Monday, September 23, 2019

RIP Sid Haig

Love seeing Sid Haig in anything. Sad that he's gone. Hadda note it.

Has 3 From Hell come and gone from theatres already?

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Entering the Fray

A couple of my Facebook posts this evening. One:

You know what? Screw strategic voting. Everyone should just vote NDP. Could someone with musical talent write a riff on the Beatles? "All we are saying / is give Jag a chance?" ...How the hell could it be worse than the last dozen administrations? Has anyone actually LIKED or RESPECTED a singular Liberal or Conservative leader recently... Or ever? Last PM I was even AMUSED by was Jean "Dr. Pepper" Chretien, who at least had an appealing character. I cannot remember a Prime Minister I actually admired - I don't think I have seen one. Why does this idiotic country swing from the frigging Liberals to the frigging Conservatives every few years? Does anyone actually feel represented by either party? SCREW STRATEGIC VOTING, actually go out and vote for someone who MIGHT JUST REPRESENT YOUR INTERESTS, for a change! 
Damn I would like Jagmeet Singh to win this election. I wish I had a sense of more fight in him, more ambition, more, uh, chutzpah. I only just watched the video of his response to the brownface thing, and while it is a very mature reaction, and a very "sincere" one - which I was unaware of previously - it's also just too politician-like, too polished, too quiet, too safe, too kind. It seems like a wasted opportunity. I'm not saying he should be getting all righteous but there is a huge population of voters in Canada, and not just NDP supporters, that he COULD HAVE SPOKEN TO. I bet the most hardened Conservatives and PPC supporters out there felt at least a flicker of curiosity as to how he would react to the brownface thing - how could they not? And while, yes, his reaction is very mature and carefully considered and seems earnest enough, I don't think anything he said here is going to really make an impact on those people or sway anyone to vote for him who wasn't planning to previously. He TALKS about fighting racism, but there should be more fight in him; he should be SHOWING it, not telling it, you know? People aren't going to vote for you because you're SAD about this, dude; being sad is not an attribute that makes people think of someone as a leader. 
There's a phenomenon going on with the Trump administration that politicians need to heed, that people are tired of "mature and carefully considered" statements from politicians, telling us what they think we want them to say; it's taken an imbecilic, Twitter-obsessed sociopathic hustler to reveal this, but the lesson is there no less, y'know...? It seems like it's a time for FRANK SPEECH and PASSION! We've all just gone through the disappointing experience of voting for a nice young man who we thought maybe valued the same things we did, and it didn't work out so well for us or the country. Mr. Singh, stop being so nice - and for chrissake, consider how you play the whole thing with Justin Trudeau wanting to personally apologize to you. This guy has apologized his way through his whole administration, often while CONTINUING TO DO what he was apologizing for in one form or another. DON'T LET HIM TURN APOLOGIZING TO YOU INTO ANOTHER PRESS OPPORTUNITY FOR HIM!

I fucking HATE the thought that the Conservatives are going to win this election, that we're going to be teleported back to the racist homophobic xenophobia of the Harper years (Scheer at least seems like a mammal, compared to Harper's alien reptile vibe, but that's about the best I can say for him). I would sell a testicle if I could stop another Conservative government from happening; I would even take the Liberals again if you forced me to choose between them. But jeezus, there's a THIRD PARTY in this arena, folks! (Actually four or five...). Can we PLEASE try an NDP Federal Government for a change? Please? 

Happy Birthday Paul Pigat!

Dear Mr. Pigat:

I think it is wonderful that you are sharing your birthday event with Vancouver, and hope you have a successful show. I'm sure it will be massively entertaining. I have plugged it a few times, in a few different places, and am sure I would really enjoy it were I to, um, be there, which (sorry), I won't be.

The thing is, I haven't seen a full DOA show in about six years. Think the last DOA concert I was at til the end was one of their farewell shows at the Rickshaw - what was that, 2013? It was before Todd Serious died, because the Rebel Spell opened; Brian Goble was still alive, too (and Randy Rampage and Brad Kent, tho' I don't know if Brad was there). I checked in at one show at the Rickshaw a couple of years ago just to see the new lineup, but I had to get home for some reason or other and only saw about half the set. I have seen half-sets or so a couple of other times since 2013, too, but it was sorta "show Erika DOA before they call it quits (in Victoria, a few months after the Vancouver gig), but let her get home before she gets too restless, because this isn't really her kinda music," you know? (She likes your stuff a lot more!). 

Then the Fight Back Festival came and I went for my friend David M.'s set and to see Jesse Lebourdais (and get a CD off him), but I hadda be awake to get to work at some ungodly hour out in Surrey the next day (I was teaching a Saturday morning ESL class) and DOA wasn't going on until one, so although I was there, I had to leave before Joe even took the stage. A bummer!

I have been craving a DOA show since. I've been enjoying 1978, and I've actually been taking more of a liking to Joe, who I've come to realize is actually a pretty smart and able guy, whom - nevermind interviewing - I've now had the pleasure, finally, of actually VOTING FOR. (He ran in my riding). And, you know, I wanna see Chain Whip again - I've done recent pieces on both these bands, and I'm just... PRIMED, you know? I can be at no other show tomorrow night. And I NEED a punk show this weekend, I really do!

...But dude, happy 50th birthday! (May I recommend watching John Cassavetes' Husbands if you haven't seen it? I can think of no better movie to celebrate turning 50 with; I would have done it myself a couple of years ago except I had already used it to celebrate my 40th). No doubt I will write about you again some time, and I definitely intend to see you play again sometime (soon!), and I'll bring Erika, and we'll both stay to the end and have a great time. Prolly not as great a time as it's going to be tomorrow night, given the occasion, but, you know, we've never NOT loved one of your shows, so we'll live.

Anyhow, cheers!


PS: for anyone reading this OTHER than Paul (and company), who is looking for a fun show to go to tomorrow night (technically tonight), and who DOESN'T feel like seeing DOA, may I suggest Paul's birthday bash with Cousin Harley tomorrow? I think it really doesn't matter if you like roots and rockabilly as your primary thing or if you like punk and metal: if you like guitar, YOU WILL BE ENTERTAINED. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Justin Trudeau versus that time we all Heiled Hitler

Jeez, was anyone still planning to vote for Justin Trudeau?

It's either NDP or Green this time for me. Learned my lesson months ago, having cast my only vote, ever, last election, for the Liberals, in the name of "strategic voting."  This time around, I am relieved to live in the riding of Jagmeet Singh. I wish the NDP were trying harder, wish they had the advertising budget of the Conservatives, wish I felt they had a chance to form the government.... but I fully expect Singh to take this riding, so, uh, "my work here is done." In other ridings, I would also consider voting Green. I sure as hell won't vote for the Conservatives ("evil rich people") or the PPC ("evil rich people with their masks off," plus maybe a few deluded ideologues), so it's not like I've got choices. 

Personally, I was never ever, under any circumstance, going to vote Liberal this time.

Incidentally, re: blackface and brownface, I think I have Justin Trudeau beat. At age 16 or 17, I went with my classmates to our high school gym for a rally that included a Hallowe'en costume contest, I think possibly prior to a basketball game. Attendance, as I recall, was mandatory - class was let out so we could all go. One of the students - I actually am not sure what his name was, so he'll be spared my outing him here - dressed in a pretty damn good Hitler costume: brown uniform, swastika armbands, leather boots, the lot. Maybe we were mocking authority or trying to mortify our teachers or just playin' along with the spirit of things, or maybe we were making some sort of ironic commentary on the quasi-fascist nature of sports events or rallies - we were, after all, in a high school gymnasium, where we came for the purposes of cheering our team - but several hundred of us (including me) took to vigorously Sieg Heiling the kid in the Hitler costume, responding to his salutes with our own stiff right arms and shouts of "Sieg! Heil!" It was entirely stupid, but in no way did we mean anything to be mean-spirited or intend it to be taken seriously (and I do believe the guy in the Hitler costume won the contest, if memory serves, perhaps over the objections of some teachers...). Was our action in poor taste? Sure. Would I do it now? Probably not, no (tho' I can't really imagine a similar circumstance where it would come up). Was it disturbing to any Jewish kids in the gym with us? Possibly, but it's more likely that they participated in it, regardless - it was ALL of us, who did it, teachers aside.

And was it entertaining for us? Yep, at the time, it was really fun. We weren't thinking much beyond that. To me, now, it's an entertaining story, and not much more. Do I feel sorry that I did this? No, not particularly - it was stupid shit I did as a kid, and really not much more than that, and if it upsets you, I think I would try to convince you not to take it seriously. It doesn't actually say anything much about my values or beliefs at all.

Justin Trudeau was a bit older than that when he dawned brownface and blackface, granted, but you know what I find more distasteful than his having done that? His craven apologizing now. I can't quite put my finger on what it speaks to (general gormlessness?) but it starts to feel like, this guy is all about what photos he's in. Me in a gay pride parade! Me in blackface! Me in brownface! Me next to First Nations leaders in the House! Me in India!

And if you end up caught in the wrong photos, just apologize.

Tired of it, tired of him, tired of his government. And the fact that he must have known all through his turn as Prime Minister that these photos were out there... if I were him, I think I would have just released them myself at some point.

Please God, folks, get out and vote. Vote for the Liberals again, if you  must (though if you're shaken up by the brownface thing, may I suggest Jagmeet Singh to you, as the next obvious choice?). Just, whatever you do, do not vote for the Conservatives or the PPC!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

DOA: of 1978 and Punk the Vote: a Joe Keithley interview

Joe Keithley and I took time last weekend for a fast conversation, apropos of the upcoming Federal Election and the September 21st Punk the Vote concert at the WISE Hall. As you'll see from my Straight article, most of the focus was on politics and the environment, with a bit about the experience of being elected to city council, and Joe's experiences on the campaign trail. 

"The thing about me running and getting elected," Keithley explained, was that  "it wasn’t all young people or DOA fans" who'd voted for him: "There were tons of old people, tons of people who don’t like my music, right? They’re like, ‘I like what you’re talkin’ about; I can’t say I’d buy one of your records,’ you know, and when people say that me, I say, ‘that’s great. I’m not trying to sell you records, I’m trying to get you on board with ideas that I’ve got.’”

But DOA does have a new record out – a superb compilation of unreleased tracks, demos and early singles, called 1978, with most songs featuring the classic lineup of Keithley, the late Randy Rampage, and Chuck Biscuits. Biscuits, in particular, makes an interesting showing on the record; also the author of the classic, "Last Night," which appears on Something Better Change, the lightning-fast teenaged drummer also sang“Kill Kill This is Pop,” which appeared on the Vancouver Complication. "Chuck wrote the lyrics and the song and he sang it, and I went, 'what's this about?' He went, 'ah, fuck, nevermind!' I went 'okay, whatever, just sing it' - because I had no idea what he was talking about. It ended up being a funny song..."

That tune pops up up 1978, as do two less-well-known songs, "The Mutant" and “Rip Dis Joint,” which pilfers from a similarly titled Stones song, and also features a lead vocal from Biscuits. We discuss that a bit in the Straight piece, linked above - it was recorded, apparently, during the sessions for this infamous single:

As for "The Mutant," which previously popped up on The Lost Tapes, it is one of the few tracks on the album also previously unknown to me. “We did one demo of it," Keithley remembers of that song. "I can’t remember where we ended up with it, he didn’t like it, or, 'it's not going to go on the record,' but when I listened to it later, it was like, ‘okay, this is really funny!’ And I think that’s the idea – some of the stuff on it is just like, ‘wow, these guys are out of control, really young, and would do anything! Which is kinda like what punk rock was, right; these songs kinda embody that. They weren't overly thought out, and they weren't way underproduced, and it kinda was the spirit of the time."

The main question, of course, is how it came to be that there should be any unreleased DOA material at all. Joe's never been shy of putting out retrospective albums - from singles albums to the Greatest Shits DVD to bonus material included on CD reissues of classic albums, Joe has mined the DOA back catalogue pretty extensively. Quite a bit of 1978 has popped up in one form or another, though it's really kind of hard to keep track. 

"I didn't really think about it too much," Joe told me when we talked. "It's kinda one of those things: it would be kind of have another retro album out with unreleased tracks, and then Randy died, and I thought, let's do something that kind of commemorates him and Dave and Wimpy and Brad and all the gang that passed away. Mostly on that record, it's Randy, Chuck and I playing on everything. And the fun part was, I got a hold of Don Denton. He used to be the photographer for the Straight, and I asked, do you have any photographs that no one has ever seen before, and he dug up a bunch of incredible ones, and we used a few on the record. Every time I look at them, I just laugh."

DOA will be headlining the Punk the Vote Festival at the WISE Hall on September 21st. Event page here. Mike Usinger's review of the album is here... Should be a great show. It's been a few years since I last saw DOA but this is maybe the tightest, fastest trio since the days of Randy and Chuck. Wonder who the "special surprise guests" will be?

Monday, September 16, 2019

On not writing obituaries

It used to be that I would spend a fair bit of time paying respects to people who died on this blog.

I still read obits. My regular routines online involve checking the Wikipedia Recent Deaths page every few hours. It's not some journalistic need to report the news first, it's that for most of my life - lived prior to the phenomenon of the internet - it wasn't all that easy to tell which writers, filmmakers, musicians and such that I cared about were still alive.

But it seems like that sort of "reportage," coming from me, is redundant now. People keep their own tabs, and pay respects on Facebook - I've posted a few Daniel Johnston songs there in recent days (saw him twice, would have gone again, used to buy his cassettes back in the day).  I may still check in about people who mean more than most, to me - as with Ryszard Bugajski, a few months ago - especially if their lives or works are not so well known to the masses. But - you know, even though I did note, say, that Mardik Martin passed last week (a screenwriter who collaborated with Scorsese), I don't know his contributions well enough to say anything meaningful; and as for Ric Ocasek, I was never actually a Cars fan. I've liked some of Fred Herzog's photographs and I've seen part of Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues, but again, I have nothing to say that really counts, and people pay close enough attention now that they already know...

...though did you notice Theatre of Hate are coming to the Rickshaw in October? Opening for the new version of the Chameleons that is playing. A curious thing that I may ask Kirk if we talk is how Robert Frank ended up taking photos of them! (One of their early singles has a Robert Frank pic on it).

Anyhow, I guess this is sort of a "mass obituary" in a way... people keep dying... It will continue whether I write about it or not...

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Punk the Vote!

Joe Keithley writes, apropos of next weekend's show:

Hi Al
Here's the press release for a show I am putting on at the Wise Hall
Sat. September 21st. It's a drive to get people out to vote for
candidates that care about fighting climate change in our federal
election. it is a non partisan event and it should be a lot of fun!
Joe/ DOA

Also note: I didn't blog about it here, but check out this Chain Whip article I did for the Straight! (Including a link to Josh's review of the DOA 1978 LP, which is, I agree, just bloody great!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Mikey and Nicky and Ishtar: Elaine May double bill at the Cinematheque, plus The Winding Stream

There are two films upcoming at the Cinematheque that make for an inspired double bill: Mikey and Nicky and Ishtar, both written and directed by Elaine May. They're very different movies, but - as other critics have remarked - have a relationship to each other, in terms of themes of friendship and betrayal; they're also both films that didn't really get a fair shake until much later in their lives. They're also remarkably different: Mikey and Nicky, made in 1976, and subject of a recent Criterion release, feels like a John Cassavetes film, and not just because it stars Cassavetes and Peter Falk: it delves into emotionally harrowing waters, is unafraid to torture its audience a little, creating situations that are quite embarrassing to watch unfold; and it has a loose, improvised feel to many scenes, as Cassavetes and Falk play off each other (both getting fairly loud and expressive) . Short of Husbands, there are no other films out there where the two interact in front of the camera to this extent. Ned Beatty co-stars; there's also a fairly early appearance by M. Emmett Walsh. The less you know about the story, the better - if you have a chance to watch it unfold before you, that's the ideal way to see it. It fits in with Gloria and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie as looking at human relationships by way of gangster cinema, and it's unlike anything else Elaine May ever made; for one thing, it's not a comedy.

Some people would say the same of Ishtar: it was one of those films that received an enormous critical drubbing when it first came out. I recently checked it out for the first time on Blu-Ray, and it's definitely not a terrible film - it's long, but it has warmth and humour to it, and some of the songs in it (written, we gather, to be bad, by the Phantom of the Paradise's Paul Williams) are memorable enough that David M. still sometimes covers them (actually, it's only one, "Dangerous Business," but it's a fun tune indeed; he and the late Paul Leahy were fans of the film). I seldom find Hollywood comedies all that funny, but Ishtar is no worse than most, and better than some that people somehow love. Critics of the day seemed not to understand that the various moments when they found themselves wincing - not all that different from the winces garnered later by This is Spinal Tap - were intentionally set up to be winceworthy. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty give committed peformances, and there is fine support from Elaine May veteran Charles Grodin and the very beautiful Isabelle Adjani. Plus some gags involving a blind camel. The plot is simple enough: two incompetent songwriters travel to the Middle East in hopes that they're advancing their careers, to find themselves embroiled in political intrigue. It's not a favourite film of mine by far, but it is well worth watching. (And one of the critics who writes on the Roger Ebert website since Ebert died apparently prefers it to Mikey and Nicky, so tastes may differ).

Also of note, this time for Petunia fans: Beth Harrington's documentary on the Carter Family, The Winding Stream: the Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music plays this Thursday, again at the Cinematheque. Harrington directed a pilot for a quirky, roots-music-themed series called The Musicianer, about which I interviewed her a few months ago. She knows her stuff, so this should be a good watch. Did I ever mention seeing Johnny Cash (and no doubt at least one Carter) at the Pacific Coliseum in the 1970's? I barely remember it, but as far as I know, it's the first concert my parents ever took me to, and thus the first I ever actually saw. It is kinda cool, you must admit, that the first time I ever heard "A Boy Named Sue" - the only song I vaguely recall from that night - it was because Johnny Cash was singing it live in front of me!

Lots else upcoming at the Cinematheque, including an Abbas Kiarostami retrospective. See their new, improved website for more!

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Vikings and Pagans and such: Amon Amarth and Arkona

Okay, so: it looks like I will not be talking to Amon Amarth. I have tons of questions for Johann Hegg - whom I've never gotten to speak to, despite having interviewed Amon Amarth twice (best instance is here). Should be a mighty show, but the fun would have been asking Hegg how he feels about groups like Sons of Odin, say, or the scene in Lords of Chaos where the Varg-character makes a pretty potent point of the "disrespectfulness" of building a Christian church over a sacrificial altar to Odin. On safer ground, I'd be curious to see how the Viking worldview has influenced his own life (or asking him about Grimfrost, or his acting experiences). It interests me that Viking/ Pagan culture is an example of an actual, if you'll pardon me, "white culture," that was oppressed and overrun by the forces of Western Civilization; normally when you get white people talking about having pride in their heritage, it's dweeby neofascists who actually are trying to cling, whether they realize it or not, to a long-held position of cultural dominance, but European Pagan culture is actually something quite different, a historically oppressed minority culture, who seem to have a pretty good argument for wanting to take pride in their lost heritage (as long as we keep church-burnings and racism off the menu). I'm an outsider to it all, but it's really, really interesting to contemplate, and raises questions I'd love to get answered.   

Alas, it looks like that interview won't happen. It's not like they really  need the press, at this point, and I don't suppose they necessarily relish the thought of wading into such problematic areas. I can live without it, I suppose. Bye, Hegg!

I also will not be talking to Arkona, the Russian pagan/ blackened folk metal band playing the Rickshaw September 16th, but that is a show I'm even more excited about, since as far as I can see, Arkona actually are involved in Pagan practice (Hegg and company I think are just mining a fertile trove of stories for lyrics; sounds like they're not sacrificing anything to Odin, any more than Slayer are sacrificing to Satan). I have sent questions to the band - who, because of language barriers, only do email interviews, apparently - but as was my experience a few tours ago, they did not get back to their publicist. My questions may have been too many/ too difficult/ too controversial, I don't know. (I almost always send more questions than I need answers to, so the band can pick and choose).

So there's not much that I can offer by way of new information about either of these bands, but if anyone's curious, here are the questions I prepared for Arkona. The openers for this "Pagan Rebellion" tour also sound pretty great - especially Metsatöll, from Estonia, who have been around for some 20 years, without my having noticed them - so I think this is a must-see show, actually. Arkona's official website is here, by the way.

Masha –

Please ignore any questions you don’t want to answer, or skip parts of questions, or such. I have given you a LOT of questions. You don’t need to answer all of them! But I hope you can answer SOME of them. I’ve divided this into questions about the band’s “beliefs” and lyrics, and questions about your music.

Part One: Questions about Your Beliefs

1. I am curious about the kolovrat. Can you explain the meaning to the band? You used the kolovrat in your original logo, then decided to stop using it – did it draw controversy or otherwise cause problems? Why did you change your logo? Does the current logo have any meaning to it?

2. Tell me a bit about Jaromarsburg on Kap Arkona. Besides being a pagan city destroyed by the Christians, what does it mean to you? Do you have any personal associations with the city?

3. Were you raised Christian? Do you have hostility to Christianity? Is that more about the history of the religion, or things you find damaging about the ideology or beliefs of Christianity? (Is there anything you like about Christianity?).

4. Was there much manifestation of the whole black metal church-burning thing in Russia? Who was behind it, if so? How did you feel about it? (I can find stories about some teenaged Satanist named Ignat Sarapov, who burned a church, and about apparent Nazi church burnings in the Ukraine, but the stories I am finding online don’t connect to black metal per se. But you probably know a lot more than I do…).

5. Do you identify as a Rodnover? If so, how did you get interested in Rodnovery? It seems like you have beliefs that you are trying to communicate to the audience and encourage – that it is not just entertainment? Do you practice ritual in your personal life? Do you see concerts as a sort of modern form or ritual? Do you get a lot of support or feedback from other neopagans? (How do you feel about North American manifestations of neopaganism, like Wicca?).

6. A lot of metal bands in North America – like Unleash the Archers, say - are kind of separated from their European ancestry, so you get bands that sort of base their lyrics in fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkein, movies, the Society for Creative Anachronism, or just stories they make up. You actually have tradition to draw on. Do you still enjoy the music of bands that take more from fantasy and fiction?

7. I gather that there is a kind of racial element to the beliefs of some Rodnovers – that some people associated with the movement take pride in their Slavic blood and, for example, don’t believe in intermarriage with non-Slavs. That kinda brings us back to the whole Nazi issue. Do you have any sort of belief about the importance of having pure, Slavic blood?

8. Is the band or its music ever confused with the Polish black metal band – who I believe *are* part of the NSBM movement – also called Arkona? (I enjoy their sound but I suspect if I understood their lyrics I would be horrified).

9. In Communist times, did the government disapprove or in any way try to suppress Russian pagan practice or belief? I’m not quite sure when you were born, but did that affect any of you as children…? Was your heritage something you learned a lot about in school, or was it suppressed or ignored?

10. I know there are songs in your catalogue about nature – like “Bolo Mne” on Slovo, about “the tormented souls of trees,” and what we have done to the planet. But I have also seen you wearing animal furs on stage, and playing instruments presumably made from animal skins and bones. I’m curious if any of that has drawn trouble (from anti-fur activists, for example?). Is anyone in the band vegan? Do you think it is natural and normal for humans to use animals for food and clothes? Would you want to live in a vegan world?

Part Two: Questions About Your Music

1. I know almost nothing about Russian folk music. If I wanted to understand or research the “folk” side of what you do, who or what should I listen to?

2. Personally, I love Slovo, with its really complex orchestration, strings, and abundant folk/pagan elements. It remains my favourite of your albums (and it helps that that was the tour where I first saw you). Do you have plans to make music like that again, or are you always moving/ changing your sound?

3. I don’t know your whole catalogue, but it seems to me that Khram is your most “black metal” record yet – your darkest, heaviest, and most despairing. What emotions went into making it? Is there a theme to the album? How has your fanbase responded?

4. Is there any pressure (from fans, or labels, or so forth) to make music in one particular style or other? Does Khram represent a decision to distance yourself from “folk metal,” or will you return to that style in the future, or…?

5. What performers inspire you? Have you ever gotten to share a stage with any of your heroes?

6. What do you count as the band’s greatest successes to date – the things you are proudest of?

7. You have already toured Khram in Vancouver – a show I missed, so thank you for coming back so soon. Do you have any particular connections with the bands you’re touring with, this time? How do you go about deciding who to tour with? Do you share resources?

8. Does being from Russia an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of touring? ...This question actually comes from Brittney Slayes of Unleash the Archers, who is a fan. Her original wording: “Seeing as we are both from secluded northern wastelands - oops I mean countries - did the band find it hard to get noticed in your early years? Or was it relatively easy being that you are close to Europe and touring opportunities seem endless out there?”

9. Is English much of a challenge for you? Are you studying to improve your English? Do you have people who help with English translations of lyrics? Are you getting help with an interview like this, or are you using Google Translate, or…?

10. Is there anything you want to say to Vancouver audiences, any specific associations with Vancouver, things you like to do here, stories to tell…?

That's all I had for her. I think between two separate tours I have sent questions through their publicist half a dozen times, now, to no avail. So fuggit: I've bought my ticket and will content myself with fandom. Not sure how I feel about everything they do, since I don't always understand it - they sing in Russian, and the sunwheel I ask about - the Kolovrat - on the one Arkona t-shirt I have makes me a little skittish, to be honest - but I am absolutely sure that they're a great live band, and that'll have to be good enough for now!

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Iron Maiden at Rogers Arena: the Legacy of the Beast in Vancouver

"How many times have you seen this show?" the guy asks me, and I tell him, "hell, I haven't seen Maiden since 1983!" He chuckles: he's seen the Legacy of the Beast show - a vast recap of Maiden's greatest hits - fifteen times already, and has, in his life, seen Iron Maiden over 200 times, he figures. He's apparently friends with Steve Harris, which might help, but I suspect he also has a bigger concert budget than I do. "The best places to see them are in Quebec City and Montreal," he tells me, and what can you do but believe him?

We're backstage at Rogers Arena, where my successful ticket-cadging has unexpectedly led to a VIP pass to the hospitality room (I nab a Heineken, Erika a Schweppes) and two free t-shirts (no small thing, since they run $55 a pop). My wife, who is not particularly a metal fan, is very amused by the shirts - her second metal tee, after Unleash the Archers - and we duck together into a washroom to try them on. She gets into the spirit of things, throwing the goats and making a "metal" face worthy of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. It's silliness for her, but it's set the mood for a fun night, and she definitely has that. Never did I assume our wardrobe would include two matching Iron Maiden shirts.

Throughout it all, I'm carrying a 8X10 glossy of Maiden from 1992, tucked into an Ed McBain paperback for support, so I don't wrinkle it or sweat much on it. Though I've brought nothing of my own to get signed, I've run into Gerald "Rattlehead" Yoshida, with a veritable backpack of stuff he's hoping to get scribbled on, and offered to try, "just in case" the band shows up in the hospitality room. They don't, at least not while Erika and I are there, though I'm not 100% convinced I would recognize anyone other than Bruce or Steve, if they materialized; so I'm left minding Gerald's publicity shot for the rest of the night. Later on I'll be permitted down to the floor to see if I can find him and give him the photo back, but he's not all that tall, and there's a lot of people, so all that comes of it is a glimpse of just how many different Iron Maiden t-shirts there are to be seen. (There are also a few Motorhead and Slayer and Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth and AC/DC shirts to be seen, too, and even one guy wearing a Bad Religion tee; at one point I tap a guy on the shoulder and ask "is that an Arkona hoodie? ...See you at the Rickshaw!"). There are kids younger than I was when I saw Maiden at age 15, and adults in faded shirts from shows that might even predate that 1983 concert, broken out only for special occasions.

But the Raven Age - the metalcore band of the son of Steve, George Harris - starts while we're still in the hospitality area, and Erika and I rush to take our seats. We are opposite the stage, but with an excellent, straight-on view. Truth be known, all metalcore sounds kind of alike to me - it's not a genre that I really have a great fondness for - but the band is appealing enough, and have some inspired audience engagement techniques, asking us, for example, to take out our phones and turn on our flashlights for "Grave of the Fireflies," off their album Conspiracy (like father like son: it's a song named after a movie). The arena lights up in a way I haven't seen since the days of the Bic lighter, which, yes kids, we used to actually hold up in the air in a non-ironic way as tribute to bands onstage.

Prior to the start of Maiden's set - long posted online and followed religiously - there's a brief clip on the video monitors at either side of the stage of an Iron Maiden-themed videogame, where you can "play" Eddie in various scenarios based on Iron Maiden album covers and t-shirts and such. You can kill someone with a hammer, like the Eddie of Killers, for example, or be electroshocked in your straightjacket as with Piece of Mind. There's lots of war-themed stuff, too; one gathers Steve Harris is a history buff.

Once we get to "Aces High," the opening number - introduced, as always, with a clip of Winston Churchill - we see the first bit of amazing stagecraft of the night: a replica Spitfire which flies in place over the band. There's also, in the course of the evening, a surprisingly early visit from Eddie (who trades sword-blows with Bruce Dickinson during "The Trooper," which, I discover from the backdrop, is not in fact a Civil War song - which is what I'd always previously assumed, not having read the lyrics closely. From Eddie's red coat onstage, you might guess it's about the American revolutionary war, except that doesn't explain the mention of Russians. In fact, it's about the Charge of the Light Brigade!).

Other bits of stunning stagecraft include a gigantic stained-glass backdrop (for "Revelations" and "For the Greater Good of God"); a gigantic Icarus with wings that fold when it falls at the song's end, plenty of fire - including flamethrowers wielded by Dickinson; a painting of a "Wicker Eddie" (for "The Wicker Man"); surreal tableaus of religious martydom ("The Sign of the Cross") and a giant horned Eddie-head that rises above the drum riser, red eyes lighting up as it appears to look around. The band has gone to great lengths and expense to make this show impressive and memorable, lavishing spectacle on their fans; at one point, Erika likens it to going to the opera. Photos from afar can't really do it justice, but I try:

The longest bit of stage patter during the night came from Bruce Dickinson, introducing "The Clansman," about William Wallace (which is where he'd first broken out the sword). He poked fun (I think) at bands who don't know what part of Canada is what, greeting us with a "bonjour" (to not-so-serious boos); mused on the different receptions to the word "freedom" in Canada (polite) and the United States (rabid); quipped on how odd it was to cast an Australian as a Scotsman (but no odder, he added, than casting Sean Connery as a Spaniard in "The Highlander"); asked us if any of us had Scottish ancestors, which, indeed, some of us did; and urged us, if we went home to write about the night on the internet, to spell Clansman with a "C." Done! It was nice, in fact, to see that he spelled that out for people, since, you know, these are kinda politically dodgy times we're living in.

Most of the rest of what's said during the course of the evening are variants on "Scream for me Vancouver" or "Scream for me Canada!" The audience, of course, screamed (and at times sang) quite enthusiastically, but no one was more enthusiastic than the fella directly in front of me in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt, who leapt about and thrust his devil's horns into the air a thousand times during the night. Since the band was tiny, from where we were - and it seems kinda silly to take pictures of the video monitors - I ended up trying to take as many good photos of his thrown goats as I can. Call it "the Goat variations," offered to the guy in row 21, section 112 as a souvenir of his experience:

All told, it's a superb way to tie off the circle, to revisit a band that I loved at 15, but haven't paid all that much attention to since, even for awhile was quite snobbish about ("it's kidstuff," I would have said, during my free jazz years). Their commitment to what they do, and the extent to which they  please their fans, and their apparent total engagement, were all truly outstanding, and they had no less energy or enthusiasm onstage than they did 36 frigging years ago, making me, kinda, feel like I was fifteen again, too. Which doesn't happen often lately!

The last word goes to Vancouver rockabilly whiz Paul Pigat (himself soon to play in Vancouver, for a September 21st birthday gig with Cousin Harley). He writes of the night:
What an awesome show! I literally haven’t seen a stadium show since the early 90s and I’d forgotten about the pageantry of it all. Last time I saw them was '85 in Toronto. I think they still function at the same heightened energy that they did back then. I really liked the lighthearted vibe they had on stage. You gotta admit it looked like they were having almost as much fun as the audience. Not an easy thing to do when you’ve been in a band for over 30 years. And hey, when you have your own Spitfire hanging above u for the start of the show u truly are metal gods!
Couldn't have said it better: awesome show indeed. And to everyone involved in facilitating the great time my wife and I had last night - thank you! (I think I've finally sunk the metal hook in her! Who'da thunk!).

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Iron Maiden!

Thanks to Steve Newton, I know exactly the last time I saw Iron Maiden. It was 36 years ago, in 1983, on the Piece of Mind tour; I would have been 15, and thus well on the way to rejecting metal altogether out of a tribal allegiance to punk, but I liked the show, as I recall. I went with a high school friend, Greg, and it was one of the first-ever rock concerts I went to without an adult (Greg and I also caught Van Halen, the Kinks, and Judas Priest, all also at the Coliseum). I only have a vague impression of seeing Fastway, and thinking it cool that I was seeing Motorhead's guitarist (I had Iron Fist at home, at that point); a vague impression of seeing Saxon - of the singer's blond hair blowing in the stage breeze; and a vague impression of a gigantic Eddie stomping about onstage (still have no idea how, exactly, they do that). About the only specific I recall about the Maiden set was Bruce Dickinson introducing "To Tame a Land" by talking about how Frank Herbert wouldn't let them call it "Dune" because he didn't think much of heavy metal music, which drew boos from the crowd; having read and enjoyed Dune, I thought that was a strange gesture, to write a song based on a novel then invite the crowd to boo the author! ...other than that, I loved the show...

Anyhow, here's welcoming Iron Maiden back to Vancouver. Somewhat to my surprise, I'm going... it feels kind of nice to tie off the circle, to revisit one of those formative bands - especially one month after seeing the BOC. It'll be fun, I'm sure. First stadium show I've seen in a few years....

Monday, September 02, 2019

Rodney DeCroo: Didn't Hurt at the Vancouver Fringe Festival

I saw a preview screening of Rodney DeCroo's Didn't Hurt at Havana last February. I thought it was remarkable. A piece of spoken, autobiographical storytelling, it offered harrowing insights into DeCroo's childhood, the backstory to much of his PTSD, and the other impacts the abuse he underwent had on his later life. DeCroo sometimes assumed the voice and demeanor of the child he was in some of his recollections, often doing something closer to acting than "spoken word;" but mostly it seemed like a piece of autobiographical writing that was being performed. The only parallel I could think of was Bukowski's Ham on Rye, but while Bukowski's stories had a sort of self-romanticizing edge to them - the sort of stories a drunk might tell at a bar to convince you to buy him a drink - Rodney's purposes seemed more moral, more ambitious, more healthy than that.

I don't want to say much more about the subject matter of the performance - which was considerably richer than I'm letting on - but I highly recommend catching it during its upcoming Vancouver run, opening September 5th at the Cultch. DeCroo has been touring North America with the show; we discussed how it has evolved as a result, below. There's going to be other local press which might give more insight into the content of the piece, if that's what you want; I personally was glad to see it knowing only of Rodney through his songs and a couple of past interviews (here and here; I had actually considered titling that "Of Poetry, Pain, Shit and Survival," but left out the shit out of fear that my editors would snip it anyhow; I'd rather cut my own writing up than have it cut for me). I hope my questions, and Rodney's answers, will speak for themselves, and that you'll accept my urging: if you like storytelling or theatre or theatrical storytelling; if you appreciate people laying themselves bare in their art; or if you simply are a Rodney DeCroo fan, Didn't Hurt is a must see. Facebook page here.... 

AM: Curious - since the Havana preview, you have gotten, I am sure, a lot of feedback. Have you changed anything as a result? If so, why?

RD: Surprisingly, the script has remained mostly intact since the preview. Well, the structure- the overall arc of the story- has stayed the same. But there has been a tightening process. I've cut a fair number of lines. [Director] TJ Dawe encouraged me to do that. Mostly because I'm locked into a 75 minute time slot. The more you do a show and settle into it it sometimes takes longer to perform. So you need to cut more.  I looked for places where I unnecessarily repeated myself and got rid of them. And I cut lines that weren't crucial to the central needs of the story. I think, like in a poem or a song, compression is a good thing. It makes the piece more potent. The more focused I am, the fewer words I use to make a point then the greater the impact of the content. If I don't tighten, then it becomes more diffuse, weaker.  But the story itself hasn't changed much. 

My performances however are much different from the preview performance. It takes time, it takes a lot of shows, to drop into the text. The words are in my body now. I'm not searching for them. They're tied to my breath and my impulse life. The text is moving me around now, I'm not trying to control it. I'm constantly surprised onstage by new discoveries, but I don't try to repeat them (well, when I'm on my game I don't) I just let the text do its work. So there are nuances and subtleties that emerge from the story (hopefully) that weren't there before. Also, the show has become more buoyant the last few times I performed it. Because I'm embodying several traumatic experiences it made the show quite heavy seeming- literally- like I was traversing a swamp. I could feel it in the room. It was an emotionally humid presence that saturated the theater. Which was okay, it was true to the content we were exploring as performer and audience, but that has lightened. It's still there but it's much less. It's like we're on dry land now. But our destination is the same. The impact of the story hasn't changed. But it feels like the way we get there isn't quite as heavy. I'm noticing more laughter in the bits that are humorous and new places where people laugh, they seem to enjoy the excitement and enthusiasm of the young Rodney more when I play myself as a child, etc. And this has also lessened the toll the show has on me. Man, these things are hard to explain, but they're there, they're real. 

How has touring a theatrical piece been different from touring as a musician? How have audiences been different? Did you also do any music on the road? How many dates was it? 

When I tour musically it's usually me and a few other musicians driving a van around Canada. We're in a different town and different club every night. We often don't crash until after three A.M. and we get up anywhere between eight A.M. and noon depending on how many hours it takes to drive to the next gig. The drives vary from three to ten hours. When we get to the venue we load all our gear in and sound check, set up merchandise tables, eat, find where we're staying which can range from not bad to awful hotels to couches in somebody's trailer, etc. This is what we do every day and every night with slight variations for two or three weeks, sometimes longer. So it's exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally. And because we're always rushing we eat fast food or hit diners. And a lot of musicians drink hard to take the edge off but that only takes a bigger toll ultimately.  It's a horrible way to live, but we get to play every night and when we're playing well and the shows are good the other stuff is bearable. Oh did I also mention we don't make much money?

In comparison the Fringe tour I just completed was a breeze. I was out for nearly four months which is a long time, but each festival was twelve to fourteen days. So I could create some order and patterns. I didn't really make money doing this either, but my needs were mostly met. And I got to sleep normal hours in the same bed for a couple weeks at a time. The hard part was being billeted; I was always staying in someone's house. That's a grind after awhile, but still much easier than a band tour. I was also able to buy groceries and cook so I wasn't eating crap nearly as much as I would on the road. And I could get to a gym to exercise. In Toronto I was able to take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes and spar several times because my old coach lives there. So I was less stressed, eating better and staying healthy, well, road healthy. I find it difficult to nearly impossible to adhere to any strict regimens while touring. The stress is too much and I often cave and eat bad food or stay up too late. Also, I only had to take care of me. I didn't have to search for band mates or argue with them about what time we're leaving, etc. Though if I'm honest I'm usually the one that caused problems because my PTSD acts up big time when I'm under so much stress. And then I feel ten times worse for being a head case. So the Fringe tour was much easier than a music tour. 

At first its easy to say theatre audiences and music audiences are a lot different. But I think it's the venues that create the differences. When I play a concert in a theatre it's similar to performing a play. Everyone is focused on the show. That allows the musicians to connect with the audience and get something back from them and they usually play their best. When people come to the theatre they expect to listen. They've come for the show. And they've usually paid a lot more for a ticket too. But if you're a musician at my level, you're playing in mostly in bars and clubs with the odd theatre or festival gig. So people are loud, they often talk over you, they're drunk, they're trying to get laid, they got a lot of other things they're thinking about. They're not there for the show. I've been doing it for awhile so I do have fans that come out to hear me. And there are always people who come for the music or people you win over. But bar gigs aren't easy. And the bars themselves often treat you shitty. They don't care about the music, they want to sell drinks, the band is an after thought. But I will say I prefer playing to theatre audiences because it's almost always a much better experience. I mean, the audience gives themselves entirely over to the show. They don't interrupt you. No one talks, no one comes in late or leaves- though there are exceptions. You can dig into the work, really hold the space and connect with the audience which is an intoxicating experience, it's fucking addictive. It's kind of like a ritual in theatre. There's a spell that gets created, there's magic. But concerts under the right circumstances can be the same. And I've had incredible nights performing in bars. You never know. But I prefer theatre.

Yes, I did do some music gigs on the road, but only in Calgary where I played three for some reason. I played one show at the Ironwood Stage and Grill which I love. I've had some incredible shows there over the years. Pat Macintyre, the owner, has created a venue where it's all about the music and the musicians. They do everything right from the easiness of the load in, to the way the staff treat you, the  great sound guys, the quality of the sound, the great stage, the wonderful free meals they provide, etc. I love playing there. It was a slow night because it was a last minute gig but we still had an audience and I got to play with a guitarist named Joe McCaffery. That was great. I've wanted to play with Joe since he came into the studio while Lorrie and I recorded Old Tenement Man  and he played on my song "The Barrel had a Dark Eye." And I got to hear Lorrie Matheson perform a set of his songs which I loved. The second gig was at the Blues Can. It was a different vibe altogether. The sound man was a lazy prick who hates his job and shits on musicians. I nearly got into it with him. There was a bigger audience but also a lot of people were there just to drink and hang out with friends, so they talked over the show. It sucked. I also played a feature set at the Ship n' Anchor Saturday afternoon jam.  The sound man was okay and the management treated us fine, but I couldn't get into it. The other featured band that played before us was way too loud and were pretty shit. It was fronted by a young woman who clearly thought she's on the fast track to corporate rock stardom. Fuck me, I'd rather punch myself in the groin repeatedly than deal with that crap. But as always I did my best to disappear into the songs. I gave myself over to them as much as I could, listened to Joe and played my best. And when you do that, assuming your songs aren't total garbage, there are always people who are drawn in, who listen and care. Those are the people I play for at gigs. The thing is, my songs are always about the lyrics, the poetry. When I have a full band it's easier to get through those kind of gigs because you're louder and there's more going on onstage to break through to them. But when I'm playing either alone or with one other musician in that kind of environment it's tough because people aren't there for you. Though I've had incredible gigs in those settings too where the room goes silent and magic happens. I will say that if Joe and I had played onstage in a theatre both our performances and the audiences would've been much much better. Give me a theatre audience over a bar gig any time. 

Has your relationship to the piece changed after having performed it? When I saw it at Havana, there were some really raw moments, as I recall, where you had to pause to gather yourself (maybe some of those were cintrolled/ acted, but it did not seem that way) . Does performing it several times make it easier or harder for you? Did you learn anything from the experience?  

I've performed the show forty times now. I know it much better than I did than when I previewed it.  On the most basic level I know my lines now. And I've made a ton of discoveries. I've been living with it for four months. The only way this really works is time. You have to perform a show a lot of times to get it. You can't hurry that process, there are no short cuts.  In that preview there were moments I had to gather myself. I was stressed because I barely knew my lines and I felt lost sometimes. I wasn't sure where I was in the story. That kind of stuff happens in a preview no matter how many times I've rehearsed. The adrenaline is going to hit me because it's my first time onstage with that material for an audience. So the stress caused the most traumatic moments to hit me harder than I expected. I had to grab the chair to pause and collect myself a few times. But I wasn't out of control.  I just needed a moment to steady myself before I could continue. I'm familiar with the terrain now. It's like say skiing. I've been down this run many times. I know it inside and out. I can let go and enjoy myself. And even if there is a surprise I'm ready because my skills are sharp because I've been onstage night after night. 

Yes, I've learned many things about the show. I don't like to talk about them too much though. I want to save it for the stage. When I talk about those things too much it takes away from the performances. I've also learned things about myself. I've always resisted the idea that I had a responsibility for the audience beyond doing the show to the best of my ability. I'm willing to be vulnerable onstage and to connect with audiences but I've avoided connecting with people offstage with the exception of my friends of course. But I noticed that people were getting triggered sometimes by the content of this show. And I could feel the tension that created in the theatre. So I decided to talk to the audiences before the show. 

Now I tell them that I have Complex PTSD and I revisit deeply traumatic experiences in some of the stories and if they're triggered or deeply uncomfortable it's absolutely okay for them to leave. And I let them know that I'm not overwhelmed onstage. That even in the most intense moments I'm in control, I'm acting, I'm using technique. For lack of a better term I give them a trigger warning. I think having permission to leave makes it easier to stay. They don't feel trapped. But I really think it's making the connection with them before the show starts that allows them to trust me. They get a sense of me as opposed to a character. I think this helps immensely. I also stand by the door and say goodbye to each person. A lot of people hug me. Some people cry.  I've come to love it. I look forward to it. I get to thank them and close the circle with them before they leave. I feel like I'm saying hey, I'm honored that you took this trip with me, that you allowed me into your life for this last hour and let me tell you my story. Before I'd just go backstage and hide unless they're were friends I wanted to see. But I can't imagine doing that now. I feel I have a greater responsibility to the audience.  TJ Dawe encouraged me to allow this to happen. He told me people would want to connect with me more because of the nature of this piece. He was right and I'm glad I listened to him. Also, I've always been way too worried about the number of tickets sold, the finances etc. Which makes sense because if you don't worry about those things you can't finance tours. But TJ encouraged me to focus on the experience of being with an audience as I perform the piece. Of really immersing myself as deeply as I could into the text, into the stories and bringing that across to the audiences. He kept telling me success was creating a great show,  creating moments of intense vulnerability and truth,  of connecting deeply with the audience, that it wasn't measured in ticket sales. Eventually I heard him and put my focus there. And because of that I'm feeling the incredible magic and privilege of what I'm allowed to do. There are very few things like it. 

Can you take us through some of the best, most useful, most interesting or complimentary feedback/ reviews you got... And the worst?

Aw man, I don't know. I'm kind of tired of talking about reviews. I'm grateful for the good ones. They help me sell the show. But honestly I can't say I've learned anything from them this time around. I've learned way more talking to audience members and hearing their impressions. And of course, the feedback from other artists is often helpful. But TJ Dawe had the biggest impact on the piece during and after our rehearsals. After that it was what I've discovered while mostly being onstage. TJ cautioned me against paying to much attention to reviews. He said don't let the reviewers get in your head, don't let them direct the show. We've gone through a process, we've created something that we're taking out into the world. Don't start changing it because of what critics say. And he's absolutely right. 

Though I'd be lying if I didn't say a good review doesn't make me feel something. They make me feel good. And bad reviews hurt. They can really hurt. And not all critics are equal. Colin Thomas here in Vancouver wrote a nice recommendation last week for my show on his blog based mostly on the number of good reviews I've received, he hasn't seen the show. But he also cautioned against trusting critics if you don't know their work. Some critics don't know shit about the art form. They really don't. There's a part time reviewer for the CBC in Winnipeg. He said some pretty ignorant things about the show. I think they hire him during the Fringe because they don't have enough critics to cover the shows. His review pissed me off because he wrote nothing about my show. It was all about him. He couldn't handle the content.  If it's not a Shakespeare mash-up or a comedy he trashes it. And he knows nothing about the craft of acting. Why would I want to give his opinions any credence? They mean nothing to me, but the fact that he hurt my houses through his ineptitude did bother me. Alex Dallas - she's a tremendous artist, a real pro- gave me some great feedback after seeing my show in Orlando. She recommended that I make more of an effort to connect with audiences before and after the show. I didn't quite take her advice right away, for reasons I mentioned earlier. But then I saw Stephanie Morin-Robert greeting her audience before her show and saying goodbye to them at the end. Watching her do this really struck me and reminded me of what Alex had said. So I changed things up. But I try not to give critics too much ability to impact what I do onstage. I do learn things from the good ones but that's for future reference. I don't alter my shows for them. I will say that with the exception of the CBC reviewer in Winnipeg I got universally positive reviews. NOW Magazine picked Didn't Hurt as an Outstanding New Play at the Toronto Fringe. I enjoyed that a lot. I did get a lot of emails and Facebook messages from people who saw the show. They were beautiful. One woman sent me a heartfelt poem she'd written about her own experiences with trauma based on a line from the play. Others sent me long messages telling me that the show moved them deeply. Those messages make me feel like wow, I'm touching other people. They can relate to my innermost feelings and memories. That's powerful stuff. I'm not alone. That's the stuff I take with me. 

Where do you go from here with the material? Any thought of filming it, adapting it for a book , touring it elsewhere, or...? 

I've had no thoughts of filming it. I mean, we're going to videotape a performance but that's more for archival purposes. And I've no desire to adapt it for a book. That doesn't appeal to me. Probably because I don't think I could do a good job and I'm lazy.  A book would be too much work!  I've had some informal discussions about taking it to Scotland. I'd love to do that. Moniack Mhor - a writers' centre in the Highlands- gave me a poet-in-residency gig last March. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. I loved just walking through the forests and roads in the hills working on lines in my head.  I walked for hours. I've never felt so at ease and at home in my life. And the people at the centre were wonderful. I miss it all the time. So I hope maybe I can go back and do the show over there. Also I might do the play at Lip Fest in Lago, Nigeria in October. But I haven't received a formal offer from them so who knows. If it happens I'll be thrilled.

Didn't Hurt opens September 5th, at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, at 1895 Venables, and runs through to September 15th. To buy tickets, go here.  For more information on Didn't Hurt - written and performed by Rodney DeCroo and directed by TJ Dawe - see the Facebook event page here...

Monday, August 26, 2019

NO FUN on Drugs at the Princeton!

I have very likely seen NO FUN on drugs, but I have never seen NO FUN on Drugs, not even straight. Tonight I will amend that (though I am not sure if I will see NO FUN on Drugs on drugs; I believe, in fact, the drugs are optional). There is, in fact, video footage of a complete, vintage Railway-era NO FUN on Drugs show, which may get played in part as part of the proceedings! 

In other drug news, the pot dispensary down the street from me got raided. They were trying for a different angle: to buy, you had to sign a document saying you were a Rastafarian, so they could argue from a religious freedoms perspective. Good luck with that, folks! (A friend who shops there quipped, "I wonder if the RCMP will have my name now," but all that they're going to have on their records is that he's a Rastafarian, so...). 

First, they came for the Rastaf... never mind, it's not funny. Is Hobo any good?

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Report from Ambleside, with photos by Sharon Steele: Raise Your Can of Beer on High!

Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

Somewhere during Honeymoon Suite’s closing set last Friday at Rock Ambleside, it hit me, as I looked about the audience: these are the people I went to high school with. The jocks with C’s in English. The guys more interested in cars than books, and the girls they fought over, sometimes quite literally. The stoners with the Led Zeppelin and AC/DC t-shirts who smoked up in the park down the street from the school and once threw rocks at the punk rock weirdo as he passed with the Exploited on his shitty Radio Shack tape deck (that being me, of course). They had lost some hair, expanded in the gut and/ or the ass, and probably had an average of three kids each now (and mortgages, and kidney stones, and type 2 diabetes, all the other accoutrements of middle age); but they were still recognizable as my people, whether I liked it or not.

(All photos not credited to Sharon Steele by Allan MacInnis)

I saw no one whom I actually knew – well, I mean, JJ from Scrape was at the festival, and at some point, notorious autograph-hound Gerald “Rattlehead” Yoshida (as well as Billy Hopeless, Graham Peat, ARGH!, and Sharon Steele), but none of them were from the class of 1986 at Maple Ridge Secondary. Regardless, the High School Reunion vibe was so strong I briefly even wondered if the guitarist from Honeymoon Suite, Derry Grehan, was an old classmate of mine. (He wasn’t).  

 Buck Dharma of the Blue Öyster Cult by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

As they sang along joyously to “Stay in the Line,” it was impossible not to feel fond of this audience, and weirdly at home, weirdly safe. No one was going to mosh into me and stomp my foot. No one was going to crowd surf and accidentally boot me in the head. None of the scenesters whose presence I have come to dread at punk rock gigs were here – the ones who, if they see me, latch on and jabber endlessly, their booze-laden spittle spackling my cheek as they lean in to be heard. It was… a comfortable vibe. About the only discomfort you could expect was for a beach ball to bounce off your head, as you stood in front of the stage: there were several of them being batted about by the crowd.

Crowd shot by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

When the biggest stressor you face is a rogue beach ball, you know you’re somewhere strikingly relaxing and pleasant. The bring-your-own-lawnchair policy made people responsible for their own little bit of turf, as long as they set up in a designated zone, which people did, quite civilly: no territorial squabbles were witnessed, and you were allowed to stash your chair overnight if you wanted to. There were beanbag tossing games (“that’s called cornhole,” my wife advised me). There was easy access to the beach and seawall out back, where the people who hadn’t paid to get in were having their own mini-Ambleside experience on the park benches. It had been a straightforward commute in, on the 257 bus (with the park a short walk from Park Royal Mall), and for drivers, there were a number of parking options (expensive if close, but free if you put some work into it and didn’t mind a short walk). The food trucks were reasonably priced and great (I focused on the perogie guy and the family-run Thai truck, with a small sampling of my wife’s poutine and caramel corn). There was even a White Spot pop-up shop, complete with tables and menus (no milkshakes, though). The liquor – sold at two locations on opposite sides of the camp - was a bit expensive, with two drinks and a tip running perilously close to $20; but there were also booths set up giving you free sample sips of Granville Island IPAs, or Social Lite coolers, which mixed vodka with flavoured, unsweetened sparkling water (the Grapefruit, the Pineapple/Mango, and the Strawberry were all very pleasant; I don’t really recommend the Lemon Cucumber Mint, unless you really like the taste of cukes, which dominates). The sample-dispensers – youthful and pretty - stamped your hand so that you couldn’t come back that day, but the stamps washed off easily enough once you got back home.
With all that booze, you’d figure (especially if you’re a veteran of rock concerts in Vancouver) that there would be at least one person during the weekend who got problematically sauced and had to be escorted out, but if that happened, I sure didn’t see it.

(Allan MacInnis)

Even the bathrooms were well-set up – there was a men’s urinal tent, ringed on the inside with a trough, so that guys in the audience didn’t have to compete for the port-o-potties, and if you really don’t dig the port-o-potty experience, there was an actual public washroom attached to the restaurant on the beach out back. No lineups to pee were in evidence. I came away with the impression that Rock Ambleside is one of the best-organized, most creature-comfort-conscience rock festivals out there. They know the audience well, and know that when you’re our age, comfort counts…

Honeymoon Suite by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

And to return to that first evening: Honeymoon Suite was great. I was prepared to savage them – jotting notes as they took the stage that the singer Johnnie Dee looked like (sorry) a constipated Robyn Hitchcock, and remembering my punk rock snob loathing for them in their heyday – but the band knew their audience, and made them very happy with a seemingly endless string of hits, all but one of which I’d thought were by other bands. “Burning in Love” was Honeymoon Suite? “Feel It Again?” “Wave Babies?” I had written them off, previously, as a one hit wonder, only recalling “New Girl Now,” and rolling my eyes in skeptical anticipation of how badly they would suck. I was utterly chastened by how engaged and engaging they were. Of the acts at Ambleside, they had aged the least visibly, the least poorly, with Dee quipping at one point that the band doesn’t like change, and had stayed the same for 30 years. They proved decisively that a good performance by a band you have never cared about is way better than a mediocre performance by a band you once had some regard for.

Crowd shots by Sharon Steele, not to be reused without permission

Which brings us, sadly, to the Headpins. To their credit, their new members tried hard, with vocalist Katrina Lawrence zestily working the audience between songs and guitarist Tony Dellacroce doing a showy solo setpiece that reminded one of no less than Van Halen’s “Eruption.” It’s not their fault that they aren’t Darby Mills (who left the band for the last time, we presume, in 2016) and Brian MacLeod (who died in 1992). 

(Allan MacInnis)

But though the new members tried gamely, the whole thing still came across as a sort of, I dunno, alternative to golf for bassist Ab Bryant and drummer Bernie Aubin. Granted, they’re original members – their tenure in the band dating back at least to their massive CanCon hit, 1982’s Turn It Loud. But is seeing the bassist and drummer for the Headpins really the same thing as seeing the Headpins?

(Allan MacInnis)

It was occasionally entertaining - it would be hard to mess up a song as good as "People," the first evidence at Ambleside of the enduring appeal of boogie rock, more on which later - but overall unconvincing. On the one hand, Ab Bryant should be commended for braving two bass solos during the band’s set – because there aren’t enough bass solos in the world - but on the other hand, someone take a note to him that bass solos, like drum solos, really need to justify their existence (the funkier one during the up-tempo “People” was pretty good, in fact, but that first one, earlier on… sheesh. Maybe he took the second because he realized that the first was lacking?).

(Allan MacInnis)

Other bands at Ambleside have been touched by the death of members, especially Streetheart  – who offered an enthusiastic performance, ending on a jammy cover of “Under My Thumb,” but whose new lead singer, Paul McNair (of Ambleside vets Harlequin), did not ever make you forget that Kenny Shields had died in the run up to the first Rock Ambleside, back in 2017. In fact, he offered plenty of gratitude and respect to Shields between songs, talking about how Streetheart had taken two years off out of respect for Shields. There was a sense of nice-guy humility to McNair and an unforced quality to his smile.

Streetheart brought to mind a moment during Midnight Oil’s Malkin Bowl appearance of a few years ago, when eagles flew over the crowd, to the delight of everyone in attendance, including Peter Garrett, who pointed at them in wonder. Streetheart drew a literal flying V of Canada geese, by contrast, and no one pointed at them at all: which seemed somewhat appropriate. The geese seemed a practical metaphor for the band – unremarked upon, taken for granted, but deeply and touchingly Canadian. 

(Allan MacInnis)

Quiet Riot, meantime - whose singer, Kevin DuBrow, passed in 2007, to be replaced (eventually) by American Idol contestant James Durbin – had nothing of Streetheart’s charm. Warming up the crowd for the Blue Öyster Cult, they were all obnoxious showmanship and, aside from Slade covers, some of the tritest cockrock-influenced hair metal imaginable. It was impossible to fairly review their performance when the songs were as lame and by-the-book as “Don’t Wanna Let You Go.”

Durbin – who looked more like he was acting in a Hollywood movie about being the lead singer of a metal band than actually fronting one – did have some inspired stage patter, however. At one point, he performed an experiment to gauge the demographics of the crowd. He began by asking the audience, “Is there anyone here who was born in the 1950’s?” A few people cheered, and Durbin replied, “Wow, that’s a lot more than we usually get. Thank you for not being offended. Is there anyone here born in the 1960’s?” He took it up to the present day, with the biggest cheers seeming to come from the 1970’s and 1980’s, though I suspect some people might have been celebrating these decades – let’s have a big cheer for the eighties! -  more than actually having been born in them.

I had expected to enjoy Quiet Riot, since I like Slade, and I have nothing against “Bang Your Head,” their big original number… but no. I had expected to loathe Honeymoon Suite, since that was my official punk rock stance back in my teens, but no, that didn’t work out the way I’d thought, either. I had been interested in seeing the Headpins (since I like “Breaking Down,” which they didn’t play, and credit "People," as mentioned); but was disappointed, not even realizing that Mills was no longer with them until the day of the show. It was all getting a bit disorienting, but thankfully, there were several artists who delivered exactly what they promised, three of them inhabiting different variations of the blues: Pat Travers, Sass Jordan, and David Wilcox.

 (Pat Travers by Allan MacInnis)

The most interesting question about Travers set was, would he or wouldn’t he omit “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights),” a song about beating up the girl who has dumped you. Originally recorded by Chicago bluesman LittleWalter in the 1950s, it is the song that got Travers the most radio play, and he himself has said on Facebook that its “title will probably be on my tomb stone.” But politically, it has aged poorly, and you could imagine some Me Too-era audiences getting upset over its inclusion (even ones who would have no objection to snortin’ whiskey and drinkin’ cocaine, the subject of another of his hits). That didn’t stop my demographic from singing along gamely, when he introduced it as “a little party song,” instructing the audience, in one of the weekend’s many call-and-response routines, “I’ll sing ‘boom boom,’ and you sing, ‘out go the lights!’”

Failed opportunities for introspection aside, none of that really matters, I suppose. The point of Travers’ set – opening the festival’s second day - was his wild-ass blues guitar, and his trio – I believe also including David Pastorius, nephew of Jaco – did exactly what they were supposed to do, jamming out with Travers, giving him the platform to have fun. He even had new songs for us, including an instrumental that I think he described as “Racing the Storm,” which was apt, since the first two days of the festival featured fairly heavy cloud cover, threatening to burst into rain at any moment.  

(Sass Jordan by Allan MacInnis)

After Travers, Dean Hill of Rock 101 – one of a rotating cast of deejays who took on emcee duties - introduced Jordan as “the voice of Canadian blues rock that cannot be ignored,” and having seen her live, it’s easy to see why.  Her radio hits, like “MakeYou a Believer,”  wouldn’t necessarily lead you to expect a band as muscular and rockin’ as Jordan fronted, but her guitarist could have been in a metal band, and her drummer’s face went through an impressive range of tough guy snarls and scowls as he hit his kit, almost like he was trying to beat it up. Jordan was in fine voice and danced and smiled cheerfully, telling the audience she loved us; it seemed totally sincere and engaging, like she genuinely enjoyed what she was doing.

(Obligatory, if mirror-imaged, Ambleside selfie)

Similarly, the dependability of the blues was amply evidenced on day three by David Wilcox, whom I had ignored all my life up to Ambleside, to my loss. I don’t particularly care for “Layin’ Pipe,” his biggest single, but it turns out to be atypical of his music. In fact, most of his other songs are far more rooted in tradition:  funny, upbeat blues boogie numbers like “The Grind,” “Bad Apple,” “Riverboat Fantasy,” “Do the Bearcat,” “Hypnotizin’ Boogie,” and others, all of which he expanded on live. His solos were so tuneful that the absence of a rhythm guitarist wasn’t even felt. And when it wasn’t merely funny – “when I say jump I want you to jump and not come down until the music starts again. Ready?” - even Wilcox’s stage patter showed just how deep the roots of his music go: at one point, he instructed his drummer “to shake us and break us and hang us on the wall,” riffing on a classic Charley Patton tune. There were no other bands at Ambleside who moved me to buy a CD, but Wilcox did (my wife and I have been listening to it this morning, one week after show, and it's just as fun as he was live). 

 David Wilcox by Allan MacInnis

Not everyone’s music, of course, can have the easy appeal of blues boogie. It became clear quite early on that Canadian progsters Saga were not playing to me, or even to the vast majority of people at Ambleside – since the crowd in front of the stage was much, much smaller than the vast horde who filled the space for Tom Cochrane, who followed. But that's not a bad thing, and the majority can take a flyer: Saga was playing to a small coterie of rabid fans who had not had a chance to see them in Vancouver since they opened for Rush at the Coliseum, perhaps on March 29th, 1980. (This was the subject of some conversation between the band and the audience, with vocalist Michael Sadler – who looked a bit like a kinky math teacher - flat out asking everybody when Saga had last played here, then shrugging, after a hundred different answers got shouted at the stage: “it doesn’t matter, we’re here now!”). After their hour long set, a hundred-or-so Saga devotees lined up to buy CDs (a double live greatest hits package, also on vinyl), t-shirts – I’m not sure any band short of the Blue Öyster Cult sold as many – and get their albums signed. It seems at least possible that a few new friendships were formed that way, since – as a bespectacled dude in a Saga shirt at the bus stop afterwards informed me – none of the Saga fans who gathered had had any idea, before the show, that there were so many other Saga fans in Vancouver!

Saga, with added Rattlehead bonus in bottom left, by Allan MacInnis. I should ask for his autograph!

All of which is fine and well – happy for them, and Saga do what they do just fine – evidence here - but I don’t care for prog rock, generally, even in its poppier manifestations ("not my thing," as David M. put it in his sendoff to Neal Peart awhile back). They would have been a great opening act for Rush, really, but I don’t listen to Rush, either.

Crowd shot by Sharon Steele, not to be reused without permission

One thing I had in common with some folks in the Saga crowd, however: I had no great desire to stick around for Tom Cochrane. I liked that he was playing his earlier material – his t-shirts promised a setlist that included “White Hot,”  “Lunatic Fringe,” and other songs from the Red Rider years, which I enjoy much, much more than the sort of Springsteen/ Mellencamp-influenced “Canadiana” of his later years. It was nice that he included the early songs, and nice, too, that he acknowledged that it had all started, for him, in Vancouver. But I felt a single drop of rain on my face, as the band concluded their opening tune, “The Boy Inside the Man,” and decided it was a good time to beat the rush for the bus. Gerald Yoshida was at the stop, and two Saga guys now in matching t-shirts. Yoshida hadn’t gotten his Blue Öyster Cult stuff signed at that point (since they were playing in Saskatoon that second night; they didn’t arrive at Ambleside until about 4pm on day three, no doubt power-napping on the plane). But we chatted a bit. The Saga-shirt guys sat together. Maybe they'd just met that day?

(Allan MacInnis)

Day Three began with another surprise: the Romantics were great. I had been skeptical, expecting a washed up 80’s band milking a couple hits, but it turns out that a) they have lots of fun originals that I had never heard before; b) that they amp things up a bit for their live show, making even their hits (“Talking in Your Sleep” and “What I Like About You” ) sound like real rock songs; c) and that they have plenty in common with other, more critically-lauded power pop bands like the Flamin’ Groovies. Songs like “Stone Pony” and “Tomboy” make me curious about their second album, 1980’s National Breakout, which I don’t recall coming across in record stores very often; alas, they didn’t have copies at the merch booth.  

(Allan MacInnis)

Then Quiet Riot took the stage, just in time for my wife and I to take dinner on the beach (where Graham Peat also took refuge, quipping to me later that he could still “feel the noize,” so to speak, pulsing from the distant stage); then the crowd gathered for the Blue Öyster Cult. Billy Hopeless had photos with founding members Eric Bloom (whom he had interviewed) and guitarist Buck Dharma. Yoshida had an appealingly improbable story of how he got his stuff signed, involving a search for a bathroom - yeah right - followed by a chance encounter with Buck and Eric, and  a skeptical tour manager who tried to ward him off (“that’s one of those eBayers!”/ “no, man, I’m a fan!”). He got his Stalk-Forrest Group album scribbled on, though, so I’m jealous. Cartoonist ARGH! (of DOA colouring book and NO FUN cassette-cover fame) had stories about having seen the band before, at a legendary 1974 show at the Coliseum where the BÖC, by all accounts, blew T-Rex off the stage (that’s where the Vancouver cuts for On Your Feet or On Your Knees were recorded, by the by, though no one, it seems, can figure out which songs they were on that album. Billy Hopeless asked Eric Bloom, and even he didn’t know. )

In honesty, great as they are, the Blue Öyster Cult have never seemed to be about showmanship. They look, for the most part, like pretty average guys, with absolutely none of the hollow theatrical flashiness that Quiet Riot had personified. It’s hard to imagine anyone equally enjoying the set and Quiet Riot’s, or to conceive a pairing more antithetical. As ever, we imagine, the appeal is the songwriting and the musicianship, both of which are amazing, but at times almost understated, with layers you  may not even notice for years. It takes a really deep vein of richness to make it possible for a song like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" to keep its freshness after so many years, when songs with a similar classic rock stature, like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," or the Eagles' "Hotel California" can make a person of taste run screaming to turn off the radio (none of them are bad songs, just massively over-exposed).

Blue Öyster Cult by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

Their set began with a couple of numbers off two of their less successful (but still Columbia-era) albums, “Dr. Music” (off Mirrors) and “The Golden Age of Leather” (off Spectres). Comparable to “Transmaniacon MC” in lyrics, that latter tune involves a bike gang on the way to some figurative Valhalla, and starts with a singalong that invites audience members to raise their “can of beer on high,” and acknowledge that “our best years have passed us by.” For any band at Ambleside – especially a band whose founding members are in their 70’s, performing to an audience mostly in their 50’s – that’s a brave and funny lyric to invite audiences to sing along to; but our cans went up no less.  

Blue Öyster Cult by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

It disappointed me a little that the whoops and cheers got much more vocal when the band broke out their big 80’s hit, “Burning For You.” (Ditto, of course, for "The Reaper," at the end of the main set). It’s a fine, fun song, but jeez, my fellow audinece members, a) "Burnin' for You" is small potatoes compared to "ME262," and b) it’s too obvious to cheer just the hits! I liked the guy who, by contrast, whooped loudly when the band played “Harvest Moon,” off their neglected, highly entertaining 1998 album – their first studio album after being dumped by Columbia - Heaven Forbid.

Oh, who am I fooling: I am the guy who whooped loudly when the band played “Harvest Moon.”

At this point, 47 years into their history, if you don’t count the Soft White Underbelly or the Stalk Forrest Group - the BÖC – “on tour forever,” as their t-shirts proclaim – have the must-plays on their setlist down to an art. They pretty much always touch on certain songs: “ETI,” “Tattoo Vampire,” “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Cities on Flame,” and “Godzilla” (I had been curious to see f they still toured with a giant, moving, smoke-emitting Godzilla head, which they’d had with them at the Coliseum when I last saw them, back in 1982. They do not, or at least didn’t pack it on the flight from Saskatoon). The question was, which songs they would touch on from the rest of their lengthy catalogue, which they seem to change up from time to time. Besides “Harvest Moon,” the variables at Ambleside were “ME262” and “Career of Evil” (featuring that delightful unrhymed couplet, “I’ll spend your ransom money/ but still, I’ll keep your sheep”), and their UFO-themed “The Vigil” (that's a link to a live clip I shot; it's arguably the best song on Mirrors, only getting competition on that album from Allen Lanier’s “In Thee”).  It would have been nice for Tyranny and Mutation, Cultosaurus Erectus, Imaginos, and Curse of the Hidden Mirror to be represented – all fine and fascinating albums, which, truth be known, I prefer to Spectres and Mirrors  (which got two or three songs each!) – but hell, I felt lucky to be seeing them at all.

The high point of their show was “Then Came the Last Days of May,” Buck Dharma’s tale of a drug deal gone bad, based on something that happened to schoolmates of his. The slowest song off their 1972 debut, there are fairly representative live clips on Youtube, even if they aren't from Ambleside. The song has emerged as the real high point of their set, since it opens up into a ten-minute-or-more-long platform for astonishingly deft guitar solos, not just from Dharma but also Richie Castellano. A musician in his own right – you can read about his history and other projects on his official site - Casetellano fills in for the late Allen Lanier’s role and occasionally trades places with Eric Bloom, playing the more robust second guitar parts and occasionally taking leads. Castellano’s solo during “Then Came the Last Days of May” was every bit as memorable and intense as Dharma’s, maybe in part because we weren’t expecting it.

(Richie Castellano solo, by Allan MacInnis)

Allen Lanier and Buck Dharma, Vancouver 1982, by bev davies. I was there!

Back in 1982, as I recall it, when I caught the band at the Coliseum with Aldo Nova opening, it was Eric Bloom who took most of the vocals and seemed the leader of the band; at Ambleside, the majority of lead vocals seemed to be Dharma’s, and when Bloom did take a song – “Cities on Flame,” for instance, which closed the show – he sang well, but seemed maybe a bit less robust than he had in the 1980’s. Any 74 year old who flies from Saskatoon to Vancouver to play a rock concert has the right to be a bit pooped - I mean, hell, I'm 51, and it's a chore to make the basement to change the laundry over - but you have to wonder if he (or Dharma) have contemplated retirement, after decades of pretty much ceaseless touring. (On Tour Forever, their current t-shirt reads, with a note that it's their 47th year).

 Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult by Sharon Steele, Aug. 18 2019, not to be reused withut permission

Fans can only hope that – with a new album in the works, a new label on board, and plans for a host of reissues and live albums – the Blue Öyster Cult decides to keep touring at least until their 50th anniversary (three years from now!), and that Vancouver audiences will get a chance to see them again.

If it happens to be at Ambleside, I won’t complain!

For information about the Rock Ambleside festival 2020, or about past shows, see their official site