Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Local live music for New Years: the Frank Frink Five and more...

The Frank Frink Five, photo by Dave Jacklin

Not much to say for the New Year... I am at a point where I kinda want to escape the writing game for awhile. I have too many projects I am backlogged on and people eyeing me up for imagined features (I can see you, Juniper!) but I do suggest, in terms of local music, if anyone hasn't made New Years' plans for tonight, and you want to explore some local music, there's Alien Boys and Sore Points and Chain Whip at the Astoria: which will be hardcore and intense indeed; there's also a metal show at Pub 340, with Rebel Priest; and for rude, funny folk, an appearance by the Campfire Shitkickers at Falconetti's, who seem to be open for live shows again. (The Campfire Shitkickers have a fun li'l vid here). Any and all of those sound like fine and fun shows, and none of them will I be at. On the other hand, if you prefer something more countrified, you might still be able to get in to see the Frank Frink Five at Lanalou's (which I will be at).

If you don't know who or what the Frank Frink Five are, here's a link to an old interview I did with Nick Jones about the Frinks.... and here's the Frinks covering "Slave to My Dick." I am assuming Nick, Bob, Scott, Gord, and Jon from the above photo are all going to be present again this year... Is that Ed-Hurrell-but-taller-lookin'-guy Randy Carpenter? Well, anyhow, we'll see tonight.

That's it for a bit... happy New Year...!

John Sayles' Matewan, revisited: an unexpectedly emotional experience

I could feel my wife looking at me, from beside me on the couch, as my chest chugged with something in between laughter and sobbing and I swatted tears from my eyes - a near constant state during last night's movie. She only asked me once why I was laughing, never why I was crying, nor what it meant that I seemed to often be doing both at the same time; but surely part of her puzzlement was the seeming disconnect between my emotional reactions and what was going on on the screen, which may not have seemed to justify said reactions. He's really responding to this... I wonder why?

Hopefully with the oft-re-affirmed perception of my strangeness came at least a bit of fondness.

I was playing her Matewan, a period piece about striking coal miners in West Virginia, newly released on blu-ray by Criterion. I don't entirely blame her for being puzzled: why would anyone  laugh at the scene where the dour Sid Hatfield (played by David Strathairn, from back when almost all his roles were in John Sayles films) sits more or less inexpressively in his office, cleaning his revolver, the night before the company guns arrive in force? It seems a minor moment, and even if you note Hatfield's angry determination, resignation, and cynicism, just hinted at in his expression, how do they add up to a visible emotional reaction, unless, perhaps, your husband is a nut?

But revisiting Matewan was kind of like that to me - an intensely sentimental experience, taking me back as far as my first-ever video store jobs, where I recommended the VHS of Matewan to customers, and the days I shared the film with my parents and my friends. I had that VHS tape, as well as the poster on my wall, and read at least part of Sayles' book about the making of the film, Thinking In Pictures. I watched the film at least once a year for awhile, there, though at some point that tapered off. It's one of Sayles' greatest accomplishments, and I'm delighted it's out on blu (may other Sayles films follow: could someone please distribute City of Hope?).

And the thing that's greatest about it is not the message it imparts - I'm willing to agree with its early critics who found it simplistic and heavy-handed at times. It does allow for shades of opinion about union politics and union business: strikers argue about whether to allow Italian immigrants and "coloureds" brought in as scab labour to join their ranks; they argue as to whether they should commence direct action against company property or not. Not everyone is equally impressed with the idea of the union, and there are definitely echoes in the ranks of the union being just one more boss telling them what to do. But that's about as far as any nuance is allowed: the film will allow people within the union to have opinions, and even allow sympathy to working men (including one of the company guns) who find themselves on the wrong side of the film's conflict, but there is never any serious question as to whether the union is valuable, and the main opposition to it and the strike we see is given in the form of repugnant, coarse, and violent company guns, on the one hand, and a snakelike traitor on the other. (The company itself is mostly excluded from the action). So I agree that the politics are a bit obvious, a bit heavy handed. I find them sympathetic, but no matter: they're not the draw anyhow.

No: what's great about Matewan is the way it weaves a coherent story out of the actions and words of its characters; and the ways in which you can see Sayles thinking about these characters, and inviting you to think about them. For a film with fairly straightforward and overt politics, there's some subtlety and nuance allowed, a sense of morality and fairness in the way Sayles handles his characters. For example, take the aforementioned sympathetic company thug: a naive young man - Michael Mantell, I believe, in one of his first film roles - you see him arriving in town with other men, whom he's asking questions of. He's been hired on out of an advertisement and is not sure what he's actually there to do. Later, we see him run away from the ensuing battle, pleading of Danny not to shoot him. We can fill in all the blanks. The way Sayles signifies the character's lack of culpability and offers us a chance to agree with Danny in not shooting him - to say nothing of Sayles not judging him for "running away from a fight" - is interesting and satisfying, and may even tug slightly at ones heartstrings, since there's an idea of what constitutes human innocence at work, an idea, even, of forgiveness - both of which are somewhat large themes than can usually be expressed through two brief character moments (between the fella arriving in town and running away, as I recall, we don't see him at all). 

For a film not generally praised for subtlety, it's interesting, too, to see just how subtle some of the character-driven segments of the film are. Take the scene where Few Clothes (James Earl Jones) sits at a campfire with union organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper). Kenehan has been framed as a spy, and Few Clothes has been tasked with killing him. It's something he doesn't speak about at all, and which Kenehan knows nothing of, so Few Clothes' ambivalence has to be expressed without dialogue; in fact, the men talk about other things altogether, which seem to contradict the judgement that Kenehan is a rat. That thread is nicely woven against the story of Danny, the young preacher (Will Oldham, in an acting role that pre-dates his music career). Danny has discovered that the organizer is in fact innocent, but the company guns staying at his mother's boarding house know that he has learned this, and are keeping him under close watch; when he sees that they have no knowledge of, even contempt for, scripture, he uses that against them in a fairly clever way, working a warning to his fellow miners into his preaching, so that what he seems to be saying and what he is actually saying are very, very different. (The company guns don't notice at all).  Sayles' book emphasizes the ways that the film assembles its story out of images, but an equally interesting way to approach Matewan is to consider not how Sayles thinks in pictures, but thinks in characters. They're the draw, not the respect Sayles has for early union organizers. That can almost be assumed, taken as a given. The richness of the film lies in the people that inhabit it.

It was really enjoyable spending time with them again.

Of course, if you've been a fan of Sayles for as long as I have, there are added bonuses - like hearing Mary McDonell's full-blown West Virginia accent, or how any role for Nancy Mette is coloured, now, by that line of dialogue from Passion Fish, where - playing an actress - she offers different shades on a line reading of, "I never asked for the anal probe." That particular pleasure - like the pleasure of seeing Maggie Renzi speaking Italian - may be reserved only for the faithful. I can't promise that everyone who sits down to Matewan will find themselves engaged with it to the almost absurd extent that I was.

But it's worth a try! At the very worst, you'll get a period-accurate, rousing depiction of early labour struggles; at the best, you'll be sobbing and laughing at the same time, and not fully able to explain why.

In either case, the film is highly recommended.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Daddy Issues, the Blow Up Dolls, and Clone

So despite her outrageous milkshake gouge the other week, I keep planning to write about Betty Bathory - and in fact I already have something in the can - but there's a catch. The interview we've done was based around her BB Allin tribute act - which I already wrote about, but not for the Straight, so there's room for one more plug; plus what I wrote was done prior to my having actually seen her show, at Funkys just before it stopped mattering as a hub for the live music scene. There I was peed upon, smeared with poo, and had a bottle broken over my head: none of which was real (I don't think), but all of which was pretty damn memorable.

Problem: her second-to-last attempt to put on a BB Allin show went awry when the SBC Cabaret was shut down as a live music venue; then her previous attempt, earlier this month, was shut down when the venue learned that it might get a bit, uh, messy. Okay, fine: I've been meaning to check out Betty's other, non-cover band, Daddy Issues - which features, in the current lineup, Murray Acton of the Dayglo Abortions, as well as Mr. Bathory himself, Matt Fiorito, Rich Kytinski, and former Subhumans 2.0 drummer Randy Bowman - for a long time. Another problem, though: I am not a fan of preparing for interviews via listening to Youtube clips. I want an album, or at least some files for my phone, so I can just walk around playing the thing and don't have to sit in front of the computer (which I get plenty of practice at) and don't have to start each song fresh. It also really really helps if I have seen a band live, before interviewing them, and I have only ever seen Betty's tribute acts, so...

...anyhow, Daddy Issues plays this Saturday at the Astoria, along with a band I've been urged to see, the glam revivalists Clone. But best of all, smack in the middle, is another chance to see Ron Reyes in action, singing for the Blow Up Dolls, a New York Dolls tribute band. To my knowledge, I have only seen Darryl Stapleton in action with a Gun Club tribute band, but I loved that set. I ran into Ron the other day and had a chat with him about the upcoming event, which was where I learned he was the singer. Apparently there's no news on the Piggy front, and from what he said, this might be the last chance to see him in action for awhile!  My last interview with Ron is here, about a superb Piggy reformation, of which I put vids online here and here. I really enjoyed that night...

That's it, though - there has been no time to interview anyone about this, since it came on my radar, but I'm excited for the show. Plus it will give my wife a chance to wrap my Christmas presents - I've promised to go out, and go out I shall. 

See here for more information on the gig!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

David M./ NO FUN at Christmas: a whole lot of fun (and a few challenges)

David M. prepares for the Good King Wenceslas Show. All photos by Allan MacInnis, taken at the Princeton on Dec. 16, 2019

Note: portions of this email are borrowed from an email I wrote to Pete Campbell of Coach StrobCam, who are playing a set at the Fairview on Friday (as part of a Reggae Christmas, apparently; please don't ask me to explain that). I didn't want to write out my impressions of David M's Christmas show twice!

I was telling Pete that I did end up going to the Christmas Alone in NO FUN City, which has now been re-re-branded, I guess, as NO FUN at Christmas, this past Monday at the Princeton. I somewhat wrongfully cajoled my wife into joining me: she has Christmas baking, Christmas wrapping, and other things Christmas on her mind, but not so much a David M. Christmas show. She's also been having the odd migraine (and indeed had one during the show, though not a disabling one; I kept checking in and letting her know that we could leave, or she could leave, but she stuck it out, even past our agreed-upon "we are leaving at 10:45" time, because, I was, at that point, onstage myself, and then there was only one or two more songs left). It just made sense for her to be there: we'd eaten dinner out (so we were out anyhow); I was definitely going; and since M. has several other Christmas shows happening this season, I could use the old "come-to-this-one-to-get-off-the-hook-for -going-to-another" ploy on her; and, I mean, it's not like she doesn't ENJOY David M's stuff (he WAS our best man, and all). Anyhow, I talked her into it, and I felt a bit guilty about that, especially as I could see that her head was hurting (one side of her face tends to droop a bit during an attack). On the other hand, I also felt sheepish about having missed so many of David's shows this year; he's put on a good dozen, but I have only made one for sure that I remember (the Princeton chapter of the We Came Here for Lester Interest shows, after the untimely and sudden passing of Lester - aka Glen Livingstone - earlier this year. There might have been another, but I can't firmly recall).

It was maybe not the best circumstances, anyhow, for seeing a David M. show, and indeed, he didn't seem to be in the best mood himself when he began, at the pushed-back start-time of 9pm, That maybe has something to do with the fact that only David Dedrick, Erika and myself had come for the clear, express purpose of seeing David M. Besides us, there was a loud table of possibly Trinidadian South Asians (mostly) who kept up a loud, drunken conversation right near the front of the stage; an unhappy-seeming couple staring blankly out the window from a rear corner, like they were waiting for (or recovering from) bad news, and paying David no mind at all; a couple of drunks (one of whom actually smiled in response to David at one point, but otherwise seemed lost in his beer and sorrows); and some people playing pool. I felt very bad for Erika, but worse for David (who had put out all his Christmas decorations and, despite ample if odd talent and a long resume of performances, was preparing to play a set for pretty much two people, since Mr. Dedrick is actually part of the show) and uncomfortable about the loud Trinidadian/ South Asian table, considering asking them to keep it down, but being stopped by the fact that there were more of them in their group than any other group in the bar. I mean - the party that buys the most beers should get to determine the tone of the room, I guess, right? I was nursing one beer, and Erika was having mere tea: surely the T/SA folks, a bit tipsy and still drinking, had to have more rights than us. 

Dave Dedrick at work, by Allan MacInnis

David began gamely enough, mind you.  It surely took an effort on his part, as well, to overlook and ignore the rather loud table immediately in front of him (they seemed much more suited to ignoring him, though occasionally seemed to take notice, chuckle, or pause in their conversation to take a photo). It was NOT the best version of "Elf Toymaker" David has done, all things considered. I thought he looked a bit weary, like maybe the thought, "why am I still doing this?" could have been flickering through his mind. I mean, seriously, how could it not?

Knowing David a bit, though, I am sure he felt excited about the prospect of performing The Good King Wenceslas show again - the literal centerpiece of the night. I have not, at M's request, put up footage I shot of a previous Good King Wenceslas Show, last year at the Heritage Grill, in which David performed a ridiculous number of variants on the theme of "Good King Wenceslas," some directly riffing on the carol, others bending other songs to suit lyrics about said King, but I was very glad that Erika would get to see the set. And it seemed to have a certain transformative force, for M., as, about halfway through the 38 Wenceslas variations we were treated to, things turned around. David delivered a singularly shouty version of the "limp-dick, ass-munch, cunt-lappers" Wenceslas, where the lyrics describe Wenceslas' propensity for swearing "like a trucker." (I may get these slightly wrong, but the opening lyric is something like, "Good King Wenceslas looked out: "What's up, motherfucker? Though he was of royal birth/ He swore just like a trucker." I think it channeled and released some of M's (hypothesized) frustration, being able to cuss out the room a bit, around which time four or five other people arrived who had Actually Come to See David, including scenester Tanya Van, her boyfriend-I-guess (whose shoe David at one point stole and used as a prop) and a few people whom I didn't know, who laughed loudly at some of David's more ridiculous variants on the Wenceslas show, like his Richard Butler Wenceslas, or his "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" Wenceslas, or his "Batman" Wenceslas, or the "If I Was a Bat"-themed Wenceslas...

It could happen to you, too, by Allan MacInnis

He has, you understand, a CD of some of this stuff (The Five Wenceslases), which contains many other, non-Wenceslas-related songs as well (including "Elf Toymaker," which reframes Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" into a song about workshop elves grumbling about unionizing). But he figured "why stop at five," and there may be even more the next time it is performed. You might be able to buy this CD off him, in fact, if you find him on Facebook and ask nicely. (There is no other way to get it, as far as I know). It's actually pretty great, and I listen to it more often than I do any other NO FUN recordings, to be honest.

Anyhow, after David turned one Wenceslas into a cathartic, profanity-strewn rampage, something odd happened as a result: maybe it was because more people came to the show, maybe it was because the beer hit me (I'm a cheap drunk), but suddenly David's performance "achieved madness," as they say, and took on a crazily inspired edge. With renewed vigour, it began to tie the whole room together, so that even the grumpiest, most self-absorbed drunks in the room became part of this weird gestalt, spinning around David as a hub, whether they wanted him as their hub or not. He somehow ended up in charge of the room. At one point, during an unexpected lull, someone was heard to remark, in a conversation that had nothing to do with David whatsoever, that "he told me he doesn't even jerk off anymore," and it became part of the show, somehow. The loudest and most obnoxious drunk Trinidadian started to take note of some of the Wenceslases, and David ended up sitting on his lap for awhile. Suddenly M. was king of the Princeton.

I wonder if anyone ducked in specifically because they heard someone's shouted profanities, to the tune of "Good King Wenceslas," echoing out onto the street? It seems at least possible, and pleasing to contemplate. It is always interesting to speculate, when I see people at David M's shows whom I don't recognize, how they came to be there.

David Dedrick, of course, was on hand to flip cards and keep track of the Wenceslases, holding up a board with fast, thematically-appropriate doodles and a number, from one to 38. He was the only member of the "NO FUN gang" that actually was there besides M. himself. Lester had the best excuse. Pete Campbell was engaged in Christmas stuff, or work stuff, or such. Even usual audience members for his shows were absent, besides me (only an occasional audience member, really). Though I am not a part of the show proper, and never have been, M. did briefly recruit me, after Mr. Dedrick was seen to fumble the hand gestures for a Christmas-themed "Work, Drink, Fuck, Die," M. called me to the stage to take over. They're harder to get right than they look!

A photo from the stage, by Allan MacInnis

After the Wenceslases, the show continued for another hour, fully energized, at times hilarious, with several people laughing aloud and a few of us singing along, some more drunkenly than others. There was David's Xmas variant on "Slave to My Dick," called "Slave to My Gifts," sung from the perspective of a Santa Claus with contempt for his, uh, customers ("What are you, six?" is one rhyme). There was a cover "What Can You Get a Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)." While "XTUVVV" was conspicuously absent, there was a delightfully morbid and debauched "Christmas is a Sad and Lonely Time." There was a Paul Leahy composition called "Robert Johnson Box Set," and a Fezziwig singalong, and... a lot more. As is the way with the Princeton and Heritage Grill shows, the entire night was free to attend, save (for us) the cost of one beer and one tea: M. asks no cover, doesn't rattle a box, and in fact pays money to print out souvenir gig posters for the show, which he hands out to anyone who has come to see him. I gave him a couple of blu-rays as a Christmas gift - The Happytime Murders and Crawl - but it's not like that was required of me. It certainly isn't required of you. 

No one else does anything remotely like this, ever. And the thing is: it's really, really entertaining! Weird, singular, excessive, and funny as hell - a Vancouver Christmas tradition that extends back over three decades.

Y'all should go see one, especially considering that, for the rest of these pre-Christmas shows, neither Pete nor Dave nor myself will likely be able to be there. No one will be on hand to hold the Gorgo, flip the cards, serve as a foil, or, say, rock out on guitar to "Claus Will Tear Us Apart," as Pete sometimes does at these shows. It truly will be Christmas Alone in No Fun City, and in fact is a challenge that I don't think M. has had to face in recent memory. It's almost like a Christmas story about celebrity as written by Samuel Beckett. 

It even seems possible that M. will be forced to leave off the Good King Wenceslas show, since some of the Wenceslases seem to require a foil, but then again, he may find a way. He usually does.

Of course, if you feel weird about not paying to see such a worthy package of entertainment, or would rather see this show on a Thursday night than a Monday, this year, at Bix Bistro, there IS a version of this show you can pay to see! (If you're curious about this show but don't want to run into me, you can still safely see the show at the Princeton on Monday the 23rd: I guarantee my non-attendance). More information about the Bix Bistro here

By the way, if you find yourself puzzled by any of the above, I've interviewed David about his Christmas set here, and put some video evidence up on Youtube, if you want to go looking. It does take awhile to catch up - say, if you're wondering what a Gorgo is, or what "XTUVVV" means. It is not all in good taste, and it is not family-friendly, for sure - unless you want to explain to your kids what a cunt-lapper is - but it sure is good fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The New Jack Reacher: Blue Moon by Lee Child, and the accidental Yojimbo

I have not yet finished the new Jack Reacher novel, Blue Moon, but I just want to say that, 140 pages in, it is doing something that delights me, and that I hope it will continue to do. I was starting to wonder if it was doing what I think it is doing around page 60, was getting excited at the thought that it really was doing it at page 80, and am convinced it is doing it now, but still waiting to see how it plays out: It's an accidental Yojimbo, a happenstance Hammett, A Fistful of Dollars held in an invisible hand. It's also the only time that I am aware of Reacher's creator, Lee Child, consciously riffing on a classic of crime literature - in a way that might even invite Reacher to comment on the similarities between the story he is in and the cultural template it is carved from, when he figures them out (he still doesn't realize exactly the nature of the plot he is caught in, but surely at some point he will; I'm excited to see how that will play out, and how versed in crime fiction Child will make him...; there could be a moment ahead on par with Kilgore Trout being set free by Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions ahead, where Reacher sort of discovers he is a character in a genre story, albeit one told by authors other than Lee Child....).

The story goes like this: Reacher - surely as close to a ronin as has been produced in contemporary British-American crime fiction - drifts into a town where two rival gangs are vying for control. In the Hammett novel that originally inspired the various film adaptations, borrowings, and thefts, also including Walter Hill's Last Man Standing, he is the Continental Op, and the town is nicknamed Poisonville (also by the way a song on the new Modernettes album, or at least among the demos). In all previous variants, with a coolly calculating, bemused cynicism, the protangonist - be he played by Toshiro Mifune, Clint Eastwood, or Bruce Willis - deliberately sets the two gangs at war, by pretending to work for awhile for one, then shifting to the other. While retaining a certain moral ambiguity, he destroys the balance of terror the gangs have held the town in, liberates the decent townfolk, eventually participates in dispatching the gangsters himself - tho' mostly he is content to watch them kill each other - and then wanders off to his next adventure, his work done.

That's also what seems to be happening in Blue Moon, with Albanians and Ukrainians as the rival gangs in a small American city, except in this case, Reacher doesn't realize he's doing it. He doesn't mean to set either gang at odds with the other; he doesn't even know it's happened yet. But by mechanisms that I will not lay out here, as a result of his helping an older couple in trouble, he does exactly what the Continental Op, Yojimbo, the Man with No Name, and whatever the hell Bruce Willis was called in the Walter Hill film (which I've never seen) do, clearing the way for an all out war that will liberate the town and the people he has chosen to protect.

Of course, I am not yet at the half way point in the book, and it may yet take a few twists and turns. Surely Child - or James Dover Grant, if you want his real, Donald-E-Westlake-style name - is conscious that readers like me, aware of the Hammett and Kurosawa and Leone and Hill precedents, will be reading the book in light of this veritable 20th century archetype. Whether Child/ Grant is going to reward us for our awareness or turn the tables on us, I cannot say, but for someone attuned to patterns in genre, it's proving to be a fun ride. Can a good person set two evil armies at war and not even realize he is doing it, simply by virtue of doing good? When Reacher realizes that's what he's done, will he actually consult the plots of aforementioned stories for the next move?

I mean, he could. At the very least, he's surely seen A Fistful of Dollars. (Harder to imagine him watching Kurosawa).

It's a fun thing to contemplate. Not quite as fun as The Hard Way, which also plays with questions of misperception, and has interesting thematic/ meta-level implications (Reacher consistently misunderstands what he sees and makes a helluva mistake, which he then must rectify; he means well, but does everything, up to a point, totally wrong). The Hard Way remains my favourite Reacher, and time will tell if Blue Moon will even be a memorable one, but it seems to be at least as good, say, as Make Me or The Midnight Line, two of the better of the recent crop of Reachers. Anyhow, I'm enjoying the heck out of it.

It scares me a little that I have read 23 complete Jack Reacher novels, and am now into my 24th. It's too many, but they're so easy to digest, so entertaining, and give me so much (slightly stoopid, I admit) pleasure that I just can't help it. Guilty pleasure, a bit, but whatever gets me thru the night...

Addendum: Just finished the book, and jeez, I'm disappointed, while at the same time having to acknowledge that it was a fun read. The similarities in structure with Hammett, Kurosawa, Leone and Hill only go about as far as I had read when I wrote the above, and no further; within about ten pages of page 140, one of the two gangs figures out that in fact it is not the other gang he is at war with, but a third party. And then it's just a Reacher novel, albeit one with more than its share of luck and coincidence and everything working out okay in the end, rather improbably so, so much so that you feel kind of embarrassed at the elements of reassurance that such a story provides: Oh, really, the good guys win, against all odds, and make it look easy? Who would have thought (besides anyone who has read a Reacher novel before). It's still a fun, fast read, but what I had hoped for, above - Reacher actually coming aware that he's in an archetypally-loaded narrative - never materializes. Any authorial debts go unpaid (tho' with Kurosawa stealing from Hammett and Leone stealing from both, not acknowledging sources is actually kind of traditional in this case). So in fact, it's a lesser Reacher. I would recommend, instead, The Hard Way, or Make Me, or, if you want something with some contemporary relevance and a more thought-provoking theme/ subtext, check out The Midnight Line.  Then again, if you go through Reacher books like bags of potato chips, this one does the trick as well as most - it just doesn't stand very far above its peers, an average Reacher, no more or less.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Pointed Sticks present a very fun night indeed (with Strange Breed, Eddy D & the Sex Bombs, and the Modernettes!)

Strange Breed. All photos except the Pointed Sticks by Allan MacInnis

Ha! That was a very fun show, though suffused for some with a certain level of anxiety.

For instance, I spent a good part of the way there worried I would miss Strange Breed altogether. I felt there was an imperative to see them, though I did not like the half-of-one song of theirs I heard on their website, which was (it turns out) not at all representative of what they do. I am most happy that I liked them live a hundred times more than I liked that half-of-one song, which didn't seem particularly garagey or punky or at all what their self-description seemed to promise; it seemed, in fact, like an attempt to appeal to people for whom garage rock and punk are not draws, which further seemed an odd thing for a punky garage band to do. I wanted to be reassured that they were in fact cool, since they sure sounded like they would be.

Good news: they were and are!

I also wondered, in terms of keeping up with language change, at their describing themselves as four "queer females;" having been around people who happily described themselves as lesbians - I met Rachel Melas, once, and observed the Animal Slaves sitting around a kitchen table in a house in East Van spontaneously making up Seussian rhymes around the theme of "I like dykes;" I've interviewed Annie Sprinkle and her partner, who used the term middle-aged lesbians to refer to themselves; etc - I have begun to sense that the word "lesbian" may be entering a time of slight political disfavour, like, say, the word "homosexual." I generally only hear it these days implied in the form of the L in LGBTQ+ formulations, or in The L-World. 

In any event, the band's using two words ("queer females") where one ("lesbians") once would have sufficed caught my notice and made me think I might be onto something, there. Maybe I'll put the question to Strange Breed someday?

Strange Breed

By the way, apropos of my Toiling Midgets article, yes, "midget" is actually an offensive word in the dwarf community. The FAQ on the Little People of America website points out that in addition to terms that are not considered offensive - like the rather Leprechaunish "little people" or the Tolkienesque "dwarf," "most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label." This is true and worth saying (said the fat, bald white guy on the cusp of getting old, though, you know, I am sure somewhere I have been thus described as a landmark in someone's directions: "No, she's the one standing by the fat, bald white guy on the cusp of getting old." It is fine with me if that is so. I find it, in fact, less annoying than being mistaken for other fat men, apparently based on our fatness alone. And for the record, once again, I do not own or work at Audiopile Records, though people ask me that at least once every couple of years. That guy is Geoff Barton, and we really don't look much alike: he has mostly a moustache while I favour a 'stacheless goatee; he wears glasses and I do not; his hair is naturally lightish, while mine is dark; our patterns of hair loss are dissimilar; and he has more soulful eyes than I do, while I am a tad taller. I am also not, while we are at it, Ty Stranglehold, though Ty and I once had a conversation about Chris Walter mistaking me for him to my face, with Ty remarking - as we stood in line for some show or other - on how we look nothing alike "save for being white and large." Which was pretty entertaining, actually, so thanks, Chris!).

Anyhow, good news! In contrast to the one song I heard on their website, the description of Strange Breed as a garage rock band was accurate, though they were definitely on the punk/ riot grrrl end of the spectrum. Like, fans of L7 and Bikini Kill should be checking them out. It wasn't just me, either. I forget who said it, but I recall a vintage Vancouver punk or two voicing the opinion that they were pretty awesome. Mike Armstrong of East Van Halen said it, maybe? (He who pogo'd drunkenly up, down, and off my back, later in the evening, when the Modernettes kicked into "Barbra?") Or was it Gord McCaw? Or both of them? Or was it John Werner? Or Ed Hurrell?

There were lots of old punks around, as you might guess, so I'm not sure.

In any event, like I was saying, there was a low level of anxiety throughout the night, and not just from me. Turns out when I reached in my wallet to hand John Armstrong $20 for the Modernettes t-shirt I bought off him (custom-ordered at 3XL, with an Rd Cane photo on the front that looks just great), I unwittingly handed him a five instead. I had mostly $20's, and thought I checked, but, I dunno, with the dim light, beer, and CBD caplets - my kidney stones are acting up - I must have fucked up! He then, apparently, spent the next half hour or so too worried to mention it - "embarrassed," was the word he used - in case I had paid in advance or something and he'd forgotten it, or so he explained later. I in turn - when he finally pointed out my mistake - spent the next while worried that maybe he thought I had tried to rip him off, or perhaps overweeningly presumed to get a hefty discount based on my article. Conversely, you know, I did also entertain the thought that maybe he had successfully ripped ME off! I mean, it's vastly more likely that I just handed him the wrong bill, but, whatever; no doubt he entertained the possibility of my malfeasance, too, and for fairly good cause!

Anyhow, we got it all sorted.

Eddy Dutchman and Bob Petterson

After that, it was my turn to stress out: I spent a good part of Eddy D and the Sex Bombs' very fun set worrying if I might not have misspelled Eddy's name (as "Eddie") in my Modernettes article. I am afraid to look; I think I might have. Still, I shot some video and made a mental note that I actually like this band. Erika particularly loved the vibe off bassist Bob Petterson ("cool to the bone," I believe she said), and his sideburns, too, which information I later relayed to Bob; I believe he made, by way of comment, some remark about contemplating growing them out, to have "a full on chinchilla like Trevor Bolder." (Bolder makes a surprise appearance in that Toiling Midgets article btw, presumably when he was touring Ziggy Stardust with Bowie). There was a song about being "too tight" that particularly merits further investigation: I got the impression that the band playfully riffed off several different variants of that phrase, from not being able to fit into one's clothing to encountering someone cheap to, who knows, maybe having trouble with anal sex? (There is also the "tight" that comes from a well-oiled band's performance, and "Too Tight," if that's what it was called, was one of the tightest songs of the night). EddyD & the Sex Bombs don't seem to have a bandcamp or website I can find, besides what's on Youtube or Facebook, but I do think they have at least one album to their name. Very sexy, playful, fun rock'n'roll, kinda a 70's punk cabaret...

All the while that Eddy D. and his crew were onstage, John Armstrong must have been worrying about his voice. He'd posted on Facebook about having rehearsed so much his throat was sore, and later, in his stage patter, cracked a joke about the Chloraseptic he was using. He needn't have worried. I have seen (and enjoyed!) much, much rougher vocal performances, including a couple of heroes of mine (Chris D., when the Flesh Eaters played here; or Rob Wright, who, at one of three Nomeansno shows I caught in Ontario, went so raw in the throat during some of his roars that it sounded like he might start coughing blood... though he made a full recovery by the next night at the Horseshoe, somehow. Plus I've seen Ozzy Osbourne in recent years. John had nothing to worry about; he sounded fine).

I also wondered if having a giant article focusing entirely on him, given that he hasn't played live in awhile, might have put a certain pressure on him to deliver (as no doubt the packed house filled with his peers did)?

The vocals weren't the high point of his set, mind you: the high point was Armstrong's guitar soloing and interchanges with Adam Sabla, which reminded me a little of seeing Lou Reed and Mike Rathke in Tokyo, years ago, on the Ecstasy tour. They engaged with and complemented each other in very similar ways (though Reed and Rathke went into things at greater length, riffing around and into each other like some sort of New York version of Neil Young and Crazy Horse).

Jim Cummins looks on as John sets up

There was a pleasing sampling of some of Buck's best older work in the set, including "I Can Only Give You Everything," "The Rebel Kind," "Suicide Club," "Red Nails," "Teen City," and others -  plus a few rude cries from the audience of "play the old stuff" when John digressed into songs only a few people know. (I know Doug Smith and Noize to Go's Dale Wiese, in the house, knew "Sal Mineo," and obviously any people who worked on the song, like most of the Pointed Sticks, but I am not sure how many people overall had heard it before, either live or in studio; I would guess not many). The melancholy debauched romanticism of "Party Girl" made the set, too, as well as an awesome song that I didn't expect he would do, the Crazy-Horse-ish anthem "Hold Tight." I shot video of a song I've chosen to render as "Sorry When I'm Dead," though I don't know the formal final title - the one with the great couplet, "Chinese heroin and Mexican beer/ who do I fuck to get out of here?" I think everyone in the audience was very satisfied, including me - and they didn't even do my favourite of their new songs! ("Delivery Boy").

(And that was the song I devoted the most print to, even).

The stresses weren't all internal, note. There was a wee drum mishap and a snare had to be traded out, when duct tape was not enough to solve whatever issue manifested itself. That Mr. Fixit moment preceded "Barbra" (I do not know who the other guy was who got moshy, but Mike Armstrong sure had a good time during that tune). Then came the evening's final song, which I am stunned to discover I cannot now call to mind (was it a cover? It was a song I knew, but now can't find on Get It Straight! Once again I blame the beer and CBD).

Jim Cummins introduces the Pointed Sticks

Finally, the Pointed Sticks took the stage. Erika and I ended up leaving a bit earlyish to escort Bev Davies out of the 'hood (she has been heard to remark that she can't believe she ever lived in that neighbourhood; she, like Erika and myself, has gotten accustomed to a less intense level of streetlife out here in the 'burbs.)  I was delighted that the Sticks opened with "Put a Little English On It," my favourite Polly song and a fine tribute to its author, the late Paul Leahy. I knew that it has been in their set from catching them at the Smilin' Buddha (the last I show I ever saw at SBC was the Sticks and Gerry Hannah); this time I was ready and caught it on video. (Polly's version live here). David M., of Leahy's previous band, NO FUN (playing the first of several Christmas shows on Monday, by the way) commented on Facebook that the Sticks' cover was "pretty good stuff," which is like a rave review coming from him (he has understandably high standards where such things are concerned).

I do not know if the Pointed Sticks themselves had anything to worry about last night, mind you. They always seem pretty at ease onstage. Certainly they didn't need to worry about attendance: the Rickshaw was as full as I've seen for a local show in years. Maybe I helped in some small way with that? (I heard tell of at least one person who wasn't going to come, then read my article, and came, so...).

(I hope that person enjoyed himself!) 

Video aside, I didn't actually get any worthy photos of the Pointed Sticks, so here's a couple by bev davies. Check out the green pants on Nick (loudest pants of the night, and that's sayin' somethin').

Pointed Sticks by bev davies, not to be reused iwthout permission

All in all, a great night out. Sadly, I'm going to miss the month's other must-see at the Rickshaw, Keithmas, but I hope those of you who go enjoy it. If someone could capture a clip of Bison covering the Rolling Stones, I'm really curious as to what that might look like!

Friday, December 06, 2019

Modernettes! John Armstrong interview outtakes

I have a major John Armstrong interview online, apropos of Friday's show at the Rickshaw (technically later today but it's only midnight as I write this, so it feels like tomorrow). If it isn't obvious, I think this new Modernettes stuff (or New Modernettes, if you prefer) is just great (better than the old stuff, actually!). I have a few outtakes for y'all below. (Read the Straight piece first).

Allan: For me, “Delivery Boy” brings two very specific things to mind, even though both are quite a bit eviler than your bearer of bad news: Jim Thompson’s portraits of a simmering but unseen evil under the surface of everyday American life, and a story by Richard Matheson called, I think, “The Distributor,” about someone who moves into towns, and while keeping the fa├žade of normal suburban life, quietly and evilly digs into the discords and tensions that underlie neighbours’ relationships, so they end up at each other’s throats. The seeds of hatred sewn, he moves on to somewhere else. I do NOT imagine you know that story, but are there literary antecedents for that song?

John: Hahaha - I’m familiar with both, and the Matheson is wonderful, written in acid. Thompson was a fabulous writer as well, and terminally fucked up, poor guy. There’s another in a similar vein about a man who moves into a neighbourhood and sows discord among the little community - he feeds on suffering. Shirley Jackson? No... [Some discussion on Facebook brings us to John Cheever's "The Swimmer" as a candidate, but it remains uncertain].

[...but as for] Jim Thompson: Forgotten for years - and barely known at the height of his career - then suddenly everybody knew about him, when Black Lizard put his stuff back in print. In my giddiest moments of narcissism I imagine that’ll be me, dead, and suddenly acclaimed by all. Goddamnit.

Allan: Who are your favourite writers?

John: Favourite writers? Celine, William Burroughs - the funniest American writer since Twain - Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal. Liz Hand, Alice Sheldon, who wrote some incredible stuff as James Tiptree. The Screwfly Solution, The Women Men Don’t See. Read her and your life will be richer, guaranteed. So, so many. Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg, two guys who elevated genre writing. Philip Dick.

Allan: Was there any stuff I've missed?

John: Nope - unless you want more about the books that are out and the ones to come. There’s going to be an audiobook of Guilty of Everything, me reading it. More public readings - we’re talking to people in the UK and Europe about touring in the summer, with the new album out. I can’t wait. I really missed playing and just being with these guys.

There’s still some songs unrecorded or unfinished just because you can only load so much onto the public in one shot without overwhelming them. Books, I have two novels out to go with the three memoirs, two more ready to come out when I can commission the cover art, a horror novel about the Burnaby Art Gallery - the infamous Ceperley Mansion - and a novel about a young transgender witch, named Abra. And another in the research and note-compiling stage, an American theocracy novel. I struggled with this one - I wanted to write something about the fundamentalist Christian faction and the whole Dominion philosophy, but I couldn’t find a way to hang a story on it. Until one day it hit - there’s be a resistance, of course, and that would be the Satanists. They’d be the heroic freedom fighters, the good guys. So it’s your basic battle between good and evil.

Allan: This all sounds great. It's a shame there won't be a Guilty of Everything movie, though.

John: Who knows - maybe if I sell enough books it may still happen. At the worst, I had 20 years of option money. Kurt Vonnegut said Jerry Garcia bought the rights to The Sirens of Titan for a considerable sum and kept making the option payments for decades, year after year, and the movie never got made. Vonnegut said he could live with that.

See you at the show tonight! See here for ticket information, etc.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Karyn Kusama's Destroyer: No

I like that Destroyer attempts to put a new kind of female character on the screen - the soul-scorched wretch played by Nicole Kidman is clearly inspired by figures like that played by Harvey Keitel in the original, Ferrara-directed Bad Lieutenant, but with fewer drugs, less nudity, and a prettier youthful self present in the film.

I like that Nicole Kidman is trying something different, too. I have no problem with her, think she can do fine work when well-used. I liked her just fine in Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut, Portrait of a Lady, and Dead Calm. There are a lot of films she's done that I have chosen not to see, and several films that she's starred in that I did see and didn't like much - even To Die For - but her work in those four films has long since sold me on her abilities.

However: I don't think either director Karyn Kusama or Kidman succeed in what they are trying to do in Destroyer. Whether Kidman is up for the role or not - whether she is to blame for the failure to bring her character to light, I do not know, since presumably some of the decisions made in framing the character are not hers. The prosthetic dirty upper teeth that she wears look ridiculous; I don't imagine it was her idea. She seems like she is unable to move her upper lip, maybe because said denture is ill fitting? And she has so much dirt and grime caked on her face that it started to remind me of that scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break where someone starts describing the complex emotions allegedly flickering across the blank face of Keanu Reeves, because Bigelow, presumably, simply couldn't get a good enough performance out of the young Mr. Reeves ("look, he's just not getting this, can we just have someone describe how he's supposed to be feeling?"). That is, Kidman's excess makeup in the film seems like it's there compensating for something, like the inability to draw a sufficiently believable performance from the actress. People comparing the role to Charlize Theron in Monster are doing Theron an injustice, because Theron didn't just get grimy: she inhabited and sold her character. Kidman's revenge-driven, grief-mad, self-hating cop is so uni-dimensional throughout this film that we never buy her as a human being. The young actress who plays her daughter Shelby - Jade Pettyjohn, who I only know otherwise from the Deadwood movie - acts circles around Kidman. Kidman's good in the "flashback" scenes, is believable as a young, ambitious, and slightly bent undercover cop - but the hard-living, battle-scarred spectre she becomes? I just could not, for a minute, buy it. Sorry.

Plus there's just too much that evokes other films: Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs, Rush, even a minimal soundtrack that reminds one at times of parts of The Shining score... Add to which that the "surprise, we aren't actually telling this story in sequence" twist at the end comes across as shallow and gimmicky. Of COURSE the filmmakers manage to surprise you with their reveal - they know what's going on, and you don't. It doesn't enhance the narrative or the theme, it just takes you out of the story for a few minutes as you go back over what you've just seen and reassemble it with the withheld information in place. It's like the twist at the end of The Usual Suspects: it actually manages to detract from the things that were interesting about the film, make you realize that it is even less than you thought it was going to be. Again, it feels like over-compensation: "This story isn't interesting enough as it is, but what if we scramble bits around, but not let people know we're doing it?"


There are a couple of good moments in the writing. I like that one character invites Kidman to a prayer meeting then qualifies it - "it's not like we're handling serpents," or something like that. Witty. I like the cancer patient/ informant who wants to get paid off for giving information with a handjob. I like the bit about the owls. The film is well-photographed.

That's about all.  Best thing that may come out of it is that I may try to seek out and show my wife Girlfight, Kusama's first film, which remains my favourite of the work of hers I've seen. Michelle Rodriguez is also a different kind of female character, in that film, but unlike Kidman in Destroyer, she totally pulls it off.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Robert Forster and Breaking Bad

I've been bugging my wife since Robert Forster died for her to revisit Jackie Brown with me, in tribute to him. I don't have much else that he's in, elsewise, to be honest, and wanted to do something. I mean, there's Alligator, but that's not really her cup of tea (and is only 3/4's good; there's some silly stuff in it, stuff that doesn't really hold up. I'm fond of the film, and like Forster in it, but it's not a great movie by a long shot).

We'd also been talking, on an I-thought-unrelated-note, about watching Breaking Bad, of which I had only ever seen the first four seasons. Erika saw maybe two episodes, years ago - up to the body being dissolved in acid, which grossed her out beyond her tolerance.

That was before our marriage, which in some ways has been a tolerance-expansion workshop for her. Without realizing I was killing two birds with one stone, we began the series a couple of weeks ago, and just finished it and capped it off with El Camino, tonight.

At no point did I realize, until watching the last season, that Robert Forster was in Breaking Bad. He plays the guy - alluded to early in the series, but only showing up near the end - who runs a vacuum cleaner repair shop, whose sideline is helping people disappear, for a hefty fee. It was really nice to see him, but there are, in fact, only two episodes where he's present, and then only in a few scenes. It's nice, but not a satisfying sendoff. 

I don't really want to say anything about El Camino - you kind of have to see the whole of Breaking Bad to appreciate it, but if you're a fan, they do a fine job, despite pretty much everyone looking a few years older, of following up one character's story, detailing how he escapes from his previous life. (An actual El Camino is involved).

Breaking Bad is brilliant, of course, and if you haven't seen it, you should, but that's all besides the point that I want to make. The only thing I really came here to say was how nice it was that they did justice to the Robert Forster character, gave him a satisfying and substantial part to play. It's apparently the second to last thing, one werewolf movie and a TV show aside, that Robert Forster acted in. He does fine work, brings some of the same laconic, world-weary, somewhat bemused, somewhat cynical perceptiveness that you find in the character of Max Cherry. It was really good to see him in this role.

I missed writing an obituary for Mr. Forster when he passed in mid-October, but I'm glad I got to tip my hat to him tonight. You'll be missed, sir.

That's all. (More on Forster from series creator Vince Gilligan here).

Friday, November 29, 2019

Toiling Midgets tonight! plus errata and omissions

Apparently there is at least one error in my Toiling Midgets article. Somewhere in my checking in with Heather Haley, someone (coulda been me!) got confused about whether it was Toiling Midgets or Negative Trend she remembered, and I ended up writing that it was Toiling Midgets. It now comes clear that it was Negative Trend. I am not gonna hassle the Straight editors about the goof-up, tho'. I mean, because of it, Heather's in there, and there's a link below on the Straight page to my Heather Haley interview, and I would have still included her based on her remembering Negative Trend, so... whatever, I guess! The world will not be much impoverished for the error.

There is also one quote that I meant to use, that didn't get used, from my interviewing Craig Grey. I was wondering why the band's first LP (Sea of Unrest) and their current one (Sea of Tranquility) seem to have a "moon" thing going on. I mean, that I know of, there's no Sea of Unrest on the moon, but there's definitely a Sea of Tranquility - not actually involving water, you understand; apparently this name comes from an old mistake, based on the area appearing dark to the eye, like a sea might. But calling the new album the opposite of the Sea of Unrest also seems to reach back in time and put moonishness in the first album's name, too. So what's going on, there?

Now, Grey doesn't seem to be trying to be punnish here, but apparently the title Sea of Unrest "came from our drummer, Tim Mooney" - get it? It's moony! - "who was most excellent at titling things and it was more about our restlessness than the moon. The new LP is Sea of Tranquility, which is basically putting our long San Francisco chapter to bed," as the band transitions to being an international band. It's more about closure than dark spots on the moon, the likely unintentional pun aside.

Other than that, about the only other thing I could have done to make the article better would have been to link to Grey's Negative Trend or Toiling Midgets websites, which I don't think I ever did, but surely people who are interested can find these things. They appear to be jam-packed.

All that aside, Grey seems to be very happy with the piece, and I've enjoyed checking out a new band. I've had a crap night sleep, but I might try to go to this show, tonight, if I'm still functional. It's at CBDBs, which I gather is not the best venue in the world for creature comforts. I haven't been yet, though, so I will boldly venture forth. May I direct you to the Facebook page for the event, for more?

This will be my first Crummy show since I did the article about their Japan tour, Triple Fisting sounds fun, and I'm excited to see Car 87 again, actually: the late Todd Serious once sang their praises to me, but I only ever saw them once, back when they opened for the Rebel Spell. Todd had pretty good taste, so...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Body Count, "Cop Killer," and me

I notice that Body Count has been including "Cop Killer" in recent tours. I assume there was a period - around the time the original CD was recalled and altered - that it disappeared from the band's live set, where Ice-T, perhaps, tired of the notoriety it brought him. It certainly was not included in the vinyl reissue of their debut album that happened a couple of years ago.

It's an interesting song, to say the least. I have a bit of a history with it. I was at a Lollapalooza in Seattle, August 28, 1991. I had slept poorly the night before, was in a pretty wretched state - which I might have augmented chemically, hoping it would wake me up - but was excited to see the Rollins Band live, and the Violent Femmes. As per my norm, I was curious about the Butthole Surfers but a bit afraid of them. I was indifferent to Jane's Addiction, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Fishbone, and other bands on the bill, but I liked music, and I had a ride, so what the hell.

Rollins, to my dismay, offered a homophobic slur about Robert Smith during his set. Someone had pelted him with a shoe, and he was taunting them, and said something - I forget the context - about not being like "that fag in the Cure." The woman I'd gotten a ride with, whom I'd been trying to convince of the merits of Rollins, was a huge Cure fan and pretty sensitive about homophobia. I had records by Fear and the Bad Brains in my collection so I was a little more inured to it at the time, despite occasional queerish inclinations in my youth, but it was still a disappointing moment.  Also, Rollins did one long song about drugs that I found judgmental and offputting, since, back then, I liked drugs a fair bit. I never did see Henry live any time thereafter. I love a lot of what he does, but he seemed like a pretty conservative jock that day at Lollapalooza, and it was offputting. 

I don't remember the Violent Femmes set well, except that they did "I Hear the Rain," relevant to the rain pouring on the crowd at that moment; it was pretty funny. The three of them basically stood in line on stage - a tiny presence playing to a huge audience under a very cloudy sky. It was great, but they didn't exactly fill the expansive field with their energy, more appropriate for a smaller venue, maybe. It was also the only time I have seen the Femmes.

I did see Fishbone - don't really remember it, save that it was high-energy and busy (a lot of movement on the stage - I remember spinning trombones and instrument tosses, though this is nearly thirty years ago, so who knows). I took a nap during the Butthole Surfers, in the shelter of the merch tent, because I felt wretched and didn't want to see the films they were famous for projecting - car accident victims, surgery, that sort of thing; I vaguely recall half consciously hearing "Human Cannonball" in the background and closing my eyes, praying for sleep.

I am not quite sure when Body Count played, but before they went on, I had decided to get as close to the front as I could, for whoever was up next, just to have an experience at the concert. I didn't know Ice-T from Kool Aid - I paid no attention to rap. I hadn't heard, or heard about "Cop Killer," I don't think, or else was only dimly aware of it; their debut CD was still nearly a year away from being released, so whatever I had heard was probably hearsay, or maybe a line or two in some alternative newspaper. I don't recall if that was how they opened the show or not, but when that song hit, it was terrifying. I remember people onstage in fake cop uniforms, though the video footage of the show on Youtube doesn't include this (I am presuming this is the same show); maybe it's just the stern demeanor of the band and their mostly black clothing (and shades) that got to me. Having grown up in a quiet middleclass suburb, with almost no exposure to gangs or street culture (or angry, political Afro-Americans, for that matter), I was totally intimidated by the band's tough guy appearance, its apparent advocacy of violence, and completely thrown for a loop by the song lyrics: cop killer, really?

Of course, my father was a jailguard, so that might have had something to do with it, too.

And more terrifying still was the crowd. It was huge. It had a mind of its own. The biggest pit I had ever been in, if it surged to the left, you surged with it; if it surged to the right, there was no way to resist. Packed in, you were trapped, a slave to its mindless will; and then I saw - nightmare of nightmares - a girl in front of me get sucked under. Body Count has a newish song called "Bitch in the Pit," about being surprised to see a woman holding her own in a mosh, but this girl was not that bitch. Stories of people getting trampled to death in concerts flickered in my mind, and my chivalrous instincts kicked in. I dove down to help her up, hauling her up - she looked haggard and scared and grateful. I don't know about her, but after that, I got the fuck out of the pit as fast as I could.

Pretty sure that in 1991, after that experience, I was all in favour of the censorship of "Cop Killer," though it was odd to me, when I finally heard the album, to discover that several of the songs were very rapey and EVERYTHING was violent: funny that it was only cops that people were protective of. I realized it was a reaction to the Rodney King beating (which I'd watched in horror on television) and that racism was a huge problem, especially in the States, but it didn't seem like the sort of song anything good could come out of.

Years later, I found the original version of the CD, with "Cop Killer" on it, in a used CD store in Japan. Of course, I picked it up. And then I came back here to teach ESL classes.

One of the classes I used to teach was a Discussion Skills class, getting students to talk about various pre-set topics. Rather than following the formulae of the curriculum, which had students practicing phrases like "it seems to me" or "so what you're saying is" - gambits - I figured that the best way to develop your discussion skills was by HAVING DISCUSSIONS, by pushing yourself to find a way to express opinions on challenging and unusual topics, which, along the way, provided the students some cultural background to consider. I took a cue from the topics suggested in the curriculum, but decided to go a bit further with them, for the most part. One class, for example, suggested "violence in movies and music" as a theme, but was written around a kind of simple, dull pretext: that exposure to violence in music and movies can cause real life violence.

Does that mean we should censor violent images?

I used the song for more than one class. It actually worked. Despite other teachers teasing me for the chants of "fuck the police" that emerged from my classroom (not said by students, you understand; I did NOT encourage them to sing along, as Ice-T does in the song), and despite a generally conservative management of the school, who gave me shit, once, for introducing a recipe for cockroaches ala king into a lesson themed around cooking, I never had troubles with the material. If we were going to discuss censorship, let's discuss a song that actually was the target of a censorship campaign; and let's choose a song that actually has some heft to it.

So with a class of Brazilian, Mexican, Saudi, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean students (for the most part), over the course of about an hour, we watched footage of the Rodney King beating; discussed the LA riots; learned about racial profiling - "a pig stopped me for nothing," of which some of the Latino students had direct experience; and then listened to "Cop Killer," uncensored, reading along with the lyrics. Then I got the class to break up into discussion groups and talk about the song: did they think that it should have been censored? Did they think it had artistic or social value? Did it count as a political gesture - a protest song? What was the greater evil, restricting the band's freedom of expression - or perhaps encouraging violence against police and (maybe) stoking the fires of racial hatred and mistrust? Was the song irresponsible, or a reasonable gesture of rage? Did it count as hate speech against the police? What are the limits on freedom of expression, anyway? How would you feel about this song if you were a police officer? (Some of the students, mostly in their 20's, had parents who were in the police, so it was sometimes a personally charged question).

I suspect it remained a memorable lesson for those students, and the very fact that we were using the song to seriously discuss issues in American society sometimes got used as an argument in the song's defense. I've since come around: I'm glad that the song hasn't died, and delighted to see that Body Count is still performing it. (Now they just have to come to Vancouver. All their current tour dates are for Europe).

Incidentally, the last two Body Count albums, Manslaughter (featuring a hilarious and pointed update of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized") and Bloodlust are really, really great. I haven't followed the band closely, over the years, but I may start. I remember Diamanda Galas once describing Lemmy Kilmister as a "closet genius." I think the same may be true of Ice-T.

I'm really quite pleased to have seen "Cop Killer" performed live, even though it scared the shit out of me at the time.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

An odd night at Lanalou's

Men's room toilet stall at Lanalou's. All photos by Allan MacInnis

Well, that sure was different.

So I'm not sure who Merlin Cosmos is (apparently he's also performed under the name Michael Ross, and has a resume that includes appearances on Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup, though I'm not finding examples I can link to online). He's obviously a seasoned entertainer, doing card tricks and sleight of hand gags - some of which were truly impressive, but in a very old-fashioned, old-school, "vintage magic" way, using gimmicks the mechanics of which are not entirely mysterious, but nonetheless require craft. For example, you know when he does the thing about ripping up the newspaper, at some point, he's subbing out the torn shreds of the paper for a duplicate, whole paper that he has tucked away somewhere - except you still can't see the moment when he makes the switch, so it still works; knowing roughly how the trick must be done doesn't detract from the fact that he can do it, and you can't. At times, his stage patter had a bit of an edge to it - I was reminded a bit of Doug Bennett's somewhat angry self-deprecations between songs during latter-day Doug and the Slugs concerts, where Doug would occasionally throw in a snarky comment about his divorce or such - and there was one routine the gag of which appeared to be his ability to repeat it over and over again, with slight variants, for an extended period, which kind of fucked with the mind a bit (it also involved a box with the words "magic show" written in pen on it, which he showed us a half-dozen times, except the spelling of the words somehow changed each time; not the sort of act you'd want to see on acid, I think)... but I was amused enough and willing to play along, not being on acid, and never having actually seen this sort of old-school magic done live before... 

...except that the whole act was briefly threatened and made even weirder by Cosmos being heckled by Nardwuar, who leapt to the defense both of Goober Pyle, and of the audience, whose lack of familiarity with Goober was apparently a necessary ingredient in the routine Cosmos was then performing (which involved a recording of this song). It seemed like Mr. Cosmos, however versed he might be in the world of Goober, was not in fact familiar - unlike everyone else in the room - with Nardwuar (!), and genuinely incensed by his interventions, which involved Nardwuar taking a brief poll of the audience - something like, "don't say we don't know and love Goober! Who loves Goober?" - prompting a cheer that led to Cosmos abandoning the Goober routine outright, after having told Nardwuar, in effect, to shut up, which Nardwuar then actually did.

On some level, this was value-added entertainment, but it was strange to witness; I've seen Youtube clips of people getting non serviam with Nardwuar, but never seen it in person (I half expected it to change into a gag, like it was all a pre-planned conspiracy, but I don't think it was; if Nardwuar and Merlin made peace during the encore, I missed it...).

There were a few other weirdnesses in the night. These included The Most Expensive Milkshake I've Ever Tried: you know the bit in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman orders a five dollar milkshake, and John Travolta comments about how, for five dollars, it better be a hell of a milkshake? That was, of course, back in the 1990's, before most milkshakes cost that much; but last night, the milkshake cost twice that - $11 with the tip - and was not in any way a hell of a milkshake: it was basically a small jar of chilled milk, chocolate syrup, a small splooge of whipped cream, and I'll have to take Mark's word for it that Betty actually did put ice cream in it; it certainly wasn't noticeable from the taste or texture. No alcohol in it, either, which might have justified the price. My wife, whom I'd been talking up the food at Lanalou's to, was somewhat scandalized (the salads were also simpler and smaller than I recalled, though the fries were still pretty great).

There was also the oddness of a second opening act, Phuture Memoriez, who were musically engaging - electronica and manipulated images - but whose frontman carried in his beard and demeanor an unshakeable resemblance to a Zach Galifianakis character - pointed out by my wife, and thereafter something one could not un-see (before that I'd been thinking of David Thomas of Pere Ubu, but with a bushy beard). I knew the guy from a previous job, in fact, which was a surprise to discover and a challenge to my memory (his previous band, Go Ghetto Tiger, was briefly on my radar, but never something I wrote about). My wife also had her own odd memory challenge, being recognized by someone with whom she went to high school on Vancouver Island, many years ago, and hadn't seen since; she was more surprised that he recognized her, since when she knew him, he had leopard-print hair (and she didn't).

Finally, there were tickets that urged arriving at 7:15 (which I took at face value, though Lanalou's was dark when we arrived, and performances did not in fact get underway until around 9:30). Not even water was put out, which led to my trying to fill a glass with water from the bathroom sink, since I have a sore throat - only to discover that the water was disturbingly cloudy. (It apparently settles down after awhile, but what's with that?).

Of course, having arrived unreasonably early, we did get a great table, which we ended up sharing with Don Xaliman and George McDonald of the Melodic Energy Commission, so that's good; Don even had, to my surprise, a copy of the new Melodic Energy Commission CD for me (I contributed to the liner notes). We learned in chatting with them that Randy Raine Reusch and Mei Han's daughter (Zizi, I believe) is apparently a pop sensation in China these days (?!) and swapped stories of odd encounters with animals (like the mouse who ran down the road towards me and up onto my foot when I was walking around trippin' in Maple Ridge one night, years ago; or the time Don was lying on his back watching a meteor shower and was joined by a skunk, who peacefully hung out beside him for awhile then moseyed on). At the end of the evening, I reassured George that he, and not Hamm, is still my Theremin Man, but even George had surprises: apparently he's down a different rabbithole altogether, these days, experimenting with analogue synthesizers ("I haven't touched a Theremin in a year").

George McDonald watches Hamm

Anyhow, none of the above was exactly bad (except the price of the milkshake!), and all of it made for a different sort of night out, but it was all also somewhat unreal... which in a way is perfect as a warm up for Stephen Hamm, who did pretty much what I imagined him doing in my mind's eye, self-accompanying himself on Theremin with a variety of programmed tracks which he manipulated with his feet, singing to us in his robes about rocketships, UFO's, and the "space sister," Ruth Norman, whom he declined to mention by name. (He also did "Volcano" but if he included his dog barking in the live version, I missed it). His persona was effusive and sincere and charming, his voice powerful, and the music very close to what you hear on the CD. He namechecked Delia Derbyshire at one point, before covering "Love Without Sound" (I believe the original is here), and, for the last song of the main set, did "2000 Light Years from Home," which was pretty delightful to hear, especially since my wife's Christmas gift to me a couple years ago was that fancy reissue of Their Satanic Majesties' Request...

However, I have nothing much to say about Hamm's performance - it was very entertaining, as was, after decades of being in the same room with him for one thing or another, finally MEETING Hamm, who seems even more formidable in height when you're shaking his hand. At 5'11" and 350 pounds, I'm not used to feeling dwarfed by other people, but I did beside Hamm. He signed a few records for me with a printed HAMM!, all in caps (I considered pestering Slow's Christian Thorvaldson, also in the room, to sign my "I Broke the Circle" single, but what the heck, he wasn't working, and my wife and I have both been feeling poorly, so I let it slide; so far I've just got Terry and Hamm). Anyhow, I've already done a big blogpiece on Hamm (see below), which will say more about the night than anything I might add now.

One interesting thing did happen with my fellow audience members. A bearded, jockish, expensively-dressed guy was holding forth at the bar at great volume while Hamm was performing, and I looked over to gesture for him to tone it down - half fearing he'd go alpha on me, but it was truly obnoxious, how he was carrying on. Surprisingly, he totally silenced himself, after which the fact that no one else in the room was talking became highly apparent. Pretty unusual for a Vancouver night out, actually - usually the room is filled with people like him - though I think that the dude might have become self-conscious when he realized he had been the sole talker, because he ducked out about two minutes after he clammed up. I actually felt a bit guilty for that!

I confess to having ducked out, myself (with Erika) before Merlin got on stage with Hamm for the last portion of the evening, which I'm sure was weird and interesting. I suspect that as nights out go, for both my wife and myself, the oddnesses of the evening will keep this one in our memories longer than most shows we go to. Even my dreams, afterwards (which involved kung fu fighting, never before an element of my dreams) were weirder than usual.

But seriously, Betty: an eleven dollar milkshake?