Monday, May 27, 2019

My new profile photo, plus really, now: hiatus

Had a fun time with this pic, taking in front of a Missing Link bus stop ad. Surprised I haven't seen more of these!

I really do have to take a break here. Flipper is underway (June 7th). Catching up on David Yow movies (if you have Netflix, I had a lot of fun with I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore, directed by Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair; Yow is great in it). I might do a film thing briefly in addition, but seriously, I need to pause here for awhile.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bruce Wilson, Sunday Morning, and Tankhog

I saw Tankhog once or twice in the early 1990's. I briefly had a group of friends who a) drove - which I did not - and b) were interested in seeing shows at the Cruel Elephant. Most of my "suburban purgatory" youth out in Maple Ridge was spent NOT going to shows, but suddenly I was seeing the Melvins, the Dwarves, the Supersuckers, Love Battery, Facepuller, TAD, the Volcano Suns, Sludge (from Coquitlam!), Superconductor, All, and many others, on almost a weekly basis. I'm pretty sure I saw Tankhog twice. Frankly I barely remember any of those shows, but it was sure fun to talk to Bruce Wilson about tonight's Sunday Morning gig at the Fox. I caught them once, too, at the SBC, and was kinda blown away (for a band with such polished craft in their recordings, I can honestly tellya: they're even better live!). Interview online at the Straight! (Photo credits pending - group shot is by Rd Cane, flatbed shot is bev davies. Thanks to Bruce Wilson and Mike Usinger!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Happy Birthday, Todd Serious! (My Old Razorcake Interview with the Rebel Spell)

Long ago, I posted my last-ever interview with Todd Serious, shortly after he died, but my first-ever interview with him - which took place in 2008 at a house in East Van, with wretchederin and Chris Rebel also present - has been out of print for a long time, and never saw the light in its full, unedited form. I usually make more of a fuss around Todd's date of death, of March 7th, 2015, which happened to be my 47th birthday - which is a hell of a way to remember the day someone died - but I'm seeing on Facebook that today is Todd's birthday, so in honour of that, here's the article, mostly as it was before being trimmed down for word count!).

Note: if you can track it down, this issue of Razorcake also features a Chris Walter cover story on the Tranzmitors!

The Rebel Spell: Political Punk’s Not Dead

By Allan MacInnis

I’d been bitching to members of the Vancouver Subhumans about how punk had lost a lot of its angry, idealistic Utopian edge since it “broke” as a safe consumable. Singer Brian Goble replied, challenging me: “I think there still that element out there. I don’t know how popular it is. It’s never been like, a popular end of the punk rock spectrum as far as I can see, but – you don’t think there’s still little cells of that that exist, on the extreme left wing end of punk?” 

I conceded that I was a bit out of the loop, since I tend to listen mostly to music that I knew from the old days – I’m 39, and my prime years of punk consumption were 1982-1988 – but I still felt like something was missing. Despite the odd band like Propagandhi or Anti-Flag, the sort of idealism, misguided or otherwise, that led Subhumans bassist Gerry Hannah to give up music to become an urban guerrilla back in the early 1980s seemed in short supply – a holdover from the political activism of the ‘60s, long since dissipated as a cultural force.

It was around about this time that I saw the Rebel Spell for the first time, opening for DOA at Richards on Richards. One of their songs has lyrics along these lines...
If this ever ends, I imagine whole armies on trialYou’re guilty by your apathy and complicit in your simplicitySo don’t try to blow it off, it’s too far beyond your meansI will repeat myself until these ideas are heardI will write about disorder and murder driven by simple greed (from “Sullied Graves,” off 2005’s Days of Rage)
The band were remarkable in their energy, and I could make out enough of the words that I knew I’d be poring over their lyric sheets later, something I’ve done less and less of since my teen years. Some of their charisma was pure rockstar – their small blonde female guitarist, Erin, seems to have appropriated her onstage persona from heavy metal male guitarists of yore, which somehow makes me very happy to see – but there was also a clean, angry edge of idealism, mostly radiating from their lead singer, Todd, whose songs seemed angry populist speeches set to music. I approached him at the merch table afterwards. Lean and intense and Mohawked, he presented as a pretty serious fellow (I didn’t realize at the time he actually calls himself Todd Serious). I was impressed that their CDs were selling for only $5 apiece – a pleasing bit of money/mouth congruency – and a little offput that they had obscured their eyes and faces in the art; was it an affectation, or were they actually concerned about their faces being seen? Just how political were they, anyhow?

When the day of our interview arrived, I found myself more than a bit nervous as I made my way to the band’s homebase in East Vancouver, in the lower-rent, arts-oriented Commercial Drive area, with plentiful trees lining the road and rickety wooden steps to their backdoor. As much as I craved some sign that punk was still alive as a way of stirring up shit, my own life is pretty comfortable and compromised; the lost idealism I was pursuing was as much my own as the culture’s, and to some extent, that might have been apparent in the skepticism of some of my questions. Stepha, their drummer, was off being a Mom, so I had only Todd, Chris, and Erin to talk to, and we positioned ourselves equidistance from the tape recorder to attempt conversation.

Allan: So I’d wanted to ask about punk politics, to start with. It doesn’t seem that there’s many bands around that take punk politics seriously these days, and you guys do – it fills my old soul with nostalgia and, uh, wonder [chuckles].
Todd: Yes! [Laughs. Lengthy silence assumes, in which he stares at me, deadpan]. Is this like Jeopardy, you give us the answers...?  
Allan: Uh... you have references to things like the Zapatistas and things like that. Are you pretty well-read, when it comes to labour history?
Chris: I think it’s part of our lives. I wouldn’t call myself well-read, but I try to keep up.
Erin: I’m going to school for international relations, but I don’t, um, help with the lyrics much. I’m not active in that way.
Allan: Why not?
Todd: It’s kind of crushing to bring lyrics to me, because I’m so critical.
Erin [defensive]: Well, I never even wanted to, really. What I’m doing is academic work...
Allan: Academic work leading to what?
Erin: It’s a stepping stone to journalism, I think.
Allan: Particular areas of concern or interest?
Erin: Ummm... [laughs, hesitates, and says apologetically:]. I’m not giving you much...
Todd: I think she means by starting with international relations and then going into journalism and writing about international relations.
Erin: Yeah. [Silence ensues].
Allan: Okay. Chris – you also write sometimes.
Erin: [Giggles nervously].
Chris: Yeah, uh... If we’re talking about politics, and why we choose to be a political punk band or something... I think it’s because I’ve always been interested in it since I was young, and the same with Todd, like, before we even started the band, we were already reading the Communist Manifesto and other books. I always had an interest in politics and anarchism. And now, it’s protruding out of our band through us because we kind of live those lives. I try my hardest to be a vegan and do all these certain steps that are, like, condemning the shit that’s going on in this world anyways...  through the crap food that people sell us and all the shit corporations that are just trying to rule you. So you live that life, and in anybody’s mind, with politics, you always think you know best – so you just want to share you knowledge with people all the time - the stuff that I’m learning through our lives, you know. Like, let’s say the song “December 8th 1980” that I wrote – I stumbled across, and was interested in, the conspiracy theory of –
Allan: Mark David Chapman being programmed by the CIA –
Chris: And Reagan and Bush being behind the murder of Lennon. And so I read about it, and it was a great song to write. I mean, Joey Only said it best on the _______ show, “It’s awesome about that song, you’re actually teaching somebody something.” When you read the lyrics... we got emails from kids, you know – they email you back and they say, “Oh yeah, we had to go look up Reagan, and he is a douche!” Or was a douche.
Todd: “...Though he happened before I was born.”
Chris: I mean, we’re not necessarily teaching history, but – we’re teaching history!
Allan: Sure.
Chris: A song like “The Strikers,” my whole purpose behind that is to tell people not to take shit from your boss, you know – and at shows I say, if your boss isn’t paying enough, steal from him.
Allan: Is there a particular strike you were thinking of there?
Chris: No, it’s just a metaphor, in general, pretty much.
Allan: Right. Do you guys read a lot of political theory?
Todd: Chris reads the first chapter of anything he can get his hands on.  
Chris: I’m in so many different books right now... I’m not even really reading political stuff right now, I’m kinda reading caveman books.
Allan: Caveman books?
Chris: Ancient history and stuff.
Todd: Pre-history.
Allan: For academic reasons, or personal?
Chris: For personal...
Allan: Any sort of connection to what you’re doing in the band?
Chris: I’m just interested in civilization and stuff. I’m just learning about – I’m trying to learn more about evolution and whatnot. I never really learned it in high school.
Todd (giggles): You weren’t really at high school!
Chris: No, I wasn’t... but I read anything I can get my hands on, any –ism you can throw at me.
Erin: I’m not so interested in the –isms, I’m more interested in social justice in general, so I don’t subscribe to any particular ideology.
Allan: Particular issues you get passionate about?
Erin: A big issue of concern for me is the media and how it’s concentrated. I think it really skews people’s perspectives – it affects every other institution that there is, because dissenting voices get marginalized and they don’t get heard as much.
Allan: Do you do any writing for independent media?
Erin: Workin’ on it, but no.
Allan: Stuff that you read about or particularly...
Erin: I just picked up Mother Jones magazine for the first time last week, you ever hear of it?
Allan: It’s sort of a hippie magazine, isn’t it?
Erin: Yeah, I guess so. It’s sort of American liberals – they’re sorta rich left-wing liberals, but I thought it was really good journalism. I’d never seen it before.
Allan: You guys play in America, in Washington, next week, right?
Todd: Yeah, well – we try to go there a lot, ‘cos they’re fairly close to home, and as long as you’re clever enough to get past the border without being a band, then yeah – it’s a lot of people that are right there!
Allan: Do you encounter any sort of prejudice against your politics? Like, in “December 8th, 1980,” you’re encouraging John Hinckley Jr. to shoot straight. All for it, but, it’s kind of...
Chris: That’s seriously the best line ever... Down south, I think when we were in Arizona, I met some US marines at one show and the Days of Rage CD, there’s some kinda anti-military stuff in there, some Osama bin Laden thing, and one guy asked, y’know, “What’s this all about?”
Allan: I don’t know all the lyrics, so – there’s a reference to Osama bin Laden?
Chris: No!
Todd (laughing): I’m like, what?
Chris: It’s for the song “Truth Crew,” so for the artwork, I did a collage. I wanted to throw a picture of him in there.
Erin: We don’t get contradicted very much, people are very supportive.
Todd: Yeah, that’s just it. We go to the States, yeah, but we go to hang out with punks, and you’re not gonna... One guy – where was that, Las Vegas? - identified himself as a Republican punk or something?
Erin (Laughs): Yeah.
Todd: I’m like, “Dude, it’s an oxymoron.” Like, I’m not one to say there’s rules to things, but I don’t think that that can be.
Chris: That’s like Michael Graves, the singer from the Misfits, he’s a Republican punk. Colbert does a report on him, it’s fuckin’ funny.
Erin: We’ve been getting lots of orders from military bases!
Todd: Well, I think that’s just... you look at any numbers on the military, how unhappy American soldiers are in general, they’re just getting sucked in -
Chris: (indicates confusion). From what?
Erin: People are ordering CDs.
Chris: From military bases?!
Todd:  One of them was from Alaska, one of them was in the middle of nowhere, and – Erin, where was the last one?
Erin: It wasn’t even a state, they’re called IPOs or something. It’s not technically in New York, though geographically it is. I think it was strange.
Todd: She was all freaked out! She’s like, “Where is this?”
Erin: Yeah! I totally had to map quest this place to see where it was – it’s not a state, it’s just a base.
Todd: I was like, just send the damn thing!
Chris: I’d be like, “No way!” I’m paranoid about that shit, like last night, this guy called me, and he asked if we’re playing and I’m thinking that show in Seattle, so I’m thinking he’s a border agent seeing if I’m crossing the border.
Allan: Do the US border guys ever hassle you for being punks? I mean – I’m an old fart, right, so I’m coming from a time when being a punk you get beaten up and hassled a lot, but punk seems to have become a lot more mainstream now...
Todd: As an individual, you might have a little less trouble at the border for your appearance – like, having a funny hairdo or whatever – that’s a little more accepted, I think, but it’s so strict now, and they’re so after bands, that if you look like a band... We get away with stuff, because it’s two guys and two girls crossing, so they think “A couple of couples,” they don’t look at it like a band. If they see four dudes in a van, you’re done, man, it’s over.
Chris: I mean, not always, because people do make it through, but in some fucked up weird way, like, “How did you do that?”
Erin: The issue isn’t that we look freaky or that we’re punk rockers – we’re gonna go down and destroy their economy by making too much money.
Allan: So CDs and whatnot?
Todd: We never bring anything. Like – a guitar pick in your pocket is pushin’ it.
Allan: You bring guitars and stuff?
Todd: No.
Chris: Are you sure we should be telling this for an interview, for a magazine?
Allan: For an American magazine.
Chris: No, but US intelligence does read Maximum Rock’n’Roll and any kind of rock journals. I’m sure they do.
Todd [deadpan]: We’ve never been to the States.
Allan: Right! I see. [Laughter all round]. You’re funnier than I thought you would be, given your lyrics.
Todd: I’m not bein’ funny!
Allan: Okay. I’ll show you guys a draft of this, and we can edit it later... Talkin’ about history: the Subhumans, Gerry Hannah, and Direct Action – how do you guys feel about that stuff, how does that bear on you as punks. I mean – you were all born in the early 80’s?
Todd: Yeah, roughly.
Erin (giggles).
Allan: ‘Cos I was like 14 when that happened, so I was getting interested in punk when Gerry got arrested and DOA put out the Right to be Wild single with “Burn It Down” and “Fuck You.”
Chris: As a teenager, I remember something about Gerry moving to ‘round about where we were living, in Williams Lake (a fairly rural area of BC; Gerry’s an outdoorsperson and spends a lot of time away from the big city). I don’t know if I’d just moved there, or where I was at that time, and kids were talking about this guy from the Subhumans showing up and stuff. And I was pretty young. And the Subhumans – I never even realized for so long that there was a UK Subhumans. I see these kids with patches everywhere, and I’m like, “Wow, the Subhumans are back!”
Todd: ______ was so blown away, he was ranting about you not knowing how these UK Subhumans – he was just like, “How can he not know?”
Chris: I was just – I never – whatever –
Todd: Never whatever?
Chris: I don’t pay attention to kids’ patches! So it’s like, I had never stumbled across it.
Todd: What was the question?
Erin: I don’t think it’s okay to use violence, ever, to make a political point, but in that particular circumstance, they were blowing up a weapons plant. This was during the Cold War, as well – so I can sorta see a justification for what they did.
Allan: Most people you talk to sympathize with their aims, but not their methods.
Todd: I sympathize with their methods and their aims.
Allan: Yeah.
Todd: Yeah...
Erin: Back then, everybody had this nuclear threat hanging over their heads – the whole planet could be destroyed at the push of a button.
Todd: We have that threat now.
Allan: Yeah, but we were more afraid of it then. Why aren’t we afraid of it now?
Chris: Our brains are bigger. We’re smarter because of technology and what we have... Back then it was like a monkey in that fucking Matthew Broderick movie, where he’s playing chess with it. Back then, we were like, “Holy shit, chess can cause World War III, with Matthew Broderick? And now it’s like – we’ve got video games and board games about it... It’s not a novelty now, but the threat’s still hugely there. The Americans never got rid of their missiles...
Erin: The situations a bit different. It’s not an active hostility. Now it would be more like an accident.
Chris: Yeah, but – I’ve seen some stuff on the internet, what some guys in China are saying about the US, and that’s pretty hostile.
Erin:  What were they saying?
Chris: That, like, “If Americans ever got involved with Taiwan or anything like that, I don’t care if we spend billions of our own people, we’ll wipe you out.”
Allan: The Chinese are saying that?
Chris: Well, I don’t want these guys comin’ after me, so you gotta check the source on that one... [laughter].
Todd: Now the Chinese and the Americans are after Chris!
Chris: I mean, you can judge for yourself, but I read that, from like, a statement on the net. I’m not just reading Wikipedia. But that’s a somewhat serious threat. The North Korean situation, that got somewhat resolved – they’ve been given aid – but the guy makes his whole country shave his head just like him. He’s nuts, okay?
Erin: But Russia – I mean, still, they’ve got 30,000 warheads hanging around. So do the States, but Russia doesn’t have the infrastructure right now to take care of it. They’re laying off their soldiers...
Chris: The States wants to put a missile base in the Czech Republic. That’s like, putting their own missiles over there...
Erin: Getting ready for Iran or something.
Chris: But you can see that on the internet, too.
Allan: Do you have a lot of fans in the United States?
Chris: Uh-huh. And Russia! We just got released on a comp out of Moscow.
Allan: What’s your opinion of punk as a motivating force now?
Todd: I think music’s been used for movements as long as you can remember, and every kind of movement, because it’s another way of reaching people. If you just hit people with straight rhetoric, it’s often difficult to get through. When you get some people on a more emotional angle, which is where music kind of connects the two things – if you can get your rhetoric with some emotion attached to it, I think it works differently, and people are receptive to it in a different way. As far as the state of punk – I think punk’s become a lot less political than it was.
Allan: Why do you think that happened?
Todd: ‘Cos people caught on to the style of the music, and it’s just become a standard style you can harvest if you want to make music.
Erin: Or just a fashion, not even...
Todd: Yeah, but we’re talking about music, so let’s just ignore that for a sec. It’s a style of music to draw on. You can just take some of that – you don’t have to have any of the ideals, you can just might want to take that part of the music. Whereas before, when it started, it was kids making music for kids, so it was inherently just attached to the feelings of youth at the time. Now it doesn’t have to be.
Allan: How did you get started listening to punk? Was the politics of it one of the draws?
Erin: For me it was, because in Victoria, the scene was really political. It was just, come to the youth center and see some bands. At that point, I didn’t really care at all. I was 14, it didn’t mean anything to me, but – you know, they had the little zines and the propaganda and I just started thinking about those issues.
Allan: What bands were you listening to at the time?
Erin: Back then, it was Hudson Mack, and and Black Kronstadt, and Goat Boy, and Ultra-Vires.
Allan: None of whom I have heard of.
Todd: Yeah, for me it was the same thing. I got into punk from skateboarding, so the politics weren’t really a part of it, but then, when I got into underground music a little more, it was music from Victoria that really had those politics that totally made me start learning about that stuff.
Allan: Are you from Victoria?
Todd: No, I was raised in the interior (of BC), in Williams Lake (far, far away from Victoria).
Allan: But you were hearing Victoria music?
Todd: Yeah, it was funny actually. We had a friend and we would go there and buy tapes out of the music store up there and so these people knew all these underground punk tapes were going to Williams Lake. And then I finally got to meet Tony, who was in –
Chris: Lootbag.
Todd: Lootbag, which was the big one, like everybody just loved Lootbag up there, and he just thought that was so funny, because they never played off the island (ie, off Vancouver Island, the land mass Victoria is on). But then – Hudson Mack, he’s in AK-47 now –
Chris: And Nothing to Lose.
Todd: Yeah. A bunch of bands like that. Anyway, we were getting these tapes, and we just thought they were the greatest thing ever. I mean – he would have had no idea that he’d have 500 kids show up if he played a show up there, but...
Chris: Yeah, 16 at Williams Lake, I had the Laughing Stock/ Goat Boy split tape, and the Lootbag tape, and then I had Shutdown from Victoria. Those were my tapes, from two different people who spent summers in Victoria and would bring these tapes back. That’s what got me stoked – that’s why I originally moved to Victoria, to go play with my band there. It’s like, at 19, I moved there – my first time ever being there – to go play music.
Todd: So it’s interesting that Erin was from there and we were these kids from Williams Lake. So that music just affected us.
Allan: How did you guys hook up?
Erin: I met Todd through a Georgia Straight ad.
Todd: She was the ad – she was the guitar player, looking for a band.
Erin: I was in another band, but it wasn’t working out so good, so I was looking for a side-project.
Allan: So you were originally into punk rock? I mean... I don’t mean this as an insult, but there’s something kinda metal about your guitar.
Erin [small laugh]: I started playing years before I was into punk rock.
Allan: Right. And what were your original influences.
Chris [whispers darkly]: AC/DC.
Erin, Allan: [laughter].
Erin: No, you know, I was 12, I was reading Guitar World! And noodling off the tabs in Guitar World – taking lessons, whatever the teacher would...
Chris [ironically]: She’s only like 18 now, so...
Allan: Guitarists that you liked?
Chris, Todd [they’re enjoying this line of questioning, and you can hear one of them say]: Sweet. Here we go – Slash.  
Erin: Slash and Angus.
Allan [laughing]: It’s okay!
Todd: No, it’s good – we would never get this out of her if you weren’t here.
Erin: Whatever –
Allan: And now.
Chris: Pantera. 
Erin: Now? Well, I stopped reading those magazines because they were so –
Todd: Horrible.
Erin: I lost interest in the mainstream magazines because they were all sort of macho and stupid, their whole tone, their target audience is like 14 year old boys, and I was not that anymore.
Todd: After the operation.
Erin: I don’t know about a guitar player that influences me now.
Allan: How about women in rock? Any ones that you look up to?
Erin: I really like the Riot Girl scene, like L7 and Babes in Toyland. I really liked Nashville Pussy when they were big. That’s something I don’t like to say in front of these guys.
Allan: They’re not the most... liberal band.
Erin: No, not at all, but I saw them live and she was just so incredible.
Allan: Raunchy female power?
Erin [laughs]: I don’t like to say it like that, it sounds pretty cheesy, awful. But no, she’s a sweet guitar player, she’s awesome.
Allan: Do you guys have any ideological arguments? Are you both vegan, as well?
Todd: No, I’m vegetarian. I’ll starve to death if I eat vegan.
Erin: I’m barely even a vegetarian.
Chris: I’m not vegan. I’m about 90%, but I’m eating non-lactose cheese right now. It’s organic. And I eat eggs, and sometimes I have to buy pizza, because it’s all I can get.
Todd: If you’re going to travel or anything, it’s, like, so hard on the road.
Chris: You gotta like bring a bag of nuts and fruit... It’s like...
Todd: It’s funny, because the band is the reason I own a car. The band is the reason I’m not vegan. It’s just kinda fucked up. [Note: Todd told me much later on that having said this in print bothered him, and was part of why he committed to being vegan, on-tour or not]
Chris: Yep.
Erin: But he wants a fight out of us.
Chris: Like, we argue a lot about stuff. We fight about a lot of different ideas, like – sometimes we argue about this whole –
Todd: No we don’t! We don’t even want to go there!
Erin: Don’t go there!
Todd: I argue against misinformation and ignorance, and I get mad when –
Chris: So you’re saying I’m misinformed!?
Allan: [laughing in delight]
Todd: No, I didn’t say that! I said the only time you’ll get me mad is when you make a statement which you know sounds misinformed to see if you can get me mad!
Chris: Yeah, well –
Todd: So that’s a good way to get me going... There’s a lot of horrible misinformation out there, and we are all children of the 80s, and the Red Scare, so there’s a lot of stupidity around that...
Allan: Would you all be comfortable describing yourselves as socialists or communists? No. [Speaking into tape]: Erin shakes her head, indicating no. [There is a long pause].
Todd: It takes a lot for people to have... [changing his mind]: I don’t want to get into this.
Allan: You don’t want to get into this?
Erin: Do you subscribe to an ideology?
Todd: Do I subscribe to an ideology... See, that’s what I’m trying to get at.
Chris: Are you a member of the Communist Party?
Todd: [giggling]
Allan [giggling]: Are you now or have you ever been...
Chris: Are you a member of the Communist Party? Yes or no?
Todd: Are you doing the border guard thing now?
Chris: No, but I’m asking, and you won’t answer!
Todd: I’m getting to a very convoluted answer here. ‘Cause this is what I started to answer...
Chris: You are! You are a member.
Todd: No, I’m not!
Chris: See – the answer is, “No, he’s not.”
[General pause].
Chris: Okay, I was just bugging you about that.
Todd: Like you needed to make this a little more difficult.
Chris: No, I was bein’ a border guard.
Allan [laughing to himself]: I’m going to sit back...
[General pause]
Erin: I’d call myself a feminist, but beyond that –
Todd: Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s scary to say you subscribe to a particular ideology because people have so much information around them that they assume all these things that they think they know about these ideologies, which don’t fit.
Allan: Okay.
Todd: So I could explain for an hour where I sit, but I do sit somewhere kinda in the anarcho-socialist kind of realm, right. I would take either of those and object seriously to the anarchist’s lack of any kind of feasible plan, but I also disagree with several parts of a traditional socialist view. Now as soon as you say that, people start attaching it to past regimes which they figure were flying a certain flag – and may have been flying a certain flag, just like the US calls itself a democratic state. So, if you want to call anything that’s occurred in the past, if you want to go into history and call something communist or socialist state, fuck you, okay? You need to look at the what the ideology behind that is, and know it very clearly at it before you can call yourself that – and don’t run someone down because of history, don’t run down their idea down just because of history, because it’s just like saying, “I believe in democracy,” and someone going, “Oh, you’re a fuckin’ American, then!”
Allan: Okay.
Todd: That stuff just gets me.
Allan: But, I mean, the Zapatistas, for example – you see them as a pretty positive example of people organizing?
Todd: I think people’s right as a group, to choose how they live, is one thing. Within that culture, repression, oppression will develop, regardless of what you do, because people are people and they aren’t perfect. But if you look at, from the outside, what they’ve done – indigenous autonomy is the part of that that does it for me, and standing up to this accelerated capitalism that’s trying to move into Mexico? Right on: give me a gun. So...
Allan: Have you guys ever played in a situation like that – squats in Europe, or played Mexico?
Todd: We’ve never been off this continent as a band, so...
Erin: We’ve never been to Mexico, either.
Allan: Is it something you want to do?
Todd: I’d certainly play anywhere, and if there’s something you can lend to somebody by their music, supporting them by being there, then sure, great. I personally don’t know that I can do that much. I mean, I think, part of it with the music is to raise some awareness. I mean, if I put an idea in someone’s head – they might want to learn about it. And I mean, I think – I’ve seen evidence of that, people are influenced in some way, and they learn about these things because of the music.
Allan: Sure.
Todd: And in that song you’re referring to (“Rebels Sing”), I refer to a bunch of different things - the Sandinistas, I refer to the People’s Army which is referring to the ongoing revolution in Nepal... And it’s just to put that idea out there, so people are aware these things are going on, because you never hear about it in the mainstream media. 
Allan: Right.
Todd: You heard about it when the Nepalese – when the prince went crazy and shot a bunch of people in the palace. You didn’t hear about the revolution that’s been going on in that country for ten years, right? I just wanted to put that out there so someone would hear it.
Allan: Okay.
[General pause].
Allan [speaking to the tape]: Everyone else has gone silent.
Todd: They’ve seen me like this before. 
Allan: [laughs]
Chris: Like he says, too, it’s scary to really put something –
Todd: [interrupts]: Okay, I think it’s the hardest – okay, hang on. [Stops himself]: Go ahead.
Chris: I don’t believe in a lot of things, and I do believe in certain things, and I think the older I’m getting and the more I’m learning about certain things, it’s just becoming so overwhelming. And even, you know, I read a lot of books about anarchism, I read a lot of books about communism, and, y’know, books about religion – everything. So you read something – what I’m reading, this Leninist book, this guy, Sergey Nechayev, and he talks about the true revolutionary, and who this person has to be, and it’s so intense that it makes you like – if you try to think about it, if you have to be this person, the way he describes the true revolutionary, it makes you sick to your stomach, because it’s something you couldn’t possibly ever do, as a human. Like they say, you have to detach yourself from everything. You have to be, at all times, the enemy of the state. There’s no in-between, “I’m just gonna hop in the car and whip down to my buddy’s house,” y’know – the convenient, ‘cause you’re still giving into that system. So... My wife’s grandfather asked me, when I sat down at the kitchen table, when I first met him – he fought in WWII, and the first thing, he seen my AK-47 sewn onto my sleeve, he said, “Are you a revolutionary?” And I was just like – I didn’t know what to say.  And Samarah like, told me her grandfather is cool or whatever. But I was just like... I didn’t know if this old guy, if –
Todd: If he’s gonna punch you –
Chris: Yeah, if he’s gonna punch me, or...
Todd: Or what that meant to him, because of the misinformation that’s been pumped into his brain.
Allan: Well, the photos of you guys in the anarchist masks and whatnot...
Erin: [giggles]
Allan: [laughing]
Todd: The idea was to put pictures in and not have faces, so the border guards can’t see who we are.
Allan: I don’t think those pictures will make the border guards think of you in a more fond way.
Todd: No, no. But if they can see it, harvest our image, and then flag us...
Chris: I think, even on both our CDs – what could I just put on there that would be so awesome, y’know? Fuck the Police, NWA – straight up, on the back of the CD (Expression in Layman’s Terms). I’m like, that’s awesome. Now it’s on the record – you’ve got to pull the record out to see it. I think I took it off the CD. But, y’know, it’s like, in Days of Rage – it was my idea to be somewhat a little bit harsh – it’s not like, ultra harsh, because I’ve seen harsher shit. But now it stresses me out, because when cops pull us over and look at our merch it says “Fuck the Pigs” on there.
Allan: I missed that. Where does it say that?
Todd: It says “Fuck the Police” on the CD cases.
Allan: Where? (We start looking through the artwork for the CDs I’ve brought.)
Chris: It’s not in this one.
Todd: You’ve got the third pressing or something.
Allan: You’ve taken it off?
Chris: I’ve changed it.
Todd: No, there it is. [Points. It’s huge and obvious; I blush to have missed it].
Allan: Oh, is that what that says? “Fuck the Police!” I was too busy with the lyric sheets...
Chris: With Days of Rage, I was reading about the Weather Underground, and that’s where it comes from, was this riot in Chicago – the Days of Rage, and that’s where I got this idea. They just kinda seized the moment. And the whole concept behind everything there, with the communiqué (in the liner notes to Days of Rage), was this kind of anarchist militant vibe to it – what I tried to put into that. We’re not necessarily militant in a military violent way, and our communiqué is pretty pacifist –
Todd: I believe in violence.
Allan: You believe in violence.
Todd: Just for the record.
Allan: Well, come on – you went there before, saying you subscribe to direct action as a method. How far would you take that?
Todd:  Well, there’s two different ways to look at that. The first is - I said, I believe in violence right now, and I’m thinking – like, it just kills me when people say “pacifist.” If I burst into your door at your family reunion and start shooting people, one at a time, and start making my way through your house, and you reach over and grab Grandpa’s shotgun: if you call yourself a pacifist, what are you going to do? You’re gonna fuckin’ blow me away.
Chris: But that’s not – you’re a pacifist – you’re completely - 
Todd: No, you’re not –
Chris: But that’s like anything!
Todd:  Hold on! Back up: you now are an indigenous group, and a bunch of yahoos land and start raping and pillaging. Are you going to sit down and let them do that?
Chris: Never.
Todd: Okay, what about these people, they come and they massively take over your country or your space – I don’t believe in borders per se but at some point you have to do it, “this is my space,” right? And they come in and they start destroying things, they set things up, and they just slowly destroy your culture. They erode it away by encroaching on it and polluting it until its gone. I don’t see that as any different. It’s another kind of invasion. I fully believe that you have every right to –
Chris: Drag them out into the street –
Chris, Todd [together]: And shoot them in the face. 
Allan: Uh-huh. [To Erin]: They’re very male [chuckles].
Todd: And I’m not -
Chris [laughing]: I can give you some photos of us with guns, if you need photos with it. there. Erin with a shotgun or a handgun: what do you want to see? She’s as male as us!
Allan [laughing]: Okay okay okay, I take it back.
Todd: Just to clarify a few things: I don’t like the idea of people being hurt for any reason, and I’d do anything to prevent that, but I think when someone – there is a line where you have to be willing to fight, because all you can do is die or be wiped out. Whether it’s the current form of cultural genocide that’s occurring to the Native people here or all around the world, so you have a group like the Zapatistas that stand up and say, “We’re going to use violence if necessary to stop what’s going on.” I totally agree with violence in that regard.
Allan: Okay. Fair enough. Erin, anything you want to say?
Erin: Umm – just to go back to the mask thing. I like it for aesthetic reasons, let alone the political reasons. A lot of bands are so narcissistic and they’ll have glossy promo shots that they hand out to everyone – that’s just an additional thing about that that I really like.
Allan: In terms of women... how do you feel about artists like women like Madonna and Britney Spears and whatnot – the way women are being sort of encouraged to “empower themselves” as sexual objects.
Erin: [laughs]
Allan: How do you react to that?
Erin: Well, how we’ve done it in this band is try not to even play up the gender thing, try not to make an issue out of it – just kind of play it down and let the music speak for itself. [Interrupting herself]: Hey, Doug! [A guy named Doug enters the room, and Todd ducks out to talk to him]. The whole pop culture that you’re talking about – I don’t really have anything original to add to the conversation, it’s just so fraudulent. It’s not real power. It’s not... We’re still as women, we’re still under-represented in politics, in business, and taking your top off... Looking that way doesn’t help women get taken seriously. It’s just not real power.
Allan: Okay. So, you don’t want to play up the gender thing, but there must be a lot of people in the audience who are very aware of the fact that two members of the band are women, and who really like that.
Erin: Yeah! It’s great. We do get a lot of support from females, but we’re not sexualizing ourselves.
Chris: Definitely.  I get kind of annoyed now, ‘cause I don’t even think of the gender thing, because we’ve been doing this for so long, plus we’ve all lived together so long, we just seem like this family. How some people put it – “two guys and two hot chicks.” One guy said to me, “It doesn’t hurt your band to have a couple of hot chicks in there, does it?” My answer was, you mean like, “hot chicks that can play their instruments?” And he concluded by saying, “I don’t want to sound like a pervert or anything, or just a guy who is just there to check out the chicks, but you can’t help but notice that.” I’m like, “Well yeah, but I can’t help that the people in this bar are half women, half men!”
Erin: The women are stoked. I think we probably have more women in our audience than maybe some of the other punk bands around. Going back to, umm.... What was I going to add?
Allan: Talking about real power, females exploiting themselves.
Erin: Yeah, it was something to do with that...
Todd [re-enters the room with Doug]: Wish I’d heard.
Erin: I forget.
Allan [to Doug]: You’re not actually in this band, are you?
Todd: No, he’s the guy who’s recorded pretty much all our stuff.
Allan: Oh, okay.
Doug: Yeah.
Allan: Is there a new CD in the works?
Todd: Hmm... okay: talk to me before you go to press, okay?
Erin: I know what I was going to say! The pop star thing. It’s also part of a really fucked up attitude society has towards sex. It’s this thing where it’s gotta be so dirty and disgusting, and I think it’s how they make so much money out of it, because it’s taboo. I think it’s one side of the same coin that’s led to all these women being murdered in the downtown eastside (Erin is referring to the murder of dozens of prostitutes and marginalized women in Vancouver, that was allowed to continue more or less unchecked for many years, and has become a focal point for feminists). The way we look at sex is just so screwed up. I don’t know how to articulate that better...
Todd: I think, to expand on what you’re saying – it puts people in unsafe situations, because they’re being hidden, because of the taboos.
Erin: Yeah, it goes even further.
Allan: But that relates to artists like Madonna and whatnot, who are parading their sexuality in a very public way.
Erin: I’m not saying it’s Madonna’s fault, but her popularity, as well as the scourge of these prostitutes – it’s part of the same thing.
Allan: The same phenomenon.
Erin: Yes.
Allan: There’s no healthy middle ground where sexuality can occur. There’s extreme sexualization in the media, and the complete denial of suppression on the other hand...
Erin: Yeah. That’s the closest way I can express that right now without givin’ it more thought.
Allan: You don’t really have songs about feminism or women’s issues per se.
Erin: Not yet!
Todd: Most of the stuff is not that literal, right? So – there’s probably themes there, but it’s not overt. I think the best way to turn someone off something is to say something too overtly, especially in music.
Erin: But we haven’t even really touched on that in a subtle way, yet.
Todd: I’ll bet you I have. I’ll find it.
Erin: We’ll talk.
Todd: You’ll be like, “Where,” and I can’t think of it right now, but –
Erin: But I’d like to see a little bit more of that, just a song or two.
Todd: Well, yeah, no, I will – that’s fine - [Adopts mock submissive tone]: Yes, Erin.  
Erin: Something I’ve –
Todd: Well, give me a topic.
Chris [makes a troubled sound]: Ehhh. No, I was just thinking - in “Drain” (off Expression in Layman’s Terms) you talk about that a little.
Todd: Yeah, that’s literal, but it’s just the surface of it.
Chris: To go deeply into it, there’s a lot of stories and issues that people need to know about. Even writing a song about our problem in Vancouver here, for missing prostitutes – I was listening on the radio at work there a couple of days ago, and it was a woman who was advocating the law to be turned over, for certain prostitution laws. Like, the fact that prostitutes should have their own workspace, as opposed to being on the street where they have to work alone, because working in pairs draws attention from pigs, that arrest them. When we lived on Fraser Street, the prostitutes were out there by my place at the Fraser and 19th area, and again, I thought the bigger problem was the fuckin’ johns that were just hanging out, y’know? And it’s like – those people, even if they are being targeted, it’s such an obvious situation. It’s a small little quaint neighbourhood, too, with families... Prostitution can be anywhere, but it’s like, a different kind of neighbourhood, it’s not like the downtown eastside. This woman – just bringing out these laws that are oppressing women, for something that it’s their own right to do. It keeps them from regular hospital visits, or with clinics, to be monitored properly –
Erin: And they can’t go to the police if they have been beaten or threatened -
Chris: - because what are the cops going to do? You’ve seen Bad Lieutenant – they’re all like that. The cop that fuckin’ smiles at you, it’s because he’s trying to trick you. But that’s the thing – that shit needs to be changed. I’m not, like, “Yay, all women be prostitutes,” but if you want to be a prostitute, you should be a prostitute... You should be allowed to be a prostitute.
Allan: There was a period where the left was really against that, where it saw the legalization of prostitution in terms of the exploitation of women.
Chris: There’s also leftists who don’t like pornography, and I’m not gonna say I’m a huge porno freak, but I don’t see anything wrong with it – big fuckin’ deal! It’s people having sex for other people to enjoy, and it’s a huge culture...
Erin: It’s not about condoning prostitution, it’s about recognizing that it’s going to happen and that you should have harm reduction, and as long as we don’t, these women are going to get marginalized and they’re going to get hurt.
Allan: Yep.
Todd: And we’re condoning freedom, too.
Chris: And condoning freedom, because who fuckin’ has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do, if you’re not really harming people. But sometimes there is harm in that situation, because people are careless and we’re all human, and everyone makes mistakes, or gets fucked up on drugs and doesn’t do something right, and all of a sudden some people are in trouble, but...
Todd: We gotta get goin’ pretty quick, here.
Allan: Okay. Let me ask you two other questions. Giving stuff up, making sacrifices, not participating in consumer capitalism – what do you guys do in your lives? Like, you were living collectively for awhile, right?
Chris: Yeah.
Todd: We were stuck together because of poverty, yeah!
Chris: There was at one point ten of us together in the house, for quite awhile, and it was awesome, because I didn’t work for a huge chunk of it, and I was gettin’ fed tortillas and beans and rice every night. That was pretty rad! And then when I did come into money, I got to throw my share in a bit, y’know? In that sense, living was very anarchistic, because not all of us had much, but some people did, and they shared. There was never really an issue – we all kind of shared that space. Even how we rented out the certain rooms and whatnot – who paid what: like, I slept on the porch in a tent for two months, and only had to play a hundred bucks a month, which was pretty rad. But I was still sleepin’ on the porch, listening to people steal our empties...
Allan [chuckles]: But that’s more just being poor.
Todd: Yeah, well, whatever. There’s a choice – to go and get a real job or whatever –
Chris: But you can be poor with people – I was poor with people before, and this guy’s throwing his food in the garbage while me and another person – actually, it was Stepha (the absent drummer) are boiling cabbage to eat. And he just fuckin’ chucks his food in the garbage, and we’re like, holy shit! Y’know, and I gave him a place to stay. We didn’t have money. That’s why I gave him a place to stay like that...
Erin: I think your question really relates to how screwed up our economic system is. The easiest thing to do is the worst thing to do – we haven’t incorporated social costs into the things we buy.
Allan: Sure: the cheapest way to live is to shop at Walmart.
Erin: Yeah, absolutely, and it’s just – really hard to be ethical the way society is now.
Todd: I was thinking about this because we ran into this street punk that we know from down here. Like, the guy’s lived on the street for as long as I’ve been in Vancouver. But he was over in Victoria for the winter and he came to our show the other night. And I was thinkin’ about it, you know, like – people are so down on people that are living like that. And I was thinking, well, what’s the size of his ecological footprint? It’s smaller than yours, y’know?
Chris: I mean, he’s the one who gets to snub us, because yeah, he’s doing it, full on. He may be living in the city, or whatever – so he’s not completely... That’s the ultimate thing, too – to be like a total green people leave as little waste as possible. I mean, the energy we’re using up in this place is already disgusting. The fact that some of us drove here, or used whatever to get here, when we could have walked or rode a bike...
Allan: The other question I wanted to ask you is about keeping the price of your CDs so low. On the one hand, it seems great and idealistic, but on the other – I wonder about it as a business model.
Todd: It’s a really crappy business model! The best part of our business model is that we sell t-shirts for $20.
Chris: Yeah! [laughs]
Todd: Music should be – like, I like to give it away, and sometimes I do, a lot, but if you’re going to make money off something, why not make t-shirts instead. I mean, we’re not making any money at this. This is the wrong thing to do for money.
Allan: But at the same time, punk is becoming a mass-produced phenomenon.
Todd: No it’s not. That’s pop music.
Chris: Yeah, that’s –
Todd: As soon as it gets there, it’s pop music.
Chris: And that’s the thing, and I think, the way do this, we like to stay as punk as we can for as long as we can. I don’t have a vision of reachin’, like, the Warped Tour stage or anything like that, and hawkin’ a bunch of red shirts and some yellow shirts and blue shirts.
Todd [giggling]: No coloured shirts!
Erin: [giggles].
Chris: Wrist bands, and... I don’t care about that! I don’t want that! Like, for t-shirts, it took me awhile to even want to do that. The price of the CD, the original price – we figured out how much does it cost to print the CD. It was like, $1.50 was the total cost for black and white, so I say, we’d sell it for $3, so we don’t have to worry about a reprint. It’s genius. We were selling CDs – I don’t know how many we were selling, and all of a sudden we ran out of 500 CDs. It’s like, great. Some people were like [indicating skepticism]: “Their CDs are only $3, blah-blah-blah,” but the price doesn’t matter; but still - it’s the product that we’re putting out. People were stoked to pay $3, and then you get this email going, “Holy shit,” you know? [The band had just raised CD prices to $5 shortly before the interview took place, due to rising costs].
Allan: They’re really good albums. It would be interesting to see you guys attract a larger following.
Chris: Oh, it’d be great. They’d still be getting cheap CDs. Then again, I can’t always say that – maybe something will happen where CD prices will have to go up, because there’s only one CD pressing plant, or imports or something like that, or... They’re in stores now, because we pretty much do our own distro. Scratch does some for us too. We sell our records for $6, and then they can sell it for $20 if they want. They usually sell it for $10. That’s all right for a record/
Allan: Is anyone distributing your CDs in other countries, or is it still mostly local?
Chris: No, it’s all on our website.
Erin: Interpunk is really good – we make sales off of that, and it’s not a label, you just mail them your CDs.
Todd: They buy them, and –
Allan: Interpunk?
Erin: Interpunk dot com. It’s everything from really mainstream to super obscure stuff.
Chris: Good prices, fast shipping.
Erin: It’s secure, so people know it’s not just some fly-by-night kind of thing.
Chris: That’s where I send people, because people would send us cash, or something, and sometimes our addresses are wrong, and they’re like... I’d much rather they go there, ‘cause it’s easy, it’s so easy. A couple of clicks and you got a record sent to you.
Todd: Yeah.
Chris: So tell people not to bug us!

On Steven Spielberg's Self-Relexive Sadism: or, the Art of Placing a Movie's Merch in the Movie Itself

There's a fascinating scene in Jurassic Park, in which Sir Richard Attenborough and Laura Dern sit at a table, eating melting ice cream while talking about the (ongoing) failure of the park. Early in my days of trying to figure out what kind of writing I wanted to get involved in - back in 2005, in fact, a horrifyingly brief-seeming fourteen years ago - I tried to sketch out an essay revolving around the brilliant self-reflexive nature of this scene, which I took as proof of both Spielberg's deep intelligence, his suffering conscience, and his self-awareness about his cinema's moral failings. It was a sort of attack on Spielberg, designed as praise, and I called it "Consuming the Family: Steven Spielberg and Jurassic Park." Hammond - Attenborough - seemed to me, as he went on mistily about flea circuses and his desire to amaze people with illusions, to be Spielberg's filmmaker-within-the-film, his cipher. I planned to quote from his monologue, then write:
The tone of this speech, which Attenborough delivers in a manner worthy of a Peter Pan who has gone too far in his innocence, while eating melting ice cream – is that of a child who has been caught doing something bad and is pouting over his guilt. This appears to be Spielberg confessing himself – and it seems to me like it can only be an act of self-hatred (or at least self-distaste) that has him direct Attenborough to make his confession so sulkily, irresponsibly and self-pityingly (he is clearly more upset that his “theme park” has failed morally than that anyone has been scared or damaged, which presumably speaks to us both of Spielberg’s actual self-awareness and conscience, and his simultaneous ultimate indifference as to whether anyone is actually harmed by his product). The “product placement” shot which precedes the scene, [of the theme park's merch, which we can fairly assume is actual Jurassic Park merch,] conspires in this mood; the swelling music and the merchandise that we feel now will never be sold convey sadness and failure – a sentimental (though still negative) view of the failure of capitalism and exploitation. “How sad that people are being eaten; it means that no one will buy all these t-shirts.” Laura Dern’s consoling rejoinder to Attenborough interestingly makes almost no sense at all when directed to the actual character he is playing... She has seen nothing else of Hammond’s “illusions,”as she calls them, so her line makes far more sense as a reassurance directed towards Steven Spielberg than to Hammond.  To forgive Hammond is to forgive Spielberg, for having frightened us and our children so badly, for having manipulated us so ruthlessly; he really only wanted to please us, all along. 
The essay - which drew on related critiques of Spielberg by the late Adam Parfey and now-retired critic Jonathan Rosenbaum - ended up getting away from me, but it has remained interesting: how brilliant it is to contrive to place your own merchandise within the film you are selling, especially when you are depicting that merch in a negative light.

Writing elsewhere in the same paper, I describe a similar scene in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, which uses actual merch for the film as merch for the zoo where the T-rex has been shipped, as "the single most compelling act of product placement in cinema history" -- made all the more remarkable because "the merchandise is represented as being at worst, a sign of an evil, crass capitalism and, at best, as a profound moral failure ...probably the most unflattering product placement in cinema history."

All of this would be an example of self-reflexivity, the act of commenting on a film or its consumption within the film itself. There's a ton of that in cinema, usually seen as the stuff of the arthouse (Atom Egoyan's early films, or Peeping Tom, or Wenders at his peak, or even a film like Brian DePalma's Body Double, of which I am an unabashed fan). Spielberg usually doesn't get credited with a lot of that self-awareness, and the films of his - like the Jurassic Park movies - that most obviously partake of this quality, are the films of his which are least likely to be taken "seriously." I genuinely think they're his most interesting films (it doesn't hurt that I like dinosaurs). 

Elsewhere in the essay, I note - focusing mostly on the Jurassic Park sequel - that:
[a]nother proof, should more be needed, that these are profoundly self-aware films, and that there is some reason to say that they are “about themselves,” is that they constantly make us aware that they are movies. In-jokes abound, like the much commented on cut-out advertisement for a nonexistent version of King Lear starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that appears in a video store sequence in The Lost World. The IMDB “trivia” board for the film lists many others, which border on the Brechtian – a highway sign visible as the T-Rex goes on a rampage in San Diego reads “No Dinosaurs;” the ship that crashes into the dock in that film is named the Venture, after the ship that brought King Kong to America; the motif of a dinosaur parent come to rescue its offspring is a direct lift from the 1961 film Gorgo; the screenwriter, David Koepp, is among those eaten by said dinosaur; and during the CNN broadcast in the second film, Spielberg briefly appears beside Jeff Goldblum in the TV reflection, sitting on a couch and eating popcorn. The first film, too, reminds us of its status as a cinematic construct at every turn. To those who are really in the know – as again we can thank IMDB for making us aware of this – Tim’s repeated mentions of Robert Bakker in the film as a dinosaur expert is amusing, since he is an actual dinosaur expert who served as technical advisor on the film. Yet more: a line delivered by Ellie (“Something went wrong”) is apparently a quote from Jeff Goldblum’s character in the The Fly; and there are numerous explicit film references within the film, from Ian Malcolm’s wry “What have they got in there, King Kong?” as the electric car approaches the gates at the beginning of the tour, to the banner reading When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (the title of a 1970 film, one co-written by J. G. Ballard, whose Empire of the Sun Spielberg directed), which heralds our entry into the visitor’s center and will later, at the climax, flutter down over the rampant T-rex. 
That self-reflexivity seems to connect to many scenes, much remarked upon in the initial press for the film, in which children are menaced by dinosaurs. This all begins with Alan Grant - the Sam Neill character, and an analogue for the "parent" in the film's audience - menacing a child with a hooklike velociraptor claw.

In the original essay, I continue:
Dr. Grant clearly has unacceptable thoughts and fantasies about children – perhaps part of his own unresolved issues about his own childishness. Adam Parfrey, in a rather unscholarly (but interesting) “smear” essay in Answer Me magazine (issue 3, 114) entitled “Pederastic Park,” describes this scene quite well, saying that

the sadistic tone (of the film) is established early on, when a fat child challenges the paleontological theories of protagonist Sam Neill. Neill turns on the boy, and in low, menacing tones, he demonstrates to the child how a prehistoric nasty would mangle and devour him. Adding a distinctly Peter Kurtenish frisson, Neill slashes near the child’s belly and crotch with a large, sharp claw.
As Parfrey rightly emphasizes, the scene is extremely unsettling; it is far more important to an intelligent reading of the film than a casual audience would likely realize, as it speaks directly to our desires as an audience, our reasons for being in the theatre in the first place. Insofar as male viewers can identify with it, they are made aware of their own troubling ambivalences about fatherhood and responsibility, and their own transgressive and taboo desires to torture, dominate, and abuse their power. (Parfrey is particularly interested in the menacing gesture towards the child’s genitals and goes on, not entirely successfully, to offer “evidence” in Hook, E.T., and Jurassic Park that Spielberg may have pedophilic tendencies; one is relieved that the trials of Michael Jackson had not yet begun, since surely Spielberg’s then-friendship with Jackson would have been cited as further evidence against him, as it is in Crispin Glover’s essay in the Parfrey-edited Apocalypse Culture II (392); Michael Jackson, recall, had been initially cast as the lead in Hook). We are invited both to want to see people, possibly even children, disembowelled and eaten – Spielberg himself, in an interview for the Making of featurette, speaks of making the audience want to “root for the people, not just for the dinosaurs,” as if rooting for the dinosaurs (and thereby wanting to see people eaten) is a desire that one can self-evidently expect in the audience, even taking primacy over the desire to see the characters safely through the film. 
As parents, though, we surely must feel ambivalent about this as a locus for pleasure; we have brought our children into this arena, after all. If something questionable is going to be done to children – if we are going to indeed see them killed and mutilated, and like the idea, as Alan seems to, here – what kind of parents are we? This needs to be worked through, so that males in the audience can leave reassured of their own fitness as fathers, and women and children in the audience can leave reassured of the father’s fundamental goodness and their own safety. Probably for closure to take place, so aware are we that this is a “Steven Spielberg movie” (and that Spielberg is the true patriarch of Jurassic Park) we need even to come to terms with the disruptions that this unsettling scene cause to our image of him, and our acceptance of the film experience as a whole. We want it to be made “all right” that, sitting with our children, we have briefly seen and taken pleasure in a child’s figurative disembowelment and abuse. How else can we enjoy this film with a good conscience?
It kind of sucks that I never could wrangle that essay to completion. Looking back, it gets me thinking, however: what other films in film history have used their own promotional materials inside the movie, and what mood did those product placements serve to convey? (Have any ever been as maudlin and self-hating as Spielberg's?). It's been awhile since I watched the original King Kong, but, for example, could there be a scene in the lobby of the theatre where Kong is brought where you see Kong t-shirts of figurines or promotional posters on display? 

I am not about to stop writing this to check, but it would seem truly prescient, if so; this sort of thing seems a possibility in any film where the realms of the monstrous and showbiz intersect. Nowadays, films about show business invite you to read them as metaphors for themselves, to look at them as a comment on their own intentions and processes, but back in 1933, when King Kong came out, it seems to me that anyone was likely to be that self-aware. Is there a table of Gwangi dolls on sale in front of the circus in my favourite King Kong copycat, The Valley of Gwangi? I missed it, if so, but it's another place where such a thing could be possible. (Again, I'm not going to get up and check, sorry - but it's a damned entertaining little movie, if you care to do the legwork, with Harryhausen dinosaurs, an eohippus, a circus, and a climax in a burning Mexican cathedral!). 

What I can confirm, though, is that in 1955's Revenge of the Creature - an inferior but interesting sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, now most noteworthy as the film that began Clint Eastwood's acting career , there is a scene where there is an unmistakable, oft-repeated photograph of the Creature, in signature pose, turned into a cardboard "standee" - the sort of thing that I used to assemble back at Rogers Video in the 1990s, which would have been prevalent in movie theatre lobbies in the 1950s. It is obviously a bit of promotional material from the first film, placed in the second film in front of the aquarium where the captured Creature is being held, to promote him as an attraction. Unlike Jurassic Park, there doesn't seem to be any commentary whatsoever buried in the standee: the filmmakers may have been amused at the idea of saving on budget by re-purposing a promotional item as a prop within the film - they may have realized they were being "clever" - but they don't seem to be consciously engaged in meta-level message-making. It's just thriftiness - a fine quality in exploitation filmmaking.   

It would be welcome to hear of other films where actual movie merch or promotional material is encoded into the film. There must be others. I'm particularly interested in scenes where the merch serves in some way, overt or covert, on the actual "selling" of the film. (If you read about this via my Facebook feed, it would be vastly preferable to me if you comment below THIS article, rather than my social media post, so it has a bit more permanence) (Edited to add: I see that Rowan Lipkovits has already commented on Facebook about Spaceballs toilet paper). 

As for Steven Spielberg, I personally wish he'd stop trying to make "respectable" films and get back to his strong suit: misanthropic, sadistic, and self-aware films in which dinosaurs, sharks, or, if you will, gigantic trucks menace people. Much, much more interesting to watch and think about than Lincoln, or War Horse, or so forth... and somehow much more honest...

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Death live last night

Glad for y'all who went to the Specials, but I was happy to see a decent and enthusiastic turnout for the Death show last night. Not many observations, but:

1. I haven't seen any band lately have quite as much fun onstage as Death. They played like they were living out their wildest dreams of arena success - which was just slightly incongruous in a venue the size of the Rickshaw, but really enjoyable to see. You can tell these guys are still digging their late career turnaround - this was play, not work, I suspect (though they probably have to work pretty hard to be able to play this way).

2. They did their Beatles ripoff! Erika and I speculated at some length about how much Drag City mighta had to pay to get away with releasing that.

3. While it is great that they did (I believe) every song off ...For the Whole World to See, they could have played more stuff off N.E.W. (that I noticed, they only did "Playtime," which Bobby dedicated to skateboarders. I can see it as a skating tune!)

4. I haven't seen a drum solo live in awhile - can't remember the last one, actually. Dannis still has the chops.

5. Bobbie Duncan did great work filling in for David, but "Politicians in My Eyes" really benefits from having an added guitar part, absent onstage.

6. Bobby Hackney wore some pretty revealing tights. Not sure he realizes the full effect of that! It's odd how eye-grabbing that was... I didn't WANT to look, but...

7. The moshpit was more enthusiastic than I anticipated! I kept getting slammed into the front barrier, almost getting winded, so I eventually moved back. Moshing didn't exist, I don't think, when Death formed, but their music suits it very well, turns out. (Some evidence on video here).

8. It was nice that they gave a nod to the 4th Movement, playing a lick of "Revelation's Eve," but I would have taken the whole song! It segued into something I didn't know at all. I was happy to buy the vinyl at the end of the night.

9. They had two new 7 inches. The gun control one ("Cease Fire") had a kind of reggae influence, a slower tempo, and lyrics that seemed a bit on-the-nose; I liked the second one - I think about global warming - better, but I didn't get the title.

10. Death was really generous with their fans and hung out signing things at the merch table for quite awhile, it seemed (I gave them the New Creation CDs I'd brought - I did drag Chris Towers to the show - and left, but they were still signing and chatting).

Oh, and WarBaby was a lot of fun, too, playing an Infra-Man movie behind them on a screen as they performed. Monster fights and WarBaby go together really well! My wife remarked on how enthusiastic Kirby seemed on the kit, and I was pleased to get to introduce them afterwards...

Anyhow, thanks to Mo Tarmohamed for putting on such stellar shows. (By the way, someone thought I was dissing Mo for selecting WarBaby as the opener in my Straight piece with them, but I wasn't - I thought it was a totally inspired move).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Right, so... hiatus

I have a massive Stephen DePace interview to transcribe, apropos of Flipper coming to town June 7th. It is actually a bit more than I needed or anticipated; I encouraged him to go deep, and he went DEEP... but there are fucking GEMS in his stories, and it's going to be a great piece. I mean, the band's been around 40 years, so he has stories...

You all know Flipper's Generic, right? Start there. It is also called Album, or sometimes Generic Album. The "hit" on it is called "Sex Bomb," and the only lyric besides screaming is "she's a sex bomb my baby yeah." For roughly eight minutes. Only other song that makes such maximal use of a single line of lyric is Neil Young's "T-Bone," which is also fun, but not as fun as "Sex Bomb.")  And you know David Yow is going to be the singer? Of Jesus Lizard? I am very, very interested, but would go even just to check out Ted Falconi playing live; I would like to see what he's doing with my own eyes. (I will transcribe Stephen's description of it, which is fascinating, but meantime, read about him in this interview.) There are some spelling errors, but it's very interesting, especially if you're into noise/ avant-garde stuff.

More to come on that. And I'll be seeing WarBaby and Death this Wednesday, and maybe Sunday Morning at the Fox Theatre on, I think, May 25th? No doubt other good stuff is out there, but I don't have the time to pay attention.

...oh, and then there's the Blue Oyster Cult at Ambleside. I did it, bought a ticket. The Romantics? David Wilcox? Quiet Riot? ...It probably won't be that hard to be amused, to be honest, but I will bring a book just in case. I will do this for the Blue Oyster Cult.

Otherwise, I am on hiatus, I think.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

WarBaby to open for Death, plus Beth Harrington and Petunia at the Rio, and Heather Haley

Kirby of WarBaby, by bev davies

With WarBaby opening for Death at the Rickshaw, I did a Straight piece to talk to them about the opening slot at their new EP, Coma Kid (make sure you check out the deeply messed-up rock video they've done for the title track, linked in the Straight article). 

It's one of four Straight pieces I have online this week. There's Death, of course (with expansive outtakes and Sharon Steele photographs here). Another is on Petunia and Beth Harrington, who will be at the Rio Theatre this Sunday to launch the series Petunia is acting in, The Musicianer, complete with a full concert from Petunia and the Vipers. Finally, there's a piece on Heather Haley, who is recovering from a broken arm. It was a busy week! Nothing much else for a little while - I might do something on the Sunday Morning show on May 25th, featuring Bruce Wilson and Stephen Hamm of Tankhog. The rest of my energies are going to be devoted to doing something on Flipper, who will be at the Astoria on June 7th, with David Yow fronting. I'm totally keen for that.

Otherwise, I might focus some of my energies on things other than writing. I've put a lot of energy into this blog (and the Straight website) the last couple months - it's been fun, but I think I need to actually make some money.

Oh: I have a big bev davies feature in the upcoming Big Takeover, with Bob Mould on the cover. I believe it's going to run as a two-parter. Check it out...!