few bands that I loved that I walked away from, albums by bands who I had counted as utter favourites, whose follow-up recordings I didn’t even bother with until ten or more years later. For instance, Tad’s momentous 8 Way Santa was and remains one of my favourite rock records ever. Yet two years later, in 1993, Inhaler came out – and I totally ignored it, having heard not a song. I had no reason to think there would be anything wrong with it, and – though I was teetering on the cusp of getting into free jazz and noise, which dominated my musical tastes for the latter half of the 1990’s – I still liked and owned God’s Balls and Salt Lick and 8 Way Santa, and still sometimes listened to them. So why did I ignore Inhaler? I honestly can’t quite put together what was going through my head.

Maybe it had something to do with overexposure to Seattle grunge, which had peaked the year previously – because there were also Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, and Nirvana albums I ignored from the same period, having been turned off by the crashing hypewave that followed the massive success of Nevermind.

But the so-called “grunge backlash” doesn’t explain why I didn’t buy the Original Sins’ 1992 double LP, Move, until this year. The band, fronted by John Terlesky, who nowadays records as Brother JT – was from Philadelphia, far from Seattle, ostensibly untainted by what was going on there, and (the odd song, like “All In My Head,” aside) never all that grungy, to begin with.

I had followed the Original Sins more or less from the outset, musically. They put out an astonishing debut, Big Soul, which I nabbed via Midnight Mailorder back inn the late 1980’s, while it was still their first and only LP. I quickly and completely fell for it; it remains one of my best-ever blind buys, containing everything from 60’s-punk style rave-ups (Try “Possession” - also on Youtube in a non-LP version; or “My Mother’s Mirror,” “Can’t Feel a Thing”) to depressive dirges (the aforementioned “All in My Head”) to glowing, bouncy garage pop (“Help Yourself”) and relatively gentle, 60’s-ish folk rock (“Why Don’t You Smile, Joan?”). Their next album, The HardestWay, was maybe a bit less inspired, but is true to their '60s garage roots, and has some great songs on it (like “Don’t Fit In,” which is as tough as anything on their debut). Then they’d gone full-on Stooges/ MC5 for Self-Destruct, a meaty, acid-soaked, power-punch of an album that fed my own self-destructive tendencies, particularly with the playful, spiralling, organ-enhanced acid anthem “Alice D,” which accompanied my own late night forays into my neon-synapse’d psyche-scape on more than one occasion.  Everything suggested that the band was poised to become a hugely successful rock contender – except that in 1992, maybe the poisonous hypefog out of Seattle was so extreme that people with an investment in underground music just didn’t WANT any more rock success stories, no matter where they were come, since they were synonymous with bands we’d loved – Soul Asylum,, anyone? - suddenly starting to suck…?

Nothing sucks in the slightest about Move (all of which, like I say, is presently online in a high quality rip, so spend some time with it, eh?). It’s a ballsy, confident, 2-LP feast, co-produced by REM's Peter Buck, that combines all the best elements of the Sins’ three previous records, and has some awe-inspiring, balls-out rockers (“Like an Animal,” say) that show no sign of commercial compromise or down-watering. Wikipedia reports that “the album was intended to be a break into mainstream music for the band,” and you can see why maybe THAT didn’t happen – it’s simply too strong, too creative, too fearless for mainstream success. But the fact that the album sold poorly, that fans like me ignored it, and that even to this day it has no review on the AllMusic  site – which features accurate, respectable reviews of their previous recordings: none of this can I explain.

So can John Terlesky? With the interviewer having recently picked up an armload of his Brother JT solo albums – which are as good as, but vastly more varied than, his Original Sins’ recordings – that question is where we start this email interview (omitting the preamble I sent to him, which more or less replicates the above). People interested in exploring Brother JT’s back catalogue or buying his music should go to his webpage; with little fanfare and absolutely no mainstream success, he’s never stopped putting out fantastic records. Check out “Snakebit” on Tornado Juice, his current release, in particular; a black-humoured look at his own musical career, it’s the high point on the album, for me, and the focal point – along with his reference to “Zabriskie Point” in “Zabriskie” – of an upcoming feature in the next issue Big Takeover magazine, drawn also from the following conversation.

AM: So what happened to rock music in 1992, anyhow? Why didn’t Move sell?

JT: That was an odd period. I seem to recall Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and Nirvana's "Teen Spirit" hitting at around the same time and that they sounded similar to me, like Metal and Punk were sort of coming together. I had no problem with Grunge because it was a lot better than the hair bands that had dominated things and wasn't that removed from what we were doing. But then everyone kind of aped the style and there was no humor or contrast. There was Rock, but not much Roll.

AM: You have a song on the new album, Tornado Juice, called "Back to the 90's." It makes me wonder what you miss about being in the Original Sins? Are there any particularly crazy or chaotic moments, shows that really stand out? Do you have any memories or stories of playing in Vancouver, by the way?). 

JT: I think I mostly miss playing with those particular guys and feeling like no matter what the high energy approach of the set worked. With Brother JT a lot of the songs are much more about improv, so it's not such a sure thing like the Sins' songs. But I went more in the improv direction because I wanted to have deeper means of expression, so I like both. Brother JT sets usually feature several Sins songs these days.

There were many great nights with the Sins. Opened for the Ramones, Replacements, Screaming Trees, Living Colour, Butthole Surfers, etc.

I remember little about playing Vancouver except that the people seemed very friendly and the town seemed very clean. It was almost 30 years ago, so...

AM: I wish I’d gone. I had no idea until recently that the show even happened (the cartoonist and painter known as ARGH!, of DOA colouring Book/ NO FUN cassette cover fame tells me that the band played the Town Pump in the early 1990’s). Do I gather the band opened for the Kinks at one point?

JT: We did open for the Kinks at the Tower Theater in Phila., two nights, set up by our manager at the time who knew the booking person. It was good, but kind of weird because it was a big stage and the audience seemed so far away. I never like playing big places. I'd rather set up on the floor and be eye to eye with the audience.

AM: Where did the cover idea for Self-Destruct come from? One of the great 1990’s album covers, by me. Did you “grow out of” the self-destructive tendencies of youth?

JT: I had a fairly realistic looking 45-style bb gun and just had some pictures taken with it. Just kind of a knee-jerk reaction image that I thought might go with the music on that record.

AM: Is “Alice D” actually a real slang term for LSD, or is it your own coinage?

JT: I think it came from hearing Merle Haggard's "Okee From Muskogee" where he says "We don't take our trips on LSD" and it sounded like he said "Alice Dee" or something. Many years later (not being a Deadhead at the time) I discovered the Grateful Dead had an early outtake called "Alice D. Millionaire".

AM: More recently, “Head Bizness” is a great psychedelics anthem... it's kinda almost hip-hoppy. Do you listen to hip hop at all? (Ever do New Kingdom's "Mexico or Bust?" It's sorta kinda LIKE "Head Bizness," spiritually speaking). 

JT: Yes, I've listened to some hip hop. Liked the Madvillain and Spank Rock stuff from a few years back. Mainly interested in the grooves and how they could be applied to a rock context, not so much the lyrical content.

AM: Each of your solo albums seems to have a different personality or approach, but be cohesive unto itself... How would you describe the approach on Tornado Juice? I hear a sort of Dylan/ Blonde on Blonde quality (the verses on “Mississippi Somethin’,” for example). But other people on Youtube mention Bowie… What moods or events help you decide a direction for an album? Do you record one song and then decide where to go from there…? 

JT: The songs just kind of spilled out without a lot of conscious planning. If you had the album the dust jacket has a collage of my notebook from when I wrote the songs, and the lyrics are scrawled out furiously, like automatic writing. Sometimes the music came first, and sometimes both came out at once. And they're all filtered through influences of the artists you mentioned as well as many others. Also thinking about how the songs will work in a live context plays a role. I usually try to imagine playing the album in sequence live as a test for balance and diversity.

"Metallized Saran Icicles Made It So," by Brother JT; more of his art here

AM: I’m just listening to a download and I’m not seeing credits on the Bandcamp page, so I have no idea if there’s a band on Tornado Juice, or if you're doing most of everything yourself – who is playing what? Do you play live regularly with a particular group of musicians? (Are you in touch with any former Original Sins?). 

JT: It is largely the band I've been playing with for the last 5 years or so: Jamie Knerr on drums, Ron Kuhn on bass, and Mike Logan on guitar. They also recorded the previous CD, On High, with me. "Back To The 90's" and "Oh Me Oh My" is just me. I am occasionally in touch with the guys from the Sins (Dave Ferrara played drums on the first 2 Drag City albums) and there has been talk of a reunion this fall, but I’m not sure if it's possible.

AM: Whoa! Very cool. Coming back to automatic writing, what are these three books you published under the influence? Are any of your albums more purely the result of an acid experience than others? Are any mostly written or recorded while on acid? (Don’t you find it gets hard on the body as you get older?).  

JT: The books are the result of journaling while on LSD. They're kind of like channeling. I found that under these circumstances I could sort of offer up my pen to...personalities? my consciousness at the time. While the results are at times hard to read, I thought they were worth preserving. I sensed that these personalities appreciated the opportunity to express themselves. Many of the songs I've written in the last 10 years have come out of the same sessions, usually later after the initial flood of thoughts has passed. I feel like this way I am writing in another, more spontaneous voice.
I don't notice any physical stress from these experiences, kind of the opposite.

AM:  What is your life like when you are NOT Brother JT? (Do you have a family? A dayjob? A garden? Horrible non-sequitur hobbies like playing golf? I gather you have a cat…).

JT: I'm pretty solitary, never wanted a family, my main interests are various creative endeavors.  I'm 'avoidant', as they call it these days. I want to take the path of least resistance at all times. Sort of like a Taoist, except I'm not. I just like the 'non action' part of that ethos. Seems to come natural to me. My cat feels the same way.

AM: Going back to your origins – were you raised Catholic? (with a band name like the Original Sins and the occasional Biblical reference – “there’s something wrong with my right eye” – I wonder if you also went to Catechism classes, etc. (Did they ever get you to confess?). What was the milieu you grew up in? How was rock and roll received in your home? Did your parents ever see the Original Sins play?

JT: I was raised Catholic, did confession, communion a few times, but then just kind of stopped in my early teens. My parents wern't sticklers for that.

My folks were both 40 years older than me, so big band was more their preferred musical genre. I remember sitting with my father watching television when I was very young and there was an ad for the late movie double feature that night. One was a horror movie, and the other was for a Herman's Hermits movie, and he said, referring to the latter, "That's what scares me". Guys with long hair was a big thing back then. It's funny that I actually sat in with Peter Noone on guitar for two shows my old drummer Dave Ferrara is still playing with him). It didn't work out.

Anyhow, my involvement with rock music was not a subject of much discussion. I think my parents probably saw video of me playing, but not in person. I wouldn't have wanted them in that environment.

AM:  What was the live music scene in Bethlehem when you were young? Did you have to commute to get to see good bands? What city was closest? What was happening there when you were getting into rock? What made you decide you wanted to be a rock musician?

JT: Bethlehem was where bands were happening, also the home of a college radio station I DJ'd at for a while. Met a lot of music people through that. The Funhouse was the constant, the only place that has consistently let original bands play in an area where it's mostly cover acts. Just played there last month, still pretty much the same experience. Set up on the floor with people two feet away. Very basic engagement. 

My one brother was in a band in the early 70's, so I was exposed in that way. He showed me the basics on guitar, barre chording etc. I think when I first heard the Velvet Underground, I thought, "I could do that." I could grasp it because it was so primitive.

AM: Did you ever, early on, identify as a punk? (Were there punk bands you played in before the Original Sins?). How did you get into the 60’s garage thing? When did you get into, say, the Sonics, or the Dave Clark 5, or…?

JT: I never really got into the punk thing, though I did play bass in a band (Senseless Hate) that did some Angry Samoans covers very early. My cousin lent me his copy of Nuggets when I was 18 or so and that interested me in 60's garage. But as a really young child I grew up with the Beatles albums my brothers would play, so I was already a fan of that basic genre. Read about the Stooges and Velvet Underground in this Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock book and finally tracked down their records (they were hard to find in 1980) and I was off to the races. I was interested in anything that had a dark side but also a pop sensibility.

AM: Your videos are really entertaining. Do you direct most of them yourself? (I gather you did so with “Sweatpants” but I don’t see credits on many). Who is the fortune teller in the “Zabriskie” video? Have you done videos for anyone else?

JT: Yes, I am mostly doing the vids myself, though “Baked Alaska” was shot in a studio at Woodshop films where we did the internet talk show "Trippin' Balls". The person in "Zabriskie" is just a friend who helped me out with it. Have not done any videos for anyone else.

"I Like Things," by Brother JT; more of his art here

AM: If we could touch on a couple favourites from Big Soul, what was the backstory to the song “My Mother’s Mirror,” anyhow? Were any actual mirrors harmed, or was it always figurative? Where did the lyric “my mind’s got a mind” come from?

JT: Lyrics for "Mother's Mirror" about when a friend of mine related a story about him rocking out to Mott the Hoople's version of "Keep A' Knockin'" and inadvertantly knocking over a mirror that belonged to his mother--might account for the Little Richard via MC5 vibe of the music too.

"My mind's got a mind of its own" just kind of popped out. Song about possession, sort of made sense.

AM: What is the furthest afield you tour, nowadays? Do you ever contemplating DOING a major tour again? (Europe? Canada? Japan? Where would you go? Would you do it with a band?). I imagine you  have weird pockets of devoted fans all over North America, but I wonder if it would be economically feasible? (I caught Wreckless Eric last time he was in Vancouver and gathered from his between-song stories that he was simply driving from city to city by himself, a man and his guitar...). 

JT: I really don't tour anymore. I would be happy to, but it's difficult to get an agent and/or find players who'd be willing to take off from work/family etc for the dubious rewards of such a venture (at my level, anyway). Occasionally fly to San Francisco and Austin to play a show or two, sometimes with local friends backing me, but recently took the band. It really wouldn't be feasible unless we were opening for a better known act, and those kind of tours are hard to come by. I'd like to do what Wreckless Eric does, but he's been doing it a long time and has a solid fanbase.

AM: Do you have a source of income other than music? I always wonder how people subsidize their passions (or do you make enough to get by, just on bein’ Brother JT?).

JT: I usually have driving/delivery type jobs so I can make my own hours. Some Uber recently, some odd jobs. I make very little from music.

AM: Damn, I’m sorry to hear that. Thanks for keeping at it. Is there anything I've missed? Future ambitions? Favourite acid trip stories? A Brother JT video everyone should watch?

JT: If anyone wanted any of my music you could order it from my website or if it's something not available there, email me at and we could work something out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Fake Jazz returns!

Got a press release this week with some cool news:

After seven long years, Vancouver's Fake Jazz is returning as a monthly event at the Toast Collective (648 Kingsway) on the last Friday of every month. The theme is the same: noise, drone, psych, free jazz, and outsider jams, with a healthy focus on improv and instant composition. Bill Batt, one of the Fake Jazz founders, is joined by Shaunn Watt (Failing, Big Joy Festival) and Don L'Orange (Stamina Mantis, Softess) in organizing the resurrection. 
The first show of the monthly series is scheduled for August 31st at 9:00 pm, with sets by Wire Mother/Cloth Mother, Waters, Ex-Softess, Objects, and DJ Hxghxs. Interestingly, Objects played the first Fake Jazz set in 2007, and will get things started on this new run. Admission at the door is $8 or pay what you can. 
Let's get free!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8

I was annoyed by the ending of Season 7 of The Walking Dead. I felt like the whole season built to a climax, then denied us a full and satisfying resolution.I felt cheated of this, tricked, blue-balled: promised a satisfying climax, then denied it.

I didn't realize that that's what Season 8 would be: essentially - I say this ten (out of sixteen) episodes in, but am confident that I can make this assertion fairly: it is a season-long climax, and a very long, violent, and character-rich climax, at that, involving protracted and ugly warfare.

It has some very interesting character developments, along the way, with particularly interesting trajectories for Carl and Dwight; it features one of the most innovative, Romero-worthy disembowellings in cinema history, and boasts an extended piece of zombie gore unlike anything I have seen. I won't say much, but did you ever wonder why they would write characters who live in a dump into the story? It pays off amply in Season 8, Episode 10.

There is also an episode where women and people of colour (Carol, Ezekiel, and Morgan) battle bad white men, that is also very true to the world of George A. Romero (if you hadn't noticed, the first three of Romero's zombie films all take as central characters women and people of colour; he would have been pleased with this season - one episode of which is explicitly dedicated to him).

You Walking Dead fans have all seen Day of the Dead, right (the original Romero film, not the bizarre fannish reimagining). Greg Nicotero's severed head is in it. (He acts).

Season 8 is a very strong season. It also has a character suffer exactly the same death I once, in a different state of mind, wished upon myself, when I asked myself how I would want to die, given a choice; but I shouldn't say more there. (I no longer wish to die this way).

Season 8 is so good that it makes me forgive Season 7 entirely. There's some nicely quasi-Shakespearean dialogue from Ezekiel, as well, and a nice enrichment of the world of the Saviours. It's out now on DVD and Blu (not on Netflix yet, of course). I'm glad I've stuck this series out. 

Erika says, "Yeah." (And Tybalt meows).

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Smoke and strange dreams

Yesterday actually smelled like woodsmoke around Vancouver. The haze is so thick that it actually seems to be having the effect of cooling things down; it's felt like it might rain for a few days, and maybe put out some of the forest fires around the province, but it is likely just an illusion caused by all the crap in the air. (The news say rain may happen this weekend but I doubt it has much to do with the coolness that comes from being enshrouded by smoke). I gather we have the worst air quality in the world at present - worse than Bangkok, worse than Beijing. Maps of BC show a red province, with so many dots on it from discrete fires. We gather there was even a forest fire in West Vancouver yesterday, hence our being able to smell the trees burning (which I for one had not noticed previously).

I snapped a few photos around sunset last night to illustrate this. The black in a couple of them is our local murder of crows making its way from downtown to its nesting place (rookery, or whatever) on, I think, Burnaby Mountain. They "go to work" each morning, passing my apartment; in the evening they "go back home."

Anyhow, that's what walking around in Vancouver in the evening looks like these days. The new normal, I guess, the last few years running; maybe this is the worst yet? There was some article in my feed - I think maybe by Charles Mudede - about how nothing would be done about global warming until lots of white people started dying because of it. Days like this make it feel like perhaps that's not so far away.

In other news, I slept poorly, having strange dreams in which I was at my childhood home (Richmond Court in Maple Ridge), with my mother (who I think could speak normally, which was not the case the last few years of her life, due to her stroke) fielding a mysterious collect phone call of some sort, supposedly from my father, who was away (he had, in reality, predeceased her by some years, passing in 2009, but both of them were alive in the dream). There seemed to be an elaborate phishing hoax at work - at one point, I thought I heard my father shout something in the background, but then I was transferred to an operator who was going to connect me to someone else entirely (their name sounded oddly like Leon Spinks). I hung up and told Mom it was a scam, then wondered about the shout I thought I'd heard. Maybe I was imagining it?

John Cassavetes' Husbands also entered my dreams last night, but I forget the details. And for some reason, I woke up thinking I should send a Facebook message to Greg Godovitz, to see if he has copies of the last Goddo CD, King of the Broken Hearts, which I don't have (and which was, I gather, poorly received). Maybe he'd sign it for me, if so?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Got nothin'

I have a couple cool pieces percolating but nothin' for now. Sorry. It's all over but the shoutin' for me as a music journalist, but I can shout for awhile yet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

RIP Randy Rampage

Photo by Cindy LeGrier, not to be reused without permission

I've seen DOA fewer times than one might imagine. Never saw the classic lineup. Caught them once circa The Black Spot with Wimpy and, I think, Ford Pier at the SFU pub, back in the 1990's, and have seen them maybe eight times since then. But the best show I ever saw them put on, bar none, was with Randy Rampage and the Great Baldini at Richards on Richards, some ten years ago - which is where the above photo comes from. Randy's ebullient, endless rockstar charisma complimented Joe's so thoroughly that it made it one of the greatest, most dynamic punk shows I've seen; it was the only time I felt like I was seeing SOMETHING like "the Real DOA," not just Joe and whoever he was working with that year (No disrespect to Joe - the new lineup is great, in fact, and his current drummer trumps Jan, by me; but Randy was an original, in more than one sense of the word). I can only imagine what seeing them with Dave Gregg and Chuck Biscuits must have been like.

In fact, no I can't. Jealous of those of you who experienced it.

Actually, come to think of it, my second best experience of DOA was the time Dan Yaremko stepped down at the Complication gig to let Rampage take over bass duties, which was the beginning of Rampage's final tenure of DOA. Later in the night, he put down the bass and took the mike to lead an all-star "big band" jam of the Stooges' "No Fun," with members of the Pointed Sticks, Subhumans, Dishrags, Shades, and others onstage behind him (Zippy Pinhead I think was on drums... maybe Tony Walker or Brian Goble was on bass?). It was pretty magical, actually. I was right up front with a female friend. In all honesty, Rampage's performance of that song was more entertaining and meaningful and engaging, for me anyhow, than Iggy and the Stooges' own version of it in Seattle, a few years later. The Complication gig was like being at a really rockin' family function or something - and even if I wasn't part of the family, it was a privilege to be there.

And "Livin' on Borrowed Time," on his solo LP, is a pretty fantastic song, too. (More for Benny Doro's wiggy endless guitar solo, but Rampage is in great voice and it's the perfect song for him - one he apparently wrote in fifteen minutes, if I recall what he told me when I mentioned it to him).

Anyhow, I didn't really know Randy Rampage. I met him a few times. I saw him perform a few times. I am happy that the last time I interacted with him directly, it was to praise his solo performance at a DOA farewell show at the Rickshaw. (He was out of DOA at that point, but still joined Joe's event). I am under the impression through intermediaries he didn't like some things I wrote - an article on Bloodied But Unbowed for Big Takeover, for example - but I had no ill will towards the guy and totally enjoyed seeing him onstage that night and was glad I got to gush at him one last time, even if it was a little while ago.

Anyhow, the news is out: the Vancouver scene has lost another great, a big part of its spirit. No one as yet has announced how Rampage died, that I've seen, just that he passed at 7pm last night. Rest in peace, Rampage. There never was, and will never be, another like you. 

Randy Rampage and Brad Kent in San Francisco, by bev davies, "the night they tried to kill me with something in a brown paper sack," and the worst hangover of bev's life. she says (the sack is just off to the left of the pic)... Photo is not to be reused without permission - and incidentally that very phrase made its first appearance on this blog at Rampage's request when I ran a photo of him taken by Susanne Tabata here...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

NO FUN Rich Folk Festival 2

David M., in a Facebook message to me, writes of the previous:
Nice blog piece. You might consider swapping out one of the "B" posters with one of the "A" posters. "B" posters have "Lots of Folking Variety", while "A" posters have "Over 3 Performers from Around the Estate". There will be museum-quality posters given away at the shows...
He adds that there will also be other treats for NO FUN Box Set owners who make one of the shows. I am not, however, sure which poster he means below, and have no time to think about these matters, so I'm just posting this one he sent with that comment. Show is next Monday at the Princeton, and is free! ...and now I must race to work. No rich folk around here....

Thursday, August 09, 2018

David M. rides again! The Rich Folk Festival, August 13th and 20th

Yes, you saw him at the Fight Back festival, doing a solo acoustic rendition of "Mindless Aggression," and a set of songs mostly drawn from the Body Shop Battle of the Bands of some 40 years ago, where DOA, Doug and the Slugs, and NO FUN all competed and lost, to a band now completely forgotten by time (M. declared DOA the real winner of that battle as part of his set at Fight Back, and indeed, should history be the judge, they were).

Maybe you even saw David M. the year before at the Rickshaw, opening for Marshall Crenshaw Y Los Straitjackets (or busking outside for the first David Bowie tribute, also at the Rickshaw; I gather he and Tim Chan did something in front of the Prince tribute, too, though I didn't make it to that). Or maybe you caught his Bowie tribute outside Music Madhouse Records - weirdly, the best-attended David M. solo set I have yet to see, and with added Ozzy (RIP, little guy; we miss you).

Hell, maybe you even saw him at my wedding, performing a song we co-wrote, and doing a clever mash up of Ben E. King and Bruce Springsteen. Maybe you saw one or more of those things, but have you seen a full David M. solo concert? (Or have you seen one LATELY? He hasn't DONE one lately, bear in mind).

Here's a tip, if not: these solo shows aren't, in fact, solo shows. They're much, much weirder and richer than what you've seen him do at the Rickshaw or Music Madhouse or my wedding (which is comparatively stripped down and "professional"); in his own milieu, M's sets are in fact interactive, with members of "the David M. Cult" (including sometimes me) (and also including the odd other guest from outside the cult proper) getting onstage with M, to recite weird beat poetry, sing (if we can), shake percussion instruments, hold up ancient issues of Rolling Stone, serve as a straight man to his gags, serve as a gag to his straight man - nothing gay going on there, folks; move along - or, yes, sometimes to hold his Gorgo. Even notable songwriters like Pete Campbell (who, besides being of Pink Steel and the Wardells, authored my favourite song about being alienated by hockey) sometimes join him!

You also get covers, chosen to reflect  the theme of the evening; a sampling of props and decorations (and sometimes even souvenir posters and such) and a host of David M/ NO FUN originals; plus the odd dry witticism or sarcastic comment or sometimes full-on monologue in-between songs. They're pretty fun, and they're never, uh, crowded, so if you really don't have anything else going on Monday night, WHY NOT CHECK ONE OUT?

It sounds like fun, right? And indeed, it is. So: August 13th, David M. will be doing a free show at the Heritage Grill, in the backroom, out in New Westminster. August 20th, David M. will be doing a free show at the Princeton Pub, in Vancouver. These free shows are free, and mark the return to the Vancouver music scene of the Rich Folk Festival (originally started, we gather, as a sort of poke at the Folk Festival, here happening somewhat out of synch with that).

I have no idea what a typical set at a NO FUN Rich Folk Festival looks like, but I will be on hand for at least one of these shows to find out (people wishing to avoid me should go to the one in New Westminster, since my attendance there is much less likely). If you have been entertained with any of these David M. appetizers mentioned above, you should consider trying the full meal deal. It's a pretty fun night, I promise.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Thinkin' about Bloodsport for Pride Week

Thinking about Bloodsport. If anyone is curious, it is the martial arts movie I have watched the largest number of times (four, now, I believe), mostly engaging in it from a safely ironic distance, as an example of prime '80's cheese. Its clunkiness and the obvious choreography of its fights only add to the charm, and it's fun to observe what an interesting and effective villain Bolo Yeung makes - a one man walking violation of a dozen stereotypes about Asian men, being huge, muscular, rude, aggressive, prideful, and at times positively murderous, with a massive ego that he revels in fulfilling in the ring. He's very entertaining to watch (as are Van Damme's splits).

I suppose there are other ways to watch Bloodsport, too - say for glimpses into previously unfilmed parts of Hong Kong. I presume there are also plenty of people - Van Damme fans, kickboxing enthusiasts, and so forth, who watch it without a single chuckle, without feeling at all superior to the subject matter. A guy I knew in high school took up kickboxing back in the 1980's, partially inspired by the movie; I suspect he was not watching it with irony back then, nor would he be doing so if he revisited it today.

Tonight, I mostly spent the viewing puzzling on the film's rampant, unavoidable homoeroticism. Even my wife, who thinks I find repressed cinematic homoeroticism in some funny places, and who occasionally is known to glance at me, when men are pounding on each other in some film - in the sense of "engaging in fisticuffs," that is - and ask, "Is this homoerotic?" If nothing else was accomplished by choosing Bloodsport as my evening movie with her, I think she sees what I mean now.  With Van Damme in almost prettyboy make up, about as much flesh-to-flesh male contact as you'd get in a gay porn film, and a steady stream of male significant eye contact, touching, body-slamming and bonding - not to mention a sex scene where only the man is naked, a plot that forces Van Damme to choose between being with the woman who wants him and engaging in full contact sports with men, and a climax where two men look at each other and pledge their love to each other - Bloodsport is about as queer as it could possibly be and still be in denial. But that's puzzling to me, because the 1980's, which it is VERY much a product of, were a time of pretty strong repression of homosexuality. The guy I mentioned who took up kickboxing because of this film - a masculine fella who drove around in a 4X4 truck and had little time for analyzing films - would probably have kicked me in the face for even suggesting Bloodsport was queerish, but then, he's one of those people who would have been shocked to learn Rob Halford was gay, y'know? Some people are kind of innocent in these matters.

Anyhow, a theory percolated to the surface tonight: that it is precisely because of the repression of homosexuality rampant at the time that so much of it  is allowed barely concealed expression in the film. (A similar contradiction occurs in Japanese high schools, where boys - at least when I lived there, some sixteen years ago - could regularly be seen holding hands, despite far greater and more repressive taboos against male homosexuality than we have; they were freer to do it than a Canadian 16 year old boy would be, because OBVIOUSLY they aren't gay: "how can you even ask that?").  It is only because of the normalized repression of homosexuality that you can have THIS much "fraught male contact" in a movie and still be able to say there's nothing queer about it; without denial and repression, you have to call it what it is, and that just ruins everything. In the current, more open and self-aware climate, if you made a film like Bloodsport, you'd either have to openly acknowledge the homoerotic elements (or hide them much, much better) or else you'd be laughed out of the theatre. Maybe we can even go one further, and speculate that the taboos against male homosexuality aren't so much about protecting the species from collapsing - as the more philosophical homophobes will assert - but because they want, themselves, to be able to express their queerer side, without the danger of being called on it. If gays are everywhere and we have to acknowledge their presence and their rights, it can interfere with straight men's "freedom" to slap each other on the ass in the locker room or "roughhouse" with each other and pledge their love and so forth. Maybe the reason (some) straight men want to oppress and marginalize male homosexuality is actually that it interferes with THEM indulging their own queerness a little, makes it harder to get away with and still maintain plausible denial? If we let THEM out of the closet, maybe our own closet walls will be that much weaker...?

Anyhow, that's where I went, watching Bloodsport again. It's a pretty entertaining movie, actually, especially if you start rummaging around in its id. I kinda recommend it.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit

Finally caught up with Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit the other day (popping up as a $5 DVD on the sale racks of some London Drugs, note). There's some very interesting criticism of the film out there, say by Richard Brody (whose likening it to Schindler's List, which he describes as "another film about atrocities that is itself an atrocity," is apt); or Armond White, who doesn't have to work quite as hard as he sometimes does to point out problems with the film. I don't disagree with either writer, but was still impressed by aspects of Bigelow's artistry in Detroit. I haven't loved anything she's done since Blue Steel, but had respect for the film as a confrontational, demanding work - was at times even thinking of Peter Watkins' Punishment Park. It's a problematic film, to be sure, but quite intense and well-crafted; the questions about the movie have more to do with its underlying morality, as both above-linked reviews suggest, than its craft - though note that some scenes are extremely hard to watch. And it's bothersome that the racist white cops are made the more interesting characters in the film, are the ones who command the narrative, especially since there are so many other possibilities in the film...

...anyhow, especially with Spike Lee's The BlacKkKlansman opening (I believe) next week, it makes for interesting, provocative viewing.